Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

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.

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.

The Source of her Devotion — Funeral Homily for Donna Hedler, 88

December 3, 2020

St. John the Baptist Church is honored to be offering our greatest prayer, the Holy Mass, for our well-known and well-loved parishioner, Donna. We also pray today for you who love her and mourn her passing, for your consolation and the strengthening of your spirits in Jesus Christ. No brief funeral homily can capture the fullness of a faithful Christian’s life, but when I spoke with Donna’s children about her they emphasized her devotedness: her devotion as a wife, her devotion as a mother, her devotion to her friends and extended family, her devotion to her Catholic Faith.

She was married to Jerome for fifty-five full years and was devoted to him even after his passing. She never removed her wedding band and at the first Christmas after his death she set an empty place for him at the dinner table. Yet she did not grieve like those who have no hope. Several years ago, while she was visiting Jerome’s grave in Thorp, she lost her footing and fell down backwards into about one foot of snow. At that, she made a snow angel. Today, her earthly remains will be buried alongside his there to await the resurrection.

Her children tell me of Donna’s devotion to her friends, grandchildren, nieces and nephews; reflected, for instance, in her visits and hosting, in her correspondence and gifts, in her lit-up smile and kindly words. Her kids tell me she was always there for them, desired the very best for them, and gave them a moral compass. What was the source of Donna’s devotion?

When family gathered at her house around her table to enjoy a Polish meal upon her fancy china, Donna led the prayer – an individual prayer she would compose herself, giving thanks to him from whose bounty we have all received through Christ our Lord. While she was able to attend church she sang his praises here, and once poor health confined her to home she gratefully received Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament. Her devotion was like that of the psalmist who wrote, “This I seek: To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. That I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord.

He, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the source of all our devotion. God is devotion, because God is love, and he calls us to be like himself. But without God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit all human devotion is negated and futile. Without more than just this world alone, the view of the foolish, that the dead are gone forever and their going forth from us is utter destruction, would be right. Instead, like the Song of Songs says, “[As] stern as death is love, relentless as the nether world is devotion; its flames are a blazing fire. But Jesus tells us, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. And I desire to prepare a place for you so that we all may dwell together always.’

So while we pray for Donna’s soul, that she may now joyfully dwell in our Father’s house forever, let us also learn from her devotion. Reconsider and renew your devotion, for the love with which Christ loves us is true, it is life-giving, and it is the way that leads us to Heaven.

The Questions & Answers of Easter Vigil

April 11, 2020

Easter Vigil

Tonight’s Easter Vigil Mass features many readings and accompanying psalms. The Church says the celebrant may chose to skip some of these readings, but tonight we are doing them all; seven from the Old Testament and two from the New, a journey from Genesis to the Gospel. But how does one preach about nine readings in one homily? As I pondered that question, I wondered, “What questions are asked in the readings themselves?

In the beginning in Genesis, when God created the heavens and the earth, there are no questions, only God’s declaring word. Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. God looked at everything he had made and they were very good. From the beginning, God knows his plan.

By the time of our next reading from Genesis, sin has entered our history. Humanity’s rejection of God, reflected in every sin, not only leads to death but creates injustices which must be rectified, hearts which must be converted, relationships which must be reconciled, and evils which must be undone, through sacrifice. “Father!” Isaac says, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?” “Son,” Abraham answers, “God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.

Isaac was spared but would God always provide? Generations later, Moses and the Hebrews are alarmed on the shores of the Red Sea when Pharaoh’s army threatens them. The Lord says to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. And you, lift up your staff and, with hand outstretched over the sea, split the sea in two, that the Israelites may pass through it on dry land.” God delivers his people, destroys their enemy, and leads them to his Promised Land.

How great is God’s love for his people? Isaiah proclaims that the Lord loves and desires Israel as a man does his bride: “The One who has become your husband is your Maker; his name is the Lord of hosts.” Yet Israel would often stray from him. Elsewhere Isaiah asks her, “Why spend your money for what is not bread, your wages for what fails to satisfy?” Later the Prophet Baruch asks, “How is it, Israel, that you are in the land of your foes, grown old in a foreign land, defiled with the dead, accounted with those destined for the netherworld? You have forsaken the fountain of wisdom!” Baruch asks “who has found the place of wisdom, who has entered into her treasuries? The One who knows all things knows her; he has probed her by his knowledge—the One who established the earth….

