Lessons from Disaster

September 7, 2018

On a Tuesday morning seventeen years ago I was sleeping-in at college. I had no classes that morning so I stayed in my dorm room bed as late as possible, peacefully unaware. I eventually descended from my loft and turned on the TV. The Catholic channel (EWTN) showed people praying in the chapel “for the bombing victims.” Then my roommate walked in and asked me if I’d heard. “Airplanes crashed into the World Trade Towers and the Sears Tower in Chicago. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon, a car bomb blew up at the State Department, and there’s a fire on the National Mall.” Standing there, I realized I would remember that moment for the rest of my life, just as others vividly remembered the attack on Pearl Harbor or the assassination of President Kennedy before me.

It’s striking how much confusion there was on September 11, 2001. Most of what my roommate had told me proved inaccurate. Terrible things had certainly occurred – the murder of thousands and the distressing of millions more – yet the news of that day was clouded with false rumors and inaccurate reports. Time would clarify the truth of what had actually happened.

Eager to help in the days after the towers fell, I went to give blood at a Red Cross drive. I waited perhaps an hour until my turn came to have my finger pricked for the pre-donation iron test. Being uncomfortable around blood, I became woozy, had to lay down, and left without contributing anything. Despite my failed effort, others across the country donated more than enough to meet blood supply needs for months.

The shocking evil of September 11th impressed upon me humanity’s brokenness. Even if these terror groups abroad were answered with overwhelming military force, I grasped that what was wrong with the world would remain unrepaired. When I considered what would be the greatest thing I could do to help change the world and myself for the better, I concluded it was to begin attending weekday Mass. My class schedule did not permit me to go every day, but daily Mass grew me and my love for Jesus in the Eucharist. It helped me to embrace my priestly vocation and did good beyond myself that I believe God will reveal to me someday.

These lessons from 9-11 are applicable today. It is heart-breaking to be confronted by these recent scandals in the Church, but remaining unaware of them (asleep to them with eyes closed) would not have made them any less real. It is better that things be clearly understood in purifying daylight. Great evils and crimes have obviously been perpetrated. Thousands have been hurt and millions have been distressed. Yet we must be cautious to weigh all early reports carefully, for their truth will only be fully known with time. We want to improve the situation in the Church but there may be little you and I can do within our immediate influence. We are not popes or bishops or journalists, but we have access to a power beyond our natural reach. I urge you, in this troubled time, to draw closer to Jesus in his sacraments and our daily prayer. This is the greatest thing we can do to help change the Church, the world, and ourselves for the better.

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The Time St. Paul Corrected St. Peter

August 31, 2018

Jesus gave Simon the fisherman the keys to his kingdom and changed his name to “Rock” (that is, “Petros” in Greek, or Peter):

I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19a)

The significance of these things is found in the Old Testament. God changed the names of Abram, Sarai, and Jacob to Abraham, Sarah, and Israel to declare what he would achieve through their lives. (Abraham, for example, means “father of a multitude.”) In the old Davidic dynasty, the king’s chief steward and master of the royal household would carry a key symbolizing his authority. Thus, for Jesus’ kingdom (the Church), Peter is given the great power and office of prime minister:

Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19b)

Yet, despite his divine calling, St. Peter was not always perfect in his personal example. The New Testament records that on one occasion he had to be fraternally corrected by St. Paul.

In the early years of the Church, as belief in the Gospel began to spread from Jerusalem into pagan lands, the question arose of how much of what God commanded through Moses needed to be observed by the Gentile (that is, non-Jewish) converts. God gave not only the Ten Commandments in the Old Covenant but some 613 religious rules, touching on many areas of daily life, including food and clothing. These precepts were called the Mosaic law.

St. Peter’s vision at Joppa and his subsequent visit to Cornelius the centurion’s house in Caesarea (recounted in Acts 10) revealed to him God’s will that Gentile converts to Christianity need not be obliged to observe the full Mosaic law. But others were teaching, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” Around the year 50 A.D., the Apostles and other Church leaders gathered for the Council of Jerusalem to settle this question.

There, some from the party of the Pharisees who had become believers in Christ stood up and said to the assembly, “It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Mosaic law.” But St. Peter replied, “[Why] are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.” (Acts 15:10-11) And the Council decreed that Gentile Christians were free from observing the bulk of Jewish religious rules and customs.

The Dispute at Antioch: Saints Peter & Paul by Jusepe de Ribera

But there was a later episode at Antioch where Peter’s personal example did not match his professed beliefs, and St. Paul was moved to correct him:

[W]hen Cephas (the Aramaic word for “Rock” or “Peter”) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews also acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14)

Apparently, the “people from James” were Jewish Christians who were disapproving of Peter eating non-kosher meals with the Gentile Christians, leading Peter to withdraw from table fellowship with those non-Jewish converts. St. Peter, the first Pope, was preserved by God from teaching error, but he was not immune to personal faults. Paul publicly corrected Peter because his failure in leadership was leading to scandal within the Church. Spirit-led fraternal correction is a spiritual work of mercy and a duty of Christian love.

The Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law says:

[The Christian faithful] have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ’s faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals.” (Canon 212, Section 3)

In this present, painful season in the Church, let us remain faithful but not silent. Let us insist of our shepherds that these scandals may lead to cleansing through true leadership and effective reform.

Things You Probably Don’t Know About Contraception & Natural Family Planning

August 31, 2018

We Just Passed a Historic Milestone
July 25, 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”) on the moral and immoral regulation of human births. In that document, Pope Paul reaffirmed the Church’s teachings on marriage, the marital embrace, and the prohibition of artificial birth control.

Artificial Contraception Existed in Ancient Times
Egyptian scrolls dating to 1850 B.C. describe various barrier and sperm-killing methods. Pagans practiced contraception techniques in the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus Christ and the Early Church.

God Smote a Man in the Bible for Contracepting
Genesis 38 relates how a man named Onan repeatedly “wasted his seed on the ground” during intercourse to avoid conceiving children. “What he did greatly offended the Lord, and the Lord took his life…”

The Church Fathers Condemned Artificial Birth Control
For example, St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom all condemned acts of contraception and/or sterilization.

Famous Protestants Also Denounced Contraception
Martin Luther the founder of Lutheranism, John Calvin the founder of Calvinism, and John Wesley the co-founder of Methodism all wrote against it.

All Christian Groups Agreed About This a Century Ago
In 1930, the Anglicans were the very first Protestant denomination to officially approve the use of artificial contraception methods for hard cases. (As recently as 1917, that the same group had declared contraception “demoralizing to character and hostile to national welfare.”)

Protestant Denominations Changed Their Teachings
By 1961, the National Council of Churches could pronounce that “Most of the Protestant churches hold contraception… to be morally right when the motives are right,” adding, “Protestant Christians are agreed in condemning abortion or any method which destroys human life, except when the health or life of the mother is at stake.”

The Catholic Church has Stood Firm
At the end of 1930 and again in 1968, popes issued encyclical letters reaffirming the constant teaching of Christ’s Church. Pope Pius XI’s Casti Connubii and Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae taught truths about the nature, purpose, and goodness of marriage and the marital act. Both repeated our consistent and ancient rejection of all directly-willed acts of contraception, sterilization, and abortion.

Good Intentions are not Enough
As The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means… for example, direct sterilization or contraception.” (#2399)

Humanae Vitae Foretold Great Harms
Paul VI predicted that the widespread use of contraception would broadly lower morality, increase marital infidelity, lessen respect towards women, be coercively imposed by governments, and promote the self-harming belief that we have unlimited dominion over our bodies and human life in general.

Contraception has Broken its Promises
According to its advocates, contraception was supposed to strengthen marriages, prevent unplanned pregnancies, reduce abortions, and increase women’s happiness. Today, even after decades of cheap and common contraceptive use, half of all pregnancies are unplanned and half of all marriages end in divorce, about one-in-five U.S. pregnancies are aborted (with more than 60 million killed since Roe vs. Wade in 1973), and women have reported lower and lower levels of happiness throughout the decades since the 1970’s.

The Lord is Pro-Family and Pro-Children
The first commandment in the Garden of Eden was “be fruitful and multiply,” and the the Bible always speaks of having many children and descendants as a bless rather than a curse. Jesus presents marriage as a holy union of life and love saying “what God has joined together, no human being must separate” and adds “whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.”

NFP Regulates Births Both Virtuously and Effectively
Natural Family Planning (also known as NFP) uses signs from a woman’s body to identify the days in her cycle when she can conceive. Equipped with this knowledge, a couple may abstain from marital embrace to avoid a pregnancy or engage in order to achieve one.

There can be Holy Reasons not to Have More Babies
As Pope Paul VI wrote in his famous 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, “With regard to physical, economic, psychological, and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.”

NFP is not the Rhythm Method
The old Rhythm Method simply counted how many days had passed since the woman’s last cycle and was a moral but ineffective approach to avoiding conception. For comparison, faithfully-followed NFP techniques have a 99% effectiveness rate (meaning that up to one in one hundred woman will become pregnant in a year, a rate comparable to widespread methods of artificial contraception.)

