Archive for the ‘Sacrifice’ Category

Re-Presenting His Mysteries — Funeral Homily for Sara Caron, 59

November 19, 2022

By Fr. Victor Feltes

When Sara was first diagnosed with breast cancer, her two boys (Mick and Jake) were just twelve and seven years old. She thought of how hard it could be for them to have to grow up as children without her. She did not know how much time she had left, but one of her goals was to be around for them, to raise them throughout their high school years. Today, thirteen years later, her sons are twenty and twenty-five years old. She successfully brought them both to adulthood.

Her family tells me Sara has worked at fifteen different places over the course of her career, and even with cancer, she never stopped working. They say she went “above and beyond” at work and would never take time-off for herself, but she would take days away from work to care for her family; for instance, keeping vigil with Mick in the hospital. Sara also kept on working for another reason: to preserve her continued health insurance coverage. You can imagine how much out-of-pocket cancer treatments would have cost. Sara did not wish to burden her beloved husband, John, and their household with terrible medical debts.

To echo the words of St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans, only with difficulty does a person give their life for others, though a good person might have the courage to lay down their life for those they love. St. Paul speaks of how “God proves his love for us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” When we witness someone, despite their flaws, give their life not just once but year after year for those they love, it is that much easier to believe that our perfect, holy, loving Lord has lived, and died, and risen for us.

Recall Christ’s words from the Book of Revelation: “Behold, I make all things new.” Our Lord, to whom Sara prayed every day, dwells within his faithful Christians, re-presenting his mysteries in their lives. “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God.”

Jesus prays in St. John’s Gospel, “Father, those whom you gave me are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me.” Christ’s longing within us makes the psalmist’s words resonate with us: “There is one thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. That I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord and contemplate his temple.

Christ who has called us, who dwells in us, who re-presents his mysteries in our lives, who inspires eternal longings within us, desires us to be with him forever where “he will wipe every tear from [our] eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order [will have] passed away.” This is our cause for our firm and happy hope, for Sara and for every Christian.

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.

Trusting & Relying on God

March 6, 2022

1st Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

Trusting God is simply a belief in His Love and His Goodness. He has the power to help you, and He wants to help you. Christians are called believers, but many times we are more like unbelieving believers. We trust our friends, the bank, the stock market, or the government more than we trust God and His Word. Lot of people go to church, hear what they should do and then go home and try to do it on their own. They usually end up desperately telling God how hard they’re trying to do what they need to do, and they’re leaving Him out! God wants us to put Him first in our lives. He wants us to put our confidence and trust in Him, all the time, in everything.

In the first reading, the Prophet Jeremiah explains the benefits of placing one’s trust in God rather than himself. Then he compares the wicked to a barren bush in a desert and the just to a well-watered tree growing near a running stream.  In essence, this “beatitude” teaches us that if we choose God as our hope, our security, and our happiness we will be blessed, truly happy. On the other hand, if we choose human standards for our guidance, self-sufficiency and the meeting of our own needs and desires as our happiness, we will find ourselves living in increasing misery and confusion, in other words, in woe. Jeremiah tells us that the only source of lasting happiness is trust in God and hope in His promises.

Today’s second reading, St. Paul writes that trusting hope in the Resurrection of Jesus is the basis of our Faith, through Jesus’ death and Resurrection, believers are now welcomed into a new relationship with God as His sons and daughters, and with each other as dear brothers and sisters who have Jesus as our Elder Brother and Redeemer. This means that all the blessings of the Beatitudes are now available to us, provided we choose to follow Him.

In our Gospel today, Jesus did not say that poverty, or hunger, or sadness, or hatred is a blessing but these conditions of need and dependence make us rely on God. When we rely on God humans in relationship with God our creator. So the poverty, hunger, sadness, hatred, or whatever the cross can be an instrument to draw us closer to God. Whatever cross we have in our lives is there for a purpose, to bring us closer God. In that sense, our cross is also our blessing.

We have a long way to go to make it a reality. It is not God who is to be blamed; rather it is for all of us to hang our heads in shame. Jesus expects us to perform the same acts of goodness that he did for the poor, the alienated, the sick, the deprived, and the oppressed. Our trust should be in the Crucified and Risen Christ, the Savior and hope of the world. May we trust in God, not in human power, to lead us all into His kingdom and to keep us on His path.

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.

Valuable Lessons for Life — The Craig & Debbie Zwiefelhofer Wedding

June 22, 2021

Ring Heart Shadow on Bible

Craig and Debbie, today you are here in this beautiful church to freely give yourselves to each other in marriage. Christ’s Church has discerned and affirms that you are both free to marry, and we gather together to celebrate this day with you. The excellent Scripture readings that you selected, and which we all just heard, contain valuable lessons for life. May their inspired insights bless your marriage and every household which takes them to heart.

In our first reading, on their wedding night, Tobiah arises from bed and says to his wife, “Sister, get up. Let’s pray…” Sarah gets up and they start to pray, praising and thanking God, and asking for his help and blessings. And they conclude, saying together, “Amen, amen.” There are couples who have shared a bed for decades who have never shared their prayers like this. They may go to church on Sunday or pray before meals—and that’s great—but sharing prayer as a couple like this is a greater intimacy. You do not need to be eloquent. You can even pray together silently. On a regular basis, offer two or three personal things for your spouse to pray about for you, and ask your spouse to share two or three things you can pray about to God for them. You can pray silently for each other for even just a minute or two and simply wrap up with an Our Father and Hail Mary.

A couple that prays together, and for each other, will be more perfectly one. A life of prayer is also a cure for our anxieties and fears. St. Paul reminds us in our second reading, “The Lord is near.” Therefore, he writes:

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
  by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
  make your requests known to God.
  Then the peace of God
  that surpasses all understanding
  will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

The world and my problems may be bigger than me, but God is bigger than them both. Pray often and God’s peace, even without your fully understanding what he is doing, will secure and calm your hearts and minds. St. Paul then goes on to teach the Philippians and us another lesson:

“[B]rothers and sisters,
  whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
  whatever is just, whatever is pure,
  whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
  if there is any excellence
  and if there is anything worthy of praise,
  think about these things.”

