Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Iron Sharpens Iron: Rethinking how Catholics Approach Each Other and the World

A couple weeks back, my principal wanted to talk about a situation at the school.  In essence, our upper grades were taking trash talk to new and really harmful levels.  It had gotten to the point that suspensions were about to be handed out.  I am not talking about the thinned skinned snowflake like tolerance levels that need to be coddled, no, what was being said was just sinful and needed to stop. Certainly, trash talk and worse is a common staple in today's world.  I remember the 'yo mamma' jokes which were fairly cruel.  The trash talk always seemed to escalate.  Favored targets emerged.  It was a lot of time, energy, and mental creativity misused.  It so happened that someone posted the Into the Breech Video from the Diocese of Phoenix (excellent by the way) in which men were called to become the men God has created them to be.  In that video it quoted  Proverbs 27:17, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man does to another."  It stuck in my craw.  It dominated my prayer.  That's when it hit me.

Our school could have handed out punishments which may or may not solve the problem.  Being a realist, it would have driven the behavior underground.  Kids are going to be kids.  We decided a different tact.  We wanted them to take all the energy and time they spent on tearing each other down and redirect that energy and time to building each other up.  They have become keen on identifying each others weaknesses and faults.  We wanted them to use that energy and intelligence to identify each others strengths and gifts.  Furthermore, in the vein that iron does sharpen iron, we want them to not overlook sin, but to know how to call a person to something better than sin.

The school is a beginning.  I expect the same of myself and my parish.  Make no excuse for sin, make every effort to use the grace of God to build up and strengthen.  Think about it.  Wouldn't you want to belong to a parish where our identified goal is to bring out the best in each other and train people how to bring out the best in each other? Wouldn't you want to be part of a group that expected greatness from you and you could expect greatness from? Wouldn't you want a church that is an oasis in the unrelenting negativity, fault finding, gossip mongering, and character assassination that is today's modern culture, entertainment, and politics?  Wouldn't you want to belong to a parish where we understood beyond the shadow of a doubt that to follow and worship God means looking different than the world? Don't be mistaken, I am not talking utopia...I am talking Navy Seal training.  I am not saying quit engaging this world, but engage it in a radically different way.

Is this not the standard Jesus sets in the Gospel?  Does the unity that Jesus prays for on the night before His death, a unity sealed in His own Body and Blood, not come from the members of that Body strengthening each other?  Do we not receive the Body and Blood of Christ so as to become one?  Does unity come from tearing each other down?  Does it come from viewing each other as the enemy or competition? NO, it comes from us utilizing the grace of God to bolster the strengths and address the weaknesses.

We who claim to follow Christ are called to be as different from the secular world, a world quickly repaganizing,  as light is different from darkness.  We cannot be a light to the world if we look like the world.  Make no mistake, there is NO ROOM for sin, no room for gossip, no room for rivalries, no room for ignoring sin, no room for tearing down our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The devil delights in our rivalries and open warfare!  Every time some one makes a snarky remark about different Mass Rituals (legit ones), every time one sees fit to bypass the levels of fraternal correction given in Scripture and turninto a ecclesial TMZ, every time we openly ridicule instead of seeking to call out better...we have to ask ourselves how much different is our actions from a bunch of grade schoolers trash talking?  Do we imagine for a moment that Jesus will not call us to task for ripping apart what He set in His Body and Blood? Yes, there are abuses happening during Masses and they must be addressed.  That said, does calling for better out of the individuals accomplish that end or will ridiculing them?  Is our end to make ourselves feel superior at the cost of running others down?  Perhaps a Catholic should have a higher modus operendi than a thug!

I am excited to see how this goes.  I pray for a significant transformation in my school and parish.  Don't get me wrong, they are great places now, but as a pastor, I should always be aiming for better.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Why both Married Men and Celibate Priests are Important

The Roman Catholic Priesthood is in the news again.  That is usually not a good thing.  It seems the only time Catholic priests get in the news is when a priest sins, is killed, or when discussion about changing celibacy arise.  The secular world hates the priesthood.    Yes, there are many priests who give ample ammunition to these entities in their disparagement.   There is nothing new in this.  Clergy have been a great source of scandal from the very beginning.  The scandal comes from their unwillingness to live up to the witness that the priesthood is supposed to give: the witness of a man completely configured to the Kingdom of God... a man whose very life points beyond this world.

Essential Witnesses: the Married
 
Both the married life and priesthood give witness to the Kingdom of God.  They do so in distinct and necessary ways.  In marriage, the husband and wife model the union of the Trinity and the union of Christ with His Church.  They model the life creating love that flows from the Trinity.  They model in their families a microcosm of the Body of Christ, the Church.  The witness of a faith infused marriage and the union it represents is a witness is indispensable in this age of free love (which is nothing more than slavery to lust) and disposable and willfully sterile relationships.  The married man's vocation is first and foremost as husband and father.  While it takes tremendous self-control, self-discipline, and sacrifice, being a husband and father is not a job, but a calling...a vocation. A married man's first priority is always his wife and children.  When that first priority becomes a career, an entertainment, or anything other than his family, the marriage suffers for it.

Our culture thinks little of the married life.  It has so twisted the idea of marriage and family that the bond represents little more than an emotional entanglement that is to be enjoyed until it quits being enjoyable.  That a marriage would reflect the life giving bond of the Trinity is deemed impossible and  replaced with a bond racked with the poisons of artificial birth control, cohabitation, abortion,  same sex marriage and really anything that would render this life giving bond sterile and godless.  For the secular world, marriage is little more than a having a life buddy to do stuff with when one is free from the primary concerns of making money and self pleasure. The dignity of marriage should be so diluted as to not see its specific witness and calling.  To the contrary, when Catholics marry, it should point beyond just themselves.  This is why matrimony is a sacrament; such a witness is hard enough with the sacramental grace of God, much harder to impossible without it.

Essential Witnesses: the Celibate

As much as our culture hates the married life, it hates the priesthood more.  Why? It finds the idea of celibacy loathsome.   That a human being should possess the ability to have complete mastery over their sexual impulses stands in complete contradiction to the endless torrent of sexual licentiousness that makes up the overwhelming majority of modern entertainment and morality.  The truly celibate man is a radical witness to the Kingdom of God.  In Mark12:25 Jesus points out that in the Kingdom to come,  that men and women neither marry nor are given in marriage. This is not because there is something wrong with marriage, but the witness is no longer necessary when the absolute union in the Kingdom of Heaven is now the lived reality.  The celibate priest lives in such a way so as to point to this reality of the Kingdom of God.

The world sees no worth in this witness, in fact, it sees this witness as dangerous.  Why is it the media delights in the sexual sin of a priest that it really doesn't in any other group?  For the same reason that a priest giving in to sexual misconduct does such harm...it is a scandal that undermines the powerful witness.  The world wants to say that chastity and celibacy are impossible.  The world believes that man is just another animal who can be manipulated because they operate only on instinct.  A chaste and celibate person stands as a warrior that frightens the devil and his minions.

The Catholic priesthood is supposed to be a bold witness of self-sacrifice and holiness to a world in desperate need of such witness.  The Catholic priest is to give of himself to God and the portion of the flock assigned him every bit as totally as a husband and father is to give of himself to his wife and family.  The base of both husband and priest is the same; the same virtue, the same strength, the same selflessness and willingness to sacrifice are absolute necessities in both. If this is the case, why should a man not be able to do both?  This question is currently being bandied about.

My own worry about the mingling of these two goods is how does one man give himself completely to two vocations. Is his first priority his family (which marriage requires) or his parish (which priesthood requires).  Will not suffer to the good of the other?  Many will say that protestant, some Orthodox and Eastern Catholic clergy do.  My response is that what is expected of these clergy and what is expected of catholic priests are wildly different.  The danger becomes reducing a vocation to a job.  No more than a married man treats his wife and family as a job does a priest treat his duties to God and His people as a job.  Celibacy frees the priest to give himself completely to God and His people.  In I Corinthians 7, St Paul makes the case that a married man is concerned ( and should be) about his wife...  the celibate man or woman can give themselves over to the service of God completely.

Not Looking for the Easy Way Out

We are indeed in a vocation crisis and shortage.  In crisis, there is tendency to panic and look for fixes that lower the standards.  The idea of a simplex priest is such a panic move.  A simplex priest is ordained to provide sacraments.  That we would want greater access to the sacraments is a good thing.  Indeed in times when the Church is driven underground by persecution, such an answer might be needed.  But when the shortage comes as a result of rebellion against God's will, we are writing a prescription for going further down the rabbit hole.  Make no mistake, at the heart of the vocation crisis is a wholesale rebellion against the witness of celibacy.  When I fought against the idea of priesthood, it was because I wanted to get married...and not for the most noble of interest.  Marriage represented the idea of having a woman who I could legally and morally have sex with.  That I would have to control my sexuality for the rest of my life was far too difficult to endure.  I was falling for the lies of our culture.

