Archive for the ‘Sunday Homilies’ 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

Advent Hope

November 30, 2020

1st Sunday of Advent
By Deacon Dick Kostner

Today we begin the Holy Season of Advent. It is a time for us to be uplifted in Spirit. The year 2020 has been, and continues to be a difficult year for not only our Country but the whole world. The Coronavirus has transformed our life and threatens our economic prosperity. Hospitals are reaching capacity levels and our health professionals are wore out and tired. Our Bishops and priests struggle with trying to maintain Parish attendance and some type of normality. Civility and love thy neighbor seems to have vanished from our way of life. We are told to forgo our family get-togethers, having only “household” Thanksgiving meals and Christmas meals; no more packed Christmas Masses with standing room only; and yes no Christmas choir’s and singing Christmas songs with our family and friends. So you may ask, “Deacon, how can we have an uplifted Spirit when we are tired and down?

The answer can be found in our readings. Our Responsorial Psalm gives us the answer: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” Our first reading from Isaiah reminds us of our Christmas gift from our heavenly Father, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down with the mountains quaking before you…No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him.

Advent is a time for us to prepare our inner selves for the gift of salvation from our heavenly Father. We are tired and wore out with our present life, but God is about to descend from heaven and become one with us in human body and form to save us from despair, to save us from our own weaknesses and fears.

If you are like me you want your prayers of deliverance answered like yesterday. That’s because we live our lives by and through a calendar, on a lineal schedule. Our scriptures teach us a new way to govern our lives, a biblical way to measure our lives and that is by realizing that there are “times” for everything. Times of happiness; times of sorrow; times for living; times for death. All of these “times” are controlled and governed by God. Scripture also instructs us on how to acquire more “happiness times”. We are told to obey God’s Commandments if we do so our “bad times” will be reduced. We are instructed to serve others instead of ourselves. If we do so we will have many “good times”. We are told that God will descend from heaven and join us through the “good and bad times”. We are told to Listen to and live out the teachings of Jesus and our “bad times” will be washed away with happiness.

Our Gospel tells us another way to have “good times” and that is to prepare ourselves for the Parousia, the second coming of Jesus, when we will be united with God for all eternity and where only “good times” will be allowed to exist. We have scripture to guide us to this holy reunion where body and spirit will be united with God and sickness and death will no longer be a part of our lives. Only love and peace will prevail.

Jesus tells us in our Gospel this First Sunday of Advent, to get on the ball and prepare for this coming feast for we do not know when this time event will happen. Advent is the time for us to structure our priorities of life around this ultimate Christmas Birthday Party and the death of bad times for all of eternity. We need to love God with all our heart, souls, and minds. We need to love our neighbors and serve them with our life even when they dislike us. We need to celebrate Christmas even during “bad times”, knowing that good times are awaiting us just around the corner. Scripture tells us that “time” is coming!

This weekend around the world we give witness to the individuals who are planning for the future life with God by becoming members of the Church of Jesus. The bride of Jesus. What a wonderful Christmas gift to our spiritual Savior. We have at St. Paul’s one individual who has made the pledge and is studying to rejoin our Catholic Faith Community through reception of the Sacraments of Initiation. It is a “good time” for Saint Paul’s Congregation to see and to pray for Heidi as she journeys to reception of these Sacraments. Through our Parish prayers and support we will have helped someone become a member of God’s family for all eternity. It is the “time” for joy and peace so let us all pray silently today’s Psalm: “LORD, MAKE US TURN TO YOU; LET US SEE YOUR FACE AND WE SHALL BE SAVED!

Jesus or Barabbas?

November 23, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Oil for our Lamps

November 7, 2020

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Glorious Friends

October 31, 2020

Solemnity of All Saints

The saints who have died are not dead – they are more alive than we are now. The human saints in Heaven lived in times past, but they were made of the same stuff and faced similar struggles then as you and I today. Though the Catholic Church has canonized thousands of saints, when you consider the billions of Christians throughout history canonizations are relatively rare, yet there are more saints in Heaven than we can count. We know this because of St. John’s Revelation of Heaven: “I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” The Lord Jesus Christ wants you to be in that number. Unfortunately, common misconceptions about saints can keep us further from them. So, in this homily, I would like to help you to grow closer to them in friendship and in likeness.

