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.

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.

Our weakness, God’s abundance (August 27, 2017)

Today’s antiphon for the beginning of the Mass reads “Turn your ear, O Lord, and answer me; save the servant who trusts in you, my God. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I cry to you all the day long.”

I’d like to start this homily by sharing a story with you that relates to this antiphon in particular, and it starts with this little thing I’m holding in my hand – an oil stock.

You all are aware that every Holy Thursday the (arch)bishop blesses the oils that are used throughout the year. There is the Oil of Catechumens which is used for those to be baptized, there is the Sacred Chrism which is used at baptisms, confirmations, and ordinations, and there is the Oil of the Infirm, which is used to anoint the sick.

Most of us priests have what are called oil stocks, which is this little metal container that has a little cotton swab soaked with the latter oil – if you were to look closely you could see the little ‘OI’ engraved in this oil stock. We carry these around, usually in our cars or our pockets for the emergency call or request from a parishioner.

This particular oil stock has a special significance for me, because it was given to me under special circumstances that I’d like to share with you.

The story of this oil stock starts back at my first pastorship, at the parishes of Saint Joseph and Holy Rosary in Tacoma [Washington]. If you’ve ever drive up I-5, you’ll see near the Tacoma Dome a giant steep just south of the dome – that’s Holy Rosary parish. Four blocks south of Holy Rosary is Saint Joseph parish, where I also lived (we had nuns living at the rectory of Holy Rosary).

Let me just say, the commute was awesome! Quite a difference from my current assignment where my commute from end-to-end was closer to 100 miles.

The two parishes were great communities and fairly old in comparison to many of the churches in our archdiocese. Both communities were over a hundred years old, with the buildings being around the same age. Built in the gothic style, these are impressing buildings, with arches that go on forever, stained glass windows brought from Europe, and a classical beauty in the altars, statues, and architecture in general.

However, that kind of age doesn’t come without some history – and the burdens that may have been picked up along the way. Holy Rosary had over half a million dollars in debt, struggled mightily to make ends meet, and the building was old.

Here in Lewis county, we know about rain and the devastation that so much water can wreak. In Tacoma this generally isn’t as urgent as we don’t get that kind of volume there in flat land. But old buildings are, well, old, and a few years ago we had pretty big rains. To boot, at that time I was a fairly new pastor, still getting my feet wet (hah!).

Around the same time, a dear friend from seminary – who had discerned that God was calling him not to the priesthood but to married life – asked me to baptize the second of his four daughters in Everett at the end of the weekend. This was the weekend that the rains hit, pouring down all weekend.

Now church design seems to have gone through a phase where there was a principle that nothing should be placed on the outside of the church so that nothing would mar the outside appearance of the building. So instead of having gutters and drain pipes around the roof and down the side of the building, the walkway of the tower was lined with special material that would direct rain water to a drain and pipe that went down the center of the tower. The pipe would go down the middle of the tower and then exit through the wall at the bottom of the tower to finally carry water away from the building. This system worked well for about 80 years.

And then, at this parish that had significant debt and no money to speak of – on a day I was about to drive 100 miles to baptize my best friend’s child – it failed.

The first sign that something wasn’t right was a call through our parish emergency line. I’ve got this set up to ring to my phone with a big red cross on the screen, which always gets my heart pumping. It’s our alarm company, calling to alert me that there is a fire alarm (and possibly a fire) in the library in my church….which is located at the base of the tower.

Rushing all four blocks to the church, I barrel into the building. Thankfully there is no smoke and apparently no flames. Making my way to the back of the church to the library, I open the door and …. splash. I step into inches of water. There are inches of water covering the entire floor.

Looking up, I see that the ceiling tiles are coming down – but hanging from two wires, along which water is streaming down before falling to the floor, is the fire alarm that had shorted out after sending a false alarm to our company.

