Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Christmas Homily: Because God had a plan

Salvation history.  That is   why we are here on this holy day/night.  From the nanosecond humanity turned away from God through sin, God had a plan.  He could not dismiss us as beyond hope nor could he ignore that we had turned on Him, preferring to be our own gods. However, he had a plan.

In the Gospel we here of that plan unfolding over millennia,  as we hear the genealogy of Jesus Christ.  I this list of names, in this list of fathers and sons, we see God's plan unfold.  From humanity He plucks a people to be his own, sprung from the most unlikely of sources: a couple unable to have children, Abraham and Sarah.  From the beginning of this genealogy we see this couple grow into a family, from the family comes a tribe, from the tribe comes a people, from the people a nation, and through Jesus, from a nation into the His Body, the Church.

The road from Abraham is bumpy though.  It is filled with men of great faith and men of great sin.  Even the men of great faith fall, as did the great king David, as the genealogy lets us know.  As the plan unfolds, God's plan is not deterred or thwarted by man.  It marches along.  God's plan marches from Ur of the Chaldeans to Bethlehem. It is that stable, born to a poor couple, in the most modest of circumstances that the plan of God reaches its zenith.  The Host of angles proclaims that a child is born who will restore what was lost through sin.  The Word has been made flesh and dwelt among us!  He comes not as our means of destruction, but as our means of eternal life.

We call this stunning part of God's plan the Incarnation.  The Incarnation is the great mystery that God should so love us that He send His only Son, who becomes one of us in all things but sin.  Today we celebrate that the Incarnate God is born into this world, a message of great joy and hope for a weary and darkened world. He burst into human time and space and shatters its darkness.  The second person of the Trinity is given this body born in Bethlehem because through the obedience of Jesus, that same body would be offered on a cross only miles away in Jerusalem. The Incarnation happens because the Crucifixion and Resurrection must.  It is through these mysteries that we are given the promise and chance of a new life, an eternal life.

As millennia have passed since that night in Bethlehem, we are given a continual feast from the Body of that Incarnate God through the Eucharist.  The Eucharist is that ongoing participation in the life of the Incarnate God.  IN our being here week in and week out, we are given a share in that great gift given by God, starting with the Incarnation itself and going through the Last Supper and beyond.  This is not to say we will not be continually tempted away from this gift.  I saw a post today about a young child was talking with a sibling; they were talking about Adam and Eve and the younger sibling says he wouldn't have taken the apple...a cinnamon roll yes...but not an apple.  Satan will tempt us away from life in Christ with whatever works.  Let us not surrender the heritage given to us through the Incarnation for the baubles and bells of this world.

This celebration calls us into a way of life.  It is a way of life marked by our love of God and love of neighbor.  The mystery of the Incarnation should stir within us a desire, a hunger, and longing for something more than what we see.  We are given the Eucharist every week so as to fuel this longing and help us by God's grace to take our part in God's ongoing plan.  You see, salvation history doesn't end with the birth at Bethlehem, or even the death and resurrection, it continues through the animation of the Holy Spirit through the Church until Christ comes again.  We each play a part in that role of salvation history in living in such a way as to live in the light of Christ and draw others into that same light.

For let us be honest, the world still is weary, weary from its own addiction to sin and vice.  The light of Christ is needed to shatter that darkness as did the Star of Bethlehem.  The chains still need to undone in many people's lives.  Brothers and sisters, let us properly celebrate this Christmas season, which begins today and revel in the relationship God offers us through Christ, commit ourselves to that life as Jesus has told us, and give the greatest gift we can: the gift of the Incarnate God whom we celebrate today.  God has a're part of it.  You were baptized into it. You are its ambassador. Be, by the grace of God, a worthy ambassador.  

May the Lord abundantly bless you in the Christmas Season!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas: Beginnings and Ends

Depending on how one celebrates Christmas, December 25th is a beginning or an end.  For the secular culture, the Christmas season ends this Sunday.  The stores will take down their decorations and set up for whatever they believe is the next reason for us to indulge in consumerism.  It's business, it's what they do.  For many of our non-Catholic brethren it also will be the end of the celebration of Christmas.  But for Catholics, Christmas Eve begins the Christmas season. 

The secular world and the Catholic world  prepare for Christmas in different ways which reveal what they believe about what is celebrated.  For the secular world the time before Christmas (which apparently is encroaching Memorial day more and more each year) is a time for setting up the decorations for one's home, buying and wrapping gifts for loved ones,  getting homes ready for guests, singing , going to parties, and watching TV shows.  There is an overly sentimental tone to it all; a warmth that makes the winter months in the northern hemisphere somewhat palatable.  There is much good in this celebration.  We can get carried away to be sure. But the celebration is all external;  something that can be packed and unpacked, bought and wrapped, cooked and cleaned.  It is wholly temporary.  I would imagine it is for these reasons that when the high point hits on Christmas, that it can be packed away for the next year.

For Catholicism, Christmas is prepared for internally and spiritually.  The liturgical season of Advent beckons us to prepare the way of the Lord in our lives.  We look to the twofold coming of Christ; once in Bethlehem 2000 years ago and to that day He will come again.  It is a period of preparation marked by a joyful longing.  It is a time where we Catholics are called to seek forgiveness for our sins, show greater charity and compassion, and to live so as to anticipate the return of Christ.  The Solemnity of Christmas begins a renewed process of celebrating the Incarnation (that the 2nd person of the Trinity became fully human as well as fully divine).  It is a season filled with celebrations, the three key of which are December 25th (Christmas), January 1st ( The Solemnity of Mary Mother of God),  and Epiphany, in which we celebrate the Incarnation being made known.

For humanity, that first Christmas day represented a beginning and an end.  The Incarnation of Christ begins a new era in humanity. The enslavement of humanity to sin could now end.  It is the zenith of a plan that God had formed from ancient times.  When humanity had turned its back on God through sin, God never could bring Himself to write us off.  He would prepare us through a series of covenants, through a law, through a relationship, through a concrete presence with us.  He would purge us of our polytheism and syncretism  so that we could receive the gift of redemption He wished to give us.  All in the Old Testament pointed to the stable in Bethlehem.  It eventually moves from there to Galilee and the Judean countryside, to a cross and resurrection. It continues on through the work of Church.  With the Incarnation, the old order passes and a new one takes its place.

What has this to do with how we celebrate this great mystery?  It is so much more than about when we put trees up and take them down.  Every Advent and Christmas Season is supposed to be an ongoing transformation to greater holiness; it is supposed to bring us into a closer relationship with God.   Without God's plan for our redemption, there is no Christmas.  With God's plan, though, everything changes and is transformed.  The joy of Christmas is not something that can be bought, wrapped in pretty paper, and set under a tree.   No, the gift of Christmas is an unmerited gift initially wrapped in swaddling clothing and later nailed to a tree.  It is this which transforms us in an eternal way. 

The celebration of Christmas isn't to be an isolated moment in time, but ongoing renewal of commitment to God and His will and providence for us.  It is part of a process, not the process itself.

What do I mean by that? If you ask most every pastor, we will grouch about Christmas in some ways.  We will talk about the C and E Catholics (Christmas and Easter) who come in twice a year and unless someone in their family marries or dies, we really don't see them much.  I will be honest, it doesn't irk so much as it saddens me.  I know some will say that 'at least they come then' but it points to a dysfunctional relationship which needs to be attended to and healed.  If we really understand what is in play with the Incarnation, the raw love of God would draw us to need the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of the Incarnate God.  Nowhere else is God's love so plainly and viscerally made present as in the Eucharist.  Understanding what we celebrate at Christmas...really understanding it, should light a fire in our hearts.

Most pastors know they get so few chances to speak to those whose relationship with God has been a relationship on one's own terms.   Some pastors will take time to chastise those who aren't there all the time.  That's not helpful.  Some pastors will be so timid as to say anything.  Again, not helpful.  It is a fine dance to be sure, but it is why it takes more than the pastor to make a proper celebration.  It takes everyone else as well.

Imagine, if you will, being the kid who rarely comes home.  It might be because of distance.  It might be because of hard feelings.  It might be because of a variety of things.  It is hard to come in if you are the person that is irregular.  The fear of being judged, of being dismissed, and other negative emotions can mistranslate  word and actions.  All of the justifications for not being regularly flood back.  The only remedy is the remedy that Christ Himself prescribes:  mercy.  Granted the person has to be open to it and want to dive in deeper to their faith.

This is what I preach about on a regular basis.  I want all my parishioners every weekend.  Why?  It is not because of money or a numbers game.  It is because their absence is noted like an empty chair at the family table.  It is not an empty chair just seen by us, but by God, who like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son waits for his son's return. The greatest gift we can give is truth, mercy, and an offer that if they are willing to commit to the relationship with God, it will be worth their while.  We might be able to stifle outward grumbles to those who take our normal pew twice a year, but that internal grumble must also go.  To call to conversion necessitates modeling conversion.

