Archive for the ‘Typology’ Category

David’s Kingdom Prefigures Christ’s Kingdom

November 20, 2022

Solemnity of Christ the King
By Fr. Victor Feltes

When the ancient Romans would crucify someone they displayed upon the cross the person’s name and the reason they were punished. For the Holy Cross on Good Friday, Governor Pilate had a sign inscribed in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek with Christ’s identity and the why he was condemned. It read: “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.” (The famous first letters of this phrase in Latin were “I.N.R.I.”) The Jewish chief priests told Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that he said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’” But Pilate replied, “What I have written, I have written.” Pilate did not have faith in Jesus — he wrote what he did to troll the Jewish leaders — but what he had written was true. Jesus was condemned, suffered, and rose again as the King of the Jews and King of the Universe. This Sunday, we celebrate Christ the King, but where is Christ’s Kingdom today?

During his public ministry, Jesus preached, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is among you!” And at the Last Supper, Jesus prophesied, “Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.” The next time Jesus drinks “the fruit of the vine,” (that is to say, wine) is on his Cross, when he drinks it from a sponge held up to his lips. From these passages, we can gather that the Kingdom of God has arrived. Yet we can also see that his Kingdom has not yet reached every place and every heart in every way. This is why the world was able to hand Jesus over to death and why Christians still pray to our Father above: “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” So where are we to find Christ’s Kingdom on earth? There are clues for us present in Sacred Scripture and history.

In our first reading, all the tribes of Israel become joined to David as their king. The Jews believed that the coming Messiah, their Christ, would be the King of Israel. And Jesus in the Gospels is repeatedly called the Son of David (that is, King David’s descendant, the heir to David’s throne). As St. Augustine taught, the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. The old foreshadows and points to the new. And though imperfect, the Old Testament Kingdom of David and his successors prefigures Jesus’ New Testament Kingdom. Several aspects of the old Davidic Kingdom help us to identify Jesus’ Kingdom in our midst; in particular, the Queen Mother, the Chief Steward, and the royal eunuchs.

One flawed feature of the old Davidic dynasty was that the kings each had multiple wives. From the beginning, God intended marriage to be a union of one man and one woman, but the kings of Israel — believing blood is thicker than water — used multiple marriages to seal their peace treaties and alliances with other lands. However, this creates a problem: when the king has many wives, who is the queen? You can imagine the rivalry and discord this question could cause. The Davidic dynasty’s solution to this problem was for the mother of the king to hold that prominent place as Queen Mother. The Queen Mother had a throne of honor at the king’s right hand and she served as an intercessor for the kingdom. If people had a request, they might bring it to her to present to the king. And if her request were pleasing to her son and served the kingdom’s good, the king would happily grant it to please his beloved mother.

Like in other kingdoms of past and present, the Davidic Kingdom had many royal ministers serving the king. But there was one prime minister among them: the king’s chief steward, the master of the royal household. The Davidic king’s chief steward bore on his shoulders a large wooden key as a sign of his office and authority. Today we honor citizens by giving them a symbolic key to the city; but this chief steward carried a symbolic key to the kingdom. His power was that of the king, on whose authority and with whose authority he acted, to open or to close, to permit or to forbid. However, any chief steward acting contrary to the king’s will would soon find himself replaced by another.

In the courts of ancient kingdoms like Israel’s, one would find royal eunuchs. A eunuch is a male who is either born or made physically incapable of marrying and having children. Kings preferred eunuchs for practical reasons: first, these men were safe to be around the king’s harem; and second, since they had no wife or children of their own, these eunuchs were fully-focused on the work of the kingdom.

The trusted eunuch’s mission, personal success, and legacy were wedded to that of the king and his kingdom. Perhaps you may already realize how the old Davidic kingdom foreshadows the Kingdom of God among us now. Jesus calls disciples who are willing and able to be “eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Today, in his Church, celibate clergy and consecrated religious are dedicated to serving Christ’s Kingdom. Jesus told St. Peter, “I give you the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” Jesus made Peter his prime minister, the first Pope, his chief steward and master of his household on earth Pope Francis is St. Peter’s successor in that office today.

Jesus has sealed his peace treaty and alliance with peoples of all lands through a single marriage: his marriage to his bride, the Church, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. But among the Church’s many members, is anyone the queen? As before, our queen is the mother of our King. Christ the King has raised up his Blessed Mother Mary to a throne at his right hand where she intercedes for his Church. We can ask her to present any request to her Son, and if it is pleasing to him and serves his Kingdom’s good, Christ our King will happily grant it, because he loves his mother and us so much.

The beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth is the one Church of Jesus Christ. Let us remain loyal to Christ our King, and remain loyal to his Kingdom, a Kingdom that is among us now, his Holy Catholic Church.

Hands Lifted up to Heaven

October 16, 2022

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

After God’s people, the descendants of Israel, crossed the Red Sea in the Exodus, an army of Amalekites came to battle them in the Sinai desert. So Moses instructed his servant Joshua: “Pick out certain men, and tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle. I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” The next day, while Joshua led Israel’s soldiers in fighting the foe on the battlefield, Moses stood upon an adjacent hill along with Aaron and Hur.

As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.” Moses wielding this staff at God’s command triggered the plagues in Egypt, parted the Red Sea, and now brought Israel’s victory on the battlefield. But this raises a reasonable question: why would God condition his people’s success in combat upon an old man holding a piece of wood above his head? Moses lifting up this staff of God was a sign for God’s people which preserved them from a spiritual disaster.

God knew that if Israel had won apart from this sign they would have ascribed the victory to themselves. “We won this battle because we’re so smart, and strong, and brave! Maybe we don’t need God’s help after all.” Such pride in their success could be their downfall, in this life and the next. So instead, through the sign of an up-lifted staff, the Lord showed Israel, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains [with] me and I [with] him will bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

Similarly today, our Lord desires us to pray without ceasing for the good things we want or need. Otherwise, if and when his blessings come, we shall attribute these things to mere luck, coincidence, or to our own personal abilities, with no growth in our relationship with God. He is the source from whom all good things come. By asking and then receiving, we come to see and know the Lord is near and cares for us. And in the end, that is the most valuable gift of all.

