Monday, April 23, 2018

Politics and Homilies

Politics and Homilies

I have received second-hand feedback that sometimes my homilies are too political when it is not the right time or place to bring up certain issues.  Therefore, I decided to explain my thinking and open myself to critique on its faults, weaknesses and/or strengths.

As in any discussion or debate, I find it very helpful to begin by defining terms.  Let’s start with the big one: politics.  My critics might have other definitions, but those I find best are quite broad: 
the assumptions or principles relating to power and status in a society; achieving and exercising organized control over a human community (often a country or municipality).  Most generally, politics is the process of making decisions that affect members of a group. By these definitions, it is hard to imagine much that is not political.

Too broad?  I don’t think it is for this context, because I think anything more specific can be inappropriate for a homily.  A homily should be scripture, tradition, and church teaching based.  While it can present guiding principles based on those elements, it should never take sides in endorsing a specific candidate or ballot proposal.  While one may infer for oneself what vote or advocacy might flow from basic principles or teachings, the Church has no business instructing members on how to vote.

The principles of Catholic Social Teaching (Life and dignity of the human person; rights and responsibilities; option for the poor and vulnerable; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity; care for God’s creation) are often seen as too political, even among Catholics themselves. Yet they are as much a part of essential Church belief as are any other established teachings.  It is hard to imagine any of them outside of a political context.

For example, the Church is adamantly pro-life.  However, when homilies include but speak beyond the single issue of abortion, Catholics who consider themselves pro-life might find themselves getting uncomfortable. They should! Life includes many more issues!  Calling for action to eliminate school shootings, lessen the income gap, effect prison reform, care for the planet, feed the hungry… - all have political implications and are not to be avoided in proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel.

When public policy ignores Christian core values such as humility and empathy and care for the poor, it is irresponsible not to say so and to call the congregation to action, in my opinion.  This is not to say that politics must be consistent with Catholic values but when it is not, preachers and teachers must point that out and those who profess the faith must consider those factors when making their political decisions.

Of course, I need to know what critics consider too political and cannot know what modifications I need in my preaching unless they tell me.  But I do hope these reflections might begin such conversation.

Steve Newton, CSC

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Post-campaign thoughts

I am writing this November 8, 2016, six and one-half hours before the first polls close.  I have no idea who won the election for president of the United States.  My comments are not on the outcome but on the process.  It was quite revelatory.

We learned a lot about our country in the year-long campaigns: we have a diverse body of citizens;   people hold fast to their positions, even in light of contrary facts; there is a lot of fear; for some, the campaigns are primarily for amusement; see how we hate one another.

With certainty, one can say that civil discourse is becoming obsolete in America, and ad hominem arguments are becoming the norm.  And that is what I want to expound on today:  Is there a bright side to all of the ugliness exposed, especially on social networks, during this election cycle?  I say there is.

You have probably heard some form of the statement “We are as sick as we are secret.”  So the good news is that the secret is secret no longer: we are a dysfunctional society.  We will use or twist anything that can feed our own narrative and call it the truth.  We will mock those who are different. 
Racism, ethnocentricity and misogyny are very operative.  Basic logic and reason are abandoned and replaced by imbecility.  If we want to heal, we need our leaders to address these issues rather than play partisan keep away.

My prayer is that the next president of the United States will lead an effort to identify and address our ‘better angels’.  It is in the purview of a leader to provide moral challenges and encourage change in the national psyche.  Now that we have revealed our inadequacies we must design and implement ways to lessen ideological competition and increase lived cooperation.  That is the only way, in my opinion, that we will survive as a nation and as a people.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Stop saying God!!

Maybe I'm getting back in the habit of regular postings!  This one is about my response to an article that appeared in the University of Notre Dame/St. Mary's College daily student paper. In it, the author writes she lost her faith in Catholicism and God because of her Notre Dame experience, especially her theology and science classes, which led her to doubt there could be a God who cares for each of us individually when the universe is so immense.

“Do you want to know what goes on in the core of the Trinity? I will tell you.

In the core of the Trinity the Father laughs and gives birth to the Son.

The Son laughs back at the Father and gives birth to the Spirit.

The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us.”

