Sunday, August 07, 2016

Is this your last day? (Sunday homily)

This Gospel is read as part of the vigil prayers, for a funeral, 
which usually takes place at the funeral home. 
It’s easy to see why, because it offers us such an assurance: 
if we are ready for Jesus when he comes to us, 
he will not only take us to heaven, 
but he, the Lord, will actually wait on us! 
As I often say after I read this, at the funeral home, 
if you hadn’t heard me just read that from the Gospel, 
you might not believe God had made such a promise. But there it is.

So, these readings invite us to think about being ready – 
ready for God to call us. 
And it calls to mind what we used to call “a happy death” – 
that is, a well-provided-for death. 
So let’s talk about what that is.

A well-provided-for death means 
we have the chance to go to confession, 
and to receive the sacrament of anointing, 
and above all, to receive the Holy Eucharist. 

A well-provided-for death means 
we can make our peace with others 
and face eternity with a clean conscience. 
An especially beautiful way this happens 
is when family are gathered with the person who is dying, 
and they are praying together. 
If the priest is called – not necessarily at the exact moment, 
but in the last few weeks or days – 
then he can help the family with all this.

When this happens, it is a beautiful thing, 
not only for the one who is facing eternity, but for everyone. 

Now, here’s the thing. We don’t always get a warning. What then?

Well, then it comes down to how we live our daily lives, doesn’t it? 
My grandmother had a saying: “being a Catholic can be a hard life – 
but an easy death.” By that, she meant a faithful, practicing Catholic.

What’s “hard” about it?

Forgiving is hard. Keeping custody of the eyes is hard. 
Being honest and guarding our tongues is hard. 
Putting God first can be hard.

But, in another sense, it’s not hard at all. 
How to be faithful isn’t a secret. And we have a lot of help. 
That’s what the Church, the Body of Christ, is for. 
If you’re trying to live a Christian life, don’t try to do it alone. 
That makes it harder. 

Instead, seek out other practicing Catholics, and support one another. 
If you’re running with folks who are out late drinking and partying, 
guess what you’re probably going to end up doing? 

This is why God gave us each other, and above all, 
it’s why he gave us the saints, especially Mary, the Mother of God. 
If you ever think, I don’t know how to be a good Catholic, 
then take a long, hard look at the saints. 

Pick one. Who is your own patron saint? Don’t know? You can find out. 
Ask your parents if they had a saint in mind when they named you. 
If not, then look up your own name, 
and find out what saints had that name. 

And if that doesn’t work, then you can just pick a saint, 
and make him or her your patron saint. 
Patron saints are not like girlfriends or boyfriends – 
you can have as many as you want, and they don’t get jealous!

The thing about heaven, we’re not going to end up there by surprise. 
And we won’t get there by being kidnapped. If we get to heaven, 
it will be because we aimed to get there; we wanted to be there; 
because that’s the treasure we wanted most of all.

So, you and I can take our chances 
and hope we’ll get a chance to go to confession in your final hour; 
or, we can get to confession every month. 
You can hope that you’ll have a priest bring you holy communion 
at the end; or, you can receive Jesus’ Body and Blood each Sunday, 
or even daily, if you want. 
We can hope we’ll make peace with others, someday, or…

Well, you get the idea.

Is today my last day? Is it yours? We can’t know. But we can be ready.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

What price will you pay? (Sunday homily)

Father Jacques Hamel, pray for us!

As I think everyone is aware, last week, 
a Catholic priest was murdered in France, 
while he was offering the Holy Mass. 
In fact, he was martyred – at least, that is my own opinion. 
His name is Father Jacques Hamel. May he pray for us! 

I know this is disturbing; but remember, 
this is what has been happening in Iraq, and Syria, in Egypt and Turkey, 
and many other places, 
where Christianity has existed almost from the beginning. 
But those places seem so far away; 
we don’t expect this to happen in France. 

