Sunday, September 5, 2021

Fear not!




Homily for September 4th/5th – Fear Not!

“Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!” 

Fear is thick in the air right now.  Fear about the coronavirus.  Fear about inflation.  Fear about Afghanistan.  Fear about potential lockdowns.  Fear at the grocery stores, fear at the schools, fear at Church and on and on.

 

And God breaks into our day and says to us whose hearts are frightened: “BE STRONG, FEAR NOT!”

 

“How could He possibly say that?” we might ask.  And it is here I’d like to give a brief medical update.  My tumor surgery went well but they had to leave about 20% of the tumor in there.  The type of tumor I have is considered curable with radiation and chemo, but the infection that I suffered from the first surgery delayed radiation and chemo for about 2 months, and so the radiation and chemo did not make much of a dent in the tumor at all.  And I have decided that if the tumor ever starts to grow back, I will let nature take its course.  It some ways I feel like chemo therapy on your brain is worse than death.  Also, I have prayed that if it is God’s Will, that I might be allowed to make the ultimate sacrifice for the victims of clergy sexual abuse and harassment and assault – I have asked that God might allow me to offer my life up completely, but with the caveat that makes all the difference…”not my will but Yours, Lord, be done.”

And here is the thing: I am at total peace.  I could be miraculously healed, I could live another 10 years, or I could only have 1 year left, or Christ could return tomorrow.  When I first got word at Mayo Clinic about my tumor, I knew the tumor was an answer to a prayer that I had made to be able to suffer for clergy sex abuse/harassment/assault victims.  But as I’ve moved through the last two years, I’ve realized there may be another benefit – to get to show people how to die without fear.  How to face down the very real prospect of death and not blink, but rather be thankful to God for all his blessings!  The blessings that have come about these last 2 years have been TREMENDOUS and almost too many to count. 

1) I got away from social media, which I can’t recommend enough. The whole playing field of social media is slanted, not against a particular political party or ideology so much as it is slanted against REALITY! And Catholicism is meant to be lived in community, not lived online.

2) In stepping away from the parishes, I got a fresh view of my priesthood.  I have put things back in their proper order, started praying with purpose again, seeking the Face of the Lord with all my being, maybe for the first time,

3) cutting out TV, and movies and the radio…

4) I downgraded to a dumb phone. 

All these changes have given me enough space to breathe and I am actually able to answer the phone sometimes at the parishes. In a word I am more at peace now than I have ever been.

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I would also like to say here that the Catholic Church teaches that there is no salvation outside the Church.  Modern theologians have debated about what exactly that means.  Instead of arguing exactly how expansive the pool of the Church is, and whether or not a person with one pinky toe in the shallow end of the pool is in the Church, I would like to refocus the discussion on the need to dive into the deep end of the Church.  If you have fallen away from the Church, come back and go to Mass every weekend unless you are sick.  Confess your sins at least once a year.  If you aren’t Catholic yet, become Catholic.  The Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and it pointed me, in college, away from a lukewarm Catholicism and allowed me to hear the Call to become a priest.  But I would not have the strength to face death down without the Sacraments of the Church. 

And I want everyone to know that strength. 

 

The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist,

the unbelievable freedom that comes from confessing your sins to a priest,

the anointing of the sick. 

I have prayed throughout that if it be God’s will, I have a priest praying the Apostolic Pardon over me as I lay dying. 

Become Catholic.  Whether you have fallen away from the Church or are not Catholic yet, do not let the sins of others stop you from knowing what I know swimming in the deep end of the Church. 

 

The fact is any of us could die tomorrow, and we need to be ready.  There is no room for fear in the heart of a true follower of Jesus and the Church He established as His Bride.  Our knees may buckle briefly at the prospect of dying, but we need to carry on without fear.  As God says through Isaiah – “Fear not!  Here is your God.  He comes with vindication to save YOU!”


Sunday, August 29, 2021

Our First Call is to Give Alms


Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, August 28th/29th, 2021

 

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” 

Saint John Chrysostom:

“Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked.

Let us learn to honor Christ as he desires. For a person being honored finds greatest pleasure in the honor he desires, not in the honor we think best.  Give him the honor prescribed in his law by giving your riches to the poor. For God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts.

Now, in saying this I am not forbidding you to make such gifts; I am only demanding that along with such gifts and before them you give alms.”

