Archive for the ‘Mass’ Category

Good News Needed by Each & All

December 24, 2022

Christmas Mass
By Fr. Victor Feltes

I proclaim to you good news of great joy!” Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord. Why is his birth such good news? Well, why do people still need Jesus Christ today?

Would you say we presently live in a time of great wisdom? A time of advanced technology? Certainly. A time with more wealth than previous centuries? Sure. But is this a time of great wisdom? Relatively few know how to live rightly, anchored firmly in hope, and thrive. Would you say we live in a time of great heroes? Who would be our heroes now beyond paid athletes or fictional characters with superpowers? No U.S. politician in national office today has an approval above 50%. And even the best leaders among us are flawed. Would you say we live in a time of strong fatherhood? Rather, families are increasingly strained or broken. And many people have never had a good father. Would you say we live in a time of great peace? Bombs are not exploding around us like in Ukraine, but is there peace in our culture and peace in all our souls?

The good news of Christmas, as the Prophet Isaiah foretold in our first reading, is that ‘the people who walk in darkness see a great light; upon those who dwell in the land of gloom a light shines.’ “A child is born to us, a son is given us… They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” In our foolish world, Jesus is the wisest teacher whose counsel wondrously changes lives. In our unvirtuous world, Jesus is the only flawless hero; he is God among us. In our world lacking fatherhood, Jesus says he “only [does] what he sees his Father doing”— so Jesus acts and loves like his Good Father forever. And in our troubled world, Jesus is the Lord who would bring us peace, both around us and within us.

In the days of the birth of Jesus, St. Matthew’s Gospel notes a decree had gone out from the Roman Emperor that the whole world should be enrolled in a census. (This brought the Holy Family to Bethlehem.) Caesar Augustus wanted everybody grouped and tallied for his worldly purposes: to tax more efficiently, to draft more men for war, and to dominate more effectively. Beginning with the birth of Jesus at the center of history, God decrees for all the people of the world to be gathered into his Church for his holy purposes. It is not to tax us, but to give us his gifts. It is not for waging wars, but to bring about his peace. It is not to dominate us, but to share with us the freedom of his Kingdom. Like St. Paul says in our second reading, the grace of God has appeared in Christ to save and train us all to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await our blessed hopes: the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and everlasting life with him.

On Christmas Day, Divine Providence brought the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph) and the shepherds all together. God’s Providence has likewise brought you and all of us together this morning with the Lord Jesus in this Church. Will you be here next Sunday? I pray the joyful news of Christmas will bring you back again. The Lord who loves you calls you. Our world needs Jesus Christ profoundly and so do you.

“My Portion is the Lord” — Funeral Homily for Audrey Schillinger, 87

December 5, 2022

By Fr. Victor Feltes

When her husband, Marvin, passed away in 2013, Audrey became a widow. In these recent years, she has endured breast cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and other bodily ailments. We all walk through dark valleys in this life. Who strengthened Audrey to endure all of this with unconquered joy? She was not alone through her trials. She had her dear friends, siblings, sons, and granddaughters, but most importantly of all, Audrey had the Lord Jesus. With him, as we heard from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, “although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”

Her Lord, the Good Shepherd, was near. The 23rd Psalm says of him: “You spread the table before me… and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.” For many years, Audrey faithfully approached the Lord, at his table in this, his house. She came here to St. Paul’s Church for Mass every Sunday until the arrival of the pandemic. Thereafter, concern for her vulnerable health kept her at home but she continued to watch the Mass on TV. Yet the Lord Jesus still came to her and she eagerly welcomed him to her home.

Rod Ramlow (the lector for today’s funeral) and his wife Betsy have lived next door to Audrey since 2016. In the final seasons of her life, each Sunday morning, Rod brought Jesus Christ to Audrey in the Holy Eucharist. Rod tells me that when he would arrive at her door, he would have barely rung the doorbell when Audrey would quickly answer. He says it was as if she were practically waiting at the door. Like we heard from the Book of Lamentations: “My portion is the Lord… Good is the Lord to one who waits for him, to the soul that seeks him.

As an aside, are you or someone you know homebound or greatly hindered from coming to Mass? Please contact the parish office so we can organize Holy Communion to be regularly taken to you or them. Others have simply neglected to come back to church without good reason, or else they have never known that Jesus is really here in the Holy Eucharist. Whatever the case, the Lord awaits to encounter them.

Who does Jesus tell us is blessed, or blest? We just heard from St. Matthew’s Gospel the Beatitudes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Someone who knows the poverty in their spirit or soul, will seek out and rely on the Lord’s fullness and strength. Jesus says, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” Someone who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, will hunger and thirst for the Righteous One. Jesus says, “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” Someone whose heart is clean or pure — uncluttered by lesser things — will intensely desire God. Audrey sought out and relied upon Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. She hungered and thirsted for him, saw him and received him, the one who drew her to himself. So today, as we pray for her soul, we have well-founded hope that the desire of Audrey’s heart will be satisfied by entering the Kingdom of Heaven to be with her Lord.

Meet Your Hero

August 29, 2022

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Have you ever met a famous person? There’s feelings of excitement and pleasure when you get that opportunity but often there’s some nervous awkwardness as well. You know a little about celebrities, about the things they’ve done, but you don’t really know them. You are really strangers to each other and that colors your encounter, limiting your connection. But by spending an hour sharing company and conversation of your admired person you would begin to deepen your acquaintance.

What if you had a sibling, a childhood friend, or a best friend in college who went on to fame and success? Encounters with that celebrity would feel very different because of your existing relationship. The pope, the president, tech billionaires, and movie stars have family and friends who have known them since long before they were famous. And when those close relations get personal invites to the Vatican, to the White House, to go yachting, or to attend a film premiere they rejoice at the opportunity, but they do not come to meet a celebrity but be with their friend or family member.

Imagine yourself back again in high school or at your first job, but possessing the wisdom that you have now. If it were revealed to you that one of your peers, one of your classmates or coworkers, would become truly great, like one day be canonized a saint, would you be interested in befriending them? Of course! You would be blessed to share their friendship. What sort of person would neglect the opportunity to get to know such a person better? One day, “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Jesus Christ is our admired hero whom we can get to know in deeper, more intimate, friendship now before his greatness is acknowledged by all the world.

