Sunday, February 27, 2022

Preparing for Lent (Sunday homily)

  The first reading said, 

“When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear.”

That’s a good image for what we want to do with Lent.

We want to get those unsavory parts of our lives up on the surface – 

and, of course, get them out.

If you are thinking about Lent as something to be “got through” – 

just grit your teeth and march through to Easter – 

then you’re not going to gain much of anything from Lent.

The whole point of Lent is conversion. We all know that Jesus said: 

“Repent and believe in the Gospel. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

All Christians know that. 

But what we as Catholics do – that not all Christians do – 

is give ourselves six weeks of focusing on that repentance, 

that turning back to God, that getting ready for the Kingdom.

Now, you and I can shake the sieve,

But truly, the conversion – the change – only happens with God’s help.

With the help of his supernatural grace, 

that is, his divine life poured into our lives.

So please do not reduce this to ritual or rules.

Those exist in service to something far more important, which is – 

to repeat myself – our conversion. Our becoming heavenly.

One day every one of us will leave this life, we know not when.

When you depart this life, where will you go?

Do you want to go to heaven? Of course, you do.

Do you take this for granted? 

What exactly in the words of Jesus lets you think so?

Jesus keeps saying, wake up! Get ready! Change your life!

Why would he do that if we could just cruise on autopilot 

straight through the Pearly Gates? 

Here’s a lesson that each of us can – and will learn – during Lent:

Change is hard. Conversion is hard.

Talk is cheap. Six straight weeks is something else.

One reason to give something up is precisely to humble ourselves, 

and to face the reality of our weakness and our spiritual flabbiness.

And I say it again: me too.

In the second reading, St. Paul talked about resurrection.

When the discipline of Lent becomes a real drag, 

remind yourself of what lies ahead. 

By the calendar, Lent leads to Holy Week and then to Easter:

The way of the Cross to Calvary, to the grave and then to new life.

For us that means taking up the Cross here and now.

Embrace purgatory, here and ahead.

One day it will be heaven and resurrection.

That means having our bodies back, new and improved.

What is mortal and frail will clothe itself with immortality.

That’s what Jesus told us to get ready for. 

The classic tools of this conversion are fasting, prayer and giving alms.

Each of us can offer more prayer, give up things we like, 

and give things away to help others. 

I repeat, everyone can do this, at any age.

I’m speaking right now to our children.

Talk to mom and dad about what you can do without or give away, 

about learning new prayers this Lent. 

And if you really want to make a good Lent, 

think about how you can make things easier for mom and dad. 

I especially want to highlight some opportunities for prayer 

you may not realize.

Daily Mass will be at 7 am, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

If you come about 20 minutes before, we pray Morning Prayer.

You can come to adoration anytime from about 8 am to about 8:30 pm. 

We’ll have Stations of the Cross every Thursday evening at 7 pm.

All the many opportunities for confession are available.

It’s game-time, let’s go! Let’s you and I make this our best Lent ever.

I’m praying that this will be a time of conversion:

For myself, for you, and for our parish.

Will you join me in that prayer, and in making that happen?

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Which Adam will you be? (Sunday homily)

 What Jesus asks in this Gospel seems impossible.

And, at a certain level, it IS impossible.

The wrong someone causes you can be devastating.

Blackening your good name.

Betraying trust.

Damaging your relationships with others.

Causing you to lose your job.

The other day I saw a story about a man 

released from prison after many years. 

He’d been convicted of murder, 

but eventually the truth came out that his brother had done it. 

Imagine that: your own brother lets that happen to you.

You and I can also be in situations – like David’s in the first reading – 

where the right thing to do seems utterly inexplicable to everyone. 

As his right-hand man said, 

“God has delivered your enemy into your grasp!”

But what David understood was that 

this wasn’t primarily his fight, but God’s. 

The King was the Lord’s anointed; David left Saul to God.

How could David do this? The people around him, following him, 

not only found it confusing; they may have found it threatening, 

because their lives were in danger from Saul as well. 

So, I reiterate what I just said: at a certain level, this is impossible. 

How do you and I find the grace to do this?

Here’s where the second reading fits in.

This ability to forgive, this calm in the midst of a storm – 

both from your enemies, but also from your friends who are baffled –

Can only come from the Lord.

When Paul talks about two Adams, 

he means Adam at the beginning of the human race, 

and the second Adam is Jesus.

