Sunday, July 27, 2014

Made in Heaven

   Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time   A  

A priest got up to preach at a wedding and began,
“Marriages are made in heaven.”
Which is when an old man in the back piped up,
“So are thunder, lightning, tornados, and hail!”

On Thursday, as I often do,
I was listening to a Lighthouse Catholic Media CD in the car.
(If you’ve never picked up one those CDs
on the racks in our churches, you’re really missing out!
They’re by top-notch Catholic speakers
on important and interesting topics.
I can’t urge you strongly enough to give them a try.)

The subject of this particular CD was marriage.
(And before you go looking for it on your way out from Mass,
we don’t have this one available yet,
but I’ll be ordering some copies very soon.)
It wasn’t focused on any of the usual issues that you’d expect:
not about sex before marriage, not about same-sex marriage,
not about divorce and remarriage.
It was about something far more fundamental—
something which impacts everything the Church has to say
on these topics and so many others.
And the basic contention of the speaker, Dr. Brant Pitre,
is that, when it comes to God’s plan for our salvation,
marriage isn’t everything—
it’s the only thing.

Have you ever noticed that the Bible
both begins and ends with a wedding?
The first one—from Genesis—takes place in the Garden of Eden;
the last one—from Revelation—in the New Jerusalem.
The first marriage is between Adam and Eve,
between man and woman;
the last is between heaven and earth,
between Christ and the Church, between God and the human race.
From the very start, God’s been leading up to this big finish:
the first union—“till death do us part”—
pointing to and preparing us for
a communion that is eternal.

All between these two biblical weddings,
marriage is a favorite metaphor
in the writings of prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea,
in the parables of Jesus, and in the letters of St. Paul.
In this Sunday’s first reading,
we find King Solomon praying to the Lord for wisdom,
and his prayer is granted.
Among the wise writings he left us is the Song of Songs:
a lengthy love poem—right in the middle of the Bible—
that’s not just romantic, but downright racy;
a celebration of what’s right and beautiful and holy
about the love of bridegroom and bride;
a passionate book which more than hints
at the ultimate love story—
the one which ends happily forever after.

The two parables we hear from Jesus this Sunday
help us to realize that all this talk of marriage
is more than merely metaphorical:
it’s the truth at the very heart of reality.
The treasure buried in the field,
the pearl of great price—
we assume that these are moral lessons
about the virtue of making
whatever sacrifice might be necessary
in order enter the Kingdom of God.
But what if that’s completely backwards?
What if we are the hidden treasure, 
we the pearl in the market,
and God is the one who recognizes our true worth,
who will stop at nothing to take us as his own?

Indeed, God has paid the highest price—
the Father gave his Son, the Son gave his life—
motivated only by the purest love.
Whatever it takes, no matter the cost,
the Lord pursues us,
that we would belong to him and him alone.

Although most often unknowingly,
we experience this reality in every Mass.
The Eucharist is matrimonial, too:
it is the marriage feast of the Lamb of God;
it is a continual wedding reception.
One of the great photo-ops at a wedding reception
is when the bride and groom feed each other a piece of cake.
I always feel kind of sad if they smash it into each other’s faces…
…but there’s something deeply moving
if they begin their marriage by feeding each other
with clear and obvious tenderness.
Every time we approach the altar,
Christ, the bridegroom of our souls,
reaches out to lovingly place a morsel in our mouths—
not of cake and icing, but something infinitely sweeter:
his most sacred Body and most precious Blood.

We’re now at the end of the Catholic Church in America’s
annual Natural Family Planning Week.
Hopefully you read Bishop LaValley’s letter in last Sunday’s bulletin,
or some of the articles in the North Country Catholic,
or the other literature made available in our churches.
If you haven’t yet, why not now?

Whenever she addresses matters of sexuality,
you hear people say,
“The Church should just stay out of my bedroom!”
That’s such an ironic statement in this day and age
when there’s so much very public and frank talk about sex—
when everybody else seems to be invited into that intimate space
which was once considered rather sacred.
But the Church only shows
such care and concern for sex and marriage
because God has a plan—a plan for the world’s salvation—
and he’s built that plan right into the nature of things:
into our bodies and our souls,
into the structure of our relationships and our society.
What Christ’s Church desires to teach us today
is precisely the same as the Lord
has desired to teach us since the beginning:
that marriage is indeed “made in heaven.”

