Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Better than giving up liver

"I have found through the years that sin in life is usually the result of one thing: boredom. In general, at least I hope, we do not lounge around plotting our next venial transgression. Rather, sin insinuates itself into minds otherwise not engaged with better things. Ask yourself: How can my mind become preoccupied with better things, the good of others, the happiness of my family and my community? These things seem more important for Lent (and for every day after Lent) than giving up liver one more time."

Father Denis Robinson, O.S.B.

Lenten Remarks to Seminarians
17 February 2015

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A nice homily from Fr. Denis: "Everyone is looking for you"

While I was gone preaching this homily last weekend, the rector, Fr. Denis Robinson, OSB, was preaching a far nicer one here on the Hill.

I have chopped some of it off and put it into a poetic format. Beautiful.

Here it are my favorite parts, but here's a link the whole thing:
Jesus tried to get away, but everyone was looking for him.

He tried to get a bit of time alone,
     But everyone was looking for him.
He tried to go on a silent retreat
     But everyone was looking for him.
He wanted to ditch those disciples
     But everyone was looking for him.
Peter’s mother in law made great chili
     But everyone was looking for him

Brothers and sisters, How true that was for Jesus, we know that and how true that is for us.
     Whether we are introverts or just shy
     Whether we are afraid of our own shadow
     Whether we have energy to spare or not
     Everyone is looking for you. That is why we are here.

Everyone is looking for you because everyone needs you.
     The questioner needs you
     The agnostic needs you
     The sick man needs you
     The homebound need you
     The children in the school need you
     The pastor needs you
     The parish staff needs you
     The beggar at the backdoor needs you
     The homeless need you

Everyone it seems is looking for you.

Why? Because in this vocation you are pursuing, in the work for which we are preparing you here at Saint Meinrad, you must like Paul become all things for all people.  Not in the sense of having all the answers, you will not. I do not.  But in the sense of an opening of each one, to be a shepherd, to be a listener, to be a friend, to be a companion, to be present, to be a pastor, to be a caregiver for all.

Jesus tried to get away. There was no retreat.  Jesus, in St. Mark’s Gospel tried to keep his actions a secret.  The truth got out.

What am I saying?
     Be ready to be a public person.
     Be ready to wear yourself out for the Gospel.
     Be ready to drop over at the end of the day and get up the next day raring to go.

Because, brothers and sisters, it is worth it. You have no idea how worth it it is, but it will cost
     You will have no privacy
     You will have no recharging time
     You will have little time for recreation
     You will have the sore feet,
      the headache,
      the cramps from the chili cookoff,
      the waistline from the donuts after mass,
      the earache from hearing confessions,
      the bleary eyes from sitting at the bedside of an old lady drifting away,
      the sore sides from laughing,
      the sore legs from running around on the playground.

But O, brothers and sisters, it is worth it.

Jesus calls so let us go
     Let us go into the cities, for there are those in need
     Let us go on to the nearby villages that we may preach there also
     Let us go to one another realizing the best ministry I may ever do is right here.
     Let us search out those who find life a drudgery and their days are like those of hirelings.
     Let us engage the work of the Gospel from waking moment to falling asleep
     Let us lose a little sleep in service
     Let us get tired feet in service
     Let us seek to outdo one another in service
     Let us plan to drop dead in the service of Christ, just lying there in the confessional, in the dust, by the car, in front of the tabernacle, at the nursing home.
     Let us plan to die on our feet, because everyone is looking for you.

That seems a good place to stop for the day. Besides in this exhausting endeavor we may need a bit of sustenance, and we know where we have to go for that.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Devil's Footprints

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
Deacon Mike Keucher
7/8 February 2015 - 5pm, 8:30am, 10:30am, 6pm
Holy Family Catholic Church - New Albany, IN
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7  |  Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19  |  1 Corinthians 1:3-9  |  Mark 13:33-37

Image source
The story is told of a church much like this one. Mass had just started when, low and behold, the darnedest thing happened. The Devil himself walked into the church, in a grim reaper outfit. The congregation was horrified and began to scream and disperse. It was mayhem! Folks ran out the doors—all except one man, who looked completely unphased by the whole thing. Now the Devil's mission is to get people out of church (there's a lot of truth in that), so he went up to this man's face and looked him square in the eye in an effort to get him out. The old man said, “Look. You don't scare me. I've been married to your sister for 30 years.”

