Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Book Review: Motherless

The stack of books I'm trying to read is much larger than what my calendar allows for. When I do actually finish a book though, I want to use the blog to tell you what I thought about it. I'm happy to lend this or any other book in my library if you live near me and don't look like a hooligan.

Fr. Benedict Groeschel has described author Brian Gail's books as being, "What Blessed John Paul II envisioned when he summoned a new evangelization. Motherless is the second in Gail's trilogy of books, with Fatherless coming first and Childless coming last.

In this book, we reconnect with Fr. John Sweeney and his parishioners over a decade after the events of Fatherless. All of the main characters are wiser, and in many cases happier, than when we last met them in Fatherless. This wisdom is fortunate because it prepares them to be thrust into the heart of the cultural battle of our era.

A few of the key characters, through their various lines of work, find out about the latest atrocities in embryonic stem cell research and what those with power intend to do with their newfound knowledge. It is up to Fr. John to counsel his parishioners to courageously stand up to the evil power-holders of the world, and to stand up to them himself as well.

It's interesting to note, and maybe this is just necessary for story-telling, that as Gail tries to craft an average, albeit East Coast, parish, he doesn't write "average" people, even for his parishioners. You'd think that Fr. John Sweeney's parish is filled only with magnates and CEO's who all have a second home on the shore somewhere. (Also, you'd think that Fr. Sweeney never has to sit through a parish council or finance council meeting. Lucky priest). Gail only writes big characters in order to move his story along.

Gail writes engaging, fast paced novels without a lot of down time. He just skips from one high point to the next. For example, if a character dies, you skip over the initial shock of friends and family receiving the news, and the next time that character is mentioned is the funeral, where you find out about the friends' shock through internal monologue. If a character is fired unexpectedly, you skip that character breaking the news to family and next meet the character at the farewell party. This allows Gail to write a long book (Motherless is 509 pages) that never feels slow, and it allows him to cover a lot of ground in a single novel.

Motherless is an excellent book with just enough resolution to leave me satisfied as the second book of a trilogy, but also with just enough open questions to make me eager to read the concluding book. But more importantly, Brian Gail has found a creative means to speak very powerfully about the evil that threatens humanity.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Book Review: Many Are Called

The stack of books I'm trying to read is much larger than what my calendar allows for. When I do actually finish a book though, I want to use the blog to tell you what I thought about it. I'm happy to lend this or any other book in my library if you live near me and don't look like a hooligan.

Biblical scholar Scott Hahn has turned his incredible wealth of knowledge to bear on the Catholic priesthood to see what the Bible has to teach us about it in Many Are Called. Now, it may seem presumptuous or self-centered to recommend a book whose subtitle is "Rediscovering the Glory of the Catholic Priesthood," but I hope you don't perceive it as such. I read this book on a private retreat in hopes of strengthening and re-invigorating my priesthood, and now I would recommend it to all. It is an excellent overview of God has given us in the Catholic priesthood, not in Fr. Brian, he does it very poorly. But through the priesthood God has demonstrated his personal and close care for us.

In this book, Hahn explores the history of priesthood as it was practiced in the Old Testament, then perfected in Jesus Christ, then continued in the Church. With his typical humor and love of puns, Hahn reviews the basic roles of a priest as Father, Mediator, Provider, Teacher, Warrior, Judge, Bridegroom, and Brother.

I'd like to look at the priest as warrior just briefly, because it at first glance appears incongruous with the rest of the list. Hahn starts by telling the story of two priests who died in war while serving others, then goes on to show how much Christian language, like "Redeemer" and "Christ" have backgrounds in battle or conflict (you'll have to read the book to see how). Ancient Israel was constantly engaged in warfare, and the priests would actually offer sacrifice in advance of the battle and thank God in advance for delivering them. The physical battles of the Old Testament were foreshadows of the far more deadly spiritual battles we are engaged in today. St. Paul, being very worldly in his pre-Christian life, regularly uses battle imagery to explain his point. Priests today face huge spiritual battles to defend Christ's followers from an enemy that never rests and is endlessly working against him.

