Some books I’d recommend (ages 13+)

I recently received an e-mail from a parent asking about book recommendations for their teenager. Never one to use a few words when hundreds are possible, I spent not one, not two, but three e-mails laying out some of my favorites, sharing my critiques of some of the more popular dross, and generally creating walls of enthusiastic text about some of my childhood favorites.

Not content to keep such treasures hidden and to avoid the risk of disappointing my faithful reader(s?), I thought I’d share that list here.

Unlisted because they’re a class above all others are The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

I mean really, what kind of list would this be if these weren’t the first book series that every man, woman, and child weren’t offered? But let’s be clear, the only order that the Narnia series should be read is the original publication order (A Horse and His Boy comes after The Silver Chair). Anyone who proposes otherwise is just wrong, so there.

The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy should be required reading for any high school student who wants to read the best fantasy literature out there. Despite being mostly wonderful, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies are no replacement for the full four books.

We do not speak of Jackson’s The Hobbit movies. Ever.

5. The Giver by Lois Lowry

This is one of my favorite dystopian morality tales from early high school. A coming-of-age story, a cautionary tale, an expression of hope, mixed with a sense of wonder at the beauty of the diversity of individual gifts, it captured my imagination nearly from the onset and held it until the very end. Apparently they made a movie out of it recently, but everyone I’ve talked to (admittedly a biased sample) agrees that the movie didn’t do it justice. Skip the film and go straight to your local library.

4. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

A historical fiction of Jewish children in World War II. While it’s been a long time since I’ve read it personally, I remember it being both a very good yarn and quite affection – though perhaps the wise parent should review it personally before passing it on. As with any WWII story, the harsh realities of human sin and suffering are present, as well as the heroism that every person – especially teenagers – desires to embody.

3. Hatchet by Gary Paulson and My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Why list these together? Because it’s my list, that’s why! And while these are two very different stories, they both hold to a theme of survivalism in the wild that so many (young and old) find fascinating. Whether it is being stranded after a plane crash (Hatchet) or striking out on one’s own (My Side of the Mountain), the survivalism is a means to an end: the growth of a boy into a young man.

2. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

A set of puns and witticisms loosely tied together into a story! This fits neatly into the library of anyone who likes to play with words but doesn’t want to admit that yes, they do in fact like all of those lame dad jokes. Light-hearted fun, though it does have some heartfelt messages. Perhaps not as broad appeal as other stories, but good nonetheless.

1. The Time Quintet (A Wrinkle in Time being the first) by Madelein L’Engle

Rooted in Biblical references but built in a fantasy world (aliens, technology, et cetera), it is a sort of Narnia for older children. A bit of wonder, a bit of responsibility, and lots of character growth. It deals with some suffering & loss, as well as consequences of a bad decision (much like Edmund in the first book of the Narnia series), but easily one of my favorites. Well worth reading as an adult before passing onto your child.

There are a great many wonderful stories out there – perhaps I’ll put together another list (or ten!) in the future. If you’ve got a great story that you’d like to recommend, by all means post it in the comments! I’m always looking for another story to dive into myself.

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.

 

Corpus Christi homily (May 29, 2016)

Holy Thursday, Last Supper (Isaac Jogues Missal)
The Last Supper

Happy Feast of Corpus Christi! Today is the celebration of the mystery of the Body & Blood of Christ.

Today’s celebration has a special place in my heart, as it is the anniversary of the first Mass I celebrated after my ordination – or as a friend coined the phrase my ‘liturgical anniversary’.

The feast of Corpus Christi is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the meaning of Mass. In short: why do we come and celebrate Mass?

A quick answer might simply be ‘because I have to’! Sometimes our default motivation comes from the various shades of pressure, guilt or outside expectation to come to Mass. We may also be driven by our desire for fellowship, prayer, song and inspiration.

Though these are valuable aspects of our celebration, they’re not exclusive to the Mass, right? I mean, we could find fellowship at a BBQ, prayer at a football game, songs in our shower and inspiration from the bookshelf.

At its core, our celebration is about offering sacrifice.

The idea of sacrifice, reasonably, makes us uncomfortable. It calls to mind thoughts of having to give up or lose something, that we’ll be called upon to give our ‘pound of flesh’ as the saying goes.

…. sacrifice implies debt, something we owe to someone else. …. sacrifice is necessary because of sin. We often avoid the language and reality of sacrifice because we want to avoid the reality of sin – that I am a sinner, that you are a sinner, that we all are sinners.

“O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!”

Do you remember this line? It is from the Exultet – the chant offered at the beginning of the Easter vigil Mass.

“O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!”

With this one line, after having recounted much of the faults and failings of mankind, we are reminded of God’s great mercy, of His wondrous love for us – incarnate in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Yet we can not truly know our Redeemer without acknowledging that we need one.
Tomorrow we celebrate Memorial Day weekend. We honor those who have willingly sacrificed their lives in defense of our lives and freedom. We show our appreciation with a feast, often with a barbeque of some sort, music, fraternity and maybe even a patriotic song or reading.