Priests aren't just needed because we need people to give sacraments and run parishes.  Priests are needed, and I mean GOOD HOLY priests are needed because the witness that celibacy provides is needed so desperately in this world.  In a culture that truly is godless and believes that all there is is in the here and now, that a man would fly in the face of this and live in such a way as to point to the Kingdom of God and the union that awaits for us is bold and brave.  This witness is not unneeded and disposable.

Forging Forward in Witness
 
Each man is called to give witness.  The witness of marriage and priesthood are desperately needed...both of them, in their distinct ways.  This is not disparage priests who are married...not at all.  But when we change the standards , we change the outcome.  This can very dangerous.  Yes, allowing priests to marry, or trying simplex priests might provide temporary relief.  But at what cost?  We cannot see the witness of celibacy and its total self giving it shows die.  It needs to be greater, not lesser.  When man wants to compromise away a standard, it is never to our good.

The culture wants us to move away from this great witness which is probably why we need to move  more strongly to it.  Young men should know the heroic witness they can give if God calls them to priesthood.  While celibacy is one component of priesthood, it is the one under attack right now.  Let us pray that this witness of celibacy grow and grow powerfully.  Priesthood is not a job of manufacturing holy stuff, but  a call to offer oneself completely to the God and His people is the heart of priesthood...it is not a job or career...but a vocation.  Pray that our rebellion against this witness dies and we boldly advance to show the world something beyond itself.  For married men that is to model union and life giving love.  For the priest, it is to give completely to God and His people. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Catholic Man, the Catholic Priest as Priest

Every Catholic man is to have as a primary role model Jesus Christ.  Our lives are to be modeled on His strength, courage, self-sacrifice, wisdom, and love.   Do we men get that?  In a world where we model our lives after mere men, even good men we admire like our dads, their and our primary role model is to be Jesus Christ.

I would suppose that the desire to do this would be greatly affected by the image of Jesus we grew up with.   But not all the images are true, in fact, some are demonically false.  The dominant one presented in this culture is a image I call "Jesus the wuss."  This Jesus is one part care bear, one part guru, and about as emasculated as a man can get and still be a male of the species.  He seems to be a bit part actor in a Shakespearean tragedy; a nice guy who dies a tragic death in the overall play of life.    This Jesus makes suggestions for life, almost in an apologetic tone.  But, were we to actually study the Jesus of the New Testament, we get a different picture. 

The Truth of the Matter
 
The Jesus of the New Testament spoke a Gospel that was so dangerous and revolutionary that it upended everything.  His clarion call flew in face of the Roman Empire, the Sanhedrin, the religious authorities so much so that they wanted Him dead.  This was a man who spoke forcefully, pointedly, and firmly.  While He showed great kindness and mercy, He did not back away from a fight.  He didn't care what His image was or what people thought of Him, He came to preach a Gospel.  He sealed this Gospel willingly in His own Blood.  He went to Jerusalem knowing full well that not just death lay ahead, but an excruciating painful and violent death lay ahead. It is in those last days of His life on earth that He shows Himself to be the great and eternal High Priest.  All priesthood flows from His priesthood. 

From the Last Supper through the Crucifixion Jesus makes a new sacrifice and sets a new covenant.  He is the priest that offers up that sacrifice, he is the slain victim in that sacrifice, and in both He intercedes before the Father for us, the beneficiaries of this sacrifice.  Read that line again.  In this we have encapsulated the type of priests we Catholic men are called to be.  It is this steely eyed, full throated,  wise, and strong priest we are called to be.

I speak directly to married men and priests.  Each in our own way, by virtue of our baptism (and for priests, Holy Orders) are called to share in the priestly role of Jesus Christ.  With our anointing (s) with Sacred Chrism, we are are charged with a share in the priestly role of Jesus Christ.  Day in and and day out ,we are called to offer sacrifice for the good of those placed in our care.

The Sacrifice and the One Who Makes it
 
Married man, YOU are called to be the spiritual head of your home.  Your wife has duties as well, but you bear the responsibility before God for being the priest of the family.  You exhibit that priesthood by the sacrifice of your time and energy for the good of your family.  Their care and protection, their growing in God's  grace and Gospel is your responsibility.  Some of this you share with your wife, but you are the one called to be the priest who guides and sacrifices within your home.  However, you cannot be a priest on your own, independent of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, given through the Eucharist.  Your priesthood should lead you and your family into the Eucharistic celebration every Sunday!  If your priesthood does not, then you are misleading the portion of the flock entrusted by God to you!

My brother priests, in a even more powerful way, we make present that sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, through the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Mass.  We make the effects of that sacrifice also present through Confession and Anointing of the Sick.  On top of this, like dads and husbands, we too offer up ourselves...our energy, our time, our resources...as a sacrifice as well.  We add to this sacrifice, the sacrifice brought by celibacy, as a way of pointing toward the Kingdom of God.  We pastors are not businessmen selling holy stuff, but men who are to model for the men and boys of our parishes what being a priest of Jesus Christ means.  Our parishioners have a right and need to see in us the fullness of the life and teaching of Jesus Christ and His Church.

When we Catholic men neglect or belittle this sacred duty, it is not merely to the detriment of ourselves, but we poison or starve the flock assigned to us.  Can we imagine the Good Shepherd will take this neglect or abuse lightly?  Something about millstones and being thrown into the sea is coming to mind. 

The Intercessor

Brothers, we don't offer sacrifice for the sake of offering sacrifice; sacrifice has an end in mind.  Christ did offer His life on the Cross just for the sake of a violent death and good example.  No, He offers Himself for our good!  He offers Himself as the Prime intercessor before the Father.  Likewise, what we offer is not a going through the motions, or a lifeless and embittered action.  No, when we offer ourselves up, it is for the good of those who God has placed in our care.  Without intercession, we leave our flocks primed for the predators.  Our actions without God's help will always fall short.

The devil greatly appreciates a neglectful priest.  The devil loves a self-absorbed priest.  The devil great appreciates a husband who doesn't pray for his wife, a dad who doesn't pray for his children, a pastor who doesn't pray for his parish.  These men might believe that are being alert and diligent, but without asking for God's will and protection, they bring a knife to a spiritual thermonuclear war. If prayer is not a part of our lives (and my brother priests, that is not just limited to Divine Office and Mass), we lower our guard and both we and our flocks suffer.  The devil has done well in this society to convince men that religion and prayer are for the women and kids.  It is much easier to strike the shepherd and scatter the flock when the shepherd drops his guard.

Men, central to our core identity is that role of protector; we cannot do this without attaching our identity to the identity of Christ the Eternal High Priest. We can shy away like cowards from our role  before God to lead and intercede for our flocks.  We must lay aside the lies that make us believe that this role is not manly.  True manliness is not measured in muscles, money, and power.  True manliness is in resolve, courage, strength , and determination to follow in the steps of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This is no easy thing, as those foot prints are bloodied by the sacrifice that is necessary.

I believe deeply that the destruction of the family and the priestly vocation crisis is laid at our feet.  To many of us modeled our call as husbands, dads, and priests on a identity other than Jesus Christ.  The Good News is, though, that we can depart from such a false identity and convert to the truth.  Now is the time, men!  Now is the time to reconfigure our identities away from this world and towards Christ the High Priest!  For it is not the world that will judge us in the end...it will be Christ, the Eternal High Priest!  What kind of priest will He find in us?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Forging Forward in Hope: Lent 2017

Ah Lent!  For some a trial of spiritual masochism in which we make ourselves miserable for 40 days; a time of parting ourselves temporarily from worldly excess.  It becomes more a trip of spiritual Darwinism where only the most spiritually fit survive.  Hand us our  flagellum and let the beating commence!  If this is your view of Lent, I have only two words for you: STOP IT!!!! 

Lent is a time of purification in preparation for the Season of Easter.  It's 40 days, beginning Ash Wednesday, stretch like Jesus' 40 days in the desert or Israel's 40 days in the desert.  For Israel, their 40 years were a time a purification from their faithlessness and fear.  For Jesus, His 40 days were a time of preparation for His entering into His public ministry of the proclamation of the Gospel, with its climax in the crucifixion and resurrection.  Our 40 days are both, a time of purification and preparation.  The tools of Lent tell us much about the reason for the season.

Ashes, Ashes, We all Fall Down

The season begins with Ash Wednesday.  The ashes are made from the palms of the prior year's Palm Sunday.  The use of ashes remind of the old Latin phrase, "Sic transit gloria mundi."  Thus passes the glory of the world.  From 1409 to 1963 these words were used in the installation of a new pope, to remind Him all the glory he sees on display is temporary; his ministry is to point to the higher.  The ashes remind us that all we see, even our very bodies, will be ash one day.  What a woeful thing to connect our hopes to future ash!  Lent calls us to attach ourselves to the eternal.

The readings of the Mass remind us to 'rend our hearts, not our garments (Joel 2:13) and remind us of the tripod of Lent in the Gospel: fasting, praying, and alms-giving,  Each Lent begins with  a like theme to Advent: preparing the way of the Lord  in our hearts.  These actions have a purpose that are not meant to be hoops to jump through for 40 days, they are to set us on a path for victory.  What have fasting, abstinence, and alms-giving to do with victory?  What have they to do with preparation for Easter?  I am glad you asked?