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Less Corn, More Wheat

After Mass today, a fellow stopped to ask me, "Do you know where I can get any good tomatoes?"

   Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time   A  

As I was struggling into the night on this homily—
not so much on what I wanted to say,
but on how I ought to say it—
I came across a blog post that cleared things up…
…and from which I’m going to borrow heavily.
It was entitled, 
(That’s certainly a name which gets your attention!)
It was written by Daniel Bearman—
a heavily bearded, seriously tattooed guy from the deep south
who married his high school sweetheart,
with her converted to Catholicism,
and is now the proud father of three very young children.
(That’s not your typical profile, either!)

He starts with the tomatoes.
I can no longer eat that little tomato wedge
that comes with side salads at restaurants.
You know, the little half moon
that sits to the right of the iceberg mix
with the texture of styrofoam
and a taste vaguely reminiscent of watery ketchup.
I used to be able to eat them
but then I had a real, fresh tomato
with soft, meaty flesh and vibrant tomato flavor.
Now, I could never go back to the stale and bland tomatoes
shipped across the country in midwinter.

Daniel goes on to say this is a hard thing to explain
in American’s current food culture.
Sure, most folks prefer better tasting food,
but our real priority is getting what we want,
getting it now, and getting it cheap.
The thought of waiting or paying more is simply absurd.
He calls this our “high fructose corn syrup culture.”
We plant millions of acres of corn every year in this countryin order to produce a sweetener that’s basically tasteless but cheap—
making it perfect to dump into just about everything.
The sad paradox is that,
despite a nearly infinite variety of food-like products
and so much land devoted to agriculture,
many American are obese, but not getting the nutrients they need;
they’re dying of heart disease and suffering from diabetes;
such abundance, and yet our children are malnourished.

Sadly, Daniel continues, this paradox of empty excess
is not unique to our eating habits.
Our culture is also sick because we think of sex in the same way.…
Because we’ve started treating sex the same way
we treat high fructose corn syrup.

The “sexual revolution” made us empty promises:
“Everybody can have sex whenever they want it,
with whomever they want it! 
Sex is easy!  Sex is cheap!  Sex is good for you!”
In the process, sex was reduced to its physical thrill—
as if pleasure were its only real purpose.
But such pleasure is fleeting.
So the solution must be to have sex more often.
Or to keep changing things up.
That’s why pornography
has gotten increasingly common and depraved,
why the supermarket checkout line
advertizes so many hot tips for the bedroom.
A constant diet of sex,
and yet we’re still malnourished, still unsatisfied.

How?  Why?
Because there’s supposed to be more!
Sex isn’t just about sexual gratification.
And where did Daniel and his wife learn this?
From—of all sources—the Catholic Church.
They learned it through Natural Family Planning.

First, the Church taught them that sex unites.
[O]ur “sex life”—Daniel writes
isn’t just some detachable part of our life
like a career or exercise routine.
Sex is an integrated part of our life connected to our marriage
and continuing commitment to each other.
When my wife and I make love
(a wonderful expression which hardly describes
our culture’s approach to sex),
I’m not just trying to satisfy my own sexual desires
and I’m not even trying JUST to satisfy hers.
I’m uniting with her physically
as I’ve already united with her
emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
Sex is not an isolated act but, in a way,
an extension of the thousands of hours
we’ve spent talking and laughing together;
trying to take care of each other;
and sharing everything from meals to joys and fears.
Sex is one of the many ways in which we become “one flesh”
and our enjoyment is exponentially greater as a result.

And second, the Church taught them that sex creates.
[W]e aren’t actively trying to get pregnant every time, of course.
But we’re open to the possibility.
And part of the richness of that openness is present
right in the next room where our children are sleeping.
And another part exists in our hearts
where we keep our desire to have, God willing,
more wonderful children.…
The pleasure is compounded because,
I am not just making love to a beautiful woman;
my beautiful lover is also my selfless wife
and the wonderful mother to my children.
This is also why our satisfaction is longer lasting.
Because we don’t just take pleasure from each other and pull apart.
We give ourselves to each other in a way that lasts…

Daniel concludes:
All of this is difficult to explain
to a high fructose corn syrup culture.
“You mean you have to WAIT sometimes?
You can’t just have [sex] whenever?”
Well, yes, we do have to wait sometimes.…
When I have to wait I begin to crave,
not just sexual release but, intimacy with my wife.
This doesn’t push us away from each other;
it draws us closer.
Waiting, if we let it, can strengthen our marriage.

