Archive for the ‘Chrisitian Virtues’ Category

“I Believe in Jesus Christ”

February 27, 2021

2nd Sunday of Lent

In the words of The Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

At the heart of our Christian Faith is a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the Word become flesh, “the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” Jesus comes to us as “the way, and the truth, and the life,” and Christian living consists in following him. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has said, “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.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord

Jesus’ name in Hebrew means: “God saves.” And this name, first announced by the archangel Gabriel, expresses his identity and mission. Through the incarnation, God made man “will save his people from their sins.” Jesus is the “name which is above every name” and “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” He is called the Christ or the Messiah. These are Greek and Hebrew titles which mean “anointed one.” In Israel, those consecrated for a God-given mission were anointed in his name; kings, priests, and sometimes prophets had precious, shining olive oil poured upon them. Jesus Christ fulfills the messianic hope of Israel by coming anointed in the Holy Spirit as priest, prophet, and king, to inaugurate the Kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ the Son is eternally begotten of the Father. They are one God but two persons. This is why Jesus can say, “The Father and I are one,” and, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” while he prays to, honors, and loves his Father as another Person. The Jews in holy reverence for God’s divine name Yahweh would substitute the word Adonai in Hebrew or Kyrios in Greek, both of which mean “Lord.” So when the early Christians professed “Jesus Christ is Lord” they were not merely announcing him as a king above Caesar but proclaiming him as God from God.

He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.

God becomes man not as a full-grown adult descending from the clouds; nor as an infant, delivered in a blanket by the Holy Spirit stork. Jesus Christ is conceived as a tiny embryo because that is how human life begins. Jesus Christ is not part God and part man, or some mixture of the two. He’s not half-and-half, or like 99.44% divine. The Son became truly man while remaining truly God; two natures united in one person, true God and true man. He is born among us, as one of us, to die for us as our saving sacrifice.

Roughly 3,800 years ago, God put Abraham to the test. “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust [a sacrifice] on a height that I will point out to you.” Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey, took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac, and after cutting the wood for the burnt offering, set out for the place of which God had told him. On the third day, Abraham caught sight of the place from a distance. He said to his servants: “Stay here with the donkey, while the boy and I go on over there. We will worship and then come back to you.

We‘ will come back to you? Why lie to the servants? Why not just say, “Wait here”? You see, Abraham was in fact neither lying nor trying to deceive. As the Letter to the Hebrews teaches, God had promised him “through Isaac descendants shall bear your name,” so Abraham reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol, a foreshadowing sign of things to come. God provides the sheep for the sacrifice upon Mount Moriah. There the city of Jerusalem would be established. There the Jewish Temple would be built, destroyed, and raised up again. And there Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, would be sacrificed on the Cross. God the Father offers his own beloved Son in our place.

Born of the virgin Mary,
he suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

Holy Mary of Nazareth and Governor Pontius Pilate of Judea stand for the two types of people in this world in regards to Jesus: those who receive him, love him, and serve him like Mary, and those like Pilate who would prefer to ignore him but who will reject and destroy the Christ if he stands in the way of their desires. But Mary who bore him and Pilate who killed him are not merely types, symbols, or metaphors – they are real people who ground Jesus’ life in real history. Jesus’ public ministry, his Passion, death, and Resurrection were not “once upon a time,” but in the early 30’s AD. As the 2nd Letter of St. Peter testifies:

“We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, ‘This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.”

He speaks here of the Transfiguration, recounted in today’s gospel. Jesus, “after he had told the disciples of his coming death, on the holy mountain he manifested to them his glory, to show, even by the testimony of the law and the prophets, that the Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection.” His disciples Peter, James, and John “were so terrified” at this experience, but then “Jesus came and touched them saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’

Brothers and sisters, we must take God seriously, but we need not be afraid. “Perfect love drives out fear.” The Word became flesh so that we might know God’s love. As Scripture says: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” – “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” – “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  – And “if God is for us, who can be against us?” If the Father has given us his Son, “how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” Jesus Christ, who died and was raised, sits at God’s right hand and intercedes for us.

So during this Lent, cultivate your personal relationship with Jesus, which is so very important. Yes, he is your Lord God and King, but you can personally relate to him in other true ways as well. He is your brother, for you share the same heavenly Father and blessed mother. He is your friend, for “no one has greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” and he has laid down his life for you. He is your teacher who said, “You call me ‘teacher’… and rightly so, for indeed I am.” He is your hero, champion, and star who by his excellence wins glory throughout the world. And he is your bridegroom, in whom his beloved bride and his best man rejoice. At the heart of our Christian Faith is a Person, Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh who died for you, and Christian life consists in knowing, and loving, and following him.

Living Christ’s Mysteries — Funeral Homily for Deacon Ed Feltes, 65

February 23, 2021

On the day Victor and Ramona brought their eighth son to be baptized, while his little head was still damp from holy water, Edward Joseph was draped with white linen. And the priest said (in Latin), “Receive this white garment, which mayest thou carry without stain before the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, that thou mayest have life everlasting.” Today, we bring Ed’s body before the Lord, draping him in white cloth once more. My uncle Ed told me that as a deacon he would always say yes to doing baptisms. It was, he said, “the introduction of a new life into the Church. By baptizing them you are basically installing them into a Catholic environment and hopefully they will grow in it and not back away from it.” Ed has been a Catholic Christian for more than sixty-five years, ever since he was baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. And throughout his nearly twenty-four thousand days Jesus Christ accompanied him through life. The life of a Christian is found in Jesus Christ. And the mysteries of Christ’s life are reflected in, shared with, the faithful Christian. We see this throughout Ed’s life.

At his First Communion, young Edward approached and saw the Real Presence of his Lord held before his eyes: “The Body of Christ / Corpus Christi.” Ed received Jesus and Jesus received Ed into a more profound union, a more intimate relationship, between them. In receiving Christ’s Body, Ed was called to be the Body of Christ for this world. When Jesus tells us at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me,” he not only commands that we would receive him at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but that we would imitate him in his self-gift: “This is my body, which will be given up for you. Do this in memory of me.” When Ed was sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit at his Confirmation, he entered a more powerful relationship with that same Spirit of inspiration, grace, and power who led Jesus in his works on earth. The Holy Spirit’s gifts manifested through Ed not merely for himself, for his own salvation, but to serve the wider mission of Christ’s Church, that every person in this wayward world might be saved.

The main vehicle of Ed life’s work and witness would be through his first vocation: marriage. Ed and Jessica meet during his studies at Notre Dame University and the year he graduated they entered a new covenant together. Almost forty years ago, they freely committed without reservation to give themselves to each other in marriage, to love and honor each other for as long as they both would live, and to accept children lovingly from God—raising them up according to the law of Christ and his Church. Recall that Jesus Christ called himself the Bridegroom and that in Sacred Scripture his Church is called his Bride. Every Christian is called to imitate Christ, and every Christian soul is spiritually his Bride. But just as the Holy Eucharist we celebrate is not merely a symbol or a memory but Jesus’ Real Presence among us so the Sacrament of Marriage makes present the mystical marriage of Jesus and his Church, within and between a husband and a wife. In beholding a holy, Christian marriage, in its loving, mutual, and lasting fidelity, we see a sign for us and for the world. That love is real, that love is foundational, that love is fruitful. That we were made in love, made to love, made for a holy communion of love, a family. We saw this in Ed and Jessica’s strong marriage which bore fruit, not least of all in their children: in their living son, Christopher, of whom they are so proud, and four other loved children who passed away very, very young; Francis, Steven, Elizabeth, and Meagan. Ed said he looked forward to meeting them and now has that opportunity.

