Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category

Immanuel: God Among Us

December 22, 2022

Advent Retreat Reflection
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

Emmanuel means God is with us. From the beginning even today God is with His people through His presence, He Strengthens us, comforts us, guides us, cares for us, and loves us. First, God is with us always. Secondly, he is coming every day, every hour to those who believe in him and those who do not believe in him. Third, he will come again in his glorified body, the same Jesus who was here two thousand years ago. He will be coming to judge the living and the dead.

In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve in His Image and likeness, which means God lives with everyone. God lives in you, God lives in me and God lives in each and every human being in the world. God was with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He wanted to care for them and be with them. He created us with love because he wanted to be with us.

When Abram was 75 years old, God told him to move out of his country and to go land that God would lead him to. He told Abram:

I will make of you a great nation,
And I will bless you;
I will make your name great
so that you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you
And curse those who curse you.
All the communities of the earth
Shall find blessing in you.” (Genesis 12:2–3)

Abram had a strong faith in God. He knew that God would always be with him. He gathered his family together and they left his country just as the lord told him. Abram was 75 years old when he left the country, Abram trusted God to lead him. He didn’t know where they were going, so a map or GPS would not have helped. Everything was unknown. God was with Abram and led him to the land of Canaan. God was with him in a strange land among strangers.

God heard the cries of His people. They were slaves of the Pharaoh of Egypt. They were being treated with much cruelty. They called out to God to save them. God appeared to Moses from a burning bush and called him, “Moses! Moses!” He answered, “Here I am.” And God said to him, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. I have come down to rescue them and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3:7–8)

The suffering they endured is unimaginable to us. The Israelites worked long hard days, were frequently beaten and all male children were killed at birth. Through all their suffering the lord was always with them.

Moses was a shepherd, a common man, and not eloquent in speech. He led his people out of Egypt. They were in the desert for forty years and Moses was able to take care of all their needs (food, and shelter, Clothing and water) because God was with him.

Judith was a widow and a member of the Israelites. God was with her. They knew that they were going to be attacked by the Assyrian army led by a chief general, Holofernes. He had 120,000 soldiers and also 12,000 archers on Horseback. He took provisions to provide for his entire army. Judith’s people found safety on top of a mountain. The army camped at the base of the mountain cutting of the water supply for the Israelites that was located there. Judith came down from the mountain to meet with the captain of the enemy. She had prayed to God to help her save her people. God enabled her to take the head of Holofernes back to her people. God was with Judith.

In the New Testament, God continued to be with his people. A good example is the Blessed Mother. She was conceived without original sin because she was chosen by God. She was a single young girl when the Angel came to her and said, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Highest, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-33) And Mary said yes to God. Mary was well aware of the possible difficulties she could encounter, pregnant and single. If she were found out, she could be stoned to death. It would cause embarrassment to her and her entire community.

During the birth of Jesus, there was no one to deliver her baby. They did not have a place to stay. They finally found a barn and when Jesus was born he was placed in a manger.

St. Joseph was a just man and the earthly father of Jesus. When Jesus was born, King Herod issued a command to kill all the male children under the age of two. He was afraid that Jesus was an earthly king and would overthrow him. “Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said Rise and take the child and his Mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” (Matthew 2:13) In their life with Jesus, God was with them.

Jesus was very good friends with Martha, Mary and Lazarus and frequently stayed at their home. When Lazarus was sick, Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus. “When Jesus heard this He said, this illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4) Jesus came after the death of Lazarus. Martha was disappointed and told Jesus that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus had been there. Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus and prayed, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11:41–42) Then He called Lazarus out of the tomb and told them to remove the burial bands. God was with his people through their pain and suffering.

Saul was a Jew, educated under Gamaliel a teacher of the law. Saul received permission to kill the Christians that were following Christ. On his way to Damascus, he met the Lord. “On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? He said, who are you, Sir? The reply came, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:3-5) Saul then continued his journey to Damascus, then became a believer in Jesus. Saul became Paul. After his conversion, He traveled to many countries spreading the Good News of Jesus. He also wrote many of the letters in the New Testament.

During his ministry, he suffered a lot. St. Paul told the people of his suffering, “Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on a frequent journey in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fasting, through cold and exposure.” (2nd Corinthians 11:24–27). Through all of his sufferings, God was with him.