Let’s remember who the true author of persecution of the Faith is. 
It is the devil; and if we are faithful Christians, 
he hates us every bit as much as he does those 
Christians who are driven from their homes in Iraq or in Africa.
Let me say that again: if you and I are faithful, 
we face the exact same hatred and opposition 
that comes to those who are being martyred 
in so many places around the world.

So that raises a question:
What price are you and I prepared to pay, 
for the love of Jesus Christ?

Father Hamel paid with his life; but the truth is, 
most of us aren’t going to face that. 
You and I are likely to face rather different choices.

Two years ago, as you may recall, 
Brendon Eich, the CEO of Mozilla – a computer software company – 
was forced to resign from the leadership of that company –
 which he founded, by the way! – 
because he had donated money 
to a referendum defining marriage as a man and a woman. 

Now, I don’t know anything about Mr. Eich’s faith, but here’s the point. 
If someone who is rich and powerful 
like Mr. Eich can be forced out of his job, 
what do you think is likely to happen to the rest of us?

In the state of Washington, the governor imposed a rule 
that if you operate a drug store, you must – must! – 
distribute the so-called “morning after pill.” 
While its supporters claim it’s merely a contraceptive, 
a lot of people are concerned that it may induce an abortion. 

Several pharmacists sued, simply asking that they be able to opt out 
and not be made to cooperate with this.
Their case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. They lost.
So now their choice is: either do what they believe is wrong, 
or else stop being pharmacists.

Are you and I prepared to see the loss of a promotion, 
or a job, or a career, as the price we pay for the love of Jesus Christ?

If you speak up about the dignity of human life
every single human life truth about men and women* – 
you may be called some names. You may lose a friendship.

Let me say something to our students. 
Many of you will go off to college, 
either in a few weeks, or in the next few years. 
This community, the environment here, 
shelters us from a lot of ugliness. 

Some of you are in for a shock when you get to college. 
Not only will you be in situations 
where most people around you aren’t Catholic, 
but quite a lot of the Catholics around you 
won’t be very tuned into their Faith. 
A lot of the built-in supports that you experience here, 
a lot of which you may not even be aware of, will be gone. 

I’m not trying to scare you; and I’m not saying you can’t handle it.
What I am saying is, that in those moments, 
you’ll start paying a price 
for the love of Jesus Christ, and it may take you by surprise. 
There will be people around you 
who won’t be able to stand up to it.
Can you bear that scorn and rejection, 
as the price you will pay for Christ?

Don’t be overwhelmed. Be encouraged! 
When someone gets up in your face, when someone spits at you, 
or turns his back on you, for what you believe, 
and when the shock passes, something wonderful happens. 
Actually, several wonderful things happen.

First, you realize: I’m stronger than I thought.
Second, you look around, and there will be people with you. 
It may not be very many, but it doesn’t have to be many. 
Just one other person will give you great courage.

Third, you will feel a spiritual power unlike anything you’ve ever known. 
You will know it isn’t your strength, but the strength of Jesus Christ. 
And you will, in that moment, understand exactly 
How martyrs have such superhuman courage and peace. You’ll feel it.

And, finally, you’ll remember what Jesus said 
about being close to those who are maligned and attacked for his sake. 
You’ll feel Jesus right there. 
And nothing in this world means anything compared to that.

Most of us will never be martyrs like Father Hamel, 
but every one of us can expect to pay some price 
for being faithful to Jesus Christ. 
And consider this: how is it that Father Hamel 
Faced his martyrdom with courage and grace?
One answer is that it is supernatural grace, and that’s true.
However, there’s more to it than that.

The great and costly decisions in life 
are prepared for by small and boring ones. 
My parents never gave their lives for me all at once. 
Instead, they gave their lives for my brothers and sisters and me, 
little by little, day by day. 
I have yet to be faced with martyrdom, 
but every day I am faced with the decision to get up, pray, 
give myself to others as I meet them hour by hour, 
and be faithful to the Lord and to his people.

