Category Archives: Official Teaching

21st Sunday Ordinary Time – Cycle A

This homily probably could have used some editing or “tightening up” but here’s how I preached the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time in Cycle C of the Roman Catholic Lectionary this Sunday, more or less. 

Reading Gospel of Matthew 16:13-20

I suspect most of us are familiar with the custom in St. Louis of asking someone you just meet for the first time “What high school did you go to?” The question confounds newcomers to St. Louis. Why would you want to know where I went to high school? Sociologists say the St. Louis question of what high school a person attended is a way of getting to know a person. The high school attended is an indicator of social status. If I know what high school you attended, I’ll have a clue if you come from a wealthy background or poorer. I’ll know a bit about your social status or if we have similar backgrounds. Supposedly, answering the question about your high school helps people negotiate what their relationship is going to be with that person.

Jesus asks a similar question in the gospel, today. When Jesus asks “Who do you say that I am” He’s not looking for some indication if the apostles know his name. When Jesus asks “Who do people say I am” he is asking what kind of relationship do they have with him. Adding a couple more words in the question would get closer to what Jesus is asking. “Who do you say I am to you? Or “Who do people say I am ‘for them’? Jesus is asking for a relationship status update. Jesus wants to know what is the disciple’s relationship to him is going to be.

Various answers are given by the disciples. Some say you’re a prophet, a kind of spiritual teacher They relate to you, Jesus, in a non-intimate way like a person looking for wisdom that you might give. But teachers can be dismissed as not knowing what they’re talking about. Teachers can be ignored.

Peter gets the right answer. “Jesus, you are savior for us!” What’s Peter saying? By knowing Jesus as the loving God who comes among the human race so humans can relate to him in a way that people just can’t with a “spiritual being” folks can have a relationship with a person that can even save humans from the forces that seek to wipe out human existence.

Jesus’ question, “But who do you say that I am?” is an invitation to enter into a relationship with Him. Jesus isn’t just someone to know stuff about, or a teacher that provides moral guidance about how to live a good life. Jesus wants to have a relationship with his followers that enables them to live through death. Christ, the name means “Savior,” wants humanity to relate to him like we relate to a spouse, a friend, or a lover who saves a person from being consumed with selfishness until there’s only a bitter old man or woman without love in their life, unable to experience love or enjoy life fully.

Relationships are a two-way street. Both parties in a relationship have to figure out who the other person is to them. It could be best friend. This person might be the love of my life. It might be helpful to understand the Gospel of Jesus asking who people say he is if we’d flip the question around. Who are we “to Jesus”? Who does Jesus say we are, sitting in these pews? Who does Jesus say the rest of the inhabitants of this planet are to him; anyone who has lived, lives or every will live on this insignificant rock perfectly positioned in a not too far, not too close orbit around a star in a remote corner of the universe? We are the beloved human race he called into being so that he could have someone to love and became one of. We humans are the creatures Jesus loves like no other created being, so much so that he deems us worthy of saving from death. We are the beloved bride of  the groom Christ who can not stand the thought of ever being separated from. So loved are we as individuals and a race that Christ desired us from before time began to live with him and be like him even when we allowed death to invade the beauty of life. Who does Jesus say we are? The Word of the Creator God says humanity is the love of his life worthy of salvation even when they betray the relationship He wants with men and women through their sinful acts that weaken the relationship like adultery is to marriage. Relationships are a two-way street. To understand who Jesus is to us, it’s helpful to know who we are to Jesus. We are the beloved spouse he wedded himself to in the incarnation, so that he might save his us from death in order to live in his house, forever beyond the limits of space and time.

When the Gospel author Matthew has Jesus say to Peter you are the rock, the solid foundation on which Christ will “build” his church Matthew is saying the Church makes possible the relationship with Jesus. Peter is not being made Pope in that instant. Peter becomes the symbol of authentic faith. His statement is raised up by Christ as the foundational truth on which the church stakes humanity’s fate. The church is the Body of Christ. Matthew, the writer, is teaching the community he wrote his Gospel account for that the church is the human vessel that makes possible the relationship with Jesus that saves from death. Peter is a symbol of the Church. The relationship description Peter voices is the rock, the solid foundation of the truth proclaimed by the Church throughout the ages. The role of the church is to hand on generation to generation through sacraments, preaching and catechesis a relationship with Christ that saves from death. Outside of the rock solid relationship Jesus offers through His body, the church (which is safeguarded by the successors of Peter, the Pope and the leadership of the church in union with the Holy Father) there is no hope of living after death.

The author Brian Doyle, when asked why he is Catholic once wrote how the Church had helped him to be in relationship with Jesus as savior and saved. Mr. Doyle wrote about the authentic faith handed onto him by the Church represented by Peter,

“Sometimes I desperately need to lean on a god wiser and gentler than myself. Sometimes I desperately need to believe that when I die I will not be sentenced to Fimbul, the hell winter, where there is only the cold voice of Nothing, but rather I will be at peace and draped in Light. Sometimes I am nudged toward belief by the incredible persistence and eerie genius of the tale [handed on by the Church’s Gospel]: the encompassing love of the mother, the wordless strength of the Father, the Lord of All Worlds cast ashore on this one as a mewling child in dirty straw. Sometimes I am moved past reason by the muscular poetry and subtle magic of these [Gospel] stories. Sometimes it is an intuitive yes as the light fails and the world is lit from below. And sometimes I simply cast my lot with the sheer bravura of such a patently brazen lie. That a man could die and live again is ridiculous; even a child knows that death is the end. Or is it?”

Doyle, Brian. Leaping: Revelations & Epiphanies (p. 80). Loyola Press. Kindle Edition.

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Statue of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. Possibly the work of Atnolfo di Cambio. Thought by some historians to be much older. This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Mattis. This applies worldwide. Via commons.wikimedia.org

The author of this quote recently died in middle age of a brain tumor. Family and friends say he died at peace, knowing his relationship with Christ as savior was the rock that would break the power of death, the key that would open the door of his house in eternal life.

 

Don’t just see Jesus as one of many gurus that offer wisdom or moral teaching for a happy life in this world as some do. Do not delay! With the assistance of the Church, through its sacraments, preaching and catechesis, fall in love with Jesus, the one who saves and who loves you to death…and beyond.

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Easter Season Message Series “What Now” – 3rd Sunday Easter

Poster what now

“Builds Stronger Bodies”

Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

If your around my age, maybe you remember an advertising campaign for Wonder brand bread from the 1960’s. The commercials would claim that “Wonder Bread helps build strong bodies 12 ways.” The ads implied a good mom would feed her children Wonder Bread so her children would have the benefit of enriched bread that would make her children strong in bone and muscle helping the grow with a strong, healthy body.

Mother Church has a wonder bread, too, necessary for the strength of her children. Christ gave us this miraculous body strengthening bread at the last supper, the Eucharist. The bread and wine that is His Body and Blood helps the Church, the Body of Christ grow into a strong, vibrant witness of the risen Jesus. This Sunday, Mother Church invites her children born from the baptismal font womb of rebirth to reflect upon the need of every Catholic to eat the wonder bread of the Eucharist, on a regular basis, to sustain and strengthen their life of faith.

