Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Catholic Schools Week Mass

As part of the nationwide celebration of Catholic Schools Week, today I accompanied seven of our junior high students, along with our parish youth minister, to the Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul in Indianapolis for the 2nd Annual Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Week Mass. This mass gathered students, teachers, and staff members from Catholic schools throughout the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. I always enjoy the opportunity to gather with other schools, especially ones where I have a connection - today's mass included representatives from both the grade school and high school I attended (St. Jude and Cathedral, respectively) as well as my eighth grade teacher, my kindergarten principal, and others I have come in contact with over the years.

Archbishop Daniel was scheduled to preside at the mass, but because of his recent diagnosis of cancer, he was unable to be with us. Msgr. Joseph Schaedel, vicar general of the Archdiocese, presided in his place. Msgr. Schaedel assured us of the Archbishop's prayers for us at the time of the mass. He also said that the Archbishop was undergoing more tests today and will probably start chemotherapy on Friday. Beginning on Sunday, people throughout the Archdiocese are encouraged to pray a novena - a series of prayers over nine consecutive days - for all who are sick, including Archbishop Daniel. These prayers will conclude on February 11, the World Day of Prayer for the Sick and the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Information can be found on the website of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. As a parish, we will pass out information on the novena at all our our masses this weekend.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cell Phone Religion

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
In many ways, our relationship with God is like a cell phone conversation – or, more often, like the service problems that are almost a given when using cell phones. Think about it this way – God is the perpetual caller with the unlimited cell phone plan. Just as Jesus called the disciples when they were fishing, God usually calls us during the normal, everyday events of our lives. If we spend a lot of time at work, then God might call us at work; if we spend a lot of time with our friends, then God might call us when we’re with our friends; if we spend a lot of time in prayer, then God will certainly give us a call when we’re praying. The problem comes when our service gets interrupted – when the connection between us and God starts to have static, or background noise, or – the worst possibility – when our call is dropped. There are so many other things – so many other calls – competing for our attention, that God sometimes sounds like he’s calling from the other side of the world, with only a bare minimum of service, quickly fading away. And on top of all that, we don’t even have to answer – if we don’t want to talk to God when he calls, it’s too easy to just hit the ignore button.

But there is good news in all of this – truly good news. In many ways, when God calls us, he has the perfect cell phone plan with the best world-wide coverage. Remember the commercials for a certain cell phone service provider – where the man in the commercials goes all around the world asking, “Can you hear me now?” This particular cellular company boasts that they have the clearest service in the widest variety of places. But God goes one better – his call comes in loud and clear no matter where we are, even if we don’t have his number in our phones, and even if our phone isn’t turned on. He keeps calling even when we’re not listening or not answering. I imagine that too often God keeps on asking, “Can you hear me now?” and gets no response. But he keeps calling, he keeps at it, until we answer. He never runs out of minutes.

This week we celebrate Catholic Schools Week. Our Catholic Schools, here at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and at Providence, are just some of the many ways we as a parish try to keep the phone lines open between us and God. Our Catholic Schools light the way to God by giving our students and families the strength and will to answer God’s call, and not keep hitting ignore. But no group can do that on their own – our Catholic schools, just like all of our other parish ministries, need the support of a community of faith, the guidance of the gospel, and the cooperation of Christian families. If we have that, and if we are guided by the great light of God, then all of our parish ministries – from our school to our youth programs to our faith formation programs to our soup kitchens and everything else – if we are guided by the true light, then we will be ready to answer God when our phone rings, and God won’t have to keep asking, “Can you hear me now?”

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Archbishop's Cancer

Today, Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, OSB, of Indianapolis announced that he has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer affecting the lymph nodes. The complete message from the Archbishop to the people of the diocese can be found on the website for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Earlier today, he met with his oncologist, and reports from the Archdiocese are that the doctors are very optimistic; this form of cancer typically responds well to treatment, which will include chemotherapy. It is too early to tell exactly how the treatments will effect the Archbishop's schedule, which is typically very busy between now and Easter. For our part, let's keep the Archbishop in our prayers in the coming days and weeks, along with all who suffer from cancer. As the shepherd of our local church, Archbishop Daniel is something of a father to all Catholics in central and southern Indiana, and is certainly at the heart of our church family.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What snow?

There are a few of us on the parish staff who hail from areas of Indiana that are farther north than New Albany - from Indianapolis northward. We all had to wonder today when almost all area schools, including our own, were cancelled because of a dusting of snow. Today's snowfall didn't even cover the ground, and by now is almost all melted, yet it is clear that people in these parts are not used to winter weather. Now, true, part of the reasons for the closings was because of the number of people who live in the Knobs - the hills outside of town - where steep roads do become slick easily. At least there were a lot of very happy school kids today, who could enjoy a snow day after a national holiday, meaning that this is only a three-day week. But this was no winter storm!

