Friday, December 19, 2014

The $360 Trillion Dollar Mistake

Here are some business truisms on which almost everyone will agree:

1) The name of the game in business is to make a profit and maximize owner value over the long run - in general, people do not go into a business to lose money and become paupers

2) Businesses are usually seeking to retain and grow their customer bases

3) More customers mean more sales which usually means more profits, hence pointing back to item one on the list

4) Fewer customers mean less sales, less profits, and a slower growing if not shrinking business.

5) More economic activity means more tax revenue for the government

The US Population is now hovering around 320 million and not growing.  In the United States, there have been  approximately 55 million legal abortions since 1973. Some conservative estimates state that based on the birthrate which peaked at 3.5 children per woman in the 1960's and is now at 1.8 children per women, that there have been approximately another 150 million American's not born because of contraception.  With the average lifespan in the United States being 78.74 years, it is safe to assume that a large portion of those 205 million Americans could still be alive today.    Without widespread abortion and contraception, we would have 70% more citizens.  205 million American consumers buying whatever American consumers buy.  However, my calculation is slightly understated.

This  report from Canada Free Press takes the calculation a little further.  It assumes that  5% of the 55 million aborted Americans would not have survived for natural causes. Given 52.5 million live births, how many would have lived to child-bearing years?  If half of the 50 million persons aborted were women, that leaves 25 million women who would have had 62.5 million descendants. Further, these 60 million would themselves have had more children starting approximately 1985. That would have added, let’s say, another 30 million females. At even 1.5 children a piece, that would add another 45 million by 2012.

That leaves a gap of 50 million + 60 million + 45 million potential but canceled Americans, meaning that 155 million more Americans would have been produced. Add the  150 million estimated Americans not born due to contraception and you have a staggering number.

In 1968, Paul R. Ehrlich published The Population Bomb, his sensational forecast of a world doomed by a population explosion. In it he flatly predicted: “In the 1970's and '80's hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash program embarked upon now.”  Not a single prediction in the work of fiction came true.

Instead, the developed world is facing a different sort of population bomb. The well-respected British publication, The Economist states that the US population growth is insufficient to sustain much less grow the economy.

We are now unarguably in a "baby bust" which is very bad economic news for the US.   Even US News and World Report acknowledges that this baby bust is bad for the economy.  In this article from 2008 on retirement, they state that :

"The exceptional size of the baby boomer generation—which is made up of 79 million people born between 1945 and 1964—raised output and growth rates. The baby boomer cohort is 50 percent larger than the preceding silent generation, and at birth, they represented a larger share of the population than generation X and the millennials did at their birth."

The US is facing astronomical deficits and debt. If you want to really have your mind expanded as to the severity of the financial hole we are in there is a handy website that shows every aspect of US debt, deficit and spending that you can imagine and some that you might not be able to imagine.

How would all of this look without widespread abortion and contraception in the US? No one can say exactly, but lets make some reasonable assumptions and see how the calculations work out.

Number of Americans Not Born - 300 million
Average Annual Income - $30,000
Average working life (assume from 22 to 62) - 40 years
Potential lost earnings - 300,000,000 x $30,000 x 40 =  $360,000,000,000,000
Average Tax Rates  (all taxes) - 30%
Total Revenue lost to the government - $120 trillion
Social Security Revenue lost to the government (at 4% tax)  -  $4.8 trillion

That is $360 trillion of total lost US economy.  $120 trillion in tax revenue.  The debt is $18 trillion.  You do the math.

And while you are doing the tax math, go figure why companies that donate to Planned Parenthood look like the Who's Who of American business. The organization maintains a database of these companies here which include American Express, AT&T, Avon, Black & Decker, Coca Cola, Chevron Texaco, Ford, The Gap, IBM, Motorola, Nike, Pepsico, Pfizer, Phillip Morris, Starbucks, Tenet Healthcare, Verizon, and Xerox to name just a few.

All of these companies are acting against the best interest of their stockholders by donating to an organization that is contributing to business truism #4 above - Fewer customers mean less sales, less profits, and a slower growing if not shrinking business.

Click on the link from and see if any companies that you own stock in or do business with contribute to Planned Parenthood.  If so, why not ask them why they are acting against the best interest of their owners?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pray Without Ceasing

This is an approximation of the homily I delivered at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Slidell, LA on  the third Sunday of Advent, December 14,2014. The scripture readings on which this homily is based can be found by clicking this link.

A research study that I once saw asserted that the times people pray the most are 3) In Church 2) At meal time and 1) When they are in trouble.  That was pretty much me until about 19 years ago. 

