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Lovingly Received — Funeral Homily for Allen Pietz, 62

June 22, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Allen Pietz after his 1st Communion

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

Valuable Lessons for Life — The Craig & Debbie Zwiefelhofer Wedding

June 22, 2021

Ring Heart Shadow on Bible

Craig and Debbie, today you are here in this beautiful church to freely give yourselves to each other in marriage. Christ’s Church has discerned and affirms that you are both free to marry, and we gather together to celebrate this day with you. The excellent Scripture readings that you selected, and which we all just heard, contain valuable lessons for life. May their inspired insights bless your marriage and every household which takes them to heart.

In our first reading, on their wedding night, Tobiah arises from bed and says to his wife, “Sister, get up. Let’s pray…” Sarah gets up and they start to pray, praising and thanking God, and asking for his help and blessings. And they conclude, saying together, “Amen, amen.” There are couples who have shared a bed for decades who have never shared their prayers like this. They may go to church on Sunday or pray before meals—and that’s great—but sharing prayer as a couple like this is a greater intimacy. You do not need to be eloquent. You can even pray together silently. On a regular basis, offer two or three personal things for your spouse to pray about for you, and ask your spouse to share two or three things you can pray about to God for them. You can pray silently for each other for even just a minute or two and simply wrap up with an Our Father and Hail Mary.

A couple that prays together, and for each other, will be more perfectly one. A life of prayer is also a cure for our anxieties and fears. St. Paul reminds us in our second reading, “The Lord is near.” Therefore, he writes:

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
  by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
  make your requests known to God.
  Then the peace of God
  that surpasses all understanding
  will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

The world and my problems may be bigger than me, but God is bigger than them both. Pray often and God’s peace, even without your fully understanding what he is doing, will secure and calm your hearts and minds. St. Paul then goes on to teach the Philippians and us another lesson:

“[B]rothers and sisters,
  whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
  whatever is just, whatever is pure,
  whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
  if there is any excellence
  and if there is anything worthy of praise,
  think about these things.”

If you ask someone, “How you doing?” and they say, “I can’t complain,” they don’t mean it literally. Everybody can complain. Things to complain about are all around us. Even good things can be complained about for not being better. Anybody can complain because complaining is easy. But to focus on what is lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy is a choice. Highlighting the good in your everyday life will nurture peace within you, peace between you, and peace around you. Finally, we come to Jesus’ words in our Gospel. Jesus tells his disciples:

“This is my commandment:
  love one another as I love you.
  No one has greater love than this,
  to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Ahead of you are good times and trials, both joys and sufferings, Mount Tabors and Mount Calvarys. Choose to love through them all and your Good Fridays will lead to Easter Sundays. In conclusion, pray together, focus on what is good, and choose to love like Jesus loves you and you will be blessed.

Crafting Gifts — Barbara “Barb” Ertolacci, 81

June 22, 2021

Barbara N. ErtolacciWe extend to you, who mourn Barb’s passing most, our sympathy and condolences. We are honored and grateful to be able to offer today, here inside of Barb’s former parish church, our greatest prayer: the Holy Mass. May its graces help purify Barb’s soul of any imperfection, speed her soul to heaven, console all those who mourn her here below, and strengthen us on all our own lives’ journeys to God. No brief funeral homily can present the fullness of a Christian life, but holy aspects of a Christian’s life will reflect God’s goodness, beauty, and truth.

Earlier this week, Barbie and Jeff shared stories with me about Barbara (or Me-me). They told me of her smiles and laughter, of her generosity, about the Hi Way Café, and other things. One aspect of Barb’s life that stood out to me is her crafting hobby. Barb loved to make crafts; including crosses, coasters, wall decorations for every holiday, homemade cards. After moving into Cottonwood Manor in 2019, Barb made greeting cards and signs for residents; signs for doors to welcome new residents to their rooms and other signs to help residents find their way around. My personal favorite of these: a bathroom sign with the helpful message “4U2P”. Barb just freely did these crafts. It was her pleasure to create and give things as gifts. Her industry seems to have outpaced her recipients. I’m told she leaves behind six big boxes of creations, not for destruction but to be given away.

Our God is into crafts as well. He made this universe and our souls from scratch; not out of any need or obligation, but simply from a desire to create and give gifts as a blessing. Creation is an expression of God’s love. We are his craftsmanship. And even just the delightful, wonderful things we can see (be they animals, plants, landscapes, or galaxies) are far too numerous for us to behold in all of our lifetimes combined. His good gifts surround and overwhelm us. All things came to be from the Father through the Son, and the Father has given you, and Barb, and me as a gift to his Son.

