Sunday, August 29, 2021

My weekend...

Here's a vignette...

Several weeks ago, a local group planned to bring a priest here from Haiti. His parish benefits from contributions from local folks -- including my parishioners -- so this was an opportunity for them to know where their money goes, and for the priest and the Haitian parish to tell their story.

Meanwhile, I had a wedding scheduled for Saturday...that means a rehearsal Friday, of course.

Somewhere in there I got a call: So-and-so was from your parish; she died; her funeral was at Such-and-such a parish, will you lead prayers at the grave on Saturday? Sure.

(It's starting to get complicated, but what can I do?)

Priest visiting from Haiti speaks little English; he brings a parishioner of his who speaks English. The group here, that is organizing things, has a schedule for him to meet with this group, that group, see this and that. He's going to be at all the Masses this weekend. I speak up: Father should be given an opportunity to offer Mass himself; even in French, if that's all that works. I stupidly thought Haitians all speak French; they speak Creole, which is French derived, but not the same thing. At any rate, we planned for one Mass to be a mixture of French and English, meaning, Father could offer Mass and we'd all just manage.

Father-from-Haiti is very pleasant, but little time to visit. I've got a rehearsal, he's got visits...

Oh, and the retired priest who was going to come on Saturday morning -- I have two other Masses -- gets a fever. Now I have three Saturday Masses, plus confessions, plus the burial...

And then I get a call: a longtime parishioner died. When shall I meet with the family? How about Saturday, between the burial for the other lady, and the wedding? That's all that works. Thank God, everyone who came for the 11:30 am burial arrived by 11:30 am. Bereavement meeting at noon went smoothly -- good, as there's a wedding at 1:30 and I need to be in the sacristy at 1 pm. "Father, it's hot in church!" "Yes, and I suggest that if you keep these inside doors closed, that'll help." "Good idea!"

Oh, did I mention I was sick this past week? Nothing serious, but I was hoarse and coughing a lot. No one likes to have the priest up at the altar, coughing. Thankfully, I felt pretty good by 1 pm on Saturday. But at the 8:15 am Mass, I said, "it's going to be a long day, sorry but no homily, no petitions..."

The families kindly invited me to the reception; and if they do (they don't always), I am happy to go.

Oh, I forgot to mention two phone calls on Friday: about a very difficult situation. No details, sorry, it's private; but VERY difficult, and I apologized for not being able to talk longer, but -- the rehearsal was in 15 minutes. 

So, by Saturday evening, things seemed on a good slide. All I had to worry about for Sunday was...

The priest visiting from Haiti would be the celebrant; but I would assist as I could, as he spoke almost no English; no one else in church spoke French. It worked, but there were some bumps.

Two more went fine.

Then a baptism, now we're on the easy side of the day. Did I mention I was getting hoarse and coughing a little? 

The visiting priest and his interpreter headed out after that, to another parish nearby and then to Indiana. Not so easy for them. Hearing about the deprivation in Haiti is...amazing. How blessed we are. 

So it's been a couple of hours, doing nothing but drinking a cold drink on my porch, and nothing else.

Friday, August 27, 2021

The new war on tradition

It's been about five weeks since Pope Francis issued Traditiones Custodes, his motu proprio greatly restricting the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), and everything, apparently, associated with it.

This decision hit me so hard that I barely talked about it, to anyone, for a week or two. I made only the briefest mention of it at Mass. Meanwhile, I contacted Archbishop Schnurr almost instantly to ask for whatever permissions were possible. Via the priest he designated as his "delegate" to handle these matters, I received permission to offer the Traditional Latin Mass "privately." No permission to celebrate any of the other sacraments in the traditional form; nor, it seems, for me to use the older forms of blessings. The Archbishop gave permission for two parishes in Cincinnati to continue offering the TLM, a parish in Dayton, and he indicated he would designate a site up north as well; that hasn't happened yet.

