Sunday, December 29, 2019

Money, Sex, and Power vs. The Family

Money, sex, and power are three big human appetites, and they quietly but decisively break families. This homily is about: How money, especially inheritance, divides families. How pornography attacks individuals which then disintegrates families. And how power and pride are drugs that make us think of self and not God and neighbor, including family members.

Money, Sex, and Power

Holy Family Sunday, 2019

So today is a Holy Family Sunday. Some years on this day we talk about the Holy Family itself: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Sometimes we talk about family life in general, like, how to have a prayer life; how to grow in virtue; stuff like that. We sometimes talk about defending the Christian ideas of the family. Or talk about our duties within a family. 

But today, I want to talk about the dangers to the family. And here I'm not talking about external things, like legal and civil threats to the definition [of a family]. I'm talking more about internal threats, things that we do to ourselves, things that weaken or even break families. And to go a step further, I want to be clear that this isn't just stuff that slows down the growth of virtue and love in a family, things like, you know, not calling home as much as you should or not praying together as a family, or having too much screen time. But hey, we're talking about actual, big, direct, "torpedo in the water" threats to the family. 

And I think the biggest ones out there today revolve around the three big human appetites that have threatened human beings from the beginning. Now they're appetites, so they're not morally bad in and of themselves, but they're the kind of things that tend to grow and get out of hand. And the famous triad of these are money, sex and power. Again, they're not bad in themselves as appetites, but they are appetites that manage to actually grow with the feeding. In other words, they get hungrier, not more satisfied, the more that they consume. 

And these are the classic three that Jesus addresses in the Sermon on the Mount. And that both Jesus and Paul give examples about how to restrain them in your life. We even talk with the evangelical counsels —things coming out of the gospel— how to live the opposite of money, sex and power. And the evangelical counsels are poverty, chastity and obedience. One to match each of the others. And we see that Jesus and Paul first live them out, and then religious men and women later live them in a very radical way. Literal vows of poverty, chastity, obedience. 

And then others in the world, families and single folks, are called to live them in a certain way, according to your state of life. So, a spirit of simplicity with money and material goods. Chastity in the sense of limiting oneself to acting only in marriage. And then a spirit of humility and obedience to those that we need to show those things, too. So that's what the appetites are. Again, money, sex, and power. And then the opposites, the evangelical counsels. That's when Jesus gives to balance those. 

Now those appetites can sometimes seems small, but when those little flames get out of hand, they become fires that devour our homes and scorch our families. 

So let's start with the first one; let's start with money. 

We know that families can fight over money. We know that it's one of the things that couples most fight over and that we fear there being a tension in a family about. We just had Christmas and we know that we spend more during the holidays. And so it can cause stress. 

We know that we can be playing keeping up with the Joneses. Right. And that we worry about, "Man, if our kids don't have this or we don't have that on the exterior, man it's going to look like we're cheap or we're not really, you know, making it, and we're struggling." Stuff with that. So we compare, and we worry about comparison back at us. 

And that's not just between different families. Sometimes it's between family members, too. Now, if only it was just fighting over, you know, who has the fullest stocking or who gets to play the Xbox first, that would be nice. But those days are gone. Right? As we grow up, we fight over more and bigger stuff. We fight over big ticket items. We fight over inheritance. We fight over houses and farm ground and stocks. And we fight when someone dies. And even, honestly, leading up to that person dying, sometimes families are already fighting about what's going to happen. 

And it seems like in just about every town in this county has some story about, you know, two families have very similar last names. And the people who are in the know, know that once upon a time they were one family. But, you know, two brothers got in a fight once upon a time and one moved to the other side of the hill and they changed the spelling of their last name. And they have acted like separate families ever since. It seems like every single town in this county has one of those. 

It's amazing, as a priest, when doing funeral preparations and wedding preps, how it happens that you ask, "How many people are probably coming?" And they start counting off and they say, "Well, OK. So, so-and-so's are our cousins, but we haven't talked to them for a long time." Oh, OK. Why? What happened? "Like, well, I don't know. Our mom and their dad got in a fight about something in the will one time and something like that. We used to Christmas together, but we haven't been together with them for 30 years." That's constant. That is an incredibly regular thing that probably comes up every two to three times when we have one of those. 

And we hear about tensions about, you know, "Who's dad's favorite, and how that's not fair." Or, you know, we hear about how "Well, of course I'm closest to mom and I'm the one she tells stuff to, confides in, because I'm the one living in her state. I'm the one checking in on her. Where are you guys?" Right? So we have those kind of tensions. 

And we can call those fights a desire for justice. But we're blind if we can't also see the tug within ourselves of that appetite for money. It's this hunger and we worry about it and it eats at us. 