Detachment 101

If we are to move from a fixation on the temporal and move to a gaze fixed on the eternal, then a change in direction will be required.  While we live, we are surrounded by temporal.  Everything we know can be sensed.  It is easy to get fixed on these things.  Furthermore, when we live in a society where the accrual of earthly goods is the primary goal, where the sating of our passions and appetites is dominant, we can be enslaved to the temporal order.  We become enslaved to ash.  Lent bids us to take a chisel and hammer to our chains.  This comes in the form of a focus on the cardinal virtue of temperance.

The idea of giving something up for Lent, also known as abstinence, is about flexing some temperance muscle.  Oftentimes we will give up something for Lent in order to temper our addiction to a worldly thing: candy, TV, social media, and so on.  Abstinence misunderstood becomes cyclical; namely that we go through the hard work of breaking our chains only to reforge them again once the Easter season arrives.  Somehow, "Alleluia, Christ is Risen" and "Woohoo, let's go back to my enslavement" are not terribly coherent.  In utilizing the virtue of  temperance, we seek to be free of needing what we gave up.  Truth be told, our lives will function just fine without what we gave up.  IN fact, if we are honest, our lives fare better.

Lent is supposed to further growth away from the temporal and towards the eternal, not be a yo yo between the two planes.    Fasting, furthers this theme of detachment, reminding ourselves that our appetites can be contained, our passions can be held in check, and we can do so with great joy and grace.  Mortification, a word long banished from the modern lexicon because why we would do something purposely to make ourselves miserable.  Mortifications are actions that point us to a greater good.  If we are in a bad place of enslavement, then mortifications will make us miserable for a bit.  Mortification, while not called by this word, is more common than you think.

Mortification can come on that hot humid summer day running drills at football practice.  It i done not to make the player miserable, but to teach essential skills if one wishes to be victorious. Mortification comes in the form of the training of soldiers, especially of special forces, in which their bodies and minds are pushed to their limits so as to achieve an excellence.  Mortification comes in the form of the student who studies instead of going out with friends, done to achieve an excellence in education and academics. Mortification comes in form a weigh lifters challenging himself, a dancer doing the same steps over and over and over again, or anyone else pursuing excellence in a field.  Surely, if we will do this for things that pass to as, all the more we should be doing it for the eternal!

Dropping the Mirror

The next leg in the tripod is alms-giving.  In redirecting our focus away from the enslavement to the things of this world, our eyes are opened to that which eternal.  The eternal is soaked in self-giving love.  Being freed of enslavement, we drop our mirrors and see the world as a place in which to love persons and not things.  Self-giving love is never a static thing.  It seeks to reach and give.  To this end, the Scriptures talk about alms-giving.  It means to give of our resources for the good of others.  With our vision being cleared, we find there is much out there in need of our intervention.  Not consumed by our wants, we clearly see another person's needs.

Alms-giving is the natural sibling of detachment.  In our changing direction and focus, we now look to the good of others as we believe God looks to our good.  Alms-giving shows a thankfulness to God and recognition of His goodness in our lives.  When we joyfully give to the needs of others, we show ourselves to be children of our Father.  Remember, God is never to be outdone in generosity!

Knowing our Source

 Let's be honest though.  This IS hard.  If detachment and alms giving, everyone would be doing it.  But many do not, because it is hard.  The third leg of the tripod is prayer.  It is a desire to grow closer to God through being more intentional in our prayer and spending added time in prayer.   All the good works in the world will not usher into heaven.  No, a relationship with God does and that relationship can not be ignored.

Be mindful, that while prayer is not merely flinging words at God, or sitting in a place where people happen to be praying, prayer is willful engagement of our will directed toward God.  Our prayer must be humble and honest...not to ourselves...but to God.  The prayer of a person seeking God's help to change to the positive would require a confession of failing to do so, an acknowledgment of the chains of habitual sin, and a desire to be free of these chains once and for all.

As Catholics, we are given this grace in the most concrete form through the sacraments, particularly in the two we can do many times over: Eucharist and Confession.Through the Scriptures, the sacraments, and the Church, God makes it clear He wants a place in our lives every day.  Hence studying the Scriptures, praying, engaging in the sacraments, and actively ridding ourselves of the chains of enslavement show God we want a daily place in His life.


The end goal of Lent, in its purification and preparation, is to forge forward in hope, setting a trajectory towards eternal life. The goal is 40 days of misery with a recapitulation to  the sin we were tempering; but to walk out of Lent and into Easter a free person purged of needless weight.  The prayer. alms-giving, and detachment are not temporary, but life long companions that draw us closer to God and into eternal life...the life of the Resurrection.  So, chin up, shoulder up, and march on and away from what you hope to leave behind on Ash Wednesday! 

The Catholic Man, The Catholic Priest as Prophet

Prophet.  The etymological root of the word 'prophet', comes from the Greek 'prophetes', which means 'spokesman'.  The prophet spoke not his own words, but the words of he who sent him.  In the Old Testament and with St John the Baptist, the prophets were spokesmen for God.  Through these prophets, God sent words of comfort and warning, words of destruction and rebirth.  Through the prophets, the Messiah was foretold and pointed towards.  They made known the word of God regardless of the risk.

When we baptized, we were given a share in the prophetic role of Jesus Christ and His Church through our anointing with Sacred Chrism.  If we were baptized as infants, the ephphatha prayer (Greek for 'Be opened') was said over us as our lips and ears were touched, praying that our ears would be open His word and our mouth loosed to proclaim His word.To be a prophet though requires two things:

1) To be a prophet means we must have a relationship with Christ.  We cannot be the spokesman for someone we do not know.  Men, for far too long, have seen a relationship with Jesus as something not manly.  We have bought into a secular lie that such things (which we dismissively call 'religion') are the thing of women and young children.  Nothing so stills the prophetic tongue as a man who buys this weasel bit of deceit.  How can we be the spiritual head of our home without owning the prophetic role?  How can we be prophets when our relationship is far less than what it should be with God?  For us as men, this means we pray, we engage in the cultivation of virtue by which we are loosened from the deceit of this world.

2) To be a prophet means we must have a relationship with Christ's Body, the Church.  As Catholics we are not free agents.  We belong to a Body of Christ much larger than ourselves and are given the role of a shepherd when we step into the role of our vocation.  To have a relationship with Christ's Body means that we seek knowledge of what that Body teaches and stands for.  Otherwise, our tongues are reduced to compromising and deceitful babble.   The true prophet must have a relationship with the truth.

Furthermore, a man who wishes to live up to the challenge of being a prophet must make regular use of the sacraments.  A man who stays away from the Eucharist will be a prophet starved of grace who will fall into deceit and become a false prophet.  A man who stays away from the sacrament of Confession will be a man whose humility is so crushed that lacking self reflection and its attendant honesty, he will not be able to distinguish between truth and deceit.  His prophetic message will become and amalgamation of worldly wisdom with a Catholic facade...a very thin facade.   The prophet who severs himself from the company of Christ and His Church still remains a prophet, only he now becomes a false prophet.

The signs that a man is falling short of his prophetic role as a catholic man:

A) He is vain.  The vain man, the man who is worried about the way he is perceived, will still the prophet's tongue quickly.  The man who worries about appearances will retreat quickly; he will be driven by the prevailing winds of society.  The vain man has his reputation as his god.  Any teaching of the faith that is unpopular he will restrain from saying as he is more worried about how is perceived and the consequences following.

B) He is afraid.  Vanity births fear. Those who have reputation as a god, have an insatiable god who demands much lest his gifts be quickly taken away.  The vain man will allow fear to still his tongue to unpopular truth.  I have heard many times how a cleric stayed away from preaching unpopular because he would see a drop in his collection.  The slightest prick of even the likelihood of persecution will deter him away from being a true prophet.

C) He delegates away his responsibility.   How many men have delegated away being spiritual head of their home to their wives?  How many are content with her being the primary teacher while they do their own thing?  How many clerics delegate away key components of the prophetic office to a myriad of others while taking the one moment they cannot readily forfeit, the homily, and filling with insignificant fluff?  Despite the fact that in many places the cleric has actually had graduate level training in theology, he can barely bring himself to step into any teaching role, has no knowledge of what his delegates are teaching, and is safely ensconced in his lair where he can be Fr. Nice.  It is a safe place that protects the reputation he wants.  How many men are quite satisfied with allowing their wives go to things such as classes, prayer, retreats and anything else that bolsters their role so that the wife and not her husband can be built up in their identity?  In delegating away his responsibility, the Catholic man and priest shows he is ruled by fear.

Brothers, we cannot let these things rule us.  Our society grows darker and darker as we sit silent. The truth is, we are either pursuing darkness or light.  The devil owns the fence on which so many of us sit. A true man doesn't take the attitude of let the truth be damned, but takes the attitude of let the darkness be damned!  He stands like a warrior and professes the light.  His tongue is not silenced by the deceit of our secular world.  His manliness is not contingent upon his reputation.  His identity is not determined by worldly wisdom.

