An American Martyr

September 13, 2017

Saturday, September 23rd, a U.S. priest-martyr will be beatified in Oklahoma City, OK, the first so honored by the Church in our country. Fr. Stanley Rother was born in 1935 and grew up on an Oklahoma farm. He served in several Oklahoma parishes after his 1963 priestly ordination before volunteering for mission service in Guatemala in June of 1968. While there he helped build a small hospital, a school, and a Catholic radio station. He also translated the New Testament into Tz’utujil, a local language of that region.

Political turmoil and violence escalated Guatemala during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The government aimed to suppress Marxist revolution by targeting rebels and hundreds of their alleged sympathizers for death. In early 1981, Fr. Rother learned that his name was on a death list. It was determined that he should leave Guatemala and he reluctantly returned to Oklahoma in January 1981. However, he soon asked his archbishop for permission to go back: “My people need me. I can’t stay away from them any longer.” Fr. Rother’s brother Tom questioned him, “Why do you want to go back? They’re waiting on you and they’re gonna kill you.” He replied: “Well, a shepherd cannot run from his flock.” The pastor returned to his people that April.

On July 28, 1981, just after midnight, Fr. Rother was shot and killed in his rectory. His remains were flown back to Oklahoma and buried in his hometown. At the request of his Guatemalan parishioners, his heart was removed and buried under the altar of the church where he had served. He was one of ten Catholic priests murdered in Guatemala that year.

Last December, Pope Francis issued a decree affirming that Fr. Stanley Rother was indeed martyred in odium fidei (“in hatred of the faith,”) permitting him to be beatified without the usual confirming miracle. As St. Augustine once preached, “At the Lord’s table we do not commemorate martyrs in the same way that we do others who rest in peace so as to pray for them, but rather that they may pray for us that we may follow in their footsteps.” Let us ask the prayers of this new American blessed that we may be courageously faithful and loving like himself in Christ.

Advertisements

A Wonderful Vacation

September 7, 2017

How was my vacation? It was a wonderful adventure! Missouri’s solar eclipse was beautiful; a black circle with white wisps extending over a surprisingly blue background. In the first seconds when the Sun began reemerging from the Moon there was a bright speck and then an expanding light so intense that it could not be looked at. It was like seeing the large stone rolled away from the mouth of the tomb on Easter morning at the moment of the Resurrection.

We touched the St. Louis Arch, a structure whose geometric simplicity belies the amazing landmark that it is. Ask yourself, how would you build such a thing sixty-three stories in the air?

In Arizona, I was pleased to providentially cross paths with Clare Shakal from Cooks Valley. I was surprised to learn she happens to work at the parish where a friend from seminary I was visiting is now pastor.

In  Southern California I saw the last line of light from a red Sun be swallowed by the ocean. Pedestrians paused on the pier to watch the Earth eclipse of the Sun (what we call a sunset) but there was nothing like the numbers who gathered for the much rarer eclipse the week before.

One morning, I body-surfed in the Pacific Ocean, and went to bed in Wisconsin that night. While flying home (over a distance it would have taken me months to travel on foot) I gazed down upon the Grand Canyon for the first time. Our pilot never mentioned it.

My trip had many highlights but the part I enjoyed the most and what seasoned all the rest was the good friends I was blessed to share my adventure with.

What makes something wondrous? Things we encounter often feel less precious and usually go unnoticed. If solar eclipses happened daily at noon they would be no less beautiful but they never make the news. Our world is filled with wonders but even when we live in appreciative gratitude we still long for more. This is a sign to us that we were made to live forever; in a loving communion of persons with an infinitely interesting and beautiful God.

Mary, the New Ark of the Covenant

September 4, 2017

Did you ever see Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark? You may recall seeing the movie’s replica of the Ark of the Covenant featured as the McGuffin artifact everyone was seeking out. This movie has been very helpful to preachers in providing a visual aid to everyone of what the Ark of the Covenant looked like.

Like Noah’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant was a box constructed according to God’s design and command. It served as a portable throne bearing the presence of God on earth. The Ark held inside of it three important things: the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, the wooden staff of Moses’ brother Aaron the High Priest, and a gold jar containing some of the Manna God provided his people to eat in the desert. The reason I mention these things today is because the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament foreshadows the Blessed Virgin Mary in the New Testament.

The old Ark held the Ten Commandments, the word of God in stone; the Virgin Mary bears the Word of God in flesh. The old Ark held the priestly staff which on one occasion miraculously blossomed despite being dead; Mary conceives by the power of the Holy Spirit despite her perfect virginity. The old Ark contained Manna bread in a golden vessel; Mary’s holy womb contains the true Bread from Heaven, provided to us for our journey to Promised Land — Jesus Christ, our Prophet, Priest, and King.