Through the Prophet Ezekiel, the Lord promises to bring his people to their true home, to wisdom, to holiness, to communion with himself: “I will take you away from among the nations, gather you from all the foreign lands, and bring you back to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees. You shall live in the land I gave your fathers; you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

How is all this to come about? Through Jesus Christ. St. Paul asks the Romans, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.

When Jesus Christ was so shockingly, so horrifically, so unjustly murdered, his heartbroken disciples were full of questions. Is there no reward for the just man? Is there no victory for righteousness? Is evil more powerful than goodness? Is God indifferent to our suffering? Does he not care? Is there no deliverance from sin? Do we have any reason to hope? God answers with Christ’s empty tomb.

Do not be afraid,” the angel says. “I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.” The women, fearful yet overjoyed, run to share this good news when they encounter Jesus on the way. They approach, embrace his feet, and do him homage. Then Jesus says to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

This was God’s plan from the beginning. That sin would be conquered through self-offering. That all would trust in God’s providence and love the perfect Bridegroom. Why spend yourself on what does not satisfy? Why live any longer away from the Lord in foolishness? You have access to a new and transforming Holy Spirit through your baptism, a baptism which has its power from the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is God’s answer to our greatest questions. How will you respond to him? Answer with your faith and love.

Why Jesus Wept

March 28, 2020

5th Sunday of Lent—Year A

When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept.

Why did Jesus weep on his way to Lazarus’ tomb? Was it because he had only just learned of his dear friend Lazarus’ death? No, for Jesus had known long before he reached the village. He had already told his disciples, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.” Did Jesus weep because he had not planned to immediately resurrect Lazarus until sorrow changed his mind? No, for when the news of Lazarus’ sickness first arrived he told his disciples, “This illness is not to end in death,” and two days later he added, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.” Were Jesus’ tears in fact not shed for Lazarus at all?

Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine if I informed you of two facts (about which, let’s suppose, you would have zero doubts): first, that someone you love had recently died — but also, that twenty minutes from now, this same person would be completely alive and healthy, living among us again. How long and profoundly would you mourn for this person? I do not weep over my friends and family going to sleep at night because I believe they will be fully awake again in the morning. Why would Jesus cry for someone he was about to resurrect? But if Jesus was not grieving over the very-soon-to-be-resurrected Lazarus, then why did Jesus weep?

When Mary ran to Jesus and fell at his feet crying, was there a hurt reproach in her voice when she said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”? (‘We sent you a message days ago that our brother was very ill. Why didn’t you save him?‘) Some of the Jews who came to comfort Martha and Mary seemed to doubt Jesus’ care or power. “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” When Jesus saw Mary weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled. Jesus beholds grave anguish, doubt, and despair amidst the faith-testing scandal of death. And because of this, Jesus wept.

On Friday, in the midst of our worldwide pandemic, Pope Francis preached a message of hope in a rainy, dark, and empty St. Peter’s Square. He reflected on another gospel story where facing death challenged peoples’ faith in the love and power of the Lord: Jesus is asleep in the boat during a storm on the Sea of Galilee and his disciples wake him up and ask him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?!” In the words of Pope Francis:

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he [is] in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. (…)

Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

His Cause for Joy — Funeral for Michael “Mike” Rufledt, 67

February 28, 2020

If you had the chance to visit Mike over these past months of his final illness, might have come expecting to see a man anguished and crushed in the face of impending death. You might expect to find a quiet, somber, sad, inconsolable house. But if you visited, you encountered a house of joy; tears—but tears of love; and a joyful man, full of peace. How is this possible? It is the Lord. God had prepared him, God strengthened him, and God accompanied him through it all. And this began long ago.

When Mike was 31 years old, his father Ted died, and this event hit Mike really hard. Mike struggled with heavy grief, a grief he could not let go of or move beyond. He confided his pain to his mother and she gave him wise advice: “Pray to the Holy Spirit, Mike.” He took her advice and prayed. And that night or the next, he had a remarkable dream. He saw his father, standing before him, glowing with light, and smiling a large smile. His father did not say any words in the vision, but his presence and appearance were the message. Despite death, Mike’s father lived on, departed but not gone, still very much alive in God. Mike said that he was fine after that, so happy for his father that he was never stressed about his dad’s death again.

