Saturday, September 24, 2016

Bearable Hiking

Bearable Hiking

I've been hiking in Harriman State Park and adjacent Bear Mt. State Park regularly since 1996, until my transfer to the cornfields of Illinois this past summer. 3 days of Salesian activities at the Marian Shrine have brought me back for a long weekend, and today I took advantage of a break to make a dash into Harriman--only an hour's jaunt up the Suffern-Bear Mt. Trail from Gate Hill Rd. to the abandoned fire tower, and back.

And I had a first-time experience.

Until now, my black bear sightings had been confined to the zoo at Bear Mt.
and one bear dashing across Seven Lakes Drive in August 2008 as I was driving up the parkway.

This afternoon, maybe 10 minutes into my hike, still short of the ruins of Orak, I saw in the brush alongside the trail what I thought was a large, dark-haired dog off its leash.  I thought it unusual that I didn't hear his master or mistress coming down the trail, or that the "dog" didn't hear me approaching.  I guess I was about 40 feet away when I whistled to get its attention.  As it turned around, 2 more, smaller heads popped up from the brush.  These weren't dogs!

I turned around quickly and walked quickly back up the trail about 15 feet before looking back.  I'd also been removing the lens cap from my camera, but when I turned around it was already too late to shoot.  Mama bear and her 2 cubs were scooting away into the woods.  While it was a little disappointing not to get a photo, it was a better thing that Mama ran off.

Then a hiker did come into view from the other direction, armed with a short, heavy tree limb and pointing silently toward where the bears had just gone.  He'd seen only 2 of them and was relieved that I'd spotted 3, meaning there wasn't an unaccounted-for cub somewhere nearby.  So he dropped his weapon onto the trail, and we went on our ways, he toward the parking lot and I toward Orak and the fire tower.

No more critters sighted bigger than chipmunks, except more day hikers.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Homily for 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
26th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sept. 26, 2004
1 Tim 6: 11-16
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.

This weekend (Sept. 24-25) I’m away from Champaign for province activities. So here’s another re-run.

      “But you, man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness” (1 Tim 6: 11).

      Paul’s 2 letters to Timothy are, of course, directed to a specific individual, one of his disciples to whom he has entrusted pastoral care.  Hence they, and the similar letter to Titus, are called the Pastoral Epistles.  But these letters merit the attention of all of us, not only of bishops and presbyters, for their advice on discipleship.

      Paul reminds Timothy of “the noble confession” he made publicly, “in the presence of many witnesses” (6:12), and he compares Timothy’s public testimony to that of “Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate” (6:13).  Jesus testified to the truth and to the priority of God’s rule before the Roman governor (John 18:36-37), as Timothy did when he accepted Baptism and professed faith in Jesus Christ.

      Paul had just been speaking of various vices that Christ’s followers must avoid, especially contentiousness and avarice.  In contrast to those, Timothy is to act as a man of God—a prophet, in Old Testament usage of the term—and pursue virtue:  righteousness, love, gentleness, and so on.  Paul charges him “to keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ” (6:14).  By “the commandment” he means total commitment to God, fidelity to his profession of faith without regard to personal cost in this world.

      Instead of concern for the goods of this world, Timothy and we are to “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.”  By righteousness, devotion, and faith we cement our relationship with God; by love, patience, and gentleness, with our sisters and brothers.  Obviously these virtues are valid and necessary for all Christ’s disciples and not just for presbyters and bishops.  For all of us they are our public testimony—before God, before the Church, before society—that we belong to Christ.

      We believe that those virtues are the path to eternal life.  We were called to eternal life when Christ called us; and by living as he wishes us to live, we will “lay hold of eternal life” (6:12).  For Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

      Christ, furthermore, will return.  Crucifixion was not the end of Jesus of Nazareth or of his message.  The ascension of Jesus into heaven has not separated him forever from us.  “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” (Creed), to weigh all our thoughts, words, and deeds in the balance of divine justice, to bring to life all who belong to him and to send on their chosen path all who have rejected him.  What we do in this life, the choices we make, our fidelity to God’s plan has eternal consequences, as the rich man finds out in Jesus’ parable today (Luke 16:19-31).  So Paul charges Timothy and all of us to “keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ,” who will reveal to all mankind “the King of kings and Lord of lords” (6:15), the eternal God, “who alone has immortality” (6:16) but who shares his immortal life with all who are in Christ.

