Sunday, October 22, 2017

Caesar, God & you (Sunday homily)

There are a number of passages of Sacred Scripture 
that get distorted in their meaning; today’s Gospel is one of them. 
Specifically, when our Lord says, 
“repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar’s, 
and to God what belongs to God.”

Whenever we as Christians seek to have a say 
about government laws or policies, we often hear this passage quoted.

A lot of us heard this in the controversy over the government’s order 
that nearly every employer, including many religious organizations, 
would be forced to provide contraceptives 
and abortion-causing drugs 
as part of the insurance they provide at work. 

As you know, the Catholic Church and many others 
who objected to this violation of freedom of conscience 
have been fighting in the courts over this for many years.  
We won some key decisions.

But recently, the Trump Administration issued new guidance 
that finally allows all employers – not just religious organizations – 
the right to refrain from participating 
in the provision of contraceptives. 
I want to reiterate this: all employers 
now have the right to refuse to cooperate in this.
While contraceptives may be legal, they are never morally acceptable.

In any case, all during this, we’ve heard people say, 
“Render unto Caesar.” As if Christ is saying,
what government wants, government gets.

Let’s just get this clear right now. That’s wrong!
That is not what Jesus is saying in this Gospel.
First, notice the discussion was specifically about a tax—
And about a coin.

They show him the coin, and he asks, “whose image is this?” 
That is the key: because the coin bears Caesar’s image, 
then it belongs to him. Let him have what bears his image.

Got that?

Then listen what he says next: “And what belongs to God, give to God.”
The coin bears Caesar’s image; 
But tell me: what bears God’s image, God’s inscription?

Well, that would be all of Creation! 
“The heavens declare the glory of God,” Psalm 19 says; 
creation bears witness to God, Paul wrote to the Romans. 

Above all, the image of God is the human race. 
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” 
is what God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit said 
before they created humanity: 
“male and female he created them.”

So when our government says its OK to destroy unborn children? 
And to torture people as part of war? 
Or to humiliate the poor, because they are poor? 
Or to push aside the sick and elderly?

These are God’s treasure! They bear his image! Hands off, Caesar!

Do you know where this applies most clearly? Marriage.
Recall again what Genesis said: 
“in the image of God…male and female, he created them.”
When we say we are made in the divine image, what does that mean? 
God is the Creator above all. 
While God created everything out of nothing, what do we do?

If you are an engineer or architect or in construction, 
you can build whole cities, 
but you have to labor with wood and stone and steel – 
you can’t make it out of nothing. 
The farmer can produce a great harvest, 
but he needs seed and soil and sweat, 
and the blessing of the right weather at the right time. 

If you are a writer or poet or painter, 
you can create people and worlds and histories—
but they only exist on canvas, or the printed page, 
or the silver screen. 
You can’t breathe them into life.

But there is a moment—just one!—
when man in breathtaking audacity soars to the skies 
and comes whisper-close to being just like God,
and in a moment of unrestrained love, generous and sacrificial,
actually does it! Actually creates something from nothing!
And not just any something, but the greatest of somethings—
another divine image, a human being that will live forever!

It’s when a man and woman come together in the marital embrace.
Marriage – requiring a man and a woman – 
is when humanity is most fully the image of God!

Hands off, Caesar!

The next time someone quotes this Gospel to you, 
as if to say, even Jesus says let government do what it likes,
you might quote back today’s first reading. 

It mentions Cyrus, 
who was the all-powerful Persian emperor in Isaiah’s time. 
But notice: it’s God who calls the shots; 
Cyrus does his bidding, not the other way around. 
Cyrus didn’t intend to do God’s bidding, but no matter.
God is one in charge.

Now let’s bring it forward to our own time.

When Jesus said these words, 
no one asked him, or anyone else, 
what the laws should be, or who should govern. 

But in our time, you and I make those decisions. 
Did you know there is an election in a few weeks?
There are just a few items on the ballot. 
Statewide, there are two issues; 
and in various places there are tax levies.
For example, there is a levy for our Russia Volunteer Fire Department, 
and there is a levy for the Houston Ambulance District.
Obviously it’s vital to have our fire and ambulance services, 
who save lives every day. 

And I want to reiterate: it isn’t Caesar or someone else who decides.
You and I who are voters have the responsibility;
And everyone has freedom of speech to influence the decision.
People died to win and defend these rights for us!

And a year from now, we will have elections for our statewide offices, 
for state legislature and Congress. And these are really important.
These people make life and death decisions.
So: you’re on notice! You have a year to get ready.
And realize, there may be elections in the spring 
to choose candidates in the fall. This is our responsibility!

In our country, you and I decide who will be Caesar, 
and what he will be able to do. 
Our government often fails to respect the divine image, in unborn children, 
in the elderly, in the poor and outsiders, 
in how it deals with other countries. 

Our Supreme Court, with supreme, breathtaking arrogance, 
gave itself the right to reshape marriage, not after God’s plan, 
but after its own whims and theories.

Well, Caesar is in our hands. They answer to us! 
You and I have the right and therefore the duty – before God! – 
to hold them accountable;
and to protect what belongs to God.

Meanwhile, that applies to each of us.
You and I bear that sacred image of God.
We are his coin; we bear the inscription of his Name,
When we were baptized 
in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, of the Holy Spirit!

Like the coins in our pockets get soiled and disfigured, so do we.
If you’re feeling that, I have good news, the best good news!
There is nothing God loves more than to restore his image, in you,
to make it beautiful, to make it shine!

That’s what he does in confession, in calling us back to him.
And I want to remind you, in two weeks 
we’ll have a Mission with Father Nathan Cromly, 
and he’s going to be reminding us, and teaching us, 
about the joy you and I have as God’s sacred image, God’s People.

In the Gospel, they were all concerned about that coin, 
bearing Caesar’s image. 

But notice, Jesus couldn’t care less about the coin.
What matters supremely to him is you.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The three responses we give to God's invitation (Sunday homily)

In the readings, we have a feast; a marriage; 
a surprise invitation; and a guest who was unprepared.

The question that always gets the most attention is this: 
why was the one guest unprepared? 
He wasn’t dressed properly; and people will say, 
but they took him off the street, how could he have been prepared?

That misses the point, which is that when God gives us an invitation, 
we will be able to give a response. 
And in this parable, there are three responses people give:

The first is what the original guests give. 
Their answer, not to say it too rudely was, 
“The King? Nuts to the king!” 
There are less polite ways to say it, that I won’t say, 
but you know what I mean.

Then we have the response of most of the guests who show up. 
The king finds them suitably attired. Their response was the right one. 
In a word, they said “yes, Lord,” not just to the invitation, 
but to everything that went with it. They changed their lives. 
They recognized Jesus as their King 
and rearranged their lives around that reality. 

And then we have this guest. 
He didn’t flatly refuse; but he also didn’t really say yes. 
He wants to be along for the ride. He wants to hedge his bets. 
He doesn’t really respect the invitation, or the King. 

There are plenty of people in our time 
who have the integrity to recognize that calling yourself a Christian carries great demands; 
and they are not ready to do it. 

So you will meet people and say to them, 
“weren’t you baptized a Catholic? Aren’t you a Christian?” 
And they will say, I was, but I am not any longer.” 
And it might be a disappointment or hurt; 
and many will admit they just drifted away; 
but again, there will be those who will say forthrightly, 
“I am not prepared to be a Catholic because…” and then explain why.

There is something to respect in people 
at least realizing that following Jesus Christ is not a trivial matter, 
but the most serious decision. 

Then we have the guest who gets thrown out. 
He takes it all very lightly. 

This is the person who says, sure, I’ll be a godparent for a baptism, 
even though he or she doesn’t make living the Faith a priority. 

How can someone agree to be a sponsor for baptism or confirmation – 
which means, you will model the Faith by your life – 
when you know you’re not doing that? 

And I know how painful it is not to be able to invite family or friends 
to be godparents, but it’s a very solemn responsibility. 
And if you can’t find suitable godparents, come and talk to me. 