In his marriage, together with Jessica, Ed discerned and pursued a call within his call, a second vocation. Relying on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, Ed was chosen and ordained for the Order of the Diaconate. After the laying of the bishop’s hands and being dressed with stole and vestment, he was handed a Book of the Gospels with this admonition: “Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” Deacon Ed then ministered here at St. Catherine’s, celebrating in this sanctuary and serving throughout this parish. Teaching and preaching, even though he often found preaching difficult. Ed told me that he primarily sought to advance the Kingdom by sharing his life, showing how he lived. He said, “Always live your life such that people want the same that you do.” Looking back at the end of his quiet life, Ed had few regrets, but he did wonder if he was “maybe quiet too long.” Deacon Ed understood well that we need not enter into every pointless, unhelpful argument, but the Spirit does call and help us to speak the important words people need to hear alongside seeing our deeds.

In these last years, these final years, Ed reflected Christ and became configured to him in a new way, by joining him in suffering. Ed had at least six different strokes—twice nearly dying yet surviving—and endured strokes’ debilitating effects. Ed and Jessica described these past several years to me as an experience of continuous loses and grief, but also of continuous mercy and grace. Reportedly, the devastating impact of strokes often breaks up families, but this family grew closer through the trials. I think Ed also became bolder in Christ. While under hospice care at home he never stopped offering good things to his guests; blessings, prayers, holy water and blessed salt, to anyone who visited, wherever they might be in their faith walk.

When I last spoke with my uncle Ed I asked him what he was looking forward to. He simply said, “Heaven. I poured a lot of my life into experiencing, into living life on earth with a heavenly approach.” Asked as to what his near future held, he said, “It’s really up to God. I accept everything he has for me.” Ed and Jessica related to me that it was last March, almost a year ago, over a lunch at Panera Bread, that he told her, “I’m going to go to the Lord in six months to a year.” And he was right. Ed knew he was in God’s hands, being led and offered like an oblation for his glory and as a blessing for many. Knowing that this day was not in the far-distant future, I asked Ed about his wish for all of you on this day of his funeral. He answered, “Pray that they seek God more closely and live a more Christian life. I wish they would seek God for the answers and not just rely on themselves.” So if you have seen Jesus Christ in the life of Deacon Ed Feltes, please listen and heed his words.

And now, in conclusion, like Edward heard in his Last Rites:

I commend you, our dear brother, to almighty God and entrust you to your Creator. May you return to God who formed you from the dust of the earth. May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints come to meet you as you go forth from this life.

May Christ who was crucified for you bring you freedom and peace. May Christ who died for you admit you into his garden of paradise. May Christ, the true Shepherd, acknowledge you as one of his flock.

May the Lord forgive all your sins and set you among those he has chosen. May you see your Redeemer face to face and enjoy the vision of God for ever.

“I Believe in God”

February 20, 2021

1st Sunday of Lent

“I believe in God,
  the Father almighty,
  creator of heaven and earth.
  I believe in Jesus Christ,
  his only Son, our Lord.”

Thus begins the Apostles’ Creed, the earliest known Christian creed. Like the later Nicene Creed, it opens with a statement: “I believe” which in Latin is “Credo,” and from this the Church’s authoritative summaries of our Christian Faith are called creeds. The Apostles’ Creed is so named because it is rightly considered a faithful profession of the Faith the apostles believed and preached. Since our return to public Masses, we have been proclaiming the Apostles’ Creed together on Sundays and solemnities. For this season of Lent, I am going to do something I have never tried before. Beginning this Sunday and continuing through the 5th Sunday of Lent, I will be preaching a homily series on the Apostles’ Creed. Week by week, we will unpack this, “the oldest Roman catechism,” and explore its meaning and implications for us. The Apostles Creed begins, as all things began, with God.

I believe in God. The whole creed speaks of God, and when it also speaks of man and of this world it does so in relation to God. Each passage in the creed tells us more about him, much like how God has progressively revealed himself to us, who he is and what he is like, more and more throughout salvation history. Who is God? God is the fullness of Being and of every perfection. God is without beginning and without end. God is Truth who cannot lie. The beginning of sin and of man’s fall was due to a lie of the tempter who sowed doubt concerning God’s word, faithfulness, and love. God is love. God’s very being is love. By sending his only Son and the Spirit of love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God is an eternal exchange of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They call us to share in their personal communion of love now and forever, but the choice whether to respond is ours.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. God the Father is the Father of all. He is the origin of everything, of the Holy Trinity in eternity and of all Creation in history. The Father fashions the material universe and the spiritual realms distinct from and outside of himself, and by his gift he creates new life inside of them, including the angels and us. God the Father is transcendent authority, perfectly just, while providing good things and loving care for all his children.

The story of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood from the Book of Genesis communicates important truths. God is our Creator with sovereignty over all he has made. He is holy and hates sin in his creatures. God’s Great Flood aims to wash away sin from the face of the earth and then begin anew through a new covenant with Noah. Yet the consequences of the Fall were neither cured nor cleansed; Noah and his household carried sin with them onto the ark and humanity’s waywardness continued after they disembarked.

This represents a cautionary tale for us against a common human error or misconception about how evil might be cancelled or conquered in this world. In 1945, the Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to a Soviet forced labor camp for his criticism of communist tyranny. After his release he went on to write his most famous work, “The Gulag Archipelago.” In it, the Christian Solzhenitsyn shares this true insight:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

We can and should work for change in this world, but advocacy for changing evils “out there” will prove ultimately futile without accompanying spiritual change within us. But how are we to accomplish this most difficult transformation inside our own hearts? Human history and our personal experience show we cannot achieve this on our own, so how shall we be saved?

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. On the cusp of his fruitful public ministry,

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
  and he remained in the desert for forty days,
  tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts…”

After the Fall of man, the garden paradise is replaced by a desert. The animals, formerly tame in the Garden of Eden, have become wild in our fractured world. Humanity now had a great debt with God it could not pay, a vast chasm between him and us we could not cross. The first Adam died unatoned, but a new Adam has come. The Eternal Son of God entered time and space and became human to reconcile God and man and establish a new covenant between us. Jesus comes to undo the Fall, dwelling in the desert among the wild beasts, to be tempted by the ancient serpent, the devil. Jesus comes to reclaim the crown that Adam had lost. Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, would be the Lord of all. He comes and proclaims:

“This is the time of fulfillment.
  The Kingdom of God is at hand.
  Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

During these forty desert days of Lent, Jesus invites you to approach him, asking his forgiveness in the Sacrament of Confession. He invites you dwell with him, spend time with him, encountering him through daily prayer and the Holy Eucharist. Jesus would accompany and strengthen you in your earnest battles against temptation, growing you in his virtues. And he would perfect your love, forming you in his likeness, preparing you for more fruitful works on earth and for the supreme, communal joy of Heaven. Now is the time for Confession, for prayer, for the Mass, growth in virtue, and growth in love.

The Holy Spirit would lead you out to Jesus during this desert retreat of Lent. And everything Jesus does for you, everything he does within you, is to lead you back to God our Father. I believe and proclaim that this is the Father’s will for you. Yet, despite all of almighty God’s infinite, omnipotent power, only you can freely choose whether to answer him with your “Yes.”

Christ the Bridegroom and His Bride — The John and Megan Salm Wedding

February 13, 2021

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. He sat down and his disciples came to Him. Jesus began to teach them, and his first teachings in this Sermon on the Mount were the Beatitudes we just heard. Blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. What do these things mean? How can we best understand them? Who best models these blessed paths for us to follow? Realize that Jesus’ Beatitudes are autobiographical. These Beatitudes describe Jesus himself.

Jesus is poor in spirit, relying upon his Father-God, and personally connecting with him every day through prayer. Jesus mourns because he loves and cares about us, our brokenness, our pains, our sorrows. Jesus is meek, not coming as a warrior on a warhorse imposing his will by force, but rather–for instance–entering Jerusalem humbly on a donkey, inviting the world and all people to freely accept his Kingdom and himself. Jesus is merciful, he forgives us because he loves us. Jesus is pure of heart, he loves with pure motives and true devotion. Jesus is the peacemaker whose peace is true peace. More than bread alone, Jesus hungers and thirsts for righteousness. And because of this, he is persecuted for the sake of righteousness, and blesses many through his self-sacrifice.

