Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Our Light Amid the Darkness

March 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

The Diocese of La Crosse — Founded March 3, 1868


12 Reasons Why I Quit Attending Sporting Events

February 1, 2018

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

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

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

1. The coach never came to visit me.

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

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

4. The seats were very hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Popes on the Culture of Life

January 17, 2018

“The promotion of the culture of life should be the highest priority in our societies… If the right to life is not defended decisively as a condition for all other rights of the person, all other references to human rights remain deceitful and illusory.”

— Pope St. John Paul the Great

“The fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself. This is true of life from the moment of  conception until its natural end. Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right—it is the very opposite. It is a deep wound in society.”

— Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

“All life has inestimable value even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”

— Pope Francis

“That is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition of her survival, yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weak and most defenseless ones, those as yet unborn.”

— Pope St. John Paul the Great

Jesus Christ, the Center of History

December 25, 2017

If you had walked through the streets Bethlehem or Rome asking people on the first Christmas Eve, “What year is this,” the answers you’d hear might vary. The Sun numbers our days, the Moon tracks our months, and the seasons indicate the passage of years, but answering what year it is requires people to make reference to some shared historical event.

If you had bumped into one of the ancient world’s many sports fans on the first Christmas Eve, they might have told you that it was 3rd year of the 194th Olympiad. Once every four years, famous athletic competitions were held in Olympia, Greece. Freeborn Greek men would compete in footraces, chariot races, wrestling matches, javelin tosses, discus throws, and other events; for the honor of the Greek god Zeus, for the pride of their home city-states, and for their own personal glory. The winners received crowns or wreaths made of green olive leaves that would fade. All that remains of some of those ancient sports superstars today are their names in texts read less often today than last month’s newspapers.

If you had run into a merchant on the first Christmas Eve who used the Roman coins and roads to trade goods, he might have said that it was 752nd year since the founding of the City of Rome. Considering the wealth and influence of Rome at that time, it might have seemed like that empire would live and reign in the world without end. However, from decay within and barbarian attacks from without, much of what that empire built remains today, if at all, only as ruins for tourists.

If you had encountered someone enamored with power and celebrity on the first Christmas Eve, they might have answered that it was 42nd year of the reign of Emperor Caesar Augustus. It was a census he decreed that sent Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Early in his reign, Caesar Augustus claimed that the passage of Halley’s Comet over Rome was the spirit of his predecessor, Julius Caesar, rising into heaven. And so, since Julius Caesar had been a god, Caesar Augustus, as his heir, presumed to call himself “the son of a god.” Caesar Augustus would go on to die at age seventy-five and never be heard from again.

If you had spoken on the first Christmas Eve to someone focused on the politics and current events of the land of Israel, they might have replied that it was 38th year of the reign King Herod the Great, the King of Judea under the Romans. Herod the Great was a very controversial figure, with some Jews praising him and still more despising him: he expanded and gloriously refurbished the Temple in Jerusalem but was also a murderous tyrant, like when he ordered the deaths of the innocent baby boys in Bethlehem. Because the Roman Senate had appointed him as “the King of the Jews,” and since he was not descended from King David, nobody mistook Herod for being the Christ.

On the first Christmas Eve, some two thousand and eighteen years ago, only a handful of people on earth had any clue of the world-changing significance of what was about to occur. The baby born that night was the source of the universe and the center of human history.

In the year we call 525, a new way of numbering years was introduced by a monk named Dionysius the Humble. Dionysius numbered years using this baby’s birth as the starting point, naming it “1 A.D.” A.D. stands for the Latin phrase “anno Domini / in the year of our Lord.” 1 A.D. was dubbed the first year of our Lord on earth, and this is currently the 2,017th year of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Now I should mention that Dionysius has reason to be humble here as well. He estimated the time of Jesus’ birth as best as he could, but he seems to have been a little bit off. The best evidence today points to Jesus being born in 2 or 3 B.C. But regardless, it is most fitting that we mark and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as the center of human history and the most important person who has ever lived.

  • Christ is the undefeated champion whose glory does not fade. Even when he seems to be down, he triumphs in overtime. (And, unlike Aaron Rodgers, “not one of his bones shall be broken.”)
  • Christ’s holy kingdom has outlasted the Romans. In fact, he conquered them peacefully by converting their hearts. And today, his kingdom extends to all lands and people through his Holy Catholic Church.
  • Christ is greater than Caesar, he is stronger than death. When Jesus died, he rose again. And now he reigns, because he is truly the Son of God.
  • Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is our leader untainted by sin, who is truly wise, and cares about me and you.

