Monday, December 31, 2007

...and a happy new year

What a wild week the octave of Christmas is. We just get done with Christmas and quickly move on to the Sunday between and then we conclude with Mary, Mother of God/New Years. I get a few days off after all that gets done and before my students come back. I don't know why it surprises me each year but I'm already ready for the students to come back. It's just too quiet. I even spent time rearranging the student lounge because I was bored. I have work to do it's just hard to get motivated when no one's around. I NEED to get it done, however, so that I can spend time with the students when they get back or at least not be too behind the eight ball.

Here's wishing you all a happy New Year. Make a resolution but not too many, one accomplishable goal. I'm going to try to volunteer at an animal shelter.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

How the family makes us holy

When we think of family in today’s society, what are some images that come to mind? If you are of a certain generation, you might think of Archie, Edith, Gloria, and Meathead from the television show “All in the Family”. Archie is the typical 1950’s urban racist with his diminutive wife, Edith, and daughter, Gloria, who dared to marry the open-minded, anti-authoritarian Michael, nicknamed “meathead” by his father-in-law, Archie because of his left-wing political stances. This image seems to permeate the meaning of 1950’s America and is used, by some, to show the weakness of the nuclear family in a time in which the nuclear family was supposed to be at it’s strongest. Today, if you look at the media’s portrayal of family life, you can see that this portrayal perdures. Many television shows portray an overbearing father who pushes his wife around making ridiculous decisions for his entire family that seem to only benefit himself.

On this Sunday the church invites us to reflect on the nature of the family through the lens of the Holy Family. This Sunday is situated in the midst of the octave of Christmas, an eight-day celebration that begins at Christmas and ends with the celebration of Mary, the Mother of God on January first. This octave is partially a reminder that Christmas can’t be a one-shot deal. Christmas is too important to last one day. I’m always thankful that we do this after, not before December 25th. It’s as though our church is saying that while the commercial version of Christmas begins after Thanksgiving and ends on Christmas day, we wait until the fervor of consumerism has died away in order to spend eight days reflecting on the spiritual meaning of Christmas. The octave also allows us to reflect on different aspects of that fateful night when God became one-with-us in order to save us. Today, we discover that Christ came as part of a family in order to give us an example of a Holy Family. I found it fascinating that the first two readings focus on the entire family but the gospel shifts to offer some time to reflect on the one person that can get short shrift during the Christmas season, Joseph. But there is something that connects all three readings and it is, I believe, the reason the church has us reflect on these three passages in particular. Each, in its own unique way, portrays an essential obligation of marriage.

The first reading from Sirach clearly paints for us the image of a family that is open to life. Parents are to be honored by children and a parent is to live honorably. It is through these familial relations, according to that first reading, that one atones for sins, has prayers heard, is blessed with children, and has a long life. Despite attempts to redefine the idea of family in our modern world, we must safeguard this image both because it mirrors the image of the Holy Family and because it is the best environment to raise children.

The second reading is another one of Paul’s attempts to help us understand love. The laundry list of proper dispositions, including “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another…” only makes sense when cloaked with love. Otherwise, any of them could result in abuse, discouragement, or a one-sided relationship. Certainly, Paul’s closing statement, “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord” has been abused in the past and deserves the constant paring of “Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them.” Humility, love, and subordination are all related in this statement. Paul is also telling husbands to be subordinate to their wives by telling them to love their wives.

Love and openness to children are the first two pieces to this puzzle but it concludes in the gospel with the commitment that is necessary for a family to succeed. Joseph has no reason to stay with Mary and Jesus when the angel appears. This isn’t his son biologically. This very well could be the second or third wife that Joseph has had in his life. Yet, Joseph doesn’t run away when life becomes difficult. He steps up and does what God wants him to do in order to keep his family together. This is the truly radical notion of family that we have to put forth. Far too many men believe that, when family seems to take away their masculinity or rob them of their ability to be in charge, then they can either react with force toward their wives or find a way to escape. The Christian message through Joseph is that the image of Archie Bunker, Homer Simpson, and Peter Griffin is insufficient to the type of holy family each of us should strive to have. We must build our families on commitment, on love, and on a willingness to share in the divine creativity that first brought us into this world and then brought about our salvation through Christ.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Each year, for the last ten years, Christmas has been changing. My nieces and nephews are getting older and so my siblings don't come home on Christmas day. They come home earlier or after. That means that Christmas is very quiet around the Miller home. We open a few gifts that we save until that day and then we eat a big lunch and then we just sit around and rest during the afternoon. Today we had steak fixed on a charcoal grill. It probably seems unusual but the weather was outstanding here in Iowa. The temperature was above freezing so we could scrape off some of the ice that had been sitting there since early December. It was nice to have bright sunshine on the day we celebrate the birth of the Son.

Actually, that's the amazing thing about Advent. On the weekends, we consistently had bad weather of snow and ice and made the longing for the coming of Christ very palpable. Unfortunately it continues to snow every weekend during the Christmas season which I was hoping would change but you can't change the weather.

Here's hoping you all had a very merry Christmas with family and friends and celebrated the love of God made visible.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Test of Faith? So close to Christmas?

On Friday, I was supposed to drive to Nevada around 8:30, load the St. Thomas Christmas tree in the back of my truck, take it back to St. Thomas by 9:00 in order to meet several members of the Knights of Columbus who were supposed to help set up the tree before the decorators arrived. That was what was supposed to happen. Instead, I got a call at 9:10 asking if I had already picked up the tree. I immediately did a quick inhale, spoke a few choice words, and walked down to church in order to explain that I had, in fact, not picked up the tree yet because I had forgotten. After my profoundest apologies, three of us jumped into my truck and headed to Nevada, hoping to be just a half hour or so later than expected. We found the right address and eventually found a way into the house from a neighbor and found ourselves staring at a 20 foot long Christmas tree. We looked at it and then looked at my 8 foot long truck bed and realized something simply wasn’t going to work. After several different possible scenarios, we decided to call around to borrow a trailer from a St. Thomas Parishioner. Finally, at 11:30, just two and a half hours later than expected, the 20 foot tall St. Thomas Tree arrived at the entrance. It took a half-hour to set up and has been termed the Santa Tree by some because the top leans toward the wall, making it appear like a jolly old fat man. In the intervening two and a half hours, I made phone calls trying to find the right house, trying to find someone to unlock the door, trying to find someone to move the tree for us, and trying to find extra people to help set up this mammoth tree; and I had to get a substitute for noon mass and reschedule an afternoon meeting in Cedar Rapids. And, as Friday was a very foggy, dark, and dreary day, I kept thinking that I wouldn’t nearly this miffed if we could just see the sun!

As I sat down to prepare this homily, I couldn’t help but think that this is a very appropriate experience to help us understand these readings, in particular the first and third. I mean, on the one hand there doesn’t appear to be a lot of connection between them. In the first reading, King Ahaz is ordered by God to ask God for something. His kingdom is about to be attacked by another kingdom, his people don’t trust him, and things are generally not going well for him. All he has to do is ask for one of these things to be alleviated. But pride gets in the way. He refuses to ask for any of it. Instead, he pretends to not want to tempt God by asking him for something. In truth, he simply lets his ego get in the way. Joseph, on the other hand, seems overly obedient. It doesn’t take an angelic or prophetic visit in order for Joseph to do what God wants. All it takes is for God to appear in a dream. Like the Joseph of old who interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh, this Joseph knows when God is talking to him and he responds by taking care of business. It is, therefore, clear that Ahaz and Joseph are two very different men with but one point of connection: They are two men who are, in some way, given a test of faith.

In just a day or two, we will, as a church, be singing those great Christmas songs that we have sung so many times. And, if you’re like me, you may have difficulty sympathizing with songs of “heavenly peace” and statements of “silent night.” We seem to hear messages that would indicate that life should be a lot simpler this time of year. How do we do all the work that goes into making Christmas special and still “let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven, and heaven and nature sing?” Maybe we need to look to an even more profound type of peace than we are used to, a peace that demands a response on our part, a peace that fights against the lethargy and sloth usually associated with the term and demands that we open our hearts to be the vessels through which Christ is present. St. Teresa of Avila said it best, “Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.”

So, as we continue to prepare for the coming of Christ, our quest does not rest in the comfort of silent contemplation. We will find heavenly peace only when we are being God’s hands, feet, and heart for this world that longs to see the Son.

Explaining mystery with even more confusing mystery

I've been following some of the furor surrounding the movie The Golden Compass in order to understand it a little bit better. As usual, I refuse to give people that blatantly attack the Catholic Church and/or God money in order to see their movie or read their books. I know that means I have to rely on others to comment but, as a priest, I don't have enough time in a day to read what deserves to get read like encyclicals and good periodicals and such.