And we're always looking over at other persons' bowls, and how much they have in their bowl and checking it versus ours. This is bad enough with neighbors, but it's even worse if it's happening within a family. 

So parents, write it down plainly what you want. So plainly that no one can argue with what it means. And honestly, if it's going to cause a fight, have the fight while you're still living. It's not fun and might cause tension, might even cause separation for a little while now. But it's better to say it and explain it to them, and even say, hey, this is my money, this is my choice. I chose to do this. This is my will. Because I can promise you, if you wait until you're gone, the fighting and the distance will be worse. 

And children. Adult children. Ask yourself, "What's more important? Is the more important that you can give your children more money from grandma and grandpa? Or that they will always be able to play with their cousins growing up because your families are still together?"

So, now, if that wasn't awkward enough, let's move on to sex to make it even more awkward. All right. 

So, sex. Pretty obvious how that affects families, right? I mean, we largely define the idea of the breaking of marriage vows by focusing solely on the question of physical fidelity. And that itself is a huge danger. And if that threatens, people who need to be ready to seek counseling before it actually gets to that point. And if it does happen, hard questions need to be asked and we need to have some painful talks, and be honest about what happened and why. And both have to ask themselves, "Are they willing to try and save this?" "Can this be saved?" "What are you willing to try to do to make this something that can be saved?". 

But that's the obvious one. And statistically, that's still not that common. But there is a much more common threat, one that looms huge but that society doesn't want to face: whether it's because, well, it's free speech, you know, or we have this shame about it or whatever. And churches really don't want to address this because, again, the shame factor. But that's the effects of pornography, especially from the Internet and other kinds of acting out that often arise from that. 

And just like money, this is an appetite and an addiction that doesn't wait for a certain time in life. It often starts early and then it grows with the feeding. And the stats on this danger are pretty clear: 56 percent of all divorces involve at least one partner having an obsessive interest and use of Internet pornography. It cools the love of couples even before it's been found out. It fogs up the user's mind, so they're not engaged in family life. It breaks down trust when it is discovered and it can escalate to other behaviors that create risk both for the spouses personally and for their marriage. 

So that's in a marriage. But because it's an addiction, it can start before, and then can't be shaken even when they have a spouse. Or it can develop in the middle of a marriage and then the person just can't change course. So we don't limit our concern just to married couples. And also unmarried people get hurt by it too, just because it develops bad habits and develops certain vices within us. 

So just how prevalent is it? Well, we know that the average age of first encounter is around 10 or 11. That's the average. But a very high percentage of children report encountering it as early as age 7 or 8. Look, I was a second grader when a kid brought in two sheets that he'd torn out of a magazine from his brother's library and brought it into class and was showing it to the other guys at lunchtime. That was in 1986. That was way before the Internet. Right? And so you can imagine how much more prevalent it is now. 

Among people aged 13 to 24 —Men and women, boys and girls— 76 percent of all young people said they use it at least weekly. 

And what's very interesting is there's no significant difference in these statistics between whether or not a person is a Christian or not. Sometimes the behaviors are different, right? One person who's not religious might say, "Well, it's fine, it's natural, it's normal, it's good, right?" The Christian person maybe be like, "I don't want it. I don't like it. I want to escape it. Jesus, take this from me. I want to be done with it." And I try and do things, but because it's an addiction and it warps a part of the brain, they can get away for a month or two months or whatever, white knuckling. And then, boom, they're back in it because the addiction kicks in and it becomes this thing, even though they have all the Christian faith in the world. Even though they pray multiple holy hours and rosaries, they're still getting bombarded with that temptation, because it's an addiction. 

We're told that 68 percent of all churchgoing men use it on a regular basis. Do you know who the Promise Keepers are? That's a very strong evangelical Protestant group. They're like the Navy SEALs. They're like the best of the best in the Protestant world. And they're dedicated to family and faith. And they had a huge conference. And these are kind of guys that go to a conference, right, a religious conference. And they did an anonymous poll, and 55% of the best of the best, the crème de la crème said I've used it in the last week. Fifty five percent. 

And here's the thing, sometimes it gets assumed that it's a male struggle, right? Oh, that's a guy thing. That's a guy temptation, that's a guy problem, right? But it's not. We have stats that 33% of women under the age of 25 use it with the same regularity as those male stats. And 25% of women over age 25. 

And here's the problem, because he gets assumed to be belonging to [only] one gender's brokenness. Then if you struggle with it as a woman, there's this really strong, even worse, shame and stigma you like, "Oh, my gosh. Like, I have a problem that I should even have that. Like nobody I know would have this." Well, that's the thing: you don't know. And so the shame and stigma build up even more. There's a book called "Uncompromising Purity". It just came out a couple of weeks ago. And it's actually telling women, "Hey, you're not alone. Other people have struggled with this. We can get through this. Let me tell you my story. Here's how this gets better." So women are actually one the fastest growing groups that this is affecting, but it's growing in all categories. Every part of the bar graph is going up in every category. 

