Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

St. Damien Church

14 September 2018

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

I want to thank Fr. Pelster for agreeing and permitting us to schedule this Solemn High Mass in what is a time of penance and reparation for the Church, called for locally by Archbishop Coakley in his letter to us on August 31.  Today’s feast gives us the opportunity to join together at Calvary and to plant the saving reality of the Holy Cross, not in dirt outside the walls of Jerusalem, but in the midst of the filth and dirt of heinous sin in our time.  This Holy Mass is offered for the intention of the healing of victims of clerical abuse and for conversion of the clergy.  Let nothing bring out of focus our attention to victims and the real harm done to them.  No excuses, no dismissals should lessen our focus on victims.  Let only our tears bring that attention out of “focus” because we weep due to unspeakable betrayal of the innocent and unspeakable betrayal of the Innocent Lamb without blemish!

None of us appreciates or likes how our beloved Church appears in this moment.  She’s not supposed to look this way.  She’s not supposed to be filthy.  The Lord gave up his life to make her spotless.  She’s supposed to be upright and standing tall.  Instead she is knocked down and in the dirt.  We hate this moment.  We hate what has happened.  We hate what it does to the Church and to us.  We are conflicted by the mystery of the human elements of the Church and how they are united to the divine.  How will she ever be better?  How will she return to her proper glory?  Just make it all go away.  We are tempted to fall prey to ill-advised silence and cowardice.  From the introit: “But it behoves us to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ….”  It behoves us to glory in the Cross!

If what I just expressed is true about how ill at ease we are with the disfigurement of the Church, how much more ill at ease are we with the disfigurement of Jesus, which today’s feast calls to our mind?  When we think of the Cross can we possibly like the way the Lord appears?  It doesn’t seem proper that he look so disfigured.  It doesn’t seem proper for him who is God to be filthy and covered in blood.  He’s not supposed to be thrown to the ground, but rather standing tall.  Yet, if he could lower himself to such depths for our salvation… then perhaps our conflict about the Church in this present crisis can be seen with different eyes.  What might cause us to view things differently when we are so disgusted by what is going on in the Church?  The reality that the Church, the Body of Christ, is united with her Head might cause us to see with different lenses.  What causes us to view this differently does not come about primarily by focusing on the Church, but rather by focusing on the Lord.  You see, the Lord is united with his Church in this shame.  We don’t want him in such a situation and we don’t want her, the Church, in it either.  Recalling also that the Lord chose to lower himself from his proper glory in heaven to endure the Cross also reforms our vision.  Certainly, it is a travesty to consider our Lord bruised, bloodied, and broken, as Isaiah prophesied about him: “As many were astonished at him – his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men” (Is. 52:14).  Yet, do we forget that in the Incarnation the Lord had already condescended mightily by leaving his heavenly glory to take on our flesh?  Considering the infinite greatness of God are we numbed to how unfitting it was for him to take on our flesh?  Isaiah again speaks of how low God made himself: “He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Is. 53:2).  And yet, this seemingly inappropriate lowering of self, this condescension of God to plant Himself in our lost state was already a disfigurement of sorts (at least as regards divinity), well before we ever get to the far greater disfigurement of the Cross.  Only the immense love of God for us helps us cast aside our apprehension to accept what the Lord freely chose to do in order to save us.  What we make of this is that God’s choosing of this path, is what helps us see the Cross and this present moment in Church life differently.  Where we only see brokenness and filth and hopelessness, we believe in faith that divine eyes see something more.  Why can we endure thinking of our Lord so disfigured and His Church presently so disfigured?  Because he chose this path for purposes only he can accomplish and his Bride is united with him to pass from shame to glory!  Think of this: In the suffering of Christ our Head, which we recall on this feast, the Lord used the government, the processes of Roman execution, to be crushed in order to fulfill his plan to accomplish not only death but ultimately the victory of resurrection.  Consider the ugliness of our time and the disfigurement of our beloved Church at the hands of priests and bishops.  What in many ways is forcing the hand and aiding a purification according to God’s plan?  It is, to a degree, again the government being used to force the filth into the light and to drive it to the foot of the Cross to receive its judgment like so many vile demons.  The government method the Lord is using today is, we might say, attorneys general who by the subpoena of records and forced investigation bring us great pain, yes, but oh, with the purification to come, we will see the Bride of Christ, the Church, appear more properly according to her nature as united in greater holiness to her Head.  Because of the power of God to make the horror of the Cross more than just horror, it behoves us to glory in it and we can have confidence that as he was lifted up for our salvation, so he will make his power and victory evident again in his Church, his Bride.  He will bring about a purification that causes our rejoicing and aids our ability to glory in what the world sees only as shame.

Oh sure, in our piety, we want to deny the Lord’s suffering in the words of Peter: “God forbid, Lord!  This shall never happen to you” (Mt. 16:22).  We feel the pain just imagining our good Lord so rejected, abused, beaten, dying, and bound to the Cross.  Yet bound to that ugliness, like sacramental matter to form, is the plan of God to use His lowering and sacrifice of self so that He be raised high in victory.  If we embrace the shame and the pain of purification right now in our age of the Church, there will be grace in our lowering of self and grace in being lifted high with our Head.  We have to want this process as the Lord does: “Now is the judgment of the world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.  And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself” (Jn. 12:31-32).

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dominica XXIII per Annum B

9 September 2018

I’ve been reflecting on my past two sermons on the crisis in the Church.  The first time I spoke on this I surprised myself by the intensity and emotion that came out of me.  Last weekend was like getting a bigger picture and a context that I could not appreciate in my anger the first weekend I spoke on these events.  I want to make sure that no one has a mistaken notion that the data I shared last weekend means I am saying the Church is now “in the clear.”  Today I want us to consider the wrath and anger of God who has been deeply offended by the heinous crimes committed in His Church and by His churchmen.  Whatever good the Church has done to address abuse, I think it is time for all of us as the Body of Christ to simply say to victims for whom the statistics never change: We are sorry.  Though we may not be personally guilty, we accept guilt and blame on ourselves and accept the call to do penance and to make reparation for the harm done to the innocent.  In accepting guilt on ourselves, you see, we are being Christlike in a most particular way that conforms us to the saving work of the One who most certainly is not guilty and is not responsible for sin, but who freely took our sin on himself in order to save us on the Cross.

Why does any one of us, not personally guilty, do penance for this situation?  You might want to say, “Sure, Father, maybe a priest or a bishop ought to do penance for sins of priests and bishops, but why us, why the laity?”  The Body of Christ is made up of many parts (1 Cor. 12:12, 14, 20, 27-30).  We do not all have the same function.  But we do share life and we do have the same primary vocation to holiness of life.  This holiness is a personal response to Jesus in our lives.  This holiness is a matter of our participating more fully in salvation.  This holiness is also a corporate matter of permitting the Church of Jesus to be seen for who she is, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.  The Church’s sanctity can’t be fully seen if the laity aren’t involved.  The laity are the majority of the Church’s members.  All of us together must be living members of this Body.  We can demonstrate now that we are living members of the Body of Christ by joining together and participating in what the Church now needs from us.  St. Paul writes about the unity of the Church: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26).  Our common experience tells us the truth of this.  Are you sick and angry about what you have heard and read about our Church, about some of our priests and bishops?  I know I am.  That’s the truth this Scripture reveals.  Why are you sick and angry if you aren’t part of this?  The sick and angry feeling I imagine we all feel at this time shows how we, as the Body of Christ, are united.  If we feel the harm that has been done by a few, then we can understand the call to likewise all be involved in penance and reparation for our Church.  Furthermore, when individually we don’t admit sin, then we aren’t moved to repent of it in the way Jesus gave us to repent; and when we don’t repent, then we don’t receive purification and healing that comes to us in confession.  We as a Church take on penance and reparation so that a more thorough purification of the Church takes place.  We are called to be part of that.  The only lasting solution to this mess is a closer relationship with Jesus.  We each need that individually and we each need to be part of this now for the Church.  I am convinced that the stories of saints are being written right now by God.  Will you let God write that story in you?

For a few weeks now I have prayed and thought about what to suggest to our parish in response to these events in the Church.  I have my own personal plan that I will keep mostly private.  But as a public person, I probably need to say something about the decision to shave my head.  I mean it as a sign of mourning and penance.  I am telling you this because I ask you, please, don’t treat it as something silly or an item for humorous conversation with me.  In another climate it would be a light, trivial matter, but it is for mourning and penance.  I explained this to the non-Catholic lady who cuts my hair.  She immediately understood the reasoning and added: “Oh sure, you’re sort of stripping yourself and avoiding the vanity of appearance.”  If I hadn’t been stunned by her faith and understanding, I should have said, “Do you want to become Catholic?”  Perhaps this appearance can serve as a visible reminder to pray for victims, to pray for priests and bishops, to pray for me, for Fr. Bali, and for Fr. Mejia.  Now I want to move into my suggestions for penance and reparation at the parish.

