Saturday, September 29, 2012

Representatives of Christ

My Dear Friends in Christ

Grace and peace to you in God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in power of the Holy Spirit. I want to give a caution as I begin my homily today. I’m going to use an example from politics during my homily but I am in no way endorsing or maligning a candidate. I’m simply using an example from politics to make a point. So, please don’t take away our tax exempt status!

A few weeks ago, while at a fundraising event in California, Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney was caught on a hidden video camera talking strategy to one of the donors present. Most of you are probably aware of his remark by now. He said that there are 47% of people in this country that will not vote for him. He characterized the 47% in a rather unflattering way but I was kind of fascinated by the outrage that political commentators have had for what he said. I know many were upset at how he characterized those who weren’t going to vote for him but others were upset that he cited a percentage that weren’t going to vote for him. The same people who spend hours each day on their own television shows saying that this election is invariably going to come down to a relatively small percentage of voters seemed absolutely indignant at a presidential candidate who basically acknowledged that fact.

Now, what does that have to do with the readings? I was really struck by the gospel today for one main reason. You can find a gospel passage that seems to state the exact opposite view. We just heard Jesus say, “For whoever is not against us is for us.” Yet, the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” So, which is it Jesus? Is it that those who aren’t with us are against us or those who aren’t against us are with us? Should we be inclusive or exclusive? If Jesus was running for office, this would be the campaign ad that would be plastered on the airwaves by Barabbas or whomever. So what’s happening with this seeming contradiction?

In my mind, the difference between these two sayings has more to do with the person Jesus is focusing on at the time. The focus of the quote from the gospel of Matthew is the leaders of the Pharisees whose hypocrisy was disturbing to Jesus. The focus of the gospel passage from this week, from the gospel of Luke is different. It follows the passage that we heard last week about the disciples fighting about who is the greatest. We know from other gospels that the two biggest instigators of this fight were probably James and John the so-called sons-of-thunder. Either they or their mother asked Jesus if they can be in charge when he is dead. Last week, Jesus took a child and stood the child in their midst and said to them that they needed to seek to have the heart of a child if they want to enter the kingdom of heaven. That’s why it’s significant that it was John who asked about other people driving our demons and doing good works in Jesus’ name. I find Jesus’ response to this question to be fascinating. Remember that the child from last week’s gospel passage is still standing there. Jesus says, in a very open and inviting way, that anyone who does a good deed in his name can’t speak ill of him, so if they are for him, they aren’t against him. So, unlike in the Gospel of Matthew, where the focus is on the Pharisees who seem intent on hating Jesus and his message, Jesus is saying that if someone is open, even slightly, to the gospel message we need to see them as our ally. He is basically saying that it’s our responsibility to see to it that those who want to learn about the faith can do so.

This is, in my opinion, where the church most differs from politics. Politics is the art of convincing more than 50% of the people that your idea is better than the other person’s idea. It draws sides between the good and the bad. Jesus wants all people to be saved and wants us to do whatever it takes to get people into the body of Christ, the church. He isn’t satisfied with just 50%. He died for us all. And the challenge for Christians is can we help those who have a limited understanding of the gospel to come into a better knowledge of the church.

Jesus ends this gospel passage with some cautions to us about how we lead our life that remind me of a famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi. “When the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Gandhi he asked him, ‘Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?’ Gandhi replied, ‘Oh, I don't reject Christ. I love Christ. It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ. If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.’” You might not believe it, but people judge Catholicism by the way that you act. Non Catholic coworkers, family, and friends look to us to represent the church. It’s not just the priests who all too often do a terrible job of representing the church, it’s also the lay members of the church who gossip, swear, cheat, steal, and do other things that make the entire church look bad. How can we improve the way are perceived by those in need of hearing the gospel in order to be a better representative of Christ?

