The Bread of Life: heaven’s answer to a hell of a mess (August 26th, 2018)

Before all Masses today, I read this letter to my parishioners regarding abuse by clergy. I am posting it here for reference for those who might wish to read or re-visit it. Please forgive any errors in the Spanish translation, which is dependent on Google Translate and my limited vocabulary:

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 26th, 2018) – Father Maurer’s letter to the Lewis county Catholic community regarding abuse by clergy


Well, this is a hell of a mess. I’m not just cursing, by the way, I’m describing: this mess is from Hell. There is no room for mincing words when we talk what we’re reading about in the grand jury report, what we’re hearing about with former-cardinal McCarrick, what is both being discovered from the past and from those victims who are newly emboldened to speak out now – whether their particular abuse happened in the past or more recently. This from Hell.

There is also no room for pretending that this is not here or for assuming a defensive posture. It does no one any good to say ‘it’s just a minority of priests’ or ‘it just happened back in the past’ or ‘it’s not that much’. Frankly, that kind of excusing or diminishing is also from Hell. Do not participate in it. We need to acknowledge that we are in an awful state: the brokenness of the Church exposed for us to see.

I find it very interesting to hear the readings today, how the Lord allowed for all of this to unfold and for this particular Sunday and these particular readings to be at hand. Joshua gathers the people of Israel and when they’re in front of him he says:

If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve,
the gods your fathers served beyond the River
or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling.
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

We’re standing in front of prophets right now – the unlikeliest of prophets. The jurors on that Pennsylvania report, believers or not. And if you read the first pages, you may see for yourselves that they do not have an ax to grind or an agenda to drive forward. They’re looking for the truth: they’re prophets. Those who have come forward about former-cardinal McCarrick, those who speak about their own experience – unwilling though they may be, pained as they are – they are prophets. And we stand before them.

And the question is being asked of us: ‘who will you serve? Decide, now’. Will you follow the whims and the idols of culture or will you re-dedicate yourself to Jesus Christ, your Savior and your God?

Don’t be quick to answer – don’t be quick to say ‘I’m on the side of righteousness, I’m got this, I’m following the Lord.’

The second reading today is also a striking one. You’ll notice that the long form version is that rather infamous one among Catholic circles. It starts like this:

Brothers and sisters:
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife
just as Christ is head of the church,
he himself the savior of the body.
As the church is subordinate to Christ,
so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.

Oh, couples love this reading – they’re sooooo happy when it comes up… So let me just address the elephant in the room right off the bat. Any spouse who uses this passage as a ‘bash passage’, as a way of domineering over their spouse, recall that you too will stand before God to account for your life. When you pull out this passage – perhaps even recalling chapter and verse – good luck with that. We don’t have time to argue that any further, because that isn’t what Paul was even talking about.

The very end of this reading speaks to his intention: “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.” And what does He say about Christ and the Church? “The church is subordinate to Christ”. Subordinate.

When you decide to follow God, you embrace humility. ‘I will follow Christ and His Church’ – even in times when that Church is fraught with sickness and sin. Nonetheless the faith that has been passed down, that is from Christ.

How many of us find ourselves struggling with our faith! Not just with personalities of the Church or the sins of the Church – terrible though as that may be at times. And I do not mean to diminish in any way how difficult in can be when you have a clergy member you dislike, someone has fallen from grace, or has abused terribly as we see in example after example after example laid out in the news.

Yet how many of look at our faith and respond like the disciples of Jesus who walked away? “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” How many of us, in our hearts at least, have answered with that to the call of Christ: ‘Be perfect as My heavenly Father is perfect’, ‘give up everything and follow me’, ‘be subordinate to Me’.

I wonder at the posture of the disciples who left. As Christ is talking in this passage, you may recognize that we are continuing His ‘Bread of Life’ discourse that we have been reading through from last Sunday and the Sunday before. Last Sunday we heard Christ say not once, not twice, but five times ‘If you do not eat My Body and drink My Blood, you will not have life within you – if you do chew My Flesh and swallow My Blood, you will not have eternal life – if you will not receive this gift, you will not be received into heaven’. That’s what they’re responding to.

I wonder if they got more and more tense, their arms crossed in front of them, their shoulders tensing up, their eyes cast down and then finally, they’ve had enough: “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” And they left.

How many times do we see this reflected in our own hearts? ‘It’s too hard to follow our faith – it’s too hard to be humble – its too hard to admit that I am part of the problem in my parish, in my community, in my family – it’s too hard to admit that I am attached more to my sin than I am to following Christ’.

I remember a conversation with someone in some sort of irregular marriage. As you might expect, we ended up talking about the consistent teaching of the Church – as given to us by Christ Himself – about marriage and purity. The person looked me in the eye and said “Father, you don’t know how hard it is not to have sex.”

‘…..really? Tell me more about this thing called ‘celibacy’ – I’d like to learn about that!’

Now I don’t want to pretend that it’s easier for priests or easier for married people. We’ve all got our struggles. But let’s be honest – we all have our favorite sins. Contraception, pornography, masturbation are among the top three of our culture. But those aren’t all:

‘I don’t want to get married in the Church; it’s too much effort to go through marriage prep or have to deal with annulment work – and in the meantime you want me to be continent, to be celibate?’

‘You want me to worship in a certain way, to follow the guidance of the Church in how to offer sacrifice to the Lord?’

‘You want me to donate money?’

‘You want me to volunteer?’

‘You expect me to pray every day?’

‘You expect me to give to the poor and talk to those who make me uncomfortable?’

‘You want me to give up everything?’

Not me, no. I’m no better than anyone else – these questions ring in my heart and at times from my lips as well. But Jesus does want all of this, and more. Jesus has consistently asked not for ten percent, not for thirty or fifty or even ninety percent. He asks for everything.

“This saying is hard; who can accept it”

We can accept it. We are called to accept it. And it starts with first confessing our sins. There is a reason I pound on this sacrament so often: we have to confess our weakness, we have to confess our brokenness. This is what happened to these abusing clerics: they so grew in pride until they were so blind that they could commit the most terrible atrocities, cover it up…and then sacrilegious celebrate Mass, sometimes just minutes after the fact.

If we think our own sins will not lead to terrible acts, we only have to look to the example of those who have done these things to see the kind of path that we could fall into. Maybe not those sins – God forbid! – but certainly terrible sins. We will wound ourselves and we will devastate others.

This saying is hard, but we are called to accept it. And the very first thing we do is confess our need: ‘I need a Savior, I need someone who will redeem me. I need someone who will see my petty desires, my grasping for power or authority or possessions or wealth or status or acclaim – and still accept me, and give me something work all of those things, worth more. Someone who has the power to forgive my sins, Who is willing to give me His very Body and Blood to nourish me, Who is preparing a better place than this messed up and broken world.’

That person is Jesus Christ. That is where our faith lies.

We are hearing calls afar and in our own community – perhaps you yourself have considered or even made this invitation – to prayer, to acts of reparation, to fasting and abstinence. You might have doubts right now and sleepless nights, sorrowful and angry, wondering why you’re here and listening to a priest after so many priests have violated their sacred trust. We do these things not because of earthly examples, but because of the example of Christ.

If we are willing to subordinate ourselves to Jesus, to declare ourselves and our households to God, we will be able to fulfill the commandment of Christ: to receive His Body and Blood – worthily! – and to present Him to the world.

It’s an interesting thing that this should all come to pass around this weekend, with these readings. Moreover, Monday and Tuesday are special memorials in the life of the Church. The power of prayer on display in the lives of two particular saints.

Monday is the memorial of Saint Monica – you’ll recognize her as the mother of Augustine. She suffered greatly as she witnessed the sins of her son, watching him embrace a life of debauchery and abuse – abusing his own body and those of others as he sought after every single vice. You can read all about it in his book ‘Confessions’ – because one day, after years of prayer on her part, Augustine asked to be baptized. Recognizing his own weakness, he confessed is sins. And therefore, on Tuesday, we celebrate Saint Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church.

I don’t know what role we’re in, honestly – are we Saint Monica or Saint Augustine? I guess at times we’re either of them. Sometimes we look at the sins of others and we weep, we mourn as we see how much others have destroyed lives, including their own. And sometimes we’re Saint Augustine, participating in those very sins and blind to the fact that we’re the source of our own pain and that of those around us.

What changed their lives? Jesus Christ – renewed dedication to Him in prayer and acts of reparation as we join our sacrifices to His.

