Sunday, January 27, 2019

What's Your Catholic Schools Story?

Today kicks off Catholic Schools Week. In addition to thanking parents, teachers, and benefactors (every member of the parish, right?) I wanted to share my "Catholic Schools Story". Everyone who attended them, whether it be grade school only, K-12, or even just one year, has things they can share. And that witness might be the most important thing. And then I ended with a story of emotion and gratitude and prayer for our past teachers and their (often) thankless hard work.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Three Epiphanies

The Triduum is super cool because it's one "moment" over three days. Does that make Epiphany super cool too, because it is one manifestation spread out over three weeks...and maybe thirty years? This may sound crazy, but both the East and the West have very ancient traditions of seeing the coming of the Magi, the Baptism, and the Wedding at Cana all as moments within "the moment" of Epiphany.

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Three Epiphanies

 Today's Gospel is the wedding feast at Cana and we're told about this first miracle, at Cana: that in this moment Jesus "revealed himself—revealed his glory to his apostles.".

And that's all great except for there's kind of the fact that he "reveals his glory for the first time" like a half dozen times. He's constantly "revealing his glory for the first time." This is a tricky question that the early Church tried to deal with, "When does God reveal, or manifest—that's just the Latin word for it—when does he manifest his glory in the flesh, in Jesus, for the first time?" 

It's a 2,000 year debate, most of which was done the first five hundred years of the Church, but it really is this debate about the month of January: When does God reveal himself? Is it at his birth, December 25th, as little baby? Is it later on, at the Epiphany when the Magi come? Is that the revelation—as we call it, the Epiphany—the "showing of himself"? But then at the baptism, Jesus is shown—sky opens, dove down, voice loud, right? Definitely revealing who he is there. And then we're told by John that he reveals himself at Cana, that that's the moment. In other words: "Everybody agrees that Christmas ended last week with the baptism of the Lord, but maybe Epiphany didn't end yet. Maybe that's actually still going on.

So open up your missals to page 89. That's why you've been keeping them open there. I'm sorry, it's Song 89. My bad. Go to Song 89 in your little missalette. This is a song that in most Masses, we sing it either at Epiphany or at the baptism or maybe both. But it's also fitting to use it here on this day.

So I want you to notice first of all, this hymn will literally use the word "manifest" seven different times. It's clearly a big theme here, and the song captures the tension and the debate about when is Jesus really made manifest? Again, you can see it as early as the Feast of the Magi. Look at that first verse; come to the second line of the first verse: "Manifested by the star/ to the sages from afar/ branch of Royal David's stem/ in thy birth at Bethlehem." Okay, so that's clearly the Magi, the Wise Men, coming on January 6.

But then look at the second verse, the very beginning: "Manifest at Jordan's stream/ prophet, priest, and king supreme"—that was the homily last week on prophet, priest, and king—but then look at the second part of the second verse: "And at Cana, wedding guest/ in thy Godhead manifest/ manifest in power divine/ changing water into wine." So it's pulling that one event in too.

And then the third verse kind of implies that there's always this manifestation going on, but now it involves us: "Grant us grace to see thee, Lord/ mirrored in thy holy word/ May we imitate thee now/ and be pure as pure art thou/ That we like to thee may be/ at thy great Epiphany,"—implying that all of this is a "great Epiphany". Kind like how you have the Greater Omaha area, well this is the "greater epiphany area". Okay, now you can close your books. So in some sense, Epiphany isn't just January 6th or the closest Sunday. It really is something much bigger.

So I checked out the Catholic Encyclopedia on "Epiphany" and let me tell you, that is a deep dive with a lot of stuff, and don't go there unless you're really got some time on your hands. But in there are talks about Epiphany with all sorts of different names. It calls it "epiphany" which literally means "the showing upon", like "epidermis", like the top layer—the "upon" layer, so "a showing upon the people". "Theophany" which is "showing God" to the world. "Manifestation." "Apparition." "Illumination." "Illustration." It also calls it "a day of light" which works for all three, right? There's the Magi following the light of the star, also the light of Jesus' glory is shown at the river with John, and then you now have these enlightened apostles who know what's going on with Jesus. It also used the word "Declaration" which is weird because that doesn't fit super well with the Magi. Like, the baby Jesus can't talk. At the baptism there's a declaration of God the Father, and at Cana it's kind of an unspoken declaration like Jesus shows himself but he doesn't say anything.

Again these were debates especially the 300s and the 400s: "What is connected with what?" There was certainly a connection of Nativity and Epiphany all along. But then there is kind of a sense that you've got the Nativity, where he's born; the Epiphany is something later. Nativity is he's born here; Epiphany is he is revealed here. But which revelation? Is it when a couple of wise men sneak in and then scurry home without talking to Herod? It is when a handful of people see him at the Jordan thirty years later? Is it when the locals see what's going on it Cana? You know, he's only a couple miles from Nazareth. Mary's there, and the people who grew up with him, you know, now they know something about him. We don't really know.

