Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Another thought about Charlottesville...

It occurs to me this episode illustrates something Scott Adams -- creator of the cartoon strip "Dilbert" -- has observed about life. Namely, that when we look at the world, we all see different "movies."

So, for example, if you look at the events of last weekend, and you see a bunch of KKK and Nazi wannabes showing up with clubs and guns, and they are met by peaceable citizens, and then you hear that people were injured and one was killed -- then of course what you see is murderous racism and that's the whole story.

On the other hand, if you see a bunch of Antifa goons -- who have bloodied faces across the country -- storming a bunch of white supremacists and other uglies, holding a nonetheless legal march -- then you see a different movie. And so it goes.

I haven't seen Mr. Adams mention this, but there remains another category: those who actually see one particular movie; but then, after noticing how others describe what they saw, change their stories. We call those folks "politicians."

Charlottesville and the future of our country

Here and there folks are insisting that Catholic clergy have a duty to speak out about the events over the weekend, particularly in Charlottesville. OK, I will be happy to share my thoughts -- although I first will point out that leaders of the conference of U.S. bishops have had their say, so check it out (and this too). Also, here is Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia.

So, here's the thing. How you view something like this has a lot to do with how narrowly or widely you focus your lens. Some people are zeroing in on the events in Charlottesville. So let's start there.

First, I obviously wasn't there, and I am not prepared to accept the news reports as the last word. But here's what seems to have happened:

1. A local individual wanted to organize a protest to the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a local park; perhaps other statue removals were in the mix, I don't know. Whether this individual was a racist isn't obvious to me. No, I don't accept the notion that objecting to the removal of the statue makes someone a racist.

2. He wanted to get other people at the protest. Whether he explicitly invited racists and white supremacists, again, I don't know. But we do know that they showed up.

3. There was a legal dispute over the location of the protest; the courts sided with his right to have it where he wanted.

4. People who wanted to counter-protest also organized and showed up. From what I gather, the local authorities had time and information that would lead them to anticipate this.

5. Apparently, there was a third group that showed up, and they were legally armed citizens. Were they part of either of the groups? Not clear at all.

6. The police were there in some numbers, and appear to have been somewhat reserved about their response, such that they have been widely criticized, both from conservative and liberal viewpoints, about not handling this better. My reading so far inclines me toward that view.

7. All this climaxed with an individual who drove his car into a crowd of people, with one death and several people injured. That individual has been charged with second degree murder, and the federal authorities are contemplating charges.

So what do you want me to say? That white supremacy and racism are terrible? Indeed they are. Also terrible is anyone who thinks that violence and aggression are acceptable ways to make your point. But see, now I'm starting to widen the lens a little. Because, after all, if this were a peaceful demonstration in favor of white supremacy, that alone would deserve condemnation; yet that's not what we saw in Charlottesville. What we also saw was something we've seen before, especially in recent years: a ready recourse to violence attached to political sentiments.

Now we widen the lens a little more, to something that happened on Sunday in Seattle. Thankfully, no deaths, but people were hurt as a group that absurdly claims to be "anti-fascist" deliberately used violence to shut down a pro-Trump event. I say deliberately, because the Antifa group has admitted this is deliberate; and we've seen it happen several times already.

If every white supremacist and wannabe Nazi loser who lurks in dark places somewhere in this country had a Road to Damascus (please God!) moment, there would still be a huge problem with violence and extremism, right? Is there any doubt these folks are feeding on each other? Almost lost in all this is the question of Confederate memorials. I don't think they are terrible in principle; some might be, but as a general principle, I don't object to them being left alone. History is complicated, and if we start tearing down statues of people who don't measure up to our standards today, this will go way beyond the heroes of the Confederacy. Our American Revolution was fought for both good and bad motives too, including preservation of slavery and for a free hand to deal with Native Americans on the frontier. But now we have both the national socialists (i.e., Nazis) on one side, and the international socialists (Antifa) on the other side, happily agreeing that a statue of Lee is all about white supremacy (which Abraham Lincoln believed in, by the way); because, as I said, they are feeding on each other.

In short, there's a larger problem here. A big part of it is so-called "identity politics," which started on the left, but is now leeching over onto the right. Over the years, I've seen similar things happen: namely, where people I know who are conservative lament a dirty or low tactic taken by the opposition, and who then decide, ok, fine, we'll do it too! For quite some time, we've seen folks on the left promote the idea that your political views are essentially defined by your skin color, your race, your nationality, your sex or sexual attraction. So why should anyone be surprised that someone would say, OK, let's apply that to whiteness, maleness, nativeness, etc.? Rod Dreher makes this point better than I, here.

All this leads to a really depressing conclusion. We will see more Charlottesvilles; the wave is far from crested. And it isn't mainly about racism, that's just added evil. It's about our country turning into two countries, which is about something more prosaic:

We may no longer be -- now, or soon -- a country with enough shared values in common.

Do you disagree? Then tell me what common values still unites our nation? Is it the flag? Antifa burns it, and we have well paid athletes treating it with disrespect.

Is it respect for law? Not when violence in the streets is justified. Is it due process? Not when people insist that regardless of what juries decide, the defendant is guilty and should be punished. I had exactly that conversation on Facebook a few weeks ago, and I've seen it before.

Is it the Bill of Rights? We have a growing number of folks who are constitutionally illiterate -- made so by incompetent education all the way through college -- who don't know what the First Amendment protects, nor do they care. Some want an exception for "hate speech"; some believe your right to promote ideas does not include spending money for it. Some think religious freedom is no longer about how you live, but only what goes on inside a place of worship, or inside your head. And we could go through all the Bill of Rights thusly. And -- when I say "some" -- I mean a politically significant segment of our society. All these assaults on the Bill of Rights have the enthusiastic support among "progressives," and more I might mention; meanwhile, if we get to the later amendments, we find amendments that some on the right don't like very much, such freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, the protection of due process and the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Heck, we no longer even agree on reality! This is why I think the present moment is so different. With the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell -- reinventing marriage -- we are waking up to a fractured view of reality. What is a man? A woman? If you dare to insist these are questions of fact, not will, then congratulations, you are a bigot! Can a society be a society if it can't even agree on what is good and evil? On what is real?

I really hope I'm wrong. But I fear far worse is coming.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What steals our joy; and what restores it (Sunday homily)

There’s a word for what is happening in all the readings; 
what is happening for Elijah, for Saint Paul, and for Saint Peter. 
That word is discouragement.

And there is a word for what cures it. And that is joy. 

In the first reading, Elijah has fled to the mountain 
because he is discouraged. He tried to spark revival of faith, 
and the queen seeks to kill him. He feels very alone and overwhelmed.

Paul is “in anguish” for his fellow Jews 
who have resisted the message of Jesus Christ.

Peter is disheartened by the storm raging around him, 
and he begins to sink.

Meanwhile, let me recall something we’ve been talking about as a parish. 
You have heard me issue the challenge 
that we, as individuals and as a parish, 
be much more intentional about how we live our faith 
and share our faith. 

I’ve met with many parish groups, and I want to meet with more, 
to ask a simple question: 
how does this group help its members, and others, 
come to know Jesus better? 

One of the things that always seems to come up: 
why don’t we have more success sharing our Faith with family members, 
with neighbors and friends? 
Similar to the concern Saint Paul has in the second reading.

Most of the answer to that question is known only to God. 
Only the Holy Spirit can move hearts, 
and God chooses the how and the when. 

That said, if you and I want to be powerful messengers, 
we require what Elijah needed to renew, 
and what what Peter lost sight of. And that is joy.

I was inspired by reading the words of Charles Chaput, 
Archbishop of Philadelphia, who said recently
while Christians need to see the world’s problems as they are, 
“we can’t let the weight of the world crush the joy 
that’s our birthright 
by our rebirth in Jesus Christ through baptism,” he said.

So, what is joy? Well, it isn’t simply happiness, 
because we can know joy even in times of great suffering. 
Let me give you an example. Forgive me if I’ve told this story before.