Scott Hahn's short book can help to inspire a renewed appreciation for the priests among us. The job is so much bigger than manager or administrator of a parish. It's father, warrior, judge, and brother all wrapped up into one. They are imperfect men, and they need your support (me, most of all). Many Are Called can help us to appreciate that anew.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Suffering...It Happens

The readings this morning spoke about trust. This morning I suggested that our comfort in this life is not God's primary concern, but rather our eternal destiny is, so if a bit of unhappiness and suffering in this life helps to secure our eternal reward, God would let that happen. HERE is my homily on the matter.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Greek Clarification

Some folks (ok, like one) were questioning the Greek etymology I cited in my homily for Christ the King. It was a bit of etymology I only recently learned from videos produced by the Liturgical Institute of Mundelein Seminary. I didn't do a whole lot of digging on my own to find out if it's actually correct, I just trusted the video. Here's the video I learned the etymology from. It's only about three minutes.

Christ the King of my True Home

 Today we celebrate the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, more commonly called Christ the King. Pope Pius XI established this feast in 1925 because he perceived that a sort of secularist nationalist tendency was starting to replace religion, where people were starting to bestow the love and trust properly due to God onto the state, that is, their country. Not accidentally, it used to be celebrated in October because Russia celebrated the anniversary of one of their socialist revolutions that same month. Pope Pius wanted people to remember that as Catholics, we know that no state, no government or kingdom on earth, can take care of us forever. Pius wanted us to remember that our true king is Jesus Christ and that our true home is not of this world.

And so if the point of today's feast is to focus on where our true home is at, then today's gospel reading is very appropriate. In this famous scene of Pilate confronting Jesus, Jesus is trying to teach us about where his true kingdom is at, and therefore our true home. Because Jesus doesn't deny that he has a kingdom, he only denies that it is of this world. Jesus wants us to be a part of his kingdom, but we have to admit that we really like the things of this world. So if we want to be a part of his kingdom, then we can't be a part of this world.

His kingdom doesn't exist in this world like other kingdoms or nations, but it is accessible from this world. Jesus's kingdom is the Catholic Church, which exists here, in Purgatory, and in Heaven. This kingdom is not bound by any physical boundaries, but it exists any place Christians are gathered. So our job as Christians is to remember that we were not made for this world or the comforts of this world. Pope Benedict once said, "The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness."

As members of this other-worldly kingdom called the Church, we call ourselves parishioners, which is kind of an interesting word. It comes to us from the Greek word paraoikos, which we find in Paul's letter to the Ephesians where he says that we are strangers and aliens no longer, but we are members of the household of God. Paraoikos means stranger, it basically means one who doesn't belong or one who doesn't fit it. So from this Greek word paraoikos we get the word "parishioner," and we also get the English word "pariah," which means social outcast. As parishioners, as members of the household of God, we are misfits in this world. We don't belong in this world.

As parishioners, as people who don't belong in this world, we should spend our lives longing for our true home in heaven. But what does this mean quite practically for us? We don't long for a lot in our lives, because our lives are pretty comfortable. If we need something, we just go out and buy it. We are truly blessed in that regard. There's not a whole lot of longing or suffering in our lives. Last night I went and saw a movie with some good friends, and then we went out to eat. I had a really tasty burger and some really good beer. And not once during any of that time did I think, "I'm an outcast in this world, my true home is in heaven," because with friends, entertainment, food, and drink, this world seemed like a pretty good place. And all of us have things we enjoy in this life that make us lose sight of the fact that we're pilgrims in this world.

So what does it mean to long for heaven, what does it mean to be a member of Jesus's kingdom not of this world, in the middle of our very comfortable 21st century lives? I don't have a full answer, because I struggle with this problem as much as anyone else. But part of the solution lies in being aware of the enormity of the problem, that Jesus made us for his kingdom and wants us to be a part of his kingdom, but we really like the things of this world.

I want to propose two ways to start living in his kingdom even while we sojourn through this world. The first is to invite Jesus into every part of your life, into every experience and every decision. There is nothing he doesn't want to be a part of, and there is no act or decision that is to menial or meaningless for him. But on the other hand, if you're uncomfortable inviting Jesus into an experience, if what you're choosing doesn't lead you closer to him, then that should be a really big clue that what you're doing isn't closer for you. So for example, last night I was with friends who lead me closer to Christ, we saw a good movie not opposed to Christian values, and I didn't overindulge on the food or drink. I was able to invite Christ into every bit of that experience and so I was able to expand his reign over my own heart a little bit, even if he wasn't at the front of my mind through the whole evening. But if I had spent time with friends who lead me away from Christ, and if we had watched a movie that is opposed to Christ, and then had way too much food and drink, there would have been a natural guilt if I had tried to invite Christ into that experience, and that guilt would have been a sign that I wasn't living in Jesus' kingdom at that moment.