Friday, September 07, 2012

Rantings about politics

This week at the Democratic National Convention, two people who are (in one way or another) leaders in the Catholic Church addressed the Convention. The first was Sister Simone Campbell (what religious order is this woman a part of????) who gave a brief 7 minute speech about her experience as one of the "Nuns on the bus." She explains what they did on the bus as part of her speech. You can find her speech here, by the way. To give a brief synopsis, she explained that nuns on the bus group was formed to protest the Ryan budget. She was quick to point out that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops protest the budget as well, a point which seemed to draw applause from some in the group. She then went on to tell three stories of people she helped along the bus tour. As she told each of the stories, I could just imagine Bill O'Reilly screaming at the top of his lungs that she was proving the point that Republicans would make that charities should be providing for the needs of the least of these not the federal government. But, after this, she said that these examples proved that we need to listen to each other and take care of each other and rejoice in President Obama's Affordable Care Act. I couldn't help but notice that the ongoing controversy between the aforementioned USCCB and the Obama administration on forcing the Church to provide contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients were not mentioned in Sister's closing remarks.

At the end of the convention, Timothy Cardinal Dolan was asked to give the closing benediction. You can listen to his five minute benediction here. He starts off slow, at first I thought he was nervous but I think he was trying to think of a way to quiet people down. He started off talking about justice for the poor and the suffering and talked about the weakest and neediest among us. All of this would be in the Democrat's wheelhouse. However, he didn't stop there. He prayed for the respect of human life from natural conception until natural, dignified death. He prayed for freedom and asked for protection of the troops. He prayed for respect for nature and nature's God (challenge) and respect for immigrants (wheelhouse). He asked for blessings on all leaders and potential leaders and finished with the benediction of all present.

To me, this is the real divide in the Catholic Church right now: You have those who believe that the Catholic Church should be anarm of the Democratic party and others (who I think are far fewer in number) who believe that real Catholics can agree with everything in the Republican platform. And then you have those who believe that the Catholic Church should be fiercely independent, standing up for the rights of the poor AND the unborn, welcoming the immigrant AND protecting the nature of marriage. If we go the way of Sister Simone, we run the risk of becoming Sadducees, a group of Jews who sold their souls to Rome in return for riches and power. If we run too far to the Republicans, we run the risk of becoming Pharisees, a group of Jews who wanted to throw the bums out but who were so fixated on rules and laws that they often lost sight of compassion. True Christians challenge both Sadducees and Pharisees, both Republicans and Democrats, which is why in a time when so many self appointed Catholic "leaders" are willing to sell their soul one way or another to political parties, we are so blessed to have such a clear voice in Cardinal Dolan to show the connections and the deep distinctions between what it means to be a Christian and what the political parties push.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Be subordinate as Christ was to the Church