      Paul has pointed toward our goal, and he has marked the way for us.  The goal is eternal life, which is God’s gift, and the way to it is our union with Christ Jesus—union of commitment thru Baptism, sacramental union thru the Eucharist, union of testimony in lives that imitate his, union as our everlasting destiny, until we can say with St. Paul, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Homily for 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
25th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sept. 19, 2004
Luke 16: 1-13
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

It was the deacons’ turn to preach this week at Holy Cross. Here’s a homily from the archives, very lightly touched up.

“The master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently” (Luke 16: 8).
(source unknown)
We read today one of Jesus’ more difficult parables.  Even the word master, or lord, in that verse is ambiguous.  Does it refer to the steward’s master who has called him to account, or to Jesus hinting at an interpretation?  There’s no way to be sure.

The situation Jesus speaks of would be well known in his audience—in this case, his disciples.  Palestine had many great landowners who were absentee lords.  They left managers in charge of individual estates, like the steward in this instance, while they dwelt in one of the cities or on another of their estates.

The steward is being dismissed for “squandering” his master’s property (16:1).  That’s the same word used in the previous parable to tell us what the younger son did with his inheritance (15:13).  In itself, this doesn’t suggest criminal behavior or dishonesty as much as carelessness, perhaps incompetence, perhaps overspending, perhaps living it up on his master’s income.  It’s not bad enuf that he should be charged with a crime like embezzlement; Jesus does tell a couple of parables where jail is involved.  It’s not even urgent enuf that the steward should be thrown out on his ear.  He’s been given notice.

This is a crisis for a man of position; and the steward of a great estate is a man of position.  He’s not capable of hard manual labor, which would be demeaning after he’s been in management.  You don’t expect Michael Eisner to ride a sanitation truck in L.A. after he leaves Disney.  Even more shameful would be to sit at the town gate begging for alms, like the blind man on the outskirts of Jericho (18:35).  Everyone would laugh at him, a big shot brought down.

So the steward comes up with a plan.  His master has debtors, and as the property manager he’s probably the one who arranged the loans to these well-to-do neighbors who found themselves pinched for cash to pay their taxes or buy seed back at planting time or equipment for the olive oil.  Or, if they’re tenants on the great estate, he handled the leases.

The sums of produce are huge:  the oil of about 150 trees, the wheat of about 100 acres.  These gentlemen aren’t the poor of the land.  They’re doing all right.  They’re in a position to have managers of their own—to give our unfortunate steward a place to land when he’s cut loose.

So he’ll put them into his debt by reducing what they owe to his master.  Most commentators are of the opinion that he’s removing his own cut—his commission, if you will—when he alters the contracts.  If they were really hard pressed when they borrowed, he may have driven them to a hard bargain, so that now he has room to ease up without hurting his master.  That doesn’t explain why the steward is called “dishonest” (16:8).  But perhaps we probe too far when we try to dissect everything.

Whoever it is that commends “the dishonest steward,” either his master or our Lord, commends his prudence, his foresight.  He has come to a personal crisis, and he’s devised a workable plan to deal with it.

What’s Jesus’ point?  The parable is addressed to his disciples.  Were the parable in a different context, say the end of the next chapter where he speaks of the crisis of the coming of the Son of Man, we would say the point is that all of us must render an account of our stewardship, and we need a good plan for that day.  The parable might be a summons to conversion.

But in the context where Luke has put the parable, the concern seems to be wealth, what one does with the material goods entrusted to him.  Bear in mind that whatever is given to a person is given in stewardship:  “The Lord God took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it” (Gen 2:15).  The series of short sayings immediately following the parable speak to that issue.  The worldly-wise, like the steward, know how to use their material assets, their positions, their influence, to take care of themselves, to advance their interests, to cover their rear ends if need be.  They may even be expert at cheating, stealing, and abusing their fellows for their own aggrandizement, like those denounced by Amos (8:4-7), the Michael Milkens, Enrons, World Coms, and Bernie Madoffs of the ancient world.

Christians also need a certain wisdom in using material goods, using them to protect their own interests, secure their long-term objective.  “Make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth”—literally, “the mammon of iniquity”—“so that when it fails”—as all material goods must—“you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (16:9).  Wealth, influence, all worldly advantages must someday fail.  If we have used them prudently to make true friends, then a place will be ready for us in the kingdom of God, the Lord’s eternal dwelling.