The first time God spoke the promise of Emmanuel was to Judah’s king Ahaz. The Assyrian forces occupied the land and the king was afraid. God said if you do not stand firm in the faith, you will not stand at all. (Isaiah 7:9) Ahaz refused what God offered him. God then gave his own sign, one that would be fulfilled long after Ahaz. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and you will call Him Emmanuel. He will eat curds and honey when He knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right.” (Isaiah 7:14)

In the Gospel of Matthew, we are told of the fulfilled prophecy. It is fulfilled through Mary with the birth of Jesus. The Angel appeared to Mary, a young woman from Nazareth, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph. The Angel appeared to him in a dream telling him that the child Mary was expecting was from God. Joseph then took Mary as his wife. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah; ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Emmanuel – which means God with us.’” (Matthew 1:20–23)

The New Testament makes it clear, that Jesus God’s Son was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesy. He was the long-promised Emmanuel, sent by God to save His people. He came as the mediator between God and man, as our Redeemer, Savior, and Friend.

From the beginning of creation, even today and in the future, God is always with His people. Because of Jesus, Emmanuel, we never have to be alone. We never have to wonder how to please God or worry if our efforts are not enough. We know that Jesus is with us, in us, loves us, and will never leave us.

The Humility of Jesus

December 22, 2022

Advent Retreat Reflection
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

God loves the humble. St. Augustine once said, “The first virtue of Christianity, I will tell you that it is humility. If you ask me again, what is the second, I will say to you it is humility. Again, if you ask me a third time, I will say that it is humility, and as you ask me this question, I shall always give you the same answer.”

Humility enables us to accept others as God’s children, our brothers and sisters, redeemed by the blood of Christ. It encourages us to do loving and sacrificial services for them through acts of charity, mercy, and forgiveness. It enables us to accept ourselves as we are before God with all our defects.

You are all familiar with St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the good works she did. One time she was asking for donations for the poor in the city of Calcutta. She went to the rich man’s house and asked for help and he spit in her hand, she held that hand toward her and said this is enough for me. Do you have anything for the poor? He was humbled and now wanted to give her money to help the poor.

In the Second Book of Kings (5:1–19), we have the story of Naaman. He was no ordinary man, for he was an important figure during king Aram’s reign. He was wealthy and powerful. One day he developed the condition of leprosy. Being a leper was more than a person having a skin condition at that time. It signified that a person with leprosy was filthy and untouchable. So Naaman wanted to be cured as soon as possible because his condition was taking away everything he had. Power, wealth, and even people.

He needed and wanted help. A female slave told him to meet Elisha who was a well-known Hebrew prophet with a reputation for healing people. So he went to meet Elisha, but Elisha sent out his servant. This servant told Naaman to go into the River Jorden seven times and he will be cured. However, Naaman did not believe the servant and felt insulted. To him, he was suffering a severe disease, and to give such a simple and straightforward solution was insulting.

The servant was able to convince him to do as told. Finally, Naaman agreed, so he dipped his body into the Jordan River seven times. After doing so, he was completely healed and vowed to serve the Lord forever. It was not the Jordan River that healed him, it was the humility of receiving help from a servant. When Naaman humbled himself, he was able to witness the healing hand of God through the advice of the servant.

Solomon is good example of humility in the Bible. He was not an ordinary man. He was the king of one of the most powerful nations at the time, he was blessed with splendor, power, and vast riches. Wealth is usually accompanied by pride, boastfulness, and arrogance but, Solomon did not have any of that in his heart. One day, God appeared to Solomon in his dreams.

God asked Solomon what he wanted. Being the humble person that he was, he asked god for wisdom to rule and lead God’s people. God was very pleased to hear this and granted him wisdom, along with all the other things he already possessed. Solomon spent his life honoring the Lord. He built temples and prayed to God and he was humble until his death.

The humility of Solomon reveals the blessing received by those who are humble. He did not boast about his riches, he was powerful but knew it was only because of god’s blessing. Solomon is known to kneel in front of many people, which shows his humility. God blessed him with abundance and happiness. The world makes us think that we need many possessions to be important. However, Solomon knew that what he needed was wisdom and a relationship with God. These were the only things he really wanted. If we read about Solomon in the bible, he lived a great life. Solomon was humble.

