Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A prayer to grow in the virtues: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, May 20th, 2013

           Few prayers are as powerful as the one uttered by the ill boy’s father—“I do believe, help my unbelief!  As daily Mass goers, we all believe in Christ.  As sinners, we each have areas of our faith lives that can use improving.
            To help in this quest, consider our rich tradition of focusing on growing in the virtues as Catholics.  We do so on the human level with the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.  On the spiritual level we strive to live out God’s gifts of faith, hope and love.
            Each of these virtues is a middle road of living well but has extremes.  For example, courage is needed for our lives, but the extremes of cowardice and rashness are inappropriate.  Likewise, love is essential, but indifference or hate must be avoided.
            While the virtues have extremes, they are never in excess.  We can never have too much faith.  We can never hope too much.  We can never overdo love. 
The father’s prayer suggests that we all need to grow in the virtues.  While we are on the road, we must pray likewise: “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.  Lord, I hope, but help my despair.  Lord, I love, but help my not loving.”

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Spirit is at work: Pentecost Sunday

            Happy feast of Pentecost to you all.  And indeed, we celebrate quite the feast today as we remember the fulfillment of Jesus’ promised gift of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the Church and the birth of the priesthood.
            The Holy Spirit is working overtime here at St. John’s and St. Joe’s.  In addition to our regular weekend Mass schedule, at which the Holy Spirit is always present, two children will be baptized this morning here at St. John’s—1st grader Ben and baby Brooklyn.  During the 9:00am Mass at St. Joe’s Fr. Rich will baptize, confirm and give first communion to Holly, a young adult of the parish.  And to top it all off, our eighteen juniors will be confirmed this afternoon at the Cathedral.  It is days like this I especially love being a priest.  I thank God every day for this, the most wonderful gift He has given me.
            As I come up on a year of priesthood (at which point Fr. Rich says I will no longer be a baby priest), my heart is filled with gratitude for you.  The faithful here have had a crucial role in my vocation to the priesthood.  You may not remember, but I worked here as a youth minister while I was in college.  Additionally, for four years I came up for a weekend a month as part of my seminary’s teaching parish program.  And here I am as a priest, still receiving your love and support in my vocation.
            I am grateful for your generosity towards me and my vocation.  Specifically I appreciate how well our parishes have supported the United Catholic Appeal fund in the past few years.  Fr. Rich mentioned that these are the only parishes he has served which met their goal every year, and for that I thank you.
            During my six years in seminary the Diocese of Duluth contributed $150,000-200,000 to my education and formation.  And there were five more priests ordained in my class.  And three more this year.  And two more the following year.  We are very blessed with these vocations in our diocese, but they come with a cost.  I am that cost!  Fr. Rich is probably preaching this lemon cost way too much.  But for better or worse, this is where your money was spent for the UCA fund and please keep being generous toward it. 
            Finally, I challenge you on this feast of Pentecost to be mindful of the workings of the Holy Spirit.  While many of us can easily imagine Jesus, and even the Father, it takes more work to picture the Holy Spirit.  Like the wind, the Holy Spirit can only be seen by His effects.  These effects are all around us, but we need to learn how to see them.  For instance, you are all at Mass this morning.  Whether it’s been a day, a week or a year, it was the Holy Spirit who prompted you to come.  Whenever you bow your head to pray, the Spirit was first tugging at your heart.  Whenever you act kindly, choose rightly or offer sacrifice, He has been visiting.  Every time you have a God-moment and get goosebumps from a sunset, baby or music, it is the Holy Spirit inspiring you in His truth, goodness and beauty.
            Mindful of the great gift of the Holy Spirit, we ask God to continue to send forth His Spirit and renew the face of the earth.