I knew an older couple in Piqua, married over 60 years. 
The wife became ill, and got worse and worse; 
and I was called to visit her in the hospital. 
When I entered that small hospital room, it was packed – 
maybe 20 people or more. 

Everyone was praying, centered on their mother and grandmother, 
in bed, with her husband sitting by her, holding her hand. 
She was leading the prayers. 

Then came a moment when she couldn’t speak, 
but her husband kept praying. 
Then, he finally stopped. We all knew she was gone.
And he broke the silence with these words: 
“I’m heart-broken, but I’m joyful.”

What was that joy? It’s hard to put into words, isn’t it; yet we know.
He and his wife and their children and grandchildren had shared life and love; 
not just on a natural, but a supernatural level.

Death was all too real and cruel, 
but something else is infinitely more real, 
and that is Jesus Christ, and that is hope, and that is joy!
He knew he would see her again, and they would share that joy 
from the very source – in the life of God in heaven.

So we might ask, what steals our joy? Many things, 
including discouragement, resentment, 
and worry about the cares of the world.

If you and I want to, we can find 100 things every day to discourage us. 
Some of us pay too much attention to the news and the blogs. 
That would be me; but I’m not the only one. 
And we all know folks who let it get them down.

It’s just like what happened to Peter: we see the waves crashing 
and the wind howling, and we start to sink.
But it wasn’t the storm that sunk Peter; 
it was looking away from Jesus.

So if these things get you anxious and angry, there is a simple solution: Turn it off!

Our inflated ego that tells us, we need to know; 
it’s what some call “FOMO”: fear of missing out. 
But all that staring and poking at our phones and our computers 
steals our joy and fills us with anxiety. Turn them off! 

Put down that phone and pick up a Rosary.
Stop looking at the screen, and look instead at another human face. 
Human relationships are messy, 
but they are also where real love happens; 
and they are the only possession we can enjoy for eternity. 

This points to another way we lose our joy: 
when we focus on what we lack, and probably will never have, 
rather than on all that has been given to us.

If you feel envy or resentment, here’s an exercise. 
It will work; it will lift your spirit. 
Sit down with a full size piece of paper and a pencil, 
and start writing down everything – every single thing – 
for which you are grateful. Don’t stop till you fill both sides. 

I predict you may struggle at first, but then the dam will break, 
and you’ll run out of paper before you run out of blessings.

If you and I are people of fear or worry, who will want to share that? 
If we are focused on anger, on what’s wrong with the world – 
and plenty is! – then why should people be drawn to that? 

But if your gaze and mine is fixed on Jesus, 
what will shine in our face is the light of heaven, pure joy, 
and people will see that, and will want to know where it comes from.
They will want what we have.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Marriage & sex advice -- from a priest?

Couple celebrates 50th anniversary in same wedding clothes they wore in 1966

Actually not! Rather, from a divorce lawyer and a married woman. I just pass it along.

First the sex advice. I won't link it, because it includes an image that is not pornographic, but is...unseemly. But the author is Meg Conley, and her item appeared November 6, 2014, at the Huffington Post. She titled her article, "5 Reasons You Should Have Sex With Your Husband Every Night," and here are the gist of her five reasons:

1. Being a mother, one of the ultimate expressions of womanhood, can often leave a girl feeling stripped of her femininity. There is something about being covered in spit up and attending to the every need of another human being that makes one feel distinctly gender neutral.... There is something restorative about kissing the boy you love.

2. If you want your husband to act like a man, you need to treat him like a man. Hold the eye rolls.  Women need any number of criteria met to feel loved. Men are far simpler. They need to be fed, they need to be appreciated, and they need to have sex. That is it.

3. You need to have a moment in each day that is just about the two of you. Remember that boy? The one that made your heart thump and hands sweat? The one that called when you hoped he would, that made you run hot and high up to the stars until you thought you would never come down? He is still there. Under the years and bills and worries, that smiling boy is still in love with and needs his smiling girl.

4. Sex relieves stress. I don’t know that this one needs much explanation.

5. It is so much blasted fun.

And here's (some of) the divorce attorney's advice (I left out the last point which I cannot endorse). Joanna Molloy wrote: "10 tips from a world-famous divorce lawyer to save your marriage," but the world-famous lawyer, whose advice is recounted, is Raoul Lionel Felder. This appeared August 9, 2017, in the New York Post; and again, questionable images, so no link:

1. Open your ears.

Take a break from talking about yourself. Ask your spouse how they feel, what happened to them at work that day, what their opinion is on politics, or cars, or food — anything that shows you care about what they have to say. I had one husband who filed for divorce, and on the stand he told the judge, “I love my wife; I just wish she would listen to me.”

The judge then called the wife to the stand and asked her if she still loved her husband. The wife said yes. So judge asked, “Well, would you be willing to start hearing him out? Start really listening?”

“Yes,” said the wife.

My client dropped the divorce action.

2. Quit streaming adult sites.

 -- I've read in many places that porn figures in a lot of divorces; this is surely confirmation.

3. Match your money attitudes.

-- This is a subject I discuss with every couple I help prepare for marriage.

4. Don't cheat.

5. Allow for changing bodies.
Wedding vows should really include “for fatter, for thinner.” This is a delicate area, but I’ve seen real conflict occur when spouses drift into different fitness levels.

6. Go easy on the plastic surgery.

-- Agreed, but is this really a thing for most people? Or just upper-income folks?

7. Don’t travel under tension.

-- Yes, but...doesn't this miss the point? The issue isn't the being together; it's the tension. By all means, be together!

8. Don’t shop together.

9. Act your age. 

People are living longer, and those little blue pills can make men behave in hurtful ways. 

-- This I did not know.

And the tenth? "Get a pre-nup" -- i.e., a prenuptial agreement. That maybe good advice for divorce, but it's terrible advice for marriage, because it means you are planning to fail. And, just so you know, it most likely renders the marriage invalid.

So what do you think of this advice? With the exceptions noted, I think it's pretty sound.

Here's the way I put it: husbands and wives should never stop courting each other. Treat each other as king and queen.

Your thoughts? Your experiences?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

My letter to the Knights of Columbus about Crux

Last week I wrote about an absurd article in Crux that enthusiastically embraced the falsehood that men can turn themselves into women.

This week, Crux is at it again, with an insulting and condescending item that derides converts to the Catholic Faith as "neurotic" because they find fault with some of Pope Francis' approaches. Here's what Father John Zuhlsdorf had to say; here's what Father Tim Finigan, who blogs at The Hermeneutic of Continuity, had to say.

And here's the letter I sent to Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus:

The purpose of this letter is to convey to you my growing concern for the content that I have been reading in Crux, the online publication that the Knights of Columbus decided several months ago to take on as a project. Further, I want to urge you to take a good, hard look at how Crux is being run, and see if you think this is the right use of our funds.

Attached are two examples from recent weeks. First you will find a July 25 article entitled, “Nun ministering to transgender women gets thumbs-up from Pope.” Second, “Pope Francis and the convert problem,” which appeared two days ago. Let me briefly outline my concerns with each. 

Regarding the “Nuns” article: I have a blog, and I wrote something about it, a copy of which is also attached. Briefly, the article fails in a most fundamental way: it treats as true what we know, not even as a matter of faith, but as a matter of fact, to be false. The individuals the nun commendably assisted are not women at all, but men. At no point did the article even bother to explain this; in fact, the article again and again endorsed the proposition that these individuals have indeed become “women.”

Regarding Mr. Ivereigh’s item on the so-called “convert problem.” What “problem”? The problem is in Mr. Ivereigh’s mind. 

To be clear, I am not faulting the author for agreeing with the Holy Father, and disagreeing with those who criticize him. But those points could have been made far better, without the insulting and condescending approach Mr. Ivereigh takes toward people he dismisses as “neurotic.”

I write you, not only as a fellow Catholic and as a parish priest, but also as a fellow 4th degree knight. I’m very proud to be a Knight – my father was a lifelong Knight and he was present for my 3rd degree. I’ve tried always to give the Knights of Columbus every support and I am grateful for the kindness and support of many, many Knights over the years, both as a seminarian and as a priest.

