Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Christ-child priest

My Dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Grace and Peace in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ through the glory of the Holy Spirit be with you and your families as we enter this Christmas season. I hope that you all your families are able to gather for this Christmas celebration despite the terrible weather. Let’s keep each other in prayer as we journey these next few days.

On June 19th, on the 150th anniversary of the death of Saint John Vianney, Pope Benedict inaugurated the Year for Priests. I think most priests haven’t preached about to because we don’t know how to do it without sounding egotistical. During the year of St. Paul, we could always just preach about the second reading. But, it feels a little self-serving to preach about priests considering the preacher is usually the only one who has been ordained a priest. Yet, I couldn’t help but think about how this celebration of Christmas is connected to the year of the priest as I was preparing my homily. As a priest, one of the most formative experiences I have is gathering the people together for the Eucharist. In the letter the Pope sent to priests when he inaugurated this year of the priest, he said the following

In his time (St. John Vianney) was able to transform the hearts and the lives of so many people because he enabled them to experience the Lord’s merciful love. Our own time urgently needs a similar proclamation and witness to the truth of Love. Thanks to the word and the sacraments of Jesus, John Vianney built up his flock, although he often trembled from a conviction of his personal inadequacy, and desired more than once to withdraw from the responsibilities of parish ministry out of a sense of his unworthiness. Nonetheless, with exemplary obedience he never abandoned his post, consumed as he was by apostolic zeal for the salvation of souls. He sought to remain completely faithful to his own vocation and mission through the practice of an austere asceticism: “The great misfortune for us parish priests – he lamented – is that our souls grow tepid…”

Tonight/today we heard in the gospel the story of the birth of Jesus. The Gospel of Luke provides some very interesting details. First, we hear that there is an exercise of power being done by the leader, Caesar Augustus, to enroll the whole world. This meant that people had to travel to the town of their ancestors in order to be counted. This is in direct contrast to what happens to the Shepherds later in the story. They are out doing what needs to be done, taking care of their flocks. The angelic visitor, in some ways, entices them to go see the newborn child in a manger. I was recently watching a show in which a character pointed out how miraculous this act alone was! She said, “Have you ever gone to a baby shower before? There are no men at baby showers! What makes you think these common shepherds would leave their work and go see a baby?” And, she has a point. It would have taken Angelic intervention to get these guys to take their eyes off the edges of their flocks to go in town to see a baby. But, of course, this wasn’t just any baby. This was the savior who is both human messiah and Lord, both fully human and fully divine, God made flesh. To quote another saint, St. Athanasius of Alexadria, “God became man so that we might become children of God

The newborn king doesn’t waste any time in gathering his people around him in this first mass. Yet, what I find truly instructive as a priest is how Jesus gathered the shepherds. He didn’t go out personally and invite each one. He had angels to do it. That’s why the Pope said in the letter I referenced earlier.

“In his gifts the Spirit is multifaceted…He breathes where he wills. He does so unexpectedly, in unexpected places, and in ways previously unheard of…but he also shows us that he works with a view to the one body and in the unity of the one body”. In this regard, the statement of the Decree on priests from Vatican II continues to be timely: “While testing the spirits to discover if they be of God, priests must discover with faith, recognize with joy and foster diligently the many and varied charismatic gifts of the laity, whether these be of a humble or more exalted kind”. These gifts, which awaken in many people the desire for a deeper spiritual life, can benefit not only the lay faithful but the clergy as well. The communion between ordained and charismatic ministries can provide “a helpful impulse to a renewed commitment by the Church in proclaiming and bearing witness to the Gospel of hope and charity in every corner of the world”.

Christ didn’t just come into this world to be ogled and put back into a box. He came to inaugurate a Holy Ordering to the world. As a priest I need to rely on your gifts in order to build up the body of Christ. One of the greatest spiritual gifts you can share with the church is to be like the Angels from the gospel and announce the birth of the savior. You can do this best, not by directing them back to Bethlehem but by inviting those lost sheep back to church with you. One of the frustrations voiced by those who come every week to church is that they hate Christmas and Easter because those who rarely (if ever) come to church decide to show up. Rather than complain that they don’t come, need to welcome them back and invite them back next week and the week after that. We need you angels to help guide the lost shepherds back to the church. I hope to inaugurate a process during Lent to solicit names of people who are distanced from the church in order to invite them back and help them to feel a part. During this year of the priest, let us exercise our common baptismal priest to help make the incarnation of Christ even more explicit in the lives of all the faithful.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A great celebration

The weather in Iowa is crud. I was really tempted to cancel the mass out at our little rural parish because they kept saying that the ice was coming. But, being stubborn and Germanic, I refused. And I'm glad I did. As most of my brother priests in the area made the decision to cancel mass, I went out to a full church over wet (not slick) roads. And when I came back, the snow/ice/rain combination was just starting. I went slow but the roads never got slick.

And the mass was just incredible, not because of anything that I did, just because of the preparation that went into it. The church was packed. The choirs did really well, especially the college student who led the Responsorial Psalm. And there were so many people that I've never seen before along with all the regulars.

Tomorrow I'll celebrate the 9:00 if I can possibly make it to St. Thomas. And then I may have to be alone for Christmas. But, that's okay. I'm warm and well fed. There are a lot of people who can't say that much.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I wonder if Handel ever saw this coming...

As you can probably tell, I've had a little more time than normal to post things the last couple of days. And, as a result, I've been able to read other people's blogs and see what's happening. I found this on American Papist blog and laughed a lot and hope you enjoy it too!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do they know it's Christmas time at all?

I imagine most people in this country are well aware that there is a battle going on about health care. What probably isn't entirely clear is the battle going on behind the scenes with this bill regarding abortion. There are some people who have decided that this bill is the way to bypass long-standing laws prohibiting federal funding of abortions. They're not doing it directly, which is what is crazy. Instead, they've decided that they'll use federal funds to pay private insurers to cover abortions. The bishops of this country, especially Cardinal Daniel Denardo, deserve respect for the work they've done on investigating and clarifying what is wrong with this bill. He wrote...


This probably seems kind of trite criticism, especially the part about the government agency promoting and helping to subsidize abortions. But, think about what is really being discussed. Hospitals, clinics, doctors, and everyone else who provides health care are basically being told that you either abort children or pay for someone else to do. And, there'll be a government agency that'll make sure you do that very thing.

This needs to be addressed before this bill gets passed. And we need to make sure our senators hear that message.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The meaning of the season

I preached this morning about how important it is to connect with people over the Christmas season, just like Mary connected with Elizabeth. I see it as an excellent opportunity to do some corporal works of mercy, which we don't usually talk about anymore.

The most surprising thing of all is that I got a compliment for praying Eucharistic Prayer I. A whole family came up to me and asked why we don't hear it more often. I love that prayer. I know it's long but I love the imagery that goes along with it. People amaze me often at what they pick up on.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Vatican Humor

Got this from a cousin...

VATICAN HUMOR

After getting all of Pope Benedict's luggage loaded into the limo, (and he doesn't travel lightly), the driver notices the Pope is still standing on the curb.

'Excuse me, Your Holiness,' says the driver, 'Would you please=take your seat so we can leave?'

'Well, to tell you the truth,' says the Pope, 'they never let me drive at the Vatican when I was a cardinal, and I'd really like to drive today.'

'I'm sorry, Your Holiness, but I cannot let you do that. I'd=lose my job! What if something should happen?' protests the driver,wishing he'd never gone to work that morning..

'Who's going to tell?' says the Pope with a smile.

Reluctantly, the driver gets in the back as the Pope climbs in=behind the wheel. The driver quickly regrets his decision when, after exiting the airport, the Pontiff floors it, accelerating the limo to 205 kph.. (Remember, the Pope is German..)

'Please slow down, Your Holiness!' pleads the worried driver, but the Pope keeps the pedal to the metal until they hear sirens.

'Oh, dear God, I'm going to lose my license -- and my job!' moans the driver.

The Pope pulls over and rolls down the window as the cop approaches, but the cop takes one look at him, goes back to his motorcycle, and gets on the radio.

'I need to talk to the Chief,' he says to the dispatcher.

The Chief gets on the radio and the cop tells him that he's stopped a limo going 205 kph.

'So bust him,' says the Chief.

'I don't think we want to do that, he's really important,' said the cop.

The Chief exclaimed,' All the more reason!'

'No, I mean really important,' said the cop with a bit of persistence.

The Chief then asked, 'Who do you have there, the mayor?'
Cop: 'Bigger.'

Chief: ' A senator?'

Cop: 'Bigger.'

Chief: 'The Prime Minister?'

Cop: 'Bigger.'

'Well,' said the Chief, 'who is it?'