But, if what I'm reading is true, here's the premise of the Golden Compass. God is not the creator but was, instead, created from chaos. If my memory of ancient philosophy holds true, this is Heraclitus who believed all matter was fire and, thus, change. When other things were created, according to the Golden compass, God claimed to be their creator.

Now, this is interesting for two reasons: absence of proof and solving a problem by creating a larger problem. By absence of proof I mean that the person writing this isn't claiming to have a vision by a god/angel telling him or her what is happening. It's just a fairy tale to make children atheist, according to the author (or so I've heard). And, what about this makes any sense at all? So, the problem of a creator God is taken care of but the larger problem of human origins still need to be solved. It fails to answer the most basic question that haunts all atheists: why is there something rather than nothing. Why does the creating ooze exist? Accident? Coincidence? What role does God play if not creator? Bully? Management?

A good story leaves the listener/reader wanting further clarification. But it can't make a person just say, "Yeah, that could never happen." But it sounds to me like that's what I would do if I were to read these books. Thank goodness I still need to find time to read other books including this one before I even ponder reading the Golden Compass.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More communal penance...

I enjoy celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation with people. I really do. I admit that I get tired of these elaborate communal penance celebrations for just two or three people but I always walk away feeling like I have helped people be put right with God. It's always an amazing feeling to stand in the place of Christ, to be his voice, and tell people that their sins are forgiven in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. It's so tremendous! I often think of that simile that Jesus tells in which the man with a beam in his eye is exhorted to avoid judging the person with the splinter in his own. I sin. I have sinned. And I will sin (regretfully). I am not sitting in judgment. I am praising the God who forgives my sins just like they forgive the sins of the person coming to me seeking forgiveness and I praise the God who uses me to let these tax collectors and prostitutes know that they have been forgiven.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ukranian Rite and Maronite Rite Catholics

This past week, I had the joy of taking a group of students to Minneapolis to experience two eastern right Catholic liturgies. For more information on what that means, go here.

Both were incredibly beautiful. The first one was a Ukranian Catholic Church and the second a Maronite catholic church. The first was almost entirely in English with a few songs at the end in Ukranian. The second was in English, Arabic, and Aramaic. The chant at the second was just beautiful and reminded me of my time in Israel. The kids seemed very impressed and wanted to bring several things back.

"Wisdom! Let us be attentive"

censors with bells on them

"Depart catechumens! Catechumens depart! Depart catechumens...."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A new scripture website

I was reading on Catholic News Service about this new catholic scripture website. I'm not sold on it but you may find it helpful.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

great podcast

I was listening to the busted halo podcast (found here) episode number 33 and I think you should all check it out. It was interesting, especially the part about the Easter vigil. I hope I can remember it when we get closer to Easter.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Opening Acts

I was recently down in Des Moines (,Iowa) at a comedy club and things worked out exactly as they should have. They had an opening act that made us all laugh and then had a disappointing second act. But the main comedian was hilarious. It worked a lot better than Marshalltown High School football games where the team was awful but the marching band was awesome.

This time of year makes us aware of some opening acts. There's Mary in the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadeloupe. The Immaculate Conception reminds us that Mary, in order to be a vessel for the savior of the world, must have been uniquely gifted with freedom from original sin. With the celebration of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, the church remembers Mary's appearance to Juan Diego which had such a profound effect on the Mexican people. Mary's message to build a church in Guadeloupe, Mexico bridged the divide between church and society.

Today's opening act is John the Baptist. We hear a snippet from this fiery prophet who preached repentance and being prepared. He engendered a great deal of faith from the Jewish people of Jesus time and built up quite a base.

Yet, both of these opening acts have one thing in common: both understood that they were preparing the way for someone greater, a son and a cousin. The mark of a good prophet, after all, is to point to something larger than yourself, to God, and help people to prepare for it. This is, in many ways, what the first reading was all about. While the first part of that reading emphasized that the bad will be punished, the second parted seemed to indicate a return to primordial Eden.

"the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,"

And, despite the fact that this is a beautiful scene of cooperation, there's a part of me that wonders if this was code for different tribes. Like, if today, we said,

the bear will be a guest of the viking
and the hawkeye shall lie down with the gopher
the cyclone and the sooner shall browse together.

Perhaps the prophet was saying that tribes that normally don't get along will be able to. One thing that Christians have seen in this is that a little child that will guide them. As Christians, we believe that even Isaiah pointed us to the Christ child.

During this time of opening acts for him, dont' get lost. They're just here to remind us how they prepared for him. We prepare for him by going to reconciliation and by repairing relationships with family and friends that have been lost throughout this year. We also need to find time amidst the chaos of this time of year to make straight our path in prayer, to not let the opening acts of this season of gift giving and Christmas parities distract us from what really matters, the coming of Christ

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A few thoghts about being spiritual but not religious

I heard on the Busted Halo Podcast #30 a few people help me to understand with greater clarity the distinction people make between being spiritual and being religious. I have always thought someone who was religious was committed to belief in God while someone who was spiritual was rather uncommitted. In fact, I thought someone who was "spiritual" rather than "religious" was one step away from being "agnostic" because, if you don't practice something and keep thinking about it, you will abandon what you have already learned.

But, according to the people they interviewed, being spiritual is more about making your own path to God while being religious is more communal but also more possible to be corrupted. They cited all kinds of rules that get in the way of their spirituality as an example of religion being corrupted. And, while this is very possibly true, I would think there is just as much corruption in personal spirituality as there is with communal. Perhaps one could argue that personal spirituality has less potential for large acts of aggression as a more communal, religious attitude.

The easy response that I have is that this presumes both are dependant on human creation of the religion and don't take into account the presence of God. I mean, if faith is faithful than it demands that God be more than a passive agent. God is the author of faith, after all. If God plays anything more than a passive role in faith, then it should involve more than just the two of us. Healthy relationships are ones that involve more than just two people. The relationships that scare the heck out of me for marriage prep are when a couple think that they'll get married and won't need others to be part of their relationship. That basically means that everyone else becomes either an obstacle or a compartmentalized component of life, both attitudes which are problematic.

Religion should be a more open experience in common with God. It means that God is not simply a passive component to my life nor a compartmentalized component that has nothing to do with the rest of my life. God is not your imaginary friend. Religion gives us the space to bring the integral relationship we should have with into conversation with the rest of our relationships.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The feeding of the 5000 and the Exodus

I have a feeling I'm the not the first to notice this and that I'm stealing this from someone but here goes....

Today's readings reminded me of the story of the giving of the manna in Exodus 16. And here's why...

2 Here in the desert the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.
3 The Israelites said to them, "Would that we had died at the LORD'S hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!"
It took the Israelites grumbling for God to give them bread. In the gospel, Jesus anticipates their need and freely gives them bread.
4 Then the LORD said to Moses, "I will now rain down bread from heaven for you. Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion; thus will I test them, to see whether they follow my instructions or not.
So, this is a test: Will they take more than they need because they don't trust that God will supply the amount that they need tomorrow. Or will they follow God's word.
5 On the sixth day, however, when they prepare what they bring in, let it be twice as much as they gather on the other days."
In the Gospel, God gives them SEVEN basket's full extra. Here, they are only given one extra portion on the sixth day to prevent work on the sabbath. In Christian typology, Easter (of which the Eucharist is always our connection) is seen as the eighth day, the day of recreation. I think this is pointing to this. God only gave his people extra on the sabbath. But, on the eighth day, the Lord supplies overflowing amounts.
6 So Moses and Aaron told all the Israelites, "At evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt;
7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, as he heeds your grumbling against him. But what are we that you should grumble against us?
8 When the LORD gives you flesh to eat in the evening," continued Moses, "and in the morning your fill of bread, as he heeds the grumbling you utter against him, what then are we? Your grumbling is not against us, but against the LORD."
They will know that it was the Lord when he gives them his flesh to eat. This is why, as Catholics, we maintain the eucharist as our focal point of worship, because God gives us HIS FLESH and, through that, we know that he has given it to us.

On that day it will be said:
“Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”
For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Spe Salvi

The Pope has written a new encyclical with the above title on the topic of Christian hope. I sat down and started to read it and made it a while but, much like many of this present Pope's other writings, I find myself pausing often to think about what he is saying fairly often. Here's just one example from paragraph 4...

