Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

November 20, 2022

By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

Many years ago, Mohandas Gandhi the great Hindu religious leader in India wanted to overthrow the British Empire through love not violence. Christianity has not failed. It’s never been tried. As we celebrate this Feast of Christ the King, we need to follow Jesus peacefully.

What’s wrong with calling Jesus the King? A king is identified three ways: power, wealth, and force. With Jesus none of this is true. The power of kings is to control people and be the boss over them. His apostles James and John wanted the honor to be seated at the right and left hand of Jesus. Jesus was upset and rebuked them saying that the power of Jesus is to love and be a servant to all people.

The kings of this world are identified with wealth, they have more than they could possibly ever need. They draw money from everyone even the poor and build up their own prosperity. There is an incident in the Gospel where a young man asks Jesus “what must I do to gain everlasting life?” Jesus says, “Keep my commandments.” He replies, “I have done that from my youth.” And Jesus says if you want to truly be perfect to follow me now, go sell everything you have. Give it to the poor then come and follow me. The wealth of Jesus is His people especially the poor. He loves all of us and wants best of everything for us.

The kings of this world want to have superior dominance and control in this world. They will even go to war to get their ways. Jesus rejected all violence. While Jesus was praying in the garden of Gethsemane, the soldiers came to arrest Him. One of the disciples drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus said put away your sword. Jesus healed the servants’ ear. Jesus rejected violence. Those who want to live by the sword die by the sword.

Human kings follow the ways of the world, not the ways of Jesus. So it’s really a contradiction to think of Jesus as a king of this world. We think of the aspects of earthly kings: power, wealth and force and try to make that the way of Jesus. If we are going to follow the way of Jesus, live Christianity, don’t talk about it. Gandhi says “it has never been tried, it has not failed, it just has not been tried.” Each of us is called now to try to live the way of Jesus, really change according to his ways and his thoughts.

Is not this one of the reasons why we and the church and everyone throughout the world are fascinated with Pope Francis, the Bishop of Rome. When he was elected the first thing he did was bow and seek the blessing of the people. He wants to be our servant. In a short time after he was elected, he went to visit the prison, knelt down and washed the feet of the prisoners. He’s showing time after time how he reaches out to the poor, the vulnerable, the way Jesus did. We rejoice in it because it’s clearly the way of Jesus and that’s what we are called to do.

The kings and rules of this world want to dictate and control everyone. The kingship of Jesus is different from the kings of this world. He loves, forgives, accepts, and He rules over us with mercy and compassion. We are all equally important to him.

His Power Shall be Known to his Servants

July 2, 2022

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Today’s psalm tells us: “Shout joyfully to God… proclaim his glorious praise. Say to God, ‘How tremendous are your deeds!‘” When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the Soviet Union dissolved two years after, I remember my dad remarking that those were things he thought he would never live to see. It seemed like Russian power would dominate Eastern Europe forever. But then, the Soviet Union suddenly collapsed, something which no one — not even the C.I.A. — saw coming.

At Fatima in 1917, before the Russian Bolshevik Revolution, the Blessed Virgin Mary accurately warned that Russia’s errors spreading throughout the world would cause wars and persecutions of the Church. But Mary said, “In the end, my immaculate heart will triumph.” In 1984, on the Feast of the Annunciation, the day when we celebrate the conception of Jesus in his mother’s womb, Pope St. John Paul the Great consecrated Russia and the whole world to Mary’s immaculate heart. Seven years later in 1991, on Christmas day, when we celebrate Jesus’ birth, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as leader of the USSR and the Soviet flag was removed from atop the Kremlin forever. The Evil Empire ended, not with millions of deaths from nuclear blasts, but peacefully. This was a great miracle orchestrated by heaven.

Shout joyfully to God… proclaim his glorious praise. Say to God, ‘How tremendous are your deeds!‘” The Lord has brought about another tremendous victory in our time, and we do right to recognize and joyfully praise his glorious deed.

Once Wisconsin became a state in 1848, we quickly passed laws respecting the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. In 1849, our state legislature outlawed abortion in all cases (except to preserve the life of the mother) and then, in 1853, our state government abolished capital punishment. Whenever possible, we do not kill people, not even people who are guilty or highly inconvenient, because killing is not the way of Christ and his Kingdom. We are instead to show merciful love for all.

In 1973, Wisconsin was one of thirty U.S. states which prohibited abortion at all stages. But that year, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe vs. Wade (a decision which even pro-abortion legal scholars acknowledge lacked constitutional justification) legalized the killing of unborn children everywhere in the United States. In response, for forty-nine years, pro-life people prayed and marched and voted. Through thousands of organizations across the land they provided moms better, holier, more loving options (like adoption) and practical resources (like diapers, formula, cribs, and clothes). Yet, despite their persistent efforts, many pro-lifers doubted they would ever live to see abortion end anywhere in our country. Last month, after seven sets of seven years of prayer and sacrifice, the Supreme Court returned the issue of abortion to the states. Wisconsin abortion laws were never repealed. And so, this Fourth of July weekend, Wisconsin is a pro-life state once again.

Today Isaiah says, “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her; exult, exult with her, all you who were mourning over her!” Nurslings shall be carried in her arms and fondled in her lap; they shall now find comfort. “When you see this, your heart shall rejoice… the Lord’s power shall be known to his servants.”

The date on which the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade (June 24th) is usually the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. In future years we will mark the anniversary of this victory by celebrating the birth of him who leapt for joy in his mother’s womb in the presence of the newly-conceived Christ. But this year, 2022, St. John’s day was superseded by an even greater feast which is always celebrated on the third Friday after Pentecost. This year, Friday, June 24th was the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Indeed, in the end, his Sacred Heart has triumphed.

The reversal of Roe is a landmark victory, but of course there remains much work to do. “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest,” and be open to being sent yourself. Like the seventy-two in today’s Gospel, Jesus Christ sends us forth to those he seeks to save. Wishing peace on everyone, peace to each house and peace in every household, we shall defend and extend his Kingdom’s Culture of Life throughout this land and around the world. And though literal demons will rage and resist us, we shall not be afraid but prevail, for Jesus, his mother, and the angels are with us for the victory. “When you see this, your heart shall rejoice… the Lord’s power shall be known to his servants.


“What Should We Do?”

