Sunday, April 14, 2024

'The Resurrection and the Eucharist' (Sunday homily)

 The title of my homily is, “The Resurrection and the Eucharist.”

It’s all bound up together.

Let’s start with the Resurrection. 

To be totally clear, that means Jesus really died,

and his body came back to life. That is what we believe.

There are a lot of interesting details about Jesus’ Risen Body,

But what’s really, really important to pay attention to is this:

What Jesus shows us, is what he promises to give us.

Let me say that again so it sinks in:

What Jesus shows us, is what he promises to give us.

To put it another way: everything Jesus has, we too will have!

You and I will rise from the dead.

We will have our bodies back, new and improved, forever!

No more eyeglasses, no more pills, never again to say, “I’m too old!”

This not only tells us what to look forward to,

it also teaches us that our bodies matter right now.

A lot of people today, even a lot of Christians, 

make the mistake of thinking, 

their bodies don’t matter, only their feelings matter.

This feeds so much of the confusion right now,

about male, female, identity, marriage.

But you and I aren’t only made up of feelings:

my body, your body is part-and-parcel of who each of us is.

Of course we wish we could escape our body:

if only I could eat whatever I want?

If only I could stay up late, and not be exhausted the next day.

This is a lesson that we tend to learn as we get along in years:

you and I really can’t escape our bodies and ourselves,

and all the challenges and limitations involved.

Notice how many people spend so much money and effort 

to hold onto their youth. That is impossible.

It is living an illusion, and it will inevitably fail.

The only way is forward, 

is into the redemption that God has in store for each of us.

As so many of us know from daily experience,

growing older is a path of ever-greater humility, leading to salvation.

We behold Jesus, having suffered, having died, and having risen.

He shows us: this is who you really are, and who you can be!

And very important: he still has his wounds!

You and I carry wounds, and Jesus is like us in that.

Redemption doesn’t mean the bad things in our lives never happened;

rather, redemption means that grace transforms our wounds

from being limitations, to being channels of grace for us and others.

He said to the Apostles, and to us: “you are witnesses of these things.”

One of the powerful ways you and I show others 

that Jesus is real and alive and powerful

is when we show our wounds and how Jesus heals them.

Did I forget to talk about the Holy Eucharist?

Not really. I’ve been talking about the body: Jesus’ body and our body.

What is the Eucharist? Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity;

and what happens when you and I receive Jesus’ Body and Blood?

He changes us – our body, our soul – into him! 

So what is happening right now?

This isn’t about this homily or even the readings.

Those are the warm-up for the main event, which is:

Jesus’ death and resurrection, made present here, for us.

We don’t just think about it, or call it to mind.

God makes it all fully real for us in the Mass, which is a true sacrifice; What happens here at this altar, in our presence,

is what happened in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago.

At the very same time, we are also united with the still-to-come:

That resurrection reality to which we are headed,

Where you and I will share the Heavenly Supper of the Lamb.

I cannot emphasize this enough:

As baptized Christians, we are not spectators.

And we must not approach this sharing in Jesus’ sacrifice casually.

Nothing is more solemn. Joyful yet serious. 

If anything is a true “life or death” situation, the Eucharist is:

Eternal life, either embraced or dismissed.

This is why you and I must never receive the Eucharist 

in a state of mortal sin without first going to confession.

This is why we do well to remind ourselves, every possible way, 

of the astounding reality: we are in the very presence of God;

God gives himself to us totally: 

Becoming human, in order to become the Lamb sacrificed, 

and we eat his Body and drink his Blood.

So in a way, I have to apologize. 

Maybe you just wanted a relaxing Sunday, and here I am, laying something very profound before you,

forcing you to deal with it.

But I think that’s what Jesus is already doing.

You and I must always re-ask ourselves:

Are we dealing merely with a happy story; 

or is this the Reality that defines all reality? 

Jesus presents himself not only to the Apostles, but to us:

“You are witnesses of these things.”

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Heaven or hell (Divine Mercy Sunday homily)

All during Lent we were on a pilgrimage to the Cross. 

Now we are at the empty tomb. The next step on our journey? Heaven.

This is what our Faith is about: heaven.

Resurrection -- Easter -- the seven sacraments: 

Christ went through all that he went through, because he wants us with him in heaven.

So: What is heaven?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says a number of things about heaven. 

If we die in God’s grace and friendship, and after any needed purification – that is, Purgatory – 

then we “live forever with Christ,” 

and we are “like God for ever, for [we] ‘see him as he is,’ face to face” (1023).

Heaven is “paradise with Christ”; 

it is the “perfect life with the Most Blessed Trinity,” with Mary, the angels and all the saints. 

Again, quoting the Catechism, “Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment 

of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (1024).

But the key idea is that “To live in heaven is to be with Christ” (1025). 

So if you want to know what heaven is like, look at the Gospels. 

Look at the Apostles who spent their time with Jesus, 

And ask yourself: is that what you want?

Do you want to be with him?

Know this: Jesus Christ really wants you with him in heaven.

The Cross is the proof of that. Look what God went through.

If you ever wonder if God loves you, and more than that, 

if you wonder if he wants you to forgive you, look at the Cross.

Still: you and I have to choose this. 

And that choice we make today – and every day.

We don’t just wander our way to Heaven. Heaven is a choice.

More than that: heaven isn’t only after death; heaven starts here.

This is what the first reading describes:

God’s people living changed lives. Heavenly lives.

If it is true that you and I begin to experience heaven in this life, 

then surely the opposite is true: 

that we can begin to experience hell on earth, too.

We might think of Judas, who betrayed Jesus.

He knew he had done wrong; he even expressed sorrow.

But what he did not do, that we know of, was ask for mercy.

If Judas went to hell – as I fear he did – 

His hell started for him long before he got there. 

Sadly, a lot of people are in a similar place:

They have decided they cannot change, 

they cannot leave habits of drink or anger, hatred or lust behind them.

There’s a secret about sin that no one ever tells you.

It starts out so nice. The being drunk feels good. The lust feels good. 

The self-righteous wrath feels so good. And it will, for a while.

But over time, it doesn’t make you feel as good as it did.

And you get to the point where it doesn’t make you even a little happy;

but you don’t know how to live without it.

Some of the most damnable words are: “I can’t change.”

That is a lie. The true statement would be, “It's too hard. I’ve stopped trying.”

Thank God Thomas did not rule out changing his mind.

Christ came back, just for him, and said, “put your hands in my side.” 

Our Lord Jesus will go to amazing lengths to rescue us.

The most beautiful sign of this is so simple, we miss it.

That is the sacrament of confession. 

When you and I are in the confessional, we are that thief on the cross. 

Absolution from a priest is to be in paradise. 

To be forgiven is our ticket to heaven.

But, what if I lose that grace through mortal sin, what do I do? 

I go back to Jesus, in the confessional, and I ask again.

I wonder if we shouldn’t put a sign on the confessional door:

“Doorway to heaven.” It’s true!

Of course, a lot of people get frustrated because,

even after you come from confession, you struggle with the same sins.

Indeed. That’s purgatory. No one escapes the way of the Cross.

But if we are willing, you and I can have our purgatory here.

It is not easy. It can be excruciatingly hard.

If you want become holy, 

Whatever else you do, keep coming to confession.

Some people avoid it, 

precisely because they keep tripping over the same sins. 

Here’s what I’m going to tell you. 

No matter what you think, if you keep coming to confession, 

You will change. It will happen. 

It will happen on God’s timetable and in his way, not yours.

He will make you a saint!

But not on the strength of you wanting it, which is puny;

But on the strength of His wanting it: which is everything.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

'You are there' (Holy Thursday homily)

 A few years ago, I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land,

And I walked the real, original Way of the Cross 

through the streets of Jerusalem.

I was able to be at the place of the Last Supper, 

and the Garden of Gethsemane and Golgotha, and the empty tomb.

I was with other priests, and we had Mass – at Calvary! Right there!

We had Mass at the empty tomb: 

the very stone on which Jesus lay was our altar.

Now, because it is God’s work and not merely a human work,

the Mass is the Mass is the Mass, wherever and whenever.

Every Mass brings us to Calvary – every single one.

Nevertheless, when you and I come to this evening, 

if we realize what we’re doing, there is something electric about it.

All of Lent has been a journey to this moment. 

We have prayed, fasted and shared our blessings with others, 

so that we, like the Apostles, 

can prepare to celebrate the Passover with the Lord.

The Passover, remember, was first celebrated in Egypt.

