Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Well congratulations to our 2nd graders on their first communion!
I see that our girls are wearing white dresses. Are you getting married today?! “No! These are first communion dresses!” Wow—I didn’t know there was a specific dress for first communion. I thought you were all getting married!
Tell me, why are you wearing white today? “They are for Jesus.” Yep, they are for Jesus, but I usually wear black and that is also for Jesus. So why are you wearing white? “White is for purity.” There you go…you are getting warmer. Tell me: you wore another white outfit a while ago…when was that? And I’ll give you a hint—it was when you were a baby. “Baptism!” Exactly. Each of us wore white when we were baptized as a symbol that we were purified by Jesus.
During school Mass I often quiz our students. Today I would first like to quiz our parents. Don’t worry, this is an easy one. You 2nd graders are seven or eight years old. So parents, what have been your favorite moments in the first seven or eight years of your child’s life? [Silence]. Well, I imagine their birth was pretty important! We just celebrated Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is coming soon. Thank you, Moms and Dads, for your openness to life.
So what have been the coolest moments of your son or daughters’ life so far? “Their first steps…” “Their first words…” “Baptism.” Great, but how about in their earthly life? “First day of school…” What about you hunters and fishermen? “First fish…” And I heard that one of our students recently got their first animal. N, what did you get? “A chipmunk!” [This marksmen got a chipmunk with a bow and arrow!]
Our parents and children have already experienced a number of moments—milestones—in their lives. Think about another one: learning to ride a bike. Imagine all the hard work biking with training wheels and the day on which these training wheels were taken off. Kids, here is a question: after you learned to ride a two-wheeler, did any of your parents put your bike away and tell you, “Now that you have learned that, we can put the bike away forever?” “No!” Well, what did they do with your bike? “We rode it!”
When a child learns to ride a bike, they don’t put the bike away as if they check it off a list. When you go to school on the first day, they don’t say, “Well, that’s done!” Whenever we achieve milestones in our lives, these are not meant to be put away, but to be lived out.
I don’t mean to be depressing on this joyous occasion of your first communion, but do you know what the saddest part of being a priest is? Seeing a child baptized and not seeing them again. Or witnessing someone receive first communion and not seeing them after. Or celebrating someone in high school being confirmed and that’s it.
When I look at our families who are celebrating first communion today I am impressed. You are no strangers to our parish and are faithful to coming to Mass each week. Fr. Rich noted this before Mass today: most of you are at Mass each week. I can’t thank you enough as this is a special blessing to have so many of you already living out your faith weekly. Know you are all most welcome here!
One more question—do you know what is as important as your first communion? This is a truly special day, but what is a day that is as important? Your second communion! And your third. And your fourth. And your fiftieth. And your one-thousandth.
Just as when we learn to ride a two-wheel bike and don’t put the bike away, so too we receive our first communion to receive our second. Your faith does not end today—it is a new beginning as you receive Jesus’ body and blood. Our first communicants more fully enter “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own…”
Our prayer for you today—that this first communion is not your last communion.
We continue to celebrate sacred Mass. Know how joyful we are that you join us in communion, and how much we want you to join us every week!
Thursday, May 15, 2014
We call God’s working throughout the course of time salvation history. There are a few succinct summaries of salvation history both in the Old and New Testaments and these were features of both Peter and Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel.
This morning we hear Paul’s version of God’s providence throughout time. Notice that Paul uses active verbs to describe God’s action: God “chose…exalted…led…provided…” These very words show that God is not a impersonal deity or fantasy, but a Person who enters into our own earthly timeline.
Paul reminds his audience that all of salvation history points to and is fulfilled by Jesus Christ: “From [David’s] descendants God, according to his promise, has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.” Jesus himself alludes to this fact: “From now on I am telling you before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that I AM.” (You didn’t see this, but the I AM I read was all in capital letters, signifying that Jesus used God’s own name).
