Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Who Conquers the World?

January 9, 2021

The Baptism of the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bowing to the Child

December 23, 2020


When I was in seminary studying to become a priest, there was an older seminarian named Phil who years before had worked as a hospital orderly. An orderly does jobs around the hospital that the nurses and doctors don’t do, such as bringing people trays of food, tidying up rooms, or moving patients around the building. If you’re ever a patient in a hospital, when you’re discharged and it’s time to go home, they’ll put you into a wheelchair to roll you to the exit, even if you can walk just fine. (Maybe they don’t want anybody to fall and sue the hospital for lots of money.) In any case, one of my friend Phil’s jobs was to push peoples’ wheelchairs on their way out of the hospital. It was in doing this task that Phil noticed something interesting.

Sometimes the patient would be a mom who had recently given birth to a new baby. These women would hold their tiny children in their arms as Phil pushed them down hallways, in and out of elevators, and through the lobbies. What Phil noticed is that the other people in the hallways, elevators, and lobbies would stop, turn, and lean over for a closer look at the baby. Everyone was bowing down, showing love and honor, towards the child and its mother, with the father proudly looking on.

Notice in our gospel today how many people gathered around Elizabeth, Zechariah, and baby John the Baptist to celebrate his birth? God knows how much we love and flock to babies. So, in order that we might adore him more, for his glory and our good, the Son of God became a baby. Jesus became a baby to be even more adorable.

There are many wonderful Christmas customs and traditions, like trees and stockings and wrapped presents, but these are not the reason for the season. Whatever this coming Christmastime holds for you, whatever you are doing, be sure to stop, turn, and see the baby Jesus. Bow down with your heart with love and honor toward the holy Child and his loving mother, with God the Father proudly looking on.

A New Light in the Darkness

December 19, 2020

4th Sunday of Advent

The largest planet in our Solar System is Jupiter. Named for the king of all the Roman gods (whose name means “Sky Father”), Jupiter is over three hundred times more massive than Earth. The second largest planet in our Solar System is Saturn, the planet God liked so much that he put a ring on it. Every twenty years, the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn align closely together in our sky. And, as you may have already heard, this Monday on the Winter Solstice these two planets will appear so close to each other that their light will be joined as one. The last time these planets appeared this close in our sky was almost eight centuries ago. That previous conjunction, in March of the year 1226 AD, may have been witnessed by St. Francis of Assisi seven months before he died; the saint who once wrote: “Glory to you, my Lord, for sister moon and the stars you have made in heaven clear, precious, and beautiful.

Why do we wonder at the planets and the stars? Because they sparkle as gifts of light in the darkness. Because they reflect the vastness of God’s intricate plans and mighty works across the universe. And because we know their sparkling light we see comes to us from the past, even from thousands of years ago. They are stars of wonder, stars of night.

Could the conjunction of these two planets be the sign, that Christmas Star, which the Magi saw as recorded in St. Matthew’s Gospel? Perhaps. The word “planet” comes from the Greek word for “wanderer” since the ancients deemed other planets to be wandering stars. And in the year 7 B.C., Jupiter and Saturn conjoined in three different months. Will we see this Monday what the Magi rejoiced to behold? Maybe, maybe not.

Monday, in the first hour after sunset, during the longest night of the year, when Jupiter and Saturn form a new star low in the southwestern sky, it’s quite possible—even probable—that our skies will be overcast. That would be disappointing, but even this would be a sign for us. Even if we cannot see it, this joining of Saturn with the much brighter Jupiter will still be there. By Christmas Day, this event will surely have occurred. So it is with our Faith.

Two thousand years ago, in accord with his vast and intricate plan, God our King and Father in Heaven, whose great glory far surpasses any creature on earth or throughout the universe, began a new and wondrous work. He approached his most gracious creature, a young woman named Mary, and proposed to her that together they give birth to a new star, “a light for revelation to the nations, and the glory of (his) people Israel.” The virgin agreed and the true light, Jesus Christ, entered the world. So whatever clouds or darkness may accompany this week at the end of this terribly trying year, we will still be witnesses to something supremely special. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Jesus or Barabbas?

November 23, 2020

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

For the feast of Passover, the Governor Pontius Pilate observed a tradition of releasing to the crowds any one prisoner they wished. On Good Friday, in addition to holding Jesus of Nazareth, the Romans in Jerusalem had a notorious prisoner named Barabbas. When the crowd came forward and began to ask Pilate to do for them as he was accustomed the governor dryly asked, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” The chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead.

Pilate asked, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” They answered, “Barabbas!” Pilate said to them in reply, “Then what do you want me to do with the man you call the king of the Jews?” They shouted again, “Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they only shouted the louder, “Crucify him!” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd lest they riot, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified.

This episode with Jesus and Barabbas is recounted each Palm Sunday and Good Friday when the Passion narratives are read at church. However, the Gospels’ Passion accounts are so lengthy and rich with themes to consider that the crowds’ choice between these two figures is rarely ever preached on. Today, I would like to show you the deeper significance in this rejection of Christ the King.

The first interesting detail is in the meaning of these two men’s names. “Jesus” was the name given through angelic messages to Mary and Joseph, a name chosen in Heaven for the Son of God on earth. “Jesus” or “Yeshuah” in Hebrew means “God saves.” The name Barabbas breaks down into the Aramaic words “Bar” and “Abba”; “Bar” means “the son of,” while “Abba” means “father.” And thus, the name Barabbas means “the son of the father.” So Pilate is proposing a question to the crowd more profound than they realize: “Which son of the father do you choose? Do you desire God’s salvation?

