Holy Trinity Sunday

This is the homily I preached on Sunday, May 31, Holy Trinity Sunday.

+ In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen!  Do you see what you did there?  I made the sign of the cross and you did it too.  You didn’t have to do it.  We don’t normally make the sign after the Gospel.  It’s not in the book.  But, as Catholics, we’ve been taught that when someone else, especially someone standing at the front of the room signs themselves, we’re supposed to follow along.  It’s a Catholic thing.

In fact, + (sign) is probably the second-most recognized hand gesture in the world.  The peace sign might be first.  I’m not sure.  But, like I said, it’s a Catholic thing.  If you see someone crossing themselves, they’re probably Catholic.

So……the sign identifies us as Catholics.  It also tells anyone who knows our faith what we believe.

That IS in the book.

I believe in one God, [not multiple gods like the Romans of the Greeks, I believe in the one and only God.  I don’t worship cats, or the sun, or the earth.] the Father almighty,maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.  My God isn’t part of nature.  He created nature out of nothingness.

If that were all there was, things would be very simple.  But, like they say on the infomercials, “But wait, there’s more!”

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made.

 

This word “begotten” must be important.  We say it twice in one paragraph.  See, there was a guy running around in the 4th century saying that Jesus wasn’t really God.  He was just some “super” angel, better than us, but not as great as God.  The Church held a council and promulgated this creed, establishing once and for all that God and Jesus are one and the same.

According to the new translation of the Creed that some of us are still learning, Jesus is CONSUBSTANTIAL” with the Father.  Remember, we used to say “one in being with the Father”, which isn’t enough to describe who Jesus really is.  You and I are one in being with the Father because everything in the world is created through Him.  Consubstantial sort of means “of the same substance”.  God IS the Father and the Son.

The Creed goes on to tell us what Jesus did, how He suffered and died and rose again on the third day to save us from our sins.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.

 

When Jesus returned to heaven he left us an Advocate, His Holy Spirit.  In last week’s Gospel He said He would send the Advocate “whom I will send you from the Father.”  Notice the words.  Jesus would send the Spirit from the Father.  He proceeds from the Father AND the Son.

Just today (yesterday) nine men were ordained to the Permanent Diaconate at the Cathedral Basilica.  The Archbishop laid hands on them, just like he laid hands on me ten years ago next week, and he said, “Lord, send forth upon him the Holy Spirit, that he may be strengthened by the gift of your sevenfold grace to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry.” 

 

 

Of course we all receive the Holy Spirit at baptism and at confirmation as well.

That’s it.  That’s what we believe about God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Our problem as humans is that we want to understand things.  We want proof.  But there are just some things that are beyond our understanding.  Saint Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the Trinity, each leaf representing one of the three persons.  Since he’s my patron saint, I’d like to say that it was the perfect analogy.  Unfortunately it wasn’t.  That’s why God has given us this thing called “faith”.  As Christians we have to believe some pretty unbelievable stuff.  Jesus turned water into wine.  Jesus turned bread and wine into His body and blood.  Jesus died and was buried, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.  God is one but He exists as three different persons.

Don’t try to figure it out.  Just accept it.  He’s God.  He can do anything.  He’s our Father, our Brother, and our Advocate; He’s existed since the beginning of time and He made everything in the universe out of nothing.  I know you believe it because I hear you say it every week.  Don’t question it.  Just be thankful that it IS.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

4th Sunday of Advent

(This is my homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent)

Today  is the fourth Sunday of Advent.  All the candles on the Advent wreath have been lit.  Now, it’s time to take the wreath down and decorate the church for Christmas.  Father and I will hang up the purple vestments until the first week of March when Lent will begin.

 

For the past three weekends we’ve been hearing about John the Baptist and his ministry of preparing the way of the Lord.  Remember Jesus called John the greatest man ever born of a woman.  But He promised us that the least person in heaven would be greater even than John.  We have hope because that includes you and me.

 

But today the Gospel takes a different tone.  There’s no mention of John.  Today’s story is about Mary and Joseph.  It’s a critical story because it gives us some insight into what these two people had to do to fulfill their part in salvation history.