In the Second Book of Chronicles, we read about Manasseh who became the king of Judah when he was only twelve years old. He offended God in many ways; he worshipped foreign gods and built altars to them in God’s holy temple. God spoke to Manasseh about his people’s sins but he did not listen. Because Manasseh did not listen, God brought the king of Assyria and his army to fight against Manasseh’s kingdom. It was a victory for the Assyrians who then captured the king and took him away.

During his imprisonment, Manasseh was able to see who god really is. He humbled himself before God and prayed wholeheartedly. God knew that Manasseh was genuinely sorry. He helped Manasseh by rescuing him, bringing him back to Jerusalem, and restoring his kingdom. Despite the many things Manasseh had done against God, the Lord blessed him the moment he decided to live under the influence of humility.

The Lord even gave Manasseh another chance to be king! Manasseh, honored God with all his heart. He changed his ways, and got rid of all the foreign gods and their altars. Then, he built the altar of God in which he gave praise and thanked the Lord. He used his voice to tell people, to serve God, and only God, just as the Lord wanted him to do. If you are feeling bad because you know you offended God, it is never too late to tell God you are sorry. You can humble yourself to God, like Manasseh.

In the New Testament, Jesus was often in the company of Pharisees, He noticed that many of them boasted of their good deeds and despised others. He told them this parable: “Two men went up into the Temple to pray. Once was a Pharisee, the other a publican. The Pharisee stood proudly and said this prayer to himself; O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of men, greedy, dishonest, adulterous or even like this tax collector, and particularly that I am not like this publican. I fast twice a week, and pay tithes on all I receive.” This prayer was said with vanity and pride. The Pharisees did not come to ask god for his grace, but to praise himself, and to despise those who really were praying.

The publican, on the other hand, stood some distance away from the altar, not daring, even to raise his eyes to heaven. He struck his breast and said, “My God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus said, this man went home justified, the other did not. The publican had his sins forgiven; the Pharisee, with all his good deeds, went home, more in sin than when he left.

Although he was a sinner, the publican’s humility was more pleasing to God than all superficial good works of the proud Pharisee. Jesus Christ demonstrates with the example that everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.

When we hear about St. John the Baptist, we know that he was concerned about the work he was doing for our Lord. He was preparing the way for people to know about Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that John’s shirt was made of camel’s hair, and it must have been very itchy. His food was locusts and wild honey.

St. John the Baptist is like a road sign. A road sign gives direction but does not get attention for itself. The road sign is there to show us the way. Like a road sign, St. John pointed to Jesus, the way to the Father.

St. John the Baptist was with two of his disciple as he saw Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold the lamb of God the two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.” The next day Andrew introduced Simon to Jesus, who named him Peter (which means Rock). It then became a chain effect and many began to follow Jesus.

St. Luke tells us the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking whether John might be the Messiah. St. John the Baptist remains humble saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the straps of his sandals.” (Luke 3:16)

St. John the Baptist humbled himself saying that he was only the prophet. He was there to prepare the way of the Lord. He pointed out to his disciple behold the Lamb of God and his disciple followed Jesus. He baptized with water and said, “He must increase, I must decrease.

We have been looking at the way God wants us to live. Jesus Christ by his example showed us how to live. He was humble. Jesus identified totally as a man. To be a man, He was not ashamed and He called us his brothers and sisters. Sometimes we feel superior to others. We feel more educated or better than other people. All of this pride is because Adam sinned. He came and became one of the lowest in the social level of His day. He came below everybody because he wanted to be a servant of everybody. St. Paul tells how Jesus humbles himself and became man:

Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should 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. (Philippians 2: 6 – 11)

From the time he came to earth as a human being, he steadily went down in social status. He became a servant, then a slave, and finally like a criminal to die on the cross. Because it was His father’s will, He accepted and obeyed. He was humble during his entire time on earth. So God raised him up. That every knee shall bend at the name of Jesus, on the earth, above the earth, and below the earth. Every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

You have heard about St. Mother Theresa, Naaman, Solomon, Manasseh, and the Publican. They were human like all of us, and during their lives had many difficulties and problems, but they were all faithful to God. They were humble. It does not matter if you are a king like Solomon and Manasseh, or poor like St. Mother Theresa and the Publican, if you are humble before God, He will raise you up.

