Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Fatherhood shortage (Sunday homily)

 Even though next week is Father’s Day, 

I think fatherhood is the idea I want to focus on this week.


I’m going to talk about a couple of different things 

that aren’t obviously linked, but the connection really is “fatherhood.”


Let me start with the “Beacons of Light” planning process 

which the Archbishop is leading, regarding how best to provide 

for the 200-plus parishes of the Archdiocese.


First: what’s going on? The answer is that many of our parishes, 

as currently configured, are not healthy. 

If you measure things by our local situation, that may surprise you.


But we’re part of an Archdiocese that covers 19 counties,

and many places are facing a very different situation.


We talk about a shortage of priests, and that’s a real problem; 

but in many places, the bigger shortage is of people; 

and that means a shortage of volunteers and material resources.


This “Beacons of Light” project is about taking a big-picture approach

rather than dealing with it piece-meal.


As I said, this isn’t ONLY about not enough priests, 

but that is part of it; specifically, about having enough PASTORS – 

that is, priests who are in charge of parishes. 

So here’s something you may not have thought about:

Not all priests are cut out to be PASTORS. 

We have good, holy priests who are either too new, 

or else they just don’t have the skills to run a parish. 


We have 110 priests serving as pastors right now. 

But 58 of them are over 60 – that more than half!

And that means they will all be eligible to retire in the next ten years.


Of those pastors over 60, 20 of them are, in fact, over 70 – 

that means they are at or past retirement age;

even if they don’t want to retire, they may have to, at any time.

Meanwhile, we’re ordaining an average of four priests a year; 

But those new priests are not going to become pastors immediately 

and they shouldn’t! 


New pastors can do damage if they lack seasoning. 

I first became a pastor when I had been ordained only two years.  

I made some serious mistakes; it wasn’t intentional, 

and I not blaming anyone but myself, but experience matters.


Right now, today, the Archbishop has no “bench,” no back-up.

He’s brought in priests from Africa and India, 

some of whom will be returning to their native countries.

We can’t kick the can down the road any longer.


So what’s all this mean for Saint Remy?


Let’s start with the bad news.

It seems almost certain that at some point in the next ten years, 

the Archbishop will group our parish with one or two other parishes, 

and we will share two priests, but only one will be pastor. 


And if you wonder why, if there are going to be two priests, 

why not have both be pastors? 

Because that second priest will be someone fresh from the seminary,

or even an older priest, who isn’t otherwise suited to be pastor.


This has long been a possibility; I think it will finally happen.


The rest of your questions I can’t answer.

I can’t say which other parishes we will be grouped with.


The Archbishop is sorting through the situation in all 19 counties, 

and he will propose some groupings this September,

at which point we’ll all see them and be able to give input.


If you ask we’ll be “clustered,” that depends on things no can predict.

My health is good, but I can get sick and so can other priests.


Here’s what I think is good news and should reassure you.

I mentioned how in many places, parishes are emptied out.

They don’t have much happening; they lack volunteers and money;

and they are situated within miles of other parishes in the same boat.

None of that describes us.


So the kind of re-organizing that is likely to happen elsewhere 

is not reasonable to expect or fear here. 


For example, when I was in Piqua, 

we did combine two religious education programs into one, 

and combine offices. But those parishes are ½ mile apart; 

and there was a critical shortage of willing volunteers to teach CCD.

None of that applies to Russia.


I started by talking about fatherhood.

When we talk about our larger society, 

we’re facing a critical shortage of true fatherhood.


One of the things that makes our local community healthy 

is that we don’t face a plague of absent fathers.

That is directly tied to the health of this parish 

and of this northern part of our Archdiocese.

This helps explain why our area generates more vocations,

as the example of genuine fatherhood inspires more spiritual fathers.  


The readings highlight how great things 

can come from small, even discouraging, beginnings. 


The devil wants to discourage us and panic us;

Not just about changes in our parishes, but in our society as a whole.

Jesus calls us to keep calm and keep confident in his leadership,

no matter what else is happening.


This Friday, I invite all men of all ages, from 1 day old to 100 years old, 

to participate in our annual prayer walk. 


We’ll meet between 5-5:30 pm in the main parking lot.

This year we’ll car-pool out to Loramie-Washington Road,

So we’ll be glad for as many vans and big cars as possible.


As before, our walk will be all about praying for our community.

Our task as men is to guard and guide, including spiritually.

Over time, we will complete a circuit all around the parish.

We’ll have rides for those who can’t walk the route.

