Archive for the ‘Christian Perfection’ Category

My Ascension

May 23, 2020

Ascension of the Lord—Year A
By Deacon Dick Kostner

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. We also need to celebrate the the fact that Jesus remains with us for all eternity individually for all to rejoice by and through the Sacraments gifted to us by Jesus and the vocation directed to all who have received the Sacrament of Baptism by being called to be the body, hands, mind, heart, and feet of Jesus here on Earth by and through his marriage with us as members of the Church of Christ. Wow, what a privilege, but what a responsibility.

Our readings tell us that we have been chosen to respond to the call to be the Body of Christ here on earth as we continue our journey, our “Ascension” to Jesus who resides with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is through the Sacraments that we receive a helper to guide us on our mission. The Paraclete joins to our body and spirit whenever we celebrate the gift of Sacraments given us by Jesus when he walked in body here on earth. Through the gift of Sacrament we become one in Spirit with God who helps guide us on missions he has requested of us.

As told us in our second reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians: “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe…

How do we know that Jesus is still with us. Good question, but all we need to do is watch and listen for he will speak to us and help us discern the will and hopes he has for us. I will share with you a personal example of knowing God is still here with us. Everyone knows the struggle and fear that exists about re-opening with the virus still spreading. It has not been easy for your clergy to celebrate private Masses without you, the larger Body of Christ, being present. How do we as clergy know what to do or how to continue ministry during these trying times? The answer lies in prayer. Personal prayer to the one who promised to be with us always on our journey to the Father’s house. Prayer need not be formal or fancy for prayer is nothing more than talking with God about problems or challenges we are experiencing. It is through communication, it is through prayer, that relationships are formed.

Recently I have been asking God for direction on knowing what God would like me to do during these challenging times when we are asked to curb our direct contacts with others. I have also asked for some communication from Jesus as to my personal mission he desires me to embark upon. A couple of weeks ago just before celebrating Mass with Father Victor, he requested that I pick out a couple of names for our parish calendar raffle. I reached in, stirred the tickets, and grabbed two raffle tickets which were sitting next to each other. The first name I picked was Steve Turner. Steve was one of the people who joined St. Paul’s Catholic Church a year ago and had attended our Parish RCIA classes. I remarked to Father that Steve is one of those guys that has always been lucky; whether in love in finding his gifted spouse, or in fishing at the right spot. The second name I picked was, guess who? Deacon Dick. What a coincidence!

It was during the Mass that I realized the event that had just happened. I had received an answer to what God wished me to continue to do. He told me that I was important in helping others find their way to the Church of Christ and to the vocation of being the Body of Christ. And how has this affected Steve’s life? He is now an adult server in our parish and he and his wife help out with our RCIA program, with him heralding the fact that since his marriage to Elaine he has been in Church more than all of his previous years of his life. What a coincidence!

Guess what? Jesus is not up in the clouds, He is still with us through the Body of Christ and his Sacraments. Thank you Jesus for being our supernatural friend. Wishing to all of you as the Body of Christ, a blessed Ascension!

Our Favorite Psalms

May 10, 2020


Matthew Bowe – Psalm 8

My favorite psalm is Psalm 8 – “Yet you [man] have made him little less than a god, crowned him with glory and honor” (verse six). As a mathematics and physics education major in college, I had opportunities to enroll plenty of science courses, including two astronomy courses. I have a fascination with the heavenly bodies. Last year in March I went to Arizona on a science pilgrimage and visited Kitt Peak, which houses astronomical observatories. The universe is expansive and immense. Yet, God is bigger than that. He created the universe, and He is always in control. “O Lord, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth! I will sing of your majesty above the heavens” (verse two). Although the universe massive, it is insignificant compared to God. However, God is Love, and He loves us. We have immense worth and dignity. He gave us “rule over the works of” His “hands” (verse 7a). God is significant for us, and we are significant to Him.


Isaac Pecha – Psalm 16

My favorite Psalm is number 16, principally on account of two lines. The first is “He has put into my heart a marvelous love, for the faithful ones who dwell in his land.” I love this visual of how God, who so loves his children, chooses to show some of his love for others through us. It reminds me of when my dad would invite me to help prepare a Mother’s Day gift for my mom with him — he could have done it just as well on his own, but because he loves both me and my mom, he chose to include me in his act of love for her. The second line is “It is you [God] yourself who are my prize; the lot marked out for me is my delight: welcome indeed the heritage that falls to me!” As a convert to Catholicism, I love the idea of inheriting the Faith from those who went before us. In my hope to become a priest (God-willing), I dream of being involved in God’s acts of love for his children and of passing on this heritage of faith to others in the particular ways that a priest does.


Eric Mashak – Psalm 22

When I first read the passion narrative in the Gospel of Mark I was not sure what to think of verse 27:46. It is where, from the cross, Jesus says those famous words: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Had the Father really forsaken His Beloved Son? I asked a great assortment of similar questions! It wasn’t until a few years later that I found out that Jesus was actually quoting Psalm 22, which begins: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? …” As Jesus grew up praying the Psalms, he knew many of them by heart. They exemplify His relationship with the Father. Reading Psalm 22 in its entirety, I realized that it is actually a psalm of trust in the Father even in the midst of intense tribulation. Jesus was praying this psalm, in His knowledge and love of the Father, in His dying moments. It is beautiful to be brought into the relationship between the Father and the Son in praying this Psalm.


Fr. Victor Feltes – Psalm 63

Praying in bed at night or before the tabernacle in the sanctuary, I desired God since my youth. “O God, you are my God, for you I long.” I saw that without Him there is no lasting satisfaction. “So I gaze on you in the sanctuary to see your strength and your glory.” I discerned that serving God would be the best use of my life. “So I will bless you all my life, in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul shall be filled as with a banquet, my mouth shall praise you with joy.” My desire for the priesthood was really something He placed in me and the Lord brought my vocation to fulfillment, “for you have been my help; in the shadow of your wings I rejoice.” Jesus at the Father’s right hand and Mary at the right hand of Christ have been faithful in their love for me. “My soul clings to you; your right hand holds me fast.” I have not memorized many scripture passages but I know the first twenty lines of the 63rd Psalm very well.