"We have raised the question: can our encounter with the God who in Christ has shown us his face and opened his heart be for us too not just “informative” but “performative”—that is to say, can it change our lives, so that we know we are redeemed through the hope that it expresses? Before attempting to answer the question, let us return once more to the early Church. It is not difficult to realize that the experience of the African slave-girl Bakhita was also the experience of many in the period of nascent Christianity who were beaten and condemned to slavery. Christianity did not bring a message of social revolution like that of the ill-fated Spartacus, whose struggle led to so much bloodshed. Jesus was not Spartacus, he was not engaged in a fight for political liberation like Barabbas or BarKochba. Jesus, who himself died on the Cross, brought something totally different: an encounter with the Lord of all lords, an encounter with the living God and thus an encounter with a hope stronger than the sufferings of slavery, a hope which therefore transformed life and the world from within."

There are so many things that the Holy Father is saying in this paragraph. The first deals with salvation. As Catholics we don't really have certainty of personal salvation like the evangelicals claim to have. We have "hope" for salvation. The Pope is setting up this encyclical to address what that means.

Also, by using the phrase "political liberation" and not citing the (principally) South American "Liberation Theology" movement, he seems to be addressing the kind of false hope that they put forth. Instead of citing Oscar Romero or one of the Jesuit martyrs, Pope Benedict points to an African slave who was freed by her Christian owners and went on to be a very effective witness to Christian liberation sans Marxism. The reference to Bar Kochba reinforces this. Bar Kochba led the second Jewish revolt by which they were thrown out of the entire country of Israel and their hopes for a renewed Temple were dashed for good. He thought he could, militarilly and politically, bring about a change in status. But he could not. The Pope is asking us to consider that Christ came to liberate us through a holy encounter.

Homily podcast

We've decided to make our homilies available via podcast. So, if you're tired of reading them, you can hear them now here.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Expectant waiting

When you are waiting in a line, are you the type of person who sits and hopes that everyone else will somehow be moved out of the way and you’ll get through or someone who hopes that somehow a new line will open up that is exclusive to you; The Father Dennis line at the gas station. You might know what I mean if you tried to go to a grocery store on Friday. That was the day that everybody in town realized that the storm was coming and that it was time to store up food in case we are stuck in our houses until mid May. So, you may have found yourself four or five people deep at the front of the store with an apple and a can of beans waiting while the person ahead of you has an overflowing cart unloaded on the conveyer belt and the poor cashier, who is doing her best to get people through as quickly as possible, has to find out if that was a braeburn apple or a red delicious.

I think this is kind of similar to the dilemma in the readings today. We hear the first reading about God establishing the Temple Mount as the highest mountain. And, since all gods lived on mountains, the one true God is establishing his as the most important of them all. Then all people will know who the real God is and stop worshipping false gods like Baal and Zeus and Ai. Of course, as Christians, we see in this an image of what heaven will be like. We take comfort in the idea of a time of unparalleled peace; swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks, nuclear weapons into space ships. Ironically, this is often what atheists will most fault us for. They say this “pie-in-the-sky” theology amounts to escapism, the notion that we will eventually conquer the forces of oppression but only when we are in heaven. They criticize us and say that we have no stake in the present world because we are constantly obscuring the view of the future.

This, it seems to me, is countered in some measure by the first part of the gospel when Jesus seems to say, not that we need to wait for a more peaceful, hopeful heavenly future but that we need to wait when God will wipe away all the evil from this world. In the days of Noah, people were living their sinful lives, doing what normal people do, and then they found out that God was coming to remove them from the equation, if you will. This is the way it will be when Jesus comes again. People who think they are prospering and living lives without acknowledging God will simply be removed from the equation. That’s what’s truly regrettable about those “Left Behind” books. They’ve completely missed the point of this passage. Jesus isn’t saying that the ones that are taken are taken to heaven. In fact, in context, they are going to be just like the unfortunate people during the time of Noah. They’ll be the ones taken to that place of torment whose name we don’t mention in pleasant company. So, an uncritical reading of Jesus message could be that we need to “be ready” or get prepared for h-e-double right angles. This, of course, leads people to a different type of criticism. Namely, people say that this leads more to a dread of condemnation than to actual faith. And, certainly Jesus doesn’t want to see forced conversion out of fear of punishment. The God who is love would never want someone to be forced to believe simply because they don’t want to be tortured. That’s the way a terrorist organization operates not a God who has given us the free will to choose him.

So, where are we? We don’t want to be pie-in-the-sky Christian simpletons and we don’t want to be hunkered down in fear either. How are we to be prepared? I would suggest that, far too often, people fail to appreciate that the preparation itself is the point. We aren’t simply working toward heaven. We are experiencing God in the here and now, albeit in an incomplete way. The master of the house is exhorted to be prepared, to stay awake and be prepared to keep the thieves out of his house. It seems to me that one of the ways that we do this is to prepare ourselves during this season of Advent. To paraphrase Paul in the second reading: Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies, drunkenness and other abusive excesses, not in promiscuity, lust and other sexual abuses, not in rivalry, jealousy and other abuses of relationship.

Being a Christian is not simply standing in line waiting for some better life ahead. Nor is it a life of trying to find the path of least resistance in order to avoid the pains of hell. There, I said it. Being a Christian means being prepared all the time. The preparation itself has meaning. “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A direction for bible study?

Each semester, a group of between 10 and 25 students study one of the books of the bible for six or eight sessions, depending on whether the group wants to turn into a group what is intended to be personal study. Last semester we did the book of Tobit and, since I couldn't find a series that would cover this topic, I ended up doing the research all myself. And, while that was good for me intellectually, it did take a lot more time than I really had to devote to such a project.

So, this spring, I was going to put together another Bible study on the topic of one of the deuterocanonical books of the bible (those Old Testament books particular to Catholic and most Orthodox Bibles); either 1 or 2 Maccabees or Judith. But, then I had another idea.

You may remember, faithful readers, that I was very excited about Pope Benedict's book "Jesus of Nazareth." And, while I found it fascinating, I was also sad that I wasn't sure how I could utilize it for my ministry, other than using his insights in preaching. And then I got this idea. I could put together a Bible Study using the passages the Pope does but then use Pope Benedict's commentary to help guide the Bible study. I'm writing to the publishers to hear what they say. Hopefully they'll let me use passages for free...or at least for a decreased cost. Let's hope this happens.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Remembering our soldiers

I got this link from a staff member. It's a video reminding us that the term "troops" is not just a cliche but is, in fact, another term for people. I have four of "my boys" getting ready to go to Iraq and one of my brother priests is already there getting ready to come home. I don't like being in a war and I know I couldn't serve in it. But, regardless, our soldiers deserve our support.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

No Preaching

Because I was in Illinois, I didn't have to organize a homily. And I'm kind of glad because I'm not sure what I would have preached about. I don't remember that being a problem when I was a kid. I could always come up with something that I would preach about when I was critiquing.

But, I'm starting this weekend's homily early. Hopefully, I'll come up with a salient point that will make all the parishioners think, to ponder the gospel anew.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Fun in Ill Annoy

I don't like the state of Illinois. I have had some of the worst experiences of my life in this state. I know it's not this state's fault but it just seems like bad things happen to me in this state. And tonight I added on to it.

I'm staying in a hotel in one of the suburbs of Chicago and, at 11:44 pm the fire alarm went off. Being an obedient person, I went down to the front desk area and was told not to go out in the cold air. I waited until the fire department came and they had to check out mysterious smoke on second floor. As I was standing in the lobby (which is also partially a bar) I overheard the bartender call the security guard. I looked over and saw the security guard getting in the face of an obviously drunk guy while his girlfriend (I later found out that was who she was) was telling him to sit down. Then a manager came and started pushing him out of the bar telling him that the comments he was making were the reasons someone would get thrown out. I started to walk away and I heard the drunk guy sprint at the other guy. The manager was yelling "Call the police!" and the drunk girlfriend was somehow standing beside me saying she had just punched a guy and her boyfriend was going to go to jail. The fire department called for a police over their walkie talkies and came to help in the bar area. I was cold and annoyed and afraid I would get pulled into a fight that I was trying to get away from. Thankfully, no sooner had the firemen begun to ensure that the drunk guy couldn't do any more damage, then another fireman came to tell us we could go back up to this room.

I've been in a car accident in this state. I've been pulled over for doing 2 miles an hour over the speed limit while going down a hill. The police officer gave me a warning. If I didn't have great friends from this state I would boycott it for the rest of my life. I should probably learn two lessons from this

1. Go outside in a fire alarm
2. Stay in a rectory with other priests

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Those tricky Beatitudes

To be a truly "sola-fides" protestant is to believe that our conduct has nothing to do with our salvation. It is, at best, an afterthought. Someone who is saved will act in a certain manner but the act itself does not show a willingness on our part to accept the salvation offered us, a willingness to lead a "saved" life. It's just like the exhaust from a car.