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. When I was in seminary, Wednesday was a bit of a sacred day. We had mass a little later in the morning so we could sleep in. We had a one-hour conference with the rector after breakfast and then had the entire afternoon to either get caught up on homework or visit the parishes we were assigned to work at. You can, therefore, imagine how frustrated we were when we found out, shortly into the first semester, that we were going to have an all-day domestic violence awareness workshop. I remember walking into the seminar thinking that it was going to be a waste of time on a topic that was obviously a concession to certain feminist ideologues. However, I walked out of the seminar thankful for what I learned. I learned, for instance, that between 97 and 92 percent of abuse that happens domestically happens to women. It’s possible that more men are abused than report it because of the fear of being called names but we also know that men are generally raised in an environment where physical violence is more acceptable than women. Regardless, I also learned that there are certain biblical passages that are used by physically abusive husbands to control their wives. And, we just heard one of them.
          Now, before we get to that reading, let me try to put it in the context of the rest of the readings where, I think, it belongs. For the last four weeks, we’ve heard the sixth chapter of John’s gospel known as the bread of life discourse. Jesus has been teaching us about what the Eucharist is. Three weeks ago, he warned us against grumbling and the detrimental effects that gossip and grumbling has on the church. Then, two weeks ago, he tried to open the eyes of his hearers to a deeper understanding of the bread, that it was also his body. St. Thomas Aquinas explained this by using the word “transubstantiation”, which means that, even though the smell, touch, taste and appearance remains the same of the bread and wine, the substance has changed to become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. Then, last week, Jesus told us that, if we are willing to believe that the bread that we eat his really his flesh and the wine that we drink is really his blood, than we are supposed to become what we eat. We are to be the body of Christ on earth. That means that we need to be willing to live out the teachings of the church, that by coming forward and saying Amen, “I believe” we aren’t just affirming transubstantiation but a willingness to be part of a larger organization that is the church. This is what some of Jesus’ disciples are walking away from in the gospel. It’s not just that the bread and wine are really his body and blood but the expectation that they are supposed to: by eating his flesh and drinking his blood, stop complaining and trust in the church.
          St. Paul gives us just such a difficult teaching to accept today in the second reading from his letter to the Ephesians. This is the letter, as I said before, that is used by abusive husbands and boyfriends to keep wives and girlfriends in their situation. And, if you were to only read the first few sentences, you would be justified in this. In that passage we heard St. Paul say, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church…” The trouble is that St. Paul didn’t end there. He went on to say, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church…” How did Christ love the church? Every time you walk into a Catholic Church, you will see the central symbol of how Christ loved the church: By dying for her. In the letter to the Galatians, St. Paul said that Christ so loved the world that he emptied himself and took the form of a slave. You see, St. Paul used the word “love” but he may as well have said husbands be subordinate to your wives. That’s what he meant.
          Now, you may say to me that if both the husband and the wife are subordinate to each other than you’re going to have a rudderless ship and then the kids will run wild. Well, I think what St. Paul was talking about was that, in any marriage relationship you have to have compromise. And, both the husband and the wife will probably feel like they are always the one making the compromises and this can lead to resentment on the part of one or the other of the spouses. He’s saying that marriage isn’t about winners and losers, it’s about mutual submission for the sake of the larger entity that is the marriage.
          One of the things that concerns me about our present state of “tolerance” is that we have a tendency to look at people who may be trapped in an abusive relationship and say that they are living their lives and we are going to live our lives. If we are connected as members of the body of Christ we have to be concerned about each other. If you are concerned about someone who may be in an abusive relationship, reach out to the person and offer to help get them out. Do whatever you can to make the person feel safe, even if it is just by contacting law enforcement and telling them of your suspicions. And, most importantly, let us look into our own hearts for those times when we are tempted to use violence to resolve a problem and seek ways to be subordinate to each other as Christ was to the Church. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Losing it...and trying to get it back

A couple of months ago, I posted a comment on my Facebook wall to the effect of "I'm afraid that I'll have no choice but to tell people not to vote for President Obama this Fall." It was a really stupid thing to write, especially since I didn't have access to the internet for several days after in order to be able to clarify why I wrote what I wrote. I was trying to express frustration at the decision by the Obama administration to force all Catholic institutions to purchase insurance that would cover contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization (before they compromised by forcing all Catholic institutions to purchase insurance that would cover contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization). I was trying to say that, by taking this action, the administration was declaring open warfare on the Catholic Church. To be honest, the Church has major disagreements with virtually all political parties. I mean, let's be honest. When you support a person's right to life and an immigrant's right to live in the country that his wife and children live in, you're going to piss off pretty much everyone.

The difference that I was trying to highlight is that we've always had this understanding that we don't openly declare war on each other. Republicans hate us because of our stance on immigration but when one within their ranks tried to ban the church from providing food to illegal immigrants they stood in opposition and the law broke down. You'd expect that when the Obama administration declared open warfare on the church that Democrats would oppose him and rescind the law. And, that's pretty much what happened, except that instead of a compromise the law was rewritten to emphasize that the money will come from insurance companies, not the church. Of course, the fact that the church was the one who paid the insurance companies is just supposed to be something that we ignore.

In any case, none of this really is my point inasmuch as what happened after. I got an email from the Vicar General who told me that there was a complaint lodged against me asking that I be removed from priesthood. He very compassionately asked that I fix it. I quickly offered an apology on Facebook and told people that it was made in anger and that it was a mistake.

There was something that really spooked the heck out of me when this happened. Words almost cost me priesthood. Because of something I wrote on Facebook, someone was trying to get me removed from priesthood. I felt hated. It made me suspicious and distrustful. So, other than preaching, I've been really leery about putting stuff on here and posting anything on Facebook more controversial than, "I hate the Olympics." and "I wish a Capital Fourth would play more patriotic music."