The Letter to the Hebrews says, “You have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant…” Yet these realities, present at every Mass surrounding Jesus in the Eucharist, remain veiled to our sight. They are not yet clearly manifest like the blazing fire, gloomy darkness, storms, and trumpet blasts which terrified the Hebrews at Mount Sinai. These supernatural realities are hidden for now, such that non-believers dismiss them and even believers can neglect them. Too often, Catholics neglect the Lord who calls us to celebrate the Holy Mass and to worship him truly present in the Eucharist.

Jesus says, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet… go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.” It takes humility to consistently come and worship him, the proud refuse, but faithfulness will be rewarded with glory, for “the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” The Prophet Sirach wrote, “My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.” Who does the Lord delight in more: those who give their gifts of money or those who give him themselves? “Humble yourself,” as Sirach says, “and you will find favor with God.”

One way to humble yourself, to grow in friendship with Christ and open yourself to receive his graces, in addition to coming to Sunday Mass, is through praying Holy Hours in the presence of our Lord. The Eucharist is “the Source and Summit of the Christian life” because it is the encounter with Jesus Christ and his one sacrifice. And at the conclusion of the Mass the Real Presence of Jesus (his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, his whole living person) endures in all of the consecrated Hosts which remain. We keep these Host of our Lord inside the tabernacle. This is why when we enter, or exit, or cross this church, we genuflect (bending our knee) towards Jesus present there. So even outside of times of Mass, we can take a seat or kneel before Christ’s enduring presence sharing his company and conversation in worship. When you do this for sixty minutes it’s called a Holy Hour, which is a practice highly-recommended by the saints.

One of the best ways to pray a Holy Hour is at Eucharistic Adoration, when our Lord is placed upon the altar in a golden holder called a monstrance, which has a window so that you may gaze upon him. Adorers speak silently to Jesus and listen in their minds and hearts for his occasional replies. Some people bring their bibles or spiritual books to read and then relate to the Lord about what they’re read. Some people pray devotions, like the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Some people simply sit with Christ; they look at him and he looks at them. Once it becomes a habit, these Holy Hours pass swiftly, like an episode of your favorite TV show. Simply sitting in the sunlight—doing nothing—will give you a tan. Likewise, spending time with the Lord in this way will change you, it will not be without effect. Your personal relationship with Jesus Christ will grow and what is more important than that?

For years, St. John the Baptist’s Church in Cooks Valley has had 1st Friday Eucharistic Adoration on Thursdays before the 1st Friday of each month, from their 8:30 AM Thursday Mass until the 10:30 AM Mass on Friday. Now, St. Paul’s Church in Bloomer is beginning monthly Eucharistic Adoration as well, on Thursdays before the 2nd Friday of each month, following their Thursday morning Mass until 7 PM that day. Please say to our Lord, “Yes Jesus, I can devote one Holy Hour a month to you in the Blessed Sacrament.” Give him this gift, because God will not be outdone in generosity, and you will grow in your friendship with Jesus Christ, our hero, whose name shall be exalted above every name.

Are you Friends with Jesus?

August 21, 2022

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

How many friends do you have on earth? When was the last time you counted them? It’s not the same as the number of Facebook friends you have. Each of us have many acquaintances, but fewer friendly acquaintances, and still fewer true friends. What is it that makes you and your friends friends? Are you friends with Jesus and how can you tell?

Luke’s Gospel relates a parable which foreshadows that not all will die as friends of Christ. The Lord Jesus is the master of the house and he plainly warns us that after he has arisen and locked the door, many will stand outside knocking and saying, “Lord, open the door for us… We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” But he will answer, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!” In the parallel passage to this which appears in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus cautions us, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven… I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.’” Seeing many figures from the Old Covenant and from around the world saved, reclining at table, and feasting in the kingdom of God, those kept outside will be angry and grieved, wailing and grinding their teeth, at having squandered their chance to enter.

But doesn’t Jesus say elsewhere: “Knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened”? That is true for us during this lifetime, but at the moment of death one’s eternal fate is sealed. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ.” (CCC #1021) We must come to Jesus. Jesus says, “I am the gate…. No one comes to the Father except through me… Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Now is the time to approach him and befriend him for our salvation. We know that he loves us, but are we friends with Jesus?

When I was growing up, I thought about how many friends I had. I wondered, “Who counts as a friend?” I came up with a test: my close friends were those who could invite me to their house for supper with their family, or whom I could have over to eat with mine, without it being strange. With most of my grade school peers such invites would have felt weird, but with my handful of friends it felt fine. Eating with other people has been a sign of fellowship since ancient times. This is partly why Jesus calls us to Mass, to this meal together with him and the family of God. What greater dinner invitation could we receive than this?

Yet, simply eating with our Lord does not guarantee our closeness. During his public ministry, Pharisees invited Jesus to dine with them while regarding him with suspicion, and recall what those locked outside in the parable say to our Lord: “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” Merely being present for these activities does not automatically yield a close friendship with Christ. At every Mass, Jesus’ Word is taught and his Body and Blood are consumed, but friendship with Christ is about more than just coming to church. So how can we be closer to him?

I recognized my boyhood friends in those whom I would visit for meals and whom I would likewise welcome to dine with me. Jesus invites us to visit him in the Eucharist but desires that we in turn would invite him to our homes. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” How can we invite Jesus inside? How do we receive him into the places where we live?

Jesus knocks upon the door of our souls and hearts and minds each day, and through daily prayer we let him in. Open the door to him by prioritizing your relationship with habits of devotion. Be a gracious host to your great guest and make him feel at completely home, listening to his voice and fulfilling all his requests. Seek to serve the Kingdom of Christ and embody his righteousness as a saint like him. Reject your sins and love like him, for Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Jesus knows we’ll mess up sometimes, but Christ’s true friends will strive to be his close friends.

The Power of the Sacraments, the Importance of the Priesthood

June 27, 2022

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

It is possible to receive the sacraments and greatly benefit from their graces without feeling very much. Some babies, for example, sleep entirely throughout their baptisms. The power of the sacraments do not depend upon our emotions. Yet sometimes God gives us the grace of sensible consolations from them. Consider, for instance, the St. Paul’s second grader who, when asked by her mother how she felt after her 1st Confession, joyfully answered, “My soul feels so light!

