The Holy Spirit Outpoured

May 28, 2023

Vigil of Pentecost
By Fr. Victor Feltes

All plants and animals depend upon water to live. Water comes down to us freely from the sky. Though its appearance may vary (as rain, or hail, or snow, or dew) once it rests upon the earth it produces many different effects throughout creation. Water, while ever remaining itself, adapts to the need of every creature that receives it, growing apples on an apple tree, creating sweet sap in a maple tree, or generating many-kernelled cobs on a cornstalk. In this way, water is similar to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit descends as a free gift from heaven. He comes in different appearances (as fire, as a dove, as wind, or invisibly) while always remaining his same divine self. He is the Lord, the giver of life, and in each person who receives him through Christ he produces fruits through gifts which he imparts as he pleases.

On the last and greatest day of a Jewish feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. As Scripture says, rivers of living water will flow from within him who believes in me!” John’s Gospel tells us “he said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive,” adding, “There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.” How are we to understand this verse which says, ‘There was no Spirit yet’?

Is it teaching that the Holy Spirit did not yet exist? No, the third Person of the Trinity is co-eternal with the Father and the Son. There was never a time when he was not.

Is the passage saying the Holy Spirit was not yet present and active in the world? No, Luke’s Gospel describes several actions of the Holy Spirit on earth long before Easter or Pentecost. He overshadowed Mary at Jesus’ conception and inspired Elizabeth at the Visitation. He enlightened Simeon and Anna to recognize the Christ Child at the Presentation in the Temple, and our Nicene Creed proclaims that he has spoken through the Old Testament prophets.

Is Pentecost of note because that is when the apostles received the Holy Spirit for the first time? No, for John’s Gospel records how Jesus appeared in the Upper Room on Easter Sunday evening and breathed on them saying, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Seeing as how they had already received the Holy Spirit on Easter, what is special and new about the descent of the Holy Spirit fifty days later on Pentecost such that previous eras can be likened to there be “no Spirit yet“?

We remember and celebrate Pentecost because it is a broader and more manifest outpouring of the Holy Spirit than ever before. The Acts of the Apostles recounts how “there was a group of about 120 persons in the one place,” and “when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. … Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.

He does not descend and rest upon a few of them, but on all of them, and the power he manifests through them is not subtle nor secret. They fearlessly go into the streets proclaiming Jesus Christ in languages they do not even know. The Holy Spirit would no longer to be an occasional, temporary visitor for a special select few, but the enduring animating Spirit of the Body of Christ, the Church in the world.

Surely, the Holy Spirit would like to do more among us, but we must be open to receiving more from him. How can we receive more of his gifts and inspirations? First, we should desire them, and ask for them, and praise and thank him for all the graces we have already received. Next, we should resolve to be open to him, choose to be available for him, and decide to be generous with him, trusting that God is good and wills our greatest good. Finally, we should practice daily prayer, pursue silence and peace in this noisy and anxious world, and be attentive to the subtle movements in our minds and hearts which are the Holy Spirit’s quiet words and gentle nudges. If we ask, are open, and then listen to him, we will receive more of the Holy Spirit’s good gifts and inspirations.

Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats,” as the Prophet Isaiah wrote, so the Holy Spirit would come to us like water from heaven anew, more powerfully fruitful throughout our world today.

Ascension: a Bittersweet Christian Mystery

May 21, 2023

Feast of the Ascension
By Fr. Victor Feltes

The bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven feels like a bittersweet Christian mystery. Before ascending, Jesus said, “I am going to the one who sent me… But because I told you this, grief has filled your hearts. But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” Though Christ is no longer openly, visibly walking the earth today, he assures us, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” At this time of year, during the Easter season, when celebrating Jesus going up and the Holy Spirit coming down, with so many young people graduating from one life into another, and I am reminded of the most difficult homily I ever preached.

I have heard it said that when a young person goes off to college or off into the world their experience is very different than their family’s. For the one who goes, the change begins an adventure. They learn and experience new, amazing things. They meet great people and make new friends, while still loving and caring about their family. They are happy and excited to be starting a new life, while their loved ones left behind understandably take this transition much harder.

For a daughter who goes off, her life becomes more full, but her family at home feels a new emptiness. She’s not in her room. She’s not in her seat at the table. Her voice and laughter are not heard like before. Of course, her family can still speak to her long-distance, and she’s still well-aware of what’s going on at home, but her departure creates a separation, and that’s difficult. Loving families could even wish their loves ones would never ever leave. But imagine how much those loved ones would miss out on if they never journeyed forth?

Bridget Achenbach, 1995-2015

I first shared these reflections in 2015, at the funeral of a nineteen-year-old, first-year college student I knew named Bridget. Eight years ago, following the Sunday Mass of Pentecost, Bridget was driving to a friend’s graduation party. Her car hydroplaned on an old, country highway and she died in a violent crash.

Some people today, when faced with this world’s temptations, despite their Christian upbringing choose to leave our Lord and go their own way. Bridget, with her beauty, smarts, and popularity was free to choose that too, but instead she grew from good to better. During her freshman year at the University of Wisconsin in La Crosse, through the campus’s Catholic Newman Center, she participated in Bible studies, attended a five-day Catholic youth conference in Tennessee, and pilgrimaged to the March for Life.

