Saturday, December 25, 2010

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly

My Dear Friends in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in God our Father and his Son, or Lord Jesus Christ whose birthday we remember in the midst of this liturgy. We come together to celebrate the birth of the Messiah, the Great King of Kings and Lord of Lords celebrated in the first reading. The Prophet Isaiah said of him that he would be called, “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” Each of these terms is chosen to represent a specific element of leadership. The Messiah must be Wonder-Counselor to be able to make the best decisions for his people. He must be God-Hero to ensure that he is the strongest and most able to reign. He must be Father-Forever as one who cares for his people and looks out for what is in their best interest. And, lastly, he must be Prince of Peace to make sure that the peace is kept among his people from without and within. Each of these traits describes the ideal leader. And, yet, so few of them apply to most of our leaders.

One of my favorite historical figures is Abraham Lincoln. His mere election as President was enough to split this country in two. If you were to look into his life, you would discover that he lost more elections than he won. When he put together a cabinet of advisers, he was so na├»ve that he actually hired all his competitors, all the people who lost to him in the primary, and expected that they would put aside any differences they had to serve the country. Sometimes he was justified in this belief but often he was not. He was incredibly patient with his generals, arguably too patient with men who believed they could retake lost territory by playing a defensive game. And, yet, despite being far from a “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace”, Lincoln is remembered as one of the best presidents in American history by almost everyone.

Today we celebrate the birth of the long-awaited Messiah who, in some ways, shares more with Lincoln than you might expect. Jesus was not born in a castle and raised on the finest foods. He was born among animals, seemingly in shame. It’s interesting to note that, despite being back in his home town, there’s no mention of visits from other family members to Jesus’ nativity. They may have come and paid their respects but they may also have been avoiding this man whose wife was having a child who was clearly not conceived in wedlock. Instead, the people who come and pay their respects are the shepherds, men often were considered necessary but religiously unclean because they dealt with the blood of animals at the animal’s birth and death. They are the ones informed by the Angels of the birth of Jesus and who are privileged to hear the angelic chorus sing “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth, peace to his people.

It’s amazing how we tend to only expect great things from those who are born into great wealth and great power and how that always seems to disappoint us when those people have affairs, financial malfeasance, and other sordid activities. And, yet, over and over again, to paraphrase the song of Mary, God casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly. Part of what I find so encouraging about living here in the United States is how we seem to exalt when this happens. On the one hand, we have incredibly greedy people who seem intent on not sharing their gifts with those around them, the scrooges if you will. But, on the other hand, there are people who will take a homeless African-American kid into their family and help raise him. There are those of you who won’t even hesitate to help a a sick neighbor in getting the crops out of the field. And, in the last month, I’ve felt privileged to see some of you reach out to those who are truly struggling with bills and food to try to lift them up. In some ways, when we do this, we are standing beside the Angels heeding the call they received to give respect and honor to a simple infant wrapped in swaddling clothes who is truly “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” May the peace of the Christ-child guide you in all your decisions.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ask for a sign from the Lord

My Dear Friends in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. Have you ever been disappointed by God? Ever asked for something from God and not gotten what you want? A few years ago, I was riding with a good priest friend of mine named Fr. Bob Davies. Fr. Davies has, since then, passed away but he used to accompany me four times a year to the Twin Cities to watch plays with some other priests. One time, we were talking about budgeting frustrations that he was having with his two rural parishes. Now, to understand why this next comment is so shocking, you have to understand something about Fr. Davies history. Prior to becoming a priest, he was involved in local and national politics. If you travel to Hampton and mention his name, they will probably remember him best as the county recorder. He was a whiz with numbers and budgets. He was one of the guys that Senator Harkin relied on to work behind the scenes on his finances and make sure he wasn’t overspending. So, as we were driving along Interstate 35 close to where it intersects with interstate 90, you can imagine how surprised I was to hear him say that he thought parishes take budgets too seriously. This is man who, prior to priesthood, dedicated his life to being the guy who said to politicians that they can’t spend something because it would go over budget. But, according to Bob, by being so strict about staying in budget, they missed out on the possibility that God may be calling us to do something more. At the time, I was just a new Associate Pastor but it still struck me and continues to strike me the more I think about it.

Today’s first reading and gospel are a definite exercise in point, counter point. In other words, two people are presented with similar situations and end up with complete different solutions. Both Ahaz and Joseph have to make a life or death decision. Ahaz is in charge of Judah which is situated between two countries that wanted to wage war with two countries on his southern border. Ahaz thinks that he can remain neutral but one of the southern countries is Israel, a sister Judaic country. He has to know that he’s going to get drug into this war somehow, even if he isn’t sure whose side he should be on. Joseph, on the other hand, isn’t dealing with war but with a personal life or death situation. To be engaged at the time of Jesus was a serious commitment. If someone were to have relations with another person, it would result in their death. Yet, since the marriage hasn’t happened, the couple is not allowed to have relations. In both cases, God approaches the men even before they ask. God seems willing to allow Ahaz to keep Judah neutral and will even protect him if he asks. God tells Joseph to marry Mary quickly and protect her from shame. This is where the two stories both diverge and interlock. Joseph does as the Angel tells him and sets up for us what we will celebrate at the end of this week. Ahaz, on the other hand, basically says he’ll deal with things his own way and won’t ask God for help, despite the fact that God told him to do so. You can’t tempt a God who is telling him to ask for help. Since Ahaz refuses to ask God for help, God tells him that he will be replaced by someone who will. As Christians, we believe that this child is the Christ, the one whose earthly father did what the Angel wanted.

We live in a very cynical, pragmatic world. So often, when we need help there is a temptation to believe that we either do it ourselves or it won’t get done. Yet, as believers, we are challenged especially by today’s readings. Miracles do in fact happen. Not everything is so predictable that we can write the story even before it happens. Sure, we need budgets and auditors to make sure that we don’t go off the handle. And, as your pastor, I do my best to make sure that we live within our budget. But, that will never stop me from dreaming for a miracle. Please don’t stop dreaming for that miracle cure or that problem resolved. For, soon we will remember the greatest miracle of all time: the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Great Quote from the movie "Going my Way"

Bing Crosby "Bishops are like umpires. You have to have them to call the close decisions."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Last Bulletin's Article

Because of all the bad weather we had last weekend, most of my parishioners didn't get to have a bulletin. Here it is with a few amendments...

You might remember a few weeks ago, I asked you to submit questions you’d like addressed in bulletin columns. These are the first two:
Are we having mass on Christmas evening to fulfill your Sunday Obligation?
            Since Christmas is the second-most important holiday in the Catholic Calendar, we are unable to celebrate a Sunday vigil mass on Christmas Day. So, both Duncan and Buffalo Center masses will be cancelled that weekend and I ask those people to go to a neighboring parish on Sunday for Mass. I apologize for the inconvenience.
Does SCAP fulfill your Sunday Obligation?
            For those of you who do not know what the acronym SCAP means; Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest. This celebration takes place on a Sunday when a priest cannot get to a given church to celebrate mass. It’s among a list of liturgical celebrations that are what I call “oops!” celebrations (ex. general absolution, confirmation by the parish priest, and lay baptism in an emergency situation). In these situations, the church provides for times in which the norm is impossible.
            To fulfill your Sunday Obligation, a catholic is obliged to participate in mass on either Saturday evening or Sunday. Mass is the only liturgy that can fulfill your Sunday Obligation. It says in paragraph 12 of the Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest

The following are the principal requisites for the Sunday assembly of the faithful.
1. the gathering of the faithful to manifest the Church, not simply on their own initiative but as called together by God, that is, as the people of God in their organic structure, presided over by a priest, who acts in the person of Christ;
2. their instruction in the paschal mystery through the Scriptures that are proclaimed and that are explained by a priest or deacon;
3. the celebration of the eucharistic sacrifice, by which the paschal mystery is expressed, and which is carried out by the priest in the person of Christ and offered in the name of the entire Christian people.

We have the very interesting situation here in this pastorate of a scheduled SCAP on the first Saturday Night of each month in Buffalo Center. This is done with the permission of Archbishop Hanus because it is impossible to have mass there that weekend. Some of the people, having read this question, may well wonder if they should attend SCAP or drive to another parish. I want to emphasize that you should all continue attending SCAP when it is offered. If the Archbishop or I expected you to drive elsewhere that weekend, we would simply ask Deacon Popowski or Jody Smith not to offer SCAP. The fact that it is offered indicates that we expect you will it.
One way to look at is is that, by attending SCAP, you have done all you can do to fulfill your Sunday Obligation. The fault does not lie with you. You have done two of the three components listed above. You have gathered as a community in Christ and have heard the Word of God. The parts that are missing are that the priest can't preside over the assembly or offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice. But you cannot control that. 
One of the things that has impressed several of the priests in the past few years as well as our Episcopal Vicar, Msgr. Wilgenbusch, is that the SCAP is as well attended  as the Sunday Mass in Bufffalo Center. This speaks to the need for it as well as the vibrant sustainability of your parish. As we go foarward, it is possible that we will need to offer SCAP in more parishes on a more consistent basis. I will look toward you, the people of St. Patrick's, to assuage any fears associated with SCAP and to speak to the positive effect is has had in your life and the life of your parish.
            On a related note, in the 80’s and 90’s, there arose a practice on weekdays when a priest could not celebrate a daily mass for a lay person or a sister to celebrate a Word and Communion service. Both the Vatican and Archbishop Hanus have recently asked that we discontinue these. There is no obligation to attend mass on weekdays and, quite often, these services promoted scandal within the church as the preacher may be untrained in theology or may have a theological “axe” to grind. The one possible exception to this rule is distributing communion to the sick in a nursing home or hospital, if the pastor gives his approval.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Blizzard Warning

At the beginning of this week, I took a great deal of solace knowing that I would reach 6:00 on Sunday night, although I had no idea what was going to happen between Monday and Sunday.