December 12, 2021

3rd Sunday of Advent

Despite the complications of the heavy storm, the family still decided to come. They came to St. Paul’s Friday evening to have their children baptized: a nearly three-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl. Afterwards, I asked the daughter what it was like to get baptized. She answered, “It felt like Jesus was in my heart.” Truly and beautifully, that’s what baptism does. Through simple water and simple words, new Christians are born with Christ living within them.

Large crowds came to St. John the Baptist to be baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. Now this was neither sacramental baptism nor sacramental confession but a preparation for what was next. John the Baptist preached that he was sent by God to prepare his people for the coming of the Messiah. Regular folks, and tax collectors, and soldiers all asked this forerunner of the Christ: “What should we do? Teacher, Rabbi, what should we do?” And what really strikes me about John the Baptist’s answers is what John the Baptist doesn’t say.

He does not say, “Give all your food and clothing away.” He says to the crowds, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” He does not say to servants of King Herod and Caesar, “Abandon your posts and revolt against your rulers.” He says to the tax collectors, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed,” and to the soldiers, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” The plan of God is to change the world by transforming individuals within the world.

John does not send people on a complicated, epic quest. They can begin doing what they need to do to prepare for Christ’s coming immediately where they’re at. John instructs them and us to do simple things: share with the needy as you are able, stop stealing, stop lying, and stop coveting what others have. These acts belong to basic justice: treating other people at least as well as you ought to be treated yourself.

Can Jesus Christ call us from this to more advanced discipleship? To sacrifice for the Kingdom of God? To suffer for the sake of righteousness? To embrace poverty, or celibacy, or radical obedience? To take solemn vows like the retired religious whose special collection is this weekend? Certainly! The Old Covenant teaches lessons for walking in justice while Christ’s New Covenant goes further, as with the Beatitudes. However, we must walk with the Lord before we can run with the Lord.

Do you grumble, discontent with what you have? Do you deceive, not always speaking what is true? Do you take what is not yours to take, or keep what is not yours to keep? Do you fail to share what is your surplus with others in need? Then you know what you should do this Advent to prepare for the Christmas coming of Christ. Convert more space in your heart for Jesus that he may fully live in you and you may fully live in him.

Why the Catholic Church is Always so Behind the Times

November 20, 2021

Solemnity of Christ the King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond “Mercenary Love”

July 31, 2021

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Alongside other security personnel, the Holy Father and the Vatican City State are protected by one hundred and thirty-five men who have been called “the world’s smallest army.” Pilgrims and tourists to St. Peter’s Basilica may see them on duty wearing uniforms inspired by the Renaissance era – in garments comprised of yellow, blue, and red stripes and helmets topped with colored ostrich feathers. Yet these soldiers are not merely there for ceremonial decoration. Each of them takes a solemn vow to, if necessary, lay down their lives in defense of the pope. All of them are Roman Catholics, citizens of Switzerland, and have completed basic training with the Swiss Armed Forces. They are known as the Swiss Guard and have served the Holy Father semi-continuously for more than 500 years. But why Swiss guards, rather than Italian, Spanish, or French?

Before answering that, here is another small mystery of history. During the Revolutionary War, on the night of December 25th, 1776, General George Washington led his men in boats across the icy Delaware River to attack 1,500 enemy troops garrisoned in Trenton, New Jersey the next day. This daring tactic found their opponents unprepared. Our Continental Army suffered only two dead and five wounded in the mission but captured about nine hundred German soldiers. Yes that’s right, Germans. What were Germans doing in America during the Revolutionary War?

The reason why German soldiers fought for Great Britain in 1776 and why the pope began having Swiss guards in 1506 is that these troops were mercenaries, third-party soldiers-for-hire. In an era of conflict between Italian factions and his Papal States, the pope hired soldiers from friendly Switzerland five hundred miles away. It’s been the tradition to have Swiss guards ever since. And when the Revolutionary War broke out, the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, saw an opportunity. He leased his German soldiers (nicknamed Hessians) to the British Empire to fight for them overseas.

Those serving in Swiss Guard today are remarkable and devout young men. And even if the pope were unable to continue paying their salaries I would not be surprised if almost all of them would faithfully complete their terms of service. The classic, mercenary soldier-for-hire, however, does not serve because he loves the king, country, or people he sides with, he does not risk his life because he believes in some just and noble purpose. The mercenary’s motivation is the money he is paid or promised. Deny him that payment and his loyalty and services will disappear with him. Similarly, the saints throughout the centuries have observed that many Christians have a “mercenary love” for God. That is, they love the Lord when times are easy, so as long as he “pays” them with many graces, consolations, and good things. But when those sensible blessings dry up, their loyal service and devotion disappear. Though God’s love does not depart from them, but they abandon him.

The Hebrews in the desert had witnessed God’s care for them. They saw the mighty deeds he wrought in the Exodus. But when they became hungry, the whole Israelite community grumbled. “Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!” God knew they needed food, he fully intended to meet their need, but he wanted them to trust in him and rely on him as a good Father. The Lord Jesus likewise desires a closer personal relationship with each one of us.

In today’s gospel, Jesus calls out the crowds at Capernaum on their mercenary motives. They love the gifts, but not yet the Giver. “Amen, amen,” he says to them, “you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. …Believe in [me,] the one [the Father] sent.” Jesus calls them higher, to a devoted love for himself, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. … I am the bread of life.” When we look at ourselves, what is the quality of our love for God?

St. Basil the Great wrote in the fourth century: “If we turn away from evil out of fear of punishment, we are in the position of slaves. If we pursue the enticement of wages, …we resemble mercenaries. Finally, if we obey for the sake of the good itself and out of love for him who commands… we are in the position of [devoted] children.” The Doctor of the Church, St. Bernard Clairvaux observed in the twelfth century: “Whosoever praises God for his essential goodness, and not merely because of the benefits he has bestowed, does really love God for God’s sake, and not selfishly.” So how can we develop a more perfect love for God, and how can we be more faithful when our next dry time of trial comes?

One way to a purer, more personal love for God is to realize that when you come to the sacraments, Jesus Christ meets you there. The Eucharistic Host you receive is him. It is he who forgives your sins through the priest in Confession. And when you receive the Anointing of the Sick, Jesus is uniting your suffering to his and his strength to your weakness. So do not avoid encountering him and do not meet him on autopilot. Recognize whom you are approaching, appreciate the Gift and appreciate the Giver, and your relationship with Jesus will grow.

