Archive for the ‘Catholic Church’ Category

David’s Kingdom Prefigures Christ’s Kingdom

November 20, 2022

Solemnity of Christ the King
By Fr. Victor Feltes

When the ancient Romans would crucify someone they displayed upon the cross the person’s name and the reason they were punished. For the Holy Cross on Good Friday, Governor Pilate had a sign inscribed in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek with Christ’s identity and the why he was condemned. It read: “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.” (The famous first letters of this phrase in Latin were “I.N.R.I.”) The Jewish chief priests told Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that he said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’” But Pilate replied, “What I have written, I have written.” Pilate did not have faith in Jesus — he wrote what he did to troll the Jewish leaders — but what he had written was true. Jesus was condemned, suffered, and rose again as the King of the Jews and King of the Universe. This Sunday, we celebrate Christ the King, but where is Christ’s Kingdom today?

During his public ministry, Jesus preached, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is among you!” And at the Last Supper, Jesus prophesied, “Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.” The next time Jesus drinks “the fruit of the vine,” (that is to say, wine) is on his Cross, when he drinks it from a sponge held up to his lips. From these passages, we can gather that the Kingdom of God has arrived. Yet we can also see that his Kingdom has not yet reached every place and every heart in every way. This is why the world was able to hand Jesus over to death and why Christians still pray to our Father above: “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” So where are we to find Christ’s Kingdom on earth? There are clues for us present in Sacred Scripture and history.

In our first reading, all the tribes of Israel become joined to David as their king. The Jews believed that the coming Messiah, their Christ, would be the King of Israel. And Jesus in the Gospels is repeatedly called the Son of David (that is, King David’s descendant, the heir to David’s throne). As St. Augustine taught, the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. The old foreshadows and points to the new. And though imperfect, the Old Testament Kingdom of David and his successors prefigures Jesus’ New Testament Kingdom. Several aspects of the old Davidic Kingdom help us to identify Jesus’ Kingdom in our midst; in particular, the Queen Mother, the Chief Steward, and the royal eunuchs.

One flawed feature of the old Davidic dynasty was that the kings each had multiple wives. From the beginning, God intended marriage to be a union of one man and one woman, but the kings of Israel — believing blood is thicker than water — used multiple marriages to seal their peace treaties and alliances with other lands. However, this creates a problem: when the king has many wives, who is the queen? You can imagine the rivalry and discord this question could cause. The Davidic dynasty’s solution to this problem was for the mother of the king to hold that prominent place as Queen Mother. The Queen Mother had a throne of honor at the king’s right hand and she served as an intercessor for the kingdom. If people had a request, they might bring it to her to present to the king. And if her request were pleasing to her son and served the kingdom’s good, the king would happily grant it to please his beloved mother.

Like in other kingdoms of past and present, the Davidic Kingdom had many royal ministers serving the king. But there was one prime minister among them: the king’s chief steward, the master of the royal household. The Davidic king’s chief steward bore on his shoulders a large wooden key as a sign of his office and authority. Today we honor citizens by giving them a symbolic key to the city; but this chief steward carried a symbolic key to the kingdom. His power was that of the king, on whose authority and with whose authority he acted, to open or to close, to permit or to forbid. However, any chief steward acting contrary to the king’s will would soon find himself replaced by another.

In the courts of ancient kingdoms like Israel’s, one would find royal eunuchs. A eunuch is a male who is either born or made physically incapable of marrying and having children. Kings preferred eunuchs for practical reasons: first, these men were safe to be around the king’s harem; and second, since they had no wife or children of their own, these eunuchs were fully-focused on the work of the kingdom.

The trusted eunuch’s mission, personal success, and legacy were wedded to that of the king and his kingdom. Perhaps you may already realize how the old Davidic kingdom foreshadows the Kingdom of God among us now. Jesus calls disciples who are willing and able to be “eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Today, in his Church, celibate clergy and consecrated religious are dedicated to serving Christ’s Kingdom. Jesus told St. Peter, “I give you the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” Jesus made Peter his prime minister, the first Pope, his chief steward and master of his household on earth Pope Francis is St. Peter’s successor in that office today.

Jesus has sealed his peace treaty and alliance with peoples of all lands through a single marriage: his marriage to his bride, the Church, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. But among the Church’s many members, is anyone the queen? As before, our queen is the mother of our King. Christ the King has raised up his Blessed Mother Mary to a throne at his right hand where she intercedes for his Church. We can ask her to present any request to her Son, and if it is pleasing to him and serves his Kingdom’s good, Christ our King will happily grant it, because he loves his mother and us so much.

The beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth is the one Church of Jesus Christ. Let us remain loyal to Christ our King, and remain loyal to his Kingdom, a Kingdom that is among us now, his Holy Catholic Church.

Good Tweetman Speaks

November 7, 2022

By Fr. Victor Feltes

This image from The Simpson’s provided the avatar (or avi) which Goodtweet_man used for his pseudonymous Twitter account.

Good Tweetman (Goodtweet_man) is a Catholic attorney in Kansas who, until recently, had a significant and devoted following on Twitter. There he would crack jokes, post others’ prayer requests, and offer sometimes salty commentary on religion and politics. But on October 27th, the same day that Elon Musk was completing his purchase of Twitter, Goodtweet_man’s account was ‘permanently suspended’ by the company for “violating our rules against abuse and harassment.”

Goodtweet_man had tweeted in reference to the Catholic bishops of Germany, whose ongoing “Synodal Way” drew a warning from the Holy See this July. (The Vatican statement clarified that “the ‘Synodal Way’ in Germany does not have the power to compel the bishops and the faithful to adopt new ways of governance and new approaches to doctrine and morals” and to do so “would represent a wound to ecclesial communion and a threat to the unity of the Church.”) The image below is a screenshot of Goodtweet_man’s suspension notice from Twitter which includes his flagged tweet and the policy Twitter found he had violated:

As word of his suspension spread throughout the Twitterverse, The Pillar editor and cofounder J.D. Flynn and others posted the hashtag #FreeGoodTweetman, and various tributes, satires, and jokes, were shared about the situation. The next day, the ambassador of Hungary to the Holy See and the Sovereign Order of Malta, Eduard Habsburg, tweeted: “This is a reminder that @Goodtweet_man is still suspended. Twitter, you don’t want all of us to lose faith in you, right?” Though the online clamor has since died down, many of Goodtweet_man’s former followers still hope for his account’s reinstatement.

This is his first public interview following the suspension.

What is your perspective on this suspension by Twitter?
While I should very much not have said what I said as it was uncharitable, it is completely silly that this of all things garnered a permanent suspension. I am aware that even people who aren’t particularly fond of me thought the same. It was likely just an algorithm.

Have you appealed your suspension? What are your hopes your account will be restored?
I have appealed the suspension, and I would have to imagine it gets restored if a human being at their offices gets some eyes on it. Of course, that may be the biggest obstacle I face.

What has your life been like unplugged from Twitter?
Well I do have an alt account which I’m slowly introducing. The name isn’t particularly vulgar but I don’t think it particularly would fit an interview from a priest we’ll say. Also, for now, it’s somewhat nice not having to deal with the people I don’t like knowing about my twitter. It’s been nice to have a little bit of a respite in any event.

Are you concerned that this other account might run afoul of Twitter’s ban evasion policy?
No, I made that account a couple years ago and the rules specifically state that only accounts made to evade the ban are subject. My account wasn’t made to evade the ban, therefore it is fine.

Any thoughts on Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, and the hot topic of content moderation on the platform?
As for Musk: I’m pretty indifferent overall, and I expect most people will find things aren’t terribly different once the dust settles. There’s advertisers and users to take into account after all.

What would you like to say to your friends on Twitter?
I’ll be back.


(Twitter owner @ElonMusk, @TwitterSupport, and @TwitterSafety had not responded to requests for comment on the @Goodtweet_man account suspension by the time of this interview’s publication.)

Our Upper Room

June 4, 2022

Pentecost Sunday
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Before his Passion in Jerusalem, Jesus desired a gathering place for him and his disciples. He sent Peter and John into the city, telling them to find a certain house and ask the owner of the home to use its guestroom. They did as Jesus asked and found “a large upper room, furnished and ready.”