On Monday, I concluded the Priest's Council meeting that began a week ago. We talked about the issues that are affecting the diocese and tried to offer some solutions. I came home that evening to a meeting with a couple, something that I never do on my day off if I can avoid it. I woke early on Tuesday for a meeting in Britt with the ministerial association. We talk about a book one of the minister's has recommended. I went back and worked in my office for most of the day on Tuesday but then had the first of my Immaculate Conception masses. On Wednesday, I drove to Garner for some business but I had a meeting with a couple of people regarding rental assistance so I had to hurry back. And then ended the day with two masses for the Immaculate Conception, one in Forest City and one in Lake Mills. On Thursday, I went to a funeral for a long-time church worker in Buffalo Center. It took a long time to actually get to the cemetery for the burial so I headed straight to Garner for a meeting with my Associate and supper. I finished off that day with Pastoral Council in Forest City. The next day, I had to be in Cedar Falls by 9:00 for a leadership training class I've been taking for the last year and a half. We finished at 3:00 and then I headed back to Forest City. I posted a comment in Facebook that I was relieved to finally have a significant amount of time to sit and relax. The only thing that concerned me was that the priests were at my leadership training camp were saying that this weekend's snow was going to be bad.

Now, before I get into the heart of the weekend, let me preface things a little. This weekend, we were supposed to have a talk by a religious sister about the Retirement Fund for Religious. This happens once a year in all the parishes in the diocese. However, when I got home on Friday, I called her and told her not to come. I was afraid she'd get here and we'd have to cancel masses on Saturday night. Also, Deacon Dennis Popowski was supposed to preach in the masses I celebrated. Notice the word supposed in the last sentence....

I awoke on Saturday morning, ready to face the day. It had rained since about midnight the night before, which caused some concern for me. As I walked toward the church, I started noticing the first hints of snow amidst the rain. After morning confessions were over in Forest City, I called my Associate and we both agreed that we need to cancel the masses for Saturday night. The rain had frozen and was being covered by snow, making for hazardous conditions. I figured that conditions would improve by morning so I did nothing with regard to Sunday. However, at 9:00 that night, I heard that the Iowa State Patrol was requesting no unnecessary travel through mid morning on Sunday. I called my Associate Pastor and he agreed that we should cancel. So I called the media, who must have been overwhelmed at that point as none of my calls and emails were ever published, and called some of the parishioners. It really was a blessing as both my Associate Pastor and I were still trapped in our houses as of 8:30 the next morning. The plows would clear our parking lots and then the wind would blow it back in. We each got to celebrate one mass, he in Garner and I, without a deacon preaching, in Forest City. We even had to cancel the communal reconciliations we had scheduled for this afternoon because the wind continues pushing the cleared snow back out on the roads. And I've spent more time in the rectory in the Forest City Rectory than I have since I was assigned here. It's now 6:00 on Sunday and I've cancelled all but four of the original fourteen liturgies I was supposed to do this weekend.

In the future, I hope I can make my decision by noon on Saturday and it's better to be safe than stuck in a ditch somewhere between here and Lake Mills. Although, hopefully this will be the last time we'll get a snow storm on Saturday and Sunday. Wouldn't that be great?

Monday, December 06, 2010

What kind of tree are we?

My Dear friends in Christ

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father through the Lord Jesus Christ on this first snowy weekend of winter. A few weeks ago, the National Christmas Tree came through Britt. From what I understand, one of the guys who is in charge of taking it from Wyoming to the Nation’s Capital wanted to stop through Britt to pick up some cookies from his grandma and, from that request, Britt became a stop along the route. If you read the write up in the newspaper, you know that it arrived on time and left on time. You know that there were songs by children and several politicians spoke, even politicians who only spoke at most a sentence or two. You know that we sent ornaments to President Obama and the First Lady to hang on the Christmas tree. There were a lot of really nice things in the article. You know what was totally missing? Any mention that the ministerial association put together a program involving a reading of the traditional story The Tale of the Three Trees or that one of the minister’s in town read a prayer at the ceremony. I don’t mention this because we demand attention inasmuch as to point out that the religious elements intentionally or unintentionally were complete excluded from the story.

The gospel today tells the story of John the Baptist. Last week we started hearing from the Gospel of Matthew and you can kind of tell that Matthew has a great deal of respect for John the Baptist. First of all, he writes that John appeared in the desert of Judea, which almost seems magical. Elijah was supposed to appear when the end times were near so it seems as though Matthew is indicating that John the Baptist is Elijah who has returned. You might remember that the Old Testament figure of Elijah was taken up in a fiery chariot. John the Baptist may not have the fiery chariot but his rhetoric is fiery enough to take its place. John dresses like a crazed prophetic monk wearing clothing made of camel’s hair and a leather belt. He enjoys a balanced diet of honey and locusts and, yet, despite appearing to be totally nuts, draws all kinds of people to his baptism of repentance. He’s the exact opposite of a mega church pastor in lifestyle with the same popular result.

John’s message to both the liberals and the conservatives of his day was the same: “Produce good fruit! …every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” I prayed about this and something occurred to me that makes this statement quite striking. John is preaching this message from the desert, a place where a tree is valued simply because it can provide shelter. When you are in desert heat, you may not need figs or apples or pomegranates. Just having a place where a person could sit and rest outside of the heat of the sun makes the tree worthwhile. But, not for God. Trees that just sit there not producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. They not only need to look pretty, they also need to be a source of nourishment.

So, John is telling us that we need to produce good fruit or we will be cut down and thrown into the fire. What are the good fruits that God expects us to produce? It seems to me that the first reading helps us know what our good fruit should be. “…the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them… There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.”

There is so much hurt and so many divisions in our world, our church, and our family. That’s what upsets me so much about how the article didn’t mention the fact that a group of ministers put together one program to help people remember that the Christmas tree is more than just a storage place for presents. Our Churches are not yet united but at least we’re working on accomplishing the good work we are called to by our heavenly Father. Yet, not only churches are called to heal divisions. All of us are called to this work of forgiveness and unity, especially during this Advent season. Isn’t it time to call up that relative that you got into a fight with years ago and offer forgiveness? Maybe it’s time to call up that old friend that you haven’t talked to in some time and reconnect. Or maybe it’s time to sit down with your mom and dad and admit that you were the one who stole that $20 from them and that you’re very sorry. Now is the time to produce good fruit and stop sitting around hoping to be shade for someone.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Be Prepared

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ in the Power of the Holy Spirit as we enter into the watchful season of Advent. Prior to coming to this assignment, I sat on a board at Iowa State University called the Institutional Review Board or IRB. The IRB was responsible for making sure that research done on human subjects was being carried out in as ethical a manner as possible. Most colleges and universities have and IRB. We would be handed the paperwork for anywhere between 8 and 20 research studies and, in the course of one week, have to read everything and make sure the people participating in the research wouldn’t suffer unnecessary hardship. Most of the time that we found a problem, it was something very technical like they forgot to have a space where the person could print their name as well as sign a form of consent. But, sometimes we would find that a student hadn’t thought about how their research could affect a person with diabetes or with a heart condition or someone who didn’t have English as a first language. It was our responsibility to make recommendations to help the person be prepared.

Our Readings today help us enter into this holy season of Advent, a season which seems almost fixated on preparation. The second reading today from Paul’s letter to the Romans, in particular, uses several images to encourage us to be prepared. Paul encourages us to be awake, to throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Paul also encourages us to put on Christ. One of the commentaries that I read said that what a person wore during the time of Christ marked who they were. That’s probably not too surprising for us. Even today, when I’m in Buffalo Center, I see people the blue of North Iowa. When I’m in Lake Mills, I see the Blue and Gold of Lake Mills. When I’m in Forest City, I see a lot of the Red of Forest City. Each of these, obviously, delineates support of your local High School. What does it mean to put on Christ in today’s world? In early October, I started seeing and hearing advertisements for Christmas sales. The clothing of secular society means that Sunday afternoon should be spent in the mall searching for that perfect gift. The clothing of Christ says we should honor God on the Sabbath. The clothing of the world says that we should set out our Christmas decorations and start listening to Christmas music right now so that we’re sick of it by December 25, let alone January 6 when the Christmas season comes to an end. The clothing of Christ knows that we need to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ before we celebrate his coming.