At some point in the celebration, drinks are passed around – age appropriate, of course! – as someone calls for silence. Particular names of the fallen are shared, and then we raise our glasses in honor of them, and of their comrades. It is a fitting memorial to the brave men and women who offered so much out of love of our country.

In the Usus Antiquior or the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, there was a psalm that the priest quoted before receiving communion – a tradition received from the practice of our Jewish forbearers:

“How can I repay the Lord for all the great good done for me? I will raise the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.”

Sound familiar? We won’t just do that tomorrow for our soldiers – we’ll do that in a few minutes here at this altar. ‘Do this in memory of Me’, He told us. And so we do, at every Mass.

We can’t possibly repay the debt we owe for the forgiveness of our sins – that cost is ever beyond our means. But we have been given a gift that we can worthily offer in our thanksgiving – the gift of Christ Himself, the gift of His perfect self-sacrifice on our behalf: His Body – broken on the battlefield of sin – and His Blood – shed for sin’s forgiveness.

If you find yourself not entirely understanding the Mass and the Eucharist, you’re in good company! It’s all a bit heady, and a lot to take in. Thankfully, complete understanding isn’t necessary to join in the celebration – by God’s grace that may come later. What is necessary, what is vital, is that we enter into this mystery, that we take this cup of salvation, that we offer it to the Lord in thanksgiving and that we receive it with gratitude. May it transform us, so that the sacrifice Jesus made for our us may not be in vain.

Blessed

So, it seems I have a blog – which implies an intention to, you know, write. Which is in fact the case, as I have been mulling a post titled ‘In defense of sarcasm’. While this seemed a fitting introduction to the informal spirit of this blog, a title and informal spirit aren’t sufficient to merit clicking the ‘publish’ button. So I’ll leave that to percolate for a little while longer.

This last week has been strangely blessed. It started with the funeral Mass for Father Victor Cloquet, a priest of the archdiocese of Seattle and one connected to one of my previous and one of my current parishes. So I drove up to Saint Joseph in Tacoma for the celebration. The whole affair was a mix of different graces. Fraternity with my brother priests of the archdiocese & Saint Joseph‘s pastor – Father Michael Stinson (who graciously hosted us in his rectory). The sacrifice of the Mass offered for one of the gentlest priests I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Reminiscing with former parishioners and catching up with seminarians.

Because I’m assigned to the wild, wonderful but remote hinterland of Lewis county, I took the afternoon to run errands in the big city. Highlights included a visit to Vercillo’s Catholic Book & Gift store, Lowes and the local cigar shop (appropriately named ‘The Tinder Box‘).

The latter was important, as I passed the evening with two dear friends who had recently returned from a 30-day trip walking the Camino. Stories were shared, cigars smoked, jokes told, beers enjoyed and generally much fraternity into the wee hours of the night.

Fortunately, Tuesday is my day off – which allowed for a late start to a lazy day.

At the end of the week, I drove to Everett to visit another set of dear friends and their four daughters – the eldest of whom is my goddaughter. It was the first we’ve seen each other in almost a year because, well, life and things. Their parents are trying to avoid publishing their lives online, so you’ll have to take my word when I tell you that these little girls are the very definition of cute. And my how they’ve grown! But not so much that they wouldn’t let their godfather read them a bedtime story on the living room floor.

Back at the parishes this weekend, we had another round of new communicants as we celebrated First Holy Communion at Saint Yves in Mossyrock. The pastor, being a shmuck, forgot that today’s Mass was bi-lingual and had not prepared himself to preach in both English and Spanish.1 Thankfully, God provided – though the congregation pitched in when a stray word eluded translation!

Finally, today marked the resumption of our Hackmaster campaign.2 Several of our members had been out of the country, our hosts on the Camino in Spain and another in Japan. While we goofed around in-game, we were actually doing a lot of catch-up in real life. Of course, that didn’t preclude the usual table-top shenanigans – featuring bad puns, Diggy Diggy Hole references, discussing which Doctor is in fact the best (10th or 12th?) and sharing in copious amounts of rich & tasty food.

The first reading in the Office of Readings from Friday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time had this timely bit:

This is a vanity that occurs on earth: There are those who are just but are treated as though they had done evil, and those who are wicked but are treated as though they had done justly. This, too, I say is vanity.

Therefore I praised joy, because there is nothing better for mortals under the sun than to eat and to drink and to be joyful; this will accompany them in their toil through the limited days of life God gives them under the sun.

Somewhere in the rich history of the Church, someone wise observed that every sorrow is accompanied by graces from God and every blessing is a strengthening against future sorrows3. This week certainly fits that bill! God is good.

(Edited for grammar a couple times – 2016/05/23)