Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category

The Life & Works of Fr. Joe Walijewski

March 6, 2018

Five years ago this week, our own Bishop William Callahan announced the opening of the cause for the beatification and canonization of Father Joseph Walijewski, a priest of our diocese who lived from 1924 to 2006. On May 27th, a ceremony at our cathedral will mark the close of our diocese’s investigation into his life and the submission of his cause to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Father Joe was one of ten children born to poor Polish immigrant parents in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Growing up during the Great Depression, he pitched in to help the family survive by selling newspapers. He only spoke Polish at that time, but he knew he would have to learn English to be successful, and he did just that.

After finishing his Catholic schooling in Grand Rapids, he came to Wisconsin to attend seminary in Milwaukee. Like many young people, he struggled with his studies, but he set to his task of learning Latin, Greek, and his other courses. His superiors thought he lacked ability. In his own words, Fr. Joe recalled, “I was deficient in my studies but I remained determined.” The young seminarian promised the Lord to commit five years of his priesthood to working in the missions if he could pass his courses. La Crosse’s fourth bishop, Alexander McGavick, saw potential in the young man and welcomed him to join our diocese. On April 16, 1950, he was ordained in our cathedral in La Crosse by our fifth bishop, John Patrick Treacy.

As a young priest Fr. Joseph served in Mosinee, Thorp, and Stevens Point. He heard a talk by Bishop Luis Aníbal Rodríguez Pardo about the desperate needs of his people in Bolivia. When Fr. Joe asked Bishop Treacy if he could be a diocesan missionary there, the bishop told him to pray on it for a year and talk to him again. A year later, Fr. Joe was back. He departed for Santa Cruz in 1956.

Upon landing in Bolivia, Bishop Charles Brown literally handed Father Joe a machete. Together they hacked through the tropical grass beyond the outskirts of Santa Cruz. “Build a church here and the people will come and build their homes next to it,” the bishop said. Holy Cross Parish is today at the heart of a city of 1.2 million.

Always a humble servant of the Lord, Father Joe lived in a barn with the livestock as he built his first church. Lacking funds and skilled workers, the strength of the walls for that new church fell short. The walls came tumbling down—not once, but three times. Yet Father Joe did not lose heart. He told folks this was fitting for a church named Holy Cross fell, for Christ fell three times under the weight of His Cross. Fr. Al Wozniak – a priest with an engineering background – went to lend assistance and our diocese’s parish mission in Bolivia stands firmly today. After ten years in Bolivia, our sixth bishop, Fredrick Freking, recalled Fr. Joe back to Wisconsin in 1966. Father Joe then led parishes in Heffron, Almond, Buena Vista, and Thorp.

In 1970, an 7.9 magnitude earthquake shook Peru, triggering the world’s deadliest landslide. A wall of glacial ice and rock—more than a half-mile wide and a mile long—slid eleven miles at speeds topping 100 miles per hour. It completely buried two cities in its path, seriously damaged others, and killed more than 74,000 people. The avalanche wiped out electricity, communications, and roads making it difficult to provide relief and rebuild.

The archbishop of Lima, Peru appealed for Father Joe to help. Father went to Peru to pastor a new parish in a rapidly growing neighborhood on the outskirts of Lima. That community is Villa el Salvador, the “City of the Savior.” There were about 80,000 impoverished people there when Father Joe arrived. Peruvians flocked there hoping to find work, food, and to escape increasing terrorist violence. Father Joe built their first church and the population of this city grew to 900,000, keeping Father Joe busy. He directed the construction of eight additional chapels.

In the early chaos following the earthquake, terrorist groups wreaked havoc on the local people. They targeted those serving as religious and civic leaders for execution. Our Lord seemed to be watching over Father Joe. He spared his life once when Father Joe ran late for his regular visit to a village eight hours away. The delay saved him from being rounded up and executed with the mayor and two others in front of the frightened villagers. Another attack against Father Joe came when terrorists rigged his Massey Ferguson tractor with dynamite. After the charge failed to detonate, friends asked Father Joe about his physical safety. He replied, “I don’t worry about it, and tell God that, when it is time to go, just be sure to send someone else to keep this work going.”