Jesus went up the mountain and his disciples came to him. There are many crowds in this world, but Jesus’ disciples, his Church, they come to him. And Jesus teaches us to imitate his own example. The saints give us excellent examples of how to be Christlike. As St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Get to know saints, those alive on earth and those alive in Heaven, and you’ll become holier, growing ever closer to the best version of yourself through their friendship. John and Megan, be saintly friends for each other to help each other, and your children, be saints. And meditate upon the relationship of Christ and his Church to guide you in your marriage.

Recall that Jesus calls himself the Bridegroom and his Church is called his Bride. Now every Christian is called to imitate Jesus Christ, and every Christian soul is spiritually his Bride. But just like the Holy Eucharist we celebrate today is not just a symbol or a memory of Jesus but his Real Presence among us, so the Christian Sacrament of Marriage you are about to enter makes present the mystical marriage of Jesus Christ and his Church between you and within you. John, love your wife, even as Christ loved the church, handing himself over for her, to bless and sanctify her. Megan, love and follow your husband, becoming fruitful and holier together with him.

Pray as a couple, with your kids, and individually on your own, stay close to the Lord’s Sacraments in his Church, relying on God to enrich your spirits, personally connecting with God every day. Have compassion for each other, mourning each others’ trials and consoling each other through them. Be meek toward each other, leading or following as is proper, but always inviting rather than imposing. Be merciful, forgiving each others’ faults in love. Be pure of heart, devoted to each other with pure motives. Be peacemakers, not merely content with an absence of conflict, but cultivating true harmony together. And be not content with just the pursuit of daily bread but hunger and thirst for righteousness, and be willing to suffer for righteousness, that your lives may be a blessing to many.

John and Megan, we are happy for you, we are excited for you, and we anticipate great things from the two of you together. May our Lord Jesus Christ, who has begun his good work in you, bring it to fulfillment.

The Church – The Body of Christ

February 13, 2021

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Valentine’s Day
By Deacon Dick Kostner

Thanks to Clint Berge who shared with me a YouTube talk, my thoughts this last month has moved to “What If’s?” The talk’s objective was to plant in our minds that maybe things won’t ever get back to “normal,” followed by “maybe that’s good!” I think God is trying to teach us the importance of thinking new for His Church. Coming up with new ideas to foster the Kingdom of God through our vocation to love and serve others which will gain us the keys to Heaven.

Our scripture readings this weekend come during the Church’s calendar of “Ordinary Time.” Remember Scripture is divinely-inspired, meaning God is the primary author. Our readings talk about suffering people who were experiencing the disease of leprosy over two thousand years ago. This disease literally ate up their skin and was highly contagious so that these people were ostracized from family and friends for their lifetime. It was thought that God was punishing them for either their sins or the sins of their family, so their only way out was if a priest certified that they had been made clean.

Sounds kind of familiar and “ordinary” doesn’t it? In our gospel, Jesus cures a person who begs him for help which he receives, which allows him to rejoin family and friends and continue on with his life after a priest certifies he has been made clean. So two thousand years later, here we are praying to God for relief from another disease which is dramatically changing the way we are used to. Bottom line is that God is constantly trying to have us focus and redirect our lives not to the present but rather to the future. God is trying to teach us that we are in boot camp with our lives here on earth to prepare us for our next life where the Body of Christ will come together without the crosses of life, as our reward for having lived through and learned from boot camp. Our scriptures tell us that history will always repeat itself here on earth. Where one disease is cured another will be born but we are to adjust and continue on with our training. Although boot camp is tough it also will gives us great pleasure and happiness when tasks are accomplished.

A few weeks ago, some friends of mine were sharing an experience that had occurred in their life. While shopping for groceries they noticed a man picking up and then returning food several time from the shelves. They asked him what was wrong and he confessed he only had so much money left and he was trying to decide what to buy. My friends offered to buy them for him but he refused. But they did not give up and they picked up the items he had looked at, paid for them and caught him on his way out with their gift of love. The man broke down but not without blessing them for their good deed. I never witnessed two happier people then those friends who knew that they were representing the Body of Christ in helping another get through a tough time. They were fulfilling their Christian vocation to love as Jesus has loved us. I ask you to ask yourself: “What if I did something like this when I spotted someone having a bad day? How would this make me feel knowing Jesus is smiling at me? How might this simple act of kindness change the world?

I will end with another revelation I received about the same time which I ask you to reflect upon. When we receive Holy Communion the minister begins by saying to the person receiving: “The Body of Christ.” I just realized that these words carry a two-fold meaning. First it is announcing that we are being fed divine food to give us strength for the tasks at hand. The second is that Jesus, through the minister of Communion, is directing and identifying us as being a part of His divine body for all the world to see in good times and in bad. When someone is being the body of Christ to us during a bad or good time remember to bless and thank them for being there for us and then go out and be the “Body of Christ” for another. The reward: happiness in this life and a key to Heaven to get us into the next. So get your boots on for Christ.

After I had just written this homily, I went to complete my morning prayers and one of them from the Book of Tobit said this:

Do to no one what you yourself dislike. Give to the hungry some of your bread, and to the naked some of your clothing. Seek counsel from every wise man. At all times bless the Lord God, and ask him to make all your paths straight and to grant success to all your endeavors and plans.” (Tobit 4:15a, 16a, 18a, 19)

I ask you, isn’t that a coincidence? Guess you know who helped me write this homily.

Have a happy and blessed Valentine’s Day and “What if” you gave to Jesus for this Valentine’s Day, a pledge saying you will be happy to put on the boots of Christ and carry out the wisdom words proclaimed above from God’s Book of Tobit? I am sure that would make His Day a very special day!

Wisdom for the Discouraged

February 7, 2021

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In our first reading, we hear the deep discouragement of Job:

“Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?
…I have been assigned months of misery…
…My days… they come to an end without hope.
…I shall not see happiness again.”

If you are familiar with Job’s story you know he says these words during a very dark time in his life. Though innocent, he is in the midst of an extended trial, with emotional suffering, physical pain, loss, and loneliness. His words, like all the words of Scripture, are offered for our benefit — thanks be to God. And indeed, the Book of Job has lessons to teach us in our hard times.

One thing we learn from Job is that we can be real and honest with God. By the end of the book, Job is shown that God’s vast creations, plans, and purposes are beyond Job’s comprehension, for “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; to his wisdom there is no limit,” yet the Lord does not condemn Job for his questioning. In fact, God has Job intercede on behalf of his friends who had argued Job’s sufferings must be on account of his own sins. God has Job pray for them that they may be forgiven their error. The number of plaintive psalms that God inspired and made sure were included in Sacred Scripture suggests that he wants us to bring our complaints to him. The very name of God’s people “Israel” means “He who wrestles with God,” and you cannot wrestle with someone without drawing close to them.

The Lord wants us to be honest with him because that is the real us and the kind of relating that will actually help us. If you wear a disguise in God’s presence, it won’t fool him and it won’t help you. In spiritually directing others and in studying myself, I have noticed that when we are avoiding times of prayer or finding our prayer times very dry, it is often because we are avoiding relating something to the Lord. There’s something we don’t want to look at or talk about with him. Imagine if you had a good doctor, indeed the very best doctor – would it be wise to find excuses to miss your appointments or lie to your physician about how you were feeling? Reveal your wounds and symptoms to the Divine Physician that you may be healed. As today’s psalm says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Today’s gospel tells us, “Rising very early before dawn, [Jesus] left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” If making time for daily personal prayer was a top priority for Jesus, how much more important must it be for us?

A second thing we learn from Job is that God is with us in our struggle and that the struggle is worth it. Though Job did not understand why he suffered, God was never far from him. God was proud of Job and praised him, “There is no one on earth like him, blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil,” and through his trials and sufferings God made him greater still. Other Christians sometimes ask why we have crucifixes on our walls rather than a bare cross. “Christ is risen,” they remind us, “so why depict him as still suffering on the Cross?” In his post-Ascension appearance to one of the Church’s early persecutors, Jesus said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” When asked by Saul, “Who are you, sir?” the reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” If you are a suffering member of Christ’s body then know that you do not suffer alone. This Saul is better known to us as St. Paul. When St. Ananias hesitated to visit him and heal his blindness, the Lord insisted, “Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.” St. Paul writes in today’s second reading that his life’s mission, the preaching of the gospel, was an obligation imposed upon him. He could either see this as a hard burden to grumble over, or as an opportunity to rejoice in, and thereby gain reward. St. Paul knew God’s purpose for his life and embraced it to great benefit.