When the Knights of Columbus took on Crux as a project, I was hopeful for what it would accomplish. But lately, I am wondering if this is a good use of what must be a considerable sum of money. To be plain, I think changes are in order, and I hope you will take a good, hard look.

Thank you for your kind attention...

Let me add something I decided not to include in the letter. Not only does Crux surely cost the Knights a lot of money -- I doubt it generates substantial revenue -- but further, I would bet the Knights' move represented a bailout. But for the Knights, I have no doubt Crux would have folded. Crux badly needs the Knights of Columbus as a patron; but I'm hard-pressed to see what the Knights need Crux for.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

If Christ gives you graces, what do you do with them? (Sunday homily)

(My Sunday homily was a mess, at least I thought so. I only came up with some notes about an hour before the first Mass, and I kept reworking them with each Mass. What follows is more or less what I said.)

If there is a theme to my homily, it is this: When Christ gives you graces, what do you do with them?

In the Transfiguration, described in the Gospel, what's happening? Well, two things in particular. First, it shows that Jesus really is God; and, second, that he is truly Israel's promised king and Messiah, as foreshadowed in the Scriptures -- such as the first reading.

But there's something curious -- perhaps you wondered about it: why did Jesus only bring along these three? Why not bring all the Apostles up the mountain to experience this?

We don't really know, but you might notice that these same three are invited to pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane; and we do know that Peter was the leader of the Apostles. So we might guess that James and John were also leaders, and Jesus needed them to be strong for the rest of the Apostles.

Notice something else: if they did what Jesus asked, they couldn't tell anyone, not even the other Apostles!

Sometimes we end up getting invited "inside"; we are called into the meeting, we're given greater responsibility, we have more access and information, and what happens? We get a big head!

Jesus didn't need these Apostles to react that way; he needed them to help the other Apostles.

So: if you are one of those who is given more gifts, or more responsibility, ask yourself: Am I using these to serve the rest? And if not, what will you say to Jesus on Judgment Day?

Now let's look at this from the perspective of the other Apostles. Sometimes we see others being given opportunities we wish we'd gotten. We see others called in, and we're on the outside. And what happens? Envy, resentment, a bad attitude.

We don't know if that's how the Apostles reacted in this case, but they might have. And, again, that's not what Jesus needed them to do. We do know that after the Resurrection, they worked together to launch the Church, and it might have been different if they'd had a bad attitude.

So again, if we find ourselves resenting the fact that others are given opportunities we don't get, what will we say to Jesus if we let a bad attitude get in the way of the mission Jesus gave us?

A third point occurs to me. Normally, Jesus presented himself to everyone in his ordinary humanity; but then this moment happens, and his inner reality is fully on display. What if that happened to you or me? If people got to see, not just the outside, but all the inside, too. How does that sound?

I'm not so sure I want that! You and I both know that on any given occasion, we might not want what's inside, on display. Will it be brilliant light--or darkness?

But Jesus wants us to be filled with light. He never shows us anything he doesn't want to share with us. You see, none of us is an outsider; we've all been given access, and invited up onto the mountain. Jesus has given this to us in baptism, and he renews that light in us in every sacrament.

When we go to confession, we are filled with his light. But that takes an act of faith; and many people struggle to believe that Jesus really does take away our sins -- but that is exactly what he does. And when we receive Holy Communion in a state of grace, we receive that Light at the source.

Jesus has given us such graces and opportunities. What do we do with them?

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Eucharistic Prayer Facing Heaven, not the People

This is a slight reworking of my bulletin column for the upcoming Sunday.

In June, the Archbishop gathered all the priests of the Archdiocese for a three-day convocation; this happens every five years. The topic was the seven sacraments; and in the course of answering questions, the speaker made a point that I want to share with you about the Eucharistic Prayer. And it is this: that the focus of the prayer – the one to whom the words are directed – is God the Father in heaven.

Why is this important?

Because many people think the prayer is addressed to them. Indeed, they have been encouraged to think so! Howso? Because many, many priests treat this prayer as an exposition, and a kind of sacred “show and tell.” If you’ve been at a Mass where a priest tends to do this, this is what happens: the priest is standing at the altar, but his gaze, his focus, is on the assembly. And when he comes to the part that recalls Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper, he will treat this as a kind of re-enactment of those events.

But that is not what is going on. Instead, what is happening is the priest is speaking to God the Father, in heaven; and the prayer is recalling what Christ did at the Last Supper (and on Good Friday, and on Easter, for that matter). Moreover, the focus on the Father in heaven begins several minutes earlier, but you may not have noticed.

The most decisive shift* comes after the priest has placed the bread and wine on the altar, perhaps incensing them, and then washed his hands, what does he do? He looks at the people (and turns toward them, if he is not facing them at that moment), and says, “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours be acceptable to God the almighty Father.” And what do you say? “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of his holy Church.”

It is at this point when the priest begins addressing God the Father at length; and then, when all have said or sung “Amen,” he invites everyone to join in the prayer to the Father. This is when the priest sings or says, “Lift up your hearts,” etc. Then the priest prays another prayer – to the Father – and then all sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” – again…to the Father. And after that, the priest prays the Eucharistic Prayer – alone – to the Father.

Here’s why this matters: it is important to realize that what we are doing at Mass is not merely or mainly “horizontal” – i.e., directed toward one another – but much more “vertical” – i.e., directed toward heaven. Mass isn’t just talk, talk, talk; but rather, it is action, action, action – by the Holy Trinity. People wonder why folks don’t come to Mass – I think this is a big reason why.

Now, I don’t want to make other priests out to be bad guys. They are trying to be helpful. What’s more, this is what they were taught to do. And…this is why the direction the priest faces at this point of the Mass matters.

Most people have only experienced the priest facing them across the altar; they don’t realize that there is any option. In fact, there is: the priest has the option of offering Mass at the altar while facing the same way as the people (aka, ad orientem). Some say the priest has his “back” to the people, but this emphasizes the wrong thing: where is his face turned? The same ways as yours!

My point being, that having the priest facing the same way as the people – at this very point of the Mass – can do a lot to clarify what’s going on. When the priest faces the people, it’s very easy for both him, and the people facing him, to think that the focus is on each other. Whereas, when the priest and the people are facing the same way, together, then it’s much clearer who the focus is: it is God, and what we look for him to do for us.

FYI, in order to give more parishioners a chance to experience this, at the 7 pm Mass on Tuesday, August 15, for the Assumption, I will offer the Mass in this fashion: meaning, when I am at the altar for the sacrifice, I will use the high altar. I realize this will be unfamiliar to some, and also that some may not prefer it – but give it a try. And do let me know your reactions, whether pro or con.

* In reality, the entire Mass is focused on the Father; but when you have readings proclaimed to the assembly, and a homily, this is obscured. (And readers who prefer the Traditional Latin Mass are smiling knowingly right now.) The point I'm making is that, in the context of the Ordinary Form, there is a distinct moment when the heavenly focus should be crystal clear.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Seek the Treasure -- Mary will help (Sunday homily)

There are times when what our Lord Jesus said in the Gospel 
doesn’t need very much explanation. Today is one of those days.

You and I know what the treasure is that he speaks of. 
He, himself, is that treasure. In one parable, 
the fellow stumbles upon it; and that happens to us. 
Sometimes we are going along in life, 
and a crisis or an illness changes changes everything, 
and we suddenly that how thin and worthless 
are things we used to chase after.

In the other parable, 
only after a long search does the merchant finally discover 
the pearl worth having. A lot of us have spent our lives 
looking for meaning, and we try everything. Nothing really satisfies.

The treasure is Jesus himself: knowing him, and being with him.

But here’s the thing Jesus wanted to make very clear, 
so he repeated it: you and I don’t just pick up the treasure; 
someone doesn’t just give us the pearl. 
Everything goes on the line. It takes effort and full commitment. 
We trade in everything else we value.