This guest without the wedding garment 
is someone who fundamentally misunderstands what Jesus asks. 
Our Faith is not like sales tax. 
You go to the store, you pay the tax, 
and that satisfies the state. You go on as you like.
Some people imagine being Catholic is like that. 
I check off the boxes, I’ve done my duty, 
and then I do as I please.

But that is not Christianity. That is not our Catholic Faith. 
You know what that is? It is a warmed-over paganism. 

In the time of the Apostles, 
this is precisely how the pagans approached religion. 
Zeus or Aphrodite or Mithras or whatever gods you worshipped, 
were almost never the center of life. 
You made your periodic sacrifices, 
you showed up for a religious holiday, and then you lived as you like. 

But what does Jesus say? 
“I am the way, the truth and the life, 
no one comes to the Father except through me.” 
And, “If you are not with me, you are against me.” 
And, he said, “If you would be my disciple, take up your…Cross 
and follow me.” To follow Jesus is to be all in. He is the King.

What Jesus offers us is costly, but it is also a super-abundance of life. 
Nothing is more demanding, and yet it is to drink Life from the Source. 
What could be better?

Notice what was that guest invited to? To a wedding, to a feast. 
And remember, he wasn’t one of the rich swells who was used to this; he was poor and hungry.

The future that Jesus opens up for us? There is no upper scale. 
There is no upper limit to how much abundance 
of life and joy and peace and fulfillment will be ours 
on that mountain where death is destroyed forever!

You and I are bidden to that wedding; 
and all Jesus asks is, “give me your heart. Say yes to me, as your King.” 
The marriage is between the Son of God 
and the People he has called to himself. 
Our destiny is something breathtaking and shocking to say: 
we will be united with God! 

In three weeks our parish will have a mission, 
with Father Nathan Cromly. 
The title of the mission is, “Discovering Joyful Catholicism.” 

Our Faith is demanding, and yet it is a Feast.
There’s a funny old movie called “Auntie Mame,” and she says, 
“Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” 

That banquet is our Catholic Faith: 
an abundance of truth about who God is and who we are. 
Tables groaning with mercy for all who want it, 
and we can go back, again and again. 

A flood of grace that gives us strength to be people 
we could never be otherwise. 
And a life – in this world and the world to come – 
that is worth everything we give, to have. 
Because that life is Jesus Christ himself.

So, first, if you need your batteries recharged – and who doesn’t? – 
then come to this mission. The dates are November 6-8, 
and Fr. Cromly will give a talk in church 
on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. 
There are other events planned for our children and teens to meet him. 

Each night will include time for prayer and priests to hear confessions.
And if you need a reason to go, the theme is your answer: do you want, do you need, 
to discover more joy in your Catholic Faith? 
Who doesn’t?

Second, this is what Jesus sends us out to bring others to share. 
If you wonder what it costs to follow Jesus, how about this: 
Right now, it “costs” each of us looking around for people to invite. 
There are flyers at the doors, feel free to take one. 
We’ll have more next week. 

Pray for the people who you might want to invite, starting today. 
Pray for you to have the courage to say the words, 
to family, friends and neighbors, 
“would you like to come with me to St. Remy’s Parish Mission?” 

And how about this? If someone pokes back at you, 
“well, you don’t seem all that joyful!” 
You tell them, “You’re right! That’s why I’m going! You come with me.”

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Our shepherds screwed up. So, what are you going to do? (Sunday homily)

When we listen to Jesus speaking in the Gospels, 
and we hear him hit a subject hard – as he does in this passage – 
we might say, like kids in school, “wow, he sure burned them!”

And, yes, he did!

But I don’t think the Apostle Matthew tells this story for that reason. 
The point isn’t so we can hear what Jesus had to say to other people.
Rather, the point is, what is he saying to you and me, here, now?

So if you ever have trouble understanding a Bible passage, 
this is a way to make things much clearer.
Just ask: what does this passage say about me? To me?

As we saw, Jesus was hitting the chief priests, the spiritual leaders. 
So this hits home with me, at least; 
I hope it hits home with our bishops. 

What I’m going to say next is going to be a little tough, 
and not pleasant to hear, but I think it needs to be said.

In recent decades, I’m sorry to say that 
your spiritual leaders didn’t serve you very well.

After the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s,
there was all this enthusiasm for “reform” and reorganizing everything. 
A lot of folks got carried away. 
A lot of it really had nothing to do 
with what the Church actually decided at Vatican II.

And now, looking back after 50 years, 
while there were good things we can point to – 
and I’ll highlight one in a moment – 
there were some real problems.

For example, the Holy Mass itself underwent change; 
again, some good effects, but some bad. 
We had a period of wild experimentation, 
and as a result, there was a loss of reverence in many places.

This is something Father Amberger worked hard to restore, 
and many, many parishioners have told me 
how important it is that our Mass is reverent.
Many who visit here say the same.
But if you visit other places, 
you will see a real loss of reverence.

Worse, it was our spiritual leaders – 
priests on orders from the bishops – 
who removed beautiful altars and statues;
and built some really strange-looking churches.
At the same time, there was this mindset 
that anything old-style had to go. 

People were told, don’t worry about going to confession, 
and penance on Fridays, and many forms of devotion.
Thankfully, these trends have reversed. 

Worse was the way handing on of the Faith was derailed. 
A whole generation of Catholics grew up 
without really knowing the Faith. 
I know, because I belonged to that generation, 
and I know I’m not the only one.

Worst of all – and this is the ugliest fact to acknowledge – 
was the failure to deal decisively with offenses against children.
As a priest, I am deeply ashamed of what happened,
and on behalf of those who ought to apologize, I beg your forgiveness.

Now, this is a sad litany, but the point is 
that what happened in the Gospel, still happens; 
sometimes our spiritual leaders fail us.

The good news is, that unlike what happened in the first reading, 
where God seems to walk away from the vineyard, 
what Jesus does is to send new leaders,
who will give him the “produce at the proper times.”  

And this brings me to one of the really good things 
that has happened since Vatican II. 

A theme Vatican II emphasized 
was that the mission of the Church 
is not merely the task of bishops and priests. 

Rather, it belongs to every single one of us.
If you are baptized, you are a Christian;
If you are a Christian, you share in the mission of Jesus Christ.
And while in many cases bishops and priests 
dropped the ball in recent decades, 
it was the lay faithful of the Church who picked it up.

One of the fruits of laypeople stepping up was to push back, 
asking for accountability; 
asking for their churches to be beautiful again, 
asking for Eucharistic adoration, which was discouraged for awhile.
What’s more, the bishops and priests 
who have corrected these mistakes 
started as laymen who decided they needed to step up.

So, if you are ever frustrated by our bishops, our priests – 
by the pope – then remember what you can do.

You can speak up – with charity and prudence;
You not only can, but you must pray. 
If there is one thing that we learned 
in the last few decades is just how powerful the Rosary is.

It was the Rosary that won the Cold War – Mary predicted it! – 
and there are many, many people here, right now, 
who witnessed that miracle: 
of the Cold War ending not with nuclear annihilation, 
but with barely a shot being fired.

And if you ever think we could have better bishops or priests, 
you are absolutely right! 

We need men with backbone 
who want to give their lives for a cause bigger than themselves, 
who aren’t concerned about whether they have an easy life 
and lots of money, but who want to be coworkers with Jesus Christ.

So, young men, maybe the better priests we need include you!
Parents, maybe it’s your son or grandson. 

And whatever our bishops and priests say, or fail to say; 
do, or fail to do, there is a whole lot that can be done 
in the Vineyard by you, the baptized faithful. 

Look at EWTN: it was founded 31 years ago.
What a change it has brought!
Look at the many great Catholic resources on the Internet.

With a few exceptions, these were created, 
not by bishops and priests, 
but by ordinary Catholics who just got down to work! 
The Holy Spirit did powerful things through them.

