Sunday, June 25, 2017

How to be faithful, not fearful (Sunday homily)

In the first reading, Jeremiah knows people around him 
are plotting his destruction.

In the Gospel, Jesus says, “Fear no one” – only be faithful to God.

So, thinking about fear…the question that comes to mind isn’t, 
what are we afraid of? – because the answer is, of course, 
lots of things, and often for good reason – 
but instead, what do our fears keep us from?

The fear I’m talking about is not those rational judgments we make, 
such as how fast we drive, especially in bad weather, 
or those dumb things a friend tries to dare us into doing. 
That is the virtue of prudence, one of the four cardinal virtues. 

No, I’m talking about that fear that holds us back from better things. 
We might call it timidity or faint-heartedness or cowardice. 
These are vices that are opposed to another of the cardinal virtues, 
which is fortitude, or courage – 
and that virtue of fortitude is what we want and need.

If we are in a conversation, 
and we are faint-hearted about bringing up an important subject; 
or, if we simply avoid the whole conversation altogether, why is that? 
Isn’t it because we don’t want to be thought less of? 
We don’t want an uncomfortable situation? 
And when we stop and think about it, 
what holds us back is hardly anything at all. 

Jeremiah shared God’s message at the risk of his life. 
What do we risk? Being laughed at, or whispered about?

So what do our fears – our timidity – hold us back from? 
They hold us back from being saints, 
being fully faithful to Jesus Christ.

This past week, we remembered the martyrdom 
of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, 
who both died because they were faithful 
to Christ’s teaching on the permanence of marriage, 
when the King of England demanded they go along with his desire 
to divorce his wife and marry another. 

These are especially relevant saints for our time. 
Out of all the bishops of England, John Fisher was the only one – 
the only one – who refused to submit to the king. 
All the rest caved in.

In our time, so many around us are readily, eagerly going along 
with a redefinition of marriage, 
which has been declared the law of the land. 
Two men, two women, who cares? 
It can be so hard to stand up to this, 
especially if you are called a bigot, 
as members of my family have called me, 
because I will not bend to this redefinition of marriage. 

And now the latest idea is that our identity as male or female 
is not something given by God, but something we give ourselves, 
and is changeable. 

And I tell you now: the day will come when every single person here 
will feel as lonely as Bishop Fisher and Thomas More, 
when we stand up for these truths. 
But stand up we must, because truth isn’t decided by majority vote, 
and reality is not ours to remold, as if we are God!

Pope Francis has called these theories 
about marriage and sexual identity “demonic.” 
Strong language, but he is exactly right; 
because what is under attack is not just some old rule. 
What’s under attack is the truth about what it means to be human. 

When God had finished his Creation, with the man and woman his crowning work, 
he called it all “very good.” 
When Satan saw it, he vowed to ruin it all, 
with humanity – us – his primary target. 

So notice what’s happening in our time: 
the killing of unborn children; the elimination of the handicapped; 
so-called “assisted suicide” for everyone else, 
especially the elderly and those who are discouraged; 
the poisoning of marital life with contraception; divorce – 
which I don’t want to be flippant about, but it is a problem…

And now, a denial of the realities of what it means 
to be a man and a woman. 
Do you see the whole picture? Satan is attacking humanity, 
to destroy us. 
The end goal is that we won’t even know who and what we are: 
the image of God, who he calls to union with him. 

Now, that is a hellish vision, and it’s frightening 
to see it spreading in our world. 
Nevertheless, we must obey Jesus’ words, when he says, 
Do not be afraid! 
Fear paralyzes us, and keeps us from speaking what is true, 
and living the truth boldly.

When Saint John Fisher refused to buckle, 
he was imprisoned for over a year. 
During that time, he wasn’t allowed to offer Mass, 
receive Holy Communion or go to confession. 
He grew so ill that the king sent his doctors, 
just to get him well enough so he could be executed. 

When the day came, the guard woke him, and told him: 
today you will die. 
Do you know what Bishop Fisher said? 
He asked if he could sleep another two hours! 
Does that sound like he was afraid?