The gospel warns us to be prepared. Jesus uses the story of Noah and the flood as well as the parable of the thief to illustrate the unexpected nature of Christ’s coming. He says, “Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake!” As we enter into this preparation for the coming of Jesus, I think this is the most important message for us to hear. Don’t get lost in the gift giving and decorations of the season. If you were to look Jesus in the face tomorrow, what would be your greatest regret? What do you have to do to be free from that remorse?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sometimes you get short homilies

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ in the Power of the Holy Spirit. For the past year and a half, Father Hertges and I have been in a leadership training course called Good leaders, Good Shepherds. We have been learning techniques that will help us be better pastors. The challenge has always been to make sure that we are following Gospel values of leadership first and foremost and using skills of business when they support and correspond to those Gospel values.

The gospel today shows us Christ’s vision of leadership. As he is hanging on the cross, he is mocked by powerful soldiers to use his power to come down from the cross. Even one of the convicts being crucified with him wants to preserve his earthly life and echoes the mockery of the soldiers by asking that Jesus remove himself from the cross. There is only one convict that truly understands that Jesus true power is in salvation. He says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

On this Christ the King Sunday, we don’t think of a king in beautiful robes seated on a royal throne. We contemplate the King of heaven and earth enthroned on the cross for our sins and echo the sentiments of the good thief, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It’s a call to discipleship not a secret plan to blow up the world!

My Dear brothers and Sisters in Christ

Grace and peace to you in God, our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy spirit on this cold and snowy weekend. As we get to the end of the liturgical year and approach the season of Advent, I’ll admit to you that I think most Catholic priests do a crummy job of preaching these readings. Most of us don’t want to deal with them because they do seem so vengeful and not at all the loving, forgiving, hugging God we want to preach. Our first reading talked about the proud and evildoers being burned to death. The gospel has a whole litany of things that will precede the end times: wars, insurrections, plagues, famines, awesome sights and mighty signs from the sky, and even persecution from the government, family, and acquaintances. I can understand why most priests would rather talk about the second reading from St. Paul where he says that we are all expected to contribute to the body of the Christ, the church, instead of just taking from it whatever we can get. If you don’t work to bring people to the church than you shouldn’t eat the body of Christ, or at least some priests will say this weekend. And, don’t get me wrong, I agree. It’s an important message. Just not for today.

Today, we focus on the end time. Why do we do so? If you turn(ed) on a TV on Sunday/this morning around 7:00 and watched a televangelist, you know why. They read passages like we read and then point to things happening in the world as though there is a one to one relationship. There’s an earth quake in Haiti and it mentions earthquakes in the gospel. We’re clearly in the end times. There’s a famine in Africa which is also mentioned in the gospel. End times. There’s a mysterious plume of smoke in California. That’s clearly a awesome sight and mighty sign from the sky. I think I can Jesus from here! They say that all these signs point to the end times and then start a narrative about how it will all come about. There seems to be three components that they aren’t sure about the order of: tribulation, judgment and paradise. Some say that we will be judged and taken up into heaven before the tribulation begins. Others say that we will be judged and taken up to heaven in the midst of the tribulation. Still others say that judgment will happen after the tribulation has ended. I can still remember talking to a shocked fundamentalist preacher who asked what the Catholic Church’s stance was on this. I looked at him and told him that we don’t believe in a theology of the end times that didn’t exist prior to 1800 and one that seems intent on missing the entire point of the gospel when it comes to the end times.

In the Gospel, Jesus acknowledges that there will always be suffering. Even if we could find a way to make peace throughout nations, there will still be natural disasters, disease, and the presence of evil to make life difficult. Jesus isn’t giving a secret treasure make to those who understand about how things are going to unfold in the end times. He’s trying to encourage us to be active evangelists, to speak and live our lives as though the Gospel does matter. The gospel is a mighty fire that will burn us alive if we don’t live out its precepts and invite others to do so as well. Jesus even says not to worry if you feel unworthy or unprepared. He will speak through you and tell you what to say if you have your heart open. I’ve heard many people say they don’t feel as educated about the Bible or about the faith as others, in particular our Protestant brothers and sisters. Do not be afraid! You may be surprised what Jesus will do through you if you are opn to it.

What’s what we have to keep in mind about these upcoming end-times readings: they aren’t there to scare us. They aren’t there to give us a detailed account of the end of the world they are there to encourage us to witness to the power and the glory of Jesus Christ in our everyday words and actions. Huh. Maybe my brothers priests are right. Maybe the whole point of the end times is that if we don’t work to build up the body of Christ, we shouldn’t eat and drink the body of Christ.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

One of the crazy things about being a priest...

Sometimes you get to know one of your parishioners and really like him. Your personalities click; he likes to talk and you like to listen. You laugh with him. He opens up to you and tells you his greatest hopes, dreams, fears, and aspirations. You tell him what you love about priesthood and why you can't imagine yourself ever being happy being anything but a priest. He is one of the few people you talk to who can see that priests and married people have more in common than not. You get to know his family and look forward to seeing them at church and visiting them.

And then their family calls you and asks you to come and be with them as he dies. You wan to be there so you go and are strong with the family, praying the prayers for a good death as everyone breaks down around you.

And then they call you and ask you to do the funeral. You do what you can to make it a meaningful celebration of the life of this man and give people hope in darkness. You walk with them to the cemetery and help them to say goodbye led by the ritual of the church.

And then, as a priest, you jump right back into the rest of your life. Brides still want to schedule their weddings. The next funeral needs to be planned. That one parishioner needs to come talk to you about something of great importance in his church. That other parishioner wants to come and complain because I'm not spending enough time with someone. And all you want to do is sit for a few hours and mourn the fact that your friend died. You want to be sad for his wife and his kids.

There's a part of me that admires the priests who keep a distance from their parishioners. Unfortunately, I don't think I could do that. It's not me. My heart is on my sleeve. It's one of the crazy things about priesthood.  We have to be immersed in the life of our people so that they trust us while being separated enough to help them in times of trouble. Please keep us in your prayers.

Monday, November 08, 2010

We believe in the resurrection...

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. As I reflected on this week's readings, it reminded me of a story that I heard from a Baptist. I make one slight alteration to the story.

“There was a man who died and went to heaven and was being shown around by St. Peter. As they went from cloud to cloud they came to various doors which St. Peter would open. One showed a large group rolling on the floor and talking in tongues. "Our Pentecostals" he said. Next was a serious ritual. "Our Jewish people" he replied. Then another ritualistic service. "Our Episcopalians". At the next cloud, he didn't open the door but instead put his forefinger to his lips in the hush motion and they both tip toed past. Once past, the man asked what that was all about!? "Those are the Catholics", he explained. "They think they are the only one's here".

Our readings today deal with eternal life. The first reading and gospel, in particular, make some very interesting clarifications about eternal life. The first reading is taken from a book of the Old Testament that you will find in Catholic Bibles but not in Protestant or Jewish Bibles. Both 1st and 2nd Maccabees describe some of the most violent, horrific stories in all of scripture. There are stories about war and torture. This story of the seven sons is particularly gruesome. It tells the story of a mother and her seven sons who are being tortured to death because they will not violate Jewish dietary laws. The three sons each add an interesting detail about the afterlife as they are being killed. The first professes faith that there will be a resurrection, a fact that was still relatively new at the time this book is supposed to have been written. The third son speaks about a bodily resurrection that will restore a certain wholeness to his body. In other words, if a part of your body is ever removed for some reason, according to this son, it will rise and be returned to you on the last day. The fourth son adds another interesting wrinkle to the whole story by saying that, not only will he and his brothers be raised, but his executioners will not be. All of this probably sounds rather matter of fact to us but, for them, they would have been professing faith in something totally new and not clearly understood in the Old Testament prior to this.

The Gospel, likewise, tells a story involving seven brothers but it’s really doubtful that the Sadducees were referring to the story in Maccabees when they posed this question to Jesus. The Sadducees were partly a religious group and partly a political group. They were strongly in league with the Romans who were occupying Israel and very wealthy because of that association. They believed that only the first five books of the Bible were authentic and, since, as I said before, resurrection is not mentioned in the first five books of the Bible, they didn’t believe in it, which was a good thing since the Pagan Romans likewise didn’t believe in it. They concoct a story about a barren woman who marries seven brothers, all of whom fail to have children with her. The question is raised regarding whose wife she will be in heaven. Jesus’ response avoids their question altogether and, instead, answers the real question they are trying to ask. They aren’t really concerned about marriage. They’re concerned about the afterlife. To prove this, Jesus looks at their scriptures to prove to them that it exists. On Mt. Sinai, when God revealed his name to Moses, he refers to himself as the “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And, since God is not God of the dead but of the living, they must be living in God’s eyes and, therefore, there must be an afterlife.

