Thursday, December 25, 2008

Good news of great joy

Dear Brothers and sisters in Christ

“For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.”

This verse from the book of the prophet Isaiah resonates deep into our soul this night of heavenly peace. We celebrate a birthday unlike any other. For most people, we only celebrate the birthdays of the living. After their death, we have a different day to remember them by. Yet, for this “Wonder-Counselor”, this “appearance of the glory of our great God and savior”, this savior born in the lineage of David, we continue the praises that began with the songs of angels to shepherds some 2000 years ago. This Son will be remembered for his life and so, each year, we feel compelled to remember when first God and Mary gave the world its redeemer.

We need to take this time because it will soon be over. It seems to me like these next two weeks pass with the speed of Santa’s reindeer. So much preparation goes into tomorrow. The children need to behave, or at least they’ll do so when mom and dad remind them that Santa’s watching. We all will (hopefully) get to sleep in heavenly peace this night but, before the last present is unwrapped, we have already started putting away the Christmas decorations that have been out since Thanksgiving day. We start our plans for New Years eve…just one short week away. Do we want to have the cheese dip in the crock pot all night and spend all New Year’s Day soaking it to get it clean? Did we remember to get a babysitter for the kids? Then, before we know it, it’s all over and the kids are still at home on their winter break while the rest of us go back to work. Or, worse yet, the kids go back to their normal lives with their own family and we remember, with fondness, that there used to be something different about this time of year, something that just isn’t different any more because we’re older. We need this night to be different.

I think of this tonight as we read this most famous passage of the birth of Christ. This passage has been immortalized by such great readers as Raymond Burr, Stephen Colbert, and even Charlie Brown. It has been dissected by scientists to prove or disprove its historical reality. But, at its core, the evangelist is trying to tell us something larger than scientific news. He’s telling “good news of great joy.” Mary and Joseph make the 90 mile trek from Nazareth in the Galilee region south to the miniscule city of David that is Bethlehem. They were going there because it was Joseph’s home town. This should have been a time of rejoicing. In a time in which travel was difficult, especially because they weren’t a family of wealth so they would have had jobs that demanded they stay in close to home, the fact that fancy pants Joseph is coming home with the woman he intends on marrying should have meant that everyone is putting on their Sabbath best and getting the best room in the house ready for their arrival. But, because of the census, everyone is coming home, all sixteen children of the sixteen children of the sixteen children. This town of limited space and resources suddenly is overpopulated such that the entire house, even the equivalent of a garage, would have been necessary for occupancy. That’s really where Joseph and Mary found themselves sleeping, in a room reserved for the animals since the rest of the house was taken. And, of course, this is when all the elements came together for the birth of Jesus. Mary wraps her son in straps of cloth and takes a deep pride in her newborn son.

Meanwhile, somewhere close by, the working stiffs of the world who had no idea what was happening, were informed by angels that they should be the first to visit the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger. One wonders why the angels appear to them? These aren’t the mighty and powerful of this world. They also aren’t the poorest of the poor. They’re hardworking, middle-class folks that take a shower after work, not before. Jesus is literally surrounded by them this night in his parents, his extended family and, now, because of the message of angels, the shepherds.

It seems as though, throughout his ministry, he had a special affinity for them and people like them. He called hard-working fishermen to be his first disciples. He scorned the rich and powerful who were far too comfortable in this life calling them hypocrites. He looked with love upon the poor but never told his followers that it was their job to get rid of poverty. In fact, at points, he seemed to indicate that there will always be poor people. It’s almost as though Jesus knows that the ones who are most open to his message are the ones who most need to slow down their lives and get a view of the larger picture, the ones most in need of a Sabbath rest. The shepherds could easily get so fixated on protecting their sheep that they lose the sense of wonder and awe. Joseph’s family were so concerned with finding places for everyone and keeping everyone fed, that they lost their sense of charity. That’s the amazing thing about preoccupation: It makes it easy to neglect something important. When the chaos subsides and before you take down the decorations, take a minute or two and remember one thing. This is not a birthday party for a long-dead loved one that we just can’t quite stop remembering. This Christ mass is the birthday of the savior of the world whose birth was foretold by prophets and announced to common shepherds. It is a time for us to pause and give thanks to the God who came into this world to personally show us his love. I pray that each of you feel the song of praise the angels sang so long ago, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace to those on whom is his favor rests!” May God bless each of you this Christmas Season!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The role of conscience in being a catholic on good standing.

This question is, oftentimes, raised regarding several “hot button” moral issues including abortion, gay marriage, war, euthanasia, stem cell research, etc. The classic example of this is a politician who claims to have a well-formed conscience who is told by his bishop that he cannot receive Holy Communion because he legislates contrary to a church teaching. Is the church trying to impair the politician from freely doing his job? Is the bishop justified in stating that the politician’s actions have excommunicated him? The easy answer to both questions is: It depends. The difficulty comes in defining on what circumstances it depends.

First off, I feel like I need to clarify a few terms. What do we mean by “informed conscience”? One can find a great definition of a conscience in the Catechism of the Catholic Church #’s 1776-1802. To abbreviate the content of those paragraphs, the conscience is “present at the heart of a person” to help guide a person in making moral decisions. Without the conscience, a person would not be culpable for his or her actions because it would be impossible to know right from wrong. A person spends a lifetime forming his or her conscience. The Word of God is key to the formation of conscience, though the church does not restrict the Word of God to just the Bible. The Bible is part of the larger Word of God but, ultimately, “We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.”

So, in some ways, a fully formed conscience could not be in conflict with church teaching on issues on which the church has definitively decided, since it is what guides the formation of conscience. There are times in which a person, through no fault of his or her own, may not have a fully formed conscience. If the person was incapable, at the time of occurrence, of knowing what the teaching of the church was, they cannot be held accountable. Also, related to this, there is the prospect that a person is in the process of growing deeper in his or her understanding and is simply not to the point of learning (let alone accepting) a church teaching. In those cases, it’s possible that someone hasn’t yet had the church’s teaching on same-sex marriage or euthanasia explained to them or may have had an inadequate explanation. The person has an informed conscience but is ignorant of church teaching. Of course, it is the responsibility of the individual to seek out the full explanation of church teaching and not simply rely on ignorance as a rationale for not obeying the church.

Having said all of the above, there is room for legitimate disagreement with church authority if the church has not definitively stated a position on something or if the application of moral principles in a given situation is not entirely clear. For example, it is not legitimate to say that you wholesale disagree with the church’s teaching on abortion but are still a catholic in good standing. The church has been consistently clear that abortion violates the law of love and the dignity of the human person. But, if a pregnant woman has uterine cancer and would die without removing it, there is room for legitimate moral disagreement. Some moral theologians say that you are justified in removing the cancerous uterus since you are preserving the life of the mother and not intending on committing an abortion. Others disagree and say abortion is, nonetheless, an indirect result of the action and, therefore, it should not be taken. Oftentimes, the application of moral principles in complex situations is where moral theologians will disagree.

To know if something has been definitively decided, one should look toward the Catechism of the Catholic Church and official church statements. And, remember, not every statement that a priest, bishop or educated lay person makes is definitive. As a priest, I can tell you that I have very often been saddened by priests who either are unwilling to teach what the church teaches on tough moral teachings or who seem to believe that every statement they make is definitive.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A first

I had to cancel the one mass I was supposed to preach at this morning because we're having extremely cold temperatures here in Iowa. I was going to preach about Mary and her important role in salvation history. I hope to slightly change it for my Christmas homily so I don't want to put it here, yet. But, I hope to have an answer I gave in my bulletin to a question of ethics and morals and such.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

prop 8 the musical

Hollywood has thrown in it's hat on the California gay marriage initiative. They released a video that you can watch here. It's really silly and totally filled with flawed logic. Here's the logic...

The world was happy when Obama was running.
The religious folks of this country convinced the world to hate gays when it was most happy.
But, if we hate gays because of the Bible, they need to implement the whole bible in the most literal fashion possible.
Jesus doesn't want that. If you pick and choose, choose love and not hate (love being defined as allowing other people to do whatever they want to one another as long as they're consenting).
And, we all should want gay marriage because it will make money.

I was initially annoyed that we were being lumped in as fundamentalist. The attacks on Catholicism in the "religious" group was obvious. There was a guy wearing a clergy shirt and a woman who made the sign of the cross. But, we aren't fundamentalist. We hold to a central teaching authority that interprets scripture. That's different from picking and choosing. Both catholicism and mormonism have that central teaching authority by the way.

Further, the illustration that they use (shell fish are forbidden in the Old Testament so you shouldn't eat them) is debunked in the new (Luke 10:8 "Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you" and 1 Corinthians 10:25-27 "Eat anything sold in the market, without raising questions on grounds of conscience, for "the earth and its fullness are the Lord's." If an unbeliever invites you and you want to go, eat whatever is placed before you, without raising questions on grounds of conscience.")