This personal relationship with the Lord is also cultivated through daily prayer. Memorized prayers can be very good. Our Fathers, Hail Marys, litanies, and chaplets are great. But they can also become routine and impersonal, like chores. Regularly speak to our heavenly friends in your own words as well. When you boil it down, there are basically four things we can say whenever we pray: “I’m sorry, please, I love you, and thank you.” That is, there are prayers of Sorrow, Asking, Loving, and Thanking. (That’s S-A-L-T or SALT.) Many people spend their prayer times focused on the first two: Sorrow and Asking: “I’m sorry, Lord, please forgive me. Please Lord, grant this good thing for me and for them.” Jesus wants to pray for such things, but be mindful that your prayers are properly seasoned with expressions of Loving and Thanking as well. “I love you, Lord, and I praise you. You are holy and worthy and good. I thank you for your blessings all around me.” Focus more on rejoicing in who he is and what he’s done, not just on the things you want, and your love for him will deepen.

And when you find yourself in your next dry desert, tried and hungering like the Hebrews, or fighting on your next battlefield, serving without appearing payment, do not spurn or abandon the Lord. Go to him with your needs, recognizing how much you need him. Realize that even when the pleasant, warm fuzzies of consolation are withdrawn for a time, the Lord’s love for you remains and he offers you his sufficient grace to keep going in his will. And be patient knowing, that sooner or later, felt consolations and peace will return. With a more personal, more pure, and more perfect love for God, you can persevere as far more than a slave or mercenary, but as a devoted child of the Father and a true friend of Christ, as you are meant to be.

Lessons From The Gulag Archipelago

July 3, 2021

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a captain in the Red Army of the Soviet Union serving bravely on the front lines against the Germans in 1945. Three months before World War II’s end in Europe, his brigade commander summoned him to headquarters and asked for his pistol. When Solzhenitsyn handed it over two counterintelligence officers suddenly crossed the room. They ripped off the insignia from his uniform and shouted: “You are under arrest!” “Me? What for?” The pair gave him no answer. But as Solzhenitsyn was being hauled to the exit, the brigade commander firmly addressed him: “Solzhenitsyn. Come back here.” With a sharp turn he broke loose and stepped back to his superior.

Solzhenitsyn had never known his commanding officer very well. This colonel had never condescended to run-of-the-mill conversations with him, but now his ever-stern face displayed thoughtfulness. “You have…” the colonel asked weightily, “a friend on the First Ukrainian Front?” Solzhenitsyn understood instantly: he was being arrested for criticizing Joseph Stalin in private letters to a school friend. Over the decades, many millions would suffer in the soviet prison camps (known as gulags) for offenses as small as this or less.

Travkin Zakhar Grigorevich

The counterintelligence officers objected. They shouted at the colonel for his revelation to the prisoner: “It’s forbidden! You have no right!” The colonel could get himself arrested, too. As Solzhenitsyn recalls in his own words, his colonel, “Zakhar Georgiyevich Travkin could have stopped right there! But no! Continuing his attempt to expunge his part in this and to stand erect before his own conscience, he rose from behind his desk — he had never stood up in my presence in my former life — and reached across the quarantine line that separated us and gave me his hand, although he would never have reached out his hand to me had I remained a free man. And pressing my hand… showing that warmth that may appear in an habitually severe face, he said fearlessly and precisely: ‘I wish you happiness. Captain!’ Not only was I no longer a captain, but I had been exposed as an enemy of the people… And he had wished [me] happiness…” Despite the danger to himself, the colonel did what little he could to bless and console a persecuted man – and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn never forgot this.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1974Solzhenitsyn would go on to survive almost eight years inside prisons and forced labor camps. After his release, he became a world famous author, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. But the publication of his most important work, The Gulag Archipelago in 1973, outraged the soviet authorities. They stripped him of his citizenship and expelled him from the USSR – they rejected him in his native place. Two Christmases ago, St. John the Baptist’s Altar Rosary Society gifted to me a subscription to Audible. A week and a half ago, I activated it and this non-fiction book, The Gulag Archipelago, is the first thing I’m listening to. It draws on interviews, documents, diaries, and Solzhenitsyn’s own experiences as a prisoner to detail the history and the horrors of soviet gulags from 1918 to 1956.

The dictator Joseph Stalin suspected and feared he had enemies everywhere, so he would hand down orders for entire groups to be arrested (“Arrest all the generals in the Red Army”) and he ordered large numbers of political arrests to be made (“Arrest 200 people in this city for political crimes by month’s end”). To fill their quotas, the police would arrest innocent people, employ terrible tortures to extract confessions, and then ship these condemned persons off to camps, often to die there from a bullet or from the inhuman conditions.

Getting confessions was very important for the corrupt and cynical interrogators. Caring nothing whether the accused were actually criminal conspirators, they inflicted intense physical and psychological sufferings to make them admit guilt and implicate others. These police were not afraid to lie, and any court trials there were were just for show. In that case, instead of breaking their victims, why didn’t the interrogators just forge signatures onto confessions? I suspect this was due to demonic influence. Demons delight to see the wicked do evil, but they are pleased still more by seeing the good fall, to see them sin by betraying the truth and betraying those they love. Solzhenitsyn urges us to have mercy on those who people fell: “Brother mine! Do not condemn those who, finding themselves in such a situation, turned out to be weak and confessed to more than they should have. … Do not be the first to cast a stone at them.

Vera Korneyeva as a young womanSome prisoners did not lie or betray anyone, but even took the opportunity to proclaim the truth. Solzhenitsyn tells the story of one Vera Korneyeva who was arrested with all seventeen members of a Christian group. Her interrogator had left her alone in a large office of the police building where half a dozen employees were sitting. A conversation started and Vera launched into a sermon. In freedom, she had been no more than a lathe operator, a stable girl, and a housewife. But the typists, stenographers, and file clerks of the secret police listened, sometimes asking her questions. People came in from other offices and the room filled up. She spoke mostly about religious faith and religious believers, and asked why anyone would need to persecute Christians.