This famous room, known as “the Cenacle,” was the site of the Last Supper, the First Holy Eucharist or Mass. Here the Risen Lord appeared to his Apostles after his Resurrection. This is where Mary, the Apostles, and other disciples (“a group of about one hundred and twenty persons in the one place”) “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer.” And here on Pentecost, following the Church’s first novena, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in the likeness of separating flames. Then they went forth from there into the world, joyfully proclaiming Jesus to the nations with confidence and power.

Jesus desired his disciples to gather together in the Upper Room. There they meet with him, heard his teaching, and came to know that he is risen. They ate with him and worshiped him. And there his followers socialized, prayed as one, and received the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes people ask, “If God is everywhere, why do I have to go to church?” Yes, there is no place where God is not, but this excuse misses something important. Water is likewise everywhere around us—in clouds, in blades of grass, as vapor in the air—but if you do not wish to die of thirst you are well-advised to drink water from a well or a faucet. Jesus tells us, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.

In the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, “We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some.” This church, St. John the Baptist’s, is our Upper Room. Here we gather together and encounter Jesus Christ in his sacraments, Here we listen, and worship, and receive his gifts, blessings meant for us and for others in this world. Like the Apostles in the Upper Room, we did not build this room or parish. This holy place has been lent to us by those who were before us, and the Holy Spirit inspires us to care for and sustain it.

This weekend at St. John’s is Commitment Weekend for our Inspired by the Spirit” Capital Campaign. You have probably heard me speak about this campaign before, either at receptions or back on Announcement Weekend. 35% of our $80,000 goal funds our 2022-2023 Annual Appeal and other worthy diocesan initiatives, while 65% the goal returns to us to replenish our greatly diminished building maintenance fund.

Now the maintenance of parish facilities is not a flashy thing. Patching cracks in our parking lot or replacing our furnaces as they fail from old age are less exciting endeavors than when we renovated this church of ours into one of the most beautiful in our area. But without funding for the care and maintenance of the mundane things this parish and its mission will fail. That is why I ask you to join me in making a pledge to this five-year capital campaign.

Our pledging phase ends on June 17th, less than two weeks away. So far our recorded pledges total $60,000, so we have $20,000 in pledges to go. If we happen to raise more than our $80,000 goal, know that 80% of that surplus comes back to our parish. I’ll give you an opportunity to fill out a pledge card today during announcement time before the final blessing. I ask you to prayerfully consider pledging a $3,000 gift spread-out over five years, which (after a 10% initial down payment) works out to $45 monthly (above your usual tithing) for 60 months. If you are blessed to be able to pledge more generously than this, please do. If you can only pledge less, that’s ok too. And if you pledge a certain amount now and three of four years from now your financial circumstances change, you can just let us know and we’ll modify your pledge.

On the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit inspired Christ’s disciples to go out into the world, sharing Jesus Christ and his salvation with all nations. But realize this mission began in their Upper Room. Please pledge generously to support our Upper Room: St. John the Baptist Parish.

Resolving Christian Controversy

May 22, 2022

6th Sunday of Easter
By Fr. Victor Feltes

There was a serious religious controversy in the very early Church. The Acts of the Apostles records this story which contains important lessons for you and me and Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in every age. In the first century A.D., some Jewish Christians came down to Antioch and were telling the Christians there: “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” Many of the Christians in Antioch were Gentile converts. As Gentiles they had not followed the many Jewish religious laws, including circumcision. Now they were being told they had no share in Jesus Christ’s New Covenant unless they kept the entire Mosaic Covenant.

This was a crucial matter: either these Gentiles were not yet experiencing Christ’s salvation, or else the Law of Moses was being needlessly placed as a barrier between Gentiles and Jesus Christ. St. Paul and St. Barnabas strenuously opposed this alternate interpretation of the Gospel which was disturbing and dividing their community, but how could this important issue be decisively and infallibly settled? Everyone forming their own interpretations obviously would not resolve it. How could the Christian community be sure of the truth?

The Acts of the Apostles details how “it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and presbyters about this question.” A Church council was held in Jerusalem and after they had discussed and discerned the matter, “the apostles and presbyters, in agreement with the whole church, decided to choose (a pair of) representatives and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. (They selected) Judas, who was called Barsabbas, and Silas, (two) leaders among the brethren.

And they did not send Barsabbas and Silas empty-handed. The pair carried a letter from the council, which read in part: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities.” It then listed a handful of culturally offensive and/or sinful acts to abstain from before concluding, “If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.” In other words, the Gentile Christians would not be required to follow the full Mosaic Law.

Notice how the Church’s leaders, the apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem, pronounce their teaching with authority: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us…” As Jesus had promised at the Last Supper, “The Holy Spirit…will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” The Church’s leaders teach in union with and in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.

Note as well how they do not send this letter by itself, but along with Barsabbas and Silas. This is partly to attest to the genuineness of the message—it’s not something Paul and Barnabas simply made up themselves. The accompanying witnesses are also sent to clarify any ambiguities and answer what remaining questions the Christians at Antioch might have. For instance, the Council of Jerusalem’s short letter bids the Christians to abstain from “porniea,” which various Christian Bibles translate as “sexual immorality,” or “fornication,” or “unlawful marriage.” But what was the precise meaning they intended here? One of these things or all of them together? Barsabbas and Silas could answer. We see that even a text inspired by the Holy Spirit (as this one was) can require an authoritative interpreter to be properly understood.

When the delegation from Jerusalem arrived at Antioch, the letter was read to the Christian community and the people were delighted. Barsabbas and Silas preached to them, encouraging them, and remained with them for some time. The controversy was resolved, and the community’s unity and peace of mind were restored; for the Bride of Christ, Mother Church, had spoken, removing all doubt about what Jesus wanted them to do.

This, of course, would not be the last controversy in Church history. Every century since has seen its heresies, and every error gains some followers because it is so easy to be mistaken. Clever minds and willful hearts in a fallen world can go down many false paths, and when lambs or sheep choose their own ways to go they scatter from Christ’s flock. Thankfully, God has given us his Holy Word in Sacred Scripture to help us to know him and his saving, loving will for our lives.

However, the Scriptures do not automatically interpret themselves. Even self-proclaimed “Bible Only” Christian denominations disagree with one another over important questions. The Protestant principle of Sola Scriptura (that “Scripture Alone” is the sole authority for Christian faith and life) is a self-refuting concept because the Bible does not teach it. How can someone even be sure which books are supposed to be in our Bible without there being an infallible Church to recognize them and place them into the canon of biblical books? Without a Spirit-guarded, infallibly-teaching Magisterium neither the Christians at Antioch nor Christians today could be sure about what we are to believe.

The Church of Jesus Christ is not meant to be many separate denomination, but one. Christ’s Church is not meant to bring salvation only to some, but to all. And the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ shares a continuity in her structure and in her teaching throughout the centuries from St. Peter and the apostles to Pope Francis and the bishops today.

In 1926, when G.K. Chesterton wrote his essay “Why I am a Catholic,” he presented a number of reasons, but the answer of his which has always stood out to me is this one: “(I am a Catholic because it) is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.” Some secular people imagine our present generation is the first one to get everything right, but in one hundred years another secular generation will mock and cringe at this one while embracing another set of fashionable errors of their own. However, in one hundred years the Catholic Church will remain, built solidly upon rock, and united to the Person and teachings of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Here is a final reflection from the controversy at Antioch. The teaching of Paul and Barnabas was right, and Barsabbas and Silas carried authority from the apostles. They were important witnesses to the Faith. But their message would have been undermined in the minds of others if St. Paul, St. Barnabas, St. Barsabbas, or St. Silas had not lived as saints. Our fellow Christians, even popes or bishops, may disappoint or cause scandal by their poor personal example, harming souls. But let us, you and I, rededicate ourselves to Christ, loving him and serving him, remaining close to him in the Sacraments, allowing ourselves to be more fully converted to him, so that others may know, love, and faithfully follow Jesus alongside us in his Holy Catholic Church.