The sacraments that initiated us into the spiritual life, one of sharing the life of God that overcomes death, are similar to the events that humans experience at the beginning of natural life. Babies are born when they come out of a womb filled with a kind of watery fluid. Then the child must breathe air. Only if the child is feed, and feed regularly does the human person continue to live and thrive.

So it is with the spiritual life, the life of faith. Only once are we baptized in the water of the womb of mother church. There is only one taking of the life-giving first breath of God, given by the Holy Spirit that we are given in Confirmation. But to continue to live the life of the divine, Catholics must eat regularly the food of the Eucharist. The Eucharist strengthens the identity of the Body of Christ. WE CANNOT TRUELY SUSTAIN OUR SHARING OF THE DIVINE LIFE WE WERE GIVEN IN BAPTISM WITHOUT RECEIVING COMMUNION ON A REGULAR BASIS.

Recalling the theme of our Easter season message series, The Eucharist is the “Now What?” that comes after we encounter the risen Christ. The Eucharist is where we continue to encounter the risen Jesus, taking as our cue the story of two disciples disappointed by the seeming futility of hoping life can be different for those who encounter Jesus on the journey of life. The story of the two disciples (who are depicted on our sanctuary wall) and their encounter with the risen Jesus is the template of what we do here each Sunday. Listen to the voice of God strengthening hope for a new life then encounter the risen Christ in sharing bread and wine. Because Christ is alive, now what? Read Scripture for insight, eat to strengthen the experience of Him who lives, go tell others what you’ve encountered.

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The Icon of the Supper at Emmaus in the sanctuary of St. Mary, Trenton by Br. Martin Erspamer, O.S.B. monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad, Indiana

Do you ever spend time remembering your deceased parents? Do you, on a wedding anniversary, remember how you fell in love? Remembering someone, remembering an event can powerfully make the person present, again. Recalling an event brings the what you felt then into the present. Pope Francis has said (I’m loosely quoting something the Pope wrote in his Encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel” here) “the [Christian] is essentially one who remembers. Jesus leaves us the Eucharist as the Church’s…remembrance of and deeper sharing in, the event of his [defeat of death by his death and resurrection].” This remembering brings grateful joy that leads to sharing the presence of Christ, sharing the Good News of Christ with others.

In my own words, I am convinced our celebration of Sunday Eucharist is absolutely essential to our lives as Catholics so that we are renewed in our encounter with risen Christ. Catholics need to live our life as disciples who invite others to encounter Christ. Receiving the Body of Christ strengthens our identity as the Body of Christ risen in the present time so that we will carry on His mission. Eucharist strengthens us to witness. Communion with Him enable us to feed those not in the pews each week with life-giving hope, good news, with the grace to walk through the life in this world that ends in physical death without fear.

Now what? The story of the Emmaus encounter that is always before us on the sanctuary wall is model of the mission of our parish, to be disciples who evangelize. Don’t let that word scare you. Evangelize means to share the story of Jesus with others. Just as Jesus accompanied those two seekers with questions about the “meaning” of their life’s events, we are called, in the words of Pope Francis, to accompany those who seek to understand how to make sense of life; to walk with those who need to see how encountering Jesus can make life joy-filled instead of full of anxiety or fear. We gather to strengthen our memory, our experience of Jesus alive so that we can witness. That in turn will build up the Body of Christ with new and returning members.

Remember, last week I said something had to change in our parish. That something is each one of us. Fr. Michael White, a priest who’s parish has experienced phenomenal growth in numbers, has written, “The church is not a clubhouse for the convinced, but a place that is relevant and welcoming to the unchurched.” The parish needs to be a community that is excited to share the Gospel and make it relevant to people by it’s members sharing how Jesus makes a difference in their life. Reading what Fr. White has written has left me wondering if you and I at St. Mary need to be more like the disciples who risked traveling a road back to Jerusalem in the dark so they might tell how they encountered Jesus. Might we not need to follow their example. They could have said, “Wasn’t that great seeing Jesus, again, at the dining table” and played it safe and gone up to their room in the hotel for a good’s night’s sleep.” We’ve got to stop playing it safe. We encounter Jesus at this dining table and go back to the comfort of our homes all the while waiting for those who are not here to miraculously show up without us bringing them an encounter with the Good News.

Today, we’ve been exploring Step one of “What now?” after celebrating the resurrection. Build a stronger body of Christ. Renew our experience of the resurrected Jesus in Eucharist. Then we’ll be ready to share what we encounter with others who walk the journey of life with their questions about what difference Jesus makes to their life situation.

In the next two parts of this “What now?” series I will try to suggest a couple of practical ways our parish and each of us might get up from this table that strengthens our belief in the presence of the risen Jesus walking with us in this world and bring good news to those in need of sustaining their life with the Eucharist who may be starving themselves to spiritual death. We’re all familiar with the commercials on T.V. showing starving African children begging us to help them with our contribution. A worthy cause. The situation is somewhat similar in Trenton. We have people in our parish, in our town who are in danger of spiritual starvation. Don’t let that happen. I can’t talk to all of them, but together we can reach out to many of them, offering them the chance to encounter Jesus walking with them, feeding them the bread of salvation.

Don’t forget the words proclaimed from the Acts of the Apostles, “God raised this Jesus;of this we are all witnesses.” Let our hearts burn within us as we hear the scriptures and break the bread of the Eucharist so that we will be strengthened to grow into the Body of Christ we encounter in this Emmaus experience.


Greetings of the Season: Christmas Homily 2015

The Readings referenced in this homily are The Gospels from the Mass during the Night (Luke 2) and Mass during the Day (John 1) of Christmas

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Close up of the Creche at St. Mary, Trenton, where I am pastor

This time of the year, it’s become custom for people to send friends and family cards with short messages wishing the recipient some greeting of the season. Greeting cards with their short messages enclosed sent through the mail or by e-mail are part of the season. Merry Christmas or Seasons Greetings! Short, simple sayings that express what the meaning of the season is to the sender. The Scriptures proclaimed at the various Christmas Masses has some short sayings that express the meaning of the season, too, Sayings, that in short simple ways, express why we celebrate this festival day.

And the Word became Flesh 

And the Word became Flesh! This is the heart of our celebration. The Word became flesh. God who spoke everything there is into existence becomes a baby. The all-powerful, all-mighty infinite one is born in a manger in the body of helpless infant that grew in the confinement of Mary’s womb. How can this be? Why can this be? God became one of us to express his love for us. God takes on flesh in the child Jesus to show us mercy.

When people see someone in trouble, something in their heart says “I wish I could help that person!” It’s part of human nature to desire to reach out to another in need. Humans are made in the likeness of God. So, this human inclination to feel compassion, to desire to help those in need is a way that we express in a limited way how we are in the image of God.