At God’s command, the old Ark was made of natural wood overlaid with pure gold inside and out. Mary is a human woman who is made “full of grace.” King David once joyfully leaped and danced before the Ark of the Lord. At the Visitation, when Mary visits Elizabeth her relative, John the Baptist likewise leaps with joy within his mother’s womb. David once asked, “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” Elizabeth likewise asks, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” On one occasion, the old covenant ark was kept for three months in the house of a man named Obed-edom outside Jerusalem, and Scripture records that God blessed his whole household. Mary likewise dwelt three months in the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth near Jerusalem and was surely a blessing to them.

No man was to touch the Old Covenant Ark, lest they be struck down dead. (God instructed his ministers to move that holy Ark only by means of two gilded poles which slid through rings on the sides of the Ark.) Joseph of Nazareth held a similar reverence towards Mary, his ever-virgin wife. In the Old Testament, the Lord was to be found wherever the old Ark dwelt, from the Sinai wilderness to the Temple in Jerusalem. In the New Testament, “on entering the house, [the Magi] saw the child with Mary his mother,” and, “standing by the cross of Jesus [was] his mother.”

In the movie, Indiana Jones and the Nazis were looking for the “lost” Ark because Scripture reports that the Old Covenant Ark was hidden soon before the Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC. Jeremiah the Prophet took the Ark and placed it in a secret cave. Unlike in the 1981 movie, the Lost Ark has never been recovered. Yet, in his revelations recorded at the end of the New Testament, John the Apostle sees the new Ark revealed. John writes: “God’s temple in Heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.” The next thing John describes is a glorious woman pregnant with the Christ child, “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” This is Mary, the New Ark of the Covenant, whom at the end of her time on earth God lifted up body and soul into Heaven.

The old Ark was of central, though secondary, importance in the Old Covenant. Drawing physically nearer to it brought one closer to the presence of God on earth. Likewise, God gives the Blessed Virgin Mary, the new Ark, a central role in his New Covenant. If you draw closer in your relationship with her, you will surely draw closer to our Lord Jesus Christ.

A Solar Eclipse Q & A

August 15, 2017

What is it like to experience a total eclipse?

For places within the 70-mile-wide “path of totality” of this Monday’s eclipse it will be like sunset suddenly arriving in the middle of the day. The air temperature will drop, stars may appear, and animals could become confused.

Is this eclipse a sign of the end of the world?

Quite likely not. On average, total eclipses occur on earth more than sixty times every century. This particular eclipse simply happens to span across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina. However, it is always a good time to “repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Will we be able to see the solar eclipse in Wisconsin?

The Moon will not completely block out the Sun’s light in Wisconsin, but about 80% of the Sun will be obscured here on Monday at 1:10 PM local time. (Click here to check for your own zip-code, and review this important eye-safety info on viewing the eclipse.)

How do we know this eclipse is coming?

The Sun, Earth, and Moon move through the heavens according to God’s physical laws like clockwork. This makes it possible to accurately predict when eclipses will happen in the future or to calculate when they have occurred in the distant past.

Has our part of Wisconsin ever been in the direct path of a total eclipse?

This has happened here several times since Jesus Christ was born: on April 2, 610[*]: the year Mohammad began preaching Islam; on September 21, 1205: the year after the Crusaders sacked Constantinople; on April 6, 1503: the year Leonardo da Vinci began the Mona Lisa; and most recently on June 30, 1954: the month “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Did Jesus ever see a solar eclipse during his lifetime in Israel?

One solar eclipse’s “path of totality” went through nearby Syria on November 22, 29 AD and perhaps Jesus saw the Sun become more than 90% obscured that day. Luke’s Gospel records that “the sun was darkened,” or eclipsed, the afternoon of Jesus’ crucifixion. Since solar eclipses are not naturally possible when there is a full moon (as at the time of the Jewish Passover) this failing of the Sun’s light must be due to some other natural or supernatural phenomena.

[*] – All Julian calendar dates (October 15, 1582 and earlier) have been converted to Gregorian calendar dates.

Satanic Bicycling, Pagan Meats, and Yoga

August 10, 2017

Imagine if Satanists began ritually riding bicycles while chanting out to spirits other than God. (For them, this might symbolize rebellion against the three axles of the Godhead over whom they blasphemously enthrone themselves; stomping Christ underfoot while profaning the Trinity through the streets — or something like that.) Though silly to conceive, if Satanists actually began to do this, how would bicycling be affected?

First it should be noted that traditional cycling would remain what it is; its goodness as a healthy exercise and leisure activity would be unaffected. However, biking combined with false worship (whether done sincerely or ironically) would be harmful. If one of these satanic bicycling groups existed in our town, I would not ride with them. A Christian who silently biked along with the Satanists (to simply enjoy the ride) could be affected by the malevolent spirits invoked or cause scandal for others. I could still bike alone or with my friends, but we certainly would not voice unchristian chants while doing so. If I had formerly parked my bike by the church or rectory, I might begin placing it in a more private place, lest people be misled by misinterpreting my innocent behavior. This scenario is simply a thought experiment, but real Christians faced a comparable situation in the first century AD.

In the ancient Greco-Roman world, meats sold in marketplaces or served at restaurants had commonly been sacrificed to pagan gods. This gave rise to a debate within the church at Corinth, Greece about whether Christians could blamelessly eat such food or if this should be forbidden as second-hand idolatry.