Even those without any Christian faith must acknowledge Jesus’ positive influence on the world: in children treasured; in women respected; in slaves freed; in strangers welcomed; in millions and millions fed, clothed, treated, or taught, around the world and across centuries, all because of the baby born on Christmas.

A.D. does not stand for an “Arbitrary Date.” Anno Domini is no accidental demarcation of before and after. Jesus Christ merits more than our apathetic dismissal. Jesus deserves to be at the center of our years and the center of our lives. As he, this Christmas night, so humbly gives himself to you, please give yourself to him anew. He is the Christ, yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to him and all the ages; to him be glory and power, through every age and forever, in you and in me. Amen.

The Ox, the Ass, & the First Manger Scene

December 20, 2017

In the year 1223 A.D., about two weeks before Christmas and three years before his death, St. Francis of Assisi shared an innovative idea with a beloved friend: “I want to do something that will recall the memory of that child who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy, how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by.” With Pope Honorius III’s approval and his generous friend’s help everything was ready for Christmas Eve.

Blessed Thomas of Celano (writing just six years after) recounts the unveiling of that first manger scene, or crèche:

“With glad hearts, the men and women of that place prepared, according to their means, candles, and torches to light up that night which has illuminated all the days and years with its glittering star. Finally the holy man of God arrived and, finding everything prepared, saw it and rejoiced. … The manger is ready, hay is brought, the (live) ox and ass are led in. The brothers sing, discharging their debt of praise to the Lord, and the whole night echoes with jubilation. The holy man of God stands before the manger full of sighs, consumed by devotion, and filled with a marvelous joy. The holy man of God wears a deacon’s vestments, for he was indeed a deacon, and he sings the holy gospel with a sonorous voice. Then he preaches sweetly to the people standing about, telling them about the birth of the poor king and the little city of Bethlehem.”

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth make no mention of an ox or donkey, but St. Francis included them in his scene because the duo had so commonly appeared in Christian imagery and writings since the Early Church.

Like the crucified thieves beside Jesus’ cross, this pair of creatures beside Jesus’ crib can represent two types of people in our world. Some respond to the birth of God among us like a donkey, with a foolish, stubborn resistance. But others, like an ox, humbly take the yoke of Christ upon their shoulders, learn from him, and produce a great harvest. Some attend Christmas Mass eager to leave early and without plans to soon return, like Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper. Yet Jesus calls us to attend to him week in and week out as his faithful oxen so that we may have peace in this world: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Some Recommended Catholic Websites

September 22, 2017

If the Internet had been around during the first century AD, I’m fairly confident that St. Peter would’ve tweeted, St. Paul would’ve podcast, and the secular Roman press would’ve misreported Catholic news far and wide. Times may change, but the Church and the world both use new advancements in communication technology to promote their often competing messages in the marketplace of ideas. As Pope St. John Paul II wrote in 2002:

“The Internet is certainly a new ‘forum’ understood in the ancient Roman sense… a crowded and bustling urban space which both reflected the surrounding culture and created a culture of its own. …Like the new frontiers of other times, this one too is full of the interplay of danger and promise, and not without the sense of adventure which marked other great periods of change. For the Church the new world of cyberspace is a summons to the great adventure of using its potential to proclaim the Gospel message.”

In the years since the beginning of this third Christian millennium, the Church’s online presence has blossomed. The pope tweets (@pontifex), most parishes have websites (including both St. Paul’s and St. John’s), and many faithful sites provide Catholic news and commentary and resources for evangelization and personal growth. Here are some of my most recommended, helpful Catholic websites:
I check New Advent daily for aggregated links to Catholic news and articles. This site also has online versions of the Catholic Encyclopedia, Aquinas’ Summa, Early Church Fathers’ writings, and papal documents.
This rich Catholic site presents feature films, documentaries, ebooks, audio books, video-based study programs, and more. This quality content is free for the families, youths, and adults of St. John’s and St. Paul’s parishes using our special code in the bulletin.
That acronym stands for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Their site is especially useful for viewing upcoming Mass readings (via the front-page calendar) and reading the complete New American Bible.
I have posted hundreds of my homilies and reflections here on this blog since 2009. Use the main-page’s “Categories” menu or the search box to find something by Fr. Feltes you’re interested in.