An aside: some want to fault Archbishop Schnurr for not being generous enough in applying, or even in sidestepping, the pope's edict. I am not a canon lawyer, so I am in no position to fault how Father Ruiz, the designated delegate, or the Archbishop himself, are construing things. But I do know they both are trying to act in accord with their consciences, as is right. And I know the following to be true: prior to Traditiones Custodes, Schnurr could not have been more generous toward those interested in traditional rites. Every priest was welcome to offer the TLM; training was generously made available; he made no problems whatsoever. The Archbishop takes seriously his moral duty to be obedient and I think he is trying to do that. Second, the choice of Father Ruiz was entirely suitable and irenic. He, too, has been supportive, and will do everything he can, conscientiously, to assist those interested in traditional forms.

So, to put it simply, even if you think Archbishop Schnurr could handle this differently, remember he is not the author of this new reality, and he is trying to navigate this with the long-term in view.

After a week, I did start writing about this situation in the parish bulletin, and I did work out how I would handle things at St. Remy. I have permission to offer the TLM privately; I have permission to allow a layperson to assist as an altar server; I have permission to do this in the church; no one told me to lock the doors or kick the faithful out of church; and I was told that if people wished to receive Holy Communion, I could give them the Eucharist. So these are the things I am doing. What, then, does offering Mass "privately" mean? It means that such a Mass cannot be on the parish schedule, nor can it be "announced." So, I regularly offer the TLM privately, without any announcement; but I do it the same time each week. If people figure it out and show up, what shall I do?

I am supremely confident that Archbishop Schnurr is entirely fine with people being present when I offer such a private Mass, but I can readily imagine it being otherwise. In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the bishop has forbidden priests from any private Traditional Latin Mass. Meanwhile, in other places, even those things that might be suggestive of traditional things are being banned. In Costa Rica, vestments that savor of tradition are banned -- from use with the 1970 Mass -- as is Latin! A priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago has been told that he and the people must cease praying the St. Michael Prayer, and the Hail Mary, at the conclusion of Mass! Permission was graciously granted for them to do so silently.

All this is supremely silly and petty, and only serves to reflect badly on those who issue such edicts. What in the world does it even mean to say, you can't pray a prayer "after Mass"? Is the public recitation of the St. Michael Prayer forbidden entirely? No? Then how much time must elapse between the conclusion of Mass and the licit recitation of this prayer? 

It may be hard to see it, but there will be good that comes from all this, although I doubt it will be what those who support this war on tradition hope for. But good will come, because it always does. 

Meanwhile, there will be bad fruit as well; the instances I cited above are some of that bad fruit. There will be many who are discouraged -- I am discouraged! There will be further divisions as people take this opportunity to treat others badly, especially when they have the power to do so.

Also meanwhile, there are those counseling disobedience. I cannot assess the conscience of others, but I cannot endorse that. 

It is one of the oldest and most seductive temptations: to justify disobedience out of an inflated sense of "necessity" and because some aspect of the obedience demanded is unfair or unjust. I will not say that there are never grounds for disobedience, but that option must be saved for last. However unfair it would be for the bishop to tell me (which he has not done, let me stress) that I may not offer the TLM at all, in my judgment, I would not be justified in defying him. If he directs me to offer the 1970 Mass only, then that is what I would do. 

After all, whenever I reach the point that I think my only option is to disobey the bishop (or the pope), there still remains one other option: to resign -- i.e., from a pastoral assignment. Sure, I hear you say, "but that's exactly what these bishops want!" They may want this or that problem priest to go away, but they do need someone to staff parishes. Resignation is an entirely ethical way to refuse to obey; and it is a witness.

Remember, the battle is always the Lord's; and deciding to trust him is a powerful message, and a blameless one. 

Meanwhile, we must simply wait for the contradictions that have been set in motion to grind away on each other. At Where Peter is, a gentlemen tries gamely to defend the pope's edict by arguing that the reason the TLM must be chucked out the window, in favor of the 1970 Missal, is because the new Mass is simply "better"; then to show the manifest inferiority of the old Mass, he cites several features that -- oops -- are likewise features of liturgy in non-Roman Catholic rites. Thus raising the question of whether these non-Roman rites must also be extirpated? The author tries to wave away the implication of his argument with a footnote: "Nothing I am saying here is meant to indicate any disunity between the Rites nor is it meant to indicate any inferiority of the other Catholic Rites." Well, you may not have "meant" to indicate inferiority, just as a poor driver doesn't mean to run the car into a telephone pole; but the mess remains.

