Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Share the Gospel

January 15, 2023

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Victor Feltes

The message of the Gospel is simple:

1. We are created by an all-good and loving God.
2. But sin separates us from him.
3. So God has sent his Son to be our Savior.
4. Therefore, believe & repent, that he may save you.

St. John the Baptist proclaimed this Good News to sinners. John preached that God’s judgement is at hand (indeed, each of us only lives once, and after this life comes the judgment). And as John warned, “Every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. … [So] flee from the wrath to come.” After our harvest time, the “chaff” will “burn with unquenchable fire,” he said, but the Savior will safely “gather his wheat into his barn.” The reason why John came baptizing with water was so that this Savior might be made known. Christ is the one of whom John said, “A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.” After baptizing Jesus, John proclaimed him the sacrificial “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” saying, “Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” Repent and believe in Jesus Christ, so that his sacrifice may save you.

Who will be saved? How many professed atheists, or Hindus, or Muslims, or Jews, or Protestants, or Orthodox, or Catholics will go to Heaven? Thankfully, perfect, final, Divine Judgement is not my job. My mission and your mission is the Great Commission. After his Resurrection, Jesus said, “Go… and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe ALL that I have commanded you.”

Baptism and the other sacraments are the ordinary (that is, normal) means through which Christ offers the grace necessary for salvation. Jesus established his Catholic Church as both the ordinary minister of these seven sacraments and as the one, reliable guardian of Christ’s teachings on faith and morals in a hostile, sinful world through the centuries. Our Lord Jesus Christ and his one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church are the ordinary means of salvation for the world. Your non-practicing or non-Catholic relatives, friends, and neighbors are called to more with Christ. Like St. John the Baptist, your witness can help others receive this gift.

Your non-Catholic or non-practicing family, friends, and close acquaintances know you, like you, and respect you. They rarely (if ever) see or hear me, but they frequently encounter you. So here are three ways you can draw them closer to Christ and his Church: by sharing your prayers, by sharing your stories, and by sharing your invitations.

Share your Prayers
It is important to pray for the conversion of others, but you can easily pray with them, too. Whenever someone asks you for your prayers, or even when someone entrusts their burdens to you, offer to pray with them then and there. The words of your prayer don’t need to be eloquent, just sincere. People are usually quite receptive to this and very grateful for it.

Share your Stories
Today’s Gospel reading is simply St. John the Baptist sharing the story of what he had experienced with the Lord. And through this testimony, more came to know and follow Jesus. What has the Lord done for you, how have you encountered him, what are your miracles and spirit stories? Don’t hide these highlight experiences of your life under bushel baskets; be humble enough to share them with others for their good.

Share your Invitations
Invite them to accompany you to Holy Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, or our community events. Invite them to share in the life of the Gospel. Even if they decline, you will have planted a seed that may bear fruit someday. You and they were made for the fullness of God in Jesus Christ, and our hearts are restless until they rest in him.

In conclusion, here is your homework for this week: share a prayer, or a story, or an invitation with someone it could help – you may well save a soul.

The Openness, Obedience, & One Word of St. Joseph

December 18, 2022

4th Sunday of Advent
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Our Gospel this final Sunday of Advent centers on St. Joseph. It recounts how St. Joseph received the stunning revelation of Mary’s pregnancy. We can learn from the great saint’s response — from his openness, his obedience, and his one word.

Mary was already Joseph’s wife when she conceived her child. In their Jewish culture, a newlywed couple would live apart for the first year of marriage. Thereafter, the husband would bring his betrothed into his home to live with him. When Mary conceived a child (whom Joseph knew was not his) why did he decide to divorce her? Was Joseph heartbroken because he believed she had betrayed him? Or was Joseph frightened, because he believed her story of the Annunciation and thought himself unworthy of this holy woman and her holy child? Whatever the case, Joseph was a righteous man and unwilling to expose Mary to shame, so he intended to divorce her quietly.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home because it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Once Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary into his home.

I used to fret very much about precisely discerning God’s will. “What if the Lord wants me to do a specific thing but I can’t figure it out?” During my college and seminary years, I thought I had a vocation to the priesthood but how could I be sure? I worried, “What if I get this discernment terribly, terribly wrong?” Then a holy friend gave me peace of mind by pointing to St. Joseph. When Joseph was about to make a terrible mistake by separating himself from Mary and Jesus, it only took one night’s dream to get him back on the right track because Joseph desired to do whatever God willed. God can easily redirect a willing heart.

People sometimes complain, “I wish God would just tell me what to do!” But unless we are open to doing God’s will, what good would his directions do us? Imitate St. Joseph in his openness. Like with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Joseph’s openness allowed God to do great things through him. So resolve your will and pray for the grace to always be open to God’s will like St. Joseph. Another St. Joseph trait of we can imitate and profit from is his simple obedience.

St. Matthew’s Gospel records, “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home… and he named [the boy] Jesus.” On this occasion, like later when told to flee to Egypt or told to return to Israel, Joseph does point-by-point what God commands. Like Moses in the Old Testament, whenever God instructs Joseph to do (A) and (B) and (C), the author notes how Joseph then does (A) and (B) and (C).

Moses and Joseph’s duties were different from ours today. We will not construct an Ark of the Covenant, nor protect and provide for the Holy Family, but each of us has persons and tasks entrusted to us by God; people to care for and works to be done. You already know a great deal of what God has commanded you to do; your own (A) and (B) and (C) according to your state in life. You will not fulfill your missions perfectly—and that’s OK—but imitate St. Joseph in his simple obedience because your basic, God-given duties are more important than you realize.

A third and final feature of St. Joseph reflected in today’s Gospel is his single word. Did you ever hear that in all of Scripture there are no recorded quotes from St. Joseph? It’s true: Jesus has many, Mary has several, but Joseph has none. Now there is no evidence that St. Joseph lacked the ability to speak or ever took a vow of silence.  Joseph probably said many things that were simply not written down. Yet today’s Gospel contains the strongest evidence of his having said any one particular word. What was that word?

The angel in Joseph’s dream said of the unborn child: “You are to name him Jesus.” And when Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him. Joseph named him Jesus. The name of Jesus was St. Joseph’s greatest and most important word. Ever after, the name of Jesus defined his life.

Learn from St. Joseph, the husband of Mary and foster-father of Jesus. Imitate his openness to doing God’s will whatever it may be. Benefit from practicing his obedience in your daily duties. “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,” like St. Joseph did.

Hope, Joy, & Salvation

December 11, 2022

3rd Sunday of Advent
By Fr. Victor Feltes

On Friday afternoon, while Fr. Chinnappan offered the funeral Mass for Dr. John Eberle, I drove to McDonnell high school in Chippewa Falls to hear sacramental Confessions with several other area priests. Before everyone else arrived, I was able to spend some time with Fr. Paul Hoffman, whom I had not seen for a while. He heard my Advent confession and afterwards I asked him about what he had been reading lately. Fr. Paul has previously told me that his senior priest status allows him read more theology books like he has desired, to learn more about God before he ultimately departs to go to him. One of the questions Fr. Paul has been pondering lately is, “What will bring them back?” That is, what will bring the younger generations back to church?