Thoughts on legalization of same-sex unions in MN: 5-19-13 Bulletin Article

            This week, the House of Representatives and Senate of the state of Minnesota passed a bill to legalize same-sex unions.  Our governor passed it into law.  Typical of our polarized society, I watched some who celebrated and others (myself included) who grieved this result.
            This vote is another result of moral relativism at work in our society.  This philosophy states, “If it’s true for you, it’s true.”  At a philosophical level this is easy enough to debunk—1+1 is always 2 (despite what children first think) and the earth is a sphere (contrary to what all of humanity believed for centuries).  There are facts and falsities in our world no matter what individuals or groups believe.
            It can be more difficult to see this philosophy when it comes to moral issues.  This is not to say the principles of reasoning change, but that our passions and emotions cloud our thinking.  On the one hand, God has consistently showed us in the scriptures and salvation history that sexual intimacy is to be reserved for marriage between a man and a woman.  On the other hand, most of us have a friend or relative, son or daughter has same sex attractions and we want what is best for them.  What gives?
            First, we love.  We support and encourage our friend, child or relative and act as Christ to them.  We remember that each of us carries a cross (we priests carry the cross of celibacy, you married couples carry the cross of fidelity) and we journey together on the path to God.
            Second, we make decisions based on what comes from above.  Kids eat their broccoli because their parents tell them to.  Basketball players stay inbounds because Mr. Naismith set up the game with boundaries.  Christians grow in virtue when their lives conform to living in union with God.
            God has given us a plan for marriage between one man and one woman.  It is a path towards human happiness and virtue that accounts for the physical and spiritual well-being of men, women and children.  Are there other plans for “marriage” in our society?  Certainly.  Infidelity, fornication, divorce, polygamy, “free love” and yes, same sex unions (each of which include freely consenting adults). 
            Rather than changing our law, we should be focused on introducing people to Jesus Christ.  Mom doesn’t feed Jimmy ice cream all day because he won’t eat his broccoli.  Mr. Naismith didn’t eliminate sidelines because players kept throwing the basketball out of bounds.  We shouldn’t accept the breakdown of marriage and family in our society either but turn to the One who makes all things new.
            We are one nation, under God.  It is time to stop making up our laws as our personal and societal opinions ebb and flow.  It is time to trust once more that God has our best interests in mind, even if this has a personal cost at the present.

Receiving forgiveness is easy: Daily Mass Homily--Friday, May 17th, 2013

            How sweet God’s love and mercy is.  Peter denied Jesus, his Lord and friend, three times.  Now Peter is given the chance to repent by three times affirming, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”
            Sometimes we may think to ourselves, “How easy repenting would have been if I were a disciple of Jesus.”  Actually, it is easier for us now.  Remember how many ways we can be forgiven of our sins.  In addition to saying sorry to God we believe that acts of service, prayer (especially the Our Father), fasting, almsgiving, attending Mass and receiving the Eucharist can all be opportunities for forgiveness.
            Praise God for the many ways in which he offers His mercy to us.  As we continue to celebrate Mass today we repent of our sins and affirm with Peter, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The resurrection allows us to trust the Church: Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, May 16th, 2013

            There are two essential facts in our readings this morning.  First, Jesus shows his desire for a unified Church: “I pray not only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”  Second, St. Paul refers to the resurrection of Christ, albeit in a shrewd way: “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees; I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead.”
            The resurrection is one of the foundations for Christianity that keeps us united together.  And it is no small belief.  We believe that God became a man.  Additionally, we believe that the God-man Jesus Christ rose from the dead.  Finally, we affirm that he returned to heaven from which he came.  These substantial truths take great faith to believe.
            Yet the sad reality is that division is present in our Church.  Look at the recent political situation regarding marriage in Minnesota.  I frequently observed Catholics publicly refuting Church teaching and supporting same-sex unions in our state in the name of Christ.  This confuses me, because many of these individuals believe in the incarnation, resurrection and ascension.  Yet if these eternal leaps are swallowed, can’t we trust in God’s infinite power to establish His Church?  Didn’t Jesus promise he would be with his Church until the end of time?  Isn’t Jesus capable of guiding morality even to this day?
            We pray for conversion in our society to conform to Christ and his Church.  We pray that the gifts of the incarnation, resurrection and ascension may draw all Catholics and Christians together to follow Christ’s teachings faithfully.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Society must be saved from above: Daily Mass Homily--Wednesday, May 15th, 2013 (Srs. of St. Scholastica)