The Father is compassion. The almighty God is mercy. His heart goes out to the humanity he created who discovered that like God they can make choices, a humanity that in Adam and Eve choose death over life in the Garden at the beginning of time. Men and Women are exiled in a land of death. God in his mercy can not stand by. The Father in mercy didn’t just desire to help, the Father became flesh, became human, so that a human could choose to break the bonds death in which humanity is trapped. Jesus eternal in the Father becomes man so that humanity can become, again, the creature that shares the nature of God, eternally alive, the prison of the grave broken open.

The Word, the Son of God that made humanity, becomes human. A baby of flesh and blood in a manger is God. the Word became flesh.

Do not be afraid, a savior is born to you

The angels send another greeting of the season. Do not be afraid, a savior is born to you! Don’t be afraid! God sends a message of hope that will sustain you even in the darkest moments of life. You need not fear.

Fear is a powerful motivator of action. Politicians use fear to convince voters that their lives are going to be worse if they vote for the opponent. People, fearful their land, their wealth, their resources are going to be taken away by an enemy arm themselves with weapons and go to war. Fear is so much a part of modern life. It keeps us from being the humans we were created to be by the Word of God; A community of men and women who support each other, who help each other experience love, who enable each other to live in harmony sharing all the resources they need to thrive.

A savior who will remove all threats to your life is born to you. A Savior who will show you the way out of the mess people have made of this world is among you. The reign of fear can be over if you accept this Jesus, the baby laid on the wood of the manger who will become the man hung on the wood of the cross. He will show you death to self in service of others is way to live. The God who empties himself of divinity for a while, shows humanity that they might be like God if men and women would empty themselves of fear of the other and serve them instead. Do not be afraid, a savior of the human race is born to you!

Glory to God, and on earth peace

Glory to God, and on earth peace! Peace be to you who give God the glory. Glory to God and on earth peace is God’s is the ultimate greeting of the feast.  But, as a traditional Christmas carol sings, “

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong that mocks the song
Of peace on earth goodwill to men” 

We daily hear about religious zealots waging war against those who do not believe as they do, claiming to be fighting for God. We know about refugees fleeing war and like Mary and Joseph finding no place to live because of fear. Our land knows the disruption of peace from protests or politicians stirring up crowds with talk of using military might to destroy an enemy. Yet the carol goes on to proclaim:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead nor doubt He sleeps
The wrong shall fail the right prevail
With peace on earth goodwill to men

Jesus has come in the flesh, to become the God-Man who brings not just the absence of war to humanity, but the harmony, the reconciliation of all people. The savior Jesus, God-with-us, reveals by his life, death and resurrection, that violence accomplishes only death. Peace comes to people of Good Will, any person who welcome the refugee, who shares their food, who recognize the dignity and right of every human person to have what they need to live and work towards that goal, like a man once born in a stable proclaimed Good News by his life, death and resurrection. Jesus will not be defeated. He will reconcile the human race and give it life now and forever. Glory to God, and on earth peace to those accept that Jesus lives in the flesh.

As we wish each other merry Christmas, as we gather around our trees and tables this night/day, let us remember the original greetings of the day.

  • The Word became Flesh!
  • Do not be afraid, a savior is born to us who will make humanity like God!
  • Glory to God and peace will come to all the citizens of earth!

For God will not be denied. The greetings of Christmas are his Christmas gift of mercy to us.


Wedding Homily for Alex and Lacy

Marriage clipartI have posted many homilies that I have preached on Sundays and other solemnities or for a couple of funerals on this blog. This time, I thought readers might like to see how I approach preaching at a wedding. What follows is the homily I gave at a wedding celebrated August 29 at my parish. Alex and Lacy are a couple I’ve been privileged to know as pastor the past four years.


Readings for the Nuptial Mass were
Genesis 2:18-24
Romans 12:1-2, 9-13
John 17:20-23

The word “transform” means to change. When something is “transformed,” it is changed to something else. For instance, when you use an electrical transformer when traveling in Europe the gadget changes 220 voltage to the 120 voltage used by our U.S. electronics. Otherwise, the electronic divide we want to use will burn up! To transform is to be changed. A group of individual athletes can be transformed into a team, functioning as one to achieve a goal. To do that they’ve got to think as a team, as one unit subordinating their individual wills for the goal of winning.

Catholics believe that the substance of things and the very core identity of people can be changed, too. Baptism transforms us into beings that can eternally live like God. Bread and wine are transformed in the Eucharist into the Body and Blood of Christ. Two individuals, a man and a woman can be transformed into one identity, one reality, one in body, soul and mind. In a few moments we’ll witness a transformation, not just a change in legal status, but a change in how Alex and Lacey exist!

In the Eucharist we’ll celebrate this afternoon our church believes bread and wine are changed, they are transformed into the sacrifice of Jesus recalled in a few simple words. Words have the power to change reality especially if they’re words spoken by Jesus. We know that bread sustains life. Now, Jesus sacrificed his body out of love for humanity. With the words “this is my body” he transforms food and gives us his sacrificial love in the form food that is changed to make real his presence in us and sustain the divine life given us in baptism.

Lacy and Alex will speak a few simple words this afternoon that will transform them into something different, too. The words “I take you to be my husband, my wife, all the days of my life!” changes this man and women’s reality forever. They are able to do this because Jesus wants it to happen, he wants to use their lives, their bodies, their love to make himself present in the world in another way but in a way similar to what happens to the food placed on our altar. Lacy and Alex will, in a sense, declare that they will be imitating the sacrificial love of Jesus that makes life possible even in the face of death. This couple will be changed into a sacrament of God’s presence in our midst by the sacrifice of their wills, of their bodies, forgoing of any other partner acting always for the sake of the other’s richer life. Their love will remind us of the love of Christ for the church. The world needs such Good News. Sacrificial love triumphs over death. Love is what enables us to live something like God, fully alive, forever.

In the reading from Saint Paul we heard Paul say “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” Paul is saying change your way of thinking. Don’t think like so many people do, today, that what’s important is MY happiness or I have a right to what makes me feel good as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. Alex and Lacy have chosen to reject this thinking and chosen to do “what is good and pleasing and perfect” in harmony with the “mind of God” by a change in their thinking that focusing on my individual single good life is the way to fulfillment to having another, the beloved, always on his or her mind and honoring them with a sacrificial love like Jesus did for his beloved bride, us, the church.

Alex and Lacy know how to make this sacrificial love of Jesus really present in their relationship so we can see Him in our midst. In our conversation about the readings they shared some insights. Reflecting on the first reading about the creation of humanity Alex said the verse about “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” meant for him that he and Lacy must “Constantly be thinking about the other person. Their pain is your pain, their joy is your joy.” Lacy shared in our conversation that the change of mind needed to be sacrament of Jesus means that “you’re making decisions together, doing things together instead of separately when your married. Things will work out no matter what if your love is on where, as St. Paul said, you show compassion towards each other, caring for each other.” Yes, Lacy and Alex are well on their way to making the love of Jesus present to others in this world. As Alex said of the Gospel God set the example for us to follow by sending his Son who would sacrifice his life in love for his spouse the church. We should love each the same way.