Jesus says in our Gospel, “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me… And 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.” In the view of the foolish, the dead seem to go forth to utter destruction. But those who trust in the Lord understand the truth, that with him is plenteous redemption. God has crafted us with loving care and he does not intend to discard us. One day, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. That which is corruptible will be clothed with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal with be clothed with immortality. For “this is the will of the Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life.” Barb is God’s beloved craftsmanship, a gift to you, a gift to this world, and a gift to the Son. And this is the will of the one who sent us Jesus Christ, that he should not lose anything of what the Father gave him, but that he should raise us on the last day.

A Blessed Reflection — Funeral Homily for Robert “Bob” Seibel, 91

June 22, 2021

The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch.

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
  and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.”

Jesus climbs up the mountain. He is above and higher than them all. They all look up to him. He invites them to draw closer. And his disciples come closer to Jesus himself. He then begins to preach to them his Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the Beatitudes. Who is bless-ed? Who is blessed? Jesus gives us a description. The blessed one is poor in spirit, is meek and mourns, hungers and thirsts for righteousness, is merciful, pure of heart, a peacemaker, and yet persecuted for the sake of righteousness.

When we hear these Beatitudes we usually think of them as traits we Christians are called to embody, and that’s true. We are called, for instance, to rely on God to fill our humble spirits, to mourn the sin and evil present in this world, to pursue peace and all that is righteous. And the fruit of these attitudes to be is blessedness, holiness, true happiness. Our Christian lives should reflect these blessed traits, but these traits are reflected–first and best–in Jesus Christ himself. Jesus’ Beatitudes are autobiographical. He is above and higher than us all and we rightly look up to him. But Jesus wonderfully calls us higher, to draw nearer to him, for Christians to come closer to Christ. A faithful Christian’s life will come to reflect the person of Jesus Christ.

Robert F. SeibelBeatrice, Bob’s wife of sixty-six years, and his children have shared with me many stories about him. For instance, they told me of his precious Catholic faith in Jesus Christ. It was so important to Bob that he sacrificed for all eight of his children to be taught eight years each at St. Paul’s Catholic School. More recently, during the Covid pandemic and his infirmity, he would worship by watching the Holy Mass on TV, and delighted to have Jesus brought to his home in the Holy Eucharist. Through the years, at Bob’s supper table, where everyone had his or her own special spot, Bob would pray before meals, a devotion he always kept to the end of his life.

His family told me of Bob’s incredible work ethic, of his belief in everything being done right, and how he passed this on through his example. They recall how, amidst his hard labors, he might lay down on the floor for a ten-minute midday nap, rise again, and get back to work. Yet he always had time for his loved ones. Very approachable, Bob would talk to anyone about anything. After years of dairy farming, he moved on to gardening in retirement. From his full garden he generously shared, giving food to family and friends, the local food pantry, and whoever drove by. His gifted food went far and wide.

As I said, a faithful Christian’s life will reflect the person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ earthly life God came first. Christ seeks to teach us all about God his Father and our saving Faith. Jesus comes far down from heaven to our earthly home to be with us, through his Incarnation and his Church. The Lord gathers his family around his holy table at every Mass to pray to our Father and to feast together. He spreads the table before us, our cup overflows. And someday, if we heed his call, he will have a special spot for each of us around his table in heaven.

Jesus believes in the importance of righteousness, that right be done, and in passing this truth and example on to us. Jesus labored hard on earth, his body laid down briefly in the tomb, but then he rose again, renewed. He lives and still labors now. Yet Jesus always has time for us. He is very approachable, happy to converse with you about anything in prayer. And Jesus Christ, who made the world’s first garden for Adam and Eve and was mistaken for a gardener on Easter Sunday morning, desires to feed you and the whole world far and wide, by generously sharing himself in the gift of his Holy Eucharist.

What do you love and admire about Robert Seibel? Realize that everything which is loveable and admirable in him, is a reflection of these blessed traits’ source. A faithful Christian’s life reflects the person of Jesus Christ. Today, let us pray for Bob’s soul, that he be purified of any flaw, and renew our own faithful Christian devotion and love for Jesus Christ, so that one day we may all be called and gathered together again with God upon his holy mountain.

Jesus Rested

June 19, 2021

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt, 1633.In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus commanding the wind and sea during a storm. He rebukes the wind and tells the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” and a great calm settles. His disciples in the boat, in awe at what they’ve witnessed, say to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” It’s a stunning moment for them, but there’s another striking detail contained in this Gospel – a detail which Jesus’ disciples found completely unremarkable before the storm: Jesus was resting in the boat, he was asleep on a cushion in the stern. Christ wielding divine power is an important sign, but the fact that Jesus took naps also contains lessons for us that I’ll discuss a bit later.