If you ask someone, “How you doing?” and they say, “I can’t complain,” they don’t mean it literally. Everybody can complain. Things to complain about are all around us. Even good things can be complained about for not being better. Anybody can complain because complaining is easy. But to focus on what is lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy is a choice. Highlighting the good in your everyday life will nurture peace within you, peace between you, and peace around you. Finally, we come to Jesus’ words in our Gospel. Jesus tells his disciples:

“This is my commandment:
  love one another as I love you.
  No one has greater love than this,
  to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Ahead of you are good times and trials, both joys and sufferings, Mount Tabors and Mount Calvarys. Choose to love through them all and your Good Fridays will lead to Easter Sundays. In conclusion, pray together, focus on what is good, and choose to love like Jesus loves you and you will be blessed.

Christ Was Lifted Up

March 7, 2021

3rd Sunday of Lent

People would pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem from across the known world to worship, often bringing money to purchase oxen, sheep, or doves for sacrifices to God. So vendors had set up shop in the Temple’s outermost court exchanging foreign currencies into Hebrew coins for a percentage fee and selling animals for a healthy profit. God, however, had designated that large, marble-paved court as the Court of the Gentiles where non-Jews (that is, the Gentiles) could come to worship him at his Temple. The Father willed his Temple to be “a house of prayer for all the nations,” but the moneychangers and animal sellers were making it a noisy, smelly “marketplace.” And by charging unlawful interest and demanding excessive prices even of the poor, they were also “making it a den of thieves.

A place intended to be free for holy worship and communion with God had become unclean, profaned by sin. So Jesus personally comes to Jerusalem at the time of Passover and does something dramatic. He zealously cleanses the Temple, conquering evil, achieving justice, restoring relationship between God and man, drawing people to himself, and indeed sacrificing himself; for when the chief priests and scribes heard of this incident they began seeking a way to put him to death. Their plotting would lead to the Pascal Mystery at the heart of The Apostles’ Creed:

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried,
he descended into hell,
on the third day he rose again from the dead,
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

Why does Jesus Christ do these things? Because sin had caused the human race to fall far from God and paradise. Suffering, dying, and being barred from Heaven were our human lot. We had become slaves to sin and the Evil One, held hostage against our will. Our offenses against the All-Holy One required an incalculable repayment. And our separation from God had made us doubtful of his goodness and love for us. It was a slavery we could not escape, a debt of justice we could not repay, and a broken relationship we could not heal. But God had a plan to save us. He would aid humanity with his divinity by fashioning a remedy for us out of our weakness and suffering and mortality, that from fallout of our downfall would come the means to our salvation. By his Incarnation, the Son of God enters our sinful world as one of us and by his Pascal Mystery sets us free, cleansing us, for holy worship and communion with God. First, Jesus assumes our nature, and then he offers a perfect sacrifice.

As the Letter to the Hebrews says, since we “share in blood and Flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the Devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.” Jesus said that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many.” And lest it be unclear, St. Paul proclaims that the Lord “gave himself as a ransom for all.” Christ’s death frees the slaves and ransoms the captives, and now saints and angels sing to Jesus, the Lamb of God, in Heaven: “Worthy are you… for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation.

To some, the idea of Almighty God dying on a cross seems impossible, unbecoming foolishness. Yet Christ crucified is the power and wisdom of God. “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” This mysterious, hidden, wisdom, planned by God before the ages for our glory, was not understood by the devil and his demons; “for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” In sinning God, Adam had handed himself and his descendants into the devil’s clutches, but in crucifying Christ (the sinless New Adam) the serpent overplays his hand and loses big. St. Augustine uses the image of a mousetrap in which Jesus is the bait. The devil takes this bait in putting Jesus on the Cross, but by shedding Christ’s innocent blood the devil is forced to release his claims on those who are joined to Christ. The trap snapped down and crushed the serpent.

Jesus’ sacrifice was also able to pay the incredible debt of human sins before God. All sin is wrong, but consider which sin is worse: to lie to a stranger or to betray a friend; to slap your enemy or to slap your mother? The greater the generous goodness and love that a person has shown us, the greater is the offense of our trespasses against them. So how great a crime then are our sins against God, whose love created us and from whom all good things come? How very great a debt of justice must then be satisfied? Our sins caused a debt no sinner could repay. God had commanded his Old Covenant people to offer animal sacrifices for their sins, the idea being that the creature was dying in the place of the sinner whose sins had merited death. However, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take away sins. For this reason, when [Jesus] came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight in. Then I said, as is written of me in the scroll, “Behold, I come to do your will, O God.”’

Jesus Christ, God become man, perfectly fulfills the Law, keeping the commandments and doing his Father’s will. He lives for God without sin, honoring his Father and mother, proclaiming the Kingdom of God without idolatry or blasphemy, without murder or adultery, without thievery or lying or coveting, but with abundant love. And in his death, Christ obediently offers the perfect, acceptable sacrifice we were incapable of on our own; a divinely-perfected offering of humanity to God. By his Incarnation, Jesus has in a certain way united himself with every human person, inviting them to become one with him. Through his sacraments, we are more perfectly joined to Jesus to share in his life and enjoy the benefits of what he has accomplished. Christ is the Victor over sin and death, over the tomb and the underworld, over the world and the devil, and he invites us to partake in his victory.