How They All Went Wrong

May 3, 2020

4th Sunday of Easter—Year A

Why did Satan rebel against God?
Why did Judas betray Jesus?
Why did Peter deny the Lord three times?
The underlying answer is important for our present lives.

Why did the Devil rebel? Though mysterious, it seems that this angel proudly desired a greater “glory” than was found in God’s hierarchy. To be God without God. This was his suggestion in tempting our first parents; “you will be like gods”. Satan, being the most powerful of the demons, rules a fallen kingdom apart from goodness, truth, and God.

Why did Judas Iscariot betray Jesus? It might have been for the money; thirty pieces of silver was about five weeks of wages and St. John the Apostle reports that Judas “was a thief and held the [apostles’] moneybag and used to steal the contributions.” Yet St. Matthew writes that when Judas saw Jesus condemned he deeply regretted what he had done and returned the money to the chief priests and elders saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” Perhaps Judas never intended the Lord to die but had hoped that Jesus, with his back against the wall, would finally wield his mighty, miraculous powers to claim David’s earthly kingdom (and hand Judas himself a privileged place within it.) Yet Judas’ dishonest and disloyal scheming left him with nothing.

Why did Simon Peter deny the Lord three times during the Passion? St. John’s Gospel suggests he lied about having any connection to Jesus first to gain entry into the courtyard of the high priest, then to keep from being tossed out, and finally to avoid being physically assaulted by a relative of the man whose ear he had severed with a sword earlier that evening in the garden. St. Luke tells us that Peter, when he then heard a rooster crow, “went out and began to weep bitterly” over what he had done.

Satan, Judas, and Peter chose sin because they thought wrongdoing was the way to good things they would not otherwise have. But this is not Jesus’ way. In our second reading St. Peter writes of the Lord, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” He was “leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.” In our Gospel, Jesus declares:

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers. … Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.

Jesus is our gate. He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Always come and go through this narrow gate, for many prefer to bypass it like thieves and robbers. “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” Jesus’ sheep know his voice and are called to uncompromisingly follow it. Before Pontius Pilate, Jesus said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

The words of a Jewish proverb pray to God:

Two things I ask of you,
do not deny them to me before I die:
Put falsehood and lying far from me,
give me neither poverty nor riches;
provide me only with the food I need;
Lest, being full, I deny you,
saying, “Who is the Lord?”
Or, being in want, I steal,
and profane the name of my God.

In our present season of trial, the complacency of riches has withdrawn but other temptations draw near. This is a time of testing. Will I tell lies? Will I steal? Will I sin to possess or enjoy good things I might not otherwise have? Do not give in, do not compromise, do not capitulate to evil. This is Christ’s will for you. Remember and be resolved: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”

But what if you do go on to fall, or what if you have already sinned? What then should you do? Due to their nature, the demons will never adjust their wills towards repentance. Judas deeply regretted what he had done but he despaired of forgiveness and forfeited his life. St. Peter however returned, repented, and renewed his devotion to his Savior. (“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”) St. John assures us about Christ, “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.”

The commandments of Christ flow from his own divine nature — total truth, pure goodness, perfect love — and these must not be spurned. Yet realize that the essence of Christianity is not rules or laws but a personal relationship: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. … I will not reject anyone who comes to me.” Follow the Good Shepherd faithfully and goodness and kindness will follow all the days of your life and you shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Screwtape on Pandemics

March 25, 2020

I was introduced to the Christian writing of C.S. Lewis years ago during a time of temptation. Alone at my uncle and aunt’s home, I prayed to God for some kind of diversion. “Lord, give me something (to change where I see things are headed).” The next moment, scanning the living room shelves, I saw a book cover with the image you see here. That paperback preserved me that evening and would go one to become one of my all-time favorite books: The Screwtape Letters.

In these letters, a senior demon named Screwtape instructs a junior demon, his “nephew” Wormwood, in the tactics of misleading humans. Screwtape describes how to draw the soul of one’s “patient” away from God (“the Enemy“) toward the devil (“Our Father Below“). The book is not only often seasoned with ironic, dry humor, but also contains great insights into human nature and spiritual realities.

At the time of Screwtape’s fifth letter to Wormwood, Britain had just recently entered the Second World War. However, as Lewis observes in his preface, “The history of the European War, except in so far as it happens now and then to impinge upon the spiritual condition of one human being, is obviously of no interest to Screwtape.” What the demon has to say about the influence of war in the greater battle for souls contains spiritual reflections that apply to our current time of pandemic as well.

Below is the text of that letter refashioned with pandemic being substituted for war.

 

My dear Wormwood,

It is a little bit disappointing to expect a detailed report on your work and to receive instead such a vague rhapsody as your last letter. You say you arc “delirious with joy” because [of this new pandemic.](1) I see very well what has happened to you. You are not delirious; you are only drunk. Reading between the lines in your very unbalanced account of the patient’s sleepless night, I can reconstruct your state of mind fairly accurately. For the first time in your career you have tasted that wine which is the reward of all our labours — the anguish and bewilderment of a human soul — and it has gone to your head. I can hardly blame you. I do not expect old heads on young shoulders. Did the patient respond to some of your terror-pictures of the future? Did you work in some good self-pitying glances at the happy past? — some fine thrills in the pit of his stomach, were there? You played your violin prettily did you? Well, well, it’s all very natural. But do remember. Wormwood, that duty comes before pleasure. If any present self-indulgence on your part leads to the ultimate loss of the prey, you will be left eternally thirsting for that draught of which you are now so much enjoying your first sip. If, on the other hand, by steady and cool-headed application here and now you can finally secure his soul, he will then be yours forever — a brim-full living chalice of despair and horror and astonishment which you can raise to your lips as often as you please. So do not allow any temporary excitement to distract you from the real business of undermining faith and preventing the formation of virtues. Give me without fail in your next letter a full account of the patient’s reactions to the war, so that we can consider whether you are likely to do more good by making him [a reactionary extremist of one kind or the other.](2) There are all sorts of possibilities. In the meantime, I must warn you not to hope too much from a [pandemic.](3)