God’s People were slaves; and on the night of the Passover, 

God executed judgment against Egypt, and Israel left in haste.

To understand fully the Sacrifice of the Mass, 

it helps to recall what happens when God brings his People to Mt. Sinai.

There, God not only gives Moses the Ten Commandments, 

He also explains the details of how they are to worship:  

how the place of worship is to be arranged, 

how the altar is to be constructed, and the sacrifices offered.

After all this, Moses leads the elders of Israel up Sinai, 

to ratify the covenant. And the Scripture says, 

“They saw God, and they ate and drank” the sacrifice.

Think about that in relation to the Last Supper – and the Mass:

“They saw God and they ate and drank.”

Did you ever wonder why the altar is traditionally elevated?

As at Sinai, we go up to meet God.

In a few minutes, I will go up to this altar, and on your behalf,

I will address the God of Sinai, our Father.

When we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” 

we are joining the heavenly hosts adoring Almighty God!

The same angels who gazed on Calvary with amazement.

When some of us were kids, there was a TV show, 

“You are there,” and it took you back to some moment in the past.

But this is way beyond any TV show.

Brothers and sisters, we are there!

At Calvary, at the Tomb, and also, in heaven – all at once.

The priest then says, “Graciously accept this oblation” –

 what is an oblation? 

An oblation is an offering of food and wine, from the people to God.

It stands for you. You, and your prayers, works, joys and sufferings, 

go to the altar in that bread and wine.

The priest extends his hands like this. 

That is meant to suggest a dove – that is, the Holy Spirit.

In the Old Testament, God’s Fire would come down upon the sacrifice. 

On the Day of Pentecost, God’s Fire came down upon the Church.

In the Mass, it is the Holy Spirit that makes our offerings

“become for us the Body and Blood of [the] beloved Son, Jesus Christ.”

If you wonder why the priest sometimes faces the same way as the people; or, otherwise, seems to be focused upward, or toward the altar, it is because these words, at this point, are addressed to the Father.

On Thursday evening, that first Mass begins with the Apostles.

The next day, on the Cross, Jesus the true Priest

offers his Body and Blood to the Father. 

His Body is broken; his blood is poured out.

At the Last Supper, Jesus’ disciples would not have been surprised 

had the Lord pointed to the body of the lamb – on the table – 

to talk about covenant and sacrifice.

But what the Lord did was take in hand, not the flesh of the lamb,

But rather, the bread and the wine, and said:

This is my Body, given for you, this is my Blood, 

of the new and eternal covenant – eat and drink!

This was new. No one had ever done that before.

Then on Calvary, on the Cross, he completes the Passover.

He takes a last sip of wine, offered on a sponge and says, “

It is finished.”

And after the Resurrection, he showed himself alive,

that’s when the Apostles understood; and our Holy Mass is the result.

We do this sacrifice, as he commanded, in memory of Him.

Notice the priest lifts up the Body, and then the Blood.

While this allows you to adore the Lord, that is not the primary reason.

Rather, the Body and Blood are lifted up to the Father.

This is a Sacrifice: Christ offered himself to the Father.

The priest offers Christ – and us, with Him – to the Father.

The separation of body and blood recalls his death.

When the priest later puts a part of the Sacred Host into the chalice,

That signifies Christ’s Body and Blood being “together” – 

pointing to his Resurrection.

There’s one more detail worth reflecting on.

When this happens, the priest sings, “Mystery of Faith.”

The origin of this part of the prayer is unclear, but – 

It’s kind of like a big, flashing sign that says,

“This, this – right here, this! This is the moment!

This is the mystery; this is pulsing heart of the whole thing!”

After this the priest begs the Father 

to accept this “pure victim, this holy victim.”

Of course the Father will accept this Sacrifice; 

and yet this summarizes the whole drama of salvation.

Without Jesus, none of us can be saved. 

Everything in the Old Testament led to this.

This moment – I mean, tonight; and I mean, the Mass; 

and, the moment when Jesus once offered himself;

all of that is made present for us here at this Mass –

This moment is the pivot point of all history.

There are so many people who long to be here, but cannot.

How sad that many Christians, many Catholics, are oblivious to this.

Tonight, we are there: in Jerusalem; at the Cross.

The Blood of the Lamb protects us. 

The flesh of the Lamb is our salvation.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

This is our week (Palm Sunday)

 Listening to the Gospel we heard--the heart of our Faith --

Makes me fall silent. Maybe you, too.

That’s why we do this every single year.

If you’ve come this far in Lent, 

it may be that you feel you missed the boat.

You can still make Holy Week your Lent.

If you ever said, I wish I knew my Faith better, 

may I suggest that taking time during Holy Week,

to come on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil?

These days will help you go deeper into our Faith,

because this week is the heart of our Faith.

If you wish you’d gone to confession—it’s not too late. 

There are confessions Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

If you are worried about crowds on Easter Sunday, 

the Vigil should have plenty of seats. 

At Our Lady of Good Hope, a group of men, women and children 

will be baptized and confirmed 

and receive Jesus in the Eucharist the first time.

This is his week; it’s our week.

It’s about what we did to the Lord; 

even more, what he did for us.

Sunday, March 03, 2024

Not rules but relationship (Sunday homily)

 The first reading is about God’s Law: 

God’s Ten Commandments, God’s “Rules.” 

Rules are necessary, like it or not.

And while we all love to complain about rules, 

the truth is, we actually LOVE rules. 

Why do I say that? Because people will ask me a question,

and I’ll try to explain the Church’s teaching, 

and you know what people come back with?

“Just give me the rule, Father!”

As I said, rules are useful.

To quote the late Father Michael Seger, 

who taught moral theology at the seminary in my time:

“Rules exist to protect values”:

“Thou shalt not kill” protects the value and dignity of human life.

All that said, life is always more than rules!

God came to earth, becoming one of us, 

to invite each of us into a relationship with him.

To know him – not only as Creator, and as Savior, which he is –

But just as much as a brother and a friend.

So now, let me pose a question,

And I hope you’ll work it over in your mind:

Is your Catholic Faith mainly about following rules?

Getting to Mass on time; keeping the communion fast;

no meat on Fridays during Lent;

not going too far on a date, and so forth;

and if you break a rule, then get to confession before communion.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking down rules, I’m saying, go further!

If your faith is mainly about rules? You’re missing it!

Our Faith is mainly, crucially, about a relationship!

God is a Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So God is – within Himself, in a way we can’t quite explain – 

a relationship.

Life is a relationship. 

A relationship enabled you to exist.

You never have been an island all to yourself, and you never will be.

Maybe the reason God created the world this way 

was so that his invitation to a relationship with him 

would be amplified and re-echoed in everything we experience; 

to give us every advantage, to have courage to believe, first, 

that a relationship with God is possible…

And then to find it easier to follow the path he gives us 

to that relationship – so we would be successful.

We like rules because they are simpler.

Relationships are much harder.

Lots of people are married – happily, it would seem –

yet they don’t talk very much; 

they don’t spend much time alone as a couple. 

Lots of our children need to talk to their parents: 

so many of our girls are lied to about their value;

so many of both boys and girls are looking at stuff on their phones 

they know is poison, but they don’t know how to stop.

Kids: no one in the world loves you as much as your mom and dad.

Talk to them!

Parents, you know they are scared: so you take the first step.

Relationships take work but they are worth it.

True for friends and family, most true with the God who made you,

and who died on the Cross to save you,

to have a relationship with you forever.

Those money-changers Jesus confronted that day?

They must have been so confused, because, after all:

They were following all the rules!

Don’t just follow the rules: know God!

Talk to him, discover him; make friends!

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

We Catholics should stop calling priests 'father.' Here's why.

 ...Because we don't really believe it. 

Do bishops believe priests are fathers? 

Then why do they move priests around, as if they are branch managers? Priests are encouraged not to get attached to any particular parish; to expect to move on after a set term. Their brother priests encourage this and take it as normal.

Do priests believe it? Some of us do, but as I explain in this post, I starting to think I'm in the minority, perhaps a small minority. 

Do the faithful believe their pastors are fathers? 

Sad to say, but I think far fewer really believe it than we realize. We expect a father to take care of the needs of the family, to lead, to protect and to provide. We love when dad tells us what we like to hear, but what happens if he says something we don't like? Everyone knows what happens.

When father says, to take care of our family, things need to change? He will be given a hard time. He will be treated as the enemy.

Let's talk about the elephant in the room: the current project of reorganization and renewed evangelization, Beacons of Light. 