A Wonderful Vacation

September 7, 2017

How was my vacation? It was a wonderful adventure! Missouri’s solar eclipse was beautiful; a black circle with white wisps extending over a surprisingly blue background. In the first seconds when the Sun began reemerging from the Moon there was a bright speck and then an expanding light so intense that it could not be looked at. It was like seeing the large stone rolled away from the mouth of the tomb on Easter morning at the moment of the Resurrection.

We touched the St. Louis Arch, a structure whose geometric simplicity belies the amazing landmark that it is. Ask yourself, how would you build such a thing sixty-three stories in the air?

In Arizona, I was pleased to providentially cross paths with Clare Shakal from Cooks Valley. I was surprised to learn she happens to work at the parish where a friend from seminary I was visiting is now pastor.

In  Southern California I saw the last line of light from a red Sun be swallowed by the ocean. Pedestrians paused on the pier to watch the Earth eclipse of the Sun (what we call a sunset) but there was nothing like the numbers who gathered for the much rarer eclipse the week before.

One morning, I body-surfed in the Pacific Ocean, and went to bed in Wisconsin that night. While flying home (over a distance it would have taken me months to travel on foot) I gazed down upon the Grand Canyon for the first time. Our pilot never mentioned it.

My trip had many highlights but the part I enjoyed the most and what seasoned all the rest was the good friends I was blessed to share my adventure with.

What makes something wondrous? Things we encounter often feel less precious and usually go unnoticed. If solar eclipses happened daily at noon they would be no less beautiful but they never make the news. Our world is filled with wonders but even when we live in appreciative gratitude we still long for more. This is a sign to us that we were made to live forever; in a loving communion of persons with an infinitely interesting and beautiful God.

Mary, the New Ark of the Covenant

September 4, 2017

Did you ever see Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark? You may recall seeing the movie’s replica of the Ark of the Covenant featured as the McGuffin artifact everyone was seeking out. This movie has been very helpful to preachers in providing a visual aid to everyone of what the Ark of the Covenant looked like.

Like Noah’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant was a box constructed according to God’s design and command. It served as a portable throne bearing the presence of God on earth. The Ark held inside of it three important things: the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, the wooden staff of Moses’ brother Aaron the High Priest, and a gold jar containing some of the Manna God provided his people to eat in the desert. The reason I mention these things today is because the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament foreshadows the Blessed Virgin Mary in the New Testament.

The old Ark held the Ten Commandments, the word of God in stone; the Virgin Mary bears the Word of God in flesh. The old Ark held the priestly staff which on one occasion miraculously blossomed despite being dead; Mary conceives by the power of the Holy Spirit despite her perfect virginity. The old Ark contained Manna bread in a golden vessel; Mary’s holy womb contains the true Bread from Heaven, provided to us for our journey to Promised Land — Jesus Christ, our Prophet, Priest, and King.

At God’s command, the old Ark was made of natural wood overlaid with pure gold inside and out. Mary is a human woman who is made “full of grace.” King David once joyfully leaped and danced before the Ark of the Lord. At the Visitation, when Mary visits Elizabeth her relative, John the Baptist likewise leaps with joy within his mother’s womb. David once asked, “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” Elizabeth likewise asks, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” On one occasion, the old covenant ark was kept for three months in the house of a man named Obed-edom outside Jerusalem, and Scripture records that God blessed his whole household. Mary likewise dwelt three months in the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth near Jerusalem and was surely a blessing to them.

No man was to touch the Old Covenant Ark, lest they be struck down dead. (God instructed his ministers to move that holy Ark only by means of two gilded poles which slid through rings on the sides of the Ark.) Joseph of Nazareth held a similar reverence towards Mary, his ever-virgin wife. In the Old Testament, the Lord was to be found wherever the old Ark dwelt, from the Sinai wilderness to the Temple in Jerusalem. In the New Testament, “on entering the house, [the Magi] saw the child with Mary his mother,” and, “standing by the cross of Jesus [was] his mother.”

In the movie, Indiana Jones and the Nazis were looking for the “lost” Ark because Scripture reports that the Old Covenant Ark was hidden soon before the Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC. Jeremiah the Prophet took the Ark and placed it in a secret cave. Unlike in the 1981 movie, the Lost Ark has never been recovered. Yet, in his revelations recorded at the end of the New Testament, John the Apostle sees the new Ark revealed. John writes: “God’s temple in Heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.” The next thing John describes is a glorious woman pregnant with the Christ child, “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” This is Mary, the New Ark of the Covenant, whom at the end of her time on earth God lifted up body and soul into Heaven.