Believers don’t need to be watched,” she said, “they do not steal, and they do not shirk [their duties]. Do you think you can build a just society on a foundation of self-serving and envious people? Everything in the country is falling apart. Why do you spit in the hearts of your best? … Why arrest [religious] people?” At that point, her interrogator reentered and started to rudely interrupt her. But everyone shouted at him: “Oh, shut up! Keep quiet! Go ahead, woman, talk.” Solzhenitsyn notes they were forbidden to call her comrade or citizen, but they referred to Vera with the honorable title Christ used: “woman,” and she continued in the presence of her interrogator. So there in an office of the police headquarters they listened to Vera Korneyeva — and why did the words of an insignificant prisoner touch them so? Like Ezekiel, a prophet had been among them.

Soviet prisons and gulags were hellish places, but like Mount Calvary, the Lord was present even there. Nikolai Aleksandrovich Kozyrev, whose brilliant career in astronomy was interrupted by his arrest, sustained himself in prison by doing theoretical work in his mind. His line of mental exploration, however, was blocked by forgotten figures. He could not build any further — he needed the data to develop his theory, but how could he obtain this from his solitary-confinement cell? The scientist prayed: “Please, God! I have done everything I could. Please help me! Please help me continue!” His eyes were fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.

At that time, he was entitled to receive one book every ten days. Half an hour after his prayer, they came to exchange his book. As usual, without asking anything at all, they pushed a book at him. It was entitled A Course in Astrophysics! What was a book like this doing in a prison library? Kozyrev threw himself into it and began memorizing everything he needed and everything he might need later on. After two days, the prison chief made a surprise inspection of his cell and immediately noticed the book. “But you are an astronomer?” “Yes,” he answered. “Take this book away from him!” Yet its providential arrival had opened the way for the scientist’s further work, helping his mind and spirit survive his ten years of detention. Following his release, Dr. Kozyrev would go on to be the discoverer, through telescopic observations, of tectonic activity on the Moon. In other words, he discovered that there is hot magma inside of the Moon. Like Jesus Christ, the Moon is not long-dead (as many have thought) but is dynamically alive today.

Nikolai Aleksandrovich Kozyrev in 1958

Solzhenitsyn observed in 1983, “There always is this fallacious belief [around the world about great atrocities]: ‘It would not be the same here; here such things are impossible.’ Alas, all the evil of the twentieth century is possible everywhere on earth.” Will this church one day be torched by arsonists, as Catholic churches are now being burned down in Canada? Could we one day be fired, beaten, or arrested, be separated from our families, be deprived of our material possessions, or die because of our faith? Jesus Christ was perfect and sinless, “and they took offense at him.” He was hated, denounced, tortured, and murdered. If they persecuted him, why wouldn’t the world persecute us? I do not know how severe the persecution of Christians will become in our lifetimes, but I see no reason not to prepare our souls for this eventuality.

If we are to be like Jesus, even up to the point of dying like Christ rather than denying him (and indeed we are each called to be willing to do this) then we must begin practicing with the little things. Jesus says, “Whoever is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and whoever who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.” So we must never lie. Make no false professions or false confessions. As Jesus teaches us, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.”

In addition to never telling falsehoods, we are called to speak the truth, like the woman Vera in the heart of the police organization. Are you afraid of what other people will think? Realize that they are concerned about what you think, too. If you are open, the Holy Spirit will give you opportunities to share the truth with others. Like Colonel Travkin with his accused Captain Solzhenitsyn, we must also be courageous enough to remain loyal to our peers when others would denounce and abandon them. And we must pray and rely on God, like Dr. Kozyrev (who was seemingly, but not truly) alone in his prison cell. Remember that Christ’s grace is sufficient for you, and his power is made perfect in weakness.

Practice these four things: never lie, share the truth, be loyal, and rely on Christ. Even if, in God’s Providence, you never come to suffer like Christ’s martyrs, by practicing these things you will become more like our Lord Jesus Christ.

St. Patrick, the Moses of Ireland

March 17, 2021

Wednesday of the 4th Week of Lent

St. Patrick, the Apostle to Ireland, and Moses from the Exodus have a lot in common. Moses was targeted by the wicked as a baby; Pharaoh ordered that all newborn Hebrew boys be tossed into the Nile River to die. Patrick was also targeted by the wicked. Raiders kidnapped him from Roman Britain at the age of sixteen. Moses was separated from his family, growing up in Pharaoh’s palace. Patrick was separated from his family as a slave in Ireland for six years. Moses escaped Pharaoh and Patrick escaped his captors, and neither of them planned to ever go back again. But then, Moses had a vision at the Burning Bush calling him to return to Egypt. And Patrick had a vision in his sleep in which he heard the people of Ireland call out to him, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us!” Both men had worked as shepherds during their exiles, and this experience helped spiritually prepare them to become shepherds of men.

Moses was sent by God to free the Hebrews from slavery. Patrick was sent by God to free the Irish from their errors and sins. “Saying to the prisoners: Come out!” But the Egyptian and Irish leaders resisted. Pharaoh’s Egyptian gods and the druids’ Celtic gods were quite different from the Lord. Pharaoh thought killing babies in the river would please the god of the Nile while solving his problems, and the druids offered their gods many human sacrifices hoping that good things would come from them. By proclaiming mighty messages and performing mighty miracles, Moses and Patrick defeated these foes and freed the people. Both men are rightly celebrated for leading many people to God.

The Hebrews who left in Egypt and the Irish who lived in Ireland were introduced to a different and better way of life with the Lord our God. Yet amazingly, once they had been set free, the Hebrews often complained against Moses and said they wanted to return to Egypt and slavery. Today, after some 1,500 years of the True Faith in Ireland, more and more people there live as if Catholic in name only; not believing, not praying, not practicing. For example, in 2018 the people of Ireland voted 2-to-1 in a referendum to legalize more abortion. And in 2019, the first year under the new laws, Ireland’s Department of Health recorded exactly 6,666 abortions. “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?” Isaiah suggests this as unthinkable thing – but that is how far we have wandered. Yet even if she should forget, God never forgets us. Even if we give up on God, he will not give up on us. “The Lord is gracious and merciful.” But you are free and you can choose to leave him.

Moses cared about the Hebrews, Patrick cared about the Irish, and I care about you, and we do not want any of you to be lost. But life in the desert is hard, and this world is seductive, and it is easy to be lost. Will you choose to follow the Lord, the God of Moses and St. Patrick, or not?