Just to give a very simple example here in Russia.
Our St. Vincent de Paul group is trying gather funds 
for food for our area soup kitchens. 

We’ve done a lot, but this time around, 
there hasn’t been a great response, 
so can we all give them a helping hand? 
They are making it easy, just a financial contribution, 
and they will get the food at the best prices.

How about this week, writing a check?
You can make it payable to the parish, 
but mark it, “food for the poor” so we know where it should go.

In recent months, it seems like we’ve been hit with too much bad news. 
Terrible violence as in Las Vegas. Natural disasters. 
Political polarization, some of which is affecting the Church.
It is so easy to get weighed down by all that.
We don’t ignore these things, 
but it is the devil who wants us to be discouraged.

Instead, listen to what Saint Paul said in today’s reading.
What is true, what is just, what is “worthy of praise, 
think about these things.”

There is one priest in this parish; there are 1,500-1,600 laity.
There are a couple hundred priests 
and three bishops in our archdiocese; there are a half-million Catholics.
That is a mighty, mighty army. 
Armed with faith; armed with courage; 
clothed with grace from the sacrament of confession, 
and made strong by the food of the Eucharist, 
you and I are powerful coworkers of the Lord.

So don’t ask what Jesus is saying, in this Gospel, 
to somebody else.
What is he saying to you?

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Which son are you? (Sunday homily)

In this Gospel passage, we hear about two sons.
But, in fact, there are three.
The third Son is Jesus himself, the Son of God – 
who is described in the second reading from St. Paul.

These three sons show us three paths:
The first son is rebellious and then repents.
The second son keeps up appearances, but is a hypocrite;
The third son – the Lord – takes the path of sacrifice and self-gift.

Notice something about the two sons: both have sinned;
But one son has the advantage of a good reputation to hide his sins; 
the other bears public shame even after he has changed his ways. 
This is a reminder that lots of us have the luxury 
of our sins being hidden from public view, 
while others’ sins are all very well known. 

The result is that we, who only know part of the story, 
judge some people harshly; and don’t kid yourself, 
many of those folks are very aware of that judgment.

Our bishops call this Respect Life Sunday, 
and they want every Catholic to grow in awareness 
of the value of each and every human life – 
and to bring that awareness to bear in questions of public policy. 

The obvious issue is legal abortion; 
and not only working to protect unborn children, 
but also to care for the mothers and fathers who are wounded. 

And we know there are other concerns, such as research that destroys human embryos – 
that is, early human life. 
And it should be mentioned that there are alternatives 
that do not destroy life 
and we Catholics are 100% in favor of those alternatives.

Yet another obvious task – becoming more urgent – 
is countering the push for “assisted suicide.” 
Suicide is always wrong, because it is simply self-murder. 
You and I don’t get to decide when anyone dies, 
and that includes ourselves. 

That’s not to minimize the suffering many people experience; 
but the answer to suffering is not to kill people, 
but to help them relieve their pain and discover new purpose. 

Also, we’re not talking about those situations 
when people are nearing the end of life, 
and all they want is to refuse intrusive or extraordinary means of care. 
I don’t want to get too detailed here, 
but if anyone has any questions about this, 
please don’t hesitate to ask me, and I will gladly help you out on this.

Thankfully, many people are pushing back. 
But this form of murder has been legalized in six states 
and the District of Columbia, our nation’s capital. 
And there are powerful forces and lots of money behind this. 
Don’t be surprised if, in the near future, 
someone will try to legalize it in Ohio.

Meanwhile, here in Ohio, it is legal to execute people 
who have committed terrible crimes. 
And while that is not the same thing, 
because we are talking about a punishment of a guilty person, 
rather than the death of someone innocent…

We might remember what Pope John Paul II said on this: 
that while the state has the right to apply this punishment, 
it would be better if we chose non-lethal means wherever possible. 

For that reason, our bishops have been urging a change in the law, 
so that the death penalty would not be used 
unless there really was no alternative.

The other thing our bishops would remind us, 
is that being pro-life isn’t just about this or that issue; 
it is about how we treat all people, 
from the very beginning of life to its natural end. 

And if we really want to be pro-life, 
then what about making sure that women who are in trouble, 
are helped to choose life? 

We are so blessed to have organizations 
like the Elizabeth New Life Center and Rustic Hope 
that support women and families in these situations. 

I encourage everyone to support these efforts. 
And if we can, find ways to do even more.

There are a lot of ways government policy 
can either foster human life and the family, or else degrade life. 
If we are truly pro-life, then it is incumbent on us as citizens 
to bring compassion to bear in every way we can. 

And to return to the Gospel passage we started with. 
We have two sons, one who sin against his father is very public, 
and another, whose sins are more hidden.
Pope Francis has often talked about how the Christ’s Church 
is called to be a “field hospital,” that brings people back to life.
And that is the task the third son makes his own.

So where do and I fit into this picture?

We are not the Son of God, we know that. 
However, you and I have been given the invitation to imitate him, 
and to share in his work.

But first things first: take the path of the first son 
and own up to our wrongs, rather than be the second son 
who has a good reputation to be proud of, but nothing else.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

His Grace, our work (Sunday homily)

What does it mean to say, the first shall be last 
and the last shall be first?

One way to understand it is this. 
Those who came in last serve to make God’s generosity very vivid. 
In that sense, they are “first” in gratitude.
Meanwhile, those who were first in the vineyard, 
are most at risk of missing this point. 
They – and maybe we with them – are tempted to think 
that we’ve “earned” whatever reward we have from God.

People say it all the time: So-and-so will surely go to heaven, 
Because…why? He or she “lived a good life.” 
That may prove to be true, but do not get confused 
about the cause and effect.

Listen closely, because I’m going to tell you something lots of people, 
including lots of Catholics, get wrong. 
Listen: you and I do not go to heaven because we are good. 
I repeat: we do not go to heaven because we are good.

If we go to heaven, it is because of God’s grace working in our lives. 
To the extent we are good, it’s God’s grace that makes us so. 
Grace always comes first.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2008) says, 
“The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, 
and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, 
so that the merit of good works 
is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God…”
To restate that: any good in us, any good deeds or actions, 
they only happen because God gave us the help and power to do them. 
It is God’s grace that first calls us to him, 
it is God who sustains us day by day, 
and finally, it is his grace that brings to salvation.

So, to say we “go to heaven because we’re good” is false. False. 
That gets the cause-and-effect backwards. 
Rather, the truth is, if we are in any way good, 
it is because heaven – that is, God – is helping us and drawing us.
If we make it to heaven, no one will dare say, “I did this!”
Rather we will all say, “God, this is all you!”

So those workers in the vineyard complained 
because they worked all day. They totally missed it!
They got to be in the Lord’s company the longest of any!

This also reminds us of how Christians should understand work.
Work can be hard and tedious, 
and we all know what it’s like to look forward to quitting time.
Still, we remember that work has an essential dignity. 
We naturally respect those who work hard, 
while those who are lazy, not so much.

When you and I work at something honest and upright, 
No matter how ordinary or minor it may seem,
God considers us his co-workers. 

What’s more, you and I can join our ordinary tasks, 
whether at work, at school, at home, to the saving work of Christ. Jesus wants us to do this. 

This is the meaning of the Morning Offering. 
My father taught me to pray it every day. 
The version I learned goes like this:
“O Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, 
I offer thee my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day, 
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for the salvation of souls, 
the reparation of sins, the repose of the dead 
and the intentions of the Holy Father this month.”

When you and I make this daily offering, this is a priestly action. Notice what happens at Mass. 
The priest takes ordinary bread and wine, the work of human hands. 
Once offered to God, He transforms it into Jesus, the Lamb of God, 
the perfect Sacrifice that redeems the world and saves souls.

You and I cannot begin to know how God 
will transform the ordinary things of our day 
when we offer them to him. 

We may be tempted to pooh-pooh it, but be careful! 
Who are you or I to talk down what God can and will do?