The old Ark was of central, though secondary, importance in the Old Covenant. Drawing physically nearer to it brought one closer to the presence of God on earth. Likewise, God gives the Blessed Virgin Mary, the new Ark, a central role in his New Covenant. If you draw closer in your relationship with her, you will surely draw closer to our Lord Jesus Christ.

A Solar Eclipse Q & A

August 15, 2017

What is it like to experience a total eclipse?

For places within the 70-mile-wide “path of totality” of this Monday’s eclipse it will be like sunset suddenly arriving in the middle of the day. The air temperature will drop, stars may appear, and animals could become confused.

Is this eclipse a sign of the end of the world?

Quite likely not. On average, total eclipses occur on earth more than sixty times every century. This particular eclipse simply happens to span across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina. However, it is always a good time to “repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Will we be able to see the solar eclipse in Wisconsin?

The Moon will not completely block out the Sun’s light in Wisconsin, but about 80% of the Sun will be obscured here on Monday at 1:10 PM local time. (Click here to check for your own zip-code, and review this important eye-safety info on viewing the eclipse.)

How do we know this eclipse is coming?

The Sun, Earth, and Moon move through the heavens according to God’s physical laws like clockwork. This makes it possible to accurately predict when eclipses will happen in the future or to calculate when they have occurred in the distant past.

Has our part of Wisconsin ever been in the direct path of a total eclipse?

This has happened here several times since Jesus Christ was born: on April 2, 610[*]: the year Mohammad began preaching Islam; on September 21, 1205: the year after the Crusaders sacked Constantinople; on April 6, 1503: the year Leonardo da Vinci began the Mona Lisa; and most recently on June 30, 1954: the month “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Did Jesus ever see a solar eclipse during his lifetime in Israel?

One solar eclipse’s “path of totality” went through nearby Syria on November 22, 29 AD and perhaps Jesus saw the Sun become more than 90% obscured that day. Luke’s Gospel records that “the sun was darkened,” or eclipsed, the afternoon of Jesus’ crucifixion. Since solar eclipses are not naturally possible when there is a full moon (as at the time of the Jewish Passover) this failing of the Sun’s light must be due to some other natural or supernatural phenomena.

[*] – All Julian calendar dates (October 15, 1582 and earlier) have been converted to Gregorian calendar dates.

Satanic Bicycling, Pagan Meats, and Yoga

August 10, 2017

Imagine if Satanists began ritually riding bicycles while chanting out to spirits other than God. (For them, this might symbolize rebellion against the three axles of the Godhead over whom they blasphemously enthrone themselves; stomping Christ underfoot while profaning the Trinity through the streets — or something like that.) Though silly to conceive, if Satanists actually began to do this, how would bicycling be affected?

First it should be noted that traditional cycling would remain what it is; its goodness as a healthy exercise and leisure activity would be unaffected. However, biking combined with false worship (whether done sincerely or ironically) would be harmful. If one of these satanic bicycling groups existed in our town, I would not ride with them. A Christian who silently biked along with the Satanists (to simply enjoy the ride) could be affected by the malevolent spirits invoked or cause scandal for others. I could still bike alone or with my friends, but we certainly would not voice unchristian chants while doing so. If I had formerly parked my bike by the church or rectory, I might begin placing it in a more private place, lest people be misled by misinterpreting my innocent behavior. This scenario is simply a thought experiment, but real Christians faced a comparable situation in the first century AD.

In the ancient Greco-Roman world, meats sold in marketplaces or served at restaurants had commonly been sacrificed to pagan gods. This gave rise to a debate within the church at Corinth, Greece about whether Christians could blamelessly eat such food or if this should be forbidden as second-hand idolatry.