 

The angel of the Lord has visited Mary and told her that she would bear a son.  In Friday’s  Gospel reading from Luke the angel tells Mary, “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”  As we all know, Mary told the angel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”

 

Now, Mary was engaged to Joseph.  When Joseph realized that Mary was pregnant his first impulse was to “divorce her quietly.”  Remember, things were much different in Mary and Joseph’s world than they are today.  In our world unmarried mothers are not scorned.  They’re not ashamed of their situation and some even brag about it.  Famous people, especially members of the Hollywood crowd go on talk shows and talk openly about their pregnancies.  They are proud of what they’ve done and don’t seem the least bit concerned about their sinfulness.  But for about the first 1,900 years of the Christian era, being an unwed mom wasn’t something to be celebrated.  It was the cause of great shame and embarrassment.

 

So, it’s not hard to understand how Joseph felt.  Mary had brought shame on herself and on him.  Guys, put yourself in his place.  What would you have done?  Matthew tells us that Joseph was a “righteous man”.  He was “unwilling to expose her to shame.”  I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would have been as gracious as Joseph.

 

But the angel appears to him in a dream and explains what’s going on.  Mary has conceived through the Holy Spirit.  Her son will save His people from their sins.

 

The experts tell us that Mary was young, probably a teenager.  Joseph was older.  Imagine what his friends and family must have said.  “It serves your right, Joseph.  You decide to marry this young girl and she turns up pregnant.  What did you expect?”  Think about the gossip.  But, he ignored the taunts of his so-called friends and did what the angel told him to do.  I’m sure he spent a lot of time in prayer.

 

So here we have two ordinary people who’ve been asked to make huge sacrifices so that the prophet Isaiah’s words would be fulfilled:  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us.”

 

Joseph, being a “righteous man” and a devout Jew, surely was familiar with Isaiah’s prophesy.  Surely he and Mary spent a lot of time talking about what was about to happen.  Maybe they both had planned on having a big family.  Maybe Joseph had big plans for his carpentry business.  If they were engaged, they must have spent a lot of time talking about what their lives would be like as a married couple.  But all that changed in an instant.  And today we thank God that they were willing to give all that up for the greater glory of God.  If either one of them had said no 2,000 years ago, our lives would be very different today.  By agreeing to God’s plan they set things in motion that would change the world forever.

 

You and I also play a part in God’s plan.  Even though we will probably never be recognized by the world, every time we say yes to God’s plan, we start a chain-of-events that changes the world.

 

Is there anyone here who’s never seen It’s a Wonderful Life?  It was on TV last night.  George Bailey was given a wonderful gift.  He gets to see what his world would have been like if he’d never been born.  Of course it’s fiction, but it’s definitely a story that should make us think.  What would our world be like if we’d never been born?  What little things have we done that have changed other people’s lives?  Chances are, like George, we have no idea.  God does great things through ordinary people and things.

 

If you’ve been following the news this week, you know about Phil Robertson.  He’s been attacked for stating his Christian beliefs.  And the whole thing has had some remarkable results.  There’s a Facebook page called “Bring Back Phil Robertson”.  In just two days it’s received more than a million “likes”.  Americans are standing up for their faith (and Phil’s) in amazing numbers.  God is working a miracle with something as simple as a duck call.  It’s a beautiful thing to happen just a week before Christmas.

 

My recent blog post on Phil-gate has had more hits than all my previous posts put together.

 

I could stand up here all day and talk about things that have happened in my life that can only be explained by God’s intervention.  He put the right person in the right place at the right time to give me something that I needed.  Maybe it was something they said.  Maybe it was something they did.  But, God’s hand was in it.  I know all of you could do the same.

 

So, as we prepare to celebrate the greatest event in the history of mankind, it’s good to reflect on today’s story.  Two ordinary people from a very small town said yes to God and changed everything.  That’s what Christmas is about.  That’s what our Catholic faith is all about.  Christmas is a time when we focus on a great miracle.  But miracles happen every day.  We may be the catalyst for a miracle and never even know it.  Thank you Mary and Joseph for saying “yes”.

 

 

Clergy Assignments

priest shadow

Based on some things that have happened recently at my current assignment, Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss the process for assigning clergy to parishes and other ministries.  Obviously, these are important decisions that can have a long-term effect on everyone involved.

