Holy Hour Meditation January 29, 2013

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Jan 312013
 

1 Peter 4:12-14, 19

Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may rejoice exultantly. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of Glory and of God rests upon you…those who suffer in accord with God’s will hand their souls over to a faithful creator as they do good.

We have been asked by our bishops to set aside a Holy Hour once a month and to pray as a community that those who serve us in public office will uphold the intrinsic dignity of all human beings from conception to natural death, that they affirm and support the unique meaning of marriage, and that they will defend the importance of religious liberty for all.

For us to speak out on the issues of life, marriage and religious freedom in the public square will cost us; the world is not happy that we are active and vocal in our opposition to abortion and Dr. assisted suicide, that we affirm that God intends marriage to be between one man and one woman for a lifetime—they view this as antiquated—even antediluvian—suspecting that we haven’t had an original thought since the great flood drowned everybody and everything except, Noah, his family and all the critters on the Ark.

But we stand fast, striving to be neither shrill nor mean. Quietly—lovingly—prayerfully confronting wrong thinking and wrong behavior that leads to evil. If we remain faithful in doing this, we will suffer. Usually in small ways by being mocked or even rejected by friends and acquaintances, perhaps even some family; we may suffer financially and probably we will suffer socially. But we stand fast.

There are four aspects of suffering that I briefly want to bring to your attention this evening.

1. The first is suffering as discipline. Any one who has spent anytime in a sports setting knows the old coach’s adage “No pain—no gain.” Suffering in this sense is a toughening agent. It’s what lies behind boot camp in the military and training camp in athletics. People need to be toughened if they are to take on the difficulties of this life.

35 years ago I was an assistant at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Yakima, Washington. We hit some tough times financially, so I spent my vacation working for an apple orchardist trying to pick up a few extra bucks. He had me shaping and putting in spacers in young apple trees. Spacers are wooden stakes that prop branches apart to give more room for the fruit to grow, to provide better ventilation,  and to serve as braces for limbs so they don’t break when the apples get really heavy.

As I was doing this the orchardist gave me a bit of advice that really caused me to think. He said “Apple trees are like kids—for the first few years of their lives they need to be pampered and coddled, protected and nurtured. If they aren’t then they can be permanently damaged. But when the trees get to be adolescents, they need to suffer so they can bear more fruit.” So he’d go out and sometimes beat on the young trees and in response the crop of apples would increase substantially. I’m reluctant to take this too far, but the point is worth noting. Until we’ve faced serious adversity, we don’t know how fruitful we can be. Until we’ve endured serious pain and hardship, we won’t know how to withstand real temptation. Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness—a time of severe deprivation and pain and cruel temptation by Satan.

But this was a time of toughening for our Lord so that he could better withstand all of the difficulties that were to confront him at a later date. Suffering strengthens us so that we can better resist temptation and  stand firm in the face of sin. Suffering enhances discipline.

2. Suffering is something to be resolved. Whenever we can alleviate someone’s pain, it is a blessing. That is why we have the sacrament of reconciliation; that’s why we have the sacrament of anointing. That’s why we need medical professionals. They all alleviate suffering, which is so important in sharing the goodness of God’s love.

Often it is a word and act of comfort during suffering that brings the most good.  For example you can explain to a child all the medical reasons why he must have a shot in the arm, but after the nurse plunges that needle into his arm, he runs to mommy. Comfort comes not in always knowing the reason why, but in knowing the comforter.

And for us, our comfort comes from God who ultimately will resolve all suffering.

3. Suffering is redemptive. Whether it be great suffering or minor irritations, if we actively and prayerfully offer them up with Jesus on the Cross, it can be redemptive. Whether we offer them in indulgences for ourselves or for the poor souls in Purgatory, the offering of our suffering is redemptive. God does not allow our suffering to go to waste, particularly if it is for the defense of the faith and the welfare of others.

