Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Donkey Speaks

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, Year A
I can’t believe they didn’t even mention me. After all, I did just about all of the work – it’s no short trip to walk all the way from Bethlehem to Egypt, let alone to have a heavy load on your back. And then, when the story was written down, the story of Mary and Joseph and their little baby boy, I’m not even mentioned. It would have been so easy to say that Mary rode on a donkey when they went to Egypt – but nothing. It’s as if I weren’t even there. But, then again, the gospel’s not really about me – it’s about the child, the baby boy I carried, the one they call Jesus.

This little family definitely didn’t have an easy life – first, Mary becomes pregnant miraculously, then they have to travel to Bethlehem when she’s almost ready to give birth, and with no room in the inn – well, you know the story. And now, to have to go all the way to Egypt so soon after the baby was born – if I were Mary and Joseph, I’d be wondering what kind of person God is to let so many obstacles be put in my path. But it’s strange – they never complained, they never questioned – they did just what God asked of them. It really was a great privilege to be with them on their journey to Egypt – to see how much Mary and Joseph loved each other, but even more how much they loved the baby. They had to set aside their own plans, their own family, to do what was best for the child, even if that meant walking all the way to the strange land of Egypt, where they didn’t know anyone. You should have seen it – the trust, the faith, the love that filled this little family.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – well, of course there was love and trust and faith, because this isn’t just any family we’re talking about, it’s the holy family. God chose Mary and Joseph because he knew they would be great parents, that they were up to the task he was going to give them to take care of his son. And you’re right – God did choose Mary and Joseph for this special role, but believe me, they were just as afraid as you would be if you were fleeing to Egypt so your baby boy wouldn’t be killed by a crazy king.

But this family does have something that not all families have – they have God at the center of their lives, as the focus of everything they’re doing – literally, the Word made flesh is a part of their family. Not every family has that. Now, call me crazy – I’m just a poor, lowly donkey – but from everything I’ve heard about God and about this baby, it doesn’t have to be that way; you can be just like the Holy Family. You, too, can have this tiny baby and the man he will become as the center of your life – you, too, can have the Word made flesh as part of your family, through the Eucharist and the other sacraments, through prayer and Scripture. Life is certainly not easy, but if you can keep the focus on Jesus Christ – and not on your own plans for success, not on your own possessions, not even on your modes of transportation, whether donkey or more sophisticated – if you can keep your focus on Jesus, then you can be like the Holy Family, because that’s all they did that made their lives so meaningful. But what do I know, I’m just a poor donkey. Read the story yourself to find out the truth.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Prosperity Preaching Questioned

Especially in recent years, a movement has been growing in Christianity in the United States known as "The Gospel of Wealth" or "Prosperity Preaching." The heart of this movement is an interpretation of certain biblical texts to say that God wants everyone to be wealthy, and that if you have a strong enough faith you will definitely prosper in life. For many of us Christians, it is hard to understand the scriptural basis for this Gospel of Wealth - true, God does want people to have the best life they can, but he also takes a special concern for the poor and neglected, those who are as far away from wealthy as can be. Traditional Christianity holds that the greatest treasure in life is our faith, which can lead us to enjoy eternal life with God. The Gospel of Wealth seems to place so much emphasis on personal success in this life that the glory of heaven is diminshed.

The Gospel of Wealth has been spread primarily though charismatic evangelical preachers, most of whom themselves enjoy a great deal of personal success and wealth. Now, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa is leading a congressional investigation into the finances of six religious groups that preach the Gospel of Wealth to some degree. Grassley is looking specifically at the lavish spending of preachers promoting the Gospel of Wealth and their possible abuse of their tax-exempt status. Here is a CNN article on the investigation and the Gospel of Wealth in general.

As we are so close to Christmas and the commercialization that now accompanies this religious holiday, it seems an appropriate time to ask whether material success and the Christian gospel go hand-in-hand. In the United States, at least, it would seem that having a good Christmas is only possible if you are wealthy enough to buy extravagant gifts for family members and friends. And yet, on that first Christmas night, the most important gift was a newborn baby - God's gift of himself. And by the time that baby reached adulthood, he did not have a home, probably had few personal possessions, and most of his friends abandonded him as he was being led to his death. How about that for success?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas at OLPH

Here are some pictures of my parish church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, decorated for Christmas. The Liturgy Committee and Art and Environment Coordinator do a great job of celebrating all the seasons and feasts of the year. A continued Blessed Christmas!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bethlehem Hospitality

Homily for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Year A
Christmas is a many-faceted celebration. But if there is only one word that can sum up the best of everything that is Christmas: hospitality. Throughout the world, these days of Christmas are a time when people gather, when homes are opened to family, neighbors, and co-workers. Employers, clubs, and really any kind of group of friends have invited each other to Christmas parties. Religious and civic groups reach out to try to provide a meaningful Christmas for those who can’t afford to buy anything extra. And churches everywhere welcome worshippers to celebrate Christ’s birth. By its very nature, Christmas brings people together and inspires a warmth and welcome more than any other time of year. But it hasn’t always been that way. On the first Christmas, so long ago, the city of Christ’s birth was closed off to the people who needed hospitality the most, man and his wife, who was heavy with child.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

If only the people of Bethlehem had known what was happening that night. If only they could see the miracle that was wandering through their dark streets. Of course, there were some who did – like the shepherds who heard the message of the angels and went to welcome this new-born king. This baby was not completely without welcome. Some days later, visitors arrived from the east, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Each one did their part to greet this holy child, to make our God feel at home in this world he had created.

O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth,
and praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth;
For Christ is born of Mary; and, gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.

The true blessing of Christmas is that our celebration today is not just about an event of the past. The true blessing of Christmas is that Christ is waiting to be born among us, right here, right now; and we desperately need his presence. When our love seems to fall short, we need to feel the unconditional love that only God can give us. When our courage or patience wear thin, we need to be strengthened by the God who made us. When we seem lost or abandoned, there is only one person who can put us on the right path. The true blessing of Christmas is that God lives with us here on earth each day. And in this season of hospitality, there is only one person we all must be prepared to welcome:

O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell:
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.

