Sunday, March 28, 2021

Make the most of Holy Week (Palm Sunday homily)

 Listening to the Gospel we heard--the heart of our Faith --

Makes me fall silent. Maybe you, too.

That’s why we do this every single year.

If you’ve come this far in Lent, 

it maybe you feel you missed the boat.

You can still make Holy Week your Lent.

If you ever said, I wish I knew my Faith better, 

may I suggest that taking time during Holy Week, 

to come on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil,

will do a lot to help you go deeper into our Faith:

Because this week is the heart of our Faith.

If you are worried about a crowd, Holy Thursday, 

Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, plus two Easter Day Masses 

will be livestreamed on the Internet.

If you wish you’d gone to confession—it’s not too late. 

I’ll hear confessions Tuesday, Wednesday, 

Thursday, Friday and Saturday. 

Come Thursday evening; as usual, church will be open all night.

Pray with him that night before his agony.

Keep watch with him in the Garden.

Come Friday to pray at the Cross. 

Come to the Vigil Saturday night 

when the Light of Christ conquered the darkness.

This is his week; it’s our week.

It’s about what we did to the Lord; 

even more, what he did for us.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Deathly 'life' or real life? (Sunday homily)

 One of the striking things you surely noticed 

coming into church this morning is that the statues are all covered. 

You may wonder why.

It’s part of the fasting of Lent. 

We don’t just fast from food; there are no flowers on the altar;

the music is simpler. As we go along, we leave more and more behind.

It’s also a kind of dying. 

Little by little, shedding more and more, 

until we are alone, as it were, with Jesus, in his suffering and dying. 

Why do we talk about death like this? 

Why do we keep an image of Jesus, dying on the cross, in front of us? 

Why do we Christians do this?

Let’s remember that death came into the world 

because of human rebellion against God.

That rebellion, however, doesn’t mean living without God; 

it means replacing the God who actually made us,

with the god of my own will, my own desires, making myself god. 

By the way, you know how so many people like to say things like,

believe what you want, God can be anything, it’s all good?

God is whoever you want him to be – that’s the sentiment, right?

The trouble with this idea is that

it means not a world centered on one God,

but a world of seven billion or so gods – one for each of us;

and what do you think that world looks like?

That’s a world of greed, injustice, murder and indifference. 

And that kind of so-called “living” – Jesus came to tell us – 

is a shadow experience of life; a kind of “deathly” living.

Whereas Jesus came to give us true life; the fullness of life.

And to have that fullness of life, 

you and I must die to what this world thinks is life. 

This is where God’s mercy is at work.

As you and I get a little older, our eyes aren’t so good, 

our hearing fades, our body doesn’t do all it used to…

this experience has a way of humbling us, and teaching us: 

you really aren’t God, you know that? 

And if we listen, and accept the lesson, we grow wise. 

And we are reminded: this life isn’t my destination; 

I’m on the way to something bigger and better. 

It is in letting go of this world that we gain the world to come.

This might be a good exercise for each of us: 

to look ourselves in the mirror, and ask the question: 

“Who is God?” And then tell ourselves: “Not you.”

Next week is Palm Sunday and then Holy Week:

if the Cross is the most important thing that ever happened, 

then Holy Week recalls the most important week in history.

We’ll have all our normal activities this year!

Make the most of it.

If you need to go to confession, but have been procrastinating, 

there are plenty of opportunities over the next two weeks. 

During Holy Week there will be many extra hours for confession. 

Do I live for me, for here, for this? Or do I want to live forever?

Sunday, March 14, 2021

For America, for you and me, there is no remedy but Jesus Christ! (Sunday homily)

 For the last ten minutes or so, realize what you heard:

God has been pleading with you, begging you:

Come to me, trust me, give your heart to me!

Because that invitation was refused so many times, 

that is why we heard in the first reading the saddest possible words: 

“there was no remedy.”

If you were listening closely, you heard reference to ignored sabbaths: 

why did that figure so prominently here?

Here is why the sabbath was so important, 

and why ignoring the sabbath was such an offense to God:

the sabbath rest was given as a sign of God’s covenant with his people.

