Friday, June 26, 2015

A Time to Hope, a Time to Ride Bikes - A (rambling) Perspective about Today

Everybody has an opinion. By writing this, I realize that I am no different.

Nevertheless, if there is one thing that I took away from today—the day in which the Supreme Court of the USA decided on the Obergerfell v. Hodges case—it is that opinions do matter. Or, at least, some do. Maybe mine will matter. Maybe it won’t. I hesitate in adding to the verbosity of the day….

After the news broke this morning, I had a meeting with a young woman. She is a mother of at least two children. I know this because they were sitting in my office playing with my Tangled figurines while she talked with me. We were supposed to be meeting about adult faith formation. But, instead, the conversation turned to her marriage. And physical abuse. And divorce.

I was dumbfounded. Catholics hurting Catholics. Maximus, the comedic relief from Tangled was galloping around the carpet as the kiddos played. Yes, I thought, what about the children?

I had other meetings today. Alcoholism. Porn addiction. Questions of meaning. By three PM, I was ready to get outside and enjoy the first day in a while that wasn’t both rainy and above 90-degrees. So I took out my bike and went for a ride on the Katy Trail.

To old town St. Charles, today. The Missouri River was flooding. Nobody was on the trail. The rubber tires eddied along the fine gravel of the easy train-rail grade to a kind of hypnosis which I needed in order to clear my mind. The air smelled of mud—organic, earthy—the stuff that brought back childhood and play and the woods behind my old house after a rain.

As usually happens on my bike rides, the alone-ness lent itself to my thinking that I could have been anywhere. I was biking in the valley near Buena Vista, Colorado. I was near Tlalpan, Mexico City. Lost somewhere… it was the space I needed for perspective.

Time passed. Emotions eased. I rode through old town St. Charles with some sweat on my back and a feeling of being lighter nonetheless. Exercise really is good for you. Compulsively, I biked down the middle of Main Street (a road paved with bricks) as pedestrians window-shopped or patrons of eateries sat relaxed under umbrellas at tables. It could have been a black-and-white image: see, there am I in the middle on my bike.

An “old time” book store is open and I remember that a friend was looking for a Robin Hood book. I go in and there it is. Everything is old in here. It smells old. Old authors, old editions, old bindings, old building, old times—yet perfectly comfortable. My bike is outside… unlocked… because this is a black-and-white picture and no one steals bikes in these days.

I purchase a book and climb on my bike for home. The book fits square between my handlebars and gear wires. This is truly the stuff of childhood. I begin again on the red-bricked road and head out of town. Yellow-hash marks appear on the path. No one is around and I begin to slalom through them like I did when I was young.

There was another time for all of us.

A time of innocence. A time of bikes. A time when the only thing that broke friendships was mom’s call to come home because it was getting well past dark. But the next afternoon would see friendship renewed. Girl, boy, black, white… it didn’t matter. It was bikes and mud and baseball in the grass. It was a different time. I’m 34… and already I’m saying “it was a different time.”

Yes, I wonder about the future. A thought came into my mind about my parishioners, about their jobs and companies. A thought came into my mind how, as a priest, what would today mean. But most of all I thought about the kids.

When Sandy Hook happened two-and-a-half years ago (yes, that long ago), I remember walking outside and seeing the kids playing on the playground and laughing, totally oblivious to the events of the day. I remember thinking that there is good in this world, good that we needed to enjoy—and especially on that day. I couldn’t help but of think that again; there is something eternal in childhood and in play and in innocence—something that we need to return to and reflect upon and enjoy. It softens hearts, it clears minds, it gives perspective…

So, you want my opinion?

The Facebook postings, the news reports, the instant-analysis—even the issue itself—it is all terribly, terribly short-sighted: it will all pass away. All of this. All of this will pass away. I’m going to be dead—you’re going to be dead—in a few years—5, 10, 50, who knows. And I’ve learned that if I don’t have an eternal perspective, then everything in this life—joys and disappointments both—will be exaggerated and over-valued. And this at the expense of what really matters. And while today matters…. in the grand scheme of things, not so much.