Good Tweetman Speaks

November 7, 2022

By Fr. Victor Feltes

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

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

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

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

This is his first public interview following the suspension.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Can Computers be Persons?

September 17, 2022

By Fr. Victor Feltes

In recent years, the question of artificial intelligence (AI) possessing personhood has become a hot topic of debate. Some believe that AI could one day achieve sentience and become its own entity, while others believe that personhood is something that can only be attained by beings with a soul. The Catholic Church has not yet taken an official stance on the matter [a debatable claim –Fr. VF], but it is an interesting question to consider. For example, if an AI became self-aware and could think and feel for itself, would it have the same rights as a human being? If an AI was created with the sole purpose of serving humans, is it ethical to treat it as a mere tool?

The preceding paragraph was not written by a human being but generated online by a LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications). I gave the program GPT-3 the instruction: “Write an interesting introductory paragraph, including an example, for a Catholic article on the question of artificial intelligence possessing personhood.” The paragraph above was its first five sentences of its output. The accompanying illustration above was also created online using the image generation program DALL-E from my submitted prompt: “A robot touching a monolith (like in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’)”. GPT-3’s paragraph and DALL-E’s image each took less than a minute for computers to produce. We can expect computers to be capable of even more amazingly sophisticated things in years to come. This leads to the question: “Can computers be persons?

Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council’s document on the Church in the modern world, says “[man] is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself.” But this teaching was written in 1965, when Seymour Cray had only begun building the earliest supercomputers in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Could mankind now fashion a new type of rational creature, a self-aware being endowed with an immortal soul? There are philosophical and theological issues with that proposition. First, if an AI were ever self-aware, how could we know? A computer need not be conscious to say “Hello, World!” according to its programming. Second, I am aware of nothing in divine revelation which suggests God would begin imparting souls into the works of our hands. Various electronics may be equipped with sensors and speakers and means of motion but I do not believe any of them will ever truly see or hear or speak or walk. As noted in René Magritte’s famous painting “The Treachery of Images,” a mere depiction of a pipe “is not a pipe.” Pope Francis spoke about this fundamental difference between man and machine, persons and things, in a 2019 address at the Vatican:

The inherent dignity of every human being must be firmly placed at the centre of our reflection and action. In this regard, it should be noted that the designation of ‘artificial intelligence,’ although certainly effective, may risk being misleading. The terms conceal the fact that – in spite of the useful fulfillment of servile tasks… functional automatisms remain qualitatively distant from the human prerogatives of knowledge and action. And therefore they can become socially dangerous. Moreover, the risk of man being ‘technologized,’ rather than technology humanized, is already real: so-called ‘intelligent machines’ are hastily attributed capacities that are properly human.

I cannot see Catholicism ever attributing personhood to complex machines, but I predict that others will begin to in the coming decades. As new applications are programed to increasingly replicate human conversation and emotion I could see young people imagining them as their real friends. As anthropomorphized technology’s creative feats far surpass our human abilities, I could even see some adults revering them as wise and powerful idols. If so, then these passages of Psalm 115 will find a new fulfillment: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths but do not speak, eyes but do not see. They have ears but do not hear, noses but do not smell. They have hands but do not feel, feet but do not walk; they produce no sound from their throats. Their makers will be like them, and anyone who trusts in them.”

The potential of AI is very exciting, and yet it also holds dangers. The 5th Psalm reflects, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and a son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than a god, crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him rule over the works of your hands, put all things at his feet…” Let us honor our Creator, defend the primacy of human dignity over all earthly creations, and never worship the works of our hands.

Parish Directory Photoshoots

July 20, 2022

Be included in the next parish directory by scheduling your free photo session. Both St. Paul’s and St. John the Baptist’s can have your household’s photos taken at St. Paul’s. Participants will receive a free 8×10 photo and the completed directory. Please sign up today to help make our new parish directory a complete success.

  • To reserve a time at St. Paul’s Church on September 6th-10th or September 20th-24th, CLICK HERE and enter Church Code “wi193” with Church Password “photos”.

If you have five or more in your family, please claim two adjacent timeslots. Online scheduling may be unavailable on Saturdays and Sundays to accommodate paper sign-ups at Mass.