It recalled two things: the day God completed Creation;

And the day God rescued his People from slavery to Pharaoh.

Keeping the sabbath – keeping the Lord’s Day –

serves to force you and me to hit the pause button 

from all but the most essential work, and resting.

It brings us back to a place of quiet,

where you and I tune out the noise and we are alone in silence

before God our Creator and our final hope,

and we stop and remember: I am not in charge!

I did not create myself; I cannot save myself;

everything I have, and everything I hope for, comes from God.

And if you think I’m overstating matters, 

just stop and think about the state of our country. 

Whether you look at the frightening mountains of debt being piled up, 

or the arrogance of politicians and scientists and business owners 

as they manipulate human life as a commodity;

as we do business with China and other countries,

where modern-day Pharaohs enslave millions to make our products;

or we ignore God’s design for the human family 

and say, no, we like our own designs far better!

Congress is considering a law – the so-called Equality Act –

that would enshrine disordered attractions as normal.

Lest there be any doubt about its intent, this proposed law 

specifically repeals religious liberty protections 

to make sure you and I are punished if we don’t obey and agree.

During the debate, a member of Congress said, 

this is contrary to God’s will.

Another Congressman – on the winning said – declared, and I quote:

“God’s will is no concern of this Congress.”

So I’m going to be a prophet right now:

the one thing that will destroy our country is this mindset:

To set our faces against heaven and say, our will, not his, be done!

But we didn’t get where we are all at once.

This happens gradually: as nation, or to each of us individually.

If you own a car, you figure something out my father taught me  

about the value of boring preventive maintenance; 

checking tires and changing the oil.

You can skip these things and get away with it – for a while.

But long enough, and there will be no remedy.

Of course, if it’s only about a car, not so important.

But about a relationship? A nation? Our eternal salvation?

So back to where I started: God has tried, again and again, 

to invite you and me, each and every one of us, 

into an eternal relationship.

It’s why Jesus came: to give that invitation, in person.

It’s why he spent all his time with the Apostles, 

so that they would experience that sabbath rest with him –

not merely know things about Jesus, but to KNOW HIM –

to be lit on fire by the Holy Spirit, 

so much so that left all to follow him,

and they gave all after that to spread that Fire.

And that’s why each of us is here.

That fire of faith has been passed down and now it’s yours.

But just like the folks in the first reading, it’s always possible to say, 

that’s nice, but not now. Soon. Later. Some day. Too late! 

Don’t wait to ask Jesus to bring his light into your heart.

To cast out the sins and cynicism that have slowly darkened things.

A lot of people will wait – till the very last minute – to go to confession.

I’ll be very glad to hear confessions all during Holy Week;

but let me tell you, when the lines are long, I end up rushing.

There’s a part of us that likes that: that says,

I want to get in and out of the confessional as fast as possible.

But this, too, is a kind of sabbath-rest; time not so much with me,

but with Jesus, our God, our Creator, our Savior.

This is why I encourage you to make frequent use of confession, 

because that habit, over time, changes us.

This time of Lent leading into Holy Week is also a kind of Sabbath. 

It can be all, “blah-blah, I’ve heard it all before, let’s get through it”; 

or, you and I can hit the pause button, and listen, and remember:

I am not in charge. I cannot save myself.

All that I have and all that I am comes from God.

He is my only hope. 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

No more 'private' Masses at St. Peter's Basilica? Say it ain't so!

 This morning I was shocked to see this headline at the National Catholic Register (the good one):

Vatican Prohibits Priests From Celebrating Private Daily Masses At St. Peter’s Side Altars

Four times I have visited Rome, three as a priest; and of course you always want to visit St. Peter's Basilica. Most of the time, it is crowded, although the sacristans and security personnel and other standers-arounders do try to keep things reverent. Some measure of modest clothing is expected, and if things become too noisy, someone can be heard intoning, "silencio!" There is a dedicated chapel for the Holy Eucharist that is very well protected from gawkers, but if you indicate you wish to pray, a heavy curtain is pulled aside and you will find a quiet, restful place despite the milling about in the colossal nave. Sadly, more recent security needs (I am recalling from my last two trip, 3-4 and 8 years ago) have made simply entering the Basilica tremendously onerous because if terribly long lines.