Lastly, what does it say that we allow gay people to marry because they'll spend money? To me, that's like saying that we should allow women to become priests because there's a shortage or allow priests to marry because there is a shortage. It's like, "okay, now that we're desperate, we'll allow just about anyone to do this." We need money! I like making money! Allow gay people to get married and I'll make money for my church. I could charge an arm and a leg for gays to use my church to get married.

In the end, it's a video that's getting a lot of positive press coverage but I think it needed a little more thought coverage.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

liturgy done poorly

To celebrate mass is to do liturgy. Liturgy is a prescribed, ritualistic, prayer form. Usually, liturgy is very old or has roots in centuries old action.

I just did a communal penance. This is a relatively new liturgy, having been basically created at the Second Vatican Council as an alternative to what most people would call confession or individual penance and reconciliation. You have readings and music and then have an individual time to confess to a priest.

The problem with what just happened was that it was awful. Some places had a start time of 7:00 and other 7:30 so we went with the 7:30 start time. I forgot to tell the priests of the differing start times so they all showed up at 7:00. Ugh. And a congregation of about 12 were here then too. I thought about starting and just having the folks who came at 7:30 just get in line when they got there but that didn't seem to make sense. The 7:30 time was on several places. And then I just did the communal part poorly. I forgot the act of contrition and our father, for instance. I decided to "try something new" least new for us...of having people leave after having confessed their sins and doing their penance.

So, I started promptly at 7:30 and apologized for the time confusion. We read the readings and I preached. Then, I should have had them quietly reflect on the examination of conscience before praying the Act of Contrition and Our Father together. After that, I would have had the individual part of the ritual. Instead, after the homilet (very short reflection on the readings) I skipped the Act of Contrition (aka, the matter of the sacrament!) and the Our Father and went right to the individual penance. I realized it when the first confessor came forward to me. There was, however, no going back and not chance to do what we had forgotten since they left immediately after.

The good thing was that I had a homily prepared about not taking too seriously the rough spots of life, not getting so upset that we lose perspective. I even used that in one of the two apologies I gave. I made a mistake. It was the worst liturgy I've celebrated since becoming a priest. In a year, I'll have forgotten it. Heck, in a month I'll have forgotten it. But, the forgiveness that happened in the midst of it, the love people felt because of God, THAT will hopefully be remembered forever.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


This past weekend, I noticed the word evangelium, or good news/gospel present in the first reading and gospel. In the first reading, it came after 39 chapters of warning: stop sinning! It's all your fault that we are in the straits we are. Then, the heavenly host tell Isaiah that he can stop being the prophet of doom and gloom and start giving them comfort. They, in turn, will preach good news. In the gospel of Mark, the author cites this passage and refers to the message he's going to give as that good news. I talked about how things aren't as bleak as we make them out to be. There is good news at Sts. Peter and Paul parish. The religious education is doing well both in terms of numbers and in terms of the content. The parish is doing okay financially. And we are keeping out eyes focused on being proactive for our parishioners by purchasing a defibrillator in case someone has a heart problem. I then said that, ultimately, as Christians, we take heart in good news because it reminds us of he who is Good News, Jesus Christ whose coming taught us the meaning of good news.

I had a man who never comments on the homily tell me he was very appreciative of hearing good news with all the bad news that is out there. That was good news to me.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Pushing Daisies

One day, I was looking up a few things on youtube, specifically anything with an actress named Kristen Chenowith. I came across a show called Pushing Daisies in which she sang a song. I looked up the show, figuring that it would have been years old and long-since canceled, only to discover that it's actually new and not (at that time) cancelled. I watched the Pie-lette episode (as it was called) and found it to be an interesting idea for a show. It's about a boy that discovers he can bring someone back from the dead for one minute, any longer and someone else will take their place. He can awaken them by touching them and put them back to death by touching them. It's one of those shows that adults can watch and snicker and little kids can watch and snicker but teenagers shouldn't watch it because of the sophisticated humor. I started watching the show through last season, the one that was interrupted by the writer's strike and looked forward to having a good, extremely colorful show to watch.

And then I found out that ABC has pulled the plug. I don't know how many episodes more they will do but I can guarantee that I'll miss it when it's gone. Which is weird when you think about it. It's not at all theological. It's just a story about a boy, a girl he brought back to life that is his childhood sweetheart but he can't touch or she'll die and a girl who's madly in love with him but he doesn't love back. And pies. I don't think ABC will bring it back or anything if I get everyone to watch it. The actors probably have new shows they're all involved with. But, I'm going to miss them telling this one.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Shhhh! Watch!

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Most of you are probably aware of the tragic events that took place in a department store in Long Island, New York on Friday. In case you hadn’t, on the day after Thanksgiving, a day that is almost synonymous with shopping in this country, a scenario of pandemonium erupted as approximately 2000 people waited to enter one of those discount mega-shopping stores. The crowd eventually ran out of patience for the employees to open the doors so they decided to break them down instead. When an employee tried to control them, they simply pushed him down and, literally, walked all over him. The mob of people that stepped on him eventually killed him. Now, I’m sure that there were more terrible things that happened that day in the world. All we have to do is look at Mumbai, India and the terrorist activities that happened there to see one example. To be honest, there was probably even more tragic things that happened in New York that day. What is it about this particular news item that merited the full coverage of every nation-wide news network in this country?

I have a feeling that, at part, it has to do with the sympathy effect. In other words, we can all pretty much sympathize with this poor employee getting trampled. So many of us shop on that day that store accountants hope it will make their books go from being in debt, or being in the red, to being profitable, or black. That’s why they call it Black Friday. And, I imagine that another reason why this is such a universally covered story is because it’s similar but not quite the same as you experienced. I imagine that, if you were one of the people who woke up at 5:00 in the morning to stand in line, you experienced some rude, pushy people that had to get that bargain. But, hopefully, no one was so rude and no mob so unruly that anyone got hurt. That’s the way most people deal with having to wait. We might not like it, but, still, we keep our passions in check as we grit out teeth and wait. That’s what keeps us waiting at that light at the corner of Lincoln Way and Ash, even though no one is coming and it seems to take forever to change. That’s what keeps us from pushing everyone out of the way when we’re standing in the back of a long line at a movie theater five minutes before the movie starts. For some things, we can be patient. The trouble comes when our patience runs out and we feel pressed to do something.

That’s the way Isaiah the prophet is feeling today. In our first reading, the prophet expresses frustration at the seeming absence of God. “Return of the sake of your servant! Cut open the heavens and come down. Do mighty things that our ancestors didn’t see you do. There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.” The prophet feels frustrated and doesn’t know how to feel close to God again. You can almost hear the stages of grief as he goes through this…or at least the first four of them. One has to wonder what would cause a prophet to despair, a man whose job was to tell the people that they have gone too far from God and need to turn from their sin and return to God’s love. Has the pressure just become too much for him? Have the people forgotten God completely, so much so that they have forfeited salvation? The message of the prophet is clear, “RETURN! Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage.” Come back God, We miss you and the longer you are gone, the less your people miss you. Come back before they don’t care anymore.

The answer to this comes in the gospel, a gospel that is translated on bumper stickers as, “God is coming! Look busy!” But, it’s much more profound than that. This gospel shouldn’t be a fear-based message as some preachers have made it. It should be an incredibly hopeful message about patience in waiting. In some ways, Jesus is explaining what this world is all about, waiting for something better. Waiting for a place in which suffering, pain and death have been destroyed. Waiting for a leader that will put the folks who are in charge now to shame. Waiting for the fulfillment of the grace we receive by being part of the church; in her sacraments and the other spiritual gifts that St. Paul talked about in the second reading.

Today, we begin this season of waiting, a season that tests our patience and forces us to sit still. As I said before, we know we can do it. That’s not the issue. The question is: “Are we willing”. Are we patient enough to wait to watch our favorite show because mom or dad wants to talk to us? Are we patient enough to sit down and give ourselves some quiet time to reflect on the person we are becoming? Are we patient enough to wait in line to experience the sacrament of reconciliation and learn again about God’s forgiveness? We know we can do it. The question is: Will we do it? Or are we not patient enough?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Day Homily

It wasn't great but it wasn't awful either....

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

This year, Pope Benedict asked us to focus on St. Paul in our prayer and studies. As I reflected on these Thanksgiving Day mass’ readings, it seemed most appropriate to do so. After all, St. Paul is, by far, the most prolific New Testament writer to use the word “thanks” in one form or another. He uses it a total of 42 out of the 67 times it appears in the New Testament, which works out to being about 63% of the time it is used. Paul uses it in every one of his works except Galatians, where he is far too angry to use it, and Titus, which seems more like a grocery list Paul left for Titus one day than a letter he intended to be kept for posterity.

The letter we heard during the second reading, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, contained 11 uses of this word, although, to be honest, Paul is actually using three different words when he does so. But, all can legitimately be translated thanks in english. First Corinthians is rather unique in the 11 times St. Paul uses thanks. Romans uses the term 7 times, followed by 2 Corinthians and Colossians, both of which use the term 5 times. So, it seems to make sense that if we want to understand what Paul means by thanks in order to help inform us at this celebration, we chose the right book to do so.