4. Suffering can a mystery that draws us closer to God. I want to end with this story.  There was a devoted man who spent his life in great pain—a lonely, private man who suffered with great dignity. He wrote—

“Loneliness is not a thing of itself, not an evil sent to rob us of the joys of life. Loneliness, loss, pain, sorrow, these are disciplines, God’s gift to drive us to his very heart, to increase our capacity for him—to sharpen our sensitivities and understanding—to temper our spiritual lives so that that they may become channels of his mercy to others and so bear fruit for the kingdom. But these disciplines must be seized upon and used—not thwarted. They must not be seen as excuses for living in the shadow of half lives—but as the messengers—however painful—to bring our souls into vital contact with the living God—that our lives may be filled to overflowing with himself in ways that may—perhaps—be impossible to those who know less of life’s darkness.

 

“Choose Life” 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Jan. 22, 2012

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Mar 012012
 

The social and political divisions in this country are toxic. All you have to do is watch how congress is divided—and I think that it is a barometer of what’s happening within our citizenry.

This toxic conflict—this bitter division—can be traced to a lot of things—but at the top of my list is the 1973 Supreme Court Decision—Roe V. Wade—overturning laws in every state that protected unborn babies. I think that decision poisoned us—like nothing since the Dred Scott decision in 1857.

To refresh your memories, Dred Scott was a slave who lived several years in a free state. When his owner died, Scott tried to buy his own freedom and that of his family. When his request was rejected by the heirs, Scott took it to the judiciary and the case wound up in the Supreme Court of the United States.

On March 5, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney issued the majority opinion in Scott v Sandford— Here are the salient points:

• Anyone descended from Africans—whether slave or free—is not –and could not be a citizen of the United States—even freed slaves—and the descendants of freed slaves— were not considered worthy of citizenship—although they could enjoy many of the privileges of being a citizen.

• The reason they could not be citizens—is that people of African descent are not fully human—therefore they could not have legal standing—further— the norm in the United States— for every person of African descent was to be a slave– private property—with no rights—being a freedmen was a significant departure from the norm.

This is the defense of racism by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America. What is just stupefying is that a significant percentage of people in the United States agreed with this opinion. But a vast number did not—and the conflict over this ruling was a major reason that this nation of ours entered into a civil war— just a few years after this decision was handed down.

I bring up the Dred Scott case because it was the most odious Supreme Court decision in our history— until Roe v Wade— issued in January of 1973. I believe this ruling—allowing— and from my position often encouraging—the killing of unborn babies—has poisoned our civilization—much as the Dred Scott decision did some 150 years ago.

Roe v Wade— in effect has said that an unborn child is not and cannot have the rights of a citizen—because that child is not and cannot be a person—therefore that person has no right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”—or drawing of breath—or falling in love—or feeling the sun on her face—or singin’ and dancin’ in the rain.

I came from a tradition that was officially pro-choice on abortion. After years of futility—being the lone voice at Church conferences—challenging that position—I found myself more and more drawn to the fearless, unequivocal position of the Catholic Church—and this position was not a small part in my decision to become Roman Catholic.

Some have argued that the Church hasn’t always held the belief that abortion—at least in the first few months of life—before ‘quickening’—is permitted because the child has not yet become human. I’ve heard Catholic politicians—on both sides of the aisle—use that argument—much to my horror and that of the general Church faithful.

It’s the same argument that kept people of African descent in slavery for generations

If you have any doubts on the Church’s teachings on abortion—let me share with you this from Gaudium et spes—The Pastoral Constitution of the Church—it’s from Vatican II.

“God, the Lord of life, has entrusted [human beings] with the noble mission of safeguarding life—and [humans] must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.”

In the 3rd century– Tertullian— the so-called “Father of Latin Christianity” wrote emphatically that –“You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.”

In summary, the Catechism states—“Since the first century, the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. The teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or means, is gravely contrary to moral law.” (CCC#2271)

To put it bluntly—one’s immortal soul is in jeopardy if one participates in an abortion in any manner—having an abortion—coercing— pressuring or even encouraging another person to have an abortion—performing an abortion—assisting in the performance of an abortion—and so on. Abortion is not only sin—it’s evil. Full stop.

To show how serious the Church is about abortion, Canon Law #1398 states that any person “who procures a completed abortion”—in other words if you have anything at all to do with obtaining an abortion—that person is automatically excommunicated by the very act.

