Homily: Gratitude and Dead Flowers

Click HERE  for the audio file of Father Reesman’s homily for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C, October 9th, 2016, given at Saint Frances Cabrini Church.

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Catholics Before and After the Election

We find ourselves only weeks away from November the 8th which, if recent trends are indicative, will simultaneously be the end of the 2016 Presidential Election as well as the beginning of the 2020 Presidential Election.

Yes, these days the American Republic is held hostage by what has become a non-stop campaign cycle, and it is unlikely that this will change anytime soon for reasons that I will elaborate below.

For the next several weeks anyway, 2020 talk aside, everyone’s attention is focused on the two major candidates for United States President that our party system and electoral apparatus has selected for us all to choose from.  It is between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Choosing to Support a Candidate

How is a faithful Catholic to deal with this situation?  Very carefully.

From the standpoint of their platform alignment with the teachings of the Catholic Church about any manner of topics, but most especially about those involving human acts that are never allowed, both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump are seriously inadequate in their own ways.

From the standpoint of their suitability for the office of President based on character and credibility, each are also seriously deficient.

It is remarkable that after such a long election cycle, and so much money spent, and out of so many eligible United States citizens to become president, we have raised up for our selection two very poor candidates.

Our teachings state that a Catholic can vote for either one of these two, but to do so there must be a very strong moral reason, and they must do so with a sense of heartfelt reluctance, or in spite of, the evils that the candidates support.

One such argument that is certainly a mitigating factor is the future of the Supreme Court. However, it is important to remember that the cause and effect relationship between who gets elected president, and who winds up on the Court, and how that person will issue judicial decisions for potentially years to come is an unpredictable and weak relationship at best.

In the meantime, there is still EVERY OTHER day-to-day decision that the next president will be making, and a vote for them is a vote with much closer causality to those decisions that impact the lives of everyone around the world.

Choosing Not To Support A Candidate

A Catholic can always choose to write in another name on the ballot for the President and cast votes for other positions on the ballot.

Our teachings also state that if all the candidates hold positions that promote evil, a voter may take the unusual step of not voting at all in order not to cooperate in any way with the advancement to public office of someone who is manifestly unfit.

It is also important to remember that, contrary to what has been drilled into our heads for many years as loyal Americans, voting is not the only way to try and shape public good.  Certainly elections matter, and every vote counts, but it would actually be a much more powerful statement if, in situations like these, the Catholics of America decided as a group that we were not going to support either major candidate.

Such a move would force a party realignment, or force a platform change, or bring forth a different set of candidates.  More often then not, though, ordinary Catholics either agree with candidates and platforms that are morally problematic, or, they simply settle for a choice between what is set in front of them because they feel like they have to do so.

How the Church Has Failed the Republic

But we do not have to settle.  The uncomfortable reality for Catholics is that the difficulties of this election cycle once again bring us face to face with our own divisions as a Church community over even the most basic aspects of our moral teachings.

Which is another way of saying that we, the Church, who should be bright lights for those around us, continue to let this nation down, and we do so by continuing to settle for a political style and a set of candidates that are devastatingly bad.

Therefore, heading into November 8th, Catholics should be doing some real soul searching.  And not so much about which of the two presidential candidates to vote for, (because on one level that is simply a lost cause), but rather about how we as Catholics have allowed our situation to get into this condition in the first place, why we keep settling for it, and how we can begin to shape the public discourse so that we start to walk a different pathway forward as a nation.

How the Church Can Save the Republic

However, our duty and opportunities for witnessing and re-shaping the society do not end on November the 8th.   The next day, November the 9th, a new problem will be upon us all.

While one could debate many points about what is and is not acceptable when it comes to this election, there is one fact that is beyond debate unless something changes drastically in the next few weeks.

The country will wake up, on November the 9th, having elected a new president that probably at least half the population deeply, deeply loathes.  The unfavorable and unpopularity ratings and numbers of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump are unusually high for such major candidates and for what is supposed to be a unifying national office.

One instant result of electing a person that is so widely and deeply disliked, which at this point is inevitable, is that it will engender a sentiment of strong dissatisfaction with the election itself, as though it did not really resolve anything.  Which will push us almost immediately into the question about the search for the NEXT president.  The 2020 Election will begin in earnest in only a matter of weeks.

What does a Catholic do beginning on November the 9th?  What is our obligation then?

I would say it is two-fold and on the surface, seemingly contradictory.  For one, our process of soul searching and working for substantial systemic changes must continue in earnest.  And that should be true of any Catholic, even if “their person” wins.