(At the ‘Dedication’ Mass…

Students, I’m pleased to have this day with you. 
As you know, we’ll meet later at Maria Stein for a “Mini Retreat.” 
I know you take your preparation for Confirmation seriously. 
There may be times when it seems like just work, toiling away, 
along with all that school and your parents give you to do.

But remember, it’s not just about a series of tasks. 
It’s about the Lord drawing you close to him.)

I invite you again to notice what happened in this Gospel. 
The landowner goes out looking for people, hour upon hour. 
Jesus invites you to come work in his vineyard. 
He works right along with you. 
Many of us work on farms, or we have family who do, and we know: 
when harvest time comes, it is all hands on deck, 
just like in this Gospel. 

If all we do is see the immediate task, and the long hours, 
we are missing out. Jesus is inviting us to work by his side. 
If we ask him, he can and will work through our hands and our labors, 
to make great things happen for others. 
That’s what we get to do.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The problems with Father James Martin

You may have heard something about Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest, who has written a book called Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. What's more, you may have heard that he was recently "disinvited" from some speaking engagements, and there are people who are upset about that.

To hear Father Martin's defenders tell it, the problem is that Father Martin is just too nice. He's too friendly to gays and lesbians, and "traditionalist" Catholics can't have that. Poor Father Martin versus mean old fussy traditionalist Catholic meanies.

Unfortunately, even Father Martin chooses to further that account, by blaming his troubles on "anger or fear" over his book, and that his critics are "motivated by fear, hatred and homophobia."

Here's the thing: there probably are some Catholics, somewhere, who would object to approaching "the LGBT Community" with "respect, compassion and sensitivity," but I will bet real money it's so small a number as to be insignificant.

And, to give Father Martin his due, this is a worthy subject to address. Our witness as Catholics will be greatly helped if we are more attentive to the needs and concerns of those who experience these sexual desires, and who have been drawn into various "communities" organized around them. It is certainly Christlike to seek people out, wherever you find them, and offer them friendship and what our Holy Father calls "accompaniment."

So far so good. But what many more people are saying is, well, it all depends on just what you have in mind, Father Martin; and specifically, whether it means calling Catholic teaching into question.

I haven't read Father Martin's book, so I will offer no commentary on that. But Father Martin has said things apart from his book, including in interviews about the book; those things I have read, so I will limit my comments to those remarks. And my assessment is that Father Martin is, at best, being deliberately ambiguous. At worst, he is indeed calling Catholic teaching into question.

There are four specific points Father Martin has made that I think are problematic; plus there are two notable problems of omission. I will simply mention them, and then give an overall response:

1. Father Martin faults those of us who don't use the terms "gay" and "lesbian" without qualification. He claims we're being needlessly rude.

2. Father Martin objects to the Church's description of homosexual sex acts -- and the inclination to them -- as "intrinsically disordered." He endorses an alternate formulation: "differently ordered."

3. Father Martin has spoken favorably -- but with studied ambiguity -- of the "love" between two men civilly married to each other as true love, and how can anyone object?

4. Father Martin has chosen to associate himself with organizations that dissent from Catholic teaching. That doesn't equal dissent itself, but it raises a flag, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, two notable silences on Father Martin's part:

... About the call for all persons to be chaste, according to their station, and

... About the unacceptability of a society redefining marriage to be other than based on male-female complementarity.

Now, a line-by-line explanation of these problems would be helpful, but it would also be very tedious; and in any case, it's all been said before.

But to boil it all down, what is really at issue here: will we adopt the ideological mindset driven by the Sexual Revolution, in preference to what is Biblical, Christian, and, in fact, better grounded in observable facts?

This is why calling people "gay" and "lesbian" is problematic. Indeed, calling people "heterosexual" and "homosexual" is likewise problematic, although few people point that out. Why is this? As I said, it defines people by their sexual appetites, even to the point of assuming there are actually two (if not more) sorts of human beings. The error of this sorting into two categories has now metastasized into "bisexual" and "fluid" and "transgender" and "polyamory," and so on. But none of this is really about science; rather, it's about affirming people's experiences and preferences, which is something else entirely. Meanwhile, in case you haven't noticed, the one bifurcation of humanity that really is grounded in science -- male and female -- is obscured, and is even denied, science be damned.

If what we cared about was real science, letting the chips fall where they may, wouldn't there be a great deal more concern about the hazards of contraceptives? Not only is there accumulating evidence of harms to women who take massive doses of synthetic hormones (something common sense would raise a flag about), but there is some evidence that these chemicals cause harm in the ecosystem. Trace amounts of lead and arsenic in drinking water are a crisis; but massive amounts of estrogen? Crickets.

So again, Father Martin suggests with colossal disingenuousness that "differently ordered" is just a nicer way to say "intrinsically disordered." Nay, rather it is to claim that God's design is not "male and female," but rather, this, that and the other thing. And to point out again, what Father Martin prefers is not biblical, not particularly scientific, but it is congenial to the reigning ideology.

Even more disingenuous is his lament that mean, "homophobic" "traditionalist" Catholics can't see any "love" happening between two men who are civilly married. (He made these comments at a recent forum at Fordham University.) This is so tendentious that I must attribute it to Father Martin not being very bright, or being dishonest, or else having a bad day that day. In charity, let's say it's the latter.

In the example given, Father Martin spoke of a couple in which one spouse is ill, and the other is caring for him. Well, of course there is "love" here. Who would say otherwise? Produce actual examples. I hereby offer a bounty of $1,000 for every example Father Martin can cite of a Catholic who will actually say that there is something immoral about gay people providing care for one another's illnesses. But my bounty comes with a kicker: if Father Martin can't produce as many as 20, then he owes me a bounty of $100,000. This is obviously a straw man, and Father Martin is too smart (isn't he?) not to see it.

What it looks like, to me, is a rather studied ambiguity; because what he spoke about was a generalized "love," which can mean acts of care and compassion (to which no one objects), to sexual acts proper to marriage, which are simply impossible between two men -- or two women, for that matter.

Is that what this "bridge" amounts to, deliberate ambiguity? People representing different points of view using the same words, but knowingly meaning different things? What's valuable about this?

Moreover, isn't this awfully condescending? Suppose someone comes to me, who appears to be male, and who gives the name "Eddie" -- but who I learn along the way is actually a female who "presents" as male (and perhaps has even undergone physical modification to that end). On a superficial level, I will call this person Eddie and I will be polite; but as we go beyond superficialities, at some point or another, my own honesty and integrity will force me to demur -- however politely and gently -- from Eddie's claims about his/her identity. I can't stop Eddie from claiming to be male; but I refuse to say I believe it, and it's mockery to all concerned to insist that I pretend.

As I say, this is all about the Sexual Revolution, which it is heresy to question. The fundamental issue is the truth of the human person -- and the desire of modern man to be liberated from the truth about himself. The complementarity of sex (i.e., that male is made for female, and vice versa) and the procreative reality of sex are the truths that modern humanity rebels against; as well as the consequence that sex can't be an end in itself. The Sexual Revolution is all about overthrowing these truths.

And for the moment, Father Martin seems to be seeing how much of the Catholic patrimony he can trade away in order to gain a hearing among the devotees of the Sexual Revolution. Let us assume he means well, and aims to trade away only the least amount. This is still a bad idea, and we all know it won't work. I hope Father Martin figures this out sooner, rather than later.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Mercy Plan or the Justice Plan (Sunday homily)

So...what our Lord Jesus said is crystal clear. 

So let’s talk about forgiveness. It comes up all the time: people say, 
“Oh, it is so hard to forgive.” Of course it is hard. That’s the point.

Now, let’s be clear what forgiveness is and is not. 
Forgiveness does not mean the other person did not hurt you, 
nor does it minimize the wrong. 
Forgiveness means you are letting go of that person 
and giving him or her to God. 
Let God take care of justice and repayment.

Let me also add, that forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a choice. 
Just like the person who chooses to give up smoking. 
She knows she did the right thing, 
but still feels terrible about it, for a while at least.
That’s normal.

