Sunday, May 21, 2017

The four keys to being a disciple (Sunday homily)

Last week, we looked at the “Parish Priorities” 
that I am calling us, as a parish, to pursue together. 
And if you recall, the second goal is “Making more disciples.” 
Listening to the readings, that seems a good topic to explore this week.

The word “disciple” means one who is taught; 
but it’s more than what happens 
when you’re a student at RHS or college. 
You go to school, you put in your time, maybe you have homework – 
but you can’t wait till you’re finished. 
If that’s your idea of how to follow Jesus, you’re doing it wrong.

Jesus’ disciples went where he went, they lived with him. 
They weren’t with him just to learn a trade or gain a degree;
this was about a new life.

In the readings, we see his disciples in action. 
The deacon Philip is sharing Christ with people. 
But notice, he isn’t just there to tell them things; 
he shows concern for their well-being. 
People are healed through his work. 

And in the second reading, Peter tells us: 
be ready to give an answer to everyone, 
concerning the reason for your hope. 
These are the things that disciples do, 
because they are doing what Jesus did, because they were with him.

So, as I was thinking about what it means to be a disciple, 
I came up with four qualities; and to make it simple, 
they can be summed up in four words: 
Open, Turn, Time, and Teach. 
That is to say, being a disciple of Jesus 
starts with us really opening ourselves; turning toward the Lord, 
giving him time, and letting him teach us. 

“Opening ourselves”: that means more than the minimum, 
more than just checking the boxes and following the rules. 
That’s what a lot of people think being a Catholic is – 
and that’s what a lot of people want it to be. 
Tell me what I have to do: 
how many times do I have to show up at church or CCD or for meetings. 
Give me a list of dos and don’ts, and I’ll check them off. 
And if I do something wrong? I’ll go to confession; I’m good to go.

If you want to be his disciple, open yourself to Christ! 
Pope Benedict said once 
that we are often afraid to entrust ourselves entirely to God, 
because we think he will take something away 
and we will be less ourselves. 
On the contrary, Benedict said: 
when we really abandon ourselves to God’s will, 
only then do we really become fully ourselves! 

The second word is “turning”: we must turn to God. 
Jesus said, “if you want to be my disciple, 
take up your cross, and follow me.” 
We must turn from our sins and turn toward him. 
This conversion isn’t just once; we learn quickly enough as his followers, 
that we must repent over and over. And you see that with the Apostles. 
They were always losing their way, 
and Jesus would help them turn back to him. 
And that, too, was part of their learning and growing.

There’s another way we must be ready to turn: 
Jesus himself is going to surprise us 
with turns and directions we don’t expect. 

When I was 16, I was certain I would be an attorney. 
When I applied for college, I expected an Air Force scholarship, 
but that didn’t happen. When the time came to apply to law school, 
I discovered I didn’t want to be a lawyer after all! 

Instead, I worked as a journalist. A few turns later, 
I was working in politics. And then, at age 35, 
I entered the seminary, and here I am, a priest. 
I never saw it coming, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So if you want to be his disciple, be ready to keep turning back to him, staying close to him, whichever way he takes you.

The third word is “time.” 
There can be no discipleship 
unless we are prepared to give our time to Jesus. 
If you look at the Gospels, 
the Apostles were almost always with Jesus – 
only occasionally off on their own. 

And when he was telling them about his departure – 
today’s Gospel gives us part of that conversation – 
Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, 
so that he would be with them “always, until the end of the world.”

You might be thinking, I can’t give Jesus all my time! 
I have work, I have chores, I have a business to run, 
friends, sports, school and papers and studying to do! 
But there is no contradiction. 

Obviously, this giving of time to Jesus involves prayer; 
prayer is absolutely indispensable. 
What you will find is that if you give Jesus 
a part of your time in prayer – it need not be a lot, 
even 15 minutes will do – 
and if you invite him along for the rest of the day, he will be there.

This isn’t something that just happens; it is a habit we form, 
and the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will help us. 
As we go through our day, we pause, we ask Jesus to help; 
we call on him when frustrated or under temptation, and he is there. 