I hope that we feel profoundly discontent with the entire situation on November the 9th.  So much so that we resolve to push for a Catholic renewal of the culture in ways that we have only read about in history books.

And that means we need to keep arguing  as Catholics with each other, frankly, about what our doctrines really mean.  The issues are serious, and we should not be afraid of arguments to find the truth.

It means we should actively resist, and in a public manner, any laws or executive orders, or decisions that are in clear contradiction to the Faith.  Secularism must be fought at every turn or we will be exterminated by it.  Civil disobedience is more and more in order these days.

Our Methods Must Differ from Those Around Us

At the same time, the other obligation we have is to do all of the above with total joy, and total peace of heart, and total surrender to God’s holy will, and total trust.  We cannot employ weapons of anger, vengeance, or elevated emotions.  We must not use force.

The culture around us will continue the downward spiral of emotionally driven, irrational, reflexive reactions that have no grounding in truth or in hope.  But our means of fighting must be very different. If we can adopt the heart of Christ, we will be the needed calm in the storm, and the critical center, that will be needed more than ever to keep the Republic from flying apart.   Paradoxically, we will do that while pushing very hard to fix the broken system.

The question of how compatible Catholicism is with the American system and way of life has been in many ways continually unresolved since our nation was founded.  This whole election cycle, and the next one, are yet another round in this same debate.

We would be wise to recognize this moment for what it really is.  It is indeed a referendum on our future: on the future of Catholicism in America.  And as Catholicism here goes, so goes the Republic.






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Homily: Of God and Gold

Click HERE  for the audio file of Father Reesman’s homily for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C, given on Sunday, September 18th, 2016, at Saint Frances Cabrini Parish, at the 10am Mass.

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The Dawning of the Remnant Church?

Recent surveys and trends are validating what many of us have been anecdotally observing for a while now, namely, that the newer generations (those ages 50 and down) born to Catholic families are choosing not to remain in the Church and not to practice the Faith.

The numbers of those exiting grow larger the further one moves down the age scale to the point where, these days, a large body of grade schoolers and high schoolers have emerged who have little knowledge of Christianity at all, or if they are aware of it, they are not baptized into it and are not raised in it.

When one considers that most of their parents and grandparents were born and raised as Catholics, this gives real reason for pause and even alarm. What is happening? How does the Faith simply stop being handed on, or lived out, or believed in?

Theories abound on the reasons why. My sense is that it’s a perfect storm of several forces that are hitting us at once. I will offer only a few of them here.

  1. Contemporary cultural faith in “progress” itself. Many of us in the Western World have a deeply ingrained sense of superiority over earlier generations, especially those who lived centuries ago. Simply because concepts of reality were widely taught and believed in the 4th Century, does not mean they are automatically true today. We have now matured beyond those times, so we think. We believe that human nature, all on its own, á la Darwin, naturally evolves to a higher, better, more refined state; we will continually be improving. Therefore, we have outgrown the need for Christianity.
  2. Contemporary cultural faith in science itself. All around us are countless examples of benefits that have come to us because of science: clean water, advanced medicines that bring physical cures, engineering that stops floods, climate controlled buildings, and instant communication methods just to name a few. We rarely question all of the negative side effects of these things and therefore conclude that science and technology (not religion or God) are the most important bearers of goodness in our world, and will solve any problem if given the chance.
  3. Exaggerated importance of the material. Many of us are quite concerned about health, athletics, leisure and earthly pursuits that, while good, are over-emphasized and hold all of our attention. We pursue the things that pass away and shun the things that endure.
  4. Decadence. Never before in the history of the world has there been a nation or culture that has lived as lavishly as we do, with so many material needs provided for with such little effort expended, and in such abundance. Who needs faith?
  5. The information age and access to competing worldviews. Many of us know about the teachings of Christianity. And we also all have instant access to a plethora of other competing ideologies, philosophies, and truth claims. This plants deep in our minds the one binding notion we all commonly cling to today: that no one person or system can have all the answers. Therefore, we pick and choose and construct our own ideological guides for reality. This is fundamentally incompatible with the notion of received truth in Christianity.
  6. The end of ethnic Catholicism. Once upon a time, the ethnic traditions of Catholic countries and peoples naturally raised children in the Faith, and the Church was carried down through bloodlines, and in the DNA of one’s culture, be it Polish, Italian, Irish, Mexican, etc. As old ethnic identities were absorbed into the stream of common, American culture (or Western Culture beyond the borders of the U.S.), the Catholicism of old was washed away with it. A new, American Catholic culture has yet to emerge in replacement. Now the culture destroys faith rather than preserving it.
  7. The crisis of Faith within the Church herself. All of the above forces have led to a systematic weakening of our core doctrines about salvation and the necessity of grace, the inerrancy of the Scriptures, and the essential power of the Sacraments. We do not know what it means to believe anymore. We think everyone is automatically going to Heaven because God is too nice to punish. By adopting such thinking in a new, modern version of Christianity, we have eliminated our reason for existing as a Church in the first place, and we are dying out accordingly.