Dear (Author),
I had just read this poem by Meister Eckhart, a fourteenth-century German Dominican mystic, before reading your thoughtful column in today’s Observer.  I share it not to convince or convert you, but to suggest that there are depths of possibility found through religion that are rarely shared with those who have outgrown their childhood faith, but have no adult faith with which to replace it. They do not mature spiritually. Nor are they encouraged to by many Church leaders. (I think Pope Francis is an exception.).

Doubt is an essential part of development in any arena, and certainly in that of faith!  But it need not be the last step. Doubt can help distinguish between what I call the accidentals and the essentials. Too often, more time in religious education of children is spent on the accidentals—those things that might or might not assist in the practice of religion: things like the rosary, rote memorized prayer, etc.

What is essential, in the words of Jesus, is Love.  Here’s my understanding of what he means by that:  God, rather than being the anthropomorphic entity of our childhood, much like Santa Claus, is the essence of being—that from which all things, visible and invisible, get their existence (are created).  All that is, is of one essence—called God, called Love, called Trinity, whatever.  The source of existence.  Not a Him or a Her or an It, but the source of all being, poetically described (but not contained) in Meister Eckhart’s poem.

This is expressed at one end of life by the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas: “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower drives my green age”, and at the other end by Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin: “Everything that rises must converge.”  With this understanding, it is not a matter of God caring about humanity as we care for each other, but of God being the essence of humanity, and all that is.  

I’d like to put a fifty year moratorium on the use of the word “God”, because its meaning has been so abused. But remember that faith in God, from a Christian perspective, is incarnational.  Thomas' "force that drives" becomes flesh.

That is why we celebrate the Eucharist: to celebrate the Word made flesh who invites us to claim our true identity in communion.  We are One. We are God’s body and blood. To complete Eckhart’s poem, “We laugh, and give birth to Love.”  The Alpha and the Omega are One.

(Author), I am glad you have come to a place of doubt.  I hope you will be given the grace to move on to the next place in your spiritual journey, wherever that might be.  

Peace, and thanks,

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

I just noticed that my previous blog post was April 18--the day before the injury!  So I will post a recap here, and alert folk when there's a new blog.  That would give me more time and allow you to take it or leave it.  et's see if I can do it!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Are we men, or are we…sheep?

The sheep were hurting and they were worried because their shepherd had been taken away from them. They didn’t know what they were going to do, so as all groups do when they don’t know what to do, they formed a committee.

Baa, said one of them.  We don’t need a committee to get a shepherd.” “Yes we do, bleated others, “ because that Last Shepard taught us so much about what it means to be a sheep, and part of that is to take action and responsibility.  We have to find somebody who knows what it means to be a sheep and isn’t too sheepish about letting us know what is best in our own lives”.                                            

“We have to have someone who is going to spend time with us.  Not just lead us from meadow to barn to meadow day after day.  We need someone who will lie with us, who will even smell like us.  Someone who knows that we have unique personalities—that we are not all exactly the same.

 “ Okay, we want caring and identification what else do we want to see?”  “How do we want that person to show their care?” asked a member of the flock.

“ First of all, they have got to get to know who we are, that we are more than a future serving of Shepard’s pie or a knit sweater, who will go after Mary’s lost little lamb and scare off the wolves, who isn’t ashamed to hold us when we’re hurting.  The Good Shepherd really cared for us.  How might we get that in the next shepherd?”

“Are we sure that we need a new Shepherd”, asked one of the sheep, nervously, but with conviction.”  “I mean, we watched this past one very closely.  We learned a lot from him.  He taught us that, as sheep, we can be more than we think we are.  We can learn to care for other like he cared for us.”

“What?  Are you crazy?  Of course we need a shepherd,” brayed the flock.
They were beside themselves.   This had never been done before and what were the other flocks going to say?   But some were curious.  “Tell us more about this idea.”

 “Well I haven’t really formulated it. It’s just a sense that if we all joined together and did for each other what our good shepherd did for us, we could be our own shepherds.”