God not only wants us to know and to love him, he desires us to glorify us as well. God is all-powerful, omnipotent, he could do everything without us. But by God accomplishing his will through us, as he did with Moses, the Lord makes us more like himself and causes us to share in his glory.

Holding the staff of God in his hands throughout the day made Moses’ hands and arms grow tired. (If you cannot understand why, try holding an object above your head for just ten minutes sometime.) When Moses’ body grew tired, his friends came to his aide. “They put a rock in place for him to sit on. … Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, [one on his right and the other on his left,] so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” With this help from his friends, Moses kept his arms raised-up and God’s people prevailed against their foe. All of this was a foreshadowing of greater things to come.

On Good Friday, when Jesus was condemned to death, he took the cross into his hands and carried it to the top of a hill. There his hands were nailed to the wood above his head. And Jesus was not there alone. All four Gospels note he was crucified between two others, “one on his right and the other on his left.”

Our Lord was mocked as he hung for hours upon the Cross: “Are you not the Messiah? … If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” But in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had said, “Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? But then how would the Scriptures be fulfilled…?” Christ had the power to come down from the Cross, but if he had done that—if Jesus had released his hands from the wood—if he had refused to die for us, how would we have been saved from our enemies, sin and death?

Love kept Jesus on his Cross: love for his friends gathered nearby. love for the criminals on his right and left, and love for you and me. Consider what a precious consolation it was for Jesus in his suffering to have his Mother Mary, John the Beloved, and Mary Magdalene there supporting him. “But,” Jesus asks, “when the Son of Man comes [again], will he find faith on earth?” Will Jesus return to a world where everyone imagines they can get along just fine without him?

Let us continue being God’s humble people, recognizing our dependence on him. Let us ask of him our wants and needs so that we can know and experience his blessings. Then we shall share his deeper friendship and share in his great works, increasing in his likeness and increasing in his glory. By relying on God and the holy friends and loved ones his providence places near to help us, we shall share in our Lord’s great victory.

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.

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!

The New Eve

December 8, 2020

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Eve was the first woman. God created her like Adam, a finite but flawless and sinless creature, destined to become the biological mother of the entire human race. But then an angel, a fallen angel, Satan in the form of a snake, visited her to suggest that she should disobey God’s will. Eve said yes to sin, and then Adam joined her, and through them the whole human race fell.

Their grave sin caused Adam and Eve to lose paradise, but their futures were not without hope, for God spoke in their hearing a prophesy toward that wicked, deceiving serpent, the devil. God declared, “I will put enmity (that is, I will put hostility) between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” Who is this offspring, this descendant, this son, who strikes back at the devil? It’s Jesus Christ who defeats the devil by dying on the Cross. Adam sinned, causing us to die. But St. Paul calls Jesus the second Adam, the new Adam, who obeys God and does not sin so that we may live forever.

If Jesus is the new and second Adam, then who is the new and second Eve? Who is the woman whom the devil hates most; the mother whose offspring crushes the serpent’s head; a woman created by God as a flawless, sinless creature? This New Eve was visited by angel too, a holy archangel named Gabriel, to ask that she would accept God’s will. And the Blessed Virgin Mary answered, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” The New Eve’s obedience was later echoed by the New Adam. In the Garden of Gethsemane, in his garden of temptation the night before he died, Jesus said, “Father… not my will but yours be done.” Eve said yes to sin, Adam joined her, and through them the whole human race fell. Mary and Jesus say yes to God, and through them the whole human race is redeemed.

Imagine if you could design, could create, your own mother. Wouldn’t you make her the sweetest, kindest, most lovely, and most loving woman that you could? Well, Jesus is God and he did create his own mother for himself, and Jesus shares his mom with us as well. Eve became the biological mother of all the living, but Mary is the spiritual mother of all who live in Christ. Through her sinless soul, completely filled with God’s grace, Mary knows and loves each one of us as her own children. So today, we her children rejoice and celebrate with holy Mary, that God chose her to be our New Eve, the Immaculate Conception.

Revealers of God — Funeral Homily for Kevin Lenfant, 70

December 3, 2020

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth,” God said: “Let there be light, and there was light.” By God’s Word all things were made and his divine attributes are reflected in this universe he’s created. In the inspired word of God, the Holy Scriptures, we read about how he reveals himself to humanity throughout salvation history, through powerful deeds, prophetic words, and poetic images that reveal what he is really like. But ultimately and greatest of all, God reveals himself to us through the Son. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.“In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; (but) in these last days, he (speaks) to us through a Son, …through whom he created the universe,” the Word of God. Jesus Christ, the Bible, and God’s creation make use of familiar things to help reveal God to us. There’s warriors battling, couples marrying, fathers fathering, shepherds shepherding, and plants producing new life. A faithful Christian’s life will reveal God too, as his mysteries are reflected in the features of our lives.

There is a great deal of war and conflict in the Scriptures. This should not be surprising, since this world is broken and often evil. Wickedness is at war with goodness, so good men are called upon to defend the defenseless, to shield the innocent from evil assault. No nation is without flaws, but we should love and defend the goodness of our own. In the Old Testament, armed conflicts abound, but in the New Testament the martial imagery is turned to focus upon the spiritual battle which is being fought around us and within us. St. Paul tells us, “put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day,” for our greatest struggle is not with flesh and blood but with spiritual evils in this world. Our calling is to Semper Fi, being “always faithful”, but we know how difficult this is, “for a righteous man may fall seven times.” So when a brother dies we pray for him, like the Maccabean army prayed for their fallen in today’s first reading from the Old Testament, that whatever flaws or attachments to sin remain in them may be purged away, that those who die as friends of God may experience his full and splendid rewards in Heaven.

