Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Response to Minnesota High School League Transgender Student Policy

In the near future, the Minnesota State High School League will discuss additions to the student policies for high school athletes in the state of Minnesota.  Sadly, the major proposal in play deals with conforming high school venues (competitions, locker rooms, bathrooms, etc.) to transgender student athletes.  Below is a letter I wrote to Dave Stead, the executive director of the Minnesota State High School League:

I write this a former three-sport athlete who participated in Minnesota High School athletics from 1997-2002.  I also write as a Roman Catholic priest as I am currently serving as a pastor in International Falls and Littlefork, Minnesota and I still compete in marathons, road races and triathlons today.

In many ways, I attribute my faith and vocation to the priesthood through my experiences in athletics.  As a son of health and physical education teachers, and as a son of a basketball coach, athletics has been part of my life since I was a kid.  It was through running, track and field and basketball that I learned teamwork, discipline, setting and achieving goals and the healthy atmosphere of competition.  I firmly believe athletics and following Jesus are perfectly compatible.

I am disappointed in the proposed addition to the MSHSL Student Policy.  In writing this, I am in no way condemning transgender students.  I believe we are to work with any student in a spirit of love and openness and any forms of bullying or acts of bigotry are to be avoided at all costs.

However, I believe these additions will be harmful to athletic competition and the reputation of the MSHSL in several ways.

First, I have concerns about the rights of students who would disagree with lifestyle choices made by a transgender student.  While such a student can make such a choice in our country, this choice should not impinge on the right to privacy in locker rooms or bathrooms of other students.  The practical conclusions of such additions should be considered--will all students be comfortable changing, showering or using the bathroom with a transgender student?  Should they be?  (I think not).  Will their fundamental rights to religion be impeded by such additions?

Second, the very choice to proceed in a sex-change is controversial and most religious organizations (including the Catholic Church) do not support them.  The proposed adaptations to the student policies would go above and beyond the Minnesota State High School League's legal obligations to students in the state of Minnesota.  In so doing, they would impinge on the religious freedom of schools participating in MSHSL competition.  They would pressure students, teachers and schools to conform to situations in which society has no right to dictate.  The last entity--schools--is of special concern to me as I am a pastor of an elementary school.  

Third, athletics has always been a refuge to me from our polarized political culture.  Sports gives me an avenue to relax (when viewing) and compete in a healthy atmosphere.  I have noticed that sports outlets--especially ESPN--have become increasingly political and that saddens me.  Sports are meant to foster unity as they connect athletes from diverse cultural, economic, political and religious backgrounds.  I do not want to see the MSHSL enter into political discussions or be bullied by special interest groups that do not account for the rights of all students, especially those who hold religious convictions.

This is all to write that I respectfully disagree with the proposed MSHSL Transgender Student Policy.  I do not envy you or other members of the board who have been forced to address this question so publicly and will be keeping the proceedings in prayer.  Know that you have many clear-thinking supporters who understand the difference between disagreeing with a choice yet being open to loving everyone.  If the MSHSL was to reject these proposed changes, it would in no way reflect poorly on their support of high school athletes.  On the contrary, I would see this as a sign you are doing just that--supporting all high school athletes.

Fr. Ben Hadrich
Pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Columban Catholic Parishes
810 5th St.
International Falls, MN 56649

The intellectual and irascible saint: Daily Mass Homily--O_26th_T (St. Jerome)