St. Paul addressed this question in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians, first observing “there is no God but one… even though there are so-called gods” worshiped by the pagans. St. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, warned that “what [the pagans] sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to become participants with demons.” Christians were never to offer pagan worship, but this did not mean pagan meat itself could not be eaten by well-formed Christians: “Eat anything sold in the market, without raising questions on grounds of conscience, for ‘the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.’” But at the same time, a meat-eating Christian was to be careful not to cause scandal to others, leading them into actual idolatry. St. Paul wrote, “Make sure that this liberty of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. … If an unbeliever invites you and you want to go, eat whatever is placed before you, without raising questions on grounds of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This was offered in sacrifice,’ do not eat it on account of the one who called attention to it and on account of conscience; I mean not your own conscience, but the other’s.” That is how early Christianity handled the issue of meat sacrificed to idols. Today, we have a similar issue of live and local concern (which brings us to the ultimate purpose of this article.)

In our beginning, God created the human body, endowing it with sensation, flexibility, and strength. He designed every natural posture and movement and gave breathing and exercising their healthy and pleasurable effects. A long, long time after that, some of these bodily positions and exercises were appropriated by Hindus in India for the worship of their (so-called) gods and goddesses. In our time, this aspect of Eastern religion has entered into our culture as yoga. So, is it OK for Christians to practice yoga?

As with bike riding and meat eating, the unchristian use of good things does not taint them for everyone else forever after. Breathing and stretching are good gifts from God and, for some, yoga is simply exercise. Yet spiritual danger exists wherever and whenever these exercises are being joined to false spirituality or idolatrous worship.

I myself have participated in secular yoga workouts in the past. My exercise instructor was a faithful Christian and I enjoyed them. However, together with Catholic exorcists, I would never recommend attending a yoga group with non-Christian spirituality because of the real potential for spiritual harm and scandal. If a yoga class, for instance, chants mantras (like “om,” or the names of Hindu gods); envisions becoming one with the cosmos, Brahman, or the Earth Mother; channels energies; or has participants breathe in the pulsating universe while exhaling all bad and evil from within, then that yoga class is certainly of the second sort and to be avoided. If my instructor or peers were using yoga in a non-Christian spiritual way, I would avoid that gathering for the same reasons that I would not attend a pagan sacrifice or bike with Satanists: the prospect of causing scandal and the danger from evil spirits.

St. Paul once said we are to “retain what is good” but “refrain from every kind of evil.” That timeless wisdom applies to us in all things; to bicycling, to eating meat, and also to doing yoga.

“Being Childlike Towards Jesus and Our Mother” — 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year A

July 9, 2017

In the 1944 Best Picture Winning film, “Going My Way,” Bing Crosby’s character, Fr. Chuck O’Malley, shares this quip: “You know, when I was 18, I thought my father was pretty dumb. After a while, when I got to be 21, I was amazed to find out how much he’d learned in three years.” Of course, the joke is that the dad didn’t get much wiser in three years. The son’s lived experience revealed to him, “You know, my dad actually does know what he’s talking about.” What if your mother were about thirty lifespans old, alive with the same beauty, liveliness, and fruitfulness that she possessed in her youth? Would you listen to her, learn from her, and heed your wise mother’s words? God our Father has given us such a mother in the Holy Catholic Church.

In our first reading from the Old Testament, the prophet Zechariah writes: “Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you;a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass.” This is a prophesy about the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. It was fulfilled about five centuries later with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus does not enter in as a conqueror, upon a warhorse with sword; but meekly, humbly, on a donkey. All the people are free to welcome him and follow him, and everyone is also free to ignore him and reject him. Jesus is not forcing them to do anything in response to him, much like his Church, which for a quite long time now hasn’t forced anyone anywhere to do anything. In this life, our personal response to Jesus Christ and his Church is completely voluntary, but that decision is not at all trivial.

In our second reading from the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul says: “Brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Now when St. Paul opposes “the Flesh” and “the Spirit” he is not saying that the material world and our bodies are evil or bad. At Creation, God saw that these were good, and as Christians we profess that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” St. Paul is using “the Flesh” as shorthand for those aspects of ourselves that are not properly ordered to “the Spirit” of God. Jesus has raised up a fallen world but aspects of our brokenness still remain. This brokenness is seen in both our bodies and minds: in our appetites desiring what is bad for us, and in our intellects rationalizing our wrong ideas. Imagine how much better this world would be if everyone knew and practiced what the Catholic Church teaches. To echo G.K. Chesterton: “The Catholic Faith has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found challenging and left untried.

