Archive for the ‘Saintly People’ Category

Mary, the Mother of All Christians

April 26, 2018

Earlier this year, the Vatican announced that the Monday after Pentecost Sunday shall henceforth be celebrated as a new feast day: the Memorial of the “Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church.” Its worldwide inaugural celebration will be on May 21st this year. The Holy Catholic Church has defined four dogmas about Mary: that she is ever-virginal and the Mother of God, that she was immaculately conceived and assumed body and soul into Heaven. What Pope Francis has decreed is not on the level of defining a fifth Marian dogma, but he is highlighting a precious truth about Our Lady for us to treasure and valuable for us to share with our Protestant brothers and sisters.

Mary is both poetically and actively the Mother of the Church. St. Augustine says of her, “She is clearly the Mother of His members; that is, of ourselves, because she cooperated by her charity, so that faithful Christians, members of the Head, might be born in the Church.” And as Blessed Pope Paul VI professes in his Credo of the People of God: “we believe that the Blessed Mother of God, the New Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in Heaven her maternal role with regard to Christ’s members, cooperating with the birth and growth of divine life in the souls of the redeemed.” How many Christians are unaware that they have a spiritual Mother who loves them?

That Mary is the Mother of all Christians is evident from Scripture. At the Cross, “when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” This scene was not included in John’s Gospel to satisfy some idle curiosity about Mary’s living arrangements in her later years. Understanding this scene according to its spiritual significance, every Christian is ‘the disciple who Jesus loved.’ Every Christian is entrusted to Mary as her child and she is given to each one of them as their mother.

Further proof of this is found in the Book of Revelation. There we see a huge dragon (explicitly called “the Devil and Satan”) attempt to destroy “a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod,” along with his mother who wears “a crown of twelve stars.” This is Jesus the Messianic King and his Queen Mother, Mary. Note what happens after the “ancient serpent” fails to conquer this man and woman: “Then the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.” Who are Mary’s children? They are Christians — “those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.”

Christ’s Church is meant to be gathered around Mother Mary. Before his Ascension, Jesus told the first Christians to “stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” And so, “when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together” beside Mary his Mother and the reconstituted Twelve Apostles in the room where the First Eucharist was celebrated. It was through Mary that the Holy Spirit had first begun to bring mankind into communion with Jesus Christ. So likewise (the Catechism of the Catholic Church observes) “she was present with the Twelve, who with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, at the dawn of the end time which the Spirit was to inaugurate on the morning of Pentecost with the manifestation of the Church.”

This is why the Monday after Pentecost is a very fitting day for us to celebrate Mary as Mother of the Church and why all Christians should come together as her spiritual children. Let Catholics be rejoice and Christians be reunited as one!

Mary, Mother of all Christians, pray for us!

Advertisements

Lingering Wounds — Divine Mercy Sunday—2nd Sunday of Easter

April 15, 2018

Of all the apostles, it could be said that St. Thomas’ faith took him the farthest. Likely tradition says Thomas traveled more than 2,000 miles from Israel to evangelize India. From the seeds of his ministry and martyrdom there, tens of millions of Indians are Christians today. Yet, he’s not known as “Traveling Thomas” or “Faithful, Fruitful Thomas,” but famously as “Doubting Thomas” because of these passages:

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

So why was Thomas so slow to believe? I would suggest three theories:

The first explanation would be that Thomas didn’t want it to be true. Many peoples’ lack of belief is due to an unwilling heart. They see no evidence for God because they have closed their eyes. If they were honest they would say, “I don’t want it to be true, because if it is then I’d have to change how I live my life.” Jesus says if we ask, we’ll receive; if we seek, we’ll find; and if we knock, the door will be opened to us. But this sort of person doesn’t ask because they don’t want good answers, they don’t seek because they’re afraid of what they’ll find, and they don’t knock because they don’t want to go in.

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” He knocks on the door of every human soul. But we can lock and block our door; with a big-screen TV of entertainment, or a bookshelf of learning, a trophy case of accomplishments, a heavy safe of accumulated wealth, or with several large-leafy plants so that a person may enjoy the beauty of creation while ignoring the Creator. If we insist upon self-centered ingratitude, the Lord will respect our freedom but we’ll be woefully unsatisfied forever.