            St. Jerome is one of my top ten favorite saints.  As a bishop and doctor of the Church, Jerome was the most brilliant scripture scholar we have ever seen.
            In the course of studying the Bible, a good question to follow is how texts written in Hebrew and Greek eventually got into English.  Jerome had a critical role in this process as he translated the entire Bible into Latin.  This is now known as the Vulgate translation of the Bible.  As Latin was the language of the Roman Empire, this translation impacted the future accessibility and study of the Bible.
            Another amazing accomplishment from St. Jerome is his comparative texts.  He eventually translated and transcribed a text that compared the Hebrew, Greek and Latin side by side!
            Jerome didn’t just study the Bible.  He prayed with the Scriptures and preached about their importance.  His most well known quote captures his mission: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”  He maintained that to know Jesus, we must know the Bible!  He also compared the words of Scripture to the Body of Christ.  He said that, just as the priest is careful with the Eucharist not to drop a single crumb, so too we must listen attentively at Mass to the readings to prevent a single word from falling to the ground.
            Jerome had a unique personality.  Often we think of the saints as gentle and charming individuals.  Jerome was anything but and is known as the irascible saint.  His brash personality was constantly on display in his interactions with Christians and non-Christians and permeated his preaching.  We see in Jerome how God can use us as we are, and that there is no mold for sainthood.
            Finally, Jerome strove for virtue through an ascetical life.  He was frequently tempted to fall to lust, and to combat this he learned Hebrew!
            Through the intercession of St. Jerome, may the Word of God set our hearts on fire!
            St. Jerome, pray for us!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Some thoughts on angels: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, September 29th, 2014 (Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael)

            On this feast of the archangels, I simply want to share some facts about our spiritual guardians.  Much of what I am about to share comes from our patron—St. Thomas Aquinas—who was dubbed the Angelic Doctor based on his writings about angels.
            First, angels are real.  Aquinas made sense of the existence of angels by looking to nature.  He saw a hierarchy of being and life, culminating with embodied spirits—us.  He recognized that we share both in the animal world and spiritual world.  Those creatures without rational capabilities remain only in the animal world.  Angels—pure spirits—highlight the other end of the spectrum of life.
            Second, angels are not cute!  Hallmark and cartoons have emasculated angels as these adorable winged creatures that sit on one’s shoulder.  Yet Scripture attests to something very different.  Almost without exception, every time Scripture records an angelic visit, the person is terrified and often begins to fall down in worship.  Angels are powerful—much more than we are—and capable of protecting us from danger both spiritual and physical.
            Third, there are a multitude of angels.  We each have a guardian angel appointed to protect us in life.  Yet despite this multiplicity, every angel is more different than each other than I am to a dog!  Since an angel has no body, their categories of “species” is unique to each one!
            The archangels, one of the choirs of the angelic realm, were given great duties in salvation history.  Raphael, Michael and Gabriel had special tasks given to them, and for this reason we ask for their prayers today on their feast day.  These angels are three of many that really exist in power, in multitude and in a unique relationship to God.  May they keep us safe and ever pray for us!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Annual School Marathon: Parish Bulletin--9-28-14

           I have been truly inspired by your generous response in supporting our school.  Through your gifts, prayers and openness to new ideas, we have forty children who are now attending St. Thomas Aquinas.  Our preschool enrollment sits at fifteen and K-4 at twenty-five.  Thank you so much for helping start the year with a bang!
            As we discern creative ways to raise funds for our school, I have consistently told those responsible that we need to work smarter, not harder.  My goal is to streamline our fundraising efforts to focus on our major events throughout the year.  The more people we get involved, the better to get the most bang for our buck.
            Our first major event of the school year is our annual marathon.  This year will feature some new additions as we will be doing our walk on a Friday afternoon (4:00pm on October 3rd).  The route will also change in order to walk by Falls High School, football field and track.  Matching shirts will be a witness to the community of our presence and joy.
            Our vision is to complement homecoming at Falls High School.  We will be having a tailgate party in our parking late prior to the football game as our Broncos take on the Hibbing Bluestreaks at 7:00pm.  Posters and markers will be available to make signs to support our athletes and every St. Thomas Aquinas student who participates in our walk will receive a complementary ticket to the game. 
We would like to invite any and all St. Thomas Aquinas alumni to participate in this homecoming of our own.  Please get the word out!
Finally, I also changed our fundraising goal.  Previously this goal has been between $11,000-12,000.  I upped this to $15,000 and am confident that with your support we will reach this!  As an added incentive to you and the kids, I will have my head shaved during a school day if this goal is reached.  I don’t mean buzzed—shaving cream and a razor will be involved to go all the way.  Dawn Flesland, our principal, said that she would have her head shaved if we get $30,000!  (Though she also said she would ensure that $29,900 would be the max we could receive!  Hahaha!)
I am looking forward to a great evening to encourage school spirit, be present in our community and support our fellow students at Falls High School.  See Mrs. Flesland’s insert for more information and mark your calendars for a fun family evening!