Here I, Fr. Hollowell, want to clarify in case it isn’t clear what St. John is saying.  He is saying it is okay to fix up your churches nicely, as long as you first take care of the poor.  I would like to say that I believe both of our parishes have done things in the proper order.  My first priority as pastor has been, at both parishes, to first take care of the poor.  We got St. Vincent DePaul Societies started at each parish, who I might add, are doing TREMENDOUS UNFATHOMABLY AWESOME ministry in our communities.  We did that first, before ever embarking on any capital campaign or Church restoration.  And, quite frankly, I believe our campaigns have been miraculously successful precisely for one reason: we have put the poor first.

 

Chrysostom ends: “Once again, I am not forbidding you to supply these adornments; but no one has ever been accused for not providing ornaments, but for those who neglect their neighbor a hell awaits with an inextinguishable fire and torment in the company of the demons. Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all.”

I have personally put in my will that whatever is leftover after my funeral will be going to start an endowment to assist the poor of Clay County, as we just used a generous bequest from Gwendoline Long to start a similar endowment for the poor of Putnam County.  I have also made $5,000 a year commitment for both Churches’ restoration projects. 

 

In conclusion, to echo St. James and St. John Chrysostom, take care of the poor first, then God will bless all your other endeavors. 


Monday, August 23, 2021

Time to Choose a Side - Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

 

In the early 2000’s when I was in the seminary, several seminarians and myself were big sports fans, and any time we learned a sports star or celebrity was Catholic, we would get especially excited.  “look it is one of us performing on a national stage.”  But 15 years later it doesn’t matter to me in the least.  Last week, as we learned that Simone Biles, a Catholic and the best gymnast in the history of the sport, came out in support of abortion, I wish I could say I was disappointed, but in all reality, I had stopped caring about Catholic celebrities 4 or 5 years ago, particularly now when America seems to be circling the drain.

In our first reading we hear Joshua draw a line in the sand.  It has gotten to the breaking point where a decision needs to be made, and there are only 2 options

“If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve… As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

In almost the exact same way, our Gospel today presents a very similar scenario.  There is, at this point, no middle road.  There are only 2 options.  Either believe or not.  Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”… As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

And fast forwarding to our own day, after centuries of being able to straddle the line and be both a member of American culture AND a good Catholic, we face a decisive point where we only have 2 options.

Only 27 VERSES into the Bible we read “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.”

Jesus in 2 different Gospels references this exact quote from Genesis.  And Saint Paul mentions it in today’s 2nd reading.

Today our American culture believes there is no God because “science says so”, persons are NOT made in the image and likeness of God, marriage is simply a contract between 2 persons that can be severed at any point without question, and in some states it is legal to marry your dog or yourself.  Male and female are simply constructs that can be disregarded, marital relations need not be open to life, we have completely trashed our environment and been awful stewards of the resources entrusted to us by God.  And we are on pace for about 1.5 million abortions this year, and at least since 2015, some of those aborted children have had organs harvested and paid for by our government and grafted on to mice for medical research.  Pope Francis in Laudato Si showed how all these issues are related.

Today, Catholics can expect absolutely zero accommodation anymore from American Western Culture.  There is no safe space for Catholics.  Like the Israelites in the First reading, and like those following Jesus in the Gospel, we face a decision point – will we serve the Lord Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church that He established, or will we serve the culture of death?  There is no middle ground today in America.  “As for me and my parishes, we will serve the Lord.”

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Where is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Bible?



A lot of non-Catholics ask where the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is in the Bible

Here is the short answer – it is not in the Bible

 

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was declared in 1950 by an infallible (protected from error) statement of Pope Pius XII 71 years ago.

 

What is papal infallibility?  It is the teaching, particularly laid down at the First Vatican council 150 years ago, that Pope’s have the ability to declare something infallibly (protected from error)

So where is the Pope’s ability to teach infallibly in the Bible – Here is the short answer – it is not in the Bible

 

A papal teaching, even if it is declared without infallibility invoked (As all but the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary have been) still require submission of intellect and will, as Pope John Paul 2 made clear when he had inserted into Canon Law “While the assent of faith is not required, a religious submission of intellect and will is to be given to any doctrine which the Pope declares upon a matter of faith and morals”

Where is that in Scripture, submission of intellect and will  – again I can save you time, it isn’t

 

The only rebuttal to non-Catholics with questions is to point out that the Assumption isn’t in the Bible, Papal infallibility isn’t in the Bible, nor is the teaching on submission of intellect and will, even though they have all been held almost from the very moment Jesus left earth.  The writings of the earliest saints in the generation following the apostles are talking about the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven, body and soul, the writings speak about papal infallibility, submission of intellect and will to the pope, and a thousand other things that are not in the Bible