What does this all mean for us? It means that we follow, not some pie in the sky thought or clever myth or snobbish god who cares nothing for creation. It means we have with us a loving and merciful Father who has providentially guided all of history. In the most powerful way, this means we worship Jesus Christ who became one of us—God truly entered into the world.
My we grow in love of our great God.
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
“When [Barnabas] arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith. And a large number of people was added to the Lord.”
Barnabas was a man of affirmation and encouragement. His very name means son of encouragement.
In light of his witness to quickly affirm, it is good to reflect on whether or not we encourage others in our lives. I know I need to continually work on this. In my heart and mind I am often grateful for what others do for me, but I must be conscientious in making these sentiments known explicitly.
When I prepare couples for marriage, I give them a book called The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. His theory is that each of us tend to show love and receive love in five different (though not exclusive) ways: physical touch, acts of service, giving gifts, quality time and words of affirmation. While this book is written specifically for couples, I recommend this book to everyone as it contains many good nuggets for any relationship. Chapman’s work only strengthens the need to be affirming in our lives. Each of us (whether or not our primary love language is affirmation) appreciates kind words.
Such words are a crucial part of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. Thanks to Barnabas’ loving appeal, “…a large number of people was added to the Lord.” In this spirit, I would like to thank you for your faithfulness to coming to Mass each day. It inspires me and makes my experience of celebrating Mass all the more.
May we, like St. Barnabas, be sons and daughters of encouragement.
Monday, May 12, 2014
The Good Shepherd, Mary and our grandparents: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, May 12th, 2014 (School Mass on Grandparents' Day)
Great job to our third and fourth grader who read this morning. Sorry, Kindergarteners [who helped at Mass this week], that was a tough reading for you!
We have a busy week coming up. What’s going on at St. John’s in the near future? “First Communion,” “Our play [first graders’ rendition of The Lion King],” “You’re leaving us.” Well I’m not leaving quite yet!
Something else is happening this week—we are welcoming two of my priest friends from Ghana Africa!
Do you want to know something cool about my friend, Fr. Albert? He was a shepherd! For the first twelve years of his life he didn’t even go to school—he took care of his family’s animals.
What sorts of things do you think he had to do? “Make sure the sheep were fed,” “Lead them on the right path,” “Keep them safe,” “Give them water.” You bet. You know, sheep are kind of dumb! They need someone to protect them, show them where to eat and drink and lead them along the way.
Sometimes we can be like sheep. That’s when Jesus, our Good Shepherd, makes sure to keep us on the right path, feed us, quench our thirst and protect us from danger.
Shifting gears a bit—who is on my chasuble? “Mary and Jesus!” Yep, and why am I wearing this vestment. Usually I wear it only on feasts for Mary. Any guesses? Here’s a hint—what month are we in? “May.” And May is the month for whom? “Mary.”
The cool thing is that without Mary we wouldn’t have Jesus. We wouldn’t have the Good Shepherd. Today we are honored to have in our presence your parents and grandparents—know you are always welcome here at St. John’s and what a pleasure it is to work with your children. Without your parents or grandparents, would you be here today? Nope!
We give God thanks and praise for giving us a Good Shepherd to lead us. We thank Him for Mary, Jesus’ Mother, who helped bring Jesus into the world. And we thank God for our parents and grandparents who did the same for us.
We continue to celebrate the glorious mystery of Easter throughout the Easter season. We know that Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection opened the doors to heaven for us all.
Yet have you ever wondered: was there another way God could have saved us? Flash back to Adam and Eve just after the first sin of humanity. Could God have “fixed” this problem in a different way? Some of the greatest philosophical and theological thinkers in our Church (St. Augustine, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas and others) have pondered this question.
For instance, could God have created us so that we would have never sinned? Sure, but this would have made us mere robots or computer programs (Aquinas didn’t know about these yet!) In being created in God’s image and likeness He gave us free will, meaning that we had the choice to love God or reject Him. By this very fact, God chose to create us with freedom, including the freedom to sin.