You can be very sure that speaking the truth will bring persecution.  It will be unpopular.  It always has been.  Every prophet knows that his words will comfort some and infuriate others, depending of what god they serve.  But the true Catholic man and Catholic priest is no coward.  He does what is necessary to be the prophet God has created and baptized him to be. He bears willingly, as did Jesus his own cross, what will come with being a prophet to the truth.  He is the St Thomas More,  the St Maximilian Kolbe,  the St John Paul II, the Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the man who stands up to the mightiest of tyrants and even into the face of the King of Tyrants, the devil himself, with an stern jaw, a steely look,  and a  determined stance and says, "You have no power to bring me to cower in fear, I will proclaim the truth!"

Brothers, let us take on the mantle of the prophet we were baptized into so that in our homes and churches we model for the young men and boys  placed in our care how to be the fearless and faithful prophet we are called to be!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Catholic Man, the Catholic Priest as Provider

In past columns, I have written about the role of the Catholic man and the Catholic priest as warrior and healer.  Certainly, the role of the shepherd includes these things.  The shepherd must defend his flock and must heal his flock when damage has happened.  However, the vast majority of the time of a shepherd is in feeding his flock.  He also trains his flock so they don't wander away and into danger. 

Many men used to see the role of provider as the strongest role.  However, it was narrow definition: they earned the money to buy what was needed for the care of their family. This is important to be sure.  But being a provider is much larger.  Why?  Because the needs of his flock are much greater than merely taking care of their physical beings.  Because our flock are also spiritual and intellectual beings, there are things that we do to provide to address.

The husband is called by the Scriptures to be the spiritual head of the home.  This has fallen in so very many ways in western Christianity.  When the father abandons the faith, it has a profound effect on the faith of their flock.  In 1994, the Swiss government commissioned a stud that was published in 2000.  the study was on the effect of the faith of parents on the faith of their children.  The largest factor was the faith or lack thereof the father.  If the dad is disengaged from faith or random about faith, they likelihood of the child adhering to the faith plummeted to 2-3%.  When the dad model faithlessness, the children will normally and overwhelmingly follow suit.  How can we believe that the God who gave these children to our care will take kindly to our isolating our children from Him?

Husbands have a primary job before God to lead their wife and children to God.  He has his wife leading him closer to God.  A man can provide every earthly benefit to his child but lead both him and his children to eternal damnation if he neglects teaching his children to enter into and hold onto a relationship with Christ and His Church. So many men will abandon this role to their wife who already has a role in the spiritual development of her children.  Some do this because they are indifferent to faith.  Some do it because they feel inadequate.  Most do because being a spiritual head of home was not modeled for them.  They don't know how to do it. Their dads didn't teach them how and neither did their priests.

A priest is called 'father'.  That is not a title of respect.  No, it is a constant reminder of his duty.  I would imagine every time a dad hears his child call him 'dad', he is reminded of the duty he owes this child.  A bad dad only worries about what the child owes him  A bad priest only worries about what he is owed.  Every time I hear 'father', I don't hear a clerical version of being called mister, no I hear the voice of someone who is looking to me to provide.  It is the term of a relationship. 

When we priests run our parishes as businesses, fraternal orders, social work agencies, or country clubs, we poison the role we are to fill.  When we cease to see our parishioners as our family, fellow members of the Body of Christ and see them as customers, we radically denigrate the spiritual heritage we are given.  Being a dad is not a 9-5 job.  The children will have needs 24/7.  Our flock, our parishioners, have needs 24/7.  We priests are supposed to model what it means to be a spiritual head of the home.  I believe the more we center our identity on the this, the greater we see vocations rise.  We must stop delegating our duties to series of nannies and walk away for our own self fulfillment.  The spiritual head of him is called to be poured out like a libation, not walled up behind a dam whose spillways are occasionally opened and only the excess is let loose.

Both dads/husbands and priests must understand that being the provider is a matter of throwing money at bills and programs and letting someone else do the interpersonal stuff.   Well kept buildings are worthless when they stand empty.  Providing the care and leadership is more hands on and done a personal cost.  The greatest thing we provide is example.  We are called by virtue of our baptism to build up the Body of Christ; that is done by the active engagement in the lives of those placed in our care.  That is done by consciously and selflessly providing for those in our care. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Catholic Man, the Catholic Priest as Physician

The Scriptures are littered with miracles.  From the cure of paralytics, the blind, deaf, and even dead, Jesus is a divine physician.  In many of these stories a direct correlation is made between the physical healing and the forgiveness of sins.  In previous columns I have written about how the Catholic man and the catholic priest are called to be warriors.  Some of their duties also are in the realm of Jesus the healer.  We true Catholic men must be agents of healing.

To this end we are given the tools of wisdom, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness.  It is a divine art to apply these as needed.  Wisdom teaches us the difference between condoning behavior and forgiving.  Wisdom teaches us the difference between mercy and enabling destructive behavior.  Compassion teaches us how to apply the remedy.  As in medicine, sometimes one must be super gentle with a horrific wound, sometimes one must be a bit more forceful in setting a broken bone back into place, sometimes one must perform surgery to get at the wound, and sometimes one must be more forceful as in physical therapy.  The goal is always to heal, not to do further damage. Mercy teaches us to look with caution upon what needs be helped.  Forgiveness is the salve, the bandaging, the cast that helps the person to move forward.

As a physician, we must be truthful.  A poor physician withholds the truth in fear of a negative reaction.  The abusive physician neglects the ills of others or inflicts such fear as to make him unapproachable.  We Catholic men should be so attentive to the flock placed in our care that we notice the new limp or the sickly look.  Our compassion should look to address these things immediately.  Our compassion should draw those in need to us. This requires a great deal of selflessness and willingness to sacrifice and inconvenience  ourselves for the sake of our charges.  Inasmuch as we suffer the slings and arrows of or wicked enemy, the devil, so do those in our charge.  We don't leave the flock for dead.   In fact, we are told when we allow a person to stay in sin without at least calling them back, their death partially becomes our responsibility.  A courageous man doesn't shrug his shoulder and pass on by.  A catholic man doesn't abandon his role as physician.  The Catholic man must be wisely liberal with mercy and bind the wounds, even self inflicted, of his flock.

To my brother priests:  Nothing so scatters the flock like a neglectful or abusive priest.  Our flocks should find agents of God's rich mercy in each of us.  We, too, need to drink deeply of the the well of mercy.  A priest, or any man, who deludes himself into ignoring or facilitating his own sins will scarcely attend to the healing of other people's sin.  The priest that is keenly aware of his need for God's healing mercy will make that same mercy abundantly available to his flock.  So many times I have seen my brother clerics beat down someone who wishes to right their ship because they haven't got it righted just yet.  I have seen them turn them away because 'no' is easier than pulling people out of the wreckage.  Can we believe for a second we will be spared for such negligence and dereliction of duty?

I have seen brother priests who are extravagant with the times they afford for confession and are attentive to their dying and ill.  I have also seen some that treat confession as an undo burden and have a flock that dang well better have the decency to die during business hours or they are out of luck.  I pray for the mercy of God for those who die in a state of mortal sin because a priest would not make himself available in time of crisis.  Sometimes sharing in the role of the divine physician means you have the duty of the emergency room physician.  A physician on call doesn't say to the person rolled in with traumatic wounds, "Aw man, sorry, it's my lunch time...try not to bleed to death before I get back."

Whether it is the Catholic husband and father or the Catholic priest, we are given a part of a flock that is not ours first, the flock (our family or parish) belongs to God first.  We will be held responsible for what happens to our flock.  My brother priest, we fool ourselves if we think offering confessions once a week on a Saturday afternoon doesn't send a message that we don't think confession is all that important.  Some of the deepest hurt I have seen is from a family whose loved one was neglected in the last moments by a slothful priest.  To us, by virtue of our priestly ordination, has been given that singular grace of Orders by which to become agents of God's eternal forgiveness.  As men ourselves, we must model mercy to the men of our parish, not in mere fancy words, but in deeds as well.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Catholic Man, the Catholic Priest as Warrior

I will confess to being a bit of a history nerd.  So much of history is determined by battles.  Thermopylae, Marathon, Actium, Tours, Agincourt, Lepanto, Yorktown, Gettysburg, Midway, D-Day all leave permanent marks on history.  They change the course of history.  They give rise to heroes.  From Leonidas to Nimitz, the steel of men's hearts are tested.  Some die as did Leonidas at Thermopylae, some conquer as Nelson did at Trafalgar.  The conquering of territory and the rise and fall of empires hinge of such moments.  The difference of the trajectory of history lies in the balance.

History is a reflection of something far greater than this mere mortal world.  Nations have raged against each other for millennia.  The kingdoms they represent each fall into the annals of history.  We can get lost and even trapped in this world and forget that something so much greater is at stake.  The physical reflects the eternal.

I am not sure why, but the Church in the last several decades has let her guard down.  Some will cite Vatican II, but nowhere in Vatican II is such a thing called for.  Certainly the popes of this era have not called for the Church to lower her guard.  Yet if we look at the Church in the West in particular we are getting mowed down.  Our influence in our societies wanes to near non-existence.  Our churches and seminaries empty. What happened?  Some want to blame the popes, but no general, regardless of their personal greatness, can fight a war on his own.  If his officers and soldiers grow lax, there is little he can do.

