The Good Samaritan — 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

July 14, 2019

Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan is among his most famous and familiar. Yet, like Jesus Christ himself, it has still more to teach us. Today I will share contexts and symbolisms of this parable that you’ve probably never heard before.

Jesus’ story begins, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.” In Wisconsin, we talk about going up to Canada or going down to Madison; for us north is “up” and south is down. But in Israel, the city of Jericho lies fourteen miles east of Jerusalem. The man went down to Jericho because Jerusalem has a much higher elevation. Have you ever seen the Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower) in Chicago? Picture its height from street-level to the top of its two antennas; now imagine stacking another Sears Tower standing on top of those antennas. From top to bottom, that’s how much a traveler descends when going from Jerusalem to Jericho.

Jerusalem was the Holy City, the place of God’s dwelling. But Jericho, as you may recall, was the city which Joshua at God’s command marched the Hebrews around in a circle for seven days, before blowing their horns and shouting, causing its walls to collapse. They conquered the city which symbolizes sin, human fallenness, and rebellion from God. Jericho, incidentally, is not far from the Dead Sea, the shore of which is the lowest dry land on the surface of the earth—the furthest you can be from heaven above.

The robbers stripped and beat the man and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. In the same way, a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.” Who were these men? The Jewish priest would have offered sacrifices at the Temple while the Levite would have assisted there like a sacristan. Why did both men pass by ‘on the opposite side of the road’ as they walked in the direction of Jericho? Perhaps that they thought the motionless body on the shoulder of the road was already dead. Under the Law of Moses, touching a dead body made a person ritually unclean. Whether this was their reason, or they just did not care enough to be bothered, a third man comes along who is both willing and able to help.

A Samaritan traveler came upon him and was moved with compassion at the sight.” We know that Jews and Samaritans didn’t like each other, but why? Who were the Samaritans? Some five hundred years before the coming of Christ the Babylonians were the superpower of the ancient world. When the Jewish king decided he wasn’t going to pay tribute to Babylon anymore, the Babylonian king was not pleased. He sent his army, sieged Jerusalem, conquered it, and carried off the region’s inhabitants into what is called the Babylonian Exile. Not everyone was taken though; some of the poor laborers, the farmers and vine-dressers, were left behind. To ensure that this Jewish remnant did not rebel again, and to make sure the good land did not go idle, the Babylonians resettled the people of five pagan nations among them.

Seventy years after this catastrophe, after the Babylonians themselves were conquered by the Persian Empire, the king of Persia gave the Jews permission to return to their homeland. When they arrived they found that those who had been left behind had intermarried with the pagans and adopted some of their religious practices. The Jews looked down on these people, these Samaritans, as unfaithful to the Lord. It’s no mere coincidence that the Samaritan Woman at the Well with whom Jesus speaks in John’s Gospel has had five husbands—just like the five resettled pagan nations. This real woman symbolizes her people, with whom Jesus desires to be reconciled and whom he wants to save.

Jesus’ chosen hero for this parable, the Good Samaritan, “approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the scholar of the law (and us) to be like “the one who treated him with mercy.” That’s a very important, famous, and familiar lesson, but there is symbolism within this parable which teaches even more.
The man who fell to the robbers represents our human race. Traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, we were descending from the height of communion with God to the depths of sin. We fell to robbers, to evil spirits and wicked desire. They stripped us naked, depriving us of our previous glory. They beat us and left us half-dead; biologically we were still living, but spiritually we were dead. No one could or would help us. But then our Good Samaritan came – Jesus Christ.

He looked upon us and was moved with compassion. He approached us and poured His blood over us, like wine, to cleanse the wounds of sin. He poured the Holy Spirit on us, like oil, to strengthen us. He bandaged our members with his teachings; and though these disciplines bind us they are for the freedom of full health. He lifted us up on his beast of burden, his own flesh in the Passion, to bring us to the inn. This inn, where the robbers’ victim is cared for until he comes again, is the Church.

You and I are represented by the robbers’ victim brought into the inn for care. But you and I are also represented by the inn-keeper, for we are likewise called to care for others. The Good Samaritan provides two coins to the inn-keeper along with an instruction and a promise: “Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.” In the parable, these are two coins are Roman silver denarii, equal to two day’s wages. Jesus provides for our mission to serve him and our neighbor, for today and for tomorrow, and whatever we expend in time, talent, or treasure in his inn, the Church, will have his divine repayment.

In light of this great parable, ask Jesus to show you your neighbor, who he has entrusted to your care, then “Go and do likewise.” The command which he ‘enjoins on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. …No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.’ You shall love the Lord your God supremely, and love your neighbor as yourself.

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The Great Carpenter — Funeral for James “Jim” Rogge, 55

July 10, 2019

St. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that St. Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus, was a carpenter or craftsman by occupation. He supported his family, both wife and child, as a carpenter, a woodworker, or perhaps a mason, and a builder. And, as his son grew older, Joseph taught him his trade. We read in St. Mark’s Gospel that when Jesus returned to preach in his hometown, the people of Nazareth asked, “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” Odds are that Jesus the Nazarene was personally well-familiar with the work of preparing timber for his uses.

