Blessed friends of Christ (homily – Jan. 29, 2017)

Some time ago I was coming home from visiting some friends of mine – guys that I look up to, that I admire, and that I enjoy spending time with.  I couldn’t tell you what prompted it, but I started to question our friendship. The question that suddenly began to plague me was “why are they friends with me?” – these good guys, these amazing men….were they just putting up with me or tolerating my presence?

After a little bit of that, I realized I just needed to call one of them up and talk it out. So I did, and rather unexpectedly he responded rather simply “here’s why” – and then began listing a few things that he thought were good traits or qualities of mine. I remember thinking that while I wasn’t necessarily seeking that out, it was rather nice! It really made a difference.

The experience, both the brief struggle and the unexpected affirmation, stuck with me. So much so, in fact, that I began to see how it was something that I was being called to do for others – for people to whom I minister, my family, and my friends. Especially when they were down, it became important to tell them some of the blessings of their person: “you’re smart, you’re kind, you’re beautiful, you’re generous, you’re funny, you’re self-sacrificing”. What a difference it makes, and a blessing to me too, to see someone who perhaps feels badly about themselves stand a little taller.

I wonder if Jesus Himself wasn’t motivated in part by this same impulse, with the Beatitudes that we hear today. We often hear that Jesus’ heart was moved – upon seeing someone suffering, those who are shunned or outcasts, and even towards those who are pursuing Him as He was trying to take time for Himself. The phrase that often captures my imagination is when Christ looks upon one of these little ones and His heart is ‘moved with pity for them’.

I wonder if that fed into His proclamation of the Beatitudes. While there may have been some who were important in society, I’d guess that a large number of the people who came to Christ were those who couldn’t go anywhere else: maybe they weren’t welcome in the Temple, the poor, the suffering, and so on.

And then Christ gets up and says ‘blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted, who are insulted’. I have to imagine that within that crowd, people were not a little bit in awe – ‘really? Blessed…..me?’ What a great thing to hear, to be declared blessed by the Lord!

How important it is for us to receive this reminder. We’re not simply seeking or fishing for compliments. But we need affirmation that we are beloved, that we are amazing – that we are a miracle. That physically we are wonder, head to toe. Even more, our person – body & soul – is a collection of talents, gifts, skills, ideas and desires. That we are a gift to those around us, friends & strangers alike. That we are loved, a child of God. This is something that Christ wants for each of us.

This message is one that we need ourselves – before we can proclaim it to the world we must first receive this gift. How important it is to go to this wellspring of blessing and allow the Lord to bestow it upon us.

In our times, we seem to be in a moment where we are called to be very deliberate in proclaiming others’ blessedness – to be able to go to others and remind them that they, too, are blessed.

This week you may have seen or heard about the renewed discussion of refugees. First the executive order that bans people from entering the United States if they are from some seven countries and then a court in Texas that put a stay on the order – the topic is a hot one, spurring a lot of debate.

As I was reading the news about this, I was reminded of a conversation I with someone I was having dinner with, long before the elections. They were a family of immigrants and the immigration was the discussion of the time. As we were sitting at the table, one of the family looked me in the eye and asked me “Father Maurer, why do Americans hate us so much?”

It floored me. What a terrible feeling to have settled in one’s heart – that I am not welcome, that I am feared, that others wish I was anywhere except near them.

How important it is for us to be able to respond to that – to be able to say ‘you are welcome, you are a blessing – perhaps you look different, speak differently, come from a different place – but you are a son, a daughter of God’.

Especially in this political climate, in this division, when we are so tempted to speak of anyone as ‘they’ – whoever ‘they’ are – we need to acknowledge and proclaim that we are all brothers and sisters. I must accept them, I need to accept them – because I know what it is to need to be accepted, to hear the affirmation of my goodness from others. They need this no less than I. Blessed are they who do such things, and we who proclaim these truths.

In a few moments we will celebrate the Eucharist, we will be given the opportunity to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. And Christ doesn’t begrudgingly give, but willingly and freely. He looks on us and where we see sin and shame, He sees His brothers & sisters – “I no longer call you servants, but My friends”, He told us. And immediately after, “Go and do this in memory of Me” – go and do likewise. Go and give this gift to all, particularly to those who most need it.

