Sunday, December 26, 2010

Creating a Holy Family

Homily for the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
Sirach 3.2-6, 12-14 Psalm 128 Colossians 3.12-21 Matthew 2.13-15, 19-23

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

One of my Christmas traditions each year is to watch the movie The Nativity Story. If you’ve seen this movie, you know it is a beautiful depiction of the familiar gospel story of the birth of Jesus. One of the things I’ve always loved about this movie is that it gives equal attention to both Mary and Joseph. So much of the time, Joseph gets forgotten or left out of Christmas carols, stories and celebrations. But he’s always there, silently watching over Mary and Jesus, humbly accepting the role he never asked for as foster-father of his Savior. In the movie The Nativity Story, we are given a glimpse of what it might have been like for Joseph as he struggles to understand and accept God’s will for his life. But even more, we see the gentle, sincere love he has for Mary as they make the difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. At one point on the journey, they are running low on bread. Joseph divides what little they have not between him and Mary, but between Mary and the donkey carrying her, both of whom need strength more than he does. It’s a simple sacrifice, but it shows great love and kindness.

It’s this sacrifice and love that make the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph a holy family. St. Paul could have been speaking of them when he wrote to the Colossians, about a family that was filled with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness; a family grounded in love, filled with peace, and thankful for God’s blessings. It is in this context that we hear the final lines of this reading, about wives being subordinate to their husbands, husbands loving their wives, children obeying their parents, and fathers not provoking their children. We can get hung up on the subordination, but what St. Paul is really saying is that a holy family is one in which each person puts the needs of the other people in the family ahead of themselves. A holy family is one in which the husband puts his wife first, before his own wants and needs; a holy family is one in which the wife puts her husband first before her own wants and needs; a holy family is one in which children appreciate the love of their parents and the parents respect their children. A holy family has put aside all selfishness, pride, jealousy, and greed and has made the love of Christ the center of everything they are and everything they do.

The challenge for us is that we’re each called to be part of a holy family; it’s not just a title for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. And with so many things these days threatening marriage and family, it’s harder to conceive of a family at all, let alone a holy family. The sad reality of divorce, attempts to redefine what marriage is, TV and movies that lack examples of successful families, a consumer mentality that focuses on having more things rather than on learning to love – all these things and more make it harder and harder for anyone who tries to live as a holy family. What we can do is look to the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and learn from them. We can learn what it means to sacrifice. We can learn what it means to love. We can learn what is means to grow and mature together. We can learn what it means to make Christ the center of our family life. It doesn’t always work out the way we think it should, and it definitely won’t work if any one member of a family refuses to try. Everyone has to be on the same page, working to achieve the same goal. Our families won’t be perfect – they can’t be as long as we’re human. But they can be holy if we want them to be.

Living from the Manger

Homily for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

Christmas is a time for family and friends. It is a time for giving generously and receiving humbly. But most of all, it is a time to celebrate the birth of one child many ages ago, a child who guides us still today.

Holy Child within the manger, long ago yet ever near;
Come as friend to ev’ry stranger, come as hope for ev’ry fear.
As you lived to heal the broken, greet the outcast, free the bound,
As you taught us love unspoken, teach us now where you are found.*

It is this child who brings us here today. Every student and every teacher I know looks forward to Christmas break. These days are a time to break from our normal routine, to set aside our studies or our lesson plans so we can have time to spend with family and friends. But just because there’s no school on the days around Christmas doesn’t mean we stop learning. And even those of us who haven’t set foot in a classroom in years can still learn, and should still learn, from a master teacher, from the child whose birth brings us together today, the child in the manger, whose life, death, and resurrection teach us all we need to know about who we are and who God is. And these are lessons that are worth repeating year after year.

Once again we tell the story how your love for us was shown,
when the image of your glory wore an image like our own.
Come, enlighten with your wisdom, come and fill us with your grace.
May the fire of your compassion kindle ev’ry land and race.

Sixty years ago today (yesterday), the first Mass was held at the newly-formed Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in New Albany. 300 families called this parish “home” back in 1950, and over the years they grew and developed into a vibrant faith community, worshipping God day after day, serving one another and the local community, educating and forming thousands of young people, and always “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus” (Hebrews 12.2). Sixty years after that first Mass, we have grown to over 1200 families, with over seventy ministries and organizations. It’s a busy place around here, and much has changed in the last 60 years. But some things haven’t changed. Today, we still look at the little child in the manger to be our example, we still look to the man he became hanging on the cross as our redeemer, we remember his resurrection from the dead as our hope and promise. And we pledge to follow Him wherever we go.

Holy Child within the manger, lead us ever in your way,
So we see in ev’ry stranger how you come to us today.
In our lives and in our living give us strength to live as you,
That our hearts might be forgiving and our spirits strong and true.

This Christmas, and each day, may Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, continue to guide us and strengthen us, so we may always “live the Gospel, celebrate meaningful worship, and call one another to prayer, Christian Service, and fellowship” (OLPH Mission Statement).

*Lyrics from Carol at the Manger, text and music by Marty Haugen.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Obedient Listening

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 7.10-14 Psalm 24 Romans 1.1-7 Matthew 1.18-24

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

Anyone can be a saint. Anyone can be holy. But to do that, we have to change. This Advent, we have been reflecting on how we can become holy, how we can become saints. We started on the First Sunday of Advent by hearing the story of St. Augustine, who reminded us that wanting to be holy doesn’t depend on who we are or what our life has been like; it simply takes a change of heart. On the Second Sunday of Advent, we reflected on the necessity of being welcoming and hospitable to everyone we meet. Last weekend, on the Third Sunday of Advent, we heard the call from St. Paul to not complain about one another, and we looked at the great power of words to both encourage and harm the people around us. Today, we hear one final lesson in the Scriptures, one more challenge to help us become holy: like Joseph, we must listen to God and be obedient to him. This last lesson might be the hardest part of trying to become a saint, especially for us today.

The first part is to listen to God – and the more noise we have in our lives, the harder it is to pick out God’s voice from all the many voices that compete for our attention. To hear God’s voice we have to spend time in prayer, reading Scripture, and growing in our faith – and then we have to tune out everything else and find silence. It’s not that God only speaks in silence, but that’s when it’s easiest for us to listen, because nothing else is competing for our attention. To become holy, we have to listen to God, we have to find some silence in our lives and spend quality time in prayer.

But then we have to take the next step. Joseph didn’t just listen to what God had to say, he obeyed God, even when God was asking him to do something he didn’t want to do. To do that takes courage. It takes faith. But most of all it takes trust. If we trust that God always has our best intentions in mind, if we trust that he will never abandon us, if we trust that he will always lead us toward joy and happiness, then we will follow him and obey him always. And the more we come to know God, the more we learn to trust him. When we see all the great things he is able to do, when we feel the outpouring of his love and grace, when we can trace the ways he has directed our lives, even through hardships and suffering – when we see what God has done, then trust becomes natural.

You might say that’s the difference between someone who is truly holy and someone who’s still working on it. A really holy person, a saint, trusts in God all the time. Most of us aren’t there yet. We want to trust God, but we have a hard time doing it. We have a hard time figuring out God’s plan, especially understanding the reason for the sufferings and trials that are in our paths. But if we really want to be holy, we have to work hard each day on listening to God, trusting in him, and obediently following his will for our lives. Because the truth is that God is in control, God is in charge of our lives. And if we learn to trust, then with God’s grace, we will find peace and joy in this life, and eternal happiness in the life to come.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Words Among Us

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 35.1-6a, 10 Psalm 146 James 5.7-10 Matthew 11.2-11

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

We live in a time when it is commonly accepted that people can say whatever they want, whenever they want. Of course there are good things about this freedom of speech, and I would never want us to get rid of this fundamental freedom. But as Christians, we want to be holy – we want to be saints. And so we have a responsibility to look at the words we say and prudently, prayerfully decide whether those words are appropriate, truthful, and necessary. We might think about the jokes we tell and whether they are appropriate conversation for Christians who want to be holy. Or we might need to remember the second commandment, to not take the name of the Lord in vain. And there are times when we need to speak up for the truth, speaking especially for the rights of human beings who can’t speak for themselves.

But in today’s reading from St. James, we hear about one of the most common and destructive ways of using words. The apostle tells us, “Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another, that you may not be judged.” And how often we complain. That person’s driving too slow. Doesn’t anybody know how to drive any more? Or: This person’s always late – doesn’t she know we’re in a hurry? Or: Whoever made this coffee just doesn’t know what they’re doing – it tastes like colored water. Now, sometimes these things are true. But the question we have to ask ourselves is: why are we saying something? Is it privately, to the person involved, genuinely wanting to help them to be a better person? Or is it behind their back, to a group of friends who don’t even know the person we’re talking about? Or is it said to people who do know the person and the situation, and we’re trying to affect other people’s opinions. And that brings us to a particular type of complaining: gossip.

