Sunday, August 27, 2023

Out of the shallows (Sunday homily)

 In the second reading, Saint Paul realizes—

and he is awed by the thought—

that God’s Plan for saving the human race will come to pass,

despite all that seems to stand in the way.

Consider: in this year of our Lord 2023,

Christians are spread throughout the world;

Over one billion Catholics,

another billion other Christians.

The Church is growing rapidly in Asia and Africa.

While Christians continue to be persecuted to this day,

we have parishes and schools,

universities, and hospitals, endowments,

seminaries and religious orders.

Sure, we have plenty of problems, but compare our situation to Paul’s.

When Paul wrote these words,

the number of Christians, everywhere,

was in the thousands—

spread thin from Rome to Jerusalem.

Some were wealthy, most were dirt-poor – many were slaves.

They met in secret; they were despised and hunted.

How often, we fear and wring our hands;

Paul, in his time, said: to God be glory forever!

It’s all about perspective.

It has been a while, but sometimes I visit people in jail.

As I was about to give an inmate the Eucharist, I said,

this is a dark place, you have lost so much;

but I’m about to give you the Body and Blood of the Lord.

His flesh and blood, united to yours.

You will be Christ in this place!

And no one can take that away from you!

We believe in and experience Christ’s presence here…

In jail, you really feel His Power there!

To witness such moments

makes me so grateful I am a priest.

Here’s the challenge for us:

Do you and I have to be behind bars before we experience this?

Shall we wait till we lose our jobs, our health, our homes,

before we can know this gratitude and peace in the Lord?

While hard times often “force” us

out of the shallows, and into the depth,

even so, the opportunity to enter the Deep

is always before us.

The tools you and I have are so powerful – if we use them.

A daily routine of prayer, it doesn’t have to be a burden.

Examining our conscience regularly, and regular confession.

Pray the Rosary. Keep the Lords Day.

Notice, it’s not a matter of what we know;

how many great saints were simple folk.

It doesn’t have to wait for us to finish school

or raise our family, or retire from our jobs:

saints are made at all ages,

in family life, in the workplace and in prisons.

In the Gospel, the Lord asks all the Apostles;

but only one dared respond, “You are the Christ!”

May I submit that, for probably most of us,

the greatest challenge we face as Christians

is not opposition; not health or money issues.

Threatening as these are,

beyond all this is a far greater danger:

that most of us, most of the time,

won’t be forced into the Deep;

so we happily splash around in the shallows.

Right at this moment, you and I know

his question for Peter is for us, too:

Who do you say that I am?

It’s not an intellectual challenge; it’s not a test.

It is simply a choice:

Who am I…to you?

What will you do with Me?

Will you follow me?

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

TL;DR version of the prior post explaining Beacons of Light

What people want:

Joe from St. Kunagunda:    "My parish has its own pastor!"

Sally from St. Christina:     "My parish has its own pastor!"

Charlie from St. Sylvester: "My parish has its own pastor!"

It works fine when you have three priests, three pastors.

When you have one priest who is three pastors, it sort-of-but-not-really "works." That priest must operate as if each place has its own pastor. That means, he must act-as-if he is three separate people.

Which is impossible. 

Hence, it will fail; how it fails can manifest different ways, but it is still failure.

Understand, the let's-pretend we're on our own scenario can seem to work for a while, as a kind of Potemkin-parish; most people think everything is about the same, because to most people, it is. The hidden reality is very different. Few know, precisely because it is hidden. Eventually it falls apart, and everyone is shocked. "But it looked so solid!"

When a new model is tried that can work, given the limited options? 

"What a terrible priest! What a terrible bishop! Why can't it be the way we want?"

Indeed, that is the question. But, supposing it cannot, what next?


- Miserable or absentee pastors.

- Lay trusteeism which is a fun ride till it's a terrible one.

- Creating the best new reality with the actual resources (including human resources) available, rather than those we wish we had, but don't know how to make happen.

