Homily: Getting Past the End

Click HERE to access the link to the podcast for Father Reesman’s homily for the 32nd Homily in Ordinary Time, Year A, given at Saint Frances Cabrini parish on Sunday, November 12th, 2017 at the 10am Mass.

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Changing the Climate Change Conversation

 

The Scripture readings in the weekday and Sunday lectionary cycle this time of the year are heavily laden with images that, for some people, call to mind the end of the world in which creation itself (the seas, the sky, the stars, etc) turn nasty and bring havoc on humanity.   Such biblical imagery, coupled with the ever increasing volume of media reports about rising seas, warming temperatures, raging fires, and “climate change” have led more than a few faithful Christians to ask: is the world ending?

This is a topic worthy of several blog posts, but I can offer a couple of points for perspective in this particular article. For one, a careful reading of the Scriptures in their entirety would suggest that many of its images about the destructive forces of creation have more to do with ancient ways of explaining God’s supreme power over the earth to a pantheistic world (that believed stars were gods) than with an actual, literal desire on God’s part to destroy the earth in some fiery show of might. We must be cautious in an overly literal reading of those passages.

Granted, it is a doctrine of the Church that there will be a final judgment and a second coming, but not necessarily in a way that will bring floods, fires, locusts, etc. God seeks to perfect and renew his creation, not destroy it. And the new heavens and the new earth that are envisioned in the Scriptures are quite likely these heavens and this earth, in a perfected, glorified, sinless state. Sinners will be punished and the righteous will be saved, but how exactly that will look is mysterious.

God’s plan for creation, and this earth, includes the human family by design and by intention. We are the crowning of his creation, and we are its stewards and managers according to the ancient Jewish and Christian worldview.

This leads to a comment or two about “climate change” as it is discussed these days in so many sectors. Without debating the merits of the scientific observations about the climate of the earth, it needs to be stated that one glaring problem of the whole societal discussion is that it lacks a solid grounding in philosophy or in an explicitly Christocentric worldview. This is a serious difficulty because without those things, we will be mistaken in our conclusions about the nature of the problem and what to do about it.

On the philosophy front, to give a very simple example, we are unable to answer the question using pure science alone of whether or not any change in the climate at all is a good or a bad thing. The term “climate change” itself is intentionally vague and misleading. The climate is always changing because creation is a dynamic system. Species have appeared and disappeared all throughout history, long before modern civilization. Therefore, the fact that the climate is changing, all by itself, does not offer any ethical or moral guidance about what it means. It is philosophically equivalent to pointing at a car passing by and saying “it’s moving.” More helpful questions or observations would be: is it driving itself? Is it going to crash and cause injury? Is it a police car that is legally allowed to drive at a high rate of speed? Where did the car come from and where is it going?

The “extra” questions are those that pertain to “teleology” and “epistemology,” which is the study of purpose, ends, design, and meaning in existence. Those areas naturally give rise to ethics- what is “good” and “bad.” Modern science has intentionally divorced itself from those essential areas of inquiry because it denies design or purpose. Therefore, all that science can say is “the climate is changing.” By itself, in isolation, it is a very unhelpful comment.

No, what is needed is information about what the authentic role of humanity is relative to the rest of creation. We have always tinkered with our surroundings, and to demand that we reach some plane of existence wherein we do not impact our surroundings is contrary to our design and nature as creatures.

More important is the question of what is the ethical, good, and responsible management of our surroundings and of creation. For that, we must turn to divine revelation and to questions of sin, conversion, grace, virtue, vocation, divine plan, and God’s perfecting of his creation of which we are (as was stated above) an essential element.

But, modern science has also intentionally divorced itself from any reference to divine revelation, which means it has left itself no means to answer its own pressing questions. What is worse, such a worldview actually leads to the destruction of humanity (and creation) not its rescue, which is the great unspoken lie or trap in the current discussion on climate change. At base, it is an anti-human endgame and conversation. Which is why so many are so suspicious of it.