On the other hand, for those prepared to rise early, you can have a wonderful experience of the Basilica -- that is, of offering and perhaps attending Mass on one of the many side altars in the church, either on the main level, or the lower level. There was no great difficulty arranging to be given some side altar -- that is, if you weren't picky -- on any given day; and you reported to the sacristy, where lots of other priests were preparing for Mass, and then a young altar server would escort you to your designated altar. As I recall, the priest carried the chalice -- veiled -- and the server carried the water and wine. You asked for a Missal and lectionary in one of several languages; English was one that was available; and someone brought that along as well. (This system prevails in Washington, D.C., at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, although there's no altar server; you and any travel companions have to manage all the set up and clean up yourself.) And there, at the altar, a priest alone or with other priests, or with a group of laypeople, could offer a quiet Mass. And as you were led to "your" altar, you could see lots of priests, with or without groups, all along the walls at other altars, and a low mutter of prayer surrounded you.

It's not exactly clear from the article whether this ban on "private Masses" applies only to those offered by a solitary priest, without anyone else, or also to those who wish to bring a group along. I'm against both changes, but the latter would be truly shocking.

Why make this change? Covid can hardly be the reason: how does a priest offering Mass all by himself  threaten public health -- as opposed to...wait for it: "concelebration"?

I have my suspicions, but since I know little, I will not ascribe motives. I will simply offer several possibilities:

- Is it because of security? This Basilica is one of the most visible and visited Christian sites in the world, and keeping things calm and safe must be a tremendous headache, all before we add the fact that the Successor of Saint Peter and the College of Cardinals frequent this church more than any other. I can imagine someone trying to trim down the coming and going...Except, they aren't saying these priests can't visit; can't come to Mass; rather, they are shunting them from these quiet, early hours to later, more crowded times. Hmm, hard to see how that helps secure the basilica, but perhaps I am missing something?

- Is it because of budget cuts? Is it because there's just too much coming and going? As I mentioned, St. Peter's gets a LOT of traffic, and I can sympathize with some in the Holy See saying, "look, we're not stopping people from visiting, but things are out of hand. And, we're running big deficits" (which is true). Could be, but I'm a little skeptical.

- Is it because of someone's liturgical notions? There is a very loud, pseudo-scholarly argument that a priest offering Mass "all by himself" is bad and should be given very little tolerance: the so-called "private Mass." That a priest ought always to offer Mass with others; hence concelebration ought to be favored over a priest offering Mass "privately." And the article suggests this indeed may be a reason for the change, if not the reason. This is why I'm frustrated the article doesn't clarify whether this ban applies to a group of priests, or to a priest accompanying a group of laity -- but my hunch is that the latter two situations are still allowed, and that will support this thesis.

It is not true that a priest is not allowed, or "not supposed to" offer Mass privately. Check me out: Canon Law says he may do so for a "just" cause, which in church-law language is not a tremendously high bar. What might these just causes be? He's sick. He's on a day of rest. He's traveling. He's visiting a place of pilgrimage. Or, how about: there's a pandemic, and public authorities and ecclesial authorities have barred celebrations of the Mass with the people? Sounds cray-cray, could happen!

What is behind this anti-"private Mass" mindset is a legitimate insight: that the Mass, the sacraments, and all the sacred actions of the Body of Christ are for God's People, and so having the Mass, and celebrating the sacraments, praying the Divine Office, and any other blessings and rituals of the Church, are public and should welcome the participation of the faithful. So, it's often that people want me to bless things: it seems better, doesn't it, that they be present when I bless them; and even if those particular people can't be there, doesn't it seem fitting that someone else be present? Sure! 

But what has happened in recent decades is that someone latches onto such admirable insights, which can be found in various documents issuing from (or after) the Second Vatican Council (ooh, you just knew this was going to come up, didn't you?), and then makes that insight a kind of liturgical North Star around which everything must be organized. 