As we come before this altar, may we first ask the Lord for what we need. Maybe we need to hear our good qualities, why we are His: “why do You hang out with me, Jesus? What do you like about me? . . . why are You friends with me? …. will You tell me what you like about me, why You love me so much?”

Receiving that gift, may we ask Him for the courage – especially if we have fears to overcome and hurts to be healed – to go out and offer that same gift to others. That we might claim them as our brothers, our sisters, our friends, to be able to tell them the good things about themselves, to enjoy together the blessings we have been granted.

Today we are reminded that we are indeed blessed. We are blessed so abundantly, both in our very person and the many gifts God showers on us. May we receive them, may we share them with every person around us – and that we may discover with great joy that the Lord means it when He calls us friends! And that we may proclaim that His generosity is not something held back, but that is given to us – and that we are invited to share with all.

 

A meal beyond imagining (homily – Jan. 22, 2017)

Today is my mother’s birthday, and in honor of that, I’d like to share one of our favorite family stories about one of her many gifts – cooking.

It was one of the first meals between her and my dad, as husband and wife. Now you need to know that her family was just made up of the four of them, Italians all. Food was plentiful and varying.

In his family, there were eleven of them and though his father (my granddad) worked hard, money and food was tight. Meals were simple and when grandma made the occasional pie for dessert it was split into ten – and someone often went without.

So, Mom prepared a spaghetti and dessert. Thick pasta noodles, tomato sauce spiced with oregano, Italian seasoning, and other flavors, meatballs generously spread throughout and Parmesan cheese on the side to be sprinkled on top.

Putting the dish in front of my father, she had every reason to be proud of her efforts.

So, imagine her surprise when dad asked “what is that?” And when she explained that it was her family’s spaghetti dish he blurted out in reply “That’s not spaghetti”

See, he was used to simple noodles, with tomato paste on top – that was what he grew up with.

Dinner continued and mom brought out a pie, homemade. Setting it on the table, she cut in into four and gave him a piece. Again he asked “what’s this?”. And to his great surprise she replied “that’s your piece!”. Unlike him, she had grown up receiving a quarter of the pie every time dessert was served. Even more than the spaghetti, this was a surprise he could get behind!

I have an idea of what my mom experienced, if only for a moment, at that first meal together. For one of the most disappointing things in caring for those you love is to have labored to provide a rich meal, a generous helping, a gift that will meets the needs of the one you love…. and have it spurned, in favor of a lesser good. As a pastor, I feel this keenly, here in our communities.

I hear it often, and in varying ways “this isn’t faith…church…parish life”. The way we celebrate Mass, the implementation of faith formation, the model for our youth program, how we do music, and so on and so forth. We want our own things, our own space, our own time. We want our old practices, our previous groups, the things of yesteryear.

And if not receiving what we expect, we complain. Against the priests, against the archbishop, the Church, against each other – anonymously or openly, privately or publicly – “why don’t you give me faith? Why can’t I have what I am used to, what I like?”

….

“This isn’t spaghetti”

Not true – we simply don’t know what true food, true drink is anymore.

There was no menu at the Last Supper, only what Christ had prepared: “Take This, all of you and eat It. This is My Body, given up for You. Take This, all of you and drink of It. This is my Blood, poured out for you.”

There is a joke in Catholic circles, perhaps you’ve heard it. It starts “You know who left Mass early the first time, right? …Judas.”

That stings, right? Who wants to be compared to the betrayer of the Messiah?

But why did he leave? What disheartened Judas to the point that he gave up the one food that would bring him salvation? It was that he could not have the meal he wanted. He wanted a conqueror, a warrior-priest. Judas wanted that dish best served cold: vengeance on the enemies of God’s chosen people Israel. He couldn’t accept the meal Christ had prepared for him, and for us.

What we have in our archdiocese, in our parishes is not simply a priest crisis but a crisis of all the faithful. The Lord is offering us richer fare than we’re accustomed to. It is spiced with sacrifice of old customs, it is a mix of communities to which we are not yet accustomed, it is flavored with surrender to a Will not our own.

But it is filling, and we are offered such generous portions as to have all our needs met.