So, how do we forgive? 
Here are some things that might help us get there.

First, ask God for the grace to forgive. 
We can’t do it on our own; we can’t do anything on our own. 
This is a humbling truth we may take a lifetime to learn. 
Do you think you need God’s help only now and then?
No! You and I need God’s help every single second. 
Every breath. Every good impulse. 

Now, this is a good time to remember something 
The American author Flannery O’Connor demonstrated in her stories. 
They were odd stories, with even odder people.
Her point was that God’s grace isn’t always pleasant. 
So, no promise that when God gives you the grace to forgive, 
that it will still not be hard, or even involve pain.

God never promises that his grace will always feel good. 
He does promise that his grace will always draw us to him. 
Remember, the purest expression of grace is the Cross.

A second point: if you want the power to forgive, 
pray for the people who hurt you. Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying, “Act is if.” 
That’s how you start. Say the words out loud, even if you mostly don’t mean them. 
Keep saying them: “I forgive Joe. I forgive my Mother.”

And on that subject: it occurred to me, as I was reflecting on this, 
that sometimes we harbor resentments, and the reason behind them? 
We haven’t forgiven someone. I saw that in myself last week.
So if you have some resentment or coldness, 
Maybe you are holding onto a hurt? Once again, 
try saying the words out loud: “I forgive…”

A third point: if you want the grace to forgive, think about hell. 
That’s right; think about hell.

Some people don’t think hell is real. 
Or, they figure maybe only the 100 worst sinners in history go there, 
and the rest make it to heaven.
Could be, except Jesus never said that. 
He warned lots of ordinary people about hell. And he would know.

A priest friend of mine sometimes poses this question: 
try to imagine the first ten seconds in hell. What would that be like? 

When you and I refuse to forgive, we are wishing someone in hell. 
Isn’t that right? We don’t want him or her to be forgiven? 
So we are wishing them in hell. That’s what it means.

Or, is it possible that we can want God to forgive, while we refuse? 
We want God and that person to be friends, 
but we don’t want to be part of it? 
Then that means we are sending ourselves to hell. 
“God, you and my enemy, you be friends, but count me out.” 
Where does that leave you?

If you and I are in heaven and those who wronged us are there, 
we’re not going to avoid each other forever. 
Parents, on a scale of 1 to 10, 
how much do you dislike when your kids won’t get along with each other. 
About a hundred, right?
You think God wants to put up with that forever?

So if you want to go to heaven, 
and you want those other people to go to heaven, 
our grudges and hurts can’t go to heaven. They go to hell!
And if we hold on to them, so will we.

So, to review: if you want to gain the grace to forgive, first ask for it; 
second, pray for those who hurt you, and third, 
think long and hard about hell, 
because that’s where all unforgiveness leads.

See, God has two plans for humanity. 
He offers the Justice Plan, and the Mercy Plan, 
and they are both on display in this Gospel. 

What’s the Justice Plan?

Well, that’s where we are measured by strict justice; 
no excuses, no mulligans, no leeway. We get exactly what we deserve. 
Nothing is forgiven. So, if you have wronged no one, 
and have a perfect score, you can apply for the Justice Plan.

Don’t like that? No problem. God also offers the Mercy Plan. 
God will forgive. He will forgive absolutely anything and everything. 
That first servant owed a debt that, in today’s dollars, 
would be in the BILLIONS. Wiped away.

But there is a condition: to gain the Mercy Plan,
you and I must apply the Mercy Plan to everyone else, 
without exception. 
Not because it’s easy, not because they deserve it, 
not because they are good enough, 
not for just certain categories,
and no, not even only if they ask for it. They don’t have to ask for it!

It is Jesus, the Supreme Judge, who commands it. 
You want mercy? Show mercy, even to your enemies.

In a moment, in our presence, 
the Sacrifice of Mercy will be offered on this altar – 
you and I will witness it! – and then we will have the opportunity 
to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood. 

And if we do that, you and I are accepting the Mercy Plan. 
We’re receiving infinite, precious, eternal-life-giving Mercy!

Accept Mercy? Give it. That’s the deal.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Social concern & social justice (Sunday homily)

The Gospel passage reminds us that in our walk of faith, 
following Jesus, there is a social dimension. 
It isn’t just Jesus and me; it’s Jesus and US.

Both aspects – the personal and the social – need emphasis.

As we grow into adulthood, there needs to be a moment, 
for every one of us, when we stop and say, 
this isn’t just about what my parents believe; 
what do I, myself, believe?

And let me say this to our teenagers here:
in case you haven’t figured it out,  
this is Mark Travis’, and my, “secret plan” for our youth programs. 
To give you every opportunity to go from, “my family prays the Rosary,” 
to, “I pray the Rosary” and “the Mass is important to my family,” 
to “the Mass is important to me – and here’s why.”

Even so, there is a way in which the social dimension to our Faith 
gets neglected.

It is very common in our time to say things like, 
“you go your way, I’ll go mine” and, “It’s none of my business.”
And that’s all true and valid: a certain amount of “live and let live” 
helps us all live as good neighbors. 
And we all know what it is like 
when other people are talking things about us 
that they should keep quiet about. It doesn’t feel good.

And yet…and yet: notice what Jesus says in the Gospel. 
There are times when you and I must go to a brother or a sister. 
And if that doesn’t work, 
there are times when it involves the whole Church.

People often quote the words of Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” 
without realizing that God’s answer is, “Yes, you are.”

Now, this is a good time to talk about the virtue of prudence. 
If prudence ever goes on sale at the store, stock up! 
It always seems in short supply. 

Of the four cardinal virtues – Courage, prudence, 
justice and self-control – 
prudence may be the hardest to get just right. 

Prudence is like learning to steer while driving. 
You don’t want to have your hands yanking constantly at the wheel 
and you don’t want to just let go, and let the car wander off the road. 
It takes a practiced hand.

Likewise, it takes a certain deftness – not to mention courage! – 
to approach someone with an issue, the way Jesus describes. 
Prudence is at work when we pray about it, 
seek advice from the wisest people we know, 
and approach the matter with humility and gentleness.

Otherwise, we ourselves end up being that person 
who is making things worse, rather than better.

This is a good time to address another part 
the social dimension of our Faith, our social responsibility.

There is a term that is showing up in the news, 
and in political discussions – the so-called “Social Justice Warriors.” 
It’s not a compliment; it’s meant to lampoon those who go overboard, 
and are pretty obnoxious about promoting various causes.

But you know what? “Social justice” is a real thing;
and because it is something God cares about, 
it is something we might want to pay attention to!  

In its most basic form, social justice is just another way 
to live out being our brother’s keeper. There are times when justice – 
not as our government measures it, but as God measures it – 
demands more from us 
than just how we deal with each other one-to-one.

And so, for example, God’s Justice says 
that the good things of the world He created 
are intended for the benefit of everyone. 
And, those who have the least – in education, 
in opportunity, in material things – deserve special attention.

Our social concern as Catholics leads us at times to personal action; 
sometimes it calls for action together with others, 
and sometimes it calls for us to get involved in the political process.

Let me give a very concrete example: this question of immigration. 
It’s a complex subject. 
We have many people coming into our country illegally. 
Some are coming out of fear. Many are coming out of need – 
they are leaving behind places with few jobs but plenty of violence. 
Many are coming to get ahead – something we can all understand. 

Meanwhile, there are some are coming into our country 
with evil purpose, to do us harm. 

And just recently, we’ve been reminded 
of those who were brought here as children, 
and have grown up in our country.

There are questions of justice here, 
and also the matter of being our brother’s keeper. 
A lot of discussion really oversimplifies all this. 
Our bishops have been talking about this subject a lot, 
and they have made a number of points. 

First, our country – any country – has the right to control its borders. 
There is no “right” to flout the law.
Second, there are real human needs here, 
and when people are in trouble, 
they have a moral right to seek help and shelter.