Now, don't get me wrong. I know that my original post was incredibly stupid and that I should have thought about how I wanted to express it before I posted it. And please don't think that I'm looking for a thousand nice priest supporting people to write, "Don't let them get you down" and "Keep pissing them off." I knew it was controversial and I should have known better. It's just too bad that no one contacted me directly asking me to take the post down. Many people had strong opinions as to whether I was right or not but no one said that they felt I should take it down. On the off chance that the person is reading this post, I'd challenge you to read Matthew 18:15-17. It might help you in the future.

Nonetheless, there comes a point when you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again and I think I'm there. Please forgive the long absence and I hope this post clears up why it happened. Let's hope for a fresh start.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do

Dearly Beloved in Christ

May grace and peace be yours in abundance through our Lord Jesus Christ as we begin this Paschal Triduum. In this liturgy, we celebrate the Institution of the Eucharist and, therefore, the Institution of the ministerial priesthood. Through the successors of the apostles, the bishops, we priests have the privilege of standing in the person of Christ, by articulating the same words that he himself used at the Last Supper in order to confect the bread and wine into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. As your pastor, it is both a duty and an honor to celebrate this sacrament with you.

This past Sunday evening, I was visiting with my Dad and he jokingly congratulated me on not being moved this summer. He had seen last week’s edition of The Witness, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Dubuque, which had listed all 32 changes in priestly assignments that will take effect next July. Neither Msgr. Hemann, Fr. Lippstock nor I were listed on it so I’m pretty sure we’re safe. And I really do want to let you know that both Fr. Lippstock and I feel blessed to be here as your priests. I know I don’t say that enough and you may get the impression with the changes that I am making that I’m not happy here. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As Msgr. Hemann told me before I came here, this is a great assignment filled with great people.

Ever since those assignments came out, I’ve heard several people express a general concern for the priests. People worry that we’re stretching our priests pretty thin and expecting them to have larger and more complex assignments. I’m reminded of an experience I had at Conception Abbey a few years ago. In my first meeting with my spiritual director, Fr. Adam, he asked me why I was there. I told him that I was frustrated at long hours of work with demanding parishioners and annoying staff. He looked me in the eye and said a word you can’t say in church that basically means that he didn’t believe me. He told me that, as a priest, I had two choices. I could either die with Christ in order to live with him or I could quit. The priesthood isn’t meant to be easy. Generally anything worthwhile isn’t.

As part of the ministerial priesthood, I was given the charge in the gospel today, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do." I am to model the service of Jesus in this church and challenge you to model it for others in your jobs, schools, homes, and elsewhere. This is how we all share in the priesthood of all believers.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Prodigal Son...who just won't leave for the desolate place

In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story of two sons; one younger and one older. The younger son asks for his share of the inheritance, basically asking for the Father to die and give him what he deserves. He squanders the money on fast living and ends up slopping hogs. The Son comes to realize the consequences of his immoral life and returns, recalcitrant, to his father. The father welcomes him with open arms and restores the son to his place in the family.

The church is always filled with prodigal daughters and sons. I am a prodigal son. I sin and I return, sorrowful, to a Father who merely asks that I forgive those who have sinned against me. I am not proud of the times when I am prodigal. I know it takes me away from the church. I use the sacrament of reconciliation to return and try to live as a part of the family of God.

The problem is that there are an awful lot of Catholics who have asked for their share of the Father's inheritance so that they can go live in the basement whining that the Father won't endorse their profligate lifestyle. They are the lost sheep who won't get lost. There's a part of me that agrees with those who will say that, if they remain connected, they have a chance at conversion, a chance at appreciating all that the Father has done for them. And I know that, as a prodigal son, no one comes in and forces me to leave. But, if you don't agree with almost anything that the church teaches and just sit there hating everything, why not go off and live the fast life you want to live? We'll still be here when you want forgiveness and come to your senses. Just don't try and take us with you into the life of dissolution you deem "moral."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What the Iowa Catholic Conference is working on...

