Saturday, June 10, 2017

At the beach...

...So, no homily this weekend.

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

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

Sunday, June 04, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It will all come tumbling down.

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

What can you and I do? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The four keys to being a disciple (Sunday homily)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 14, 2017

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

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

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

And to recall, they are five: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, here’s something you can do. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Morning Prayer Mash up

When I arrived in the sacristy this morning, before Mass, as I always do, I turned on the church lights, vested and sat down to pray my breviary -- i.e., the book for the Liturgy of the Hours. Almost always, I pray Lauds, or Morning Prayer first; then, if time allows, Office of Readings and Mid-morning Prayer.

Now, when we pray the office during Easter, there is some extra flipping around in the book; that's just how the breviary is laid out. That bears on what follows.

So, I started Morning Prayer, with Psalm 95, then the hymn, then the usual hymns. Then I flipped back to the second half...and I guess I got distracted, because...

A few minutes later, I was praying the first and second reading for Office of Readings. Then I looked at the time, and thought, wow, this went fast! I flipped to begin Mid-morning prayer...

Only to realize I'd skipped the psalms for Office of Readings! Oh well, I've done that before; so I then prayed the psalms. So then I figured, OK, I'm finished with Office of Readings; I'll pray the psalms for Mid-morning Prayer. When I finished those, I flipped back to pray the reading and final prayer of Mid-morning Prayer...

And then realized I'd never prayed the second half of Morning Prayer! So, then, I thought: now what?

So I finished Morning Prayer. Then, I finished Mid-morning Prayer.

To review, this is what I did:

1. First half of Morning Prayer
2. Second half of Office of Readings
3. First half of Office of Readings
4. First half of Mid-morning Prayer
5. Second half of Morning Prayer
6. Second half of Mid-morning Prayer

Some days I'm really foggy. It was that way till around noon.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

What we do, and don't, believe about the pope and the Church (Sunday homily)

The image of the shepherd is pretty strong in the readings – 
that’s why this is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” 
But did you also notice how much we heard from Saint Peter? 
That’s appropriate, since he was the first pope, 
the first shepherd appointed by Christ to guard and teach the Church.

This is a good opportunity to talk about what we do, and do not, 
believe about the pope and the nature of the Church.

At one extreme, there are people who think 
we treat the pope as if he were the oracle of God; 
whatever he says or does is almost like Scripture. 
At the other extreme are those who say, 
well there have been bad popes and bad bishops, 
so how can you believe there is anything special about the pope, 
or for that matter, the Church?

And the answer is this: what makes the Church special, 
and the pope in particular, isn’t anything about us; 
it isn’t anything about Pope Francis as a man. 
What is special is what Christ does, in his power.

So we do believe, as Catholics, 
that there is something special about the Church. 
The Church is the Body of Christ; and therefore, 
the Church, while made up of human beings, 
nevertheless, the Church is divine. 
Jesus is human and Jesus is divine. 
The Church, which is his Body, is likewise, both human and divine.

Unlike Jesus, we members of his Body do sin.
That reality of the Church is on full display, sometimes to our shame.

But the supernatural reality is also there, if we look for it. 
We can see it in a couple of ways.

First, we can see it in the work of Providence. 
There’s a quote by G.K. Chesterton, from his book called Orthodoxy,
in which he paints a picture of the Church moving through history, 
always in peril, always on the edge of disaster, 
and yet, somehow it all works out. 

In her early days, the Church, Chesterton said, 
“went fierce and fast with any warhorse,” 
yet had to maneuver past the error of “Arianism, 
buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. 
The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, 
which would have made (the Church) too unworldly” – 
and so it has been, all these centuries. 

Again, Chesterton said, 

To have fallen into any one of the fads
from Gnosticism to Christian Science
would indeed have been obvious and tame.
But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure;
and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages,
the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate,
the wild truth reeling but erect.

In other words, this is the work of the Holy Spirit, 
safeguarding the Church in all these dangers. 

And it is the same for the pope in particular. 
Pope Francis, or any pope, can make mistakes 
and can show weakness or worldliness. 

And to be clear, what we believe about the pope 
is not that he is uniquely holy or wise or courageous 
or anything of that sort. We hope for that; 
and as it happens, we have been blessed 
with many men of extraordinary courage and wisdom and saintliness.

But none of that is automatic.

Instead, what we believe – and please listen carefully to this:
what we believe is that God will protect the pope, in certain moments, 
to ensure that he does not teach error to the Church. 
That’s what we call “infallibility.” 
It is not a promise that everything will be smooth sailing; 
but rather, that when the Bark of Peter faces storms, 
she may take on water and suffer damage – but she will not sink. 

This is the work of the Good Shepherd, 
the True Shepherd, Jesus Christ himself.

Why isn’t it easier? Notice what Pope Peter said: 
Jesus suffered for us…but we follow in his footsteps. 
We go where Jesus has gone – and that includes the Cross. 
That includes the valley of the shadow of death. 
But we never go there alone. 

Meanwhile, if you and I want the Church to be all we dream of, 
there is something we can do instead of complaining. 

Be that shining example of a Christian! Be a saint! 

That is the other way we see the supernatural reality of the Church, 
in the lives of saints and in the way grace shines in them. 
If you and I are busy about becoming saints,
we won’t have any time to worry about what others are, or aren’t doing. 
If a bishop or a priest has let you down – if I have let you down – 
I am deeply sorry. 
But they – I – can’t keep you from being a saint. 
You stay on that path!

Friday, May 05, 2017

Justice Kennedy's retirement: why now? What next?

Two items:

First: there's a lot of buzz that Justice Anthony Kennedy will retire soon, perhaps in the next two months. I linked just one item, but if you do a web search, you'll see a lot more.