Come, Lord Jesus. We are ready to welcome you.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Joseph, the Silent Man

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A
He never says a word, this man named Joseph. He is silent and still, at least in what is recorded in Scripture. He is really in the background of the story, a story centered around the child of his wife, but a child who was not his own; he is in the background of a story centered around the man this child would become, and the suffering and death he would endure; a story centered around a prophecy of God-made man. We couldn’t imagine a Nativity Scene without this silent man, standing there, leaning on a staff, gazing at the child. We might wonder what is going through his mind, what his perspective on this miracle is. But he never says a word, this man named Joseph. He listens to the angel, he understands, and he does what the Lord asks of him.

And yet the silence of Joseph is fitting in these last days of Advent, these last days before Christmas. Because, really, what could you say? What words could express the mystery of our God who loves us so much that he becomes one of us; what words could express the fact that this tiny child is destined to save all people from their sins? It is a miracle beyond words, a grace beyond comprehension. All Joseph can do is listen to the angel and gaze at the child – no words are needed when you’re in the presence of the Word made Flesh.

It’s fitting, too, that one of the most loved Christmas songs of all time calls to mind the silence of that night, when that holy infant was born. The world was calm and bright in the presence of the holy one of Israel; no words were needed. But we’re not quite there yet; we still have some time before we sing that song. As hard as it is, we have to wait, we have to watch. In just a matter of hours, the joy of Christmas will be upon us; their will be singing and shouting, the clamor of holiday meals and the excitement of unwrapping gifts. The noise may be so great in some places that we can’t hear the cry of a baby, or the sweet song of his mother. In our own joy, we may forget the humble shepherds or the choir of angels. And so today, we step back and look around. Today, we stand with Joseph, the silent man, who has heard the voice of the angel. Today, we wait with Joseph, the husband, who guides and guards his wife, Mary, who is heavy with child. Today, we watch with Joseph, the righteous man, as the miracle of all miracles takes place: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” Come to us, O Emmanuel; we are waiting in joyful hope for your coming among us. Break into our silence and fill the earth with your Word. “Dear Savior haste! Come, come to earth. Dispel the night and show your face, and bid us hail the dawn of grace. O come, divine Messiah; the world in silence waits the day when hope shall sing its triumph and sadness flee away!”

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The War on Christmas

With only five days left until Christmas, it's time once again for us Christians to stand up and say what Christmas is all about: the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as man. All the other peripherals surrounding this holiday - from the carols to the presents to the pageants to the decorations - can serve to highlight and celebrate Christ's birthday, or they can take on a meaning of their own, devoid of any religious significance. For example, the tradition of gift-giving on Christmas recalls the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh given by the magi to Jesus, and this tradition can also connect very well with the message of "goodwill toward men" that the angels proclaimed and the unconditional love that Christ calls us to show to others. The tradition of a Christmas tree can remind us that, like the evergreen tree, God is always living; and the lights of the tree (representing Christ as the light of the world) and the angel or star toppers (from the Nativity story) can also lead us back to the heart of the Christmas celebration.

Unfortunately, there are those out there who want to separate the religious from the secular to such an extreme that they advocate taking Christ out of Christmas. Earlier this week, the Louisville Courier-Journal published an OpEd titled "Christmas should be more commercial." The conclusion: "America's tragedy is that its intellectual leaders have typically tried to replace happiness with guilt by insisting that the spiritual meaning of Christmas is religion and self-sacrifice for Tiny Tim or his equivalent. But the spiritual must start with recognizing reality. Life requires reason, selfishness, capitalism; that is what Christmas should celebrate -- and really, underneath all the pretense, that is what it does celebrate. It is time to take the Christ out of Christmas, and turn the holiday into a guiltlessly egoistic, pro-reason, this-worldly, commercial celebration."

It's almost hard to take this article seriously, but what it really does is show what we Christians are up against in our world today. The world needs Christ now, just as much as ever, and we need a Christmas that celebrates what he came to give us: unconditional love, joy, peace, generosity, and the hope of eternal life. There is much to celebrate on Christmas, but nothing more so than Christ himself.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Golden Compass, Part 3 - The Movie

December is a busy time for us priests, so I just yesterday had a chance to see the movie version of The Golden Compass, even though it has been in wide release for over a week. In earlier posts, I reflected on the first book of the series by Philip Pullman, on which the movie is based. Here are my thoughts on the movie ...

Overall, I was not impressed. As with most movie versions of books, this movie took quite a few liberties with the plot, and for some of them, I'm not sure why the changes were made. I never really got invested in the movie - there was nothing about the characters that made me care too much what was happening to them. Having read the book, I know that the plot is fairly complicated, but in the movie, most of the complications were taken out, leaving a plot that was so thin that I was never quite sure why we should be interested in what was going on. The best parts of the movie were the visuals of the world that were created, a world much like ours but where people's souls live outside their bodies in the form of animals. There seemed to be so much effort given to the visuals, that there was little time left over to be concerned about the plot. As for the anti-Christian elements - in some ways, they were more visible in the movie than the books (such as a more visible role for the leaders of the Magisterium), but in other ways were so much on the periphery that they did not matter too much.

The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, recently wrote an article on the movie - a summary and news report can be found here. The article verbalizes well my own feelings after seeing the movie, that "It's a film that leaves one cold, because it brings with it the coldness and the desperation of rebellion, solitude and individualism. ... In the world of Pullman, hope simply doesn't exist, in part because there is no salvation but only personal, individualistic capacity to control the situation and dominate events. ...The spectator of this film, if he is honest and gifted with a critical spirit, will feel no particular emotion, except for a great coldness -- which is not only due to the polar scenes." There is a real absence of love in the movie. Ultimately, I don't think Christians will be led to atheism because of this movie, but rather led to sadness at the world it depicts, and great joy and hope at our own world which is filled with love. For a depiction of a world without love, see The Golden Compass. If anything, it may help you appreciate more what we do have in our God-created and love-filled world.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Stop Light Patience

