Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Little Cheeky

A monk.
A rabbi.
A leprechaun.
A lumberjack.
A Greek Orthodox priest.
Jase from Duck Dynasty.
Santa Claus.*
(*Except, of course, that the beard is red
and the robe is white, instead of vice versa).

These are all things I've been told I look like with this year's (admittedly, much larger than in previous winters) edition of "the beard."

A parishioner handed me the following humorous newspaper clipping before Mass this morning from Britain's, The Tablet:

Bare-faced cheek

NOT SINCE the eleventh century, when the length of a man's beard was said to equate to the number of his sins, have the hirsute had cause to believe that the Church discriminated against them. But the Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan, reignited the conflict last week when he suggested in a letter to the Equality and Human Rights Commission that its recent report on belief was offensive because it equated lifestyle choices like having a beard with the great religions.

"If anyone is being offensive here, it is the bishop," the Beard Liberation Front organiser Keith Flat shot back in a press release. "Of course, wearing a beard is not a religion but it can be a way of life and the bishop should respect that." The group added that all great religions have had bearded members, but observed that there had not been a bearded pope since 1700. In the eleventh century, canon law threatened with excommunication priests who wore a beard; Pope Alexander III ordained that clerics who grew a beard were to be shaved by their archdeacon by force, if necessary.

So it's been more than 300 years...
but I can see it...

The News

   Third Sunday in Ordinary Time    

I once heard the advice that a preacher should prepare
“with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”
(Maybe that expression should be updated a little bit in this digital age…
…but you get the idea.)

That’s exactly how I prepared for this Sunday’s homily.

In Thursday’s edition of the Telegram,
I read a heart-wrenching but incredibly inspiring story.

In the Rochester suburb of Penfield,
eight-year-old Tyler Doohan woke up very early Monday morning
to find that a fire had started in his grandfather’s trailer
where he and eight other relatives were staying that night.
He awoke six of those relatives—including two younger children—
who all made it out to safety.
Tyler then went to get his 57-year-old grandfather—
an amputee who could only get around with crutches or a wheelchair.
But they never made it out.
Along with an uncle, Tyler and his grandfather died in the blaze;
according to the fire chief, their bodies were found only a few feet apart.

As I did in the newspaper,
I look in the Scriptures this Sunday and see heroes:
the fishermen Peter and Andrew, James and John,
who find the courage to drop everything and follow Jesus;
and next generation believers like Paul and Apollos and Chloe,
who put their very lives on the line to spread the gospel of Christ.
We look with awe at these brave men and women
from another time and place
and wonder how they found the strength
to be so totally committed to the gospel.
Our wonder, unfortunately, can become a deterrent
if our next thought is, But I could never do that…

Which is when we need to look back from the Bible to the newspaper,
and think again about Tyler.
At only eight years old, his young body wasn’t very strong.
His young mind hadn’t had a chance to get too much education.
He hadn’t gone to bed with any intention
of saving anybody else’s life.
But he woke up and recognized real danger.
And he also recognized within himself
that he had what it takes to make a real difference.
And most importantly of all:
he was willing to put it all on the line
in order to save those around him.

If Tyler could do it, then so can we!

As Isaiah prophesied, the Messiah would come
to a people walking in darkness;
a new light would arise for those who dwell in a land
overshadowed by the gloom of death.
While the prophet specifically mentions
a few obscure seaside towns in Galilee,
he could have just as easily named Malone or Chasm Falls.
We look around at the state of our community or our parish,
of our country or our Church,
and we can see plenty of gloomy shadows,
plenty of reasons to be discouraged,
plenty of darkness.
We can recognize the problems.
We might even have a few ideas about the solutions.
Yet we’re held back, time and again, by that nagging thought,
But I could never do that…

Why not?
Because if Tyler could do it, then so can we.
The work we’re talking about doing here
is, in fact, a matter of saving lives—
first for this world, and then for eternity.

This past Wednesday was the 41st anniversary
of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade,
legalizing abortion in the U.S.
The result, all these years later?
One out of every three pregnancies here in New York State
now ends in abortion.
More babies are aborted in New York City alone each year
than people it would take to fill MetLife Stadium to capacity
for the Super Bowl.

And what about our churches?
Our seating capacity is nowhere near that of a sports arena…
…but we’re also nowhere near full.
By the books, only one out of every five of our registered parishioners
is here for Mass on any given weekend.
(And we have, by far, the largest active congregation
of any denomination around!)

Can we wake up and recognize
the real darkness, the real dangers,
which overshadow our times—
dangers posed to body, mind, and spirit?
And can we recognize that we have within ourselves—
thanks to God’s grace—
all that it takes to make a real difference:
maybe not by ourselves 
to end all legal abortion immediately
or to bring back every fallen away Catholic,
but to rescue one baby, to revive one soul?
And are we—most importantly of all—
willing to put it all on the line
in order to reflect the light of Christ 
into this world’s gloom,
in order to save those around us?

