Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

We are all invited to work in the Lord's vineyard. But the Lord does not force anyone. He only invites. If someone doesn't want to work, or wants to only under his own conditions, he does not have to do so. In the Gospel we heard a parable about persons who wanted to work only under the stipulation that they themselves would dispose of the vineyard and its fruits. When we hear this story, we might think, how could they be so stupid? How could they think, if we just kill the owner's son, he'll have to put us in his son's place? What kind of madness is this?

It may be easy enough to criticize the men in this parable at a comfortable distance. But I think Jesus is here pointing to a real danger, a danger also for us. When we really want something, we want to see it through. And it is good that way. We shouldn't be like jellyfish, unable to stick to anything with firmness. But this desire to see things through carries a danger with it, that we become blind to reality: we see only the way that we imagine for ourselves, the way on which we have decided—whether or not that way is the right one. Let's imagine the tenants again, with a bit of imagination: they thought to themselves: “It is unjust for the owner to take such a portion of the fruit for himself, though he hasn't been around working on the field, harvesting the grapes, etc.” And when he sends his servants to get his portion, they think, “We must be strong. We must resist, in order to get our rights.” And they beat the servants. When the owner sends still more servants, they think, “He is simply deaf. He won't accept that the fruits belong to us.” And they are completely confident, they have to just resist still more steadfastly. Finally, when the owner sends his son, they think, “If we kill him, then the owner will have no other choice. He'll have to make us the heirs, if he wants to keep the vineyard running.” All quite logical. But a view of the whole is lacking. They are not the only ones who have to live from the fruit of the vineyard. And everything does not depend on them.

This image is perhaps a bit fantastic. Nevertheless I believe the core is true, and a real danger. They wanted to push themselves through, and became blind to the reality, to the actual situation with the owner, the vineyard, and the other persons involved. And we are all, without exception, tempted in this or that field to push our own will through, instead of listening to Jesus's will, and are in danger of losing sight of the reality that is expressed in this divine will. We see this perhaps more clearly in larger, tragic cases: perhaps someone enters into an ill-advised marriage against the advice of parents, friends, and spiritual father, and winds up unhappy, or someone gets involved in drugs despite knowing it's not really the right way, or the insistence on the right to dispose of one's own body and to determine one's family as one wills leads to a father and mother killing their own child. These are the more obvious cases. But we are all tempted to it in smaller, daily cases.

To take this attitude to its ultimate completion is the worst thing that can possibly happen: that instead of us saying to God with joy and without reservation, “Thy will be done!”, God has to say with sadness, “Thy will be done. You do not want to live for my kingdom. You do not have to, and if you do not want to, you shall not.” This outcome at the end of today's Gospel reading, “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you” (Mat 21:43), is like God's “last resort”, what he does when everything else is in vain. Only when God has done everything, and we still refuse to accept his will, would he say to us, “Thy will be done.” The reverse side, or the opposite of this terrifying possibility is presented to us in the Letter to the Philippians. If we do not lose sight of God, but place everything before him, all our concerns and our worries, and listen attentively to him, his peace will fill our hearts. Someone makes a sacrifice for his family, sticks by a friend in a difficult period, gives up his own will to serve and to do God's will, and finds therein deep peace. In this celebration of the Eucharist let us make especially consciously this prayer, which we pray frequently in the Our Father. “Thy Will be done!”

Website hacker, vandalism

Inmotion hosting, the company where this site is hosted, was hacked yesterday, September 25, and pages on many of the 700,000 sites hosted by this company were replaced with electronic graffiti boasting of the hacker's accomplishment. Here a series of announcements from the company on the matter. The hacker is apparently the hacker who through DNS hijacking intercepted the local domains for google, microsoft, yahoo, and others, instead sending a similar hacked page to internet users' browsers. (http://thehackernews.com/2011/09/inmotion-hosting-server-and-trinity-fm.html) The blog on this site was defaced for around 20 hours, as some readers noticed. The hacked page was not itself dangerous to computers or browsers viewing the site. The pages have been repaired, and the company says that it is acting to close the security vulnerability issues that allowed the attack in the first place.