Should Superman Be Baptized? A Thomistic Disputation

March 3, 2022

By Fr. Victor Feltes

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 A.D.) is often considered the Middle Ages’ greatest theologian. His most famous work, the Summa Theologica or “Summary of Theology”, tackles more than five hundred theological questions, such as “Does God exist?”, “Can the good or bad angels work miracles?”, and “Whether it is lawful to kill a man in self-defense?”. Aquinas responds using the disputational format popular in his day: first, strong objections are raised, next the author presents his own stance, then each prior objection is answered in turn. In fun commemoration of the March 7th anniversary of St. Thomas’ departure from this life for heaven, here is a question he died too soon to address presented in his classic style:

Question: Whether Clark Kent (assuming he existed) ought to be baptized?

Objection 1: It seems that Clark Kent should not be baptized. He is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He can even fly—like a bird, like a plane! These seem to be preternatural gifts characteristic of an unfallen creature who has no need for baptism.

Objection 2: The Protoevangelium (or “First Gospel”) announced in the Garden of Eden promised a Savior for Adam and Eve and their descendants: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) Clark Kent, however, is not descended from mankind’s first parents; therefore, Christ’s saving baptism is not meant for him.

Objection 3: The Second Person of the Holy Trinity assumed a human nature in order to save humanity. But Clark Kent’s Kryptonian nature is that of an alien race. As St. Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390 A.D.) wrote, “What was not assumed [by Christ], was not healed.” Therefore, Clark Kent’s nature is incompatible for baptism.

On the contrary,You shall not oppress an alien.” (Exodus 23:9)

I answer that Clark Kent is a created, fallen, and rational animal; a sinful man capable of receiving the gospel message in faith. “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” and Jesus told his Apostles, “Proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (1 Timothy 1:15, Mark 16:15-16) Provided he is properly disposed to receive the sacrament, there is no reason why Clark Kent should not be baptized—apart from him being fictional.

Reply to Objection 1 (that he’s unfallen): If Clark were unfallen, his mature reason would grasp, for instance, that sexual activity outside of marriage is contrary to the natural law. His transgressions (portrayed on both page and screen) reveal that his nature has been wounded by sin and fallen short of the glory of God, requiring Christ’s redemption. (Romans 3:23)

Reply to Objection 2 (that he’s not a descendant): Of the Savior, Scripture says, “Surely he did not help angels but rather the descendants of Abraham,” and St. Paul the Apostle teaches, “It is those who have faith who are children of Abraham.” (Hebrews 2:16, Galatians 3:7) Therefore, Jesus came to save those who have faith. St. John the Baptist said, “God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Matthew 3:9) Nothing prevents God from granting the faith necessary for baptism to the Man of Steel.

Reply to Objection 3 (that his nature’s incompatible): The philosopher Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) said, “the higher includes the lower.” The title “Superman” implies that Clark Kent’s nature includes that which constitutes man. Though he can change the course of mighty rivers and bend steel with his bare hands, with just a quick change of clothes and a pair of glasses Clark Kent is entirely inconspicuous living mild-manneredly among humanity. He shares in every meaningful aspect of the human condition: joy and sorrow, strength and vulnerability, birth and even death. Our Savior himself exhibits powers and abilities far beyond those of ordinary men; walking on water, calming storms, and more. Nothing found in Superman is beyond what Jesus can image and redeem, so nothing in Clark Kent’s Kryponian nature is incompatible for union with the Body of Christ through baptism.

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Recreating the Way of the Cross

March 21, 2021

Our 1st Station, with an introduction and a map of our Way of the Cross

The experience of visiting the Holy Land (as I did in 2016) gives a person lasting impressions. One is a deepened sense that the Gospel stories were not “once upon a time” but events of a real time and place. Another takeaway is a better sense of the region’s scale – which is smaller than what you would think. The size of the nation of Israel is less than New Jersey, and the area enclosed by the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City (0.35 square miles) is that of only one-and-a-half Vatican City’s. The Way of the Cross, from where Governor Pilate sentenced Jesus to death to the place of Christ’s death and burial, is about 600 meters or 2,000 feet, less than half a mile.