On the bus ride of that last trip she shared with friends how Jesus was transforming her life and said she felt closer to him than ever before. At times during that final year when she was home from college, I would not only see Bridget receive Our Lord in the Eucharist at Sunday Mass but sometimes at weekday morning Masses as well before she would leave for her job as a pool lifeguard. The Lord was calling her to be closer to him, just as Jesus calls us all.

At her funeral eight years ago, I noted that Jesus never does evil. He is goodness and love incarnate, “in him there is no darkness at all.” But we also know the Lord refrained from intervening even with some subtle miracle to prevent Bridget’s car accident and death. Why would God allow such a charismatic young woman to die on Pentecost?

Consider how the Blessed Virgin Mary was an invaluable presence among the first Christians. Yet, once she had completed the course of her earthly life and was taken up into Heaven, Mary could assist more powerfully than before. Now, in glory, Mary can hear and intercede on behalf of many, many millions of people while loving each of us uniquely. Like Mary, the spiritual mother of all Christians, I believe Bridget was ready to graduate from this life to the next.

A final exam awaits you. You do not know its exact day or its hour, but it awaits us all. Are you ready for it? None of us know if we will still be here next year. Jesus hopes that with his help you will graduate to where he has gone before us. In Christian maturity, St. Paul writes that “we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.” This present world is not our true home. May the bitterness and scandal of death and parting not cause you to overlook the sweetness of heaven. And may you always choose to follow Jesus closely in this life so that you may one day follow him above.

A Mother’s Love — Memorial Mass Homily for Georgetta Thibeau, 94

May 15, 2023

By Fr. Victor Feltes

Georgetta was born here in Bloomer in 1928. She grew up in this parish, attending our St. Paul’s School. Her funeral Mass was offered in Racine after she passed away this January. And following this morning’s Mass, her remains will be laid to rest in our South Catholic Cemetery.

In the gospel for today, Jesus says, “Love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” So I asked Georgetta’s daughter, Sue, whether her mother had laid down her life for her friends. She replied, “No,” — her mother laid down her life for her family.

Georgetta raised her six children all by herself in Racine for most of their youth. Her two boys and four girls knew it was not easy for her and helped out as they could. In an era with much less government support, Georgetta worked night shifts to provide for her family. But she lovingly provided them more than just food and shelter. She also gave them the example of her Catholic Faith.

Georgetta, it is said, was never without a rosary in her hands, day or night. Whenever she came across a rosary she would pick it up and place it into her prayer rotation. But there was one rosary in particular about which she gave her children special instructions. On more than one occasion, she told them to take the rosary she kept on her headboard and place it into the urn (this urn) with her ashes when she died. Why? “Because that one glows in the dark.”

The Holy Rosary and our Blessed Mother Mary were always near to her heart. And the Blessed Mother she loved leads me to a final reflection. Jesus Christ perfected his mother in love to love like himself. Jesus said, “Love one another as I love you.” Who besides the Lord has loved with a greater love than her? Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Yet this presents a puzzle, since the Virgin Mary never died a martyr’s bloody death.

From Mother Mary we discover that a person can lay down one’s life with the greatest love as a loving offering for others even without dying a red martyrdom. And these others (these “friends” one loves and lays down one’s life for) can be one’s own sons and daughters, since Mary is our spiritual mother and we are her dearly beloved sons and daughters. Mother Mary learned how to love like Jesus loves us, and Georgetta learned how to love like Mary loves us. That is why, even in death, Georgetta remains in the light.

God Is With His People

May 13, 2023

6th Sunday of Easter
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

We are approaching the end of the Easter season. Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Ascension of the Lord into heaven. At today’s point in Easter time, Jesus is about to leave the world and return to His Father, as he promises to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples. He tells them that he will not leave them orphaned but his Spirit will be with the church and his people till the end of time.

Today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles was a historical event in the church. Deacon Philip was on a mission to Samaritans, who were non-Jewish. While he was preaching to them, they accepted Jesus as their promised Messiah and received the Holy Spirit in their lives through the laying of the hands of Peter and John. The laying of hands is used in the church even today at baptism, confirmation, and ordination.

Today’s Gospel is once again in the context of the Last Supper. Jesus is preparing His disciples for his coming suffering and death but also for his resurrection and Ascension. Jesus promises them that even after his ascension he will remain with them in a very different way from now. He tells them clearly that he is the way, truth, and life. Jesus promises His Holy Spirit, the “Advocate”. The Advocate will come upon the Apostles and continue the work of Jesus.

Advocate” means an intercessor, defender, and witness for the accused, best friend, comforter in distress, counselor, and Helper. The Advocate is always by our side to instruct and correct us when we make mistakes. The Advocate encourages and motivates us when we fall down, and fights for our rights when judges are unfair.

God is with us neither judging us nor rejecting us but patiently waiting and calling us to change. God is with us in our suffering. When sickness and death surround us, God is with us affirming us and calling us to patience and to courage. There is a beautiful line in today’s second reading. It says, “Always be prepared to give your defense to anyone who wants an explanation of the hope that is within you.” Always be ready to explain why we are people of hope. We are people of hope because God is with us. God is with us now and always. God is with us forever. We are not alone. In good times and in bad, God’s presence will always be with us. No matter how hard life is, He will stay with us and will never leave us. God, the Holy Spirit, is always our Advocate.

