Sunday, December 03, 2023

What Advent is really about (Sunday homily)

  I want to make three points in this homily.

First, I want to explain what Advent is really about – 

it’s not exactly what you may think.

We often say Advent is about preparing for Christmas, 

but that’s not exactly right. 

After all, what do the readings we just heard 

have to do with Christmas? It’s hard to see, isn’t it?

That’s because what Advent is primarily about 

is preparing for eternity; 

and only about Christmas, 

to the extent that Christmas, too, is also about eternity. 

So look again at the readings – 

doesn’t that explanation make a better fit? 

This is all about eternity!

The second thing I want to call to your attention 

has to do with the details of that first reading. 

This is such a powerful passage, it is deeply moving: 

God’s people are crying out to heaven for God’s grace:

“Why do you let us wander, O LORD…

 why do you let us “harden our hearts”? 

They are asking for the help of God’s grace, to be converted! 

It’s such a powerful prayer, isn’t it what so many of us pray? 

This prayer, this prophecy by Isaiah, do you know how it is fulfilled?

In the sacraments of the Church.

Beginning in baptism, the sacraments open us up 

to all the graces we need to be saved, 

beginning with the grace of conversion. 

But this is not a one-and-done process.

Since that’s not how we creatures of time operate –

We grow in maturity, we change, we’re up, we’re down –

So, God in his goodness, works with our frailty.

Our conversion is a process and we get constant help.

Yet this prayer is our prayer: we want to want it!

We need the Holy Spirit to give us the desire, 

to have that longing for conversion and holiness and heaven 

to grow in us.

And our Faith, our sacraments, help us with this.

So, I’m going to suggest:

This Advent, decide you want to begin a new habit, 

of coming regularly – if not frequently – to confession.

Sometimes people will object, 

“but I don’t know what to say in confession!”

What can I say? Unless your daily life is like that of Mary and Joseph, 

I’m guessing there’s plenty to say. 

Start there, with how you get along with your family, your spouse, 

your kids, your coworkers.

There will be extra opportunities during Advent, 

on top of the five hours we regularly have each week for confessions.

And I want to say something more. 

The other priests and I talk frequently 

about offering more times for confessions on a permanent basis.

But here’s what we priests have no clue about:

What day, what time of day, would work for you,

with your busy schedule of work, or school, or family.

So, we guess, and add hours on this evening or this morning.

Your feedback would be very helpful. 

Tell me if this or that time works. 

The more information I have from you on this topic, the better.

Here’s the final point to make: 

God wants to forgive us! God wants to forgive us!

Why do I make that point so strongly? 

Because there are many who express great fear:

Maybe I didn’t confess my sins exactly right, 

maybe I need to do it all over again.

And I want to ask: Do you think God is setting you up to fail? 

Do you imagine God is playing tricks on you, 

as if we were all in some cosmic game show – 

and if you or I answer wrong, whoops! Oh, too bad!? 

Stop and think about who you really think God is.

And so I repeat: God wants to forgive us. He wants to help us.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Christ the King (Sunday homily)

 We might wonder, why do we have this feast of Christ the King? 


This solemnity was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925. 

And it helps to understand the times.

For some time, the trends in society 

had been to denigrate the Church and the Catholic Faith. 

A few years before, the most powerful nations 

had all been drawn into the slaughter of the First World War. 

And in the wake of that war, extreme movements were taking hold: 

communism, fascism and militarism.

And so the pope sought to remind the world who its true king is. 

Not a Fuhrer, not a dictator, not an ideology.

As the pope said, “all men, whether collectively or individually, 

are under the dominion of Christ. 

In him is the salvation of the individual, 

in him is the salvation of society.”

A century later, our world still needs the same reminder.

On the one hand, we have supposedly free societies – 

including our own – where more and more people 

are being shamed and harassed and punished 

because they believe what Jesus teaches about marriage and family. 

People are losing their jobs. 

Business owners are being fined by government, 

forced to shut up or shut down. 

It is likely to get worse before it gets better.

On the other hand, in west Africa and elsewhere, we are witnessing 

a ruthless effort to exterminate Christians in the name of Islam. 

Thankfully there are some efforts to stop it, but not much.

The need to accept Jesus Christ as king is as great as ever!

So what does that look like?

The starting point is our own lives. 

Is he king over how I use my time? My money? 

Over my eyes, my hands, my words? 

Do I use my body and talents according to his laws—or my own desires?

The truth, of course, is that I’m still fighting the battle in my own life; 

and most likely, so are you. 

The great tool we have in this is the sacrament of confession. 

When you and I bow our egos and bend our knees in the confessional, 

We renew our loyalty to Jesus, not vaguely, but very concretely – 

in my life, today, right now.

Second is what happens in our homes. 

There’s no rule that says 

you and I have to have a crucifix or an image of Jesus in our home; 

but why wouldn’t we all wouldn’t want that?

Personally, I like having an image of Jesus or Mary in every room.

It’s not magic, but  crucifix over the computer and the TV 

can help us pause before we click. 

But what best shows Jesus as king in our homes 

is how you and I treat one another. 

When our homes are places of prayer, forgiveness and peace, 

Christ reigns – and people will want what they experience in us!

Finally, we lift up King Jesus with the difference we make in the world. 

The Gospel gives us a powerful measure: 

how we treat those who are least and easily forgotten. 

If Jesus were accepted as king of this world, 

there would be no one hungry or naked or forgotten; 

but as it is…our world is rather different.

This is something encouraging about our family of parishes:

Whether it is blessings in a bag, the casseroles people prepare, 

the tags on the Christmas trees in the foyer of church – 

and there’s more that happens quietly – 

these small acts please our Lord. 

Helping out with a clothing drive or a soup kitchen 

is a powerful antidote when we get discouraged or sad.

If you ever feel overwhelmed, take heart!

The Gospel doesn’t show the Lord saying to anyone, 

“well done, you solved the whole problem.” 

Instead, we see Jesus commending those who did what they could; 

and condemning those who passed by.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Prepping the turkey for Thanksgiving

My family and I are gathering tomorrow, that's why I'm preparing the turkey tonight. Here are some of the vegetables that will be in the pan, under the turkey. I also added some onions. A lovely broth will result.

Here is the bird, after having been brined for 24 hours, sat in the fridge so that the skin could dry out.
I prepared this by carefully separating the skin over the breast, and then stuffing some fresh thyme, rosemary, sage and bay leave up underneath, along with butter. I haven't figured out how to get it way to the front, without tearing the skin; plus, I suspect it will all drip out anyway (see next picture), but it won't hurt any.

Here is the turkey after I've rubbed butter and olive oil all over the top and bottom, and sprinkled salt and pepper. I decided to interpose a rack between the bird and the vegetables; was that a mistake?

Also, note the position: it is breast down. That will protect the breast and enable the saddle of fat that sits along the backbone of the turkey to melt and drip down while the bird cooks. In the last stages, I'll flip the bird up and use the broiler to give the breast skin a good color.

 What you can't see is that I stuffed the cavities of the bird with onions, rosemary, bay leaves, and an orange and lime I had sitting around. Now I'm waiting till around 10 pm to stick it in a hot oven for the first hour, to kill any germs on the surface; then I'll turn the oven down to a very low setting for it to cook overnight. See you in the morning!

Update, 8:40 am...