Did we grow lax?  You bet we have!  The diseases that led to our laxity and indifference are centuries old, taking over like a slowly metastasizing cancer, cell by cell, man by man, dad by dad, husband by husband, priest by priest.  So ridiculous has the heights of this cancer grown that we seem ineffective against the most inane of claims of sexual perversion and social re-engineering.  We come across as emasculated, impotent, and  weak.  However, truth be told, within the heart of each of us men lies a Leonidas raging to be unleashed.

To all men, in the west we have accepted the lie that our lot is to be passive, quiet, and selfish.  We have been consigned to mom and dad's basement with our video games, pot, and porn to numb the pain of our own inadequacy.  We have bought the lie that nobility is found in the emasculation of being nice.  We who move more freely still move with constraints, afraid of the army of withering snowflakes and totalitarian politically correct brown shirts might somehow take offense at our words and actions and screech like a banshee on speed.  We see the Nurse Ratched ready to give us another numbing dose of alcohol, porn, narcotics, or any other agent that will shut us down.

This is beneath our dignity and it is high time for us to shake off these shackles and roar back.  But how?  How do we roar back?

1) Drop the numbing agents.  A discontent man will find a plethora of compensation habits to make up for the emasculation they feel.   Some indulge in a virtual world of video games and porn.  Some numb the aching through narcotics and alcohol.  Some throw themselves into the pursuit of promiscuity and masturbation.  Some find food as their numbing agent.  We must fight back.  We must fight our vices and rise above them.  In Roman Catholicism, we talk about mortifications, fasting, and abstinence.   Many do not even begin and many fall off right away because reining in our physiological pacifiers is hard...the longer we have engaged in them, the harder it is.

However, God does not bid His sons to engage is futile battles.  The answer is twofold.  First, we utilize these weapons of fasting, abstinence, and mortifications because it appeals to the men we are.  They help us conquer and not be conquered!  But these on their own will not be enough.  We will not conquer without the grace of God.

2) Remember whose son you are! When we catholic men were baptized, we became by the grace of God an adopted son of God.  Numbing agents rob us of our heritage.  They lead us to be prodigal with our heritage, wasting it through the cheap thrills of sin.  We need to stick close to our Father.  Make no mistake:  You will NOT be a strong son if you cut yourself from the sacramental life of the Church.  You need to immerse yourself in prayer and the sacraments just as a warrior would immerse into the regimen necessary to be a great warrior.  The foolish soldier blows off their commanders, they leave themselves isolated and fit for destruction.  Remember whose son you are and stick by His side.

3) Remember whose brother you are!  Nothing turns a battle like the soldiers breaking ranks.  I run a summer camp for high school men.  In it, we utilize navy seal training.  Why?  Because in Navy seal training, the interest isn't in personal glory but in the strength of the unit.  They stand tall with each other, they have each others backs. I will be blunt, Catholic men suck at  brotherhood that doesn't involve a beer.  It is as if we need to impress each other in a worldly approved fashion.  Talk about letting the enemy break through the lines!  Your brothers in Christ need you to bring out the best in each other, to challenge each other, to help in the training of each other.  We should be exalting each other to stay close to our Father.  We cannot be afraid of leadership and mentoring, we cannot abandon the spiritual leadership to our wives because we bought the lie that faith equals weakness.

Our enemy is far more fierce that the Ottoman fleet, the Nazis, or any other enemy we have ever seen.  Our enemy takes no quarter.  Our enemy is a scorched earth, kill them all, no mercy kind of enemy.  Our enemy is the devil and his minions who delight in our spiritual death and our eternal damnation.  They will spur us with one emasculating lie after another.  They are not content with our own destruction...no they want the destruction of your wives, your children, your grandchildren, your parish, and your friends!   If we wander from the sacraments and prayer, if we allow ourselves to be numbed, then we allow the lines to crumble and  this insatiable enemy to have access to all we love.  The devil revels in our dismissing him a mythical boogieman.  He enjoys our refined and oh so modern beliefs that dismiss him...we won't fight what we don't believe is there.  Make no mistake, our lack of belief will offer no defense to Satan's forward march.

We have ceded so much territory and are watching the effects of this destruction in our society, our families,and our churches. Now is the time for this to be turned, when we men must wake up, man up, and get about the business of taking back conquered territory.  This isn't about waiting for some new politician to come along, or some new guru.  NO...this is about recognizing that we already have an unbeatable general in Christ.  We already have the the armaments we need in the truth and in the grace of God.  We do not have to lose!  Even for those of us who might get taken out of the battle like a Maximilian Kolbe of Miguel Pro, we still win.  The Lord honors those who lose their life for His sake with life eternal.

Finally, to my brother priests.  Our laymen look to us to model this reality.  Do they see it?  Do they see in us warriors or liturgical zombies?  Do we make ready access to the grace of God through the sacraments for our men?  Do we spur them to manliness or are we Nurse Ratched doling out insipid niceness instead of boldness and manliness?  We who share in the shepherding role, be it as pastors or married men, are the officer's corps.  We will be held responsible for the authority given us. 

We need to understand the enemy and arm our charges and train them to engage and win.  My brother priests, we also must embrace mortifications, fasting, and abstinence for the good of our flock.  The execution of sacraments should be more than job we do, but a life giving moment to charge our flock.  We must be men of prayer who stay close to our father, who do not spurn our relationship with each other, with our bishops, with our Blessed Mother, and with our flock.  When the men and boys of our flocks see us, they have a right to see what being a man of God looks like in all of its array of armor and weaponry.  We cannot inspire to numbness but to greatness.  We need to remember we stand as the vanguard against the politically correct hordes and the screeching of the hellish demonic forces.  God has given us a special grace at our ordinations which we are duty bound to uphold and live.

These battles play out every day and who wins these battles is determined on who stands up.  We know God wins the war, now let us act as if we are on the winning side!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Time to Man up! What we need in our priests present and future.



Almost 20 years ago I was ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church.  This decision was not easy and challenged every fiber of my being.  I remember the weeks before I was ordained as a deacon, when I would have to officially commit to a life of celibacy, asking myself that if I knew for certain that the Pope (John Paul II) would make celibacy optional for everyone ordained the week after I was ordained, would I still make the commitment.  I figured if I could not say yes then I had no business going forward. It was an acknowledgement that I was doing more than signing up for a career; I was signing up for a way of life.

I belong to the Gen-X generation.  I would suppose the same thing that motivates those who parent in my generation, motivate me.  I want to get my hands dirty in the lives of my flock.  I am not comfortable with leaving essential parts of the shepherding to others.  It is why I have taught classes for all 20 years of my priesthood.  It is why I take homilies so seriously.  It is why I try to get out to see my sick, my home bound, and those in hospitals.  It is why I am not comfortable with merely talking about what needs to be done, but getting about the business of what needs to be done.  It is why the kerygma of the Church is so important to me. There are things that help this and there are things that hurt this.

Certainly my own pride gets in the way.  Satan knows this and hammers on what frustrates me.  Heaven knows there is a whole lot there.  Wisdom, I suppose, is knowing when to speak and challenge and when to salve a wound.  I will admit there are things that frustrate me greatly and to these I wish to issue challenges.

First, as a priest, my job is to shepherd and intercede.  I did not commit to celibacy and simplicity to be a entertainer/social worker. My task at Mass isn't to be Barney in liturgically appropriate colored vestments.  My task is to be one part prophet and one part priest.  My task is to speak honestly and give a compelling reason for the listener to surrender their lives to Christ; to model their lives on Christ.  I can't preach that if I am not doing that. My job is to call them to holiness, not to mere goodness or vapid niceness.  My job is to stir up disciples fiery with the Holy Spirit, not numbed from banality.  My task is to intercede for them.  When we come to Mass, I am not coming to meet you, you are not coming to meet me, you are not coming to meet others...no.. we are coming to meet God! We are coming to give thanks.  We are coming to be nourished with the Body and Blood of Christ!  My job is to focus there.  The prophets in the Old Testament who tickled the people's ears were false prophets.  True prophets challenged and made known the love of God.

Second, as a man, my job is to model manhood.  I am sick unto death of the banal and juvenile definition of masculinity the world provides.  Ohhh, you can drink beer, throw a ball, and manipulate the ladies...color me unimpressed.  I would hope actual manhood would resemble something a little higher functioning than what my dogs are capable of.  For those who follow a juvenile definition of manhood, the defense mechanism is to proclaim that religion is for the weak  and simple.  Really?  Controlling one's passions is easier than giving way to them?  Putting others first is easier that being selfish?  Recognizing the challenge of truth is easier than catering to one's most base instincts?  The real issue is that Catholicism preached and taught correctly is in your face; it is the drill sergeant pressing you to be better, it is the teacher who expects more of you, it is the doctor who wants you to get off the couch, drop the game console, and get moving before you waste away.  Catholicism isn't the weasel who pelts you with the tyranny of low expectations.