Of course a [plague](3) is entertaining. The immediate fear and suffering of the humans is a legitimate and pleasing refreshment for our myriads of toiling workers. But what permanent good does it do us unless we make use of it for bringing souls to Our Father Below? When I see the temporal suffering of humans who finally escape us, I feel as if I had been allowed to taste the first course of a rich banquet and then denied the rest. It is worse than not to have tasted it at all. The Enemy; true to His barbarous methods of warfare, allows us to see the short misery of His favourites only to tantalise and torment us — to mock the incessant hunger which, during this present phase of the great conflict, His blockade is admittedly imposing. Let us therefore think rather how to use, than how to enjoy, this [worldwide pandemic.](4) For it has certain tendencies inherent in it which are, in themselves, by no means in our favour. We may hope for a good deal of cruelty and [greed.](5) But, if we are not careful, we shall see thousands turning in this tribulation to the Enemy, while tens of thousands who do not go so far as that will nevertheless have their attention diverted from themselves to values and causes which they believe to be higher than the self. I know that the Enemy disapproves many of these causes. But that is where He is so unfair. He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophistical ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew. Consider too what undesirable deaths occur [in plagues.](6) Men [die](7) in places where they knew they might [die](8) and to which they go, if they are at all of the Enemy’s party, prepared. How much better for us if all humans died [of old age](9) in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition! And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which [pandemic](3) enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. [During a plague](6) not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.

I know that Scabtree and others have seen in [plagues](10) a great opportunity for attacks on faith, but I think that view was exaggerated. The Enemy’s human partisans have all been plainly told by Him that suffering is an essential part of what He calls Redemption; so that a faith which is destroyed by a war or a pestilence cannot really have been worth the trouble of destroying. I am speaking now of diffused suffering over a long period such as the [pandemic](3) will produce. Of course, at the precise moment of terror, bereavement, or physical pain, you may catch your man when his reason is temporarily suspended. But even then, if he applies to Enemy headquarters, I have found that the post is nearly always defended.

Your affectionate uncle
SCREWTAPE

 

Endnotes:

(1) – Originally, “the European humans have started another of their wars.”

(2) – “an extreme patriot or an ardent pacifist.”

(3) – “war”

(4) – “European war”

(5) – The original word here was “unchastity,” but the levels of that sin during this pandemic appear either decreased or the same as before. An intense and selfish attachment to material goods and wealth seems the more tempting vice at this time.

(6) – “in wartime”

(7) – “are killed”

(8) – “be killed”

(9) – These words are my insertion as a contrast to those dying in nursing homes from the Coronavirus.

(10) – “wars”


For more of The Screwtape Letters, I highly-recommend this excellent illustrated series on YouTube.

What We Should Do Now

March 25, 2020

The Solemnity of the Annunciation

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and 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.”

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.


What would it be like to be visited by an angel? Scripture tells us “some [people] have unknowingly entertained angels,” like Gideon or Tobiah, because angels can appear on earth in human disguise. But if you ever saw an angel in unveiled glory this spiritual creature would not be a winged Precious Moments character like some people imagine. As C.S. Lewis writes in the preface of his book The Screwtape Letters:

In the plastic arts [the symbolic representations of angels] have steadily degenerated. Fra Angelico’s angels carry in their face and gesture the peace and authority of Heaven. Later come the chubby infantile nudes of Raphael; finally the soft, slim, girlish and consolatory angels of nineteenth-century art… They are a pernicious symbol. In Scripture the visitation of an angel is always alarming; it has to begin by saying “Fear not.” The Victorian angel looks as if it were going to say “There, there.

When the Archangel Gabriel came and greeted the Virgin Mary in Nazareth, “she was greatly troubled.” He must calm and reassure her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” His message from Heaven is a weighty and mysterious one: you shall conceive and bear the Messiah, the Christ, who is both the heir to David’s kingdom and the Son of Almighty God. Mary has apparently made a prior vow to remain a virgin within her current marriage to Joseph, for she questions how she would ever conceive apart from relations with a man. Gabriel explains this will be through the power of God, for whom all things are possible. Even this answer leaves a great deal unrevealed.

It’s natural for Mary to feel anxious. She has heard God’s promises but much remains uncertain for her near and distant future: Will Joseph believe her? How should she parent such a Holy Child? How will Jesus become king? What will happen to her? How long or difficult will her life be? God’s full plan is unknown to Mary, but she knows what to do for that moment. She says, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Through this faithful, trusting response, Jesus Christ saves his Church, the Virgin Mary becomes the Most Blessed, and every generation is blessed.

It’s natural to feel anxious now. We have received God’s promises but much remains uncertain about our near and distant future. Follow Mary’s example and entrust your life to God’s will, so that you may be the most blessed and a great multitude may be blessed through you.

Beware of False Dilemmas

March 24, 2020

Tuesday, 4th Week of Lent

Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes. In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.


Jesus asks the infirm man lying near the pool, “Do you want to be well?” He answers, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.” The best early Greek manuscripts of John’s Gospel do not contain the verse (John 5:4) and many modern Bibles omit it, but this ancient passage explains what the surrounding verses imply: “From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease they had.

The afflicted man perceives only two possibilities, a dilemma; either be healed by being the fastest into the water or continue in his infirmity. The first path is impossible and the second leaves him miserable. The man is tempted toward despair yet he remains patiently near the pool. And there he encounters Jesus who reveals a new, third way he had not imagined, a better option he had not seen. Jesus says to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk,” and immediately the man arises cured.

Beware of accepting false dilemmas in life. They can take many forms. Should I keep on being late into the water or give up on ever being cured? Should I ignore the Church’s teaching or be unhappy for the rest of my life? Should I keep on sinning and confessing or give up on my fight against habitual temptation? Should we allow this pandemic to totally destroy our economy or just let everybody die? Realize that the Lord can deliver us through ways we are not perceiving. When facing a painful “either-or”, an intolerable Trolley Problem, ask Jesus to reveal a third track. What if Jesus can heal my legs? What if following the Church’s teaching will lead to both my holiness and my joyful peace? What if my necessary resolutions and humble appeals for Christ’s saving grace can lift me up from my struggle? What if, in the near future, more treatments, testing, and technologies will allow us to save both lives and livelihoods?