Another very plentiful thing found in the Bible is shepherds. Among the Old Testament patriarchs there is Abraham, Jacob-Israel, and his twelve sons – shepherds all. Later, there’s the prophet Moses, King David, and Amos the prophet, each of whom tended flocks for some time before receiving a higher calling from God. The first to hear the happy news of Christmas night were shepherds. The bond between a shepherd and his flock can be a very close one. So close that David, in writing today’s psalm, the most famous of all the psalms, depicts God as his shepherd and David himself as his well-cared-for sheep. The sheep of a good shepherd are like his children to him. He is as a father to his flock. “The sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name… and they recognize his voice.” He knows his own and they know him. The good shepherd devotes his life to his sheep and little lambs. He delights in his flock and his presence comforts them. Rita tells me that family came first for Kevin. She tells me how he loves his children and grandchildren, that he loved to watch them grow, and how extremely proud he is of them. Such is his fatherhood.

A third common theme we encounter is married love. The saints see an allegory in the romantic Old Testament book The Song of Songs: God’s pursuit and love of his people Israel. In the Gospels, Jesus Christ calls himself the Bridegroom, and New Testament passages call the relationship of Jesus Christ with his Church a marriage. As Book of Revelation declares, “The marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. … Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” This leads us to a mystery: did God use our familiar and intimate knowledge of human marriage, the covenantal love of a man and woman, to describe the union of Christ and his Church because this was the best available image for him to borrow, or rather did he create and establish marriage from the beginning to reveal and foreshadow the fulfillment with him that was always meant to be?

Rita told me the delightful story of how she and Kevin met. It was another Normal day at Illinois State University where they were both college students. Rita was having a hard time in a political science class, while political science was Kevin’s major, so he came over and tutored her. Apparently Rita was very impressed by many things about him because once he had left she turned to her friend and said, “Don’t let me marry him.” But she did. And it’s a good thing she did. Why was Rita afraid? ‘Well,’ she thought, ‘I’m so young, we’re both in college, he’s planning to be in the Marines, and how would all that work?’ But thankfully these doubts did not prevail. Imagine how much would have been lost if they had! When our Lord Jesus Christ proposes to be a greater part of our lives, we can similarly balk, all sorts of doubts and fears arise, but I urge you, I plead with you, to say “Yes” to him all the same. In this life, opportunities for some relationships pass by without another chance for something more. But with God, no matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done, all long as we still live, we can start more devotedly following him today.

Jesus often preached to the crowds using familiar things. For example, Jesus spoke about fish around fishermen, of bread and salt to bakers and cooks, and of plants to farmers in the countryside. He says, “Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?” At one point Kevin and Rita owned three flower shops. Now there is just the one they started in Bloomer more than forty years ago. Rita tells me that Kevin, between the two of them, probably likes flowers more. The flowers they sold would sprout and grow, beautifully blossom, and then fade and wither. This is a sad reality, but we are consoled by the knowledge that there are more flowers for us to enjoy. Similarly, in this world we are born and grow, we blossom and die, but we are consoled by the knowledge in Christ that this is not our end.

In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Jesus was not eager to suffer, he asked his Father in the Garden if it were possible that this cup of suffering might pass him, but he was not unwilling to die because he knew that would not be the end of good things for him. It’s O.K. to want to live, to fight against illness and death, for life is a great good. But it is also O.K. to die. “For if we live,” as St. Paul says, “we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; …whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” It’s O.K. to mourn. It’s O.K. to cry. But God’s Word reveals to us that we should not despair. Heed God’s word, in creation, on the Sacred Page, and in the person of our Savior, so that you and I and Kevin may all be happily reunited in God story one day.

Christ Ordained

April 9, 2020

Holy Thursday


What the Old Testament foreshadowed, the New Testament reveals. What the Old Covenant prefigured, God’s New Covenant fulfills. What our Lord prepared in ancient times, he now bestows to his Church. The Holy Scriptures point to the gifts of God we particularly celebrate on this evening: the Holy Priesthood and the Holy Eucharist.

In the Book of Exodus, the Lord declares to Moses: “This is the rite you shall perform in consecrating [Aaron and his sons] as my priests. … Aaron and his sons you shall…bring to the entrance of the tent of meeting and there wash them with water.” On Holy Thursday, “[Jesus] rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.

Peter said to the Lord, “You will never wash my feet.” But Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” The Book of Deuteronomy taught, “The levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no [landed] portion or [territorial] inheritance with Israel…. [T]he Lord set apart the tribe of Levi,” Deuteronomy says, “to carry the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister to him, and to bless in his name…. For this reason, Levi has no portion or inheritance with his relatives; the Lord himself is his inheritance….

When Jesus told Peter, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me,” Simon Peter replied, “Master, then [wash] not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” As part of the priestly ordination ritual in the Book of Exodus, the Lord commanded Moses: “[Sacrifice an unblemished male sheep and] some of its blood you shall take and put on the tip of Aaron’s right ear and on the tips of his sons’ right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and the great toes of their right feet. Splash the rest of the blood on all the sides of the altar.” Jesus says Peter does not need to be washed all over, head and hand and foot, because whoever has bathed is clean. (This is likely a reference to his baptism.) But at the Last Supper, the Body of God’s perfect, unblemished Lamb is broken and his Blood is poured for the apostles.

As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “[T]he Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.’” On Holy Thursday, the apostles receive the Blood of the Lamb and then, on Good Friday, this Blood marks the sides of the Lamb’s Altar, the vertical and horizontal beams of the Cross.