We don't celebrate Christmas as an isolated event.  Nor do we just celebrate it as something that ends Christmas day.  No, we carry that divine mystery through the practice of the faith and the embracing of the mission to which the Incarnate God gave us through His gospel mandate.  Let us properly celebrate with joyful hope, drawing others as well, and be a model to the world that Christmas isn't about Santa and gifts...but about the Son of God made flesh and what difference the Incarnation makes in our lives and in the life of this world.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Why Thanksgiving is so Important

In the Catholic Church, such a premium is placed on thanksgiving that we refer to Mass as Eucharist.  Eucharist comes from Greek word for thanksgiving.  This is no surprise.  One of the two types of sacrifice in the Old Testament is the thanksgiving sacrifice.  This sacrifice was the tithe of the first fruits of one's labor, an act that showed an understanding of the already present existence of God's blessings and grace in one's life.  The other type of sacrifice was the sin/peace offering done out of sorrow for one's sins and to seal covenants between God and man.  In Mass, both sacrifices are in play:  the final sin/peace offering of the Cross is mixed with the thanksgiving offering as an act of perfect praise and worship.

Today, though, I focus on the thanksgiving element.  In our country, we designate a Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving.  To whom?  Being thankful implies an object being thanked.  The answer is that we are thanking God.  In the Church though, save Good Friday and Holy Saturday, we thank God every day through the Eucharist.  So important is the concept of thanksgiving, that is in an ongoing act till Christ comes again.

Why is thanksgiving so important?  It helps us keep focus. It helps us to recognize God's blessings already present.  It staves off the demonic forces of entitlement.  It helps us keep our eyes fixed on the prize.

It helps us keep focus in that it immerses us in truth.  Thanksgiving to God on a daily basis makes us focus on what blessings we have and promotes us to use those blessings well.   It opens us to not seeing ourselves as being owed, but as receptors of God's goodness.  It also helps us to see the good in others.  It helps us look for the everyday kindness that is there but blurred by the drama life brings.

With this we see God's blessings already present and have good hope that such blessings will continue.  We see concretely that our faith, hope, and charity are well placed in God.  It helps us endure when things do not go well; it keeps us from feeling abandoned when ill fortune comes our ways.  It gives us the noble faith of Job to endure all with peace.

Of great consequence, it staves off the demonic force of entitlement.  This sense of being owed is the most vitriolic cancer of our age.  It stems from a false idea that I am the master of my own happiness and that such happiness is an absolute.  It allows for all crime, all sin, and all of the temper tantrums that so riddle our society.  The thankless person rages and is never satiated.  They are miserable creatures who spread their misery far and wide. Their lack of thanksgiving and appreciation becomes a black hole that crushes all light and joy.  Petulant anger and permanent furrowed brows are the calling card of the thankless.  What a miserable and wholly unnecessary way of life.

God wants better for us than such darkness.  He sent His Son to bring us into the light.  His Son gave His life to open the doors to heaven.  He wants our joy.  However, we cannot experience that joy with hearts so thankless.  A thankless heart is a throne for sin.

On this thanksgiving day, resolve to yourself to cultivate thanksgiving.   Find  reasons to be thankful.  Make it a part of your daily prayer life.  Be generous with the words 'thank you!' When you go to Mass, spend time in prayers of thanksgiving before Mass.  I can promise you this:  the more you cultivate thanksgiving, the happier you will be, the more patient you will be, the more calm you will be, and the closer to God you will be.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Attempted Murder of Morality

I believe one of the more disturbing aspects of this year's US Presidential election cycle is I am  seeing the most bizarre definition of morality I have ever seen.  Perhaps it is the inevitable conclusion of the error of situation ethics.  Right and wrong are being less judged by the nature of the act and much more by the person who acts.  The nefarious nature of an act or the goodness of an act are more being determined by the most ugly possible criteria: who does it.  If morality is now determined by actor and not act, then morality as a practical measure is dead.

Certainly US politics is giving us the most distilled version of this breakdown.  The heinousness of an action is now to be determined by political affiliation.  It is born out of a willingness to push ahead thoroughly deficient candidates because our side must win.  The willingness to surrender core moral values to further the promise of the pursuit of other moral values drives this way of thinking.   "I know my candidate is an amoral or immoral  individual here, here, and here...but I will overlook this because he/she promised to do this, this , and this.  Furthermore I will defend the candidate and attack those who point out these failings as traitors to the 'cause' I am for."  Point out the deficiencies of Trump and now you're for loading the Supreme Court with satanists who will further the advance of immorality, point out the deficiencies of Clinton and you are for women and children suffering, you hate minorities, and you want people to die on the streets for want of insurance.  The ad hominum attacks pile up like mounds of fetid garbage  worthy of Gehenna.  Don't even talk about voting third party (not exactly a parade of the moral either) and you get attacked as a traitor and blamed for the downfall of the republic.  When morality gets compromised, the compromiser needs to become more shrill in their accusations.  Where morality fails, conspiracy theorists dwell.

It isn't limited to politics.  That it is in politics in our country means it had to exist in the people first.  In our type of government we essentially elect a reflection of our collective values.  The political process exposes this and forces us to confront it.  If I am the type of person that excuses my own behavior yet condemns the same exact behavior in another, then I am the microcosm of what politics is in the macrocosm. Can we be surprised that in a society where we bolster self-esteem to the point where we see an exercise in humility that is honest self-reflection as the enemy, that our body politic and society as whole ends up here?  If I make excuses for my own sin, will I not make excuses for my friends and allies who also sin?  This, my friends, is the road to a sociopath nation.  A nation that gives license to sociopath behavior will elect sociopaths to lead it.

Within the Catholic Church in the West we have seen a complete breakdown in the Sacrament of Confession.  Many churches, if they offer any confession times at all, offer them at a constrictive schedule.  Most priests do that because no one comes anyway.  It can be a chicken/egg argument to be sure, but it representative of the problem.  When preaching and teaching were reduces to 'be nice; and hell was dismissed as a bogeyman to scare people into line, it was like lacing a stick of dynamite. Be good replaced be holy.  Morality was bludgeoned with 'do what your conscience tells you' without fulfilling the duty of  forming the conscience with truth.  This, of course, was never the official teaching of the Church, but how is was lived on the ground.  That. my friends, is how the Catholic Church went from the Body of Christ in this country to a social work agency.  I am not saying social work is bad, but reducing the Church to social work is like reducing  God to a sugar daddy (funny how those things go hand in hand).  That is why people bristle when moral issues, sin (especially the idea of mortal sin) and confession are brought up.  It is why people are fine with your bringing up someone else's sin as long as you don't preach about their pet sin.

However, look at the fruits of this tree.  This nation is angry.  This nation is getting angrier.  We become super sensitive to having our faults exposed while we become super angry at the sins of others we want exposed. That concepts of the super sensitive like 'microagression' and 'safe space' rule us is witness to the madness. It is the madness brought on by dwelling in the extremes.  If we wish to pull back from the brink of anarchy, it will come with a re-grasping of morality and truth.  In the Catholic Church, the two are intertwined.

We might attempt to murder morality, but we can't kill it.  True morality is a matter of God's love, of living selflessly.  The road to redemption, as individuals and a society, will come from coming face to face with the challenge presented by true morality.  True morality moves us beyond seeing a person as an end.  True morality finds the objectification of  a person as reprehensible regardless of who does it.  True morality shows us that an act is good or bad based on the act and not the as to whether or not the person is part  of' my side'.  For example: sexual assault is sexual assault regardless of the party affiliation of the person who does the assault.  Murder is murder regardless of the race of the person murdered or the race of the murderer.  Yes, sometimes the person does matter.  Our expectations of a child are not the same as our expectations of an adult.  Our expectations of a person suffering from a disease, mental disorder, and even an addiction are not the same as those who have full faculties. 

That said, we must stop with defending indefensible behavior because it furthers another end.  The more we do this, the lower the standards go until there are no standards left.  If we expect to do this within society, it starts with each individual.  We must stop trying to explain away our sins and squash shame and guilt so as to give free reign to those sins.  Shame and guilt are little more than warning lights letting us know something needs to be addressed.  It is one of the beauties of Confession, it gives us a place to deal with these issues and use God's grace to start again.

Wrong does not become right by public vote.  A majority of citizens might vote for genocide, slavery, brutality and such.  It only makes these things legal...not moral.  Legal and moral do not mean the same thing.  If we want want what is legal to drift further and further away from being moral, then by all means keep up excusing behavior.  If we want what is legal to be what is also moral, then the excuses  must end.  That is the start.  Justice cannot be found independent of truth.  I suggest if enough people start with the conversion of the man or woman in the mirror, we might well be able to turn the country or society around.  I know,  like myself, the majority of people are weary of what we see.  We are weary of the hypocrisy.  Okay.  If the surest road to hypocrisy is to excuse our own immorality, then why don't we start there...stop making excuses with ourselves and others.  Demand better of yourself and you'll find you'll want better of our leaders as well.  I realize we don't elect angels, but we don't have to settle for demons either. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Faith and Politics

Jesus told us to 'render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and render unto God what is God's'.  Fewer quotes have been more manipulated so as to live into two distinct worlds.  It becomes almost a default  position to buy the ' I personally believe X but publicly support Y'  argument when distinguishing private belief from public stances.  It is weasel-speak. If not that, then it is an acceptable form of schizophrenia. A very dangerous form, mind you.  It is not just politicians that do this, but voters who do this as well.  It is as if it is acceptable to make a deal with the devil publicly while using faith to disown the deal privately.