You see this time and again: 
when people have lost everything, when they have nothing left to lose, 
there is a peace beyond all understanding. 

This is the reason why acts of penance, self-denial, mortification, 
not just for a few weeks in Lent, but every day, are important, 
and can help us. 

So we become detached from caring too much about stuff, or comfort, or anything else, 
but the one thing that matters, 
which is being faithful to Jesus Christ.

The world may go crazy all around us, but do not be afraid!
Jesus reigns! And he calls us to reign with him.
By his grace, may we remain faithful witnesses to him!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

At the beach...

...So, no homily this weekend.

Instead, I arranged for one of the newly ordained priests to cover for me. So, he gets to explain the Holy Trinity this weekend!

As Bugs Bunny says, "ain't I a stinker?"

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Renewing our part of the face of the earth (Pentecost homily)

This feast of Pentecost is the end of Easter – 
and the beginning of everything else.

Fifty days ago, we celebrated Jesus rising from the grave, 
after giving his life on the Cross for us. 
Fifty days to realize: Jesus has made me brand new!

In the sacrament of confirmation, the bishop says, 
“Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” 
A “seal” is placed on a document, certifying that it is authentic.  

You and I are sealed with the Holy Spirit – 
meaning we are authentic ambassadors of Jesus Christ. 

The seal of the Holy Spirit means you and I are ready. For what? 
To do what the psalm describes: “renew the face of the earth.” 

(Last night at the Vigil Mass, the readings were different; 
we heard the story of the City and Tower of Babel.)

The City of Babel fell apart because 
their task had nothing to do with God. 
They were impressed with their mighty tower; 
yet God had to “come down” in order to see it! 
Not so impressive after all. 

So much of our world is exactly like this. 
We are building things we think are impressive, but leaving God out. 
It will all come tumbling down. 

Today, a terrible confusion is spreading in our society 
about the most basic things, such as what it means to be a human being. 

We hear about lawsuits because a boy wants to be a girl 
and the legal system and schools and everything else 
gets twisted up like a pretzel over all this. 
Just another Tower of Babel. It will all come tumbling down.

More broadly, there’s so much anger being built up. 
You see it everywhere. People bite each other’s heads off on Facebook.
If you turn on the TV, fury pours out hour upon hour. 

It will all come tumbling down.

And then what? My task, your task, 
is to be instruments of the Holy Spirit, 
“to renew the face of the earth.”

What can you and I do? 

Well, let’s start with what not to do. 
It’s easy to laugh or shake our heads. 
It’s also easy just to turn away. 

But take the “transgender” phenomenon. 
There is a lot of hurt and pain. This is real. 
So many of us are at a loss as to how to respond. 
But we can’t lie to people; we can’t pretend to call a lie the truth. 
That’s the easy way out, not the loving way.

Here’s something no one wants to talk about, 
but if you do some further reading, 
you’ll discover that when individuals 
go through this process of “transitioning” – even having operations – 
so much of the hurt remains. Many end up in a much worse place.
It’s like when people have troubles and they drink. 
At best, all that does is kick the can down the road.

So, when someone you know is in trouble, you may not know what to say. 
And if you are faithful to the truth, 
your words may not be very welcome. 

But may I suggest that the very first thing is to pray
That you will act always with love – 
meaning, putting that person’s interests first. 
One of the most important things we can do 
is to let people know that they are infinitely more important 
than any struggle or sin or weakness. 
Love sees and reaches past the differences, 
to the person God created and died on the Cross for.

This takes courage. But first it takes a realization: 
I can’t just let someone else do this. 
Look around: there clearly aren’t enough “someone elses” 
doing the things needed to renew the face of this earth. 

So it’s on me. I have to get up, and get to work, 
bringing the Holy Spirit into the situations around me. 

Let me mention another opportunity. 
Later this month, on Friday, June 23, 
we will have our second annual Men’s Prayer Walk. 
As with last year, we did this as a way for the men of the parish 
to step up and take some spiritual leadership. 