Understanding Beacons of Light

Saint Stanislaus Koska, a former Catholic church
(Credit: Jonathunder at Wikipedia)

As I write this, I'm killing time before a meeting later. And I'm reading items on Facebook. That includes people I know and respect, expressing deep unhappiness about the "Beacons of Light" reorganization plan now being implemented in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

The basic thing is organizing approximately 200 parishes into approximately 55 or so "families," but eventually, they will become 55 or so combined legal entities. This upsets people, understandably, because it means what had been a stand-alone parish will become part of a larger, multi-site parish. Many people are deeply concerned that what they love will go away.

There are many angles from which to approach this. Let me try to hit them all briefly.

First: what will or won't "go away." 

There's no GOOD reason (but could be BAD ones) for any "parish" to "go away." Let me explain the quotes, because I think a lot of the unhappiness derives from the multivalent meaning of words.

When you say "my parish," do you mean the legal structure; or do you mean the physical place; or do you mean the community of people for whom the legal structure was created, and for whom the place is a center of gravity? Three different realities, they are not identical or coterminous. 

To add clarity, let me create three clunky terms: "parish-corporation," "parish-place" and "parish-people." Follow? Hang with me please

The legal structure is boring but important. A parish, under church law, is essentially a corporation. It stands apart from other parish-corporations, and therefore, the persons who are legally responsible for them must administer them in a certain way. That means the pastor alone -- other than the bishop -- has the legal authority to act on behalf of that parish-corporation. His moral and legal duty to administer that corporation is serious, and it is greatly complicated when he is asked to administer more than one, especially if the multiple parish-corporations are adjacent to, or intertwined with, each other. This is a key point that is not well understood by those who get upset about Beacons of Light.

That said, changing the legal structure -- i.e., combining multiple parish-corporations into a united parish-corporation -- does not necessarily change a whole lot for the parish-place and parish-people involved. 

Imagine in the town of Happy Valley, you have three parishes: St. Kunagunda, St. Sylvester and St. Christina the Astonishing. At one time, each was helmed by separate pastors; but for various reasons, they now share a single pastor, and have for some time, and are almost certain to be so led for the indefinite future. 

I will skip over, for now, why combining the three parish-corporations into one is advisable, and just assume that it is will happen. What does this change for the physical locations and the people who gravitate there? Does it force any outcome?

The answer is NO. There is no necessity that any of the three locations undergo a single, meaningful change. There might be changes in tax ID numbers, or record-keeping. There would likely be signs saying, "St. Kunagunda Church, part of St. Oddo Parish." But all the activities that took place the day before the combining of legal structures are still underway the day after.

I know what you're saying: but it's a prelude to closing ___ Parish! 

Tell me, what benefit would there be to anyone to close a church that is well attended and well supported (as opposed to one that is neither)? What does the pastor or bishop gain by doing it?

Other than misery, alienation and people who used to give, but no longer will?

Only an extremely stupid pastor or bishop would mess with success. I'm not saying there aren't stupid pastors or bishops. I'm saying, that's not usually the case -- not that stupid.

Pretty often, the closure comes because people drift away, the money needed to keep things going isn't there, debts mount, and then...why be surprised if the place closes?

On the other hand, if the people will support keeping a place active, there is no benefit to fighting them, and great benefit in giving them what they want.

Now, if there aren't enough priests, that may affect the number of Masses. But in the case of Beacons of Light, that isn't the critical issue. The issue that is generating great unhappiness in some quarters is precisely the legal structures changing, which are taken (I think) to presage other changes. 

All I mean to do is challenge that assumption. I think a very good argument can be made (and I will try presently to make it) that combining the corporate structure can and will have the opposite effect, of benefitting the life of the parish-places and parish-people.

Second: why you don't really want a pastor to helm multiple (i.e., independent) parishes

This is what many people think they want. They want their parish-place and parish-people to stay on their own as they have been. They fear the combination of the parish-corporation will inevitably lead to the end of what they love about parish-place and parish-people.

There is a kernel of truth in this, which I will touch on below. But let deal with why you actually don't want to maintain the go-it-alone parish structures, when the multiple parishes share now, and will share for an indefinite time to come, a single pastor.