In our second reading, we heard Paul do one of his traditional “thanksgiving” sections which he uses to introduce a letter. We hear them so often that we may become kind of numb to what he is really saying. He begins, not with “Dear Fr. Dennis. How’s it going? I am fine…” the traditional beginning to our letters. He starts by introducing himself and saying who he is writing to. Next he gives a greeting similar to what we use at mass, “Grace and peace in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ….” When that is done, Paul begins to introduce his subject matter in the Thanksgiving part. In the first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul gives thanks that they are not lacking in any spiritual gift. It seems that, despite the presence of incredible spiritual gifts such as prophecy, healing, and tongues, the people in Corinth had forgotten that everything that they have is a gift from God. Corinth had allowed their lives to be ruled by sexual excesses, by sports, and by religious pluralism. On a day that has become synonymous with excess food, sports, and areligiosity, this message should hit home with us pretty hard. Paul is going to confront this over and over again in this letter by reminding his listeners of their need to give thanks for the spiritual gifts they have received. Since we don’t speak Greek, we kind of lose what Paul is saying. The words “give thanks” and “spiritual gift” are related “eucharista” and “charis”, the one word is the heart of the other. Paul emphasizes this idea of a gift needing to be thanked over and over again in his message. He connects it to service of neighbor, to speaking in tongues, and to the Eucharist. He seeks to cultivate a thankful heart in the community he is forming in this church because God gives spiritual gifts to those who give thanks to him.

So, on this Thanksgiving Day, it is a good day to take stock of all the many gifts we have received, as so many have as a part of their tradition. And, as we do, let us give thanks to the Lord, our God for it is right to give him thanks and praise.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

What have we done for the least ones?

A few years ago, I had the privilege of going to Conception Abbey in Conception, Missouri to spend some time learning what it means to be a monk. One of the moments that really impressed me was dinner. In the refectory, the monks sit quietly while one monk reads part of a book to them. They read the same book for several weeks at a time in order to read its entirety, although you’d be surprised at how many pages you make it through in the course of a half-hour meal. There is no talking during the meal but there is plenty of communication. In fact, the challenge I found was to eat, listen to what was being read, and pay attention to the needs of the monks surrounding you. You see, on each table there was the typical one salt shaker, one pepper shaker, one sugar bowl, and a container of sugar substitutes as well as one pitcher of water. These were to be shared with everyone sitting at the table but we had to do so without talking. So, the monks developed a series of hand signals to ask for the particular accessory to their meal. In a sense it was an ingenious way to get around the lack of verbal communication. But, it demanded that each person pay attention to the people around them and not simply put their face in their plate and ignore the other forty men sitting in that room.

The gospel today is one of the most challenging gospel passages we Americans hear. This gospel holds that, in the end, we will not be judged by what we acquire or how good shape we are in. It says that we will be judged by how well we have taken care of the least in this world. The first reading was a little more indirect about the message, in a sense, by stating that, when God comes to judge us, he will take care of the people who are the weakest. He will be like a shepherd who sees his flock and immediately goes to the injured and sick to take care of them. It reminded me of a mother who comes home from a hard day at work to a sick child. She loves all her children equally, but is probably going to go directly to the sick kid’s room to find out how bad her child feels. This makes perfect sense to me. What didn’t make sense to me was a verse towards the end of the reading. After this long passage in which the Lord is gathering the lost sheep, caring for the sick, and finding us food, it says, “…but the sleek and the strong I will destroy, shepherding them rightly.” What? At the judgment, God is going to destroy those who are sleek and strong? I’m may be in trouble! I need to go on a diet! I need to get sick! There was part of me that wondered if the prophet had taken the analogy a little too far. I mean, who gets slaughtered on a farm: the sickly runts of the litter or the fat, mature animals? But that doesn’t entirely help us understand what God is trying to get across to us in this passage. For that explanation, you have to turn to the gospel.

In it, we hear about the sheep and the goats. The sheep were the ones who cared for the little ones while the goats are the ones who only cared for themselves. It seems like the “sleek and strong” got so at the expense of the weakest among them. The goats took advantage of situations and were well provided for while the poor sheep were not at all taken care of. I think of this as we begin the Advent season and our country begins Christmas shopping season. I ran across a website the other day called advent conspiracy dot org. If you go to that website, you’ll come across the staggering figure that Jesus statement about people being thirsty and needing water is still true in several countries of this world. It would cost 10 billion dollars to fix, a figure that seems astronomical, until you think that Americans have spent, on average, 450 billion dollars for Christmas gifts in the past and we have given over 700 billion to different business in this country in order to bail them our of fiscal difficulties. Imagine the outrage that we, Americans, would feel if it was announced that we were going to use 10 billion dollars to go overseas and build wells for communities so they will have clean, drinkable water and train people locally how to do that as well. How do you think people would respond?

And, yet, we don’t have to look to other countries to find the marginalized of society. I have a feeling that we can find them right here in our midst. That’s partially why we will be celebrating the anointing of the sick in a few moments. This sacrament is one of two that is entirely for those who aren’t sleek or strong, along with the sacrament of reconciliation. Fr. Pat and I will soon invite those of you who are sick, those who will soon be receiving surgery, and those of a certain age to come forward and receive this sacrament. By doing this in this liturgy, we hope that you will feel the support of the entire body of Christ and know his healing. I encourage each of you not receiving this sacrament, to take time after mass to reach out in support of these people who need our love and support.

In the end, we will be judged on how we treated each other, Have we actually lived out the faith we profess or simply used it on Sunday and not carried it with us when we live our daily lives. Or, to put it another way, do we ever look around and see the people who are hurting or are we too busy focusing on our own plate, on the task at hand, to even care about the people around us?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What can we say about homosexuals?

Since the defeat of gay marriage in California, I have continually be confronted by people who want me to legitimate some sort of relationship status for gays and lesbians. I don't see any room in church teaching for such a statement, to be honest. Other than the idea that violence and cruelty are never allowed and that a person deserves his wage, I just don't see an authentic spirituality of civil unions emerging.

But, is that right? Do we need to have something more positive. For instance, do we want to flesh out the type of celibate chastity expected for homosexuals. Can we put a theology behind it? Can we connect the celibate chastity of a homosexual to the cross? Do we want to distance ourselves from the evangelical view of homosexuality being a choice that can be undone? I, personally, think we do. I think many evangelicals simply replace same-sex lust and objectification with opposite sex.

I'm starting to see a possible role I could play in articulating a theology of homosexuality that is true to church teaching. I could also see myself being excommunicated for trying to do so...hmmmm...maybe I should just keep my mouth shut.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why women can't become priests...

Our bulletin has a new segment called "question of the week" in which different members of the staff take turns answering topical questions. This week was my chance to do so. I put the short version without the first two paragraphs in the bulletin. Here's the long version of what I did.

Why can’t women become priests?

In seminary, this question was posed to me while I was sitting down to eat at a benefit for a catholic school. I started what I thought was a rather eloquent explanation from tradition and scripture similar to the one below only to be rather consistently interrupted with the ad-hominem argument that scripture and tradition are biased and outmoded. My pastor, who had been sitting next to me enjoying the exchange, finally spoke up and said what I believed (and still believe) to be the weakest explanation of them all: This is just the way it is now. Stogy, old Rome may not be willing to face the fact that things are changing, but they’re just delaying the inevitable.

This seemed to pacify my interlocutor so I decided to return to what was, up until this point, a rather enjoyable soirĂ©e. Nonetheless, this exchange haunts me to this day because of the presumptuousness of the explanation. No one knows what the future holds. If we need further clarity of this, look at this past year’s presidential election. Two years ago, it seemed clear that this was going to be the year in which we would elect the first women president in Senator Hillary Clinton. Two years later, we are, instead, on the precipice of electing the first African-American President in Barak Obama. Who saw that one coming?

The most frustrating thing that many women feel is that they, honestly, probably could do better than a number of men at some of the tasks required of prests. There are, undoubtedly, many women who could preach better, hear confessions better, anoint the sick better, administer a parish, etc. better than men. Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter on this topic entitled Ordinatio Sacertotalis wanted to be sure to affirm the gifts that women bring to the church. He said, “The presence and the role of women in the life and mission of the Church, although not linked to the ministerial priesthood, remain absolutely necessary and irreplaceable. As the (earlier) Declaration Inter Insigniores points out, ‘the Church desires that Christian women should become fully aware of the greatness of their mission: today their role is of capital importance both for the renewal and humanization of society and for the rediscovery by believers of the true face of the Church.’"

