Archive for the ‘Resurrection’ Category

Lessons for the Raising of Lazarus

March 25, 2023

5th Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

Eternal life begins now for those in a relationship with Jesus. Jesus is telling us that eternal life begins now for those who believe in Him. He tells us, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25–26)

The first reading today is from the book of Ezekiel, which tells us of God’s promise to put his Spirit within the people so they may live. Before this promise, the prophet Ezekiel, led by the Spirit, was taken into the plain where his mission was revealed to him. The passage is a prediction of the renewed life of the people of Israel after their exile from Jerusalem. The people seemed dead, their temple was destroyed, their land wasted, and their leaders gone. Ezekiel was told that through his gift of prophesying, God’s chosen people that had been exiled in Babylon for some time would receive a new Spirit that would give them new hope. They would be led to a new life in the land of Israel. God promises to put a new spirit in His people, which is a promise to give new life to them.

In the second reading of today, St. Paul continues talking about the resurrection. The life of the flesh is dominated by our human way of thinking, which has no future, it is the way to death. People who are living according to the Spirit have a life of grace. They have God as their center and are spiritually alive. Their faith gives them a future and a new life path. Therefore, St. Paul says that those who live according to the flesh set their minds on things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit set their minds on the things of the spirit.

Today’s gospel reading gives us two messages. First, it tells us that our living faith in Jesus will raise all our bodies in the final resurrection. Secondly, with the approach of Easter Sunday, we are called symbolically to resurrect ourselves from sin to grace by partaking in the sacrament of reconciliation. In raising Lazarus, Jesus showed His authority as the Son and showed His divine power. By raising him on the fourth day, Jesus proved that He is master over life and death, and he is able to bring all the dead back to life, the holy Patriarchs, the Jews, and even the righteous Gentiles from centuries before. To be raised from the dead means to be in a living, loving relationship with Jesus, who teaches us that resurrection and life are a call to be united with Him

There are a few lessons we can learn from today’s gospel. First, this miracle is an expression of love. Second, our faith is very important in any miracle God does for us. The third lesson is that everything is possible with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Finally, Jesus is willing to help us no matter what it will cost Him. It does not matter how long we have been spiritually dead or away from Him. If we hear and obey His voice, He will restore life to our weak and mortal bodies through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is because Jesus has authority over life and death.

Death & Resurrection — Funeral Homily for Judith “Judi” Schindler, 71

February 5, 2023

By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

The parish of St. Paul’s and I wish to extend our sincere sympathy to the family of Judith. It is always difficult to lose someone that we dearly love.

Believing in Jesus’ resurrection is the core of Christian belief. It is the basis of our Christian faith. There would not be Gospels without the resurrection. There would be no Christianity, Church, the Priesthood, or sacraments without the resurrection. There would be no hope without the resurrection.

We would not have the resurrection without the death of Jesus Christ. We don’t have flowers, fruits, or trees unless the seed is sown. The seed has to die in order to start a new plant. Therefore, St. Paul preached not only the resurrection but also the crucifixion of Christ.

St. Paul reminds us that death is not the end, it is only the beginning. Life is not over, it is only changed. In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus told us that He is preparing a place for us in heaven. Death is a doorway to a new life with God. Jesus accepted death and has given us the rewards of eternal life.

Our first reading today talks about the souls of the virtuous. That reading calms any fears about death for those who trust in God. What better place could we go after death than into the hands of God? What a beautiful way to describe God’s care for us. Do you remember when you were little and your parents held you in their arms? When we die, God will take us in His arms. We believe that God has taken Judith into His arms.

In today’s Gospel, we talked about the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Jesus came to earth to free us from our sins and grant us everlasting life with him in paradise. It is difficult to know how Jesus must have suffered during his passion and crucifixion. Even today, God brings good from the sufferings that people endure.

Judith and her husband, Norman were married on June 27th, 1970 at St. Jude’s Catholic Church in New Auburn. They were inseparable. she was an independent woman. She was a Eucharistic minister and a CCD teacher and a lot of other things. She worked as the food director for the Chetek schools for 34 years. She and Norman raised two sons, Cory and Jeff. They enjoyed spending time with their family. She was close to her sister Suzanne. She will be missed by many.