Cop: 'I think it's God!'

The Chief is even more puzzled and curious, 'What makes you think it's God?'

Cop: 'His chauffeur is the Pope!'

Monday, December 14, 2009

WARNING!!!

I was looking over the comments in my blog. I don't get many so it was easy. But, there was one with a lot of Asian writing that was a series of links. I didn't know what any of it said and so I thought I'd at least try and make sure it was appropriate. But, the link was not at all appropriate. So, if there is a comment with any type of link in it, just avoid it. I have safeguards in place that make sure they can't easily spam but safeguards can be bypassed by the determined. So, just avoid following links and I'll try to remember to come here and delete any suspicious activity quicker. Sorry for any of you who found the message I deleted before I could do so and may have followed the links there!

REJOICE!

My Dear Friends in Christ

Grace and Peace in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in the joy of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Before I begin the substance of my homily today, I want to turn to the college students who are here that the campus ministers; Fr. Jon, myself, Misty and Shari, are here to visit if you are feeling overwhelmed this week. This is a stressful time for you and we want you to know that we are not only praying for you but hoping that you will find joy in the midst of this time.

This past Tuesday night, I celebrated the 7:00 mass here at St. Thomas for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I was determined to do so even though I knew I was going to have to travel the mile and a half back to my apartment after it was over. And I hate snow! I hate being cold. I hate the cold wet feeling that you have when you go inside and the snow melts on your jeans and neck. But I’m also just enough of a stubborn German to hate the idea of cancelling mass. After mass, I kind of wanted to just hurry home, settle under a blanket and tuck in for night. However, I forgot to notify my apartment complex that I was going to be late in returning so they hadn’t plowed when I got there. I got about a hundred yards from my garage when I ran into a two-foot tall snow drift. I tried to get my truck out by backing up and taking another run but it was no use. It was stuck. I walked over to get my shovel try and free my truck and, thankfully, a stranger came by and helped me dig. It took an extra half hour of clearing a path and moving the truck forward before I could go into the warmth of my apartment and relax. The strange thing was, however, when I got in I got very excited. I probably could have been frustrated at the fact that I got stuck and had to dig myself out. I even could have been frustrated that I couldn’t get my truck in the garage where it belonged but, instead, had to park the thing in an already snow packed parking spot where the plows would just keep packing snow around it. But, I was joyful. I was joyful because I had met someone who I probably wouldn’t have met any other way. And I was joyful because I had a warm place to call home with enough food to survive for several days if I had to.

Today is called Guadete Sunday in the church because the opening antiphon for today’s mass begins with the Latin word Gaudete, REJOICE! The full quote is actually from the second reading for today, “Rejoice in the Lord, always. I say it again, Rejoice.” Paul is writing this to the church in a little town in modern-day Turkey called Phillippi. The crazy thing is that Paul is writing this letter to them from Prison. He was put there for his willingness to spread the Gospel in a country that considered it illegal to be Christian. And, despite the fact that Paul probably knows that he is on his way to execution, he tells his people to rejoice. He tells them to rejoice in two other places in this letter as well. You could say it is one of his central themes for the church in Phillippi, Rejoice! It is what binds the Christians together. It’s not fear that will define the Christian but joy.

It’s the same kind of joy that the people who came to question John would have felt. They are all aware that something is wrong with their life. Some are not being charitable but only taking care of their own needs for food and clothes. Tax collectors are there who are robbing from all people in order to pad their pockets. And the soldiers sent to protect them are helping the tax collect extort from people in order to take their own cut. John’s reaction is not to tell them to abandon everything and take on a whole new way of life. He simply says that they should take the life they have now and live it with renewed vigor for justice, peace, and holiness.

What strikes me about this is that John doesn’t tell his questioners that they need to make a radical change. Even the evil tax collectors can find joy if they just doe their job well and stop extorting. If John the Baptist were here tonight/today, I wonder what his message would be to each of us. If you are a student, find the joy in finals! Find joy in demonstrating to your professors the hard work you’ve done this semester in learning their subject. Do not be afraid that you’ve not done enough work, just show them in joy what you have learned. If you are a professor, find the joy in realizing that, even though they didn’t learn everything and undoubtedly could have worked a lot harder, you did your best in conveying the information to them. If you aren’t either one of those, find joy in that; that you aren’t being tested this week and say a prayer for them as this semester finishes. Let us all find a way to rejoice this Gaudete Sunday in the midst of our shopping, work, family, school, and other commitments, we are almost there! Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again and again and again, REJOICE!

Friday, December 04, 2009

HOLY COW!!! How did I miss this?

Long after the cold war between the US and USSR ended, the Vatican and Russia struggled to have or maintain any kind of relationship. Most of the problem dealt with the ongoing concern of the Russian Orthodox that Rome was going to run in and steal their flock who had just returned after communist repression.

But then there's this that tells that those relations may be thawing. The Russians are starting to talk. It's not perfect yet but it can't go anywhere if both sides don't talk. Let's pray that we are able to return to unity with our separated brotheren.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

First Sunday of Advent

My Dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ who will come again in the power of the Holy Spirit. One Christmas, when I was a kid, there was one thing I wanted more than anything in the world: a remote controlled car. For weeks prior, I had made a point of pointing it out whenever my mom and I went by a toy store and bringing it up in conversation in a not so subtle way of showing her that it was important to me. I knew she would, in turn, communicate the importance of the car to Santa Clause since she kept telling me we couldn’t afford it. I used to sit around and think about all the cool things I would do with my remote controlled car when I got it and how fast it would go on our gravel drive way. In my family, we used to unwrap gifts in two stages. On Christmas Eve we would unwrap the gifts from my parents and on Christmas day, the gifts from Santa. I can remember opening my parent’s gifts and getting the usual, clothes. BORING! I went to bed that night with visions of a red remote controlled car jumping off step, making a perfect landing while I watched from the front porch smiling. The next morning, I awoke and ran to the Christmas tree to find several cool presents. I found a sled, a new Transformer, and more clothes. But, the one thing I didn’t find was a remote controlled car. I couldn’t believe it! I made a deal with Santa. I was a good boy for a whole month and I didn’t get my remote control. He broke his promise!

For the past several Sundays, we’ve been hearing apocalyptic stories about end times and how Jesus will come again in the midst of future tribulation. All along, we are cautioned to be prepared. But, to be honest, I have a difficult time with all these end time statements. It’s not that I don’t believe Jesus could ever come again or that I don’t want Jesus to come again. It’s just that, after 2000 years of waiting, I’m not sure how to remain vigilant. I mean, to be honest, the idea of the end times predates Christianity. We heard but one prediction in the first reading from the Prophet Jeremiah predicting a perfect world built by God in which the Lord is justice. God promises his people, in that reading, that he will take them from a very unjust society filled with corrupt leaders and raise up just leaders that will make them secure and peaceful.

Our Gospel picks up on this apocalyptic promise of peace and tells us that, in the end times, despite all the terror surrounding us and the fear and confusion of the unbeliever, we Christians should stand up with our heads raised like one who is anticipating great things, not hiding in fear of what is happening. This seems to pick up on exactly what is so frustrating about these end-times passages, a lot of holy people thought that they were living in the tribulation when, in fact, they were not. A lot of people have longed to see the coming of our Lord Jesus and have ended up merely seeing the coming of the end of their lives instead. How can we take these promises of apocalypse seriously if Jesus still hasn’t come? How long do we have to wait?

It seems to me that Jesus knew that this frustration would happen. That’s why we heard in the gospel today, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a thief.” Our hearts become drowsy when we start to put limits on God and how his plan works in our lives. We may never get the remote control car from Santa or some other gift that we think we need to have. But, we will one day see the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds. How do we know? Because God promised us and his word is good. God promised he would send the just descendant of David and he made good on that promise with Jesus. Jesus will make good his promise too.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I have to admit it’s getting better…or worse…or both.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Grace and peace to you in God our Father who sent our Lord, Jesus Christ, to rescue us from the power of darkness and bring us into the kingdom of light in the power of the Holy Spirit. We rely on this grace and peace all the days of our lives, but especially in times of trial and distress. Speaking of trial and distress, do you think the world is generally getting better or worse? Think about it for a second. Overall, do you think things are better today than they were fifty years ago? I imagine some of you would say yes because you didn’t even exist fifty years ago. Others might note the growth in technology and knowledge that seems to make life easier. Today we have X-ray machines and MRI’s and doctors that can interpret the results with such accuracy that they can find problems at the origin when there’s still time to deal with it. Plus, we have machines that make back breaking, repetitive work a thing of the past. However, some of you may say that things are actually getting worse. As a country, our economy is in the dumps and our national debt seems out of control. Some of you have felt this personally when you lost your job or couldn’t find a job and started wondering where your next meal was going to come from. And, even though we claim to be such an advanced society, in many ways we have simply hidden our atrocities against human life. We no longer send rows upon rows of young men to die in battle, now we send armored vehicles in to do the killing. And we no longer have the public spectacle of hanging for the death penalty. Instead, we strap prisoners to a gurney in a prison basement and inject them with poison to civilize our brutal behavior.