In a few moments we will celebrate the Eucharist, and as I mentioned before Mass starting this weekend every Sunday vigil Mass for the foreseeable future will be offered for the victims of clergy sexual abuse. We also need to offer ourselves and ask for the conversion of ourselves.

That cross-armed posture of the disciples who walked away – I see it every Sunday. People come up to the front of the church, arms crossed. Communion has been replaced with a blessing. I don’t mean to judge anyone and I know that children also often come up this way because they haven’t yet received their first holy Communion. But I can’t help but wonder: how many of us in this room have not received Communion for weeks, or months, or years, because we have not yet let go of the sins to which we are so attached.

The saints and Christ Himself are proof that this way that is hard can be accepted and can effect change in our lives. Do we want to fix all these problems, do we want to bring about conversion – even in those in the high places of the hierarchy, do we want to restore trust in Christ’s Church in a world that not only looks at us with skepticism for our faith but now anger for our hypocrisy?

It starts with our holiness. We must be ones who say ‘I will submit my own life for conversion – because I am a sinner too. Because I like sin….even some that are grave sins. And yet I need to receive the Bread of Life, I need eternal life.’

Saint Peter makes that amazing testimony of faith at the end of the Gospel. Jesus, having watched some of His disciples walk away, turns to His Apostles. I’ve always imagined Him with a sad look on His face, His voice low and soft: “Do you also want to leave?”

“Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

This is Christ’s promise to us: ‘I give you My Body and Blood. I give you My very Self, so that you will have eternal life.’ It will not be easy! It is the hard way, and when you dedicate yourself and your household to the Lord, you will be confronted with all of the ways that you need to be converted. One by one or all at once, Jesus Christ will reveal to you the ways that you have not yet given yourself to Him.

And yet, when you do, when you honestly present your sins forgiveness, you will become a saint. What a great gift it would be to be able to celebrate your feast day, to tell the story of your conversion – if not here on earth, one day in heaven. Saint Augustine has a whole book full of his sins – not because he is trying to excuse or glorify them, but because his conversion from those sins shows God’s glory even over the darkest of deeds.

God can overcome these sins as well: God can overcome the brokenness of our Church. And as He said to Peter – ‘On this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it’. But they’re sure trying hard! And it won’t help if we cooperate through our sins.

And so we celebrate Mass and we come forward for communion. And I’d like to encourage you: only come forward for communion. If you’re not receiving communion today, stay seated. This is what the Church teaches us to do when we are not able to receive communion, for whatever reason. We’re not called to receive a blessing at this time – which is why I don’t offer them at communion – because it replaces communion with something lesser. And what do we call that when we replace the Lord with something that is not the Lord? Idolatry. We don’t want to make that our practice.

Stay seated if you’re not receiving communion – not out of shame or fear of judgment, but in anticipation. In these moments we recognize our need for God’s gratuity and commit to making a good confession, changing our lives – and returning to reconciliation any time we fall – so that we can look forward to that time when we are ready to worthily receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Because it is at Mass, at communion, that Jesus gives us eternal life. He has promised to do just that.

We’re feeling pretty bruised and broken right now. But we are not lost. Christ loves His Church – even we sinners. Especially sinners! Christ has special care for those who are victims. And especially now – if we are to offer that care for victims – we must purify ourselves so that we are found ready to offer what they truly deserve: a Church that can turn to them and say ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry that this has been done to you, I’m that my Church did this to you, I’m sorry that we ignored it for so long or covered it up. And I stand ready to help you.’

If we are going to do that well, we must be united with Christ – especially through confession and the Eucharist. Christ is hope, He is the center of our faith, He is the reason the Church exists, and the only foundation that will stand firm. Trying to build our faith on anything else – including bishops or priests – will only produce something weak and fragile. But if we return to Christ, if we declare ourselves for the Lord, if we turn to Him and accept even His hard sayings, subordinating ourselves to Him, Christ who climbed on the cross and accepted our sins – sins that He had no culpability for – Christ who rose from the dead and promised us new life, He will restore us, bring us to health. And through us, He will bring life to our fallen world.

This Sunday is the last Sunday that we repeat the psalm 34 – “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord”. We’ve sung that psalm three Sunday in a row. Today, may we ask the Lord to prepare us if we’re not ready and to bring us if we are so that we may taste and see His goodness here at this altar. And may He help us to own our sins, to proclaim His forgiveness, and to be agents of healing especially to those who most need. Christ is our faith. Christ is our center. He will not abandon us.

Let us stay close to Him, trusting that He truly has the words of eternal life.

Turning from idols to Christ, the Bread of Life (August 20th, 2018)

If we are attentive to the readings, to the choice of readings over the past few weeks and the coming weeks, we may have noticed a theme. It is most noticeable in the responsorial psalm – you’ll remember that last Sunday we sang the same psalm that we had today: “taste and see the goodness of the Lord”. And we’ll sing it one more time next Sunday.

Additionally, we’ve been walking through the Gospel of John, with the umph of the message really being evident in today’s Gospel and next Sunday’s Gospel. And what’s the punchline? It is Christ giving His Body and Blood and food.

This is probably one of the most controversial teachings of our faith, right after the mercy of God. And even at the time it was offered it elicited skepticism in response. ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ And Jesus doesn’t stop and say that it is an allegory, or a metaphor, or some rhetorical device. He says, ‘no, I’m telling you exactly what I mean’. He repeats it again and again – a total of five times in just seven verses.

In next Sunday’s Gospel in the continuation of this narrative, people will get upset and leave because this truth is too hard for them to accept. Jesus doesn’t respond by changing His teaching, but instead turns to the Apostles – almost sadly – and asks them ‘will you also go?’. Peter in return answers with that simply statement of faith ‘To whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life’.

When we read this particular passage, when we read about the feeding of the five thousand, about the manna from heaven in the Old Testament, and we sing the responsorial psalm ‘taste and see the goodness of the Lord’, it’s all focusing us towards receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. That’s what we do here at Mass!

In the Catechism, it speaks of the Eucharist as the ‘source and summit of our faith’. Everything we do centers around receiving Christ, the whole point of our entire faith is an encounter with Christ and the best way to do that is reception of the Eucharist.

Baptism joins us to the Body of Christ and enables us to join in the participation in the Mass. We go to Confession so that we can offer our sins and receive forgiveness in order to receive the Eucharist worthily. We celebrate Mass so that we can offer Christ’s sacrifice to the Father and so that we can receive the Eucharist.1 We’re married so that we can support each other and raise our children in this faith. We’re ordained so that we can celebrate and make present the Eucharist. Even at the hour of death, when we are anointed, the Church calls for (whenever possible) the reception of the Eucharist. All of our sacraments and all of faith revolves around the Eucharist.

There is a temptation that we face, from time to time, in all of our lives – both individually and corporately: to put something other than the Eucharist at the center of our faith. Good thing, most often, but things other than Christ. Sometimes its social work, outreach to feed the poor, offering resources, and help to those in need. Sometimes it is in standing for changes in the culture – abolishing abortion and injustices that we see against the poor, immigrants, the marginalized. We tell ourselves that by participating in these movements, we have checked off the box of fulfilling our faith.

We’re called to do all these things and more – they are good and necessary works, part of our faith. But they will become idols if they take the place of Christ as our center. And the best encounter with Christ, the one that He gave us, is here at the altar.

In recent weeks, we have seen the devastating results of making anything an idol. We’ve seen in the news the stories of the former cardinal who abused his power terribly, particularly with seminarians. And just this week we had the report from Pennsylvania of a grand jury – over one thousand pages long, after two years of investigation – that details the abuse by priests and apparently covered up by bishops of at least 1000 victims, over a span of about 40 years.

This is what happens when Christ is not at the center.

I imagine that those clergy – especially those who covered it up – told themselves ‘the reputation of the Church is important and we need to protect that’. And I suppose there’s truth in that, but they made it an idol by not looking to the protection of the Body of Christ who was wounded, to those members – and maybe future members! – who were victimized.

I can’t imagine what the priest who perpetrated these crimes were thinking, but it’s clear that it was not the Eucharist that was at the center of their lives. Perhaps the idol of power, though God knows what else.

What do we do with idols? We smash them to pieces! We see this in the Old Testament especially. And we are faced with this terrible, terrible truth: that there are idols within our own Church and that those at the highest level – our clergy – bishops and priests have failed us. They have perpetrated these crimes or have been complicit, even if simply through inaction.

