Sunday, July 30, 2023

Jesus offers you treasure (Sunday homily)

(Today's homily is very brief, because a lay missionary from the Society of the Precious Blood spoke before Mass started.)

The twist in the story of Solomon is this:

God offered him the gift of wisdom,

Yet in the end, he ended up being guided by lust and vanity.

One of the Old Testament books attributed to Solomon 

contains the familiar words: “vanity of vanities, everything is vanity.”

If you and I aren’t careful, we can get cynical and say similar things. 

“They’re all crooks!” or, “It’s the same old thing, I’ve heard it before.”

When God became human, that was certainly not the same old thing.

And even though this Mass will be familiar – that’s what we expect – 

you and I might do well to check ourselves.

When I was a teenager, I was good at rolling my eyes, 

because even at 15, I’d seen it all before – or so I thought.

However the same it all seems, however familiar, 

there is a treasure here if you want it. 

Jesus is here for you. 

Sunday, July 23, 2023

What's growing in your garden? (Sunday homily)

How do we sow either good or bad seed?

It is our daily choices: 

with the result that either the field of our soul 

has a bumper-crop of virtue, 

or it is crowded with the weeds of vice and sin.

I was reading a book by Father Basil Maturin, 

an Irish priest from a century ago, who talks about this parable. 

It was he who saw the field as our own lives. 

Father Maturin asked, “How often, as we look into our souls, 

and wonder at the evil we find there, do we not ask ourselves” 

where do these weeds come from? 

Where do laziness, wrath, lust and greed, 

and the trials that go with them, come from? 

And the answer is, “An enemy has done this.”

Now, the devil certainly does not “make me” do anything.

The enemy offers suggestions, often very appealing, 

but the choice is mine. 

So the conclusion is, you and I cannot be too careful 

about what evil we allow the enemy to sow in our lives. 

There’s a famous saying, attributed to many people:

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; 

Sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

It doesn’t take much time given to the Internet, 

going to dark places, to allow a foul habit to take deep root. 

There are folks who think this isn’t any big deal.

But materials I’m referring to involve exploitation of others 

and they are poison for ourselves and our own relationships. 

There is a growing number of people 

who are finding it difficult to have a healthy relationship 

with the opposite sex because of pornography. 

It poisons marriages, even before they begin,

and it is contributing to marital breakups. 

So it’s vital to guard our eyes from what is degrading; 

our ears from gossip and suspicion;

our heart from envy; our stomach from gluttony.

Of course, a lot of us can say, too late: 

these weeds are already in my life! 

We are frustrated to face these same weeds, 

week after week throughout our lives. 

Why doesn’t the Lord simply tear them out, when we beg him to do so?

Sometimes it happens: we have a moment of conversion 

and we receive the grace to completely overcome that bad habit; 

the weeds are, indeed, ripped out. 

But do you know what often happens next?

Someone who received a great gift of deliverance slowly slides back.

As much as we hate it, for virtue to grow in our lives, 

you and I are better off if it comes hard rather than easy;

just as it takes hard, physical labor to build our lungs and muscles.

And it is so often true that 

it is in our darkest and lowest places where we so quickly meet Jesus,

and experience him most powerfully.

There’s no place for pride when we’re flat on our face.

So, when you find it discouraging to go to confession, again, and again,

with the same sin – realize, that is exactly the medicine you need. 

It is the enemy who says, you can’t fight the weeds, 

just let them grow. 

There’s something the Gospel doesn’t say, yet we know it’s true:

Jesus has the power to turn weeds into wheat.

This has been true in my own life, 

and there are people around us who will say the same.

At this and every Mass, Jesus takes wheat – that is, bread – 

and turns it into himself.

What happened once on the Cross, for us, 

Jesus extends through time, through the Mass.

Every day, you and I bring new bread and wine, and through the priest,

Jesus himself says, “This is my Body.”

Yet there’s another wheat, another bread, 

Jesus wants above all to take in hand and say, “This is my Body.”

Do you know what that wheat is?

You and me! All of us are called to belong to his Mystical Body.

But no weeds – only the best of wheat, 

which he himself purifies and gathers and prepares. 

That’s what it means to be a Catholic;

Daily we turn our lives over to him. Patiently we return to confession. 

Jesus makes of us the best of wheat, to become part of Him.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Who is Saint Henry, our patron? (Sunday homily)

This weekend we celebrate the patron of this church, Saint Henry.

Saint Henry’s feast day falls on July 13 each year; 

for a parish or church named for a saint, that day is a solemnity 

and the bishops allow the feast to be celebrated 

on the nearest Sunday – so that’s what we’re doing this weekend.

