“I told her not to ‘settle’,” a friend told me thirty years ago. “What does ‘settle’ mean?” I asked her. “It means settling for a man who does not meet her standards.”
A priest, it is said, marries the Church. Does the Church “settle” for priests that don’t meet her standards? Do you settle for a merely good man, or will you accept nothing less than a good priest? “A good priest is a very good thing,” wrote Victor Hugo in Les Miserables. How is a good priest more than just a good man?
A good man puts you at ease; a good priest puts you at ease, but often challenges you as well. A good man makes you laugh; a good priest makes you laugh, but sometimes makes you cry. A good man helps you reach success in life; a good priest helps you reach success, but he also prepares you for heaven. A Catholic priest must be a good man, certainly, but God calls His priests to a greater personal sanctity. A really good priest never ceases to call others, as well, to sanctity.
How much do we, the Church, settle for good men when we could expect of our priests that they be other Christs: men of prayer, of purity, of sacrifice, of obedience? Christ was “obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). Is your priest striving for this kind of obedience?
Do not be satisfied with your priest if he preaches dynamic, engaging homilies but does not preach difficult truths. Do not be satisfied if he shows you the world but does not show you Christ. Do not be satisfied if he teaches your children soccer but does not teach them the Gospel. I often hear laypeople saying how wonderful a man Fr. So-and-So is. They don’t seem to mind that he is not very priestly — that he doesn’t wear his collar, or flirts with women, or disrespects his Bishop or hardly ever prays. The erosion of priestly virtue is the real scandal in our Church, the source of all particular clergy scandals.
I don’t want to be just a wonderful man. I want to be a faithful priest. Please help me to be a saint. The Church, the Bride of Christ, should settle for nothing less in her priests.
Homily: Super-size it!
Food is sacred
“Supersize it.” If one, six-dollar burger is good, two is better, and best of all when they are on sale, two for ten dollars! We love to eat. Can you imagine a Sunday morning at St. Joseph’s without donuts? Impossible. I’m glad Myrna takes care of the donuts every Sunday morning around here! Food is essential for human life. But why, then, is food the number one killer in America? Heart disease, due almost entirely to overeating or eating the wrong kinds of foods, is our number one cause of death in America. Actually, food is a sacred gift, and so the abuse of this sacred gift is seriously harmful.
Jesus shows us how to eat
Jesus shows us how to properly order our appetite for food. Consider the Last Supper: Jesus took a little bread, and a little wine. Both are natural, wholesome foods. And this is what we do at Mass: a little bread, a little wine, which is really the very body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus.
How we worship is how we should eat, because food is sacred.
Our market-driven culture teaches us to consume. We are told that food, as much and as often as we can get it, makes us happy. As with all lies, there is a kernel of truth in this: food does make us happy, but in right proportion. Too much food, or the wrong kind of food, makes us bloated, heavy, depressed, and ultimately kills us with every disease from diabetes to cardiac failure.
To be genuinely happy, we must discipline ourselves, as Jesus did. He took only a little baked fish (not fried fish!). He chastised his body; he restrained his appetites. He told his clueless disciples that the Christ had to suffer, and then rise from the dead on the third day.” First, self-denial, then, resurrection. There is no love without discipline, without sacrifice. Our Mass, the central act of worship, is a sacrificial meal, a restrained meal. If you want to be happy, always leave the table a little hungry.
Sex is sacred
Food is one of two human appetites which we must discipline. The other is … I will use a discretionary word … the other is “relations.” Human beings eat to sustain the body, and human beings have relations to sustain the race. We have been taught in our post-Christian society that, just as we need to eat early and often to be happy, so we need to have sexual relations whenever and however we get that “feeling.” This falsehood has resulted in great damage, from an epidemic of sexually-transmitted diseases to marriage and family devastation. Again, there is no real love without discipline, without sacrifice. Food is sacred. Sex is sacred. Because sex is sacred, its abuse is seriously harmful.
