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Jesus or Barabbas?

November 23, 2020

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

For the feast of Passover, the Governor Pontius Pilate observed a tradition of releasing to the crowds any one prisoner they wished. On Good Friday, in addition to holding Jesus of Nazareth, the Romans in Jerusalem had a notorious prisoner named Barabbas. When the crowd came forward and began to ask Pilate to do for them as he was accustomed the governor dryly asked, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” The chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead.

Pilate asked, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” They answered, “Barabbas!” Pilate said to them in reply, “Then what do you want me to do with the man you call the king of the Jews?” They shouted again, “Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they only shouted the louder, “Crucify him!” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd lest they riot, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified.

This episode with Jesus and Barabbas is recounted each Palm Sunday and Good Friday when the Passion narratives are read at church. However, the Gospels’ Passion accounts are so lengthy and rich with themes to consider that the crowds’ choice between these two figures is rarely ever preached on. Today, I would like to show you the deeper significance in this rejection of Christ the King.

The first interesting detail is in the meaning of these two men’s names. “Jesus” was the name given through angelic messages to Mary and Joseph, a name chosen in Heaven for the Son of God on earth. “Jesus” or “Yeshuah” in Hebrew means “God saves.” The name Barabbas breaks down into the Aramaic words “Bar” and “Abba”; “Bar” means “the son of,” while “Abba” means “father.” And thus, the name Barabbas means “the son of the father.” So Pilate is proposing a question to the crowd more profound than they realize: “Which son of the father do you choose? Do you desire God’s salvation?

The New Testament tells us that Barabbas was a Jewish revolutionary who, along with other captured rebels, had committed murder in a rebellion against Roman rule. The Jews commonly hated the Romans and resented the occupation of their Promised Land by a foreign, Gentile power. Jews expected that the Christ, the Messiah, if he were to come in Jesus’ day, would drive out the Romans and their puppets using the force of arms. Then they imagined that this man, God’s Anointed One, would take his seat upon his ancestor King David’s throne, establishing a renewed Israeli kingdom of worldly glory, with international power, military strength, and overflowing wealth. So when Jesus came among them they failed to recognize him as the Christ.

Unlike Barabbas, Jesus did not promote hatred for the Romans but a love for enemies. Jesus did not raise an army nor a sword, but preached “blessed are the peacemakers.” On Palm Sunday, Jesus does not enter Jerusalem riding on a warhorse, but on a donkey, as the Old Testament prophet Zechariah had foretold: “Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on a donkey.” But when presented with Jesus and Barabbas, the people rejected their true King and Savior, the Christ. St. Peter would go on to preach to the people of Jerusalem on Pentecost, “You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.” The choice between Barabbas and Jesus is a choice between two sorts of saviors, two very different kinds of revolutionaries and kings; one whom the earth thinks would be most effective and the one whom Heaven has sent us. The Christ and an anti-Christ.

It was within Jesus’ power to have forcibly imposed his rule over the whole world. At Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter is ready to fight—he draws a sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant. But Jesus intervenes, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 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 which say that it must come to pass in this way? Put your sword into its scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?” Jesus then heals to slave’s ear before he is led away by the guards.

Like a gentle lamb silently led to slaughter, Jesus endures his Passion and death. And who would have thought any more of him? But God raised him from the dead and he appeared to his disciples, who then courageously proclaimed to everyone that Jesus is the Christ. The Jews and Romans persecuted the early Christians. Though peaceful and innocent, Christians suffered indignities, imprisonments, and martyrdoms, yet the number of those saved by the Church continued to grow. Then, in 313 A.D. the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity and ten years later gave it the most favored religious status throughout the Roman Empire. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land … Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” Indeed, Jesus Christ and his Church succeeded where Barabbas failed: they conquered the Roman Empire not by destroying it but by converting it.

Today we celebrate Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe. Jesus the Almighty now reigns over us and over the whole world. But this knowledge, upon reflection, can raise troubling questions in our hearts. When we see the horrors of this world, grave evils throughout history and evil happening in our time, we may ask, “Lord, why aren’t you doing more?” Every year in our country, hundreds of thousands of unborn children are being legally murdered. Right now, millions of people in Asia are being held in concentration camps. How many billions of grave sins are being committed every day which cause innocents to suffer? Lord, why don’t you end this evil? Why don’t you force the world to bow down to your will?

We may wish Jesus and others to go violently into full Barabbas-mode against all the world’s evil, but this is not his way. Christ’s goal is the salvation of souls, as many souls as possible. Jesus the Good Shepherd shepherds the world subtly but in every place, speaking to the souls of both his friends and sinners, drawing them freely toward his salvation. But what about the grievous sufferings and injustices along the way? Jesus is not at all indifferent to these. Our loving shepherd is the best of shepherds because he has been a sheep like us, a lamb who was slain. He endured such sufferings and injustices personally as the lamb of God, and he still mystically suffers in and with the innocent. “Amen, I say to you, what you did [or did] not do for one of these least ones, you did [or did] not do for me.

The evil of this world is a heart-breaking scandal. But sin and death do not have the final word. The last word will belong to Jesus Christ. Trust in the crucified One, our suffering God who died and rose for us, the Shepherd of souls, the victorious Lamb, Christ our King. May his Kingdom come and his will be more fully done, on earth as it is in Heaven, in each and every soul.

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

November 20, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

The Oil for our Lamps

November 7, 2020

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

“The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise.”

What are we to make of Jesus’ parable today? Who is this bridegroom and who are these virgins? What are these lamps and the oil that fuels them? How can we be like those wise virgins who enter the wedding feast, and unlike the foolish who are unhappily locked outside? We will better understand the meaning of this parable through a familiarity with Jewish marriage customs.

In the culture of Jesus’ day, when a young man betrothed a woman they would remain apart, typically for twelve months, manifesting the propriety of their union. Once this time of separation was over, the groom would return to his bride with his groomsmen, usually with a nighttime torchlight procession. The bride and her bridesmaids would be expecting him but without knowing the exact hour of his arrival. This is why the bridegroom’s second coming would be preceded by his friend and forerunner’s announcing cry: “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” Then the bride and her virgin attendants would go up with the groom to his father’s house for a great wedding feast. There the marriage would be consummated and days of feasting and merriment would commence. So whose marriage is being symbolized in Jesus’ parable? Who is the bridegroom and who is his bride? The Scriptures point to Jesus Christ as the bridegroom and his Church as his bride.