The drift of these arguments -- and when arguments fail, naked impositions of power -- is to argue that no more debate may be tolerated about the 1970 Missal -- it's better, don't you see, so shut up! -- and for that matter, about anything that has followed the Second Vatican Council; and, for that matter, the Council itself. The basic approach here is simply to demand silence. 

Not only won't that work; it is positively corrosive. 

Many of us have long maintained that Vatican II was badly served by the implementation that followed, and I still take that view. But, if you keep insisting that people must accept it all -- the Council, plus the 1970 Missal AS-IS, plus all the rest of the decisions about religious life and architecture and catechesis -- as a package deal, while being told that if they question or wonder, they're schismatics and they "sadden" the Holy Father...

Well, people will stop asking their questions openly; but they won't stop wondering; and if they believe you that it's all a package deal, then at some point, people who previously did not question the Council itself may find themselves doing so. They will find themselves searching online for discussions of this subject; to learn more about an event that happened before they were born, and about which, they haven't really learned a whole lot. And if those in communion with Rome are forbidden to discuss openly these questions, then whose articles and websites do you suppose these inquisitive minds will land?

This all takes me back to when I entered the seminary. I had no particular interest in the the Traditional Latin Mass at the time; I had almost no experience with it and it was opaque to me. I had, however, familiarized myself with the documents of Vatican II before entering the seminary; that seemed common-sensical to do while waiting. But then I noticed something about the seminary (this was 1997): certain subjects and certain interests were verboten; any discussion was entered into furtively, while no faculty were around, and indeed, only with seminarians who one felt could be trusted. 

What subjects and interests? Anything savoring of tradition! One was extremely careful about even expressing the slightest interest in the rites and forms of liturgy prior to 1970. Indeed, even expressing interest in clerical attire would get unfavorable notice from the "formators" -- because that might suggest a certain fetish about having a clerical identity: very unhealthy! 

Guess what? This very climate of suppression and fear piqued my interest. Oh, I was quite careful myself; but all this seemed awfully curious to me: what was so dangerous about tradition? I naively thought of the Catholic Church as all about tradition; one of the things I had to wrestle with in my return to the Faith was understanding how tradition fit into the whole picture. And then I found myself asking: do these folks who are teaching us, or whose materials we are studying, imagine that Vatican II represented a break with the tradition? I knew in my bones that if there were two Churches (pre- and post-VII), then there is NO Church. The Church is one, and therefore, there must be continuity.

Thankfully, the seminary I attended is no longer subject to this repressive climate, but I suspect this sort of fearfulness is going to make a come-back in many places. It won't work, as it didn't work in my case and in the case of many with whom I attended the seminary; it will only serve to expose the fragility of the positions those who impose this sort of thought-control.

So, yes, this is all bad, but keep of good cheer. This new war on tradition will not be successful.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

'God dwells here' (Homily for Anniversary of St. Remy Dedication)

 This weekend we recall the consecration of this church; 

the actual anniversary is August 18, 

but we move it to the nearest Sunday.

This year, we also celebrate 175 years of our parish. 

The first Mass offered in Russia was not here, 

but at what was then the DeBrosse farm on Versailles Road. 

Father Navarron, the first pastor, lived in a small house there, 

and he set aside part of his home as a chapel.

In October – after the harvest – 

we’re going to have a pilgrimage out to that very location. 

Also, as you know, after the 11 am Mass on Sunday, 

we will have a picnic lunch and some live entertainment; 

I hope you can come!

Let’s be clear about the meaning of this anniversary.

Our Mass prayers and our readings are all about this place, this church.

When this church was consecrated, it became a true Holy of Holies.

It is literally true to say: God dwells here.

This anniversary should be joyful; and yet there is anxiety.

Too many things in our church, our nation, our world, give us disquiet.

I am reminded of something Saint Augustine said 1,600 years ago: 

Is there any affliction now endured by mankind 

that was not endured by our fathers before us? 

What sufferings of ours even bear comparison 

with what we know their sufferings? 

And yet you hear people complaining about this present day and age 

because things were so much better in former times. 

I wonder what would happen if they could be taken back 

to the days of their ancestors – 

would we not still hear them complaining? 

You may think past ages were good, 

but it is only because you are not living in them.

