Archive for the ‘Feast Day Homilies’ Category

Hearts Like His — The Nathan & Cassandra Hagenbrock Wedding

June 12, 2021

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Sacred Heart of JesusNathan and Cassie’s wedding day lands upon this, the third Friday after the Feast of Pentecost, the eleventh day of June. God’s providence has arranged it that they be married on this special day – a feast day, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, during a month especially dedicated to Jesus’ Sacred Heart. You can see depictions of the Sacred Heart inside this church. There is the statue of Jesus behind me, here in the sanctuary, and presently another statue in our devotional corner in the back. In artistic depictions, you may see Jesus’ Sacred Heart resting upon his chest, or maybe he holds it in his hand offering it to you, and sometimes his heart is depicted by all itself. In every depiction it is a human heart, crowned with thorns, pierced on the side, with flames and a cross emerging from the top. What is the meaning of these things? What do they reveal about Jesus? And what do they mean for Nathan and Cassie and us?

The heart is the organ within every human being which is most associated symbolically with emotion, devotion, and love. Since becoming man through his Incarnation two thousand years ago, the Eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, has possessed a literal human heart in himself. And Jesus has personally experienced human feelings as well. But Jesus and his heart are not merely human, but divine. This reality is symbolized by the flames. As at the burning bush in Exodus, these flames do not consume his heart, but coexist with it and glorify it. Jesus feels and loves with a divine intensity, and this love leads him to sacrifice for love. This love gives rise to the Cross, upon which he suffered for us. This love occasions the crown of thorns, which he wore for us. And this love led to Jesus’ heart being pierced, the event we hear about in today’s Gospel. Jesus’ Sacred Heart is human and compassionate, divine and loving, long-suffering and glorious. And it is the will of Jesus, meek and humble of heart, to make our hearts like unto his, that you may endure suffering, be loving, and be made glorious.

You can see that this world is broken. Other people are broken. And you know, Nathan and Cassie, that though there is a great deal to like about you both, neither of you is yet perfect. Know that in your marriage, you will inevitably encounter suffering; sufferings caused by the world, sufferings caused by other people, and sometimes sufferings caused by each other. But when these thorns and small cuts come, do not let the fire of your love go out. Choose to keep loving, willing the good of each other. This is how Jesus loves us, and how he calls us to love.

This persistent decision to love is essential, but it is not enough. To love beyond human strength requires God’s strength; divine fire burning in your heart. You must love with Jesus’ love by connecting with him; praying daily, worshipping weekly, and communing with him constantly (spiritually or sacramentally) as you are able. Love each other by the love with which he loves you.

Choosing to love with the love of Christ in marriage is now your calling. This vocation together is to be for your joy, fruitfulness, and glory in the likeness of Christ. May Jesus Christ make your our hearts like unto his Sacred Heart, so that you may endure suffering, be loving, and be made glorious, like Jesus Christ himself.

Believe Like Children

June 5, 2021

Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Earlier this week was the last day of classes for another academic year at St. Paul’s Catholic School. This pandemic-impacted year posed challenges, but we prevailed. Our school met in-person throughout and gave our children a full education – focused on forming not only their minds but also their souls as well. This aspect is so important, it is the reason the Catholic Church has schools. A true education is not complete unless a person learns about God, about Jesus’ saving words and deeds, and how to live, both now and forever, as a Christian like him.

This is why I encourage any of you who have children attending public school to enroll them into Catholic school for this fall. Ask our school families about how excellent a school it is. They’ll tell you. Pray on this decision, ask the Lord where he wants your sheep to be. And realize that a great Catholic education for your children is much more possible than you might think.

My favorite part of being the pastor of a Catholic school is teaching and speaking with the children. Their openness to the things of God is beautiful. In their classroom or in church, you can teach these little ones holy truths and they joyfully believe them. This openness is part of why Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” and “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Sometimes I’ll meet with a class of youngsters and their teacher in the church outside of the Mass. We remind the children how to use the Holy Water at the doors to bless themselves and to genuflect when they reach their pews. Then I love to teach them and ask them questions, questions like, “Where is Jesus here?

Sometimes kids point to the big crucifix on the wall and I tell them, “That’s only a statue of Jesus. Seeing it reminds us of Jesus and can help us pray to him, but that’s just a statue which looks like him. Where is Jesus really, truly present in this room?