So to be his disciple, we must give him time.

Finally, to be a disciple is to be taught. 
Remember, the main way the first disciples learned from Jesus 
was by being with him. 
They prayed with him; they read or listened to Scripture with him; 
they listened to his words. And they saw what he did, 
particularly in caring for people in their needs. 
If you want to learn from Jesus, read Scripture, yes; 
and seek out other good materials. 
But you will also learn when you reach beyond yourself 
and seek Christ in others. 

Jesus calls you to be his disciple. 
It’s not easy; it’s simply the best thing there is.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Christ calls us to build and fill his House; here's how we're going to do it in this parish (Sunday homily)

There are two special points emphasized in the readings. 
First is hospitality and welcome; and the second is building God’s House. 

In light of those themes, I think this is a great opportunity 
to return to the Parish Priorities 
I introduced in a homily just before Lent. 
As I explained then, these are priorities the Pastoral Council and I, 
after much reflection, see as deserving special emphasis. 

And to recall, they are five: 

(1) Devout worship;
(2) Forming more disciples;
(3) Offering a better welcome;
(4) Seeking out – that is, inactive Catholics 
and those who aren’t Catholic;
(5) Paying for it all.

But it all boils down to what the readings talk about. 
Building God’s House – which is made of people – 
and seeking out those God wants in his House.

In the first reading, the early Church is divided along ethnic lines; 
that is, Greeks and Hebrews, with the Greeks feeling neglected.

Notice the Apostles’ solution is very practical. 
All seven men have Greek names. 
It has ever been this way. 
When the Archbishop sent the first priest here, 
he chose Father Navarron, who was French, 
like the first Catholics in this parish.
There are similar needs today. 
A growing number of Catholics in the U.S. are Spanish-speaking.
But do you realize that right now, 
Hispanics represent over 40% of all Catholics in this country? 

So far, we aren’t seeing this in Russia, 
but go to Osgood and St. Mary’s, to Sidney and Piqua, to Troy 
– and of course points beyond – you’ll see this here and now.
And who can say but that Russia’s turn may come before long.

Meanwhile, there is another cultural and language barrier 
that is real for us, here and now. I don’t mean Spanish v. English. 
I mean, the gap between the culture that is familiar to us 
as practicing Catholics, as opposed to those around us, 
who are not Catholic, or not active.

You and I gather here each Sunday because that’s our habit; 
our parents taught it to us, and part of what brings us here
is that this is where we feel at home; 
our friends and family are here, too.
We have a familiarity; we “fit in.” 

But if you didn’t grow up with what is so familiar to us; 
or, if you were baptized Catholic, 
but never really developed the habits 
that are second-nature for many of us, then there is a barrier. 
The terms you and I use, 
like “grace” and “sacraments” and “Resurrection” 
might as well be Spanish or French 
for many who live and work side-by-side with us. 
Has Christ prepared a place for them? Of course! 
So who has the task of helping them find that place? 

My purpose in proposing these Parish Priorities 
isn’t about some new project or program, 
but a different way of thinking; and even in being Catholic.
A different awareness of what belonging to this parish means.
Not just for the priest, or the staff, or key volunteers,
but for every single baptized Catholic, from age 1 to 101.

So why now? There are trends moving very fast in our nation, 
leading us to a post-Christian future. 
And I don’t mean 100 years from now, I mean, 20 years from now. 
Unless we build a great wall around Russia, this will affect us, too.

Let me offer an analogy. 
What if I told you that for each child enrolled in Russia School, 
there was another child in this community, not enrolled, 
and not home-schooled either, but in fact, 
receiving no education at all? Would that shock you?

Well, that’s the situation with our parish! 
For every person who attends Mass here each week, 
there is another Catholic who is registered in this parish, 
but doesn’t show up. 
We have 1,564 Catholics registered; 
we get about 750 in the pews each week. 
And that’s only those Catholics who bothered to register!