Do not despair of your deliverance. “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. … Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 3:20)

This is His Body Given up to Save Many

March 21, 2020

Laetare Sunday — 4th Sunday of Lent—Year A

This past Wednesday evening, I saw this image online with the caption: “Darkness has fallen: every single U.S. diocese has suspended public celebrations of the Mass.”

Our Laetare Sunday rejoicing is more subdued this Lent. The sad but necessary suspension of public Masses by our nation’s bishops is a painful loss. And for many of the faithful, the greater their love for the Lord the greater the pain they feel. They are like the woman at Simon the Pharisee’s house who could bathe Jesus’ feet with dripping tears ‘because she loved much.’ (Luke 7:47) However, darkness has not overcome us.

Brothers and sisters,” today’s second reading tells us, “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” God is still God, Christ is still Lord, and we are still His. Though public liturgies have ended the Holy Mass continues to be privately offered in most every Catholic church. The graces of Jesus’ sacrifice pour forth from these altars into Christian souls throughout the world, for our good and the good of all his holy Church. Priests are celebrating these Masses in obedience to the command of Christ recalled at every Consecration, “Do this in memory of me.” Yet each of us, ordained and lay people alike, is called to keep this commandment of Christ in a deeper way; by personally imitating Jesus in his loving self-sacrifice for others.

Today, and in the critical weeks and months ahead, all of us are called to sacrifice in ways that will seriously limit our activities and impact our finances. Why are we doing this? To stop the spread of a deadly disease not merely to ourselves but to our many neighbors around us. From my research into this grave topic, it appears that hundreds of thousands—potentially millions—of American lives depend upon the extent of our collective and individual actions now. So please respond with a firm resolve from a Christian love for others.

When you ache today because you can neither gather for Mass nor physically receive our Lord, take heart in the reason for your sacrifice. This is his Body given up to save many; we do this in memory of Him. And soon, when you are asked to help people in the community meet their material needs, sacrifice for them knowing whom you are also serving. For whatever you do for the least of your brethren, you do it for Him. Invite Jesus now to enter into your heart and be with you, to console and strengthen you, today and in the trials ahead of us.

A Future Pope on Fasting from the Eucharist

March 18, 2020

In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church (of which 98.6% of the world’s Catholics are members) there is only one day each year when no Masses are to be celebrated – that is, Good Friday. That day’s liturgy contains a Communion service in which presanctified (previously consecrated) Hosts are received and eaten by the faithful. However, in the early Church, there was no consumption of Holy Communion on Good Fridays by the faithful at all. This tradition was noted by the esteemed theologian Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) in his 1986 book “Behold the Pierced One” and again (reprinted) in the 2002 book “Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion.”

In passages relevant to our present-day, Lenten reality, Cardinal Ratzinger reflects upon the spiritual value that could be found in the practice of Catholics in full communion with the Church abstaining for a time from consuming Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist:

“When Augustine felt his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and took upon himself ecclesiastical penitence. In his last days, he set himself alongside, in solidarity, with the public sinners who seek forgiveness and grace through the pain of not receiving the Communion. He wanted to meet his Lord in humility of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for Him, the righteous and gracious One. Against the background of his sermons and writings, which describe the mystery of the Church as a communion with the Body of Christ and as the Body of Christ, on the basis of the Eucharist, in a really marvelous way, this gesture is quite shocking. It seems to me more profound and fitting, the more often I ponder it. Do we not often take things too lightly today when we receive the most Holy Sacrament? Could such a spiritual fasting not sometimes be useful, or even necessary, to renew and establish more deeply our relation to the Body of Christ?

In the early Church there was a most expressive exercise of this kind: probably since the time of the apostles, Eucharistic fasting on Good Friday was part of the Church’s spirituality of Communion. Not receiving Communion on one of the most holy days of the Church’s year, which was celebrated with no Mass and without any Communion of the faithful, was a particularly profound way of sharing in the Passion of the Lord: the sorrowing of the bride from whom the bridegroom has been taken away (see Mark 2:20). I think that a Eucharistic fast of this kind, if it were deliberate and experienced as a deprivation, could even today be properly significant, on certain occasions that would have to be carefully considered—such as days of penitence (and why not, for instance, on Good Friday once more?), or also perhaps especially at great public Masses when there are so many people that a dignified distribution of the Sacrament is often not possible, so that by not receiving the Sacrament people could truly show more reverence and love than by doing so in a way that contradicts the sublime nature of this event.

Such fasting—which could not be allowed to become arbitrary, of course, but would have to be consonant with the spiritual guidance of the Church—could help people toward a deepening of their personal relation to the Lord in the Sacrament; it could be an act of solidarity with all those who have a yearning for the Sacrament but cannot receive it. It seems to me that the problem of people who have been divorced and remarried, yet equally the problem of intercommunion (in mixed marriages, for example), would be less of a burden if voluntary spiritual fasting was at the same time undertaken in visible recognition and expression of the fact that we are all dependent upon that ‘healing of love’ which the Lord effected in the ultimate solitude of the Cross. I would not of course wish to suggest by this a return to some kind of Jansenism: in biological life, as in spiritual life, fasting presumes that eating is the normal thing to do. Yet from time to time we need a cure for falling into mere habit and its dullness. Sometimes we need to be hungry—need bodily and spiritual hunger—so as once more to comprehend the Lord’s gifts and to understand the suffering of our brethren who are hungry. Spiritual hunger, like bodily hunger, can be a vehicle of love.”

Prepared for this Time

March 18, 2020

Wednesday, 3rd Week of Lent

Moses spoke to the people and said:

“I teach you the statutes and decrees as the Lord, my God, has commanded me… Observe them carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’ … However, take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”

We may not have expected circumstances to be as they are now, but these things come as no surprise to God from his vantage point outside of time. He permits such trials for the salvation of souls and for his saints to more greatly share in his likeness and glory. The Lord, in his providence, has been preparing you for this season.