I quote these things not to shame anyone, but to say, "You're not the only person." Many people out there are struggling with these things and really want to get rid of them and they're looking for help. And you can, too. And there are many places to get help, but help only comes when people are honest enough to say it. If we want to protect families, we need people to get help and healing. But they can't do that if there's too much shame to be honest. We have to give people a safe space to be able to ask for help. There are tons of resources, but the shame factor is often too big. 

So just to let you you know, there's actually lots of options. Wahoo's a good place to be living for this. So we're a half hour from Lincoln and Omaha. Omaha has two very powerful, strong, wise, nationally known counselors who are very, very good at this stuff, both the addiction and the trauma. 

Lincoln has many options, too. There's this Catholic Social Services. There's the Marcottes: they're a husband and wife pair who work on these kind of things. There's any number of other counselors in both cities that can do these kind of things. 

Also groups. A lot of you'll find that therapy is not enough. They need a therapist and a group to work together to give them support and to give them clinical advice. So there's a lot of groups out there, some that meet weekly, some that literally meet daily, every single morning they have a meeting that's available for people who would like needing it and say, hey, I need it every day until I get going here. They can be attended live, but some also have a call-in where they can call a certain phone line and you can listen in and respond as well. 

There are online groups. Google has like Google Hangouts. And you can have like a Google phone number that you can call and join a group there. And they are in the big cities, but even here in Wahoo, there's a group, at least for men. And I don't know, there might be a women's group, too, that maybe has gotten started as well. But both [genders] are really starting to grow the numbers and the availability. Some are open to men and women. Some are just men, some are just women. 

So there's things out there. And there's like accountability software Things that lock down your computer, your iPad, your iPod, your phone, all that sort of stuff. 

But again, the key is being willing to say, "Tell me about that stuff. How do I get started? I don't know what to do. How does this even begin?" And if you need help, but you're afraid to talk to anyone in person, just ask the priest in confession. They've got resources available to them, you know, whether it be groups or counseling and stuff like that. And even if you just wanna remain anonymous and stay behind the grill, the priest can still give you a lot of information even in that in that way. 

And if you're a partner who's been left hurting because your spouse has this problem, there's hope for you, too. There's special groups, different groups, that help the spouse on the other end of this. Because you have to go through your own kind of recovery that is different, if that's the deal. So there are resources. 

And for people who are not married: nip this in the bud now. This is the time to fix it so you don't bring it into your marriage. And parents, I want to say to you: You have to find the courage to talk about this, because if you're not bringing it up, someone else is bringing up the topic. And like I said, we have to overcome shame as a community in order to be able to overcome shame in families. So that people can trust, in order to be able to de-escalate the shame for young people so they can ask questions when they're confused. "Dad, I saw something and it confuses me." Right? Or that they need help to get away from it. Maybe they even need professional help, maybe they need some counseling because they've really been affected by it. It's not their fault, but it still generates shame. And so we have to be able to counteract that. 

And I'll say this, if you're not blocking all your devices —your computers, your portable devices, even your TV if it has access to to certain other channels and stuff like that— if you're not blocking that, it's getting looked at in your house, I promise you. If you're not blocking it. 

And the blocking software, like Covenant Eyes, it's a little over 100 bucks a month. And you' re like, "Ooo, that's pretty steep." A hundred bucks. Well, it covers all your devices. So if you've got 10 devices in your house, it covers all of them. And as Todd Bowman, who's a really great psychiatrist out of Kansas City who works with this, says, "Look, I charge $200+ an hour.  If your 14 year old gets hooked and they don't start getting help till they're 24.... How many $200 sessions do you think it takes me to undo 10 years of an addiction? Trust me, it's cheaper: get the software," is what he says. 

Also, the last couple weeks, we've talked about mental illness. We talked about depression and anxiety. We've talked about physical illnesses and going to the doctor... Put addictions in those same categories of things that we like to pretend aren't a danger, but that we need to wise up and actually face. 

OK, so those two took a really long time. So I'm going to do power very briefly. Power is the third one. Very briefly. 

We human beings, we want to win, right? We want to be right. We want to have our way. We want to have that sense of being first, of being the best. And we want to have the ability to exert our will over someone else. 

So we might not think about it always; we might not think that it's a bad thing —maybe it's a good kind of pride in one way— but it also can be a bad kind of pride and a bad kind of power. It's there. All the time, in us. Ever since Adam and Eve in the garden. That was their sin. Right? 