One day out of the blue my wife Pam came to me one day and said something along the line of “I know you have always wanted a truck. We can afford it.  Our van is dying and with our youngest almost 10, we don’t really need a van any more. Why don’t you go pick out something. We can sell the old minivan and I will drive your car.” 

I felt like a kid in a candy store.  I spent days on end figuring out what equipment I wanted, but was having trouble deciding between Ford and Chevy. Out of the blue, I thought …pray about it…it couldn’t hurt.  And in this process, the strangest thing happened.  I got an answer.  It didn’t see handwriting on the wall, I didn’t have a vision of Jesus speaking to me in my garage.  It was just an overwhelming feeling that I knew the answer. The answer that I heard in prayer was… wait!.    Wait – not the answer I wanted.  To make sure that God did not make a mistake or I did not misunderstand, I prayed for a few more days and got back the same answer. 

So, in my prayer the following days I said– OK Lord, if waiting is what you really want me to do, you will need to do your part and keep Pam’s van running. And He did.  And several months later, over 9 years after the birth of your youngest child, we found out that Pam was expecting our third child.  And being in the days before large extended and quad cabs, had I gone through with the truck purchase, I would have been trading it in for another van to have enough room for our growing family.

And in this single event in my life I started to realize, what we all should know, that as a people of Faith, we should pray in all things, without ceasing.

We are now starting third week of Advent.  Today is Gaudette Sunday which means Rejoice. Today we heard a reading form Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.  Just as a bit of background on Paul’s letters that we hear almost every week in the second reading. These letters were  written to Churches that he established in his travels.  He would establish a Church, leave, and then send letters back. Some letters were written for encouragement, some were for correcting errors.  Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians was written  as encouragement to the fledgling Church in the Northern Greek City of Thessalonica. He set up the Church there, and  within a couple of weeks, the local civil authorities ran him out of town, branding him a "troublemaker."

  In the reading today, he gives church in Thessalonica two primary commands – rejoice always and pray without ceasing.  These two commands are interconnected, which I hope to show you in a few minutes.  In the psalm today, we hear a lot about rejoicing, as Mary rejoices in doing the will of God in saying yes to becoming the Mother of Our Lord.

 How do you become a person who rejoices always?  Why is there so much rejoicing in heaven?  Let’s see what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1024) says about this "This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity—this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed—is called ‘heaven.’ Heaven is the ultimate end … the state of supreme, definitive happiness."  Heaven is total communion with God. The way we commune with God on earth is through prayer. So if we want to rejoice always, we need to pray without ceasing.

But, what does that mean?  Does that mean I am carrying around my rosary all day? Spending my day with my eyes closed and my hands folded? No it obviously does not mean that. God has given us human bodies and human families and human responsibilities to which we must attend.  So how do we pray without ceasing and continue to fulfill our duties as employers, employees, parents, children, teachers and students?

"Pray without ceasing" refers to a life filled with never ending, persistent recurring prayer, not nonstop talking.  Prayer must become a way of life. It is living in continual consciousness that God is in control, that he loves us, and desires only the best for us, and wants to have real relationship with us. To pray without ceasing means that everything you hear, feel, see and experience becomes a prayer of sort. It should be natural and intimate communication like we might have with our spouse or very best friend.

To "pray without ceasing" means when we are tempted to sin, we present that temptation before God and ask for His help. When we experience something wonderful, we immediately thank Him for it.  When we are afraid or in trouble, we turn to God as our protection.

In this manner, life becomes a continual prayer: all life's thoughts, deeds, and circumstances become an opportunity to commune with your Heavenly Father.  When we begin to discuss in prayer the mundane as well as the important decisions of life with God, we know we are beginning to arrive at “prayer without ceasing.”  This includes things such as our choice of friends, how we direct our charity, our housing decisions, healthcare, vocations, careers, and the size of our families and yes – even Ford versus Chevy.

Thankfully by the time I had to rely on prayer to decide on purchasing a truck, I had been attending annual silent retreats at Manresa for a few years and started to learn how to be still and quiet and listen for God speaking and working in my life. But that is not so easy for most who lives are perpetually bombarded with noise and distractions – televisions, cell phones, internet, radio, streaming music and podcasts. It is very hard in fact.

What is out homework?
For those that say that God does not answer your prayers, it could be because you are surrounded with so much noise that you cannot hear.   I challenge you to find ten or 15 minutes each day – more if you can - turn off the TV, the radio, take out the earphones.  Become totally unplugged.  Pray, meditate, and listen.  Read some scripture.  Observe how God is speaking to you.  Learning the listening part of prayer is much more difficult than the active part for most Americans.  Keep trying. Don’t give up. And when you find yourself praying without ceasing, you will also find yourself being able to rejoice in all things, even when things don’t go your way.