I’m just looking in disbelief at the room. I follow in the footsteps in carpenter, but I don’t know to fix any of this! So I call parishioners, beg and plead a number of them to come help place buckets and move what might be saved. A very gracious contractor even came and climbed the tower to assess the problem! No small task this, as the ladders are not a little sketchy – just before Jesus ascended He told the disciples “I expect the ladders at Holy Rosary to be replaced before I get back” ….. I guess the good news is that we still have time? But this contractor braved them nonetheless and effected a temporary fix.

Satisfied that at least we have temporary reprieve, I go off to celebrate the baptism of my friend’s baptism. Coming home the next home, I brace myself to face the music. And what a cacophony it was – the smaller church, built with the same design principle, had the same flaw and had also suffered a catastrophic leak.

So we spend go through weeks going through insurance claims, dealing with repair bids, assessing the extent of the water damage, heaters, blowers, and sealed off areas while it all gets fixed. But praise God, after all that, it is all fixed.

And the week after it gets fixed, the rains come back – not as bad as the first time, but pretty darn bad. And now conscious of how this could go, I am paying attention throughout the entire Mass, listening for any telltale sound of dripping. I was relieved by the end of the weekend to find that everything seemed to be fine.

On Monday, I am awakened to a phone call. This time, it wasn’t on the emergency line, but nonetheless it is from my groundskeeper at the smaller church. My groundskeeper at this smaller (still poor) church is a faithful woman, but 80-hundred years old: she’s not fixing anything. And she has a request:

“Father would you check the garbage can in the choir loft?”

“what do you mean?”

“Well, didn’t you hear the dripping during Mass?”

“[sigh]….no”

“you need to go up there, Father – it was dripping the whole time”

So I go up into the church, and sure enough there is a garbage can in the choir loft – just above a river of water that is flowing down the steps. The can had indeed caught all of the water – that had subsequently drained out a small hole a few inches above the bottom of it.

I have to admit that I had a bit of a melt-down right there with God. I want to say that we had words, but really, I had words – words that aren’t really repeatable in a homily.
Of course, the water is still there and needs cleaned up, so I go into the rectory and gather every towel in my possession while calling my secretary to cancel all the appointments of the day. Upon returning to the church, I open the door to see white footprints, about my size, that had been tracked from the choir loft to the door.

The paint on the floor of the loft – softened and liquified from the sitting water – had adhered to my shoes and was providing a clear path marking where I had walked out of the church.

….. cue more words that can’t be repeated.

So I get it all cleaned up, throw the towels in the washing machine, change my clothes (clean my shoes), and go down to the office, a complete wreck. The nuns at Holy Rosary call somewhere in the midst of this to report several small leaks at the rectory and oh by the way, the Holy Rosary church had some water issues again too.

If you’ve ever worked at a church you know that if the priest suffers, you’re suffering too. Because I’m calling around to get things fixed, my staff are calling everyone, and I’ve cancelled all my appointments except for one.

This particular appointment was made because a longtime and dear parishioner had passed away some time prior and his sister was handling the estate. He had some pretty significant medical and financial difficulties before he died and she was looking for some support.

So she comes in, and the first thing she does is hand me a box of religious items that had been recovered from among his belongings. Unsure of how they were supposed to be disposed of, she was hoping that I could do that for her, which I was happy to do.

And then she tells me that things are actually going quite better than when the appointment was originally made – the hospital bills were negotiated down and the house sold for more than anticipated. And Hal (the name of the deceased parishioner) had directed that if there was any money left over, a certain percentage would go to the church. This was a rather pleasant surprise, but I wasn’t expecting much as Hal wasn’t especially wealthy.

She writes a check and hands it to me – it’s for $34,000. And I look at her and said “Miriam, I think you’ve made a mistake.” ….which she assumes is an accusation of holding back, so she pulls out this big ledger and starts to justify the amount on the check. To which I quickly assure her: “no, no – I think you added a zero!”.
She calms down and explains that it turns out that Hal had more than expected and that this was the amount according to the percentage that he had set, it was to go to whatever needs the parish had. And shortly thereafter we ended our meeting and she left, me sitting there afterwards in stunned silence.