Dr. Viktor Frankl was a Austrian-Jewish doctor who was deported to a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War. After his liberation, Frankl wrote about what he observed and discovered about human nature during that terrible ordeal in his famous book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Frankl says, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” He says, “Nothing is [more] likely to help a person overcome or endure troubles than the consciousness of having a task [a purpose] in life.” So many people, believing that our existence in this universe is an accident and disbelieving that life has any objective purpose, grope through life striving to generate their own meaning and purpose. But you know you are not here by accident. “[The Lord] tells the number of the stars; he calls each by name.” Each one is in their place according to his purpose and so are you. Who made you? God made you. Why did God make you? He made you to know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in the next. But even Christians sometimes wonder, “Does what I’m doing really matter? Is my life important? Are my struggles really worth it?” They think to themselves, “If I wasn’t here, I’d be replaced by someone else.” Perhaps, but that’s not the right way to frame your thought. What if you disappeared from your home, your job, your community, and no one came to fill your void? Consider all the good things that would go undone. That is your contribution to our world and those around you. And God has eternal purposes for you that extend beyond this life and world.

A third and final thing we learn from Job is that things are not so hopeless as they may seem and there are better things to come. The way that we happen to feel in any particular moment does not necessarily reflect reality. One afternoon when I was a seminarian, I was in my dorm room and had homework to do, but I was fed up with it, I had no motivation, and decided to give up and to go to bed. When I woke up three hours later, the world was transformed, brighter. I was happier, eager to work, and even the view outside my window seemed better. Of course, it wasn’t the world that changed but me. I was exhausted and I didn’t know it and this was coloring my perceptions. You are an union of body and spirit. You need sleep, and food, and personal connection. Self-care is important, so love yourself as well as your neighbor. If someone is diabetic, we do not tell them to just buckle down and change their attitude. They need insulin to be healthy. Sometimes people suffer chemical imbalances in their brains, often hereditary in origin, which burden their experience of life. We live in an age of wonders with remarkable medicines and we should be unashamed to seek help. As the 38th chapter of Sirach teaches: “Make friends with the doctor, for he is essential to you; God has also established him in his profession. From God the doctor has wisdom… Through which the doctor eases pain, and the druggist prepares his medicines.” Sirach explains that a good doctor is one of God’s instruments in doing his work on earth.

The story of Job shows us things are not so hopeless as they may seem – there are better things to come. We heard Job’s lament, “I shall not see happiness again,” but he was mistaken. Job’s lot got better. Much better. God restored the prosperity of Job and even gave him twice as much as he had before. Then all of his brothers and sisters came to him, and all his former acquaintances, and they dined with him in his house. They consoled him and comforted him and gave him gifts. Job would see his children, his grandchildren, and even his great-grandchildren in fullness of years. Thus the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his former ones. But what if the remaining years of my life do not get better? What if each new year becomes harder than the last? What if I have a stroke, or a heart attack, or terminal cancer and I am dead in six months? How can better times still be waiting for me? Are you not promised Heaven where you will experience the restoration, fellowship, and consoling joys Job knew? Then, in the end, as St. Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

So remember that you can be completely real and honest with God, he invites this. Remember that the Lord is with you in your struggles and that these struggles are worth it. And remember that things are not so hopeless as they may seem, for with Jesus Christ there are surely better things to come.

Who Conquers the World?

January 9, 2021

The Baptism of the Lord

I have a friend, Kathy, a former parishioner of mine now living in Michigan, whom I often call to converse about upcoming Sunday readings. She’s quite knowledgeable about the Scriptures and our Faith and, even now as she endures cancer, delights to discuss them. Talking with her always makes my homilies better. When we chatted this week I shared my hope, frustration, and challenge in preaching compellingly about the Baptism of the Lord. Virtually everyone who will encounter my homily is already baptized, a baptism they do not remember – they were baptized so young that they can’t remember any time in their lives when they were unbaptized. Getting people to appreciate having been baptized is like trying to get them excited about having once been born; or like getting an American to appreciate living their whole lives in a country where freedoms of religion, speech, and representative government are taken for granted. I didn’t know what message I was going to preach when I spoke with Kathy, but she encouraged me that God would give me something and promised to pray for me. Today I’d like to share with you some threads from other interesting conversations I’ve had this week and in the end I promise to tie their lessons together.

On Monday evening, my fortieth birthday, I spoke with my life’s longest friend. Josh is nine days older than me, we were in school together all the way from pre-K through college, and he grew up into a dynamic Christian businessman. Josh remarked that he is struck and bewildered by how much New Year’s matters to people – it’s far less big a deal for him than it seems to be for others. I likewise have memories of being underwhelmed by New Year’s Eve ever since I was a kid. Even though the ball that drops over Times Square is now covered with high-tech shimmering lights, the sight of that sphere’s slow descent still remains a disappointment to behold. A new year is just a change in number on our calendars and forms, a number whose only significance comes in reference to Jesus Christ. Maybe people like it in the way some of us have enjoyed watching a car’s mileage rollover to 100,000 on the odometer. Maybe people just like any excuse to party. But I think New Year’s appeal in popular culture owes greatly to the idea of a new time beginning, the start of a new chapter in our lives. Lots of people make New Years resolutions, typically related to health. They’re hoping for change, hoping this year will be different, yet their resolutions typically fail quickly because our human nature, by itself, is so very weak.

Thursday morning I did spiritual direction through Facebook for another past parishioner and friend of mine. I met Stephanie at my first priestly assignment, helped her become a Catholic, and today she is her parish’s Coordinator of Religious Education and Director of Youth Ministry in Neillsville. Stephanie’s family has an annual tradition of watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” and this year she saw it twice. I asked her if she took away any new insights from that rich film and indeed she had. The first time George Bailey goes to Martini’s Bar it’s a calm and friendly establishment where people show concern about him. George quietly prays there, “Dear Father in Heaven… Show me the way,” leaves, meets Clarence, and returns to the bar again in a world where he was never born. The bar is called “Nick’s” now and like the rest of town it has become more crowded and less wholesome, rude and cruel. These scenes impressed on her anew how much one life well-lived can make an extraordinary difference to all the lives around it.

On Thursday afternoon I partook of spiritual direction myself through Zoom with Fr. Bill Dhein, the thoughtful Chancellor of our diocese who sometimes celebrates Masses here for us. Father and I were both drawn by the Spirit to this passage from today’s second reading from the 1st Letter of John:

“Whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Who indeed conquers the world? If the rioters at the Capitol this week or the rioters from this summer had succeeded, if they had prevailed and conquered, would they find peace in this world? History suggests not. Violence and death would continue to accompany them. In today’s first reading, the Lord tells us through the Prophet Isaiah:

“My thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
As high as the heavens are above the earth
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.”

Fr. Bill told me one of his admired spiritual heroes is St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was in the world but not of the world, and in Jesus Christ she conquered the world through a holy power which transforms this world for the better. Today’s gospel says:

“[Jesus of Nazareth] was baptized in the Jordan by John.
On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens,
‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”

Remember, Christian, that you have been baptized into Christ, the Holy Spirit rests on you, and the Father acknowledges you as his beloved child. Your human nature, by itself, is weak and frail, but you are clothed in Christ and ‘can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.’ Do you want to change yourself? Do you want to be a blessing to others? Do you want to change this world wonderfully for the better? Then ask God for his indispensable, gracious help; and also seek the support of Christian friends, for iron sharpens iron and coals stay hot when gathered.