A pastor has a moral duty to the parish-corporation he leads that must not be compromised. He must act in its best interest. He must review records, keep track of all assets, that is, the "patrimony," and he must lead the pastoral care of the parish-people. If he is asked to do this not only for St. Kunagunda, but also St. Christina the Astonishing, etc., he must act, in effect, as three separate pastors. This is the point that isn't really understood until you've lived it. Very often, the pastor must "personify" his parish, especially in relation to other parishes. This is bound up with how Canon law describes him as the "juridical person."

So think about that: Father Ernest, Pastor of St. Sylvester, must personify that parish to Father Ernest (himself!), pastor of St. Christina; then, again, he must represent those two, to himself, as pastor of St. Kunagunda. 

Couldn't he conflate these distinct fiduciary responsibilities? Yes! It's called combining the parish-corporations into one; but as long as there are distinct corporations, conflating these duties is the one thing he must NOT do. Rather, he must maintain them separately and distinctly, and then he must manage, somehow, to avoid a conflict of interests. And those conflicts come up rather more frequently than you may realize. They are not so hard to avoid if he has good cooperation among the lay collaborators of the several parishes; but that doesn't always happen. Then what?

If you maintain separate legal entities, then you must maintain separate accounts, separate books, separate inventories of assets, and separate lines of accountability. This multiplies the time the pastor must spend reviewing books and inventories; and it adds a special complication: creating special structures and methods of preventing improper commingling; and avoiding suspicion of the same.

Let me summarize it this way. I've lived this reality both where there is good cooperation and refusal to cooperate; the latter is awful, but the former is still difficult. My first year here was made so much more bearable because everyone knew we were moving toward becoming one family, and was ready to be flexible. Had that not been in view, the past year would have been extremely difficult.

To state it simply: if you don't understand why this is difficult for the pastor, ask questions and listen. 

Two examples, both real:

a) Parish-corporations that share pastors will inevitably share some expenses, perhaps quite a lot of expenses, especially if they share employees. Quite a lot of time will be spent on analyzing, proposing, debating, negotiating, implementing, and evaluating plans of sharing and distributing those expenses. Then it all has to be re-done every few years, because the odds of getting it right the first time are nil. It's all about what's "fair," and that is far from obvious or uniform. "Fair" is whatever everyone can live with.

b) Pastors will inevitably be moving from site to site as they carry out their duties. It becomes tremendously easy for valuable items to "drift" from site to site with him. As a result, it's remarkably easy for sacred vessels, vestments, ritual books and other things to migrate. Not a big deal, until it is. "Where's the ciborium that was donated 50 years ago?" It may seem a small thing, but again, from actual experience, it's a headache to keep track of, but if I don't make sure it's attended to, it can become a real problem and an injustice.

Some will say, but the pastor should simply give responsibility for money, for budgeting, for oversight, to others! Let him focus on spiritual things!

First, that's a kind of gnosticism to separate the temporal from the spiritual. God didn't create us as angels, but as body-soul combinations. 

Second, what that really means is that the priest goes from being the leader of the parish, to an employee. 

Whoever makes the decisions about the physical assets is in charge, whether that be the priest, or a deacon, or a single layperson, or a committee of laypeople. The latter was tried: it was called "trusteeism." It became a huge problem, and a recent example is the sad story of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in St. Louis. Short story: a Catholic parish, administered by a lay corporation, ended up not being a Catholic parish. A bad end for anyone who wants to safeguard the parish-place and parish-people by demoting the priest from leader to "sacramental minister." And don't tell me, "but that's not what we intend!" The good folks who set St. Stanislaus on that bad road didn't intend the outcome either.

Third, the other option is to accept poor pastoral leadership as "normal": if a man must lead multiple, legally separate parish-corporations, he will be a miserable pastor who tries, but fails, to do an impossible job; or an absentee pastor who happily doesn't try. Hard to see how either is good for the parish-people or parish-place, even as it protects the independence of the parish-corporations!

The point I'm making is this: given the reality of not enough pastor-capable priests, that narrows our options. I wish it were otherwise! But for now, and for the foreseeable future, we have too many parishes for too few pastors. At this point, combining the parish-corporation offers a way to minimize the pastor's time spent complying with the demands of muliple parish-corporations, increasing the time he can give to the parish-places and parish-people.