But there is a word of hope—the Church is not only in the business of naming sins and proclaiming the appropriate judgment—the Church is more in the business of bringing healing and forgiveness.

We in the Church are to start with the prophetic voice—the voice of Jonah to the citizens of Niniveh. Sometimes this prophetic witness seems so frustrating—ask any in our community who spend hours—week in—week out— protesting in front of the local abortion mills.

But as Mother Theresa of Calcutta said so profoundly—“We are not called to be successful—we are called to be faithful.”

And this faithful witness does bear fruit. There are many stories of people who were convicted of this sin—who repented—and who became effective voices in the denunciation of this great evil. I’m going to give two examples:

The first is the late Dr. Bernard Nathanson—one time director of the largest abortion clinic in the nation–located in New York City. He presided over 60,000 abortions—you heard me right—60,000—including one on his own child. Among his dubious distinctions is that he helped found “NARL,” the National Abortion Rights Action League.

Dr. Nathanson repented of his great evil and wrote a book entitled Aborting America. In it he speaks of one of the lies he and his cohorts used to overturn laws protecting our most defenseless human beings.

He writes—“How many deaths were we talking about when abortion was illegal?…It was always ‘5,000 to 10,000 a year.’ I confess I knew that figure was totally false.” (p193) The number was much, much smaller.

For most of his adult life Dr. Nathanson described himself as a Jewish atheist—but again as a sign of his repentant heart he received baptism in the Catholic Church in 1996—and until his death in February of last year—he was one of more effective advocates for unborn babies in at least the last two decades.

The second is a woman named Norma McCorvey—the Jane Roe of the Supreme Court decision. It dawned on her that people were lying to her about the benefits of an abortion.

She writes of her change of heart—after she had been part of the so called ‘pro-choice’ movement. This is from her book Won by Love

“I was sitting in the O.R.’s offices when I noticed a fetal development poster. The progression was so obvious, the eyes were so sweet. It hurt my heart, just looking at them. I ran outside and finally it dawned on me. ’Norma’, I said to myself, ‘They’re right’…something in that poster made me lose my breath. I kept seeing the picture of that tiny, 10 week old embryo and I said to myself, that’s a baby. It’s as if blinders just fell off my eyes and I suddenly understood the truth—that’s a baby!”

She goes on—“I felt crushed about this realization. I had to face up to the awful reality. Abortion wasn’t about ‘products of conception.’ It wasn’t about ‘missed periods.’ It was about children being killed in their mothers’ wombs. All those years I was wrong. Signing that affidavit, I was wrong. Working in an abortion clinic, I was wrong. No more first trimester, second trimester, third trimester stuff. Abortion—at any point—was wrong. It was so clear. Painfully clear.”

I’m pleased to say that shortly thereafter, she released a statement announcing that she had entered the Roman Catholic Church and had been confirmed as a full member.

The argument that the baby—the person—the human being in the womb is a “conceptus” or an “unviable tissue mass” is just a flat lie—a lie from the pit of hell. From the same place that said people of African descent are not human beings.

This perception can change—perhaps slowly—but change it must. We are the prophetic voices like Jonah to the Ninivites. Let us not get caught up in shirking this duty—this call from God. For God wants people to repent of their evil—even and perhaps—especially the abortionists.

To overturn the Dred Scott decision, it took Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation” outlawing slavery, and 3 constitutional amendments after the Civil War—the 13th amendment abolishing slavery, the 14th amendment granting former slaves citizenship, and the 15th amendment conferring citizenship to anyone born in the United States.

We must follow suit and change the law. Until then—

We are to confront the evil, renounce it—and above all call folks gently to repentance—and God will do the rest.

I think then—and only then—can our country be on the road to healing our deep divisions.