We thank God for Judith. We are grateful that she was catholic. Let us place her in the hands of our Blessed Mother. She understands our pain and suffering. May our God grant Judith eternal rest in His heavenly kingdom. May Her Soul Rest in Peace, Amen.

He is not God of the Dead, but of the Living

November 5, 2022

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

My first funeral as a priest was for a baby who was two weeks out of the womb. How does one talk to the family? They are a devout, Catholic family, but they asked, why is God allowing this? I listened to them and cried with them. I later responded to them by saying that when I ask why I look at a crucifix. Why did God allow His own son to die? Our salvation and redemption come from the cross. Through the death of that baby, God wants to say something to us; resurrection is what comes out of Christ’s death.

When God revealed Himself to Moses in preparation for bringing His people out of Egypt, He called Himself “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (Exodus 3:6) When God told this to Moses, centuries had passed after these forefathers had died. However, God acknowledged their existence even after their death. Though the verse did not specify the resurrection of the dead, it implied their survival after death.

Today’s first reading describes a Jewish family, consisting of a mother and her seven sons, who refuse their king’s command to eat pork, forbidden as “unclean” by Jewish Law. Because of their obedient Faith in God, they endure suffering and accept martyrdom. During their torture, three of the brothers speak, and each of them finds strength in the belief that he will eventually be raised and rewarded by God.

The second reading encourages the Thessalonians, who were waiting for the second coming of Christ, to trust in the fidelity of God who would strengthen their hearts in every good work and word.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is challenged by a group of Sadducees concerning the resurrection of the dead. Just before this, Jesus had been challenged by Pharisees and Scribes, whether to pay taxes to Caesar or not. Jesus had dealt effectively with them and reduced them to silence. Again they raised a question this time about the imaginary story of seven brothers marrying one woman, and their relationship with each other in the next life. Their question in the Gospel is certainly an insincere and impossible example, they want to ridicule a belief in the resurrection.

Patterns in Christian Dying — Funeral Homily for Ione Seibel, 84

June 6, 2022

By Fr. Victor Feltes

As a priest, I encounter many people in their dying days. And though every life is different, I have noticed often-repeated patterns. Three of these gracious elements are seen in Ione’s story.

Something I often find is the phenomenon of “a last good day.” The dying persons may or may not know they are in their final week of life, yet they are blessed to have a last good day. Sometimes they love being outside, and there’s a rare day in their final week when they feel well enough to go on a walk or do gardening. Sometimes it’s the day of a family reunion, where they delight to see their family and to say goodbye. Ione, despite her Alzheimer’s condition, had a last good day the Wednesday of her final week. Vernie, her husband of nearly 65 years, who was visiting her at her nursing home with a pair of their daughters, says Ione was “grinning, smiling, shining.” He and the staff described it as Ione’s “best day in two years.”

Jesus also had a good day before he died. When he took his place at table for the Last Supper he told his friends, the apostles, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until there is fulfillment in the Kingdom of God.” Such blessings are bestowed upon us in this life as signs to us of God’s goodness before we enter into the next life.

A second phenomenon I often see is an alertness for the anointing of the sick and last rites. Vernie let me know Ione was dying and I was soon able to visit her on Saturday. When I arrived, he and their children were gathered around her. Now the sacrament of anointing is like the sacrament of baptism in that a receptive person may receive this sacrament even in an unconscious state. Some babies, for instance, sleep through their baptism yet receive the graces of baptism nonetheless. Her family tells me Ione had been unresponsive, but when I greeted her, as I told her who I was and why I had come, she opened her eyes at me. Ione’s family was struck by this but it’s something I commonly see—a providential alertness to receive this sacrament. The Lord often wills for his beloved to consciously experience this gift.

Jesus himself was anointed upon his head with precious perfumed oil in his final days and said, “She has done a good thing for me. … She has anticipated anointing my body for burial.” He was consoled and strengthened by this gift of love, and Jesus desires to console and strengthen us as we enter into his Passion and death.