Complaining that a person is always late is one thing. But it’s pure gossip when you tell the rest of your dinner guests that the person is probably late because you heard they were having an affair with someone at work. So is telling your friends at the coffee shop that the reason the coffee is so weak is because you can tell just by looking at her that the waitress is on drugs and the poor thing probably can’t even figure out how to measure the right amount of coffee. Gossip uses words to injure or destroy a person’s reputation. A lot of the time, gossip is based on hearsay – and rumors of what someone said that they heard someone else say can spread like the wind and can change as quickly as the weather in Indiana. Sometimes, the gossip might be true – and we might think it’s ok to tell other people something as long as it is true. But truth spoken to the wrong person in the wrong way can do just as much harm as lies. And neither truth nor lies need to be shared when they injure another person. So why do people gossip? A lot of the time, people gossip because it makes them the center of attention – everyone wants to talk to them, because they know all the juicy news about people. Or they might be intimidated by other people and want to tear down their reputation. Or it might just feel good to gossip – you don’t have to watch soap operas when you can talk about all the messes the people you know are in – and we can avoid working on our own faults by spending our time talking about the faults of others. And of course, people often gossip simply because they get lured into it – once one person starts talking about other people, it’s hard to stop.

So what are we as Christians to do? The first thing is to recognize how important and significant words are. Every word that comes from our lips has an impact on other people. As Christians, we are called to speak prudently, truthfully, lovingly – not selfishly or falsely. When other people around us gossip or complain or tell inappropriate jokes or whatever it may be, we can walk away or stop the conversation where it is. But we also have to look at ourselves. Much of the time, the words we speak that hurt others are really a mask for our own weaknesses. And we don’t think about how our words impact other people. Our goal as Christians should be to build up one another with our words and actions. If you have a problem with another person – go directly to that person, as Jesus tells us in the gospels. If you’re tempted to judge someone, remember that there is only one judge – God the Father. We’re here to help one another get to know God – to help one another become holy. Remember, anyone can be a saint. But to do that we have to change. Our words have to become more and more like the words of Christ. It's not easy. But with God's help, we can do it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Welcome Change

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 11.1-10 Psalm 72 Romans 15.4-9 Matthew 3.1-12

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

Anyone can be a saint. Anyone can be holy. But to do that, we have to change. We can’t be content with the ordinary. We can’t be content with the world as it is. For these next three weekends of Advent, I’d like to reflect on three different ways we can change in order to become more holy, in order to prepare our hearts and souls to welcome Christ at Christmas. We start this week with St. Paul writing to the church in Rome. St. Paul tells us that we must “welcome one another … as Christ welcomed” us (Romans 15.7). The first way we can change is to be more welcoming and hospitable to the people we meet.

On the one hand, the season of preparation for Christmas is almost naturally other-focused – we spend our time writing cards and notes to send to friends and family, we shop for gifts for our loved ones, we attend family and office parties. Many of us even help provide Christmas cheer to people who are struggling in whatever way, by participating in programs like our own Operation Santa Claus or working with any of a number of other community organizations. But these very things that are meant to help us focus on other people can easily get turned inside out. We lose our patience or our temper waiting in check-out lines or in bumper-to-bumper traffic. We divide people into categories based on how much they mean to us – and whether they will get a gift or a card or nothing at all from us this Christmas. And we get so busy with the things we have to do or we want to do, that we don’t even notice the person we shut the door on, or the co-worker we ignored in the parking lot, or the lonely neighbor who really only wants someone to visit and to share a pot of coffee. How can we be welcoming and inviting this Advent? How can we let other people know that we want them a part of our lives, and we want to be a part of their lives?

It might start right here at church. Maybe you see someone here you don’t know – or someone who has sat in the next pew over from you for years, but you don’t know their name. Say hello – introduce yourself – help them feel welcome. Hospitality at church is not just the job of the greeters – we are all called to welcome one another as Christ welcomed us. Beyond here, you might find a chance to be welcoming for a family member or friend or neighbor who doesn’t go to church regularly. Invite them to join you for Christmas Mass. If you know a Catholic who has been away from the Church for a while, invite them to Catholics Returning Home, which will start right after Christmas. Or if you know someone who is not able to get to church, take them a bulletin and a poinsettia and some cookies, and help them to still feel welcome in your life and in the life of the community. These are pretty simple things, but they make a world of difference. But of course being welcoming doesn’t happen just at church. If you have someone in your family who is always left out or ostracized, take the courageous step to invite them to dinner or to the family Christmas gathering. Or if you know someone who’s going to be alone on Christmas, invite them to share some time with you or your family. It’s not always easy to do those things, but we are called to see Christ in every person, no matter who they are and what our relationship with them has been like. For most of us, it takes a change of heart or change of mind. And it definitely takes a deliberate choice to step out of our own little bubble and look around us. Remember, anyone can be a saint. But to do that, we have to change. We have to open our hearts to welcome all people as Christ welcomes us.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Week One Talks: November and December

On the first Wednesday of each month, our parish hosts a full-community faith formation evening called Week One. Part of our One Church, One Faith: Total Parish Faith Formation Program, these evenings bring together about 200 parishioners of all ages for a shared meal, faith formation in age-appropriate groups on a common topic, and night prayer. Each month, I spend the faith formation time with the adults giving a presentation/discussion on the topic of the night. The talks for the past two months were recorded, and they can be listened to or downloaded by clicking on the links below. Both talks are about one hour in length. Feel free to pass the links on to anyone else who might be interested.

November Week One Adult Faith Formation Talk - The Saints

December Week One Adult Faith Formation Talk - The Liturgical Year

Sunday, November 28, 2010

No Ordinary People

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 2.1-5 Psalm 122 Romans 13.11-14 Matthew 24.37-44

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) version of this homily.

We Christians are pretty ordinary people. We have regular jobs and families, we work hard to make ends meet, we struggle with temptations and failings, but we always try to be the best person we can be. It’s a pretty ordinary existence, not much different from anyone else we might encounter along the way. But, on the other hand, there is something about who we are as Christians that is not ordinary. We are different, or at least we should be.

Take Aurelius, for example. Aurelius was a pretty normal person, by the world’s standards. His mother was a Christian, but his father didn’t really have anything to do with God or church. Aurelius’ mom wanted her children to have the same faith that she did, but it really wasn’t that important to them. Aurelius, himself, didn’t have much time for God. He was busy with school, where he was a good student, and with his friends – and he had a lot of friends. He and his friends liked to have a good time, and they enjoyed what you might call the things of the world. By age 18, Aurelius had fathered a child outside of marriage. He loved the child, but he wasn’t really sure whether he loved the child’s mother. But they moved in together and lived together for many years, although they never got married. Eventually, Aurelius moved to a bigger city where he could get a job that paid more money and came with more prestige. He was living a pretty ordinary life by the world’s standards – it was the kind of life that everyone around him wanted to have – he wasn’t tied down by marriage, but he had the benefits of a regular companion; he had a secure job that gave him the money and power he needed to enjoy life; and with no religious faith, he wasn’t held back by things like prayer, morality, and the prospect of eternity. He was living the good life. Or so he thought.

Over the course of several months, Aurelius started to get restless with his life. He had everything he needed, he was living the way society said we should live, but something wasn’t right. Something was missing. One afternoon, while sitting in a garden reading, he heard a voice say: “Take up and read.” He wasn’t sure if the voice was just inside his head, or maybe from some kids who were playing in the yard next door. But there was a Bible sitting on the table next to him, so he picked it up, opened it to a random page, and starting reading. This is what he read: “Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13.13-14).

That moment changed his life. Over a period of time, Aurelius learned more about this Jesus and what it meant to become like him. He learned that Christians are ordinary people who are not content to let the world control their lives, but instead they let Christ be in control. He learned that the emptiness in his heart came from the fact that he was making decisions based on what satisfied his own desires – he didn’t really think about anyone else. And he learned that no matter what his past life had been like, Jesus could transform his heart and give him the grace and strength to become a Christian – not just an ordinary human being, but an extraordinary child of God. And that’s exactly what happened.

