Archive for the ‘Mass’ Category

A Prophet’s Reward

June 27, 2020

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus says, “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.” So what is a prophet’s reward? Being a prophet in this world is a kind of a mixed bag.

On the positive side, a prophets’ words and deeds and their role in working miracles can give great blessings and yield joyful fruits for both the preacher and the people. For instance, the Shunammite woman in our first reading repeatedly received the prophet Elisha into her home and to her table, and he was pleased to be so warmly welcomed. First, she was graced by the holy man’s words and presence, then she was blessed through the miracle he announced: “This time next year you will be fondling a baby son.” She was overjoyed at the birth of a son, and Elisha surely shared that joy. Those who heed the word of God are blessed to see its fruits.

On the other hand, on the negative side of the ledger, the prophets and their words were not always welcomed and received. In fact, they were usually met with hostility. The Letter to the Hebrews recalls how some of the prophets “endured mockery, scourging, even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawed in two, put to death at sword’s point; they went about in skins of sheep or goats, needy, afflicted, tormented.” Knowing this, is it worth it for a prophet to answer God’s call?

Well, consider what else belongs to the prophet’s reward: Consider the value of living a holy life with a clear conscience. There is a great peace in doing what is right that is unlike the spiritual disquiet of sin. Consider the value of a life doing good with holy purpose, helping to save others’ souls. A selfish life lacks deeper, greater meaning, and its emptiness is a terrible taste of what Hell is like forever. Consider the value of a life that will be remembered. Remembered by people on earth? Maybe, maybe not, beyond the people whose lives you bless— but certainly remembered by God, who will reward his faithful ones with the joy of Heaven, an everlasting reward beyond our imagining. And all along this way to Heaven, you will share in the personal, intimate, friendship of God.

Now Jesus says, “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward” and “whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward.” But where can we today find a prophet and righteous man to share in his reward? Long ago, Moses said, “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kinsmen; to him you shall listen in all that he may say to you. Everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be cut off from the people.” Remembering this, when the crowds saw Jesus perform the miracle of the multiplication the loaves they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” On one occasion, Jesus stated that the men of Nineveh “repented at the preaching of (the Prophet) Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here.” Then, after Jesus’ Ascension, St. Stephen the first martyr preached that the prophets had “previously announced the coming of the Righteous One…” and St. Ananias announced to Saul, who had encountered the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, “The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One.” Thus, the one who receives Jesus Christ will receive a prophet’s and righteous man’s reward. “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple —amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward,” for Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine you did it for me.

How can we receive the Lord? First of all, through the sacraments. Are you unaware that in baptism you were baptized into Christ? To quote St. Paul, “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” And your baptism has led you here today, to receive him anew in the supreme gift of the Holy Eucharist, the Most Blessed Sacrament. (For some of you, you are blessed to be about to receive Jesus in this way for the very first time, and we’re all very happy for you.) In this sacrament Jesus Christ comes to visit and dine with you with you: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” And if we have prepared a place for him and welcome him to dwell, Jesus stays and remains with us. The good Shunammite woman prepared room for Elisha in the highest place of her home, upon the cool rooftop, and furnished it for him with a bed, table, chair, and lamp, so that he could comfortably stay. She converted and reorganized her house for her holy guest. Jesus expects the same of us; the conversion and dedication of our lives, our souls, our homes; for Jesus wishes to dwell with us.

Receiving Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is not a one and done event. Even returning to encounter him here again at Mass every Sunday – as we are rightly commanded to do – is not all that he desires of us or for us. Jesus says, “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” Following Jesus requires us to die to sin and offer loving sacrifices like himself. It’s often hard to live for Christ. Knowing this, is it worth it to answer his call?

Consider the value of living a holy life with a clear conscience, with the peace that come from doing what is right. Consider the value of a life doing good with holy purpose, helping to save others’ souls. Consider the value of a life that will be remembered by God and those whose lives you bless forever. And consider how Christ will reward you with Heaven, an unending joy beyond imagining, and share his personal, intimate, friendship with you all along your way there. Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it,” but “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” And whoever truly receives our Lord Jesus Christ will receive the Christ’s reward.

Jesus’ Longing for You

June 14, 2020

Corpus Christi Sunday—Year A

After the suspension in March, our parish went eleven weekends without the public celebration of Sunday Masses. Throughout Salvation History, the number forty symbolizes times of purification, preparation, and longing. For most people, being away meant about eighty days (forty twice over) without physically receiving our Eucharistic Lord. For many, their yearning for Jesus in the Eucharist has never been greater. Feast of Corpus Christi homily usually focus (quite fittingly) upon the Real Presence, the beautiful truth that Jesus Christ is truly present, body and blood, soul and divinity, alive in the Holy Eucharist. As St. Paul says in our second reading, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the Blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ?” You are probably well-informed about this already; that’s why you have been longing for Him in the Eucharist. Today I feel moved to speak about Jesus Christ’s Eucharistic longing for you.

Jesus Christ’s desire for us is foreshadowed in the Old Testament; for instance, in The Song of Songs. There the beloved says of her spouse: “My lover speaks and says to me, ‘Arise, my friend, my beautiful one, and come! Let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.’” Later this same man, prefiguring Christ, declares: “I have come to my garden, my sister, my bride; … I eat my honeycomb with my honey, I drink my wine with my milk. Eat, friends; [and] drink!

In the Book of Proverbs, God’s personified wisdom speaks: “Let whoever is naive turn in here; to any who lack sense I say, Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.” The foolishness we must forsake is our sins, for what is freely-chosen sin if not harmful foolishness? Jesus seeks to bring about sinners’ salvation, in part, through drawing them to his meal, to share his presence, his food and drink. Jesus once responded to criticisms of his ministry saying: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, `Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.

A Samaritan woman with many sins once asked Jesus, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” He answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Later, on the last and greatest day of a Jewish feast, Jesus stood up in the temple area and exclaimed: “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.” Before his miraculous multiplication of loaves of bread, Jesus called his disciples to himself and said, “I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.” Jesus wants to feed us (we who have remained with him) as well, to strengthen us on our way. The food and drink Jesus desires you and I to receive are not mere objects for bodily sustenance — it is his very self. “I am the living bread that came down from Heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever… For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.