The second way I want to propose that you start living in Christ's kingdom while on this earth is through voluntary penance. We don't talk about penance much outside of Lent when we all thing that we're going to become saints by going on a diet, but some form of penance or voluntary sacrifice should be a regular part of the Christian life. One priest I know never hits the snooze alarm, he gets up on the first alarm every day, he calls it the heroic minute. Another guy I know never takes a second serving at meals. Someone else I know never listens to music in the car, he makes that his prayer time. Penance may be limiting or eliminating the time we spend with the television or with Facebook. Penances will change with the seasons of our lives, but it should always be based on what detracts from our relationship with God. So I do suggest you try some regular form of conscious renunciation in your life.

The things of this world are enjoyable, and they can even be good if they point us to God. We are strangers in this world, so we have to be sure we use the things of this world to point us to our true home. We have to let Christ be King of the universe, and that starts with letting him be King of our hearts.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Christ the King, All Three Years

I complain a lot about the modern lectionary and its various omissions (like two of the three Synoptic teachings on divorce), so in fairness when it does something well it should be commended. The Sunday readings operate on a three year cycle, and I was just noticing the breadth of images of Jesus the King given us for the Feast of Christ the King over the three year cycle.

Last year, In Year A, Jesus links his kingdom with the poor, and with those who care for them. During Pope Francis's visit to the U.S., on the same day he met with Congress, people who deal with budgets in the billions and who's decisions affect the whole world, and he met with the homeless and those who care for them. You decide which group matters more in Jesus's kingdom. Choose carefully, your life may depend on it.
Jesus said to his disciples: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father.Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
This year, Year B, Jesus teaches us how other-worldly his kingdom is. In confronting Pilate, Jesus teaches him and us that his kingdom is not of this world. Consequentially, those of us who want to be a part of Jesus's kingdom are not of this world.
Pilate said to Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?" Pilate answered, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here." So Pilate said to him, "Then you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."
And finally, next year in Year C we will see how being a part of this kingdom, even being the king of this kingdom, does not exempt one from suffering. But again, to enter into this kingdom, you simply imitate the king and rely on his mercy.
The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.” Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
This kingdom that Jesus established is indeed, "not of this world," yet it is accessible from this world. Jesus's kingdom is the Catholic Church, which exists on earth, in Purgatory, and in Heaven. The Church is the entry point into Jesus's kingdom. The poor have an easier time of it than the rest of us, but none of us are excluded if we but give up the things that tie us to this world and rely fully on Jesus Christ.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why This Mom's Daughters Are Not Altar Servers

Over at Catholic All Year, Kendra Tierney reiterated, from a mother's perspective, many of my sentiments about male and female altar servers. Two things worth quoting, although I recommend you read the whole article. It's not very long.

First, concerning the interplay between boys and girls (and she should know, she has seven kids):
Not because my girls wouldn't do a good job, or wouldn't enjoy it, but mostly just because once women get involved in something, we tend to kind of take it over, then boys and men don't feel so obligated or interested in doing it. Altar serving is something I want my boys to want to do, and to feel pride about, and to feel necessary for. I hope it will help them respond if they have a vocation to the priesthood.
"But father, couldn't altar serving help a girl discern a religious vocation?" No, it not really helpful in that area. Women can't be priests, and serving at the altar is akin to an apprenticeship, so if discernment of a vocation is the goal then we're helping young girls discern something they simply cannot have.

Also, any parent of a big family knows that boys and girls are just different, even as our society tries to deny this truth. Women will always have their dignified and exclusive territory of child-bearing and -rearing, because biology, but exclusive male-only territory has been reduced to the rather undignified areas of farting and football. Serving at the altar offers a chance re-masculate our emasculated male culture, if boys get to do it alone.

Kendra acknowledges that there is no doctrinal issue in women being altar servers, but she continues:
But I just don't find it necessary. In general, I am rather offended by the concept that in order for a woman to be empowered, she must stop doing women's things and do men's things instead. It's a misunderstanding of our dignity as women and our place in the world God created for men and women to share.