Pay special attention to the Holy Spirit who is present in your thoughts, words, and deeds. Give thanks for all the gifts you have received. Ask the Holy Spirit to take over your life, and allow Him to fill you with His gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self–control.

Proclaim What Christ Has Done For You

May 13, 2023

6th Sunday of Easter
By Fr. Victor Feltes

In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we heard how Philip went to Samaria and proclaimed Christ to them. “With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.” Who was doing these signs? The natural sense of this scripture passage refers to Philip, whom the crowds saw and heard and believed. But in a supernatural sense, it was the Christ being proclaimed to them who was performing these signs through and with Philip. In our gospel, Jesus tells us, “I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” Jesus would have others behold and hear of his great works in you and me.

The psalmist in today’s psalm says, “Hear now… while I declare what he (the Lord) has done for me. Blessed be God who refused me not my prayer or his kindness!” It is good to declare and share what God has done for you. St. Peter teaches all Christians in today’s second reading to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” What are your life’s best God stories? What is the Lord doing with and for you recently? I have two personal examples to share, one old and one current.

When I was about thirteen years old, I remember being in the living room of my house thinking about life and death, when nature called. While heading to the bathroom on the other side of the house, I got stopped in my tracks at the architectural crossroads of our home. It would be a crossroads moment of my life. In my imagination, I stood before Jesus’ judgement seat. His sat upon a white throne atop a white stone cube and the background behind him was all blackness. Jesus did not look at me angrily, but he seemed frustrated and disappointed. And he asked me, “Why didn’t you live your life like I wanted you to live it?

I did not know whether these ideas were coming from God or my own imagination, but either way I knew that I would not be a man of integrity if I just kicked this question down the road for the rest of my life. While still needing to use the bathroom, I felt a sense of urgency to face this valid question. I stood there thinking, ‘How would I answer this question in my own defense?’ I replied, ‘Well Lord, I wasn’t even sure that you were really, really real. How could you expect me to dedicate my life to you while being so uncertain? I wouldn’t stand out on an extending cliff-ledge if I wasn’t sure that it could hold up my weight. And what if I were commit my entire life to you and die and you’re not real, what would I have?

Once I had presented my best case, Jesus immediately replied, “Did you ever really try to find out (if I was real)? Did you even read my book?” That last line made me laugh a bit even as it convicted me. I realized that if I were really looking for the truth I would be searching for answers more seriously than I was. After that I started reading the Bible and praying every night, and began earnestly learning more about our Catholic Faith.

When I eventually read the Book of Revelation at the end of the Bible, I found there a description of the Last Judgment. St. John wrote: “I saw a large white throne and the one who was sitting on it. The earth and the sky fled from his presence and there was no place for them. I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the Book of Life. The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls.” A large white throne shrouded in darkness while the dead stand before him to be judged according to their deeds matches what I saw in my vision – a vision that has led to me standing here to tell you this story today.

And our Lord is still actively doing things among us today. Currently, according to our latest figures, St. Paul’s has well-surpassed $500,000 in pledges for our capital campaign, and things throughout this renovation effort have been going so providentially that I have a peaceful confidence that the Lord is helping us succeed.

What great things has the Lord done in your life? How has he been working with you recently? He is in you and you are in him. Know your stories and have the minimal courage to share with others what the Lord has done for you. Praying for the conversion of souls is important, but bearing witness to them is important too. Sharing your stories, sharing the reasons for your Christian hope, will be more effective than nagging or silence. Do not hide what God has done for you under bushel baskets. Instead, share your highlights with others.

Finding Hope in Eternal Life — Funeral Homily for Glen Siverling, 104

May 7, 2023

By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

On behalf of St. Paul’s Parish and myself, I would like to extend our sincere sympathy to Glen John Siverling’s family, His children, his grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He was born on January 19, 1919, in Bloomer. He graduated from Brush Prairie School, and married Edna Rubenzer on May 30, 1939, at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Tilden.

After his marriage, he worked on the farm for twenty years. He and His wife raised four children. After they moved to Bloomer he did carpentry work for UBC. After they retired, they enjoyed with his wife by traveling, fishing, hunting, playing cards, and visiting family and friends. He was ready to help anybody at any time. He also made his own sausage with his grandchildren. He liked to listen to music and watch Westerns on Tv until his eyesight went bad. After his wife’s death, he moved to Meadowbrook’s rest home.

We have gathered here to pray for him. We believe that our prayer can help him. We know that prayer is powerful and believe that we can help the departed by praying for them. The best gift you can give to Glen is to pray for him. Prayer has lasting value.

Our Gospel reading today is filled with many comforting words from Jesus. Anyone who feels tired, emotionally empty, disappointed, abandoned, or depressed can easily be uplifted up by the comforting promise of Jesus that He will give rest. The last part of the Gospel is, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” This has been a huge help and consolation to the people. Those who have lost someone in the family, a soul at rest can share the peace of God.