For all the flaws in the planning and execution, it is founded on a completely sound theological understanding: that the pastor is a father, who has a spousal relationship to his community, which is commonly called a "parish." What few realize is that the terms in Latin for parish priest and parish are cognates (which I explain here), meaning that an essential part of the definition of a parish is it's relationship to a priest; a parish priest is a unifying feature of a parish.

Therefore, the arrangement of a single priest being pastor twice, three times, four times or more -- meaning, he is "father" to multiple families -- is not normal, and should not be tolerated except as a temporary expedient. For decades, this abnormal arrangement was the solution for not enough priests who were equipped to be pastors. And now, as the situation became increasingly unworkable, the Archdiocese stopped addressing the problems in a piecemeal way, and did a comprehensive re-working: Beacons of Light. 

Based on projections of what number of parishioners and pastor-capable priests would be available for the next couple of decades, our parishes were re-grouped into 57 "families," with the plan that, after several years' transition, each of the multi-parish families would be reformed legally into united entities under church law, while maintaining multiple churches and campuses, if this is feasible. Why 57, and not 52 or 63? As mentioned, it's based on projections of both lay participation and priestly resources, not just for the next 5 years, but much further out.

So now the fight is on in many places, and what people are keying in on is the change in the legal structures. But back to my earlier point: this change reflects the sound insight that a "parish" is the pastor -- the father's -- family. One father implies a oneness of the family.

What would happen with a natural family in this situation? Supposing a man, with his own family, became aware his nieces and nephews lost their parents; it fell to him and his wife to provide for them. How would the family arrangements change? 

Would anyone consider it acceptable to say that the arrangements of the initial family should continue undisturbed, while the cousins would continue living in their home, with dad shuttling back and forth? Would it not be the case that only rare circumstances would justify that?

It may seem strange to American readers to consider such a hypothetical, but in much of history, and much of the world today, it is all too real to have children lose their natural parents, and either relatives take them in, or...what? And what is formed is a new family; maybe people call it a "blended" family, but how many families are there? 


Now, let's look at Beacons of Light. It takes for granted this principle: that a parish community is centered around a priestly father. 

In theory, this unity might carry over into the unity of the physical home; but given the practical issues involved, this point is not really being pressed. Yes, I know many people are certain that's the hidden agenda, and if you believe that, no denial of mine can be strong enough to convince you. 

All I can do is repeat what I've said: only an extremely stupid archbishop and parish priest would force the closure of beloved church buildings over the objection of the people who are ready to use them and pay for them. Even those who suspect me of being lazy and selfish like priests supposedly are, do not accuse me of being extraordinarily stupid (only run-of-the-mill stupid).

The oneness of the family may need to deal with certain practical realities, but the principle of oneness should prevail, yes? So with the natural family, and so with the spiritual. Hence, if sad to say, spiritual families that used to have their own father must now "share" a father with another family, then isn't it obvious and necessary that they operate as one, enlarged family, rather than try to function as two (three, four, seven) families, and the father must make a pretense of being two, three, four, or seven fathers?

In many cases, the objections to the Beacons project center on trying to keep what has been lost: people want their parishes to be stand-alone, with their own pastor. That would be wonderful, but given the demographics of our priests for the foreseeable future, and the particular demands of being a pastor, that isn't possible.

The back-up plan being advanced is to say, well let's keep each parish stand-alone, but the priest can shuttle from location to location, being the pastor in each of the sites. Some people think that's a new idea, but it isn't; it's what was tried in many places, in our archdiocese, for the past 30 years. It seems to work because we priests didn't tell you otherwise. We didn't tell you because we figured it wouldn't change anyway, so what was the point?

Where it seemed to work, what happened either was the priest simply didn't do a lot of things a pastor really ought to, like long-term planning, because he was shuttling, shuttling, shuttling. Or, the priest simply abdicated his responsibility as a leader to others. Truly being, not *a* father, but two fathers, three fathers, five fathers? That is simply impossible; what seems like success is a masquerade, only now the masks are coming off.

But I've been told my insistence on the fatherhood of the pastor -- including a spousal relationship -- is all wrong, even by the most faithful Catholics. And I can't help noticing that much of the resistance in the northern part of the diocese is centering not on maintaining the priestly relationship, but the legal structures. As I explained in a February 5 post, the conclusion of one of the very fine, very faithful Catholic laymen up north who is fighting Beacons was that canonical-legal structures are essential to what make up a parish, but the familial-fatherly relationship of the priest? This was not highlighted in his article.

Now, I hasten to explain, the author didn't deny the importance of a pastor; but I  would argue his article takes it for granted; and the main thing is, he doesn't address my point at all, namely: what happens to the family when the family must share dad with several other families, all attempting to be separate families. The key thing these good people are insisting on is the separateness.

They seem to want, if they can't have stand-alone parishes, each with their own pastors, then the "clustering" model in which a father must be father two, three or five times over. 

My conclusion: is that we just don't really believe it when we call priests "father." In which case, let's stop doing that, and call them them something else. 

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Who needs this? (Sunday homily)

 There are a lot of puzzles in the readings today. 

What do we make of them?

Mystery number one: 

why would God tell Abraham to offer his only son Isaac as a sacrifice?

To work it out, let’s eliminate the impossible.

First: God did NOT want Abraham to sacrifice Isaac; 

God had no NEED for Abraham to do that. 

So where did this even come from?

Remember, Abraham has been on a long journey of faith.

Slow growth, two steps forward, one step back. Sound familiar?

So it’s also very easy to understand why Abraham would get to a point where he’d say, I’m finally ready! Let me show you!

It was Abraham who needed the test.

And so, just at the last moment God says, 

“I know now how devoted you are.” 

God didn’t learn anything he didn’t already know. 

But what do you suppose it meant for Abraham 

to hear those words from God? 

Now let’s turn to puzzle number two: 

what is the transfiguration of Jesus in the Gospel about? 

What does it mean?

Jesus knows who he is. The Father knows who he is. 

But do Peter, James and John? 

This happens after Peter has said to Jesus, 

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 

And yet, when the Lord reveals to Peter 

that he will be crucified, Peter is aghast; he can’t accept that.

An ancient tradition holds 

that this event happened 40 days before Jesus was executed; 

that’s why we read it every year on the second Sunday of Lent.

This revelation of Jesus’ glory was something the Apostles needed. 

They needed to hear from heaven: “This is my beloved son.”

So now let’s deal with puzzle number three.

The glory that Jesus unveils was always there, but usually hidden.

Now that we’re thinking about that, 

are there more glories hidden in plain sight? 

Well, you and I know there are.

We might think of Creation around us

Whether you’re a scientist, or doctor, or a gardener,

Or a parent, gazing at your own children,

The more you look, the more glory you find.

We might think of the building-blocks of our Catholic Faith:

The sacraments, the Mass, and our prayer.

On the surface, they may seem ordinary.

I remember saying as a boy: “Mass is boring!” 

And not appreciating the peace and power of the Rosary.

When you and I are baptized, we didn’t look any different.

Yet we were clothed in the glory of the Lord –

the exact same glory the Apostles were shown.

When Holy Mass happens, on the surface you see a familiar building, priests and servers and readers and everyone else, very ordinary.

And yet, on this altar, Good Friday and the Resurrection happen!

At this altar, you and I are surrounded by the angels and saints, 

who fall down in adoration along with us!

The Holy Eucharist is not just a thing; 

not just a bit of bread or a sip of wine, no!

We are offered the gift of Jesus’ own self, 

his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity!

Jesus gave this moment to the Apostles, because he knew the dark trials just ahead, a few weeks.

What fear or anxiety are you facing?

Perhaps you are standing with someone in agony,

The way Mary, Mary Magdalene, the Apostle John and others

stood at the foot of the Cross?

Are you facing darkness and trial? 

You and I, too, need to see the hidden glory. 

God didn’t need it, we need it so we remember the glory that is ours, 

to face the trials ahead for each of us.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Why can't non-Catholics come to communion? Exodus gives the answer

This question comes up a lot and most Catholics, including most clergy, feel awkward about the subject. It seems to many -- including Catholics -- to be rude and uncalled for. Most of us struggle to explain the matter.

Explanations that don't result in hurt feelings are best, but that option isn't always available. What follows is offered both to be kind and to be clear. Pray for both me as the messenger, and yourself as the recipient!

Several short answers:

- To receive the Holy Eucharist is -- for Catholics -- a profound act of faith, that presupposes suitable preparation, and actually being a Catholic or in communion with the Catholic Church. (An exception is available for some Christians who are extremely close to communion with the Catholic Church, that is, Orthodox and other Eastern Christians. Ask if you want to know more.)