St. Paul addressed this question in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians, first observing “there is no God but one… even though there are so-called gods” worshiped by the pagans. St. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, warned that “what [the pagans] sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to become participants with demons.” Christians were never to offer pagan worship, but this did not mean pagan meat itself could not be eaten by well-formed Christians: “Eat anything sold in the market, without raising questions on grounds of conscience, for ‘the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.’” But at the same time, a meat-eating Christian was to be careful not to cause scandal to others, leading them into actual idolatry. St. Paul wrote, “Make sure that this liberty of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. … If an unbeliever invites you and you want to go, eat whatever is placed before you, without raising questions on grounds of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This was offered in sacrifice,’ do not eat it on account of the one who called attention to it and on account of conscience; I mean not your own conscience, but the other’s.” That is how early Christianity handled the issue of meat sacrificed to idols. Today, we have a similar issue of live and local concern (which brings us to the ultimate purpose of this article.)

In our beginning, God created the human body, endowing it with sensation, flexibility, and strength. He designed every natural posture and movement and gave breathing and exercising their healthy and pleasurable effects. A long, long time after that, some of these bodily positions and exercises were appropriated by Hindus in India for the worship of their (so-called) gods and goddesses. In our time, this aspect of Eastern religion has entered into our culture as yoga. So, is it OK for Christians to practice yoga?

As with bike riding and meat eating, the unchristian use of good things does not taint them for everyone else forever after. Breathing and stretching are good gifts from God and, for some, yoga is simply exercise. Yet spiritual danger exists wherever and whenever these exercises are being joined to false spirituality or idolatrous worship.

I myself have participated in secular yoga workouts in the past. My exercise instructor was a faithful Christian and I enjoyed them. However, together with Catholic exorcists, I would never recommend attending a yoga group with non-Christian spirituality because of the real potential for spiritual harm and scandal. If a yoga class, for instance, chants mantras (like “om,” or the names of Hindu gods); envisions becoming one with the cosmos, Brahman, or the Earth Mother; channels energies; or has participants breathe in the pulsating universe while exhaling all bad and evil from within, then that yoga class is certainly of the second sort and to be avoided. If my instructor or peers were using yoga in a non-Christian spiritual way, I would avoid that gathering for the same reasons that I would not attend a pagan sacrifice or bike with Satanists: the prospect of causing scandal and the danger from evil spirits.

St. Paul once said we are to “retain what is good” but “refrain from every kind of evil.” That timeless wisdom applies to us in all things; to bicycling, to eating meat, and also to doing yoga.

Transfiguring Our Perception of Others

August 6, 2017

Today, Jesus hikes with his three closest apostles, Peter, James, and John, to the top of Mount Tabor in Israel. And there, Jesus is transfigured before them. His face shines and his clothes become intensely white. Then they hear God the Father speaking from a bright cloud that envelops them, declaring: “This is my beloved Son.”

In the Incarnation, some two thousand and seventeen years ago, the Eternal Word became Flesh, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity became Man, and the divinity of the Son of God became veiled within a human nature. It has long been my sense that Jesus is not changed or transformed at the Transfiguration so much as his apostles are allowed to glimpse him more deeply as he really, truly is: God from God, Light from Light. This light shines from his face as radiantly as the sun and from his body such that the fabric of his clothing is brightly illuminated like a thin lampshade.

When the disciples become frightened after hearing the Father’s voice and fall prostrate on the ground, burying their faces, Jesus comes over and touches them: “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raise their eyes, they see Jesus once more the same way as they had always seen him, and yet they see him differently now.

If we saw Jesus tomorrow while buying bread and milk at the store, or if Jesus visited our place of work, or came to our front door, do you think we would recognize him? I tend to doubt it. Many of the Jews in Jesus’ day noticed nothing extra special about him. “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” The Prophet Isaiah foretold of the Messiah that ‘there would be in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.’ Even Jesus’ close friends sometimes had a hard time recognizing him after his Resurrection. The most famous example of this was on the Road to Emmaus. But by the gift of God’s grace, with the Breaking of the Bread, the eyes of Jesus’ disciples were opened and they recognized him in their midst. The reason I doubt that many would recognize Jesus amid their everyday lives tomorrow is because so few of us recognize him among us today.

In the very early Church, a man named Saul had a murderous hatred for the first Christians. One day, was traveling to Damascus, Syria to arrest any Christians he might find there and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. As he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, sir?” And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” This man went on to be converted to a Christian. We know him today as St. Paul.

Note how Jesus does not say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting my Church,” nor “Why are you persecuting my people.” He says, “Why are you persecuting me?” Jesus identifies himself with his people and his Church because he is personally present within them. At the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me… You will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” Jesus speaks of his mystical presence within us our and neighbors at other times in the Gospels as well.