Not content with the generosity of “Take and eat”, Christ has gone even further: “Do this in memory of Me”, He said. Prepare this meal for all who hunger, for all those who have been fed with lesser far. But how can we carry this invitation to others if we refuse to sit at the table, to receive the gift?

In coming days, weeks, and years, it’s reasonable to assume that our archdiocese and its parishes will continue to change, to adapt. But the meal, the meal stays the same. If we are to do more than survive, of we are to thrive as the chosen people of God, we must first open ourselves to what has been set before us.

If Judas is our cautionary example, the remaining Apostles – especially Peter & Thomas, are witnesses to hope. Though they first ran away, renounced and doubted the Lord, His patient care and invitation eventually brought them to celebrate His feast with fervor even to the point of death.

Perhaps we have also renounced, rejected or run away from what God is presenting us. But it is not yet too late! The Lord is still patiently inviting you and I, offering us more than just a quarter of a pie – but an extraordinary meal, a banquet. While we are still with the Lord, even with our doubts and anxieties, there is the opportunity to yet receive the great feast He offers us. Having tasted, seen how good it is, we might still with Thomas proclaim “My Lord and My God”.

Una comida sin medida (22 de Enero, 2017)

Hoy es el cumpleaños de mi madre, y en honor a eso, me gustaría compartir una de nuestras historias favoritas de familia sobre uno de sus talentos: su capacidad a cocinar.

Fue una de las primeras comidas entre ella y mi papá, como marido y mujer. Ahora usted necesita saber que la familia de mi madre estaba compuesta por los cuatro, todos italianos. La comida era abundante y variada.

En la familia de mi padre, había once de ellos y aunque su padre (mi abuelo) trabajaba duro, no era mucho dinero y la comida era sencilla. Las comidas eran simples y cuando mi abuela hizo el pastel para el postre se dividió en diez – y uno de ellos no recibieron una pieza.

Mamá preparó un espagueti y un postre. Tallarines gruesos de pasta, salsa de tomate condimentada con orégano, condimentos italianos, y otros sabores, albóndigas generosamente repartidas y queso parmesano en el lado para ser rociado en la parte superior.

Poniendo el plato delante de mi padre, ella tenía todas las razones para estar orgullosa de sus esfuerzos.

Así que imagine su sorpresa cuando papá preguntó “¿qué es eso?” Y cuando ella explicó que era el plato de espagueti de su familia él dijo en respuesta “Eso no es spaghetti”

Recuerda que él estaba acostumbrado a fideos simples, con pasta de tomate en la parte superior.

La cena continuó y mamá sacó un pastel, hecho en casa. Colocándola sobre la mesa, ella cortó en cuatro y le dio un pedazo. Una vez más preguntó “¿qué es esto?”. Y para su gran sorpresa, ella respondió “¡esa es tu pieza!”. A diferencia de él, había crecido recibiendo un cuarto de la tarta cada vez que se servía el postre. ¡Incluso más que los espaguetis, esto fue una sorpresa que él podía aceptar!

Tengo una idea de lo que mi madre experimentó, aunque sólo sea por un momento, en esa primera comida juntos. Para una de las cosas más decepcionantes en el cuidado de los que amas es haber trabajado para proporcionar una comida rica, una porción generosa, un regalo que satisfaga las necesidades de la persona que amas … y que lo desprecien, a favor de un bien menor. Como pastor, lo siento profundamente, aun aquí en nuestras comunidades.

Lo escucho a menudo, y de diversas maneras “esto no es fe … iglesia … vida parroquial”. La manera en que celebramos la Misa, la implementación de la formación de la fe, el modelo para nuestro programa de la juventud, cómo hacemos la música, y así sucesivamente. Queremos nuestras propias cosas, nuestro propio espacio, nuestro propio tiempo. Queremos que nuestras viejas prácticas, nuestros grupos anteriores, las cosas de antaño.

Y si no recibimos lo que esperamos, nos quejamos. Contra los sacerdotes, contra el arzobispo, contra la Iglesia, unos contra otros – anónima o abiertamente, privada o públicamente, ¿por qué no me dan fe ?, ¿por qué no puedo tener lo que estoy acostumbrado, lo que me gusta?

