Wednesday, October 29, 2014

November notes


I was a fairly fearless child, perhaps it is the product of being an “only.” I had no fear of adults or teachers. There was never a project that I refused to get involved in. There were always some ideas brewing. There were some things, however, that did cause my little heart to skip a beat, clowns, of course, and Santa Claus, and the rapture (I was a Baptist child), which I had somehow found a way to tie up in my mind with clowns and Santa Claus. And, I was afraid of Jack-O-Lanterns, or perhaps more accurately; I felt sorry for them. They smile but they are empty. Their crenelated grins belied the fact that they had nothing left inside except a false light. Their purpose was to scare and intimidate and in their chorus of silent smiles, they ushered in November.  November is a hard month. The world of course is changing, color, texture, odor. November is a smelly month, the acrid odor of burning leaves, the sweatiness of the new-mown corn fields, the silent witness of dead skunks in the middle of the road. It is a falling month, falling leaves, falling temperature and falling snow. It is a wind-down month, a temporal witness to the finality of all things. It is an eschatological month and the eschaton is here in sight and sound and smell. To some it smells like sulfur.  To some, it is an eye-burning odor. But to some, perhaps to us, there is something else crowding the olfactory wind. It is the smell of ancient balsam, the chrism of anointing. The month of November begins with the teeth of the empty Jack-O-Lantern, but in time, in time those teeth are transmogrified into the crown of Christ the King. All of the saints usher in November, falling around us like the gold bullion of leaves in the wind. It ends with the decisive image of the King of Glory shining among us in bright array, sifting away the crime of departure, holding out for us the promise of a future rising from the stubble of mown fields, harvested lives. What if Jack-O-Lanterns were prophets of the eschaton, our light shining out from the emptiness of shells? We need to remember that there is something else about November. Between All Saints and Christ the King there is the promise of souls being released into glory where they like leaves swirl is the dance of candle flames shining through the darkness of life’s cemeteries. Between All Saints and Christ the King there is also something else, thanksgiving, eucharistia. In the month of November we give thanks for loss and gain for smiling endings and crowned beginnings.  I hope in the face of all this change, I am still a fairly fearless child.

Wisdom Day Presentation

November Notes
I am including here a transcript of my talk to a group of senior citizens at Wisdom Day in the Diocese of Evansville.

The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.

These famous words of my Mississippi compatriot, William Faulker seem very prescient for a celebration of Wisdom Day. Today so many have gathered from around the diocese to celebrate something significant, the virtue, or perhaps we should say, the gift of wisdom, Sophia in Greek. We know of course that wisdom is not the property of longevity, but we also know, if we are wise that there is some wisdom that is to be accrued by the careful living of one’s life.

The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.
Today, I would like to spend a bit of time ruminating on this nugget of wisdom from my compatriot, I hope that perhaps in doing so all of us may find some benefit.
I am sure you know by now that most of us have a conflicted relationship with things past. I think here about the novelist Marcel Proust, who in his lengthy novel, Remembrance of Things Past, waxed on for many volumes about the wonders of a previous age. Some of us look back on the past as a kind of golden age. Back in the good old days, we are told such and such a thing was the case. You can fill in the blank. It is interesting to me that most of the time those who make such assertions are those who never lived back in the good old days. All of us are probably aware of how rosy things look from the other side. Relationships and families that were filled with every kind of conflict and problem, years later look back and think of those “golden” times. Everything gets shinier with age. Some among us have the tendency to look back with rose colored glasses. I am thinking here about the very interesting book written some years ago now by the sociologist Stephanie Coontz called The Way We Never Were. Dr. Coontz examines a particular period in American history, the 1950’s which we have made into a kind of happy days of goodness and plenty. Dr. Coontz gives us the true story. Mothers didn’t stand around in high heels baking cookies. Fathers didn’t all smoke pipes and dispense wisdom. Children didn’t all get into Dennis the Menace scraps. Coontz’s outcome is that perhaps things should not have been left to Beaver Cleaver after all. She wants us to wake up and I think she might have a point.

