Archive for the ‘Homily’ Category

Knowing God by Name

January 16, 2021

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Andrew found his brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah! (We have found the Christ!)” Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas” — which is translated Peter.

It is a very significant thing when God changes someone’s name. This only happened four times in Bible history. First, God renamed Abram, Abraham (meaning “the Father of Multitudes”) and renamed his wife Sarai, Sarah (or “Princess”). Later, God renamed their grandson Jacob, Israel (or “He who wrestles with God”). From him, God’s first adopted people would receive their name. And finally, Jesus changes Simon’s name. His name becomes Cephas in Aramaic, Petros in Greek, which all mean “Rock” or “Stone.” Jesus says, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.

All four of these extremely important figures in salvation history received a name from God reflecting their true identity in his plan. Abraham would go on to have a multitude of descendants, many by blood and many more by faith, while St. Peter would go on to be a stable rock for Christ’s Church as her first pope. The names God chooses are revelatory. And this is true for God’s own names and titles as well.

When God revealed himself to Moses through the burning bush and commanded him to be a messenger to his people, Moses said to God, “if I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?” You see, in those days, the early Israelites, surrounded as they were by polytheistic cultures, did not realize that there was only just one God. So if Moses were to come to the Israelites saying God had sent him, they might reply “which one?” When asked for his name, God replies to Moses: “I AM WHO AM.” “This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.” In Hebrew, the words “I AM” are pronounced “Yahweh,” which some have mispronounced as “Jehovah”.

What is revealed in this name, “I am who am”? Firstly, that God is personal. God is a Who, rather than a what. Secondly, unlike the false gods of the pagans, this God is real. Unlike those so-called gods, ‘I AM, so I have the power to save you.’ Thirdly, God is not merely another being that exists in the world, but the foundation of all existence. “I am who AM.” To exist is of God’s very essence. Fourth and finally, that God is mysterious. To say “I am who am” is something of a refusal to provide a name. ‘Who am I? I am who I am.‘ God’s perfect, infinite essence surpasses man’s imperfect and limited labels and concepts.

God spoke further to Moses in that encounter at the burning bush saying: “This is what you will say to the Israelites: The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever; this is my title for all generations.” Here the Lord identifies himself in terms a communal relationship (‘I am the God of your ancestors’) and then by three individual relationships (‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’). This foreshadows what would be revealed to us through Jesus Christ; that God is an eternal Trinity, a communal relationship of divine three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

God provides other true titles for himself in the Sacred Scriptures he inspired: He is Lord. He is Most-High. He is Almighty. I AM who heals. I AM who sanctifies. I AM who will provide. I AM who is there. Our banner, our shepherd, our righteousness, our peace. And ultimately, God reveals himself through his Incarnate Word, Jesus, whose name means: “Yahweh is salvation” or “Yahweh saves.”

What is the significance of sharing one’s name with another? To reveal your name to others allows them to know you better, it opens up a more personal relationship than one has with a stranger. Sharing your name permits others to honor your name or to defame it, and it allows them to call upon you.

In today’s first reading, the Lord repeatedly calls by name the young Samuel sleeping in the temple by name: “Samuel, Samuel!” When Samuel keeps running to his foster-father, the High Priest Eli, saying, “Here I am. You called me,” Eli realizes that the Lord is calling the boy. So Eli tells Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” When Samuel goes back to bed, the Lord comes and reveals his presence, calling out as before, and Samuel answers, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” This response led to a deeper relationship of Samuel with the Lord, and Samuel went on to become one of God’s great prophets.

God has revealed his name, his very self, to you. You know his name, you know him, and he calls you. The Lord declares through the Prophet Isaiah, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Will you answer the Lord’s next calling for you; to prayer, to service, to sacrifice, to love? This week, when he calls you, even in the quiet of your conscience, answer him: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.

Who Conquers the World?

January 9, 2021

The Baptism of the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the Holy Child

January 3, 2021

Feast of the Epiphany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“St. Luke, How’d You Know?”