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year A
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 … Imagine … You’re in the car, driving through town – maybe on the way to the grocery store, or to Church, or to pick up the kids at school. Just as you approach a stoplight at a busy intersection, the light turns yellow, and then red. You stop – you’re the first car in line – and you wait. 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 … You’re mind is rushing through all the things you need to do – the places you need to get to, right now, and it’s raining, and you’re already late. 41, 42, 43, 44, 45 … Maybe the light’s not working right – there aren’t any cars coming, maybe I should just drive through and hope the police aren’t around. 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75 … by this time, your patience expired long ago, but, finally, the light turns green. And just as you pull away from the intersection, the next stoplight turns yellow, and then red, and you stop, again. 1, 2, 3, 4 …

Patience. Most of us want it, but very few of us have it. It’s a virtue, they say, one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. St. James talks about patience today – “be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.” And it’s not just about waiting at a red light. We look for patience when awaiting results from a medical test, or for college application results. We seek patience during holiday gatherings with those family members we don’t quite get along with. But we Christians seem to especially need patience when it comes to God – it seems that God never works on our time. We pray for wisdom to know how best to love our children, or our parents. We pray for guidance on what direction to take our life. We pray for the heart to forgive past hurts. And all too often, we want those things quicker than they come. The patience to live on God’s time seems nearly impossible.

Patience really is all about trust, and trusting that God will take care of us. It doesn’t come naturally, it is a gift – God’s gift to us to remind us that he is in charge, that he knows what is best for us. In calling us to have patience, God wants to teach us to depend on him, and not on ourselves or others. As with many of the Christian virtues, learning patience must start with something else – we must start by having faith in God, faith that God is guiding our lives, that he really does know what is best for us. Impatience comes from wanting to be in control. If we can realize that God is in control, then we may be able to step back and wait patiently for whatever will come, because we know that God will not lead us on the wrong path. But patience also takes practice – we can’t expect to have the patience of Job right away. It takes regular practice, especially in the little things, and regular prayer. If we work at it, we might even be able to turn times of impatience into opportunities of grace – like using the time spent stopped at a red light to say a prayer, or using the time spent waiting in a doctor’s office to read a good book. Patience takes practice and it takes prayer – it’s not easy. And today, as we wait for a winter storm to pass through, as we wait for Christmas to arrive, we seek patience, because nothing we can do can make time speed up; nothing we can do can make the red light change more quickly; nothing we can do can really make the world revolve around us.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Dream Bars

For the past several months, I have been hosting groups of parishioners in the rectory for sessions I'm calling "Fellowship with Father." These informal gatherings are an opportunity for me to get to know parishioners at my new parish, as well as for them to get to know me, and for me to hear from them their vision for our parish. For each of these gatherings, I have some homemade refreshments, and I have gotten requests for some of the recipes I have used. So over the next several weeks - and perhaps as an ongoing feature of this blog - I'll be sharing some of the best recipes I have found and used. I'm starting with a recipe that is a family favorite. My Aunt Nancy, who died a little over three years ago - was famous for her Christmas cookies - she would bake dozens of dozens of cookies each year, and family members and friends would receive plates of cookies at Christmas time. This was one of our all-time favorite cookies.

Caramel Pecan Dream Bars

Base Ingredients
1 pkg. Yellow Cake Mix
1/3 cup softened butter or margarine
1 egg

1 can Condensed Milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup Heath Bits O'Brickle Baking Chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13x9-inch pan. In large bowl, combine cake mix, margarine and egg. Mix at high speed until crumbly. Press into prepared pan. In small bowl, beat milk, egg, and vanilla until blended. Stir in pecans and Heath chips. Pour over base in pan; spread to cover.

Bake at 350 for 25 to 35 minutes or until light golden brown. Center may appear loose but will set upon cooling. Allow bars to cool completely before cutting. Makes 36 bars.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

St. Lucy

Today is the feast of one of the great Advent saints, St. Lucy. Born into a wealthy Roman family, Lucy was proudly Christian at a time (late 3rd Century) when Christians were being persecuted by the leaders of the Roman Empire. She was arranged to be married to a pagan, but wanted to devote her life to Christ. Her rejected groom informed the governor that Lucy was Christian as a way to get back at her for not wanting to marry him. She was ordered to be killed and suffered great tortures, including having her eyes gouged out. The authorities tried to burn her, but as she was preaching the gospel from the fire, the flames went out. Ultimately, she was stabbed to death.

Lucy is a popular saint among young children who dress up for All Saints' Day, usually either because they can walk around with a plate with eyeballs on it or they can have a wreath of candles on their heads, two of the ways Lucy is portrayed in Christian art. St. Lucy was adopted by the Swedes as their patron saint, and there are many customes in Sweden on today's feast day, including baking and eating Lucia bread which is delivered to family members by a girl dressed in white with candles on her head. St. Lucy's name means "light," another reason she has been connected with Advent, the four candles of the Advent wreath, and our waiting to welcome the light of Christ at Christmas. May the light of St. Lucy guide us to Christ, the one who is coming to save us.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Peaceable Kingdom vs. The Brood of Vipers

Homily for the Second Sunday in Advent, Year A
It all sounds so nice, doesn’t it, this vision from Isaiah? The wolf lying down with the lamb, the leopard and the young goat, the calf and the lion together as friends – it’s just like a perfect Christmas card. Peace on earth, even among the animals. Happiness for everyone, love blossoming among enemies, justice for all – you can almost here the soft music playing in the background – and then: bang! “You brood of vipers. … Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. … every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Your house is in need of a major cleaning – not just your physical house, but the house of your soul. Apparently, John the Baptist had not been reading up on Isaiah before his preaching in the desert. And for the Church to give us such harsh words in this season all about hope and joy – it seems to make no sense. But maybe John the Baptist has a point.

Maybe our spiritual homes are a bit of a wreck. Maybe there’s good reason for this crazy man from the desert to call us to account, to insist that we need to clean house, to beg that we repent. I imagine that just about all of our spiritual lives have some clutter in them. There are corners where dust, and dirt, and trash have accumulated. There are signs of neglect, where the paint is peeling, the carpet is frayed, and the drapes have faded. Windows are grimy; they barely let in the light of the sun. And today John the Baptist shows up and points out to us those things that we have been neatly overlooking for who-knows-how-long. And he expects change – not because of what he has to say, but because there is someone coming after him, someone following in his footsteps who we should care about. Jesus does not even make an appearance in today’s gospel, but we know he’s coming. What are we going to do to get ready for him?