Meanwhile, there hundreds more folks who aren’t Catholic, 
but who Christ is making room for in his Father’s House as well.

So, this is why we began the Men’s Prayer Walk last June, 
and we’ll do it again this June – check the bulletin for the date. 

This is why we’ve begun inviting everyone – not just Catholics – 
to use Formed.org and to attend our summer Bible Camp. 
This is why we will have a Parish Mission this November 
with Father Nathan Cromly. 
But again, it isn’t about a program or an event; 
And sending out flyers alone isn’t enough.

So, here’s something you can do. 

Over the next several months, I’d like to meet personally 
with each and every parish group, 
in order to talk about these priorities, and very specifically, 
to talk about how each group can play a role.

After all, this welcome, this bringing people to the Lord, 
usually doesn’t begin at Sunday Mass; 
it begins in your living rooms or backyards, 
over lunch at school or pizza in the bowling alley. 

If this was simply a matter of special knowledge 
or some sort of “technique,” 
I’d pass out cards or booklets; but it’s not. 

It’s a change of mindset; it’s an evolution to the culture of the parish. 
Just like what the Apostles did in the first reading.
And this adaptation, this new mindset, 
will happen not simply because I talk about it on Sunday, 
but because it’s something we all help each other learn together.

So if you are part of any group or activity in the parish, 
I’m asking someone from your group 
to send me an email or give me a call, 
and we’ll plan a time to dig into this together. 

Today is Mother’s Day, and we give thanks for all our mothers do – 
in giving us natural life, and sharing spiritual life with us. 
How do they do it? 

The answer is not, that it’s something they say now and then, 
or some special knowledge or program. 

No; our mothers do what they do by being who they are. 
Their life, their example, as well as their words, are the “how”; 
our moms being who they are is how we become who we are. 
That’s how the family grows; that’s how the Church grows. 
And that’s how you and will share Christ with our community.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Morning Prayer Mash up

When I arrived in the sacristy this morning, before Mass, as I always do, I turned on the church lights, vested and sat down to pray my breviary -- i.e., the book for the Liturgy of the Hours. Almost always, I pray Lauds, or Morning Prayer first; then, if time allows, Office of Readings and Mid-morning Prayer.

Now, when we pray the office during Easter, there is some extra flipping around in the book; that's just how the breviary is laid out. That bears on what follows.

So, I started Morning Prayer, with Psalm 95, then the hymn, then the usual hymns. Then I flipped back to the second half...and I guess I got distracted, because...

A few minutes later, I was praying the first and second reading for Office of Readings. Then I looked at the time, and thought, wow, this went fast! I flipped to begin Mid-morning prayer...

Only to realize I'd skipped the psalms for Office of Readings! Oh well, I've done that before; so I then prayed the psalms. So then I figured, OK, I'm finished with Office of Readings; I'll pray the psalms for Mid-morning Prayer. When I finished those, I flipped back to pray the reading and final prayer of Mid-morning Prayer...

And then realized I'd never prayed the second half of Morning Prayer! So, then, I thought: now what?

So I finished Morning Prayer. Then, I finished Mid-morning Prayer.

To review, this is what I did:

1. First half of Morning Prayer
2. Second half of Office of Readings
3. First half of Office of Readings
4. First half of Mid-morning Prayer
5. Second half of Morning Prayer
6. Second half of Mid-morning Prayer

Some days I'm really foggy. It was that way till around noon.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

What we do, and don't, believe about the pope and the Church (Sunday homily)

The image of the shepherd is pretty strong in the readings – 
that’s why this is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” 
But did you also notice how much we heard from Saint Peter? 
That’s appropriate, since he was the first pope, 
the first shepherd appointed by Christ to guard and teach the Church.

This is a good opportunity to talk about what we do, and do not, 
believe about the pope and the nature of the Church.

At one extreme, there are people who think 
we treat the pope as if he were the oracle of God; 
whatever he says or does is almost like Scripture. 
At the other extreme are those who say, 
well there have been bad popes and bad bishops, 
so how can you believe there is anything special about the pope, 
or for that matter, the Church?