When Mike was 37, his mother Toni also died. Sometimes death’s approach is foreseen and we have time to prepare for it, but her death was sudden and unexpected. Mike was the first into her hospital room after she passed. He mournfully asked, not expecting a response, “What happened, Mom?” and kissed her on the forehead. And then, Mike reports, “I could feel her presence in the room.” Her spirit, her soul, was in his midst. And he heard her say, “It’s OK.” As you can imagine, that was incredibly consoling for Mike. About that time, his sister Mary called him on the phone. She was understandably distressed, like he had been just moments before. He told her, “It’s OK. It’s OK.” She said, “It’s not OK!” But he repeated the same words, “It’s OK.” He was too embarrassed, until recently, to share the story of the source of and reason for his peace that day.

Last year, Mike was up at his hunting cabin when he got the call from his doctor. He called with a grim diagnosis: it was cancer, serious cancer; and most likely, in the not very distant future, it would kill him. Imagine how it would be to receive such a diagnosis yourself. Mike felt like you might imagine. As he drove back home to break the news to Patti, he prayed, “I really need you now, Lord. You’re going to have to help me with this one. Let’s make the best out of this that we can.” To either miraculous recovery or death, they would take this journey together. In that hour Mike was not giving up, but surrendering himself, entrusting himself, to the Lord Jesus. And by the time he arrived back home to the farm, Mike felt peace, an incredible peace that remained with him through the months, weeks, and days that followed. Mike said towards the end of his illness. “[The Lord] really took the reigns on this one. And he stepped up immediately. He’s always there, but he went overboard on this one. I couldn’t thank him enough. He’s there for us all the time, all we have to do is ask. This has been a wonderful journey.

This Wednesday, we were marked with ashes for the beginning of Lent, for we are dust and to dust we shall return. Today we come to a Good Friday; not because death is good—death is not good—but because it is a more than OK thing to die with Jesus Christ. His life, passion, death, and resurrection—it’s all real, it’s true, and Mike’s great wish, then and now, is that you will believe in it, too. Jesus has given us the signs we need, so repent and believe in the Gospel.

Christ, the Peace Light, is Born

December 27, 2018

In the city of Israel that is called Bethlehem, the ancient Church of the Nativity marks the site of the first Christmas. There one can actually stoop and bend down beneath the central altar & touch the celebrated spot where Jesus Christ was born. It is fitting that the pilgrims bend low to do this, because the miracle of God becoming a human being — to live and die and rise for us — surely deserves humble reverence with everything that we are.

Earlier this year, as has happened for a number of years now, an Austrian child and their family was selected to travel to Bethlehem. Candles and lamps are always burning within the Church of the Nativity, and there this chosen child transferred their fire into two blast-proof lanterns. Then they all flew back to Austria, where this flame (called “The Peace Light”) has spread from lamp to lamp, light to light, candle to candle, into more than thirty European countries and to places around the world. On December 1st of this year, the Peace Light arrived at J.F.K. Airport in New York City and it has traveled from there across our country. This week, it providentially came to our parish.

Last Friday, a Hudson couple traveling with the Peace Light approached me after morning Mass at St. Paul’s. I had never heard of the Peace Light before, but I happily received it and kept it for this Christmas celebration. All the flames you see burning our sanctuary this Christmas were originally lit from Bethlehem’s flame. Now I carefully carried, protected, and preserved this light; especially when I only had one vigil candle. I realized that one error, one jostling of the liquid wax, could extinguish the fire; and then what would become of this, my Christmas homily? I’d be lost. But, thanks be to God, these candles are lit here today.

So why do we have candles at Mass? Since the early days of Christianity, when Catholic Mass was celebrated in hiding, underground in the catacombs, lamps have provided useful illumination. But these lights are not merely practical. In the late 300’s A.D., a heretic named Vigilantius criticized Christians in the East about many of their practices, including their lighting of great piles of candles while the sun was still shining in the sky. St. Jerome declared in answer to him that candles are lighted where the Gospel is proclaimed not merely to put darkness to flight, but as a sign of joy. As an added symbol, these candles on the altar (and the Easter Candle) are, by tradition, mostly made of beeswax. Because beeswax, which is the product of the virginal female bee, is like the flesh of Our Lord supplied by the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Of course, the celebrated Peace Light is not merely a symbol of some abstract notion or idea of peace; it’s a symbol of the very real person of Jesus Christ. The “Light of the World” entered our world from his mother’s womb in Bethlehem. And his light has spread across the world and throughout time to this place and our day. Today, our candles burn and shine for him.