The Pope refutes those who say that Christ was handicapped by his times and biases by referring to Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter Inter Insigniores which stated…”to the great astonishment of his own disciples Jesus converses publicly with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:27); he takes no notice of the state of legal impurity of the woman who had suffered from hemorrhages (Mt 9:20); he allows a sinful woman to approach him in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Lk 7:37); and by pardoning the woman taken in adultery, he means to show that one must not be more severe towards the fault of a woman than towards that of a man (Jn 8:11). He does not hesitate to depart from the Mosaic Law in order to affirm the equality of the rights and duties of men and women with regard to the marriage bond (Mk 10:2; Mt 19:3). In his itinerant ministry Jesus was accompanied not only by the Twelve but also by a group of women (Lk 8:2). Contrary to the Jewish mentality, which did not accord great value to the testimony of women, as Jewish law attests, it was nevertheless women who were the fist to have the privilege of seeing the risen Lord, and it was they who were charged by Jesus to take the first paschal message to the Apostles themselves (Mt 28:7 ; Lk 24:9 ; Jn 20:11), in order to prepare the latter to become the official witnesses to the Resurrection.”

The Point the Pope seems to emphasize is that priesthood is neither a job that demands the fulfillment of certain tasks or the possession of the church. “…the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan for his Church.” He’s saying that it is a gift given to the church by Christ to carry out Christ’s mission of salvation. And, so, the church holds no authority whatsoever to altar the gift given. Thus, Pope John Paul II states in no uncertain terms, “the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents…I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.”

John Paul II Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

Pope Paul VI Inter Insigniores

For more reading

Monday, November 10, 2008

I wish...

In the middle of my homily this weekend, it occurred to me what I should have preached.

This Sunday, in the Roman Catholic Church, we celebrated the feast of the building of the first official church building of the Roman Empire. Donated by the Emperor Constantine, the church of St. John Lateran in Rome is the Pope's church. The gospel was about Jesus driving the money-changers and livestock merchants.

I could have used it to talk about having reverence in church, about how our church is not the place to come in and visit. The church is a place where we encounter God and remind ourselves that we have sinned and are in need of God's mercy. Too much ancillary activity on the Temple Mount caused Jesus to get angry and we need to be mindful of the respect we have for God when we walk into this dedicated space.

Instead, I used it to talk about the typical "You are the church! We are the Church. The church is not a building!" typical homily. I wish I would have figured it out earlier.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Political Reflections

I feel like today is a good day in the United States of America. I know that Barak Obama's position on abortion is wrong. But, to be honest, I think President Bush's position wasn't much better. How many babies weren't aborted in the last eight years because George Bush was president? Any? And I think, if we were honest with one another, John McCain's would be worse. He'd push stem cell research just as far as President Obama would. But, setting all of that aside, there are other considerations.

An entire race of Americans, a people unjustly brought here to be our slaves, have hope. A group of people that are constantly told that they are "the other" see in Barak Obama someone who looks like them can become the leader of this country. I've got to believe that somewhere, an African-American child knows that there are other options than sports to get out of poverty. And, idiot racists in this country who had to learn a generation ago that there was nothing to fear from us Catholics, may start to learn the same thing about African-Americans. It's transforming. It's much easier to hate someone when you don't know anything about them. It's much harder when you have to see their smiling, hopeful face leading us through tough times.

I also have hope in this country when same sex marriage bans passed in two states (Florida and Arizona) have passed and, by all appearances, California may have passed too. I think people realize that this would so radically alter the notion of marriage that it would eventually lead to it's destruction. Americans who overwhelmingly supported President-elect Obama could see that this is bad for America. It's one thing to say violence and cruelty have no place toward gays and lesbians, it's quite another to say that marriage is their right. Americans all over the country can see it and, hopefully, we will help the rest of the world to see this as well.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I promise you won't be offended...well I don't think you will anyway.

I was spammed. And, for once, I liked it. Go here...

And watch the intro. You might peruse other videos but I won't promise those others are as good as the intro. You'll laugh. You'll be informed. All in the course of between four and five minutes.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

How can we believe we’ll someday see our loved ones?

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

There have been a few times as a priest that a concept seems to get stuck in my brain and it seems to pop up every now and again. For the last few years, I’ve been fascinated by just such a concept put forth by Pope Benedict in a book which he wrote prior to being elected pope entitled Introduction to Christianity. In that work, he stated that the central frustration of both believer and unbeliever alike is the question of “what if?” For the believer, the question is: What if there is no God, if it’s all a hoax? What if I could be doing all kinds of things that believers think are immoral this whole time but haven’t because I feared the loss of heaven and the pains of hell? For the unbeliever, the question is: what if there is a God? What if someday I have to look God in the eyes knowing full well that he knows I spent my life denying his existence? In some ways, the easy solution to this quandary is to be agnostic, to be not sure if God exists or not. Yet, I imagine even the most committed agnostic tends to lean one way or another. In truth, I imagine we all have theories about the nature and existence of God.

This tension is felt most acutely during this commemoration of all the faithful departed or All Souls, as it’s commonly known in our church. In fact, here at St. Thomas, we use the entire month of November to remember our friends and family who have passed away. We invite you to write in the names of your beloved dead in the book of the dead located by the baptismal font. In this way, we keep the celebration of the faithful departed going throughout the entire month. After all, in some way, this celebration is too important to restrain to one day. It encapsulates that most central tension of the human drama: Should we really have hope that our loved ones are alive in Christ after they have died or are we merely using faith to help “get us through” the tragedy of that loss?

Our readings today, in some way, bring to light a couple of points that may help us along this journey. The first reading, in particular, from the deutero-canonical book of Wisdom, challenges the long believed hypothesis prevalent in so much of the Old Testament literature, that may be summed up as, “You get what you deserve.” It was commonly accepted that people in good health, people who were rich, people who had the best crops and livestock, were blessed by God because they were the good ones, the most obedient. In other words, if you behaved good in the sight of God, God will be good to you in return. The book of wisdom is the first book, I believe, to challenge this assumption by saying that the just will be tested in order to be found worthy. Life is not easy. Our faith is constantly being tested, especially in the light of tragic situations like death. It’s difficult to find hope in the death of a mother, father, son, daughter, or someone else close to us. Yet, according to the second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, hope does not disappoint because it seems to come out of nowhere. It’s like those times when we experience a moment of hope in the most frustrating, confusing, and hopeless situations. Have you ever had one of these experiences? Where do they come from? I’m thinking of times when I have been sitting in a funeral home near a coffin while a loved one tells a story about their deceased relative that makes everyone there laugh hysterically. In some way, the memories that we have with a person, the times that helped us bond with the person and learn to love them are sources of comfort for us. Nonetheless, the unfortunate reality is that memories fade. The daily remembrance of someone who is missing becomes weekly and eventually passes into oblivion. And, thoughts that used to seem so hopeful, thoughts about eternal life in heaven, seem hopeless, more like escapism and avoiding the problem.

Yet, the fact that there is hope points to something larger. Jesus, in the gospel, says that this hope comes from the love of God which is poured into our hearts. In those times when our faith is shaken and the world seems pointless, remember love. Oftentimes, the very reason that the world seems so shaken is because we have dared to love and that love seems lost forever. But, the fact that love exists, the fact that we were allowed to experience the love in the first place, points to something greater than us. Even in this experience of love lost, we can find hope that we will one day see all those souls that have gone before us marked with the sign of faith because the love that is still greater than anyone of us will love us up and take us to be with him forever.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The bishops speak about gay marriage

If you go to this link... can hear the bishops of this country weigh in on gay marriage. It makes me glad since I'm still taking flak from some radical parishioners on my previous homily in which I encouraged people to stand up against it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Maid Rite

One of the super special treats of growing up on Marshalltown, Iowa was a loose meat sandwich called the maid rite. It's basically a hamburger with ground beef instead of a patty. The Marshalltown Maid Rite has been in existence since before the great the one we're in right now. The 1920 one. In fact, up until recently, they wouldn't have ketchup available in the store because homeless folks would come off the trains and use ketchup to make tomato soup back in the 20's.

Tomorrow, I'm going to pick up my brother and bring him back to Ames for a couple of days. But, before I do, I'm going to stop and have a maid rite with him. I can't wait. It will be good to spend time with my brother and good to start that with a maid rite.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Great Commandments

I wasn't sure of a good, practical example of the law of love so I preached about how we love God through love of neighbor. But it was pretty weak so I'm not going to post it this week. There was too much excitement with the Iowa State/Texas A&M game. However, I did find out something very important. I wondered who I would cheer for when my two favorite teams play one another. I found out that I'm more of a cyclone fan than and Aggie. I've been so from childhood.

Friday, October 24, 2008

How do you react when you feel attacked?

I recently got an email criticizing me for the below homily that I preached last weekend at my university parish. The email was, frankly, pretty stereotypical in it's criticism of me. It complained that I talked about abortion and gay marriage while endorsing my statements about the war. It also inferred that I am responsible both for abortion bombings and the murder of Matthew Shepherd because I preach about abortion and gay marriage. And, the person thought that I brought unnecessary stress in the congregation's life by joking that I was going to endorse a candidate and then deciding not to. The person asked if I heard the gasps from the congregation at that point in the homily, which I didn't because there weren't any.