Jesus shows us how to love
Jesus and His Church show us how to order our sexual appetites for true and lasting happiness. First, we should not engage in anything even leading to the marital act before we are married. Sex outside of the covenant is just junk food. It only briefly satisfies and eventually makes us sick. Second, we should not make love to our spouses that is not open to the transmission of human life. In other words, the Church has always and everywhere, from the first century, condemned artificial contraception. You may not believe me now, but it is becoming more obvious to everyone, that the social problems of our time began with the pill in the 1950s. At this point, in 2012, we are utterly confused about sexual identity and purpose, but how did we get to this point? By ignoring the Church’s constant teaching that marital relations must be naturaland open to life every time.
Natural Family Planning
There is a small but growing group of people who teach this truth, not only in classrooms but in their marriages, in their flesh. Those who teach natural family planning—a natural, “green,” sustainable and healthy means of planning children. The contraceptive industry mocks natural family planning, because they can’t make any money on it. The sexual revolution gurus mock NFP because it requires discipline. But NFP restores sacredness and depth to lovemaking. Those who practice NFP have a virtually zero divorce rate. They are happier, healthier, and more fulfilled in their relational lives. They don’t inject artificial drugs into their bodies, or frustrate natural human acts of love.
All of us have bought into the lies both about eating and about sex. We all engage in gluttony and impurity to some degree. The good news is that it’s never too late. “My children,” writes St. John in the second reading, “I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin. But if you do sin, we have Jesus Christ, our Advocate.” Peter says it even more boldly in the First reading: “You denied the Holy and Righteous one; the Author of life you put to death….But I know brothers, that you acted out of ignorance.” We have bought into the lie; we have been ignorant. But we can learn from our mistakes. Jesus said to the apostles: “Peace be with you. Why are you troubled?” We are troubled because we are trying to order our lives apart from Christ and his Church. We can turn back to the Church at any time, and begin the process of purification. It is not easy to change bad habits. But we can begin the process, at any time, by fully accepting what Christ and his Church teaches us.
A few weeks ago we priests renewed our vows before Bishop Blaire in the Cathedral. At this annual “Chrism Mass,” all of the priests process in and concelebrate the Eucharist with their Bishop. People who attend this Mass often describe it as the most striking liturgy they’ve ever seen. Catholics love the priesthood, and we love to see our Bishop together with all his priests at the altar. And yet, we know that the priesthood in America is in crisis.
I would say that our priest problems — almost no priests from our own parishes, clergy scandals, burnt-out priests, ineffective or out-of-touch priests, a significant drop-out rate (half of the men I was ordained with have left the priesthood) — these problems result largely from the depressingly low standards expected of us. Simple disciplines, such as wearing clerical attire (required by Church Law), are not encouraged. In 21 years of serving this Diocese as a priest, I have never been asked if I am faithfully praying the breviary. Many priests have given up on this very first vow that we make — to pray the entire Liturgy of the Hours every day. We priests receive little encouragement to strive for holiness. As a result, we tend to stop practicing even basic priestly disciplines, such as devotions to the Mother of God; study of Scripture and Church doctrine; service to the poor; commitment to the confessional; penance, fasting, and tithing; quality homily preparation. We priests need direction, encouragement, and accountability to maintain these difficult standards. I myself have never been evaluated on any specifically priestly duties. Am I making time for real prayer? Do I put in decent work hours? Do I have a problem with alcohol, or pornography, or gambling? Am I going to confession regularly? To be a good priest requires a greater personal sanctity. Priests are generally not getting the guidance and accountability to sustain that greater sanctity, and this is our fundamental crisis.
Please pray for your priests, as I know you do. Pray that we love God enough to obey Him, as He speaks through our Bishop and the Pope. Pray that we commit ourselves to becoming saints.
The Sixth Station of the Cross, 2011
It’s that quiet time after Easter, at least for those who work in a Catholic parish. Lent reached its crescendo with the Sacred Triduum, and the crowds poured in for Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The Catholic liturgies of Holy Week place us squarely into Jerusalem during the Passover Festival in AD 33, truly walking with Christ. All sorts of folks come to “the temple” here on Oakdale Road just like folk in Jesus’ time: to worship, to see a spectacle, to fulfill an annual obligation, to make Mom or Dad happy or just “because it’s there.” Thank God we have a Catholic parish in Modesto! How empty the year would be without it!