In Egypt before the Exodus, when the Lord instituted the Passover sacrifice, he commanded his people: “[E]very one of your families must procure for itself a lamb… The lamb must be a year-old male and without blemish…. It shall be slaughtered during the evening twilight. They shall take some of its blood and apply it to the two doorposts and the lintel of every house in which they partake of the lamb. That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh…. This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate… as a perpetual institution.” At the first Eucharist, Jesus commands his apostles, “Do this in remembrance of me,” thereby ordaining them as his priests of his New Covenant.

The apostles had been washed with water, sanctified by blood, bestowed an inheritance in the Lord, and entrusted with the mission of offering the unblemished Lamb. As the Catholic Church has always believed and taught, this memorial sacrifice, this Eucharist, re-presents, truly makes present, the sacrifice of the Cross, and applies its saving fruits among us. On Holy Thursday, Jesus gave his New Covenant Church the intertwined gifts of the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Priesthood.

The trial of this Long Lent of 2020 has made Catholics more appreciative of God’s precious gifts. This evening, we are blessed by the presence of the three seminarians from our local parishes assisting at Mass. We thank God for their vocations and urge them to press on. Eventually, this Long Lent of the Church will joyfully end and these young men will be (God willing) ordained to serve her, offering Christ’s sacrifice as loving servants for the good of us all. Pray for our seminarians, Eric, Matthew, and Isaac, that they may take up the cup of salvation; that they may offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call upon the name of the Lord; that they may fulfill ordination promises to the Lord in the presence of all his people. And with patient eagerness let us pray for the coming day when all of us, God’s priests and his people, can celebrate the Mass together again.

The Holy Stream — Baptism of the Lord—Year A

January 13, 2020

When you think of the River Jordan, maybe you imagine something broad, vast, and impressive, like the mighty Mississippi or even the Chippewa River. But the Jordan River is a lot more like Duncan Creek. Ever heard of Duncan Creek? It’s not far from here. Duncan Creek flows out of the south end of Lake Como in Bloomer. You know the bridge between Dairy Queen and the post office? That bridge crosses over Duncan Creek. In terms of size and color, the Jordan River is much like Duncan Creek; small and muddy with shrubs and trees growing along its banks. But unlike the rivers around here in Wisconsin, which are numerous and flow though green and lush countryside, the Jordan is among the few rivers passing through its region’s mostly arid lands. This is the body of water Jesus chose to be baptized in. A humble river of life flowing through a desert. Joshua led God’s Old Covenant people into the earthly Promised Land through this river. And Jesus, the new Joshua, leads God’s New Covenant people to the true Promised Land through holy baptism.

Jesus did not need John’s baptism for himself. John the Baptist sensed this and tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus insists, so John relents, but what is the purpose of his baptism? Jesus is baptized not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy, so that this most plentiful substance on the face of the earth could serve as the material for Christ’s gateway sacrament all throughout the world.

Jesus is baptized to allow us, through baptism, to be united to himself. His baptism foreshadows what comes in Christian baptism, what happened for you and me when we were baptized. The water, the decent of the Spirit, and the voice of the Father all signify effects of our first sacrament. Through baptism our souls were cleansed, the grace of the Holy Spirit was imparted to us, and we were acknowledged as a beloved children of God. We might take these things for granted: that sins can be forgiven, that the divine can dwell with us, that we can be more than mere servants, or slaves, or distant acquaintances to the transcendent God of the universe. That we can be treasured sons and daughters of God our Father. We need to remember and appreciate these things, for what goes unappreciated can be neglected to our loss.

The Jordan River flows about one hundred and fifty miles on the eastern border of Israel, south from the Sea of Galilee into the Dead Sea. These physical bodies of water contain a spiritual allegory. The Sea of Galilee is a large lake. Its fresh water, full of fish, pours out as the Jordan River. And this river, flowing through the arid desert, blesses its shores with life. But once these waters descent seven hundred vertical feet down into the Dead Sea, to the lowest place on earth, the water has no place else to go. So there the water sits, evaporating away in the heat, leaving its trace amounts of salt behind, causing the Dead Sea today to be an intensely salty sea in which no plants, nor fish, nor any other visible life lives.

The pure waters from above, received from the holy stream, bear no life in this recipient. Likewise, the sacraments offer grace from Heaven above, through Jesus Christ the stream of living water, but in the unrepentant soul they bear no life. Even a priest, baptized, confirmed, and ordained, saying the Mass every day, can be spiritually dead, causing spiritual harm to many, if he does not turn away from mortal sin. If you are in mortal sin, for God’s sake, for your sake, and for the sake of those around you, repent and be reconciled to God through his Sacrament of Confession. Jesus desires us to flow with his graces as a great blessing to others in this spiritually-arid world.

The words of Isaiah in our first reading point to Jesus, but because of your baptism you are in Christ. So Isaiah’s inspired words are spoken to every soul in a state of grace:

Thus says the Lord:
“You are my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit;
I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you… a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement [and darkness.]”

You might not be called to cry out or shout, making your voice heard in the streets, breaking this and crushing that. But Jesus wants to use you as his powerful instrument to do transforming good in this world. Jesus is still quietly saving souls through his faithful ones, who receive his graces and pour them forth for others. Let this be you, for Him, and for many.

The Visiting Shepherds — Christmas Mass

December 25, 2019

Early on the first Christmas Eve, in a field outside of Bethlehem, I imagine one of the shepherds complaining to his companions: “Wouldn’t you know it, we have to work on Christmas!” That’s just a joke, of course. The shepherds near Bethlehem, living in the fields and keeping watch over their flock, had no reason to expect that night would be anything special. Indeed, if not for Jesus’ birth into our world, today would be just another workday and there would be no reason to celebrate. But Jesus did come into our world to save us, and those shepherds were his first invited guests. “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”

These shepherds would seem to be unlikely guests. Not rich, not powerful, not admired; but poor, dirty, and smelly. They lived apart from the community like outcasts. Shepherds were so little trusted that they could not give testimony in court. And yet, God’s Good News was offered to them. The Emperor Caesar Augustus, whose census brought the Holy Family to Bethlehem, was not given an angelic invitation. Perhaps the Roman Emperor was too proud to receive one; unwilling to admit that he was not a god over anything and that one God deserved his full worship, love, and obedience. But the shepherds were humble, humble enough to listen to the Heaven-sent message and act on it. “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.