Wakey, wakey! Let's check the turkey!

First things first: I started some coffee. Then I pulled the turkey out to see how it was doing:

I'm a little concerned about the wing,'s the wing.  The color looks good, eh? Oh but remember, that's the bottom. I have to flip it. With the help of a clean dish towel and a big spoon (using the handle end), I had no difficulty transferring Big Bird to another pan; then I took out the rack, because it didn't sit properly on it. I also took this moment to drain off some of the broth and fat from the pan -- liquid gold!

Here's the bird back in the oven to continue cooking; the temperature is now 125, and we want it around 160. I left the oven setting unchanged, as we have almost 5 more hours to go.

Update, 11:27 am...

Just a bit ago, I finished some other work. I cooked some sausage (two pounds of Bob Evans, half regular, half Italian style), while the innards and wing tips simmer away in the background:

Then I melted butter, sauteed the onions, then added celery and shallots. I didn't get a photo of it, but after this, I separated these vegetables into two batches (because my skillet wasn't big enough), and then heated some turkey stock (from the store) to a boil, then combined that mixture in baking dishes with the sausage and some cornbread and cubed white bread dressing mix, also from the store. Those two dishes of stuffing dressing are now covered in foil, in the fridge so they can be heated up later. 

I might here mention that I have some travel complications; dinner isn't at the house the other priest and I share, but at the undercroft of one of the churches, so I have to transport the turkey, dressing and gravy there. I have plans, which mainly involve driving very carefully. But I give some consideration to a suitable container for the gravy, and that led me to discover an exotic cooking device which I have never used in my life:

Now I wait for the turkey to finish...

Update 11:51 am...

The thermometer registered 145, my early warning system for the turkey. So I turned down the oven (I wanted not to hit 145 for another 90 minutes), and took out the turkey and basted it. I took it out of the pan, removed the veggies, and poured off the juices. What shall I do with these vegetables?

This broth will be used for one more basting right before I take it out, then added to the stock bubbling on the back burner, to make gravy:

Meanwhile, the thermometer has hit 151, and I'd like it to stay there because I don't trust it; that's close enough. The oven itself is set on 150, so any increase at this point is residual heat. 

Update, 1:39 pm...

OK, getting close, so I put the dressing in the bottom of the oven, with the turkey overhead. The temperature has backed off with basting, so I cranked up the oven to 450 degrees to finish it off. I put the root vegetables back in the pan, in case anyone wants them.

Meanwhile, it's time to make the gravy. I skimmed off the turkey fat from the drippings, and heated it up, adding three tablespoons of flour, to make a roux:

After cooking that for a bit, I added in all the turkey stock I'd prepared -- with chopped up giblets -- as well as the pan drippings. After heating and mixing that, it went into the mysterious device I found, which I set to low:

Around 2:15 pm, I'm going to load all this in my car and take it to an undisclosed location (one of our campuses) where some of the family will be congregating around 3 pm. If things work out, I'll post a pick of the turkey.

Update 2:18 pm...

Here's one of the two pans of dressing; I'm afraid one of them got a little scorched.

And here's the star of our show, just out of the oven:

And here are these items packed up in the car, (the crock-pot of gravy is in the front), and I'll depart shortly:


The turkey turned out very well! The gravy was delicious! Alas, something went wrong with the mashed potatoes -- i.e., no one brought any! But the gravy was still tasty on the turkey and dressing.

The dressing, alas, got a little toasty, but next year, we'll see. Everyone brought different things: my brother and his wife brought a very nice broccoli casserole -- which had difficulties in the oven, at St. Mary, that I didn't know how to make bend to my will, but it eventually emerged -- and my sister brought a traditional green bean casserole; my other brother brought a great variety of drinks, and I think I put a major dent in the wine. My sister also brought pumpkin pie and *real* whipped cream. I made coffee, but it was one of those...machines...and my brother said I made it too strong, was tossed out. Pfff! We also managed to have really nice snacks and all that...

But the really important thing was getting together. I'm sorry three of our siblings couldn't be there, and our nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews could not be present, but that's how it works. Maybe next year it will be better.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Steak dinner

So, let's talk about dinner tonight...

The other priest (in case you haven't figured it out, I think it's courteous not to mention his name online; I'm not being rude) and I agree that steak is delicious and Monday is a good time for both of us to enjoy it.

I tend to like tomato salad with steak, so...

This is Campari tomatoes, with olive oil, red vinegar, salt, pepper, basil, garlic and red pepper.

We also like sauteed mushrooms, so...

This is "baby bella" mushrooms (I usually get regular ole white mushrooms, and I like them better) sauteed in olive oil, with salt and pepper, and after the water is cooked out, I add worcestershire sauce and cayenne pepper and finally, butter. They go in the oven to wait while the steaks are finished.

Oh, and I had to get the turkey out of the brine, in anticipation of the big day later this week. After rinsing off the brine, this is the turkey:

I placed this big bird (22 lbs) in the fridge, so the skin can dry out, so it ends up crispy as all normal people love.

Speaking of steaks, here's what they looked like when I put them in the fridge yesterday:

I got them out at around 3 pm -- they were darker and drier on the surface -- and popped them in the oven at about 150 degrees: low and slow.

Around 4 pm -- after finishing the mushrooms -- they went on a hot grill to get a good sear, then I rested them with dried thyme and butter, about 7-8 minutes. They were a nice medium rare; I served them with the mushrooms (finished with butter) and the tomato salad, plus a nice cabernet.

Oops, I skipped the antipasto, which consisted of various cheeses in the fridge, plus some salami, plus some olives and marinated artichoke hearts; I enjoyed a martini with that, the other priest waited for dinner to enjoy some wine.

Now all is eaten and all dishes are put away. By the way, the steaks were on sale.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

What am I prepping?

What story do you think these pictures tell? Hint: they may tell more than one...


Beware false humility and false piety (Sunday homily)

 In the first reading, you have a wife and mother 

who is attentive and faithful in small things. 

The result is a great impact on her family and beyond. 

In the gospel, we have two servants 

who are likewise attentive and faithful in small things. 

Notice, by the way, that the second servant could have gotten envious – 

because the other was more celebrated. But that didn’t happen.

Maybe because the second servant, like the first,

wasn’t focused on himself or on his fellow servant, but on the Lord!

Now we come to the final servant, who rejects the Lord’s gift. 

He is fearful and perhaps proud. 

There is a kind of false humility that is actually pride: 

that says, I am not good enough, I don’t dare, 

I should hold back, and is consumed by timidity and fretfulness. 

This is false humility: “oh, poor me, nothing me!” 

But it really is pride, because it’s me looking at, focusing on, ME, 

rather than focusing on God.

This mindset, by the way, is related to scrupulosity, 

which some people wrestle with.

Scrupulosity is hyper-focus on sinfulness that becomes oppressive.

And here is the connection: with scrupulosity, 

The problem again is too much self-focus.

It is not God’s idea that look at self, self, self, self, 

either in pride of our own accomplishments – 

or in detailing with the greatest precision, our failings. 

So let’s apply this to the sacrament of confession.

The point isn’t to focus on our sins;

The main point is to be rid of them; after we admit them.

And then turn away from sin and self, toward God and our neighbor,

which the grace of the sacrament helps us to do.