When I was in high school, as we drove to a restaurant following my Confirmation, I wondered at why I felt so very joyful. Then I remembered, “Oh yeah, the Holy Spirit.” In college, sometimes when I attended weekday Masses I felt very little but sometimes I experienced great consolations. Eventually, I realized that my most consoling Masses typically preceded hard times to come. After that, I would be at Mass and think to myself, “Wow, this feels wonderful. Oh no… Well Lord, thanks for heads up.”

Thirteen years ago this week, I was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ at our cathedral in La Crosse. I knew going in that my ordination would come through the bishop’s laying of hands and his consecratory prayer immediately thereafter. I realized I would be a priest by the time my bishop said “amen” at the end of the prayer, but I wondered if there were some precise moment before that when I would be ordained. I had not studied the words of the ceremony beforehand, so after the laying of hands I listened to the words of the bishop’s prayer closely.

For ten sentences, through more than twenty-two dozen words, the prayer recounts what God has done in the past: the Old Covenant priesthood, the high priesthood of Jesus Christ, and the priesthood of his apostles. Then comes these words:

Grant we pray, Almighty Father, to these, your servants, the dignity of the priesthood; renew deep within them the Spirit of holiness; may they henceforth…

At the moment I heard that word, “henceforth,” I felt a pleasant but unsettling wooziness. And the words which followed were these: “may they henceforth possess this office which comes from you, O God…” There was power in those words.

I answered God’s call to become a priest, forgoing the goods of natural marriage and children, because I believe the sacraments and teachings of Jesus Christ’s Catholic Church are that important for souls. The seven sacraments are not empty words and gestures, but important and effective instruments of God’s saving power.

My own ordination came to mind as I contemplated Fr. Matthew Bowe’s priestly ordination last Saturday. I’m reminded of my own ordination day whenever I attend an ordination. I imagine the same thing happens for those of you who are married when you attend a wedding; you’re reminded of your own wedding day and the vows that you made. Now a wonderful thing about entering into priesthood or marriage is that you now know your calling, your vocation, the state of life in which Jesus wants you to follow him. There is then no purpose to looking back, lamenting what was left behind, or looking to alternate life paths on left or right, but to simply plow ahead.

Jesus called Matthew Bowe, Fr. Matthew followed after him, and this brings all of us great joy. People tell me Matthew was so quiet and shy as a child. But if Jesus is calling you, he grows and strengthens you, so there’s no reason to be intimidated. Many feel unworthy to be a priest or a religious brother or sister. Of course! Everyone is unworthy, but Jesus still calls us like he did the apostles; asking us to follow him before long we’re perfect. The priesthood saves souls and God’s vocation for your life (whatever that is) is always the best, so if Jesus is calling you to be his priest, follow him. And if you see someone else who seems to have a calling to priesthood or religious life, do your part to encourage them to follow Jesus Christ.

Encountering the Holy Trinity at St. John the Baptist Church

June 11, 2022

Trinity Sunday
By Fr. Victor Feltes

I am back again at St. John’s this Sunday for the final weekend of our Inspired by the Spirit capital campaign and I have good news to share. Going into this weekend, nineteen households have pledged and their pledges total almost $83,000. From the actual monies received to date, our Diocesan Annual Appeal for next year is already covered. And if all of our campaign pledges are fulfilled, about $54,000 will come back to replenish St. John’s Building Maintenance Fund over the next five years.

That’s a great thing; however, this depends upon people following through on their pledges over the coming years. And things happen, so it’s likely not everyone will fulfill them. So today during announcement time I’ll provide one more chance to fill out or grab a pledge card to make a five-year pledge for our capital campaign. If our actual campaign monies raised over these next five years happen to surpass our $80,000 goal, 80% of that overage will return to St. John’s. Or if you prefer, you can always write checks directly to St. John’s with “Building Fund” in the memo line and we will deposit your entire gift into that St. John’s Parish account.

As I mentioned last week, St. John’s Building Fund was depleted by our interior renovation project which made this church of ours one of the most beautiful in our area. And what I love about our church’s new design is that it’s not only beautiful but meaningful. This design, like everything in the universe, is connected to the Most Holy Trinity. Like Sacred Scripture, our sacred art has multiple true interpretations.

Consider, for instance, the colors of the nave where you sit. Our earth tone floor and walls recall how St. John the Baptist, with suntanned skin and camel hair clothes, dwelt among the rocky ground and sandy hillsides of the arid wilderness. Our blue ceiling down the center is like the Jordan River flowing through the desert. It was in this wilderness where John the Baptist, on more than one occasion, pointed out Jesus to declare “Behold the Lamb of God! … Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” In Latin, “Behold the Lamb of God” is “Ecce Agnus Dei,” which is the phrase upon our sanctuary’s arch. St. John the Baptist’s statue in our sanctuary points higher to Christ the Lamb of God. The Baptist said of him, “He must increase, I must decrease.” At Jesus’ baptism the Holy Trinity is revealed.

After Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, he came up from the water and the heavens were opened. The Holy Spirit was seen descending in the likeness of a dove and came down upon him. In our sanctuary, the Holy Spirit is seen descending over Jesus; Jesus on the Cross, Jesus in the Tabernacle, and Jesus on the altar. At the Jordan, the invisible Father—still unseen, pointed out his Son from the heavens, like the hand which represents God the Father points to Jesus’ Sacred Heart Statue in our sanctuary. At Jesus’ baptism, the words of the Father were heard: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

At our baptisms in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we became children of God, temples of the Holy Spirit, and members of the Body of Christ. St. John the Baptist leads us to this personal union with the Holy Trinity. Our blue ceiling may also be taken to represent the sky. Many churches of Europe and the Eastern Church have blue ceilings. The gold plants featured on our walls have old precedent as well. The walls inside the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem were decorated like a garden, with golden depictions of “palm trees and open flowers.” This is because God’s Temple represents a new Garden of Eden, where God dwells with the human race. Our Catholic churches, like the Temple, represent the whole created universe in union with our God in heaven.