Perhaps we need to start by spending more time with him – maybe our mass attendance has become sporadic, or our prayer life has been swept under the dresser. God has promised us a place on his holy mountain, and we would do well in this life to make sure we know where that mountain of God is. These days of Advent are a time to look at how much time we are spending with God. Or perhaps it’s our pride that needs work, or our anger, or lust, or jealousy – those things that we know are there, deep down inside, but either we’re afraid to live without them or we don’t quite know what to do. Now is the time to dust off the virtues and to practice the gifts of the Holy Spirit, things like wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. We have the gifts – now is the time to unwrap them, put all the pieces together, put in some batteries, and get to work.

If it sounds like hard work, well, it is – no one will deny that. It’s hard work to always choose God above ourselves. It’s hard work to root out pride – it takes practice, daily practice. We can start by spending a few minutes with God each day. In that time, we can examine the nooks and crannies of our lives to see what needs to be swept up or cleaned out – that teaches us humility. Then, for every thing we do for ourselves, we should also do something for someone else – that teaches us love and compassion. And if we have accomplished those tasks – spending time with God each day, showing God’s love to others – then we will be well on our way to be ready to welcome Christ at Christmas, instead of just the gift-bearing magi. It’s hard work, to be sure. But the reward – ah, the reward – remember that vision of Isaiah? The wolf will be the guest of the lamb, the calf and the lion will dwell together, and there will be peace, true peace, on God’s holy mountain. Now that’s something to look forward to. But we have some work to do.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Golden Compass Follow-up

The movie version of the book, The Golden Compass, is being released tomorrow, December 7. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a review of the movie, which you can find here. While this review is only of the movie, it does address much of the controversy surrounding the books. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops regularly reviews movies from a Catholic perspective, a great resource for all Catholics, especially parents. The reviews are posted online, here. Check it out!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Charles Wesley's Hymns

On Monday, an ecumenical evening prayer service was held at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls in Rome to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Charles Wesley. Charles and his brother John began the reform movement within the Church of England that eventually became the Methodist Church. The evening prayer brought toegether representatives of many major Christian denominations to mark the anniversary by singing some of the great hymns written by Charles Wesley. Among the 6,000 hymns he wrote are two of my personal favorites, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. A major part of Wesley's genius and art is that his hymn texts are not only beautiful to sing, but also contain great theology. In my mind, there is no better description of the heaven than the last line of Wesley's text, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling: "Changed from glory into glory, till in heav'n we take our place, till we stand before th' Almighty, lost in wonder, love, and praise."

Since this is Advent, here is the full text of one of Wesley's great hymns for this season, and another of my personal favorites, Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending:

Lo! he comes, with clouds descending,
once for our salvation slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign!

Every eye shall now behold him,
robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at nought and sold him,
pierced, and nailed him to the tree,
deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall the true Messiah see.

Those dear tokens of his passion
still his dazzling body bears,
cause of endless exultation
to his ransomed worshipers;
with what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
gaze we on those glorious scars!

Yea, amen! Let all adore thee,
high on thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory;
claim the kingdom for thine own:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou shalt reign and thou alone.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sacred Silence

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year A
Are you ready? There are only 23 shopping days left until Christmas! Are you ready?

Our lives today often seem to be a brief interlude between rushing and waiting. We rush to airports two hours before our flight leaves, only to wait in line; we hurry to take advantage of the pre-Christmas sales, and again wait in line to check out; we even rush around to get to Church, and then wait in long lines to receive the Eucharist. Especially for the next 23 days, our lives have the potential to be so busy that it just becomes one big blur. But the season of Advent calls us in a different direction. For the next 23 days, our Church calls us to step away from the hustle and bustle of the Christmas rush to slow down. For the next 23 days, our faith challenges us to spend more time waiting than rushing – to watch, to stay awake – preparing for the coming of Christ. The waiting that we do so often in our daily lives – in the doctor’s office, the grocery store line, and countless other places – the waiting that we are so used to out in the world becomes the basis of this season, and becomes holy. Advent is all about a holy waiting.

Now, I admit – that’s hard to do. Especially at this time of year when our minds are a-buzz with presents to buy and wrap, houses to decorate, and parties to plan or attend, it’s hard to silence our thoughts and wait for Christ. But that is all the more reason that we need to do it. Our Scriptures during this season give us great guides in our waiting, people like Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Mary. Our music this season is a bit more subdued – no Christmas carols yet, but instead the great songs of waiting, like O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, or The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns. But perhaps the greatest gift that the Church can give to us in these days is the opportunity to quiet our lives, to spend some time in prayerful silence.

For many of us, silence has become such a foreign concept that we’re not exactly sure what to do when we find everything around us quiet. But every time we gather for the Eucharist, the Church invites us to include periods of sacred silence throughout our liturgy. This is a special kind of silence – a silence that should lead to prayer and reflection. There is a short silence following each of the readings in the Liturgy of the Word, and a longer silence following the homily, to give us “an opportunity to take the word of God to heart and to prepare a response to it in prayer” (Lectionary for Mass: Introduction, 28). The silence after the homily is a chance for each of us to make the Scripture readings our own – to reflect on how the word of God speaks to our lives. That’s something that can’t be done in 10 or 15 seconds, it takes time. There is another lengthy silence following communion, but this time of quiet has a different purpose: this is a time for prayer, thanking God for the gift we have received in the Eucharist and asking for the strength to become a Eucharistic people. There are also some brief silences scattered throughout the liturgy, like after the priest says, “Let us pray,” to give everyone an opportunity to gather their thoughts and hearts into a spirit of prayer.