 

The real question for those who ask where something Catholic is in the Bible is to point out that for the first 350 years or so there was no Bible, and those people, a lot of them mentioned in our Eucharistic prayer, linus, Cletus Clement Sixtus Cornelius Agatha Lucy Anastasia Lawrence Cosmas and Damian and thousands more Saints from the early Church, most of whom were martyred, they all figured it out.  How?  With the help of capital T tradition.  As Paul tells the Corinthians “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.”  That means oral tradition is a real thing, particularly necessary in the Early Church when there was no Bible

 

So you can rest assured that the Blessed Mother was definitely assumed, Body and soul into Heaven and is at the right hand of her Son Jesus, and 1,000 other things the Catholic Church teaches to be true, even though none of them are in the Bible.


Sunday, July 18, 2021

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Friday, April 2, 2021

"Read the Bible in a Year" Podcast, day 355: Hebrews 1-6

 If you are following along with us, these are the chapters for Good Friday.  Coincidentally, if you go to a Good Friday service, you will hear parts of Hebrews 3 and 4 as the second reading.



Sunday, March 21, 2021

"Read the Bible in a Year" Podcast, day 343: Romans 11-13

If you are following along with us, these are the readings for Sunday, March 21st, the 5th Sunday of Lent

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Monday, March 1, 2021

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

"Read the Bible in a Year" Podcast, day 304: Matthew 20-21

If you are following along with us, these are the chapters for Wednesday, February 10th, Memorial of Saint Scholastica


Sunday, February 7, 2021

"Read the Bible in a Year" Podcast, day 301: John 11

If you are following along with us, this is the chapter for Sunday, February 7th, the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

"Read the Bible in a Year" Podcast, day 296: John 9:1-10:21

"Read the Bible in a Year" Podcast, day 295: John 7-8

"Read the Bible in a Year" Podcast, day 294: Matthew 18

"Read the Bible in a Year" Podcast, day 293: Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9:28-62

"Read the Bible in a Year" Podcast, day 292: Matthew 16, Mark 8 and Luke 9:18-27

"Read the Bible in a Year" Podcast, day 291: Matthew 15 and Mark 7

"Read the Bible in a Year" Podcast, day 290: John 6

"Read the Bible in a Year" Podcast, day 289: Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9:1-17

 

Monday, January 25, 2021

"Read the Bible in a Year" Podcast, day 288: Matthew 9-10

If you are following along with us, these are the chapters for Monday, January 25th, Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul


Saturday, January 23, 2021

Friday, January 22, 2021

"Read the Bible in a Year" Podcast, day 285: Matthew 12:22-50

If you are following along with us, this is the reading for Friday, January 22nd, the Solemn Anniversary of Roe vs. Wade

"Read the Bible in a Year" Podcast, day 284: Matthew 11

"Read the Bible in a Year" Podcast, day 283: Matthew 8:1-13 and Luke 7

The Most Important Thing I Have Written

Why I am walking away from social media and my smart phone cold turkey:

In 2009, when I was ordained, I despised blogs and Facebook.  But in 2010, in his address for the World Day of Communications, Pope Benedict specifically asked priests to use blogs and social media to help spread the Gospel.  He warned about the dangers, but said at the time that it was his belief that technology/social media are “morally neutral” (meaning it depends entirely on how it is used).

 

So I dove in.  I didn’t expect anyone to care about what I had to say, nor did I care if anyone liked what I had to say.  But I almost immediately saw the power of social media.  Just a few years later, I was flying to New Zealand to address a Eucharistic Congress there about how to use technology in Evangelization.

 

However, in 2015, in his encyclical Laudato Si, quoting Romano Guardini about the inherent dangers of technology, Pope Francis wrote the following: “We have to accept that technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups…Technology tends to absorb everything into its ironclad logic, and those who are surrounded with technology “know full well that it moves forward in the final analysis neither for profit nor for the well-being of the human race”, that “in the most radical sense of the term power is its motive – a lordship over all” (Laudato Si, 107-108)

 

So, which Pope was right?  I believe at the time Pope Benedict was asking priests to get involved, there was not evidence about the effect that social media and smart phones have on people because smart phones were just starting to become wide-spread.  2010 was the first year the majority of teens had a smart phone (55%).  By 2015 though, when "Laudato Si" was written, evidence was already indicating a terrifying annual growth in teen suicide rates.  Looking at yearly teen suicide rates, after a fairly consistent level through the 90’s and 2000’s, it jumps up in 2010 and increases sharply up through our own day.  So I think both popes were right.