By the way, this is a real story. Aurelius was born in northern Africa in the middle of the fourth century and after his conversion to Christianity became a bishop and one of the most important theologians the Church has ever known. His last name was Augustinus. We know him better as St. Augustine. Anyone can be a saint. But to do that, we have to change. We can’t be content with the ordinary. We can’t be content with the world as it is. We must “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” This Advent, may our lives truly be changed.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving Help

Homily for Thanksgiving Day
1 Kings 8.55-61 Ephesians 1.3-14 Matthew 11.25-30

Hopefully, by now, everyone knows what they’re going to be doing today. Whether you’re in charge of the turkey – which might already be in the oven – or simply baking a pumpkin pie; whether you’re playing host for your family or you’re the person everyone agrees doesn’t need to cook anything, because they know from past experience that your efforts at cooking haven’t been that successful. Or you might even have that great blessing of not being responsible for anything other than eating and watching some football. At least, by now, you should have a pretty good idea of what Thanksgiving Day is going to look like. But in case something goes wrong – if the turkey gets burned or the mashed potatoes get runny – if you realize you forgot to buy an essential ingredient or even if the cable TV goes haywire – don’t worry. It’s never been easier to get help and advice. Because, of course, there’s an app for that. Just go to the Food Network app on your smart-phone to fix your culinary disaster. Or check Facebook for updates on how to roast your Butterball Turkey. Or call the 800-number for the Crisco Pie Hotline, or just check their website. But whatever you need this Thanksgiving, it’s just a click away. Solutions for our Thanksgiving problems are right at our fingertips. And with the technology that is all around us, getting that help has never been easier.

But at the end of the day, when the leftovers are in the fridge and everyone has gone home, when we finally realize that, yes, we will be hungry again and we will need to eat tomorrow, when our eyes and fingers are tired of all the technology the world has to offer, when we find life burdensome and we need some real advice and some lasting guidance, there is only one place to turn. Here, in this church, we start our day of thanks in the presence of God. And at the end of the day, each day of our lives, we turn to him again. Because we know that it is God alone who will fill us and guide us and give us rest. When we labor and are burdened, we come to our Lord. When we need direction in our lives, we seek God’s wisdom. When we realize how blessed we are, we give God thanks. There’s not an app for that – and it really isn’t any easier today than it was for our ancestors in the faith – but it is what we do as Christians. We turn to God. We ask for his help. And we give him thanks. It’s that simple.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

New Church Year Resolutions

Homily for Christ the King, Year C
2 Samuel 5.1-3 Psalm 122 Colossians 1.12-20 Luke 23.35-43

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

Think for a moment about the kind of Christian person you want to be … maybe you want prayer to be the most important part of your day, or to be a loving and kind person to everyone around you, or to be generous with what you have, sharing with people who are in need. What kind of Christian person do you want to be? What are some goals for your life as a follower of Jesus Christ? Think about that … And now the really important question – how are you doing in becoming that person? I imagine for most of us that the ideal is a far cry from the reality. We have some work to do to become the Christian we are called to be.

Today’s Feast of Christ the King is an ending – it’s the last Sunday of the church year, before beginning again next weekend with the First Sunday of Advent. It’s sort of like a church version of New Year’s Eve, reflecting back on the past year and looking forward with hope to the year to come. And today/tonight we might even take a cue from what many people do at the end of the calendar year – now is a good time to put our life in order, even to make resolutions about how we can spend the coming year becoming better people, better Christians, better human beings. As busy as the next month will be with shopping and decorating, family get-togethers and concerts, baking cookies and going to Christmas parties – as busy as the next month is going to be, we will enjoy it the most and will make it the most fruitful time it can be by taking some time for ourselves, taking some time with God, and really preparing our hearts to welcome Christ at Christmas. This week between Christ the King and the First Sunday of Advent might even be a time to make some resolutions for our spiritual life for the new church year. And St. Paul can help guide us.

In writing to the Colossians, St. Paul reminds us that Jesus Christ should always come first in our lives – he created everything that exists, he gives us life and redemption, he holds everything together in one body. As we begin a new church year, we can look at our lives, even our daily schedule, to see how much we acknowledge the fact that Christ is our King, that our relationship with him comes first in our lives. What is our prayer life like? Is Mass on Sunday or Saturday evening the first priority when we decide what we’re going to do for the weekend? And do we participate in Mass fully and actively? Then, on a different level, we can look at how well our words and actions reflect the life of Christ. Are we generous with what God has given us? Do we avoid gossip and lies and slander? Do we try to bring unity and peace, rather than division and conflict? Are we people of love and kindness and compassion, rather than people of hatred and bitterness? Do we treat each person we meet as if it were Jesus himself? Do we take care of our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, eating and drinking in moderation with appropriate exercise and physical activity? Do we help lead other people to God?

It sounds sort of like an examination of conscience, and I guess it is. It’s an opportunity to make New Church Year Resolutions. Because Christ is among us – as our Lord and King – but our hearts are not always ready to welcome him, and our lives do not always lead other people to follow him. So think about it. Think about what you can do in the coming days and weeks and months to become the Christian person you want to be – the Christian person God has called you to be – so that at the end of our lives we may be welcomed into the joys of God’s kingdom.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Bishops and Social Networking

There's no homily on here this week because this past weekend we had a parishioner survey at all the Masses during the time of the homily. The survey, conducted by CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University), is an important part of a Pastoral Planning process that we are now going through that will help us identify 3-5 goals for our ministry and parish life in the next few years.

One part of this survey asked parishioners about the effectiveness of various methods of communicating - from word of mouth to the Sunday bulletin to our website to Facebook (it might even be the first Catholic survey to ask specifically about parishioners' use of Facebook!). Our parish leadership is conscious of the changing way people communicate these days, and we want to figure out how we as a parish can best connect with people. Along those lines, the US Catholic Bishops meeting this week in Baltimore heard a report yesterday about social media and its importance in ministry. Below is the full text of the address, given by Bishop Ronald Herzog of Alexandria, Louisiana (thanks to the Whispers in the Loggia blog for posting the text).

Social media: Friend or Foe, Google or Hornswoggle?

Thank you for this time today.

I often hear people, both in my work and in my circle of friends, who dismiss social media as frivolous and shallow. Who can blame them?


Status updates.


The very words used by the practitioners seem to beg for ridicule. Their light-hearted twisting of the language suggests that these are the latest fad in a culture that picks up and drops fads quicker than the time it takes me to figure out my cell phone bill.

I am here today to suggest that you should not allow yourselves to be fooled by its appearance. Social media is proving itself to be a force with which to be reckoned. If not, the church may be facing as great a challenge as that of the Protestant Reformation.

That sounds like more hyperbole, doesn’t it? But the numbers are compelling.

There are more than 500 million active users on Facebook. If it were a nation, only India and China would have more citizens. The American Red Cross reported that it raised more than $5 million dollars, $10 at a time, through a text messaging service. One out of eight MARRIED couples in the United States say they met through social media. It took 13 years for television to reach 50 million users. After the iPod was introduced, it took only nine months for 1 billion applications to be downloaded.

Pope Benedict XVI calls the world of social media a Digital Continent, with natives, immigrants, and even missionaries. He encourages Catholics, especially our priests, to approach this culture of 140 characters and virtual friendships as a great opportunity for evangelization. We are asked to respect the culture of these Twitterers and Facebookers, and to engage on their terms to bring Christ into their “brave new world.”

The opportunities can be incredible. As I stated previously, the participation in this new form of media is staggering. Media ecologists and other communication experts cite several reasons for the phenomenal growth:
  • a low threshold of investment, both in user knowledge and finances, especially given its reach
  • the opportunity for immediate dialogue and conversation that transcends geographical and other physical barriers
  • and the speed in universal adaption.

Let me give you one example. The USCCB started a community on Facebook last August. There are now 25,000 ‘fans’ associated with that community. Every day, USCCB staff provides at least four items of information to those 25,000 people: the daily Scripture readings, news releases, links to information on our marriage and vocation websites, and other information. Furthermore, if those 25,000 are like the average profile of a Facebook user, they have 130 friends, or contacts, on Facebook. With one click they can share the information they receive from USCCB. If only 10 percent of the USCCB fans share what they receive from USCCB, we are reaching 325,000 people. Multiple times a day. All it costs us is staff time.

And these are not just young people. Almost half of Americans classified as the baby boomers – born between 1947 and 1964 – have a Facebook account. Social media may have started with the younger generation, but it is now a very useful tool to reach Catholics of all ages.

Although social media has been around for less than 10 years, it doesn’t have the makings of a fad. We’re being told that it is causing as fundamental a shift in communication patterns and behavior as the printing press did 500 years ago. And I don’t think I have to remind you of what happened when the Catholic Church was slow to adapt to that new technology. By the time we decided to seriously promote that common folk should read the Bible, the Protestant Reformation was well underway.