And here's a point I wanted to make earlier. A lot of people are mad at the Archbishop, and those he consulted, about this whole reorganization -- as if this came out of nowhere. The event you are unhappy about didn't happen in the last two or three years; it was already underway 20-plus years ago: when we knew pastors leading multiple parishes was the reality that wasn't going to change quickly. I'm not saying it cannot change; and to his credit, Archbishop Schnurr has tried to change it. But at some point, you can't pretend reality isn't real, especially when it comes at the cost of miserable pastors who are told they must give their parishioners the pretense of things not changing all that much, or do-the-minimum pastors who let things go; they will go for quite awhile before people realize how far gone things are.

Yes, combining parishes does involve loss

I'm not going to pretend it is all positive. There is something lost when you no longer have each church (parish-place) as a stand-alone parish-corporation. When you create a new, larger entity -- call it the combo-parish -- helmed by a single pastor, it isn't only the legal structures that become one. In some fashion, it all becomes one. 

Indeed, the term "family" is very helpful here. Has anyone ever heard of a family that embraces more than one physical home? With multiple traditions and activities, that not all take part in? Of course! Isn't that exactly how most extended families operate?

I realize this raises questions, but it seems to me, most of the success or failure of this depends on how people respond. If the people who identify with St. Sylvester must start to share their beloved church, and events, with people who identify with St. Christina and St. Kunagunda, is it really all "loss"?

Cannot each part of this new family have a moment to consider, "what special thing do I bring to this family?" Each member of a family is unique; yet part of the larger family. So cannot St. Kunagunda continue to be a special parish-people and parish-place, while becoming part of a united parish-corporation? I readily believe it can fail: but please tell me why you think it must fail.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Widening our narrowness (Sunday homily)

 Several years ago, while making a trip to the Holy Land, 

 I changed planes in France, and while waiting for my flight, 

a group of Orthodox Jewish men arrive at the gate. 

As they waited, they gathered in a corner to pray together. 

As you would be, I was curious, but I did not want to stare. 

Above all, I respected and admired their zeal. 

In the second reading, Saint Paul tells us that to be a Christian 

means being grafted into the “vine” of Israel. 

The Jewish People are God’s Chosen People, 

and one of the things Jesus came to do 

was to extend that chosen-ness to all humanity. 

That’s what the first reading foresees. 

Keep this in mind as we look at this strange episode in the Gospel. 

Lots of people think Jesus is denigrating this woman, 

and that he is not interested in welcoming her. 

But stop and think: does that really sound right?

But then, why does he speak this way? 

The detail in the background, that explains the situation, is this:

One of the key story-lines of the Gospels 

is how the Apostles grow in faith.

Jesus is repeatedly challenging their narrowness,

and, by extension, our narrowness.

That’s what’s happening here. 

Notice, the Lord waits to see what the Apostles will say.

Their advice: “Send her away.”

That’s what they said before, when parents brought children, 

or when they faced thousands of hungry people: “Send them away.” 

What do you think I want to say when someone knocks on my door? “Send them away!” 

So what we hear is Jesus saying, out loud, 

what’s in the Apostle’s hearts. 

This is all about how they will carry out 

the missionary task Jesus will give them.

Jesus knew what he was doing: 

he wanted her great faith to expand the faith of the Apostles. 

And, it worked. The Apostles went to the all the world,

and today, the face of the Church includes every human face.

Obviously, and sadly, there is plenty of narrowness still.

Worse, we Christians let that narrowness take root in ourselves, 

rather than joining the Apostles in the conversion Jesus led them to. 

This is where I could trace out points about racism, 

about rash judgment, about closing people out, 

because they are “they” and not “we.”

This is where someone might want me to talk about public policy, 

but the trouble is, that gets really complicated, 

and I only have a few minutes. 

The broad point that needs to be made is that we Catholics 

believe in human dignity, and human brotherhood, 

regardless of race or religion or politics or anything else 

that becomes a label or a barrier.

This applies both in, and beyond, politics; it’s about how we live.

Are you and I narrow? Or can I see – and say – that this other person, 

regardless of skin color, or language, or clothing, 

or tattoos or nose rings or whatever, 

“you are my brother,” “you are my sister.”