Start asking God for his input on the big and small decisions in life and trust in the answers.  Sometimes the answer might not be something that we want to hear.  Sometimes the answer might be wait… sometimes it might be… no. 

And as Paul Harvey used to say… now for the rest of the story.  Four years after this event in my life, I received a huge bonus on my job, large enough to buy a truck.  Pam said again, go buy one, and being an obedient husband, I did.  And being a man of prayer, I prayed.   That baby we were expecting four years earlier that delayed my truck purchase was our son Daniel, and at four years old, he sat in the front seat with me as I happily drove the truck home from the dealer in New Orleans. That truck that I bought 14 years ago is in the St Luke parking lot today. For me, God likes Chevy!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Major Development in Young Asian Church: Mongolia To Ordain First Indigenous Deacon

The Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia is set to receive its first indigenous deacon during an ordination this week in South Korea. Bishop Wenceslao Padilla of the prefecture said the ordination of Enkh Baatar, 23, is something he has long looked forward to and coincides with the recent celebration of the Catholic Church’s 20 years of existence in Mongolia. 

Padilla said he was glad to see a Mongolian native take up the torch lit two decades before by the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The more than 80 priests and religious in Mongolia are foreign-born missionaries that have presided over the small but growing Church, Padilla said.

Read more about this here

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It Is A Sin Problem, Not A Skin Problem

I am a fair to middling  writer. Some of the things I write are really good, some of them are real stinkers.  Most of what I write is a little better than average.  That is why I state that I am a "fair to middling" writer.  Every once in a while I get a sense of satisfaction when on occasion I write something really good, something that is worth having others read it.

I was planning on writing something really brilliant about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.  The problem is other than the violence in the streets that we see on the news, like most of the rest of the world, I really know absolutely nothing.  I did not see the evidence and did not hear the testimony.  So what could I write?

I was going to write about how incongruous it is for Planned Parenthood to issue the following Tweet when they are the number one killer of young black men in the world:

, ’s death, and violence toward young people of color are an issue for all of us.
Or how hypocritical it is for Al Sharpton to be on  camera with Michael Brown's parents and legal team when he is a strong supporter of Planned Parenthood.  Because the facts are Planned Parenthood kills more minorities in the United States then all other causes combined. According to the  New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in 2012 there were more black babies killed by abortion (31,328) in New York City than were born there (24,758).

This morning, I just by chance I read a long Facebook post, from what might seem like an unlikely source.  Once of the friends of my oldest son had commented on a post made by New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson. What could a professional athlete have to say that would have any meaning on this subject?  Read it for yourself and decide.  Any commentary that I could make on this would be puny and insignificant. From today forward, Mr. Watson is my favorite NFL player.  And after you read his post, you will know to Whom he is pointing in the picture below.

"At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:

I'M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.

I'M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.

I'M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I'm a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a "threat" to those who don't know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.

I'M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.

I'M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.

I'M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn't there so I don't know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.

I'M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I've seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.

I'M CONFUSED, because I don't know why it's so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don't know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.

I'M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take "our" side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it's us against them. Sometimes I'm just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that's not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That's not right.

I'M HOPELESS, because I've lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I'm not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.

I'M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it's a beautiful thing.

I'M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I'M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that's capable of looking past the outward and seeing what's truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It's the Gospel. So, finally, I'M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Regaining Reverence of Sacred Places

This is an approximation of the homily I delivered on Sunday November 9, 2014 at St Luke the Evangelist Church at the 6:00 PM Mass.  This is the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St John Lateran in Rome.  The scripture readings can be found by clicking this link.

Aren’t there certain things in life that we just do, but we really don’t know why we do them? Take the handshake.  Do you know how it came to be?  In the ancient times, people traveled mostly by foot. They carried swords for protection, usually hanging under their cloaks on the left side.  When strangers where passing on the road, they would extend their right hands to show their swords, and then clasp hands to show that they were friendly and were not going to stab each other. It evolved into what we know as the handshake.

What about the military hand salute?  In the middle ages Knights in armor raised visors with the right hand when meeting an opponent. This practice gradually became a way of showing respect, evolved to tipping that hat, modified to touching the hat, and since then it has become the hand salute used today.
 So why am I talking about the salute and the handshake? Today we celebrate the feast day of a building. The Cathedral of St John Lateran not St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican is actually the Cathedral of the Pope. It was originally a palace and was dedicated as a Church this day in the year 313. Although there are only small pieces of the original building remain, it is the oldest Church in Christianity. Why do we have the dedication of this building as a feast day? Is it a tradition like saluting or shaking hands that no longer has its original meaning?  To the contrary, the Church puts this feast on the calendar to remind us of the importance of church buildings as sacred space set apart for a special encounter with God and as people of faith we ought to treat them as such. 