NFP Causes None of Contraception’s Harms
Unlike chemical contraceptives, NFP never causes:
– Spontaneous abortions (by preventing implantation
of newly conceived embryos into the uterine wall)
– Increased risks of breast, liver, and cervical cancer
– Nausea, vomiting, stomach problems, or diarrhea
– Depression or mood swings
– Decreased libido
– Or other published side-effects

NFP Strengthens Married Life
Couples who practice Natural Family Planning grow in communication, self-control, and intimacy. They are more open to discerning and embracing God’s plan for their families and are statistically less likely to divorce. Not only is NFP completely natural, the information it tracks about a woman’s body commonly leads to the diagnosis, treatment, and cure of health disorders, from infertility to life-threatening illnesses.

You can Learn NFP From Home
Visit the Diocese of La Crosse’s website (at diolc.org) and search for “NFP”. There you can investigate more about various NFP techniques, its science and benefits, and register for on-line courses.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

“In destroying the power of giving life through contraception a husband or wife is doing something to self. This turns the attention to self and so it destroys the gift of love in him or her. In loving, the husband and wife must turn the attention to each other as happens in natural family planning, and not to self, as happens in contraception. Once that living love is destroyed by contraception, abortion follows very easily.”  – St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

“In the conjugal act, husband and wife are called to confirm in a responsible way the mutual gift of self which they have made to each other in the marriage covenant. The logic of the total gift of self to the other involves a potential openness to procreation: in this way the marriage is called to even greater fulfillment as a family. Certainly the mutual gift of husband and wife does not have the begetting of children as its only end, but is in itself a mutual communion of love and of life. The intimate truth of this gift must always be safeguarded. … The two dimensions of conjugal union, the unitive and the procreative, cannot be artificially separated without damaging the deepest truth of the conjugal act itself.”  —Pope St. John Paul II, Letter to Families, 1994

“Marriage must include openness to the gift of children. Generous openness to accept children from God as the gift to their love is the mark of the Christian couple. Respect the God-given cycle of life, for this respect is part of our respect for God himself, who created male and female, who created them in his own image, reflecting his own life-giving love in the patterns of their sexual being.”  —Pope St. John Paul II, 1979

Foreign Words of our Faith

July 12, 2018

Hebrew Words
Alleluia – “Praise the Lord” (literally, “Praise Yah[weh]”)
Amen – “Verily” / “Truly” / “So be it”

Greek Words
Kyrie eleison – “Lord have mercy”
Christe eleison – “Christ have mercy”

Latin Words
Agnus Dei – “Lamb of God”
Ave Maria – “Hail Mary”
Fiat – “Let it be done”
Gloria in excelsis Deo – “Glory to God in the highest”
INRI (Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum) – “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews”

French Words
La Croix – “The Cross”
La Crosse – “The Crosier” (a bishop’s shepherd’s crook/staff)
Noel – “Christmas”
Notre Dame – “Our Lady”

Spanish Words
Los Angeles – “The Angels”
San Antonio – “St. Anthony (of Padua)”
San Francisco – “St. Francis (of Assisi)”
Santa Cruz – “Holy Cross”
Santa Fe – “Holy Faith”

St. Paul’s Vision Problems

July 11, 2018

 The oldest known depiction of St. Paul the Apostle, a fresco from the Catacomb of Saint Thekla in Rome dated to the 300’s A.D.

Paul’s encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, accompanied by a great light from the sky which suddenly shone around him, left the great persecutor of the early Church blind. “Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing…” After three days, the Lord sent a Christian named Ananias to prayerfully lay hands upon Saul/Paul. “Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight.” Yet problems with Paul’s vision seem to have lingered or later returned.

Writing to Christians in Galatia (central Turkey) more than a decade after his conversion, Paul recalls, “[Y]ou know that it was because of a physical illness that I originally preached the gospel to you…” While he does not directly identify the malady, he then observes, “Indeed, I can testify to you that, if it had been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.” And in his personal closing to the letter he adds, “See with what large letters I am writing to you in my own hand!” These clues suggest that swapping-out Paul’s eyeballs for another pair would have improved his poor and ailing sight.

Paul, previously blinded by hatred of Christians, saw the light and was converted. The Lord forgave all of his sins through baptism but forgiveness does not always remove all of our sins’ consequences. In restoring Paul’s sight the Lord may have permitted some physical encumbrance to remain. For what purpose? For Paul’s greater good: to serve as an enduring sign to him that what he experienced on the way to Damascus had been real and to remind him of how far he had come; to keep him humble amid the incredible graces, revelations, and miracles of his epic ministry; and to help him remain faithfully dependent upon our Lord Jesus, who once told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” May God grant that we would spiritually profit as much from our own divinely-permitted trials as St. Paul did through his.

Call No Man Father?

