Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Shoes of the Fisherman

Red shoes.

During the last two and a half weeks, there have been many curious reports about the protocols and procedures surrounding today’s papal abdication.  But none of these has been more curious, in my opinion, than the report a couple of days ago that, as Pope-Emeritus, Benedict XVI would no longer be wearing his distinctively rosy footwear.

Shortly after his 2005 election, there was quite a stir in the secular press over Pope Benedict XVI’s red shoes.  Rumors swirled (later disproven but never totally squelched) that they were made by one of Italy’s most expensive houses of fashion and exorbitantly expensive.  Commentators lamented the extravagance as a sign of the new Pope’s love of luxury; he’d be a man who would take full advantage of every perk and privilege of his high office.

And then Benedict XVI announced his resignation.  One of the most powerful people in the world did what the world finds so unimaginable: he freely and humbly renounced his power in submission to a far higher one.  And in so doing, he gave up his red shoes.

An article on those shoes the other day made a remarkable admission: it appears that we got this man all wrong.  Those shoes weren’t about any wanton extravagance at all; they were, rather, one of many signs of how he would give himself completely to his ministry as the Successor of St. Peter.*

In the gospel reading at Mass today, we hear the story of “a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen” (Luke 16:19).  But it’s not his luxurious wardrobe which determines his eternal destiny.  The clothes do not, in fact, make or break the man.  It’s that he puts his fine attire and other worldly possessions, his sumptuous food and other earthly pleasures, his marks of honor and the other privileges of his high station in life, above any care and concern for the poor beggar lying just outside his door.  In the course of history, there have been plenty of impoverished sinners, and more than a few well-dressed saints.  But you won’t find a single person in that saintly communion—rich or poor—who was not humble.

In just a few hours, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI will remove his famous red shoes one last time.  Today, at the conclusion of his pontificate, let us before sure to pray for this man who has been such a faithful shepherd for the Church.  And as we continue to make our way through these 40 days of Lent, let us also learn from his humble example: detaching ourselves from the things of this passing world, that we might instead be attached only to those things which lead to the joy that endures forever.

* How quickly we forget!  Blessed Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) chose to wear brown shoes, but his pontificate lasted so long that most of us forgot that Popes before him for centuries—going back to late Roman times, in fact—have nearly always worn red shoes.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Early Ending

So Fr. Tom and I got up a little after 4:00am this morning to watch this live...

...and to hear our Papa speak and bless us one last time.
It was worth losing a little sleep.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A ♥ Story

It'll take you 15 minutes to watch this...but it'll give you hope for the world.
(Maybe even for Facebook.)


The Edge

I got a stern talking to after Mass last evening for riding a snowmobile across a frozen lake.
Fear not: we kept things very safe!

   Second Sunday of Lent   C 

Twice this past week,
I found myself out on the edge of the world—
or so it seemed, anyway.
On Thursday,
I went snowmobiling with friends from Old Forge,
taking us through snow-covered forests
and over solidly-frozen lakes—
seeing sights you just wouldn’t see otherwise.
And then, on Friday, a good bit closer to home,
I went cross-country skiing with another friend
just this side of Paul Smiths,
arriving after a couple of miles at a lean-to
overlooking an icy pond.

Both were experiences of getting away—
withdrawing from the usual hustle and bustle of life,
and instead heading out into the wilderness.
But these experiences were also quite different.
On the snowmobile, life maintains its rather frantic pace.
You’re straddling a loud and powerful machine,
moving at high rates of speed.
You stop to take in the sights, but never for too long—
and not just because it’s cold out there:
there are other places to go and things to see.
Out on the skis, however, time passes quite differently.
The stops are more frequent:
to catch your breath, or to chat with your companion,
or just to take in the beauty of how the afternoon sun
is filtering through the pines and glinting off the snow.

On the snowmobile,
I headed out to the edge of the world
and it seemed like I’d taken
a lot of my usual world along for the ride.
When I reached the world’s edge on my skis, however,
it seemed like I might have already crossed over—
even if only briefly—to the other side…
…and I really wanted to stay.

Jesus leads 
Peter, John, and James 
out into the wilderness—
up to the mountain top—to pray,
and there he is 
transfigured before them.
In Greek and Roman mythology,
transfigurations were 
common enough
as the gods 
manifested themselves 
by taking on earthly forms—
sometimes as animals, 
or even as men.
Jesus’ transfiguration works 
in the opposite direction,
as his humanity 
begins to radiate a glory 
which can only be divine.  
(cf. S. Mueller)

Peter dares to speak up:
It is so good that we are here!
Let us build three tents!
We don’t want 
this wonder to ever end!
Peter has taken 
a whole lot of flack 
over the centuries
for wanting to capture 
and somehow preserve
this mystic experience—
an apparently 
impossible endeavor.