Then we’ll share fellowship afterward.


It’ll be hot; it’ll be tiring, and you may be tempted to think, 

what good does this do? 

All I can say is that we will be faithful and trust Jesus 

to make the seeds of faith grow in this community.

That is what you and I are called to do.


Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Treasuring the Gift of the Eucharist (Corpus Christi homily)

 On this Feast of Corpus Christi, 

I want to talk about some practical things, 

particularly as we try to resume what was normal 

before this last, very abnormal year.


First, I want to thank you for the way take reverence seriously, 

not only during Mass, but before and after. 


I’ve been in churches where this has been lost,

where people are visiting and talking as they would anywhere else.

Nothing wrong with visiting – but it destroys prayerfulness.


This is a good time to talk about how we receive Holy Communion. 

You know that there are two options: 

receiving on the tongue, or in the hand. 


It’s no secret that I have encouraged you to receive on the tongue; 

but during the Covid crisis, 

a lot of people were uncomfortable with that. I understand that.


So what follows isn’t meant to override that concern, 

but to talk a little about the best way to receive the Holy Eucharist, 

whether you do it in the hand, or on the tongue.


Let me say that sometimes people come to Holy Communion 

with only one hand free, often because you’re holding a child.


In those cases, I’ll whisper, “I’ll put it on your tongue.” 

And this is the reason: it really isn’t reverent 

to try to juggle the Holy Eucharist with one hand, 

particularly when you are carrying a child.


Also, if you are receiving in the hand, please lift your hands high. 

That’s both very reverent: lifting Jesus up! It’s also practical.


If you are receiving on the tongue, this is going to sound funny, but:

You really do have to put out your tongue –

I’m not a dentist, I really don’t want to go IN there!


And whichever way you receive, it’s important to remain still.

Many of our younger parishioners are kind of rushing.

Parents, maybe you can help them remember these things?


I’ve told this story before, but it’s too good not to repeat it.

Father Randall Roberts was an United States Air Force chaplain 

in Saudi Arabia where, he explains, 

“any public Christian activity is punishable by imprisonment.” 


When he was going to offer Mass for American soldiers 

who were stationed in Saudi, soldiers would spread the word.


Because of the laws against any sort of Christianity,

Father Roberts had to celebrate Mass in a “remote area”

In this case, an abandoned recreation shack 

encircled by a chain-link fence.


Now, it happens there are many millions of foreign workers 

in Saudi Arabia – and a large number of them are Christians.


One of these foreign workers walked by; 

and when he realized Mass was underway, 

he “pressed himself against the other side of the fence.”


Here’s what Father Roberts saw:


He appeared to be straining his whole body – or at least his heart – 

through the chain-link fence, like water through a filter…

The sheer ecstasy in his face from being present 

at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – though not able to move closer – 

is an image that will be indelibly etched in my heart until I die.


I wasn’t there, but now, I will never forget that image.

And I hope you won’t, either.


What a gift we’ve been given!

May God give us the gift of loving the Mass, and the Holy Eucharist, 

like that poor man, and the many millions like him, 

who are starving for what is so easy and available for us.


Sunday, May 30, 2021

C.S. Lewis, Cicadas and the Holy Trinity (Sunday homily)

 



Maybe you are like me: you like to read news and opinion items online.

Also, I confess that I spend more time 

surfing for such things than I really need to. 

The result – for me, and maybe for you – 

is that sometimes we get too caught up in negativity and worry.


There’s a lot of negativity out there right now, don’t you think?

Folks who are unhappy with political trends, 

disillusioned with sports teams and the entertainment media,

and disappointed in how some of our bishops handle things.


These concerns are real: I’m not dismissing them.

However: there’s a need for perspective.


The author C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Great Divorce, 

in which he imagines taking a trip from hell to heaven.

When he’s in hell, it seems like a vast city, miles and miles.

When he and others ride a bus up and out, 

that vast city turns out to be a tiny little speck and shadow of dirt, 

compared to the blinding brilliance of heaven. 


You’ll see the same thing in the Bible:

Humans build this great big tower in the city of Babel, 

they are so impressed! 

When God hears of it, he has to stoop WAY down to take a look!


In the Book of Revelation, there’s all this furious activity on earth,

people who are trying to overthrow God’s reign,

but in heaven, everything is calm and peaceful;

and when the final conflict comes, it’s over IMMEDIATELY.

By the way, how many times have you ever seen a TV show or movie, 

or read a book that is all about the End of the World,

and it’s told in the most lurid, frightening way?