We humans are not sheep.  We know that, and we don’t want to be treated as if we were, in the sense of always being watched and not going anywhere we are not led.  At the same time we are one.  We are flock, we are congregation, we are community. We had a good shepherd who laid down his life for us. When the soldiers came for Jesús, He protected his apostles:  “I’m the one you’re looking for.  Leave these others alone.” He was the good shepherd who came from the chief Shepherd, the one who created us. He taught us what it really means to be a human being.  That there’s a dimension beyond our understanding, even beyond our basic hopes and dreams.

The main desire we have as a people is to avoid death.  We don’t like endings, for things to stop.  We want to live forever. Jesus  heard that yearning and said: “okay, we can do that.  It might not be exactly the way you’d think, but it will be eternal life for your soul, so that you can know that whatever happens in this world, I am with you from mine. Then you will know that we can join together—be in communion, where our worlds become one.  We can help each other live.“

Instead, we are in danger of being consumed by a culture of death, without resurrection.  We settle our disputes, foreign and domestic, by killing each other.  We belittle those who are different, and build walls and fences to isolate from each other.  We are so afraid of threats from outside that we become threats inside to our most basic desires.

Someone writing on the internet about a USA need for protection from outsiders referred to Europe: immigrants are coming into Europe taking the Europeans’ land and replacing European culture with their own ways.  We can’t let that happen here, the writer complains. 

But it did happen here!  That is exactly how this country was settled. Isn’t that what we did to the Native Americans because we wanted their land? Isn’t that what we did to the Mexicans when we changed their borders to ours?

One of the hymns about shepherds turns the noun into a verb.  Shepherd me O God beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.  Our wants and fears are temporary, and lead to death.  But we believe that death is temporary.  Life is eternal.  When we connect with the Good Shepherd and shepherd each other, we enter into eternal life.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Here is the homily I gave on the Third Sunday of Easter, April 10, 2016.

It is The Lord!!

What a strange way for St. John to have expressed himself! He writes: this was now the third time Jesús was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead. Not this was the third time the disciples saw Jesús, but the third time Jesús was revealed to them, or appeared to them.

When we see a friend, we do not tell others that our friend was revealed to us or appeared to us. . We just say: “I saw my friend”. So what is John trying to tell us?

 A revelation, when it appears, transforms us.  We see reality in new and different ways.  The author of the Book of Revelation experienced the appearance of a multitude singing and praising God.  He did not see this; it appeared to him.  Through the revelation he was better able to understand that Jesús, the slain Lamb, is still worthy to receive honor and glory and blessing.  He has Risen from death – gone beyond it..

Death appeared to one of my sisters and me a year ago tonight, at our mother’s bedside.  We did not SEE death, but as death appeared to us, as it was revealed to us, it was not tragic or threatening.  There was a certain peace and assuredness that all was well with her.  We lost her, but she was not lost.  Death had no power over her.

During the past year, of course, we have missed her terribly and thought and dreamed of her often.  But the revelation as a result of death’s appearance to us, while not perfectly clear or simple to relate, has increasingly convinced at least me that there is nothing to fear.  Hope and trust replace fear and trembling.

This is why the apostles were able to tell the Sanhedrin:  “We have been witnesses to a great revelation each time Jesús, whom you killed, has appeared to us.  He is more powerful than death. We do not always recognize him at first, but each time he does Jesús-like things, it is revealed that he still lives and appears among us each time we break the bread and drink from the cup, and each time we obey his command to love one another by putting each one’s need before our own.  You can lock us up or tell us to stop giving witness, but we have learned that we must obey God rather than men.”

No human institution, whether political or religious, has the right to take away our conscientious decision to obey the law of Love, as it is revealed to us.  Pope Francis emphasizes this truth in his new document, the Joy of Love.  We will be discussing the document in coming weeks.

If the resurrection of Jesús does not compel us to give witness to his way of loving, then it is merely a teaching and not a revelation.  If the resurrection does not reveal to us our call to love, to feed and to be willing to suffer for the truth, as means to eternal life, our mourning will never be turned into dancing. 

Faith in the Resurrection not just of Jesús but in my mother, in our loved ones, in all who have died and in our own divine share of God’s life bears witness to abrupt, transformative newness that I cannot explain. I can only share what has appeared and been revealed.  The Risen Jesus appears where least expected, and everything is changed. The death defying power of Christ Risen has the capacity to work newness where newness seems impossible.