A third thing I commonly encounter in my ministry is the bittersweetness of a beautiful death. Suffering and death are painful signs of this world’s brokenness from sin. Yet the circumstances which accompany many Christians’ passings are poetic signs to us that death is not our end. As we heard in our gospel reading, on the first Good Friday, a darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. Then our Lord breathed his last, near those who loved him most. The centurion who beheld how Jesus breathed his last said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” And the curtain in the Temple, which veiled its holiest place, was torn in two from top to bottom, from heaven down to earth.

Ione died on a Sunday, Christ’s day of Resurrection. And she died during Easter, the season of Jesus’ victory over death. Like him, she breathed her last in the afternoon’s third hour. And Ione passed away from us on the Feast Day of Jesus’ Ascension, when he passed through the veil from this world into heaven.

A Christian is never truly alone because the Lord Jesus is always with us through life and death. He makes our life story a part of his story, and makes our story like his own. Today is a day of grieving and joy, because we can see this truth anew in the life and death of Jesus’ servant and sister and friend, Ione.

“Do You Love Me?”

April 30, 2022

3rd Sunday of Easter
By Fr. Victor Feltes

At the Last Supper, Simon Peter assures Jesus, “Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you.” But Jesus replies, “Peter, before the rooster crows this day, you will deny three times that you know me.” Later that night, during Jesus’ trial before the Jewish high priest, Peter stands with the servants and soldiers outside. It’s a cold night, so they warm themselves around a charcoal fire in the middle of the courtyard. This is where Peter denies three times that he is in any way connected to Jesus. A rooster crows, Jesus turns and makes eye-contact with Peter, and Peter breaks down and weeps.

In our gospel, the risen Jesus appears to seven of his disciples at the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Sea of Tiberius). He invites them to breakfast with him around another charcoal fire. This is the context for the conversation between Jesus and Peter today. After Peter’s three denials, Jesus provides him an opportunity to thrice-reaffirm his love. Jesus meets Peter by that charcoal fire like he mercifully encounters you and me in the confessional.

Now there is more going on in the original Greek of this gospel text than can be seen in our English translation. In English, the word “love” does a lot of heavy lifting. We say: “I love my family,” “I love my car,” “I love my country,” “I love pizza,” and “I love God.” But in Greek, there are multiple words for “love.” For example, “Phileo” refers to friendship or brotherly love, “Eros” refers to romantic love, and “Agape” refers to self-sacrificial, unconditional love. Agape is the way God actively loves us and how we are called to love too. “This is my commandment,” says the Lord, “that you (apage) one another, just as I have (agaped) you.

In today’s gospel, Jesus first asks: “Simon, son of John, do you love me (do you agape me) more than these?” And Simon Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I (phileo) you.” Simon loves Jesus as a dear brother and friend, but Peter, now humbled, recognizes that he does not love Jesus perfectly. Then Jesus asks again, “Simon, son of John, do you (agape) me?” Simon Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I (phileo) you.” But the third and final time, Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John, do you (phileo) me?

Peter is distressed that Jesus switches this time to asking, “Do you (phileo) me?” Peter may be wondering, “Is Jesus questioning whether I even love him that much?” He says, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I (phileo) you.” Jesus is not doubting Peter’s phileo love for him, but rather meeting him where he’s at, allowing him to answer with an unqualified “yes.” Peter’s love is not yet perfect, they both recognize that, but Jesus tells him to feed his lambs, tend his sheep, and feed his sheep as the chief shepherd of Christ’s flock on earth as the first pope. Jesus reveals to Peter that his faithful service will lead him to the perfection of self-sacrificial, agape love in end.

Amen, amen,” Jesus tells him, “when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this signifying by what kind of death Peter would glorify God; that is, a martyr’s death. Peter would go on to be crucified upside-down and buried on Vatican Hill. Our gospel concludes with Jesus telling St. Peter and us: “Follow me.”

Like Peter there on the seashore, we probably realize that our love for God is real though imperfect. Jesus knows this too, of course, but he still loves us here and now. He meets us where we’re at, he loves us as we are, but he will not settle for that. He intends to call us, lead us, press us forward to more perfect love. His providence will lead us to places we may not want to go, to experience trials we would not choose for ourselves. But his purpose is to make us into a person, a person who loves, like Jesus Christ himself.