- Someone might object, but you make it sound like only Catholics take it so seriously. I'm not attempting to speak for other Christians' approach to the matter, because we Catholics should not presume to speak for others in this matter. We can only profess our faith. That said, I can observe that what others profess is different in non-trivial ways; and, if you ask, other Christian traditions will themselves affirm, their and our beliefs on this subject are different in non-trivial ways.

- When someone seeks to participate in a Catholic sacrament, why is it unreasonable for Catholics to expect that person to approach it according to a Catholic understanding (as opposed to an Evangelical or Protestant or other understanding)? I don't mean people have to believe what we believe. I mean, we ask people to engage with Catholic sacred matters, in the way that we would have them be engaged with, not as might seem appropriate in other traditions. Turn it around: would it not be supremely rude for us Catholics, attending, say, a Presbyterian worship service, to approach a ritual or custom on our own terms, regardless of what our Presbyterian hosts hold to? Think about it.

- Part of our Catholic understanding is that we should be faithful to the teaching of Christ himself, passed to us through the Apostles, both in what is handed down (Tradition) and written down (Scripture). 

- What Catholics practice in this matter is faithful to Scripture and Tradition. If anything, we Catholics in the 21st century are, if anything, less rigorous than the early Christians; the practice of "open communion" has zero justification in either Scripture or Tradition, as we see it; so we don't do it.

- We Catholics think that the Eucharist is one of those really central matters, where what is really important is not avoiding awkwardness, but introducing everyone to the truth of Jesus Christ. That includes a faithful presentation of his teaching about the nature of the Church, and her sacraments, above all, the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Holy Eucharist. We do no one any favors when we shrug and say, do what you like, and thus fail to teach and practice what Christ and his Apostles taught and practiced.

- The Holy Eucharist was one thing about which Jesus was willing to have people be upset with him (John 6:60-66). Was he wrong?

Now, let me share a longer answer, based on the reading from Exodus (12:37-49; 13:11-16) in today's Office of Readings, which is part of the Liturgy of the Hours.*

The Israelites set out from Rameses for Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, not counting the children. A crowd of mixed ancestry also went up with them, with livestock in great abundance, both flocks and herds.

The dough they had brought out of Egypt they baked into unleavened loaves. It was not leavened, because they had been driven out of Egypt and could not wait. They did not even prepare food for the journey.

The time the Israelites had stayed in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.

At the end of four hundred and thirty years, on this very date, all the armies of the LORD left the land of Egypt.

This was a night of vigil for the LORD, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt; so on this night all Israelites must keep a vigil for the LORD throughout their generations.

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: This is the Passover statute. No foreigner may eat of it. However, every slave bought for money you will circumcise; then he may eat of it. But no tenant or hired worker may eat of it.

It must be eaten in one house; you may not take any of its meat outside the house. You shall not break any of its bones.

The whole community of Israel must celebrate this feast.

If any alien residing among you would celebrate the Passover for the LORD, all his males must be circumcised, and then he may join in its celebration just like the natives. But no one who is uncircumcised may eat of it.

There will be one law for the native and for the alien residing among you.

“When the LORD, your God, has brought you into the land of the Canaanites, just as he swore to you and your ancestors, and gives it to you, you will dedicate to the LORD every newborn that opens the womb; and every firstborn male of your animals will belong to the LORD.

Every firstborn of a donkey you will ransom with a sheep. If you do not ransom it, you will break its neck. Every human firstborn of your sons you must ransom.

And when your son asks you later on, ‘What does this mean?’ you will tell him, ‘With a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of a house of slavery.

When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed every firstborn in the land of Egypt, the firstborn of human being and beast alike. That is why I sacrifice to the LORD every male that opens the womb, and why I ransom every firstborn of my sons.’

It will be like a sign on your hand and a band on your forehead that with a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.”

There's a lot here, but I want to focus in on one key theme. To help you see it, I used two colors for highlighting.

The Passover is the defining act of sacrifice and worship uniting the House of Israel. Notice the language: "it must be eaten in one house." Now, this means that each Israelite would gather in his home, or that of a neighbor, to share a lamb, and this was to be done by all Israelites, in many houses; and yet, they are all, in a real sense, one "house" of Israel: "The whole community of Israel must celebrate this feast." Elsewhere, the Lord says that anyone who fails to take part is "cut off."

Notice the language I color-coded: blue for the House of Israel, the "you" to whom the Lord speaks; the "us" that is brought out of "Egypt, that place of slavery." Hence, Egypt and the surrounding nations are not "us." They are the "alien" and "foreigner." 

(This is not a racial or nationalistic thing, by the way; later in the story of God's People journeying to the Promised Land, there's some issue raised about the race of Moses' wife; it is Moses' sister, Miriam, who sniffs at her sister-in-law's skin color. Note that God's response is to give Miriam ultra-white skin, via leprosy! And yet, down to the present, some want to read the Bible's language about Israel's election in this way; the New Testament certainly gives a complete refutation of that mistake.)

No, the point of this language is this: to partake of the Passover is to be part of the family. We might think of an ordinary family meal in any home. 

When I was a boy, I would often be at a friend's house, or a friend would be at our house. I might wish to be invited to dinner; and I might be so ill-mannered as to drop hints. But my parents taught me that one waits to be invited, doesn't expect it, and doesn't get pouty about not being invited. And also, I was brought up to give that invitation; but to ask mom first. We were welcoming, but our family meal was an important moment for

In the case of the Passover, this is the most solemn, most profound "family meal." And, as with our daily family meals, a visitor can likewise be invited to join. But notice what is necessary: he must be "circumcised"! A little more serious than washing ones hands!

The point here should be obvious: it isn't about the bit of skin down there; rather, it's about that individual crossing a threshold from being "alien" to being part of the family, the House of Israel. In other words, participating in the Passover isn't a casual thing, it isn't appropriate for someone who is "transient," that is, just passing through. Rather, one must belong. 

And regardless of the ritual and process of belonging, that transition from outsider to belonging is, first and last, a journey of faith; a point Saint Paul in particular would make in his letters. And, of course, for Christians, it's no longer the ritual of circumcision; but rather, baptism, and the profession of faith that belongs with it. 

Here's where someone will say, ok then, that means anyone who is baptized should be able to come to Holy Communion! 

Yeah...but no, sorry. Here's why.

Sticking with the Passover, we might look to Numbers chapter 9; there we learn about some who couldn't take part in the sacrifice because they were "unclean." That simply refers to their readiness for participation in worship; it isn't a moral judgment. 

In that case, it had to do with some men who had handled a corpse, which presumably meant they'd assisted in someone's funeral, which is a good deed. Even so, for reasons we won't delve into here, God specified that various things or actions rendered someone "unclean," and he also gave the means to become "clean"; for our purposes, we might substitute "unready" and "ready," i.e., for sharing in worship.

So notice: not everyone who belongs to the Household was necessarily "ready." If this is true in merely ceremonial matters, surely it is true in matters of faith and morals? Are these less important than externals? Surely not! So what might render someone "unready"?

Well, to begin with the mere ceremonial: having fasted before eating the Passover. We Catholics observe an hour's fast; it used to be longer and stricter. 

Further, one is expected to be in a state of grace, that is, not conscious of a mortal sin. We might recall the Lord Jesus' command: if you realize your brother has something against you, first go be reconciled to your brother, then present your gift at the temple. 

And, thirdly, there is the thorny yet serious question of actually sharing the faith -- the oneness of the household. It is sad, but not all those who are baptized share that oneness. This is the reality of divisions among Christians. It is a scandal. It must be overcome; not merely ignored.

But here's the certainly wrong answer: to say these differences aren't real and don't matter -- which is what one says by sharing the Eucharist regardless of those differences!**

Here is a Christian who believes the bread and wine are "transubstantiated" into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. This Eucharist is a communion in his death, and the Mass is a communion in that sacrifice; hence the Mass is a true sacrifice. This is what Catholics believe and profess. I will not speak for Orthodox and Eastern Christians, but at least as Catholics understand it, the Orthodox/Eastern understanding is the same in essence, if not in articulation.

Next are Christians who use similar language of "Body" "Blood" and "sacrament," yet if you delve deeper, you will find they insist that the Eucharist is not actually Jesus' own self, but some sort of representation thereof. Some of these will likewise reject any talk of the Mass being a true sacrifice. And what reveals the parting of ways is that these Christians will draw back from adoring the Eucharist; they will call that idolatry. And, if the Eucharist is not to be identified with the Second Person of the Trinity, they are correct. That this difference is a little obscure does not make it unimportant.