I am now almost 42 years old, and I am among the youngest people at most Sunday Masses. This is a troubling trend. Young adults today usually do not believe they need the Church. Many disbelieve they even need Jesus Christ’s salvation. What could change this outlook? What might bring them back? The answer which occurred to me was: “Real Hope.”

As the culture continues to abandon the wisdom it has inherited from Christianity, the consequences of foolishness and sin will become increasingly clear. It will be seen in the sickness of society and felt in the pain of peoples’ personal lives. A life without true meaning or purpose in a world “with no hell below us and above us only sky” is an emptiness full of suffering. Where can people discover real hope—hope in something within this world and yet beyond this world? This real hope is found in Jesus Christ and his Catholic Church.

After our first round of hearing confessions from students and staff in the gym, we priests got a bit of a break, so I walked over to see Fr. Bill Felix and Fr. Brandon Guenther. We chatted a bit about Bishop Callahan, who was hospitalized with an illness this week, Then I asked them a question: “What are you thinking about preaching this weekend? I’m still looking for ideas.” Fr. Felix said, “Well, there’s always the obvious: Joy.” (“Oh, of course,” I thought. This Third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday and in Latin, “Gaudete” means “Rejoice.”)

Fr. Felix said the great thing about joy is that we can have it even when many things in our lives are bad. Happiness depends upon what happens, but joy does not and so it endures. To press this idea, I asked them in so many words how someone can feel joy when things are crummy? The answer given by both priests was: “Hope.” Fr. Guenther added, “Joy without hope is just optimism.” This reminded him of an old, witty observation: “An optimist is a happy fool. A pessimist is an unhappy fool. But someone with hope (real hope) is not a fool and will one day be happy.

We then returned to our confessionals to hear the older students’ confessions. Some people come to Confession after many months and confess rather superficially, but I was edified by hearing these teenagers confessed. Unlike many young people of their generation, their earnestness, honestly, and striving after God and his holiness were evident. I expect Christ’s Church to struggle in the coming decades, but our Faith is far from dead. Christian hope produces joy and manifest joy shines out. It shines out in the darkness of this world, drawing others to Jesus Christ and his Church. Our Lord lives and we possess a real hope. So let your Christian hope generate joy in you, and your joy will help save souls.

The Allegory of the Jordan River

December 4, 2022

2nd Sunday of Advent
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Preceding Jesus’ public ministry, St. John the Baptist appeared preaching in the Judean wilderness. People from Jerusalem, all Judea, and the Jordan River region were going out to see him. John said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” The crowds regarded him as a prophet and were being baptized by him as they acknowledged their sins. Like a bath which cleanses one’s outer self of dirt and odor, John’s baptism was an appeal to God for an inner self cleansed from sin. John’s ministry prepared for Jesus Christ and foreshadowed Christian baptism. The Jordan River in which John baptized embodies an allegory whose symbolism remains important for us today.

The fresh waters of the Jordan River originate in the north from the living Sea of Galilee, a large lake full of fish and ringed by trees. The Jordan’s waters flow south and come to one of either two notable ends. Most of the river’s water just goes with the flow. It flows downhill (as all rivers naturally do) ultimately descending seven hundred vertical feet. These waters remain on the edge of the Promised Land without entering in. And at the end of their journey, they empty out into the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on the face of the earth. After the river drains there, the water has nowhere else to go. As it evaporates to nothingness, the water leaves behind trace amounts of salt which over many, many millennia has made that sea ten times saltier than the oceans. In this oppressive saltiness, no plants nor fish can live. The Dead Sea is thoroughly dead.

Some of the Jordan River’s water, however, does not simply go with the flow downhill. This water escapes the fate of the Dead Sea, by giving itself to the Promised Land. This water enables life and generates fruit among many trees in an otherwise arid place. Jeremiah the Prophet writes of a tree planted beside the stream: “It does not fear heat when it comes; its leaves stay green. In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still produces fruit.” And the 1st Psalm likewise says: “a tree planted near streams of water… yields its fruit in due season; its leaves never wither.” These baptismal waters are willed by God to give life and bear fruit for the Promised Land.

Most of John the Baptist’s contemporaries were convinced he was a prophet, yet the Jewish religious leaders disbelieved. When John saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he admonished them: “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance! … Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire!” It would not be enough (for them or us) to just say the right things and go through the motions. Our faith and repentance must be real, producing of good fruit.

As the life-giving Sea of Galilee is the River Jordan’s source, so God above is the source of every spiritual grace and good thing in creation here below. Having received Christian baptism, we can respond in one of two ways on this life’s journey. In this world, we can go with the natural flow of things, descending more and more, ending in the dead abyss without entering the Promised Land. But that is not Jesus’ will for us. As G.K. Chesterton once observed: “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” Jesus wills for us to cooperate with him, to be changed, and to change the world around us. So believe in the Lord, acknowledge your sins and repent, and bear good fruit with Christ. What is one area — just one thing — one habit or virtue, you can acknowledge today and grow in throughout this Advent season with the grace of God?

The World’s Greatest Force

October 1, 2022

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

On this Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, we gather around God’s presence, praying for him to accept our thanksgiving, pardon our lack of faith, and increase our faith so that we may stand firm even when destruction and violence surrounds us. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus our Lord prayed to the Father that, if it be possible, the chalice or cup of suffering be taken away from Him. What did the Father say? In the first reading from the Prophet Habakkuk, the lamentations seem to suggest the God who does not listen nor care about the cry of the poor person who calls upon Him. When God is silent, what could it mean? The silence of God is often the silence unto our own good the silence of God is a call to deep faith. The Gospel reading calls us to an authentic faith in God. We need the faith as little as a mustard seed to keep our heads high. The second reading encourages us to be courageous in our faith journey.

In the Bible, Abraham is mentioned several times for some of the great things he accomplished, God gave Abraham the promise that the Redeemer would come through his family. Abraham and wife Sarah were past child–bearing age when God gave them a child named Isaac. Even though God had promised that Abraham’s descendants would one day be a great nation, He asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac (in Genesis 22). God told Abraham to take Isaac to a mountain to sacrifice him to the Lord. God never intended for Abraham to kill Isaac. This was merely a test to show to us the type of faith Abraham had. As we read the story of Abraham and Isaac we are reminded that God is faithful and that we can place our trust in Him

Again we have the wonderful example of David. We learn about a forty-day war between the Israelites and the Philistines, who were led by the giant Goliath. One day, Goliath challenged them to bring forth a soldier who could come up against him, but no one in the Israelite army was brave enough to challenge him. Hearing all Goliath’s bosting, hear came a little Shepherd boy David who told kind Saul that God had given him victory over all the animals who had threatened his sheep and he had faith in God that he would help him defeat this giant too. So going out to face the Philistines, Goliath saw this boy David who had nothing but a slingshot, and he laughed and mocked him. Then David replied to him saying, “Well, you come with your sword, spear, and all your armor but I come against you in the name of the Lord, God Almighty.” And with great strength, David drew his sling and sent it flying straight towards this giant’s forehead Goliath was defeated. David’s faith in God proved to be bigger than any giant.

According to William Barclay, “Faith is the greatest force in the world,” it moves us towards directions completely unknown and guides us towards belief in one God. Today’s Gospel tell us that all the followers of Jesus must have faith in Him, and we are to pray Christ to increase our faith. Faith is not for the good times only. Faith is that which sustains us in bad times. According to St. Augustine, “Faith is to believe what you do not see, the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” It is not easy to live a righteous life when things are not going smoothly in your life, but do not forget that faith is patience. Trust that God will never leave you forsaken. Never give up on God.