Sometimes, people infer that the Catholic Church only cares about abortion and contraception. I just thought you'd like to know what the Iowa Catholic Conference is lobbying for among legislators. And this just what's happening at the state level. The USCCB actually has a lot more that it's working on!

Go to www.iowacatholicconference.org to sign up for full newsletter.

1. HF 2380, the House Education Reform Bill
ICC does not support the expansion of the core curriculum found in the bill. ICC supports additional opportunities in online learning, competency-based instruction and an alternative path to teacher licensure. ICC also supports all forms of school choice but to implement additional charter schools without an equal measure of nonpublic school choice is problematic. In other states, charter school initiatives have led to the closure of private schools, as parents see an alternative to the regular public school that is “free.”

2. “Education Celebration” for Nonpublic Schools in Iowa
It will be held at the state capitol on Wed, March 21 at noon on the first floor rotunda. Speakers will include Gov. Terry Branstad (R) and Sen. Daryl Beall (D-Fort Dodge). The event is sponsored by the Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education. Please make plans to attend if you can.

3. HF 2429, Identity Theft
ICC opposes this bill, especially the provisions which create a new crime, stealing the identity of a fictitious person (a person who does not exist), and increase existing penalties for all identity theft violations to a felony. While identity theft is an extremely serious matter, this bill would have the effect of automatic deportation of some migrants for crimes against a person who does not exist.

4. SF 2275, Online Poker
ICC opposes the bill as it legalizes poker over the Internet sponsored by casinos in Iowa. We believe this is an unwarranted expansion of gambling in the state that will result in more problem gamblers and therefore more problems for families.

5. HSB 665
ICC recommends your support for this bill, creating a tax credit for 20% of a taxpayer’s contribution to a nonprofit regenerative medicine clinic in the state. The bill would be of benefit to the Pope John II Stem Cell Research Center, which focuses on reducing the barriers of translating basic stem cell research into clinical research for curing disease.

6. HF 2390 Human Trafficking
Along with the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking, ICC supports HF 2390, which would, among other provisions, expand the definition of human trafficking. It would include knowingly purchasing or attempting to purchase services involving commercial sexual activity from a victim or another person engaged in human trafficking.

7. HF 657 Late Term Abortion Ban and HJR 6 Marriage
ICC continues to ask our Senators to consider HF 657, the late-term abortion ban, and HJR 6, a state constitutional amendment to recognize marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Your messages to Senators on these bills would be appreciated.

8. HJR 2010 Balanced Budget
ICC recommends your opposition to HJR 2010, a proposed state constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget in Iowa and a 60% vote of the legislature before changing the state income or sales tax. Iowa currently is required by statute to have a balanced budget. The statute has proved effective. In addition, this amendment would make it more difficult for legislators to act when a tax increase or decrease might be called for to serve the common good.

9. Farm Bill
USCCB, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, and the National Catholic Rural Life Conference are asking for support of a Farm Bill that provides for poor and hungry people both at home and abroad, offers effective support for those who grow our food, ensures fairness to family farmers and ranchers, and promotes stewardship of the land. Go to the National Catholic Rural Life Conference’s website at www.ncrlc.com for the full letter.

10. Nuclear Force Reduction
Now is a opportunity to make our voices heard by pressing President Obama to make good on his commitment to "put an end to Cold War thinking" and pursue further, dramatic steps that would make us all safer from the threat of nuclear weapons. Before March 31, you can join thousands of Americans by adding your name to a petition at www.zoomerang.com/Survey/WEB22EXJL487Q5.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Matthew 5:11-12

"Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

I imagine every priest fears a time when they get called by their bishop informing them that they are being removed from priestly ministry. Most of the guys I've talked to fear a false allegation of sexual abuse from an angry former parishioner. Personally, I've thought about how I would react to being asked to perform a gay marriage for two Catholic guys. I worry that, if I refuse to do so, I'll be sued for equal protection and will end up in jail. 