Today Holy Church celebrates Happy World Marriage Sunday. That's my way of saying Happy World Marriage Sunday.

You know, I like to laugh at that joke, but I can tell you a group of people who would never laugh at it or any other joke about the Devil: the townspeople of Devon, England 160 years ago. You see, according to my This Day In History calendar, 160 years ago this day--that's 1855--the townsfolk of Devon woke up to a beautiful snow fall, six inches of beautiful snow. The people looked out their windows in awe of the beauty, but then they looked a little closer. What they saw intrigued them and then it scared them. The saw footprints, strange, strange footprints.  They didn't look like anything a human could leave behind, and they didn't look like the tracks of any animal either. The townspeople were so intrigued and spooked by it that it is said they went after those tracks to see where they went. They followed them, and apparently the tracks would come to buildings and just walk up, as though the laws of gravity didn't apply to the creature that left these tracks. And then they'd come to a fence and just carry on on the other side, as though the fence weren't even there. And then they come to the middle of no where and just disappear, as though the creature simply vanished.  People were terrified and immediately judged these footprints to be the Devil's work.  The the phenomenon became known in the town as “the Devil's footprints.”

It's easy to dismiss the idea that the Devil actually left footprints in the snow 160 years ago in Devon—and I don't care if you do.  I don't really know if I believe it myself.  But this story is useful in one way.  It ought to make us ask this question: where are the Devil's footprints today?  Because the Devil does exist and his footprints are all over this world. His footprints come down to Georgia, looking for a soul to steal, and they come to New Albany, Indiana, too.  His footprints are all over this world.  Just open the newspaper, turn on the television.  As I wrote this I looked online on the news page. There was a story about ISIS appearing to burning a Jordanian pilot alive on a new video. There were the devil's footprints. Another story told about a plane crash in Colorado. There was another story about the drugs that led to Bobbi Kristina Brown's being found unresponsive. Yet another was about another high school shooting, this one in Frederick, Maryland. There was something increasing homeless rates.  It's the devil's footprints.

Sometimes, we don't even have to turn on the TV, open the newspaper, or look out our windows to see the Devil's footprints. Sometimes, if we look, we can see the Devil's footprints in our own souls, our own lives. Take Job, for example. The Devil went to town on Job. The first reading says he was plagued with one troubled night after another after another, and you wouldn't be able to sleep either if you knew what he went through: remember how he had lost everything important to him. It started with the loss of a pig, and then the Devil took the rest of Job's livestock, then his house, then his sons, then his health.  Just when it seemed he had nothing else to lose, the Devil took that too.  Job endured months of utter misery, and that word is not used lightly: the Devil tormented Job. So down is Job that today's snippet says he almost gives up hope, the last thing he had to hold on to. He is tempted far more than we can imagine. Surely he was bitter, angry, frustrated, just about to throw in the towel. He even comes to feel that he will never see happiness again.  The psalmist talks about the “brokenhearted,” and Job was that times 50.  The Devil was all over Job's life. His footprints were everywhere, and we can't imagine what he must have gone through.

But we do all have Job days. We feel like one thing after another goes wrong. Life gets really messed up and we feel like giving up, walking away. Like Job we feel the work of the Devil, we see his footprints in our souls. The Devil comes in and takes one thing after another sometimes.  Sometimes he pries in and puts graffiti up in our souls, trying to destroy what is there.  He tries to set up tent in our hearts, and he succeeds whenever hatred or bitterness, anger or lust, greed or whatever find a home in our hearts. Job knew well: don't let the Devil in, because he will find a home there.  And yet the Devil can be pretty insistent and sneaky, and we are all afflicted in some way by him.