The essential tasks of men are to guard, to give and to guide. 
So with our Prayer Walk, we will, over several years, 
walk the parish boundaries, praying for the protection of our parish, 
for the needs of our parish. 

There are a lot of places in the world that need our help – 
but God didn’t send us there. He did put us right here.

So here’s how it’ll work. We’ll meet at 5:30 pm, 
in the parking lot behind my house. Men and boys of all ages welcome. 

You don’t have to be Catholic. If you can’t walk well, we’ll have rides. 
Last year, some men met us at the starting point in their electric carts. 

We’ll ride some hay wagons over to Russia-Houston Road and S.R. 48, 
and walk along Russia-Houston to Dawson Road. 
Yes, that’s over to Houston – because Houston is part of our parish, 
and therefore, part of our spiritual responsibility.

Then we’ll get a ride back to the parish for a cookout and fellowship.

The Holy Spirit is poured out to renew the face of the earth. 
God put us here, to renew this little portion of it. That’s our job.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The point of the Ascension -- of the Mass -- and of ad orientem -- is heaven (Sunday homily)

The feast of the Ascension is NOT about Jesus leaving us. Rather, it’s about where Jesus wants to take us: he goes ahead of us, to heaven. That’s where he wants us. The Ascension is about heaven; Jesus wants to take us to heaven.

So that caused me to think of a connection, between today’s feast, and the Parish Priorities I’ve been talking to you about recently. That is, the priorities I am urging us all to pursue, together, as a parish. And if you recall, the first one is cultivating devout worship.

The connection is this: our worship together is likewise about getting us to heaven.

This isn’t something everyone understands. There are a lot of folks in our society who think what going to church on Sunday is about isn’t going to heaven – because they take that for granted. So instead, whether Catholic or Protestant, lots of people think of church as about giving them a good outlook on life; maybe giving them something to think about. Above all, about making them feel good. 

I know this is true because I’ve had people tell me that. I’ve had priests tell me that. Mass should make people feel good after a long week. Mass should be uplifting and encouraging. While those are good things, none of that is the point.

Rather, the point of the Holy Mass – the point of you taking part in Mass, and the point of me offering the Mass – is to get us to heaven.

When we come to Mass, and we listen to the readings, the prayers, some of which are sung, and we hear the homily, who knows whether it’ll make you feel good or not? If God tugs at your conscience, or reminds me of things I’ve neglected, maybe we’ll feel bad, along the way to making the changes we need. 

The point of the Mass is exactly the same as the “point” of the Cross: Jesus came from heaven, to be with us, one of us, all in preparation for offering himself for us on the Cross. To die for us…why? To get us to heaven.

Each and every Mass, then, is a re-presentation of this cosmic drama: that’s why, if you listen closely to the prayers of Mass, you will hear words like sin and judgment and damnation, as well as words like forgiveness, grace, conversion and salvation. Jesus sheds his blood for all those whose souls hang in the balance – and your job, here, is to pray for them. That’s why you’re here. There’s a house on fire, and Christ is the one putting out the fire. And you are here, not to watch, but to help pass the buckets!

To make another connection: our worship together, as a parish, is central to the task of sharing Christ with our community. Yes, there are lots of great things that happen in our parish, to bring people together, to help folks in need, to make our community a better place. But we remember that the First Commandment is, “I am the Lord your God, you shall not have other gods before me.” Everything else follows from that. The point of our parish – like the point of the Mass and the point of the Ascension – is to get people to heaven. And so, when you and I offer our worship together with reverence, bringing our best, and doing it with the mind of the Church, this is the best thing we can offer to our community. We’re offering people the face of Christ – and that’s what they want to see and need to see.

This gives me a chance to explain something I’ve been doing at daily Mass. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, I’ve been offering the Mass on the high altar, meaning the people and I are facing the same way. Why have I been doing that?

The point to doing that is the same as the point of this feast: the focus is heaven.