Second: In First Things, George Weigel predicts that if the next vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court means the replacement of a pro-abortion justice (e.g., Justice Kennedy!), all hell will break loose. What happened with Gorsuch will be a walk in the park, compared to the political tactics and rioting in the streets.

As I think about all this, wondering why Justice Kennedy would choose to step down now, and what the opposition would be aiming at accomplishing in all this, some thoughts occur to me:

- He might have noticed the Republicans have only a 52-48 majority in the Senate right now, with several Republican "moderates" making a decisive margin. After 2018, the odds are, the margin will be greater. So he might figure this maximizes the chance of his successor being a more moderate Republican nominee -- i.e., just like him.

- The Democrats know they can't prevent President Trump from filling the seat; but there are advantages to bogging things down. If, as often happens, Kennedy's resignation only takes effect once his successor is named, then dragging things out keeps Kennedy around; it's not a vacancy as with Scalia. And, while they don't like how Kennedy votes on some things, they really like what he does on abortion and redefining marriage, and all that flows from those positions. 

- But even if Kennedy were to quit outright, that puts us back at 4-4 ties on abortion cases, at best; and on cases where Kennedy tends to be conservative, that means a gain for the left. 

- While the Democrats obviously would be aiming to keep their own constituencies happy (i.e., the pro-abortion lobby, the LGBTetc. community, trial lawyers, etc.), they would have other goals in making this fight really ugly:

a) Delay, delay, delay; not only of a confirmation, but of anything else Trump and the GOP want to pass.

b) They might get lucky and "bork" the next nominee. They only need switch a handful of "moderate" Republicans, such as: Collins of Maine, Murkowski of Alaska, and McCain of Arizona. There are a couple more who might waver.

c) The anticipation of all this might induce Trump to back off a little, at least from the most fire-breathing candidates for the high court.

d) They might be able to make some other deal with Trump. Dangerous for Trump, but he might be tempted nevertheless.

- But then there's this: what effect does all this have on Chief Justice John Roberts? Everyone assumes he will be a vote to overturn Roe; but he famously didn't overturn Obamacare; he found a way to salvage it. Does he want to be the 5th vote that causes so much turmoil?

Honestly, I think Roberts is an uncertain vote to overturn Roe. Maybe he would "hollow it out" as some have said; or maybe he waits until there are six votes -- which means replacing Breyer or Ginsberg. My guess is Ginsberg will do anything to prevent Trump naming her successor.

All this is yet another reason why we can't just wait and rely on the Supreme Court on these things. My group, the National Pro Life Alliance, has been working to advance the Life at Conception Act, (S. 231/H.R. 681 and H.R. 586) which overturns Roe the way the Roe v. Wade decision said it could be: by declaring unborn children persons under the 14th Amendment. In authoring the Roe holding, Justice Blackmun said that if the personhood of the unborn child were established, the case for abortion being included in the so-called right of privacy "would collapse" (Blackmun's own words). Yet he said the court couldn't answer whether unborn children were persons. Who can? The 14th Amendment says Congress can enforce the amendment. So that's the approach.

Is this a sure thing? Of course not; but neither is the next appointment strategy. And the constitutional amendment route is the hardest of all. But one of the many advantages to pursuing the Life at Conception Act is that every year, we're keeping the pressure on Congress, and we're getting more and more members of Congress to commit to cosponsoring the legislation. That means not only more support for repeal of Roe; it means more support for every other pro life legislation that might come forward. And, in the Senate, it gives us a stronger position to support a solid nominee to the Supreme Court, whenever it happens (as well as more Senators who might push back if Trump names someone too weak, as in President Bush's ill-fated choice of Harriet Meirs).

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Can we reclaim the name 'Holy Cross' from Holy Cross College?

At National Review Online I saw this item: Does the College of the Holy Cross Need to Change Its Team Name? The article depressingly goes mostly where you imagine it will, although the matter of abandoning the venerable name "Crusader" is still "under discussion." 

I am not familiar with the College of the Holy Cross in particular, but we are all too well acquainted with the disheartening spectacle of an institution of higher learning, bearing a Catholic name, behaving as if it has no idea of who or what it is any longer. Since I can't keep track of the track record for all the ostensibly Catholic institutions in our country, I rely on the Cardinal Newman Society to do this for me; this fine organization performs the heroic duty of reporting instances of infidelity by Catholic colleges and universities. So, I did a Google search of "Holy Cross college Massachusetts Newman Society,"* and as I feared, received back a plentiful list of links that paint a picture. I hasten to point out I have not investigated all these links; I will leave that to you.

Let's just stick to the question presented here: is it a bad thing to be a crusader? Contemporary "thought" (which is increasingly the opposite) would say so; but if pressed, does a very poor job of explaining why. What, exactly, is a Crusader? Well, of course, that's easy. While Wikipedia must not be relied on for exact information, it's useful for a general sense of things. Here's what you get there:


Crusader, a participant in one of the Crusades. See Category:People of the Crusades and List of principal Crusaders
Crusader states, states set up by the Europeans in the Balkans and the Middle East during The Crusades
Crusader tank, a British cruiser tank of World War II
HMS Crusader, three British naval ships
Operation Crusader, a British attack in North African campaign in World War II
VMFA-122 Crusaders, a United States Marine Corps fixed wing fighter-attack squadron 122
XM2001 Crusader, an American self-propelled artillery project
Crusaders (guerrilla), a Croatian anti-communist guerrilla army


Crusader (speedboat), the jet speedboat in which John Cobb died
Crusader (train), a streamlined train which operated between 1937 and 1981
Crusader, a GWR 3031 Class locomotive that was built for and ran on the Great Western Railway between 1891 and 1915
Crusader ambulance (original version named Crusader 900), a type of emergency ambulance in widespread use in the United Kingdom, originally developed by the St John Ambulance Brigade


F-8 Crusader, a U.S. Navy fighter jet
XF8U-3 Crusader III, an experimental fighter intended to replace the F-8 and compete with the F-4 Phantom II
Short Crusader, a racing seaplane built by Short Brothers
American Gyro AG-4 Crusader an aircraft built by the Crusader Aircraft Corporation
Cessna T303 Crusader

And that's just the first three categories; further down are sports teams, publications and the like.