The point is that it’s important for a parish to know its patron saint.

We were entrusted to his care; Saint Henry prays for us in heaven!

Since I’m new here, I haven’t learned why 

Archbishop Alter and Father Franer picked Saint Henry. 

Perhaps some of our more senior members know; 

if so, please send me an email or call me to share that information. 

In any case, let me share a bit about Henry. 

He was born about a thousand years ago into a royal family; 

his father had been Duke of Bavaria.

But then his father fell into disfavor with the King, 

and dad was deposed from his office.

Later, the political winds changed again, and Henry and his family 

were back in their position of power and prestige.

One of the wise decisions his father made 

was to entrust Henry to be educated by the bishop Wolfgang, 

who was later recognized as a saint. 

Perhaps St. Wolfgang helped Henry learn from his family’s trials 

to focus on Christ’s kingdom, instead of his own, uncertain one?

Some people have great conversion moments;  perhaps Henry did too.

Others are set on a path of prayer early on – this was Henry’s story.

He was taught the importance of giving Jesus time every day.

Sometimes the most life-changing decisions are the simplest.

I mention all this because there is an obvious fact:

Not many politicians are declared saints! It’s not hard to understand.

What deserves attention is what makes the difference 

between the long, sad record of kings jockeying for power,

and those who humble themselves before the King of Kings?

Henry became Duke of Bavaria, later, King of Germany, 

and then Holy Roman Emperor, then the major power in Europe.

The seeds planted in his youth yielded a great harvest later.

This is why our family of parishes maintains Bishop Leibold school, 

and why it is essential our school keep Christ at the center.

A few notable details about Henry. 

So many kings valued their wives solely for giving them heirs.

He and his wife – Saint Cunegunda (yes, that was really her name!) 

did not conceive any children. 

Other kings would renounce their wives; Henry remained true to her.

Henry’s family complained to him that he was squandering his fortune;

not on palaces and politics, but on the poor.

As king, Henry commanded armies and faced wars; 

but he was notable for seeking paths of peace and reconciliation.

Where did Henry learn these things? 

Was it when he got together with other kings and dukes?

Or was it when he attended Mass, and first heard the Word of God,

and then received him in the Holy Eucharist?

Again, it’s all about what you and I really make a priority.

We always find time for what matters most. 

Saint Henry’s earthly family and kingdom are long gone.

Had he tried to secure a worldly dynasty, he would have failed.

Yet halfway around the world, you and I enjoy his spiritual friendship.

You can visit the grave of him and his queen, also a saint, 

in the cathedral of Bamberg, Germany.

But his tomb is not the center; the altar of Christ is.

Henry was king, with all the temptations and pitfalls.

Yet what mattered most was he pointed to Jesus, saying:

He is the true King – bow down to him.

Sunday, July 09, 2023

How to live in the Spirit (Sunday homily)

 Let’s talk about what you and I heard Saint Paul say: 

we are “not in the flesh…(we) are in the Spirit.” 

What does this mean?

It means, first that when we were baptized, 

the Holy Spirit was given to each of us. 

God dwells in you and me!

This relationship with God is damaged by sin; 

mortal sin is called that because it “kills,” or severs, the connection.

The sacrament of confession is the normal way we revive it,

giving us the newness we received first in baptism.

When we think of the Holy Spirit, we might think of confirmation.

That sacrament can’t be understood without connection to baptism.

In a sense, confirmation is “part two” of baptism, 

“sealing” in us the Gift of the Holy Spirit – 

which is what the bishop says as he anoints us with chrism.

But let’s think about this more broadly. 

What does it mean to say the Holy Spirit is in our life. 

Or, to use Paul’s way of saying it, 

you and I are in the life of the Holy Spirit?

How is that different from being “in the flesh”?

It’s confusing, because all of us are always “in the flesh,” right?

Indeed, some of us – ahem! – are especially fleshy!

The answer is this: who is in charge?

Is my body and its appetites in charge, or is the Holy Spirit in charge?

This isn’t a matter of flipping a switch – oh, if only it were so easy!

It’s a matter of habit, and cultivating a new way of living.

One benefit of including penance and self-denial in our lives – 

not just in Lent, but throughout the year – 

is precisely to grow in our ability to master our appetites and impulses, 

instead of them mastering us.

But it isn’t just self-denial, it’s far more a matter of prayer.

And I mean both the practice of regular forms of prayer – 

morning prayers, the Rosary or Divine Mercy chaplet, 

or spiritual reading – 

as well as a certain mindset that comes from prayer.

Praying regularly does (at least) two powerful things.

First, of course, it opens us up to God and his help.