Could God, then, have simply forgiven Adam and Eve and restored everything back to normal? The aforementioned theologians discounted this theory because God has full knowledge (meaning he couldn’t simply forget something) and is just. Sin has consequences, and God would not (and did not) ignore this. After all, it wasn’t God who had sinned!
What about us? Is there anything Adam and Eve could have done to restore the breach? Well, no. There is nothing any of us can do to repair the damages we incur through sinning. Adam and Eve, then, created quite a predicament as man had to atone for sin, yet man did not have the power to do so.
The incarnation, according to our great thinkers, was the solution. Jesus, as truly God and truly man, assumed our human nature. As such he could offer atonement on behalf of his sinful brothers and sisters. And, as God, he had the eternal power necessary to atone for sin.
But where it really gets awesome is thinking how our redemption was won. The incarnation, on its own merits, would have been enough to save us. That eternal leap that Jesus Christ made—from the eternal Godhead to humanity—was sufficient to forgive all sin and make all things new. A drop of his blood would have been enough for us. Yet we know Jesus was scourged, mocked, carried a heavy cross and was crucified. St. Thomas Aquinas said it was fitting that Jesus Christ went through such an ordeal because it showed the depths of God’s love for us. It shows how far God is willing to go to win us back. It shows how much He wants us in His company, now and forever.
Our readings illustrate this eternal gift. Peter is quoted in the Acts of the Apostles: “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” and adds in his first letter: “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” In the Gospel, Jesus makes a promise and he backs this promise up not only through his incarnation but also by his death and resurrection: “I came so that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”
Throughout the past few weeks I have been asking our secretary Anny a question every day: “Any mail?” Specifically, I was referring to an expected letter from Bishop Sirba that would reveal my next assignment. I received it on Saturday [April 26th]!
I am truly honored that Bishop Sirba has appointed me the next pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas (International Falls) and St. Columban (Little Fork). I am humbled by his trust in me to be a pastor, and not only a pastor but a pastor with an elementary school.
I’m guessing your first question to me would be: “What was your reaction to this assignment? I-Falls…that’s a ways out there!” My answer in a word: PUMPED!
I love being a priest and I told Bishop Sirba to send me wherever he needs me. His assignment is God’s will for me, and there is no greater joy in my life than following this. No matter where priesthood takes me I have the joy of praying Mass, preaching, hearing Confessions, baptizing, anointing, witnessing marriages, presiding at funerals and striving to bring people into deeper relationship with God.
So on July 16th I will be moving to my next assignment in a beautiful corner of our Diocese. I will be following a great pastor (Fr. Kris McKuskey), joining an excellent staff and continuing to work in Catholic education, youth ministry and religious education. And I will finally bid adieu to Fr. Rich!
With all this said, it will be bittersweet moving on. I have spent many years at St. John’s and St. Joseph’s. I was a youth minister here in college, present often during college seminary, assigned to spend one weekend a month during my formation at St. Paul Seminary as my teaching parish and here two years as a priest. You have been instrumental in my formation as a priest and it will be difficult to say goodbye.
In a special way I want to thank our staff and faculty. I have learned so much about parish life, education, evangelism and day-to-day practicalities from our secretary (Anny) DREs (Kevin and Alisha) principal (Peggy) marketing (Kiersten) musician (Michele) custodians (Eric and Pete), all of our teachers (Sue, Amanda, Dawn, Leah, Kelly, Don, Tristy and Marge) and students. I am also grateful for the many active volunteers who make our programs here effective and you have all set the bar high for any assignment of mine in the future. Finally, thanks to all of you for welcoming me into your home and family for numerous meals and beers. Fellowship with you has been rejuvenating, inspiring and necessary in my life.