Thousands of folks come for the Paschal Festival each year. Between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, over 16,000 people attended 32 liturgical services at St. Joseph’s, including one thousand at our Live Stations of the Cross and another thousand at our public Walk for Life. We came in droves to stand at the foot of the Cross as Jesus was crucified, and we came in the thousands to witness to His resurrection from the tomb. By His death, He dealt death a deadly blow. He has trampled death by death!
Today is Mercy Sunday, also called Low Sunday, the “Little Easter” within the Paschal Octave. Thousands of us came to St. Joseph’s over Holy Week, a complete mix of saints and sinners, and God has had mercy on us all. Jesus said to St. Faustina (Diary, 699): “On that day all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity.” Today I am helping at a “Retrouvaille” weekend for troubled marriages, and so will not see you at Mass. Thirty couples, many from our parish, are making one last attempt to find mercy, to rediscover lost love. They do this on Mercy Sunday! Let the floodgates of God’s infinite love open; let His divine mercy pour over all of us. Let us praise Him for casting wide open His heart to us in His glorious Passion and Resurrection!
Jesus Christ is Risen!
Easter Sunday Homily 2012
What happens after you die? Well, your body decays in the ground, and … what happens to … you? Are you anything more than your body? Is there anything, like a “soul,” that survives the death of your body?
We Christians, and those who live in Christian cultures, take it for granted that when we die, we don’t really die. We can’t imagine dying without some form of life after death—we say grandma became an angel or something that still moves. “Somehow I’ll be OK after I die,” we think. “All will be well in the end; Death can’t really be the end.”
But people didn’t always think like this. We assume there is life after death thanks to one historical event: the resurrection of the Jewish rabbi Jesus Christ around the year 33 AD in the city of Jerusalem. The people of that time—even the Jews themselves—all had different ideas about what happened after death. Some thought it was simply the end—the annihilation of existence. Others thought that people went to a kind of dark, sad, lonely pit called Sheol or Hades. Others thought that we returned to earth in the body of another person—reincarnation. But certainly, certainly, no one thought anyone could rise from the dead, to live forever as the same person. No one had ever done anything like that—to return to life, laughing at his own tomb, simply striding out the door of his mausoleum leaving his burial cloths behind. “I won’t need these anymore!”
That’s why everyone in the Gospels who sees the empty tomb of Jesus, or meets him after his resurrection, is absolutely confused, terrified, speechless. It’s never happened before, and no one ever expected what actually happened. What we call “Resurrection” was entirely new, and it would transform the human race. Mary Magdalene was bewildered and frightened to find the grave hanging wide open on Sunday morning. Did grave robbers get into it? She ran to get Peter, and breathlessly explained the situation, and then Peter and John themselves ran at top speed. We know this because John, the young man, outdistanced Peter. They went in and found the burial clothes neatly folded—no grave robber job here. They simply did not know what to think: “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” He is alive, he is not some kind of monster resuscitated like Frankenstein, and he will meet you in a few days back home. All is well, and all manner of things will be well.
Just a Myth?
It slowly dawned on humanity, in the decades after Christ’s resurrection that year, that God had destroyed the power of death by His death. Christianity began to spread across the globe, and to thoroughly transform humanity. People began to actually lose their fear of death. The growing emptiness of the decaying Roman Empire, growing more irrational and barbaric as it lost faith even in its traditional gods, was filled by the new vitality of Christians. They had nothing to fear, and nothing to lose. They had lost everything on that Friday afternoon in Jerusalem, and gained infinitely more back when Christ rose on Sunday morning. They lived their lives as if already dead, and already resurrected. They were citizens of a greater kingdom.
Is Christianity all just a myth? Did anyone really rise from the dead, or is this just desperately wishful thinking? Jesus Christ is not a myth. His resurrection has transformed the human race. You are witnesses to his death and resurrection. You who are at Mass this morning, just by being here, testify to this faith in a faithless world. Jesus Christ, and the Church he founded, are mocked daily in our culture. Persecutions are coming. I can see them on the horizon. But we have nothing to lose, because we have died with Him, and risen with him, and live in Him. Happy Easter!
Happy Easter to all of you beautiful folk who have come to St. Joseph’s this happy day! We are made beautiful by His shining Resurrection:
“The splendor of Christ risen from the dead has shone on the people redeemed by his blood, Alleluia” (from the Easter Liturgy).