 

First Homily after Ordination June 5, 2011

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Mar 012012
 

Today, I’d like to talk to you about “how” and “why” this married former Episcopal Priest is now a Roman Catholic priest. Let’s start with the “how.” Back in 1980 Pope John Paul II granted a favor to a bunch of forlorn Episcopal clergy who thought of themselves as Catholic, but who were finding a wider and wider rift between their understanding of Catholicity and that of the Episcopal Church. They petitioned Pope John Paul II to let them become Roman Catholic Priests and still remain married. The Holy Father heard their plea and the “Pastoral Provision,” was formed, a means and a process by which married Episcopal priests like me could become Catholic priests. Since 1980 about 100 or so of us have taken advantage of this Pastoral Provision. I’m the only one in Oregon and there are about 3 others in Washington and California. All the rest are in the Midwest and South and on the East Coast.

After I retired from the Episcopal Church in 2008 I spent a school year at Mt. Angel preparing for exams I had to take at Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. After I passed those exams, Pope Benedict XVI had to sign off on me and Archbishop Vlazny ordained me priest on June 4 of this year.

Now let me give you a bit of my history in the broader Church which will address the “why.” I began working as a youth minister in 1968, 43 years ago, and I’ve pretty well been involved with Church ministry ever since. Yet something has always been missing. I kept trying different things: I’ve been involved in Charismatic and Evangelical and Mainline Protestant Churches of several stripes; I was ordained in the Congregational Church in 1974 and soon afterward they started blessing same sex partnerships. I left.

I finally thought I was home in the Episcopal Church. But lurking around my unconscious has been this constant draw: Come home; Come home to the Catholic Church. I can say to you now: I’m home. Today I want to talk about my process of homecoming.

The starting place is the Eucharist. Vatican II described the Eucharist as the “Source and Summit of the faith.” Here it is simply put: the Mass is the Source of our Faith life and it is the Summit of our Faith life.

In the 6th Chapter of St. John’s Gospel, we are given clear explanation about the importance of the Eucharist. Let me share with you one more time the wonderful and powerful words of our Lord: “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you” and “If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, I will raise you up on the Last Day.” These words are primarily responsible for me becoming Roman Catholic. And it’s why I’m here before you today as a new priest of the Church celebrating Mass.

Let me offer you some more personal history. I spent 30 some years as a priest in the Episcopal Church, the American part of the Anglican Communion or Church of England. I served one parish, St. Matthew’s on River Road here in Eugene, for about 24 of those years. Those folks became family. It was really hard to leave them. I must tell you that I was deeply touched that many of them came to my ordination. It was almost as if they gave me their blessing for this change.

To understand all this better, it’s helpful to know a bit about Anglicanism. The common story is that Henry VIII was having a mid-life crisis and wanted to dump his wife and take up with a cute young ingénue. Well, that’s only partly true.

The Church of England was started by Henry the VIII for some very practical, political reasons—He chiefly wanted to prevent another terrible civil war. You may have heard of the War of the Roses. That was the great and brutal conflict between the House of Lancaster, symbolized by a red rose, and the House of York, symbolized by a white rose; hence the name. Each wanted to be able to select a member of their own clan or “house” to become the next king of England.

Eventually they settled on Henry’s father, Henry VII, the first of the so-called Tudor kings. The Tudors had family ties with both the Lancastrians and the Yorkists. After Henry VII died, his son and successor, Henry VIII inherited not only the throne, but also the fear of another civil war, which was a constant underlying threat. Henry VIII needed a male heir that was acceptable to both Lancastrians and Yorkists. It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of this.

As an aside, to show you how deep this still runs over 500 years later, my daughter-in-law is a Lancastrian and she still has her suspicions of Yorkists. My guess is that members of each side don’t think that folks on the other side are unintelligent: they just suspect that they might sell their babies for whiskey.

Back to Henry: Another war of succession was to be avoided at all cost. Henry’s wife Catherine of Aragon was not able to provide a son, so Henry sought an annulment from the Pope, so he could marry Anne Boleyn, with whom he was having an adulterous relationship. Again, Henry thought he had to have a son who would succeed him without dispute. But for various reasons, the Pope opted not to grant the annulment, so Henry declared himself head of an independent English Church and got an annulment on his own: Hence the start of the Church of England. To be fair, it was based more on national security and less on Henry’s adultery, though the story of his passion for Anne Boleyn is a lot more interesting.