To understand my suggestions you need to keep in mind some basic assumptions I believe about this situation.  If you find yourself wondering, or if you find yourself in conversations and people are asking, “Why would Father suggest this or that?”  “Why would Father do that?”  Come back to these three assumptions because they tell you how I see this moment and therefore they inform my suggested response:

I think we are dealing with something truly diabolical.  Fasting and prayer and an awareness of serious battle lines is necessary.  The first clergy scandal in the Church’s history happened among the apostles.  Judas betrayed; Peter denied; nine others fled; only John remained.  One out of twelve.  And Jesus picked them all!  St. John’s Gospel tells us Satan had put it into Judas’ heart to betray Jesus and that Satan entered him in the very act of eating at the Last Supper (cf. Jn. 13:2, 27).  Judas bore his own personal responsibility, but the marks of Satan’s coordination were also evident.  I think we have something similar in the current crisis.  Satan has had his influence and entered the hearts, the minds, and the perverse wills of some priests and bishops.  What a masterpiece the devil has orchestrated, getting the cooperation of human sinners, to infiltrate the priesthood (which is the sacramental image of Christ) in order to deform the Body of Christ.  Some demons can only be expelled by prayer and fasting (cf. Mk. 9:29).  I urge that from all of us.

The state of affairs here demands serious penance, penance on a biblical scale.  The “I’m giving up candy” for Lent response is not adequate, unless you are a small child.  We are being called to radical penance and reparation because I believe we are being prepared by God for the grace needed for a new wave of evangelization of a world that has become increasingly secularized, a secularization that has also wormed its way into the Church.

I think we need to consider what Jesus says is the greatest command (cf. Mt. 22:36-40).  Jesus says the first is to love God with all that you are.  This can guide our response and make sure we give focus to rightly ordering our relationship with God first.  From proper relationship with God first and foremost, love of neighbor then follows.  It is a natural and rather socially acceptable thing to work for the good of our neighbor.  But I am not sure we as a Church keep an intense focus first on God.  You see, it is easy and satisfying and gives us a sense of accomplishment to jump into action instead of first being quiet before God and placing ourselves in His presence.  But if we don’t start with God, then our action is out of order and it distorts the great command as Jesus described it.

A text and audio copy of my remarks will be on the parish website and a summary will be sent to your email if we have an address.  As always, if you would like further explanation or discussion of any aspect of my suggestions, please get in touch with me.  Here is what I suggest for our parish; five ideas for penance and reparation:

Attend Daily Mass: In particular, five consecutive Wednesdays the daily Mass intention in our chapel will be “In Reparation,” asking healing for victims of abuse and repair for sins of the clergy.  These Wednesdays start September 12 and end on October 10.  You are encouraged to join in the chapel for the Mass at 5:30 pm, preceded by confessions.  I chose five Masses in honor of the Five Sacred Wounds of Jesus (which are his wounds of piercing: 2 hands, 2 feet, and his side).

Fasting and abstinence on Wednesdays and Fridays.  From antiquity, Christians fasted on both Wednesdays (marking the day Jesus was betrayed by Judas) and Fridays (marking the day Jesus died for our sins).  Challenge yourself to observe meatless days (that’s what abstaining means in this context) and even fasting (which means taking only one main meal) in reparation for the sins and crimes of the clergy and for healing of victims.  The older practice of what are called “Ember Days,” which were quarterly times of penance, sort of like quarterly mini-Lents, can also be observed with fasting.  The fall Ember Days are:

                Wednesday, September 19

                Friday, September 21

                Saturday, September 22

Weekly Holy Hour: Commit to one Holy Hour each week before the Blessed Sacrament in our chapel.  You can make visits 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  In addition, I will preside over a public time of adoration for healing of victims and in reparation for the sins of priests and bishops on Thursday, September 20, from 7-10 pm.  Come and go as you please in that time frame and know that you can join me in prayer and that I will lead various public prayers throughout that evening.

Invoking Mary & St. Joseph: I encourage each of you to pray the Rosary daily and to pray it as a family at least weekly for the intention of the healing of victims, conversion of the clergy, and sanctity in your family life.  We pray the Rosary about 30 minutes before the start of each Holy Mass on the weekends.  Can you commit to coming to church early enough to make the Rosary?  At the conclusion of these Rosaries before weekend Masses we will add a prayer to St. Joseph.  You can get a copy of this prayer for private and home use too.  I want St. Joseph invoked with our praying of the Rosary because I am convinced one of the roots of the crisis of abuse and cover up among priests and bishops is what I described as a weak masculinity that has resulted in the loss of the ability to be fatherly.  I want us invoking St. Joseph, the patron of fathers, protector of the Church, and terror of demons, so that a stronger masculinity and fatherly spirit may prevail.  I would like husbands and fathers of the parish to step up to volunteer to lead the Rosary before Masses and, men, I’d like you to take charge of this in your homes.  You might say: “I don’t have all the prayers of the Rosary memorized, Father.”  My response is: You can do it.  Get over it.  Get a pamphlet.  Look it up online.  This is not rocket science.  But it will propel the Church more than you can imagine!

Invoking St. Monica: The collect prayer for the Mass of St. Monica mentions two characteristics of our parish patroness that we should develop: tears for conversion and bitterly regretting our sins.  In particular, I want to enlist women and mothers to pray through the intercession of St. Monica for conversion and repentance, especially among clergy.  In the face of large-scale apostolic betrayal in Jesus’ time, when only one apostle stayed close to Jesus in his suffering, it was mostly a group of women who maintained a closer devotion to Jesus.  In the time of St. Monica her devotion eventually led to the conversion of her wayward son, so that he became Christian and an outstanding bishop.  I ask our women today to band together like those women in the apostolic age and like St. Monica to pray for our priests and bishops.

There is much darkness coming out of our Church right now that shakes all of us.  I suspect things will get worse before they get better.  As ugly as things may be, we should thank God that it is coming out into the light so it can be dealt with and purified.  I am convinced that in this darkness, things we cannot see are coming to new life.  I am convinced that the stories of saints are being written right now.  Half-measures and complacency won’t be in those stories.  But disciples making a radical decision to turn to Christ will.  Being saints together is the most enduring answer we can give to victims who have known the darkness in the Church but who long to see the light.  Don’t be closed to being saints.  Rather, let the groan of Jesus echo deep in your heart, mind, and soul: Ephphatha!  Be opened!  With our impediments removed may we go forth with ears opened to God’s Word and with voices ready to speak plainly and to proclaim that Jesus heals and saves us!

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Spanish)

Dominica XXIII per Annum B

9 de Septiembre 2018

He estado reflexionando sobre mis últimos dos sermones acerca la crisis en la Iglesia. La primera vez que hablé de esto, me sorprendí por la intensidad y la emoción que surgió de mí. El fin de semana pasado fue como obtener una imagen más grande y un contexto en el que no pude apreciar en mi enojo como lo fue el primer fin de semana cuando hablé sobre estos eventos. Quiero asegurarme de que nadie tenga la noción equivocada, de que los datos que compartí el fin de semana pasado significan que la Iglesia ahora está “limpia.” Hoy quiero que consideremos el enojo y la ira de Dios, que se ha sentido profundamente ofendido por los crímenes atroces cometidos en su iglesia y por los hombres que forman parte de la misma. Cualquiera sea el bien que la Iglesia haya hecho para abordar el abuso, creo que es hora de que todos nosotros, como el Cuerpo de Cristo, simplemente le digamos a las víctimas, para quienes las estadísticas nunca cambian: Lo lamentamos. Aunque no seamos personalmente culpables, aceptamos la culpa y nos culpamos a nosotros mismos y aceptamos el llamado a hacer penitencia y a reparar el daño hecho a los inocentes. Al aceptar nosotros mismos la culpa, vemos, que estamos siendo semejantes a Cristo de una manera muy particular, que nos conforma para la obra salvadora de Aquel que ciertamente no es culpable y no es responsable por el pecado, pero que tomó nuestros pecados sobre sí mismo para salvarnos en la Cruz.

¿Por qué nosotros, que no somos personalmente culpables, hacemos penitencia por esta situación? Quizás quieras decir: “Claro, Padre, tal vez un sacerdote o un obispo debe hacer penitencia por los pecados de los sacerdotes y los obispos, pero ¿por qué nosotros, por qué los laicos?” El Cuerpo de Cristo está hecho de muchas partes (1 Cor. 12:12, 14, 20, 27-30). No todos tenemos la misma función. Pero compartimos la vida y tenemos la misma vocación primordial a la santidad de la vida. Esta santidad, es una respuesta personal a Jesús en nuestras vidas. Esta santidad, es una cuestión de nuestra participación más completa en la salvación. Esta santidad, es también un asunto corporativo que permite que se vea a la Iglesia de Jesús por lo que ella es, una, santa, católica y apostólica. La santidad de la Iglesia no se puede ver completamente si los laicos no están involucrados. Los laicos son la mayoría de los miembros de la Iglesia. Todos nosotros juntos debemos ser miembros vivos de este Cuerpo. Podemos demostrar ahora, que somos miembros vivos del Cuerpo de Cristo al unirnos y participar en lo que la Iglesia necesita ahora de nosotros.  San Pablo escribe sobre la unidad de la Iglesia: “Si un miembro sufre, todos sufren juntos; si un miembro es honrado, todos se regocijan juntos” (1 Corintios 12:26). Nuestra experiencia común nos dice la verdad de esto. ¿Estás enfermo y enojado por lo que has escuchado y leído sobre nuestra Iglesia, sobre algunos de nuestros sacerdotes y obispos? Sé quien soy. Esa es la verdad que revela esta Escritura. ¿Por qué estás desconcertado y enojado si no eres parte de esto? La sensación de desconcierto y enojo que imagino todos sentimos en este momento, muestra cómo nosotros, como el Cuerpo de Cristo, estamos unidos. Si sentimos el daño que han hecho algunos, entonces podemos entender el llamado para que todos participemos de la penitencia y la reparación de nuestra Iglesia. Además, cuando individualmente no admitimos el pecado, no nos vemos obligados a arrepentirnos de él, en la manera que Jesús nos dio para arrepentirnos; y cuando no nos arrepentimos, entonces no recibimos la purificación y la sanación que nos llega en la confesión. Nosotros, como Iglesia, asumimos la penitencia de reparación para que se realice una purificación más profunda de la Iglesia. Estamos llamados a ser parte de eso. La única solución duradera a este problema, es una relación más cercana con Jesús. Todos necesitamos eso individualmente y cada uno de nosotros necesitamos ser parte de esto ahora para la Iglesia. Estoy convencido de que Dios está escribiendo las historias de los santos en este momento. ¿Dejarás que Dios escriba esa historia en ti?