So what can we do to get rid of the Devil?  We can listen to Pope Francis: “Satan doesn’t want … us to follow Christ. Maybe some of you might say: ‘But Father, how old fashioned you are to speak about the devil in the 21st century!’ But look out because the devil is present! The devil is here… even in the 21st century! And we mustn’t be naïve, right? We must learn from the Gospel how to fight against Satan.” 

Pope Francis says turn to the Gospel to learn how to fight him.  What does our Gospel say today? “When it was evening, after sunset, [the apostles] brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door.”  It's subtle, but those lines are important to listen to.  The one line says that the apostles brought those who are ill and possessed to the door of Jesus, and the next line says the whole town was there. The whole town was possessed by various bands of demons, just as everyone here is. The Devil's footprints had made their way into the hearts of all, the lives of all.

And what was the answer to getting rid of them? Coming to God's door.  I think we go to God's door when we open Scripture. We go to his door when we pray, especially in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament (you heard Fr. Dan announce upcoming opportunities for that in the coming weeks). We go to his door when we go to confession. In confession God wipes clean the Devil's footprints from our lives, he purifies the landscapes of our hearts.  We go to God's door when we receive the Eucharist, even one drop of his blood or one crumb of a host.  We go to his door whenever we cry out to Jesus from the bottom of our hearts, asking him to help instead of trying to invent our own solutions to fighting the devil (if I only make the right to-do list, drink the right combination of drinks, go on the right diet, turn up the tv...).  No. Cry out to Jesus.  There's a song by that name, by Third Day, one of my favorites these days.  I want to end with its lines:

There is hope for the helpless
Rest for the weary
Love for the broken heart
There is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing
He'll meet you wherever you are
Cry out to Jesus, Cry out to Jesus

Job would have loved to have heard those lines. I think he did. We forget how his story ends. Job cries out for his God again and again and again. And God makes the Devil take flight, and God gives Job double what the Devil had taken from him. God came to meet Job, just as the song says: “He'll meet you wherever you are.”  As much as the Devils' footprints afflict us, God’s footprints win the day, they come to meet us wherever we are.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Will you shed your blood?

Will you shed your blood?
Deacon Mike Keucher
6 February 2015
Memorial of St. Paul Miki and Companions
Preached at the St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel, St. Meinrad
Hebrews 13:1-8  |  Psalms 27:1, 3, 5, 8b-9abc  |  Mark 6:14-29

Image source
It has been a bloody week.  Blood has been in our readings every day this week. Some of that is because we've been reading the bloody book of Hebrews, but we've also heard some bloody episodes recounted in the Gospels: I'm thinking of John the Baptist's decapitation today and the hemorrhaging woman's healing a few days ago. And then, earlier this week, Pope Francis said he will canonize Oscar Romero, who was shot and bled to death while saying Mass. And let's not forget about the already-saints we've celebrated this week. We've heard about Blaise's ability to cure a bloody throat and about the heroic endurance possessed by the young girl St. Agatha during the bloody torture she faced.

And then there is the bloody story of Paul Miki and his friends, whom we commemorate today.  Paul Miki was a seminarian when he died, so today is a special day for us.  He was in his 12th year of Jesuit formation (guess 6 isn’t so bad), on the cusp of his diaconate ordination.  No doubt that, in the back of his mind, he was thinking about his first homily. He was ready to give his life away.

And that he did, but in a bloodier way than he expected. On this day in 1597, Paul and 25 companions had just finished a brutal, four-week journey to the hill of their Calvary in Nagasaki. They were hung upon their crosses. After Paul was stabbed with a lance, and as the blood gushed out from his side and onto the dirt, he was heard uttering this prayer: “I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.”

I think St. Paul Miki—and all the blood of this week—reminds us that discipleship means shedding blood, that it is not simply a spiritual affair. Often discipleship gets messy, it gets costly, even to the point of shedding blood, just as Jesus did—for the life of the world.  Christianity is very much a blood religion, much as we try to sanitize it. We who receive the blood of our Christ at this altar into our veins are called to shed that very Precious blood, mixed with our own, for the life of the world.