The mystery of God and our response: 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

            One of the greatest truths of our faith of God is a mystery.  Our belief in God features an interesting paradox—that God is both utterly transcendent but ever present and accessible at the same time.
            Remember that God created everything out of nothing.  As the school year has started, I have introduced the candy basket to motivate our students to learn our faith.  The kindergarten through fourth grade classes can memorize a verse from the Bible to earn a piece of candy.  But the preschoolers simply have to tell me something about God.  Without exception, the little ones have alluded to God’s creation.  God made cars.  God made trees.  God made my puppy.  God made us.  It is wise to take seriously this childlike faith in God.  Indeed, God made all of the above.  He made the stars, sun and planets.  He created life and made everything we see in nature.  He made us.
            Yet that wasn’t enough for God and He sent us His son.  Jesus, “…though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness.”  If we were to make a spectrum of all that lives, we humans would fall infinitely closer to the worms and mosquitoes than God.  God is eternal, all-powerful and all knowledgeable.  Yet He became one of us!
            Yet that wasn’t enough.  God’s son “…humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  It wasn’t enough for Jesus to become a man—he suffered, was tortured and died for us.
            Yet that wasn’t enough.  Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend…”  Jesus rose again!
            Yet that still wasn’t enough.  Jesus gave—and continues to give—his very body and blood in the Eucharist.  And how does he give this?  By turning bread and wine—the most common food and drink—into himself.  How much simpler could God be present to us than what looks like a small wafer of bread and simple chalice of wine?
            Since the beginning of time, there has been a marvelous exchange between God and us.  In Catholic theology this is called in Latin exitus reditus.  (Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz later!)  Exitus refers to the gifts that come from God—creation, life, love and mercy.  Reditus refers to how we respond back to God. 
This is what Mass is all about!  When we present the collection, bread and wine, we symbolically remember everything God has given us.  We present it to Him and, through the prayers and actions of the priest, it is transformed into Jesus’ body and blood.
Our first reading and Gospel make it clear that our fundamental response to God is a simple choice—for God or for something else.  Ezekiel puts it bluntly: “When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die.  But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, he does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life…”
How will you respond to God this week?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Visions Article: You are Welcome Here!

Another submission to our parish newsletter Visions, this time welcoming our parishioners to participate in the sacramental life of the Church.

Dear Parishioners of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church,

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:3-6).

I write to you with a heart of joy having spent over two months in this new assignment as your pastor.  It is a privilege and an honor to serve you!  I am grateful for your warm welcome and am inspired by the fidelity and dedication of so many at our parish.  Indeed, this is OUR parish, not mine.  I thank God for the numerous generations of parishioners who, through God’s grace and their generosity, have provided for such a beautiful Church and community.  I thank God for blessing us with a wonderful staff, faculty and leaders of organizations/communities to bring life in serving God and our neighbor.
As I shared at the first Masses I celebrated here, my number one goal as a priest is to journey with you to Jesus Christ.  I believe with all my heart that God wants each of us to receive His love and mercy every day and to grow in a relationship with Him.  I also believe that God has given us a Church in which to experience this love in tangible and concrete ways.  There is no way I would be a celibate priest if I did not firmly trust in the Church Christ established and continues to guide today!

In a special way, I want you to know you are most welcome to join in the sacramental life in which we celebrate.  If I could wish for anything in the world, it would be that all parishioners would come to Mass every week and Confession regularly.  Whether it has been a week since you last came to Mass, or thirty years, know of my personal invitation to join in our parish family at the Eucharist.  (If attending weekly Mass is a challenge or not possible due to illness or age, please call our office so that we can bring you the sacraments!)  Whether it has been a couple of days or decades since your last Confession, I invite you to experience again the mercy God bestows in the absolution of your sins.