Now, we may look at this argument and say that it’s pretty weak. But, keep in mind he’s talking to Jewish Rabbis! This would have been an incredibly strong argument in their eyes since he used the scriptures they think of as holy to prove it.

In the end, part of what is making Jesus’ response seem anemic is that we cannot fully understand what it means to be in heaven. And there is so much mystery, confusion, and fear surrounding death because of this. On the one hand, our faith tells us that we should be confident that those who have died in faith will rise on the last day. But, on the other hand, it’s not like we have incontrovertible evidence that heaven exists. Who will get to go to heaven? What will heaven be like? Are there really gates surrounding heaven? Did St. Paul really make it to Spain before he died or is that just a legend? Who killed John F. Kennedy? Will I wear clothes in heaven? These are the questions that just pop into my mind when I think about eternal life. The toughest part about heaven is that we won’t know much about it until we actually get there. In some ways, heaven is like a gift, a present. We don’t know what’s inside it but we know it’s going to be incredible!

Monday, November 01, 2010

No homily again!

I spent the weekend in Ames watching a dominant Iowa State football team crush the hopes of Kansas in finally getting a win this season. It was so good to see former students and residents and hang out with friends. Being back there gave me hope that I will know most of the parishioners in my parishes and not just know their faces.

I also heard one of the finest preachers that I've had the privilege of calling my pastor preach. The central message that Father Jon Seda preached was that God loves us just as we are and loves us too much to let us stay that way. While acknowledging the seeming contradiction of those two statements, he did a wonderful job of saying that it points to the enormity of the mystery of God. God can hold two things together that we believe are contradictory because he is God and we are not. It really was a beautiful reflection on God's love for us.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The short version

I never had a final version of my homily for this weekend. I had a first version that got slightly revised and re revised on Sunday. I'll try to type up a better version in the next few days.

The point of my homily from this weekend was that both pride and humiliation make us not want to be part of the community. Pride makes us believe we are better than every one else. Humiliation makes us feel like we are worse. The real gift that the tax collector has is that he recognizes that his sin, his actions, have cut his relationship to God and neighbor off. He comes to seek forgiveness from God to be justified as part of the church.

Part of the reason I included humiliation in the homily despite the fact that it wasn't explicitly in the readings was because of all the media attention on high school and college students who committed suicides. People don't often know that, by showing others who commit suicides, it makes suicide seem like an appropriate response. I tried to emphasize that nothing is so humiliating as to be beyond forgiveness. I emphasized that anyone who is thinking about suicide should talk to someone they trust; parents, teachers, me, or any other adult they trust. But I know that students who are in this position either feel like they have done something that is beyond forgiveness or that they have a problem that is beyond solving. We have to keep our eyes and ears open to the hopeless around us in order to be the hope of God.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

My Dear Friends in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. By now, you’ve probably all figured out that I’m an Iowa State fan. I know it probably comes as a total shock to discover that it’s not because of Iowa State’s dominance in sports. It actually goes back to my neighbor who would invite me and my brother to Iowa State games with him when his wife couldn’t use their season tickets. It was always a lot of fun to go to the game even the years when you were fairly certain that Iowa State was going to lose. I can remember one Saturday, not all that different than this one, when I was home alone watching Iowa State on the TV. For once, it was a really close game and Iowa State had the ball with not too much time left in the game. They had a long drive down the field filled with mistakes and setbacks but they managed to convert on third down each time. And I was praying the whole time. I even went to the wall and took our sick call crucifix (pull it out) and set it up on the floor next to me so that Jesus could watch the game with me and I started to pray my newly learned prayer, the memorare: Remember, O most gracious virgin Mary that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, o virgin of virgins, my mother. To you I come. Before you I stand sinful and sorrowful, o Mother of the Word Incarnate. Despise not my petition but in your mercy hear me and answer me.”

I prayed it over and over again and it seemed like, when I would pray, they would move the ball forward and, when I stopped to celebrate or get a drink, they would flounder. With seconds remaining, Iowa State scored a touchdown that turned out to be the winner when they stopped the run back by the opposing team. I jumped up and celebrated and then it hit me: Iowa State had won and IT WAS ALL BECAUSE OF ME!

I felt like Moses must have felt as he watched the battle proceeding in the first reading. As long as his arms are raised, the Israelites succeeded in their quest of winning. When he got tired and dropped his posture of prayer (put your arms out) a posture Jesus would have had on the cross, they lost. With the help of Aaron and Nur, he contributed to the battle by invoking God’s blessing. I kept my prayers going to God and, therefore, Iowa State won. The question that always comes up when something like this happens is why did God listen to my prayer and not to the fans of the other team? Did we just have more fans praying? What did I do right that time that didn’t work the next time? And, If it is an act of God, how can we get God to do it when something more serious happens like cancer? This past week, I’ve had several interactions with some really sick people, people who knew they were probably going to die because of the sickness they have. I prayed with them, anointed them, and did my best to cheer them up. However, I know from experience that a lot of times I will see these folks again when I celebrate their funeral. Why wouldn’t God heal them from their disease? What’s the use in letting Iowa State win if people are going to die?

The gospel today provides a really interesting answer to this question. Jesus tells of an unjust judge who answers the plea of a poor widow because she is so persistent in asking for his assistance that he just wants to be rid of her. He says, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" In other words, the point of God’s answers to our prayers is that we may have faith in him. But faith shouldn’t be something forced on us. There’s got to be an element of trust despite some evidence to the contrary in faith. If God answered all our prayers and solved all our problems, we would feel dependant on God instead of manifesting faith. God would basically be a sugar daddy that we call upon when we need something instead of a loving Father with whom we long and yearn to spend eternity.

We rejoice when God answers our prayers the way we want but it must manifest in us faith. Otherwise, when God doesn’t answer them the way we want, we will lose faith. If God doesn’t answer your prayer the way you want him to, will he still find faith in you?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I know my people and they know me.

This week is what I jokingly refer to as "birth week". It started last Saturday on the Memorial of St. Denys and finishes this Saturday on my actual Birthday. I try to use it as a time to reflect on what's happening in my life positive and negative. I tend to look on this as a deeply personal experience of self improvement and renewal. And, to be honest, I know there are a lot of very negative things that I need to work on and a few good things that I've changed from last year.

This morning, after mass in Duncan, I went with the kaffeeklatsch people to Hardees for breakfast. As you can read in this past weekend's homily, I really do think of this as a great chance to interact with a group of my parishioners to hear what's happening in their communities. For instance, I learned that the farmers aren't even having to dry their crops this year because the moisture level is just perfect. That saves them money and means that they'll hopefully be taking home more money.

I noticed at mass that there were a larger number of people than normal. I figured that the mass intention really drew the people. Then, a larger number than normal came out for coffee. I figured that it was because they were finishing work in the fields and had the time to come back to mass. Then, they handed me my Birthday present: AN AWESOME IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY HOODIE! They were there for me. Wasn't that nice of them to do that? I was very happy. So happy, in fact, that I was kind of speechless. It reminded me briefly of my second year at Iowa State when a group of students did the same thing for me. People love their priests.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God.

My Dear Friends in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit on this incredible weekend. What an incredible joy to be with you this weekend. Hasn't it just been a beautiful this past week to watch the trees begin to turn colors and watch the fields begin to be cleared? And I have to admit that I was at least a little afraid when it got so cold last week that we were headed for an early winter and, instead, praise God! We got a few days of 80 degree weather. What a great joy!

Part of what I love about this assignment is that, for three of the seven days of the week, my breakfasts are covered. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings, I get invited out with a group of parishioners for breakfast. It's great for two reasons: First because it lets me sit and get to know the daily mass folks and hear some of what's happening in their lives. Second, because I usually get a free breakfast because one of them picks up my tab. I always appreciate the people who buy the food for me but I have to admit that sometimes I forget to say thank you. I think it's just one of those times when a kindness becomes so automatic that we can forget that important spirit of thankfulness.

In both the first reading and gospel, something unusual happens, something miraculous. In b oth cases, men were suffering from a then unknown skin and upper respiratory disease that was called leprosy that we would probably call Hanson's Disease. It had a somewhat similar social stigma (Alliteration!) as AIDS or other incurable illnesses have today. Although, since the transmission process was a mystery, there was even more of a feeling of avoidance on the part of people. So, in both the instance of Elisha the prophet and Jesus, they are putting their ministry in jeopardy by approaching these lepers.

In the case of Elisha, he orders the man to be washed seven times in the Jordan River, This act, in which Christians see the foreshadowing of baptism, purifies the Gentile Naaman of his awful disease. Naaman is so excited to be free from leprosy that he becomes Jewish. He sees in his miraculous cure, a mark of the one true God and so becomes a Jew to give thanks to God for the gift that he was given.