The New Testament tells us that Barabbas was a Jewish revolutionary who, along with other captured rebels, had committed murder in a rebellion against Roman rule. The Jews commonly hated the Romans and resented the occupation of their Promised Land by a foreign, Gentile power. Jews expected that the Christ, the Messiah, if he were to come in Jesus’ day, would drive out the Romans and their puppets using the force of arms. Then they imagined that this man, God’s Anointed One, would take his seat upon his ancestor King David’s throne, establishing a renewed Israeli kingdom of worldly glory, with international power, military strength, and overflowing wealth. So when Jesus came among them they failed to recognize him as the Christ.

Unlike Barabbas, Jesus did not promote hatred for the Romans but a love for enemies. Jesus did not raise an army nor a sword, but preached “blessed are the peacemakers.” On Palm Sunday, Jesus does not enter Jerusalem riding on a warhorse, but on a donkey, as the Old Testament prophet Zechariah had foretold: “Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on a donkey.” But when presented with Jesus and Barabbas, the people rejected their true King and Savior, the Christ. St. Peter would go on to preach to the people of Jerusalem on Pentecost, “You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.” The choice between Barabbas and Jesus is a choice between two sorts of saviors, two very different kinds of revolutionaries and kings; one whom the earth thinks would be most effective and the one whom Heaven has sent us. The Christ and an anti-Christ.

It was within Jesus’ power to have forcibly imposed his rule over the whole world. At Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter is ready to fight—he draws a sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant. But Jesus intervenes, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way? Put your sword into its scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?” Jesus then heals to slave’s ear before he is led away by the guards.

Like a gentle lamb silently led to slaughter, Jesus endures his Passion and death. And who would have thought any more of him? But God raised him from the dead and he appeared to his disciples, who then courageously proclaimed to everyone that Jesus is the Christ. The Jews and Romans persecuted the early Christians. Though peaceful and innocent, Christians suffered indignities, imprisonments, and martyrdoms, yet the number of those saved by the Church continued to grow. Then, in 313 A.D. the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity and ten years later gave it the most favored religious status throughout the Roman Empire. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land … Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” Indeed, Jesus Christ and his Church succeeded where Barabbas failed: they conquered the Roman Empire not by destroying it but by converting it.

Today we celebrate Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe. Jesus the Almighty now reigns over us and over the whole world. But this knowledge, upon reflection, can raise troubling questions in our hearts. When we see the horrors of this world, grave evils throughout history and evil happening in our time, we may ask, “Lord, why aren’t you doing more?” Every year in our country, hundreds of thousands of unborn children are being legally murdered. Right now, millions of people in Asia are being held in concentration camps. How many billions of grave sins are being committed every day which cause innocents to suffer? Lord, why don’t you end this evil? Why don’t you force the world to bow down to your will?

We may wish Jesus and others to go violently into full Barabbas-mode against all the world’s evil, but this is not his way. Christ’s goal is the salvation of souls, as many souls as possible. Jesus the Good Shepherd shepherds the world subtly but in every place, speaking to the souls of both his friends and sinners, drawing them freely toward his salvation. But what about the grievous sufferings and injustices along the way? Jesus is not at all indifferent to these. Our loving shepherd is the best of shepherds because he has been a sheep like us, a lamb who was slain. He endured such sufferings and injustices personally as the lamb of God, and he still mystically suffers in and with the innocent. “Amen, I say to you, what you did [or did] not do for one of these least ones, you did [or did] not do for me.

The evil of this world is a heart-breaking scandal. But sin and death do not have the final word. The last word will belong to Jesus Christ. Trust in the crucified One, our suffering God who died and rose for us, the Shepherd of souls, the victorious Lamb, Christ our King. May his Kingdom come and his will be more fully done, on earth as it is in Heaven, in each and every soul.

The Oil for our Lamps

November 7, 2020

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

“The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise.”

What are we to make of Jesus’ parable today? Who is this bridegroom and who are these virgins? What are these lamps and the oil that fuels them? How can we be like those wise virgins who enter the wedding feast, and unlike the foolish who are unhappily locked outside? We will better understand the meaning of this parable through a familiarity with Jewish marriage customs.

In the culture of Jesus’ day, when a young man betrothed a woman they would remain apart, typically for twelve months, manifesting the propriety of their union. Once this time of separation was over, the groom would return to his bride with his groomsmen, usually with a nighttime torchlight procession. The bride and her bridesmaids would be expecting him but without knowing the exact hour of his arrival. This is why the bridegroom’s second coming would be preceded by his friend and forerunner’s announcing cry: “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” Then the bride and her virgin attendants would go up with the groom to his father’s house for a great wedding feast. There the marriage would be consummated and days of feasting and merriment would commence. So whose marriage is being symbolized in Jesus’ parable? Who is the bridegroom and who is his bride? The Scriptures point to Jesus Christ as the bridegroom and his Church as his bride.

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah spoke of God’s promise: “As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.” In the Gospels, St. John the Baptist testifies, “I am not the Christ but I have been sent ahead of Him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom…” Then later, when Jesus is questioned as to why his disciples do not fast, he replies, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.” Later in the New Testament, St. Paul tells the Church at Corinth, “I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.” And finally, the Book of Revelation peers into Heaven declaring, “The marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. … Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” Heaven is the fullness of the marriage supper of the Lamb to which his Bride, the Church, is called.

While the Church is one, its members are many. The one Bride of Christ exists as a collection of persons. This is why there are multiple bridesmaids in this parable. Each of us is called individually and together to join the Bridegroom in Heaven. Each virgin in the parable awaits the coming of the Bridegroom and each holds a lamp which could provide light to lead her to the joyful wedding feast. Yet not all have oil for their lamps and, due to their foolishness, some go on to find themselves locked outside.

What is this lamp that leads to Heaven and what is the oil that fuels it? We can look to other Bible passages for answers. The Second Book of Samuel quotes David rejoicing in God: “You are my lamp, O Lord; and the Lord illumines my darkness.” While Psalm 119 calls God’s word a lamp: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.” But how could both God and God’s word be the lamp? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus Christ is the Word of God. Later John’s Gospel, Jesus says: “I am the light of the world. (Which can also be translated as, “I am the lamp of the world.”) Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” So we are individually the bridesmaids, and Jesus is our lamp that would lead us to Heaven. But we must not neglect the oil which fuels this lamp.