And I might add: just because you or I don’t agree with someone’s opinions, 

or way of life, doesn’t change the basic calculus.

We don’t just treat well the people we agree with.

I want to remind you that the real goal of our parish reorganization 

is to become an evangelizing, outward-focused community of faith.

And if it works, we may see people showing up 

who don’t seem to be the “us” that you and I are used to.

It’s going to be a conversion moment, and don’t say no one warned you.

Meanwhile, back to those men I saw in the airport. 

However different they might have seemed to me, or you,

Our vocation is exactly the same:

Keep praying. Keep faithful. Keep bearing witness. 

Don’t be afraid to stand out.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Discouragement is a choice; so is joy (Sunday homily)

 There’s a word for what is happening in all the readings; 

what is happening for Elijah, for Saint Paul, and for Saint Peter. 

That word is discouragement.

And there is a word for what cures it. And that is joy. 

In the first reading, Elijah has fled to the mountain 

because he is discouraged. He tried to spark revival of faith, 

and the queen seeks to kill him. He feels very alone and overwhelmed.

In the second reading, Paul is “in anguish” for his fellow Jews 

who have resisted the message of Jesus Christ.

Peter, in the Gospel, is disheartened by the storm raging around him, 

and he begins to sink.

Meanwhile, there are trends that trouble us all.

So many of us face the same discouragement Elijah and Paul did.

You and I see members of our families, 

people who were once active in the Faith, drifting away.

We see ways our nation is heading in the wrong direction.

There is a ballot measure coming in November that, if enacted, 

would strike down the limited protections we have for unborn children, 

and open the floodgates for abortion on demand.

And it would, very likely, impinge on parents’ authority 

to decide medical treatment for their own children.

If you want to be discouraged, there are plenty of opportunities.

But there is always a choice.

Sometimes people give into fatalism, saying, 

“There’s nothing we can do!” 

Believe me, I’ve felt it too; yet you and I must remind ourselves:

If we truly believe in God, there is no room for fatalism.

Instead, you and I must seek that which Elijah needed to renew, 

and what Peter lost sight of. And that is joy.

I was inspired by reading the words of Charles Chaput, 

former Archbishop of Philadelphia, who said, 

while Christians need to see the world’s problems as they are, 

“we can’t let the weight of the world crush the joy 

that’s our birthright 

by our rebirth in Jesus Christ through baptism,” he said.

So, what is joy? Well, it isn’t simply happiness, 

because we can know joy even in times of great suffering. 

Let me give you an example that may surprise you.

I knew an older couple in Piqua, married over 60 years. 

The wife became ill, and got worse and worse; 

and I was called to visit her in the hospital. 

When I entered that small hospital room, it was packed – 

maybe 20 people or more. 

Everyone was praying, centered on their mother and grandmother, 

in bed, with her husband sitting by her, holding her hand. 

She was leading the prayers. 

Then came a moment when she couldn’t speak, 

but her husband kept praying. 

Then, he finally stopped. We all knew she was gone.

And he broke the silence with these words: 

“I’m heart-broken, but I’m joyful.”

What was that joy? It’s hard to put into words, isn’t it? Yet we know.

He and his wife and their children and grandchildren 

had shared life and love; 

not just on a natural, but a supernatural level.

Death was all too real, 

but something else is infinitely more real, 

and that is Jesus Christ, and that is hope, and that is joy!

That man knew he would see his wife again;

He was drawing on the reservoir of faith they had shared;

He looked forward to experiencing the fullest joy from its source,

Which is Jesus Christ, whom his wife went to meet first.

So we might ask, what steals our joy? Many things, 

including discouragement, resentment, 

and worry about the cares of the world.

Some of us pay too much attention to the news and the Internet. 

It’s just like what happened to Peter: we see the waves crashing 

and the wind howling, and we start to sink.

But it wasn’t the storm that sunk Peter; 

it was looking away from Jesus.

So if stormy news on TV or the Internet gets you anxious, 

there is a simple solution: Turn it off!

Our inflated ego tells us, “oh, I need to know!”

But mostly that’s not true. 

We might need 5 minutes of news, not 5 hours. 

Put down that phone and pick up a Rosary.

Stop looking at the screen, and look instead at another human face. 

