Sunday, December 31, 2017

What Every Family Needs

Growing up in my home parish, being the oldest of 11, people would come up to us after Mass and say things like "Oh, what a lovely, well behaved family you have" and my brothers and I would all laugh quietly to ourselves because we knew all the stuff that had been going on during Mass between us while we were punching each other, stealing things from each other, and squeezing each others hands as hard as we could during the "Our Father" and the sign of peace.  We also, knew, as all families do, about all the stuff that went on at home - the fights, the losing of patience, the arguments, etc.

I know as a priest walking with lots of families as a pastor that ALL families have struggles and adversity.  All families have relationships that are strained, all families have struggles and challenges and pain and woundedness.  Sometimes there are strains and problem spots that are decades long!

And it seems to me that it is a great temptation for people to look around and think that other families are good, other families are well-behaved, OTHER families are "perfect" but that our family is a dumpster fire.

If that's the temptation for families, then how much more so is that the case for the Holy Family???  How in the world would we ever feel like they have anything in common with us???  They are up on Mt. Olympus, and we're down here 100 miles away looking at them - how could we look to them, as the opening prayer of Mass says, as an EXAMPLE??? 

But what does Scripture say?  I think, when we look at the evidence in Scripture, we see a family that, although we have no record of sin being in their family, they still faced great difficult, adversity, and temptation

1) The Annunciation - Mary is visited by an angel and told that she's going to become pregnant by God, and that her child would become the savior of the world.  That's HARD.  That's ADVERSITY.  God coming and telling you all that.

2) Joseph, too.  He had these plans to "divorce her quietly" to do the honorable thing so that no shame or harm would be brought to Mary.  But God comes to him and says "I hear your plans, but I'm changing them"  That's HARD.  That's difficult to accept from God, to learn that our plans that we had come up with need to change dramatically.  That's adversity.

3) In Today's Gospel, Mary and Joseph, in bringing Jesus to the temple when he's 8 days old, they are told by the holy sage prophet at the temple - "Mary, your heart will be PIERCED because of this child"  That's HARD.  That's ADVERSITY. 

4) Finally, Mary watched her son be tortured and murdered.  Are you still tempted to think of the Holy Family as a family of virtuous robots whose lives were the equivalent of vacationing in Tahiti? 

The Devil wants you to think that the Holy Family is so aloof from your family, so different that your dumpster fire of a family has nothing it can learn from the Holy Family because your experiences and struggles are SO different from your own.

So what is needed to help families move closer to the example of the Holy Family?  In our second reading St. Paul says one of the biggest keys for families that I've seen - FORGIVENESS!!!

Forgiveness is the oil that keeps the engine of the family working properly and running well.  Oil keeps parts of an engine that would otherwise get overheated and strained - oil keeps those spots of the engine cool enough to not fall apart.

FORGIVENESS is just that.  So many families need forgiveness in so many relationships.

But forgiveness is certainly hard.  It is hard to offer, and it can be hard to receive. 

So let me suggest one way to get better - the sacrament of confession.  Everyone is afraid of confession and dreads it, but everyone experiences a great freedom and peace afterwards.  It is place to ask for and receive the forgiveness of God, and after that, you are so much better disposed to forgive and seek the forgiveness of others in your family.

Finally, then, let me conclude by noting that through our baptism we are adopted brothers and sisters with Christ.  So the Holy Family isn't JUST a virtuous example, it is also true that St. Joseph is our adoptive father and Mary is our adopted mother - so they live now to intercede for us, for fathers and mothers and husbands and wives and children and if you are struggling, know that the Holy Family knows adversity too, and also that because of your connection and life IN their family, we can draw strength from their prayers for us in our earthly families as well!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas 2017

In 1914, as World War I was breaking out, something spectacular happened on Christmas Eve.  The great truce broke out.  A soldier named Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade described the event in detail:

“First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing ­– two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”

It is estimated that up to 100,000 troops all along the Western Front participated, and that there were barbecues, gift exchanges and even games of soccer that broke out Christmas Eve into Christmas Day

There seems to be, every year, a peace and a silence that descends upon the Earth, a silence and peace that people literally feel not just because of food or lights or celebrations, but because it is a real and tangible thing at Christmas.  This silence and peace is mentioned in all our favorite Christmas hymns and carols – “Silent Night,” and “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” as a few examples.

A silence that could bring to a grinding halt humanities first attempt at a global war, bring it to a halt such that both sides were celebrating and feasting together on the field of war.