Lots of people know God exists – and they believe Jesus is the Messiah. 
They think believing in God is a good thing. 
Lots of parents figure that having some religion in the family, 
exposing their kids to some faith, is good for them, 
sort of like exercise and fresh fruit. 

But that’s not what Jesus was talking about in the Gospel. 
He’s talking about going all in.

Only when we really put something on the line, do we really know him. 
Not know about him, but knowing him. That changes everything.

Here’s the really good news: you and I don’t have to search. 
We know where the treasure is. Jesus is right here, in our Faith, 
in our Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in the Holy Eucharist; 
he is as close as our own hearts.*

This Friday evening, we have a special opportunity to draw close to him. 
Every First Friday, we have Mass at 7 pm, and after that, 
we have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. 
We have a group of folks who are keeping vigil, all night, 
until Mass on Saturday morning. 

That means the church will be open all night, 
and anyone can come and pray. 
We have been doing this for several months, 
and the focus is to draw close to the two hearts: 
that is, the heart of Mary, and the heart of Jesus. 

Mary conceived Jesus in her heart by faith, 
and then in her womb by the Holy Spirit. 
Mary’s heart is like that field: 
the treasure of Jesus’ heart is hidden there for us to discover.

As I say, we do this every month on the First Friday. 
Yes, this is the Traditional Latin Mass, 
so that will be unfamiliar to some. 
But we have booklets you can use to follow along.
And after all, what did we just say: that seeking Christ takes effort; 
we don’t discover the pearl of great price easily.

This First Friday we will have something special: 
a statue of our Lady of Fatima, blessed by Pope Francis, 
one of several traveling the world, 
as a focal point of devotion and prayer. 

We will honor Mary in a special way on Friday evening – 
you can see the details in the bulletin – 
and we will renew the consecration of this parish to our Lady, 
which I know Father Amberger made some years ago.

Now, there are a lot of ways to look at this. 
It’s First Friday and First Saturday, 
and there are devotions and indulgences associated with that, 
as promised by the Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque 
and promised by Mary to the children at Fatima. 

In addition, this is the 100th year since Mary visited Fatima, 
and through her visit, God set great things in motion. 
While the end of the Cold War was a tremendous confirmation 
of what Mary told us at Fatima, there is a sense that there’s more. 

We don’t know just what, but we can plainly see 
there are forces at work in our world that are anti-Christ 
and anti-Church, and we know what Mary said: 
in the end, her Immaculate Heart will triumph. 

Mary is the one chosen by heaven to bring the Messiah. 
And today is a good time to remember what Mary said at Fatima: 
"If men knew what eternity is, 
they would do everything to change their lives." 
To give everything – to have the Pearl of Great Price.

So this year seems like a powerful time to turn to Mary, 
and ask her to help us turn back to her Son.

But in the end, it’s all about the treasure 
that Mary doesn’t hide from us, but rather, holds out to us constantly: 
her Son, our brother and our Savior and Lord. 
He is what we long for, and what is worth giving up everything to have.

* Update: the words in a different color were added at Mass.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Crux (with KofC dollars) pretends not to know what a woman is

Here's the headline at Crux (paid for by the Knights of Columbus, of which I am a proud 4th degree member):

Nun ministering to transgender women 
gets thumbs-up from Pope

There's just one problem: the individuals the nun is assisting are not women.

OK, so maybe don't focus on the headline; headlines have to be brief. So let's look at the body of the article. Surely at some point, this publication will explain that "trangender woman" means a man who believes himself to be a woman, and presents himself to the world as such.

No -- in fact, neither the world "men" or "male" ever appears in the article. But women appears a lot.

Just to be crystal clear: the issue isn't the nun, or the pope. (Indeed, the pope, with somewhat convoluted language, actually makes a little clearer what Crux cannot bring itself to clarify.) I'm not objecting to the nun helping these individuals; she seems to be doing wonderful things.

And, this doesn't have to be handled in a heavy-handed way. Here's what you do:

- Put "transgender women" in quotes whenever used. And use that term sparingly.
- Explain early on what this term means, perhaps as I did, above.
- If you don't want to refer to these individuals as males or men in subsequent references (admittedly, it can be confusing or cumbersome), then refer to them as "individuals" or "people" or "the group" or "the participants in the program."

Look: I understand that our society is marching along in this fools' parade, embracing a lie about basic biology, because that's what compassion supposedly requires. But tell me why a Catholic publication needs to go along with that? Why do the Knights of Columbus need to pay for it?

To put it another way: if Catholics start participating in the lie, what hope does truth have?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The wheat and the weeds: two ways to understand the parable (Sunday homily)

There are two ways to take this Gospel passage: 
as it applies to each of us personally, 
and as it applies to society as a whole. 

Let’s start with the personal sense, 
which is to see the field as our own lives. 
And you and I, by our choices, sow either good seed or bad, 
so that we struggle to see whether the field of our soul 
will be full of virtue, 
or will it be crowded out with the weeds of vice and sin.

I was reading a book by Father Basil Maturin, 
an Irish priest from a century ago, who talks about this parable. 
It was he who saw the field as our own lives. 

Father Maturin asked, “How often, as we look into our souls, 
and wonder at the evil we find there, do we not ask ourselves” 
where do these tares – these weeds – come from? 
Where do our sinful habits and the trials that go with them, 
come from? 

You and I struggle with laziness, with wrath, with lust, with greed, 
and it seems as though these sins crowd out virtue in our lives. 
And the answer is, “An enemy has done this.”

Now, the point is not that the devil makes us do it. 
No matter what anyone says or thinks, 
no matter what you see in movies, 
the devil cannot make anyone choose evil. 

The enemy makes suggestions, even very alluring suggestions – 
but you and I make the choice, and the evil seed is sown in our lives. 
So there seems an obvious point to be made: 
that you and I cannot be too careful about what evil 
we allow the enemy to sow in our lives. 

It doesn’t take much time given to the Internet, 
going to dark places, to allow a foul habit to take deep root. 

There are folks who think this isn’t any big deal. 
Let me tell you: there is a growing number of people – 
more men than women, but women too – 
who are finding it harder and harder to have a healthy relationship with the opposite sex 
because of pornography. 
It is damaging marriages and contributing to divorce. 

So it’s vital to guard our eyes against what is degrading; 
our ears from gossip and poisonous words of envy; 
our heart from envy and wrath; our stomach from gluttony.

Of course, a lot of us would say, too late! 
These weeds are already in my life! 
We are frustrated to face these same weeds, 
week after week throughout our lives. 
Why doesn’t the Lord simply tear them out, when we beg him to do so?

Sometimes it happens: we have a moment of conversion 
and we receive the grace to completely overcome that bad habit; 
the weeds are, indeed, ripped out. But guess what often happens? 
The person who, with great effort, overcomes a bad habit, 
only to slowly slide back into it. 

As much as we hate it, for virtue to grow in our lives, 
you and I often need this struggle; 
just as it takes hard, physical labor to build our lungs and our muscles.

When you find it discouraging to go to confession, again, and again,
with the same sin – realize, that is exactly the medicine you need. 
It is the enemy who says, you can’t fight the weeds, 
just let them grow.

Now, there is a more familiar way to take this passage. 
That is to see the field as the world, 
and some people are wheat, to be gathered into heaven, 
and some are weeds, who do evil and face the fire of hell.

No doubt you have had a similar reaction as I have. 
We will be confronted with some terrible evil, 
or people who seem devoted to evil, and we wonder: 
why, God, do you allow it to go on? 

And one answer comes from the first reading: 
God is very patient, way more patient than we are. 
God has plans for quite a lot of the weeds to become wheat. 

And that patience isn’t just for others – it is for you and me as well. 
If we are honest, at any given moment, which are we? 
You and I want to be wheat, 
but we like being with the weeds a lot more than we care to admit. 

We know God’s great harvest is coming someday; 
we just hope it doesn’t happen 
before we get to church and get in line for confession!

And that is exactly how to get out of the weeds and back to the wheat: 
and the more frequently we get to confession, the better.