It is my hope to continue building on an excellent foundation here.  Specifically, I want to be a catalyst of joy to the Good News of Jesus Christ.  I hope to foster gratitude and generosity in response to all of God’s gifts.  In the United States of America, we often take these for granted though they are desperately needed for some here and around the world.  Please join me in prayer that we may be faithful to God Who is always faithful to us. 

Know of my daily prayers for you all.  If I, or our parish family, can be of any assistance to you, do not hesitate to call!

May God, who has begun the good work in us, bring it to fulfillment!

God Bless,

Fr. Ben Hadrich 

Visions Article--Eucharistic Adoration

Below is an article I submitted to the St. Thomas Aquinas parish newsletter Visions about Eucharistic Adoration.

           One of the features of our faith life at St. Thomas Aquinas of which I am most proud is Eucharistic Adoration.  We have adorers of our Lord who spend one hour with him in prayer from 12:00pm-10:00pm Monday through Friday.
            Holy Mass is our highest form of prayer—the source and summit of our lives.  Eucharistic Adoration allows us to continue to pray before Jesus Christ himself in the Eucharist.  The magi once stated, “We have come to give [Jesus Christ] homage” (Matthew 2:2).  What the wise men from the East did for the baby Jesus nearly 2,000 years ago, we can do anytime today!
            We believe Jesus gives us his Body and Blood under the forms of bread and wine.  This is no mere symbol but a real presence of the glorified Christ.  Because of this it is virtuous to worship and pray before Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist.
            A beautiful prayer tradition in our faith has been to make a holy hour before the Lord.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus challenged his disciples: “Could you not watch one hour with me?  Watch and pray that you do not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:40-41).  In the United States of America, Archbishop Fulton Sheen encouraged the practice of the holy hour.  He stated, “The purpose of the Holy Hour is to encourage deep personal encounter with Christ.  The holy and glorious God is constantly inviting us to come to Him, to hold converse with Him, to ask for such things as we need and to experience what a blessing there is in fellowship with Him” (Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Archbishop Fulton Sheen).
            I have experienced the graces of the holy hour firsthand.  Praying before the Blessed Sacrament helped me grow in a personal encounter with Christ and led me to discern a call to the priesthood.  As your Pastor I strive to make a holy hour everyday to intercede for you and grow closer to the Lord. 
Could you commit to a weekly holy hour in our Adoration chapel?  If so, or if you are interested in more information about Eucharistic Adoration, please call Carolyn Youso at 283-3769.  Adorers are always needed and appreciated to keep our Lord company.
Thank you to everyone who makes Eucharistic Adoration so readily available in our parishes.  Take advantage of this great gift!
God Bless!

What's the point?: Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, September 25th, 2014

            Our first reading comes from a fascinating book of the Bible—Ecclesiastes.  We heard the basic refrain from this text this morning: “Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities!  All things are vanity!”  Ecclesiastes would be a good reading when we have a case of the Mondays as it basically asks the question, “What is the point?!”
            The author seeks fulfillment in a variety of ways—money, power, pleasure and wisdom.  Yet in each case he is left feeling empty and exclaims, “Vanity of vanities!”
            In his book You Can Understand the Bible Peter Kreeft (whose books I highly recommend to learn more about our faith), explains that Ecclesiastes asks the question that the rest of the Bible answers. 
            There is a point to our existence.  We are called to know, love and serve the Lord.  While God wants us to experience peace and contentment, each of us feels a longing that no earthly experience can fulfill.  Even in our faith, the graces we receive are signs that there is something more.
            The author of Ecclesiastes didn’t know the reality of heaven.  There is more to this life!  May we seek the peace only Christ can give and trust that while everything earthly is vain, God’s grace gives our life meaning now and for all eternity.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Jesus vs. superheroes: Daily Mass Homily--Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 (School Mass)