            I want you to imagine a winter scenario.  This might not be the best idea as we are finally in spring, but please humor me. 
Every year in northern Minnesota something bad happens on ice-covered lakes.  Whether it’s a person or vehicle that falls in, or someone stranded on an iceberg in Lake Superior, someone every year finds themselves in trouble.  In such a situation, our natural reaction would be to run out and help.  Yet this is imprudent as more ice will inevitably break.  In the case of stranded fishermen on an iceberg in Lake Superior, help can only come from above in the form of the Coast Guard’s helicopter.
With respect to morality the United States has fallen through the ice.  At the human level, our first reaction is to use human means to help—changes in law, monetary benefits and other humanitarian programs.  Yet the fact is, our society can only be saved from above.  We need a helicopter and I see this rescuer as our Catholic faith.  The Church consistently provides guidance and grace from above to help save fallen humanity.  Ironically, this form of life support is belittled by our media and often rejected by our world.
Yet we shouldn’t be surprised by such rejection.  St. Paul encourages the priests in Ephesus by preaching, “Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, in which you tend the Church of God that he acquired with his own Blood.  I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock.  And from your own group, men will come forward perverting the truth to draw the disciples away after them.”  Jesus himself said, “I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.”
In dark times we thank God for the Church and we trust her teachings, leadership and guidance.  We pray for grace to live out our Catholic faith to the full to rescue, one by one, our family, friends and coworkers.  Like St. Paul and Jesus himself, we must strive to give aide from above to those who need it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

I have called you friends: Daily Mass Homily--Tuesday, May 14th, 2013 (Feast of St. Mathias)

           Our Gospel reading is my all time favorite passage of Scripture and it has played an important role in my priesthood.  This section was the culminating passage in my MAT thesis in seminary.  I put one of the verses—“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”—on the back of my holy card.  Finally, my parents had Jesus’ declaration “I have called you friends” etched on the bottom of the chalice they bought me.  
            This passage was selected for the feast of St. Mathias with a particular verse in mind—“You did not choose me, but I chose you.”  Mathias was chosen to replace Judas.  After prayer the apostles cast lots—a sign of God’s election—to appoint the twelfth apostle.
            Additionally, John 15 is saturated with meaning.  In it Jesus instructs us to love one another as he has loved us.  He also makes a monumental declaration: “I have called you friends.”  In the Old Testament, God’s people were usually called servants or slaves.  Jesus now calls us friends.  And this description does not refer to a duckies and bunnies, “Jesus is my buddy” sort of relationship.  He shows the ultimate form of friendship on the cross as he gave his life for his friends.
            Like St. Mathias, we did not first choose God, but God has chosen us.  We are called to love as he does and sacrifice ourselves for our friends.  We pray for the grace to do this in our lives.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Give your gifts back to God: Ascension Sunday (Baccalaureate Mass for the College of St. Scholastica)