A final story…
In C.S. Lewis’ Christian fantasy novel, “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” a little girl named Lucy is told about a great lion named Aslan. Aslan is the Christ figure in the world of Narnia. Mr. Tumnus tells Lucy, “He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” Lucy asks, “Is he—quite safe?” And Mr. Beaver replies, “Who said anything about safe? [Of] course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

Running to the Empty Tomb

April 17, 2022

Easter Sunday
By Fr. Victor Feltes

There is a joke about how John ran faster than Peter on Easter. John wins the footrace to the tomb and shouts, “I won, I won!” But Peter taunts him, “Who will ever know?” And John says under his breath: “Everyone will know.

St. John’s Gospel records how when Mary Magdalene told them about the empty tomb, “Peter and [John] went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but [John] ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first.” When Peter arrives, they both enter in to experience signs and results of Jesus’ Resurrection. If St. John is not highlighting his faster foot speed in order to brag, if his purpose is not to rub it in “Slow-Poke Peter’s” face, why include the detail about arriving before Peter?

Part of this is due to St. John accurately describing his firsthand experience of the empty Easter tomb of Christ. Who did what, when and with whom, are important facts when providing eyewitness testimony. Documenting that the tomb was empty before his disciples saw him alive again clarifies that Jesus’ Resurrection is a physical, historical event. The Risen Jesus is not a ghost, he’s not a vision, he’s not a fantasy. His body is not in the tomb. Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

Like other verses in Sacred Scripture, the detail about John running faster and Peter arriving after contains a spiritual meaning for us. One disciple arrives earlier, another disciple comes later, but they both meet together at the same holy place on Easter morning. They enter in together and see signs and results of Christ’s Resurrection inviting them to believe and accept that the world has changed. Sin and death do not have the last word. Jesus Christ is Lord.

Today, those of us here are like those two disciples. Maybe you’re a disciple who ran here faster. Or maybe you’re one who has arrived more slowly. Maybe you’ve been waiting here, preparing to enter into Easter, since the beginning of Lent. Or maybe you have not come to this holy place for months or years, until today. Either way, whether you came here first or last, all of us are called and blessed to be here together now.

How shall we respond to Easter? With faith or faithlessness? On the first Easter morning, St. Peter could have chosen to leave the tomb and return to his former life of commercial fishing. St. John, the newly-entrusted guardian of Jesus’ Mother Mary, could have abandoned her and fled far away, never to return. But both men chose to remain with the other disciples and soon experienced Christ alive among them.

I hope we all, from this day forward, will be here together each Sunday. Prioritize your faith above the world, like St. Peter did. Draw nearer to Mary and the saints, like St. John did. Remain with us here at St. Paul’s, as fellow disciples of Christ, to experience Jesus Christ alive among us. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. So believe in him, accepting how he has changed our world.

God’s Love Among Us — Funeral Homily for Cecilia Jenneman, 100

April 11, 2022

By Fr. Victor Feltes

When Cecilia was born one hundred years ago the First World War had only recently ended. Some had hoped it would be ‘a war to end all wars,’ but this would not be so. There were millions more horrors, murders, and atrocities to follow. Religious demographers find there were more Christians martyrs in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined. The news reports from the Russian war in Ukraine show us that innocents are still suffering and being murdered in our time. Seeing such grave evils in the present and the past, even the faithful may understandably question, “Where is God?

Last week, a Dominican Catholic priest in Ukraine was asked about this in light of the wicked war crimes revealed in the town of Bucha near Kiev. Fr. Petro Balog replied, “Today we must recall the words of Christ from the 25th chapter of Matthew, where he says that ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ When we talk about Bucha… Christ was killed, Christ was deprived of his home, his hands were tied, and he was shot. All this was done to those with whom Christ identifies himself. …God is being crucified again, tortured again.” Fr. Balog emphasizes that God is not above it all. God is in the midst of the suffering and on the side of those suffering.

During Holy Week we remember how Christ’s love led him to offer his painful and sorrowful Passion to save us. Jesus’ innocent suffering, his death and resurrection, changes Christians’ view of this life, death, and the life to come. Though we naturally mourn the passing of Cecilia, we need “not grieve like [others] who have no hope,” for “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” On the Last Day, his faithful will say, “let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!

