Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Scandal of the Cross

My latest runs this week in the Catholic Telegraph:

With the advent of the 24-hour news channels, it seems that there is now a greater desire to, in a way, manufacture news. With 168 hours of news coverage to fill per week, there is a great deal of time to rehash and recover stories that even just 10 years ago might have fallen quickly to the wayside, especially when those stories center around the fall from grace of a public figure who has become bigger than the law, the constituents, the cause which he or she serves.

Recently, Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives over a texting scandal. Hollywood stars and starlets seem to live for the front page of the tabloids. Even the vicar general for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has had pressure applied for failing to uphold his responsibility in the protection of children.

My point in this article is to not argue that a free pass should be offered to anyone, but rather to muse on the question of how it has come to this, specifically in regards to the people involved, and on the phrase from the investment scandals and the bank bailouts which has returned to the front of my mind: “Too Big to Fail.”

Lord Acton’s oft-quoted summary seems to apply once again: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Original sin continues to manifest itself, as the initial refrain from the evil one echoes through the ages: “I will not serve.”

Power, hubris, thinking that one is above the law, all are rooted in the most ancient, yet most modern of sins: pride. It is so easy to read your own press clippings, to ignore the criticisms rightly leveled, to rationalize one’s behavior while scoffing at the right reasoning of others; suddenly, the world does revolve around me and everything should serve my purposes.

As we have found out, even priests are not immune to this trap. We are complimented frequently, people tend to listen to what we say and we can be treated very kindly by strangers for nothing other than being a priest. It is easy to think that I can walk on water, instead of pointing to the One who actually did walk on water.

How is one to combat these temptations to pride? It certainly is not easy, but we have great examples of those who have come before us to follow. In 2 Samuel 16:5 and following, as David is leaving Jerusalem in scandal and fleeting from his son, Absalom, Shimei, a man from the same clan as David’s predecessor, Saul, starts throwing rocks and insults at the downtrodden king. Many who are traveling with David want to rush upon Shimei for these insults, yet David recognizes that he speaks for the Lord God and humbly takes his punishment.

In the New Testament, Peter is often chastised for his hubris before Our Lord, yet he is humbled by his inability to stay true to his promise to be with Jesus ‘even to the point of death’ during His passion and death. Yet, returning to the Lord, has there ever been a greater statement of faith than his pleading: “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you! “(John 21:17)

So many saints who have been wrongly accused, even by the church, responded with a quiet submission and trust in God’s providence and care. They knew it was never about them, but rather always about leading others to Christ. If their suffering helped that to happen, they rejoiced with St. Paul that they had been found worthy to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.

As we all face those temptations to pride, those temptations to hubris, to putting our selves above the law, let us always turn to the cross of Christ, for only in Him do we find our strength. Every saint has lived under some version of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s motto: “All for the Greater Glory of God.” May we, too, echo these same words.

Received with Warmth and Affection

This year, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, takes on a special significance.  Yes, the new Metropolitan Archbishops will be in Rome to receive their Pallia, but they also will join with the Holy Father in celebrating his 6oth Anniversary of Ordination.

To commemorate this most august occassion, and to launch the new Vatican News Portal (again, I LOVE this Pope!), News.vanews.va runs a commemoration of Pope Benedict thinking back to the day he was ordained to the Priesthood by Cardinal Faulhaber in Munich with his brother and 42 other young men!

A snippet:

On the day of our first Holy Mass, our parish church of Saint Oswald gleamed in all its splendor, and the joy that almost palpably filled the whole place drew everyone there into the most living mode of “active participation” in the sacred event, but this did not require any external busyness. We were invited to bring the first blessing into people’s homes, and everywhere we were received even by total strangers with a warmth and affection I had not thought possible until that day. In this way I learned firsthand how earnestly people wait for a priest, how much they long for the blessing that flows from the power of the sacrament. The point was not my own or my brother’s person. What could we two young men represent all by ourselves to the many people we were now meeting? In us they saw persons who had been touched by Christ’s mission and had been empowered to bring his nearness to men. Precisely because we ourselves were not the point, a friendly human relationship could develop very quickly.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


did anyone else find a certain, umm..., irony between today's Gospel reading and Feast?

