Sunday, September 19, 2021

Change is coming. Change our hearts to get ready (Sunday homily)

 Today I’m going to talk about the “Beacons of Light” 

reorganization project that is underway. 

Let me lay this out very plainly:

Like it or not, change is coming. 

Some people are getting too nervous about it – please don’t do that! 

This isn’t the end of the world, or even close.

But there are others who aren’t paying attention; it’s a boring topic. 

Yet, when change comes these folks will be surprised and angry, 

saying no one told them! 

So: I’m telling you: change is coming! What change?

Archbishop Schnurr is preparing to organize all 200 or so parishes 

in the diocese under the leadership of 50 pastors. 

Right now he’s weighing the possibilities, and in about ten days,

he’ll lay out a tentative plan with all the priests.

On October 1, his proposal will be published online for all to see. 

Then you and everyone will have 20 days to post comments.

After that he will announce a final decision 

and then this will all start being put into effect in 2022.

Then begins several years of adjustment and adaptation.

All this means that most likely, starting in July, 

this parish will begin sharing a pastor with several other parishes. 

This arrangement will probably mean a second priest 

will be assigned to help take care of the new “family” of parishes.

Why is this happening?

In many places, pews are empty and those parishes are struggling.

Meanwhile, we have 110 pastors in the diocese.

Fifty-eight of them – more than half – are over 60, 

which means a big wave of retirements during the next decade. 

The Archbishop is acting now to get ahead of that challenge.

Right now, my purpose is to alert you,

and to provide all the information I can. 

Please read my weekly column; I will share information there, 

including links to websites where you will find more. 

If you have questions, please ask. 

I can’t promise to have the answer, but I don’t mind the question.

I can tell you that I’m sharing everything I know;

I’m not holding anything back, not keeping anything secret.

But I am just hitting key points. If you want every last detail, 

I urge you to go to the Archdiocese’ website and dig deep as you want.

That web address will be in the bulletin.

Meanwhile, keep praying: this is a great time to heed the advice 

of St. James and the Lord in the Gospel: 

to keep our egos in check, and to try to appreciate the bigger picture.

For example, there will be changes in Mass schedules.

That will cause a lot of grinding of teeth.

For this parish, the biggest change will be sharing your priest 

with several other parishes. 

It’s been over a century since we had to do that. 

Early on, our priest would have duties in Versailles, later in Piqua.

When a priest is asked to shift from being a pastor to one parish, 

to leading three or four, you can’t expect him to operate 

as if he were three people. 

He can’t do the work of three people. No one can.

He shouldn’t be expected to attend three times as many meetings;

and why would you want him to?

And when you take three or four parishes that were on their own, 

and ask them to operate as one “family,”

everyone is going to have to adapt and be flexible.

As you can imagine, I’m thinking about this A LOT.

And I will predict that when the time comes, 

some changes will be made that will have people saying 

they can’t see the reason, and that will breed frustration.

Let me give you an example.

It occurred to me that our weekly bulletin will have to change. 

Instead of having a bulletin all about St. Remy,

while the other parishes have their own bulletins,

we’ll need to start having a common bulletin for the whole “family.”

Why is that?

Because one of the things that will breed distrust really fast 

is if everyone isn’t operating from the same information.

If you have three or four parishes that are now one “family,”

they need to plan together, not independently.

And that means everyone needs to have all the same information.

If you keep each parish isolated from the others, it won’t work.

I can’t give you a comprehensive list of all that will change.

It’s going to take time to figure it out.

I’m simply trying to give you a sense of it, so that you can prepare.

There’s no denying the negatives of this, but there are some positives.

Not every parish has a well organized religious education program;

lots of parishes’ youth programs are minimal.

Grouping parishes together this way will share these benefits,

truly making us brighter “beacons” of Christ’s light in this area.

Remember: our Catholic faith is NOT changing.

The sacraments are not changing. Jesus Christ is not changing!

If we have to adapt and stretch and even make sacrifices, 

that’s something the Catholic Church has had to do in every century, since the beginning. 

Why should you and I expect anything different?

Sunday, September 12, 2021

No Christ -- no life -- without the Cross (Sunday homily)

When you separate sex and baby-making, there's nothing wrong with this picture.

In the Gospel, Peter is offended 

by the idea of the Messiah going to the cross. 

But then, isn’t what Peter says just what we might say?

If someone says to us, “I’ve got a terrible path ahead of me,”

wouldn’t we say, “God forbid! No such thing shall ever happen to you”?

And yet Jesus whips around and says, 

“Get behind me, Satan!” 

He’s not rejecting Peter; but he is warning him 

of how misled, and ultimately fruitless, his thinking is. 

And notice, Jesus doesn’t say get away from me, 

but rather, “get behind me”—

he still wanted Peter with him, but not as a roadblock.