The Book of Exodus records how the Lord had previously commanded winds and waters to save his people when he parted the Red Sea: “The Lord drove back the sea with a strong east wind all night long and turned the sea into dry ground. The waters were split, so that the Israelites entered into the midst of the sea on dry land.” God commanded the waters as with his words from the Book of Job: “Thus far shall you come but no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stilled!” Even though God brought the Hebrews safely through the Red Sea to Mount Sinai, delivering them from their Egyptian slavemasters, they were not yet free. God had gotten his people out of Egypt, but he needed to get Egypt out of his people.

Habits and attitudes from their years of bondage had to be unlearned. To do this, God’s Mosaic covenant commanded them, for example, to sacrifice animals which the Egyptians associated with their pagan deities, such as bulls and rams. To slay and offer up these creatures to the Lord undermined the cults of the false gods. Likewise, when you desire to turn away from old sinful habits, absolutely pray for God’s help and go to Confession, but also after that do more than just passively hoping that things will change. Take positive steps in the right direction. Make an act of your will to renounce your sins. Literally say: “I renounce the sin of (such-and-so),” and then actively avoid the patterns which you know lead you into sin. Like those bulls and rams sacrificed on God’s altar, kill and burn your idols.

Another way in which the Lord sought to train the Hebrews out of the old mindset and routines of their prior slavery was through giving them a weekly vacation day. God commanded his people:

“Remember to keep holy the sabbath day.
Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord, your God.
No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female servant, or your beast, or by the alien who lives with you.”

As slaves in Egypt, the Hebrews worked long days for long stretches of days. It was grueling labor, fueled by fear of painful consequences. But the Lord did not wish for them to carry with them this slave mentality toward work. So he gave them a special day, every week, for worship, rest, and joy. God desires the Lord’s Day, Sunday, to be such a day for us.

When I was an undergrad at college, my studies were my daily grind. I looked forward to my college breaks, but those could be weeks or months away, and were always on the other side of due dates and exams. Although I faithfully attended Mass I had never observed Sunday as a special day of rest. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, (that hinder) the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, (that hinder) the performance of the works of mercy, (or that hinder) the appropriate relaxation of mind and body.” Then it notes, “Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. (However,) the faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.

So I resolved in those days of college to abstain from doing homework or studying on Sundays. I had some very late Saturday nights, but I held faithfully to this rule. And over time, I noticed two surprising things. First, my Sunday resting never burned me academically. I can’t recall ever bombing a test, failing to meet a deadline, or doing worse on my assignments because I didn’t work on Sunday. My second great surprise was that I began looking forward to every Sunday as a one-day vacation. In addition to going to Mass, Sunday was a day for me to take a nap, see a movie, play a game, hang out with friends, or do anything delightful. I sacrificed a gift of myself to the Lord and he gave me an even greater gift in return. So I urge you to be courageous and intentional about keeping and celebrating the Lord’s day of rest yourself.

Let’s return to Jesus sleeping in the boat. What lessons does this teach us? First, the fact that he sleeps means he is a real human being who can personally relate to our own lived experience. Jesus knows firsthand what it’s like to be one of us, and he compassionately understands us.

Second, his sleep shows us that human fatigue is not a sin. Sometimes in confession I hear older people accuse themselves of laziness because they aren’t as productive as they were when they were decades younger. I encourage these persons to be easier on themselves. The Stations of the Cross recount Christ falling down three times. Jesus’ holy, loving spirit was willing, but his flesh was weakened, and none of his physical limitations, missteps, or stumbles were sins. Our own bodily limitations are not sins either.

A third lesson from Jesus napping is that caring for your body is an ordinary part of doing God’s will. While taking his nap, Christ isn’t preaching to the crowds, healing the sick, or performing mighty miracles, but he is exactly doing his Father’s will. And this rest prepares Jesus to do the Father’s works after. When I hear a parent in confession say they blew up unusually at their children, lost their temper and yelled at their kids, I ask that person whether they’re tired. Their answer is almost always yes. That’s not surprising, since everything is harder when you’re tired. Rather than disregarding your body, realize that sleeping well, eating right, and trying to be physically active can be important in enabling you to do God’s will.

St. John writes in his 1st New Testament epistle: “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” Jesus Christ, God’s divine Son, took rest and enjoyed rest as a human being like us. Let us learn from his holy example.

Receiving the Gift

June 13, 2021

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Deacon Eric Mashak

Christmas PresentThis is awesome! This Gospel. What a gift God wants to give us: Salvation, Himself, Heaven. The parable of the mustard seed which becomes the massive tree is symbolic. The mustard seed is the grace and faith which God gives us in this life; often times it seems so small that we hardly notice it. The huge tree is the fruition of what God has started in us by His grace; God bringing us to Himself: Heaven.