The Bible speaks of three heavens. St. Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians of a man, most likely himself, who either in his body or out of his body “was caught up to the third heaven… to paradise, and heard inexpressible things…” What are those three heavens? The first heaven is our sky, where the clouds float and the birds fly. The second heaven is the outer space beyond it, where the stars and planets shine. But the third heaven is beyond them both, a dimension you cannot climb or ride a rocket to, the very presence of the Holy Trinity.

In this church, we are taken beyond the sky above us and the shining star before us into the presence of the Holy Trinity. In our church, through the waters of baptism we come to this altar of Sacrifice, where through Jesus, in union with the Holy Spirit, we offer glory and honor to our Father. At Mass, we give gifts to God; including our wealth and thanks and praise but, most importantly, the gift of ourselves. And at this altar the graces pour down from heaven and flow forth upon us and out into the world. The mystical river flows both ways. All being and truth flows from the Trinity, and all of creation is called back to God.

St. John’s Church is a beautiful church and its purpose is salvific. I desire, that centuries from now, Cooks Valley’s church will still be here, advancing the kingdom of God. That is why I am supporting St. John’s in this Inspired by the Spirit campaign and I encourage you to do the same.

“Do This in Memory of Me”

April 14, 2022

Holy Thursday
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Did you know that a homily is different from a sermon? A sermon may be about whatever topic the preacher chooses, but a homily must be based upon the liturgy’s readings or prayers, or the particular feast celebrated that day. Rather than a sermon, the Catholic Church directs the preacher to give a homily at Mass, though she usually leaves it up to him to decide which specific theme or themes to highlight from the day’s readings, prayers, or celebration. The Mass of Holy Thursday is one rare exception.

For this evening, the Church requires in the current Third Edition of the Roman Missal: “after the proclamation of the Gospel, the priest gives a homily in which light is shed on the principal mysteries that are commemorated in this Mass, namely, the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the priestly Order, and the commandment of the Lord concerning fraternal charity.” In other words, tonight’s homily must be about Jesus beginning our celebration of the Holy Eucharist, his founding of the New Testament priesthood, and his commandment that we love one another. All three of these themes are reflected in Jesus’ words, “Do this in remembrance (or do this in memory) of me.

On the first Holy Thursday, the night before he died for us, Jesus gathered his disciples for a meal, the Last Supper. While at table, he “took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you.’” After that, he took a chalice and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Before being betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus hands himself over to his disciples. Before suffering his Passion, Jesus’ Body is broken and his Blood is poured. Before his death on the Cross, Jesus offers a sharing in his self-sacrifice. And Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me.

Ever since, this “Breaking of the Bread,” this consecrating of the Holy Eucharist, this celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass, has continued to our day. Read St. Justin Martyr’s Apology, an account from the 150’s A.D. describing how Christians worshipped together on Sundays. You will clearly recognize the elements and structure of the Mass. We have done this ‘in memory of him‘ from the era of the Acts of the Apostles to this very evening.

In commissioning his apostles to “do this in memory of me,” Jesus was ordaining them ministers of this new, Christian Sacrifice. He made them priests of the New Covenant, to lead, and teach, and sanctify his people. Without appointing clear shepherds for his Church on earth, Jesus knew his flock would inevitably scatter. Without priests, there would be no Eucharist to make us one in Christ. Please pray for your priests, please pray for more priests, and if Jesus may be calling you to ordination please do not ignore his call. The priesthood is that important for the salvation of souls.

Finally, in saying “do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus was not only telling his Church “do this sacrament until I come again.” And Jesus was not just telling his apostles “do this as my priests.” In saying “do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus was telling each of us to love like he does.

Did you know there are no words of consecration to be found in St. John’s Gospel? Jesus saying, ‘This is my body‘ and ‘This is my Blood‘ at the Last Supper is recounted by the other three gospel writers and by St. Paul in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians (as we heard tonight). So why does St. John leave this out? Perhaps, being the last gospel writer, he saw no need to repeat details others had already made well-known. Instead, John’s is the only gospel book which features the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.

This humble, beautiful act of Jesus helps reveal more fully the meaning of his Eucharist Sacrifice. He, the Master and Teacher, washes feet. He, our God and Creator, gives himself as food. He, the King and Holy One, dies on a cross. Jesus does these things for us because he loves us. He says, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do… Love one another as I have loved you… Do this… do this… in memory of me.

Jesus Invites You

February 12, 2022

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

When we come before our Lord for the Holy Mass it is good to prepare ourselves. Greet Jesus present for us in the Tabernacle. Ask his help so that you may also be fully present and worship well. Also before Mass, form Mass intentions; choose which persons or problems you wish to be especially blessed by the graces which will flow from this Sacrifice on the altar. Having a Mass intention helps ward off distractions because you will not be merely a spectator—just watching the priest pray—but an invested, active-participant in offering his sacrifice and yours, for the needs of many. If you have prayerfully prepared for Mass and there’s still a few minutes remaining before it begins, perhaps look over the day’s readings printed in the missalette.

There’s a feature in our missalettes you may or may not have noticed: for each Sunday, the readings are preceded by an introductory reflection. The entry for this Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time begins with an illustration which struck me: “How would you feel if you received an invitation today to a simple but free meal, maybe a plate with beans, some bread, and a tall glass of cool water? If you are wealthy, you would likely refuse, for you know you could afford a much more sumptuous meal elsewhere. But if you are having difficulty putting food on your table and your family is starving, this complimentary meal would be a godsend.”

Would I go to attend that meal? If the invitation to this meal were addressed to everyone in the general public rather than a personal invitation specifically to me, I can easily imagine myself staying at home, most likely to enjoy some reheated leftovers. But what if this invitation came from the Lord Jesus himself, wishing to be our host and companion at his simple meal? Then who would attend? We would like to think everybody would, yet how many people skip Sunday Mass for other activities instead? It is very possible to overlook or to undervalue the invitations of Jesus Christ.