What is interesting is we've never had a feast day of the wedding feast at Cana. Unlike the feast of the three kings and the feast of the baptism, we didn't have a separate feast, but there's always a sense that these three were connected. And in fact at Vespers, in the prayer of the church, for Epiphany it says this: "We keep our holy day adorned with three miracles: today a star led the magic to the crib; today wine was made water at the marriage; today in the Jordan Christ will be baptized by John and save us." But that's saying one day: But they are spread over 30 years. So see in some way that's all still "one day".

It's a constant theme in both the East and the West that these are connected. Sometimes you pull them more closely together: this all is the manifestation of God. And sometimes we see them as very distinct feasts. But there's both there. And the key is this: God is revealing himself in Jesus in his humanity whether as a little baby to the Magi or thirty odd years later in public. God has made himself known in the flesh. God has made himself known to the people. God is going to make himself known to the greater world. So these three moments, together, make this perfect transition, as we leave the world of Advent and Christmas and transition into his public ministry at Ordinary Time.

And as the song pointed out, it's not enough for us to say, "Oh there he is; he's manifest." We're also saying. "Let me be a part of that." We see that as he is light, let me also be light. Let me give a revelation of God's mercy in the world. As he comes into the world, let me go out into the world—not as God to save it; we can't do that—that but as a disciple to proclaim it. That's our job. If we've seen the revelation, if we've become aware of God made flesh, then it's our job to go out and proclaim it. And that's part of all three slices of Epiphany.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Kingdom of Priests

Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit at his Baptism. All the baptized share in his life, including his anointing as a Priest, Prophet, and King. But how can every Christian be a priest? Well, let's take a look. And also here is the Fr. Mike Schmitz talk that is referenced in the last third of the homily; check it out!

A Kingdom of Priests

The Baptism of our Lord, 2019

This Sunday is the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. Last week you might remember that I said we have a lot of funerals around here, and that's true. St. Wenc has a lot of funerals. We have people of the age that we get a lot of them. But we also have the age on the other end where we have a lot of baptisms. Like, I think almost every weekend for the last seven weeks we've had a baptism. And we have a couple more for several weeks to go. We have a lot of baptisms. 

And I have to say when I do a baptism, I always give the exact same spiel at each one. When I explain the water, the candles, the chrism—it's always the same, word for word, almost exactly. And that's because there's always somebody new there. Even if that family's been there and heard my spiels before, there's a new godparent, there's a new cousin, there's somebody who wasn't there before, so I always do those again. Plus I know the parents are plenty distracted when it's their kids getting baptized. So I figure someday they'll be a godparent or there'll be a visitor or they'll be the cameraperson at somebody else's baptism and that'll give them the chance to actually hear the things that I was trying to say. 

So today I'm going to pluck a piece out of our baptism rites and focus on that as we celebrate the baptism of Jesus on this feast. I want to focus on the anointing on the head. In baptism there's two anointings: one before the actual physical baptism—that's the anointing on the collarbone for protection, with one of the oils. And then we do a second one with a different oil immediately after the baptism, on the head, and that we use the holy chrism for. So I'm just going to tell you exactly what I tell all people. And for those who are coming to the baptism today, you actually get that cut out because I'm doing it right here in the homily. Congratulations.

I always open up the chrism—and the chrism has a little scent to it—and I always have like a 3 year old to a 10 year old sniff it, and ask, "Can you smell that?" and they can always tell there's a difference. And that has a practical purpose: the balsam is in there to "flavor" it so that you can smell it and tell the difference between the two oils. But it also marks out the chrism as the highest oil. The chrism is the highest of the three different oils the Church uses. The word "chrism" is actually just the Greek word for oil. But it's from that word "oil"—"chrism" that we get the name Christ. He's the "christos", which means, in Greek, that he is the one who has been anointed; oil has been poured over over the top of him. I then point out that in the Old Testament three different kinds of people got anointed: priests and prophets and kings. But in the New Testament, Jesus replaces all of them. He is the priest, the prophet, and the king. And then I explain how we receive those: by being anointed into him, we become priest, prophet, and king also. 

Now, before I go any further on that idea, let's pause and notice something here. We say that Jesus was anointed, right? In fact, his title—which we have over time treated almost like it's his second name—the Christ, the Messiah, means "anointed one". And we keep saying that he's anointed priest, prophet, and king...But do you remember any story in the New Testament where he actually gets anointed? Like where oil is poured over the top of him? 