What or who is this oil? Oil (which was used to anoint biblical priests, prophets, and kings) is a symbol for the Holy Spirit and grace. After the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism, revealing him to be the promised Messiah and Christ (two words which both mean “Anointed One”) Jesus likens the Holy Spirit to anointing oil. “In the power of the Spirit” Jesus declares at Nazareth; “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me…” And the Book of Acts recalls how, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power…” The Holy Spirit is a gift of God, and Jesus teaches that “the Father in Heaven [will] give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” This Spirit connects us to Jesus, to know him and be like him. As the Holy Spirit inspired and strengthened Jesus throughout his ministry, like the oil of a lamp fueling its light, so the Holy Spirit enables the Christian to shine. “You are the light [the lamp] of the world,” Jesus tells us, “Your light must shine before others…

In Jesus’ parable, all of the virgins believed in the bridegroom and expected his arrival. All of them had lamps but not all had oil. Similarly, all Christians have heard of Jesus and of his Second Coming, yet not all of them are prepared for him, to burn with his holy light. As the Book of Proverbs says, “The light of the just gives joy, but the lamp of the wicked goes out.” When the foolish virgins’ need for oil becomes clear, why don’t the wise virgins give to those without? This seems very strange to us because sharing would seem to be the kind and generous Christian thing to do. But the oil the wise virgins possess is not something they can hand over. “No… Go instead to the merchants,” they say, “and buy some for yourselves.” This oil is the gift of the Holy Spirit and grace that God the Father provides; but then what is meant by this detail of dealing with the merchants?

In our world, whenever we make a purchase or trade, we exchange a thing we possess for something else we desire more. For instance, when I fill up my tank at Kwik Trip, I’m exchanging $25 I have for gasoline instead. I can have either the money or the gas but I can’t have both. I must to decide which I value more — though without the gas I won’t get very far. The wise virgins brought flasks of oil with their lamps but the foolish ones did not. They carried extra coins of the world instead. The Holy Spirit is not of this world. St. Paul wrote the Corinthians, “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God.” But to possess the Holy Spirit we must sacrifice — hand back to the world — what is taking up the space for the Spirit and his graces.

For example, for some Christians, TV prime time crowds out quiet prayer time. For too many, Sunday various entertainments and excursions take the place of Sunday Mass. A smartphone can distract us from noticing God is calling. And if we are possessed by our possessions, our fearful clinging excludes a generous spirit. Are you restrained in your devotion to Jesus because of what worldly people might think of you? Chose either God or the world, take the oil or the coins, you can’t have both. Sacrifice in your life what makes the Holy Spirit and his grace unwelcome.

Just as Lady Wisdom (poetically described in our first reading) is met by those who seek, desire, and watch for her, so the Holy Spirit more readily comes not to those who are indifferent or resistant, but to those who are intentional, receptive, and docile for him. Know that the Holy Spirit is given not merely so that your labors can be more fruitful — though you will be more fruitful. Something else is more important than all good works. Elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven… Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’” Note that this is just like what the Bridegroom says to the foolish virgins after the door to the feast has been locked. They say, “Lord, Lord, open the door for us!” But he says in reply, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.”

The most important mission of the Holy Spirit is not to make us fruitful laborers, but to grow our relationship with the Holy Trinity, so that we will approach God’s door as friends and not as strangers. The Holy Spirit leads us to the Father. St. Paul writes to the Romans, “you received a Spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” And the Holy Spirit reveals to us the person of Jesus Christ. St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “the natural [worldly] person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can judge everything… [Because] we have the mind of Christ.

However, we know neither the day nor the hour of Christ the Bridegroom’s Second Coming. He does not reveal this knowledge to us for our own good, but Jesus urges us to always be ready for him. Like all ten virgins in the parable,  it is quite possible that all of us here will fall asleep, will experience the sleep of death, before Jesus returns. But when the cry goes up at his coming and the dead are raised, will we be prepared to follow him into his joyful wedding feast? That will all depend upon what we do now in this present life. Will we have already traded away the coins of this world to have the precious oil, the Holy Spirit, fueling the lamp of our relationship with Jesus Christ? This is what the wise will do, and what the foolish will neglect until it is too late to their great regret. So let us be wise and welcome the Holy Spirit and his graces.

“Whose Image is This?”

October 18, 2020

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Pharisees hated Jesus and were plotting how to entrap him in his speech, to cancel him though a politically incorrect gaffe. So they devised a cunning scheme in hopes of getting rid of him for good. In those days, Israel was under the pagan rule of the Roman Empire. The Jews resented this foreign occupation of their Promised Land and many favored a religious rebellion. The Romans’ chosen puppet-ruler and vassal in that region was King Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who had slaughtered the infant boys of Bethlehem. King Herod’s supporters were called Herodians and, being the Romans’ collaborators, it was in their interest that the Roman taxes kept being paid. So the Pharisees sent their disciples along with some Herodians to ask Jesus a gotcha question about taxation.

They prepare their trap for Jesus beginning with flattery, hoping to disarm him: “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Now if Jesus answers that the Roman tax should not be paid, the Herodians will have him arrested, and Jesus will end up imprisoned or executed by Herod like his friend and relative, St. John the Baptist, was. But Jesus, knowing their malice and ill will, said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” They handed him the Roman coin. “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” In other words, since Caesar creates the coins and the coins bear Caesar’s image, each coin is somewhat his already, they al belong to him, and one denies Caesar’s rightful claims on them at one’s own peril. Of course, Caesar’s authority is not unlimited; God’s authority is higher. And where Caesar’s rule conflicts with God’s, the earthly government should bow to the Kingdom of God.