Because it is so different from mass media and mass communication, social media is creating a new culture on this Digital Continent. Young people use it as their first point of reference. In other words, they’re not even going to their email to get information. The news, entertainment, their friends – are all coming to them through their mobile devices and through their social networks. The implications of that for a church which is struggling to get those same young people to enter our churches on Sunday are staggering. If the church is not on their mobile device, it doesn’t exist. The Church does not have to change its teachings to reach young people, but we must deliver it to them in a new way.

When the Church does attempt to evangelize the Digital Continent, it has some serious challenges to overcome. Most of us don’t understand the culture.

One of the greatest challenges of this culture to the Catholic Church is its egalitarianism. Anyone can create a blog; everyone’s opinion is valid. And if a question or contradiction is posted, the digital natives expect a response and something resembling a conversation. We can choose not to enter into that cultural mindset, but we do so at great peril to the Church’s credibility and approachability in the minds of the natives, those who are growing up in this new culture. This is a new form of pastoral ministry. It may not be the platform we were seeking, but it is an opportunity of such magnitude that we should consider carefully the consequences of disregarding it.

Secondly, the Church cannot abandon legacy communication outlets while it invests in the new media. Although the baby boomers may be going to Facebook to stay in contact with their grandchildren, they still use newspapers, radio, television and books. Those media have attributes and strengths that social media does not. Not to mention the fact that most financial donors to the Church still rely on these legacy media. So the Church needs to continue investing in those efforts, while also investing in social media.

Finally, if as bishops you acknowledge that social media is not the latest fad, but a paradigm shift, please accept the fact that your staffs – and perhaps you as well – will need training and direction. In the past, the church would often build new parish structures, knowing that people would recognize the church architecture and start showing up. On the Digital Continent, “if you build it, they will come” does not hold true. It takes careful strategizing and planning to make social media an effective and efficient communication tool, not only for your communications department, but for all of the church’s ministries. We digital immigrants need lessons on the digital culture, just as we expect missionaries to learn the cultures of the people they are evangelizing. We have to be enculturated. It’s more than just learning how to create a Facebook account. It’s learning how to think, live and embrace life on the Digital Continent.

This past month the USCCB Communications Department, at the direction of the Communication Committee, conducted a survey of diocesan communication directors which focused on their use of social media and their needs.

An executive summary is available to you on the table outside, and it is posted on the password-protected website for the bishops. The survey showed that your staffs have a strong desire to engage new media – only two percent of the responders say that they personally avoid using social media. But it came across loud and clear that they want help in engaging. They want to be enculturated in this missionary world.

I hope you are relieved to learn that, when asked what they needed to use social media more effectively, they didn’t say more money. They are looking for staff who are trained – or can be trained – in the use of social media, however.

You may also be happy to hear that they don’t need you to learn how to use Twitter or Facebook. They do need a vision and leadership from you. Is this something that is important to you? Is it a tool that they should be using to reach young people and others who are unchurched? Do you want them to be developing ways to integrate social media into the diocese’s communication and evangelization planning? What about fundraising? How much attention should they be giving social media and how do you want to use it?

Depending upon the skills and experience of your staff, they are also seeking support from you as they work in social media. This could be translated as any or all of the following: your affirmation of their efforts, including allowing discussion/dissension/dialogue on your diocese’s social media; financial resources for training; and the permission or direction to devote a specific number of hours of their work week to social media. That final item could mean a discussion with them about what do they not do to make room for that time in their day.

When the Communication Committee decided to ask for this time on the agenda, we made it clear to the USCCB Communications Department staff that the presentation should include not only why it was important for bishops to take social media seriously, but also what USCCB would provide to help them and their staffs. The survey provided some direction for us in that regard, but not as much as I had hoped. When asked to identify the single most important issue facing them in the area of social media, no clear answer emerged. The two most common answers were the need for more staffing and resources and the need to identify how to most effectively use social media.

When they were given a list of seven possible resources and asked to rate them as being most useful to their diocesan efforts, nearly six out of ten chose all seven resources as useful or very useful.

What we have been able to discern from these responses is that there is a realization that, even though many dioceses may be beginning to use social media, the church’s communication professionals are not devoting the time or expertise that it deserves.

By committing to ongoing analysis and research, continued compilation of best practices and guidelines, and education and training opportunities, the USCCB Communications Department intends to assist their colleagues and to support your ministry as bishops on the Digital Continent. They welcome the challenge and hope that we can one day have all of you as our friends on the USCCB Facebook page.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Talking About Death

Homily for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
2 Maccabees 7.1-2, 9-14 Psalm 17 2 Thessalonians 2.16-3.5 Luke 20.27-38

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) version of this homily.

It’s hard to talk about death. Most of us are pretty good about ignoring conversations that get anywhere close to the possibility of talking about death, either our own or another person’s. Even at funeral home visitations, most people talk about the life of the deceased, not their death. Funerals themselves are often called celebrations of life. And, of course, for us Christians, any talk of death must be accompanied by talk of resurrection, the new and eternal life that Christ won for us. We cannot talk about death without talking about resurrection. But, a lot of the time, we talk about resurrection without really talking about death. Because it’s hard to talk about death, for all of us.

Today’s scriptures give us two different approaches to this kind of talk. The Maccabees brothers in the first reading very openly embrace their impending death, because they see their death as a martyrdom, dying for their faith, a witness to the love of God. As one brother said, “We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.” These brothers saw death as a door to resurrection, and they were not afraid to pass through that door. They could talk about death openly because they had courage and hope – courage to face suffering and the unknown moment of dying, and hope that God would be with them through it all, leading them to eternal life. But the Sadducees in the gospel reading, approached things differently. They didn’t believe in the resurrection and tried to trick Jesus into denying it as well. They were so consumed about trying to get Jesus to talk about the details of eternal life that they really ignored even talking about death. Not believing in the resurrection makes it even harder to talk about death. It is hard to talk about death; but it is a reality we will all face, sooner or later, and it is good to be able to have a conversation every once in a while about how we are approaching our own moment of dying.

Now, this isn’t meant to be morbid, or to lead us to always have death on our minds. But as Christians, we can have this conversation informed by Scripture and our faith, so that we can get to the point of having the same courage and hope as the Maccabees brothers. This week we are especially mindful of the 58 men, women, and children who were killed at a Catholic church in Baghdad last Sunday as they were attending Mass. None of these people entered the church that day expecting it to be the day of their death. But we pray that they had courage and hope in the face of death, a courage and hope informed by their faith. Could we say the same for ourselves, here, today?

At the end of today’s gospel, Jesus says that God “is not God of the dead, but of the living.” Our faith tells us that death is a reality, but that it is not permanent; it is a transition. Our faith tells us that we must live each day as if it were our last here on earth, ready for that moment of death at any time. Our faith tells us that our task here on earth is to help other people do the same thing, to come to know the love of God that will give them peace and comfort at the moment of death, because they have hope in the resurrection.

And so the conversation comes around to this question: are you ready to die? Or, to put it another way, are you ready for eternal life? If we recognize what death is, then we can approach it with courage and hope, because we know that it is not the end. And, who knows, we might even be able to talk about death, even our own death, because we know that it is a glorious moment of transition from one way of living to another. And not even death will separate us from the love of God.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

All Saints and All Souls Homilies

Click on the links below to listen to or download audio (mp3) files of two homilies preached this week, for All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2).

All Saints Day Homily - I want to be a saint!

All Souls Day Homily - The Light of Resurrection

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Have you seen Jesus?

Homily for the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Wisdom 11.12-12.2 Psalm 145 2 Thessalonians 1.11-2.2 Luke 19.1-10

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) version of this homily.

Have you seen Jesus today? Here is here, I assure you, but have you seen him? Of course, we aren’t like Zacchaeus, we can’t simply climb a tree to get above the crowd and see Jesus from there; we won’t find Jesus in the flesh walking along our roads, inviting himself to our homes. But he is here – in this church, in the words of Scripture, in the Eucharist, in all of us who have been called and commissioned to follow him. But have you seen him?

You might say that the purpose of the Church is to help people see Jesus in their lives, and once they find him, to learn how to follow him. As a Church, we do this in three main ways – by proclaiming the word of God, by celebrating the sacraments, and by exercising the ministry of charity. First, we proclaim the word of God through the way we interact with one another, the way we speak to one another, they way we respect human dignity. We proclaim the word of God by being people of love and hope, truth and honor. But as a Church we also have more formal ways of proclaiming God’s word – especially in our faith formation programs, our Catholic schools, and our efforts at evangelization. That’s the first way we can help people find Jesus. But it doesn’t stop there. Second, we celebrate the sacraments. None of us can follow Jesus on our own – we need the support of a community, we need the strength of the Eucharist, the forgiveness of Reconciliation, the wisdom of Confirmation. In the sacraments, we encounter Jesus Christ himself, and we receive the gifts – the grace – we need to be a people of faith. That’s the second way we help people find Jesus, through the sacraments. And finally, we help people find Jesus by exercising the ministry of charity, by serving the basic human needs of our brothers and sisters, whether by serving in a soup kitchen, comforting the grieving, or upholding the dignity and value of human life, from conception to natural death. To proclaim the word – to celebrate the sacraments – to exercise the ministry of charity – that is what it means to be Church, to help people find Jesus Christ and follow him.