We know they were that explicit in the Old Testament: Samuel was called to go to Jesse's house. He was told that one of his sons will be the next king and to bring his oil. And he sees the big, tall one and he says, That's got to be it," and God says, "Nope, that's not it." And then the next one, and he was like, "Ah, could it be that one?", and God is like, "Nope, not that one. Wait for me to tell you." And finally they go all the way through the line and little David is brought in from tending the flocks and God says, "That's the one. Anoint him. That's my future king." And Samuel opens up the oil and pours it on David. And we have that obvious moment. We also have a similar kind of thing in the anointing of Aaron as high priest, you know, and in the anointing of prophets like when Elijah goes to anoint Elisha. But can you think of anything like that in the New Testament about Jesus? Can you think of any anointing scene? And we realize, "Hmmm, there really isn't one." 

So how is Jesus anointed?. How is he the Messiah? "Messiah" is just the Hebrew version of "christos". Hebrew...messiah; christos in Greek; we say "anointed. Open up your missallettes for just one second; I want you see something here today. So look at today's gospel which is on page 48. Look at the right-hand column, just that whole column there: "After all the people have been baptized. And Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove." And then this voice says, "You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased." That's the closest we get.

But everyone else in the New Testament thinks that was his anointing. Turn the page to 53; jump ahead two weeks. This is Luke, Chapter 4. So this is just a chapter later, and all that has happened in the meantime after we saw the baptism part is that Luke gives you Jesus' genealogy and then he goes out into the desert. So this is basically just one and a half scenes later after he's been baptized. What do we see? He goes to Nazareth, and look in the right hand column—see where it's italicized—that's the passage which he reads in the book of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor." And go down to the very last line. Jesus rolls up the scroll and says, "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled," and you're hearing that Jesus himself considers himself anointed. He says here, "I am anointed by the Spirit of the Lord." When did that happen? The only thing that makes sense in Luke's Gospel is right before—in the baptism in the Jordan—when the Holy Spirit comes down upon him. So that's what we understand to be the anointing.

You can close your books now, but as you do that, I'm going to tell you that this idea is reaffirmed by the Apostles when they go out. In Acts, Chapter 10 Peter says "You already know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power and how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him." Again, this idea that God has anointed him in the Holy Spirit. So think about that for a second while you hear the rest of Samuel. After Jesse's son David is anointed by Samuel, it says this, "Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers and the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward." So even back there, there is a connection of spirit and oil/oil and spirit, happening at the same time.

Now let's go back to what happens in baptism. We're saying that in baptism you were anointed. Why though? So that you might live as Jesus did. And actually as we put the oil on the head we say, "As Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so may you live always as a member, sharing in (his body and in) eternal life". We're saying, "May you be priests too." And just in case we didn't get that, in the 1st Letter of John—not the Gospel of John—it says of everyone, "But you have an anointing from the Holy One and all of you know the truth." A couple of verses later: "As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you and you do not need anyone to teach you. His anointing teaches you about all things, and that this anointing is real." So you are a priest and a prophet and a king. All of you. Ok, ladies you can be queens if you want.

Perhaps the most surprising feature of all those three roles is the priestly one: that we, as baptized and anointed Christians, are ourselves priests. Again, even if the 1st letter of John wasn't super explicit about us being priests when it talks about us being anointed into Jesus, other places in the New Testament are that explicit. 1st Peter says, "But you are a chosen people, royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession." Then Revelation, Chapter 5 says, "You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth."

So you're a priest. And I was a priest even before May 28, 2005 when Bishop Bruskewitz put his hands on my head and put oil on my hands. Even before I became a ministerial priest I was a priest already—a baptismal priest, a kingdom priest. I already had that. And so do you too. 

We already say that everything of your Christian identity comes from baptism. Think about it: even the word "Christian"—if "Christian" comes from "christos" which means "anointed", the Messiah—then, when we say we are "Christians" we're saying we're Messiah-People; we're anointed people. That's our very title. But what happens in baptism that we get all this stuff from Jesus? Well, we dive down into his death in the water. We come up out of the water into his life and his resurrection. From that point on, "if we have died and risen with him," Paul says in Romans, "we are in him." Everything he has is ours; whatever he is, we are. So if God is his father, he's our father as well.

That's why the call ourselves "children of God", not because God chose us separately; he says, "I am the father of this son; if you are in my son then you are my beloved children too. You are my sons and daughters: sons in the son, daughters in the son. We say we're brothers and sisters as Christians. Why? Well, because if God is your father, and if God is your father, and if God is your father, and he's my father... well, if we all have the same father, we've got to be brothers and sisters then, right? That's how that works. 

I'm not going to focus on the prophetic role or the kingly role; I'm going to stick with this priestly role, but all of those roles come out of being anointed, and that anointing comes out of being baptized into him. Understand, when I say that we're all priests—that you are all priests—don't think that's some hippie thing; that's not some 60s hippie thing where somebody is saying like, "That's right, we're all priests!" No, we understand that there's a difference between ministerial priesthood and baptismal priesthood. But the Church Fathers constantly, for the first 500 or 600 years of the Church, were constantly saying. "Focus on baptism. Baptism makes you sons and daughters, and it makes you priest, prophet, and king."