Unlike people who lived in the past under the Roman emperor, we as American citizens have the right to vote to elect our leaders. In fact, voting is our moral duty. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, our “co-responsibility for the common good make[s] it morally obligatory… to exercise the right to vote”. (CCC 2240) Perhaps because of the Covid pandemic you are hesitant to visit a polling place on Election Day this November 3rd. If so, realize that you can request a Wisconsin absentee ballot from your local election office for any reason by Thursday, October 29th, eleven days from now. So there’s no reason we cannot safely vote.

But you might still be questioning, why should I bother? With the millions of votes to be cast in our state, what difference does my one vote really make one way or the other? It’s true, your single vote is unlikely to decide an election. But imagine if we all lived in together a forest, and one night a blazing wildfire surrounded our village on every side. When the cry went up for everyone to grab a water bucket and help fight the flames in the pivotal hour, would you? It’s true that your individual effort would be unlikely to decide the fate of our village, whether many lives were lost or saved, but how could you not be ashamed if you failed to answer the call? Or, picture a raincloud consisting of water droplets. A downpour is made of many such drops, and if any one single drop refused to fall it would probably make little difference below, but what happens if every drop has that attitude? The land would stay in deadly drought and the heavens would not renew the face of the earth with new life. Millions of us voting would transform our society for the better — provided of course that we not only vote but vote well.

There are many issues in this and every election, but which issue is the most important? Recall Caesar’s coin. He makes them and they bear his image, so they belong to him. Likewise, God makes human beings, we bear his image, so every life belongs to him, and we deny God’s rightful claim that we respect human life to our own peril. Psalm 139 praises God in these words: “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made.” Each new human life is created by God and precious to him. But since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion, an estimated sixty-one million little ones in our country have been killed in their mother’s womb. (That’s an average of more than one million a year.) These killings continue now, and it’s horrific. Sixty-one million deaths is like killing every person in every city in the State of Wisconsin… ten times over. If that happened would that be a big deal? Would it matter? How evil would that be?

In January of this year, when fifteen bishops from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska visited Pope Francis at the Vatican for their once-every-five-years ad limina audiences with him, the Holy Father affirmed our U.S. bishops’ teaching that the protection of the unborn is the preeminent issue and priority of our time. “Of course, it is,” Pope Francis said. “[Life is] the most fundamental right… This is not first a religious issue; it’s a human rights issue.” In 2016, Pope Francis wrote: “I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father.” Our Holy Father is right. The intentional killing of unborn children is an ongoing grave evil that the Lord wants us to help end.

If we had been alive in America back when slavery was still legal would we have opposed slavery and worked to free slaves? If we had been living in Germany during the Holocaust would we have helped to protect Jews? We would all like to think so, but how much are we doing today? In one hundred years’ time, when school children learn about our present day, will they wonder scandalized at how we could be so indifferent, so blinded, to such cruelty in our midst?

In this election we are called to vote to protect life, but realize that voting is only a small sacrifice. It costs you nothing more than some minutes of your time. We are called to do more. Pray, fast, offer penances for the end of abortion, for in the words of St. Paul, “our struggle is not with flesh and blood but… with the evil spirits…” Donate, contribute your wealth, time, and helpful goods, to organizations that help new parents to choose life. Together with our personal witness, our pro-life words and loving example, God will change hearts and minds. By our work of faith, our labor of love, and our endurance in hope, many lives and many souls will be saved, and together we will rejoice in the victory of life for the Kingdom of God.

Coming Home — Funeral Homily for Michael “Mike” Morning, 69

September 7, 2020

The communities of St. Paul’s and St. John the Baptist’s offer you our sympathy at Mike’s passing. We also offer the support of our prayers with this, Jesus Christ’s perfect offering to the Father, in the Holy Mass. May our prayers help Mike on his way, and help all of you as well, whom he dearly loved and dearly loves; especially Jackie, whom he married at St. John the Baptist Church 43 years ago, and his siblings, his friends, his nieces and nephews, grandchildren and godchildren, and others.

I often say that no brief funeral homily can capture the full mystery of a Christian life, and you who have known Mike for years surely know him better than I. The best I can do is to examine one part of his life which reflects something of the whole story for Mike, and you, and me.

Among the many things Mike did on earth, he had an active role in establishing the Eagleton Softball and Baseball fields. If you don’t know it, Eagleton is a small, unincorporated town to the southeast from here, seven and a half miles down the road. Their baseball field is no Major League park like Wrigley or Fenway, but Mike was right to be proud of it. He looked at what he had made and saw that it was good. With outfield fences some 250 feet out, lights for nighttime play, four bases and a mound; it had everything needed to host the game.

Baseball and softball are somewhat unique among sports. In most sports, the offense side carries, catches, throws, or kicks the ball to score. But baseball and softball are among the few games where the defense side controls the ball. Batters who are up don’t exactly know what pitches will be thrown their way, but they get to choose their swings. Some of them advance, but many strike out.

A good coach can help them though; giving them signs and instructions on which pitches to swing at and which pitches to take, and, once on base, when and how to advance further. Through his past experience as a player, his intimate knowledge of the game, and his personal investment in training his players, a great coach can produce hall of famers. In addition to the indispensable coach, teammates are important too, in helping to get home.

As it is in baseball and softball so it is in life. We do not control what’s thrown our way, what curveballs come across the plate, but we each must decide how to swing in our at bat. Will we listen to the wisdom of our coach, who has been in our shoes himself, and who earnestly desires that after forming us in his likeness that we could be called up to the big leagues far from here.

Jesus encourages us in today’s gospel, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” If we would listen and allow him, Jesus promises to lead us home, and tells us we know the way. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” he says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

In baseball and softball as in life, our goal is to get home. Mike might already be there with the holy hall of famers in Heaven, but in case he is still rounding the bases, let us as his teammates and friends aid him in getting home through our prayers. And may each of us heed and follow Christ our coach and play this one pivotal game of life so as to win.