Human relationships are messy, 

but they are also where real love happens; 

and they are the only possession we can enjoy for eternity. 

The choice is yours: tremble at the storm, or fix your gaze on Jesus.

When he is our focus, 

what will shine in our face is the light of heaven, pure joy, 

and people will see that, and will want to know where it comes from.

They will want what you and I have.

Tuesday, August 08, 2023

Gift Cards are BAD

All right, I over-simplified the matter in the headline; and no, I am not making an ontological statement. But I do intend to warn people off of gift cards; here goes.

Today, I dove into my wallet to dig out a gift card. I've had it over a year, and I knew there was still some value on it. It is for a restaurant about six miles away; a kind person up north gave it to me, before leaving Shelby County; she guessed at it being close by. Not so much, actually.

When I picked up my wings, I discovered, after paying for the wings, I still had $8 left (I'd been here about 4 times); so the clerk got a nice tip. The card is empty! Free at last!

When I got back and tucked into my wings, I remembered why that card lingered in my pocket; I don't love the food at this place. Sure, I could have just tossed the card away, but that seemed so wasteful. So, instead, I bought and ate food I don't love. No, not the end of the world: but is could that actually be what the kind person who gave me the gift card wanted?

This is an ongoing project of mine: using up or giving away gift cards. I have several left in my wallet, for places I really don't patronize, or at least, rarely. I will probably give these away, which is fine, but honestly, I'm just making my problem someone else's.

I don't want to sound ungracious. I am very grateful for the kindness of so many people, and I always write a thank you letter. My Christmas thank yous finally went out, this year, in May if memory serves. No matter how busy I am, I send a thank you...eventually.

But I have to ask: why in the world do people think this is a good idea?

If you say, well, people want you to enjoy a good meal, or, they know you like such-and-such, my follow-up question is, where did people get the idea that the only (or even best) way to enable that, is with a gift card? 

What's wrong with cash?

Consider this: who actually benefits from you purchasing a gift card? 

- Not you.

- Not the intended recipient.

- Not society.


Now, if these were sold for some discount off the face value, I could see it: pay $95 for a $100 gift card. How often does this happen? I honestly don't know, because I never buy these things.

If there's no discount, I ask again:

What's so terrible about cash?

Sunday, August 06, 2023

Sunday Dinner

Sorry, no pictures, but the plain truth is, when I'm fixing dinner, I don't want to mess around with photos. If the other priest wants to take pictures, he's welcome, but I'm not going to ask him to do it.

In any case, we all need to remember the compelling power of the written word.

This is a frequent dinner menu, with some variations.

Antipasto, prepared not too long before, featuring different tasty things, that go with a martini. I'm the only one who has a martini (details below).

Insalata Caprese, which is a variation; usually it's a tomato salad, but I came across some real, home-grown tomatoes, and they deserve to be in a caprese. I peeled them, too. FYI, my caprese is simple: sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, pepper. The other priest likes balsamic vinegar.

Ribeyes, which began to be prepared early this morning, with a dredge of kosher salt and cracked pepper; they sat in the fridge all day, allowing the salt to migrate into the meat, and the surface of the meat to dry out -- for a better sear. They went into the oven at 150 degrees around 3:15 pm or so.

Mushrooms, sauteed slowly, with olive oil, salt, pepper, cayenne and a bit of worcestershire sauce; cooking them slowly gets out the water and intensifies the flavor. Oh, and I tried a bit of msg, that helps. Finishing them with some butter, I put them in the oven, along with the plates for the steaks. The salad plates went into the freezer.

Around 4 or so, the other priest and I prayed Evening Prayer, then a cocktail with the antipasto. Then I brought out the steaks and finished them on the grill outside. Then we had the salad with the steaks; yes, I know, not the proper sequence, but oh well. Plus some cabernet. The steaks had to rest for a bit; my method is to douse them in dried thyme and plenty of butter; that all melts and flavors the steaks while they rest. Goal: medium rare. Father and I are getting where we like eating a bit earlier.

Verdict? The steaks were great; I'm getting pretty good at this. The star of the show was the fresh tomatoes in the caprese. Those people who say they don't like tomatoes have, I suspect, never had a vine-ripened one. It's worlds apart from store-bought tomatoes.