So what does that look like? What is your priesthood look like? Well, first of all the most obvious thing is that you pray: priests pray to God, right? So we pray, and Paul says we pray in the Spirit, the Spirit that you were anointed with. And he says that the Spirit prays even in our inarticulate groanings. When we don't know what to pray, or when we are just groaning in pain, the Spirit prays in that, because we are priests. It makes sense then.

We also offer things up. Think about your mom telling you to offer things up. You know, you're in the grocery store and your mom is talking to one of her friends and it's going on and on, and you're like. "Mom!!" And she's like, "Offer it up. Offer it up, kids. Shut up, offer it up." She's telling you to do a priestly act: to make a sacrifice and offer it up to God. Offer up your sufferings—in the supermarket. 

Also you're allowed to intercede for others. People say, "Will you pray for me? Will you pray for my family members?" Yes! Because you're a priest, and part of your job is to intercede, for the people, to God. Jesus says, "Anything you ask for in my name, God will grant you." Why? Because you are priests.

But of course the greatest moment of your priesthood is at the Mass, because that's where we come to do the ultimate act of worship, the ultimate act of sacrifice. When we come there, that's the ultimate moment of our worship. But understand, it's not just to watch the priest doing it. We have a message on this from the Gospel of John, chapter 4. Jesus has just talked to the woman at the well, and then he says: "But the hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him." He says "in the spirit" becaus it's the Spirit who will make us all priests. And then—"in spirit"—they will all worship the Father. 

And so, at the Offertory, what happens? We bring forth bread and wine, but it's not just that two or three people and their kids bring up the gifts... We are all called to be offering ourselves at that moment. Some of you might have heard growing up: "At the offertory, when the priest holds up the bread and says 'Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation...' put yourself on the paten, and be with the bread there and as it is changed into Jesus, ask that you be changed too. So put yourself on the patent. And when the priest is putting the wine into the into the chalice, put your sufferings in that chalice. Offer up the hard things in your life; join those with Jesus, and in the bitterness of the wine, ask that it be transformed with Jesus's own sufferings into glory as well." Those are things you probably heard before in your lives.

As I was working on this homily, starting after last week's Epiphany homily, somebody said, "You have to check out a video." They said, "Go on YouTube and find this talk from SEEK." SEEK is the FOCUS national conference for college students. 17,000 people were in Indianapolis last weekend and one of their great speakers is Fr. Mike Schmitz. He's a priest from up in Minnesota and he gave a number of great talks that weekend. But he said, "You've got to check out his one on the Mass." And I'm like, "Eh, I'm a priest; I know about the Mass." But he was like, "No. Check it out. Definitely." OK. So I checked it out and it was everything that I was wanting to say about the priesthood and more. So I just want to tell you to check out this video; I'll put it on the link with this homily on the website.

But Father Mike hits this perfectly. He says we oftentimes bring into Mass the attitude which we have when we watch ball games, when we watch a concert, when we watch TV. The idea is, "I'm just here to observe," and that happens because we are told from a young age, "Pay attention." We are told to sit down, be quiet, and watch. Some of you might have seen that little thing on Facebook; it's the mom from "Bird Box". It's Sandra Bullock talking to her kids saying, "You cannot talk. You cannot move. You have to stay still. We are going to survive, but only if you shut up," and it's titled "Prepping the Kids for Mass on Sunday". But that's what we were told, ever since we were young, and so we tend to think I'm here to watch. So hopefully I get educated maybe in the homily; maybe I get inspired by the Word of God; maybe I'm entertained in the other like smells and bells and songs and visuals those sort of things. But in other words, we're not doing much else. 

But if you're priests, you're supposed to be doing something else, right? If you walk in and be quiet, if you sit down and you're getting yourself prepared, it's not to watch. It's because you are about to offer a sacrifice. We are together going to offer a sacrifice. And of course what's offered at Mass? Jesus' own body and blood. But again you are in him, through baptism. So you get to be priest with him, offering his body and blood, the ultimate sacrifice, the sacrifice of his love to the Father.

And again you're not here just to watch the priest pray. Fr. Schmitz has a great line; he says, "Often we think you're a good Catholic, a really good Catholic, if you like to watch the priest pray. And the more you can stand to watch the priest pray—longer and longer—makes you a better Catholic. <<buzzer sound>> Wrong. You are called to be a sacrificer too. You're called to be a worshipper too. You offer the same things. 

And he points out then what I've mentioned before: that our prayers at Mass are mostly to the Father. Why? Because we're in the Son, making those prayers. When you look throughout the New Testament, the Son is obsessed with the Father's glory. And that makes sense because the two ends, the two goals, the points of Mass, have nothing to do with me getting even educated or even inspired. They have to do with what I give—in Jesus. And what are they? The points of the Mass, the ends of the Mass, are to give glory to God and we pray for the salvation and welfare of the Church. And we actually say it aloud. Watch this priesthood sequence: I'm going to be at the altar. I'm going to get incensed because I'm a priest. But then the server is going to incense you—why? Because you're a priest also. Then I'll turn to you and I'll say aloud, "Pray brethren, that my sacrifice and yours..."—and we all know what we're talking about here—it's our shared sacrifice. And you respond, "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name (That was #1) for our good and the good of all his holy church (that was goal #2). We say explicitly that you participate in the salvation of the world when you are a priest at Mass along with the ministerial priest. We are all priests and we all offer the sacrifice, the victim. 