A big thanks to Fr. Rich who has gone from an inspiring priest in my faith to my vocation director and now pastor. It has been a joy working with you and I consider you a brother and friend and you have taught me more than any other priest how to be a pastor and evangelize others. I maintain that I will be the best associate pastor you will ever have.
If my ministry here has inspired you in to grow in our Catholic faith, praise God! If you are bummed to see me move, always remember that God is faithful and that always provides His love and mercy to His people. And if you are happy to see me go, you are in good hands with Fr. Rich!Please pray for me in this transition in my priesthood and life and know of my prayers for you. St. John’s and St. Joseph’s will always have a special place in my heart!
The World Needs More Saints!: College of St. Scholastica Baccalaureate Mass: Daily Mass Homily--Saturday, May 10th, 2014
First, a practical item. We decided that there will be no collection this morning at Mass. You students and parents have given CSS enough over the last four or more years. I hope you are okay with this decision!
I have been pleased with the latest advertisements for St. Scholastica I have seen around town: the world needs more saints. Props to the marketing people who came up with a catchy slogan that has depth.
On one level, you should be proud of your degree and the four or more years you invested into your education. You have been prepared in the classroom to make a difference in a school, hospital, business or other field. Please God, these places will all be better for hiring saints.
Yet listen to this slogan again through a spiritual lens: the world needs more saints.
What, exactly, is a saint? In our Christian tradition a saint may refer to individuals in two places. The first are those living today. In the New Testament—especially in the Acts of the Apostles and in the letters of St. Paul—a saint was another name for a Christian. They were men and women who followed Christ and were following his way. Today we speak of saintly people (Pope Francis for instance). Whether someone famous world-wide or a saintly person closer to home (a grandparent, sibling, friend, etc.) these men and women are different. They live for God, make good decisions and make us better being around them. The second way we use the word saint is to refer to anyone in heaven. Every person in heaven is a saint.
I realize the exams, papers and course work have been completed, but here is a fun fact for you. (Don’t worry, there won’t be a test on this after Mass). The Latin word for saint—sanctus—is the same word we also translate as holy.
Now here is a quiz. Are you holy? If you think you are holy, please raise your hand [a few hands are raised in the crowd]. It’s a good thing I’m not grading you! The fact is you are all holy! In the Scriptures the word holy means set apart for God. By simply coming to Mass this morning you are, at some level, set apart for God. You aren’t out fishing on the opener slaying the walleyes (which I think makes you even more holy!). You aren’t out at Perkins. You aren’t packing up. You are here with God at Mass, and that makes you holy.
The trick is, we all must strive to grow in holiness and let God set us apart even more. Whether our faith or prayer is something you think about often, daily, weekly, or hardly at all, God wants a relationship with you. He wants to show you His love and mercy that is without end and He will gently lead you into greater union with Him from wherever you are at.
When I attended college here I was always proud to put on my racing jersey for cross-country meets. The one word on the front: Saints. This jersey made me wish I had heard the conversations of coming up with a mascot for our college. How exactly do you find a mascot for a saint? Somewhere we came up with our beloved Storm…but remember we are not the St. Scholastica Saint Bernards. We are the St. Scholastica Saints!
Seeing you the past couple of years wearing saints apparel—sweatshirts, hats or sweats—makes me think: you are the mascots for our college. You are called to be a saint, both here and forever in heaven.
In his book East of Eden, John Steinbeck sets this mission forth in a profound way: “I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us…Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil…There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?”
My prayer for you on this, your graduation day, is that you will be a saint both here and in heaven forever. Indeed, the world needs more saints!
Thursday, May 8, 2014
Our first reading will always remain dear to our heart because my classmates and I picked it for our ordination to the diaconate. While a man is ordained a deacon into Christ’s service (this is what the Greek word diakonia means), two of his most important jobs are to baptize and to preach.