First of all, the final decision on all clergy assignments in a diocese is made by the bishop.  Like any large organization, the bishop , as the  CEO, consults with a lot of people before he makes such an important call.  These consultations are very confidential.  In the course of making these choices, a lot of possible scenarios are considered.  “What if we move Father A to parish B?”  “If we do that, who gets Father A’s old position?”  “What about the current pastor of parish B?  It’s a complicated process.  Lots of possibilities are considered and rejected.  In the Archdiocese of Saint Louis we might ordain a half-dozen new priests in the spring.  Placing these men in parishes might result in twenty or more new assignments.  Frankly, I wouldn’t want to have to figure out all those moves.

Imagine, following our example, that it’s decided that Father A won’t go to parish B.  If someone unwisely had leaked this possible move to someone in the parishes involved, the rumors would fly.  “Father A is leaving!”  “Father A is coming to our parish!”  “What about Father B?  Where’s he going?”  On on, and on.  Lots of people are upset by something that’s not going to happen.

The bottom line is that until the bishop starts sending out letters to the clergy involved, nothing is set in stone.  If just one priest or deacon rejects a change in assignment, the whole process has to be redone.  Any speculation, based on early discussions, can only cause problems.

Recently a priest at a neighboring church asked me if I might be interested in moving.  I told him no.  I’m very happy where I am and I didn’t think the change he was proposing would be good for Saint John’s.  Keep in mind that this was just a priest talking to a deacon.  Archbishop Carlson wasn’t even aware of the conversation.  The next thing I knew, someone had started a rumor that I was leaving.  Like all rumors, it spread quickly, upsetting some people and making others happy.  Now it’s up to me to put out the fires.

Let’s face it; some people love their priests and deacons, some don’t.  Nothing good can come from building up people’s expectations about changes, either positive or negative.

A lot of prayer and discussion precedes any clergy moves.  What we have to remember, as faithful Catholics, is that our bishops are descended from the original twelve Apostles.  They are guided by the Holy Spirit.  Whenever they assign clergy, they are putting the men they believe to be the best fit in each position.  When priests and deacons are ordained they promise to be loyal to their bishop and his successors.  Personally, I will go where ever Archbishop Carlson wants me to go.  And until he tells me he wants me to move, I won’t speculate on what he might have in mind.  

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Liberals vs. Conservatives

“I sure hope this new Pope will be more liberal.  I hope he changes some of the Church’s out-of-date teachings.”

This one drives me crazy.  If there’s a worse myth than conservative Catholics and liberal Catholics, I don’t know what it is.  Once and for all, there is no such thing as a conservative or liberal Catholic!

Let’s look at what these two words mean.  According to Webster’s online dictionary:

Conservative:  tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions.

Liberal:  not literal or strict.

The Catholic Church was started by Jesus 2,000+ years ago.  He left it so we’d know what we need to do to gain eternal life. He put men in charge and gave them the power to bind and loose.  He said that whoever heard them heard Him.  He left them an advocate, the Holy Spirit, to protect them from error.

The Church is not a political party.   Politics are open to interpretation.   Put in simple terms,  conservatives believe in smaller government and lower taxes.  Liberals believe in higher taxes and bigger government.  There are good people on both sides.  Once upon a time, liberals and conservatives could actually sit down and have a civil debate.  Today, not so much.

But that’s not the Church.  The only interpretation to be done has already been done.  Truth doesn’t change.  What was true even before Jesus’ time is just as true today.  Some would say the Church is old-fashioned.  True Catholics see it the other way around.  What some people see as positive change is actually moving away from the truth.

If God told us that we shall not kill, is abortion really a modern “right” or is it a perversion of the truth.  The same goes for “Thou shall not commit adultery.”  Sexual activity was created by God for the continuation of the human race.  It’s supposed to be between a married man and his wife.  Premarital sex, extramarital sex, sex between two men or two women, or any other perversion you can come up with is a violation of God’s law.

Anyone who thinks we can ignore the Ten Commandments isn’t “liberal”; he or she is a heretic!  Using the political anology, this person isn’t in favor of big government or small government.  (S)he is in favor of no government.  In the political world, that’s called “anarchy”, and that’s not the Catholic Church.  This so-called “liberalism” has led to more than 20,000 protest denominations.  Does anyone really believe that’s what Jesus wanted?