Plant Using Your Tiny Seed of Faith

October 1, 2022

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Today the apostles beg our Lord, “Increase our faith.” They feel apprehension at Jesus’ teachings. Christ asks extraordinary things of his disciples, and they fear their faith is insufficient. The Lord replies, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Realize that faith (like courage or love) is not necessarily a feeling. You can be courageous, even while feeling fear, by doing the right thing anyway. You can be loving, even while feeling strong dislike for your enemies, by willing their good anyway. And you can be faithful, even when you feel apprehensive like the apostles, by acting on your trust in God anyway.

Perhaps you feel nervous when you fly on an airplane, yet you buy your ticket and board the flight because you believe commercial jet is a very safe way to travel—and it is. If you were a business traveler, taking dozens of flights each year, your anxious feelings would calm and come to better resemble your sincere conviction about the safety of flying. Faith is like this, too. You may or may not have feelings of great faith, but when you choose to trust God and do the faithful thing you are acting in faith. Exercise your faith and your faith will strengthen, because you will see that God is faithful, and then your emotions touching on faith will naturally follow.

Jesus says, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,” you could miraculously transplant a tree with your command. When I was younger, the first time I read Jesus’ answer, I was discouraged by it—“I’ve never performed a miracle like that. How microscopic must my faith be!” But I had misunderstood him. Jesus’ reply is meant as an encouragement. Our Lord is saying, “Even if your faith is tiny, it is more than enough for you to fulfill my will.” What is God’s will for you? What does he want you to do? If you do not know this already ask him to reveal it to you. And “if today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

On another occasion, Jesus said “the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’” So using your tiny seed of faith, plant in the field of your life as the Lord commands you. It may take awhile for the results to sprout but be patient. As the Lord said to Habakkuk, “The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.

Mustard bushes grow very large and the mustard it produces has a very potent taste. Given time, what you plant in faith will change the landscape and the flavor of our world. When you go on to see the incredible transforming results which faith allows you may become inflated and vulnerable to pride. People through whom God has accomplished great things may be tempted to think their serious sins are therefore no big deal, or may abandon serving the Lord before their days on earth are done. For this reason, Jesus follows his parable about faith and the mustard bush with another parable about a servant and his master.

Jesus asked his apostles, “Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded?” Jesus here is not describing how the world ought to be, but describing how their familiar, ancient world actually operated; where the stronger dominated the weaker. It is like when Jesus told them, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant.”

The apostles would not expect a slave’s master to be much grateful to his slave, and they would judge a slave to be most prudent in his position to remain humble and obey his master. “So should it be with you,” Jesus says, “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” Indeed, apart from God we can do nothing, and keeping a humble servant’s attitude protects us from dangerous pride and presumption and helps us to fulfill what Christ commands. But the Master who is our Lord differs from other masters of the earth.

At the Last Supper, after he had washed his apostles’ feet, Jesus asked them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” Although our Lord, being God, is rightfully entitled to all we have and are, he is grateful for our labors. If we do not let up our efforts, when our hard days on this earth are complete we can look forward to hearing him say: “Well done, my good and faithful servant… Come, share your master’s joy!

So while your faith may feel small, it is more than enough to do Christ’s will. If you do not know God’s will already, seek and ask to know it. Then plant your seed of faith in action and patiently watch it grow. And when you see the great things our Lord achieves through you do not let up your efforts slip, knowing that his reward for you is eternal joy in Heaven.

Her Core — Funeral Homily for Rose Lankey, 97

May 12, 2022

By Fr. Victor Feltes

Rose was born August 15, 1924, on the Solemnity of Mary’s Assumption into heaven. Today we offer her funeral Mass at St. Paul’s to aid Rose’s own journey to heaven. Three days after Easter in 1947, Rose got married here at St. Paul’s to her beloved husband, “Bud.” He himself joined the Church at this parish and Rose was proud to brag “he’s better than most Catholics!” They were married for 71 years. Rose often volunteered to serve funeral luncheons at St. Paul’s. After retirement, she came here for Mass six days a week; enjoying the holy meal of her dear Lord Jesus typically followed by having coffee with his friends and hers.

Rose had a lifetime of happy memories with her family and friends. During her last ten years on earth she would remark, “I’ve had a wonderful life.” But after Rose turned ninety years old, her mind began to fail her. Throughout the past two or three years her memory had become quite poor. For instance, she knew she had three daughters, but would fail to recognize their fully-grown faces. Yet, even as her human frailty in this damaged world stripped away so much from Rose, there was a deepest core which endured in her. What was that core within her? Her Catholic faith in Jesus Christ.

Rose’s faith and devotion would manifest even in final days. About a month ago, when her daughter handed her a Rosary, Rose looked at the beads not seeming to register their purpose or use. But when she was told “these are rosary beads which were blessed by the pope,” Rose cupped them in her hands and kissed them with her lips. About two weeks before her passing, her mind and body were so weakened that Rose had stopped speaking. Chaplain Lynn from Hospice visited her bedside and suggested to the family, “Let’s pray the Lord’s Prayer.” Rose’s three daughters and son-in-law had not heard Rose verbalize for days, but when they began saying the Our Father together they were in awe when Rose audibly joined in. Later, while Fr. Tim from St. Odilia gave Rose the Last Rites, her lips attempted at times to voice the words of prayer. She looked at the priest, that icon for Christ, with a look of comfort in her eyes.

Jesus tells us it is the will of God the Father that Christ lose nothing that our Father has given him, and Christ shall raise it all up on the last day anew. The poor will have the Kingdom. The mournful will be consoled, for “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” And the meek will inherit the earth. And to those like Rose who lost nearly everything but him Jesus will restore to them everything again, “to dwell in the house of the Lord” forever. On that day it will be said: “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!” Jesus Christ is the good Lord to whom our beloved Rose faithfully looked. Let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved her.

His Glorious Light Overcomes the Darkness

March 13, 2022

2nd Sunday of Lent
Fr. Victor Feltes

Once upon a time, little Billy’s grade school teacher was teaching her class about outer space. She said, “In 1969, the American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the Moon.” Little Billy raised his hand and asked, “Teacher, has anyone ever walked on the Sun?” “Oh, no,” she said, “the Sun is far too hot for that.” But Billy replied with confidence, “I know how I can be the first.” Curious and bemused, she asked him how. “Easy. I’ll go at night!

The Sun, of course, does not turn off at night like a lamp on a switch. The Sun still blazes and shines with incredible heat and light even when the Earth obscures it from our sight. And even on the darkest, stormiest day the Sun remains in the heavens above us even though clouds prevent us from perceiving it clearly.

In this Sunday’s first reading from Genesis, Abram (before God changed his name to Abraham) seems discouraged. He’s lamenting to the Lord: “Look, you have given me no offspring.” Though God has promised him descendants, he and his wife have become very old without having any children together. The Lord God guides him outside and says, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so, shall your descendants be.” We can easily picture this as a nighttime scene: Abram exits his dwelling and sees a billion stars in the Milky Way. Indeed, more than that number of people today recognize him as our spiritual ancestor, “our Father in Faith.” But this episode strikes as even more profound if, instead of during nighttime, it happened during the day.