At the Last Judgment, Jesus tells us he will say to his saved sheep: ‘Whatever you did for one of the hungry, or thirsty, or naked, or sick, or imprisoned little brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’ And then Jesus will turn and declare to the condemned goats: “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” These goats, Jesus tells us, will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous sheep to eternal life.

And so you see, recognizing, loving, and serving Jesus in other people must be a top and serious priority for us. Yet how many people do we interact with each day with so much thoughtless indifference? We speed past other people like so many unnoticed trees and cars as we drive along our way of life. Sometimes we even take the people living in our own home for granted, treating our family members worse than our mere acquaintances. Many failed to recognize Jesus’ importance in his day; while we overlook the importance of people in our midst today. As C.S. Lewis wrote:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

So how can we begin to behold and relate to other people in the manner we ought, as Christ would have us do? Jesus himself was open and loving towards everyone. I would suggest two steps: First, ask for the gift of God’s grace at this Breaking of the Bread on the Feast of the Transfiguration, that your eyes may be opened to truly see others. And second, begin a habit of praying for, say, five or ten people every day whom you’ve never thought to pray for before. For example, the cashier who gave you change yesterday, that politician whom you dislike, the suffering people of North Korea, your child’s best friend, your quiet co-worker, and the person whom you heard just died. And then, the next day, chose another new collection of people to pray for. This practice will reveal to you your inter-personal, spiritual blinders, and help you to begin tearing them down. Let us ask Jesus to transfigure our perception of others so that we may see them more in the way that he beholds them, with love.

10 Things Catholics Don’t Believe

July 27, 2017

The Venerable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) Celebrating Holy Mass

Sixty-five years ago, Time magazine dubbed the Venerable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen “the first televangelist.” His Emmy Award-winning TV show, Life is Worth Living, was watched by up to 30 million people weekly, with many non-Catholics among them. Bishop Sheen once observed, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” The cause for the canonization of Fulton Sheen, who helped lead a great untold number into the Faith, is currently being advanced by his home diocese of Peoria, Illinois.

This is a list of ten popular misconceptions and what Catholics actually believe:

  1. Catholics don’t believe St. Mary is a goddess, but that she is the holy mother of God and of all Christians.
  2. Catholics don’t believe the pope is sinless or inerrant on every topic, but that he can teach infallibly about faith and morals as the successor of St. Peter.
  3. Catholics don’t believe in worshiping lifeless statues, but that art can help us connect with our friends in Heaven.
  4. Catholics don’t believe lay people should not read the Bible, but that no one soundly interprets Sacred Scripture apart from Sacred Tradition.
  5. Catholics don’t believe we are “saved by works” or “earn our salvation,” but that we must remain faithful by cooperating with God’s gifts of grace.
  6. Catholics don’t believe purgatory is a “second chance” or “temporary Hell,” but that God’s saved, flawed friends are perfected there to enter his holy presence in Heaven.
  7. Catholics don’t believe in cannibalism, but that the Eucharist is truly the real, living person of Jesus Christ.
  8. Catholics don’t believe Jesus suffers and dies anew at every Mass, but that the Mass re-presents (makes present) his one sacrifice and applies its power here and now.
  9. Catholics don’t believe couples must have as many children as humanly possible, but that separating what God has joined in the marital embrace is both wrong and harmful.
  10. Catholics don’t believe all non-Catholics are going to Hell, but we desire everyone to come into full communion with Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters continue to be separated from us due to myths like these. Correcting the mistaken notions of our acquaintances about what the Catholic Church truly teaches is both a spiritual work of mercy and an important step towards the reunion of all Christians. A great harvest is to be found in this field, so let us all labor in it!

Questions & Answers About My Cat, Leo XIV

July 17, 2017


Why did you name your cat “Leo the Fourteenth?”

So he wouldn’t be confused with Pope Leo XIII—who had the fourth longest papal reign (from 1878 to 1903) and died at the age of 93 as history’s oldest pope. The name “Leo” is Latin for “Lion.”

Why did you want a black cat?

Cats are great, and have you ever noticed cat hair on my clothing? … Exactly.

How does Leo like living in the rectory?

Leo enjoys greeting visitors to the parish offices (he is very friendly) and exploring our house. The dust and cobwebs I sometimes find on him indicate he likes the basement. I predict that Leo will leave a “gift” for me on my bed or office floor someday.

Do you think Leo XIV will go to Heaven?

Even though Leo is a very good cat, I am not certain. St. Thomas Aquinas argued that animals, lacking a rational soul such as humans have, cannot experience the Beatific Vision of God. On the other hand, the Book of Revelation foretells of a New Heavens and a New Earth while the Prophet Isaiah speaks of wolves, lambs, leopards, goats, calves, lions, cows, bears, cobras, and children peacefully living together one day on God’s holy mountain. (Isaiah 11) As I consoled myself when my previous, dear cat, Dexter died; if there is anything eternal about Leo, I trust that Jesus will take care of him. If we reach Heaven and find our deceased pets are not there, upon understanding their loving purpose in the divine plan, we shall thank God for the gift they were and be at peace.