Unlike the famous Sermon on the Mount (with its eight “blessed” Beatitudes recorded by St. Matthew), this morning’s Sermon on the Plain recounted by St. Luke features four blessings paired with four woes. “Woe” was the cry of Israel’s prophets (such as Isaiah, Amos, and Habakkuk) who warned people of impending distress. Jesus says:

Woe to you who are rich…
  Woe to you who are filled now…
  Woe to you who laugh now…
  Woe to you when all speak well of you…

The danger is, if we’re comfortable, satisfied, happy, and at home in this world, we may imagine that we don’t need God or may refuse to make personal sacrifices we’re called to make for him. We can easily ignore the needs of other people, if we decide not to care. We can distract ourselves from the reality of our own mortality, sometimes up until the very end. We can dismiss our impending judgment by the holy, righteous God and refuse to change our ways. The poor, the hungry, the suffering, and the mistreated are blessed, in part, because they more easily see that all is not right with this world. They more readily recognize, they are more open to accepting, that our flawed hearts and sinful cultures need the Divine Savior, Christ. And that openness is a blessing.

You accepted Jesus’ invitation to his meal here today, and that is very good, but in what areas of your life do you still decline him? The thing about even a free meal of beans and bread and water is that this menu seems unappetizing, unappealing. Many good things Christ wants to share with us feel like that at first. We have plenty of free time for the internet or television, but do we want to spend more time with the Lord in prayer? If we take home $30,000-a-year after taxes, our individual income is greater than 95% of people on earth, but do we want to share as generously as Jesus calls us to? We see the needs of our neighbors, near and far, but do we want to offer penances and acts of service for them, serving Christ within them?

The season of Lent is only two-and-a-half weeks away. To what new engagement with himself is Jesus personally inviting you? Blessed are you who respond to him, for this is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who share his simple table, for he promises you will be satisfied. And blessed are you who accept Christ’s invitations, for your reward will be great in heaven.

Bringing Christ to Others — Funeral Homily for Loretta Logslett, 89

December 30, 2021

Loretta has been a faithful St. John the Baptist parishioner for very many years. Meeting our Lord Jesus Christ at his churches like this one was Loretta’s priority. Her son, Dean, says that she would leave a party early to attend a Sunday Mass, to contemplate and gaze upon Christ’s loveliness in his house and temple as today’s psalm says, before returning to the party after. In 1955, she married Julian here, her loving husband for 55 years. Today, Loretta shall be buried from here, and entrusted to her loving Lord forever.

Since 1977 she has worked at the Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center as a nutrition cook. Her coworkers say that she provided them with generous food portions. But Loretta always knew that we do not live on bread alone. Residents in nursing homes often have limited mobility. Health and transportation problems prevent them from coming to church for Mass like they used to, and they miss it. They miss visiting that holy place of contact, they miss that sacred encounter, and they may feel separated from the Lord. But as St. Paul asks, what can ever separate us from Christ’s love? He who died for us, who was raised for us, and who sits at God’s right hand and intercedes for us, sends us help and consolation. Jesus sent Loretta to that nursing home not only to feed bodies but also to feed souls.

Loretta brought to its residents Jesus in the Holy Eucharist – the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood – the food which gives eternal life. On days when a priest could come for monthly Mass there, Loretta helped set up the room for the celebration, she brought residents to the altar in their wheelchairs, and proclaimed the scripture readings. And throughout the week, she was a pleasant, joyful presence. She would visit residents in their rooms, genuinely befriend them, and pray the Rosary with them. Loretta’s coworker, Robert Johnson, reflected and shared that Loretta may have personally inspired among them some conversions to Christ and his Church. They were not able to make the trip to Jesus, so Jesus came to them in, with, and through Loretta.

These are things we would expect to see in someone very close to the Lord: a consuming desire to see him and be with him, a longing wish that others would know and love him too, a living reflection of his goodness and love in everything one does. Here today, we offer the greatest prayer of Christ’s Church, the Holy Mass, to aid Loretta on her journey to God and to comfort and strengthen us who remain here. On this day of hope and mourning, on this day of reflecting on the past and of looking forward to tomorrow let us ask our Lord Jesus Christ to increase our Christian devotion, to purify our love for him, to make us truly grateful for his gifts, to make us faithful, like Loretta.

A Martyr Preaches: “Banish the Fear of Death”

November 27, 2021

1st Sunday of Advent

This Sunday’s celebration comes in a moment of two overlapping times. This is a Sunday in November, the month in which we particularly remember, celebrate, and pray for the dead. This Sunday is also the beginning of Advent, a season in which we prepare for the coming of Christ. Through Advent we prepare not only for Christmas, the first coming of Christ, but also for Jesus’ Second Coming one day. Here and now at this Sunday Mass, our past and our future, the living and the dead, this world and the next, meet together.

When we hear Jesus’ words in today’s gospel about the Last Days we may feel apprehensive. Jesus tells us “people will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.” And even if you or I do not belong to that final generation, we may fear to contemplate the coming sure reality of our own earthly deaths. But across time and space, an ancient saint and martyr urges us: “Let us shut out the fear of death and meditate upon immortality.

This is what St. Cyprian preached in the mid-third century A.D. as the bishop of Carthage, a North African city on the Mediterranean coast. God wills us to be good stewards of his gift of life, not recklessly pursuing self-harm or death, and yet not dreading the approach of death with mortal terror either. Listen to these words of St. Cyprian of Carthage as if he stood here before you preaching to you today:

“Our obligation is to do God’s will, and not our own. We must remember this if the prayer that our Lord commanded us to say daily (that is, the “Our Father”) is to have any meaning on our lips. How unreasonable it is to pray that God’s will be done, and then not promptly obey it when he calls us from this world! Instead we struggle and resist like self-willed (servants) and are brought into the Lord’s presence with sorrow and lamentation, not freely consenting to our departure, but constrained by necessity. And yet we expect to be rewarded with heavenly honors by him to whom we come against our will! Why then do we pray for the Kingdom of Heaven to come if this earthly bondage pleases us? What is the point of praying so often for its early arrival if we would rather serve the devil here than reign with Christ?

The world hates Christians, so why give your love to it instead of following Christ, who loves you and has redeemed you? John is most urgent in his (first New Testament letter) when he tells us not to love the world by yielding to sensual desires. Never give your love to the world, he warns, or to anything in it. A man cannot love the Father and love the world at the same time. All that the world offers is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and earthly ambition. The world and its allurements will pass away, but the man who has done the will of God shall live forever. Our part, my dear brethren, is to be single-minded, firm in faith, and steadfast in courage, ready for God’s will, whatever it may be. Banish the fear of death and think of the eternal life that follows it. That will show people that we really live our faith.