Here’s the thing.  There are two kinds of Catholics.  One group believes in everything the Church teaches, both from the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition.  These people are called “Catholics”.  The other type believe they can pick and choose what teachings to believe.  These people are called fallen-away Catholics.  It’s an injustice to the Church and to faithful, practicing Catholics to soften the image of the heretics by calling them anything other than what they really are.  I repeat, there are no “liberal” Catholics.

In summary, anyone who thinks our new Holy Father, Pope Francis I, is going to change Church teachings, is dreaming.  Doctrine doesn’t change!  There will be no women priests.  There will be no gay marriages.  It just ain’t gonna happen.

 

Habemus Papam

From the Holy Father’s twitter feed:Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 3.14.32 PM

 

Yes, we have a Pope!  Former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is now Pope Francis I.

Like everyone else I don’t know a lot about the new Pontiff but I’m sure we’ll all be educated in the days ahead.  One thing I know I like about this guy is that his selection was a total surprise.  For days the so-called, self-proclaimed “experts” have been telling us who the next Pope would be and Cardinal Bergoglio wasn’t on anybody’s list.

The Catholic Church is the only organization on earth that knows how to keep a secret and leave the media pundits looking foolish.

Congrats to our new Holy Father!  Way to go, Holy Spirit and Cardinal electors for pulling off such a stunning surprise!

Please pray for our new Pope!

Pope Francis I

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–The Pope is Running Away from Something

Myths about the Church can spread quickly.  Where most of them have been around for quite a while, this one is relatively new.  Since no Pope has retired in 600 years, Benedict must be running away from something.  He must have something to hide.

Here’s what Peter Stanford of the London Telegraph wrote on February 17:

 

Dan Brown couldn’t have made it up. The ecclesiastical earthquake of a pope resigning has been attributed, variously, to Benedict nursing a fatal illness; to a head injury during his trip to Mexico last March that convinced him to abdicate; to being forced out after an acrimonious meeting with a group of senior cardinals two days before he announced his resignation; to his looming disgrace over either dodgy deals done by the Vatican Bank, past cover-ups of paedophile priests, or an “explosive” forthcoming report by a team of cardinals on a tendering scandal; and to a strategy to secure the succession for his favourite.

This is from a website called Removing the Shackles:

(Reuters) – Pope Benedict’s decision to live in the Vatican after he resigns will provide him with security and privacy. It will also offer legal protection from any attempt to prosecute him in connection with sexual abuse cases around the world, Church sources and legal experts say.

 

 

Let’s start with a few simple facts.  First, Benedict is 85 years old.  He is the oldest man (at age 78) to become Pope since Clement XII in 1730.  Second, he is the CEO of the largest organization in the world.  Third, it’s painfully obvious that his health is deteriorating.  If I were him, I would have retired a long time ago.  

Being the Pope is a demanding job.  The politics within the Vatican must be incredible.  There are a lot of Catholic clergy, from deacons all the way up to Cardinals who think they would be a better Pope than Benedict.  With over 1 billion Catholics around the world, there is no shortage of criticism of every little thing he does.

Much of the criticism from outside the Church is directed at Benedict, no matter where the perceived shortcomings are located.   He may be ultimately responsible, but there’s just too much going on in the Church to lay everything in his lap.  That’s what Bishops are for.

The fact is that most people, even some Catholics, don’t understand the role of the Holy Father or how he is chosen.  When the Cardinals meet to select a new pope, they are sequestered (no, not that kind of sequester), isolated from the outside world.  They meet, and pray, and eventually the Holy Spirit leads them to make the correct choice.  Obviously, the Spirit has moved in Benedict XVI, convincing him that it’s time to go.  His work as Pope is done.  These ARE NOT manmade decisions.  If you believe otherwise, you don’t understand how the Church works.

As quoted above, some geniuses are suggesting that since there is a lawsuit pending in the United States against the Pope and the Church, he’s going into hiding in Vatican City which has no extradition treaty with the US.  Regardless of the merits of the legal proceeding, does anyone really think the US government is stupid enough to demand that the 85 year old Pope come to America to possibly be arrested?  Even this administration isn’t that ignorant.  By the way, the comments I quoted were two of the few that I could post on a family blog.