Since we know that our Lord desires to turn weeds into wheat, 
then we know that he wants us to help in that mission. 
And we do that best by letting people see virtue in our own lives; 
when they see that we strive to be people of virtue, 
our example gives them courage.

In a few minutes, you and I will be given the gift God’s Wheat, 
the very Body and Blood of our Lord. 
Jesus gives himself to us, day by day, week by week, 
so that you and I can become what we receive. 
Not without struggle, but with abundant grace 
and far more patience than we can tolerate, 
he will make us what he wants us to be.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Spadaro, ISIS and the Knights of Columbus

You have probably heard about this article by Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor-in-chief of the influential Rome-based Jesuit publication La Civiltà Cattolica, and Marcelo Figueroa, the editor-in-chief of the Argentinean edition of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. Father John Zuhlsdorf has done a great job aggregating lots of critical commentary, which his most recent item here. Scroll down his page for more items.

One one side you have "progressives," led by the National "Catholic" Reporter, applauding this "blockbuster" attack on American Catholics (that is to say, those the writers deem the wrong sort); on the other side, you have a pretty wide range of voices, the most prominent being Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, pointing out the profound problems with the article. Sad to see Mark Shea jumping on the progressive bandwagon, but all the rest are what you would expect.

Here's an item in Crux -- funded by the Knights of Columbus -- that compares two points of view. But here's just one quote from Austen Ivereigh, who used to be the editor of the Tablet -- the UK version of the N"C"R. After he admits the many errors of the article, here's what he identifies as the heart of it's analysis of how the wrong-sort Catholics in the U.S. see the world:

"Frankly, it’s a narrative that’s very close to that of ISIS."

Get that? When you and I seek to oppose the secular push to remake society, to impose a new vision of human nature (which is what the redefinition of marriage and "gender theory" is all about), we are "very close to...ISIS" -- ISIS being those folks who throw gay people off the tops of buildings and give 30 lashes to schoolboys for playing soccer and sell girls into slavery.

Oh, and let me say something to my brother Knights of Columbus. Figueroa and Spadaro were pretty clumsy in their screed, but they were clever enough to avoid two targets that would have blown the whole thing. One of them is Ronald Reagan, as Fr. Z points out in the link above. The other is you, Knights of Columbus. The authors know it would be suicide to attack you directly, and by name. Why? Because the Knights of Columbus' prosperity and success generates a lot of money that pays the bills in Rome. A LOT of money.

But make no mistake, they are including you, brother Knights, in this smear. The authors attack those who seek to bring Catholic teaching into public policy, particularly regarding ending abortion and opposing the redefinition of marriage. The authors warn ominously about patriotism that talks too much about God, rolling their eyes, for example, at the national motto, "In God We Trust."

They are hitting the Knights of Columbus, but they don't dare come out and say so. Read the article and tell me you don't agree.

Update: I fixed one of the links, and corrected the name of the former Tablet editor.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Something new for dinner...

Tonight I have some seminarians coming for dinner. It started with one seminarian from a former parish, calling to invite me to dinner, and I persuaded him to let me be his host instead; when he's a priest, he can take me to dinner. Until then, he belongs to, and benefits from, the "Feed-a-seminarian" program.

I invited the two seminarians from this parish to join me -- one could not -- and then another seminarian sent me an email about something else, and I invited him as well.

So, what to cook?

I looked through some recipes I'd saved from Facebook, and found this one. So on Monday, I got what I needed at the store, and a bit ago, I started on it.

First I whipped up the marinade:

I was going to show more pictures of me pouring things in, but I had trouble with the camera on my tablet. It helps if you mash the correct button! I did substitute some garlic paste I already had, for the grated garlic called for. (FYI -- if you click on the video at the link, it will take you to the recipe.) I also goofed and used table salt instead of kosher salt. Oh well.

After mixing up the marinade, I sliced and pounded out the flank steak:

When I was doing it, I got the sinking feeling I'd done it wrong; but now that I see the video, it looks pretty much the same. So next, the meat and marinade go in a big, plastic bag:

I squished it first to get almost all the air out, and then to distribute the marinade; then it went into the fridge. After that?

 First round of dishes. Always clean as you go, if you can.

Now to make the Herb sauce...

Whoops! Not yet. When I came back to the kitchen, I saw the potatoes all washed and ready to go, so I decided to finish preparing them. I worked from this recipe, but modified it a little; I threw in some garlic and red pepper, just because. Here are the cut up potatoes, which I'll spread out on a baking pan after Mass.

 Then I worked on the herb sauce, but I am rushing a bit, so I didn't take any pictures. It's all ready, too. Now I wait for the meat to continue marinading, and then I'll prepare it, before I head over to church for Mass. My plan is to have everything ready to throw in the oven, or on the grill, as soon as I get back from Mass.

So what's left? I have some squash I'm going to saute with some olive oil, salt and pepper; I'll cut that up before Mass if I have time, otherwise I can do that while everything else is cooking.

(Time lapse while I work at my desk...imagine theme from "Jeopardy"...)

OK, now it's 5:40 pm, so I have a few minutes to add a little before Mass...

I just got the flank steak mopped up, layered out, rolled and tied up, thus:

It's a little messier than I wanted; the meat tore a little when I pounded it out, so we'll see what happens when I grill it. For the time being, I covered it with foil and shoved it into the fridge. Right after Mass we'll cook it all up, plus the squash, still to cut up and saute. Check back for more pictures (maybe)!

Update, next day...

Sorry, no pictures. When everything was ready, there was no time to fool around with the camera. But everything turned out pretty well. I left the roast on the grill a few minutes too long, but it was pretty tasty. If I do this next time, I'll marinate it longer. The potatoes were done a little early, so they ended up a little crispy, but still good. The zucchini and squash was just right. We had some leftover wine. And, if any of this seems too pricey, I'll just point out that this was flank steak (a cheap cut), potatoes (cheap), zucchini and squash were donated. The wine was probably about $14, and I paid for that. The one real extravagance was the cheesecake, but that'll last several days. I did buy too much basil and parsley; the basil I'll use later this week, as I plan to make some sauce. The leftover parsley will probably go to waste -- it cost 50 cents a bunch.

One seminarian didn't make it for dinner; he was baling hay with his family until about 10 pm.

Mysterious lights and shadows in the sky!

Father John Zuhlsdorf finds the coolest stuff...

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Vatican says what 'bread' and 'wine' mean for communion; liberal heads explode

I hate to admit this, but I regularly visit the website of the so-called National Catholic Reporter (perhaps better titled, National Schismatic Reporter, or National "Catholic" Distorter--you get the idea). If it's so bad, why do I read it? Well, two reasons: first, because as bad as it is, it does actually "report" some stories; two, because it's helpful to get different perspectives. And, I confess, for a third reason: sometimes the progressives' unconscious self-parody is hilarious -- if not in the actual articles, then certainly in the comments.

So, today, I read an item there about the Vatican reiterating what has been true for as long as anyone knows: the bread and wine for Holy Communion must be, respectively, wheat bread and grape wine, with nothing added. Mindful that some people have health issues with gluten, and others with alcohol in wine, the document spells out that it is legitimate to use bread with extremely low levels of gluten -- but not without gluten; and similarly, something called mustum, which is wine in which fermentation has begun, but then immediately stopped, so as to yield an infinitesimal alcoholic content. But, the Vatican insists, if no alcohol, it's not wine; grape juice is not wine; and wine made from other than grapes is not the wine Jesus used, so that's a no-go as well. Similarly, if no gluten, it's not wheat bread; and if it's made from other than wheat, it's not the bread Jesus used, so no-go again.

And to be very clear: that means not only is it naughty; it means, it is invalid matter for the sacrament, meaning no sacrament at all. If at Mass tonight (I would never do this!) I brought over a loaf of, say, cornbread, and a bottle of elderberry wine, my praying the Eucharistic prayer would have no effect; there would be no transubstantiation, no sacrament, no Mass. Which is why I wouldn't do it, and if I did, I most likely would never have a chance to do it again.