I resolved at one point not to respond to angry emails because all it does is make me mad and not further the conversation. Email is too impersonal. It's easy to say hurtful things without having to look people in the eye when you do so. But, I got pretty angry at this email and, frankly, felt like the prophet who could hold himself in no longer. I felt like I had to answer this person. Nonetheless, I wanted to answer what I perceive as rather typical cries of complaint with an atypical response. But, looking through it again, I'm afraid I merely gave the person exactly what was expected. Please join me in praying for the person, that my email will be more of a source of conversion and less a source of exile

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Give to America what is American and Give to God what is God’s

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

There is a great deal of tension in the gospel today but you have to understand the two groups in the gospel to understand why. The Pharisees and the Herodians who are ganging up on Jesus trying to discount him are in many ways polar opposites. The Pharisees were extreme Jewish nationalists. They had distrust of Rome and wanted to see Israel as an independent state. And the Herodians were extreme Roman sympathizers. They’d become rich by Roman rule, sometimes by the murder and exile of the anti-Roman Pharisees. The only person that could effect reconciliation between these two groups is Jesus, who seems to threaten both. They ask him about taxes: Do good, observant Jews need to pay them or not? If Jesus tells them that they need to pay their taxes, he appears to be aligning himself with the Herodians and would have offended his largely Pharasaic followers. Had he told them that they are not Romans and don’t need to pay their taxes, the Herodians would have strung him up for dissent of the state. He seems to be at an impasse.

I kind of feel at an impasse today. There’s a part of me that would love to talk about giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, to the government what belongs to it. And how, even in these difficult times, these times of economic downturn when we wonder what out loans and retirement funds are safe, we still need to give to God what belongs to God. But, Paul and Mary Brown did a good job of that last week, reminding us of how we need to sacrifice things in order to be faithful disciples who support our church. And I’m afraid that, if we have a sacrificial giving homily two weeks in a row, you’ll be like the Herodians ready to string me up. There’s another part of me that would like to talk about how, as American Christians, we are obliged to vote. In just a few weeks we will choose the next leader and we need to use the moral principles that guide us as a church to help guide us when we choose the next president. Maybe I could even endorse one of the presidential candidates. Who do you think I would choose to endorse? No, I don’t want to do that. I’ll let you decide which Caesar to vote for and I’ll stick to preaching about God. It seems like, whatever I preach about, there are ways to fall into a trap. So, how did Jesus get out of his trap?

He asked the Pharisees to show him one of the coins that was used to pay the Roman tax. When it was produced, he turned the trap on them. You see, a good, observant Jew could not have had one of these coins. They had a graven image on them, an image of Caesar who believed himself to be God. What was a Pharisee, the most observant of all the Jews, doing with one of these coins? Jesus seems not even to know what the coin looks like, yet he says that it’s okay to give Caesar back his idolatrous coin and to give God what God deserves. What is created in the image and likeness of God? We were created in the image and likeness of God! So, we need to give our very selves back to God if we are to follow Jesus prescription. The Herodians would have been content to be able to keep their riches and the Pharisees would have been able to continue to devote their lives in loving service of the law.

In a sense, Jesus appeases each group with this answer. But, he also challenges each of them. The Herodians have become so accustomed to living the “good life” that they have forgotten the need to give their entire lives back to God. And the Pharisees, in wrapping themselves in their religion, have diluted themselves into believing that paying taxes is, somehow, hurting their religion.

A generation ago, we Catholics had to constantly defend being both American and catholic. And, even though I think we’ve mostly managed to shirk allegations that there is innate contradiction between these two allegiances, I fear now we no longer see the tension in the two. In a sense, we’re becoming like the Herodians who have allowed their riches to blind them to religious obligations. What we do here is totally ineffective if we are not good citizens and good Catholics when we leave. We need to do things like vote, pay attention to traffic signals and speed limits, and pay our taxes. We do this because we are good citizens who give to America what America deserves. But, we also challenge America when she starts trampling on the affairs of God; when she starts wars with countries that may someday have the capacity for hurting us, when she condones the murder of innocent children in the womb, when she attempts to altar the nature of marriage from what it was in the beginning to what a vocal minority scream it should be now. We must stand up and make our voices heard. We feel tension, true. But, lest become the very hypocrites that Jesus scorns in the gospel today, we must remember that our very image, our entire being, is a gift from God and we live in the hope that God will want this image back someday.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sorry for the silence

I've not had much to say for a while. I've had a big decision that's been clouding my mind for the last couple of weeks or so. And, despite the lack of clarity on the decision, there's been some really interesting stories that have come across the news recently. For instance, did you hear this story about how church goers were attacked outside of a church in California. That's tolerance for you.

Also, Catholics are struggling with the election. It makes me feel really good because I'm personally struggling a lot! I learned here that even theologians are struggling. We feel like abortion is a crucial issue. Thousands of babies die each day and millions of lives are lost because of it. But, if you're like me, you wonder why we've had a pro-life president for 20 of the last 28 years and we have more abortions taking place today than when we elected the first one in 1980. And, I'm just not satisfied with John McCain's answers when he gets asked about it. Of course, Barak O'bama will continue the laws as they are if not strengthen them as president. We have no right to complain if access to abortions increase. He has made that promise. And I don't agree with the moralist that believes we need to give up because we've lost the war. Where would African-Americans be in this country if Abraham Lincoln gave up on them because "we lost the war on slavery?" So, I'm just frustrated. I don't know who to vote for. Maybe I'll move to Rome and just live in Vatican City for a while. Or maybe this is just the sign of the return of Christ and neither John McCain nor Barak O'bama will be the leader.

It just makes us pray even more

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Family Weekend Homily

Dear Friends in Christ

Let me begin today by welcoming the brothers, sisters, moms, dads, step moms, step dads, aunts, uncles, cousins and other family members who have come to be with us here at Iowa State University this Family Weekend. This is a special weekend for me because this is the anniversary of me becoming a Cyclone fan when my brother invited me to come to Iowa State and stay the weekend with him. I can only hope that other little sisters and brothers are coming to love being a Cyclone this weekend just like I did so many years ago.

As I look back on that weekend, I’m kind of amazed at how well I got along with my brother. I mean, I was a terrible little brother. Don’t get me wrong, I think I was completely justified in being a terrible little brother. After all, I was the youngest of five children. When they were all going through their teen angst, I was a geeky little grade school kid. I used to fight with my siblings all the time. They always thought they knew more than I did and, despite the fact that they proved over and over again that they really did, I would seek to prove that they didn’t. That’s what is so amazing about the idea that I came here and, for 48 hours, I listened to my brother and trusted that he actually knew what he was doing. I can’t believe my parents would put that much trust in him and me!

The landowner of Jesus’ story today knew that he had to put trust in people. He’s the money behind the operation. But, he needed strength in order to get the job done. So, he hired tenants who are expected to raise the crops, live for free on the land, turn over the crops at harvest and be paid for their service. The problem is that they abuse the trust of the landowner and decide that they deserve to keep the produce that they have so painstakingly taken care of. And, they’re going to keep it at all costs, even being willing to torture and murder those sent to collect it. And, who can blame them? They did all the hard work. While the landowner is off having lavish dinner parties living in his palaces, the poor struggling tenant farmers were working in the rain and heat trying to ensure that the best crop is grown. They deserve to keep what they have worked so hard to produce. What gives the landowner the right to come now that it’s harvest time and claim what he never sowed in the first place?

He has the right because that was the deal he struck with the tenants. If they didn’t like the deal, they should have been more shrewd when they were negotiating terms of their tenant contract. He has the right because he owns the field. Contrary to what some believe, Jesus wasn’t a Communist. He recognized the right of ownership. Further, He has the right because, as we came to find out in both the first reading and the gospel, He is the God who made the field in the first place. How did the tenants get the plants to sprout from their seeds? How did they make the sun shine in the day and just enough rain to come? How did they make sure that nothing terrible happened like a natural disaster? Of course, they didn’t. They were as helpless to all of that as any human landowner would have been. Would they have wanted to be responsible for a bad crop? Of course not.

Lately, we have heard a lot of news about the federal bailout of moneylenders, with every politician willing to point fingers at the other side to lay blame. And, I’ve heard a lot of people worried about how they are going to deal with the economic downturn this will mean for our county. How do we deal with these catastrophes? Do we try to act like the tenants from the gospel and the wild grapes of the first reading, behaving badly toward one another in a way that points fingers of blame? Let us carefully listen to St. Paul who encourages us, in difficult times, to focus on what really matters. “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” St. Paul is not trying to get us to bury our heads in the sand or to have a “keep on the sunny side” attitude of ignorance. He is calling us, in times of hardship, to focus on what is honorable and good in the world. One of these institutions we should be able to trust in is family. As we gather on this Family weekend, we are reminded that when the wealth of this world fails and the world seems to be coming down around us, we, Christians, seek the seat of true wisdom and goodness and are reminded that we need to lean on each other throughout our life and let God be in charge.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

some reasons TO go to confession that are often used NOT TO go to confession

I was coming back from hearing confessions for a retreat when I started thinking about some reasons that I've used to not go to confession that should have been a reason to go to confession. I tried to think of ten but didn't quite make it. Any other suggestions?