We live in the hope that when our earthly journey is done, we will be at home with God forever. Only God can satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. St. Augustine’s understanding of this truth led him to write, “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

When we die, life is changed not ended. We remember people when they die and pray for them. We can also ask them to pray for us. This keeps us close to them and we will think of them frequently. The people of the church are in three areas, the Saints in heaven, the souls in purgatory, and those of us still living here on earth. We believe that all are united around Jesus’ cross and resurrection.

In the Apostles’ Creed we profess our faith. “I believe in the Holy Spirit the Holy Catholic Church the communion of saints the forgiveness of sins the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.” The living and the dead are united by praying for each other. This is the communion of saints that we profess we believe in during the Apostle Creed. I believe in the communion of saints. Believing in the communion of saints, believing that life is changed not ended, we pray for Glen John Siverling.

Eternal rest, grant unto him, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon him
May he rest in peace!

Jesus: Our Way, Truth, & Life

May 7, 2023

5th Sunday of Easter
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

Time and again we experience fears, worries, and anxieties. Since our faith is weak and we focus on our problems instead of God, the Holy Bible, many, many times, advises us not to worry. When God created man and woman, living forever was perfect and beautiful. Man was meant to have a family without the fear of sickness and disease. We know the story of how man disobeys God and sin comes to be. In that very moment, Man went another way, to go to another place rather than to God. Everything was turned upside down.

Now we face death, we face pain, we face loss, and we have to struggle every day to make a living and keep our lives going. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way, to walk away from God, but I have good news today. For those of you ready to come back to the Lord, there is a way. God has made a way for restoration, He has made a way for renewal, and His name is Jesus. Jesus is the way, the life, and the truth.

Our Lord Jesus is ready to open up our minds to receive the way, life, and truth. He is ready to bring us into a new life as the new creations that he has intended for each of us. How do we come back to the life that God has intended for each of us? The answer is found in today’s Gospel. Jesus was speaking to His disciples about a place He was going to prepare for them, where we are going to dwell with Jesus forever and live with God.

Jesus is the way because he is the only begotten Son of God. He is the safest and surest Way to God because he came from God and he can lead us to his heavenly Father. While he was still on earth, Jesus spoke much about his Father. He talked about his union with the Father, the goodness and compassion of the Father. He gathered the people, and he even ate with sinners with the aim to bring them back to the Father. Jesus’ sure Way to God is the narrow way of the cross. It is the least–traveled way to humble, loving, self–giving, and committed service to others, through which we can reach the Father.

Jesus is the truth. The words of Jesus are true, and this truth sets us free. Jesus is the truth because he is the only one who reveals to us the whole truth about God. He teaches us that God is a loving, merciful, providing, and forgiving Father.

Jesus is the life because he has Eternal life in himself. He is the one who gives us his life–giving Holy Spirit. In the Creed, we profess that we believe in life everlasting. This belief has its connection to our faith in Jesus who is life. If we chose life, then we need to remain in Jesus.

Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life has something to do with our day-to-day life. Just as Jesus is the way, we may also be the way or instrument for others to go to God. At the same time, we should also be bearers of truth and promoters of life.

God’s Glorious Temples

May 7, 2023

5th Sunday of Easter
By Fr. Victor Feltes

For the Jewish people, the temple in Israel was the one place where they could offer Old Covenant sacrifices to God. Jerusalem’s temple was at the center of their relationship with God. So it was very disturbing to Jesus’ hearers when he declared in its temple courts, “All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” Jesus was proven right about forty years later when the Romans conquered Jerusalem and destroyed that temple in 70 AD.

On another occasion, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Some Jews objected, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But St. John’s Gospel tells us Jesus “was speaking about the temple of his body.” In the New Covenant, Jesus Christ himself supersedes that temple in Israel at the center of our relationship with God.

Here in this holy church building we encounter Jesus and his one sacrifice. In this church, this New Covenant temple, we draw near to the Body of Christ, in his tabernacle, upon his altar, in his Most Blessed Sacrament. And as if that were not enough, in this church through baptism and the Holy Eucharist we become the body of Christ.

After his Ascension, when Christ appeared to an early enemy of his Church on the road to Damascus, he said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, sir?” And the voice from heaven replied, “I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.” This Saul became better known after his conversion as St. Paul and his story affirms that Christ’s Church is more than just buildings but his holy people, and that Jesus is now mystically one with us.

In today’s second reading, we hear St. Peter—the Catholic Church’s first pope—tell us, “let yourselves be (like living stones) built into a spiritual house (that is, a temple) to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” We are called to be holy, called to be more like Jesus, called to offer spiritual sacrifices to God not only at Mass but throughout our lives.

What good is a having beautiful church building if our souls do not become more beautiful too? Jesus says possessing pleasing outward appearances without internal conversion and holiness is like being a whitewashed tomb, beautiful on the outside yet full of dead bones and uncleanliness within. So having a very beautiful church building is not enough. Jesus Christ must be our way, our truth, and our life, for no one comes to the Father except through him. Yet, it is most fitting and right our churches should be supremely beautiful, reflecting the beauty of our faith and the beautiful glory of God, so that others may be transformed by encounters with Jesus Christ like St. Paul our patron was.