Every log comes to be from a once-living tree, from a natural canopy or tent of foliage over the earth. But every round log to become fit for the craftsman’s purpose, such as to become a portion of his dwelling place, must be transformed from its original, natural, unfinished state. Before the advent of modern sawmills, this difficult task was done up-close, by hand. First, the rough, brittle, dead bark must be stripped away. In life, this bark served as a protective layer against our imperfect, trial-some world, but in this stripping process this layer is removed and discarded into the craftsman’s fire. From there, the log of wood is hewn (perhaps flattened, notched, or whittled down) to fit its intended purpose. When the carpenter desires to erect a building, each piece, each log or plank, is made to fit with its neighbors, so that the builder’s structure may stand solidly and harmoniously as one. And the greater the carpenter the greater the perfection they desire in their work.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is a carpenter. He is the greatest carpenter. And his work material is the wood of humanity; that is, you, and me, and Jim. The Lord would shape us as he has done with others since ancient times: laboring personally, up-close. As King David said in the psalm: “He guides me in right paths for his name sake. I fear no evil; for you are at my side.” But we build up layers of bark against him and the world, because we’re afraid to trust or we love our faults, yet Jesus doesn’t give up. Our rough, brittle, dead bark must be stripped away, in this life or hereafter.

We must allow Jesus to befriend us – it is supremely important that we befriend him – for as Daniel writes in our first reading and St. Paul in our second, a resurrection and a judgment awaits us all. But if we do befriend the Lord, “we know that [when] our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in Heaven.” As St. Paul told the Ephesians, “Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

You probably know of Jim’s faith in Jesus, of his strengths and his weaknesses. Pray for him, that he may be hewn and perfectly fitted with our brothers and sisters in Heaven. And today at this altar, renew your commitment to Christ, so that we and he may remain in the house of the Lord, the master craftsman, forever.

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

July 8, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mass Apparitions of Our Lord

June 26, 2019

So there’s Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Knock, Our Lady of Fatima, and Our Lady of lots of places. Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Our Lady of Good Help, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Victory, Our Lady of Grace, Our Lady of Peace, and Our Lady of lots of other good things, too. When I was a kid, I didn’t realize that all these ladies were the same lady. But eventually I figured out that these were all titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary. With that confusion cleared up, I went on to wonder why there seems to be so many apparitions of Mother Mary throughout Church history and so few of her Son, Jesus Christ.

Sure, there are famous exceptions. In the 18th century, Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque to invite devotion to his Sacred Heart. The month of June is now dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And in the 20th century, St. Faustina Kowalska had visions of Jesus encouraging devotion to his Divine Mercy. As a result, the first Sunday after Easter is celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday. But it’s usually Mary who we hear about appearing here or there around the world, encouraging people to repent, to listen to her Son’s words, and be saved.

So I wondered, “Why aren’t there more apparitions of Jesus in the world?” Eventually I figured out the reason: there’s an apparition of Jesus Christ at every Holy Mass. At every Mass, Jesus’ words are proclaimed. At every Mass, he works a miracle for us. At every Mass, his Real Presence come to us by the Eucharist. Compared to how frequently Jesus appears before us at Mass, Marian apparitions are the rarity.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus multiplies five loaves and two fish to feed more than five thousand people (and that’s just counting the men.) He has them sit in groups of about fifty, blesses and breaks the food, and hands it to his disciples to serve the people. They all eat and are satisfied, and the leftovers are more than Jesus had started with. The day after this amazing event (a miracle recounted by all four Gospels) St. John tells us that Jesus was in Capernaum, teaching in the synagogue about the Bread of Life:

I am the bread of life,” he said, “whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” At this the Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” And Jesus replied, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. …My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. …The one who feeds on me will have life because of me. …Whoever eats this bread will live forever.

The crowds were perplexed by this teaching and St. John notes that after this many of Jesus disciples left and no longer followed him. But Jesus doesn’t chase them down saying, “Come back, you misunderstood, I was only using a figure of speech.” Instead, he turns to his apostles and asks, “Do you also want to leave?” St. Peter, not understanding but trusting, replies, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” After the Last Supper, recounted by St. Paul in today’s second reading, the Early Church understood Jesus’ teaching. Multiplying five loaves into enough bread to feed thousands is a miracle, but Jesus’ far greater miracle is feeding the world with bread transformed into himself.

If someone asked you, “Are you an object? Are you a thing?” how would you answer? If someone asked me if I was an object, I’d say that I do have many qualities and traits of an object; I have size, and shape, and color, and weight. But an object or a thing can be bought or sold, used and discarded, held cheaply and treated cheaply. You and I are not merely objects or things, but persons; persons meant to be loved and to recognized as worthy of love. So much about our devotion is set right when we recognize that the Holy Eucharist is not merely an object but a person.

When we dress up for Sunday Mass, we dress up for him. When we sing as Mass, we’re singing for him. Unlike Judas, who took the morsel and left the Last Supper before it was over, we remain until the end of Mass because he is here. Sunday Mass in not merely an obligation, but an opportunity for encounter with him. And when we visit him (on Sundays, or at a weekday Mass, or just stopping by the church) he is please that we are here. In love, Jesus offers us a communion with himself through the Eucharist more intimate and profound than that shared by spouses. Our Eucharistic Lord wants us to behold him, recognize him, and rejoice to receive him. So, if a Christian ever asks you, “Have you personally received Jesus?” you can answer, “Yes, in my hand, on my tongue, into my body and blood, in my soul and in my heart, through the Most Holy Eucharist, which is his very self.