Desde hace algunas semanas, he orado y pensado sobre qué sugerir a nuestra parroquia en respuesta a estos eventos en la Iglesia. Tengo mi propio plan personal que mantendré en su mayoría privado. Pero como persona pública, probablemente deba decir algo sobre la decisión de afeitarme la cabeza. Lo hice como un signo de luto y penitencia. Te lo digo pidiéndote por favor, que no lo tomes como algo tonto o como tema para una conversación humorística conmigo. En otro momento, esto sería una cosa ligera y trivial, pero es para el luto y la penitencia. Le expliqué esto a la mujer no-católica que me corta el pelo. Inmediatamente entendió el razonamiento y agregó: “Oh, claro, te estás desnudando y evitando la vanidad de la apariencia.” Si no me hubiera sorprendido su fe y comprensión, debería haberle preguntado: “¿Quieres convertirte en católica?” Tal vez esta apariencia pueda servirles como un recordatorio visible para orar por las víctimas, orar por los sacerdotes y obispos, orar por mí, por el Padre Bali y por el Padre Mejía. Ahora quiero pasar a mis sugerencias de penitencia y reparación en la parroquia.

Para entender mis sugerencias, debe tener en cuenta algunas consideraciones básicas que creo sobre esta situación. Si te encuentras preguntándote, o si te encuentras en conversaciones y la gente pregunta: “¿Por qué el Padre sugirió esto o lo otro?” “¿Por qué el Padre haría eso?” Tome en cuenta estas tres consideraciones que le dicen cómo percibo este momento y por lo tanto, informen las respuestas que les sugiero:

Creo que estamos lidiando con algo realmente diabólico. El ayuno, la oración y la conciencia de las líneas de batalla serias, son necesarias. El primer escándalo de clérigos en la historia de la Iglesia ocurrió entre los apóstoles. Judas traicionado; Pedro negó; otros nueve huyeron; solo Juan se quedó. Uno de doce. ¡Y Jesús los recogió a todos! El Evangelio de San Juan nos dice, que Satanás había puesto en el corazón de Judas traicionar a Jesús y que Satanás entró en él, en el mismo momento de estar comiendo en la Última Cena (cf. Jn. 13: 2, 27). Judas tenía su propia responsabilidad, pero las marcas de la manipulación de Satanás también eran evidentes. Creo que tenemos algo similar en la crisis actual. Satanás ha tenido su influencia y ha ingresado en los corazones, las mentes y las voluntades perversas de algunos sacerdotes y obispos. ¡Qué obra maestra el diablo ha orquestado, obteniendo la cooperación de los pecadores humanos, para infiltrarse en el sacerdocio (que es la imagen sacramental de Cristo) con el fin de deformar el Cuerpo de Cristo. Algunos demonios solo pueden ser expulsados mediante la oración y el ayuno (cf. Mc. 9:29). Insto a todos nosotros.

El estado de las cosas aquí exige penitencia seria, penitencia en una escala bíblica. El “Estoy renunciando a los dulces” para la respuesta de Cuaresma no es adecuado, a menos que seas un niño pequeño. Estamos siendo llamados a la penitencia y la reparación radical, porque creo que estamos siendo preparados por Dios, para contar con la gracia necesaria, para una nueva ola de evangelización de un mundo que se ha vuelto cada vez más secularizado, una secularización que también se abrió camino en la Iglesia.

Creo que debemos considerar lo que Jesús dice que es el mandamiento más grande (cf. Mt. 22: 36-40). Jesús dice que lo primero, es amar a Dios con todo lo que eres. Esto puede guiar nuestra respuesta y asegurarnos de centrarnos de manera prioritaria en ordenar correctamente nuestra relación con Dios. De la relación adecuada con Dios en primer lugar, lo siguiente es el amor al prójimo. Es una cosa natural y socialmente aceptable trabajar por el bien de nuestro prójimo. Pero no estoy seguro de que como Iglesia mantengamos un enfoque intenso primero en Dios. Usted lo nota, es fácil y satisfactorio, y nos da un sentido de logro ponernos en acción, en lugar de permanecer de primera instancia callados ante Dios y colocarnos ante su presencia. Pero si no comenzamos con Dios, entonces nuestra acción está fuera de orden y distorsiona el gran mandamiento tal como Jesús lo describió.

Una copia de texto de mis comentarios estará en el sitio web de la parroquia y se enviará a su correo electrónico si tenemos su dirección. Como siempre, si desea más explicación o discusión sobre cualquier aspecto de mis sugerencias, por favor póngase en contacto con la oficina. Esto es lo que sugiero para nuestra parroquia:

Asistir a la Misa diaria: En particular, cinco miércoles consecutivos, la intención de la Misa diaria en inglés en nuestra capilla será “En reparación,” pidiendo la curación de las víctimas de abuso y reparación por los pecados del clero. Estos miércoles comienzan el doce (12) de septiembre y terminan el diez (10) de octubre. Le invitamos a unirse a la capilla para la misa a las cinco y media (5:30 pm) de la tarde. Elegí cinco Misas en honor a las Cinco Sagradas Llagas de Jesús (que son las heridas en sus dos manos, dos pies, y su costado).

Ayuno y abstinencia los miércoles y viernes. Desde la antigüedad, los cristianos ayunaron los miércoles (el día en que Jesús fue traicionado por Judas) y los viernes ambos (el día en que Jesús murió por nuestros pecados). Ponte a prueba pasando estos días sin carne (eso es lo que significa abstinencia en este contexto) e incluso ayunando (lo que significa tomar solo una comida principal) como reparación por los pecados y crímenes del clero y para sanar a las víctimas. La antigua práctica de los llamados “Días de Ascuas” donde cada tres meses se hacía la penitencia, algo así como una mini-Cuaresma, también se puede vivir con ayuno. Los “Días de Ascuas” para el otoño son:

Miércoles, diecinueve (19) de septiembre

Viernes, veintiuno (21) de septiembre

Sábado, veintidós (22) de septiembre

Hora Santa semanal: Comprométase a vivir una Hora Santa cada semana ante el Santísimo Sacramento en nuestra capilla. Puede hacer visitas durante las veinticuatro (24) horas del día, los siete (7) días de la semana. Además, presidiré un tiempo de adoración publica para sanar a las víctimas y en reparación por los pecados de los sacerdotes y obispos el jueves, el veinte (20) de septiembre, de las siete (7) a las diez (10) de la noche. Venga a la hora que guste durante ese periodo de tiempo y sepa que puede unirse a mí en oración y que dirigiré varias oraciones de manera pública durante toda la noche.

Invocar a María y a San José: Invito y animo a cada uno de ustedes a rezar el Rosario todos los días y rezarlo como familia al menos una vez por semana con la intención de sanar a las víctimas, convertir al clero, y para la santidad en su vida familiar. Rezamos el Rosario unos treinta (30) minutos antes del inicio de cada Santa Misa los fines de semana. ¿Puedes comprometerte a venir a la iglesia lo suficientemente temprano para hacer el Rosario? Al concluir estos Rosarios antes de las Misas de fin de semana, agregaremos una oración a San José. También puede obtener una copia de esta oración para uso personal y familiar. Quiero invocar a San José con nuestra oración del Rosario porque estoy convencido de que una de las raíces de la crisis del abuso y el encubrimiento entre sacerdotes y obispos, es lo que describí como una masculinidad débil, que ha dado como resultado, la pérdida de la capacidad de ser paternal. Quiero que invocamos a San José, el patrón de los padres, protector de la Iglesia y terror de los demonios, para que prevalezca una más fuerte masculinidad y un espíritu paternal. Me gustaría que los esposos y padres de la parroquia se ofrezcan como voluntarios para dirigir el Rosario antes de las Misas y para ustedes, hombres, también me gustaría que se hagan cargo de esto en sus hogares. Usted podría decir: “No tengo todas las oraciones del Rosario memorizadas, Padre.” Mi respuesta es: Puedes hacerlo. Supéralo. Obtenga un panfleto. Búscalo en línea. Esto no es ciencia de cohetes al espacio. ¡Pero impulsará a la Iglesia más de lo que puedas imaginar!