First, we celebrate Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, martyrs of the English Reformation, beheaded for their resistence to Henry VIII's Act of Supremecy and refusal to take the Oath.  Bound by their conscience, they stayed true to their Catholic Faith while Henry took command of the Church of England.

After 500 years, we have a bit of perspective on how that worked out, I suppose.

And today's Gospel reading, from Matthew 7:15-20, shouuld have been warning enough:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.”

Monday, June 20, 2011

Delivers, as Promised

My review of Dr. Edward Sri's guide to the new Missal: 'A Biblical Walk through the Mass: Understanding what We Say and Do in the Liturgy' at Amazon:

I was very pleased to receive a review copy of Edward Sri's 'A Biblical Walk Through the Mass' about a month ago and have finally had the chance to read through this excellent work.

As priests have long known, the Mass is a Biblical prayer: there are hints and allusions to the Scriptures in everything that is done at the Mass. In this work, Sri helps to make those connections for the average reader who may not have the working knowledge of Scripture or the Mass required to make these connections. Plus, with the upcoming changes in the English translation for the Mass, some terms and phrases will not roll off the tongue as easily, leading many to ask: 'Why?' Sri answers these questions with ease and an accessibility for the average reader.

The book is broken down into the four major sections of the Mass: Introductory Rites, Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of the Eucharist, and the Concluding Rites. He begins each section with a general overview of what that moment in Mass is meant to convey and then walks through each section of Mass, highlighting the Biblical connections and also applying the lessons for today's readers. When warranted, he highlights specific changes in the text for Mass, giving both the Biblical and Theological rationale for the new text.

Of particular note is his explanation on pp. 112-3 of the change from 'for all' to 'for many' in the consecration of the Chalice. I was very pleased to see the connections to the Prophet Isaiah highlighted and the explanation that 'each individual must choose to welcome the gift of salvation and live according to this grace, so that he or she may be among "the many" who are described in this text.'

I did not notice any significant locunae in the text; however, serious scholars should note that this is directed more towards the parishioners in the pew than in-depth scholarship on the Eucharistic and Liturgical Theology. That being said, this will be among the very few books that I recommend to parishioners who are seeking a deeper understanding of what we celebrate every week at Mass.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


At the risk of saying something I might regret down the road, I have to admit I am pretty drained tonight, having completed a run of a few very tiring days, most of which I can't discuss.

To top it off, as I was returning to my office from lunch, my phone rang.  A family I know from a previous parish assignment was on the way to Children's Hospital for an emergency surgery for their granddaughter, who was not yet Baptized.  "Um..., Father, what do we do?!?!"  "I'm on my way."

Of course, I hit every red light, got behind every slow truck, etc. on my way there.  (At least I didn't get lost and Children's isn't terribly far from downtown.)

I managed to get to the room as they were getting ready to take her into surgery, I grabbed a cup, some water and poured and said the right words.  That's that.

I couldn't leave, so spent the rest of the afternoon with the family as the little one was in surgery, pretty heart wrenching stuff, I have to admit.  We have, reportedly, one of the best Children's Hospitals in the country here in Cincinnati, and the people who work there are absolutely fantastic in making the kids feel as much at home as possible; but it drains me to be there.

Why the child's life was never in danger, she is going to face an uphill battle and some adjustments.  Please pray for a quick recovery for her, peace for her parents and grandparents, and thanksgiving for the doctors and nurses who work so tirelessly at our hospitals and clinics around the country, especially those who work with children.  I'm spent, and I didn't do much besides be there, which can sometimes be comfort enough.

If you can, spare a prayer for me, too, please.  Because despite doing a (hopefully) good deed today, work still needs to be done and I don't have the energy to do it right now.  Some days, the best you can do is feel inadequate and hope God makes up the difference.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Don't have a ticket?

to today's Ordination of Bishop Joseph Binzer, as Auxiliary of Cincinnati?