How does a disciple of Jesus use “dishonest wealth,” untrustworthy wealth, to make the right kind of friends, to prepare for himself an eternal dwelling?  “No servant can serve 2 masters” (16:13), so the disciple must 1st of all direct wealth and its associated benefits toward his true Master and not toward himself, much less toward wealth for its own sake, like a miser.  William Barclay suggests that one could use wealth with an eye to eternity:

The Rabbis had a saying, “The rich help the poor in this world, but the poor help the rich in the world to come.”  [St.] Ambrose, commenting on the rich fool who built bigger barns to store his goods, said, “The bosoms of the poor, the houses of widows, the mouths of children are the barns which last forever.”  It was a Jewish belief that charity given to poor people would stand to a man’s credit in the world to come.  A man’s true wealth would consist not in what he kept, but in what he gave away.[1]

An earlier episode in Luke’s gospel gives us a parable in action conforming to this theme.  A centurion, a pagan, sends to Jesus a message asking him to cure his dying slave.  His couriers are the Jewish elders of the town, who intercede for him:  “He deserves to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation and he built our synagog for us” (Luke 7:2-10).  The centurion used his wealth to make worthy friends who then stood by him before the Lord.
The Centurion & Jesus
(Paolo Veronese)
2d, the disciple must use his wealth and authority in a manner that serves his master—as of course the steward in the parable failed to do, and so was dismissed.  The disciple must be “trustworthy with dishonest wealth” (16:11).

For us religious, who of course have no fortunes at our disposal, let’s distinguish between the individual and the community.  The individual religious with her vow of poverty puts herself and her worldly goods, such as they may be, at the disposal of the community and of the kingdom.  She’s frugal.  She doesn’t horde.  She shares.  She accounts to the superior.

The superior—meaning one with financial responsibility—uses the common goods carefully, and not just for the community but for also the needy—a few verses on comes the parable of Dives and Lazarus—and for the apostolic work.  Competent people are appointed or hired to manage property and programs.  The community’s assets are taken care of, maintained, stretched—buildings, vehicles, appliances, utilities, church goods, etc., lest we “squander [the Master’s] property.”  What’s necessary is provided.  What’s luxurious is avoided, lest we “squander [the Master’s] property.”

All disciples of the Lord Jesus must live in this world, as complex as it is.  If we’re apostolic religious we have to deal with the world—with the educational bureaucracy, business people, lawyers, contractors, mechanics.  As aging religious, we also have to deal with the medical world and the world of Social Security.  We can’t run from all that and be prudent stewards.  We have to handle goods responsibly and not carelessly.  But we can deal with the world in such a manner that our eyes are ever on “true wealth” (16:11), on our relationship with Jesus our Lord.


     [1] Commentary on Luke 16:1-13.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Vespers of the Holy Cross

Vespers of the Holy Cross

At the church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in Champaign, every year we celebrate Feast Week--a week-long celebration of the solemn feast of our parish.  It begins on the Saturday evening preceding the feast (September 14) and runs thru the following Saturday.

There are "serious" celebrations, including this year 3 Masses on the solemnity itself (note that, because it's the "titular feast" of the parish, it is a local solemnity, liturgically speaking), sung First Vespers the preceding evening, and a "living Rosary" led the school children.  Lighter moments included a buffet dinner with music and dancing, mouse races, an ice cream social, hot dog day at school, and a family carnival.

Our parish has been blessed for 20-something years to have Scott Montgomery as our organist and music director. Each year he plans and leads the singing of First Vespers (Evening Prayer I) and then gives a recital.

In addition to the choir

about 45 parishioners (who may have included some guests) came to praise the Lord in the Church's solemn sung Evening Prayer.

Unfortunately, the sound quality of my camera doesn't do justice to the excellence of the choir. But, for what it's worth, here they are chanting the end of the 1st psalm:

video

I recorded other elements--another full psalm, the Magnificat, and most of the 1st piece in the recital that followed Vespers, but the videos are too large to upload here.

Scott's recital included 6 pieces, with brief commentary:  Percy Fletcher's Festival Toccata; Mozart's Fantasie in F minor (KV 608); Sigfrid Karg-Elert's "Saluto Angelico" from Cathedral Windows (op. 106) and "Clair de Lune" from Trios Impressions (op. 72); Alexandre Guilmant's scherzo from Sonata 8 in A Major (op. 91); and Louis Vierne's final from Symphony No. 1 (op. 14).