Jesus is Our Good Shepherd

April 29, 2023

4th Sunday of Easter
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

Today we honor Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd and promises to take care of the sheep entrusted to his care. We have the popular images of Jesus the Good Shepherd carrying a sheep over his shoulders, or we have a smiling Jesus sitting under a tree, with a little lamb on his lap. These images of Jesus teach us about his tenderness and his compassion. A shepherd is more than that. A shepherd walks before the sheep, seeking out a safe path, taking them to the pastures, to water, and to shelter. The sheep follow him because they recognize his voice and they trust him.

In the first reading today, St. Peter reminds his Jewish people that they have crucified their true Shepherd. They need to receive forgiveness for their sin by receiving baptism in the name of Jesus and acknowledge the risen Jesus as their Lord and Savior. In the second reading, St. Peter invites the suffering Christians to follow the example of their Good Shepherd, the suffering servant. Suffering and death help us to become more fully the children of God.

Today’s gospel says how much love Jesus has for His flock. He says: “I am the good Shepherd.” What does this mean? First of all, He is not working for pay but provides for his sheep’s needs, leading them out to pasture. He keeps them safe and healthy, he does not want them to be lost or get hurt. The good Shepherd knows each member of His flock. The Good Shepherd protects them to the point of risking his life for them, and He did. Our Good Shepherd shows the true way to the Father. He gives and leads us to, the fullness of life. He saves us from sin and death. He opens for us the gate of heaven and offers us a life of fellowship with His Father.

In this parable, Jesus compares Himself to the Shepherd and the Gate. The image of the Good Shepherd represents His ownership. The image of the Gate represents His leadership. Jesus is the gate, the only way in and out. He is the one Mediator between God and mankind: to reach heaven, all must go through Him. Jesus gives the assurance that whoever enters through him will be safe and well-cared for.

We are invited to be a shepherd to those who are entrusted to our love and care. Pastors, parents, teachers, doctors, nurses, government officials, and caregivers. We become good shepherds by loving those entrusted to us, praying for them, spending our time and blessings for their welfare, and guarding them against physical and spiritual dangers.

As we celebrate good shepherd Sunday, let us pray to the Lord that we may be His good sheep, listening attentively to His voice, and following His example of self–giving love. Let us also pray for all our shepherds, especially our religious and political leaders: may they follow the example of Jesus who was willing to serve and lay down His life for his sheep.

The Risen Lord with the Most Beautiful Smile

April 23, 2023

3rd Sunday of Easter
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

A small boy was walking home after Sunday school. He was thinking about the lesson. When you give something to another person, you are really giving it to Jesus, and you will find the risen Jesus in everyone you meet. As he was walking, he noticed an old woman sitting on the roadside. She looked lonely and hungry. He sat down beside her and gave her chocolate. She accepted it with a beautiful smile. Then they sat together in silence, just smiling at each other. Finally, the small boy gave the woman a big hug and went home with a smile on his face. His mother saw a big smile on his face and asked, what made you so happy today? He said, I shared my chocolate with Jesus. Then, he added, you know, she has the most beautiful smile in the world. Meanwhile, the old woman returned to her home where she lived with her sister, and said to her you know, today I ate chocolate with Jesus. Today’s Gospel tells us that we will meet and experience the risen Jesus in unexpected places and persons.

In the Old Testament lot of people encountered God in an unexpected way. Abraham entertained three Angels when he was unaware. Jacob laid his head on a stone while he slept and saw a stairway to Heaven. While Moses was taking care of the sheep, he heard the voice of the Lord coming from the burning bush. Prophet Isaiah says, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty temple, Seraphim singing Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His Glory,” before his own cleansing and consecration as a Prophet of the Lord. (Isaiah 6:1–6) Saul of Tarsus met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and Jesus got Saul’s attention by knocking him to the ground and making him blind.

Our readings today have one common and encouraging theme. No matter what happens in our lives, the risen Jesus is always with us. God is near to those who seek Him. The Emmaus incident is the story of a God who will not abandon us when we are disappointed.

God’s self–disclosure to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus was unexpected, but radically different from others. While they were walking with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, their eyes were closed from recognizing Him. When Jesus was at the table with them, He took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave the bread to them. At that moment, the eyes of the disciples were open and they recognized Jesus just before He vanished from their sight. Jesus will come to us in an unfamiliar way to support and strengthen us, when we least expect our risen Lord.

The Easter and the Emmaus journey tells us that God never forces Himself on us. He joins us in a walk in the garden, enjoying the beautiful scenery, visiting with a friend, sadness of death, or reading a letter from someone we love. God speaks to us in the voices of those who are hurt and sorrowful, in the faces of the poor and the needy.

We need to find Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread, as the Emmaus disciples understood. When we approach the altar to receive the Sacrament, we see and receive Christ Himself. The Eucharist is the true body and blood of Christ; it feeds us and fulfills our spiritual needs. When you receive the body of Christ let us recognize the risen Lord who is smiling at you.