The thing is, we can’t do it alone – as a priest and pastor, I can’t do it alone. As a parish staff, we can’t do it alone. As our shepherd and leader, Archbishop Daniel can’t do it alone. We need your help. We need the gift of your time to pray for people who are looking for Jesus, to visit those who are sick or dying, and to mentor our young people. We need the gift of your talents to teach in our faith formation programs, to cook for our funeral lunches, and to proclaim the Scriptures at Mass. And we need your treasure to make our Catholic schools affordable, to educate seminarians and deacon candidates, and to provide material resources for single mothers and families in poverty. Some of these things we do here at our parish – like our bereavement programs and our St. Vincent de Paul Society. Other things can only be accomplished at the Archdiocesan or deanery level – like seminary education or the work of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities. But all of this ministry, we do together – because no one person can do it alone.

This week, you should receive in the mail detailed information about our parish and archdiocesan ministries and how we are inviting you to be involved. It’s called Christ Our Hope: Compassion in Community. Please, take some time to pray with this information and ask God how he is calling you to share your time, talent, and treasure in the coming year with both your parish and Archdiocesan community. Next weekend, we invite you to bring your completed intention card to Mass and place it before the altar. And remember, it’s all about helping people see Jesus – giving them a tree to climb, if they need it – and supporting them along the way as we proclaim God’s word, celebrate the sacraments, and exercise the ministry of charity. Archbishop Daniel and I can’t do it alone. We need your help.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Humility of a Sinner

Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Sirach 35.12-14, 16-18 Psalm 34 2 Timothy 4.6-8, 16-18 Luke 18.9-14

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

Think back to the last time you judged someone. Unfortunately, it’s something we all do with some frequency. It might have been last night, when you were out to eat or going shopping and you made a mental judgment about a stranger you walked by – perhaps about the person’s appearance or behavior. It might have been this morning as you were listening to the daily news, judging the latest instant celebrity or politician running for office. Or it might have been just seconds ago, when you passed judgment on someone else sitting right here in this church, maybe even in the very pew you are sitting in, judging their attitude or their reverence or something you heard someone else say they heard from a friend about this person. When was the last time you judged someone, and why did you do it? Keep that in the back of your mind.

Now take the Pharisee in today’s parable. He certainly passed judgment on the tax collector he saw at the Temple – he even tried to judge the whole of humanity, calling the entire human race greedy, dishonest, and adulterous. Now, the Pharisee probably was a good person – he probably did fast and tithe, he did his best to avoid greed and dishonesty. But look at the way he judges – he judges others in comparison to the good person he is, to all the great things he has done right. This particular Pharisee boasts of what he has accomplished – personally, by his own efforts – and he judges everyone else by how they have failed to be as good as he is. It’s not just a judgment, it’s a comparison. The tax collector, on the other hand, is a sinner, and he knows it. And even more, he knows that he needs God’s mercy. And he’s not comparing his sins to anyone else.

So think back to the last time you judged someone. Why did you do it? How did you do it? My guess is that it probably involved comparing them to what you would do or the way you act – since, in our minds, we are such a better person than they are. But if we think some more, we’ll realize that we are just as much in need of God’s mercy and guidance as anyone else. Thank goodness, God is here for each one of us.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pilgrimage Pictures - The Favorites

Here are a few of my favorite pictures from this fall's Pilgrimage to Germany and Switzerland.

Gardens at Nymphenburg Palace, Munich, Germany

Medieval home, Rothenburg, Germany

Hohenschwangau Castle, Bavaria, Germany

Abbey and Village of Einsiedeln, Switzerland

Water Tower, Mannheim, Germany

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pray Always

Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Exodus 17.8-13 Psalm 121 2 Timothy 3.14-4.2 Luke 18.1-8

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) version of this homily.

This week, the entire world watched as a real-life example of perseverance, persistence, and hope was played out in the mountains of Chile. As the 33 miners who had been trapped underground for 69 days were brought to the surface, one by one, there were cries of joy and the tears of answered prayers. Not only the president of the country but also the local bishop was there to welcome the miners to the surface, and an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was proudly displayed in the rescue camp. In recent weeks, so many people all over the world had responded to the call of Jesus in today’s gospel, to “pray always without becoming weary” (Luke 18.1). Persistence in prayer – this is what it is all about.

Of course, we know from our own experience that constant prayers do not always result in the happy ending that we are looking for. Sometimes we feel like we’ve never prayed harder in our lives, but in the end, it seems like the prayer hasn’t made a difference. But I think we often have a false understanding of what prayer does. Prayer does not make everything right; prayer does not make our lives perfect. Prayer does connect us with God, and the more we pray, the more persistent and constant our prayer becomes, the more we are united with God’s will and God’s presence. Persistence in prayer keeps our faith alive. Persistence in prayer holds us up with the strength of God. Persistence in prayer gives us hope and peace, no matter what the outcome of the situation we’re praying for. Persistence in prayer helps us see the miracles God is working in front of our eyes. And believe me, prayer does make a difference, because when we pray always, we begin to see things the way God sees them. And that can be a true blessing.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Gift of 40 Hours

Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
2 Kings 5.14-17 Psalm 98 2 Timothy 2.8-13 Luke 17.11-19

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) version of this homily.

Do you ever feel like Jesus in this gospel story? You’ve worked hard, put in a lot of time and effort on a project or family get-together, done a great job at whatever you do, maybe even worked little miracles; but it seems like no one recognizes what you’ve done, no one appreciates who you are, or at least the vast majority, even 90% of the people around you, barely know you exist. Or maybe you feel like the lepers – cast out, ostracized from society or from the in-crowd, ignored because somebody considers you to be different. Or maybe sometimes you feel like the one Samaritan leper – God is the center of your life, you remember each day to thank God for his blessings, you come to church each week – but when you look around, you realize that you’re in the minority. Where’s everyone else? So many people don’t go to church, don’t pray to God. Or you might be like the nine cleansed lepers who did not return to thank Jesus – there are so many things you want to do, your life is so busy; or that busy-ness wears you out so much that prayer and thanksgiving is the last thing on your mind. Most of us can find someone to relate to in this story. It’s all focused on our relationships – with God, with other people, and with ourselves. And it all starts with an encounter with Jesus Christ.

In the 1500s in Italy, a new form of prayer began to develop that quickly spread all over the world. It’s a form of prayer that is also centered on an encounter with Jesus Christ, not physically, but in the Eucharist. It was called the 40 Hours Devotion. The basic concept of this devotion is a continuous period of prayer and Eucharistic Adoration over 40 consecutive hours. These 40 hours symbolize the time Jesus spent in the tomb, after his death on Good Friday until his resurrection on Easter Sunday morning. The Eucharist would be exposed in a gold vessel, called a monstrance, and people would come to the church any time they could, day or night, to spend time in prayer. There would be some formal times of prayer – like the rosary or the stations of the cross or the liturgy of the hours – but most of the time, the church would simply be open for personal prayer in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord.

It has been many years since we have had a 40 Hours Devotion here in our parish, but in just a couple weeks, we are renewing this annual time of intense prayer and adoration. It starts a week from Wednesday. From 5 pm on Wednesday, October 20 through 9 am on Friday, October 22, there will be prayer and Eucharistic Adoration here in the church. A full schedule can be found in today’s bulletin. I personally invite every parishioner, every person here, to spend at least one hour in church in prayer during that time – you can come on your own schedule, day or night. To make sure we have at least two people here all the time, there are sign-up sheets in the church vestibule this weekend and next weekend. We also encourage you to join us at 7 pm each of the nights of the 40 Hours Devotion for Evening Prayer and preaching in a style similar to a parish mission. But, most importantly, you are invited to take advantage of this time of prayer to deepen your faith, to pray for those in need, and to strengthen our community.