At the Last Supper, which was the first Mass, Jesus told his disciples, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you… Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.” Jesus earnestly desires to share his feast, this Mass, to unite with us today. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him and he with me.” Jesus is divine, but he’s also human. He dwells in Heaven, but he has human desires for you and me and our world. If you have yearned for Jesus in the Eucharist, if you have desired to receive him these past months, consider how much more Jesus Christ longs and desires for you.

St. John the Baptist’s Mass Registration

May 21, 2020

Our bishop’s guidelines allowing public Masses limit churches to 25% capacity.

To attend, you must register your seat(s) anew weekly for an upcoming St. John’s Mass. A scheduled minster (usher, lector, server, organist, or sacristan) is not to reserve a seat for him or herself.

Register online using these links before Saturday evening (when the lists will be printed for the ushers.)

For September 19th & 20th Weekend:

Click to Register for 8 PM Mass on Saturday, Sept 19th

Click to Register for 9:30 AM Mass on Sunday, Sept 20th

For September 26th & 27th Weekend:

Click to Register for 8 PM Mass on Saturday, Sept 26th

Click to Register for 9:30 AM Mass on Sunday, Sept 27th


Here’s what you need to know
about returning to Mass at St. John’s

(1.) Your attendance is not required. Your obligation to attend Sunday Mass is still dispensed. The Coronavirus is real and has severe consequences for those infected by it, particularly those over 60 years old or with underlying health conditions. Some risk of infection will exist for anyone who attends Mass. It is completely alright for anyone with concerns to stay home.

(2.) If you have fever or flu-like symptoms, do not come to church. Sometimes those with even slight or no symptoms have infected others with Coronavirus.

(3.) To attend a Mass, you must register weekly. Our bishop’s directive limits churches to 25% capacity — for St. John’s, that’s Fr. Feltes and 55 persons at each Mass. To reserve your seat(s) for Mass, click the links above on this page. You must register your seat(s) anew for each upcoming Mass. Register online before Saturday afternoons or evenings when the lists will be printed for the ushers. Those without the internet should register for Masses through an acquaintance with online access. As a last resort, you may contact the parish office to register for a non-filled Mass by Thursdays at the latest. If you leave a message at the parish office, only assume you are registered for a Mass if you receive a confirmation reply.

(4.) Arrive less than 30 minutes before Mass begins.

(5.) Maintain physical separation. Those not living in the same household are to maintain a minimum of a six-foot distance from others on all church grounds.

(6.) Clean your hands upon entering and exiting church. We will have hand sanitizer available at all church doors.

(7.) Masks are strongly encouraged but not required. Our diocese also advises you to change and wash your clothing after Mass.

(8.) Enter church using our lobby doors. Except in cases of disability, everyone must enter through our church lobby. From there, after checking your name, ushers will direct you to an open, unfilled pew nearest to the altar. (You will not be able to choose your pew.)

(9.) Communion must be done carefully. At Communion time, everyone will approach in one single-file line, maintaining a six-foot distance from others. Heed the seven-foot hash marks in the center aisle and use the hand sanitizer as you approach. For safer hygiene, reception of the Eucharist by the hand is encouraged (with the requirement that any gloves be first removed) however persons receiving on the tongue will not be refused. Even those not receiving Communion are to join the Communion line, approaching with crossed arms.

(10.) At the end of Mass, wait to be dismissed by pew. To help maintain 6-foot distances, ushers will dismiss pews row-by-row and direct people to the exits. Collection baskets will be at these exits to receive your contributions at that time.

(11.) There are new visiting hours for church. St. John’s Church will continue being open from 8 AM to 7 PM every Tuesday and Thursday. However, to limit strain on our church cleaning volunteers, the church will be closed on weekends apart from accommodating our Mass times.

If you are a non-vulnerable adult, especially someone 60 years old or younger, and interested in helping at St. John’s Masses, call Kevin Butek at 715-962-3433.

St. Paul’s Mass Registration

May 21, 2020

Our bishop’s guidelines allowing public Masses limit churches to 25% capacity.

To attend, you must register your seat(s) anew weekly for an upcoming St. Paul’s Mass. A scheduled minster (usher, lector, server, organist, or sacristan) is not to reserve a seat for him or herself.

Register online using these links before Saturday afternoon or evening (when lists are printed for ushers.)

For September 19th & 20th Weekend:

Click to Register for 4 PM Mass on Saturday, Sept 19th

Click to Register for 8 AM Mass on Sunday, Sept 20th

Click to Register for 11 AM Mass on Sunday, Sept 20th

For September 26th & 27th Weekend:

Click to Register for 4 PM Mass on Saturday, Sept 26th

Click to Register for 8 AM Mass on Sunday, Sept 27th

Click to Register for 11 AM Mass on Sunday, Sept 27th


Here’s 10 things you need to know
about returning to Mass at St. Paul’s

(1.) Your attendance is not required. Your obligation to attend Sunday Mass is still dispensed. The Coronavirus is real and has severe consequences for those infected by it, particularly those over 60 years old or with underlying health conditions. Some risk of infection will exist for anyone who attends Mass. It is completely alright for anyone with concerns to stay home.

(2.) If you have fever or flu-like symptoms, do not come to church. Sometimes those with even slight or no symptoms have infected others with Coronavirus.

(3.) To attend a Mass, you must register weekly. Our bishop’s directives limit churches to 25% capacity—for St. Paul’s, that’s Fr. Feltes and 140 persons at each Mass. To reserve your seat(s) for Mass, click the links above on this page. You must register your seat(s) anew for each upcoming Mass. Register online before Saturday afternoons or evenings when the lists will be printed for the ushers. Those without the internet should register for Masses through an acquaintance with online access. As a last resort, people may contact the parish office to register for a non-filled Mass by Thursdays at the latest. If you leave a message at the parish office, only assume you are registered for a Mass if you receive a confirmation reply.

(4.) Arrive less than 30 minutes before Mass begins.

(5.) Maintain physical separation. Those not living in the same household are to maintain a minimum of a six-foot distance from others while on church grounds.

(6.) Clean your hands upon entering and exiting church. We will have hand sanitizer available at all church doors.

(7.) Masks are strongly encouraged but not required. Our diocese also advises you to change and wash your clothing after Mass.

(8.) Enter church using the Main Street doors. Except in cases of disability, everyone must enter from St. Paul’s front steps. From there, after checking your name, ushers will direct you to an open, unfilled pew nearest to the altar. (You will not be able to choose your pew.)