So the question is, what laws or measures are called for? 
Do you remember the virtue of prudence I talked about a moment ago? 
This is where we put it into practice. 
The bishops are counting on you and me as citizens, 
as well as our leaders, to apply prudence here,  
without forgetting the demands of justice and compassion.

So if there is an action item here for you and me, it would be: 
pay attention to these issues; pray for prudence; 
and speak up, especially in what you tell 
the President and members of Congress.

Meanwhile, our social concern is not only 
about things happening far away. 
We remember and do what we can for people in Texas and Florida, 
in the path of the hurricanes, for example; 
but most of the time, the test of our concern 
for the welfare of our brother or sister more often comes right here –
maybe even in our own homes, with our very brothers and sisters.

So if you want to practice social justice, 
if you’re ready to take “love your neighbor” to the next level? 
You don’t have to wait long or look far. 
Just look across the street, and even across the dinner table. 
Start there – just don’t stop there.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Mass ad orientem: a non-issue in my parish

Here's something I put in my recent church bulletin:

On August 15, when we celebrated the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, the 7 pm evening Mass was offered at the high altar. This was something I advertised ahead of time I would do. I knew there would be a large and diverse attendance at this Mass, and so this would give many more people an opportunity to experience this, and also to give me feedback if they chose.

Afterward, I asked a few people how they thought it went. The only negative comment I got was from one of the altar servers, who wasn’t used to it; other servers, who were more experienced, liked it. Several parishioners told me they liked it. Everything seemed to flow just fine.

Since then, I haven’t heard any comments. I realize not everyone prefers to have the priest facing the same way as the people at the altar; and of course it will be unfamiliar to many, and this can be a drawback too. Nevertheless, the overall non-reaction tells me that most people at Mass are simply focused on the readings, the homily, and joining with the prayers. As a result, whatever their preferences, they don’t let which way the priest is facing at a particular point affect them. It’s not a “deal breaker” for them.

Meanwhile, it is important to point out that there are many people who do prefer Mass offered this way; this is attractive to them. And that includes me. While I will offer Mass both ways for the benefit of all concerned, I do find that when the people and I are facing the same way at the Eucharistic Prayer, that my focus is better, because it’s much more on the Lord. And that is the whole point. Others who prefer it say the same: the focus is less on the priest, and more on the Sacrifice itself.

So, we’ll try this again on Nov. 1, All Saints, and again on Dec. 8, the Immaculate Conception. And I hope no one will hesitate to offer a question or an alternative point of view. I don’t mind in the least; I welcome hearing from everyone!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

You can have the world, or Christ. Choose. (Sunday homily)

The Lord is making a simple but very uncomfortable point. 
You can have the world or you can have him. 
But in the end, you can’t have both.

I think we accept this intellectually – but do we live that way? 
The truth is that quite a lot of us are at home in our world. 
It is a world that, for most of us, 
largely caters to what we want and need. 
You and I are mostly very comfortable 
and we mostly live as we want. 

More than that, for those of us who live here in Russia, 
and much of this area, 
we don’t experience much conflict 
between our Catholic Faith and the society around us. 

For contrast, let’s take a trip back in time 
to the world of Saint Paul. 
In his time, the contrast was blatant and undeniable. 

Every single day, a Christian was confronted 
by beliefs and values that were completely alien. 

Imagine you are out running errands, 
and every store has altars to pagan gods. 
You are expected to make an offering to this one or that one. 

You meet your friends for dinner, 
and at the beginning of your meal, 
everyone tosses a bit of his wine on the floor – 
that was an offering to the god of wine, Bacchus. 
They wait for you to perform the ritual.

This was the Roman world many of the first Christians lived in. 
They had no difficulty grasping that the values 
of their society were at polar opposite to the ways of Christ.

Meanwhile, in Galilee, 
where Jesus had his conversation 
with Peter and the Apostles, things were different. 
The ways of the pagans were off to the margins. 
The temple in Jerusalem, where the true God was worshiped, 
was growing more beautiful as it neared completion.
The true faith was being preserved 
in an island of relative sanity.

Sort of like our community, here in Shelby County.

At the risk of sounding alarmist, I’ve just got two words. 
Wake up! Our culture in 2017 
isn’t the world a lot of us were born into. 
Here in Russia, we are very happily insulated. 
May it long be so! But let’s not kid ourselves.

Our society is becoming, day by day, 
more like the world of the first Christians. 
In those days, X-rated “entertainment” 
was on every street corner. Today, it’s in every home. 

In Paul’s time, all around him were people 
worshiping Zeus, Apollo, Venus, and Mars. 
Today, we worship our own gods, 
but none so much as the great gods of “Choice” and “Self.”

Consider the present madness 
about what is a man and what is a woman: 
we saw what happened with the redefinition of marriage, 
and now it’s turned into redefining what basic human nature is. 

This is just the opening act of insanity. 
More is coming – I’m not any great prophet, 
so don’t ask me just what, but it is coming. 
If you think our present culture has gone crazy, 
I have to tell you, I think it’s only gone about 25% crazy. There’s another 75% to go!

I don’t mean this to be depressing. It doesn’t have to be. 
It can be liberating. 
The truth is, we never have control; we just imagine we do. 
We have a voice, and we lift it up. We have a role to play; 
but in the end, the world goes along, 
and you and I just live in it for a time. 

The only thing we can take out of this world 
is other people with whom we share the words of life. 
The first Christians didn’t know anything different. 
They didn’t vote for Emperor; 
no one cared about their opinion; 
and most of what happened in the world, 
they didn’t even know about. They didn’t have the Internet!

But they did have Christ. They did have the Eucharist, 
the Holy Mass, and the other Sacraments. 
They had a community of fellow believers, 
fellow oddballs who likewise didn’t fit into their world. 
They were never under any illusion 
that they would have any great influence, 
or that the world would ever be, for them, 
anything but the Cross.

They would gather on Sunday – late, 
because they almost all had to work – 
and they would hear the words of Paul: 
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed.”
And while they listened to those words, 
they knew at any moment, Roman soldiers could come 
and take them all away. 

And here is the great ironic twist. 
That tiny, insignificant group, 
that meant nothing to the world around them,
ended up making a whole new world, 
bring a new civilization to birth.
But it was only possible once they died 
to the world they knew. 

It is tempting to think that we can somehow hold it together: 
the world we’re so used to, and our faith in Jesus Christ. 
Peter had that hope. But in the end, like Peter himself,
each of us must choose.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Church is the prophet we need (Sunday homily)

In today’s Gospel the Apostles face a choice: 
Play it safe; or a put everything on the line. 

First the Lord asks an easy question: 
“What are folks saying about me?” 
And they all have something to say.

Then, Jesus puts them on the spot: “And who do you say that I am?” 
Now Simon steps out alone: 
“You are the Anointed One: the Son of the Living God.” 

Even early in life—when we’re kids in school— 
we face the choice of melting into the crowd, 
or standing up and standing out, for what is right. 

It’s not fair that others hang back, 
Letting you step up alone—but that’s life. 
That gnawing in your stomach? That’s normal. 
That voice that tells you to speak up? 
That’s your conscience. 

And however hard stepping up is to do, 
Do you know what feels worse?
The shameful regret that comes from knowing 
what you should have done or said, 
but didn’t find the nerve to do. 

Simon commits himself. 
That’s when Jesus says: “You are Peter—you are Rock— 
And upon this Rock I will build my Church.” 
Jesus makes a promise here: 
The Rock will stand, the Church will stand; and she has. 
Peter was not super-human. We know his story.
He had a business, a family; he had a lot to lose.

Now let me give you two bits of history.

This Gospel scene happened in Caesarea Philippi.
You can visit the runs; and if you do,  
you will see two things that surely Peter saw:
First, a huge hill of rock. 
And at the base of that hill were pagan temples.
The city was a monument to the emperor of Rome.

This is where our Lord said, “upon this Rock”: 
meaning Peter and his profession of faith.