Invocar a Santa Mónica: La oración colectiva para la Misa de Santa Mónica menciona dos características de la patrona de nuestra parroquia que debemos tomar en cuenta: lágrimas por la conversión y lamentar amargamente nuestros pecados. En particular, quiero reclutar mujeres y madres para orar por la intercesión de Santa Mónica para la conversión y el arrepentimiento, especialmente entre el clero. Frente a la traición apostólica a gran escala en la época de Jesús, cuando solo un apóstol se mantuvo cerca de Jesús en su sufrimiento, era principalmente un grupo de mujeres que mantenía una devoción más cercana a Jesús. En la época de Santa Mónica, su devoción finalmente llevó a la conversión de su hijo descarriado, por lo que se convirtió en cristiano y un obispo sobresaliente. Pido a nuestras mujeres hoy que se unan como esas mujeres en la edad apostólica, y como Santa Mónica, para orar por nuestros sacerdotes y obispos.

Hay mucha oscuridad que sale de nuestra Iglesia en este momento que nos conmueve a todos. Sospecho que las cosas empeorarán antes de que mejoren. Pero por muy feos que puedan ser, debemos agradecer a Dios que todo esto está saliendo a la luz para que pueda ser tratado y purificado. Estoy convencido de que, en esta oscuridad, las cosas que no podemos ver están llegando a una nueva vida. Estoy convencido de que las historias de los santos se están escribiendo en este momento. Las medidas a medias y la complacencia no estarán en esas historias. Pero los discípulos que toman una decisión radical de volverse a Cristo lo harán. Ser santos juntos, es la respuesta más sólida y duradera que podemos dar a las víctimas, que han conocido la oscuridad en la Iglesia pero que desean ver la luz. No se cierren a ser santos. Más bien, deja que el suspiro de Jesús resuene profundamente en tu corazón, mente y alma: ¡Ephphatha! ¡Sé abierto! ¡Con nuestros impedimentos eliminados, podremos salir con los oídos abiertos a la Palabra de Dios y con voces listas para hablar con claridad y proclamar que Jesús nos sana y salva!

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dominica XXII per Annum B

2 September 2018

It has been a very curious week as more of the current crisis in the Church unfolds.  And I really long for the day when I can return to giving proper homilies about the Scriptures.  However, in a moment like this when we are all saddened, scandalized, and shaken you deserve to hear from your Pastor about what is going on and how to maintain a perspective of faith.  I hope you will agree with my opinion that sort of having to suspend reflections on the Scriptures and to talk about what is going on is warranted at this moment.

A week ago a stunning testimony was released from the Pope’s former ambassador to the United States, the now-retired Vatican diplomat, Archbishop Viganó, who alleges cover up regarding the sex scandal surrounding former-Cardinal McCarrick.  Viganó’s allegations implicate many high-ranking Vatican prelates and raise questions about the handling of this by Pope Benedict and by Pope Francis.  The allegations further raise questions about whether Pope Francis ignored sanctions said to have been imposed against McCarrick by Pope Benedict.  Since Viganó is no hack but is someone with privileged information relevant to these charges, it seems to me his allegations must be investigated.  He is credible and knowledgeable.  Therefore, I wrote Archbishop Coakley, Cardinal DiNardo (in his role as President of the conference of bishops of this country), and Archbishop Pierre (Viganó’s successor), the Pope’s current ambassador to the United States, asking each of them to lend their voice to the demand that Viganó’s claims be fully investigated.  I’m not usually writing bishops and making demands.  It has been a curious week.  It would seem that several bishops around the country are in fact demanding an investigation.  Archbishop Coakley is among them.  The week was a bit more curious when the The Vista, the newspaper at UCO, called me and conducted an interview about the crisis and how it is impacting Edmond Catholics.  That article should be out this week.

Since my remarks a couple of weeks ago I have had some time to calm down a bit.  I think more data gives us a context to see that abuse in the Church has been effectively responded to with procedures and policies since 2002, which has greatly reduced (by large margins) the incidence of abuse and new events of abuse.  By stating this I am not saying we don’t have more work to do or that there isn’t still a crisis.  Rather, it might help us all to see what good has been accomplished so our picture is accurate.  Before I share some statistics for context, I want to state clearly that abuse like this must not be happening in the Church and among clerics.  That even one event of abuse has happened is too much.  The first focus needs to always be the victims, the harm done to them, and how we respond to them and care for them.  I tried to address that in my remarks a couple of weeks ago.  Today, by no means diminishing the focus on victims or offering excuses, I think talking about the context here can help us as we struggle.  I decided to share some data in the homily today because I noted in several conversations this past week the mistaken notion that widespread abuse is still going on presently, on the same horrific scale as when it first became more publicly known in 2002.  But that is actually not true.  To that end I have decided to share with you data from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, called CARA, at Georgetown University.  CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church.  A research analyst, Mark Gray, speaks in the data I will now share regarding past reports of abuse in light of the current Pennsylvania Grand Jury report.  It’s a rather lengthy report I want to share with you, so bear with me.  The words I am speaking come from Mark Gray the analyst.  [Read CARA report]

http://nineteensixty-four.blogspot.com/2018/08/pain-never-disappears-from-unhealed.html

[After CARA report pick up here…] So reports Mark Gray from CARA.  The data here is helpful and, furthermore, I can agree with the researcher’s attitude and suggestions.  Again, I do not want there to be any confusion or careless claim that distracts from real harm done to victims and the collateral harm done to us since scandal rocks us and shames us all.  With that in mind, it is at least good to hear that as regards abuse itself, we should not be mistaken and think that the PA Grand Jury report is revealing an entire set of new abuse cases.  Most of it is abuse that fits the historical pattern of having occurred mostly in the 1960s through the 1980s.  What does seem to be new is that the grand jury report gives us a focused look at the response of bishops and other Church leaders.  The abuse itself is the most horrific thing of all.  However, perhaps the knowledge now of cover up and secrecy is the fuel that drives most of the current anger in what has now become another crisis for us.  Given that we are reliving again 2002 with a report on mostly older, historical cases, I wholeheartedly agree that the Church should freely and willingly open our records for independent scrutiny.  I was 28 years old when I had to preach on this scandal in 2002.  Sixteen years later I’m doing it again at 45 years old.  I would really like it if I didn’t have to treat this subject when I’m 61 years old.  I’m glad to tell you that Archbishop Coakley has announced a plan to review our current and our historical clergy files and to submit them to independent scrutiny from a prominent local law firm so that a report may be made public.  This strange week for me continued in that I happened to have a conversation with Governor Frank Keating this week who, in the aftermath of the 2002 scandal, had been the chairman of the National Review Board set up by the US bishops to respond to the abuse crisis.  He expressed great pleasure at Archbishop Coakley’s plan and he expressed hope that a prominent state law enforcement officer would review the plan and give it public support so that we can all have confidence that we are opening this dark subject once and for all.

We are in for a long haul with our response this time around to what seems to me to be a crisis most closely focused on failed leadership in our Church as regards the handling of the crime and the sin of abuse.  The allegations that have come out reaching all the way to the top in the Vatican continue to develop and I have no idea where all that might go.  To be sure, the daily and ongoing developments in the news cycle are exhausting.  But we have to cry out to God in this and find our source of hope and light in Him.  We must also do penance and make reparation for the evil and the grave harm done in our Church.  I want to be part of the solution and I hope you will want the same.  I truly believe we need some radical penance and reparation on a biblical scale that gives particular focus to ordering rightly our relationship with God and our relationship to others.  This focus will respond to what Jesus says is the greatest command: Love God first with all that you have and are; and love your neighbor as yourself.  I am continuing to pray and it is my plan next weekend to announce my decisions and suggestions for the penance and reparation we will observe here.  In the meantime, and in conclusion, I want to share some of Archbishop Coakley’s words from his letter to all of us about penance and reparation.  But before I do that, if you are interested, I’m happy to share any of the documents I referenced today, my own letters to the bishops or the CARA report.  Just let me know.  [Read Coakley Letter, 31 August 2018].

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dominica XXI per Annum B

26 August 2018

This Sunday concludes our five-week period of listening to Jesus’ teaching that his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink. In the gospel even disciples of Jesus – people who had already begun following the Lord – begin to argue with him and to leave him over the literal meaning of this teaching, this gift. The Twelve Apostles are asked to make a tough and definitive choice: either leave Jesus and return to their former lives, or accept the literal meaning of his teaching and enter the covenant he offers in his flesh and blood. This choice is prefigured by the first reading, when Joshua told God’s people they must choose: either forsake their sin and choose God’s ways, or become enslaved to the pagan gods of the nations around them. In other words, God’s people could no longer ride the fence. If they were to receive the blessings of the Promised Land, Joshua announces to them that they must definitively choose to accept God’s covenant, ratifying it by the way they lived, being marked by it in the flesh, or they must accept the consequences of following alien gods.

In the gospel, Jesus is asking the same choice from his apostles. And listening to this gospel we know Jesus is asking the same choice from us. Having listened to Jesus’ clear teaching in John 6, we must either accept that the bread and wine in fact become Jesus’ Body and Blood, requiring us to choose to live in communion with the teaching of Christ and his Bride the Church, or go our separate ways and return to our former way of life. Once we have been fully initiated into the New Covenant of Christ by Baptism, Confirmation, and reception of the Holy Eucharist, thus being marked as belonging to God, we, like the people of the Old Covenant, must live by God’s laws or face the consequence of having no lasting life within us.