Notice something? Lots of people seemed to think that being a "Crusader" was an admirable thing. Why did they think that? 

Of course, all this originates with the first entry listed, above: those who went on one of the several Crusades to liberate the Holy Land from invasion and conquest by armies carrying the banner of Islam. 

Now, lots of things happened in the course of the Crusades that we -- or anyone of any age -- wished did not happen. But so what? There were moral failures by the Allies in World War II, some pretty significant* -- but acknowledging this fact does not call into question the legitimacy of the Allies' overall effort; and if someone were to claim that such failures create any sort of moral equivalency between the Allies and the Axis, that is both incoherent and obscene.

The comparison between the Allies and the Crusaders is entirely apt, as both were a response to aggression. Indeed, this isn't just something I came up with; notice the entries, above, of uses of "crusader" in association with World War II. By the way, do you know what symbol Charles de Gaulle, the hero of the French resistance to Axis conquest, chose as the emblem of the Free French forces? Here is the banner that sons of France bore as they liberated their homeland (click on image for more information):

To be a Crusader is to carry the Cross, including into battle in protection of the Christian faith and those who practice it. There is no reason to be embarrassed about it. For those who sneer at warriors entering battle with religious purpose, I ask: do we fight for better reasons today? Do we wage war more nobly, when we shed religious impulses? The presence of the Cross on the shields and the lips of the Crusaders served to elevate them; what would they have been without faith? More like us in the 20th and 21st century, I suspect (and not in a good way). The generation that avoids war without dishonor can sit in judgment of the Crusaders; but that generation doesn't exist yet, sadly.

Let me correct one thing: there is one reason to be embarrassed by the name "Crusader" -- and that is if you are embarrassed by the Cross. If the College of the Holy Cross has reached that point, I would ask, can we have back, not the name of your sports teams, but the name of your college? 


* What do I have in mind? In World War II, many immoral and disreputable actions and omissions occurred on the part of the Allies; both on the part of individual figures, field commanders, and national leaders. Most notable would be the use of indiscriminate bombing, the destruction of Dresden, the use of atomic bombs in Japan, and the failure to do more to assist the Jews and others who were being systematically exterminated. These moral failures were faulted at the time, and have been since, especially by leading Catholic figures, such as various popes, and bishops such as Ven. Fulton Sheen. Feel free to look it up.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Trump finally moving on religious liberty?

Politico thinks so. Let's pray and hope!

I'm critical of Mr. Trump when I think it's warranted; I'm happy to give him credit when due. Let's see what happens.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Do you know what you're saying yes to, in receiving the Eucharist? (Sunday homily)

Let’s look closer at what happened in that Gospel we just heard. 
Two friends of Jesus are on a journey. 
They are talking about Jesus being killed on Good Friday. 

Then Jesus – without them recognizing him – comes alongside. 
He explains to them, from the Bible, 
how it was “necessary that the Christ should suffer all these things.” 
After a couple of hours of walking and talking, they sit down to eat, 
and then, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, 
breaks it and gives the bread to them; 
at that very instant, he causes them to recognize him. 
And in that same moment, he disappears.

The whole point is this moment: 
to have them “recognize him in the breaking of the bread.” 
This means, of course, the Eucharist; 
but more than that, it means the Holy Mass.

When we come to Mass, what do we do? 
We come together, we listen to God’s Word, 
and the priest or the deacon helps us understand it better. 
Only then do we move to the moment when we, too, 
recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. 

Now notice, Jesus didn’t start with sharing the Eucharist. 
Sometimes that is what people would like. 
When I was in another parish, I remember someone asking me, 
“Father, can we have one of those short Masses 
without all the stuff in the middle?” 

At first, I didn’t understand, but then I realized, 
she wanted me to distribute communion, without the actual Mass! 
What she called, “the stuff in the middle”? 
That’s the heart of the Mass! 

The priest is at the altar, and Jesus acts, through the priest, 
to make his dying and rising present. 
That “stuff” is the all-important “stuff”! 
Without that, there is no Mass; and without the Mass, 
there is no Eucharist. 

First Jesus gives himself in the sacrifice, 
and that’s why he changes the bread and wine into his Body and Blood, for us to share. 

That’s what “communion” means: to share in something; 
and what we share in – by taking communion – 
is the dying of Jesus and his rising from the dead. 

At Mass, the priest is at the altar acting for us, in our name. 
And when he turns and brings us the Eucharist, 
and if we then share the Body and Blood, 
by sharing it, we’re saying several things all at once:

1. I am a sinner and but for this sacrifice, I would be going to hell.
2. I believe Jesus is my Savior, my Lord and my God. 
3. I am a baptized member of the Catholic Church, 
and I am in a state of grace. That means, 
if I have any mortal sins, 
I’ve gone to confession and been absolved.
4. By sharing the Body and Blood of Jesus, 
I am entering into the “new and eternal covenant” 
Jesus makes through his death and resurrection, 
and I accept all that means – including giving 
my whole life to Jesus; being prepared to die to sin 
and this world, and live in and for Christ, 
every hour of every day of my life.

That’s a lot to say yes to all at once! 
But that is what our “amen” means 
when we take the Body and Blood of Jesus to our lips. 

It is not all that different, really, 
from what Jesus himself said “yes” to on the night before he died. 
Remember? He said: “Father, if it be possible, 
let this cup pass from me; but not my will, but your will be done.” 
The “cup” is the Cross. He accepted it. 
And when you and I take the Body and the Blood, 
we are accepting the Cross as well. 

