Midnight Mass: The Last Battle

Merry Christmas!  This is the homily I prepared for Midnight Mass this year.  I spent a month thinking about it and relied fairly heavily on Pope Benedict XVI’s writing to put it together, but as I started typing it out, I started losing confidence in it.  We’ll see what you think, and we’ll see how it goes over at Mass…

Chances are, most of us, even if we are unaware of it, are somewhat familiar with the works of the famous British author, C.S. Lewis.  He was certainly a prolific writer, but I would wager a guess that his best-known works are the Chronicles of Narnia – a seven-part fantasy series written for children.  (Well, they say they’re children’s books.  I’m closing in on forty and they still bring joy to my soul.)  Of the Chronicles, the most famous is undoubtedly book 2, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe…but tonight I want to briefly mention something from book 7, The Last Battle.

Without giving too much away – seriously, you should read these on your own – towards the end of the book the protagonist finds himself in a desperate battle being fought near a stable, and eventually his only hope is to throw himself into it – where he finds that it’s nothing like what he expected.  He encounters certain people he never expected to encounter, and one of them – herself a hero from the earlier books – says to him:

“In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”

Beautifully, poetically said: but also undeniably true.  What happened – and Who came to be – in that stable was indeed bigger than our whole world, and that is what we celebrate tonight.  There are so many ways that statement is true; let us consider just a few of them tonight.

There was no room for them at the inn.  He who would die what would appear to be a shameful death on a cross outside the city walls would first have to have what would appear to be a shameful birth in a cave outside the city walls.  There is nothing here to give a sense of power or importance or wealth – Jesus is totally outside of the realm of what the world considers powerful.  And yet this unimportant and powerless child will prove to be the truly powerful one, the one of whom ultimately everything depends.  He turned, and continues to turn, the prevailing standards upside down, and shines as the light of truth to enable us to find the right path.

A stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.

Mary wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.  A manger.  Certainly not the cleanest of places, or the most noble – a place where animals eat their food, and it’s not like they’re going to be eating some kind of gourmet meal.  But now, lying in the manger, is he who called himself the true bread come down from heaven, the true nourishment that we need in order to be fully ourselves.  This is the food that gives us true life; eternal life.  The manger goes from being a place where animals eat to being nothing less than the table of God, to which we are all invited.

A stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.

Of course, because it was a stable and there was a manger, there were, of course, animals.  What nativity scene doesn’t include an ox and an ass?  They’ve even been written into Christmas hymns.  They were no accident, either.  They were prefigured in many ways – in the prophecies of Habbukuk and Isaiah, for example – but even in the construction of the Ark of the Covenant.  The Ark had two statues on it of living creatures – cherubim, most likely – who served to conceal the presence of God.  But in this moment, God is no longer hidden among mankind; rather, he has come to make his dwelling among us and live as we do.  Now the ox and the ass – classic representations of all humanity, made up of Jews and Gentiles – now they no longer conceal God’s presence but they recognize it, and receive it, and begin to see something new.

A stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.

At the end of  The Last Battle, as the main characters explore what lies on the other side of the stable door, they are continually urged to go “Further up, and further in!”  As they do, they encounter a world almost exactly like the one they left behind – except this world seems to be more  real.  Everything is more vibrant, sharper…more like the real thing.  What happened in that fictional stable changed everything for those characters.  What happened in the stable of Bethlehem changed everything for us.  So let us also go further up and further in tonight.  Let us explore the mystery of the stable.  Let us understand what true power is and who wields it; let us be fed with the bread of heaven; and let us recognize our God when He comes and respond with generous hearts in doing His will.

A stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.

It still does.


Transforming the world: Homily for All Saints Day, 2019

A little late in posting, but do you care?  I kind of cheated with this one – I took a homily from a few years ago and reused about 90% of it, but expanded a little on a point at the end.  It may already be posted here; I’m not sure…I really need to learn how to categorize my posts and keep this thing organized… anyway, the readings for Mass can be found here.

If you want to find out how much you really know about religion, there’s an easy way to do it: teach it. Specifically, teach a CCD class. Or wander into a religion class in a Catholic grade school and think you have all the answers. I know this is a humbling experience, because I was humbled in doing it. My first assignment had a grade school, and, convinced that I was the young, cool, and highly educated priest, was convinced I could handle anything they threw at me. And then I met sixth grade. I decided to let them ask me anything. Some of the questions were…out there. So once we established that they had to be about religion, we settled down a little bit. I was in my element. I was rolling, giving good, sound, theological answers that I thought sixth graders could understand, and then one girl asks what, on the surface, seems like a really innocent, if not easy, question:

Who’s your favorite saint? And why?

First of all, that’s like an essay question; that’s hardly fair. And secondly, I have no idea how to answer it. Didn’t then; don’t now.

So I gave her some kind of terrible stock answer that I was really dissatisfied with, and then I very quickly went to the next question and made a note never to call on her again.

But I just kept thinking about her question all day. Who is my favorite saint? Why? Could it be:

Michael, Patrick, or Stephen, my patrons?

Norbert? I grew up in a parish dedicated to him.

Elizabeth Ann Seton, John the Baptist de la Salle, Ignatius of Loyola, or Dominic? All of them founded orders that were critical to my education.

Richard? Agnes? Therese? Joseph? Maximilian? Rita? All priestly assignments that I’ve been privileged to have.

John Paul II? He showed the world how to be a priest.

Irenaeus? I was ordained on his feast day.

So you see what a dilemma this has become.

And I’ll tell you, as I keep working at this holiness thing, I am becoming more and more convinced of this truth: I need ALL of the saints. I need every single one of them. Because holiness is hard work.

Let’s start by being clear about holiness. Holiness does NOT mean living a life entirely free of sin. (Although, to be clear, if you can live a life entirely free of sin, you should do that. For the rest of us, there’s always confession. What a great sacrament.) Anyway, holiness does not normally mean a life entirely free of sin; what it does mean is a lifelong struggle to do the will of God.

And make no mistake, it IS a struggle. It is hard to do the will of God, especially because we would all much rather do our own will. To subordinate my will to that of another takes a level of humility that is not easily come by. And God’s will is often radically different than our own, and we can find Him to be really challenging. But none of us get a free pass.

The Second Vatican Council, in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, reminds us that:

The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and every one of His disciples of every condition… Indeed He sent the Holy Spirit upon all men that He might move them inwardly to love God with their whole heart and their whole soul, with all their mind and all their strength and that they might love each other as Christ loves them. The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to His own purpose and grace. — Lumen Gentium 40

Hard work, but it can be done. Which leads us to the saints. When the Church declares someone to be a saint, it’s not really because we want to give that person extra honor or glory. They’re already in heaven and receiving their eternal reward from our Heavenly Father. There’s nothing that we can do down here that’s going to add to that – I mean, are you really going to out-do God? Let me know how that works out for you.