The word “talent” in the Gospel can be misleading, 

because we think about ability; 

but at the time the Gospel was written, 

the word referred to an amount of silver. It was money. 

So really, the parable is about having readiness 

to use whatever resources we have, 

whether time, money or personal gifts; 

but not to focus on how much or how little we have.

Some can feel as though they have very little to offer. 

Many times I have talked to people in their later years, 

who aren’t mobile and active as they once were,

and they will say, “I don’t know why I’m still here.” 

All I can say is that, however limited you may feel you are,

you still do have something to offer the Lord, even in a small way. 

Remember that Jesus makes great things of meager offerings. 

Beware the temptation to say, like the third servant, 

“I don’t have enough to offer, so I won’t do anything.”

This directly applies to the task of sharing our faith.

It is in small things and small steps 

that we will bring people back to the Faith, 

or bring people for the first time. 

Very soon you will get a mailing 

about our Advent plans as a family of parishes. 

Along with lots of confessions and our Christmas schedule, 

you’ll see some events like Lessons and Carols 

and a Live Nativity Scene, 

that are perfect opportunities for you to invite others.

Let me give you a personal example.

When I was in my 20s, I had left the Catholic Faith 

and joined another church. 

My dad was devastated but he didn’t give up, even though – 

I am embarrassed to admit – my “no” was a very emphatic “no.”

So my dad just dropped little invitations to things,

and one time, I came with him to Stations of the Cross.

And you know what? It did soften my attitude.

That was one, small step along the path 

that brought me back to confession, 

back to the Eucharist, and eventually, to the priesthood.

So, maybe you have only one little insignificant coin.

And if we refuse to give it to the Lord, it will prove useless.

But when we place our little bit in his hands, anything can happen.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

How do we fill our reservoirs? (Sunday homily)

 This parable is one that I have found difficult to unravel 

over the years. Maybe you have too. 

As I dug into it, I drew a lot of insights from an article 

by a Protestant professor named Jack Crabtree. 

He points out that the two groups of virgins 

are alike in almost every respect. 

They are all invited to the wedding; 

they are all carrying lamps; they all bring some oil. 

They all fall asleep; and they all wake up at the same time.

And – here is the key detail – if the Bridegroom had come right away, 

all these young women would have entered together into the wedding.

What stands out is that five of them 

were equipped for the unexpected; 

they were prepared to wait and wait and wait. 

A surprise turn of events did not throw them off.

So, what made the difference for those who made it into the wedding – 

that is, into the Kingdom, into salvation?

What enabled those five virgins to stay calm and collected, 

despite being thrown a curve-ball?

They had that extra reservoir of oil – 

that is, they were well rooted in the Lord.

Where does that reserve of “oil” come from?

The hard truth is that you and I are the sum of our habits, 

either good or bad.

If you face a crisis, what is your first instinct? Is it:

(a) To cry and hope someone else fixes it?

(b) To figure out your excuse, and who to blame?

(c) To go back to bed and pretend it’s not happening?

Or, how about:

(d) To pray?

(e) To look around for who needs help first? To run to the fire?

(f) Or, to seek counsel from the wisest people available?

(g) To draw from what you learned from the saints, or the Bible?

See? That crisis is when we draw from whatever reservoir we have, either good or bad.

Each of us learn by imitating others’ habits, either good or bad;

In time, we cultivate our own set of habits, again, either good or bad.

We end up producing in our lives either 

a well-tended garden of useful things, or an untamed patch of weeds. 

So, for example, if you don’t develop a habit of prayer in times of calm, 

what makes you think you’ll have that extra oil when trouble hits?

What we want, of course, are good habits, or virtues:

the three supreme virtues are: Faith, Hope and Love.

There are many vices opposed to these, among them:

Self-pride, cynicism, doubt and despair, and selfishness.

We also refer to the “cardinal,” or hinge, virtues of

Courage, Temperance, Justice and Prudence.

And again, there are many contrary vices,

such as faint-heartedness, self-indulgence, wrath, greed and laziness.

This is a good time to talk about the deeply disappointing results 

of last week’s referendum.

I was discouraged and upset.

Many of us were probably deeply shaken.

It’s essential to remember that there’s both the big picture,

And our own little part of the picture.

Each of us has our duty to pray, to vote, to bear witness.

The whole picture, the whole battlefield? That belongs to God.

Some people – and you know who you are – 

carry the weight of it all, as if the outcome were all on you.

But God never made you responsible 

for the decisions of all the voters in Ohio. 

Each of the ten virgins was responsible for herself.

I just want to ask gently, if the election, or social trends, 

or something else, is really bothering you,

are you forgetting in whose hands this all rests? Not yours!

If we never faced any opposition or twists and turns,

We’re the first five virgins whose plan was instant success;

no need for reserves of faith and fortitude.

But not only is that not our 21st century world, 

It was never the landscape for any generation of Christians!

This is our invitation to dig deep 

and cultivate the virtue of faith and of hope.

And last Tuesday’s outcome doesn’t change our duty 

to be a source of hope and healing for as many women and families 

as we can who will, sadly, face tremendous pressure to seek abortions.

With or without the help of good laws, we can still be a light to them.

Another reason we need our oil reservoir full to the brim.

So how do we fill them?

Embrace each day as a gift from our Savior; 

Give your day, each day, to him, whatever may come.

Invite him along your day’s journey.

Get to confession regularly; you’ll find your reservoirs getting deeper.

Stay close to Jesus, the true Light.

When day is done, do a look back, ask pardon and give thanks;

and then sleep the sleep of the well-prepared waiting for the Kingdom,

tomorrow, next week, next year, or whenever the Lord chooses.

Friday, November 10, 2023

What went wrong with Ohio's abortion referendum

 Like many I was shocked by the outcome of the referendum in Ohio on November 7. It is so sad that Ohio's constitution now gives almost blanket protection to abortion.

Worse, this amendment likely creates a "right" for minor children to be groomed into a transgender identity, with their parents barred from intervening to protect them from life-altering decisions in their teen years, whether abortion or transgender quackery involving massive doses of drugs that distort their bodies, or even surgery that mutilates their bodies.

The really dismaying thing is, I believe this outcome could have been different. 

Referenda and ballot initiatives are, in my judgment, a poor way to make laws. I wish our country never went down this road; they date to the late 1800s and early 1900s, when first so-called "populist" movements, and then self-described "progressives" of the time, promoted them.

They're bad because some, probably most, decisions about law and policy are pretty involved and maybe trying to reduce them to a few paragraphs on the ballot, and to a few seconds of vivid commentary on TV and radio, are a poor way to go. If you disagree, then I ask: why don't we do all our legislating by ballot, and not have an elected legislature altogether? Who thinks that would work?

Of course, many will say, we don't like or trust the legislature, so we'll go around them. OK, but then you make it less likely you get a better legislature, and more likely they'll be worse, because the legislators are more than happy to let tough decisions go to the ballot. "Not my fault, the people chose!" One way you get better legislators is by putting them on the spot: "where do you stand on this controversial issue?" Make them vote and then hold them accountable for that vote. It's hard work, but it's a better way forward than trying to enact public policy via referenda.

But let's talk about the specific case of the 2023 referendum on abortion in Ohio and why it need not have been a defeat for the pro-life cause.

There were several major mistakes by those who led the pro-life fight. Really astonishing errors.