(9.) Communion must be done carefully. At Communion time, everyone will approach in one single-file line, maintaining a six-foot distance from others. Heed the seven-foot hash marks in the center aisle and use the hand sanitizer as you approach. For safer hygiene, reception of the Eucharist by the hand is encouraged (with the requirement that any gloves be first removed) however persons receiving on the tongue will not be refused. Even those not receiving Communion are to join the Communion line, approaching with crossed arms.

(10.) At the end of Mass, wait to be dismissed by pew. To help maintain 6-foot distances, ushers will dismiss pews row-by-row and direct people to specific exits. Collection baskets will be at the doorways to receive your contributions at that time.

If you are a non-vulnerable adult, especially someone 60 years old or younger, and interested in helping at St. Paul’s Masses, call Diane Steinmetz at 715-568-2855.

Joyful Gifts — The Reception of Lane Severson into Full Communion

May 17, 2020

6th Sunday of Easter—Year A

Today we have special cause for joy. This Sunday, Lane Severson formally joins the Catholic Church and will receive the Sacraments of Confirmation and First Holy Communion. His story bears a likeness to today’s first reading from the Book of Acts, in which the people of Samaria heard the preaching of the Gospel:

“Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Christ to them. … Once they began to believe Philip as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, men and women alike were baptized.”

Lane became a Christian thirteen years ago when, professing faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, he was baptized in a Washington State pond. This was God’s greatest gift to him since the day of his birth. Today, he comes to Jesus Christ’s Church because, as it was for the people of Samaria, God has additional great gifts he delights to give him and calls him to receive.

“[W]hen the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”

Those Samaritans had each been baptized, but there was still more for them to receive, still more for each to experience. God does not merely seek to cleanse us of former sins and fill us with new grace — as wonderful as that is — the Most Holy Trinity desires personal and profound relationship with each of us, desires that we would become intimately united to each Divine Person. God calls us to be more deeply united to the Spirit through Confirmation, to be more deeply united to the Son through the Eucharist, and to be led to the Father and the eternal life of Heaven beginning in his Church here on earth.

The Sacrament of Confirmation is a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost. It increases the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit within us. It roots us more deeply as prayerful children of God, moving us to cry out, “Abba! Father!” And it provides the Spirit’s strength to spread and defend the faith by word and deed as true witnesses of Christ; to confess the name of Christ boldly, unashamed of the Cross; to “always be ready,” as St. Peter says in our second reading, “to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.

The Holy Eucharist is also an incredible gift of God. This sacrament is a partaking in the same holy meal and offering Jesus gave his apostles at the Last Supper. It increases and deepens our union with Christ. As Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” The Holy Eucharist separates us from sin, wiping away venial sins when we receive the Lord worthily and strengthening us against future temptation. And it unites us as one with each other in the Mystical Body of Christ, his Church. As St. Paul writes, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

We are all excited for Lane joining the Catholic Church and receiving her great God-given gifts this day. And we Catholics who have already received these precious sacraments will profit to remember their powerful effects which, in the state of grace, endure within each of us. In Samaria, at the preaching of the Gospel and the mighty signs of God, “There was great joy in that city.” We, like they, have cause for joy today. So in the words of today’s psalm:

“Shout joyfully to God, all the earth,
sing praise to the glory of his name;
proclaim his glorious praise.
Say to God, ‘How tremendous are your deeds!’”

 

New Catholic Lane Severson & Carol Kaszubowski, his Confirmation Sponsor, on May 17, 2020.

On Returning to Sunday Masses

May 14, 2020

On May 14th, following the repeal of Wisconsin’s statewide Safer at Home order, our Bishop William Callahan promulgated this letter and these guidelines on the possible resumption of public Sunday Masses in Diocese of La Crosse parishes as early as May 31st.

St. Paul’s and St. John the Baptist’s Churches will be actively pursing a safe return to weekly Sunday Masses. However, it appears likely that the issuing of new Wisconsin state and/or Chippewa County rules in the near future may restrict aspects of what our diocese seeks to allow. Stay tuned for updates in these weeks ahead.

Fasting from the Eucharist

April 10, 2020

Good Friday

St. Pope John Paul II and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Lent of 1995

The Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, to which we and 98.6% of the world’s Catholics belong, has just one day each year when no Masses are to be celebrated. That day is today, Good Friday. After a reading of Christ’s Passion from the Gospel of John and reverencing his holy Cross, the Good Friday liturgy contains a Communion service in which presanctified (previously consecrated) Hosts are distributed and consumed. However, in the early Church, there was no reception of Holy Communion by the faithful on Good Fridays at all. This fact was once noted by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Cardinal Ratzinger, this highly-esteemed theologian, would go on to be elected pope and take the more familiar name Benedict XVI. In his 1986 book “Behold the Pierced One,” he reflected upon the spiritual benefits that could be found by Catholics in full communion with the Church abstaining for a time from receiving our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Obviously, these interesting passages are relevant to us now during this Long Lent of 2020.

Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:

“When [St.] Augustine felt his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and took upon himself ecclesiastical penitence. In his last days, he set himself alongside, in solidarity, with the public sinners who seek forgiveness and grace through the pain of not receiving the Communion. He wanted to meet his Lord in humility of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for Him, the righteous and gracious One. Against the background of his sermons and writings, which describe the mystery of the Church as a communion with the Body of Christ and as the Body of Christ, on the basis of the Eucharist, in a really marvelous way, this gesture is quite shocking. It seems to me more profound and fitting, the more often I ponder it. Do we not often take things too lightly today when we receive the most Holy Sacrament? Could such a spiritual fasting not sometimes be useful, or even necessary, to renew and establish more deeply our relation to the Body of Christ?