The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.
At least as long as we keep the myth alive, we might be tempted to disdain our own time, killing the process of finding a golden age among ourselves by our too strong an assertion of past glories. The other thing we might do is demonize the past, fail to see the true value of things that were, even the negative things. Sometimes, as I often tell my seminarians we need to look at the past and preserve everything there and sometimes we need to closely examine the past and then bury it. Either way, a close look is in order, a look that connects with what we are doing today as much as what happened then. Either way the past becomes a part of our present, a necessary part but not the only part.
I don’t know if you have been following Church news for the past few days. Rome has been in a bit of a tumble. The first meeting of the synod on families finished its round last week. There was a bit of a tussle over things like divorce and re-marriage, birth control and sexuality issues. Frankly there is nothing that can get Church people going more than issues relating to sexuality. Some of the bishops wanted us to hold the line, keeping the course with what has gone before, maintaining our position on important issues in Church life. Well and good. Some bishops wanted some change, looking at things in new ways, harboring the traditions from the past in new vessels, with a different kind of reverence. That is also well and good. Some of the debates became heated. Some folks got their robes in a bit of a wad. And of course all of this internal wrangling was picked up by the news services. Most everything was laid at the feet of Pope Francis. Things didn’t seem to go anyone’s way and the pope got put in the firing line. What does the pope want? Should we get into a fracas that the pope originally asked the folks to get in iby offering feedback to bishops before the session of the synod. There is more to come next year and it could be an interesting year for the pope.

The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.
I say it because at some level we have seen all of this before. We saw it in 1968 with the promulgation of Humanae Vitae. Little wrangles have become a feature of Church life and we sometimes feel caught in the midst of that. Watching the events unfold last week was kind of like watching your parents have a fight when you were growing up. Where should we stand in all of this? Here is what I say: We must be careful. It is tempting for us to want to get into the middle of the battle, after all no one likes to see Mom and Dad fight. But I wonder if our stance, perhaps all of our stances ought to be found in the prayer we pray every day, the Our Father. Thy will be done. It is interesting to me that the man who stands in the middle of this is Pope Francis. Some like him. Some do not. I am sure after last week the battle lines may be even more forcefully drawn. But again we must be careful. If you like Pope Francis, I am glad. If you do not, I don’t really care. Here is what I know: The Holy Spirit sent this man for some purpose. That I must believe. I must believe that if I am to remain a Catholic. You are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church … whatever you bind will be bound, whatever you loose will be loosed.

When I look back on the fracas of the synod I am reminded of the words of Saint Paul; Some of you say you are for Paul, some Apollos, some Cephas and some Christ.  I say with Paul, don’t follow the politics, follow the shepherd. Follow the man called by God to hold the keys. Have faith. If we have faith, we wait for the outcome. If we choose sides, the result will always be chaos.

The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.
If our love for the past, or our love of ideals leads us to fight and hate each other, I can be almost sure that we are wrong. If we place ideas over people, we might be wrong. I think one thing our Holy Father is trying to show us is this: All of this involves real people, some rejoicing and some hurting. There are real souls, not ideals and ideas. These are real men, women and children, persons whom Christ respects, so must we.

We hear today that we are in need of prophets. Perhaps we are but I hope our prophets are not ideologues but shepherds. This is a question I ask my seminarians all the time: What are the qualities of a good shepherd?

A good shepherd serves his flock. He has laid down his life for them, following the example of Christ. He does not let one get away. He worries and frets for the care of all, not only the good but the bad as well. Perhaps he worries more for the bad. The lambs are wonderful, but as a shepherd I can tell you the goats are wonderful as well. They are all good sheep, even if they don’t know it yet and I can assure you their goodness has nothing to do with me, it is the work of Christ in their making.
A good shepherd loves and celebrates with his flock. Last week I had the great privilege of being the retreat master for a group of priests on a cruise ship. Also on the ship were 300 young people with Down’s Syndrome. They were wonderful, dancing, laughing, full of joy, community. The shepherd celebrates with his flock. Those kids were the best retreat those priests could have had. My simple words to them were just straw.