When we live the Resurrection by being the Risen Christ, we can say to each other, as did the disciple Jesús loved, “It is the Lord!”  He has risen indeed. Alleluia!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Christ is risen! He is truly risen!   Alleluia!!

Last Easter Sunday, some of my siblings and I celebrated at our mother’s home. She was not feeling at all well, but very much wanted to have the dinner at her house.
When I arrived, she was playing the piano, going through some of her favorite songs, one of which was Easter parade. “In your Easter bonnet…” Some of us sang along as she played.   After dinner, she was obviously very tired. She said she was going to lay down a while and we should just continue talking without her. Later, one of my sisters and I went in to see how she’s doing. She was very, very groggy, and a bit disoriented. She was talking about the Easter parade. So I quietly began to sing it to her. “With all the frills upon it…” I anointed her. Talking later, both my sister and I thought that that would be the moment of her death. In fact, she lived another six days.
I also had the privilege of being with her as she died. I had never had that experience before. Again, I anointed her. Another sister and I each held a hand as she calmly breathed her last. Today we celebrate her 93rd birthday.  It is finished.

Or is it?  At the time of my mother’s physical death, both my sister and I knew that this vibrantly engaged, loving woman, who was emotionally and supportively present for all of the good and bad times of her eleven children and her husband of sixty-six years could not possibly, with one last gasp, be completely erased from all that is.  Somewhere, somehow, she was raised up to completion.  She will rise again.

As with Mary of Magdala and Peter and the disciple Jesús loved, even in finding the empty tomb, we do not fully understand that Jesús rose from the dead.  We know he is gone, but we cannot believe that he has stopped existing. When we die, do we enter even more deeply into life, a new life?  Our faith is that Jesus is still with us, and in our physical death we remain with Him.  But our knowledge rebels.  How could this be?  We certainly want to live forever, and we hope to in Christ, but our understanding is limited and we rely on scripture and the promises of Jesús:  “I am always with you…” “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

We do know we know we have many little dyings while physically alive—disappointment on one end, death of a loved one on the other, and much in between.  Our faith informs how we respond to those circumstances.  For the Christian, we know that if an ever-loving God is always with us, either God or we are missing something.  Either God has a strange sense of what it means to love, since we can experience evil and hurt, or we cannot see the complete picture.  We are limited by time and space; the God of Jesús is not.  So we believe that there is always a resurrection after any form of death.  There is always meaning and purpose, whether we understand it or not.

We also believe that the resurrection was not a one-time, historical event, which happened 2,000 years ago.  It is not the coming back to life of what was, but coming into new life. It is  new way of seeing and a new way of acting. Bread becomes body; wine becomes blood.  It is an ongoing reality that has been happening again and again, if we believe in Christ. For example, faith in the resurrection moves us beyond love of neighbor to love of enemy. If pursuit of my safety trumps my ability to love whomever God has in my path, fear wins, and I distance myself from God’s heart for the world.

Fear moves us away from people who are different than us and limits us to those who look, think, and act like we do. There is no love outside of acceptance; there is only misunderstanding, demonization, and stereotype. Resurrection continually calls us to move toward “the other.”