            Who is your favorite superhero and why?  God.  Guess you can’t beat God!  Who else?  Jesus and God.  Alright.  How about someone from a comic book or movie?  Supergirl!  And what superpowers does Supergirl have?  She’s pretty.  Really?  That’s what makes her a superhero?  Spiderman!  And why do you like Spiderman?  He’s funny.  I’m funny, but does that make me a superhero?!  Anyone else?  Wolverine.  He has claws coming out of his hands. 
            Many people are drawn to superheroes because they have powers that we don’t—they can fly, have cool cars or superhuman strength.
            So tell me, what is the difference between superheroes and Jesus?  Both Jesus and his followers did incredible things—they cured the sick, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, got rid of demons and raised people from the dead!  How is this different than superheroes?  Jesus is real and supheroes are not.  Exactly!  Superheroes are imaginary.  I hope I am not bursting any bubbles here, but Superheroes never actually lived.  Jesus did.  The miracles done by Christ and his followers really happened!
            Did you know you have power from Jesus Christ?  You are strengthened by the Holy Spirit to do some amazing things.
            I would like to share a story about a second or third grade girl from Wichita, Kansas.  She went on a fun church retreat and was excited to come to church the following Sunday.  On Sunday morning she got ready, knocked on her parents bedroom door but was told she should go back to bed.  She did so disappointedly.  The next week she did the same.  Her parents again told her they wouldn’t be going to church.  Now this girl was clever.  She asked her parents if she could bike to church.  They said no.  Then she pointed out that the playground was further away than the church but she regularly biked to the playground!  Her parents couldn’t argue with her, and this young girl biked to Mass.  What a precious sight—a child riding a pink Barbie bike, bringing herself to see Jesus at church!  Do you know what happened next week?  She went to her parents room and they were already up, dressed for church.
            In my time as a priest I have met several families whose children brought them back to Christ and his Church.  You can help your parents grow in the faith!  If they are not taking you to Mass (or another church) every week, ask them to!
            As we follow Jesus Christ, may we be good examples of his power in our lives, especially in our families.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Some thoughts on the readings from literary methods: Daily Mass Homily--Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

            I would like to make a few points this morning regarding our readings from a literary perspective.
            Did you notice that the first reading and Responsorial Psalm had a similar rhythm to them?  In the section we heard from Proverbs, each verse was one sentence long.  The first half made a statement, and the second half either strengthened or opposed the first.  This was a specific literary (which in Biblical scholarship is broken down into different categories) device found in Wisdom Literature to teach effectively.
            Psalm 119 featured a similar structure.  Every verse (save two) in Psalm 119 features a synonym for law and follows a similar one sentence in two-part structure.
            I mention this because Jesus taught us that, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”  While it is important to interpret the Bible first as it stands (the literal level of interpretation) the more we learn about the background of the text—the time it was written, the original audience and its society/cultural and literary devices—the deeper understanding we can have.
            Our readings this morning included three different types of literature—proverbs, poetry and narrative.  In conveying His Word, God used these and many more to speak to us in the Scriptures.  The more we can learn about these methods, the more we can grow in our knowledge and love of the Bible. 
            It is for this reason that I am excited to begin our Bible study this evening.  I hope you can make it and, please God, through this study I hope all who come will grow in their love and knowledge of the Bible.

Monday, September 22, 2014

St. John Paul II's inspiration for my priesthood: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, September 22nd

            In 2002 I went to World Youth Day in Toronto, Canada to be with thousands of other Catholics and John Paul II.  The theme was “You are the light of the world…you are the salt of the earth”—a similar theme as our Gospel this morning.  In it we learned what it meant to be light in a world of darkness and salt in bland worldly societies.
            A powerful moment of World Youth Day came on the day JPII arrived.  My buddies and I got up at 5:00am and arrived at the venue at 8:00am to get a good spot.  We waited for nine hours right next to the road where he would pass.  When he did it was as if a force traveled with the Pope.  Everyone in his path was touched by the Holy Spirit with laughter or tears.  He looked right at our group and waved!
            I consider St. John Paul II one of my heroes and mentors in my priesthood.  Especially as a new pastor, I have noticed three qualities I want to emulate which have been inspired by JPII.  First, he loved being with people.  I find the greatest joys of priesthood is when I am with you—at Church, in your homes, teaching the faith and helping prepare for baptisms, weddings and funerals.
            I hope to follow John Paul II’s great witness of hope.  No matter what challenges we face at our parishes, God is real, Jesus came and the battle was won on the cross. 
            Finally, John Paul II never settled for mediocrity.  Our Church in the USA often finds herself hunkered down and in a defensive mode against the world.  Forget that!  We need to go on the offensive, making disciples and inviting those to join us.  We have the best family in the world that is filled with the Holy Spirit.  It is not enough to say, “We’ve never done this before,” or, “That won’t work.”  Pope Francis has challenged us to cause a ruckus for our faith and I will not settle for mediocrity here.
            May we, too, grow in our relationships with our family, living out the virtue of hope and leaving any sense of mediocrity for excellence.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Invitation to RCIA: Parish Bulletin--September 21st, 2014