Jesus, on the other hand, doesn't just encounter one leper, but an entire colony of them. Part of this may have been due to the fact that, if you had leprosy, you were expected to live outside the confines of the city. So, rather than fed for themselves, the lepers probably formed a sort of shanty town and took care of themselves there. That's what the scripture writers are probably referring to when they said that Jesus was entering a village. It was, in a sense, a place where people went to die so you wouldn't separate out people of different races or religions. That's why it's amazing that, when Jesus sent these ten lepers on their pilgrimage by which they are cleansed, only one returned. It's not that the others weren't giving thanks to God. Each of them would have headed of to their respected temples, the Samaritans to Mount Gerizim and the Jews to Jerusalem, where they would have given thanks to God and been cleared to lead a normal life. Only one goes back to thank the person that did it for him instead of first trying to be able to get cleared to lead a "normal life".

I think that, in our modern world, it's easy to forget to give thanks to God for the blessings he puts into our lives. We live in a world where cynical, sarcastic comments are considered to be the pinnacle of humor and where people who walk around with a sense of awe are considered simpletons. Just think of Ned Flanders from the Simpsons. He gives thanks to God for things and is considered a moron for doing so. We just think we are entitled to good things and that the truly miraculous things in life deals with God doing amazing things for us like curing leprosy, winning the lottery, or being given a 42 foot long Winnebago with Iowa State logos and two bathrooms...not that I expect anyone to get one for me. Yet, if that's our attitude, we miss so much that God gives to us. We miss the times when people give us a drink of water or break off part of their sandwich for us. We miss the simple joy of seeing a healthy, active child being screaming his way out of church. We miss the mundane joy of watching leaves turn colors because it happens every year. What's the use in getting excited about them? All of this was put here by God for us to let us know how much he loves us. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give Him thanks and praise.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

It’s not long after we feel a sense of fatigue that a sense of frustration sets in...yet hope prevails

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Grace and peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the Power of the Holy Spirit on this beautiful, if a little chilly, Sabbath eve/morn. I was recently visiting with a friend who, at one point in his life, worked cleaning houses. By all accounts, he was fantastic at it. He didn’t charge very much so that busy, middle-income families could afford his services. I even talked to one of his clients who told me that he worked incredibly hard and got things extremely clean. He’d vacuum, mop, and shine all the floors, dust and do even that most dreaded of all cleaning responsibilities, windows. He always told me about the little old ladies who would say to him as he left that they had never seen their houses as clean as they were when he did them. Yet, if you were to walk into his house, you’d never even think it possible that he could clean anything. There is junk of the floor everywhere, the windows are covered with dirt, and his sink is filled with dirty dishes. I always tell him that it reminds me of walking into a college dorm room. He just laughs and says that when he and his wife get home, they don’t have time or energy to do housework. They’d rather spend time with each other or with their kids. My friend realized that he could clean people’s houses and then walk away and not care what they did with them for a week. But, he couldn’t have the same attitude toward his own house. Every time he and his wife would clean the house, his three sons would have the first part dirty by the time they finished the last. So, rather than play catch-up all day long, they just gave up and let their house go to pot.

I believe it’s not long after we begin to feel constantly fatigued that we also begin to feel an overarching sense of frustration. We only have to ram our heads against a wall three or four times before we realize that it’s not helping but, when he can’t find something that does help, don’t we often look towards the wall and wonder if we just weren’t doing it right?

Last week we read the gospel of the Apostles being sent forth to do ministry for the sake of the kingdom of God. Today, as the Apostles return, we hear some of the processing that took place with them to help them make sense of what happened. It appears from what Jesus is saying, that some found the time rather trying. Some of the apostles were using the powers that Jesus gave them last week to make themselves feel important and powerful. Jesus is trying to emphasize to them that they need to have the same humility that they expect from a servant who serves his master after a long day of work. The attitude Jesus is trying to foster is one of humbly and constantly working to do God’s will while helping others to do the same.

I believe that this is a direct challenge to us as Catholics in today’s world. Even though there are still the more obvious attacks on human life, we live in a time in which there are more subtle, less direct attacks on human life than ever before. There are more abortions taking place in this country than ever before, with the most per capita in the world taking place in our own back yard, in Iowa City. Stem cell research, invitro fertilization, and other medical procedures are used by the very people that we rely on to preserve and prolong life to end it prematurely. It's possible to spend all your time just on that issue and debunking the myths and lies the pro abortion forces put out. But, if we do, we miss out on the poor and hungry. There are tens of thousands of people who die each day because of hunger. Even when we as a country promise to help those who are suffering from hunger, the way we did for the people of Haiti, all it takes is one senator to hold up the funding. There are so many issues that demand our attention. The problem is that it takes so much time and energy to combat that culture of death that it seems overwhelming. Learning the facts to counteract the lies told us by pro-abortion pundits could alone be a full time job and abortion is just one of the issues in the larger fight to protect human life. It’s much easier to hope that church leaders and other moral people will do it or, worse yet, to bury our heads in the sand in frustration and let the culture of death continue to darken our world. We can’t lose hope. We need to do whatever we can to combat the culture of death and show respect for the gospel of life in our country and in our world.

I believe it’s not long after we feel a sense of fatigue that a sense of frustration sets in. We are a people of hope, a religion of hope. We are people who gather because we believe that one who died has come back to life. We must live that hope in our lives. We must speak out for those whose voices are not heard; the unborn, the poor, and the oppressed. We must be their voices despite the fact that so often we are ignored, misunderstood, and maligned. And, when we have done all that we have been commanded, we can look in God’s loving, joyful face and say in all honesty and humility, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were supposed to do.”

Monday, September 27, 2010

More thoughts on the rich man and Lazarus

One of the things that struck me about the story of the rich man and Lazarus after I had prepared my homily is how selfish the rich man is throughout the story. In life, he only cares about his own comfort and in death he will do and say anything to get out of torment and return to his good life.

The thing is, I don't think most people, myself included, notice when we are being. In the past, I've worked with some of the most selfish people in the world. And these were church workers. They would only do projects if they could be in charge of them and stand at a microphone at some point to take credit for what they'd done.They would scream about collaboration and working together while only showing up to and working on their own projects. It seemed like collaboration meant that people should stop what they're doing and work with them on what they're doing. And, in the heart of it, on more than one occasion, I had to face the fact that I was behaving the exact same way as they were.

So what can I learn from the rich man and Lazarus to help me not fall into this trap in the future. In other words, what should the rich man have done for Lazarus? In some ways, all the rich man was doing was going about his daily life and expecting Lazarus to do the same. There's no sense from the story that Lazarus ever asked for help. There's no sense that the rich man had even the slightest bit of knowledge about the plight of Lazarus. Is that the real "crime" of the rich man? That he didn't pay attention to one Lazarus at his door who longed to eat the scraps that fell from his table? It would have been easier to change that attitude back then. He could have asked Lazarus to be a servant and paid him in food. There weren't labor laws. There weren't unions. The government didn't "interfere" in what you did as an employer. But, let's say that he just basically didn't need Lazarus. He's got more than enough servants as it is. Lazarus would just go from laying outside the house to laying inside it. Sure, he would have been more comfortable but why is that the responsibility of the rich man? Wouldn't his house have simply become filled with Lazaruses eating the scraps from his table?

Some have seen in this parable a call from God to divest ourselves of any unnecessary property. Basically, they say that we should not have so much in our lives when there are so many in this world that have nothing. I totally agree that is one message from the parable. Yet, a parable is given that name because it is more like an onion than a stop sign. It doesn't just have a one-for-one corresponding meaning but, instead, has layers of meaning that get stronger and stronger the deeper you go. And, for me, a slightly stinkier part of this story is that the rich man still only views other people as servants to make his life easier. The first time he pays any attention to Lazarus was when he asked Abraham to send him on an water errand. I imagine, however, that the rich man would say that he's not selfish at all. He didn't know about Lazarus during his life and now, instead of wanting to get out of Sheol, he simply wants to leave to tell his brothers to avoid the place. He simply wants to be the hero that keeps his 5 brothers from coming to this place. I bet that if you pointed out the very thing that Jesus pointed out, that if they won't listen to the wisdom of their religion they aren't going to listen to anyone, that he would still just want to get the hell out and go where his brothers are.

How many Lazaruses are out there that we cannot see because we are so focused on our own comfort or the way we think our lives should go?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Don’t forgot that once you were foreigners in a foreign land

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit on this beautiful Sabbath eve/day. One of my favorite things to do on my day off is go camping. When I was growing up, my parents had a small Winnebago that my family would pile in to take weekend getaways with friends and escape the telephone, television, and other complications of life in order to focus on building our own little community. My parents would sleep in the camper but one mark of getting older and more mature was being able to sleep in a tent next to the camper. One of the first major purchases I made shortly after I was ordained was to buy a small pop-up camper, sort of a tent on wheels. I have since purchased a slightly larger one with hard sides but I still feel like it’s important to feel like I’m sleeping in a tent so the area I sleep in is actually made of tent like material. But, my reasoning why is slightly different than when I was a kid.