‘Look up at the blue sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so, shall your descendants be. You know the stars are up there, Abram. You know they don’t stop being real each morning, it’s just that you can’t see them. Your many descendants will exist, though you cannot see them now, though you do not yet know how. I assure, you my promises to you will be kept.’ And “Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.

Then God reaffirms his promises to Abram in a strange and mysterious way. The Lord directs him to sacrifice five animals. Abram slays them and lays them out, and then.. nothing happens. Birds of prey, scavengers, swoop down upon the carcasses to pick them over. Yet Abram does not give up; he patiently remains there. As the sun is about to set, a deep, terrifying darkness envelops Abram. And when the sun has set and it is dark, Abram sees a flaming torch and a smoking fire pot appear and pass between the sacrifices. This is a sign from God against any discouragement, doubt, and fear; it is the Lord’s light overcoming the darkness.

Christ’s Church pairs this reading from Genesis today with Jesus’ Transfiguration. After telling the disciples of his coming death, Jesus manifests to them his glory; a divine glory which is always present but which they cannot always see. This event seems to take place in the dark of night since Peter, John, and James were overcome by sleep while Jesus prayed. But upon becoming fully awake, their eyes are opened: they see Jesus’ face shining like the sun and his clothing now dazzling white, as he speaks with Moses and Elijah. These two, great prophets after their trials share in Christ’s radiant glory and speak of the exodus he will accomplish in Jerusalem (that is, they speak of his approaching paschal sacrifice which will set God’s people free).

In his Transfiguration, Jesus reveals his glory to the disciples to strengthen them for the scandal of the Cross. He wants to prepare them to accept, even by the testimony of the law and the prophets, that the Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection. Christ’s glory shines forth from a body like our own, to show that we, his Church, the body of Christ, can likewise share his glory.

The stories of little Billy, Father Abraham, and Christ’s Transfiguration teach important truths believers will be blessed to remember and hold on to. Even more so than the Sun or stars, our good God endures unchanging. Though this world obscures the light of heaven, heaven’s light remains undimmed. Birds of prey may swoop down and impiously scavenge as enemies of Christ, but we are not forgotten. The innocent one may suffer like Christ, but he is not abandoned. Our times may be dark and frightening, but we need not be afraid: God’s promises will be kept. This is our faith: that despite doubt, discouragement, and distress, the glory of our Lord will overcome the darkness.

Why They Rejected Christ

January 29, 2022

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

When Jesus preached at Nazareth near the start of his public ministry, his own hometown neighbors rose up, filled with fury against him. They drove him out of their village intending to toss him head first off a cliff. Later, near the end of Jesus’ public ministry, one his own twelve apostles, after spending years in his close company, chose to betray Jesus to his enemies. And sometimes in our present day, lifelong Christians experience painful events and give up on their commitment to Christ. Why did Jesus’ neighbors in Nazareth reject him? Why did his apostle, Judas Iscariot, betray him? And why do Christians sometimes abandon him in hard times? All of these expected our Lord to do certain things for them but were disappointed. In each case, Jesus failed to do for them what they desired.

Part of the problem at Nazareth was that Jesus was too familiar to them. He grew up there as a little kid playing in their streets, he worked locally as a carpenter’s son, and he quietly attended their small-town synagogue for years. So when they heard him preaching they asked, “Where did this man get all this?” How could this guy be someone foretold of in the Scriptures? As Jesus acknowledges, “No prophet is accepted in his own native place.”

They wanted him to prove he was somebody special by working miracles before them. A sick doctor should be able to apply his talents for his own recovery and prove he is a real doctor; so the Nazoreans would say to Jesus, “Physician, cure yourself! Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.” But God’s prophet does not owe them miracles. Jesus notes that neither Elijah nor Elisha, two of the Old Testament’s greatest prophets, worked miracles for Israel’s individual widows or lepers, respectively. St. Mark’s Gospel reports that Jesus did not perform many mighty deeds in Nazareth, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. Their lack of faith and lack of openness seems to have limited the gifts of God they could receive. So Jesus failed to match their expectations, and they took great offense at him.

Why did Judas Iscariot betray our Lord for thirty silver pieces? St. John tells us in his gospel that Judas “was a thief and held [Jesus and the apostles’] moneybag and used to steal the contributions.” Those thirty coins represented thirty days’ wages back then, something akin to $3,000 today. Was Judas so greedy for that relatively-modest amount of money that he couldn’t resist? When Judas saw that Jesus had been condemned to death he felt deep regret at what he had done. He tried to return the money to the high priest and elders saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” He wishes to undo his deed, but the Jewish leaders brush him off: “What is that to us? Look to it yourself.” Judas goes away in despair and foolishly kills himself. If Judas did not wish for Jesus to die, then why did he sell him out? It seems that this apostle was disappointed by Jesus’ public ministry.

Most Jews expected the Messiah to come as a warrior-king like David. They imagined the Christ would drive out their pagan overlords, conquer Jerusalem, and lead an earthly kingdom of vast power, prestige, privilege, and wealth. But Jesus was not pursuing that popular dream. He devoted his efforts instead to teaching and healing the lowly and poor. When, after feeding thousands with five loaves and two fish, Jesus perceived “they were going to come and carry him off to make him king,” he firmly sent that crowd away and withdrew up the mountain alone. Judas had run out of patience waiting for Jesus’ Kingdom to come. Maybe Judas had given up on Jesus, and took that money to start a new life without him. Or maybe he hoped that Jesus—with his back to the wall—would finally wield his mighty, miraculous power to claim his royal throne, with Judas at his side. Either way, Judas’ disappointed expectations led this disciple to betray Jesus Christ and lose everything.

In our own day, some Christians leave the Lord Jesus after following him for decades. Oftentimes, this happens after a painful tragedy: a terrible diagnosis, a failed marriage, a Church scandal, a child’s tragic death. It is not the Christian life they had envisioned. They likely asked God for a particular miracle but it was not given. I know a man from a previous parish who attends Mass with his wife every Sunday, but he stopped receiving Holy Communion many years ago after their teenage daughter died in a car crash. I know of another long-time Catholic who reportedly became embittered at losing his good health and refused a Catholic funeral. How should a follower of Jesus Christ respond to life’s profound and painful trials?

On the first Good Friday, when Jesus died on the Cross, the Gospel of St. Luke tells us “all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events.” St. John’s Gospel highlights that the Blessed Virgin Mary was there at the Cross of Christ along with his beloved disciple. What did they feel like amid that horror? What miracles did they plead for that day? Their prayers to heaven seemed to go unheard. The next day, in shock and grieving on Holy Saturday, they may have questioned in their hearts, “Where was God? How could he let this happen? Does he not care? Where is his faithfulness to his faithful ones? How could this be part of a loving plan?” But the next day, on Easter Sunday, they witnessed the joyful resurrection Jesus had promised, and God’s loving, mysterious purposes became clearer.

Jesus told his disciples and says to us, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Jesus does not promise us a life exactly as we would plan it for ourselves. Not every prayer for a miracle will be granted exactly as we would imagine. But remember, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ will come for his faithful ones.