Jesus teaches us at the Last Supper and today, “Do not let your hearts be troubled… In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. I am going to prepare a place for you… I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” Christ declares to us, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. … Love one another as I love you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” And the lives of his present-day disciples, at our best, help others to believe in Jesus too. A faithful Christian life reflects the faithful love of Christ for his Spouse, the Church, and for each of us individually.

Like Jesus, Cecilia taught many gathered around her. Like Christ, she could “be kind, but be firm.” Some called her, “The best teacher I ever had.” Like our heavenly Father, there were many dwelling places in Cecilia’s house. In addition to family she excellently fed farm hands and friends, and opened her doors to host relatives in need (including her own aged mother, two aunts, and two nephews who had lost their own mother). And after her beloved husband, Bill, became severely debilitated, her faithful love cared for him too through their last two decades together. When asked to imagine living her life over again, she answered, “I would walk the aisle at St. Paul’s with the same man, welcome the birth of each child, grandchild, and greatgrand.” Like God loves each of his children, Cecilia wrote, “I loved each child dearly – perhaps in a different way as each is an individual, but 100% love for each one. …Remember my love for children; my seven, all grandchildren, and the great grands also.

And throughout her life, Cecilia’s Catholic Faith came first. She was known to say, “Without faith in God you have nothing.” She recalled her 1st (“Solemn”) Communion, receiving Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist in 8th grade, as a highlight moment of her life, and pointed to the nuns and priests at St. Paul’s as one of her life’s greatest inspirations. Cecilia wrote in her funeral preparation notes: “I hope I instilled a strong faith in God in my own seven children, grandchildren, and every child I was close to in my life. [I want my family to remember me for] whatever I did to help them to be better Christians.

In St. Augustine’s book The Confessions, the oldest autobiography in Western history, he writes about the death of his mother, St. Monica, whose prayers and lived example were so important for his conversion and salvation. As she was dying, St. Monica told her children “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.” Monica was a saint, but she was not presumptuous. She desired the help of her loved ones’ prayers, just like we should pray for Cecilia. But Monica desired something more; not only for her dearest ones to pray for her soul but to draw near to the altar of the Lord Jesus themselves. God, like water, is all around us; but to drink we come to the font of Christ.

Human events are often gravely wrong and death is a heartbreaking scandal. But knowing Jesus Christ and his saints reveals the reality and strength of God’s love. The Easter resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ remains our hope and consolation, for Cecilia, ourselves, and all the world.

Three Ways to Strengthen your Faith

April 12, 2021

Divine Mercy Sunday

St. Thomas the Apostle, a martyr for Jesus Christ, is famously nicknamed “Doubting Thomas.” He gets a lot of flack for being slow to believe because of today’s reading from the Gospel of John. One week after Easter Sunday, Jesus appears in the Upper Room once again. This time Thomas is there and Jesus says to him: “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Yet the Gospels show that other disciples were slow to believe as well. The last chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel summarizes Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances in this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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.

The Beginning of the New Creation

April 5, 2021

Easter Vigil

Empty Tomb Sunrise

On Holy Thursday, I spoke about Jesus as the New Passover Lamb who calls us to his feast. On Good Friday, I preached about Jesus as the New Adam who begins a marriage covenant with us, the Church, his bride. Tonight, we celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, the beginning of the New Creation. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, he created everything from absolutely nothing and yet he created everything according to a logic, a reason, a Logos, a wisdom, a Word.

“The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
[And] all things came to be through him…”
according to a plan.

This divine plan was not merely to create a vast, material universe of stars, planets, moons and comets in reflection of God’s glory, but also to create (at least on one planet) many living things as well. Plants and trees were added to the dry land. Swimming creatures were added to the sea. Winged birds were added to the sky. and cattle, creeping things, and of all kinds wild animals were added across the earth. But God’s the ultimate living creation would be “the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake”:

God created man in his image;
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them, saying:
“Be fertile and multiply;
fill the earth and subdue it.”

God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” And then, the Book of Genesis says, “on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, [so] he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken.” But it would be a short rest. Because of human sins and the Fall of Creation, there would be much more work for God to do.