Our world is in desperate need of silence, and the sacred silence of the liturgy can be a gift – a gift to help us unite our own prayers to the prayers of the Church. Sacred silence can help us focus on God’s presence among us as we leave the buzz of the world outside. Throughout the year, but especially during these next 23 days of Christmas frenzy, sacred silence can calm our hearts so that we are ready to welcome Christ once more.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Vocations blog

Yesterday, I got a letter from a seminary classmate of mine, Fr. Mitchel Zimmerman, who is a priest for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. He is now serving as Vocation Director for his archdiocese, and so today I thought I'd check out their vocations webpage to see what it looked like. Lo and behold, it turns out Fr. Mitchel is a fellow blogger - his blog, Do Not Be Afraid, includes vocations information, miscellaneous posts, as well as daily homilies. My normal practice is not to write out my daily homilies, so I generally only post Sunday and Holy Day homilies on this blog. Feel free to check out Fr. Mitchel's blog and his daily homily reflections.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Golden Compass

There has been an unbelievable amount of hype and criticism concerning the upcoming major motion picture, The Golden Compass, and the series of three books by Philip Pullman that inspired the movie. Most of the talk, at least among Christian circles, is that the movie, but even more so the books, promote atheism and lead those who read them into darkness - and that Christians should boycott the movie and the books.

I finished reading The Golden Compass Monday. After hearing all of the news and controversy, I felt that I needed to read the book for myself before commenting on it - and I will probably see the movie as well before commenting on it. I have not read the second and third books of the trilogy - The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass - but may do so as time allows. The reports that I have seen say that the worst of the anti-Christian themes in the books do not appear until the third book. All of my comments are based only on reading the first book and a significant amount of reports and articles. Perhaps the most balanced and insightful article that I have read was published in First Things, a journal of religion, in 2001 - you can link to the article here. The editor of First Things is Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, a well-known Catholic priest, and George Weigel, the biographer of Pope John Paul II, is a member of the editorial board.

It is true that there are some themes of The Golden Compass that question basic Christian belief - like the notion of freedom, the meaning and origin of original sin, and the role of divine authority. Overall, though, I do not see the book as being as dangerous as some people are making it out to be. First of all, it is a novel - fiction - just like The Da Vinci Code was fiction. The Golden Compass also happens to be pretty good fiction - imaginative, well-written, educated - albeit fiction that is intimately intertwined with themes that are at the heart of the Christian story: good and evil, God and His creatures, heaven and hell. If anything, The Golden Compass can provide a starting point for a great discussion of all things Christian - just as The Da Vinci Code did, or the Harry Potter books. Adults reading the book will probably pick up on some of the more controversial aspects, but I'd wager that just about any young person would not even notice them because they are so caught up in the great story. And, besides, some of the most central themes of the book - loyalty, compassion, justice, and the whole concept of having a soul - are central themes of Christianity as well.

So, bottom line - would I boycott this book or movie? No. Would I encourage parents whose children want to see the movie to allow them to do so? That is a choice that every parent must make on their own, but if their children read the book(s) or see the movie, I would definitely encourage the parents to do so as well, and to be prepared for a discussion afterwards. Finally, if given a choice to read The Golden Compass or C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, or see the corresponding movies - I would choose C.S. Lewis first, but without ruling out Philip Pullman. Good literature can be the basis for growing in our own lives and faith, if read with an open and discerning heart, and The Golden Compass is no exception.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

His Kingdom Will Have No End

Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year C
All good things must come to an end, or so the saying goes. Today is the Feast of Christ the King, and it is an ending of sorts. We decorate our Church in gold, we use incense to mark the solemnity of the occasion – and all for an ending, the end of the Church year. Next week, we will start all over with the First Sunday of Advent. This is our New Year’s Eve – the Church’s version of the end of the year.

But there is another ending that we hear about today – the end of the earthly lives of three men hanging on crosses. One of these men we know well – we have been following his life and his journey for the past year in the Gospel according to Luke. Sunday after Sunday we have heard his parables – remember the one about the son who ran away from home, or about the Samaritan who helped a beaten traveler? Sunday after Sunday he has taught us how to pray and how to have faith – even if that faith is only the size of a mustard seed. We know this man, we know his family, his friends, we know that he wants us to follow him. But these other two men on the crosses – we know nothing about them except that they are thieves. We don’t know their stories, we don’t even know their names – but their lives are coming to an end, too, just like the life of Jesus the teacher, Jesus the friend of the poor and outcast, Jesus the Son of God.

They call him a king in the gospel today – the King of the Jews – but he can’t be like any other king we’ve heard of. He’s certainly not like King David, who lived in sumptuous palaces and commanded large armies. This King of the Jews didn’t seem to have a home – he spent his adult life on the road, traveling with his band of disciples. And you definitely couldn’t call those disciples an army – here at the end, they’ve deserted their leader and left him to die by himself. But he does have those two thieves beside him, and perhaps that is where we can see him as a king.

Christ the King rules from a throne made to execute criminals. His kingdom is not of this world – and yet he can promise eternity in a place called Paradise. His subjects are the poor and outcast, the rejected of this world, like the petty thief hanging next to him, or the scared fishermen who ran away when trouble came, or the grieving women who are helpless at the foot of his cross. Christ is a king unlike any this world has ever known or will ever know because his ending is just a beginning – his death ushers in a new and eternal kingdom, his last breath – the breath that breathed on the waters of creation, the breath that spoke to Elijah in the cave and hushed the storm on the Sea of Galilee – his last breath comes with the promise of a new breath, the breath of the Holy Spirit, and that is a promise that will never end. Christ is a king unlike any this world has ever known because his kingdom will have no end.

And so on this day when we celebrate endings – the end of the Church Year, the Year of Luke; the death of three men on crosses; on this day of endings, we also celebrate those things that have no end – God, the Father, Son and Spirit; God’s eternal kingdom; and the promise that Jesus made from the cross: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Christian Advice from The Food Network

Homily for Thanksgiving Day, Year C
On this Thanksgiving Day, I have a confession to make. For about the last three years, I have been addicted … to the Food Network. Whether it’s watching Paula Deen bake a dessert that has more butter in it than you would ever want to know about, or watching Emeril Lagasse spice up the kitchen, I love to watch the Food Network, especially around this time of year. It’s fun, it’s entertaining, you can get great cooking tips, and it’s all about food. What could be better? The website for the Food Network is a great resource for recipes, but this year the website also included a list of tips on how to avoid stress when preparing for a Thanksgiving Day meal. What amazed me, though, is that the Food Network list of stress-free Thanksgiving tips could just as well be a list of tips for living the Christian life.