The city of Bethlehem is to the south and west of Jerusalem. Bethlehem was only about 5½ miles away from the Jewish Temple, roughly the same direction and distance that St. John the Baptist Church in Cooks Valley is from here. Just as Bethlehem and Jerusalem are situated closely to each other, so Christmas points to Easter. The two are closely linked. It was specifically from Bethlehem’s flocks that sheep were provided to be sacrificed in Jerusalem for the peoples’ sins. In this region, the Lamb of God was born and to this region Jesus would return to die and rise to take away the sins of the world. Mary wrapped her little newborn snugly in swaddling clothes. Mary would later wrap his body in a linen burial shroud. Tradition says Joseph prepared a cave for the place of Jesus’ birth when other accommodations were unavailable. Later, another Joseph would make last-minute arrangements for Jesus to be buried in a rock-hewn tomb. Baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a city whose name means “House of Bread.” He was laid in a manger, a feed-box for grain. Later, on the day before he was to suffer, Jesus would take bread in hand and say, “Take this, all of you, and eat of it: for this is my body which will be given up for you.

The shepherds went in haste into Bethlehem and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus there. “When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. … Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.” After Christmas, after that beautiful day, did the shepherds ever come back to visit the Holy Family? I doubt you could find two people more friendly and welcoming than holy Joseph and Mary, but did the shepherds ever take the opportunity to visit them and the Christ Child again? The Magi were soon to travel hundreds of miles to see Jesus just once, but these shepherds lived only a short, walking distance away. Did the shepherds ever take time come back and adore Jesus, to rest and to contemplate what he meant for their lives, to praise and thank the God for his presence in their midst? Did the shepherds ever get to know Mary and Joseph better, these holy saints and friends of God?

If the shepherds had spent a single hour each week in the presence of Christ and his holy family, imagine how it would have improved their daily lives; their work, their relationships, their whole outlook on life? Great graces flow from being close to Jesus. What do you think they should have done? What would you have done? We don’t know whether the shepherds ever came back again after Christmas, but if they didn’t, they really missed out. Living a life with Jesus Christ is better than a life neglecting him.

Christmas is a truly special day, a happy day and rightly so, but a day that points beyond merely itself to Easter and the fullness of Christ’s Gospel, Good News of great joy. For a Savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. Do not be too proud, do not be too busy, do not be afraid, make the short journeys to visit Jesus here again. Do not feel too unworthy to come, for even shepherds were his first guests. Feel welcome in this his dwelling place and find friends here among his family. Will you come back again after Christmas? I hope you will, but if you don’t, you’re really missing out; because living your life with Jesus Christ is better than life without him.

Consoling the New Jerusalem — 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

July 8, 2019

This word of the Lord regarding Jerusalem was spoken through the Prophet Isaiah in our first reading:

“Thus says the LORD: Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her; exult, exult with her, all you who were mourning over her! For thus says the LORD: Behold, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort. When you see this, your heart shall rejoice and your bodies flourish like the grass; the LORD’s power shall be known to his servants.”

When reading Old Testament prophesies, the tone can really widely vary. Depending upon the particular century, the Lord’s message directed towards Jerusalem or the Israelites can be consoling, encouraging, promising good things to come; or denouncing, woeful, declaring punishments to follow. I find it really difficult to place our country and our present time amongst these Old Testament messages. I can imagine the people of our land being pleasing the Lord in many respects and I can see us meriting his correcting chastisement for other reasons. So do the consoling words of Isaiah apply to us? Let me explain how I think that they can.

In Old Testament times, Jerusalem, the holy city, was the place of God’s temple, his dwelling place on earth. But in 70 A.D., the Romans sieged Jerusalem and destroyed the temple leaving not one stone upon another, as Jesus had proselytized and foretold. In New Testament times, Jesus is the Temple. In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells a crowd, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” and John notes Jesus “speaking about the temple of his body.” The Body of Christ is the New Temple. The Christian understanding of Jerusalem changes, too. In the Book of Revelation, St. John beholds “the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” John hears a loud voice from the throne say, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God.” So the New Temple is the Body of Christ. And the New Jerusalem is the Bride of Christ. Where is the Body of Christ now and where is his Bride? As New Testament Scriptures tell us, they are present on earth and in Heaven, as his Holy Church.

There are wounds and sufferings in the Body of Christ. This was personally true for Jesus on earth, and it is true for his members. In our second reading, St. Paul writes: “From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.” Paul composed his letter in Greek, and here the Greek word for “marks” is literally “stigmata.” In the ancient world, slaves and devotees of pagan deities were often branded by marks called “stigmata” to indicate to whom they belonged, who they served or who was their god. In a Christian context, “stigmata” has come to mean the miraculous sign or gift of receiving the wounds of Christ, in one’s hands, feet, or side. St. Francis of Assisi experienced the stigmata near the end of his life, and St. Padre Pio bore Christ’s wounds in his hands for fifty years. But what St. Paul is describing in this passage is not necessarily that. In 2nd Corinthians, he enumerates the sufferings he had endured: “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…” St. Paul greatly suffered in Christ, but many wounds are not physical.

I hate that wolves in sheep’s clothing have hurt and scarred members of the Body of Christ, the Church. I hate that the Bride of Christ I love is denounced as something evil. Perhaps it has never been easy to be a Catholic, but it is hard to be a Catholic today. How are we going to respond? In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “Beg the master of the harvest [that is, God his Father] to send laborers into his harvest.” In other words, we should ask God to raise up saints. In the worst and hardest times in Church history, God has supplied holy saints. And he still lifts up saints in our modern times as well.