First realize that the saints are not dead and gone but still living. This is why whenever I preach about the deceased I try to speak of them using the present tense whenever some fact about them remains true. For instance, if a kind and generous Christian father of three dies he is still a kind and generous father of three. Rather than saying “his name was David,” faithfully witness that “his name is David” even after he has died. Though deprived of their bodies for the moment, those who are in Heaven are more alive than we are here. There they experience God opening himself to them an inexhaustible way. This is called the beatific vision, an ever-flowing well-spring of happiness, peace, and mutual communion. The saints in Heaven see God face to face, and they have become like him for they see him as he is.

What is a glorified human being or exulted human nature like? Let’s consider the Blessed Virgin Mary. How much does she know us? How much does she love us? Does she hear each one of our prayers addressed to her? It is our sense of the Faith that our spiritual mother does indeed know us and loves us individually as her children. But consider this: if every Catholic in the world offers one Hail Mary a day, this means an average of more than fifteen thousand new prayers come her way each second. Therefore, if Mary hears all our prayers, her experience of time and/or the capacity of her glorified consciousness must far surpass our own.

The other glorified saints in Heaven, our brothers and sisters in Christ, know and care about you too. They understand you because they’ve walked in our shoes. Governments and borders and technologies change over time, but human nature is constant. The saints began with the same humanity as you and I, experienced challenges like our own, and prevailed. Lots of canonized saints have been priests, nuns, bishops, popes, or martyrs, but Heaven is certainly not limited to these backgrounds. Saints come from varied walks of life. Some canonized saints did extraordinary miracles or had visions here on earth, but even for these most of their days were ordinary, spent faithfully doing very ordinary things like us.

The saints in Heaven are our friends who lend us constant aid even if we do not know their names yet. In response, I encourage you to befriend them back. Which ones? Try doing this holy experiment: ask Jesus to introduce you to a saint and then keep your eyes open. Watch for a saint to providentially present him or herself to you, perhaps through an icon, a painting, or a photograph, a book or a film, or mentioned in a conversation thereafter. I look forward to hearing whom you’ll meet. Take these saints as teachers you learn from, role models you imitate, heroes to inspire you, and holy intercessors whose prayers before God for you are very powerful. I urge you to follow the saints, because those who follow them will embody the beatitudes, become more like Jesus, and become saints themselves.

Though it is unlikely any of us here will be officially canonized by the Church, we are all called to be saints. You are called to be a saint. St. Catherine of Siena said, “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.” Do not say, “I have too sinful of a past to become a saint.” Recall that St. Paul had once persecuted Christians. There is no saint without a past and no sinner without a future. And do not say, “I’m too imperfect to become a saint.” Realize that even while St. Peter was serving as the first pope he sometimes made personal mistakes in his ministry. And do not say, “I’m too late in my life to become a saint.” Remember how the Good Thief on his cross next to Jesus made the most of the time he had left. As St. John Paul the Great preached, “Become a saint, and do so quickly.” Jesus is calling you to be a saint, so befriend the saints and they will help you on the way to Heaven.

God’s Desire for an Intimate Relationship with Humanity

October 24, 2020

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Deacon Dick Kostner

Today we learn of God’s desire for us to form an intimate relationship with him for all eternity. When questioned as to the greatest commandment contained in the Torah Jesus answers that it is for us to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. So the question for us to answer is how does this occur? Well the answer is simple it requires we build a relationship with God. When I think back on how this occurred for me when I met my wife it started with an attraction to this person who would ultimately become my wife. It was something about her looks and mannerisms that made me want to know more about her. So I guess it began with my mind. My mind kept telling me to take a closer look at this gal. So communication began which told me that this person thinks and acts as I do. I witnessed her relationship with her family and friends and it was complimentary to the relationship I had with my family. With time and interaction with her my mind moved from a head thing to a heart thing. The heart has an appetite that can only be satisfied by spending more time with a person. And I found out that I was happy and satisfied with myself mostly when I was with her.