I've always wondered how these Protestants deal with those passages of scripture that seem to intimate the necessity for an active love in order to live a holy life. I'm sure that there are a myriad of ways of answering that question, especially in a group that has eliminated an interpretive magisterial voice. But, the most creative way that I heard this past Sunday came from a pastor preaching about the Beatitudes. I wish I could find his name or something since we could probably also find the text of what he said online. Nonetheless, according to him, the key word of the Beatitudes was "brothers". He said that the way we treat the Jews (Jesus brothers) will be the way we are judged. For the moment setting aside the fact that we are moving back into the realm of works salvation and that Jesus, in teaching in the Galilee, is likely surrounded by both Jews and Gentiles close to the Decapolis) and that there is no use of the term brothers in either Luke or Matthew and that Jesus explicitly includes "whoever does the will of my heavenly Father" as his brothers, there is a larger agenda going on here that we Catholics need to know.

Some Protestants are trying to force an apocalyptic agenda down the throats of the church that involves "restoring" Israel and the Temple so that Jesus will come again. They are sending huge sums of money to Israel in an effort to force this end-times agenda. Yet, ironically, the Catholic Church is the one turning to our younger rebellious brothers and sisters to remind them that you can't force God to do anything simply by putting together what you believe to be the perfect end-times formula. I think this is why the Catholic Church so often emphasizes phrases like "Do not be afraid" and "Do not be terrified" we we have these end-times formula. We do no know when Christ will come and believing that we can somehow coerce him into coming is not just silly, it's heretical.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Sun of Justice will rise

Apocalypse! End of the World! What images or thoughts come to your mind as you hear these words? Fear? Frustration? I’ve had several conversations with people recently on topics related to these concepts. Some people talk about Nostradamus and how he predicted that the world would end in the not too distant future. I’ve even heard the year 2023 thrown around as when he predicted it would end. Of course, if that date is true, it means that I still have 15 years of sinning before I shape up and get ready for the coming of the Lord. Other people see things like global warming and an ever-increasing need for fossil fuels as leading to the end of the world. They say that if we don’t switch to cleaner, renewable fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions we will bring about the end of the world. Others are concerned about the global terrorist threat and the threat posed by rogue, radical Islamist movements acquiring nuclear weapons. They see the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as key components to defeating the possibility of the third world war being the charm, if you will. And, while I have no doubt that all of that could bring about the end of the world, I always have to caution people that this is not exactly what we hear in the readings this time of year.

Yet, even as I make that statement, I know that there’s a great deal of hesitancy in Catholic clergy to actually talk about this. Our evangelical brothers and sisters make up for it, however, since some of them seen almost unhealthily fixated on the end of the world. I remember sitting down in Dubuque during college and watching a husband and wife team that would read a passage, usually either from the book of Daniel or the book of Revelation, (You know, those scary books of the bible) and then they would show how world events are directly related to them. Just to give one example that I remember from their program, there is an image of a dragon awaiting the birth of a child. In their interpretation, the dragon was President Clinton and the mother was any mother considering abortion. I was glad to learn in my scripture class that we didn’t share this one-for-one, belief that images in scripture point to concrete people nowadays.

We tend to believe that the images are timeless, that a one-for-one identification of these prophesies is, in general, more detracting from the meaning than adding to it. So, for instance, we hear in the gospel today that “"Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” A fundamentalist would say that the nations Jesus is clearly talking about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the community of nations that were brought to fight against them. They would point to the tsunami that happened a few years ago in Malaysia because of an earthquake and the resulting famine and plagues there, as well as elsewhere, as mighty signs.

I think this is part of the reason that Catholic priests don’t like to talk about this topic at all. We focus on our own mortality or sin and avoid the topic of end times altogether. But, what should we say instead? If I read the gospel right, we shouldn’t be so focused on future events and signs that we lose sight of today. We must pay attention to Jesus when he says, “many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he,’ and 'The time has come.’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end." We shouldn’t be so afraid of the end of the world that we lose sight on today, on the preparation that we can do today. It’s like the distance runner who becomes so fixated on the end of the race that he forgets to look down and notice the pothole right in front of him. We should be constantly prepared for the God whose coming won’t be cloaked in shadows. When God comes it will be as clear as the sun rising in the East. We, Christians, shouldn’t be afraid of that thought. As the prophet Malachi said, “for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” We have been shown the love of the Son of God who has healed out sins and invites us into a new relationship with God as our Father. Now is the time to repent. Don’t put it off to some fictional time invented by a seer. Now is the time to have reverent love for the God who first loved us and calls each of us by name. Now we are in the end times, a time of hope and reconciliation. Don’t be terrified. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Beginning Thanksgiving break

Iowa State gives their students one full week surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday to go home, rest, and relax. It's also a time for the campus ministers to rest and relax. I'm going to use the time to work on the second semester bible study and a project which will likely be my November project for the rest of my life.

I have gone to several priest funerals in my first five years of priesthood and I've noticed something infuriating. Despite our consistent insistence that family members shouldn't give eulogies during mass (it should happen at the wake), priests ALWAYS eulogize their brother priests. So, I'm going to start writing my own homily that the vicar general will read. I don't care who the vicar general will be when I die. I just want people to believe more in Jesus Christ and the salvation he gave to us than in Dennis Miller and any salvation I have...because I have none to give. It probably seems a bit depressing to want to write your own funeral homily but I think it will be similar to my "opus," if you will. It won't be exceptionally long. It will just draw people more to Christ's resurrection than to my own.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

sorry for the long absence

I wish I had a better excuse for not blogging but the best I can do it general hectic schedule. October is a busy month for campus ministers. I'm hoping to catch up some in the upcoming months because things have definitely calmed down. I hope to comment upon the news that I heard recently about the sacramentary as well as about something I was thinking about on my walk the other day...if only I can remember it. So, consider the the "please stay tuned" post in my blog.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Antioch...where the Christians were first called Christians

Our staple retreat here is a three day event called "Antioch". It's a typical three day conversion type of retreat that Catholics have been doing since the early to mid eighties. In some ways, the weekend is fairly predictable and the results are pretty good.

What surprises me each year is not that something drastically new happened. It's the connections that are made. People whose faith is drifting decide to start up again. People who need a reason to darken the church find one. It is a truly joyous time to see it happen. And it's always inspiring to me to hear college students talk about their own faith struggles and successes. I see the college students find a connection with someone their own age and see a college student who has been struggling with what message he or she wants to convey finding the voice they didn't know they had. I'm glad that this is moving into being a permanent part of my ministry here at St. Thomas.

I generally get sleep deprived, however, on these weekends so that, by Sunday, I'm a little silly. And the title to this post just cracked me up when I said it on Sunday while explaining where I was. I think they call it being "punch drunk". I just thought it was hilarious. I mean, what were the Christians before they were Christians? What would we be called if Antioch never happened?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Saying goodbye to my son

I learned on Wednesday of the death of my son. He wasn't my biological son since I don't have any of those. He was my spiritual child. Ryan was the type of kid that lit up the room when he entered. He was faithful in terms of mass attendance, even enduring the constant Iowa State Cyclone joke I told despite being a ardent Iowa Hawkeye. He had numerous health problems and died from one of them.

Ryan showed me what it means when they call me father. He often came into my office and unloaded problems onto my shoulders. School was hard and, even though he was not the type of person that gave up easily, he eventually had to go to a smaller school with more personalized attention. I helped him come to peace with that decision and mourned when he left to go across state, vowing that I would stay in touch. Now I mourn that he has left forever. I will miss him.

But, I have learned from him and I will remember him. Whenever I ask someone to hold my book at our 10:00 mass on Thursdays, I will think of how he used to do that. When I see someone walking towards me chewing gum in the student center, I will think of him. I will thank God that he put someone like Ryan into my life and let me be his father.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Why full immersian baptismal fonts aren't necessarilly good for the catholic church

We have a mass at 10:00 on Thursday nights. At the end of mass, before the final blessing, we allow students to make announcements about the events that are coming up. But, we limit the time because it can take up to ten minutes to get through them all. And, I'm exhausted.

There was one student who was taking soooo long to get his announcement in and, when we told him that, he slowed down. So, I flawlessly jumped the font and took the microphone away from him. I handed it on to the next person and started to jump back to the other side.