In these times of tribulation, we turn to the Wisdom of theology to find some meaning, something to help sort out where God is in it all. And, when we do, we are confronted with a picture that challenges both optimist and pessimist alike. The reading from the gospel of Mark is often used by our fundamentalist evangelical friends as a predictor of future events. Televangelists like Jack and Rexella Van Impe see in this passage a pessimistic viewpoint of the future. If you’ve never seen these two on TV, the wife, Rexalla, reads the news of the day and husband, Jack, then applies scripture to the particular news item. So, he might say that the mention in the first reading of those in everlasting horror and disgrace is clearly an allusion to certain politicians who have cheated on a wife, which clearly points to the fact that we are in the tribulation now and that Jesus will come soon. This viewpoint often leads them to a rather pessimistic viewpoint of human activity in relation to the kingdom of God. You never hear Jack say that the fact that Iowans are willing to go to Honduras in order to put in a well points to the prediction that the thirsty will be given water. It’s always about how death, destruction, and tyranny will lead to the overthrow of all goodness. To my knowledge, this theology has not made any inroads in the Catholic Church because of how pessimistically it views the coming of the kingdom and how incorrectly it interprets scripture.

A related movement that has had an effect in the Catholic Church began in the late 19th Century, largely in Germany. Partly in reaction to World War I and partly because of a sense of the need for greater unity within mainline Protestant denominations, there erupted what was called a liberal protestant movement. It began with the idea that the world is slowly getting better, slowly growing to become the kingdom of God. In fact, some liberal theologians think that the change was happening so subtly that, one day, we would wake up and see that the Kingdom had been here for quite some time and that we simply hadn’t paid well enough attention to notice. Some Catholic thinkers including Teilhard de Chardin, Yves Congar, and Leonardo Boff came to embrace this optimistic ethic.

If we take a critical look at scripture, we can see that it’s not always as easy as ideologies make it out to be. Jesus, indeed, warns that there will be tribulation and that there will be darkness before the brightness of the Son of God, an image he borrowed from the first reading from the book of Daniel. But, he cautions that no one knows how or when it’s going to take place. Even the images that he uses are not entirely clear as to what they mean. “Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near.” I’m pretty sure Jesus isn’t saying that we’ll grow branches instead of arms know that he is coming when our branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves. Instead, I think Jesus is telling us that most universal of all end times messages: Be in a state of constant preparedness.

But, how do we do this? How can we be prepared? We do this by coming together in this gathering as members of the body of Christ so that we can share in the foretaste of the coming Kingdom by sharing in the Eucharist. We do this by suffering personal trials and tribulations in our daily lives knowing that, by doing so, we are sharing in the suffering of the larger body of Christ. We do so by utilizing the church’s sacrament of reconciliation in order to be free from what holds us back from the happiness of the kingdom. And, we do so by cultivating a rich personal prayer life that allows us to connect one-on-one with the Christ who is coming to lead us to eternal life.

Perhaps the best image for us to reflect on comes from the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews. In it, he says, that, unlike all other priests who must stand and continually offer sacrifices to God, Jesus can sit and rest by his heavenly father because his sacrifice is once and for all. Heaven and earth will pass away but the Word of the Lord will last forever. While, in many ways, this world isn’t getting better or worse, we know that the suffering of this world will end. Let us live our lives so that, one day, we will finally be able to sit next to Christ in heaven and be at rest.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Idea for a short story

In an ideal world, I would be a good writer. I tend to have ideas for novels that get halfway done and then get cast aside. I just can't seem to complete them. It's partly to blame on my personality. I just don't have a personality that values completion. It's more about the cream filled center of struggle than handing in a product with all the t's crossed and i's dotted. So instead of trying to put out a finished product that will never be finished, I thought I'd give you the "Cliff's notes" version.

The premise of the story is God is building this huge new amusement park. Everyone is invited but, of course, not everyone shows up. Some stay home because they just can't believe God would actually build an amusement park. Some show up to protest the waste of electricity and other resources that the amusement park is doing. They stand outside in the hot sun without water despite the fact that God is the power of the amusement park. He is making the electricity, water, and other natural resources himself. That's the benefit to having God as creator.

However, when you get in, you notice something about those there. There are some who only want to explore certain parts of the amusement park. God walks up to these people and they start to argue with him as to weather there really is a roller coaster or a water ride. He looks at us and says that they'll eventually get there.

Then, there are other people walking around with maps complaining because things aren't in the right place or aren't as big as they thought the map made them out to be. God tries to encourage them to put the map away and just enjoy the place but they've become so fixated on the description that it prevents them from actually having fun there.

Then there's the majority of people who walk around saying things like, "I always hoped for something like this!" and "Oh my gosh! Did you try the one with five loops in a row? That was so fun!" and, "Did you make it over the bridge? There's a whole other part to this place. It just keeps going and going."

Then God would take the reader and explain that the amusement park represents his love. There are those who refuse to accept God's love by sitting outside complaining. There are those who want to put limits on God's love, whether by their own intellectual limitations or because their interpretation of scripture puts limitations on it. And then there are those who open themselves completely and really accept God's love as God wants to offer it.

In the end, I think this is also an apt metaphor for heaven. I think there are some who will never go to heaven because they refuse to believe it exists. I think there will be some who will be disappointed in heaven because they read the books of Daniel and Revelation and have an image of the way God will set up heaven. I actually think it could be really funny to see Jerry Jenkins and Tim Lahaye (writers of the "Left Behind" series) following God around saying something like, "Um....excuse me Most High but...uh...er....this isn't the way things are supposed to be in heaven. As you might remember from the book of Revelation..." And God just smiles and wonders if they need to spend some more time in purgatory. And then there's the majority of Christians who are astonished by the way things go and are excited to watch it unfold.

What are good choices?

My Dear Brothers and Sister in Christ

Grace and peace in God, our Father, through the Lord Jesus Christ in the sanctifying power of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you this day. This is a somewhat unusual celebration we are having today. The Feast of All Saints is ordinarily a Holy Day of Obligation but, since it falls on a Sunday this year, I think more people will decide to actually come. And that is in many ways a blessing. This feast is an important one for the church. It recognizes two things. First of all, it recognizes that there are more saints out there than those officially canonized by the church. There are men and women who have lived outstanding lives of holiness who escaped notice by church officials. The writer of the book of Revelation describes them as a cloud of witnesses, a number so large that it escapes counting.

The second reason this celebration is important reminded me of Middle School gym class volley ball. Most of us underwent this demoralizing experience. I know this because untold numbers of comedians love to tell jokes about being chosen last for these censuses of popularity. One of my favorite experiences of this happened when one kid was in charge of choosing the teams. He would choose one person for his own team and one for the other team. He, of course, chose all his friends and all the most skilled people to be on his team and chose the weaker ones to be on the other person’s team. The whole time, the captain of the other team kept complaining that the choices weren’t fair and the gym teacher just smiled and told the captain to calm down. Finally, when both teams were chosen, the gym teacher said that the goal is to see how many people you can fit into a circle with a three inch radius. The teacher said they had to draw the circle and find a way to fit everyone into the circle. Well, of course, the young man had chosen all the biggest and tallest people to be on his team and left all the smaller students to be on the other. His competition was done in fifteen minutes and we never did find a way to fit all of us in that circle.
My point, of course, is that we need to know the criteria of what we’re choosing before we actually choose. Our readings make this point by talking about being chosen by God. The gospel, in particular, reminds us that what is often most prized by this world; wealth, strength, satisfaction, dominance, and peace, are not part of what it means to be blessed, or chosen by God. In fact, the ones who are truly blessed are the ones who accept this persecution because of Christ, because Jesus suffered in this world. It’s almost like Jesus is trying to get us to think about what it means to be free people of choice by asking us to focus on our ancestors in the faith who have died with the same freedoms and the same ability to choose but whose choices let them to be declared blessed by our heavenly father.

We, Americans, put a great deal of value on choice. I’ve been amazed to see the whole entire health care debate framed by the idea of choice. The democrats claim that we need a public option to compete with private insurance and give more Americans choice for healthcare. The republicans, on the other hand, claim that, by including government run healthcare, you are actually removing choice from those who don’t want to be in the system and removing it because it will eventually take over all health care and close down any private competition. I think both political parties know how much we Americans value choice and that’s why their framing the debate with it in mind.