St. John Paul the Great visited Lima in 1985. The Holy Father was already running behind on a very active schedule. Yet he broke away from his aides, looking at Father Joe, saying, “I want to talk to this priest.” Father Joe told him about the homeless children sleeping under newspapers in the streets. Before the pontiff left Peru, he gave the local cardinal a check for $50,000 to support the local ministry. From those seeds, in 1986, Father Joe opened an orphanage, Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II, the “House-home of John Paul II.” It has since welcomed hundreds of boys and girls needing security, family, and Christian love.

In 2000, Father Joe was granted senior-priest status, but he was not finished working. He opened a retirement home for the elderly and would drive deep into the rainforests to celebrate up to five Masses with the Ashiko Indians every Sunday. On April 11, 2006, after fifty-six years of ministry, Father Joseph Walijewski died in Lima, Peru at age 82. He is now buried in the Grotto of the Assumption of Our Lady, which he had built, on the hill overlooking his Casa Hogar orphanage.

Fr. Joe Walijewski meeting St. Pope John Paul II in 1986



Our Light Amid the Darkness

March 3, 2018

America, shaken and grieving unprecedented violence; divided by animosity and racial tensions; politicians seeking to remove the president through impeachment; these are descriptions of the United States 150 years ago.

While still reeling and mourning from the deaths of more than 600,000 Civil War combatants, there was fierce contention over how harshly the North should treat the vanquished South and what rights should be accorded to former slaves. The political polarization was so great that, this week in 1868, the president was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives. (Pres. Andrew Johnson would go on to remain in office, being acquitted in the U.S. Senate by a single-vote margin.) They were dark, troubled times in our country. Meanwhile, a new source of light was being lit among us from across the ocean.

On March 3, 1868, a decree of Pope Pius IX established two dioceses within the twenty-year-old state of Wisconsin: La Crosse and Green Bay. For the fifteen decades since, under the stewardship of ten bishops, our diocese has been advancing the Kingdom of Christ. We established churches, schools, and institutions. We proclaimed the Gospel and celebrated our living Faith. Great good was done and many souls were saved.

We can easily get discouraged by the evil we see in current events. But even amid tragedy and trials our great, fruitful, saving work goes on — often quietly and unnoticed. It has always been so. “For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:21)

The Diocese of La Crosse — Founded March 3, 1868

The Most Interesting Woman in the World

March 1, 2018

With a single word, she crushed a deadly serpent.

Pregnant just once, she has billions of children.

She ended the Soviet Union with her heart.

She is… The Most Interesting Woman in the World

For more than a decade, she held the title for
“The Best Thing to come from Nazareth.”

Her preexisting condition?
Sinlessness — The Lord ensured it.

She lost track of her 12-year-old for three days…
is still considered the world’s greatest mother.

She once redesigned a used garment
and it converted Mexico.

Her favorite nation?
Her coronation.
(But she loves your homeland, too.)

At over 2,000 years old,
she could still get carded buying wine,
though she never needs to.

I don’t always drink wine, but when I do, I prefer my Son’s.

Stay holy, my children.



Jesus is Asking you for a Date

February 1, 2018

Jesus is asking you for a date: it’s February 14th. This year, Ash Wednesday lands on St. Valentine’s Day. These two observances, seemingly opposite, are both in fact dedicated to love. Little is known with certainty about St. Valentine, the 3rd century martyr buried near Rome. According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, ‘the popular customs associated with Saint Valentine’s Day undoubtedly had their origin in a conventional belief generally received in England and France during the Middle Ages, that on February 14th (i.e., half way through the 2nd month of the year) the birds began to pair.’ Valentine’s Day is a celebration of eros, the romantic form of love that delights in loving the beloved. Ash Wednesday calls us to agape, the form of love that is willing to undergo sufferings for another’s good.

Jesus commands us to love: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. … You shall love your neighbor as yourself. … As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” We must give of ourselves to God and neighbor yet we can only give of what we possess; this means we must be able to say “no” to ourselves in order to give a fuller “yes” to others. Such self-mastery comes through asceticism. By disciplining our desires through mortification and penance we grow in our conversion and virtue. Internal and external acts of Christian self-denial are typically done privately, but Jesus Christ’s Church prescribes communal penances for the season of Lent.