Meet St. Paul’s Newest Teacher

July 20, 2020

Rachael Butek is a Cooks Valley native and graduate of Christendom College. She will be teaching English and Religion at St. Paul’s Catholic School this fall.

Why did you choose to teach at St. Paul’s?
Because to me teaching is a mission, not just a job, and as a member of St. John’s for the past 15 years I desired to give back to the community which has done so much for me.

What do you love about English?
Everything! I love the intricacy of our language, and delving into its origins in order to better understand how we communicate today. I also enjoy exploring the way that good literature can communicate Truth and Beauty to us.

What are ten other things you like?
In no particular order: Anglo-Saxon England, gardening, calligraphy, wild turkeys, book binding, singing, bugs, dancing, long walks, and good conversation. Feel free to ask me about any of them!

What do you wish to become patron saint of someday?
Good communication. I think about 90% of the worlds problems could be improved by better communication skills!

To learn more about enrolling into St. Paul’s Catholic School call our principal, Jackie Peterson, at 715-568-3233.

False Paths to Paradise

July 9, 2020

Early in the Book of Genesis we read about a great flood wiping out humanity (sparing only Noah, his three sons, and their wives) and then about people building a great city and high tower until God confounds their efforts. These two inspired tales hold important lessons for every society in history, including our’s today.

When God saw how wicked the human race was he decided to pour down judgment on the earth and start over. So he told Noah, the best of men, to build an ark for his family to survive. Once the floodwaters had receded, “God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them: Be fertile and multiply and fill the earth.” This was to be Eden anew. But when Noah drank wine to excess and became drunk he was somehow violated by his son while laying naked inside his tent. The flood was meant to cleanse the earth of sin, but sin stowed away upon the ark.

Then, after detailing Noah’s descendants, Genesis tells how people said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves!” The Lord said, “If now, while they are one people and all have the same language, they have started to do this, nothing they presume to do will be out of their reach.” God confused their language so that they stopped building the city and scattered across the earth. Why did God react this way? That city is called Babel because God made them babblers but also likely in reference to ancient Babylon, the enemies of God’s people who had high towers called zigguratts on which they worshiped false gods and offered human sacrifices. God thwarts Babel to limit the evils they can accomplish.

The tales of the Great Flood and the Tower of Babel reflect two ineffective strategies for eradicating evil: purging all the wicked and uniting everyone apart from God. Our world seeks scapegoats, persons and groups to blame for our problems. “If only it were all so simple,” writes Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Our world also clamors for greater unity in one leader or party, nation or race, economic system or secular ideology. We must not ignore politics, realizing that a movement detached from God and sufficiently empowered will lead people to physical and spiritual deaths.

God’s desire is to unite all peoples in Christ, undoing Babel with Pentecost. The Church, Christ in his members, is sent to save our world through conversion rather than destruction “for God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.” Sin and sinners must be opposed but not without the love which we ourselves have received as sinners reconciled to God. Take courage today by recalling the conversions of Saul and the Romans Empire, Christianity’s early enemies – by grace and virtue the Church can win over even her worst persecutors.

A Man for our Seasons

June 22, 2020

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 22nd is the feast day of St. Thomas More, one of my favorite saints. Back in 1929, the great Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton wrote: “Thomas More is more important at this moment than at any moment since his death, even perhaps the great moment of his dying; but he is not quite so important as he will be in about a hundred years’ time.” This prediction’s one hundred year anniversary arrives this decade. So who is St. Thomas More, what made him a martyr, and what lessons does he have for us today?

In 1509, the new eighteen-year-old Catholic King of England, Henry VIII, married a smart and extremely beautiful Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon. Seventeen years later, King Henry, without a male heir, with his affections now shifted toward a mistress, began citing a passage from the Old Testament book of Leviticus to argue that his marriage to Catherine was invalid and he asked the pope to annul his marriage. What happened thereafter is a story retold in my favorite movie, 1966’s Best Picture Winning film, A Man for All Seasons. That remarkable man for all seasons – adept in all circumstances – was St. Sir Thomas More.

A successful attorney, judge, diplomat, and statesman, Thomas More served in many official roles, including as Speaker of the British House of Commons. His brilliance is reflected by his witty quotes and writings. Four hundred ten English words have their invention (or at least their first-known appearances) from him, including the word “Utopia,” the title of his most famous book. A deeply devout Catholic, Thomas More had seriously considered becoming a monk, but instead discerned a call to marriage, family, and a career in public life. All these traits combined made him a great asset to the King. For instance, More once helped Henry VIII write a treatise in “Defense of the the Seven Sacraments” against Martin Luther’s errors for which the pope bestowed upon the king the title “Defender of the Faith.” The king trusted and admired Thomas More for years and appointed him to be the Lord Chancellor of England, a very high office. Then a season of great evil came to that land.

When King Henry asked Pope Clement VII to annul his marriage the pope refused. What Henry sought would have been a divorce, and Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.” Henry continued petitioning, but the Holy Father’s refusal was steadfast against this king spurning his queen. In response, Henry divorced and remarried anyway and went on to assert his supremacy over and against the pope, declaring himself to be the leader of the Catholic Church throughout his realm. Henry then used the power of the state to make all his subjects fall into line. It became a crime to agree with the pope against the king and all public figures were required to swear oaths affirming the king’s supreme headship over the Church in England. Those who denied the king’s claims would be executed.