Instead, the Church declares folks saints so that WE might have them as intercessors, but also as examples. The saints are folks who won the struggle and managed to do the will of God, and if they can do it, then so can we. This morning, I want to briefly reflect on 4 saints, from different places and times, and different states of life, to see how they inspire us.

Saint Lawrence the Deacon: born in Spain, in the year 225, died in Rome in 258. He served Pope Sixtus as the archdeacon of Rome, meaning that among his other duties, he was charged with distributed alms to the poor and taking care of the temporal goods of the Church. After the emperor arrested and killed Pope Sixtus, Lawrence spent the next three days selling as much Church property as he could and giving the proceeds to the poor so the Empire would not get it. When he was arrested, it was demanded that he turn over the treasury to the Empire; he responded by presenting the poor, crippled, and suffering, calling them the “true treasure” of the Church, declaring that the Church is far far richer than your emperor. He suffered a martyr’s death.

Saint Thomas More: born in London, 1478; died in London, 1535. An educated man and a lawyer, he was deeply devoted to his family. He was also deeply devoted to his country, rising to the post of Lord Chancellor. And while he was loyal to king and country, he was not afraid to speak out against the changing tides of public opinion and defended the truth as he understood it, and would not compromise his values even when given an easy out. It lead him to the headsman’s block and an unmarked grave in the Tower of London.

Saint Damian of Molokai: born in Belgium, 1840; died in Hawaii, 1889. He badly wanted to be a missionary, and was excited to be sent to Hawaii. While there, and knowing the risks, he volunteered to be the priest for the leper colony. Despite the health risk, he insisted that the natives be treated with dignity and respect, and served not only as their priest, but as a nurse, a carpenter, a furniture maker, a coffin maker, and a grave digger. When no other Europeans would land on his island, he would stand on the docks and yell his confession in Latin to the priest on board so that he could receive absolution. He would eventually catch leprosy himself, but he kept working until he was completely bed-ridden; he died less than a month later.

Saint Maria Goretti: born in Italy, 1890; died in Italy, 1902. Her family owned a farm, but it failed, forcing them to go to work for other farmers. Shortly thereafter, her father contracted malaria and passed away. While her family worked in the fields, she was a domestic servant for the family that took her in. They were not kind to Maria; one of the sons of that family sexually harassed her often. One day, he confronted her with a knife and attempted to rape her. She fought him off, screaming, “It is a sin! God does not want it!” In his frustration, he stabbed her 14 times. She would die of her wounds the next day, but not before forgiving her attacker and saying, “I want him in heaven with me.” He would attend Maria’s canonization Mass; he stood next to her mother. Saint Maria was 11 years old when she died.

4 different saints, from 4 different times, different places, and different walks of life. Yet they all shared a deep love of the Lord, and each sought to do His will daily. Although their lives were very different from each other, each one of them, and indeed all of the saints, point us towards Jesus Christ, and Him alone.

Our job, as Church, is to do the same – to point everyone we encounter towards Jesus, and Him alone. Pope John Paul II wrote:

The Church has its center in Christ Himself, who is to be known, loved, and imitated, so that in him we might live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a program which does not change with the shifts of times and cultures…it is for all times and for the Third Millenium.  — Novo Millennio Ineunte 29, 6 January 2001

I love that line about transforming history. The world doesn’t need to be the way it is right now; it doesn’t need to be broken and full of hate; it doesn’t need to feel so hopeless sometimes. It can be better. It was made to be better. What it needs are people who are willing to transform it – people who are willing to subordinate their will to that of the Father and point others to Christ. It needs saints. And who will the saints of the 21st century be? Who will be the next generation of heroes to point others to Christ? Pray God that you are one of them.

One last bonus saint, and I’m done. Actually, he’s not even a saint yet – he’s “just” a Blessed – one step shy of being a saint. His name is Rupert Mayer, and he was a German priest. He was born in 1876, and ordained in 1899. During the first world war, he volunteered as a military chaplain, and requested to go to the front. He would crawl through the trenches where the fighting was fiercest, administering the sacraments as needed. He won the Iron Cross for valor in 1915; in 1916, he was badly wounded and lost his left leg in a grenade attack. After the war, he was a retreat master, but found himself in trouble as the Nazis came to power. He spoke out against them time and time again, even after being arrested and jailed. He spent time in a concentration camp and under house arrest until the Americans liberated him.

Father Mayer died in 1945, on November 1st, the feast of All Saints. He had a massive stroke while celebrating Mass. As he faced his congregation, his last words were simply, “The Lord, the Lord, the Lord.”

Some thoughts on prayer: 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, October 20, 2019

I’m back…keep your snarky comments to yourselves.  Today’s readings can be found here.  I can’t remember the entire homily; there’s a section from part two that I know I’m missing – but this is a fairly close approximation of what I gave.  Enjoy.

Did you ever notice that if we refer to someone by three names, it’s generally a bad sign for that person?  John Wayne Gacy: possibly America’s most notorious serial killer.  Not a good person.  Lee Harvey Oswald.  Presidential assassin.  Not a good person.  Michael Patrick Conway – probably innocent, but if she’s using all three names, Mom’s mad, so you know there’s going to be trouble…

Ever hear of Luke Timothy Johnson?

He’s not a presidential assassin, and not a serial killer…he’s a scripture scholar.  (It’s unclear if he’s in trouble with his mother.). Dr. Johnson is widely regarding as an expert – perhaps the leading English-speaking expert – on the writings of Saint Luke: both his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.  Combined, they make up about a quarter of the entire New Testament, so it’s worth saying that Johnson is kind of a smart guy.

He and I are fighting.

He doesn’t know that, of course, and he probably doesn’t care what I think, but it is what it is.  Look, I think he’s a good scholar.  Since we’ve been reading so much from Luke at Sunday Mass recently – and during the week as well – I’ve had plenty of occasion to refer to his commentaries.  And they’re very helpful.  He breaks down the Greek text very neatly, puts things into context, shows where there are parallels to the Old Testament…but this week there was a slight aberration.  After proving a very nice exegesis of this parable, Johnson concludes his remarks by saying, “We are meant, I think, to laugh.”

First of all, that’s a weasel move.  Either we’re meant to laugh or we’re not; don’t throw that conditional in there.  Secondly – and more importantly – no we aren’t.  Jesus is very serious when it comes to prayer, and a scholar should know that.  Eight different times in Luke’s gospel, Jesus goes apart from his disciples to pray; seven other times we see him teaching his disciples about prayer.  It’s important to him, and so this story isn’t just for comic relief. Yes, it’s a ridiculous image.  I have an image in my head of some little old lady going to the mayor of Pittsburgh’s house (I know, not a judge, but work with me) and banging on the door until he answers – and when he does, she smacks him right in the ridiculous beard of his with a purse and maybe throws a cat at him or something.  It’s amusing, and it’s certainly over the top – but that’s how Jesus wants our prayer life to look.