Does the abuse scandal weigh on the Pontiff?  Of course it does.  It weighs on every member of the Catholic clergy including yours truly.  As the man at the top (2nd only to Jesus himself) Benedict must feel more remorse than you and I can imagine.  That kind of pressure tends to wear a man out.  He has apologized publicly for the scandal.   He has met with victims and their families.  And the Catholic Church in 2013 may be the safest place on earth for children following the changes that have been put in place on Benedict’s watch.

I think it’s absurd to suggest that the Pope isn’t simply retiring because he’s tired.  It is possible that he has a serious illness that the Vatican isn’t telling us about.  Some things are best kept secret.  Benedict knows that the process of selecting a new Pope will be speeded up because there won’t be the usual waiting period that must be observed after a Pope’s death.  Maybe he doesn’t want the Church he loves to be without a leader any longer than necessary.

Personally I think that our Holy Father is setting a precedent and that it won’t be another 600 years before we see a Pope retire again.  After more than 1/2 a century as a priest, Bishop, Cardinal, and Pope, it’s time to give the man his gold watch and let him rest.

This just in:  Today, in his final public appearance Pope Benedict XVI gave a hint of the reason for his retirement.  As I mentioned above, Vatican politics can be brutal and it’s up to the Pope to keep things in line.  Apparently Benedict feels that a younger man would be better able to keep a lid on things.  Check out either of the links below for highlights of the address.

 

 

 

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–The All Male Priesthood

You’ve heard it from the feminists:  “The Church hates women!  Things would be better if there were female priests!’

I’m not going to go into the theological reasons for the all male priesthood.  What I want to discuss is why this doctrine of the Church can’t change and that includes reserving ordination to men only.

In an earlier post we dealt with the issue of papal infallibility.  The all male priesthood is a doctrine of the Church.  The most recent Pope to address this issue was Blessed John Paul II.  In his 1994 Apostolic letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,  (To the bishops of the Catholic Church on Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone) he wrote:

Priestly ordination, which hands on the office entrusted by Christ to his Apostles of teaching, sanctifying and governing the faithful, has in the Catholic Church from the beginning always been reserved to men alone. This tradition has also been faithfully maintained by the Oriental Churches.

When the question of the ordination of women arose in the Anglican Communion, Pope Paul VI, out of fidelity to his office of safeguarding the Apostolic Tradition, and also with a view to removing a new obstacle placed in the way of Christian unity, reminded Anglicans of the position of the Catholic Church: “She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God’s plan for his Church.”

Sorry, ladies, but this is the doctrine of the Church.  Anyone who argues for the ordination of women priests plainly doesn’t understand Church teaching.  Regardless of any argument to the contrary, this is an infallible teaching and it isn’t going to change.  Arguments on this subject are a waste of time.  It ain’t gonna happen.

JPII sites Paul VI’s 1976 Declaration Inter Insigniores, which specifically ruled out female ordinations.  For a thorough explanation of the reasons for this doctrine, I suggest you read the two documents.

There is one simple fact that those who want women to be ordained refuse to understand.  Church doctrine doesn’t change.  When even one Pope makes an infallible statement that’s the end of the discussion.  In this case, several Popes have agreed.  If any Pope were to be inclined to reverse a matter of doctrine as defined by his predecessor(s) the Holy Spirit would intervene.  Because, if this were to happen even once, the entire body of Church teaching would be open to debate and that would be the end of the Church, something that Jesus Himself promised would never happen.

Not to trivialize this issue but every organization must have a structure to survive and thrive.  People patronize McDonald’s because every Big Mac served in every restaurant in the entire world is exactly the same.  If one franchisee should decide to change the special sauce, and McDonald’s allowed it to happen, the whole company would be threatened.  Serve me a Big Mac with barbecue sauce and my faith in Micky D’s will be shaken forever.  They’ve become one of the most successful fast food chains in the world because of their consistency.  Should the Church that Jesus established over 2,000 years do any less?

Bottom line, truth doesn’t change.  Get used to it!