This is an amazing gift. Probably, many of you are good at giving gifts. There is a certain pleasure in giving the perfect gift to someone at a special occasion; birthdays, Christmas, or at holidays. Some of you may know a certain type of gift giver whom we would call a ‘re-gifter.’ You know, that person who has everything that they want, and who doesn’t keep any gift they receive; instead they give it away to someone else. There was one such person, a ‘re-gifter,’ who happened to be a priest from Detroit, Michigan. He was not only a ‘re-gifter’ but even an ‘expert re-gifter’ because he would receive a gift and then keep it for a decade to avoid getting caught re-gifting. One Christmas he was given a small Christmas Ornament by a family in his parish. As usual he briefly looked it over, put it back in the box, and set the box on his shelf in the closet … and didn’t give the ornament another thought for over ten years!

Obviously, this is no way to receive a gift! … and the gift of faith and of Heaven, which God wants to give you, are infinitely more precious than any gift we know how to give. This is because God desires to give you Himself! It’s not like God wants to give you some random object. He wants to give you Himself—and that is what Heaven is: the Beatific Vision is unmediated vision of God. After all, between true lovers, only the gift of self will do. I don’t want more cars … more money … more vacations! The best thing that you can give to someone is yourself … and that is exactly what God desires to give you.

Two weeks ago we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. We learned of that beautiful exchange which happens between the Three Divine Persons, and we know that the Holy Trinity, which is God, is inexhaustible … we can’t get bored with God. He is a gift which surpasses everything we have ever known; He cannot be passed over briefly or forgotten.

And so that Christmas Ornament sat on that priests shelf in his closet for 10 years … 12 years … 15 years, until finally he moved to a different parish. It was at that moment that he thought he could ‘re-gift’ the ornament with no one being the wiser. He decided to give the ornament to some parishioners whom he did not know very well. A few days later they came to his office in tears to thank him … and the priest was very surprised at this … because, after all, wasn’t it only a small Christmas Ornament. The parishioners saw his confusion at their heartfelt thanks and explained to the priest. “Father, when we looked closely at the ornament and found the hidden latch on the back … and when we opened it and found the $500 dollars which you had hidden inside for us … we were very surprised! We didn’t know that you loved us so much!” The priest thought to himself, “Me neither!

Some gifts take time to appreciate! The gift of grace and of salvation, which God wants to give us, takes time to unpack. The gift which God makes of Himself to us is like the Christmas Ornament: You have to spend time with it. You can’t get it all in one go. How are we to receive such a gift? For St. Paul tells us in the second reading (to the Corinthians), “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ … so that each might receive recompense … whether good or evil.” This gift is received through death and judgement—places we would not expect to look. This gift of salvation is found on the same path that Jesus walked. Our standard of success cannot be different from that of Christ: who suffered and died for us. From the Garden of Gethsemane to the Carrying of the Cross, to His Crucifixion and Death, all the way to His Glorious Resurrection. We receive salvation ONLY in our Crucified and Risen Lord. So please, this week, spend some time with the gift that God wants to give you … in the sacraments … or in your own homes with 10 minutes of good quality prayer each day — get to know your Lord! 10 minutes a day may seem small … like a mustard seed, but in the end it makes a huge difference … perhaps an eternal difference.

As we gather before this altar to receive Jesus Christ, in His Body and Blood, may we ask for the grace to come to know Him and to love Him … so intimately that we would place all of our trust and confidence in Him—in His power to save us—such that at our particular judgement (that great moment when we come face to face with love itself) we might hear the words, not only of our judge, but also of our friend: “Well done, my good and faithful servant, come, share in your master’s joy.”

Hearts Like His — The Nathan & Cassandra Hagenbrock Wedding

June 12, 2021

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Sacred Heart of JesusNathan and Cassie’s wedding day lands upon this, the third Friday after the Feast of Pentecost, the eleventh day of June. God’s providence has arranged it that they be married on this special day – a feast day, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, during a month especially dedicated to Jesus’ Sacred Heart. You can see depictions of the Sacred Heart inside this church. There is the statue of Jesus behind me, here in the sanctuary, and presently another statue in our devotional corner in the back. In artistic depictions, you may see Jesus’ Sacred Heart resting upon his chest, or maybe he holds it in his hand offering it to you, and sometimes his heart is depicted by all itself. In every depiction it is a human heart, crowned with thorns, pierced on the side, with flames and a cross emerging from the top. What is the meaning of these things? What do they reveal about Jesus? And what do they mean for Nathan and Cassie and us?