The polarized divide between the climate change alarmists and the “deniers” of the evidence can only be bridged by a return to philosophy and revelation. We are responsible for the earth because of our God-given vocation and purpose. No other truth will unite us. No other truth will authentically protect all of creation.

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A Christian Response to the Mandalay Bay Tragedy

A great deal of ink has already been spilled with reactions to the tragic shooting episode in Las Vegas that took place on the 1st of October, and no doubt much more will be said in the days and weeks ahead as America digests yet another disturbing episode of violence. I will offer a few comments as well, as a pastor, in the midst of what could be called a “teachable moment” for us all.

Suffering Unleashes Prayer and Love

First and foremost, events such as this one are always a summons to prayer. As Christians we understand that prayer is not the last resort, but rather is the first thing that we do, trusting that our Father hears us, and that he weeps as we weep. The killing, within minutes, of 59 people and the injuring of hundreds and hundreds more produces a mountain of emotional, spiritual, physical, and political wreckage. Only prayer and only faith can bring healing at the deepest of personal levels.

The good news in this story is the heroism of the law enforcement officials, the long lines of would-be blood donors, and the outpouring of support. As Saint John Paul II wrote at the very end of his beautiful apostolic letter on the meaning of human suffering, hardship is allowed by God, or exists, to unleash love in the world.   Love has indeed been unleashed in response to a blatant attack on human life, and that love will bring healing.

Our Secular Limitations Have Been Laid Bare

What also brings healing is truth, and that, too, needs to be spoken in response to all of this. One hard truth is that abortions and incidents of gun violence claim a staggering amount of lives all across our nation on a daily basis, and yet our public reaction to this fact is often quite muted and desensitized. All violence is lamentable because each person is sacred, but our contemporary social fabric undermines this truth in countless ways.   Deep soul searching on a cultural level was in order long before the Las Vegas shooting took place.

Still, it is also true that mass shootings like this one, especially those that target unsuspecting people, strike us as especially cold and they are unsettling in unique ways. It is important to pay attention to why that is the case.

One reason is the cold realization that we are never going to be totally safe from harm at the hands of others or simply from harm in general. A central aim or premise of Western society in recent history has been the assurance that with enough science, enough technology, enough legislation, and enough military might we can insulate ourselves from tragedy and pain as we try, more and more, to control all the things that were once so unpredictable and uncontrollable, from hurricanes, to hepatitis, to hijackings.

In the face of this widely accepted premise, the Las Vegas shooting reveals to us the radical limits of our own human mechanisms, and the flimsy reality of our self assurance. It reveals the failure of government and of (apparently) civil society to protect the innocent. For a culture that has placed so much trust in its structures, that is a hard reality to face.

Focusing Only On Guns Does Not Look Deeply Enough

This is why the debate over gun control, before and after these awful tragedies, is so fierce. Advocates for gun ownership sense, rightly so, that in a world of barbaric possibilities, we must be able to defend ourselves precisely because the social structures that promise us such protection ultimately cannot deliver what they are selling. Hence the American default reaction to news of deadly attacks is to fall back on the security of personal, individual, self-defense and with it, guns.

Of course, the fact is that guns all by themselves do not protect us either, ultimately, which is the great myth of the gun lobby agenda. Still, we cling to these earthly solutions whenever we sense that other entities, such as big government and mother technology, have failed.

It is quite revealing that the almost instantaneous response to this shooting coalesced around such a horizontal, non-transcendent, and earthly remedy for this situation: gun legislation, either for or against. It shows how secular all of our thinking has become in mainstream cultural and media circles.

Laws, regulations, science, technology, and a government are helpful things. Indeed, even guns are helpful things in a fallen world. They are all basically morally neutral entities. But, they also are all limited in their power.

All the gun restrictions in the world are not going to stop the human person from inflicting mass harm and chaos if they are Hell- bent on doing so. One has only to look at the recent terrorist attacks that utilize such seemingly innocuous objects as trucks and cars driving into crowds, or that fly airplanes into buildings, to see that the desire to carry out evil is remarkably inventive. Guns are not really the point. They are a side issue, even if they are an important thing to discuss.