1.    The pro-life side wasted everyone's time with a special referendum in August, which would have raised the vote threshold for enacting constitutional amendments.

This was a waste of money and more precious still, time. Why? It was transparently about blocking the expected pro-abortion November referendum. Which means, everyone who was going to vote yes in November was primed to vote no in August. So if you have the votes to win in August, then you have the votes to win in November. So no need for the August vote. 

On the other hand, if you think you lack the votes to win in November, then you almost certainly lack the votes to win in August. What? Do you think there was a sizable number of people who would vote pro-abortion in November, but somehow, were going to vote in August to make their desired outcome in November not happen? Who would those people be? They say, "oh yes, I want the state constitution to protect abortion on demand, so now I'll vote in August to block that from happening?" That's crazy!

While there were a few other groups supportive of the August measure -- gun-rights groups and some business groups -- by far the major backing came from pro-life groups. And I'd bet real money that vast majority of funds raised, and volunteers mobilized, for the August measure, came from pro-life ranks.

That means all that money and energy was not available to build opposition to the November abortion proposal. The pro-life side was out-spent as it was; some millions of dollars that might have been raised for the November fight was, instead, spent on the August trick play.

2. The pro-life messaging was absolutely incompetent.

The group that led the pro-life opposition to the abortion measure called itself, "Protect Women." And most of the messaging was the same: this is about protecting women.

And you might say, oh isn't that clever? And you might say, yes, that's what we want is to help women, and it's absolutely true.

However, when you are attempting to communicate with millions of voters in a referendum fight, the messaging, alas, must have a crystalline clarity; it must be capable of being boiled down to very concise ideas and images. You may hate that oversimplication, but then, maybe you, like me, hate the law of gravity or the law of entropy (which together, mean I get older and I get added chins); but I will do better working with those realities than I will trying to pretend they didn't exist.

Here's the central argument of the pro-abortion side, for decades: The woman (or the girl) is in trouble. She deserves a "choice" that solves her crisis. Why do you hate women so much that you won't help her out? Note well: the focus is on a concrete reality, not an abstraction. A woman. A girl.

And here's the central argument that pro-lifers have made, that has been successful: another concrete reality, a baby. Of course there is far more complexity, and yet: the only practical way to win, when the other side is pointing to a deeply sympathetic reality, a woman in trouble, is to respond, yes, but there's also a baby in trouble. Worse: that baby is going to die.

When one side has a powerful, concrete image, and you come back with an abstraction, guess who wins?

The messaging in this campaign from the pro-life side barely mentioned unborn children. There were vague -- abstract -- references to family and children, which were true, but weak. There were tepid, abstract claims of the other side being extreme. How extreme? That was never explained.

Here's one way to explain it. A prominent-in-Ohio abortionist, who specializes in just-before-birth abortions, contributed very sizably to this referendum. Why would he do that, if (as the pro-abortion side claimed), the proposed amendment would still keep his grisly trade illegal? An ad highlighting his butchery and his support of this referendum -- obviously to keep him in business -- would have been far more effective than what we got.

The pro-abortion side was allowed to frame the debate almost unchallenged: it was about women in trouble (which everyone agrees is bad), but barely a reminder of the babies who die -- so, perhaps the proposed solution (abortion on demand) is the wrong way to help women in trouble.

Here's a law of rhetoric which flows over into politics: he who frames the debate, wins the debate.

Just about every message ought to have been: babies. Here's a baby who will die through abortion on demand; here's a baby that was saved by pro-life laws. Here's 10,000 babies who will die. Imagine an ad showing six happy babies on the screen, then the screen pans out, and pans out, and pans out, to illustrate 10,000 (or whatever the number would be) babies on the chopping block.

Oh, too gruesome, let's be gentle and mild! That must have been the planning made months ago for this fight, because the messaging was consistent in this regard.

Look, it's not improper to paint the facts -- if they are, indeed, facts -- in vivid terms. What are icons? Icons, as a form of religious art, are deliberately not realistic. When the Lord is shown on the cross, or rising from the dead, the imagery is focused on key details and images. The cross, or the crags of the mountain of Transfiguration, or the grave from which Jesus emerged, are not presented with realism. Why not? So as to focus on the essential reality. Who says icons are immoral because they simplifie a complex reality?

But tell me, what happens when one side shows up to play touch football, the other side says, no we're going to play full contact, and the first side says, oh no, that's beneath us! We insist on sticking to touch football! That's more dignified!

You know what happens. It's what happened in Ohio on Tuesday.

Yes we could have won. How do I know? Because there is a history of ideas that poll well going down to defeat as ballot measures; the reason being that the opposition is able to demonstrate convincingly that there are bad things that will arise from passage of the measure. That's the great benefit of having the "no" position; even if you support the "yes" position generally, if you begin to have serious doubts about the consequences, you pull the "no" lever, just out of caution.

That's all for now, back to my day job.

Monday, November 06, 2023

Day of Rest Dinner

(Sorry no pictures -- it's a day of rest!)

Today is my holy day of inobligation (although I am in touch via text if needed); there is something so valuable about being able to sleep late, even if one ends up not doing so (I rose around 9 am; I'd have loved another hour, but...alas).

I will skip over most of the day, because it was blissfully free of anything controversial or stressful. The other priest -- whose day of rest is tomorrow -- got home around 3 pm; by which point I had already done some prep for dinner (and some was completed over the past few days). The plan for dinner was pork chops; I'd be happy with steak every week, but that's a bit extravagant. Despite all, pork chops are still a good bargain.

The big decision (several days ago) was wet vs. dry brine; the difference literally is water. I brine my chops with salt, pepper, dried rosemary and onion powder. If wet, I start it about 3-4 days ahead, so I can then dry them out; this time, I did a dry brine, which meant coating the chops with the aforementioned seasoning, but no need to dry them out. The reason for going for wet: I think it helps the flavors penetrate the meat better. The reason for going dry: you get a better sear. After this round, I confirmed my belief that wet is, on balance, better.

The side dishes were sauteed apples and onions, and a tomato salad. Here's a hint: when you have something fatty and rich (like steak or chops), it helps to have something a little acidic to balance it. In this case, I did the tomato salad because I had tomatoes, and they needed to be used up. The sauteed apples and onions are just such a nice combo with pork.

What wine? I think dry rose or Zinfandel is so good -- what do you think? I had a part-bottle of dry rose, and we used that up; but no Zinfandel (alas!); so we opened a bottle of Chardonnay and had part of that. 

Now we're fixing to watch a little TV, with maybe some ice cream later. Yes, I know, it's not even six! But my compadre prefers to eat early and well, and that's fine. 

If you want to know how I make any of these things...ask in the comments and I'll tell you.

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Help our priests be better priests (Sunday homily)

Moses with His Arms Supported by Aaron and Hur
Thomas Brigstocke (1809–1881)
Aberystwyth University School of Art Museum and Galleries

When I was in the seminary, our instructor in church law 

was Father Chris Armstrong – someone here may know him. 

On the first day of class he said this – and he repeated it often:

“Gentlemen: the bane of the Church is stupid, lazy priests!

So do not be a stupid, lazy priest!”

That’s a more colorful way of stating 

what the Prophet Malachi said in the first reading.

He’s talking about self-interested priests 

who neglect the spiritual needs of the people 

they are supposed to be helping draw closer to God.