As our culture becomes increasingly less Christian we can expect to see increasing examples of social decay and religious persecution. Just as you cannot remove the foundation of a house and expect its walls and ceiling to stand upright and level, so our nation will suffer in many ways from discarding its Christian faith. But when worse things come, do not fear and do not despair – ‘God works all things for the good of those who love him.’ Do not be afraid and do not give up. The good of this community depends on you and those around you. Who indeed is the victor over the world? Those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the children of God, whose faith shall conquer the world.

Meet the Holy Child

January 3, 2021

Feast of the Epiphany

In today’s Gospel, the Magi find the Holy Family now dwelling inside of a house in Bethlehem. This is not the same as Christmas night or Christmas day, but maybe weeks, or months, or even up to three years after. “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.” Eastern cultures, especially Persians, would do homage by falling to their knees and touching their foreheads to the ground. Though this poor, tiny king’s only throne is his holy mother’s lap, these Magi love and honor him. He does not appear to them as a frightful overlord but as a little infant because his wish is not to be feared but loved. God the Father will have baby Jesus flee and hide from the wicked King Herod, but the Holy Child is happily revealed to these first foreigners from afar who seek him out as friends. The Magi were blessed to encounter Jesus as a little child, but they would not be the last to do so.

One day in the 16th century, St. Teresa of Avila was preparing to climb a stairway to the upper rooms of her Spanish convent when she was met at the stairs by a beautiful boy. He asked her “Who are you?” She replied, “I am Teresa of Jesus. And who are you?” The child responded, “I am Jesus of Teresa,” and vanished.

In the 13th century, while St. Anthony of Padua was traveling through France to preach against heresy, he was granted a quiet room for lodging. His host passed by the room one night and noticed an unusual light shining around the door. Peering inside, he saw Anthony kneeling and full of wonder, admiring a glorious child who hugged him. Seeing the boy’s supernatural beauty and hearing their conversation, the onlooker knew that this was Jesus visiting his saint. This encounter is why St. Anthony of Padua is depicted (as in our own stained-glass window of him) holding the Christ Child.

In the 1930’s, the Polish mystic St. Faustina Kowalska recorded in her diary, “I often see the Child Jesus during Holy Mass. He is extremely beautiful. He appears to be about one year old. Once, when I saw the same Child during Mass in our chapel, I was seized with a violent desire and an irresistible longing to approach the altar and take the Child Jesus. At that moment, the Child Jesus was standing by me on the side of my kneeler, and he leaned with his two little hands against my shoulder, gracious and joyful, his look deep and penetrating. But when the priest broke the Host, Jesus was once again on the altar, and was broken and consumed by the priest.

Even without miraculously beholding him, the great devotion of other saints toward the Christ Child is well-known. St. Francis of Assisi, having received permission from the pope, created the very first nativity scene in the year 1223; with hay and a manger along with a live ox and donkey in a cave. He then invited the Italian villagers to come and gaze upon it while he preached about “the Babe of Bethlehem” — Francis was too overcome by heartfelt emotion to say the name “Jesus.”

In the 12th century, Doctor of the Church St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote this in a touching prayer:

“You have come to us as a small child…
Caress us with your tiny hands,
embrace us with your tiny arms
and pierce our hearts
with your soft, sweet cries.”

In the late 1800’s, the beloved St. Therese of Lisieux, also known as St. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, would pray this amidst her joys and trials:

“O Jesus, dear Holy Child, my only Treasure, I abandon myself to your every whim. I seek no other joy than that of calling forth your sweet smile. Grant me the graces and the virtues of your Holy Childhood, so that on the day of my birth into Heaven, the angels and saints may recognize your spouse, Therese of the Child Jesus.”

And for centuries, the Infant Child of Prague, a 19-inch statute of the Infant Jesus dressed in royal regalia, has been a beloved Czech devotion.

Despite all of these examples of mystical encounters and pious devotions with the Child Jesus, one might still wonder whether it is fitting to pray to a baby. Jesus does not even talk at that immature age, and he has since grown up beyond that phase of life. Yet even though he is a child, the Infant Jesus is still Almighty God who hears all of our prayers. If it would be wrong to pray across time to Our Savior in his manger, it would be wrong to now pray to Our Savior on his Cross as well. You and I were not born too late to adore the newborn King.

What benefits are there in praying to the Holy Infant? Jesus Christ is the same person yesterday, today, and forever, but some will find approaching the Baby Jesus less intimidating. His little form communicates his innocence, purity, gentleness, and tender affection; inviting us to share these virtues. In fact, Jesus tells us we must become as little children, like himself: “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

During one Holy Hour, St. Faustina Kowalska was trying to meditate on Our Lord’s Passion, but her soul was filled with joy and she suddenly saw the Child Jesus. She writes, “His majesty penetrated me to such an extent that I said, ‘Jesus, you are so little, and yet I know that you are my Creator and Lord.’” And Jesus answered, “I am, and I keep company with you as a child to teach you humility and simplicity.

On another occasion, St. Faustina saw the Infant Jesus near her kneeler, once again appearing to be about one year old. She writes that, “He asked me to take him in my arms. When I did take him in my arms, he cuddled up close to my bosom and said, “It is good for me to be close to your heart… because I want to teach you spiritual childhood. I want you to be very little, because when you are little I carry you close to my Heart, just as you are holding me close to your heart right now.

So in conclusion, I encourage you to approach the Infant Jesus in your prayers; at this Mass, in this Christmas season, and throughout this year ahead. Picture and imagine him, speak and listen to him, and hold him close to your heart. The Holy Babe of Bethlehem has gifts of grace and consolation to offer you, and he awaits you with open arms.

“St. Luke, How’d You Know?”

December 31, 2020

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Have you ever paused to wonder how St. Luke the Evangelist knows the things he writes about in his Gospel? For example, he tells us that when the Archangel Gabriel visited Mary at the Annunciation “she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” Today, St. Luke also tells us that following the first Christmas, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” And later, after she and St. Joseph found the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple, Luke tells us “they did not understand what [Jesus] said to them…[but] his mother kept all these things in her heart.” How exactly does St. Luke know what Mary was thinking or feeling?

We believe that the entire Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so that their human authors wrote everything and only those things which God desired to become Sacred Scripture. I suppose the Holy Spirit could have directly infused St. Luke with knowledge of hidden things like the Virgin Mary’s secret inner life, but Luke does not cite mystical experience as the source for his account. His gospel begins with a declaration that he has personally investigated the stories he recounts. He writes:

Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.

So, Luke probably learned of these stories in the most natural and human way; by being told by those who knew them well. And who would have originally known what Mary was feeling and holding and pondering in her heart but the Virgin Mary herself? This is why some have called the infancy narratives in the first chapters of Luke’s Gospel “the Memoirs of Mary.” St. Luke possibly heard these stories from Mary’s very own lips before writing them down for us.

Today we celebrate Mary as the Mother of God. Did Mary know that she was the Mother of God? Yes, for the Archangel Gabriel had announced her child would be the Son of God. Did Mary know that her baby boy would be the messianic king? Yes, for Gabriel had said “the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Did Mary know that her Son would come as Savior? Yes, for an angel had told St. Joseph “you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” So when the pretty song asks “Mary Did You Know?” — Yes, Mary knew a lot, but there was still a lot that she did not know.

Much of what was still to come remained a mystery to her. What would it be like to be a mother to God? How would his royal reign on earth come to pass? How would Jesus save humanity? What trials would she herself face? What would become of her? Mary did not know these things, but she trusted in God who guides our lives and all of human history.

What does this new year hold for each of us? Like Mary, we do not know every particular, but Mary shows us that we don’t have to. We do not need to fully know our future in order to be richly blessed. We do not have to know tomorrow for the Almighty to do great things for us, “for nothing will be impossible for God.” At this turning of the year, let us trust in God and entrust ourselves to him, for if we were all to trust and entrust ourselves in this way, our perfection would be like that of Blessed Mary and the saints.