Being a man isn't superior to being a woman. Being a father isn't superior to being a mother. Being a priest isn't superior to being a nun. They are different, but equal in purpose and dignity and importance. I have no interest in devaluing traditional women's roles and suggesting that women can have purpose only in trying to be men.
Fr. Z has made this point many times. How insulting to women when we insinuate that the only way for them to have dignity, respect, or value is to do the things men to! How insulting to suggest that traditional female roles have no dignity!

But of course, I can't say this in our politically correct culture because I'm a man and a priest. That's why I'm glad that Kendra Tierney said it.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Maccabees and Us

This was one of those homilies where, while I was listening to the first reading and proclaiming the Gospel, the Spirit had something different to say than what I intended to say. So, this is a homily about the beginning of the Book of Maccabees that is not what I intended to say today. [HERE]

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Preparing for the End of the World

Jesus today is giving us some weird apocalyptic imagery as he seems to be discussing the end times. In November, the month that we specifically call to mind and pray for the dead and those who have gone before, and as our liturgical year winds down and we prepare for the liturgical new year at Advent, our readings often go this route where they have us thinking about the end times. No one really knows what the end times are going to look at. Anytime the scriptures speak about it, they seem to speak in veiled and figurative language, so we don't want to take it too literally.

As Jesus is talking about the events that will happen "In those days," it seems he's speaking on multiple levels. He's actually talking about three different events, so we don't want to be too preoccupied trying to take everything he says and match it up with predicted literal events at the end of time. So what are these events? He seems to be alluding to and speaking metaphorically about 1) the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, 2) his own death, and 3) the actual end of the world that hasn't happened yet. Let's look at these three events.

The Temple was destroyed in 70 ad, indeed less than a generation after Jesus spoke these words. For the Jews, the Temple was a microcosm of the universe. The veils in the temple were decorated with patterns of the stars and constellations, and the seven candles on the menorah represented the sun, the moon, and the five known planets (according to "The Gospel of Mark" by Mary Healy). For the Jews, the Temple was where heaven met earth and where they went to meet God. The destruction of the Temple in 70 ad was a cataclysmic event, and in many ways marked the end of Judaism as it was practiced in Jesus' time.

But the temple also prefigures Jesus, who is the definitive meeting place between heaven and earth. And at Jesus's crucifixion, the sun was indeed darkened and the great temple veil with the stars on it was torn in to. So Jesus is also referring to his own death when he talks about the days of tribulation.

And finally, Jesus is talking about the literal end of the world, but he's using veiled language. Now, a lot of people have gotten very rich throughout history proclaiming that the end times are upon us and they have discovered the key for understanding the these veiled texts in the Bible. Time and time again they have been proven wrong, so don't listen to them. Because here's the obvious fact that we shouldn't have to state: the end of the world hasn't happened yet, so we don't know what it's going to look like. Also, they try to turn Jesus into a liar when he says that "of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Jesus himself claims to not know when the end of the world is near, so why would we listen to a street preacher saying the end is near?

But sometimes we get preoccupied with trying to figure out the end times and whats going to happen and when. And to that I just have to ask, "Why?" Why are you so worried about it? If you practice your religion and strive to live the life of virtue and go to confession, you have nothing to fear. If you're not practicing your religion, not striving to live virtuously, and not going to confession, then maybe you do have cause for concern.

St. Augustine said in one of his many commentaries, "Let us not resist his first coming, that we may not tremble at his second." If we accept the ways that he is present to us already, then how he comes at the end of time won't have cause to frighten us. But if we do resist the ways he offers to be present to us today, then we might have reason to be worried about his second coming.

We don't need to be preoccupied with how he's coming in the future, as long as we are doing what he commands today. So that's what we want to do, we want to live the life of virtue that Jesus commands today. We want to accept the ways that he is present to us today, that's the first coming that Augustine is talking about. He comes to us through the Church, especially through the Sacraments of the Church. That means Mass and Confession. To receive communion regularly without also going to confession is a dangerous thing, because what you are doing by your actions is proclaiming before God, the sinless one, that, "I am not a sinner." And when you proclaim before God that, I am not a sinner" then you are staking your eternal destiny on your own deeds rather than on God's mercy. This is a dangerous thing because to stake your eternal destiny on yourself is to build your house on sand. So we need Confession, even if we're not in mortal sin. Even without mortal sin, to receive communion without regularly going to confession makes that communion less fruitful for your soul, it makes it tougher to grow in grace. But together, confession and communion are the two fundamental building blocks of our relationship with God. One without the other leaves us terribly, even dangerously, disadvantaged.