He wants us to be very bold, very demanding, very insistent in our prayer.  But so often, we’re not.  Too often, we don’t even make prayer the first place we go to – indeed, it becomes sort of a last resort.  That’s definitely how I made it through the seminary: the night before the exam, sitting at my desk, alternating between staring at my notes and staring at my crucifix, saying, “Help me Lord, I’m an idiot!”  You could almost hear a voice replying, “I know.  What were you waiting for?”  We have to call the real estate agent in the morning – should we put in a counter offer on the house or not?  Lord, what should  we do?  What were you waiting for?  Should I take that new job and move away or not?  I have to call the hiring manager in the morning – Lord, what should I do?  What were you waiting for?

We’ve bought into the myth that we have to take ownership of everything ourselves.  I have a decision to make, so I’m going to do all my research, I’m going to talk to my friends and relatives, I’ll Google this, I’ll Wikipedia that, I’ll make a chart with all the pros and cons or whatever…and in the end, we still can’t do it without God.  Believe it or not, God does not want to see you being so stressed out and tired and so on.  He wants your happiness, and that can only happen if your life is rooted in Him.  So he asks us to pray, and pray persistently, that we might always be welcoming Him into our hearts.

There’s another aspect of prayer that we need to consider today, as well, and that is that there’s a communal aspect to it.  It’s certainly acceptable to pray by yourself – in fact, that’s a necessity – but our Lord also expects to come together to pray.  That’s why He called us to be a church in the first place.  The first reading makes this clear in powerful fashion.  Moses sends Joshua and the army into battle against Amalek and his army, and as he does so, Moses begins to pray for them.  Now, he could have prayed for them right there in the camp.  But instead he went up to a hilltop so that he would be in full view of everyone – not so much that he could see the battle, but that the people might see him at prayer and be inspired to join their prayers to his.  It got to the point that his arms grew so tired that Aaron and Hur had to physically support him so that the battle would continue to go in Israel’s favor – if it’s not obvious that the community needs to pray together, then I don’t know how else to state it.

The example of the widow in the Gospel is also telling.  The Mosaic law was quite clear that there were three types of people that you were to never exploit: widows, orphans, and resident aliens.  In fact, the law was doubly clear: not only were you to secure the rights of these three classes, but there would be a curse upon you if you did not.  So not only do we have a problem with this dishonest judge, but we have to ask, where are her neighbors?  Where is the community?

We don’t always necessarily like community, though.  Not in a real sense, anyway.  We don’t want to be vulnerable around others, and that’s partially what prayer is – an exercise in vulnerability.  If people see me praying, what will they think of me?  That I don’t have it all together?  That I haven’t figured everything out?  That I’m not entirely self-reliant but instead, I need God?  I mean, think about this:  when was the last time you were out at a restaurant and saw people saying grace before they ate?  When was the last time you did that?  It’s weird, right?  It’s weird even for me.  (Most Sunday nights, I get together with a couple of my priest buddies and we just kind of decompress from the weekend and grab something to eat, and there’s always people who look at us funny when we pray.  This could also be because we’re at Buffalo Wild Wings, but whatever.)

There was a discussion going on Catholic Twitter towards the end of last week that I stayed out of, but was still interesting.  A priest that I sort of know from Indianapolis is of the opinion that we don’t necessarily have a shortage of priests (we do, he’s wrong); but that we have too many Sunday Masses (we do, he’s right).  Studies show that the average American Catholic church is only a third full for a given Sunday Mass.  The unofficial rule in this diocese is that if the Mass is less than half full, you should look at cutting it.  But we “need” all these Sunday Masses because we want to be able to go when it’s convenient, or when parking is better, or when we know we won’t have to see so-and-so, or we can get to breakfast easily afterwards…

Jesus expects us to be very bold, demanding, and persistent in our prayer.  And that’s why his final question in the gospel is so important.  When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?  For the last few weeks, faith has been a recurring theme in the Gospel. The more time I spend thinking about faith, the more I become convinced that faith is as much a verb as it is a noun. Which is to say, maybe we don’t necessarily have faith as much as we DO faith. Faith is defined as man’s response to God, and it seems that prayer is the simplest, most direct form that response can take.  But it also seems to be something that we need to work at.  So the question that Jesus poses is, indeed, a good one:

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

I don’t know…will He?

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time: On the third day…

Now that school is back in session and I’m getting back to my regular rotation at the colleges, it seems I have no excuse not to get back to posting homilies.  So here we are.  You can find the readings here.  As an aside, it remains my goal to start recording these; if not the live version, then at least something recorded at home.  I’m almost there…

Today’s Gospel features a miracle that everyone is super familiar with, and that’s the problem.  We perhaps don’t read it, or don’t listen to it, as closely as we should, because why should we – we know it already.  But I contend that we don’t know this story as well as we think we do.  It is incredibly rich and full of hidden theological gems.  Consider, for example:

*This is the last time in the Gospels that the Blessed Mother says anything.  That’s important.

*There are precisely 6 stone jars of water.  Not 5, not 7, but 6.  That’s an important number.  So too is what the jars are intended for.

*It’s significant that this miracle happens at a wedding, and not any other kind of festive gathering.

But what’s most important is WHEN this miracle happens.  And that’s a real hidden gem, because of how the lectionary was edited for today.  When you go home, take out your Bible and open to the second chapter of John’s Gospel.  You’ll note that it starts, “On the third day, there was a wedding in Cana…”  But for reasons passing understanding, the lectionary starts at, “There was a wedding in Cana…”  In my humble – but correct – opinion, that’s some bad editing.  Those four words – on the third day – are important.

They are a reference to something that happened way back in the book of Exodus – and calling it “something” is a bit of an understatement.  In chapter 19 of Exodus, the people of Israel arrive at Mount Sinai as part of their escape from Egypt and flight into the Promised Land.  We pick it up at verse three:

Moses went up to the mountain of God.  The Lord called to him from the mountain, saying: This is what you will say to the house of Jacob; tell the Israelites:  You have seen how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.  Now, if you obey me completely and keep my covenant, you will be my treasured possession among all peoples, though all the earth is mine.  You will be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.  This is what you must tell the Israelites.  So Moses went and summoned the elders of the people.  When he set before them all that the Lord had ordered him to tell then, all the people answered together, “Everything the Lord has said, we will do.”  Then Moses brought back to the Lord the response of the people.  The Lord said to Moses, I am coming to you now in a dense cloud, so that when the people hear me speaking with you, they will also remain faithful to you.  When Moses, then, had reported the response of the people to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses: Go to the people and have them sanctify themselves today and tomorrow.  Have them wash their garments and be ready for the third day; for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.  (Ex 19: 3-11)

And then, in verse 16, it finally happens:

On the morning of the third day there were peals of thunder and lightning, and a heavy cloud over the mountain, and a very loud blast of the shofar, so that all the people in the camp trembled.

