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.