The congregation gave him a standing ovation when he finished, then lingered to chat with him and each other.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Homily for 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
1 Tim 1: 12-17
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.
Sept. 11, 2016

“This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1: 15).

Sometime today in cities and towns all over the N.Y. metro area, around Washington, D.C., and in a field near Shanksville, Pa., there will be memorial services.  One of those services will be at the city hall of Mt. Vernon, N.Y., where Troop 40 BSA, my former troop, will take a prominent place, as they do every year.  The service will include the reading of the names of, and perhaps the lighting of candles for, 5 Mt. Vernon citizens who died in the WTC on 9/11.
The Twin Towers
photo "swiped" from The Deacon's Bench
One of those 5 was our Scoutmaster, and my friend, Michael Andrew Boccardi, age 30.  Over the course of several weeks, the New York Times ran brief profiles of every one of the 2,983 men and women who perished that awful morning in the Twin Towers.  This is what Mike’s, captioned “A Loyal Scout,”* said:

Taking more than a dozen 15-year-old Boy Scouts to the wilds of New Mexico for a 10-day trip on horseback might not sound like the ideal trip for some people, but it was for Michael A. Boccardi.  “It was a once in a lifetime thing,” said his friend Ed Maselli, an assistant scoutmaster of Troop 40 in Mount Vernon, N.Y., which Mr. Boccardi led as scoutmaster.  “Snakes, bears, the whole nine yards.  He loved it.”

Mr. Boccardi, 30, worked as a senior vice president of institutional relations at Fred Alger Management.  [Their office was on the 92d floor of the North Tower and probably was wiped out when the 1st plane hit.]

Scouting captured Mr. Boccardi’s imagination from the age of 10; he had been an Eagle Scout himself.  A typical month might include 20 nights devoted to various activities and events, according to the Westchester-Putnam Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Scouting was on his mind on the morning of Sept. 11.  From his office, he sent an e-mail message to a mother of one of the boys just before 9 a.m.  It was the troop’s revised newsletter.
Mike Boccardi, your humble blogger, and Ron Dingler
on a Scout trip to Camp Seton, Greenwich, Conn., in the late '90s

To which I’ll add that Mike also led us on 50-mile canoeing trips in the Adirondacks and on family outings to Disneyland and Disney World, as well as more mundane camping trips, ski trips, and movie nites, and the usual advancement and learning programs.  For many Scouts, especially those from single-parent households, he was a father figure despite his own youthfulness.  He was Scoutmaster by the time he was 25.

In 2001, I was stationed at Don Bosco Tech on Union Ave. in Paterson, N.J., 15 miles from Manhattan.  From parts of Paterson people watched the Twin Towers burn and fall.  A few days later we learned that 2 of the [expletive deleted] who commandeered the plane out of Newark had stayed in an apartment a mile down Union Ave.  Unimaginable evil had been lurking that close to us, and we didn’t know it.
"The Pit" where the WTC once stood
February 2005
How do we, as Christians, deal with the evil of 9/11, of attacks like those in Paris last November, of almost daily suicide bombings, of ISIS tyranny, of the Syrian civil war? of the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides of the 1990s?

An individual Christian is free to take Jesus’ words literally and turn the other cheek, offering no resistance, humbly accepting an injustice done to him (Matt 5:39).  But we retain the right to defend ourselves against violence.  And certainly we can’t oblige someone else to turn the other cheek; we are obliged to aid the weak and defenseless against evil—aiding widows and orphans, to use the classic phrasing of the Bible.  We are obliged actively to resist evil aimed at our neighbor insofar as we have the means to do so, as individuals; as a society, e.g., thru providing for law enforcement; and as a nation, e.g., thru the defense of human rights in other countries and thru military action against those who make war upon us.  It was a grave sin of omission that we and European powers stood by while a million Tutsis were slaughtered in Rwanda in 1994.  That’s why we have to continue to protest, march, and vote as long as abortion remains legal—and euthanasia is waiting in the legislative wings.
Some of the plaques listing all the WTC victims
February 2005
But there are limits also on what we may do as individuals and a nation.  We may not pass from self-defense to aggression (granted, the distinction may sometimes be difficult to figure out).  Vengeance—for 9/11 or for what you might call “ordinary crime” on our own streets—is a sinful motivation.  Self-defense is legitimate, but getting even or expressing our anger for its own sake isn’t.  Police officers are obliged to use the minimum amount of force required to preserve public order effectively, apprehend suspects, etc.  If our country finds it necessary to use military force, the moral law still holds; i.e., the requirements for waging a “just war” remain valid and binding, regardless of the other side’s barbarism.
The 9/11 Memorial Plaza includes the engraved names of all the WTC
victims in granite around the footprints of the 2 towers.
In the 2d reading today, St. Paul recalls his personal history—the awful things he did to Christians before his conversion, things he did with zeal for God, on his understanding of God’s Law.  “I was a blasphemer,” he writes, “and a persecutor and arrogant” (1 Tim 1:13).  In other places we read that he arrested the disciples of Jesus, pursued them beyond Jewish territory, put them in chains, dragged them into prison, and endorsed their execution (Acts 22:4-5; 26:10-11).  You could say he was a Jewish jihadist.  But, he observes today, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” and he, Paul, “was mercifully treated” by the Lord’s “abundant mercy” (1 Tim 1:14-16).