All Catholics who are at least fourteen years old are to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, on Lent’s Fridays, and on Good Friday. Catholics at least eighteen years of age must also fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday until reaching their fifty-ninth birthday. What is “fasting?” Lenten fasting means eating just one full meal that day. Two additional smaller meals (less than one full meal when put together) are allowed if necessary, but snacking on solid foods between meals is not. Physically, mentally, or chronically ill persons, as well as pregnant or nursing mothers, are exempt from Lent’s fasting and meat abstinence rules. However, merely being in a dating relationship, engaged to someone, or married, does not.

There will be no fancy steak dinners for Catholics this Valentine’s Day. (Perhaps make romantic dinner reservations for February 13th or 15th instead – you’ll end up with an even better table.) Eros love and agape love can certainly complement each other. Jesus Christ delights in his Church as his beloved bride while also being prepared to greatly suffer and lay down his life for us. This Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, let us perfect our love for our beloveds through ascetic self-denial and elated gifts of self.

A Parable on Pushing Boulders

January 24, 2018

Once upon a time, a Christian hermit lived in a cabin on a wooded mountainside, devoting himself to prayer. One morning, as he quieted himself and opened himself receptively to God, he sensed Jesus speaking to him – hearing him not with his ears but in his mind. The Lord said, “Go to that large boulder outside your house.” The man got up and went. Then the Lord said, “I want you to push this boulder for a half-hour every day.” The man obeyed, daily exerting his body in every manner against the smooth, massive stone, yet even after months of pushing the boulder remained completely unmoved.

The man asked himself, “Why am I failing? What am I doing wrong? The Gospels say that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains, but I can’t even budge this boulder an inch. Why does God demand this of me when he knows I can’t do it?” At this, the man became quite angry and (wisely) voiced his frustration, confusion, and hurt to the Lord.

The man heard Jesus reply, “Do you have reason to be angry? I told you to push the boulder, but I never asked you to move it. Look at your arms, look at your legs – by your faithfulness to me you have become strong. Now you are prepared for my next task for you. Though you thought you were failing, you were succeeding in fulfilling my will.”

Recent Popes on the Culture of Life

January 17, 2018

“The promotion of the culture of life should be the highest priority in our societies… If the right to life is not defended decisively as a condition for all other rights of the person, all other references to human rights remain deceitful and illusory.”

— Pope St. John Paul the Great

“The fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself. This is true of life from the moment of  conception until its natural end. Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right—it is the very opposite. It is a deep wound in society.”

— Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

“All life has inestimable value even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”

— Pope Francis

“That is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition of her survival, yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weak and most defenseless ones, those as yet unborn.”

— Pope St. John Paul the Great

What if Jerusalem were in Western Wisconsin?

December 29, 2017

(Not all will personally resonate with the reference city
chosen for this reflection, but I share this article because
its device and style may be fruitfully employed by others.)

One thing I brought back with me from my first trip to Israel was a better grasp of its geography. A visit to the Holy Land yields a previously unknown sense a scale, offering new insights to the Gospel. In lieu of flying everyone abroad, perhaps I can bring its holy places closer to home. Let’s allow Bloomer, Wisconsin to represent the location of ancient Jerusalem and examine where other sites in the region would be situated relative to it.

The town of Bethlehem is about five and a half miles (in a straight line, as the crow flies) south-southwest (SSW) from Jerusalem. So, allowing Bloomer to be Jerusalem, Jesus was born not far from St. John the Baptist’s Catholic Church in Cooks Valley, Wisconsin. If the Holy Family, retracing the steps of their Hebrew ancestors during their flight into Egypt, passed by the Great Pyramids of Giza (273 miles WSW from Jerusalem) they fled almost as far as Sioux Falls, South Dakota. After King Herod the Great’s death, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to their hometown of Nazareth, 64 miles north of Jerusalem. Each year, Jesus’ parents would pilgrimage from Nazareth to Jerusalem, as from Hayward, Wisconsin to Bloomer and back, for the Jewish festival of Passover.