This work is the story of Salvation History reflected throughout tonight’s Old Testament readings: words and deeds across places and times to reconnect with our human race, to reclaim, redeem, and restore us. These many works of God culminated in Jesus Christ. “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” He lives as the New Adam who passes the test. He dies as the New Passover Lamb who sets us free. Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath Day of Rest. And on Holy Saturday, the seventh day of the week, Jesus perfectly fulfills the law, his lifeless body resting in the tomb. When the Sabbath was over, on Easter Sunday (which is the first day of the week again, or what Early Christians called the eighth day) Jesus begins the New Creation in himself, by his Resurrection.

As proclaimed in our Easter Gospel, the tomb was emptied. “Do not be amazed!” an angel told the women there, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him.” Not merely had Jesus’ spirit been raised, but his physical body too. Were it otherwise, when he appeared to his disciples on Easter, his dead body would still be in the tomb. The risen Jesus visits them in the Upper Room and says, “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” He shows them his hands, his feet, and his side because these still bear the wounds he suffered during his Passion. It seems his many other cuts and bruises are healed and gone, but Jesus retains these wounds without pain as trophies of his triumph.

He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” He is the plan revealed, the pattern of what is to come, both for those in Christ and for our universe. For death is not the end of us and the Last Day is not the end of the world. The dead will live again and the universe will be glorified into “a new heavens and a new earth.” As St. Paul wrote:

“Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God […] in hope because creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait for […] the redemption of our bodies.”

In our lives we now struggle against evil and sin. This broken world causes painful wounds in us. But the glorious wounds which remain in the risen Savior’s body reveal something beautiful: that with Christ all our trials and sufferings will be weaved into the tapestry, into the New Creation, he is now fashioning. “He will wipe every tear from [our] eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, the old order [will have] passed away.” In light of Jesus, St. Paul can say, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” The beginnings of that glory are revealed to us tonight, in the Easter resurrection of our Lord. “Behold,” Christ says, “I make all things new.

The Spring After Fall & Winter — Funeral Homily for Raymond “Ray” Burgess, 84

November 20, 2020

The signs of the fall are all around us. The farmers’ fields are cut down to stubble. The weather is growing cold and frosty. Our days are getting shorter and shorter. A winter approaches, and soon all will be buried under snow. And on this fall day, we gather to pray for and bury Ray.

I hear the farmers report that their fields have produced a fruitful yield. They raised a bunker crop this year which will go forth to feed and help thousands of people. This is like the fruitfulness of Ray’s life, seven living-children, nineteen grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren, who live on as a blessing to the world. But we know that after the time of harvest comes the sharp and penetrating cold.

Ray’s children tell me about his dedicated love for them and their children, how he has put family first and devoted his time to them. So tomorrow’s first day of the deer hunt will be lonelier without him, and Ray will be missed at the family Christmas this year. That is something to mourn. It is sad to be parted from one another in this way. Tears are natural and wholesome at times like this. Yet, we need not grieve like those who have no hope.

Imagine if our world somehow forgot about the cycle of the seasons. What if everyone misplaced the valuable knowledge that fall and winter lead to spring? How would people react to this end of the world around us? Covid-19 would quickly become a secondary news story, and grocery stores would sell out of lots more than toilet paper. We would look at all of the discolored fallen leaves, the skeletal trees, and the dwindling of the light each day with great alarm. People would hopelessly ask, “Everything is dying — what will we do — what will happen to us?” But of course, this is not the first fall or winter in our lives, and we have seen before what happens next, so we need not be afraid.

Today we gather here to pray for and bury a man who died two days short of his eighty-fifth year. But we gather in this place, within this church, because of a man who died almost two thousand years ago and who two days later rose again. This sad season of dying is not the end of the world. As winter is conquered by the spring, death is conquered by Christ. This fact of Jesus’ resurrection has changed this world and, if God’s will be done, it would transform our lives. Jesus Christ is the way, the only way, for our salvation, and so we entrust Ray’s soul into the Lord’s merciful hands, with love for Ray and hope that we all shall enjoy Ray’s company again in the coming springtime of this world.