Here are some choice comments from the N"C"R item (there are nearly 200 comments -- that itself is sadly comical):

Frankly, I am fed up with the insistence that gluten is a required element, but the health and well being of the recipients is irrelevant. These men are not medical experts. Do I actually need to explain the non sequitur here?

...its authentic spiritual validity has nothing to do with its ingredients. It minimalizes the Eucharist by focusing on its earthly matter rather than on what matters.

It never ceases to amaze. These men in the Vatican seem to have no clue whatsoever as to the meaning of the eucharist - of Jesus' meaning when he asked his followers to remember him in this particular way. One hopes that someday at least a few of them will make the breakthrough and begin to understand Jesus' message.

If Jesus had come to 21st century US, He probably would have consecrated pizza and coke. In 1st century Palestine He used the familiar items at hand. I defy anyone to tell me that God does not accept gluten-free hosts as the Body (and Blood) of His Son. It is the faith of His children which confirms the Sacred Mystery, not the grain content of the materials (Emphasis added.)  And...that's Calvinism!

As you are male, you never had to wear a Kleenex on your head in church when you forgot your beret/beanie/hat/scarf!  NB: this tells you what all the caterwauling is really about.

OK, that's enough to give you a sense of things. Along the way, one commenter, without intending to, actually explained quite well why the Church does this:

The Last Supper was a Passover meal, which required the use of unleavened wheat bread.

And, of course, wine made from grapes. And that's all this is about: determining some definition for what counts as "bread" and "wine."

What fascinates me is the "it doesn't matter" argument some used: in effect, who cares what is used for the Mass; why not "pizza and coke"? But then I have to ask: why does the Eucharist matter...at all? If the Eucharist can be anything, then it doesn't actually have to be...anything--right? It can be water; it can be air. If definitions are exclusionary and "scrupulosity," then of course, we must get rid of definitions.

Yeah, it makes my head hurt too.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Three lessons from a friend's sudden death

Every few weeks, I get an email from the Archdiocese regarding the death of a priest. Because I know of many elderly priests facing difficulties, such emails, while sad, are not surprising. But I was positively shocked to get one with the name of Father Chris Coleman, my friend who was in the seminary with me, and who was ordained in 2006. The last time I talked to him, a few weeks ago, we had vague plans to get together for dinner. He was 50.

The news reports indicate that he had just finished a round of golf on Sunday afternoon -- it was a beautiful day! -- and he was riding in a car with someone else driving. The driver lost control of the car, it flipped over, and Father Coleman died of the injuries. I don't know anything more about the circumstances, and nothing about what follows is in any way a hint or suggestion about what I think those circumstances are.

Yesterday afternoon I was out driving myself, after learning this terrible news, and three lessons in particular came to the fore:

1. Driving is serious business: respect it.

Nothing defines freedom quite like having a driver's license and a car. We all know older friends or family members who have had to give up driving, and it's a very difficult thing to do. I can remember when I first began driving, and I was a nervous wreck. My first few years driving, I wasn't that great a driver: I had several speeding tickets and few fender-benders; thankfully, nothing too serious. In my more mature years, I have managed to leave all that behind.

So it's easy to get to become blase about driving, forgetting that we are behind the wheels of something weighing close to a ton, capable of being propelled at speeds well over 100 miles per hour. In my lifetime, this casualness has been abetted by a succession of safety measures and conveniences. When I learned to drive in 1978, the car didn't have power steering or power brakes; it was an automatic transmission, but this was still deemed an upgrade from "standard" (i.e., clutch) transmission. Only in 1968 were seat belts mandated for cars, and I can remember riding in cars that didn't have them. Airbags seem like an "only yesterday" sort of thing; and there are many other ways cars are so much safer than they used to be. Injuries and deaths from car accidents were far more common in the past than today. It is very easy today to think of the car practically driving itself (and that's not science fiction anymore), and to allow bad habits to creep in.

Just because bad things don't happen most of the time, doesn't mean they won't happen to you. There used to be a thing called "defensive driving." If you don't know what it is, look it up: it can save your life. The techniques I'm talking about, I learned in driver's ed almost 40 years ago; and while I confess I don't always follow them, I know I'm stupid not to. Things like keeping alert behind the wheel, all the time, keeping an assured distance between your vehicle and whoever is in front of you, and paying attention to what's going on further down the road. Common sense stuff.

Driving is awesome, in all senses. Take it seriously.

2. Driving and alcohol don't mix. It's no secret that in this rural part of Ohio, drinking is a favorite pastime, even for many in their teenage years. A lot of adults wink at it. It's how a lot of folks spend their weekends.

I might point out that getting drunk is a mortal sin, because you are doing serious damage to your ability to make right judgments. To put it simply, drinking causes bad decisions to cascade; and it makes it a lot more likely you'll end up in a situation you may regret the rest of your life, or even seeing your life dramatically altered...or simply ended.

Also, realize that the legal limit for alcohol if you are driving is .08% blood alcohol, which is notably below what it takes, for many (if not most) people, to be "drunk." That is to say, you stop being legally qualified to drive a car well before you sense that you are snockered. Just because you know people who drove "buzzed" or drunk, and came out OK, doesn't confer any magic on you. Only a few months ago, a young man died along Versailles Road one night after drinking too much, and driving.

3. Death can come anytime for anyone. Be ready. Although airplane travel is far safer than driving, there is something about take-off and landing to focus the mind, at least for me. I have been on a plane when I knew I needed to go to confession, and made the most heartfelt act of contrition when it started shaking a bit from turbulence. On the other hand, there is nothing like the feeling of being absolved and being in a state of grace.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Dreadful hope (Sunday homily)

Stop and think a moment about what we just heard in the Gospel. 
Think about what Jesus said, especially in light of who he is.

He is God in human flesh. The Creator of all things. 
The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

And how did an all-powerful, all-seeing, 
all-knowing God describe himself?

“I am meek and humble of heart.”

“I am meet and humble of heart.”

The first and most basic of the seven deadly sins is pride. 
I can do this. I don’t need your help. I know what I’m doing. 
I need to be the one to fix this. It’s all on me!

Pride. We all have it, and I fear for myself, 
because I think see in myself only a small fraction of all that there is.
Arrogance. Self-sufficiency.

The other day the toilet in the church bathroom was clogged. 
Lucky me, I happened upon it! 
And my thought was, ew! why should I have to deal with this? 
Then I said to myself, “Seriously? Why not me?”

Especially when I think of all the messes 
my parents cleaned up for me – 
and all the filth we ask God to clean up.

“I am meek and humble of heart,” Jesus said. 
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.”

If there is any hope for you, for me – any hope at all – 
it is that we must give up our pride, our self-sufficiency, 
and learn from him. 

Maybe a start will be to ask: 
help me, Lord, to see my pride, and to confess it, and to repent of it. 
Help me to be meek and humble of heart.

I am certain he will answer that prayer. 
And I suspect it will come in ways often unpleasant. 

Bishop Joe Binzer one time said this, to a group of priests, 
about those people we sometimes meet who give them terrible fits. 
He said, be grateful, because they are helping you to grow in holiness! 

I dread the thought of what price I might have to pay 
to become truly meek and humble of heart; 
but I am filled with horror at the alternative, 
and I beg Jesus in his mercy, to save me:
to make me meek and humble, like him.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Starting Liturgy of the Hours in the parish

Last week, after some planning, we began praying the Liturgy of the Hours -- aka, the Divine Office or the Breviary. I lead it at 7:30 am, which means we end before the Rosary, which usually starts about 7:45 am; Mass is at 8:15 am (that is, excepting Wednesday when it's at 6:15 pm).

Some of the planning involved deciding what books to order; I got the slender, "Shorter Christian Prayer," which will be the easiest to use, most of the time; but it has only the major feast days, omitting most saints' days. There are a few times when it will be a little clunky, as was the case on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. We didn't have the proper readings or antiphons which are recited before the psalms, but we made the best of it.

After a week, how is it going? Not bad. We have about four or five people taking part, which is what I expected. And, as expected, it's a little confusing, but we're making it work. I'm explaining things along the way.