 

I have discerned that it is best for me to just walk away both from social media and my smartphone cold-turkey.  I am doing this for several reasons.


1) Despite NOT being formed in the era of social media (thanks be to God) I still found, over time, it changing me in subtle ways.  I knew, despite all my efforts to spiritually avoid it, that, over time, I became aware of what topics were more likely to spread around than others, and it was changing me, over the course of years, into someone I didn’t want to be.

2) I think it is wrong, at least for me, to draw people to social media (Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Parler, Instagram, Gab, MeWe, Snapchat and on and on), and that it does real damage to them.  The whole playing field is slanted, not against a particular political party or ideology, but slanted against REALITY!  That was what Guardini so wisely forecasted already in 1950, and we see that playing out in our own day.  Catholicism is meant to be LIVED in real community, and that is how it spreads.  It is one thing to spend some time online learning about Catholicism, it is another thing entirely to try to live Catholicism on social media.  I believe that it can’t truly be lived, long term, online.  And if I have given that impression and drawn people away from real community, I apologize.


3) I also realize I have covered every topic out there.  I have taught EIGHT SEMESTERS of classes online for our high school religious ed program.  I have preached on every topic under the sun in my 11 years as a priest doing online evangelization.  I have gotten lots of letters and emails through the years thanking me for a homily or video that awakened in someone a call to join the Catholic Church.  I am leaving my Facebook page, Twitter page and Youtube channel up in case anyone still wants to share those or revisit them.


4) In a war, I see why the troops in the trenches need to regularly rotate off of the frontlines.  Battle fatigue is a real thing, and it is hard, day after day, to see all the evils in the world and to feel like you have to combat them all.  I have realized that after 11 years in the trenches, I need a break.  There are still lots of troops in the trenches who are continuing to do heroic work online. 

 

It isn’t like this snuck up on me.  I’ve been aware of this change taking place over time, and, in discussing this with brother priests through the years, have expressed that I know this is happening but that I consider it a cross that comes with the territory – a sort of thing to be endured.  And I’ve carried this around for 10 years but consider it time to step aside.


5) I want to recommit to my parishioners.  I don’t think I was as present to my parishioners as I could have been.  It was also easy to blame the fact that I have 2 different parishes 30 minutes apart, and so it was easy to use that as a crutch.  But I think I can be more present to my parishioners and to the poor in our communities vs. spending what amounted to several hours a day in online evangelization.

 

And on my walking away from my smartphone:

The most widely-read thing I’ve ever written was in 2017: “7 Reasons Why Your Smartphone is Like Bilbo’s Ring” (click here to read: https://on-this-rock.blogspot.com/2017/04/7-reasons-why-your-smartphone-is-bilbos.html)  and I am only now understanding its appeal – it was and is becoming even more true.  There is a line by a priestly figure Gandalf when Frodo tries to give him the ring at the very beginning of the movie: Gandalf begs, distraught: “Don't tempt me Frodo! I dare not take it. Not even to keep it safe. Understand Frodo, I would use this Ring from a desire to do good. But through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine."

 

I am not sure if there is a person who can wield a smartphone responsibly.  For my part, I have resolved to step up to the edge of the Fires of Mount Doom, and throw my phone in forever. 

 

I have ordered a new “dumb phone” from charity mobile.  They actually give 5% of their profits to any pro-life organization on their list.  The Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ “Office of Pro-Life Ministry” was on there so I selected them to receive a percentage of my monthly bill. 

 

I invite you to prayerfully consider throwing your smartphone and social media into the fire as well.  And to go out and meet your neighbor (according to COVID regulations).

 

I will continue to post the “Read the Bible in a Year” Podcast on Podbean and my blog until that finishes around Easter.

 

Also, when I return to my parishes around the beginning of June, I plan to preach on this under the title “My Last Homily Online” and will post that everywhere available to me so as to try to reach as many people as possible with my rationale for why I am logging off.

 

In conclusion, we just celebrated the Baptism of the Lord to bring our Christmas Season to a conclusion.  There, Saint John the Baptist (for whom I am named) says “Christ must increase, I must decrease.”  Those, as much as possible, are my own words now as well.  “Christ must increase, I must decrease.”

 

I have lived in Brazil and Greencastle for the past 8 years; I look forward to meeting my neighbors when I return to my parishes this Summer.