Puzzle About Happiness

The following puzzle compares the happiness of a man who thinks some of the goods he generally seeks in life are realized with the happiness of a man in the case where those goods are realized, but he thinks they are not. Besides being an interesting thought exercise, it might be helpful for shedding some light on what is involved in the notion of happiness. Warning! The scenario presented is not a pleasant one! A nicer scenario that would so starkly focus on the same issues did not, however, occur to me.


Twenty years from now, two twins, who are both happily married and love their families, have had a falling out with a extremely brilliant, wicked, and rich scientist, who determines to destroy their lives. He kidnaps them, locks them in separate rooms, and offers each of them the choice between the following two options:

(1) I will kidnap your wives and children, and torture them for the rest of your life in the most horrible ways thinkable, but by careful use of precise memory-altering drugs, planted evidence, false witnesses, etc., I will see to it that you are convinced without the slightest doubt that your wife and children died a a heroic or a peaceful death.

(2) I will kidnap your wives and children, and by the use of precise memory-altering drugs so that they no longer remember you at all, arrangement of circumstances, etc., I will do my best to see to it (there's a 95%-99% chance of success) that they are quite happy in their new life, but by use of similar drugs, falsified evidence, etc., I will ensure that you are convinced that they are being tortured and suffering horribly.

The first of the twins chooses the first option, while the second chooses the second. The wicked scientist keeps his threats and promises. Five years later, the first man is still convinced that his family died heroically, though they are in fact still suffering. The second man is still convinced, and reasonably on the basis of the evidence available to him, that his family is suffering, though they are not.

The questions for you, dear reader, are the following: on the basis only of the statements provided: (1) at this point in time, five years after the deed, which of the two men is happier? (2) Taken as a whole, whose life is happier?

Homily for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:9). As soon as anyone thinks he has God totally figured out, he is posed to discover that it isn't true. Granting that his insight into the ways of God is basically correct, God is still different, and even greater than he imagines. When God spoke through Isaiah, some persons seem to have thought: when someone abandons God, then God abandons him; his chance is over. To this God responds “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”(Isa 55:8). However long someone has been distant from God, let him return to the Lord, and he will find mercy with him.

In the Gospel (Mat 20:1-16a), too, we hear of he God who is very different from how we think. Jesus tells a parable about a household as a likeness for the Kingdom of the Heaven. At the beginning of the story nothing unusual occurs. At first sight we could even get the impression that the man wants to pay no more than necessary to get the job done. Only when he sees that he can't complete the day's work without more laborers, he goes out again to the market place to look for more workers. It was also not unusual to hire workers without previously agreeing upon a set wage. He would then have to pay the minimum wage customary in the region. But at the end of the day he surprises everyone by paying all the workers the same wage, one denarius, a usual wage for a full day's work. We heard how the man who worked the whole day were rather annoyed that they didn't get anything more than those who had only worked a single hour. The vinegrowers union might have also had a complaint against the owner: he disturbs the labor market, takes away motivation from the workers to work a full day, and thus makes it more difficult for the other winegrowers to get good work done. But God is no finance manager. He is a lover, and wants to give to everyone who comes to him. The last workers were as needy as the first. They needed just as much for their families as the first workers needed, and he gives them just as much.

This parable is given us as a complement to the promised reward for the following of Christ. Just before the parable we heard today, a young man came to Jesus and asked him what he had to do in order to gain eternal life. Jesus said, keep the commandments: you shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, etc., and above all, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The man answered that he had done all these, and asked what he still lacked. Thereupon Jesus invited him to sell all he had, give it to the poor, and to follow him. But he didn't want to do this, and went away sad. Peter, perhaps to be sure that, as Jesus promised the young man treasure in heaven, that the disciples also would receive a reward for following Jesus, and perhaps a bit proud that they had followed the call to discipleship, asked: “We have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?” (Mat 19:27) Jesus answered: “You who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Mat 19:28-29). God does not let any love and service to his kingdom go unrewarded.