A good shepherd teaches the truth of the Gospel and that is respect, care, and drawing together. The good shepherd huddles with his sheep, protecting them from the storms of life, warming them by the fire, and never leaving them for greener pastures. The good shepherd never ever abandons his vocation or seeks to bracket his vocation for some other reason. There is no other reason when you are a shepherd.

I think, I hope I know what a good shepherd does. I know also that I am not always so good, but I try. I pray and I try.

I also think I know what a bad shepherd is. At least I think I know some qualities. A bad shepherd is deceitful. He invites people to follow him, setting himself up as the best thing in shepherd’s garb and then he takes advantage of the sheep, he takes advantage of their needs and that is the worst kind of abuse. Some shepherds live duplicitous lives, setting themselves up as shepherds of the year and then not following through.

Some shepherds are only interested in the good sheep, or the sheep they like. The rest of the flock can go to hell, but I will take those whom I like, usually those who agree with me. Some shepherds exploit the gullibility of the sheep.
Some shepherds lie. Some hide their true motives and their true values until they can’t do it anymore. They are not honest. Those shepherds are perhaps the worst. They are wolves in shepherd’s clothing and they feel sorry for the sheep because they are not wolves. They take money and sustenance from the sheep and all the while they secretly loath them. There is no place in the Church for such shepherds but sometimes we can find them among us.

I don’t care what they claim for themselves. They are false shepherds. Sometimes they are shepherds that like to look to the past for guidance

The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.
What can we learn from the past? We can certainly learn our heritage, and we must know that heritage. We must know the tradition from which we come. We can certainly learn from our mistakes, if we are honest in looking at the past, we can learn from our mistakes. We can also see, in the glory and in the mistakes a roadmap for the future. I hope that is what we are doing, because it seems to me that learning from the past, without living in the past is the true source of wisdom. I hope you see that and I am thankful that you have invited me to be a part of this day with you. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Reflection on October

It seems to me that October is a month of conversion. We see it somewhat readily in the world around us. The other evening we had the Around the World party and the weather snapped. Suddenly the threat of chill was in the air. Everywhere we look, we see it, we feel it. Trees are changing color, runny noses are disappearing or appearing. Things are changing. It is true of the month. On the first we celebrated the memorial of Therese of Liseaux. She has undergone a conversion in my book. When I was a teenager, I thought about her a great deal, a young woman with a vocation, a fierce determination to follow the way of the Lord in Carmel. When I was older I asked her for a favor, not as the young girl, but as the mature saint who so aptly expressed herself in na├»ve/wise language. And, well, here I am. We had St. Theodore last week as well. Here is another example of wild determination forging the foundations of spiritual resuscitation in a world in need of renewal. Later this month I will have the privilege of participating with the Sisters of Providence in their founding celebrations, another tribute to the fierce Theodora. Then, last Saturday we had St. Francis. There is no real need to spend much time on his wildness, the naked boy romping around Assisi in an act of more naked conversion. And there are many others to come in this month of conversion, including the apostles Simon and Jude and St. Luke, the great evangelist of conversion. In this month devoted to Our Lady of the Rosary, I have asked everyone in the seminary to do something, to pray five decades of the rosary daily for peace in the world. Our Holy Father has made peace his prayer intention for the month and it seems to me that if anyone can assist us in accomplishing peace it is Our Lady. Perhaps there are some who would scoff at the prospect of a group of people praying the rosary and thereby swaying the thoughts of nations, some of those nations hostile to the Word of God. Here is my response to that. We can never know what effect our prayer has. Is there a war that might be prevented by a group of seminarians praying the rosary? Is there one terrorist who might be converted? Is there one act of violence that might be stopped by all of the prayers of my life put together? I pray and I leave it to God to use those prayers as he sees fit. I pray and I rely on God’s providence to work things out. My job is to pray and I must do that if I am authentic to my calling as a priest and as a Christian. So, let’s pray together. Let us all resolve to pray the rosary for peace every day. Let us take this month of conversion and give it all to the God of times and seasons. He is the maker of all things, the creator of saints and our savior.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Homily for Sunday October 5th

The parable of the wicked tenants invites a little criticism. Even if you didn’t feel it, it does.
At our house meeting last Tuesday, our prefect offered some reflections on the stupid landlord who, unable to read the signs of the times, kept sending folks to the slaughter. In the end he sent his son, but, as we might expect, the result was dire.