Here’s the question I’d like us to consider – is this silence and peace something that God wants us to experience only one night and one day a year?

The answer to that is, quite clearly, no!

The silence and peace of Christmas are what God wants for us to experience year round by living our lives in Christ and living our lives from within His Church.

Sometimes, people fault God for being too silent, too quiet.  But the failure of those people is a failure to recognize that God, in a sense, is FOUND in the silence.  God prefers silence.

Let’s look at the evidence, beyond the peace and silence we experience and love tonight

The three people we particularly look to tonight, Joseph Mary and Joseph, were all people who cherished silence.  Mary has just a few lines in the Gospels.  Joseph has none.  Most of Jesus’ life is lived in silence and anonymity and it is only has final three years or so where he begins his public ministry.

There’s also one of my favorite passages of the Old Testament where God comes to Elijah – and Elijah stands in the cave and God promises to pass by.  It tells us that there was an earthquake, but God was not in the Earthquake.  There was fire and wind, but God wasn’t in any of that.  Then there was a still small sound, an almost silent whisper, and Elijah knew that it was God.

We can also look at the great changes that God brings about – they almost entirely happen in silence.  Baptism, ordination, confirmation, Transubstantiation of the Eucharist – these things are brought about silently

We live in a world of constant noise bombardment – we are addicted to it because we fear silence because we think in silence we are alone.  But this celebration of Christmas I hope is an opportunity to remind you that the peace that comes to us today amidst silence is accessible year round

Our Catholic Faith is one that encourages us, gently, to not be afraid of silence.  We do not fill every moment of our worship with noise.  We have opportunities to pray in silence in this Church, and before Mass, and after Mass.  Yes we have our Glorias and Alleluias, but I talk with a lot of non-Catholics, and they are always telling me that they are surprised by two things when they come to a Catholic Mass
1)      The sitting and standing and kneeling
2)    The silence

If you want to keep Christmas year round, flee the noise daily and do not fear silence.  Run to it.  Seek it out.  If you are assaulted by distractions, don’t worry about it.  Press on.  As Psalm 46 says so beautifully, “Be still and know that I am God”

May this taste of peace and silence these days of Christmas give us the encouragement to seek God where God may be found – and not despair anymore that God is silent.

The Second Best Homily I've Ever Come Across...

...Is St. Bernard's homily on the Annunciation, which we read this morning for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B.  His homily is here:

"Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.

"Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.

"Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the Desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If He should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek Him afresh, the One Whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. 'Behold, the handmaid of the Lord,' she says, 'be it done to me according to your word.'"

Saturday, December 23, 2017

URGENT prayer request

Friends, I ask of your prayers for a brother priest, Fr. Dan Bedel, his family, and particularly his younger brother David has been given a short time to live.

The family is asking for a miracle through the intercession of Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel

Thank you for your prayers!

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Last Jedi and Catholicism

1 inconsequential spoiler is included in the post below:

Look - if you're watching any movie hoping that the Catholic metaphysical awareness of who God is and how God operates is PROPERLY portrayed, you'll be disappointed 99% of the time.

I also think you can enjoy a fantasy story and not worry the Catholic worldview right.

BUT.  At the same time, it should be noted that when I coached football we had a tradition of "Senior Scripture" on Thursday nights, and one week a senior stood up and read and then gave his speech on a long quote from Yoda


There was one scene that Catholics ought to be somewhat troubled by in the newest installment of the Jedi - Episode 8 - "The Last Jedi"

There is a scene where one of the "saints" of the Jedi "religion" returns to help one of the living "Jedi Saints" by destroying the last of the religious texts that had preserved the religions past.

There was then some mumbo jumbo about how the past isn't needed, the books aren't needed, they were boring anyway, and to be a Jedi is just something that happens inside us.

Essentially, it would be like St. Peter coming back and torching, with Mother Teresa, every library, saint book, (and I guess Church too) because "Jesus is actually just inside us"

Now again, its just a movie.  However, this does coincide with a real-world crisis in our Catholic Faith that goes back at least 50 years known as the "Death of God" movement

In the "Death of God" theology put forward by Catholic and non-Catholic intellectuals, the point is this - RELIGION CAN BE DISCARDED BECAUSE NOW THERE'S A NEW PATH OF UNITY AND RELIGION IS BAD - WE MUST MOVE BEYOND RELIGION TO GET TO GOD

It really is also at the heart of the "I'm spiritual but not religious" movement of today, the simple and straightforward slogan is one of the greatest ideologies pulling people away from Catholicism today.