You know, if you find yourself arguing on the Internet, "I just got to win." That's it, creeping up. Arguing with the spouse? Oftentimes that's a power thing, right? We don't want to admit, "I'm sorry. I messed that up. That was my fault." And so we blame or we project that on other things or other people, because we can't just say "I'm sorry." We can't say it; we can't say; we just hope it goes away in time. But it really doesn't. 

And more importantly: What do we see Jesus do? What is his most constant thing? It's that he's constantly surrendering his power. <points to Cross> And he's constantly calling us to do the same thing: to let go of our pride, to let go of even our strengths. And the things that we think of as good, to say, "These aren't mine, and these aren't mine to wield in a certain way." And ask yourselves, who are we using them against for power and leverage? 

So do an examination of conscience: How am I clinging to my power, my pride, and my desire to win? 

Back on Christ the King I preached about how Jesus lost. Jesus was a loser, and he was willing to lose. And he called us to lose in many, many ways as well. And he didn't just lose so that he could become the victor on Easter Sunday. Because all the things he told us to do was still kinds of losing. Losing, surrendering, giving up, handing over to the other person what you most want. Changing yourself to be humble and poor and weak and surrendering. That's what Jesus teaches. 

So these three— money, sex and power. If you want a healthy family, if you want to protect your family, don't just protect it from external dangers. Fight the internal dangers too. Fight the dangers of money, sex, and power in our own hearts. Fight them within our families. 

Be ready to admit what's out there that's threatening us. Be ready to be honest about what's tempting us on the inside. And be ready to surrender them to God who wants to heal them, to heal us. Because we can be healed. And we can be transformed. And we can be made into better, holier, and happier people by his healing. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Creed Written Into This Altar

The designers of this new high altar and the murals above it intentionally "wrote" the entire Apostles' Creed into it. Like medieval cathedrals, which were "sermons in stone" and the Bible of the illiterate, we tried to physicalize the great creeds in it. And how perfect then that Christmas, the day when we even genuflect during the Creed, was the first holy day the parish held in this new space. Included here is one more picture of the sanctuary, because you're going to need it to follow all the steps in the homily.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Father, Altar, Heart

One day after the high altar was done. Three days before Christmas. And three years after heart surgery changed my prayer. These threads come together as we reflect on the line "Such is the race that seeks the face of the God of Jacob" and contemplate the Father of the baby to be born at Christmas.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Depression and Other Diseases

Friday, Bishop Conley told us he's taking a medical leave of absence. Today the readings for 3rd Sunday of Advent were all about healings. It's time we accept that mental suffering is real suffering. That's why I shared my story today. And while we're at it, it's time to stop avoiding medical doctors too, and go take care of our bodies. (If you've heard the Bishop's letter already, you can just start at 2:25.)

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Perfect Confessor

Advent gives us some very cool insights into the child who is coming. But the readings (especially the prophecies) also tell us who the man is to be. When we read about the king-to-come in Isaiah 11, we can recognize the wise and gentle servant who we know Jesus to be, and that should give us the hope and courage this Advent to 1) get to confession and 2) lay it all out there in order to change.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Advent and the Song of Ascents

A very literal translation of John 1:14 would be "the Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us." Another would be to say he "pitched his tent among us". It is the same Greek root word for how God camped among Israel in the desert and dwelt with them in Solomon's Temple. The Temple, and therefore Jerusalem, was understood to be the place where heaven and earth met, the place where God's glory physically dwelt. "To it, the tribes go up" to meet their God. What we await in Advent though is something even greater than a temple, in a city, in a kingdom. It is God in the flesh, who then will live in every Christian, and be present on every altar, even till the end of time.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Jesus, Loser and King of Losers

Jesus loses. He empties himself to become a man. He preaches that we must lose our pride, our power, our treasures, and our very selves. And then he loses even what he had as a man. His public preaching and his passion are the same lesson told two different ways. Jesus loses out of love. Loss is the language of love, and he invites us to love —and therefore lose— too. This is the kind of king he is, and the kind of kingdom he is launching.

Monday, November 4, 2019

A Visitation vs. A Staying

The 9am Mass had a pretty bad first draft of this homily, so I rewrote it entirely for the evening Mass. I think most people could probably follow it the second time. It compares and contrasts the visitation that God had been promising Israel (Mal 3:1, Luke 1:68 & 78, Luke 19:44) and which will come again (2 Thes 2:1-2) with what Jesus is doing with Zacchaeus and with us after the Ascension.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Poured Out Like A Libation

A short (5 min) homily on suffering, failure, pain, and humiliation. St. Paul argues it's part of the Christian vocation.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

He Remains Faithful; He Cannot Deny Himself

Israel's God is faithful. Jesus is YHWH's faithfulness come in flesh. Jesus is faithful to the end. And yet, if we deny him, he will deny us. He said this multiple times. So how's that work? Let's take a look.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Why Psalm 95 Has Been Prayed 100 Billion Times

100 billion times is actually a fairly conservative estimate. Listen to the homily and check my math. More important though is the reason for it: starting each day's prayers with an invitation to worship the Lord and a warning to make sure our hearts and minds are in the right place as "we approach the throne of grace".