This can become a kind of mania. Because there is a passage somewhere in Vatican II-related documents about preferring the faithful receiving the Eucharist from the Sacrifice offered in their presence, you have priests who think it's a sin -- and contrary to law -- to distribute the Eucharist from the tabernacle (in fact this practice is neither sinful nor contra lege); I know one such priest who would count out an exact number of hosts for each Mass, and then if he overcounted, he would -- in front of the faithful -- cram the remaining hosts into his mouth, rather than open the tabernacle and repose them there. 

So, of course it's generally preferable for a priest to offer Holy Mass with others. But back to some of the reasons a priest might offer Mass "privately." A priest is traveling, and he makes a trip around an area where there are many beautiful churches containing relics or shrines he longs to visit. His visits will spread throughout the day, naturally. He may not speak the local language; do you really think he should concelebrate in a language he knows nothing of? (Good luck persuading anyone to use Latin!) The local parish may be tremendously accommodating; but such a visit may also be disruptive. And -- to say out loud what we all know -- the observance of liturgical norms in this particular place may be rather...relaxed. 

And for that matter, for whatever reason, the visiting priest's arrival doesn't coincide with any scheduled Mass. What then? Shall he then ask the sacristan to ring up a gaggle of the faithful so that there is not inflicted on the Body of Christ, the horror of a (shudder!) "private" Mass? It doesn't happen often in a rural parish, but occasionally, I will have a priest call, or even knock on my door, asking: do you mind if I offer Mass today? And if I know -- or can establish -- that this is a priest in good standing, and there's no great difficulty, of course I let him do so. There are priests I know who will stop in periodically, so I just give them the keys, because they know where everything is and I trust them to take care of things.

Now, if you've paid attention, you've noticed me repeatedly put "private" in quotes in reference to Mass; because while there's a valid point here, that a priest is offering Mass in a less-public way than is customary, nevertheless, it remains the case that no Mass is ever actually private. No priest is ever offering Holy Mass "alone." There are always members of the Body of Christ present at all Masses -- right? And every Mass, offered anywhere, is always benefiting the entire Body of Christ. So can we just stop getting fussy about a priest who now and then wants to offer Mass very quietly, while he's on vacation, or on his day of rest?

"But what about concelebration?" I am not as much a foe of concelebration as some priests I know and respect, but they have a point that needs to heard: concelebrating Mass is not the same as being the celebrant of Mass, as can be seen very clearly if you take a good, hard look. And, whatever its antecedents in other branches of the Catholic Church, or in the far past of the Latin Rite, it remains true that in our Roman branch, if it existed prior to 1970 at all, it has been gone for a very, very, very long time. Such a change isn't a minor thing, and it isn't at all clear it's an entirely good change. There is something very good about a central focus at Mass -- so liturgists tell us! -- such that it's best to have but one altar; and to have but one chalice, and to have but one paten filled with bread to be consecrated. So what about having one celebrant in persona Christi capitis, as opposed to a liturgical seven-headed hydra?

Now, I think IF the concelebration is done just right...

Meaning, the added priests are vested really well, and don't mill about and get in each other's way, or act all chummy like they are at a party, but instead each and every one knows what he is supposed to do; and if they are all facing the same way -- as each other and everyone else, rather than facing the faithful and each other as if across a buffet table -- and the overall liturgy is itself conducted with dignity and decorum...

Or, if the added priest is but one, or maybe two -- as opposed to a busload...

And this happens only occasionally...

Well then, that sort of concelebration can be edifying.

But we all know that's not what happens, no matter how good the intentions of all concerned.

The reactions of the faithful -- who don't waste their time becoming learned in the arcanities of liturgists -- tell the tale. When concelebration happens, their descriptions don't reflect the expectation of one, ONE celebrant. No, the ever-observant faithful speak frankly of multiple celebrants. They know what they see. The following statement is simply true: without invalidating the Mass, or being illicit, the regular inclusion of concelebrants changes the Mass for all concerned in some significant ways. Are these changes good or bad? Wouldn't that be important to know?

So, back to St. Peter's Basilica. I don't know what's going on. I don't like this news, but it may end up being less of a change than it seems in practice -- i.e., there may soon appear more and more "exceptions" or else, a priest may be allowed to offer Mass as long as someone else is there to chaperone him. And in any case, I am extremely confident that this new restriction will not spread very successfully. You can be in a church a mile or two from the Vatican geographically, but experientially, you might as well be 10,000 miles away. Il papa may be pope down there, but ecce? Il sacristano!