“The 4 Types of Soil & How to Improve Our Own” — 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year A

July 17, 2017

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

Despite all the changes and developments over these past two thousand years, the parables of Jesus Christ still hold up. Not only is the imagery in his parables still relatable today, but the lessons of his parables remain true. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about a sower who sows across four different types of ground. The Gospel’s authors, namely St. Matthew and the Holy Spirit, go on to make the interpretation of this parable easy by including Jesus’ own explanation.

Jesus says, “The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the Word of the Kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the Word and receives it at once with joy.  But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the Word, he immediately falls away.  The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the Word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the Word and it bears no fruit.  But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the Word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

And so, what is sown by the sower, so generously and so far and wide, is “the Word of the Kingdom.” And the four kinds of ground it touches denote four types of would-be disciples. What is this “Word of the Kingdom?” Jesus gives no precise definition for it in these passages, but I think it can be taken in various senses, all of them true: It is the Good News about the Kingdom of God Jesus was preaching. It is God’s Word revealed in both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition through Christ’s Catholic Church. And the Word of the Kingdom is the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ himself, the fullest revelation of God the Father. When people encounter God’s word in these forms, they have four kinds of reactions:

The first (the path) are those who hear without understanding. They, like the footpath, are hardened against the message. Perhaps they do not want to understand it. Some people ask hard questions about our Faith in order to understand—and that is very good, for whoever asks, receives and whoever seeks, finds. However, many people ask religious questions only in order to criticize, mock, and comfortably continue in their unbelief. If you are ever in a religious conversation with a friend, relative, or co-worker and you sense that they are this latter sort, I recommend calling them on this attitude. “Are you asking so that can understand, or so that you can have an excuse not to listen?” This is important, because until their hardened will opens there is no crack for the seed to enter in, and they are easy pickings for the evil one.

The second (the rocky ground) are those who hear the Word and initially receive it with joy. But since they have no deep root they last only for a time and wither away. Some of this rocky ground are those who were raised Catholic but never developed a mature relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church. Those who attempt to weather this adult world of ours with only, say, a grade-schooler’s knowledge and practice of the Faith, will likely fail in the heat of temptation and trial. If you and your family are going to remain Catholic Christians these days we cannot stay shallow.

The third (the thorny soil) are those who hear the Word, and it begins to grow in them, but it does not grow alone: worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the Word and it bears no fruit. As Jesus said, ‘no one can serve to masters at the same time.’ You cannot say “Yes” to Jesus and “Yes” to your fears or “Yes” to your selfishness A “Yes” to Jesus demands a liberating “No” to many lesser things. Until we do that, we will not be truly fruitful as Christ wills us to be.

Finally, the fourth (the rich soil) hears the Word and understands it, says “Yes” to it and indeed bears fruit, yielding a many-fold return. It is a blessing to itself and others and a great joy to the Sower.

Jesus’ four varieties of ground describe four types of people. I suspect that in the end one of these will describe the prevailing theme of our lives. And yet, we know that soil types can change. You you grew up on a farm, you probably remember your father sending you out into the field to pick stones. This wasn’t just make-work; your father did this to make the rocky soil more fruitful. If you’re a gardener, you know what happens if good soil is left untended—you’ll soon be pulling weeds. Soil can change; sinners can convert into saints, and the righteous can fall.

We can change the sort of soil we are over our lifetime, but to a lesser extent we can also change throughout the hours of our day. In the same day, I can be hardened against God’s will, superficial towards God and other people, or dominated by fear or selfishness, and then turn to bear fruit in Christ. But how can I change the kind of soil we are throughout our lives and throughout our days? You can’t do it alone, but God won’t do it without you. God is all-powerful, but he respects our human freedom. Not even the most important event in God’s plan since Creation, the incarnation of his Son within the Virgin, was to occur without her consent. But once Mary said, “Let it be done to me according to your will,” God began working great new things within her. Despite his omnipotence, God cannot force anyone to freely give him their “Yes.”

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” You may have seen paintings of this, with Jesus knocking at a cottage door. Oftentimes, the door is depicted as having no outside door-handle. This is because the cottage represents your soul, and the door to your soul can only be opened from the inside. Daily prayer opens the door to Christ.

One of the best ways to prayerfully invite Jesus into your day is through the “Morning Offering.” There are various forms of this prayer, but they usually begin like this: “O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart…” The exact words you use are not so important as the intention, the decision, the act of the will to offer yourself to Christ. If you don’t think that you’ll remember to do this first thing in the morning, then you can put your guardian angel on the job. Then, as soon as you open your eyes and see your bedroom ceiling, the thought of offering this prayer will occur to your mind. Daily prayer is key for growing in a life of holiness. You can do it anywhere, but visiting Our Lord at church, before his Eucharistic Presence in the tabernacle, is particularly powerful and precious to him.

Remember last week, when Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart“? Yokes are braces that go on an animals’ shoulders for pulling plows or wagons, and there are single-animal yokes, but I think Jesus has a double-yoke in mind. When there is an older, more experienced animal, it can be paired beside a younger, inexperienced one in order to train it and to bear the load together. And, when you look at a double-yoke from above, it forms a cross. What Jesus calls you to, you can’t do alone. He does not expect you to do it alone, but he’s waiting for your “Yes.” Give him your “Yes,” become good soil, and then watch him grow great things in you.