That love, to be like the Love of God revealed in Jesus, must give birth to new life-like the love of the Trinity gave birth to creation, too. Someday, we hope Alex and Lacy will be blessed with children. Then They’ll discover new depths of sacrificing the self out of love. The new domestic church we see created today will proclaim the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus in even more profound ways. Then  Alex and Lacy will see that emotional love may have led you here, today, but God has used this human love as a way to continue to reveal his divine love present in their lives and our lives. He’s brought them together so they can help each other to heaven and help us believe sacrificing yourself out of love for others triumphs over all forms of death, making life more abundant.

I have a little confession to make. I’ve already told it to Alex who said I could share this story. When I first came to this parish I watched Alex read and distribute communion. I saw some spirit in him that lead me to think that maybe he had a vocation to be a priest. Apparently, others did too, he tells me, like a legendary person in the history of this parish did, Sister Mary Richard. But my thinking had to change, to be transformed. Soon I found out there was this women in his life named Lacy! A beautiful woman and their love for each other was evident. Alex still has a vocation, to proclaim the Gospel as husband and dad and Lacy is his partner in this vocation. Together they will make the real presence of Jesus happen not at an altar table in the midst of the church gathered in a large building, but around the kitchen table surrounded by children and family and friends. The love of Jesus will go forth from their house church into the world. You see, each person transformed by baptism into a disciple of Jesus has the same vocation expressed in different forms, to spread Jesus’ Good News in some way. Today, we your family and friends, the church, rejoice that you have responded to his call to serve as husband and wife. May God bring to perfection the transformational good work he has begun in you, today, so that the world may know the Christ whom the Father has sent! Amen! So be it!

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Reflections on the Gospel of John Chapter 6: part 5

St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption (Covington, Kentucky), interior, Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Frank Duveneck mural, 'Eucharist, the Bread of Life' via https://commons.wikimedia.org

St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption (Covington, Kentucky), interior, Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Frank Duveneck mural, ‘Eucharist, the Bread of Life’ via https://commons.wikimedia.org

“What’s Really Going On, here!”

Readings for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B
JOS 24:1-2A, 15-17, 18B
JN 6:60-69

People often leave a club they belong to because the direction the organization is taking just doesn’t appeal to them anymore. Or, the leader of the organization will say something that rubs a member the wrong way and the member says, “I’m out of here, I don’t have to put up with this nonsense!” People pull their children out of sports teams because the coach isn’t seeing things my way, that my child is talented and should have more time on the field! People make choices all the time about how committed they are to an organization, a team or even a church. Often, if something challenges the thinking of an individual, he or she says “Forget it! I just can’t accept that way of thinking. I’m out of here!”

That kind of rejection of a leader’s direction for the group is what is going on in the Gospel, today. Some of Jesus’ disciples think he’s gone too far. Did he just say we’ve got to eat his flesh and drink his blood to live in the presence of God? That’s crazy talk! It’s repulsive, even. Who does this Jesus think he is? God?

Some people just couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea that they were in the presence of God in the flesh and that Jesus could make bread his body and wine his blood. They chose to leave his company.

Some people today, still can’t accept what we believe as Catholics. We believe that when we eat communion, the bread is not just a symbol of his body, it IS His body. The wine, some will argue is just wine that “represents” his blood, but isn’t really blood. Yet, we Catholics believe the bread stops being bread, the wine stops being wine and they are the real, true and substantial presence of Jesus in our hands, mouth and assembly. Many have left the church over the years unable to accept this truth.

Continuing for this last Sunday my “sermon series” on the teaching of the sixth chapter of John’s gospel about the Eucharist, let’s look at how, as one of those  people who did send in questions I asked for about what members of the congregation would like to learn about the Eucharist, how does the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. (I need to acknowledge where I’m getting most of my material for this teaching, by the way. There’s an excellent video on the internet by Bishop-elect Robert Barron on the real presence. (Click this link to be taken to the video and see if I represent his teaching accurately THE SACRAMENT OF THE EUCHARIST AS REAL PRESENCE at the web site Word on Fire.)

Spoken words have tremendous power. When you, I or anyone says something the words we use can change reality. Words have tremendous power to affect reality. A lot of times we use words to describe something. I am wearing a green chasuble, today. The weather is rainy. These are descriptive words. But words can also change reality. An umpire has the authority to say to a player who breaks the rules, “You’re out of here!” and the ball player cannot continue to play the game. He ceases, for a day, to be a ballplayer.  A policeman says “Your under arrest,” and a person’s life is changed, sometimes forever carrying the identity of criminal where that wasn’t reality before. You and I can hurt the feelings of a spouse with harsh verbal criticism or make someone our spouse by saying “I take you to be my wife, to have and hold, forever.” Words have power to change reality. Saying something out loud can make reality change.

In the scriptures we proclaim every Mass, the word of God we claim guides our lives and tells the truth about what’s real, God is the ultimate changer of reality by the words he speaks. “And God said, let their be creation” and everything came into being. Not only did God change or describe reality by speaking a word. He made reality as we know it! That’s power.

We also say that Jesus is God’s Word in the flesh. The beginning of the Gospel of John that we’ve been reading for several weeks states in the first chapter “And the Word of God became flesh, one of us!” (John 1:1-5, 14)Therefore we can believe that when Jesus, THE WORD, says something His words are God speaking. God who made and can change what is real. Think about what words Jesus would say in the Gospels. “Be healed” he’d say to lepers, the blind, the lame and the sick and they would be restored to health. Jesus’ words affect reality, sometimes at the very core of a person’s existence. Things change because Jesus speaks.

At the Last Supper, Jesus said of the bread and wine he and his friends were sharing, “This IS my body. This IS my blood.” He didn’t say “this is a symbol to stand in for my body and blood.” Jesus’ word meant what he said. By his power as the divine in human flesh he could use words to change bread and wine into something else, at the deepest level of their existence.

At Mass, I as the priest, have been given authority by you, the church, the Body of Christ still in our world, to speak His words. I do not speak my own words. I say the words of Jesus Christ. I make audible what Jesus continues to say, as he did at the last supper, his words echoing down through the centuries. “This is my body and blood.” You “order” me, in Holy Orders, so to speak, to speak “in the person of Christ.” And so when I say His words, His words change reality of bread and wine at their deepest existence. Christ effects a change in reality. Bread and wine change at the level of substance.

There is a difference between appearances and what is real often in our lives. Usually, how something appears is what is reality. I appear to be a man. I am a man. But sometimes what something seems isn’t what’s really going on. Someone seems like a jerk, but when you get to know the guy, he’s really a stand up person who has a bad habit or two. You look at stars and it seems like you’re seeing them as they are now, this night, but what you’re really seeing is light that was generated maybe millions of years ago, as the star appeared a long time ago, not as it is now, which may be a dead black hole. The appearance remains, but at another deeper level, the reality has changed.