Where do we go from here, what do we do? We’re just regular people sitting in a pew, and yet, here we are. We can’t ignore it or pretend it doesn’t exist. We also don’t have the luxury of saying ‘that’s the East coast, not here’. If nothing else, this one investigation will surely spur many others elsewhere. But even if there are not more, we are all one Body. We don’t get to pretend that members of our Christian family are not part of us and vice versa.

So, what do we do? Foremost, we do what we’re doing right here. We celebrate the sacraments, we celebrate the Mass. There will still be Masses offered in our church, there will still be confessions offered here. We continue to have the opportunity to have an encounter with Christ in the Eucharist. Our very first response should be to turn to the One who is not an idol, to turn to Christ.

The second one, is to present Christ to the world. There are a number of ways we will have to do that. The very first one is accepting responsibility for the sins of the Church. And I want to make a really clear distinct between accepting responsibility and taking on guilt. I have faith that none of us here in any way has participated in these crimes, none of us here has knowingly contributed to these awful violations or abuses of trust.

But as Catholics, as members of the Body of Christ, of whom there are members who have committed these crimes, we have to take responsibility. We have to say ‘I am going to own the responsibility of helping to clean this up, of helping to address those who are victimized, of in some way fasting & praying to make reparation, and if there are victims – whether I encounter them or simply know of them – I will support them in whatever way I can.’

This is our call, this is what we have to do in order to turn our Church back to Christ. We can not ignore what is going on or pretend that it hasn’t happened.

There is a temptation that I want to mention, that I have felt in my heart and seen in conversations, especially online. It is the temptation towards defensiveness. Perhaps defensively looking at the report and say ‘it only happened in the 70s & 80s – most of the cases are long distant!’. And that may be true…. and yet it happened. Perhaps defensively saying ‘we’ve put all these structures in place: anyone who volunteers has to go through a background check and complete our Safe Environment program – we’ve improved so much!’. And that maybe true….and yet it happened.

To present Christ to the world, we must do what Christ did. Even as those who have not necessarily participated in these sins, by accepting responsibility we must accept that we may be treated badly. If Christ could hang on the cross for our sins, perhaps we need to endure some abuse.

I don’t mean to suggest that put ourselves out there to ask for it. But it may come to pass that someone will come to you and vilify you for being Catholic. They be angry at you, they might curse at you, they might spit at you. We don’t to seek that out, but

We may need to allow people to express themselves, responding simply ‘I am sorry – I am sorry that my Church did this to you.’

Even as we ourselves are scandalized, wounded, angry, and sorrowful, we also have to accept the responsibility that we have to present Christ to the world – to help healing begin.

What can we do right now? Again, what we’re doing every Sunday: come to Mass. Now is not the time to separate yourself from Christ. Now is not the time to say ‘I give up’: we don’t have that option! We need Christ, now more than ever. We need to receive the Eucharist, and we need to go to confession, often, admitting ‘I am a sinner’ in our own ways. We need to be purified and strengthened in order to effectively present Christ, Who is loving, Who is merciful, Who took responsibility for the sins of others. This is the very first and most important thing that we can do.

We can also make reparation in our own ways. We can not heal others – that is God’s work alone. We can not fix the crimes that were committed – that is the work of the authorities. But we can offer prayer and make reparation. We can offer sacrifices, we can give up meals, we can offer our devotions and prayers for the healing of victims, for justice for perpetrators, for change & healing in our Church.

Perhaps we might feel a call to reach out to our leaders, to our priests, bishops, maybe even the Pope, to say that we are here to exhort, support, and hold accountable our leaders in doing the right thing. Not an accusation – for there are many good members of the clergy – but to say ‘I as member of the faithful want to add my voice to the chorus of those offering both support and the expectation of you doing what is right as leader within the Body of Christ’.

We have challenging times in front of us – and I think there will be more to come. I imagine that this is not the end, but the beginning of many hard truths coming to light, sinfulness in the Church even at the highest levels.

And yet, what is our center? It is Christ – it has always been Christ. We’ve strayed from that truth from time to time. Perhaps we’ve experienced that in our own lives, though we certainly see the results when our clergy – especially our bishops and priests – stray. And yet Christ always calls us back.

After Christ’s death & resurrection – and recall that at His Passion all of His apostles abandoned Him, Peter denied Him, Thomas doubted Him – Christ’s response was not to come to scold, to be angry, or to announce that He was done with them. He instead appears to them, breathes on them, and says ‘peace be with you’.

He even goes individually to Peter and has that amazing moment of the threefold question ‘Do you love Me? Do you love Me? Do you love Me? – Feed my sheep, tend my flock, care for my people’. Even to Thomas, who doubted, He comes and invites Him ‘if this is what you need, touch me, be healed, have faith’.

This is the offer He makes to us as well. You may be doubting, you may be suffering. ‘Come to Me, receive Me, I will give you peace.’

It is necessary to mention that there may be people in our lives, in our community, maybe in this very church, who are victims of abuse by clergy. To you I would say, especially – I am sorry. I know that simply saying that doesn’t change much of anything. Yet you deserve that and so much more.

If you are a victim, please speak to someone. To a priest, to trusted friend, to anyone who you have confidence in. If a crime has been committed, please reach out to the police. Please tell some authority. We have to shine a light on this, and you deserve to be supported and cared for.

What has been done is diabolically wrong. Now we have to work to help make it right. How do we do that? Jesus – the source and summit of our faith. He has given us His very Body & Blood to feed us. We taste and see that He is good, even when we are not very. But He will transform us, He will make us good if we stay close to Him. Our job is to make Christ present to the world, and we do that by receiving the Lord.

What a wonderful mercy we have in Christ, Who is forgiving, Christ Who sees our failings and our faults, grave and grievous as they are. He responds sayings ‘Here I am, to give you what you need, to be healed and made whole, to know peace’.

May we cling to what we have – Him who is Christ. May we stay close to the sacraments – especially in confession and the Eucharist. May we take responsibility – even for sins that are not ours personally. May we work to show Christ’s love to a world that is hurting – yes, because of our Church –yet needs to know that Christ is still present to them.

This is our faith – and it’s hard… but worth it. Because Christ can heal even this wound, He can restore even this fault, He can make good even of grave sin. And how do we start? The celebration of the Eucharist, making our own prayers, and fasting & reparation – trusting that Christ will work through us, if we are willing to let Him, so that victims will be healed and also even us, who are now more than ever aware of our sinfulness. Christ wants to give us very His Body and Blood – maybe today we realize more how much we need it.

‘Taste and see the goodness of the Lord’

Footnotes:

  1. I forgot to mention Confirmation, where we are sealed by the Holy Spirit so we can go out and proclaim Christ, inviting others to the altar of sacrifice

Post script (a commentary I offered (again) after all the Masses this weekend):

This may be a moment in history when the faithful are called to exhort the clergy, especially our bishops. You may be discerning if and how to write a letter to our archbishop or your local ordinary. I admit that I am fearful of having a parishioner write some sort of nastygram to a bishop with the justification of ‘Father Maurer said to give you a piece of my mind, so here I go!’. Not so fast, please.

If you write a letter, recall that it is another human being who is going to open it and read it – a human being with needs and feelings much like your own. Write with charity, with gentleness even (especially!) if you have hard things that you need to express. Kindness strengthens both your credibility and your message.

And do not ask for the impossible. Bishops do not have the power to investigate other bishops – this is written into Church law and has been done so for many good reasons. But bishops can hold each other accountable in other ways, and they can together request that pope take a more active and authoritative role in situations like these (such as empowering an independent review on his authority as pope). Support and exhortation for bishops to take this step is something we all can offer, though again, in charity and without malice.

Whether we reach out to a bishop or not, all of us can make a difference in simply reaching out in prayer. Foremost, pray for the victims of abuse, for their healing and for the support that they deserve & need. Pray for those members of the Church who are hurting – laity and clergy alike – who need support in the face of all of this. And let us take up fasting! All of us can make sacrifices, whether it be in food or some other form of abstinence. Each of us has the ability to call on God’s grace today and every day. Let’s be sure that we do just that, so that our Church may be purified and we might truly be a conduit of grace for a broken world.

When all seems lost, food for the journey (August 12, 2018)

I have long admired the prophet Elijah from the Old Testament, but never felt any particular connection to him. We are all baptized priest, prophet, and king and share in these charisms as have so many who have gone before us. But I’ve found Elijah to be an enigmatic figure until recently – particularly in this reading today.