The heart is the organ within every human being which is most associated symbolically with emotion, devotion, and love. Since becoming man through his Incarnation two thousand years ago, the Eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, has possessed a literal human heart in himself. And Jesus has personally experienced human feelings as well. But Jesus and his heart are not merely human, but divine. This reality is symbolized by the flames. As at the burning bush in Exodus, these flames do not consume his heart, but coexist with it and glorify it. Jesus feels and loves with a divine intensity, and this love leads him to sacrifice for love. This love gives rise to the Cross, upon which he suffered for us. This love occasions the crown of thorns, which he wore for us. And this love led to Jesus’ heart being pierced, the event we hear about in today’s Gospel. Jesus’ Sacred Heart is human and compassionate, divine and loving, long-suffering and glorious. And it is the will of Jesus, meek and humble of heart, to make our hearts like unto his, that you may endure suffering, be loving, and be made glorious.

You can see that this world is broken. Other people are broken. And you know, Nathan and Cassie, that though there is a great deal to like about you both, neither of you is yet perfect. Know that in your marriage, you will inevitably encounter suffering; sufferings caused by the world, sufferings caused by other people, and sometimes sufferings caused by each other. But when these thorns and small cuts come, do not let the fire of your love go out. Choose to keep loving, willing the good of each other. This is how Jesus loves us, and how he calls us to love.

This persistent decision to love is essential, but it is not enough. To love beyond human strength requires God’s strength; divine fire burning in your heart. You must love with Jesus’ love by connecting with him; praying daily, worshipping weekly, and communing with him constantly (spiritually or sacramentally) as you are able. Love each other by the love with which he loves you.

Choosing to love with the love of Christ in marriage is now your calling. This vocation together is to be for your joy, fruitfulness, and glory in the likeness of Christ. May Jesus Christ make your our hearts like unto his Sacred Heart, so that you may endure suffering, be loving, and be made glorious, like Jesus Christ himself.

Believe Like Children

June 5, 2021

Solemnity of Corpus Christi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Trinity is a Communion of Love

May 29, 2021

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
By Deacon Matthew Bowe

The Holy Trinity

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, one of the Church’s most profound and deepest mystery. One thing to know about the Trinity, even if it is the only thing that you remember today about the Trinity, is this – the Trinity is a communion of Love. The Trinity is Love, for God is Love. As St. Augustine said long ago in the fourth century, the Father is the Lover, the Son is the Beloved, and the Holy Spirit is the shared Love between the Father and the Son. That is the mystery that dwells deeply within our prayers and meditations.

Throughout the centuries, many great theologians, mystics, and spiritual masters have meditated and contemplated upon the mystery of the Holy Trinity. They wrote treaties titled On the Trinity, of which there are many, and the reason for this desire to understand this mystery is that this is one of the mysteries that a person must believe in order to be a Christian.

Now the word “mystery” comes from the Greek word “mysterios,” meaning secret. “Mystery” does not mean something to be solved by following clues nor does it mean “secret” as in it is not meant to be known, for the mystery of the Holy Trinity is inexhaustible, and cannot be fully known or explained, and is therefore unsolvable, but it has been revealed to us, something to be known through faith. God wants us to know who He is in his infinite mysteriousness and greatness.

So what do we know about the Holy Trinity? I would like to use a lesser-known source. It is a Creed, like the Nicene or Apostle’s Creed that we profess during the Mass. It is attributed to St. Athanasius, who is known as the Doctor of Orthodoxy. The first part of this creed explains who the Trinity is.

The first truth is that we worship one God in Trinity, or Three Persons, and the Trinity in unity. There is one God, who is a Trinity, Three Persons who are in unity, hence the name, and we know the Three Persons are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The second truth is that God is one substance, or one Being. There are not three gods, only one, but a Being in Three Persons. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are God, but they are not each other. The Father is neither the Son nor the Holy Spirit, the Son is neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is neither the Father and the Son, yet God is a Trinity of Three Persons who are in unity. Within the Godhead, there are what are called two processions. The Father begets the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

The third truth is that each Person is equal, in majesty and glory. Each Person is uncreated, incomprehensible, eternal, and almighty. Each Person is God and Lord, yet we do not say that there are three gods and three lords. What we say about the Godhead can be said about each Person of the Trinity, again, not as three separate gods but each Person sharing in the attribute infinitely. This is the truth of the Catholic faith about the Trinity. As this part of the Athanasius Creed finishes, the belief of “the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.”

In fact, St. Caesarius of Arles stated that “the faith of all Christians rests on the Trinity” (CCC #232). The Trinity is the most real thing. Yet, the mystery of the Trinity cannot be known by reason. God needed to reveal this truth about Himself for us to know Him as a Trinity. It cannot be known by reason that the Godhead is a Trinity and that each Person is in relation to each other, of which there are four relations. The Father relates to the Son, and vice versa, and the Father and the Son to the Holy Spirit, and vice versa. The Three Persons are in an intimate communion with each other, and this communion of Persons is an archetype of the communion God desires with His people.

