Sunday, December 31, 2023

Measuring up to the Holy Family! (Sunday homily)

 If you have been keeping track, 

we heard about eight people in these readings: 

Abraham and Sarah and Isaac; Simeon and Anna; 

Mary and Joseph, and the Lord Jesus.

Each one, in a different way, had faced hard blows. 

Think of Sarah’s heartbreak in not being able to have a child. 

Anna who lost her husband after only seven years of marriage. 

Mary and Joseph having their lives turned upside down by God’s Plan.

So, a simple lesson. You are not alone. 

If you think your life is a mess; 

or if you are discouraged, or even ashamed, 

by the problems your family has, you are in good company.

And I will make a further point. 

When God asked these folks to take a step of faith,

Each of them could have said, “Not me!” for good reasons.

Too old! Abraham and Sarah could have said.

I’ve suffered enough, Anna could have said.

I have no experience, Mary could have said.

On this feast of the Holy Family, 

it is really important to remember that no family, 

including the family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, 

fits the “ideal” – 

that is, the ideal that is portrayed in happy stories, 

or which we concoct in our own imaginations.

No family is like that, because it does not exist!

And the thing is, that’s an invented ideal; it’s not God’s.

Realize that holiness is not something we will eventually get to, 

after the holidays, after the bills are paid, 

once things settle down at work, once the children are a little older, 

when we have a little more financial security…

You get the idea? Later, later…

No. The Holy Family is holy not in idyllic serenity 

but in hectic, even frantic circumstances. 

They have money problems. They are looking for housing. 

Joseph is looking for work. 

They face prejudice and gossip. Their taxes are too high. 

The Romans push them around. They are in danger of death – 

they have to flee to another country. 

They are separated from friends and family. 

In the midst of all this, somehow they find time to worship; 

Joseph, after a long day’s work, finds time to pray and listen to God.

Mary ponders all these things in her heart.

They find holiness not apart from, 

but precisely in these circumstances.

That’s how it was for the Holy Family, 

and that’s how it is for you and me.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

The many musical Christmases

During Christmas week, I especially like to listen to Christmas music, and I enjoy pretty much all of it. Relaxing after a particularly demanding few days, I am considering the taxonomy of Christmas music. Or, to put it another way, when it comes to music, there are many Christmases:

Pelagian Christmas

Pelagius was a figure from the early age of Christianity; he argued that our salvation depends, at least to some extent, on our own effort. This is heresy, yet there's a Pelagian in all of us, and this mindset shows up at Christmas time: "He knows who's naughty or nice..." ("Santa Claus is coming to town") and "I ain't getting nuttin' for Christmas" (because I ain't been nuttin' but bad).

Mythical Christmas

It's fascinating how capacious Christmas is! It has plenty of room for themes that have developed their own rich traditions, but like a very old family tree, the junction point with the main line is very far in the past. Here I place "Frosty," "Rudolph," "Grinch," and the like.

Cozy Christmas

This is where I place all the songs emphasizing family and home: "There's no place like home for the holidays," "The Christmas Song," and I think I just heard, "Cozy Christmas."

Party Christmas

Lots of the music we love is just about celebrating, almost to a manic level: "Rock around the Christmas Tree," and "Jingle Bell Rock" come to mind; but what about, "Deck the Halls"? 

Weather Christmas

Here's where all the songs that are really about the weather go, and probably number one is "White Christmas." I bet you can think of more?

Winter songs (not really about Christmas)

Did you realize how many songs we associate with Christmas, have nothing to do with it? "Sleigh Ride," "Winter Wonderland," "Baby, it's cold outside," "Let it Snow" all come to mind.

Romantic Christmas

This is a huge category, from the terribly unsubtle, "All I want for Christmas is you," to the lovely "Christmas Waltz." 

Sad Christmas

More Christmas music is sad, I think, than people notice. For example, "I'll be home for Christmas," (if only in my dreams), and "Blue Christmas." This overlaps with the romantic category: "Baby, come home!" Shall we put here, "Do they know it's Christmas"? I also put here, "I saw Mommy kissing Santa" -- think about it. Nat King Cole did one called, "The little boy that Santa Claus forgot."

Materialistic Christmas

Here I put "Jolly Old Saint Nick," "Christmas comes but once a year"; but the definitive take must be, "Santa Baby." That said, Eartha Kitt's gem, or Chuck Berry's "Spending Christmas" are really wry commentaries on materialism, aren't they?

Cynical Christmas

"Grandma got run over" might be number-one here. And you can do a search for "anti-Christmas songs" if you wish. 

Jesus Christmas

And then, of course, there is the Reason for the Season, the Incarnation, for the salvation of humanity. These are still the chart leaders. Three that stand out to me are, "Of the Father's Love Begotten," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "Joy to the World." But please don't fix the lyrics.