June 19, 2018

Was it unchristian for our country to celebrate Father’s Day last Sunday? That’s one implication of a common criticism raised against the Catholic Church. Sometimes Protestants chide us, “Jesus said, ‘Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in Heaven,’ so why do you Catholics call priests and popes ‘Father?’” Yet this charge could also be raised against St. Paul who writes in his Letter to the Romans of “our father Abraham” and “our father Issac.” What’s more, St. Paul is moved by the Holy Spirit in his First Letter to the Corinthians to assert himself as their spiritual father: “Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

So what is Jesus saying in his teaching on titles (father, master, rabbi/teacher) in Matthew 23? Judging from the whole of the New Testament, our Lord’s concern is not with labels or hierarchy in themselves (for “he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles.”) Jesus is warning us against the fallen, human attitudes that we can attach to positions and titles of authority and honor. Jesus says, “You have one teacher… you have but one Father in Heaven… you have but one master, the Messiah.” We must not allow anyone (be they a noted thinker, politician, celebrity, employer, or parent) to displace or compromise God’s primacy in our lives. Embracing a teaching or custom against our Faith is to worship an idol instead of God. And Jesus says “you are all brothers…. The greatest among you must be your servant.” So whenever we are called into a position of influence (be it as a parent, pastor, politician, or what have you) we must remain humble and glorify God while serving him and our neighbors.

The Venerable Servant of God Bishop Fulton 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.” Our Faith has good answers to offer anyone who cares enough about the truth to simply look or listen. So do not fear religious conversations with your family, friends, or peers. You’ll both learn more along the way and you could very well help them into the fullness of Jesus’ Catholic Church.

The Saints Speak of the Holy Eucharist

May 30, 2018

“If the Angels could envy, they would envy us for Holy Communion.”  —St. Pope Pius X

“Man should tremble, the world should vibrate, all Heaven should be deeply moved when the Son of God appears on the altar in the hands of the priest.”  —St. Francis of Assisi

“One single Mass gives more honor to God than all the penances of the Saints, the labors of the Apostles, the sufferings of the martyrs, and even the burning love of the Blessed Mother of God.”  —St. Alphonsus Liguori

“All the good works in the world are not equal to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because they are the works of men; but the Mass is the work of God. Martyrdom is nothing in comparison for it is but the sacrifice of man to God; but the Mass is the sacrifice of God for man.”  —St. John Vianney

“The Eucharist is the Sacrament of love; it signifies love, it produces love.”  —St. Thomas Aquinas

“The Eucharist is a never-ending sacrifice. It is the Sacrament of love, the supreme love, the act of love.”  —St. Katherine Drexel

“The Eucharist is that love which surpasses all loves in Heaven and on earth.”  —St. Bernard of Clairvaux

“The Eucharist is Divine Love made visible in the Sacred Host!”   —St. Teresa of Calcutta

“Do you realize that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you – for you alone? He burns with the desire to come into your heart.”   —St. Thérèse of Lisieux

“The Eucharist is a fire which inflames us.”  —St. John Damascene

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.”   —St. Pope John Paul II, quoting Vatican II

“The Eucharist is the supreme proof of the love of Jesus. After this, there is nothing more but Heaven itself.”  —St. Peter Julian Eymard

Mary, the Mother of All Christians

April 26, 2018

Earlier this year, the Vatican announced that the Monday after Pentecost Sunday shall henceforth be celebrated as a new feast day: the Memorial of the “Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church.” Its worldwide inaugural celebration will be on May 21st this year. The Holy Catholic Church has defined four dogmas about Mary: that she is ever-virginal and the Mother of God, that she was immaculately conceived and assumed body and soul into Heaven. What Pope Francis has decreed is not on the level of defining a fifth Marian dogma, but he is highlighting a precious truth about Our Lady for us to treasure and valuable for us to share with our Protestant brothers and sisters.

Mary is both poetically and actively the Mother of the Church. St. Augustine says of her, “She is clearly the Mother of His members; that is, of ourselves, because she cooperated by her charity, so that faithful Christians, members of the Head, might be born in the Church.” And as Blessed Pope Paul VI professes in his Credo of the People of God: “we believe that the Blessed Mother of God, the New Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in Heaven her maternal role with regard to Christ’s members, cooperating with the birth and growth of divine life in the souls of the redeemed.” How many Christians are unaware that they have a spiritual Mother who loves them?

That Mary is the Mother of all Christians is evident from Scripture. At the Cross, “when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” This scene was not included in John’s Gospel to satisfy some idle curiosity about Mary’s living arrangements in her later years. Understanding this scene according to its spiritual significance, every Christian is ‘the disciple who Jesus loved.’ Every Christian is entrusted to Mary as her child and she is given to each one of them as their mother.

Further proof of this is found in the Book of Revelation. There we see a huge dragon (explicitly called “the Devil and Satan”) attempt to destroy “a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod,” along with his mother who wears “a crown of twelve stars.” This is Jesus the Messianic King and his Queen Mother, Mary. Note what happens after the “ancient serpent” fails to conquer this man and woman: “Then the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.” Who are Mary’s children? They are Christians — “those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.”