Our Mother Needs Help

May 8, 2022

4th Sunday of Easter
By Deacon Dick Kostner

Happy Mother’s Day! Jesus refers to his Church as his mother and his bride. While God does not need us he requests that we be a part of his mystical body. The vocation he gives to his Church is to preach and live the gospel message of happiness and love not only in this life but also in the next with him, in heaven. The problem that this brings to us is that this vocation can only be accomplished in this life, by and through the carrying of crosses during this life.

At the beginning of Lent we walked through a trailer movie of our life here on Earth displayed to us by reflecting upon the “Way of the Cross,” displayed here on our Church Mother’s walls. We discovered that while completing his vocation, which was opening the door to heaven for his Church, he got tired of carrying the cross and fell three times. Three times he felt he could not go on. Ordinary people like you and me, together with his heavenly Father, gave him help and the courage to go on. Jesus relied on faithful friends and the Father for help and moral support.

As you know since I was ordained a Deacon some twenty plus years ago, I have been involved with the RCIA program which invites adults to become members of our faith and the Mother Church. In the early Church it was directed to people who did not know Jesus or the Christian faith. Now, that program has also been available to Christians of other faiths, who are interested in becoming members of the Catholic Church. In the twenty some years I have been involved in the program I believe there has only been three or four individuals who joined the Catholic Church who were not previously involved in and educated in the Christian faith. Times have changed and the Mother Church is now involved in what it calls the New Evangelization. It’s our new challenge which is trying to get Christian educated individuals back into being active members of the body of Christ. People know about Jesus but are finding it difficult to witness his presence and help within their busy lives.

Our RCIA team is determined to help RCIA Candidates to recognize just how involved God is within our lives. The best way to teach this is by sharing our encounters with God in ordinary experiences of life. At every class we share what we call our “Spirit Stories” with each other to show just how important a part we play in God’s plan for us to be active participants in His plan for our happiness and salvation goal for us and our friends and neighbors, to be with him for all eternity. We are blessed in this Community with many active members of the body of Christ but the Covid has weakened our mission to be example setters for making everyone’s life happier and more faith filled by supporting our Mother Church. Attendance has not returned to pre-Covid numbers for many of our parishioners at Sunday Mass. Those who are still active in Church ministry are not only getting older but also are being overwhelmed with the responsibilities of keeping our Parish healthy in mind and spirit.

Liturgy is the generator, the battery charger for the Faithful to continue to be example setters for the faith community. The Liturgy cross our parish is carrying is getting too heavy for it to handle without the help of the Simon’s and Veronica’s. There are many members in our Parish still attending our Liturgies who used to be active Liturgy ministers of the word; greeters; and Ministers of Holy Communion, that no longer wish to be active for a variety of reasons. All of us will fall down numerous times on our trip to eternity but with a little help from the Simon and Veronica’s our St. Paul’s and St. John’s Body of Christ will continue on as Jesus did to fulfill our vocation to preach and teach by example, the gospel message of love of God and neighbor.

You will find forms and pencils in your pews to sign up and help carry our Parish crosses on our “Way of the Cross.” Not ready to sign today? When my wife asks people to help with ministries and they are reluctant, I will quote her by saying to you. “Pray over it.” and return your sign up sheet next week. I would also suggest you request St. Joseph to “sleep over” your requests for help in making a decision. I have acquired for our Parish a Sleeping Joseph Statute which is located on our Sacred Heart of Jesus Altar. Saint Joseph had many communications from God in the form of dreams and he always obeyed these communications. You may ask St. Joseph to ask God to help you make important decisions in life by placing your written requests in the box on which the Statute rests. We will have the Sleeping St. Joseph statute available for your help requests for a couple of weeks. Pope Frances does this on a regular basis and he encourages the faithful to do the same.

The Church realizes that some of you are physically or mentally unable to help carry this ministry cross. Veronica was unable to help carry the cross for Jesus but she did what she could do to help him. To people who can’t help carry this vocation anymore, you can still be a “Veronica” to those who need help, wipe their face, tell them thanks, and tell them they are needed. As Jesus told us in today’s Gospel, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.”

I will close with a Psalm Prayer for our Parish “Mother”: “Lord, God, your only Son wept over ancient Jerusalem, soon to be destroyed for its lack of faith. He established the new Jerusalem firmly upon rock and made it the mother of the faithful. Make us rejoice in your Church and grant that all people may be reborn into the freedom of your Spirit. Amen!“ On behalf of Fr. Victor and all our Parish Ministers, Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there and to our Mother Church!

Who is the Fig Tree? Three Interpretations

March 19, 2022

3rd Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Victor Feltes

“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall dig around around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”

The fig tree in Jesus’ parable was fruitless for three years and in danger of being chopped down. Who does this fig tree represent? The prophets Jeremiah and Hosea likened Old Covenant Israel to a fig tree, and the early Church Fathers commonly identified the barrenness of the parable’s fig tree with Israel’s refusal to accept their Messiah. Israel experienced three years of Christ’s public ministry and had still another season of opportunity to become fruitful by embracing Christ’s Church thereafter. But Jerusalem, its Temple, and all its towers were cut down, put to the sword and destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.. Parables, however, can have more than one valid and inspired interpretation. Beyond symbolizing an era of history now passed, what meaning does the barren fig tree hold for us today?

In today’s second reading, St. Paul warns the Christians at Corinth against presumption. The Hebrews during the Exodus all shared in a baptism with Moses when they passed through the Red Sea. In the desert, they all ate bread from heaven and drank a miraculously-given drink on their journey. “Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.” St. Paul says “these things happened as examples for us… as a warning to us,” lest we who are baptized into Christ and regularly consuming his Holy Eucharist think we do not need to reject all grave sins. Do not grumble or rebel like the Hebrews in the desert. Stop following your desires for evil things, or you will perish as they did. Instead, repent and follow our good and loving Lord. He will help and guide you to his Promised Land.

A fig tree may be lush with leaves, giving off a splendid appearance, and yet be barren within. A Christian may appear complete to others, and yet have a sickly soul. To help the barren fig tree, the gardener in our parable pleads to dig around it and add fertilizer. This describes root pruning and the application of manure. Root pruning as a method to make fig trees more fruitful is still recommended today. One article suggests this technique: at the end of winter before new growth begins, go about two feet away from the tree trunk and plunge a spade or shovel down, severing the roots. Skip over one shovel’s-width to the side and then repeat this pattern in a circle once around the tree. Cutting off some of its roots spurs the fig tree to divert its energies from growing foliage to creating fruit. The manure, for its part, provides nutrients (especially nitrogen) which plants require and benefit from. So, if you are a barren fig tree, Jesus the Gardener wishes to radically sever your connections to vices and distractions, in order to productively redirect your energies. He wants to introduce you to stuff which you may now find repellant (including regular confession and daily prayer) but which you need and will benefit from. You do not know how many seasons you have left. Jesus offers you this opportunity to change and become fruitful. Please let Christ the Gardener work with you.

But what if you already follow Christ closely and are aware of no grave sins? What if you have mature self-knowledge, a well-formed conscience, and cannot detect any mortal sins in yourself? Then praise God for that, and consider how our Lord wishes to glorify you through still greater fruitfulness. In the Old Testament Book of Leviticus, God commanded his people not to eat from any tree they planted in Israel throughout its first three growing years. In the fourth year, all of the tree’s fruit was to be dedicated to God as an offering of praise to the Lord. Only in the fifth year, and any years after that, could they eat its fruit. (Leviticus 19:23-25) So how would God dedicate your fruit as an offering to himself and grant you a greater enjoyment of his blessings ever after? A third interpretation of today’s parable suggests how.

Jesus’ parable begins: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard…” (Our New American Bible translates that line’s last word as “orchard” but the Greek word St. Luke uses means “vineyard.”) A vineyard is for growing grapevines. This raises a question I found answered online: why would someone plant a fig tree in a vineyard? A “consulting viticulturist” from New Zealand who has worked fifty years in the vineyard and wine industry says some vineyards plant fig trees because “in some regions figs ripen at about the same time as grapes – birds seem to prefer pecking figs [and] so leave the grapes alone (more-or-less).” Another online commenter, a “cook for over sixty years,” adds that “some vineyards have a problem with small birds who peck at the grapes looking for the seeds and causing the grapes to rot. One solution is to plant fig trees around the vineyard. The birds prefer the figs because they have more seeds and the seeds are more accessible, they then leave the grapes alone.”