Visiting Our Eucharistic Lord

July 11, 2017

In every Catholic church around the world, Jesus sits within the tabernacle like a king upon his throne, waiting to receive anyone who would approach him with their praises, thanksgivings, and requests. Whether they stop inside for a just few minutes or spend a full “holy hour” in his presence, our Lord delights in the companionship of those who lovingly seek his audience.

St. Josemaria Escriva said, “When you approach the tabernacle, remember that He has been waiting for you for twenty centuries.” Escriva’s contemporary, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, remarked, “People ask me: ‘What will convert America and save the world?’ My answer is prayer. What we need is for every parish to come before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in holy hours of prayer.

In order to facilitate more of these beautiful and powerful encounters with Christ, St. Paul’s Church has begun keeping its church doors open until 7:00 PM daily. Come by to visit the Lord after work or school, or amidst your errands around town. (Please contact Father if you are willing to keylessly lock the church during the seven o’clock hour on particular evenings each week.)

St. Faustina Kowalska records Jesus telling her, “Behold, for you I have established a throne of mercy on earth — the tabernacle — and from this throne I desire to enter into your heart. I am not surrounded by a retinue of guards. You can come to me at any moment, at any time; I want to speak to you and I desire to grant you grace.” He waits for you. So come, let us adore him.

“Being Childlike Towards Jesus and Our Mother” — 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year A

July 9, 2017

In the 1944 Best Picture Winning film, “Going My Way,” Bing Crosby’s character, Fr. Chuck O’Malley, shares this quip: “You know, when I was 18, I thought my father was pretty dumb. After a while, when I got to be 21, I was amazed to find out how much he’d learned in three years.” Of course, the joke is that the dad didn’t get much wiser in three years. The son’s lived experience revealed to him, “You know, my dad actually does know what he’s talking about.” What if your mother were about thirty lifespans old, alive with the same beauty, liveliness, and fruitfulness that she possessed in her youth? Would you listen to her, learn from her, and heed your wise mother’s words? God our Father has given us such a mother in the Holy Catholic Church.

In our first reading from the Old Testament, the prophet Zechariah writes: “Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you;a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass.” This is a prophesy about the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. It was fulfilled about five centuries later with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus does not enter in as a conqueror, upon a warhorse with sword; but meekly, humbly, on a donkey. All the people are free to welcome him and follow him, and everyone is also free to ignore him and reject him. Jesus is not forcing them to do anything in response to him, much like his Church, which for a quite long time now hasn’t forced anyone anywhere to do anything. In this life, our personal response to Jesus Christ and his Church is completely voluntary, but that decision is not at all trivial.

In our second reading from the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul says: “Brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Now when St. Paul opposes “the Flesh” and “the Spirit” he is not saying that the material world and our bodies are evil or bad. At Creation, God saw that these were good, and as Christians we profess that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” St. Paul is using “the Flesh” as shorthand for those aspects of ourselves that are not properly ordered to “the Spirit” of God. Jesus has raised up a fallen world but aspects of our brokenness still remain. This brokenness is seen in both our bodies and minds: in our appetites desiring what is bad for us, and in our intellects rationalizing our wrong ideas. Imagine how much better this world would be if everyone knew and practiced what the Catholic Church teaches. To echo G.K. Chesterton: “The Catholic Faith has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found challenging and left untried.

Someone might raise the objection: “What about all the bad things Catholic clergy have done? How can sinners be guardians of God’s truth?” There have certainly been bad priests, bad bishops, and even bad popes whose personal sins have done great harm to many. They are a scandal and a sacrilege. But amazingly, even when the most unworthy men have been pope, none of them formally promulgated heresies over the Church. Jesus told his apostles: “Whoever hears you hears me,” knowing fully that Judas Iscariot, his betrayer, was among their number. None of the apostles were sinless men, but Jesus chose them and their successors to preach his message, cast out demons, cure the sick, and administer his sacraments. How tragic it would be if an innocent harmed or scandalized by Judas the Betrayer wanted nothing more to do with Jesus Christ’s Church. Jesus loves his little ones and does not want any to be hurt or estranged from his Church.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus praises his Father saying “you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned but revealed them to little ones,”  In saying this, Jesus is not rejecting higher education or those who possess it. However, even if you have some degrees on your wall and initials after your name, these are not enough in themselves to receive the teaching of Christ and his Church. We all must be childlike. Childlike, not childish. A childish person is selfish, immature, willful, rebellious, and you can’t teach them anything.  But a childlike person is open, humble, loyal, devoted, and teachable. As Jesus declares on another occasion: “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”

Pope Paul VI observed, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” With than in mind I’d like to witness to a time when, despite my initial hesitancy, responding to Jesus’ teaching blessed me in surprising ways.