In the year 2010, a baby boy was born in Illinois with neither breath nor pulse. The parents prayed for the intercession of another native son of Illinois. That man had grown up in El Paso, Illinois, become a priest and eventually an archbishop, was an excellent preacher and author, and even won an Emmy for his highly-rated, prime-time, national TV show called “Life is Worth Living.” Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen died in 1979, but after praying for his help in saving their son’s life, after sixty-one minutes of no signs of life, their boy began to breathe and show a pulse. Today, James Fulton Engstrom is a fully healthy eight-year-old, and yesterday the Vatican officially announced that his inexplicable healing was a miracle, which clears the way for Archbishop’s Sheen’s beatification in the near future.

Fulton Sheen was a twentieth century saint, but God desires to raise up twenty-first century saints as well. And not just among others elsewhere, but among we ourselves. You and I likely never be beatified or canonized, but we are all called to be saints because we are all called to Heaven, and to begin living the life of Heaven here and now.

Notice how in today’s gospel, Jesus does not send out his missionaries one-by-one but in pairs. He told them to stick together, “stay in the same house.” Why? He wanted them to be a help, encouragements to each other, to be faithful and fruitful. Likewise, we have the fellowship of one another to help us become saints. And we have holy friends who know and love us to help us, the saints in Heaven. And we have our greatest friend who provides the means for our sanctification in himself, Jesus Christ. Let us become saints together. Then the words of Isaiah will be fulfilled among us. All who were mourning over Jerusalem will exult and all who love her will rejoice. In holiness the Lord’s power shall be known to his servants. And we will be comforted and flourish, in the New Jerusalem here on earth and in Heaven without end.

Returning to Dust & Rising From the Ashes

March 11, 2019

Funeral Homily for Daniel G. Zwiefelhofer
by Fr. Victor Feltes on March 7, 2019

The Fall of Mankind and Expulsion from Paradise
by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These words were heard many times yesterday on Ash Wednesday as ashes were applied to foreheads. There is another phrase the ash-bestowing minister can say, but “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” is the classic option. Where does this phrase come from? It’s from the story of Genesis, following the Original Sin, the Fall of Man.

When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, punishments were placed on them and their descendants. To the woman God said, “I will intensify your toil in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” And to the man God said, “In toil you shall eat the ground’s yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you, and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And God announced a punishment upon the wicked serpent too: “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.”

We still feel the consequences of sin and observe of the brokenness of our world. Birthing babies is painful and raising children is challenging. Daniel learned these truths firsthand alongside Marion. And, as a lifelong farmer, Daniel experienced firsthand that farming is hard work. Growing food, from beasts or fields, demands the sweat of one’s brow. And today, after eighty-one years of life on this earth, we gather for Daniel’s funeral; for we are dust, and to dust we return. If these things were all that we saw and knew we would be left in sad despair, but this is not the end of the story; for Genesis, for Daniel, or for us.

I mentioned earlier that there’s another phrase option for ash-distributors to say on Ash Wednesday: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” The Gospel is a message of living hope and it was proclaimed from the beginning. The Church teaches that the Protoevangelium, or “First Gospel” promising salvation was announced in the Garden of Eden. Recall how God said to the serpent, in the presence of Adam and Eve: “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.” This is speaking to more than the natural hatred between humans and deadly snakes – it’s a prophesy. That “he,” the offspring of the woman, was to be Jesus. The ancient serpent, the devil, struck out at Jesus’ lowly flesh (as at Jesus’ heel) in the Passion. But Jesus the New Adam, triumphed through his Passion, death, and resurrection, crushing the enemy’s head.

Jesus is the New Adam. Tempted in a garden (the Garden of Gethsemane) Jesus did not falter. Called to lay down his wife for his bride (the Church) Jesus did not balk. And by the sweat of his brow (even sweating blood) he has provided her bread, in the Most Holy Eucharist, which is himself. He accepted a crown of thorns from a world turned against him, but by his toil of carrying his Cross Jesus has produced a fruitful yield on earth. Jesus was placed into the dust of the earth — entombed at death, but Jesus was not abandoned to the dustbin of history. The New Adam triumphs over death.

And the New Eve, his bride the Church, continues (with toil and pains, but also with joy) to bear forth children who live and die with faith in Christ, like Daniel. And, as Daniel’s prophetic namesake says in our first reading, “Those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; and some shall live forever…” Likewise, in our second reading, St. Paul proclaims to the Thessalonians: “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” The first Adam, by sinning, and gave death to all his descendants. But Jesus Christ, the new faithful Adam, offers life to all who follow him.

On Ash Wednesday and at any funeral, we are reminded that are dust and to dust we shall return. But we must also remember to repent and believe in the Good News of the Gospel. As night lead to dawn and sleep to arising; as winter leads to spring and Lent leads to Easter, so the dying of friends of Jesus leads to joyful resurrection.

A Christmas Funeral

December 29, 2018

Funeral Homily for Marie Clark

There is an understandable and natural sadness felt in the passing of a well-loved mother, sister, aunt, grandma, and  great-grandmother like Marie in any season of the year. But a funeral like this, so close to Christmas, can feel strange as well. Perhaps I have forgotten but I can’t remember — in almost a decade of priesthood — ever offering a funeral Mass so close to the celebration of Jesus’ birth, with Christmas trees still in the sanctuary. And yet, this is not so strange as it may seem, for the birth of Jesus the Christ bears many connections with and foreshadowings of his death:

Jesus’ birthplace, a stable, was actually a cave. His burial-place, his tomb, was a cave as well.

The first cave was prepared by Joseph, the poor carpenter from Nazareth. The second cave was also prepared by a Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea.

At his birth, Mary wrapped Jesus’ body tightly in cloths for swaddling clothes. At his death, Mary also wrapped Jesus’ body, in linen cloth, for a burial shroud.