Catholicism presses us to be better human beings, better sons and daughters of God.  It demands we get up, enter into a relationship with God, and look radically different than the world.  I know that doesn't get preached from every pulpit...and shame on those clerics who substitute real food with strychnine laced cotton candy!  Shame on those who emasculate Christ and Catholicism to make it more palatable to those searching for the low road! Shame on those who degenerate the Eucharist, turning it into a milksop play or theatrical Hallmark card!  We priests cannot believe for a second we can poison the flock, lose large parts of the flock, and still stand  well with God.  I don't imagine things will go well when we stand before God and say 'Oops.'   

When I got ordained, it wasn't to renounce my masculinity.  In fact, it was to be more profound about it.  I am a Catholic man and a catholic priest.  I am not a finished product.  I know I need to grow, to challenge myself on all fronts of my life.  I know to be the man and priest my flock needs to me to be, that I must man up on all levels every day.  My hero and role model as I was formed was St John Paul II.  He was scared of nothing.  He was John Wayne in a white robe.  He showed me that being a priest of God meant you better be a man too.  This was  a man who defied the Nazis and then the Soviet Empire.  This was  man who stood up to theological usurpers and charlatans.  This was  a man who looked at those who wished him ill and did not back down.  He was like Christ.  Christ flew in the face of earthly and demonic power...he was deemed so dangerous that most wanted Him dead and wanted what He started dead.  That internal constitution of bravery and wisdom is the watermark right there for any male of the species who claims to be a Catholic man. 

We struggle nowadays with vocations to the priesthood.  Surprise, surprise, surprise!  What young man wants to be a entertainer/ social worker who has to stay single and never will get rich?  Why be bold and stand up when they see milquetoast in their clerical leaders?  I, personally, want to appeal to that strongest and boldest heart that stirs within the bodies and souls of men. Our weasel quota is filled!  We need bold warriors who will be priests and men of God.

In the Scriptures, we are told 365 times, "Do not be afraid."  Not once are we told, "Play it safe."   I am not interested in a safe church or a tidy nice gospel.  I am not interested in compromise with the worldly or lukewarm.  I am interested in calling people out of such lukewarmness and timidity.  I want this because this is what the Church wants...it is what Christ wants! We are at war with worldly and demonic forces and be better well suit up for battle.  Men, that means we best be men in the most noble and strongest way.  My brother priests, we better well know the tools and weapons we are given and the courage we need to muster ourselves to engage the enemy and protect our flocks. Being a priest has NEVER been for the faint of heart.  Encourage timidity and you will at best get timidity.  Encourage  lukewarmness and at best you'll get lukewarmness.  Encourage holiness and greatness and at best holiness and greatness is what you will get.  No more hand wringing.  No more weasel excuses. No more lukewarmness.  It is time to suit up and get about the business of the Kingdom of God!  It is time for all Catholic men to man up and to train the next generation of men to man up!  It is time for us priests to model boldly and courageously what it mean a man of God!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Looking for Heroes

What is a hero?  Is it someone who possesses super human qualities?  Is it someone who can do something better than anyone else?  Certainly the world of Marvel Comics and their ilk paint through their comics and graphic novels a universe of heroes.  Most of them, though, are tortured souls whose stories lines get darker and darker as time moves on.  Growing up, many young boys and girls made heroes of sports stars and actors or other entertainers.  I remember in 8th grade, we were asked by the teacher to put on the board who our hero was.  The boys put up the latest baseball or football star, the girls had an array of actresses and models.  I stood there with my mind blank.  I know I wanted to put down my grandfather, but everyone was putting down famous people.  I think it was then and there that I understood what a hero really was: someone who made me want to be a better person.

I never got into the Superman and other super heroes.  They were noble but unrealistic.  I never got into making heroes out of athletes or entertainers.  I enjoyed their talent, but there was nothing there that drew me to model my life after.  Now, there were people I knew: teachers, priests, relatives, and others I knew that inspired me.  The ones that inspired me were strong yet kind, they were courageous but low keyed, they had a sense of humor and a winning smile.  My heroes made me want to be smarter, stronger, and a generally better person.  The trouble was that most of my heroes had darker sides that I started to understand as I got older.  I started to see their flaws.  Some, including some of the priests I had admired, indulged in illegal behavior.  As upset as I got at some, I couldn't dismiss that despite their flaws, they inspired me to good things, and via negativa, showed me the trap falls to avoid.  Those lessons were equally powerful.

Maybe it is the realization as you get older that not everyone is as they seem.  Maybe it is because our society just seems to get darker and darker.  It seems now we delight in knocking heroes down.  I notice in some of what I see in various venues that the superhero is so often a dark figure, even a deeply flawed figure.  The scandals of athletes and entertainers seem a daily occurrence.  Professions I grew up respecting (clergy, law enforcement, teachers) are now popularly defined by the fallen minorities of the profession.  Where are the heroes?  Where are the ones who propel us to want to be better people?

Truth is, they are all around us.  They don't wear capes and leotards as a costume.  They do have flaws, but the way they overcome their flaws are perhaps their greatest super power.  I find heroes in the stories of the saints who overcame great personal sin, who refused to let the devil conquer them, and rose to great feats of courage and wisdom.  These men and women found the ultimate hero, a hero without flaw, in God.  I found my heroes in those who were prophetic, who risk being unpopular and mocked, so as to call us back from the brink.  I found these heroes in everyday life, in the form of every person who actively tries to lift up the voiceless, who embrace sacrifice and suffering for those whom they love.  I find my heroes in the quiet daily acts of mercy they do, in the selflessness they adhere to, in the life of prayer they live.

These heroes make me want to be a better person.  They make me want to be a better priest.  They help me move beyond defining myself by my worst traits, not by ignoring them, but by conquering them.  They make me want to a better man.  They are all around us, going about their lives.  We need to learn how to see them, even to see them beyond their failings.

Finally, we need to be heroes.  Cosplay doesn't make this happen.  Playing a video game doesn't either.  To be hero means we find the grace to conquer our faults, the grace to stand tall and to stand our ground, that we raise our voice when needed, and that we cultivate a selflessness in who we are and model that for those placed in our care.

My advice is simple:  Looking for hero?  Start be being a hero!   

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Homliy For Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

In the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah has been sent by God to the people of Judah to remind them of the call they were to have  as a nation. They were not given a land and heritage for their own sake, but they were to a be a light to the nations; a way that the nations would see the glory of God and be drawn to the glory of God.  However, that light was dimming quickly.  It wasn't because the people of Judah had abandoned the Temple.  The prayers and sacrifices were still going on.  However, these same people would then go into the valley of Hinnom and make prayers and sacrifices to the idols and gods of other nations. Furthermore, they were taking on the morals of the other nations as well.  The law of Moses, part of the covenant God made with Israel, demanded they take care of their needy and poor.  However, the people had grown negligent and abusive to to those in need.  God tells them to be just, to attend to those in need, to remove the corruption they had embraced, and so live up the call of being a light to the nations.

In the Gospel, we see the same call.  Notice Jesus says " You are the salt of the earth," and "you are the light of the world."  Not 'you should be' or 'you will' or 'it would be nice if'...but you are.  As the people of Israel were called to be a light to the nations, moreso now the disciples were called to be.  To them was given the light of truth with the full expectation that they keep that light alive.  When we were baptized, a lit candle was given to us or our parents or godparents with an instruction: Receive the light of Christ.  We were given a guardianship of a portion of the light of Christ so that as a member of the Church Militant, we might become a light by which others, as Jesus says, may see the good works you do and give glory to God."  Parents, you were given the responsibility to train your children to live in the light.  As we grow, we are expected to be a caretaker and witness to the light, not merely for our own good, but so that others may see that light and be drawn to it themselves.

It is possible to lose that light though, to become the salt that loses its flavor.  Many years ago I watched the movie, Becket, and a particular scene burned itself into my brain.  One of the king's nobles had kidnapped and murdered a priest.  He was unrepentant.  In the scene, St Thomas a Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury processes into Canterbury Cathedral with his monks, each carrying a large lit candle.    After the charges meriting excommunication were announced and the excommunication announced, the candles were turned upside down, the light snuffed out as it crashed to the floor.  The light that was given that noble was now snuffed out.  Truth be told, all mortal sin has the same effect on our lives.  When we choose the darkness of sin over the truth of the light of Christ, we extinguish that flame and plunge our souls into darkness.  If we choose to do this, we cannot expect to live in darkness but enjoy the benefits of the light.

Jesus asks what is to be done with salt that loses it flavor.  It is cast out.  No human can restore it.  Remember though, the creator of the salt has the ability to restore the flavor.  By the same token the one who extended the light to us can extend it again; only He can relight the light snuffed out.  As Catholics, we believe that one in a state of mortal sin cannot receive the fruit of the light: the grace of the sacraments until one has addressed that darkness and repents of it.  In the Catholic Church, the sacrament of Reconciliation  is the means of the grace necessary to have one's light relighted.  Once, relighted, one has the benefits of the light. Like the unwise virgins in the parable of the 10 virgins, we do not want to found with unlit candles when Christ comes again.