           First, I wanted to let you know there will be no collection today.  I hope this makes you parents happy as you have given enough money to the college the last four years.
            Also, I have to admit I am a little terrified to be in front of you this morning.  The last time I was on this stage with a packed house was in the Mr. CSS pageant while I was a student here.  I lost.  To my best friend.  It has taken years of therapy and counseling to build up the courage to come back to the Mitchell Auditorium.
            Congratulations to our graduates.  Completing a four-year degree is no small task and we are all very proud of you for your discipline, perseverance and dedication to your education.  If you haven’t heard it before, welcome to the world.  Welcome to a life of no more finals’ weeks, papers and exams.  Welcome to a paycheck which is soon to come.
            You’ve probably heard a lot of graduation talk recently and you will continue to hear it today: “What’s next?”  “Go out and touch the world.”  “Make a difference.”  Today I would leave you with a different thought: why are you here?
            I mean this question on several levels.  First, why do you exist?  Why are you able to think, see and love?  Why do you have the gift of health?  Second, why did you spend four or more years at CSS?  What motivated you to go to college, study and receive a degree?  Finally, why are you at Mass this morning?  It is a busy day with a lot going on and you decided to come.  Why?
            I suggest there is at least one common answer to all of these questions: God has given you many gifts.  He has given you the gift of life.  He has given you cognitive and emotive abilities.  He has given you support from family, friends and teachers.  And above all He has given you the gift of faith.
            There is a basic principle in the Christian life—gifts from God must be given back to God.  Jesus Christ is the exemplary model of this interchange.  Jesus is the greatest gift our world has ever seen.  As God, he became man and spent thirty-three years on our planet, healing, forgiving and teaching a long the way.  Jesus gave us the gift of his own suffering and death in atonement of our sins.  Finally, Christ rose from the dead, giving us the gift of victory over sin and death.
            It is fitting that we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension as part of your graduation weekend.  Christ’s ascension is his victory lap of a mission accomplished.  Now he returns to the place from which he came—heaven.  God’s greatest gift returns to the Father.
            You are to take the gifts you have received in college—your education, leadership, friendships and most of all your faith—and give them back to God.  Today you are sent into the world to consecrate it for the Father.  Have you ever noticed that each Mass concludes with the word go?  Go in peace.  Go forth, glorifying the Lord by your life.  Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.  Today you are to go forth with God’s gifts and give them back to God.  In a moment you will receive a lamp from the Sisters of St. Scholastica as an image to remind you of this great call.
            Two thousand years ago a group of men and women—probably smaller in number than our crowd here at Mass—received the gift of watching Jesus teach, forgive, heal, die and rise.  They did not hold these gifts to themselves.  Thanks to giving their gifts back to God, we Christians are two billion strong around the world.
            Imagine where our world will be in two thousand years if each of us takes the gifts God has bestowed upon us and give them back to Him.

Saints are human: Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, May 9th, 2013

            When we look back at the lives of the saints, we might be tempted to think these men and women are sort of mini-gods.  We’ve been reading from Acts and following St. Paul—later in the book people kneel down to worship him.
            Yet the saints are indeed human and today we learn of some human traits of Paul.  First, he was a tentmaker.  He worked to earn his living and refused to use his credentials as an apostle to receive room and board.  Second, we see that Paul experienced anger.  He became so frustrated at the lack of faith of the Jews he turned to the gentiles.
            That was good news for us—none of us here have Jewish descent and would be considered gentiles, or unclean, by Jewish law.
            Saints are remarkably human but they live out God’s call in a radical way.  Thanks to men and women like St. Paul the ends of the earth have heard the Good News of Jesus Christ, and for that we should be thankful.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

May--the month for Mary: Daily Mass Homily--Wednesday, May 8th, 2013 (St. John's School Mass)

          The month of May is special in that we give this month to honor our Blessed Mother.  Remember, we do not worship Mary—this belongs to God alone—but we do ask her intercession as the only sinless disciple and Mother of God.
            Every day I carry a rosary in my pocket.  This is no ordinary rosary as it is my Grandma Betty’s which I received after her death.  The rosary offered a special connection between my Grandma and me.  When I was in Duluth for college Grandma and I would pray the Rosary together. 
            I want to share two stories from these times of prayer which happened at the end of her life.  First, I remember a day visiting her in the hospital.  She had just taken her medication and that knocked her out with pain and nausea.  Because she couldn’t speak I said the prayers of the Rosary while she followed on the beads.  Yet a small miracle occurred as we prayed—halfway through she began praying aloud in a clear voice.  Normally her medications would have kept her down for several hours, but this prayer gave her strength.
            Second, my friend and I prayed the Rosary together a couple days before my Grandma’s death.  At this point she couldn’t even finger along as it looked like she was sleeping.  She hadn’t talked or eaten in days and my buddy and I prayed by her side.  Half way through the light came on in her eyes, she lifted her head and said, “Jesus loves you.”  It was the last words she spoke and these words have inspired my faith and vocation to the priesthood.
            We come to Mary because Mary’s prayers work.  She points us to Jesus and as our loving Mother wants to help us along the way.
            Be sure during this month of May to ask our Mother for prayers.  Pick up the Rosary and try it out.  Honor her and watch God work wonders in your own life.