With that in mind, let’s recall our forebears who first arrived here.

They barely had anything we would call a “road”;

whatever resources they had – tools, food, life savings – 

they brought with them.

None of their tools ran on either electric or gas – but sweat.

Imagine all the trees they cut down…with an axe or handsaw.

There was no 911 to call in an emergency.

No hospital to go to if you felt bad.

No antibiotics and not much to relieve pain.

It must have been a very hard life, and they knew it would be, 

when they left all behind in Europe, 

and sailed for several weeks across a vast ocean, 

and then made their way deep into a wilderness of unknown peril.

When they arrived and caught their breath and wiped their brows, 

it wasn’t long before they knew what they needed:

A house for God to dwell in. A priest to offer Holy Mass 

and to baptize and to give absolution and the anointing of the sick 

and all the sacraments.

They wanted God to dwell here, and their Catholic faith assured them 

that in the Most Holy Eucharist, indeed God does dwell here.

Stop and think about the burden of work they faced, 

and with what justification they could have said, 

“we have so much we must do first; we’ll get around to God later.” 

Instead they moved quickly to invite God to dwell in their midst.

You and I have heard such discouraging news in recent weeks.

How heavy it is to witness the suffering of people 

in Afghanistan, Haiti – or a farm family in St. Henry.

That first generation who came here fled the wars of Europe;

as their sons came of age, they were called up for the Civil War.

In those days, a bad crop wasn’t just lost income; it was famine.

Do you dread the hostile culture around us? 

Did you know that in 1855,  

a mob set fire to the first Holy Angels church – in Sidney? 

That was only one of many riots across the nation, targeting Catholics.

What gave them strength and confidence to keep going?

Their families; their faith; and this house of God.

Today when you leave this house, 

will you know and be sure within yourself, 

that you were with God today; 

that you beheld him with your very eyes?

Will others you meet realize, from having met you,  

that God dwells here?

Sunday, August 15, 2021

'Where Mary is, God wants us to be as well' (Assumption homily)

 Today we remember Mary’s departure from this life 

and entry into eternity.

We believe, as Pope Pius XII taught definitively in 1950, 

“that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, 

having completed the course of her earthly life, 

was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”

We believe this because early Christians believed it.

There is an interesting bit of concrete evidence for this:

and it is that nowhere on earth are the bones of Mary kept.

Surely, if her body had remained on earth, 

Her remains would have been honored and protected,

and they would be venerated to this day.

The bones of the apostles have been preserved all these centuries;

It is impossible to believe Mary’s body would be any less honored.

A third reason we believe it is because it makes sense 

that God would give this gift to her who cooperated so perfectly 

and so powerfully with God’s plan to save the human race. 

Now, there’s an important point to make about this gift given Mary, 

like all the gifts God gave to her.

Mary being taken into heaven 

isn’t only something that happened to her; 

it has meaning for all of us, for all Christians.

Where Mary goes, we will go. 

Everything God gave to Mary, he will give us as well.

So this is a powerful cause for hope.

As you know, I recently did a series of homilies 

on the Mass and the Eucharist.

Last week, Deacon Ethan Hoying gave a powerful homily 

on the Eucharist truly and really being Jesus’ Body and Blood.

There’s a connection between that subject and today’s observance,

and it is this: the Mass and the Eucharist aren’t only about 

a backward connection to the First Good Friday and the Resurrection.

They are also about a forward connection to what we aim for – 

where Mary has already arrived – and that is heaven.

The readings remind us of the “ark of the covenant.”

These details are fascinating.

This was a box, covered inside and out with pure gold.

This box was covered with a lid, on which two cherubim were fashioned. 

Their wings extended toward each other.

FYI, if you ever saw the Indiana Jones movie, 

it does a good job at least showing you what the ark looked like.

The ark had the original Ten Commandments placed in it, 

along with a container holding some of the manna from the desert.

Once a year, the high priest would enter into the Holy of Holies – 

where the ark was kept – in order to offer atonement for the people. 

God’s Glory would come down and overshadow the ark; 

the wings of the cherubim were referred to as the “Mercy Seat” – 

a kind of throne for God.

Now, compare the old ark to the new ark – that is, Mary:

What is better than pure gold? How about pure holiness? 