One of the things that struck me about seeing the Old City of Jerusalem in person is how very small it is. There is just 0.35 square miles – only twice the area of Vatican City – within its high stone walls. The locales of Jesus’ Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension are all reasonably short walks from each other.  If we take St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Bloomer as the location of the Jewish Temple, the Cenacle (or “Upper Room” where the Last Supper was celebrated) is located to the southwest at the intersection of Riggs Street & 19th Avenue. The site of Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb (the Church of the Holy Sepulcher) is almost due west of the church, in the middle of Bloomer’s Lake Como behind the A.J. Manufacturing building. And the traditional site of Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven from the Mount of Olives would be almost due east from the church, in the first field south of the Bloomer Public Elementary School.

As the young Church spread, a Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus obtained authority from the Jewish High Priest to arrest any Christians he might find in Damascus, 134 miles NNE from Jerusalem in Syria. However, the Lord Jesus enlightened him on his journey as to (quite fittingly) the Apostle Islands off of Wisconsin’s northern shore. This Saul, who became St. Paul, would go on to preach and win converts as in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba & Saskatchewan (i.e., Turkey & Greece.) Just like St. Peter, St. Paul was martyred for Christ far from home, 1,432 miles from Jerusalem in Rome, a distance like that of Seattle, Washington from Bloomer.

Following the Apostles, Jesus’ Church continued to grow through the centuries and around the world, winning new souls in new lands, including our own. Our Christian Faith has come to us today from ancient Jerusalem to St. Paul’s Catholic Church, wondrously spanning a distance equaling that of Bloomer, Wisconsin to Kyoto, Japan.

The two gray domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher appear behind the Islamic Dome of the Rock shrine atop the Temple Mount
in this photo I took in November 2016 from the western slope
of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

The Ox, the Ass, & the First Manger Scene

December 20, 2017

In the year 1223 A.D., about two weeks before Christmas and three years before his death, St. Francis of Assisi shared an innovative idea with a beloved friend: “I want to do something that will recall the memory of that child who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy, how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by.” With Pope Honorius III’s approval and his generous friend’s help everything was ready for Christmas Eve.

Blessed Thomas of Celano (writing just six years after) recounts the unveiling of that first manger scene, or crèche:

“With glad hearts, the men and women of that place prepared, according to their means, candles, and torches to light up that night which has illuminated all the days and years with its glittering star. Finally the holy man of God arrived and, finding everything prepared, saw it and rejoiced. … The manger is ready, hay is brought, the (live) ox and ass are led in. The brothers sing, discharging their debt of praise to the Lord, and the whole night echoes with jubilation. The holy man of God stands before the manger full of sighs, consumed by devotion, and filled with a marvelous joy. The holy man of God wears a deacon’s vestments, for he was indeed a deacon, and he sings the holy gospel with a sonorous voice. Then he preaches sweetly to the people standing about, telling them about the birth of the poor king and the little city of Bethlehem.”

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth make no mention of an ox or donkey, but St. Francis included them in his scene because the duo had so commonly appeared in Christian imagery and writings since the Early Church.

Like the crucified thieves beside Jesus’ cross, this pair of creatures beside Jesus’ crib can represent two types of people in our world. Some respond to the birth of God among us like a donkey, with a foolish, stubborn resistance. But others, like an ox, humbly take the yoke of Christ upon their shoulders, learn from him, and produce a great harvest. Some attend Christmas Mass eager to leave early and without plans to soon return, like Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper. Yet Jesus calls us to attend to him week in and week out as his faithful oxen so that we may have peace in this world: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

The Temptations of the First Christmas

December 19, 2017

If I were a demon prowling about the world seeking the confusion, discouragement, and ruin of souls, how might I have tried to wickedly snare God’s beloved ones in the events leading up to the first Christmas?

If I were a demon, I would say to St. Elizabeth during her early months of pregnancy, “Did people suppose that your husband had some kind of vision when he took so long in the temple and came out unable to speak? He simply had a stroke. Zechariah will never speak again. Now you’re feeling sick every day and your abdomen is expanding. How could it possibly be a baby at your age? A cancer is growing inside of you. You’ll be dead soon. It’s hopeless.

If I were a demon, I would say to the Blessed Virgin Mary soon after the Annunciation, “You think you saw an angel? That’s crazy! You only dreamed or imagined it. Who are you to be the mother of God’s son? Who do you think you are! Don’t bother going to visit Elizabeth – you’ll only embarrass yourself. You had better hope this isn’t real, because none of your family, friends, or neighbors will believe you. Joseph will divorce and abandon you. You’ll be all alone.