So, is it just that we're watching? No, we're offering it too. Why? Because there's exactly one priest in the whole world. Not ten thousand. One. And he's Jesus. And all ministerial priests share in his priesthood, but also all non-ministerial priests. Fr. Schmitz's calls them "kingdom priests"—baptismal priests... kingdom priests—I actually like the kingdom line better. You are all kingdom priests; you all share in his priesthood. Yes, the Pope is the visible head of the Church on earth. Yes, bishops lead flocks in diocese, and priests lead flocks in parishes, but you're kingdom priests; you are priests in Jesus. And so what is the Mass? It's ministerial priests leading the kingdom priests together. So Fr. Schmitz's asked the question: Why are you wasting your priesthood? If we just sit and watch somebody else pray, we're wasting our priesthood. You need to connect and say "I'm offering the lamb; I'm offering the sacrifice—Jesus whom I love, who is the lamb that I love—I offer him in sacrifice and I'm offering it up along with the ministeral priest and everyone else here. We're doing that." 

And we also learn that we have to sacrifice too. It's this great point that Fulton Sheen makes, that—notice on the cross—Jesus is priest but he's also victim. Sheen says to all these new young priests who think, "I'm excited to be a priest and offer sacrifice." "Good! Also realize you're the victim, Father. You're going to be offered up too."

And that counts for you too—that you're going to be both a priest, offering your worship in Jesus, but you're also called to be a victim. Remember we said put your sufferings in the chalice and they'll be transformed. Bring your worries, bring your sorrows, bring your pains, bring your brokenness before our Lord and let that be part of your sacrifice. Let it all be sacrificed together.

So today, let us pray together as one priesthood. Let us pray at the altar with Jesus, the Priest, and let us ask him to bring all of our love, all of our prayers, all of our worship, together into his sacrifice. And we can all offer perfect worship and sacrifice to the Father through Jesus—the high priest, his son.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Robbing the People of God of Their Inheritance

Who was robbing the people's inheritance? That was me. I was the stingy uncle holding back from my parishioners the wealth that is theirs in the treasure troves of Catholic music. This homily is a bit about culture, beauty, homage, and awe, but mostly it's about not being afraid to dole out (or to receive) the gems that exist only in Catholic music, and which too often we've left in boxes up in the Catholic attic. Time to pull those crates down and see what we have been missing. And no, I'm not immediately putting in any sweeping changes in music—other than adding a sung Kyrie Eleison where merely we had only recited one before—but more like whetting the appetite for things that we might even be jealous of in other traditions, without realizing we had them in our storage all along. 

Feast of Epiphany, 2019

Robbing the People of God of Their Inheritance

On Christmas I talked about how that holy day is all about bowing. We look at our manger and we see the statues all bowing down to Jesus. The animals bowed. And even the angels from heaven bow down to the Incarnate Word, this little baby. And we talked about how we do a lot of bows during Mass. 

So what do you do on Christmas when already every single Sunday at the Creed you bow down at the Word being made flesh and dwelling among us ("and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of Virgin Mary and became man")? When we get to that part on Christmas,  what do we do? Well, we do a super-duper bow; we genuflect all the way down because we're in awe of the mystery of God come to be with us. And I pointed out that traditionally you see the Magi in various states of bowing. You look over there—now that we have the Magi out—and you see that the back one usually has his head bowed. The middle one is usually genuflecting, nice and prim and proper. And the front one is kneeling, but then he's like almost falling forward:as if he is doing what we heard of in the gospel, "they prostrated themselves and did homage". He is getting as close as possible, bowing down before this beautiful baby. And in fact we actually hear that word “beauty” in our Collect today. The opening prayer says, "that we may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory through this feast day". And that's what they do. They come to worship and to adore and to bow down before that beautiful Christ child.