December 31, 2020

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Divine Plan

December 26, 2020

Feast of the Holy Family
By Deacon Dick Kostner

Today I would like us to reflect on what the “Holy Family” really is. I want to begin by dissecting our definition of “family” and try to expand upon that definition to reveal the gift that God has given us. If I were to ask you to define “family” I believe most of us would say it’s a union of people consisting of a father, a mother and children. Now if I were to ask you to define what the “Holy Family” is, I believe most of us would say, “Well, that’s Joseph, Mary and Jesus.” But I think that if we reflect upon this a little bit we would realize there is something missing with our formula for “Holy Family”. How did all this begin? Well like everything its origins begin with the creator, with God. It was through a divine plan for the building of the kingdom, that God put together this relationship we call “family”.

Within the traditional family we have a “father”,  a head or lead person for this relationship. Let’s look at Joseph for some characteristics. Joseph was a humble person; a man who provided for his family; he was a listener to what God was saying to him, he was a listener to the concerns of the other family members. Joseph was trusting of what God had planned for him and his family even though he could not understand the details of the plan. Joseph was loving and cared deeply for Mary and for Jesus and was the primary teacher for his family for the laws of his Jewish faith. He was committed to obeying the laws of God and of his faith and in being the lead person to teach his family those laws.

Also within the traditional family there is a “mother”. a person committed to be the love glue of the family. Let’s look at Mary for some characteristics of this family member. Mary was a great listener. She had a tremendous faith that allowed her to trust in God; this faith allowed her much courage and she not only listened to God but was fearless in going out into uncharted waters. Mary was wise and loving and could read the will and needs of her family. She always put the welfare of her family first over her needs and desires.

Also within the traditional family there are children. Let’s look at Jesus to see what characteristics this family member has. Jesus was also a great listener. He listened to his parents and to his heavenly father. He was a student, a person thirsty to learn about his faith and his roots. Jesus was obedient to the will of his family and to the will of his heavenly father. Jesus was like the other family members, loving and caring about the welfare of his family and the welfare of others.

This relationship we call “family” was a creation of God with the purpose and design to help foster and grow the kingdom of God. So what is missing from our traditional definition of “Holy Family” is a very important member, that member being God, the Father, the creator of this entity. When God is so recognized we are no longer just a family we are now a “holy family” for we recognize that we were brought together through the divine plan of the Father!

Within our culture we see many attacks on the family. We find so called experts who are trying to re-define what a family is. We find a culture trying to re-define the roles of mother, father and children within a family, and even telling us that certain positions are not necessary to have a family. Whenever humans try to alter God’s divine plan there are going to be malfunctions and problems. If we remove for example certain parts of an automobile, we find that it does not run as good. Why, because we are altering what its creator intended. If certain key parts of a car are removed at some point it will no longer function or run. So it is with God’s creation of family. If we try and alter what the creator intended at some point it breaks down and will no longer function. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians today, tells it all, “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged.

As members of the Holy Family of God our spirits are joined so that we can receive the benefits of intimacy both in this life and in the next. That means death becomes non existent. Those of you who have experienced the loss of a loved one know what I am talking about. While body presence may be missing the spirit of Holy family members lives on and time is no longer relevant. Members of God’s Holy Family continue their presence with us even after death. During the Advent Season I pondered this point when I was feeling bad that our Churches could not be filled to capacity because of Covid limitations. But during Mass I realized that our Church’s are still filled to capacity not just on Christmas and Easter but at every Mass because our deceased Holy Family members are still here with us in Spirit filling our Churches with standing room only. You know I am a Student of the Spirit. I’m going to share a quote from a favorite website of mine, Spirit Daily. Jeannie Ewing is a Catholic spirituality writer who writes about the moving through grief, the value of redemptive suffering, and how to wait for God’s timing fruitfully. She says this about the mystery of the Holy Spirit:

When you’ve learned to attune yourself to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit, you will be aware of His presence in you at all times. Sometimes God chooses to sleep in us, and we don’t notice Him moving or working. Other times, we have a distant but keen awareness that God is accompanying us through a difficult decision or terrifying prognosis.