And that brings us back to today’s gospel. If you feel like Jesus in this gospel – worn out and tired from the hard work you put in each day – come, rest in the presence of Christ. If you feel like the lepers, on the outskirts of society – come, spend time with the one person who loves and guides you always. If you’re like the Samaritan, already a person of prayer – then come, pray for those whose relationship with Christ is floundering or hidden. If you feel like the other lepers, so busy that an hour of quiet prayer seems impossible – then come in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, when there are no other demands on your time. No matter where you find yourself in your relationship with God, these 40 Hours of prayer can be a gift – a gift of time, a gift of prayer, a gift communion with our Eucharistic Lord.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Gathering of the Faithful in Oberammergau

Yesterday evening, I returned from a 10-day pilgrimage to Germany and Switzerland, traveling with the Saint Meinrad Alumni Association. It was a wonderful time, with many highlights and memories - and more stories and pictures will be forthcoming. But, to start, a reflection on one aspect of the highlight of the trip - the Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany. In 1633, the people of this small village in Bavaria, not far from the Austrian border, vowed that if they were spared the effects of the plague that was devastating central Europe, they would put on a Passion Play every ten years to honor the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The town was spared, and this year saw the 41st presentation of the Oberammergau Passion Play.

Over the years, people have come from all over the world to be a part of this production. And it was this universal reach that especially touched me during our days in the village. It was almost as if the focus of the entire Christian world was on this small village in southern Germany. On the day we attended the Passion Play - the 99th of 100 performances this year - we saw innumerable people we knew: our own Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, OSB, of Indianapolis, and several other people from Indianapolis traveling with him, including my kindergarten principal and a priest friend from Indy; a group traveling from Batesville, Indiana, with several people I knew; a group traveling from Evansville, Indiana, with many people from St. John Parish in Newburgh, where my traveling companion, Fr. Jason Gries, had served as associate pastor a few years ago; a priest from Wisconsin who also studied at Saint Meinrad, two years behind us, along with Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, the former bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming, whom I had met last December while in Cheyenne for the ordination and installation of their current bishop, who was my predecessor as pastor at OLPH; the tour escort who had been with my pilgrimage In the Footsteps of St. Paul last summer; and many more. And we also met many new people, from Italy and Japan and all parts of the United States and Europe. And of course, there were our local hosts, Dieter and Rose Marie Dashuber, in whose home Fr. Jason and I stayed - Dieter is a native of Oberammergau and was one of the high priests in the Passion Play.

The focus of all these people was on the same thing - a remembrance of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Fittingly, we marked the day of the Passion Play by also having Mass at the local parish Church of Ss. Peter and Paul, at which Bishop Ricken presided and several of us priests in attendance concelebrated. The whole experience was a massive gathering of the faithful in a small German village to remember a vow made over 350 years ago and the Lord whom we all worship and whose saving death and resurrection has given us life. And, really, the Christian world was focused not on this particular village, but on the man on the cross, who rose from the dead. He is the one who brings us all together each time we gather to pray and celebrate the Eucharist - whether in Oberammergau or in our own parish church. Sometimes it's good to have a reminder of the universality of our faith!

Friday, September 24, 2010

On Pilgrimage

This afternoon, I leave with 24 other people on a pilgrimage with the Saint Meinrad Alumni Association to Germany and Switzerland. The two highlights of the trip will be the Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany, and a visit to Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland. At some point, I plan to post reflections and pictures here on this blog and on Facebook - either during the trip, if I can find good internet connectsions, or once I return. In the meantime, pray for safe travels, and I plan to return on October 5!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Meeting in Prayer

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Amos 8.4-7 Psalm 113 1 Timothy 2.1-8 Luke 16.1-13

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

There is so much in my mind this weekend, as we gather here to pray. Maybe it’s a symptom of the digital age, a result of the speed of information and news crossing the globe and projected into our lives in so many ways. There is much to reflect on – there always is – but this week seems especially full. On a global level, the real-life drama of the 33 miners trapped in Chile continues to unfold, and we continue to see the effects of hurricanes, floods, and oil spills all over the world. Here is the US, a final round of primary contests means that the news and campaigning for this fall’s election has begun in earnest. In the religious world, of course, the highlight of the week has been Pope Benedict’s monumental trip to England and Scotland, meeting with both Queen Elizabeth, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, and victims of clergy sexual abuse, to name a few. And here on the local level, we have been shocked by the news that a much-loved local priest has been diagnosed with cancer. Here, today, around this table of the Eucharist, we’re not going to solve the problems of the world – we can’t free the trapped minors, or determine the results of elections, or bring about the unity of Christians. Here, today, gathered as a Christian community, we’re not going to find a cure for cancer. But what we can do is pray.

St. Paul gives us an outline for prayer in his First Letter to Timothy. We are to pray first for everyone – for all people throughout the world, especially those who are in need. Then, we are to pray for government leaders – for kings, as St. Paul says, but also for presidents and governors and members of congress and any other person with authority. And, finally, we are to pray for ourselves, that we may lead a “quiet and tranquil life.” It’s one of the most important things we do here, as a Church, or wherever we gather. It’s even our duty, to remember one another in prayer, to commend one another to the grace of God. Because it is prayer that we meet. It is in prayer that we meet God, that we try to make our will and God’s will come together. And it is in prayer that we meet one another, both here on earth and in the life to come, as prayer spans the miles and even the barrier of death to unite us in the same purpose and the same posture before our Lord. In prayer, we meet God, we meet one another, and united together, we can face anything that comes our way.

And so this week, there is much to pray for – maybe more than other weeks, from one perspective, but not necessarily. All the prayers that have occupied our hearts are brought here to this table, where we lay them before our Lord and Savior. We pray for a greater understanding and unity among Christians, that we may work together for the good of all people and the peace of our world. We pray for Fr. Mike Hilderbrand and the countless people in our families and community who suffer from cancer and other diseases. We pray that the men and women elected to public office consider first and foremost in their decisions the dignity of the human person, from the child in the womb to the family living in poverty to the elderly and retired. We pray for each of us, that we may become more and more like Christ each day. Through these prayers, we grow as individual Christians and as a Church. Because it is in prayer that we meet Christ and one another.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Wabash, Nouwen, and the Pope in the UK

Yesterday, I spent part of the day at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, for orientation for the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program, which I will begin participation in come January. As part of the orientation, we were asked to read and reflect on Henri Nouwen's book on pastoral leadership, In the Name of Jesus. Nouwen's take on the specific way pastoral ministers are called to lead is that they do so in the background, by developing the habits of prayer, forgiveness, and theological reflection. This vision of leadership is not marked by personal accomplishment, being the most relevant person in a community, or widespread acclaim; rather, the Christian pastoral leader strives to direct people to the person of Jesus Christ, who is the true leader in any Christian community.

It is with those thoughts in mind that I read the transcript of the interview Pope Benedict XVI gave to a group of reporters earlier today while in flight to the United Kingdom. Here's one particular question and answer that struck me:

Q. - The UK, like many other Western countries - there is an issue that you have already touched on in the first answer –it is considered a secular country. There is a strong atheist movement, even for cultural reasons. However, there are also signs that religious faith, particularly in Jesus Christ, is still alive on a personal level. What can this mean for Catholics and Anglicans? Can anything be done to make the Church as an institution, more credible and attractive to everyone?

A. - I would say that a Church that seeks to be particularly attractive is already on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for her own ends, she does not work to increase numbers and thus power. The Church is at the service of another: she serves, not for herself, not to be a strong body, rather she serves to make the proclamation of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths and great forces of love, reconciling love that appeared in this figure and that always comes from the presence of Jesus Christ. In this regard, the Church does not seek to be attractive in and of herself, but must be transparent for Jesus Christ and to the extent that she is not out for herself, as a strong and powerful body in the world, that wants power, but is simply the voice of another, she becomes truly transparent for the great figure of Christ and the great truth that he has brought to humanity. The power of love, in this moment one listens, one accepts. The Church should not consider herself, but help to consider the other and she herself must see and speak of the other. In this sense, I think, both Anglicans and Catholics have the same simple task, the same direction to take. If both Anglicans and Catholics see that the other is not out for themselves but are tools of Christ, children of the Bridegroom, as Saint John says, if both carry out the priorities of Christ and not their own, they will come together, because at that time the priority of Christ unites them and they are no longer competitors seeking the greatest numbers, but are united in our commitment to the truth of Christ who comes into this world and so they find each other in a genuine and fruitful ecumenism.

What a great perspective for all Christians to reflect on! The full text of this press conference can be found here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"A man had two sons ..."

Homily for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Exodus 32.7-11, 13-14 Psalm 51 1 Timothy 1.12-17 Luke 15.1-32

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

A man had two sons. The man’s name was Abraham. His sons’ names were Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac was born to Abraham’s wife, Sarah, in her old age, and he was chosen by God to be the father of a great people, the Jewish nation. Into the Jewish people, a man was born named Jesus, the Son of God; and that was the beginning of the Christian family. Abraham’s other son, Ishmael, was born to a slave, Hagar, but he, too, was destined to be the father of a great nation, a people that many generations later would be called Muslim. Abraham loved both of his sons – each in a different way. And through them, his descendents became greater than the stars in the heaven or the sands on the shore of the sea.