I say "started" because I FAILED! I ended up with my legs in the font and my torso on the other side. I felt totally embarrassed and wished that I could have just fallen through the floor into the basement. The students made me feel old because they were more worried about making sure I was alright than they were about mocking me. I deserved to be mocked. But, I did get my point across. Keep the line moving!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sisters of Perpetual indulgence

I heard about this story the other day. To make a long story short, Archbishop George Niederauer of the San Francisco Archdiocese gave communion to two people wearing costumes that made it clear that they openly dissented from church teaching. The group that these two belong to call themselves the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, which is a pro-gay group that dresses in a mock version of the traditional catholic habit that most nuns in this country wore at one time. It's very easy, for this reason, to know who is part of this group and know who is not so people believe the Archbishop should not have given them communion. The fact that he did has caused a great deal of scandal to the church and is a great tragedy. I may be naive but I imagine the Archbishop has no idea what this group really advocates. I watched two incredibly scandalous youtube videos where the group describes themselves and it's so obvious that their mission is completely foreign to the mission of Jesus Christ and his church. If you want to see them, you can click on these two links...

Please don't watch them if you are not an adult!


and here

and they'll take you to them. I have the time to research this. I bet the Archbishop had no idea of the true malice this group has for the church. It represents everything that is ugly about the pro-gay movement in the world and seems to cement for me why we shouldn't endorse this movement in any way. It's one thing to say that we shouldn't persecute people for any reason but this group is a great example of why we also cannot accept all movements as genuine and from the spirit. These are lost souls in need of contrition and they openly admit that they believe they want "guilt free" religion in the first video. They say that we just shouldn't feel bad about themselves. We believe all have fallen short of the glory of God.

Let us pray for the people of San Francisco and their Archbishop.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

thoughts on the US Catechism of the Catholic church

I discussed chapters 2 through 5 of the US Catechism. It moves from revelation to the relationship of scripture and tradition to the definition of faith. It's moving us toward a study of the creed. The US catechism isn't as definitively connected to the creed as the universal catechism.

I was fascinated with the discussion that happened. We really discussed the chapters and I got them to talk. That never seems to happen in seminars. It was a lot of fun and I feel like I got an important point across, the difference between dogma, doctrine, and theological opinion. People learned a little theology. We clarified the importance of the Magisterium. And all people walked away a little better off.

Which was really good since one of my students died last night and I've had a lot of trouble dealing with it. He was a great young man and I will miss seeing him visit. It was hard to hear that and keep being a priest to everyone else. But they needed me to do that so I did what needed to be done and I'm thankful that God was there through it all.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God

My homily this weekend focused on the idea of thankfulness, which makes sense since the gospel was about lepers that were rather ungrateful. Nine received healing and never went back to thank Christ whereas one, a foreigner, went back to thank him.

I think one of the ways we thank God is in the little things. The phrase "Thank God!" is used more in sarcasm than any other. I suggested that students could thank God after a hard test, that adults could thank God before and after a hard day of work and we could all take the time to Thank God when we turn on and off the TV. I thank God that I remembered to post my homily, even if it's just the summary version.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Poor Jonah

One of my great challenges in ministry is to remember that, just because I've put aside a theological frustration, that doesn't mean others have. For example, the fact that God exists is unquestionable. I feel blessed to know that God exists because of the several ways God has reached out to me to show me his presence. And, the fact that evil exists doesn't nullify God's existence. Sometimes it means that we really don't understand evil and sometimes it means that human beings have free will. I mean, a student getting a bad grade on a test is not an example of real evil. I have trouble not mocking the student that asks why God would allow her to fail the test she just took. Maybe you should have studied harder? MAYBE THIS ISN'T YOUR GIFT!! God didn't give the same gifts to everyone. An evil is when something that should be present (a good) is lacking. Who says that you should have the ability to do advanced mathematics, or science, or theology?

But these are the times when I'm like Jonah. Jonah doesn't want the Ninevites to have the same faith that he has. He doesn't want to go through the arduous task of patiently helping them go from sin to faith. He wants the easy route; to go do what he wants to do. But God didn't just find someone else to be his prophet. He just kept pointing Jonah in the direction of Nineveh. Thank goodness God doesn't give up on me, even as an ordained priest. He reminds me all the time that there is much more that needs to be accomplished.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Two funerals and a first degree induction

My week began and ended with funerals. It was packed and crazy and reminded me of what a normal parish is like. And, in the middle, I was reminded of the beauty of the Knights of Columbus first degree induction.

There are times when priests think of our vocation in terms similar to the secualar world. We think that being a pastor is better than being an associate. And, for some reason, this week I've been falling into that trap instead of being satisfied with where I'm and what I'm doing now. Being an associate pastor has its advantages. It's hard to remember those and not think about the "freedom" that comes with being pastor.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Haggai the prophet

I was really struck by the fact that both yesterday and today had similar readings from this prophet. Yesterday dealt entirely with encouraging the Jewish People to rebuild the temple after their Babylonian Exile and today was meant to encourage them to continue the great rebuilding project.

Both readings were meant to encourage the people to keep building despite frustrations. Yesterday, the frustration was that they wondered if it was worth it. Is it worth rebuilding because

"You have sown much, but have brought in little;
you have eaten, but have not been satisfied;
You have drunk, but have not been exhilarated;
have clothed yourselves, but not been warmed;
And whoever earned wages
earned them for a bag with holes in it."

Translation: You built houses and had a great living and then it was torn asunder by the Babylonians. You probably feel like a failure.

Solution: You should build the house of the Lord so that God will be on your side as you rebuild your house. Worry about God before you worry about yourself.

Then, today, people are looking around and realizing things aren't in their former glory. The Temple, especially, is nowhere close to where Solomon intended it.

"Who is left among you
that saw this house in its former glory?
And how do you see it now?
Does it not seem like nothing in your eyes?"

Haggai reminds the people that God owned all the gold and silver that made that building in the first place. The real treasure in it is the glory of the Lord, the divine presence (Hebrew Shekinah) that will be there.

God wants, in both readings, to encourage his people not to give up when things seem hopeless. We all need to hear this and hear God say this to us.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

I can't get this out of my craw...

Last night, Dr. Alveda C. King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Director of African American Outreach for Gospel of Life, spoke here at Iowa State. I heard it was a great speech but was unable, personally, to attend. I was a little disturbed to learn in this article that Dr. King was "disinvited" by the principal of one that she was scheduled to give in Des Moines. Here's a quote from the above article...

“Of course for public schools, any time there’s any discussion of a controversial issue like sex, religion, in the school, we want to give our parents the option of asking that their student not attend,” said Danielson, who reviewed a copy of the presentation this week. “Quite a bit of it does talk about civil rights, but there is a connection to morals and that’s the part... it was scheduled to take place during the school day, cutting into class time, and we just thought it was best to cancel it.”

I'm not convinced that the fact that there were moral statements involved was enough to get the principal to abandon this speech. There are rumors that a certain abortion advocate pressured her to cancel the thing and that Planned Parenthood, the industry leader of prenatal murder in this country, got its way. My understanding is that Dr. King points out the connection between Margaret Sanger's (founder of P.P.) own racist agenda (she advocated abortion to get rid of the less desirable members of society, which she connected to race) and the presence of Planned Parenthood in lower income areas of society.

It seems deas are never dangerous...until they thwart the opinions of the left. Then we need to shut them up.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A funny, pointless song

I love dogs. But, I heard this song on a new internet radio station and thought it was hilarious.

Again, I love dogs. But, seriously funny.

by Fred Eaglesmith

Well, hello, neighbor. I been meaning to talk to you.
I been putting it off. It's something I gotta do.
I been living with a secret. Been keeping me awake.
There's just something I gotta say:

CHORUS: I shot your dog. He was on my property.
I thought he was a coyote, on the run.
I been missing some chickens, so I pulled the trigger.
I feel so bad 'bout what I done.

You don't have to say nothin'. I can tell how you feel.
I'd feel the same if it was me.
I'm awfully sorry. If I could make it up to you
In any way, tell me what to do. CHORUS

Got an old coon hound. If it'll make you feel better,
She's comin' in next week. You get the pick of the litter. CHORUS

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Almost missing international talk-like-a-pirate day

Argh! Shiver me timbers.

Today is, of course, international talk like a pirate day. I heard it on a podcast that I listen to in the morning and then almost forgot entirely to do anything about it. I mean, I a person that always wears black! Dressing like a pirate is as hard as finding a fake peg leg, eye patch, and stuffed parrot for my shoulder. But, that's only have the battle. We also need to be able to talk like a pirate. That will happen at tonight's mass.

By the way, I'm very excited that season two of the greatest television show of all time is about ready to have its fall season kick off. Heroes begins at 8 on Monday and I'm excited that the executive producer's blog, a man named Greg Beeman, has this to say...