Meet our Risen Lord at Mass with Opened Eyes and Burning Hearts

April 22, 2023

3rd Sunday of Easter
By Fr. Victor Feltes

On Easter Sunday afternoon, two of Jesus’ disciples were walking seven miles to Emmaus. Everyone journeys down the road of life. They have heard stories of Jesus’ Resurrection yet feel uncertain, pondering it, discussing it, and debating it. This is how they first meet the Risen Lord, with eyes not yet recognizing him as he walks with us. Jesus initiates the encounter. One whose name means “Glory to the Father” (whose life is meant to give glory to the Father) has questions about Jesus, the Nazarene called Christ. Cleopas and another disciple discover on their journey the very best person to answer the questions on their hearts. This meeting on the road to Emmaus parallels, beat-for-beat, how Jesus meets us in the Holy Mass.

Upon greeting and gathering his disciples near himself, Jesus begins a presentation of God’s Word. Starting with the Old Testament, he proclaims and explains how the Scriptures refer to him. Jesus preaches a homily pointing to himself. They hear, listen, and believe. These Christians would now profess as their creed, “I believe in Jesus Christ… For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried, and on the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures.” Next, they repeatedly petition the Lord: ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over. We pray, Lord, that you will grace us amid the darkness of this world.’ And the Lord grants their requests.

Before, his disciples’ spirits had been heavy and downcast. But now that the Lord is with them, with a new spirit they lift up burning hearts to the Lord our God, rightly giving him thanks. Then at table, having presented to Jesus the customary bread and wine, he takes the bread, says the blessing, breaks it, and gives it to them. With that their eyes are opened and they recognize his real presence, made known to them in the breaking of bread. In conclusion, they go at once and with rapid steps walk seven miles more to share their Good News about Jesus Christ with others.

Every Sunday since those early days, Christ’s Church has celebrated the Breaking of Bread, the Holy Eucharist, the Mass, in fulfillment of his instruction to “Do this in memory of me.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, we have testimony from the second century showing that the basic outlines of early Eucharistic celebrations match the Holy Mass today. Around the year 155 A.D., St. Justin Martyr composed an open letter to the pagan Roman emperor to explain Christians’ beliefs and worship. St. Justin wrote:

On the day we call the day of the sun (that is, Sunday), all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place. The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read… When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things. Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves…and for all others… Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren. He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks that we have been judged worthy of these gifts. When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: ‘Amen!’ [Then] those whom we call deacons give to those present the ‘eucharisted’ bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent.

And St. Justin Martyr adds:

This food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth (that is, baptism), and who lives as Christ handed down to us (that is, the Christian moral life). For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink… [W]e have been taught that the food consecrated… is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.

Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus and St. Justin Martyr, we today are invited to encounter Jesus Christ at Holy Mass. Let us always recognize him, rejoice in him, and receive him with eyes opened with faith and hearts burning with love.

His Resurrection has Changed Everything

April 16, 2023

Divine Mercy Sunday
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

The resurrection of Jesus was a new experience for the disciples, even though Jesus had often explained to them about His resurrection. The apostles must have been afraid beginning on Holy Thursday, because their friend and the messiah was dead. They all abandoned Him. His own disciple betrayed Him. The crowd which welcomed Jesus with palms turned against Him and called for the release of Barabbas. The apostles, now afraid of the crowd, stayed in their homes for their own protection.

The harmony among the first Christians that we see in our first reading is the fruit of Jesus’ resurrection. The new community, gathered around the resurrection, was no longer afraid. In the second reading, St. Peter reminds us that we have been transformed through the resurrection of Jesus. His resurrection gave us a new birth and hope. Through our baptism, we share in Jesus’ resurrection. St. Peter reminds us that we have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” The resurrection of Jesus has changed everything. Nothing will ever again be the same.

Look at how Thomas changed. Before he met the risen Jesus he was depressed, absent from the group of apostles, and disbelieving. At first, he said: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) After seeing the Risen Jesus, he proclaimed: “My Lord and My God.” (John 20:28) What a difference after seeing Jesus: from fear to Joy, seclusion to the mission, absence to presence, disbelief to faith, and a mere existence to new life. His life was completely changed after seeing Jesus.

Jesus presented Himself to His disciples during their time of fear and confusion. He restored their peace. He commissioned them as ministers of the sacraments. The sacrament of reconciliation is the sacrament of mercy.

As we celebrate today Divine Mercy Sunday, we are reminded that God extended His mercy to us by allowing His son to pay the ransom for our sins. Christ accomplished this through His paschal mystery.

We must also extend this mercy to others. We are called to be apostles of mercy. As we spread the good news of Christ’s resurrection, we must thank God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because His Mercy and generosity endure forever.

We, too, are the witnesses of the Risen Lord. We shall certainly encounter people who will doubt our faith. This must not discourage us; we must remain focused on our mission. So, as the true disciple of Christ, let us continue to announce the good news to the whole world that Jesus Christ, our Lord has truly risen from the dead.

Today, Jesus invites us to see Him and touch Him. He invites us to encounter his wounded and glorified body. In that encounter with Jesus, he will help us to have faith in Him. One day, despite our wounds and weaknesses, our bodies will be glorified like Him.