The real tragedy about our understanding of choice is that it far too often falls more into a Darwinian understanding of survival of fittest. We must remember that choice involves a necessary component: the good. That’s ultimately what each of the Beatitudes have in common: they are choices that deal with personal struggle and hardship that are made for the sake of the good. We use the word “choice” to describe the right to murder innocent children in the womb in this country. I’d like to read to you something from the Catholic Bishops of the United States that is being read in all parishes in this country this weekend.

Congress is preparing to debate health care reform legislation. The Catholic bishops of the United States strongly support genuine health care reform that protects the life and dignity of all, from the moment of conception until natural death. However, all current bills are seriously deficient on abortion and conscience rights, and do not yet provide adequate access to health care for immigrants and the poor.

In your bulletins today, you’ll find a special bulletin insert from the US Bishops Conference asking you to please contact your Representative and Senators immediately and urge them to fix these bills with pro-life amendments. The insert includes a web address that allows you to send an email message to Congress with a click of a button. The bishops have asked for our swift action and the commitment of our prayers for this critical effort. Thank you for your help. We can help make sure that health care reform will be about saving lives, not destroying them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

custom

I've been thinking about the idea of Catholic customs recently. I've had some people that have asked why we do something which we consider a custom that othera don't do. So I decided to do a little research.

The only are that I could find that even mentions custom was canon law so I turned there since it has a whole section on it.

Can. 23 Only that custom introduced by a community of the faithful and approved by the legislator according to the norm of the following canons has the force of law.

In other words, for something to be a custom, it has to approved by the person that is capable of approving it. If something is reseved to the Bishop, he is the only one who can approve it. If it can be approved locally, then the pastor can approve it as well.

Can. 24 §1. No custom which is contrary to divine law can obtain the force of law.

§2. A custom contrary to or beyond canon law (praeter ius canonicum) cannot obtain the force of law unless it is reasonable; a custom which is expressly reprobated in the law, however, is not reasonable.

So, you cannot claim that it is the custom of this area to believe that Jesus wasn't really the redeemer. That would be contrary to divine law. Also, you cannot break church law unless it is reasonable. What's reasonable? Let me give an example. In the diocese of Orlando, when a catholic marries a non catholic in a non catholic church, the diocese mandates that a priest or deacon be present to receive the vows. In the Archdiocese of Dubuque, no such mandate exists. Both believe that are faithfully interpreting canon law. There's some leeway in the interpretation of the canon and both dioceses have ways of interepreting it. It seems like they are saying that it's not reasonable to outright break a law but it is reasonable to have difference in application of the law.

Can. 25 No custom obtains the force of law unless it has been observed with the intention of introducing a law by a community capable at least of receiving law.

Can. 26 Unless the competent legislator has specifically approved it, a custom contrary to the canon law now in force or one beyond a canonical law (praeter legem canonicam) obtains the force of law only if it has been legitimately observed for thirty continuous and complete years. Only a centenary or immemorial custom, however, can prevail against a canonical law which contains a clause prohibiting future customs.

This canon is very interesting because it provides a time limit. For something to be a custom, it has to have existed for "thirty continuous and complete years." That means you cannon do something for five or ten or even 29 years and say that it's a custom. It only becomes a custom when a community has lived with it for 30 years. This sort of makes sense when you think that, in the course of 30 years, several different leaders will work with the custom. If they all believe it's worth maintaining, then it's definitely not just a fad. It's a real custom.

So, it seems to me, that when we use the term of custom in its ecclesiastical understanding, you have to ask yourself 1. who has the authority to legislate the custom (Rome, diocese, religious community, or local parish?), 2. does it contradict either divine or church law, and 3. how long has the custom existed? Once you answer those questions, then you know if you're dealing with a custom and if your custom is licit.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Humanity of Jesus

I started writing down this homily and ran out of time. The last part is more of a bullet point summary of what happened. I think you'll still be able to understand despite the lack of completion

My Dear brothers and sister in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in God our Father and the divine Lord Jesus Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity through the power of the Holy Spirit. What does it mean when we say that Jesus was fully human? Each week we profess in the creed, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, who…For us men and for our salvation…came down from heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit … was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” This is an articulation of the Christian belief that Jesus was fully God and fully human. What does that mean?

There are some people who like to treat non-human things as though they are human. For instance, I think there are some people who treat their pets as though they are human. I know of people who will pick up their dog or cat, turn them over, and rock them like a mother rocks a baby. In some ways, I think it says more about who we are as human beings than about the animal being like us.

So, what does it mean to be human? In answering this question, I thought about some sci-fi programs with robots mimicking what it means to be human. Whether it’s Robin Williams in Bicentennial Man or Lt. Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation, I find it interesting that feelings seem to be an important part of what it means to be truly human in these depictions.

· Feelings point them toward sex but that is the definition of carnality.

· Same is true of Jesus – Dan Brown thinks Jesus couldn’t have been a real man, a real human if he didn’t have sex.

· Scriptures see it different
o Second reading: God became fully human by suffering
o First reading: Suffering is meaningful because it shows a person’s willingness to be obedient to God
o Gospel: whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."

· To be truly human as Jesus was fully human doesn’t mean being a masochist. But it does mean being willing to recognize a divine motive in all things, even suffering. Only a real human could suffer the way Jesus did.

· During Preparation of gifts “May the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Gives us hope that Jesus who willingly entered into this human condition of suffering will someday take away suffering when we share in his divinity.

Friday, October 16, 2009

What are you holding onto?

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Grace and peace in God, our Father, through our humble Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit be with you all. As I read over this Sunday’s readings this past week, I couldn’t help but think, jeesh! These are pretty hard readings to live out. Pretty hard to preach about too. If only I had looked far enough ahead of time to notice just how hard they were. I could have made the pastor preach on these readings! But, considering the fact that he didn’t make me preach on divorce and remarriage last week, I should probably suck it up and preach this week.
Each time that this set of readings comes around, it reminds me of a story that I heard in a homily preparation service that I used to receive. It said, “African hunters have a clever way of trapping monkeys. They slice a coconut in two, hollow it out, and in one half of the shell cut a hole just big enough for a monkey's hand to pass through. Then they place an orange in the other coconut half before fastening together the two halves of the coconut shell. Finally, they secure the coconut to a tree with a rope, retreat into the bushes, and wait. Sooner or later, an unsuspecting monkey swings by, smells the delicious orange, and discovers its location inside the coconut. The monkey then slips its hand through the small hole, grasps the orange, and tries to pull it through the hole. Of course, the orange won't come out; it's too big for the hole. To no avail the persistent monkey continues to pull and pull, never realizing the danger it is in. While the monkey struggles with the orange, the hunters approach and capture the monkey by throwing a net over it. As long as the monkey keeps its fist wrapped around the orange, the monkey is trapped. The only way the monkey could save its life is to let go of the orange and flee.” How many of us, myself included, would be just as trapped in that tree if there was a roll of hundred dollar bills in the coconut? Or perhaps the key to a luxury automobile? Or maybe a huge diamond wedding ring from that certain man or woman we’ve been dating for a long time?
In today’s gospel, we hear the story of a man who is trapped by the need for success. He asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. He asks the very man who will win eternal life for him by suffering and dying on the cross what he can do to be saved. For some reason, whenever I hear this story, I can’t help but imagine Jesus as a very kind-hearted but somewhat gruff old rabbi instructing a precocious student a hard life lesson. Jesus’ response is to obey the law. But the boy isn’t satisfied. He thinks to himself that that can’t be all there is to do. There has to be more. He seems to say in a very frustrated tone, "Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth." as though he finds fulfillment of the law so easy that it has lost its challenge.
I can just imagine Jesus smiling with love at this young man. And I love the fact that St. Mark includes a detail about how Jesus felt about this faithful-to-a-fault young man. It says that he loved him so he challenged him. He challenged him to give up the coconut so that he could inherit eternal life. “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
The boy’s response is one of obstinace. How could he give up all that he had and follow Jesus? It’s too much to ask. And, yet, it’s not as though Jesus doesn’t turn to each of us and ask something similar. It’s a terrible economy. I might not have my job next week. How can I donate money to the poor? I work forty hours a week or more and that’s not even counting all the preparation I have to do at home. How can I make it to my child’s school event to show them support? I’m too busy! I have always imagined that I would get married and have three or four children with a beautiful wife. I can’t be called to give up all that great stuff for something else that’s great, something like priesthood. We all have excuses that seem perfectly legitimate. What good is it for the boy to sell all he has and give it to the poor without first investigating if the poor will actually use it wisely and not waste it on booze, drugs, and prostitutes? Jesus doesn’t care. The point that he’s trying to drive home is that wealth forces us to pay attention to it, attention that could be paid to God and the family of God. What is stuck between those coconut halves for you? And how can you let it go and be free?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

All are welcome but there are expectations to be part

This past week, I had a rather thought provoking question from one of the parishioners here at St. Thomas. The person asked what it means to sing the Song “All are Welcome” while simultaneously saying that non-Catholics are not allowed to receive Holy Eucharist. How are we building a house where love is found and all are safely led. A place where saints and children dwell and hearts learn to forgive…” if we say to newcomers that they aren’t allowed to share in the seminal experience of catholic liturgy, the Eucharist.