I do not fear today nor tomorrow. Nor am I sad. This will pass. And until then, perspective. Even this news today will be an occasion for glory, an occasion to show the contrast between our eternal hope and the world’s short-sighted, short-lived aspirations. For in heaven, there is no giving or receiving in marriage—and what then? Am I not already married? Are not we all? “Behold, the bridegroom approaches!” we hear. “Whose?” some will say. But we-- we will know.

And then, nobody’s going to care about opinions. Or any of this anymore.  

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Power of the Father - Homily for the 12th Sunday in OT (Father's Day, 2015)

Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads out there.

Throughout the past year, I am sure that I have shared a few memories of my dad—some good, some bad. I remember soccer and his love for the game; I remember his love for working in the basement and the times I was able to help him. But of all the memories, the one I cherish most is from when I was very little. Dad would come home from work and would crash into his recliner. As he decompressed from a long day, I would climb up into his chair and he’d wrap his arm around me. And I remember feeling safe there: his strength, his love, his father-ness melted away any fears, any worries, any sadness. I remember curling up beside him and I know that I would sometimes fall asleep there.

So, to all the fathers out there: thank you. Our love is with you this day and always.

*          *          *

Today’s Gospel is very applicable to fathers today. We might not have thought about fathers when we heard about the boat in the storm, but it actually has everything to do with fathers. How so?

Well, let’s consider a very obvious question: Why was Jesus asleep?

I mean, the storm is raging. And it has to be a major storm. We know that it is a major storm because in the boat with Jesus are the apostles—some of whom were fishermen—and as fishermen, they would have known all about storms; first-hand experience of their power. So, when this storm hits and, despite all their experience, they fear for their lives, we know this is a really bad storm.

And there is Jesus, asleep.


It’s not simply because Jesus is God. It’s not simply because Jesus is really, really tired. It’s because Jesus is sleeping in the arms of the Father—Jesus, who we say is the Son of God.

Jesus knows the Father: He knows that God the Father is powerful and loving and is going to take care of Him. Fathers, you love your children and would do anything for them—but because we are not God, we so often fail at that and we wish we could be superhuman and the perfect father and so on. God the Father is the perfect Father and He isn’t about to let anything happen to His Son.

Jesus knows this. And because He knows this, He is asleep.

This is also why, when Jesus wakes up, and after He has calmed the storm, He turns to the Apostles and says,
“Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”

Faith in what? in whom?

In His Father.

In the One who has His arm wrapped around us and who really is our Father. He really does love us and He has not abandoned us.

Even when Jesus cries from the Cross—“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”—the Father has not abandoned Him. Jesus is experiencing what we as humans feel; but the Father is still there. And even there, the Father proves His love by raising Jesus from the dead.

*          *          *

So why are you terrified?

The storms of life—the anxieties, the discouragement, the fears that you have of the world or your bills or whatever it is that is causing you to fear—let God calm those fears. Climb up to Him now and let Him hold you in His loving strength, His Fatherly love.

*          *          *

For all of us fathers, let us see the Son for a moment. Notice that it is Jesus who calms the storm. He stands up in the boat and rebukes the sea and there is a great calm.

Where does Jesus get His voice?

From His Father.

Because Jesus rests in the Father and knows and trusts in His love, Jesus not only can rest in peace even in the midst of a violent storm, but Jesus also has courage. The security of the Father lends itself to a greater fortitude and perseverance of His children who must face the anxieties of life “out there.”

And we all know that our children will have to face many storms. We must reveal to them that they have a Father who will care for them, whom they can bank on and go to for peace and strength. And because of that, they will be courageous. It is the Son that stands up and reveals the power and love of the Father. He rebukes the storm; He does battle with what is causing the fear. That's courage.