The Face of a Friend

April 25, 2020

3rd Sunday of Easter—Year A
By Deacon Dick Kostner

Our world tells us that death is the end of life. Jesus has parabled us into a new direction. Death is but the birth of a new and perfected life. I believe that our readings this Third Sunday of Easter tell us two important lessons to be learned. The first is that we are living at this moment in trying times, and that is anxiety, fear and confusion not only causes us to be disoriented but it also distracts us from seeing the cure for our affliction. The second lesson is that Jesus has, through our baptism, commissioned us to be the body of Christ in this very confused world. We no longer bear the face we were born with, but rather we are no longer recognized by our face but rather we are recognized by our heart and our actions.

We learn through our scripture readings that because of earthly death and the anxiety that follows we all will be confused and disoriented. This anxiety blinds us to the reality of the Easter Proclamation: “The light of Christ!” The disciples who knew Jesus well were so filled with the emotion of death that they failed to recognize their friend as they walked the road to Emmaus. This friend of theirs who could walk on water and still storms died and was buried. The fact that Jesus had taught them that death was not the end and that he would rise, blew right over the top of their heads because of their fear of death.

Isn’t it a “coincidence” that our whole world is experiencing, firsthand, the fear of death and the confusion that developed during this Holy Season? The same confusion that disciples of Jesus felt two thousand years ago is still with us on this Third Sunday of Easter. Like the disciples in our readings we are so filled with anxiety that we fail to recognize Jesus walking with us on that road to Emmaus. We fail to see his face in the nurses and doctors who treat us, and the clerks and people who serve us. We fail to hear his voice and feel his presence in the waive we see from our family and friends we no longer can touch. We fail to hear his wisdom and words proclaimed by His ordained ministers every day through cyberspace.

Jesus has many faces and I believe his disciples were unable to recognize him because Jesus wants to be recognized not by his facial features or color of skin but rather by and through his actions and words. It was not until he preached to his disciples and broke bread with them making them a part of him, that their eyes moved from his face to his heart and they could see their friend as the risen Christ.

We are commissioned to be the body of Christ. It is through our behavior driven by the heart not the brain that the face of Jesus will be recognized as we walk the road to Emmaus with Jesus at our side. May the peace of the risen Lord and the grace he gifts us with, be always with you!

Divinely Merciful

April 18, 2020

Divine Mercy Sunday

The Cenacle, the Upper Room in Jerusalem,
site of the Last Supper and Pentecost

Imagine an event as it did not happen…

On Easter evening, when the disciples were gathered behind locked doors in the Upper Room, Jesus came and appeared in their midst and said to them, “I condemn you. Each of you. All of you abandoned me.” And when he had said this, he showed the wounds in his hands and feet and side and said, “I suffered these because of your sins.”

If Jesus would have declared such things to his apostles his charges would not have been untrue. But this is thankfully not what Jesus did. Instead, he came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you,” a phrase he says three times in this Sunday’s gospel. Christ’s Passion, death, and Resurrection are not for our condemnation. Jesus comes in mercy for his apostles and for us. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” St. Peter writes, “who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

After assuring them of his friendship and the reality of his Resurrection, the next most important item on Jesus’ Easter list is to entrust his Church with his mission of mercy: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

In this season of pandemic, public Masses are suspended; first Communions, Confirmations, and weddings are being postponed; but the Sacrament of Reconciliation continues to be offered. Did you get to Confession this Lent? Jesus has peace to give you in this great sacrament. So, where and when you can, make it a top item on your list to experience his Divine Mercy there.

The Questions & Answers of Easter Vigil

April 11, 2020

Easter Vigil

Tonight’s Easter Vigil Mass features many readings and accompanying psalms. The Church says the celebrant may chose to skip some of these readings, but tonight we are doing them all; seven from the Old Testament and two from the New, a journey from Genesis to the Gospel. But how does one preach about nine readings in one homily? As I pondered that question, I wondered, “What questions are asked in the readings themselves?

In the beginning in Genesis, when God created the heavens and the earth, there are no questions, only God’s declaring word. Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. God looked at everything he had made and they were very good. From the beginning, God knows his plan.

By the time of our next reading from Genesis, sin has entered our history. Humanity’s rejection of God, reflected in every sin, not only leads to death but creates injustices which must be rectified, hearts which must be converted, relationships which must be reconciled, and evils which must be undone, through sacrifice. “Father!” Isaac says, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?” “Son,” Abraham answers, “God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.