If this is what God gives when I curse at Him – twice – I wonder what it would be like if I just trusted Him?

So I, well, I played a little prank on my secretary, who was frantically calling around. I put the check face down on her desk and left so as to not interrupt here. And then I sat in my office and waited. Sure enough, the little red light on my phone blinks off as she hangs up and I hear as she picks up the check “FATHER MAURER IS THIS REAL?!?!” (“Yes it is, and you’ll be off to deposit that right now.”)

That one gift, that one response of the Lord, covered the nuns’ roof replacement, helped out with the leak at Holy Rosary, and helped us with a budget shortfall in that year (Saint Joseph’s insurance came through especially well for even the second leak).

This oil stock that I carry came from that box of religious goods of Hals, and I carry it with me as a reminder of that day, of this lesson: that the Lord does hear us when we cry out to Him.

All of that to ask you this question: how is that going for you?

I’m confident that I’m not alone in having those moments when I stand before the Lord and question what is going, what we’re doing. I still wonder this at times! Especially in light of my age and the great responsibilities of pastorship, I often joke with my staff “whose dumb idea was this?”.

I suspect many of us have that thought in our own lives – who thought up this putting me in charge of my work, of my family, of the souls of my spouse and children? What are you doing Lord that I should be in this position?

We can see this even with Saint Peter! When we look at the disciples we see a collection of guys who, well, they weren’t the brightest of bulbs. They were fishermen, so they weren’t well-educated to start off with, though dedicated and faithful to a degree. And Peter especially just didn’t get it. Every time that Peter opens his mouth and speaks to the Lord, he’s kind of like that kid in school who would raise his hand and everyone else thinks ‘here we go…’.

And so many time this proves to be true. Peter sees Jesus and asks Him to invite Him onto the water (which He does) and then he starts to sink, Jesus explains His Passion and Peter decries it so vehemently that Jesus has to rebuke him (“get behind me, Satan”), and even at the Last Supper when Jesus speaks of His death Peter gets a special warning of the trial he is to face – and Peter not only abandons Christ along with the rest of the disciples but goes on to indeed deny Christ three times.

And what does Jesus do when He returns? “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church”

…. ‘are you sure about this?’

And yet, Jesus sticks with that. While we may not be the foundation of the Church (Peter gets to keep that role!), we are indeed the foundation of our own lives, of the life that Christ has entrusted to us. And we do feel that way from time to time – ‘this is too much, it’s overwhelming, how is this going to work?’

I wonder if the Lord doesn’t put in charge, give us these responsibilities to emphasize first of all His trust in us: “I give you this not to test you, not to try you, but because I want you to know that I believe in you, I know you to be good, I know you can accomplish my will.”

And for the second reason: “Because I will support you – even as you are weak, I am strong. And if you allow me to fill you in your life, to be present to you, to send you even unknowingly and unwittingly these gives, you will be a firm foundation, you will build up in your life a beautiful structure that will glorify Me.”

So I ask you again: how is that going for you? Where are you in that story?

Maybe you have stories like I do with this oil stock, maybe you’re still crying out to the Lord, maybe you don’t know how to cry out to the Lord or fear that if you do, it will go unanswered.

I’d like to offer that encouragement to you, that the antiphon and its psalm does offer to us today, to cry out to the Lord even right here in the Mass, especially in the petitions and at the altar.

‘Lord I want to do the good things you ask of me, I want to treasure the gifts of my life, my family, my friends, my vocation. But it’s a lot, Lord. Please give me what I need! Help me so that I might do well, and glorify your name’
The Lord does hear the cry of all, not just the poor or the rich, but all of us. May we at this very Mass today pour out ourselves to the Lord – and perhaps find to our delight that the Lord not only chooses those who are weak, but also supports them.