Update: Father Z is on it...

Friday, March 12, 2021

Three things I cooked up this week...

 Saturday is our annual Spaghetti Dinner, the proceeds of which benefit our seminarians. Wednesday a group of intrepid volunteers helped me make the sauce. If you want the recipe, go back to the main page and type "ragu" into the search bar; you'll get several articles recounting the history of this sauce. The original recipe -- which I found on the Internet -- involved making braciole, by pounding and rolling out pieces of round steak, stuffed with Romano cheese and parsley. I did that once. Over the years, I've swapped in different meats, only to realize, two years ago, I'd lost any beef, so we added brisket; and last year, that I'd lost the extra salt, pepper, parsley and Romano cheese that was originally in the sauce. So after last year, I promised this would be the best yet -- because I'd get all that back in the sauce. Finally, we did it! And I can tell you, it is my best sauce. Carry outs only at St. Remy Hall, 5-7 pm, this Saturday, March 13.

That involved a lot of chopping -- vegetables and meat -- and lots of stirring. We started around 9:30 am on Wednesday morning and I was back around 4 pm to check, and pull out the spareribs so we could remove the bones. If you make this sauce, don't be shocked by any fat. Fat is flavor! At any rate, all that made for a busy Wednesday.

Meanwhile, I had four aluminum pans I'd taken from the "Casserole Crusade" table: several times a year we ask parishioners to take these pans home -- with lids and recipes -- and make dishes we can take to nearby shelters and soup kitchens. Everyone knows I take four, that's my challenge for others. This year I decided to make mac and cheese.

Sorry I don't have the recipe sheet that came with the pans, I threw it out in the clean up. But from memory, for each pan, 1-1/2 pounds of macaroni, 1-1/2 2 pounds of Velveeta, a can of cream of celery soup and a cup 2-1/2 cups of milk. You make the pasta according to the box, and then you mix everything together. (Updated 3/13: Sorry I misremembered the amounts!)

Of course, I was making four times as much, so lots of stuff to work with. The last time I tried this, melting the Velveeta was a huge headache; one of my crack staff suggested cutting it up and mixing it all in the hot noodles afterward, and just putting that in a low-temp oven till it's melted. Perfect!

Meanwhile, of course, you know I had to tweak this! So it turns out I didn't buy quite enough milk; so I had some heavy cream on hand, and added some of that. Also, I like when you put some breadcrumbs over the top, so I had a bag of plain, cornbread stuffing, and used that. I also added a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, some fresh pepper, and a little paprika and parsley for color. And I tasted it: good!

That would all normally be enough cooking for a week; however, I had taken some (four giant) chicken breasts out of the freezer over the weekend and not gotten around to cooking them. I was running out of week! So I fixed them in a way I often do...

First I cut up the breasts into manageable sizes; then marinated them in some kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper, plus some garlic powder and just a little cayenne pepper (not too much unless you want heat). I let the chicken marinate in that for about a half-hour in the fridge; longer would have been fine if I'd gotten to it. I also got a bowl ready with about a cup or so of flour.

When I was ready to cook, I got out my big, deep skillet and put in about a half stick of butter plus a good pour of olive oil and got that warming up.  I began dredging the chicken in the flour. Not heavily, but coating the pieces pretty well. By the way: you could also use an egg wash here, if you want more coating, or even bread crumbs, but I prefer a light coating, so I just used the flour. When the fat was hot -- the skillet on a medium temp -- I started putting in my pieces of chicken. Don't crowd them! I turned the heat up a little bit, and cooked them long enough to get good color on them, but not to completely cook them. Then I removed them to a baking dish, while I got the oven going at 350 degrees. When all the chicken was cooked, I poured the pan drippings over the chicken, covered the dish, and put that in the oven for a half hour.