So Elijah goes days into the desert and there, sitting beneath a broom tree, he says the most extraordinary thing. The book of Kings has him praying for death saying “This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

I don’t think he’s saying this to be dramatic or that he is being sarcastic – I think he was serious. ‘This is it, I’m done – let’s get this over with’. I have to admit that over the past couple of weeks, and perhaps you have shared in this, I have felt a similar sentiment in my own heart.

We don’t have to look far to see the overwhelming brokenness of the world. We read the news and see violence, poverty, illness and natural disaster. People just being mean –sometimes of those people have great power while sometimes they just have a platform of some sort, but they just say awful things about each other. We see whole countries or cultures that are falling apart. One example is in Ireland – once a bastion of Catholic culture (or so we thought) – which recently legalized abortion. A move that most of us would have assumed unthinkable, right up until it happened.

We see it in our own country, watching the divide of political sides and ideological groups grow with folks becoming more entrenched against those on the opposite end. People who are otherwise generally of good will are drawn in or even jump in eagerly.

Even here locally we see signs of brokenness, or things that are worrisome. In the announcement last week of the closure of one of our parishes – Sacred Heart parish in Morton.

We also see it in our faith: seeing our bishops and cardinals fail us – again – abusing their power. We see a former cardinal who abused his power in terrible ways. And it seems that there may be bishops who knew of this and turned a blind eye at best, possibly even actively covering it up.

“This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

It’s not sinful to feel these things, to look around, feel the pressure and weight of all of this – wanting to respond simply ‘I’m out of here, I don’t want anything to do with this, what could I possibly can do?’.

No one here is necessarily a citizen of Ireland. None of us necessarily have great political influence. Most of us don’t have great sway in the Church and sometimes there are even decisions – like the closure of a parish – that are hard, if necessary. We might wonder ‘what am I supposed to do now?’.

Saint Paul warns us of what we’re not supposed to do: that we should not allow ourselves to be filled with bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling, or malice. We certainly have enough of that already in the world. Yet we certainly feel that temptation, certainly in the injustice of things that are wrong, against those who have betrayed us, in the face of those things that are just sorrowful. Are response is both sorrow and anger.

If you’ll pardon me for taking a quote from outside of the Catholic tradition, there’s a quote from someone – I think it’s the Buddha2 – it says that “bitterness is liking drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die”. It doesn’t work, and usually rebounds back on us. So where do we go, what do we do?

I think we can take solace in God’s response to Elijah’s exclamation. Elijah, who is God’s chosen prophet, who is to proclaim God’s will. He’s had enough, and it seems apparent that he’s gone there to die, telling God as much. And God, who has previously shown Himself in fire and thunder and fury…doesn’t do any of that in response.

Instead, He sends an angel to Elijah, who gives him bread while telling him ‘you need to eat, or you won’t have strength for the journey’. So Elijah does, and then he goes back to sleep. And the angel comes back a second time, repeating the message and offering more food. Elijah eats a second time – and then walks through the desert for forty days until he reaches the mountain of God.

We see something similar going on in the Gospel today, with Jesus. You might recall last week’s Gospel, which we pick up from today. Jesus has gone off and the people chase after Him. When they finally find Him, He calls them out for their motivation: ‘you’re not here because you want signs or miracles; you’re here because you saw the five thousand fed … and you’re simply looking to be fed again’.

But Jesus isn’t scolding them, He’s raising the ante. The Father has sent an angel in the past – now He’s sending His Son. And where He gave regular bread in the past, He gives eternal sustenance: the bread of life. Because the journey is long, and we will not make it if we are not fed.

We may truly and genuinely feel powerless in the face of the brokenness of the world, of our own communities, in the brokenness of our own Church – and it’s leaders. But we are not powerless. Not that we’re somehow powerful in our own right, not because we’re especially strong or wise or well-spoken – but because we are fed with the bread of life.

We too are here – who may have come for a variety of reasons, maybe because we’re ‘supposed to’, or because we have to, or because we like the music (or the donuts), or maybe we just don’t know why we are here. And the Lord does not spurn our motivation, whatever it may be, nor judge our very human feelings – He responds by making Himself present, at this altar, in this Mass. He gives us spiritual food.

The journey is long, and we will not make it unless we receive His Precious Body and His Precious Blood.

But what do we do from here? I’m not suggesting that you walk into the desert – but the tasks in front of us are no less burdensome. They will be fruitful, however, if we take seriously our responsibility to both walk and invite others to the mountain of God.

It is our responsibility to preach the Gospel of Life, even if we don’t live in Ireland. It is our responsibility even in the face of parishes to closing, even to community members we may not know, to reach out to parishioners from Morton and let them know that we are united with them, to invite them to join us in worship and service and to walk with them as they prepare to say goodbye to what they have come to love.

And even with our bishops, though we may not have power over them, we all can write letters – in charity, in kindness – to say ‘I want to support you bishop, who I believe is good, but also I want to ask you to hold accountable those who have failed in or abused their authority.’ And believe it or not, you can in fact write letters to the pope! If you include your phone number, he’s been known from time to time to call.

We are not powerless. Not because we are powerful in ourselves, but because we are fed by the Bread of Life. The Lord sees our desperation, He sees our sorrow – and He does not reject it or punish it but instead sends His only Son so that we might receive the food we need to make the journey. And we need to make that journey, calling people to accountability – even people of power – and inviting them to make come to the mountain of God.

I’ll say one other thing, and you can probably see it coming. Before we can worthily receive the Bread of Life, what do you need to do? Go to confession and make a good confession, especially if it’s been a long time (and we have a new priest here to whom you can make a confession without fear of him knowing you!). But make that good confession – because we need to be purified!

We all have our own imperfections, and we need to be cleansed of any anger or bitterness or malice – because those will not serve the Lord. It may come from a place of wounded-ness or betrayal, but that too must be purified. When we make our stand, when make our call to accountability, even to those in authority, we do it with trust and faith in God without any malice in our hearts.

We are God’s chosen people. He is calling us, and not to just stay here in Church. The final exhortation at the end of Mass – ‘go forth’ – means that we go out and convert the world, inviting others to share in this spiritual food, proclaiming the truth that is even where it is still proclaimed badly or lived poorly. But this is our opportunity at this Mass, to be refreshed so that we can do just that, telling the world that this is the food, this is the bread that will give us eternal life.

Footnotes:

1. Well, that turned out to be wrong! Apparently the origin of this saying is a mystery


Post script (a commentary I offered after all the Masses this weekend):

This may be a moment in history when the faithful are called to exhort the clergy, especially our bishops. You may be discerning if and how to write a letter to our archbishop or your local ordinary. I admit that I am fearful of having a parishioner write some sort of nastygram to a bishop with the justification of ‘Father Maurer said to give you a piece of my mind, so here I go!’. Not so fast, please.

If you write a letter, recall that it is another human being who is going to open it and read it – a human being with needs and feelings much like your own. Write with charity, with gentleness even (especially!) if you have hard things that you need to express. Kindness strengthens both your credibility and your message.

And do not ask for the impossible. Bishops do not have the power to investigate other bishops – this is written into Church law and has been done so for many good reasons. But bishops can hold each other accountable in other ways, and they can together request that pope take a more active and authoritative role in situations like these (such as empowering an independent review on his authority as pope). Support and exhortation for bishops to take this step is something we all can offer, though again, in charity and without malice.

Whether we reach out to a bishop or not, all of us can make a difference in simply reaching out in prayer. Foremost, pray for the victims of abuse, for their healing and for the support that they deserve & need. Pray for those members of the Church who are hurting – laity and clergy alike – who need support in the face of all of this. And let us take up fasting! All of us can make sacrifices, whether it be in food or some other form of abstinence. Each of us has the ability to call on God’s grace today and every day. Let’s be sure that we do just that, so that our Church may be purified and we might truly be a conduit of grace for a broken world.

Re-connecting to the Lord (re: incense, chant, & Latin)

In just a couple of days we will leave Ordinary Time, as briefly as we were in it!, and enter into the season of Lent in preparation for the season of Easter.

One of the things that marks the changing of the seasons are the changes of how we celebrate the Mass. While it is still the Mass in it’s substance, some of the elements are changed or omitted – the ‘alleluia’ just before the Gospel is replaced with a more subdued acclamation. Similarly, the Gloria is omitted throughout the season as we take on a more quiet and reflective tenor or tone to our prayer and worship.

There are three other elements that we are adding into the liturgies in our parishes, and I’d like to speak about them because they often bring with them frustration, consternation, or simply confusion. Why are we adding these in, what do they mean, what purpose do they serve?

These three things are: incense, chant, and Latin.