But this is was not St. Thomas. He had sacrificed a lot to be Jesus’ apostle and had aspired to give him his all. On one occasion Jesus said, “Let us go back to Judea,” but the disciples replied, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” When Jesus insisted on going, “Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go to die with him.’” At the Last Supper, when Jesus said, “Where I am going you know the way,” Thomas replied, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” He was distressed because he loved Jesus and wanted to follow him anywhere. Thomas wanted the Resurrection to be true, but there was some other reason he wouldn’t or couldn’t believe.

A second theory for why Thomas was so slow to believe is that he was skeptically-minded. St. Thomas’ nickname, as you’ve heard it now a couple of times, was “Didymus.” In Greek, Didymus means “twin.” How was Thomas a twin? Scripture doesn’t say. Perhaps Thomas had a twin brother he had been mistaken for many times. In some icons of Jesus with his apostles, one of the apostles looks just like Jesus. Such art imagines that Thomas shared a twin likeness to the Lord. In either case, one could understand his initial skepticism about people seeing Jesus resurrected. “Nah. You guys saw somebody else.”

But Thomas has sufficient evidence to believe his friends. They are not claiming to have seen Jesus across the marketplace or walking through a field at dusk. (Neither Thomas nor we are expected to have blind faith, but to trust in trustworthy persons and things.) The other apostles are saying, “It’s true Thomas! He knew us, we saw his wounds!” Yet Thomas replies, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Why is Thomas so being obstinate?

The third (and I think most likely) explanation for why Thomas was so slow to believe in the Resurrection was that he hurt too much trust again. Who was Jesus to Thomas? He was Thomas’ hero, his admired teacher, his dearly beloved friend. Thomas thought Jesus would be the savior and messianic king of Israel, but Thomas’ great hope was murdered on Good Friday. Imagine Thomas’ prayer after experiencing that. “My God, how could you let this happen? He was innocent, he was so good! He was the best man I’ve ever known, and you let Him die! Why? How could do that to him? How could you do this to me?”

Jesus’ unexpected death broke Thomas’ heart, and perhaps having been so wounded once, he was resolved not to let his heart be taken-in again: ‘Unless I see the mark… put my finger in the nailmarks… put my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ Yet, though he doubts, notice where Thomas is one week after Easter. He’s with the other apostles in the upper room in Jerusalem, gathered behind locked doors for fear of those who killed Jesus. Now there are lots of other, safer places Thomas could have chosen to be. He could have returned to his hometown, back to the family and friends he left behind to follow Jesus a few years before. Though Thomas doubts, he does not leave this house of faith. He struggles with his questions, but he does not fully abandon Jesus. He seeks him here and because of it Thomas finds truth for his mind, healing for his heart, and peace for his soul.

The risen Lord appears in the upper room and how does Jesus respond to Thomas’ resistant unbelief? Not with anger. Not with condemnation. But with the same Divine Mercy we celebrate today. Jesus appears in their midst and says, “Peace be with you.” Then he says to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

Curiously, Jesus still bears some of the wounds from his Passion: in his hands, feet and side. The cuts and swollen bruises are gone from his face, for the disciples respond to him with rejoicing rather than pity or horror, but he retains some marks from the evils that afflicted him. Jesus could heal or cover them—he’s God—but he choose not to. They are his trophies, the means of his glory, how he saved the world.

Our wounds, our losses, the sins and evils we suffer, they can scandalize us like Thomas was after the Passion. But through these things Jesus would glorify us, help to save others, and transform us into his more perfect twin. Jesus, having experienced wounds of his own, can relate and heal you.

Like St. Thomas, this Divine Mercy Sunday, you are gathered in this upper room with Jesus’ disciples. If there is any great wound or uncertainly in you, I invite you to be open to encounter Jesus anew like St. Thomas. Dare to ask, dare to seek, dare to knock. Jesus is not only your Lord and your God, he’s good and his love is everlasting.

Our Lady of Zeitoun

April 3, 2018

A Fascinating Marian Apparition from Egypt

Fifty years ago this week, on the evening of April 2, 1968, a group of Muslim mechanics and drivers working across the street from Virgin Mary’s Coptic Church in Zeitoun, Egypt, saw a woman atop a dome of the church. Two other men also noticed the white figure on the top of the church and the matter was reported to the police. A crowd gathered on the site and interpreted the sighting as an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After a few minutes, the event ended. According to tradition, Zeitoun is on the route that the Holy Family took when fleeing King Herod’s efforts to murder the infant Jesus.