Princess Grace (née Kelly) of Monaco receives
the Holy Eucharist at her 1956 nuptial Mass

 

The Good Father

June 26, 2019

How do we know about the Most Holy Trinity? Humanity learned of the it late in history, but the Trinity existed before the universe began. In retrospect, Christians can read the Old Testament and see the truth of the one true God being one God in three Divine Persons hinted at, but this eternal reality was only clearly revealed to us through Jesus Christ.

Some people, past and present, have claimed that Jesus was not divine – that he was just a man, or an angel, or something else more exulted than us but less than God. But this is not what the Early Church believed. Prologue of St. John’s Gospel proclaims: “the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh.” (That’s Jesus Christ.) And when St. Thomas sees Jesus resurrected and exclaims: “My Lord and my God!” Jesus does not correct him for idolatry, because Jesus is truly God.

Others, past and present, have held that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are just one person, God, who manifests himself in different modes, like an actor who puts on masks to play different parts. But in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” If Jesus and the Father are the same person, then who is Jesus talking to? The Father and the Son are distinct persons who know and love each other.

Others people have said, simplifying the mystery, that the three persons of the Trinity are three Gods. But God had instilled Monotheism, the belief that there is only one God, deeply into his Jewish people: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” And the earliest Christians, all of them Jews, believed this as well. For example, in his New Testament letter, St. James writes, “You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.” The oneness of God is treated as a given, while at the same time the Church confessed that “Jesus Christ (the Son of God) is Lord.” Jesus said, “I and the Father are one,” and “whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

This year, Holy Trinity Sunday lands upon Father’s Day weekend. God the Father is the origin and paragon of fatherhood. So let’s explore what Jesus reveals to us about God the Father and what fathers are called to be.

The Good Father has Authority, but is he not Unapproachable
In the Garden, Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” Jesus submits to his “Abba, Father’s” plan. And his use of the word “Abba” is a big deal. As St. John Paul the Great observed, “An Israelite would not have used [“Abba” to address God] even in prayer. Only one who regarded himself as Son of God in the proper sense of the word could have spoken thus of him and to him as Father – Abba, or my Father, Daddy, Papa!” We are encouraged by Scripture and the Holy Spirit to be this familiar with the Father as well, calling God our “Abba” too.

The Good Father Listens
Outside the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me…” God always hears our words to him; be they words of Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, or Supplication, or just our telling him about our day.

The Good Father Cares and Provides
Jesus said, “The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to him.” “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Though when we ask for something he may answer with a “not yet,” or by fulfilling our longing in a better way than we had thought of, the Father always cares, listens, and provides.

The Good Father Encourages
At Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, the Father declared from Heaven, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And on Mt. Tabor, at Jesus’ Transfiguration, the Father spoke from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” Imagine how it must have felt for Jesus to hear his Father profess his love for him and pleasure in him. Our words are powerful for one another. Let us strive, with the Holy Spirit’s help, to make our compliments and praises outnumber our criticisms and complaints.

The Good Father Teaches through his Word and Example
Jesus said, “the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.” “Amen, amen, I say to you, a son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his father doing; for what he does, his son will also do.” The influence a father can have is reflected by a large, 1990’s Swiss study which found that the religious practice of a father is what most determines the future attendance of his children at church. It found that if a father is non-practicing and the mother is a regular churchgoer, only 2% of their children will go on to become regular worshipers while over 60% of such children will be lost completely to the church. However, if the father is a regular churchgoer while the mother is non-practicing, 44% of these children grow up to become regular churchgoers too – more than twenty-fold impact! Such is the importance and influence of a father’s example.

And finally, the Good Father Loves his Child’s Mother
At the Visitation, filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth declared to Mary, “Most blessed are you among women,” and Mary rejoiced, “From this day all generations will call me blessed. The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” It has been rightly said that the best way for a father to love his children is to dearly love their mother.

Some of us have had very good dad, while for some of us our fathers were very far from perfect. There is a cultural crisis with fatherhood today; we see its effects in our country’s schools and in our country’s prisons. Gentlemen, take our heavenly Father as your model. And if you’re ever unsure of how to resemble our Father, look at His son, for St. Paul calls him “the image of the invisible God.” May God bless all our fathers, living or passed on, and may God help all of us here who are fathers to become better ones.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

June 11, 2019

If you ask people what the Solemnity of Pentecost is about, most will say “the sending of the Holy Spirit.” But Pentecost was not the first time the Holy Spirit had been active in human history.

On Easter Sunday evening, Jesus appeared the Apostles in the Upper Room – although the doors were locked. He said, “Peace be with you,” and showed them his hands and his side. Then Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit…” Earlier in the Gospels, at the Annunciation, Mary asked the archangel how the Messiah, the Christ, would be conceived in her; and Gabriel replied it would be a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. And then soon after, at the Visitation, her relative Elizabeth, with the little John the Baptist within her, was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” moving Elizabeth to joyfully exclaim the hidden knowledge: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” And the Holy Spirit worked in more than just the time of the Gospels. The Nicene Creed says the Holy Spirit “has spoken through the prophets.” He inspired all the books of both the Old and New Testaments.

So what was different about Pentecost? Before answering that, let’s review what happened. On that day, the Holy Spirit descended to the sound of strong, driving wind and in the appearance of flames, which separated and came to rest upon each of the gathered disciples without doing them any harm.