Even with the official school closings, a lot was going on at our parish today. This morning, we hosted the first of three groups of seminarians from Saint Meinrad School of Theology who are visiting three different parishes to see how parish staffs function. A steady stream of parishioners and visitors came through the office throughout the day, as on any other day. This evening, our school hosted an open house for pre-school and kindergarten, there was a Youth Commission meeting, a Baptism preparation class, Bible Study, a Main Event planning meeting, and basketball practice. With all this activity by the end of the day, you have to ask: what snow?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Convenience or Holiness?

Homily for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
There is a sign on some of the beaches in Florida – perhaps you have seen it or heard about it. The sign alerts beach users to the presence of endangered sea turtles and asks for their help in protecting them. Beach users are instructed to avoid disturbing nesting females, to leave nests, eggs, and hatchlings undisturbed, and to turn off lights that shine on the beach at certain times of the year, while the turtles are nesting. Then, at the bottom of the sign, in bold letters, is the proclamation: “Sea turtles are protected by county, state and federal law. Fines up to $20,000.”

It is good that we protect sea turtles and other endangered animals – the advancement of the human race has certainly come at the expense of many of God’s other creatures. But seeing a sign like this should make us stop and wonder: what kind of country this is that creates laws in three different levels of government – county, state, and federal – to protect sea turtles, but at the same time, allows the murder of innocent human beings through abortion, legalizes scientific research on human embryos, and, in some states, allows direct euthanasia. Something is not right.

This Tuesday, our country marks the 35th Anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade, legalizing abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. In his dissenting, or minority, opinion on the case, Justice Byron White complained that the Supreme Court, and our culture in general, values convenience and pleasure more than life itself. Convenience is not a virtue – it is not the goal of human existence. Isaiah reminds us today that the Lord formed us from the womb to be his servants, to be a light to the nations. Life itself is the greatest gift that we have been given, and it is our duty as Christians to allow God’s gift to prosper, whether it is convenient or not.

Fortunately, the convenience of abortion is not the only choice for pregnant women who feel, for whatever reason, that they are not ready or able to be a good parent for their child. Help is available, even in our own community, through resource centers that provide financial assistance, medical services, legal advice, counseling, a place to live, jobs, education, and assistance to keep the child or to place the child for adoption. There is help, but even more, there can be forgiveness and healing. The reality is that many women have had abortions, sometimes on their own, sometimes with the support or encouragement of family or friends. Right now, a baby is aborted every 20 seconds in this country. It is a legal medical procedure and happens through all nine months of pregnancy. One of the most critical and necessary parts of the Church’s pro-life ministry is a ministry of healing and forgiveness. The gospel of life is a gospel of mercy, and the healing that God offers is one of the most powerful gifts we can receive.

St. Paul reminds us today that we who are sanctified in Christ are called to be holy – we are called to be holy – to completely give ourselves over to the will of God. To be holy means to take God’s gifts seriously, to recognize God’s presence in all human beings, from the moment of conception to natural death, and everywhere in between. It’s a stark contrast – convenience or holiness – the convenience of our society, ignoring God’s gifts whenever we want to; or the holiness of the gospel, even when we fail, but striving for holiness, being the servants of the God of life. Convenience or holiness – more protection for sea turtles or human babies. But is there really a choice?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Classroom Visits

In many ways, this week has been a teaching week. This morning, I began my spring semester round of classroom visits with all of the classes in our parish school. I try to have a formal visit for a question-and-answer session with each class at least twice a year, in addition to regular informal visits. Today I began this series of visits with our second grade, the class that is in the process of preparing for First Communion.

At the end of the visit, I told the second graders how impressed I was with their questions - they are really a group of young theologians with wonderful, often deep, questions about God and the faith. Here are some of the questions they asked:

- If God created all of us, who created God?
- If no one created God, what was God like before he created anything?
- Did heaven exist before God created anything?
- Did God make the devil? If so, did the devil already have horns? (That has to be one of the most unique questions I have ever been asked!)
- What will the world be like when Jesus comes again?
- What will we be like when Jesus comes again? Where will we live? How old will we be? Will we be able to walk through walls?