Today, the selection of God’s Word tells us we must get off the fence. In fact, inheriting the Promised Land of heaven will not come as the result of fence riding. We are asked to confirm God’s covenant and to live according to His ways. We must decide whom we will serve, whom we will follow. The Israelites were faced with a tough decision. Jesus’ disciples have a tough choice to make. How often in our living of our faith, in being disciples, do we feel such tough choices?  When was the last time that following Jesus meant you had to clearly turn away from another way of life, from other choices, things which people around you do and which they say is okay?  Does it sound strange in our ears that following God would require a tough choice to ratify the covenant with him and to forsake ways that are contrary to God’s teaching?  It shouldn’t sound strange if we follow the Scriptures. In fact, what would be strange would be to go through life as a disciple never feeling the pinch of a tough choice to choose God over worldly ways. After all, Jesus himself teaches: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Actually, when it comes down to it, if following Christ doesn’t find us struggling with real conversion and change, then – I’ll just say it – we really aren’t following Christ at all. In such case, following Christ has become little more than being a member of a social organization, or a club, where we show up for our regular meetings.

You see, God’s gift of the Promised Land to the people of Israel was a prefigurement of His greatest offer of blessing and life in an eternal communion with Him that never ends. And the choice faced by the Israelites in the first reading, like the choice faced by the apostles in the gospel, is a choice we, too, must make if our living for Christ is to be real and if it is to arrive at God’s offer of an eternity of blessing in heavenly life. We must make a clear choice for Christ and his teaching. In John 6 Jesus tells us he gives his entire life to us. Will we choose to be with him?  Wherever we think our own conclusions have more authority than that of Christ and his Church, we are like the disciples in the gospel who murmur against the Lord: “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”  When our moral choices fly in the face of Christ’s teaching and the consistent witness of the Church, we are not choosing life with the Lord. When we won’t acknowledge our sins and receive the healing of confession, we are straddling the fence and even returning to godless ways.

But this isn’t what Jesus wants for us. He calls us to himself and he asks us to choose life with him. Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”  However we murmur, however we choose paths that are not godly, however we sin we should make it our prayer that the Father will grant us the grace to get off the fence and come to true life. We should pray for the grace of conversion and more authentic living of our life with Christ so that, with the apostles, we can say: “Master, to whom shall we go?”  You see, the Good News is that, if we will clearly and seriously follow his commands, Jesus offers us unimaginable blessing that begins even now in a real communion with his Body and Blood. It’s time to hop off the fence!

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dominica XX per Annum B

19 August 2018

I’m uncomfortable here today because I want to address the latest scandal rocking our beloved Church.  I don’t have law firms or liability risk agents to write for me.  No one is telling me what to say.  What you get comes from a shepherd and from my heart.  I may misspeak and have to retract some words.  I don’t mean to offend but this will be in places a rather adult topic and so those with small children won’t offend me if you feel you need to step out for a bit.

First, I want to apologize to the victims of horrific soul-crushing abuse, that is a form of spiritual murder.  I apologize to their family members who suffer with them.  I apologize to others who, upon learning of this disgusting matter, have their faith rocked and wonder if they can remain in a church.  If you have been sexually abused or know someone who has been, or any other form of criminal abuse, and if it has not yet been reported, then please report it to local law enforcement and to Church officials.

When the first round of sexual abuse news broke in 2002 I was a very young priest.  I spoke publicly about the topic then.  I am not afraid to do so now, but I am disgusted and angry.  I think I am more angry now than I was in 2002.  I am also exhausted with all of this. I assume most all of you know former-Cardinal McCarrick was credibly accused of abuse of a minor, had apparently used his power as a bishop to abuse his subordinates, and had two other cases involving adults where his respective diocese paid settlements with the adult victims.  McCarrick’s activities were widely suspected or actually known and yet he suffered no consequences as he rose among the bishops and became a cardinal.  You can laugh at me and think I am crazy but when I heard the news about former-Cardinal McCarrick two things surfaced in me at once: (1) anger; and, (2) the thought that I should sell all my belongings, shave my head, live in a stone hut, and start a new religious order.  How will we rebuild from this mess?  Who will do it?  The answer throughout all of history in the face of moral crises in the Church has always been saints.  Everyday people make a more radical decision for Jesus and that starts healing and repair and roots out the corruption and evil.  I’m probably too weak to be a St. Francis of Assisi… I don’t know… but we need some new men and women who will radically reform their lives and that of the Church.  And now we have the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report highlighting the sad history of abuse in six dioceses in that state.

I’m angry that this subject has interrupted my plans to speak only on Jesus’s clear teaching about the Holy Eucharist, about which we have been hearing for numerous weeks. I’m angry that grave and horrific sin – be it abuse itself or  cover ups by leadership – harms the Church which is Jesus’ Bride.  I’m angry that this obscures the holiness proper to the Church because all we can see now is the sinfulness of humanity, not the presence of divinity in Christ’s Bride.  I’m mad at what this does to you and how it might rock your faith, especially if you might tend to mistakenly place your faith in something or someone other than Jesus Christ alone!  I’m mad because I know young people hear this and think the Church can’t be true, can’t be trusted, or is a joke – just a sham of a manmade institution.  And I’m mad at how this might harm future vocations.

I’m mad that innocent clergy are now understandably viewed with suspicion.I’m also frustrated because I’m not sure I even know what to tell you.  There is much I could say, but does it help?  Once we work through our own initial emotions we need to recapture rationality and make sure we have sound information about the judgments and decisions we make.  It can be very easy to jump to conclusions, find scapegoats, have faulty information, and to fail to see around our own biases.  There seems to be a human tendency in the face of crisis or tragedy to find the one thing that explains it.  The older I get I don’t think life’s answers are usually reduced to one thing.  More often than not there is not just one thing that explains a situation but rather several things together.  We have to be careful not to naively look for the one problem that explains this crisis.  In offering my own thoughts on this mess, I realize and I admit I may actually be doing that very thing.  I might well be accused of myopia in sharing my thoughts.  I might well be accused of scapegoating.  I’m prepared for backlash and if I am wrong, then I will just have to admit it and apologize. In a few weeks I’ll have more thoughts on a spiritual plan for penance and reparation, but for now I’ll share five elements of my read on this scandal.  This is by no means an exhaustive list.

The mystery of evil and human freedom to choose sin.  Have we forgotten that the devil is real and that the doctrine of Original Sin is a foundational matter of how our faith views the state of our fallen world?  These doctrines reflect reality and shake us from our naïve slumber that somehow evil and sin aren’t real or can’t exist among the clergy. From an extensive study after 2002 of the state of this matter in the United States it would seem that, while abuse happened going back many decades, and across many decades, the incidence of abuse dramatically rose in the 70s and 80s and then dropped just as dramatically in the late 90s and into the 2000s.  A few weeks back I spoke on this being the 50th anniversary year of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, where Bl. Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the ancient teaching of the Church that the dignity of sexual love in marriage excludes contraception.  You know what this anniversary also means?  It means it is now the 50th anniversary of widespread rejection of this teaching and rebellion among laity and clergy alike.  I suggest that the corruption among clergy who gave a wink and nod to this teaching began to create a deeper moral crisis with priests and bishops failing in their vocations and that has contributed to the monstrous situation we are now in.  Priests telling people contraception is no big deal; bishops failing to discipline such priests… don’t tell me that didn’t lead to a wink and a nod with clergy and their failures in living chaste celibacy!  Widespread rebellion against sexual morality reaching a high point in 1968 and abuse events increasing by several orders of magnitude in the 60s and 70s… I think it’s related. This leads me to another element: infidelity to chastity among the clergy in general.  This includes both heterosexual and homosexual orientations.  Abuse has been inflicted on both females and males.  However, I think we do have to admit that there is some connection in this crisis to acting on a homosexual orientation.  I say that because 81% of abuse cases between 1950 and 2002 involved teenage boys.  This seems different to me than the abuse of small children before puberty.  The vast majority of cases involve post-pubescent teen boys.  This cannot be ignored.  However, let me state equally as clearly, I am NOT referring to the mere fact of a same-sex attraction among some priests.  The mere fact alone of a same-sex attraction does not make one an abuser of children or teens or other adults.  Rather, I am referring to those acting on the attraction and living a clandestine gay lifestyle who, for however it is explained, have proclivities toward minors.  There have been both heterosexual and homosexual cheaters among the clergy.  Hear me clearly again, there are also many chaste priests with same-sex attraction just as there are many chaste priests with heterosexual attraction.  Chaste people with same-sex attraction, among clergy and laity alike, I think are some of the most valiant people in living life in Christ in the midst of a twisted and depraved world that is all too ready to tell them acting on same-sex attraction is just part of being healthy.  But why might 81% of those cases involve teen boys?  Why is it not more even with cases involving females?  I don’t know for sure.  But I have a friend who made a suggestion that might offer some explanation.  He says in the cases of heterosexual cheaters among priests, they often are more likely to be forced out of the priesthood because relationships they carry on will often lead to a pregnancy or to an ultimatum from the woman, and things become public.  But this is not the case for homosexual cheaters with boys.  As a result, in the past homosexual cheaters may have stayed in the priesthood and therefore their numbers may have grown.