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah spoke of God’s promise: “As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.” In the Gospels, St. John the Baptist testifies, “I am not the Christ but I have been sent ahead of Him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom…” Then later, when Jesus is questioned as to why his disciples do not fast, he replies, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.” Later in the New Testament, St. Paul tells the Church at Corinth, “I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.” And finally, the Book of Revelation peers into Heaven declaring, “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.” Heaven is the fullness of the marriage supper of the Lamb to which his Bride, the Church, is called.

While the Church is one, its members are many. The one Bride of Christ exists as a collection of persons. This is why there are multiple bridesmaids in this parable. Each of us is called individually and together to join the Bridegroom in Heaven. Each virgin in the parable awaits the coming of the Bridegroom and each holds a lamp which could provide light to lead her to the joyful wedding feast. Yet not all have oil for their lamps and, due to their foolishness, some go on to find themselves locked outside.

What is this lamp that leads to Heaven and what is the oil that fuels it? We can look to other Bible passages for answers. The Second Book of Samuel quotes David rejoicing in God: “You are my lamp, O Lord; and the Lord illumines my darkness.” While Psalm 119 calls God’s word a lamp: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.” But how could both God and God’s word be the lamp? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus Christ is the Word of God. Later John’s Gospel, Jesus says: “I am the light of the world. (Which can also be translated as, “I am the lamp of the world.”) Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” So we are individually the bridesmaids, and Jesus is our lamp that would lead us to Heaven. But we must not neglect the oil which fuels this lamp.

What or who is this oil? Oil (which was used to anoint biblical priests, prophets, and kings) is a symbol for the Holy Spirit and grace. After the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism, revealing him to be the promised Messiah and Christ (two words which both mean “Anointed One”) Jesus likens the Holy Spirit to anointing oil. “In the power of the Spirit” Jesus declares at Nazareth; “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me…” And the Book of Acts recalls how, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power…” The Holy Spirit is a gift of God, and Jesus teaches that “the Father in Heaven [will] give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” This Spirit connects us to Jesus, to know him and be like him. As the Holy Spirit inspired and strengthened Jesus throughout his ministry, like the oil of a lamp fueling its light, so the Holy Spirit enables the Christian to shine. “You are the light [the lamp] of the world,” Jesus tells us, “Your light must shine before others…

In Jesus’ parable, all of the virgins believed in the bridegroom and expected his arrival. All of them had lamps but not all had oil. Similarly, all Christians have heard of Jesus and of his Second Coming, yet not all of them are prepared for him, to burn with his holy light. As the Book of Proverbs says, “The light of the just gives joy, but the lamp of the wicked goes out.” When the foolish virgins’ need for oil becomes clear, why don’t the wise virgins give to those without? This seems very strange to us because sharing would seem to be the kind and generous Christian thing to do. But the oil the wise virgins possess is not something they can hand over. “No… Go instead to the merchants,” they say, “and buy some for yourselves.” This oil is the gift of the Holy Spirit and grace that God the Father provides; but then what is meant by this detail of dealing with the merchants?

In our world, whenever we make a purchase or trade, we exchange a thing we possess for something else we desire more. For instance, when I fill up my tank at Kwik Trip, I’m exchanging $25 I have for gasoline instead. I can have either the money or the gas but I can’t have both. I must to decide which I value more — though without the gas I won’t get very far. The wise virgins brought flasks of oil with their lamps but the foolish ones did not. They carried extra coins of the world instead. The Holy Spirit is not of this world. St. Paul wrote the Corinthians, “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God.” But to possess the Holy Spirit we must sacrifice — hand back to the world — what is taking up the space for the Spirit and his graces.

For example, for some Christians, TV prime time crowds out quiet prayer time. For too many, Sunday various entertainments and excursions take the place of Sunday Mass. A smartphone can distract us from noticing God is calling. And if we are possessed by our possessions, our fearful clinging excludes a generous spirit. Are you restrained in your devotion to Jesus because of what worldly people might think of you? Chose either God or the world, take the oil or the coins, you can’t have both. Sacrifice in your life what makes the Holy Spirit and his grace unwelcome.

Just as Lady Wisdom (poetically described in our first reading) is met by those who seek, desire, and watch for her, so the Holy Spirit more readily comes not to those who are indifferent or resistant, but to those who are intentional, receptive, and docile for him. Know that the Holy Spirit is given not merely so that your labors can be more fruitful — though you will be more fruitful. Something else is more important than all good works. Elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven… Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’” Note that this is just like what the Bridegroom says to the foolish virgins after the door to the feast has been locked. They say, “Lord, Lord, open the door for us!” But he says in reply, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.”

The most important mission of the Holy Spirit is not to make us fruitful laborers, but to grow our relationship with the Holy Trinity, so that we will approach God’s door as friends and not as strangers. The Holy Spirit leads us to the Father. St. Paul writes to the Romans, “you received a Spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” And the Holy Spirit reveals to us the person of Jesus Christ. St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “the natural [worldly] person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can judge everything… [Because] we have the mind of Christ.

However, we know neither the day nor the hour of Christ the Bridegroom’s Second Coming. He does not reveal this knowledge to us for our own good, but Jesus urges us to always be ready for him. Like all ten virgins in the parable,  it is quite possible that all of us here will fall asleep, will experience the sleep of death, before Jesus returns. But when the cry goes up at his coming and the dead are raised, will we be prepared to follow him into his joyful wedding feast? That will all depend upon what we do now in this present life. Will we have already traded away the coins of this world to have the precious oil, the Holy Spirit, fueling the lamp of our relationship with Jesus Christ? This is what the wise will do, and what the foolish will neglect until it is too late to their great regret. So let us be wise and welcome the Holy Spirit and his graces.

