Saturday, November 29, 2014
In light of our recent celebration of Thanksgiving, I would like to share two different facets of gratitude.
First, intentional acts of gratitude to God and neighbor are one of the most edifying sources of prayer and fellowship. Modern psychology affirms how important it is to utter two of the most important words in our language: “Thank you.”
Not only does this phrase build up our friends, family and Church, it is one of the staples of a mature prayer life. As St. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians: “What have you that you did not receive?” Everything we have comes from God—our life, breath, heartbeat, career, home, family and talents. Most of what we have comes from others—our grandparents, parents, friends, heroes and others. Be sure to say “Thank you!” to God and your loved ones during this Thanksgiving season!
Second, I would like to note the ways I am grateful to you in my first four months at St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Columban. I will begin by expressing my gratitude for your warm welcome to a young and inexperienced pastor—thank you!
Thank you to you for inspiring me to be a better man, priest and pastor.
Thank you to our staff and faculty. Our mission would be impossible without the inspiring and practical work you do.
Thank you to everyone who serves our parish and Church with your time and talents, both officially in organizations and unofficially in other endeavors. I continue to be impressed by the ownership you take of your parish—such involvement is what the Church envisioned in the Second Vatican Council.
Thank you for the ways you reach out to the sick, elderly, homebound and forsaken (by the world’s standards). I have said it before and I will say it again—such outreach is the best I have seen in our diocese.
Thank you for your generosity. Your spiritual and financial contributions help allow God to do his work. I am especially grateful for your weekly, monthly and one-time contributions to our parish and school. Nothing would be possible without such support!
Thank you to all who serve in behind the scenes work—sacristans, caretakers, cleaners, cooks, fixers, organizers and leaders.
Thank you to our young people—both our students at school and young people involved in the various faith formation programs we offer. St. John Paul II once said, “It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives.” Your energy, zeal and youthfulness give us all life.
In summation, I think St. Paul said it best: “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers…”God bless!
(Listen to this homily here).
A blessed Advent to you and your families.
A blessed Advent to you and your families.
I think we’d all agree that over the past fifty or sixty years our society has become increasingly more distant from Christianity. There is now a gaping chasm between what we believe as Catholics and what society offers.
I would argue this gulf is most apparent during Advent. There is no other time during the year when our faith and society are more distant. First, consider the calendar of upcoming events. For society, the “holiday season” begins on black Friday and ends after all the gifts are opened Christmas morning (or even Christmas Eve). For us, Advent begins today and ends on Christmas Eve. Christmas lasts eight days (through January 1st) and the Christmas season ends this year on January 11th. I love telling people “Merry Christmas” in early January—they often haven’t a clue it is still Christmas!
What is meant to be a season of quiet, stillness and waiting has become a bombardment of advertisements, sales and chaos.
“Merry Christmas” has turned into “Happy holidays”.
This is a season to sacrifice. Yet we constantly hear why we need buy this, shop for that and spoil ourselves and children.
Children are often more excited about Santa Clause than Jesus Christ.
Most everyone will put a Christmas tree in their house, while neglecting to ever hang a crucifix—the very reason for which Christ was born.
This morning, consider the preparations you will make to prep for family traditions. You will probably spend time hanging up the lights, putting up a tree and decorations, baking, cooking and cleaning to host loved ones. These are good traditions, but think for a moment—will you spend as much time preparing your soul for the coming of Jesus as you do preparing your home for guests? Will you spend as much time preparing your soul as preparing your home?
I love the Advent season—it is probably my favorite Church season of the year. Like Lent, it is a time I need to look in the mirror and discern what my life needs to be rid of, and what must be added. Unlike Lent, it is only three and a half weeks! (Do you ever feel like Lent goes on for six months?) It is a quick season, short enough to make realistic goals and achieve them. Interestingly enough, psychologists say that it takes twenty days to build a habit. What habits will you build this Advent?
I challenge you to do three things to prepare for Christmas. First, give something up—chocolate, alcohol, television, complaining. Pretend it’s Lent in this regard!
Second, spend ten minutes a day in quiet prayer. Ten minutes—the time of two sets of commercials in a TV show. I promise that if you spend ten minutes a day for the next three and a half weeks, your life will be better. Plus you will be more engaged in the quiet and stillness this season entails.
Third, come to our mission this week. We deliberately scheduled our mission at the beginning of Advent to help us open our hearts to Jesus Christ. This will be a powerful week of fellowship, prayer, adoration, confession and, please God, conversion. We will be giving you books and cds to help you grow in your faith. Please come and bring your family and friends, especially those who have been away from Church for a while.