That's what concerns me about this story about a priest who refused to distribute holy communion to an openly practicing lesbian. I know it probably shouldn't because the priest wasn't removed for not giving communion to the woman but for "intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others." It just seems very coincidental and the woman and her brother seem intent on connecting the two events and ruining any good reputation the priest has left. 

The truth is that even though priests are public figures, we aren't politicians. Sometimes we're going to say and do things that people will deem offensive. We have to be able to go into the temple and drive out the money changers and we don't have press secretaries to spin it into making us seem like we were the good guy. And we sometimes react poorly under pressure. Anyone who knows me knows that I could very easily have been this guy. I'd just hate to think that NBC, ABC, CNN and other media outlets could end it all for me...and seemingly ending it because I was standing up for Catholic teaching. Again, I know that's not why he was removed but just try to tell that to anyone reading the stories. I guess it should be a reminder to not take a moment for granted because it could all be done tomorrow. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Third Sunday of Lent

My dear friends in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in abundance in our Lord Jesus Christ on this Third Sunday of Lent. The conventional wisdom when building a modern Catholic Church is that there needs to be a large room located right before you enter the church that is purely social in intent. A Lutheran or Episcopal congregation would probably refer to this as a Narthex. In the Archdiocese of Dubuque, I often hear the term “Gathering Space” for the same room. The reason we expect churches to build these has to do with the change in people’s expectations of the church. It used to be that people went to church and, immediately upon entering the building, knew that the loudest noise they would make would be a whisper. Nowadays, studies show that people want to feel a sense of community when they come to church; they want to be able to talk and feel welcomed. They want to be able to hang up their coats and feel at home. Yet, we also want to respect that our churches are supposed to be places of prayer, not places to eat donuts while carrying on a conversation about last night’s football game. So, we’ve added this room as a place you can go to chat and build community. And yet, In most of the churches where they’ve built these rooms, I still hear people chatting away in church. Most of the time, the noise from the Narthex bleeds into the body of the church making it virtually impossible to pray and seeming to give permission to the people in church to chat with the people around them.

I think of this every time I hear this particular passage from the Gospel of Mark. Jesus cleanses the temple of the money changers. How was it that the Temple became a place for currency exchange? Well, it’s rather simple. When it became less common for people to own their own animals, there had to be some sort of way for people to be able to purchase them so that they could offer them for their sins. And, since it would be immoral for a Jew to offer Roman coins to buy their sacrifice but the Romans forbade the Jews from using their coins anywhere but the Temple, it became clear that the Jews would have to set up something on the Temple Mount for them to exchange their Roman coins in order to purchase their sacrifice. It’s all perfectly logical…but completely wrong. The purpose God gave his people the Temple wasn’t so they could buy and sell things. It was supposed to be a place dedicated to God where the Jewish people would gather to worship and sacrifice to Him. And, instead, it became a mall, a marketplace where animals are bought and sold and currency is exchanged.

What do we expect of our churches nowadays? Do you know someone who has left the church or have you ever left the church? Why did they, or you, leave? I know people who say they don’t go to church because it’s boring. I know people who have left the church because they disagree the church’s stance on abortion, gay marriage, immigration, social justice, and a whole host of other issues generally associated with politics. I know people who left the church because their parish was closed. And I know a whole lot of people who left the church simply because they found it easier to miss mass on a given weekend than to get dressed up and go. Should the Catholic Church try and put on a program for each of these groups of people? Church is boring, so let’s make it more entertaining. I could tell jokes and we could get an awesome band. Church is too political so I could avoid ever saying anything that is even close to politics. I could never say anything that is even remotely controversial; make my homilies all about golf or how God loves us regardless of what we do. At what point do you think Jesus would come walking into our parish and drive me out if I were to do that?

For me, it all summed up in the second reading today. St. Paul said “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” When we come to church, we should expect to be challenged. We should expect to hear the message about Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human, who defeated evil by an act that seems like utter failure, by dying on a cross. We shouldn’t expect to be entertained or to have our political beliefs affirmed. We shouldn’t expect convenience. We shouldn’t even expect that we can always attend in the same place at the same time from now until eternity. We should expect Christ Jesus and him crucified, a stumbling block to some, but to we who have faith, our only source of salvation.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The theological rationale for my homily this past weekend.