People don’t read the Bible closely enough.

From a purely human point of view, it is a big deal;

But from Heaven’s point of view? 

All this storm and excitement is next to nothing, over and done, 

and then real life, the the life Jesus came to give, begins. 


We’ve just been through the Easter season, last week Pentecost, 

and today we focus on the Holy Trinity.

That’s a big subject, but I think there’s a way we can keep this simple.

God stooped down from heaven, becoming one of us – 

coming down into our lives, to bring us into the life of God.


One of the best expressions of this is so simple and routine, we miss it: 

and that is when you and I make the Sign of the Cross. 

We begin Mass with it and we end with it. 

You do it with holy water when you enter and leave.


Notice what we do: we say, 

“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” 

as we mark ourselves with the Cross.


Here’s what that means:

Jesus came to bring you and me into the life of the Trinity;

The Cross is what puts us there; being baptized puts us there.

When you and I follow Jesus as our Lord and Savior,

then we are “surrounded,” as it were, with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

How amazing is it that God made it the Cross that puts us there?

The Cross was an act of unspeakable cruelty and ugliness and injustice.


So we look around and we see things that are wrong – 

and that’s real, you’re not mistaken! – then, remember, that’s the Cross.

God not only sees it, he put himself right there! On the Cross.


And that ugliness not only doesn’t defeat what is good and beautiful,

in a way that never stops leaving us breathless,

that ugliness becomes the heart and center 

of the greatest goodness and beauty of all.


Keep perspective: all the controversies and causes for sadness

are not bigger than the good world our good God has given us.


Look at these silly cicadas who pop out every 17 years.

They’re a nuisance, but they’re harmless and kind of fun.

If you’re a dog, a cat or a bird, 

it’s All-You-Can-Eat Thanksgiving Dinner!

And, it’ll all be behind us soon enough. 


The really amazing thing is, 

those cicadas been doing this for 50 million years. 

Every time they emerge, we humans are worked up about something;

but no matter what, they keep coming back. 

The world keeps going on despite all our drama.


In God’s time and way – not ours – it will all turn to heaven.

One day we will wake up in that Divine Life, that Trinity Life.

Hell is that little speck of a place that won’t accept that happiness.


Sunday, May 23, 2021

God goes out to bring us back (Pentecost homily)

 With today being Pentecost, it seems like a good time 

to share a little from St. Thomas Aquinas.

St. Thomas boiled down everything God is doing in his work 

both of creating humanity and even more, in saving us:

into two words: exitus and reditus; 

or, in English, “going out” and “coming back.”


And what Thomas meant was this: God “exits” 

or goes out of himself in creating us; 

the Father gives the Word, and everything comes into existence. 

We exist – this universe exists – 

solely because of this “going out” of God’s will, God’s power 

and above all, God’s love.


But humanity turned away and that brings corruption and decay:

So there is another exitus, another “going out”:

God the Son enters and becomes part of Creation!

That leads to the Cross where God “empties” himself, as it were, surrendering to suffering and death.


But all this is about the reditus, the “going back”; 

the bringing back of creation and specifically, US, to the life of God!


So when Jesus ascends – as we recalled last week – he doesn’t go alone.

Our human nature went with him to heaven.

Where Jesus the head goes, we are promised to follow.


Now we come to Pentecost:

the “going out” of the Holy Spirit, which also means a new creation; 

we human beings are remade.

It the beginning, God breathed life into Adam.

On Pentecost, the Father “breathed” the Holy Spirit, 

into those who have been redeemed by the Son:

these re-created people, together, are “the Church,” 

the Body of Christ, who is the new Adam.


In one way, of course, Pentecost happened once in history;

but in another way, Pentecost happens over and over, 

every time someone is baptized.


And then again, it happens in every Mass.

Do you see what’s up on the ceiling over the altar? A dove.

That signifies that only with an ongoing Pentecost 

does anything really powerful or supernatural happen.


Only when the Holy Spirit goes out from God 

does any sacrament do anything:

and only when the Holy Spirit comes down on this altar,

does bread and wine become the true and real presence of Jesus.


This is a good time to look at the Eucharist,

Because the Eucharist shows us what we are and what we will be.


Bread and wine come to the altar; ordinary bread and wine, not fancy.

At Father Puthoff’s first Mass last week, 

Father Amberger explained that the bread and wine 

we bring to the altar is rather poor, even embarrassing!

But that’s the point: the offering of our own selves is, honestly, 

even more meagre and embarrassing.