So what is the ‘Liturgy of the Hours’? As the name implies, it is liturgical prayer; meaning, it is the corporate prayer of the whole Church; and it is about sanctifying time – so it is customarily prayed at different hours of the day. Like the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours – also known as the Breviary or the Daily Office – is filled with Scripture; mostly psalms, as a matter of fact.

While there are many forms of prayer, all Christian prayer can be sorted into two categories: “public” and “private.”

Examples of public prayer are all liturgical: Holy Mass, Exposition of the Eucharist, the celebration of sacraments, and the Liturgy of the Hours. They are “public” in this sense: that when a sacred minister – i.e., a bishop, priest or deacon – leads these prayers, the whole Church is praying, even if it’s only happening in Russia, Ohio. When I take a day of rest, and when I go on vacation, I will offer Mass on my own, usually with no one else present. And yet, the whole Church, in a sense, offers that Mass, because Christ himself offers it, through the priest.

This explains why a priest is not free to modify parts of the Mass (or any other liturgical prayer), beyond the options provided. No Mass, offered by me, ever “belongs” to me. Nor does it belong to the people attending it; that’s why if people ask me, “Oh, can’t you do such-and-such on this special occasion?” My answer is the same: I am not free to change the Mass to suit me, or you, or anyone.

The term “private” prayer applies both to traditional devotions, such as the Rosary, as well as spontaneous prayers, either alone or in groups. This doesn’t make them less meaningful, nor does it mean they aren’t powerful; it means they don’t represent an action of the Church as a whole in the way liturgical prayer is.

The heart of the Divine Office is Scripture – specifically, the psalms. And, although we will mostly recite this prayer, it (like the Mass) is meant to be sung. The psalms are the “hymnbook” of the Bible – they were used in the Temple of the Old Covenant, or when people made pilgrimages to the temple. In fact, the first verse of many psalms contains directions on how the psalms were to be sung. For example, Psalm 4 begins: “For the leader; with stringed instruments”; Psalm 5 refers to “wind instruments”; and some refer to melodies which are lost to us.

There are different accounts of how the Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office originated; but there is no doubt that just as the early Church gathered to pray the Holy Mass, it also prayed the psalms daily. After all, the early Church was heavily Jewish. Just as Jews, then and now, will pray at different times of day, so the Divine Office does the same. Over the centuries, the Divine Office came to be seen as primarily a prayer for bishops and priests, and was chanted by them in the larger churches, or in monasteries. From time to time it has been modified, most recently at the same time that the Mass was reformed in the 1970s. In recent years, there has been a renewed effort to involve laity in the Liturgy of the Hours again. When I was ordained, I promised to offer this prayer every day, with the people if possible, but for the people in any case. So...that's what I'm trying to do.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

'Who is a prophet, and what do they do?' (Sunday homily)

Prophet Elisha, striking the River Jordan (2 Kings 2:14)
The readings raise a question about prophets.
In the first reading, we have the Prophet Elisha. 
And in the Gospel, our Lord Jesus promises that 
“whoever receives a prophet, receives a prophet’s reward.”

So the question we might consider: 
Who is a prophet, and what do they do?

Let’s start with what a prophet does. 
Contrary to what many people think, 
in the Bible, prophecy is not primarily about predicting the future.
Sometimes that is what prophets do, but not necessarily, 
and most of the time, that is not actually what they do.

The essence of a prophet is that he or she is sent to speak for God; 
to speak God’s Word. 
That is what a prophet is: the one who says, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

In the Bible, prophets were often anointed, like kings and priests. 
And in any case, they were understood to be “anointed” 
by the Spirit of God.

All the prophets of the Old Testament, however, 
were ultimately pointers toward the final and definitive prophet, 
and that is Jesus Christ. 

In the letter to the Hebrews, it says
“In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways 
to our ancestors through the prophets” – 
but “in these last days, he spoke to us through a son.” 
Jesus, in who he is, what he says and does, 
is God’s complete and final word to humanity.

There are other religions that claim to add to what Jesus gave us. 
Mormonism claims that, and so does Islam. 
But our answer as Christians is, no, 
all that God is going to reveal to humanity, has been revealed.

So when people have visions of saints or of Mary, 
these are called “private revelation” – meaning, they don’t add anything. 
That doesn’t mean they aren’t true or worthwhile, 
but for example when Mary spoke at Fatima or Lourdes, 
she added nothing to what we already had 
from Jesus and the Apostles and the Bible.

So are there still prophets? Why does Jesus talk about them?

That brings us to what St. Paul was talking about in the second reading; 
that is, the sacrament of baptism. 

A lot of people way misunderstand what baptism really is.
They think it’s just a special sort of blessing or ritual. 
Baptism is way, way, way more than that.

In baptism, we become part of Christ, and therefore, 
we share in his office of priest, prophet, and king.
The Church is the Body of Christ;
the designated leaders of the Church, the pope and bishops, 
have the authority to teach in Jesus’ name.

But each one of us belongs to Christ, 
so each of us has a prophetic role: 
that is, to speak God’s Word and make it known.
But there’s more. This isn’t just a hat we wear on Sundays.
You and I became entirely new people in baptism. 
We were born again, as Jesus told Nicodemus.

As we just heard Paul say: 
do you not realize that when you were baptized, you died? 
You died with Christ! That means several things. 
It means that we are dying to sin and to the sinful ways of the world.
It means we are embracing Jesus’ death, 
in order to gain access to the Resurrection. 
It means we are taking up the Cross and embracing it.

This is a time to talk about something 
that happens in different ways for all of us, including me.
At some point, everyone will say, 
“God, what you’re asking of me is too hard.” And it is hard.

So God asks people to wait until marriage, 
and to remain open to the gift of life in marriage – 
meaning, no contraception.
God asks people to persevere in marriage – no remarriage.
God asks men and women who, 
because their feelings go a different way, 
to remain chaste as single people, 
if they can’t marry the opposite sex.

Yes, that’s only one of the Commandments, the Sixth.
But these particular truths are ones that, today, our Catholic Church, 
almost alone, proclaims before an incredulous world that says, 
along with many incredulous Christians who likewise say:

Where does this come from? What kind of God asks this of us?

And the answer is in today’s Gospel. The One who said:
If you want to be my disciple, take up your Cross and come with me. 
And when he said “Cross,” he didn’t mean an item of jewelry.

I don’t mean to minimize the trials and challenges. They are real.
But I am saying this to anyone who claims it can’t be true 
because it’s too hard: I don’t know what Christianity, 
what Jesus Christ, you have in mind, 
but it’s not the Jesus of the Gospels.
He never said, follow me, so long as it isn’t too demanding.
Follow me, as long as it doesn’t interfere too much.

And yet, isn’t this supposed to be Good News. 
This sounds like gloom and doom. 
Well, it is Good News, because of what else Jesus just told us:
Whoever tries to save his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

So back to the question I posed at the beginning: Who is a prophet, and what do they do?

You and I are prophets, and what we do is face a choice for ourselves,
which we also present to the world:
Live for yourself, and in the end, that’s all you’ll have.
Live for Christ, live for others, and you will have your sins forgiven, 
a new life, both here and hereafter in the glory of heaven.

You have heard me talk about being intentional disciples, real disciples, 
and helping others to become committed disciples of Christ. 
And you’re going to keep hearing me talk about it.

That’s what this is. 
You and I were baptized into a new life, the life of the Holy Trinity. 
We were enlisted as Cross-bearers, 
marching through this life with Heaven’s Glory reflected in our gaze. 
We fall down, we get back up. 
We get insults or bruises along the way, we give a blessing and keep going.

This is what we signed up for. 
This is what it means to be a follower of Christ.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Being a priest isn't always easy or fun, but it's always awesome

I wrote this for the parish bulletin on the occasion of the priestly ordinations in May. I meant to share it here sooner. I edited out some parish information that doesn't need to be here.

By the time you read this, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr will have ordained three new priests for the Archdiocese: Rev. David Doseck, Rev. Peter Langenkamp, and Rev. Alex Witt. I’m writing this ahead of time; I plan to be at the Ordination Mass myself. These are fine men becoming priests.