What are we to do about it all? On one level, most of this is out of our personal control. Granted, it is helpful to recognize the distorted tendencies in our own thinking and daily behaviors, and to fight against them with all the tools of the Faith that we have at our disposal in the Church. We can sharpen our sense of witness to a wider world that demands authenticity.

But the rest of the solution is going to come from a collision of forces that will happen beyond us and on the broader planes of cultural and ecclesial shifts. On one hand, the level of sadness and misery that comes from clinging to the false realities outlined above will continue to grow to the point where there will be a cultural rebellion against them. We will eventually see, as things come apart, that progress is not inevitable, that human nature is always fallen without grace, that science brings death as much as it brings life, that wealth is empty, that health is fleeting, and that truth really is absolute.

And, at some point, our theological confusion will be corrected when from the rubble will emerge a (smaller?) Church, made up of people who have survived the great tribulation we are passing through because they clung without compromise to the essence of the Faith.

One of these days, our leadership in the Church will realize that a new apologetics is needed that can directly challenge all the mistaken notions I described above. The truth is that we have answered all those challenges before; none of them are new. Therefore we can (and we must, from the top down) answer them again.

The solution is therefore a mix of personal conversion, and large-scale social reshaping. Both of those realities are the fruits of grace at work in our hearts. Both are promised to us by Christ who taught that, in Him, the Church will always prevail.

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Homily: the Choice for Christ

Click HERE for the audio file of Father Reesman’s homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, year C, given on Sunday, September 4th, 2016, at Saint Frances Cabrini Parish in West Bend.

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Homily: Useful and Useless Hospitality

Click HERE for the audio file of Father Reesman’s homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, year C, given at Saint Frances Cabrini Parish on Sunday, July 17th, 2016, at the 10am Mass.

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Persons, Not Categories

In the face of yet another story of police brutality, in the face of a chilling story in Dallas of brutality against the police; in the face of an attack on a night club in Orlando that styles itself as a haven for gays (to use their label, not mine); and in the face of what seems to be a rising tide of civil unrest these days, there is understandably a great deal of concern about the state of society.

As usual in our current culture, whose ruling elites and media have intentionally abandoned key elements of the Christian lexicon and worldview, when these sorts of things happen we are quick to resort to modern or secular explanations for bad behaviors.

The classic Christian answer to why ostensibly innocent people are brutally mistreated by people in authority has to do with sin and evil, which is made manifest by individual persons, who willingly choose to commit acts that violate human dignity and are contrary to the goodness of ourselves and our Creator.

More plainly:  people choose to commit sins. They do so for a variety of reasons, but the objective reality of evil is the same.

The Christian answer to sin has always been grace. Grace is given in a variety of forms, not the least of which is the moral law that is written on all of our hearts.  More profoundly and radically, grace comes from friendship with Christ in a manner that is personal, unique, unrepeatable, and transformative.

If one abandons those understandings of sin and grace, then new causes and cures for social ills and destructive acts have to be invented, or if nothing else over emphasized to compensate for the loss of what should be an authentic understanding of the world and of humanity.

What Racial Politics Obscures

The present set of events in our nation surrounding police killings, violence against the police, the prevalence of the rush to capture it all on film in order to humiliate and embarrass others, suicide attacks, etc, etc, are all very sad.  Soul searching is indeed in order.

But, while we are busy soul searching, it would be important to recognize that a lot of our own secular cultural rhetoric is fanning the flames of these problems.

Right now we are speaking almost exclusively in labels and categories.  “Blacks,” “whites,” “the police,” etc.  This is how the entire cultural and media reaction is being shaped and framed.  This is a race relations issue we are told, again and again.

The more we are told its all about race, the more our thinking and rhetoric becomes more and more about race.  And the more that happens, the less and less we think in terms of individual persons.  And the less we think in terms of individual persons, the more quickly and easily we demonize, and do violence against other people because we have put them in a category.

Conversely, the more we begin to assign ourselves into categories that have been given, or are seeking, a kind of protective legal or social status, the more easily we act out in ways that are immoral precisely because we feel that we are entitled to act that way in virtue of our category.

