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.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

In Praise of Folding Chair Masses

Every church eventually has a folding chair Mass. Maybe the pews are being repaired. Maybe it's a full renovation. Hopefully it's not that their church had a fire or a flood. And I truly feel for you if your parish is having one week after week, awaiting something better. We never want them to feel like the norm, but when you are at one it can be a profound meditation, either on the blessings we usually have, or on the Blessing we have at every Mass no matter where it is or what the trappings are. This homily also tells how weeks of Mass in a crappy old parish center when I was 17-years-old was huge in my becoming a priest. And it touches briefly on the reason why I started attending that industrial-carpet-and-florescent-lighting Mass then, and of a sad later chapter to that story.