Como mi padre dijo: “Esto no es spaghetti”

Pero no es cierto – simplemente no sabemos lo qué es verdadera comida, verdadera bebida.

No había menú en la Última Cena, sino lo que Cristo había preparado: “Tomad y comed todos de él, porque esto es mi cuerpo, que será entregado por vosotros. Tomad y bebed todos de él, porque este es el cáliz de mi sangre, sangre de la alianza nueva y eterna…”

Hay una broma entre católicos, tal vez lo has oído. Comienza “¿Sabes quién salió temprano de la misa la primera vez?   … Judas.”

Eso pica, ¿verdad? ¿Quién quiere ser comparado con el traidor del Mesías?

Pero, ¿por qué se fue? ¿Qué desalentó a Judas hasta el punto de que renunció al único alimento que le traería salvación? Era que no podía comer lo que quería. Quería un conquistador, un sacerdote guerrero. Judas quería ese plato mejor servido frío: la venganza sobre los enemigos del pueblo elegido de Dios Israel. No podía aceptar la comida que Cristo había preparado para él, y para nosotros.

Lo que tenemos en nuestra Arquidiócesis, en nuestras parroquias no es simplemente una crisis sacerdotal sino una crisis de todos los fieles. El Señor nos está ofreciendo una comida más rica de la que estamos acostumbrados. Es condimentado con el sacrificio de viejas costumbres, es una mezcla de comunidades a las que todavía no estamos acostumbrados, tiene la especia del sacrificio a una voluntad no nuestra.

Pero es abundante, y se nos ofrecen porciones tan generosas que tienen todas nuestras necesidades satisfechas.

No contento con la generosidad de “Tomad y comed”, Cristo ha ido aún más lejos: “Hagan esto en memoria de Mi”, Él dijo. Prepara esta comida para todos los que tienen hambre, para todos aquellos que se han alimentado con comida inferior. Pero ¿cómo podemos llevar esta invitación a otros si nos negamos a sentarnos a la mesa, a recibir el regalo?

En los próximos días, semanas y años, es razonable suponer que nuestra arquidiócesis y sus parroquias seguirán cambiando para adaptarse. Pero la comida, la comida sigue igual. Si hemos de hacer más que sobrevivir, de que debemos prosperar como el pueblo elegido de Dios, primero debemos abrirnos a lo que se ha puesto delante de nosotros.

Si Judas es nuestro ejemplo cautelar, los otros Apóstoles – especialmente Pedro y Tomás, son testigos de la esperanza. Aunque primero huyeron, renunciaron y dudaron del Señor, Su cuidado paciente e invitación finalmente los llevó a celebrar su fiesta con fervor hasta el punto de la muerte.

Quizás también hemos renunciado, rechazado o huido de lo que Dios nos está presentando. ¡Pero aún no es demasiado tarde! El Señor todavía te invita pacientemente a ti ya mí, ofreciéndonos más que un cuarto de pastel, pero una comida extraordinaria, un banquete. Mientras aún estamos con el Señor, aun con nuestras dudas y ansiedades, tenemos la oportunidad de recibir la gran fiesta que Él nos ofrece. Habiendo probado, visto lo bueno que es, todavía podríamos con Tomás proclamar “Mi Señor y Mi Dios”.

 

 

Music to elevate the soul

Courtesy of an iTunes gift card won at a Christmas white elephant gift exchange, I recently purchased the soundtrack to the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim video game. With 53 tracks, it clocks in at about 3 1/3 hours of music, only one track of which is actual singing. That song alone (covered wonderfully by Peter Hollens) is simply amazing.

The story behind the creation of the soundtrack for the game is fascinating. Jeremy Soule, the composer, put together a choir of 30 people and recorded it three times to create a 90 voice song. The lyrics were written to convey an epic story, the sound designed around a mythos built over several generations of the series, and style built to invoke the common aspiration to be heroic. The result is a song that captures the imagination – evidenced by the many covers of the song (do a Google video search for Dragonborn Skyrim theme).

Movies have been investing heavily in music since the advent of synchronized recorded sound in the mid-1930s. Music didn’t have to be provided on-site – a limitation that kept movies from having the grand sound tracks to which we’ve become accustomed.