And the tragic events in Paris on Friday highlight why it's so important to build this life on God. Any time something tragic happens in the world, we all take to social media and post our "Pray for Paris" pictures and hashtags, but we have to realize this isn't just one of those things that happens with no explanation like a hurricane or earthquake. This was the result of a group of men who chose to enact one of the core tenets of their religion which calls for the destruction of anything that is different than them. There are people in this world who hate you for worshipping Jesus, and they hate you enough to kill you for it. And they're gaining ground. But you have a God who loves you so much that he died for you, and he will never be overcome. World leaders are inept at stopping them, but your God has given you the means to take care of your soul and the souls of those in your care.

So we do not fear the dangers of this present world or the end of the world in whatever form it will take, because Jesus has given us the Mass and Confession, he's given us the means to take care of our souls. With these two tools, you can face any danger in this world, and you can build a relationship with God that will one day bring you home to heaven.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Feast of the Lateran Basilica

Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Lateran Basilica. Last year this feast fell on a Sunday and so warranted a fully-scripted homily. Today's Monday morning homily was a bit shorter. This is the head church of the Christian world, technically even more important than St. Peter's Basilica, because it is the cathedral of Rome. We celebrate the "Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist in the Lateran," or just "the Lateran" as a sign of unity of all Christendom, so today is a fitting day to pray for the unity of all Christians.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Do You Trust Me?

In our first reading and in our gospel today, there's this very clear call to trust God. We like to pay lip service to trusting God, but when push comes to shove, trusting God is not easy. Oftentimes, it's downright frightening. But as scary as it can be, it's still a better way to get through life than relying on our own means.

Do you trust me?
It reminds me of the scene early on in the Disney movie Aladdin, where Princess Jasmine has snuck away from the palace, and then the palace guards catch her and Aladdin. As the guards close in, Aladdin holds out his hand to Jasmine and says, "Do you trust me?" She tentatively says yes and takes his hand, and then he yanks her out a window, they fall several stories, and magically land on a pile of soft sand. This is what trusting God often feels like. It's not easy, it's not safe, and it's not predictable, but it's a whole lot better than not trusting God.

For Jasmine, trusting even when it was scary led to short term difficulties, but long term happiness. So in the first reading, this widow is in Zarephath, which is a town outside Israel. Elijah the prophet has been sent there by God because there was a drought in Israel. Apparently the drought is reaching out to Zarephath because this woman is almost out of food. She understands her plight well when she says that she's going to prepare one small meal and then go ahead and die. But she explains this to Elijah, this stranger who seems to be from God, and he says, "No, make me some food first." And she does it! As near as she can tell, this is a death sentence for her, because she's just given away the last of her food to a man who sort of said it would be ok.

Elijah certainly didn't present a very convincing argument as to why she should trust him, but some spark of faith in her led her to do it anyway. And what would have happened if she hadn't trusted him? If she had said the logical thing, "No, I'm going to keep the last food I have to my name," she would eaten it and indeed then she would have died. If she had chosen to not trust, she would have died, but because she had this radical trust where she held nothing back from God, she was able to live.

And then when we have this gospel reading, where this woman gives her last two coins to God. She trusts everything to God and holds nothing back for herself. She isn't leaving herself an out in case God doesn't come through. Again, we have radical trust, but it's a little different this time. This one might be a little more relatable to us because woman puts her two small coins into the collection, and then she just leaves. We don't know what happens to her. We don't know if someone comes forward to take care of her. We don't know if she found a twenty dollar bill outside. We don't know if she spent the next several days hungry, or worse.

But this is what the woman had going for her, if we assume the best of intentions for her: whether things turned out well or bad, she trusted herself to God. But let's imagine for just a minute that even though she trusted God, things don't turn out well for her. Let's imagine that no one steps in to help, and that she dies homeless. She trusted everything she had to God rather than take care of herself. Was that trust misplaced? Absolutely not, because trusting God is not a promise that things are going to turn out well in this life, it's a promise that things are going to turn out well eternally. We have a God who said, "Take up your cross and follow me," before he himself died on a cross. Trusting God is not a guarantee that we will not suffer.