In the beginning, though the Holy Trinity did not desire humanity to sin and fall, our freely-chosen rebellion did not come as a surprise. Before Creation, the eternal, all-knowing Trinity foreknew what it would cost to save us. And God still said Yes, “Let there be light.” Jesus Christ was freely delivered up crucifixion by lawless men according to the set plan and foreknowledge of God, as foreshadowed by the Old Testament Scriptures. But could God, if he had wished, before Creation or in the course of time, have ordained a manner for the Son’s saving sacrifice other than dying upon a Roman Cross? If so, if there were other unchosen options, then the Cross of Christ was chosen as a most effective and compelling sign for us. A less painful, less ignoble, less public, less striking death — if such a death could have saved us — would not speak to us so clearly as a powerful sign of God’s love for us as this. Jesus makes himself so vulnerable and so lowly so as to awaken a response of love in our hearts. He extends his arms on the Cross in hopes that the whole world will be drawn to his embrace. As Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

After Jesus died, the Apostles’ Creed says, “he descended into hell.” What are we to make of this? Death is the separation of one’s soul from one’s body. On Holy Saturday, while Jesus’ dead body laid in his sealed tomb keeping a perfect Sabbath rest, Jesus’ soul visited the souls of those in the realm of the dead. Our creed translates this abode of the dead (called “Sheol” in Hebrew or “Hades” in Greek) as “hell” because all souls there, whether righteous or unrighteous, were deprived of the vision of God. But this does not mean that the situations of the Just and Unjust there were identical. Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus describes the afterlife before the gates of Heaven had opened, showing Lazarus comforted in the bosom of Father Abraham while the uncaring, anonymous rich man (whose name is not written in the Book of Life) suffers torment in the flames.

Jesus descends to hell as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the souls imprisoned there. He does not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the souls of the Just. Jesus had said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” By proclaiming the Gospel in the underworld and inviting souls to Heaven, Jesus extends his saving victory to all the faithful people who had preceded him in death.

On the third day he rose again from the dead,
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

I do not have the time to speak much about these lines this Sunday, but in closing, note what St. Paul beautifully observes about Christ in his Letter to the Philippians:

Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, Being born in the likeness of men, …it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross!

Because of this, God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every other name, so that at Jesus’ name every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father: Jesus Christ is Lord!

Jesus empties himself in his Incarnation, humbles himself in his holy obedience, submits himself to his Passion and death, descends to the depths of the underworld, lower and lower and then Jesus is raised up from there, higher and higher, to life and rewards, glory and honor and power, enthroned at the favored righthand of God the Father. St. Paul says to “have among yourselves the same attitude” as this in your Christian life, for as Jesus teaches, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

This is His Body Given up to Save Many

March 21, 2020

Laetare Sunday — 4th Sunday of Lent—Year A

This past Wednesday evening, I saw this image online with the caption: “Darkness has fallen: every single U.S. diocese has suspended public celebrations of the Mass.”

Our Laetare Sunday rejoicing is more subdued this Lent. The sad but necessary suspension of public Masses by our nation’s bishops is a painful loss. And for many of the faithful, the greater their love for the Lord the greater the pain they feel. They are like the woman at Simon the Pharisee’s house who could bathe Jesus’ feet with dripping tears ‘because she loved much.’ (Luke 7:47) However, darkness has not overcome us.

Brothers and sisters,” today’s second reading tells us, “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” God is still God, Christ is still Lord, and we are still His. Though public liturgies have ended the Holy Mass continues to be privately offered in most every Catholic church. The graces of Jesus’ sacrifice pour forth from these altars into Christian souls throughout the world, for our good and the good of all his holy Church. Priests are celebrating these Masses in obedience to the command of Christ recalled at every Consecration, “Do this in memory of me.” Yet each of us, ordained and lay people alike, is called to keep this commandment of Christ in a deeper way; by personally imitating Jesus in his loving self-sacrifice for others.

Today, and in the critical weeks and months ahead, all of us are called to sacrifice in ways that will seriously limit our activities and impact our finances. Why are we doing this? To stop the spread of a deadly disease not merely to ourselves but to our many neighbors around us. From my research into this grave topic, it appears that hundreds of thousands—potentially millions—of American lives depend upon the extent of our collective and individual actions now. So please respond with a firm resolve from a Christian love for others.

When you ache today because you can neither gather for Mass nor physically receive our Lord, take heart in the reason for your sacrifice. This is his Body given up to save many; we do this in memory of Him. And soon, when you are asked to help people in the community meet their material needs, sacrifice for them knowing whom you are also serving. For whatever you do for the least of your brethren, you do it for Him. Invite Jesus now to enter into your heart and be with you, to console and strengthen you, today and in the trials ahead of us.

Satan’s Old Tricks — 1st Sunday of Lent—Year A

March 3, 2020

After his baptism in the Jordan, but before the start of his public ministry, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Did Satan realize at that time that Jesus was God? He says, “If you are the son of God… If you are the son of God.” But if Satan knew, it’s strange that he would attempt the impossible: to try tempting the all-holy God into sinning and doing evil. Old Testament prophesies allude to the promised Messiah, the awaited Anointed One, as being “Son of God.” God says in the 2nd Psalm:

“I myself have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain….
You are my son;
today I have begotten you.”

And in Psalm 89, God says:

“He shall cry to me, ‘You are my father,
my God, the Rock of my salvation!’
I myself make him the firstborn,
Most High over the kings of the earth.”

Old Testament Jews had been told their Messiah would at least figuratively be the Son of God; so, whether or not Satan knew Jesus was divine, he at very least suspected that this man from Nazareth was the Christ.

Jesus evidently went on to tell his apostles of the devil’s temptations in the desert—for how else would anyone know to write about them in the Gospels? There may have been additional temptations, but three are retold in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels. Jesus is on the verge of beginning his public ministry. What kind of Messiah will he be? The devil’s three temptations seek to corrupt his mission from the start. Satan seeks to lead the Christ off track so as to derail the plan of God. He did this first in the lush Garden of Eden, and here he seeks to do it again in the desert.

If you are the Son of God,” Satan says, “command that these stones become loaves of bread.” Jesus was hungry, but if he does this miracle the next question may be, “So you feed yourself, do you? How now can you refuse to give bread to everyone?” Satan wants Jesus to be a materialistic Messiah who must focus on nourishing bodies to the neglect of their souls. Jesus calls his disciples to practice material charity; today the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world; teaching, healing, clothing, housing, feeding, but this is all of secondary importance to its spiritual work. For what would it profit us to have all of our material needs fulfilled if our spiritual needs went unaddressed and we ultimately died separated from God? How do these things personally apply to us? Well, did the recent stock market drops ruin your week? Or are you too afraid or possessive to share, to tithe, to give to good causes? Or are you too busy working to pray? Jesus answers, “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

Next we hear how the devil takes Jesus to the roof edge atop the temple in Jerusalem and challenges him: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” Satan is quoting Psalm 91. This goes to show—and serves as a warning—that not every Bible quote teaches what some people claim it does. True Scripture interpretation must be in union with the mind of Christ, and one with the Body of Christ, that is his Church.