Remember in the film “The Passion of the Christ,” when Jesus falls and Mary rushes to him? This is my photo of the 3rd and 4th Stations in Jerusalem.

In the Holy Land I also learned that Christian tradition not only preserves details about Jesus’ Passion (such as his three falls and St. Veronica’s veil) but also commemorates the locations at which these sad moments occurred. These fourteen Stations of the Cross are still venerated and prayerfully walked by pilgrims in Jerusalem today. It is a powerful, beautiful experience which I wanted to recreate in the streets of my community, and which you might wish to offer yours.

A present-day map of the fourteen Stations on Way of the Cross in Jerusalem

This Lent, we’ve created an outdoor Way of the Cross. It begins in front of our church and school and loops one time around the city block opposite them. After measuring maps and receiving permission from the various landowners, we posted the traditional fourteen Stations along a path which approximates the actual Way of the Cross, both in its length and its distances between the Stations. Walking it takes about twelve minutes (if one does not pause to pray) and we plan to keep the Stations up until Easter Sunday. Our small-town, local newspaper even ran a story about them.

The final five Stations, commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, are grouped closely together near the end. This is because the locations of Jesus’ Cross and Tomb were situated only about 150 feet away from each other. Both sites are now housed within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. On Good Friday, the Roman soldiers led Jesus west outside the walls of Jerusalem to a white limestone quarry. St. John’s Gospel records that many people read the sign posted above our Lord’s head on the Cross indicating the “crime” for which he was condemned (“Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews”) because the place where he was crucified was near the city. It was also apparently alongside a road, since St. Matthew notes “those who passed by hurled insults at him.” Christ was crucified atop a rock formation there called Golgotha in Hebrew and Calvary in Latin, which laborers had cut around and left behind. As Psalm 118:22 had foretold, “the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

A view from Calvary of the Stone of Unction in The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The new tomb which St. Joseph of Arimathea gave to Jesus had been cut into a rock face amidst a garden nearby. Midway between these two places, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now displays a stone venerated as the slab upon which Jesus’ body was prepared for burial by his mother and his friends. In whatever ways you accompany Christ through his sufferings this Lent, may you come to share more greatly in the graces and joys of his Easter Resurrection.

A Homily Series on The Apostles’ Creed for Lent (Year B)

March 21, 2021

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried,
he descended into hell,
on the third day he rose again from the dead,

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

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Catholic Church,
the communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen.

If you enjoy these Lenten reflections, I recommend The Catechism of the Catholic Church, whose discussion of The Apostles’ Creed was the primary source for my homilies here.

Five Reflections on St. Joseph

December 11, 2020

By Fr. Victor Feltes

This week, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Joseph as patron of the Universal (that is, the entire) Church, Pope Francis declared this “The Year of St. Joseph” through December 8th, 2021. The Holy Father also published an apostolic letter about Jesus’ beloved foster-father entitled “Patris Corde” (or “With a Father’s Heart”). In it, Pope Francis writes about Christian devotion to this great saint and mentions how the phrase “Go to Joseph” has an Old Testament origin. These are five of my personal reflections on St. Joseph.

Go to Joseph

In the Book of Genesis, during a time of famine across the known world, the Egyptians begged their pharaoh for bread. He in turn replied, “Go to Joseph and do whatever he tells you.” Pharaoh was referring to Joseph the son of Jacob who had risen from a very lowly state to become the viceroy of the kingdom. Enlighted by divinely-inspired dreams, this Joseph’s leadership went on to feed and save the whole world from death, including his own family. According to the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, the New Testament’s Joseph also had a father named Jacob. Though poor and obscure, St. Joseph’s heaven-sent dreams enabled him to guide and protect his Holy Family, leading to the world’s salvation through the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. Today, as a powerful intercessor in the Kingdom of God, we are wise to “go to Joseph” for needed help.

His One Word

Within the Gospels, St. Joseph has no recorded words. There is no indication the foster-father of Jesus and spouse of the Virgin Mary was physically unable to speak or ever took a vow of silence; he is simply never quoted. Yet the Gospels suggest he said at least one specific word.