Our readings guide us along the path toward an answer to this ecumenically sensitive question. Both the first reading and gospel deal with situations in which people are doing Godly things in seemingly ungodly circumstances. The first reading tells of a time when Moses’ flock has grown to a point that it was difficult for him to minister to them. So, God takes some of the Spirit that he put on Moses and distributes it to 72 other men. The problem is that, for some reason, only 70 came to the meeting tent where the Spirit was distributed. The other two, Eldad and Medad, were on the list of people invited but they never showed up. It’s not clear whose fault it is that they are absent, whether they weren’t invited or if they were and declined the invitation. Regardless they soon find themselves doing the work of prophesy.

What happens next is very interesting. Joshua, Moses assistant, demands that Moses stop them. Why, you may ask, would he demand this of his superior? It’s important to keep two things in mind about this. The first is that Joshua was a priest, the leader of the group of priests, in fact, who would have been in charge of the meeting tent that held the Ark of the Covenant. So, in Joshua’s mind, it simply doesn’t make sense that something holy could happen anywhere else, let alone in the most secular of all places, in camp. Secondly, since Joshua is sort of a High Priest before the temple High Priests were set-up, Joshua probably thought it was his responsibility to be present for holy things to take place. How could Eldad and Medad have had something holy happen to them if he wasn’t there to witness it. It boggles the mind! Moses’ response to the Joshua’s complaints is profoundly empowering: “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his Spirit on them all!”

Similarly, in the gospel, the apostle John hears about someone driving out demons in Jesus’ name who does not follow them. Jesus tells John and the other apostles that, “There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can, at the same time, speak ill of me… Whoever is not against us is for us.” It seems that Jesus is basically informing John and the other apostles that there is an openness to faith present in this person that should be encouraged and not snuffed out.
If we were to stop there, we may conclude from both of these passages that we, Catholics, have no right to restrict someone from receiving Holy Eucharist. All are Welcome to come to the table of the Lord and receive. Yet, there’s more to the message than just those two quotes. Jesus continues by saying that there are expectations of life for being part of the kingdom of God. One cannot sin and be considered part of the kingdom of God. In rather graphic terms, Jesus tells his listeners that they need to get rid of whatever causes them to sin, whether it be a hand, a foot, an eye, or something else, it’s better to enter the kingdom of God without these things than to be eternally punished with them.

So, All are Welcome in this place but we must be aware of what we are being welcomed to. We are being invited to live a life of conversion. A life that seeks to get rid of anything that gets in the way of our relationship to God. And, while this is not the only place where holy things happen, we know that something uniquely holy happens here. This is where we are reminded of our need to live life simply, both financially and morally. We need to be open to getting rid of what causes us to sin and know that our willingness to do so is what determines if we are in communion or out-of-communion with this community. All are Welcome in this place, true. But, all of us, catholic and non-catholic alike, must know that there are demands put upon us if we intend to become or remain a part of this body of Christ.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The difficulty we feel in living out a faithful life

My Dear Friends in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Recently I was visiting with a professor who was frustrated by a group of students she took on a service trip during her college’s January term. Being a sociologist, she was trying to expose them to the frustration of being impoverished through the eyes of the people living in New Orleans. So, she first spent two weeks teaching them a bit about the history of the city and all that took place surrounding hurricane Katrina and all the utter incompetence that surrounded that event for the people living in that area. Then she took the students down to actually see the devastation and help in a few service projects. On the way back to Iowa, the group encountered some rough weather-related travel meaning that forced them to spend an extra night in a hotel two hours from home. The students immediately started complaining about not getting home when they expected and having to sleep in a hotel and having to spend more money on food than their $5 food voucher would cover. The professor was frustrated because she felt like the students had missed the entire point of the exercise. They had just visited a place where an entire town was uprooted from homes and livelihoods for months if not years. And, unlike the people of New Orleans, the students knew that their residence hall would still be sitting there fully in tact when they got back the next day.

Our readings are filled with this kind of frustration this week. The first reading talked about a group of people who know that what they believe is evil. They know that they are proposing to defy God’s law and they even know that there is someone trying to get them to do what is right, the so-called “just man.” And yet, rather than listen to the just man, they seem to go out of their way to discount him, even trying to use his own words to discredit him. They say, “Let us put him to a shameful death; for according to his own words ‘God will take care of him.’” Ultimately, they are claiming to seek proof all the while knowing that they are really trying to make the just seem unjust.

Similarly in the second reading, the Apostle James is focusing us on wisdom. Just like St. Paul has lists of virtues and vices to describe if Christians live by the spirit or by the law, so St. James has a beautiful list of virtues for those who live in wisdom. And yet, St. James knows that there are some who don’t live in wisdom. He says, “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” It seems to me that James is rooting all conflict in an unwillingness to have sympathy for another person. We create conflict because we are unwilling to ask someone for something. We are unwilling because we fear that the other person might not give us what we want. Or, if we do ask, we are only concerned with what will benefit us and not concerned with what will benefit the other person.

Lastly there is the gospel where Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to die a humbling death and that, because of his humility, he will be exalted through resurrection. The apostles almost immediately start to fight about who is going to be the greatest. And Jesus’ response is that the apostles must learn to be servants to the least powerful among us, children.

All three readings deal with the difficulty we feel when our lives don’t match up with our professed belief. Weather it be a politician who claims to hate high taxes while attaching all kinds of spending amendments to bills, the priest that pounds the pulpit calling married people to greater fidelity while himself having a girlfriend on the side, or the teacher who gets angry at students for not studying while they themselves haven’t updated tests or quizzes in years, we all struggle to live our lives in conformity to our values. We all make mistakes on occasion. Our readings warn us that, when it happens, when someone points out to us our own hypocrisy, there are ways we shouldn’t react. We shouldn’t simply discount the other person by ignoring our hypocrisy and focusing on the mistakes of that person, as the author of the book of wisdom warned us. And, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help and, instead, create a war as James warned us. Instead, we should seek out the, “wisdom from above…(that) is….pure…peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity” and we should work to be of humble service to one another.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Who are the poor and what does it matter?

My Dear Brothers and Sister in Christ

Grace and peace in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you in the power of the Holy Spirit. I think if there’s one thing we need to pray for in this country right now, it’s that we find both grace and peace in the health care debate. I keep watching this debate with a mix of fascination and disgust each time that a news story comes on TV about it. The level of vitriol from liberals and conservatives alike at the Town Hall meetings is really kind of disgusting. From the people who brought guns to a town hall meeting to the senator who asked one of his constituents on what planet she spent most of her time to the man who bit off another person’ finger, there has been a complete lack of respect and a flourishing level of misinformation flowing from all sides of this argument. What I truly found disturbing, however, was what happened in Red Bank, New Jersey when a wheelchair bound woman was shouted down at one of these town hall meetings. When one man was asked why he heckled and jeered at her, his response was, “I don’t know how a handicapped woman in chair has more rights than I do.” While it’s not entirely surprising considering the fact that, whenever I see one of these town hall meetings, rude and obnoxious behavior seems to be the standard modus operandi it is still disappointing considering the American notion of equality we prize.

If only we had Jesus around to cure everybody for free. Then we wouldn’t even need a health care industry. And yet, would you believe that’s not entirely true. At the time of Jesus, there was a kind of system involving a bunch of people called healers. They would do a lot of things that Jesus did in this gospel. They would mix up strange concoctions and put it on whatever ailed the person. They would make noises and shout commandments at the person. And, most importantly, they would build up a reputation for themselves as a healer so that others would come to them and pay them to be healed. What is surprising about Jesus in this story is not that he does the healing or even the way he heals the man. It’s that he does everything that a professional faith healer does but then asks that the person healed not make his reputation known. And, even though it had the exact opposite effect, I don’t think that was his intent. In other words, I don’t think he was telling those he healed not to tell others they had been healed knowing full well that they would tell other infirmed individuals and he would get the credit. Jesus isn’t displaying a kind of false modesty that typifies the politician among us. I think Jesus was doing it for a different purpose entirely that he knew they wouldn’t get. I think Jesus dared to look beyond the sickness and see the suffering person underneath and, in that person, he saw the image and likeness of himself.