So this idea of the third day is of particular importance: God is appearing before His people.  And this appearance isn’t just a one-and-done sort of thing; He’s not just coming down to impress them with His glory – He comes to ratify the covenant he is entering into with His people.  He offers Himself to them, and they in turn offer themselves to Him.  Moses and God spend not an insignificant amount of time on the top of the mountain.  It starts with God handing over the Ten Commandments – at the beginning of chapter 20 – and then, for the next 11 chapters, He begins to codify the law so that the people can keep the covenant.

On the third day, there is a wedding at Cana – and Jesus appears at that wedding.  He starts to do something at that wedding; it’s not just a one-and-done sort of appearance.  He begins to manifest Himself as something other than just a carpenter from Nazareth.  As God spent a long time on the mountain with Moses, so Jesus will spend a long time with His followers, teaching and showing them what it looks like to live the law: to serve; to love; to forgive.

There’s a lot of similarities between the great theophany of Exodus and what begins at the wedding feast at Cana.  The big difference is how these covenants are ratified.  On Sinai, God writes the law on tablets of stone.  On the mountain of Calvary, Jesus will ratify the new covenant with His blood.

It’s in light of that that everything else makes sense.  Of course water gets turned into wine at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry – because at the end of it, when He gives us the Eucharist, wine will be turned into His Precious Blood.  Of course there are six stone jars – six is a Biblical number symbolizing imperfection, and Jesus hasn’t yet offered the perfect sacrifice.  And, naturally, these are jars for washing – because the Blood of Christ washes us from our sins.  Mary might speak her last words at the wedding at Cana, but it’s not her final appearance; the next time we see her is at the foot of the Cross; one of the first – perhaps the first – to literally be washed by His Blood.  And finally, it makes sense that this scene begins at a wedding feast.  At a wedding a man gives himself entirely to his wife and she gives herself entirely to him – and when this wedding feast is consummated, Jesus will offer every last bit of Himself to the Church – and he asks the same of His Bride.

The people broke the first covenant almost as soon as they entered into it, by building and worshiping the golden calf.  Will we break the covenant by not giving everything we are to Christ?  He has given us something better than good wine to strengthen us to do precisely that; let us not waste it, but rather go forth and live as His disciples.

Christ the King?  (A homily for the last Sunday of Ordinary Time)

I’ve been taking some heat for not posting any homilies lately, so here you go.  This isn’t a good one, by any means, but it certainly had potential.  Essentially all I’m doing here is giving you a synopsis of Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quas Primas, which you should read in it’s entirety (it’s short.). I’m going to try to get back to writing on a more consistent basis (famous last words, I know.)  Also, I’m working on this on my iPad in an empty conference room in the student union of one of my colleges, so I’ll fix up some of the formatting issues and add some links when I get home.

I’ve always struggled with this particular feast because it seems so…well, un-American, for lack of a better term.  This is the feast of Christ the King – Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, if you want to be technical – and the US was pretty much founded on the premise that kings are a bad idea.  (Particularly English kings named George, but I digress.)  My undergraduate degree is in history, which has done nothing to dissuade me of that view.  I had plenty of chances to travel in Europe while I was studying in Rome.  Charlemagne’s palace in Aachen?  Museum.  The palace complex in Krakow?  Museum.  King Ludwig of Bavaria’s beautiful castle, Neuschwanstein?  Yep…museum.  Kings are on the way out.  It’s a new age.  Even the monarchies we have are basically ceremonial at this point.  Is it possible that this feast is a bit…dated?
Nothing could be farther from the truth.  This feast isn’t even one hundred years old yet, which makes it incredibly young in the life of the church.  Pope Pius XI called for this feast in 1925, not necessarily because of the decline of monarchies, but because of the tremendous social disturbances that were happening at the time.  Europe had just tried very hard to destroy itself in the Great War, and revolutions were happening across the Continent.  America was trying her best to blissfully ignorant of anything outside of her borders, and closer to his home, a man named Mussolini was coming to power in Italy.  Pius XI rightly wanted the church to once again give due consideration to the fact that Christ is King, because the ruling powers of the world simply weren’t very inspiring anymore.

Makes sense, I suppose, but surely he doesn’t really want us to think of Christ as a King, right?  I mean, this has to be some kind of metaphor, right?  Partially true.  The Pope acknowledged that it was common usage to give Christ the title of King in a metaphorical sense because of His perfection.  He was perfect in intellect, in that He had full knowledge, but also in that He is Truth Itself, and from Him all truth must be obeyed.  He was perfect in His will, in that at all times, His will was perfectly and entirely obedient to that of the Father, whereas our wills are often led astray by sin.  He was perfect in love, in that His perfect charity exceeds all things, and His mercy and kindness draw people to Himself.  We will never be better at these things than He is; we will never get anywhere even approaching His level.  Therefore, it is only fitting that we call him King – it acknowledges that, frankly, He’s better than us.

While that is all very true, it would be a terrible lacuna to think that Christ’s Kingship is only metaphorical.  The Pope goes on to demonstrate how the Scriptures make clear that His Kingship is, in fact, very real.  The psalms speak in clear terms of the Kingship of the Messiah:

“…in his days shall justice spring up, and abundance of peace…And he shall rule from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.”

The prophets are even more explicit in their testimony, particularly Isaiah, but also Jeremiah, Zechariah, and Daniel, whom we heard from today.  The New Testament doubles down on that.  Remember what the Archangel Gabriel tells Mary as he informs her she is to bear a son:

“The Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father, and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

And, of course, there are those times when Jesus refers to himself as a king.  One can’t get more direct than that.

If we’re going to insist that Christ’s kingship is as literal as it is metaphorical, then it seems that at least two questions come to mind.  The first concerns the origin of his authority; the second is related to his kingdom.  Answering the first question could lead us down a deep theological rabbit hole; luckily, the theology has already been done for us.  Pope Pius XI quotes Saint Cyril of Alexandria, one of the great church fathers, in saying,

“Christ has dominion over all creatures, a dominion not seized by violence nor usurped, but his by essence and by nature.”

In other words, Christ has the authority of a King because of the hypostatic union – or more simply put, because He is both God and man.

The nature of His Kingdom is, perhaps, the larger issue here.  That He is a king is no longer in question.  But what do we know about His kingdom?  In fact, in today’s Gospel, he tells Pilate in no uncertain terms, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  and in many other places in the gospels, when the crowds wanted to carry Jesus off and make them their king, n0t only did he refuse, but he would escape from them so as to prevent it from happening.  His kingdom is obviously spiritual.  The gospels seem to make clear that one can only enter this kingdom except by faith and through baptism.  His kingdom, then, seems to be some kind of interior thing to each person, so to go back to the beginning: why bother with this feast?  If Pope Pius was so concerned about the swiftly changing tides of civic life, was a feast dedicated to Christ as King really going to be the most appropriate solution?