*          *          *

When I think about my dad and look back as an adult, I realize what really matters. It’s not all of the toys that we had; it didn’t matter how big our house was or how much we had or any of that. What mattered most was that moment when my dad has his arm wrapped around me and I realized that I was his son and that—even in the midst of storms—everything was going to be ok.

I hope all of us fathers—myself included, for I am a father and not just “like one” (you call me Father Gerber, after all). My hope for all of us fathers is that we all find some rest today—a rest that will come when we climb up into our Heavenly Father’s chair and let Him call us “son,” and let Him show us what is really important, and how He’s going to take care of us.

God bless you, fathers! My fatherly love is with you always!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Knowing What is Real Today - Homily for the 11th Sunday in OT (2015)

A few months ago, the anchor of NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams, was put on administrative leave. For months—years, even—Brian swore that he really was in the helicopter that was attacked by enemy gunfire in Iraq, for example. This was his reality and he was presenting it as actually Real.

But he was still put on administrative leave.


Because what he said was real was not actually real.

That’s an important lesson for all of us—and not only for news-reporters: sometimes personal feelings and thoughts do not jive with actual reality.

The fact that Brian was placed on administrative leave for either not knowing the difference or respecting the difference proves to us that there is still some expectation that we should know and respect the difference between personal thoughts and feelings (what I call “virtual" reality) and what is actuality (what I call “capital-R” Reality).

When we do not know the difference and blur that line, we are either one of two things: liars who no longer care about reality or we are mentally ill.

*          *          *

The Nobel-Prize-winning mathematician, John Nash, for example, battled with schizophrenia. (His battle was depicted in the phenomenal, Oscar-winning movie “A Beautiful Mind.”) In his schizophrenia, Dr. Nash would tell others in the mathematics department at MIT that he was receiving encoded messages from foreign governments via The New York Times, and that the encrypted messages were only meant for him and could not be decoded by anyone else. He would experience auditory hallucinations which he claimed were other mathematicians who were against his ideas. John Nash would be hospitalized many times and receive treatment.

John Nash didn’t feel ill. Indeed, he felt… normal. But he was actually ill.

When he received the Nobel Prize, people gave him a standing ovation not only for his work in mathematics, but also and especially because everyone knew that he had overcome mental illness and that was inspiring. It’s why the movie was made.

*          *          *

The problem with the recent trends in society’s approach to reality is that we no longer know what is a mental illness. Everything is schizophrenically normal.

What do I mean? Well….

Our culture said that Brian Williams’ reality—his personal reality—did not conform to actual Reality. (So far so good....) The culture said that he could not hold his personal reality at the expense of actual Reality and still be considered a voice of actual reality which the NBC Nightly News claims itself to be. (And rightly so).

Yet, at the same time and on the same News Network, our culture was ok when certain cultural icons said that their personal realities—like being a man and claiming to be a woman, like being white and claiming to be black (and saying so because they “feel” like they are such things)—our culture was ok with them holding to personal realities at the expense of actual reality.

In other words, Brian Williams was treated differently for doing the same thing that the other cultural icons were doing: namely, extolling personal reality at the expense of actual reality.

That’s not only hypocritical. It’s the definition of insane.

Insanity is living in such a way that one’s attitudes and behaviors blur any possibility of knowing what is actually real. Everything is possibly marriage, everything is possibly a woman, everything is possibly black. Everything is blurry.

Does anyone know what makes a woman a woman anymore, or a marriage a marriage? or a mental illness a mental illness? Perhaps we don’t even know the difference between dreaming and being awake.

Science and Religion were once the fields that would be believed capable of doing that. But both have been suppressed in recent times; it's schizophrenia in John Nash’s mind closing out any semblance of actual reality, but at a cultural level. And when we think about that, it is terrifying. Where does one go then?