Prepared for His House — Funeral Homily for Cynthia “Cindy” Nazer, 64

November 3, 2020

Today, St. Paul’s Parish offers you our sympathies, our prayers, and the consolation of Jesus Christ. The parting that comes from death is naturally mournful. But it is our faith in Jesus Christ that allows us to mourn with hope. No funeral homily can capture the full mystery of a Christian life; all that Cindy has done, or all that Christ has done in her. But speaking with Steve, her husband, I learned a particularly interesting aspect of their life together I’d like to share with you.

Cindy always liked things made of wood, and one of her desires was to have a log-cabin home. So, in the 1980’s, Steve and Cindy began building one together midway between Bloomer and Chippewa Falls. They began with the garage. Steve says this was for practice. Better to make one’s mistakes on the garage than with the house. After that, they stored lots of lumber onsite there. The project also involved an barn in which their cut logs were dried for two years, purging them of unwanted water, to prevent them from later warping out of shape. Placing these heavy logs was an exacting process. Steve tells me that each log must be laid in place three times over to make sure they fit properly, along with shaving, trimming, and cutting of the logs all throughout the process. But once perfected in this way, these logs became the home where Cindy and Steve and their family lived together. It was her home through their marriage together until her final day on earth.

This building of a house to share in marriage has a connection to our Gospel today. In Jesus’ time and culture, when a Jewish groom married his bride, he would go off to build or prepare the space of their home. It would typically be an extension upon his own father’s house. And once this long and demanding project was complete, the husband would return to his bride and take her into their new home to share their lives together. This is why Jesus says to his disciples, and tells us, his bride the Church:

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.

Jesus is the bridegroom and we, the Church, are his bride. He says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me… Where I am going you know the way.” But this last remark causes St. Thomas alarm, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” And Jesus answers, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” What does the way of Jesus look like? What does the life of Christ look like? This is the truth in Jesus Christ: for the faithful one, after much suffering, comes death, but this dying is not the end, it is not utter destruction, for this life is followed by new life and resurrection.

Therefore,” as St. Paul writes “we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison… For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven.

Like those logs chosen, refined, and fitted for the log cabin, God uses the events of our lives, the good moments and the bad, to make us ready for his home. “Chastised a little,” the Book of Wisdom says, “they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.

The parting of a loved one may ache our hearts, but our sufferings are not without hope, or meaning, or purpose. Through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus, the Savior of the world, the prayer of the psalmist can be beautifully fulfilled for Cindy, for others, and ourselves – which is the fulfillment of all our longings:

There is one thing I ask of the Lord;
only this do I seek:
To dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life.
That I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord
and contemplate his temple.

Our Glorious Friends

October 31, 2020

Solemnity of All Saints

The saints who have died are not dead – they are more alive than we are now. The human saints in Heaven lived in times past, but they were made of the same stuff and faced similar struggles then as you and I today. Though the Catholic Church has canonized thousands of saints, when you consider the billions of Christians throughout history canonizations are relatively rare, yet there are more saints in Heaven than we can count. We know this because of St. John’s Revelation of Heaven: “I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” The Lord Jesus Christ wants you to be in that number. Unfortunately, common misconceptions about saints can keep us further from them. So, in this homily, I would like to help you to grow closer to them in friendship and in likeness.

First realize that the saints are not dead and gone but still living. This is why whenever I preach about the deceased I try to speak of them using the present tense whenever some fact about them remains true. For instance, if a kind and generous Christian father of three dies he is still a kind and generous father of three. Rather than saying “his name was David,” faithfully witness that “his name is David” even after he has died. Though deprived of their bodies for the moment, those who are in Heaven are more alive than we are here. There they experience God opening himself to them an inexhaustible way. This is called the beatific vision, an ever-flowing well-spring of happiness, peace, and mutual communion. The saints in Heaven see God face to face, and they have become like him for they see him as he is.

What is a glorified human being or exulted human nature like? Let’s consider the Blessed Virgin Mary. How much does she know us? How much does she love us? Does she hear each one of our prayers addressed to her? It is our sense of the Faith that our spiritual mother does indeed know us and loves us individually as her children. But consider this: if every Catholic in the world offers one Hail Mary a day, this means an average of more than fifteen thousand new prayers come her way each second. Therefore, if Mary hears all our prayers, her experience of time and/or the capacity of her glorified consciousness must far surpass our own.

The other glorified saints in Heaven, our brothers and sisters in Christ, know and care about you too. They understand you because they’ve walked in our shoes. Governments and borders and technologies change over time, but human nature is constant. The saints began with the same humanity as you and I, experienced challenges like our own, and prevailed. Lots of canonized saints have been priests, nuns, bishops, popes, or martyrs, but Heaven is certainly not limited to these backgrounds. Saints come from varied walks of life. Some canonized saints did extraordinary miracles or had visions here on earth, but even for these most of their days were ordinary, spent faithfully doing very ordinary things like us.

The saints in Heaven are our friends who lend us constant aid even if we do not know their names yet. In response, I encourage you to befriend them back. Which ones? Try doing this holy experiment: ask Jesus to introduce you to a saint and then keep your eyes open. Watch for a saint to providentially present him or herself to you, perhaps through an icon, a painting, or a photograph, a book or a film, or mentioned in a conversation thereafter. I look forward to hearing whom you’ll meet. Take these saints as teachers you learn from, role models you imitate, heroes to inspire you, and holy intercessors whose prayers before God for you are very powerful. I urge you to follow the saints, because those who follow them will embody the beatitudes, become more like Jesus, and become saints themselves.

Though it is unlikely any of us here will be officially canonized by the Church, we are all called to be saints. You are called to be a saint. St. Catherine of Siena said, “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.” Do not say, “I have too sinful of a past to become a saint.” Recall that St. Paul had once persecuted Christians. There is no saint without a past and no sinner without a future. And do not say, “I’m too imperfect to become a saint.” Realize that even while St. Peter was serving as the first pope he sometimes made personal mistakes in his ministry. And do not say, “I’m too late in my life to become a saint.” Remember how the Good Thief on his cross next to Jesus made the most of the time he had left. As St. John Paul the Great preached, “Become a saint, and do so quickly.” Jesus is calling you to be a saint, so befriend the saints and they will help you on the way to Heaven.