Next are Christians who will explicitly reject language of sacrifice and they will be clear that what they receive is merely bread, merely wine (or grape juice). They affirm the "elements" change not at all. The revealing sign of this belief is that after their worship is ended, the remaining bread and juice is put back in the cupboard; or else disposed of as any other ordinary food leftovers might be.

We could go on, and speak of those who honor Jesus, and are baptized, and yet they do not believe Jesus is God; their baptism, it turns out, cannot be identified with Christian baptism. And there are other curious movements and traditions. 

But after sorting through all the different groups that have, sadly, splintered apart, what it all comes down to is this: what does it mean to say, we are one? The Passover is the act of "one household," both in the instance of a group, at home, gathering around a lamb, and in the sense of the entire People, united in this communion. 

There is no way to take this as seriously as clearly the Lord did in Moses' time, and as he did with his Apostles, and then say, "y'all just come on in, we won't ask any awkward questions about whether you really are -- or even want to be -- part of the Household of Jesus." 

The Scriptures themselves make this so clear; and it was clear enough at the beginning, because all evidence is that the first Christians observed the Passover of Jesus, that is, the Eucharist, with essentially the same sense of belonging and oneness that we see in the Passover of old, which prefigures the Eucharist.

To be blunt: would it not be fair to turn around the burden of proof? And say to those who insist, despite ample evidence of Scripture and Tradition and history, that the Eucharist must be open, "Prove it, please"? Provide something from Scripture, something from the early Church, to support what you ask for.

And, I might add: not only "ask for," for yourselves, but insist on imposing when you attend a Catholic Mass! 

People will say, oh Jesus was willing to eat with anyone! And that's true. But that is irrelevant to the Eucharist, because the Eucharist is rather more than lunch or dinner. Show me where Jesus celebrated the Eucharist with any and all.

In fact, in the few times we observe Jesus actually celebrating the Eucharist -- i.e., certainly on Holy Thursday, but also if you wish, on Easter, with the two he met on the road to Emmaus -- notice that those who participated were invited. They were presumed to be disciples. When did Jesus say, everyone come on in, I'll share the Eucharist with you? 

OK, there's my case from Exodus. What do you say?

* The Liturgy of the Hours, or Daily Office, is part of the Church's public, that is, shared prayer; all are welcome and encouraged to share in this prayer; clergy are obligated to offer these prayers daily. Ideally we do so with the faithful, but in practice, we do so on our own.

** And, I might just add, how offensive! Obviously, my fellow Catholics and I don't agree with our fellow Christians who cannot assent to the Catholic Faith in its fullness (including, but not limited to, what we believe about the Mass and the Eucharist); but I wouldn't dare to dismiss their objections as trivial. It is awkward, yes, but not insulting to say, "we have differences, and they are substantial." What is insulting is to trivialize those differences, for which people (of their traditions, and of ours) have paid a high price, even their lives.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The most important day of your life (Sunday homily)

 What do you think was the most important day of your life?

Was it the day you were born? 

Or maybe when you graduated from school? 

Or when you met your sweetheart? Or when you were married?

Maybe you have four or five most important days: 

when each of your children was born?

Was mine when I was ordained as a priest?

No: as very special as all those are, 

none of those was the most important day of your life. 

The most important day of your life – and mine – 

was the day we were baptized;

because that is when you and I received eternal life!

You and I were joined to the life of the Holy Trinity

and we became citizens of heaven.

That changes everything.

What does that have to do with the flood in the first reading?

The flood washes away all that is hostile to the life of God; 

everything that separates and distracts us from God.

And that is what baptism does, too.

So how do we get from a flood to the desert?

When you wash away everything that commandeers our attention, 

all the urgent that isn’t important -- when all that is gone, what’s left? 

What’s left is the essential confrontation 

between good and evil that we see in the Gospel,

with all the distractions and illusions stripped away.

Above all, notice it is Jesus facing the devil – not us. 

He’s squaring off in the battle each of us faces.

Jesus confronts our enemy on our behalf.

What happened when we humans faced the devil 

the first time, doing it for ourselves? 

That was our first parents, in the Garden.

They lost, and our hope was destroyed.

So, as St. John Henry Newman said, 

“A second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came.”

The confrontation comes day by day, the choice between

Embracing the truth of ourselves as God created us to be,

Versus the illusion of making ourselves our own gods;

but we never need face our ancient foe alone. 

That’s what Good Friday and the Cross are about. 

Jesus had a choice; he said, let the cup pass, if possible;

but if not, Father, thy will be done! 

Once again, that is what baptism is about:

you and I being joined to Jesus: we take up his cross;

and he takes up the battle on our behalf.

(That’s why we recall our own baptism today, 

and why we will do that in a solemn way in six weeks on Easter.)

Someone once told me, always have an action item in a homily.

So here it is: you have six weeks of Lent 

to discover the power and reality of your own baptism – 

the most important day of your life.

Go to confession: return to the purity of your baptism.

Remember the vows made for you. Make them again for yourself.

On the day of your baptism, you were set on the path toward heaven. 

This time of Lent is our opportunity to recheck our heavenly GPS

And make sure you and I are still headed the right way.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

What's leprosy got to do with Lent? (Sunday homily)

 Skin diseases might be an odd thing to talk about at Mass. 

But the point is that illnesses like these do more than make us sick. 

They separate us from others. 

Four years ago when we had the lockdowns in reaction to Covid, 

among other things, many of us discovered 

just how destructive isolation can be.

That’s why Jesus told the man to go show himself to the priests, 

so there would be no question of his freedom to return to the temple.

Ash Wednesday is this week. 

This is a good time to set the tone for our Lent.

I’m going to tell you something you may not believe, but’s it’s true. 

Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation.

It really isn’t! And yet, our churches will be filled. Why?

Ash Wednesday – and Lent as well – 

is one of those times when we realize 

our spiritual journey isn’t solitary. We are part of a family.

Notice, we all do certain penances together:

Fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday,

and abstaining from meat on the Fridays of Lent.

Our students and our families will do things together.

There is power in that “together,” isn’t there?

As we go into Lent, I want to highlight 

some of the opportunities we have – together – 

to grow closer to Christ. That’s what it’s all for.

There are still forms in the pews for the Catholic Ministries Appeal, 

if you want to contribute.

We’re offering a retreat for men and one for women in a few weeks. 

You’ll see various materials provided at the doors of church.

Please watch the bulletin for many added times for confession.

As in Advent and last Lent, we’ll have confessions 

every Monday and every Tuesday evening, 

and on Thursday and Saturday mornings, in addition to our usual times. 

And we’ll have times on Good Friday.

When we go to confession, we do that individually; 

and yet, even there, we’re together in a way.

I’m in that line; you are; your parents, your children, 

Archbishop Schnurr, Pope Francis – all of us.

There’s another part of this. Lent is not only about holiness; 

it is also about reconciliation.  

Remember, we call confession the sacrament of reconciliation.

The leper, being cleansed, 

was also able to be reconciled with the community.

When we go to confession, as hard as it can be to tell our sins, 

that is still, really, the easier part.

The really hard part is what we do next – 

after we are absolved, after we do our penance.

The really hard work comes next. 

Who do you know who is owed an apology? Seek them out.

What concrete steps are you prepared to make, 

in order to be different toward others?

Seeking out someone to be reconciled with?

People say, “Oh, that’s just my nature, I can’t help it.”

O c’mon!

Being Irish or German or Scottish or whatever is not an excuse.

Change is hard; but we can do it, if we really want it, with God’s help. 

It’ll still be difficult, but you and I can make it happen.

If you want a powerful conversion experience, 

ask the Holy Spirit to awaken you 

to how your sins affect other people.

If you are making fun of other kids, or bullying them, at school?

If you are drinking too much, too often? 

Being dishonest? Not doing a full day’s work? 

Those pictures on the Internet? They are real, flesh-and-blood people.

In other words, none of our moral failures are really “private”; 

our actions and omissions affect others, one way or the other.

So as we go into Lent, be mindful of the people around you.

How you and I can either be a negative influence – or a good one.

Lent – repentance and conversion – is something we do together.

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Parish priest as supervisor

One of the things not well understood about parish life, and this includes not only by the general public, but by parish employees, and the priests themselves, is the importance of the pastor as a supervisor.

I know enough to know how much I don't know!