Use summer to grow in your faith: Daily Mass Homily--Tuesday, May 7th, 2013 (CSS)

          As this is our last Tuesday night Mass, I first want to thank you for your presence at our Tuesday night sacraments.  Your faith is an inspiration to me and to our college and I have looked forward to coming each week to pray and worship with you.  To you seniors I want to congratulate you on completing your college education and for making your belief in God the center of your lives.
            We hear the most basic foundation of our faith in the Acts of the Apostles: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved…”
            As you enter summer break—the best time of year during college—I challenge you to put the pedal to the metal with your faith.  Summer can be an amazingly fruitful time to grow in your relationship with the Lord, but it can also be easy to be lazy.  This is the time to grow in your belief in the Lord Jesus.
            This year you have come to Mass, confession and adoration.  Can you believe that you can find each of these on a daily basis in many Catholic churches?  When you have more free time this summer, make a commitment to get to Mass during the week.  When you fall, seek out confession.  Pick up a good spiritual book.  Try reading the Bible.  Take the discipline you have learned in your studies and apply them to studying the faith and growing closer to Christ.
            Know of my prayers that you will have a blessed summer.  Indeed, this is what I will be offering for tonight.  Wherever the summer takes you, take Christ with and grow in your faith during this awesome time of year.

God delights in you: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, May 6th, 2013

            My current favorite commercial is an advertisement for State Farm insurance.  In it, a young woman sang the State Farm jingle to see how much money she saved with their product.  The agent told her and with the money she saved she bought a purse.  A second woman sang the same melody for a generic insurance agent to appear.  He did—a sleezy looking old man with a fishing pole in hand.  On the hook was a dollar bill and he told her, “I found a dollar for you!”  When she reached up for it, he pulled the rod up and out of reach.
            Sometimes we think God is like this old man—keeping minimal gifts out of reach.  Actually, God is nothing like this.  In fact, this morning the psalmist sings, “The Lord delights in his people.”
            This delight is neither artificial nor contrived.  It is not something we earn, and we don’t have to be perfect to earn it.  As our loving Father he cares for us and takes pleasure in each of us for who we are in our desire to grow in holiness.  He wants us—not when we have figured everything out—but now.
            Don’t hesitate to come to the Father who delights in you.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Welcome to the Team: 6th Sunday of Easter