They were moved to voice ecstatic praises glorifying God and the Holy Spirit gave them the power to speak in different languages they did not naturally know to address Jews visiting from many lands of the then-known world. These devout Jews were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the annual Jewish feast of Pentecost, their feast of first fruits celebrating the new harvest from the earth. Similarly, the first Christian Pentecost was the disciples’ first abundant harvest of souls into Christ’s Kingdom.

The Holy Spirit not only gave the disciples the capacity to speak but embed them with courage to bear witness to Christ. Previously, they had hidden behind locked doors. Now they spoke openly in the streets. Peter, who during the Passion had denied Jesus three times out of fear, is inspired this day to begin preaching the Gospel to total strangers. “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about 3,000 persons were added that day.”

On Pentecost, the curse of Babel is reversed. In the Genesis story of Babel, people tried to reach Heaven by building a towering city apart from God. God confused their language as a kindness, to limit the evil they could do. But at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is building and populating the city of God, the Church, gathering them to God with this miracle of all languages united as one. Indeed his Church is catholic, that is universal, for every land and people, tribe and tongue.

So, returning to the previous question, what is different about Pentecost? Notice that these gifts of the Holy Spirit were given to each of the disciples gathered in the house; not only the Blessed Virgin full of grace, not just the Apostles—the first leaders of the Church, but each and every one of the roughly one hundred and twenty Christians gathered together there. The Holy Spirit was not acting in the world for the first time at Pentecost; nor was his presence and gifts meant for only for the most famous saints in the Early Church. The Holy Spirit’s activity continues in the Church today, not only within a favored few but in all of us in Christ.

As St. Augustine preached: “What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church.” In a living human body, all the parts of the body are joined to each other and joined to their supremely important head. Without the head, the body dies. Without the soul, the body is lifeless. We are the Body of Christ, Jesus is our exalted Head, and the Holy Spirit—the Soul of the Church—animates the body and every living part of it.

You and I first received the Holy Spirit at our baptisms, probably at an age earlier than we can remember. (I wish I had the time and opportunity to ask people baptized as adults to describe the difference having the Holy Spirit in their life has had.) We were more deeply configured to the Holy Spirit at our confirmations. (After my confirmation at Zorn Arena in Eau Claire, as my family and I were driving to a restaurant, I remember feeling particularly happy and wondering why. Then I remembered, “Oh yeah, the Holy Spirit.” Joy is one of his fruits.) The Holy Spirit was not new at Pentecost but he outpoured amazing gifts into all the Christians. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is not new in you, but he desires to outpour himself to you with his gifts anew.

How can this happen for us? Simply by asking and inviting him. Jesus tells us, “Everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” In those days, a round, baked, loaf of bread could resemble a brown stone, so Jesus adds, “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread? If you, who are wicked (who are sinful), know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in Heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” Ask for the Holy Spirit to empower you.

Try some experiments with the Holy Spirit. For instance, invite him into your prayer times. Anyone committed to regular prayer will have times of dryness, listlessness, lack of direction. St. Paul writes to the Romans that the Holy Spirit “comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes…” At dry times in prayer, when I remember to ask the Holy Spirit for help, my prayer immediately becomes easier.

Invite the Holy Spirit to inspire your work. Though I care a great deal about writing good homilies, most Friday nights I don’t know what I will be preaching on Saturday afternoon. I think the Lord does this to improve my trust. After ten years of priesthood, he has never left me high and dry without anything to preach for Sunday.

And ask for the Holy Spirit’s aid in your interactions with others. I ask for his help in confessions or before challenging conversations. Now I share these examples because they are examples from my life, but don’t think that the Holy Spirit only comes to our air with church-y things. He wants to be present, to share his gifts in your everyday life, because this is where souls are lost and won for the Kingdom of God.

About a dozen years ago, I was lying on my bed one afternoon praying to the Holy Spirit rather apologetically. I said, ‘Holy Spirit, you are like the forgotten and ignored third Person of the Trinity. You’re just as much God as the Father and the Son, but we address many more prayers to them than you; and when we do pray to you it’s because we want something, but you’re more than just some divine vending machine.” Then I heard in my mind these words: “I am gift.”

Now whenever you receive a word in prayer it’s good to verify it against the truths that you know. So I thought, “Let’s see if this checks out.” From all eternity, God the Father gives all that he is to God the Son, and the Son gives himself back as a total gift to the Father. From this exchange of self-gift and love, God the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds. The Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit to earth as a gift to sanctify and transform us so we can join the life of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit rejoices to be gift. It is who he is. And when we ask for his gifts we are implicitly welcoming for his presence; for how could his gifts be manifested where he is not?

So conduct some experiments with the Holy Spirit. Invite him, and ask that his gifts be manifested in you. He is happy to give.