In the Gospel, Jesus makes a similar point:

Too many in leadership get seduced by the perks, 

by the strokes of the ego, 

and forget what their leadership role is supposed to be about.

Now, as a priest and as pastor, I will admit:

I have certainly missed the mark many times.

Thankfully, I’ve always had someone – more than one – 

who would…let me know!

And I want to make a very serious, very somber point here.

No priest today – unless he is, indeed, very stupid – 

is not painfully aware of the damage done in so many ways 

by other priests and bishops by unspeakable crimes, or by cover-ups.

I don’t like bringing that up. 

On the other hand, I don’t want to pretend that isn’t out there.

What I will tell you is that whether it is providing a safe environment, or it is assuring your 

contributions are handled with utmost care,

Or whether it is in providing open communication,

Our priests and deacons, our lay leadership are all-in.

We take these duties of care and integrity very seriously.

If you want more information, you are always welcome to ask.

And anyone who thinks any corners are being cut: speak up!

If not to me, then to the archdiocese, or to public authorities.

Now, let me make a different point, also serious.

What may not be obvious is that the lazy priest, 

the self-regarding priest who neglects his duties, 

can easily be a very popular priest!

No one complained when the prophets said, “you’re fine!”

It was when they cried out, “Repent! Change!” that people got mad.

The easiest thing to do is to say yes all the time.

My parents –thank God and thank them! – did not do that.

I think our nation would be so much better off 

if we had a few more politicians with that ability!

And just as a leader may not be so popular because he takes a stand, 

it is exactly the same for us as Christians in the world.

Remember, my job as a priest is to help you become holy.

You as a layperson are sent to help sanctify the world at large.

Each of us received the Spirit of prophecy at baptism, and we go out.

Everyone faces the same choice.

Will I remain silent if someone around me 

promotes bigotry or lust, or will I speak up? 

Am I willing to pay a price?

One more time I remind you: 

Tuesday’s ballot measure, Issue 1, is clothed in the language of “choice” 

but it is really about the destruction of unborn children.

That’s why our Catholic position on this is vote no.

But after the election, you and I will continue to say yes to families, especially mothers, 

who face a crisis pregnancy situation.

Protecting the vulnerable, of all ages and situations, is non-negotiable.

There’s an episode in the Old Testament, 

where Moses is standing on a hill, 

while God’s People are in the thick of battle.

His arms are raised in prayer; and after a while, he gets tired.

Two of his associates stand on either side, 

holding up his arms, and the battle is won.

I’m not Moses! But in our small way, that’s what we priests should do.

And we get tired and cranky and cynical.

Each of us priests needs others – you – to help us.

Thank you for your prayers; they hold me up.

My desire, in turn, is to help you. 

You’re in the thick of the struggle. We priests want to strengthen you.

Let us strengthen each other: not just for the trials of this life, 

but above all, for victory for eternal life.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

War, Justice and Israel

Maybe this is obvious to my three or four regular readers, but when I see the sort of discussions out there, and claims by high-level people who ought to know better, it occurs to me that people may get gaslit on this whole subject of what's allowed in war.

If you want catechesis in "just war" teaching and so forth, Here's the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It's all there. I'm pretty confident nothing I post here will contradict Church teaching; feel free to flag anything as confusing or poorly expressed.

Basic principle: people and nations have the right of self-defense. If someone makes war on you, you get to fight back. There are accumulated rules and norms regarding more civilized warfare, and while that notion may make you snort out your coffee, let's point out that if you toss out the rules, you get what Hamas did to Israelis on October 7: targeting non-combatants, torturing and raping, defiling and mutilating dead bodies, even infants. If there is to be war, then let us at least try to mitigate the evil. And since war in self-defense is morally justified, it stands to reason that can't be true if you can do anything once attacked. So mock the notion of just war all you want, but the alternative is worse. Why not have some guardrails to avoid worse?

So is Israel overreacting? Israel was attacked, so Israel gets to respond. Same as the U.S. (and NATO) decision to go into Afghanistan, because the U.S. was attacked from Afghanistan on 2001. Same with Japan after Pearl Harbor, and with Italy and Germany, who declared war when the U.S. declared war on Japan. Notice: no one said the U.S. had to wait till Germany or Italy attacked us; they declared they would, and so our response of a war declaration was entirely justified.

Israel gets to use its military power to destroy its enemies capacity to hurt Israel. Israel is obligated by the laws of war to avoid harming non-combatants and allow for the surrender of combatants and to obey still other laws and treaties regarding treatment of POWs. But in the main, Israel gets to make war on the force that made war on Israel, until the enemy surrenders or is destroyed. Blockades and seiges are tools of war. 

It's worth pointing out that Israel goes to great lengths to avoid harming non-combatants. Even if you think they don't do it out of conscience, they have an equally strong motive to do it for reasons of politics and optics. No nation on earth can completely avoid harming civilians; the measure of morality in war is how hard you try. Some nations barely try at all. Israel tries harder than most, if not all.

Of course we hear the claims that Israel was unjust toward the Palestinians.* Let's just stipulate that it's pretty rare to have a history of two nations' interactions with each other, in which there is no injustice at all, or it's all on one side. 

It's a complicated history, and a great part of the complication is that time and again, Israel's enemies weren't interested in finding any peaceful solution other than exterminating the "Zionists." Not an accusation; look it up. What you hear on American campuses right now is "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free." That means, from the Jordan River, to the Mediterranean Sea, the territory will be Jew-free. That is the stated goal of Hamas and even more extreme elements who stand ready to kill any Palestinian leader who tries to seek peace. Thus Fatah, which rules the West Bank, vacilliates between talk of peace and extermination.

Those claims of injustice deserve a hearing, but they don't alter the basic calculus all that much. To put it another way: Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, had other means to redress those injustices (such as negotiations); they spurned them. Principles of Just War apply to Hamas, too.

At any rate, the news will feature death and destruction and sadness, but that's true of all war news. I cannot imagine how it was for my mother and grandmothers who listened, day by day, to war reports on the radio during World War II, especially with sons and grandsons serving overseas. But when faced with the task of winning war, resolve is essential. We wouldn't have appreciated being told, over and over, that we should back off of the Axis; why should Israel put up with such nagging?

* This term is more a political and ideological term than factual. Until the League of Nations validated the creation of territory called "Palestine" to be administered by the UK, circa 1922, no political entity or state of Palestine existed. As a geographic descriptor, the term goes back to Roman times and till the early 20th century, described a territory, not a nation. Of course these terms evolve; an example would be "Italy/Italian." The place Italy existed for ages; the political entity began in 1861. When people began to think of themselves as "Italian" versus other descriptors? Well, that's complicated.

Similarly, before 1922, the people who lived in Palestine were part of a succession of states, for a long time, the Ottoman Empire. Ethnically they came from many places, migration being a constant in human history, often encouraged by rulers, as happened in Palestine, which was often sparsely populated. They included Jews, Christians and Muslims, all of whom can point to a constant presence in the Holy Land. Quite a lot of the people of historic Palestine were nomadic -- e.g., Bedouins -- and moved about across political lines. What seems incontestable is that some number of families, tribes or clans have long-lasting roots in the area. The whole thing is complicated; don't let people mislead you by making it seem simple.