In difficult times like these, virtue is tested, character is proven, and many souls will rise or fall. So take care and be earnestly on your guard. Do not to forget the things of faith your ears have heard and eyes have seen. Teach and practice what you have learned. For as Jesus said to his disciples, “whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Saint Patrick’s Growth

March 17, 2020

Did you know that St. Patrick wasn’t born Irish? He was born in Scotland to Roman parents in the late 300’s AD. When he was 16 years old, Patrick was captured by raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland. For six years he shepherded sheep for a cruel master. But this unexpected, unchosen, difficult separation from his family and previous life was the occasion for a religious awakening in Patrick. He recalls in his autobiography:

“The love of God and His fear increased in me more and more, and the faith grew in me, and the spirit was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same, so that while in the woods and on the mountain, even before the dawn, I was roused to prayer and felt no hurt from it, whether there was snow or ice or rain; nor was there any slothfulness in me, such as I see now, because the spirit was then fervent within me.”

After these six hard but fruitful years, Patrick heard a voice tell him that he would soon go home and that his ship was ready. He walked two hundred miles to the coast, found a ship, and eventually persuaded the crew to take him along. He left Ireland a better man. Later, in an inspired dream, he heard people of Ireland call out to him, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” Patrick returned to his former land of slavery as a missionary priest, won converts to Christianity, and is called today the “Apostle of Ireland.” How can you make the most of the recent unexpected, unchosen, disruptions in your life to be changed for the better?

Here is a famous and inspiring prayer attributed to him, “Saint Patrick’s Breastplate” also known as “The Deer Cry”:

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God’s Power to guide me,
God’s Might to uphold me,
God’s Wisdom to teach me,
God’s Eye to watch over me,
God’s Ear to hear me,
God’s Word to give me speech,
God’s Hand to guide me,
God’s Way to lie before me,
God’s Shield to shelter me,
God’s Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.
I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop deck,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

We can always call upon Jesus, who is near at hand for us. As he told his disciples at The Great Commission, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.

Finding Jesus in our Isolation — 3rd Sunday of Lent—Year A

March 16, 2020

Today’s Gospel story contains a valuable lesson for us in our present situation.

Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there
at [Jacob’s] well. It was about noon.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

There is a weird detail contained in these passages: the woman is going to the well to draw water at noon. It’s hot at noon in the Middle East, so Jesus and the woman are the only ones there. Why didn’t she come in the morning or the evening when the heavy job of hauling water would not have the added burden of the midday sun and heat? It’s because she didn’t want to be there when the other women would be around. Jesus reveals that the woman has no true husband and that she has had five different mates through the years. Jesus knows this supernaturally but her neighbors know something of these facts naturally, through local gossip. This woman has a reputation and if she were to go to that well at the same time as the other women they would make her feel unwelcome, through their words or their silence, with their eyes and their body language. They have quarantined themselves from her and she has socially distanced her heart from them.

In the middle of her day,
in the uncertainties of her life,
amid the stress of her tasks,
in her personal isolation,
she is surprised to encounter Jesus there.

He says to her:

“If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. … Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus wins over the woman’s soul, she leaves her water jar behind and joyfully proclaims her great discovery. Meanwhile, the returned disciples urge Jesus, ‘Rabbi, Teacher, eat something!’ But he says to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know. … My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.” Of course Jesus is hungry—physical realities are real—but he has nourishment in his soul, from his relationship with God his Father and his deepening relationship with those he has come to save, like this woman at the well.

Now in likening the woman at the well to one quarantined from others, I am not advising you to take unnecessary or imprudent risks amidst this current Coronavirus pandemic. In these months ahead, some of us will be called to acts of particular courage; nurses and doctors come first to mind. But we should not blithely, unnecessarily place ourselves in foreseeable natural dangers expecting God to perform miracles to protect us. Recall how Satan tempted, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus answers, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” We must not act presumptuously.

The reason I mention the woman finding Jesus in her isolation is because, whatever our health may be, we need to encounter him there as well. Public Masses continue in our diocese, but it is very probable that these will be suspended in the future, just as Catholic Churches suspended public Masses a century ago during the Spanish Flu pandemic. I will personally be very surprised if we are having Mass here together two weeks from today. [Post-Script: On the evening of March 17th, Bishop William Callahan directed his priests to abide by Wisconsin’s statewide ban on all gatherings of more than 10 people announced earlier in the day. As a result, we are cancelling all remaining public Masses at my parishes.] Yet even in times when public Masses are readily available, most hours of our week and not spent inside of a church.

In the middle of your day,
in the uncertainties of your life,
amid the stress of your tasks,
in your personal isolation,
you can encounter Jesus there.

He is with you and within you, so you are never really alone.
Jesus says:

“Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.
Whoever believes in me, as scripture says:
‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’”

Wherever you are, find him there, and draw on his graces.

I seem to recall a story about St. Faustina Kowaska, the Polish nun and visionary most closely associated with the Divine Mercy devotion. When she was confined to her convent infirmary, suffering from the tuberculosis which would eventually take her life, she lamented that for one or more days in a row she had been unable to receive Holy Communion. In a vision, Jesus reassured her, saying, ‘Whenever you receive me in the Eucharist, I remain within you until you receive me again, unless you cast me out through mortal sin.’ Similarly, in the sixth chapter of John, Jesus famously declares:

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. … Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

Christ’s Church encourages frequent, even daily, reception of Holy Communion as a helpful devotion toward holiness, but whether your next communion is one week or three months from now, know that Jesus is with you to provide his sufficient graces for your life. If public Masses are suspended in our diocese, realize that I and other Catholic priests, even if standing alone in our churches, will still be offering the Holy Mass daily for you and the whole world. And we will be bringing Confession, Holy Anointing, and Viaticum to the sick, as is our calling and duty, for as long as we are able. This Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic is rightfully concerning. (I urge you to read my bulletin article this weekend.) But whatever comes we need not fear, for “we know that all things work for good for those who love God,” and “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” As Jesus would very often say, “Be not afraid.

Moses & the Rock — 2nd Sunday of Lent—Year A

March 8, 2020

You’re familiar with the story of Moses: his being saved from the waters of the Nile as a baby, his growing up in the household of Pharaoh, his flight as a fugitive after killing an Egyptian taskmaster, his years shepherding in the Sinai Desert until God called him from the Burning Bush, how God used Moses to free the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery with great plagues and awesome miracles, how God through Moses gave his people the Law of the Old Covenant. Moses shared an incredible intimacy with God.