And it’s exactly the same for you.

So I ask you again: what price are you prepared to pay, 
for the love of Jesus Christ?

* I made this change after the 5 pm Mass.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sodom, hell and hope (Sunday homily)


The first reading mentions the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, so let’s start there.
The passage we heard doesn’t spell out the sins involved, 
but I think most of us know; in any case, 
you can read about it in chapter 19 of Genesis if you want.

I’m going to talk about three things in this homily. First is the sin of Sodom. 
The second is hell. And the third is hope.

So let’s talk a little about what was going on in Sodom.

Until not that many years ago, 
there wouldn’t have been that much controversy
in reiterating that sexual behavior involving two people of the same sex 
is a mortal sin. 
But our society is changing rapidly, 
and now there is intense social pressure for us to keep quiet. 
After all, we can always talk about something else, can’t we? 
But when the subject comes up, you and I have a duty to speak up. 
It came up in the readings, so I’m speaking up.

One of difficulties in talking about the issues relating to homosexual activity
is that our society has language and concepts that are problematic, 
and first we have to address that. 
So, for example, many people tend to identify and define themselves by an attribute. 
But does this make sense?

Let me use a personal example.* My “ampleness” isn’t a result of a bee sting! 
It’s a result of eating too much over the years. 
That’s a moral failing of mine; it’s one of the deadly sins, gluttony. 
That doesn’t define me, however. But there are people who do, 
indeed, shape their lives around food and eating. 
You can see a whole cable channel dedicated to this; and on another channel, 
a show about people who are over 600 pounds as a result.

Also, when we talk about this subject, 
it sometimes seems like we’re making it out to be the worst possible sin. 
There are Ten Commandments, 
and it’s possible to commit mortal sins involving all ten. 
So we don’t want to overstate the matter.

It’s also necessary to make very clear that feelings aren’t sins. 
A husband’s eye may stray, and his wife may think murderous thoughts 
when she sees where he’s looking, 
but virtue lies not in impulses, but in our choices.

The real problem with Sodom and Gomorrah wasn’t only lust, 
but a more general state of moral madness. 

I read an article recently by Catholic scholar Anthony Esolen called 
“The Uses of Disgust.” 
It’s an excellent article, you can find it online. 

He makes the point that all of us have, built in, 
a faculty for disgust, for revulsion, and he compares it to our sense of smell. 
He writes, “What smells good to a vulture, flesh rotting in the sun, 
smells repugnant to us, because eating such flesh would be bad for us. 
The smell is then protective; 
it keeps us from tasting even a little of something that would sicken or kill.”

And his point is that our moral sense is meant to work that way, too. 
But, of course, if we ignore – or kill off – that faculty of moral repugnance…
then we will find ourselves consuming what is bad for us, and claiming to like it.

And that’s what was wrong with Sodom and Gomorrah. 
It wasn’t just one moral failing. They’d completely lost their way. 
Understanding that explains why God would talk of destroying the city; 
because it means they had reached the point of no return.

There is another word for the point of no return: it’s called hell. 

The clear point of this whole episode is not, fire and brimstone,
but God wanting to rescue all that he can. 
If you read on, there aren’t even ten innocent people. 
There are four, that is, Abraham’s cousin, Lot, his wife and two daughters; 
and if you read the next chapter, they weren’t exactly innocent, either. 

But what they were was salvageable. They weren’t beyond hope. 
So God sends his angels to rescue them. 
And many of us have had that experience: 
whether being saved from moral danger or physical danger. 
I can distinctly remember a time I was riding in the back seat of my dad’s car, 
and I had my head out the window. 
Something made me pull my head in; and just after I did, 
a car coming the other way came frighteningly close. 
And there have been many times in my life when I wanted to do the wrong thing, 
and something blocked my way. And I bet that’s happened to you, too.

So when we wonder why God cares – about two people of the same sex,
 or about whether we wait for marriage, or contraception, 
how we might entertain ourselves…this is why: 
because God knows these things, however attractive, distort us. 
It’s not all at once, it’s little by little. 