"The last episode of season 1 (Episode 23 “HOW TO STOP AN EXPLODING MAN”) wrapped shooting on last April 25, and aired on May 21st. Before that one was even finished shooting, our executive producers, Tim Kring and Dennis Hammer and Allan Arkush, were clear that we needed to come back strong in the second season – that we needed to give the fans more episodes, more episodes in a row without breaks, and shorter time between breaks."

I may never say a Tridintine Mass, but I'll never understand this...

Last night, I did a session on the US Catholic Catechism for Adults. I spent some time tonight catching up on some catholic news stories. I found this one about a bishop that has forbidden his priests from saying the Old mass in Latin, despite the permission of the Pope.

Law, in the catholic church, is meant to ensure people's rights and restrict people from trampling on the rights of others. This priest has the right to celebrate that mass. The bishop is trampling on that right because...because...uh...because the latin mass will destroy the faith of his people. No, that doesn't seem right.

Because the people would be damaged by not "understanding" the liturgy. Well, that's not necessarily true.

Because it doesn't fit the bishop's particular spirituality. Yeah. That sounds more correct.

He needs to read first Tuesday's reading.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A priest, A Rabbi, and a Minister...

Most of you probably are unaware that the gospel I just proclaimed could have been a lot shorter. You may wonder why it wasn’t, some asking with greater hostility than others. The church offers two forms for this particular gospel, a short form and a longer form. Up until the middle of Saturday morning, I was prepared to read the short form, which does not include the so-called story of the prodigal son, and preach about God’s forgiveness. My attitude was that we’ve already heard the story of the prodigal son a few months ago during Lent. I should read the shorter version to focus more attention on the two other parables. I mean, I know that I appreciate it when priests don’t do things that extend the liturgy too long. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I listen to a homily or reflection that seems to have about four or five different endings. By about the third, I’m tempted to stand up and say, “Okay! We get it! That’s enough!” So, if I figured that if I could get to the point a little quicker this week and sit down, we’d all be winners.

But then I read a darn commentary and it made me ponder the way this Sunday’s gospel connects the story of the prodigal son to the other two parables in a way that the Fourth Sunday of Lent doesn’t. You see, in the fourth Sunday of Lent, we simply hear the story of the Prodigal Son, or Forgiving Father as I like to say. But, this gospel attaches two stories onto the front of it, two stories that may shed more light on the last. You see, Jesus is setting up a pattern that he wants to highlight with this gospel, a pattern that we simply cannot hear without the introduction. In all three parables something is lost. In the first parable, the man lost a sheep. In the second, a woman lost a coin. In the third, a Father loses his Son, and a Son his family. In the first parable, the man searches for the sheep and finally finds it. So, too, the woman cleans her house and finds the missing coin. If she’s anything like me, she probably moved her sofa and found it underneath. And, even the Father gets his son back after he “comes to his senses.” In all three stories, the people rejoice and invite everyone else to rejoice.

But this is when there is a twist. This is when the gospel becomes similar to one of those jokes where a priest, minister, and rabbi that are abundant on the internet. Presumably, everyone celebrated with the man who found his lost sheep. And, even though it probably meant she spent more than she found, the woman had everyone at her “Lost Coin” party. But then there’s the poor Father who realizes not everyone is celebrating for his prodigal boy. His older Son is out sulking.

It’s not at all hard to understand. Someone who finds a lost animal just needs to be more careful with the animal next time. Don’t let him wander off. Put up a better fence. And someone who finds a lot coin should be more careful with their money. Buy a piggybank for goodness sake. But a lost son is a little trickier. What if his conversion is just a little too convenient? What if this son isn’t back to ask forgiveness from his Father but is, in truth, back to take the other half of his Father’s belongings and leave his Father dry? Are we being corrupted by the company we keep or helping them to come to their senses?

It’s hard to seek forgiveness but even harder to give it to others. But, both are integral aspects of our Catholic faith. We constantly pray the prayer, “…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…” But do we practice it? It’s easy to give up on people, to believe they are a lost cause. But, we wouldn’t give up that easily on a lost pet, let alone lost livestock. And would you stop looking for a lost paycheck? Probably not. But we probably all know people who seem to have given up on religion for one reason or another. Maybe they’ve been hurt and need someone to reach out to them with the healing touch of the Father that reached out to both his prodigal Sons. Or, maybe they’ve given into the life of dissipation that the Prodigal Son did, believing it more important to go to the bars on Saturday night and sleep in on Sunday than coming to church. Or maybe they’re so focused on work that they believe church would just be a waste of time. Maybe they’ve been gone for so long, they don’t even know how to come back anymore. We can get to the point that we just give up on them. We can sit around waiting for God to do something about them or we can hear the voice of God calling us from judgment to action, from sitting back believing our lives are in so much more in order than theirs to being willing to help them put the church back in their lives. The choice is ours. Will we help everyone celebrate at this eucharistic banquet or will we be happy with those that show up?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Being on youtube

So I found out that one of the families of a couple of kids that I baptized decided to put the video on you tube. You can follow this link to see part one...

It's in four parts but it really was a neat experience and one that, I hope, will lead more people to baptism. I've seen the boys once since then and I got big high fives from them as they came into church.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Tobit. and my dream of being a bishop?

Part of what is making it all but impossible for me to post more is that I'm working like a little beaver on a Bible Study for my college students on the Old Testament book of Tobit. Now, if you are Protestant or Jewish, you may not know there is a book of Tobit. And that wouldn't be surprising since Tobit is one of those contested books that Jews decided not to include it when they had their canonization process sometime around the removal from Jerusalem and the Bar Kochba revolt. Protestants threw it out during the reformation period. It's a weird book in so many ways but fascinating nonetheless. It takes a good deal of explanation, however, about the role of angels, why birds can give you cataracts, and why marriage should be kept "in the family".

But, for some reason, I had a dream that Archbishop Hanus, my archbishop, came and ordained me a bishop. In the dream, my dad and I were the only ones at the ceremony so I had to tell my mom. I first had to find the rope that bishops wear that priest's don't wear (it's attached to a cross but the rope was the only thing I cared about) in order to show my mom that I had become a bishop. Of course, the ironic thing is that I'M THE LAST PERSON THE CHURCH WOULD EVER WANT TO ORDAIN A BISHOP. Okay, maybe not the last person. There are others that would probably be worse than I am but I'm definitely not in the top ten. And I don't think I've EVER, EVER wanted to be one. Talk about a lightening rod figure! But, I was having a lot of fun in this dream being one.

I suppose I should be thankful that it was a dream because it easily could have been a nightmare.

Monday, September 03, 2007

A bad homily

The problem with being a priest is that, sometimes, I realize in the middle of the first reading the direction the homily should have gone. Then I try to think if I could put it together during the Responsorial psalm and second reading and put the finishing touches on it during the reading of the gospel. But, on my way over to the gospel, I abandon the plan because I fear that I can't get it done and, by the end of mass, I've forgotten the direction I was going to go. Frustrating!

I used a homily this weekend that I used, substantively, three years ago. It wasn't great then and it still wasn't great. Thankfully, I remember the direction that I thought of in the middle of the first reading . It actually had to do with the second reading that said...

Brothers and sisters:
You have not approached that which could be touched
and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness
and storm and a trumpet blast
and a voice speaking words such that those who heard
begged that no message be further addressed to them.
No, you have approached Mount Zion
and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
and countless angels in festal gathering,
and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven,
and God the judge of all,
and the spirits of the just made perfect,
and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant,
and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.

I would have talked about the beautiful imagery of this passage and the sacramentality as well. By the word "sacramentality", I mean that it goes from the intangible/conceptual in the first part to the tangible/sacramental in the second. The countless angels in festal gathering, the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven represents the church, the people that are the body of Christ. Jesus, a real human being mediates God and is God. He mediates the ineffeible and the imperfect, the human and the divine. And the way Christ mediates is through his sacrificial fratracide, his murder by the hands of his own brothers and sisters. His blood isn't just a mediator in concept only but, as we hear in the gospel, comes to us in a real life banquet, to a people that cannot possible repay Christ for the sacrifice he has made for us.
We eat his body and drink his blood in the Eucharist.

It reminds me of how privileged I am to be part of a church that hasn't retreated to the conceptual but maintains the supper of Christ's body and blood.

Friday, August 31, 2007

A little thawing of a cold relationship

If you've ever read George Weigel's biography of John Paul the Great, you know that he made attempts but was, ultimately, unsuccessful in reaching out to the Russian Orthodox Patriarch, Alexei II. Part of this had to do with the Russian Orthodox occupation by the Soviets. When they were freed from that burden, there was a natural desire to get people back to church not watch the Catholics sweep in and steal everyone. Of course, it's more complicated than that too complete with, with the little that I understand it, a bit of a power struggle in the Orthodox church between Moscow and Istanbul.