Christ’s Church is meant to be gathered around Mother Mary. Before his Ascension, Jesus told the first Christians to “stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” And so, “when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together” beside Mary his Mother and the reconstituted Twelve Apostles in the room where the First Eucharist was celebrated. It was through Mary that the Holy Spirit had first begun to bring mankind into communion with Jesus Christ. So likewise (the Catechism of the Catholic Church observes) “she was present with the Twelve, who with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, at the dawn of the end time which the Spirit was to inaugurate on the morning of Pentecost with the manifestation of the Church.”

This is why the Monday after Pentecost is a very fitting day for us to celebrate Mary as Mother of the Church and why all Christians should come together as her spiritual children. Let Catholics be rejoice and Christians be reunited as one!

Mary, Mother of all Christians, pray for us!

Lingering Wounds — Divine Mercy Sunday—2nd Sunday of Easter

April 15, 2018

Of all the apostles, it could be said that St. Thomas’ faith took him the farthest. Likely tradition says Thomas traveled more than 2,000 miles from Israel to evangelize India. From the seeds of his ministry and martyrdom there, tens of millions of Indians are Christians today. Yet, he’s not known as “Traveling Thomas” or “Faithful, Fruitful Thomas,” but famously as “Doubting Thomas” because of these passages:

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

So why was Thomas so slow to believe? I would suggest three theories:

The first explanation would be that Thomas didn’t want it to be true. Many peoples’ lack of belief is due to an unwilling heart. They see no evidence for God because they have closed their eyes. If they were honest they would say, “I don’t want it to be true, because if it is then I’d have to change how I live my life.” Jesus says if we ask, we’ll receive; if we seek, we’ll find; and if we knock, the door will be opened to us. But this sort of person doesn’t ask because they don’t want good answers, they don’t seek because they’re afraid of what they’ll find, and they don’t knock because they don’t want to go in.

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” He knocks on the door of every human soul. But we can lock and block our door; with a big-screen TV of entertainment, or a bookshelf of learning, a trophy case of accomplishments, a heavy safe of accumulated wealth, or with several large-leafy plants so that a person may enjoy the beauty of creation while ignoring the Creator. If we insist upon self-centered ingratitude, the Lord will respect our freedom but we’ll be woefully unsatisfied forever.

But this is was not St. Thomas. He had sacrificed a lot to be Jesus’ apostle and had aspired to give him his all. On one occasion Jesus said, “Let us go back to Judea,” but the disciples replied, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” When Jesus insisted on going, “Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go to die with him.’” At the Last Supper, when Jesus said, “Where I am going you know the way,” Thomas replied, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” He was distressed because he loved Jesus and wanted to follow him anywhere. Thomas wanted the Resurrection to be true, but there was some other reason he wouldn’t or couldn’t believe.

A second theory for why Thomas was so slow to believe is that he was skeptically-minded. St. Thomas’ nickname, as you’ve heard it now a couple of times, was “Didymus.” In Greek, Didymus means “twin.” How was Thomas a twin? Scripture doesn’t say. Perhaps Thomas had a twin brother he had been mistaken for many times. In some icons of Jesus with his apostles, one of the apostles looks just like Jesus. Such art imagines that Thomas shared a twin likeness to the Lord. In either case, one could understand his initial skepticism about people seeing Jesus resurrected. “Nah. You guys saw somebody else.”

But Thomas has sufficient evidence to believe his friends. They are not claiming to have seen Jesus across the marketplace or walking through a field at dusk. (Neither Thomas nor we are expected to have blind faith, but to trust in trustworthy persons and things.) The other apostles are saying, “It’s true Thomas! He knew us, we saw his wounds!” Yet Thomas replies, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Why is Thomas so being obstinate?

The third (and I think most likely) explanation for why Thomas was so slow to believe in the Resurrection was that he hurt too much trust again. Who was Jesus to Thomas? He was Thomas’ hero, his admired teacher, his dearly beloved friend. Thomas thought Jesus would be the savior and messianic king of Israel, but Thomas’ great hope was murdered on Good Friday. Imagine Thomas’ prayer after experiencing that. “My God, how could you let this happen? He was innocent, he was so good! He was the best man I’ve ever known, and you let Him die! Why? How could do that to him? How could you do this to me?”