In the early Church there was a most expressive exercise of this kind: probably since the time of the apostles, Eucharistic fasting on Good Friday was part of the Church’s spirituality of Communion. Not receiving Communion on one of the most holy days of the Church’s year, which was celebrated with no Mass and without any Communion of the faithful, was a particularly profound way of sharing in the Passion of the Lord: the sorrowing of the bride from whom the bridegroom has been taken away (see Mark 2:20). I think that a Eucharistic fast of this kind, if it were deliberate and experienced as a deprivation, could even today be properly significant, on certain occasions that would have to be carefully considered—such as days of penitence (and why not, for instance, on Good Friday once more?) […]

Such fasting — which could not be allowed to become arbitrary, of course, but would have to be consonant with the spiritual guidance of the Church — could help people toward a deepening of their personal relation to the Lord in the Sacrament; it could be an act of solidarity with all those who have a yearning for the Sacrament but cannot receive it. […] I would not of course wish to suggest by this a return to some kind of Jansenism: in biological life, as in spiritual life, fasting presumes that eating is the normal thing to do. Yet from time to time we need a cure for falling into mere habit and its dullness. Sometimes we need to be hungry—need bodily and spiritual hunger—so as once more to comprehend the Lord’s gifts and to understand the suffering of our brethren who are hungry. Spiritual hunger, like bodily hunger, can be a vehicle of love.”

During this dangerous Coronavirus pandemic, faithful shepherds charged by Christ to care for the fullness of persons entrusted to them have prescribed sad but necessary measures which have restricted access to Holy Communion. In doing this, our Church leaders follow in the prudential footsteps of past prelates who likewise suspended public Masses during times of deadly contagion, from the medieval plagues to the modern Spanish Flu. Although public liturgies with Communion have ceased it is important to remember that the Holy Mass continues to be offered by priests in our Catholic churches. The graces of Jesus’ sacrifice pour forth from these altars into Christians souls around the world. Do not doubt that our Lord will provide sufficient grace for all that you are called to do in this season of our lives. As the Lord once told St. Paul when the saint prayerfully begged for a certain trial to be taken away, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

When we cannot physically receive Jesus in the Eucharist we can still unite ourselves to him through a prayer for Spiritual Communion. Pope St. John Paul the Great wrote that the practice of Spiritual Communion “has happily been established in the Church for centuries and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life. St. Teresa of Jesus wrote: ‘When you do not receive Communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a Spiritual Communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you.’” Once, in a 14th century vision, Jesus showed St. Catherine of Siena two chalices, one gold and one silver. He said her Sacramental Communions were preserved in the gold chalice and her Spiritual Communions in the silver one. When our sacramental reception of our Lord proves impossible, Jesus desires our Spiritual Communion. Until the day we are all safely reunited around his altar, I urge you to make acts of Spiritual Communion, such as this famous prayer of St. Alphonsus Liguori:

My Jesus,
I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if You were already there
and unite myself wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You.
Amen.

Just one month ago, when pews were full for the 2nd Sunday of Lent, we heard the Gospel story of the Transfiguration. On Mount Tabor, Jesus’ face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. Ecstatic, Simon Peter said in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here! If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter wanted to never leave that euphoric time and place, but it was necessary that Jesus lead him down from that mountain top into the dark valley; from the Mount of Transfiguration to the Hill of Crucifixion.

It is a true sacrifice to fast from the Eucharist this Good Friday amidst this Long Lent. But our Christian sacrifice is not without purpose nor without hope. Like Jesus’ Passion, it is a sacrifice offered for the love of others. This is his Body given up to save many; we do this in memory of him. And like Jesus within his Passion, we can be confident that this arduous trial shall pass away and our suffering and obedience will soon yield great rewards, particularly a deepened love for our Eucharistic Lord. Being followers of the transfigured Christ takes us to Calvary, but the Passion is what leads us to his Resurrection. And the more we share in the likeness of Christ, the more we will share in his glory.

Christ Ordained

April 9, 2020

Holy Thursday


What the Old Testament foreshadowed, the New Testament reveals. What the Old Covenant prefigured, God’s New Covenant fulfills. What our Lord prepared in ancient times, he now bestows to his Church. The Holy Scriptures point to the gifts of God we particularly celebrate on this evening: the Holy Priesthood and the Holy Eucharist.

In the Book of Exodus, the Lord declares to Moses: “This is the rite you shall perform in consecrating [Aaron and his sons] as my priests. … Aaron and his sons you shall…bring to the entrance of the tent of meeting and there wash them with water.” On Holy Thursday, “[Jesus] rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.

Peter said to the Lord, “You will never wash my feet.” But Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” The Book of Deuteronomy taught, “The levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no [landed] portion or [territorial] inheritance with Israel…. [T]he Lord set apart the tribe of Levi,” Deuteronomy says, “to carry the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister to him, and to bless in his name…. For this reason, Levi has no portion or inheritance with his relatives; the Lord himself is his inheritance….

When Jesus told Peter, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me,” Simon Peter replied, “Master, then [wash] not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” As part of the priestly ordination ritual in the Book of Exodus, the Lord commanded Moses: “[Sacrifice an unblemished male sheep and] some of its blood you shall take and put on the tip of Aaron’s right ear and on the tips of his sons’ right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and the great toes of their right feet. Splash the rest of the blood on all the sides of the altar.” Jesus says Peter does not need to be washed all over, head and hand and foot, because whoever has bathed is clean. (This is likely a reference to his baptism.) But at the Last Supper, the Body of God’s perfect, unblemished Lamb is broken and his Blood is poured for the apostles.

As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “[T]he 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.’” On Holy Thursday, the apostles receive the Blood of the Lamb and then, on Good Friday, this Blood marks the sides of the Lamb’s Altar, the vertical and horizontal beams of the Cross.

In Egypt before the Exodus, when the Lord instituted the Passover sacrifice, he commanded his people: “[E]very one of your families must procure for itself a lamb… The lamb must be a year-old male and without blemish…. It shall be slaughtered during the evening twilight. They shall take some of its blood and apply it to the two doorposts and the lintel of every house in which they partake of the lamb. That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh…. This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate… as a perpetual institution.” At the first Eucharist, Jesus commands his apostles, “Do this in remembrance of me,” thereby ordaining them as his priests of his New Covenant.

The apostles had been washed with water, sanctified by blood, bestowed an inheritance in the Lord, and entrusted with the mission of offering the unblemished Lamb. As the Catholic Church has always believed and taught, this memorial sacrifice, this Eucharist, re-presents, truly makes present, the sacrifice of the Cross, and applies its saving fruits among us. On Holy Thursday, Jesus gave his New Covenant Church the intertwined gifts of the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Priesthood.