But maybe Peter’s error
is not that he was aiming too high…but too low.  (cf. J. Martens)

You see, we generally work on the assumption
that life’s “peak moments” are necessarily short lived.
Whether we’re out alone in nature,
like Abram counting the stars,
or surrounded by the loving company of family and good friends,
those occasions when all seems right with the world
and the Lord feels oh-so-close to us
are real treasures.
But the wonder and awe they inspire within us
don’t have to be—in fact, shouldn’t be—such rare occurrences.

Do you remember the story of Jacob’s ladder?
Jacob dreamt of a stairway running between heaven and earth,
and upon awaking exclaimed,
“Truly the Lord is here and I did not know it!
How awesome is this place!
It is none other than the house of God
and the gateway to heaven.”  (Gen 28:16-17)
Those words have been carved in stone
over the doors of many churches through the years—
and for good reason:
they should we the words our hearts utter
every time we cross the threshold.

You see, in the mystery of the Incarnation,
God sent his only begotten Son in human flesh
that the Lord of heaven might dwell among us on earth—
not merely in temporary quarters,
but in an enduring, quite permanent way.
And we don’t have to go on extravagant expeditions—
not even as far as skis or snowmobiles can carry us—
in order to find ourselves in God’s glorious presence.
God is here!
In the great Sacrament of the Eucharist,
the Lord lives among us still.
That is truly God’s table, and this is truly God’s house!
In a very real way, the golden door of that tabernacle
is the gate to heaven.

So, why aren’t we awestruck and filled with wonder
every time we gather here?

For one thing, we’re a bit like the fish
who went in search of some water to drink.
We’ve become so accustomed 
to God’s constant dwelling-among-us
that we can pretty much take it for granted.
But the other thing is that we often arrive here
like fast-moving snowmobilers.
When coming to church,
we bring our frantic lives along for the ride.
We can stop in for Mass, but not for too long:
arriving at the last minute,
then leaving for our next event in a rush—
maybe even cutting out a few minutes early.

What a different experience awaits us
if we can only slow down a bit!
Jesus was the Son of God all along
through those years his disciples 
had been following him.
Nothing about Jesus changed 
on that day he was transfigured;
what changed is that his followers eyes were opened
to recognize God right there in their midst.
They needed to climb the mountain—
to step away with him—in order to see.
Mass is meant to be for us a chance to step away—
not just another stop among many along our weekly rounds,
but our ultimate destination.
So, this Lent, resolve to try something different:
Don’t fit Mass in between all the other things you’re doing;
organize everything else around Mass.
Get here a little early, taking time to quiet your mind and heart.
Stay a few minutes afterward,
making the time to offer a prayer of thanksgiving.
Let Mass really be a chance to catch your breath,
and soon enough you’ll find it becomes something
that regularly takes your breath away.

How awesome is this place! 
And how good it is that we are here!
To come here is, indeed, to reach the edge of the world,
for here the Lord is really present.
Let’s make sure, then, that we are really present, too.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Free at Last

Time for that spiritual spring cleaning...

   First Sunday of Lent   C 

One thing is absolutely sure:
Nobody—not nobody—is going to outdo Pope Benedict XVI
when it comes to giving something up for Lent this year!

It was quite shocking news we received on Monday—
to learn that our Holy Father was resigning from office,
effective the end of this month:
shocking because it’s such an extraordinarily rare occurrence,
and shocking because there were no clear signs it was coming.
in these final days of his pontificate:
prayers in gratitude for his faithful ministry
as the successor of St. Peter,
and prayers for a lengthy retirement
marked by peace and good health.

It’s hard to know how history will judge Pope Benedict
for making this exceptional decision.
Of course, very few are waiting for history.

Among the many reactions and commentaries
I’ve heard in these last days,
I was particularly struck by one offered
by Jesuit Fr. James Martin.
In an interview, Fr. Martin said:
For me, [the Pope’s] resignation is a great sign of spiritual freedom.
Rare is the person today who will relinquish power voluntarily.
And it reminds us that no one is indispensible.
As my spiritual director likes to say:
“There’s good news and there’s better news.
The good news is there is a messiah.
The better news is it’s not you.”
So, he is not Christ.
[The Pope] knows that better than anybody else. (NPR, Morning Edition Saturday, 2/16/13)

Most of the time, we carry on as if freedom means
being able to do or have whatever you want.
But in these first days of Lent,
both Christ the Lord and his Vicar here on earth
remind us that God promises us freedom
of a very different—and of a much better—sort.