God’s Desire for an Intimate Relationship with Humanity

October 24, 2020

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Deacon Dick Kostner

Today we learn of God’s desire for us to form an intimate relationship with him for all eternity. When questioned as to the greatest commandment contained in the Torah Jesus answers that it is for us to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. So the question for us to answer is how does this occur? Well the answer is simple it requires we build a relationship with God. When I think back on how this occurred for me when I met my wife it started with an attraction to this person who would ultimately become my wife. It was something about her looks and mannerisms that made me want to know more about her. So I guess it began with my mind. My mind kept telling me to take a closer look at this gal. So communication began which told me that this person thinks and acts as I do. I witnessed her relationship with her family and friends and it was complimentary to the relationship I had with my family. With time and interaction with her my mind moved from a head thing to a heart thing. The heart has an appetite that can only be satisfied by spending more time with a person. And I found out that I was happy and satisfied with myself mostly when I was with her.

Everything else of importance in my life began to take a back seat to my hearts desire to be with and learn more about this special person. I knew my heart was taking over my mind when even during deer hunting season I longed for and looked forward to seeing her even while on my deer stand and doing things that previously had been the number one priority in my life.

With spending more time with this person and understanding her better sometimes than she understood herself, the soul aspect of the relationship came into play. The two started to become one. Communication included and occurred between us that no longer required words. The minds of two people no longer were independent of each other but had joined to form a new entity. I was no longer thought of by others as “Dick Kostner” but rather Barb and Dick. Even when planning meals the minds of two began to think as one and the stomachs of two also began to hunger and feed as one. We loved each other with all of our heart, soul and mind, and thus became a new entity bigger and stronger than ever existed before we met each other. This love relationship grew with the birth of a child and a new family relationship with its joys and trials expanded through love.

This is the relationship that God desires with his human creations. This type of relationship requires complete freedom of choice and that is why we all have a God given right to choose who we will listen to and who we will associate with. When we choose God to be our best friend and advisor, we enter into a new existence and the ultimate spiritual level our Church scholars have named the “Unitive State of Spirituality” a divine state where we are one in spirit with the Father in the way that we love not only God but we love our neighbors as ourselves as did Jesus . We become to others a visible new entity that causes some people to fear us, while others look up to us for answers and opinions. I witnessed this first hand when I was ordained a Deacon. I moved from being viewed by the public as Dick Kostner or Attorney Kostner to Deacon Dick or Deacon Kostner which was a real rebirth for me not only in name but also in personal objectives and desires monitored by a family friend named Jesus.

It all begins with something within our mind that says “I want to get to know this person named ‘I Am‘ — better.” I want to become better friends with this Deity, my creator, who understands me better than I understand myself. This is God’s first and foremost commandment or desire for us. He desires that we join him in becoming one in Spirit with Him, and to display our love for him through our love for our neighbors whether they love us or even hate us. Jesus died for us he asks us to die to “self” for others so as to become one in Spirit with him for all eternity as a member and part of His Holy Family.

Glimpses of Heaven — Funeral Homily for Ione Ellis, 90

October 21, 2020

I wish to offer my sympathies and condolences on behalf of St. Paul’s Parish to you who love Ione. I’ve learned some beautiful things about Ione from her family. And the family has chosen beautiful readings for her funeral. The things of Earth partially reflect the things of Heaven. And the events of a life with Christ foreshadow—give a glimpse—of the life to come with Christ. Heed these words, “For,” as St. Paul told us in our second reading, “if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

Ione grew up on a farm with many creatures in the countryside. After marrying Perry at the age of seventeen they made a home together on Bloomer’s 5th Avenue (which is a really nice sounding address). She never worked outside the home, but she worked hard at home, busy serving and not being served. Her devoted focus was upon her spouse and children. She and her husband were wedded through 50 years, through good times and in bad – as when she helped him endure his sufferings, first due to stroke and then finally from cancer. Ione has loved her family, and she has loved our God. She made rosaries and prayed rosaries. I’m told she had a prayer cove for years in her living room; with a kneeler and a candle. There she prayed for her children and worshipped God, as she likewise did here at St. Paul’s Church, where she sang in the choir for ten years, and participated in Christ’s Holy Sacrifice, the Mass.

Today we offer the Holy Mass for her soul and for all of you who love her. Though her passing is mourned, in the words of St. Paul, we “not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.” In John’s Gospel Jesus speaks of his Father’s house; that he is going to prepare a place for us, we who are God’s the Father’s children, who are the brothers and sisters of Christ. He will take us from among the many creatures of this earth, and move us to a new home for our spiritual adulthood and marriage, a home in the city… of God. In our first reading from the Book of Revelation, we heard St. John’s vision describe it: “the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” The Church is the bride of Christ, and her members the family of God. Then St. John relates how a loud voice declared from the throne:

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.

And St. John observes these interesting details about Heaven:

I saw no temple in the city,
for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb.
The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it,
for the glory of God gave it light,
and its lamp was the Lamb.

The intimacy we share with God now on earth, through prayer and sacrament and Christian living, through words and signs, seen as moments of lights peaking out amid darkness, in Heaven becomes an unmediated brightness that, like a shining city on a hill, cannot be ignored or hard to see. Heaven is the family of God together in the Father’s house, our hard toil and trials behind us, enjoying the joyful company of one another forever.

How shall we get there? Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” So let us be faithful in our love toward him, honoring his passion, death, and resurrection in our worship and by our lives, and then he, the Good Shepherd, will help and lead through the dark valley of our own passion and death to the next life and the resurrection of these physical bodies of ours one day. We pray today for Ione’s soul, as is right and just, but “do not let your hearts be troubled.” Have faith in God and have faith also in Jesus, as faithful Ione would have you do.

“Whose Image is This?”

October 18, 2020

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Pharisees hated Jesus and were plotting how to entrap him in his speech, to cancel him though a politically incorrect gaffe. So they devised a cunning scheme in hopes of getting rid of him for good. In those days, Israel was under the pagan rule of the Roman Empire. The Jews resented this foreign occupation of their Promised Land and many favored a religious rebellion. The Romans’ chosen puppet-ruler and vassal in that region was King Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who had slaughtered the infant boys of Bethlehem. King Herod’s supporters were called Herodians and, being the Romans’ collaborators, it was in their interest that the Roman taxes kept being paid. So the Pharisees sent their disciples along with some Herodians to ask Jesus a gotcha question about taxation.