Someone might raise the objection: “What about all the bad things Catholic clergy have done? How can sinners be guardians of God’s truth?” There have certainly been bad priests, bad bishops, and even bad popes whose personal sins have done great harm to many. They are a scandal and a sacrilege. But amazingly, even when the most unworthy men have been pope, none of them formally promulgated heresies over the Church. Jesus told his apostles: “Whoever hears you hears me,” knowing fully that Judas Iscariot, his betrayer, was among their number. None of the apostles were sinless men, but Jesus chose them and their successors to preach his message, cast out demons, cure the sick, and administer his sacraments. How tragic it would be if an innocent harmed or scandalized by Judas the Betrayer wanted nothing more to do with Jesus Christ’s Church. Jesus loves his little ones and does not want any to be hurt or estranged from his Church.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus praises his Father saying “you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned but revealed them to little ones,”  In saying this, Jesus is not rejecting higher education or those who possess it. However, even if you have some degrees on your wall and initials after your name, these are not enough in themselves to receive the teaching of Christ and his Church. We all must be childlike. Childlike, not childish. A childish person is selfish, immature, willful, rebellious, and you can’t teach them anything.  But a childlike person is open, humble, loyal, devoted, and teachable. As Jesus declares on another occasion: “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”

Pope Paul VI observed, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” With than in mind I’d like to witness to a time when, despite my initial hesitancy, responding to Jesus’ teaching blessed me in surprising ways.

When I was in college, my schoolwork was a grind. I always looked forward to our vacations, but they were always weeks or months away, on the other side of my papers’ due dates and final exams. At that time, I realized that although I had always gone to Mass I had never kept Sunday as a special day of rest. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, (that hinder) the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, (that hinder) the performance of the works of mercy, (or that hinder) the appropriate relaxation of mind and body.” It then adds, “Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. (However,) the faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.

I didn’t want to reach the end of my days wondering what would have happened if I had been faithful to Christ in this area, so decided to stop doing my homework or studies on Sundays. There were some very late Saturday nights, but I kept faithfully to this rule. And, after a while, I noticed two surprising things. First, my Sunday rest never burned me. I don’t recall ever bombing a test, failing to meet a deadline, or doing worse on any of my assignments because of not having worked on Sunday. The second surprise was that I began to look forward to every Sunday as a one-day vacation. In addition to going to church, it was a day for taking a map, going out to eat, watching a movie, or just hanging out with my friends. I gave a gift of myself to the Lord and he gave me an even greater gift in return.

Perhaps you are afraid to let the teachings of Jesus Christ in his Church to impact your time or your money, your sexuality or your marriage, your politics or your addictions, but I urge you to be brave and wise. Just last week, we heard Jesus tell his apostles: “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” Jesus was not merely referring to receiving the apostles in their persons but the message that they preached.

We resist change because we fear the limitation of our freedom. We fear what the change might cost us. We fear a heavy yoke being locked around our neck and weighing upon our shoulders. But do not be afraid. Jesus offers you a better way. He says: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Please trust in Jesus, learn from him, and sacrifice your will to his. And do not be afraid, for God will not be outdone in generosity.

America’s Greatness

July 5, 2017

In 1956, Peter W. Schramm’s family fled communist oppression in Hungary. The 10-year-old Peter asked his father, “But where are we going?” His father said, “We are going to America.” “Why America,” Peter prodded. His father replied, “Because, Son, we were born Americans, but in the wrong place.”

Other nations have been self-defined by their ancestral blood, but America has united people from all around the world. Other nations have self-identified by their ancient soil, but our country could fully incorporate other lands that desired to join our states. America is unique because America is founded upon an idea: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These providential words echo the great Christian doctrine of universal human dignity.

Where America has failed to embody these words, those are our greatest shames; such as our past crimes against Native and African Americans, and against unborn Americans today. Yet wherever we have honored and defended human dignity, those represent our proudest accomplishments; including our abolition of slavery, our liberty and legal equality at home, and our defense and liberation of peoples abroad.

When some people are asked what makes America great they cite our wealth and military power. But if these alone were our criteria for greatness, then the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate would be a great man and Jesus the Nazarene would not. The true measure of our greatness, like all true greatness, comes from our likeness to the Lord. May God bless America to be a greater, fuller blessing to all, until Jesus Christ returns and his kingdom is perfectly established on earth.

Frequently Asked Questions About Religious Liberty

June 28, 2017

Excerpted from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

What do we mean by religious liberty?

In Catholic teaching, the Second Vatican Council “declare[d] that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” Religious liberty is protected in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and in federal and state laws. Religious liberty includes more than our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home; it also encompasses our ability to contribute freely to the common good of all Americans.