Have you ever seen the TV show, Hoarders?
I watched a couple of episodes
while flipping through the channels the other night.
It’s a reality show that looks at people
who cling to so much stuff
that it actually takes over and even buries their lives.
I saw one man who was an obsessive collector—
including more than 50,000 empty beer cans
from all around the world;
he’d gone bankrupt buying things
and could no longer walk through his house or garage.
And I saw a woman who was simply
unable to throw anything away—
whether an old dress, an empty box, or spoiled food;
the sheer quantity of roaches and mold in her home
turned the stomachs of the exterminators
and was driving her children away.
If freedom is doing or having whatever you want,
then more should be better, right?
These hoarders ought to be
the most liberated people on the planet!
But instead, these folks are clearly slaves:
slaves to their compulsions,
slaves to their piled-up possessions.
And since this is the only way they’ve known for so long—
even though it’s doing them such great harm—
they’re desperately afraid to give it up.
Fear keeps them from finding freedom.

This homily—as you know—
is the third in a series requested by Bishop LaValley
on the Sacrament of Penance.
And already we have seen its fruit.
I’ve heard confessions during this past week
which were in direct response
to preaching people heard last Sunday or on Ash Wednesday—
some even after being away from the Sacrament for decades.
As I did on the TV screen,
I saw and heard fear in the confessional, too,
when penitents first came in—
especially that particularly debilitating form of fear
known as shame.
But it was, I assure you, very short-lived.
People heard the call and came in to lay aside heavy burdens—
some which had weighed them down for a long, long time.
And that fear gave way to freedom.
After receiving absolution,
these folks practically floated back out the door!
Freedom, they discovered, is not about hanging on;
it’s about letting go.
Freedom is about turning complete control over to God.

As the Lord made abundantly clear
when—with signs and wonders—
he led his chosen people out of Egyptian slavery
and into the bounty of the Promised Land,
freedom—real freedom—is what God desires most
for each and every one of us, his children.

It’s hard to think of a more widely recognized
and generally respected figure in the world today
than the Pope.
What temptations he must face
from earthly prerogatives, power, and prestige!
We’re all-too-aware of how we ourselves
endure—and fall prey to—the devil’s wiles.

So just imagine how it was for Jesus 
out there in the desert.
There is not a single one of those enticements
which belongs to the devil to give,
while every one of them 
is due to Jesus by divine right
as the only begotten Son of God.
And yet, Christ rebuffs them all!
What freedom Jesus demonstrates
in the face of all the devil’s temptations!
It’s not the freedom 
to do and have whatever you want—
a false freedom which only serves to enslave us;
no—it’s the freedom to do whatever God asks
and to accept whatever God gives:
to stop trying (as the devil consonantly tries) 
to take God’s place,
and instead allow God 
to truly be the Lord of our lives.

The Sacrament of Penance is there
for a clean sweep of our sin-cluttered souls,
offering a fresh start
whenever we’ve fallen into the devil’s snare.
And it’s there to give us grace—
strengthening us to fend off temptation
when it comes around again.
And it’s there as often as we need it;
“frequent flyers” are highly encouraged!
You’ll find some helps in preparing for confession
inserted in this Sunday’s bulletin,
including How to God to Confession, 
Acts of Contrition, an Examination of Conscience, 
and a schedule of confessions.
(We wanted to anticipate every excuse!)
Don’t let fear keep you away
when God, in his love, wants nothing more
than to set you free!

“There’s good news and there’s better news.
The good news is there is a messiah.
The better news is it’s not you.”
The Pope seems to know that.
Let’s make sure we do, too.
It’s precisely in this faith
that real freedom is found.

Friday, February 15, 2013

And Then Along Came Mary

To quote Monty Python: "And now, for something completely different!"

This video is a little long, so wait till you've got the time to fully enjoy it.  Just hysterical!

Cardito (population 21,000) is a few miles northeast of case you find yourself driving in the region.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Why, Indeed

The sacramental theologian in me took GREAT interest in this clip from Monday’s edition of the Colbert Report…
So...St. Augustine thought transubstantiation (although, I admit, the term wasn’t yet coined) was “ridiculous”?  Funny, since he once preached to his congregation:
“You ought to know what you have received, what you are going to receive, and what you ought to receive daily. That Bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Blood of Christ. Through that bread and wine the Lord Christ willed to commend His Body and Blood, which He poured out for us unto the forgiveness of sins. If you receive worthily, you are what you have received” (Sermon 227).
Or, as Mr. Colbert put it, “You are what you eat.”

OK, OK, so Hebrews wasn’t written by St. Paul.  But how does that (coupled with the fact you find it troublesome and crazy) give you the right to simply deny its divine inspiration and singlehandedly yank it out of the New Testament?

I wouldn't do that with anything "God wrote," if I were you.

And Extreme Unction (more commonly known now as the Anointing of the Sick) has “no foundation in the early Church”?  Really?  Funny, the Letter of James (written in the 1st century) just happens to say:
“Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters* of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15).
*the Greek word for "elders," from which the English word "priest" is derived

So…a Church with no Eucharist (or other sacraments) and no priesthood.  Hmm.  I think that's already been tried.  But with more scholarly theological arguments than this.  And without much success.  