They prepare their trap for Jesus beginning with flattery, hoping to disarm him: “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Now if Jesus answers that the Roman tax should not be paid, the Herodians will have him arrested, and Jesus will end up imprisoned or executed by Herod like his friend and relative, St. John the Baptist, was. But Jesus, knowing their malice and ill will, said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” They handed him the Roman coin. “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” In other words, since Caesar creates the coins and the coins bear Caesar’s image, each coin is somewhat his already, they al belong to him, and one denies Caesar’s rightful claims on them at one’s own peril. Of course, Caesar’s authority is not unlimited; God’s authority is higher. And where Caesar’s rule conflicts with God’s, the earthly government should bow to the Kingdom of God.

Unlike people who lived in the past under the Roman emperor, we as American citizens have the right to vote to elect our leaders. In fact, voting is our moral duty. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, our “co-responsibility for the common good make[s] it morally obligatory… to exercise the right to vote”. (CCC 2240) Perhaps because of the Covid pandemic you are hesitant to visit a polling place on Election Day this November 3rd. If so, realize that you can request a Wisconsin absentee ballot from your local election office for any reason by Thursday, October 29th, eleven days from now. So there’s no reason we cannot safely vote.

But you might still be questioning, why should I bother? With the millions of votes to be cast in our state, what difference does my one vote really make one way or the other? It’s true, your single vote is unlikely to decide an election. But imagine if we all lived in together a forest, and one night a blazing wildfire surrounded our village on every side. When the cry went up for everyone to grab a water bucket and help fight the flames in the pivotal hour, would you? It’s true that your individual effort would be unlikely to decide the fate of our village, whether many lives were lost or saved, but how could you not be ashamed if you failed to answer the call? Or, picture a raincloud consisting of water droplets. A downpour is made of many such drops, and if any one single drop refused to fall it would probably make little difference below, but what happens if every drop has that attitude? The land would stay in deadly drought and the heavens would not renew the face of the earth with new life. Millions of us voting would transform our society for the better — provided of course that we not only vote but vote well.

There are many issues in this and every election, but which issue is the most important? Recall Caesar’s coin. He makes them and they bear his image, so they belong to him. Likewise, God makes human beings, we bear his image, so every life belongs to him, and we deny God’s rightful claim that we respect human life to our own peril. Psalm 139 praises God in these words: “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made.” Each new human life is created by God and precious to him. But since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion, an estimated sixty-one million little ones in our country have been killed in their mother’s womb. (That’s an average of more than one million a year.) These killings continue now, and it’s horrific. Sixty-one million deaths is like killing every person in every city in the State of Wisconsin… ten times over. If that happened would that be a big deal? Would it matter? How evil would that be?

In January of this year, when fifteen bishops from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska visited Pope Francis at the Vatican for their once-every-five-years ad limina audiences with him, the Holy Father affirmed our U.S. bishops’ teaching that the protection of the unborn is the preeminent issue and priority of our time. “Of course, it is,” Pope Francis said. “[Life is] the most fundamental right… This is not first a religious issue; it’s a human rights issue.” In 2016, Pope Francis wrote: “I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father.” Our Holy Father is right. The intentional killing of unborn children is an ongoing grave evil that the Lord wants us to help end.

If we had been alive in America back when slavery was still legal would we have opposed slavery and worked to free slaves? If we had been living in Germany during the Holocaust would we have helped to protect Jews? We would all like to think so, but how much are we doing today? In one hundred years’ time, when school children learn about our present day, will they wonder scandalized at how we could be so indifferent, so blinded, to such cruelty in our midst?

In this election we are called to vote to protect life, but realize that voting is only a small sacrifice. It costs you nothing more than some minutes of your time. We are called to do more. Pray, fast, offer penances for the end of abortion, for in the words of St. Paul, “our struggle is not with flesh and blood but… with the evil spirits…” Donate, contribute your wealth, time, and helpful goods, to organizations that help new parents to choose life. Together with our personal witness, our pro-life words and loving example, God will change hearts and minds. By our work of faith, our labor of love, and our endurance in hope, many lives and many souls will be saved, and together we will rejoice in the victory of life for the Kingdom of God.

You’re Invited to the Wedding Feast

October 11, 2020

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus speaks again today in parables. “The Kingdom of Heaven,” he says, “may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but (the guests) refused to come.” So the king invited his people to his son’s wedding feast anew. “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast!”’

Some people responded with indifference; they had other things they preferred to do instead. Other people responded with hostility; ‘Don’t tell us what to do!‘ Who wouldn’t want to attend a king’s feast? Maybe they thought the food wouldn’t be that great or special. Maybe they didn’t love the king or his son very much. Maybe they thought that insulting or openly rebelling against their king and his son would hold no consequences for them.

The king would go on to invite others to his feast, anyone his servants could find, and his hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. Some scripture commentary says owning such a garment in those days was as common as owning a winter coat is around here. Others suggest a wealthy party host like the king might provide such festal garments to his guests at the door. The king asked him, “My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?” But he was reduced to silence. He was unprepared not due to inability, poverty, or some misunderstanding, which could have been forgiven. The man had no good reason to offer. So the king had him bound, by his hands and his feet, and thrown into the unhappy darkness outside.

What are we to make of all this? In this parable of Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven, who is the king and who is his son? Where is this wedding feast and what does it consist of? And when invited to this feast, who ignores it, who rebels against it, and who comes unprepared for it?

The King in this parable is like God the Father. And the Son is Jesus Christ; who, elsewhere in the Scriptures, calls himself the bridegroom. Where and what is the wedding feast? Where is the holy mountain of the Lord of which Isaiah speaks in our first reading, where God’s people are gathered to rejoice and feast, with ‘rich food and choice wine, juicy, rich food, and pure, choice wine‘? The Old Testament Jews probably envisioned the city of Jerusalem and its temple. Today a Christian’s first thought might be to place this feast someday in Heaven. But our temple and our foretaste of Heaven is here and now. The Holy Mass is Christ’s Wedding Feast, where Jesus gives us his very self to eat. What richer or more choice food could exist than this?