What is the First Amendment?

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states the following: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

What does “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” mean?

This phrase, known as the “Establishment Clause,” began as a ban on Congress’ either establishing a national religion or interfering with the established religions of the states. It has since been interpreted to forbid state establishments of religion, governmental preference (at any level) of one religion over another, and direct government funding of religion.

What does “prohibiting the free exercise thereof” mean?

This phrase, known as the “Free Exercise Clause,” generally protects citizens and institutions from government interference with the exercise of their religious beliefs. It sometimes mandates the accommodation of religious practices when such practices conflict with federal, state, or local laws.

What did our early American leaders say about religious freedom?

George Washington, 1789: “The conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness; and it is my wish and desire, that the laws may always be extensively accommodated to them…

Thomas Jefferson, 1809: “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.”

James Madison, 1785: “[W]e hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth that religion, or the duty which we owe our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

 What have recent popes said about religious liberty?

Pope St. John Paul the Great, 1996: “[T]he most fundamental human freedom [is] that of practicing one’s faith openly, which for human beings is their reason for living.”

Pope Benedict XVI, 2011: “[Religious freedom] is indeed the first of human rights, not only because it was historically the first to be recognized but also because it touches the constitutive dimension of man, his relation with his Creator.”

Pope Francis, 2015: “American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination. With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.

 Where are the roots of religious liberty?

Religious liberty is inherent in our very humanity, hard-wired into each and every one of us by our Creator. Religious liberty is also prior to the state itself. It is not merely a privilege that the government grants us and that can be taken away at will.

How are marriage and religious liberty connected?

Marriage (the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife) and religious liberty are two distinct goods that are also related to each other. The protection of each good follows from the duty to protect the inviolable dignity of the human person. But even more directly, the legal protection of marriage as the union of one man and one woman also protects the religious freedom of those who adhere to that vision of marriage.

How does changing the legal definition of marriage have any effect on religious liberty?

Changing the legal term “marriage” is not one change in the law but amounts to thousands of changes at once. The term “marriage” can be found in family law, employment law, trusts and estates, healthcare law, tax law, property law, and many others. These laws affect and pervasively regulate religious institutions, such as churches, religiously-affiliated schools, hospitals, and families. When Church and State agree on what the legal term “marriage” means (the union of one man and one woman), there is harmony between the law and religious institutions. When Church and State disagree on what the term “marriage” means (e.g., when the State redefines marriage to include so-called same-sex “marriage”), conflict results on a massive scale between the law and religious institutions and families. Religious liberty is then threatened.

A Holy Cities Quiz

April 11, 2017

A Geography – History – Saints Quiz
[Highlight to reveal answers]

  1. This Missouri river city was named after a 13th century king of France — he has the window second on the right inside St. Wenceslaus Church.  St. Louis, Missouri
  2. Remember: this Texas city was the site of the Alamo and bears the Spanish name of the patron saint of lost items.  San Antonio, Texas
  3. This Florida city, named after the convert and great theologian who wrote the first Western autobiography, was the site of our land’s first Catholic Mass in 1565.  St. Augustine, Florida
  4. This Bolivian city’s name, which honors the Holy Cross, is where our diocese’s Fr. Joe Walijewski built a mission in 1958.  Santa Cruz, Bolivia
  5. This Russian city was renamed Leningrad when the communist leader, Lenin, died in 1924. In 1991, the year the Soviet Union died, they changed the name back.  St. Petersburg, Russia
  6. This California city, the second largest in the United States, was named after the angels.  Los Angeles, California
  7. This California city was named after the patron saint of animals — a poor saint who began a religious order and received the stigma.  San Francisco, California
  8. This city in Southern California was founded by padres and honors a Spanish “St. James.”  San Diego, California
  9. This Brazilian city, the largest in South America, is named for St. Paul.  São Paulo, Brazil
  10. This, the smallest city-state in the world, is not named after a saint but after the hill it sits upon.  Vatican City, Europe

The Cross of the Passion

March 15, 2017

A local parishioner has drawn upon the best available evidence to create this realistic sculpture of Jesus Christ on his Cross. Come to St. Wenceslaus in Eastman on Friday, March 24th at 7 PM to encounter this impressive, life-sized crucifix. Father Victor Feltes will speak about the historical sources on which this crucifix is based and lead some short devotions.