Within you there is also candle, but it is a very vulnerable light. Through error or neglect its light can go out. And without this light we are in darkness without true joy. So Jesus commands us to regularly gather all our candles together here, to be re-lit from the Source, the Light of Christ. In conclusion, in case my symbolism has been too subtle: Have a very joyful Christmas, and know that Jesus Christ (who loves you) wishes you to return here again for his Holy Mass next Sunday.

A Parable on Pushing Boulders

January 24, 2018

Once upon a time, a Christian hermit lived in a cabin on a wooded mountainside, devoting himself to prayer. One morning, as he quieted himself and opened himself receptively to God, he sensed Jesus speaking to him – hearing him not with his ears but in his mind. The Lord said, “Go to that large boulder outside your house.” The man got up and went. Then the Lord said, “I want you to push this boulder for a half-hour every day.” The man obeyed, daily exerting his body in every manner against the smooth, massive stone, yet even after months of pushing the boulder remained completely unmoved.

The man asked himself, “Why am I failing? What am I doing wrong? The Gospels say that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains, but I can’t even budge this boulder an inch. Why does God demand this of me when he knows I can’t do it?” At this, the man became quite angry and (wisely) voiced his frustration, confusion, and hurt to the Lord.

The man heard Jesus reply, “Do you have reason to be angry? I told you to push the boulder, but I never asked you to move it. Look at your arms, look at your legs – by your faithfulness to me you have become strong. Now you are prepared for my next task for you. Though you thought you were failing, you were succeeding in fulfilling my will.”

Catholics Who Moved Mountains

September 29, 2016

        Jesus said his apostles, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” On another occasion, he told his disciples, “Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

        Though I have yet to come across any historical accounts of saints transplanting foliage or excavating stones by faith-powered miracles, there are many historically-documented incidents of Catholics achieving the seemingly-impossible on earth through their faith.

St. John Paul II and the Soviet Union’s Fall

        Karol Wojtyła barely survived the Nazi’s occupation of Poland, but once that evil was defeated the Soviet Union replaced them. As parish priest and later as an archbishop, Wojtyła championed the Catholic Faith against the atheistic communists’ religious persecution. Upon his election as pope in 1978, John Paul II’s first papal journey abroad was to go back to his homeland.

        While there, he celebrated an outdoor Mass before millions, proclaiming Jesus’ words, “Be not afraid!” The crowd shouted in reply, “We want God! We want God! We want God!” Speaking in defense of human dignity, he encouraged all people to peacefully pursue true freedom. The threat posed by this Polish pope (armed merely with his words, example, and prayers) was so potent that the Soviets may have ordered his nearly successful assassination in 1981.

        On the 1984 Feast of the Annunciation, Pope John Paul consecrated Russia (along with the whole world) to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, just as she had requested in her appearances at Fatima, Portugal in 1917. On Christmas Day, seven years later, a miracle was realized. Mikhail Gorbachev peacefully resigned as the President of the Soviet Union and from atop the Kremlin, the Soviet flag was lowered forever. The ‘Evil Empire‘ ended not by a thousand Sun-bright nuclear blasts, but through the peaceful power of God and the faithfulness of his holy, humble servant.

St. Joan of Arc’s Liberation of France

 joan-of-arc-at-the-coronation-of-charles-vii       In the 15th century, France was delivered from English domination by history’s most-unlikely military commander; a teenage peasant girl. Joan had no military training, but she was compelled by visions and the voices of Sts. Michael, Catherine, and Margaret to lead the French forces, drive out the English, and see prince Charles VII crowned king at Reims. With divine help, she achieved all these feats before her martyrdom at the hand of the English at the age of nineteen. Mark Twain (though not generally a fan of historic Christianity) wrote of her:

Whatever thing men call great, look for it in Joan of Arc, and there you will find it. …It took six thousand years to produce her; her like will not be seen in the earth again in fifty thousand. …  She is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.