And the answer is this: what makes the Church special, 
and the pope in particular, isn’t anything about us; 
it isn’t anything about Pope Francis as a man. 
What is special is what Christ does, in his power.

So we do believe, as Catholics, 
that there is something special about the Church. 
The Church is the Body of Christ; and therefore, 
the Church, while made up of human beings, 
nevertheless, the Church is divine. 
Jesus is human and Jesus is divine. 
The Church, which is his Body, is likewise, both human and divine.

Unlike Jesus, we members of his Body do sin.
That reality of the Church is on full display, sometimes to our shame.

But the supernatural reality is also there, if we look for it. 
We can see it in a couple of ways.

First, we can see it in the work of Providence. 
There’s a quote by G.K. Chesterton, from his book called Orthodoxy,
in which he paints a picture of the Church moving through history, 
always in peril, always on the edge of disaster, 
and yet, somehow it all works out. 

In her early days, the Church, Chesterton said, 
“went fierce and fast with any warhorse,” 
yet had to maneuver past the error of “Arianism, 
buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. 
The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, 
which would have made (the Church) too unworldly” – 
and so it has been, all these centuries. 

Again, Chesterton said, 

To have fallen into any one of the fads
from Gnosticism to Christian Science
would indeed have been obvious and tame.
But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure;
and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages,
the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate,
the wild truth reeling but erect.

In other words, this is the work of the Holy Spirit, 
safeguarding the Church in all these dangers. 

And it is the same for the pope in particular. 
Pope Francis, or any pope, can make mistakes 
and can show weakness or worldliness. 

And to be clear, what we believe about the pope 
is not that he is uniquely holy or wise or courageous 
or anything of that sort. We hope for that; 
and as it happens, we have been blessed 
with many men of extraordinary courage and wisdom and saintliness.

But none of that is automatic.

Instead, what we believe – and please listen carefully to this:
what we believe is that God will protect the pope, in certain moments, 
to ensure that he does not teach error to the Church. 
That’s what we call “infallibility.” 
It is not a promise that everything will be smooth sailing; 
but rather, that when the Bark of Peter faces storms, 
she may take on water and suffer damage – but she will not sink. 

This is the work of the Good Shepherd, 
the True Shepherd, Jesus Christ himself.

Why isn’t it easier? Notice what Pope Peter said: 
Jesus suffered for us…but we follow in his footsteps. 
We go where Jesus has gone – and that includes the Cross. 
That includes the valley of the shadow of death. 
But we never go there alone. 

Meanwhile, if you and I want the Church to be all we dream of, 
there is something we can do instead of complaining. 

Be that shining example of a Christian! Be a saint! 

That is the other way we see the supernatural reality of the Church, 
in the lives of saints and in the way grace shines in them. 
If you and I are busy about becoming saints,
we won’t have any time to worry about what others are, or aren’t doing. 
If a bishop or a priest has let you down – if I have let you down – 
I am deeply sorry. 
But they – I – can’t keep you from being a saint. 
You stay on that path!

Friday, May 05, 2017

Justice Kennedy's retirement: why now? What next?

Two items:

First: there's a lot of buzz that Justice Anthony Kennedy will retire soon, perhaps in the next two months. I linked just one item, but if you do a web search, you'll see a lot more.

Second: In First Things, George Weigel predicts that if the next vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court means the replacement of a pro-abortion justice (e.g., Justice Kennedy!), all hell will break loose. What happened with Gorsuch will be a walk in the park, compared to the political tactics and rioting in the streets.

As I think about all this, wondering why Justice Kennedy would choose to step down now, and what the opposition would be aiming at accomplishing in all this, some thoughts occur to me:

- He might have noticed the Republicans have only a 52-48 majority in the Senate right now, with several Republican "moderates" making a decisive margin. After 2018, the odds are, the margin will be greater. So he might figure this maximizes the chance of his successor being a more moderate Republican nominee -- i.e., just like him.