Fr. Jon, last week, talked about the letter of James and how we get to hear about that letter for the next several weeks. This week, we heard James offering a challenge to us to live out the teaching Jesus is giving to us. “Show no partiality…” says James. We here at St. Thomas often take up a collection for the poor that we put in baskets around this very pulpit. And yet, how do we act when the poor come into our church? Do we intentionally sit at the edge of the pew so they cannot possibly sit next to us? Do we pretend to be occupied at the greeting at the beginning of mass and at the sign of peace so that we don’t have to shake their hand? Or, have we become a church that bureaucratically bullies the poor out of our doors by setting up unfriendly policies that allow them into the building while simultaneously telling them that’s as far as they’re going to get? Do we want poor people and persons with disabilities on our commissions and committees to lend advice and suggestions? Have we, as Catholics, become so whitewashed, so modern, so professional, so middle class that the disabled and the poor are just an inconvenience that we put up with, if we have to, on Sunday?

The name Catholic means “universal”, not in the sense of anything goes/believe what you want to believe/I don’t have the right to insist that there is absolute right or wrong. In the sense that, as James asked in the second reading today, “…have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?” We might not be screaming ad hominem ignorant clich├ęs at each other like they are at town hall meetings, thank goodness. But, when people come to St. Thomas, do you think they see a church that is going to be open to them and make them feel part of the body of Christ regardless who they look like or do you think they leave feeling like they have go to the mall buy a pair of khaki pants and a polo?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

IRB

I have been asked by Iowa State University to be on a board that reviews research involving human subjects. To me, it's a honor to be able to serve a University for which I have great respect and to be able to bring God into a conversation on this campus without every mentioning his name.

For the last two days, I've been staring at my computer trying to National Institutes of Health training related to being on this board. It was strangely exhilarating to finish looking over 20-30 pages of material and then take a four, five, or six question quiz and pass. I was so worried that I wouldn't pass at each of them and the instant affirmation was good. I'm glad it's over but it's nice to be invited onto campus to be part of this committee.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Why liturgical dance is evil...

At some point in the last year, I was at a catholic convention and saw a bumper sticker that said, "Don't blame me. I voted for the black guy!" with a picture of the Pope on it. The implication was the person was displeased with the current pope. I wonder how they would feel knowing these are the views of the "black guy."

http://www.ewtn.com/vnews/getstory.asp?number=97109

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Sisters...Sisters...there were never such devoted sisters...

I was reading our local paper, an act I tend to avoid, and found this article. My first reaction was to ask why the Associated Press always makes the hierarchy of the catholic church seem so tyrannical. I generally don't buy the conservative argument that there is a liberal bias in the media that slants all stories in that direction. And yet, when a woman religious criticizes a review for "misogyny in the church and especially distrust of women who are not directly and submissively under male, ecclesiastical control" while the "inquiry is being directed by Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus" makes me angry.

So, the implication is that the church should encourage and foster congregations of women religious who make every effort to dissent from church teaching. We should tell the screaming child in the restaurant that free expression is a good thing and encourage them to keep screaming. Why? And, isn't the fact that these congregations can't attract young people to join them at least some indication that there is a privation of fecundity? I can't pay my college students to consider joining these congregations. They're all graying and, to be honest, will probably all be gone by the time I'm ready to retire. The ones that are attracting new members are the ones that have maintained fidelity to the church. Why would anyone want to be around a group of people that hate the organization they profess to be a part of? To me, it's like the wife that constantly expects the husband to change. Either you love him as he is or you'll eventually get a divorce. The church is just trying to avoid a divorce. The Ap, on the other hand, seems like the annoying best friend spreading rumors and sowing the seeds of doubt.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Weddings

I've grown to appreciate weddings in the past year. It started when I had a series of people that I really respect and love get married. The easiest example of this is my good friend and coworker Misty and her husband and my new friend Jacob. They were just so much in love that they made it easy for me to do the wedding. Recently, I had two awesome weddings in one weekend, my good friends James and Jennifer and the next day my friends Jeff and Amy. I used to HATE doing weddings. I got cynical.

So, I started to get cocky. I'm going to be the guy that does like 40 weddings a year and have people want to get married by him.

Now a new issue has reared it's head. It's not the wedding planner. I was worried about that phenomenon before and have only had one person have a wedding planner in eight years of priesthood. I tend to be a jerk to these people because they are totally unnecessary and will only serve to have another leader barking orders and creating chaos.

But, I just know that, after this dancing procession thing that appeared in the youtube machine...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-94JhLEiN0

...it's just a question of time until I have students that want to do this and I'm going to have to say, "no." I know it was cute. It would have been PERFECT for the reception. But it doesn't belong in the wedding liturgy. I'm hoping it will be five years before I get my first request. I'll let you know if I'm right or not.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The supernatural faith inculcated by a miracle

If you are a student of History and, in particular, a student of American History, you may already know that Thomas Jefferson wrote his own Bible. Well, he didn’t exactly write it inasmuch as take the Bible as we know it, take out a few things, and make it a Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth. He described the principles that guided him in this endeavor in a letter to friend and fellow American founder John Adams, as a need to “strip off the artificial vestments in which (the true words) have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves.” He only trusted the gospels and, even then, only the teachings of Jesus and none of the miracles, believing if you just find the words of Jesus, “There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.”
I imagine most of us can sympathize with Thomas Jefferson in some ways. He was really saying that the supernatural elements of the gospels are kind of embarrassing. I mean who would take mud nowadays, splatter it on someone’s eyes, and expect that the person would be able to see afterward? And aren’t we all a little skeptical of the healings Jesus performed? Couldn’t you just as easily explain them as the power of positive thought instead of the miraculous intervention by God?
Most of the time I hear someone preach about this particular gospel, that fear of the supernatural seems to come through clearly. I heard a priest suggest that what really happened at this meal was not miraculous. It wasn’t that Jesus took five loaves and two fish, blessed them, broke them, and gave them to 5000 men. It was a lesson in sharing. When the people saw the young man willing to offer his five loaves, they were likewise willing to offer what they had and then there was more than enough. It transforms the point of the gospel into one about sharing what we have with those around us. The problem with that interpretation is that it tells the EXACT OPPOSITE point of the one found in this gospel.
This gospel has two apostles that are a part of it and who act as two different types of disciples. The first is Philip. Philip is the believer whose response seems to indicate a purely natural faith. He believes what he can see, touch, taste, and smell. When Jesus tells him to get enough food to feed the crowd, Philip’s natural reaction is skepticism. “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?…Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Philip didn’t have the right to be skeptical. I imagine we’ve all looked at budgets and check books and known that bills were coming down the pike and wondered where the money was going to come from. Philip doesn’t know that a miracle is about to take place here. Yet, if had been paying attention, I think he should have.
Andrew, on the other hand, is the one with supernatural faith. Jesus told him to find food and so he does. The boy’s five barley loaves and two fish become the basis for a miracle. Andrew had the ability to put his skepticism in check and believe that God can work miracles where most people cannot see solutions.
The idea of supernatural faith is frightening, nonetheless. Heck, even the word supernatural has been corrupted by Science Fiction shows to indicate the presence of ghosts, demons, aliens, and other weird phenomena. Having a supernatural faith means simply believing that more is out there than what our senses can perceive. It means trusting that there is a God who loves you and who wants you to love him back, a prospect that is as frightening now as it was at the time of Thomas Jefferson. I say it’s frightening because if we believe in a supernatural component to God, we have to have a relationship to a God who, as Paul said in the second reading, “is over all and through all and in all.” God is complete transcendent, completely immanent, and wanting to communicate with us. It would be much easier to dismiss these contradictions in favor of a teacher of morality who passes on whit and wisdom to us. But, if we limit the Bible to something that we can grasp and accept and take out anything that we find challenging, we have to ask are we creator or creature?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Why your priest may find it hard to move.

I'm not moving this year. I'm going to be in Ames for at least one more year, maybe longer. But, I was thinking about something this morning.

Most priests are introverts. This doesn't mean that they are loners, although some are. It just means we tend to need time by ourselves. Most priests are very social in large groups but it's not something they look forward to doing. Being an introvert means that I want to form strong friendships with a small number of people and tend to get drained by multiple "professional" relationships that aren't very deep. I think this is why most priests (myself included) hate staff meetings. The relationships formed in staff meetings are necessarily shallow. The main concern is to make sure one person isn't getting into the space of another person.