Listen to the proceedings on Sacred Heart Radio:

740 AM in Cincinnati
89.5 FM in Hamilton, Ohio
online at www.sacredheartradio.com

Should be exciting, only my 2nd Episcopal Ordination ever attended.

Looks like it will be streamed here.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Contraception and Vocations

My friend Emily BizNet (theology of the Body Educator at Ruah Woods) points from her blog to a post by Fr. Dwight Longenecker about the impact that the contraceptive culture has on vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  A snippet of Fr. Longenecker's article:

The second shift due to contraception is buried more deeply within the observable societal changes. We have experienced a radical change in the deeper understanding and expectations of marriage. Before the sexual revolution, a young Catholic boy or girl experienced a family context in which being a husband or wife, father or mother, would have demanded a natural kind of self sacrifice.

In most families, the man would have worked hard to support a wife and many children, and the woman would have given her life in bringing up a large family. Both the man and woman were expected to lay down their lives in a vocation of self-sacrifice, and the Catholic young man or woman would have accepted this vocation within marriage as the norm.

It was within this context of self-sacrificial family life that a young man or woman’s vocation to the priesthood or religious life would have been formed. The young person therefore did not question the demand for a life of self-sacrifice; it was assumed that this was the foundation of a good life. The question, then, was which manner of sacrifice is best for the individual: Dying to self through marriage and family, or dying to self through a religious vocation?

Now, because of artificial contraception, the whole underlying assumptions and expectations about marriage have shifted. Marriage is no longer a way to give all, but a way to have it all. Therefore, when a young person today considers a religious vocation, they are not choosing between different paths of self-sacrifice; they are choosing between a life that seems to have it all and a life that seems to have nothing. They must choose between a home in the suburbs, 2.5 nice children, and a double income or total self denial. The choice is between a familiar form of hedonism or an inexplicable form of heroism

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Homily from Votive to the Sacred Heart

My homily from Solemn Mass Friday night in the Extraordinary Form, in which I give a bit of a defense as to why I endeavored to undertake such a task:

As I begin, I would like to offer a word of thanks and gratitude to Fr. Juarez, pastor here of Old St. Mary’s, for both hosting this monthly Mass and for allowing me to assist over the last few months and to ‘step to the center’ here tonight.  On behalf of many, thank you for making such a beautiful Church available for this liturgy.
    Also, the MC for tonight’s Mass has been invaluable in preparing me for this occasion.  Mr. Paver, thank you for taking the time to walk me through this process, to provide constructive feedback and encouragement; I greatly appreciate it.  As I mentioned to you after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper during Holy Week: this has been a process that has helped to transform my own understanding of the priesthood and the Mass, and I am eternally grateful.
    As I have been preparing for this occasion, I have had, on occasion, a number of questions as to why I, or so many of my brother priests (and seminarians) are desirous of celebrating Mass according to this Rite, or Form.  I wanted to take this opportunity to provide a sort of ‘Apologia’ or defense of striving to do this, for as I just mentioned, this has been a transformative process for me, and I wish for others to understand.
   What initially attracted me to this Form of the Mass, which I first attended while in College Seminary at the Josephinum, was the ‘otherworldliness’ of the approach to the Mass.  To enter into these mysteries is to truly step out of time.  Our physical senses are prevented from fully grasping what is happening so that our spiritual sense might become in tune with the mystery we celebrate: Latin forces the brain to relax and take it in, rather than mindlessly follow a text; the hiddenness of the priest celebrating towards the altar, instead of against the people, stresses that we cannot ‘see’ what is happening, but can only experience; the silence and stillness of so much of what happens might cause a bit of a reaction when we are so used to being engaged in everything that we do, this is somehow different, this is timeless, this is not ‘entertainment,’ this is ‘worship.’  When we confuse those two concepts, we have failed dramatically.
   As a priest, there is even more to it than these.  In the current translation of the Ordinary Form of the Mass, the language that is used is sometimes, umm…., presumptive.  Even after only seven years as a priest, there is an idea that I say those words and it happens.  As a priest, I am not proud to admit, but it can at times be easy to shut the mind off, and just go through the motions.
   When one celebrates this Mass, these two traps: presumption and mindless recitation, are simply not possible.  When I finish celebrating this Mass, even when said privately, I know something has been done.  It takes focus, precision, and dedication to celebrate this Mass well and competently.  When I hear that it was usually said in 12 minutes, rushed through and no homily and very detached from the life of the people, I simply respond: it didn’t have to be.  And, honestly, is the newer form often said much differently?
More importantly, however, is the lack of presumption on the part of the priest.  As I continue to learn the private prayers of the priest of this Mass, I continue to be struck by the, umm…, supplication that is included there-in.  We plead and beg that this Sacrifice which is being offered might be found acceptable to God the Almighty Father, aspects which are sorely lacking in the current Ordinary Form, but will gladly be restored with the implementation of the new translation this coming Advent.
    There is one prayer which I would like to highlight in how it exemplifies this difference, the ‘Placeat tibi’ which said following the dismissal and just prior to the Blessing.  In English, it is rendered:
May the homage of my bounden duty be pleasing to You, O Holy Trinity; and grant that the sacrifice which I, though unworthy, have offered in the sight of Your majesty, may be acceptable to You, and through Your mercy be a propitiation for me and for all those for whom I have offered it.  Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.
As I read and pray this prayer at the end of the Mass, what strives to the fore is the humility required.  The humility required to celebrate this Mass, that it is not about me as a priest, but about worshiping God.  The humility that is required to assist at this Mass, that I am not here to be entertained, but to be united to Christ, and Him Crucified.  The humility that is required for us all to approach our Lord and God in fear and trembling.
   As we approach the implementation of the new translation of the Ordinary From, may the celebration of the Extraordinary Form lead us to a deeper appreciation of the mysteries we celebrate, help us all to approach our Lord in a spirit of humility and prayer, and finally strengthen us all to become more like Christ in this world so that we might be with Him forever in the world to come.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Personal Relationship with the Living God

My latest runs this week in the Catholic Telegraph.

When I was teaching high school, my final exam question was simple: “In your own words, with support from Scripture, tradition and material gleaned from class, answer the following: Who is Jesus Christ?”

The answers were always enlightening, and while some were certainly profound and showed a remarkable insight, many answers betrayed the current world-view in which we live: no longer is there belief in Jesus Christ as a personal being, He has morphed into some type of cosmic force, something that is “out there” and helps me be a good person but loves me no matter what I do, so it does not really matter.

I bring this forward not to cast aspersions on my students, but rather to point out that this type of spiritual malaise and misinformation is the driving force behind and the interpretive key to Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy. His goal is to re-introduce orthodox Christianity to what has become a post-Christian society.

This plays out in the many arenas that Pope Benedict uses to convey his message — his so far three encyclicals, two exhortations and speeches during his trips around the world. However, the venue in which to see this most clearly is his weekly Wednesday general audiences at St. Peter’s Square in Rome, as they provide a microcosm of his entire papacy.

As he ascended the throne of Peter, the pope continued a reflection on the psalms that was begun by his now blessed predecessor. However, as he concluded those reflections, he began a new tract to highlight those great men and women throughout history who have been friends of Jesus.

Beginning with the apostles and the early church fathers, working through great medieval bishops and writers and concluding with female mystics and later doctors of the church, Pope Benedict proposed these figures as those who can continue to lead us closer to Christ — not to a cosmic being, but in a dynamic relationship with the living and true God.

On Wednesday, May 4, 2011, the pope brought this to a deeper level as he began a new series of talks during his weekly general audience, now focused on prayer synthesizing all that he has spoken before, he wants to unite these various threads of the call to holiness and sanctity into a “school of prayer,” to respond to the apostles’ request of Jesus to “teach us how to pray” (Luke 11:1).