In a word, yes.

If we truly let Christ the King reign in our hearts – if we truly let the source of our salvation and the author of all happiness reign in our hearts – then wouldn’t we start to recognize the dignity inherent in our brothers and sisters?  Wouldn’t we be convinced of our own inherent dignity?  And wouldn’t that make us more aware of our responsibility to promote and protect the common good?  The answer is, I should think, quite obvious.  The challenge is – and has been – to move this out of the realm of an intellectual exercise and to start making it more real, more practical.  To start dying to ourselves more, so that Christ might live more fully in us.  To pray for the grace of a spirit of detachment, so that we can worry less about the things of the world, and only about the things that matter for eternity.  To let Christ truly reign in our hearts.

Today we celebrate Christ the King, and it is right and fitting that we do so.  May God give us the grace to be able to celebrate the fact that we truly are His subjects.

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Thoughts on the Tree of Life Massacre

I had a homily pretty much ready to go for this weekend.  It wasn’t the greatest thing in the world, but it was pretty good; I was going to do a little exegesis on the Gospel and maybe get into how the readings at the end of the liturgical year start to take on an eschatological tone, but I just can’t do that right now.  Not after what happened yesterday morning.

I presume you all know what happened, nevertheless, and at the risk of insulting your intelligence, let me refresh your memory.  Yesterday morning, while services were going on at the Tree of Life congregation, a Jewish synagogue, a man walked in armed with 3 pistols and an AR-15 rifle.  He opened fire, allegedly shouting anti-Semitic remarks while doing so.  By the time it was over, 11 people were dead, with 6 more injured, including 4 police officers who responded to the scene.

The Tree of Life congregation is located in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Not in some small town in some fly-over state; not in anything-goes California; not in some uber-fancy suburb in New England.  This happened in Pittsburgh.  This Pittsburgh.  Our Pittsburgh.  My Pittsburgh.  I know not all of you are locals, but I am.  This is my home.  And I love this city.  So, quite frankly, I’m kind of a mess right now.

I’m still trying to make sense of all the feelings that are running through me right now; I imagine that most people are trying to do the same.  I’m angry.  You picked up on that.  Anger is easy to do.  I’m angry it happened at all, let alone in my hometown.  I’m sad, too, at the loss of life; I’m sad that 4 of our brave cops are seriously wounded; and I’m sad that this kind of hate still has this kind of power.  I’m also confused.  Quite frankly, I fail to understand how, in the 21st century, in the greatest country on the planet, the last of the superpowers, I fail to understand how this kind of hate even exists.  And you can call me naïve for thinking so, but I disagree with that.  I think it’s a more grievous error to expect that there will always be some kind of hate in the world.  As soon as we accept sin on any level – on any level – then we’ve already failed in our mission as disciples.

Finally, and honestly, I’m scared.  I’m scared, not necessarily because this is local, but because this happened to people who were doing exactly the same thing that we are doing now – worshipping the Lord their God as a community.  I’m scared because this is not the first, or the second, or the third time that this has happened.  It’s going to happen to us – by us, I mean it’s going to happen at a Catholic church – eventually.  And that scares me.

So now what?  What do we do with all of this emotional baggage we suddenly and unwillingly find ourselves carrying?  First, understand something.  It is ok to be angry; it is ok to be sad; it is ok to be confused; it is ok to be hurt by this.  These types of wounds take time to heal.  But fear is a trap, and we can’t allow ourselves to fall into it.

I’m reminded of a story a priest friend of mine once told me.  He said this experience changed his entire priesthood…or rather, that it changed his entire life.  He had a parishioner who was this absolutely great, stand-up guy.  The type that would do anything for anybody.  He had one vice: he smoked like a fiend.  He got sick – cancer – and it got bad, and it got bad quick.  Father went to visit him in the hospital as the end was drawing near.  The guy could no longer talk anymore, but he was awake, and lucid; he communicated my writing.  Father asked him if he was afraid.  His reply was profound.

“For someone who has faith in Jesus Christ, there is never anything to fear.”

How strong is your fear?  How strong is your faith?

In the Gospel today, we encounter Bartimaeus, who shows us what it looks like when faith is stronger than fear. When we first him, he’s on the side of the road, blind and begging – totally helpless.  Yet when he hears that Jesus is approaching, he doesn’t continue to wallow in his helplessness; instead, he cries out, “Jesus, have pity on me!”  The crowd around him rebukes him.  They tell him to be quiet, to shut up, to stop crying out.  It’s hard to understand their motivation, and it doesn’t seem to make much sense, but Bartimaeus doesn’t care.  He doesn’t fear them.  Instead, he continues to cry out.  He gets louder.  “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”

Son of David.  That title is huge.  It recognizes that Jesus is part of the royal line of Israel; that Jesus is, in fact, a King.  Bartimaeus can recognize this, even though he has never seen Jesus; the rest of the crowd, which can and has seen all the things that Jesus has been doing…they don’t call him a King.  They can’t see it.  Do we see it?  Do we recognize that Jesus truly is a king – truly is our king?  Do we listen to and obey Him?  And do we, as Bartimaeus did, ask for His mercy?

Jesus, have pity on me!  Son of David, have pity on me!  Kyrie eleison!

Jesus stopped and calls Bartimaeus over.  Bartimaeus leaps to his feet and runs to Jesus; his helplessness is forgotten.  There is no fear in him.  When Jesus calls him, he answers – recklessly.  He doesn’t hold back, he’s not timid.  He doesn’t care what the crowd thinks.  Do you?

Jesus heals Bartimaeus immediately, and tells him to go on his way.  Bartimaeus does indeed go, but not on his own way.  He follows Jesus on His way.  This is the last healing in Mark’s Gospel; Jesus has been journeying towards Jerusalem since the Transfiguration, but He will soon be arriving there, which means that the Crucifixion is not far away.  Bartimaeus follows Him to that.  But remembers what happens three days after the Crucifixion, too; Bartimaeus follows Him to that, as well.  Are we willing to follow Him?

The only place to go from here is to Jesus.  The only thing we can do is beg for His mercy, acknowledge that He is our King, and to follow Him unreservedly.  Social media is already awash with the saying, “Love is stronger than hate.”  Yes, it is.

Remember that God is love.

Shabbat Shalom.

October: Month of the Holy Rosary

Don’t forget that October is the month dedicated to the Holy Rosary.  We should all be in the habit of praying the Rosary daily…but many of us aren’t.  No worries.  Start today.  Use this month as the challenge that builds the habit.  And if you’re not sure how to pray the Rosary, I’ve got you covered, thanks to the awesome website newadvent.org.  They’ve put together this simple how-to-pray-the-rosary guide available here in pdf.