The real challenge of ministry, however, is realizing that you will form deep relationships in parishes and then have to leave those relationships behind as you enter a new parish. There are some priests who make sure they don't form friendships with parishioners in order to make sure that they never have to say goodbye. To be honest, there's something to be said for that attitude. I know that, in my short time as a priest, I've been accused of "taking sides" in a disagreement between two people because I was closer to one of the parties than another. I came into priesthood thinking that I would keep a distance between me and my parishioners and have consistently failed miserably in this endeavor. It's too hard for me to minister to a group of people and not get to know them. The relationships I see in the gospels and in the letters of Paul point to me to the need to be "in relationship" with people.

I don't think I'm the only priest who has ever made friends with parishioners. I think most priests do. And, if they're like me, they need them to be effective preachers and teachers. We learn what people are struggling with from the people we interact with the most. This next Tuesday, my current pastor will move to a new assignment. He's been here for 16 years and has many good friendships here. His replacement was here and left. When he was here, he had my job of working mostly with college students. Please pray for these men as they have to say goodbye to old friends and start the process of making new ones.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

No Homily this weekend

As a priest, I have few weekends that I have totally "off". The Code of Canon Law, the official "law book" of the catholic church seems to envision that a priest would only be away from his parish three weekends per year. AND there's a way of looking at it in which the code wants us to be gone during the week and back for the weekend. Most priests don't view it that way, however.

I was gone to Wichita, Kansas for a wedding on Saturday. I concelebrated on Sunday at mass but didn't have to preach, thank goodness. That's why there's no homily. However, I do have the beginnings of a homily that I will preach in the future...

The wedding was for a former student who has become a very close friend in the past few years, both while he was a student and after. I've been priveliged to have the situation happen a few times in this campus ministry assignment where a young man or woman and I have such great experiences together and work so closely that we want to keep in touch after they leave and it develops into a pretty deep friendship. That's what happened with Jeff, the groom. In fact, I was a groomsman in the wedding because of our friendship. He said that there would be sufficient numbers of priests so he wanted me to be closer, to be a groomsman. I was flattered so I accepted, something that I'll likely never do again despite the fact that it went really well this time. It wasn't weird to wear a tux because it wasn't really all that different than wearing my dress clerical clothes. It wasn't even all that weird to participate in mass as a part of the congregation instead of as a concelebrant. The weird part was having a woman on my arm as I entered and exited a room. I haven't done that for a very long time and it just wasn't symbolically right. I'm not supposed to be in a "couple" situation. I have forsaken that for the sake of the Kingdom. On the one hand, it's good to know just how deep my celibacy is felt in me and it's good to be able to explain that to people in the future why I don't feel comfortable doing this.

I've learned that I am a person that often has to learn things "the hard way." I should be able to see how things will play out before I do but I often don't and end up wishing I would have done something different. It's just who I am. I hope it makes me a better confessor. I know people make mistakes. It's not like we plan them. There are times when the lesson that was learned from the mistake was "worth" making the mistake in the first place.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

To feel like Paul and give people peace

Yesterday evening, I had the opportunity to celebrate mass for the people of Holy Family parish in Parkersburg. The pastor there, Fr. Dennis Quint, was celebrating a wedding in Ames for me so I offered a few months ago to switch with him, not knowing the tragic events that would take place this week for this community. In case you haven’t heard, a former student of Applington-Parkersburg High School walked into the weight room of that school early Wednesday morning and shot the beloved football coach, Mr. Ed Thomas. As you probably know, it adds to the tragedy this community has felt when a tornado cut a mile-wide path through the city a little over thirteen months ago. Despite a massive clean up and rebuild effort, there is still so much to do. As I drove into town, I noticed the phenomenon everyone had warned me about. There are no trees on the entire south side of town. You can see where the tornado went both by the neighborhoods filled entirely with new homes and the complete lack of trees in the skyline there verses the more northern area which still has older homes and taller, though some badly gnarled, trees. I tried to drive slowly to see what was left to do in terms of clean up. What no one could have prepared me for was a in the heart of the road that the tornado went down that had a listing of state championships won by Coach Thomas. I couldn’t help but think that this sign, most likely intended to be a defiant statement about the town’s strength and resiliency now stands as a reminder of the fragility of life and the in frustration, fear, and confusion that surrounds this inexplicably evil event.

I had been praying since Wednesday about what I should say to this community. The readings seemed to be a perfect fit for it. “God did not make death nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.” So says the first reading from Wisdom. Jesus sees two hurting people in the gospel and gives them healing and peace. His statement to the woman, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction" is a profoundly comforting source of grace for those undergoing affliction. I had in my mind what I thought would be a beautiful, consoling, ten minute homily utilizing those two statements to talk about the fact that death is not God’s will but is a by product of the evil one and finish up by talking about how we need to be healed by Christ and be able to go in peace. Then, I got a call from Fr. Quint telling me that he had invited a person from Catholic Charities to talk at the end of mass so I wouldn’t even need to preach. Which, in some ways, was a good thing. It allowed me more time to think about things and put together this homily.

This Sunday, for all intents and purposes, marks the end of the Year of St. Paul. During this past year, we were encouraged by the Pope Benedict XVI to increase our ecumenical efforts through the intercession of St. Paul, utilize St. Paul in special Biblical studies and programs, and spend personal time studying him. I have tried in several homily to give special focus to St. Paul. Nonetheless, most of you probably have had no idea of this was the year of St. Paul but hopefully some of you did. If there’s one thing in the life of Paul that is true it’s that he had his fair share of experiences similar to mine in Parkersburg. At one point, Paul had to defend himself to the Corinthians against charges that since he broke his promise to visit, he was a liar. He had been jailed for proclaiming Christ and had nearly been killed by a mob of rock throwing town’s people a few months prior to the jailing. I mean he wasn’t just sitting around. He was busy. I can imagine St. Paul being prepared to walk into a city to preach and evangelize only to find out that some circumstance seemed to prevent him from doing so. There may have been an earlier Christian evangelizer that had a few of the details wrong and so he would have to straighten things out. Or, they may have already heard about Paul, thinking that he was a pest. Paul doesn’t really talk about these situations for some reason. I’d like to believe it is because his heart was so filled with the love of Jesus that he couldn’t help but evangelize. He fully believed that he was spreading the Good News to all people and probably even got energy from doing so.

The more I prayed over these readings, the more I realized that Paul speaks to us today, in my opinion, a more authentic model of Christian hope. Saying to grieving people that God did not make death could seem like you’re trying to make excuses for the most high. If God didn’t make death, why didn’t he at least stop it from happening? He does it for others, after all. He did it for some woman in the gospel. Why couldn’t he have done it for Ed Thomas? And, if death is from the evil one, then it could appear that I’m saying that the psychologically disturbed kid was from the devil. But, of course, we believe all life is a gift from God so I don’t believe this kid is the devil or that he should be killed or anything terrible like that. He and his family will suffer in different ways than the Thomas’ family.

I think St. Paul is much more encouraging because he uses an analogy of faith to talk about money. He basically said that God shared so much with us in his Son. We are, consequently, called to share that with others. Paul says that the same should be true of money. It’s not that the lazy should be rewarded but that those who cannot provide for themselves should receive the attention of those who have an abundance. I’d like to suggest that the same is true of good fortune. We all know people who are a lot worse off than we are. It may be financially but it just as easily could be spiritually, morally, or in terms of hope. How can we share the hope given to us in Christ with those who have no hope?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Corpus Christi

Last Sunday for the homily, I had a B homily, I'd say. I talked about how the Eucharist sacramentally ties us into the redemptive suffering of Christ and challenged people to not call it bread and wine because we weren't saved by bread and wine but by the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. The worst part was that I was struggling to come up with an example of someone leaving a legacy and, at the last moment the idea came to me. I said it was Andrew Carnegie who, after he read his own (falsely run) obituary in the paper, decided to change his life for the better. But, instead, it was Alfred Nobel.