Jesus says, and we must say: everyone counts! (Sunday homily)

 I don’t know who said it, but someone said this about the Bible:

So many people try to read between the lines, 

when maybe just focusing on the lines themselves 

is enough of a project!

So it is with today’s readings. They aren’t mysterious. 

No codebook needed.

Jesus is clear that all the laws of God boil down to: 

Love God first and more than anything else; 

And treat your neighbor as well as you want to be treated.

Then the first reading adds this: 

God measures our devotion, our religion, our love of him, 

by how treat the least, the last and the lost. 

In Bible times, they spoke about the widow, the orphan, 

the poor and the foreigner. 

In our times, who counts as the least and left-out?

Again, it’s not mysterious. 

You and I can figure it out, if we really want to. 

We have a very important decision to make in about 10 days – 

Will we continue to provide some protection for unborn children, 

Or will we go backward and render them completely vulnerable?

Those who are sick or elderly are increasingly being pushed just to die.

In nine states and the District of Columbia, 

it’s now legal to kill people who are sick, to help people kill themselves, if they ask.* 

God also says, “Do not molest or oppress an alien, 

for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” 

We all know there are challenges associated with immigration.

It’s a complicated subject. We want to be generous and we ought to be.

At the same time, nations have the right 

to regulate migration and to have borders.

Fixing the problem with our borders is not permission to be callous.

And the same point applies to assisting people in poverty.

You and I could talk all day about root causes and best approaches.

Just because it is a really hard problem doesn’t mean we give up. 

There is a saying: “better to light one candle, 

than to curse the darkness.” 

So we light a candle. We do what we can.

For one, you and I can pray: pray for our hearts to open wider, 

and that we seek out ways to make a difference. 

We light a candle when we vote. 

Vote this November to defend the vulnerable!

And each day, each of us can be a candle-lighter in the easiest of ways.

When you go to a restaurant, tip well. Really well.

The servers aren’t all poor, but some are, or they are just climbing out.

They don’t get paid much. Tip them well.

If you ever go to a Mexican restaurant, 

there’s a very good chance the people fixing your meal 

and cleaning up after you are not only poor, 

but they are our fellow Catholics. 

Do you realize that they often don’t come to Holy Mass?

Why don’t they come?

For one, they don’t speak English and they feel out of place. 

For another, many of them are working all day on Sundays.

We do have some Spanish Masses in some places.

But you know what would be an extra helping of justice and love?

Invite them! Welcome them!

Maybe write a note on the check -- along with a good tip! – 

that says, “You are welcome at St. Henry Church on S.R. 741.”

What I say next may upset someone, I’m sorry.

But I’d love to see the empty places in our pews 

filling with people speaking different languages.

Maybe we’d have to adjust. Maybe we’d use some Spanish.

Perhaps that wouldn’t sit well with everyone.

Will Jesus object to you and me stretching to make room?

You’ve heard mention about the future project of evangelizing. 

That’s the full purpose of the “Beacons of Light” project. 

Reorganization is a preparation for sharing our faith.

And it’s not only future; it’s now, with a lot more coming.

People wonder, how do we evangelize? That sounds complicated!

It’s not. The examples I just gave, those are ways to evangelize.

Invite people. Include people. Show compassion in concrete ways.

In the early church, pagans said of us Christians: “see how they love!”

It was the zeal of Christians to treat strangers 

and even our enemies with compassion 

that helped conquer the Roman Empire for Christ.

Jesus sends you and me to tell our community: everyone counts!

We don’t leave anyone behind.

* I changed this after the 9:30 am Mass for precision; but I would insist that legal assisted suicide is morally almost the same as killing people who are vulnerable to pressure. If it makes someone feel better about themselves to stand on that distinction, I say, "good luck with that."

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Caesar: hands off God's image! (Sunday homily)

 There are a number of passages of Sacred Scripture 

that get distorted in their meaning; today’s Gospel is one of them. 

Frequently, this passage is cited as if to say, 

if something is happening in the area of politics or public policy, 

that belongs to “Caesar,” and therefore, 

the bishops, or believers in general, have nothing to say.

And so, for example, our bishops and priests, and many of us,

have spoken out 

against the pro-abortion ballot measure this November.

Some people claim this is none of our business.

But that is not correct. 

That is not what Jesus is saying in this Gospel.

And that’s not an accurate representation of our rights as citizens,

and the right of the Church, and each of us, 

to speak out, under the First Amendment. 

First, notice the discussion was specifically about a tax—

and about a coin.

They show him the coin, and he asks, “whose image is this?” 

That word is the key: because if the coin bears Caesar’s image, 

then it belongs to him. Let him have what bears his image.

Got that? Then listen what Jesus says next: 

“And what belongs to God, give to God.”

The coin bears Caesar’s image; so Caesar gets the coin.

But tell me: what bears God’s image, God’s inscription?

Well, that would be all of Creation! 

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” Psalm 19 says; 

creation bears witness to God, Paul wrote to the Romans. 

And what, above all, bears the image of God?

You and I do, as members of the human race. 

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” 

is what God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit said 

before they created humanity: 

“male and female he created them.”

So when our government says it’s OK to destroy unborn children? 

And to torture people as part of war? 

Or when the poor or the sick are pushed aside as not valuable?

These are God’s treasure! They bear his image! Hands off, Caesar!

And this applies powerfully with marriage. Again, Genesis said:

“in the image of God…male and female, he created them.”

When we speak of being an image of God, remember, God is Creator. 

But where God created everything out of nothing, that’s beyond us.

If you are an engineer or in construction, you can build whole cities, 

but you have to labor with wood and stone and steel – 

you can’t make it out of nothing. 

If you are a poet or a painter, 

you can create people and worlds and histories—

but they only exist on the printed page or the silver screen. 

You can’t breathe them into life.

But there is a moment—just one!—

when in breathtaking audacity we humanity soar to the skies 

and come whisper-close to being just like God.

In a moment of uncalculated love, generous and sacrificial,

we can actually create something from nothing!

And not just any something, 

but another divine image, a human being who will live forever!

That’s when a man and woman come together in the marital embrace.

Marriage – requiring a man and a woman – 

is when humanity is most fully the image of God!

Hands off, Caesar!

Remember that you and I are God’s “coin”; 

We were inscribed with his Name when we were baptized 

in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, of the Holy Spirit!

As the coins in our pockets get soiled and disfigured, so do we.

The good news is that there is nothing God loves more 

than to restore his image, in you, to make you shine like new!

That’s what he does in confession, in calling us back to him.

In the Gospel, they were all concerned about that coin, 

bearing Caesar’s image. 

But notice, Jesus couldn’t care less about the coin.

What matters supremely to him is you.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Beacons Q & A, part 2

I know that somehow it was determined that there are only about 60 pastor-ready priests and that’s how the number of parishes was determined, but what are the metrics by which pastor-ready priests are evaluated?

That's a great question, but not an easy one to answer. It's not a matter of a simple formula, because we're talking about human beings, both the priests and the people they serve. The short answer is that the process of evaluating the situation involved the following:

- Counting how many priests currently were active in any way (including those who were retired and how old and infirm they were).

- Determining their age and condition, in order to calculate how many years of service could be expected. Again, this applies both to retired priests, and those who might be expected to retire in the near future.