The situation was very much what we encounter in the Song of Songs this morning.
He spaded it, cleared it of stones,
and planted the choicest vines;
within it he built a watchtower,
and hewed out a wine press.
Then he looked for the crop of grapes,
but what it yielded was wild grapes.
Wild grapes indeed.

The landowner’s plan seems to have been for naught. And we recognize that scene, don’t we? God created the world good, but soon the tree bore rotten fruit and the tenants went wild as soon as the apple core hit the bushes.

And we know those wild and wicked tenants don’t we?
We hear of their exploits daily.
They are terrorists who behead nice ladies in Oklahoma
They are disease victims who bring deadly illnesses to unsuspecting populations
They are members of organizations that use God’s name to hunt and maim his people
Or perhaps we respond to something more esoteric?
They are intellectuals who know the truth but cannot seem to live the truth.
They are ambassadors whose only message seems to be a message of death and ill will.
Or perhaps they are something closer to home. The priest who cannot keep his promises. The seminarian who cannot remain pure and chaste, or even honest. The ideological shepherd who leads the sheep astray with promises of certainty on his television show.
They are in the news but they are also here among us.
And what is the effect of their wickedness?
They make us wonder. And doubt
They make us doubt ourselves, doubt the world, doubt the Church, doubt the seminary.
They make us fearful and we know them, don’t we?
How can we go on thinking about the evil in the world and live?
How can we go on thinking about the evil that resides in the vineyard of our hearts and lives and live?

Now we can go back for a moment to St. Paul. What did St. Paul say? His words are so powerful and so timely.

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.

And we know those things too, don’t we, when we think about them, we know them.
I was thinking the other day about the song written by Janet Sullivan Whitaker, “In Every Age”. I like the song very much, mostly because its not too rhymey.
Her words too are powerful. Here I am thinking about the last verse:
Teach us to make use of the time we have. Teach us to be patient even as we wait. Teach us to embrace our every joy and pain. What wisdom.
To sleep peacefully and to rise up strong.

And there it is. Isn’t that it? Isn’t that the answer to our dilemmas in the vineyard of compromise?
Rise up strong. Brothers and sisters that is what the Lord is calling us to:
Rise up strong. Rise up strong with the strength that can only come from the Gospel. No matter where we turn, no matter to what answers we look, we can only find the truth of our lives in the truth that is in Christ. Rise up strong in the reality of what God has afforded for us
Rise up strong in the honesty of your lives. This is who I am. This is my past. These are my sins. These are my parents, my education, my school. Rise up strong to recognize that past, mourn that past, and acknowledge that past and then put that past away. Place it gently, reverently in the casket of memory and bury it in the folds of the earth.

Rise up strong and dare to live fully in this community. Dare to acknowledge the strengths of your brothers and sisters here, and their weakness. Dare to acknowledge your own strengths and your own weaknesses. I think we do well with the weaknesses but less well with the strengths. Own your talents. Celebrate the you that God has so generously created and rise up strong
Rise up strong, realizing that your strength, your power may be that of Paul, that of Christ, and comes in humility and challenge. Rise up strong to face the demons of the world. There is no power in this world that cannot be overcome by our understanding the presence of God in our lives. How do we know that power? It is expressed in tears, tears that flow from mourning and tears that spring from the fountain of God’s love in joy

It is known in mildness, the mildness of temperament that comes to us as docility, our ability to listen and to learn and it comes to us in the boldness of proclamation. Brothers and sisters the Gospel must be proclaimed and we must be bold in its proclamation. New Jonah’s have no place in our world today, drowning as it is in the cacophony of sinful voices speaking lies, falsehoods that even turn the ears, the hearts of God’s people away from the message of salvation.