In the Book of Numbers, God said:

“If there are prophets among you,
in visions I reveal myself to them,
in dreams I speak to them;
Not so with my servant Moses!
Throughout my house he is worthy of trust:
face to face I speak to him,
plainly and not in riddles.
The likeness of the Lord he beholds.”

The Book of Deuteronomy declares: “Since [that time] no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” So one would imagine, one would think, that Moses saw God’s face. The Book of Exodus says: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a person speaks to a friend.” However, following soon after in that same chapter from Exodus, Moses asks the Lord, “Please let me see your glory!” And the Lord answers: “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim my name, ‘Lord,’ before you … But you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live. Here is a place near me where you shall station yourself on the rock. When my glory passes I will set you in the cleft of the rock and will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand, so that you may see my back; but my face may not be seen.” So Moses met with God in intimate conversation as one friend speaks to another, in his holy presence, yet it is not clear that Moses, during his lifetime, ever beheld God’s face. Similarly, God gave Moses the mission of leading his people from Egypt to the Promised Land, the land promised to Abraham and his descendants, yet Moses during his lifetime never entered the Promised Land himself.

Why was that the case? Early in their desert wanderings, the Hebrews complained against Moses because of their lack of water. Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me!” And the Lord answered Moses: “Go on ahead of the people, and take along with you some of the elders of Israel, holding in your hand, as you go, the staff with which you struck the Nile. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb. Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.” Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel and the crisis was adverted.

However, on a later occasion, when the community again lacked water, they held an assembly against Moses and Aaron. The people quarreled with Moses, exclaiming, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt, only to bring us to this wretched place [to die]? It is not a place for grain nor figs nor vines nor pomegranates! And there is no water to drink!” The Lord said to Moses: “Take the staff and assemble the community, you and Aaron your brother, and in their presence command the rock to yield its waters. Thereby you will bring forth water from the rock for them, and supply the community and their livestock with water.

So Moses took the staff from its place before the Lord, as he was commanded. Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly in front of the rock, where he said to them, “Just listen, you rebels! Are we to produce water for you out of this rock?” Then, raising his hand, Moses struck the rock twice with his staff, and water came out in abundance, and the community and their livestock drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “Because you did not have confidence in me, to acknowledge my holiness before the Israelites, therefore you shall not lead this assembly into the land I have given them.

Years later, at the edge of the Promised Land, the Lord told Moses: “Ascend this mountain [Mount Nebo] and view the land … which I am giving to the Israelites as a possession. Then you shall die on the mountain you are about to ascend, and shall be gathered to your people, [because] you broke faith with me among the Israelites at the waters of Meribath-kadesh in the wilderness of Zin: you did not manifest my holiness among the Israelites. You may indeed see the land from a distance, but you shall not enter that land which I am giving to the Israelites.” And there, Moses the servant of the Lord died as the Lord had foretold. Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated.

What was behind this punishment from God? Moses had been disobedient to the Lord, striking the rock twice instead of speaking to the rock as instructed; and this was more than just some desert rock—the rock carried spiritual, symbolic, prophetic significance. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul saw the Church and her sacraments prefigured in the story of the Hebrews and the Exodus. St. Paul writes: “Our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ.

So the rock in the desert symbolized Jesus Christ. The first time, God told Moses to strike the rock, and it poured forth from its side saving water for God’s people. But the second time, when God told Moses to speak to the rock, Moses disobeyed and struck it twice. Jesus Christ has already been struck, beaten, and suffered violence once, for you and me in his Passion. We are no longer to keep striking him, again and again, through our sinful disobedience. Rather than choosing sin, we are to speak to Christ, asking him to pour forth his saving gifts. Jesus says, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. … To the thirsty I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water.

I fear that sometimes we might think, “I can keep on sinning, it’s no big deal, because if I keep on going to Confession and have my sins forgiven it’s like they never happened—they don’t really matter.” Yet every sin is a lost opportunity to do God’s will. Every sin refuses God’s “Plan A.” And sins, even after they are forgiven, can bear earthly consequences which remain for the rest of our lives. Moses sinned, and repented, and remained God’s friend, but he was refused entry into the earthly Holy Land to his own great disappointment. Even convicted murderers can be forgiven by God, but they still remain behind prison bars and their victims bodies remain buried underground. Let’s not be complacent about our sins, for every sin is a lost opportunity to follow God’s better plan and, even if forgiven, sins can have irreparable consequences in this world for the rest of our lives. But, thanks be to God, our Christian hopes are not for this lifetime alone. Moses died and was buried, but that is not the end of his story.

Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.” St. Luke’s telling of today’s Gospel story notes Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory and spoke of [Jesus’] exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.

Sometimes people ask how the apostles knew it was Moses and Elijah. Most likely they either introduced themselves, or Jesus introduced them. Some people have the notion that the dead forget who they were, forget all their memories, and care nothing about the events on earth. But Moses can only introduce himself if he knows who he is. And if Jesus said, “This is the prophet Moses,” there’s no indication that Moses replied, “I am? Tell me more. Where am I? What is happening?” Moses and Elijah can converse with Jesus about the exodus he is going to accomplish in Jerusalem (that is, about his coming Passion, death, and resurrection) because they know who they are, remember their lives, and are concerned about events among the living.

At the Transfiguration, we see the not quite fully-satisfied aspects of Moses’ life reaching their fulfillment. Moses never entered the Promised Land in his lifetime, but here he stands in Israel upon Mount Tabor with Jesus. Moses seems to have never seen God’s face, but now he speaks face to face with Christ. Consider how privileged we are to stand in this holy place and have such intimacy with Jesus Christ in his Holy Eucharist. It is good that we are here.