The fact is that we bring our actual beliefs into everything we say and do.  We do have a civic duty to support the good of the states and nations in which we live.  Support the good.  Is supporting the good in contradiction to the tenets of our faith?  What do we say about our faith if we view this as true?

For decades we have accepted the fallacious argument that to keep the peace we must sacrifice beliefs in order to be fair.  In doing so we cede more ground to those who are hostile to our faith.  We ceded the ground on God in the public square, we ceded the ground on life issues, we ceded the ground on human sexuality, we ceded the ground on a multitude of issues to the point where we will justify and even be belligerent about supporting severely deficient moral characters to be our leaders.  Yes, I understand that we elect human beings.  However, that is becoming yet another excuse to hide behind  the surrender of our values.

I, for one, am not willing to surrender my Catholic faith and values when I enter the voting booth or any other any venue.  It has become  like wandering in a desert.  Because it is an act of free will, my vote is a moral act which I will be held accountable before God.  For too long, when voting, it seems like I have to balance which values I will abandon to further other values.  When did this become acceptable?!  How did we cede so much ground that this is the choice we have to make?

Hence, we are left with being  perpetually between Scylla and Charibdes.  Poor choices and devilish compromises pile upon one another until there are no moral choices left to make.  Choosing between the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil!   Taking back the ground lost will require our not 'accepting our fate' election in and election out.  Our faith must matter or it is not worth having!  Our faith and its tenets can never be reduced to political expediency.   Either we believe human life is sacred or we don't.  Either we believe that our duty to our fellow man, regardless of his socioeconomic state, is sacred or we don't. Either we believe that the dignity and integrity of each human person is to observed or we don't.  That we have gotten to the place we are now, a very dangerous place, is a direct result of the poor choices we have made up to this point.  Do we double down on these choices or finally stand up, politics be damned, and reverse course?

My idea of supporting the state, or rendering unto Caesar, does not include allowing it to sink into utter madness. If it does sink into utter madness, a possibility that looks inevitable anymore, it will do so without my support or complicity.  What am I  supporting?  A call to spiritual arms!  An end to compromise!  Even if I am standing on my own, then so be it.  Before all things, I am a child of God.  It is that definition and that alone that informs who I am and how I vote. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

God Doesn't Need My Money

I would imagine if you were to ask the average person in this country whether or not churches were rich, there would be a thunderous yes.  After all, we see magnificent church buildings, see some pastors who live in mansions, drive expensive cars, and connect wealth to God's will.  Most unchurched people might well believe that every pastor, priest, and reverend are variations of people like Joel Osteen.  I wold imagine many are off put by such a garish display and cynically respond to giving with "God doesn't need my money." 

However, for most outside of the health and wealth evangelicals, such a grandiose lifestyle is not the rule. Truth be told, there will literally be hell to pay for those who fleece their flocks.  While the grand churches are indeed beautiful, what is forgotten is the immense amount of other things done by churches in this country.  Forgotten are the schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, clinics,orphanages, soup kitchens, food pantries, relief services, and such that are the only ones around in the poorest areas of the world and in the richest as well.

As a Catholic priest, I am going to speak to my experience. For those who do not know me, I am a pastor of a church with about 425 families is a rural area of Missouri.  In almost twenty years of priesthood, I have been stationed in 8 parishes in 6 assignments.  5 of those parishes had parochial schools.  I grew up in the lower middle class to being in poverty.  I have never been assigned to parish flush with money.  Every parish I have served and almost  every parish I know of, including protestant  churches, struggle financially.  The parishioners of my churches were and are major contributors to local help agencies. My current parish give direct help to those in need.  I have been insistent about this.

Why?  Because of the nature of the tithe.  The tithe, or thanksgiving offering/sacrifice of the Old Testament had a specific purpose.  In the Old Testament, the Levites and priests were to be of 24/7 service to God and the people.  They were not to own businesses or other ventures that would take them away from this service. Also, the Old Testament placed a premium on assistance to the poor and needy.  The tithe was the offering for the first fruits of one's labor.  that tithe was to be used by the priests and Levites for their support, for the upkeep of the temple, and to be distributed to those in need as well.  The tithe was an act of thanksgiving by the person; an acknowledgement of God's blessings already present in their lives.

In the Catholic Church, the tithe serves the same  purpose.  Priests, for example, are not allowed to own businesses or ventures that trump their pastoral duties to God and to His people. They are to immerse themselves in ministry.  Furthermore, Canon Law (Canon 282) states that clergy are to live simply.  This does not mean impoverished, it means simply.  Hence part of the thanksgiving offering goes to him and others who work for the parish (teachers, principals, maintenance and janitorial, secretaries, bookkeepers, and so on), none of whom make what their confreres make in the private sector. Part of the tithe goes to making sure that utilities are paid, insurance is paid,  benefits are paid, and to upkeep the buildings.    Numerous collections are also taken up to help the diocese do its work, to send to missionary work across the globe, to help local help agencies, and to bolster particular programs and outreach within the parish.

Globally, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world.  It has been from the beginning.  The concept of institutions we take for granted now: hospitals, schools, colleges and universities, and a myriad of institutions to help those in need grew out of the ministry of the Church.  The Catholic Church is still the largest health care provider and educator on the planet.  Yes, we have grand buildings, but we also do more to help the sick, the poor, and the needy.

It is an unfortunate truth that some churchmen have misused funds and have grown wealthy on the tithe.  It is worth noting that this has been repeatedly condemned by the Church from the times of St Augustine  (read his letter on Pastors), St Gregory the Great (Pastoral Care) and down through the line to our current Pope Francis.  It is and always has been scandalous for a priest or bishop to fleece the flock.  Truth is, though, it is rare.  Most clergy try to be responsible with what is given and make many quiet sacrifices when budgets get tight.  Like a good dad, they simply and quietly do without so that those placed in their care get what they need.

All this said, it is important to remember that the Church is not primarily a social work organization nor is it a business or bank.  There is nothing wrong with these entities.  But that is not the primary reason for the Church's existence.  Archbishop Sample of Portland, Oregon reminded his flock in a pastoral letter this year that the primary purpose of the Church was the salvation of souls.  Sure, teaching, health care, assistance to the poor are the activities of an an institution dedicated to the salvation of souls.  However, the kerygma is to preach the Good News so as to draw people into the Body of Christ.  Truth be told, how effective we are at that is facilitated or restrained by the tithe.

My job as a pastor is to be sure that the tithe is used for the purpose for which it is given.  As per our teachings, we do help the poor of our parish and local area through a fund we set up that gives direct but limited assistance.   The rest goes to the upkeep of our facilities, the pay and benefits of our staff, utilities and insurance,  and other items needed to carry out what we do as a parish.  I can assure you, there is nothing left once these things are done.  I am well aware as a pastor that I will have to stand before God someday and give an accounting of what was done with the thanksgiving offering.  I also will have to stand before God, as will everyone else, to give an accounting for the thanksgiving offering I made.

In closing, consider the following: thanksgiving builds relationship.  This is especially true with God.  He doesn't ask that the thanksgiving offering be burned up like the sin offerings.  No that offering is given back to benefit His people.  In Catholicism, we believe that in exchange for our thanksgiving (Eucharist comes from the Greek for thanksgiving) which is a sign of our desire to be in relationship with Him, we are given the Flesh and Blood of Christ our Lord.  God will not be outdone in generosity.  None of us would want a relationship with a leech; no one wants a relationship with someone who continually takes without gratitude.  My dad used to reprimand us as kids when we would be thankless.  He would ask why we should be given more when we were not thankful for what we had already.

The tithe isn't merely about paying the bills, it is about acknowledging God's blessings and sharing those blessings so that the work of His Church might thrive and that those in need find help. Thanksgiving is a part of a healthy relationship.  Let it be a part of your relationship with your God, your parish, and your society.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Down the Rabbit Hole

It is getting bizarre out there. It is getting to the point that I fully expect to see the Mad Hatter and his retinue sitting at my dining room table.  Not that the world hasn't had a streak of maddeningly macabre to it before, but not in such bulk as now.  It is the reign of the subjective. We now live in the tyranny or emotions and feelings.  An age has arisen that actively suppresses virtues in favor of  a buffet of contradicting subjective fiats.

Take our politics: Each side demands our outrage at the reprehensible words and actions of the other side while demanding we look away from their own reprehensible words and actions which mirror each other.  The criteria for my sought after outrage?  Not so much as what was done but who did it! I suppose something being venal isn't about the act itself as it is the person who does it.  Makes sense, no?  Well, no, it doesn't make sense.  Candidate A demeans women and Candidate B, who also demeans women (just different women that candidate A)  demands we castigate Candidate A. While this goes on, we are to ignore the horrible things done by the candidate we support.  It gives me headache just writing this.