I have been listening to some cds by Matthew Kelly. His basic message is that we should become the best version of ourselves. We do this by assessing where we’re at and setting realistic goals to become better. This is what Advent is all about. I guarantee that if you give something up, pray ten minutes a day and enter into our mission, you will be a better person in twenty-five days. And there is no better gift we can give you our family, spouse, parish, workplace or God than the best version of ourselves.
For daily Mass readings a priest often has a choice of readings to choose from, either from the day or from a particular saint or other feast. Typically I choose the usual daily readings as they are in order and we can hear fuller portions of the books.
Last night I was kicking around choosing different ones! As a country we celebrate Thanksgiving—in our Church we meditate on the end and hear such things as the destruction of Babylon and the annihilation of Jerusalem.
The saving grace came in one verse from Revelation: “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.’” The priest says something at every Mass, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”
The word Eucharist in Greek means thanksgiving. What we do every time we come to Mass is to give God thanks and praise for all the gifts He has given us. It is fitting that we start our secular holiday of Thanksgiving—which commemorates the first Thanksgiving many years ago—with Mass.
I encourage you today to think about what you are thankful for from God. Think of those gifts we often take for granted—vision, heartbeat, walking, home and working. We have nothing that we did not receive from God.
Prayers of gratitude are a mature offering in our spiritual lives. But they are also good for our minds. When we are grateful and say “thank you,” something happens in our brain for the better. This greatly assists our psychological well-being. Being gracious to God points our focus away from ourselves and to Another. It allows us to escape focusing only on ourselves.
As we celebrate turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing and pie and football today, let’s not forget to be truly thankful to God. Connected with our daily presence at Eucharist, may we become men and women with thankful hearts.
Every week I visit our students with the candy basket. If they memorize a verse, they get a piece of candy.
While I enjoy getting kids riled up with sugar, there is a deeper purpose to why I ask them to memorize verses—they need to know the Story of God.
I liked show-and-tell last week, so I thought I would do it again. I have with me today my first two Bibles I ever owned. The first was given to me at first communion. I was in second grade, and do you know what I did with it? I read it! A lot of the stories were over my head, but since I could read, I could understand important concepts at an early age.
The second one is from a Bible camp I went to in third grade. We had to memorize thirty Proverbs to win this Bible, and I was able to achieve this on our third day. Actually, my friend and I memorized verses together (he finally got it on the last day of camp!) In the back of this Bible was a list to read the whole Bible in a year. You know what I did? I started reading it! I made it all the way to Leviticus before I stopped.
You are not too young to read the Bible. It has been said that the Bible is like a lake—it is deep enough for an elephant to swim in, yet shallow enough for a child to wade in.
The Bible is the best story ever—it’s much better than Harry Potter or the Hunger Games, because it is true! The coolest part—we are actually part of the Story. When we live out our faith, loving God and our neighbor, we live out the Story.
Read your Bible, memorize your verses and take your place in the greatest Story ever!
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
We continue through the historical books of the Old Testament. In this session we leave the dark period of the monarchy to learn about the return to Jerusalem after a fifty year exile in Ezra and Nehemiah. Tobit, Judith and Esther are exciting stories of God's fidelity through faithful and heroic witnesses to the faith.
Listen to this session here.
Listen to this session here.
We’re ending the liturgical year on a bang! Both of our readings referred to destruction and the end of an era.
The disciples were exclaiming the grandeur of the temple. Jesus’ response: “All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
This would have been devastating for the Jewish mind to hear. The temple was the center of everything Jewish—worship, sacrifice, Law, faith and politics. To think that this, their very lifeblood, would be destroyed would have been a terrifying thought.
The book of Revelation, in its cryptic apocalyptic language, refers to the end. Angels were to harvest with sickles the earth and its vintage will be thrown “into the great wine press of God’s fury.”
It is natural, even at times necessary, to have a healthy fear of the end. Death, judgment, hell and the cessation of the cosmos are all realities.
Yet consider again the temple. For those who followed Jesus Christ faithfully, the destruction of this building was not the end of the story. Through fidelity to Christ his disciples entered into a whole new way of living—the Christian faith. They could rejoice again in transitioning into a brand new relationship with God!
So, too, whenever we consider death and the end times. While there will be judgment and destruction in both, those of us who are faithful will enjoy an infinitely fuller relationship with God. We can live with great hope that whatever happens will only serve to transition us into a more complete state of being.Just as Jesus was faithful to the people he prophesied to regarding the temple, so too he will be faithful to us as we pass from this life to the next.