If Tyler could do it, why can’t we?

The brothers Peter and Andrew, 
and the sons of Zebedee,
all dropped their nets at the call of the Lord.
Christ is still calling.
What are we waiting for?
As the newspaper readily reminds us,
we’re constantly sitting in the shadow of bad news.
So let’s get to spreading the Good News
which sheds so much light,
and in which lies the salvation of the world!

Saturday, January 25, 2014


I wrote the following letter on Thursday and sent it in to The Malone Telegram...but it hasn't yet been published there, so I'm now posting it here...

UPDATE (1/30/14): The Telegram printed my letter today.

To the editor:

It seems that two extreme cold fronts have settled on New York State: one blast from the arctic, and the other from Albany.

It was a phone call on Tuesday from a friend in Georgia which alerted me to some extraordinarily troubling comments made by Governor Andrew Cuomo last Friday.  It seems that the press in the Peach Sate recognized their import long before it did here in the Empire State…and when I finally saw something about it in this newspaper on Thursday—almost a week later, the very same day the venerable New York Times also first found them worthy of note—the Governor’s words were summarized and thereby softened.

What exactly did our Governor say?  “Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that's who they are, and if they are the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that's not who New Yorkers are” (in a public radio interview, January 17, 2014).

I am aware that Governor Cuomo was speaking about his potential GOP rivals in the next gubernatorial election, but he was painting with a very broad brush.

I do not own a gun, and I wouldn’t say I am “pro-assault weapon” by any means, but I do support the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.  I am not at all “anti-gay,” and will not condone bigotry against any group whatsoever, although I cannot support the legalization of same-sex marriage.  I am, however, thoroughly “right-to-life,” believing in the sacred dignity of the human person from the first moment of conception until a natural death.  If that makes me “extreme,” so be it; I have been called by worse names.  But I am also a New Yorker, through and through, and am profoundly disturbed to hear that there is “no place” in the state that I have always called my home for me or others like me who deeply cherish human life at its most vulnerable.

I appreciate the increased attention—mostly in financial form—that our Governor has been giving to the North Country.  But I cannot support his claim made in Tuesday’s State of the State speech that there’s a “different feeling” now in the region.  No amount of money can buy my feelings.  If we once felt “abandoned and isolated, [like we] weren’t even a part of New York, [like we] couldn’t even relate to Albany,” then how are comments such as those made last Friday supposed to make us feel any differently?  Baby, it’s cold outside…and it’s getting colder!

I am a New Yorker who wants to believe in New York.  I would hope that New York can also respect what I believe.

Fr. Joseph Giroux
Pastor, Malone Catholic Parishes

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Know the Words

Not only am I feeling better...but I've got a homily to post this week!

Parishioners kept asking after Mass: Who were you listening to?  Those who know me well could have surely guessed: the Indigo Girls...

   Second Sunday in Ordinary Time    

A dear friend once described my musical taste
as “girls with guitars singing sad songs.”
She was pretty accurate!
Being in a bit of a post-Christmas winter funk the other day,
that was just the sort of music I wanted to hear
and I found myself reaching for a few CDs
that I listened to constantly in my late teens and early twenties.
Driving to and from a meeting in Potsdam,
I was singing in the car at the top of my lungs.
It had been quite a while since I’d listened to those albums,
and yet I remembered every note, every word.
After that had gone on for a while,
a couple of things caught my attention.
The first was the amazing ability of our minds
to hold on to so much basically useless information!
But I was also surprised as I listened again to the lyrics:
I hate to admit it,
but some of these songs which were once so dear and meaningful to me
don’t actually make very much sense.
They sound good when you listen, and it’s fun to sing along,
but I wouldn’t be able to tell you in the least what they’re really all about.

Which got me to thinking:
How often do we do that with other words?

I know it’s polite to ask someone, “How are you?”
Do I really care about their answer?

At the end of every phone call to my mom,
I stop and say, “I love you.”
Can I keep that from becoming just a catchphrase, a nice habit?

And what about the words of our prayer?
What about the words we repeat Sunday after Sunday here at Mass?
Are we conscious of their significance?
Do we mean what we say?

For example…
Behold the Lamb of God!
Behold him who takes away the sins of the world!
We’re reminded this morning
that these are the words of John the Baptist—
words lifted right from the pages of Scripture.
Why should we repeat them just before Holy Communion?
What did they mean when they were first spoken?
And what ought they mean to you and me today?