So, yes, that’s a lot to say “amen” to, and that’s why we, 
like those disciples on the road, need help to understand it. 
So when someone says, I want to become a Catholic, 
it takes time to consider, and learn, and pray. 
That’s why Jesus took time to open the Scriptures for those disciples.

So let’s make an obvious application. 
If our hearts are going to be open to these realities, 
then we had better be prepared to invest some time and effort. 

And this explains the logic of Mass every single Sunday. 
Not once a month, not a few times a year, but every single Sunday.

And that’s still not enough. If you and I come to Mass 
without any spiritual preparation during the rest of the week, 
what happens? We’re like these two disciples: 
we don’t really understand what’s happening.

Now let me put some of this on myself. 
It is the job of the priest to open up the Scriptures for you. 
I do what I can for about ten minutes each Sunday; 
notice Jesus spent a couple of hours with these two. 

This parish does provide resources that you can tap into 
the rest of the week. And that costs money; 
and this year, we ran a deficit. 
So this is why I’ve been asking folks to help more, 
so I don’t have to cut back on what we offer.

We have lots of opportunities for our children, 
and we do what we can for our adults. You see the books we put out; 
and the talks and events we schedule. 
And because this doesn’t work for everyone, 
we have materials available online – for free! – at 
You can access them, at home, at any hour, day or night. 

Even so, you can help me do a better job for you. 
And I mean more than giving in the collection – although that will help!
If you go out of Mass and you aren’t clear on something, 
please, please tell me! 
I get plenty of “attaboys” and I appreciate that; 
but it would be awesome if people wrote or said to me, 
“I don’t really understand when the Bible or the Church says X” 
or “This or that teaching is unclear to me.” 
It would only take a few such comments for me 
to decide to give that subject more emphasis in a homily; 
or else, look for another way to do it.

I’ve done what I can today to explain these Scriptures. 
Only Jesus can open our hearts – and that, only if we let him. 
At this and every Mass, Jesus offers us his own Body and Blood. 
Saying “yes” – saying “amen” to his Gift – changes everything. 
This will happen here in a few minutes. 

What will you say to Jesus?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Why is Trump continuing Obama's war on the Little Sisters?

On these pages last year, I was attacked viciously by those claiming to be true Catholics (unlike the apostate they deemed me to be) for one simple reason: I did not think candidate Donald Trump worthy of my own support. I demurred, among other reasons, because I wasn't convinced of his sincerity of conservative convictions.

Now he is President Trump, and he has my support as a citizen, and my best hopes. Alas, however, his promises about religious freedom are going by the wayside. Two items:

-- Earlier this year a proposed executive order safeguarding religious liberty was being circulated, but then faded from view. Supposedly, it's still being worked on.

-- The Trump Administration is continuing with the Obama-era lawsuit against the Little Sisters of the Poor, which arose because of the former president's mandate that employers facilitate their employees obtaining contraception and abortifacient drugs. From the linked article: "As things stand now, it appears that Justice plans to continue defending the way the Obama administration applied the birth-control mandate, said Eric Rassbach, a Becket attorney.

'That just seems to be very contrary to what they’ve been saying publicly,' Rassbach said."

This isn't the Trump Administration we were promised, it seems.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

No mercy without the Resurrection (Sunday homily)

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday – 
a designation that Pope Saint John Paul II gave it a few years ago, 
based on the messages Saint Faustina Kowalska received from Jesus; 
so you would expect me to talk about that. 

But it is also the second Sunday of Easter, 
which means it’s about the Resurrection. 
So let’s start there, and come back to Divine Mercy 
and what that means.

They aren’t exactly separate things; 
because the mercy that we look for from Jesus Christ is only possible, 
it is only real, if the Resurrection is real. 

You might say, but I thought the mercy of Christ 
flows from the Crucifixion, from his death on the Cross? 
And that’s true; but if Jesus did not rise from the dead, 
then why would you believe his death would in any way save you?

If you say, well, because Jesus said so, my answer is, yes – 
and, he said that he would rise from the grave on the third day. 
So again, if that didn’t happen, why believe anything he promised?

So this is one reason why the Resurrection matters: 
because it gives us ground for believing Jesus is who he said he is, 
and will do what he said you will do. 
Or, to quote something Saint Paul said 
in his first letter to the Corinthians, 
“if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; 
you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). 
The second thing to notice about the Resurrection
is that this reminds us that our Christian Faith 
isn’t simply a collection of ideas. 
In our time, it is very common to treat matters of religion and faith 
as if they belong in a box, over here, 
way, way apart from the box we label, “facts,” 
or the box we label “science,” or the box we label “reality.” 

Not only do non-believers 
try to separate Christianity from science and facts, 
so do many Christians – 
although they may not realize that is what they are doing.

So, for example, more than once 
I’ve been asked by some of our young people this question: 
do we, as Catholics, have to accept the theory of evolution? 
And my answer is that God is supreme over all things, 
and whatever scientists discover 
about the origins of life and the age of the universe, 
and the development of life on earth, 
they are simply discovering more and more 
about the marvelous “how” of God’s creative work. 
You and I have no reason to fear or discourage scientific pursuit; 
on the contrary, we welcome it, 
because the result has always been 
to discover how even more wonderful God’s ways are. 

So back to the Resurrection. 
This is a reminder that we Christians propose a faith 
not only of ideas, but of facts. 
God became man at a certain time, in a certain place; 
that God-Man walked the earth in Palestine, 
he said things people wrote down, and then, at a certain point, 
he was arrested, beaten, tried, executed…
and on the third day, he rose again. 

That is, his body came back to life, 
and left the grave where it had been laid. 
These are bold claims of fact, which – if they are not true, 
then Christianity is false, 
and you should all find something else to do on Sundays.