I changed my homily between the second and third time I preached it because I didn't think the example story I was using was particularly effective. Here's the theological rationale behind it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53nJjwaZMeM&feature=g-all&context=G287adbdFAAAAAAAADAA

Friday, February 24, 2012

Some thoughts

A few years ago, when by far the majority of people didn't approve of either homosexuals or homosexuality, we were supposed to stay out of the private lives. 10 years of pro homosexual lobbying on TVs, schools, and college campuses later, the same group that said we should stay out of their private lives now wants us to  legislate their private lives, to allow them to get married. Last week, when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a gay marriage bill in order to allow the voters of New Jersey to vote on the issue, most gay activists said that it was an issue of civil rights, not an issue that should be determined by popularity. 

As I was on the elliptical machine this afternoon, I couldn't help but make this really strange connection. The propaganda that is put out with regard to the recent HHS mandate states that 98% of Catholics have used contraception at one point in their lives. Now, aside from the fact that this figure is nothing more than a HUGE LIE, I will acknowledge that a majority of Catholics use contraception and that the Catholic Church has done a horrible job of explain to people WHY we believe what we believe about artificial contraception and sterilization. Nonetheless, I find it amazing that some of the same journalists and pundits that forward the above gay-marriage argument (gay-marriage is above popular opinion) quickly do a 180 when it comes to the church (Catholic Church should pay for contraception because of popular opinion).  

I believe the Church would actually agree with the gay rights propagandists in saying that marriage shouldn't be a majority vote decision, even if we agree for INCREDIBLY different reasons. But, why are these propagandists then so quick to turn contraception into a voting issue? What happened to the church's conscience protection or the separation of church and state? Are civil rights only to be applied to the individual and their choices and never to the beliefs of the church and what they are asked to support? 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ash Wednesday Homily

My Dear Friends in Christ

May the Grace and Peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you as we begin this Lenten journey. Jesus’ words in the gospel today illustrate the importance of not allowing our faith to become too showy. He says, “…But when you give alms do not let you right hand know what you left hand is doing so that your almsgiving will be in secret…But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret…But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden.” After each of these statements, Jesus adds, “And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you." Part of the reason that Jesus is concerned about this is because of the fear of hypocrisy. The word hypocrisy comes from two Greek words, “hypo” meaning above and “Krises” meaning judgment. So a hypocrite believes that they are above judgment, that the rules they enforce don’t apply to other people. A few years ago, Saturday Night Live had a skit mocking a person they called the Church lady. The church lady would invite celebrities onto her talk show and mock them for their alcohol and drug riddled extravagant lifestyle. She wasn’t trying to help them, more just making fun of them. That’s what frustrated Jesus about the Pharisees and what he never wanted his followers to turn into.

However, it seems to me that there is a bigger problem in today’s world than people being too public, too showy, or too judgmental in their faith. Back at the time of Jesus and up until fairly recently, everyone would have willingly showed their faith in private and in public and Jesus was trying to make sure that they matched up with each other by making sure that their private lives matched their public expression, indeed that the private was more important than the public expression. In recent years, the bigger problem is when people don’t allow their public lives to be affected by their faith. It’s true that we don’t want to believe ourselves “above judgment” like the Pharisees of old but Jesus also wouldn’t say that our faith should be so private and personal that we don’t correct the immorality of others. This is part of what St. Paul was talking about in the second reading today in being ambassadors for Christ. In the end, it’s all about living an integral life, a life where our words match our deeds, both of which also match our faith. So, for instance, when someone comes to us struggling with same-sex attraction we don’t just put away our faith and encourage them to follow cultures attitude of “whatever feels good is also morally good” but we also don’t turn our backs and call the person an evil sinner. Because we recognize our own sins, we humbly and with love encourage them to live a life of celibate chastity as they have been called to do so by God.