This is a way that St. Thomas Aquinas taught we can understand the Eucharist. Accidents (a word for appearances) and substance (a word for reality) is still how the church teaches about the real presence of Jesus in our gathering for Mass. The accident of bread-ness remains but the substance of Jesus is really there, his body, his love, his eternal God nature really, truly and substantially. Through the power of the Word of God the deepest reality of bread and wine change. We call this transubstantiation, a word if you break it down that means “trans” (to go from one thing to another, to cross over, to change) in substance, it’s realness.

One more thing, someone once said that you are what you eat. It’s true. The hamburgers and vegetables and fruits we put in our stomachs are changed into the muscle fiber and cells of our body. Because we eat of the real body and blood of Christ, we become what we eat. We become the real presence of Christ in the world, here and now. We are drawn into his person, our words as a church and individual members of the church able to change reality. We can speak words of mercy and love, reconciliation and peace. We have to make a choice. Do we reject the truth Jesus speaks and leave the church where we are assured of His truth? Or do we stay. If we stay we know his body speaking through us can speak a word that will change the world to be closer to the reality of the Kingdom of God that Christ came to bring.

Sometimes I complain to friends about one thing or another the church wants us to teach or believe. Friends will say, “Why don’t you just leave and go become a minister in another church, then?” But all I can say in response is that I choose the Catholic Church, where else can I go? I need the Eucharist, the real presence of Christ. I have come to believe I need Christ’s real presence. I may not be worthy to have Jesus come under my roof (to become part of my being) but I choose to believe! AMEN!

 


Reflections on the Gospel of John Chapter 6: part 4

 Isaac Luttichuys (1616-73) ''Still Life with Bread and Wine Glass'' 17th century

Isaac Luttichuys (1616-73) ”Still Life with Bread and Wine Glass” 17th century

“Praying Without Words”

Gospel for the 20th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B
JN 6:51-58

Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing what Protestants might call a “sermon series.” The homilies (probably better called “teachings” in that sermon series language) I’ve been giving are reflections on things pertaining to the Eucharist we celebrate, in an effort to help people get more out of the Mass. I’ve chosen to do this because we’re reading from the sixth chapter of John for several weeks during August, that part of John’s gospel where he explains what the Eucharist is about by having Jesus call himself “The Bread of Life.” This Sunday I’d like to focus my reflection on the “praying without words” that takes place during Mass.

There’s a saying “It was a picture worth a thousand words.” We understand what it means to say something is a “picture worth a thousand words.” You’d need hundreds of words to express the message or the experience that is captured in a single picture. Wether it’s a photograph or a painting, there’s more going on in the image than can be expressed even with thousands of words. Or think of a sunset you’ve seen. “A picture that is worth a thousand words.”

The same can be said of some of the ritual actions that are prescribed to take place during the Mass. Not all prayer involves words. Sometimes an action, a gesture is worth a thousand words. A simple gesture can sum up what would take many words to say. We, you and I, need to do these simple gestures to deepen our experience of the love of God that is being revealed in these few moments at each Mass.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t use the gestures prescribed by the instructions for Mass contained in the missal (and your hymnals, by the way) for the congregation to do to express more deeply what could be going on in their praying the Mass.

Let me mention a few…

During the Penitential Act (you know when we say “I confess to almighty God” after the first hymn), the church asks EVERYONE to strike their breast at the words “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” Why? Striking the breast (either once or three times, it doesn’t matter) expresses sorrow. Striking the breast is a symbolic penance and disciplining of the body and mind that lead us away from God by our sins. Maybe it could mean my choices have not expressed the love in my heart for Jesus. It could mean we realize we’ve broken Jesus’ heart by our lack of living as he desires. Whatever it may mean to each of us, we’re asked to “strike” the breast to intensify our expression of the words we’re saying, “through my fault.”

Have you noticed in the middle of the Creed we pray after the homily that there’s an instruction to “Bow slightly” at the words “and became incarnate of the Virgin Mary?” Why do we bow then? Hopefully, a simple bow says what’s going on in our heart and mind. I’m in AWE of such a mystery, God becoming like me, a human. Our humanness has been raised up to be like God. WOW! I want to honor the God who “lowers” himself to my state so I can be “raised up” (recalled in coming out of the bow to a standing position) to the nature of God in my resurrection promised because I take into myself the Bread of Life. Then too, what do people do when they want to honor and important person, like a king or superior? We might bow to show respect, our willingness to be of service. We humble ourself before the superior or important figure only to have him ask us to rise as an equal or to accept our honor.

Receiving communion…here’s were our actions speak volumes of words, and it’s not always positive as I observe communicants in many parishes.

The church has asked us to show reverence for what we are receiving, what we are doing in the communion procession. We are taking in our hands and mouths JESUS, the BREAD of LIFE, SAVIOR of our lives from death, GOD in our Midst. That should give us pause and have us mind-fully approaching the heavenly banquet food we are about to receive. Unfortunately, many Catholics by their manner of receiving common seem to be saying, “This is not a big deal!” receiving communion by the casualness of their actions. Sometimes, I compare how many Catholics receive communion to the drive through lane at McDonald’s, “Give me what I’ve been waiting for in line so I can get on with my day.” It’s not a very reflective or reverent type of action going on. The communion procession is not utilitarian like getting a snack, it’s a crossing over to another realm, the banquet hall of heaven and dining with God.

Let’s remember how we are to go to communion.

As the person in front of you moves away from the minister of communion,

a simple bow (even of the head) is to be done, to show respect for the presence of Christ before the communicant in the Eucharistic Bread and Wine. Approach with palms held one over another, as an early Church father said, as a throne to receive the King of the Universe upon which to recline. We Catholics, by the way, don’t “Take” communion. The Body and Blood of Christ is a gift. We “receive” a gift in our hands or mouth.

We also don’t eat on the run. Ideally, to give us time to reflect on what we have been given, we step to the side, STOP and consume the host while NOT MOVING our feet. Why? To show respect, to ponder what we’re doing, to be stopped in our tracks by the wonder of taking God into our bodies and being united to Christ in love. Don’t most people stand in amazement at a moment of beauty, or a when they see something that moves their heart, their inmost being? Isn’t this what communion is about? People often talk about an experience that made them stop in their tracks.

Only after a brief stop and consuming of the host do we move to the chalice. where a bow is also required. Don’t forget to say Amen! It’s necessary before a minister can give you communion. The minister needs to know you believe what we as church believe so that he or she can give you the host or chalice, an action that expresses our unity not only with Christ but with each other who are members of the Body of Christ.

Children often learn more by the actions of their parents than the lectures and words parents preach. People who visit our church will only know that we believe in some wondrous, mysterious thing happening in our church not only by our words but especially by our actions. Let our actions, not just our words be an authentic expression of our prayer and what we believe!


Reflections on the Gospel of John Chapter 6: part 2

737px-Stoneware_Jug,_Wine_Glass,_Herring_and_Bread._Claesz

“It’s boring! Why Ritual?”