- The Democrats know they can't prevent President Trump from filling the seat; but there are advantages to bogging things down. If, as often happens, Kennedy's resignation only takes effect once his successor is named, then dragging things out keeps Kennedy around; it's not a vacancy as with Scalia. And, while they don't like how Kennedy votes on some things, they really like what he does on abortion and redefining marriage, and all that flows from those positions. 

- But even if Kennedy were to quit outright, that puts us back at 4-4 ties on abortion cases, at best; and on cases where Kennedy tends to be conservative, that means a gain for the left. 

- While the Democrats obviously would be aiming to keep their own constituencies happy (i.e., the pro-abortion lobby, the LGBTetc. community, trial lawyers, etc.), they would have other goals in making this fight really ugly:

a) Delay, delay, delay; not only of a confirmation, but of anything else Trump and the GOP want to pass.

b) They might get lucky and "bork" the next nominee. They only need switch a handful of "moderate" Republicans, such as: Collins of Maine, Murkowski of Alaska, and McCain of Arizona. There are a couple more who might waver.

c) The anticipation of all this might induce Trump to back off a little, at least from the most fire-breathing candidates for the high court.

d) They might be able to make some other deal with Trump. Dangerous for Trump, but he might be tempted nevertheless.

- But then there's this: what effect does all this have on Chief Justice John Roberts? Everyone assumes he will be a vote to overturn Roe; but he famously didn't overturn Obamacare; he found a way to salvage it. Does he want to be the 5th vote that causes so much turmoil?

Honestly, I think Roberts is an uncertain vote to overturn Roe. Maybe he would "hollow it out" as some have said; or maybe he waits until there are six votes -- which means replacing Breyer or Ginsberg. My guess is Ginsberg will do anything to prevent Trump naming her successor.

All this is yet another reason why we can't just wait and rely on the Supreme Court on these things. My group, the National Pro Life Alliance, has been working to advance the Life at Conception Act, (S. 231/H.R. 681 and H.R. 586) which overturns Roe the way the Roe v. Wade decision said it could be: by declaring unborn children persons under the 14th Amendment. In authoring the Roe holding, Justice Blackmun said that if the personhood of the unborn child were established, the case for abortion being included in the so-called right of privacy "would collapse" (Blackmun's own words). Yet he said the court couldn't answer whether unborn children were persons. Who can? The 14th Amendment says Congress can enforce the amendment. So that's the approach.

Is this a sure thing? Of course not; but neither is the next appointment strategy. And the constitutional amendment route is the hardest of all. But one of the many advantages to pursuing the Life at Conception Act is that every year, we're keeping the pressure on Congress, and we're getting more and more members of Congress to commit to cosponsoring the legislation. That means not only more support for repeal of Roe; it means more support for every other pro life legislation that might come forward. And, in the Senate, it gives us a stronger position to support a solid nominee to the Supreme Court, whenever it happens (as well as more Senators who might push back if Trump names someone too weak, as in President Bush's ill-fated choice of Harriet Meirs).

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Can we reclaim the name 'Holy Cross' from Holy Cross College?

At National Review Online I saw this item: Does the College of the Holy Cross Need to Change Its Team Name? The article depressingly goes mostly where you imagine it will, although the matter of abandoning the venerable name "Crusader" is still "under discussion." 

I am not familiar with the College of the Holy Cross in particular, but we are all too well acquainted with the disheartening spectacle of an institution of higher learning, bearing a Catholic name, behaving as if it has no idea of who or what it is any longer. Since I can't keep track of the track record for all the ostensibly Catholic institutions in our country, I rely on the Cardinal Newman Society to do this for me; this fine organization performs the heroic duty of reporting instances of infidelity by Catholic colleges and universities. So, I did a Google search of "Holy Cross college Massachusetts Newman Society,"* and as I feared, received back a plentiful list of links that paint a picture. I hasten to point out I have not investigated all these links; I will leave that to you.