One day we come to a realization that all we do throughout our days are done in and with Him. Even when we do not consciously or formally make an offering to God, the union we share with Him is so obvious that we don’t need to speak but just be. In that being, we discover the place where we end and God begins is a very short thread.

We are told by our Church Leaders that it is believed that during Christmas that God releases the most family members from Purgatory and welcomes them into heaven. I believe that is because of our Prayers and Masses that are offered up for those Souls who have joined us to celebrate Eucharist. So to all of the deceased Holy Family spiritual members with us today we need to say “Merry Christmas” and thanks for joining our Holy Family celebrations.

The Holy Family — Funeral Homily for Cecilia Paulus, 95

December 26, 2020

By Deacon Dick Kostner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Christ: The Word of God

December 24, 2020

Christmas Night

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus Christ is the Word? How is Jesus Christ a Word; or, how are words like Jesus Christ? Spoken words have a speaker. Written words have an author. And the person these words come from is revealed through them. My words reveal what is hidden within me. The words I generate reveal my inner self to you. If I did not speak, you would not know my thoughts. If I were invisible to you as well, you could not see my presence or my activity; nor could you read any emotions from my face. I would remain a mystery to you.

If I were unheard, unseen, and unknown, you might look at the objects I have made to learn something more about me. A Renaissance artist’s masterpiece differs greatly from a child’s finger-painting; and if we were to place the two paintings side-by-side it would be easy for us to guess who made which. The creator is revealed through his creations. If I built a mountain you would know of my strength, but you might wonder if I am hard and unfeeling like rock. If I created an ocean you would know of my greatness, but you might wonder if you were of relatively small significance to me. If I fashioned a star you would know of my vast reach, but you might wonder if I am distant from you.

In times past, God spoke to our ancestors in partial and various ways; such as through his creation and through his Old Testament prophets. But in these last days, God speaks to us through a Son who reveals the Father’s knowledge, will, and love. God the Son is our Father’s Eternal Word.

And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory…

In what way does God choose to come to us? We knew he was strong, but he comes weak and vulnerable. We knew he was great, but he comes lowly and meek. We knew he was vast, but he comes as someone very small. He possesses all riches, but he comes to an unwealthy place and time. A stable is certainly not a palace, and the little town of Bethlehem is not the great city of Rome. In fact, our present modern world is far more rich and comfortable than those ancient times and places were. Yet the Son of God chose to be born there and then as a human baby.

Why does Jesus come to us in this way? Imagine yourself supremely happy in Heaven. Ask yourself: for what possible reason would you ever leave there? “For us men and for our salvation he came down from Heaven.” For love of you and me, he humbly descends to reveal for us what God is like, to win our love and save us.

The Virgin Mary wraps baby Jesus in swaddling clothes. His beaten, crucified body will later be wrapped in a linen burial shroud. Mary lays baby Jesus in a manger, a feedthrough for animals. He will go on to offer himself as food for us, the Bread of Life for the world. Delivered first in a cave, Jesus will go on to be delivered from a tomb. Jesus Christ descends down to the depths to bring us up with him to the heights.

In yet another surprise, the Son of God, our Prince of Peace, our God-Hero and Emmanuel, comes to us so quietly and subtly. Sometime after the first Christmas, when the Magi showed up in Jerusalem seeking “the newborn king of the Jews,” King Herod and his court are completely oblivious of what has occurred in Bethlehem just six miles down the road. If not for the angels, the shepherds in the fields would not have known. And if not for those shepherds sharing the message they were told by the angels, who else in Bethlehem would have known besides Joseph and Mary? Jesus Christ’s birth was heralded and celebrated by some, but dismissed and ignored by many.