The reason a fig tree is planted by a vineyard is to offer up its fruits as a sacrifice for the good of the vineyard, to the delight of the vineyard owner. Who or what is this vineyard in the parable? Jesus teaches, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower,” and tells his Church, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” (In another parable, The Parable of the Wicked Tenants, Jesus identifies a vineyard as “the Kingdom of God.”) So the fig tree is called to self-sacrifice for the good of God’s vineyard, which is the Church, the Body of Christ, the Kingdom of God. But what does this look like?

In the midst of the French Revolution, a community of Carmelite nuns in Compiègne felt moved to make an offering themselves to God as a sacrifice for their troubled nation and the Catholic Church in France. Almost two years later, after the state had closed and seized all the convents and outlawed the wearing of habits, the sisters were found, arrested, and condemned to death. On July 17th, 1794, sixteen chanting nuns ascended the scaffold one-by-one and were guillotined before a silenced crowd. Ten days after the Blessed Martyrs of Compiègne’s sacrifice the evil “Reign of Terror” ended.

More recently, Fr. John Hollowell, a diocesan priest about my age of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, was diagnosed in February of 2020 as having a brain tumor. Though grave news, Fr. John saw in his illness an answer to his own prayer. He wrote on his blog at the time, “When the scandals of 2018 broke out, most of you know that they [] affected me deeply, as they have most of the Church. I prayed in 2018 that if there was some suffering I could undertake on behalf of all the victims, some cross I could carry, I would welcome that. I feel like this is that cross, and I embrace it willingly.” Following surgery and treatment, he continues serving today as a pastor in Indiana.

Now it’s natural to hesitate at making such a self-offering. Who wants to suffer – to have our roots cut or be surrounded by dung? Even Jesus prayed before his own self-sacrifice, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Yet Jesus loved his Father and loved us, trusting that whatever his Father willed would be best for us all. The hour had come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Was not this most-difficult thing the greatest thing that Jesus did? Jesus tells us, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.”

In its first years, a fig tree grows only for itself. A fig tree typically begins bearing fruit when it is three to five years old. So after three years of barrenness, it remains unknown whether the fourth year will witness the tree producing pleasing fruits. Jesus now offers you an opportunity to be fruitful and be glorified like himself. Please love and trust him enough to offer him your fruitful sacrifice.

Why the Catholic Church is Always so Behind the Times

November 20, 2021

Solemnity of Christ the King

A teenager recently asked me, “Why does the Catholic Church have ideas so behind the times?” It was a written question submitted alongside other students’ “Questions for Father.” The question reflected the young person’s doubts and I’m glad that it was asked, because after some reflection and with the help of grace I gave what I believe was an inspired answer.

I began with a review of some late modern history. In 1789, the leaders of the French Revolution took power in France. They rejected faith and wished to entirely replace Catholicism with their own invented “Cult of Reason.” They redefined the number of days in a week from seven to ten to deconsecrate Sunday – the Lord’s Day. They killed or exiled Catholic clergy and converted churches into “Temples of Reason.” They confiscated the convents and monasteries and expelled or martyred the monks and nuns, ending charitable ministries all across France. In their Reign of Terror they executed thousands and then turned on one another. Their revolution ended after ten years with a military coup which gave France a dictator who would crown himself their emperor: Napoleon Bonaparte.

In the early 1930’s, when Hitler rose to power in Germany, he was opposed by Catholics there. In fact, a map of the regional vote shares that the Nazi Party received across Germany looks like the photographic negative of the percentages of Catholic populations in place to place. The dark places of one map were the light places on the other. The Catholic Church proclaims universal human dignity, the preciousness of every human person, but the anti-Catholic Nazis believed in racial supremacy. They claimed the modern science of eugenics proved Germans to be the master race and showed Jews, Slavs, the disabled, and others to be lesser human beings. The Nazis arrested, deported, and murdered millions in concentration camps (including Catholic clergy, religious, and activists) and started a world war which killed millions more. Hitler’s “thousand year Reich” died with him after twelve terrible years.

The 1917 Russian Revolution and the Chinese Revolution of 1949 were violent, atheistic, communist movements. They heralded divisive class warfare as the path to utopia, denouncing and persecuting religion as the “opiate of the Masses.” The governments of the Soviet Union and Communist China, thoroughly corrupt with unchecked power, trampling human rights and freedom, are responsible for tens of millions of deaths over the past one hundred years.

I concluded my answer to that anonymous student’s question by asking the class to consider: if we had lived in France, or Germany, or Russia, or China during those times of social change would we have gone along with the spirits of the age? What would have prevented us from being swept up by and falling for their seductive errors? Our best protection against them, what would have preserved us, would be our firm conviction in our Catholic Christian Faith. The teachings of the Catholic Church will always seem to be “behind the times” because the world is always finding new ways of going gravely wrong. But timeless truth never changes. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Christ is the King “who is and who was and who is to come,” and our allegiance to him is our salvation.

For the feast of Passover, the 1st century Roman Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, was accustomed to release for the Jews one of his prisoners. So when the crowds assembled on Good Friday, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus called Christ?” Barabbas was a notorious prisoner imprisoned for a rebellion which had taken place in Jerusalem and for murder. The name Barabbas means “son of the father.” So the crowd had a choice: which savior, which son of the father, which king did they prefer? Many Jews expected the Christ, their Messiah, to be a military leader who would forcefully drive out the Romans and rule an earthly kingdom like David’s or Solomon’s. Most of the crowd chose Barabbas over and against the Lord.

Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews? …[So] you are a king?” Jesus’ responses to him mean, ‘Yes, but not like you imagine. If my kingdom were like the other kingdoms you know, my followers would be fighting an armed revolt right now.’ Christ’s Kingdom is in our world but not of this world. Jesus called and sent his twelve apostles to proclaim the Kingdom of God and upon the “Rock” of Peter he built his Church to teach and heal, sanctify and save. The Church continues her work with Christ to this day. She is the seed and the beginning of his kingdom. She is “the reign of Christ already present in mystery.

It can be easy to get discouraged by the evils and errors of today. As faith declines within our culture, challenging times are ahead for our Church and her mission. But there always remains reason for hope. Even amid the great evils of Good Friday, Jesus was still advancing his saving mission. Always remember: if Jesus could achieve his saving work on that most wicked day then he can surely accomplish his saving work in our day as well.

Our Shared Roots — Funeral Homily for Maxine Zwiefelhofer, 90

November 12, 2021

In her first ninety years of life, Maxine has been a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother; an aunt, a grandma, a great grandma, and a great-great grandma; a talented nurse, a good friend, and a devoted Catholic. Among her many traits and experiences, on this day of her funeral I would like to highlight one hobby of hers which has been a blessing to our community and a point of pride for her family.

Maxine has been a hobbyist in history. She wrote “The History of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church” in Cooks Valley, which detailed more than one hundred years of this parish from 1885 to 1995. Maxine spent many days researching genealogy at the Chippewa County Historical Society, and even traveled with family to Scandinavia and Denmark to explore their ancestral roots. She wrote books of family history, recounting the lineages of the Toppers, the Olsons, the Zwiefelhofers, and the Bleskaceks.

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia: the U.S. Census Bureau says there are more than 150,000 different last names in our country today, with some 5,000 last names in common use. Have you ever noticed, that with the whole forest of humanity to choose from, most people prefer to research those family trees which have branches which reach themselves? For instance, Topper was the family name of Maxine’s father, Ernest; Olson was the maiden name of her mother, Elizabeth; and Zwiefelhofer was the last name of her husband, David. Here’s another statistic: there are more than 20,000 Catholic churches in America. Of all the churches in all the towns in all the land, why did she write a history about this one?