How does this apply to us?

Well, I think about how some people respond when someone says, 

“I am thinking about being a priest,” or entering religious life.”

And parents and grandparents will say, oh no, that will be too hard; 

you’ll be lonely, you won’t make much money. 

They try to talk their children out of it, too much of the cross.

I have known great joy as a priest.

But if anyone wants an easy path, don’t be a priest;

we do NOT need any priests who want an easy path. Not even one.

To be a priest is to unite yourself with Jesus the High Priest, 

and his priesthood is the Cross.

The joy I have as a priest is seeing how life is born from the Cross.

I get to see that in people’s lives every single day.

Next Jesus then goes on to say – to everyone –

Whoever comes after me must take up his cross and follow me. 

“Whoever”! That’s every single one of us.

Parents, I want you to know what Karen, Mark Travis and I –

what our staff, and our many, talented volunteer catechists –

are telling our boys and girls in our religious education classes,

and in our youth programs.

We’re telling them that to be a Christian man or woman 

isn’t to run away from the Cross, but to face it. 

That’s where virtue happens. That’s how we become saints.

This is a good time to talk about a part of our Faith 

that is most misunderstood, and most widely disregarded, 

and yet I think it will prove, in years to come, 

to be the most prophetic. 

I mean our teaching – which goes back to the beginning of Christianity, by the way – 

about contraception and openness to life: 

that all acts of marital love between husband and wife 

must be open to life;

and that life must have its beginning, 

not in a laboratory, but in a couple’s act of love.

Of course I realize being a parent is a sacrifice. 

So many of you bear witness to this every day;

and I will always remember the sacrifices my parents made, 

which I had to reach adulthood to understand fully. 

But to me, that only proves the truth of this teaching: 

because notice, it puts the cross right at the center of marriage. 

How can a Christian marriage be otherwise? 

How can a home and a family be Christian, 

without the Cross right at the center? 

So there is either the sacrifices of having a larger family, 

or the sacrifices of times of self-denial 

that are part of Natural Family Planning. 

And of course this is a challenge, I won’t minimize that.

But what doesn’t make sense is to say 

“this teaching can’t be true, because it’s too sacrificial.” 

I see no way to square that with what we just heard Jesus say.

And before I move on, let me state something clearly:

all the various ways to make these acts of love sterile are mortal sins. 

Let’s go back to Jesus’ words: 

You and I can’t be his disciple without the Cross.

As much as we might like to, it simply won’t work.

Bishop Fulton Sheen once explained powerfully 

what happens when you separate the Christ and the Cross.

If you try to have Christ without the Cross, 

you end up with cheap sentimentality. 

This is the Jesus so many say they admire – “oh, isn’t he nice!”

But why would you give your life for Hallmark Card pieties?

Then Sheen talked about the alternative: a cross without Jesus.

In his time, Bishop Sheen cited communism, 

but the point can easily be made about all kinds of movements

that invite people to discipline, self-denial 

and dedication to something greater than oneself. 

In our comfort-rich but meaning-impoverished culture, 

this is attractive.

You can see many today who build their lives around various causes.

This explains why so many are drawn to Islam, 

and this includes many conversions happening in American prisons.

The trouble, as Sheen said, 

is that the Cross without Christ is authoritarian and cruel; 

conversion without love and forgiveness only means conformity. 

There is death but no resurrection.

Saturday was 9-11, and we remembered those events of 20 years ago.

Followers of a Cross-without-Christ flew those planes into the Towers,  

saying that the world must be purified.

A Christ-without-the-Cross looks on in horror, but does nothing. 

Those who ran into the fire showed us: 

no one has greater love than this: to lay down ones life for another.

There are lots of reasons to recoil from the Cross as Peter did.

But there is no other way to real life.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

'May I attend the wedding?' Guide for Catholics

This article by Father Francis Hoffman (via Steve Ray) is very well done, and states everything clearly and succinctly.

The only thing I would add is a little depth to his third case: of nominally or lapsed Catholics who do not marry in a Catholic wedding. Consider the following case, which is very common:

A lapsed Catholic who is free to marry seeks to marry a non-Catholic, who likewise is free to marry. The Catholic has no particular desire, unfortunately, to practice his or her Catholic Faith. If the Catholic marries without benefit of the Catholic form of marriage, that marriage is treated as invalid by the Church, although -- as Father Hoffman says, it is potentially valid.

But before you say, then a Catholic should not attend that wedding, unless the Catholic party remedies this situation, let me explain something: there may not be any way -- in good conscience -- for the Catholic party to remedy it! Let me elaborate.

Suppose you tell your lapsed-Catholic friend, "look, we can fix this. Come with me to see Father Friendly, who will explain how you can be validly married. You can even be married at the park as you planned, since your intended is not Catholic, so whatever form of marriage s/he prefers can be an option -- with the bishop's dispensation."