We had these with some frozen veggies I nuked with some butter, salt, pepper and herbs de provence. If I'd been a little sharper, I'd have cooked some pasta and tossed it with some parmesan or romano cheese. When I brought the chicken to the table, I put some parsley on it, just so it'd look nice; and I made sure to spoon out some of the drippings from the pan. This is one of my favorite meals, although I don't make it often. Back when I was a bachelor, I'd make this for company and folks would rave about it; but it isn't hard and doesn't take that long, and except for when you're sauteeing the chicken, you don't have to tend the stove too much, so you can visit better with your guests. I easily had enough chicken for six people; as it is, the seminarian and I have some leftovers.

So, I'm done cooking for a few days! The Catholic War Vets have a fish fry tonight; spaghetti Saturday; I the school kids have some sort of chicken carry out on Sunday -- I bought some tickets, now I have to remember to use them! Meanwhile, I have steaks and chops thawing in the fridge for next week. 

Sunday, March 07, 2021

It's not about rules but a relationship (Sunday homily)

 The first reading is about God’s Law: 

God’s Ten Commandments, God’s “Rules.” 

We need rules; and even if we claim not to like them, 

in fact, we really do.

Many complain that the Church imposes rules, 

but the truth is, so often ordinary Catholics come to me and ask:

“Is there a rule for this situation?” 

And if there isn’t a rule – and I say, well, 

try to apply this scripture or moral principle, 

that usually frustrates people who come back with:

“Just give me a rule!”

As I said, rules are useful.

Every family has rules:

Who does what chores, on what days; 

how late is too late to be out on a school night, and so forth.

And – to quote the late Father Michael Seger, 

who taught moral theology at the seminary in my time:

“Rules exist to protect values”:

“Thou shalt not kill” protects the value and dignity of human life.

But life is always more than rules;

and in the fullness of time, God’s Word became flesh:

Jesus came to invite each of us into a relationship with him.

To know him not only as Creator, as Judge, and as Savior – which he is –

But just as much as a brother and a friend.

So all this raises a question which I now want to put to you, 

And, to be honest, I hope to make you think deeply about:

Is your Catholic Faith mainly about following rules?

Getting to Mass on time; keeping the communion fast;

praying your regular prayers;

no meat on Fridays during Lent;

not going too far on a date, not taking God’s Name in vain;

not drinking too much on a Friday or Saturday night;

and if you do these things, get to confession before communion.

As I said: every family needs rules, and that includes God’s Family.


If your faith is mainly about keeping rules? You’re missing it!

Our Catholic Faith is mainly, crucially, about a relationship!

God is a Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So God is – within Himself, in a way we can’t quite explain – 

a relationship.

Life is a relationship. 

There is not one person here who could be here 

without a series of relationships. 

You never have been an island all to yourself, and you never will be.

Maybe the reason God created the world this way 

was so that his invitation to a relationship with him 

would be amplified and re-echoed in everything we experience; 

to give us every advantage, to have courage to believe, first, 

that a relationship with God is possible…

And then to find it easier to follow the path he gives us 

to that relationship – so we would be successful.

Most of us are really good at figuring out the rules;

even if you can’t quite figure out the rules for your taxes,

you can always pay someone to work them out for you.

Relationships are much harder.

Remember high school? There were always girls you noticed, 

but you were scared too death to talk to them.

I remember attending my 10-year reunion and seeing some of them – 

who were married – and thinking, why didn’t I ask them out?

Far harder is doing the work to make and keep a good relationship.

Lots of people are married – happily, it would seem –

but they don’t talk very much; 

they don’t spend much time alone as a couple. 

I know because you come and tell me – 

along with the sadness and frustrations 

that come with that disconnect. 

Lots of our children need to talk to their parents: 

so many of our girls are lied to about their value;

so many of both boys and girls are looking at stuff on their phones 

they know is poison, but they don’t know how to stop.

Kids: no one in the world loves you as much as your mom and dad.

Talk to them!

Parents, you know they are scared: so you talk first!

Relationships take work but it’s worth it.

True for friends and family, most true with the God who made you,

and who came to earth precisely to die on the Cross to save you,

and who wants nothing more than to have you and me with Him forever.

Those money-changers Jesus confronted that day?

They must have been so confused, because, after all:

They were following all the rules!

Don’t just follow the rules: know God!

Talk to him, discover him; make friends!