Secular Society Craves A Motive

More illuminating in the Las Vegas situation has been the relentless pursuit of a motive. Customarily, motives are really only important in a criminal trial so that guilt and judgment can be determined and dispensed. However, this killer is dead so there will be no earthly trial.

But, we are putting him on trial anyway in a sense. This is the case because the other very unsettling reality to confront is that we cannot seem to explain the killer, or his intentions, using any of our conventional categories. In life, especially in our era of science and technology, we soothe ourselves with ready explanations, causes, and answers.   But, in this case, we seem to have come up empty, and it really upsets us. In all of our hubris, we cannot handle such a blatant limitation to the perceived powers of our insight.

The fact is that in our modern era, most of the “whys” we have often come up with are purely sociological or psychological in nature. Those fields of study are our modern-day religion and authority. We would like to blame economics in this situation, or insanity perhaps, or religious fanaticism, or hatred, or some political agenda.   All of those explanations would make us feel better about it all because then this heinous act would be tidily categorized under the vast heading of sociology and the mechanical certitude of programmed behavioral norms that have become our new cultural bible.

We Are All Capable of Murder

It appears, however, that this killer was a very rational man. Antisocial and self absorbed, but, otherwise he appears in many respects to be a lot like all the rest of us.

And there is the rub: in the absence of a clear motive, and therefore the safe distance of a “category,” in this case, we are left with the stark reality that every single one of us, me included, is capable of murder, evil, and plunder. The government, science, technology, gobs of money, even gobs of self-protective guns cannot save us from this simple truth. We can all kill each other off today, in fact, if we really want to just by using our bare hands.

This particular killer represents so many of the worst parts of our modern culture that we are driven by in the West: independence, self gratification, addiction to gambling and money, materialism, using other people (like his girlfriend who he lured away from a marriage and her children) just to name a few.   What does it all lead to in its worst form? A simmering anger with self, life, and the world, that explodes in the public manner that we tragically witnessed.

Simply put, he represents the vast human capacity for sin in which each of us also shares, without exception. And our Western culture today has become a magnifier, or a lightning rod, for that same capacity.

The Divine Remedy of Grace and Greatness

In the face of all of this, a Christian explains this tragedy, and the flaws of our culture, with the truths of our tradition. We are sad, and we can legitimately wonder why God would allow such things. But, we also know that we are free, that there is sin, there is evil, and that God does not desire for any of us who are his children such an empty life as this killer apparently lived.

We know that Christ stretches out a hand to save us as persons, and as a nation. We know that grace can change our distorted natures, and that a warped societal fabric can be re-woven with the truth and power of the Commandments and of the Gospel.

We know that purely secular remedies are inadequate, and that we all stand in judgment before God, and also that we can all be raised up to greatness by his transforming grace. We know that love is stronger than death, that prayer moves mountains, and that societal order and peace are divine gifts given to persons, and nations, who are open to God’s holy will.

We know that only in the revealed truths of our Christian tradition do we have the most complete framework on which to build a just culture, and the intellectual tools to settle the fierce social debates in which we are currently engaged. Without Christ, we simply walk in circles, or in the darkness, with no hope of moving forward.

When sad events like Las Vegas happen, we Christians must proclaim the powerful and healing message that we know to be the truth about life, death, and reality. In these things we must be confident because they are the truth. The truth sets us free. The truth heals persons, and nations. Now, as always, it is our job to proclaim it out of love for ourselves, for our country, and for God.

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Homily: Remembering- to Bear Fruit

Click HERE for the audio file of Father Reesman’s homily for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, given on Sunday, October 8th, 2017 during the 10am Mass at Saint Frances Cabrini Church.

 

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Homily: Convert and Live

Click HERE for the audio file of Father Reesman’s homily for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, given at Saint Frances Cabrini Parish in West Bend at the 10am Mass.

 

 

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American Politics Has Been Worse. And It’s Been Better

We all hear or read volumes of information during the course of our time in school, and some facts stick while many others slide out of our heads. One of the stories, or names, that always “stuck” from my United States history courses was that of Preston Brooks.