When I was in college, my schoolwork was a grind. I always looked forward to our vacations, but they were always weeks or months away, on the other side of my papers’ due dates and final exams. At that time, I realized that although I had always gone to Mass I had never kept Sunday as a special day of rest. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “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.” It then adds, “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.

I didn’t want to reach the end of my days wondering what would have happened if I had been faithful to Christ in this area, so decided to stop doing my homework or studies on Sundays. There were some very late Saturday nights, but I kept faithfully to this rule. And, after a while, I noticed two surprising things. First, my Sunday rest never burned me. I don’t recall ever bombing a test, failing to meet a deadline, or doing worse on any of my assignments because of not having worked on Sunday. The second surprise was that I began to look forward to every Sunday as a one-day vacation. In addition to going to church, it was a day for taking a map, going out to eat, watching a movie, or just hanging out with my friends. I gave a gift of myself to the Lord and he gave me an even greater gift in return.

Perhaps you are afraid to let the teachings of Jesus Christ in his Church to impact your time or your money, your sexuality or your marriage, your politics or your addictions, but I urge you to be brave and wise. Just last week, we heard Jesus tell his apostles: “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” Jesus was not merely referring to receiving the apostles in their persons but the message that they preached.

We resist change because we fear the limitation of our freedom. We fear what the change might cost us. We fear a heavy yoke being locked around our neck and weighing upon our shoulders. But do not be afraid. Jesus offers you a better way. He says: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Please trust in Jesus, learn from him, and sacrifice your will to his. And do not be afraid, for God will not be outdone in generosity.

America’s Greatness

July 5, 2017

In 1956, Peter W. Schramm’s family fled communist oppression in Hungary. The 10-year-old Peter asked his father, “But where are we going?” His father said, “We are going to America.” “Why America,” Peter prodded. His father replied, “Because, Son, we were born Americans, but in the wrong place.”

Other nations have been self-defined by their ancestral blood, but America has united people from all around the world. Other nations have self-identified by their ancient soil, but our country could fully incorporate other lands that desired to join our states. America is unique because America is founded upon an idea: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These providential words echo the great Christian doctrine of universal human dignity.

Where America has failed to embody these words, those are our greatest shames; such as our past crimes against Native and African Americans, and against unborn Americans today. Yet wherever we have honored and defended human dignity, those represent our proudest accomplishments; including our abolition of slavery, our liberty and legal equality at home, and our defense and liberation of peoples abroad.

When some people are asked what makes America great they cite our wealth and military power. But if these alone were our criteria for greatness, then the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate would be a great man and Jesus the Nazarene would not. The true measure of our greatness, like all true greatness, comes from our likeness to the Lord. May God bless America to be a greater, fuller blessing to all, until Jesus Christ returns and his kingdom is perfectly established on earth.

Printable Catholic Funeral Readings

July 4, 2017

My new parishes have had 53 funerals in the twelve months preceding my arrival. So, I clearly need to streamline my funeral preparation process. The MSWord (.doc) files below are first fruits of that effort and I am pleased to share them.

Send your own priest a link to this page and he is quite likely to be grateful. To receive this complete collection of files by email, write to victorfeltes at Gmail.

First Readings (for outside of the Easter Season)

C1 – 2nd Maccabees 12
C2 – Job 19
C3 – Wisdom 3 (long version)
C3 – Wisdom 3 (short version)
C4 – Wisdom 4
C5 – Isaiah 25
C6 – Lamentations 3
C7 – Daniel 12

First Readings (for during the Easter Season)

C8 – Acts 10 (long version)
C8 – Acts 10 (short version)
C9 – Revelation 14
C10 – Revelation 20
C11 – Revelation 21

Responsorial Psalms

D1 – Psalm 23
D2 – Psalm 25
D3 – Psalm 27
D4 – Psalm 42
D5 – Psalm 63
D6 – Psalm 103
D7 – Psalm 116
D8 – Psalm 122
D9 – Psalm 130
D10 – Psalm 143

Second Readings

E1 – Romans 5:5
E2 – Romans 5:17
E3 – Romans 6 (long version)
E3 – Romans 6 (short version)
E4 – Romans 8:14
E5 – Romans 8:31
E6 – Romans 14
E7 – 1st Corinthians 15 (long version)
E7 – 1st Corinthians 15 (short version)
E8 – 1st Corinthians 15:51
E9 – 2nd Corinthians 4
E10 – 2nd Corinthians 5
E11 – Philippians 3
E12 – 1st Thessalonians 4
E13 – 2nd Timothy 2
E14 – 1st John 3:1
E15 – 1st John 3:14

Gospel Acclamations

F – Acclamation Verses

Gospel Readings

G1 – Matthew 5
G2 – Matthew 11
G3 – Matthew 25:1
G4 – Matthew 25:31
G5 – Mark 15 (long version)
G5 – Mark 15 (short version)
G6 – Luke 7
G7 – Luke 12
G8 – Luke 23:33
G9 – Luke 23:44 (long version)
G9 – Luke 23:44 (short version)
G10 – Luke 24 (long version)
G10 – Luke 24 (short version)
G11 – John 5
G12 – John 6:37
G13 – John 6:51
G14 – John 11 (long version)
G14 – John 11 (short version)
G15 – John 11:32
G16 – John 12 (long version)
G16 – John 12 (short version)
G17 – John 14
G18 – John 17
G19 – John 19