These are great adult questions, and even more so coming from 7-year-olds! If you want to know the answers, ask our second graders!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher

For the first three years of my priesthood, one of my main ministries was as a high school theology teacher at Seton Catholic High School in Richmond, Indiana. With my assignment now as administrator at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, I am no longer in the classroom regularly as a teacher. But, as of this afternoon, I am teaching a class once again. At the request of our school principal, I am teaching a weekly elective to 13 junior high students on The Chronicles of Narnia. The junior high students in our parish school have the opportunity to take elective classes on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons on a variety of topics - among the electives this spring are a World War II Study, Art, Native American Know-How, and Cadet Teaching. These are low-profile courses, with no real homework or tests and no grading, simply an opportunity to explore a variety of different subjects. Today was the first day of new electives for the spring semester.

My elective on The Chronicles of Narnia stems directly from the Introduction to Catholicism class I taught to high school freshmen, in which I used one of the Narnia books, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, as a creative way to understand some of the basic beliefs and practices of Catholicism. This spring is an especially timely opportunity to focus on Narnia because the second major motion picture based on the books, Prince Caspian, is set to be released in May. For the elective course, we will spend 50 minutes every Tuesday afternoon looking specifically at some of the Christian connections in the Narnia books and discussing how the books can help us understand the Christian view of the world.

Besides being a subject that I love, I am especially excited about this course because it gives me a chance to get back into the classroom. I always have a number of teaching opportunities in the parish - with RCIA, sacramental preparation, adult faith formation, and other settings - but being in the school classroom is especially energizing and rewarding. I hope it can be so for the students, as well!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Future Priest

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord, Year A
There are few things in life that are guaranteed, but today, I have something for you that’s pretty certain – maybe not 100% guaranteed, but pretty close. Here in this church today, there is a man or boy who is being called to the priesthood. Here is this church today, there are men and women being called to religious life, to the married life, and to the single life. And among all those callings, I believe that a future priest is sitting in this church right now. How can I be so confident? Because God’s track record is pretty good in calling shepherds – he always provides ministers for his church. I can be so confident because I put my faith in God. Unfortunately, I can’t be so confident about whether those men being called to the priesthood will respond.

For me, the call came first when I was a senior in high school. On my senior retreat, a teacher asked if I had ever considered the priesthood. My brain moved almost too quickly to respond, of course not, I have my whole life planned out, and I am going to be a geologist. Well, you know how the story ended, but the greatest lesson I learned in the process is that it really required more listening than anything else. My journey to the priesthood was centered on me listening for what God had to say, listening for God’s guidance on how he sees my future. Now, I never heard a voice from heaven, like Jesus did at his baptism, but I did feel a peace and a deep draw to live the life of a priest. It took over three years from my senior retreat to get to the point where I felt comfortable that I was, in fact, hearing God’s call. Now, I can’t imagine myself living any differently.

In the three-and-a-half years since I have been ordained a priest, there have been a total of 8 men ordained for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, including myself. In that same time period, 9 priests have retired, and 13 have died; of those 13, four were in active ministry in parishes at the time of their death. For many men these days, it is taking longer to hear God’s call to priesthood, which often comes after successful careers in the business world. Of the three men ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis this past summer, the youngest is 42 and the oldest is 50. With fewer priests, most of us take on multiple assignments or multiple parishes, and it is rare to find a church with more than one priest on staff.

But this is not a story of doom-and-gloom; it’s not a time to wallow in the throes of a vocations crisis. But it is a challenge – the reality of fewer priests today is a challenge to all of us to make it easier to hear God’s call, whether that call is to priesthood or marriage, to religious life or as a single person. Our challenge is to clear the skies of our world and our culture so that when the voice comes from heaven it won’t be drowned out by the thunder and lightning of commercialism, power, greed, and selfishness. Our challenge is to create a culture in which religious vocations are respected and honored, not just because of what they do, but first of all because they are callings from God. And I am confident that a future priest is here among us, at this mass, at least one; with God’s grace, possibly many more. Do you see him? Is he sitting in your pew? Will you share the sign of peace with him before we receive communion? If you think you see him, then why not ask, “Is God calling you to be a priest?” You could be a part of God’s call, just as my high school teacher was for me.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Dr. Michael J. Kerlin, 1936-2007

It sometimes take a while for news to reach me from Philadelphia, where I attended and graduated from La Salle University. Late last week, I saw the news that one of my professors had died back in November. Dr. Michael Kerlin was Chair of the Philosophy Department at La Salle for 28 years. He had suffered from leukemia for the past couple years, and died November 23, the day after Thanksgiving.

I had the privelege of knowing Dr. Kerlin on two levels - I was in his Honors Philsophy of Western Civilzation course for both semesters of my freshman year, and he was also my adviser as a philosophy major. Put simply, he was one of the best teachers I have ever had - and I have had a lot of teachers. He made philosophy fun and enjoyable and taught us much from his own great store of wisdom and knowledge. He was a perpetual student himself, receiving an MBA later in life so that he would know what business students were learning when he taught them business ethics courses, and he tried to learn a new language every year - the year I had him in class, he was learning Arabic. They say that he had a copy of "Teach Yourself New Testament Greek" with him in the hospital as he was dying.