- Take into consideration the sort of demographic projections you might expect an insurance company to use. Sorry, this sounds cold, but it's reality. If you are the archbishop, and you have, say, 200 priests in total (including those ordained a few months before, and those who are nearly in a nursing home, including those who are your own, diocesan priests, and those who are on loan from elsewhere, including religious-order priests whose leadership in their orders can re-assign them outside the archdiocese), and you are trying to project your situation in 10 and 20 years, you have to allow for the following things:

a) Some number will have unexpected health issues, and retire early, or become completely incapacitated.

b) Some number will unexpectedly die.

c) Some number will leave the priesthood for various other reasons.

d) Some number will have a personal challenge that means they need fewer duties, or specialized duties.

Obviously, you cannot know these unknowns, but you can anticipate this sort of thing. Some number, quantifying these realities, must be assigned to the formula, agreed? (This also means that, at any given time, there is "slack" -- because trying to plan for unexpected deaths or health problems means at any given point, you're doing better than projected and there's a priest who's "on the bench," till, whoops! Father X in Parish Y just had a massive heart attack! Who saw that coming? And this situation of "slack" is actually what you want; you hardly want to plan such that you're always catching up.)

And, let me just add, even if the "calculus" for determining readiness isn't a simple thing, it should be obvious such a calculus is needed. I know virtually no one who thinks a priest should be ordained on a Saturday and made pastor on Sunday. All reasonable people can agree there needs to be some seasoning. Of course it's not an exact science.

In my own case, I was 41 when I was ordained -- i.e., an older vocation with more life experience than is customary. I served two years as a vicar under a very capable pastor, in a large parish, with realistic challenges. I.e., a near-ideal situation. I was assigned as a pastor in a parish with many difficulties, and with the plan that, one year later, I'd take over a second one and have to serve as two pastors, instead of one, and make it work. In other words, a "cluster," or to use the term at the time, a "pastoral region." 

And I testify as before God, with utmost seriousness, that despite my relative maturity and prior life-experience, I was assigned too early in my priesthood. I made plenty of mistakes, more than I likely would have. None of them were malicious, yet there were many of the people of God who were hurt and angry about my mistakes. I do not blame them. I simply point out, I didn't have enough of the "we" my correspondent assures me will overlook a pastor not being the best CEO. And the truth is, I didn't lack the ability to be CEO; I lacked experience.

If all you do is think it through, the process of assessing the abilities of priests and assigning them isn't all that mysterious.

But notice this: if you are short-handed, as we have been for the last 30 or so years, guess what? Priests are going to be rushed into responsibilities for which they aren't ready. And do you think that fact might have something to do with why a notable number of them have left the priesthood? Does this cause you to appreciate more why the Archbishop and others thought we were in a crisis situation demanding action?

Why are we being threatened that if we exercise our rights and duties as laity through the channels that the Church provides, we might just get our churches closed?

Who is "threatening" you? Is that what you think I'm doing?

A "threat" is this: if you throw that book at me, I throw it back at you. A threat means my response is something I have power over, make sense?

But what if I say to you: if you don't fix that gutter, and the rainwater keeps pouring down on the foundation, you will eventually have to repair that foundation at a great cost. Is that a "threat"? Clearly not. The bad thing being warned against is not in my power.

Of course, in this case, you may say: but you're "threatening" to close a church. I am doing no such thing! I am giving a forecast of what is more or less likely, depending on how things unfold.

To be clear: closing and selling off a church building is not in my power! Re-read that last statement, to let it sink in. The pastor has no such power. He can propose it, but he must get a lot of others to agree, particularly those who call that parish church home.

And I refer you back to the point I keep making. What priest or bishop is so evil and so stupid, as to close a building, sell it or demolish it, when the building is well maintained and well loved and used? That's the implication when you talk about "threats" -- that pastor or bishop is going to pay you back for making unwelcome observations. 

Believe me when I tell you*, I have better things to do with my time, and the same for the archbishop and everyone else who would need to be involved in the tedious, lengthy and difficult process of shuttering and selling or demolishing a church. We'd rather do 100 other things than go down that road of misery.

So if you keep insisting that's our plan, will you please, I beg you (I'll offer money if that is what it takes), please give me a rational explanation of why we priests or bishops or others who are involved in that decision (it's a lot of people) would choose that misery when we could avoid it. This was a serious question: please give me a reason! Let me know what bonus I must pay to get that reason!

Let me return to the phase 2 of this, which barely gets talked about: evangelization. The fact that almost all the ferment about Beacons concerns phase 1 -- the reorganization part, and almost none about what follows, is extremely noteworthy. 

Maybe that's the fault of us priests and all those involved in the designing and implementing of this whole project; we aren't calling enough attention to the next phase. In our defense, it's well nigh impossible to say everything that needs to be said, and easy to say it without the right emphases. And I think a fair-minded person would acknowledge, the evangelization phase has gotten at least some mention.

But again, in our defense, if we're answering questions, then if evangelization doesn't come up enough in the answers, could it be it's not coming up enough in the questions? Again: this isn't about blame, but this is my way of hitting the pause button and inviting some reflection.

How might all our reactions to the process of reorganization be changed if we allot just 30% of our energy to consideration of the next phase, rather than, oh I'd guess the 5% of attention given to phase two, that is represented in the ongoing reactions to Beacons?

Weigh the possibility that there is what is called "opportunity cost" involved here. The change at work now, however costly, will cost notably more if further delayed. Perhaps one lesson from the past 20 or so years is that it already was delayed too long. What have we lost from inaction?

I'll tell a story from my own experience from a "cluster," where -- this is hard to understand, but true -- I was expected not to be one pastor, but two pastors, simultaneously (and which is actually impossible and doomed to failure). In that dual assignment, at a certain point, the need for evangelization became clear. I'm not saying it was my own idea; it was God's idea, that somehow percolated up through the entire enterprise. But at a certain point, I started talking about it, and tried mightily to get the two parishes, of which I was two pastors, to focus on evangelization. It was my express desire to get us all focused on that.

It failed. I blame only myself. It failed.

Here's a fact that may be part of causation, but I will leave to others to decide. At the same time I was trying to re-orient the two parishes toward evangelization, I was also trying to get them to work together. To combine operations in such a way that the whole enterprise was reasonably manageable. And that never happened. I failed at that.

Do you see it? Back in the oughts, in my two parishes, in my own way I was trying to do the same two phases now part of Beacons: first a reorganization so things are manageable, in preparation for a far more important focus on evangelizing. I failed at phase one, and that ensured I failed at phase two. All that cost me a great deal, but that isn't my focus. What did my failures cost those two parishes? 

Maybe this helps you understand why I am so emphatic about not returning to the model of multiple parishes sharing a pastor, nor do I find persuasive the claim that we can just put insufficiently seasoned priests in as pastors and it will all work out. And not only have I lived the alternatives, many, many priests have as well. But until recently, we didn't talk publicly about it, because until someone "upstairs" was willing to consider more fundamental change, what was the point? 

I'll close with this. Consider that the Archbishop (who didn't invent any of this or decide it all on his own) is now 75; he started down this road a few years ago, fully aware that, at 75, he must submit his resignation to the Holy Father. The Pope has allowed him to stay on, past 75, and although no one has confirmed this officially, the assumption is that he did so to enable the Archbishop to wrap things up with a celebration of his 50th anniversary of ordination as a priest.

The point being, Archbishop Schnurr could have kicked this can down the road for the next guy.