Truth is that a venal act is a venal act regardless of who does it.  Sin doesn't become more sinful because someone I don't like or support is doing it.  I know...logic.  Who has time for that?  However, if we just dabbled ever so lightly in the world of logic we would see the whole thing for what it is: a garish and immoral Mardi Gras float, filled with characters from a Dickens' novel.  Or a Lewis Carroll novel were I to stay within the original example.

We are told that we cannot believe our eyes when it comes to gender.  We are given a whole host of new pronouns to use so as to accommodate someone's self defined gender...which is not readily detectable to even a doctor giving a physical.  Somehow I am to guess at which set of pronouns to use based on an ability to read minds.  Sure that's possible!  Oh let the taking offense begin!  Why not?  In a world of subjective truth, being offended is the default response.  Your job is to placate me.  Everybody's job is to placate me.  My job is to be placated.  Yeah, that will lead to a healthy society...the Cheshire Cat told me so.  This leads to a world full of the Queen of Hearts screaming 'off with their head!' The deafening roar drowns out any and all signs of sanity.

The very same activities lauded on TV (sex and violence) are condemned when the wrong person does it. Actors who are anti-gun don't mind shooting dozens of people in their movies. Then again these are same people who warn us of global warming (or climate change or whatever the blazes they call it now)  and will leave one of their many mansions, hop on private jets, and to go to conferences to let us know how seriously we need to take it.  I guess there is no Skype in Wonderland.  The same people upset with the vulgar talk of someone they don't like are the same people scooping up vulgar entertainment like 50 shades of Grey.  The same people who don't think I have any business in their bedroom are the same people who want to hand me the bill for what happens there and what happens as a result of there.  There is no such thing as responsibility or accountability in this place either.

There is nary a field not tainted by this subjective climate.  Even within churches we see people screaming that we need to preach against sin, unless, of course, we touch on their sin.  That is off limits and hurtful because, you know, we're like...judging them.  My neighbors sin is more sinful than my sin.  Yeah, that makes sense. Insanity reigns.

So where is sanity to be found?  Where is the exit from this nightmarish wonderland?  Truth.  Objective truth.  It is a sane place where the sin I need to correct is my own.  It is a place where actions and words need to be in tandem.  It is a place where narcissism is replaced with love.  Love is a virtue, a theological virtue at that.  Where truth is, virtue is.  Where virtue is, truth is.  Virtue raises us above the circus of subjectivity and sets us into a place that is steady and sure.  If we want out of wonderland, it will come from cultivating faith, hope, love, fortitude, wisdom, justice, and temperance.  These are the things authentic Christian faith calls us to grasp and live.  God gives us the grace to do these things.

I am personally weary of wonderland.  We all should be.  We need to put our love of being offended aside.  We have to admit that the world doesn't conform to my wishes.  Reality has no duty to readjust based on the whims of my (or anybody's) personal fiats.  Instead of entertaining ourselves with vice and getting drunk with our indignation of other people's vices, perhaps that time and energy would better spent pursuing virtue.  I do believe most will be pleasantly surprised at the peace and unity such a stable world view brings.   

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Book Review: The Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change it Again

Christianity is dangerous.  It is supposed to be.  The Gospel subverts worldly morals and wisdom. She stands up in the face of tyrants and libertines.  She disrupts the plots of the devil himself.  There is a reason that Satan attempts to tempt Jesus away from His mission.  There is a reason Satan feared what Jesus would bring into existence.  There is a reason he does battle with Jesus' followers.  In their book, Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change It Again, Mike Aquilina and James Papandrea. look at the reasons Christianity was persecuted in the early centuries.  They cite seven seismic shifts that Christianity brought to the known world and how those shifts were deemed so dangerous by civil authorities, that Jesus' apostles and their followers were regularly martyred.  They also detail how these seismic shifts could not be quelled by any earthly power.

We take for granted in our own day and age the holy partnership of marriage and the care parents are to have for children.  We take for granted the ideas that freedom of religion,  the dignity of the human person, and that our rights derive from God, not man. We see as a positive the duty we have to our fellow man, to their welfare, and that we must respect their dignity and integrity.  We do not view women and children as possessions to be disposed of at the whim of the husband.  These common place observations were radical and dangerous positions to hold in the Roman Empire.  What seem to be benign propositions in our history were seen an fundamentally corrosive to the foundations of society in the Roman Empire, and consequently to every despot since.

In their astounding perseverance, our early Christian forefathers' willingness to embrace this new way of life, this Gospel of Jesus Christ, even if it meant losing everything won the day.  The Gospel of Christ brought hope to the overwhelming number of peoples not fortunate enough to be born into the patrician classes of their day.  It spoke hope to those whose lives were a matter of convenience.  It raised the dignity of women and children.  It brought about an understanding that every human life was precious and to be respected and that societal constructs should reflect this truth.  Going through each of the seven ways Christianity upset the accepted order, the authors, show clearly the teachings, the consequences, and the victory each revolution brought.

This is, however, more than a history book.  The premise for writing about these revolutions is to stir up the Christian faithful to regain the truth and the fervor for the truth that the Gospel of Jesus Christ first brought.  In so many places in the industrialized world, society is going back to the barbarism that existed before the advent of Christianity.  Once again the practices that denigrated the family, marriage, human sexuality,   economic justice, and the practice of religion have gained social acceptance.  The west is re-paganizing.  This brave new world is every bit as hostile to the undiluted Gospel of Christ as was the Roman Empire of old.  The authors leave us with a clarion call to grasp again the same willingness to evangelize, be gloriously subversive, and to lose all for Christ.

Christianity has never been victorious when treated with mediocrity or complacency.  It has never succeeded when carried by the lukewarm or cowardly.  It has grown when approached with bravery, truth, and compassion for all.  It succeeds when we become a reflection of the Christ who gave us this Gospel. Let us not forget the revolution that was started by Jesus; a revolt against the most evil depravity the devil could concoct. This call to arms is timely, necessary, and a call to excellence!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

When the Government Becomes God

The concept of government as God is nothing new.  In olden times Pharaohs and Caesars declared themselves to be gods.  They were despots. In more modern times, the philosophy of George Hegel and later Karl Marx developed into a society where the government replaced gods and religion.  In progressive thought in the United States, the same belief that the state replaces God as the supreme power is evident.  These entities see themselves as the source of freedom, rights, and provision. In due time, these entities deem religion to be an enemy.  We are not talking about theocracy, a boogieman that is trotted out to justify the expansion of power.  We are talking about totalitarianism. Things to consider as we look to the Presidential Election 2016.

Errantly  ascribed to Thomas Jefferson, there is a saying. "A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take everything you have."  When government sees itself as divine it naturally claims the rights to give benefits as if they were God's graces.  Whereas God gives of Himself, government must take from others and redistribute them like benefices to others.  The great government god looks kindly on certain peoples.  The great government god looks poorly on others.  To succeed in this, the great government god must appropriate for itself the ability to bestow rights and privileges.

Human rights are no longer inalienable.  The bestowal becomes a matter of political expediency.  Some great government gods seize this control all at once as in the French and Russian Revolutions.  Some take a more long range tactic; convincing the governed to surrender their God given rights one at a time.  In exchange they might promise fiscal security or protection from enemies ,which necessitates the making of and sustaining of enemies and antagonistic relationships. They might promise free this or that, even though what is offered is not actually free, the charge is merely given to someone else.  To achieve this, the great government god must have us at each others throats; we must hate each other before we become okay with seizing each others property and rights.

The great government god chooses winners and losers.  Oftentimes, because the great government god's needs and desires fluctuate,  today's winners become tomorrow's losers and today's losers become tomorrow's winners.  Winners and losers are subject to erratic and sometimes capricious laws which can and will strip every human right away from some groups, even going as far as to deny humanity at all to some groups.  This gives the great government god the ability to do away with entire groups through genocides, pogroms, and persecutions.

The great government god is a jealous god.  It reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship to a state church to the destruction of alternative religions altogether.  It will pay lip service to other religions for as long as is deemed necessary.  The lip service will dwindle as God and religion are pushed further and further from the public life and are regulated to historical nostalgia.  Those who insist on sticking to religion are at first marginalized, then persecuted, and then eliminated.  Whether it be the Colosseum or concentration camps and gulags, whether it be by firing squads or guillotine, the great government god will awash itself in the blood of dissenters.

When the great government god has dealt with such dissenters, then the curtain is pulled back and the totalitarian demon is revealed and it is too late to turn back without the complete collapse of the nation.  With opposing gods contained, other freedoms become easy to eliminate.  The useful idiots who helped in the elimination of the great government god's enemies become the great government god's next victims.  Revolutions eat their own children.  As the saying goes, "The first rule of assassination is to kill the assassins."  

The road to tyranny and totalitarianism is traveled one freedom surrendering step at a time.  The more government grows the more godlike it wants to be.  Be aware, though, of the idols you worship. 