 While God is in fact everywhere, today’s Gospel confirms that certain places are sacred, set apart and should be treated with special reverence.  If that were not the case, Jesus would not have flown into a rage, flipped over the tables, and driven the money changers out of the temple with a whip. He did this because that by their actions, the moneychangers were defiling the most sacred place on earth at that time. 

Prayer is simply lifting our hearts and minds to God.    And that is also the purpose of the Church building. The music, art, and architecture are to help us lift our hearts and minds to heaven.   In centuries past, the church was seen as an image of heaven. Its design and d├ęcor were based on the descriptions of heaven found in the Scriptures. Its high ceilings and arches drew your mind and heart up, up to God. Stained glass was intended to image the jeweled walls of heaven as described in the book of Revelation.

In the Catholic Church, a ceremony known as the Rite of Dedication of a Church and an Altar dedicates the building as sacred space, set apart for God and His people. Among the things that are done during this rite:

The altar is anointed with Sacred Chrism, the same oil that is used in Baptism and Confirmation. The altar becomes a symbol of Christ, which means “the anointed one”.

The walls are anointed to signify perpetual dedication to Christian worship. Incense is burned on the altar to signify the sacrifice of Jesus. The incense also signifies the prayers of the people reaching the throne of God. 

In the very early Church, Mass was celebrated in underground cemeteries and in homes.  As the Church flourished, lavishly ornate buildings were constructed with the intention of …lifting our hearts and minds to God. The problem was that over the centuries people began to believe that God dwelt exclusively in these ornate churches. People went to church, participated, received communion and went home without knowing who was sitting next to them. Worshippers forgot that we are come to church to worship God as family.

Lets go back, for a moment, to the Dedication of a Church. Thee first things that is blessed, before the altar or the walls are blessed, are the People, because the Church is a living temple and each member is a spiritual altar. This what Paul is referring to in the 2nd reading when he says YOU are God’s building and Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

To remind us of this, and of the community aspect of worship, Vatican Council II introduced some liturgical changes such as exchanging the sign of peace. But we may have swung from the extreme of attendance at Church being for God and me alone to the other extreme where Mass is a communal thing and God is not the center.  Many have lost the sense of the church as a sacred place, to the point that the conduct of some in our churches today borders on irreverence. In some Churches that I have been in, I can almost imagine Jesus making a whip and driving us out like he did with the moneychangers.

Practices that were meant to remind us that we are in God’s presence when we enter the church have been almost abandoned. These include such things as dressing appropriately, signing oneself with holy water, properly genuflecting, avoiding unnecessary chatter, and whispering when one has urgent cause to talk in church.

The next time you are in Church, look to your left and look to your right. I am sure you will see plenty of empty spaces.  There are over 5000 Catholics in our parish.  If only half of them came to Church every Sunday, the Church would be standing room only every week.  But look at the empty spaces.  The loss of the sense of the sacred might be one reason why people are no longer interested in attending Mass. If we come to church thinking that it is going to be entertaining like a concert or just another social gathering, we will find it boring.  But when we realize that the church is a holy place, a place of encounter with God, the Mass become an uplifting rather than boring experience.
Because the Mass is the ultimate prayer, everything that we do and say in this Church should not only lift our own hearts and minds to God, but also help those in the community to do the same. I think you would all agree that there is some attire that is appropriate for the beach or the gym that may be distracting to your fellow worshippers and therefore is not appropriate for Mass.  Likewise, attire meant for a formal ball may be equally distracting to others.  

When I was young, there were no “Shhh” signs posted at the door, yet it was just generally known that there was no talking in the sanctuary. You were quiet out of respect for the Eucharist and to allow others in the Church to communicate with God without distractions.   If there was something urgent to say, it was said in hushed tones and virtually no one could hear it.  Now days, movie theatres and golf courses can sometimes be more quiet and reverent places than our churches.

So what is your homework?
I am going to leave you with two questions to ponder on this week. First, What can I do to help bring a sense of reverence back to this Church and to every Church that I attend? And second, What am I going to do about it?