Right now, I’m facing you. Why am I facing you? Because I’m speaking to you, of course. (Turning around away from people): of course, I could give the homily facing away from you – but doesn’t that seem odd? (Turning again to face the people.) Maybe some of you would prefer it that way!? But it makes sense for me to face you when I speak to you.

OK then: when I’m at the altar, am I speaking to you? Am I asking you to forgive sins, and to deliver people from hell? No, of course I’m speaking to God. So that’s the reason it makes sense for the priest and the people to face the same way, symbolizing us facing heaven, our common destination.

So, in August, when we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption, I’m going to celebrate one of the Masses on that feast day in this fashion, so you can experience it. Give it a try.

This is a good time to talk about our volunteers, who are so important to having Mass celebrated well. We rely on ushers, musicians, readers, extraordinary ministers of holy communion, and altar servers. Especially our altar servers – you make a difference. No less than the Archbishop has complimented our altar servers, and we want to keep a high standard.

But we have a problem. There are times when our altar servers can’t get here. I understand, things happen: sports, prom, homecoming – nevertheless, it is a problem when the servers don’t show up.

And I thought it might be helpful to explain why we need them to be here 15 minutes before. The first five minutes is grace time; at ten minutes, I have to get subs. Maybe I find some subs by eight or seven minutes till. Then the kids have to get their albs or cassocks on – and you may not realize this, but sometimes kids don’t get dressed quickly! So now it’s 5 or 6 minutes till; then I may have things to explain, and they have all these candles to light. So sometimes things get rushed, and they get missed. We have started Mass late sometimes. So I need your help to ensure our servers are here. I have an idealistic notion that it should be the kids’ responsibility to know when they are supposed to be here; but I’ve had parents smile and say, “Father, that’s not how it works – it’s mom who remembers.” I understand; but whichever way, I need your help on this.
Let me also say something similar about our extraordinary ministers of holy communion. Sometimes we don’t always have all here who are supposed to be here. It’s not obvious, because someone always jumps up to fill in. But that’s not fair to those folks, especially if they have children they have to leave in the pew. So if we can work on this, that would be great.

Let me come back to where I began: the point of the Ascension, the point of the Mass, is to get us to heaven. Jesus told us in the first reading, he would send power upon us – that power is at work in the Mass. Nothing any of us will do today is as important as what we do here, in the Mass.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The four keys to being a disciple (Sunday homily)

Last week, we looked at the “Parish Priorities” 
that I am calling us, as a parish, to pursue together. 
And if you recall, the second goal is “Making more disciples.” 
Listening to the readings, that seems a good topic to explore this week.

The word “disciple” means one who is taught; 
but it’s more than what happens 
when you’re a student at RHS or college. 
You go to school, you put in your time, maybe you have homework – 
but you can’t wait till you’re finished. 
If that’s your idea of how to follow Jesus, you’re doing it wrong.

Jesus’ disciples went where he went, they lived with him. 
They weren’t with him just to learn a trade or gain a degree;
this was about a new life.

In the readings, we see his disciples in action. 
The deacon Philip is sharing Christ with people. 
But notice, he isn’t just there to tell them things; 
he shows concern for their well-being. 
People are healed through his work. 

And in the second reading, Peter tells us: 
be ready to give an answer to everyone, 
concerning the reason for your hope. 
These are the things that disciples do, 
because they are doing what Jesus did, because they were with him.

So, as I was thinking about what it means to be a disciple, 
I came up with four qualities; and to make it simple, 
they can be summed up in four words: 
Open, Turn, Time, and Teach. 
That is to say, being a disciple of Jesus 
starts with us really opening ourselves; turning toward the Lord, 
giving him time, and letting him teach us. 

“Opening ourselves”: that means more than the minimum, 
more than just checking the boxes and following the rules. 
That’s what a lot of people think being a Catholic is – 
and that’s what a lot of people want it to be. 
Tell me what I have to do: 
how many times do I have to show up at church or CCD or for meetings. 
Give me a list of dos and don’ts, and I’ll check them off. 
And if I do something wrong? I’ll go to confession; I’m good to go.