Jesus did not force the world to pay him notice then, and it is similar today. Despite all that he has done for us, he allows himself to be ignored. The Word of God is among us, but we must decide to listen; not only on Christmas but throughout the whole year. “Behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy… a Savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” So heed this Word and rejoice in this Word, for he has revealed to you what God is like, to win your love and save you.

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.

Her Great Renovation — Funeral Homily for Linda Boehm, 69

December 21, 2020

I wish to offer you my sympathy and condolences at the passing of Linda, a beloved member of your family and of this parish family as well. It providentially happens that Linda’s funeral today will be the last St. John’s funeral for this year 2020 and our last funeral here before St. John’s renovation, beginning after Christmas. What awaits for this church in its renovation bears a poetic likeness to Linda.

This transition to a new phase of our parish life was expected. We’ve been preparing for this project for a long time. But the news of exactly when our Masses are ending and the hard work begins may have come as a surprise to some. Next week, these pews will be removed, this altar and this ambo will be withdrawn, and our tabernacle will be empty. Eventually these walls will be stripped, this carpet will be torn up, and apart from the workers this church will be vacated, vacant, and desolate. The sacramental life inside this church will cease. But even if the sacrament of Jesus Christ are no longer offered in this building the parish will still survive. St. John the Baptist Parish is more than this brick, plaster, and paint. And even if this building were ground to dust and had to be entirely rebuilt this parish would still be alive through it all.

After Mass in our lobby you can see renderings of what this church will look like once the work is complete. Our church is not ugly now, though you can see her blemishes, but what she will become is more beautiful and glorious. And once she is completed she will play host to her many family members and friends and many new acquaintances, too, who come to see her for the first time. On that day, any sadness experienced during the time of separation will give way to great joy. This church will be resurrected for the worship of God and the holy peace and happiness of his people.

As I said, what awaits for St. John the Baptist Church bears a poetic resemblance to Linda. Though not entirely unexpected, and Linda was well prepared for it, her passing may still feel shocking; this separation, unsettling; Linda’s death, quite saddening. But there is more to Linda than this dust. Her soul lives on. Today we pray that any flaw in her may be removed so that with a perfect soul she may enter Heaven and go on to experience the Resurrection in a more beautiful and glorious renovated body. Someday in Heaven and on the Last Day, through Jesus Christ our Savior, may we all be happily reunited with Linda’s happily outgoing self to rejoice in the worship of God and the holy peace of his people. When you next see this church in her remade glory, may you be reminded of Linda and of these truths.

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.

Wreaths of Flowers — Funeral Homily for Janice Bleskacek, 87

December 16, 2020

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

The nine flowers of the wreath include:

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

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

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

Scripture says of this life,

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

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

Anno Domini

December 13, 2020

3rd Sunday of Advent – Gaudete Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New Eve

December 8, 2020

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Eve was the first woman. God created her like Adam, a finite but flawless and sinless creature, destined to become the biological mother of the entire human race. But then an angel, a fallen angel, Satan in the form of a snake, visited her to suggest that she should disobey God’s will. Eve said yes to sin, and then Adam joined her, and through them the whole human race fell.

Their grave sin caused Adam and Eve to lose paradise, but their futures were not without hope, for God spoke in their hearing a prophesy toward that wicked, deceiving serpent, the devil. God declared, “I will put enmity (that is, I will put hostility) between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” Who is this offspring, this descendant, this son, who strikes back at the devil? It’s Jesus Christ who defeats the devil by dying on the Cross. Adam sinned, causing us to die. But St. Paul calls Jesus the second Adam, the new Adam, who obeys God and does not sin so that we may live forever.

If Jesus is the new and second Adam, then who is the new and second Eve? Who is the woman whom the devil hates most; the mother whose offspring crushes the serpent’s head; a woman created by God as a flawless, sinless creature? This New Eve was visited by angel too, a holy archangel named Gabriel, to ask that she would accept God’s will. And the Blessed Virgin Mary answered, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” The New Eve’s obedience was later echoed by the New Adam. In the Garden of Gethsemane, in his garden of temptation the night before he died, Jesus said, “Father… not my will but yours be done.” Eve said yes to sin, Adam joined her, and through them the whole human race fell. Mary and Jesus say yes to God, and through them the whole human race is redeemed.