Jesus’ Mediated Miracles

May 30, 2019

Icon of the Wedding Feast of Cana
Most miracles in the Gospel of John share a common trait: Jesus works great deeds but in a somewhat withdrawn manner. There’s usually some degree of distance between the Lord and his miracles in John’s Gospel. Let me show you what I mean with several examples:

  • In the second chapter of John, at the wedding feast of Cana, Jesus does not fetch water from the well or hold his hands over the water jars to change their water into wine. Jesus instructs the servers what to do and his miracle is accomplished through their cooperating efforts.
  • Later at Cana, in John chapter four, a royal official whose son is gravely ill begs the Lord to come to Capernaum some twenty miles away and heal him: “Sir, come down before my child dies.” After a dialogue Jesus replies, “You may go; your son will live.” The father believes him and leaves. The next day, on his way home, the royal official’s servants meet him and share good news about his son: “The fever left him yesterday, about one in the afternoon.” And the father realizes that was the hour that Jesus had said “your son will live,” curing him at a distance.
  • In the next chapter, at the pool called Bethesda in Jerusalem, Jesus meets a man who has been ill for thirty-eight years. Jesus says to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” The Lord makes no physical contact with him, he simply says the word. And immediately the man becomes well, takes up his mat, and walks.
  • In John’s ninth chapter, Jesus encounters a man blind from birth. Jesus bends down, makes a paste of dirt and spittle, and smears it on the blind man’s eyes. The blind man is touched by Jesus but does not immediately see. Jesus tells him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam.” The man goes there and washes his eyes, but Jesus is not present when the man sees for the first time.
  • In John eleven, Jesus’ beloved friend Lazarus dies and the Lord journeys to the tomb. He tells others to roll away the stone and does not go inside. Instead, Jesus commands, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus comes out by himself, wrapped head to foot in burial cloths. Then Jesus directs others to “untie him and let him go.”
  • Finally, in the last chapter of John, Jesus works a post-Resurrection miracle from a distance for seven disciples fishing on the sea of Galilee. Jesus is on the shore, about a hundred yards away from Peter, John, and the others in the boat. He asks, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answer, “No.” He tells them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” So they cast the net and are not able to pull it back in because of the great number of fish they catch. Jesus was not in the boat with them, but he guides his disciples’ efforts and make them miraculously fruitful.

Why do the miracles of John’s Gospel share this theme of Jesus working once removed? (John observes in closing, “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.” So this Gospel’s miracles have been curated, chosen over others.) Of the four Gospels, John’s was written last. By this stage in the late first century, the majority of Christian believers had never seen Jesus walking the earth and St. John was likely the last of the living Apostles. Perhaps they sensed that John too would soon pass on, which would lead to Christians questioning in their hearts, “What is our remaining connection to Christ?” John’s Gospel reassures its readers (then and now) that though Jesus is visibly removed from our eyes his power remains active among us.

In his Last Supper Discourse, Jesus says, “I am going away and I will come back to you.” (This speaks to Jesus’ death and Resurrection but also his Ascension and Second Coming.) “If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father…. I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. …Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.

Why didn’t Jesus stay? Surely he can do what his saints can do and numerous saints have manifested the power of bi-location (being at two places at the same time.) In the twentieth century, St. Padre Pio is reported to have bi-located repeatedly; to celebrate Mass, hear confessions, visit a deathbed, and other things. The seventeenth century nun Venerable Mary of Ágreda is well-documented as having evangelized Native Americans in the American Southwest without leaving her Spanish convent. She instructed Jumano tribe members where to travel to find Franciscan missionaries for sacraments, affirmed under oath to Church investigators in Spain that she was bi-locating, and possessed inexplicable first-hand knowledge of the New World. If his saints can bi-locate, why couldn’t Jesus multi-locate on earth? He already does this in a veiled way in the Holy Eucharist; he is truly present (Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity) living in every tabernacle in every Catholic Church. So why not be visibly present in this world throughout the centuries? Jesus could be the pastor of every parish, the teacher in every classroom, the doctor in every hospital, and the leader for every country. Wouldn’t he do a better job than us?

This is why it was better for us for Jesus to ascend. We are called to be children of God; daughter or sons of the Father, and brothers or sisters of Christ. We must be childlike to enter the Kingdom but we are not to be childish. We must rely on the Lord, for apart from him we can do nothing, but he desires us to become reliable as well. If everything of importance were solely Jesus’ job how would we grow out of immaturity. How would we mature into the full likeness of Jesus Christ? Jesus desires to work through us, and with us, and in us so that we may share fully in his glory. This is the work of love for God and neighbor and it is vitally important; it’s important for your soul, it’s important for the salvation of others, and important to God.

The Church Father, St. Jerome, living in the late 300’s A.D., leaves us this extra-biblical story about St. John the Apostle:

The blessed John the Evangelist lived in Ephesus until extreme old age. His disciples could barely carry him to church and he could not muster the voice to speak many words. During individual gatherings he usually said nothing but, “Little children, love one another.” The disciples and brothers in attendance, annoyed because they always heard the same words, finally said, “Teacher, why do you always say this?” He replied with a line worthy of John: “Because it is the Lord’s commandment and if it alone is kept, it is sufficient.”

This work of love in Christ is important for our souls and the salvation of others; it is the mission entrusted to us by the Lord so that we may share fully in his glory.

Stories of Glory

May 22, 2019

Readings for the 6th Sunday of Easter – Year C

Liberty Films was an independent motion picture production company founded in 1945. They only produced two films before dissolving six years later. Their first film, released in 1946, was the story of a depressed loan officer in upstate New York who is contemplating ending his own life. The critical reviews to the movie were mixed. It had good stars and did rather well at the box office, but not well enough to recoup its production costs and show a profit. It won no Academy Awards except for one in Technical Achievement; for developing a better way to simulate falling snow on a movie set. The co-founder of the company and director of the picture would go on to consider this his favorite film, screening it towards the end of every year for his family. However, he said that creating Liberty Films had proven virtually fatal to his professional career.