We love the 6am Mass on Easter Sunday, celebrated on the East Lawn, facing the Rising Sun (just visible above Orchard Supply Hardware!). The sun usually breaks over us in all its morning glory about the time we sing the Gloria. We are who are stamping in the cold of early dawn begin to revive as the rising sun streams into our upturned faces. We begin to reflect the glowing energy of the new day as our cheeks radiate the rising sun. Truly “This is the Day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Alleluia!” Our long Lent is over; the dreary winter is past; the rising sun breaks over the dew-laden grass. Let us believe that God gives us a new day, every day, and we are no longer slaves to the past or slaves of sin.
My mother and father have been married 58 years. It has not been an easy relationship, but it has been faithful, because both dared to believe in God’s will for them. As I was growing up, my mother prayed every night with us children for “the resurrection of our marriage.” When their relationship was at its most difficult, we children wondered if Mom and Dad should just get divorced. But Mom held her ground: “The grandchildren need to be able to come to their grandparents’ home,” she would say. She sacrificed the present for a future good, just like her Master, who suffered his Passion in view of a future Resurrection.
Many of you at Mass today are having real problems in your marriages. The Church offers a lifeline to troubled marriages, a weekend workshop called “Retrouvaille.” It has saved many marriages in our own parish. I will be serving on the next weekend, April 13-15. Join me and other couples at Modesto Retrouvaille by calling Mando and Bonnie at 883-4291.
Jesus Emptied Himself to the Point of Death
You have just heard the longest Mass reading of the year, the solemn reading of the Passion. It is the only Gospel read dramatically at Mass, in three parts—four parts really, since you take your part too as the congregation. I can’t remember much about the Masses I attended every Sunday as a boy, but I do remember Palm Sunday every year—how long it was, how we would kneel for some moments of silence after Jesus dies, and how strange it was to see the Gospel read dramatically, and even to have my own part to read in it. The Passion Story is the core of the New Testament. Biblical scholars tell us that it was the first part of the Gospels to be set in writing, and then eventually the rest of the details of Jesus’ life were filled in. It is the compact core of our Bibles, the essential summary of our faith; rightly do we read it with high solemnity every year.
Palm Sunday is also the only Mass with two Gospels. The Mass begins in green (with the reading of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem) but quickly turns to red (with the reading of his Passion in that same city). Jesus enters the holy city in triumph, but within days he is strung up on the blood-soaked cross by the furious crowds demanding his death. The crowds’ joyful acclaim quickly turns to violent hatred. How frail we are.
Emptying and being Filled
And yet Jesus never loses sight of his essential mission and purpose. He has come to die for his people, whether they love him or hate him. His love does not fail. And what about us? Brothers, for example, can you love your wife at the very moment that she is screaming at you? That’s the proof of love, when it’s under fire, when you are pinned to the ground.
St. Paul says “Jesus emptied himself … he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” And because of his obedience, God “greatly exalted him.” This is how you can love your wife, or your husband, or your child, or parent, or employer, at the very moment he or she is screaming at you: by self-emptying. You find love bygiving love. You become full by emptying yourself; you become great by becoming little. Some call this God’s Law of the Gift, that life is essentially a gift to be given, and only in giving do we receive. Many people, especially in our secular culture, think this is nonsense. They reject God’s way of glory through sacrifice. And yet … we all know it is true. No pain no gain. No guts no glory. Our secular culture tries its best to live the illusion of “buying on credit,” of just borrowing (or printing up) more money. But it can’t last. There comes a time when we need to stop spending what we don’t have, to empty ourselves, to give rather than to take. This is essentially what Christ did on the Cross. He stopped borrowing and started paying. He paid the price. And now it’s our turn.
Beyond the Cross
Don’t be afraid of blood. It’s the color of this Mass, and the color of our faith. The red blood of His sacrifice, of our sacrifice, waters the green and leafy branches of new life. We will pass beyond our crosses to a life beyond our capacity to imagine, if we stay true to those crosses with Christ. This week is the week to do it. Let’s be constant and brave this Holy Week, staying close to Christ, as did his Holy Mother, at the foot of the Cross. Beyond Good Friday rises Easter Sunday, for those who remain steady to the last drop of His Sacred Passion.