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Not Just Heritage, But Inheritance

St. Wenceslaus' Solemnity-on-a-Sunday homily: the Czech spiritual family, St. Agnes of Bohemia's excellent story, inheriting the Faith, new Confessions and Masses (including new 7:45pm Sunday evening Mass), update on sanctuary restoration, update on deficits. Learn more about St. Agnes of Bohemia here.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

All The Baptized As Mediators

"Sorry, not sorry" here: Not only are saints mediators, but every baptized person is a mediator too. St. Paul's linking "one mediator between God and man" and "gave himself as a ransom for all" in this passage today clearly points to the cross, where we know Jesus stood as both the priest and the victim, the mediator and the sacrifice. We also know that Paul constantly connects the life of the Christian disciple to being a sacrificial victim with Jesus (Rom, 2Cor, Col,) And most importantly, we know that in baptism, a person dies and rises with Jesus and so becomes a part of Jesus, and thus becomes a priest, prophet, and king. Yes, there is another sacrament, holy orders, which creates ministerial priests, but both the ordained minister and the baptized Christian have only one priesthood, which is, of course, Jesus' priesthood. This is one of the cool things about ad orientem worship: we are already arranged like Jesus' physical body in a traditionally-shaped church (sanctuary = head, transepts = arms, nave = torso and legs), but in ad orientem, it's even more clear that we are all —minister and congregation—in Jesus, offering with Jesus, his own sacrifice on the cross to the Father. The ministerial priest leads all the baptized priests as head, standing "in the head" of the physical church Body, doing what he is ordained to do —but the Body is all one, because the Body is Christ. (And then this segue-ways nicely into reading the Bishop's Appeal for Vocations letter and asking people to give to help young men discern if the ministerial priesthood is for them.) 

All The Baptized As Mediators

25th Sunday, Year C

One of the debating points between Catholics and non-Catholic Christians is the question of "How do the saints work?" Like, ok, they're in heaven; people tend to agree on that. But like, "Can they intercede?" That's a big debate between Catholics and non-Catholic Christians. Catholics —you know— we turn to saints, we ask for the prayers, or intercession, their help, and stuff like that. 

And oftentimes people respond back to us, who don't come from our tradition, and they say, "You shouldn't do that. There's only one mediator between God and man and that's Jesus and going to anyone else —any other saint, any other person, even the Blessed Mother— that's not ok." 

It says it right here in today's reading. It's on page 55. It says it right there: "There is one God. There is also one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all." So that's pretty plain right? There is one mediator. It's Jesus. 

And so sometimes you'll see Catholics trying to appease our non-Catholic friends say, "Well, ok, hold on. There's a difference between mediator and intercessor, right? Jesus alone is the mediator. We're only talking about calling saints 'intercessors'. We're making a distinction." 

Maybe there is a distinction there. I don't know. But I don't think we need to do that. I have no problem calling a saint a mediator because I have no problem calling you a mediator. 

That's right. You are mediators between God and man. How can I say that? Because you were all baptized. 

Just earlier today [Saturday] I did a baptism. And after your baptism, the very first thing we do after you are baptized and made part of Jesus —you died with him; you've risen with him; you are now part of Jesus; you are now incorporated into him— the very next thing we do is take that chrism and put it on your head and we say, "As Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so may you live." May you live as a priest, prophet, and king. Every baptized Christian is a priest, is a prophet, is a king. 

That priesthood is what we are talking about with a mediator, right? "There was one God. There was one mediator between God and man: the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all." Jesus on the cross is the priest and the victim, the sacrifice and the mediator. He is both. So if you've died and risen with him in baptism, you've been baptized into his mediatorship because you're a priest also. 

Now, I know that's weird, right? "Well, Father, you're the one in the funny little outfit today." True. Right, there is a difference between ministerial priests and baptismal priests. We know there's a distinction there. There's a distinction of another sacrament—Holy Orders. But every last one of you who is baptized is a priest of the New Covenant. You are a priest by your baptism into Jesus. Which means we are all mediators. 