The children then point to the golden box at the foot of the cross – the Tabernacle – inside of which, I explain, within a special container called a ciborium, is kept Sacred Hosts consecrated at previous Masses. At the priest’s words of consecration at Mass, these Hosts became Jesus Christ, his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, really and truly present, really and truly him.

In our Catholic churches, what is typically located front and center? Not the priest’s chair, not a donation box, not even the baptismal font, but Jesus’ Tabernacle and the altar. This is because Jesus Christ and his Holy Sacrifice are at the center of our Catholic Faith. At the Last Supper, Jesus said, This is my Body, and Do this in memory of me. And his Bride the Church has listened, believed him, and obeyed him, celebrating his Real Presence at the Holy Mass throughout the centuries to this day.

It has been humorously observed that for second graders preparing for and receiving their First Communion it can be harder for them to believe that the round, flat, unfluffy, Consecrated Host was ever bread to begin with than it is for them to believe it is Jesus. This is because they believe that Jesus can do, and does do, the things he says. On this feast of Corpus Christi, let’s humbly turn and become more like those children, who accept that their good and loving friend, our Lord Jesus Christ, is truly here before us.

Three Ways to Strengthen your Faith

April 12, 2021

Divine Mercy Sunday

St. Thomas the Apostle, a martyr for Jesus Christ, is famously nicknamed “Doubting Thomas.” He gets a lot of flack for being slow to believe because of today’s reading from the Gospel of John. One week after Easter Sunday, Jesus appears in the Upper Room once again. This time Thomas is there and Jesus says to him: “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Yet the Gospels show that other disciples were slow to believe as well. The last chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel summarizes Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances in this way:

“When he had risen, early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told his companions who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe. After this he appeared in another form to two of them walking along on their way to the country. They returned and told the others; but they did not believe them either. But later, as [the apostles] were at table, he appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised.”

St. Luke records how at that first appearance in the Upper Room, even after Jesus had shown them his wounded hands and his feet, the disciples were “still incredulous for joy.” And later, when the eleven apostles went back up north to Galilee, to a mountain to which Jesus had ordered them, St. Matthew notes, “when they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.” There Jesus gave them The Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, even though their faith was not yet perfect.

After everything that the apostles had witnessed Jesus do during his ministry; including multiplying loaves and fishes to feed thousands of people, walking on water, and bringing at least three persons back to life, they still felt doubt. Jesus had raised Jairus’ 12-year-old daughter from the dead. He raised the only son of a widow of the city of Nain from the dead. And Jesus raised Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary of Bethany, from the dead. Yet the apostles still doubted, despite evidence, that Jesus himself had resurrected from his tomb. This seems senseless, but I can’t be very hard on them.

When I was in school, our science teacher once attached a bowling ball to a rope and attached that rope to the ceiling. The challenge was to hold the ball up to your nose (so that the rope was without slack) and then to release it, allowing the bowling ball to swing away and swing back toward your face, without flinching. Now I knew that if I didn’t push the ball away when I released it, and if no one touched the ball while it was in motion, if the whole thing held together and if I stood in place, there was no way that bowling ball could possibly hit my face. But when I saw it coming toward my face, I still flinched and stepped back. What we feel doesn’t always match what we think.

It’s like when you fly on an airplane. You know its the safest form of travel. But maybe you still get a bit anxious as you’re boarding, or when the jet accelerates faster and faster down the runway, and climbs thousands of feet up with nothing but empty air between you and the ground. You’re a little alarmed when you hear the aircraft make its mechanical sounds, or when you’re descending to land and you see everything on the ground getting closer and closer, hurtling by. You feel nervous flying, even though your car trips to and from the airports put your life in greater danger than the flight. I think this is just a part of our present human condition; we can doubt even the things we know with certainty. So how can you nurture and deepen your faith? First, in Christian community. Second, by asking and seeking. And third, by being it into being.

Christian community, both here at Mass and outside of Church, helps sustain our faith and grow it. We Christians are like lit charcoals inside of a cookout grill. If you were to dump and scatter these coals across your driveway, they would cool off entirely, achieving nothing but a mess. But by gathering these lit coals together, they become hotter and remain hot by sharing one another’s warmth. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, “We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another.” When St. Thomas was not yet fully convinced that Jesus had arisen, he still remained within the Christian community. Inside the Upper Room, where the first Eucharist was celebrated, Thomas went on to become convinced of the wonderful truth about our Lord and our God. So do not neglect, but prioritize in your life, your Christian friendships and our community.