Let's just stick to the question presented here: is it a bad thing to be a crusader? Contemporary "thought" (which is increasingly the opposite) would say so; but if pressed, does a very poor job of explaining why. What, exactly, is a Crusader? Well, of course, that's easy. While Wikipedia must not be relied on for exact information, it's useful for a general sense of things. Here's what you get there:

Military:

Crusader, a participant in one of the Crusades. See Category:People of the Crusades and List of principal Crusaders
Crusader states, states set up by the Europeans in the Balkans and the Middle East during The Crusades
Crusader tank, a British cruiser tank of World War II
HMS Crusader, three British naval ships
Operation Crusader, a British attack in North African campaign in World War II
VMFA-122 Crusaders, a United States Marine Corps fixed wing fighter-attack squadron 122
XM2001 Crusader, an American self-propelled artillery project
Crusaders (guerrilla), a Croatian anti-communist guerrilla army

Transportation:

Crusader (speedboat), the jet speedboat in which John Cobb died
Crusader (train), a streamlined train which operated between 1937 and 1981
Crusader, a GWR 3031 Class locomotive that was built for and ran on the Great Western Railway between 1891 and 1915
Crusader ambulance (original version named Crusader 900), a type of emergency ambulance in widespread use in the United Kingdom, originally developed by the St John Ambulance Brigade

Aircraft:

F-8 Crusader, a U.S. Navy fighter jet
XF8U-3 Crusader III, an experimental fighter intended to replace the F-8 and compete with the F-4 Phantom II
Short Crusader, a racing seaplane built by Short Brothers
American Gyro AG-4 Crusader an aircraft built by the Crusader Aircraft Corporation
Cessna T303 Crusader

And that's just the first three categories; further down are sports teams, publications and the like.

Notice something? Lots of people seemed to think that being a "Crusader" was an admirable thing. Why did they think that? 

Of course, all this originates with the first entry listed, above: those who went on one of the several Crusades to liberate the Holy Land from invasion and conquest by armies carrying the banner of Islam. 

Now, lots of things happened in the course of the Crusades that we -- or anyone of any age -- wished did not happen. But so what? There were moral failures by the Allies in World War II, some pretty significant* -- but acknowledging this fact does not call into question the legitimacy of the Allies' overall effort; and if someone were to claim that such failures create any sort of moral equivalency between the Allies and the Axis, that is both incoherent and obscene.

The comparison between the Allies and the Crusaders is entirely apt, as both were a response to aggression. Indeed, this isn't just something I came up with; notice the entries, above, of uses of "crusader" in association with World War II. By the way, do you know what symbol Charles de Gaulle, the hero of the French resistance to Axis conquest, chose as the emblem of the Free French forces? Here is the banner that sons of France bore as they liberated their homeland (click on image for more information):


To be a Crusader is to carry the Cross, including into battle in protection of the Christian faith and those who practice it. There is no reason to be embarrassed about it. For those who sneer at warriors entering battle with religious purpose, I ask: do we fight for better reasons today? Do we wage war more nobly, when we shed religious impulses? The presence of the Cross on the shields and the lips of the Crusaders served to elevate them; what would they have been without faith? More like us in the 20th and 21st century, I suspect (and not in a good way). The generation that avoids war without dishonor can sit in judgment of the Crusaders; but that generation doesn't exist yet, sadly.

Let me correct one thing: there is one reason to be embarrassed by the name "Crusader" -- and that is if you are embarrassed by the Cross. If the College of the Holy Cross has reached that point, I would ask, can we have back, not the name of your sports teams, but the name of your college? 

___________

* What do I have in mind? In World War II, many immoral and disreputable actions and omissions occurred on the part of the Allies; both on the part of individual figures, field commanders, and national leaders. Most notable would be the use of indiscriminate bombing, the destruction of Dresden, the use of atomic bombs in Japan, and the failure to do more to assist the Jews and others who were being systematically exterminated. These moral failures were faulted at the time, and have been since, especially by leading Catholic figures, such as various popes, and bishops such as Ven. Fulton Sheen. Feel free to look it up.