Imagine if you could design, could create, your own mother. Wouldn’t you make her the sweetest, kindest, most lovely, and most loving woman that you could? Well, Jesus is God and he did create his own mother for himself, and Jesus shares his mom with us as well. Eve became the biological mother of all the living, but Mary is the spiritual mother of all who live in Christ. Through her sinless soul, completely filled with God’s grace, Mary knows and loves each one of us as her own children. So today, we her children rejoice and celebrate with holy Mary, that God chose her to be our New Eve, the Immaculate Conception.

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

December 7, 2020

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

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

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

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

The Fire of God

December 6, 2020


2nd Sunday of Advent

Eighteen years ago, when I applied to become a seminarian for our diocese, one part of the process was taking the MMPI, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Test — 567 True-False questions that help to detect psychological disorders. Of all of those written questions this one is for me the most memorable: “True or False: I am fascinated by fire.” How would you answer that question on a psych exam? I recall thinking at the time, “Yes, yes I am fascinated by fire, but I don’t want them to think I’m a pyromaniac. And I’m not a pyromaniac so maybe I should answer ‘False.’” But then I considered that wouldn’t be honest, so I reluctantly filled in the bubble for “True.” In the end, the diocesan psychologist did not diagnose me as crazy, so they sent me to seminary, eventually ordained me, and here I am today. But upon later reflection, I think this question is something of a trick.

Why do people pay more to have a fireplace in their home when a central heating system is sufficient to keep everyone comfortable? When people sit around a campfire, what does everybody look at for hours into the night? I strongly suspect this question (are you fascinated by fire) isn’t looking for pyromania so much as it is checking to see whether people will lie, because everyone is fascinated by fire. Fire is beautiful, it’s mesmerizing, dynamic and powerful; it’s well-known to us and yet surprising, an incredible blessing yet dangerous to the unwary.

The Sacred Scriptures often speak about fire. In today’s in gospel, we hear the preaching of St. John the Baptist. In the parallel passages of Matthew and Luke, St. John similarly cries out:

I am baptizing you with water… but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

Fire is also mentioned in today’s second reading. The Second Letter of St. Peter tells us:

The day of the Lord will come like a thief,
and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar
and the elements will be dissolved by fire…
the heavens will be dissolved in flames
and the elements melted by fire.”

The coming and presence of the Lord is associated with fire in the Old Testament as well. God first spoke to Moses through a burning bush. And during the Exodus the Lord went before his people, leading them in a pillar of cloud and fire. The appearance of God’s glory was like a devouring fire atop Mt. Sinai. The mountain was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended upon it in fire. Smoke rose up from it into the sky and the whole mountain greatly trembled. The Lord commanded Moses to warn the people not to approach, not to climb up the mountain, lest they be struck down in their unholiness. Listen to this vision of God the Prophet Daniel had in a dream one night:

As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.

Is the fire of God of which John the Baptist, Peter, Moses, and Daniel speak something for us to fear? Scripture says the punishment of God’s judgment is fire, but it also speaks of fire as God’s means of purifying his own. In regards to judgment, the Prophet Isaiah writes, “the Lord will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.” At the Last Judgment, Jesus Christ the King will turn to the goats on his left and say “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And the Book of Revelation says anyone whose name is not found written in the book of life will be thrown into a lake of fire: “[A]s for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, & all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” This is a fire to dread and to earnestly avoid.

Yet God’s prophets also speak of God’s purifying fire which perfects his people. Psalm 66 says “you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried;” and a verse from the Book of Proverbs says, “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.” Ancient gold and silversmiths would melt their precious metals with fire to separate out and burn away any impurities which they contained. Likewise, through the Prophet Zechariah, God says, “[I will put my people] into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” This is why Jesus exclaims, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!