She placed his body in a manger, a feed-box for grain. He would give his own body as food, feeding his flock with his flesh and blood.

Who first heard the news of Jesus’ birth? It was shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem. From Bethlehem’s flocks the lambs were provided for sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem about 5½ miles away. Jesus is the Lamb of God who was born to die as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

The Christmas trees in our sanctuary are evergreen and gloriously-lighted. Contrast that to the wood of the Cross, stark and dead, where we see the starkness of death in Christ crucified. Yet the cross bears the Light of the World, for Jesus says, “I am the Light of the World.” Life flows from this tree.

The Church, in these days following Christmas, celebrates a series of martyrs. The day after Christmas is the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr after Jesus’ Ascension. Tomorrow, it’s St. Thomas Becket, a bishop martyred more than a millennium later. Today, it’s the Holy Infants of Bethlehem, who died unknowingly for Christ, but who the Church has long-celebrated as martyrs. We can fittingly celebrate the martyrs or even a funeral so close to Christmas because the birth of Jesus Christ has great and vast implications for life and death.

As we heard in our first reading, “If before men, indeed they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality. … They 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.” So, even in the dark valleys of life, we are courageous (as St. Paul twice declares in the second reading) for the Lord who died and rose is our shepherd. “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side.” And this is our Gospel: ‘this is the will of the Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and Jesus shall raise them on the last day.’

Pray for Marie’s soul, as is fitting and right, but be courageous and even joyful through the sadness; for at Christmas we see:

Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord.
Late in time behold he comes,
offspring of the Virgin’s womb.

Mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.

With the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King.”

Christ, the Peace Light, is Born

December 27, 2018

In the city of Israel that is called Bethlehem, the ancient Church of the Nativity marks the site of the first Christmas. There one can actually stoop and bend down beneath the central altar & touch the celebrated spot where Jesus Christ was born. It is fitting that the pilgrims bend low to do this, because the miracle of God becoming a human being — to live and die and rise for us — surely deserves humble reverence with everything that we are.

Earlier this year, as has happened for a number of years now, an Austrian child and their family was selected to travel to Bethlehem. Candles and lamps are always burning within the Church of the Nativity, and there this chosen child transferred their fire into two blast-proof lanterns. Then they all flew back to Austria, where this flame (called “The Peace Light”) has spread from lamp to lamp, light to light, candle to candle, into more than thirty European countries and to places around the world. On December 1st of this year, the Peace Light arrived at J.F.K. Airport in New York City and it has traveled from there across our country. This week, it providentially came to our parish.

Last Friday, a Hudson couple traveling with the Peace Light approached me after morning Mass at St. Paul’s. I had never heard of the Peace Light before, but I happily received it and kept it for this Christmas celebration. All the flames you see burning our sanctuary this Christmas were originally lit from Bethlehem’s flame. Now I carefully carried, protected, and preserved this light; especially when I only had one vigil candle. I realized that one error, one jostling of the liquid wax, could extinguish the fire; and then what would become of this, my Christmas homily? I’d be lost. But, thanks be to God, these candles are lit here today.

So why do we have candles at Mass? Since the early days of Christianity, when Catholic Mass was celebrated in hiding, underground in the catacombs, lamps have provided useful illumination. But these lights are not merely practical. In the late 300’s A.D., a heretic named Vigilantius criticized Christians in the East about many of their practices, including their lighting of great piles of candles while the sun was still shining in the sky. St. Jerome declared in answer to him that candles are lighted where the Gospel is proclaimed not merely to put darkness to flight, but as a sign of joy. As an added symbol, these candles on the altar (and the Easter Candle) are, by tradition, mostly made of beeswax. Because beeswax, which is the product of the virginal female bee, is like the flesh of Our Lord supplied by the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Of course, the celebrated Peace Light is not merely a symbol of some abstract notion or idea of peace; it’s a symbol of the very real person of Jesus Christ. The “Light of the World” entered our world from his mother’s womb in Bethlehem. And his light has spread across the world and throughout time to this place and our day. Today, our candles burn and shine for him.

Within you there is also candle, but it is a very vulnerable light. Through error or neglect its light can go out. And without this light we are in darkness without true joy. So Jesus commands us to regularly gather all our candles together here, to be re-lit from the Source, the Light of Christ. In conclusion, in case my symbolism has been too subtle: Have a very joyful Christmas, and know that Jesus Christ (who loves you) wishes you to return here again for his Holy Mass next Sunday.

Christ the King & His Kingdom Among Us

November 27, 2018

We tend to think of Mexico as one of the most Catholic countries on earth, but for a time in 1920’s it was illegal to publicly celebrate Mass there. Following a revolution, the new, socialist, Mexican government effectively sought to outlaw the Catholic Church. They seized church property, expelled all foreign priests, and closed the monasteries, convents and religious schools.

But this did not stop priests like Blessed Miguel Pro from secretly ministering to the faithful; celebrating the Eucharist, distributing Holy Communion, hearing confessions, and anointing the sick clandestinely. He would often sneak from place to place in disguise, sometimes as a mechanic, or an office worker, or as a beggar. After many close calls, Fr. Pro was arrested by the government and, without trial, condemned to death on false charges that he was connected to a bombing assassination plot.

On November 23, 1927, Fr. Pro was led out for his execution by firing squad. He blessed the soldiers, knelt and quietly prayed for a time. He declined the blindfold and faced his executioners with a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other. He held out his arms like the crucified Christ and shouted, “May God have mercy on you! May God bless you! Lord, you know that I am innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies!”

Just before the order was given to fire, he proclaimed, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (which means “Long live Christ the King!”) When the initial bullets failed to kill him, a soldier shot him point-blank. The anti-Catholic government had a photographer on hand to capture these moments for propaganda purposes, but soon after these images were published in all the newspapers the possession of these pictures was outlawed. Seeing this Catholic priest dying innocently, bravely, and faithfully was an inspiration to the oppressed people of Mexico, who eventually won back their freedom of religion and freedom for Christ’s Catholic Church.