And similar calculations occur to pastors when faced with difficult challenges; do the minimum, postpone, let the next guy worry about it. (And believe me, pastors do that.)

So why do you suppose Archbishop Schnurr didn't do that? What can you deduce from that?

Isn't it just possible that the situation is rather worse, and less easily fixed, than you suppose? And will you please notice that what you are proposing as the alternative to the Beacons plan, was tried and failed? Or at least allow that the people who launched us on this path, have given your plan (which would have been easier for the planners than what they actually chose) consideration already?

* This is actually a figure of speech. I do not ask you merely to "trust me."

Think about the facts available and the easily discoverable, very human, motivations of all involved. Does it actually make sense for decision-makers to act unnecessarily in ways contrary to their own interest? To cause themselves more pain, when a less painful route lies open before them? 

If you don't know why a decision is being made, at least rule out that the decision derives from some indecipherable mystery, grounded in motives requiring those deciding to be stupid, evil or masochistic. Then consider, of what remains, seems most likely.

Beacons Q & A, part 1

Thanks to Christina who posted a thoughtful comment yesterday, containing many observations and questions that I suspect many would offer. I am grateful for her sharing them, and I gave what answers I could. But it soon occurred to me that they could form a post, so here goes. Note: the responses offered earlier are "first drafts," as I saw fit, I spiffed up my answers here, and for brevity, I summarized Christina's comments where it seemed reasonable. Let me know if any discrepancies raise questions.

Please remember when lamenting the challenges of pastoring a cluster of parishes that clustering nearly all of the parishes in the archdiocese was not “our” idea. This came from the priests, archbishop, and consulting firm – not the laity.

First, no pastor I know of ever proposed taking over more than one parish. If you actually believe it was priests who wanted this, name them, and I will pay a $100 per name to a charity we both can agree on.

Second, do you suppose Archbishop Schnurr woke up one day, and thought, "Golly, everything seems to be going along so well. I am bored. So I will launch a reorganization drive that will scramble everything..."

My point being, don't you see that what is happening did not come out of the blue? It came as a result of . . . wait for it . . . problems. And not just little or occasional ones. But LOTS of problems. Pause here, please: and contemplate that. What sort of problems, and how many, do you imagine reached the attention of the Archbishop (and others around him), before he took the step of initiating this?

Or, do you suppose the "consulting firm" talked him into it?

You state:

We sympathize with the difficulty of pastoring clusters and would love to have a pastor for each church or two, even if they aren’t “pastor-ready,” because we want fathers that we know and see, not CEO’s that are great at running organizations. If our pastor can be both a loving father and a great CEO, awesome. But if we have to choose, we’ll take the loving father.

I underlined all the "we's" in your comment here, in order to ask: who, precisely, do you mean by "we"? This is a serious question.

Again, I beg of you to consider that the "we" you have in mind is rather smaller than you realize. How do you imagine pastors who were assigned too early (I was one of them, by the way, in 2005) reached that conclusion? How do you suppose the archbishop, and those assisting him (i.e., he doesn't make pastoral assignments all by himself), reached this conclusion?

This, too, is a serious question, which I beg you to think about for a bit.

Do you know how many priests assigned as pastors in this archdiocese have contacted the archbishop in recent years, in order to beg to be released from being pastors? Do you know how many of those didn't just move to another assignment, but left the priesthood altogether? And how many of them needed serious help to recover from the difficulties?

Does it occur to you that perhaps there were others -- besides the "we" you have in mind -- who wanted and expected rather more from their pastors than the "we" you describe?

I am not trying to be difficult, I am trying to illuminate the reality at work here. And what I am suggesting is that while I doubt not at all your sincerity, your account of a "we" that has far fewer expectations of a pastor is far from a complete picture of the reality in parishes.

[Alternative solution:] Make more vicars pastors.

Some of the current vicars would certainly make fine pastors; many of them have been previously. And in the next few years, many of them will be. However...

Many of them are close to retirement. Are you suggesting they not be allowed to retire at 70 from administration? 

(For clarity: no priest ever really retires from being a priest. But even my mother, at a certain point, got to "retire" from daily laundry and meal preparation, precisely when I, the youngest, reached high school age, and was mature enough to do for myself, and my mother, in her 60s, wanted to enjoy some time with my father, approaching 70. Were they wrong to "retire"? Are priests not allowed to retire from administration?)

Even if every vicar who has been a pastor, or is otherwise deemed ready to be one, there aren't enough to be pastors if parishes are kept standing alone (as opposed to being grouped into 57 or so "families.") And it's not close. That's today. 

Over the next few years, as current pastors retire, and pastors leave for other reasons, the existing "slack" will disappear. The creation of 57 "families" of parishes is based on careful projections of where we'll be circa 2030 or so.

Also -- in part 2 of this Q & A, I talk about the issues involved in assigning priests as pastors too early. And, just in passing, I want to mention that through no fault of their own, not every priest, however good and holy and talented in various ways, is going to be suitable as a pastor, and then you have those who might be suitable here, but not there. 

If you were in a position to evaluate all the options and all the details of the priests potentially available, I think you would have a moment where your eyebrows rose, and a lightbulb appeared over your head (not really) and you said, "ohhhhh, now I see..."

I do not prefer the pastor to be an employee of the laity, and I am not sure who is proposing this. Is this a straw man?

Not at all. But your response makes me think you haven't read my other posts here on this subject. Please do so.

I made this observation precisely because this is something that has been proposed, however, those who propose it don't quite realize, I believe, that this is what they are asking for.

Namely: many are suggesting that pastors be "relieved" of administrative or financial responsibilities. That is, in effect, making them employees, because whoever does the hiring and evaluating (and, alas, even firing) of employees, and whoever writes the budget, and whoever oversees administration, whoever leads the long-term planning, is the actual person in charge. When pastors no longer do these things, whoever takes up these tasks in their place, is "in charge," and the "pastor" becomes at best an employee, or perhaps even a "contractor."

Now, you might respond, oh but can't we just make the administrative and leadership tasks of a pastor manageable? Yes! And that's exactly what's being proposed right now!

We have been told that the origin for Beacons was a meeting of the priests who already had clusters and they were unanimous in identifying the challenges in pastoring clusters.

That is true but very incomplete. Your account makes it sound as though, until that meeting, no one had the slightest notion of any problems, which I suspect you didn't mean to suggest. The current Beacons project is the product of far, far, FAR more than one meeting!

So the solution was to make more clusters? And then say it is horrible because now they are all clustered?


Please stop and re-read that last word. The answer is no!

Beacons of Light is not about more "clusters"! Add 100 more exclamation marks to that last statement!

Of course, you and I may be using this term in different ways, but rather than guess, feel free to come back with a question on precisely this point. But generally, "clusters" -- meaning, a priest was assigned as pastor to two, three or more pastors, and expected to maintain them as essentially stand-alone parishes -- was the attempted solution of the past 20 or so years. 

It. Didn't. Work.

The reorg portion of Beacons (which is preparatory for the more important portion, which is evangelization) is not "clustering" but consolidating parishes, combining the legal structures so that the pastor is no longer expected to act as if he were two pastors, three pastors or more.

Maybe this isn't clear? If that is the case, read what else I've written, and then, ask for more information on this. Without understanding this, none of it will make any sense.