Keeping the Faith During Trying Times

December 25, 2021

Feast of The Holy Family
By Deacon Dick Kostner

“Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?  Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?  Did you know that your baby boy is Heaven’s perfect Lamb?  That sleeping child you’re holding is the great “I Am“?

The answer to the lyrics just quoted from the popular Christmas Song “Mary did you know?” is “No! Not everything,” according to Pope John Paul II. She did not know everything at once and it is displayed in our gospel proclaimed in today’s Liturgy.

The morning I began to prepare for this homily I saw some very disturbing statistics from an article in The Wall Street Journal. Americans who pray daily was 58% in 2007, this dropped to 45% in 2021; Americans who identified themselves as Christians was 78% in 2007, in 2021 this dropped to 63%. This downward trend began long before COVID but increased during the pandemic. At our own parish we have experienced a substantial decline in attendance at Sunday Mass, especially family attendance. Other parishes have had similar declines.

So what’s going on? Our gospel displays to us the problem but it also gives us the answer to the problem. The problem is rooted in both mental and physical sufferings that are a part of the human experience. Sacred Scripture lays it out very well. Humans get sick, go blind, struggle with raising children, have disagreements with spouses and family, and yes the big one, death and when we pray for help we expect results not tomorrow but right now. All of these were experienced by Jesus the big question is: “Why?” The answer is a mystery we are incapable of understanding, but God did gift us with how we can get through these sufferings and anxieties when he sent His Son to experience these struggles and to supply us with the cure, and that is faith that the Father loves us, His Holy Family, and has a plan for us to follow and find happiness even while suffering, through His Holy Spirit and His Holy Family. The problem is our world has become secularized. Secularization is the process of removing religious and moral influence from our society. The significance of God and the Holy Family in our world is looked down upon and is been reduced.

Lets reflect on our Gospel this Feast of the Holy Family, and “Mary did you know?”. Humans are wired by our creator to care for and protect children we are blessed with. Mary was no exception and when her and Joseph realized Jesus was missing and days had passed panic hit them. They backtracked and found Jesus in the temple listening to the elders and conversing with them. They were upset and asked why Jesus had not told them where he was going. His reply was that he thought they would know that he was going to His fathers house. And then we are told that Mary and Joseph “did not understand what he said to them.” Thus we are given the answer to some of the songs questions of her that she did not know. But then we are told that Mary “kept all these things in her heart.” and thus she reflected upon her son’s words and she came to understand that Jesus had assumed she knew his vocation, to learn and be involved with public ministry. Jesus also realized they did not know this and felt sorry for not telling them his plans to visit his Fathers house, for we are told that “Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man and was there after obedient to them.”

Jesus made a mistake for causing anxieties to his Mother and his step father and corrected his behavior and honored his human parents. This is the guide line for human families becoming members of the Holy Family. They care for and correct mistakes they make within their Holy Family relationships and its members.

Being human will carry with it sufferings. There will be mistakes that we will make as members of the Holy Family that will cause not only us but other members of God’s family to suffer. We are called to reflect upon our mistakes and make corrections to assure those we have caused to suffer that this will not happen again. We are called by God to place other members of the family of Jesus ahead of ourselves when we realize that others need our help and support as Jesus, Mary and Joseph have taught us, by reflecting on our actions and praying to the Father for wisdom and direction in helping our brothers and sisters overcome their sufferings and anxieties of life.

Like Mary, there are many questions in life we don’t know answers to. It is faith that allows us to trust that the Father knows our fears and anxieties and will answer us through His Holy Family when the time is right, for as told to us by God we are to look to His Holy Family and the Word for help and guidance and as far as fear, He tells us: “Be still and know that I AM!

Drawn to Jesus by God’s Grace

August 8, 2021

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Deacon Matthew Bowe

There are many things that we are drawn to. I am drawn to delicious food, as you can tell. I am also drawn to playing golf, watching the Olympics, and spending time with friends and family. I have noticed that we can easily talk about the tangible and physical things that we are drawn to, whether it be sports, fishing, hunting, outdoor activities, card-playing, work, or any other thing. Curiously, I wondered how do we tell others about the spiritual things that we are drawn to? Examples include praying, going to Mass, charitable works, retreats, and any other sort of thing. Do we not tell people because we are not drawn to spiritual things, or do physical things attract us more than the spiritual things?

Currently, we are in the middle of the Bread of Life discourse from the Gospel of John. Two weeks ago, it was the reading about the multiplication of the loaves. Jesus fed five thousand people with just five barley loaves and two fish. In that story, the power of Jesus can do a lot with the little that we can give Him. Last week, the crowds pursued Jesus seeking to have this bread always, and the reading concluded with Jesus saying that he was the bread of life. Whoever comes to Him will never hunger, and whoever believes in Him will never thirst. In his writings, the evangelist John never uses the word “miracle.” Rather, he writes about the signs that Jesus worked. A sign points toward something. A stop sign signifies that it is the law to stop at this intersection. In this Gospel, the physical signs point to a spiritual reality. In this Bread of Life discourse, the physical sign is the bread, and the spiritual reality is that Jesus is the bread of life. This is one reason John wrote the Gospel – to show that Jesus was not only fully human but also fully divine.

Now, we turn to today’s Gospel reading. The Jews are murmuring and struggling that Jesus said that He is the bread that came down from heaven. The crowd could see the physical reality, or the humanity, of Jesus. They knew that Jesus was the son of Joseph and of Mary. However, they were spiritually blind. Despite the wonders and the signs that Jesus worked, they saw not the divinity of Jesus, the true bread that came down from heaven. Our culture today disbelieves the spiritual reality of the created world and idolizes the physical world. It is a culture that espouses that “science is everything,” “follow the science,” and “do whatever makes you happy,” yet the culture fails to recognize that the created world is more than just the physical and the pleasurable. That is not to say that the Church is anti-science. The Church promotes and espouses the arts and the sciences. Science leads us to a deeper understanding of the created world and thus of our Creator. Science serves to deepen our knowledge of God. The culture says that it is unreasonable to believe in God, but I say that is unreasonable to not believe in God and the spiritual reality of Creation.

Then, Jesus sternly answers the murmurs of the crowd. There is a lot here, most of which I will leave for your spiritual meditation. In each of our lives, God always makes the first move. When we pray, it is because He first drew us to pray. When we give charitably, it is because He first gave us the grace to do so. Everyone is capable of being drawn by the Father, but not everyone responds to that invitation. The early Church Fathers, who wrote commentaries on this passage, noted that the Arians, fourth-century heretics who denied the divinity of Christ (even after the Church declared otherwise), were not drawn by the Father. Because they denied a truth of the faith, they denied Truth Himself, who is Jesus Christ. Thus, they could not be drawn by the Father because the Father does not draw us partially. He draws us to Himself fully. Even people today who support and are gravely involved in any immorality or injustice condemned by the Church or hold opinions contrary to the teachings of the Church deny Truth and are thus not drawn by the Father. There is something that is lacking.