While I would discourage you from taking your understanding of the faith from Hollywood, I think you’ll find that if there is ever a scene involving the Catholic Church (funeral, wedding, whatnot), there will always be copious amounts of incense, someone will be chanting something at some point, and Latin will inevitably be included. The director may get everything wrong about what we believe, but these are clear signs to the viewer that this is a Catholic moment.

Now we’re more accustomed to these things, but even we might not know what they are all about, so I’d like to spend some time on them today.

To start, I’d like to start with the word ‘religion’, which can help us understand the purpose of these elements and all the elements of the Mass. I have to go back to Latin, so bear with me. The word ‘religion’ comes from two Latin words re and ligare. Ligare means ‘to connect’, which you might recognize as the foundation of the word ‘ligament’, which holds the members of our body together. So religion means to re-connect.

And what are we re-connecting? Well, we are re-connecting with ourselves and we are re-connecting with God. I don’t think it takes much for us to recognize the divisions that exist in our lives – within our communities, our families, and most especially with the world. There is brokenness all around us. Some of those divisions are ideological, some simple distance, some by choice, some by accident. We see this in Scriptures today in the division of those who are healthy (and presumed holy) and those who are ill (and presumed sinful).

We also need to re-connect, as one Body, with God. We need not go into much detail, but a faithful examination of conscience will quickly reveal how we are separated, divided, from God.

May I take this opportunity to also point out that one of the additions to our life of prayer are extra opportunities in Lent for confession. And if you haven’t been for a while, the invitation is open: come to confession.

So here we are, at Mass, as part of the Catholic religion, looking to re-connect with each other and God. What do incense, Latin, and chant have to do with that? They’re clearly not necessary for faithful prayer: I’m confident that very few, if any, use incense to pray in private, nor Latin, and probably not chant for the most part either.

But why does the Church put emphasize on these things?

Well, let’s start with incense – not the least because I am biased: I love incense! I think it’s the coolest thing in the world and in fact, I just purchased a sampler pack that we’ll be trying out at my parishes.

Incense comes from our practice in the Scriptures. If you read the book of Revelations, if you get past the trials & tribulations, you get to the vision of John the Evangelist’s vision of heaven. God the Father is sitting on his throne, surrounded by the multitude of saints dressed in white.

Saints are simply people like you and I who have been purified by the Blood of the Lamb and are at last in heaven. They’ve lived our life, suffered through sorrows like ours, and have died our death before receiving the eternal life they enjoy. St. John sees them before God, praising Him without end and interceding on our behalf. And he envisions those prayers being lifted up on incense before the glory of God.

If we look in the Old Testament, we see incense being used as well. And there especially we see an element of purification. As we smoke meat to cook it – or as in olden days smoke was thought to bring healing to sick persons – so we use incense to bless, to sanctify places, objects, and people. This is why incense is often perfumed, so that we both our sense of sight and smell are engaged.

So now to chant. What is that all about? Well, chant is just the spoken word put to music – but not just any words! We wouldn’t just enter into conversation and chant that at someone, possible though that may be. We would probably lose conversation partners at an amazing rate.

That said, we put to chant words, prayers, that we want to elevate, that we want to emphasize as having a holy character and purpose. We are essentially saying ‘this is an important thing’, as with the antiphons, the prayers of the Mass, the dialogue between the priest and the people. We’re not talking normally in these moments, we’re doing something extra-ordinary and so we elevate it by formalizing it in this special singing that is chant.

Finally, there is the use of Latin, and I know that this one is at times controversial – not least because most peoples around the world don’t speak Latin in any kind of day-to-day conversation. And yet, the Church has chosen Latin as Her official language, as the language of Catholics. This doesn’t mean you have to learn Latin wholesale, but it is the language that is meant to unify us in prayer.

There’s a practical aspect too, right? In our communities here in Lewis county we have at least two language-speaking communities at any given time – Spanish and English – to say nothing of other languages that may be spoken by others present. The result is that while language can be a source of pride, but also a source of division – not because we are against each other, but because we don’t have one common, worldwide language.

So, the Church responded by settling on one common language so that at for our prayer we can speak with one voice, a language for our faith. We may not have an extensive of grammar or vocabulary, but we know what the prayers mean. Take the Sanctus, offered before the Preface and Eucharistic Prayer. We know that ‘Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus’ means ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’.

Neat fact: Jesus probably spoke at least a little Latin because that was one of the languages of the time. He was Jewish, so He certainly spoke Hebrew. The culture of the time most likely spoke Aramaic, and the civil government spoken Latin – which most citizens would have had some reasonable grasp of in order to interact in secular society. We don’t use Latin solely for that reason, but it is neat to think that we have that connection.

Latin has endured throughout the years specifically it is a dead language, which admittedly sounds awful. I’m reminded of a ditty that someone taught me in seminary: “Latin is a dead language, as dead as it can be; it killed off all the Latins, and now it’s killing me.”

But what that means is that it is stable – the meaning of words is no longer evolving. I suspect we’ve all had words that meant one thing in one decade and have since changed to mean another now, sometimes even an opposing meaning. But Latin doesn’t have that pitfall and so the Church uses it as our common language of faith.

So why are these three things worth bringing up? If nothing else, it’s worth acknowledging that these particular elements often bring consternation, misunderstanding, or are simply difficult to integrate into our regular practice of prayer. We might even think ‘I want to do what the Church tells me, but this is hard!’. And that alone is worthy of attention – no one should feel as if they must shoulder that difficulty alone, without support.

So, we delve into these elements to see how they all serve a purpose – they assist in the function of religion, of re-connecting our diverse membership to each other, and us to the Lord. And the hope of the Church is that these common elements will bring us together. This is why we do the same thing at every Mass, following the command of Christ: “Do this in memory of Me”.

What held the disciples together? At first, it was Christ Himself, present bodily to them. And now, after His death, resurrection, and ascension, He has left us this memorial of His sacrifice – which is also His very Self, His Body & Blood offered in the Eucharistic celebration.

We have this common practice, this common action, that re-connects individuals, and individuals with Christ.

In a couple of days we will enter into Lent, and the liturgy will look different – we know this, having gone through this each year. And I very much want to encourage you: even if you struggle with the various elements, these or others, look at what the Church intends in our worship.

And what is it that She wants for us? The same thing that Christ wants for the leper. And while the leper who is divided from the community due to his visible infirmity, our divisions are not always so obvious. While the leper calls out ‘unclean, unclean!’, we have no practice of calling out our infirmities or divisions – just imagine what that’d look like! ‘I’m struggling with anger!’ or ‘I’m battling with lust’ or ‘I’ve fallen into despair’. No, we don’t do that.

But that is what Mass is for, that is what Christ and His Church wants for us: the unity of the Body of Christ and the unification with the Body to Christ.

As we enter into this season, may we ask the Lord to heal us, to cure us, to unite us. That He may to use these elements, even ones that are alien, foreign or uncomfortable for our benefit. That they might serve us to achieve that re-connection, that we might one day be saints too, joining those gathered before the throne of God, to intercede for those yet separated from the Lord, that we may even now participate in that unending, eternal praise of Christ.

[February 20, 2018 – additional references]

For anyone who is interested in learning about the liturgy, the documents below are invaluable resources. After all of the Masses I preached this homily, these were mentioned and included in the pastor’s notes – I’m sorry I didn’t initially include them in my post here online. They’re not especially long (20-30 pages) and do not require a theological background to read & understand. They’re both both for teaching and reflection and I highly recommend them:

Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) – the first document of Vatican II and a defining teaching on what the liturgy means for the Church

Musicam Sacram (Instruction on Music in the Liturgy) – the music document commission after Vatican II to follow up on Sacrosanctum Concilium, specifically addressing how to implement its directions in the area of liturgical music

General Instruction of the Roman Missal – this contains the directions of the ‘how’ to offer the Mass. It addresses almost every ordinary celebration of the Mass (pontifical Mass, for example, are not addressed here) and is a wonderful reference for the ‘how’ of the Mass.

I would highlight #24 of the General Instruction, which binds a priests – who have made a public promise of obedience to the Church and its laws – to follow the rubrics of the Mass: “The priest must remember that he is the servant of the sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The Celebration of the Christian Mystery” (1066 and onwards) – The section covers all of the sacraments and then some, so it may be wise to pick where your focus will be, but the opening paragraphs are especially useful in laying out our understanding of what liturgical prayer is and means.

No mere mortals (December 31, 2017)

Merry Christmas!