If I were a demon, I would say to St. Joseph after he learned that Mary was with child, “Do you really believe she conceived by God’s Spirit? Who ever heard of such a thing? She’s lying and taking you for a fool. Even if it were true, who are you to be a foster-father to the Messiah? True or not, the best thing is for you to just get a divorce. Whatever you were thinking when you married her, you certainly made a terrible mistake.

Even once Christmas arrived, my diabolical efforts would not cease. I would caution Bethlehem’s shepherds to steer safely clear of that holy child and to keep watching over their flocks. I would counsel the Magi to dismiss the starry signs as coincidences and not to hazard a long, uncertain journey from the East. I would pressure Joseph to ignore the dream directing him to take his family into Egypt, and I would goad Mary not to trust in her loving husband’s lead: “God surely would have told you instead of only telling Joseph.” Thankfully, none of these people were kept from doing God’s will, tripped-up by these or other temptation traps, in relation to the first Christmas.

Some people think of temptation strictly as promptings to immoral pleasures. But temptation comes in many forms. We can be led to harmful inaction or disaster by temptations such as fear, doubt, sadness, and despair.

Some people assume that saints do not know temptation like the rest of us. But were Mary, Joseph, and Elizabeth oblivious to thoughts and unassailed by feelings like those I realistically described? Saints come to understand temptation quite well as they discern and persevere through the trials of life.

Some people believe that God only watches over and guides a few, favored saints – while having less care and concern for the rest of us – but this is also a temptation. Even if your life takes a shocking turn and you don’t know what to do, even if you have a stroke, or cancer, or your mind begins to fail, even if you are betrayed or abandoned by everyone, you are his dearly beloved one. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise, even if they speak to you in your own voice.

Sometimes we envision the first Christmas and all the events surrounding it in idyllic postcard pastels, as if they were flawless occasions of comfort and joy. But imagine being far from home and not being able to find a room for your very pregnant wife, or having to undergo labor and delivery on the floor of a stable. God was with Mary and Joseph and both experienced unforgettable happiness that night, but it was not a time preserved free from hardship or trial.

Sometimes we hope or expect our Christmas to be perfect, and strive for everything to go just right. Yet circumstances never fully cooperate. Things are less organized, less harmonious, less supremely happy than we wished them to be. From its beginning, Christmas has never been “perfect,” but its intrinsic goodness is always present for us — for Jesus Christ has come. This year, do not allow disquieting or perfectionistic temptations rob you and yours of Christmas joy.

You May Be Wondering…

November 29, 2017

Q: This year the 4th Sunday of Advent (December 23rd/24th) comes right before Christmas. Do we have to come to Mass twice?
A: Yes. This is on Jesus’ gift list this year.

Q: How can we fulfill our Holy Day obligations?
A: We have six options. Come to Mass:

(1) Saturday PM & Sunday PM (Christmas Eve)
(2) Saturday PM & Monday (Christmas Day)
(3) Sunday PM & Monday
(4) Sunday AM & Sunday PM
(5) Sunday AM & Monday
(6) Sunday PM Twice (see comments below)

Q: Will the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God also be a Holy Day of Obligation?
A: No. New Year’s Day is not a Holy Day of Obligation in 2018.

St. Anthony of Padua Quotes

November 14, 2017

With 28% of our students’ votes, St. Anthony of Padua was selected to be St. Paul’s Catholic School’s 2017-2018 special patron in a tight, four-saint race. (He edged out the Blessed Virgin Mary by just two votes.) Our children will be better getting to know this 13th century Franciscan friar, preacher, wonder-worker, and patron saint for finding lost items in the year ahead. These are my favorite St. Anthony quotes:

God’s Glory is Reflected in his Creation: “If things created are so full of loveliness, how resplendent with beauty must be the One who made them!”

Find Jesus in Quiet Reflection: “The Lord manifests Himself to those who stop for some time in peace and humility of heart. If you look in murky and turbulent waters, you cannot see the reflection of your face. If you want to see the face of Christ, stop and collect your thoughts in silence, and close the door of your soul to the noise of external things.”

Jesus said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life”: “Christ is our way in example, truth in promise, life in reward; a way that is straight, a truth that does not deceive, a life that never ends.”

How we Live: “The life of the body is the soul; the life of the soul is God.”