Would you create any categories? Where would you put any songs you have in mind?

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Why are you here? (Christmas homily)

 For almost everyone, 

this time of year is a jolt of emotional caffeine.

Not only do many of us eagerly anticipate this season of cheer, 

we make sure we gulp down every drop of it, 

punctuating every “Ho” and ringing those Jingle Bells like a maniac.

Why do sensible people crawl around on their roofs, first in November, 

and then again in January, to put up and take down lights?

Why do you and I load up our charge cards and our grocery carts? 

There’s a reason ads for gyms and diets show up in January!

People will say, oh the advertisers make us do it! They force us!

Gimme a break! Let’s be honest: We love it!

My question is, why?

Not everyone’s answer will be the same.

For some, it is a way to combat 

the gloom of darkening skies and poignant memories.

Others might simply ask, does having fun really need a reason?

So let me tighten the focus of my question.

Why should all this merriment include our presence here, tonight?

Why are you and I here?

Now, some might not want to admit out loud, that the truth is, 

“mom” – or grandad or spouse – “made me come.”

Or, “it’s just what we do.” Or, “it’s for the kids.”

But if you think about it, there’s still an unanswered “Why?”

Why is it “for the kids”? Why should anyone be here?

See what a mean priest I am,

Making you do a little work before the celebration.

In case it’s not obvious, or in case no one ever explained this:

The Christian Faith is founded on assertions of fact.

Not stories. Not theories. Not dogmas.

The bedrock underneath everything is summed up 

in three words in the Creed we profess every Sunday; 

and tonight/tomorrow, we kneel for these three words: 

“And became man.” 

God out there – somewhere! – came here, 

became human flesh in the womb of Mary, 

without the help of St. Joseph.

God became what we call a “fact.”

A material, physical, fact.

Either that happened, or it did not. 

Either Jesus is God, “true light from true light,” 

or he is just a tragic figure from long ago.

There is no half-way position here.

I understand why people might say, “I don’t believe it.”

Obviously, I don’t agree, but let’s recognize that

it takes a fair amount of courage to commit yourself, 

to take a definite stance that, there is no God, there is no savior, 

other than what we human beings might be able to do for ourselves.

But since I already started making you uncomfortable, 

I will go a little further. 

While it is certainly polite not to blurt out, 

Over Christmas dinner, “I don’t believe in God!”

It doesn’t make sense to waffle on the question. 

It makes no sense to say, “I’ll wait and find out!”

Would you take a job, or buy a house, that way?

“I’ll wait and find out!”

Why would anyone wait until That Day, 

to think about, and prepare for, That Day?

After all, why would God go to all this trouble – 

Being born, one of us, living among us, going to the Cross, 

dying a horrible death, rising from the dead, and along the way, 

instituting the Church, the sacraments, and above all, 

the Holy Mass to “do in remembrance of me” –

If everything would wash out just fine, in the end?

God came here and became a fact for a reason.

And if there is a God, and he acts in time,

then you are here – on earth, and in this church – 

also for a reason.

Either God came to give bad news… 

In which case, “Boo-to-the-factor-of-Infinity-hoo!” 

(this is a really SAD day!)

Or he came to give Good News:

In which case, don’t you want to know what that is?

He actually gave us both bad and Good News:

Jesus came to tell us, to enter Eternity, you and I need to change;

and he came to offer us the grace to do that.

Don’t you want to ask for his help?

Here, you thought you were just coming to make grandma happy.

Little did you realize, God would meet you here tonight!

Planning Christmas Dinner

TOP* and I are planning dinner for Christmas. My mutual agreement, the menu is thus:

Antipasto w/aperitivos (yes, I know, this is a violation of Italian law):

Mixed cured meats, cheeses and olives. I plan a Martini.

Main course:

Rib Roast
Sauteed asparagus
Baked potatoes
Yorkshire pudding


Apple pie a la mode


Limoncello, Tuaca or Kahlua

To make this happen, some things have already been prepped. A very large rib roast was ordered (larger than I realized, we'll have more leftover than we'll eat), and has been rubbed down with Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, basil, thyme and rosemary. That went in the fridge Friday afternoon. (Sorry, no pictures, but when I park my car in the garage, I can't easily get to the garage refrigerator, and I'm enjoying my recliner at the moment before the second of three Masses today. Just another lazy priest.)

Just now I made some Yorkshire pudding batter -- that took about five minutes -- and it's going to sit in the fridge overnight.

I small discursus: one thing I've learned about cooking is to learn what things can substitute for other things, and other ways to improvise. Example: the recipe for Yorkshire pudding called for "whole milk." Except neither I nor TOP drinks milk, so there's none in the house. But we do have heavy cream (for coffee); so I improvised by using cream, plus some extra water to approximate milk; I bet it works, we'll see.