           One of the challenges of graduating college was no longer being on a sports team.  Since the time I was in elementary school I was on one team or another and for the first time I was not.
            In particular I found a particular bond between runners, especially at St. Scholastica.  We grew as a team as we hit the roads, pounded the hills and ran as a pack in our races.  I suppose it’s easy to gel when you’re all doing something everyone else thinks is torture.  Above all, we didn’t care what place we were on the team, so long as we pushed each other to be our best and improve our times.
            I have two fond memories from my times on the CSS cross-country team.  The first was as a freshman.  In one of my first collegiate workouts, we did mile repeats.  It’s a simple workout—you simply run a mile hard, take a quick break, and start up again.  It’s quite exhilarating.  On our final trek our top runner and captain paced me.  He could have beaten me by quite a bit, but held back to help me run my best.  He even let me take it first to the line and I was inspired by his leadership.
            Second, we even had a way to cheer each other on during races.  Now we couldn’t really speak—you don’t run to chat—but if a guy started falling back we raised our right hand and gestured him forward.  I can’t tell you how many times I was ready to fall over and wait for the ambulance when I saw a teammate’s hand shoot up to encourage me on.
            As a baby priest, the month of May seems to be one of the most fun of the year.  I have several Baptisms this month to welcome in the little ones to the Church, our Juniors will soon be confirmed, and our second graders will receive their first communion at our 10:30 Mass this weekend.  We are indeed adding to our Catholic team—our family.
            In so doing we see Jesus’ promise fulfilled: “I have told you this while I am with you.  The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”  This gift of the Spirit hovers over the waters of Baptism.  This same gift will bring our high school students to the fullness of the faith in Confirmation.  Likewise, the Spirit is present in the hearts of our children as they receive Christ’s Body and Blood for the first time this weekend.
            We give God thanks for the gift of the Spirit and as we do I ask that you pray for those to be baptized, confirmed and welcomed to the Eucharistic banquet at our parish.  Pray that we, and our newest members of our Catholic team, may bring many more to Jesus in the fullness of the Catholic faith.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Good to be Persecuted: Daily Mass Homily--Saturday, May 4th, 2013

            One of the ways we can be assured of Christ’s presence in the Church today is by the fact we are persecuted.  It isn’t a secret that secular media, politicians and our society can be critical of our faith.  This suggests we are following Christ and he gives us confidence in this regard: “‘No slave is greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.  If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 
            At times we can be whiners when we face societal pressures to bend or break from our beliefs.  Many complain that we are treated unfairly and that other denominations of Christianity or religions do not face the scrutiny we do.  Here we must quit whining and remember, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.”  In a sense it is good that we are persecuted, because that means we are being faithful to Jesus.
            We pray that we may have the grace to be strong in our faith in the midst of persecution.  It is our job to continue showing society a different way to live.  Keep following Christ, even when persecution comes.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Evangelize with Joy: Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

            As we continue walking through the Acts of the Apostles we see repeatedly how the early Christians evangelized.  Specifically we note how the Gospel spread to the Gentiles—those who were non-Jews and formerly considered unclean.
            Today we have a new sort of Gentiles—those who are not Christian or who do not practice their faith regularly.  We are called to witness in our lives and actions to these men and women.
            And one of the hallmarks of a good evangelizer is a characteristic emphasized by Jesus: “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.”  To spread the Gospel we must first be joyful for the Gospel.  Now I’m not talking about contrived flowers, duckies and bunnies.  Yet no matter what we face in life, the reality of Christ’s presence in our journey should keep us filled with joy.
And this is what makes our witness effective in the world.  People are not attracted by Debbie downers and humbugs and you will not spread the Good News if you are not joyful so doing.
This morning we ask for the grace to encourage the men and women in our lives to grow closer to Jesus.  And we ask for His gift of joy in our lives to more effectively help others.

Exitus, Reditus: Daily Mass Homily--Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

            Lost in the extraordinary events of Pope Benedict emeritus’ retirement and election of Pope Francis is that we are still in the Year of Faith.  This year was inaugurated by Benedict’s letter Porta Fidei—the door of faith—which was quoted in our first reading.
            The center of our faith is the Paschal Mystery—that dying equals rising.  Jesus fulfilled his own parable that, “…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  Jesus died so that we might have life.
            Another way to think about this is through a technical term—exitus, reditus.  Use that at a cocktail party!  The idea is that things come from God and return from God.  For instance, at Mass we take bread and wine—gifts from God—and offer them back to God as Jesus’ body and blood.  Additionally, Jesus, coming from God, returns to God after his death and resurrection.
            In this Year of Faith we must remember what our faith is all about.  We must take the gifts of our lives and give them back to God.  Tap into the graces of the Paschal Mystery and live these out in your own life to offer all that you have back to the Person who gave it to you.