Thomas had resigned his office and withdrawn from public life because of and prior to the king’s illegitimate remarriage and Thomas did not attend the wedding ceremony. Thomas was not going to endorse, by his words or actions what he did not believe. The king’s remarriage was wrong, but Thomas hoped that by maintaining public silence he and his family would be left alone. However, the compelled oath affirming the king’s supremacy would no longer tolerate Thomas’ neutrality. The oath was evil. Jesus, from his own lips while on this earth, had entrusted the role of supreme governance of the Church to St. Peter and his successors, the popes. Thomas was absolutely resolved not to swear a false oath, for Jesus warns us, “Whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

When Thomas would not take the oath, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and was charged with high treason. Thomas, the brilliant expert of law and debate, put up a sound defense that under the law they had no grounds to punish him, but following evidently false testimony from an ambitious acquaintance who betrayed him, Thomas More, under this pretext, was found guilty. The condemned man then spoke out against the unchristian oath and the injustice being done, yet in closing he said this to his judges: “More have I not to say, my lords, but that like as the blessed apostle Saint Paul, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, was present and consented to the death of St. Stephen, and kept their clothes that stoned him to death, and yet be they now [both] holy saints in heaven and shall continue there friends forever: so I verily trust and shall therefore right heartily pray, that though your lordships have now in earth been judges to my condemnation, we may yet hereafter in Heaven merrily all meet together to our everlasting salvation.” At his beheading for being condemned as a traitor, at his martyrdom for being faithful to Christ and his Church, St. Thomas More spoke these words: “I die the king’s good servant and God’s first.”

Today, like willful King Henry VIII, much of our prevailing culture also wants things contrary to God’s will and Christ’s teachings. They declare that all who do not fully agree with them are evil and should be expelled, cancelled from society. And the powers of government, our courts and leaders, seem to be taking their side. Jesus said:

“Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

God made us male and female, he created marriage, all peoples and races share a common origin and dignity from him, and Christ was sent to save us all. Thus, marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman, an adult female is a woman and an adult male is a man, no one should be judged for the color of their skin, and Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. These beliefs are not always popular, but ignoring these truths leads to pain and loss. The story of St. Thomas More shows us that public silence and private disagreement may not be tolerated by this world. Sooner or later, it may be demanded that you too either submit or suffer. At that time, and all times, remember: do not lie, never ever lie, and do not be a party to a lie.

Jesus says, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness… thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” In years past, this passage made me think of suffering Christians in the distant mission lands of Asia or Africa, where they are the vulnerable minority, or of how the Roman pagans persecuted the early Church. But who was Jesus referring to when he said “they persecuted the prophets who were before you”? Who persecuted the Jewish prophets in the Old Testament? It wasn’t so much the unbelieving pagans as the prophets’ own leaders and neighbors they were sent to, the people of God. Likewise, a Christian can easily become a betrayer or a passive party to evil if he or she does not resolve like St. Thomas More to live in the truth and stand with Christ no matter what.

Though Thomas More was clearly innocent, it took his twelve jurors only fifteen minutes to find him guilty. They were afraid. There were fifteen judges at his trial, many of whom had been his friends, but none of them were willing to defend him. They were all afraid too. The saint might have been saved if only one had stood firm instead of just standing by. The Church in England might not have collapsed if there had been more upright men like St. Thomas More. What we do in the time that is given us matters. Stand with him and the Lord will strengthen you like he did the Prophet Jeremiah. You may feel alone, but you won’t be, and Jesus Christ will be proud of you.

This stand may cost you dearly. Will it be worth it? Jesus tells us, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in Heaven.” So do not be afraid. Jesus says, “Fear no one.” Remember there is only One whose opinion ultimately matters. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” St. Thomas More said, “I do not care very much what men say of me, provided that God approves of me.”

Last Friday evening, a statue of St. Junipero Serra, the Franciscan missionary to California, was pulled down and desecrated by about one hundred people in San Francisco. The police did nothing to stop them. Those people who did this probably believed false and horrible things about the saint, and that would be some encouragement except that many people believe false and terrible things about our Church today. Along this path it’s not hard to imagine Catholic churches being firebombed sooner or later. But remember, even if this happens, whatever may come, whatever persecution we may face, Jesus says, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Love God and everyone because it’s Christian love that saves. This is what Jesus Christ, St. Thomas More, and all the martyrs showed in their courageous words and actions. Let’s learn from them and imitate them in whatever seasons await us, and so come to share in the eternal reward of the Just in Christ’s Kingdom.

 

Called & Led into His Friendship & Community

June 17, 2020

Elena Feick at 2007’s Easter Vigil where she received the Sacraments of Initiation

How does a 15-year-old unbaptized Canadian girl, a practicing Wiccan with SSA, come to find a relationship with Jesus in his Catholic Church? For Elena Feick, her journey began when she sought to join a coven.

Elena used to meditate by herself, worshiping the five elements and a pagan goddess, but she longed for more community. A particular coven, before they would admit her, asked that she research another religion besides Wicca first. Elena chose to read Christianity’s Gospels thinking she would be able to easily dismiss them. However, to her surprise, “I just… believed them. I didn’t want to. But when I got to Luke 11:9 (“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”), I realised I did believe. But I didn’t like how the Christian God wasn’t willing to share me with other ‘gods’ so I resisted for a long time.” She still wanted to practice Wicca and worship a goddess yet she couldn’t say she didn’t believe in Christianity. So, instead of joining a coven, she joined the Unitarian Universalists (a creedless religious movement founded in 1961).

Elena’s journey to God was then helped by another unlikely source: “Sex and the City.” That was her favorite TV show as a teenager and her favorite character on it was Charlotte (played by Kristin Davis). In one episode, Charlotte converted to a new religion in hopes that her Jewish boyfriend would marry her. Elena was very disappointed in Charlotte, convinced that she had the ordering of things all wrong. “One’s relationship with God should come before even romantic relationships,” she thought. That’s when Elena decided not to date anyone seriously until she figured out for sure what she believed. She went on to explore lots of religions. Eventually, against her will, she ended up at a Catholic Mass.