Philip—one of the original seven deacons—does both with the Ethiopian eunuch. “Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this Scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him…the eunuch said, ‘Look, there is water. What is to prevent my being baptized?’ Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water, and he baptized him.” To this day I cherish the gift of preaching and baptizing.
Since becoming a priest I have had the humbling gift each day of presiding at Mass. This connects what Jesus proclaimed—“I am the bread of life…and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”—with our own spiritual lives today.
In each role I serve I am humbly grateful.
Yet this gratitude extends beyond my own priestly ministry. I thank God for the many ordained men through which I was baptized, forgiven, fed, ordained and counseled. If it wasn’t for the priesthood we could not have the sacraments, and for that we should all be thankful.
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
In our daily Mass cycle of readings we are continuing with the story about Stephen.
Stephen was one of the first seven deacons of the Church. He was called in a special way to serve—this is what the Greek word diakonia actually means. This vocation was fostered by a practical need of the apostles. They had become so busy preaching the Gospel and breaking the bread that they were pressed for time and unable to work with the poor as they wanted. Through the inspiration of God, they raised up deacons to focus on this crucial ministry.
Such an idea—setting aside specific individuals for service in the world—was strongly emphasized by Vatican II. The mind of the Council has priests primary arena of work to be the Church. The mission for the laity—the world. My job is to help you in your faith. Your job is to transform the world.
St. Stephen models one of the most important features of our faith: forgiveness. While he was being stoned (and this wasn’t like kids throwing pebbles at each other…he was brutally killed by rocks and boulders) he prayed for his murderers: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
How often in our lives we fail to forgive. We hold onto anger and grudges. A small comment or a person who annoys us can lead to bitterness, judging, gossip and a hard heart. This is in direct opposition of our faith! When you are tempted to be unforgiving—which can be a natural reaction, especially when we are seriously wronged or hurt—remember St. Stephen who prayed as he was being murdered.
St. Paul gives wise advice when it comes to such anger: “do not let the sun go down on your anger…” I encourage you, do not let this school year end with anger. Is there someone you need to ask for forgiveness? Do you need to offer forgiveness? Have the courage to make peace before the year’s end—if not personally then at least with God.
Forgiveness is expected for Christians. In the early Church men and women stood out from the crowd precisely for forgiving their enemies—often while being tormented or martyred as St. Stephen was. This expectation is only raised by the fact that we receive the bread of life in our own bodies. Christ died to forgive us, and gives us his body and blood to give us the grace to be forgiving ourselves.
Forgiving others when we are wronged is evangelistic. I pray that you live with a forgiving heart, especially at the end of this school year.
Tuesday, May 6, 2014
St. Stephen gives a powerful example of both trust in Jesus and love of his neighbor throughout his persecution: “The members of the Sanhedrin all looked intently as Stephen, and his face appeared to them as the face of an angel.”
Think about the times you have been persecuted for your faith. I know when someone has attacked my beloved Church, my face looks like anything but an angel’s! Yet Stephen’s depth and intimacy with Christ flowed through his very facial expressions.
This serenity came because Stephen understood the big picture. He was madly in love with Jesus and knew that Jesus would always be there to protect him. He fulfilled the passage in Psalm 119: “Though princes sit plotting against me, your servant keeps pondering your will.” He also had a desire to share the love of Christ with others in order to bring many more souls to Christ. Later in this passage Stephen prays for the very ones who stone him: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
No matter what we face, our confidence in Christ and evangelistic spirit should make us look different. Our peace, joy, forgiveness and hope can be a witness for others to receive these same gifts from Christ.
Monday, May 5, 2014
In this passage from Luke—best known as the Walk to Emmaus—Jesus gives us the basic outline of the Mass. First, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.” Then, having been convinced to remain with Cleopas and his companion for dinner, Jesus “took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.”
Then Luke provides a powerful description: “With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.” At the exact moment of the breaking of the bread Jesus vanished—humanly. Yet with the eyes of faith the disciples recognized Jesus’ true presence in the Eucharist!