Everything else of importance in my life began to take a back seat to my hearts desire to be with and learn more about this special person. I knew my heart was taking over my mind when even during deer hunting season I longed for and looked forward to seeing her even while on my deer stand and doing things that previously had been the number one priority in my life.

With spending more time with this person and understanding her better sometimes than she understood herself, the soul aspect of the relationship came into play. The two started to become one. Communication included and occurred between us that no longer required words. The minds of two people no longer were independent of each other but had joined to form a new entity. I was no longer thought of by others as “Dick Kostner” but rather Barb and Dick. Even when planning meals the minds of two began to think as one and the stomachs of two also began to hunger and feed as one. We loved each other with all of our heart, soul and mind, and thus became a new entity bigger and stronger than ever existed before we met each other. This love relationship grew with the birth of a child and a new family relationship with its joys and trials expanded through love.

This is the relationship that God desires with his human creations. This type of relationship requires complete freedom of choice and that is why we all have a God given right to choose who we will listen to and who we will associate with. When we choose God to be our best friend and advisor, we enter into a new existence and the ultimate spiritual level our Church scholars have named the “Unitive State of Spirituality” a divine state where we are one in spirit with the Father in the way that we love not only God but we love our neighbors as ourselves as did Jesus . We become to others a visible new entity that causes some people to fear us, while others look up to us for answers and opinions. I witnessed this first hand when I was ordained a Deacon. I moved from being viewed by the public as Dick Kostner or Attorney Kostner to Deacon Dick or Deacon Kostner which was a real rebirth for me not only in name but also in personal objectives and desires monitored by a family friend named Jesus.

It all begins with something within our mind that says “I want to get to know this person named ‘I Am‘ — better.” I want to become better friends with this Deity, my creator, who understands me better than I understand myself. This is God’s first and foremost commandment or desire for us. He desires that we join him in becoming one in Spirit with Him, and to display our love for him through our love for our neighbors whether they love us or even hate us. Jesus died for us he asks us to die to “self” for others so as to become one in Spirit with him for all eternity as a member and part of His Holy Family.

“Whose Image is This?”

October 18, 2020

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re Invited to the Wedding Feast

October 11, 2020

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus speaks again today in parables. “The Kingdom of Heaven,” he says, “may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but (the guests) refused to come.” So the king invited his people to his son’s wedding feast anew. “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast!”’

Some people responded with indifference; they had other things they preferred to do instead. Other people responded with hostility; ‘Don’t tell us what to do!‘ Who wouldn’t want to attend a king’s feast? Maybe they thought the food wouldn’t be that great or special. Maybe they didn’t love the king or his son very much. Maybe they thought that insulting or openly rebelling against their king and his son would hold no consequences for them.

The king would go on to invite others to his feast, anyone his servants could find, and his hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. Some scripture commentary says owning such a garment in those days was as common as owning a winter coat is around here. Others suggest a wealthy party host like the king might provide such festal garments to his guests at the door. The king asked him, “My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?” But he was reduced to silence. He was unprepared not due to inability, poverty, or some misunderstanding, which could have been forgiven. The man had no good reason to offer. So the king had him bound, by his hands and his feet, and thrown into the unhappy darkness outside.

What are we to make of all this? In this parable of Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven, who is the king and who is his son? Where is this wedding feast and what does it consist of? And when invited to this feast, who ignores it, who rebels against it, and who comes unprepared for it?

The King in this parable is like God the Father. And the Son is Jesus Christ; who, elsewhere in the Scriptures, calls himself the bridegroom. Where and what is the wedding feast? Where is the holy mountain of the Lord of which Isaiah speaks in our first reading, where God’s people are gathered to rejoice and feast, with ‘rich food and choice wine, juicy, rich food, and pure, choice wine‘? The Old Testament Jews probably envisioned the city of Jerusalem and its temple. Today a Christian’s first thought might be to place this feast someday in Heaven. But our temple and our foretaste of Heaven is here and now. The Holy Mass is Christ’s Wedding Feast, where Jesus gives us his very self to eat. What richer or more choice food could exist than this?