Now, move forward 30-35 years, 
and a persecution is underway in Rome.
Peter was arrested and crucified in Nero’s circus.
After his death, his disciples moved quickly 
to gather his body so the soldiers didn’t throw it in the Tiber.

They took his body to a nearby cemetery, 
marking the grave with a red stone.
At some point, someone wrote, in Greek, Petros eni
which means, “Peter is within.”

Around the year 320, the Emperor Constantine built a church there.
The current basilica replaced it around the year 1600.

Now, fast-forward to the 1950s; 
it had been centuries since anyone had seen Peter's tomb;
as a result, many claimed it wasn't really there, it was just a legend.
Some workers were digging underneath the basilica, 
when they struck something.
Someone ran upstairs and told the Holy Father.
Down came Pope Pius XII, and there was the red stone;
there was the Greek words, Petros ini!

If you go there today, you can visit the tomb; 
you can see the bones of Peter with your own eyes. 

Walk a few steps to a chapel, look up through a grate, 
and see, written in huge letters that are four feet high, 
in Latin and Greek, the words we heard today:

“Upon this Rock I will build my Church”!
The Church is literally built on Peter.

Now we believe Christ protects the Church, 
in a supernatural way, from teaching error. 
This is what we call “infallibility.”

The first reading helps us understand why. 
God’s People were in trouble; 
God empowers a new leader, 
to be a “peg in a sure spot”; a father to Jerusalem. 

To say the Church and the pope are “infallible” 
has to be understood correctly. 
It doesn’t mean he’s a know-it-all, even about our Faith.

If you asked Pope Francis a question about God, 
about the angels, about heaven and hell—
it’s quite possible he would say back, “I don’t know.”
Yet he’s still infallible.

But what it means is that on those special occasions 
when the pope needs to give teaching about God, 
about right and wrong, then God will act to prevent the pope
from including error in that teaching. 

Now, if you want, you will find popes 
whose lives were far from admirable. 
And you don’t have to look long for a story 
that claims the Church messed up on this or that matter. 

First, I’d say, don’t believe all you hear. 
The facts are often otherwise. 
But ultimately, the most anyone can “prove”  
is what we already knew: 
that Christ built his Church not from angels, 
but from sinful people. 

It’s not surprising that too often, too many in the Church—
including ordinary folks like us— 
were willing to melt into the crowd, rather than speak up and be alone. 

The really amazing thing is how often 
the Church has done what Peter did: 
speak up, even when all alone. 

You may have heard the claim 
that the Church approved of slavery. That’s false. 
What’s true is that the Church was often alone 
in condemning it; and was ignored.

You’ve heard the charge that the Church 
didn’t do much to oppose Nazism. Again, that is a lie. 

No less than the New York Times called Pope Pius XII 
“a lonely voice” in the darkness. 
The Church took great risks in hiding Jews 
and others from the Holocaust, 
and saved more than anyone else besides the Allied armies. 

That has often been our role; to be the lonely voice, 
the prophet who speaks up to defending human dignity— 
and when we do, we are attacked as opposing “progress.” 

Pope Paul VI was very alone when he said contraception 
Was a grave moral evil that would be destructive in many ways.
When immorality and abortion spread—as Pope Paul foresaw— 
The Church has stood almost entirely alone on this one: 
and now, she is being proven 100% right.

So the Church continues to be that lonely prophet:
Whether against research that destroys tiny, unborn children;
Against the death penalty; against war and torture;
Or now on the great experiment of redefining marriage and family.

It’s hard to stand up against the crowd. 
How alone Peter might have felt, standing in the center of pagan Rome, 
with everyone jeering, “what a fool!”

Yet where is Nero? Where is mighty Rome?
Gone; plundered; turned to dust.

And if we find it hard to accept the teachings of the Church, remember: 
everyone likes a prophet when he tells us we’re right;
And we can’t stand a prophet who tells us we’re wrong.
But isn’t that exactly what we need a prophet for?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

No, Jesus wasn't prejudiced against the Canaanite woman

Last Sunday in most Catholic churches worldwide, the Gospel reading describes an encounter between Jesus, his Apostles and a Gentile woman. As with the accounts of Jesus feeding the multitudes, this passage seems to be irresistible bait for dubious and nearly heretical interpretations; not to mention, dumb interpretations.

For example, Maryknoll Missioners claimed Jesus learned to overcome his "prejudice." Father James Martin (who seems particularly hungry for attention, even if he has to toss Catholic teaching over the side to get it), makes the same claim; and when challenged, accuses his critics of heresy. FYI, I didn't find any of this; ChurchPop did (post here).

So, I'm not as smart and famous as any of these folks, but I'm going to show you just how wrong all this is. And I might point out that what follows relies heavily on Father Tim Schehr, who taught Scripture for many years at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's seminary, Mount Saint Mary's Seminary of the West.

First, let's acknowledge the difficulty by simply quoting the text in question. I bolded the parts that seem to support the claim Jesus was rude, if not prejudiced, toward the woman:

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon." 

But Jesus did not say a word in answer to herJesus' disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us." 

He said in reply, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 

But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, "Lord, help me." 

He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." 

She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." 

Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."  And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.

It seems pretty damning, doesn't it?

But let's look more closely.

Here's the first part of the text again, with different parts highlighted:

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and SidonAnd behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon." 

But Jesus did not say a word in answer to herJesus' disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us."

First, note the detail about the region of Tyre and Sidon. Why is that important? Where had Jesus and the Apostles been before?

If you roll back to chapter 14, you will see that Jesus and the Apostles had been in Galilee. This is where we read of the first occasion on which Jesus feeds a large crowd. Then he meets the Apostles on the Sea of Galilee; they are in the boat, with the wind against them, while Jesus walks across. (We heard this the prior week: this is when Peter steps out of the boat and very briefly walks on the water, before faltering.)

Then, he is in Gennesaret (14:34-36), where it says "People brought to him all those who were sick and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak, and as many as touched it were healed." Then, some of the Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem come to him, and complain that his disciples do not ritually purify their hands before eating. He gives his answer in verses 3-9, and then says to the assembled crowd:

“Hear and understand. It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.”

After this, Peter asks for still more clarification, to which an exasperated Jesus replies:

Are even you still without understanding? Do you not realize that everything that enters the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled into the latrine? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.

So, it is after this that Jesus decides they will make a field trip to the region of Tyre and Sidon. If you look at a map of the area, you will see it's a bit of a hike; they didn't accidentally end up there. Moreover, it is outside traditionally Jewish areas. In other words, Jesus deliberately took the Apostles to a Gentile area.

Pop quiz: if you visit Idaho, would you be surprised to meet Idahoians? I would hope not. So surely Jesus expected to meet a Gentile in the region of Tyre and Sidon, n'est pas?

Second detail: notice Jesus does not reply to the woman; he waits and allows the Apostles to reply. And how do they answer? "Send her away"!

Father Tom Grilliot, now gone to his reward, used to point out that this was often the Apostles' response. Remember they tried to send away the parents bringing children to be blessed? And this is what happened just before, with the 5,000 hungry people. They said "dismiss the crowds," but Jesus refused.

So here's the key to the whole thing. This isn't about Jesus having a prejudice; it's about the prejudice of the Apostles. It isn't about the woman teaching Jesus a lesson; it's about Jesus -- with the woman's help -- teaching the Apostles a lesson.

This episode is simply part of a larger effort on the Lord's part to expand the Apostles' vision. Understood in that light, the lesson about the ritual hand-washing, and what defiles a person, fits in perfectly, doesn't it? Indeed, that's what you see throughout the Gospels; the Apostles are struggling, and Jesus is continually schooling them.

But let's go on to review more of the passage, and notice further details:

He said in reply,
"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, "Lord, help me." 
He said in reply,
"It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs." 
She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters." 
Then Jesus said to her in reply,
"O woman, great is your faith! 
Let it be done for you as you wish." 
And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.