Jesus would separate and burn away in us everything impure, false, and worthless. This purification can happen for God’s faithful friends in this life on earth or afterwards in Purgatory. St. Peter writes to the Church in his First Letter, “Now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” And St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day [of the Lord] will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” Is this a fire we should fear and dread? No, as illustrated by this story from the Book of Daniel:

In the days of the Babylonian Empire, King Nebuchadnezzar had three servants named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When the king set up a tall, golden statue and commanded that all bow down and worship it, these three faithful Jewish men refused. Enraged, the king commanded that they be bound with rope and cast into a white-hot furnace. Once this had been done, the king looked inside the furnace. He became startled and rose in haste, asking his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” “Certainly, O king,” they answered. “But, I see four men unbound and unhurt, walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.” Then Nebuchadnezzar came to the opening of the furnace and called: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out,” and the trio came out of the fire.

The fire had had no power over their bodies; not a hair of their heads had been singed, nor were their garments altered; there was not even a smell of fire about them. Yet notice, all of the ropes which had bound them were burned away and gone. Recall that the burning bush at Mt. Sinai was not destroyed by God’s fire. And when the Holy Spirit came down as tongues of fire at Pentecost, the disciples touched by the Holy Flame were not tormented by pain but rather filled with rejoicing. The process of conversion may entail some pains because change is often hard, whether on earth or in Purgatory, but I urge you not to fear it. God’s purifying fire would take away what binds you, it will not destroy what is good in you, and its fruit will be joy.

The Book of Wisdom tells us:

Chastised a little, [the souls of the just] shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;”
They shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord shall be their King forever.

So just souls become as sparks of fire and rule over the nations. They will rule like God their King and they will share in God’s fire. The New and Old Testaments agree, as the Books of Hebrews and Deuteronomy say, that “our God is a consuming fire.” The Lord your God is a consuming fire – beautiful, dynamic and powerful; well-known to us and yet surprising, an incredible blessing yet dangerous to the unwary. There is no approaching God without encountering his fire. Perhaps the delights of the saints and pains of damned have the same source – the unveiled presence of God. In this life, many people dismiss God while others long to see Him. But beyond the veil of this life the Holy One can no longer be ignored. Either we will eagerly run toward him or desperately desire to flee. The same Holy Fire is loved or despised according to our openness to love and honor and serve like him.

The call of Prophets Isaiah and John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord is addressed to us this Advent. In the wasteland of your imperfect soul prepare a straight and smooth highway for our God. Repent and confess your sins for forgiveness. When St. John the Baptist appeared in the desert, people from the whole Judean countryside and the city of Jerusalem were going out to him and being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins aloud. They would devote an entire day to walk or ride an animal out to where John was baptizing; wait in a single, very long line; and then confess their sinfulness in front of everybody in the mere hope of being forgiven by God. Jesus Christ makes it so much easier for us in the Sacrament of Confession. His minsters are not just one, but many, and his churches are not far away. We get to confess our sins privately in the quiet of the confessional, and with every good confession our forgiveness is assured.

St. Peter tells us “the day of the Lord will come like a thief,” that is, by surprise; we know not when. “(Then) the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.” Since this is the case, St. Peter asks, “what sort of persons ought you to be?” Conduct yourselves in holiness and devotion. Do not delay your repentance and conversion. Jesus says, “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.” If this would be the case with precious limbs, how much more surely should we now cast off our worthless sins?

To give you that opportunity, for the forgiveness of your sins and a new infusion of God’s graces, I will be hearing confessions all day this Wednesday, December 9th at St. Paul’s. This Wednesday, from 10 AM to 8 PM, at the top of every hour, I will come to St. Paul’s main sacristy to hear the confessions of all penitents, either face-to-face or anonymously, masked and socially-distanced until all are heard. I sincerely hope you will come, and bring your family too, for the purifying fire of God is far sweeter than his fire which will punish unrepentance.