Today’s celebration of the dedication of St John Lateran, is not just some ancient practice that has lost its meaning. It invites us to renew our faith in the church as a house of prayer, of awe and reverence, and to cultivate habits and practices that make it easy for God to encounter us and us to encounter God whenever we enter Church, especially as we prepare to receive Jesus sacramentally in the Hoy Eucharist.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Wedding Banquet

The following is a close approximation of the homily I delivered at the 4:30 PM Mass, Saturday October 11 and the 7:30 AM Mass on Sunday  October 12, 2014 at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Slidell.  On Saturday, I had the privilege of preaching to the 4th Degree Knights of Columbus, with the Most Rev. Ronald Paul Herzog, Bishop of Alexandria, Louisiana as the principal celebrant. The scripture readings are for the twenty-eight Sunday of Ordinary Time and are available by clicking this link.

30 years ago,  I received a beautiful engraved invitation from the President of the large multi-national company for whom I worked inviting me to a banquet – a banquet honoring the employees of the year….  I was going to be one of the guests of honor. 
The banquet was like nothing I had ever seen before or since. Everyone was dressed up. There was a lavish cocktail party with gorgeous ice sculptures scattered throughout and exquisite flower arrangements on each table. There were more knives and forks on the table then I could count.  Being an Irish Channel boy, I had never seen more than one knife, fork, and spoon at a place setting in my life and was quite nervous that I would commit a social gaffe by eating the wrong dish with the wrong fork.

The food was indescribably good. The menus were all in French and I am not exactly sure what the food was, but I assure you it WAS delicious.  There were different wines with each course and sorbets to cleanse the pallet between. 

 In the days leading up to it, I had my hair cut, my best suit dry cleaned, my shirt pressed, my shoes shined and a bought a new tie. For such an important occasion, I needed to be dressed appropriately.

Contemplating over the Gospel this week, I could not help think back on that banquet, and imagine that in all its splendor, it was nothing compared to the heavenly banquet prepared for us.  And just as I got all cleaned up and groomed for that banquet, as people of faith, we also need to be dressed appropriately for the heavenly banquet.

The parable in today’s Gospel, as many parables do, has two distinct messages, depending on your historical perspective. One message was for those who heard this parable directly from Our Lord’s mouth in Jerusalem in are about the year 33.  The other message is timeless, and applies to all Christians regardless of place, space or time.

Lets first look at the message to those in Jerusalem.  To put the parable of the Wedding Feast in perspective, it is important to realize when and to whom it was preached. Our Lord is not speaking to his disciples, but to the scribes and Pharisees.  The preaching of this parable is just after his triumphant entry into the City on the day we now call Palm Sunday. A few days after this parable, Jesus is going to celebrate the Last Supper with his friends, and then suffer his agonizing passion and death followed by his glorious resurrection.

The Wedding feast is symbolic of the eternal celebration in heaven. The King is God the father, the bridegroom is Jesus. The servants that he sent out to invite the guests who were abused,  and even killed are the Old Testament prophets.  The King being enraged and destroying the city refers to the destruction of Jerusalem that would take place in less than 40 years.

The King ordering his servants to go out on the roads and invite whoever they find to the banquet refers to the end of the exclusive place and status that was set aside for the Jews and the opening of the Kingdom of God to all people.  Inviting all into the banquet -  this is exactly what the Apostles did after Pentecost and what we are all called to do – invite all into relationship with Our Lord.

And although the average Christian today might find the symbolism a little difficult to grasp, the scribes and Pharisees new exactly what Jesus meant.   In fact, it enraged them. This is made evident by the verse that is immediately after today’s Gospel that reads:

Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech.

But we are not Jews, and we are certainly neither scribes nor Pharisees, so what it is it saying to us today, here and now in Slidell Louisiana?

That might be best understood by going back to the Rite of Baptism. In Baptism, there is part of the rite that is entitled “Clothing With The White Garment” Here is the white garment that we use at saint Luke (holds up one of the baptismal garments.)  The prayer during that part of the Rite is:  you have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.

Consider your soul, as symbolized by the Baptismal garment, as YOUR wedding garment. And now we return to today’s Gospel. That guest without the proper wedding garment – might that be you or I, who at the end of our earthly lives shows up at the gates of heaven with our white garment torn, our immortal souls, tattered and with the ravages of sin.  Unfit to enter the heavenly banquet, we are tossed out because many are invited, but few (not all, not most) … few are chosen.  That sounds like bad news… few are chosen to attend the heavenly banquet.

There is not only good news, there is great news!   God has provided us with the Church who gives us rules and laws to follow to help us keep our Baptismal garment clean.  The moral rules, the Beatitudes, the Commandments, and the Catechism are not there to cramp our style or ruin our fun.  Consider them like the danger signs on high voltage wires, there to keep us safe from harm.

What is your homework?

There are 2 very easy assignments this week.   Each morning this week, as you pick out your clothes,  make sure that they are clean, and neat and appropriate for the occasion, I suggest that we take a moment to consider the state of our souls.  Ask yourself this question -  is MY wedding garment neat and clean enough for the occasion - to enter the heavenly banquet?