Another important way to nurture and deepen your faith is by asking good questions about it and seeking out the truth. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were discussing and debating with one another about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Then, though they did not fully recognize his presence, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them. He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and set their hearts burning with new faith and joy. Jesus calls us to be childlike but he wants our faith to be mature. He invited Doubting Thomas to investigate and probe him. Jesus says, “Whoever asks receives, and whoever seeks finds.” So ask mature, challenging questions about our Faith, in conversation, in study, and in prayer. Ask good questions and you will find solid answers to strengthen your faith.

And a third way to deepen your faith is by being it into being. What are the true and beautiful things we believe that you tend to doubt? What are some Christian truths you profess but sometimes have a hard time feeling or living out? Maybe it’s the belief that you’re loved. Maybe it’s the belief that you’re forgiven, or that you could be reconciled to God. Maybe it’s believing that you’re never truly alone. Or maybe it’s believing that Jesus is alive and active today in your life and our world. Ask God to show you your half-accepted Christian beliefs and reflect on them. Ask God for grace to accept these more fully and then be them into being, by which I mean, act as you would if you accepted these truths completely. Then you will begin living more like Jesus wills for you.

On one occasion, the apostles pleaded with Jesus, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’” Here Jesus is saying that even if your present faith is tiny, know that your small, imperfect faith is already enough for you to begin doing and becoming everything that he desires for you.

The Beginning of the New Creation

April 5, 2021

Easter Vigil

Empty Tomb Sunrise

On Holy Thursday, I spoke about Jesus as the New Passover Lamb who calls us to his feast. On Good Friday, I preached about Jesus as the New Adam who begins a marriage covenant with us, the Church, his bride. Tonight, we celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, the beginning of the New Creation. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, he created everything from absolutely nothing and yet he created everything according to a logic, a reason, a Logos, a wisdom, a Word.

“The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
[And] all things came to be through him…”
according to a plan.

This divine plan was not merely to create a vast, material universe of stars, planets, moons and comets in reflection of God’s glory, but also to create (at least on one planet) many living things as well. Plants and trees were added to the dry land. Swimming creatures were added to the sea. Winged birds were added to the sky. and cattle, creeping things, and of all kinds wild animals were added across the earth. But God’s the ultimate living creation would be “the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake”:

God created man in his image;
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them, saying:
“Be fertile and multiply;
fill the earth and subdue it.”

God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” And then, the Book of Genesis says, “on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, [so] he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken.” But it would be a short rest. Because of human sins and the Fall of Creation, there would be much more work for God to do.

This work is the story of Salvation History reflected throughout tonight’s Old Testament readings: words and deeds across places and times to reconnect with our human race, to reclaim, redeem, and restore us. These many works of God culminated in Jesus Christ. “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” He lives as the New Adam who passes the test. He dies as the New Passover Lamb who sets us free. Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath Day of Rest. And on Holy Saturday, the seventh day of the week, Jesus perfectly fulfills the law, his lifeless body resting in the tomb. When the Sabbath was over, on Easter Sunday (which is the first day of the week again, or what Early Christians called the eighth day) Jesus begins the New Creation in himself, by his Resurrection.

As proclaimed in our Easter Gospel, the tomb was emptied. “Do not be amazed!” an angel told the women there, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him.” Not merely had Jesus’ spirit been raised, but his physical body too. Were it otherwise, when he appeared to his disciples on Easter, his dead body would still be in the tomb. The risen Jesus visits them in the Upper Room and says, “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” He shows them his hands, his feet, and his side because these still bear the wounds he suffered during his Passion. It seems his many other cuts and bruises are healed and gone, but Jesus retains these wounds without pain as trophies of his triumph.

He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” He is the plan revealed, the pattern of what is to come, both for those in Christ and for our universe. For death is not the end of us and the Last Day is not the end of the world. The dead will live again and the universe will be glorified into “a new heavens and a new earth.” As St. Paul wrote:

“Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God […] in hope because creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait for […] the redemption of our bodies.”