Enjoy, and get praying!


26th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Eldad, Medad, and you

I got a little lazy with my posting and no one called me out on it.  I suppose the greater fault is mine.  I’m going to try to do better.  Anyway, here’s a pretty close approximation of my homily from this past Sunday.  You can find the readings right here.

It’s not often we hear from the Book of Numbers during a Sunday Mass.  For that matter, we don’t often hear from it at a weekday Mass.  And I’m willing to bet that those of you in the habit of reading Scripture daily (a good habit to have, I might add) didn’t start with Numbers…and you’re probably in no hurry to get there.  (Unless, perhaps, you’re an accounting major.  But man, are you gonna be disappointed.)

So since we hear from it so rarely, it seems like a good place to start our reflection today.  Let me try to give some context to what is going on in the reading.  Moses and the Israelites have escaped from the hands of Pharoah and the Egyptians.  They’re on the march to the Promised Land, BUT…they screwed up along the way.  They sinned against God.  And so, as a matter of Justice, they need to be punished.  And the punishment is that it’s going to take 40 years of wandering in the desert before they get to enter into what they’ve been promised.  

As you can imagine, they are not particularly enthusiastic about this turn of events.  And so there is no little whining, and grumbling, and complaining, and just about open rebellion against Moses.  Moses is DONE.  He’s had enough.  He can’t deal with it anymore, so he cries out to God with a prayer we’ve all made before:  “Why are you doing this to me?  I didn’t do anything to you!  I’m doing exactly what you’ve asked!  I can’t handle this.  I need help!  This is too much!”  Part of me wants to be sympathetic towards Moses, since we’ve all been there, too.  The other part of me (that is to say, the hypocritical part of me) has no sympathy whatsoever for him.  If God called you to do His work, then you do His work, snowflake.  He’ll get you through this.

Luckily for all of us, God is merciful; so He says to Moses, “Pray about this, then set aside 70 men from the camp that you know to be good people.  Get 70 guys that you know follow the law, that respect you and Me, and that have the respect of the people.  Then bring them to the Tabernacle, the place where I dwell, and I will come and speak to you there.  Not only will they be witnesses to that, but I will take some of the spirit that dwells on you, and I will pour it out upon them as well, so that they might assist you in your ministry.”  And that’s where we find ourselves in today’s reading, and that’s where things start to get interesting.

The group goes to the Tabernacle, and the spirit is given them, and the reading reports that the men began to prophesy.  That’s the first point that needs clarification.  When it says that they began to prophesy, it does not mean that in the sense that we generally think of when we think of prophets.  At least, not for me.  They didn’t start to make predictions about future events.  Rather, this was more a charismatic or ecstatic sort of moment, where they start speaking with enraptured enthusiasm.  The spirit moved them way outside of their comfort zone and they boldly spoke about and proclaimed God’s love for them and their love for Him, and of their confidence in the promises He made them, and so on and so forth.  But then a funny thing happens, one that’s recorded in Scripture, but not included in the lectionary for today.

They stopped prophesying.  It seems that this was a one-time gift, and after prophesying for as while, they stopped and went back to their normal lives.  I imagine that was a little bit frustrating for them, too.  They receive this great spiritual gift, but it only lasts a short time.  I wonder if it made them doubt the veracity of their calling.  I think this, too, is something we’ve often experienced.  If you’ve ever been on a retreat, or a service experience, you’ve probably noticed that as the weekend or week or whatever it is goes on, you find yourself moving into a deeper place spiritually.  You’re praying more, you’re seeing God more clearly in the people you’re working with and for, and the best part: you’re not distracted by all the normal day-to-day stuff of your life.  When you come back from that time away, you feel awesome and you want to keep feeling that way, and you want to capture it and live it, but it starts to slip away.  And then life starts to creep in and take it’s place.  and you go right back to feeling how you felt before and you wonder if God only loves you when you’re on retreat.  That is, of course, a patently ridiculous thought and you know it, but it happens.  The retreat was to serve as a reminder of how much God loves you and was to serve as an opportunity to hear a little more clearly what he is calling you to, so that when you get back to life, you can do it.  This prophetic moment for the 70 elders had a similar purpose in their lives.  It was also a manifestation of their call to the people of the camp.  In a very visible and tangible way, it was evident that God had indeed called them to work with Moses and that He really had poured on His spirit upon them; thus, the people should trust them, respect them, and listen to them.

While all that is going on, there’s still another half of this drama to play out.  It’s not happening at the Tabernacle, but back in the camp itself.  We hear of two men, Eldad and Medad, who have the distinction of having two of the cooler names in the Old Testament.  They were also on the list to be at the Tabernacle, but for some unknown reason, weren’t there.  Theories as to why that was abound.  Some say it was a simple mistake; that the camp was too big and they didn’t get the message in time.  I doubt that.  Another idea is that they were men of great humility and ddin’t feel worthy to be included in the group, so they felt it wiser to stay away.  But as they say, leadership finds you, not the other way around.  Perhaps they didn’t go out of spite: Moses is the one that got us lost in this desert in the first place; I’m not going to do what he tells me.  I think they didn’t go because they didn’t feel like part of the community.  They didn’t feel like they were truly wanted, so why should they respond to the chance to be leaders?  While it’s true we know very little about Eldad and Medad beyond this story, we know this much:  those aren’t Jewish names.  These two are foreigners.  However they came to be part of the community, however much they might have learned about the Law and the Covenant…they’re still outsiders.  And perhaps they were made to know it.  And that made it too uncomfortable for them to go to the Tabernacle.

God would not be outdone, however.  And so he pour out His spirit on Eldad and Medad anyway, and they also prophesy…and the difference is that their prophesy doesn’t stop.  They stay in that state, which has a pretty dramatic impact on the people.  It also upsets some of the people, too, and the report quickly reaches Moses that this is going on.  Joshua says what a lot of them are thinking:  “Moses, you have to stop them!  They’re not doing things the way I expected them to be done, and it should all be done my way.  Make them stop!”  But Moses has a much more practical view of things.  He essentially asks Joshua if he knows more than God does.  If God wants to pour His spirit upon these two, if God wants to give them a different style of prophesy, then isn’t He will within His rights to do so?  In fact, Moses says, wouldn’t it be great if ALL the people were prophets?  If the spirit dwelt on all of us in such a way?  If we were all so bold in proclaiming God’s love and promises?  What could we accomplish then?

