Monday, June 29, 2015

A Holy Order to the World

Once again, I did not preach a weekend homily. For those of you keeping score at home, this was my 3rd weekend in a row without preaching. This rarely happens for a parish priest. Don't worry, I will preach this coming weekend. It was Deacon Andrew's turn to preach and he delivered a stirring homily (four times) about the beauty of God-given marriage in light of Friday's Supreme Court decision.

After Mass, people had many kind comments about the homily, but one particular type of comment caught my attention because it was repeated several times. Many people thanked him for the homily and the particular language he used to explain Church teaching because since Friday they had felt very alone in the world or because they didn't have the language to explain what they felt to be true. My friends, you are not alone. News outlets and social media have presented this court decision to us as if the United States was completely united and of one mind on this issue. The court's decision was 5-4. You can't have a more divided victory. The country is far from united on this issue.

The low level of intellect present in our public discourse is astonishing. It's astonishing, but it's not new. Apparently it is an impossible leap of logic to both be opposed to same sex marriage and not hate those who experience same-sex attraction. Let me rephrase: the world is telling you that if you are opposed to gay marriage then you hate those who experience same-sex attraction. But rest assured, if you have the mental capacity to be opposed to gay marriage and still love those who experience same-sex attraction, you are not alone in the world. Regardless of what your Facebook feed says.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

SCOTUS's Power

Yesterday morning when I checked my phone, I saw that five lawyers in Washington had reached a decision about gay "marriage." At that point, I proceeded to make my coffee and pray my breviary, same as I do every morning, because in the grand scheme of things nothing has changed. Throughout the day yesterday I read about the decision and I kept thinking I would write something, but I kept getting drawn to more important things because again, nothing has changed. Five lawyers did not change the definition of marriage, and therefore they did not change who could get married, not really. That, if I may borrow a phrase from President Obama, is above their pay grade.*

No, the One who created marriage (that is, God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth, in case you're missing the subtlety) was unmoved by Friday's decision. His definition of marriage as a privileged opportunity to participate in His creative love was unchanged by Friday's decision to grant legal concessions and benefits to those unions which are incapable of participating in said creative love. So my day carried on pretty much as normal, because five activist lawyers cannot change that which God has decided.

In my reading, a lot of people had good things to say about the decision. Let's start with Justice Robert's dissenting opinion (page 29 in the link). Justice Roberts recognizes that to claim a constitutional basis for this decision is completely mistaken.
If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.
Archbishop Kurtz, president of the USCCB, had a strong statement. He recognizes that the court makes decisions, it doesn't determine right vs wrong. This decision will go down in history with Roe v. Wade as an error that will fail precisely because it is an error:
Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable. Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.
Bishop Etienne echoed part of Archbishop Kurtz's thought that this ruling will not last:
This truth of marriage as a union between a man and a woman has been received from the Creator and lived by men and women since the foundation of the world. Such truth never changes. Only human philosophies change over time. Sadly, today’s ruling by the US Supreme Court is one more shift in human thought that will not stand the test of time.
And canon lawyer Dr. Ed Peters offers a canonical and pastoral perspective. First he recognizes that society has long called marriage various unions that the Church does not call marriage. Then he recognizes an important fact that priests and bishops would do well to heed. A great number (perhaps even a majority?) of practicing Catholics are already in support of homosexual "marriage." So we clergy and preachers cannot preach as if "we" the Church, that is, the people of God, are of one mind on this issue. No, we clergy need to understand that the Catholic Church is not united on this issue, and our preaching should reflect and try to remedy that reality.
First, we need to recall that the State has long recognized as married some persons who are not married, namely, when the State allows divorced persons simply to remarry. We have lived with persons in pseudo-marriage for many decades; so now the pool of such people is larger...Second, Catholic doctrine and discipline can never, ever, recognize as married two persons of the same sex, and any Catholic who regards “same-sex marriage” as marriage is, beyond question, “opposed to the doctrine of the Church” (Canon 750 § 2). I am sorry so many Catholics apparently think otherwise and I recognize that many who think that Church teaching on marriage can and should change, do so in good faith. But they are still wrong and their error leads them, among other things, to underestimate how non-negotiable is the Church’s opposition to the recognition of same-sex unions as marriage.
Finally, I noticed that the hashtag #lovewins has been trending on Twitter and Instagram. Sadly, this is exactly how the Devil works. He takes something good and twists it just slightly, but the slight twist is so well executed that the goodness is destroyed in the thing. Calling Friday's decision a win for love is exactly that. Love won 2,000 years ago when a young virgin said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord," and a long awaited Savior was born. Love won when a man prayed alone in a garden, "Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me, but not my will but thine be done," and he was given strength to endure his trials. Love won when that same man said, "Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit," and a life-giving Church was born. Love won 2,000 years ago on the Cross. Love didn't win on Friday.