We Christians shed our blood more than we realize.  I think of blood drives, like the one we have next Tuesday. Sign up. I think of the wounds of veterans. I think of women who give birth and all who shed blood, sweat and tears caring for their families: they often have the calloused and scabbed hands to prove it. And what about us as future priests? We will shed our blood in the paper cuts we get while stuffing bulletins, when the knife slips when we're preparing some parish meal, and when the cat lady's cat Mr. Waggles bites us during a home visit. We'll shed it when moving a file cabinet or fixing a busted boiler, a damaged dishwasher, or problematic pipes.  We will get bloody cleaning up after a fight on the school playground and when blood somehow splashes upon us while we are attending a sad soul in broken body in a hospital room. We will shed our blood when our hearts break for our people.

And when we get bloody—let us take consolation in knowing that, just as one drop of Christ's Precious Blood is enough to fill our dreams to overflowing and even bring us to everlasting life, just the same way, one drop of our blood might also be the price of a soul when God is involved.  Let us pray with Paul Miki: May the blood we shed fall on the world as a fruitful rain.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Be sick with love

Homily for the Wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Kyle Field
Deacon Mike Keucher
31 January 2015
Preached at St. Charles Catholic Church, Bloomington, IN
Songs 2:8-10, 14, 16a; 8:6 |  Phil 4:4-9  |  John 2:1-11

The new couple
On behalf of Fr. Tom and the whole parish of St Charles, it is my joy to welcome everyone here and tell you just how happy we are about the marriage that begins today at this wedding celebration, the marriage of Kyle and Ania.  But I feel especially happy for you because I have been blessed to have watched a good part of the journey that has brought you to this holy day unfold.  That is a grace.

I never cease to be amazed at how the liturgy speaks to us perfectly. The responsory in today’s midday prayer, which I offered for you, was this: “What joy to see a family united in love. The blessing of God rests upon it.”  What a blessing it is to be here in this church, in this family united in love, as a new leg of the family begins with Kyle and Ania. The blessing of God rests upon us, and I can feel it. Today, Kyle and Ania, you are surrounded by the love of you family and friends, and even more the love of our Christ. The readings in today’s liturgy also speak perfectly to the journey that Kyle and Ania have traversed over the years...and they offer three bits of advice for a happy and holy marriage.

Your journey towards discovering God's will in one another began ten years ago this month at a Superbowl party. Now, ten years ago was the last time the Patriots won a superbowl—I hope we can still say that after tomorrow's game. Every Colts fan was miserable that night ten years ago: after all, the Patriots had won three superbowls in four years.  But, perhaps in some twisted and strange way, we can say the Patriots had a part to play in bringing Kyle and Ania together. I knew God could bring good from evil, but I didn’t know he could do that much.  But every Colts fan was mad ten years ago.  Except Kyle and Ania. Because they had just met the one—the one they would spend the bulk of the next ten years—really, the rest of their lives—thinking about, dreaming about, and pursuing, and being pursued by.

In those early years of knowing one another, Kyle and Ania were in their early teenage years. But they were wise enough to know something of what love is.  Now, it didn’t happen right away: at first, Ania thought Kyle was a bit weird. I’ve never doubted her character judgment. But soon she became obsessed with him, which worked well because he was obsessed with himself.  But soon they became “sick with love.”  That's Scripture, you know.  It's a phrase that comes from the Song of Songs, just one verse before where the first reading today picks up.  The author of the text we heard in that first reading was quite sick with love—she had to be to be talking about gazelles and stags as she does. My goodness it gets a bit graphic!  But that phrase “sick with love,” it is powerful.  Kyle and Ania: be sick with love, be infected by it, stricken by it, utterly powerless against it. Be paralyzed by it.  Be sick with it. And become sicker and sicker with love, a little bit more each day of your lives, so much so that when you are dancing to your 67th wedding anniversary in the nursing home, you are sicker with love than anything else that ails you. And be so sick with love that when you die you die of love.  Be sick with love—that’s advice number one.