And that's part of, hopefully, the image we understand from the time we've been doing Mass ad orientem. The whole church is shaped like the body of Christ, right? It's got to a head. It's got kind of wings, which are the transepts, for your arms. It's got the whole rest of the body there. We are all in Jesus. We are all in Christ at Mass. We are all praying in him, through him, to the Father. That's what every single Mass is, whether we've got cool drawings or not. Every single Mass is doing that. So every single time, we are all —as Christians in Christ— worshipping the Father in Christ, because we've been baptized into him. We are baptized into his priesthood and into his mediatorship. That is something that we all share. Yes, there is again a ministrial priesthood and that's why there is a head to the body. And that's why I, or the other priests, stand at the head. But again we're all in Jesus, all worshipping the Father, all at the same time. That's what it means to be baptized into Christ. 

So actually, yeah, you should have no problem saying that saints are mediators because you should have no problem acknowledging that you are a mediator in the New Covenant. 

Now having said that there are also ministerial priests —priests who serve directly at the altar; priests who do what I'm doing up here right now— it's a good day for that to be in the Mass readings, because today is also our kickoff to the Bishop's annual Appeal for Vocations (BAV). Starting next week, we're gonna actually have the seminarians come and they will speak at the Masses and then after that it'll be the first day of having pledge cards available, and chances for commitment and stuff like that. And I ask you can really take that seriously. 

I now want to read you the Bishop's letter and in there you'll notice that he appeals to not just the priestly part, but the prophetic part: that we all are prophets because we're baptized; we all are priests because we're baptized. And then there are those who are set aside in a special prophetic-priestly role as ministerial priests. So the whole body of [baptismal] priests supports the making of new ministerial priests. Here's what he says:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This fall we begin the Diocese of Lincoln’s Bishop’s Appeal for Vocations, which annually raises money for the expenses of our seminarians’ education.  This year’s theme is “Anointed to Preach the Good News” (Luke 4:18).  Priests have been anointedto bear fruit, the abundant fruit of the kingdom.  As priests of Jesus Christ, they exercise the “prophetic role” of preaching the message of truth and salvation to a world that is in dire need of hope. In a culture where there is much bad news, the Gospel message is still the ‘Good News’ which brings the peace of Christ to each person.   

Please consider giving generously to the Bishop’s Appeal for Vocations, in thanksgiving for the generosity of Jesus Christ and His Church.   

This year, it will cost the Diocese of Lincoln 1.5 million dollars to fund the education of our 37 seminarians.  I am asking for your support to raise 1.2 million for our seminarians.  Your generosity is essential to training the young men who will become our future priests. 

We live in a time when nothing less than heroic witness will be sufficient to proclaim the authenticity of the Gospel. Thank you again for your continual prayers and support.  Be assured of my continued prayers for you as well, that all of us may continue to remind our world of the Good News of our Lord. 

Sincerely yours in Christ, 

James D. Conley, Bishop of Lincoln 

So notice how he ended that. He ended by pointing out that we are all prophets and priests, right? He says, "Be assured of my prayers [...] that all of us may continue to remind our world of the good news of our Lord.". 

Again, we're all prophets. We're all proclaiming the gospel in a dark world, a world without hope, a world that oftentimes doesn't think that Jesus has the answers. 

And again, [we are also] all priests. All bringing our daily sufferings, our sacrifices, our prayers, to the Lord —personally, at home, but most especially when you come to Mass— when we are all part of Jesus the priest, Jesus the mediator, bringing that before Lord. 

But you do need a head, right? You do need someone who is the head of that body, who is the one at the physical altar. And so we do need to have new priests coming. You know, I hit 40 this year. I hope I live a lot longer, but I don't know. And don't make expectations. 

The only way we get new priests is by having men willing to try the seminary. Some aren't going to stay. And, so yeah, you're going to have people that are going to discern in and  discern out and that's 100 percent ok. But we have to make it a place where they can come in safely and discern —discern in, discern out— safely. And yeah that means sometimes you spend money on someone who doesn't become a priest. But we need to give them that shot. 

And, I think I [also] said this last year amongst all the turmoil: If any frustrations you have with the Catholic Church, any frustrations you have with the hierarchy, with the pope or bishops, any frustrations you have with priests like me or any other person in that other role —priest, prophet, and king, i.e. the leadership role— if you have any frustration, that's fine. But don't take it out on those young men who are giving it a shot: 18-year-olds willing, in the midst of our world, to go try the seminary, willing to be those heroic witnesses that the Bishop talked about. 

Give them your support. Give them as much as you can. Give them as much of your prayers, your thoughts, your attention—when you meet them, support them with your words, say "Hey I love what you're doing; thanks for giving it a shot. I sure appreciate that." Give them that as much as you can, so that they can discern if the Holy Spirit is calling them to be a priest at the head of the body so that we can continue to have the sacraments. Not just in this parish but in many more parishes, many smaller parishes, that otherwise would not be able to have priests. 