In this time of pandemic, we are dispensed from attending Mass, yet we must still obey the Third Commandment: to keep holy the Lord’s Day. If your child were getting married this weekend and you could not attend due to illness, wouldn’t you still want to watch it live-streamed, even from home or a hospital bed? If remote participation at Holy Mass is unworkable, then connect with Christ through reading the Scriptures, through praying the Rosary, or other spiritual activities on Sundays. But under normal circumstances, when personal safety is no longer a concern, why would someone spurn their personal invitation to this feast? Maybe they believe this food isn’t that special or great. Maybe they do not love our King or the Son very much. Maybe they think that disobeying the Third Commandment carries no serious consequences for them. But all of you have come here today, and that is good. Please continue to do so, as conditions and sound prudence allow. And please invite your family members and friends here as well. It’s important that they come before the Lord.

And when you come, come properly dressed. In one sense, this is literally true – we should dress up for Sunday Mass since it’s a very special occasion. But in a more important and spiritual sense we must come in our wedding garment. At your baptism, you were dressed in a special white garment. In the Book of Revelation, the saints in Heaven are seen wearing white graments washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. Through grave sin we can cast off that garment, and receiving our Lord unworthily is a serious offense, so go to Confession first when needed to be reclothed. How will we answer our King someday if we neglect to do so?

You are invited to our King’s feast. And, if you are properly prepared, he wants you to receive our Lord with very happy hearts. So let us turn to the Eucharist, and rejoice as Isaiah foretold:

Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!

The King declares, “Everything is ready; come to the feast!

Behold the Lamb of God,
behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.
Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.”

Have No Anxiety At All

October 4, 2020

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Do we believe in the power of prayer? To speak more precisely, we believe in the power of God, and that is why we pray for things. In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells the Christians of Phillipi, Greece, “Have no anxiety at all.” Why? Because of what he says immediately preceding (which is cut off by the beginning of our reading): “The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all…”

Have no anxiety at all? One might ask whether that’s possible, or whether that’s even good? “Am I supposed to stop caring about anything?” Well, we must distinguish between two different things, one that’s good and healthy, and one that’s not: to have concern versus to worry. If I had not been concerned about preparing for this homily, I would have nothing to say to you right now. But when I worry about my homily, the task is a much more stressful burden for me, even though the Lord has never yet left me without something to say worth preaching in my entire eleven years of priesthood. Concern is necessary and important. Concern is good, but worry is worthless.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus puts his finger on why we worry: we doubt that God is near for us, we fear that we’re on our own. But Jesus asks,

If God so clothes the grass of the field (with beautiful wild flowers), which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

Jesus tells us,

“Do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ …. Your heavenly Father knows that you need (all these things). Instead, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”

God our Father knows us, and loves us, and cares for us, but both Jesus and St. Paul encourage us to pray. Presenting our requests in prayer deepens our relationship with God and offers us his supernatural peace. St. Paul 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 understandingwill guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Note how St. Paul’s says we are not just to ask for things but to give thanks to God at the same time. This helps us to be grounded in reality, which is much lighter than the darkness can appear, since even during our hardest times our lives’ blessings are more than we could possibly count – blessings past, present, and still to come.

And St. Paul notes how after offering our prayer requests, even if we do not see the world immediately transformed around us, a peace from God we cannot entirely explain, helps keep our hearts and minds — that is, our feelings and thoughts — rooted in Christ.

This year has been a challenging one for all of us. Many things now feel out of our control, but this was always the case for us. God is in control, and works all things in the end for the good of those who love him. The Lord Jesus, who is true and honorable, just and pure, lovely and gracious, excellent and praiseworthy, is with you; not just in the distant past, not just once this pandemic has passed, but here and now. So have no anxiety at all.

Do Good While You Sleep

September 28, 2020

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

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

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

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

Which Son of the Father Sinned?

September 27, 2020

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Because I am a sinner, I receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis. About twice a month, typically on my day off, I drive about twenty minutes away to confess my sins and receive absolution from another area pastor. The gracious gift of this sacrament helps me to be a better man than what I would be without it. After my most recent confession, Father and I went for a walk and talked about several topics. Something he said in our conversation made me laugh because there is some truth to it. He said, ‘The homilies that get the most compliments from parishioners are the ones they think that other people need to hear.’ (“That was a great homily, Father! You really told ’em.”) The homilies that we think we don’t need to hear – but that we think other people do – can make us feel good about ourselves without us actually becoming better people.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks the chief priests and elders of the people, ‘Which of these two sons did his father’s will? The first, who when asked by his father to work in the vineyard, refused, but then changed his mind and went; or the second, who when approached by his father with the same request replied, “Yes, sir,” but chose not to go?’ The Jewish leaders answered that it was the first son who did the father’s will. But did they answer correctly? It’s true that the first son eventually did go to work in the vineyard. However, the Jewish leaders discount the fact that neither son did the Father’s will perfectly. One son sins by not going to the vineyard at all, but the other son sins by disrespecting his father, disobeying him to his face. No one obeyed the father completely.

The Pharisees had a similar blind spot. Once, when they saw Jesus and his disciples dining with many tax collectors and sinners, they objected: “Why does [he] eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. … I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” But wait, doesn’t Jesus come to call everyone and save everyone? Yes, but the Pharisees, the chief priests, and the elders of the people did not accept that “Christ came to save sinners,” and that this included themselves. When they confronted Jesus with the woman caught in adultery and he replied to the crowd, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” Jesus was not expecting there to be one such person among them. Even the most religious among them had sins to repent of.

Jesus would point this out, at times calling them hypocrites. Jesus’ words were hard against hypocrites, yet his words were gentle with sinners. So what’s the difference between a hypocrite and a sinner? A hypocrite is not just someone who professes one thing and does another. (Unless they lack moral principles, all sinners do that.) A hypocrite is more than a sinner. A hypocrite is someone who says one thing, does another, and doesn’t care anymore about the disconnect, if they ever cared at all.