I've printed out recipes for everything else (oh, you think I have all this stuff in my head? Hah!). They are on the counter, ready for tomorrow.

My plan is "low and slow" with the roast, so that requires a "Critical Path" timeline to be worked out, which follows (revised slightly from print-out shown in photo above): 

8:30 am - start roast @ 150 degrees

9:30 am - check roast before Mass

11:30a    - check roast after Mass

2 pm       - check roast

2:45 pm   - prep potatoes

3:00 pm   - remove roast, rest 
                - oven to 400 degrees
        - potatoes in
        - fix antipasto
        - wine in fridge**
                - prep asparagus
                - finish gravy; keep warm

3:30 pm    - Evening Prayer

4 pm - potatoes out -- in warmer
                - oven to 550 degrees
                - sour cream, horseradish sauce out.
                - make drinks
        - Serve antipasto

4:10 pm   - roast in to sear

4:20 pm - roast out
        - yorkies in
        - fix asparagus

4:35 pm   - yorkies out
        - oven set for pie
        - pie in

4:35 pm - Main course

5:30 pm - pie out to cool

6 pm        - Dessert, coffee and digestivos ad libitum.

That's the plan, there's plenty of time between noon and 3 pm to get ahead on some things as I may be inspired. If things go well, I'll update with photos tomorrow.

Update, 6:11 pm...

The roast seems to be resting comfortably:

That's a six-bone roast; I didn't remember ordering that large a roast, but when I picked it up, it was all trussed up so nicely, I didn't want to untie it in order to slice it in half. We'll see what's left and freeze the rest if needed. FYI, I got a great deal on this: it was $9.99/pound when I ordered it; marked down to $7.99 when I went to pick it up. Rib roast or steak is normally between $15-17/pound. So when I ordered it, I got a whole loin, with the rest sliced up for steaks to put in the freezer. Perhaps people wondered why a priest was carting around so much beef at the store, but it was too great a savings to pass up!

Update, 2:30 pm...

The roast is closing in on the target temp, perhaps a little slowly, so I raised the oven temp.

Meanwhile, I've prepped everything else; the gravy is on a low flame to keep warm, the potatoes are ready to go in the oven when the roast comes out, and the asparagus is ready to sautee when the potatoes come out and the meat gets it's final sear, and then the yorkshire puddings go in.

Update, 3:30 pm . . .

The wireless meat probes weren't working all day, till a decisive suggestion by TOP worked: the meat came out of the oven around 114, now it reads 121, so we're in great shape. It'll go back in at the end for a sear. The potatoes are in the oven now, and it's time for Evening Prayer.

Update, 5:29 pm...

It all came together, a little messy but great. I was using a new set of wireless meat probes, and I hadn't quite figured them out. But in the end, they worked, and we had to speed up, then slow down, the roast, to get it to about 130 degrees. The yorkshire puddings had too much fat, so they were a little doughy, but I still loved them. The asparagus got a bit overcooked, but very tasty. The potatoes were perfect, and inebriated with butter and sour cream, they were sublime.

The roast was a lovely rose color, leading me to think that 125 would have been better (meaning, *redder*). It's always tricky getting these devices to measure just exactly how *I* think they ought to. All the same, the roast was awesome, and TOP reminded us: $7.99.

He's graciously handling the dirty dishes while the pie finishes in the oven. We wrapped up the remains of the roast; a small bit for the fridge, the bones, plus a full half of the roast, for the freezer. After taking care of God's People and praying our prayers, such a nice meal! Thank God for all his abundant blessings, above all, the Gift of His Son!

Update, 6:15 pm...

TOP came through! He kept an eye on the pie, and when the fullness of time had come, brought hot pie with Graeters vanilla ice cream! La dulce finita est! It will soon be time for the digestivos...

*The Other Priest.
** I'm assured by experts that red wine should be consumed somewhat cooler than room temperature.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Who is the 'mirror of eternity'? (Sunday homily)

You may have heard me say that Advent is mainly about eternity; 

it is about Christmas only because Christmas 

is a down-payment on eternity.

This helps us understand the readings. 

They are looking ahead to eternity, and that may be confusing.

But, see, Christmas, too, is really looking ahead – not back.

This is easy to misunderstand, 

especially because of how our society approaches Christmas.

Notice what happens every year.

We start seeing ads and TV specials hinting at Christmas 

back in September, even August.

Once Hallowe’en is over, it’s all Christmas, all the time, for two months.

It’s relentless; everywhere; till we arrive at December 25, FINALLY! 

See what we’ve done? We’ve turned Christmas into the climax.

But what if that’s all wrong?

Christmas isn’t the END; it’s the BEGINNING. 

It is the down payment on the complete redemption of humanity; 

on the New Creation, on what lies ahead for each of us.