Now, there are some remarkable things 
to say about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

One is this: why would the early Christians even make the claim? 
That is, if it didn’t happen, why invent it? 

And if you say, well, but Jesus predicted it – and that’s true. 
But if that failed to happen, then you have three options. 
First, stop following Jesus, because he proved not to be the Messiah. 
Second, if you have to fudge some facts, 
would fudging over those predictions be a lot easier, 
than fudging over the problem of him not rising from the dead? 

But what we’re to believe is that those early followers of Jesus 
chose the most difficult and least promising option: 
they pretended Jesus had been raised from the dead!

Another remarkable thing: 
the Apostles themselves didn’t believe it – 
as we see in today’s Gospel. 

Now, Thomas’ reaction makes perfect sense. 
Wouldn’t we react similarly, 
if we were told that someone we knew had died, 
had later risen from the dead? 
He said what we would say. 
And Mark’s Gospel tells us that the other Apostles also doubted. 

This doubt is entirely reasonable. 
These people, in other words, weren’t credulous pushovers; 
they were sensible people; fishermen, farmers, construction workers, 
business owners – people not so different from us.

And yet they came to believe; 
and they staked everything on that belief, 
many of them accepting painful deaths, 
rather than deny what they saw and heard.

There’s one more point to make about Resurrection, and it is this: 
what Jesus shows us in his risen, glorified body isn’t mainly about him; it’s about us. 
He shows what you and I can look forward to with confidence.

Jesus not only promised to rise from the dead himself; 
he promised to call us back to life as well. 

You and I will experience the very same – the exact same – resurrection as Jesus. 

Our bodies will, one day, come back to life, 
and our souls and bodies will be reunited. We will live forever. 
And this will either be in the happiness of heaven, or the pains of hell.

You and I will no longer be subject 
to the limitations and frailties that we know in this present life. 
So fear not: when we get our bodies back, 
they will be “new and improved.” 
No more eyeglasses, no more braces, 
no more crutches and pain pills and all the rest!

So when we talk about the mercy 
God wants us to experience and trust in, this is the WHY of it. 

God wants you and me to live in hope. 
He wants us to know what great hope lies ahead. 
It all fits together. 
Jesus came to give us life, and that more abundantly. 
Jesus died so that we would know and have confidence 
that our sins are forgiven – 
so that we would return to him and know that abundant life. 
And he rose from the dead, not only to prove his word was true, 
but also, to SHOW us what that abundant life was like.

This is why we love the words Saint Faustina 
includes on her image of Divine Mercy, and we make them our own:
“Jesus, I trust in thee!” 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

What will you live for? (Easter homily)

All over the world, Catholics and other Christians 
are marking this night, this day, the day that the Lord has made. 
The day Jesus came back from the dead, 
conquering sin and defeating death, 
and opening the path for us to heaven. 
That is why Alleluia belongs to this day: praise the Lord! 
This is the day of victory!

But what victory, exactly? What is this triumph? 
Are we claiming that we will not die? We know that we will. 
Our victory is that we know what lies ahead for us: 
not a grave, but heaven!

And what do we mean by this defeat of sin? 
I still struggle with sin. I’m guessing you do, too. 

But we have seen God weigh into the battle – for us and with us. 
All our sins have been nailed to the cross – 
and when Jesus died on that cross, 
so did our sins and all our condemnation! 

So remember: when you go to confession, and the priest gives you absolution, 
all that power of Jesus’ blood is poured out for you.
Never doubt, never waver: all your sins are forgiven forever: 
Gone, gone, gone!

No one else can take away sin but Jesus. 
As we say at each Mass: 
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. 
This is that day!
Not everyone celebrates this victory tonight. 
Lots of people in our world either do not know what Jesus did, 
or they do not care. They do not believe. 
Many in our own country have only a passing awareness. 

The story of who Jesus is and what he did 
has become a steady, background buzz in their ears. 
Perhaps they were raised as Christians, but they have turned away, 
or tuned out. Maybe someone hurt them.
They may take more notice of the wrongs of Christians, 
And the saving work of Christ is a little distant.  
Some just sort of drifted, and haven’t found their way back.

What can we say?

Each of us must choose what we will believe; 
what we will give our life for. 
Do not think you can stand off to one side, and stay out of it. 
Not choosing is to choose. 

Lots of people live for enjoyment, for fulfillment, for pleasure. 
This sounds worse than it is. 
God created us, and pleasure, 
a desire for the new and exciting, is built into us. 
But these are blessings of a good life; 
they aren’t enough to be the focus of life. 

There comes a point when we realize: 
I can live for me, or I can live for others. 
Those who choose self, who live for themselves, 
that’s all they have in the end: themselves, and nothing else.

Many people give themselves to their careers, to sports, to causes. 
Again, nothing wrong with this; indeed, there’s a lot to admire.
Still, it’s not enough. All these things can and will fail us.
Men and women around the world give themselves for their families. 
Is this not a worthy thing? Certainly it is. 
Or for their country? Do we not admire this? 
With all our hearts, we do!

But again, for what purpose? 
In loving our country, or loving our family, what do we want for them? 
Do I simply want a United States of America to exist, 
without having any sort of idea of what my country will BE? 

If I sustain and protect my family, is it for any purpose? 
What do I teach my sons and daughters? Does this matter? 
Just as I must discover some purpose for my own life, 
and seek it with all my body and soul, 
is this not what I want for my children as well?

Shall I follow Mohammed? But Mohammed is not God, who became man; 
Mohammed did not die for me. 
He may have some things to teach me, but he did not rise from the dead.

Shall I seek out Buddha? Buddha, too, is not God. 
Buddha teaches that peace is found on the path of negation. 
Empty, empty, ever emptier, until there is no desire, 
no need, nothing at all.