Riches are Hollow and Dangerous: “Earthly riches are like the reed. Its roots are sunk in the swamp, and its exterior is fair to behold; but inside it is hollow. If a man leans on such a reed, it will snap off and pierce his soul.”

The Saints Reveal our Flaws: “A ray of light enables us to see the dust that is in the air. In the same way, the lives of the saints show us our defects. If we fail to see our faults, it is because we have not looked at the lives of holy men and women.”

The Saints Show us Perfection: “The stonemason and the bricklayer are careful to use measuring lines, pendulums, and bobs to make walls straight. Can we not say that the virtuous lives of the saints are the measuring lines stretched out over our souls to make sure our lives take the proper shape and measure up to their good example? Whenever, then, we celebrate the feast of a saint, let us look to them as giving us the pattern our lives should take.”

Learn From Everyone: “The creator of the heavens obeys a carpenter; the God of eternal glory listens to a poor virgin. Has anyone ever witnessed anything comparable to this? Let the philosopher no longer disdain from listening to the common laborer; the wise, to the simple; the educated, to the illiterate; a child of a prince, to a peasant.”

The Cross Reveals our Great Worth: “Christ who is your life is hanging before you, so that you may look at the Cross as in a mirror. There you will be able to know how mortal were your wounds, that no medicine other than the Blood of the Son of God could heal. If you look closely, you will be able to realize how great your human dignity and your value are…. Nowhere other than looking at himself in the mirror of the Cross can man better understand how much he is worth.”

“Lord, Make Them Change!”

October 27, 2017

I recently noticed a pattern with Jesus Christ in the Gospels:

Martha once complained to him, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” Jesus refused to dismiss Mary from his presence but instead urged Martha not to be anxious and pointed her to the superiority of holy intimacy over hard labors.

A man in a crowd once said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” Jesus declined to declare a verdict in the matter but warned, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.

A pagan mother once begged Jesus to free her demon-tormented daughter. Christ’s annoyed followers said, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” Instead, Jesus engaged her in a challenging repartee, granted her wish, and showed his disciples that his mission extended beyond just the Jews.

On Palm Sunday, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem, his disciples loudly acclaimed him. Some of the Pharisees in the crowd demanded, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” But Christ replied, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out,” insisting that his critics’ recognize his supreme worthiness.

And so it seems, where we have been asking Jesus to change another person in our world, we would do well to consider what our Lord may be wishing to see changed in ourselves.

One Bible, Many Interpretations

October 20, 2017

Not everyone understands God in the same way Catholic Christians do. Consider the Mormons, Oneness Pentecostals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses:

Mormons teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three Gods, and that we too can become Gods in our own right someday.

You may reply to them, for instance, with James 2:19, “You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble,” but Mormons will have some explanation for that New Testament passage which fits their theology.

Oneness Pentecostals teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three persons but three manifestations of one divine person, God.

You may ask them who Jesus is praying to in Matthew 26:39 when he says in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will,” yet Oneness Pentecostals will offer some answer for why Jesus is not actually praying to another person.

Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus is not divine, not God, but God’s first and greatest angel, and that the Holy Spirit is not a person but the active force of God the Father in the world.

You may point to John’s prologue, where we see “the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh,” or to John 20:28, where “Thomas answered and said to [Jesus,] ‘My Lord and my God!‘” However, Jehovah’s Witnesses will surely have some answer for these verses.

A diagram of the true, ancient, catholic, and orthodox understanding of the Holy Trinity:
One God in Three Divine Persons

In my personal encounters, advocates of Mormon polytheism, Oneness Pentecostal modalism, or Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Arianism-like theology have all been sincere, friendly, and not unintelligent people. They studied the Bible, regarded it as God’s infallible Word, and used it to support their beliefs. All of them proudly claimed the name of “Christian.” And yet, the undeniable fact that their theologies contradict each other proves that these praiseworthy personal traits are not enough to guarantee a true understanding of the Christian Faith. Indeed, Bible-alone Christians find a multitude of conflicting interpretations amongst themselves. Texts out of context can yield several defensible, though incorrect, interpretations. Likewise, interpreting biblical texts outside the context of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church results in many errors.