From Fear to Peace: Celebrating Divine Mercy

April 15, 2023

Divine Mercy Sunday
By Fr. Victor Feltes

During the Exodus, before descending in fire and smoke upon a trembling Mount Sinai, God gave instructions to prepare the Hebrews for this encounter. The Lord said to Moses:

“Go to the people and have them sanctify themselves today and tomorrow. Have them wash their garments and be ready for the third day; for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Set limits for the people all around, saying: ‘Take care not to go up the mountain, or even to touch its edge. All who touch the mountain must be put to death. No hand shall touch them, but they must be stoned to death or killed with arrows. Whether human being or beast, they must not be allowed to live.’ Only when the ram’s horn sounds may they go up on the mountain.”

Then Moses came down from the mountain to the people and had them sanctify themselves, and they washed their garments. He said to the people, “Be ready for the third day.

On the third day, as all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blast of the ram’s horn and the mountain smoking, they became afraid and trembled. So they took up a position farther away and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we shall die!” Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid, for God has come only to test you and put the fear of him upon you so you do not sin.” So the people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the dark cloud where God was.

A pair of themes throughout the Old Testament are the holy otherness of God and the deadly sinfulness of man. Our Fall made it dangerous to approach God carelessly. And even Moses was mysteriously told, “You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live.” Compare and contrast that with this Sunday’s Gospel.

On the third day, despite the doors being locked where the disciple were, the Risen Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. And he said again, “Peace be with you.” A week later when Thomas was there, Jesus appeared again and said, “Peace be with you.” He then invited Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

In former times, seeing the Lord or merely touching the mountain or ark of his holy presence could mean death. But disciples in the New Testament are invited to see his face and touch his wounds. In the New Covenant, we are called to receive Jesus Christ alive in the Eucharist. Today we celebrate Divine Mercy, mercy reflected in how — even after our sins led him to his Cross — Jesus returns and repeatedly wishes us “Peace.” In forgetting our past, we fail to appreciate what the Lord has done for us. And too few rejoice in his Divine Mercy because so many do not realize their need for it.

On Easter Sunday evening, Jesus breathed on his apostles saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Why would Jesus give them this power to forgive sins if he did not intend them to use it? Why would he give his Church such a Sacrament if we did not need it? Jesus wishes you a peace beyond your fear. He desires to forgive your sins and personally give himself to you in the Eucharist. Will you trust him enough to regularly encounter his healing Divine Mercy in the confessional so that you may receive him all the more reverently, fittingly, lovingly and joyfully at his altar?

Easter Makes All Things New — Funeral Homily for Donna Falkenberg, 75

April 12, 2023

By Fr. Victor Feltes

On the first Good Friday, Christ’s Church lost her bridegroom. What would become of her children, already born and yet to be born? However, Jesus had said, “I will not leave you orphans.” In God’s good providential plan, they would not be left abandoned. Behold how Easter Sunday made all things new. Similarly, in 1966, when Donna was eighteen years old, her husband “Sonny” Braden, Jr. tragically died. She had one infant daughter then and was pregnant with another. What would she do? God’s providence lovingly provided for them. She found and wedded Rodger in 1972, gifting her children a wonderful dad.

Donna’s daughters, Kelly and Lisa, tell me she loved traveling and made friends everywhere she went because she would talk to anybody. She had words of wisdom to share and a way of knowing what people needed to hear. Many of her daughters’ friends consider Donna a second mother. Her Lord, Jesus, also journeyed far from place to place and struck-up conversations with strangers. A woman at a well, a tax collector at his post, or a disabled beggar on the street could each have their lives forever changed and blessed by encountering and befriending him.

Donna sold Home Interiors and Gifts for thirty-two years and ranked sixteenth in the nation for sales. She had a knack for beautifying things and could make a house a home. Before Jesus died and rose he said, “I will prepare a place for you. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. … I am going to prepare a place for you, …come back again, and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” Jesus intends to beautifully transform us, first our souls and later our bodies, that we may live after this life in a beautiful home with him.

Donna loves an eclectic combination of foods, including ice cream, popcorn, candy corn, and ketchup (though not necessarily mixed together). She would clean out the refrigerator to make what she called “Messy Meals,” adding spaghetti sauce, cream of mushroom soup, or creamy cheese sauce to make leftovers deliciously new. Interestingly, even after being resurrected in a glorified body, Jesus still eats food. St. Luke records how on Easter evening Jesus appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room and while they were still amazed and incredulous for joy he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish and he ate it in front of them. Now Jesus did this partly as a proof that he was truly alive and not merely a ghost. But John recounts how later along the shore of the Sea of Galilee the risen Jesus invited seven disciples to a meal. “Come, have breakfast,” he said, and he shared his fish and bread. Though Jesus has no need for food to live, for “death no longer has any power over him,” he still seems to enjoy eating.

Donna’s daughters tell me of her quick wit. “It sometimes shocked you how she snuck it in, but it kept you on your toes.” And Donna could be playful, such as putting a cherry tomato in her cheek and saying, “Tomato, what tomato?” We see that Jesus can be playfully witty, too. After his resurrection, he appeared incognito to a pair of disciples going to Emmaus. He asked, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” One of them, Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” And Jesus slyly and dryly replied: “What sort of things?” That is subtly very funny.

As a faithful Catholic, Donna attended Masses here at St. Paul’s Church. As her health declined, if you visited her at home in this past year you would find her enjoying Hallmark movies, since she kept that channel always on. I think one reason she loved both our Catholic Faith and those Hallmark movies is that these stories have happy endings. God has built within us an innate longing for happiness, and he intends to fulfill our longings through Jesus Christ. Jesus became like us so that we may become like him—perfectly holy in our souls and gloriously resurrected in our bodies. Through Jesus Christ, we can live with God forever, free of death and sadness and full of peaceful happiness.