Another factor in past abuse might be related to the fact that psychological screening of seminary candidates only began, I believe, sometime around 1990.  I recall seeing a list with the number of seminarians this archdiocese had in the early 80s.  There were over 35 seminarians.  It was 1997 when I came across that list.  At that time we had only 12 seminarians.  I asked a priest what happened to all these guys and why we couldn’t seem to get more than 12 seminarians.  He replied that it was because that earlier list was before we did psychological screening.  Perhaps that helps us understand what seems to be the much higher incidence of abuse going back before such mandatory screening.  Screening isn’t perfect, but it does do a great service.

The final element I will raise as related to how we explain the horrific crime and sin of abuse, as well as the rage-inducing failed leadership and coverup among bishops is what I will call a crisis of weak masculinity carrying with it the loss of the ability to be fatherly.  In order to appreciate the God-given qualities of femininity that are complementary to the God-given qualities of masculinity our society has wrongly cast negative light on men and masculinity.  To raise up femininity and women, which is a good thing to do, our society has wrongly cast aspersions upon and suppressed masculinity and men.  Watch how men are cast in entertainment and you get a glimpse of this.  The man is the immature fool whose presence is barely needed for good balanced family life.  Our boys and young men are, as a group, increasingly adrift, locked in an alternate reality of excessive video gaming, and seemingly without clear purpose.  In some organs of society masculine traits are punished and boys learn early that their natural qualities are less than desirable.  Now we have reached a point where masculinity is referred to as “toxic”.  I suspect that description is not very precise and is meant to make men self-conscious and soft.  Our spiritual fathers are impacted by this cultural climate too.  There have clearly been some sick men in the priesthood who are weak men who never should have been there.  But it is just as clear that in the upper ranks of bishops and cardinals, even if they themselves are not abusers, many likewise have no concept of fatherhood.  Maybe they had it once.  But those who covered up abuse clearly lost it.  Listening to their corporate speak is all the evidence needed.  A manly father doesn’t need experts and lawyers and insurance companies to tell him how to act.  The failed bishops speak like men who are not fathers because a father would be outraged and in deep pain for his children despicably harmed under his guard.  Maybe some bishops have mustered that.  Most of the ones getting the TV interviews certainly have not.

Some perspective might help.  Where have we seen this horrific trail of abuse?  We have seen it in the entertainment industry.  In universities.  In the Catholic Church.  In Protestant communities.  Saturday morning the Oklahoman carried and article that Baptists and Evangelicals are admitting this and needing to address it.  It is in Jewish communities.  In public schools.  In sports.  Among physicians.  In other words, this is not just a Catholic crisis.  It is a secular crisis.  It is a cultural crisis.  The Church should be better, but don’t let yourself be fooled that it exists only in the Church.  Don’t be misled by those who offer the convenient solution to just leave the Church.

As the Church continues to address this scandal we will hear of the development of new procedures, policies, and remedies.  I suppose the institutional organization needs those.  But you and I don’t.  You know why?  Because we already have them.  Procedure?  It’s called repentance!  Policy?  We have the sixth commandment and all that it means about sexual morality.  Remedy?  We have it!  It’s Jesus present in the Holy Eucharist.  Remember Jesus’ words a few weeks back when we began our tour through the Bread of Life discourse in John 6?  He said, Don’t work for food that perishes.  Everything else perishes.  Everything else we eat and fill ourselves on doesn’t last.  Jesus told the Jews that their fathers ate manna in the desert but they still died.  Try filling yourself on anything except Jesus and you’re gonna die.  It won’t last.  Only Jesus fills us, remedies, and gives us eternal life.  He’s why I’m Catholic.  He’s why I stay.  And he’s truly present in the Holy Eucharist.  There is frankly no place else to go if I want to have lasting life.  I am deeply sorry for any and all victims and I offer that with my meager portion of authority here.  But I would be lying and guilty of spiritual malpractice if I gave any impression that due to abuse one might leave the Church and find what God wants for you.  I can understand and sympathize with victims and the scandalized who leave the Church for a time or maybe forever.  But it is not what God wants.  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day…. [t]he one who feeds on me will have life because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven.  Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

As the New Ark, Mary fulfills to a greater extent than the signs of old that God is with us. We carry her into battle trusting the power of her prayers for us, we celebrate her rightful dwelling in the heavenly temple, and we find in our faith in her assumption a reminder of God’s loving invitation to us that we follow the life of grace so that we may take up our place in the vision seen by St. John, the heavens opened for us by the Savior who came to us through the New Ark, Mary assumed body and soul into heaven.

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Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary

Assumption of the BVM

15 August 2018

A formal and necessary part of Catholic faith is our belief that God has blessed Mary with certain privileges.  These privileges bring salvation to Mary and they come purely from the generosity of the Holy Trinity and the desire of God that we have full life with Him.  These privileges are an answer to the Original Sin of Adam and Eve, and so they are part of God’s plan to make it possible for mankind to have eternal salvation.  All the privileges of Mary stem from her first or main privilege, namely that God chose her to be the Mother of the Son.  In the Assumption we express our Catholic faith that at the end of her earthly life Mary, having been preserved from sin from the first moment of her life and having chosen to live sinless her entire life, was rescued from the decay of the tomb and brought up body and soul into heavenly life.

The first reading of this solemnity opens with the apocalyptic vision of St. John from the Book of Revelation.  What St. John saw sets the tone for how the Church understands his vision, Mary’s unique role in salvation, and what we believe about today’s solemnity.  The first reading began, “God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.”  And coinciding with this vision of the ark and the heavenly temple is what St. John reports next: “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”  If you look at the citation of that first reading you would see that it is basically a portion of chapter 12 of Revelation.  However, the Church backs the reading up one verse, to include the final verse of chapter 11.  Why include the last verse of chapter 11?  Because the Church wants to instruct us on how the faith has viewed Mary from ancient times.  She is the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant.  She is the New Ark.  Today, observing our faith that upon the end of her life Mary was taken up body and soul into heaven, the Church wants us to hear what St. John saw in his vision: that heaven opened and there in the temple where God dwells and is worshiped St. John also saw the ark.

The Catholic faith always reads major Old Testament figures, objects, and events as precursors that foreshadow a fulfillment to come in the New Covenant.  An Old Testament type or figure points to its New Covenant fulfillment.  Thus, a New Covenant fulfillment is always necessarily greater than its Old Testament type.  So, looking at what the Old Testament tells us about the original ark of the covenant tells us that Mary, in being its fulfillment, is greater still!  In summary, the ark of the covenant in the Old Testament was the dwelling place of God with His people Israel; the ark was His sanctuary on earth (Ex. 25:8).  The ark was the sacred chest, the container that carried within it those precious signs that were incarnations of God’s presence and promise: the ark contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 25:16), a golden urn containing the manna, and the staff of Aaron that had budded as a sign of the priesthood.  The ark was made of acacia wood (Ex. 25:5), which was known as a hardy, incorruptible wood.  The ark was covered in pure gold, and veiled in a cloth of blue (Num. 4:5-6).  This should sound familiar and get us thinking about Mary.  The ark of the covenant remained with God’s people and moved with them.  It was placed in the holy of holies in the sanctuary.  Finally, the Israelites would not face their enemies without carrying the ark of the covenant into battle with them; it was the reminder, the sign, and the proof that God was with them in battle.

Mary’s first privilege from God, that she was chosen by Him to be the mother of His Son, tells us that for all the reverence and care for the ark of the Old Covenant, Mary is greater still for she is the New Ark.  As fitting as it was that the ark of the old covenant be placed in the holy of holies, how much more does it make sense that God’s chosen daughter, and the vessel of the Incarnation of the Son, should be preserved from the corruption of the grave and dwell in God’s presence in the temple where He is worshiped?  Thus, the choice by the Church to have us listen to St. John’s vision in the first reading tells us something important about Mary and helps us situate our faith in her assumption within the context of where the ark should rightfully dwell.

Since the Gospels do not record an account of the assumption, the Church chooses the Gospel of the Visitation.  That choice deserves some attention.  There are similarities in the passage of the Visitation that hearken back to King David’s triumphal transfer of the ark of the old covenant into Jerusalem, recorded in the Book of 2 Samuel 6.  There we read that David rose and went to the hill country of Judah to bring up the ark of God.  David exclaims, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?”  He leaped before the ark as it was brought into the city with joyful shouting.  Considering this joy before the ark of God’s dwelling we can appreciate the devastation when, upon exile, the ark disappears and is not seen again.  With this in mind, the Gospel of the Visitation has been read by the Church for centuries as an account of the ark’s return to be with God’s people.  This is fulfilled in Mary who is carrying God-incarnate in her womb.  She goes out to the hill country of Judah to visit Elizabeth.  Before the presence of God contained in the ark of Mary, John leapt in his mother’s womb.  Elizabeth cries out in joy and asks how can the mother of my Lord come to me?

In celebrating Mary we are reminded that God is with us.  As the New Ark, Mary fulfills to a greater extent than the signs of old that God is with us because she contained not just the old types of the commandments (God’s Word in stone), the manna, and the staff of priesthood, but God’s Word-made-flesh, the Bread of Life come down from heaven, the one Who is the great and eternal High Priest.  Facing the many enemies of the Church without and within, we carry her into battle trusting the power of her prayers for us and knowing that she is the ark that tells us God is with us.  Finally, we not only celebrate her rightful dwelling in the heavenly temple, but we find in our faith in her assumption a reminder of God’s loving invitation to us that we follow the life of grace so that we may take up our place in the vision seen by St. John, the heavens opened for us by the Savior who came to us through the New Ark, Mary assumed body and soul into heaven.            