If you want to be his disciple, open yourself to Christ! 
Pope Benedict said once 
that we are often afraid to entrust ourselves entirely to God, 
because we think he will take something away 
and we will be less ourselves. 
On the contrary, Benedict said: 
when we really abandon ourselves to God’s will, 
only then do we really become fully ourselves! 

The second word is “turning”: we must turn to God. 
Jesus said, “if you want to be my disciple, 
take up your cross, and follow me.” 
We must turn from our sins and turn toward him. 
This conversion isn’t just once; we learn quickly enough as his followers, 
that we must repent over and over. And you see that with the Apostles. 
They were always losing their way, 
and Jesus would help them turn back to him. 
And that, too, was part of their learning and growing.

There’s another way we must be ready to turn: 
Jesus himself is going to surprise us 
with turns and directions we don’t expect. 

When I was 16, I was certain I would be an attorney. 
When I applied for college, I expected an Air Force scholarship, 
but that didn’t happen. When the time came to apply to law school, 
I discovered I didn’t want to be a lawyer after all! 

Instead, I worked as a journalist. A few turns later, 
I was working in politics. And then, at age 35, 
I entered the seminary, and here I am, a priest. 
I never saw it coming, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So if you want to be his disciple, be ready to keep turning back to him, staying close to him, whichever way he takes you.

The third word is “time.” 
There can be no discipleship 
unless we are prepared to give our time to Jesus. 
If you look at the Gospels, 
the Apostles were almost always with Jesus – 
only occasionally off on their own. 

And when he was telling them about his departure – 
today’s Gospel gives us part of that conversation – 
Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, 
so that he would be with them “always, until the end of the world.”

You might be thinking, I can’t give Jesus all my time! 
I have work, I have chores, I have a business to run, 
friends, sports, school and papers and studying to do! 
But there is no contradiction. 

Obviously, this giving of time to Jesus involves prayer; 
prayer is absolutely indispensable. 
What you will find is that if you give Jesus 
a part of your time in prayer – it need not be a lot, 
even 15 minutes will do – 
and if you invite him along for the rest of the day, he will be there.

This isn’t something that just happens; it is a habit we form, 
and the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will help us. 
As we go through our day, we pause, we ask Jesus to help; 
we call on him when frustrated or under temptation, and he is there. 

So to be his disciple, we must give him time.

Finally, to be a disciple is to be taught. 
Remember, the main way the first disciples learned from Jesus 
was by being with him. 
They prayed with him; they read or listened to Scripture with him; 
they listened to his words. And they saw what he did, 
particularly in caring for people in their needs. 
If you want to learn from Jesus, read Scripture, yes; 
and seek out other good materials. 
But you will also learn when you reach beyond yourself 
and seek Christ in others. 

Jesus calls you to be his disciple. 
It’s not easy; it’s simply the best thing there is.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Christ calls us to build and fill his House; here's how we're going to do it in this parish (Sunday homily)

There are two special points emphasized in the readings. 
First is hospitality and welcome; and the second is building God’s House. 

In light of those themes, I think this is a great opportunity 
to return to the Parish Priorities 
I introduced in a homily just before Lent. 
As I explained then, these are priorities the Pastoral Council and I, 
after much reflection, see as deserving special emphasis. 

And to recall, they are five: 

(1) Devout worship;
(2) Forming more disciples;
(3) Offering a better welcome;
(4) Seeking out – that is, inactive Catholics 
and those who aren’t Catholic;
(5) Paying for it all.

But it all boils down to what the readings talk about. 
Building God’s House – which is made of people – 
and seeking out those God wants in his House.

In the first reading, the early Church is divided along ethnic lines; 
that is, Greeks and Hebrews, with the Greeks feeling neglected.

Notice the Apostles’ solution is very practical. 
All seven men have Greek names. 
It has ever been this way. 
When the Archbishop sent the first priest here, 
he chose Father Navarron, who was French, 
like the first Catholics in this parish.
There are similar needs today. 
A growing number of Catholics in the U.S. are Spanish-speaking.
But do you realize that right now, 
Hispanics represent over 40% of all Catholics in this country? 