But Jesus says, this Creation is very good, even if it is broken. 
He came, not to escape this Creation, but to redeem it. 
”I came,” he said, “that they might have life, and have it to the full.”

Brothers and sisters, we have completed our time of penance. 
You and I have faced the reality of our own sinfulness 
and, even more than that, our own radical dependence. 
You and I cannot live a day, not an hour, without God’s help and grace. 

We are not so foolish as to think that our share of the battle is over; 
but we have seen the Captain of our Salvation triumph, 
so we know what lies ahead! The outcome is certain; the battle is won! 
We have been forgiven, and we can dare to be generous in forgiving! 

This is our victory, this is what Jesus has won for us. 
This is why we sing victory tonight; this is why we celebrate. 
Jesus has risen! Jesus has conquered! We are free!

So I put the question to you, the question everyone faces: 
what will you live for? What will you fight for? 
What will you give your life for?

Be not too quick to answer. In Egypt, just a week ago, 
those who claimed Christ paid with their lives. 
This is happening, almost daily, in Syria, in North Korea, 
in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, 
in Africa, and many other places around the world.

In our country, your answer may cost you a friendship; 
it may cost you a promotion. 
It may bring you derision and embarrassment. 
Being faithful to Christ has cost others 
their jobs and their businesses; so it may be for us.

The question is before you. We can postpone it, but never escape it. 
We will live our lives for something – what will we choose?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Triduum is the New Passover (Holy Thursday)

When we come to this night, we come to the three days 
that are “Ground Zero” of our Faith.

Everything we do, everything we pray, everything we believe, 
is grounded and given meaning only in what we commemorate now.

It has been about 1,990 years 
since the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. 
The events of the lives of Moses and Abraham, 
and the Biblical texts that tell us about them, 
take us back another 2,000 years.

Century upon century. Layer on layer. 
All of this has come down to us 
through the enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt, 
their captivity in Babylon, and waves of conquerors.
Then, in turn, through all the history of the Church 
as she went from Jewish to Greek to Roman, 
and finally arriving on our shores.

With all that is different in how we celebrate the Eucharist tonight, 
from how our ancestors did when they cleared this wilderness, 
and from how the first Christians did so, 
some things have never changed.

For example, we have this description from Saint Justin Martyr:
On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, 
whether they live in the city or the outlying districts. 
The recollections of the apostles 
or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. 

When the reader has finished, 
the president of the assembly speaks to us; 
he urges everyone to imitate the examples of virtue 
we have heard in the readings. 
Then we all stand up together and pray. 
On the conclusion of our prayer, 
bread and wine and water are brought forward. 

Doesn’t that sound familiar?
Then Saint Justin goes on to say this:

The apostles, in their recollections, which are called gospels, 
handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do. 
They tell us that he took bread, gave thanks and said: 
Do this in memory of me. This is my body. 
In the same way he took the cup, he gave thanks and said: 
This is my blood.

Justin wrote this in the year 155.  

The words I will speak at the altar in a few minutes – 
you’ve heard them so many times – 
are the same words you just heard Paul recount. 
Saint Paul wrote that around the year AD 55, 
or about 25 years after Jesus died and rose from the dead.

Despite all the centuries and all the layers, 
at the heart of our Mass, we do what they did. 
We are doing what Jesus said to do.

A lot of the focus tends to be on the Eucharist as a meal. 
That was something that has been emphasized since the 70s.
There was a feeling that this wasn’t emphasized enough, before.
Unfortunately, I think the opposite has happened:
With so much emphasis on the meal, and on a “table,” 
that the reality of the Mass as a sacrifice became obscured.

That’s why, for example, there was so much interest 
in having the priest face the people when he is at the altar – 
where, for uncountable centuries, the priest and people together, faced the same way: 
toward the Lord where our hope comes from.

Do you see what I’m saying? 
When the priest stands here, and speaks to you across the—
well, doesn’t that seem like it’s a dinner table?

But when the priest is on the same side as the people, 
Doesn’t that help emphasize that something else is going on? 
The priest is acting for you. He’s offering a sacrifice.

Well, of course, the Holy Mass is both, as is Passover, 
which the first reading describes. 
In fact, what we are celebrating between tonight and Sunday, 
is the New Passover.  
That’s what Jesus meant when he referred 
to a “new and everlasting covenant” -- 
something the Prophet Jeremiah foretold.

Notice, I said that the New Passover takes place over three days. 
Three nights, to be precise. Tonight we remember the beginning.
Tomorrow is when the Passover Lamb was slain.
And then, late at night on Saturday, we celebrate the Resurrection.

Now, a lot of focus at this Mass every year 
is on the Lord washing the feet of the Apostles. 
But what many people don’t realize
is that there are two distinct meanings to this, 
only one of which people seem to remember.

What people remember is the act of profound humility. 
As Jesus said, “as I have done for you, you should also do.” 

But there’s another meaning, which has almost been lost. 
And it has to do with the priesthood. 
In the Old Testament, at God’s direction, 
Moses washed Aaron and his sons when they became priests. 
Well, these men are Jesus’ priests; and so, Jesus washes them. 
Remember: this is the night Jesus instituted both the priesthood, 
and the Holy Mass.

The way the Passover worked, 
first the lamb was offered at the temple. 
It was slain – sacrificed – as the first reading describes. 
Then the lamb was brought to the home, 
and there the meal that followed the sacrifice was shared.

And that’s what we do in the Mass. 
The priest is at the altar, offering the Lamb of God. 
That’s what I am doing, when I stand there. 

If it helps, you might notice the following things happening 
in the Eucharistic Prayer. 
Let me point out several things to listen for.