Readings for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B
Exodus 16:2-4
John 6:24-35

Parents who take family car trips on vacation are familiar with the voice of children coming from the back sea,t, repeatedly complaining, “Are we there yet? Are we there, yet!” That’s a bit what Moses must have felt leading the Israelites on their trek through the desert. The folks loved to complain. Today in the first reading it’s “We’re hungry! At least in Egypt we had something to eat while they beat us!”  Then after Moses and God have a conference about the complaint, the solution is “mana” and “quail” everyday. I wonder if after a few weeks if the People of Israel began saying “We’re tired of eating Manna every day! The routine, the ritual of gathering quail and mana is boring!” (Yet this food provided by God, kept them alive!)

I’m giving a “Sermon Series” on getting more out of Mass by understanding better certain aspects of the Mass during August, since the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel we’re proclaiming for 5 Sundays may be a bit repetitious. Every Sunday we hear “I am the Bread of Life” and like dealing with the people of Israel and the children in the back seat of the car I am attempting to provide thoughts that are not repetitious each week that will not elicit “we’re bored!” The sixth Chapter of St. John’s Gospel is his “theology” of the Eucharist.

As I said in my first post in this series, I sought questions I could answer during my sermon series from parishioners through the bulletin but not many folks replied. Yet, the experience of the Israelites leads me to reflect on one of those questions. It’s something I often hear from some of our parents when I ask them to make sure their children get to Mass regularly.

“The Mass is repetitious, it seems like the same prayers are said over and over every week. The ritual get’s boring because it doesn’t change.” To a casual observer the order of the elements are always the same; gather, say I’m sorry of sins, a prayer, three readings, a too long (boring) talk, collection, a long prayer while we kneel, Our Father, shake hands, shuffle up to get communion, blessing and go home. But, why? That’s what I want to look at in my reflection, here.

Human beings need ritual. They always have. Ritual helps people navigate the unpredictability of the world, it gives a sense of predictability about life. In some ways it’s an attempt to order the chaos we experience. Ritual is also a way to get into the realm of deeper meaning, to make contact with that which is beyond the routine-ness of life.

We live in a culture that craves the “new experience.” People, nowadays think we need something new to excite us, stimulate us, to get us to notice something important. People spend hours in front of screens, where the images change every few seconds. Children are getting to a point where they get bored in classrooms or with books because it’s not stimulating enough. Attention spans are shrinking even in adults. So at first glance ritual seems “boring.”

But ritual is so much a part of other events in our life and we don’t object. Every culture has it’s rituals…It’s the way we identify having a connection with others, that we share an interest, we share meaning and purpose. How do most of us celebrate birthdays. It’s almost mandatory that family and friends sing “Happy Birthday.” Some sweet confection with burning candles signifying the number of years of life is presented, candles blown out and food consumed. Presents are given. If this doesn’t take place a person might feel “cheated” or like I didn’t really have a birthday. Maybe even the person might wonder if they were loved!

Or consider the “national pastime” the professional baseball game. It has it’s rubrics (rules) and no one stays away. The game must start with the opening hymn, The National Anthem. The 7th inning stretch is always observed and there’s the singing of another traditional hymn, almost always the same, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” There are “rules” (In church language rubrics) and a prescribed ritual form of 9 innings, 3 outs per half inning on a field that has proscribed dimensions. All this “ritual” enables teams to play together.

Family Christmas traditions are rituals, unique to family, and one invites criticism if the rituals are changed. How often do people feel like it wasn’t really Christmas if the family doesn’t gather, doing things “like we always” do. There’s a disorientation, a sense of loosing our connection with past family members and present relations.

Our secular rituals help human beings to “play together” and sense their commonality in a common purpose. So too, our sacred Catholic rituals actually help us experience our communion with one another as the Body of Christ. Ritual makes it possible for people to get below the surface and not have to worry about what’s going to happen next. It opens up a space, so to speak, where we can contemplate and encounter the mystery of God in our midst and what God does in our lives. It enables us to experience God’s love.

I am glad that I am a Catholic with a predictable liturgy! Please, understand I am not “putting down” or being critical about our brother and sister Christians of other denominations. But, to be honest, I always feel disoriented, almost on edge, at Protestant services…what’s going to take place next? Yet, when you go to enough non-Catholic liturgies I’ve learned even protestant services follow a ritual pattern most of the time. I just don’t know what the pattern is going to be, because it is somewhat flexible from denomination to denomination. The other thing that’s happening in many protestant churches is the appeal to the “surface need” (as opposed to a basic need, essential need) for stimulation and entertainment with the big screens flashing images during worship and music leaders “performing.” This isn’t a comfortable fit with the Catholic liturgy, by the way.

The beauty of Catholic ritual (or any ritual for that matter) is that a group or pastor doesn’t have to recreate the wheel each week. Ritual helps us experience being part of a long tradition, connected with our ancestors and our descendants. We’re family across the ages, brothers and sisters in Christ! (Sort of like that Christmas, Birthday experience I mentioned, earlier.)

And Mass isn’t always “the same” In each celebration: the words change, various options for certain prayers can be used. The music selections change (but a common set of familiar music is needed so the congregation is comfortable singing together, not feeling like they don’t know the songs). Yes, the “pattern” is the same, the music is familiar, but there are differences from Mass to Mass.

Even there, though, the words used are prescribed by the whole church, not the individual pastor. A ritual book approved by “the Church” (The Roman Missal) is used to pray from. That is so the congregation is assured that they are being asked to pray in an orthodox way, expressing the one truth the church holds to and not the opinion of an individual pastor. The ritual is your and my assurance we are not veering into heresy or something we don’t believe in common. The books the priest prays from, the scriptures we read are agreed upon by the whole church and therefore a sign of our unity now and across the ages in our belief.

The ritual pattern, since we’re not worrying about what’s going to happen next or what to say or do, this gift of ritual, enables us to listen more deeply to the words, to listen to what God is saying through the familiar actions, to speak to him in the silence and hear God’s reply. If we let the ritual carry us along, we’ll find ourselves transported to a place where we are guaranteed to meet Jesus Christ! It’s worked for 2000 years, so why throw it out?

The people in the Gospel, John 6:24-25, were like modern people whose attention span is shrinking and who want to be constantly stimulated by something new, are looking for the fast fix, the quick solution to a problem, getting food to fill their stomachs another day. Jesus offers them something more, to fill a deeper need. When we stop wanting to be entertained, when we cease looking for a new way to be stimulated, then we’re beginning to be ready to hear and receive what God wants us to experience gathered at the Altar-Table; that God loves us and wants to satisfy our deepest need. That need is to know God loves us ,that Jesus wants us to live in a new way, a way that is without the distractions of suffering and death, forever!


Why Go to Confession – Getting Back on Track

During Lent this year I am giving a series of talks after our parish celebration of the Stations of the Cross on Wednesday evenings. They’re called “Getting off the track trainBack on Track: Reconciliation as Rededication.” The talks are part of our parish’s almost year-long celebration of the 60th anniversary of the dedication of our church building. We’re using the commemoration as a time to remember, according to the theme of the year, “Then: Dedicating Sandstones – Now: Rededicating Living Stones.” (The church is constructed of St. Meinrad sandstone, by the way.)