If there is a hell – and Jesus talks about it a lot, so I think there is one – 
do you think many people really set out in life to go there? 
So then, how do people end up there? By losing – by destroying – 
that sense of revulsion from what is evil. 

All right, enough fire and brimstone. Let’s turn to what Jesus said in the Gospel. 
He told us: God wants to give us good gifts. He is eager to give them to us! 
He wants us to want them. 
Notice what Jesus said: “how much more will the Father in heaven 
give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?"

The Holy Spirit in us is what helps us revive our moral compass, 
if it’s been beaten up,
 and to help us turn our hearts and desires from what seems good, 
to what truly is good. 
We first receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism. 
As Saint Paul makes clear, the gift of baptism, the gift of God himself, 
washes away all transgressions. They are, as he says, “nailed to the cross.” 

And, after baptism? That’s what the sacrament of confession is for: 
renewing the grace of baptism, and applying that powerful solvent 
to any and all sins we may confess. 

I’ll say it again: the Father wants to give us good gifts. 
He offers us total and complete forgiveness. He offers us chance after chance. 
He offers us life in the Holy Spirit. 
He offers us life with the Trinity forever. It’s so easy! 

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; 
knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; 
and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, 
the door will be opened."

*At the 5 pm Mass, I used the example of my being left-handed. Afterward, I decided an example of a moral failing would be more apt.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

If Jesus came to your house (Sunday homily)

If Jesus Christ called, and invited himself over for dinner 
at your house, what would you do?

How would you react?

Let’s see what the checklist would be:

- Clean the house; I mean, really clean the house!
- Go to the store and get the fancy stuff – the very best food.
- Clean up the kids.
- Get out the best clothes, a fresh shave, 
run to the hairdresser, maybe?
- Tell everyone –with the laser-gaze of death 
that only mothers can give – 
that they are to be on their very best behavior!
- Maybe mow the lawn? Trim the hedges? 
Put the garden hose away?

What kind of meal would you fix for the Lord?

Remember, he came to earth as a Jewish man, 
so that means he kept Kosher. How do you cook Jewish food? 
What can you fix for him?

Do you serve drinks? He did make wine; would he like a beer? 
In a glass, or would he just drink it out of the can?

What do you talk about? If you and your spouse have been fighting, 
maybe you decide beforehand that everyone will be all smiles.

And, if you don’t have time to clean all the rooms, 
you just keep the Divine Guest out of the kids bedrooms, 
if they are too much of a mess.
Hopefully you don’t have a nervous breakdown 
until after the Lord goes home!

On the other hand…

Doesn’t Jesus already know what your house looks like normally?

And doesn’t he already know 
what you and your spouse are arguing about? 
So if Jesus came to your house, maybe that’s what you talk about: 
you stop trying to keep everything perfect, 
and instead, you let things be real. 
Maybe you just open your heart to him, tell him what’s going on, 
and ask for his help. 
Ask him the questions you’re dying to know the answers to.

In short, if Jesus came to your house tonight, 
would you spend your time trying to see what you could do for him – 
or would you see how you can be open to him 
doing as much as he can, for you?

And then, having God as your guest in your house isn’t a calamity, 
but a joy – and you don’t want him to leave.

By the way, my question isn’t just for the homily. 
I encourage you to take this question home with you. 
If Jesus were coming to stay at your house – what would you do? 
I suggest this for a couple of reasons.

First, this is a really powerful way to pray.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola recommended it. 

Namely, take a scene from Scripture – 
such as the readings we’re talking about – and use your imagination. 
Put yourself in that scene. 
Would you be Martha? Mary? Abraham? Sarah? 
One of the servants? How would you react? What would you do?

And, second, being able to let Jesus come to your house, as it were, 
and instead of being on pins and needles, 
you are able to relax and be with someone you trust…
that’s the heart of prayer! 

