Three Years In

WARNING Homily of primarily local interest WARNING

VATICAN-US-OBAMA-POPE

Thus says the Lord, “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion.”

Exactly three years ago, dear parishioners, Bishop DiLorenzo appointed a certain tall noodlebrain as the pastor of a great and glorious new parish cluster, spanning two noble counties.

So, daughter Zion, you can rejoice: three years of your sentence have been served. Now, I’m sorry to have to tell you, this torture could last another nine years.

…Some of us know that Pope Francis wrote an Apostolic Exhortation, which became very famous. President Obama said he read it. Chris Matthews said he read it. It’s possible that Clint Dempsey has read it.

There is a passage in Pope Francis’ book that, surprisingly, has not gotten any press. I promise you that I am not making this up. I quote our Holy Father:

The faithful and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them.

So the Pope feels your pain.

In 2011, I had fewer gray hairs. I was happy-go-lucky that Fourth of July, just looking for a burger, medium rare, with lettuce tomato mayonnaise. And a Dairy-Queen Blizzard for dessert.

dq blizzardSince then, as a family of faith, we have faced challenges. We have had occasion to dig deep and find out what we are really made of. We have tried to learn from the good Lord how to pray better and how to love better.

But… This is a nice, long weekend. Summertime now holds us fully in its relaxing, warm embrace. Let me share this one particular reflection with you.

One thing has accompanied me, has helped me, through thick and thin these past three, sometimes-tiring years.

Namely: Jesus Christ. His unique revelation of the face of the Almighty Father, uniquely wonderful and uniquely beautiful. This revelation, entrusted to us, offers us, and offers the world, the kind of joy, peace, and happiness that people can only dream about.

Now, in certain circles people talk incessantly about Jesus, as if He were some kind of pet, some personal accessory for my life. In other circles, people never mention Him at all, never seem to give the most beautiful man who ever lived a second thought.

Is He not real? Is He not a Person, Who beckons us closer all the time, Who makes strenuous demands, and Who bears us up with His ineffably gentle strength? He exposes our weaknesses and hypocrisy; He makes us weep for our sins. But then He comforts us and gives us a fresh start and brings good out of evil.

He wishes to reveal the heavenly Father to us. We have His own words in evidence for this.

Leonardo DiCaprio TitanicGod cannot be a pet. God cannot be a possession. God cannot be a personal accessory for my wardrobe. Either we serve Christ as our Master, or we have nothing to do with Him. He makes friends with the humble.

But, by the same token: God cannot pass unnoticed. We cannot leave God in the back of the garage, to be dealt with at a later date, because we know we can’t quite deal with Him now. God makes Himself familiar. He makes Himself a daily presence.

You know, the truth is: I have had much harder years than these past three. After all, I am old. I can remember how painful it was for my dear grandmother to have to transition from Tab to Diet Coke. I can remember my friends complaining to me about receiving harshly worded Lotus Notes from their bosses. I can remember when Leonardo DiCaprio was significantly skinnier than me.

But Jesus Christ is the sun that never sets. He is very much alive. And He has endowed His Church with the living Truth–Himself, present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. He draws us together around Him, under this roof, to love Him and each other.

We have three great years in together, dear brothers and sisters, with another nine to go, may it please the Lord. It’s not our job to re-invent the wheel; it’s not our job to re-design a “church for the future.” Our duty, clear and simple: Obey the commandments of Christ. Believe, trust, love, and follow Him. He holds tomorrow in His Almighty hands. He simply asks us to give Him our best today.

For all the times these past three years when I have failed you as a pastor, I am sorry. I beg you to forgive me.

And thanks for being so kind to me on my birthday. The birthday that really matters, of course, is when we die to selfishness and find new life in Christ. We will celebrate the birthday party we really want when we get to heaven.

In the meantime, let’s march on, united in faith, and united in prayer. Let’s march on toward the great and glorious day. The great and glorious day when the U.S. brings home the World Cup. Or the end of time. Whichever comes first.

The Shepherd Leads, Our Souls Grow

sheep

“The Lord is my shepherd.” The Lord’s flock knows His voice, and we follow Him. We follow Him as He leads us through the pilgrimage of time, the pilgrimage of our earthly life. Time passes. We listen for His voice and follow. Years pass. He leads on.

Two quick points on this.

1. Speaking of time passing… Exactly three years ago, we had just finalized the Martinsville-Rocky Mount parish-cluster Mass schedule. Remember that? On Good Shepherd Sunday, 2011, those of us down here in Franklin and Henry counties, Virginny, had to face some facts together. Life was going to get a little bit harder, for the people and for me.

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Never Tired of…

Manhattan New York
The first frame of Woody Allen’s Manhattan

Growing up, falling in love with New York City, and falling in love with life—all of these fit together in my memory, like the stones of the great vaulted archways of St. John the Divine.