Other people are far more expert in the field of employee supervision and motivation; nevertheless, a pastor has this role to play, and if he ignores it or neglects it, it will not only bring him tears, but tears to everyone. This failure comes back everywhere:

1) Employees who aren't effective and sometimes even destructive.

2) Other employees who are demoralized and scandalized by #1.

3) Parishioners who either have a vague, or more definite, sense that something is wrong and get frustrated and impatient for change.

4) A pastor who instead of responding in the right way, responds badly, or, for fear of doing the latter, avoids the problem. 

One of the realities of parish life is that not all priests are going to be good at this, and some will never get even to adequate. Maybe they are at fault for not working harder at it; but when priests are already working hard (despite the conviction of some that we are lazy and selfish), it's understandable that they would focus on their areas of strength and greater comfort, and put off learning to be a better supervisor to "someday."

Most parishioners will probably never know about the problems, or perhaps only get the slightest glimpse; and if the pastor is doing it well, while parishioners will benefit, they mostly will not connect the dots between the parish going well, and the pastor playing this part well. It will be hidden.

The beginning of this process is in hiring the right people the right way. But then, almost all pastors inherit a staff in place, and can go a long time between hiring decisions. I had the unique opportunity in coming to this family of parishes to do a lot of hiring. Thank God and his people here who helped me, and I think the hiring process worked out very well.

In this family of parishes, we reorganized three mostly independent parish staffs into an integrated one. The changes this worked in our parishes haven't completely rippled through, but there was a real burst of disruption early on. One reason things are going better than they might is precisely because we made really good decisions in planning the new staff arrangement, and in filling the positions. We have some bumps, but far fewer, I think, than there might have been.

Consider this: when I got here, the three parishes had about 25 employees, outside of those in the school. Pretty much all of them were mine to supervise. After rearranging things, I have eight people who report directly to me. This does not count the four other priests and the seven deacons; they don't "report" to me, but sustaining a collegial relationship with them has a lot of similarities; and it would be perhaps equally as neglected, as the employed team members would have been, without a change.

I am able to meet or confer over the phone with all those eight; I can do a lot better job for them, and that includes helping them do the exact same thing for the rest, who are getting more attention and feedback from their immediate supervisor.

Why am I talking about this? Two reasons.

First, people should know what being a pastor is like. You deserve to know what you're paying for.

Second, in the context of the Beacons of Light reorganization project, I think it bears some consideration of the hidden costs of resisting reorganizing things, as many are doing. They want their parishes to stand alone; they want the pastor, who is pastor in two, five or six other places, to keep things familiar. You have no idea the short- and long-term costs of this, and I don't mean just or even mainly for the pastor. Your beloved parish will pay a price.

Feel free to ask questions.

Monday, February 05, 2024

Is canon law the most essential thing for parishes?

Many of my friends are circulating on Facebook an article at Crisis by another mutual friend, which addresses the current Beacons of Light project with the title, A Plea for Parishes

Before I say any more about the article or its author, I want to be as clear as I can. The author is an admirable Catholic husband and father, whom I respect immensely. I consider him a friend, I believe he would say the same. I do not like that we disagree on Beacons of Light, but such things happen, and they need not jeopardize the fundamental relationship. I intend to pay him the compliment and respect of engaging with the case he's making, in hopes that as "iron sharpens iron" according to Scripture, he and I and all of us can get further toward our shared goals of living faithfully and fully the Christian life here, on the way to There -- that is, Kingdom come.

So here's the question that arises as I have read and reflected on his article. 

*** And, trigger warning: if you find my analytical or rhetorical approach to be at sharp angles to your own way of thinking, that is a feature, not a bug; that experience is often how we come to see things differently. Nothing here is a veiled "attack" or attempt to intimidate, despite what a commenter on another post the other day maintained. So, if my approach causes you upset or provokes only emotion, then please consider that this post, or me, is not your "cup of tea" and drink no more. ***

OK, back to my constructively intended provocative question:

Why should the legal-canonical structures involved in the complex reality we all call "parish" be the sine qua non of parish life? Why is the legal structure the irreducible component on which the whole reality rests? 

To be more provocative: it seems that my friend has -- certainly unwittingly -- made the argument that not even the pastor is as important as the canon- and civil-law structures.

Is that really where we want to end up? 

Let me fill this in, this may take a bit I'm sorry.

Mr. Schmiesing begins with the shocking and depressing scene of a beloved and beautiful church -- a repository of tradition and memory, a truly sacred place -- being obliterated. This is horrible. And for those who don't know me, in my 21 years as a priest, of which 18 were as pastor or administrator, I've devoted great energy and time to the maintenance and improvement of the physical structures, the churches above all. I can show you the wounds, so to speak, that I've incurred in this effort.

The point seems obvious: if we don't sustain parish life, the wrecking ball is coming, one way or another. And essential to sustaining parish life as lovingly described are the underlying legal structures.

Let me pause here to clarify something important about our language. When we use the term "parish," there are actually many realities involved. Previous to this post, I've specified three; today I'm going to add one or two more. This will take a few paragraphs, then back to the Crisis article.

Those five realities (or is it four? See below), as I see it, are, not necessarily in this order:

1. The physical place. When we say, "I go to X Parish," we almost invariably mean, that is the name of the church where we pray and take part in the sacraments, where the school, or religious education program, where members of the family are taught the faith, and where any number of other activities important to the aspect that follows, take place. So let us summarize this meaning as "parish-place."

2. The people. A parish is not merely a place, but it is a place, as Mr. Schmiesing persuasively argues.

That said, what happens when, sad to say, a tornado comes through and flattens the beloved shrine and related buildings. Is that the end of "the parish"? No. If there is no desire to rebuild, then the "parish," understood fully, was already dead. A living parish will act instinctively and with great drive, to rebuild the physical place. Less traumatically, that community of people that corresponds to the place, will often agree to make additions to the physical place, adding a school, or a gym, or play fields or even expand (and in due course, modify and dare I say, to some degree, "destroy") the old church. Sometimes such changes can bring tears, but in the best cases, the outcome is judged better. Let us summarize this aspect as "parish-people."

3. The legal entity. I take it as a given that most Catholics, when they refer to a parish, even "their" parish, they are not thinking primarily of legal structures. Yet this is a very important aspect and I hasten to point out, this plays a central role in the argument Mr. Schmiesing is making. 

By legal structure, I mean this: under canon (i.e., church) law, a parish is a defined reality which also exists, in some fashion, under civil law. It acts together, it has rights, it can engage in business transactions, it can buy and sell property. I am not a canon lawyer and I don't wish to delay this post by running off to copy down sections of canon law. It's not necessary to do that, in order to demonstrate that this aspect of a parish is real, is it? If you want to explore this subject at length, I suggest you go searching online for the Code of Canon Law and for various experts who provide commentary on the same. For now, let us shorthand this aspect as "parish-corporation."

(4) Here's where I add what might be a fourth element, or merely a part of the third, or yet another to follow: the ecclesial relationship. As real as "parish" (in all its facets) is, it never exists without the larger reality of the diocese and the worldwide church. So until I can figure out a better terminology, may we summarize this as "parish-limb," as in a parish is to the whole Church as a limb is to a whole body? 

And let's note, necessarily in passing, that insofar as the parish can only be understood in relation to the whole Church, then we are necessarily talking about a reality rooted in the teaching of the Church, the tradition of the Church, both with upper- and lower-case Ts, and ultimately, rooted in the Holy Trinity. There are theological truths involved that necessitate certain limits on our possible approaches. 

5. Here's what I was going to list fourth when I started the list, until number 4 occurred to me. While number 4 might be better subsumed under another item, this one stands alone all the same: parish-priest

If you want to idle away some hours, spend some time investigating the following Latin words: paroecia and parochus. These are the words used in Canon Law (and I bet lots of other writings of the Church) for "parish" and "pastor," respectively, or perhaps more precisely, "parish priest," because the term pastor is used by the church for both a parish priest and for a bishop. 

But here's what I invite you to discover and digest: these Latin words are cognate; they come from the same root. It's not the case in English: priest and parish; priest derives from Greek presbyter and parish from Latin parochia, and -- ding, ding! -- guess where paroecia and parochus come from? 

This etymology unveils a truth rooted deep in our Catholic Tradition: that, in a real sense, the parish (paroecia) essentially relates to, and is even, at a certain point, identified with, the priest who is pastor (parochus)

This is expressed in church law by designating the pastor, and only the pastor, as the one who can act for the "juridical person" of the parish-corporation; or, in his absence, the "vicar" who stands in his place. Church law often directs the parochus to seek counsel or even cooperation from others, such as a pastoral or finance council, and even the bishop, nevertheless, the parochus never drops out of the parochial picture; if he drops dead, someone else -- a vicar or a temporary administrator -- MUST take on his role. 