This is why Jesus commands His disciples to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” God, Who is a communion of Three Persons, desires also to commune with His people and for His people to commune with Him. According to the Catechism, “Baptism signifies and actually brings about death to sin and entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity through configuration to the Paschal mystery of Christ” (CCC #1239). This is why Baptism is so important and why the Church seeks newborns to be baptized within a short time after birth.

Next, the Holy Trinity, as a communion of Three Persons, is also an archetype of the family. The Catechism states that “the Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit” (CCC #2205). Families are called to be missionaries and to evangelize to others. They are called to be witnesses to the Gospel message to other families and people who need Jesus in their lives. As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, of the Church, of the People of God, we should desire that other people come into communion with God and His Church, to experience His love. God is a Trinity because God is love.

How does someone pray to the Holy Trinity? First, simply sit in His presence. Have you ever sat with someone who is dear to you and you did not have to say anything? You simply enjoyed each other’s presence. This is good way to pray to God, especially when our words fail us. Simply sit silently in God’s love. Second, learn about the Holy Trinity (as I said, there are many treatises on it). In order to love something or someone, you must first know about it. The more you learn about the Holy Trinity the more that you will be capable of loving the Trinity. Third, pray to each Person of the Trinity, to the Father, Jesus the Son, or the Holy Spirit as persons, as you would speak to your friends and family.

The Trinity, although inexhaustible in mystery, is something that can be known and is accessible to us. The Trinity is near us. We remember both the Trinity and our Baptism when we sign ourselves with holy water. Just as the Trinity lives in intimate communion and relation with each other, the Trinity desires for us to do the same, for us to live in communion and unity with each other, and more importantly, for us to dwell in communion, relationship, and unity with the Most Holy Trinity. And if you remember nothing else from this homily, remember this: the Trinity is a communion of Love.

Trinity Symbol

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You are Called to Service

May 22, 2021

Pentecost Sunday


You have hands and arms, feet and legs, ears and eyes, a mouth and a nose. They are all valuable parts of your body. But without the presence of your animating soul extending throughout them, these parts would just lie around, inactive, achieving nothing. God has likewise fashioned his Church as the Body of Christ with an animating Spirit. The Holy Spirit is like the soul of the Church, extending through all its members. St. Paul teaches the Corinthians in our first reading:

As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body… and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”

As your soul moves your body to achieve your works and purposes, so the Holy Spirit moves God’s Church to achieve his good works and purposes with us. St. Paul also tells us:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts – but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service – but the same Lord; there are different workings – but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”

So each baptized person in communion with Christ has the Holy Spirit, and has gifts of the Spirit, and important works to do, and is called to Christian service.

I’ve heard people remark recently that their lives now feel like a clean and open slate. So many routines were cancelled by the pandemic that we now get to decide what worthwhile things to refill our lives and schedules with. I believe this is a important time and an opportunity for our parish. This season must begin a new springtime for the Church, otherwise our “new normal” could be an unchecked decline into decades of winter. How we respond will impact the salvation of souls for generations.

A week ago, I urged you to ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” What gifts are you being called to use? What new works are you being called to do? What service are you being called to begin? Let’s contemplate the gifts and desires the Holy Spirit has given you, and consider different works of service you may be called to in our parish.

► Are you a friendly person who knows our community and can make strangers feel welcome? You might be called to be an usher-greeter at our church.

► Can you appreciate the sense and mood of a sacred text, and read it well for others? You might be called to be a lector/reader.

► Are you a good singer or musician? You might be called to sing or play your instrument at Mass.

► Do you want to be close to God at his altar? You might be called to be an altar server, deacon, or priest.

► Do you have a heart for the homebound or those in nursing homes and desire to bring Jesus Christ to them? You might be called to be an Extraordinary Minister of the Holy Eucharist for them.

► Do you desire to be closer to Christ and appreciate that without prayer the Church’s efforts will not be fruitful? You might be called to be an adorer at St. John’s 24-hour Eucharistic Adoration (which precedes the 1st Fridays of each month), or called to join our parish prayer chain, or called to begin attending weekday Masses.

► Do you desire fellowship with other Catholic men or women and want to support charitable works? You might be called to join our Parish Council of Catholic Women or the Knights of Columbus.

► Do you enjoy reading great books and discussing them with friends? You might be called to start a parish book club here.

► Do you love a Catholic video series, like Jeff Cavins’ “The Great Adventure Bible Series,” or Bishop Barron’s “Catholicism” series, or Steve Ray’s “The Footprints of God”? You might be called to host a parish viewing and discussion group for it.

► Do you want to help the poor, the environment, and our church and school while having a fun time? You might be called to join our Thrift Sale volunteers, who do great work.

► Are you good with numbers and a person of integrity? You might be called to be collection counter or to help selling Scrip.

► Are you good with social media or data entry? You might be called to create posts for our parish Facebook page, or called to update our parishioner and school alumni databases.