I firmly believe that my mother, my father and my two brothers who are no longer with us are, non-the-less, still alive.  I believe in the resurrection and life ever after.  Why?  Because even though I do not fully comprehend it, any other way makes no sense at all.  Christ has risen and so will we!  Alleluia!!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A posted question:".. .what do the rank and file clergy 'think' of Pope Francis? I know there are several layers of organization between you and the leaders. But how do the clergy react to this Pope? I'm sure you have seen how lay people sometimes respond to Pope. Statements like dogs can go to heaven (love it) or you can go into the forest to worship, not only a church." The clergy with whom I primarily have contact are directly involved in pastoral ministry, which means directly involved with the critical spiritual concerns of the people of God. While I can speak only of my own thoughts about Pope Francis, I have found wide agreement among fellow priests in pastoral ministry. I can also understand the fears and concerns of 'careerist' clergy. When Pope Francis left the United States after his visit in September, someone commented that during his six days with us, the entire nation was on retreat! That seems to be the feeling he generates everywhere he goes, not only because of what he says, but because of his obvious love of all people. If only I can show his energy and compassion when I reach his age! I think he has untied the knots that have been so much a part of our religion. The word religion is rooted in the word for binding, but there are at least two ways to do so: a parent or lover binds to another person by holding his or her hand; a pirate would bind someone by tying them to a mast! Basically, it's a mater of whether the emphasis is on rules or on relationships. It has been a while since I and others have experienced a pope for whom relationship takes precedence. His two encyclicals, his speeches and challenges to the world's bishops and political leaders reaffirms this order. He wants shepherds who smell like the sheep! While he hasn't changed ant Church law or doctrine, he has put much of it in a context that both explains it and generates discussion and places emphasis on the primacy of conscience. He not giving blank checks, but he's not bouncing them either! He has declared this year to be the year of mercy. Mercy is the foundation of human life and our relationship with God and each other. So far, I have found preaching and counseling from the perspective of mercy to be exciting and very well received. I have found Pope Francis to be exciting and very well received too! I am very grateful to be living in his time. No matter his successor, what impact he has made on the Church in these past few years can hardly be undone! God's Spirit called him. We are the beneficiaries of his answer to that call.
It has been 2 1/2 years since I have posted an entry on my blog, for reasons I might some day reveal.  Some folks have asked me to start it up again, so here goes!  This entry is a reflection on the lectionary readings of Sunday, February 7, 2015.  I have to write them out anyway to translate them to Spanish, so I'll probably share them in this way from time to time.  I will also pst on face book when I have a new one.  Thanks for your interest!

Unclean, Unworthy and Sinful Lips

Isaiah said: I am a man of unclean lips. He was right.
Paul said: I am the least of the apostles and not worthy to be called an apostle. He was right.
Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.  He was right.
These three men knew who they were, and they thought that because of who they were they were unworthy to be in the presence of God and to do what God had asked of them. But what they learned is that worthiness has nothing to do with gods love. No one is worthy. God loves everyone, Regardless of his or her sin.
We all know that we are sinners. Perhaps like Adam and Eve we want to hide ourselves in shame. But that is not what God wants. God is love, and so God must love. We were created to be one with God, so God will do everything God can do to make us one. It is up to us whether or not to cooperate.
When the angel touched Isaiah’s lips, that did not make Isaiah worthy. When Paul was knocked off of the horse and converted, that did not make Paul worthy. When Peter was told to get up and follow Jesús, that did not mean that Peter had become worthy. Rather, for all three, it meant that they were ready to do what God asked of them. God wants us as we are.
This is the year of mercy. Lent starts this week. Normally in Lent we give something up, like television or dessert or candy. But Pope Francis is asking us this year to not give anything up. Rather he is asking us to grow in being merciful. He is asking us to practice ways to  accept God’s mercy toward us and to learn how to show that mercy to others.
Psychologists say that it takes about six weeks to change a habit or to learn a new one. Lent is six weeks long. So if we are faithful and thorough, by Easter we should know mercy. We should know how to love regardless of circumstances. We should know how to forgive and free ourselves of grudges. We should know that worthiness is not a requirement for love or mercy.

We know that ours is not a world of mercy. Listen to the politicians. Some want to keep out the stranger, some want to kill everybody who might belong to a group that includes people we fear. Some want to show mercy only to the richest of people. Ours is not a world of mercy.
But we don’t have to be formed by that world. We can spend the period of lent learning how to live in the world of mercy and love.  We can practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.[1] We pray for and, if we can, visit the sick and imprisoned. We play some role in feeding the hungry. We welcome the stranger.
If we are faithful to this task during lunch, then by Easter we will rise with Christ as people of mercy. We may not receive mercy in return from those to whom we show it, but we will be assured that God’s love and mercy will always be with us.

  1. Feed the hungry
  2. Give drink to the thirsty
  3. Clothe the naked
  4. Shelter the homeless
  5. Visit the sick
  6. Visit the imprisoned
  7. Bury the dead
  1. Admonish the sinner
  2. Instruct the ignorant
  3. Counsel the doubtful
  4. Bear wrongs patiently
  5. Forgive offenses willingly
  6. Comfort the afflicted
  7. Pray for the living and the dead