It is power realized in powerlessness, for the last shall be first and the first last. Perhaps we know it most sincerely in being like our own stupid landlord, the Lord God, who has faith in his farm even when the tenants prove to be wild grapes. Perhaps it is expressed there because, the savior of the world is the Son who was killed by wicked tenants and we are his followers. We are his people, immolated as we might be, must be on the pyre of frivolity and public opinion

In every age God has called us
In every age past
In every age today
And if that is so and it is so: If that is so, then the powers of those wicked tenants, those interlopers in our world have no power at all.

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Fall Conference III

Fall Conference III

In my conferences this fall, I am focusing on the charism of obedience, particularly as it is reflected in the life and ministry of priests. In the last conference, I spent some time looking at the particular promise of obedience expressed in the Rite of Ordination. We are mistaken, however, if we believe that this promise is only reflected in this place. The Rite of Ordination is laced with obedience, just as the life of the priest is filled with the necessity of careful attention to the Word of God and the word God speaks in human discourse.

From the first appearance of the candidate, his initial adsum, we are reflecting on the nature of a call that necessitates careful listening to God in every part of our ministry. Today, however, I would like to spend some time reflecting on a particular promise found in the Rite of Ordination for priests. In the ordination ritual, we hear these words spoken by the bishop.

Do you resolve to celebrate faithfully and reverently, in accord with the Church’s tradition, the mysteries of Christ, especially the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people?

The mysteries of Christ in this promise are intimately connected to two “functions” of the holy priesthood, the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation. How can these two sacraments been seen concretely in the life of the priest and, in particular, as we begin to comprehend our obedience? Even the most cursory glance at the reality of priestly life and service holds out for us the centrality of this promise. And yet we must ask:

What is the role of the Eucharist in our lives? Of course, it has a central role, an essential role. Perhaps we should begin with a more fundamental question: What is the role of the Eucharist in our world? We know that it is central. We might remember the words of a famed Cistercian: it is this sacrament and this sacrament alone that keeps the world from flying apart. And yet, how many neglected sanctuaries and tabernacles are there in the world? How many of God’s people, particularly in our day, are persecuted precisely for their belief in the promise that the Blessed Sacrament holds out to us? How many people in the history of our faith have literally given their lives for the sake of this presence?

And yet, Our Lord goes neglected. We do not have one hour to watch with him, in prayer. Our chapel, our churches become the Garden of Gethsemane. Our Lord is awake and vigilant and we are neglectful and filled with the need for sleep. The Lord knows we have enough ways of filling up our days. We surf. We hang out. We pursue useless trivia, and yet Our Lord is neglected.

That is not to say that our only way of engaging God is through his unique presence in the tabernacle or adoration. It is not. We find the God of the Blessed Sacrament in all corners of our lives. We find him here, in our true studies, in our concern and care for one another, in the love we offer to those most in need, in polite behavior, in kind words and gestures. We offer the Lord fitting praise in our prayer and in our good works.

But we must also acknowledge the singular gift that has been bestowed upon us in the Blessed Sacrament. Christ in his body is here. He is among us. He desires our company. Is there any more fitting reverence that we can offer him than a bit of our time? Every day I am increasingly convinced of the rectitude of Archbishop Sheen in his desire to see the Church offering each day a Holy Hour. Jesus does not need it. He does not need our attention, but we need to give him attention if we are ever to truly understand who we are.

Furthermore, the Eucharist is that bridge that connects, in an intimate way, the world of heaven and the world of earth. It is the exemplar of the Incarnation. Jesus Christ, who walked the dusty roads of Galilee, who called the disciples, who worked miracles, who offered himself for our sins on the cross, who rose from the dead, who ascended into heaven, the Son of the Most High, the Second person of the Trinity has condescended to be present to us. Surely, this is worth more than the presence of any royalty or celebrity?

The Eucharist, we are told, is our sacrifice of praise. What does it mean? Our contemporary minds, so accustomed to instantaneous dichotomizing, have a great deal of difficulty conflating the simultaneous meanings of the Eucharistic sacrifice. We must either see it as a sacrifice or as a thanksgiving, each of those distinctions bearing all of the cultural and theological ideals they seem to entail.