To be honest, it seems likely that some blacks have intentionally pushed the boundaries with police precisely because they have been made to believe that their category (being black) entitles them to do so in the face of what is perceived to be an oppressive category (the police).

Similarly, it also seems likely that some police have used their necessary power and authority inappropriately against weaker and poorer members of society because they have felt entitled by their status, or category, to do so.   It is not uncommon for people in professions of authority to do so.

But, rather than addressing this reality in the language of “person,” “individual,” “action,” “sin,” “conversion,” and “grace,” we instead retreat into the language of “group,” “category,” “profession” and the like.   We do so because it is easier to demonize groups than it is to take a difficult look at persons and at responsibility.

If this is all about race, then on some level, the individuals in the categories (police, whites, blacks) do not have to bear responsibility any more.  Group-think takes over in a very convenient avoidance of the need for personal change.   The race rhetoric is an escape on the most fundamental of levels, even if on the surface it does factor into the problem at hand.

Category and Identity Politics Has Taken Over

Something of the same can be said about our ongoing cultural debate about same sex attraction, bathrooms, marriage, and gender identity.  The root cause of the explosion over this issue is in many ways the result of our modern lust for categorization.   Everyone needs to be in a group so that they can gain some type of protective status.   And if you are not in a group, then extreme pressure is exerted to identity as a member of one.

“Gay” is a group term.  So is “transexual” or “transgendered.”  And if one does not like that category, we are forced to keep inventing newer and better subsets of it.

Once in a group, a certain freedom from any personal responsibility for actions takes over because the group identity becomes more important than the person’s.  A person is lost in the group identity and ceases to truly be themselves.  They also cannot be rescued or changed because the group status means more than a personal identity and a will.

What is worse, the more we think in terms of categories and groups, the more quickly we fracture what should be an established, stabilizing, and over-arching group or category namely: “American.”  The modern world has found it helpful to think in terms of nationalism and states to foster common bonds and identity, but all of that is in jeopardy now because we have chosen to elevate every other possible sub group (hispanic, black, gay, transgendered, etc) by suppressing what was once the larger, deeper category of common American identity.

It is no accident that the social unrest surrounding identity and group politics has grown to acute levels under the Obama Administration.  The reason is not so much because he is black (which is a category) but more because as a person, he has made the free choice to make identity politics, of a variety of groups, one of the center pieces of his agenda, including being elected on that basis.  The more he, and the elites around him, choose to respond to these issues by speaking more and more about categories, the worse the problem is going to become.

Speaking in categories forms camps.  Camps form riots.  Camps form group-think mentalities that lead members of groups to push the boundaries of decency and act out in ways that are irresponsible and dangerous.  The smoke screen of all of this obscures the person by person reality of the fact that some police officers, as individuals, are corrupt.  This as opposed to “the police” are corrupt. And, some blacks, as individuals, are violent and rude.  This as opposed to “blacks” are… insert trait.   And, some whites, as individuals, have dangerous superiority complexes.   On and on we can go, but, only if we consider persons before we consider categories, and not the reverse.

The Authentic Christian Response

Personhood as a concept is suffering in every cultural sector these days.  The debate about abortion turns around this point.  It is sad to realize that the real enemies of “Black Lives” are not the police, but the abortion industry in the inner cities.  The debates about gender, marriage, and sexual ethics are also all about personhood.  As is the current debate about race.

The authentic Christian response to all of this is not to think in categories but in terms of persons.   For example, we do not prefer the term “gay” because that is a category.  Instead we speak in terms of persons who have same sex attraction.

True,  even the Christians have sometimes undergone a painful journey of purification over our occasional retreats into categorization, but ultimately what has always rescued us is the central Christian claim that God treats each of us as unique and unrepeatable people.

When we think in terms of persons we also think in terms of sin and grace.  Good decisions and bad decisions.  Law and consequences.  Conversion of hearts from sinful patterns of thinking or living.  All of these realities are effective means of change.

A secular culture will continue to speak in categories because it has no choice but to do so.  That is why Christianity, along with personhood rightly understood, is in direct opposition to state sanctioned secularism as it is currently being practiced and legislated in this country.

A regime of the type that we are now living under in America has no solution to these problems because it is not capable of addressing them at their most fundamental level.  Which means it is only going to get worse before it gets better.

In the meantime, it would be very wise of the Christian community in this country to intentionally step around the secular vocabulary that is currently so popular (“race,” “tolerance,” etc), and quickly return to our classic understandings of personhood and actions so that we can offer the culture the truth of perspective that it desperately needs right now.  Only in that way can we save the culture from itself, and the save the rest of us along with it.


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