At my previous assignment, a few years ago, two very nice Jehovah’s Witnesses visited my rectory and we conversed for a couple of hours. At one point we debated whether Jesus’ numerous “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John were professions of his divinity (echoing the “I Am Who Am” spoken from the burning bush in Exodus.) One of my guests remarked, “We can’t really be certain what he meant.” I replied to the effect, “You’re right! — If your opinion and my opinion are all we have to go on, if there’s no visible authority on earth with power from Christ to infallibly answer essential questions, then we can never be certain our biblical interpretations are true. Many sincere, reasonable, and scholarly Christians strenuously disagree about the Scriptures. Without a clear and reliable teaching authority within the Church we would be left as sheep without a shepherd and inevitably scatter!”

2nd Timothy 3:16 states that “all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching,” but ‘useful’ is not the same thing as ‘sufficient,’ or saying that the Bible is ‘all you need‘ to know the truth. While inspired words do come from God (as is taught in 2nd Peter 1:21) the problem remains of knowing which texts belong to Scripture. There was much debate among early Christians over which New Testament writings were inspired and should be included in the canon. The early Church Fathers’ lists of the Bible books varied. The Letter to the Hebrews? The Shepherd of Hermas? The Book of Revelation? The Didache? The Letter of James? The First and Second Letters of Clement? How could this question of canon be definitively resolved, particularly when some inspired books seem to have pseudonymous authors?

Recall that Jesus is not known to have written anything in the Gospels (besides perhaps something in the dust near the woman caught in adultery.) He did, however, establish a Church. Through this Church, the New Testament was composed, collected, canonized, and celebrated. This process was certainly not complete within the first century AD. It was the Catholic Church, her pope and bishops, who ultimately canonized the twenty-seven New Testament books which all Christians acknowledge today. Most Christians revere the Holy Scriptures as God’s infallible Word, and this is good and right, but for some reason many of them reject the Catholic Church through which the Scriptures come.

One belief shared by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses is the idea that a “Great Apostasy” devastated the early Church. These religions say a great deception occurred soon after the death of the apostles causing the vast majority of self-professed Christians ever since to hold core doctrines widely different from the truth. The New Testament does contain passages warning Christians not to be mislead (as by “wolves in sheep’s clothing,”) and false prophets and heresies arise in every age, but was there a “Great Apostasy” soon after the apostles that so corrupted Christianity that foundational teachings (like the true nature of God) were thoroughly abandoned and forgotten?

All Christians will agree that Jesus is a wise man. Jesus was indeed a wise man who built his house on rock. Jesus declared to Simon, “‘I say to you, you are Peter [that is, you are “Rock” in Greek] and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.’” (Matthew 16:18) If Jesus is a wise man who built his house on rock then we can be assured that even though “the rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house–it did not collapse; [his Church] had been set solidly on rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)

Jesus entrusts the keys of his Kingdom to St. Peter
A Sistine Chapel fresco by Pietro Perugino, c. 1482.

After building his Church upon Peter for some forty years did Jesus let it go to shambles and neglect to repair it for about eighteen centuries until Joseph Smith or The Watchtower came along? If so, Jesus really dropped the ball. If the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses are right, then God managed to get all of the New Testament books infallibly written, correctly canonized, and faithfully passed-on through millennia, but failed to preserve the truth about himself in that same Church much beyond the apostles croaking.

In truth, our Lord Jesus Christ succeeded in preserving both his teachings and the hierarchical authority he gave to his Church, from St. Peter (the first pope) and the apostles to Pope Francis and the bishops in communion with him today – a clear and necessary line of teaching authority spanning the centuries through Apostolic Succession and the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The Holy Catholic Church perfectly canonized the New Testament books and safeguarded Christ’s teachings long after the death of the apostles because she is “the pillar and foundation of truth.” (1st Timothy 3:15)

As a Catholic, you will encounter people who present very different interpretations of the Bible. Do not let your hearts be troubled. There are good reasons for everything we believe as Catholics. They may claim to know the Bible but we are blessed to know Christ’s Church from which the Bible comes. St. Joan of Arc, who personally experienced the sometimes messy mystery of the Church as a divine and human institution, said, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they are just one thing and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.” If you love Jesus Christ, then love his Body and Bride, his Holy Catholic Church.