Second, today, before we approach the altar today to receive Jesus, in the Eucharist,, ask yourself that same question.

Because we never know the day or the time when we might receive the invitation, it is important that each of us keeps our Wedding Garment clean at all time. And from time to time, when our garments get a little soiled, the Church provides a dry cleaner like no other. One that can take our garments, our souls, dirty and torn and tattered and make them come out looking as pristine as the day we were baptized.  That is the great gift of the sacrament of reconciliation.  It makes us presentable for the Eucharistic banquet ... and for the one with angels and saints in heaven.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

In Hoc Signo Vinces - In This Sign You Will Conquer

 The following is a close approximation of the homily I delivered at the 9:00 AM Mass, Sunday  September 14, 2014 at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Slidell. This is the feast of the Exultation of the Cross.  The subject of the homily was - the Cross.
In Catholic churches, we don’t serve mocha lattes during services.  You will not see a painting of the Laughing Jesus hanging front and center. The goal of Mass is not to entertain us, or simply to make us feel good. You will see neither a 20 piece contemporary band nor a flashy multimedia show on the altar. In Catholic churches, our eyes are drawn to a Crucifix, and there we gaze at the dead body Jesus hanging on a Cross. And as today is the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, the cross is a most appropriate topic for the homily.  I have started every homily in the last 6 years,  with a life image connected to the readings to help relate the scripture to everyday life. Today, I offer you this crucifix (pointing to near life size  crucifix hanging over the altar)  as your life image and ask everyone to take a few moments to focus on the image of Jesus hanging on the cross before I begin my story.
This story is recorded in Church history.  However, it does not rely simply on Church history, but is also recorded by two separate Roman historians.   Here goes. On October 27 in the year 312 the pagan Constantine was fighting his brother-in-law Maxentius for control of the Roman Empire at the battle of Milvian Bridge.  He looked up to the sun and saw a cross of light above it, and with it Greek words usually translated into Latin as In Hoc Signo Vinces, meaning “In this sign,[you shall] conquer;". 
Romans were still crucifying people at the time of Constantine, so the miracle of seeing that this would be the sign of his victory must have puzzled  him up, as well as his advisers. That night, Constantine had a dream. In that dream he spoke with the risen Lord confirming his vision in the sky that day.  Constantine’s soldier painted that sign, the sign of the cross, on their shields and the next day he led his army to victory. He became the Emperor of the Western Roman Empire. Truly in that sign Constantine conquered.
His mother, Helena, was a devout Christian.  As Emperor, Constantine ended the era of persecution of Christians and made the Church legal, ushering in the Christian era.  The Feast of the Exultation of the Cross that we celebrate today commemorates the dedication of the Basilica of the Resurrection in Jerusalem in 335 AD. The Basilica is built on Golgotha, where the crucifixion of Jesus took place and where it is said Helena found the relics of the True Cross.

The cross is a symbol of complete contradiction. That it became the most recognized religious symbol in the world, a symbol of God's love, forgiveness and redemption, is a miracle also. In the ancient Roman world, it was the symbol of degradation, suffering and death. Crucifixion was so brutal that it was reserved only for conquered peoples and slaves. A Roman citizen was never crucified.   
I ask you now to fix your gaze back on the cross or close your eyes as I continue.  What we see on our crucifixes in our homes and churches is a sanitized version.  Reality is closer to what was seen in the movie, The Passion of the Christ.   Crucifixion was the worst form of execution imaginable.  Victims usually hung on the crosses for days before they eventually suffocated.   They were degraded by being hung on the cross naked, not with the white loin cloth seen on most crucifixes. Victims were hung low enough so that the dogs and wild animals could chew on their legs, but not do enough damage to cause death.  Birds commonly pecked on victim’s eyes and flesh. Even the location of the nails was chosen to maximize pain.   Victims were left on the cross for days and even weeks after they died while their flesh rotted.  The sights and smells of dozens of crucifixion victims along the roadways was enough to strike terror into the conquered citizens and keep relative peace in the Roman Empire for hundreds of years.

So why am I telling you this story in all its gory detail? In hopes the next time you hear the verse from today’s  Gospel:  For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life ,or  see someone hold up a John 3:16 sign at a ball game or see a cross or a crucifix on a church, or even make the sign of the cross, that you will have a deeper appreciation and gratitude for the sacrifice Jesus made for us. This sacrifice is what we really celebrate today.
Consider the reason why Jesus was crucified. He was not crucified because he was a Holy man. He was crucified because, as far as the Romans were concerned, he was a troublemaker.  He challenged the leaders of Jewish society on moral, ethical, religious and social issues and got the people stirred up.  He disturbed the peace. He went against popular culture, society, and conventional wisdom.