At the risk of sounding egotistical, there is no paroecia without a parochus

We might think of the family as an analogy; of course a family can have an absent father, an alienated father, a deceased father; and this is a wound; but there is no family without a father having been part of it at some point. 

Of course there can be temporary or abnormal expedients: the vicar (i.e., associate pastor), neighboring pastor, or a retired priest, can step in as needed. But these are temporary and abnormal, note well! Which means they should not be treated as the enduring, i.e., "normal" practice!

Now, let's go back to Mr. Schmiesing's article and the whole battle over Beacons of Light.

My friend is arguing passionately and persuasively for maintaining individual parish-corporations that are centered around parish-places, because they are so necessary to the continued existence of the parish as people. And he talks also about the importance of the parish-priest. 

But here's what he doesn't adequately address.

The sad reality is that not only today -- but for decades leading to today -- it has not been possible to center our existing parish-places, parish-people, parish-corporations, around an individual parish-priest. 

For decades, there has been a gradual shift from the reality envisioned by Catholic tradition and law, to an unhealthy, abnormal "normal": having multiple-personality pastors.

When a priest is asked to be pastor of parish A, and at the same time, pastor of parish B, and C (etc.), he is no longer one pastor; he is three pastors (or more, as the case may be). This is true, whether you who read these words understand the reality or not. 

Or, if you wish, you can think of a parish in such a "cluster" arrangement as having not a whole pastor, but a half- or third-pastor, which is true yet not the full story, which is worse; because it fails to convey the real and insuperable problem of being a pastor to more than one separate parishes; akin to being a parent to more than one separate families. 

I want to reiterate that I believe Mr. Schiesing and those who hear their concerns expressed in his eloquent plea are seeking, in essence, what I am seeking; the glory of God and the salvation of souls. And, to state again, I agree with him about the tremendous, even essential, value of a parish.

What I wonder, however, is how can a parish be healthy if what is demanded of the parish priest is unhealthy? Or, worse, fundamentally flawed at the root because it's contrary to what is intended?

Mr. Schmiesing asks for "pastors willing to do the impossible"; but is it a lack of willingness; or capacity? Is it truly wise to build a plan on people doing what is actually, literally, impossible? 

I have been two pastors in a prior assignment -- i.e., pastor of one parish while also pastor of another. Today, I am three pastors. It is not a matter of how much work I am prepared to do. It is a matter of not knowing how to be three distinct people. One answer is that this is a failure of mine, I readily grant. But are those who urge me to keep trying prepared to consider this: that perhaps one man simply cannot be multiple pastors and we are not considering the destructiveness of continuing to demand that?

I do not mean only destructive of the priest, although this is true and very often is dismissed as the priest being whiny or selfish or lazy. But setting that aside, have you considered the destructive effects on the cherished reality Mr. Schmiesing and all of us want to protect and strengthen: the fruitful nourishing of faith in the context of a "parish"?

Here I'll bring in a reality we all take for granted but not yet mentioned: the familial, and therefore, spousal, relationship of the pastor to his parish. There is a reason we call priests "father." Do we mean it?

I've been told that we really don't: by those who object to Beacons and also, by fellow priests, who see the moving-on from a pastorate as just one of those things, inevitable and even desireable. When I moved on from being pastor, twice, it was wrenching for me. Was I a fool to see those communities as my family? Would I be wiser to give up on that familial/spousal understanding, and see myself instead as just another professional with a job description heavy on executive and administrative responsibilities?

But if we do mean it -- and Mr. Schmiesing's article seems to take the fatherhood of a priest for granted -- then what can we possibly do with a situation where a father of a family must now take on a second family, and a third, and so forth. I mean this question in the full sense of every word: how does he do that?

How does a natural father do it? Does he maintain multiple households, preventing excessive mingling? Does he schedule himself to spend time in each? I am asking seriously: I do not see how this works. I think it necessarily is an artifice, jury-rigged, unnatural and unwholesome, not merely for the father, but for everyone. I marvel that there seems to be little public reflection on this point, other than people telling me I'm wrong to treat my fatherhood as real. It is tempting to agree as it solves many problems. Yet I can't put all the pieces together with that conclusion.

Let me put it this way.

If you identify with Mr. Schmiesing's cry of the heart that the parish reality he describes must be protected and not changed, then I must point out that your complaint is not with changes being undertaken today, or proposed for the next several years. No! You are rightly protesting changes that have been underway for decades, as the traditional reality of a parish centered, not only on buildings, people and legal structures, but also on a priest, has been gradually remodeled and ceased to exist in much of the diocese long before 2022.

A great portion of those who protest Beacons of Light are not asking for the traditional model back (because they concede that such is almost certainly impossible). Rather, they are preferring one hybrid over another. Instead of attempting a parish model with modified legal structures, resulting in a single parish-corporation intended to sustain multiple parish-places and parish-people groupings, they insist the legal structures must be sacrosanct; but at the enduring expense of the relationship to the priest. 

Canon law is a more essential substrate to parish life than the priest. That is the argument being made.

For the last time, I don't believe Mr. Schmiesing believes or intends this. But this seems to be the outcome of his argument, and I'm highlighting it for the mutual benefit of all.

Sunday, February 04, 2024

A homily on sloth! (Sunday homily)

We’ve all heard of the seven deadly sins, I hope?

Just to remind you, they are: 

pride, envy, wrath, greed, gluttony, lust; 

and there’s one more we don’t talk about much: sloth. 

What is sloth? It is more than merely being lazy.

This is the sin of indifference; of not caring.

It can poison our zeal for the things we need to do:

Praying, going regularly to confession, being faithful to our obligations,

and providing for the needs of others.

Saint Augustine talked once about this life being a journey.

Sometimes, as for Job in the first reading,  

it is a “drudgery,” and a lack of hope.

When Job speaks of “months of misery,

and troubled nights,” 

lots of people can identify with that.

That discouragement can be lead to a “why bother” sort of attitude, 

And that is a form of sloth. 

Thinking about being on a journey:

Not so much in February, but – sometimes we’re driving home, 

and it’s a beautiful day and you love the scenery along the way.

Or – more usual in February – it’s sleet and snow, 

and you’re white-knuckling it as you slip-and-slide along I-75.

Either way, remember: 

the point of the drive home isn’t the drive, but home!

And this is where a rough ride through storms 

is actually less bad than a beautiful drive. Why?

Because one of the spiritual dangers each of us face –

on our “drive home” to heaven –

is that we fall too much in love with things along the way, 

and forget where you and I are headed.

That, too, is a kind of spiritual sloth:

gradually falling in love with this world and all it offers,

can make us gradually forget our first love, who is Jesus Christ.

Either way, sloth is simply not caring; 

either from being too sad; or from being too comfortable.

One way to identify sloth in our lives:

Are you or I so content with where we are, 

that we’re not actively thinking about what’s next.

So there’s the problem. What do we do about it?

Well, these readings give us some remedies.

Notice Jesus is busy taking care of other people.

If it seems like you’re carrying the weight of the world,

if you are tempted to feel sorry for yourself,

one of the best remedies is to check in with people who need help.

There are lots of ways to help. 

And if you are looking for how to make a difference, 

contact Jennifer Zwiers, our Director of Care. 

Her mission is to help our family of parishes go higher and farther 

in helping all the needy in our community. There’s more to do!

Another remedy for sloth is what Paul does: he keeps to his task.

He says, I’ve got a job to do. Maybe I feel like it, maybe I don’t – 

but I get down to work all the same.

Paul remembers why he’s doing it: he’s thinking of home; of heaven.

A third remedy: when you’re discouraged and tempted to slack off, 

That’s when you double-down. 

If you don’t want to get out of bed to go to the gym,

what does your workout buddy do? He texts you, “Get out of bed!”

You don’t feel like praying? That’s when you pray more.

Someone will say, “but I don’t feel like praying!”…

So what? Feelings are all that important.

I’m talking to our kids right now, are you listening?

I’ve got a secret to tell you, are you ready?

A lot of times, your dad and your mom 

don’t feel like getting up at 5 or 6 am to go to work. 

They don’t feel like making supper.

They don’t feel like helping you with your homework

or leading the family Rosary.

But they push ahead: it’s not about feeling. It’s about love.

Love is a choice, not a feeling; we choose to love God,

We choose to care for people around us, whether we feel it…or not.