Jesus’ unexpected death broke Thomas’ heart, and perhaps having been so wounded once, he was resolved not to let his heart be taken-in again: ‘Unless I see the mark… put my finger in the nailmarks… put my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ Yet, though he doubts, notice where Thomas is one week after Easter. He’s with the other apostles in the upper room in Jerusalem, gathered behind locked doors for fear of those who killed Jesus. Now there are lots of other, safer places Thomas could have chosen to be. He could have returned to his hometown, back to the family and friends he left behind to follow Jesus a few years before. Though Thomas doubts, he does not leave this house of faith. He struggles with his questions, but he does not fully abandon Jesus. He seeks him here and because of it Thomas finds truth for his mind, healing for his heart, and peace for his soul.

The risen Lord appears in the upper room and how does Jesus respond to Thomas’ resistant unbelief? Not with anger. Not with condemnation. But with the same Divine Mercy we celebrate today. Jesus appears in their midst and says, “Peace be with you.” Then he says to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

Curiously, Jesus still bears some of the wounds from his Passion: in his hands, feet and side. The cuts and swollen bruises are gone from his face, for the disciples respond to him with rejoicing rather than pity or horror, but he retains some marks from the evils that afflicted him. Jesus could heal or cover them—he’s God—but he choose not to. They are his trophies, the means of his glory, how he saved the world.

Our wounds, our losses, the sins and evils we suffer, they can scandalize us like Thomas was after the Passion. But through these things Jesus would glorify us, help to save others, and transform us into his more perfect twin. Jesus, having experienced wounds of his own, can relate and heal you.

Like St. Thomas, this Divine Mercy Sunday, you are gathered in this upper room with Jesus’ disciples. If there is any great wound or uncertainly in you, I invite you to be open to encounter Jesus anew like St. Thomas. Dare to ask, dare to seek, dare to knock. Jesus is not only your Lord and your God, he’s good and his love is everlasting.

Our Lady of Zeitoun

April 3, 2018

A Fascinating Marian Apparition from Egypt

Fifty years ago this week, on the evening of April 2, 1968, a group of Muslim mechanics and drivers working across the street from Virgin Mary’s Coptic Church in Zeitoun, Egypt, saw a woman atop a dome of the church. Two other men also noticed the white figure on the top of the church and the matter was reported to the police. A crowd gathered on the site and interpreted the sighting as an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After a few minutes, the event ended. According to tradition, Zeitoun is on the route that the Holy Family took when fleeing King Herod’s efforts to murder the infant Jesus.

Our Lady of Zeitoun

One week later, on April 9, 1968, the phenomenon reoccurred, again lasting for only a few minutes. After that time apparitions became more frequent, sometimes two or three times a week, for several years, ending in 1971. The woman spoke no words, but moved about the church’s mysteriously illuminated domes. She would also face the people in the streets below and gesture warmly with her head or hands. Sometimes she was accompanied by luminous, dove-shaped bodies which moved about at high speeds. Muslims hold Mary in very high regard even though they deem Jesus to be merely a prophet of Islam. She was seen to kneel down before a cross on the church roof; significant, since Muslims deny Jesus’ crucifixion.

Pope (or Patriarch) Kyrillos VI, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, appointed a committee of high-ranking priests and bishops to investigate. On May 4, 1968, Kyrillos VI issued an official statement confirming and approving the apparition. These apparitions were witnessed by perhaps a million people, including President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and were documented by newspaper photographers and Egyptian television. Egyptian government officials concluded in 1968: “Official investigations have been carried out with the result that it has been considered an undeniable fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary has been appearing on Zeitoun Church in a clear and bright luminous body seen by all present in front of the church, whether Christians or Muslims.”

The Life & Works of Fr. Joe Walijewski

March 6, 2018

Five years ago this week, our own Bishop William Callahan announced the opening of the cause for the beatification and canonization of Father Joseph Walijewski, a priest of our diocese who lived from 1924 to 2006. On May 27th, a ceremony at our cathedral will mark the close of our diocese’s investigation into his life and the submission of his cause to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Father Joe was one of ten children born to poor Polish immigrant parents in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Growing up during the Great Depression, he pitched in to help the family survive by selling newspapers. He only spoke Polish at that time, but he knew he would have to learn English to be successful, and he did just that.

After finishing his Catholic schooling in Grand Rapids, he came to Wisconsin to attend seminary in Milwaukee. Like many young people, he struggled with his studies, but he set to his task of learning Latin, Greek, and his other courses. His superiors thought he lacked ability. In his own words, Fr. Joe recalled, “I was deficient in my studies but I remained determined.” The young seminarian promised the Lord to commit five years of his priesthood to working in the missions if he could pass his courses. La Crosse’s fourth bishop, Alexander McGavick, saw potential in the young man and welcomed him to join our diocese. On April 16, 1950, he was ordained in our cathedral in La Crosse by our fifth bishop, John Patrick Treacy.