The trial of this Long Lent of 2020 has made Catholics more appreciative of God’s precious gifts. This evening, we are blessed by the presence of the three seminarians from our local parishes assisting at Mass. We thank God for their vocations and urge them to press on. Eventually, this Long Lent of the Church will joyfully end and these young men will be (God willing) ordained to serve her, offering Christ’s sacrifice as loving servants for the good of us all. Pray for our seminarians, Eric, Matthew, and Isaac, that they may take up the cup of salvation; that they may offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call upon the name of the Lord; that they may fulfill ordination promises to the Lord in the presence of all his people. And with patient eagerness let us pray for the coming day when all of us, God’s priests and his people, can celebrate the Mass together again.

This is His Body Given up to Save Many

March 21, 2020

Laetare Sunday — 4th Sunday of Lent—Year A

This past Wednesday evening, I saw this image online with the caption: “Darkness has fallen: every single U.S. diocese has suspended public celebrations of the Mass.”

Our Laetare Sunday rejoicing is more subdued this Lent. The sad but necessary suspension of public Masses by our nation’s bishops is a painful loss. And for many of the faithful, the greater their love for the Lord the greater the pain they feel. They are like the woman at Simon the Pharisee’s house who could bathe Jesus’ feet with dripping tears ‘because she loved much.’ (Luke 7:47) However, darkness has not overcome us.

Brothers and sisters,” today’s second reading tells us, “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” God is still God, Christ is still Lord, and we are still His. Though public liturgies have ended the Holy Mass continues to be privately offered in most every Catholic church. The graces of Jesus’ sacrifice pour forth from these altars into Christian souls throughout the world, for our good and the good of all his holy Church. Priests are celebrating these Masses in obedience to the command of Christ recalled at every Consecration, “Do this in memory of me.” Yet each of us, ordained and lay people alike, is called to keep this commandment of Christ in a deeper way; by personally imitating Jesus in his loving self-sacrifice for others.

Today, and in the critical weeks and months ahead, all of us are called to sacrifice in ways that will seriously limit our activities and impact our finances. Why are we doing this? To stop the spread of a deadly disease not merely to ourselves but to our many neighbors around us. From my research into this grave topic, it appears that hundreds of thousands—potentially millions—of American lives depend upon the extent of our collective and individual actions now. So please respond with a firm resolve from a Christian love for others.

When you ache today because you can neither gather for Mass nor physically receive our Lord, take heart in the reason for your sacrifice. This is his Body given up to save many; we do this in memory of Him. And soon, when you are asked to help people in the community meet their material needs, sacrifice for them knowing whom you are also serving. For whatever you do for the least of your brethren, you do it for Him. Invite Jesus now to enter into your heart and be with you, to console and strengthen you, today and in the trials ahead of us.

A Future Pope on Fasting from the Eucharist

March 18, 2020

In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church (of which 98.6% of the world’s Catholics are members) there is only one day each year when no Masses are to be celebrated – that is, Good Friday. That day’s liturgy contains a Communion service in which presanctified (previously consecrated) Hosts are received and eaten by the faithful. However, in the early Church, there was no consumption of Holy Communion on Good Fridays by the faithful at all. This tradition was noted by the esteemed theologian Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) in his 1986 book “Behold the Pierced One” and again (reprinted) in the 2002 book “Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion.”

In passages relevant to our present-day, Lenten reality, Cardinal Ratzinger reflects upon the spiritual value that could be found in the practice of Catholics in full communion with the Church abstaining for a time from consuming Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist:

“When Augustine felt his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and took upon himself ecclesiastical penitence. In his last days, he set himself alongside, in solidarity, with the public sinners who seek forgiveness and grace through the pain of not receiving the Communion. He wanted to meet his Lord in humility of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for Him, the righteous and gracious One. Against the background of his sermons and writings, which describe the mystery of the Church as a communion with the Body of Christ and as the Body of Christ, on the basis of the Eucharist, in a really marvelous way, this gesture is quite shocking. It seems to me more profound and fitting, the more often I ponder it. Do we not often take things too lightly today when we receive the most Holy Sacrament? Could such a spiritual fasting not sometimes be useful, or even necessary, to renew and establish more deeply our relation to the Body of Christ?

In the early Church there was a most expressive exercise of this kind: probably since the time of the apostles, Eucharistic fasting on Good Friday was part of the Church’s spirituality of Communion. Not receiving Communion on one of the most holy days of the Church’s year, which was celebrated with no Mass and without any Communion of the faithful, was a particularly profound way of sharing in the Passion of the Lord: the sorrowing of the bride from whom the bridegroom has been taken away (see Mark 2:20). I think that a Eucharistic fast of this kind, if it were deliberate and experienced as a deprivation, could even today be properly significant, on certain occasions that would have to be carefully considered—such as days of penitence (and why not, for instance, on Good Friday once more?), or also perhaps especially at great public Masses when there are so many people that a dignified distribution of the Sacrament is often not possible, so that by not receiving the Sacrament people could truly show more reverence and love than by doing so in a way that contradicts the sublime nature of this event.

Such fasting—which could not be allowed to become arbitrary, of course, but would have to be consonant with the spiritual guidance of the Church—could help people toward a deepening of their personal relation to the Lord in the Sacrament; it could be an act of solidarity with all those who have a yearning for the Sacrament but cannot receive it. It seems to me that the problem of people who have been divorced and remarried, yet equally the problem of intercommunion (in mixed marriages, for example), would be less of a burden if voluntary spiritual fasting was at the same time undertaken in visible recognition and expression of the fact that we are all dependent upon that ‘healing of love’ which the Lord effected in the ultimate solitude of the Cross. I would not of course wish to suggest by this a return to some kind of Jansenism: in biological life, as in spiritual life, fasting presumes that eating is the normal thing to do. Yet from time to time we need a cure for falling into mere habit and its dullness. Sometimes we need to be hungry—need bodily and spiritual hunger—so as once more to comprehend the Lord’s gifts and to understand the suffering of our brethren who are hungry. Spiritual hunger, like bodily hunger, can be a vehicle of love.”

News of a Sad but Necessary Measure

March 17, 2020

By Fr. Victor Feltes

Monday evening, our Bishop William Callahan announced the suspension of public Masses in the Diocese of La Crosse starting this Friday. “In light of the continued concern surrounding the coronavirus, and the advice of medical experts, across the country, and especially in our State, all Masses in the Diocese of La Crosse will be canceled beginning 20 March 2020 until further notice.” This means that there will be no Sunday or weekday parish Masses open to the general public. Earlier on Monday, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers had announced his decision to ban public gatherings greater than fifty people in hopes of mitigating the deadly spread of COVID-19.