You know the answer. Maxine explored the genealogies of those particular families and recounted the history of this particular parish because she belonged to them and they belonged to her. Our past provides us with our identity. If we were to lose all of our memories but could still think and walk and talk, we would wonder about who we are. Our family and community, our origins and past, inform us about who we are. As Christians we know our family, community, origins, and past are more than merely natural.

Who was Jesus describing in the gospel we just heard? Who is merciful and meek? Who are peacemakers, clean of heart? Who hungers and thirsts for righteousness and unjustly suffers for what is right? Who do these Beatitudes refer to? The Beatitudes describe the blessed saints, but first and foremost they describe Jesus Christ himself. You and I as Christians you are their siblings, brothers and sisters within the family, the community, the communion, of God’s Church. Our origin is that we were created by God in love. That is your origin. Our past is that Jesus Christ came and died and rose for us. That is your past. And rooted in this true identity, our future is full of hope.

St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans declares “that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death,” and if “we have died with Christ… we shall also live with him.” As foretold through the Prophet Daniel, one day, “those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,” some to everlasting disgrace and others to eternal life. Then “the wise shall shine brightly… and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.

Let us pray today for Maxine’s soul and renew our true identity in Jesus Christ, so that she and we with him may be one holy family, one holy Church dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.

Widows’ Gifts

November 6, 2021

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “Beware of the scribes… They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.” Jesus denounced those scribes for their greedy hypocrisy. In recent decades, some televangelists and megachurches’ prosperity preachers have told believers ‘give your money to our ministry and God will bless you back with even more,‘ and then used the meager wealth of many widows to purchase mansions or private jets. This of course, gives scandal, leading many to think faith is just a grift and alienating people from Christ. Is it wrong for preachers to be paid? St. Paul defends the right of ministers to receive compensation, “for scripture says, ‘The laborer deserves his wages,’” but our holy work is not meant to be about getting rich.

The presence of unworthy motives among some Christian ministers is nothing new. St. Paul writes to the church at Corinth, “We are not like so many others who trade on the word of God for profit.” Such men were a problem in Paul’s day, too. So it might seem that poor widows should never be asked to give and that poor widows should never donate. That answer would be simple, yet God’s truth is not that simple.

In today’s first reading, the Prophet Elijah meets the widow of Zarephath during a time of great drought. He asks her for a cup of water and a bit of bread. She replies, “There is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die.” (She is preparing their last meal.) But Elijah says, “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son. For the Lord, the God of Israel, says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” She left and did as Elijah had said. And the poor widow, her fatherless child, and God’s prophet were all able to eat for a year. The jar of flour did not go empty, and the jug of oil did not run dry, as the Lord had foretold through Elijah. As today’s psalm tells, “The Lord keeps faith forever… The fatherless and the widow he sustains.

And in our gospel today, when Jesus sees a poor widow putting into the Temple treasury two small coins, which is all she has and her whole livelihood, what does he do? He does not try to stop her. He does not criticize her for being foolish. He calls his disciples to himself, he points her out to them, and he glorifies her trust in God in having given more than all the others. Her deed is still remembered to this day. Would it have been better if she had not given her gift?

I do not have a one-size-fits-all answer for how much poor widows should give. The Catechism teaches that the Church’s precept, “’You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church,’ means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability,” so there’s recognition that some people have greater or lesser ability than others to materially assist the Church’s mission in this world. But if even poor widows are sometimes called to give, to trust in the Lord and give him the chance to prove himself their faithful provider, how much more so are the rest of us called to be generous?

We live in the wealthiest country in all of human history, and yet most of us only give a tiny fraction of our income to church and charity to support the good works they do. What accounts for this? Some of it is from the love of money and some of it is from fear. The Book of Ecclesiastes says, “He who loves money is never satisfied by money, and he who loves wealth is never satisfied by income.” Some are slaves to their greed, and some are shackled to their anxiety.

As an early teen, I felt reluctance at giving any money away for anything. I thought, “Who knows what my future holds? What if I need that money later? Every dollar I give away now is another dollar I’m exposed to future, unseen danger.” My mindset wasn’t informed by the Gospel, but when I finally read the Gospels myself I encountered Jesus’ teaching there. He says: “Do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. … Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap.” The Lord was calling me beyond my comfort zone and into a deeper relationship with him.

I remember standing in St. Paul, Minnesota’s awe-inspiring cathedral. It was my first time there and I saw near the south exit a donation box labeled “For The Poor.” The largest bill in my wallet was a ten or a twenty, and I both wanted and very much did not want to give it, yet I knew what I should do. Once I had done it, I walked out smiling. It was a small donation, but even then I knew it was a big moment, and it changed the rest of my life.

I recall the story of one married couple. They used to pay their bills and then give to God if there was something left —and sometime there was nothing left. But God put it on their hearts to tithe consistently, so they began setting aside their gift to him first before paying their bills. And when they approached their giving in this way they discovered there was providentially always enough for both God and the bills.

God commands, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test,” yet in his Old Testament Book of Malachi he says to test him in this: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, and see if I do not open the floodgates of heaven for you, and pour down upon you blessing without measure!

And so, without embarrassment, I ask you to be generous in giving, not only so that our church may put your gifts to good use, but for the sake of deepening your personal relationship with our good and faithful God.

Associated Priests

October 30, 2021

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

For the past four weeks, our second reading has come from the Letter to the Hebrews. This New Testament book shows Jesus Christ as our great, faithful, and merciful high priest: holy, innocent, and undefiled, yet patient and compassionate. He is able to personally sympathize with us in our weaknesses because, though sinless, he shares in our humanity and struggle. Jesus Christ is a priest forever offering his one perfect sacrifice to God the Father in a priesthood which does not pass away.

As the Catechism teaches, the redemptive sacrifice of Christ is unique, accomplished once for all; but this sacrifice is made present for us at Mass. The same is true of the one priesthood of Christ; Jesus’ priesthood is unique, but it is made present for us through the ministerial priesthood which he founded at the Last Supper. Jesus commands his apostles, “Do this in memory of me,” ordaining them priests of his New Covenant. Yet only Christ is the true priest, while they are merely his ministers.

Besides the unique priesthood of Jesus Christ and the ministerial priesthood of his ordained bishops and priests, there is the common priesthood (that is to say, an equally-shared priesthood) of all the faithful, which is ours through baptism. Sharing in Christ’s identity as priest, prophet, and king, each of us have holy sacrifices to offer, each of us have holy truth to proclaim, and each of us have holy power to wield. The Second Vatican Council noted, pastors “know that they themselves were not meant by Christ to shoulder alone the entire saving mission of the Church toward the world.” The ministerial priesthood is at the service of your priesthood, so that you — sanctified, strengthened, enlightened, and formed — can be as Jesus Christ and his saints for this place and time.

The scribe in today’s gospel approaches Jesus and asks: “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus answers that the first in importance is this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And the second is this: “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” We must be entirely devoted to God, lovingly serving his kingdom according to our personal gifts and callings. And yet, even when we’re giving our all, we remain limited creatures. For instance, time spent doing one thing cannot be spent doing something else. And we are not pure, angelic spirits but physically embodied creatures, beset by weakness and fatigue.

I have experienced this these past four years as your pastor, having two parishes and a school, celebrating thirteen or fourteen Masses a week, with usually five Masses to offer on the weekends. Plus there’s confessions, funerals, anointings, and weddings; school activities and CCD; answering correspondence and completing paperwork; writing for the bulletins and the Sunday homily; and meetings or appointments on most weeknights. I mention this not to brag or complain, but to show why this is grinding and draining and why I do not do more — there is only one of me. I would like to do more than these things I do, but I feel I can’t – not without some help or relief. That’s why I have been working with our parish councils for several months seeking a good solution.

Today, I can announce good news: St. Paul’s and St. John the Baptist’s parishes will soon have an additional priest. This associate priest will assist me, your pastor, in serving you. His name is Fr. Chinnappan, a priest from India, who presently happens to be Fr. John Potaczek’s associate in Mauston. Fr. Potaczek will have a new associate, but Fr. Chinnappan will officially begin ministry here with us, with lodging at St. John’s rectory, on December 1st of this year.