So far, we aren’t seeing this in Russia, 
but go to Osgood and St. Mary’s, to Sidney and Piqua, to Troy 
– and of course points beyond – you’ll see this here and now.
And who can say but that Russia’s turn may come before long.

Meanwhile, there is another cultural and language barrier 
that is real for us, here and now. I don’t mean Spanish v. English. 
I mean, the gap between the culture that is familiar to us 
as practicing Catholics, as opposed to those around us, 
who are not Catholic, or not active.

You and I gather here each Sunday because that’s our habit; 
our parents taught it to us, and part of what brings us here
is that this is where we feel at home; 
our friends and family are here, too.
We have a familiarity; we “fit in.” 

But if you didn’t grow up with what is so familiar to us; 
or, if you were baptized Catholic, 
but never really developed the habits 
that are second-nature for many of us, then there is a barrier. 
The terms you and I use, 
like “grace” and “sacraments” and “Resurrection” 
might as well be Spanish or French 
for many who live and work side-by-side with us. 
Has Christ prepared a place for them? Of course! 
So who has the task of helping them find that place? 

My purpose in proposing these Parish Priorities 
isn’t about some new project or program, 
but a different way of thinking; and even in being Catholic.
A different awareness of what belonging to this parish means.
Not just for the priest, or the staff, or key volunteers,
but for every single baptized Catholic, from age 1 to 101.

So why now? There are trends moving very fast in our nation, 
leading us to a post-Christian future. 
And I don’t mean 100 years from now, I mean, 20 years from now. 
Unless we build a great wall around Russia, this will affect us, too.

Let me offer an analogy. 
What if I told you that for each child enrolled in Russia School, 
there was another child in this community, not enrolled, 
and not home-schooled either, but in fact, 
receiving no education at all? Would that shock you?

Well, that’s the situation with our parish! 
For every person who attends Mass here each week, 
there is another Catholic who is registered in this parish, 
but doesn’t show up. 
We have 1,564 Catholics registered; 
we get about 750 in the pews each week. 
And that’s only those Catholics who bothered to register!

Meanwhile, there hundreds more folks who aren’t Catholic, 
but who Christ is making room for in his Father’s House as well.

So, this is why we began the Men’s Prayer Walk last June, 
and we’ll do it again this June – check the bulletin for the date. 

This is why we’ve begun inviting everyone – not just Catholics – 
to use and to attend our summer Bible Camp. 
This is why we will have a Parish Mission this November 
with Father Nathan Cromly. 
But again, it isn’t about a program or an event; 
And sending out flyers alone isn’t enough.

So, here’s something you can do. 

Over the next several months, I’d like to meet personally 
with each and every parish group, 
in order to talk about these priorities, and very specifically, 
to talk about how each group can play a role.

After all, this welcome, this bringing people to the Lord, 
usually doesn’t begin at Sunday Mass; 
it begins in your living rooms or backyards, 
over lunch at school or pizza in the bowling alley. 

If this was simply a matter of special knowledge 
or some sort of “technique,” 
I’d pass out cards or booklets; but it’s not. 

It’s a change of mindset; it’s an evolution to the culture of the parish. 
Just like what the Apostles did in the first reading.
And this adaptation, this new mindset, 
will happen not simply because I talk about it on Sunday, 
but because it’s something we all help each other learn together.

So if you are part of any group or activity in the parish, 
I’m asking someone from your group 
to send me an email or give me a call, 
and we’ll plan a time to dig into this together. 

Today is Mother’s Day, and we give thanks for all our mothers do – 
in giving us natural life, and sharing spiritual life with us. 
How do they do it? 

The answer is not, that it’s something they say now and then, 
or some special knowledge or program. 

No; our mothers do what they do by being who they are. 
Their life, their example, as well as their words, are the “how”; 
our moms being who they are is how we become who we are. 
That’s how the family grows; that’s how the Church grows. 
And that’s how you and will share Christ with our community.