St. John Chrysostom was a bishop
who lived on the other side of the world
more than 1600 years ago…
…but he once gave a homily on the Gospel of John
that could have easily been given in these weeks
leading up to the Super Bowl and the Olympics,
the Oscars and the Grammys.
He noted that when 
a distinguished athlete comes to town,
folks race to the arena to see him compete:
tens of thousands of people
keenly focused on his strength and skill,
careful not to miss a single move.
He noted that the same thing happens
for a famous musician, speaker, or actor.
People drop whatever they’re doing—
even necessary and pressing business—
to give her their complete and undivided attention.

If we’re eager to attend these events,
to watch and listen with such earnest attention,
then what zeal, what earnestness ought we display
when it is no athlete, actor, or musician
who comes forward in the contest,
“but a man speaking from heaven,
with a voice more clear than thunder?”
“More wonderful still, this sound, great as it is,” he continues,
“is neither harsh nor unpleasant,
but rather sweeter and more delightful than all musical harmony,
and possessing even more skill to soothe. 
Besides all this, this voice is most holy and awesome. 
It’s so full of mysteries, and brings such great benefits,
that if we were to listen and obey carefully,
we’d dwell on earth as if it were heaven.”

St. John Chrysostom was talking about
the voice of St. John the Apostle in his gospel.
But what he says applies to the very voice of God
speaking through the whole of Scripture,
speaking through his Church.

Do we recognize who’s really speaking to us?
Are we paying close attention?
Are we committing this message to memory?
Are we learning these words “by heart”?

We Catholics tend to have an inferiority complex
when it comes to knowing our faith.
I’m not exactly sure why that is.
It’s certainly not because God has made us any less intelligent
than Protestants, Muslims, or Jews!
We make a point to learn the stats on our favorite teams,
the lyrics of our favorite songs, the lines from our favorite movies,
so we certainly have the ability.
The question is, I guess: do we have the desire?
We won’t learn more about our faith by accident.
Why not make it a priority?

As Catholics, we must be continuous learners.
Our education doesn’t end at our Confirmation!
While we’ll never know it all—
(no one ever gets to the “bottom” of God!),
we can always keep discovering more.
Besides, the point isn’t to make sense of the faith;
the point is to allow the faith to make sense of us:
to give meaning and purpose to all the twists and turns of life.

We live in an age when people
are asking a lot of questions about Catholicism.
We owe them rock-solid answers—
and not just to be scratching our heads 
right along with them.
Of course, the learning of which I speak
isn’t so much about retaining information.
Christianity, after all, isn’t a list
of facts and figures, of customs and commandments;
Christianity is a person: Christianity is Christ.
We need to get to know our faith
because we need to get to know Jesus;
and we need to get to know Jesus
because the world needs us—
like it did John the Baptist—
to keep pointing him out: Behold the Lamb of God!
Behold the Son who’s come to do the Father’s will!
Behold a man upon whom the Spirit rests!
Behold the only one who makes it all make sense—
who puts the pieces back together again!
Behold the Savior who takes away our sins
and calls us to be saints!

Imagine what would happen if each one of us
took just a fraction of the time and attention
we devote to music and sports and movies,
and instead gave it to growing in our faith.
What grace, what power would be unleashed here in Malone!
When it comes to our Catholic faith,
let’s be sure to give it the attention it deserves.
Let’s learn to mean what we say and say what we mean.
Then we’ll dwell on earth as if it were heaven.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Catching Up

Just so you know...I wasn't away for a second weekend in a row, but preached this past Sunday without a text or notes, so I had nothing to post here.  Sorry!  (I'm also battling a mighty head it's left me less-than-motivated to sit down and post this message.)  Hope you all had a great weekend and a smooth transition into Ordinary Time.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Rare Gift

   The Epiphany of the Lord   

They weren't quite magi, and they came from the South rather than the East, but this weekend brought a visit from three priests from Philadelphia--seminary classmates of Fr. Tom--who graciously agreed to assist with Masses, providing me with the rare treat (maybe even more rare than gold, frankincense, and myrrh) of a weekend off.  I spent some time in my former parish of Old Forge (where many didn't recognize the strange priest with a beard!), enjoying good company and a beautiful snowmobile ride...but, alas, I didn't preach, so I have no homily to pass along today.

A blessed "little Christmas" to you all!

"Today, the Magi find in the manger the one they have followed as he shone in the sky.  Today, the Magi see clearly the one they have long awaited as he lay hidden among the stars.  Today, the Magi gaze in deep wonder at what they see: heaven on earth, earth in heaven, man in God, God in man, one whom the universe cannot contain now enclosed in a tiny body.  As they look, they believe and do not question, as their symbolic gift bear witness: incense for God, gold for a king, myrrh for one who is to die."  
Saint Peter Chrysologus

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year, New 'Do

I spent some of New Year's Day with family, and my niece spent a while trying to "style" my beard...

Thankfully, there are no pictures of when the pretty pink barrette was in there...and no scars from when she tried to yank it out.

Happy New Year!