1. It's been too long. Catholics should go to confession AT LEAST ONCE a year. In my life, I've gone longer than a year and then been afraid to go to confession because I was afraid of what the priest would say.

2. I'll probably commit the same sin again after I confess it. But how can I stop it if I just keep it hidden away. Confession may be the first step on the process of getting over it.

3. The sin is too serious. God won't forgive me for it. God's forgiveness surpasses anything we can imagine. All he asks of us is to ask for it.

4. I need to stop committing the sin before I confess it. Related to the above two. God can forgive you and maybe you need to bring it out of the darkness in order to conquer it.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Ever look back and wonder, "What was I thinking?"

As a kid, I was in love with the song "Angels" by Amy Grant. It was inspiring. It made me believe in God.

And, for some reason, I was thinking about it this morning. So, I looked it up on youtube and found something surprising.


You can find it here...

Be prepared: this is filled with 80's schlock. Watch the boy in yellow. He really seems to get into it. You'll love it when they lean in to get quiet and lean back when they get loud. And, what's up with the poor guy in the water that seems guarded by the people with masks? And who's the poor grey Fanciscan who is taken captive by Roman soldiers in a rat infested cell?

It's confusing but also kind of....really really bad! I can't lie to you. I'm so glad that we've moved past this. This is why the church needs to be really careful about introducing new music to worship. We can still sing "Holy God, We praise thy name." We laugh at "Angels."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Failure with asterisks

I failed. I took on way too much and the hatchet of sacrifice has come down on HDFS 510, Theories of Human Development.

By that, I mean that I have discontinued taking a class through Iowa State University. I had eliminated the idea of a degree about two weeks ago when it became obvious that this degree wasn't really going to help me be a better priest/campus minister. But I thought I'd "gut out" the class I was in. However, it has become clearer that the class is not only not going to help me be a better campus minister, the amount of time it was taking just to do "adaquately" meant that I couldn't even be a decent campus minister. So, I dropped it. Or at least I will drop it. When I figure out exactly how Iowa State does that.

I feel kind of like a failure. I should have looked deeper into the content of the course to determine how useful it would be. I should have made sure I could dedicate the time to be able to be successful. I should have done a lot of stuff. But, I didn't.

But, failure is the other side of the "learning a lesson" coin. I learned that I'm too busy to take a class during the school year. I learned that this isn't the direction I want to take with my academic career at this point. I even learned that the social sciences make my head hurt because they are really intelligently done (for the most part). And, perhaps, most important of all, I learned that being a student really is a terrible life. I'm not called to be a life-long student. I am supposed to be a priest.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The illogical superabundance of God’s love

Dear Beloved in Christ

Yesterday afternoon, I gathered with between thirty and forty of our parishioners to clean our yard, here at Sts. Peter and Paul, and get ready for fall. Although, I have to admit, I was a little worried because, when I got here at ten minutes until one, I was alone. I walked around and found the White House open and someone, I’m pretty sure it was Don Johnson, had cut out the pine bushes in front of the White House earlier in the day. So, I decided to walk to the back yard to see what was happening. Again, no one was there but I noticed that there were weeds growing under some of the pine trees. So I walked over and started to pull a few weeds from under one of the trees when I heard the first few parishioners start to show up who had brought a hand saw. Eventually everyone showed up, which allowed for some distribution of labor. Some of us worked on clearing some bricks around the white house that were, at one time, markers for a flower bed. They had become, instead, an obstacle for man and mower alike. Others of us decided to clean out the dead branches of the pine trees so that it would be easier to mow and maintain. I am comfortable using a manual, muscle driven, hand saw. I enjoy it really. I like the feeling of achievement when you get done sawing a dead branch from a tree using a hand saw. But, to paraphrase St. Paul, to me a handsaw is like Christ and a chainsaw is death. I can’t use one because I’m one of the world’s biggest klutzes! So, I let a few of the guys run the chainsaw while I dragged the limbs out from under the tree, onto trucks, and onto the burn pile. I started off full of energy and excitement but, by a couple hours into it, I was exhausted. I remember thinking that I should just leave and go home and read for my class but I hated the idea of leaving people when there was still a lot of work to do.

I think that’s a typical reaction most of us have toward doing a job: don’t quit until the job is complete. We have an unwritten understanding of how to do things that our parents taught us as kids. And, when we see someone who doesn’t do it the way we were taught, we are obliged to let them know that they’ve done something wrong. I think this is a pretty cross-cultural concept: we do things because it’s what we were taught is fair. That’s precisely what workers who have at least put in a ten hour, if not twelve hour, day think when others who haven’t worked as long as they have are getting paid as much as they are. It’s bad business sense. How is this landowner going to get someone to work in his vineyard tomorrow if they know that they can wait until five o’clock in the afternoon and get paid as much as those who start at six in the morning? I imagine, this landowner will soon find that he is paying all his workers a full days pay for an hour of work.

Of course, this isn’t Jesus way of teaching the ten steps toward successful business practices. This is a parable, as we heard in the first sentence, about the Kingdom of God. Some suggest that this is a way for Matthew, who was probably writing to a largely Jewish audience, to emphasize that Gentile Christians are going to receive the same salvation that they are going to receive. They may ask themselves how it is that God has “made them equal to us.” But, God is going to give a similar response to the one given by the landowner in the gospel, “Am I not free to do as I wish with my salvation? Are you envious because I am so generous?”

Sometimes, while talking with people, I’m amazed to hear them doubt the superabundant generosity of God’s forgiveness and love. They see themselves as unworthy of God’s love because of some sin they have committed. And, to be honest, in some ways, shouldn’t we all feel like that? In some ways, we are all more like the later laborers than the earlier ones. Maybe we were born and raised catholic but we don’t always practice the faith. Sometimes, we are down-right un-Catholic in the jokes we tell, the actions we do to one another, or the thoughts we have. But, we sometimes feel like the earlier ones because we know something about someone that doesn’t make them seem all that holy. Maybe you donate your time to some charitable organization and you wonder where your fellow St. Peter and Paul parishioners are as you are volunteering. Or maybe you feel very passionately about an issue involved in the upcoming election and you can’t understand why your fellow Sts. Peter and Paul parishioners would dare vote for the politician that doesn’t support your issue. Before we give up on each other, let us very carefully hear the call of Christ in the gospel who rewards all his faithful equally, despite our weaknesses and let us rejoice at those who were lost who show up late and, nonetheless, get the job done.

Friday, September 19, 2008


In seminary, I took a personality inventory that told me I was apt to take on too much responsibility and then not be able to fulfill it. Finding that out was rather eye opening for me because I was finally able to put in my mind a patter that would happen. I would want to get involved in everything and still be able to do all the fun things that typical college students do...well not all the fun things. The things that didn't involve needing to go to confession the next day. But, invariably, I'd realize you can't do everything and I'd get to the point where I just felt overextended.

That's where I'm at right now. I have said "yes" to just way too much right now and I probably can't get everything done. And, so, I'm having to trim stuff out. It's never easy to do this because it means that I have failed and, in all likelihood, someone will be disappointed and/or angry.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Upon this rock...

I was doing some research to a question a student had for me and I came upon this really interesting article...

I learned a connection I hadn't made before from this article. I've heard about the argument about the name of Peter but never had an evangelical argue with me about it personally. But, I'd never thought that, if Matthew was originally written in Aramaic, intended to evangelize an predominately Aramaic-speaking group of Jews, it makes sense that the point evangelicals are making is moot. It also makes sense that 1 John and Paul, two authors that are very theologically distinct in terms of style, both use the Aramaic version of Peter's name, Kephas/Cephas.

Peter really is the rock on which God built his church. It just gets more convincing all the time.

Monday, September 15, 2008

John 3:16 AND 3:17

Dearly Beloved in Christ

I imagine most undergraduates either have or will experience this or something like it in your residence hall. Sometime, maybe you’ll be studying or relaxing watching TV and you’ll hear (Knock 3xs). You get up from to answer the door, like you do when someone knocks at the door, and find at the door someone from your floor. They look innocent enough. Maybe you’ve had a conversation with them in the bathroom if you’re a woman or maybe you’ve said hello to them in the hallway so you know them but not really well. They ask if they can come in to your room and you say yes, again, like you do when someone comes to the door. They sit down and ask you one of those questions that we Catholics hate to be asked, “Do you know if you are saved?” or “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior?” Or, “Do you know if you’re going to heaven?” Or one of a dozen other questions that they have memorized to start the God conversation. You may start to feel trapped. You may even wish at this point that you had never asked them to come into your room in the first place. Some of you may feel energized and ready to explain your beliefs and, if that’s you, I’d suggest you talk to Misty Heinen who is one of our campus ministers. She’d love to have your enthusiasm with the outreach team. But, I imagine most of you feel trapped in more of an adversarial way than in a way that makes you want to explain your faith because you may feel like you aren’t able to articulate it well enough. I hope that, in the context of this homily, you’ll learn a tip or two about what to do when this happens.