To be able to be with Jesus as a friend; closer than a friend, really: 
because we are with our Creator and our Redeemer. 
Nothing is hidden, and nothing need stand between us.

(Added at some Masses:

When Paul talks about the mystery that was hidden from ages ago, but revealed in us, 
this is what he's talking about: Jesus coming to our house -- but not our physical house, 
but the "house" of our hearts, our lives. And that leads to a further mystery, 
foreshadowed by the first reading: of Jesus bringing us to his house, to the life of the Trinity!)

Every Thursday we have exposition of the Blessed Sacrament – 
that is, Jesus is on the altar for us to gaze at him, 
talk to him, and him to us –
from the morning Mass until around 8:45 pm when we have Benediction.

This is our opportunity to sit with Jesus 
and to enter into that friendship. Maybe it’s hard, at first. 
What do I say? How do I talk to God? 
Do I have to use certain words?

No, just visit with him. Gaze at him. Open one of the Gospels, 
and read his words. Imagine you are with him. Tell him what hurts. 
Bring the names of all the people you care about to him. 

God wants to come and visit with you, today.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Death in Dallas (Sunday homily)

(My homily was from notes; this is a close approximation.)

I think we are all aware of the ugly events of the past week. In Dallas, five police officers were murdered, and several other people were wounded. You may not realize that police officers were shot at in other places as well. The shootings in Dallas came a day after two controversial incidents in which police, in carrying out their duties, shot and killed two men. And all that is against a backdrop of concern and suspicion about other incidents in which people died in interactions with police.

Now, we know these situations get misreported and misrepresented by media, by activists and politicians. And we know these things are not always clear-cut. One case is not like another. We know the police have a difficult job; so a lot of time our sympathy goes with them. On the other hand, some of the situations look pretty bad, and it's hard to understand why the police acted as they did.

There is a tendency to take sides; but as someone else pointed out, it really is possible to be supportive of the police, and yet also be concerned when things go too far. 

You and I don't have to resolve the facts in these matters to know some things for certain:

-- Of course, nothing justifies cold-blooded murder -- by anyone.

-- Just because there is racism, and there is, doesn't justify violence.

-- Just because being a police officer is dangerous, and it is, doesn't mean anything goes.

This is a mess, because there is so much anger and fear; even if it's based on false claims or misunderstandings doesn't change that. This is a climate in which a lot more ugliness can occur.

So what do we do?

Well let's begin with the words of Jesus in the Gospel. He was asked, "who is my neighbor" -- and with his parable, Jesus gives the answer: anyone; everyone. No, we can't solve everyone's problems, but that doesn't mean we don't have to care, and do what we can.

A good and necessary step is to seek greater understanding.

Suppose you had a neighbor, and you looked over, and thought, gee, they don't take very good care of their yard, and the house needs to be fixed up; and their kids are playing outside pretty late all the time, and they don't look very well cared-for; and while you see all this, in your house, you are forming a definite idea of the sort of people they are next door.

But what if you went out of your house and went next door? Then you might discover some things: that perhaps one of the spouses is ill, and the other spouse is so busy caring for the other, that he or she can't keep up with the kids. Or perhaps there is only one parent carrying the whole load? Maybe they don't have much money so they can't keep up with things; and maybe they don't know anyone to call to help them. My point being, once you are actually in the situation, you might understand the situation rather differently.

What goes on in our cities is depressing, and should alarm us. The poverty isn't so much of material things, but of education; we have schools that don't work very well, and add in crime and drugs, and behind all that are lots of broken families. You and I get frustrated, because we are taxpayers, and we spend large sums of money and nothing seems to do any good. So it's tempting to look away and brush our hands of it all. But they are our neighbors.

And, if we want, we can go and find folks who are beaten and half-dead in Troy, in Piqua, in Dayton and Sidney. 

Finally, you and I can ask the Holy Spirit to guard our hearts against rash assumptions and writing people off, and from anger.