Although I can’t always do it, I try to attend the priestly ordination Mass every year. It’s getting harder to find priests who can cover my obligations here, so that I can attend, which is a reminder that we need more priests. And, while these three are fine men, we really need to be ordaining 10-15 a year in order to turn things around. At this point, we’re keeping things steady, but not improving.

Last week, I had two interesting questions about the priesthood. The first came when I was teaching the first-graders about some of the things we do at Mass; one child asked, “is it fun being a priest?” The short answer is, lots of things are “fun,” but I also explained that some of the best things about being a priest aren’t “fun” but certainly powerful and rewarding: visiting people who are sick, counseling people in trouble, and helping people come back to Christ.

On Tuesday evening, I was with some men of the parish, and they asked what is “hardest” about being a priest. We talked about several things, but what stood out to me – and which I tried to stress – was that what is most difficult isn’t what people imagine. One time I had to anoint a woman while on the operating table, with open-heart surgery. Another time, I was asked to pray over a man who’d died, and who wasn’t found for several days. Several times, I’ve been with people experiencing the most devastating losses. Were these difficult? Sure; but they were also moments when I really felt God’s grace helping me do things I could never have done otherwise; and in those moments, Jesus really made himself present to people. These are moments when I really feel most like a priest.

Being a priest isn’t easy, and anyone who wants an easy life has no business becoming a priest. But it’s a wonderful life, full of challenges and grace and miracles and above all, full of Jesus Christ, who I get to walk with and accompany as he does his work in the world.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Do babies 'participate' in the liturgy? (Getting 'Active Participation' Right)

Last week, I was present with most priests of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for a three-day convocation, which is held every five years. The idea is that we will discuss some topic that is pertinent to the life of the Church or to our ministry as priests. Some of these convocations have focused on parish management or on dealing with a shortage of priests; some have been of a more theological focus, as was the case last week: our topic was the seven sacraments. Our speaker was Father Paul Turner, who is a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri. If you click on his name, you'll see his qualifications, as well as have access to his writings on his website.

After I returned to the parish, folks asked me how the session was. I have to be honest: while catching up my brother priests, and having Mass and prayer with them, with Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and Bishop Joseph Binzer, were all very worthwhile, I was disappointed with the discussion of the sacraments.

Let me illustrate the problem by drilling into one of the issues that came up in several of the talks, as well as in the questions Father Turner fielded from those listening. It is the question of "active participation" in the liturgy. At one point, Father Turner was asked -- what about what Pope Benedict said, that "active participation" is essentially internal? In his response, Father Turner acknowledged the interior dimension, but said something along the lines of, he didn't see how you could have one without the other.

Not a terrible answer, but I think he was still missing the point.

This is a subject much discussed by experts in matters liturgical, and the term has certainly penetrated the awareness of many ordinary Catholics. The reason is because one of the documents of the Second Vatican Council (1963-65), the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), said this on the subject:

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.

In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work (Paragraph 14).

Indeed, if you click on the excerpted text above, you can go read the entirety of Sacrosanctum Concilium; and you will discover emphasis on "participation," frequently "active," in many places.

In the years immediately following the Council, there was a tremendous focus on this idea, to the point that it became a kind of "mantra" for a whole generation of clergy and laity whose understanding of the liturgy and the sacraments was formed in this period. Even 30 years later, when I entered the seminary, this was a point being pounded very strongly.

But there is an obvious question: what, exactly, is "fully conscious and active participation"? To state it differently, is it essentially external or internal?

In the years right after the Council, the great focus was on externals. Indeed, some of the language of the Council encouraged this:

To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence (Sacrosanctum Concilium 30).

That is, lots of people focused on "acclamations," "responses" and "gestures" -- but notice what else was highlighted: "reverent silence."

Others have delved deeply into this subject; you can do an Internet search and find lots to read if you wish. One notable contribution came from Pope Benedict XVI, who gave emphasis in Sacramentum Caritatis to "constant conversion," "inner disposition," and a "heart reconciled to God [that] makes genuine participation possible" (paragraph 55).

So why am I dissatisfied with Father Turner's answer? It's not that I disagree, exactly, so much as that I think he does not seem to get the problem with the emphasis on external participation. Let me illustrate with some real life examples:

- Several years ago, in another parish, I had a catechist propose some ideas for increasing the "active participation" of her students in Mass. Specifically, she wanted them write the words of the responsorial psalm on individual cards -- and then have students stand in front of church, and while the psalm was sung, they would hold up the placards for the assembly. I wasn't enamored of this idea, but I wanted to approach it diplomatically, so I approached the catechist with this question: "what is the concern or need you are trying to address with this idea?" Guess what she said? "So they participate more." My followup: "do you think the children in your class are praying during Mass?" She thought about it, and said, "yes." My response to her was, "that's the participation we most want."

- In my first parish assignment as a priest, the pastor gave me the task of arranging some training sessions with our volunteers who assist at Mass in various liturgical roles; we were going to be implementing some changes asked for by the Archbishop. One change in particular was as follows: instead of the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion coming to the altar and taking chalices with the Precious Blood off the altar themselves, they would, instead, have the chalices presented to them by a priest or deacon. At one of these sessions where I explained this change and its rationale, one volunteer huffed: "this takes away from my active participation!"

- Over the years, I've read any number of articles in the National Catholic Reporter, discussing matters liturgical. And whether the question was the priest facing the same way as the people when he offers the sacrifice at the altar, or whether it had to do with music choices, or even the church's sound system, I noticed the same refrain: if the priest isn't facing me -- or if it is the wrong sort of music -- or if someone cannot be heard in the church . . . then "I can't participate."

Surely you can see the problems here?

Is it really true that if I can't see what's happening at Mass, I can't participate? If that's true, then I guess that means visually impaired people do not participate in Mass.

Similarly, if not hearing means no participation, then no participation for those who are deaf.

If movement is necessary, that leaves out any number of people with mobility problems.

If you attend a Mass not in your own language, are you unable to participate? That has not been my experience -- why should it be anyones? Of course the language barrier created difficulties, but nothing I couldn't overcome. And that is obviously true for anyone.

Let me illustrate the flaw in this thinking with a hypothetical, which I posed to some other priests, and now pose to you: Does a babe in arms "participate" in Mass?

If you subscribe to the participation must be external theory, then the answer must be no. And guess what? Lots of people will say, about their children, that they see no reason to bring them to Mass "because they don't get anything out of it." But what about grace, I answer?

The answer is "yes." Even a newborn truly participates in the liturgy. Even a comatose person does. People participate as they are able.

Let's take it another step.

Who is the primary actor in the liturgy? Per Vatican II, the answer is Jesus Christ:

Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy the sanctification of the man is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs; in the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members.

From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree (paragraph 7b).

But take note of the words I bolded: it is the action of Christ in his "Head and His members." That includes everyone, even a newly baptized infant, who is, after all, a member of the Body of Christ.

Now, I'm not against encouraging people to participate in external ways; nor am I encouraging a minimalism that sets the bar at where an infant is. Rather, what I am insisting is that given the true nature of the liturgy -- as described by the Council above -- what we are talking about is first and foremost a spiritual reality; we respond to this reality, above all with our interior disposition, which is assisted by, and often manifested by, exterior dispositions.

In short, we're talking about grace. I have no idea what sort of experience the Mass is for a newborn, or for a very young child, or for that matter, for those with varying degrees of physical and mental disabilities. But I insist that there is a true and real experience of the Mass -- of the sacraments -- for them. When a baby is baptized, does anything "happen" to the baby? When a priest anoints or absolves -- or baptizes -- a comatose person, what happens? Does the recipient of these sacraments "participate"?

The answer has to be yes.

P.S. I found an article I liked, but I never found a way to work it into this article, so I'll just link it here. It drills into what the Latin text behind "active participation" actually says. The whole article is good, but I am thinking particularly of what appears at the end from Monsignor Richard Shuler.