*          *          *

In “A Beautiful Mind,” there is a scene in which John had experienced another hallucination which nearly killed his only child. After a few moments and after the turmoil has ended, he is sitting on his bed with his thoughts. His wife, Alicia, walks into the room and sees that John is trapped, that he doesn’t know what is actually Real. Alicia sees that John is afraid—scared because he has no criteria within himself to determine what is Real. Everything in him is broken; he doesn't realize that the only way out is through an Other.

Alicia kneels in front of her husband and says, “John, do you want to know what is real?” She then lovingly caresses his face and says, “This. This is real.” Then, she takes his hand and places it on her heart and says, “This. This is real.”

In that moment, there is a trust that is forged, a forging of trust that wonderfully affects John’s reality. The criteria for determining reality is not within himself—not within his feelings or his thoughts—but rather the criteria for reality is only found outside of himself. In order for him to move towards sanity, he must conform his life to this Reality.

So many people need to take this step. When a person is in a rage of anger, for example, how easy it is to forget reality beyond one’s self—we are so wrapped up in the fire of hatred, obsessing over the hurt and the wrong. Or when a person is in the trance of lust and porn, how easy it is to forget reality beyond one’s self—sometimes reality is literally pushed away.

Really, anytime that we sin or rationalize it, we are actually choosing to live in a virtual dream world. To choose against God is literally to choose against Reality. Yes, this is a great definition for sin: sin is insane.

*          *          *

We, as the Catholic Church—all of us need to help people (including ourselves) to take the step of going beyond our powerful passions and feelings and see that reality is not something we simply fabricate—like Brian Williams did or John Nash in his illness experienced. Rather it is something we conform our lives to.

The help that our world needs comes from the trust that we can forge, like Alicia’s caressing hand on John’s face, her words “This. This is real.” We call this actual Reality which is certain “Faith.” Faith is not just an act that we do like "I believe." Faith is something outside of ourselves, something that continues and which people walk in even after we die. Faith is the Reality that we conform our lives to. It is what we walk by and not by our personal reality.

Since our culture has abandoned the Faith, it has abandoned actual reality. It abandoned faith in much the same way NBC abandoned Brian Williams; Brian had lost credibility. As a Church, we need to show that the Faith is credible again and that the world can trust the Catholic Church as being the privileged place where all can discover capital-R Reality.

To do this will take courage, but we are “always courageous” says St. Paul. We are courageous when we place our hands out and say, “You can trust this. This is real.”

When we say: Jesus on the Cross-- this is real. Jesus rose from the dead-- this is real. Jesus is here in the Eucharist-- this is real. Heaven and hell-- this is real. Sin-- and forgiveness-- this is real. My love for you-- this is real!

*          *          *

You will reach out in ways that you might not expect, in simple things like how we genuflect before the God who we say is real here; in how we forgive others and are affectionate towards our children and our spouse.

Perhaps it will come by getting mental help if you are addicted to something or abusing someone or obsessing over something and with anger and so on. Maybe you need to listen to that person who is saying, “You need to speak with a priest or a counselor.”

This is a challenge for me. I realize that I need to conform my life to something more than my own desires and my own criteria for happiness. I need to stop living in my own insane, self-crafted virtual reality and come to God and let him hold me and say, “Anthony, this. This is real.”

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Transforming Bruce Jenner - Homily for the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)

 On the night before Jesus died, he took bread and said “this is my body… given up for you.”

With these words, Jesus expressed to His apostles and to us the totality of His love. A love so deep that He would go from town to town with little rest and little food, preaching and healing and teaching with such passion that many called Him crazy.

His was a body that was beautiful if just by the reality that He received it from Mary, our pure and beautiful Mother. The purity and innocence of His body would make the suffering all the greater; His hands pierced, His heart struck through with a lance—the Passover lamb, slain.

But He would rise in glory. And when Thomas doubted that Jesus could still be seen—and not just seen, but touched—Thomas demanded to do precisely that. And he did: his hand entering into the very body of Jesus Christ.

Thomas, this is my body… given up for you.