This means that our current weekend Mass schedule will not need to change next year. We’ll have more flexibility in scheduling funerals and more opportunities for confession. Weekday Masses will become Communion Services much less often than before. And visiting priests will no longer be needed for helpouts. Fr. Chinnappan is excited to teach a religion class at St. Paul’s School next semester, and now there will typically be at least one priest around at both parishes for each night of CCD.

I look forward to the unique gifts and perspective Fr. Chinnappan will bring to St. Paul’s and St. John the Baptist’s. I trust that you will make him welcome, and be patient with us who serve you. For myself, I am most excited to have more opportunities to engage, teach, and evangelize, drawing souls more closely and profoundly to Christ here at our church and school. I have some new ideas in mind, and I want to hear your ideas and any offers to help. Jesus wills for you and I to be one hundred percent devoted, with all our heart and mind, soul and strength. Let us serve Jesus Christ, our priest and king, as saints for this parish according to our own unique gifts and callings.

Lovingly Received — Funeral Homily for Allen Pietz, 62

June 22, 2021

Allen is a dear acquaintance of mine. Unlike many of the persons I offer funerals for, I know him really well. But today I’m going to begin by telling you about another warm acquaintance of mine and the story he once told me. I went to seminary with a fellow who is now a diocesan priest in South Carolina named Fr. Andrew Trapp. Fr. Andrew looks a lot like the actor Tobey Maguire (who starred in the Spider-Man movie franchise) and Andrew also has a Peter-Parker-like friendly goodness. Fr. Andrew got a little famous back around 2010 when he beat the champion poker player Daniel Negreanu on a TV game show. He won $100,000 and donated his whole prize (after taxes) to his parish’s renovation project. Before he was ordained, Andrew spent a summer in Paris, France improving his French and helping out at a Catholic church.

There he met a former satanic worshipper who had repented, reconciled to God, and became a member of that parish. Andrew knew that Satanists were known to steal the Holy Eucharist, the Body of Christ, for use and abuse in their rituals. (I’ve heard elsewhere that Satanists are interested in stealing only the Catholic Church’s Communion Hosts to perform Black Masses and other sacrileges.) Andrew asked the man whether it was true that Satanists test their followers using these stolen Hosts, placing a Consecrated Host in a line-up of identical, unconsecrated wafers to see if the person could identify which one it is. The man responded that he had undergone this test and successfully passed it. Andrew asked him, “How did you know which host was the Lord?” And the man replied, “It was the one that I felt hatred towards.”

No brief funeral homily can tell the whole story of a person’s life, but sometimes a particular aspect of a Christian’s life can proclaim the most important things. Allen did not grow up Catholic. He started attending Mass at St. Paul’s in the front row with Sylvia. And it was here that he fell in love with the Holy Eucharist. Sylvia remembers Allen pointing to the altar and saying, “I want that Bread.” This desire was the main reason Allen became Catholic, got Confirmed, and received his First Holy Communion here in 2020, exactly a year and one week before his death. Allen was always eager to receive the Holy Eucharist on Sundays. And whenever he couldn’t come, he missed it profoundly. Sometimes he could barely walk and he still came to Mass. What fueled this intense longing and devotion in Allen? It was the love he felt for Jesus in the Eucharist.

It was Jesus, who said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my Flesh for the life of the world.” When those in the crowd murmured at this, objecting, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you… [M]y Flesh is true food, and my Blood is true drink. Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him.” Jesus says, “Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”

In truth, Allen’s great love for Jesus in the Eucharist was only a weak reflection of Jesus’ love for Allen. And what will separate friends of Jesus Christ from the love of Christ? Neither death nor life, neither present things nor future things, neither height nor depth, neither angels nor powers, nor any other created thing will be able to separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. It is right that we pray today for the perfection and glory of our friend Allen’s soul, but we do so with great peace and confidence that Allen, who was so eager to receive our Lord in the Eucharist, will himself be eagerly received by our loving Lord.

Allen Pietz after his 1st Communion

Allen Pietz on the day of his First Communion, June 7, 2020

You are Called to Service

May 22, 2021

Pentecost Sunday

 

You have hands and arms, feet and legs, ears and eyes, a mouth and a nose. They are all valuable parts of your body. But without the presence of your animating soul extending throughout them, these parts would just lie around, inactive, achieving nothing. God has likewise fashioned his Church as the Body of Christ with an animating Spirit. The Holy Spirit is like the soul of the Church, extending through all its members. St. Paul teaches the Corinthians in our first reading:

As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body… and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”

As your soul moves your body to achieve your works and purposes, so the Holy Spirit moves God’s Church to achieve his good works and purposes with us. St. Paul also tells us:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts – but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service – but the same Lord; there are different workings – but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”

So each baptized person in communion with Christ has the Holy Spirit, and has gifts of the Spirit, and important works to do, and is called to Christian service.

I’ve heard people remark recently that their lives now feel like a clean and open slate. So many routines were cancelled by the pandemic that we now get to decide what worthwhile things to refill our lives and schedules with. I believe this is a important time and an opportunity for our parish. This season must begin a new springtime for the Church, otherwise our “new normal” could be an unchecked decline into decades of winter. How we respond will impact the salvation of souls for generations.

A week ago, I urged you to ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” What gifts are you being called to use? What new works are you being called to do? What service are you being called to begin? Let’s contemplate the gifts and desires the Holy Spirit has given you, and consider different works of service you may be called to in our parish.

► Are you a friendly person who knows our community and can make strangers feel welcome? You might be called to be an usher-greeter at our church.

► Can you appreciate the sense and mood of a sacred text, and read it well for others? You might be called to be a lector/reader.

► Are you a good singer or musician? You might be called to sing or play your instrument at Mass.

► Do you want to be close to God at his altar? You might be called to be an altar server, deacon, or priest.

► Do you have a heart for the homebound or those in nursing homes and desire to bring Jesus Christ to them? You might be called to be an Extraordinary Minister of the Holy Eucharist for them.

► Do you desire to be closer to Christ and appreciate that without prayer the Church’s efforts will not be fruitful? You might be called to be an adorer at St. John’s 24-hour Eucharistic Adoration (which precedes the 1st Fridays of each month), or called to join our parish prayer chain, or called to begin attending weekday Masses.

► Do you desire fellowship with other Catholic men or women and want to support charitable works? You might be called to join our Parish Council of Catholic Women or the Knights of Columbus.

► Do you enjoy reading great books and discussing them with friends? You might be called to start a parish book club here.

► Do you love a Catholic video series, like Jeff Cavins’ “The Great Adventure Bible Series,” or Bishop Barron’s “Catholicism” series, or Steve Ray’s “The Footprints of God”? You might be called to host a parish viewing and discussion group for it.

► Do you want to help the poor, the environment, and our church and school while having a fun time? You might be called to join our Thrift Sale volunteers, who do great work.

► Are you good with numbers and a person of integrity? You might be called to be collection counter or to help selling Scrip.

► Are you good with social media or data entry? You might be called to create posts for our parish Facebook page, or called to update our parishioner and school alumni databases.

► Do you care deeply about children, their education and well-being? You might be called to be a mentor, or a tutor, or a playground supervisor, or a school librarian, or even a teacher’s aide at St. Paul’s Catholic School.

► Do you want to help hand-on our Catholic faith to young people? You might be called to be a CCD teacher. After years of good and faithful service, Jenny Hoecherl is stepping down this summer as St. Paul’s CCD and youth ministry coordinator. You may be called to take this important, salaried position.

That’s about two dozen different roles and missions to which you may be called, and I’m sure the Holy Spirit could show you others. So what does the Lord want you to do? To what holy service are you being called? Before Pentecost, the disciples were uncertain and hesitant, hiding behind locked doors. But on Pentecost the Holy Spirit showed them what to do and gave them the courage to do it. Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “When he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” So ask him what you are called to do. Sometimes God uses other people to show us his will. Tell your friends and family members what gifts of God you see in them and encourage them to put them to good use. Jesus sent his disciples on mission in pairs, two-by-two. Perhaps ask a friend or relative to join you in some holy endeavor so that neither of you need go alone. Who could you invite to what? As members of Christ’s Body you, are called to faithful service. So allow the Holy Spirit to enlighten and empower you to achieve God’s works and purposes in this important time.