This is why we should pray, my brothers and sisters, that everyone may be drawn in by the Father, into the Catholic Church, which safeguards the fullness of Truth and Faith. There is always hope, for God is merciful and kind, as the Psalmist says. Repentance and conversion are always possible for us so long as there is life in us. This is the first way in which we are drawn by the Father. To repent of our sinful ways and to turn back toward Him. As St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, we should remove all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling, and malice and replace it with kindness compassion, and forgiveness. We should imitate Christ. The ultimate imitation is sacrifice (even death on a cross). Then, we listen to Father, humbly being taught by God, and we will come to Jesus. Jesus is the bread of life, of life eternal. It is not by our bodies that we believe, but it is by our spirits that we choose to believe, through divine assistance. We who believe will be raised up on the last day and have eternal life.

How is it that we are intimately drawn into a spiritual union with Jesus? Foremost, it is via the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. The classic expression “You are what you eat” holds exceptionally true. Not only is there spiritual contact with Jesus, but we can also physically touch Jesus, for what was once ordinary bread becomes, by sacramental grace, the Real Presence, the Body of Christ. Jesus left us a Sacrament by which He is ever present on Earth. The Eucharist is the bread that comes down from heaven to lead us into heaven just as God came down from heaven and became Man. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, for this bread is the very flesh of Christ, Who is Life, and Jesus Who gives Life to the world. Brothers and sisters, let us pray that we may be drawn to Jesus today in this Blessed Sacrament, to believe more deeply in the Life of the world, and to delight in the heavenly things which are to come.

Faith – The Miracle Worker

June 28, 2021

Blessed Mother Teresa with a happy, armless baby, photo by Eddie Adams of AP

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Deacon Dick Kostner

What stood out for me with today’s readings is the fact that even though we have entered and begun “Ordinary Times” in our Church calendar, that since the Incarnation there does not exist anything that is “Ordinary” in our lives anymore. Miracles appear everywhere and everyday if we but possess the mustard seed of faith. Jesus has taught us that faith as small as a mustard seed will allow his followers to heal those who are ill, will allow us to accomplish supernatural tasks and move mountains that are not physically or humanly possible to move.

My mind journey began when I heard Deacon Matt’s homily on Trinity Sunday and how God has gifted those who have been baptized with supernatural abilities through membership into the family of the Trinity. Through the Sacraments we enter into a unitive state of being one in spirit with the Creator. A state of being where we communicate spiritually with the Trinity and God’s plan to make us one in thought and vocation with him.

Our gospel tells us that the key to life now and forever is “faith.” Jesus has shown us and told us to pick our friends carefully and listen to them. Follow their teachings to see miracles happen before our eyes. Let me tell you three stories about people of great faith who most of you lived with and know by name who have accomplished supernatural tasks through faith. Two are Christmas stories. The first involves Cecelia.

Cecelia and I were friends and she many times would tell me how much she enjoyed my homilies. Her and her sister were friends of my mom and were golf buddies. Cecelia was a daily Mass person and a person of prayer. She was very much concerned about the struggles the Church was having with its ministers and she would ask my advice on things that bothered her. When I had no good answer to the problems she would say, “I guess I will have to pray harder.” When I heard of her death on the Sunday before Christmas I was saddened and knew that I needed to attend her funeral to pray for her and say goodbye to her. The next day, Fr. Victor asked if I would do a Communion Service as he had three funerals scheduled for that week.

On the way to church that Monday, I was listening to Phlash Phelps on Sirius 60 Radio and he told how when he was a young boy his parents had invited their pastor to join them for Christmas Dinner. Phlash said that as a child he was in charge of putting the angel on the Christmas tree by using a hook pole to elevate the angel to the top of the tree. At Christmas dinner the Pastor had asked him what he liked most about Christmas and he responded proudly, “Getting the hooker to put the angel on their Christmas tree.” His parents turned very red and all had a good laugh over his response. I thought to myself, Cecelia would have loved that story and after the final blessing I shared that thought and story with the daily Mass people as a farewell to Cecelia.

That afternoon I began getting thoughts from Cecelia that were asking me to do the homily for her funeral. I called Father and told him that I could do that if he so desired. He was more than happy as he had two other funerals to do for that week. As I was preparing my homily, I thought about how Cecelia and her sister always got into it and argued and I had made the comment that Jesus would have to put up with the “girls” arguing at his birthday party and would have his hands full keeping them in line.

That evening, I received a call from her niece who said she very much enjoyed my homily and that she had been with Cecelia the day that she died. She shared with me that just before she died Cecelia had said, “I think it is time now for me to join my sisters and Jesus for Christmas.” The niece said that she asked Cecelia who Jesus would listen to more with all the “girls” being present and pressuring for recognition from Jesus? Cecelia answered: “The one who is the loudest.” I told Father about this when I told him that I believed we had just buried a Saint. Knowing Cecelia I am sure Jesus was gifted with the hooker story on his birthday that I had gifted Cecelia with at church that day.

The second faith story is about Kathleen when she died some years before on Christmas Day. I had been called over to her home by the family to do some prayers for the family that Christmas evening. Kathleen was one of my original RCIA ministers when I began that program at St. Paul’s and I was well aware of how strong her faith was in Jesus. The family shared with me that she had been dying for many days and the family kept telling her to not worry and that it was OK for her to leave and join Jesus for his birthday party. Her response was, “I know but I just want to savor this time and I will not leave until after we enjoy our customary Christmas meal.” Right after they had eaten she passed. I told her niece that I believe we were blessed with having lived with and prayed with a saint.

The final faith story is a story my cousin Bishop Bob told me about Mother Theresa. Bishop Bob was Bishop for the Diocese of San Diego. Mother Theresa had scheduled some dental work to be done on her mouth and while visiting the area she met with Bishop Bob and asked him if he would drive her around to look at some houses she was thinking about acquiring in the area to set up a new Home for the poor. He agreed and after looking at one house she said to Bob, “I like this one let’s take it.” The bishops’ jaw dropped. Now you need to know Bob is not a person who just jumps into a situation and he explained to her that the house was very expensive and it would take some time to raise the funds necessary to purchase it. Her response was to smile and say, “Oh Robert, you have such little faith!” She reached into her pocket and produced a small medal of Mary. She instructed him to place the medal over the door of the house that she wanted, and they left.

That Sunday, Bishop Bob introduced Mother to the parish and told of her plans to purchase a house for the poor in the area. He indicated that they were planning on a fundraiser in the parish to accomplish this task. After Mass Bishop Bob heard a knock on his door and a lady appeared saying she had been at Mass and heard him talk about raising money to purchase this house that Mother Theresa wanted. She proceeded to take out her checkbook and said, “What is the cost of the house?” He told her and she proceeded to sign a check for the entire amount. I can only imagine the look on Bob’s face of “little faith.” I am sure you too will be able to see and experience that with the faith of a mustard seed anything is possible, even moving a mountain, and that fear will never be able to overcome faith’s power.

Before I began to write this homily I said Morning Prayer and this statement appeared: Ephesians 4:3-6. In closing I share this scripture statement with you:

“Make every effort to preserve the unity which has the Spirit as its origin and peace as its binding force. There is but one body and one Spirit, just as there is but one hope given all of you by your call. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all, and works through all, and is in all.”


A Treasured & Entrusted Child — Funeral Homily for Adelaide Marie Borofka

April 26, 2021

The dominant culture in the days of Jesus’ public ministry oftentimes did not treasure children. A firstborn baby boy might have value to a Roman father, but a baby who was a girl, or malformed or disabled, or simply unwanted might be killed or abandoned in the woods, exposed to die. The early Christians, however, rejected infanticide and adopted foundlings, raising them as their own. This is reflected by a first century Christian text called The Didache (also known as “The Lord’s Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations”) which commands: “You shall not procure an abortion, nor destroy a newborn child…” From where did the Christians get this countercultural concern for all children, born and unborn? From our Lord Jesus Christ, of course.