Jesus’ resurrection shows us that goodness will not be lost to death, but raised up again in a beautiful way to endure forever. In these examples from Donna’s life I have shared we see that whatever good things we love, and whatever good there is in us, can find a happy home united with Christ who loves them, too. Behold how Easter makes all things new.

Why the Third Day?

April 8, 2023

Easter Sunday
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Why did Jesus rise from the dead on Easter? Christ’s resurrection was foretold, for instance in the 16th Psalm: “You will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.” Furthermore, Jesus rose again because without the Resurrection our Redemption would be incomplete. As St. Paul told the Romans, “[Our Lord] was handed over for our transgressions, and was raised for our justification.” In the words of the Church’s Catechism: “The Paschal mystery has two aspects: by his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life.” Jesus Christ came to redeem and save not only our souls but also our bodies and the rest of creation as well. Easter changes everything. Instead of living in a secular world where nothing really matters because cold death claims all, we now can live forever with God in Christ’s Kingdom.

Jesus rose again on Easter, but why did he resurrect on the third day in particular? Why not choose the first or second day, or the fourth or fortieth day to rise again? I see several reasons why God chose the third day to be Easter.

First of all, this number of days helps to confirm Jesus’ death. If Jesus had resurrected right away, immediately after being taken down from the Cross or sealed in the tomb, some would wonder if he had ever really died. Absent a miracle, no one could survive flagellation, crucifixion, and two nights alone in a cave without medical aid. The three days establish that Jesus was definitely dead.

Another reason for the three days was to fulfill the Scriptures. Post-resurrection, Jesus said, “Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.” Many Old Testament passages foreshadowed this. For instance, Jesus and St. Paul both liken resurrection to plants sprouting, and it was on the third day of creation that God said, “Let the earth bring forth… every kind of plant.” It was “on the third day” that Abraham obediently offered Isaac in sacrifice, reasoning that God would keep all of his promises by raising his only son from the dead. But Heaven halted Abraham’s hand and he received back his beloved son alive on the third day. Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees, “Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days… so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth.” Jesus also said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (He said this in reference to the temple of his body.) The Book of Ezra records that the second Jewish Temple was completed on the third day of the month. And there are other Old Testament stories and signs one could cite as well. Jesus rose again on the third day in fulfillment of the Scriptures.

A third reason for the third day is what Jesus was doing on the second day. While his body was in the tomb observing a perfect Sabbath rest, his soul descended to the abode of those who had died before Christ. St. Peter writes in his First Epistle how Jesus “went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits;” that “the gospel was preached even to the dead.” Christ declared on earth, “Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” Jesus used these three days to open heaven’s gates for all the just who had died before him.

Another reason for the third day is to signify a New Creation. “The third day,” Easter, was a Sunday. In Genesis, God’s work of Creation began on this first day of the week. Likewise, Easter Sunday and the Resurrection mark the beginning of a New Creation with Christ.

Though there may be millions of more reasons in the mind of God, a final, important reason I see for why Jesus rose on the third day is to give his Church a saving lesson in faithful endurance. The apostles had witnessed Jesus work many miracles. For example, they saw him use five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand men. Then, the following day, they heard him speak about the Real Presence. “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink,” he said, and “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” However, people would not accept this teaching and in his Gospel St. John records, “as a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” Then Jesus asked his apostles, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

They believed in Jesus. His teachings were challenging, but they stayed with him. How shocking then was it for them to witness the torture and death of their Messiah, the Christ. Throughout Holy Saturday, they were full of doubts and fears, yet the disciples remained together in the Upper Room in which they had eaten the first Eucharist. Those apostles might have discreetly fled for home and missed out on Easter entirely, if they had not religiously respected the Sabbath which kept them from traveling far from the gathered Church. Therefore, when Jesus appeared on the third day, none of them had strayed too far away. Except for Judas and Thomas, all of them were there on Sunday to encounter their Risen Lord. They saw Jesus, and touched him, and he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and the deeper meaning of their past and present and future. Then their doubts and fears and desires to be elsewhere, which had felt so very strong before, were now emptied of power, replaced with joy and peace. However, they never forgot what they experienced on that Holy Saturday leading to Easter Sunday, and they present to us a saving lesson for our faithful endurance.

Jesus Christ works miracles. He teaches beautiful, challenging things. And today, he is risen from the dead. The betrayals of Judases and doubts of Thomases do not change the reality of these things. Called here by God, you have gathered in this Upper Room for Easter. You have drawn near to Christ’s Holy Eucharist and his Church. Whatever doubts or fears (or even desires to be elsewhere) you might feel, I pray you will hereafter never stray nor remain far away. To whom else would you go? Only Jesus Christ has the words of eternal life. Remain here for him with his Church so that you may encounter and know the Risen Lord and us more deeply. As I said before, Easter changes everything. Instead of living in a secular world where nothing really matters because cold death claims all, we can now rejoice that we can live forever with God in Christ’s Kingdom.