God greatly desires that we not sin. And if we have sinned, the Lord desires that we promptly repent and sin no more. Now, this season of Lent is an excellent time for repentance—especially while we’re still healthy. This world is scarred by sins, some forgiven and many not; and these painful wounds grieve us and prevent our full satisfaction in life. Yet the full story of Moses shows that our hopes are not merely limited to this life. Our hope extends beyond death, and St. Paul says, “God works all things for the good of those who love him.” And in the end, as St. Julian of Norwich says, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Satan’s Old Tricks — 1st Sunday of Lent—Year A

March 3, 2020

After his baptism in the Jordan, but before the start of his public ministry, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Did Satan realize at that time that Jesus was God? He says, “If you are the son of God… If you are the son of God.” But if Satan knew, it’s strange that he would attempt the impossible: to try tempting the all-holy God into sinning and doing evil. Old Testament prophesies allude to the promised Messiah, the awaited Anointed One, as being “Son of God.” God says in the 2nd Psalm:

“I myself have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain….
You are my son;
today I have begotten you.”

And in Psalm 89, God says:

“He shall cry to me, ‘You are my father,
my God, the Rock of my salvation!’
I myself make him the firstborn,
Most High over the kings of the earth.”

Old Testament Jews had been told their Messiah would at least figuratively be the Son of God; so, whether or not Satan knew Jesus was divine, he at very least suspected that this man from Nazareth was the Christ.

Jesus evidently went on to tell his apostles of the devil’s temptations in the desert—for how else would anyone know to write about them in the Gospels? There may have been additional temptations, but three are retold in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels. Jesus is on the verge of beginning his public ministry. What kind of Messiah will he be? The devil’s three temptations seek to corrupt his mission from the start. Satan seeks to lead the Christ off track so as to derail the plan of God. He did this first in the lush Garden of Eden, and here he seeks to do it again in the desert.

If you are the Son of God,” Satan says, “command that these stones become loaves of bread.” Jesus was hungry, but if he does this miracle the next question may be, “So you feed yourself, do you? How now can you refuse to give bread to everyone?” Satan wants Jesus to be a materialistic Messiah who must focus on nourishing bodies to the neglect of their souls. Jesus calls his disciples to practice material charity; today the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world; teaching, healing, clothing, housing, feeding, but this is all of secondary importance to its spiritual work. For what would it profit us to have all of our material needs fulfilled if our spiritual needs went unaddressed and we ultimately died separated from God? How do these things personally apply to us? Well, did the recent stock market drops ruin your week? Or are you too afraid or possessive to share, to tithe, to give to good causes? Or are you too busy working to pray? Jesus answers, “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

Next we hear how the devil takes Jesus to the roof edge atop the temple in Jerusalem and challenges him: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” Satan is quoting Psalm 91. This goes to show—and serves as a warning—that not every Bible quote teaches what some people claim it does. True Scripture interpretation must be in union with the mind of Christ, and one with the Body of Christ, that is his Church.

God does not want Jesus to jump off buildings, but the devil wants the Messiah to demand that God protect him from all harm or hardship. Satan wants Jesus to be a Christ who is unwilling to suffer, who will refuse to drink any bitter chalice. The devil knows doing God’s will in this broken world will necessarily entail some sufferings for his faithful ones. If Jesus is unwilling to sacrifice then God’s people will never be saved. Are you trying to force your plans upon God? Are you pleased to serve God only so long as you experience no pain? Are you demanding that your salvation come without embracing your cross? Jesus answers, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.

Lastly, we hear the devil takes him up to a very high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and says, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” Satan wants Jesus to be a compromised Messiah who will pursue good things by doing, by serving, evil. The tempter says, “It’s only a little thing, just lay down, just say the words, just take a small bite, everything will be so much easier and better if you do.” Or else the tempter lies in the opposite extreme direction, “You have no choice – it’s a sin but there’s no other way – this must be done!” What sins do you still commit in hopes that good will result? Where do you bow down and side with Satan against the will of God? Jesus answers, “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.

By God’s providence, the temptations of Jesus in the desert foreshadow Christ’s Passion to come. Jesus is not a materialist Messiah, changing stones to loaves of bread. But, beginning at the Last Supper, he feeds the world by changing bread into himself “for the life of the world.” Jesus is not a Christ who refuses to sacrifice. At the Temple he endures trail and condemnation by the Sanhedrin and accepts the bitter chalice of his Passion according to his Father’s saving will. And Jesus is not a compromised Messiah, committing sins for false and illusory gains. Christ becomes the magnificent, sinless king of all nations, atop Mount Calvary enthroned upon the Cross.

In this season of Lent, in these forty days of penance, we are in the desert with Jesus, learning from him, and being strengthened by him, so that we can stand straight and strong and not fall for the temptations and traps of the enemy, the same tricks he used against of Adam and Eve, that he attempted with Jesus Christ, and that he still uses in our day. This Lent, instead of falling for Satan’s same old tricks, let us grow closer to Jesus Christ in relationship and resemblance, closer in his friendship and closer to his holy likeness.

Strong Reactions — 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

March 3, 2020

My childhood memories of summer include the Osseo City Pool. I remember having fun in the water with friends, the 80’s songs playing from the lifeguards’ boombox, and the big brown door with red letters, warning something like: “Danger, Deadly Chlorine Gas, Staff Only!” As you might imagine, I never ventured into that room. Another memorable experience from my youth involving chemicals happened some years later. My science teacher, Mr. Hall, placed a bucket of water into the snow outside of our high school. Then, using tongs, he carefully dropped into it a chunk of pure sodium, and quickly backed away. The water steamed and bubbled and exploded a couple of times. It was intimidating and awesome. Two potent chemicals: chlorine and sodium. What happens when you combine them? You get sodium chloride. Today, this compound is present in the environment and inside of our homes. It’s in the oceans, on our streets, and even in the food we eat. Sodium Chloride may sound dangerous, but you know this common compound by another name: it’s salt.

Sodium Chloride (a.k.a. Salt)

Salt preserves, salt disinfects, and salt also adds flavor. Salt can preserve food from spoiling. In the days of sailing ships, unrefridgerated salted-pork could safely feed a crew for three months at sea. Salt has been used as a disinfectant and cleaning product since ancient times. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans employed salt water to treat cuts, wounds, and mouth sores. Even in 2010, a study from the Mayo Clinic found that gargling warm salt water reduces cold symptoms, including sore throat pain and mucus. And you know firsthand from a lifetime of eating that the addition of salt can make an otherwise bland dish taste much better.