Which leads us to another point:  the hope that God’s mercy, God’s love, will touch today’s jihadists, the sorts of people who plan and carry out 9/11 attacks and other suicide missions, who behead and crucify and burn to death Christians, who wage war on women, children, and old men, etc.  We are obliged by our Lord Jesus to pray for these—and for drug lords, and armies that invade neighboring countries without provocation, and dictators who use chemical weapons, and child traffickers, and others like those—to pray that, like St. Paul, they may yield to the grace of God and be healed and be converted to goodness.  Jesus commands us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors (Matt 5:44), even those who fly airliners into our skyscrapers and murder our loved ones—because God desires the salvation of everyone.  We cannot for an instant hope or wish that anyone be eternally lost, eternally separated from God.  Was I glad when our Seals got Osama?  Yes, in a grim sort of way.  Did I gloat?  Hardly.  Did I pray for his soul.  Yes.

We who are created in God’s image, who have been baptized into Christ Jesus and who are supposed to be striving daily to become more and more like Christ Jesus must hope and wish and pray that the lost sheep be found, that the lost coin be found, that the angels and saints of God in heaven have abundant reason to rejoice (cf. Luke 15:1-10).

May God’s mercy be upon all of us.
The 9/11 Memorial plaza on a cold day in November 2013.

* NYT 10/14/01.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Homily for 23d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
23d Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sept. 4, 2016
Luke 14: 25-33
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14: 25).

We’ve heard some strange language, even harsh and alienating language, from Jesus in the gospels of recent Sundays.  Today the one who preaches universal love, even for enemies, for people who do us harm, tells us we have to be ready to hate our own families!  The one who commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves tells us we have to hate even our own lives!
Christ Carrying His Cross (Titian)
A couple of considerations are in order.  1st, at the end of ch. 9 of St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (v. 51); i.e., he set out with resolution, with determination.  Now we’re in ch. 14.  Everything we’ve been hearing from Jesus since the 13th Sunday of O.T., 10 weeks ago, has been spoken as he journeys, with full awareness, toward his passion and death.  The 1st line of today’s passage is, “Great crowds were traveling with Jesus.”  When he tells us we have to carry our own crosses and come after him, following in his footsteps, he knows already that he’s walking toward crucifixion; he’s already twice predicted his passion, death, and resurrection.  If we’re with him on our life’s journey, the journey we hope will end in eternal life, we, too, have 1st to be crucified—at least metaphorically.

2d, Jesus is a 1st-century Jew, and he uses the language of a 1st-century Jew, which was Aramaic, part of the Semitic family of languages like Arabic and modern Hebrew.  Semitic languages use a lot of exaggeration for emphasis, like the image of a camel squeezing thru the eye of a needle.  Today’s language of “hating” one’s family and renouncing “all” one’s possessions is another example of such emphasis.

Jesus’ words today—“hating” one’s family, taking up the cross, renouncing possessions, and 2 very short parables about building a tower and facing an enemy army—all together make one emphatic point.  If we wish to be Jesus’ disciples, we have to be all in for him, totally committed.  Does Lovie Smith want players who show up for practice when they feel like it?  Paraphrasing Will’s song to Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, “With Jesus it’s all or nothing, and nothing else will do.”