Our culture gives us corn syrup;
sex that is easy and cheap,
that you can have whenever you want
but will ultimately leave you unsatisfied and sick.
Soon this sex is like a January tomato, tasteless and stale.
The teachings of the Church on sex, by contrast,
are meant to give us nourishment and vibrancy,
a fuller picture of this beautiful gift from God
that will satisfy not only our sexual desires
but many of our deeper desires as well.

I’ve let Daniel Bearman say all this
because I couldn’t have said it any better myself—
and it so desperately needs to be said.

Today, the U.S. Catholic Church
It’s always timed to coincide with the anniversary
of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical 
Humane Vitae, on the regulation of birth,
issued July 25, 1968.
For more than 40 years, the Pope’s words
on why sex, marriage, and procreation always belong together
have been widely mocked
and largely ignored by Catholics as “out of touch.”
In that letter, the Pope warned
that if the widespread use of contraceptives was accepted,
there would be:
            (1) a rise in infidelity and general lowering of moral standards;
            (2) a reduction of women to objects for men’s sexual satisfaction;
            (3) government coercion in reproductive matters.
Sadly, that should all sound familiar enough
that I don’t need to cite the supporting statistics.
Although few want to admit it, the Pope was exactly right.
For 40 years, in the field of human sexuality,
we've seen the weeds gradually choking out the wheat:
we've seen the enemy's work growing;
we have watched God’s plan slowly subverted.

Are we satisfied eating these hothouse tomatoes?
Haven’t we suffered enough
from a diet of corn syrup?

Many Catholics have hastily rejected the Church’s teachings on sex
based on someone else’s opinion,
but without ever seriously looking into them for themselves.
Given the track record I’ve just cited,
don’t you think they at least deserve an honest look?
Read Bishop LaValley’s letter in this Sunday’s bulletin.
Help yourself to some of the NFP materials
available in church this morning.
Look into resources online—
they’ve never been more easily accessible.
Above all, keep God in this conversation.
After all, sex was his idea! 
God knows a thing or two about it.

The Lord is tremendously patient 
in waiting on our repentance,
but we must not presume on his mercy.
After all, the time for harvest—
the Day of Judgment—must come.
No aspect of our human lives is beyond the reach
of the good seed of the Kingdom of Heaven.
So let's plant less corn and grow more wheat!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Power of Prayer



I'm headed out this afternoon to spend the week as chaplain at Guggenheim. Please pray for me...and those kids!

   Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time   A  

There’s an old joke which notes
that when you talk to God, it’s prayer,
but when God talks to you…you're crazy!

What if I told you that God talks to me?
Often?   Directly?   Like an old, dear friend?
Would that sound strange to you?
Would you worry about your pastor’s mental health?
Or would you suppose it’s true,
but a rather rare and unique privilege?

Now, what if I said that God talks to you, too?
Constantly?  Eagerly?  With a message meant just for you?

Maybe you’re thinking, “OK, he really has lost it!”
But what I’m hoping you’ll realize—if you haven’t already—
is that this “God talk” is absolutely central to the Christian faith
which brings us together again this Sunday.

Thus says the Lord:
Just as surely as the rain and snow
come down from heaven…
…so, too, does the word that goes forth from my mouth…

God speaks.

God speaks through the words of the Bible—the sacred Scriptures.
We don’t read them at every Mass
as a merely historical record, like some ancient newspaper;
we read them because the voice of the living God
continues to speak to us through them—guaranteed.

And God speaks through his Church—through her sacred Tradition.
As God once spoke through Jesus on a sea in Galilee,
so he still speaks through Christ’s body—again, guaranteed—
through the liturgy, the saints,
the official teaching of Popes and Bishops.

But God also speaks in an incredible variety of ways
particular to each one of us.
The Lord knows our interests, our needs, our desires—
after all, he made us!—
and so God addresses us in whatever ways
he’s most likely to get through clearly.
I know people to whom God has spoken through movies.
Or friends.  Or books.  Or sunsets.
Many times, God has spoken to me through music—
and I don’t just mean church music, either,
but whatever I’ve got on my iPod
or hear coming through the radio.
(This is where God’s sense of humor breaks through:
I’ve never, ever been a very big fan of country music…
…but I can’t count the times I’ve run across a country song
which plainly contains a message meant just for me!)