The Mass was held at her new Catholic school and she was very afraid to attend. She thought the priest might supernaturally read her soul and denounce her as a witch. But when he gave her a blessing at Communion time something happened. In a way she couldn’t explain or put a finger on, she felt different and overwhelmed. “I can still sometimes feel his thumb tracing a cross on my forehead. It was the first time I really experienced the feeling of the love of God.” A few weeks later she decided to ask the priest about the experience and that was her inroad to the Church. A year later, she joined the local RCIA program to become Catholic. “It took quite a few conversations before I would agree to stop practicing Wicca though! But I did, just before I started RCIA.

Elena beside a reliquary of St. Therese of Lisieux in Scotland in the fall of 2019

When her RCIA teachers instructed the class about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, Elena was skeptical. “Ok, so they’re crazy,” she thought. But at the encouragement of the now-trusted priest who had blessed her (Fr. Terence Runstedler of Ontario) she began going to the perpetual adoration chapel every day and recognized its graces. “[I] realised that things I had prayed over at home that made no sense made perfect sense if I prayed over them in the chapel. …Every time I went to Adoration, Jesus spoke to me in some way. Every time. I couldn’t ignore it. … The Eucharist is the reason I didn’t completely ignore Church teaching on SSA [same-sex attraction] and find myself a girlfriend.

Elena had been in denial about her attractions growing up. After discovering Catholicism, she prayed for these feelings to go away but they wouldn’t. She decided that maybe the Church was wrong and started going to LGBT support groups. Her mind changed back again at her grandmother’s funeral. It was a non-Catholic service and everyone was invited to come forward and receive their communion, “but I just knew so powerfully that I couldn’t because it wasn’t *Him*. It was lacking the Real Presence. Which meant I still believed in the Eucharist. Which meant the Church has to be right. So I changed my whole life again even though I didn’t understand the teachings on chastity.”

In 2007, at the age of 19, Elena was baptized, confirmed, and received her First Communion at the Easter Vigil. “Right up to the night, I was still partially afraid that God would strike me down when the baptismal waters touched me. I wanted so much to belong to Him but half thought that maybe He didn’t want me… I thought if He wanted me in the Church, why didn’t He have me born in a Catholic family? But then I received Him for the first time and I just *knew*. I could hear Him (not like a voice but like thoughts that you know come from Him) saying that I always belonged to Him and always would.” Elena notes that some people have deeply intellectual reasons for converting but her reasons were more relational. “[The Lord] just kept inviting me and pulling me along and putting things in my path I couldn’t ignore. He kept introducing me to Himself, over and over, until I finally recognised it was Him I was longing for.

Elena at The March for Life UK in London, May 2019

Today, Elena is 32 years old, lives in Scotland, and prior to the pandemic she worked as a personal support healthcare worker. (I myself made her acquaintance and learned her story this year through the social media website Twitter.) In her spare time, Elena enjoys writing songs and making rosaries and is a member of both Courage International and Eden Invitation, two groups which support those with same-sex attractions in living chaste and saintly lives. Through Catholic faith and community, she says, “I started to learn my identity as belonging to Christ and as a daughter to the Father.” Elena hopes to help other LGBT-identifying persons to also discover a deeper self-identity in God. Even in the discouraging modern culture we live in, Elena’s story encourages us that Jesus Christ is still powerfully, lovingly, calling and leading people into his friendship and community.

Watch “The Chosen”

June 8, 2020

The Chosen” is a truly excellent dramatized series about Jesus’ early ministry. I highly recommend it. They flesh-out characters and scenes from the Gospel texts in creative but faithful ways. The depiction of Jesus is particularly compelling. You can see the first season’s episodes on YouTube or through this free app.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Christian Commentary of the Ferengi Fathers

April 28, 2020

Though thoroughly pagan, Ferengi culture is very rich. While the love of money and of what tickles the ears leads to many sins and errors, the brilliance of hidden treasure may still be glimpsed shining forth through dirt. Like St. Justin Martyr wrote, God has planted “seeds of truth”, seeds of the Logos, within all pre-Christian peoples in preparation for the fullness of the Gospel.

Let us examine how aphorisms found within Ferengi society’s most influential text (Grand Nagus Gint’sThe Rules of Acquisition”) sometimes point, even despite themselves, to revealed Christian truths. I doubt many Ferengi will forgive me if my interpretations here are too generous, but I hope that many may gain some profit from them.

 

 

Jesus called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.

Rule #6: Never allow family to stand in the way of opportunity.

 

“Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Rule #7: Keep your ears open.

 

“You have drunk, but have not been exhilarated;
have clothed yourselves, but not been warmed;
and he who earned wages earned them
for a bag with holes in it.”

Rule #19: Satisfaction is not guaranteed.

 

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.   No one can take them out of my hand.”

Rule #42: What’s mine is mine.

 

“I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them.”

Rule #43: What’s yours can be mine.

 

Jesus said, “Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder, but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

Rule #44: Never confuse wisdom with luck.

 

On that day, there broke out a severe persecution of the church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

Rule #45: Expand or Die.

 

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

Rule #46: Make your shop easy to find.

 

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Rule #49: Everything is worth something to somebody.

 

The angel said to the women at the tomb, “I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised… Go quickly and tell his disciples he has been raised from the dead… Behold, I have told you.”

Rule #55: Advertise.

 

“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?!”
And Jesus replied to them, “What sort of things?”

Rule #56: Be discreet.

 

“You must not distort justice: you shall not show partiality; you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes even of the wise and twists the words even of the just.”

Rule #61: Never underestimate the power of bribery.

 

“We speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory, and which none of the rulers of this age knew; for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

Rule #85: Never let the competition know what you’re thinking.

 

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.”

Rule #90: The Divine Treasury awaits.

 

In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! … Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.”

Rule #93: Act without delay! The sharp knife cuts quickly.

 

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you… Then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”

Rule #118: There is no profit in revenge.

 

“[Jesus Christ] emptied himself… he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name…”

Rule #154: Pain passes, but profits remain.

 

After they had crucified him, they divided his garments by casting lots…

Rule #162: Even in the worst of times, someone turns a profit.