Ironically, as you know, a strong woman did come to the throne: Henry and Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth. During her reign the tensions between the Protestant and Catholic parties of the Church of England became so fractious that the Church adopted an important stance that holds sway to this day: They focused on accommodation. Two phrases describe this well:

1. “The Church of England does not make windows into men’s souls.” This means that as long as one outwardly complies with the faith, specifically by attending services where the Book of Common Prayer is used, one’s personal beliefs don’t much matter. To this day I know prominent clergy in the Episcopal Church who won’t recite certain parts of the Nicene Creed because they don’t agree with it. The Creed is offered at services where they preside—they just don’t say those particular words. The first thing I had to do when I came into the Catholic Church was to sign an affidavit stating that I believed every bit of the Nicene Creed. Someone must have given the Catholic hierarchy a “heads up.”

2. “The Anglican Church is the Via Media.” This is Latin for the “middle road,” the middle way between Catholicism and Protestantism. But as you know, whenever you are in the middle of the road, you get hit by traffic coming from both directions. From personal experience, I can tell you that one cannot be both Catholic and Protestant.

Anglicanism through the years has put much emphasis on accommodation, on inclusivity. This includes embracing multiple understandings of the Eucharist. In other words, there is no agreement among Anglicans about the nature of what’s commonly called Holy Communion. It’s pretty subjective.

For example, some say the elements change into the precious Body and Blood of our Lord—others refute this, saying that the only change occurs in the hearts of the believers. The official word is that there is a “Real Presence” of Christ, but that can mean symbolic or spiritual or physical. There’s no agreed understanding.

I must tell you that as one who believes the elements become Christ physically, it’s one thing to ponder the idea of a memorial meal intellectually—it’s quite another to experience it. The tipping point for me to leave the Episcopal Church was attending the Eucharist at the parish of a colleague who was a fervent protestant. In Anglican parlance, he was a committed “Evangelical” or “low churchman,” over against a “high Church Catholic” like me, one who believes that the bread and wine literally become Christ.

At the end of this particular liturgy, my colleague calmly placed the unused host back in the bread-box. My pulse quickened, my heart started to palpitate, and I had trouble catching my breath—I thought I was having the big one, as Fred Sanford used to say.

I took a deep breath and calmly asked him what he was doing. He said that he was putting the bread back so it could be used again next time. I asked, “Why? How could you treat the sacrament this way?” He said, “Nothing happened.”

Well, something happened to me: it was the catalyst for me to come home to the Catholic Church. I could no longer take the subjectivity. Was this Christ or was it just a memorial? I needed clarity–I needed the Mass of the Catholic Church.

As I investigated further, I found I wasn’t alone. Many others had come home to the Catholic Church a long time before I did. Among them was someone who became one of my heroes, the Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, another former priest in the Church of England who became Catholic. He was at a dinner party one time, and the person next to him asked why he left the Anglican Church to become a Catholic priest? He is reported to have said, “This is a very difficult question to answer between the soup course and the fish course.”

Like the Blessed Cardinal Newman, my story is pretty long and complex. I’ve told many people that I have 500 reasons for becoming Catholic. For example I have strong issues about abortion: The Episcopal Church is officially pro-choice and when they decided that, it broke my heart. But what I’ve found in this day and age is that most folks really want a short answer.

So I’ve devised what I call my “cocktail party answer.” You know, you’re standing there with drink in hand, trying to behave yourself, and someone comes up and asks, “Why did you leave the Episcopal Church and become a Catholic Priest?”

I’ve come up with a short answer, pirated from Fr. Jeffry Steenson, former bishop of the Episcopal Church and who is now a Catholic priest. He said, “The air is thicker around the altar at a Catholic Church.”

I have found him to be spot on. At the Mass at a Catholic Church, there’s a sense of holiness, a sense of what theologians call the numinous. It’s that sense of the hair starting to rise a bit at the back of your neck and, like Moses at the Burning Bush, you contemplate taking off your shoes, for this is holy ground. And at the most profound and intimate level it is very humbling that the Holy Spirit is now using me to make this happen. I now know, KNOW, that at this Mass at which I preside, the bread and wine will indeed become the Body and Blood of Christ.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.