Indications are good that Kyle and Ania will succeed in this, because after that initial stage in your relationship was over--the getting to know you part--things got deeper.  Fast.  I remember being on a few retreats with Kyle and Ania. One time, just across the parking lot, at an overnight retreat, those affirmation things came up.  The idea is that you say something nice about everyone else in the group.  I remember, though, that both Kyle and Ania spoke for about ten minutes about how much good they saw in the other. You'd have thought Ania was talking about Padre Pio and Kyle about Mother Teresa. They saw nothing but good in the other.  St. Paul would have been pleased, though. He tells us in the second reading that we are to think about whatever is holy, whatever is true, whatever is beautiful, whatever is good--think about these things, he says.  Everyone in this church knows you both well enough to know that there is plenty that is holy, true, beautiful, and good in each of you—and endless supply of it.  And you will spend the rest of your lives unpacking all the beauty and truth and goodness in the other, more than you ever thought possible.  So St Paul tells you today: never stop seeing the good in one another.  It's easy today. 20 years from now it might be harder.  But you know that. Look for the good, and you will find it. Look for the good and forget the rest.  If you succeed, which you will, your marriage itself will remind the world, and it will teach your children, and it will reveal even to yourself, in new ways each day, all that is true, perfect, holy, good in this world. Your marriage has the power to do that! That advice number two: always see the good and forget the rest.

As the years went by, Kyle and Ania both became quite on fire with their faith. Their parents instilled it in them beautifully!  It became important to both to live good and holy lives—at least try to.  Which meant following God’s will, putting God first.  Now, while putting God first is always the right thing to do, it isn't always easy.  You see, Kyle began to wonder if God was calling him to be a priest. He felt a certain kind of tug to go to seminary to check it out. He wanted to make sure that priesthood was not for him.  So, in 2009, he went to seminary.  So did I, that same year, and we broke hearts all over town: I went to Meinrad and he went to Brute Seminary. Kyle, I will always cherish those days we spent discerning God’s will together.  But there in seminary, Kyle did not forget about Ania.  And Ania didn't forget about Kyle.

It quickly became clear that the priesthood was not for Kyle. Ania was.  There was one moment when I knew beyond all doubt that God's plan for you was not only marriage, but marriage to Ania.  And that was one late night in this church. It was about midnight. I was praying for your vocation, which I knew you were struggling a lot with (the rumor was you were leaving seminary), and ten minutes later, you walked in that door. Ania was next to you. I think I knew it then—that you would end up marrying one another.  I also knew then that God was first in your lives, as he remains.  And that's good, because the message of the Gospel is this: remember Christ and his Mother come first!  If you keep God and His Mother first and they will take care of you. I recently saw a painting of the Gospel story we just heard of the wedding feast at Cana. It depicts a great and grand celebration, much like what we have today. But the couple is in the background. Jesus is in the front, right next to his mother, working the miracle.  Seek to put God first, and everything else will take care of itself.  If you put God in the foreground of your marriage, he will be there working miracles, daily miracles, giving you strength and hope and meaning and utter joy, beyond anything that you could have ever dreamed of for yourself. That is the promise of God from the Wedding feast at Cana.

That’s the three pieces of advice: be sick with love, always look for more good in the other, and keep God and his Mother first.

Now your journey towards God's will has brought you here, to this very moment, at this very altar. What will happen here in a few moments transcends emotions and Hallmark greeting card clichés and dancing and music and even cake.  What will happen today is the beginning of the fulfillment of your dreams and God's dreams for you.  Your dreams and God's dreams have brought you as man and woman, to this altar, and it is a fitting place to be: here, in a few moments, you will bring up not just gifts, but your very selves and you will give them to one another—and then together you will give your marriage to God at this holy altar.  And he will transform your relationship as surely as he transforms the bread and the wine: He will fill it with his presence, sanctify it, and seal it with the vows he makes to you even as you declare your vows to each other.  You will leave this altar having received two things you don't deserve but that God in his mercy and grace gives: you will receive one another and you will receive God. And that is enough. It is more than enough!

May God bless your marriage and each and every day help you to grow in love for one another and for himself. Amen.