           The Catholic Church is one of the greatest gifts God has given us.  Jesus Christ established this Church nearly 2,000 years ago and it is 1.2 BILLION members strong today.  Since then, no other institution or organization has fed, educated, cured, cared or ministered to more people as we serve God and neighbor. 
My life has been so enriched by our Catholic faith that I discerned God calling me to become a priest for His people.  I love being healed and fed in the sacraments, reading the stories in the Bible, studying the dignity of the human person in the context of morality, working with the poor and entering into fruitful dialogue with fellow believers.  Being Catholic is awesome!
Are you or a loved one interested in becoming Catholic?  If so, I encourage you and invite you to check out the formal welcoming process into the Church—the Right of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA).
            RCIA is an ancient tradition in the Church in which a person is introduced and exposed to the richness of our prayer, history, worship, beliefs and morality.  It is a process where you will grow in faith and wisdom on the path to full communion with the Catholic Church.  It culminates on the greatest feast of the year—the Easter Vigil—in which Baptism (if necessary), Confirmation and first Communion take place.
            Anyone not already baptized (in any Christian denomination) or not already confirmed Catholic is a candidate for RCIA.  If this is you, why wait any longer to join the largest family in the world?
We will be starting RCIA early this fall, so please let Pat Bjorum or me know if you would like to become Catholic.  I have spoken to several of you who are already interested in RCIA and look forward to walking with you all!
            God bless!

Needs vs. wants: 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

            I grew up with two younger brothers.  School came fairly easy for me and the middle child.  Coupled with hard work we were able to achieve pretty good grades throughout our education.  My youngest brother had a more difficult time with traditional education.  As a more abstract random thinker, books were not his forte growing up.  He struggled to get Bs and Cs and while his two older brothers regularly brought home As when report cards came out.  Nevertheless, it was the youngest child who received the most encouragement and rewards from my parents for the lower grades he got.  I remember the second born once saying, “I should fail some classes so I will be appreciated when I bring home all As!”
            Jesus told a parable that frustrates a conventional life must be fair mentality.  After working all day in the vineyard, the workers grumbled against the landowner—even though they already agreed on their daily wage—because the last to show up were paid the same daily wage.
            Their major flaw was in a sense of entitlement—if those who worked one hour received a full day’s pay, they thought they deserved more than a fair wage which they had already agreed upon. 
            I think the sense of entitlement is one of the greatest flaws present in the United States of America.  This mentality doesn’t begin in a bad way—indeed, our country has been built on a hard work ethic to achieve the American dream of success.  It is noble to study and work hard, to enter a career to support yourself and your family.  Yet our society leads us to think, “I deserve this money, home, brand new car because I earned it.”  As Christians, we believe that we deserve nothing because everything—including our very lives and health—is a gift from God.
            To use a practical example to illustrate this point I want you to know the compensation I receive as a priest versus that of my priest friends in Ghana, Africa.  I have a base salary of around $26,000 plus Mass stipends and other financial gifts I am given through your generosity.  I have free housing and groceries as well as medical and dental coverage.  Thank you for all of this!  Do you know how much my brothers in Ghana are given?  Forty dollars a month.  Forty bucks a month after receiving the same training and doing the same job—one could argue a more difficult job—than me.
            This is simply not fair.
            When I am reminded of these realities, I get uncomfortable.  I am by no means rich, though I am blessed to live a comfortable life and pursue a variety of hobbies.  I find myself using money on items that would be considered luxurious in other parts of the world—hunting and fishing, running shoes, meals out, etc.  Yet I often wonder what the twenty dollars I just spent on a meal out could go to feed a family elsewhere.
We must fight against the spirit of entitlement.  We must actively and diligently break free from a society in which having every new form of technology, new vehicle, extravagant getaways or other forms of excess are thought to be deserved.  This is especially so when one third of the world is hungry right now.
I hope these thoughts make you a bit uncomfortable.  No matter what your income status or current level of generosity is—and I would remiss to say I am inspired in the ways you give already—we could always give more.  Wrestling with these ideas is a sign of reflective living and is the first step to following Christ’s call.
A basic question help discern how to use the gifts you have been given is, what are your needs versus what your my wants?  Personally speaking I want a new F150 someday.  I need transportation—which I already have.  I want a fancy steak dinner out.  I need food—which I already have. 
Now I am not saying that all of our wants are to be forsaken.  Many are in accord with living good lives to help us relax, live with joy and grow closer to God.  But we must be careful about thinking our wants are deserved.  As Christians, the basic needs of life for another ought to trump excesses that I want.
Jesus tells us that to whom much is given much is expected.  He reminds us today “…the last will be first and the first will be last.”  I pray that you struggle against a prevalent sense of entitlement in our country and that you prayerfully discern the difference between your family’s needs versus your wants.  I hope you and I will respond generously to sacrifice from what we want to help another receive their basic needs.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"...by the grace of God I am what I am": Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, September 18th, 2014