The key question her is, to whom are Jesus' first two comments directed? The first comment comes in response to the Apostles' "send her away" comment; he's responding to them. Admittedly, the second comment is unclear; it comes right after she does Jesus homage; but is it really directed at her?

Note well that the third comment is explicitly directed to her: "Then Jesus said to her in reply..." Matthew -- who was there to witness this -- seems to be emphasizing that this remark is the one comment particularly directed at the woman, in distinction from the others. And if they weren't directed at her, then to whom? Why, the Apostles -- whose attitudes are most likely reflected in them.

Father Schehr, when he explained this passage, invited us to imagine where everyone was standing, and facing, and the body language. He suggested that if it were acted out, the text would make the most sense if Jesus were looking at, and addressing his first two comments to, the Apostles.

Now, I can imagine someone accusing me of "forcing the text," in order to get the Lord "off the hook." But I will insist that anyone who claims, as the Maryknoll Missioners and Father Martin do, that this represents a case of "prejudice" on Jesus' part, to answer some questions:

- Why did Jesus deliberately enter into a Gentile region, if he wanted to avoid Gentiles?

- If Jesus didn't like Gentiles, why does the Gospel of Matthew, from Chapter 4, show him willingly healing Gentiles? In 4:25, we learn that people from "the Decapolis" region were among those he healed. While there were most likely Jews in this region, it was also heavily colonized by Gentiles. Then in Matthew 8, after the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' first healing is of a leper; then he heals the servant of a Centurion. It's almost certain the Centurion was a Gentile, for this is when Jesus exclaims, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith."

And just note, here, that there are two times in Matthew in which Jesus singles out individuals on whom to lavish praise for their great faith. One is this Centurion; the other in the Canaanite woman. Both Gentiles.

- Or, do you think Jesus didn't like women? Well, his next healing was of Peter's mother-in-law. And, of course, Jesus notably had several women who assisted him, and with which he willingly associated.

- Or, do you think Jesus didn't want to become ritually "unclean"? Again, hard to square with the passage in chapter 15 we already looked at; in addition, we might note he willingly healed two demonaics who had been dwelling "among tombs," in the region of the Gadarenes -- this is where the demons enter the herd of pigs, and drive them off the cliff. Beaucoup ritual uncleanness there!

This theory that Jesus had a prejudice simply doesn't track with the rest of the Gospel of Matthew. Indeed, the Gospel of Matthew has as a consistent theme throughout, that the Gentiles were to be incorporated into a renewed Israel; this is clear from the very first lines of the Gospel, which begin with a genealogy of Christ, which includes Gentiles and some other dodgy figures, right through the story of the Magi, and all I've just highlighted, all the way to the conclusion in which Jesus sends the Apostles to "make disciples of all Jews..."

Wait, is that right? No, sorry, I mis-remembered it! In fact, it says:

Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

In my judgment, this "interpretation" isn't a case of exegesis -- drawing from the text -- but rather, isogesis, which is reading into the text. It is all about an agenda. Can you think of a reason? Why might someone want to suggest that Jesus, of all people, was bound up in narrowness and prejudice? What agenda might that serve? I can think of several, and I bet you can, too.*

* FYI; after initially posting this, I added this paragraph.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

This church is a living sign of God -- and so are you (Sunday homily)

Today we recall the dedication of this church. 
This church was dedicated in 1891; it is the third church on this site. 
The first church was dedicated in 1852; 
so between three buildings, that’s 165 years.

Why is it so important to remember this – so much so, 
that this is a solemnity for our parish, 
and the readings and prayers are different 
from what they are in all other Catholic churches this Sunday?

Well, we might ask, why is it important to have sacraments? 
Even a lot of Catholics, don’t know the answer to that question. 
They are baptized, they made their first communion, 
and maybe they go to confession now and then, 
but they don’t really know what makes the sacraments important…

And to take a step back, why might as well ask, 
why does it matter, that God became human? 
What we call the Incarnation?

That’s what this is about, you see: 
God coming to be with us, as one of us.

A Catholic writer Mark Shea told this story
He was working with a woman who was prompted by the song, 
“If God Was One of Us” to ask, 
“Wouldn’t that be cool? Suppose God became a human being. 
Wouldn’t that be a great idea for a story?”

Mr. Shea laughed, and had the pleasure of being the first one 
to explain to her that, yes indeed, God did become, and remains, 
one of us. God became human. 

This is why the sacraments matter: 
because instead of vague ideas about God, 
or about what God wishing us well, 
God acts in time, in our lives, to save us.

And so, there’s why this church matters. 
Because St. Remy Church means 
that these miracles of God’s love and mercy and transformation 
aren’t things that happen somewhere – they happen here.

While I’m on the subject: the people of this parish 
have always demonstrated a great love for, and dedication to, 
this church and this parish. 

Last year, I reported to you that we were facing a serious deficit. 
Our very dedicated staff accepted no increase in pay 
and they helped hold down spending in many ways.
Meanwhile, so many of the people of this parish were very generous. 

In a few weeks, the finance committee and I 
will present a financial report on the past year, 
and a budget for the coming year. We are finalizing that right now. 
But I can tell you, we almost entirely closed that gap. 
I am confident that as we go forward with the same spirit, 
we’ll get into the black in another year. 

Meanwhile, this is a good time to recall 
the “One Faith, One Hope” fund drive 
the Archbishop launched two years ago. 

As you may recall, a portion of what you have given to that fund 
is coming back to the parish. 
Since then, about $70,000 has come back here, 
and we have been using it, as promised, 
on various repairs and improvements. Let me highlight a few:

- We repaired and resurfaced sections of our parking lots; 
- Pavement in the cemetery and around the rectory garage was replaced;
- The interior of St. Remy Hall was repainted;
- We’ve made improvements in the landscaping;
- Repairs were made to the exterior of St. Remy Hall;
- The rooms in the church basement were improved;
- The church organ was given much needed maintenance;
- We added safety features to the Parish Center, 
including emergency lighting;
- And just last week, we modernized our office phones 
after a lightning strike.

There were many other smaller projects, but they all add up. 
And there are many more coming, as the funds are rebated,
including a safety rail on the balcony, 
improvements to the interior of the Parish Center, 
and improvements to the equipment in the hall.

Now, all this is great to celebrate, 
but it also gives us something to ponder. 
This puts a great responsibility on us; on each of us. 
After all, this house of God, this place of grace, 
is only as impressive as the people who call it home. 
The mercy and the miracles don’t just happen in a building; 
they happen, above all, in people. That would be us.

When I talk about miracles, what do I mean? 
Well, let me mention several:

- At every Mass Jesus makes his death and resurrection present, 
and he gives us his very Body and Blood for food!
- In every confession, the unbearable weight of sin and alienation from God 
is destroyed and vanishes forever!
- In every baptism, a child is born again as a child of God and 
a temple of the Holy Spirit, destined for heaven.
- In the sacrament of marriage, even in our cynical times, 
people continue to come to place their faith in each other 
as they invite Christ to make them a living image of God.
- In the anointing of the sick, 
both physical and spiritual healing happens. 

As wonderful as all this is, remember family, that it isn’t all just for us. 

The wonders we experience are about making us wonders; 
the signs God gives us are to make us signs to the larger community. 
The grace we receive, you and I are sent to share. 

In two weeks, a lot of the local community 
will stream to our parish grounds for our annual Homecoming. 
I’d like to suggest something. Starting today, will you – 
will each one of us – begin praying 
that our Homecoming Picnic will be a time of God’s grace?

If you invite someone, or meet someone, 
who has never been inside our church, 
why not give that person a tour for a few minutes?

If you are working a booth – and thank you for that! – 
ask God to help you be a blessing to all you meet. 
If you are a chairperson, pray for your volunteers, 
and let them know you’re praying for them.

If you talk to folks who are feeling discouraged or having trouble, 
offer to pray for them, and even with them. 

God has given us tremendous blessings in our parish. 
What will you do to be a blessing to our community? 
To be a living sign of the living God, who dwells in this house?