When you and I trust God, when we decide to put our life in his hands and hold nothing back for ourselves, we have no idea how that will turn out in the short run. In the long run, it' an absolute guarantee that he will bring you home to Heaven, but it's no guarantee of an easy life in the short run.

Google Image: example
Trusting God is easy when things are going well. Trusting God is a whole different matter when things are going down the drain. If you do a Google image search for "trusting God" you get a whole lot of unhelpful pictures of serene looking people with their hands folded in prayer looking very content, but I just don't think that speaks to the reality of life.

Because just as soon as you think about trusting God at all times, then you have to consider the realities of life: what happens when you lose a job, when your marriage is on the rocks, when your kids are rebelling and taking their life down the toilet, when you're battling illness that you don't understand? That's when trust in God becomes almost impossible, but that's when it becomes the one thing there is to bring you through those dark places.

God allows so much suffering in this world that it can make trusting him actually quite difficult. There is no easy answer to that. There is only the cross. There is only Jesus Christ, the God who suffers with us so that we don't suffer alone. He never promised that we wouldn't suffer when we trust him, he only promised that we wouldn't suffer alone.

But the only way to actually grow in relationship with this God who loves us so much that he died for us, is to actually trust him. And that's scary. It's not scary because he might let you down, it's scary because you don't know what suffering he may ask of you. Not unlike Jasmine trusting Aladdin, if you choose to trust God, you don't know what highs and lows he'll take you on. But the end is secure.

So how is God asking you to step out on a limb today? Are you secure in life and is he asking you to take a risk with him? Are you in a dark spot right now, and is God asking you to hold his hand even tighter in the darkness? Whatever it is, go ahead and trust him today. Trust him more today than yesterday. Trust him even though you don't know how this turns out in the short run. In the long run he will bring you to eternal life.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Love and Tolerance

In today's first reading, Paul tells the Romans that "love does no evil to the neighbor." This is easier said than done in a culture that is very confused about what love means. Here's my short homily on the topic.

Hint: love doesn't equal tolerance or approval.

Witness St. Paul holding the instrument of his execution. They didn't kill him because he was tolerant. They lopped his head off with a sword specifically because he was intolerant and disapproving of the world around him.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Papal Positivism

"We teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable."
This is what the First Vatican Council taught about the ever-misunderstood doctrine of papal infallibility. For the sake of the Church, the Holy Spirit protects the Pope from error when he speaks "ex cathedra" (literally, "from the chair"), meaning when he speaks in his official capacity as head of Christendom., and he defines or clarifies a matter pertaining to faith or morals. That's it. That's all. The pope is not infallible in all of his actions. He is not infallible even in all of his teachings or homilies or in any of the many speeches he gives. The Holy Spirit does not protect those things from error.

In former times, before the onset of mass media and instant communication, Catholics could go their whole life and never hear about what Pope was saying or doing. If he did something momentous, then news of it might reach your far-flung village, but otherwise what the Pope said didn't generally affect you.

This changed with modern communication. Now I can know what the Pope said in a homily, translated into my own language, even before he finishes the Mass. And with this comes a new danger. Nowadays we fall into the danger of thinking that every utterance of the Pope is infallible and that to disagree with the Pope means you have to turn in your Catholic card. In various quarters this is called either papal positivism or papolatry. I prefer papal positivism.

This means that during the pontificate of John Paul, the enemies of the Church were communism and the culture of death, but then during then upon his death in 2005 that was no longer the Catholic thing to oppose. Then when Pope Benedict was elected, the enemy became the dictatorship of relativism. Upon his resignation and the election of Pope Francis, opposing the dictatorship of relativism was no longer Catholic because that might make you a culture warrior; now the enemy to oppose is frowning faces and pharisees who oppose mercy.