And we do some weird things all the time as Catholics with our bodies to honor him. We make the sign of the cross. We do our little crosses before the Gospel. We genuflect. We kneel. We do all those sort of things. And we can learn something from Magi about what it is we're doing when we do these physical actions. So first of all, they come to do what? They come to give homage and to adore. Three times we hear that word in the gospel: they come to do homage. But like I said, when they actually got there they added something else; they prostrated themselves. They fell down on their faces as they did him homage. That's what they do. They do it physically. There's a physicality to everything the Magi do. These actions, these motions, but also in the gifts they bring: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They are like sacramentals that they're bringing to our Lord in that way. It's very physical what they do. Also note, they bring their own culture. They are not Jews. These are gentiles. That's the whole point of Epiphany. The manifestation of God to Israel was on Christmas when the angels come to the Jewish shepherds and said, "your Messiah has come at last". That's their Epiphany. What we celebrate on January 6 is the Epiphany to the rest of the nations. That's how we get to know about God coming to this earth. It's the Gentiles, the pagans, these Magi—they are there not Jews. They are being brought in to find out about this mystery. And then the last thing is that they took it seriously. Sure, they do some odd things, as in the previous point about their own culture. They always seemed to be dressed up a little weird. As a kid you notice that the Magi have the funny turbans and the funny clothes. They're having their culture, they're doing their thing, and they take seriously that "I've got a job to do." I'm coming here to do this. We too might do odd things as Catholics, but we take seriously that sometimes you do odd things for a good reason and in a serious way and they bring their things of beauty to him. He is beautiful and they bring him things of beauty.

So what do we do? When we come to worship at Mass when we come here to have private prayer time. Even in our own homes, when we come before the Lord, what do we do? We imitate the Magi. We give homage and we adore; we physically enter into it in one way or the other. We bring our own culture. We can't separate ourselves from our own culture or own habits and stuff like that, And we take it all seriously. We say I'm going to put myself in the frame of mind, in the kind of actions, and yeah, maybe we do the weird things. You know, I'm going to kneel. I'm going to use the holy water. Genuflect. Yep! Those are odd things but we take them seriously as we do them, as we bring our beautiful gifts before the Lord. Those are the things we do.

Heck, even look around us now. We have this beautiful church and it expresses those sort of things. It's a way of worshipping and adoring in a physical manner. It has lots of aspects of our culture. It's very Midwestern, very American; it reflects a lot of the things we inherited from our European ancestors—the Czechs mostly, but also the Germans the Irish a little bit. And so these things come out in our art and in our architecture and our music: the things that help us to worship better. It's our beautiful response back to God.

Now, do we have to have them? Are they required? No. Could we have Mass in a field? Sure we could. Can we have Mass with no music. Absolutely. Can we have Mass still if we took away all these things—if we didn't have our statues and our stained glass or incense, icons, the rosary to hold; the wood we have; the gold we have? Sure, we could totally do that, and yet something is heightened and we bring in our own culture when we have those things; when we bring these things of beauty before the Lord. Culture forms art, and then we bring things of beauty out of our art to worship God better.

Vatican II talked about renewing the arts; renewing how we bring beauty to God. And one of the biggest places it emphasized that was in music. It did touch on the visual arts, but especially on music. Vatican II said we really need to realize how important music is. It hit hard on that. But with music at church, it is sometimes hard to really appreciate its place. And the reason why is we're not all good at it...starting right here. <<points to self>> We all have our limitations. Some of us can't read music, including me. I can look and see that the little dots are going up and down and kind of guess. I can do the "Every Good Boy Does Fine" trick. Some of you still do that too, probably. And so I can figure out "That's a C." <ding> You know, I can do that. But that's a limitation. Sometimes if we hear it, we know it well, and we can sing it well. They say we have a golden tongue but a tin ear! We don't always catch the pitch right. Or can't harmonize with others. And that's why sometimes we just let music slide to the side.

I admit it: I did that. When I was newly made a pastor out in Doniphan, I came to this little country church, a tiny little place. We had eight or nine weekend Masses per month. And we had the choir sing at one of those, and the choir had one person on the little organ, and we had about six ladies, aged 40 to 92, probably. And they did their best, but it wasn't exactly the strongest choir you've ever seen. Then at half of the Masses, we had a Clavinova, where literally you push a button and it plays a song—hopefully the song you intended to play, hopefully at the tempo you intended, hopefully in the key you intended. And when you don't get those, it can be kind of a bad day for music. And at the other four Mass a month had nothing. It was literally dependent on the priest, and they are very various levels of skill, to pick out the music and to start it and hope it will keep going through the Offertory and stuff like that.

So it is a little hard to make that shift. And I was telling this to my friend Scott. Now, Scott is a music dork. He is a total music nerd. He was actually at the time getting either his master's or his doctorate in choral conducting. So he's the guy up there with the baton making all the little choir people sing. And I told him about my problems. Now, Scott loves music. He even wrote music for my first Mass. And I said, "You know, I think music is going to be kind of a rough spot for us." And I had kind of decided that it's better not to worry about it. "Better to not have any music than to have bad music," so we'll just kind of shelve the music. And I think a lot of modern Catholics think that. There's actually a book called "Why Catholics Can't Sing" which is all about our internalizing that idea of it being better to have no music than bad music. And I said to Scott I think we're going to have to do that. 