God does not want Jesus to jump off buildings, but the devil wants the Messiah to demand that God protect him from all harm or hardship. Satan wants Jesus to be a Christ who is unwilling to suffer, who will refuse to drink any bitter chalice. The devil knows doing God’s will in this broken world will necessarily entail some sufferings for his faithful ones. If Jesus is unwilling to sacrifice then God’s people will never be saved. Are you trying to force your plans upon God? Are you pleased to serve God only so long as you experience no pain? Are you demanding that your salvation come without embracing your cross? Jesus answers, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.

Lastly, we hear the devil takes him up to a very high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and says, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” Satan wants Jesus to be a compromised Messiah who will pursue good things by doing, by serving, evil. The tempter says, “It’s only a little thing, just lay down, just say the words, just take a small bite, everything will be so much easier and better if you do.” Or else the tempter lies in the opposite extreme direction, “You have no choice – it’s a sin but there’s no other way – this must be done!” What sins do you still commit in hopes that good will result? Where do you bow down and side with Satan against the will of God? Jesus answers, “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.

By God’s providence, the temptations of Jesus in the desert foreshadow Christ’s Passion to come. Jesus is not a materialist Messiah, changing stones to loaves of bread. But, beginning at the Last Supper, he feeds the world by changing bread into himself “for the life of the world.” Jesus is not a Christ who refuses to sacrifice. At the Temple he endures trail and condemnation by the Sanhedrin and accepts the bitter chalice of his Passion according to his Father’s saving will. And Jesus is not a compromised Messiah, committing sins for false and illusory gains. Christ becomes the magnificent, sinless king of all nations, atop Mount Calvary enthroned upon the Cross.

In this season of Lent, in these forty days of penance, we are in the desert with Jesus, learning from him, and being strengthened by him, so that we can stand straight and strong and not fall for the temptations and traps of the enemy, the same tricks he used against of Adam and Eve, that he attempted with Jesus Christ, and that he still uses in our day. This Lent, instead of falling for Satan’s same old tricks, let us grow closer to Jesus Christ in relationship and resemblance, closer in his friendship and closer to his holy likeness.

A Life for Christ — 2nd Sunday of Advent—Year C

December 8, 2019

This weekend the Catholic Church Jesus Christ established joyfully celebrates and remembers one of her martyrs. Moved by the Holy Spirit, he answered God’s calling. He renounced his possessions, left his home and family behind, and lived in a different land. He lived differently, he dressed differently, and lived a celibate life for the love of God and the service of God’s people. His life was a prophetic sign for others, pointing them to Christ and his Kingdom. He was humble but brave in doing what was right. And for this faithfulness, the wicked had him killed. Today we celebrate him as one of those blessed in the Kingdom of Heaven. This description sounds a lot like St. John the Baptist, featured in today’s Gospel, but I speak of another: Brother James Miller, born in our diocese, a native son of Stevens Point, who became a Christian Brother and a missionary. He was martyred in Guatemala and, in a Mass celebrated there yesterday (December 7, 2019) was beatified by the Catholic Church, that is, declared one of the blessed in Heaven.

James Miller was born in Stevens Point in 1944, grew up on a dairy farm, and graduated from Pacelli High School. Discerning his religious vocation, he entered the novitiate of the Christian Brothers in 1962, and taught for them in St. Paul, Minnesota. In addition to teaching religion, Brother James taught English and Spanish, coached football, and worked in the maintenance of the school building. In fact, his skill and pleasure in doing such repairs would win him the nickname “Brother Fix-it.” After taking final vows in 1969, Brother James was sent abroad. He worked as a teacher, an administrator, and even a builder of schools in both Nicaragua and Guatemala, serving the poor with Christ’s love.

It was a time of great violence in Latin America, of war and terrorism between the region’s dictatorial governments and communist rebels. In these conflicts, Catholic priests and religious could be marked for death by either side. The Sandinista rebels put Brother James on a list of people to be “dealt with,” viewing him as an ally of the Nicaraguan government, but it may have been his religious community’s resistance to the Guatemalan government’s wrongdoing which led to his martyrdom.

Despite the students at Brother James’ school in Guatemala being exempt from being drafted, four men abducted a local youth from the city marketplace and forced him into military service. The Christian Brothers went to the authorities objecting to this breach and demanding their young man’s release. Soon after, on February 13, 1982, the 37-years-old Brother James Miller was up on a ladder outside, repairing a wall of the school building. There, he was shot, point-blank, multiple times, by three still-unknown gunmen. It is suggested that Brother James died before his body hit the ground.

When I read the story of St. John the Baptist’s martyrdom — of how his objection to the king’s sin landed him in a prison, of how the dancing of Herod’s daughter, the rash vows of the king, and the scheming of his vengeful queen, resulted in an executioner being dispatched to the dungeon with orders to bring back John’s head on a platter — I wonder if John the Baptist knew what was coming. Did he have any awareness of the events at the party leading to his death? I think quite likely not. I can easily imagine the sword-bearing henchman entering John’s dark cell, giving a curt command for him to bend down, and ending his holy life without any warning or explanation.

This reflection comes to mind because when Brother James was getting into the car to depart for dangerous Guatemala and, though they did not know it, he would never return, his biological brother Ralph told him to “be careful.” Brother James replied, “I’m no martyr.” And yet Brother James Miller and John the Baptist did become martyrs. They may not have expected the day or hour, but they had already made the decision to live for Christ and even die for Christ years before. Whether to love and serve Christ the King is a decision, a resolution, we each have to make and constantly renew. There is no hedging – not making the choice is making a choice; and everything follows from the choice we make.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises, has a famous prayer reflection: “The Meditation on Two Standards.” (The word “Standard” in this case means a military or ceremonial flag carried on a pole.) St. Ignatius asks us to imagine a great field near Jerusalem, the holy city, where the supreme commander-in-chief of the good is Christ our Lord; and another field in the region of Babylon, the city of sin, where the chief of the enemy is Lucifer.