For me, I will stick to the God I already worship.  My God doesn't seek my destruction, nor does He will the destruction of others.  My God loves me and wills I love Him and all others.  My God gives us a free will and the freedom to love, to choose positively the good of others.  My God doesn't want me to have my assets seized, but to give willingly to those in need.  My God doesn't want my enslavement, but my freedom.  My God doesn't want me to look at those around me as enemies, but as my brothers and sisters.  My God sent His Son to save me.  I could on and on...but the upshot is my God, the Triune God, doesn't need a jack boot at my throat.  He loves and desires to be loved; He gives out of His love.  I, for one, will not surrender my rights for trinkets and empty promises.  I will not allow any man or government to spur me to hatred of my fellow human beings.  Even it means sharing in the fate of a Thomas More, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Miguel Pro, or Maximilian Kolbe...I would sooner die for the truth than live as a subject of the great government god.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Of Concupicence

This is a variation of my homily this morning.  NOt exact wording as I do not write down my homilies.

The Gospel reading today starts with an assurance of Jesus to not be afraid because God wills to extend to us the Kingdom.  Jesus often assures us that the Father is disposed to our good and salvation.  The Father wants what is good for us.  He extends it to us.  Indeed, we are told in the Last Judgement sequence from Matthew that heaven was prepared for us...we were created with heaven in mind.  Sounds great!!  Notice something though: The Father wants it for us but does not force it upon us.  We must choose it.  How do we do that?

The rest of the Gospel for today answers this.  Jesus starts by telling us that where our heart is, there our treasure will be.  So what do we treasure?  The things of God or the things of this world?  It is awful hard to not treasure the things of this world isn't it?  Jesus uses the parable of the two types of servants.  One good and one bad.  Where is the difference?

To explain that we need to take something into mind: concupiscence.  When we are baptized, we have the mark of original sin taken and are filled with God's sanctifying grace.  Whether that grace stays put is up to our willingness to fight the predisposition we have to sin.  That is what concupiscence is: a disposition towards sin.  We fight this disposition through the cultivation of the virtues.  Each virtue is a discipline by which we rein in concupiscence and the sin it leads to.  Some of these virtues, such as the Cardinal virtues of prudence, fortitude, justice, and temperance, we can cultivate by our own repeated choice to adhere to the disciplines they require.  The one who cultivates virtue is the servant who is wise and does as he should.  So delighted is the master upon his return at his virtuous servant that the master waits on them!

However, if we are not cultivating virtue, we are cultivating vice.  Concupiscence always leads to sin.  Where virtue is a discipline, vice is a lack of discipline.  Vice is a caving in of the free human will to sinfulness which estranges us from God.  The bad servant, we see, lacks discipline and engages in various vices (anger, drunkenness) and is caught off guard by the master. Recall, St. Peter ask if the parable is meant for everyone or just for them.  It would seem that Jesus targets those who serve Him, especially in the role of shepherding.  As those called by virtue of our vocation of priesthood and marriage, we are given flocks to tend.  We either lift those flocks to God or drive them away from God.  Jesus talks of beatings for those who fail to cultivate virtue.  Why?  Others suffer the consequences.  When we cultivate vice, we encourage the same of those placed in our care.  It is human nature for a person to want others to worship the god they worship.  Great if the god be God.  Deadly if it isn't. Where our heart is, we encourage to have their hearts as well.    Hence we who share in the tending of the flock as pastors, spouses, and parents must be certain that we encourage virtue by living virtue.

However some of the virtues, the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, need God's grace to grow.  We cannot fully love, hope, or have faith without God's initial action or ongoing grace for them to grow.  It is one the primary reasons we have sacraments in the Church; the theological virtues need to be nourished by God Himself.  I want to focus on the two we can receive over and over again.  First, we must be truthful and admit we fall to concupiscence.  Sometimes that fall is so thorough that it severs the relationship we have with God.  We call this mortal sin.  Until that break is addressed in Confession, we are cut off from the source to cultivate the theological virtues.  A breakdown in the theological virtues will lead to a breakdown in the cardinal virtues.  Our cultivation of vice must be addressed. Otherwise the cultivation of virtue will be difficult, if not impossible, until we have sacramentally dealt with our fall to concupiscence and sin.

By the same token, what we come here to do at Mass is to be given the divine help we need to do battle with concupiscence day after day.  In the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are given what we need to grow in virtuous discipline and holiness.  Hence, if we are in a state of mortal sin, we may come up, but we will not receive the grace given until we have sought God's merciful grace in Confession.  Also, if we do not believe what is given here IS the Body and Blood of Christ, again we will not receive the grace we need until belief (faith) is addressed.  Those of us who share in the shepherding role of Christ desperately need this grace to do effectively the task to which Christ calls us...we cannot be the good servant without virtue and without grace.

Whether we are the good servant or the bad servant...the virtuous shepherd who leads our flocks to God or the vice filled wolf who leads our flocks to destruction...the person of virtue or the person of up to us.  Today's Gospel tells us what lies in store for both.  To be the good servant is to cultivate the virtues, especially those that address the vices that concupiscence tempts us towards.  Behind every temptation and vice is the father of lies and the ultimate bad servant...the devil himself.  Let us be wary. Virtue or vice are built choice by choice.  Let us use the grace given us this day to be the good servant, the men and women of virtue we were created to be.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Embracing the Culture of Death and the Suicide of a Nation

There has never been a time in history where human life has been fully protected and respected.  Humanity has always seemed to be at odds with its own survival. Our history is tarnished with wars, genocides, slavery, repression, abortion, and other wanton disregard and hostility towards human life. Governments and societies have built their foundations on the blood and suffering of others.  This is human history.  What scares me is that the majority knew this was wrong.  Now the majority  embraces, participates, and turns a blind eye towards this unrelenting violence.  This country is on a precipice of its own destruction.

The particularly nasty strain of this culture of death in our country finds itself in a 'science' called eugenics.  Eugenics is a belief that the human race can be cleansed of its weaker elements by the widespread elimination of inferior elements of humanity.  It is elitist thought at its most deadly.  Within the USA, it has taken form of the acceptance of artificial birth control,  any and all sexual acts in which human reproduction is impossible, and abortion.  It has taken the form of a full assault on marriage and family life, again rendering such life as sterile.  It has taken the form of telling women that motherhood is beneath them and their dignity; that marriage and motherhood are chains of slavery that keep them from their full utilitarian possibility.  It has taken the form of teaching men to stay boys, to engage in sexual activity without responsibility, to objectify women as little more than a collection of body parts to please them, to see marriage and fatherhood as impediments to their fun and happiness. For so many, new human life is a virus to be eradicated.  The thinning of the herd is seen as a positive.

All of this centers on a narcissism run mad. For this death culture to accelerate, an out of control selfishness must take place.  Most assuredly, one must deaden one's soul to accommodate the death and destruction of others. I can't love my neighbor and seek his or her destruction at the same time.  To embrace the culture of death necessitates the dehumanizing of my neighbor.  If I can dehumanize the child in the womb, then killing it becomes possible.  If I can dehumanize the pretty face on the porn page, I can be okay with human trafficking, pornography, and promiscuity.  If I can dehumanize the person that isn't like me, then I can persecute them, commit horrific crimes and genocides against them, I can strip them of their rights, can ignore their dignity, and I can do whatever I wish to them without remorse.  I can see their deaths and suffering as mere entertainment, a renewal of the ancient Colosseum, where death and mayhem are there for my pleasure.  By the same token, human sexuality is reduced to a hobby, a sport, and a matter of pleasure alone.  

In no other fashion is this so crystallized as in abortion.  The acceptance of abortion  is a dehumanizing of a person based on chronology.  In the past we have dehumanized groups based on ethnic, racial, or religious grounds. Pogroms and genocides have been legion.  It was always against groups that had a voice and could fight back.  This time, we have the ultimate victim.  This person has voice or their own, no ability to fight back, nor any understanding of the reason for which they are being destroyed.  Their sin is conception, a action that they could not perform themselves. Their sin is not being wanted, as if their humanity was contingent upon another wanting their existence.   Their destruction is hidden behind euphemisms and semantics.  Their deaths necessary to preserve sex without responsibility or consequence.  Were this not vile enough, we harvest their body parts for medical and scientific tests.  Nowhere is the culture of death so finely distilled as it is in abortion.  That we see it as permissible to rip children apart in the womb, to inject them with poison, to suction out their brains is the stuff of bad horror films and war crime atrocities.  It is not the stuff of a civilized society.

One need not be religious to refute such barbarism.  Scientifically, what resides in the womb is human.  It has human DNA.  It is genetically human. It is not potential life, it is life.  Essentially it is the death penalty for the innocent.  Nowhere in American jurisprudence do we, as a matter of law, routinely inflict death on the innocent, save abortion. That we would support those who make their living at this is criminal.  That politicians would push this so as to get votes is criminal.  The death of 50+ million will hang against our country like a indictment for all of history to see. 

However for those who do say they are Catholic, to support the barbaric nature of abortion is opposed in its entirety to our catholic faith.  Nowhere is Catholic moral teaching is the death of the innocent considered a moral good.  No where in Catholic moral teaching is the dehumanizing of a subset of humanity seen as a moral good.  As we believe God is the author of life, we simply cannot wantonly destroy it because it isn't wanted.  This is to fly in the face of the Creator Himself.  Do we think we actually can stand in His presence and justify such a thing? 