Here’s what the Food Network suggests for a preparing a stress-free Thanksgiving meal:
- Plan ahead – set the guest list, the menu, the shopping list, and the cooking schedule well ahead of the big day itself, and stick to it
- All things in moderation – don’t take on more of a crowd or more of a meal than you can handle
- Resist temptations – avoid overindulging in eating, drinking, and even spending
- Take a time-out – schedule in some quiet time, either before or after the celebration, or both
- Take a walk – it’s a good way to burn off pumpkin pie and get rid of excess energy
- Don’t lose sleep – no Thanksgiving feast is worth staying up all night just to impress people
- Shop – take advantage of day-after-Thanksgiving sales to get away from the kitchen

Now, with the exception of that last piece of advice, it isn’t much of a stretch apply these tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving meal to a healthy Christian life of giving thanks to God: as people of faith, we are called to think ahead – to plan not just for today but for the eternal banquet; we are called to take all things in moderation – to practice the great Christian virtue of temperance; we are called to resist temptations, both personally and as a society; we are called to schedule quiet time for prayer in our daily routines; to take a walk, enjoying the great gift of creation; and to take care of ourselves – even sleep is a welcome gift.

In some ways, Thanksgiving Day is no different than any other day of the year, because being thankful should be a life-long attitude, not just a once-a-year ritual. St. Paul says it well in his letter to the Colossians: “Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Even preparing a meal can be an occasion of grace – an opportunity to act in the name of the Lord Jesus, to practice those very things that make us better Christians – patience, temperance, prayer, love, and fellowship. Just as we gather around this table, so will we gather around our Thanksgiving Day table, and so we hope one day to gather around the table of God’s banquet in heaven. God’s grace is everywhere.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Philadelphia Saints

I spent last week in Philadelphia visiting college friends from my days at La Salle University. While I was there, I also visited the shrines of the two canonized Saints who called Philadelphia home: St. Katharine Drexel and St. John Neumann. I wrote about the lives of these Saints in my weekly bulletin letter for November 18, which can be found on the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish website. Here are pictures of the final resting places of these two Saints. First, St. Katharine Drexel, who is buried in a stone sarcophagus in a small chapel beneath the main chapel at the motherhouse of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, the order she founded, in Bensalem, PA.

Here is the final resting place of St. John Neumann, who is buried in a glass casket underneath the main altar in the crypt church of St. Peter Church in Philadelphia.

There are few opportunities in this country to visit shrines of canonized Saints, but Philadelphia has been blessed with these two great Christian witnesses.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

To Dream of Heaven

Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
A few years ago, I received a book for Christmas called 1000 Places to See Before You Die; perhaps you’ve seen this book, which became a #1 New York Times Best Seller, or others like it. It really is a great big-picture travel book, but it is also a bit ambitious. After looking through the book, I found that I’ve only been to about a dozen of the places listed as must-sees – which leaves about 988 places to go, although I really doubt that I will ever sail along the Mekong River in Laos or stay at the Hotel la Mamounia in Morocco, two of the places listed as must-sees. But we can always dream.

What are your dreams? Catholic author and speaker Matthew Kelly encourages people to keep dream journals – lists of all of your dreams. Each year, Kelly has a dream meeting with his staff. Each person is supposed to come to that meeting with a list of 100 personal dreams, and the staff members sit around and listen to one another’s dreams. What are your dreams? Perhaps you would like to travel the world, visiting each of the sites listed in 1000 Places to See Before You Die. Or maybe one of your dreams is to have a quiet, argument-free Thanksgiving dinner for even just one year. What are your dreams?

The Sadducees in today’s gospel are trying to squash the most important vision, the most important dream that Jesus has to offer – the gift of the resurrection. As a group, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, and so today they are trying to poke holes in what Jesus has been preaching by offering the scenario of a woman who marries seven brothers. But Jesus is quick to point out that their question does not even make sense if you really understand what resurrection is about – if you really understand that our God is the God of the living. The faith that Jesus offers us is a faith for the living, both before and after death; it is a faith that offers us resurrection, a faith that offers us the dream of heaven.

No matter how many of the 1000 Places to See Before You Die anyone actually visit, there is something better – something more – that we are each offered. What are your dreams? My first dream is to live so that I will be worthy of the gift of heaven. The other dreams are important, they certainly help us build the kingdom of God on this earth, but if we don’t dream of heaven, then this earth will surely disappoint.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Celebrating Catholic School Values

Last night there was an annual dinner at the Convention Center in Indianapolis for Celebrating Catholic School Values. A group of staff and parishioners from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church went up to Indianapolis for the dinner. For me, it was something of a homecoming because of the large number of people there from various parts of my past - especially in the areas of Catholic schools:

- My kindergarten principal from St. Mark School
- From my grade school, St. Jude School, my principal, and third, sixth, and eighth grade teachers (two of those teachers have moved on to become principals at other Catholic schools)
- Several people from my home parish, St. Jude in Indianapolis
- The president, principal, and vice-principal from my high school, Cathedral High School
- My first choir director
- Musicians I played with at Little Flower Church in Indianapolis during college
- I woman who lived two houses down from me growing up, until kindergarten, who teaches at a Catholic school
- Priests I was in seminary with
- A large contingent from the parishes of the Richmond Catholic Community and Seton Catholic Schools, where I served from 2004-2007, including parishioners and parish and school staff

It was great to see and catch up with all these people, many of whom I do not regularly see since I am away from Indianapolis, but for me the greatest joy of the evening was a reminder of how much Catholic education has been a part of my life and has shaped me into the person I am today. I certainly would not be where I am had it not been for Catholic schools - from kindergarten through seminary - and that is what the Celebrating Catholic School Values dinner is all about.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Election Day 2007

I just got back from voting in my first election in New Albany/Floyd County. The ballot is fairly meager here today, with only municipal elections to be decided: mayor, county clerk, city council. The election across the river in Kentucky is shaping up to be much more contentious, with a hard-fought governor's race and a significant library referendum in Louisville. For me, today marked the first time I have voted on Election Day on a paper ballot - during college and seminary I voted via absentee ballot, and Wayne County (Richmond) had electronic voting machines. It seems a step backward in technology to vote using a paper ballot, or just an example of how funds are allocated differently, even in the same state.