 

Behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.

Rule #173: Dream, plan, believe, act.

 

“Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him… In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

Rule #195: You can’t jump a twenty foot gorge in two ten foot jumps.

 

“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”

Rule #207: Sense without education is better than education without sense.

 

The high priest asked him and said to him, “Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?”
Then Jesus answered, “I am;
and ‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power
and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

Rule #208: Sometimes the only thing more dangerous than a question, is an answer.

 

When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”
Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Rule #225: Always follow one step ahead.

 

(On the pride of Goliath and Absalom)

Rule #235: Duck; death is tall.

 

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Rule #250: Precious things are for those that can prize them.

 

“Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. Because of these the wrath of God is coming upon the disobedient.”

Rule #257: Despise the things you cannot have.

 

“After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.”

Rule #276: Overbooking is standard practice.

 

Our Seminarians’ Coronavirus Stories

April 6, 2020

God has blessed our parishes with priestly vocations. Of the sixteen seminarians currently enrolled in major seminary for our La Crosse Diocese, three of them (fully 18%) belong to St. Paul’s or to St. John the Baptist’s Parishes. These young men have now returned safely home to us, but what was it like for them to be at seminary as this pandemic arose and what has life been like since? These are their stories.

 

Isaac Pecha of St. Paul’s Parish in Bloomer had been studying in 1st Theology at the North American College in Rome. He writes:

My experience of the Coronavirus outbreak has occurred in three stages: the initial outbreak in Italy, the two-week quarantine upon returning to America, and then the statewide stay-at-home order that started right as I left quarantine. Each has come with its own graces, which I share below.

In late February, a few towns in the north of Italy were put on lockdown, but Rome continued as normal. I even remember telling a classmate on March 4th, “I don’t think classes will be cancelled unless someone in the university gets sick.” The next day, the government announced that they were suspending all school activities. Then on March 9th, the lockdown was extended to the whole country. We were called back to America, with a flight out in 11 hours. I said my goodbyes, packed a single suitcase, and we left Rome. An hour after we landed on the 11th, the U.S. suspended travel from Europe. During this stage, my biggest graces were the clear reminder of how little we are in control of things, and having a bishop who acted so wisely as to call us home when he did.

When we got back to America, the four of us La Crosse seminarians had to quarantine together for two weeks before we could go to our families. In the unused rectory where we stayed, we established an horarium and continued to pray, study, and enjoy fraternal time as usual. There was a sliding glass door, and on Sundays a nearby priest would say Mass on the porch outside (with us safely contained in the house). This was the greatest grace of the personal quarantine—a concrete reminder of how lucky we are to have the sacraments, and the lengths to which priests will go to bring them to us.

The day before our release from personal quarantine, Governor Evers issued the statewide stay-at-home order, so as soon as the health department cleared us to leave, we all went straight back to our families. Since then, I have been at home, still taking classes online, spending time with my family. Having little to do besides pray, study, and hang out with my family members has been a great grace.

I am reminded of the words of one of my favorite holy women, Servant of God Chiara Corbella Petrillo. She said, “God does not want to take good things away from you, and if he takes, it is only to give you so much more.” Obviously, I cannot wait to go back to Rome, or receive a parish assignment here in our diocese, but it would be wrong to only long for those things without thanking God also for the good things he has given me in the meantime.

 

To this account, Eric Mashak, the 3rd year theologian from St. John the Baptist Parish in Cooks Valley, simply adds:

For us seminarians who study in Rome, it was very unexpected to be called back to the U.S. by our bishop. We found out that we were coming home around dinner time and were at the airport about 12 hours later. This, for me, was a simple lesson in obedience. There is a necessity for fast acting obedience in the priesthood. Like the Apostle Andrew who dropped his nets and instantly followed Christ, so too the priest needs to be ready to take a new parish assignment at a call from the bishop. Formation never stops! Even when we can’t be in a seminary.

 

Matthew Bowe of St. Paul’s was studying in 2nd Theology at St. Francis de Sales Seminary just outside of Milwaukee. He writes:

Greetings, brothers and sisters in Christ. I pray that everyone is doing well and is staying healthy. If you or your family or your friends have been deeply affected by the Coronavirus, please know that they are being prayed for in a special way.

Like other places, St. Francis de Sales Seminary had to adjust to the Coronavirus situation. After finishing our spring break, we had classes the week of March 9th. On Friday, March 13th, around 11 a.m., we received an email stating that the plan was to continue with classes on the following Monday. Later that evening around suppertime, all that changed when emails were sent about going to online classes until Easter and that formation would be suspended for a couple of weeks. Seminarians would be allowed to St. Francis Seminary under quarantine during that time if they so wished. For the seminarians of the Diocese of La Crosse, we received an email after supper stating that we were to go home as soon as possible. I have been home since March 14th.

Since then, classes will be conducted online through the end of the semester, and seminarians are to remain where they currently are until St. Francis Seminary tells us otherwise. At home, I have found balance in completing my schoolwork while maintaining prayer times and other healthy habits (e.g., eating well, exercise, and leisure activities). I have been catching up on some good movies and enjoying home-cooked meals with my parents. Further, I help out around the house. Other than that, my life is somewhat uneventful and routine, and there is a peace with that. The stress and pressure of a normal seminary life, which does give me life, have been removed, and I have a more comfortable position to reflect on the good that God has given me during my time as a seminarian. God has given me good gifts during this time of trial and tribulation.

I would like to conclude by asking everyone to continue to keep faith. Although this is a difficult time for everyone, let it bring forth good fruit that can only be achieved by uniting oneself to the will of God. Trust God, and He will do good things for you (in ways that you may not expect). While we brave this storm, let us pray for one another. I will continue to pray for the families of the parish, and I ask you to pray for my family and for my brother seminarians. May the merits of Jesus’ Passion enliven our faith during this Holy Week.

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.