Mary was preserved, by God’s action, from any stain of sin.

Mary carried not God’s Word in stone, but the Word made flesh.

She bore not manna from the desert, but the true Bread from Heaven!

All this after the Holy Spirit of God overshadowed her.

And notice this: she was present when the true High Priest – her Son! – 

offered atonement for sin, not once a year, 

but once for all time and forever.

Here’s a secret that so many miss.

Do you know what is the closest you can be to heaven, while on earth? 

It’s where you are right this moment.

Do you doubt that Mary believed that?

Do you have any question, that when the Apostles offered Mass, 

she believed her Son when he said, “Do this in memory of me”? 

She knew for certain that the bread and wine 

truly became the Body and Blood of Jesus.

Do you deny that Mary above all would recognize her own son?

If Mary were still on earth, she’d be right here.

The Mass, the Eucharist, is not only union with Jesus on the Cross.

It is also union with Jesus risen from the dead; 

Jesus reigning in heaven: union with Jesus FOREVER.

Where Mary is, God wants us to be as well. 

Sunday, August 01, 2021

The Wondrous Exchange (Sunday homily)

 Last Sunday, in my homily series, 

we looked at the dimension of sacrifice: 

the Holy Mass is a true and real sacrifice, 

precisely because it is the re-presentation of Calvary. 

To put crudely, the Mass is like a time-machine 

that takes us to the first Good Friday.

A better way to say it is that the Mass, 

because it is the action of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 

is bigger than space and time. Bigger than everything!

When you and I take part in Mass, we tap into that power, 

and we are taken both back in time to Calvary, 

and also forward in time to the heavenly realities 

toward which God is pulling us with all his might.

And to repeat an essential point: 

to receive Holy Communion is to enter into union with God – 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit – in the fullness of this reality. 

So no one should ever receive the Eucharist 

without faith and preparation and being in a state of grace.

This is all too important to be casual about it!

No one in her right might would say to a casual acquaintance, 

let’s get married, right now! 

Even moreso, no one should approach the altar of God 

without great awareness of this awesome reality.

Today, I want to look again at this aspect of sacrifice, 

but from a different angle; 

and pose the question that maybe you’ve pondered – I know I have – which is this:

Why God? Why did you do it this way?

Why was the plan for the Son to die?

Here’s a reason that occurs to me. 

Every one of us discovers, more than once and in more than one way, the division within ourselves.

Part of us aspires to be great; above all, morally great.

Who doesn’t admire a Mother Theresa, who gives her life for the poor?

Or Father Kapaun, who sacrificed his life in the Korean War, 

for the soldiers he was there to help?

But then we always stumble over that other part of ourselves, 

which you can see on full display beginning a few months after birth. 

When we are little, you and I literally take the food 

out of our parents’ mouths – we don’t care if they eat; gimme, MINE!

It’s a lifelong challenge: what do we call it? Dying to self!

Sooner or later, there can be real pain 

as we confront that selfish barbarian inside ourselves: 

he has to die so that we can really live.

In other words, humanity faced crucifixion whether Jesus came or not!

So look what God did: he said to humanity, your trial is mine!

Your pain is mine! Your death will become mine, 

and in so doing, become life for you, not merely human but divine life!

Of course, we wonder, couldn’t God have spared us suffering?

And the answer has to be yes, he could, because he’s God.

If you are a parent, let me ask you this:

if you had it in your power, 

would you prevent your child from any and all suffering?

You know you can’t; but what if you could?

And I don’t just mean exterior hardships, like losing a job, 

or a broken heart, or physical disability or sickness.

The trials that matter most are when they become 

a confrontation within ourselves, the choice between good and evil;

and whether we will pay the price 

to kill that selfishness and greed and lust within.

Mom, dad: you can’t really spare your child from that battle!

All you can do is help him or her face it and pass through it safely.

See how our parents show us God?

This is what God does: he says, you don’t have to face your cross alone!

So, here we are at the Mass, at the Cross; 

and we dragged our own cross here!

Speaking for myself, I am embarrassed by the pitiful “cross” 

I complain about, as I contemplate what Jesus took up.

And here Jesus says – and we hear him say it:  

“This is my Body, given for you! This is my blood, shed for you!”