It’s nice to have the good feels; but lots of times, that doesn’t happen.

Just keep going. We’ve got a journey ahead of us. 

Another provocative question about Beacons of Light

If you are in an airplane and the plane crashes and you and the other survivors are in the middle of unfamiliar landscape -- maybe a forest or a desert -- you have several options, perhaps more than you realize at first; but very likely, all are variations of bad. The one option you do not have is to roll back the tape and be back in the sky, in the plane, jetting toward your destination. 

What do you do?

One option that is almost certainly not preferable is to attempt to mimic the foreclosed possibility, say: everyone getting back in their seats, and having the pilot sit in the cockpit, and the flight attendants roaming the aisles, as if everyone was back in a better situation. That is to say, if what you want to do is recreate the desired-but-unavailable option, you are probably not choosing well. That is not to say that staying in the plane would be a worse option; it might actually be the best of all undesirable choices. But proceed with realism about what really is available, and what is not, and what the risks and benefits are of the various choices.

If you aren't sure what this has to do with Beacons of Light, ask. Better than assuming the answer and then attacking me, the messenger, for what you imagined I mean.

Saturday, February 03, 2024

Do you think your priests are lazy and selfish?

It is a serious question.

In the context of the Beacons of Light project, in which the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is presently immersed, there are many decisions and steps being taken, to address two shortages:

a) People in the pews in many parishes, and

b) Priests suitable to be pastors.*

Some people deny that there is a shortage of pastor-capable priests; or they dispute that the specific tasks demanded of a pastor are really that demanding; any priest should be able to do it. Or, they dispute that a priest is even needed to administer a parish, it can be done by others. Or, they dispute that reorganizing things will do anything helpful.

Or, they ignore all these issues and simply oppose the changes because of the bad effects they foresee.

Most upsetting to many is the plan for the legal structures of parishes to be reorganized: so that, where there were multiple stand-alone parishes, there will be a combined parish, that will include multiple churches and other facilities, or for lack of a better word, "campuses," that correspond to the previously stand-alone, legally separate, parishes.

Nothing I'm saying here is dismissive of the concerns. So let's, please, not get sidetracked into reactions such as, "why don't you care?"

Which brings me back to the question posed by my headline: Do you think your priests are lazy and selfish?

It really is a serious question and here's why I'm posing it.

Your priests are telling you:

1) They cannot and will not continue with arrangements in which they are tasked with being multiple pastors. The "cluster" model, where a priest is named pastor of parish A, while being pastor of parish B, parish C, and so forth, with each parish a legally distinct administrative entity -- is wholly unworkable. It is BAD.

2) Being pastor is demanding in particular ways, even if that's not obvious to you; so not any priest can do it. That is no more a knock on those priests than saying that not all players on a team can be the pitcher or the wide receiver is a knock on those athletes.

3) The idea of having priests no longer be the administrator of parishes leads places the laity do not want. It may lead places our Lord does not want. In any case, such alternatives have not been well articulated.

4) The consequences of delaying and denying are worse than you think.

5) The Beacons of Light project is certainly not perfect, and there are plenty of legitimate criticisms. Still...

6) The two basic tasks -- reorganizing things to facilitate effective administration, and pivoting to evangelization -- are the best ways forward.

Again, this is what your priests are telling you. The Archbishop is telling you this. Why do you think?

Do you think we are lazy or selfish? Are we all stupid?** If not, then what?

I get that people don't like this. Neither do I. I very much get that many people really don't understand the realities of administering a parish, so they don't see why a priest would be so emphatic about the "cluster" model. But why is dismissing my observation the right answer? I submit the better response is to ask and listen. Especially to find out what I mean by points 3 and 4, because realize: that if these points are valid, the resistance to Beacons of Light may have worse consequences than people understand; wouldn't knowing the costs better make a whole lot of sense?

Finally, attack the messenger if you wish, but that's basically answering the question in the headline with a yes. What else is it?

Update, 2/4:

An anonymous commenter (or two) does not like this question. S/he claims it is an "attack" and an attempt to silence people.

May I suggest contemplating the following. Sometimes people -- say, teachers in a classroom, or speakers giving a talk -- will ask questions that are designed to be "provocative" in the best sense, meaning to provoke thought; to induce the listeners to approach the matter from a different angle.

You may not like the provocative question; you may not understand it. There are many ways to respond. You can ask more questions for clarity, or simply shrug it off. But telling the speaker who is posing a provocative question to shut up is missing the point.

Also, about anonymity: I choose not to disable anonymous comments, yet I tell you, if you choose to be anonymous, that hurts your cause. It's not necessary to sign up for anything in order to be non-anonymous. All you need to do is include a name or pseudonym with your comment. I don't care about your real name; you can be Daffy Duck for all I care. But when a series of anonymous comments are posted, how many actual people are involved? How does anyone know? Don't hide behind anonymity.


* A fellow priest adds this clarity: it isn't precisely a question of being capable of being a pastor anywhere; but having enough who are capable of being pastor in the great majority of parishes. The tight availability of priests for pastorates means mismatches, and the problems that arise are what I have in mind. Strictly speaking, Father X might be capable of being pastor in certain parishes, but not in many, or even most, others. This becomes a huge problem when your "bench" (to use a sports analogy) is extremely thin.

**I will be the first to acknowledge some are stupid, lazy and selfish. But all of us?

Friday, February 02, 2024

Why have a Catholic school? (Catholic Schools Week homily)

 This week we celebrate Catholic Schools Week. 

Since we are a Catholic school, naturally that’s a big deal!

Someone might ask us, why have a Catholic school? 

Why not just have public schools?

The main reason is that we as Catholics 

understand the role of a school in a special way. 

The difference may seem slight to many, 

but it makes all the difference.

We believe that education isn’t just about lots of individual things,

It’s about the whole picture.

Who knows what a jigsaw puzzle is?

You know: it has lots of pieces, sometimes hundreds of pieces.

Some pieces by themselves might be kind of interesting; 

but most are just blobs – you can’t figure out what they are.

But you know what you get when all the pieces are together:

A face, or a building, or an airplane.

In other words, it’s when you get the pieces in place that you see it.

But notice, it’s not only at the end.

No, usually when you get about 2/3rds to 3/4ths of the pieces in place, 

you say, “aha! I know what this is!” 

And you hurry to finish it.

That is how Catholic education works.

We don’t only study the pieces; we bring them together.

So with our school. You study mathematics, reading, art; 

you spend time in the classroom, 

or you go out in nature, or you learn how to play at sports.

Or, you take time to send notes to people in nursing homes.

And you take time to pray and to worship God.

It’s all part of one picture, piece-by-piece.

We have a Catholic school because we want the whole picture, 

which includes the Father who created us, 

the Son, Jesus, who came to die for us, 

and the Holy Spirit who brings us all together.

The God who gives himself to us in the Bible and in the Sacraments, 

shows himself to us in history and chemistry.

Some people say God only belongs in church, not in the classroom. 

But in our school, everything belongs to God.

All of it is God’s gift to us.

One of the glories of education is the realization 

that you and I have not yet fully discovered 

how wondrous God’s Creation truly is! We never finish.

It’s hard to believe that not that long ago,

We didn’t have cell phones, or any telephones!

We didn’t have the Internet or airplanes, or automobiles!

It was only when I was a second-grader 

that human beings first dipped their toe into outer space, 

landing on the moon.

Perhaps when our second-graders are my age, 

Human beings will travel to another star?

The greatest thing God ever created, however, is not out there.

It’s here. It’s you. It’s me!

The human being, each of us, is God’s masterwork.

We know this, because he said so: we’re made in his image,

And we are the ones Jesus died for.

You and I don’t know how high our human abilities can soar.

Unlocking these gifts is what our school exists to do,

but just as much, to put it all together, so we see the face of God.

In the first reading, David’s mistake isn’t obvious.

The reason he ordered all the people to be counted 

was to use that as a measure of how strong his Kingdom was.

But here’s what he forgot: numbers are useful, to a point.

The real strength of his Kingdom was God, and he forgot that.

I want to challenge you, girls and boys.

And: I want you to challenge me!

Not just me, but [our principal], and all our parents and teachers.

Here’s the challenge: how high can we soar?

How deep can we dive, to discover the mystery of God and Creation?

I wish I could go to Mars! Maybe you will.

I wish I could paint like DaVinci or play like Lady Gaga.

Maybe you will.

Maybe you’re the next Einstein or Venus Williams, 

or Pope John Paul II?