As a young priest Fr. Joseph served in Mosinee, Thorp, and Stevens Point. He heard a talk by Bishop Luis Aníbal Rodríguez Pardo about the desperate needs of his people in Bolivia. When Fr. Joe asked Bishop Treacy if he could be a diocesan missionary there, the bishop told him to pray on it for a year and talk to him again. A year later, Fr. Joe was back. He departed for Santa Cruz in 1956.

Upon landing in Bolivia, Bishop Charles Brown literally handed Father Joe a machete. Together they hacked through the tropical grass beyond the outskirts of Santa Cruz. “Build a church here and the people will come and build their homes next to it,” the bishop said. Holy Cross Parish is today at the heart of a city of 1.2 million.

Always a humble servant of the Lord, Father Joe lived in a barn with the livestock as he built his first church. Lacking funds and skilled workers, the strength of the walls for that new church fell short. The walls came tumbling down—not once, but three times. Yet Father Joe did not lose heart. He told folks this was fitting for a church named Holy Cross fell, for Christ fell three times under the weight of His Cross. Fr. Al Wozniak – a priest with an engineering background – went to lend assistance and our diocese’s parish mission in Bolivia stands firmly today. After ten years in Bolivia, our sixth bishop, Fredrick Freking, recalled Fr. Joe back to Wisconsin in 1966. Father Joe then led parishes in Heffron, Almond, Buena Vista, and Thorp.

In 1970, an 7.9 magnitude earthquake shook Peru, triggering the world’s deadliest landslide. A wall of glacial ice and rock—more than a half-mile wide and a mile long—slid eleven miles at speeds topping 100 miles per hour. It completely buried two cities in its path, seriously damaged others, and killed more than 74,000 people. The avalanche wiped out electricity, communications, and roads making it difficult to provide relief and rebuild.

The archbishop of Lima, Peru appealed for Father Joe to help. Father went to Peru to pastor a new parish in a rapidly growing neighborhood on the outskirts of Lima. That community is Villa el Salvador, the “City of the Savior.” There were about 80,000 impoverished people there when Father Joe arrived. Peruvians flocked there hoping to find work, food, and to escape increasing terrorist violence. Father Joe built their first church and the population of this city grew to 900,000, keeping Father Joe busy. He directed the construction of eight additional chapels.

In the early chaos following the earthquake, terrorist groups wreaked havoc on the local people. They targeted those serving as religious and civic leaders for execution. Our Lord seemed to be watching over Father Joe. He spared his life once when Father Joe ran late for his regular visit to a village eight hours away. The delay saved him from being rounded up and executed with the mayor and two others in front of the frightened villagers. Another attack against Father Joe came when terrorists rigged his Massey Ferguson tractor with dynamite. After the charge failed to detonate, friends asked Father Joe about his physical safety. He replied, “I don’t worry about it, and tell God that, when it is time to go, just be sure to send someone else to keep this work going.”

St. John Paul the Great visited Lima in 1985. The Holy Father was already running behind on a very active schedule. Yet he broke away from his aides, looking at Father Joe, saying, “I want to talk to this priest.” Father Joe told him about the homeless children sleeping under newspapers in the streets. Before the pontiff left Peru, he gave the local cardinal a check for $50,000 to support the local ministry. From those seeds, in 1986, Father Joe opened an orphanage, Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II, the “House-home of John Paul II.” It has since welcomed hundreds of boys and girls needing security, family, and Christian love.

In 2000, Father Joe was granted senior-priest status, but he was not finished working. He opened a retirement home for the elderly and would drive deep into the rainforests to celebrate up to five Masses with the Ashiko Indians every Sunday. On April 11, 2006, after fifty-six years of ministry, Father Joseph Walijewski died in Lima, Peru at age 82. He is now buried in the Grotto of the Assumption of Our Lady, which he had built, on the hill overlooking his Casa Hogar orphanage.

Fr. Joe Walijewski meeting St. Pope John Paul II in 1986

 

Our Light Amid the Darkness

March 3, 2018

America, shaken and grieving unprecedented violence; divided by animosity and racial tensions; politicians seeking to remove the president through impeachment; these are descriptions of the United States 150 years ago.

While still reeling and mourning from the deaths of more than 600,000 Civil War combatants, there was fierce contention over how harshly the North should treat the vanquished South and what rights should be accorded to former slaves. The political polarization was so great that, this week in 1868, the president was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives. (Pres. Andrew Johnson would go on to remain in office, being acquitted in the U.S. Senate by a single-vote margin.) They were dark, troubled times in our country. Meanwhile, a new source of light was being lit among us from across the ocean.

On March 3, 1868, a decree of Pope Pius IX established two dioceses within the twenty-year-old state of Wisconsin: La Crosse and Green Bay. For the fifteen decades since, under the stewardship of ten bishops, our diocese has been advancing the Kingdom of Christ. We established churches, schools, and institutions. We proclaimed the Gospel and celebrated our living Faith. Great good was done and many souls were saved.