I would never have thought, therefore, that Alexei would see the return of the Latin Mass as a great sign of hope for reunification...never until I read this article that is.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Heroes unaired pilot

I'm obsessed with the television show heroes. It keeps my attention in many ways. I stopped in Waterloo on my drive back from Dubuque on Tuesday to purchase season one on DVD. I have never bought a television show before on DVD and I can only imagine myself doing it for this one. I really like this show.

But, they made a different pilot episode in three parts that was altered and made into the first two and a half shows, basically, that had some great things part of it. What really upset me was that a part involving an Arab stealing plutonium to make a bomb was replaced by a white guy. I'm pretty sure it was NBC's idea not creator Tim Kring's idea but it was still upsetting that this change was made and it meant that another part where Claire runs through a burning train didn't have it's original context. I'm afraid it all took place because of fear of offending Arabs.

Another disappointment was that the villain was supposed to be Christian, like crazy Christian (please refrain from any cheap comparison's to the author), which would have made so much more sense when there was this whole scene where he had painted "forgive me" on the walls of a hidden room.

On a positive note, the changes to the character of Matt were good. His wife is better in the re-shoot than in the early version. But, Matt seemed more of an opportunist. Maybe I'm reading it with hindsight being 20/20 but who knows?

Nonetheless, I can't wait to hear endless hours of commentary and re-viewing first season before the new ones come out and I have to start VHS taping them. I'm not upset at all, maybe a little disappointed but still coming back for more.

Friday, August 24, 2007

seeking a new church

I read in this story that a retired bishop has gone over to the dark side. He's advocating the same thing that Called to Fraction has been calling for since their inception. And he'll, undoubtedly, be just disappointed as they are when the Vatican "doesn't hear him". In truth, they'll say what they do when people propose radical change: Say thank you very much but NO!!!!

My favorite quote is "I'm looking for a very different church" because, in some sense, he's right. Initially I wanted to respond, "No, you're not. You want us to be one of a host of mainlain Protestant communities." But, since they aren't a church per se because they've disregarded apostolic succession, he's clearly not talking about simply becoming one of them them. Of course, it would make us look and act exactly like a Protestant community and it makes me wonder why these "dissenting Catholic" don't just go and become one of them. What is so threatening about the catholic church that people always want us to act like other Christian bodies?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Pius X: pray for us

I was struck by a story that I learned about this saint in his biography. It was apparently, as a child, his father didn't think he could send him to more than two years of schooling. But, when he consulted his pastor and his pastor convinced him to send him to a nearby town, Saint Pius earned enough money while in school to send his brother to school and maintained stellar grades.

It reminded me that there are so many times in history when people who have felt compelled by God to do something but have also felt fear but nonetheless do what God wants will often find that God makes a way for them.

As Jesus said in the gospel of John, "Throw out into the deep."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

When there's no one around

One of my favorite songs of all time is by Garth Brooks with the above title. It's been a favorite of mine since I was a teacher in Rockford, Illinois. I like it because it talks about what you think about and do when you're by yourself. One of my favorite fantasies I tend to think about is that I'm running for the presidency of this great country. In my mind I would be an independent candidate that advocated a strong, effective government. I'd have a three tier platform: protecting the United States from threats domestic and abroad, developing a consistent ethic of respect for life, and building an attitude of service among the American people. Depending on the day, each of those is more important than the other. I even know what I would do to win.

My campaign would be centered in New Orleans and constantly showing video of me there in commercials. I'd walk around the city showing how much devastation still exists and then show images from the Iraq war. I'd ask why we spend so much money rebuilding a country across the globe while our own country is still in tatters. I'd disperse it with comments from the other politicians that are running that seem to indicate how important that rebuilding New Orleans is and then show how much they have actually helped the project and how much they have spent in Iraq to rebuild that country.

Then it would end with my slogan..

Dennis Miller
Removing the great plank
from my own eye before
I remove the sliver in another's.

In my mind, I always win by a landslide.

Feeling like I connected with people...and then getting kicked in the face

I maintain that it takes a priest at least a couple of years before people are used to hearing him preach and the priest can tell a story that's worth hearing. Even though you can stay too long in a parish, I know most of my brother priests stay too short in order to be able to present a whole picture of their "key themes", if you will. In particular, the younger priests who are associate pastors for just two years are just starting to really fill out the ideas they first presented and the people are just starting to get used to them and then they move. But, that's okay because the associate pastor should just remain in the background anyway. We are learning, making mistakes, and learning through it all. And that's okay.

So recently I've had some great conversations with people about the substance of my homilies. I can tell people are starting to get used to me by their faces and reactions to what I say. I can tell when I'm not being all that effective and I can tell when I nailed it. And it feels like I'm getting a lot of nodding heads and good comments letting me know I'm being heard.

And then someone left a prayer on our prayer board saying, "Please Father Dennis, stop talking about abortion." Which is both a good thing and a very very bad thing. They are hearing what I'm saying but they believe that I should not preach about the greatest American tragedy that is taking place every day in our cities. Can you imagine how quickly we would be out of Iraq if 3000 to 5000 American soldiers were killed each day? But that is routine in this country for abortions, as I've pointed out in this blog before. And someone thinks that I should not talk about it? And thinks that they can get me to do that by writing something anonymously on our prayer board?

I guess most priests know that you can't please all people with our homilies and I have no qualms about upsetting people who believe the homily should either be about making people feel good about themselves or, worse, challenging everyone else but themselves. But I don't know if that is true at all about the writer of this "prayer". I am, nonetheless, sure that I will continue to preach about abortion until this illegal act is seen for what it is: murder.

Crossing the river

The readings for today had a rather intriguing connection to them. You may, in fact, want to read them from this site before you read any more. Then click back and read this to see if you get it.

You can click this link it may help you find it....

In case you missed it, both mentioned crossing the river Jordan. I couldn't help but think that both were about forgiveness and that the river is a good metaphor for forgiveness. In the first reading, the patriarch Joshua was taking the proto-Israelites across the Jordan river into their spacious land of Israel. Joshua was the successor of Moses and, in many ways, is portrayed as somehow less important than Moses in a rather subtle manner. The story of the Exodus begins and ends with a passage through water. Moses parted the Red Sea and there was "a wall of water on the right and a wall of water on the left." When Joshua parts the water, there is only one wall of water, the water flowing towards them walls up. The water that has already flowed by continues to flow until there is none left. As I said, it's subtle but it undercuts the miraculous event that is happening. The miracle God worked through Joshua is just not as cool as the one worked through Moses.

But Moses is the greatest of all the Patriarchs so it's no surprise that Joshua is considered not as important. But, that's okay. It doesn't mean that Joshua is a bad leader. We have a tendency to do that, to say that one who may have done a lot is good and one who doesn't do as much is bad. I've even heard people say that the middle ages goes from good pope to bad pope to good pope to bad pope... I resist that label because even the so-called bad popes did good things and the good popes have had their faults.

This is the danger in making judgments of those kind. It's easy to pass judgment on others and not realize that we could just as easily be called bad if people look closely at what we've done. That's the incredible thing about the Kingdom of God. Jesus says the Kingdom is about forgiveness and the humility associated with that. The true mark of one who is bound for the kingdom is the ability to forgive.

The challenge is are we willing to cross the rivers in our lives in order to forgive those who have wronged us?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I don't really like folk music

My friend, Misty, and I love the movie "A Mighty Wind". It's from a genre of movies called mockumentaries (as opposed to documentaries) and is intended to mock something that most people take too seriously. In the case of "A Mighty Wind" it's the folk music industry as evidenced in three legendary groups. But, in the process of making the movie, the writers made some excellent songs. I think I've highlighted a few in this blog like "A kiss at the end of the rainbow" and the title song, "A Mighty Wind". To be honest, despite the title of this post (which is a paraphrase of a line from the movie, I really do like folk music.

And that brings me to the point of this post. I was listening to CMT this morning as I was getting dressed and I heard this song from a group called Old Crow Medicine Show called I hear them all. It really made me happy to hear it because it just has a catchy tune and a good message. Go hear to read the lyrics as the song is playing. Aside from the Universalism at the end (the image of Jesus sleeping at the feet of Buddha and some shaman being in the same sentence as Elijah is preposterous) the song is pretty good with great imagery. And it's catchy...

I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all

Monday, August 06, 2007

Are you as annoyed as I am?