Our Lady of Zeitoun

One week later, on April 9, 1968, the phenomenon reoccurred, again lasting for only a few minutes. After that time apparitions became more frequent, sometimes two or three times a week, for several years, ending in 1971. The woman spoke no words, but moved about the church’s mysteriously illuminated domes. She would also face the people in the streets below and gesture warmly with her head or hands. Sometimes she was accompanied by luminous, dove-shaped bodies which moved about at high speeds. Muslims hold Mary in very high regard even though they deem Jesus to be merely a prophet of Islam. She was seen to kneel down before a cross on the church roof; significant, since Muslims deny Jesus’ crucifixion.

Pope (or Patriarch) Kyrillos VI, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, appointed a committee of high-ranking priests and bishops to investigate. On May 4, 1968, Kyrillos VI issued an official statement confirming and approving the apparition. These apparitions were witnessed by perhaps a million people, including President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and were documented by newspaper photographers and Egyptian television. Egyptian government officials concluded in 1968: “Official investigations have been carried out with the result that it has been considered an undeniable fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary has been appearing on Zeitoun Church in a clear and bright luminous body seen by all present in front of the church, whether Christians or Muslims.”

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

 

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.

 

 

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

The Holy Family and Yours

January 1, 2018

Every year, Holy Mother Church presents the Holy Family for our contemplation and imitation. Some imagine life in the home of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in the soft, pastel colors of a Christmas card; so holy, so flawless, so unobtainable. We wonder, “Can the Holy Family and my family really relate to one another?” At least two out of the three members of the Holy Family never sinned in their entire lives together. We, meanwhile, could jokingly refer to the Feast of the Holy Family as “Elbow-Nudge Sunday.” Throughout the world this day, wives and husbands, parents and children, take turns gently nudging one another as they listen to God’s words about marriage and family life. The Holy Family was holy, but that doesn’t mean their lives were easy or smooth.

I’ve previously written about the stresses and difficulties of the holy couple leading up to the first Christmas: about Mary’s crisis pregnancy, about Joseph grappling with his wife telling him the child within her is the Son of God and Joseph contemplating a divorce, about their giving birth to that holy child in an animal stable. And their trials together continued after Jesus’ birth.

Imagine being Mary and hearing Simeon prophesy, “Behold, this child is destined … to be a sign that will be contradicted — and you yourself a sword will pierce…” How would that make you feel about the future for you and your child? Picture being Mary as her husband awakes and says “our boy is being hunted, we need to leave tonight.” Consider Joseph, the servant-leader of his family, having to pack-up quickly and leave so much behind to take his family into hiding in Egypt. Later, an angel tells Joseph to bring his family back into Israel. So Joseph returns with Jesus and Mary, but he’s afraid to resettle in the south because the son of Herod the Great now rules Judea. With the help of another dream, Joseph decides to resettle in the north, in Nazareth of Galilee.

I mention all this because St. Joseph, the just and holy man, feared an earthly king even as he trusted God. St. Mary at the Annunciation did not know all the details of her future, but she trusted in God by saying, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Our Lord Jesus, sweating blood from stress the night before he died, trusted God to say, “Not my will but yours be done.” Their holy lives were often difficult, but God always rewarded their trust, bringing about good for them in the end.

In Genesis, Abram (whose name later got changed to Abraham) was promised a son by the Lord. But the childless Abraham looks at the old age of his wife and himself and asks, ‘Will my steward, Eliezer, be my heir?‘ God answers, ‘No, not him; your own flesh and blood son shall be your heir.’ Then the Lord took Abraham outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.” And Abraham put his faith in the Lord.

When I first heard this story (and maybe when you heard it too) I assumed this event happened at night. But the message is even more powerful if God told him to “look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can,” during the daytime. Where do the stars go during the day? We know they’re still there, even though the Sun’s brightness the sky’s blueness prevent us from seeing them. Abraham trusted in the Lord’s unwavering goodwill towards him and beheld God’s word fulfilled in the birth of Isaac. Through that son, Abraham received glory and the whole world was blessed.