Imagine that chief of all the enemy seated in that field of Babylon in a great throne of fire and smoke, horrible and terrifying in shape. Consider how he issues a summons to innumerable demons and how he scatters them, some to one city and others to another, and so through all the world not one province, place, state, nor particular person is omitted. Consider how he instructs them to cast out nets and chains; to tempt human beings to a longing for riches, to a desire for the vain honor of this world, and to vast pride, thereby leading them to all other sins besides.

And then, on the contrary, imagine the supreme and true captain, who is Christ our Lord. Consider how Christ our Lord puts himself in a great field near Jerusalem, in a humble place, beautiful and welcoming. Consider how the Lord of all the world chooses so many persons – apostles, disciples, and others – and sends them through all the world spreading his holy teaching to people of all conditions and states of life. Consider the discourse which Christ our Lord gives to all His servants and friends whom He sends on this expedition, counseling them to poverty rather than riches; to contempt for worldly honor, and to humility against pride, leading them to all other virtues besides.

Whose side, whose standard will you rally to today? John the Baptist appears in our Gospel crying out to us: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Blessed James Miller and St. John the Baptist gloriously rejoice today with their Lord, Jesus Christ the King. Now, which side do you choose? With whom and for whom will you live and die?

Loving & Serving Jesus Foremost — 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

September 11, 2019

Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” That teaching certainly demands one’s attention. But how does it mesh with our Lord saying: “I give you a new commandment: love one another”? This teaching, like Jesus’ parables, invites us to question and wrestle a little for our Lord’s meaning, so that, through the struggle, we will understand him more deeply and his words will go more deeply in us.

Loving our family members is not the problem that Jesus is warning us against—the problem comes from loving someone or something more than him. We are called to universal Christian love. We are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves, and therefore, by extension, commanded to love ourselves as well. (Because if I did not love myself, then what good would it be to love my neighbor as myself?) We should love our neighbors and love ourselves. However, if I am seeking to always please myself or seeking to please everyone around me, that will not lead me to Heaven.

Whatever Jesus asks of me, ultimately will, sooner or later, yield happiness for me. Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these (good) things will be given you besides,” and “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Doing what Jesus asks us leads to happiness, but that doesn’t mean that I, or the people around me, will always be thrilled about what we’re called to do.

Suppose someone is called to be more healthy (which is a good goal) and begins to eat better, exercise more, drink less, and/or quit smoking. This person is loving their body by acting in healthy ways, but at the same time their flesh may, at first, hate these changes. In time, these healthy habits will bear happy fruits, but at the beginning you may have to love your body while displeasing your flesh. Healthy choices can face resistance from other people as well. Family members might object when there’s less junk food snacks in the kitchen cabinets, or when you don’t go out so often for fast food. Drinking or smoking-break buddies may complain that you’re never around, or somehow no fun, anymore. Ultimately, you have to decide whom you are going to serve, listen to, and follow. Jesus Christ insists that we serve him first.

My dad told me that when he was a kid he thought bad people did bad things because they wanted to be bad, like dastardly villains in cartoons and comic books. But in reality, nobody does evil solely for evil’s sake. Every single person, every angel and demon, acts in pursuit some real or perceived good. Sinners are simply pursuing happiness in wrong ways. The unrepentant usually feel justified in what sins they commit; and human beings can create justifications for anything they want.

In the Genesis story of the Tower of Babel, the people said, “Let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky…” They sought, in other words, to build a city and a tower into Heaven. But they attempted to do this without God, and they never got close. Genesis says ‘the Lord had to come down to see the city and the tower that the people had built.’ They fell far short. Today Jesus asks, “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’”

Who, of themselves, has the knowledge or resources to construct paradise, to build an earthly tower into Heaven? No one. We see many people try to build their own foundations for their lives and fail in every sort of sinful way. ‘For human beings this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ If we follow Jesus he leads us into the City of God and his Heavenly Kingdom, the Church, the Church here below and above in glory. Following Jesus means being his disciple, and to be a good disciple is to listen, to learn, and to apply the teachings you are taught.

On earth, Jesus never penned a book, but he did establish a Church, a Church with a Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations”. Make disciples how? Through the sacraments, beginning with baptism, and by “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” In this, the inspired, Sacred Scriptures of the Church play an important part. “And behold,” Jesus says “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Jesus is present in our Church today. Jesus still teaches through his Holy Catholic Church throughout the world.

Is there a part of your life where you’re not listening to Jesus? Perhaps you’re not listening as he speaks in your conscience, in your prayer, or through his Bride, our Mother, the Church? It could be about money, or sexuality, or your life’s vocation, about something you’re doing, or something you’re refusing or afraid to do. Whatever it is, the Lord knows what it is, and you probably do, too.

I’d like to share with you a technique or approach I’ve used to help me take the next step when the Lord was calling me somewhere I wasn’t eager to go; like when I was in middle school and the Lord was calling me to take my faith more seriously, when it would have been easier to ignore him. Or later, when I was called to be more generous with my wealth, but I was frightened of risk. Or when he started calling me to become a priest, and that wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do with my life. Picture yourself on your death bed someday, having not taken the Lord’s path now. Imagine looking back and having to wonder, “What would my life have looked like if I had trusted and dared more for the Gospel? How much better, how much more fruitful, would my life have been?” Or think of yourself standing before God’s judgment seat and him asking you, “Why didn’t you live your life like I wanted you to live it? I desired so much more for you.” Avoid having to look back someday with regret, at the end of this life or in the next. Bravely take the path that God is calling you to choose. Jesus desires abundant life for you, so carry your cross and follow him.