This is very much what we have to do today as faithful Christians.  We must go against popular culture, conventional wisdom and societal norms.   We must follow the historical moral teachings of the Church no matter how difficult.  There are Churches out there whose message is that God wants to bless you in this life.  Do good things (especially give money to the preacher) and God will bless you abundantly in this life.  Think positive and do positive things, and your life will be positive. It is no wonder that those Churches are filled with ex-Catholics and former Christians of many mainline denominations.  The message that they send is attractive.  It is seductive.  And it is a lie.  That, my friends, is not Christianity. Christianity offers the cross, not a cozy place in society. It offers the cross because it knows that by being faithful to the teachings of Jesus, we will be in constant friction with the greater overall society, friction that causes much pain.
Catholics were fed to the wild beasts and covered with tar and set on fire to be used as street lights in ancient Rome.  Oppression, discrimination, torture and killing has been the norm for members of the Church from the very beginning: in Great Britain during the Protestant Reformation, during the French and Mexican Revolutions to name a few.   During WWII, the Nazis murdered nearly 8000 Catholic priests.
In our day, Catholics are being ridiculed in the media and by the government for being against abortion, sex outside of marriage, contraception, same sex unions, embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia. Laws are being passed and legal decisions are being made that will force Catholics to violate their consciences or face prison sentences or fines.  The seal of the sacrament of Reconciliation is under attack. Catholic social service agencies are being forced to choose between following their faith or worshipping at the altar of so-called sexual equality. Catholic and other Christian businesses are and will continue to be sued for discrimination and lose large financial judgments if they refuse to take part in same sex unions by supplying goods and services such as reception halls, photography, and wedding cakes.
This means’s that if we choose to live by the Catholic faith, if we refuse to deny Jesus Christ and his teachings, we will eventually be facing our own crucifixion of sorts.  We will be unwelcomed as political candidates. We will not sit on editorial boards of major news organizations nor will we be welcomed on the faculties of most universities.  It will become increasingly more difficult for faithful Catholics to have successful military careers Catholics will not be able to have careers as actors and entertainers.  The practice of medicine and law will become increasingly difficult for faithful Catholics.
Will we ever face actual physical crucifixion for our faith? We pray not. Something like that almost seems unthinkable in our time. Just as it seemed unthinkable as it was to the Chaldean Catholic families in Iraq who have had their sons and little children crucified in front of their homes to strike terror into then and induce them to leave the country.

So what are we to do? What is our homework?
Outside the main doors of the Church ia monuments.  On one side is the Commandments, the other is the beatitudes. There are Ten Commandments, which are the law. There are eight beatitudes which are Jesus’ instructions on living your life in love.  If you knew , followed, and lived nothing other than these 18 things you would be well on the road to living the life that our Lord asks of us.  I encourage you, to take a few moments after Mass, and contemplate these monuments.  Take your whole family. Those monuments are not just there for decoration, yet most of us pass them each week without a second thought.

Then, over the next 6 days, learn and discuss 3 items each night with your family.  What do they mean? How are these calling us to live our lives?  And if living according to these 18 things causes us to carry a cross, so be it.
Our real battle on this earth is not against society. It is not against the government.  It is not against Islam.  It is against Satan, and the power of evil.  But just as Jesus told the Emperor Constantine 1700 years ago, he tells you today,  in hoc signo vinces, in this sign, you too shall conquer.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Who Is Really In Control?

The following is a close approximation of the homily I delivered at the 6:00 PM Mass, Sunday August 10, 2014 at St. Luke the Evangelist Church.  The readings are for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time and are available by clicking here.

Before I begin this homily, I would like to give a disclaimer and a warning.  The disclaimer is that I am going to reveal some information from a private conversation between my 17 year old son Daniel and myself.    I do so with his knowledge and permission.  The warning is that this is the first homily that I have delivered in six years without having it first scrubbed by my wife, Pam!

On July 23rd, we received a phone call that every parent dreads. Daniel was in the ER in rural Virginia. At 17 years old he had developed type-1 diabetes while on a Jesuit service project in Appalachia and was seriously ill. After 3 days in ICU we were able take him home.  Fast forward 2 weeks to today, he is adjusting to his new life, carefully watching his diet, taking insulin shots, and sticking his finger 10-12 times a day to check his blood glucose.