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Lost Sheep: Funny Jesus, Reckless God

First, the initial two minutes of this is just me telling people who the saints are in the new murals, and I recorded it here so I could just point people here later too. (2:08 starts the homily proper.) Next, we turn to Luke 15 and discuss how Jesus is actually quite funny in the parable of the lost sheep. Finally, having lured his audience (friend and foe alike) into his joke, he then springs on them all the reverse of it and paints a picture of a crazy, head-over-heels in love, too-generous, ridiculously merciful, God—whom they should have recognized from the own broken history, and of whom Jesus is the son.

The Lost Sheep: Funny Jesus, Reckless God

24th Sunday, Year C

I was warned that no one's going to listen to the homilies for a couple of weeks because they're gonna be staring up and checking out the ceiling and stuff like that. That's okay I'm used to you doing that anyway. Just kidding! Just kidding! 

I'm not going to say a lot about it right now just because I want to talk more about it entirely on the feast day of St. Wenceslaus on our Fall Festival day, in two more weeks. I'll have all the homilies on that day, but I just want to point out because people, I know, are going to ask this first: they're gonna ask "Who's who?". 

The guy in green? Not St. Patrick. No matter what Pat Burke tells you. That's not St. Patrick, all right? It's that St. Methodius—over here as well. Next to him is his brother, Cyril—over here as well. All right. They're the ones who brought the faith to all the Slavic peoples: Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Serbs, Russians, Ukrainians etc. Right. St. Ludmila's family received the Faith from them and she became a Christian. She's on the far left with the palm. She is the grandmother to St. Wenceslaus, who is next to her. 

Then you cross to the other side. The young man at the top is St. Vitus, who is not Czech and he's not even from this timeframe. He's from the early persecutions, the Roman persecutions, but it was his bones that the Pope sent to St. Wenceslaus when he said, "I want to build a cathedral." And he said here then build it on these relics. And that's why the main cathedral in Prague is St. Vitus Cathedral. All right. Then next to him is St. John Nepomucene. So, we see him over here—always with the finger over the mouth. He is the one who refused to share the Queen's confession and died as a martyr for the seal of confession. Then below him —now we are scooting into the High Middle Ages here— is Agnes of Bohemia. I'll tell you more about her later. She's got a pretty cool story. And then finally Bishop St. John Neumann is next to her and John Neumann is actually named for John Nepomucene. He's John Nepomucene Neumann. So they all kind of pull together in that way. 

And one last thing I know many will have questions on this too: People are like, "What about the middle? Isn't there like a big spot there?" There is. That's where the high altar goes. Right. So by Christmas time you won't have that problem that feeling like there's a missing tooth and your tongue keeps finding it. You won't have that visual allegory anymore. You'll have a very large white tooth. 

All right. So hopefully that catches everyone up on that. 

Jesus is funny. Jesus is really funny sometimes. And usually we don't actually acknowledge his humor. We are very focused on keeping Jesus as Lord and Son of God. And so we either miss the humor altogether or even if we kind of caught it, we assume, "Well that's surely not what Jesus means. Jesus doesn't crack jokes. That's not what he's doing."

Except when he does. Except when Jesus actually makes a joke. 

Today's gospel not only has one of Jesus' clearest jokes in it, the joke being a joke is actually pretty essential to the entire point of the story. And what's nice about this one is that it's not like a pun that would require us to know Hebrew or Greek or anything like that. Even as the story is told it makes perfect sense. 

If you want to look you can follow on on page 52. You don't have to. Most of you know this story pretty well, but on page 52 is the parable here. 

So we have the parable of The Lost Sheep and that's where the joke is. This is in Luke, Ch. 15. Luke 15 is all about lost things. The three lost things: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. You might have noticed in the missalette that there was a longer option that includes all three. But we also hear the parable of The Lost Son, the prodigal son, in the season of Lent also. And it is likely the masterpiece of Luke's Gospel, so I didn't want to have that read today and have it overshadow the sheep that we're focusing on, and even the coin. 

So back to the one in the ninety-nine, back to the sheep. Some of you might have caught it before. Some even now, looking down at the book and knowing that Father is saying there's some humor in here, might have just spied what the joke is or what the humor is. 

So the scribes and the Pharisees are complaining, right? They're complaining about who Jesus hangs out with. And we're told that they drew near, they're drawing near. So in other words, Jesus is already teaching or hanging out, or whatever. He's probably seated and they come up and they pose this question. Which means there's a mixed audience, right? You've got a very sympathetic crowd, people that Jesus is normally preaching to, disciple types, and they are listening and liking it. Now we have this somewhat hostile challenge coming in from the scribes and the Pharisees who are saying, "Why do you eat with sinners and tax collectors?" And then we can presume there might even be some of those very tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes scattered through the crowd that's listening to this conversation. 