You may be asking why this topic is coming up on this feast day of the exultation of the Holy Cross a celebration that commemorates when St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, found the true cross in Israel. It was September 14th in the year 320. Of course, considering the fact that if you were to gather all the fragments of the “true cross” you’d likely have about four or five true crosses at this point, one wonders if the original point of this celebration is still clear. I’d suggest not. Instead, I’d like to suggest that church wants us to focus on a topic connected to the example I stated in the beginning, knowing your faith and knowing the cross.

We hear from the Old Testament this very interesting story about the Israelites whining in the desert. As whining had almost become second nature to the Israelites, we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s happeneing. But, we should be surprised at God’s reaction. Why would God send seraph serpents to harm his people, this people he has removed from slavery, promised a new home, and helped to guide through the wilderness. All they are asking for is food, for goodness sake. Who can complain about food. Do you remember, as a kid, sitting down at the table and seeing some food that you didn’t like? Brocolli or spinach or pizza with vegetables on it. Do you remember what happened when you complained about having to eat that food? When I did that, my mother would say to me something along the lines of, “Starving children in Africa would love to have this food.” To which, I would reply, “Well then send it to them.” At some point in the conversation the point would be driven home that, if I don’t like what’s on the table, I could just not eat. You see, it’s not that God hasn’t provided food and water for the Israelites. At first they try so say that’s the problem. But then they say, “We are disgusted with this wretched food!” In other words, they have food, they just want to God to bring them something different. That’s what makes God so mad. They aren’t starving. They aren’t thirsty. They’re just expecting God to do whatever they want him to do. That’s what makes God so angry that he sends these serpents to attack them. It's a little more severe than a time out but equally as effective. The Israelites eventually repent and ask Moses to intercede for them. But then it gets really interesting. God's solution to this problem is not simply to stop the serpents from attacking his people. That would be too easy. Instead, God tells his people to mount the image of a seraph serpent on a pole and, whenever they get bitten, they are to look at the serpent and it will cure them. I don't know about you, but it appears to me that God gave his people a graven image. A graven image…hadn’t he just told them not to do that? Why? Because he told them to do it. A graven image is only graven when you are doing something that God doesn't want you to do. But, in the New Testament we see a different explanation of the pole that led the Israel safely out of the desert.

In the gospel, Jesus talks about his cross in the same way as the serpent image of the Old Testament to the leader of the Jews. Scripture scholars believe the image would have been still been present in the Temple at the time of Jesus. They believe Nicodemus would have not only been familiar with the story from Exodus but would have known the pole and serpent very well. So, Jesus is telling them that his cross will be the same image that heals the entire world of the sin that it had fallen into. That's why we, as Christians, set the cross so prominently in each of our churches. It's the symbol of our redemption. Sometimes our evangelical brothers and sisters criticize us for our "graven images" like the cross. We hear our Lord telling us that it's not graven when Christ tells us to do it.

In the context of this passage we also hear a verse that Evangelicals love to emphasize. You see it at sporting events and other prominent places, John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” And we are blessed that they do emphasize that faith in the cross of Christ is what saves us. But, sometimes in their zeal for John 3:16, they neglect John 3:17 “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

We, as Catholics, have a sense that God really does want all people to be saved but, on this feast of the exaltation of the holy cross, we are reminded that it’s not out job to determine who is saved or not. God alone determines who is saved or not. So, when your evangelical friends ask you,“Do you know if you are saved?” or “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior?” Or, “Do you know if you’re going to heaven?” First of all, remember charity, remember that we are to be a people identified because of the love we show other people. And then tell them, "I hope so." And when they ask you, "What do you mean? You don't know?" Just tell them, "Nope. It's not my job to know. No feeling that I have. No innate sense or presumed knowledge saves me. God alone is my savior. He and he alone can determine that.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Cubs fans of the world, unite!

I am a Chicago Cubs fan. I am an Iowa State Cyclone fan. I cheer for the underdog. The team that most other people think of as the lovable losers. And, if you want to know why, just watch this video...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

on a lighter note...

Open this and read it. Only in Iowa could this ever happen. I guarantee it'll make you smile. There's a family guy reference in there somewhere.

Remembering September 11th

I was at St. Paul Seminary. The community had done either morning prayer or mass, to be honest I can't remember which. I do remember remaining after to pray in the small Eucharistic reservation chapel for my holy hour and emerging to see a television on NBC news on the front desk of the receptionist area. That was unusual, I walked over to find out why. I learned about the first plane and walked up to my room while the second plane hit World Trade Center 2. I remember that my immediate affective response was anger. I remember wishing that I could watch more but knowing that I had to get assignments done. Of course, being in St. Paul, there were fears that someone would attack local targets as well. Mall of America? The Minnesota State Capital building? One of the massive Catholic buildings (Cathedral or Basilica)?

Fear is a transforming force in our lives. It makes us act in ways that we normally wouldn't. We take on more of our base, animal instincts when we are afraid. When we look at Christ, we see someone who wasn't afraid and wasn't going to motivate people by fear. He was going to motivate people by trust, the kind of trust we have for a devoted, loving parent.

As we remember September 11th, let us keep in mind that the point of terrorism is to create fear, to change people's lives by making them afraid. As Christians, we aren't naive enough to believe there is nothing to be afraid of. There is. And there always will be. But, we hear the post-resurrection voice of Christ calling us not to be afraid because we know that, regardless of what happens, our God has walked this path before and he walks it with us now.

It is in suffering that we, ourselves, become most like God.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

John Piper

Have you heard about this video? Holy cow! It'll make you cry and be proud to be catholic.

I know that I will someday face my maker and have to look into the saddened eyes of a father who both loves and is disappointed in me. But, I hope that, most of all, he knows that I am faithful to the message of the cross and that I have spent my life in loving service of that cross. I am not perfect in any way.

But, I am truly, deeply, and profoundly disturbed by the concept of the prosperity gospel that so many evangelicals are selling to the people of God. If God likes you, you are foreordained to succeed. In fact, success means that God likes you. If not, you will fail. I pray that God will let me watch as some smug evangelical who has been so convinced of his own salvation and has been peddling this moral equivalent to pornography will learn the true meaning of "If you desire to come after me, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and come follow me."

"God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him in the midst of loss not prosperity."

Thursday, September 04, 2008 Sunday homily

It happened for both Mother Teresa and Charles Manson. Both felt that what they were doing was the call of God. Why is that we esteem Mother Teresa for doing what she feels God’s call is while we simultaneously deride Charles Manson as being insane. Throughout the school year, I know students will come to me asking me this tough question: What does God want me to do with my life? It kind of makes my heart skip a bit because I think it makes a fundamental assumption that I’m supposed to know what God wants for people. I mean, I think God wants us to have life and to have it more abundantly. I think God wants us, to use the language we use on Ash Wednesday, to turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel. But, I’m not sure how we can know for certain that what we are doing is right.

Our scriptures show us a couple of people that seem to be having difficulty discerning God’s will in their lives. Starting at the end, we have St. Peter. You may remember from last week that, immediately prior to this, St. Peter’s made a profound confession of faith in Jesus as the Christ, the son of the Living God. Then, this week, we hear the great praise that Jesus put upon Peter last week seem to be turned upside down. He calls him Satan for goodness sake. When the Son of God is talking to you, the last thing that you want hear from him is “Get behind me Satan!” Yikes! To me, this episode points to how fragile Peter’s initial steps of faith were. Like a child who is walking for the first time, Peter still falls and makes mistakes. But, he’s on his way. This gives all of us who fall daily a great hope, right.

But, there’s more to it than that. Peter believes that he is doing what is right. I mean, if someone you believed in, an incredibly intelligent, dynamic individual that you trusted started telling you that he knew that he was going to be killed but would be raised three days later, wouldn’t we all react with a little skepticism? I bet some of you would ask what the trick is, as though he’s David Copperfield making the statue of Liberty disappear and reappear a few moments later. Or, you may be like Peter and try to calm him down because he’s starting to sound conspiratorial. He’s like a step away from building a special room in his house and storing dry goods for when he takes down the federal government. Peter couldn’t have known that Jesus was talking about a death that would end the sacrificial system of the Old Testament once and for all, the just suffering punishment and death for the sake of the unjust. Peter believes he is doing what God would want him to do, saving the life of his friend and diffusing a tense situation.