Echoing the words of the ancient priestly blessing, in this new year ahead, may the Lord bless you and keep you, as he did our Holy Mother Mary. May the Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you, like he gazed upon Mary through the face of Jesus Christ. And may the Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace, as he did the Blessed Virgin Mary – the image and icon of his Holy Catholic Church.

The Holy Family — Funeral Homily for Cecilia Paulus, 95

December 26, 2020

By Deacon Dick Kostner

Today we gather not to be sad because we will no longer see one of St. Paul’s and St. Jude’s “elders”, one of St. Paul’s and St. Jude’s parish family members, but rather that we will have sent a very special person from our community to be personally present as our representative for Jesus’ birthday party tomorrow night. It is there that Cecilia will be present with all Holy Family members to celebrate God’s gift to all Children of our heavenly Father who created us to proclaim to the world His love for us shown through the birth of His son Jesus, our Savior and our mentor.

Having known both Cecilia and Toni for my whole life I can only imagine what that party will be like with all three “Lang girls” sharing their life stories with Jesus at one time. My mom and dad were good friends of the Erickson family. My mom golfed with Cecelia and my dad was on the Bank Board of Directors for many years with both Jim and Arndt. After Arndt died my dad retired from the Board and I replaced him as a Director for the Bank in 1977 and after Jim sold the Bank I was asked to stay on as a Director with the Ogrin Family and I still serve on that Board to this day. Cecilia stayed connected with that Bank for many years after Arndt’s death and would attend the Banks Annual meeting to be sure the new owners would continue to serve her “family” in the New Auburn area.

Our First Reading today from the Book of Wisdom identifies the importance of “Family” in God’s plan of Salvation for all of God’s children. It talks of God’s “elect” those born into the Holy Family of God through their Baptism. It proclaims that Cecilia is safe and sound for it says “The souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them.” It goes on to say:…because God tried them and found them worthy of himself, he proved them, and he took them to himself. In the time of their visitation they shall shine.” One thing is known for sure about the “Lang girls”, they are not bashful and they will want answers from God as to why there is need for so much suffering in this world, and why does it take so long sometimes for God to answer our calls for help.

Cecilia was a person of great faith and she cherished and loved not only her blood relatives and family but also her extended Parish Family and Friends. She acknowledged that she did not understand everything that God wanted of her but through Faith said yes to those challenges. She was one of St. Paul’s daily Mass people. She would join her “family” every day for Mass arriving early enough to participate in Mark leading her Parish family in praying the Rosary and then celebrating Eucharist with that family followed by going to Main Street after Mass for breakfast to get caught up on the lives of she loved. She was the community historian. She knew the blood lines of most everyone in the Bloomer Area. If someone wondered why so and so was at a person’s funeral or wedding, one only needed to call Cecelia to find out their family tree and relationship to that family.

And yes she could be stubborn. When I would be doing a Communion Service for Father some mornings I would always see her walking from her apartment to the Church. While I would always ask if she wanted a ride when the weather was bad she would say: “No thanks, I need the exercise.” I think this was her time to have some one on one talks with Jesus. I finally would not even bother to ask if she wanted a ride so I would just blow the horn at her. She would just give me a big smile and wave me bye. One day I asked her why she always had a big smile for me when I honked the horn at her and she gave me the answer. She said: “I may be in my eighties but the boys still honk their horns at me!” That was our Cecilia, loving and as honest as the day is long. We were all blessed to have known the Lang Girls in this life and all of us will await the day when we can join our Holy Family in person at a party with Jesus without any fears or struggles. Jesus instructed us of the two great Commandments Love of God and Love of neighbor. He also instructed us of who is Blessed by giving us the Beatitudes. Cecilia showed us how to fulfill those Commandments and how to be blessed. Cecilia will always be our community Holy Family Mentor. Remember her in your prayers and Mass celebrations, and ask for her prayers for us during these very trying times in our world.

Merry Christmas Cecilia and please continue to stay in touch with this faith family through our celebrations of the Mass.

Wreaths of Flowers — Funeral Homily for Janice Bleskacek, 87

December 16, 2020

While Janice lived at her home she kept two notable items on the night table beside her bed, both reflective of her deep faith: a wooden cross and a particular book. At first glance this small, black book might be taken for a Bible, but its cover bore the title “The Catholic Girl’s Guide.” A hand-written inscription within indicates that this book was given to her as a gift way back in 1947 when she was fourteen years old. I suspect that Janice regularly turned to the latter parts of this book, with its compendium of Catholic prayers and devotions, but she would have been familiar with the earlier parts of the book as well. Its author, Fr. Francis Lasance, writes about nine virtues a young lady must cultivate, likening each one to a flower which form together “the Maiden’s Wreath.” (This book was written for girls but in a book written for boys these same essential virtues would have their places, perhaps within a holy young man’s toolbox.)

The nine flowers of the wreath include:

The Sunflower of Faith, which is turned upward towards the glorious Sun.
The Ivy of Hope, which clings and climbs despite adversity.
The Peony of Love of God, which lifts up its heart as an offering.
The Rose of Love of Our Neighbor, which is a kindly gift to others.
The Carnation of Obedience, which is how Christ incarnate came as a noble servant.
The Forget-me-not of Piety, which remembers and keeps the practice of religion.
The Violet of Humility, which thrives and blossoms most beautifully in the shade.
The Daffodil of Industry, which hastens to blossom as soon as possible.
And the Narcissus of Truthfulness, which holds truth as a golden treasure never to be betrayed.

In addition to this “Maiden’s Wreath,” the book’s author next speaks of a second crown, “The Wreath of Lilies,” comprised of The Lily of Purity, which is untarnished in its splendor. The lily has long symbolized the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose own femininity is fulfilled to its fullest, holy perfection.

Young Janice gathered and cultivated the nine flowers of her maiden’s wreath into her adulthood. She carried her virtues into her marriages, first with husband Kenneth and then, after being widowed at age thirty-eight, with her husband Gerald. And through these unions, Janice gathered and nurtured eight young ladies, eight flowers: Nancy, Susan, Cindy, Carla, Dawn, and Jacquelyn, Deb and Terri. The nine of these ladies together formed a beautiful wreath of love; along with family and friends; grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren as well. Today we pray for Janice’s soul so that in addition to her life’s virtues she may be crowned with the second wreath of purest glory; that purified from any fault or imperfection, she may rejoice before God with Jesus Christ and Blessed Mary and all the saints and angels. Like Jesus Christ says in our Gospel, Janice’s prayer shall be: ‘Father, those whom you gave me are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me one day. I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and we all may be together again forever.

Scripture says of this life,

“All flesh is like grass,
and all its glory like the flower of the field;
the grass withers, and the flower wilts;
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

Every dear one’s death reminds us that we will not live this present life forever. But even though the flower fades and dies away we can beautifully blossom anew. If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too may live in newness of life. So let us renew our faith and renew our lives in the Lord, Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who desires to reunite his whole flock on his holy mountain, where sin and death will be no more, where every tear will be wiped away by God, and where we can hope to be together with Janice and Kenneth and Gerald and Carla forever.

Anno Domini

December 13, 2020

3rd Sunday of Advent – Gaudete Sunday

Nearly two thousand years ago, in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus Christ proclaimed the words of the Prophet Isaiah as being fulfilled in himself, “fulfilled in your hearing”:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me… to announce a year of favor from the Lord
and a day of vindication by our God.

The Earth orbits the Sun year after year. Our planet’s spinning makes days and nights, and its tilted-axis causes the seasons. When Earth’s northern hemisphere is most towards the Sun, our sunrises come earlier, our sunsets come later, and we experience summer warmth. Six months later, when the top of the Earth is tilted away from the Sun our daytimes are shorter, bringing the winter’s cold. Because of this yearly cycling of the seasons—summer, fall, winter, spring—even simple, ancient peasants possessed the concept of “years.” Their civilizations would mark time by counting years from some event of shared cultural significance (such as the Founding of Rome), or by referring to their leader’s reign (like saying, “in the fifth year of Ramses II”).