The mental gymnastics one has to perform to adhere to papal positivism, to make call one thing Catholic today and another thing Catholic tomorrow, reminds me of a scene in the quintessential dystopian novel 1984, where Winston notices how his country's enemy subtly switches from one enemy to another with barely a feather ruffled and everyone just going along with the charade:
[A]fter the procession, the speeches, the shouting, the singing, the banners, the just this moment it had been announced that Oceania was not after all at war with Eurasia. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Eurasia was an ally. There was, of course, no admission that any change had take place. Merely it became known, with extreme suddenness and everywhere at once, that Eastasia and not Eurasia was the enemy. Winston was taking part in a demonstration in one of the central London squares at the moment when it happened...On a scarlet-draped platform an orator of the Inner Party...was haranguing the crowd...The speech had been proceeding for perhaps twenty minutes when a messenger hurried onto the platform and a scrap of paper was slipped into the speaker's hand. He unrolled and read it without pausing in his speech. Nothing altered in his voice or manner, or in the content of what he was saying, but suddenly the names were different. Without words said, a wave of understanding rippled through the crowd. Oceania was at war with Eastasia! The next moment there was a tremendous commotion. The banners and posters were ripped from the walls, banners torn to shreds and trampled underfoot. But within two or three minutes it was all over. The orator, still gripping the neck of the microphone...had gone straight on with his speech. The thing that impressed Winston in looking back was that the speaker had switched from one line to the other actually in midsentence, not only without a pause, but without even breaking syntax...Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.
We run the risk of voluntarily pulling the wool over our own eyes when we act like the mission and the purpose of the Church changes when the Pope changes, even more so if we pretend like the dogma and practice of the Church changes with the Pope. We don't do the Church any favors if we think we have to like or agree with everything the Pope says or does. We are called to love the Pope and to respect him, to obey and believe what he teaches on faith and morals, but we are not called to agree with everything he says. In fact, it may be our duty to resist him when he is in error. It may be our duty to say, "Your Holiness, what you're doing doesn't make a lot of sense to me." Obviously we aren't calling the Pope on the phone to express these things, yet disagreement  is always done with respect in whatever venue we have available to us.

Resist this error of papal positivism. The Pope is just human, and can make mistakes. Love him and respect him, but you don't have to look cross-eyed at the poor decisions he makes until they look like good decisions. It's ok to call a spade a spade. It's good for the Church, and good for Christ's Vicar who leads her.

Monday, November 2, 2015

All Souls Day

A helpful picture about who helps who on our journey to heaven
Today we celebrate All Souls Day, which is where we are reminded that for many of us there is a time of purgation between here and heaven, namely Purgatory, where we are cleansed of the sins that we still cling to when we die. Also today, we are reminded to pray for the souls in Purgatory. Here is my homily from Mass this morning.
My #sacristyselfie
Yesterday, for All Saints Day, the priest wore white (symbolizing baptism and purity) to honor those who enjoy the glory of heaven. Since today we are praying for those who are deprived of the glory of Heaven due to their own sins, not celebrating those who enjoy it, black is a very appropriate color for the day as it symbolizes a prayerful, sober mourning. For more on the use of black vestments in the liturgy, I would point you to the liturgy guy.

Oremus pro fidelibus defunctis
Let us pray for the faithful departed

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Be Heroic. Be a Saint.

Today we interrupt our Sundays of Ordinary Time to celebrate the great Feast of All Saints. This feast always falls on November 1st and it's one of the rare feasts in our church calendar that will replace the Sunday celebration. So this is the middle of kind of a three-day reflection on what happens after we day. On October 31st, Halloween, we kind of reflect a little bit on hell, today, All Saints Day, we focus on heaven, and tomorrow, All Souls Day, we focus on those in Purgatory.

So this is one of the high water marks of the Church's liturgical year. The feast of all the saints is where we get to pay homage and respect to everyone who has completed the journey, to everyone who has finished the race. We get to turn to all of them, and ask for their help. Every time we pray the Creed we proclaim our belief in the Communion of Saints, so let's make sure we have a good understanding of what that means.

When a person lives a virtuous life that would be we would all do well to imitate, and they end up having a following either in life or in death, then the Church conducts an investigation into that person's life and eventually declares that person a Saint. With this we're talking about those names we know like St. Padre Pio, St. John Paul II, or St. Therese of Lisieux. Declaring a person a saint is a statement of affirmation on the Church's part that we're sure this person is already in heaven and so is in a position to intercede for us. This declaration, what we call canonization or raising to the altars, doesn't send this person to heaven or do a darn thing for them, because they're already in the presence of God Himself, so nothing we say or do for them improves their position at all. Rather, the Church makes this proclamation for our sake, for those of us still working our way to heaven, to serve as examples and sources of help on our way.