What he’s also saying to the Corinthians is:

Which Adam will you be?

The one who said, I don’t know if God is there or not. I’m on my own.

Or the one who said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

When you and I become a Christian, when we live as Christians, 

it means choosing that second Adam.

And when it seems especially difficult, 

ask yourself whether you’re acting more out of that first Adam 

point of view: I’m on my own.

If David had thought that way, he’d have killed King Saul.

This last week I was on retreat, 

and we were looking at the life and teachings 

of St. John Henry Newman.

Newman made a point about faith:

That, contrary to how people describe it, faith is NOT blind.

There can be times of darkness, but it’s not about being blind.

Rather, what faith does is enable you and me to see more fully.

If I take off my glasses, everything is fuzzier, 

especially way back there!

I put my glasses back on, and the weakness of my vision is corrected. Things are now clear. 

That’s what faith does.

One way to deal with people who have harmed you, and are harming you, 

is to follow David’s example.

David was not passive when King Saul was unjust and threatened him. 

David acted to protect himself and to escape danger.

Yet at a certain point he said, Saul is God’s problem.

So, whoever that is in your life, acting like Saul to you,

you can protect yourself and others.

But, if you have a chance to strike out, but maybe you don’t have to?

That’s what Jesus means by saying, “turn the other cheek.”

This person, this situation, is God’s problem. God’s battle.

Look at David’s life. 

He wasn’t off somewhere, away from the action – 

he was in the thick of battle, 

he’s living off the land, he’s on the run from danger.

But with all that, he’s talking to God. 

We have his psalms in the Bible:

“I was in battle, and you saved my life.”

“Wild animals were all around me, and you, God delivered me.”

“My sins are so loathsome, yet you forgive me!”

David would have loved being out in the woods in camo, hunting deer.

And he would have loved the sacrament of confession.

So, what St. Paul said to the Corinthians, he says to us:

Which Adam will you and I be? 

The worldly Adam who says, I’m alone, I don’t know where God is?

Or the Spirit-filled Adam who will be at the altar in a few minutes, 

offering himself to the Father for us, 

to give us his Body and Blood, cleansing us of sins, 

giving us eternal life, and making us life for others?

Which Adam? 

Saturday, February 12, 2022

'Our leaves will stay green!' (Sunday homily)

 I really didn’t want to give this homily.

As you know, there is a reorganization of parishes 

called Beacons of Light underway. 

This involves some priests being moved around, 

and this weekend is when these changes are being announced.

I am one of those priests who will be moving. 

The Archbishop asked me to take charge of three parishes in Dayton. 

I’ll become pastor of St. Henry, Our Lady of Good Hope, 

and St. Mary of the Assumption.  

Your new pastor will be Father Ned Brown, who is now in Fort Recovery. 

This will all take effect July 1st.

I have been so happy here as your pastor. I asked to stay.

I pushed. It wasn’t possible.

I will miss you. I will miss watching our children grow up.

There’s so much I could say, but this isn’t about my sadness.

I will just add that you helped me more than you can imagine.

You nourished my faith and helped me be a better priest. 

If I make it to heaven, you will have helped. Thank you!

Now let’s talk about the future.

Father Brown will be joined by three other priests.

That includes Father James Reutter, 

who is currently leading several rural parishes in Clermont County, 

and Father Matt Feist, who is currently pastor in Greenville, 

which of course is part of this new family.

The remaining priest will be named later.

So, that makes a team of four priests led by Father Brown.

You may recall the original plan called for three priests, 

so, getting a fourth is a bonus.

We may not keep that fourth priest long term, 

but it will help during the transition.

Everyone always asks, what do I think of these priests?

I will say they are all my friends; I have worked well with them. 

But I’m not going to build them up, setting you up for a let-down.

Nor am I going to tear them down either!

You will meet them soon enough. 

Father Brown has a big task, especially between now and July 1:

he has his own parishes to lead, 

he has to help with the transition there, 

and of course, make the transition to this new assignment.

Let’s talk about the fear these changes engender.

Father Brown knows we have strong, well-run programs here; 

he is well aware of our strong parish identity; because I’ve told him. 

He told me he’s not looking to mess up what works.

What he wants is to provide good leadership for all the parishes,

in order to navigate this transition as smoothly as possible.

He’s going to need everyone’s cooperation and patience.

It may take longer than you like, but he will get to your questions.

For my part: I will be on retreat this coming week.