This week’s talk was entitled:

Why go to confession?

Can’t I just go to God directly? Doesn’t the Penitential Act at Mass forgive sin? Couldn’t we just have General Absolution?

One of the objections I hear the most about the Sacrament of Reconciliation is that you have to confess your sins to a priest. Can’t I just go to God directly? Can’t I  just make a good act of contrition?

I suspect this reluctance to confess to a priest has a lot to do with embarrassment about sharing personal failings to someone who is not a daily confidant like a spouse or best friend. I also suspect that there is a fear that the priest will judge the penitent and think less positively about him or her.

Let me address a couple of those fears…

            Each priest, including me, knows that he is a sinner, too, and has to share with another priest embarrassing parts of his life. That humbles a priest. He sits in the chair behind the screen with a desire to be as compassionate and as understanding as he has been dealt with. The priest does not desire to embarrass because he knows that he wouldn’t want to be if he were in the penitent’s chair.

            The priest, me included, knows we all fail in living up to the idea of the Gospel. He has failed, repeatedly. So the priest has no business judging…that is not his job. God judges. God is also merciful. The priest is to speak the Good News that God forgives and will make the damaged relationship with him right through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

            So if you ever experience a priest judging you in the confessional or adding to your embarrassment, go find another priest! Before you go, though, tell the offending priest what he has done, in charity, so that he can become a better confessor.

So, why not just go directly to God?

Sin is never just between you and God. It may seem like it. A sin done in private may seem to be private. But, all sin has a public side, even sins done in private. They weaken the believability of the Christian message and witness. They also affect our ability to have a sense of self-confidence that we’re able to do the right thing which may make us harder on others.

            It’s like this…a husband and wife have an argument, out of sight of the children, but the resentment carries over through the day. In frustration over the spat, the parent yells at the kids for something minor and the kids’ feelings are hurt.  The effects of sin, like a stone thrown in water, ripples out and disturbs the surface of the water far beyond the initial impact point.

            Any sin affects the church community family, even though sins may be committed in private or a small setting. It betrays Christ, present in every person. Sin betrays the Body of Christ, his church, and makes our witness less believable that Love dwells in our community.

            So, I doubt anyone wants to stand in front of the community on Sunday and say they’ve sinned. Talk about embarrassment!

            The priest is, by ordination, a representative of the community of the Church. He’s not just an individual Christian. He is representative of Christ. He is representative of the whole church who has been offended by the sin which has strained the relationship, the bonds between the members of the Body of Christ. Instead of going before the community, penitents go to the representative of the community, who is bound to keep everything said secret, but also empowered to speak in the name of the community. The priest speaks not just in the name of God, but, by the Holy Order that the priest was given by the community at his ordination he has authority to speak in the name of church, the “body of Christ” on earth.

            Thus the two parties that have seen their close relationship, their communion, torn apart by sin, are represented in the person of the priest. Going to God in private prayer only takes care of one part of the problem.

            Also, I don’t know about you, but I don’t often hear God speaking directly to me in an unmistakable vocal way, like an audible voice heard by my ears. God uses signs and symbols that we are invited to discern in the words and actions of others, like the life of the church. The priest is empowered to say with certainty that God has forgiven. Like two spouses forgiving each other and verbally saying to each other, instead of just presuming, the offense that strained the relationship has been forgiven. The bridegroom Jesus and his spouse the church (and the members of it) hear with certainty in the words of absolution pronounced audibly by the priest representing both parties that they are reconciled and the offense of the bride (you and me) will not lead to a separation.

But what about that thing the priest says near the beginning of Mass during the Penitential Act? “May almighty God forgive us our sins and lead us to everlasting life.” Isn’t that a pronouncement of absolution of sin, the forgiveness of sin?

            Notice the wording… “May.” It’s  a conditional, anticipatory word. The ritual statement is not what a priest says in the absolution of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, “I absolve!”  That is an active, present tense verb naming an action taking place in the present moment. Not the future implied and hoped for in “may.” The penitential act at the beginning of Mass is not a communal confession or a sort of general absolution. That’s not it’s purpose.

            The penitential act is designed to get the congregation at Mass ready, to get the assembly in the right state of mind to give thanks in the Eucharistic Prayer for the saving deed of Christ that is re-presented in the symbols of bread and wine. It sets the stage, it pre-disposes the mind to be open to the grace of the Mass that results in a sign of reconciliation and communion with Christ in receiving communion. But it is not absolution.

            Think of how a movie or a story begins. The back story, the situation is laid out in the first few minutes or pages of the novel. Why the reason the events of this story will unfold is established. Who are the characters involved? The penitential act sets the stage so the story of the relationship of God and his people, Christ and his bride, can be told and make sense.

            The characters in the story of the Mass are God who desires to repair the relationship he has with his creation. Humanity is his creation and men and women have alienated themselves from his life and love. God sends a savior to save his creatures from death which is everlasting separation from him. We need to get the dynamics of the situation in right order…God is God and we are the creatures who need him to live…then we are ready to hear the story of how God acts on our behalf in scripture and re-presentation of the crucifixion of Jesus which leads to our giving thanks and receiving  the sign in the symbols of Bread now his body and blood now his blood that we are forgiven, that our alienation from eternal life is reconciled. We are one with each other in communion and one with God, forgiven, reconciled.

            The whole of the Eucharist is about celebrating the reconciliation of the Church with God and how we individually benefit, but not absolution for serious (mortal) sin… If you’ve seriously, mortally sinned…another remedy is needed before approaching the altar to receive communion or the person risks making a lie of the act of receiving communion. Maybe even a farce. That remedy is the Sacrament of Reconciliation that specifically restores the relationship that was abandoned by choice of the sinner, a member of the Body of Christ. In such a case the Sacrament of Reconciliation is needed to be assured that we are reconciled before celebrating the symbol of our being a member of the spouse of Christ.

            Please realize you don’t have to go to confession before every Mass or reception of Communion. What I am describing is only if  mortal sin, grievous separation from God, a destruction of the relationship (a sort of divorce) has taken place. The Eucharist is the way we realize that our minor, venial sins haven’t destroyed the relationship with God. Jesus uses the Eucharist as a way to remind us we are loved even in our imperfections, our humanness. Eucharist is the food that keeps us from going too far away from him and giving up on the relationship.

            The Penitential Act isn’t absolution, but it’s our communal preparation to be in the right mind to celebrate the Eucharist that reveals God’s forgiveness.