Your lapsed-Catholic friend agrees, the couple meets with Father. In the course of that meeting, Father will explain everything, including that the Catholic party -- marrying a non-Catholic -- must make two promises:

Do you reaffirm your faith in Jesus Christ, and intend to live that faith as a Catholic?

Will you do all in your power to share your faith with your children by having them baptized and raised as Catholics?

Do you see the problem?

Here it is: we saw above that this lapsed-Catholic does not desire to practice the Catholic faith. Perhaps s/he does not believe in Jesus. Perhaps s/he has joined another religion, or simply has no faith at all.

The only way this marriage can be "recognized" is either the lapsed-Catholic must believe -- that is, undergo conversion -- or else, answer insincerely. (And don't doubt for a moment that happens!)

Does that seem just to you? Do you think that is the intent of Catholic norms on marriage, to say that if you lapse from your faith, you may never enter into a valid marriage?

At one time, a provision in canon law specifically said that someone who formally defected from the Catholic Faith was not bound to the Catholic form of marriage; that was intended, I think, for such situations. This provision, however, was deleted. Why? Because that deletion solved a knotty problem: Catholics who defected from the faith came to their senses, and sought to return to the faith -- and perhaps what helped them wake up was realizing they'd entered into a marriage (outside the church) hastily and without care, and now that marriage was a wreck. Alas, the marriage was presumed valid, and they had to go through the arduous process of asking for a declaration that it was otherwise -- i.e., null.

Since such situations often involved a lot of immaturity, the sense was that by treating such marriages as invalid -- for lack of form -- then the Catholic who is now back to his/her senses can either resolve the problem of a foolish (and invalid) marriage easily; or else seek the Church's help in that marriage being recognized as valid.

However understandable that concern was, it created a new problem which I highlighted. How is that to be resolved? Are we to press people to make insincere declarations of faith?

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Two words to say it all: what will you say? (Sunday homily)

 Just as a change of pace, I’m going to tell a joke.

There’s this man and he decides to join a religious community. 

It is very strict and observes total silence; no one speaks at all.

After six months, he meets with the superior, 

and then, he can say just two words. 

So the superior calls him in, and asks for his two words:

“Bad food,” he says. 

The superior nods, and sends him back to his room to keep praying.

Another six months go by, and he meets the abbot again,

who asks for his two words: “Hard bed.”

The abbot nods and sends him back to his room.

Another six months go by, and the abbot calls him back a third time.

This time his two words are, “I quit.”

The abbot responds sadly, “I can’t say that I’m surprised; 

ever since you got here, all you’ve done is complain!”

What if all you got to say were two words.

Two words to tell people what you stand for,

what matters most in your life? 

What two words would you choose?

Friday, September 03, 2021

No, the Supreme Court did not uphold Texas' heartbeat law.

This week a new law went into effect in Texas, outlawing most abortions after the unborn child's sixth week of life. The not-very-bright, never-thinking-independently talking heads and professional shriekers all did their thing, especially when the U.S. Supreme Court did not do anything to block the new law. As a result, this looks like a big victory for the prolife cause.

Well, hold on.

First, here's why the U.S. Supreme Court didn't do anything. Normally, when a court blocks a law, what it actually does is issue an injunction stopping individuals from enforcing the law. Most of the time, those individuals are office holders: presidents, governors, attorneys general, judges, etc. (Here's a good explanation of the legal landscape.)

But this new law did something rather different. It specifically bars anyone in public office from enforcing this particular law! Instead, it allows for any private citizen to sue, in civil court, anyone who provides or facilitates abortions that are contrary to this new law.

So, the reason the U.S. Supreme Court didn't do anything, is because it's far from clear who, precisely, the court was supposed to enjoin: every citizen and resident in the state of Texas? Thankfully, the too-expansive powers of the courts aren't that expansive. Indeed, if you look closely at the petition that came before the high court this week, the abortion-defenders were asking for injunctions against a handful of people. Setting aside whether such an injunction would have been lawful, it would have been ineffective, because as I said, anyone at all can file a lawsuit against an abortion-provider.

So, is that it? Is that the end of the story? Not at all.

There's still a lot of legal wrangling to come, and as I am not an attorney, I won't try to parse all that. But here's what the framers of the law expect to have happen. At some point, someone actually files a civil lawsuit; and now there's a court case; and the abortionist or someone else who is implicated in abortion must defend him- or herself in court. The new law specifically says that one defense is to say that the abortion was legal under existing legal precedents (i.e., Roe and Casey). In other words, it's entirely possible that someone brings a civil suit against an abortionist, and the abortionist wins in state court.