When Christmas happened, 2,024 or 2,027 years ago, 

was the first, concrete beginning of salvation –

of a relationship with God being possible, of heaven being opened.

That explains the angels in the sky over Bethlehem.

If someone asks, why be a Christian, the short answer is, 

because of the eternity Jesus invites us to.

Jesus came to fix what went wrong with humanity.

That’s why he was born; that’s why he died and rose.

That’s what our Catholic way of living is all about.

You and I join our lives to his, living in him, watching for him, 

Till he comes again, if you will, to finish the job;

Not only for each of us, but for all Creation.

Our life is to be what Advent models for us:

Keeping our gaze on the far horizon of eternal life.

This is a good time to explain the ancient Christian practice 

of giving up marriage for the sake of the Kingdom, 

which lives on in priests and religious, of course. 

Why should anyone give up marriage for the sake of the Kingdom?

So many people, especially in our time, simply do not understand it.

Nor do they get why anyone would take vows in religious life, 

and enter a convent or monastery. 

Is it because we think marriage is something bad? 

Hardly: we call it a sacrament. Marriage is something very, very good.

And that is precisely the point. 

There’s nothing noteworthy about giving up a bad thing. 

But when someone gives up something extraordinarily good, 

the natural question is, why?

And the answer is, they are awaiting something even better. 

Eternity. Religious brothers and sisters, and priests, 

embrace celibacy in order to be a sign of contradiction – 

a sign of that “more” that lies ahead. 

In addition, those in religious orders take a vow of poverty as well;

And the point is that by living their consecration,

Their lives are lit by an other-worldly light. 

It’s not that all Christians can’t do this. 

Actually, what those who choose religious life do for each of us 

Is to be an amped-up, intensified example for the rest of us,

Showing us in a hyper-vivid way what our lives are meant for.

To be in religious life is to be a mirror of eternity,

so that people see in your life, not the ordinary things of this world, 

but the New Creation that we hope for.

That explains the celibacy, the attire, and living in a community.

How do you know if you are called to the religious life?

Well, if you find yourself longing for more: for more prayer; 

for more Mass; for more than this world can offer; for more Christ:

Then this calling may be for you. 

I want to remind you we have a second collection today 

to benefit those retired brothers and sisters 

who gave up so much of this world, 

precisely to be a shining witness of what lies ahead.

You are always generous, thank you in advance.

All the same, it is not only priests and religious 

who are called to be a witness to hope. 

Every single Christian – every one of us – 

is asked by Christ to be such a mirror of eternity.

Those in religious life aren’t living as they do 

merely to get themselves to heaven. 

They do as they do to get all of us to heaven.

Friday, December 08, 2023

The Immaculate Conception is hope for us (homily)

There is frequently confusion about what we are celebrating today. 

I am determined to correct this mistake every chance I get.

Pop quiz: whose conception – whose beginning of life – 

are we commemorating today? 

Is it (a) Father Martin Fox? No.

Is it (b) Jesus Christ? No, because that would mean

he was conceived on Dec. 8 and born 17 days later. 

So that leaves (c) "Someone else." And that someone else is Mary.

Mary's birthday is September 8; back up nine months: December 8.

It’s Mary who is conceived immaculately, or, without sin.

We mark Jesus’ conception on March 25, 

nine months before Christmas.

So, again, the Immaculate Conception is about how Mary began her life.

If you’re wondering, then, why we use this Gospel, 

it is because it most clearly points to Mary’s Immaculate Conception. 

That’s in Luke’s choice of words – kecharitomene – 

which we translate, “full of grace.”

And the interesting thing is, to say Mary is “full of grace” 

is actually not strong enough.

Here’s a more literal sense of what the Archangel Gabriel said:

Hail, You who have been, and now are, 

perfectly, completely, and uniquely graced.

Get that? Mary was, and remains, 

perfectly, completely, and uniquely graced by God.

There it is: Mary has been free from sin 

from the very first instant of her life. 

Otherwise, it would not be true 

that she was “perfectly and completely” graced. 

Then there is another detail that confirms this. 

Later, Gabriel says, “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” 

This unusual phrase refers back 

to the place of worship God told Moses to create at Mount Sinai.

God insisted that tabernacle be prepared perfectly.

How can we believe that God would have a higher standard 

for a tent in the desert, than he would for Mary herself?

The tent is a foreshadowing; Mary is the true tabernacle.

Remember, the first Eve – in the Garden – was conceived without sin. 

Would God do less for his own mother, Mary?

We might ask, what does all this mean to you or me?

This fills us with both confidence and joy.

God went to a whole lot of trouble, a terrific amount of planning. Why?

You are the reason. And so am I.

You and I were chosen; we were destined.

This all wasn’t done for Mary alone, or for Jesus alone.

The whole point is our eternal happiness!

Never doubt that you matter to God!

Today’s feast is the proof!

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.