That’s something for all of us to consider, I think.  Especially in light of our baptism, wherein we were baptized the same way Christ Himself was, as priest, prophet, and king.  As priests, we are to do the work of making ourselves and those around us holy.  As prophets, we are to proclaim the good news to everyone that we meet, through either words or deeds or both.  And as kings, we are to lead people to Christ, the fullness of Truth.  But it’s our prophetic vocation the Church wants us to consider today, and it seems to me that the most important question to consider is how often do we try to pretend that it doesn’t exist?  How resistant are we to the notion that God wants us to be bold in proclaiming the faith?  A corollary:  how often do we try to squelch that vocation in others, because it makes us feel uncomfortable?

I’m willing to bet that, if we’re being honest, the answer to both of those questions is that we do it far too often.  Jesus takes a decidedly dim view of folks that do that in today’s Gospel: anyone that would cause scandal, well, it would be better for that person to have a great millstone tied around their neck and be thrown into the sea.  That’s not just a random image, either; that was a method of execution that the Romans would occasionally use in those times.  Jesus is very serious when He says that it is abhorrent to lead someone into sin…and failing to live out our call as prophets qualifies.

The world needs prophets these days.  It needs to know that God is love, and that God loves them, and that God desires to have a relationship with all of mankind.  Luckily, the world has prophets.  It has all of us.  Let us not resist the call to serve as prophets, and let’s not waste time worrying about how someone else might do it a little differently than we might.  Now is the time to be prophets, and we are about to receive the one thing that gives us the strength to do that – the Eucharist.  Let us pray for the grace and the courage to be prophets, and then let us be about the work of building up the Kingdom of God on earth, so that one day we can be happy with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven.

This saying is hard: homily for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Apologies for such a late post…I had every intention of doing it on Monday, but the day got away from me, and yesterday I was way too busy to work on it.  I’m finishing this on my iPad while my car gets serviced, so I’ll come back later and fix any typos and insert some links.

So let me tell you a story about my sister.  She won’t be happy with me telling this – probably – but then again, as her big brother, it’s basically my obligation to look for ways to embarrass her.  And I am exceedingly good at being her big brother.

So she woke up one morning last December and didn’t feel particularly well.  No big deal; we all have those days.  She worked from home most days anyway, so it wasn’t going to present a major hassle.  Bit of a headache, a low-grade fever: just one of those things.  As the day went on, however, she felt worse and worse.  The headache was getting to be miserable.  She was getting sick to her stomach.  Couldn’t work anymore; had to call her boss and go off-line.  Tried to eat. That wasn’t happening.  In fact, that’s when things got scary – because when she went upstairs to throw up, she collapsed.  And couldn’t get back up.

Thank God her boyfriend Dave had stopped by to check on her on his way home.  Because when he went to help her up, he realized that she was slurring her words, and one side of her face was slack.  Since when do 34 year olds in good health have strokes?  But that’s what this looked like.  So he gave her two options:  Do I call your Mom first or 911 first?  Knowing her, she gave him a third option, but I probably can’t repeat it in church.

Dave is unfazed by her shenanigans and so he called both Mom and 911, and soon enough, Erin was on her way to AGH.  It was, in fact, a stroke, and it was a big one.  (And soon enough, I was on the way to AGH, but that’s another story.  Suffice it say that the experience of giving my little sister the Last Rites was the most powerful moment of my priesthood thus far.)

The next couple weeks were a blur, between her being in ICU, the step down unit, and eventually a rehab facility…all the while I’m trying to pastor a fairly large parish and it’s Christmas.  I think she handled it better than the rest of the family did.  Praise God, there was no major damage done to her cognitive abilities, and no major changes to her personality (I guess that’s a good thing), but there were some pretty serious physical issues to overcome.  Her entire left side, while not totally paralyzed, was pretty deficient.  She had to learn to walk again.  And she couldn’t move her left hand at all.

Our family has two defining characteristics:  we are highly sarcastic, and we are exceedingly stubborn.  So while we laughed at the paralysis, we were also convinced that she would regain all of her motor skills.

The head doctor of the rehab unit, on the other hand, has no redeeming characterisitics.  (Well, aside from being a highly comptent medical professional who has devoted his life to helping other people.). His take on the whole situation was that she needed to be realistic and accept the fact that she was never going to get that left hand back.  His was one of those voices you hear in today’s Gospel that says, “This saying is hard – who can accept it?”

We all have those kinds of voices in our lives.  And sometimes, we are those voices.  Your rehab is going to be really hard – why bother doing it?  That instrument is going to be really hard to learn to play – why bother practicing?  That professor is too hard, why bother taking him?  It’s going to hard to forgive so-and-so for what they did – why bother making peace?  It’s too hard to be holy; why bother avoiding temptation?

This saying is hard – why bother having faith?

The thing is, those are all stupid questions, and we know it.  Sure, rehab is going to be hard, but why wouldn’t I do it?  Yes, that prof is really hard, but she’s an expert in her field, why wouldn’t I study under her?  Yes, it’s all kinds of terrible to get up in the morning and work out, but why wouldn’t I do something to make myself healthier?  (NB:  I’m living this struggle currently.). Yes, it’s hard to have faith – especially in these days, when it seems that the Church has let us down – but why wouldn’t I?  Why wouldn’t I, when the reward is so great?

For the last several weeks, we’ve been hearing from the Bread of Life discourse in John’s Gospel.    Jesus has made quite clear what the reward is for those who faith: eternal life.  If they believe in Him, if they believe in the food He is going to give them in the Eucharist, then they have access to the Father.  They have the path to eternal life.  Yes, faith is hard, but why wouldn’t I do it?

I figure there are primarily three reasons why people don’t have faith.  I’m sure if we asked, we’d get all kinds of responses, but they essentially can be distilled to these three.  The first is weakness.  Having faith requires us to be strong, because it often means we have to move and behave in a decidedly counter-cultural way.  It can also mean undergoing persectutions of various sorts.  And I think we often underestimate ourselves, or perhaps overestimate our adversaries…but either way, we don’t need to rely on our strength alone.  In fact, we were never intended to.  When Christ stretched out His arms on the wood for he cross, he did so to take on your weaknesses, your burdens, and your struggles.  And He did it so you might share in His victory.  Too weak?  Nah.

A second reason for people not having faith is fear.  This is the one that they are least likely to admit to, for obvious reasons; but that’s what it is.  Having faith means ceding control, and we like being in control.  We might cede control here or there to those in authority over us, but there’s some consolation in the fact that we can at least see them, hear them, or question them.  That’s not always the case with God.  Giving control to Him is frightening.  As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.”  But it’s also the most liberating, because with Him, there is no cause for fear.  He knows how this ends, and He only desires your good.

The last objection is the easiest overcome, and perhaps the silliest, but nonetheless, still very real.  It’s laziness.  Faith requires work.  Having faith – especially nowadays – is pretty counter-cultural, and moving in that direction can be exhausting.  We get pulled in so many directions these days; when given an option, it seems reasonable to want to take a break.  That’s exactly what the devil wants you to think.  Just put it off…you can always get back to it later.  This is why Joshua was so insistent in the first reading that the people, right now, today, make the decision: will they follow the God of Israel or not?  He could pose the same question to all of us.  Right now, today, are you willing to make the choice to follow the way of God?  If not, tell me what exactly is that you are choosing…but choose something today.  Don’t put it off.