This light is important not only for ourselves, but because we are supposed to a light to the nations.  We need to learn from the mistakes of Israel that we cannot embrace the darkness of the world and still be a light to the world.  The Church is evangelical by her nature.  When we were baptized, we were baptized into a mission, a mission that requires the light of Christ.  We are light in the darkness to draw people out of darkness, no matter how deep that darkness be.  I remember several years back a young man and his friend came in for financial help from our St Clement Cares fund.  We got to talking about faith.  He asked me, "Father, do you think your church wouldn't want a person like as a member?"  He then pulled up his sleeve and exposed a rather heinous looking tattoo.  He told me it was a rash choice made when he was younger that he regretted.  I told him that I would like to believe that my parish would be able to look beyond this scar and see the repentant prodigal son who wanted to come home.  I don't know what happened to him.  But we left the door open, a door open to this day.

To be a light to the nations requires an openness to allowing repentance from those who dwelt in deep darkness.  We don't condone the sins, but we don't turn away the repentant either.  We are not a country club or fraternity looking for the right people who look like us.  No, we invite people into the truth.  To do that means we must embrace nothing of darkness.  We must give no quarter for darkness in our lives.  We must expel any compromise with the darkness of the world so that we might live up to the call to be the light of the world.  We cannot be a light by adopting the darkness, no, we can only be that light by embracing and fueling through our cooperation with God's grace that light of Christ given to us.

Let that light of Christ shine so that others may see that light and be drawn to the source of that light, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Suffer the Flock

In the Gospel for Saturday of the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time today, we are told that the disciples have returned after their being sent out to prepare the way for Jesus.  They are tired and Jesus invites them to rest.  They try to get some rest but the crowds keep following them.   They get  in a boat but the crowd beats them to their destination.  Jesus doesn't become exasperated by these crowds.  No, quite the opposite. We are told that Jesus is 'moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.' (Mark 6:34b)  His pity is not a stagnant reality, no, He proceeds to teach them then feed them.  It is worth noting that the Scripture passage says that they were LIKE sheep without a shepherd...not that they were sheep without a shepherd.  There is a difference.

God had provided shepherds for His people.  There were various teachers of the law (Rabbis, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees), there was the High Priest and the Sanhedrin.  There was the Hasmonean King Herod.  All, though, largely failed in the shepherding of the flock.  There was nothing new in this,   In Ezekiel 34:1-16, God speaks to the shepherds of Israel, the kings and priests, who have failed to shepherd the people and now have left them ripe for destruction.  They pastured themselves and not those entrusted to their care.  Because sheep hunger, they will seek food.  If the shepherd isn't leading them, they will go elsewhere.  In departing from the flock, they become prey for whatever predator lurks about.

St. Peter reminds us that , "Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (I Peter 5:5)  Just prior, St Peter writes to the presbyters, " Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly.  Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock." (I Peter 5:2-3)

Today's Shepherds
 
As God draws His shepherds here and now from among human beings, the same concupiscence that challenges any of us, challenges them as well.  Nonetheless, by virtue of the change given them at ordination, they are given the grace to be more closely configured to Christ.  The impetus for them to model triumph over concupiscence is imperative.  Furthermore, being given such grace, we are the shepherd of the flock assigned to us, by a bishop, but ultimately by God.  Those placed in our care do not belong to us, but to God. When we lose a sheep, we don't lose our sheep...we lose one of His.  We have the duty to be sure what is fed to our flock is the food the Good Shepherd who have them have eat.  How we execute our shepherding will help or hinder the other men called to shepherd.  It will either inspire others to listen to the call of vocation, or it will drive them away.

However the role of shepherd is not contained to the ordained; it shared by those who are given that job within the context of the family, also known as the domestic Church: parents and spouses.   I speak particularly to husbands here.  While you wife has a primary role of leading you closer to Christ, you are the shepherd in your home.  You are given the responsibility to leading your spouse and your children closer to Christ.  This is not your wife's responsibility, it is yours.  She has responsibilities of her own, she should not need to shoulder yours as well.  The flock given to you is not your own.  It is God's first.  As stated above, when you drive off a sheep, you lose not a member of your flock, you lose a member of His flock.

Some sheep will stray despite our best efforts.  This we cannot help so much.  But the sheep that wander because they were never taught good pastures from plague filled dumpsters are on us.  The sheep that flee because of our neglect or abuse are on us as well.  The sheep that are left in ignorance for lack of competent instruction are on us as well.  The sheep we taught to eat in the plague filled dumpsters are on us.  When what we fed is largely indiscernible from the message of the world, we poison our own flocks.  We don't merely let them wander, we slay them!  When we become more concerned about  what we can get out of the sheep and not what we give to the sheep, we become the shepherds that Ezekiel warns will face the wrath of God.  We become the abusers of His children.

The good shepherds

When Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd, He isn't saying that He is a good person who happens to be a shepherd, but shepherd who good at being a shepherd.  We know this in that the text, originally written in Greek, uses the word kalos (good at) instead of agathos (good quality) in reference to Jesus as shepherd. We men , both clergy and married, are called to good at being shepherds.

There are many good shepherds out there.  There are many good deacons,  priests, and bishops that actively tend to the good of their flock.  These get their hands dirty in being among the flock.  They also embrace prayer and mortifications for the good of their flock. They are cautious in being sure that the pastures are teeming with truth, are abundant with grace, and lead to the Kingdom of Heaven.  They are liberal in the access they afford the flock to the pastures of the sacraments. They do not see the flock as an impediment to their joy, but as a cause for joy.  They correct with charity, teach with truth, and tend to the dying and sick with care.  They are ferocious in their protection of the flock and place themselves in between the flock and that which would prey on them.

There are many good dads and husbands out there as well.  They, too, see their wife and children as their joy and not an impediment to joy.  They too embrace prayer and mortifications for those in their care.  They too are diligent about the pastures in which their charges feed.  They too place themselves permanently between their flock and those who would prey on them.  They too make sure their flock is feed regularly in the pastures of the sacraments. They also correct with charity and teach with truth. These priests and husbands/fathers are real men who courageously receive that mantle of shepherd, living up to the promises made on the days of their ordinations and/or weddings.

The Bad and the Ugly

However, we must deal with the reality that not all men , both ordained and not, live up to such high standards.  In fact, it could be argued most are not.  I say this because of the societal breakdown we see, of the careening into oblivion of the Church in our country and in the western world.  So very many of those thrust into shepherding roles were never taught to be shepherds. Like a cancer, this disease has spread rapidly.  So intense is the disease that many men stay overgrown boys and flee from the possibility of shepherding.  When the key role of training shepherds has been left for the wolves to instruct, it cannot be any surprise that both family life and parish life struggle the way they do.

Too often the role of shepherd is fled from because  to be a true shepherd requires a heroic degree of selflessness. It mush easier to seek self satisfaction than to live for others.  It is easier to simulate commitment than it is live committed to something other than one's self.  It is easier to fatten oneself than to feed another.  It is easier to manipulate than it is to love.  The grace of the sacraments of Holy Orders or Marriage can be tossed aside like rubbish by the weak man who finds the rigors of such sacraments too hard.

These shepherds become cowards at best and wolves at worst.  Some are so self absorbed they don't notice the wolf picking off their flock.  Some are so timid they feign helplessness in protecting their flock from the wolves.  Some are so narcissistic that they invite they wolves in.  Some become wolves themselves, ripping apart their flocks, raining down abuse of every kind to sate their own lusts and greeds.  The damage these shepherds do is immense.  It is not enough that they fail to teach those in their care how to become shepherds in their own turn, they teach them to be wolves!

In their sloth they restrict the sacraments, seeing them as impediments to avenues of self gratification.  In their negligence, they farm out their shepherding duties to anyone and everyone, wolf or not, and then blame these surrogates for the outcome of the sheep.  In their cowardice, they slink away from the duty to stand between their charges and the predators, having the gall to blame the sheep for their own destruction.  To these bad shepherds, Ezekiel promises a harsh outcome! 

The hope

Even if the majority of the shepherds fail, the Lord never leaves His sheep without hope.  That said, men, we must dust off the juvenile selfishness of this world and stand up and live up to the sacramental call of our promises so that we may teach the next generation to embrace their own sacramental call as the Good Shepherd would have them live.  We must lead, not with the force of tyranny, but with the diligent care of a shepherd.  That means we come last.  Yes, WE come last.  We shepherd in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd!  He lays down His life for all of us.  So motivated is He by love.  So motivated are we to be as well.  We are not to see those placed in our care as impediments but as avenues by which we prove our manly valor and strength.  We endure for them, we pray for them, we make sure what is fed them is worthy of who we serve.  We love them.