Yet it is not so. We need only explore the exemplar. If we recall the work of the temple, one of the works of the priests of Israel was the daily thanksgiving sacrifice. Leviticus 9:22: And when you sacrifice a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the LORD, you shall sacrifice it so that you may be accepted. There is a necessary sacrificial ideal expressed in the Eucharist. But in terms of the ideal of the temple, we see it obliquely, out of the corner of our eyes as it were. We see the thanksgiving also out of the corner of our eyes, but this simultaneous oblique reference focuses us on what the thanksgiving sacrifice accomplishes – our salvation. Christ is the lamb who offered himself. He is both lamb and priest, the giver and the gift, and that complexity is reflected also in the reality of the Holy Eucharist, again, a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

So it is that we must mirror our lives on what we receive. Not as a tribute to the giver. We must mirror our lives, a simultaneous thanksgiving and sacrifice, because we are compelled to do so by what we receive at the altar/table of the Lord. The other day I was perusing the Book of Hebrews, chapter 10. It is a wonderful treatment of the necessity of perseverance in our vocation. It speaks eloquently of the means by which Christ instills thanksgiving in us through the sacrifice of his son.

But then, there is an admonition. The author states rather abruptly and somewhat matter of factly: It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God (Hebrews, 10:31). It is indeed a fearful thing in the most complete sense of fearfulness, awe, trembling with joy. Isn’t that really the essence of the Eucharist? Do we not approach this reality trembling with joy? Or perhaps we approach the Living God with the confidence that comes from intimate acquaintance.

A number of years ago, I read a book by a fellow called William Dalrymple called, From the Holy Mountain. It was a fascinating book about the author’s pilgrimage through the Middle East visiting monasteries and other Christian sites from antiquity. Of course, the thing he noticed was that, in the countries with large Islamic populations, many of these ancient Christian sites were passing into ruins.

Without trying to be dramatic, these Christian places were dying. They were being persecuted to death and the presence today of the Islamic State must reinforce that tragedy. I wonder what peace could be restored to the Middle East if there was still there the living presence of God in the Blessed Sacrament. I wonder also if we, as custodians of this essential world mystery, have also done the best job that we can do to maintain and promote the centrality of the Eucharist in the world?

What cries do we hear issuing forth from the tabernacle? They are the cries of God’s people.
They are the cries of the neglected, those who are literally dying to experience the dignity that is necessary for them to live full human lives, and yet, they are denied this dignity by false ideologies, false interpretations of the human subject. If the Blessed Sacrament is misunderstood in our world, perhaps it is because we no longer know what a human person is. These are the cries of the neglected; they are our cries. The rich and well-off are also spiritually neglected.

They are the cries for peace in a world filled with so much anger. Brothers, if you find yourself floating in an ever-darkening cloud of anger, please avoid the ordained life until that anger can be healed. We have no need of priests who are not men of peace. We hear often of righteous anger. As I get older, I become more skeptical about the righteousness of anger and I wonder if righteous anger is just another word for unfettered judgment.
What cries do we hear issuing forth from the tabernacle? They are the pleas of God’s people.

They are the pleas, pleas for dignity. Pleas for bread. Pleas for community. Pleas for God in a godless world. They are pleas of mercy in a world filled with so much compromise. They are pleas for tolerance in a world filled with intolerance and often intolerance at the hands of our own co-religionists. If we cannot get along with each other, love each other, respect each other in spite of our differences, then the unifying presence of the Blessed Sacrament is a lie and, brothers, I assure you it is not a lie and all of the self-righteousness of persons within the Church is vanity and shame.
What cries do we hear issuing forth from the tabernacle? They are the dreams of God’s people. They are the dreams of joyfulness, of laughter, of holy tears, of hearts and minds turned back to the love of the living God. Back to Hebrews again: They are the cries of those who desire a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God (Hebrews 11:16). Can we make God proud?

If we are a people who cannot dream, who do not know how to dream, are not encouraged to dream, then our religion is not only useless, it is dangerous because it cripples humanity. It murders the human spirit. What cries do we hear issuing forth from the tabernacle? They are the hopes of God’s people. These hopes are a kind of falling in love.