Many will hide behind the canard that "I am personally opposed but..." It what other circumstance of life matters is this permissible? We hide behind terms like 'legal' to justify inaction.  God is not so easily fooled. Legal and moral are not synonyms.  "but, Lord, it was legal..." will not save one from judgement.

However, if we view the sexual act as essentially selfish in nature, the consequences of human sexuality will be seen through the same selfish lens. If we find it to fair game to dehumanize for any end, we will sink deeper and deeper into our own demise.  One cannot embrace God and be blithe about the death or suffering of another. To embrace the culture of death is to toss this civilization onto the dung heap of history. As family life and human sexuality continue to be diminished, it will result is our own death as a culture and nation.  That death will be at our own hands.

If we wish to turn this around, we will have to do more than merely protest.  We will have to do what was done...namely, change enough human hearts about the goodness of life, to see its inherent value, dignity, and integrity that is owed each human life.  Truth and charity must both be in play.  The clock is ticking. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Seeds of Catholic Masculinity: Camp Maccabee 2016

Lost in all of the drama of what happened in my parish over the last few weeks, was the summer camp for teen men that I run, Camp Maccabee.  We had two camps: the first was with 11 campers and 12 staff, the second with 17 campers and 15 staff.  I think that it might be a better insight to what we do in this camp by giving a per partum of the week.  This year we focused on the cardinal and theological virtues.

Sunday:  The campers and half the staff arrived at St Robert Bellarmine  Church in St. Robert.  The other half of the staff is at the location for the first night's activities, getting things set for the evening's events.  At St. Robert, the campers unpack, do a few icebreakers, are given a backpack complete with a Catholic Men's devotional Bible, Holy cards, rosary, notebook and pen for notes, and the book we were using (Boys to Men by Tim Gray and Curtis Martin) and repack for the overnight trip to the Farm.  The campers get to the farm and immediately have a homecooked meal (Lasagna made from scratch) and then are introduced to the Divine Office.  They pray Vespers as a group and then go down to the archery range for archery practice.

They then come up for what we affectionately call 'da rules' talk.  WE then ask them to remain in silence and prayer as we begin the opening ceremony.  One by one they are taken into the Sacred Heart garden  and given a camp t-shirt.  They change into the shirt and leave the shirt they were wearing in a trunk (to be washed and given back at the end of camp).  They head into the chapel for the 1st talk.  The first talk focuses on the concept of virtue and on the cardinal virtue of prudence.  I gave these talks.  During this talk , they were given a cord bracelet, knotted three times to represent the Evangelical Counsels of Obedience, Chastity, and Poverty and that has a St Benedict Medal attached.  They are told what the  various letters on the medal mean.  The talk is ended with Compline, then they are off to their tents.

Monday:  The campers awake and head to Morning Prayer and then Breakfast.  They then head  to the valley for the Warrior dash.  Every year we change up and add to the warrior dash.  Each of the obstacles are designed so as to make it difficult to do on one's own.  The guiding principles for the warrior dash are with navy Seal training; which means we make them act as a team and problem solve as a team.  This gives them the opportunity to concretely exercise the virtues we are talking about with them.  If a team fails to act as a team, we send them back to redo the obstacle.  The young men got it quickly and worked together.

After the warrior dash, they clean up on a rather lengthy slip and slide before lunch.  After lunch, they go back into the valley for the low ropes course.  Again, a premium is put on teamwork and problem solving.  Some of the course generates laughs, some generate frustration (especially the hula hoop exercise).  After they clean up, we have Mass in the chapel and then a dinner (hog roast this year).  After dinner the young men pray Vespers and have the second talk, this time given by a seminarian of our diocese, on the topic of the cardinal virtue of justice.  They are given some time for prayer and reflection/group time.  After this, they load up in the vans and head back to St Robert.  there it is time for showers and bed.

Tuesday:  The campers get up and head to church for morning prayer.  After this is a hearty breakfast.  They are told to pack up again, this time to head to a state park for a day of fly fishing and hiking.  By 11 AM the group is divided into two and one group heads to fly-fishing and the other hikes.  Lunch comes and the groups then do the event they didn't do earlier.  Some trout are caught.  The campers then head off to Mass.  After Mass is dinner.  in all this is built in time for doing whatever: talking, various yard games, and a kickball game.   After dinner the campers head up to pray Vespers,  hear the 3rd talk, this time given by a college student from Missouri S & T on the cardinal virtue of fortitude.  After this, they have some time for silence and small groups.  They pray Compline and head to the tents.

Wednesday: The campers are up and at it at 7.  First Morning Prayer, then breakfast, then packing up camp in short order so that we can be on the Current River by 10 AM for the float trip. By float trip, I mean 'dunking people' trip.  I am pleased to report it took 4 of the bigger guys to take this old man down.  After the float, we head back to St Robert for the rest of the camp.  They get back and clean up.  Mass starts soon.  The second week, we were honored to have Bishop Edward Rice of Springfield-Cape Girardeau to lead us in Mass. After Mass and dinner, the campers head to the church for the next talk, given by the permanent deacon of the parish, Rick Vise, on the cardinal virtue of temperance.  After time for prayer and small groups, we start up Eucharistic exposition and  Adoration  with confessors available for the campers and staff.  After Benediction, the kids head to gym for some free time.  Lights out at 11.

Thursday:  Campers are up a little later.  The scheduled varied between the weeks for events beyond our control.  The gist is this: Morning Prayer, Breakfast, Paintball, Talk 5 given one week by our transitional deacon, Paul Clark, one week and given by Fr. Joseph Minuth OP the second week. They open up the talks on the theological virtues and specifically on Faith.  The campers are given some down time and then it is off to Mass.  The second week we had the honor of our diocesan bishop, Bishop John Gaydos having the mass for us. (two bishops in one week!)  Dinner again (these guys eat like locusts by the way).  They are then off to church for Vespers.  After Vespers is Talk 6 on the theological virtue of Hope, given by FR David Veit, the assistant director.  After this is Stations of the Cross and Compline.  The guys then head back for what has become a staple of the camp: American Gladiator.  basically the gym is set up like an obstacle course and the campers (and eventually staff) have to negotiate the course without getting hit with a ball. They all have fun.  After this, they head to bed.

Friday: Campers get up and head to Mass in the Church.  They come back for breakfast and head right back to the Church for Morning Prayer and the final talk on the Cardinal Virtue of Love.  Week 1, Fr Geoff Brook gave the talk, week 2, I did.  After the final time for silence and small group, they head back for pack up and clean up.  We end with a closing ceremony in which we give them a necklace with the Miraculous Medal and St Michael Medal attached to it.  They are given their old shirts with a note that like the shirts, they are the same person as came to the camp, but like the shirts are not completely the same (we wash the shirts right away) because of what has happened.  WE point out that what happens after this is up to them.  With that we end the camp and head out for lunch!

Our goal is simple: teach them how to play, pray, and live as catholic men of virtue.  WE switch out the books every year.  But we want people to see what it is we are doing.No secrets here.  No, we want you to understand what we are doing for two reasons: First, if you have a teenage son, we would like you to consider sending him next year.  This year we had campers from Missouri and Oklahoma.  If you belong to the following dioceses: Jefferson City, Springfield Cape Girardeau, Tulsa, Little Rock, Oklahoma City, and St. Louis,  it is within several hours driving distance. St. Robert is right on I-44.  We have inquiries from Dallas.  The nearest airport would be Springfield Missouri.  We would have to work out logistics, but we would make it work.  If you do not have a son or grandson but would like to help us with this ministry as it grows, we ask to pray about donating to the camp.  We try to keep the out of pocket to the camper to $150 and offer scholarships if a camper cannot pay.  We believe that no young man who wants a deeper experience in his faith should be denied because of money.  Donations can be given through our website

The dates for next year are July 16-21 and July 23-28.  Applications for those going into High School (all four years) in academic year 2017-2018 will go online after Christmas. Questions about the camp can be emailed to me at  This camp is in compliance with Virtus/Protecting God's Children and is an entity within the Diocese of Jefferson City.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Necessity of Forgiveness

For years, I have been preaching from the pulpit that forgiveness is the ultimate act of self-preservation.  I have spoken at length for the need to forgive and seek forgiveness.  I have spoken at length on the demand that Jesus has that we forgive fully.  I have preached at length about the petition form the the Our Father, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."  Over the years, I have had to forgive horrible things done to me.  However, it wasn't until the events of last week that so much of this hit home.

For those following this blog, you know that my parish church was desecrated.  It turned out to be a recently registered parishioner who did the desecration.  The timing of the desecration seemed to be the worst possible time: I found out hours before the opening of second session of Camp Maccabee, a camp for young men I run during the end of July.  I was told by the bishop to stay at the camp and to not go home.  These are all pertinent details, because it set up the classroom in which I would personally learn in greater depth the nature and necessity of forgiveness.

Under the best of circumstances, the camp I run is a pressure cooker.  As director, the days are long and very busy.  As director, I am in charge of food, finance, schedule, and whatever discipline comes my way.  I joke that I just go into triage mode for two weeks.  Week one went splendidly.  We had added an extra day to the camp and new venues.  It was very hot and humid and one of the venues was caught off guard.  However, the staff and campers were great.  I was gearing up for the second session.  I was tired but ready to go for an even bigger group of campers and staff.  Then a phone call from the county sheriff from home which began "Father, how much bad news can you take at one time?" sent me into a tailspin.  I was to give 2 talks that night.  I was torn between leaving and staying; a decision ultimately made by the bishop.  Not being home did not make things go away.  So now I had a packed schedule and a crisis away from the camp.