If you are not familiar, Preston Brooks served in the House of Representatives from South Carolina in the 1850’s, and he was a staunch advocate of slavery as an enduring institution in our country. As a politician in the Antebellum South, he was not unique in that way.

But, what made him so famous was that in May of 1856 he assaulted Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts on the floor of the Senate itself, beating him nearly to death with a cane. Senator Sumner was a fierce abolitionist, and two days before he was beaten, he had delivered a fiery speech in which he denounced Brooks’ cousin, South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, calling him a “pimp for slavery.”

The South was generally indifferent to the whole affair, while the North was mortified. Representative Brooks resigned his seat not so much to calm his critics (he was only mildly punished), but so that he could run in a special election to reclaim his seat, figuring that his constituents would vote him back into office as a sign of support.

This is exactly what they did in the summer of 1856, sending the Northern states a clear message of disdain for what they viewed as anti-Southern bullying. Brooks died of natural causes only a few months later bringing that chapter of the American political wrestling match to a close. Open war would of course break out four years later.

I have thought of the beating of Sumner by Brooks often in the past year as I have watched the American political scene grow more and more nasty and dysfunctional with every passing day.

On one hand, the story is a consoling one. “At least no one has gotten beaten on the Senate floor in the past year,” I tell myself with some odd mix of comfort and lament. Yes, it could always be worse. In the 1850’s and 1860’s we were on the fast train to outright war, and we literally wound up killing each other in droves all over politics.

At the heart of it were questions of the human person and slavery, yes, but a closer look at the events reveals that it had everything to do with clashing views of federal versus state power, the facts of economics, and the cultural identity of the entire South. Slavery was a critical question but it was a surface issue for much deeper fissures that simply were not going to be fixed without a fight.

As bad as all that was, we should be careful thinking we are a whole lot better off today. We are not killing each other en masse (yet), but we’ve done our share of rioting when we do not get our way this past year. The emotional rhetoric of the prior era was frequently an attempt to justify one’s position on the major questions of the day based on the Bible (America was heavily Mainline Protestant then) or on higher philosophical principles.   Today, we simply get emotional, and the only reasons we can offer come down to: “Because I feel like it.” Which is another way of saying every man is his own emperor, and that is a dangerous situation for any culture.

Besides all that, the Civil War, bad as it was, took place at the dawning of industrial America when most of our country was still engaged in farming, and when most men and women over 16 years of age were stably (even if not always happily) married. Which meant that many experienced the war, that trampled crops and broke up families, as a very destabilizing and exhausting reality. It was not a “thrill.”

Today, when fewer are married, and fewer young (energetic) men and women own property, there is very little cost to starting a fight. We have much less to lose these days if we decide to be reckless.

Add to this the reality of a 24 hour news cycle and lighting fast social communication networks that channel emotional hiccups into national protests within hours, and we are sitting on top of a powder keg of social instability that the 1860’s world would have been shocked over, even while they were busy killing each other.

Even the violence of that era should be distinguished from the current moment, even though both are lamentable. Many living through the Civil War saw a methodical type of higher order to the fight, and the killing, that served as a brake on the violence, ironically enough. The violence in the Civil War was not random. We have no more brakes of that sort to our truly random violence these days because our notions of any type of higher order are either radically compromised or non-existent.

Christian practice, daily prayer, works of mercy, stable homes, sacrificial family life, community prayer, sacraments, reasoned engagement of the Scriptures and Church teaching are all very stabilizing forces, even though history has shown they are not perfectly stabilizing forces. But, they are a lot better than Twitter. We would be wise to hold very tight, right now, to these parts of our tradition that are the glue we need in our very fractured world. In these things, I place my trust. In these things, the fractured world is still redeemed.

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Homily: Gender, Seduction, Cross

Click HERE for the audio file of Father Reesman’s homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, year A, given at Saint Frances Cabrini Parish on September 3rd, 2017, at the 10am Mass.

 

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