It seems Mr. Wills previously wrote a book titled, Why I Am a Catholic.  A good question, indeed.

Thank you, Mr. Colbert!  Let's join him in praying for Mr. Wills.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Continue to Pray

"I am strengthened and reassured by the certainty that the Church is Christ’s, who will never leave her without his guidance and care.  I thank all of you for the love and for the prayers with which you have accompanied me.  Thank you; in these days which have not been easy for me, I have felt almost physically the power of prayer – your prayers – which the love of the Church has given me.  Continue to pray for me, for the Church and for the future Pope.  The Lord will guide us."
Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience, February 13, 2013

O Lord Jesus Christ,
Supreme Pastor of Your Church,
we thank you for the ministry
of Pope Benedict XVI
and the selfless care with which he has led us
as Successor of Peter, and Your Vicar on earth.

Good Shepherd,
who founded Your Church
on the rock of Peter's faith
and have never left Your flock untended,
look with love upon us now,
and sustain Your Church in faith, hope, and charity.

Grant, Lord Jesus,
in Your boundless love for us,
a new Pope for Your Church
who will please You by his holiness
and lead us faithfully to You,
who are the same yesterday, today, and forever.


Prayer courtesy of the Knights of Columbus


“Thoroughly wash me from my guilt, O Lord,
and cleanse me of my sin.” (Psalm 51)

   Ash Wednesday   

I’m starting my Lent by stealing.   That’s most certainly a bad idea…but at least I’m not compounding the situation by lying about it, too!

The other day, Fr. Tom shared an idea for his homily with the students from Holy Family School, which he then used at their Ash Wednesday Mass earlier this morning.  It’s that idea I’m stealing.

You see, Fr. Tom told the school children that we’d had such a huge crowd at the early Mass today that we ran out of ashes.  But he also told the kids not to worry because he had found a substitute…which is when he pulled out a large, black, permanent marker. 

Now, over the years I’ve had a few folks come up to me after Mass on Ash Wednesday asking for a second dose, since their first smudge of didn’t stick too well.  Maybe permanent marker would be a better choice for some!

So…why ashes instead of something else? 

Since Old Testament times, ashes have been a sign of sorrow, of mourning, of repentance.  They remind us of our humble beginnings—that God first formed man from the dust of the earth—and they remind us of our mortal end—that, on account of sin, we will die and return to dust and ashes once more.  And, in my opinion anyway, ashes are therefore the perfect choice because—unlike that black marker—they don’t stay on your forehead forever.  Ashes will wash off again.

People deal with their ashes in all kinds of ways.  Some, as I’ve said, wear them around rather proudly.  But I also often see bangs (for those of us who still have enough hair to do so) quickly moved back into place to cover over the black smear.  More often than not, however, we simply overlook that they’re there—mistakenly brushing them away in the course of the day.

If you got your face dirty on any other day of the year, what would your natural instinct be?  To scrub it clean, of course!  And the sooner, the better!  And that’s what Ash Wednesday calls us to, as well.

These ashes we’re about to receive are a sign of sorrow for our sins.  And we deal with our sins in much the same way we deal with our ashes.  Sometimes we flaunt them, or at least wallow in them awhile since we’re not really ready to let them go.  Sometimes we attempt to hide them—from others, from ourselves, and even—always unsuccessfully—from God.  Most often, we carry on as if, should we just forget about them or brush them aside, they will simply go away on their own.

But you and I both know: none of those techniques ever really works.

We need the same instinct for our dirty souls as we normally have for our dirty faces!  When our hearts get grimy with sin, they need to be washed clean.   It is for this that the Son of God came to dwell among us: to take away the sins of the world!  It is for this that Christ died and rose again: to wash away our sins in his own blood!

In today’s gospel, Jesus advocates the traditional practices of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting—acts of penance which are so much a part of our Lenten observance—as ways to tidy things up a bit.  For minor transgressions, for our lesser weaknesses, those work just fine.  But our serious sins require a bit more scrubbing.  And so, through the Church, Christ has given us the Sacrament of Penance.  Lent is our annual spiritual spring-cleaning, and confession is for deep down scouring.  Don’t put it off!  Don’t make excuses!  Our sins don’t have to be permanent stains.  “Now is the acceptable time!  Now is the day of salvation!”  Resolve today that this Lent, during these coming forty days, you will allow the Lord, in his great mercy, to cleanse you to the core.

Jesus says, “When you fast, do not neglect your appearance.  Wash your face.”

We’ve come here today—a day of fasting—for ashes: a mark that’s meant from the start to come off again.  So before you go to bed tonight, be sure to wash your face.  And before Easter dawns, be sure you’ve also allowed Christ to scrub your soul.