*Interestingly, in the 2008 presidential debate in which Obama said that defining when a baby gets human rights is above his pay grade, he also said he believed marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and that he would oppose a constitutional amendment stating such because traditionally "it's been a matter of state law" (emphasis mine). How times have changed.

Monday, June 22, 2015

I came so that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.

Another weekend gone, and another Monday without a Sunday homily from me.

This weekend I traveled with some of the youth of our parish to Steubenville of the Rockies in Denver. The Steubenville youth conferences are inspired by Franciscan University of Steubenville and hosted at various locations around the country. We took six kids to the conference of 2,500 youth and had a wonderful time. The theme was "limitless," based on Jesus's words in John 10:10 that he came that we might have abundant (limitless) life.
Our six kids and two chaperones.
Notice the sleep-deprived, forced smiles.
We were blessed to hear excellent presenters speak to us about the core of the Gospel message and the realities of life: God is real, he actually knows you and cares for you, Satan is real, he knows you, hates you, and lies to you daily. We were challenged to let the Holy Spirit be a real and active Person in our lives. We got to go to confession (I got to hear over four hours of confessions). We got to go to adoration. We got to go to Mass. We got to go to Mooyah's on the way home, a very fun burger-and-shake restaurant.

On a personal note, the conference ended up being a bit of a mini class reunion for me, too. A couple of former classmates were there, including Fr. Carson Krittenbrink who I haven't seen since we graduated from seminary a year ago. It was truly a joy to catch up.
Fr. Carson of Oklahoma City, Fr. Jason of Denver, and myself
Also present were two other Wyoming parishes: St. Matthew's in Gillette and St. Barbara's in Powell. Because lack of communication is the perpetual curse of humanity, we were all surprised to see each other. We managed to gather everyone for one group shot.
Youth from Gillette, Powell, and Sheridan with their leaders
The weekend was a true joy for all of us. I think the kids got to encounter our loving God in a way they haven't before. Through hours together on the road, heartfelt conversations, and impromptu song sessions (NOT us singing in the link), we also got to know each other in the true joy of Christ. Hopefully this is a trip we will continue for years to come.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A different Sunday homily

If you're one of the four people who regularly check here for my Sunday homily, apologies for not posting one. This weekend we welcomed Deacon Andrew Kinstetter, a very close friend of mine, to the parish for the summer, and so he preached at my masses so that the people might get to know him. He issued a challenging call to trust even when we feel blind, taught us about the Eucharist, and even taught us about a satellite that landed on a comet. In lieu of my homily, read his HERE.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Why I do what I do

My first Mass of Thanksgiving
I was recently alerted to a psychology article that dealt with narcissism in the priesthood, specifically the way priestly narcissism shows itself in the liturgy. The article is long-ish but very much worth the read. So go ahead and read it before reading further.

Do it, here's the link again...

Ok, we're back. I think this article is several years old, and I think I've read it before. For those of you in my parish, this article helps to explain a lot of why I do what I do in the Mass: not that I'm narcissistic (I'm sure that shows itself in other ways in my life), but that I specifically try to avoid doing anything in Mass that draws attention to myself. I think many Catholics, weary of the unpredictability of wondering what Father is going to do this week, appreciate my approach. But sometimes a well-meaning person will tell me that they like how Fr. So-and-So does some particular, unique thing in liturgy; and that's exactly what I'm trying to avoid.

I've felt the temptation (every priest probably has) to do something cool and unique during Mass, just a little tweak, because I think it'll enhance the people's experience of the Mass. No, Hess! Bad priest! As soon as I start changing or adjusting bits out of accord with the rubrics, I'm shoving Jesus out of the Mass in order to assert myself. It shows I want the people to have an experience of me, not of Jesus. The Mass should not be a guessing game for the lay faithful, who remain faithful despite the whiplash they can experience from one priest to the next. If I have any "approach" to the Mass, it's that I would want the great saints of old to recognize in my "approach" the reverence that moved them to love God more deeply.