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler” by Heinrich Hofmann, 1888

Asking for a Gift to Give — 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

July 28, 2019

Remember last Sunday, when Abraham hosted three mysterious visitors from Heaven. Once they had agreed to Abraham’s offer to serve them a meal can you recall the first thing Abraham did? “Abraham hastened into the tent and told Sarah, ‘Quick, three measures of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls.'” How much were “three measures of flour” back then? Through a scripture commentary, I learned that this was about half a bushel, or like twenty pounds of flour. That’s enough to make about twelve of the loaves of bread we buy at the grocery store these days. So, Abraham served about a dozen loaves of bread to three guests. Now I’m as much a fan of unlimited breadstick deals as anybody, but when was the last time you ate four loaves-worth of bread in one sitting? Abraham knew these were extraordinary guests, so he set an extraordinary meal before them. And perhaps he intended to give them all the leftover loaves as a further gift to God.

I wondered about those “three measures of flour” because of Jesus’ parable today: Suppose you have a friend to whom you go at midnight and say, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house…” So we have a meal with three measures and a parable with three loaves. Three measures of flour for the Lord, and three loaves of bread for a friend. I perceive that these things are connected, but more on that later.

Immediately preceding this parable, Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. You surely noticed that the Our Father prayer in Luke differs from Matthew’s more familiar version. This is providential. If the two texts were exactly the same, some Christians might mistake Jesus’ example as being our only permissible prayer. But Jesus does not give the Our Father as a magic formula or incantation, but as a model for our approach and attitude to prayer. In Matthew’s version, the prayer begins with “Our Father.” He is not mine, but ours, because he calls us to salvation together. Luke’s version simply begins with “Father”; not “Master,” as though we were merely his slaves; not “Ruler,” as though we were merely his subjects; but “Father,” because we are his children. The prayer’s petitions are direct requests, simple requests, profound requests. For example, consider: “Give us each day our daily bread.” It’s straight-forward, basic, yet deep when you contemplate “our daily bread” as a symbol for all of our constant bodily and spiritual needs. And notice something else that these petitions have in common: “hallowed be your name,” “your kingdom come,” “forgive us our sins.” Each is asking God for something that God already desires for us. They are each a part of his plan already.

Who are we supposed to be like in Jesus’ parable? Surely it’s the persistently asking and seeking door-knocker. Because Jesus says, immediately after this parable, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

And who is God represented by in this parable? Naturally, the man in the house whose gifts can be gained through asking. Indeed, God is on the other side of Heaven’s door. And even at midnight, in the darkest hour, we can call on him for help. His children inside, the saints and angels who rest peacefully in his house, join their voices to ours when we persistently ask for good things on earth. But God is surely not like this annoyed neighbor in saying, “Do not bother me… I cannot get up to give you anything.” Jesus’ mode of teaching here is from the lesser to the greater. If this annoyed neighbor can be persuaded to give, how much more can God who already desires to give. Likewise, Jesus says, “If you, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?

The request for three loaves and Abraham’s request for three measures suggests another character like the Lord in this parable: “Lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him.” Mystically speaking, this visiting friend is the Lord. For Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Jesus says, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.” And Jesus says to the early Church’s persecutor, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Jesus is mystically present in every Christian and within in his Church. Thinking of God as represented in this parable by both the homeowner and the visiting friend reveals a dynamic that could change how you relate to prayer.

When you pray for some good thing, when you ask some worthy blessing for yourself, someone else, or even billions of people at once, are you not praying for the greater glory of God among us? What prayer would he, could he, possibly grant you that would not also glory him? Furthermore, what can we offer him that is entirely of ourselves? The man in the parable asks his neighbor for loaves for his friend because “I have nothing to offer him.” As St. Paul asked the Corinthians, “What do you possess that you have not received?” It’s been said that to truly make an apple pie from scratch, you have to recreate the universe. Like Abraham asking Sarah for loaves for his holy guests, like the man in the parable asking for a loan of bread, every good prayer—whatever it may be—is asking for a gift to be gifted to the Lord. It’s like asking your dad for money to buy him a gift for Father’s Day. It’s for his own glory, so you don’t have to persuade or coerce him, he loves you and already wants to give. Which raises a question: if God already wants to give, then why doesn’t God always give immediately in answer to our prayers?

Sometimes God waits for the right time to grant our requests. If you bought your mom the perfect Christmas gift, you might desperately want to give it to her right now, but you would realize that the very best time for her to open it comes later. Would you rather have you prayer answered right now or at the best and perfect moment?

Sometimes God is storing up the accumulated reservoir of your prayers so that once the floodgates are opened a torrent will be unleashed. St. Monica prayed for her sinful, wayward son for years, and when he finally converted he was not merely saved but went on to become the priest, bishop, and great doctor and father of the Church we know as St. Augustine of Hippo. Would you rather have your prayer answered in a small way now or in an overwhelmingly incredible way later?

Sometimes it we must pray persistently, rather than just asking once and setting the request aside, for the powerful influence of that continued offering. On one occasion in the gospels, there was a demon afflicting a boy that the disciples could not exorcise. After Jesus cast out the demon his disciples asked why they were unable. Jesus is written to have answered them, “This kind can only come out through prayer and fasting.” Last week we heard St. Paul tell the Colossians, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church”. It’s not that Jesus’ Passion is insufficient, but that God allows our offered sufferings and sacrifices to have a vital role in Christ’s work of saving souls. Patient, persistent prayer is a sacrifice we offer with him.

In conclusion, the Father, our Father, already wants to give, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church. So let us not hesitate, but let us persist, in asking good things from Him who loves us.

“Being Childlike Towards Jesus and Our Mother” — 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year A

July 9, 2017

In the 1944 Best Picture Winning film, “Going My Way,” Bing Crosby’s character, Fr. Chuck O’Malley, shares this quip: “You know, when I was 18, I thought my father was pretty dumb. After a while, when I got to be 21, I was amazed to find out how much he’d learned in three years.” Of course, the joke is that the dad didn’t get much wiser in three years. The son’s lived experience revealed to him, “You know, my dad actually does know what he’s talking about.” What if your mother were about thirty lifespans old, alive with the same beauty, liveliness, and fruitfulness that she possessed in her youth? Would you listen to her, learn from her, and heed your wise mother’s words? God our Father has given us such a mother in the Holy Catholic Church.