But immediately following this, Jesus warns against self-complacency with one's discipleship, and against the temptation to set limits to God, and on account of this promise to classify people into two sets: the people that are following Christ, and are going to receive this reward, and the people that have left him, and will not receive this reward. God does not so quickly give up. He does not act as a businessman who wants to get as much income with as little expenditure as possible. He wants to give, and he constantly invites all, so that he can give to all. The first places in heaven, if we can speak in this way, belong not to the bishops, priests, deacons, pastoral assistants, and those who put in the most hours for the kingdom, but to those who most of all recognize their own neediness and open themselves to God's love. Amen.

Solemn High Mass in Norcia

I was recently in Norcia, Italy, at the Monastery of St. Benedict, and had the opportunity to assist as deacon of a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form for the first time. (I wrote a post two years ago when they received the apostolate from the Ecclesia Dei commission to celebrate the Holy Mass in both the ordinary and the extraordinary form. Their conventual Mass is now regularly celebrated in the extraordinary form.) Here are couple of photos from a Mass where I and two of my brothers were the ministers.

For those of my readers who are not subscribed to the feed, but come to this website itself, I wish to note that I will be unlikely to make any new posts until the end of August.

Just before the Gloria

Receiving the blessing from the priest before the Gospel

Make me responsible and trustworthy, but not yet…

The "Budget Control Act of 2011" (PDF of the bill; see also the Congressional Budget Office's Analysis of the Bill) passed by the house yesterday and by the senate today reminds me of Augustine's plea: "Make me chaste, but not yet". The plan makes conditions that entail a reduction of 2.1 trillion in the overall deficit of the next ten years — assuming that income from taxes remains as calculated, and that the interest rate for the US public debt does not rise. However, virtually none (merely 1%) of this reduction has to occur before 2013. Essentially, the plan is a promise to do something about the problem, but not yet… only after the next election. It is an attempt to satisfy voters with the promise to rectify the out-of-control debt of the USA, while avoiding the dissatisfaction that might follow upon the hardships possibly entailed in correcting the problem.

In addition, even with its future promise the plan offers far too little. It allows for an increase in the public debt limit of at least 1.5 Trillion in the next two years, while requiring a reduction of 1.9 trillion in the overall deficit of the next ten years. The current annual deficit is more than one trillion, and the expected deficit over the next ten years well over ten trillion, making this "deficit reduction" nearly meaningless. Obama basically suggested that the people of the united states, who were, according to the polls, against any increase in the debt limit, are just ignorant of economics. [Press Conference]

The real situation is more like this: picture someone with $200,000 debt, paying 10% interest on it, and whose spending otherwise matches his income; he has to borrow an additional $20,000 this year to make the payments on his long-term debts, and is thus getting ever deeper and deeper into debt; next year he will have to borrow $21,000 to make the payments (assume half of his debt payments go to interest and half to principal), and over the next ten years will have to borrow $300,000 and be $150,000 deeper in debt. He decides he will take out a mortgage on his house to cover the payments for the next ten years, and will reduce his spending by $50,000 over the next 10 years. Now, instead of borrowing a total of $300,000 over the next 10 years, and getting $150,000 deeper into debt, he only has to borrow $250,000, and get only $100,000 deeper into debt. This is only slightly putting off the time when he can no longer make the payments on his debts, and is bankrupt.

Despite the near uselessness of the budgeting of the Budget Control Act, there is a condition in it of potentially more real value, namely that the House of Representatives and Senate should vote before the year's end on a resolution proposing a "balanced budget amendment" to the Constitution of the United States. If such a meaningful amendment were to be made, it would be of far greater value than stop-gap measures like the budgeting of the Budget Control Act of 2011.

"Call to Disobedience" and Schönborn's Response

The leaders of the "pastors' initiative" of Vienna pubished a public "call to disobedience" on Trinity Sunday. Cardinal Schönborn this week in the summer edition of the staff magazine of the Archdiocese of Vienna made a response to this “call to disobedience” of the “pastors' initiative”, which, if not formally schismatic, is close to it. I translate both of them here.

If anything, the Cardinal's response could perhaps have been even stronger. Is one justified in going out of one's way not to lose those who in many ways do not share the mind of the Church, if this results in detriment to the visible christian identity, unity, and witness of the Church–and thus the loss of many who would otherwise be attracted to and find Christ in the Church? It does not seem so to me.