May we cry out to the Lord, that He might have mercy on us, that He might shower us with gifts, and in glorifying our lives, He might glorify us and demonstrate through us His glory to not only us but to all those in need.

Divine Mercy Sunday (April 23, 2017)

Happy Easter! Today we celebrate the final day in the octave (eight days) of Easter. Unlike other octaves in our liturgical calendar, Easter is particularly special – every day is elevated to the highest level of celebration, a solemnity. In this way, we celebrate each day of the octave as if it were Easter Sunday again. And on this final day of the octave, we celebrate both Christ’s resurrection, and also His Divine Mercy.

Some years ago, in my last months of seminary preparation at Mundelein seminary in Illinois, my trusty car gave up the ghost. There was something involving fire & wiring, and well, I didn’t have the money or skill to get it fixed. Going to a friend, I asked if I could borrow his car to run some errands. As he handed me the keys, he offered his only caveat: don’t get into an accident.

With that caution in mind, I set off and went about the various things I needed done. On the way home, at a stop light, I made to change lanes – driving around the car in front of me…..and sure enough I hit the taillight, having miscalculated the distance between us. It was clearly my fault and I felt terrible. To make matters worse, the driver was a clearly frightened young mother whose baby was wailing from the sudden scare. Not a great moment for any of us.

In Illinois it was the law that you had to show up in court, even if you were planning on pleading guilty – which I absolutely was! So I came at the appointed time and waited my turn to admit my fault. Finally my name was called and I approached the respondant’s post. “How do you plead?”, asked the judge. “Guilty, your honor”.

The judge paused. “Mr. Maurer, would you please approach the bench?”.

Already nervous, I did while wondering what more he could want from me. As I drew near, he covered his microphone. “Mr. Maurer, I am not your lawyer and I can not give you legal advice. However, I notice that you are from Washington state and you may not know Illinois state law. Here, if you plead ‘not guilty’ and the petitioner does not show up to charge you, the case is dismissed.  …  Do you understand what I am telling you?”

Confused, but also a little more hopeful, I stammered out my ‘yes’, and he sent me back to my post. “Mr. Maurer, how do you plead?”

“Not guilty, your honor!”

Happily, my friend’s insurance paid for the damage to this poor mother’s car, I paid the deductible for my friend, and when the day for the trial came, she indeed did not show up and the case was dismissed! All because the judge was also, to my surprise and joy, an advocate for me.

How often do we approach our Heavenly Father with the same fear and anxiety, expecting that this will be the moment when the hammer comes down? We know our guilt, are intimately aware of our sin & shame. If nothing else, in the depths of our heart we only know one response to the question of our plea: “guilty, your honor”.

And then Christ appointed by His Heavenly Father as the just judge steps in also as our advocate. These very mysteries we have celebrated – Jesus’ Passion, His Death, and His Resurrection – are presented on our behalf, to declare the innocence won for us.

In the opening prayer at Mass today, we prayed that “all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed”. We have been washed in the font of Baptism, reborn by the Holy Spirit, redeemed by the Blood Christ freely offered for our salvation!

Today at Mass, you’ll notice that we will be celebrating the liturgy of the Eucharistic ad orientem. An option given to us and indeed given preference in the liturgical documents of Vatican II, this way of offering the Pascual sacrifice visibly and naturally demonstrates what is invisibly and supernaturally happening at Mass. Rather than humanity & divinity standing opposed, Christ our judge and advocate stands with us – represented in the person of the priest – offering His very Body & Blood as the proof of our innocence to the Heavenly Father. This is the mystery of faith!

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, there are two invitations given to us. The first is the one we perhaps dare not hope for: to receive God’s mercy! How often do we question God’s forgiveness – while it is surely offered for others, could it really be offered for me? Could Christ truly accept my past, my shame, and wash it clean? To this we have a simple but resounding ‘yes’, offered by Christ Himself.