For 48 hours I struggled.  I was angry.  I was very angry and could not show that anger lest the campers and staff think that anger was directed towards them.  I told the staff right away and the campers about 30 some hours later.   I was doing a poor job of suppressing the anger.  It was then it occurred to me just how much time and energy anger drains.  My parish and camp needed me to be clear headed; that wasn't happening as long as I harbored anger.  I could either give up the camp or the anger.  That was the choice.  I chose to give up the anger, but it wouldn't be so easy.  It rained  a lot, which meant tweaking the schedule over and over again.  The power to the walk-in cooler was switched off and we ended up losing a lot of food.  Thankfully the staff and campers were as good as gold.  On the parish front, real good leadership took the pressure off of me.  The diocese had been giving me good advice and guidance. These were important to recognize, because anger blinds us to the good.

Anger is a demanding lover.  It wants all your time and all your energy.  It feeds from them and grows as it is fed.  It is a cancer that blinds towards any solutions. I knew I had to quit feeding the anger.  Though I had made many posts exhorting my parishioners to forgive, I had not reached that place yet.  I wasn't mad at the woman who had desecrated the church.  I wasn't mad at God.  I had this anger looking for a home...wandering like demon in the desert.  I wanted it no longer.  I understood as I never had before just much anger holds us back and keeps us disconnected from reality. It took a change of focus for me.  It became a matter of where my focus was: on good or evil...on the blessings that were surrounding me or the bitterness that nipped at my heart.  I actively chose to focus on the good.  It didn't take much: all around me in the parish, diocese, and camp were acting admirably.  I could see not just God's blessings, but the way out as well.  With the focus changed, my heart healed and the focus could be about a restoration...not a desecration.

What is true for what happened to me is true for all.  We all have horrible things happen to us.  Sometimes we were the intended victim, sometimes we are collateral damage.  The quickness to healing is directly proportional to our willingness to heroically forgive.  Nowhere are we asked to condone the violence done to us, only to no longer hold it against the attacker.  As long as we hold it against the attacker, then the attacker has taken up residence in our heads rent free.  Worse yet, inflicting revenge for the attack only serves to keep the cycle of hurt and alive and growing.  Vengeance feeds the beast of anger.   Forgiveness slays this beast and frees us from the slavery of feeding him.  Forgiveness frees us to once again love.  Love is the ultimate defiance to evil.

We live in a world of rage.  Our politics in this country are little more than distilled rage.  We are told who to hate, who to show no mercy, who to blame for our own shortcomings in life.  Anger loves victimhood.  Anger feeds on the perpetually offended.  Anger gorges on the vengeful.  It dominates the lives of those who feed it.  We can not be free and slaves at the same time.  Forgiveness is indeed necessary to our freedom as followers of Jesus Christ.  Forgiveness is a natural byproduct of the theological virtue of love.  Hence, the multiple teachings of Christ on the necessity to forgive so as to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  If we want to move into the future as free men and women, we must forgive all who have harmed us and seek forgiveness for those we have harmed.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Darkness is Lifted

For those who read my prior blog post on my parish's long Good Friday, this is the follow up.  To those who haven't, I suggest reading it first.

This morning at 8 AM, a darkness lifted from my parish.  The darkness descended without warning a week ago today when our parish church was desecrated.  This morning, as our bishop, Bishop John Gaydos came to wield his apostolic authority to drive from our parish church the intense darkness, it was as if the sun was breaking over the horizon to let us know that the Light of Christ conquers the darkest sorrow the devil can inflict.  This morning was the bold proclamation that Christ conquers...Christ wins...Christ is victorious!

Bishop Gaydos did not flinch from calling what happened to us evil, nor did he flinch is reminding us that Christ conquers.  He powerfully reminded us to allow the theological virtue of hope to carry us beyond this moment and allow the new life breathed back into this parish to powerfully bear fruit.  As the various furnishings of the church, the statues, confessionals, books, ciborium, and altar were blest, it was as if someone were flipping on one light switch after another; until the darkness of the desecration was completely driven out from our church.  In the place of such a pervasive darkness, a powerful light now shown.

As we concluded the morning with a Eucharistic Procession around the exterior and interior of the Church as the people powerfully sung, "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent", ending with Benediction, it felt as if we had reclaimed completely what was snatched from us one week before.  Christ restored completely what Satan had taken from us.

As a pastor, we all wish that the lesson learned from such tragedies inform us of how to live the Catholic life.  We pray that where anger and wrath were infused, the healing balm of forgiveness and mercy may heal.  We pray that fear give way to hope.  We pray that we do not lose our identity as followers of Jesus Christ.  My parishioners have responded beyond any hopes that I would have expected.  Not one asked what we were going to do to the woman who visited this tragedy upon us.  Not one.  Instead I had multiple request as to how we might help her.  This is the way of Christ.  No vengeance.  No fear.  No overreaction.  Just mercy and forgiveness.  No one demanded we lock our church up, restricting its use as a sanctuary of prayer.  Not one.  No, we wanted our house of prayer back and accessible as it was before!

It was remarked by more than a few, that there was a palatable difference between the beginning and end of the ceremonies today.  Each remarked how without the Blessed Sacrament in the church, it felt empty.  With the Blessed Sacrament back in it again, it was like a life being breathed back into a lifeless corpse. That makes sense doesn't it?  If The Blessed Sacrament is what we say it is (more specifically what Jesus Himself says it is), then Christ has mounted His throne again at St Clement and we have great joy.

Today reminded my people and myself that Christ heals the brokenhearted. But as in all healings in the Gospels, the story doesn't end with the healing.  No, the rest of the story is finished out with what the person does after the healing.  It is here that the rest of the book is written.  How is it we will make good use of this healing to thrive as a parish who lives fully the Mission of Jesus Christ and His Church?  How do we allow the new life we were given to influence powerfully the parish and community around us?  Seeing as how my parishioners are powerfully gravitating towards mercy, I would say we look to respond well and powerfully to what lies next at St Clement Parish!      

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Long Good Friday

My Church sits dormant.  It is lifeless.  No sacraments can be celebrated in her right now.  Late Saturday night, she was desecrated.  Her confessional, baptismal font, holy water font, presider's chair, lectern, altar, and tabernacle were smeared with human feces.  The Holy Oils were emptied into the carpet.  Her books used for Mass destroyed.  Her vestments soiled with wine.  Worst of all, the Blessed Sacrament within the tabernacle desecrated with human feces.  My church sits silent.  The fecal matter has been washed away.  The vestments cleaned.  The books replaced.  Like a dead body cleaned for burial, she lies dormant.  The hearts of my parishioners and my own heart hang heavy.  The violation of our Church was a violation of our parish.  It was a violation of our faith.

When I found out about the violation of my parish, I was away.  We were 3 hours away from beginning the second session of the summer camp I run.  3 hours.  My mind raced.  It was too late for me to switch out responsibilities or to cancel. The attack was perfectly timed.  As I was tormented about where to be, the diocese made the decision for me and told me to stay where I was.  At that time I did not know that my church was not allowed to be the place of celebration of the sacraments until the evil that had occurred had been exorcised and made reparation for.  This takes a bishop.  In place of being there, there were flurries of phone calls with parish staff, with law enforcement, with diocesan personnel, and with the media.  It unfolded like a slow moving nightmare. It seemed for 48 hours like every phone call added more hellish details. 

In a conversation with my principal, we had both come independently to the same conclusion: Our parish is in a long Good Friday.  We mourn as did the Blessed Mother and the disciples.  We process the emotions that accompany this desecration. 

For me, the first 48 hours was all about anger.  It was a displaced anger.  I wasn't mad at the woman who had done the damage.  I saw the picture of a lost soul in need of mercy.  It is dangerous and perhaps even sinful to speculate to her motivation.  That is for the civil authorities to discern. I knew that if we as a parish was to stay true to our faith, that we must fight through the anger and tears and find mercy.  My public statements reflected this.  My internal struggles, though, were much more profound.  Why?

Like my parishioners, I felt deeply violated.  The confessional from which I have exercised my priestly ministry of the forgiveness of sins many thousands times over was desecrated.  The baptismal font from which I had baptized 100's over my 7 years as pastor had been desecrated.  The pulpit from which I had preached and instructed on the faith for so many cumulative hours had been desecrated.  The altar from which I had said thousands of masses, from which I had exercised my priestly ministry had been desecrated.  The church in which I had celebrated every major event in my parish; her funerals, weddings, 1st Communions, and ordination..the true parish center of my parish had been willfully desecrated.  The Blessed Sacrament, for which I have tirelessly made present by the grace of God, of whom I have preached for almost 2 decades had been desecrated.  I felt as if I had been gutted.  This violation had engendered deep anger at the situation.  That anger had no where to go.