“Call to disobedience”

 Rome's refusal to make a long needed reform of the Church and the inactivity of the bishops not only allow us, but force us to follow our conscience and to ourselves take action:

 We priests in the time to come want to point the way ahead:

1. WE WILL in the future speak an intercession for reform of the Church. We take seriously the scriptural saying: Ask, and you shall receive. Before God there is freedom of speech.

2. WE WILL absolutely not refuse the Eucharist to believers of good will. This applies particularly to the divorced and remarried, to members of other christian churches, and in individual cases also those who have left the Church.

 3. WE WILL as far as possible avoid celebrating multiple times on Sundays and feastdays, or employing travelling priests who are unknown to the local community. A Liturgy of the Word that is done by the community itself is better than liturgical on tour.

 4. WE WILL in the future consider a Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion as a “priesterless celebration of the Eucharist”, and will also name it such. Thus we fulfill our Sunday obligation in a time of few priests.

5. WE WILL disregard the prohibition of preaching for competently educated lay persons and teachers of religion. Precisely in a difficult time it is necessary to proclaim God's word.

 6. WE WILL do what we can to see to it that every parish has its own director: man or woman, married or unmarried, full-time or part-time. This is to be accomplished not by merging parishes, but by a new image of the priest.

7. WE WILL therefore use every opportunity to speak out publicly for the admission of women and married men to the priestly office. We see in them welcome colleagues in the office of pastoral care.

Finally we see ourselves in solidarity with those colleagues who are no longer permitted to exercise their office on account of a marriage, but also with those who, despite having a (sexual) partner, continue to fulfill their service as priests. Both groups with their decision follow their conscience – as we also do with our protest. We see in them just as much as in the pope and the bishops “our brothers”. What a “fellow brother” is supposed to be over and above that, we do not know. One alone is our master – while we are all brothers. “And sisters” – as it however should be said among christians. For this we desire to stand up, for this we desire to intervene, for this we desire to pray. Amen.


Christoph Cardinal Schönborn's response

Dear fellow workers!
Dear brothers and sisters!
And this time especially: dear fellow brothers in the priestly service!

The leaders of the “pastors' initiative” published a “call to disobedience” (www.pfarrer-initiative.at) on Trinity Sunday (June 19). I did not want to reacted immediately, lest I answer in the anger and sorrow that this call aroused in me. At the priestly ordination on June 24 I made indirect reference to it in my homily. The public call to disobedience shakes me deeply. How would it be for the families in our country, if disobedience were raised to a virtue? Many employees ask themselves how it is possible to propagate and practice disobedience in the Church, when they know that they would have long ago lost their jobs if they there made a call to disobedience. 

We priests at our ordination freely, forced by no one, put our hands in the bishop's to show “reverence and obedience” and before the whole community said loudly and clearly, “Yes, I do promise it.” Do you stand by this? Can I, can the communities have confidence in this? As a bishop I also promised faithful communion with and obedience to the pope. I shall stand by this, even if there have been moments wenn that was not easy.

Christian obedience is a school of freedom. It is a matter of the concrete expression in life of what we pray in every Our Father, when we pray to the Father that his will be done in heaven and on earth. This prayer receives its meaning and its power through the interior readiness of the one who prays to accept God's will also in those cases where it differs from what he would imagine for himself. This readiness also becomes concrete in ecclesial obedience to the pope and bishop. What this readiness demands can sometimes be painful.

In the “master plan” for our diocese, in the process “Acts of the Apostles” 2010 and in our plan of development for the diocese it is also a matter of God's will. What is God's will for us, for the archdiocese today, in a situation of great change? In prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist together, in contemplation of the Scriptures, in our looking at the development of our society, we strive to recognize God's will. The “master plan” should indeed be the plan of the Master, of the Lord.

Precisely here the “call to disobedience” takes up its position – but crosswise to the “master plan”. Since the reforms demanded by the initiators of the “pastors' initiative” have still not occurred, and since they bishops, as they see it, are inactive, they see themselves forced, “to follow their conscience and themselves take action.”