Since these many means
don’t come with Scripture’s or Tradition’s guarantee,
then how can I know that it’s God I’m hearing,
and not just myself
or something else trying to deceive me?
Because when you notice God speaking to you,
you’re listening not with your ears,
nor with the powers of your mind,
but with your heart.
When God speaks, it strikes you deep.
His voice makes more sense than anything else.
That’s not to say it’s easy;
he will challenge you…and challenge you a lot!
But God’s word rings true.
It excites you.
It makes you come alive.
But none of this can happen
if I don’t pay attention, if I’m not open,
if I don’t make myself ready to listen.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We can so easily get distracted
by the many ways how God speaks.
First off, though,
we must be thoroughly convinced that God speaks—
and speaks, not just generically to the whole human race,
and not just to other people—probably a select few.
God is speaking to you!

Jesus tells a rather sobering parable this Sunday—
the story of the sower and the seed.
The parable tells us 
that only one out of four will make it;
the other three get taken out by the world,
their own flesh, or the devil.
Clearly, Jesus is hoping 
that you’ll be that one—
and not only that you’ll survive,
but that you’ll thrive
and bear bunches and bunches of good fruit.

God is sowing the seeds of his word—
Where are they falling in your life?
Are they falling on a busy path,
where they’re exposed 
to the assaults of the evil one?
Are they falling on rocky ground,
where they won’t stand a chance of sinking in?
Are they falling among thorns,
only to be choked off by other priorities?
Or are you making sure there’s plenty of rich soil
into which God’s word 
can send down strong, deep roots,
and then flourish and grow?

God is talking.
He’s talking to you.
It’s only crazy if you don’t listen.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Beautiful Morning

I headed out for a paddle early this morning--sad to say, it was my first for the season.  The Deer River Flow (from Cold Brook Road to Red Tavern Road and back, not quite a 5.5 mile round trip) was just about a perfect place to be...

A couple of feathered friends seemed to agree with my assessment.

This wasn't simply a pleasure cruise, however, because I just might have signed myself up for a much longer paddle this coming I've got a little bit of training to do.

Sunday, July 6, 2014


Our long anticipated celebrations of Foundation Day for St. André's Parish couldn't have gone much better.  Twenty-four people made the full 9+ mile "pilgrim walk" from St. Helen's in Chasm Falls into Malone, ranging from age 2 to 82.  And quite a crowd made the 1.5 mile Eucharistic Procession between the three churches in the village following the evening Mass with Bishop LaValley.  A photo taken during Mass which was circulating during the reception pretty much sums up how I was feeling about it all:

To get a few more views of this great day of celebration, check out the photo album at our new parish website:

Only Bites

I've been planning for awhile now to take my 8-year-old nephew, Nathan, out on one of my monthly camping trips.  I let him in on the plan back on Father's Day...and he's been pretty excited about the prospect ever since.  How, exactly, I came to the conclusion that this past Wednesday-Thursdsay, in the aftermath of our Foundation Day celebrations for St. André's, would be the right time to go, is a mystery even to me.  And yet we set out...

Back around Memorial Day, I had checked out the lean-tos near Osgood Pond, determining that they'd be a great spot for this adventure.  So that's where my sister dropped off an eager Nate late Wednesday afternoon.  Unfortunately, we weren't the only ones who thought it would be a good night to stay in that neighborhood: a loop on the "Red Dot" trail (about a mile and a quarter, I'd guess) soon revealed that all three lean-tos were full.  Nathan was already getting blisters (rubber boots were a bad idea), but still pretty intent on spending a night in the woods, so his quick-thinking uncle had to come up with another plan.

Not too far away was the trailhead to Grass Pond, where I'd stayed solo back in February (and which I've visited on a number of other occasions).  I knew the area doesn't get too much traffic...but Nate was going to have to hike a good bit more.  After discussing our options, switching him into his Crocs, and entering into a "no whining" pact, we were on our way...again.  The trail register told us that we shouldn't find any other people in the lean-to, but the millions billions of mosquitos, black flies, and horse flies had somehow failed to sign in and make their presence known in advance.  These were clearly mutants, too, since they we clearly completely immune to our bug dope (my legs still look like I have a bad case of the chicken pox), but we pushed through to our new destination, arriving in good time.

Even after hiking 3 miles that afternoon, Nate was ready to pitch in with the camp chores, particularly collecting fire wood and filtering water (more on that later), but I couldn't get him to do the dishes after supper.