It’s a great joy to be with you all this weekend. With our priest rotation schedule, I look forward to my quarterly Masses here and I was excited to see that I’d be coming up in the Christmas season. It is good to be with you.

During this time, we spend the holidays with family and it seems especially appropriate that the solemnity of the Holy Family lands as it does. Folks come from far away or after much time to be with us and we with them. And generally speaking, it’s a good time….but not without it’s difficulties either! There is no one like family that can push our buttons, no?

So it’s good that we have this solemnity and this opportunity to reflect on the Holy Family. Because there is something amazing going on here, in the birth of Christ, in the Word made flesh.

When we talk about God, we often (rightly!) dwell on how immense, how grand, how far beyond us He is. There is so much that we don’t understand – though there are hundreds (thousands?) of books written about God in general and each of the three Persons of the Trinity. And yet, all of those books only capture a tiny fraction of the wholeness of God. And yet, this God who can not be contained becomes one of us. He becomes a child, an infant.

Over the holidays, I was able to spend time with my own family. We had a particular celebration with my brother and sister-in-law, who have been expecting for quite a while and finally welcomed their second son (Oliver) the week before Christmas. Our family gathered around them after Christmas to meet him and celebrate with them.

As he made his way from person to person, I got a chance to hold the little guy myself. If you’ve ever held a child, you’ll probably agree that one of the immediate impressions is how fragile infants are! Everything about them is miniature, vulnerable. And in their state of complete dependence – only able to eat, sleep, and fill their diapers – they are yet a great gift.

Having passed through that time in life and entered into adulthood, I don’t know if I would willingly go back into such a time where I was so vulnerable – being clothed, held, wiped, and fed by another, totally dependent on those around me.

Now consider God – Him who created us, Who formed all of creations – and He becomes an infant. He becomes vulnerable, breakable, contained, a little child. Consider the great humility and love that He must have!

I was online this week and came across a quote from my favorite author, C.S. Lewis, from his book The Weight of Glory:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

Do you think of yourself that way? When you look in the mirror, do you see an everlasting splendor? Too often, don’t we instead look in the mirror and see a litany of flaws and critiques? So too we have a similar litany about others.

This is why the Word became Man. This is why Jesus came to us, humbling Himself to enter our family – not only the Holy Family, but the human family. So that we might recognize in Christ Himself, in His great love for us, that we are beloved, that we are treasured, that we are not ‘mere mortals’ – that we are sons and daughters of God.

Why does Jesus enter into the human family? So that one day we might be made ready, be made worthy, and eagerly so, enter into the family of God!

I don’t know if we’ll ever hold Jesus as a baby, or what Heaven will be like. But we each have the opportunity to hold Christ right here at the altar, again we find Him vulnerable, easily broken. God who can not be contained, who can not be held in any building or even all of Creation, chooses to come in our midst in the celebration of the Mass.

When you hold the Eucharist in your hands or on your tongue, think how fragile, how easily broken, desecrated, spilled, or even crushed underfoot He could be! Why does He risk this? Because in the best of moments, when we receive worthily, when we invite Jesus into our bodies and hearts, we allow Him to transform us – as the Word became Man we become one with God.

This is the mystery we celebrate in Christmas, in the Holy Family, in every Mass. Are you willing to become as vulnerable as Jesus? Perhaps not yet! But this is the invitation of Jesus – that we would place ourselves entirely in God’s hands, presenting even those parts that are yet shameful, sinful, needing healing. Jesus humbly presents Himself in the hopes that we might be inspired to trust Him enough to do the same in return.

May we ask Him to help us. That we would allow Him to be part of our family, and that we might take Him up on the invitation to be part of the family of God. May we hold Christ near to our hearts – and allow Him to hold us near His.

Not the good son (October 1, 2017)

(Saint Joseph, Chehalis – 5pm Mass homily)

(Saint Mary, Centralia – 8:30am Mass homily)

(Saint Joseph, Chehalis – 10:30am Mass homily)

Due to the nature of this homily, I’m uploading all three English homilies, as each is somewhat tailored to the congregation to which it was preached. The text of this homily (below) is offered as an amalgamation of the three.


I have been dreading this Sunday. Not only for the announcement of the closure and sale of Sacred Heart parish in Winlock, but because of the Gospel today.

At the beginning of this week, I was with some priest friends and we were talking about the readings, especially this lesson from Jesus. The Gospel is especially convicting as Jesus asks “Which of the two did the will of the father?” The crowd answers that the first did, the one who said ‘no’, but then changed his mind. Hearing the Gospel, I am faced with the conviction that I am not the first son.

The office of the priest is threefold: to preach, sanctify, and govern. The first office is to preach. I’ve heard people tell me nice things about my homilies, that they are pretty good, that they look forward to them. And that’s nice to hear, I must admit. I even have extra help: I was ordained on the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua, who is also my confirmation saint. He was famous for being a great preacher, so much so that he was called ‘the Golden Tongue. I suppose I have no excuse for failing to preach well.

But I don’t preach the truth to you.

I am afraid that if I were to preach the truth you, you wouldn’t like anything I have to say. If I were to preach the truth to you, I would talk to you about how I’ve seen our community struggle with deep sexual sins that we just don’t talk about – sexual sins, especially pornography and masturbation, along with other impure acts. Sins that are afflicting all ages, even down to our school children.

If I were to preach the truth, I would talk to you about the scourge of contraception, that is being practiced even by people in this room, and that that practice is being actively taught to their children. I would talk to you about how our priest shortage is a direct result of contracepting entire generations out of existence.

If I were to preach the truth, I would talk to you about how I’ve watched our young people, our couples, struggle with the lack of support in our parishes. I would tell you that the groups that do exist are either dying from lack of membership or seem to those who want to join to be impenetrable.

If I were to preach the truth, I would speak about fact that so many of us here never receive the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. I would speak about those who come up every Sunday with their arms folded, living in a state of sin, but doing nothing to change their lives, to regularize their marriages, or to ask for help in avoiding the sins that enslave them. I would speak of parents, families who prefer to wait years to baptize their children so they can save money for a lavish party – meanwhile leaving their children separated from the Body of the Lord and the grace that is offered by the sacrament.

If I were to preach the truth, I would tell you that Saint Joseph parish is regarded as the least welcoming parish in all of Lewis county – that the common consensus at other parishes is that it is only open because it is ‘too big to fail’. I would talk about how in our parish it is possible for a visitor to walk in to Mass and not be welcomed by a parishioner nor be missed when they walk out.

If I were to preach the truth, I would tell you that Saint Mary parish is considered the most stubborn and angry parish in our cluster. I would preach about the fact that the most excitement and enthusiasm here is in defending itself against change – and that the most fervent conversation, sustained for two years no less, has been whether or not to buy a refrigerator.

But I do not speak these things. Like the second son, I avoid the hard work of doing Lord’s will, simply saying ‘Yes sir’. But I’ll tell you this – I do not think I’m the only one here that is like the second son.

“. . . .tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” Because they heard the call, recognized their neediness, and they converted.

It is not enough to claim that ‘I am Catholic’, ‘I go to Sunday Mass’, ‘I pray’, ‘I volunteer’, and that therefore ‘I’m good’. Jesus responds ‘Really? Are you sure?’

If you’re like me, you were probably baptized Catholic as an infant. You didn’t really even choose to be Catholic at first – you just woke up one day as a member of the Body of Christ. A gift, to be sure, but one that we didn’t actively pursue. As for me, even my priesthood and my pastorate has been given to me. Everything we have has been given to us.

And yet, we cling to the illusion that we are the first son, that we’re righteous, that we’re good enough. And yet Jesus challenges us: ‘Are you sure? Because it sounds a lot like you’re saying ‘Yes sir’ and then not doing my Father’s will.’

A great consolation in this is that we are not alone in being reluctant to do the Father’s will. Christ Himself – Christ who came into our midst, who knew from the very beginning of His ministry that He would have to suffer & die on our behalf, Who desperately wanted to achieve our salvation – at the Garden of Gethsemane pleaded with the Father “Let this cup pass me by – yet not My will, but Yours be done.”

How many of us only pray the first half of that prayer?

In a few moments we’ll celebrate the liturgy of the Eucharist. We’ll bring up simple elements of bread and wine to be transformed into the greatest gift we receive: the Body and Blood of Christ. And God offers to transform and purify everything we offer Him.

The lesson of the Gospel, the lesson of Christ, the lesson that is offered to us Sunday after Sunday, is that there is no heart that can not be converted except the heart that doesn’t ask for it. We have to ask. We have to admit that we don’t want to do the Father’s will – and ask Him to convert that reluctance.