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word
and believes in the one who sent me
has eternal life and will not come to condemnation,
but has passed from death to life.”

As Moses said, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses… that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. So choose life, that you and your children may live.

When Demons Speak

January 31, 2021

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“The Devil Tempting a Young Woman” by André Jacques Victor Orsel, 1832.

Eve in the Garden of Eden, Jesus in the synagogue at Capernaum, and St. Paul on the roads of Greece each encountered demons speaking. The words of these rebellious, fallen angels are dangerous because they cleverly combine facts and falsehoods to mislead us toward sin and division. Jesus called the demonic warlord, Satan, the Devil, “a murderer from the beginning… a liar and the father of lies,” and the Book of Revelation identifies him as “the ancient serpent… who deceived the whole world.

Satan was the serpent who approached Eve and asked, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” The woman answered the serpent: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’” But the serpent said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know good and evil.

The tree’s attractive fruit looked useful for nourishment and wisdom, so Eve took and ate it; and she gave some to her husband who was with her, and Adam ate it too. It’s true that they did not die in that instant and they did gain new insights into evil and its absence, but by this act of mistrust and disobedience toward God the grace and harmony of original holiness died within them. Adam and Eve were now separated from God, divided from each other, and doomed to suffer and someday die. The devil’s half-truths led them to this.

Another demon was inside of a man at the synagogue in Capernaum as Jesus taught there in today’s gospel. The unclean spirit cried out through the man in front of everyone, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” It’s true that Jesus is indeed the “Holy One of God,” but what effect could hearing the demon’s other words have on the townspeople? “What have you to do with us… Have you come to destroy us?” The demon insinuates that Jesus is there to condemn and destroy, that all sinners should fear God’s Holy One and flee or fight the Christ who has come to save them. Jesus rebuked the demon, saying, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit could not resist Jesus’ command, and after a convulsion and a loud cry the man was freed. Demons are untrustworthy spokesmen to proclaim Christ and his gospel.

About twenty years later, while St. Paul was doing missionary work in Greece, he and his companions met a slave girl who had a demon. The demon would pronounce oracles through her, generating large profits for her owners. (Demons reportedly do not know the future, but using their very high intelligence and powers of observation they can make keen guesses.) The girl began to follow Paul and his companions, shouting: “These people are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation!” She did this for many days and Paul became annoyed. He turned and said to the demon, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And the demon left her at that moment.

So what was wrong with what the demon was saying through the girl? In addition to yelling the message at inappropriate times, it contained a subtle, fatal flaw which – if uncorrected – could undermine the saving work that Paul was doing: “These people are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” If the Good News of Jesus Christ were merely a way of salvation, then you could take him or leave him, and opt instead to choose some other saving path. But as St. Peter preached, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.

As it was in the beginning and in the days of Jesus and his apostles, demons are still in our world today. Your baptism into Christ gives you great personal protection against them. You belong to Christ, so you should not be afraid, but I want you to be aware that the demons continue sowing seeds of sin and division in our time. Where are the demons active today? Where do we see the most harmful confusions and divisions? In so many teachings of our Catholic Faith the truth is a “both/and,” while the demonic errors and divisions of our time stem from false “either/or’s” and half-truths.

The demons either say that you need not change at all because you are loved by God, or that God will not love you until you become perfect. The truth is that you are loved by God as you are and called to repent and grow. The demons either tell you that God does not desire your happiness, or that you are entitled to avoid all suffering. The truth is God wills your greatest happiness and because of this he will lead you through trials. In this world, the demons encourage us to condemn one political party or politician and ignore the faults of the other, when the truth is both are flawed.

The demons don’t want you to see and promote full truths: that pregnant women need to be helped and unborn children must be protected; that immigrants should be welcomed and the rule of law should be respected; that all people are made for love, for intimacy with others, and sexual relations are meant only for holy matrimony; that there exists a God-given right to private property and a moral obligation to share with the needy; that we should live freely and use our freedom to honor God while safeguarding the good of others. Other examples are abundant around us.

Where there’s smoke there’s fire, and where truths are widely twisted and truncated demons have been at work with their old half-truth tricks. So do not conform to the demon-fueled factionalism of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind in the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Holy Catholic Church, that you may know and do the complete will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.

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.

Jesus or Barabbas?

November 23, 2020

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

For the feast of Passover, the Governor Pontius Pilate observed a tradition of releasing to the crowds any one prisoner they wished. On Good Friday, in addition to holding Jesus of Nazareth, the Romans in Jerusalem had a notorious prisoner named Barabbas. When the crowd came forward and began to ask Pilate to do for them as he was accustomed the governor dryly asked, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” The chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead.

Pilate asked, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” They answered, “Barabbas!” Pilate said to them in reply, “Then what do you want me to do with the man you call the king of the Jews?” They shouted again, “Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they only shouted the louder, “Crucify him!” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd lest they riot, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified.

This episode with Jesus and Barabbas is recounted each Palm Sunday and Good Friday when the Passion narratives are read at church. However, the Gospels’ Passion accounts are so lengthy and rich with themes to consider that the crowds’ choice between these two figures is rarely ever preached on. Today, I would like to show you the deeper significance in this rejection of Christ the King.

The first interesting detail is in the meaning of these two men’s names. “Jesus” was the name given through angelic messages to Mary and Joseph, a name chosen in Heaven for the Son of God on earth. “Jesus” or “Yeshuah” in Hebrew means “God saves.” The name Barabbas breaks down into the Aramaic words “Bar” and “Abba”; “Bar” means “the son of,” while “Abba” means “father.” And thus, the name Barabbas means “the son of the father.” So Pilate is proposing a question to the crowd more profound than they realize: “Which son of the father do you choose? Do you desire God’s salvation?

The New Testament tells us that Barabbas was a Jewish revolutionary who, along with other captured rebels, had committed murder in a rebellion against Roman rule. The Jews commonly hated the Romans and resented the occupation of their Promised Land by a foreign, Gentile power. Jews expected that the Christ, the Messiah, if he were to come in Jesus’ day, would drive out the Romans and their puppets using the force of arms. Then they imagined that this man, God’s Anointed One, would take his seat upon his ancestor King David’s throne, establishing a renewed Israeli kingdom of worldly glory, with international power, military strength, and overflowing wealth. So when Jesus came among them they failed to recognize him as the Christ.