Jesus was hard with hypocrites in hopes of shaking them from their deadly complacency. But the tax collectors and prostitutes knew they were sinners and wanted to change their lives. They were unhappy and hoped for more. They wanted a better life. They desired the way of righteousness that John the Baptist and Jesus were offering. But the Jewish leaders did not, and tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the Kingdom of God before them. As the Prophet Ezekiel records in our first reading, the Lord is more interested in the direction we are headed than where we have been. The person who turns from wickedness to do what’s right can live and be saved, but the one who turns away from virtue to do evil can die and be lost. This is why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is so important.

Regular confession helps us to not be hypocrites, complacent in and comfortable with our sins. Confession helps hold us accountable, it helps to make us face reality and live in the truth. A good confession forgives our sins; in the case of grave sins, it saves our soul and reconnects us to Christ. The sacrament is an encounter with Jesus Christ, and we leave confession with a new beginning, a fresh start, new graces, and a fresh perspective. We walk away much lighter and more joyful than before.

When was your last confession? I offer confession times every week, but I have heard very few in recent months. Perhaps the posted times and places are inconvenient for you. If so, then contact me to make a confession appointment, for yourself or your whole family. We can do it in church or out of church in a way that is safe and convenient for you. Please make me busy hearing your confessions. What could our lives and community be like if we unloaded ourselves of sins? Is this a homily that you’ve needed to hear? Is the Father calling you to confession? Then please respond by doing your Father’s will.

God’s Confirmation Gift to You

September 19, 2020

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Deacon Dick Kostner

From our first reading from Isaiah we hear from God our lesson for today: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” God is telling us to think above what the world teaches and we will find the Kingdom of God with all its treasures.

As we continue on in Ordinary Time, Jesus continues to educate us about experiencing the Kingdom of God here and now through parables. Remember parables are stories Jesus uses to move a preconceived thought we hold to the flip side so as to move our thoughts and life to a higher level; to the level all experience in the Kingdom of God. The story we are told is about a landowner who needs help harvesting his crops. So he goes out and asks for help and agrees with others the wage that will be paid for their help. He does this in the morning, noon, three o’clock, and at five. When evening comes he directs his foreman to pay the laborers starting with those who came to help last. The wage was the same for all the workers but the ones who came to help first thought they would receive a greater wage and when they received the same they grumbled and complained to the landowner because they had worked more and so they felt they should get more.

In our ordinary way of thinking we are taught that the more we work the more we should get paid, right? That’s the way things work in our world, right? We should be paid according to how much time we spend working for others because that’s only fair, right? Jesus is saying to us that although this is the way of the world it is not the way found in the Kingdom of God. God thinks differently. God rewards those who respond to his call for help when he asks for help. The workers were thinking only about themselves and what is in it for them. They failed to see their call from another for help and the joy that can be found in helping others not to better ourselves but to better the life of another.

This higher level of service is done not for ourselves but rather to elevate and help others who need our help. Our Catechism tells us that we were created to know, love, and serve God. To serve God is to serve others. The body of Christ consists of human bodies who consent to the call from God to help him serve other people by and through our actions. The reward is the same for all who answers God’s request for help it is not governed by the amount of time we spend accomplishing the call, or even if we are successful, but rather it is paid because we consenting to answering God’s call for help.

These last few months we have people who have answered God’s call for help. These people have or will be receiving the last of the three Sacraments of Initiation, that being Confirmation. It is their final great gift of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit through the Sacraments of Initiation. The first was Baptism; the second is Holy Communion; the third, Confirmation. This is the final Sacrament which makes them full-fledged members of the Church of Jesus. It is the Church’s way of recognizing their importance and having reached the maturity level necessary to become active members of the Body of Christ. It is this maturity that allows them to speak to God and say, “Lord, I am ready and willing to help in any way I can to further the Kingdom of God in ways that I will be personally requested by you to accomplish.

But you may ask, “But how will I know what God wants me to do?” The answer is that God has given each and every one of His chosen people what I will call a personal pager powered by the Holy Spirit. That pager will go off and you will hear the call in your mind, when God desires your help. It will only go off when God has picked you personally to help. I will give you an example. A few years ago, I received a call from my best friend who told me that his dad was dying. I told him I was sorry to hear this and that I would pray for him and his family. In my mind I wondered whether I needed to do anything other than pray. One part of me said the family is going to want to be alone with their dad during this trying time. This made good sense to me and besides I felt uncomfortable experiencing death. And then the pager went off. And a voice screamed out to me and said, “Deacon, your friend was calling for support, if you can’t go to the aid of your best friend how will you ever go and help someone on my behalf that you might not even know?

Boy, how could I ever respond in a negative way to that kind of call? I grabbed my prayer book and took off for the hospital. When I entered the room and began praying with the family I witnessed the peace that came and I knew that I was indeed the Agent of Jesus to this family. I was to them the physical body of Christ present during this time of suffering.

Jesus tells us that the pay for helping him will be the same whether he calls once a month for help or once a year. The pay is not based on the number of calls he makes but the number of times we willingly agree to respond to the landowners request for help. The Kingdom of God exists now and forever for those who are willing to answer God’s call for assistance to those he loves. May you receive the peace of Christ today and every day and never refuse to answer His page to you for help!

Forgiving others is crucial (and maybe easier than you think.)

September 12, 2020

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In Jesus’ parable today, a servant owes his king a huge debt, more precisely (in the original Greek) 10,000 silver talents. This was an amount equal to 150,000 years’ worth of labor in the ancient world, something akin to $4.5 billion today. It’s an unrepayable debt, but the servant’s king is rich in compassion; he feels pity and forgives the man’s entire loan.

Now, this servant was a creditor himself, and one of his fellow servants owed him a significant but much smaller amount, literally 100 denarii, which was 100 days’ wages back then. Think of it like $10,000. The newly debt-free man sought out this fellow servant and started to choke him, demanding, “Pay back what you owe!” Despite pleading for patient mercy, that first servant put the second into debtors’ prison until he should pay back his debt.