This would happen again, when the two disciples were walking to Emmaus. They encountered the risen Lord and they begged Him to stay with them. (Ask and you shall receive!) So, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened. And at that very moment, Jesus disappeared—or, so they thought. In their hands was no longer bread, but Jesus. His flesh had become true food. He had answered their prayer. Such that they not only could touch, but taste.

This is my body, given up for you.

*          *          *

As a priest, I hear these words every day. I say them every day. They are the deepest, most profound words that will ever pass my lips. They challenge me because Jesus doesn’t just love me with His lips; He doesn’t just love me with His heart; He loves me with His entire life—even unto death. And I, a priest, called to be another Christ, must do the same: to love not just with my words, but with my life. Often when I am at the altar, I ask the Lord to help me to love as He loved. Because I know my life does not clearly resemble and radiate the love that Jesus has for all of us.

I realize that I need transformation.

*          *          *

In the Second World War, Gereon Goldmann was not yet a priest. He was a German who had been conscripted to fight for the Nazis. He was Catholic and entered the army anyway, seeing it as a chance to evangelize from the inside out. (Now that’s gutsy!) He never fired his gun. He was a medic.

During the battle for Mussina on the island of Sicily, Gereon saw his German brothers being slaughtered near a bridge. Knowing that many were Catholic, he went to a local Church, obtained the Eucharist, and ran down to the bridge. In order to reach his brothers, he would have to cross the bridge—a bridge fortified by allied machine guns. Gereon pulled out his flag with the red cross on it—the sign of being a medic—and began waving it as he started to cross the bridge. But it wasn’t seen and he was shot at. He evaded being hit and eventually his flag was seen and the firing stopped. He ran to his Catholic brothers and started to give them viaticum: Jesus, visiting them at the hour of their death.

Jesus literally saying, Whoever eats my flesh will have eternal life! Eternal life, even in the midst of the darkness of World War II.

His time was short and when the Allies made an offensive, Gereon jumped into the sea to evade escape. But his love for the Eucharist was so great that as he swam hidden underwater, he kept the pyx and the Eucharist in his hand, keeping both above water. So all you would have seen was the hand and the Eucharist floating on the water.

*          *          *

I don’t know about you, but that fires me up. I mean, here I am, so slow to love. So slow to be transformed. I think about this story or about our Catholic brothers and sisters who are being slaughtered in the Middle East and who are literally dying to receive the Eucharist—and I’m slow to get up and quick to leave? If I am honest, I must ask myself: what am I doing here? Where is my heart?

*          *          *

I think of a brother priest who works in a village in Nigeria. He would offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and was impressed by the devotion of the people. At one of the Holy Masses, he was giving out Holy Communion. “The Body of Christ, The Body of Christ,…”—the people saying Amen like Mary said her Fiat.

But just as the priest was about to give the Eucharist to another man, a bunch of parishioners ran up and tackled the man. A pile of bodies were on top of him. As the man’s head emerged from under the pile, one of the women shouted at him: “You need to go to confession before you receive the Lord!”

The man, apparently, had been out drinking the night before and messing around with some of the women. And he was married.

The parishioners loved not only the Lord, but also the man. They wanted Him to be reconciled so that he wouldn’t take for granted such a great gift and, in taking it for granted, ruin his life further. They wanted transformation for him and they were willing to give up their comfortable, pew-sitting body to run up and tackle him.

This is my body, given up for you.

I want people to be just as concerned for the Eucharist and for each other as they were. I want to someday see a Knight of Columbus draw his sword and remind a lukewarm soul of the deeper realities that are here present. The edge of the lance just close enough to the soul’s heart to remind them of the lance in Jesus’ Sacred Heart.

Because this is a call for a deeper love. A deeper transformation. That our lives, our bodies, our everything may be congruous, united, and transformed in the Body of Christ which we not only receive but which we proclaim that we are to be as one Body which is the Church!