Unlike Barabbas, Jesus did not promote hatred for the Romans but a love for enemies. Jesus did not raise an army nor a sword, but preached “blessed are the peacemakers.” On Palm Sunday, Jesus does not enter Jerusalem riding on a warhorse, but on a donkey, as the Old Testament prophet Zechariah had foretold: “Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on a donkey.” But when presented with Jesus and Barabbas, the people rejected their true King and Savior, the Christ. St. Peter would go on to preach to the people of Jerusalem on Pentecost, “You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.” The choice between Barabbas and Jesus is a choice between two sorts of saviors, two very different kinds of revolutionaries and kings; one whom the earth thinks would be most effective and the one whom Heaven has sent us. The Christ and an anti-Christ.

It was within Jesus’ power to have forcibly imposed his rule over the whole world. At Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter is ready to fight—he draws a sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant. But Jesus intervenes, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way? Put your sword into its scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?” Jesus then heals to slave’s ear before he is led away by the guards.

Like a gentle lamb silently led to slaughter, Jesus endures his Passion and death. And who would have thought any more of him? But God raised him from the dead and he appeared to his disciples, who then courageously proclaimed to everyone that Jesus is the Christ. The Jews and Romans persecuted the early Christians. Though peaceful and innocent, Christians suffered indignities, imprisonments, and martyrdoms, yet the number of those saved by the Church continued to grow. Then, in 313 A.D. the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity and ten years later gave it the most favored religious status throughout the Roman Empire. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land … Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” Indeed, Jesus Christ and his Church succeeded where Barabbas failed: they conquered the Roman Empire not by destroying it but by converting it.

Today we celebrate Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe. Jesus the Almighty now reigns over us and over the whole world. But this knowledge, upon reflection, can raise troubling questions in our hearts. When we see the horrors of this world, grave evils throughout history and evil happening in our time, we may ask, “Lord, why aren’t you doing more?” Every year in our country, hundreds of thousands of unborn children are being legally murdered. Right now, millions of people in Asia are being held in concentration camps. How many billions of grave sins are being committed every day which cause innocents to suffer? Lord, why don’t you end this evil? Why don’t you force the world to bow down to your will?

We may wish Jesus and others to go violently into full Barabbas-mode against all the world’s evil, but this is not his way. Christ’s goal is the salvation of souls, as many souls as possible. Jesus the Good Shepherd shepherds the world subtly but in every place, speaking to the souls of both his friends and sinners, drawing them freely toward his salvation. But what about the grievous sufferings and injustices along the way? Jesus is not at all indifferent to these. Our loving shepherd is the best of shepherds because he has been a sheep like us, a lamb who was slain. He endured such sufferings and injustices personally as the lamb of God, and he still mystically suffers in and with the innocent. “Amen, I say to you, what you did [or did] not do for one of these least ones, you did [or did] not do for me.

The evil of this world is a heart-breaking scandal. But sin and death do not have the final word. The last word will belong to Jesus Christ. Trust in the crucified One, our suffering God who died and rose for us, the Shepherd of souls, the victorious Lamb, Christ our King. May his Kingdom come and his will be more fully done, on earth as it is in Heaven, in each and every soul.

“Whose Image is This?”

October 18, 2020

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Pharisees hated Jesus and were plotting how to entrap him in his speech, to cancel him though a politically incorrect gaffe. So they devised a cunning scheme in hopes of getting rid of him for good. In those days, Israel was under the pagan rule of the Roman Empire. The Jews resented this foreign occupation of their Promised Land and many favored a religious rebellion. The Romans’ chosen puppet-ruler and vassal in that region was King Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who had slaughtered the infant boys of Bethlehem. King Herod’s supporters were called Herodians and, being the Romans’ collaborators, it was in their interest that the Roman taxes kept being paid. So the Pharisees sent their disciples along with some Herodians to ask Jesus a gotcha question about taxation.

They prepare their trap for Jesus beginning with flattery, hoping to disarm him: “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Now if Jesus answers that the Roman tax should not be paid, the Herodians will have him arrested, and Jesus will end up imprisoned or executed by Herod like his friend and relative, St. John the Baptist, was. But Jesus, knowing their malice and ill will, said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” They handed him the Roman coin. “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” In other words, since Caesar creates the coins and the coins bear Caesar’s image, each coin is somewhat his already, they al belong to him, and one denies Caesar’s rightful claims on them at one’s own peril. Of course, Caesar’s authority is not unlimited; God’s authority is higher. And where Caesar’s rule conflicts with God’s, the earthly government should bow to the Kingdom of God.

Unlike people who lived in the past under the Roman emperor, we as American citizens have the right to vote to elect our leaders. In fact, voting is our moral duty. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, our “co-responsibility for the common good make[s] it morally obligatory… to exercise the right to vote”. (CCC 2240) Perhaps because of the Covid pandemic you are hesitant to visit a polling place on Election Day this November 3rd. If so, realize that you can request a Wisconsin absentee ballot from your local election office for any reason by Thursday, October 29th, eleven days from now. So there’s no reason we cannot safely vote.

But you might still be questioning, why should I bother? With the millions of votes to be cast in our state, what difference does my one vote really make one way or the other? It’s true, your single vote is unlikely to decide an election. But imagine if we all lived in together a forest, and one night a blazing wildfire surrounded our village on every side. When the cry went up for everyone to grab a water bucket and help fight the flames in the pivotal hour, would you? It’s true that your individual effort would be unlikely to decide the fate of our village, whether many lives were lost or saved, but how could you not be ashamed if you failed to answer the call? Or, picture a raincloud consisting of water droplets. A downpour is made of many such drops, and if any one single drop refused to fall it would probably make little difference below, but what happens if every drop has that attitude? The land would stay in deadly drought and the heavens would not renew the face of the earth with new life. Millions of us voting would transform our society for the better — provided of course that we not only vote but vote well.

There are many issues in this and every election, but which issue is the most important? Recall Caesar’s coin. He makes them and they bear his image, so they belong to him. Likewise, God makes human beings, we bear his image, so every life belongs to him, and we deny God’s rightful claim that we respect human life to our own peril. Psalm 139 praises God in these words: “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made.” Each new human life is created by God and precious to him. But since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion, an estimated sixty-one million little ones in our country have been killed in their mother’s womb. (That’s an average of more than one million a year.) These killings continue now, and it’s horrific. Sixty-one million deaths is like killing every person in every city in the State of Wisconsin… ten times over. If that happened would that be a big deal? Would it matter? How evil would that be?