The priest begins by addressing God the Father: 
“Accept and bless these gifts, these offerings”—
that is, the bread and wine we bring to the altar.
Then we remember all the other members of the worldwide Church, 
especially “your servant Francis our pope and Dennis our bishop,” 
and “all gathered here.” 
And we recall the Blessed Mother, and the Apostles, and some of the saints.

When you see me extend my hands like this over the bread and wine, 
that’s nearly the last moment they are merely bread and wine. 
That prayer asks the Holy Spirit 
to turn our “oblation” of bread and wine 
into Jesus’ offering of his Body and Blood.

Then, of course, the priest speaks the very words of Jesus, 
from that night before he died. 
That part of the Eucharistic Prayer links to the Last Supper.

Now, after this, listen carefully to what I pray at the altar. 
I’ll say, “we offer to your glorious majesty…
this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim”—
the Victim is Jesus, on the Cross! 

When I pray that prayer, 
it is both Christ speaking, as he offers himself, 
and the Church is speaking, as we join that offering. 
We ask the Father to accept this offering 
just as he accepted what was offered, long ago, 
by Abel, Abraham and Melchizedek. 
But this, this offering is supreme. 

That’s why I bow at that point, 
and ask that an angel bear this offering “to your altar on high.” 
When Jesus had completed his offering on the Cross, 
he bowed his head and died. 
How can we not bow down in awe of this?

At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, 
the priest lifts up the Lord’s Body and Blood, and prays, 
“Through him, with him and in him…almighty Father…
all glory and honor is yours.” 
The offering of the Lamb is complete! “It is finished!”

Then we rise and pray as he taught us. 
We exchange the peace he gives us. 
And then the Body and Blood of the Lamb – who died and rose again – 
is shared. 

These are the things Jesus did 
and which the Apostles witnessed so long ago. 
This is what the first Christians did, in memory of him. 
This is what we do. 
The place has changed, the language is different, 
and we’ve added some things along the way; 
but it is the same Eucharist, the same Sacrifice, then and now. 
Jesus is the same. One Lord, one hope, now and forever.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Walking in the footsteps of American saints

I'm organizing a pilgrimage! Would you like to go?

This trip is my own idea; I've been working on it for a couple of years. To my surprise, I couldn't find anyone who was already doing it, and the first outfit I approached decided it wasn't worth pursuing.

Corporate Travel was recommended to me by Steve Ray, who told me this is the company he uses for his many pilgrimages. (How do I know Steve Ray? He's visited Saint Remy Parish a few times -- he likes us!)

So what's the plan? We're going to visit and pray at the shrines of the North American Martyrs and Saint Kateri Tekakwetha in upstate New York; then visit the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. If time allows, on the way to New York City, we'll stop in New Haven to pray at the shrine for Venerable Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus.

In New York, we will visit shrines for Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and Mother Francis Cabrini, and pray at the tomb of Pierre Toussaint in New York's majestic, and newly renovated, Saint Patrick's Cathedral. While in New York, we'll have a panoramic tour of the city, with a stop at the 9/11 Memorial. Plus there will be time for your own sightseeing, or to take in a show.

This is a true pilgrimage: we will have Mass every day at the shrines of the saints, and time for personal prayer. I will have some information to share about the lives of these and other American saints who helped shape our nation and our Catholic Church on these shores.

If interested, click the image above to visit the webpage for more information.

Edit: I posted this too fast! I meant to explain that when I first began organizing this, I developed quite a longer list of American saints and blesseds; but visiting their shrines would take us to points west (Missouri, California and Hawaii, for example). Even when I tried to keep it to the northeast, my list of saints was more than was practical for this trip. For a young country, we can take virtuous pride in the number of saints and blesseds associated with our nation!

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Journey with Jesus this week (Sunday homily)

You may not have realized it, but one of the features of Holy Week 
is that there is a series of processions.

On Palm Sunday, the people are invited to enter the church 
in procession – just as Jesus entered Jerusalem long ago.

On Holy Thursday, the priest and the people carry the Eucharist 
from the main altar to a side altar – 
recalling the journey Jesus and the apostles took 
from the Upper Room, to the Garden of Gesthemane.

On Good Friday, the Cross is carried in procession 
so that we can adore the instrument of our Savior’s suffering, 
and our redemption.

And at the Easter Vigil, there are two: the Easter Candle, 
representing the light of Christ, 
is brought into the pitch-black church; 
and then those who are seeking Christ 
are led by that same light to be baptized. 

What does it mean?

It means that you and I are invited to walk this week with Jesus. 
We remember the journey he took from heaven, to Mary’s womb, 
to Bethlehem, to Jerusalem, to the Cross, to the tomb, and to life.

Don’t be a spectator! Let’s walk with him. It’s a hard journey, 
but we’re walking with Jesus; we’re walking to life!

Sunday, April 02, 2017

'Untie him and let him go' (Sunday homily)

When Lazarus came out of the tomb, Jesus said: 
“untie him and let him go.” 

In those days, when someone died, 
the body was wrapped in strips of cloth. 
The power of Jesus’ word – 
the same word that spoke the worlds into existence – 
had called him from death back to life. 
And yet, those funeral cloths still bound him, 
and they had to be taken away.

In the book we’ve been reading together, 
The Seven Secrets of Confession, 
we come to “secret” number seven, 
and our author makes a very similar point: 
when you and I receive the Sacrament of Confession, 
Jesus speaks directly to us. He revives us.

And yet, in order for us to live new lives,
there are still things binding us, holding us back. 
In his book, he calls them “chains,” 
but Jesus has the same word for us: 
“untie him and let him go!”

So what are these chains? Mr. Flynn mentions three:

One is “lack of faith.” Look deep inside: 
do you truly believe that resurrection power 
is at work in the sacrament of reconciliation? 
Is this just a ritual, or do I believe real power is working here? 
If you’ll forgive me, it reminds me of the old spiritual: 
“There is power, power, wonder-working power, 
in the Blood of the Lamb”! 