In this Ash Wednesday liturgy, we are marked by ashes and reminded that our life on earth will one day come to an end, that we are dust and unto dust we shall return. Part of what we resolve to do during Lent is to live a moral life and help others to do so as well. We do so not from a morally superior position of judgment but as one who recognizes our own need for God’s love and forgiveness and wants to help others know about it as well.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

We need prophets with authority just like Jesus

This past weekend, my homily changed a lot from when I wrote it to the last time I preached it on Sunday morning. In all three homilies I told about how one group of ministers in one town were committed to not doing gay marriages. We all worked on and signed a marriage policy enumerating how we are going to prepare couples for marriage and help marriages in trouble. And we all agreed that we will not perform same-sex marriages. When I approached another group of ministers about it, I was saddened to hear their response. They said they agreed but that their congregations are divided about it so they don't want to speak out about it. They said that they will speak privately to individuals but that they can't commit to it. I then said that I'm not trying to mock non-catholics because I know there are plenty of Catholic bishops and priests who feel the exact same way.

I then talked about how we are in need of prophets who speak with authority. That was the point of the first reading and gospel, after all. Moses was a prophet and Jesus spoke like a prophet. They did so because they spoke God's Word. Both Moses and Jesus put God's word over their own desires and wants. I used more words but, basically that's what I said.

The change that happened throughout the weekend was in the last part of the homily, the practical part. I started off the weekend asking people to be supportive of me when I speak out on controversial issues. But, after preaching that, it occured to me how self-serving that is. And, if I really want to be a prophet, I should expect to be hated and persecuted. So, I shifted things the next day to calling people to speak out about immigration, poverty, death penalty, abortion, same-sex marriage, and other controversial issues.

The strange thing was that I had no idea that I was going to put this message into practice. But more on that later.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart

My Dear friends in Christ

May the grace and peace of Christ ransom you and make you his adopted children in the power of the Holy Spirit.. Are you a person who makes New Year’s resolutions? Going all the way back to 8th grade, I have a box containing all my resolutions. Well, I sort of have all my resolutions. Like most of you, I gave up making resolutions for myself a number of years ago because, surprise surprise, I never seemed to actually do them. I would make them and then forget about them. But, I think I’m going to start again this year, I’m just going to do it better.

Today we celebrate the end of the Octave of Christmas with the celebration of Mary, Mother of God. This is actually a very old feast in the church going all the way back to the third century. Back then, it was used to establish that Jesus was fully human, that he was actually born like any other person. Really this isn’t that much of a controversy in the church today, except for dialogue with Jehovah’s Witnesses who believe that Jesus is some kind of angel. So, what is the focus of the celebration for today?

To me, the focus is on one phrase in the middle of the gospel, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” This phrase is repeated later on in this same chapter in the context of Jesus being lost in the Temple. After he explains that they should have known he would be in his Father’s house, the gospel of Luke says, “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.” Some have indicated that the reason for this phrase is that Mary helped Luke write his Gospel, that she was one of his sources. Others simply believe that Luke is using Mary to represent where each follower of Jesus is after the Ascension.

Unlike the Apostles and the crowds, we didn’t have the opportunity to witness Jesus Christ in action. We have to rely on the testimony of others. Mary gave birth to a child, a very special child but a child nonetheless. She had been assured by an Angel that he was destined for greatness but all four gospels pretty much agree that his life prior to being baptized by John was…not all that spectacular. Other than being the obstinate 12 year old who argues with high priests, a feat which, trust me, is in and of itself, neither all that surprising nor all that impressive. I’ve had my fair share of 12 year olds who think they know more than me! Other than that one event, we don’t hear anything about Jesus growing up years. Mary, nonetheless, kept them in her heart and they were a source of strength for her when the time came for him to carry out that most unselfish act of dying on the cross.

One of the reasons that setting goals for our lives doesn’t work is because we don’t take the time to reflect on them. We set them and forget them. We’d rather spend time in front of the TV or the Computer or doing some other hobby rather than spending time asking God what he wants for our lives and then spending time listening to promptings of the Holy Spirit challenging us to make concrete steps to guide us toward that goal. We’d rather make a wish on New Years and hope that an angel does it for us. On this feast of Mary, Mother of God, we are invited to sit with Mary pondering what it means to be a good disciple of Jesus.