There are a great many movies that have music worth revisiting, but none from recent history stands out in my mind more than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The scores for all three movies were composed by Howard Shore, for which he won three Academy Awards, two Oscars, two Golden Globes, and four Grammys. There are other awards too, but after 10 pages of scrolling down I decided to stick with the ones most of us will recognize!

What is extraordinary about the Lord of the Rings music is how expertly Shore took the text of a 3-volume work and crafted music to match the characters, races, scenes, and stories throughout. No one who hears ‘Concerning Hobbits‘ would confuse the theme therein with the elven theme present in ‘Lothlorien‘. And who can forget the heart-rending scene of Denethor sending Faramir on a suicide run, closely followed up by Faramir’s sacrifice, intercut with Pippin’s song.

Whether it is the instruments (that soulful pipe!) or the voice of Billy Boyd (yes, the actor really sang that song), the music serves well it’s purpose of pointing the viewer back to the story being conveyed.

Television too has taken advantage of the power of music, though not always with the scale (or budget!) of a AAA video game or epic movie. But one doesn’t have to look far to find amazing music, and one of my favorites comes out of an anime inspired by the popular manga Fullmetal Alchemist. All of the music (including that from the movie), is striking – but the theme song, ‘Bratja’ or ‘Brothers’.

Though the anime and the manga it is based on are both based on Japanese culture and values, the theme song is written in Russian and performed by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir. Other music in the soundtrack – each track tailored to various characters, locations, or themes – includes varied instruments, voices, and styles. The Warsaw Philharmonic makes at least one appearance!

All of this points to the great talent and skill that goes into telling a story, drawing us into the narrative, and helping us to participate in adventure – even though we have perhaps the most passive of all roles: simply watching and listening!

Regretfully, I find myself irritated in the face of all of this – because it is entirely possible for me to be driving to Mass and listen to one of these amazing pieces, this music that has been thoughtfully composed, is textually relevant to its setting, and performed with care…..and then to re-present the sacrifice of Christ on the cross while being serenaded by ‘King of Glory‘ or ‘Rain Down‘.

Surely this is not the height of music after 2000 years of tradition! How can the greatest story ever told, the epic tale of salvation beginning from the creation of mankind and culminating in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ our Saviour, have been reduced to such camp?

The reality is that amazing music in fact exists – one of my favorites being the Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation. Sung only on the Easter Vigil Mass, proclaimed by a deacon, the priest, or a cantor, the work of God from Genesis to today is proclaimed in a chant that has been passed down for hundreds of years. Like so many, I only fairly recently discovered the existence of this chant. As a newly ordained deacon the local pastor asked me to chant this thing called the ‘Exsultet’ – to which I responded ‘the what?’. What a glorious discovery, and a delight to sing!

Despite the fact that very few, if any of us, would put up with it in our entertainment, so many of us have settled for mediocre and even insultingly poor music in the moment where heaven and earth come together.

We’re long overdue for a renaissance of music in our parishes. The tradition is there! There are beautiful, complicated, soaring chants like the Exsultet. There are simple psalm tones that people of any skill level can learn and apply to prayer & worship. The ICEL Mass parts are available for any priest to learn & sing, as well as the ICEL Chant Mass parts for the faithful (the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, Amen, the Our Father and Agnus Dei, to name a few).

What does it take to elevate our music? Willing hearts, for one. There are very few priests who would assert that they are satisfied with music at their parishes. But of the three untouchable m’s of parish life (that’s music, Mass times, and money), change in music always elicits a swift and powerful response – the loudest voices often being those against any movement from the banal and boring.

Never underestimate the power of a few supportive voices, of even a small group of parishioners who are willing not only to say the kind word that a priest needs to hear, but who are willing to dedicate time and effort to bring about change. Who of us wouldn’t like to have our hearts stirred at the sound of Mass, to hear the voices of not 30 or 90, but hundreds of parishioners joining to sing the story of Christ?

It starts with you and me, learning the music of our faith and introducing it to our fellow Catholics. Now is the time to embrace anew sacred music, so that we may be lifted up – and honor Him who was lifted up for us.