One of the things Jesus says in the Gospels more than anything else is, “Be not afraid.” Sacrifice your fears. Imagine taking those obsessive worrying thoughts from your mind, placing them upon the altar, and lighting them afire like a sacrifice of old to God. “Let the peace of Christ control your heart…” Trust that “God works all things for the good of those who love him” and then “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

God not only wants peace within us, but peace among us as well. In our homes there is always room for improvement. The household of the Holy Family may have been a sinless one, but mistakes and miscommunications surely happened. Joseph probably broke or misplaced tools. Mary probably burnt an occasional loaf of bread. From the Gospels we know they both thought they knew where their 12-year-old boy was as they left Jerusalem for home; several hours passed before they realized he was missing. Even when we deeply love one another, we must learn and practice how to love and serve each other better.

We love each other in many ways, and the best modes by which we experience love can vary from person to person. The book “The Five Love Languages” lays out five major ways that we give and receive love, namely:

Gift Giving
Acts of Service
Affectionate Touch
Words of Affirmation
Quality Time

What are your top-two love languages? Can you guess the preferred languages of your spouse and children? Sometimes we try to love others as ourselves by loving them exactly as ourselves and we unfortunately miss our mark. For example, imagine a spouse complaining, “Why don’t you let me know that you love me,” when they really mean “why don’t you get me surprises anymore” (gift giving) or “why don’t you tell me that I delight you and you’re pleased with me” (words of affirmation.) At this, their spouse might reply, “What do you mean? I’m loving you all the time,” when they’re really saying “I take care of the kids and do housework” (acts of service) and “We eat and sit in the living room together every evening” (quality time.) These two loving spouses are loving past each other.

Learn the preferred love languages of your family members, and don’t expect others read your mind, sabotaging our own happiness. Tell them how to delight you. They love you and they want to make you happy. Don’t attack and criticize (“You always this” or “You never that”) but invite them to bless you. And pray together, as a couple and a family. The Holy Family surely did and its one of the most valuable things I can recommend. Some married couples, who have shared a bed for years, have never revealed their personal prayer requests to each other. Pray together, and then even whenever frictions arise, you will remember that you are on the same team, together on the same side with God.

Your home will never be perfect – not even the Holy Family’s was perfect. Life’s circumstances will go awry, and there will be sins we have to apologize for and forgive one another. But with trust in God and a daily commitment to loving and serving each other better, you too can live in the peace and joy of the Holy Family.

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.

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.”

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.

Saint Paul’s Grade School Patron Saint Candidates

October 12, 2017

Our grade schoolers will soon be voting on who they want to be our school’s patron saint this year (in addition to St. Paul, of course.) The winner of the election will be announced at our school Mass on All Saints’ Day. These are the candidates:

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga (Al-low-wish-ous Gone-za-gah)

  • Though born to a very rich and powerful Italian family, his first words were the holy names of Jesus and Mary and he resolved as a teenagers to become a priest and missionary.
  • During his last year of seminary, while caring for plague victims in Rome, he died at age twenty-three with Jesus’ name as his last word.
  • He is the patron saint of Catholic youths.

The Blessed Virgin Mary

  • Jesus’ momma, St. Joseph’s wife, and the mother of all Christians.
  • By God’s grace she lived a sinless life and was taken up body and soul into Heaven.
  • Since that time, she has appeared in Mexico, France, Portugal, Wisconsin, and elsewhere.

Saint Anthony of Padua (Pah-du-ah)

  • This Portuguese priest became close friends with St. Francis of Assisi.
  • An amazing preacher, when his tomb was opened after thirteen years his tongue still looked alive and moist even though the rest of him was dusty bones.
  • One of history’s most quickly canonized saints, he is the patron saint of lost things.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (Tur-rez of Liz-sue) also known as “The Little Flower”

  • She begged Pope Leo XIII for permission and entered a French convent at age fifteen.
  • Her “Little Way” spirituality teaches about doing little things with great love.
  • She is known to give roses at the end of novenas (nine days of prayer) asking her help.

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.

An American Martyr

September 13, 2017

Saturday, September 23rd, a U.S. priest-martyr will be beatified in Oklahoma City, OK, the first so honored by the Church in our country. Fr. Stanley Rother was born in 1935 and grew up on an Oklahoma farm. He served in several Oklahoma parishes after his 1963 priestly ordination before volunteering for mission service in Guatemala in June of 1968. While there he helped build a small hospital, a school, and a Catholic radio station. He also translated the New Testament into Tz’utujil, a local language of that region.