I'm thinking about that today with the particular set of readings in which Paul is worried about how his people are being affected by "super apostles". He's worried that, since they can speak better and have more flash and glamor, they will lead his new Christians away from the truth to some form of Gnosticism or Arianism or some other heresy. It's amazing that, as I look at the big fundamentalist church down the road and think about the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons moving into town my first thought isn't, "Maybe they'll get some non churched folks to go to a church" but "How many catholics will be led astray by this cult?" Two thousand years later but, in so many ways, the same issues.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Church must continue listening to the Spirit in order to be guided

A few months ago, I went to a meeting with Archbishop Hanus called the Priests’ council. This body brings together priests from different parts of the diocese in order for the Archbishop to articulate his vision and listen to the concerns of his people from various parts of the diocese. It was my responsibility to bring him the concerns of all the parishes close to Highway 30 from Tama to Ames, an area we call the Marshalltown deanery. Several of the priests had heard that the insurance rates for our parishes were going to increase dramatically so I was given the responsibility of asking about the particulars increase. The Archbishop and his advisors did a very comprehensive presentation that lasted for a few hours on Sunday night and again on Monday morning. Since I was the youngest person in the room, I thought it best to listen and not ask my question too early. Finally, toward the end of things, the Archbishop asked for questions. I raised my hand and asked about the insurance rates and saw this pained look come across his face. He acknowledged that the rates were likely going to triple because of the floods in Cedar Rapids, the tornado in Parkersburg, and the immigration raid in Postville. I was kind of taken aback because, while I could understand why natural disasters like floods and tornadoes would affect insurance, it had never occurred to me that federal agents raiding a processing plant would likewise affect insurance. So, being young and insatiably curious, I asked what the connection was. The same pained look deepened in the Archbishop’s face and he said that the government’s actions were a disaster. They separated families. People were afraid to go back to their homes out of fear that the government would leave their children and deport the illegal member to Mexico. There were rumors that a sizable immigrant population was living under a bridge in town because of the situation of fear. Up until this point, I have to admit that I was at least not entirely pro immigrant. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t a xenophobe like Lou Dobbs. But, I believed that the government’s right to protect its borders meant that it should prosecute those people here illegally and send them back to their native countries. But, hearing the Archbishop tell us stories of families being separated, homes being abandoned, and individuals being punished while the producer finds a way to avoid persecution, just made me angry. And, what especially made me angry was when the Archbishop told us that he receives far more letters criticizing him over his stance on immigration than he ever did criticizing the church’s handling of the sexual abuse crisis.

We heard in the first reading today that the first gift of the Spirit was the gift of tongues. In the sixties, a group of very feeling-oriented spiritual people used this phrase almost exclusively about their particular spirituality. This charismatic spirituality involved a person being so overwhelmed by the Spirit that they start making what seems to most people as nonsense sounds. But, to the person involved in charismatic prayer, these nonsense sounds are a gift from the Spirit to show God’s presence to them. But, that’s not what is happening in the first reading. The first gift of tongues was, in a sense, a miraculous learning of other languages and dialects. It was a Rosetta Stone experience of learning a foreign language quickly and well. This happened in a way that seemed to reverse the Genesis experience of the tower of Babel in which the entire believing world was separated by words. Now, God the one who brought the Word into the world will bring the world together through words.

This unity of faith is what we have been given both as a gift and a responsibility. The Spirit is what guides us to help continue bringing about greater unity in the church. And, it is our responsibility to strive to bring that unity ever more fully to the church. One of my greatest frustrations about this country is that there are those who seem to believe that English is the only real language that exists. This attitude has become especially troublesome since the church made the concession of translating the mass into the vernacular. Whereas before 1960, it was obvious that the church was larger than the United States, was universal, because the entire mass was in Latin. Nowadays we only pray in English. We may occasionally pray Kyrie Eleison during Lent which is a Greek phrase. And we sing “Alleluia”, which is Aramaic…sort of. I fear that we are in danger of losing the mission given to us both in the first reading and the gospel, to bring ALL PEOPLE, not just Americans, together in Christ.

So, how do we get out of this? Let us listen to the Apostle Paul from the second reading. In that reading, Paul said, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” In other words, there is room for diversity amongst the unified body of Christ. There’s a part of me that wonders how we would react in most Catholic Church's in this country if the stranger was Latino, African, or Asian, especially if the person had a strange language or spirituality to go along with the strangeness of the color of their skin. This is as much if not more of a challenge to me as it is to anyone here: what are we doing to make the stranger to feel welcome, to be open to the diversity of gifts in order to bring together the one body of Christ?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Some observations

I haven't been posting much recently. I'm honestly not sure why that is. I think I just don't remember to do it. There's definitely a lot that deserves mention. For instance, the supreme court of California didn't expand the definition of marriage to include relationships that aren't marriages. There's the new supreme court nominee...who I admit knowing nothing of. There's the stuff surrounding water boarding in which Mancow, the Chicago based radio talk show host, came to terms with the fact that it is torture after he had it done to him.

Personally, I went to the ordination last Sunday. I even preached about going there for Sunday mass. It was so awe inspiring. I didn't get to go last year for various reasons but I got to go this year and it really renewed my commitment to priesthood. I think I was especially receptive since I was coming off a week of vacation which consisted of camping and relaxing around Dubuque. But, it is just amazing that men still open themselves up to the possibility that God is calling them to be a priest. It is so edifying to realize that there will be others after me. And to feel the show of support for these young men as their family and friends come together reminds me of my own ordination seven years ago.

What made it even more special was that one of the ordinands and two of the servers have Iowa State connections. One of them, in fact, was here just last year. Even though this place can drive me crazy sometimes, men still find the path to God in the midst of this chaos. Praise God for working in the messiness of a hectic university setting!

Sixth Sunday of Easter...God first loves us

My dear friends in Christ

Grace and love and peace to you in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I love spring. I love the fact that we aren’t going to get anymore snow on the ground. I love feeling the warmth of the sun on my head and arms as I sit next to my camper on a relaxing day off. There’s just something about this time of year that makes our readings explode of the page for me. LOVE! Our readings today are filled with love. It made me thing: it’s one thing to say that I love the sun. It’ s another thing to say, “I love you.” It’s a lot harder, a lot more intimate, isn’t. How do we show that we love one another?

There are safe ways to show love to one another. There’s the hand shake. There’s the high five. And, as we might remember from the election, there’s also the “fist bump” that the President and First Lady like to exchange. All of these are signs that are pretty safe to do with anyone you meet, right?

Then, there are more intimate ways of showing love. There’s the hug. Now I know some of you think that a hug should be bestowed on almost everyone and probably don’t agree that it’s more intimate. I can remember being seminary with just such a guy. At the end of a class where he had disagreed with a professor quite vehemently on a point, the seminarian wanted to hug the professor. The stuffy professor immediately fired back, “That’s why these tables are here, to prevent you from doing that! I think we’d all agree that a kiss is very intimate, right. It’ s not something you do for just anyone. During the next few months, I get to celebrate several wedding and, to be honest, my favorite part is when they exchange the kiss at the end of the liturgy. To me, this is something so beautiful about a man and woman exchanging that first kiss as husband and wife and doing so in front of the congregation of friends and family.

As I was praying about this, I asked myself, how do we show love to God? So far, none of the ways I talked about demonstrating love work for showing love to God. We can’t shake hands with God. We can’t hug God. We can’t fist bump God. So what can we do? We can sit in prayer and think in our hearts over and over again “I love you.” It’s really a powerful exercise and one that I encourage you to do sometime. But, that’s not very active. Love usually involves action. I show love by doing those simple actions to people. What are the actions I can do to show God love. What did our readings tell us to do?

“In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an expiation for our sins.” This quote from the second reading today sums it all up. The point of love is not that we loved God but that he loves us and gave us his son so that we might life through him. Oftentimes with the sacrament of reconciliation, I hear people express statements that seem to infer that they have to earn God’s love. People seem to think that, since they haven’t done a good enough job as a Christian, God won’t love them anymore. But, that’s not possible. God is love. And God, who is love, cannot but love us. This amazing realization is what Peter was teaching in the Conelius’ house. This was so astounding to Cornelius that he felt like Peter himself must have been some kind of god, instead of just working for him. Peter’s reaction of lifting him and telling him that he is not a god would have seemed rather harsh to the people around. It reminds me of Pope John XXII who decided to abolish the tradition of kissing the pope’s feet. He didn’t want people bending over seeming to worship his feet just to show him honor and respect. A hug was better for John XXIII.

Nonetheless, even though God is love and loves us dearly, we are told that we need to live in God’s love. In other words, this doesn’t mean that our lives can be terrible and God sits by like a neglectful parent still loving even when the children are wreaking havoc on the neighborhood. We are told to keep the commandments. Of course, Jesus simplified them down for us to love God and love neighbor. All our life needs to be filled with this. We are told to lay down our lives for our friends. We shouldn’t put our own needs and comfort first, in other words. We need to be looking around to see who is in need in order to be of service to them. Lastly, we are told to go and bear fruit. To me, this is why I feel honored to be present when a man and woman express God’s love for them in marriage: because they can go forth and bear the fruit of children. It’s what makes the marriage of husband and wife unique and worth celebrating and why it is such an honor to watch them exchange their first kiss as husband and wife. For one second, we get to witness two people experiencing God’s love for them and it inspires us to live in that love too.