Monday, November 24, 2014
St. Columban: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, November 24th, 2014 (Mass at St. Columban in honor of our patron's feast)
I prayed two Masses today with different homilies--thus the two daily Mass homilies on the same day. Since the feast of St. Columban took place on Sunday this year, I offered a Mass at St. Columban's to commemorate our patron.
I also gave a talk about St. Columban as he is relatively unknown (at least in our parishes). Listen to this talk here.
The Psalmist asks an important question this evening: “Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD? or who may stand in his holy place?” The answer: “He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain.”
St. Columban did just this. As a young man his education was interrupted by profound lustful temptations. He visited a religious woman who told him, “…turn from the river [ of lust] into which so many have fallen.”
Columban took this seriously. He fled from his regular life into the monastery. In so doing, his hands became sinless, his heart became clean and he desired not what was vain.
Would that we would take sin and temptation so seriously to also become sinless and have clean hearts.
St. Columban, our patron, pray for us!
As I have been reading through Sherry Widdell’s book Forming Intentional Disciples, I have been enlightened of many statistics regarding our Catholic population. One of the most alarming was that relatively few of us believe in a personal God. When asked, Catholics—less than other brothers and sisters in other Christian denominations—answer that they have a personal relationship with God.
True enough, our faith should not be reduced to only “me and Jesus”. Neither should we lose sight of the fact that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present and transcendent. Yet in God’s providence and mystery, He desires a personal relationship with each of us.
In the opening pages of the Bible, God takes clay to form and create a man. What powerful imagery of our very beginnings. Psalm 139 states, “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.” God speaks through Isaiah, “I have called you by name, you are mine.” Jesus tells us, “Every hair of your head is numbered.”
One of the major ways in which God personally invites us to Himself is through the sacraments. In three of these—baptism, confirmation and holy orders—He actually seals us for Himself. We receive this sacred character on our souls which marks us for all eternity as God’s. I’m guessing most, if not all of you here this morning, have been baptized and confirmed. This means God has chosen you individually for His great work!
God has a personal relationship with you. Do you have one with Him?
Saturday, November 22, 2014
This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. This solemnity is fairly new in our Church—it was promulgated in 1925 by Pope Pius XI and found its permanent place in the calendar in 1969 by Pope Paul VI.
The date of this feast is significant—Christ the King always takes the place of the last Sunday of Ordinary Time. This fits in with the rhythm of the liturgical year as the readings during this time feature the reality of death and eternal life. We end the year by being reminded that we serve the King of kings.
The prophecies of the coming Messiah led many in Jesus’ time to expect an earthly king. They looked for a noble and rich man who would lead the Jews to freedom from oppressors and establish a dynasty. They were in for quite a surprise!
Jesus was born into a poor family—his cradle was a manger. His rule was marked by service, not domination, and his battles were against sin, evil and death. The battlefield was not a piece of earth but the human heart. The only throne he mounted was the cross—the place on which he gave his life for his Father’s kingdom. His kingship turned all expectations upside down.
Jesus desires to be our King and we are called to be his followers. He summons us to be faithful citizens of his kingdom by being loving, merciful, compassionate, generous and bold disciples.How are you doing as citizens of this kingdom? Is Jesus the King of kings in your life?
This past Tuesday in our Bible study we looked at the books of the Bible that contain the monarchy—1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, 1st and 2nd Chronicles.
The very desire for a king was a rejection by the people of God as their King. They wanted to be like other nations in having such an earthly sovereign. At one point God tells Samuel, “…they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.”
The majority of 1st and 2nd Kings, paralleled by 1st and 2nd Chronicles, lists failure after failure in the kingship. The greatest offense was greater than poor leadership; king after king rejected God and turned to idols. Yet within this dark period of salvation history, God prepared for His kingdom on earth. We do see examples of great kings, David being the greatest example despite his own sinfulness.
The notion of God’s kingship, especially through the ministry of the great prophets, led to a great hope for the coming Messiah. While the prophets proclaimed he would suffer and die, the Israelites and Jews remained at a human level in their expectations. They waited for a strong military leader who would bring prosperity, dominion, sovereignty and victory over human foes.
Enter Jesus Christ.
Jesus turned all human expectations of the Messiah upside down. He was poor. He preached peace. His only concerns for victory were over spiritual foes, the human heart, sin and death. Jesus did establish his kingdom on earth—it’s called the Catholic Church!