When I start adding things to the Mass, the intention may be good, but the source and starting point of such an addition is bad because anything I add of my own accord, without working in union with the Church, the Bride of Christ, can only find its source and starting point in me. Anything I add is fundamentally about me and not about Jesus Christ.We need to let the Mass just be the Mass without creative additions. As Bishop Etienne says, we want "JTM," Just The Mass.

So if you come to Mass with me and what stands out for you is that absolutely nothing different or abnormal happened, then good! That's what I'm going for.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Corpus Christi

Today we're celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi, which means "Body of Christ" in Latin. This feast came about through efforts in the 12th century to have a feast outside of Lent to specifically honor and pay homage to the gift of the Eucharist. So this is a day to examine our attitudes and beliefs about the Eucharist. It's a day to reexamine how we treat Christ present in the Eucharist. And, because the Eucharist is the center of our life as Christians, it is also a good time to examine our attitudes and beliefs about the whole Church and the whole Christian life.

So what I want to do today is push towards a better understanding of what the Mass is, because if want to understand what the Eucharist is then we need to have a solid grasp of the Mass, because that's the context where we receive the Eucharist. So we hear about two overarching themes or ways to understand the Mass today, and that is to understand it as a banquet meal and as a sacrifice. Both are true, but understanding the Mass as a sacrifice must be paramount, because the Mass is an act of worship, so that's what we need to talk about.

It was understood by the Jews of the Old Testament, and it's still understood by us today, that there is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood, without sacrifice. So we see Moses in the first reading, even thousands of years ago, giving us the pattern for our worship today. Look at what he did, he read to them from the book of the covenant and they affirmed it by saying, "All that the Lord has said we will heed and do," and then this covenant was ratified by the blood of sacrifice, in this case by the sprinkling of the blood of a bull.

Moses led the people during their desert wanderings, but once the people were established as a nation, this blood sacrifice would continue in the temple in Jerusalem. The constant sacrifice of goats and bulls was never sufficient for the total forgiveness of sins, but it was a foreshadowing of the blood sacrifice Jesus would make. Jesus's one-time sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins was so full and so complete that he ended all sacrifices from that point forward. So now, for those of us who come afterwards, our role to participate in God's covenant is not to offer a new sacrifice of blood, but rather simply to participate in the one-time sacrifice that Jesus offered, and we do that through the Mass.

Here at the Mass, Christ's sacrifice that redeemed us is made present again through bread and the wine that become his real Body and Blood. So let's look at the gospel account of where Jesus institutes the Eucharist. The gospel tells us that Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to those around him. Notice the four verbs: took, blessed, broke, and gave. These verbs are used at the feeding of the 5,000, and then again in the Eucharistic Prayer to again describe Jesus's action with the bread. And really, it summarizes the mystery of our redemption. At the Incarnation he took on human flesh and blessed it, and then at the Crucifixion it was broken in order to be given to us. And also notice what he says about the wine: "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many." So the whole mystery of our redemption is recapitulated in the Eucharist we celebrate. Jesus, the second person of the most holy Trinity who died and rose for us, is made present to us in this Eucharist.

So the Mass we celebrate is more than just a fancy way to remember what Jesus did, it is how we enter into covenant with our God. A covenant is an exchange of persons, whereas a contract is simply an exchange of stuff, so in the covenant of the Eucharist God gives us everything he is, his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, and in exchange we uphold our end by offering him everything we are.

So it's crucial that we see this Mass we celebrate as our participation in the covenant worship of God. It is not a clever ceremony we humans came up with, but the Holy Spirit has guided the Church throughout her history to pattern this worship we offer on the worship that happens ceaselessly in Heaven. At Mass, my friends, we worship side by side with saints and angels. We can let Jesus take center stage in our life by letting the Eucharist take center stage in our lives. So on this feast of Corpus Christi, do ask yourself whether you allow the Jesus in the Eucharist to be the center of your life. Do I show up early enough to prepare myself to receive such a great gift? Do I actively focus on the actions and words of the Mass while I'm here? Do I just go to Mass, do I just sit through the Mass, or do I pray the Mass? How many of us could reflect on the hour we spend here and honestly say, "I prayed the Mass." And then, do I take time for thanking God afterwards? These are the easiest things we can do - showing up early, really praying while we're here, and thanking God afterwards - to move in the direction of making God the center of our lives, because these things give God room to operate. Give God room to operate, especially while at Mass, and he will transform your life by drawing you to himself.