We've had bad times before. In times of conflict, God raises up people who bring a voice of calm and peace; I don't just mean towering, national figures; I mean lots of ordinary people, speaking and praying words of faith. We never seem to have enough of such people. So, how about you and I tell the Lord at this Mass, we're willing to be such people, who speak peace, instead of cynicism and rage?

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Loving our country as Isaiah loved his (Sunday homily)

Tomorrow we celebrate our nation’s birthday: 
240 years ago we declared our independence! 
A lot of us will be at parties, 
and shooting off fireworks today and tomorrow. 

I love our nation’s birthday, I am sure you do too. 
The saddest 4th of July I ever had was when I was a seminarian, 
and I was spending a month in South Korea. 
It was a wonderful experience overall, 
but being away from home on Independence Day made me sad; 
and it was the only 4th of July I spent away from our home.

That love of country that runs deep in us is a good thing; 
in the ancient Roman way of thinking, 
it belonged to the category of pietas, where we get our word piety; 
but for Romans, it was more about our sense of duty and attachment 
to our country and family; as a son or daughter to a mother or father.

There’s a saying, “my country, right or wrong.” 
The great English Catholic writer, G.K. Chesterton, famously replied, 
“That’s like saying, my mother, drunk or sober”! 

His point being that, yes, if my mother is drunk, 
she is still my mother and I love her; 
but I surely want better for my mother, and for all those I truly love. 
Surely, we want the best for our country; 
to be right, rather than wrong.

That’s what is going on in the first reading; 
the prophet Isaiah loves his country, too. 

In his time, she was in deep trouble, in every way. 
But the prophet receives a vision of a better future, 
when God’s people would be secure 
in the arms of their mother, Jerusalem. 
Yet not only Israel, but all nations would be secure in, 
and draw life from, the City of God. 

The main thing to understand here 
is that this is about spiritual abundance, spiritual life. 
Which means, the nation has to save its soul. 
And this, I think, is what should concern us 
on this 240th anniversary of our Independence: the soul of our country.

I need hardly recount all the reasons to be concerned. 
Our laws continue to allow the destruction of unborn children. 
And, of course, there is the deep confusion about what marriage is. 

So many Americans are caught up in poverty, 
not so much of material things – 
our nation has never had more material things – 
but of education and opportunity, 
which are bound up with problems of 
crime, and drugs, and broken families.

Now, what sort of problems are these? 

They may be economic, or political, or military, or legal, 
but they are also a spiritual problem.
There is a spiritual battle going on. 
Let’s not miss that! 

Isaiah was concerned for the soul of his country, in his time, 
and it is the same for us. 
Isaiah was the voice of conscience in his time; 
and, likewise, so must we be in our time. 

How do we do this?
Well, notice what Jesus told the 70 disciples.
He said, stay focused, don’t get distracted along the way. 
Don’t worry too much about what stuff you bring along; 
but make sure you bring a peaceful spirit. 
If your peace isn’t accepted, it will come back to you. 
So as I said last week: don’t get worked up, get prayed up.

One way to keep our focus is frequent trips to confession. 
When we feel anger, or worry, or we get off track, 
a good confession helps a lot to get our priorities in order. 

This is where Saint Paul’s words in the second reading 
make so much sense. 
He said, “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” 

When Jesus was on the cross, 
he didn’t say, “how terrible this is!” – even though it was! 
Nor did he just give up.
Rather, he said: “Into your hands, Father.” 

When he was seemingly at his most powerless – 
when he was at his lowest – is when Jesus’ power was greatest; 
because that is when he poured out his grace on the world!

That is what you and I, as disciples of Christ, bring to our country.
Yes, we speak out; yes, we vote; yes, we get involved. 
But none of that will mean anything 
unless it is in the grace and power of Jesus Christ. 
If you and I want to make a difference for our country – 
to be right rather than wrong – 
let us offer words and actions bathed in prayer and full of grace.