The Spirit’s Blessings Through God’s Church

March 20, 2021

5th Sunday of Lent

Right before ascending into heaven to sit at his Father’s right hand, Jesus gave his disciples these final instructions: “I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. …You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” After seeing Jesus ascend, the disciples returned to Jerusalem rejoicing. There in the Upper Room, the apostles, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and other Christians (a group of about one hundred twenty persons) devoted themselves with one accord to prayer. After nine days of prayer—the first Christian novena—the Holy Spirit descended upon them on Pentecost.

The apostles had received this eternal, divine Person before. On Easter Sunday evening, Jesus appeared in the Upper Room and breathed upon them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” You and I first received the Holy Spirit at our baptisms, when we were “born again / born from above…of water and Spirit,” and made temples of the Holy Spirit. But just as the Spirit came down on Pentecost and filled the disciples in a new way, inspiring and empowering them to announce, make present, and spread Christ’s Church in the world, so we receive the Holy Spirit anew for mission in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

When God the Father sends his Word he also sends his Breath, and the mission of the Holy Spirit is united to the Son’s. Our faith in Jesus leads to our belief in the Spirit and in the good things which flow from both. These blessings are brought to completion through God’s Holy Catholic Church. As the Apostles’ Creed proclaims:

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. Amen.

As Jesus Christ is the Church’s body, we being his members, so the Holy Spirit is the Church’s soul, our animating Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspires the Church’s Sacred Scriptures, he safeguards her Sacred Tradition and Magisterium from error, he is the Spirit of her liturgies, he empowers her sacraments, he intercedes in her prayers, he builds her up by charisms and ministries, and he manifests holiness in her by each vocation and every saint. As the early Church Fathers said, the Church is the place “where the Spirit flourishes.” The Holy Spirit gives his people gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord; and his fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are seen in us. Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit form the Church and make her holy. At the Last Supper, Jesus prayed for the holy unity of his Church. He said, “Holy Father, I pray not only for [these apostles of mine,] but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” This loving unity is reflected in the communion of the Saints.

In today’s Gospel, some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast approach the Philip the Apostle and ask him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip goes and tells Andrew the Apostle; then Andrew and Philip go and tell Jesus. Jesus answers them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Jesus’ salvific mission is catholic (that is, “universal”). He has come to unite every people and nation in himself. and he sees in this overture from the visiting Greeks a sign that his moment has come. Jesus says, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” Jesus gathers them into communion with the one Church he founded, a hierarchical Church (with Christ its Head ordaining that apostles and priests to be her servant leaders) but a Church which is first and foremost interpersonal, communal. No one can baptize themselves; it requires another person. And not even a priest can absolve his own sins. Just so, we are not saved alone, but in communion with others. In the words of Pope St. Paul VI, “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always attentive to our prayer.” As Sts. Andrew and Philip helped those Greeks in reaching out to Jesus, so we lovingly aid one another, by our prayers, penances, and sacrifices, by sharing our material and spiritual goods, helping each other on the way to heaven. But entry into heaven is impossible without the forgiveness of sins.

We believe in the forgiveness of sins. Through Jesus Christ, God’s promises spoken through the Prophet Jeremiah in our first reading are fulfilled: “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel… I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.” What was the Risen Christ’s first order of business for his Church when he appeared to his apostles in the Upper Room on Easter? After assuring them that it was really him and that he wished them peace, he gave his apostles the power and authority to forgive sins (as we noted before). Baptism into Christ washes away our past sins, but what if we grievously sin after baptism? We cannot be baptized twice. Since Christ has given his Church the power to forgive sins, then baptism cannot be her only means of forgiveness. The Sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation for those who have fallen after Baptism, just as Baptism is necessary for salvation for those who have not yet been reborn in Christ.

There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. There is no one, however wicked or guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided their repentance is sincere. Christ, who died for all men, desires that the gates of forgiveness in his Church should be open to anyone who turns away from sin. If you could use a good Confession, mark your calendars to come here to St. Paul’s next Sunday, on Palm Sunday afternoon. Apart from making another appointment, it might be your last chance for a Lenten Reconciliation with God.

But what good would God’s forgiveness be if death were the end of us? We believe in the resurrection of the body. Jesus tells Philip and Andrew, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Here, as elsewhere, Jesus foretells of his resurrection, for the buried seed which dies then rises from the earth. Jesus then goes on to say, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” This is not only a call to discipleship but a promise of resurrection: ‘Whoever serves me must follow after me, from the tomb of death to the resurrection of life, and where I am (whether in heaven or in the New Creation to come) there also will my servant be with me.’ Jesus says, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.

We believe in life everlasting. And this new life doesn’t begin only once we die, or after God raises up our bodies “on the last day.” We can already taste eternal life now. From your worst sins you have had small glimpses of hell, and in Jesus Christ you have already experienced small glimpses of heaven. But our eyes have not seen, and our ears have not heard, and our hearts have not conceived the fullness of what God has prepared for those who love him. Scripture speaks of it in images: of life, light, peace, wine, a wedding feast, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and death will be no more, neither will there be any more mourning or crying or pain, for these things will have passed away. And when we enter this perfect, unending life with the Most Holy Trinity and all the saints, it will be the ultimate fulfillment of our deepest human longings; supreme and definitive happiness.

In conclusion, The Apostles’ Creed ends with the same final word as the last book of the Bible, the word at the end of the Church’s many prayers: “Amen.” In Hebrew, “amen” comes from the same root as the word “believe,” expressing solidity, trustworthiness, and faithfulness. In saying “Amen” we are professing both God’s faithfulness towards us and our trust in him. The Creed’s last word “Amen” repeats and confirms its first words, “I believe,” and everything in between. As St. Augustine preached, “May your Creed be for you as a mirror. Look at yourself in it, to see if you believe everything you say you believe, and rejoice in your faith each day.” This is our Faith. This is the Faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen

At the Father’s Right Hand

March 13, 2021

4th Sunday of Lent

Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” First, Jesus is raised up on the Cross. Next, he is raised up from the tomb. And finally, he is raised up to heaven. As this week’s section of The Apostles’ Creed proclaims:

He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.

Jesus’ body was glorified at the moment of his Resurrection on Easter. Then he visited his disciples in his body over more than a month, appearing and vanishing, conversing and teaching, eating and drinking, and showing painless wounds in his hands, side, and feet. (Jesus keeps these wounds from his Passion as trophies of his victory.) And then, on the fortieth day, Jesus led his Apostles and disciples a short ways east out of Jerusalem, past the Garden of Gethsemane where he had agonized, and up the Mount of Olives which looks down over the Holy City. He raised his hands and blessed them, and as he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. He was lifted up as they looked on and a cloud took him from their sight. They did him homage and returned to Jerusalem rejoicing. Of course, one cannot fly an airplane or ride a rocket to enter God’s presence (unless the flight ends very badly). Heaven is not a place here or there, but another dimension of reality, distinct from us but not far distant. Jesus ascends in his disciples’ sight to manifest the invisible, his entry into heaven in fulfillment of what King David had foretold about the Christ, one thousand years before, in the 110th Psalm:

The Lord [God] says to my Lord [the Christ]:
“Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet. Yours is princely power from the day of your birth. In holy splendor, before the daystar, like the dew, I have begotten you.” The Lord [God] has sworn an oath he will not change: “You are a priest forever…” At your right hand is [Christ] the Lord, who will crush kings on the day of his great wrath, who judges nations…

From ancient times the right hand has been considered the favored spot, the seat of honor for your right-hand man. Being at the right hand means closeness, allowing for intimacy and confidence. You and I have a great friend in high places who “always lives to make intercession” for “those who draw near to God through him.” Jesus, the high priest of the new and eternal Covenant, has “entered, not into a sanctuary made by human hands… but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” Jesus Christ is not only humanity’s priest and advocate in Heaven, before ‘his Father and our Father, his God and our God,‘ he also sits enthroned as our king. As the Prophet Daniel once foresaw concerning Christ in a vision:

