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?