What year is it now for us? It’s 2020 A.D. — but why? “A.D.” stands for “Anno Domini,” a Latin phrase which means, “In the Year of the Lord.” Some 2,020 years ago, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, was born to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. Now we live in his Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, during this the 2,020th year of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Since Jesus is God, the Lord is present to all things at all times, but he foresaw how his visible departure through his Ascension could affect us thereafter. Year after year, his saving acts, his words and deeds, would fade and fall further and further into the past. Who he is and what he has done for us would seem ever more distant. So Jesus established his Church to preach his word and do his works, to perform his sacraments and do good deeds together with him all around the world until he comes again. Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” and “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.

One of the great things his Church gives us is her liturgical year. Our feasts and seasons throughout each year celebrate what Christ has done, show us who he is, and remind us of who we are to him. It’s very important to remember who we are – the truth about who we are in the eyes of Truth himself – but it’s something easy to forget.

St. John the Baptist on today’s Gospel knows both who he is and who he is not. They ask him in today’s Gospel, “Who are you,” and John answers the question on their minds, “I am not the Christ.” So they ask him, “Are you Elijah?” “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet (the Prophet of whom Moses foretold)?” “No.” “So who are you?” “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’ [for] the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” Untying a sandal strap is something a slave might do for his master, but John the Baptist saw that the gap between his Lord and himself was far more vast than that. God the Father and Christ his Son are all-holy, all-good, and justly entitled to our everything; our time, our bodies, our wealth, our love. His servant must remember that “God is God, and I am not.

True humility is living in the truth about who God is and who you are. The word humility comes from the Latin word for ground. Humility doesn’t mean thinking you are dirt; it’s being well-grounded in the truth, the reality of things. With perfect humility the Blessed Virgin Mary can make this extraordinary proclamation, “From this day all generations will call me blessed. (And she was right!) The Almighty has done great things for me [his lowly servant].” Likewise, acknowledge the great things that God has done in you and praise him for them all, for this is humility.

Though each of us is in need of ongoing conversion in Christ, if you did not take God very seriously I doubt that you would be reading this. A common misperception among sincere Christians is that they do not see themselves as they really are. You are not yet perfect, but that doesn’t mean you’re trash. Let me show you this in some ways that others have found helpful.

Think of your greatest desire. What is it? Perhaps it’s for you and others to be blessed and someday reach Heaven? Now think of the greatest desire of a saint. In as much these two answers align, you have the desires of a saint and so you’re on the right track. Now imagine meeting someone, another person who is just like you in every way, having all of your strengths and weaknesses. What would you think of this person? Would you like them? Could you be their friend? If you would have more kindness or compassion toward him or her than you do on yourself, then try loving yourself like your neighbor for a change. If you, who are imperfect, can like and love that other person, then surely God can like and love you too. If I were a demon, an enemy of your soul, I would try to keep you stuck in lies about yourself to make you despair or limit the good you would do. However, I suspect the truth is that you are doing far better than you fear and are far more loved by God than you can imagine.

The holy seasons and feasts of Christ’s Church present to us year after year anew what God has done, and who he is for us, and who we are to him. Let us live this Advent in the truth about who we are, realizing and rejoicing that this is a year of favor from the Lord and today is a day of salvation.

Five Reflections on St. Joseph

December 11, 2020

By Fr. Victor Feltes

This week, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Joseph as patron of the Universal (that is, the entire) Church, Pope Francis declared this “The Year of St. Joseph” through December 8th, 2021. The Holy Father also published an apostolic letter about Jesus’ beloved foster-father entitled “Patris Corde” (or “With a Father’s Heart”). In it, Pope Francis writes about Christian devotion to this great saint and mentions how the phrase “Go to Joseph” has an Old Testament origin. These are five of my personal reflections on St. Joseph.

Go to Joseph

In the Book of Genesis, during a time of famine across the known world, the Egyptians begged their pharaoh for bread. He in turn replied, “Go to Joseph and do whatever he tells you.” Pharaoh was referring to Joseph the son of Jacob who had risen from a very lowly state to become the viceroy of the kingdom. Enlighted by divinely-inspired dreams, this Joseph’s leadership went on to feed and save the whole world from death, including his own family. According to the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, the New Testament’s Joseph also had a father named Jacob. Though poor and obscure, St. Joseph’s heaven-sent dreams enabled him to guide and protect his Holy Family, leading to the world’s salvation through the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. Today, as a powerful intercessor in the Kingdom of God, we are wise to “go to Joseph” for needed help.

His One Word

Within the Gospels, St. Joseph has no recorded words. There is no indication the foster-father of Jesus and spouse of the Virgin Mary was physically unable to speak or ever took a vow of silence; he is simply never quoted. Yet the Gospels suggest he said at least one specific word.

Matthew’s Gospel records how an angel (probably the Archangel Gabriel though perhaps another) told Joseph in a dream: “‘[Mary, your wife,] will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus…’ When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.” Just as John’s Gospel tells us “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book,” so St. Joseph almost certainly said many unrecorded things. But the one word that Scripture most clearly suggests St. Joseph said is “Jesus.” The name of Jesus is the sum total proclamation of St. Joseph’s life. May it be so for us as well.

Image of the Father

The Letter to the Colossians says of Christ, “He is the image of the invisible God.” Something analogous was true of St. Joseph for Jesus in being the earthly image of his Father in Heaven. Joseph’s life has no recorded beginning or end in the Bible. We know that he was a carpenter craftsman – a creator of many things to be blessing for others. Perhaps he looked at everything he made and found it very good. Alongside Mary, Jesus was obedient to Joseph; he was Jesus’ boyhood teacher, deliverer, and role-model. Jesus lovingly called him, “Abba, father.” St. Joseph was a holy and loving image of God the Father for his Son. Though imperfect, may we likewise be images of God for each of our biological and spiritual children.

The Hour of his Death

When did St. Joseph die? Luke’s Gospel tells us that when 12-year-old Jesus was found at the Temple in Jerusalem he went down with his parents to Nazareth and was obedient to them. After that joyful reunion, St. Joseph makes no further personal appearances in the Gospels. Joseph had apparently passed away by the time of Christ’s Passion since Jesus on the Cross does not entrust his blessed mother’s care to her faithful husband but to a beloved disciple. Other episodes in the Gospels suggest that Joseph died before the start of Jesus’ public ministry.

How did St. Joseph die? If Joseph, the heir to the throne of David, had been murdered we would expect this prefigurement of Jesus’ own death to be described in the Gospels like the death of St. John the Baptist. Unless some sudden catastrophe befell him, an ailing Joseph would have reached his deathbed. And who would have been compassionately comforting him and powerfully praying for him at his bedside as he reached his hour of death? His having most likely died peacefully in the loving presence of Jesus and Mary makes St. Joseph the patron saint of a happy death.

The Terror of Demons

St. Joseph is called “the Terror of Demons” and his spouse “the Queen of Angels.” Yet the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation was greatly troubled and afraid at the Archangel Gabriel’s greeting, and when resettling his Holy Family from Egypt Joseph feared mere flesh and blood – avoiding Judea because Herod’s son ruled there. How can this man and woman now be leaders of awesome angels or banes of dangerous demons?

One key trait Joseph and Mary shared is obedience. The Book of Exodus displays Moses’ obedience by recording God’s instructions to him and then repeatedly presenting Moses doing “just as the Lord had commanded.” Whenever St. Joseph receives instructions from God (to take Mary into his home, to escape to Egypt, or to return to Israel) the text that follows has Joseph doing exactly as God commanded. Mary was also radically open to God’s will, as when she famously said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” The demons, for their part, fell from Heaven’s glory because they refused to do God’s will.

Joseph and Mary were also among the first on earth to accept and love the (then still-unborn) baby Jesus. The demons, in contrast, were the first to reject the Son of God. We do not know the exact reasons for their primordial rebellion but some theorize the demons took offense at God’s plan that the Eternal Son would become an incarnate human being, crowning that creature with a greater glory than the angels. “By the envy of the devil, death entered the world,” says the Book of Wisdom.