            Well, wouldn’t General Absolution be a good thing for the church to embrace? (By the way, communal celebrations of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or penance services like we do during Lent and Advent in parish do not give general absolution – the communal liturgy prepares people to celebrate private absolution and to highlight how sin is never a private matter requiring reconciliation with the family of faith). General absolution is reserved for extraordinary circumstances in church teaching. For instance there are way too many people to absolve everyone privately in a reasonable time, or in cases of  emergencies. And, for the record, if someone has committed  mortal sin, he or she must still confess the mortal sin the next opportunity they have for private confession. I guess there is a hesitation “in the church” approving wide-spread use of general absolution for the fear that the faithful will miss out on the benefits of private confession. Every sacrament has a moment of private encounter with the minister of the sacrament. 
Baptism – water is poured on or the person is immersed by the minister, individually.
Confirmation – there is an individual anointing by the minister of person being given the gift of the Holy Spirit
 Eucharist – each person is individually presented the Body and Blood of Christ and asked to affirm their belief. 
Anointing of sick – there is an individual anointing and laying on of hands upon the sick person.
Holy Orders – there is an individual laying on of hands on the man to be ordained.
Marriage – two individuals speak directly to each other and exchange rings.
Reconciliation in the normal form – there is an individual “laying on of hands” and absolution.

That individual encounter is missing in general absolution and “cheats,” so to speak, the recipient of that personal encounter with Christ who is present in the Sacramental action.

Do not be afraid of confessing to a priest. He’s like you and not there to judge.
Do not deprive yourself of the individual intimate encounter with Christ who loves  you like a spouse. That would be like never having someone who loves you show that love in a hug, a kiss, or the intimate embrace of lovers.

Rededicate yourself to the life of being a member of the Body of Christ and hear that you are forgiven by your brothers and sisters, too, so that together we can be a sign of his love in the world.


Christmas Homily 2012

He went to Jared! A person cannot escape the ads on T.V. insisting that buying diamonds is the best gift you can give a woman. This is especially true if the man doing the purchasing is asking his intended to get engaged to be married, the ring must be so much better because in one ad the airline stewardess announces to the whole plane “he went to Jared” after the proposal in the front row takes place. In one ad even a car’s GPS gets in the act and takes over control of the car so that the man driving will get the proper jewelry, so that the grateful bride will exclaim “He went to Jared!”

He went to Bethlehem in the flesh

We’re here this evening/night/morning because a gift of even greater value than any diamond has been given by the lover of humanity to His bride. God, in the great mystery of Christmas gives the gift of himself to humanity.
He went to Bethlehem! He went to the manger, to be vulnerable, laying aside the garment of his divinity to be clothed in the wedding clothes of flesh that is like ours so that we might begin to understand the gift of God’s love for the men and women he created.

What we celebrate in this liturgy is something like an engagement and wedding. God who is pure spirit takes on our human condition. God who is beyond time, weds his very self to the fleshy existence of humanity and is born a baby! Human and God are united in a bond that can never be broken. God and man are made one body, one flesh in a great act of making love visible in a physical way.

He went to Bethlehem’s Manger!

He went to the Cross and grave

Weddings are nice, but the festivity of the wedding day is just the beginning of a life together for a couple. After the joyful celebration comes the work of growing ever deeper in love, of proving in actions the love is forever kind of love, not just romanticism day after day. The Feast of Christmas, the wedding day of God and Humanity, is a joyful celebration with Angel bands providing the song. Shepherds (not exactly the kind of people who can bring expensive suitable gifts) and Magi are the guests. The shepherd guests are “outsiders.” The Magi are not even family for remember Jesus was a Jew. Yet, these guests remind us that Christ came for the poor, powerless and all of humanity, not just a select family.

The work of proving in action Christ’s love for his spouse the Church made up of men and women was the crucifixion. He went to the Cross and the Grave! We recall his birth this evening/night/morning because it was only in the selfless act of love for his spouse in human form would our beloved be able to defeat the enemy of all humanity, death, and give us the gift of life with him forever. Humans caused the mess of death by exalting themselves in a selfish desire to be like God, so goes the story of creation. Now a new creation must come in existence through the unselfish gift of a human that fixes, a man of flesh that puts right what humans messed up. Jesus went to the cross and grave and we have gone with him in the grave of baptism. Our spouse Christ takes us to places we would not choose on our own, yet we end up with a gift we could never purchase. Only Jesus in human form could pay the price of our salvation, being saved from death. He went to the Cross!

He went to heaven to prepare a place for his bride, the church

Almost always, one partner in a marriage goes before the other in death. The surviving spouse is left to carry on in the midst of the trials of the world awaiting the day when he or she will be with the beloved, never to be parted. Christ, our spouse has gone before us, too. He is risen and will come again, not as a baby but as our lover and come to carry us across the threshold of our new home that he has built by his sacrifice, like a bride, into the eternal, perfect life of God.
He went to heaven and prepares a place for us!
It may seem at times that we are left alone in this world without someone to help us face the brokenness of this life. Innocent children are gunned down. Loved ones get terminal diseases. The one who wedded himself to humanity seems curiously absent from the house of this world when wars rage or families are in crisis. Yet, Jesus is not absent. He has not divorced us. He gave us the roadmap to the home he is preparing for us to be carried into over the threshold of time and eternity.

  • Embrace fully the dignity of each human being, like Jesus did in becoming flesh.
  • Fulfill the vows of baptism to sacrifice yourself daily for the good of those human beings in your life, for it is in letting go of our life that we discover a richer life, Jesus showed us.
  • Trust that Jesus the spouse will come to bring us home, even in the difficult times.
    He went to heaven to prepare a place for his bride, the Church!

So, today, as we give gifts that will pass away, break or were convinced we needed to buy by the clever preaching of advertisement, let us resolve to also give our brothers and sisters in the human family a gift beyond price, the Good News of Jesus born this day in word and deed.

Let us go to the Stable.

Let us go to the Cross.

Let us lead humanity to salvation, letting Jesus use our bodies as the Body of Christ that will carry his beloved bride into the fullness of life found only in the Divine.

The Manger at my parish church of St. Mary in Trenton

The Manger at my parish church of St. Mary in Trenton


A well thought out explained position

There is much discussion, nowadays, about the Health Care Mandate (some call it Obamacare) and how it is a threat to religious liberty in our country. The U.S. Bishops have created something called Fortnight for Freedom  to encourage Catholics in our nation to pray for a greater respect in the civil realm of government for the voice and opinion of religious groups and that their ministries not be forced to violate their consciences in providing certain procedures and drugs in their health care plans that violate Catholic Teaching.

Some prominent Catholics, apparently, have been criticizing the Bishops for raising this issue. These persons claim the Bishops are wrong and that they should not “impose” their will and the church’s doctrine on “the civil society.”

Fr. Robert Barron at Word on Fire, whose excellent website I suggest in the column on the left of suggested links, has recorded a video response specifically to two of the critics of the church’s stance who are very public figures and themselves members of the church. I suggest watching the 8 minute video. Father Barron makes a clear argument about why the Church needs to speak out at this time and defends our right to declare something “out-of-bounds” for Catholicism, requiring our non-cooperation with certain parts of the Health Care Mandate.

The video “Why It’s Okay to be Against Heresy” responds to a recent op-ed piece by columnist Maureen Dowd entitled Here Comes Nobody and a recent talk by the Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. In his presentation Father Barron explains why these women are misrepresenting Catholic teaching.


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