One night after playing racquetball together this past week we were talking about a decision weighing on him -  trying to decide whether to wear a device called a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).  The CGM has a sensor that sticks in you and to you and does glucose readings every 5 minutes. It warns you if your sugar is getting out of range and reduces the number of finger sticks to just 2 per day. He originally said that he was not sure if he wanted wear something on his body all of the time. I could understand that. That night he confided that the real reason he was not sure about the CGM was that by ordering it, he was accepting that this was a life-long condition and he was no longer in control.  I understood that even more.  I shared with him that having incurable cancer is certainly not something I would have chosen and would be overjoyed if it could be taken away.  However, struggling with it is a constant reminder for me that I am not really in control and has greatly increased my realization that I am utterly dependent on God.  Daniel replied – “ You know, I have been thinking the same thing. Order the monitor.”

 As a people of faith, we must realize that God is the one in control and trust him a little more each day.

Today’s Gospel occurs on the Sea of Galilee right after Jesus feeds the 5000. You can deduce from the text that the Apostles set out in the late afternoon. The Sea of Galilee is not very big, about ¼ the size of Lake Pontchartrain.  With 12 men rowing it should take a couple of hours to cross, with a good wind and a sail, even less.  Yet we find the apostles still far from their destination in “the fourth watch of the night.” - around 3 AM. They had been on their little 27’ open boat in a storm for 10 to 14 hours.

On the Sea of Galilee, winds come down from the mountains in the east (the Golan Heights) and cause terrible and sudden storms, with waves over 10 feet high. So imagine what the water of Lake Pontchartrain looks like with huge white caps and this is our scene.

My favorite depiction of this is an 19th century French painting showing the apostles wet and worn out together in the boat.  In the distance, Jesus is surrounded by a bright glow of light walking in the darkness toward the apostles, his feet just on the surface of the water.I can imagine Peter spotting Jesus in the distance and is completely locked onto him like radar onto a target.  Watching every move he makes. Blocking everything else out.  Peter is so focused on Jesus and his command to “come” that he does the impossible – he walks on the water.  What happens next? Peter gets distracted.  What does the text say – when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink . You can be certain that Peter knew about the winds.  He had been in the boat for hours. What is going on?
Peter certainly had faith.  He had just participated in feeding the multitude, just the day before he had seen Jesus cure many sick people. And he not only expressed his faith in Jesus by challenging him to let him walk on the water, but then he leaps out of the relative safety of the boat to walk on the rolling waves! Yes, he had faith. More than I would have in that situation.  It’s just that his trust in Jesus falters momentarily and he forgets that Jesus is the one who is in control, just for a split second.  But even Peter’s reaction when he started sinking was an expression of faith Lord save me!

As Christians, we may be doing fine in our walk of faith.  But then, we get distracted with the storms that are going on around us, and we begin to sink.

Sometimes it is not the storms that distract us, but the times when everything is going well. We have dream job, a lovely house, our family is great, we are in great health. All is good and start to forget about our dependency on God.  We feel like we are in control, on top of the world. In reality, none of us are in control. Control is an illusion.  Things can change in a minute. Your dream job gets eliminated in corporate merger, a parent dies, we develop a life-threatening illness, your dream home gets infested with termites.

This Gospel tells us that when the storm comes up and things seem their darkest that Jesus is close. In today’s Gospel when the Apostles invited Jesus into their boat, the storms subsided and the winds calmed down. So it also is with us.  When we invite Jesus into our lives our storms will calm down.  Not that bad or unpleasant things won’t happen to us – I assure you that they will. Bad things happen to good people all of the time. But with our eyes focused on Christ, locked in like radar, we can have, as St Paul wrote to the Philippians, the peace that surpasses all understanding – regardless of the storms going on around us.

What is your homework?

We must daily develop and strengthen our trust in Jesus. It does not happen naturally and without effort.  Somewhere in this church there are people who are facing their own storms. Maybe it is you, maybe the person sitting next to you.  Maybe its an illness, your own or you are the caretaker of someone who is seriously ill; financial hardship, or maybe extreme loneliness. You may be filled with sadness or fear.  When you look down, all you see the hardship. Your homework this week is to look up, keep your eyes on Jesus. See in your problems the opportunity to turn over all to Jesus, to acknowledge that He is in control. A simple prayers I suggest for you this week is -  “My Jesus I trust in you".

And somewhere else in this church are people who’s life seems just perfect.  You seem completely in control. That can be even a more dangerous condition than for those who are struggling.  For those who are like this, your homework is to take a little inventory of your life. Ask yourself these 2 questions - Am I giving thanks to God at all times for all things? Do I recognize that I am not really in control?  Otherwise, when you face you storms, you could sink.

 And when that happens I suggest  Peter’s prayer from the Gospel – Lord save me!