If it becomes a question of conscience, to be disobedient to the pope and bishop, then a new level is reached that urges a clear decision. For the conscience is always to be followed when it is a formed conscience that has examined itself critically. Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, in a solitary decision of his conscience, refused military service in Hitler's army, at the cost of his life. Blessed John Henry Newman came after many years of intense struggle to the certainty of conscience that the Anglican Church had deviated from the truth and that the Church of Jesus Christ lives on in the Catholic Church. Therefore one who in his examined conscience comes to the conviction that “Rome” is on a wrong track that gravely contradicts God's will, would in the ultimate case have to draw the conclusion, to no longer continue on the way with the Roman-Catholic Church. But I believe and hope that this ultimate case does not occur here.

I do not have to give interior assent to every decision of the Church, especially not in regard to disciplinary decisions, and I may honestly wish that the leadership of the Church would decide otherwise. But when the pope again and again – as in the case of the priestly ministry – gives clear guidelines and recalls the standing teaching, then the exhortation to disobedience in fact calls the ecclesial community into question. Ultimately every priest, and we ourselves must all decide whether or not we want to go the way with the pope, the bishop, and the universal Church. It is always difficulty to see one's own vision curtailed. But he who gives up the principle of obedience, dissolves unity.

In my pastoral letter I invited all to a common way together. I suggested a very concrete way: that we put mission in the first place, and direct everything to it, putting before all else the effort to become new and better disciples of Jesus. By this “the world” will recognize whether following Jesus is worth it, whether being the Church of Jesus Christ really brings something salvific. All efforts at structural reform have to be seen from this perspective.

I do not consider the “call to disobedience” to be a helpful step. I will at the next opportunity talk with the representatives of the “pastors' initiative”. I will particularly point out some inconsistencies in their “program of disobedience”, such as the formulation “priestless celebration of the Eucharist” or the disparaging remarks about the help of outside priests as “liturgical tours”. Only a style that is marked by mutual esteem helps us further along, as we had the happiness of experiencing in the three diocese assemblies.

In not long I will have been a bishop for 20 years. The bishop is at the service of unity, for his own diocese and with the pope and the universal Church. I perform this service with joy. I experience much that is beautiful, but also some painful wounds to unity. The “call to disobedience” is among these wounds. I call to unity, for which Jesus prayed to the Father (cf. John 17:21) and for which he give his life. May he help me in my service of preserving the bond of unity in love and true.

I wish you all a blessed summer time.


+ Christoph Cardinal Schönborn

Interpreting Religious Statistics

Check out this post by James Chastek on interpreting religious statistics. He makes three points: (1) An evaluation of religious statistics that looks only to the last 50 years is short-sighted in comparison with the long-term nature of movements in religious convictions; (2) people leaving the Church is an ambiguous statistic; it could be a sign of a spiritual good, namely a greater appreciation that belonging to the Church and church attendence should be connected with the truth–having previously accepted the Church not as true, but simply as a part of culture; (3) the statistics often rely on non-objective methods to determine the numbers of members of the Church; e.g., simply asking them whether they are "Catholic".

I have often made the second point in response to what I sometimes see as an exaggerated concern with statistics of church membership, expressed on the occasion of hearing the numbers of persons leaving the Church. While it is better to be a Catholic and live as one than not, it is also better to be honestly not a Catholic than to be dishonestly a Catholic.

One must admit, however, that while cultural christianity never saved anyone, it can be an occasion for a real encounter with Christ, who is the Savior of all men.

Why is Consecrated Virginity Not a Sacrament

Marriage and religious life are two fundamental ways to fulfill the fundamental vocation of every human being to love. Why is marriage a sacrament and consecrated virginity or celibacy is not?

Since Christ certainly could have made consecrated virginity a sacrament, any answer can only be based on arguments of appropriateness. Both marriage and virginity are signs of the union between Christ and the Church. Is there a difference in the way in which they are signs of this union, such that marriage is fittingly a sacrament, and consecrated virginity is not?

Marriage signifies the union of Christ and the Church inasmuch as the very union of the two humans spouses derives from, participates in, and is a likeness of the perfect union of Christ with the Church. Nevertheless this union of the spouses remains distinct from this spousal union of Christ and the Church. The spouses do not give themselves directly to Christ, but to each other.