Today, Jesus tells his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth.” Like salt, Christianity is found all over the world, preserving its good, purifying its evil, and adding flavor to what would otherwise be bland, meaningless life. And yet, like Sodium Chloride, Christianity is irrationally feared. This is nothing new. Listen to this second century Letter to Diognetus describing how Christians are present throughout the world, both helpful and good, and yet feared and opposed:

“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. … With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose [their children to death]. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh.”

“They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of Heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.”

Why does the world oppose devout Christianity? One reason is they imagine believing Christians behave like sodium in water, boiling hot with hatred and intolerance and violent in their reactions. Yet Christians’ allegiance to Jesus and his teachings on mercy, love, and the value of every human person are the best antidotes to mankind’s natural hatred and indifference toward others. Who is more responsible for sharing bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, and clothing the naked in world history than Christians in general and the Catholic Church in particular?

Another reason why worldly people oppose Christianity is that they think our faith is lethal to life’s pleasures; they fear that embracing Christianity would asphyxiate their happiness, like breathing chlorine gas. This too is nothing new. In Roman times, Christians were charged with “hatred of humanity” because the Romans believed ‘a lover of man should love what men love.’ The Early Christians would not partake of common sins for passing pleasures while, at the same time, living joyful lives. Joyful even at their martyrdom. As Diognetus’ pen-pal observed in the second century: “The world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because [Christians] are opposed to its enjoyments.” And so it is today. When we tell the world some things it loves are false roads to happiness the world hates us for it.

Jesus said, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. … In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” So what are we to do? First, realize that the modern animosity to Christianity is nothing new. Don’t wait for that cultural hostility to pass; it won’t pass in our lifetimes. Next, never accept or act like your faith is a shameful thing. Jesus declares: “You are the light of the world. Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” If you are a Christian, Jesus wants the people around you to see something different in you and wonder, “What’s your secret.” Be unafraid to tell them the truth, “It’s my personal relationship to Jesus Christ and his Holy Church.” Cooperating with Christ to live like this saves souls and transforms our world.

There is another, more literal translation of Jesus’ words in our gospel: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world”: “You are the salt of the ground… You are the light of the cosmos.” Through your life, and every Christian life however humble, Jesus would reveal his divine light to the world, the glory and love that sustain the cosmos.

Shepherds & Fishermen — 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

March 3, 2020

What did the twelve apostles do for a living before Jesus called them to follow him? For six of the first apostles, that is half of the original twelve, we have no words from Scripture concerning their previous jobs. We are told that St. Matthew was a tax collector for the Roman government. We also hear of St. Simon the Zealot, who was either especially zealous in his personal religious devotion, or had ties to the Jewish Zealot movement is Israel. The Zealot movement sought, through politics and insurrection, to overthrow the Roman government in the Promised Land. If Matthew and Simon did indeed come from opposite sides of that era’s political spectrum, it suggests that every political party or faction has important things to learn from Jesus Christ.

In today’s Gospel, we learn the shared profession of four other apostles: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John; they were commercial fishermen. Now the Lord choosing men from the fishing industry was something new in salvation history. In the Old Testament, God often employs shepherds in his holy service. Among the 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 their higher calling from God. As far as I can tell, there are no fishermen of particular note in the Bible before these four to whom Jesus says, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus, in calling fishermen, is doing something new. Now if the fishing background of these four apostles were irrelevant, I doubt the Holy Spirit would have inspired the inclusion of this fact into the Gospels. So what is the significance of this detail?

The work of a shepherd is different from that of fisherman. A shepherd tends his flock. He knows his sheep and his sheep know him. Some new lambs are born while other, older sheep go off to market or return to the earth, but the size of the sheepfold tends to remain rather stable. A fisherman, on the other hand, through his practiced skills and God’s providence, seeks and finds new fish every day. The fish are living in their own dark, watery world until the fisherman gathers them to himself. A shepherd maintains his numbers, but a fisherman goes out to seek more and more. Jesus chose his apostles not only to shepherd his people Israel, but to go forth to fish for people from all nations. Jesus made Peter not only a “fisher of men” but commanded him to ‘”feed my lambs… tend my sheep… feed my sheep.

Today we primarily think of water as a symbol of life, because nothing lives without water. Yet in the ancient world, water was often seen as a symbol of death. It’s possible even on a calm day to drown in a river, lake, or sea, but the volatile, deadly nature of large bodies of water is the subject of stories, poems, and songs even up to our day. For example:

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early

Fish live with this realm of death, a dark, watery world. The fisherman brings fish into the light, to a higher realm, a world they had previously ignored or never imagined. In our semi-post-Christian world today, is Jesus calling you and I to be shepherds or fishermen? Are we meant to maintain our flock, or to endeavor for more unnetted souls? There is need for both missions. In fact, we are called to do both. Many around us are baptized and still identify as Christians, yet how deep does their faithful devotion really go? Peter and Andrew left their careers for Jesus. James and John left their family for Jesus. Yet how few people today even come to church for him. True devotion and divine relationship is ignored or never imagined. Jesus calls you to be a missionary; not on the far side of the earth so much as in our own community. Be able to give witness to him. When I was a kid, when we were driving home from Sunday Mass, my family would often talk about what we heard in the homily. Today you your drive home from church I encourage you to ask each other: Why did you come to church today? What difference does it make for your life? We need to practice sharing why our faith is a gift with one another so that we can invite others to share this treasure.

In our first reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we learn that the Christians in Corinth were choosing favorites and forming factions: ‘I belong to Paul. I belong to Apollos. I belong to Cephas.‘ St. Paul writes to remind them, you belong to Christ! Do not allow another person to get in way of Jesus for you. Pastors are important and Jesus has ordained it so, since without clear leadership how could St. Paul’s prayer and Christ’s desire, ‘that all of us agree in what we say, that there be no divisions among us, that we be united in the same mind and in the same purpose‘ ever be achieved? The need for human leadership of Jesus’ Church in this broken world, however, makes grave sin and scandal possible. This is a terrible thing, wherever and whenever it occurs. But please, please, do not separate from Peter on account of another apostle’s sin. You need Jesus, I need Jesus, and everyone else needs Jesus, too. Let us be good shepherds and fishers of men, caring for and seeking out everyone in our midst, as Jesus calls us to do.