One of the things I experienced in Israel was what the Jewish festival of Sukkoth. Sukkoth is a religious feast in which the Jewish people sleep outside in makeshift tents made of bamboo rods and palm branches to remind themselves of what it was like for their ancestors wandering in the desert. They’re not supposed to have electricity or telephones. They’re even supposed to leave one side of the tent open so that they have to experience nature fully. It’s literally supposed to be roughing it.

Our readings today seem both particularly apt and particularly challenging to us this weekend. All three in their own ways warn of the challenges of living a good life. In the first reading, we heard that the people who have such a luxurious life that they can sleep on couches with ivory decorations, who feast on the animals that should be reserved for sacrifice, will be the first ones sent into the struggle of living in exile. It’s this same reversal that happens to the rich man in the gospel today. To quote the statement of heavenly Abraham, “My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.” Part of what is being told here is a principle of Catholic social justice called Preferential Option for the Poor. This concept says that, as Catholics, we need to make sure that those on the margins of society, those who often have no voice, are taken care of. We need to do this both on the parish level and on the personal level. In other words, even though each of our parishes supports the less fortunate in one way or another, each of us as individuals need to make sure we aren’t stepping over the poor at our door on the way to other things. We need to give preference to feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and clothing the naked before we worry about having a second car or having the latest piece of technology and we need to make sure our Government also takes care of the poor.

But another part that is challenging us today as Catholics is that we shouldn’t become so comfortable in our lives that we forget where we came from. Many of you don’t know that there was an entire political party in this country known as the “No Nothing Party” built on the notion that Catholics shouldn’t be allowed here because, if we are, the pope will try to take control. Some of you remember the remnants of this attitude that President John F. Kennedy had to deal with when he was elected. In some ways, we have not only forgotten what it was like for our German, Irish, and Czech ancestors to come to this country when that attitude was prevalent, but now we’ve moved from being the persecuted to being the persecutors. I hear a lot of people who speak poorly of Mexican immigrants because they speak a different language and have different traditions. Have we become so comfortable as Catholics in this country that we’ve forgotten how our Grandparents and Great grandparents spoke a foreign language and made strange smelling food? Have we become so much like the rich man in the comfort of our houses that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be Lazarus? Maybe it’s time we rough it for a while to remind outselves.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Another thought on titles

Fifty years ago it would have been unheard of to call a priest by any other name than "Father (insert last name here). At some point, probably about the same time that churches started looking more like malls and less like places of worship, there began a transition. It started with Father (insert FIRST name here ) which eventually just became (insert first name here). My generation of priests express frustration at the lack of a title. We often get accused of trying to be separate from the world or of having a misguided sense of authority and power by insisting on being called Father (insert last name here). I've even been told it was during the height of clergy power and authority that the sexual abuse crisis took place, which seemed to imply to me that I should just be called by my first name or I am a sexual abuser. Of course, pointing out that the same guys that argue for only using the priest's first name are usually the ones that make unilateral decisions (it's just that their decisions are unilaterally ecclesiastically liberal) is fruitless.

I was watching reruns of West Wing this morning. President Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen called a friend who is a priest to visit him. Despite the hypocrisy of the fact that the President kept calling the priest by his first name, I couldn't help but reflect that there is a certain translational property that can be applied to what President Bartlet says to what my generation of priests is asking for...

Priest.: I don't know how to address you.Would you prefer "Jed" or "Mr. President".
President: To be honest, I'd prefer "Mr. President."
Priest. That's fine
President: You understand why, right?
Priest: Do I need to know why?
President: It isn't ego.
Priest: I didn't think it was
President: There are certain decisions I have to make when I'm in this room; do I have to sent troops in harm's way, which fatal disease gets the research money.
Priest: Sure.
President: It's helpful in those situations not to think of yourself as the man but as the office.
Priest: Then "Mr. President" it is...

One could certainly argue that the decisions the president has to make in any given day are much larger than any priest does most years. I don't have my finger on a button controlling a bundle of nuclear weapons. I certainly don't determine financial policy affecting millions of dollars and people. But, as a priest, I need to be constantly reminded that my life of service shouldn't shouldn't be determined by who I like and who I don't like, who is nice to me and who isn't nice to me. When someone comes to me for confession or wants to be anointed, they get it because they ask for it and they get my time because they need it not because they are attractive, not because they have money, not even because I see them on Sundays. I am called to emulate the Father, to be the image of the Father in personae Christe and I need you to remind me that that is the office to which I was ordained.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

We must design our lives to give up everything and follow Christ

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Grace and Peace in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit on this beautiful Sabbath Day be with you. I hope you are all having a beautiful Labor Day weekend. I love Labor Day but I also hate it. I hate the fact that I tend to use Memorial Day to work outdoors in order to start getting prepared for winter. I believe there are two types of people in this world; those who pick things up right when they notice a mess and those who wait for a designated time to clean up everything. I know this is a simplification of people’s personality but it has often helped me understand why I am different than a lot of other people. I tend to be the latter of the two; the person who designates one day a week, usually Monday, as cleaning day. This past week, my Aunt and Uncle called on Monday to tell me they’d like to visit. They wanted to see my rectory and take some time to catch up. I quickly looked around the rectory and realized that, in many ways, I’m still not entirely moved in yet. And, by the time they got to my place on Thursday, I knew it would be fairly cluttered. So, in between two masses, several appointments, and, of course, the Iowa State game, I had to also plan in a time to clean up the rectory before my Aunt and Uncle got there. It meant for a very busy Thursday!

Whenever I find myself situations like that, I think to myself that I really wish I could just keep things relatively clean all week long instead of doing it all at once. I think of several people; roommates, family members, and priests with whom I shared a rectory, who all tried to get me to pick up my clothes, put dirty dishes in the dish washer, and put my toothbrush away. I couldn’t help but think of that as I was reading the Gospel today. Our Lord has three points that he is driving home. The first is that we need to “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and even our very lives” if we want to be a disciple. Jesus is using exaggeration to make a point. He doesn’t want us to become that angry person who hates the world and everyone in it. Remember that Jesus calls us to love one another in other places of the gospel. Most scripture scholars I read said that Jesus isn’t talking about feeling hate toward other people inasmuch as hating what they can do to us. In other words, the type of hate that Jesus is talking about is probably closer to the way Iowa and Iowa State football teams feel toward each other than the way North and South Korea feel toward each other. North and South Korea are willing to kill each other. Iowa State, on the other hand, simply wants to score more points than Iowa and vice versa. They don’t really hate each other inasmuch as having different goals in mind that cannot coexist. If your friends, family members, or your own desires get in the way of being a disciple, then do whatever you can do to isolate yourself from them. That’s what Jesus means by hate.

Secondly, Jesus calls us to renounce all our possessions. In other words, we not only need get rid of everyone who gets in the way of our relationship to God, we need to get rid of everything that does this as well. Sometimes these are vices in our life. Being an alcoholic gets in the way of a relationship to God. Looking at pornography and masturbating gets in the way of our relationship to God. Sometimes its not even a vice inasmuch as an excuse we use to avoid nourishing our relationship to God. I know of a lot of people who make excuses about only coming to church when it’s convenient. If they are out of town or if they stay out the night before with friends they think this is a good reason to skip mass. It’s actually a good way to not be a disciple.

Lastly, Jesus talks about taking up our cross to follow him. We do this when we make the decision each day to live our lives according to the way God wants us to live. This challenge was taken up at baptism either when the baptismal candidate or the parents speaking for him or her say they will live their lives in the practice of the faith by keeping God’s commandments. This same challenge is given at confirmation when the person is sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of wisdom that guides us in the way of holiness. We renew these promises each Sunday when we come before the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist and affirm that real presence, not only in the consecrated species but in the body and blood of Christ that is the church. In that Amen we are saying that we want to live our daily lives in such a way that truly makes us a part of the body of Christ on earth.

Life is messy. I think that, in the end, there are times when God calls us to keep the messiness of life picked up as we go and other times when a major flaw is pointed out to us and we have to spend some time cleaning it up. What are the messy areas of life that God is calling you to clean up?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Those who humble themselves shall be exalted

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit on this beautiful Sabbath day. The Archbishop met with the priests at the leadership training conference Fr. Hertges and I attended recently in order to answer a few questions we had. We met with him in a large room at the American Martyrs retreat house in Cedar Falls. I entered the room right at the time we were supposed to meet and noticed I was one of the last ones to show up. The circle of chairs in which the brothers had sat were almost completely full except for the two places right next to the Archbishop. I started to move a chair from outside the circle when I noticed the Archbishop motion for me to sit next to him on his right hand side. So, I casually strolled over to that chair and sat down on his right. Immediately a million different Biblical verses went through my head. From the Gospel of Matthew, “The Lord said to my lord, "Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies under your feet" from the Psalms, “I bless the LORD who counsels me; even at night my heart exhorts me.

