Shaking Up the Church

A recent batch of WikiLeak documents reveals high-level Clinton campaign officials and supporters suggesting that that political forces should engineer a so-called “Catholic Spring” to rebel against the “middle-ages dictatorship” of the Catholic Church (folks like me, I’d guess). The emails also indicate that organizations have been formed and funded to divide the Church, apparently with the approval and support of these same high-level operatives.

Various writers have ably pointed out how egregious are such plans to interfere with the inner life of the Roman Catholic Church. They explain that this represents a serious breach in relations between Church and state, a disregard for basic human rights and liberties, and a special mark of contempt for Catholics as well as Evangelicals. I agree with these views. I also have to note at the outset the across-the-board moral bankruptcy of the current presidential campaign. At the same time, I’d like to take the discussion in another direction.

WikiLeaks revealed political operatives hoping to shake up the Church so that it would be conformed to their view of the world. Truth to tell, the Church does need to be shaken up, but not in the way these politicos imagine. It’s Pope Francis who’s shaking up the Church in a good way through an approach far different from that of these operatives. If we follow the Pope’s lead, not only will the Church be strengthened, so too society will become a more just, peaceful, and merciful place. Let me offer a few examples.

All it takes is a look at a recent report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to know that powerful political forces insist that the Church’s social service institutions be mere extensions of the government, with a moral compass indistinguishable from that which drives government policy. But Pope Francis insists that Catholic charitable and social service institutions must be more than mere NGO’s (non-governmental organizations). Rather, they must bind up the wounds of society with the compassion of Christ who alone fully reveals the dignity of each person. The Pope teaches us to think of the Church as a field hospital, and his arresting image highlights what Catholics bring to our public work: love of our neighbors rooted in our love of God. That’s not something on offer from the government.

Powerful political forces seek to provoke strong opposition to the Church because of its teaching on marriage as between one man and one woman. Yet Pope Francis called not one but two synods on marriage because it’s urgent that we strengthen the vocation of marriage and family life. His beautiful exhortation on marriage, “The Joy of Love,” guides married couples, the young, and the Church’s pastors in renewing marriage and family in our day. In fact, he’s jolting us out of our complacency as the true meaning and purpose of marriage are obscured and family life continues to break down. Pope Francis knows that it’s the young and the poor who will suffer disproportionately if this societal trend continues. Healthy societies and a healthy Church rest on healthy families.

Powerful political forces ridicule the Church’s teaching that one’s biological sex and one’s gender cannot be separated. They would force the Church to abandon a most elemental teaching of faith and reason: “male and female He created them.” But Pope Francis has forcefully challenged contemporary gender theory because he knows it’s the potential undoing not only of marriage but of a right understanding of human identity and dignity. When young people were told “you can be anything,” it used to mean that a wide range of careers was open to them. Now it means you can be a man or a woman or some other version of sexuality and that you can, God-like, create your own alternative universe. Pope Francis knows this is false and he wants us to make sure we know it, too.

Powerful political operatives have suggested that well-educated, professional people embrace the Catholic religion because it is more acceptable than the evangelical churches, thus insulting both faith communities. They have derided Catholics who take seriously the Christian formation of their children, who have had their children baptized in the Jordan River (where Christ was baptized), and who advance principles of Catholic social teaching such as subsidiarity (which stresses the importance of addressing problems and issues at the local level when possible). It doesn’t seem to occur to these political operatives that many people embrace religious faith because they actually believe it to be true and good.

Here, too, Francis is out to shake up the Church by calling us to authenticity, to become missionary disciples who go out to the margins. He’s challenging each of us truly to encounter the living Christ and to embrace the Gospel with enthusiasm, prompting us to compassionate action outside the sanctuary, at risk not only to our social standing but even to our personal security. He is urging us to be not only true believers but indeed the Lord’s messengers who bring the joy and healing of the Gospel to the peripheries of society.

These political operatives aren’t seeking to shake up the Church; they’re seeking to domesticate it. Pope Francis wants to revitalize it. Where the tactics of these operatives reveal a view of religion as something to be informed by political values, the Holy Father, in his book “On Heaven and Earth,” makes the case that religion should be informing politics with values, not engaging in partisan politics. Let’s follow his lead, not theirs.

30th Sunday C; Mt. St. Mary’s University Campus Ministry Mass Homily

“I frequently offer Mass here at Mount Saint Mary’s but this is the first time for me to offer a Sunday evening Mass for you, the university students. I’m grateful to Father Brian Nolan for inviting me, happy to greet the Focus Missionaries who are with us tonight and most of all, I’m glad to be with Mount community for a regular Sunday Mass.

“We gather this evening in the final month of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. As you remember, Pope Francis invited us during the past year to unite as a Church to do several important things: to remember with gratitude just how merciful God is; finding God’s mercy in the Person of Christ; to accept God’s mercy as we listen to God’s Word and share in the Sacraments; to extend the mercy we have received by reconciling with others and by showing compassion for those who are in need.”

Read the complete homily HERE.