May we confess today, offer here at this altar, the hardness of our hearts. Let us just be honest and say ‘Lord, I am not faithful; please make me faithful.’ This is the invitation of the Lord. He doesn’t just want our words, ‘yes sir’, He wants our willingness – to do our Father’s work. That we might glorify Him and that we might glory in His willingness to help us to do His Father’s will.

No estoy el buen hijo (1 de octubre de 2017)

Yo he estado temiendo este Domingo. No solamente por el anuncio del cierre y la venta de la parroquia del Sagrado Corazón en Winlock, pero por el Evangelio de hoy.

En la empieza de esta semana, estaba con mis amigos – otros sacerdotes de la arquidiócesis. Estábamos hablando de las lecturas, especialmente esta lección de Jesús. Dijo Jesús: “‘¿Cuál de los dos hizo la voluntad del padre?’”. En nuestra conversación, me daba pena que no estoy el segundo.

El sacerdocio tiene la triple función de predicar, santificar y gobernar – la primera es de predicar – proclamando la verdad a la gente, especialmente por el sermón en la Misa. Yo tengo ayuda extra, porque mi patrón de Confirmación es el San Antonio de Padua. Él era un monje, famoso por su talento de proclamar el Evangelio con fuerza y claridad – tanto que recibió el nombre ‘El Lengua de Oro’. ¡De hecho, yo era ordinado el día de su fiesta! No tengo excusa para fallar en predicar bien.

Muchas veces he oído cumplidos de ustedes diciendo que han disfrutado mis sermones – y me da alegría oírlo. Ustedes digan que hablo bien en estos. Pero quiero decirles hoy que no es cierto. No hablo la Verdad. Tengo miedo de hablarla, de decirles lo que ustedes realmente necesitan oír aquí Misa.

Si yo estuviera el buen hijo del Padre, hablaría de los verdaderos problemas de nuestra comunidad. Yo hablaría del problema de pecados sexuales con que tantos de nuestros miembros, nuestros hijos, nuestros niños están luchando. Yo hablaría de las enfermedades de la pornografía, de la masturbación, y otros actos impuros. Yo hablaría de la plaga la anticoncepción – que tantos han usado – que, por su uso, hemos abortado una generación de los que pudieron ser nuestras familiares, nuestras sacerdotes, nuestros amigos.

Yo hablaría del hecho que tantos de nosotros aquí nunca reciben los sacramentos – que tantos vienen cada domingo con brazos cruzados, viviendo en un estado de pecado, pero haciendo nada para cambiar sus vidas, arreglar sus matrimonios, o pedir ayuda en evitando los pecados que los esclavan. Yo hablaría de los padres, las familias que por su preferencia de tener una fiesta grande esperan por años para bautizar sus niños – dejándoles aparte del Cuerpo del Señor y la gracia que es ofrecido por el sacramento.

Pero no hablo estas cosas. Como el niño primero, evito la voluntad del Señor, diciendo simplemente ‘ya voy, Señor’.

Pero les digo esto – no creo que yo estoy él solo aquí que esta como el primero hijo.

“Yo les aseguro que los publicanos y las prostitutas se les han adelantado en el camino del Reino de Dios.” ¿Por qué? Porque ellos han oído la invitación de Jesús y han confesado que necesitan la ayuda para cambiar sus vidas, para convertir sus corazones.

No es suficiente decir ‘yo soy católico’. Creo que la mayoridad de nosotros recibimos nuestro bautizo cuando estábamos niños – no era nuestra decisión, y no es un crédito para nosotros que hemos recibido los dones de la fe. Y no podemos decir ‘yo vengo a Misa, yo digo el rosario, yo estoy justificado’.

Jesús responde a nuestra pretensión – ‘¿es eso así?’ Hay muchas pruebas de lo contrario. Estamos más como el primero niño que queremos reconocer.

Pero tenemos un gran consuelo: que el Señor Jesús ha experimentado nuestra renuencia, nuestro miedo. En Getsemaní, la noche ante de su Pasión – aunque Él sabía la victoria que iba a tener sobra la muerte, el oró a Dios: “Padre mío, si es posible, que pase lejos de mí este cáliz, pero no se haga mi voluntad, sino la tuya.” ¿Cuantos de nosotros oran la primera parte de esta oración, sino la segunda?

Esto es la invitación del Evangelio – de hoy, de cada día. Que confesamos que no queremos hacer la voluntad del Señor. Que decimos al Señor ‘He oído que quieres que yo cambio mi vida, pero necesito tu ayuda, necesito que cambias mi voluntad.’ Necesitamos ofrecer nuestra en este altar, aquí, hoy, cada Misa.

Nosotros si estamos como el primero niño. Pero hay una esperanza del Señor que un día nosotros vamos confesar y pedir su ayuda. En este momento, Él va a enviar su Espíritu Santo para cambiar nuestra comunidad, nuestras familias, nuestros corazones. Solamente necesitamos pedir que nosotros, en este Misa, en esta celebración, en este altar, ofrecemos la verdad honestamente que ‘no tengo en mi voluntad la fuerza para hacer lo que pides – pero con su ayuda puedo seguir su ejemplo.’

Y el Señor va a responder ‘Por supuesto Yo voy a ayudarte, Yo voy a enviar mi Espíritu Santo.’ Esto es lo que es ser discípulos. Esto es lo que es necesitamos hacer: confesar que estamos débil. Pero por la esfuerza, el poder del Señor, podemos ser fiel.

Humble discipleship (September 10, 2017)

For the graduate studies of my seminary formation, I went to Mundelein seminary. In light of the readings for this weekend, two memories come to mind that I’d like to share.

Some background that may be helpful to know – by the time I had gotten to graduate studies, I had quite a chip on my shoulder about Catholic universities. I hadn’t had the greatest of college experiences and so my default status was one of skepticism – that these people leading my formation would probably be an obstacle rather than a help! Not the greatest of attitudes, to say the least, and it led me into a number of bad habits right off the bat: I gave myself license to skip out on a class here or there, avoid conferences, sleep in for morning prayer, and even skip daily Mass – none of which was optional!

Some time after this became a habit, after lunch (which, of course, I never skipped!), one of my classmates comes to my room, closes the door, sits down and says ‘we need to talk’. ….this is never a good sign.

I don’t recall how he phrased it exactly, but the essential message was ‘why are you here?’. He kindly but bluntly highlighted all of the habits I’ve just mentioned and let me know that it was clear that something was going on – and that I needed to face up to it.

I’d like to say that I responded with humility and grace, accepting the truth of his assessment, and thanking him for bringing it all to me as he did. I’d like to say that. The best I can say is that I didn’t react explosively, but rather sort of sullenly, holding back whatever reaction I had and hoping he would quit talking and leave – which he eventually did.

Of course, he was right – and the truth of that didn’t escape me, despite my brave face. Things didn’t change overnight, but I slowly started to address the things he brought up – especially with the help of my friends, one of which eventually was this very classmate.

Hearing the first reading today, where the Lord gives that exhortation to speak out to the wicked, I have to wonder what it must have been like for my classmate – who wasn’t (yet) my friend, but who gathered the courage to walk into a stranger’s room and have a hard conversation.

I think we’ve all had that impulse, that call, when we need to go to someone and speak that truth they don’t want to hear. And yet, the exhortation of the Lord is very clear: ‘I will give you what to say – and if I tell you that someone is going astray, and you don’t speak out, they’ll die for their sins – but I will hold you accountable. On the other hand, if you speak out and they still don’t change their ways, while they will die, you will be exonerated because you spoke the truth.’

This is Christian love – this is what we are called to do. But even now, as a priest no less, this call still twists my guts when I receive it. There is yet the hesitation in my heart, and I think, all of us.

We don’t get to just dismiss this as Old Testament rhetoric, as if that law is no longer applicable to followers of Jesus (a terrible attitude anyway). But also, as if to rebuke that temptation directly, Jesus speaks to this in the Gospel reading we hear today. If a brother sins against us, what are we to do – well, He says that first we go to him privately, charitably to raise the issue. And if that doesn’t work, our work isn’t done but rather we are to go back with two or three witnesses. If this yet fails, we bring the Church into the matter!

Only then do we get to stop trying to approach them in that way. But even in the way Jesus directs us from that point – ‘treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector’ – is not one of dismissal. Because to whom did Jesus give special attention to, if not Gentiles & tax collectors…among many other outcasts, sinners, and exiles. So too, our work is not yet done.