Matthew’s Gospel records how an angel (probably the Archangel Gabriel though perhaps another) told Joseph in a dream: “‘[Mary, your wife,] will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus…’ When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.” Just as John’s Gospel tells us “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book,” so St. Joseph almost certainly said many unrecorded things. But the one word that Scripture most clearly suggests St. Joseph said is “Jesus.” The name of Jesus is the sum total proclamation of St. Joseph’s life. May it be so for us as well.

Image of the Father

The Letter to the Colossians says of Christ, “He is the image of the invisible God.” Something analogous was true of St. Joseph for Jesus in being the earthly image of his Father in Heaven. Joseph’s life has no recorded beginning or end in the Bible. We know that he was a carpenter craftsman – a creator of many things to be blessing for others. Perhaps he looked at everything he made and found it very good. Alongside Mary, Jesus was obedient to Joseph; he was Jesus’ boyhood teacher, deliverer, and role-model. Jesus lovingly called him, “Abba, father.” St. Joseph was a holy and loving image of God the Father for his Son. Though imperfect, may we likewise be images of God for each of our biological and spiritual children.

The Hour of his Death

When did St. Joseph die? Luke’s Gospel tells us that when 12-year-old Jesus was found at the Temple in Jerusalem he went down with his parents to Nazareth and was obedient to them. After that joyful reunion, St. Joseph makes no further personal appearances in the Gospels. Joseph had apparently passed away by the time of Christ’s Passion since Jesus on the Cross does not entrust his blessed mother’s care to her faithful husband but to a beloved disciple. Other episodes in the Gospels suggest that Joseph died before the start of Jesus’ public ministry.

How did St. Joseph die? If Joseph, the heir to the throne of David, had been murdered we would expect this prefigurement of Jesus’ own death to be described in the Gospels like the death of St. John the Baptist. Unless some sudden catastrophe befell him, an ailing Joseph would have reached his deathbed. And who would have been compassionately comforting him and powerfully praying for him at his bedside as he reached his hour of death? His having most likely died peacefully in the loving presence of Jesus and Mary is what makes St. Joseph the patron saint of a happy death.

The Terror of Demons

St. Joseph is called “the Terror of Demons” and his spouse “the Queen of Angels.” Yet the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation was greatly troubled and afraid at the Archangel Gabriel’s greeting, and when resettling his Holy Family from Egypt Joseph feared mere flesh and blood – avoiding Judea because Herod’s son ruled there. How can this man and woman now be leaders of awesome angels or banes of dangerous demons?

One key trait Joseph and Mary shared is obedience. The Book of Exodus displays Moses’ obedience by recording God’s instructions to him and then repeatedly presenting Moses doing “just as the Lord had commanded.” Whenever St. Joseph receives instructions from God (to take Mary into his home, to escape to Egypt, or to return to Israel) the text that follows has Joseph doing exactly as God commanded. Mary was also radically open to God’s will, as when she famously said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” The demons, for their part, fell from Heaven’s glory because they refused to do God’s will.

Joseph and Mary were also among the first on earth to accept and love the (then still-unborn) baby Jesus. The demons, in contrast, were the first to reject the Son of God. We do not know the exact reasons for their primordial rebellion but some theorize the demons took offense at God’s plan that the Eternal Son would become an incarnate human being, crowning that creature with a greater glory than the angels. “By the envy of the devil, death entered the world,” says the Book of Wisdom.

Joseph and Mary’s obedience to God’s will and their love for Jesus on earth lead to them being gloriously empowered in Heaven. Jesus told his disciples, “you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” and St. Paul reminded the Corinthians “we will judge angels.” It seems that faithful human creatures who, by God’s grace, love and serve the Lord in the likeness of Christ himself are best suited to become powerful, humble, servant rulers in the Kingdom of Heaven.

St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church, pray for us throughout this holy year!

Do Good While You Sleep

September 28, 2020

St. Paul wrote, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church” (Colossians 1:24). The sufferings we endure and penances we freely offer not only help to perfect our own souls but can spiritually benefit others as well. Doing penances of some form (classic three being prayer, fasting, and almsgiving) should be a part of our lives. “The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way,” says the Church’s Code of Canon Law. Whatever penances we undertake should be properly moderated and suitable to our state in life.

During my seminary days, I experimented with different penances. I practiced fasting by limiting my eating and tried sleeping on my floor, but both of these shared a serious drawback: they deprived me of the energy I needed for my studies. This led me to discover a new penance to offer in their place which preserved my nutrition and good night’s rest.

