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.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Homily for Monday September 22nd

No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel
or sets it under a bed;
rather, he places it on a lampstand
so that those who enter may see the light.

Why is that saying of Jesus so hard for us to comprehend?
Perhaps it’s the way Jesus frequently does things: he states as obvious what is not, in fact, obvious to us.

No one does this.

Well, Jesus, everybody does that.

It doesn’t make sense in your divine imagination, or really in any dimension of imagination we may, well, imagine but frankly, it touches on something quite, well, touchy in the Christian dispensation.
We don’t like to put ourselves out there. We don’t like to shine. Why is that?
We don’t like to pray in public, or make the sign of the cross, or anything
Why do we find it so difficult to celebrate ourselves in our faith?
Why do we find it so troubling to let everyone know who and what we are, so much that we spend a great bit of our lives metaphorically hiding under the bed.
Or else we do celebrate things, but they are usually the wrong things or things we do not have.
I get so tired of watching people, even being told that I should admire, idolize people who spend their lives by throwing their lives into the crap holes of what is popular, up-to-date, meaningful today and meaningless tomorrow. Celebrity throws its nakedness onto the internet and then blames people for looking at it.

And we celebrate the stupid things, but leave the God-fire unattended in lives burning surreptitiously into ash.

We are left floundering in a hole-infested dingy stuffed with coffee and donuts. We want to be rebuilt but sometimes we think rebuilding is more about dusting the cave than creating the explosions that burst the cave open

What I want to say is get a life and make the most of it, or rather, make the most of the life you have already been given. Put your fire out there.

But we say: This happened to me. This is my past. This is the thing I cannot get over. I don’t have any shine left in me.

Put your trust in God and in his Holy Church, deal with your issues and pitch that mess back into the slime pit from which it crawled. Blow open the rock that seals you in.

God has come to give us strength, strength to overcome any obstacle at all and we know enough people in our lives who can bear witness to that power.
God has come to give us the truth and the truth will indeed set us free, free to live our lives in holiness and righteousness until death. God has made that promise
God has come to give us power, let’s not crawl all too willingly back into the holes of original sin.
Rise up my brothers and sisters and set the light of Christ on a promontory so high, so meaningful that it makes us shine out like a lighthouse on a storm-tossed sea. And, like a lighthouse we might give hope to those still drowning in the depths of that damning sea.

And besides, if you put a lamp under a bed or a basket, you will not only burn up the bed or basket, you may burn down the house, the town, the seminary, the world.

Put it out there and God and your brothers and sisters will respond. That is what we do here. That is the hope we instill here. That is the threat we make here. That is the promise God has made to us here and he gives us the power of this Eucharist to support us for the very dangerous journey.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Weekly reader

The books are piling up on my desk and a number of them have been through the mill, though I believe the piling is greater than the reading. I started this last cycle with Beauty will Save the World  by Gregory Wolfe, who is the editor of Image magazine, the magazine that started me out on the Pfister tangent from last cycle. Well, I read Wolfe’s little tome and I am going to say my life was transformed, which isn’t saying much since most books generally transform my life, hence my high regard for them. I was especially impressed by Wolfe’s treatment of Flannery O’Connor, who has been beaten up a bit lately in the blogosphere. Flannery is vindicated in Wolfe’s book as bringing together St. Thomas and Unamuno. Wolfe is also a great fan of T. S. Eliot as am I. I find his book compelling because he thinks life I do. He is a conservative who regrets the conservative push toward politics and away from art. In many ways he seems to conquer with our visiting lecturer from last week. After Wolfe, I was inspired to pick up a number of items including Charming Billy by Alice McDermott. The wallop is definitely packed in this one and it’s all because it’s TRUE. She captures the mixture of grief and relief that accompanies almost every death. Ouch. Then I moved on to the essay On Beauty and Being Just by Elaine Scarry. Now, here is some more Truth. Beauty is lost in politics and until we upend our cultural preoccupations, moving away from politics and toward aesthetics first, we are lost. We cannot know who we are. Now put that together with von Balthasar and you have a cocktail worth getting drunk on. Fr. Peter also gave me a book called Tales of Two Cities, a book by Jonathan Conlin on London and Paris, offering parallel histories of each focusing on a lot of Analles historical perspectives on fashion and restaurants and burying the dead. This is like eating a big box of candy. This Sunday we have our first Chesterton Society meeting and the topic is The Everlasting Man. No one does apologetics like G. K., style, beauty and truth, the theme for the past ten days or so. It’s interesting how many of these authors see Chesterton as an inspiration. How can it not be for anyone who has taken hold of his great mantle? Next on my list is a book handed me by my neighbor on Appalachian economic dynamics. I am going to wedge it in between Mahler symphonies on video and see what happens.