When we prepare to confess our sins, 
The words of that song would be good to repeat to ourselves, 
because let’s be honest: many times, 
we go to this sacrament hoping for forgiveness, 
while expecting little to change. 
Don’t sell short the wonder-working power of His Blood!

A second chain that binds us is “idolatry.” 
That is to say, in order to see real conversion and change, 
it’s not enough to say “I’m sorry for my sins.” 

If you or I are wrestling with a sinful habit, 
it may be something we need fully to dethrone and renounce.
It isn’t enough just to take it from the top shelf, 
and move it somewhere else; it has to be cast away, forever. 

To give a concrete example: for some of us, alcohol is too important. 
We can make excuses, deny, minimize, point at others, 
have resentment – but none of this really changes the truth.
For some of us, the only answer is to renounce it and remove it. 
And the same point could be made 
about lots of sinful habits and attachments we cling to.

The third chain – and often hardest to let go of – is unforgiveness. 
Our author reminds us of the sobering words of the Catechism: 
God’s “outpouring of mercy cannot penetrate our hearts 
as long as we have not forgiven those who have trespassed against us.”

Look: forgiving someone isn’t saying what he or she did wasn’t wrong. 
It doesn’t mean what happened was OK. 

No, what forgiveness means is simply this: 
you are giving that person to God. Let God take care of it. 
Most of us have learned this lesson in life: 
that there is no perfect justice in this world. 
True justice waits for God. So those who have wronged you, 
give them to God. Let go and let God. 
And if it helps, realize how much you, yourself, 
will benefit from that letting go of a chain that binds you.

Mr. Flynn gives some excellent practical advice 
about how we really can change our negative feelings and words
into blessings and peace. 
But because I’m trying to be brief today, 
I’ll just point you to his advice, on page 152.

This is the last Sunday we’ll look together 
at the sacrament of God’s restoration – 
that is, the Sacrament of Confession. 

Next Sunday begins Holy Week, and our focus will be 
on Jesus’ journey from the hosannas of Palm Sunday, 
to his suffering, his death and his resurrection. 
Try if at all possible to take time during Holy Week 
To enter into these mysteries. 

The more real these are for us, the clearer and more surely 
comes the answer to the questions that haunt us:
How can God love me? Does he really forgive me? Can I really change?

Do you want Jesus to call you to life? Come to confession!
In addition to our usual times this coming week, 
during Holy Week, we will have confessions 
on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. 
Jesus wants to untie you and let you go free.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Confession takes us to the Cross -- and then Heaven (Sunday homily)

As you know, we’ve been working our way through a book together: 
The Seven Secrets of Confession, 
and I want to look at “secrets” five and six today. 
Let’s start there, and then find our way back to the readings we heard.

These are two of the most powerful chapters in Mr. Flynn’s book. 
In Chapter 5, he points out 
that when we receive the Sacrament of Penance, 
we are brought to Calvary, to the Cross. 
And in Chapter 6, he explains that the whole story – 
of his book, and of the Sacrament – 
is that this is about more than a clean slate; it’s about a whole new life.

In short, the Sacrament of Reconciliation takes us first to the Cross – 
and then to heaven. 
So let’s look at that.

Did you notice in the book, 
where Mr. Flynn was at church on the Feast of the Holy Cross, 
and when he came to kiss the Cross, 
the priest instead pressed it against his chest, 
and held it there for a long time, against his heart? 
And the author said he found himself praying, over and over, 
“Lord, I receive your love from the Cross.” 
And then, when he came to communion, same prayer: 
“Lord, I receive your love from the Cross.”

That’s what happens in the Sacrament of Penance: 
we are at the Cross, and Jesus’ love pours down on us.

Can you use your imagination? 
Put yourself there, at the Cross. 
Picture the scene: cruel soldiers, angry, mocking crowds. 
The Blessed Virgin Mary, along with a few of Jesus’ followers, 
are distraught with grief. 
Two thieves, one insulting Jesus, the other begging for mercy. 
Can you see it? 

And there you are. What would you say? 
And, more than that, what would Jesus say to you?

Sometimes we wonder if God will forgive us. 
Did you notice what our author said? 
He realized that “Christ isn’t forgiving me now in the confessional. 
He forgave me 2,000 years ago! I’m just receiving it now!” 
Allow me to quote Mr. Flynn one more time: 
“(Jesus) pulled all your sin, all my sin – all that awful stuff – 
into his pure body, and when his body was destroyed on the cross, 
our sin was destroyed, too.”

This is a good time to bring in the Gospel passage we just heard. 
Jesus sees a man blind from birth, and he stops. 
He seeks him out. He heals him.

But why did Jesus do it the way he did,
by spitting on the ground, and then smearing the mud on his eyes? 

I’ve always wondered that myself; and last week, 
I read an article that explained something about this. 

Do you remember how, in Genesis, 
God created Adam from the dust of the earth? 
In Jesus’ time, many Jews believed that when God did that, 
he first spat on the ground, in order to make clay – 
and then he formed Adam. 
So Jesus’ action here shows his purpose: not just to heal this man, 
but to re-create him. To reshape and re-orient his life.

And this is exactly what Jesus aims at with the Sacrament of Penance! 
Yes, he wants to take away our sins. 
Yes, he wants to restore us as friends. 
But all that is still for something else, 
something great and exciting and overpowering: 
Jesus wants to recreate us, to make us new. 
New lives, new direction – and that direction, of course, is heaven.

Yes, getting there is a lot of work. 
There are a lot jobs in this world that are hard work: 
And changing ourselves is the hardest of all. 
But this is what Jesus longs to do in us. All his will is bent upon it.
He can – and he will remake us, brand new, if we work with him.
Isn’t that a wonderful thing to know?