Three Common Catholic Misconceptions

September 27, 2017

Sometimes even the faithful can get things wrong (perhaps that’s why we’re called “practicing” Catholics.) I believe the following rank among Catholics’ most common misconceptions about our own Faith:

Myth #1: “The Immaculate Conception was Jesus Becoming Man”

Although Jesus’ conception is also a holy miracle, the Immaculate Conception refers to the creation of his mother, Mary. The Church has believed in Mary’s perfect sinlessness from ancient times. Consider that the loaded Greek word with which the Archangel Gabriel hails her at the Annunciation identifies her as ‘one having been graced by God in the past with the result continuing in full effect to the present.’ (Luke 1:28)

On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX infallibly defined the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception in these words: “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.

Myth #2: “The Anointing of the Sick is Only for One’s Deathbed”

Among the seven sacraments, Anointing of the Sick is the one especially intended to strengthen those who, having reached the age of reason, begin to be in danger due to sickness or old age. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, this “is not a sacrament only for those who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as any one of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for that person to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived.”

Catholics on their deathbeds should certainly ask a priest for “the Last Rites,” that is, Anointing of the Sick with special prayers for the dying. But Catholics facing major surgery (such as ones involving general anesthetic) or those feeling elderly frailty should request this sacrament as well. Anointing may be repeated if the sick person’s condition becomes more grave during the same illness, or if they recover and then become seriously ill again.

Myth #3: “Divorced People Cannot Receive Holy Communion”

Faithful to Christ, the Catholic Church teaches that a consummated sacramental marriage endures for as long as the bride and groom both live. However, being divorced does not, in and of itself, bar someone from worthily receiving Holy Communion. (For instance, an abandoned spouse may bear no fault for his or her divorce, and in some cases—like domestic abuse or a gambling addiction—it can be appropriate for a spouse to procure a legal separation.) Merely being divorced is not necessarily a sin; it is divorce followed by remarriage outside of the Church that is the issue. Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11-12)

So what should a person who is divorced and remarried outside the Church do? The first step is to approach your pastor. Together, you can begin exploring seeking an annulment. A sacramental marriage cannot be undone by any power on earth, but if something essential to marriage was absent or withheld from the very beginning then such a marriage is invalid (not sacramental) and may be annulled. After obtaining the needed annulment(s), a person is free to be married in the Church. But what should remarried persons do if an annulment is not possible? Even these may receive Holy Communion following a good confession if they are resolved to begin living chastely, “as brother and sister,” in their present relationship.

Some Recommended Catholic Websites

September 22, 2017

If the Internet had been around during the first century AD, I’m fairly confident that St. Peter would’ve tweeted, St. Paul would’ve podcast, and the secular Roman press would’ve misreported Catholic news far and wide. Times may change, but the Church and the world both use new advancements in communication technology to promote their often competing messages in the marketplace of ideas. As Pope St. John Paul II wrote in 2002:

“The Internet is certainly a new ‘forum’ understood in the ancient Roman sense… a crowded and bustling urban space which both reflected the surrounding culture and created a culture of its own. …Like the new frontiers of other times, this one too is full of the interplay of danger and promise, and not without the sense of adventure which marked other great periods of change. For the Church the new world of cyberspace is a summons to the great adventure of using its potential to proclaim the Gospel message.”

In the years since the beginning of this third Christian millennium, the Church’s online presence has blossomed. The pope tweets (@pontifex), most parishes have websites (including both St. Paul’s and St. John’s), and many faithful sites provide Catholic news and commentary and resources for evangelization and personal growth. Here are some of my most recommended, helpful Catholic websites:
I check New Advent daily for aggregated links to Catholic news and articles. This site also has online versions of the Catholic Encyclopedia, Aquinas’ Summa, Early Church Fathers’ writings, and papal documents.
This rich Catholic site presents feature films, documentaries, ebooks, audio books, video-based study programs, and more. This quality content is free for the families, youths, and adults of St. John’s and St. Paul’s parishes using our special code in the bulletin.
That acronym stands for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Their site is especially useful for viewing upcoming Mass readings (via the front-page calendar) and reading the complete New American Bible.
I have posted hundreds of my homilies and reflections here on this blog since 2009. Use the main-page’s “Categories” menu or the search box to find something by Fr. Feltes you’re interested in.