I keep the LORD always before me; with the Lord at my right, I shall never be shaken.” To be someone’s “right hand man” is an expression meaning that you are trusted to completely that they will put you on the side of their body with arm that they would normally use to protect themselves so that you can be the one to protect them. I felt important. I was a pastor and I was important. That feeling of self-importance lasted until I realized that actually it was just that my brother priests are kind of like their parishioners. They wanted to be close to the door so they could be the first ones out of the room.

There’s more to this reading than a simple miss manners lesson on etiquette. Jesus is showing us an image of what it will be like in heaven. What is your image of heaven? I imagine if we were to take a poll, we would all have different answers to that question. The perfect game of golf? The perfect house? A good steak cooked medium rate with corn on the cob and chocolate cake to finish? What if heaven actually was being totally devoid of all of that? No house. No car. No golf. And the way the meals are served, you have to sit next to a stinky, sick, homeless person that coughs a lot. That doesn’t sound much like heaven, does it. And yet, Jesus isn’t giving us advice on how we should set up our dinner conversation. Not even a fundamentalist believes that. Jesus is trying to get us to realize the kind of humility that will be demanded of us in heaven. Heaven isn’t a Subway sandwich shop. You can’t pick and choose what you do want and don’t want in heaven. You just get it the way it is and, to paraphrase what our parents used to say, you’ll be happy with it.

So, what’s the good news about heaven? Why would anyone want to go there if you don’t get to do whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it? Do you remember what you hated most about Middle School or Junior High, depending upon what they called it when you were there? Remember how it seemed like the only way people could feel good about themselves was by ripping apart everyone around them. You can’t just feel good about yourself because you’re a person created in the image and likeness of God who is loved by God as you are. You have to feel good about yourself by noticing all the flaws of everyone around you and making fun of them for it. The crazy thing is that, even though it’s most intense in Middle School, don’t we sort of keep doing that throughout our lives. We should just feel happy about who we are and the gifts we have been given but we spend an awful lot of time complaining about the people around us. I think part of what Jesus is saying is that heaven will be a place where we don’t care about others having more than we do or being treated better than us, a place where status doesn’t matter and where we learn the freedom of being truly humble. A place where “every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Seek to enter through the narrow gate

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. The gospel imagery of the narrow gate reminds me of time I spent in seminary in Jerusalem. In the fall of 2000, I spent three and a half months there. It was a really cool experience, in part because of where we lived. There are two parts of modern-day Jerusalem separated by a 15-20 foot tall city wall. The new city is all outside the walls and is all built since 1960. The old city, which would be nearly impossible to navigate for people with claustrophobia, was packed inside the protection of the walls. As you walked through the gates, the streets seemed to get smaller and smaller until you reached the center of the Old City. In the place we stayed, there were two gates. The first was a larger gate that three or four people could walk through at once. This gate stayed open almost all the time. But, when fighting broke out, this gate could be shut and a much smaller door could be opened within this gate that only one person could walk through at any time.

One night, three of my classmates decided that they needed to get out and consume some adult beverages and watch the Minnesota Vikings play on Monday Night Football. These classmates decided that they would close the bar down that night, which turned out to be a really bad idea since the custom in Israel is that the bar remains open as long as there are customers there. My job that night was to make it possible for them to get back in. You see, because there was violence between Palestinians and Israelis, we had started locking the smaller gate. Several times in the night, I snuck out and opened the small gate only to have someone else sneak out and lock it back up. Finally, at three thirty, I was too tired to continue so I opened the gate for the last time and went to bed. Unfortunately, this was not only the exact time the guys left the bar but also the last time our director, Fr. Pat, checked the gate to make sure it was locked.

When my classmates arrived home, they approached the gate and, unsuccessfully, tried to open it. I’m not sure what possessed them to make the next move; exhaustion, frustration or the stupidity that comes from having one or two too many beers, but they decided to help the skinniest of them up and over the fifteen foot high wall so that he could unlock the door for the other two. Even though they failed to wake me, they did wake Fr. Pat. He heard the loud crash of a body ramming against the gate, climbing to the top, clumsily falling over the 15 feet, unlocking the gate, as well as the sounds of three adult males laughing like tee-peeing teenagers all the while. Needless to say, Fr. Pat was not happy. Let’s just say that he somewhat forcefully reminded them that they needed to be invited into the narrow gate.

In a sense, Fr. Pat was acting like a prophet that night. We 21st Century Americans tend to confuse prophets with psychics. Psychics claim to predict the future. A prophet’s job, on the other hand, is first and foremost to live, speak, breathe, taste, and even fight for the Kingdom of God. A prophet is one who sees injustice and is compelled to correct it because it goes against God’s will. A prophet is one who warns sinners to return to God before the narrow gate is shut and the people are locked out. In the Old Testament, there are specific people who operate as prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, and others. All of these prophets warned Israel that they were falling away from God and told them that they need to follow closer. Isaiah, in our first reading today, warned them that the exclusive right that the Isralites had to God had been revoked and that others would be admitted to worship of the one true God.

This was a foreshadowing to Jesus’ role in salvation. Himself a prophet, Jesus came to open the doors and help all people learn to follow God. Nonetheless, in gospel today, he cautions us about being lazy in regard to the Kingdom of God. In a sense, Jesus calls all believers to have a prophetic role of spirit-filled leadership within our communities. He tells us that we must listen carefully to the Spirit breathing its teaching into our hearts or we may find ourselves, like my classmates, staring at a locked narrow door. Only, unlike my classmates, we won’t be able to limb the wall to get in.

In our times, it has become rather fashionable to believe that everyone will be saved, everyone will go to heaven. We don’t like to believe in hell because it sounds so mean and God is nice. I have yet to go to a funeral where the departed isn’t put into heaven, where mourners don’t say something like, “I know I will see Aunt Margaret in heaven some day.” We declare saints faster than the Catholic church does. Yet, Jesus doesn’t refer to the gates of the kingdom of heaven as narrow simply because we’re all going to have wait in line and take our time, like heaven is a really popular amusement park ride. What we are doing now is, in part, preparing us for the Kingdom of God. We must live our lives not as though we are entitled to go to heaven but as though we must prove to God that we deserve to be there. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Something to ponder

One of my former students who is very bright and a deep thinker pointed me in the direction of an article on the website "Big Questions Online." It's a rather fascinating but theologically deep article. What really struck me was this...

It's important to understand the point I'm making here. I'm not mounting (in this post) an argument against gay marriage. I'm saying that it's inevitable, given that the deep culture-shaping power of Christianity has been shattered, and the only religion people are coming to understand is one that has no real power to bind, only to be therapeutically useful. (There's a reason that Rick Warren's model of church is doing so well -- it offers the simulacrum of traditional Evangelicalism, while focusing heavily on practical therapy). In large numbers, we are seeing those 30 and under walking away from the churches -- both liberal and conservative churches -- and not into atheism, but into an unaffiliated, "spiritual but not religious" category. They want to feel some nominal sense of spiritual connectedness, but only insofar as it ratifies their feelings. They could have formal religion that embraced their views on sexuality by becoming Episcopalian, or joining one of the other liberal Protestant churches -- but they're not. Though they still profess a preference for God, they don't want religious institution, or authority. Rieff saw this coming, and indeed said consumerist religion was the logical fallout from the eclipse of Christianity and its teachings as authoritative in the psychological life of Western man.

A religion that "ratifies the feelings" of her followers...very profound. I wonder if this is why people drop out of religion when they suffer hardship and death and why so many people want to get the crucifix out of churches. It doesn't validate feelings to think that Jesus suffered. We can accept a God who wants to hug us and love us. We can accept a Christ who offers sage advice about good living. But, we can't accept a God who calls us to put aside our feelings of personal satisfaction and comfort. Give me salvation because it will make me happy.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Either our faith grows or it dies. It will not just sit there.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Grace and peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. I have a friend whose grandfather passed away in the late eighties. The grandfather wasn’t the richest man in the world but he did have a small farm to pass on to his 5 children. He passed the buildings on to his oldest child, a son who was so upset at the passing of his father that he let everything sit unchanged for several years. He would go and mow the lawn but everything else went totally unchanged. The roof, which was in need of repair when my friend’s grandfather died, had holes in it that let in rain and snow. The garage started to lean as though it would collapse. We used to drive by once a month or so just to see if it had collapsed but his Grandfather had built it too well for that to happen. For thirty years, the buildings that my friend’s grandfather had worked so hard to build and maintain slowly became worthless lumber. Eventually, the only thing for which they could be used was as practice for the local fire department as they burned to the ground when the friend’s uncle finally died.

The short version of today’s gospel focuses on the return of Jesus and how important it is to be prepared. We are to “gird (our) loins and light (our) lams and be like servants who await (our) master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes.” The implication is that we to be constantly prepared and not slack off. I think this is related to what the writer to the Hebrews was talking about in his or her definition of faith. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” There is a longing and a yearning that goes along with being faithful and a contemporaneous searching that goes with faith. Contrary to what our fundamentalist brothers and sisters believe, there isn’t a moment in our lives when the light switch goes on, we declare our belief in God, and we are saved. Instead, faith is a life-long journey that becomes more complicated, frustrating, and difficult as we get older. Yet, aren’t the only truly rewarding things in life complicated, frustrating, and difficult?