There’s a humility that is required in being one who goes to someone else and makes the claim that you see something wrong and that you have the truth of the matter. I think we rightfully tremble at assuming that position, because we naturally ask ‘who am I to do this?’. And the reverse is true as well. To have someone come to me and tell me ‘you’ve offended me, you’ve sinned, you’re on the wrong path’ – that’s not something I want to hear! …and yet, I need that too. We all need it.

The second memory that comes to mind in light of the readings is another memory from Mundelein seminary. It was the weekend I went there, well before the events of this encounter with my classmate. I was present to do my entrance interviews. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Mundelein seminary hosts the Liturgical Institute.

This was an initiative by Cardinal George to help train not just future priests but any interested layperson about the treasures of the liturgy. And every weekend the Liturgical Institute takes responsibility for the Masses offered at the seminary – the result of which is the highest of liturgies, with all the stops pulled out.

So I’m at this beautiful Mass, with incense, chant, beautifully sung hymns, and all sorts of glorious tradition on display that I’d never really encountered before. And it was awesome. But what really made an impression was at the calling of the Holy Spirit down upon the bread and wine, as the deacon knelt down. It struck me then – and strikes me every time at Mass – that not just him, but all of us are being called to humility, are practicing humility, at every celebration. The people are kneeling, the deacon kneels a few moments later, and the priest himself genuflects not once, not twice, but three times throughout the course of the Eucharistic prayer, all acknowledging the Word made flesh in our midst.

We are called to humility, right here at Mass. And it is meant to be a gift to us, a help to us. We reasonably ask how we can embrace humility, how we can accept the responsibility to humbly call others to humility, how can we humbly accept when other’s make that call of us? How do I do that well? And yet, here at Mass, we are being trained.

If that were not enough, we have the example of Christ Himself. Based on His own merits, Christ had no reason to embrace humility. He could have just shown up in glory and announced His divinity. But instead He slowly enters into our midst, shows up meekly as a child, comes as one of us. He demonstrates His glory, bit by bit in His life and then in dying a death like ours. It is not until His resurrection that His glory is made clear to us.

We hear Saint Paul today exhort us to love one another – that all of the law is encompassed in love. Not that rules don’t matter, but that if we move in love for each other, the rest will come naturally. Even in the hard things of correcting and being corrected, love is the guiding principle.

As we celebrate Mass, standing together in prayer, kneeling together in humility, coming forward for communion, let us ask the Lord for humility. And yes, this is a dangerous prayer – because He’ll give it to us! But it is a gift, a grace – and we can trust that this is so because Christ led the way.

The point is not that we should sit and beat our breast at how lowly we are; the Lord does not desire that we live in humiliation. He desires to show us the way to life, to resurrection, to glory. This is Christian love, this is the call we receive. And if we don’t know how to do it, let us ask for that gift! God will guide us, gently though firmly. Christ shows us the way, so that we might first receive His friendship and having been so led, that we might share that friendship – in both hard and joyful moments – with all.

For all peoples (August 20, 2017)

There’s a phrase that’s been running through my head for the last two weeks: ‘those people’. You know the people I’m talking about – those people who drive too fast, those people who drive too slow, those people who make me uncomfortable, who when I see them coming I think ‘oh boy, here we go again…’, those people who talk to much – or are too quiet. The list goes on and on.

There can be whole professions who are ‘those people’. Police officers, judges, who all must be corrupt in some way. Those people who are clearly too lazy get a respectable job and instead end up working in one of those jobs I look down on. Those people from another country who don’t bother to learn my language. Those people who cross the border illegal. Those people whose culture is so alien to me that I just don’t like being around them.

Those people who voted for Trump. Those people who voted for Clinton. Those people who voted for Obama. Those people who voted for Bush. Those people who wasted their vote on a third-party vote.

Those people.

We’ve seen that phrase in the last couple of weeks. It doesn’t matter where you fall on the spectrum – we all have some group, some professions, even some cultures that we label as ‘those people’. And we saw where it ended up – one group of people streaming out from their anger against another group, both of whom took up the battle cry against their version of ‘those people’. And it wasn’t just protest, it was violence, it was the claim that ‘those people’ were not worthy of care, of respect.

And here’s an ugly word: racism. Because that’s something undergirding this movement of our hearts, that lies beneath the label of ‘those people’.

If we want to claim that this is only a problem for other people, we’re lying to ourselves. The fact of the matter is that when I look into my own heart, when we look inward, we use that phrase ‘those people’. And there are whole swaths of people who we just don’t want to be around, who make us uncomfortable.

And it isn’t just here in the United States, not just in Charlottesville. There was an report this week trumpeting the end of Downs Syndrome in another country. At first glance, this seemed worthy of celebration, until you start reading and realize that the method to eliminate Downs Syndrome is abortion, the ending of the lives of ‘those people’ before they’ve even been born. Because ‘those people’ couldn’t possibly add anything to the world or live lives of worth, right?

We see in Scriptures today the Canaanite woman who comes before Jesus. She is one of ‘those people’ – who don’t worship properly, apart from the people of Israel. And she wants help from the miracle worker whose fame has spread across land – ‘please help my daughter.’

The disciples try to send her away but she won’t go– she persists. And in the midst of all this, Jesus puts to words the sentiment that is hidden in the hearts of the disciples: ‘you’re one of those people – we don’t give the things reserved to the children of Israel to your kind’. And she responds, gives this amazing statement of faith: ‘even the dogs deserve some scraps’.

I imagine that Jesus, having laid bare the thoughts of the Apostles, now turns to her. He’s received her statement – made for her sake and for the hearing of the Apostles – and He affirms both her faith and His mission to offer healing and salvation to all peoples. ‘How great is your faith!’ – and her daughter is healed.

Behind the phrase ‘those people’, those whom we’ve labeled, separated ourselves from – there is a hidden temptation of contempt. ‘Those people’ aren’t worthy of my presence, of my love. They just need to go away. And Christ calls that out today, to His disciples then and to us now.

In the first reading today, the prophet Isaiah speaks the words of the Lord that ‘my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’. And we see written elsewhere from Saint Paul that there is no longer slave, freeman, Greek, Jew, man or woman. Of course, we all fall into these kinds of categories – but they are no longer to be sources of division.

What do we do about this? How do I respond to the reality that in my heart lies this evil, that in my life I have participated in these activities, I have spoken these words, or I have simply stood silently by while others do so? What can I do to break down the power of the phrase ‘those people’?

First in foremost, we need to recognize that we ourselves are ‘those people’. This is most evident in the sacrament of Confession – where we walk in, saying “bless me Father for I have sinned…. I’m one of ‘those people’”. And the Lord responds as He did for the Canaanite woman: ‘welcome! My healing is for you too – in the amount you need, with abundance and given in joy’.

We need to go to the sacrament and admit ‘I have been one of those people, I have been one who has caused division, who has let it fester in my presence, who has not spoken out against it.’ We need to confess this sin, for it is present not just in our country, not just in our state. It is present in this very room, in our parishes, in our very families. We need to confess our contempt for our brothers and sisters.

We need to lay this on the altar, admit our powerlessness to change ourselves or others – but with confidence in God, ask Him to come down and bless us, our families, our parishes, our world. We need to beg God to heal us, to make this house a house for all peoples.

One of the great things we celebrate in our faith, most especially in baptism, is that we are not ‘those people’ but rather we are His people. And that’s an invitation made for all – that we may be joined to Christ. And Saint Paul’s exhortation against division is no more evident that when we look at the saints across history – we see a rainbow of colors, a plethora of languages, and representation of so many cultures and countries. We see this even in the people gathered at an average parish Mass.

Christ reminds us that He wants to offer His love to all, regardless of skin color, culture, language, history, or sins. We are no longer ‘those people’, we are His!

As we celebrate Mass, as we see a country full of people yelling and shouting – unable to hear ourselves for all the anger that is festering and being brought to the surface – may we ask the Lord to make us that voice in the wilderness, a wilderness yet devoid of grace but thirsting for it nonetheless. May we be given the grace to offer a better way, even as we repent of the times when we have participated in contempt and division, in separation from others. May we proclaim the goodness we have received, the goodness that has been bestowed on us.

Today we celebrate what we see in the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman, we celebrate our part in that – because we too have been labeled by others as ‘those people’. And yet God has called us out of that vicious cycle, making us His own. Let us proclaim that Good News, that we are His people, that this offer is made for all through baptism into the Body of Christ – that this house may be a house of prayer, for all peoples.

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.