Thomas More and his daughter Margaret
at the Tower of London
If, like Thomas More or Thomas Aquinas or Katherine Tekakwitha, you have to choose between Jesus Christ and your family, you choose Jesus.  If, like so many Christians in Iraq and Syria in recent years, you have to choose between your home, your property, your livelihood, even your life, and Jesus Christ, you choose Jesus.

At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples there were dwelling places for them in heaven (cf. John 14:2).  (In the old Rheims translation, they were called “mansions”; that sounds so much better!)  What’s the cost of building that mansion for our eternal habitation?  Calculate the cost, as someone building a tower had better figure out his costs before he starts.  In another place—in fact, it’s right after Jesus starts on his journey toward Jerusalem—he advises his followers of the cost of coming along with him; he warns us not to put our hand to the plow and then turn back, because if we do we’re not “fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

We regard our 1st responders as heroes because they know the potential cost of the work they do, the service they provide; and like the heroes of the NYPD and FDNY on 9/11, they’re ready to pay that price.  In one of his eloquent Revolutionary War pamphlets, Thomas Paine decried the “summer soldier and sunshine patriot” who shrinks from his country’s service during the crisis, during “these times that try men’s souls.”  Before you start on the road to Jerusalem with Jesus, before you accept Baptism, before you come to the Eucharistic banquet to commune intimately with Christ, make a firm decision that you will complete the journey, you will not shrink from serving your Lord, whatever it may cost you.

We are engaged in an epic battle, not against an earthly army but against a demonic one—as we’re reminded every time we pray the St. Michael prayer.  Two weeks ago, Washington, D.C., pastor and blogger Msgr. Charles Pope posted “Comfort Catholicism Has to Go; It Is Time to Prepare for Persecution,”[1] with a subheading that begins, “We are at war for our own souls and the souls of people we love.”  An illustration with his post shows a huddle of a couple of dozen Christians and a lion in the foreground of a Roman arena, and behind them a dozen or so crucified victims.
The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer
(Jean-Leon Gerome)
Msgr. Pope challenges us to embrace the truth of Jesus Christ, to proclaim it, and to live it even in the face of cultural, political, and legal hostility.  He’s not talking about the Middle East.  He’s talking about here.  He tells us:

It is time to prepare for persecutions that will get bolder by the month and year.  The dark movements that marched in under the banners of tolerance never meant it.  And having increasingly gained power, they are seeking to criminalize anyone who resists their vision.  No tolerance for us.  Religious liberty is eroding, and compulsory compliance is already here.

He wonders how many bishops and priests, much less laity, are ready to say to the civil authorities, “We will not comply with evil laws or cooperate with evil.”

Msgr. Pope’s talking about laws and judicial rulings that aim to force the disciples of Jesus and our institutions—our schools, our hospitals, our other social services—to employ people who teach and act against what we stand for.  For instance, if I’m not mistaken, here in Illinois the Church can no longer run adoption services because we refuse to place children with people who model an immoral lifestyle.  He’s talking about rulings that aim to force us to subsidize immoral practices or even to actively engage in them, e.g., to compel medical residents to learn abortion techniques, nurses to take part in abortions, Catholic hospitals to give abortion referrals if not provide the procedure itself, individually or family-owned pharmacies to provide birth control; rulings to force us to give at least the public appearance of endorsing activity that is morally repugnant, e.g., by compelling photographers, bakers, and florists to take part in gay weddings.  Can you imagine what would happen if a court ordered an Afro-American baker to prepare a cake for a Klan rally?

But even in our day-to-day lives, following Jesus has a cost.  It demands faithfulness in our marriages, chastity in our relationships and even in our thoughts, attentiveness to the poor, obedience to parents, respect for people who irritate us or with whom we disagree, diligent work in school or our employment, patience when we’re driving (and no endangering others by texting while doing it, much less drinking before doing it), self-restraint when we get angry or upset, resisting the urge to tell tales about our neighbors and coworkers, telling the truth to those who are entitled to the truth, and much more.

What’s the mansion in God’s kingdom worth to us?  What price are we willing to pay?  Are we willing to renounce Satan and all his works and all his empty show and “the lure of evil, so that sin may have no mastery over [us]”[2]?  This is the crisis, the decision point, of every life.  And each of us has to answer for himself or herself.



         [1] National Catholic Register on-line, Aug. 22, 2016: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/msgr-pope/.
[2] Baptismal liturgy.