We ought never to forget, beloved, that we have renounced the world. We are living here now as aliens and only for a time. When the day of our homecoming puts an end to our exile, frees us from the bonds of the world, and restores us to paradise and to a kingdom, we should welcome it. What man, stationed in a foreign land, would not want to return to his own country as soon as possible? Well, we look upon paradise as our country, and a great crowd of our loved ones awaits us there, a countless throng of parents, (brothers and sisters), and children longs for us to join them. Assured though they are of their own salvation, they are still concerned about ours. What joy both for them and for us to see one another and embrace! O the delight of that heavenly kingdom where there is no fear of death! O the supreme and endless bliss of everlasting life!

There is the glorious band of apostles, there the exultant assembly of prophets, there the innumerable host of martyrs, crowned for their glorious victory in combat and in death. There in triumph are the virgins who subdued their passions by the strength of (chastity). There the merciful are rewarded, those who fulfilled the demands of justice by providing for the poor. In obedience to the Lord’s command, they turned their earthly inheritance into heavenly treasure.”

And so brothers and sisters, these are St. Cyprian’s lessons for us today. Love and obey Christ over and against this sinful world. Do not fear Jesus’ Second Coming. The Bible concludes with the prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus,” because his return is Good News for his friends. And do not dread your last days, but look forward to going to paradise. Jesus Christ and his holy saints, who love us, cheer us, and intercede for us, await the day we’ll join them in the fullness of joy.

Following the Shepherd

September 12, 2021

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

[Homily Part 1 at both parishes]

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ.” That was a correct and inspired answer. Jesus then began to openly teach his disciples that he, as the Christ, must greatly suffer, be rejected by the Jewish religious leaders, be murdered, and rise after three days. Peter then took Jesus aside and began to correct him. St. Matthew reports that Peter said, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you!” At this, Jesus turned and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter in return, saying, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Jesus calls St. Peter, his apostle, his Church’s first pope—“Satan.” What are we to make of this?

Satan” is the title given to the highest angel who rebelled against God at the beginning of Creation. The Book of Revelation recalls how “the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world … was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” Jesus talks about this Evil One: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. … He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. …He is a liar and the father of lies.” Both Jesus Christ and his Church today definitely believe in the Devil and that he prowls about the world opposing God and our good. But Jesus does not accuse Peter of being that fallen angel.

The Hebrew word “satan” means “adversary.” Jesus calls Peter his adversary at that moment because he is opposing God’s plan and being an obstacle in Jesus’ path. Like the Devil during the Temptations in the Desert, Peter is suggesting that Jesus be a Messiah who never suffers, a rich, powerful, comfortable Christ who imposes his will over peoples in the same mold as earthly kings. This is what Peter and Judas and the Jews in those days expected. But Jesus knew that the Christ must greatly suffer if the Kingdom of God would save human souls.

During the forty days in the desert, Jesus rebuked the Devil, “Get away, Satan!” And at the Last Judgment, Christ the King upon his throne will tell the unrighteous goats on his left, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” But notice Jesus does not say to Peter “get away” or “depart from me.” Jesus tells him, “get behind me.” Peter is not yet thinking as God does but the Lord Jesus does not desire to cast Peter off forever, if that fate can be avoided. If Peter would humbly follow Jesus, the Lord would show him the Way. Jesus saying “get behind me” was not a personal rejection of Peter, but asking him to follow his Good Shepherd from a new perspective to the Promised Land of heaven.

[Homily Part 2 at St. Paul’s]

Peter thought he had a great plan for Jesus and himself, but Jesus had a different plan, a more challenging plan, but a better plan for them both.

There is godly prudence in our forming of plans and working hard to achieve them. Like in Aesop’s fable about the ant and the grasshopper, the Book of Proverbs urges the lazy to work and prepare for tomorrow: “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.” St. Paul believed in Divine Providence, but also taught the Thessalonians: “When we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.” And Jesus said, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” Jesus then encourages his hearers to be just as prudently intentional and totally invested in being his disciple. It is good for us to make plans and work hard toward worthy goals. But we should also keep in mind that all of our earthly plans are uncertain.

We simply do not know what our remaining time on this earth will be like. St. James writes in his New Testament Letter: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town, spend a year there doing business, and make a profit’ — you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. Instead you should say, ‘If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that.’” As another verse from the Book of Proverbs says: “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

In this land of the living, we do not know our earthly futures and we cannot control everything to make our futures entirely as we’d like. But then again, who’s to say that knowing our future perfectly would be good for us? Who’s to say that having the power to craft a future exactly to our liking, would be best for us? We very well may not know what is best for us and what is best for us may not be something we would readily choose. We do not always think as God does, but as human beings do.

Young Simon Peter could not imagine that the Christ would be killed, but this was how Jesus would save the world. Young Peter used to dress himself and go where he wanted; but when he grew old, he stretched out his hands and someone else dressed him and led him where he did not want to go. Jesus had foretold this to Peter, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God in the divine plan: crucified in the likeness of his friend and Lord and God, and sharing (more than most) in his glory. Our personalized path to sainthood may not be the one we’d expect or choose for ourselves.

We ought to plan and work hard towards worthy goals, even though this broken world and the sins of men and demons make all of our plans uncertain. Our human sight and wisdom are limited. We do not always see, or have the courage to pursue, what is best for us. But we do know, as St. Paul taught the Romans, “that God works all things for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Jesus tells us, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” With this firm confidence, let us get behind Jesus Christ and follow him who leads our lives to salvation even through the Cross.

[Homily Part 2 at St. John the Baptist’s]

This is where your homily this morning diverges from what I’m preaching at St. Paul’s this weekend because I have been meaning to talk to you about ad Orientem Masses. Since the Second Vatican Council, the most common way priests have celebrated Mass is versus populum, or “towards the people.” Yet the much longer-practiced custom has been for the priest and the people to face literally or symbolically towards the East together, or “ad Orientem.” Like Muslims today who pray towards Mecca, the custom of the Jews was to pray towards the Temple in their holy city of Jerusalem. The writings of the Church Fathers show that the early Christians prayed towards the east.