Now when other servants witnessed all of this they felt deeply troubled by it. They went and reported the whole situation to the king and master of them all. The king summoned the unforgiving servant and pronounced a swift judgment: “You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” Then, in anger, his master threw him into debtors’ prison as well until he should pay back his whole debt.

The king was clearly angry. One rarely-considered reason for his anger is that all of these servants were his own. The 100 denarii debtor suffered by being tossed into prison, his fellow servants suffered from witnessing the scandal, and all of this impacted the king personally. Their distress affects him deeply, for the king is compassionate, but it affected him in another way as well: his servants being detained or disturbed by this unhappy affair kept them from doing his important work. They’re all his servants, but the actions of one impeded the others from freely and fully fulfilling his will.

Of course, the king and master in this parable represents God. Who on earth forgives someone’s $4.5 billion personal debt like our Lord forgives the debt of our sins? And we are each his servants, like St. Paul says, “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” So, if we are to learn a lesson from the servant whose great debt was forgiven, how can we avoid imprisoning or impeding our fellow servants? Through merciful love.

When someone is angry with you, yells at you, or criticizes you, when you know someone dislikes or despises you, how does that affect you? Does your tension and anxiety go up? Do you think about that person and the situation obsessively? Do you run scenarios in your mind about what you wish you had said or done previously, or what you’ll do the next time you cross paths? Do you avoid that person, or the places they could be, and feel uncomfortable in their presence? Do you gossip to others about your ongoing bitter conflict, thereby spreading the scandal to them? If so, then you’re being imprisoned, partially impeded in your peaceful service of our Lord.

We can easily have this effect on others by how we treat them. And cherishing and nurturing our own anger makes a prisoner of yourself to anger. When you experience some slight or shortcoming from another, be gracious. Maybe just let it be; let it pass. Give their actions a most-generous interpretation. Mistakes are more common than malevolence. And you yourself have bad days, too.

Sometimes, though, we need to address matters for the common good. As we heard about last week, love sometimes calls us to do fraternally correction. But when we do it, let’s do it with a kindly, gentle spirit, sharing the truth in love that they might be able to receive it. Merciful love is necessary to keep each other out of prison, the prison of unrepentance and the prison unforgiveness.

In the Our Father, we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus teaches his disciples, “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” And at the end of today’s parable, Jesus warns us that our fate will be like that of the unforgiving servant ‘unless you forgive your brother from your heart.’ Now many Christians find this teaching deeply disconcerting. They’re troubled because they believe they just can’t forgive. But I usually find they think this because they imagine forgiveness means something it’s not.

Forgiving is not the same thing as forgetting. You can’t force yourself to have amnesia and forget. You might remember the misdeed for the rest of your life. And forgiveness doesn’t mean saying what someone did wasn’t serious or wrong. The offense committed may have been a grave sin and to say otherwise would be a lie. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what someone did no longer hurts. Only grace and time can heal some wounds, but we can forgive even with lingering pains. Forgiveness doesn’t require you to pretend nothing happened. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that everything must go back to the way it was before. Forgiveness might lead to full reconciliation, but not always. You can forgive someone even before they can be trusted. You can forgive even before they are sorry for what they did. Why? Because forgiveness means loving someone despite the wrongs that they have done.

Forgiveness is loving someone despite their sins. Is there someone you’re worried that you haven’t forgiven? Then pray for them, because you can’t hate someone and pray for them at the same time. Is there someone you find it hard to pray for? Then that’s whom you should pray for, for their sake and for yours. Jesus came to reconcile us to one another and to the Father. So have mercy. Jesus works to heal the wounds of sin and division. So have mercy. And Jesus intercedes for us with our Father. So have mercy, too.

Coming Home — Funeral Homily for Michael “Mike” Morning, 69

September 7, 2020

The communities of St. Paul’s and St. John the Baptist’s offer you our sympathy at Mike’s passing. We also offer the support of our prayers with this, Jesus Christ’s perfect offering to the Father, in the Holy Mass. May our prayers help Mike on his way, and help all of you as well, whom he dearly loved and dearly loves; especially Jackie, whom he married at St. John the Baptist Church 43 years ago, and his siblings, his friends, his nieces and nephews, grandchildren and godchildren, and others.

I often say that no brief funeral homily can capture the full mystery of a Christian life, and you who have known Mike for years surely know him better than I. The best I can do is to examine one part of his life which reflects something of the whole story for Mike, and you, and me.

Among the many things Mike did on earth, he had an active role in establishing the Eagleton Softball and Baseball fields. If you don’t know it, Eagleton is a small, unincorporated town to the southeast from here, seven and a half miles down the road. Their baseball field is no Major League park like Wrigley or Fenway, but Mike was right to be proud of it. He looked at what he had made and saw that it was good. With outfield fences some 250 feet out, lights for nighttime play, four bases and a mound; it had everything needed to host the game.

Baseball and softball are somewhat unique among sports. In most sports, the offense side carries, catches, throws, or kicks the ball to score. But baseball and softball are among the few games where the defense side controls the ball. Batters who are up don’t exactly know what pitches will be thrown their way, but they get to choose their swings. Some of them advance, but many strike out.

A good coach can help them though; giving them signs and instructions on which pitches to swing at and which pitches to take, and, once on base, when and how to advance further. Through his past experience as a player, his intimate knowledge of the game, and his personal investment in training his players, a great coach can produce hall of famers. In addition to the indispensable coach, teammates are important too, in helping to get home.

As it is in baseball and softball so it is in life. We do not control what’s thrown our way, what curveballs come across the plate, but we each must decide how to swing in our at bat. Will we listen to the wisdom of our coach, who has been in our shoes himself, and who earnestly desires that after forming us in his likeness that we could be called up to the big leagues far from here.

Jesus encourages us in today’s gospel, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” If we would listen and allow him, Jesus promises to lead us home, and tells us we know the way. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” he says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

In baseball and softball as in life, our goal is to get home. Mike might already be there with the holy hall of famers in Heaven, but in case he is still rounding the bases, let us as his teammates and friends aid him in getting home through our prayers. And may each of us heed and follow Christ our coach and play this one pivotal game of life so as to win.