A man had two sons. So began a story told by Jesus, a descendant of Abraham, a story told to a group of Pharisees and scribes, tax collectors and sinners. We don’t know the name of the man in the story, or the names of either of the sons, and that’s really not important. What’s important is the love that the man has for his sons, an unconditional love for each of them, a love that leads him to share what he has with them, a love that celebrates and rejoices when the younger son returns home after wandering away. We all know this man, this father, or at least we try to know him as Our Father. Because we are all his sons and daughters.

A man had two sons. It’s been almost two-thousand years since Jesus told his story. This man’s name was David, and he worked as a computer programmer on the 97th floor of Tower One at the World Trade Center in New York City. We’ll never know exactly what happened with David after the airplane hit the tower where he was working on the morning of September 11, 2001, but we do know that David never returned home to his wife and his two sons. His family still tells stories about how he could fix things in creative ways – like using pieces of car tires to patch up a pair of old, worn work boots. And they remember how much David loved each of them. Their lives were changed after that day nine years ago, and the family will never be the same. And there are many other families like them.

A man had two sons. This last man is symbolic, he represents the human heart. One side of the heart, one “son,” is love, mercy, and humility; the other is hate, jealousy, and pride. And they both live within each of us. We have the capacity to hate, we have the ability to put our needs first, always and everywhere. But we also have a heart to love, a soul to forgive, and a desire to seek peace. With God’s grace, we can be formed into his children, with the same characteristics of our heavenly Father, to the degree that we reflect his love. Or we can turn our backs from the one who made us and instead cultivate the self-seeking idols of pleasure, ambition, and power. It’s a choice that we must make – love or hate, mercy or jealousy, humility or pride. Only one path leads to life. Only one path leads to joy. Think about it. What will be the end of your story?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Jesus and Anger

Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Wisdom 9.13-18b Psalm 90 Philemon 9-10, 12-17 Luke 14.25-33

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It seems to me that if there is one emotion that is prevalent in our society these days more than anything else, it’s anger. We are an angry people, all around. Think about it. The struggling economy of the past few years has made virtually every US citizen angry at someone – we’re angry at politicians or corporate executives or banks for the mess we think they have gotten us into. At the same time, we find ourselves angry over things like the oil spill in the gulf, or health care reform, or the proposal to build a mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan – whatever side of that issue you fall on. And our anger isn’t just directed at public controversies – it’s right in the middle of our personal relationships. Children are angry at parents whose marriages have fallen apart or who focus so much on work or play that they’re never home. Friends get angry with one another so easily over petty things. We’re angry at the doctor who’s always running late, at the teacher who seems to treat our child unfairly, at the coach who should have retired years ago, at the child away at college who never calls home. And when there’s so much anger in the air, it becomes almost natural to take out that anger on the drivers around us on the road who aren’t driving the way we think they should – or the cashiers in the grocery store who just don’t understand that we’re in a hurry – or the family member who constantly has to listen to us vent about everyone who makes us mad. We don’t have to look very far to see that anger is all around us.

Now, it’s true that some anger is justified. And it’s also true that anger is an emotion, a natural response – which means that, in and of itself, it’s neither good nor bad. It’s just there. But when anger becomes our dominant emotion – when it gets so powerful that we’re angry all the time – when anger turns into a deep seated rage or hate – well, then anger starts to control our lives. And that is not a good thing.

And on the surface, today’s gospel doesn’t seem to help. It sounds like Jesus is telling us – even requiring us – to be angry, to hate. And even more, he’s telling us that in order to follow him, we must hate our family and even our own life. Those are harsh words. And it doesn’t make sense coming from the same person who always tells us to love all people, all the time. What’s going on here?

It’s really all about priorities. If you think about it, anger most often comes when things don’t go our way, when something happens that is not the way we think it should happen. Sometimes we’re right and justified in that anger, sometimes we’re not. But the emotion itself comes from putting ourselves and our priorities and our desires first. The people or things we are angry at are less important than what I want. And I think that’s what Jesus is getting at. To follow him – to be a disciple – we have to put Jesus and his priorities first all the time. Everything and everyone else must be less important than Jesus. To hate our family or our own lives is not to be angry at them because of what they have done, it’s to recognize that they are less important in our lives than Jesus Christ. It’s all about priorities – Jesus first, then everyone else, ourselves included.

So what about all that anger? I bet, if we really put Jesus first in our lives, then most of the unproductive, pent up anger that has become so dominant in our society will go away. And once we calm down the powerful feelings of anger, then we will be able to work together constructively and peacefully to heal the brokenness in our families, in our relationships, and in our country. It’s all about priorities: Jesus first, then others, then yourself.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I Am Not God

Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Sirach 3.17-18, 20, 28-29 Psalm 68 Hebrews 12.18-19, 22-24a Luke 14.1, 7-14

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If you’ve heard me say this before, I apologize; but there are some things that are worth repeating, so they sink in. And if you’re here expecting a long and elaborate homily, I apologize; but sometimes, the more concise the message, the better we can try to live it out. Today, it’s all about humility. The greatest human fault is trying to do everything ourselves, or trying to control our lives and the lives of others to the extent that we try to become God. But you are not God; I am not God. We are never going to be perfect; we are never going to accomplish everything we set out to do; we are never going to please everyone. We always try our best, we use the gifts God has given us to the best of our ability. But at the end of the day, we are not in charge. We do not control our own destiny. I am convinced that if everyone in the world would get up each morning, look themselves in the mirror and tell themselves: “I am not God,” then the world would be a much better place. Try it and see what happens.

This Sunday's shortened homily was accompanied by two announcements at the end of all Masses: 1) I have been appointed an adjunct Spiritual Director at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, beginning in September; and 2) I have been accepted into the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program, beginning in January 2011. Both new endeavors involve limited time away from the parish and will complement my ministry as pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. For more detailed information on exactly what is involved, check out next Sunday's OLPH bulletin, which will be found on the parish website by the middle of this week.
- Fr. Eric

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A New Formation Year: One Church, One Faith

Along with the beginning of school each fall, we in parish life also start a new formation year. At the parish where I serve as pastor, we call our comprehensive faith formation program One Church, One Faith. Last night, we began the formal gathering of this year's RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), a new adult Bible Study group met for the second time (they're using The Great Adventure Bible Timeline), and the catechists for our parish faith formation program for prechool through eighth grade met to prepare for the year. This coming Wednesday, September 1, we officially launch our total parish faith formation program with Week One, a full-community gathering with a free, simple supper, catechesis for all ages, and night prayer. It's good to be getting back into the regular routine!

Even though it seems like people's lives are busier than ever before, it's refreshing to see so many people committed to ongoing formation in their faith. To me, offering these faith formation opportunities is one of the most important things we do as a parish. And especially important is the fact that we do it together - for people of all ages and all backgrounds - not in isolated groups. The Week One gatherings bring together people who are inquiring about the Catholic faith, as well as people who have been members of this particular parish for almost sixty years; young children who are just learning their prayers are there together with their parents and grandparents; people with no formal classroom education in the faith and those with degrees in theology learn from one another. And it's not just about what we learn - it's about building a Christian community, praying with one another, and sharing a meal with our sisters and brothers in Christ.

So if you're in the New Albany area, I invite you to join us at OLPH for any of our faith formation programs, but especially for Week One, held from 6:00-8:00 pm on the first Wednesday of every month, starting Sept. 1. This month, we will be exploring "What Do Catholics Believe: The Creed." And if you're not in our area, find a faith formation program at a church near you. There are great opportunities out there, and we can all find ways to grow in our faith and in our relationship with God as we journey together toward God's Kingdom.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Life in the Kingdom of God

Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Isaiah 66.18-21 Psalm 117 Hebrews 12.5-7, 11-13 Luke 13.22-30

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How the world has changed since the days of the prophet Isaiah! 2500 years ago, the prophet envisioned caravans of horses and chariots, mules and camels, bringing people to Jerusalem to pray in the house of the Lord. Today, we’d be hard pressed to find even a single, working chariot, outside of historical reenactments, and as for camels – well, in this part of the world, not many people know how to ride them around the block, let alone all the way to Jerusalem. Even the last five years have seen monumental changes in how we travel, how we communicate, and how we are connected to the world around us. Today, if we wanted to go to Jerusalem, we might buy an electronic ticket through the internet connection on our cell phone, drive a car that gets 50 miles per gallon to the airport, where we would board an airplane to take us to the Holy Land, with a lay-over in Paris; and once we got there, our guide would be waiting to take us by comfortable coach to the site of the ancient Temple, the house of God. And hopefully a stubborn mule wouldn’t block the road as we drove through the Holy City.