In the second century, St. Clement of Alexandria wrote “prayers are made looking towards the sunrise in the east.” And in the third century, Origen noted: “…Of all the quarters of the heavens, the east is the only direction we turn to when we pour out prayer…” Tertullian records that Christians facing east to pray caused some non-Christians to mistakenly believe we worshiped the sun. But the Christians praying towards the sunrise saw a symbol of Christ rising from the dead and of his promised return to earth in radiant glory one day. Throughout the centuries, even in churches which were not built to face east, the priest and the people faced the same direction (or “liturgical east”) together. However, since the 1970’s the prevailing custom has been for the priest to face towards the congregation.

Now I am not saying that one way of celebrating English Masses is good and the other way is terrible. The Catholic Church approves both versus populum and ad Orientem as valid, legitimate options. But these two ways of celebrating the Mass emphasize different things. Celebrating versus populum, toward the people, emphasizes the horizontal aspect, the communal meal. And the Holy Mass is indeed a meal, a memorial of the Last Supper; where Jesus Christ and his disciples gather at his table. Celebrating ad Orientem, toward the East, emphasizes the vertical aspect, the sacrificial offering. And the Holy Mass is indeed a sacrifice, a memorial of the Cross; where Jesus Christ is offered up for us from his altar.

I experienced my first ad Orientem Mass back when I was still in seminary. The celebrant was a priest of our diocese, a graduate from our seminary returning to visit us, Fr. Derek Sakowski. I remember fearing that I would hate the Mass being said that way because I often dislike change. (For instance, our seminary once changed the toaster in the dining hall and, even though I almost never used that old toaster, I was annoyed when they had replaced it with another because the old one was pleasantly familiar.) Fr. Sakowski said the same English prayers as at other Masses, but seeing him celebrating that Mass ad Orientem, facing us when speaking to us and facing God when praying to God, I found it surprisingly beautiful and it made a lot of sense. Here at St. John the Baptist Church, I’ve celebrated our Monday, Thursday, and First Friday Masses ad Orientem since 2019, and attendees have reported positive experiences similar to mine. I’d like to give you the opportunity to experience this, too.

Around fifty years ago, when versus populum (Mass facing the people) became the prevailing custom in the Church, pastors often introduced the liturgical change abruptly and without adequate explanation. It was jarring, many lay people were bewildered and hurt, and public Masses celebrated ad Orientem were very rarely offered. I do not wish to repeat those mistakes going in the opposite direction.

Having consulted with our Parish Pastoral Council (who encouraged me to proceed with this plan) I’d like to alternate celebrating Masses ad Orientem and versus populum over four upcoming weekends. This means that if you consistently attend the same Mass time over those four weeks, you’ll experience the English Mass offered ad Orientem twice. Come with an open mind. After that, I’ll survey your feedback. Which approach do you find more fruitful? Which weekend Mass would you like to see celebrated ad Orientem on a regular basis: Saturday night, Sunday morning, neither, or both? I’ll want to hear what would help you worship best, and then we’ll go from there. For now, let us turn to Jesus Christ who invites us this morning, like St. Peter before us, to share in his holy meal and his perfect sacrifice.

The Master Chef — Funeral Homily for John Kenneavy, 74

July 22, 2021

John KenneavySt. John the Baptist Parish is honored welcome you and to offer our greatest prayer, the Holy Mass, for John’s soul and the consolation of all who know and love him. No short funeral homily can capture the fullness of a person. If I were to preach to you for an hour about his life, afterwards I bet that each of you here could add another unique story. This morning, I’m going to reflect upon just a single aspect of John’s life, one that all of you who are his family and friends are already familiar with: his being a chef.

John opened and operated the Kenneavy’s Kitchen restaurant for seventeen years, preparing homestyle dishes, fresh bakery items, and his famous pizza. After selling that restaurant in 1993, he cheffed at several other Door County restaurants. He went on to be one of the first cooks hired to run the kitchen at a brand new, area nursing facility. And, in his own retirement, he helped to helped cook and serve a weekly lunch for his Florida residential community. In addition to his customers and neighbors, how many countless times did he use his culinary talents to feed his family and friends? Consider how much nourishment and delight John provided for literally thousands through his culinary gifts in life. And John delighted in doing it.

So what is the joy in cooking? Everyone likes to eat good food – chefs included – but the joy from cooking is more than merely eating. There is delight in creating a dish and delight in sharing it. The chef offers up a gift of self to create a great meal and offers this meal to others. A chef’s feast is offered for peoples’ nourishment and joy, that they may have life and have it more abundantly. And a great feast brings people together, connecting the chef with his friends, family, or guests.

At the Last Supper and at the Holy Mass, Jesus gathers his friends for a feast. The Good Shepherd spreads a table before them in the house of the Lord. Christ prepares a meal for his family, makes a gift of himself for us, and offers us this gift. Jesus says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my Flesh for the life of the world. Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” This is not mere metaphor, for Jesus insists, “my Flesh is true food, and my Blood is true drink,” and so his Church has always professed and believed. This meal brings us into communion with the Chef who prepares it: “Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” Whoever eats this bread will live forever with the Lord on the holy mountain that the Prophet Isaiah describes, where death will be no more and those who are saved will rejoice in their salvation.

When St. Augustine’s mother, St. Monica, was dying she famously told her son, “Bury my body wherever you will…. Only one thing I ask of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.” St. Monica knew the Holy Mass is our greatest prayer because this feast connects to the Lord and one another, that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Today, let us pray for the peace of John’s soul and receive Christ’s consolation for ourselves. Jesus Christ the Master Chef has prepared his feast for us, and “blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.”

Lovingly Received — Funeral Homily for Allen Pietz, 62

June 22, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Allen Pietz after his 1st Communion

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

Believe Like Children

June 5, 2021

Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Earlier this week was the last day of classes for another academic year at St. Paul’s Catholic School. This pandemic-impacted year posed challenges, but we prevailed. Our school met in-person throughout and gave our children a full education – focused on forming not only their minds but also their souls as well. This aspect is so important, it is the reason the Catholic Church has schools. A true education is not complete unless a person learns about God, about Jesus’ saving words and deeds, and how to live, both now and forever, as a Christian like him.

This is why I encourage any of you who have children attending public school to enroll them into Catholic school for this fall. Ask our school families about how excellent a school it is. They’ll tell you. Pray on this decision, ask the Lord where he wants your sheep to be. And realize that a great Catholic education for your children is much more possible than you might think.