After a couple of card games, we were both ready for bed.  Little did I realize what a restless sleeper my nephew is.  Even with separate sleeping bags and sleeping pads set up 4-5 feet apart, he kicked me all night!  The lean-to just wasn't quite big enough for the two of us.

Despite all of my planning, these outings of mine always come with their wrinkles...and finding the planned lean-tos already full wouldn't be the only one this time.

I thought the "purified"water didn't look quite right the night before, but it's hard to tell by headlamp and we weren't going to need it until morning.  But when the sun came up over Grass Pond, my fears were confirmed: the water was brown and smelled funky.  The filter had failed.  Thankfully, I always pack iodine tabs for just such a situation...and this only added to the sense of real adventure.  Once the water was safe, Nate enjoyed his hot cocoa and rekindling the fire while I cooked up our oatmeal.

Nathan's heart was really set on going fishing while we were out in the backcountry.  Unfortunately, Grass Pond is really more of a swamp--at this time of year, anyway.  I knew our "no whining" pact would be history if he couldn't get his hook in the water, so we made a plan for after we got off the trail.

We made great time on our way back out to the car, and Nathan did the honors of signing us out in the trail register--his first night in the woods a success.

From the trailhead, we drove over to nearby Mountain Pond so he could get his fishing fix.  He got a few nibbles, but only pulled "seaweed" out of the water.

We then made our way to Saranac Lake, picking up sandwiches at the Lakeview Deli (my favorite!) and enjoying them at a picnic table on Lake Flower where we got to watch another fisherman catch a beautiful bass.  By this point, I had one very happy but tired camper to return to Mom and Dad.

Thanks, Nate, for joining me on this adventure!


   Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time   A  

Wednesday afternoon,
I took my eight-year-old nephew camping.
(I somehow thought it would be a good way to recuperate
after all the hoopla of Foundation Day for St. André’s…)
Nathan loves the outdoors,
and I knew he’d enjoy heading out
on a “big adventure” with his Uncle Joe.
We reached our lean-to with just a couple of blisters,
but countless bug bites.
After a campfire and a couple of card games,
we were more than ready for bed:
Nathan—with loaded backpack—
had hiked about three miles that afternoon on his short legs;
I had already clocked about eleven miles the day before,
between the “pilgrim walk” down from Chasm Falls
and the Eucharistic procession through the village.
We were both pretty tired!
Yet while Nathan was out
almost as soon as he crawled into his sleeping bag,
I just laid there half-awake most of the night.
For one thing, I kept getting kicked;
I could have been lying on the other side of the pond
and that kid would have still found a way
to squirm right up near me.
But I was also very conscious of my responsibility
to take care of my nephew and get him back home safely.
Nathan was able to sleep because he knew,
even if wild critters or thunderstorm should approach,
there was somebody he could trust looking out for him.

What’s true in childhood remains true throughout life:
we can only really and truly rest
when we believe that we’ll be taken care of.

Fr. Justin was quite amused the other day
when we went into a local shop
and there was sign sitting next to the register:

“In God We Trust” is the official motto of this country:
is shows up on all our currency,
and it taken from our national anthem
(found in the fourth verse—one we never sing).
But we Americans remain rather restless, don’t we?
Even with the high rate of unemployment that plagues the land,
we’re a nation of workaholics.
We don’t seem to know how to rest.
Whether it’s the weekend, a holiday, or vacation
(assuming that our jobs allow for any or all of these),
we often work just as hard as at our paid occupation,
but on other things:
yard work, housework, sports, and the like.
When we take time off to travel,
we frequently return home more tired than when we left.
We don’t rest well.

Despite our national motto,
could it be because we lack for trust?
Could it be that, deep down, we believe
that everything depends on us and our own efforts?
That our confidence lies
more in mortal, human flesh and what it can achieve
than it does in the Spirit of God?

Come to me, Jesus says, 
all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Now, that’s not to say God’s looking for us to be lazy—far from it!
But our heavenly Father wants his children,
whether at work or at play, 
to experience the joy and peace which can only come
from truly believing in his all-encompassing care.

The recently canonized Pope St. John XXIII embodied this well.
After a hard day, his final prayer would always be,
“It’s your Church, Lord.  I’m going to bed.”
That’s faith! 
And it’s the recipe for a good night’s sleep.

Let’s make it more than a mere motto.
Put your complete trust in God…
…then get some real rest.