You’ve heard me say so before and will again: come receive God’s forgiveness – most especially in the sacrament of Confession! Perhaps it’s been a long time, maybe there are secret sins you are afraid to name, and the whole sacrament is frightening or alien. Nonetheless this is the Lord’s invitation to you: be not afraid! Come and be relieved of the sin and shame that burdens you. You will be received with great joy by your priests, guided as you might need, and together we will celebrate the graciousness of our Heavenly Father.

The second invitation follows from the first: to be witnesses of God’s mercy to the world. How simple it is to hear and receive God’s mercy within these four walls – yet Christ also commissions us to go and proclaim His Divine Mercy to the world. And make no mistake, the challenge comes almost immediately: perhaps behind that slow parishioner who cuts you off as you’re leaving the parking lot today, at dinner with the family member who drives you crazy, in the office tomorrow seeing that lazy-good-for-nothing co-worker, or dealing with the neighbor that is just difficult. God’s mercy to the world, to these and all the people you meet, begins with you. He entrusts His mercy to you.

Today we celebrate Easter, and the mystery of the mercy that our Father has given to us through His Son. Let us receive it! Let us proclaim it! May we share this message with the world: “Look what God has done for me – and as He has done for us, so He can do for you too.”

 

Sodom & Gomorrah, ‘Our Father’ and mercy (homily – July 24, 2016)

Thanks to the generosity of many generous donors, my seminary has a pilgrimage program for seminarians in their third year. So about ten years ago when I was in my third year, I was able to spend about two and a half months in the Holy Land – a month in Bethlehem, a month in Jerusalem and about two weeks in Nazareth.

Among many neat places was the Dead Sea. The salt content of the Dead Sea is so high that it is toxic to all life. There is so much salt that the floor of the sea is covered in rocks of salt, the size of your fist. Our guide warned us that staying in the water overlong wasn’t advisable, and that we should be especially cautious of getting the water in our eyes. Too much and our vision could be damaged – to the point of blindness even.

Happy swimming!

But swim we did, because there is another, neat thing about the Dead Sea: buoyancy! You practically can’t drown, as even a person with the lowest possible body fat will float with ease. I have a picture of one of my classmates sitting in the water, feet up, with a newspaper in his hands looking for all the world as if he was in a recliner.

Though interesting, these are just details. See, the most significant thing about the Dead Sea is it’s location: it is the site of Sodom and Gomorrah.

If you know a bit about the history of warfare, you might have heard about a particularly thorough method of wiping out one’s enemies. After conquering their soldiers, after burning their villages and farms to the ground, armies would then salt the earth. In this way, they made even their enemy’s land useless: nothing would grow for quite some time after.

This is what has happened at the Dead Sea, and for thousands of years!

Knowing that this is the site of Sodom & Gomorrah, it seems wise to find out what prompted God to deal out such a serious and lasting statement. What were the actions that cried out to God for a response?

If you were to continue to read Genesis past the passage of our reading today, you’d quickly see the nature of the sins – they’re sexual sins. When Abraham and his companions (later revealed to be angels) arrive in Sodom, the entire town accosts them. That’s not hyperbole, by the way: the Scriptures are careful to highlight that every townsman was guilty.

These are the sins that still exist today. So often we dance around sexual sin, so let’s take a moment to name some of the more prevalent sexual sins in the world:

  • pornography
  • masturbation
  • fornication
  • adultery
  • contraception
  • sodomy

These are the sins of Sodom & Gomorrah, and the sins of our time. And they cry out from earth to God for a response.

What is God’s response? We know how Abraham thought God was going to respond – with a blind vengeance that would strike down both innocent & guilty.

There’s a real temptation in that presumption, one that we’ve seen played out over & over. People have heard this story and come to the conclusion that they are empowered, sent forth even, to go out and strike down, to condemn, to vilify anyone who has been part of, anyone who has participated, anyone who has even been tempted by sexual sin.