When, long ago, I haunted the places we visited this past weekend on our parish-cluster youth pilgrimage, I learned: Loving the city and loving life means loving the Lord, means receiving His love as the gift of every shaft of light, touching every brazen human artifact, that surrounds you at this moment. For instance, a Cuban sandwich, and big cup of coffee with milk, on a cold afternoon on Broadway in West Harlem.

(Been twenty years since I ate that sandwich and drank that coffee, and still it reminds me how much God loves me.)

To share some of this enchantment with our young people, in the sunshine on the steps of Mother Cabrini Shrine, or under the Times-Square lights on a Saturday night, or confessing our sins to a kindly Franciscan in a comfortingly dark wooden confessional in a church full of candles on 37th Street, or watching the sun set behind Lady Liberty from New York Harbor—this is the privilege of my now fatherly age and the blessed sacred duty the Lord has had the kindness to give me. Not to mention the unstinting generosity of the co-workers I have.

May the graces flow on!

We prayed. We saw the grandeur. The Lord holds the future. Love for the city and life will flower in the hearts of those who are young now, as He alone wills. It takes a whole lifetime, after all, to fall in love with life completely.

…If I might, a couple comments regarding new things for me in this visit to New York–perhaps something like my one-hundred twelfth, but my first in some years…

What a Greenwich-Village sunset USED to look like
What a Greenwich-Village sunset used to look like
1. I found it crushingly painful to see the skyline of lower Manhattan with the new tower. Not that the building doesn’t have anything to offer as something architecturally interesting; it actually kinda does. And not that the memory of the human toll of 9/11 still oppresses me. To the contrary, as hopefully you know, I have found consolation in praying for the poor souls who perished ever since 9:59 am that morning.

No, the painful thing doesn’t have to do with 9/11. It has to do with the fact that the Age of the Twin Towers, as part of what New York looks like—that Age has now definitively ended. Soon, it will be altogether forgotten—except by old people like me.

Yet that Age, that picture of Manhattan towering over the world, my memories of seeing the towers with my mom and dad and brother, or seeing them from Washington Square with college chums, or from Brooklyn Promenade, or Tompkins Square Park after eating some dim sum, or the Jersey Turnpike—all those memories, so vivid in my mind, so bound-up with youth and romance and seeking adulthood—they all belong to someone whose youth is over now, and forgotten. Sad. But I’ll live.

2. The Lord always gives little bonuses to people who wake up early, no matter what. Yesterday morning I had the forty minutes of sunrise to myself, for a run, with our (blessedly inexpensive) LaGuardia hotel as a starting point.

Flying blind, so to speak, I found the meandering park that hugs Flushing Bay. I saw the Whitestone Bridge shining to the northeast, like the towers of Minas Tirith. And Citi Field waking up in the very spot where Tom Buchanan winked at Myrtle Wilson.

We, too, after breakfast in the lobby, made our way towards our East-River crossing, barreling, like Nick Carraway, towards…

The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world.

Cluster Observances for Our New Pope

stjoeparishpic

FoA

Our Holy Father has chosen the name of one of our parishes.

And he will inaugurate his ministry on the feast day of the other one.

God, therefore, commands us to come together and pray!

7:00 p.m. Monday the 18th: Holy Hour at St. Joseph, Martinsville.
Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Rosary, First Vespers of the
Solemnity of St. Joseph, Solemn Benediction.

8:00 a.m. Tuesday the 19th: Holy Mass, Francis of Assisi, Rocky Mount.
Solemnity of St. Joseph, Patron of the Church Universal

Pope Francis waving

Read for Virtual Washington Pilgrimage

For you, dear reader, who does not find him- or herself on the bus with us to Washington, so that you, too, might hear the words and thoughts of the goofy priest the young people have with them on the bus…

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Christ’s Property

Here is a homily for some of the poor souls who will have to get out of bed even earlier than they already do, in order to get to Mass on Sunday morning, starting this summer…

This is the will of the Father, that I should not lose anything of what He gave me. (John 6:39)

Every day we pray to our Father in heaven that His will be done. Almighty God has a will; He has a plan which He intends to see through. He conceives of a good outcome, and He acts to bring it about.

“My Father wills that I should not lose anything of what He gave me.” Thus spake the Christ, the Word of God, to Whom the Father gave everything. The eternal Son reveals this fact: The Father wills that nothing be lost.

But what about when we change the Sunday Mass time? Then we will definitely lose people and collection money. We will lose momentum. We will lose sleep. Perhaps during such an early Mass, some of us will lose consciousness.

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Federal Government and Eternal Life

[This sermon will mainly interest the Catholic residents of Henry and Franklin counties, Virginia. I offer it here for anyone interested in “the spirituality of parish clustering.”]

Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

We all know what they say about death and taxes. Sure things. But Christ has revealed that the death of our bodies will not last forever. When He comes again in glory, all the dead will rise from the grave. And we won’t have to pay taxes then, either. The federal government will be shut down forever.

In other words, everything about life as we now know it will pass away, and eternity awaits. This of course changes our whole perspective. The things we deal with now are not the ultimate reality. We have no lasting city here, just a way-station.

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