Weakness, fear, and laziness.  Three great motivators to say something like, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”  Weakness, fear, and laziness: three lies that will just hold you back.  Faith is hard, but you are well-equipped to do it.  ANd the reward is too great not to.

Just to close the story from the beginning: even though her rehab was going to be “too hard” and she needed to “be realistic,” she persisted.  And shortly before I left my previous parish to come down here and do this work, she made the ride up to my parish to join me for Mass.  And when the time came for Communion, she walked down the aisle with no walker, no cane, no help of any kind.  She was one of the last people in my line that day, because like any good Catholic, she sat in the back…but also because she had to stop to tie her shoe.

She used both hands.

The hardest homily I’ve ever had to give…

So this is not the actual homily I gave this weekend.  I never actually finished it on Saturday night; I just had to walk away because I couldn’t do it anymore.  Sunday morning was easier, but I left my guard up too much, I think.  I can’t really explain it.  I also amended it for Mass at the Newman Center, just because it was a much smaller crowd and a very different dynamic.  Anyway, this is a close approximation of what I said, or at least of what was – is – on my heart…

This is, without a doubt, the hardest homily I’ve had to give in my short time as a priest.

But then again, this has been the hardest week of my priesthood, too.

By now, I’m sure you’ve all read – or are at least very aware of – the Grand Jury report that was issued earlier this week.  They warned us it would be bad; but it was worse than that; it was devastating.

There were a lot of names in that report that are familiar to people in this area.  There were a lot of names in that report that were familiar to me.  One of them was pastor of my home parish when I was a kid.  He’s not the reason I became a priest, but I still thought of him as a role model.  When I had heard, years ago, that he was accused of something, I didn’t – I couldn’t – believe it.  A week ago, I would have defended him with every ounce of my being.

And then I read the report.  And it’s clear these aren’t just allegations; these are things he actually did, and they are of the vilest sort.  I feel betrayed, as I imagine many of you do as well.  And we should feel that way.  Because we were.

I live in rectory where at least three, possibly 4, of the other monsters named in that report once lived.  I don’t care how many years ago it might have been, it still creeps me out.  It just doesn’t feel right.  Nothing this week has felt right.  I haven’t slept well.  I haven’t eaten well.  For the first time ever, I was embarrassed to go out dressed like a priest.  I did anyway, because we have to face this, but a lot of me just wanted to give up.  I know despair is a sin, but…

I was praying the other morning, and this line from Psalm 69 was a punch in the face:

Let those who hope in you not be put to shame through me, Lord of hosts: let not those who seek you be dismayed through me, God of Israel.

That wasn’t just part of my personal prayer; that particular psalm is part of the Liturgy of the Hours, and every priest is supposed to pray that daily, which means they’ve all heard that line before…and nevertheless, we’ve still managed to shame you and to dismay you.

We failed you.  The very people we are supposed to serve.  It’s soul-crushing.

So thank you for simply being here tonight, but it helps restore my hope.  It shows your faith in a way that you might not even understand, and it helps.  It’s a courageous act, and it’s an act of love for God.  It tells me and tells the world that you still believe in Him, trust Him, and love Him, even if His Church has harmed and scandalized you.  I needed that.

Any number of people have asked me where God is in all of this, and I’ve struggled for an answer.  I mean, of course He’s in here somewhere, because God does not abandon His people, but where?  And how?  I’ve been struggling to answer that, even for myself.  But a priest friend of mine, from the Archdiocese of Boston, wrote something the other day that made a lot of sense.

When grotesque sins emerge in the life of the Church, people inevitably ask, “Where is God in all this?” Answer: God is in the purge. The fact that purges keep happening is ample evidence of the fact that God wants the Church to return to holiness. If God didn’t care a whit about the Church he founded at Pentecost, he’d let it destroy itself, or simply grind it into the dust. But instead, as we speak, many forces in the world—even those that despise the Church and what she stands for—are conspiring to expose its wrongdoing. For free. And, clearly, without any inside help. If that isn’t Divine Providence, then nothing is. Even hardened secular types want the Church to return to a truer self. We should be deeply grateful that these people are mysteriously doing our work for us, vicariously fulfilling our Christian duty to expose evil.

 When you really think about, that’s everything right there.  God wants nothing more than for each of us to be happy with Him in heaven – which means he wants us to be holy.  If the Church is supposed to be the spotless bride of Christ – then she needs to actually be the holy and spotless bride of Christ.  The vocation of a husband or a wife is to get their spouse to heaven; the vocation of a parent is to get their child to heaven; the vocation of the Church is to get all of us to heaven.  And since we are the Church, that means that this is our work.

And so we must demand holiness.  But of who?  First and foremost, of ourselves.  We must be holy.  We must take seriously our lives of prayer, our reception of the sacraments, and our works of charity.  But we must also demand holiness of one another.  The time for complacency, if there ever was one, is long past.  We must speak up and against sin and injustices.  We must support one another with prayer, and we must offer support when someone is struggling, but we cannot ever make excuses for them.  You have a right to expect them to be holy.  And they have an obligation to do so.

Needless to say, that extends to priests and, yes, to bishops, as well.  They most certainly have an obligation to be holy, and you should absolutely demand it of them and call them to account when they fail you in that sacred task.  We’re seeing the fruits of what happens when they fail.  Imagine the fruit that will be produced when we succeed.

But we have to do the work.  We can talk about holiness, but that accomplishes nothing.  We have to do the work of actually being holy.  In the first reading, we hear that Wisdom has prepared her table before us.  She has set out a sumptuous banquet – but we have to decide if we want to sit down and eat.  Saint Paul tells us we need to make the right choice: to start living in accordance with the Gospel, or to give in to the depravity of the age; but he can’t make the choice for us.  Jesus offers us His Body and Blood as true food and true drink, but He leaves the choice to us: do we want to holiness and life they offer, or are we content with sin and death?

Let us choose holiness.

God forbid there are any victims sitting out there right now, but if there are, and you haven’t come forward yet, please do.  We need you.  We need to heal this, and we can’t do that until we know how hurt we are.  I know it might be embarrassing for you, and I won’t even pretend to understand the pain of it all, but we need you.  You, whom we hurt the most, will be the ones that call us back to holiness the most.  Please do it.

Where do we go from here?  Our situation seems precarious.  This could go a lot of different ways, I suppose.  But the choice seems clear.  We must choose to be holy, and choose it now.  As for where that will lead us…well, the path it might take us down will no doubt be dark and threatening.  But if we remain on it, it will eventually lead us to heaven.

Be holy.