[Post-Script: Tuesday evening, Bishop Callahan directed his priests to abide by Wisconsin’s statewide ban on all gatherings of 10 or more people announced earlier in the day and cancelled all public Masses.

What does this mean for Holy Week and Easter?
Bishop Callahan predicts that this suspension of public Masses will need to continue until the beginning of May. If so, the rites of this year’s Easter Triduum at St. Paul’s will be celebrated without public participation.

Will Confession still be available?
Yes. Bishop Callahan has asked his brother priests to offer even more and varied times for hearing confessions.

What about Funerals and Weddings?
Funerals and weddings will continue to be celebrated for the faithful but with strictly-limited attendance.

Will our Churches be open?
Bishop Callahan asks that the churches in our diocese remain accessible for private prayer. St. Paul’s and St. John the Baptist’s churches are not kept unlocked 24-7, but they will continue to be as open as they were before this epidemic arose.

Will Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum be available?
Priests will make every effort to reach the sick or dying to share these precious sacraments. Please contact us if you are aware of someone in need. Fr. Feltes can be reached at 715-568-3255.

Will any Masses be offered?
Many priests of our diocese will be privately offering Mass each day for you, the Church, and the whole world. Fr. Feltes’ daily Masses will be celebrated unannounced, at irregular times, so as to limit dangerous contact amongst God’s people.

What can we do?
Amidst these events, unprecedented in our lifetimes, Bishop Callahan calls us to charity, faithful prayer, and patience. He asks us to pray for all of our brothers and sisters whose personal lives and the lives of their families have been affected by this disease. He also invites healthy volunteers to clean our churches at various times during the day for those who may wish to make a private visit or come for Confession. If interested in joining such a cleaning effort, please call or email the parish office. Our bishop also urges us to “Please stay well and take every precaution to do so.” Stay tuned, as Fr. Feltes will provide helpful updates and edifying reflections in these days and weeks ahead. “And behold,” Jesus tells us, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Finding Jesus in our Isolation — 3rd Sunday of Lent—Year A

March 16, 2020

Today’s Gospel story contains a valuable lesson for us in our present situation.

Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there
at [Jacob’s] well. It was about noon.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

There is a weird detail contained in these passages: the woman is going to the well to draw water at noon. It’s hot at noon in the Middle East, so Jesus and the woman are the only ones there. Why didn’t she come in the morning or the evening when the heavy job of hauling water would not have the added burden of the midday sun and heat? It’s because she didn’t want to be there when the other women would be around. Jesus reveals that the woman has no true husband and that she has had five different mates through the years. Jesus knows this supernaturally but her neighbors know something of these facts naturally, through local gossip. This woman has a reputation and if she were to go to that well at the same time as the other women they would make her feel unwelcome, through their words or their silence, with their eyes and their body language. They have quarantined themselves from her and she has socially distanced her heart from them.

In the middle of her day,
in the uncertainties of her life,
amid the stress of her tasks,
in her personal isolation,
she is surprised to encounter Jesus there.

He says to her:

“If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. … Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus wins over the woman’s soul, she leaves her water jar behind and joyfully proclaims her great discovery. Meanwhile, the returned disciples urge Jesus, ‘Rabbi, Teacher, eat something!’ But he says to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know. … My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.” Of course Jesus is hungry—physical realities are real—but he has nourishment in his soul, from his relationship with God his Father and his deepening relationship with those he has come to save, like this woman at the well.

Now in likening the woman at the well to one quarantined from others, I am not advising you to take unnecessary or imprudent risks amidst this current Coronavirus pandemic. In these months ahead, some of us will be called to acts of particular courage; nurses and doctors come first to mind. But we should not blithely, unnecessarily place ourselves in foreseeable natural dangers expecting God to perform miracles to protect us. Recall how Satan tempted, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus answers, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” We must not act presumptuously.

The reason I mention the woman finding Jesus in her isolation is because, whatever our health may be, we need to encounter him there as well. Public Masses continue in our diocese, but it is very probable that these will be suspended in the future, just as Catholic Churches suspended public Masses a century ago during the Spanish Flu pandemic. I will personally be very surprised if we are having Mass here together two weeks from today. [Post-Script: On the evening of March 17th, Bishop William Callahan directed his priests to abide by Wisconsin’s statewide ban on all gatherings of more than 10 people announced earlier in the day. As a result, we are cancelling all remaining public Masses at my parishes.] Yet even in times when public Masses are readily available, most hours of our week and not spent inside of a church.

In the middle of your day,
in the uncertainties of your life,
amid the stress of your tasks,
in your personal isolation,
you can encounter Jesus there.

He is with you and within you, so you are never really alone.
Jesus says:

“Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.
Whoever believes in me, as scripture says:
‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’”

Wherever you are, find him there, and draw on his graces.

I seem to recall a story about St. Faustina Kowaska, the Polish nun and visionary most closely associated with the Divine Mercy devotion. When she was confined to her convent infirmary, suffering from the tuberculosis which would eventually take her life, she lamented that for one or more days in a row she had been unable to receive Holy Communion. In a vision, Jesus reassured her, saying, ‘Whenever you receive me in the Eucharist, I remain within you until you receive me again, unless you cast me out through mortal sin.’ Similarly, in the sixth chapter of John, Jesus famously declares:

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. … Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

Christ’s Church encourages frequent, even daily, reception of Holy Communion as a helpful devotion toward holiness, but whether your next communion is one week or three months from now, know that Jesus is with you to provide his sufficient graces for your life. If public Masses are suspended in our diocese, realize that I and other Catholic priests, even if standing alone in our churches, will still be offering the Holy Mass daily for you and the whole world. And we will be bringing Confession, Holy Anointing, and Viaticum to the sick, as is our calling and duty, for as long as we are able. This Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic is rightfully concerning. (I urge you to read my bulletin article this weekend.) But whatever comes we need not fear, for “we know that all things work for good for those who love God,” and “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” As Jesus would very often say, “Be not afraid.

Concerning Coronavirus

March 12, 2020

Coronavirus is a Serious Concern

The Wuhan Coronavirus is very contagious and estimated by Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to be ten times deadlier than the seasonal flu. This new pandemic poses some small danger to the young but puts the elderly and those with underlying health issues at much graver risk. In Italy, where 6% of those confirmed to be infected with Coronavirus have died thus far, the Italian Catholic bishops have suspended all public Masses in their churches until at least April 3rd. And in Washington State, where 31 people have died, the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle has suspended all public Masses indefinitely.