In our lives we now struggle against evil and sin. This broken world causes painful wounds in us. But the glorious wounds which remain in the risen Savior’s body reveal something beautiful: that with Christ all our trials and sufferings will be weaved into the tapestry, into the New Creation, he is now fashioning. “He will wipe every tear from [our] eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, the old order [will have] passed away.” In light of Jesus, St. Paul can say, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” The beginnings of that glory are revealed to us tonight, in the Easter resurrection of our Lord. “Behold,” Christ says, “I make all things new.

The New Adam

April 2, 2021

Good Friday

Last evening, on Holy Thursday, I spoke of how Jesus calls and welcomes us to share his Eucharistic feast. Like at the first Passover in Egypt, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ the Lamb of God frees his people from slavery and death. And his Church continues to renew and rejoice in our great deliverance at this holy meal he gives us. Today, on Good Friday, Jesus resembles and surpasses Adam from the Garden of Eden.

Eve was God’s gift to Adam, and he was a gift to her. The Lord God had cast a deep sleep on the man and while he slept fashioned a woman, a bride, from his side. They began a marriage covenant, became one flesh, and were naked without shame on account of their innocence. Though Adam and Eve could have lived forever by eating from the Tree of Life, they still had some concept of what death was. Otherwise, God’s warning ‘you shall die if you eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil‘ would be meaningless to them. And also realize that the wicked tempter did not approach them crawling on his belly in the dirt — that humiliation followed as part of his punishment from God. The devil would have appeared to them as a more imposing predator.

God had placed the man in the Garden “to tend and keep it.” Adam was not only to cultivate paradise, but also to watch over, guard, and protect it, including Eve. However, when the tempter comes seeking to separate her from God forever, Adam does not intervene. At the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the first Adam does not lay down his life, he does not fight to the death against “the dragon, the ancient serpent, which is the Devil or Satan,” endangering his bride. So instead, she “took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” They failed, and sinned and fell together, with painful consequences for us all.

Jesus Christ is our New Adam “who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.” Though tried in the Garden of Gethsemane, he chose to fulfill God’s will, and “Christ became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Despite his sinless innocence, they stripped him naked and crucified him. The Cross is the New Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, where we see both his goodness and our evil on full display.

Once he had died, they pierced Jesus’ side, and blood and water flowed out. The Bride of Christ is his Church, fashioned from his side as he slept the sleep of death, born from baptismal water and eucharistic Body and Blood. And note Jesus’ last words quoted by St. John: they may be translated as “It is finished,” or “It is consummated.” Christ the Bridegroom, the New Adam, dies for his Bride, the Church; laying down his life in his victorious battle against the Evil One in another garden, and rising again to eternal life from a garden tomb, exulting her along with himself.

It can be a challenge for guys to identify with being the Bride of Christ, just as ladies are challenged to connect with their baptismal call to be priest, prophet, and king in Christ. There is a spousal mystery here, and we must not mistake every feature of earthly marriage for the fullness of the mystical reality with Christ. But realize that Jesus feels an impassioned love for you, a desire to be with you and be one with you, in a close covenantal bond. This relationship involves work and sacrifice – our daily decision to love him – but Jesus’ love for you is constant, always faithful, in good times and in bad. He rejoices in you as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, and offers you his whole self, on the Cross, from this altar, and for ever.

View From the Cross by Tissot

The New Passover Lamb

April 1, 2021

Holy Thursday

The Lord gave specific instructions to Moses and Aaron for the feast of Passover—commandments containing secret significance only later to be revealed. Every Hebrew family had to procure a lamb, a year-old male without blemish, one apiece for each household. If a family was too small for a whole lamb they were to join the nearest household in obtaining one and feast in the same house together. The lamb could not to be eaten raw nor boiled in water, but had to be roasted, baked whole and entire, once some of its blood had been taken to be dabbed on the house’s doorposts and lintel. The whole community of Israel was to celebrate this feast and no one was to go outdoors until morning.

The first Passover was held for the salvation of God’s people, so that deadly judgment would pass over their households and they would no longer be slaves in Egypt. Once they were freed, they continued keeping the Feast of Passover, renewing and celebrating their great deliverance by God’s power. All of these were signs and symbols of things to come, of the still-greater things which came with Christ.

At the Last Supper, Jesus told to his apostles, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you.” The Gospels note the bread and wine on the table, in accord with the Jewish Passover tradition, but where is the lamb at the center of the meal?