But those who are declared saints only make up one part of the communion of saints. When we talk about the communion of saints, or All Saints Day, we mean everyone who is in heaven, everyone who stands before the Throne of God, both those we know about and those we don't know about. Like, I firmly believe that my grandmother is in heaven, and if she is that makes her a part of the communion of saints. But I don't expect the Church to conduct a formal investigation into her life and declare her a saint, nor do I expect shrines and churches to be built in her honor. But if she is indeed in heaven, then she is a part of the communion of saints that we celebrate this day.

Now, Jesus told us to enter through the narrow gate, because the gate that leads to destruction is wide and those who enter through it are many (Matt 7:13). So when we celebrate the feast of all the saints, we commemorate and honor this great band of misfits and weirdos who didn't do what the popular thing. We celebrate those who didn't go along with the crowds, those who didn't do what was popular. We celebrate those who did what Jesus said to do in today's gospel. We celebrate those who wept while the world rejoiced, those who were hungry while the world was full, those who were merciful when the world was cold and heartless. We celebrate them because now they're receiving their reward.

We celebrate them and honor them because they want to help us. The saints are not disconnected from us, they're still a part of the Body of Christ, the Church. So the Church exists in three forms: The Church Militant, the Church Suffering, and the Church Triumphant.  The Church Militant is us on earth, the ones still fighting the good fight. The Church Suffering refers to those in Purgatory, those who are being purified of their sins, and the Church Triumphant refers to those saints in heaven, those who have made it. It is the job of the Church Triumphant to intercede for those who are still on the way, for us and for the souls in Purgatory.

So it's vitally important that we enlist the help of the saints in our fight against sin and in our journey to heaven, because it is possible to miss the mark. It is possible to end up in hell. Hell is not so much a punishment inflicted by God but rather the natural consequence of my own free choices against God and his goodness. Jesus tells us that wide is this path and that many choose it. So our job in this Christian life is to be a weirdo. Be a misfit. Our job is to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be clean of heart. Today Jesus gives us the instruction manual for getting to heaven. But this is not how the world lives. The world does not live according the values of the Beatitudes. And this is not a criticism of the modern world because at no time in history, ever since Adam's original sin, has the world lived according to the Beatitudes. They don't make you rich, they don't make you happy, and they don't make you successful, at least as far as the world measures wealth, happiness, and success. But they set you on a trajectory to realize true wealth, true happiness, and true success in the kingdom where they actually exist.

Louis and Zelie, just your normal everyday heroes
A cardinal in our Church recently said that, "Heroism is not for the average Christian," but I completely disagree with that. Holiness is nothing less than heroism. Because a couple weeks ago something momentous happened in the life of the Church. A husband and wife, Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, were canonized saints, and this is momentous because they are the first spouses ever to be canonized as a couple. And they didn't change the world, they didn't travel to far off lands to convert the masses. They just lived the faith, raised their kids well, and passed the faith onto them. I'm sure they fought with each other. I only say this because they were married. They fought with each other but they persevered. They sinned their whole lives through just like you and me, but they went to Confession. This makes them truly heroic, because heroism truly is for the average Christian.

So your job today and every day is to take the saints as your standard and say, "How am I doing?" Your job is to be a misfit in this world, your job is to not be one of the crowd on the wide road to hell. So if you look around you and you look at yourself, and you don't see a whole lot of difference between you and the world, it's time to get to work. Pick the sin in your life that most drastically affects your relationship with God, and then figure out a game plan for what you're going to do about it. Don't settle for, "Well, I try to be a good person." Be specific. Pick a sin you need to eradicate, and pick the opposing virtue you need to grow in. Figure out how you're going to do it. Are you going to say a particular prayer every time you commit this sin? Perhaps take on a penance every time you commit the sin? Or is the sin you need to work on really serious? Do you need to confide in a trusted friend and ask them to hold you accountable for virtue in this area? Pick the sin you need to work on, and come up with a plan of action. When you come up with a plan of action, enlist a particular saint to help you, especially one who has struggled with that same sin. Also make sure that plan of action involves Confession because you can only grow closer to God by the methods he has made available to you. By patiently but deliberately working on the particular sins in our lives, each of us can truly practice heroic virtue. We ask the saints to help us in this. We entrust ourselves to their intercession and to the mercy of God as we all seek one day to join the communion of saints.