At Mass today, we experience the same gifts in the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Right now we are in the Liturgy of the Word with the readings and homily. My goal whenever I preach is to explain how the readings at Mass—from “Moses and all the prophets”—point to Jesus. And how awesome it is that in a few moments I will quote verbatim the description of Jesus’ breaking the bread and consecrate Jesus’ Body and Blood once more!
How do we respond to such gifts? Consider two succinct lines from St. Peter. In the Acts of the Apostles Peter assures his audience that “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses.” This shows we can be confident in the truth of our beliefs as they were passed down the centuries both orally and in written. It also suggests that those of us called to Christ ought to be witnesses to him as well.
A powerful insight into witnessing Christ in our lives comes in the second short line from St. Peter, this time from his first letter: “…conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning…” We have largely lost an attitude of reverence—respect of the sacred—in our society. Just look at prime time television or the news to think about how God and others are treated.
When I think of reverence, I first think of how we act toward God, especially in church. Reverence is why we should dress up for Mass. Parents—it is prom season and suits and dresses are being purchased left and right. Have you ever considered buying your son or daughter a special outfit for Sunday? Reverence is why we bless ourselves with holy water as we enter church, genuflect to the tabernacle before sitting down, shut off our cell phones, spit out our gum and show respect to God.
Yet reverence—the recognition and respect for the sacred—is not limited to church. We are called to revere one another, because each of us has inherent dignity having been made in the image and likeness of God. Do you revere your spouse? Children? Coworkers? People you can’t stand to be around? Do you look past any conflict or hurt to recognize God’s presence dwells within this person too?
We should also foster reverence for God’s creation. Some of the great mystics could see a tree and contemplate God. (To be clear, God is neither in the tree nor is the tree part of God). They could do so because they immediately recognized the hand of the Creator in all of creation. Everything in the natural world, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant, reveals God’s glory in creation. We owe this creation a sense of reverence.
Finally, we should also revere stuff. (Our society errs here in that it passes from reverence to worship of material things). My Dad was diligent about taking care of his possessions—house, vehicle, equipment, etc. In so doing he saw them as gifts that were to be cared for. He tried to instill such care in me, but I confess I have a ways to go to properly clean and maintain these gifts in my own life!
I saw a great example of this attitude just yesterday. My friends from Ghana are both in Minnesota now (more info on that later), and I drove Fr. Robert to a diaconate ordination. On the way we picked up some delicious McDonald’s breakfast. As Fr. Robert cleaned up the garbage after the meal, he asked where I wanted the napkins. I said, “Just put them in the bag and I’ll throw it away later.” His response: “Ben, you can use these.” Where I saw a piece of trash, Fr. Robert saw a gift that still could be used.
When we cultivate reverence in our irreverent world, we more fully witness to Jesus Christ. Please, God, people will notice that we are different and be inspired to share in a reverent way of life.
The reasoning of Gamaliel can give us confidence in the Catholic Church today. He advised the Sanhedrin that they should be careful about attacking the work of the apostles. After noting other failed movements, he explicitly said, “So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”
Look at how much our Church has survived in nearly 2000 years. The early Church faced persecution, torture and execution. A number of heresies have threatened to break us apart, especially Gnosticism (in the second and third centuries in which Jesus’ humanness was rejected), Arianism (in the fourth century in which Jesus’ divinity was rejected and which Athanasius condemned), beliefs that Mary was not the Mother of God (in the eight century) and more. We have been through the schism between east and west, Protestant Reformation, Enlightenment and Modernism. Today we face the tyrannies of relativism, apathy, materialism and hedonism.
Yet the Catholic Church is still here. How could this be, save from God? This simple fact, that we are around 2000 years after Jesus, is (to me) one of the greatest indicators that we are continually led by Jesus Christ.
May we continue to pray with the Psalmist: “One thing I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord…” and remain in God’s house on earth.