My favorite part of being the pastor of a Catholic school is teaching and speaking with the children. Their openness to the things of God is beautiful. In their classroom or in church, you can teach these little ones holy truths and they joyfully believe them. This openness is part of why Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” and “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Sometimes I’ll meet with a class of youngsters and their teacher in the church outside of the Mass. We remind the children how to use the Holy Water at the doors to bless themselves and to genuflect when they reach their pews. Then I love to teach them and ask them questions, questions like, “Where is Jesus here?

Sometimes kids point to the big crucifix on the wall and I tell them, “That’s only a statue of Jesus. Seeing it reminds us of Jesus and can help us pray to him, but that’s just a statue which looks like him. Where is Jesus really, truly present in this room?

The children then point to the golden box at the foot of the cross – the Tabernacle – inside of which, I explain, within a special container called a ciborium, is kept Sacred Hosts consecrated at previous Masses. At the priest’s words of consecration at Mass, these Hosts became Jesus Christ, his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, really and truly present, really and truly him.

In our Catholic churches, what is typically located front and center? Not the priest’s chair, not a donation box, not even the baptismal font, but Jesus’ Tabernacle and the altar. This is because Jesus Christ and his Holy Sacrifice are at the center of our Catholic Faith. At the Last Supper, Jesus said, This is my Body, and Do this in memory of me. And his Bride the Church has listened, believed him, and obeyed him, celebrating his Real Presence at the Holy Mass throughout the centuries to this day.

It has been humorously observed that for second graders preparing for and receiving their First Communion it can be harder for them to believe that the round, flat, unfluffy, Consecrated Host was ever bread to begin with than it is for them to believe it is Jesus. This is because they believe that Jesus can do, and does do, the things he says. On this feast of Corpus Christi, let’s humbly turn and become more like those children, who accept that their good and loving friend, our Lord Jesus Christ, is truly here before us.

“But Him They Did Not See”

April 5, 2021

Easter Sunday

Saint Peter and Saint John Running to the Sepulchre by James Tissot.

Holy Thursday Homily – The New Passover Lamb
Good Friday Homily – The New Adam
Easter Vigil Homily – The Beginning of the New Creation

It’s surprising and remarkable that the Church’s Gospel for this Mass, the Mass on Easter Sunday morning, does not feature even a brief cameo of Jesus. In this morning’s gospel, the risen Lord does not make any appearance. Mary of Magdala runs back from his tomb without having seen him. She goes to Peter and John and reports her fear that someone has stolen his body. So Peter and John run to the tomb. They arrive and investigate, but him they do not see. And then those two disciples return home.

Later that same day, in encounters recorded by the Gospels, they would see the Jesus alive in the flesh, and touch him, speak with him, and rejoice. As St. Peter announces in our first reading:

“This man God raised on the third day
and granted that he be visible,
not to all the people, but to us,
the witnesses chosen by God in advance,
who ate & drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

Jesus did not appear to everyone, but only some, mostly his friends and others open to receive him.

The Risen Lord did not appear to King Herod, whom he met briefly during his Passion. Herod was a man of vices and pleasures and was curious and excited to see this wonder worker. But when Jesus only answered him with silence, Herod was not entertained and, no longer interested, sent Jesus away.

The Risen Lord did not appear either to Governor Pontius Pilate, who presided over his Roman trial. Pilate thought Jesus had committed no capital crime, but this cynical man of the world (who had scoffed “What is truth?”) thought life would be easier with Jesus out of the way, and so he put him to death.

And the Risen Lord did not appear to the High Priest Caiaphas, who conspired against him. The High Priest was offended by Jesus’ calls to conversion and he envied his popularity and influence among the people. Caiaphas was too proud to learn from and follow Jesus, so he condemned the Christ and became his enemy.

The hedonism of Herod, the pragmatism of Pilate, and the conceitedness of Caiaphas kept them from accepting and following Jesus. Imagine if Jesus had appeared to Herod, Pilate, and Caiaphas after rising from the dead. Would they have loved him then? Seeing his power they might well have submitted to him, but that’s very different than devotion.

Jesus did, however, appear to his disciples, his friends, following his resurrection. For example, Jesus met Mary Magdalene at the tomb on Easter morning after Peter and John had left. On Easter evening, Peter, John, and other disciples were visited by Jesus within the Upper Room even though the doors were locked. And Jesus would go on to appear beside the Sea of Galilee, to reconcile and rehabilitate Simon Peter who had denied him. Each encounter with the Risen Lord was surprising, personal, and beautiful. But at the time of our gospel reading there was only Jesus’ Easter tomb, an open door paired with an inner emptiness, which pointed to something greater, something divine, something real but still unseen.

In 1937, when the Gallup polling organization first began asking the question, 73% of Americans said they were members of a church, synagogue, or mosque. That figure remained near 70% for the next six decades, until about twenty years ago when the number began steadily declining. This week, Gallup’s latest polling indicates for the first time, a majority of Americans (53%) report not belonging to a house of worship. It’s a discouraging trend.

This seems related to a different Gallup poll published in 2020. At the end of that very trying year, surveyed Americans’ self-assessed mental health was worse than it had been at any point in the last two decades. The percentage of those rating their mental health as “excellent” fell for almost every demographic compared to the year before. Every age group, men and women; the married and the unmarried; the wealthy, the poor, and the middle class; each of these groups polled eight to twelve points lower on this question. Only one group reported higher rates of excellent mental health than before, increasing by four points despite the trials of 2020. It was those who, at least once a week, attended religious services.

Like other churches around the country, our public liturgies were suspended for awhile, about three months last year, due to the pandemic. But we have been safely celebrating public Masses in my parishes since last June. I am very pleased that none of my parishioners who have been attending Church have died from Covid; which suggests our Masses here are quite safe. But next Sunday, the weekend after Easter, will all our Masses be filled again like this?

Jesus says, To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. Jesus here is not primarily speaking about earthly economics, but of spiritual wealth. Christian discipleship requires real investment to show a great return. Like the Easter Tomb, our church door is open. Like the Easter Tomb, perhaps you find an emptiness within you. These things point to something greater, something divine, something real but still unseen. I urge you to begin coming back to Mass again, because Jesus reveals himself in surprising, personal, and beautiful ways to his disciples and friends.