            St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “…by the grace of God I am what I am.”
            None of us gathered together this morning is perfect.  Each of us could identify ways in which we can grow in our faith and as a person.
            At the same time, if you are at Mass on a near-winter Thursday morning in September, you have experienced much growth in your faith.  It is important to reflect periodically on the ways in which God has helped us become who we are today.
            I know in my faith and life, I owe a great deal to my family, especially my parents and grandparents.  They planted the gift of faith in my heart throughout my entire heart.  In high school my main conversion to Christ occurred through two friends.  By simply showing me love and that it could be cool to follow Christ, my heart was converted.  I have many other friends, priests and role models.  In short, I am a man of faith and priest today through God’s grace working through others.
            I encourage you to take a moment to thank God for those who have helped you become who you are today.  Offer these reflections here at Mass or during another quiet moment today.  After thanking God for the graces He has given you, continue to pray that you may grow into the man or woman whom he is calling you to be.

Explaining love to kids: Daily Mass Homily--Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 (School Mass)

            I hope you have your thinking caps on again.  This includes our adults as I want to ask them a question.  Don’t worry, it’s an easy one.  How many of you had our first reading—1 Corinthians 13—at your wedding?  [Several hands raised up].
Now to the kids.  There was one word that was repeated several times in our first reading (1 Corinthians 13).  Do you remember what it was?  Love.
And what does it mean to love?  We care for someone.  We hug our parents.  We are nice.  Good ideas.  Does it mean we clean our rooms when we are asked?  Or are kind to our siblings?
Who are we called to love?  My grandma.  Our parents.  Our teachers.  Who are we called to love the most?  God.  As Catholics and Christians we must love God and others.
I want you to know something.  Love is not a feeling.  It may include feelings—when we love someone we should be happy because they are near, but there are times when loving someone doesn’t always feel good. 
Here is an example for you.  But first, who here has a little brother or sister—a baby in your family?  [Several students raise their hands.  One girl raises her hand and says her baby sister is at Mass with their mom].  So here is the situation—when your baby sister wakes up crying with a dirty diaper, who cleans her up?  Do you?  No!  Your mom does, though!  (By the way, I have never changed a diaper and never will!)  Do you think your mom is pumped to change a diaper in the middle of the night?  Does she think, “Yes, I can’t wait to clean a stinky diaper at 2:00am!”  No!  Exactly.  But out of love for your little sister, your mother changes her and puts her back to bed.  This is love even though it didn’t feel great to have to do.
We are blessed to come to Mass again thankful to God for loving us.  May we all grow in love of God and each other today.