Consecrated virginity signifies the union of Christ and the Church inasmuch as the virgin is devoted, by her own will and by the Church, to the very union that constitutes the Church, to the fulfillment of the union with Christ begun in baptism. Thus it bears less the character of a sign, and more that of the reality itself.

We might tentatively say, then, that it would be less fitting for consecrated virginity or religious life to be a sacrament, a sacred sign that confers grace, because it is above all reality, a deepening of the baptismal grace, the spousal union with Christ the Bridegroom. It is a sign of the future kingdom, but it is a sign of it inasmuch as it already anticipates it in this life.

Another, complementary way to explain this looks at the different ways marriage and religious life relate to time and history. Marriage pertains above all to the working out of God's plan for man in time. Those who rise from the dead “neither marry nor are given in marriage”; human marriage ceases with death, even though some aspects of marriage, e.g., the love between the spouses, endures beyond death. The virgin's spousal union with Christ, however, does not cease with her death, but is consummated—she becomes even more perfectly that which she began to be on earth through baptism and through her vows: the bride of Christ. Since all of the sacraments pertain to the dispensation of God's grace in time and history, it is thus more fitting for marriage to be a sacrament than for consecrated virginity to be one.

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Year A)

"I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do" (John 17:4). Had Christ, has Christ really accomplished his work? Was he not only just beginning it? After nearly 2000 years Christians are still practically beginners in the recognition and realization of his message of the kingdom of God, his message of love, forgiveness, salvation… not to mention the many persons who reject this message as foolishness.

Wouldn't it have been smarter for Christ to have remained on earth after his resurrection? Then we wouldn't have the problems in the Church that arise from human weaknesses and failings. The Church wouldn't have to be led by bishops and popes who also make mistakes. There wouldn't be as many people who follow erroneous paths. If Christ had remained, had continued to work wonders, thus clearly demonstrating his divinity, there wouldn't be problems with disbelief and lack of orientation. Christ could have accomplished everything so much better, if he had only remained with us… so we could think to ourselves. So did Christ's disciples perhaps think. “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

But would it really have been so? What would the Church and the world really look like, if Christ had remained visibly with us? The place where one could meet Christ would be a pilgrimage site like none other, like Jerusalem, Rome, and Mecca packed into one. Every Christian would dream of meeting Christ, of being privileged to speak with him, to make a confession to him, to ask him what is God like, ask him about his vocation, etc…. But there would not be enough time for this. Even if each person only had a single second with Christ, it wouldn't be possible for every person to get a chance once in his life. Only privileged persons, who could afford the journey, would be able to meet him. Or it would be organized so the poorest persons, or the greatest criminals, or something of the kind, could meet. But at any rate, not everyone would be able to.

Christ disperses all such visions, such ways of imagining God's presence among us! His glory is not here or there. It is a glory that surpasses time and place, a glory he had with God “before the world was made” (Joh 17:5). When we are united with a person by love, and have to depart from him, this means a separation. Our thoughts remain with the beloved, but we ourselves are distant from him. With Christ it is different. He entered the glory of the Father, a love that is pure reality. For “God is love” (1 Joh 4:16) as John never tires of repeating. His departure into glory in fact means that he is really, continuously with us.

Christ ventures still another step, that we would never have thought up ourselves. In his prayer he asks the Father, and declares, that he is glorified in us! In seeking the presence, the glory of God we must not only not look to a particular place such as Jerusalem or Rome, we must also not look merely to the beyond, e.g., heaven. The eternal life that Christ gives us is not somewhere over there. It is here! It is now! Certainly it is very important, and a comfort to believe that there is a life after death, a life that has no end. But just any kind of life that were to go on without end would probably become at some point boring, tiring, even unbearable. The essential point is this: Christ gives us a life that is totally worth living, without ifs or buts.

Let us value this life! Let us live it! And like Christ's disciples after his Ascension, let us pray for the Holy Spirit, that he make this life blossom in us, that our joy in life as Christians become ever more visible, so that we too become radiant witnesses of Christ's resurrection.