I do not believe that our culture and church in this country is so far gone that we cannot turn it around.  By the grace of God, it can be turned around.  For this to happen, though, men...we will need to be men.  That requires more than a chiseled physique or a high paying job.  It requires more than being the guy women want and men want to be like...it goes beyond any external quality and plunges into the depths of who we are.  It requires a deep relationship with the Good Shepherd Himself.  We cannot model what we do not have.  It is a juvenile attitude to believe we do not need God or if we do, we become His master.  We have bought into a devilish (literally) trap that religion is for the weak and unsophisticated. It's time for us to man up and be the shepherds we were graced to be through the sacraments.  It's difficult to be sure.  But those placed in our care deserve our effort because they are God's before they are ours.  The sheep should not suffer because of our negligence or abuse; no, they should thrive because we are the shepherds God has appointed us to be!  Let us be shepherds who are good at being shepherds!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Down the Rabbit Hole or Up From the Ashes: The Choice that is Ahead

For the last several years I have been watching this country descend into madness.  I wonder, at times, if this isn't what people saw in the late 60's as the country fell into madness.  Back then, the country was again plunged into a war that showed no signs of either victory or ending.  The middle east was a violent mess.  The sexual revolution was gaining full steam and gender roles, marriage, family, and sexuality were being redefined at a torrid pace.  Violence was erupting among some younger groups, like the Weather Underground and other group who rained terror and destruction on innocent people.  Universities were hot beds of dissension.  It was age of corrupt politicians and divided parties.  It was a time where citizens of this country forgot they were a people and became a antagonistic collection of categories.  Churches and religious institutions emptied out.

The more things change the more they stay the same.  A war weary country is tired of having our young men and women slaughtered.  The middle east has grown into an even more violent mess. The sexual revolution still roars on to where even concepts of gender and orientation are fluid and so individualistic as to almost defy categorization.  Violent demonstrations among radicals are almost a daily occurrence. These radicals have become more strident, insisting that their opinion is the only allowable opinion, applying fascist techniques while saying they are fighting fascism.  Universities are hotbeds for these radicals, prodded on by an one sided narrative force fed them day in and day out.  The political parties are in states of civil war and still manage to be at war with each other.  Corruption is still a norm.  People are now a collection of adjectives, labeled and categorized as good or evil.  Unity is now seen as an enemy.  Churches and religious institutions fall and the 'spiritual but not religious' arise in their place.

I know this is a pretty dystopic view of our country. It is the image the media shoves in our face.  The media fuels this dystopia, encourages it, and lionizes it.  People behaving badly makes for good press.  The politicians make their bread and butter by dividing and scraping together enough subgroups to get elected. 

There is a feeling by many that just wants it to end.  Be it a meteor or some other cataclysmic event or the Second Coming, people are just tired of the drama and the violence.  They turn to institutions or to themselves to find answers. They find variations of a theme.  More often than not, religious institutions crumbled because they failed to address these things.  Some religious ignored what was going on and thought just more rules would suffice.  Some religious didn't ignore it, but capitulated to it to the point where what was heard in the house of worship was no different than what was heard elsewhere.  What distinguished faith was covered over in a sloppy goo of 'social justice' and spineless capitulation to sin.  Some went the entertainment route, if we couldn't show truth, maybe we could entertain them.  Slowly but surely those seeking truth saw through it all and left.

You see, the antidote to all of this is truth.  What is real?  As a priest, my job is to bear witness to truth.  That is an art.  On the one hand the truth isn't a bludgeon to slay faith.  On the other hand it isn't a narcotic meant to numb us.  Truth by its nature is challenging.  Truth shows us the fallacies and destructive nature of sin.  To give an example: when the sexual revolution was raging and many church leaders and theologians wanted to capitulate on the issues of artificial birth control, Bl. Paul VI wrote the encyclical Humanae Vitae; a plea for the truth and a warning of what would happen if  deceit was allowed in the realms of human sexuality and family life.  He was laughed out of the room by these theologians and bishops, but a look now at this encyclical shows he was completely correct.  Deceit cannot solve our problems...only truth can.

In the realm of truth, our society is going to have accept that the truth is that the human person is a who, not a what.  The human person is not a collection of categories.  It is wrong to subdivide the human race into multiple categories and set them against each other.  We must admit that our sexual libertine attitude has devastated the family, reduced the dignity of the individual, and emptied our souls of their integrity.  The truth is that man is not just another beast on this planet  to be herded, manipulated, and disposed of as seen fit.  The truth is that there is a loving God who wants to be part of our lives but does not force Himself upon us.  The truth is that this loving God is not a sugar daddy, a slave, a pet, nor a disposable machine.

Our churches have got to address deceit head on with truth.   We are supposed to agents of healing which is hard to do when we ignore the disease.  Sometimes the truth is hard.  It must applied with charity, but applied nonetheless. People must find in God a place a refuge and hope.  They must find something that spurs them to conversion and zeal.  The more deceitful the society, the more of the light of truth we should become.  To do this means the churches cannot embrace anything that is deceitful.  We can not weasel out by becoming entertainers.  If we focus on ourselves and not God, we make ourselves the arbiters of truth.  There is nothing solid in that.  When our worship services are self worship, we replace truth with deceit, and a just God would get those He loved far from them.

We have some hard decisions to make as a society and as a church.  Do we continue down the rabbit hole whose only destination is hell (on earth and for eternity)?  Or do we face up to the hard truths and rise from the ashes?  Do we allow ourselves to be challenged?  Do we get the focus off of ourselves.  No other trait so fuels the destruction we see more  than the self-centered narcissistic attitude so prevalent today.  Narcissism fuels deceit.  Truth begs us to look beyond ourselves and at the same time challenges us to be better.  We wring our hands about so many things nowadays...but remember it is better to be a light than to curse the darkness.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Homily for 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah, we hear those words , "seek justice, seek humility." Zephaniah was sent to the people of the Kingdom of Judah around the time of the Fall of Jerusalem.  The Kingdom of Judah, even though it had the temple and the Davidic Kingdom, has long forgotten the Law of Moses in which they were to worship God alone and in which they
were summoned to care for the widow and orphan.  They had grown corrupt in their wealth and power, and were primed for the day of wrath that would befall Jerusalem.  But God does not withdraw His hand without giving a way to return to Him and be so spared.  That road of return was to be just and to be humble.

Justice gets a bad name anymore.  Some think justice is about the allotment of punishment, an orderly form of vengeance.  Some think justice is about protesting what other people do, decrying corporate sin.  But justice, which is one of the four cardinal virtues, is about giving to another what they need.  Justice requires a person to look beyond themselves and open their eyes and actions to the needs of those around them.  True justice requires a selflessness of soul.  Had the People of Judah been just, they never would have worshiped any God but the Lord nor would they have ignored the needs of the poor.

Humility is the ability to live in the truth.  It is to know the correct and right relationship towards God.  It is to know who we are, who are not, and who we are before God.  Humility gives us wisdom to act rightly and selflessly.  It reorients us to right relationship with God and with our neighbor. Without these two characteristics that Zephaniah calls for, the people of Judah will remain in the delusion and their sin and so be fit for destruction.

In the Gospel, we have the Beatitudes of St Matthew.  At the core of each beatitude is this same humility and justice.  Each beatitude calls for us who follow Christ to act in the person of the Christ.  Being poor in spirit is being humble.  It is an acknowledgment of our need for God.  The meek are not the weak, but the strong who can hold back their hand in vengeance and give to others the mercy they need, even if they do not deserve it.  The mourning are not the bitter and sad, but those who are moved to pray for those caught in sin and see the consequences of their own sin as well.  Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness recognize in humility that our consolation is not found here and now, that trinkets cannot take the place of the Kingdom of God.  In each of these Beatitudes we see a call for selflessness that is courageous, enduring, and strong.

This week we celebrate Catholic School's week.  The major purpose of a Catholic School is to form young men and women who will be the kind of person just described. We are to work with you parents in raising up not merely scholars but disciples who will become the faith filled and selfless leaders of their families, their parishes, and society as a whole. It is a partnership with a singular goal. Both of us need to be teaching that humility that leads us to understand that we need God...we need the sacraments. There is no greater conceit for a Catholic than to believe falsely that we do not need the sacraments.  Both of us need to be teaching that at the core of our Catholic identity is that selflessness that leads us to personally involve ourselves in not merely talking about the needs of others, but addressing the needs of others.  We cannot do either of these in isolation from the grace of God given through the sacramental life of the Church.

While we teach math, science, language, and history...all important and necessary skills to be sure...it is in teaching them what it means to be a follower of Christ...what it means to live a life of Beatitude...that is our true purpose.  We are not a private school with some statuary. We are a CATHOLIC school that passes on the teachings of Christ and His Church.  If humility and justice is what God wants...that is what we teach...both in our schools and in our homes.  If it mercy and courage that God demands...then that is what we teach to those God has placed in our care...both in the school and in the home.  Truth be told, whether your child is in the public schools, our parochial school or is home schooled the essential message is identical and we all share in that same mission of training young men and women who will walk humbly and justly before the Lord.

Let us ask God for this grace, then, to walk in truth, to seek truth, and to adjust our lives to the truth...so that we may be fitting witnesses to the power of God and teach our youth to do the same. Let us model what it means to seek justice and to seek humility. so that we might raise youth who seek justice, who seek humility, who seek the Lord!