The “Marshall Plan” that Pope Benedict is outlining here is a way to reintroduce Christ to the modern world, through the life and practice of the individual believer. He has held up the example of what we should all strive to be, and now he will be giving us the steps of how to achieve that goal.

For Pope Benedict, for the individual believer, Christianity is never about a blind following of rules or a mindless obedience, but rather a great adventure in the pursuit of orthodoxy, for in coming to know Christ at a deeper and more profound level, we come to know the self at a deeper and more profound level.

As we do so, we continue to grow in love for our Lord, and then, by necessity, also in love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. What would this world be like if we each strove, just a bit more each day, to be a living example of sanctity and holiness? Truly the world would be transformed.

To find Pope Benedict’s weekly Wednesday general audiences, visit http://www.vatican.va/. For more on prayer, see the resources page at http://www.cincinnativocations.org/.

A 'How To' for Priests re: the Extraordinary Form

I've been a priest for seven years, now.  Throughout that time, I have wanted to learn to say the Tridentine Mass, aka, Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

As you can see, this Friday, I am ascending to the Altar of God for the first time in a public setting to do so, at a Solemn High Mass.  How can others, who have as little spare time as I do, also make it?  I offer a step by step guide:

1) On days off, if you do not have a 'public Mass,' but for legitimate reasons have a 'Private Mass,' ie: alone or with just a server, say Mass in the NO in Latin.  The prayers are all there in the appendix of the current Missal.  Use the English Presidential Prayers and Readings; everything else in Latin, or as much as you can.  Start w/ just the Eucharisitic Prayer and the acclamations; anything to get the Latin in the brain and on the tongue.  Even without much Latin training, you can do it.

2) Slowly expand.  If at first you have to say the Latin parts silently, so be it.  Start working on pronouncing the parts out loud and getting smoother from word to word, phrase to phrase.  If possible, and you will know the parish, introduce parts to your parish, I would suggest a weekday Mass first, ;)

3) Once you have these parts down, attend a TLM in choir, if at all possible.  You already know where it is happening in your diocese/city, I'm guessing.  They are more than willing to have you take part, even if just sitting there in choir.  WHAT I HEAR FROM PRIEST FRIENDS: 'I wouldn't know what to do!'  My response: You don't have anything TO DO!  (well, besides praying along)  Remember, there is no con-celebration; you literally sit back and get the best show in the house, enjoy it for once!

4) Buy the Big Book, if you don't have it already.  Yep, time to get the 1962 Missal, I would suggest two other things: get the English/Latin Hand Missal, as it is easier to use for the prayers at the foot of the Altar for the start of Mass and has the translations of all the prayers right there on the page, very nice!  2) If you have an ipad, get the iMass app from the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.  Same thing: Latin/English on both sides of the page, plus a video up top so that you can follow along w/ the priest as he says the Mass.  I have foung this extremely valuable!  As an added benefit, it loads up the current Mass for the Day, so you can find it in the Big Book, too.  (very helpful!!!)

In your spare time (I know, right), page through the book and get somewhat familiar with it.

5) Next time you are at the EF, stop the MC after Mass (or the presider) and ask: 'Can you help me?'  Anyone worth their salt: Absolutely!  I had the local MC for Una Voce walk me through the Missal and the rubrics for Mass.  At this point, it is helpful to get your own set of Altar Cards, which one can find online and print off.

6) Switch your private Mass from Latin NO to the EF and keep praciticing.

7) Offer to assist as a Deacon or Sub-Deacon at the Solemn High Mass

8) Step to the Center and DO IT!

For me, this was a four to six month process, some days I put in more time (when I had it), some days/weeks, I didn't get any progress made; but I tried to keep an upward trajectory.

This is worth it for your priesthood!!!!! It has helped me to celebrate the NO better, with more reverence.  It has made me appreciate the Mass all the more.  This will also help in appreciating the new texts we will be using this Advent.

As a priest, we get many demands, and this seems like a huge burden to learn and make progress.  Break it down into the steps and timeline that works for you and DO IT!!!