These are the voices we hear and we owe obedience, listening to those voices spoken to us in every encounter we have with the Blessed Sacrament, either in the Mass or reserved in the tabernacle.

The mystery of Christ is contained in the priest’s daily encounter with the living God in the Blessed Sacrament, but that same mystery is also contained in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To that as well, we owe obedience.

How am I obedient to the Sacrament of Reconciliation? What is its role in our lives today and in our future lives as priests?

First, let me say a word about the priest as celebrant of this sacrament. As a priest of more than 20 years, each time I step into a reconciliation room or a confessional, I am filled with humility. I am not worthy to hear even a child’s confession. My sins are so great that I should never be given authority at any level over the absolution of others. And yet, God has made me worthy by my ordination and the faculties bestowed on me by the bishop. I am an ambassador, and as an ambassador, I speak only on behalf of the sovereign I represent. I have no authority but his authority, no license but that given me by God who wants me to speak words of peace to those suffering in sin. And I can speak those words of peace because I know that I am a sinner and need to hear those words from my confessor.

Now I want to say a word about priests as recipients of this sacrament. I can never be an effective confessor if I am not a successful penitent. I cannot announce God’s forgiveness if I have never experienced God’s forgiveness and experienced it regularly and intimately.

Do people in the parishes avail themselves of this sacrament? Some say no. I ask this question: Are priests effectively preaching reconciliation through their own experience of this life-giving sacrament? Our deacons are now memorizing the formula for absolution. I hope they have little trouble with that because they have heard it so many times in their lives. I hope they have heard it a thousand times. I hope they hear it regularly here in the reconciliation rooms of our chapel and in the offices of their spiritual directors. I hope they participate in this sacrament because they have experienced hundreds of times God’s mercy in this sacrament, mercy delivered to them by the hands of the priest.

Ronald Knox writes in The Belief of Catholics that: “The instinct of the Catholic Church, in opposition to the sects, has always told in favor of leniency.” Can that historical precedent be our guide in being good confessors? Fr. Kurt writes in A Confessor’s Handbook: “Rule Number 5: Do not complicate or ‘extend’ the confession for the penitent.” The most obvious sin in this is prurience; the less obvious is a tendency toward a kind of moral sadism. The priest, in forgiving sins, must constantly remember that he is a greater sinner and he must recognize not only his need for but his frequent reception of God’s mercy. We must help folks to make a good confession, not guilt them into a good confession.

God has come to dwell with us. Is that not the solution to all our ills, all our faults, all of our failings? Brothers and sisters, we come to him in our weakness. Lord, give me strength. We come to him in our strength. Lord, show me the way of gentleness and meekness. We come to him in our blindness. Lord, help me see the light. We come to him in our discouragement. Lord, give me wisdom to see in discouragement your invitation to a life of grace.

Christ can command our attention and he has a right to do it. But he does not command; he invites. I am reminded of the admonition of St. Peter in his first letter: Always be prepared to give an account of the hope that is within you (1Peter, 3:15).

Do you resolve to celebrate faithfully and reverently, in accord with the Church’s tradition, the mysteries of Christ, especially the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people?
Brothers, prepare for that reality now. Begin today or begin again today. It is the only thing that can give authentic meaning to what we are doing here.
Now I have an invitation. This month, October, is a month dedicated to Our Lady as Queen of the Holy Rosary. Recently, our Holy Father Pope Francis has stated that we are currently in the midst of World War III, a war for the future of humankind being fought on so many fronts today. Brothers and sisters, we need peace in our world. We need peace in our community, in our dioceses and religious communities.

I have an invitation for each one of us here. I want everyone to make a commitment in the month of October to say five decades of the rosary every day for peace in our world. You say, I don’t do the rosary. I say, give it a whirl. You never know what Our Lord might do for you through the intercession of his Blessed Mother. You say: I already pray the rosary every day. I say: Offer an extra one for the intentions of world peace. I am convinced that God will provide what we need. And we do need it. We need it desperately.