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

Jesus asked the apostles that night, “Do you realize what I have done for you?” Jesus is the Passover Lamb of God: an innocent young man, unblemished by sin, whose blood is poured out upon the vertical and horizonal beams of the Cross, to free and save all within his house. Tonight we gather in one house, Christ’s Church, as a family, joining with other households together at Mass, to really receive in the form of baked bread Jesus’ whole self. As St. Augustine once preached to newly baptized Christians: “Recognize in the bread what hung on the cross, and in the cup what flowed from his side. [T]hose old sacrifices of the people of God…represented…this single one that was to come.”

Jesus’ sacrifice saves us from deadly judgment and slavery to sin, and at this meal we renew and rejoice in our great deliverance through him. By God’s grace, may we always have priests and the freedom to offer the Mass on earth, and the grace to never wander off from God’s house into the outer darkness until the first light of the new dawn breaks—when Jesus Christ returns in glory.

Jesus asks his apostles, “Do you realize what I have done for you?” Do you realize what Jesus has done for you? Know that he has eagerly desired to share this Passover with you.

St. Patrick, the Moses of Ireland

March 17, 2021

Wednesday of the 4th Week of Lent

St. Patrick, the Apostle to Ireland, and Moses from the Exodus have a lot in common. Moses was targeted by the wicked as a baby; Pharaoh ordered that all newborn Hebrew boys be tossed into the Nile River to die. Patrick was also targeted by the wicked. Raiders kidnapped him from Roman Britain at the age of sixteen. Moses was separated from his family, growing up in Pharaoh’s palace. Patrick was separated from his family as a slave in Ireland for six years. Moses escaped Pharaoh and Patrick escaped his captors, and neither of them planned to ever go back again. But then, Moses had a vision at the Burning Bush calling him to return to Egypt. And Patrick had a vision in his sleep in which he heard the people of Ireland call out to him, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us!” Both men had worked as shepherds during their exiles, and this experience helped spiritually prepare them to become shepherds of men.

Moses was sent by God to free the Hebrews from slavery. Patrick was sent by God to free the Irish from their errors and sins. “Saying to the prisoners: Come out!” But the Egyptian and Irish leaders resisted. Pharaoh’s Egyptian gods and the druids’ Celtic gods were quite different from the Lord. Pharaoh thought killing babies in the river would please the god of the Nile while solving his problems, and the druids offered their gods many human sacrifices hoping that good things would come from them. By proclaiming mighty messages and performing mighty miracles, Moses and Patrick defeated these foes and freed the people. Both men are rightly celebrated for leading many people to God.

The Hebrews who left in Egypt and the Irish who lived in Ireland were introduced to a different and better way of life with the Lord our God. Yet amazingly, once they had been set free, the Hebrews often complained against Moses and said they wanted to return to Egypt and slavery. Today, after some 1,500 years of the True Faith in Ireland, more and more people there live as if Catholic in name only; not believing, not praying, not practicing. For example, in 2018 the people of Ireland voted 2-to-1 in a referendum to legalize more abortion. And in 2019, the first year under the new laws, Ireland’s Department of Health recorded exactly 6,666 abortions. “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?” Isaiah suggests this as unthinkable thing – but that is how far we have wandered. Yet even if she should forget, God never forgets us. Even if we give up on God, he will not give up on us. “The Lord is gracious and merciful.” But you are free and you can choose to leave him.

Moses cared about the Hebrews, Patrick cared about the Irish, and I care about you, and we do not want any of you to be lost. But life in the desert is hard, and this world is seductive, and it is easy to be lost. Will you choose to follow the Lord, the God of Moses and St. Patrick, or not?

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word
and believes in the one who sent me
has eternal life and will not come to condemnation,
but has passed from death to life.”

As Moses said, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses… that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. So choose life, that you and your children may live.

You are Called to Read the Gospels

January 24, 2021

Word of God Sunday, The 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

When I was about thirteen years old, I remember once being in my living room thinking about death, until nature called, and I headed toward the bathroom on the other side of the house. Our entryway was the crossroads of my childhood home, with doorways and stairs leading to different rooms and levels. This would be the setting for a crossroads moment of my life. For as I set foot there I pictured myself standing before God’s judgement seat after my death. The Lord sat on a white stone throne. He didn’t look angry (that would have scared me off) but he seemed disappointed and frustrated, like I had promised to meet him somewhere and never showed up. And he asked me, “Why didn’t you live your life like I wanted you to live it?