Adelaide Borofka feetThough children are small and weak, Jesus says, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” They have no wealth or worldly power, but Jesus says, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus, calling a child over and putting his arms around it, says, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus says that children are to be treasured and loved like himself: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.” Jesus says, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” In just the same way as a good shepherd hates to lose even one of his many sheep, Jesus says, “it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” Indeed, ‘Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world.’

So even when a child dies without baptism, we can entrust them to God’s mercy with great hope, that the love of God which has brought us into being will transform the painful mysteries of the Cross into a reunion of Easter joy. In the midst of any tragedy, we always have a general Christian hope that God will bring good out of what is bad. But in regards to little Adelaide it appears that God has granted us a special, particular consolation. This is Veronica’s story, which she has given me permission to tell you, and which she wants me to share for your benefit.

On Easter Sunday, Veronica began to feel severe abdominal pain. She was admitted to Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire with a blood pressure so high that she was in grave danger of suffering a stroke, even dying. Then, through an ultrasound, it was discovered that the child within her, the child she lovingly carried for seven months, no longer had a heartbeat. Around 2 AM on Monday, April 5th, while she was in great physical and emotional pain, her husband Zach and their gathered family members were praying a Rosary with her. Veronica was praying along with them, off-and-on, as she could manage. And in the midst of all this painful suffering, as she paused with her eyes closed, she saw something. Even though Veronica is certain that she was awake at that moment, she beheld something remarkable. Before I describe Veronica’s experience and what she saw, I will speak briefly about private revelation.

As Catholics we believe that Jesus is not dead, but risen and living. We believe that his saints in heaven are all alive with him. We believe that Jesus and his saints and angels know us, that they care about us, and that they continue to lovingly help us here on earth. We believe visions, messages, and miracles still happen in our day. And sometimes instances of these phenomena are judged by the Church’s authority to be “worthy of belief.” However, unlike public revelation (which consists of Sacred Scripture and the apostolic teachings in the Deposit of Faith) private revelation, even when officially recognized by the Church, is not binding to be believed by all the faithful. I am not personally qualified to make any official judgment for the Church about private revelations, but I tell you: if I did not personally believe that what Veronica saw was of a heavenly origin, I would not be about to share it with you.

Veronica, with her eyes closed during that Rosary in the hospital, saw a woman standing before her bed. There were pretty, puffy, white clouds behind the woman and to each side of her. And rays of sunlight from the left peaked through gaps in the clouds. The woman wore a dazzling, bright white gown. The fabric of her beautiful, full-length dress looked like satin. It had a modest scoop neckline and sleeves that went down to her wrists. The woman also wore a blue, cathedral-length veil of traditional lace, which extended down to the floor. She was dressed similarly to a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary from Germany which Veronica’s grandfather had given her years before; a statue Veronica used to play with as a girl.

The woman had long, curly, dark hair, snow white skin, and beautiful blue eyes which gazed at Veronica. The expression on the woman’s face was very pleasant, calming and peaceful, concerned for Veronica and reassuring. Veronica says “she looked absolutely beautiful and gorgeous,” such that, “no model could compare.” The woman’s lips moved as she slowly spoke with a very feminine, light and calming, beautiful voice, which echoed with some reverberation. And this is what she said: “Veronica, do not be afraid. I will take care of this child as I have taken care of my Son, Jesus. Do not worry and do not cry.

In this vision, Veronica held in her hands her swaddled baby, wrapped in the gray swaddling cloth she had bought for its birth. (Veronica did not yet know whether she had a girl or a boy, since Adelaide had not yet been delivered.) Hearing the Virgin Mary’s words gave Veronica great relief, for who could be better than the Blessed Mother to care for her lost child? Veronica raised up her arms in the vision, completely entrusting her child to Mary. Mysteriously, Mary remained where she stood but seemed to come closer. Veronica says, “I handed her my child and then she was gone.” The entire vision was very brief, perhaps just ten or fifteen seconds, about the length of one Hail Mary prayer.

Veronica was left with feelings of peace, calm, reassurance that everything was OK, and wonder that the Blessed Mother would make herself known to her. Veronica did not share her story right away—she was worried people might think she was crazy—but after this vision she began comforting those gathered around her bedside. When her mother began to cry, Veronica told her, “Don’t cry, you don’t have to cry.” As St. Paul told the Corinthians, “[God] encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Veronica is saddened, of course, still grieving and mourning, but not crushed or depressed like one might expect. She always had faith in God and Jesus Christ, but this experience has reinforced it, and she desires the same growth in Christian faith for you. “There’s beauty in the suffering,” she told me, adding, “I just want everyone to know what I know and to feel the peace that I feel with God and his love.” This the Lord Jesus Christ’s wish for you, too. Clouds may limit our vision in this world, preventing us from seeing all that God is up to, but even in the hardest times rays of light still shine through. This light comes from the Lord Jesus who loves us, who treasures little Adelaide and who also treasures you.

Three Ways to Strengthen your Faith

April 12, 2021

Divine Mercy Sunday

St. Thomas the Apostle, a martyr for Jesus Christ, is famously nicknamed “Doubting Thomas.” He gets a lot of flack for being slow to believe because of today’s reading from the Gospel of John. One week after Easter Sunday, Jesus appears in the Upper Room once again. This time Thomas is there and Jesus says to him: “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.” Yet the Gospels show that other disciples were slow to believe as well. The last chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel summarizes Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances in this way:

“When he had risen, early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told his companions who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe. After this he appeared in another form to two of them walking along on their way to the country. They returned and told the others; but they did not believe them either. But later, as [the apostles] were at table, he appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised.”

St. Luke records how at that first appearance in the Upper Room, even after Jesus had shown them his wounded hands and his feet, the disciples were “still incredulous for joy.” And later, when the eleven apostles went back up north to Galilee, to a mountain to which Jesus had ordered them, St. Matthew notes, “when they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.” There Jesus gave them The Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, even though their faith was not yet perfect.

After everything that the apostles had witnessed Jesus do during his ministry; including multiplying loaves and fishes to feed thousands of people, walking on water, and bringing at least three persons back to life, they still felt doubt. Jesus had raised Jairus’ 12-year-old daughter from the dead. He raised the only son of a widow of the city of Nain from the dead. And Jesus raised Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary of Bethany, from the dead. Yet the apostles still doubted, despite evidence, that Jesus himself had resurrected from his tomb. This seems senseless, but I can’t be very hard on them.

When I was in school, our science teacher once attached a bowling ball to a rope and attached that rope to the ceiling. The challenge was to hold the ball up to your nose (so that the rope was without slack) and then to release it, allowing the bowling ball to swing away and swing back toward your face, without flinching. Now I knew that if I didn’t push the ball away when I released it, and if no one touched the ball while it was in motion, if the whole thing held together and if I stood in place, there was no way that bowling ball could possibly hit my face. But when I saw it coming toward my face, I still flinched and stepped back. What we feel doesn’t always match what we think.