Isaac was spared but would God always provide? Generations later, Moses and the Hebrews are alarmed on the shores of the Red Sea when Pharaoh’s army threatens them. The Lord says to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. And you, lift up your staff and, with hand outstretched over the sea, split the sea in two, that the Israelites may pass through it on dry land.” God delivers his people, destroys their enemy, and leads them to his Promised Land.

How great is God’s love for his people? Isaiah proclaims that the Lord loves and desires Israel as a man does his bride: “The One who has become your husband is your Maker; his name is the Lord of hosts.” Yet Israel would often stray from him. Elsewhere Isaiah asks her, “Why spend your money for what is not bread, your wages for what fails to satisfy?” Later the Prophet Baruch asks, “How is it, Israel, that you are in the land of your foes, grown old in a foreign land, defiled with the dead, accounted with those destined for the netherworld? You have forsaken the fountain of wisdom!” Baruch asks “who has found the place of wisdom, who has entered into her treasuries? The One who knows all things knows her; he has probed her by his knowledge—the One who established the earth….

Through the Prophet Ezekiel, the Lord promises to bring his people to their true home, to wisdom, to holiness, to communion with himself: “I will take you away from among the nations, gather you from all the foreign lands, and bring you back to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees. You shall live in the land I gave your fathers; you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

How is all this to come about? Through Jesus Christ. St. Paul asks the Romans, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.

When Jesus Christ was so shockingly, so horrifically, so unjustly murdered, his heartbroken disciples were full of questions. Is there no reward for the just man? Is there no victory for righteousness? Is evil more powerful than goodness? Is God indifferent to our suffering? Does he not care? Is there no deliverance from sin? Do we have any reason to hope? God answers with Christ’s empty tomb.

Do not be afraid,” the angel says. “I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.” The women, fearful yet overjoyed, run to share this good news when they encounter Jesus on the way. They approach, embrace his feet, and do him homage. Then Jesus says to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

This was God’s plan from the beginning. That sin would be conquered through self-offering. That all would trust in God’s providence and love the perfect Bridegroom. Why spend yourself on what does not satisfy? Why live any longer away from the Lord in foolishness? You have access to a new and transforming Holy Spirit through your baptism, a baptism which has its power from the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is God’s answer to our greatest questions. How will you respond to him? Answer with your faith and love.

The Great Restoration — Funeral for Donald “Don” Sokup, 76

January 15, 2020

Today, St. John the Baptist Parish is humbled, honored, and pleased to be able to offer our greatest prayer, the Holy Mass, for Don’s soul. We earnestly hope that our prayers will be a blessing to him, and a consolation to you, who know and love him best. A life like Don’s has many, many parts. And no brief funeral homily can examine or present them all. But just as you can look at a machine and draw some conclusions about the engineer who designed it, so parts of our lives can reflect truths of our Maker.

In the June/July 1996 issue of Gas Engine Magazine, a publication dedicated to “preserving the history of internal combustion engines,” there was an article entitled “Titan with a Top.” It was authored and submitted by a gas engine enthusiast from Elk Mound, Wisconsin: a Mr. Don Sokup. The titular Titan was a tractor, a 10-20 Titan tractor, manufactured in 1918. When Don found it, it was broken, buried, and decayed; the head of the engine had been buried in dirt for who knows how long. Most people said it would never run again, but Don believed he could restore it. This first picture is what it looked like, unearthed but dead.

After a year of hard labor,” Don wrote, “she came back to life and now purrs like a kitten. In the photo [below], you can see what a difference all my hard work made.” Don noted, “the top [the new red roof] is my own invention.” His resurrected and restored tractor was made greater and more glorious than it had been before. This is what our divine maker and restorer desires to do with each of us.

As our first reading from the Book of Wisdom says:

“The souls of the just.. seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace… and their hope full of immortality…”

Jesus declares to us in our Gospel:

“This is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day.”

We heard St. Paul teach the Romans:

“If we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. … [If] we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”

May the words of our psalm today be our prayer, for Don and for ourselves:

“Preserve my life and rescue me;
let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me,
Because I wait for you, O Lord.”

As we commend Don’s soul to Jesus, entrust yourself to our good Lord as well, so that in Christ’s Resurrection we may all be gloriously restored and happily reunited one day.