It’s so much easier today to connect with people on the other side of the world – it’s one of the many blessings of technology. We know people from east and west, from north and south, because we’ve been there – we’ve traveled the roads and met people along the way. And if we haven’t been there in person, every day we see people and places and events from all corners of the world just by watching the news or even catching the latest movie. But as easy as it is to think globally, to know what’s going on all over the world, the same technology that connects us can also isolate us. In a caravan of camels, people from different families and different towns talked to one another as they traveled together. But in a caravan of cars, we’re each in our own private space, either as individuals or as small groups. The cell phones that make it so easy to talk to the person across town or across the country or across the globe, these same cell phones can turn people in toward themselves when they spend all their time texting their five closest friends, who might even be sitting right next to them. And the news we watch or read telling us about the flooding in Pakistan, or the conflict in the Middle East, or the earthquake recovery in Haiti – well, most of the time, we just follow that news in the privacy of our own home, with no personal connection or stake in what is going on over there.

In the Kingdom of God, things are different. In the Kingdom of God, there is a personal connection between people from east and west, north and south – a connection that’s made possible not by technology, but by the God who brings us together. In the Kingdom of God, community is much more important than privacy. In the Kingdom of God, there is no separation, no isolation, no favoritism – everyone there has traveled the same path – through the cross of Christ – and everyone has gotten there not because of the plans they made, but at God’s invitation. And, believe it or not, the Kingdom of God isn’t found only in heaven. It’s right here. Or at least it should be.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Place for Musicians in a Church

We have been spending a lot of time at my parish preparing for a renovation of the music area in our church. This project is being funded by a Capital Campaign, and is the final of several construction projects to come as a result of this campaign. Yesterday, our Director of Liturgical Music Ministries, a parishioner who is also the head of the architectural firm we are working with, and I presented the proposed design to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis Church Art and Architecture Commission. This group gave us some good, positive feedback and gave us the approval to move foward with the project.

In the meantime, I have thought it might be good to look back at the guidelines we have from the Church for such a project, and really these are very few. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says, "The choir should be positioned with respect to the design of each church so as to make clearly evident its character as a part of the gathered community of the faithful fulfilling a specific function. The location should also assist the choir to exercise its function more easily and conveniently allow each choir member full, sacramental participation in the Mass" (GIRM 312).

A document specifically for the Catholic Church in the United States, Built of Living Stones: Guidelines on Art and Architecture, has a little more to say:

"Because the roles of the choirs and cantors are exercised within the liturgical community, the space chosen for the musicians should clearly express that they are part of the assembly of worshipers. In addition, cantors and song leaders need visual contact with the music director while they themselves are visible to the rest of the congregation. Apart from the singing of the Responsorial Psalm, which normally occurs at the ambo, the stand for the cantor or song leader is distinct from the ambo, which is reserved for the proclamation of the word of God. ... The placement and prayerful decorum of the choir members can help the rest of the community to focus on the liturgical action taking place at the ambo, the altar, and the chair. The ministers of music are most appropriately located in a place where they can be part of the assembly and have the ability to be heard." (BLS 89-90)

Especially in renovating an existing church, the challenge of designing a separate space for the choir or cantor as a leader of sung prayer, while also recognizing their participation as members of the assembly, can be challenging. I think we have come up with a good solution, with the guidance of our architects and parish musicians, and in the next week or so we will be able to share the designs with our entire parish. This Thursday evening we present the project to our Pastoral Council for their review and approval. We hope to have the project completed by Christmas.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Source of Our Faith

Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Wisdom 18.6-9 Psalm 33 Hebrews 11.1-2, 8-19 Luke 12.35-40

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It seems like it’s almost fashionable these days to give up on faith – or at least to give up on religion. Popular novelist Anne Rice, who made a well-known return to the Catholic faith of her childhood, has publicly announced that she has given up being a Christian. A new billboard on a Louisville interstate tries to get you to join a group made up of people who don’t believe in God. Atheists in Europe have lobbied churches, asking that their names be erased from baptismal registers, because they want to be de-baptized, to completely disassociate themselves from a faith of any kind. Scandals, disappointments, and disillusionment have led people away from an organized practice of their faith. It would be so easy, it seems, to stop all this business of faith.

“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11.1), we hear today from the Letter to the Hebrews. Most people spend their lives looking for this “evidence of things not seen” – trying to find faith, seeking a reason to believe, searching for evidence for God’s existence and action in our lives. And many of us find this evidence – reasons to have faith. But if that is the only way we think about faith, then we’re missing an important part of what it is. Because faith, first of all, is a gift. In the heart of every human being, there is a natural longing for God – we didn’t put it there, God himself put it there. At baptism and through the other sacraments, God strengthens the faith that is already inside us, giving us the grace – the tools – to be able to find what we are longing for – to be able to develop a relationship with God. Faith doesn’t start with us – it begins as a gift from God. And then we must work to develop it.

But if faith is a gift, then we can’t really get rid of it. No matter what we do, no matter how far we stray away from God, even if we try to leave faith behind, that gift never leaves us. There will always be a longing deep in every human heart that can only be satisfied by God. It’s how we’re made. And really, there’s a great comfort in that, there’s a great comfort knowing that faith is a gift and not just something that we have to find on our own. It takes a lot of pressure off of us, and it transfers the focus to God, who can do far more than we could ever hope or imagine. People give up on faith today because the individualism of our society tells us that we have to figure it out ourselves. And when we lose patience trying to put together a perfect life for ourselves, based on what we think is our relationship with God – then it’s easier just to give up. People give up on faith today because we have forgotten how to trust; we don’t know how to turn our lives over completely to someone else.

But true faith can never die. True faith will never disappear. Because true faith does not come from us – it comes from God. What we need to do is get out of the way, and let God bring our dormant faith to life.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Getting Ready for Heaven

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Ecclesiastes 1.2, 2.21-23 Psalm 90 Colossians 3.1-5, 9-11 Luke 12.13-21

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Well, it’s happened again. In case you haven’t heard, there is a new prediction of exactly when the world is going to end, and according to this particular interpretation of biblical prophecy, we don’t have much time. News media started picking up this story this past week, when bus benches in Colorado Springs and other cities starting having an advertisement on them. “Save the date!” it says. “Return of Christ: May 21, 2011.” As it turns out, there is a group of biblical scholars who believe that they have interpreted messages formerly hidden in the Bible that guarantee to give us the exact dates for all of the events associated with the end of all things. According to their calculations, Christ will return on May 21 of next year, the dead will be raised, and the final period of judgment will begin, with the complete end of the world coming five months later, on October 21, 2011.

As Catholics, we join with the overwhelming majority of Christians in saying that it is foolish to engage in this kind of speculation – Jesus himself is very clear that we will not know the day or the hour when the Son of Man returns. And, besides: the people who propose October 21, 2011 for the end of the world are at complete odds with another group that has said that the world will end on December 12, 2012. It’s enough to confuse any Christian. But, regardless of what we think of these dates, we must be prepared, all the time – whether for our own death or for the coming of Christ. If either event were to happen today, would you be ready? And probably the better question to ask: how do we prepare ourselves for what comes beyond this life?

Jesus and St. Paul give us two ways of looking at this. The point of the parable of the rich man is that we should become rich in what matters to God, not in what matters to ourselves. Or, as St. Paul writes to the Colossians, we are to seek what is above, not of what is on earth. So what does that mean? With God, love is the most important virtue and the greatest gift. And the same should be true for us. When we love – a true, genuine, selfless love – when we love God or our family, friends and strangers, then we get closer to heaven here on earth. But when we do the opposite of love – when we are ruled by hate or anger, or even by indifference – then we start to separate ourselves from God, and we become less prepared for an eternity in His presence. Another example: in heaven, there’s no such thing as private property or personal possessions. Of course, things are different here on earth. Whenever our personal possessions – our things – identify who we are, we become more and more earthly. But to be rich in what matters to God, we can certainly still have our own possessions, but these things cannot identify us. Instead, we are called to possess generosity, hospitality, compassion – when people identify us based on our virtues, then we are rich in the things of God.

So I don’t really know whether May 21, 2011, will be judgment day – and, frankly, I don’t really care. The key question is not when will Christ come, but how ready will we be. Because the Christian way is to live constantly prepared for Christ’s coming, to seek what is above day by day, to become rich in what matters to God. I imagine most of us aren’t ready – we have some work to do. But with God’s grace, we will be ready to be with Christ in glory, whenever that day comes.