 

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dominica XVIII per Annum B

5 August 2018

 Last week was our first week of a five-week tour through the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, known as the Bread of Life discourse.  This chapter is a prime location of Jesus’ teaching and our faith in the Holy Eucharist, that ordinary bread and wine become his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.  The first reading today from Exodus 16 narrates God’s providing of a bread-like substance, called manna, in miraculous fashion for 40 years in the desert, which foreshadows Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand in the wilderness and foreshadows his providing the true bread from heaven.  Last weekend the gospel selection told us of the feeding of the five thousand with loaves and fish.  While this was a miraculous multiplication of food we should note that, although miraculous, the bread multiplied was still ordinary bread; the “flesh” still ordinary fish.  After feeding the five thousand Jesus goes off and, in a gospel selection we do not hear in this five-week tour, he miraculously walks across the water.  Today’s Gospel selection picks up the next day after these two miracles.  The Jewish crowds notice Jesus’ absence.  They go seeking him out and they make their way across the sea to find him.  The passage makes clear why they are seeking him: It’s time to eat again!  They had eaten their fill but now it is the next day and their bellies are likely empty again.  Jesus acknowledges that the crowds are seeking him for a free meal: “…you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.  Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

What is Jesus doing here for the crowds?  He wants to redirect or elevate their desire and attention to something more than regular, natural, ordinary bread.  The statement is clear: It’s as if Jesus is saying, “you have gone to so much effort for ordinary food.  Put far more effort into the food that lasts.”  Likewise for us, Jesus wants to elevate our thinking and our desire for a food that endures to eternal life.  Why do the crowds need to hear Jesus tell them to elevate their thinking?  Why do we need to hear the same?  Because they and we so quickly and easily put aside spiritual thinking and spiritual vision.  This is what is hidden in Jesus’ words: “you are looking for me NOT because you saw signs.”  St. John’s use of the word “sign” refers to miraculous revelations of Jesus’ power and mission that, when accepted, are vehicles that promote coming to faith in him.  The crowds witnessed the miracles, but did they see the sign?  Did they – do we – see with spiritual vision so that signs of Jesus are not just mighty deeds to impress, but gifts to draw us to faith in Jesus as the Son of God?  The crowds don’t see.  Jesus tells them so: You are coming after me not because you saw signs but because your bellies were filled.  And thus, he tells them to elevate their minds and to seek what lasts.  His message is the same to us.  Jesus wants us to see beyond the ordinary and to come to deeper faith in him as our God.  This is his message too about what appears as ordinary bread, of which we will hear more in the coming weeks.  He doesn’t want us to stop with bread that fills the stomach but then perishes.  He redirects our desire and our focus to “the bread of God… which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  This is the bread that he will give.

Consider how startling is the human tendency to lower our thinking and our vision.  Did you notice how the first reading about God giving the manna started?  Exodus 16 tells us that out in the desert the “whole Israelite community grumbled.”  They were complaining.  They actually defy God by indicating that they would prefer to go back to Egypt where they had been in slavery!  Why go back?  Because at least there they knew where their next meal was coming from!  They would prefer to return to slavery if they could at least know their bellies would be filled.  This complaining is all the more startling when you consider that just the chapter before God had miraculously saved them from Pharaoh’s approaching army by parting the sea to give them safe passage.  Yet they have so soon lowered their thinking and their vision!  “Following God is too hard.  Let’s go back to being slaves.  In Egypt we knew where our food was.”  Friends, we are not that different in how quickly we settle for food that perishes, whatever we can provide and control for ourselves, whatever we think will keep our bellies full, whether that is literal food, or power, or money, or attention, or social media likes, or drugs, or sex – the list goes on!

Like the Israelite community, what deserts of life cause us to lower our thinking and to focus mostly on filling ourselves with the things that perish?  Maybe “the desert” is that common tendency to trust in myself.  It’s much easier and more predictable than being vulnerable to God or to someone else.  That would require trust.  Maybe it’s that tendency to keep myself so busy that I barely notice my deeper and spiritual needs.  That emptiness is there and it is nagging at me.  But if I just keep going it gets filled, right?  Maybe the desert is a habit of serious sin and I feel powerless to stop it.  It’s easier to just live in the slavery than to open it, to reveal it, to raise it to God.  Maybe the desert is trouble in marriage or a painful loss and it’s like there is just no place to go.  Could the desert that lowers your thinking and obscures your spiritual vision be some personal defect or some cross or suffering?  It’s not a sin, but gosh it’s heavy and I can’t see what Jesus might do with this.  Or maybe the desert is a generalized dryness in faith, or going through the motions as a Catholic.  And I know I need more.

Do you see why we too need to hear Jesus tell us today to redirect and to elevate our thinking so that we receive from him the food that he will give, the true bread from heaven?  Like the Israelites, our lowered vision convinces us that even a place of slavery is better because in a perverse sense it is more predictable and we seem to have some element of control.  We are inclined to settle for the kingdom of darkness where everything perishes.  Jesus wants to elevate our hope to his kingdom and the food that endures to eternal life!

In the weeks ahead we will hear the undeniable and clear teaching that Jesus gives his whole self, his flesh and blood, as food that endures.  Jesus turns ordinary bread and wine into his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.  He continues to do this in the Holy Mass and through the valid ministerial priesthood of his Church.  As his words elevate our focus to the food that endures to eternal life, we hear his call to put far more effort into the food that lasts.  To see the sign that Jesus works with ordinary bread and wine is to receive an invitation to deeper faith that he is God.  To experience the Holy Eucharist for what it is we likewise have to entrust our ordinary lives to Jesus.  Jesus’ Real Presence to us is a call for us to be more present to him!  We elevate our vision and our commitment to Holy Mass, where we worship Emmanuel, God-with-us.  We find in the tabernacle waiting for us in private prayer the God who remains with us in all our ordinary needs.  By participating in adoration we find an oasis of peace in our deserts where Jesus raises our weary hearts and minds and assures us he is with us in all the things that we can’t control.  And gradually we begin to trust that Jesus will fill us with what we truly need and with what lasts as we hear him say, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dominica XVI per Annum B

22 July 2018

One of the most basic, foundational implications of being a person of religious faith is that we believe there are truths of this world and the next that, while true and certain, are beyond our full ability to explain, to understand, and to appreciate.  Our limited ability to explain and to understand does not make these truths any less true.  I am speaking here of the realm of mystery, things that are true but are higher than the limited human mind can comprehend.  What this means for us as people of religious faith is that our ordinary, daily lives, our lives in the natural world, meet and touch the extraordinary and the supernatural, the spiritual world, already present here and whose fullness we will experience in the life after death.  In other words, there is value, meaning, and truth here and now that is transcendent, that exists also in realms above and beyond us.  Our ordinary, daily life is pregnant with meaning that is true and real, even though it is more than the eyes of the body can see, measure, and evaluate.  One of the greatest tricks of the devil is to keep us so busy that we live more like machines and, by keeping silence and reflection at a distance, we soon forget that our life is marked by mystery and the things of God.

Maybe some examples of mystery will help us appreciate that ordinary life is pregnant with extraordinary meaning.  At almost every wedding I am privileged to witness, standing as I am nearest the groom, I see mystery in what I will call the breathless reaction of the groom when he first sees his bride on the wedding day.  Some physically and visibly gasp.  Others sort of lower their heads for a moment with a brief turn of the head as if struggling with emotion.  Others tear up.  These couples have seen marriage before; they have even been to weddings.  They have seen each other countless times before.  They have spent months talking about and thinking about marriage.  On a mere natural, ordinary level nothing should surprise them.  Yet it does!  It takes their breath away!  That is mystery.  Another example: Most of us can talk about the reproductive process and the gestation of new life leading to birth.  We can do this rather dryly and without emotion.  But I’m willing to bet that if you have been present at or near a newborn’s birth that you might have shed some tears.  This is mystery.  Perhaps another way to communicate the idea of mystery is to say that life is full of beauty.  Deep beauty, not just surface appearances, might be a synonym for mystery.

The beauty and mystery of human life needs our reflection because this week the Church marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most prophetic papal encyclicals, issued by Blessed Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, meaning Of Human Life.  Perhaps you already know that this encyclical communicates the long-held teaching of the Church that to properly live conjugal love in a good moral fashion “each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life” (HV 11).  For the sake of absolute clarity, this means that any “action which, either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse is specifically intended to prevent procreation” is intrinsically wrong and immoral (HV 14).  This is a teaching that we are each obliged to hold.  Furthermore, when this teaching is not being observed individual persons and married couples need the grace of confession and the sincere efforts at learning and following a scientific method of natural family planning.  Blessed Pope Paul VI was prophetic in predicting the societal fall-out that would occur if the beauty and mystery of sexual love were to be separated from the beauty and mystery of human life by various means of artificial contraception.  As he predicted, this separation has led to increased and earlier onset of promiscuity among even the young, increased infidelity, instability in marriage, immoral and evil social engineering in the hands of government authority, increased divorce, abortion, in vitro fertilization, and a generalized category of lower moral standards, which today we can see displayed in homosexual activity, homosexual marriage, and transgenderism.  None of what I am saying should be taken as shaming or judgment upon you.  Rather, I would point to the confusion generated by the sexual revolution and social upheaval going on in the past decades.  Furthermore, I would also borrow God’s words in the first reading: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture.”  New Testament shepherds – bishops and priests – have been silent in confusion, fear, or in their own sinfulness over these same decades.  No wonder this teaching is so misunderstood by folks in the pews.