Petitions / Prayers of the Faithful

H1 – Female Adult Version
H1 – Male Adult Version

(Adapted from the USCCB)

 

An Incomplete List of Things Fr. Rajen will Enjoy at his New Assignment

June 28, 2017

By Fr. Victor Feltes

  • Being able to visit the bank, fetch the mail, and get a haircut all from a single parking space.
  • A spacious rectory with great views all around.
  • The beautiful churches, especially the windows; Sacred Heart’s symbols and St. Wenceslaus’ portraits.
  • Scenic driving roads: County N, HWY 27, County F, and HWY 35.
  • The true fraternity of Christian leaders in the area, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
  • The pious help of well-trained altar servers.
  • Attentive bookkeepers, in Mary Walker, Luella Martin, and Larry Severson.
  • The living Eucharistic reverence: St. Wenceslaus’ patens, Sacred Heart’s intinction, and Adoration of the Lord at each.
  • Grassroots support for pro-life efforts.
  • The faithful company of daily Mass-goers.
  • A strong, local Knights of Columbus Council.
  • A solid baptismal prep program with Roy and Heather Kramer.
  • Parish Councils of Catholic Women that serve the best meals in town.
  • Eating deviled eggs and tasty meatballs.
  • Large parish savings in the bank and parish budgets in the black.
  • Sunday organ music played by Bob Martin and Aladean and Laurie Doll.
  • Hosting the “Nun Camp” sisters and playing “The Sock Game.”
  • Wise counsel from the Pastoral and Finance Councils.
  • The kids in the CCD programs, ably organized by Jessie Bird and Jane Achenbach.
  • The fun, dynamic Mercy Workers Youth Group.
  • Easter Triduum at St. Wenceslaus.
  • Sacred Heart with all the lights on.
  • And, of course, the people. Especially the people.

Frequently Asked Questions About Religious Liberty

June 28, 2017

Excerpted from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

What do we mean by religious liberty?

In Catholic teaching, the Second Vatican Council “declare[d] that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” Religious liberty is protected in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and in federal and state laws. Religious liberty includes more than our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home; it also encompasses our ability to contribute freely to the common good of all Americans.

What is the First Amendment?

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states the following: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

What does “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” mean?

This phrase, known as the “Establishment Clause,” began as a ban on Congress’ either establishing a national religion or interfering with the established religions of the states. It has since been interpreted to forbid state establishments of religion, governmental preference (at any level) of one religion over another, and direct government funding of religion.

What does “prohibiting the free exercise thereof” mean?

This phrase, known as the “Free Exercise Clause,” generally protects citizens and institutions from government interference with the exercise of their religious beliefs. It sometimes mandates the accommodation of religious practices when such practices conflict with federal, state, or local laws.

What did our early American leaders say about religious freedom?

George Washington, 1789: “The conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness; and it is my wish and desire, that the laws may always be extensively accommodated to them…

Thomas Jefferson, 1809: “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.”

James Madison, 1785: “[W]e hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth that religion, or the duty which we owe our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

 What have recent popes said about religious liberty?

Pope St. John Paul the Great, 1996: “[T]he most fundamental human freedom [is] that of practicing one’s faith openly, which for human beings is their reason for living.”

Pope Benedict XVI, 2011: “[Religious freedom] is indeed the first of human rights, not only because it was historically the first to be recognized but also because it touches the constitutive dimension of man, his relation with his Creator.”

Pope Francis, 2015: “American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination. With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.

 Where are the roots of religious liberty?

Religious liberty is inherent in our very humanity, hard-wired into each and every one of us by our Creator. Religious liberty is also prior to the state itself. It is not merely a privilege that the government grants us and that can be taken away at will.

How are marriage and religious liberty connected?

Marriage (the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife) and religious liberty are two distinct goods that are also related to each other. The protection of each good follows from the duty to protect the inviolable dignity of the human person. But even more directly, the legal protection of marriage as the union of one man and one woman also protects the religious freedom of those who adhere to that vision of marriage.

How does changing the legal definition of marriage have any effect on religious liberty?

Changing the legal term “marriage” is not one change in the law but amounts to thousands of changes at once. The term “marriage” can be found in family law, employment law, trusts and estates, healthcare law, tax law, property law, and many others. These laws affect and pervasively regulate religious institutions, such as churches, religiously-affiliated schools, hospitals, and families. When Church and State agree on what the legal term “marriage” means (the union of one man and one woman), there is harmony between the law and religious institutions. When Church and State disagree on what the term “marriage” means (e.g., when the State redefines marriage to include so-called same-sex “marriage”), conflict results on a massive scale between the law and religious institutions and families. Religious liberty is then threatened.