Political turmoil and violence escalated Guatemala during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The government aimed to suppress Marxist revolution by targeting rebels and hundreds of their alleged sympathizers for death. In early 1981, Fr. Rother learned that his name was on a death list. It was determined that he should leave Guatemala and he reluctantly returned to Oklahoma in January 1981. However, he soon asked his archbishop for permission to go back: “My people need me. I can’t stay away from them any longer.” Fr. Rother’s brother Tom questioned him, “Why do you want to go back? They’re waiting on you and they’re gonna kill you.” He replied: “Well, a shepherd cannot run from his flock.” The pastor returned to his people that April.

On July 28, 1981, just after midnight, Fr. Rother was shot and killed in his rectory. His remains were flown back to Oklahoma and buried in his hometown. At the request of his Guatemalan parishioners, his heart was removed and buried under the altar of the church where he had served. He was one of ten Catholic priests murdered in Guatemala that year.

Last December, Pope Francis issued a decree affirming that Fr. Stanley Rother was indeed martyred in odium fidei (“in hatred of the faith,”) permitting him to be beatified without the usual confirming miracle. As St. Augustine once preached, “At the Lord’s table we do not commemorate martyrs in the same way that we do others who rest in peace so as to pray for them, but rather that they may pray for us that we may follow in their footsteps.” Let us ask the prayers of this new American blessed that we may be courageously faithful and loving like himself in Christ.

Mary, the New Ark of the Covenant

September 4, 2017

Did you ever see Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark? You may recall seeing the movie’s replica of the Ark of the Covenant featured as the McGuffin artifact everyone was seeking out. This movie has been very helpful to preachers in providing a visual aid to everyone of what the Ark of the Covenant looked like.

Like Noah’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant was a box constructed according to God’s design and command. It served as a portable throne bearing the presence of God on earth. The Ark held inside of it three important things: the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, the wooden staff of Moses’ brother Aaron the High Priest, and a gold jar containing some of the Manna God provided his people to eat in the desert. The reason I mention these things today is because the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament foreshadows the Blessed Virgin Mary in the New Testament.

The old Ark held the Ten Commandments, the word of God in stone; the Virgin Mary bears the Word of God in flesh. The old Ark held the priestly staff which on one occasion miraculously blossomed despite being dead; Mary conceives by the power of the Holy Spirit despite her perfect virginity. The old Ark contained Manna bread in a golden vessel; Mary’s holy womb contains the true Bread from Heaven, provided to us for our journey to Promised Land — Jesus Christ, our Prophet, Priest, and King.

At God’s command, the old Ark was made of natural wood overlaid with pure gold inside and out. Mary is a human woman who is made “full of grace.” King David once joyfully leaped and danced before the Ark of the Lord. At the Visitation, when Mary visits Elizabeth her relative, John the Baptist likewise leaps with joy within his mother’s womb. David once asked, “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” Elizabeth likewise asks, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” On one occasion, the old covenant ark was kept for three months in the house of a man named Obed-edom outside Jerusalem, and Scripture records that God blessed his whole household. Mary likewise dwelt three months in the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth near Jerusalem and was surely a blessing to them.

No man was to touch the Old Covenant Ark, lest they be struck down dead. (God instructed his ministers to move that holy Ark only by means of two gilded poles which slid through rings on the sides of the Ark.) Joseph of Nazareth held a similar reverence towards Mary, his ever-virgin wife. In the Old Testament, the Lord was to be found wherever the old Ark dwelt, from the Sinai wilderness to the Temple in Jerusalem. In the New Testament, “on entering the house, [the Magi] saw the child with Mary his mother,” and, “standing by the cross of Jesus [was] his mother.”

In the movie, Indiana Jones and the Nazis were looking for the “lost” Ark because Scripture reports that the Old Covenant Ark was hidden soon before the Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC. Jeremiah the Prophet took the Ark and placed it in a secret cave. Unlike in the 1981 movie, the Lost Ark has never been recovered. Yet, in his revelations recorded at the end of the New Testament, John the Apostle sees the new Ark revealed. John writes: “God’s temple in Heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.” The next thing John describes is a glorious woman pregnant with the Christ child, “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” This is Mary, the New Ark of the Covenant, whom at the end of her time on earth God lifted up body and soul into Heaven.