Second, it trains us to develop a different way of seeing and reacting.

It’s not easy to describe, but we all know it when we see it:

Someone who keeps her head while everyone is losing theirs.

The calm that comes from remembering God is in control, 

and that in the long run, God’s Kingdom will prevail.

There is a peace that comes, not from soothing music or a video game, 

or an adult beverage, or even from our favorite chair, but rather,

from knowing that, in addition to being in Miami Township/Springboro,

more importantly, you are right where God wants you,

wherever you are, whatever is happening.

Living in the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean you become an oracle. 

Most people don’t respond well when you say, “God told me to tell you…”

Nor does it mean that everything goes perfectly.

What living in the Holy Spirit means 

is you and I learning to let him be in charge. 

Sometimes he softens our hearts; other times, he hardens our resolve.

Sometimes he makes us bold to speak; or he helps us bite our tongue.

The same Spirit will help us discipline our spending, 

and then prompt us to be prodigal in sharing our goods with others.

If you want this life in the Spirit – and why wouldn’t you? – then ask.

But believe me when I say, there is no short-cut.

First comes our own resolve – really wanting it;

Then comes living that resolve by daily choices, prayer and self-denial.

I repeat again my invitation to confession: 

this sacrament is the mega-dose of heart-softening.

And when I say, “ask” I mean, again and again, with daily prayer.

Sometimes we say, oh, I will start praying when I have time.

Daily prayer isn’t out of reach for anyone.

Even a few minutes at the beginning, 

a few moments – pauses – through the day, 

and a few minutes at the end, will bring great fruit.

If you want Life in the Spirit, ASK.

Sunday, July 02, 2023

Our nation's birth certificate


Our patriotic task is to 'baptize' our nation (Sunday homily)

 As we all know, Tuesday is our nation’s Independence Day, 

and I’m guessing the celebration has already begun for many of us.

This time of year, I think a little more about our nation’s history; 

about the great gift we were given by those who won our Revolution.

So, for example, the Knights of Columbus were helping parishioners

to register to vote recently. 

It’s shocking to think that anyone wouldn’t be registered to vote. 

Both in the Revolution, and again in the Civil Rights movement, 

people died to gain for us this and other precious rights.

As I thought about this homily, St. Paul’s words caught my eye.

He’s speaking about baptism and the Cross, not patriotism.

So, if you ask me what this homily is about:

It’s about what happens when we “baptize” Independence Day.

Because what our nation needs is a collective baptism. 

Taking up the cross, as Jesus said, dying to self.

I offer that because the great idol 

to which our nation tends to bow down, more than any other, 

is the seductive concept of “Choice.”

Our nation was conceived in liberty.

You and I are rightly protective of our rights in the Constitution.

Yet must we not concede there is a blind-spot?

Namely, that the right to choose 

is made more important than choosing what is right.

And this can show up in the everyday operations of our parishes, 

where instead of focusing on what’s good for all of us, 

people can end up simply pushing for what is good for themselves.

I’m talking about a part of Catholic teaching we call “the common good.” 

This applies to the family, workplace, neighborhood, and nation.

Imagine how our society would be transformed, 

if more of us were willing not to get something for ourselves, 

if that meant better for the whole of our state or our nation?

Imagine if, when the next politician stands up and says,

“Here’s a benefit or program I’m going to give to you,”

we voters said, “No! Don’t pander to us, think about the whole!”

That’s the common good.

To circle back to Saint Paul, this is all about dying to self.

The reason not to exalt “choice” above all else, 

is because good and evil aren’t a matter of majority vote.

Just because I want something, doesn’t make it right.

That’s a part of me that has to die.

That mindset has to be baptized and converted into what Jesus said: 

I did not come to be served, but to serve.

As you and I and all of us celebrate our nation’s independence, 

we might try to remember – 

and if we can do it gracefully, help others to remember – 

that the liberty you and I cherish wasn’t given to us for its own sake.

It is worth asking whether our constitutional republic can really work, 

if our people lose faith in God, or lose our moral core.

When Dr. Martin Luther King made the great difference he did, 

to help vindicate the rights of all Americans, regardless of skin color, 

he not only pointed to our Constitution,  

he also appealed to the moral compass of the majority 

whose rights did not need vindicating. He appealed to our consciences.

If that conscience had been dead, he would have failed.

It is frightening to think where that road would have led.

Thank God, Dr. King stirred us, and stirs us still, to a better vision

Of all the places and times God could have chosen for us,

He chose this country, this state, in this year.

Our nation’s conscience continues to need stirring, and converting.

Who will do it? God put you and me here for that.