On the other hand, in the event the abortionist (or insurer, or landlord who rents to the abortionist) loses, then it seems very likely that case ends up in the federal courts, and now, the federal courts have something they can "enjoin" -- i.e., the adverse judgment. Why? Because it conflicts with Roe or Casey. Alternately, the Supreme Court could then decide that the new law should be upheld, and so much the worse for prior precedents. 

In the meantime, this new law makes things much more complicated for abortionists and their enablers; they have to deal with the threat of lawsuits from every side. And that prospect alone seems to be a victory, right?

Well, not so fast. What the conservative, pro-life majority in the Texas legislature can do, the liberal, pro-abortion majority in the California legislature can also do. Several years ago, California passed a law making life difficult for pro-life crisis pregnancy centers. After several years of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down that law. So why can't California try again, only this time, barring any public official from enforcing the law, and instead, invite private citizens to file lawsuits against pro-life pregnancy counseling centers?

Or, do the same against gun manufacturers and sellers?

Or, do the same to get at speech they don't like?

The possibilities are endless and not appealing. Recall the scene from Hunt for Red October: the Russian sub captain cleverly turns off the safeties on his torpedoes after Ramius tricks him; but then those torpedoes circle back on the Russian sub.


Again, I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me there could be a case to be made that when government passes a law, it's the government's job to enforce it, and to make sure enforcement of that law is fair and unprejudiced. Call it a matter of due process, or "equal protection under the law," or an application of the "privileges and immunities" clause in the 14th Amendment. But if laws are passed with empower a flood of lawsuits, the chilling effect on the exercise of a constitutional right is real and serious. Of course, the Constitution does not and ought not grant a right to kill an unborn child. But so the U.S. Supreme Court has held more than once, and that is the real problem.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

My weekend...

Here's a vignette...

Several weeks ago, a local group planned to bring a priest here from Haiti. His parish benefits from contributions from local folks -- including my parishioners -- so this was an opportunity for them to know where their money goes, and for the priest and the Haitian parish to tell their story.

Meanwhile, I had a wedding scheduled for Saturday...that means a rehearsal Friday, of course.

Somewhere in there I got a call: So-and-so was from your parish; she died; her funeral was at Such-and-such a parish, will you lead prayers at the grave on Saturday? Sure.

(It's starting to get complicated, but what can I do?)

Priest visiting from Haiti speaks little English; he brings a parishioner of his who speaks English. The group here, that is organizing things, has a schedule for him to meet with this group, that group, see this and that. He's going to be at all the Masses this weekend. I speak up: Father should be given an opportunity to offer Mass himself; even in French, if that's all that works. I stupidly thought Haitians all speak French; they speak Creole, which is French derived, but not the same thing. At any rate, we planned for one Mass to be a mixture of French and English, meaning, Father could offer Mass and we'd all just manage.

Father-from-Haiti is very pleasant, but little time to visit. I've got a rehearsal, he's got visits...

Oh, and the retired priest who was going to come on Saturday morning -- I have two other Masses -- gets a fever. Now I have three Saturday Masses, plus confessions, plus the burial...

And then I get a call: a longtime parishioner died. When shall I meet with the family? How about Saturday, between the burial for the other lady, and the wedding? That's all that works. Thank God, everyone who came for the 11:30 am burial arrived by 11:30 am. Bereavement meeting at noon went smoothly -- good, as there's a wedding at 1:30 and I need to be in the sacristy at 1 pm. "Father, it's hot in church!" "Yes, and I suggest that if you keep these inside doors closed, that'll help." "Good idea!"

Oh, did I mention I was sick this past week? Nothing serious, but I was hoarse and coughing a lot. No one likes to have the priest up at the altar, coughing. Thankfully, I felt pretty good by 1 pm on Saturday. But at the 8:15 am Mass, I said, "it's going to be a long day, sorry but no homily, no petitions..."

The families kindly invited me to the reception; and if they do (they don't always), I am happy to go.

Oh, I forgot to mention two phone calls on Friday: about a very difficult situation. No details, sorry, it's private; but VERY difficult, and I apologized for not being able to talk longer, but -- the rehearsal was in 15 minutes. 

So, by Saturday evening, things seemed on a good slide. All I had to worry about for Sunday was...

The priest visiting from Haiti would be the celebrant; but I would assist as I could, as he spoke almost no English; no one else in church spoke French. It worked, but there were some bumps.

Two more went fine.

Then a baptism, now we're on the easy side of the day. Did I mention I was getting hoarse and coughing a little? 

The visiting priest and his interpreter headed out after that, to another parish nearby and then to Indiana. Not so easy for them. Hearing about the deprivation in Haiti is...amazing. How blessed we are. 

So it's been a couple of hours, doing nothing but drinking a cold drink on my porch, and nothing else.