So here's the point - those who say 'I'm spiritual but not religious" will surely be dancing with joy along with Yoda and Luke at the destruction of the last earthly elements of religion

But we, of course, as Catholics, believe that's all hogwash.  The Bible, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Mother Teresa, St. Francis, (and Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O'Connor, G.K. Chesterton, and J.R.R. Tolkien) and countless others OUGHT TO BE PRESERVED AND READ

There's a gross arrogance involved when you think that everything that has come before us has nothing to teach us.

That's the whole point of our Catholic Faith - and that's why we preserve what was handed onto us, because we can't all figure it out on our own, and we certainly get great assistance from those who came before us, and those who maybe, just maybe, have something to share with us that will help us grow closer to Christ and discover who we really are.

Destroy religion at your own risk

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Opioid Crisis and Advent

While driving around recently, I came across a fairly popular song on the radio with the following lyrics

"Medicate" by the band "Theory of a Deadman"

Got no job, mom pays my bills
Textin' ex's get my fill
Sweatin' bullets, Netflix-chills
World's out there singin' the blues
Twenty more dead on the evening news
Think to myself "really, what's the use?"
I'm just like you, I was born to lose

Why oh why can't you just fix me?
When all I want's to feel numb
But the medication's all gone
Why oh why does God hate me?
When all I want's to get high
And forget this so-called life

I am so frickin' bored
Nothin' to do today
I guess I'll sit around and medicate (medicate)
I am so frickin' bored
Nothing to do today
I guess I'll sit around and medicate (medicate)

I'm not sure if the artist is celebrating this reality, or just pointing it out, but either way I think it is helpful for us to pay attention to this.

We are all probably familiar with the opioid crisis in our country.  Just two stats

1) Opioids are the leading cause of death among people under 50 

2) Heroin alone (just one form of opioid) killed more people in 2015 than carr accidents and guns COMBINED!

We are asked to be people who bring comfort to God's people as we hear in the first reading.  Well, folks, this is the atmosphere in our world that we are asked to bring comfort to.

Some Christians are asked to be bring Comfort in the midst of severe famine and poverty.  Some Christians are asked to bring Comforth in the midst of religious persecution.  In our culture, we are asked to bring Comfort into the world amidst a culture of people that are medicating themselves at epic levels.

And there are lots of ways to medicate...not just drugs.  Shopping, food, caffeine, nicotine, my phone, etc.

So how do we bring "comfort" to God's people in the midst of all this?  The Gospel gives us a start - tell people to REPENT!

That sounds like it would only make people more depressed, more down on themselves...but here's the thing...people went out into the desert to see John.   John the Baptist wasn't bothering them in the middle of town...people went out to see HIM!

Why?  Because no matter how many drugs we take, no matter how much we try to medicate, we know that 

a - we sin (or, if you're atheist, "make decisions that harm ourselves and give us guilt") and
b - we can't fix it

So this invitation to repent is an invitation to acknowledge that these burdens I'm carrying around...God can HEAL them

Another thing the Church offers the world hopped up on medication and hating the burden and "boredom" of reality is the gift of a rhythm of life

1) Each day, we're invited to introspection, to prayer, and to celebration

2) Certainly also weekly we're invited to give something up like meat on Fridays and spend more time in prayer and on Sundays we celebrate

3) But also, as we are aware right now, the Church structures our year with this rhythm of life as well - we have seasons like Advent and Lent where we enter into more silence, perhaps giving some things up and then we have these great seasons of Christmas and Easter, and of course throughout the year we have "Feast days" for great saints and great moments in Church history.  So precisely when the world is trying to tell us to run around like a chicken with our head cut off and be frenzied, we step back and celebrate the quiet and peaceful and anticipatory season of Advent.

In a world of instant gratification, to choose to patiently wait for something is an act of rebellion against the frenetic; and act of rebellion against the evil one.

This rhythm of life given from God is something that the Israelites thanked God for regularly in the Old Testament.  People today often mock the laws of the Old Testament because some of them talk about clothing and shellfish and pork etc...but the Israelites said "We thank you, God, for this way of life you teach us!"

This rhythm of life given to us from God helps us recognize that not every day is the same. If I just think every day is the same, and there is no purpose or rhythm to anything, then things start to get boring REAL quick...

and so I look for a way out...

and I medicate and flee reality

Let us bring the comfort that only comes through Christ to a culture that is so afraid or bored by reality that people are turning to anything they can find to escape.  

Let us show people that the invitation to repent and the invitation to live out purpose and a rhythm of life are actually great gifts from our Loving Father in Heaven!