In our first reading from the Old Testament, the prophet Zechariah writes: “Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you;a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass.” This is a prophesy about the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. It was fulfilled about five centuries later with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus does not enter in as a conqueror, upon a warhorse with sword; but meekly, humbly, on a donkey. All the people are free to welcome him and follow him, and everyone is also free to ignore him and reject him. Jesus is not forcing them to do anything in response to him, much like his Church, which for a quite long time now hasn’t forced anyone anywhere to do anything. In this life, our personal response to Jesus Christ and his Church is completely voluntary, but that decision is not at all trivial.

In our second reading from the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul says: “Brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Now when St. Paul opposes “the Flesh” and “the Spirit” he is not saying that the material world and our bodies are evil or bad. At Creation, God saw that these were good, and as Christians we profess that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” St. Paul is using “the Flesh” as shorthand for those aspects of ourselves that are not properly ordered to “the Spirit” of God. Jesus has raised up a fallen world but aspects of our brokenness still remain. This brokenness is seen in both our bodies and minds: in our appetites desiring what is bad for us, and in our intellects rationalizing our wrong ideas. Imagine how much better this world would be if everyone knew and practiced what the Catholic Church teaches. To echo G.K. Chesterton: “The Catholic Faith has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found challenging and left untried.

Someone might raise the objection: “What about all the bad things Catholic clergy have done? How can sinners be guardians of God’s truth?” There have certainly been bad priests, bad bishops, and even bad popes whose personal sins have done great harm to many. They are a scandal and a sacrilege. But amazingly, even when the most unworthy men have been pope, none of them formally promulgated heresies over the Church. Jesus told his apostles: “Whoever hears you hears me,” knowing fully that Judas Iscariot, his betrayer, was among their number. None of the apostles were sinless men, but Jesus chose them and their successors to preach his message, cast out demons, cure the sick, and administer his sacraments. How tragic it would be if an innocent harmed or scandalized by Judas the Betrayer wanted nothing more to do with Jesus Christ’s Church. Jesus loves his little ones and does not want any to be hurt or estranged from his Church.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus praises his Father saying “you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned but revealed them to little ones,”  In saying this, Jesus is not rejecting higher education or those who possess it. However, even if you have some degrees on your wall and initials after your name, these are not enough in themselves to receive the teaching of Christ and his Church. We all must be childlike. Childlike, not childish. A childish person is selfish, immature, willful, rebellious, and you can’t teach them anything.  But a childlike person is open, humble, loyal, devoted, and teachable. As Jesus declares on another occasion: “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”

Pope Paul VI observed, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” With than in mind I’d like to witness to a time when, despite my initial hesitancy, responding to Jesus’ teaching blessed me in surprising ways.

When I was in college, my schoolwork was a grind. I always looked forward to our vacations, but they were always weeks or months away, on the other side of my papers’ due dates and final exams. At that time, I realized that although I had always gone to Mass I had never kept Sunday as a special day of rest. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, (that hinder) the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, (that hinder) the performance of the works of mercy, (or that hinder) the appropriate relaxation of mind and body.” It then adds, “Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. (However,) the faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.

I didn’t want to reach the end of my days wondering what would have happened if I had been faithful to Christ in this area, so decided to stop doing my homework or studies on Sundays. There were some very late Saturday nights, but I kept faithfully to this rule. And, after a while, I noticed two surprising things. First, my Sunday rest never burned me. I don’t recall ever bombing a test, failing to meet a deadline, or doing worse on any of my assignments because of not having worked on Sunday. The second surprise was that I began to look forward to every Sunday as a one-day vacation. In addition to going to church, it was a day for taking a map, going out to eat, watching a movie, or just hanging out with my friends. I gave a gift of myself to the Lord and he gave me an even greater gift in return.

Perhaps you are afraid to let the teachings of Jesus Christ in his Church to impact your time or your money, your sexuality or your marriage, your politics or your addictions, but I urge you to be brave and wise. Just last week, we heard Jesus tell his apostles: “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” Jesus was not merely referring to receiving the apostles in their persons but the message that they preached.

We resist change because we fear the limitation of our freedom. We fear what the change might cost us. We fear a heavy yoke being locked around our neck and weighing upon our shoulders. But do not be afraid. Jesus offers you a better way. He says: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Please trust in Jesus, learn from him, and sacrifice your will to his. And do not be afraid, for God will not be outdone in generosity.

Our Holy Conspiracy & the End of the World — 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year B

November 16, 2015

C.S. Lewis, 1898-1963A new liturgical Church year will begin in a couple of weeks with the first Sunday of Advent. As this Church year ends, our Mass readings (like today’s Sunday readings) focus on the Last Things and the end of the world as we know it. This weekend’s news reports, especially the terrible events in France, remind us that though the Kingdom of God is among us, we pray “thy Kingdom come” because it is not yet fully here in total, unveiled power. This weekend’s readings and news events remind me of passages from C.S. Lewis in excellent book Mere Christianity:

“Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless [radio] from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going.”

Why does Lewis say that our king has landed “in disguise?” Well, where would you expect a king to be born? The Magi sought the newborn king of the Jews in the palace at Jerusalem, but Jesus was born in a barn—a cave in Bethlehem—to a pair of poor parents. How would one expect the Jewish Messiah to enter into Jerusalem to claim his throne? Probably riding on a warhorse, but Jesus came meekly riding on a donkey, just as had been prophesied about him. Who would have thought that God would become a man, and then suffer and die as he did? After the vindication of the resurrection, one would have thought he would appear to the high priest and Governor Pilate, or to the Emperor Tiberius in Rome, to declare that he was indeed who he claimed to be. Instead, Jesus appeared discretely, to his disciples.

Lewis writes that God has landed in this enemy-occupied world in disguise and has started “a sort of secret society” to undermine the devil. This secret society he speaks of is the Church. But what is so secret about the Church? We have a sign in front with our Mass times. We don’t check ID’s at the door. And if anyone wants to know about what we do or what we believe, we will gladly inform them. But, in a sense, the Church is a secret society—for the world and even many Catholics do not recognize who and what we really are. We are a holy conspiracy. We are fighting the propaganda of the world and the devil with the truth of God. We are recruiting others to the side of the Lord. We are his special forces sabotaging evil with the weapons of love in preparation for the king’s arrival.