► Do you care deeply about children, their education and well-being? You might be called to be a mentor, or a tutor, or a playground supervisor, or a school librarian, or even a teacher’s aide at St. Paul’s Catholic School.

► Do you want to help hand-on our Catholic faith to young people? You might be called to be a CCD teacher. After years of good and faithful service, Jenny Hoecherl is stepping down this summer as St. Paul’s CCD and youth ministry coordinator. You may be called to take this important, salaried position.

That’s about two dozen different roles and missions to which you may be called, and I’m sure the Holy Spirit could show you others. So what does the Lord want you to do? To what holy service are you being called? Before Pentecost, the disciples were uncertain and hesitant, hiding behind locked doors. But on Pentecost the Holy Spirit showed them what to do and gave them the courage to do it. Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “When he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” So ask him what you are called to do. Sometimes God uses other people to show us his will. Tell your friends and family members what gifts of God you see in them and encourage them to put them to good use. Jesus sent his disciples on mission in pairs, two-by-two. Perhaps ask a friend or relative to join you in some holy endeavor so that neither of you need go alone. Who could you invite to what? As members of Christ’s Body you, are called to faithful service. So allow the Holy Spirit to enlighten and empower you to achieve God’s works and purposes in this important time.

So what do we do now?

May 16, 2021

Ascension Sunday

Christ's Ascension by Fresken von Gebhard Fugel, 1893-1894.Where are we now in the Easter season? Let’s recap. Jesus resurrects and first appeared to his disciples on Easter Sunday. And for forty days, he is with them off and on, appearing and disappearing, teaching them about the Kingdom of God and preparing them for their important work ahead: that of sharing the Good News and shepherding his Church. On the last of those forty days, Jesus ascends to his Father in heaven. And for the next nine days, his disciples (as per Christ’s instructions) remain in Jerusalem praying for and awaiting the promise of the Father about which they had heard Jesus speak. Finally, on the fiftieth day, on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, the disciples are intensely filled with the Holy Spirit. They become empowered to begin sharing their stories about who Jesus is and what he has done, inviting others to know him, love him, serve him, and be saved through him. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, looking forward to the Feast of Pentecost next Sunday.

But wait a second… didn’t I just mention that there were nine days in between the Ascension and Pentecost? Indeed, the Feast of the Ascension is traditionally observed on Ascension Thursday, a few days ago earlier this week. But in our diocese and the vast majority of dioceses in the U.S., the bishops officially transfer the feast to today,
the following Sunday, so that more of the faithful will encounter and celebrate this feast. Another quirky thing about today’s Mass is how the story of Jesus’ Ascension is recounted more thoroughly by our first reading, from the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, than by our Gospel reading, which briefly mentions the event.

The Acts of the Apostles says, when Jesus’ disciples had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” In other words, ‘Will you now forcefully make your kingdom come, restoring the earthly kingdom of David and Solomon, or perhaps now even impose a still greater kingdom where God’s will is done as fully on earth as it is in heaven?’ Jesus answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.” When Jesus comes again in manifest, unveiled glory, with all his angels with him, no one will be able to ignore Christ the King or harass his flock any longer, but regarding the time of that return, no one knows the day or the hour except God. In the meantime, Jesus says, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem… and to the ends of the earth.”

When he had said this, as the disciples were looking on, Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took him from their sight. So there they were, looking intently at the sky, not quite exactly sure what they were supposed to do now. I wonder how many hours they would have stood gapping at the sky if not for what happened next. Suddenly, two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. (Though not explicitly stated, these seem to be angels in human appearance. Well-informed young men in white had also been at the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, announcing and helping the disciples understand Jesus having risen from the dead.) At the Ascension, the messengers said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” With this reassuring redirection, the disciples return from the Mount of Olives into the city of Jerusalem to pray and prepare for the Holy Spirit’s next move. The Apostles had received the Holy Spirit before in some measure. On Easter Sunday evening, Jesus had breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” But they required a further gift of the Spirit to know and act on what God specifically wished them to do.

Today, we are in similar circumstances as those first Christians. We each first received the Holy Spirit at our baptisms and entered a deeper, more extensive relationship with him through our confirmations. Now, as we anticipate the Feast of Pentecost, I urge you to pray for the Holy Spirit to enlighten and empower you for what God wants you to do next. Our community is now happily returning nearer to normal, but what will our new habits and endeavors be? This post-pandemic world needs God—it always has—and the people in your world you need Jesus Christ and his Church. By your words and actions, Jesus wants you to show and share with others who Jesus is for you and what he has done for you, inviting others to know him, love him, serve him, and be saved through him. Jesus Christ is not forcibly imposing his Kingdom but sharing and advancing it subtly, intricately, mysteriously, and most wonderfully, especially through persons who are open to doing his will.