When I became a teacher (albeit on the high school level), I tried to recall all the great teachers I had over the years to see what I could learn from them in my own teaching. From Dr. Kerlin I learned many things:

- First of all, love your students. Dr. Kerlin truly cared about our learning, but he also cared about us as people. As with many of the professors at La Salle, he had our class to his home for dinner at the end of the school year. We knew our professors as people, not just as teachers.

- The best way to learn is through discussion. Dr. Kerlin was a master at leading discussions, and that is how we spent the entirety of our class periods.

- The second best way to learn is through writing. We would write a paper a week, crticially analyzing the philsopher we were studying that week.

- The best teacher is also a great student - as I said above, Dr. Kerlin never stopped learning, even to his death bed. And, even though he was a Philosophy professor, he did not limit his reading and learning to his own discipline.

- A good teacher is creative. It would take pages to list the many creative ways Dr. Kerlin helped us learn philosophy. The most memorable was putting on a mock trial of whether or not the native Americans should be forced to be baptized when the Spanish missionaries first came to this hemisphere. Based on the real controversy of Bartolome de las Casas and Juan de Sepulveda, the witnesses in the case were all the great philosophers of history whom we had studied over the course of the semester. But there was so much more ...

For me, what made La Salle such a great university was the dedication of the professors to teaching and to their students. Dr. Kerlin exemplified all that is great about the school, and about teachers in general. May he rest in peace!

Here is a picture from my college graduation. Dr. Kerlin is on the left of the picture, and on the right is Dr. Marc Moreau, the current chair of La Salle's Philosophy Department.

Monday, January 7, 2008

My Epiphany Blessing

Here's a picture of the Epiphany House Blessing above the front door of the priest's residence at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. May Christ bless this home, all who live here, and all who will visit here in the coming year ...

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Epiphany House Blessing

My homily for this weekend, the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord, was an extemporaneous homily centered on the traditional Epiphany House Blessing. At all of our weekend masses, instruction sheets and prayer cards were given to parishioners, along with blessed chalk, so that they could bless their homes. Below is the information that was given about the Epiphany House Blessing.

The blessing of the home is a popular Epiphany custom. Using specially blessed chalk, many households mark their entrance door with the current year and with the inscription CMB, the initials of Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, the traditional names of the magi. The inscription also stands for the Latin phrase Christus Mansionem Benedicat, which means “Christ, bless this home.”

Read the story about Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9) from the Family Bible.

Using blessed chalk, write above the entry way:

20 + C + M + B + 08

Prayer: Peace be to this house and all who live here. During these days of the Christmas season, we keep this feast of Epiphany. Through the guidance of a star, the coming of Jesus was made known to the Gentiles. We celebrate Christ made known to the Magi, to John in the River Jordan, and to the disciples at the wedding at Cana.

Today Christ is made known to us! Today this home is a holy place! The Magi came from the east to Bethlehem to adore the Lord."They went into the house, and when they saw the child with His mother Mary, they knelt down and worshipped him.They brought out their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and presented them to Him." [Matthew 2:11]

We bow our heads and pray for God's blessing . . .
Lord our God, bless our home and all who live here.May we be filled with health, goodness of heart,gentleness, obedience to Your law, and thanksgiving to the Father,and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Help us love and respect one anotherand make your presence known by the way we care for others. May this blessing remain upon this house and upon all who live here. Through Christ our Lord. AMEN.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Books to Read

For many people, New Year's Day is a time to make resolutions for the coming year. While not exactly a New Year's Resolution, I do hope to spend more time reading in the coming year than I have been able to in recent months. So, to get me started, I have amassed a pile of books to read. Here's what I have on my to-read list for this year:

How to Make Homilies Better, Briefer, and Bolder: Tips from a Master Homilist by Alfred McBride (this year's Christmas gift book to all the priests from our Archbishop)

C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church by Joseph Pearce

Chance or Purpose? Creation, Evolution, and a Rational Faith by Cardinal Christoph Schonborn

Hearing God's Call: Ways of Discernment for Laity and Clergy by Ben Campbell Johnson

The 21 Most Powerful Minutes in a Leader's Day by John C. Maxwell

The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan

The Spirit of the Liturgy and The Lord by Romano Guardini

Typically, I like to go back and forth between reading fiction and non-fiction, but all of the above books are non-fiction. So I guess I need to find some fiction books to add to my list - which will certainly keep me busy this year!