In this time of pandemic, we are dispensed from attending Mass, yet we must still obey the Third Commandment: to keep holy the Lord’s Day. If your child were getting married this weekend and you could not attend due to illness, wouldn’t you still want to watch it live-streamed, even from home or a hospital bed? If remote participation at Holy Mass is unworkable, then connect with Christ through reading the Scriptures, through praying the Rosary, or other spiritual activities on Sundays. But under normal circumstances, when personal safety is no longer a concern, why would someone spurn their personal invitation to this feast? Maybe they believe this food isn’t that special or great. Maybe they do not love our King or the Son very much. Maybe they think that disobeying the Third Commandment carries no serious consequences for them. But all of you have come here today, and that is good. Please continue to do so, as conditions and sound prudence allow. And please invite your family members and friends here as well. It’s important that they come before the Lord.

And when you come, come properly dressed. In one sense, this is literally true – we should dress up for Sunday Mass since it’s a very special occasion. But in a more important and spiritual sense we must come in our wedding garment. At your baptism, you were dressed in a special white garment. In the Book of Revelation, the saints in Heaven are seen wearing white graments washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. Through grave sin we can cast off that garment, and receiving our Lord unworthily is a serious offense, so go to Confession first when needed to be reclothed. How will we answer our King someday if we neglect to do so?

You are invited to our King’s feast. And, if you are properly prepared, he wants you to receive our Lord with very happy hearts. So let us turn to the Eucharist, and rejoice as Isaiah foretold:

Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!

The King declares, “Everything is ready; come to the feast!

Behold the Lamb of God,
behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.
Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.”

Have No Anxiety At All

October 4, 2020

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Do we believe in the power of prayer? To speak more precisely, we believe in the power of God, and that is why we pray for things. In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells the Christians of Phillipi, Greece, “Have no anxiety at all.” Why? Because of what he says immediately preceding (which is cut off by the beginning of our reading): “The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all…”

Have no anxiety at all? One might ask whether that’s possible, or whether that’s even good? “Am I supposed to stop caring about anything?” Well, we must distinguish between two different things, one that’s good and healthy, and one that’s not: to have concern versus to worry. If I had not been concerned about preparing for this homily, I would have nothing to say to you right now. But when I worry about my homily, the task is a much more stressful burden for me, even though the Lord has never yet left me without something to say worth preaching in my entire eleven years of priesthood. Concern is necessary and important. Concern is good, but worry is worthless.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus puts his finger on why we worry: we doubt that God is near for us, we fear that we’re on our own. But Jesus asks,

If God so clothes the grass of the field (with beautiful wild flowers), which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

Jesus tells us,

“Do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ …. Your heavenly Father knows that you need (all these things). Instead, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”

God our Father knows us, and loves us, and cares for us, but both Jesus and St. Paul encourage us to pray. Presenting our requests in prayer deepens our relationship with God and offers us his supernatural peace. St. Paul writes:

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.Then the peace of God that surpasses all understandingwill guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Note how St. Paul’s says we are not just to ask for things but to give thanks to God at the same time. This helps us to be grounded in reality, which is much lighter than the darkness can appear, since even during our hardest times our lives’ blessings are more than we could possibly count – blessings past, present, and still to come.

And St. Paul notes how after offering our prayer requests, even if we do not see the world immediately transformed around us, a peace from God we cannot entirely explain, helps keep our hearts and minds — that is, our feelings and thoughts — rooted in Christ.

This year has been a challenging one for all of us. Many things now feel out of our control, but this was always the case for us. God is in control, and works all things in the end for the good of those who love him. The Lord Jesus, who is true and honorable, just and pure, lovely and gracious, excellent and praiseworthy, is with you; not just in the distant past, not just once this pandemic has passed, but here and now. So have no anxiety at all.