I believe God wants to begin one or more new things with you. So I urge you to ask him in these days, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” To ask the question is the start of saying “Yes” to him, but to refuse to ask the question is to answer him “No.” So ask, and seek, and see what new and great things the Lord would do through you during this new springtime for the Church.

We Become Like Our Friends — Funeral Homily for Marcella “Marcy” Pecha, 97

May 13, 2021

Who does Jesus say is blessed? Jesus tells us in the Beatitudes. He says:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit…
those who mourn…
the meek…
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…
the merciful…
the clean of heart…
the peacemakers…
those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.”

When you think about it, all these traits are present in Jesus Christ. Jesus is gentle, merciful, and pure. He cares about others and is moved by their sufferings. He’s the servant of God, of peace and righteousness, and for all this he endures trials. The Beatitudes describe Jesus Christ himself, but they also describe his friends as well, because Jesus’ friends come to resemble him.

Marcella (Marcy) PechaI know Marcy from celebrating Masses at Dove nursing home. I was blessed to give her the Last Rites (consisting of Holy Anointing, the Apostolic Pardon, and her final Holy Communion – which is called Viaticum) two days before she passed. Today, her own St. John the Baptist Parish is honored to offer our greatest prayer, the Holy Mass, for her soul. I found her to be a faithful and pleasant person, as did the staff and residents at Dove, who I am told cherished her as a sweet and motherly lady. Her family has told me a number of interesting stories about her and I would like to share some of these various stories with you.

Before coming to live in a series of nursing homes herself, she volunteered at nursing homes in Bloomer and Chippewa for some three decades. Being a social person, she loved being with the residents. She helped transport people to-and-fro in their wheel chairs. She danced with the residents – Marcy loved to dance. And she would sit with those with Alzheimer’s, chatting about old memories, so they would not feel alone.

Marcy had many memories to share. Being born in 1924, she grew up as a child of The Great Depression. And because of this, she had an understandable personality quirk: Marcy hated wasting food. Her children were always expected to finish their plates at meals, and wherever she went—sometimes to a fault—Marcy tried to save whatever food would otherwise go into the trash.

When Marcy was pregnant with each of her three children (Betty, John, and Barb) she appears to have taken on the spirit of the personalities each of them would have. While carrying Betty, Marcy’s natural timidity disappeared and she wasn’t afraid of anything. While carrying John, she always wanted to be outdoors. And while carrying Barb, she became especially empathic and tenderhearted.

Though not highly educated, Marcy also displayed a supernatural intuition. Once, her oldest adult daughter Betty was leaning over a car engine, attempting to change the oil while it was still running. Betty’s braided hair got caught, apparently pulled by a belt, violently injuring her scalp and requiring 125 stitches at the hospital. The next day, she called her mother, but before Betty could share her story Marcy asked, “What’s wrong with your head? What happened to your head?” When Betty told the story of her accident, Marcy said, “I knew it! I knew it!

Though Marcy could experience anxiety attacks she was not afraid to die. At times she would remark, even years ago, “Why won’t God take me? I what to go home.” (And by home, of course, she meant heaven.) On one occasion decades ago, Marcy nearly died and a defibrillator was used to get her heart back into rhythm. When they revived her, Marcy was very upset with the nurses saying that the previous moments on the cusp of the next life had been the most peaceful experience of her lifetime.

Pretty much all these things, I think, her special love and care for the elderly and infirm, her supernatural intuitions, her eagerness for heaven, were rooted in her deep Christian Faith in Jesus Christ. Marcy was frequently praying, attending Mass, or watching the Holy Sacrifice on television. On the Saturday evening of her death, Marcy’s family members offered to pray the Rosary with her and for her at her bedside, and they could see this gave her great consolation.

Does not Jesus have a special concern for the infirm and forgotten? Did he not volunteer to spend three decades physically dwelling among us? Jesus possesses a profound empathy and supernatural insight into others, with which he understands and loves us profoundly. Like Marcy with those precious food leftovers, Christ the Good Shepherd goes to seemingly unreasonable lengths in hopes that not one lost sheep would go to waste. And Jesus and Marcy were not unwilling to die, they trusted their Heavenly Father, were comforted by family, and were aided by the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

As I said before, the Beatitudes describe Jesus Christ himself, but also they describe his friends as well, because Jesus’ friends come to resemble him. If you love Marcy, and I do not doubt you do, then renew today your love for the One whom Marcy loves most. Jesus Christ, our Savior, Lord, and God, is the one who makes all his friends great and glorious by making them more and more like himself.

Watch “The Chosen” Season 2

May 11, 2021

The Chosen” is a truly excellent dramatized series about Jesus and his disciples now in its second season. Four new episodes have been released so far (with the most recent only available on YouTube until Wednesday evening). These episodes can also be seen through this free app.