In January of this year, when fifteen bishops from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska visited Pope Francis at the Vatican for their once-every-five-years ad limina audiences with him, the Holy Father affirmed our U.S. bishops’ teaching that the protection of the unborn is the preeminent issue and priority of our time. “Of course, it is,” Pope Francis said. “[Life is] the most fundamental right… This is not first a religious issue; it’s a human rights issue.” In 2016, Pope Francis wrote: “I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father.” Our Holy Father is right. The intentional killing of unborn children is an ongoing grave evil that the Lord wants us to help end.

If we had been alive in America back when slavery was still legal would we have opposed slavery and worked to free slaves? If we had been living in Germany during the Holocaust would we have helped to protect Jews? We would all like to think so, but how much are we doing today? In one hundred years’ time, when school children learn about our present day, will they wonder scandalized at how we could be so indifferent, so blinded, to such cruelty in our midst?

In this election we are called to vote to protect life, but realize that voting is only a small sacrifice. It costs you nothing more than some minutes of your time. We are called to do more. Pray, fast, offer penances for the end of abortion, for in the words of St. Paul, “our struggle is not with flesh and blood but… with the evil spirits…” Donate, contribute your wealth, time, and helpful goods, to organizations that help new parents to choose life. Together with our personal witness, our pro-life words and loving example, God will change hearts and minds. By our work of faith, our labor of love, and our endurance in hope, many lives and many souls will be saved, and together we will rejoice in the victory of life for the Kingdom of God.

False Paths to Paradise

July 9, 2020

Early in the Book of Genesis we read about a great flood wiping out humanity (sparing only Noah, his three sons, and their wives) and then about people building a great city and high tower until God confounds their efforts. These two inspired tales hold important lessons for every society in history, including our’s today.

When God saw how wicked the human race was he decided to pour down judgment on the earth and start over. So he told Noah, the best of men, to build an ark for his family to survive. Once the floodwaters had receded, “God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them: Be fertile and multiply and fill the earth.” This was to be Eden anew. But when Noah drank wine to excess and became drunk he was somehow violated by his son while laying naked inside his tent. The flood was meant to cleanse the earth of sin, but sin stowed away upon the ark.

Then, after detailing Noah’s descendants, Genesis tells how people said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves!” The Lord said, “If now, while they are one people and all have the same language, they have started to do this, nothing they presume to do will be out of their reach.” God confused their language so that they stopped building the city and scattered across the earth. Why did God react this way? That city is called Babel because God made them babblers but also likely in reference to ancient Babylon, the enemies of God’s people who had high towers called zigguratts on which they worshiped false gods and offered human sacrifices. God thwarts Babel to limit the evils they can accomplish.

The tales of the Great Flood and the Tower of Babel reflect two ineffective strategies for eradicating evil: purging all the wicked and uniting everyone apart from God. Our world seeks scapegoats, persons and groups to blame for our problems. “If only it were all so simple,” writes Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Our world also clamors for greater unity in one leader or party, nation or race, economic system or secular ideology. We must not ignore politics, realizing that a movement detached from God and sufficiently empowered will lead people to physical and spiritual deaths.

God’s desire is to unite all peoples in Christ, undoing Babel with Pentecost. The Church, Christ in his members, is sent to save our world through conversion rather than destruction “for God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.” Sin and sinners must be opposed but not without the love which we ourselves have received as sinners reconciled to God. Take courage today by recalling the conversions of Saul and the Romans Empire, Christianity’s early enemies – by grace and virtue the Church can win over even her worst persecutors.

“The Prince” or the Christ? — 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

August 3, 2019

In the 6th century B.C., the Romans had a king named Tarquin the Proud who declared war on a city eleven miles east of Rome called Gabii. When the king was unable to take the city by force, he plotted to take it by deception. His son, Sextus, pretending to be ill-treated by his father and bearing fresh wounds from being flogged, fled to Gabii. The infatuated inhabitants entrusted him with the command of their troops, and when he had obtained the full confidence of the citizens, he sent a messenger to his father to learn what he should do next. The king, who was walking in his garden when the messenger arrived, spoke no words, but kept striking off the heads of the tallest poppy plants with his stick. His son understood the unspoken reply, and put to death or banished on false charges all the leading men of Gabii, after which he had no difficulty in compelling the city to submit to his father.

I was reminded of this story of political power and deceitful scheming this week while listening to Niccolò Machiavelli’s 16th century Italian book, “The Prince.” In this pragmatic, cynical treatise, Machiavelli discusses how a ruler can most effectively rule his realm. For example, upon conquering another king or noble’s territories, Machiavelli recommends exterminating that ruler’s family members to prevent future revolts. Machiavelli also encourages leaders to always appear merciful, faithful, humane, sincere, and religious to appear so but not always be so, because he holds that no ruler can be successful without, at times, deliberately doing evil as circumstances require.

Machiavelli provides numerous historical illustrations, like the story of an Italian ruler whose newly acquired territory was full of corruption, robbery, and violence. He appointed a cruel and efficient man as their governor, entrusting him with full authority to act. This governor quickly restored order with his iron fist, but then his lord had less use for him and saw him as a possible threat. Machiavelli writes that the ruler, “to clear himself [of guilt] in the minds of the people and make them entirely loyal to him, … desired to show that if any cruelty had been practiced it had not originated from him but came from the personal cruelty of the governor. Under this pretense [he arrested the governor] and one morning had him killed and left in [the city square] with the block and a bloody knife at his side. This terrible sight,” writes Machiavelli, “caused the people to be at the same time satisfied and worried.”

Listening to his stories, hearing his advice, I wondered what sort of person would ever want to be such a prince or ruler. Besides the iniquity, Machiavelli himself acknowledges that the prudent leader, when not fighting wars, should constantly focus on preparing for wars. But like King Solomon asks in our first reading, ‘what profit comes to [a ruler] from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? Even at night his mind is not at rest. This is vanity.’ And furthermore, like Jesus says, ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?’