We can easily get discouraged by the evil we see in current events. But even amid tragedy and trials our great, fruitful, saving work goes on — often quietly and unnoticed. It has always been so. “For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:21)

The Diocese of La Crosse — Founded March 3, 1868

The Most Interesting Woman in the World

March 1, 2018

With a single word, she crushed a deadly serpent.

Pregnant just once, she has billions of children.

She ended the Soviet Union with her heart.

She is… The Most Interesting Woman in the World

For more than a decade, she held the title for
“The Best Thing to come from Nazareth.”

Her preexisting condition?
Sinlessness — The Lord ensured it.

She lost track of her 12-year-old for three days…
is still considered the world’s greatest mother.

She once redesigned a used garment
and it converted Mexico.

Her favorite nation?
Her coronation.
(But she loves your homeland, too.)

At over 2,000 years old,
she could still get carded buying wine,
though she never needs to.

I don’t always drink wine, but when I do, I prefer my Son’s.

Stay holy, my children.

 

 

Jesus is Asking you for a Date

February 1, 2018

Jesus is asking you for a date: it’s February 14th. This year, Ash Wednesday lands on St. Valentine’s Day. These two observances, seemingly opposite, are both in fact dedicated to love. Little is known with certainty about St. Valentine, the 3rd century martyr buried near Rome. According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, ‘the popular customs associated with Saint Valentine’s Day undoubtedly had their origin in a conventional belief generally received in England and France during the Middle Ages, that on February 14th (i.e., half way through the 2nd month of the year) the birds began to pair.’ Valentine’s Day is a celebration of eros, the romantic form of love that delights in loving the beloved. Ash Wednesday calls us to agape, the form of love that is willing to undergo sufferings for another’s good.

Jesus commands us to love: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. … You shall love your neighbor as yourself. … As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” We must give of ourselves to God and neighbor yet we can only give of what we possess; this means we must be able to say “no” to ourselves in order to give a fuller “yes” to others. Such self-mastery comes through asceticism. By disciplining our desires through mortification and penance we grow in our conversion and virtue. Internal and external acts of Christian self-denial are typically done privately, but Jesus Christ’s Church prescribes communal penances for the season of Lent.

All Catholics who are at least fourteen years old are to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, on Lent’s Fridays, and on Good Friday. Catholics at least eighteen years of age must also fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday until reaching their fifty-ninth birthday. What is “fasting?” Lenten fasting means eating just one full meal that day. Two additional smaller meals (less than one full meal when put together) are allowed if necessary, but snacking on solid foods between meals is not. Physically, mentally, or chronically ill persons, as well as pregnant or nursing mothers, are exempt from Lent’s fasting and meat abstinence rules. However, merely being in a dating relationship, engaged to someone, or married, does not.

There will be no fancy steak dinners for Catholics this Valentine’s Day. (Perhaps make romantic dinner reservations for February 13th or 15th instead – you’ll end up with an even better table.) Eros love and agape love can certainly complement each other. Jesus Christ delights in his Church as his beloved bride while also being prepared to greatly suffer and lay down his life for us. This Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, let us perfect our love for our beloveds through ascetic self-denial and elated gifts of self.

12 Reasons Why I Quit Attending Sporting Events

February 1, 2018

This week, about one-in-five Americans (67 million) will gather across the country to share in a great cultural event. Its marvelous mixture of camaraderie, action, music, and messages is an experience for all ages. Even if they might miss out this Sunday, about 51% of Americans (170 million) say they will check it out sometime this month. I’m not speaking of the Super Bowl, but of Christian church attendance.

I have wondered how much mid-twentieth century Catholicism, with its record high vocations and Mass attendance rates, were an aberration from the norm in our country. The percentage of Catholics who tell pollsters they’ve attended Mass in the past week has declined from its highs in the 1950’s. Yet the percentage of church-attending Americans is more than four times greater today than it was in 1776. Regardless, more Catholic Americans ought to be faithfully coming to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass without fail; for the praise and glory of God’s name, for their own good, and the good of all his Church.

Here are “12 Reasons Why I Quit Attending Sporting Events,” adapted from a post seen on the internet:

1. The coach never came to visit me.

2. Every time I went they asked me for money.

3. The people sitting in my row didn’t seem very friendly.

4. The seats were very hard.

5. The referees made a decision I didn’t agree with.

6. I was sitting with hypocrites—they only came to see what others were wearing!

7. Some games went into overtime and I was late getting home.

8. They played some songs I had never heard before.

9. The games are scheduled on my only day to sleep in and run errands.

10. My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.

11. I read a book on sports, so I feel that I know more than the coaches anyway.

12. I don’t want to take my children because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.