Due to current limitations in the United States’ ability to test for the Coronavius, it is unclear how pervasively the illness is spreading in this country. For some idea of how bad things could become, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) figures the less contagious and less lethal Influenza virus has infected between 3% to 14% of Americans per year since 2010, resulting in 12,000 to 61,000 deaths annually. If, hypothetically, 14% of Americans go on to catch this new Coronavirus and its mortality rate proves to be 1% (as Dr. Fauci predicted this Wednesday in his testimony before Congress) it will result in 458,000 U.S. deaths. The Wuhan Coronavirus is clearly a matter for our serious attention.

Signs of Illness & Means of Prevention

What are the symptoms of the Wuhan Caronavirus? The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that among confirmed cases about 90% of patients manifest a high fever and about 70% have a dry cough. Shortness of breath is another noted symptom. If someone believes they are infected, the CDC recommends calling ahead to their personal doctor or hospital for instructions rather than just walking into their local E.R. and possibly infecting others. The sick are urged to stay home and to wear a mask to prevent spreading the disease. There is currently no vaccine to protect against this Coronavirus and a safe vaccine is not expected for at least another year.

The CDC says the virus is thought to spread mainly person-to-person, between people in close contact with one another (6 feet or less,) especially from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person. They recommend frequently washing your entire hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or (if soap and water are not available) to use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content. They also urge no touching of your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands, disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, avoiding contact with those who are sick, and distancing yourself from other people in general.

Missing Mass & Spiritual Communion

Common, good, and prudent reasons for missing Sunday Mass include being ill, dangerous conditions, or needing to care for another person. Therefore, when someone is sick, or believes that venturing out would be dangerous, or believes that the risk of bringing a sickness back home to someone in their care is too great, they are excused from attending Sunday Mass. However, if someone is avoiding Sunday Mass as a too-risky activity then it seems that person also should not be attending parties, going to the movies, out shopping for non-essential items, and the like, but rather social distancing in a way consistent with one’s concern. And if you will be missing Mass for an extended time, to help ensure the continued health of your parish consider registering for automatic withdrawal (ACH) giving from your checking account. Additionally, even if one has a legitimate reason to skip Mass, our duty to worship God and rest on the Lord’s Day remains.

Jesus Christ’s Catholic Church encourages frequent (even daily) Holy Communion, but if we cannot attend Mass we can still unite ourselves to Our Lord by making a Spiritual Communion. St. Teresa of Ávila wrote, “When you do not receive Communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a Spiritual Communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you.” Once, in a vision, Jesus showed St. Catherine of Siena two chalices, one gold and one silver. He said her Sacramental Communions were preserved in the gold chalice and her Spiritual Communions in the silver one. A Spiritual Communion with Jesus is the next best thing to physically receiving Him in the Eucharist.

If public Masses are suspended in your diocese, remember that the Holy Mass can be seen on TV or online as a next best alternative. Know that the daily Mass readings can be found at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website. And realize that Catholic priests, even if standing alone in their churches, will still be offering the Holy Mass daily for the whole world and bringing Confession, Holy Anointing, and Viaticum to the sick for as long as they are able. The Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic is rightfully concerning, but whatever comes we need not fear, for “we know that all things work for good for those who love God,” and “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 8:28,14:8) As Jesus often said, “Be not afraid.

The Visiting Shepherds — Christmas Mass

December 25, 2019

Early on the first Christmas Eve, in a field outside of Bethlehem, I imagine one of the shepherds complaining to his companions: “Wouldn’t you know it, we have to work on Christmas!” That’s just a joke, of course. The shepherds near Bethlehem, living in the fields and keeping watch over their flock, had no reason to expect that night would be anything special. Indeed, if not for Jesus’ birth into our world, today would be just another workday and there would be no reason to celebrate. But Jesus did come into our world to save us, and those shepherds were his first invited guests. “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”

These shepherds would seem to be unlikely guests. Not rich, not powerful, not admired; but poor, dirty, and smelly. They lived apart from the community like outcasts. Shepherds were so little trusted that they could not give testimony in court. And yet, God’s Good News was offered to them. The Emperor Caesar Augustus, whose census brought the Holy Family to Bethlehem, was not given an angelic invitation. Perhaps the Roman Emperor was too proud to receive one; unwilling to admit that he was not a god over anything and that one God deserved his full worship, love, and obedience. But the shepherds were humble, humble enough to listen to the Heaven-sent message and act on it. “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.

The city of Bethlehem is to the south and west of Jerusalem. Bethlehem was only about 5½ miles away from the Jewish Temple, roughly the same direction and distance that St. John the Baptist Church in Cooks Valley is from here. Just as Bethlehem and Jerusalem are situated closely to each other, so Christmas points to Easter. The two are closely linked. It was specifically from Bethlehem’s flocks that sheep were provided to be sacrificed in Jerusalem for the peoples’ sins. In this region, the Lamb of God was born and to this region Jesus would return to die and rise to take away the sins of the world. Mary wrapped her little newborn snugly in swaddling clothes. Mary would later wrap his body in a linen burial shroud. Tradition says Joseph prepared a cave for the place of Jesus’ birth when other accommodations were unavailable. Later, another Joseph would make last-minute arrangements for Jesus to be buried in a rock-hewn tomb. Baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a city whose name means “House of Bread.” He was laid in a manger, a feed-box for grain. Later, on the day before he was to suffer, Jesus would take bread in hand and say, “Take this, all of you, and eat of it: for this is my body which will be given up for you.

The shepherds went in haste into Bethlehem and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus there. “When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. … Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.” After Christmas, after that beautiful day, did the shepherds ever come back to visit the Holy Family? I doubt you could find two people more friendly and welcoming than holy Joseph and Mary, but did the shepherds ever take the opportunity to visit them and the Christ Child again? The Magi were soon to travel hundreds of miles to see Jesus just once, but these shepherds lived only a short, walking distance away. Did the shepherds ever take time come back and adore Jesus, to rest and to contemplate what he meant for their lives, to praise and thank the God for his presence in their midst? Did the shepherds ever get to know Mary and Joseph better, these holy saints and friends of God?