*          *          *

So I have two words: Bruce Jenner. (Yes, I’m going there)

Why was this the most searched item on Google this week? (If you don’t know the story, it is about a man who is being praised for surgically changing his body to mostly look like a woman—and he is being hailed as a kind of hero. ESPN is giving him a courage award).

What is the Catholic response to such things?

I do not condemn Bruce. We do not condemn. We love. And because we love, we see something that I know most people did not see. If you look at the Vanity Fair cover, you will notice that Bruce’s hands are hidden. They are behind him; it almost looks as though they are tied. It is an “Ecce Homo” moment—Latin for “Behold, the man.”

It gave me pause. I was reminded of Jesus who was similarly paraded. I realize that I could have been angry, I could have been posting angry stuff on facebook. But then I would have been just like the crowd shouting “Crucify Him! Crucify Him.” And I know better than that.

So I paused. And I looked closer.

It was here that I saw. I saw Jesus coming to Bruce—Bruce’s hands tied, sitting awkwardly on that chair—I saw Jesus coming to Him and untying his hands and Jesus pointing to His Sacred Heart saying: Bruce, this is my body, given up for you. Here is my love. Here is my life. Here is the transformation that you really want. Here is where your healing will begin. Take this… this is where you will find glory.

All along, Bruce was saying “This is not my body, this is not my body.” And he thought that transformation and healing was only possible by altering his body through surgery, hormones, and Photoshop. And there is Jesus saying, “This is my body.”

Vanity Fair—vanity fair—made a spectacle of it all: “Look, this is his body! This is his body!”

And, in vanity, people bought the lie that transformation happens by things such as this, instead of by the Body of Christ.

*          *          *

This whole thing revealed to me that all of us—individually and as a community—all of us need transformation.

Like Bruce, we are so often tied up by the world which is so, so confused and confusing. We mutilate our lives and even our bodies in the hopes that this—this!—will bring us happiness. We add layer upon artificial layer of plastic, material goods that we think will solve the nagging problem in our hearts. We busy ourselves and run fast-paced into the great nothingness of a “comfortable life.” And so often at the end of our life, we have no idea who we are and where we are…. and we die and are painted up and laid in our casket.

In a way, to the extent that we have not been transformed into Jesus, we are Bruce Jenner.

*          *          *

We need transformation. Because we need to be Christ. Not Bruce Jenner or Caitlyn Jenner or whoever we say we are. We need to become another Christ. All of us. And that means transformation.

That transformation begins here.

It begins when you receive. Your AMEN tells us how much you want Jesus’ offer of transformation. And let’s be honest: the mumbled Amen, the slouched shoulders, and the quick departure to whatever is next reveals to all of us that there is an epidemic of disbelief.

Therefore, before you receive, I want you to place yourself on this altar. The place of sacrifice. Spiritually place yourself and anyone in your world who needs transformation. And ask the Lord, when he sends the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into Jesus, that he might transform you and all whom you put on the altar as well. And He will. That’s a guarantee.

And second: I want you to start visiting and become more committed to visiting our Lord in the Adoration Chapel. We struggle with doubt “out there” because we live doubt in here. Visiting our Lord during the week must become part of our life and not simply an accessory to Sunday.

How many people come to me saying they have had a bad day or they can’t put the day to rest and how it affects their home life. I ask them, do you make a visit to the chapel after work?

Place all that burdens you at the feet of the Lord. Place your work, place your children, place our world—place it all at His feet and give it to Him. “Lord, it is yours. I give it to you.” It’s his work anyway, his children, his world. Give it back and then go home in peace. Finally at peace! You will be transformed!

*          *          *

So, let’s pray.

Father, thank you. Thank you for your Son in the Eucharist. Jesus, I believe that you are here and that you see me and hear me and love me. I pray that I have preached well of you and for you. Please transform me. So that as you give me your Body, I may in return say, Lord, this is my body, I give it to you.