“To him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

Jesus Christ is King, the Lord of the cosmos and of history, who dwells in his Church where his Kingdom is now present in mystery. The Catholic Church is the seed and beginning of the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. We now await Christ’s Second Coming in fully-unveiled glory, such that he can no longer be dismissed or ignored by anyone. Jesus will return as ruler of all and come to judge the living and the dead. “‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ … Then each of us shall give an account of himself to God.” The conduct of each person and the secrets of every heart will be brought to light before his throne. Then the wicked “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

It is very important that we take God and personal conversion seriously. Our first reading chronicles how God’s people had “added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations.” The Lord had sent them his messengers, early and often, for he had compassion on his people, “but they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets.” God’s anger became so inflamed that he permitted them to be conquered by the Babylonian Empire six hundred years before Christ. Those who escaped the sword were carried off into Babylon captivity to be unhappily subjugated there. As today’s psalm recalls, “by the streams of Babylon we sat and wept.” Many never knew true freedom and peace for the rest of their days. But eventually, the Babylonians were conquered by the Persians, and the Lord inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue a proclamation throughout his empire encouraging the Jews to return to Jerusalem, rebuild the Temple, and worship God there. Notice how the king made this possible but didn’t force anyone to go. They were free to choose; to either return home or stay far away. Wickedness has grave consequences, in this life and hereafter, yet we do not earn our salvation by doing good deeds. As St. Paul tells us, “by grace you have been saved — [God] raised us up with [Jesus] and seated us with him in the heavens… By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.” Salvation comes from accepting God’s invitation to come home to him.

On the Last Day, Jesus will come again as our Judge, yet “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” In Christ “the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” A very powerful way to shed the darkness of sin and come into the light is through Jesus’ Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Here is another divine invitation to freedom and peace: I will be hearing Confessions in St. Paul’s Main Sacristy this Thursday, from 8 AM to 6 PM, at the start of every hour until all are heard. If those times won’t work let me know and we’ll set up something else. Maybe it’s been a long time since your last Confession? Maybe you’re nervous? You don’t need to be. I’ll help you through it. Know that when you come out you will feel absolutely wonderful. And Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of our Father above, will look upon you and smile.

Living Christ’s Mysteries — Funeral Homily for Deacon Ed Feltes, 65

February 23, 2021

On the day Victor and Ramona brought their eighth son to be baptized, while his little head was still damp from holy water, Edward Joseph was draped with white linen. And the priest said (in Latin), “Receive this white garment, which mayest thou carry without stain before the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, that thou mayest have life everlasting.” Today, we bring Ed’s body before the Lord, draping him in white cloth once more. My uncle Ed told me that as a deacon he would always say yes to doing baptisms. It was, he said, “the introduction of a new life into the Church. By baptizing them you are basically installing them into a Catholic environment and hopefully they will grow in it and not back away from it.” Ed has been a Catholic Christian for more than sixty-five years, ever since he was baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. And throughout his nearly twenty-four thousand days Jesus Christ accompanied him through life. The life of a Christian is found in Jesus Christ. And the mysteries of Christ’s life are reflected in, shared with, the faithful Christian. We see this throughout Ed’s life.

At his First Communion, young Edward approached and saw the Real Presence of his Lord held before his eyes: “The Body of Christ / Corpus Christi.” Ed received Jesus and Jesus received Ed into a more profound union, a more intimate relationship, between them. In receiving Christ’s Body, Ed was called to be the Body of Christ for this world. When Jesus tells us at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me,” he not only commands that we would receive him at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but that we would imitate him in his self-gift: “This is my body, which will be given up for you. Do this in memory of me.” When Ed was sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit at his Confirmation, he entered a more powerful relationship with that same Spirit of inspiration, grace, and power who led Jesus in his works on earth. The Holy Spirit’s gifts manifested through Ed not merely for himself, for his own salvation, but to serve the wider mission of Christ’s Church, that every person in this wayward world might be saved.

The main vehicle of Ed life’s work and witness would be through his first vocation: marriage. Ed and Jessica meet during his studies at Notre Dame University and the year he graduated they entered a new covenant together. Almost forty years ago, they freely committed without reservation to give themselves to each other in marriage, to love and honor each other for as long as they both would live, and to accept children lovingly from God—raising them up according to the law of Christ and his Church. Recall that Jesus Christ called himself the Bridegroom and that in Sacred Scripture his Church is called his Bride. Every Christian is called to imitate Christ, and every Christian soul is spiritually his Bride. But just as the Holy Eucharist we celebrate is not merely a symbol or a memory but Jesus’ Real Presence among us so the Sacrament of Marriage makes present the mystical marriage of Jesus and his Church, within and between a husband and a wife. In beholding a holy, Christian marriage, in its loving, mutual, and lasting fidelity, we see a sign for us and for the world. That love is real, that love is foundational, that love is fruitful. That we were made in love, made to love, made for a holy communion of love, a family. We saw this in Ed and Jessica’s strong marriage which bore fruit, not least of all in their children: in their living son, Christopher, of whom they are so proud, and four other loved children who passed away very, very young; Francis, Steven, Elizabeth, and Meagan. Ed said he looked forward to meeting them and now has that opportunity.

In his marriage, together with Jessica, Ed discerned and pursued a call within his call, a second vocation. Relying on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, Ed was chosen and ordained for the Order of the Diaconate. After the laying of the bishop’s hands and being dressed with stole and vestment, he was handed a Book of the Gospels with this admonition: “Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” Deacon Ed then ministered here at St. Catherine’s, celebrating in this sanctuary and serving throughout this parish. Teaching and preaching, even though he often found preaching difficult. Ed told me that he primarily sought to advance the Kingdom by sharing his life, showing how he lived. He said, “Always live your life such that people want the same that you do.” Looking back at the end of his quiet life, Ed had few regrets, but he did wonder if he was “maybe quiet too long.” Deacon Ed understood well that we need not enter into every pointless, unhelpful argument, but the Spirit does call and help us to speak the important words people need to hear alongside seeing our deeds.

In these last years, these final years, Ed reflected Christ and became configured to him in a new way, by joining him in suffering. Ed had at least six different strokes—twice nearly dying yet surviving—and endured strokes’ debilitating effects. Ed and Jessica described these past several years to me as an experience of continuous loses and grief, but also of continuous mercy and grace. Reportedly, the devastating impact of strokes often breaks up families, but this family grew closer through the trials. I think Ed also became bolder in Christ. While under hospice care at home he never stopped offering good things to his guests; blessings, prayers, holy water and blessed salt, to anyone who visited, wherever they might be in their faith walk.

When I last spoke with my uncle Ed I asked him what he was looking forward to. He simply said, “Heaven. I poured a lot of my life into experiencing, into living life on earth with a heavenly approach.” Asked as to what his near future held, he said, “It’s really up to God. I accept everything he has for me.” Ed and Jessica related to me that it was last March, almost a year ago, over a lunch at Panera Bread, that he told her, “I’m going to go to the Lord in six months to a year.” And he was right. Ed knew he was in God’s hands, being led and offered like an oblation for his glory and as a blessing for many. Knowing that this day was not in the far-distant future, I asked Ed about his wish for all of you on this day of his funeral. He answered, “Pray that they seek God more closely and live a more Christian life. I wish they would seek God for the answers and not just rely on themselves.” So if you have seen Jesus Christ in the life of Deacon Ed Feltes, please listen and heed his words.

And now, in conclusion, like Edward heard in his Last Rites:

I commend you, our dear brother, to almighty God and entrust you to your Creator. May you return to God who formed you from the dust of the earth. May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints come to meet you as you go forth from this life.

May Christ who was crucified for you bring you freedom and peace. May Christ who died for you admit you into his garden of paradise. May Christ, the true Shepherd, acknowledge you as one of his flock.

May the Lord forgive all your sins and set you among those he has chosen. May you see your Redeemer face to face and enjoy the vision of God for ever.