After Liberty Films folded up, the ownership of rights to the film changed hands from one media company to the next. I suspect the movie would have been largely forgotten today, if not for a providential oversight. You see the Copyright Act of 1909 granted copyright protection to original creative works for twenty-eight years. This copyright protection could be renewed for an additional twenty-eight years by filing out some paperwork and paying a nominal fee. However, the new owners of the film neglected to renew its 1946 copyright, so the film automatically entered the public domain. As a result, from 1974 until 1993 (when other laws came into play) anyone and everyone was free to copy, sell, or broadcast the film without paying any royalties to anyone. TV stations showed it repeatedly during the Christmas season, more than one hundred distributors sold it on tapes, and the film became immensely popular. I would bet you’ve seen this wonderful film yourself. Today it is considered one of the greatest movies ever made, and rightly so. The name of its main character, the loan officer in upstate New York, who is persuaded by an angel not to end his own life, is George Bailey, and the film is Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

In our Gospel, Jesus says: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” And throughout “It’s a Wonderful Life,” we see George Bailey denying himself out of love for others. He gives up his dreams of going to college, of becoming a rich and famous architect, in order to keep his late father’s Savings & Loan open. He gives up his around-the-world honeymoon vacation to save Bedford Falls’ Savings & Loan again to protect the community from the wicked Mr. Potter. He is willing to suffer in place of another when old Uncle Billy loses track of the Savings & Loan’s $8,000 cash deposit. George, the good man, goes through many trials. As Paul and Barnabas tell us in our first reading: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

In our Gospel, when Judas had left the the Upper Room and the Last Supper to go and arrange Jesus’ arrest, our Lord said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once.” Remember: Jesus was about to suffer crucifixion and death, but also be raised again. Similarly, in “It’s a Wonderful Life” we find George Bailey at his lowest point; he’s worse than sick, he’s discouraged, on the edge of abandoning all hope. But Clarence the angel shows him all the positive difference that his life has meant, and the dark despair surrounding George is lifted. As our second reading tells us, one day God “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order [will have] passed away.” After glimpsing a world in which he was never born, George realizes how very blessed he is. He still thinks he’ll be going to prison, but he’s overjoyed to have his life, his wife, and his children back. “Behold,” says the Lord, “I make all things new.” When George’s many friends come to his house and come to his aid – donating to cancel out his debt – the long-suffering Mr. Bailey realizes that he’s actually the richest man in town.

Our psalm says, “Let all your works give you thanks, O Lord, and let your faithful ones bless you. Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might.” This is what I have been discussing, for God’s might and glory in his Kingdom are manifested in ways we might not expect. The Roman Catholic Frank Capra was inspired to make “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and it was his subsequent business failure which allowed this work to become recognized and celebrated as one of the most beautiful stories on film. The character George Bailey’s darkest night led him, with heavenly help, to more clearly see the light. Jesus’ Passion and death proved to be the means of Our Lord’s glory. And so it is our life’s trials. What we give and endure for love of God and others, which will prove to be the means of our greatest glory as well.

True Witnesses to the Resurrection

April 23, 2019

“[S]ome of the [tomb] guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had happened. The chief priests assembled with the elders and took counsel; then they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep.” And if this gets to the ears of the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has circulated among the Jews to the present day.”

—The Gospel according to St. Matthew 28:11-15

When I was a grade-schooler, a classmate told me, “Did you know, if you dream that you’re falling and you hit the ground in your dream, you’ll die in real life?” I was astounded and the idea stuck with me. But upon later reflection, I realized the suggestion was nonsense. If someone had died in their sleep because they fell to the ground in a dream, how would anyone find out what they had been dreaming about? The tomb guards’ cover story likewise makes no sense. If they had been sound asleep, how could they identify who (if anyone) had stolen the body?

For the sake of argument, let’s suppose Jesus’ disciples stole his dead body from the tomb. Then the Apostles would know for a fact that the stories they told of interacting with the resurrected Jesus were lies. Church history reports that ten out of the eleven faithful Apostles would go on to die bloody, martyrs’ deaths. Now someone might die for what they mistakenly believe to be true, but who would knowingly die for a lie?

So let’s suppose instead – again for the sake of argument – that the early Christians lied about the Apostles. But if the Gospel writers had been liars they would have spun their tales differently. The Apostles, the founding father-leaders of this new Christian Church, are not presented flatteringly but with their warts and all. They repeatedly misunderstand Jesus’ teachings, squabble for place and prestige, fall asleep in the garden and then desert their Lord when trouble arrives, and even after the Resurrection they are slow to accept it. A liar would neither invent nor include the story of St. Peter repeatedly denying Christ, but all four Gospel writers did. And who is presented as the first eyewitnesses to Easter morning’s miracle? Various women — in an era where neither Roman nor Jewish courts accepted the testimony of females. Liars would have fabricated more culturally acceptable witnesses, but the Gospels record the story of the Resurrection this way because that is how it really happened.