Oh, I think it's time for dessert!

Oops: I forgot the details on the martini: gin and vodka frozen, along with the glass. Two parts vodka, one part gin. The vodka is shaken vigorously with ice; honestly, the purpose isn't to chill it, but to add some ice shards. The gin is added, and it's stirred -- swirled, to be precise. A small bit of vermouth; garnished with bleu-cheese stuffed olives.

Why the Transfiguration happened (Sunday homily)

 We might wonder why the “Transfiguration” is important, 

whether to these Apostles, or to us.

Answer: it reveals to us exactly who Jesus is.

When this event takes place, there had been a building question:

Who is Jesus?

Jesus himself asks the question: “who do people say that I am?”

The Apostles say, “John the Baptist, Elijah…one of the prophets.”

He asks again, “Who do you say that I am?”

And Peter blurts out, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus responds to Peter’s faith by offering even more:

He reveals his plan of salvation:

That he will suffer, die, and rise again on the third day.

Peter struggled with that, but the Lord insists:

If you want to follow me, you must “take up your cross!”

It’s the same difficulty for us: what kind of Messiah do we have?

One who conquers, or who suffers and dies?

It’s both. This is who Jesus is.

The Cross is his glory! That’s where he reigns!

That’s how he conquers the world:

Not the Rambo-Messiah, guns-ablazing—that’s our way.

And if you aren’t sure you think that way, consider:

Haven’t you ever said out loud: “Why does God allow such-and-such?”

There it is.

Jesus conquers by giving his life away, 

to make an offering for sin, to reconcile us to God and to one another.

Aren’t you glad Jesus says, I will conquer, not by killing you,

but by dying for you – by winning you!?

Jesus knew the Cross would be a scandal for the Apostles.

So, to sustain them, he lets them see the fuller picture of who he is.

Now, here’s a detail about Moses and Elijah.

Of all the folks in the Bible to whom God spoke,

only these two went up a mountain to see the Lord’s glory.

But that experience was too much to bear for them:

Moses hid in a rock; Elijah covered his head.

Notice they don’t hide; and, neither do the Apostles, or we.

Moses and Elijah have come so much closer to the glory.

I said a moment ago that the Cross remains a scandal.

Lots of us Christians seem to forget 

that it isn’t just Jesus, the head, who goes to the cross. 

You, and I and all members of the Church are his Body.

The Body goes to the Cross with the Head.

Just as Jesus was humiliated before the world,

We face our humiliations as his followers.

Also, a moment ago, I said that Moses and Elijah got to come closer.

But you and I are even closer now than they were then.


For us, the Resurrection, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit,

the institution of the sacraments, above all, Holy Mass, have happened. 

Our “transfiguration” experience isn’t reading this Gospel.

It’s the Holy Mass!

The Mass is that glory which the Gospel describes.

This is the truth Vatican II taught 

when it called the Mass “the source and summit” of our faith.

This is why coming to Mass on the Lord’s Day is a grave obligation. 

This is why, as helpful as the Internet is for those who cannot come,

Mass on the Internet is not the same as being here.

Imagine if when Jesus said, “come up the mountain with me,” 

Peter said, “how about we stay home and watch on the Internet”?

Again: some people can’t come, so they are excused.

But if you can come, how can you refuse?

As many know, our bishops asked all of us to spend this year and next 

reflecting more deeply on the Holy Eucharist.

And, of course, you know that our family of three parishes 

are in the throes of coming together as one.

Where these two projects intersect is at the Holy Mass.

“Beacons of Light” is far more about revitalization and renewal, 

than merely reorganization,

so that our parish not only receives, but transmits, Jesus’ glory.

What is that called? A beacon! 

So, one of the guiding principles of “Beacons of Light” 

is to foster a renewal of the liturgy; 

that is to say, how we come together at the altar,

and experience that glory and share it.

You’ll hear more about that as we go along.

For today, I beg you not to make the mistake of thinking, 

“nothing happened at church.”

You were there: deeper in than Moses, Elijah or the Apostles.

But you haven’t missed it: that’s what comes in a moment.