If the shepherds had spent a single hour each week in the presence of Christ and his holy family, imagine how it would have improved their daily lives; their work, their relationships, their whole outlook on life? Great graces flow from being close to Jesus. What do you think they should have done? What would you have done? We don’t know whether the shepherds ever came back again after Christmas, but if they didn’t, they really missed out. Living a life with Jesus Christ is better than a life neglecting him.

Christmas is a truly special day, a happy day and rightly so, but a day that points beyond merely itself to Easter and the fullness of Christ’s Gospel, Good News of great joy. For a Savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. Do not be too proud, do not be too busy, do not be afraid, make the short journeys to visit Jesus here again. Do not feel too unworthy to come, for even shepherds were his first guests. Feel welcome in this his dwelling place and find friends here among his family. Will you come back again after Christmas? I hope you will, but if you don’t, you’re really missing out; because living your life with Jesus Christ is better than life without him.

Really Present — 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

August 12, 2019

The Pew Research Center, which conducts surveys on religious belief in America, published a poll this week which asked self-identifying, Catholic adults this question:

Regardless of the official teaching of the Catholic Church, what do you personally believe about the bread and wine used for Communion? During Catholic Mass, the bread and wine…
  1. Actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, or
  2. Are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

65% of respondents said that the bread and wine are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus while only 30% said the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus. This is discouraging, but I’m inclined to think that many people are misunderstanding the question.

As you know, when the priest says the words of Consecration at Mass (“This is my body… This is the chalice of my blood”) what we see with our eyes appears unchanged. What the priest holds still looks like bread. What the chalice holds still looks like wine. On well-documented occasions throughout the centuries, Eucharistic miracles have occurred in which Hosts have turned into visible human flesh and the chalice contents have become visible blood. I encourage you to read about and investigate these ancient and modern miracles for yourself. But outside these extraordinary cases, if you looked at the Eucharist under a microscope, or ran a chemical analyses before and after Consecration, the Eucharist would appear unchanged. Catholics who have made their First Communion know the Host doesn’t taste like meat and drinking from the chalice doesn’t taste like blood. So, strictly in this outward sense, when people say “The bread and wine do not actually become the body and blood of Jesus” they are correct. But after the priest’s words of consecration at Mass, are the gifts on the altar just symbols of Jesus’ body and blood? No! Something very real and wonderful occurs.

Now Jesus does give his Eucharistic meal intrinsic symbolic meanings. For example, breaking the bread which is his body and pouring out his blood for us are symbols of his Passion. Separating his body and blood is a symbol of his death. And sharing his meal with us symbolizes our intimate communion with him. Yet, the Eucharist is no a mere symbol, any more than baptism can be called just a washing with water. After the water and words of baptism, a newly baptized person appears unchanged (they have the same height, same weight, same hair and eye color as before) but they have been radically transformed within; the baptized person’s soul is cleansed, they have become a child of the Father, a temple of the Holy Spirit, a new person in Jesus Christ. Likewise, at the Consecration, though appearances remain unchanged, the gifts on the altar undergo a radical transformation; in fact, apart from outward appearances they can no longer truly be called bread and wine at all; for they become the body and blood, soul and divinity, of the living person Jesus Christ. In the Eucharist, Jesus’ real presence is really present, and it is no blasphemy to gaze upon the Host and say, “My Lord and my God!

Our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is not something the Church just invented. This teaching goes back to Jesus himself. St. John writes about the Real Presence in his Gospel, St. Paul writes about it to the Corinthians, and the Church Fathers write about it throughout the first centuries AD. God has confirmed this mystery with Eucharistic miracles, as I mentioned before (miracles which occur in no Protestant denomination.) The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist her been our Catholic Church’s teaching from her beginnings to this day.

I am somewhat encouraged that when other polls ask Catholics adults about their belief in the Real Presence in a different way, using different words than in the recent Pew poll, their responses are different as well. When given a choice between saying: “Jesus Christ is really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist,” or “The bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present,” about 60% of Catholics give the first and correct answer. However, we should be only somewhat encouraged by this. Four out of ten Catholics not believing in the Real Presence of Jesus is a tragic and terrible thing.

This week, I visited an old college roommate friend and his wife and children in Oregon. He is a very faithful Evangelical Christian; following Jesus is the most important thing in his life. But he and his family haven’t attended a church on Sundays for some time. It’s partly because he has two very young children, but he also confided over dinner that it’s because he has difficulty seeing the point of going just for a message and some songs. My friend studied in a Protestant seminary and could probably give a better sermon than most preachers. He plays guitar and has a great voice; why can’t he just sing and worship with his family at home? Discussing the recent Pew poll and my plans for this homily with him, he asked me — not to challenge me, but to better understand — “What difference does it make whether Catholics believe in the Real Presence or not? What is the harm in them receiving Communion without holding this belief?” I answered that, without the Real Presence, the Holy Mass becomes optional. And when we skip the Mass we miss out on the source and summit of the Christian life, the most intimate sacramental encounter we can have with Jesus on earth, the Holy Eucharist. And if we do go to Mass and receive Communion without believing it’s really Jesus, we do not receive the fullness of graces he wants to give us, and perhaps — by receiving him unworthily — we are offending him and doing ourselves actual harm.

In a chapter of Luke’s Gospel different from the one we heard today, Jesus asks, “Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’?” This is the attitude of a very earthly master. Yet notice what the master does in one of today’s parables. Jesus tells us, “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, [the master] will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.” This is a parable about the coming of our Lord. We are to be diligent, vigilant, and ready for his Second Coming, or for the unknown day and unknown hour of our death. But Jesus, our Lord and Master, wishes to come to us more than just once at the end of our lives. He would come to us at every Mass. Blessed are those servants whom our master finds vigilant on his arrival on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. They open the doors of their lips and hearts to him receive him. He has returned from the wedding of Heaven and earth and desires to feast with us. Amen, I say to you, he girds himself, gathers us at his table, and proceed to wait on us. And he does not serve us mere things, dead foods, but the greatest gift and nourishment conceivable, his very living self.

Jesus says, “That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” What greater thing could be entrusted to us than Jesus in the Holy Eucharist? Let us not spurn but cherish this precious gift of Jesus Christ; let us nor hesitate but dare to share with others this good news of Jesus’ Real Presence here. “Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so.”