That is always dangerous.  Displaced anger is a demon looking for a home.  It is our human nature to want to find someone and somewhere to make the focus of the anger.  I already knew that it couldn't be the woman or God.  I knew some in the parish were angry with me, with others, and with the woman.  All were harmful places to deposit the anger as it creates the strife and division that was the desired product of the demonic nature of this attack.  That's when it occurred to me about this being a Good Friday.  It was time for me to take my cues from the that 1st Good Friday.

What was the attitude of Christ from the Cross as His Body was being desecrated and tortured?  What was His attitude as His Blood was poured out and mingled with the earth into which it fell?  "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."  As I reflected on those words from the Cross of Christ, I knew that not only was this to be the attitude I was to have, but the attitude I would need to press upon my parish family.  In His proclamation from the Cross, Jesus does not condone the evil visited upon Him, rather He asked that the Father not hold those responsible for this against them...for no one would be able to withstand such a judgement. Our attitude as a parish would have to be the same.  Jesus did not allow the evil that was visited upon Him to change Him for the worse.  Neither could we.  This, though, is not going to be easy.  It will be necessary.

When I had the first conversation with my bishop, he very clearly told me to not allow this event to change me or my parish for the worse.  He said this in response to me suggesting that maybe we needed to start locking up the church building for the first time in its existence.  In the past several years, our parish had come along way.  We are just starting to embark on a 3-5 year plan in which the major focus is re-catechesis, helping parents and youth, and evangelization.  In so many ways, we had expunged so much of the devil and his natural charism of division out of our parish.  Saturday night he roared back with a vengeance.  But no more that Satan was able to defeat Jesus at Calvary, will he be able to defeat us unless we allow him.  Our God is more powerful than he.  If our parish had been found worthy to suffer violence for the name of Jesus, then so be it.  For we know, the story doesn't end in the tomb on Good Friday.  Nor does our story end on this long Good Friday either.

Not often does a parish know the hour of its resurrection.  We do.  8 AM on Saturday, our bishop will be with us and exorcise the evil visited upon our Church and to make reparation for that desecration.  We will reclaim what was defiled.  We will, by the grace of God, watch the Holy Spirit breath new life into the dormant and lifeless church building.  We will have Eucharistic Adoration afterwards, as must happen where the Blessed Sacrament has been defiled.  When the time comes at 11 AM, we will punctuate our taking back of our Church building with a Eucharistic Procession which will encircle the outside and inside of the building. After our long Good Friday, we will experience our Easter.

I end with this:  We also know that Easter wasn't the end of the story. The Church, filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, was to engage in the mission of Jesus Christ.  By the same token, we are not purging a building for the sake of of merely having a place to celebrate sacraments. These avenues of grace have a purpose: to give us the means necessary to get about the business of the Kingdom.  Archbishop Sample of Portland Oregon reminded his flock a few weeks ago that the Church exists for the salvation of souls.  Given our Church back this Saturday, perhaps we stand our ground to Satan and double down on our commitment to the mission of the Church.   We will be given that chance.  So many churches attacked as of late, especially in Iraq and Syria, will have to spend much more time in their own Good Fridays.  Let us honor them and honor the mission of Jesus Christ Himself, and use this tragedy to  give stronger and bolder witness to Jesus Christ and the power of His mercy and forgiveness!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Hate: the Fuel of Tyranny

I did a lot of reading over the last few weeks.  I noticed that the tyrants of the last 100 or so years have needed something to catapult their rise to power: hate.  The communists needed people to hate the wealthy, the middle class, land owners, ethnic minorities, and religion.  They fed the hatred of their target audience until critical mass was reached.  The death toll they mounted climbed into the tens of millions.  The National Socialists needed to incite hate towards Jews, communists, those that defeated Germany in WWI, Slavs, and a whole host of other non-Aryan types.   Their death toll also ran into the tens of millions between genocide and war.  There are other examples, as well,  where those who wanted absolute power incited, nurtured, and even manufactured hate as a way to gain power.

This comes straight from the devil himself.  Satan is the master of division.  He incites it wherever he goes.  To build his kingdom is a process of isolation, division, and conquering.   The devil, while supremely blinded by pride, is no fool.  As one, we cannot be conquered as that union is forged by God.  Divided against each other, though, we can be picked off like the weakest member of a herd until the herd is eventually destroyed.  What separates us from the herd is hate; a turning against the good of the other.  Evil needs us to see each other as the enemy.  As long as we are at each others throats, we are easily conquered.  Every power hungry tyrant know this.  The devil does.  So do his minions.

One of the reasons I fear the coming election is that it is following a pattern we have seen develop and severely deepen. The politics of destruction.  A scorched earth politic that requires pitting one groups of special interest groups against another.  Coalitions of groups are cobbled together to achieve power. They demand we see each other as groups and characterizations rather than human beings. That way we can strip the humanity away and then dispose of the isolated as we wish.  We have been cultivated to hate people based on race, gender, faith, culture, socioeconomic class, orientation, ethnic background, and even area of the country.  We are supposed to see each other as the enemy of my own interest; that you cannot exist with me because you are a threat.  Who shall we dehumanize today?  The unborn, blacks, whites, Muslims, Christians, Jews, the wealthy, the poor, Hispanics, the 1%, Democrats, Republicans, children, men, women?  Who gets to be on the outside looking in?  Who needs to be eliminated at worst and be silenced at best?  Whose liberties and freedoms are we go to strip away?  Who do we sue or legislate out of existence? Who do we make it legal to persecute?  Both political parties are going down very dark roads. 

It is ingrained into our society.  The unborn get dehumanized so we can feel secure with abortion on demand.  Women and children get dehumanized so we can feel okay with human trafficking.  Women and men  of all ages  get dehumanized so we can justify pornography, promiscuity, rape, molestation and a whole host of other sexual misconduct; so we can justify actual slave wages, slavery, and withholding the pay of workers.  We entertain ourselves with death and destruction: movies, tv,  and video games glorify i high death counts and sexualizing entire groups.  Our music, TV, movies, video games (doesn't matter what type, by the way) glory in the hypersexualization of human beings. One by one, sexual taboos fall like dominoes until we manage to justify any and all sexual activity no matter how stomach churning it might seem.  Is it any wonder is such a society drug and alcohol use are what they are?  Anything that makes the inherent pain that division and hate make possible go away for a moment.  All of this requires that I hold you is lesser esteem...that I do not care what happens to you as long as I am satisfied.  It reduces the others happiness as to how well they have pleased me.

The children of this hate are envy,  wrath, and entitlement.  If we see each other as the enemy by virtue of the fact you are not like me then it is permissible to resent anything you have that I don't. to inflict revenge upon you even though you have not done anything personal to me, and it permissible for me to demand that, to make things even, you give me what I want for free.  You owe me because you have a different skin color, belong to a different socioeconomic class, a different religious faith, or a different culture.  If you don't give me for free what I want then it is my right to forcibly take it or destroy what you have!  Ugly isn't it?  The ultimate goal of this hate?  Self-absolution of any and all sins and responsibility for my life choices!  So divided, all we need is a charismatic figure who promises to get what is yours utilizing the apparatus of the government.  Hello Vladimir Lenin!  Hello Adolf Hitler! Hello Mao Tse-tung!  Who shall be the next tyrant in the queue?

What is the antidote to all this hate?  Love.  When I use this word, love, I do not mean what this world means.  The world means an emotion that is stirred becasue you have done something for me.  In the Roman Catholic faith, love is a virtue.  It is a theological virtue furthermore.  What this means is that it is a discipline that needs God's help.  What the virtue of love does is the exact opposite of what the emotion of love does: it helps me see your needs (not wants) and respond in a way so as to look to your good.  This love does not approve of sin and the division it brings.  No, it does look to the good of the person who has committed sin; not seeing the other as an enemy to be isolated, but as human being with which to be united.  Jesus commanded  us to love one another as He loves us.  He then turns around and prays to the Father: May they be one!  This union is not possible without the theological virtue of love!

For this to work, though, there has to be an essential transformation in each person.  Life cannot be about me anymore.  I cannot see the other as not me and hence ripe for whatever I want to do to the person.  I cannot strip the humanity away from anyone regardless of how they are different than me.  I do not have to approve of their choices, but I must recognize that isolation and destruction are not options either.  Love is the bane of tyrants!  If they cannot divide and conquer, they have to do the harder task of telling us positively what they bring to the table.  Unfortunately in so much politics, there is nothing positive being brought.  We must quit rewarding such behavior.  We cannot remain selfish toads and expect any consequence other what we are getting.  We have seen for millennia the consequence of hate.  We know that it doesn't merely not work, but that it exacts a terrible price on whichever populace it enslaves.  Jesus doesn't command us to love because it is nice and sweet.  no, He commands it because it is the only thing that will keep us from self-destruction: as individuals, societies, nations, and as a planet.

Each of us has a choice: to which side shall I contribute?  To that which is able to call upon our better selves or to those who sow fear, hate, and isolation?   Whom we contribute to will either mold a nation fit for destruction or a nation that will unite and be strong.  In a federal republic, such as we live in the USA, we create a government in out own image?  Who is it we wish to be?