The Apostles were willing to boldly preach across an empire that had murdered their master, for no notable earthly benefit, until they got killed for it. We might have expected them to lay low, leave town, and go back to full-time fishing, yet these self-admittedly imperfect men were transformed after Easter. They became unafraid of death because they had truly witnessed, seen and touched, Jesus Christ alive from the dead. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! And this eyewitness testimony has circulated among the nations to this present day.

A Testing By Fire

April 17, 2019

Jesus teaches, “There will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. … I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” I suspect the world’s heartbroken reaction to seeing Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral ablaze resembles how the angels in Heaven mourn the loss of one soul.

On the day of the fire, many feared that this 12th century church honoring “Our Lady,” which took 182 years to build, was no more. But thankfully, the destruction appears limited to its massive oak beam roof. Its tall limestone walls and celebrated stained-glass windows reportedly survived with minor damage. The great cathedral will be resurrected, yet this event should be a wake-up call, a reminder that the most precious of things can be neglected and lost forever.

It is right and good that buildings for the worship of God should be strikingly beautiful. John’s Gospel recalls how less than a week before Jesus’ Passion, Judas Iscariot criticized Mary of Bethany for wasting wealth; using an expensive, fragrant ointment to adore Jesus rather than help the poor. But Christians are called to both – with our worship inspiring and guiding our charity – and no time in history has been wealthier to do both than ours. Notre Dame Cathedral, even now amid ashes and debris, draws souls to closer God. In this is its true value.

In itself, though great in age or size, a church is a less precious thing than its visitors. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “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.” The famous author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe adds, “All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.” Our own choices help lead ourselves in one direction or the other, too.

Many will come to church for Easter this Sunday and that is well, but we must do more. Our faith in Jesus Christ must be our life’s foundation and, as St. Paul says, “each one must be careful how he builds upon it… If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day [of Judgment] will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each one’s work.” As the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “our God is a consuming fire.” A trial by fire came to France’s great cathedral and, by the grace of God worthy of our praise, it survived. “In just the same way,” Jesus says of souls, “it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” So let us carefully consider what is truly precious and what we value, what we have been choosing and what we will choose now beyond this Easter morning.

Lessons from the Sins of Simon Peter & Judas

April 9, 2019

After arresting [Jesus] they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest; Peter was following at a distance. They lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter sat down with them. … About an hour later, still another insisted, “Assuredly, this man too was with him, for he also is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “My friend, I do not know what you are talking about.” Just as he was saying this, the cock crowed, and the Lord turned and looked at Peter, and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” He went out and began to weep bitterly.

– Luke 22:54-55,59-62

This threefold denial by Simon Peter was perhaps the most regretted moment of his life. He denied even knowing Jesus Christ, his teacher, friend, Lord, and God. How humble Peter was to share this story with the Early Church and how wonderful that the Holy Spirit inspired its inclusion in the Gospels! He shows us the fallen can get back up, wanderers can return, sinners can be forgiven, and even those who gravely sin can go on to become the greatest saints.

Jesus would go on to rehabilitate Peter after the Resurrection, alongside another charcoal fire by the Sea of Galilee. Mirroring the three denials, Jesus asks three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon Peter replies, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” and Jesus reinstates him as shepherd of his sheep and lambs. The Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Confession) is likewise a personal encounter with Jesus Christ where we re-profess our love for God and receive his restoring forgiveness through the ministry of his ordained priest.

Though Simon Peter’s sins were forgiven they were not without loss and opportunities squandered. During the Passion, as they led Jesus away, “they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus.” If Simon Peter had not sinned in denying Christ the night before he could have been there, ready and willing to get behind his Lord, pick up Jesus’ cross and follow him. How beautiful that would have been! But this opportunity fell to another Simon.

Thanks be to God, St. Peter went on to repent. He did not give up to despair like Judas Iscariot. When Judas saw Jesus condemned and on his way to execution he deeply regretted what he had done. (One theory for why Judas had sold Jesus out is he wanted to trigger a confrontation with the leaders of Israel which would force Jesus to wield his mighty powers and take the throne.) Judas tried to return the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and elders saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” They answered, “What is that to us? Look to it yourself.” Flinging the money into the temple, Judas departed and went off and hanged himself.

What if instead, on Good Friday afternoon, Judas had immediately ran to Calvary Hill? What if he had thrown himself down before Christ hanging on the Cross and begged his forgiveness? What would Jesus have said? What would Jesus have done? I think we already know the answer, or could pretty closely guess. Jesus would have forgiven Judas.

So come to Jesus in sacramental Confession. Come sooner rather than later and more than just once or twice a year. And, once wonderfully absolved, resolve and strive to sin no more. Though sins can be forgiven, we see that every sin or delayed conversion entails some loss, an opportunity missed.

When Was Easter?

March 30, 2019

Easter Sunday is April 21st this year, but other years it can fall anywhere between March 21st and April 25th. The date of Easter moves around the calendar because we celebrate it on the first Sunday, after the first full moon, on or after our first day of spring. In this, the Church echoes how the ancient, Jewish feast day of Passover was determined. Which raises a question: what’s the historical date of the very first Easter?