30th Sunday C; 75th Anniversary of Trinity School Homily

“Sister Catherine Phelps, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, Fr. (John) Burkhard, Fr. (Leo) Larrivee, parents, friends and alumni of Trinity School, members of the board, faculty, and staff, our wonderful students, and all dear friends in Christ Jesus:

“It is a pleasure for me to offer this Holy Mass with you and for you as we observe the 75th anniversary of Trinity School. Way back in the 1930’s, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur purchased 170 acres, with buildings, here in Howard County, for the princely sum of $40,000. Even in 1933 dollars, that was the deal of the half-century! But what the Sisters did with the land and the existing school buildings is an even better “deal” (if I may use that word) for countless families. In 1934 the Sisters opened a junior high and high school for girls, and in 1941 opened an elementary school then known as the Julie Billiart Country Day School. In 1958, the school began to take on the name Trinity and by 1972 the high school closed and it became an elementary school.”

Read the complete homily HERE.

29th Sunday C; Knights of Columbus Board Meeting Homily

“One of my earliest memories is learning to pray. Mom and Dad prayed the Rosary every evening and they prayed with me before tucking me at night. When I was five or six, Mom told me that God always answers our prayers.

“That seemed pretty cool. At the time, ATM machines had not yet been invented but, ahead of my time, I regarded God as an ATM, a kind of Santa Claus who showed up, not just at Christmas, but all year long. So instead of submitting my list to Santa Claus, I submitted it to God. It included a bicycle, model cars, and a dog . . . none of which materialized. ‘But you told me,’ I said to my Mom, ‘God always answers our prayers.’

‘Yes,’ she said firmly, ‘and sometimes, he says, ‘no.’'”‘

Read the complete homily HERE.

Priests Convocation Mass 2016 Homily

“Over at Xerox, a highly paid Board of Directors, senior management, and indeed managers and employees at all levels ponder the mission of the company. Does it exist to sell copiers as it did years ago or does it exist to help companies manage documents and work flow? We can be sure that, in mapping its mission, Xerox takes into account the changing needs of what it hopes is an expanding customer base, even as the company strives to stay true to its core business.

“In the Archdiocese of Baltimore, there is no highly paid board of directors but there are many consultative bodies at the Archdiocesan and parish levels. In place of senior management there is the bishop and his senior leadership team, in place of managers there are pastors and their pastoral staffs, and in place of customers, there are parishioners as well as a very wide mission field. Xerox and the Church are very different organizations, but we, no less than they, are called to ponder the mission of the Church, ‘to read the signs of the times,’ so as to meet the pastoral needs of our time & place. The fact is we are facing a shrinking ‘customer base’ as fewer of the faithful elect to take part in Sunday Mass and share in parish life on a regular basis. We know there are ways to turn it around but this requires us to ‘re-think’ and, may I say, ‘re-pray’ our mission, and thus return to the ‘core business’ of the Church.”

Read the complete homily HERE.

Confirmation Mass Homily; Basilica of the Assumption

“What a joy to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation with you and for you this afternoon. Present in this Basilica, the oldest Cathedral in the United States, is a diverse group of people, ranging from ages 15 to 78. But no matter how young or how old you are, what happens to you today is the same: by the prayer of the Church, the laying on of my hands, and the anointing with chrism, you will receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit; the seven gifts of the Spirit first received in Baptism will be deepened in you; and you will become fully members of Christ’s Body, the Church. Today, you take an important step in your life of faith, a step that concretizes your commitment to living according to God’s will, profoundly influenced by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

“In taking this step, you are following saints who committed themselves to God and to living according to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I’d like to tell you about some saints who lived right here in Baltimore; saints who traveled the same streets that we do. Their lives were very different, one from another, but they had this common: Once they found God, there was no turning back. Their lives were forever changed! Who were these saints? And how did they follow Christ in the Spirit?”

Read the complete homily HERE.

Installation of Fr. Ray Harris Homily; Holy Family Parish

“Thank you, dear friends, for your warm applause for Father Harris on this day of his installation as your pastor, here at Holy Family Parish. We do this on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of this parish, a history which actually stretches back even further to the 1850’s. Suffice it to say that, through the years Holy Family was served by many extraordinary and dedicated priests, beginning with the Jesuit fathers who long ago laid the foundations for this parish. In its early days Holy Family was a mission of various surrounding parishes and priests would travel long distances by horseback to offer Mass here. But as the community grew, it became a parish in its own right as successive pastors led the community in building up the parish. So, Father Harris follows a long line of distinguished priests yet he also brings gifts which, in my judgment and yours, are so necessary for Holy Family Parish at this juncture in its history.

“At the risk of embarrassing Father Harris, I’d like to mention some of those gifts – First and foremost, he has brought a renewed sense of joy to Holy Family. The first indicator is his hearty and infectious laugh but his joy in the Gospel runs much deeper and has permeated his priestly service. That joy is not manufactured but flows from his relationship with the Lord and his desire to share the Good News with everyone he meets. Second, he brings a wealth of experience. He has served on various parishes with great effectiveness, has served as campus minister at Mt. St. Mary’s University, and continues to serve generously on the Marriage Tribunal of the Archdiocese. Father Harris, as you know, is a wise and loving guide in all that lies ahead. Third, Father Harris brings a spirit of hope. Together with parish leadership, he sees Holy Family as poised for growth. Under his leadership, Holy Family is becoming a hub of missionary activity and many are finding their way to this parish family. So we thank you, Father Harris, for accepting my invitation to serve as Pastor.”

Read the complete homily HERE.