But, as we heard in the first reading, sometimes God doesn’t mind a little tension. In fact, according to the prophet Jeremiah, that may be one way that God works is by making us so tense and upset that we cannot stand by and let happen what is happening. Jeremiah’s message is always, basically, stop doing what God doesn’t want you to do and start doing what He does. But, when he delivers this message, the people start complaining because his messages are always such a downer. I mean, he’s a sinner. What gives him the right to tell us not to sin? And the fact that Jeremiah feels like God is calling him to do this only heightens the derision of the crowd. Only crazy people feel like God is calling them to something. Only crazy people feel like they talk to God. Jeremiah must be nuts if he feels like God is calling him to tell other people that they are sinning. All of this forces Jeremiah into a depression wherein he stops prophesying. He is a prophet who refuses to tell people what God wants them to do. But, then he looks around and gets so angry at the sheer amount of sin that he cannot hold himself in and he starts to prophesy again. He feels duped by God because of his sense of righteous indignation. But, if God wants him to prophesy, why not make the people of Judah as malleable as the people of Nineveh were for Jonah? Why cause all this tension and self-doubt for Jeremiah? Why not make it clear for Jeremiah that he is doing what you want him to do by making his job easier.

Both Jeremiah and Peter struggle with God’s will in their lives. Both of them, to paraphrase St. Paul from the second reading, are trying to be transformed by the renewal of the mind and not conform to this age, to discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. But, both are also disobeying what is really God’s will, Jeremiah is doing so intentionally and Peter unintentionally. And, both get duped by God in order to be set straight.

I think the ultimately fault that both of them have is that both Peter and Jeremiah ultimately lose sight of their role as part of their respective communities. Peter takes Jesus aside to remonstrate him. Jeremiah is constantly lobbing remonstrations at a community that decides to alienate him rather than be berated. Criticism seems to come best from within the community, from people who are part of the church, not from people who think that they are better than the church. We, the members of the church, need to hear God’s word as part of the church in the church. If it alienates us from the church then it is probably not God’s will. Most of the time when we wonder if we are doing what God wants, we need to ask ourselves if we are taking up our cross or expecting everyone else to take it up for us.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

If you're going through hell, keep on going....

This morning, I directed 13 home school High-School-aged students in a reflection on St. Paul. They learned how to do lectio divina and spent some time learning about a few of the shorter letters of St. Paul. In the process, I missed the oppertunity to lead a staff meeting and celebrate daily mass. Thankfully, people stepped in for me to cover both.

The students seemed to connect so well with the quiet of lectio divina. I used this to help them understand it (go figure that I'd use a Benedictine website to help explain it) and, even though they didn't pronouce the latin really well, they spent 25 minutes in quiet with scripture. I asked them to keep doing it and I really hope they do. It's so meaningful.

That's what I love about being a priest. I get to do stuff like this. People trust me to help them get to know God. Sometimes I get to do it. Sometimes, I fail. I feel like God helped me do it today.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

St. Augustine

City of God


The confessions

Two works that changed Christianity forever. They shaped us and continue to shape us. We need to let them keep shaping us by keeping them in mind.

I think that's why the Pope keeps directing us to the patristics.

We believe we are the body of Christ, we have been the body of Christ and we will continue to be the body of Christ because Jesus Christ said so. We have to remember those who have been in order to continue to be.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Setting the record straight on the church's record on abortion.

If you didn't hear, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the house who is also Catholic, said this Sunday in an interraction with long-time NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw...
MR. BROKAW: Senator Obama saying the question of when life begins is above his pay grade, whether you're looking at it scientifically or theologically. If he were to come to you and say, "Help me out here, Madame Speaker. When does life begin?" what would you tell him?

REP. PELOSI: I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator--St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose. Roe v. Wade talks about very clear definitions of when the child--first trimester, certain considerations; second trimester; not so third trimester. There's very clear distinctions. This isn't about abortion on demand, it's about a careful, careful consideration of all factors and--to--that a woman has to make with her doctor and her god. And so I don't think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins. As I say, the Catholic Church for centuries has been discussing this, and there are those who've decided...

MR. BROKAW: The Catholic Church at the moment feels very strongly that it...

REP. PELOSI: I understand that.

MR. BROKAW: ...begins at the point of conception.

REP. PELOSI: I understand. And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that. So again, over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy. But it is, it is also true that God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And we want abortions to be safe, rare, and reduce the number of abortions. That's why we have this fight in Congress over contraception. My Republican colleagues do not support contraception. If you want to reduce the number of abortions, and we all do, we must--it would behoove you to support family planning and, and contraception, you would think. But that is not the case. So we have to take--you know, we have to handle this as respectfully--this is sacred ground. We have to handle it very respectfully and not politicize it, as it has been--and I'm not saying Rick Warren did, because I don't think he did, but others will try to.

The Bishop's of this country respond...

In the course of a “Meet the Press” interview on abortion and other public issues on August 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion.

In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, "Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law." (No. 2271)

In the Middle Ages, uninformed and inadequate theories about embryology led some theologians to speculate that specifically human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy. While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development.

These mistaken biological theories became obsolete over 150 years ago when scientists discovered that a new human individual comes into being from the union of sperm and egg at fertilization. In keeping with this modern understanding, the Church teaches that from the time of conception (fertilization), each member of the human species must be given the full respect due to a human person, beginning with respect for the fundamental right to life.

Two things come to mind. First, the same people that will use some theologians' opinion of post-conception ensoulment are the ones who criticize us for being anti-scientific. The theologians were using bad science when they were making these pronouncements. It was the best stuff out there at the time but it's clear that the church was wise in never promulgating, never endorsing, never teaching any of it. That was the Holy Spirit not letting the gates of hell take over us.

Secondly, the very idea that Speaker Pelosi would comment on this the way that she has shows that she really doesn't believe her own hype. She says that religion shouldn't be part of government and advocates a strict separation of church and state but, when asked about abortion, she not only misrepresents Catholic teaching but she sprints to do so. Why not just say that she believes this? Why lie about what the church teaches in an effort to involve religion?

Lastly, we need to applaud the bishops of this country for taking a stand. We whine when we think that they didn't respond harshly enough. Let's let them know that we appreciate this one.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

In case you needed yet another reminder that a priest is, in fact, still human...

Last night, around 11:30 or so, I got called out for a visit. It happens about four times a year in this current assignment so I was kind of nervous and worried about finding the right house. I went out to my garage, pushed the button to my door, and then walked through the open door of the stall next to mine. I got into my truck and turned the truck on. When the motor of the garage door stopped running, I started my truck, put it in reverse, and took out the board that I write my mileage on. Notice the one thing that is missing from that list...checking my rear view mirror.


That was when I checked my rear-view mirror and noticed that I had backed into my unopened garage door. For some reason, the thing must have gone part way up, stopped and gone back down.

I pulled forward, got out, and got the door open enough so that I could get to my visit. I felt like such an idiot! I'm sure it showed.

The only good news was that ruining the garage door didn't stop me from remembering that today is the release date for Heroes season 2 on DVD! So, I stopped at Walmart at 12:05 and became the first customer to get it. I watched one episode and remembered the excitement I had when last season was still new. It wasn't a great season overall but I can't give up on it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

From First Things Magazine

A friend told me that I really need to read First Things Magazine this month man was he right. It tells you why the church will never accept contraception and why the Episcopal communion's movement towards gay marriage and gay clergy started when it accepted contraception. You can find the whole text here.

The adversaries of Humanae Vitae (The Pope's 1965 encyclical that clarified the question of contaception) also could not have foreseen one important historical development that in retrospect would appear to undermine their demands that the Catholic Church change with the times: the widespread Protestant collapse, particularly the continuing implosion of the Episcopal Church and the other branches of Anglicanism. It is about as clear as any historical chain can get that this implosion is a direct consequence of the famous Lambeth Conference in 1930, at which the Anglicans abandoned the longstanding Christian position on contraception. If a church cannot tell its flock “what to do with my body,” as the saying goes, with regard to contraception, then other uses of that body will quickly prove to be similarly off-limits to ecclesiastical authority.

It makes perfect if unfortunate sense, then, that the Anglicans are today imploding over the issue of homosexuality. To quote (traditionalist) Anscombe (Society at Princeton University)

If contraceptive intercourse is permissible, then what objection could there be after all to mutual masturbation, or copulation in vase indebito, sodomy, buggery (I should perhaps remark that I am using a legal term here—not indulging in bad language), when normal copulation is impossible or inadvisable (or in any case, according to taste)? It can’t be the mere pattern of bodily behavior in which the stimulation is procured that makes all the difference! But if such things are all right, it becomes perfectly impossible to see anything wrong with homosexual intercourse, for example. I am not saying: if you think contraception all right you will do these other things; not at all. The habit of respectability persists and old prejudices die hard. But I am saying: you will have no solid reason against these things. You will have no answer to someone who proclaims as many do that they are good too. You cannot point to the known fact that Christianity drew people out of the pagan world, always saying no to these things. Because, if you are defending contraception, you will have rejected Christian tradition.

By giving benediction in 1930 to its married heterosexual members purposely seeking sterile sex, the Anglican Church lost, bit by bit, any authority to tell her other members—married or unmarried, homosexual or heterosexual—not to do the same. To put the point another way, once heterosexuals start claiming the right to act as homosexuals, it would not be long before homosexuals start claiming the rights of heterosexuals.