So it's a mixed crowd. This is not the time to pick a fight. (Jesus will at other times, but not here.) But rather this is a time to get everyone to think about this question anew: Who should we sit with? Who should we fraternize with? Who are our friends, and who do we hang out with? And so to do that, he breaks the tension initially. And so the opening line is comical. And he delivers it with full irony so that they catch that it's comedic. 

He says, "What man among you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?"

"What man among you wouldn't do this?". 

Right, you can almost kind of picture his smile kind of curling up as he says this, right: "Who wouldn't do this?"

And of course you know we know the answer that. 

If he were saying it today he might say it differently. He might say: "What man among you, having hooked his tee shot over into the lake, wouldn't leave his bag and his five hundred dollar clubs by the tee box and dive into the lake to get that ball?"

Or if he was addressing parents he might say: "What Mom among you, after your kid loses a Skittle —a yellow skittle, even!— wouldn't pull over the van and tear apart the back seat to return to retrieve that yellow skittle?". 

Jesus said, "What man among you...?" The answer, of course, is none. 

Nobody would've done that. That would have been that crazy. Nobody would be that stupid. 

First of all, it's bad math. And with that, it's bad economics. It's just a bad cost-benefit analysis. He's going to leave ninety-nine, not just anywhere, but in the desert. (Sometimes translated "in the wilderness".) Even if they're not stolen, even if it's nothing that bad, they could get scattered throughout the desert. Or there's other dangers. I mean who knows how long he's gone. Are they going to starve? Or get attacked by wolves? We don't know. 

And finally: if this sheep wandered off once, it's probably more likely to do it again than the other ninety-nine are likely to wander off. So it's just a horrible plan to go after the one. 

Nobody is going to choose the one sheep. 

Nobody is gonna tear apart the van and dig out the yellow skittle. 

To say nothing of the rest. Right?— the rest of [parable]: Now he takes it "when he finds it, and he puts it on his shoulders with great joy." 

Sure glad I searched for you for four days....stupid lamb! Right? 

"And upon his arrival home he calls together his friends and neighbors," implying throwing a party and says, "Hey check it out, my idiot lamb came back! Oh, no, wait, I had to go find it, let me think about that." 

You know, it's just not going to happen. So, going back to his crowd and how he's talking to them: Jesus knows this. The crowd, both disciples and skeptics, know this. So Jesus doesn't answer the question: "Hey, this man welcomes sinners and tax collectors. Why? Why is it okay for you to sit with them?" Instead he cracks a joke. He throws out a scenario that no one would remotely consider, and then he plays the [comedian] by asking, "Which one of you wouldn't do this?" I mean, it's not stand up. This isn't like Jim Gaffigan or Chris Rock or anything like that. You know, he's not making people howl with laughter. 

But he would have gotten a good chuckle out of it. It's disarming. And they could all laugh and say, " Haha. Yup. Nobody would have done that," and appreciate the little play that he just did [with them]. 

We need Jesus to be in our minds asking that question sarcastically when we read it, and hear it like they probably heard it to get what has happened there. 

But then things change. Right?

After he disarms and gets everyone saying, "Yeah! Nobody would do that! That's crazy!" then he flips the whole thing over. Because he says,"That analogy that you just laughed at?—that's how the kingdom of God is."

He says, "I tell you, in just the same way, there'll be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance."

So having made it abundantly clear that nobody would do this. No sensible person would do this. Nobody would ever act like that, he says, "But our God does. The God of Israel does. He's been with you through the desert when you were at your most rebellious, when the sheep were running away right and left. When, over thousands of years you have not been able to follow him, and you refuse to follow him. 

Stiff necked people. 

Rebellious people. 

And your God comes for you. 

And I am here: your God in a body. I am here to continue that work. I'm here to show you that, yes, this God will go after the one. He'll even risk the ninety-nine. He's coming after the one. And there'll be greater rejoicing for that one. 

So, he gets them disarmed. He gets them thinking a certain way. Then he flips that table and says, "But your God is different. Your God doesn't make a cost-benefit analysis." Otherwise he would have never gone to the cross. Right? 

"Your God is not thinking like that. He doesn't think like men do. He thinks in his own thoughts. 

And his thoughts are.... generous, overabundant, ridiculous love. Ridiculous generosity and charity. Patience. Mercy for us. 

Because we will all at some point be "the one", who wanders away, and he says, "The God you have, the God I come in the name of, he is that God. He's the crazy guy who would jump into the lake, who would tear apart the van, who would leave the ninety-nine in the desert to come find you—specifically you, tax collector, sinner, prostitute— he's coming for you. Because he's a crazy in love, head over heels, generous, patient, charitable kind of God.