Anyway, I did my civic and religious duty - civic AND religious, because the Catholic Church obliges the faithful to take an active part in civic affairs, including exercising the right to vote. As the U.S. Bishops say in their document, Faithful Citizenship, "In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is a moral obligation." Specifically, we are called to bring the principles of Catholic Social Teaching into the election booth: the life and dignity of the human person; the call to family, community, and participation; rights and responsibilities; the option for the poor and vulnerable; the dignity of work and rights of workers; solidarity; and caring for God's creation. In an off-year, municipal election, these values may not have as visible a role as in nationwide, general elections, but they should always guide our voting habits.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

St. Charles Borromeo

During a seminary trip to Italy in January 2003, two other seminarians and I spent a few days in Milan. The cathedral there is one of the most famous and spectacular in the world. As we were visiting the cathedral, we made our way to the crypt and the central chapel in the crypt, directly underneath the main altar, where St. Charles Borromeo is buried. We literally stumbled upon this chapel and the saint's tomb - we had no idea that he was buried there, although it makes perfect sense since he had served as Archbishop of Milan. Aside from the opportunity to pray at the tomb of one of the Church's great saints, this discovery had special meaning for us because St. Charles Borromeo is the patron saint of seminarians. Today, November 4, is his feast day.

St. Charles Borromeo was one of the primary influences at the 16th Century Council of Trent and the Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation. He freely acknowledged that the Catholic Church needed reform, and he worked tirelessly to strengthen the clergy, provide education for adults and children, and reform the liturgy. He started the modern seminary system for the education of clergy and also founded the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) to train laity to teach children the faith. In many ways, he helped preserve and strengthen the Catholic Church in the wake of the Reformation.

Here is his advice for priests, taken from a sermon he delivered during the last synod he attended:

If teaching and preaching is your job, then study diligently and apply yourself to whatever is necessary for doing the job well. Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head. Are you in charge of a parish? If so, do not neglect the parish of your own soul, do not give yourself to others so completely that you have nothing left for yourself. You have to be mindful of your people without becoming forgetful of yourself.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Ordinary Holiness

Homily for All Saints Day, Year C
Maria Corsini was born in the mid-1880s in Florence, Italy. She was a military kid – her father was in the Italian army – and so they moved around quite a bit as Maria grew up. For a time, Maria attended a Catholic school, but her father had a disagreement with some of the nuns who ran the school, and so he withdrew Maria and sent her to a public school. She became a volunteer nurse with the Red Cross, eventually serving in both the First and Second World Wars, and she liked to write in her spare time on educational topics. In 1905, Maria married a man named Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi. He was a lawyer, working for the Italian version of the IRS, and together they had four children. Their family life was always full – sports, vacations to the ocean, large gatherings with friends and family. Friends used to say that their house was particularly noisy at mealtimes. But this family never let their pastimes and busy-ness get in the way of their faith – Luigi, Maria, and their children attended mass daily; they prayed the rosary together every night; and they regularly participated in all-night vigils and weekend retreats. Their lives were in no way extraordinary – but they were full of life, full of faith, and full of love. Luigi died of a heart attack in 1951, and Maria died in 1965. Less than fifty years later, in 2001, Pope John Paul II beatified the couple – they are now Blesseds Luigi and Maria, one step away from sainthood. They made history as the first married couple in the life of the Church to be beatified together, and to be beatified primarily because they lived the best married life possible. Pope John Paul said in the homily at their beatification mass that Maria and Luigi “lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way.” They became holy as husband and wife, as parents, as children of God living through the regular ups and downs of life.

We are all called to holiness – we are all called to be saints, to live as God’s chosen children, as the First Letter of John tells us. Some of the saints we celebrate today lived heroic lives – as martyrs, like St. Agnes; or missionaries, like St. Francis Xavier; or founders of religious orders, like St. Benedict. But most of us are not called to be martyrs, or missionaries, or to found religious orders. We are called to be holy as husbands and wives, as parents and children, as people of faith in the ordinary ups and downs of life. Today we remember all the saints – from Mary and Joseph to Blesseds Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi – and as a Church we ask their prayers for all of us as children of God.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Celebrating the Saints

Today, November 1, is All Saints Day - perhaps my favorite Holy Day of the year. As a Church, we remember two distinct but intimately related things on this day: 1) we remember the holy men and women of every time and place, the official Saints of the Church, and 2) we remind ourselves that all people are called to be saints, to live holy lives as children of God.

I am often asked if I have a favorite Saint. My typical response to this question is that there are so many wonderful Saints whom I connect with, that it is impossible for me to single out one or even a few. But there certainly are several Saints I am continually drawn to. So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite Saints:

St. John Baptist de la Salle
St. Catherine of Siena
St. Meinrad
St. Charles Borromeo
St. Cecilia
St. Gregory the Great
St. Benedict
St. Katharine Drexel
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
St. Lucy

For a wealth of on-line information on the Saints, visit the Patron Saints Index. Here you can find biographies, pictures, information on patron saints, and much more.

Who are some of your favorite Saints?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Capital Punishment Moratorium?

For many years, the Catholic Church has been one of the most vocal groups worldwide, and especially in the United States, calling for an end to capital punishment. As Catholics, we see this call as an intrinsic element of the belief in the dignity of all human life. Quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says, “‘modern society in fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless’…The growing number of countries adopting provisions to abolish the death penalty or suspend its application is also proof of the fact that cases in which it is absolutely necessary to execute the offender ‘are very rare, if not practically non-existent.’” In their document Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics, the U.S. Bishops say, “Our witness to respect for life shines most brightly when we demand respect for each and every human life, including the lives of those who fail to show that respect for others. The antidote to violence is love, not more violence.”

On Monday of this week, the American Bar Association (ABA) called for a moratorium on the death penalty in the United States after releasing a study that found major problems in the death penalty systems in this country, including racial desparities, inadequate resources for defense attorneys, and unfair appeals processes - see the ABA website for a detailed report. In the words of one ABA official, proper punishment can only distributed if justice is ensured, and in the case of many death penalty cases in this country, there is no guarantee that justice and due process are being followed.