        St. Joan of Arc was indeed great, but her glory was but the mere reflection of God’s infinite splendor.

Fleming’s Discovery of Penicillin

        History has seen many great Catholic scientists, including Copernicus (Sun-centrism), Bacon (the scientific method), Descartes (modern geometry), Mendel (genetics), Pasteur (microbiology), and Lemaître (the Big Bang Theory) just to name a handful. But one Catholic scientist’s search for effective antibiotics in the early 20th century saved an estimated two hundred million lives. Through insights occasioned by providential occurrences, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. In this, he saw himself employed as an instrument by God:

I can only suppose that God wanted penicillin, and that this was his reason for creating Alexander Fleming.”

St. Patrick’s Conversion of Ireland

        In the 5th century, a 16-year-old boy was kidnapped from Britain and sold into slavery on a distant, pagan isle. There he experienced a spiritual awakening. He tells us:

I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time. And it was there of course that one night in my sleep I heard a voice saying to me: ‘You do well to fast: soon you will depart for your home country.’ And again, a very short time later, there was a voice prophesying: ‘Behold, your ship is ready.’ And it was not close by, but, as it happened, two hundred miles away, where I had never been nor knew any person. And shortly thereafter I turned about and fled from the man with whom I had been for six years, and I came, by the power of God who directed my route to advantage (and I was afraid of nothing), until I reached that ship.”

        Lead on by this faith, he went on to become a priest, a bishop, and a missionary to the land of his former bondage. Today we think of Ireland as a very Catholic country, but it only became so through the courageous faith of St. Patrick.

Our Lord’s Redemption of the World

        In the 1st century, by his short three-year ministry in a backwater of the Roman Empire, this poor man from Nazareth transformed the world forever. Jesus Christ is the pattern for all fruitful disciples who have followed him since, achieving the impossible through faith and the power of God. One anonymous author describes Christ in these words:

Greatest man in history, named Jesus.
Had no servants, yet they called Him Master.
Had no degree, yet they called Him Teacher.
Had no medicines, yet they called Him Healer.
He had no army, yet kings feared Him.
He won no military battles, yet He conquered the world.
He committed no crime, yet they crucified Him.
He was buried in a tomb, yet He lives today.


Jesus on the Cross

Tips for Raising Faith-Filled Children

April 13, 2016
  • Tell your children every day that you love them and that God loves them too.
  • Listen attentively and respectfully to what your child says.
  • Forgive frequently. Ask forgiveness when you have done wrong. Look for the humor in stressful situations and hug often.
  • Ask children to consider “what if…” when dealing  with challenging situations. Help them find creative, peaceful, and moral responses.
  • Tell your child that you pray for them every day and DO it. Thank God for the gifts they are.
  • Share your faith beliefs so your child can understand your hopes. Also share your doubts so they understand that doubts do not overwhelm faith.
  • Bless your child before bedtime by tracing the Sign of the Cross on their foreheads and saying: “God love you and keep you safe” or some other blessing. Teach your child to respond. “Amen.”
  • Encourage your child to value others for who they are – not what they have. Help them to develop Christian virtues and to treat others kindly and with respect.
  • Once a week, have a family night when you “unplug” to play board games, do crafts, read stories, or take time to talk together.
  • Honor family  dinner. The benefits are amazing and establish a sacred time to share the joys and trials of life with each other.
  • Pray before meals, before bed, during holidays and family celebrations, and any time when one needs guidance or comfort.
  • Have a family Bible and read the Gospel passages before Church.
  • Decorate your house for the liturgical seasons with an Advent wreath, purple during Lent, and a prominently placed crucifix.
  • Take time to ponder the beauty of creation with your child. Easter is a wonderful time to appreciate the new life of springtime.
  • During the fall and spring, help your child sort through their clothes and toys to donate to a shelter. Bring the child with you when you drop off your donations.
  • Select a patron saint to watch over your children when they become involved in a sporting activity. Pray to that saint every time they are at a practice or event.
  • Participate in the Catholic Relief  Services Rice Bowl program: read the prayers during Lent, look up the featured countries, and donate coins in the box provided.
  • Introduce your child to older people or those with disabilities in your neighborhood. Find out if they need assistance with chores or shopping.
  • When you can’t physically help someone, pray for them.
  • Choose sporting events that do not conflict with your Sunday Mass attendance.
  • Encourage “secret” good deeds.
  • Contribute to a food bank. Ask your child to help you with the collection and delivery.
  • Watch TV with your child and explain during commercials or afterward what you found to be good, wholesome, and valuable. If you find a program objectionable explain why when changing the channel.
  • Encourage your child to use their God-given talents to serve others.
  • Help your child find ways to participate in the of the parish, such as being an altar server, choir member, greeter, or reader.
  • Invite your parish priest over for dinner.
  • Volunteer in your child’s religious education program or Catholic school.
  • Have the sporting equipment your child uses get blessed.
  • Read stories from the Bible and biographies of saints to your child. Several great videos can also be found online.
  • Ask grandparents, godparents, and extended family to share stories about the family their faith lives.
  • On the anniversaries of your children’s Baptism, light their Baptismal candles and tell stories about that special day.
  • Display religious items in your home, such as a cross, artwork, or a picture of your child’s patron saint. Talk to your child about them.
  • By the way you live, let your child know that life is good, that your values and faith guide your decisions and how you interact with others, and that the happiness you experience is a direct result of your personal relationship with God.