I knew what he meant. I was a cradle-Catholic and not a terrible kid but I also wasn’t much of a disciple of Jesus Christ either. I still needed to use the bathroom but I knew this question would be wrong to ignore. So I stayed there, though pacing a bit, thinking with urgency what would I say, what could I say, in this situation? You only get one Last Judgment. So I replied, “Well God, I wasn’t even sure that you were really real. How could I entirely commit my one life to you while being so uncertain? How could you expect me to stand out on a cliff-ledge without me being sure that it would hold up my weight?

Once I had made my case, he promptly replied, “Did you ever really try to find out? Did you even read my book?” I laughed at that pithy line and said something slightly stronger than “Oh crud” because the Lord had called me out. If I were really looking for the truth, if I were truly seeking after him, I would be searching more seriously than I was. Soon after, I resolved to pray every day and read the whole Bible. I remember sneaking around my mother to fetch our big, family Bible from our dining room cabinet and quietly take it back to my room. I didn’t want her asking me, “What are you doing with that?” because then I’d have say, “Well, Mom, I may have had a vision and I need to read the Bible now.

I started regularly praying before bed and reading the Scriptures fifteen minutes a night, starting with the Book of Genesis. If I happened to miss one night, I’d read for thirty minutes the next. In this way I learned a lot more about the important and famous biblical characters and events I had previously only heard of. I saw the consistency of human nature throughout history and humanity’s need for a savior. I recognized Jesus Christ prefigured within the Old Testament, such as in the lambs of sacrifice at Passover and at the Temple. Somewhere in the midst of reading the books of the prophets I realized I didn’t want to risk dying without ever having read the gospels, so I skipped ahead. And reading the gospels changed my life.

The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel challenged me with a beautiful, new way of living: for instance, trusting in God rather than living in fear, generosity in giving rather than clinging to my every possession, and forgiveness with goodwill towards my enemies rather than nurturing poisonous hatreds. I did not wish to wind up someday on my deathbed without having given these teachings a try, so I did, and experienced their benefits. And Jesus Christ in the gospels inviting the fishermen to follow him opened me up to answering his calling for my life.

I recount these stories this morning because of today’s feast. In September of 2019, Pope Francis decreed the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time to be henceforth celebrated as “The Sunday of the Word of God”; a day “to be devoted to the celebration, study, and dissemination of the word of God.” Pope Francis wrote:

“As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us. A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness.”

The fifth century Doctor of the Church, St. Jerome once said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Since no books of Scripture reveal Jesus Christ better than the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, today I am urging you to begin reading these, the most important books within the most important book in history.

Have you ever read an entire gospel? If not, why not? There are many easily readable, modern translations these days, without any “thee’s” and “thou’s.” You can even read or listen to the Bible for free over the internet (though I would recommend choosing a Catholic edition with all seventy-three books.)

Let none of us claim that we don’t have time to read the gospels. Based on their word counts and a typical reading speed, Mark (the shortest gospel) can be read in a little more than an hour, and Luke (the longest gospel) can be read in less than two. To read all four gospels requires just slightly more than six hours’ time. To put that in perspective, six hours is two NFL football games, or two Major League baseball games, or three NCAA or NBA basketball games. How many sporting events have we seen in our lives, and how many complete gospels have we read or listened to in comparison? Even before this pandemic, the average American—at home, not at work—spent seventeen-and-a-half hours a week on the internet. So it’s not a question of time, but a question of our priorities.

If you read for fifteen minutes a day, or fifteen minutes a night, you can complete Matthew’s Gospel in a week and can finish all four gospels in twenty-five days. Of course, if you pause to ponder and to pray it will take you longer, but that’s OK, even preferable. I hope you’ll accept this gospel challenge and invitation.

As an epilogue to my first story, when my younger self finally reached the Book of Revelation at the end of Sacred Scripture, I found something of a confirming sign. When God judges the living and the dead—all people on the last day, the Scripture says he sits upon a “great white throne.” When you reach your deathbed, or when you stand before God’s judgment seat, will you have read the gospels and been blessed by the experience in life? “I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out.” “This is the time of fulfillment. … Repent, and believe in the gospel.” And part of believing in the gospel means devoting our time and attention to it.

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.

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.

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.

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.