It’s like when you fly on an airplane. You know its the safest form of travel. But maybe you still get a bit anxious as you’re boarding, or when the jet accelerates faster and faster down the runway, and climbs thousands of feet up with nothing but empty air between you and the ground. You’re a little alarmed when you hear the aircraft make its mechanical sounds, or when you’re descending to land and you see everything on the ground getting closer and closer, hurtling by. You feel nervous flying, even though your car trips to and from the airports put your life in greater danger than the flight. I think this is just a part of our present human condition; we can doubt even the things we know with certainty. So how can you nurture and deepen your faith? First, in Christian community. Second, by asking and seeking. And third, by being it into being.

Christian community, both here at Mass and outside of Church, helps sustain our faith and grow it. We Christians are like lit charcoals inside of a cookout grill. If you were to dump and scatter these coals across your driveway, they would cool off entirely, achieving nothing but a mess. But by gathering these lit coals together, they become hotter and remain hot by sharing one another’s warmth. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, “We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another.” When St. Thomas was not yet fully convinced that Jesus had arisen, he still remained within the Christian community. Inside the Upper Room, where the first Eucharist was celebrated, Thomas went on to become convinced of the wonderful truth about our Lord and our God. So do not neglect, but prioritize in your life, your Christian friendships and our community.

Another important way to nurture and deepen your faith is by asking good questions about it and seeking out the truth. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were discussing and debating with one another about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Then, though they did not fully recognize his presence, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them. He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and set their hearts burning with new faith and joy. Jesus calls us to be childlike but he wants our faith to be mature. He invited Doubting Thomas to investigate and probe him. Jesus says, “Whoever asks receives, and whoever seeks finds.” So ask mature, challenging questions about our Faith, in conversation, in study, and in prayer. Ask good questions and you will find solid answers to strengthen your faith.

And a third way to deepen your faith is by being it into being. What are the true and beautiful things we believe that you tend to doubt? What are some Christian truths you profess but sometimes have a hard time feeling or living out? Maybe it’s the belief that you’re loved. Maybe it’s the belief that you’re forgiven, or that you could be reconciled to God. Maybe it’s believing that you’re never truly alone. Or maybe it’s believing that Jesus is alive and active today in your life and our world. Ask God to show you your half-accepted Christian beliefs and reflect on them. Ask God for grace to accept these more fully and then be them into being, by which I mean, act as you would if you accepted these truths completely. Then you will begin living more like Jesus wills for you.

On one occasion, the apostles pleaded with Jesus, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’” Here Jesus is saying that even if your present faith is tiny, know that your small, imperfect faith is already enough for you to begin doing and becoming everything that he desires for you.

Who Conquers the World?

January 9, 2021

The Baptism of the Lord

I have a friend, Kathy, a former parishioner of mine now living in Michigan, whom I often call to converse about upcoming Sunday readings. She’s quite knowledgeable about the Scriptures and our Faith and, even now as she endures cancer, delights to discuss them. Talking with her always makes my homilies better. When we chatted this week I shared my hope, frustration, and challenge in preaching compellingly about the Baptism of the Lord. Virtually everyone who will encounter my homily is already baptized, a baptism they do not remember – they were baptized so young that they can’t remember any time in their lives when they were unbaptized. Getting people to appreciate having been baptized is like trying to get them excited about having once been born; or like getting an American to appreciate living their whole lives in a country where freedoms of religion, speech, and representative government are taken for granted. I didn’t know what message I was going to preach when I spoke with Kathy, but she encouraged me that God would give me something and promised to pray for me. Today I’d like to share with you some threads from other interesting conversations I’ve had this week and in the end I promise to tie their lessons together.

On Monday evening, my fortieth birthday, I spoke with my life’s longest friend. Josh is nine days older than me, we were in school together all the way from pre-K through college, and he grew up into a dynamic Christian businessman. Josh remarked that he is struck and bewildered by how much New Year’s matters to people – it’s far less big a deal for him than it seems to be for others. I likewise have memories of being underwhelmed by New Year’s Eve ever since I was a kid. Even though the ball that drops over Times Square is now covered with high-tech shimmering lights, the sight of that sphere’s slow descent still remains a disappointment to behold. A new year is just a change in number on our calendars and forms, a number whose only significance comes in reference to Jesus Christ. Maybe people like it in the way some of us have enjoyed watching a car’s mileage rollover to 100,000 on the odometer. Maybe people just like any excuse to party. But I think New Year’s appeal in popular culture owes greatly to the idea of a new time beginning, the start of a new chapter in our lives. Lots of people make New Years resolutions, typically related to health. They’re hoping for change, hoping this year will be different, yet their resolutions typically fail quickly because our human nature, by itself, is so very weak.

Thursday morning I did spiritual direction through Facebook for another past parishioner and friend of mine. I met Stephanie at my first priestly assignment, helped her become a Catholic, and today she is her parish’s Coordinator of Religious Education and Director of Youth Ministry in Neillsville. Stephanie’s family has an annual tradition of watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” and this year she saw it twice. I asked her if she took away any new insights from that rich film and indeed she had. The first time George Bailey goes to Martini’s Bar it’s a calm and friendly establishment where people show concern about him. George quietly prays there, “Dear Father in Heaven… Show me the way,” leaves, meets Clarence, and returns to the bar again in a world where he was never born. The bar is called “Nick’s” now and like the rest of town it has become more crowded and less wholesome, rude and cruel. These scenes impressed on her anew how much one life well-lived can make an extraordinary difference to all the lives around it.

On Thursday afternoon I partook of spiritual direction myself through Zoom with Fr. Bill Dhein, the thoughtful Chancellor of our diocese who sometimes celebrates Masses here for us. Father and I were both drawn by the Spirit to this passage from today’s second reading from the 1st Letter of John:

“Whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Who indeed conquers the world? If the rioters at the Capitol this week or the rioters from this summer had succeeded, if they had prevailed and conquered, would they find peace in this world? History suggests not. Violence and death would continue to accompany them. In today’s first reading, the Lord tells us through the Prophet Isaiah:

“My thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
As high as the heavens are above the earth
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.”

Fr. Bill told me one of his admired spiritual heroes is St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was in the world but not of the world, and in Jesus Christ she conquered the world through a holy power which transforms this world for the better. Today’s gospel says:

“[Jesus of Nazareth] was baptized in the Jordan by John.
On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens,
‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”

Remember, Christian, that you have been baptized into Christ, the Holy Spirit rests on you, and the Father acknowledges you as his beloved child. Your human nature, by itself, is weak and frail, but you are clothed in Christ and ‘can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.’ Do you want to change yourself? Do you want to be a blessing to others? Do you want to change this world wonderfully for the better? Then ask God for his indispensable, gracious help; and also seek the support of Christian friends, for iron sharpens iron and coals stay hot when gathered.

As our culture becomes increasingly less Christian we can expect to see increasing examples of social decay and religious persecution. Just as you cannot remove the foundation of a house and expect its walls and ceiling to stand upright and level, so our nation will suffer in many ways from discarding its Christian faith. But when worse things come, do not fear and do not despair – ‘God works all things for the good of those who love him.’ Do not be afraid and do not give up. The good of this community depends on you and those around you. Who indeed is the victor over the world? Those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the children of God, whose faith shall conquer the world.