And he said, "No, you can't do that. You can't take that away from them." And I said, "Scott, you're a music guy; you're a music nerd. Of course you'd say that. But you're in different time zone and so you can't help me out." And he said, "No, but literally you cannot take that away from them." I said, "Scott, it's pretty bad; we're actually pretty bad at this." And he said, "It doesn't matter! Look in your Roman Missal (that's the big red book that tells us all the prayers to say.) He says, "Look through there. It doesn't mention lights. It doesn't mention heating or air conditioning. It doesn't mention pews or any kind of seats in there. But there's lots of places it tells you to sing." I replied, "Ok, well, kinda...." And he fired, "Listen. You are robbing the People of God of their inheritance." Whoa. He said, "Yup. Literally they are heirs, as Catholics, to 2000 years of amazing, beautiful music—an unmatched tradition in any other denomination—traditional music, new music, whatever. They are the heirs to all of it. And you're like the stingy uncle who won't let the kids have the money their parents left them if you do that." 

And I was like, "Ooo, that sounds bad." But after talking to him, I realized he was right, that I was holding back. I wasn't willing to "put out into the deep" to try different things, to invite people in, to make tough requests of people to try harder. I thought it was easier to cut the music out. But now I realized I can't do that: that's stealing your birthright. The music of the Church is the birthright of the Christian people, and there are certain things that we and we alone own in the music world. (And in the art world too; there are symbols and traditions, creations of beauty, that we alone have) but especially in music, there are things that are uniquely ours and we need realize that and to love them. They are our treasures, and when we get to see them, we're like, "Whoa, that is super cool," but we have to have the chance to see them to realize what we have there.

Some of you might have seen the meme that's gone around the last couple of years at Christmas time. I think it's from Downton Abbey. That's the super rich noble family in the mansion in England before World War II, and the kinda snobby daughter is saying (I think to a new maid), "The Christmas tree stays up until Epiphany. The longer you stay here you'll learn how to do things the right way. Properly." And I think it's meant to be a meme for us Christians to keep Christmas going throughout the Christmas season. But as I read it, it's not so much about getting things "proper", in the sense of manners, but it's about giving people the little things that they've inherited in their faith that they can't get elsewhere. And there are things like that that are uniquely ours—this symbol, that image, this music—which are uniquely ours.

Have you ever talked to somebody who is trying to describe a moment from a Catholic ceremony or ritual or Mass, but they don't know how to describe it. Maybe they've gone to a different place like a big cathedral and they don't know how to describe what they saw. Maybe it was like on Holy Thursday or Good Friday, so it's something we don't see very often. And you are like, "Was it this?" "No." "Hmm, was it like that?" "No." And then you try to find the right words to give them an image, or maybe even hum something, or you sing it, and they're like, "YES! That! That was the thing." Ok cool. That was the this. And they are like, "That was awesome. I loved that."

Or even from a non-Catholic or a non-Christian—they might, you know, have gone to a Catholic thing and seen something that struck them and they are like. "What is this? This, this...dirt? The head dirt. You put the dirt on the head." And we reply, "Was it Ash Wednesday? Was it on a Wednesday?" And they say, "Yes, I Think it was a Wednesday. I like the dirt. It's good sign.".

Yes. Because it's one of our coolest things: that we have this outward sign that we wear the rest of the day saying yes I really, truly, greatly, mean what I'm saying here as I begin Lent. And it's a cool thing that the other person caught it. It hit them, and they just knew there was something unique and special on that day at that ceremony. And that's ours and I love that.

You'll see people go to different rites, like the Byzantine Rite—or they'll go to a Coptic church—for like a wedding or a funeral and they'll come back and they'll be excited, "Ahhhh, they sang this hymn or they did this thing..." And as a Catholic priest half the time I want to say something to say like, "You know, we actually have that. We have the cool thing too. Did you know that?" It might be buried in like our hope chest of Catholic things up in our Catholic attic that we've kind of neglected, but we have it. And usually it is those iconic things—and I mean "iconic" here literally. There's a sound or an image that just summarizes everything. Hollywood gets this. If you watch a Hollywood movie and they want to show you this person is religious and it's showing you something, they will give you that image, that ritual, that sound, that music, whatever, to drive home "This is the thing that encapsulates an entire religious idea." It was reflecting on this after what Scott said, that made me realize we need to start chasing after those things. We need to start rifling through those chests up in our attic and find when we have. Things that are uniquely ours that you're not going to find anywhere else.

So a couple of years ago when I got here to Wahoo I realized I would have a lot more funerals than I used. And one of the things that struck me was: "I want to sing the In Paradisum." It's a simple thing; it's 90 seconds long—in paradisum deducant te angeli—it's this tiny little song but it exists in only one place in this world. Only Catholics do it, and it is done only at the end of a Catholic funeral Mass. If it wasn't for YouTube, you would literally have to have a Catholic friend die before you could hear it. And it's ours. But it's forgotten. I mean, I went to a lot of funerals growing up and I never heard it. And it's like this little ruby, this tiny jewel, in our chest that we've forgotten about. And so I literally took six months practicing before I ever pulled it out because I was scared to death of getting it wrong, but I finally had the guts to do it about a year ago. And I did it for a couple of funerals. And some person came up and said, "Hey that little thing you do, the little song you do at the casket? Whatever that is. Keep doing that. That's really cool." Again they can't describe it, but they know that it hits some little thing for them. If you've ever seen the movie "Rudy", when Rudy leaves the funeral of his friend to go and chase his dream....that happens while they are showing you the In Paradisum. Again, Hollywood knows: You grab the most iconic moment to say "This is a Catholic funeral." They know that. We've forgotten.