You and I come to Mass, maybe we don’t really want to be here;

Maybe we are counting the minutes till we leave, 

Just going through the motions – and yes, I include myself here!


That’s who we are as frail, sinful people: we’re a poor offering!

But God works with that: down comes the Holy Spirit!


As I’m sure you’ve noticed, after the consecration, 

the Body and Blood still have every appearance of bread and wine;

and this can be a challenge to our faith.


What do newly baptized Christians look like?

What do people fresh out of confession act like?


We trust that despite appearances,

the bread and wine truly and really become Jesus.


It’s even harder to see, yet necessary to believe, that similarly,

baptism and absolution in confession and reception of the Eucharist 

and the other sacraments truly make a real change in us.


We live in time and everything happens to us frame-by-frame;

God is eternal, and what seems to take forever to us 

is a blink of the eye for the Holy Trinity.


Parents get an inkling of this when you look at your children and think, 

oh, it was just the other day when they were babies – 

except that “other day” was a year, ten years, 18 years ago!


The Eucharist shows us what you and I are destined to be:

We are brought back into the Holy Trinity;

You and I are transformed into the Body of Christ!


Saint Augustine said, regarding receiving Holy Communion:

“Become what you receive.”


So today we pause to contemplate the work of the Holy Spirit

as He goes out from the Trinity, and renews and recreates everything; 

and we human beings are the primary recipient of this recreation.


No matter who you are, or where you are in your journey…

you may see your sins pile up to heaven;

or you look around at a world that seems spinning out of control…

you may think you haven’t got even a single clue on life or the future;

and you find it impossible to believe 

God can make you into anything worthwhile… 


No matter where you think you are, or how long a journey lies ahead,

the one place you know you are is in the loving gaze of your Father.


God created a beautiful world and put you into it;

then he put himself into you; 

so that you will be brought completely and fully 

into the fullness of God’s own life!


Sunday, May 16, 2021

Leaving on a jet plane (Ascension + Confirmation homily)



I want to talk about the sacrament of confirmation today;
But we’re recalling the Ascension – so what’s the connection?

Well, it’s easier when you and I clear away the wrong ideas 
about the Ascension and get straight what’s going on.

A lot of the focus is, “Jesus gets to go back to heaven. Good for him!”
But that misses the point. Jesus in heaven is good for US. Why?
Remember, Jesus has made us part of him.
What did we hear just the other day? 
“I am the Vine, you are…the branches”:
We’re the body, he’s the head. We’re one with him.

There are plenty of times we find that hard to grasp;
And when you and I don’t act like we’re part of Jesus.
But that is what our Faith is, that’s what it is all about.
Therefore, where he goes, we go. He brings us along.

So the Ascension is not, “Bye Jesus, see you at the end of the world!”
But rather, Jesus says, “Let’s finish the trip: all aboard!”

So with that in mind, how does confirmation fit in?
Let’s keep going with the “going on a trip” analogy.
You get on an airplane, they check your ticket, right? 

That’s baptism: baptism puts you on the plane.
It’s a long flight, so they’ll feed you:
But this airplane food is the best: the Holy Eucharist!

What do they say when you get in your seat and about to take off?
Buckle your seat belt, right? Why? It may be bumpy. You’ll be OK.
And that’s confirmation! 
Confirmation lets you know: you’re where you belong, you’re solid.

Actually, confirmation does even more.
It unlocks the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit in each of us,
so that whatever our role on that airplane, we’ll have what we need.
Maybe you’re the pilot or navigator; or one of the flight attendants…

Maybe that’s what I am! I come around to see if you’re OK;
I give you the Holy Eucharist; if you’re feeling sick I anoint you!

Even as a passenger on the plane, you have a job to do.

Have you ever had to calm another passenger?
If there’s an emergency, you’re a doctor, you’re a nurse, you’re a priest:
They need your skills and your calm and your courage.
Confirmation is that sacrament that says, 
you’re part of the team, you’re ready to do your part.

Now, the good news is that on Jesus Airlines, the plane will get there! 
There are bumps and detours and complaints 
and the passengers don’t always behave well.
Nevertheless, the plane will get there.
Confirmation is all about empowering each of us to do our part.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

God's messy icon (Sunday homily)

 I want to start by talking about art – like a portrait or a mosaic; 

or, to use a term I’ll come back to in a moment, an icon.

What I’m describing is more than a snapshot or reproduction.

I can take a photo of you – click, done! Pretty simple. One dimension.