By pairing the four Gospels with other historical records we can narrow down the first Easter’s exact date. Jesus began his ministry after John the Baptist’s, which Luke reports began “in the fifteenth year of the reign of [the Roman Emperor] Tiberius Caesar,” or 29 AD. The Roman governor Pontius Pilate who condemned Jesus to death ruled Judea from 26 to 36 AD. We also know Jesus was crucified on a Friday the day before a Passover. There were only two such dates between 29 and 36 AD (namely, in 30 and 33 AD.) Finally, John’s Gospel notes three distinct Passovers (a timespan of at least two years) during the ministry of Jesus, which rules out 30 AD as too early to be Easter. Therefore, we can precisely pinpoint several of Christianity’s most important historic dates:

  • Holy Thursday – April 2nd, 33 AD – The Last Supper & beginning of the Passion
  • Good Friday – April 3rd, 33 AD – Jesus Passion, Crucifixion at noon, & Death at 3 p.m.
  • Easter Sunday – April 5th, 33 AD – Jesus’ Resurrection in early morning
  • Pentecost Sunday – May 24th, 33 AD – Descent of the Holy Spirit at 9 a.m.

Our Catholic Faith, our Christian religion, cannot be dismissed as a misty myth from “once upon a time.” Jesus of Nazareth was born of the Virgin Mary and crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and died, was buried and rose in actual history. As Pope Benedict XVI famously wrote in his first encyclical, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Jesus Christ is a real person who once lived and still lives today.

Mary in History: Our Lady of Lourdes

March 25, 2019

March 25, 1858 – Lourdes, France

This was now the sixteenth time St. Bernadette Soubirous had encountered the Lady at the grotto. Bernadette had reported seeing “a young girl, sixteen, or seventeen years old. She wore a white dress drawn in at the waist by a blue ribbon whose ends hung down. On her head she wore a long white veil so as almost to cover her hair. Her feet were bare but nearly covered by the folds of her dress, except at the tip where a yellow rose shone on each. On her right arm she carried a Rosary of white beads on a golden chain, shining like the roses on her feet.” The local pastor, Fr. Dominique Peyramale, had prudently and persistently urged Bernadette to ask and discover the name of this strange visitor.

“She was there,” Bernadette recounts. “I asked her to forgive me for coming late. Always kind and gracious, she made a sign to me with her head to tell me that I need not make excuses. Then I spoke to her of all my love, all my reverence and the happiness I had in seeing her again. After having poured out my heart to her, I took up my Rosary. While I was praying, the thought of asking her name came before my mind with such persistence that I could think of nothing else. I feared to be presumptuous in repeating a question she had always refused to answer and yet something compelled me to speak.”

“At last, under an irresistible impulse, the words fell from my mouth, and I begged the Lady to tell me who she was. The Lady did as she had always done before; she bowed her head and smiled but she did not reply. I cannot say why, but I felt bolder and asked her again to be so kind as to tell me her name; however, she only bowed and smiled as before, still keeping silence. Then once more, for the third time, clasping my hands and acknowledging myself unworthy of the favor I was seeking of her, I again made my request.”

“The Lady was standing above the rosebush, in a position very similar to that shown in the Miraculous Medal. At my third request, her face became very serious and she seemed to bow down in an attitude of humility. Then she joined her hands and raised them to her breast… She looked up to Heaven… then slowly opening her hands and leaning forward towards me, she said to me in a voice vibrating with emotion, ‘I am the Immaculate Conception.'”

Bernadette, the simple and uneducated girl, did not understand what the Lady’s words meant but she repeated them over and over to herself (lest she forget them) as she walked to inform her parish priest. Only once the statement’s meaning was explained to her did St. Bernadette realize that her “Lady” was indeed the Blessed Virgin Mary. The apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes represents a heavenly confirmation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception which Pope Pius IX had solemnly and infallibly proclaimed and affirmed a few years before in 1854.

Returning to Dust & Rising From the Ashes

March 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary in History: A Mystical Marriage

March 9, 2019

March 9, 1368 – Siena, Italy

Catherine Benincasa was born the youngest of twenty-five children in Siena, Italy. She was so joyful as a child that they nicknamed her “Eu-phro-sy-ne,” from the Greek word for “merriment.” At age six, while walking home with her brother, she stopped in her tracks. When she did not respond to his calls, he walked back to her and shook her, as from a dream. She burst into tears, having beheld in the sky a vision of Jesus seated in glory with the Apostles Peter, Paul, and John. A year later, she made a secret vow to give her whole life to God.

In her teenage years, Catherine’s parents began pressuring her to enter marriage, but she voiced with her intention not to. When her parents persisted, she cut short her beautiful golden-brown hair. As punishment, they made her do menial work in the household and, knowing she craved prayerful solitude, never allowed her to be alone. She bore all this with patient sweetness, later writing that God showed her how to build within her soul a private chamber where no tribulation could enter.

On Fat (or Shrove) Tuesday, while the people of Siena were celebrating carnival, the 21-year-old Catherine was praying in her room. A vision of Jesus appeared, with by Mary and the heavenly angels. Our Lady took Catherine’s hand and held it up to Christ, who placed a ring upon it and mystically married her to himself. Though invisible to others, this ring of St. Catherine of Siena was always visible to her.

Some misunderstand the meaning and purpose of celibacy in the Church. Jesus Christ, St. Paul, St. Catherine, and others have encouraged and lived this way of life not because human connection or natural marriage are bad, but because celibacy allows for a higher and broader intimacy. Every person is called to marriage, be it natural or spiritual; and everyone one is called to have children, be they biological or spiritual.