Give you another example. For years I would go to people's bedsides and anoint them. And in the ritual where it gives you the Prayers for the Dying, after you give them the last blessing (the apostolic pardon), it gives you the option to sing the Salve Regina. But I'm always sitting there with family, and I think,  "Well, we learned it in the seminary but normal people don't know it." I mean, it's the "Hail Holy Queen" in Latin; we could just recite it in English, but I didn't usually do it. But one day I was at a hospital bed, alone. The person seemed to be struggling and no one else was in the room. So I was like, "I'm just going to sing it. Maybe it will help." So I sing the Salve Regina and actually the nurse came in before I finished and she was like, "Ooh that was cool. Do you always do that?" I was like, "No...." And she said, "Keep it up. I like that. Do that." And it was a thing where I thought to myself: Yeah we should do that. I am going to do that every time I do an anointing now, at least if it's near a person's death, because maybe they can't hear the words we are speaking to them normally, but maybe they hear that tune and it strikes something from their childhood and reminds them that Mary is there to lead them over the waters to her Son...that could be an incredible consolation in that moment.

Another example, the Exsultet. That's the big, very tricky song, which we only sing at one place—at the Easter Vigil after we light the paschal candle. You only do it on that night and you only do it in the Roman rite of the Catholic Church. And we do that. But I didn't do it for years. "That's too tricky. I can't do that." And no one in Doniphan was brave enough to do it and even my first year here in Wahoo we said, "You know I've got a big voice. I'll just proclaim it nice and loud and robustly," something like that. But then people started saying, "It needs to be sung." I replied, "Yeah...but we can't really sing it well." But people need to hear it; it's one of those things that they deserve. Again, you're robbing the people of their inheritance. So we got somebody who could sing it and I'm like OK we're never not singing that again. That should be sung.

Even the Christmas Proclamation: if you went to Midnight Mass, you heard it. I did it. I don't think I sang it very well. But again it's one of those things that only goes one place all year. You have to do it at that Mass; you can't do it even at the vigil Mass or the next day, Christmas itself. It only goes there and it's just this beautiful thing that tells about everything leading up to Christ being born.

So today when I had you sing the Kyrie Eleison, there was, first, a practical aspect to that, because we literally have no sung "Lord have mercy/Kyrie eleison" in this parish. I asked people and they said that for decades we've never sung anything there; only recited it. Well, if we need to pick one, then well, let's pick one of those nuggets—let's find that little sapphire and hold that up to the light. And sit there saying, "Yeah, that's a really cool thing." And again, if your kindergartner who can't read English yet can sing in Greek, you can too. It's not that hard; you can totally do it; I believe in you.

So this is our inheritance. It's all these cool things. And yeah we can be scared to venture out into the musical world with all this. G.K. Chesterton had a cool line on this. He said, "Yes, anything that's worth doing, is worth doing well. But things that are really worth doing, are even worth doing poorly." And I think that includes our music as well. We have to be brave enough to face that.

I want to end with one last thing that doesn't have to do with sound but with sight and touch. In the back of the church, there are bowls full of chalk. Yup, chalk. Blessed chalk; I blessed it before each of the Masses. You can take a colored one if your little kids like the bright colors, or you can take white if you're old and boring, that's fine. I encourage you to take one home with you; and there's a little blessing back there also. It's the house blessing for Epiphany. Again it's for the Day of Epiphany and you put up on your door the little crosses and you put the year 2019; you put "CMB" for "Casper, Melchior, Balthazar" the Wise Men. We're saying, "May we invite people in and receive them, but then also we will keep bad things out." It's one of those things where they told us at our last Priest Study Day that exorcism experts say it's probably the best house blessing out there. What's cool is you don't need the priest there to do it. The priest has blessed chalk; you as the head of your household can do it. So like the dad would do it, or some other head of a household can do this. And you yourselves do the blessing of the house.

And the most important thing is your kids will see you do it. And you might feel like this is a little weird...this feels kind of dumb...old timey...what am I doing here? That's OK. Your kids are going to remember it years later, and they're gonna be like, "I don't remember what that was about, but we did it and it belongs to the Catholic world, which means it belongs to me. It's part of my inheritance. It's one of those little sapphires in the treasure chest that is mine. It's a piece of my inheritance. And I got to hold it after not having looked it for a long long time and say 'This is part of my treasure.'"