Adapted from the pamphlet “Raising Your Child With Faith” by Cecilia P. Regan.

Fallaciously Faithless — Monday, 10th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

June 8, 2015

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 1:1-7

St. Paul writes to the Christians at Corinth:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all encouragement,  who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.

When I was in college, there was a span of a couple of weeks when I stopped receiving the Holy Eucharist. I kept going to Mass, but I hesitated to approach for Communion. I refrained because I feared that I did not have enough faith in the Lord to receive Him worthily.

pondering-at-a-question-markI shared my concerns with our Newman Center parish priest. Father Mark did not provide me with any specific answers, but I remember him saying, “Perhaps God is allowing you to experience this so that someday you can help other people who are going through the same thing.” Inside, I felt like saying, “Thanks for nothing, Father.”

I kept praying and pondering for several days until this realization finally came to me: “People who don’t believe in God don’t spend time worrying about whether or not they believe in God—that’s something only a believer would do.” If I was worried about whether I had faith, then there was no reason to worry. Freed from my fear and greatly relieved, I returned to Holy Communion.

If you know someone trapped in the same spot I was, please feel free to pass this helpful insight along. Father Mark and St. Paul were right. God encourages us in our every affliction so that we may encourage others with the same encouragement we receive from Him.

Theological Gifts & Obligations — Tuesday, 15th Week of Ordinary Time

July 15, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 11:20-24

Jesus began to reproach the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done, since they had not repented. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! … For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

In the visitation of Jesus Christ, Chorazin and Bethsaida had advantages that no people before them had ever enjoyed. The Word of God was before them, but they did not accept him. Incarnate love was among them, but they did not embrace him. The hope of the world was in their midst, but they did not change their ways.

Consider how much more understanding we have of Christ and his teachings than they, how much we have experienced the love of Christ and his people, how many prophesies of Christ we have seen fulfilled. How much more cause do we have to respond to him with faith, hope, and love; how much more of an obligation. As St. Bonaventure said:

“Three things are necessary to everyone regardless of status, sex, or age, i.e., truth of faith which brings understanding; love of Christ which brings compassion; endurance of hope which brings perseverance. No adult is in the state of salvation unless he has faithful understanding in his mind, loving compassion in his heart, and enduring perseverance in his actions.”

Refusing Signs — Monday, 6th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

February 17, 2014

Readings: James 1:1-11, Mark 8:11-13

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.

Yet, soon before this scene in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus took seven loaves and a few fish and miraculously fed about 4,000 people with them. That is a sign as surely as his resurrection will be, so how can Jesus say “no sign will be given to this generation”? Perhaps because there was no sign that his critics would accept.

The Pharisees sought “a sign from heaven.” If Jesus had performed some meteorological sign for them they may well have judged him as more evil than they had thought, in union with the demons of the air, just as they had condemned his manifest power to cast out demons. (Mark 3:21-30) They asked for proof but refused to accept evidence in his favor–they were of people of two minds, like St. James describes in the first reading:

But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it. But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways.