Machiavelli’s advice and methods for maintaining power by any means might work in one sense here in this world, but in the long term all these things are futile. The rich fool says to himself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” But God says to him, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.

Jesus once asked, “What king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with 10,000 troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with 20,000 troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.” That’s simply basic strategy, yet how many people march towards the inevitable end of their lives — when they will approach the all-powerful King of kings and the Lord of hosts — without consideration of how ill-prepared they are to face him?

Who and what are we loving? And are we loving them as we should?

St. Paul is often quoted from his 1st Letter to Timothy as saying, “The love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.” But something about this passage never made sense to me. Does the root of all evil really reside in the love of money? For instance, does every act of adultery stem from a love of money? I don’t think so. But while studying Greek in seminary I discovered that this passage can be justifiably translated a different way: “The love of money is a root of all evils,” and that is very true.

Money, wealth, is a tool, like fire. It’s a neutral thing; good when used rightly but potentially destructive and deadly when mishandled. The love of money, that is to say greed, is rightly called “idolatry” by St. Paul in our second reading, because the greedy person serves and trusts in wealth as their god, their savior and source of blessings. While urging us never to worry, our Lord does call us work, to make material provision for ourselves and our households. St. Paul taught the Thessalonians that “if anyone was unwilling to work neither should that one eat.” And on another occasion he wrote, “whoever does not provide for relatives and especially family members [of his household] has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Yet Jesus does not wish us to make work and wealth our idol: “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

One day, perhaps sooner than we imagine, our lives will be demanded of us and all the property and possessions we leave behind will be left to others. It is a good thing for us to have a will prepared for this foreseeable event, and I would ask you to remember St. Paul’s Parish and our endowment in your estate. But as praiseworthy as it is to prepare inheritances for that day, it is not as meritorious as giving during your lifetime. How much generosity is there in giving away what you cannot possibly take with you or keep? How generous is it to give away what is no longer of any use to you? Unavoidable giving is a small sacrifice and exercises small trust in God.

And so I recommend to you the practice of tithing, to the Church and to charities. Chose some percentage to tithe to the mission of Jesus Christ in our parish, for needs in our community, and to help people far beyond. In the Old Testament, God commanded his people to tithe 10% of everything, and they were much poorer than us. I urge you to prayerfully discern a number for yourself. Giving in this way practices trusting in the Lord and allows him to show you his providence and his power to provide. Though we do not believe in a “prosperity gospel” which claims believers will never experience trials, Jesus does promise a prize for our every given gift: “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you. … And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”

Our short life here on earth is an audition and a training ground for life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Through his gracious, saving work, Jesus Christ has extended an invitation to everyone to become a citizen of his Kingdom, now and in the age to come. Presently here on earth, his Kingdom, the City of God and her citizens, exist alongside and amidst the City of Man with its Machiavellian-minded members. But in the coming age, there will be no place for those sinners who live for themselves, and the virtuous meek who are generous to God and their neighbor shall inherit the earth. The choice before us all is for “The Prince” or for the Christ.

Faithful Citizenship

October 31, 2018

This Tuesday, November 6th, we can promote the good for our society by voting in the midterm elections. Not only is voting our great right as Americans, it is also our duty as Catholics. As the Catechism teaches, “co-responsibility for the common good make[s] it morally obligatory… to exercise the right to vote…” (CCC #2240)

Though the Catholic Church participates in the political process as a moral voice in the public square, she does not institutionally endorse candidates or political parties. Within the Church, clergy and laity have different but complementary roles. The calling of the clergy is to preach the Gospel message so that all may properly form their consciences. The mission of lay people is to transform politics and culture.

As Pope Benedict XVI once said, “The Church is not a political power, it’s not a party, but it’s a moral power. Since politics fundamentally should be a moral enterprise, the Church in this sense has something to say about politics.” In their recent document on “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” the U.S. bishops highlight these nine fundamental moral issues particularly pressing at this time:

■ The ongoing destruction of over one million innocent human lives each year by abortion.

■ Physician-assisted suicide.

■ The redefinition of marriage – the vital cell of society – by the courts, political bodies, and increasingly by American culture itself.

■ The excessive consumption of material goods and the destruction of natural resources, which harm both the environment and the poor.

■ The deadly attacks on fellow Christians and religious minorities throughout the world.

■ The narrowing redefinition of religious freedom, which threatens both individual conscience and the freedom of the Church to serve.

■ Economic policies that fail to prioritize the poor, at home and abroad.

■ A broken immigration system and a worldwide refugee crisis.

■ Wars, terror, and violence that threaten every aspect of human life and dignity.

As a mighty wave is made of many single drops, please cast a vote this week for the common good.

Call No Man Father?

June 19, 2018

Was it unchristian for our country to celebrate Father’s Day last Sunday? That’s one implication of a common criticism raised against the Catholic Church. Sometimes Protestants chide us, “Jesus said, ‘Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in Heaven,’ so why do you Catholics call priests and popes ‘Father?’” Yet this charge could also be raised against St. Paul who writes in his Letter to the Romans of “our father Abraham” and “our father Issac.” What’s more, St. Paul is moved by the Holy Spirit in his First Letter to the Corinthians to assert himself as their spiritual father: “Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

So what is Jesus saying in his teaching on titles (father, master, rabbi/teacher) in Matthew 23? Judging from the whole of the New Testament, our Lord’s concern is not with labels or hierarchy in themselves (for “he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles.”) Jesus is warning us against the fallen, human attitudes that we can attach to positions and titles of authority and honor. Jesus says, “You have one teacher… you have but one Father in Heaven… you have but one master, the Messiah.” We must not allow anyone (be they a noted thinker, politician, celebrity, employer, or parent) to displace or compromise God’s primacy in our lives. Embracing a teaching or custom against our Faith is to worship an idol instead of God. And Jesus says “you are all brothers…. The greatest among you must be your servant.” So whenever we are called into a position of influence (be it as a parent, pastor, politician, or what have you) we must remain humble and glorify God while serving him and our neighbors.

The Venerable Servant of God Bishop Fulton Sheen once observed, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” Our Faith has good answers to offer anyone who cares enough about the truth to simply look or listen. So do not fear religious conversations with your family, friends, or peers. You’ll both learn more along the way and you could very well help them into the fullness of Jesus’ Catholic Church.