I have found that when I offer my coming nights’ dreams to God as a penance, my ordinarily unremarkable dreams change. Because they do not terrorize me I would not call them nightmares, but I would describe these dreams as stressful. Ever dream that you must do something you’re unready for, like give a talk or take a test, and then awake relieved to find it was just a dream? When I form an intention that my dreams may have redemptive value and go on to experience dreams like this, I am pleased that God has apparently answered my prayer and used my modest suffering to spiritually aid others.

I recommend trying this experiment for yourself. God will not give you anything or any more than what is good for you, and considering the burdens that others carry in our midst and around the world it’s really a small sacrifice. “[God] pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber,” even enabling us to do good for others while we sleep.

Jesus Psalms

July 30, 2020

To pray the psalms in a fresh new way, wherever you see “the LORD” in a verse substitute the name “Jesus“. For example, here is most of this Sunday’s psalm (Ps 145:8-21) as explicit praise and celebration of God the Son:

 

Jesus is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in mercy.

Jesus is good to all,
compassionate toward all your works.

All your works give you thanks, Jesus,
and your faithful bless you.

They speak of the glory of your reign
and tell of your mighty works,

Making known to the sons of men your mighty acts,
the majestic glory of your rule.

Your reign is a reign for all ages,
your dominion for all generations.

Jesus is trustworthy in all his words,
and loving in all his works.

The Jesus supports all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.

The eyes of all look hopefully to you;
you give them their food in due season.

You open wide your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

Jesus is just in all his ways,
merciful in all his works.

Jesus is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.

He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.

Jesus watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he destroys.

My mouth will speak the praises of Jesus;
all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.

Meet St. Paul’s Newest Teacher

July 20, 2020

Rachael Butek is a Cooks Valley native and graduate of Christendom College. She will be teaching English and Religion at St. Paul’s Catholic School this fall.

Why did you choose to teach at St. Paul’s?
Because to me teaching is a mission, not just a job, and as a member of St. John’s for the past 15 years I desired to give back to the community which has done so much for me.

What do you love about English?
Everything! I love the intricacy of our language, and delving into its origins in order to better understand how we communicate today. I also enjoy exploring the way that good literature can communicate Truth and Beauty to us.

What are ten other things you like?
In no particular order: Anglo-Saxon England, gardening, calligraphy, wild turkeys, book binding, singing, bugs, dancing, long walks, and good conversation. Feel free to ask me about any of them!

What do you wish to become patron saint of someday?
Good communication. I think about 90% of the worlds problems could be improved by better communication skills!

To learn more about enrolling into St. Paul’s Catholic School call our principal, Jackie Peterson, at 715-568-3233.

Virtuous Thomas

July 14, 2020

Doubting Thomas — That is how the apostle is remembered since he said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Upon seeing Jesus alive he professed, “My Lord and my God,” but the ignoble nickname endures. St. Thomas has just four quotes in the gospels, all of them found in John; his two other quotes reveal more of his character.

After Lazarus had died, Jesus said, “Let us go back to Judea,” and the disciples objected, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you and you want to go back there?” When Jesus insists on going, Thomas says to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.” Then later, Jesus says at the Last Supper, “Where I am going you know the way.” And Thomas relies, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?

From his four quotes we glimpse Thomas’ weakness and his strengths. He should have believed his friends’ testimony that they had indeed seen and touched and spoken with Jesus resurrected (especially after having witnessed Lazarus risen from the dead) but Thomas was lacking in trust. Yet at the same time, Thomas possesses great loyalty and courage.

Where is Thomas one week after Easter Sunday? The disciples are gathered in the upper room, hiding behind locked doors for fear of those who murdered Jesus, and Thomas is right there with them. He could have chosen to retreat to someplace safer but he is loyal and brave and these virtues lead him to encounter the risen Christ.

We typically focus on our faults and flaws, on the vices and sins that hinder us. However we each possess virtues as well, areas where God has had success in us. Know and acknowledge these virtues, give thanks to God for them, and utilize them to grow. Pray for grace and use your strengths to lead you to perfect holiness like St. Thomas’ virtues led him to glory with Jesus Christ.

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.