Joseph and Mary’s obedience to God’s will and their love for Jesus on earth lead to them being gloriously empowered in Heaven. Jesus told his disciples, “you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” and St. Paul reminded the Corinthians “we will judge angels.” It seems that faithful human creatures who, by God’s grace, love and serve the Lord in the likeness of Christ himself are best suited to become powerful, humble, servant rulers in the Kingdom of Heaven.

St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church, pray for us throughout this holy year!

He Rose Before Us — Funeral Homily for Roland “Rolle” Shadick, 85

December 7, 2020

Today St. Paul’s Parish offers our greatest prayer, the Holy Mass, for Rolle, one of our own. He is well-known and loved by you, and well-known and loved by our Lord. No brief funeral homily can present the fullness of a Christian life, but a Christian’s words and deeds, upon reflection, will reflect the person and life of Jesus Christ.

One of the things his children tell me is that Rolle worked really, really hard, first as a farmer, and then in other jobs, and helping others where he could well into his retirement. To support his wife and family, to do his good works, Rolle would wake up very, very early. He might wake up at 3 or 4 AM to milk the cows or bale some hay, or go out fishing on the lake and bring back his catch to feed his family for breakfast. Through the years, he would rouse his children from bed with a call: “Come to life, come to life!” A new day awaited them. Rolle was so busily active, he did so much, that his family would kid that he had undiagnosed ADHD. “Don’t look back,” he said, “always look ahead.” There is much for us to do in our days on earth.

Rolle knew we have just one life to live and that it is given us as a gift. So he gave faithful thanks to God the Giver, praying and praising Him at church and at home, and supporting the work of Christ’s Church for the salvation of souls. Rolle noted that he and his fellow farmers who did this were successful through God’s blessing. In his final years he reminded others, “It’s later than you think. It’s later than you think.” With this in mind, Rolle renewed his already strong commitment to connecting with his family — whom he apparently loved more than life itself. He did not catch any illness from the 65th wedding anniversary his family threw for him and Clara back in October, but Rolle said at that time, “You know what, if I die from Covid, this day was worth it.” After that joyful celebration were forty days until Rolle came to his final day, dying like our Savior on a Friday afternoon.

As I said before, a Christian’s words and deeds will reflect the person and life of Jesus Christ. Jesus has been hard at work in this world; tending his flock, laboring in his field, fishing for men’s souls. He died and rose before us. He calls out to rouse us from our sleep, “Come to life, come to life,” through conversion on this day and through resurrection on the Last Day. It is good to treasure our memories. It’s OK to mourn, to cry. But we must not, cannot, live in the past. “Don’t look back. Always look ahead,” because a great new day awaits, for you and me and Rolle, a family reunion in our Father’s house with Jesus Christ our risen Lord.

Revealers of God — Funeral Homily for Kevin Lenfant, 70

December 3, 2020

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth,” God said: “Let there be light, and there was light.” By God’s Word all things were made and his divine attributes are reflected in this universe he’s created. In the inspired word of God, the Holy Scriptures, we read about how he reveals himself to humanity throughout salvation history, through powerful deeds, prophetic words, and poetic images that reveal what he is really like. But ultimately and greatest of all, God reveals himself to us through the Son. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.“In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; (but) in these last days, he (speaks) to us through a Son, …through whom he created the universe,” the Word of God. Jesus Christ, the Bible, and God’s creation make use of familiar things to help reveal God to us. There’s warriors battling, couples marrying, fathers fathering, shepherds shepherding, and plants producing new life. A faithful Christian’s life will reveal God too, as his mysteries are reflected in the features of our lives.

There is a great deal of war and conflict in the Scriptures. This should not be surprising, since this world is broken and often evil. Wickedness is at war with goodness, so good men are called upon to defend the defenseless, to shield the innocent from evil assault. No nation is without flaws, but we should love and defend the goodness of our own. In the Old Testament, armed conflicts abound, but in the New Testament the martial imagery is turned to focus upon the spiritual battle which is being fought around us and within us. St. Paul tells us, “put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day,” for our greatest struggle is not with flesh and blood but with spiritual evils in this world. Our calling is to Semper Fi, being “always faithful”, but we know how difficult this is, “for a righteous man may fall seven times.” So when a brother dies we pray for him, like the Maccabean army prayed for their fallen in today’s first reading from the Old Testament, that whatever flaws or attachments to sin remain in them may be purged away, that those who die as friends of God may experience his full and splendid rewards in Heaven.

Another very plentiful thing found in the Bible is shepherds. Among the Old Testament patriarchs there is Abraham, Jacob-Israel, and his twelve sons – shepherds all. Later, there’s the prophet Moses, King David, and Amos the prophet, each of whom tended flocks for some time before receiving a higher calling from God. The first to hear the happy news of Christmas night were shepherds. The bond between a shepherd and his flock can be a very close one. So close that David, in writing today’s psalm, the most famous of all the psalms, depicts God as his shepherd and David himself as his well-cared-for sheep. The sheep of a good shepherd are like his children to him. He is as a father to his flock. “The sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name… and they recognize his voice.” He knows his own and they know him. The good shepherd devotes his life to his sheep and little lambs. He delights in his flock and his presence comforts them. Rita tells me that family came first for Kevin. She tells me how he loves his children and grandchildren, that he loved to watch them grow, and how extremely proud he is of them. Such is his fatherhood.

A third common theme we encounter is married love. The saints see an allegory in the romantic Old Testament book The Song of Songs: God’s pursuit and love of his people Israel. In the Gospels, Jesus Christ calls himself the Bridegroom, and New Testament passages call the relationship of Jesus Christ with his Church a marriage. As Book of Revelation declares, “The marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. … Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” This leads us to a mystery: did God use our familiar and intimate knowledge of human marriage, the covenantal love of a man and woman, to describe the union of Christ and his Church because this was the best available image for him to borrow, or rather did he create and establish marriage from the beginning to reveal and foreshadow the fulfillment with him that was always meant to be?

Rita told me the delightful story of how she and Kevin met. It was another Normal day at Illinois State University where they were both college students. Rita was having a hard time in a political science class, while political science was Kevin’s major, so he came over and tutored her. Apparently Rita was very impressed by many things about him because once he had left she turned to her friend and said, “Don’t let me marry him.” But she did. And it’s a good thing she did. Why was Rita afraid? ‘Well,’ she thought, ‘I’m so young, we’re both in college, he’s planning to be in the Marines, and how would all that work?’ But thankfully these doubts did not prevail. Imagine how much would have been lost if they had! When our Lord Jesus Christ proposes to be a greater part of our lives, we can similarly balk, all sorts of doubts and fears arise, but I urge you, I plead with you, to say “Yes” to him all the same. In this life, opportunities for some relationships pass by without another chance for something more. But with God, no matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done, all long as we still live, we can start more devotedly following him today.

Jesus often preached to the crowds using familiar things. For example, Jesus spoke about fish around fishermen, of bread and salt to bakers and cooks, and of plants to farmers in the countryside. He says, “Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?” At one point Kevin and Rita owned three flower shops. Now there is just the one they started in Bloomer more than forty years ago. Rita tells me that Kevin, between the two of them, probably likes flowers more. The flowers they sold would sprout and grow, beautifully blossom, and then fade and wither. This is a sad reality, but we are consoled by the knowledge that there are more flowers for us to enjoy. Similarly, in this world we are born and grow, we blossom and die, but we are consoled by the knowledge in Christ that this is not our end.

In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Jesus was not eager to suffer, he asked his Father in the Garden if it were possible that this cup of suffering might pass him, but he was not unwilling to die because he knew that would not be the end of good things for him. It’s O.K. to want to live, to fight against illness and death, for life is a great good. But it is also O.K. to die. “For if we live,” as St. Paul says, “we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; …whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” It’s O.K. to mourn. It’s O.K. to cry. But God’s Word reveals to us that we should not despair. Heed God’s word, in creation, on the Sacred Page, and in the person of our Savior, so that you and I and Kevin may all be happily reunited in God story one day.