The example in book of Hebrews is Abraham. Abraham was first told to leave his homeland and travel to a land chosen for him by God. That would be pretty challenging. As one who recently moved, I can tell you that it’s much easier to stay where we are rather than moving. But, Abraham did so because he had faith. Abraham wasn’t just called to leave, he was called to wander in the wilderness before he would settle and it was by faith that he lived in a tent so many years. He had to trust that God would take care of him and provide food for he and his wife. In that land, Abraham was promised that, despite being quite old and passed the age of child rearing, he and Sarah would have so many children that he could start his own nation. It must have taken a lot of faith for Abraham to believe that, though barren up until this point, God could still give him children that would become a nation of God’s own people. And, a little later in this same book, it says that when Abraham thought that his faith could not be tested any more, God asked him to sacrifice the very son that he thought he would never get. This is what is meant by “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Faith is revealed to us partially and we continue the life-long search even as our life and our faith becomes more complicated, frustrating, and difficult awaiting the full revelation of God in heaven.

We maintain our faith by taking time each day for prayer. The rosary, novenas, and the Liturgy of the Hours are but a few of the ways we can do this. One of the best ways we can do this is by making time in our weekly routine for daily mass. I was struck in the gospel today at the thought of a master who comes back from a wedding and serves food to his servants because of their vigilance. To me, this is a wonderful insight into the mass. Despite the fact that God brought us into this world and he can take us out, despite the fact that God is our master and we are his servants, God is the one who feeds us with his body and blood in the Eucharist. This is a great gift of ongoing nourishment for the church.

Ultimately, we are handed on a great gift of faith and we have a choice. We can be like the good servants who kept vigil waiting for the Lord to return or we can be like my friend’s uncle and squander all the good things that come to us. What are you doing each day to maintain the faith God has given you and not allow the difficulties, frustrations, and complications of life rot it away?

Thursday, August 05, 2010

What might be the fall out...

Right now, we are losing one front of the so-called culture war. From what I understand, the pro-life message is making inroads among several young people such that more people classify themselves as pro life than pro choice.

Yet, even as we (hopefully) start to liberate the lives of tens of thousands of children from the unholy scourge of abortion, we now face the cultural experiment of gay marriage. We've had it in Iowa for a while but I sort of believed that, if the most "progressive" among us in California could see the dangers of it, then there was hope that Iowans would get there too. But, once again, the will of the people has been subverted by one person who reminds us why Jesus had such antipathy to scholars of the law. Of course, I can't totally blame the judge for this ruling. The truth is that the people defending the will of the people did a really crappy job of articulating it.

Society needs to promote marriage because it is the only way that society can ensure a next generation. That's the uniqueness of marriage; it's the only situation in which the next generation will be present to "replace us". Homosexual relationships cannot naturally create a second generation. And if, as some have said, they can through adoption and IVF, can't we pretty much say that of any relationship? A single person can adopt. A man and two women can adopt. A man who used to be a woman and hiser lesbian life partner can adopt. It's not because homosexual people don't or can't love as well as heterosexuals. To be honest, I've met a lot of very loving gay people in my life. It's just that they are incapable by their very nature of benefiting society by contributing the next generation to carry society forward.

My concern is that, if we in fact lose this war it will not only affect American society leading to her downfall, but that Christianity will be forever changed as well. It's truly ironic that some of the people who broke from the Roman Catholic Church because we didn't take the Bible seriously enough are now blessing same-sex unions and choosing openly gay and lesbian leaders. Where sola scriptura when you need it? And, even though I know the Catholic Church will never fall victim to this abomination, I just wonder at what point the persecution will begin. How many priests will collapse under the pressure of gay rights lobbyists and carry out a mock wedding ceremony? When will we lose our tax exempt status because of discriminating against a protected class? When will they start putting Catholic priests in jail for committing hate crimes for refusing to marry two homosexuals?

Unless we can somehow help judges see the integral connection of creating new life with marriage, I fear it's just a question of time.

Monday, August 02, 2010

One more thing

Three posts is a bit much for me in one day. But, I forgot to write this last week and wanted to do it quickly before I go to bed.

A few years ago, one of my previous assignments very sadly closed down. I asked the people in the church if it would be all right to have their presider's chair and server's chairs to use for my personal prayer space. I've used them all for several years to pray but now I've got a church connected to my rectory so I don't really need them anymore. I just walk 10 feet and pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament. In the last move, it was obvious that I need to live a simpler life. I have too much stuff! So I've found them a new home. I took them up to St. Patrick's Church in Lake Mills, Iowa. Their presider's chair kind of looked like a nice living room chair and the server's chairs started out as dining room chairs. The really neat thing is that I can continue to remember the people in the closed church when I celebrate mass in Lake Mills. I'm sure they'd love to know that their chairs are still being used to gather the people in prayer, even if it's a different church in a different location.

Being Pastor

Yesterday, I went to see a play at the Guthrie Theater in the Twin Cities called Scottsboro Boys. Supposedly, the play is going to Broadway, which is really cool. It's filled with gallows humor and times when you were laughing uncertain if you should be. Before I go up to the Cities to watch the plays, I always wonder if the travel is worth it and that was exacerbated by being "in charge".

I go to these plays with one old friend from seminary and two new friends who my seminary friend introduced me to. They asked where I had moved to and I said, "I'm Assoc...I mean, I'm pastor..." And I sort of laughed and went on with my explanation of being assigned to six churches at once. I love being pastor. I requested it from the Archbishop several times before the he finally allowed it. And I've always thought I was glad the Board and the Archbishop waited so long to make me a pastor. I just wonder when being pastor will be old hat...when I'll stop needing to correct myself and get comfortable in this new skin.

… the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit on this beautiful Sabbath day. History is loaded with examples of people who have been falsely written up in newspapers and websites as dead who were, in fact, still alive. Probably the most famous of these stories lies with Alfred Nobel. We probably remember Alfred Nobel because of the Nobel prizes given out each year, including the peace prize most recently won by President Obama. But, prior to that, Nobel was known for one thing. He liked to work with chemicals and searched for ways to cause larger explosions using chemicals. Eventually, he combined nitroglycerin with an absorbent substance to make Dynamite. In 1888, there was an explosion at a dynamite factory which killed 8 people including Nobel’s brother Ludvig. The initial story got Alfred and his brother confused and proclaimed loudly to the world, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday." Imagine for a second if that was what you read in your obituary. I’m sure part of the reason Nobel created those awards was because the very substance he created was the reason his brother died. Yet, it seems obvious that part must be attributed to seeing how he would be remembered in that obituary that forced him to change his life and seek ways to encourage peace.

Most commentators, when talking about today’s readings, focus almost entirely on the fact that possessions can distract us from the Kingdom of heaven. And, it’s true, greed is a problem in any society and especially true today. Yet, I have to admit that I think there’s something more profound going on in both the first reading and the gospel than a simple call to simplicity of life. The parable of the rich fool is Jesus’ long answer to someone in the crowd who asks him to negotiate a fair settlement for his brother who had excluded him from an inheritance. The parable talks of someone with a bumper crop who decides to tear down his barns and build larger ones in order to keep all the grain for himself. God, in an unusual speaking role, takes the man’s life and then asks this question, “the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” It’s a rather interesting question because I don’t get the sense from the story that the man was selfishly trying to keep his possessions from anyone. There’s no indication of that anyway. I think the point Jesus is trying to get across is that he had simply paid no attention to anyone else throughout his life except for himself and so his stored treasure may go to some relative who barely even knows him and will, as a result, have no appreciation for all the work he and his servants put in to making the stuff.

This is what Qoheleth from the first reading calls vanity. For him, the deepest vanity is that people work so hard to amass a fortune and then hand it on to children and grandchildren who never had to work a day in their lives. Yet, what connects the first reading and the gospel is that there is a disconnect between one generation and the next. It’s what the song writer Harry Chapin sung about in Cats in the Cradle. “we'll get together then…You know we'll have a good time then.”

One of the things that Americans have been taught is that we are supposed to work really hard in order to make sure that the next generation has an easier life. We are supposed to make any sacrifices we can in order to make sure our children have it easy. In High School, I learned this is the definition of the American Dream. Yet, I’d like to suggest that that is exactly what the first reading and gospel are cautioning us against. Our first priority shouldn’t be making sure that life is easier for the next generation, that they will have enough money to live like a celebrity. Our first priority should be to get to know our children so as to instill within them a love of God and a sense of goodness and right. We shouldn’t rely on the schools or on a visit to faith formation classes and occasional attendance at mass to instill these values. It’s what being a parent and grandparent is all about and what it means to be the domestic church. “…the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong? ”