The old Ark was of central, though secondary, importance in the Old Covenant. Drawing physically nearer to it brought one closer to the presence of God on earth. Likewise, God gives the Blessed Virgin Mary, the new Ark, a central role in his New Covenant. If you draw closer in your relationship with her, you will surely draw closer to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Satanic Bicycling, Pagan Meats, and Yoga

August 10, 2017

Imagine if Satanists began ritually riding bicycles while chanting out to spirits other than God. (For them, this might symbolize rebellion against the three axles of the Godhead over whom they blasphemously enthrone themselves; stomping Christ underfoot while profaning the Trinity through the streets — or something like that.) Though silly to conceive, if Satanists actually began to do this, how would bicycling be affected?

First it should be noted that traditional cycling would remain what it is; its goodness as a healthy exercise and leisure activity would be unaffected. However, biking combined with false worship (whether done sincerely or ironically) would be harmful. If one of these satanic bicycling groups existed in our town, I would not ride with them. A Christian who silently biked along with the Satanists (to simply enjoy the ride) could be affected by the malevolent spirits invoked or cause scandal for others. I could still bike alone or with my friends, but we certainly would not voice unchristian chants while doing so. If I had formerly parked my bike by the church or rectory, I might begin placing it in a more private place, lest people be misled by misinterpreting my innocent behavior. This scenario is simply a thought experiment, but real Christians faced a comparable situation in the first century AD.

In the ancient Greco-Roman world, meats sold in marketplaces or served at restaurants had commonly been sacrificed to pagan gods. This gave rise to a debate within the church at Corinth, Greece about whether Christians could blamelessly eat such food or if this should be forbidden as second-hand idolatry.

St. Paul addressed this question in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians, first observing “there is no God but one… even though there are so-called gods” worshiped by the pagans. St. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, warned that “what [the pagans] sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to become participants with demons.” Christians were never to offer pagan worship, but this did not mean pagan meat itself could not be eaten by well-formed Christians: “Eat anything sold in the market, without raising questions on grounds of conscience, for ‘the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.’” But at the same time, a meat-eating Christian was to be careful not to cause scandal to others, leading them into actual idolatry. St. Paul wrote, “Make sure that this liberty of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. … If an unbeliever invites you and you want to go, eat whatever is placed before you, without raising questions on grounds of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This was offered in sacrifice,’ do not eat it on account of the one who called attention to it and on account of conscience; I mean not your own conscience, but the other’s.” That is how early Christianity handled the issue of meat sacrificed to idols. Today, we have a similar issue of live and local concern (which brings us to the ultimate purpose of this article.)

In our beginning, God created the human body, endowing it with sensation, flexibility, and strength. He designed every natural posture and movement and gave breathing and exercising their healthy and pleasurable effects. A long, long time after that, some of these bodily positions and exercises were appropriated by Hindus in India for the worship of their (so-called) gods and goddesses. In our time, this aspect of Eastern religion has entered into our culture as yoga. So, is it OK for Christians to practice yoga?

As with bike riding and meat eating, the unchristian use of good things does not taint them for everyone else forever after. Breathing and stretching are good gifts from God and, for some, yoga is simply exercise. Yet spiritual danger exists wherever and whenever these exercises are being joined to false spirituality or idolatrous worship.

I myself have participated in secular yoga workouts in the past. My exercise instructor was a faithful Christian and I enjoyed them. However, together with Catholic exorcists, I would never recommend attending a yoga group with non-Christian spirituality because of the real potential for spiritual harm and scandal. If a yoga class, for instance, chants mantras (like “om,” or the names of Hindu gods); envisions becoming one with the cosmos, Brahman, or the Earth Mother; channels energies; or has participants breathe in the pulsating universe while exhaling all bad and evil from within, then that yoga class is certainly of the second sort and to be avoided. If my instructor or peers were using yoga in a non-Christian spiritual way, I would avoid that gathering for the same reasons that I would not attend a pagan sacrifice or bike with Satanists: the prospect of causing scandal and the danger from evil spirits.

St. Paul once said we are to “retain what is good” but “refrain from every kind of evil.” That timeless wisdom applies to us in all things; to bicycling, to eating meat, and also to doing yoga.