No, it’s not anything mysterious, I planned this months ago.

But I’m glad to have these few days under these circumstances.

I have to move from my sadness and grief to my next challenge.

So, with all this affecting Father Brown and the other priests,

affecting his current parishes, 

and then, our parish, and our family of seven parishes, 

and affecting me, and my own transition to a new assignment…

You can understand there may not be time for some things.

I’m going to zero in on the essentials, 

on the deadlines that are out of my control, 

and otherwise, I’m going to have to gear down.

In the Gospel, our Lord Jesus talks about blessing and woe.

This “woe” language can be unsettling.

But Jesus is not condemning those who are rich and comfortable.

He’s saying, if you are putting your hope in that comfort: woe to you!

Apply that to our present situation:

a lot of us are unsettled by change, but we forget change is constant.

You and I overlook that we’ve adapted more than we realize.

We will navigate the change ahead better than we think – 

because that’s what we do. It’s built into us.

If you’re sitting here saying, “Not me: I do TERRIBLE with change,” 

my answer is, relax and look around: you’re not alone. 

People around you will help. We’re going to help each other.

Don’t forget the advantages you and I bring to this challenge.

We have deep reservoirs of faith and God’s help.

The gifts we need are in other people, 

and together, you and I have all we need. 

This is God’s Church – he died for it.

And if you are griping, “but where are we going? Why this way?”

Remember, God’s People have been saying that for 3,500 years, 

starting way back in the desert with Moses.

Whatever comes – and all my experience tells me the actual reality

will be nowhere near as bad as we imagine on fretful, sleepless nights…

Whatever comes, our leaves will stay green. That’s God’s promise!

Sunday, February 06, 2022

How to get on the first rung of prayer (Sunday homily)

 Have you ever considered how often the Lord met people at work: 

farmers in the field; women caring for the household; 

shepherds and fishermen, working all night?

When you are at school, or at your job, 

or doing the daily tasks of the farm or the home, Jesus is there. 

And if you find it hard to remember he’s part of your day, 

here are some easy, practical ways to keep Jesus with you all day:

- Start each day with the Morning Offering. 

You can do it in the shower or as you brush your teeth.

- Turn off the radio in the car and pray while you drive. 

You will drive more politely, and if you have a long enough drive, 

it’s not hard to complete an entire Rosary. 

There’s nothing wrong with praying part of your Rosary 

and coming back to it later. 

It’s not the best, but better to pray part, 

than to wait and not pray it at all.

- Make an effort to pause during the day, if only for a moment. 

Our parish staff takes five at Noon to pray the Angelus.

- Keep a Rosary or a medal in your pocket. 

Reach for it when things get crazy.

- Talk to Jesus through the day. This is a way to remind yourself 

of God’s presence and to develop the habit of realizing, you are never alone.

- On the way home, reflect on the day, both what’s behind 

and still ahead. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you a second wind.

- Be sure to give yourself a few minutes before bed to look back, 

ask forgiveness and give thanks for the ups and downs of the day.

Of course, there is more to prayer than this. 

This is just how you get your foot on the first rung of the ladder.

Now, the other thing I’m supposed to do this weekend is invite you 

to make a commitment to the Catholic Ministry Appeal. 

You know about this. 

This provides for St. Rita School for the Deaf, 

for our seminary, for our retired priests, 

for Catholic Social Services which provides help to people in trouble, 

including here in Shelby County,

for hospital and prison chaplains, for outreach on college campuses, 

and for other evangelization efforts.

We have parishioners who have benefited from St. Rita, 

we have parishioners who have been in our seminary or are there now, 

we have people who quietly seek out help from Catholic Social Services, 

and a lot of our kids are away at college.

This is help that stays close to home.

There are pledge forms and envelopes in the pews. 

Feel free to fill one out and include it in today’s collection, 

or mail it in later.

Let me add one more point about prayer. 

As important as a plan is, such as what I outlined to a moment ago, 

that never gets anywhere without something far more basic. 

And that is desire.

So, if you’re having a hard time getting out of the starting gate, 

then here is my very simple advice. And it will work if you follow it:

Start with this short prayer: “Jesus, give me the desire.”

That is, for a habit of prayer, for a deeper spiritual life, 

for the grace to kick the habit of going to dark places online, 

whatever it is.

Five words: “Jesus, give me the desire.”

Say it over and over, a hundred times a day. That’s how it starts.

“Jesus, give me the desire.”