Today we celebrate “Christ the King,” but where is his Kingdom? During his ministry, Jesus said, “If I cast out devils by the finger of God, [and he did] then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” On another occasion he said, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.” And at the Last Supper he declared, “Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” The next time he drank the fruit of the vine (that is to say, wine) was the next day, Good Friday, when he drank it from a sponge held to his lips as he hung upon the Cross. So when Jesus tells Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world,” and, “My kingdom is not here,” he is not saying it is entirely absent from this world, that we will only begin to see it in Heaven or at his Second Coming when his Kingdom will come in its fullness. His Kingdom is not here because it is not yet here fully, and his Kingdom does not belong to this world because it is not from this world but from Heaven.

So where is Jesus’ Kingdom on earth? Jesus was called the “Son of David,” that is, the descendant of King David and heir to his throne. It was believed that the Christ would become the new King of Israel. And in fact, when Jesus was put to death on the Cross, the written charge declared above his head was: “This is Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.” The Kingdom of David and his successors (the old, Davidic dynasty) was imperfect but it prefigured Jesus’ Kingdom. As St. Augustine taught, the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. The old foreshadows and points to the new. So, we can draw clues from the old Davidic Kingdom to identify Jesus’ new Kingdom in our midst.

The kings in the Davidic dynasty had many, many wives. From the beginning, God intended marriage to be between one man and one woman, but the kings of Israel – thinking blood is thicker than water – used marriages to seal their peace treaties and alliances with other nations. But this presented a problem: when the king has many wives, who is the queen? You can imagine the rivalry and discord this question could generate. The solution in the Davidic dynasty was to have the mother of the king fulfill that role, as Queen Mother. She had a throne of honor at the king’s right hand and served as an intercessor for the people of the kingdom. If someone had a request, one might bring it to her to present to the king. If the request were pleasing to the king and good for the kingdom he would happily grant it to please his well-loved mother.

The king of Israel had many ministers, but there was one prime minister among them: the king’s chief steward, the master of the royal household. As a sign of that man’s office and authority, the chief steward carried a large wooden key on his shoulders. When he would retire, or die, or be removed from office, another would take his place. His power was that of the king, on whose and with whose authority he acted. But a chief steward acting contrary to the king’s will would soon find himself replaced.

In the courts of ancient kingdoms, including Israel’s, you would find eunuchs. A eunuch is a man born or rendered physically incapable of marrying or having children. Eunuchs were preferred for practical reasons. First, they were safe to be around the king’s wives and harem. Secondly, since they had no wife or children of their own, eunuchs were entirely focused on the king and the kingdom. Their mission, personal success, and legacy were entirely wedded to that of the king’s.

Now we can see how the old conceals the new, and how the new reveals what the old prefigured. Jesus called all those willing and able to be “eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Today, many ministers serve him devotedly in his celibate Priesthood. Jesus told Peter, “I give you the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” Jesus made Peter the first Pope, the first prime minister, chief steward, and master of his royal household on earth. Jesus has sealed his peace treaty and alliance with peoples of all nations through a single marriage: his marriage to his bride, the Church. But among the Church’s many members, is anyone the queen? As before, she is the mother of the King. The Lord has called Mary to a throne at his right hand where she intercedes for his people. If we have a request, we can ask her to present it to her Son, and if the request is pleasing to the King and good for his Kingdom he will happily grant it because he loves his mother so.

We are called to be good citizens of this country, but we are first and foremost citizens of Christ’s Kingdom. We are to vote and participate in the political process (for good polices and laws do good, while bad laws and policies do great harm) but we are not to put our trust in princes or politicians. We are to obey the law, but we know there is a higher law that supersedes unjust laws, and we know that above every earthly leader there is a higher King. That is why Blessed Miguel Pro was willing to defy the laws and president of Mexico to celebrate the Church’s sacraments and was not too terrified to face death before a firing squad. Let us remain loyal to Christ our King, and remain loyal to his Kingdom, a Kingdom which is among you, in His Holy Catholic Church.

The Ox, the Ass, & the First Manger Scene

December 20, 2017

In the year 1223 A.D., about two weeks before Christmas and three years before his death, St. Francis of Assisi shared an innovative idea with a beloved friend: “I want to do something that will recall the memory of that child who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy, how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by.” With Pope Honorius III’s approval and his generous friend’s help everything was ready for Christmas Eve.

Blessed Thomas of Celano (writing just six years after) recounts the unveiling of that first manger scene, or crèche:

“With glad hearts, the men and women of that place prepared, according to their means, candles, and torches to light up that night which has illuminated all the days and years with its glittering star. Finally the holy man of God arrived and, finding everything prepared, saw it and rejoiced. … The manger is ready, hay is brought, the (live) ox and ass are led in. The brothers sing, discharging their debt of praise to the Lord, and the whole night echoes with jubilation. The holy man of God stands before the manger full of sighs, consumed by devotion, and filled with a marvelous joy. The holy man of God wears a deacon’s vestments, for he was indeed a deacon, and he sings the holy gospel with a sonorous voice. Then he preaches sweetly to the people standing about, telling them about the birth of the poor king and the little city of Bethlehem.”

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth make no mention of an ox or donkey, but St. Francis included them in his scene because the duo had so commonly appeared in Christian imagery and writings since the Early Church.

Like the crucified thieves beside Jesus’ cross, this pair of creatures beside Jesus’ crib can represent two types of people in our world. Some respond to the birth of God among us like a donkey, with a foolish, stubborn resistance. But others, like an ox, humbly take the yoke of Christ upon their shoulders, learn from him, and produce a great harvest. Some attend Christmas Mass eager to leave early and without plans to soon return, like Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper. Yet Jesus calls us to attend to him week in and week out as his faithful oxen so that we may have peace in this world: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”