From where do we receive our power for this mission? The source of our power is the Holy Mass. Today’s second reading says that the Old Testament’s priests offered many sacrifices because those  could not truly achieve their purpose, but Jesus our High Priest offers his sacrifice once for all. At Mass we transcend space and time to personally encounter that sacrifice, and it’s power is applied to us here and now, providing all the graces we need to fulfill his will.

Lewis asks, “Why is [God] not [yet] landing in [total unveiled] force, invading [our world]? Is it that He is not strong enough? Well, Christians think He is going to land in force; [but] we do not know when.”

Indeed, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “of that day or hour, no one knows… but only the Father.”

We do not know when the Lord is going to land in force. “But,” Lewis continues, “we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. I do not suppose you and I would have thought much of a Frenchman [during World War II] who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side. God will invade.”

Why has God not yet invaded our world with his full, unveiled force? Why does he allow the wicked to use their freedom for evil, like the terrorism we saw in Paris?

Lewis writes, “I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else—something it never entered your head to conceive—comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left?”

I think “the whole natural universe melting away” is an excellent reflection on today’s gospel. Jesus tells us that at the end:

“the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken…”

In the ancient world, the sun and moon, stars and planets, were considered the most stable and eternal things in the cosmos (and you can understand why.) But when even these things are passing, you know the universe as we know it is melting away. After this, the Lord Jesus comes with judgment. “And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory… (and his angels, like St. Michael from our first reading, along with him…)”

Sprouting Fig Tree in SpringtimePerhaps we may find it surprising that Jesus describes these events as a good thing to his disciples. He says:

“Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that [the Son of Man] is near, at the gates.”

We usually associate the end of things with the fall. Youth is called the springtime of life, while old age is the fall. In the Northern Hemisphere, every Church year ends in the fall. Yet Jesus presents an analogy for the end of the world as one of spring becoming summer: ‘When the tender branch sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near.’ A small thing, the branch, points to the arrival of a much greater reality, the summer. Why would we cling to the branch when the whole world is being renewed in glory? For friends of God, what is to come is better than what we see. The life we live now in this world is the winter. What is still to come for us is the spring and summer. Let us not hesitate to hope for it, envision it, and rejoice in it.

When the last day comes, “it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. … That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give [people] that chance. [But it] will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.”

How long will it be until the Lord comes again? Jesus says in today’s gospel that, “This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” But he said this a long time ago. Was Jesus wrong? No, for when you read these passages from Mark in full context, Jesus is responding to his disciples questions about two things side-by-side: the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the world. The Romans destroyed the great city and its temple in 70 A.D., during the lifespan of some of Jesus’ hearers, and to many Jews it felt like the end of the world. This event prefigured the passing away of all things. Like other prophesies in the Bible, Jesus’ prophesy has a near and distant fulfillment, one after a forty-year opportunity for conversion, and another at the end of time.

So when will the Lord come again? The answer for every generation before us has been “not yet.” If this world endures to the year 10,000 A.D., the Christians of that time will probably regard us as the early Christians. I personally think it will still be awhile before he comes, for it is still legal to be a Christian in too many places on earth. Yet, in a sense, it doesn’t matter when Jesus is coming, for the end of our individual lives is equivalent to the end of the world for us. If you’re ready for one, you’re ready for the other. But if you, or people that you know, are not ready for either, then now is the time for conversion.

The Lord our King has recruited us into his holy conspiracy, arming us with the weapons of truth and love. You and I are his advanced forces and, among other tasks, he is sending us on rescue missions to bring others to himself. Who do you know that is far from Christ? We are to draw on the power of this Mass for them. We are called to pray, fast, and sacrifice for them, and even to be so bold as to talk with them—inviting them to come to Jesus Christ and his Church. Seize this opportunity and do not let it pass away, for whether the Lord first comes to us or we go forth to him, each and all will encounter him soon, face-to-face, in his full, unveiled glory.

Enduring Deprivation — Monday, 20th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

August 18, 2014

Readings: Ezekiel 24:15-23, Matthew 19:16-22

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, by a sudden blow I am taking away from you the delight of your eyes, but do not mourn or weep or shed any tears. Groan in silence, make no lament for the dead, bind on your turban, put your sandals on your feet, do not cover your beard, and do not eat the customary bread.” That evening my wife died, and the next morning I did as I had been commanded.

Then the people asked me, “Will you not tell us what all these things that you are doing mean for us?” I therefore spoke to the people that morning, saying to them: “Thus the word of the LORD came to me: ‘Say to the house of Israel: Thus says the Lord GOD: I will now desecrate my sanctuary, the stronghold of your pride, the delight of your eyes, the desire of your soul. …  Your turbans shall remain on your heads, your sandals on your feet. You shall not mourn or weep, but you shall rot away because of your sins and groan one to another.”

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, by Heinrich HofmannWhat does Ezekiel in the first reading have in common with the young man in today’s gospel?

A young man approached Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” … Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

The Lord asked the rich young man to give up something precious to him, and the Lord took away something precious from Ezekiel. What if Ezekiel had rebelled after his loss, refusing to do anything further in the Lord’s service? People sometimes react to tragic loss in this way. What if that rich young man who went away sad never changed his mind? Divine callings often entail hardship, but consider the greater loss of never fulfilling the purpose of one’s life.

Every good thing, every person or possession, has come to us from God, and his desire for us is our supreme good. Therefore, the Lord is worthy of trust, even if we are stripped of what is dearly precious to us. As the suffering Job observed,

“Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb,
and naked shall I go back there.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
blessed be the name of the LORD!”

Stained Glass Symbols — Mount Calvary’s Cross

February 18, 2014

Mount Calvary's Cross - Sacred Heart Catholic Church -  Wauzeka WIA Symbol of the Source & Summit of the Christian Life

Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on Mount Calvary’s cross was offered in love of God and man. It is the source or fount for all saving grace, and the summit or pattern to which all Christians are called.