I know that there are people in our parishes, perhaps who sat next to us at Mass today, who struggle with sexual sins, for whom the sins named above or other sins are an ongoing battle, who are enmeshed in temptation, in a relationship outside of marriage, in a lifestyle that on one hand is clearly sinful and yet on the other hand seems inescapable.

To you first I want to speak. Because it is an undeniable fact that many within the Body of Christ, perhaps even in positions of authority, have made you to feel condemned, have told you that you are not welcome, that you are ‘other’. To you I want to say – on behalf of the Church, on behalf of Her clergy, and on behalf of Her members: I am sorry. For every time that you have been made to feel less than fully welcomed  and at home here in this community, I apologize. This is not the message God has for you, or for anyone.

 

So what is to be our response to grave sin – to the sins that call out for a response? We can look to today’s Gospel, at this moment of Christ’s disciples petition Him to teach them how to pray. And so He teaches them the ‘Our Father’.

Take a moment to consider just those first two words: “Our Father”. How could God bestow His fatherhood on us? We, who are guilty of so many sins – grave sins, no less? The betrayal of misusing God’s gifts, of perverting the treasures He has entrusted to us – these deserve castigation and punishment.

This is the goodness of God on display. In the face of terrible, grave, awful sin – sin that calls from the earth to the heavens for a response from the Creator, His response is ‘I choose you to be my beloved child. I choose to adopt you.’

How do we reconcile this assertion, implicit in the ‘Our Father’, with the reality of Sodom & Gomorrah, with the salted, ruined earth that even when covered in the Dead Sea still now stands lifeless?

I suggest two things for our consideration. The first is this: grave sin doesn’t just destroy our earthly lives – though we can see that it does indeed do that as we observe the rampant depression, suicide rates and ruined families that sexual sin leaves in its wake. But more than that, grave sin destroys souls. God, seeing that grave sin was eating away at the very essence of His beloved children, takes away their earthly lives so that their eternal souls might be saved.

But that isn’t the end! Because we must also consider the prayer that we pray with every rosary – the Apostles Creed. Recall the part where we talk about Christ descending into Hell. We believe that! We truly believe that Christ went into the depths of that inferno, and offered to all who had preceded the Word becoming flesh the chance for salvation.

Those same townsmen who attempted to molest Abraham’s companions, who were destroyed by God, we also chosen as His adopted sons.

This is the response of the Lord. This is what we assert, affirm and celebrate each time we pray the ‘Our Father’.

I’d like to offer three invitations. The first is directed especially to anyone steeped in grave sin, especially sexual sin. To anyone who has wondered if they’re lovable, to anyone who has questioned if God would really forgive the terrible things of their past. To  you especially, I invite you to come to confession.

People at my parishes know that this is my favorite invitation to make, and that I make it often. As a priest it is a special privilege and a particular joy to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation. But even before I was a priest, I was – am –  a sinner. I too know what it is like to question God’s love for me, to carry the secret shame and sorrow of grave sin, and live in a shadow of doubt. Because of confession, I also know the great joy and peace of having those doubts – along with my sins! – washed away. This gift is available to us all.

The second is to those who are living in an irregular situation, in a relationship that is contrary to God’s call. To you I want to extend the invitation to come talk to a priest. Find a priest, your pastor, the parochial vicar, the priest you’ve heard good things about – any priest! – but find one and go speak with him about how the Church can help you, can support you, can assist in making the irregular regular.

And finally to all, the invitation is to pray. Whatever your situation is – whether you’re struggling with sexual sin, whether you’ve never been tempted or you find yourself no longer tempted – the invitation to prayer is universal. Pray that we overcome the temptation and the scandal of divisions against each other. Pray that we may never make anyone ‘other’, that we may never say ‘You aren’t welcome here’ to another person. Pray that those suffering in our very midst may never doubt that God’s love and our love is available to them.

May we reflect the Father’s adoption of us as His by claiming each other as our brothers & sisters. God does hear the cry of the poor, and as we call upon Him as our Father, may we support each other in receiving & rejoicing in His mercy.