But art – whether with a camera or brush or chisel or something else – 

brings discovery of hidden depths 

and reveals something always there but not seen at first glance.


This is why really beautiful and profound art can seize our attention: 

it leads us into something bottomless in meaning: we stare and stare.


So with that in mind, let me quote something Pope Francis said 

in his encyclical, Amoris Laetitia: 

“The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon…

capable of revealing God the Creator and Savior.”

This is a point Pope Saint John Paul II also made:

the family is an icon of the Holy Trinity. 


As awesome as all Creation, the stars of the universe are,

only the human being is made in the, quote, “image and likeness” of God; 

and that image and likeness is most fully revealed, 

not in a solitary human being, 

but when a man and woman are in communion; in a relationship. 


In a word, “family”; which begins with the couple, but – 

now circling back to Pope Francis’ words, 

a couple that “loves and begets life.”

Because a couple that doesn’t love, and isn’t open to life,

is not an icon at all, but the opposite: if you will, an “anti-icon” of God.

Last week I said I was going through each sacrament, so:

this week it is matrimony.


And while this Gospel isn’t focused on marriage, it sure applies:

Because when Jesus talks about love, 

he’s talking about, first, the divine love of the Trinity – 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit – 

and this love reaching out to humanity 

and drawing us up into that divine love and life of God himself.


That’s what Jesus is saying: “as the Father loves me” – 

that’s divine love – “so I love you” – 

Jesus, coming down to our level, and catches us up into that divine love.

And then, if it’s totally clear yet, he says:

This love – human-becoming-divine love, is how we love one another.


Do you have a pet? You love your pet? 

That love is real; but try as you might, 

you can’t lift that faithful companion up to the human level.

And as real as the gap is between us and our pets, 

it’s nothing compared to the infinite distance between us and God.


You and I are not God’s “pets”! 

That would be a lot easier: we get fed, have fun, but no responsibility.


But that’s not God’s plan for us:

you and I are to be lifted up into the full reality of God’s own life.

We don’t have to understand what that means;

only take Jesus at his word that he has nothing less than that for us.


So we come back to the family.

Human beings made in God’s image:

we’re a receptacle, if you will, waiting for the Holy Spirit, 

to bring us all the way into that fullness of life.


And the icon that God painted is the family: father, mother, children.


That’s the lovely account; but we know the less-beautiful reality:

family life isn’t idyllic; 

couples do not endlessly gaze dewy-eyed at each other!


So how can married life be that icon?

And that’s the transformation that grace brings.

Grace is God’s life, poured into our lives, to make us like God;

and don’t be fooled by the pretty language:

grace is messy and painful and sloooow!


So if you find your own, personal journey of grace frustrating?

Fear not! That’s just it works. and the same with family, only moreso.


The struggles – of couples to stay in love, to deepen their love, 

and of parents, trying to be generous in welcoming children – is real.


Holy Matrimony is the messiest of sacraments!


There are so many possible points here, but time won’t allow it.

But first, however challenging, how can this icon of divine love – 

which a couple is – not be about life? So: it’s man and woman. Period.

And, how can that icon not be open to life? 


We use this euphemism, we call it “protection,” right?

Protection from what? From LIFE. 


Another point: isn’t it obvious that 

married couples can’t just coast through,

and – this is hard to say – must not harden their hearts to each other.


God’s destination is indeed beautiful, 

but we all know what ugliness can happen along the way.

And the message here is not – I repeat, IS NOT – 

that one spouse is obliged simply to put up with ugliness and cruelty.


Sometimes things get broken; and we don’t know how to fix them: because we aren’t God. 


That brings us to the Cross. Thank God for the Cross!

The Cross is for all those people 

who have messes that are, let’s say, “un-clean-up-able”;

whose wreckage seems unsalvageable:

because on the Cross, Jesus’ wounds aren’t “fixed,” right? He dies!

They kill him and that seems to be the end. Defeated. Done. Final.

No! He dies but rises again. And notice: he still has his wounds!


So I confess I do not know how some family struggles get healed.

But here’s what you and I both know is true: the Cross is our hope!

In the words of St. Francis, “in dying we are born to eternal life!”


And it is the very messiness of the sacrament of marriage and family that this truth is revealed.


Each of us enters life in a family – and it’s messy;

from the very first moment, and all the way through: messy!

But God chose this reality as the icon that manifest 

how his Divine Love enters and overcomes and transforms.


Thank you mothers; thank you couples, for being the icon of hope!