Let us pray for those who do not believe; for the sincere, that they may be given sufficient evidence to change their minds, and for the obstinate, that their hardened hearts may be opened. And let us who believe in God (as even the Pharisees did) not cause Jesus to “[sigh] from the depth of his spirit.” Let us be trusting and docile in following him.

“Miracles Happen,” or “Atheism Can be a Dogmatic Faith”

January 23, 2014

A neat article by National Catholic Register’s Mark Shea recounts how the miracles of Lourdes can bestow faith to an atheist or reveal his hardened heart.

Excerpts from Lumen Fidei, The Light of Faith (Part 4)

July 25, 2013

The light of faith is capable of enhancing the richness of human relations, their ability to endure, to be trustworthy, to enrich our life together. Faith does not draw us away from the world or prove irrelevant to the concrete concerns of the men and women of our time. Without a love which is trustworthy, nothing could truly keep men and women united. Human unity would be conceivable only on the basis of utility, on a calculus of conflicting interests or on fear…. Faith is truly a good for everyone; it is a common good. Its light does not simply brighten the interior of the Church, nor does it serve solely to build an eternal city in the hereafter; it helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey towards a future of hope. (§51)

The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (see Genesis 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan. Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many features of faith. Promising love for ever is possible when we perceive a plan bigger than our own ideas and undertakings, a plan which sustains us and enables us to surrender our future entirely to the one we love. Faith also helps us to grasp in all its depth and richness the begetting of children, as a sign of the love of the Creator who entrusts us with the mystery of a new person. (§52)

In the family, faith accompanies every age of life, beginning with childhood: children learn to trust in the love of their parents. This is why it is so important that within their families parents encourage shared expressions of faith which can help children gradually to mature in their own faith. …We have all seen, during World Youth Days, the joy that young people show in their faith and their desire for an ever more solid and generous life of faith. (§53)

Modernity sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure. We need to return to the true basis of brotherhood. …Thanks to faith we have come to understand the unique dignity of each person, something which was not clearly seen in antiquity. …Without insight into these realities, there is no criterion for discerning what makes human life precious and unique. Man loses his place in the universe, he is cast adrift in nature, either renouncing his proper moral responsibility or else presuming to be a sort of absolute judge, endowed with an unlimited power to manipulate the world around him. (§54)

When faith is weakened, the foundations of life also risk being weakened, as the poet T.S. Eliot warned: “Do you need to be told that even those modest attainments / As you can boast in the way of polite society / Will hardly survive the Faith to which they owe their significance?”If we remove faith in God from our cities, mutual trust would be weakened, we would remain united only by fear and our stability would be threatened. (§55)

To speak of faith often involves speaking of painful testing, yet it is precisely in such testing that [St.] Paul sees the most convincing proclamation of the Gospel, for it is in weakness and suffering that we discover God’s power which triumphs over our weakness and suffering. …Christians know that suffering cannot be eliminated, yet it can have meaning and become an act of love and entrustment into the hands of God who does not abandon us; in this way it can serve as a moment of growth in faith and love. By contemplating Christ’s union with the Father even at the height of his sufferings on the cross (see Mark 15:34), Christians learn to share in the same gaze of Jesus. Even death is illumined and can be experienced as the ultimate call to faith, …the ultimate “Come!” spoken by the Father, to whom we abandon ourselves in the confidence that he will keep us steadfast even in our final passage. (§56)

Let us turn in prayer to Mary, Mother of the Church and Mother of our faith.

Mother, help our faith! Open our ears to hear God’s word and to recognize his voice and call. Awaken in us a desire to follow in his footsteps, to go forth from our own land and to receive his promise. Help us to be touched by his love, that we may touch him in faith. Help us to entrust ourselves fully to him and to believe in his love, especially at times of trial, beneath the shadow of the cross, when our faith is called to mature. Sow in our faith the joy of the Risen One. Remind us that those who believe are never alone. Teach us to see all things with the eyes of Jesus, that he may be light for our path. And may this light of faith always increase in us, until the dawn of that undying day which is Christ himself, your Son, our Lord!

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 29 June, the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, in the year 2013, the first of my pontificate. (§60)