What I hope to leave you with today is the “why” of this teaching.  And that takes us right back to my beginning: that our ordinary, daily living in this natural world is pregnant with beauty and mystery that touches upon the extraordinary, the spiritual, and the eternal transcendent realm of God.  The Church’s teaching on human life rests directly on the mystery of the spiritual reality of God’s covenant love and the fulfillment of that covenant in the total, self-giving sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Do you married couples reflect on the mystery that there is something more than merely biological or ordinary in the act of your marriage embrace?  The devil wants to keep you so busy and occupied, living more like machines, so that the mystery of your vocation in Holy Matrimony escapes you and you begin to think less of the spiritual and extraordinary, and to live as the pagans do.  The spirit of the world wants you to think that there can’t be much supernatural and eternal meaning to your married love.  But think with me of the history of salvation.  Consider the significant moment of the covenant God made with Abraham.  The sign of that covenant was circumcision that made of the Hebrews a people of God.  Why THAT mark of the covenant?  Why there?  Why did Abraham and those who entered the covenant with God have to bear a mark on their generative organ?  It’s because the ordinary, natural, temporal good of sexual love and its generation of new life in the covenant of marriage is designed by God to be a sign of the extraordinary, supernatural, and eternal regeneration of new life in the covenant God would fulfill in Jesus and which we enter by baptism!  Pure sexual love in marriage has that depth of beauty and meaning!  The covenantal mark that exposes the very organ of the generation of natural life tells us something of the full spiritual meaning, the dignity, the mystery of human love and human life so essentially part of the married vocation.  Your natural life is made pregnant with this meaning by God.  This is the truth that the Church can do no less than to uphold and to teach.  This is part of the “why” of the moral teaching of this aspect of married life lived in purity.  This is what the world and the worldly miss.

What God the Father fulfills in the new covenant of Jesus is accomplished by a total self-gift of the God-man on the Cross.  We hear of this in the second reading: “In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ.”  That total gift of self, by the shedding of his blood, broke down the separation, the “wall of enmity,” between us and God and made possible new spiritual life in the Church and ultimately in the fullness of Heaven.  That total gift of self is what spouses in Holy Matrimony are called to model and to signify by pure marital love free from the various contraceptive measures the world promotes.  Seeing the sad prophetic developments predicted by Blessed Pope Paul VI, we can echo the Gospel where Jesus’ “heart was moved with pity… for they were like sheep without a shepherd.”  Marking the 50th anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae we thank God for this shepherding from the highest authority of the Church.  We need to take responsibility to learn how to live in conformity with this teaching.  Rejecting the spirit of the world, we find ourselves led to the flowing waters and the fresh green pastures of truth where we see our ordinary lives in their full spiritual and extraordinary meaning!  In Jesus Christ and in His Church we find fulfilled the Father’s words through the Prophet Jeremiah: “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock …  and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply.  I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the Lord.”

Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Nativity of St. John the Baptist

24 June 2018

This year the observance of the nativity of St. John the Baptist falls on a weekend, meaning it replaces the normal Sunday Mass.  Most of the saints in our liturgical calendar have a feast day that is placed more or less on the day we call their “birth” into eternal life, meaning the day of their death.  Only a very few saints have multiple celebrations in the calendar, and fewer still have observances of their literal birth in time, their birth on earth in addition to their birth into eternity.  St. John the Baptist is one such saint.  That we observe his nativity tells us that he and his mission are incredibly important to our faith as Catholics.

My reflections on this nativity of St. John the Baptist do not rest so much on the Scripture selections themselves but rather on the simple fact that we are asked to celebrate the birth of a “radical.”  It is rather curious and maybe even comical.  Look at us!  Here we are as thoroughly modern people.  For the most part we are dressed rather well.  We have our comforts and our controlled environment here.  We probably think we know what we need to hear from God.  We may even think we are doing God a favor by being here.  And we gather to celebrate the birth of a guy who went around in camel hair and ate locusts!  And more than that, he spoke a strongly critical message and stern warning about the day of God’s judgment!  Meanwhile we – and by “we,” I mean I – fret about the thermostats before each Mass and when we arrive we say, thanks be to God, no one parked in the spot I like to park in or is sitting in my spot I like to sit in.  This hardly seems like the breeding ground for radicals.  Maybe just the mere fact that the Church has us observe this man’s nativity has more than enough to speak to us before we would consider the Scripture passages associated with this Mass.

St. John the Baptist was a radical.  Are we ready to be radicals?  That’s in part why I think our observance of his birth is a bit curious, even comical.  Do we realize that a radical is being placed before our eyes to imitate?  But here’s the catch: we often misunderstand the term “radical.”  We stop at what is visible or superficial and we think that’s what it means to be a radical.  St. John lived out in the wilderness.  He ate weird stuff.  He wore strange clothes.  We would wrongly conclude that he is an “out there,” free-range spirit, a radical.  That’s not what being a radical means.  And it’s not what the Church is placing before us for imitation.  Being a radical goes much deeper.  That something “deeper” is the real thing we are being encouraged to follow in this observance of St. John’s birth.

I wonder if often we confuse a “revolutionary” for a “radical?”  A revolutionary turns things over, turns things on their head, and bucks the system.  A radical, on the other hand, might do some revolutionary things, but the far deeper reality of a radical is that he is rooted and has a strong foundation.  That’s the core meaning of the term from which we get “radical.”  Radical means being rooted.  As Catholics, beneficiaries of the radical preaching of St. John the Baptist, we are radicals if we are rooted in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.  These are our foundations.  It is out of these, or from these, that we must operate to fulfill our calling to be missionary disciples in the modern world.  If we are disconnected from, unaware of, or uninterested in Scripture and Tradition then whatever we are doing in the name of Jesus risks having little to do with our roots, and thereby ceases to be radical, and thereby ceases to be of God.

We are to be rooted in Sacred Scripture (which is God’s word in written form) and rooted in Sacred Tradition (which is God’s word passed on in the oral preaching and witness of the apostles).  By “rooted” I mean that we are to reach deeply into, and to draw spiritual life and wisdom out of, Scripture and Tradition.  Then nourished with such life we stretch forth and go out to be witnesses of Jesus in this world.  Like a living thing, we only have life if we remain with the roots.  Like a living thing, we grow and stretch out to reach new places beyond our familiar territory.  But we can’t be alive and we can’t grow unless we have roots.  Jesus himself used this image: “I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).  To be radical, like St. John, is to be rooted in God’s word, which comes to us in the twofold font of Scripture and Tradition.

The society in which we live is marked by upheaval from its own roots.  This upheaval seems to be happening at an ever more rapid pace.  Societal change in norms and expectations has made us arrive at unbelievable scenarios, scenarios that were unimaginable even just a decade ago.  To be a person of radical faith in this environment will likely result in people looking at us as if we really are dressed in camel’s hair and eating locusts!  People might ask, what are those Catholics breathing and eating?  They think Jesus is actually God and that that actually means their personal lives and societal life truly ought to be conformed to God’s moral commands.  Are they crazy?  Those Catholics think Jesus is not a bygone influence, but that the Scriptures, the Tradition, and the Church continue to speak his teaching with authority.  How medieval!  They think persons being made in God’s image and likeness imparts a dignity that demands the right to life.  They think that sexual love has meaning, that its proper place is actually within the marriage of a man and a woman, that it should not be refused in acts of contraception, and that same-sex activity is not only out of order, but even immoral.  They actually think a person’s genetic code, expressed in the physical appearance of the body, is determinate of one’s gender, no matter how surgery might alter that appearance.  How unscientific!  Those Catholics think that Jesus’ life and power comes to them in sacraments.  They think the Mass actually makes Jesus’ sacrifice present such that bread and wine really become Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.  What fairy tale magic!  What are those Catholics breathing and eating?!

If we are radical, if we have roots, I’ll tell you what we are breathing and eating: we are breathing in the inspiration of God’s word and having been made more worthy by frequent confession we are eating the gift that roots us in deep communion with Jesus himself!  By observing the birth of St. John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus, we are not being called to be revolutionaries.  Rather we are called to be radicals.  We are called to be so rooted in our life with Jesus that we have something worth sharing with our world.  In fact, we have what Jesus wants to be shared with the world so that men and women are called away from error and sin and brought to true and lasting life in advance of the day of judgment.  The devil wants us to sink our roots into the things of this world over which he has some measure of influence because by that he knows he has uprooted us from Christ and neutralized a branch of the vine.  A different St. John, St. John the Evangelist, describes it this way: “Do not love the world or the things of the world.  If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever” (1 Jn. 2:15-17).  Observing the birth of St. John the Baptist is our call to be rooted in the things of God and to join St. John in a radical proclamation to the world that God is in our midst: “Behold the Lamb of God!”