A certain politician has called me three times (at least) in the last two days and called me four times last week. I'm so annoyed that I can guarantee that I will not vote for the person under any circumstances. I come home to a message on my machine saying something like, "Hi. This is Debra Francesca for the _______ campaign and I want to give you a 49 second survey. (pause) It sounds like you're not there. I'll call back later. (Click)"

Ordinarily I wouldn't say anything about it but the message seems to imply that she will keep calling until I participate in the survey. I'm now screening all the calls that come on that line because I don't want to answer the darn survey.

I wish I could just pick up the phone and say, "I'm a religious. Leave me alone you state employee." and they'd have to stop calling. But, instead, I'll just keep getting annoying messages.

And we have over a year more of this!

Relax, eat, drink, and be merry

I preached this weekend about how the rich man, despite receiving from God more than he deserved, didn't give anything to the poor but decided to hoard it for himself.

If I were going to preach again, I would have focused on this phrase. The man really has lost his sense of stewardship, meaning that all we have and all we are comes from God. He thinks that abundance means he can relax. But God's expectation is that, with tremendous gifts come tremendous responsibility. This is why the gospel of prosperity, that believers should expect to be "taken care of" by God, is so preposterous. True believers shouldn't expect God to take care of them, they should expect God to give them responsibilities to take care of each other. God loves us, we must love one another.

Friday, August 03, 2007

A few more thoughts about Mary

Ever since the death of John Paul the Great, I have, through his intercession, felt closer to our blessed mother, Mary. John Paul was able to find Christ in a more profound way through his mother. A good Jewish Mother is always bragging about her son the doctor or her son the lawyer. This is Mary bragging about her son, the savior of the world, without saying a word.

Today the reading was the controversial one from Matthew 13 where Jesus goes home and his town folk ask...

“Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds?
Is he not the carpenter’s son?
Is not his mother named Mary
and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?
Are not his sisters all with us?"

Of course, there is no little controversy about what this means. I believe it is clear that these aren't brothers of Jesus at all (see Catholic Answers on this topic) but cousins or step-brothers but Protestants want to degrade Mary as much as possible (without realizing that, in so doing, they are degrading the one who she bore) so they say these are younger brothers and sisters. I'll leave that aside for the time being. Instead, I had a bit of theological speculation. This will not come anywhere close to dogmatic truth so I don't think I could venture into the area of heresy but feel free to tell me if you think so.

Someday, each of us will "face our maker", if you will. And, we will be surrounded by a cloud of witnesses (okay, that was dogmatic, here comes the speculation) and one will be Mary, the faithful witness even when the disciples abandoned our Lord. At first, I wondered if Mary would be angry at all the people who made fun of her and chastised her in their lives. Of course, it's heaven so I don't think any of that would happen but I laughed a little thinking of Mary turning to Jack Chick (who will, of course, be entirely embarrassed) as she is standing with her crown next to her Son, the King of heaven and earth. He will have to face the fact that Mary's entire goal has been to lead us to Christ and that, even though he never acknowledged it, Mary undoubtedly helped him along his path of faith. The vengeful part of me just wishes that Mary would be able to slap him in the face.

But that's completely contrary to Mary and it tells me exactly why JPII keeps pointing me towards her. Once in a comment, I was asked why we catholics think that Mary is so important and I didn't respond. Here is one response: Mary is important because she shows us how we are supposed to act, how we are to love. Mary teaches us to cry out, "May it be done unto me according to your word" even before our savior brought about the salvation of the world when said, "Thy will be done."

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I guess he really is rude

Thank you to pastor Tim Rude of Windsor Heights for at least being honest... even if he only could do it when he thought what he was writing was private.

We all know that evangelicals hate the one true church because they want to turn faith into a purely personal endeavor that can be used to support Republicans. They hate Catholics because we don't give into party politics. We tell our people that they need to use well informed consciences to discern the best candidate. Abortion is an evil. But so is stem cell research and the war and all other threats to the dignity of human life. We tell our people to put forth the best candidate possible regardless of their faith perspective. But that's not the criteria for pastor RUDE. Catholics don't belong in politics. Just evangelicals. Or, at least, that's what he thinks in private communication with a candidate.

And when he gets caught, the pastor said he didn't mean to impugn catholicism. When he was writing publicly, he was a "recovering catholic" and thought we were part of the nameless, faceless Borg. Now he says he didn't want to say anything critical of Catholicism.

A few weeks ago, the catholic church was again criticized by Christians all over the world for making the same statement we have made since the second vatican council, namely that the fullness of truth subsists in the catholic church. At least we let people know what we believe and stick by it. These evangelicals will shake your hand in public, treat you like you are the Anti-Christ in private, and then come back to the table with hand outstretched claiming they still like you.

"Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' Anything more is from the evil one." Matthew 5:37

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah

I have to be careful at what I say this weekend. I probably should be used to that by now. Some of you might remember a few weeks ago when I had to be careful about what I said about the story of Bathsheba and David. I had to remember to explain a story from the Bible that some might think of as being rated R in a way that G ears could hear. There are a few stories that are like that and others that are kind of tricky to navigate like when Paul says in the second reading today, “You were also raised with him through faith in the power of God…” Some of you are, undoubtedly, aware that this was a bone of contention between us and our Lutheran brothers and sister up until a few years ago when we put together a common declaration outlining where we agree and where we disagree on this subject. I hear several priests and catechists who, in explaining this and passages like it, articulate a perfect Lutheran explanation and fail to note Catholic nuances. I can hardly blame them, however, since it really takes a keen theological mind to navigate the waters of grace and salvation.

I’d be content if that was what scared me about preaching this weekend. But it’s not. What scares me is the first reading and the truths and untruths that surround it. It would be easy for me to sprint past it on my way to the gospel and simply never mention the terms Sodom and Gomorrah, or Abram and these three men/angels/God or any of that. But, being a person that simply cannot ignore the elephant in the room, I will do my best in coming to grips with this controversial experience.

First of all, let me give a brief explanation as to how Abram found himself entertaining angels. Earlier in Genesis we heard that Abram and his brother, Lot, lived too close to one another. Their servants and shepherds fought one another too often so God moved them to a more spacious land. God had them both settle in Canaan. It says, “Abram stayed in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the Plain, pitching his tents near Sodom. Now the inhabitants of Sodom were very wicked in the sins they committed against the LORD.” We read this passage not-all-that-long-ago in daily mass and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for poor Lot. Abram is promised progeny and great growing conditions while Lot is left to live in a town that makes the West Bank seem like the West Indies. So, a few chapters later, God is hearing some distressing things about what is happening in Sodom. Why is God surprised that evil is happening? We heard five full chapters before that “the inhabitants of Sodom were very wicked in the sins they committed against the LORD.” To some extent, it goes back to the Old Testament belief that God can only take evil for so long. He wants us to repent, to seek to be forgiven for our transgressions. But, when we don’t do that, at some point God gives up on us and destroys us. So, he sends three Angels to go see if evil is really happening there and, if so, to destroy it. Our story today is intriguing, therefore, because had Abram not intervened there could have been a drastically different outcome.

Some of you may remember that two weeks ago I talked about my experience of Middle Eastern hospitality. Despite what is often portrayed in the media, when I lived in Israel and visited Egypt, I found that people were quintessentially hospitable. When you see a traveler, it is not just expected that you give water to him or her, but that you give them rest and a place to wash and some food as well. It’s part of their culture and very different from our attitude which tends to be more suspicious and fearful of strangers. Abram takes in the very angels sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Had they passed by, there is every bit of evidence that they would have simply destroyed those evil cities including poor Lot and his family. But, instead, Abram stands up to God. Let me say that again because it is so foreign in our ears; Abram Stands up to God and challenges him. Who is Abram to challenge God’s morality? But that’s the very point of this story. Abram, undoubtedly, wants to secure the life of Lot and so he gets God to spare the fifty, forty or even just ten inhabitants that are living a just life. And, when the Angels go there the next day and threatened to be treated with sexual violence, a most inhospitable act by the inhabitants of those cities, God first clears out Lot and his family, the only just members of their society who didn’t give into sexual immorality, violence and whatever else was happening there, before he destroys Sodom and Gomorrah.

It’s hard for us to think that this whole thing could have ended differently had Abram not spent time negotiating with God. It took Abram’s persistence, the same persistence of the neighbor who from the gospel, in order to ensure that justice triumphed over vengeance, that right triumphed over wrath. I think both of these stories are trying to get us to see the real power of prayer, especially in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. I think we set ourselves up for our prayers to fail all too often. Even though prayer is not magic and God is not a god that does whatever we want, we must still pray for, beg God for what is right. It doesn’t mean we are going to get the answer we want in the exact amount of time we want it. But, persistence in prayer shows God what is truly important to us and how important we think he is as well. If we stop asking, we not only show that we don’t really think something is important but we show God that we don’t trust in him. “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”