On the one hand, this call for a moratorium on the death penalty is good news for those who oppose this form of unreversable punishment. However, the reasons for not executing criminals in the view of the Catholic Church move beyond those given by the ABA, being based first of all on the instrinsic value of each human life and the possibility of redemption, rather than on faulty legal practices (which are also of high importance). This announcement is an important step in the capital punishment debate in this country, but it must be set alongside a faith-based view of human life.

For a good presentation on the Catholic teaching on capital punishment, visit the U.S. Bishop's Death Penalty Page.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Beneath the Masks

Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
In just a few days, Americans will celebrate what has become one of the most extravagant and expensive party nights of the year – All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween. This night of costumes and candy ranks behind only New Year’s Eve and the Super Bowl as extravagant parties, and Halloween seems to be growing in popularity every year. Just look at the houses and yards decorated with cobwebs and tombstones, some decorated even more elaborately than at Christmas; or look at the ever-more creative costumes worn not just by children, but by people of every age. By one estimate, each person in this country will spend an average of $64 dollars on Halloween this year, with our national total spending topping $5 billion.

At its heart, Halloween thrives on being able to put on a new identity – a costume, a mask – that covers up who we really are. We revel in the opportunity to flee from reality into the realm of imagination – and when violence, war, and even a slow economy are becoming the reality of our lives, we long for any opportunity to escape the harsh truth that fills our evening newscasts. But on a personal level, we might wonder if the desire to put on costumes and masks – the desire to take on a new identity – is a sign that we are unhappy with the person beneath the costume, that we will go to any length to cover up our true identity. Now, watching young children dress up as Harry Potter or a princess can be innocent fun; but with the exponential growth of this fall holiday, we have to wonder.

Think of the Pharisee in today’s gospel. This is a man who looks great on the outside – he fasts twice a week, he pays tithes on his income, he goes to the Temple to pray; he probably even goes to the place in the Temple where the most people will be able to see him pray. He is enthralled with how good he looks in the eyes of God – not greedy, not dishonest, not adulterous. In a sense, he has put on a costume of righteousness – doing all the right things in order to look good from the outside. But it’s clear in today’s parable that this persona is nothing more than a show – a really good show, perhaps – but a show without much substance. He spends all his time looking at himself and complementing himself on how good he is. On the other side of the Temple is the tax collector – a man whose outside appearance is one of greed, dishonesty, and corruption. The difference between these two men is that the tax collector knows what he is really like, he knows his true identity – he knows that he is a sinner, that he has cheated people in his work – he doesn’t try to cover it up with eloquent words or public displays. The tax collector humbly admits his true identity, and then he takes a second, and just as important step: he begs God’s mercy and forgiveness. And only through that mercy, the tax collector has the opportunity to change.

The day after Halloween – and the reason Halloween came into existence in the first place – is All Saints’ Day. On that great feast day, we celebrate those men and women of every time and place who grew out of the necessity for masks and costumes, whose public persona corresponded to their inner identity. A nineteenth-century American author once wrote that a saint is a sinner revised and edited. We are all sinners in need of redemption. Many times, it’s not easy for us to take off our masks and costumes and reveal our true identities, but that is the only way for us to change, to receive God’s mercy, and to become more and more the person God calls us to be. Because if we don’t first of all recognize that we are sinners, then we can never become saints.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Saints Crispin and Crispian

Today is the Feast of Saints Crispin and Crispian, third century Christian martyrs who evangelized Gaul. These two brothers were shoemakers by trade and thus have become the patrons of shoemakers, as well as tanners and saddlers. These days, not much is known or remembered about these two ancient saints, with one exception. Saints Crispin and Crispian and their feast day were immortalized by William Shakespeare in perhaps the most inspirational and stirring speech ever written. In Shakespeare's Henry V, the title king stirs his small band of soldiers on to victory at the Battle of Agincourt through the rousing St. Crispin's Day Speech. But for at least some people, the Feast of Saints Crispin and Crispian has another significance, because this is the day when myself and seven other men were ordained deacons in 2003 in the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln at Saint Meinrad Archabbey. As we lay prostrate on the floor of that church during the Litany of the Saints, we heard the names of Crispin and Crispian joined with the more traditional and familiar saints of the Church, and we sought their prayers for our life of ministry in the diaconate and later in the priesthood.

In case your Shakespeare is rusty, here are the last few lines of the famous St. Crispin's Day Speech from the play Henry V:

This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Religious Leaders Gather in Naples

Pope John Paul II drew great attention when he convened world religious leaders in Assisi, Italy, in 1986 and 2002 to pray for peace. Less attention is being paid, however, to an equally significant gathering of world religious leaders this week in Naples, Italy. The community of Sant'Egidio, based in Rome, has organized an summit of major religious leaders from around the world. After celebrating a Mass in Naples, Pope Benedict XVI gathered for lunch with quite a significant group of religious leaders, including Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, Methodist Rev. Samuel Kobia (Secretary General of the World Council of Churches), and Muslim scholar Ezzedine Ibrahim of the United Arab Emirates. Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist leaders were also present. At a time when some people feel the Catholic Church is doing less to promote ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, the significance of this gathering cannot be ignored.

We would all do well to mirror such high-level summits on local levels, initiating or continuing dialogue among Christians of all denominations as well as with the other major world religions. Jesus spent the majority of his public ministry in dialogue - speaking with people about the reign of God - and not just with the Jews of his own community. And when he did go off by himself, it was to pray - to dialogue with his Father. How can we imitate Jesus?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Welcome to the Perpetual Priest blog! This blog debuts on the Feast of the North American Martyrs (Ss. Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf and their companions), some of the first missionaries to preach the Christian faith in North America. My hope is that this blog will be a new opportunity to preach the faith and evangelize the digital world.

Check out this blog for my musings on all parts of the Christian faith, especially Catholicism, Scripture, saints, faith in the world, and much more. I also hope to regularly post homily texts and information about what is going on at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in New Albany, Indiana.

North American Martyrs, pray for us!