Every Christian is baptized into Christ’s priestly, prophetic and kingly roles. Like Jesus, our rule is to be one of service. There is no greater description of what it means to serve our king than in Matthew 25 (Mother Theresa often quoted this section). We, just like the disciples, are called to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the ill and visit the imprisoned.
It’s interesting that this passage is known for the best description of the corporal works of mercy, and for good reason. But did you notice that it has several explicit allusions to our king and kingdom? “Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”I would like to leave you with two simple questions on this feast of the King of kings. First, is Jesus Christ truly the king of your life? Second, are you a faithful member of his kingdom?
Thursday, November 20, 2014
One of the first times we see a reference to a lamb in the Bible comes in the testing of Abraham. We remember the story well, how Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac to demonstrate his fidelity to God. Yet before he succeeds God calls out, “Abraham! Abraham! Do not lay your hand on the boy.” God then promises to provide them with a lamb for sacrifice. Abraham and Isaac look into the bushes and see a ram (not a lamb!).
The lamb shows up again in the book of Exodus. The Israelites were to sacrifice an unblemished lamb, spread its blood on their doorposts and eat it as a sacrifice. This would cause the angel of death to pass over them and spare them from death.
When Jesus enters the scene in the Gospels, John the Baptist heralds, “Behold the lamb of God!” This is exactly what the priest says at Mass to proclaim the coming of Christ in the Eucharist.
Our first reading today, featuring dreams of heavenly worship, also cites a lamb: “Then I saw standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and the elders a Lamb that seemed to have been slain.” The book of Revelation, especially in passages like these, directly connect the Mass we pray today with the reality in heaven for all eternity. It is all about the sacrifice and the wedding feast of the Lamb!Thus we pray today, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.”
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
How the symbols of the Evangelists help me pray at Mass: Daily Mass Homily--Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 (School Mass)
I would like to do some show and tell this morning. Those readings were kind of long, weren’t they? They were a bit confusing as well...
Someone tell me what this is…A chalice. Yep. Do you know whose chalice this is? Jesus’. I suppose, but this is my chalice! First is the chalice which my parents gave me as an ordination gift. On the bottom they had a lovely prayer inscribed, “Ben, you will always be in our prayers even when we are with God in heaven.” They also put my favorite Scripture verses on it. I’m going to spin this around and see what you notice [symbols for the four evangelists]. Some of you also saw this, so see if you can remember.
Does anyone know what this is [holding a pall]? This is what stops flies from getting into the chalice during Mass! It is called a pall. And what is on it [the four symbols]?
Finally, what are on my chasuble? See these four patches? Are these Boy Scout patches? [Again, they are the four symbols].
What are these symbols? They are for the Gospel writers. Wow, good memory! Good work. We heard about these images in the first reading—a man, lion, ox and eagle. Matthew is represented by the man, Mark by the lion, Luke by the ox and John by the eagle. Now I don’t want to get into the reasons behind why these symbols are matched with each animal, but to make a simple point.
God has given us the Bible to help us in life. He shows us we need to love God, love our neighbor, help those in need and lead others to Jesus. I use these symbols to remind myself how important the Bible is and what we are all about.
We have a hand—do you have something to conclude? Why are they matched with each animal? Well I think I used up my homily time, so that’s a good question we can talk about later in class.
May we all remember how important the Bible is for us to grow in our love of God and neighbor and as we seek to serve and help make disciples.
We continue working through the historical books of the Old Testament. The six books covered during this session focus on the establishment of the monarchy, the division of the Israelite kingdom and the defeat and deportation of God's people. While this is a dark period in salvation history, a few lights shine through--Samuel, David, Elijah, Elisha and Josiah being a few.
Listen to this podcast here.
Listen to this podcast here.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
CNN just did an awesome piece on young men entering the seminary. It features two of my former classmates--twins--Fr. Todd and Gary Koenigsknecht from the Diocese of Lansing. This is an amazing diocese which is pumping out priests. A special shout out here to my hero in the faith, Fr. Matthew Fedewa, and good friend Fr. James Mangan, both from this diocese.
Check it out here!
Check it out here!
(Listen to this homily here.)
I’d like to share with you some alarming statistics about our Catholic Church. Did you know that 10% of the citizens of our country are former Catholics? One out of ten of every American has left the Church. A full one-third of those born into the Catholic faith no longer practice.
I have been reading some good material on the importance of evangelization to promote our faith. I have mentioned one already—Rebuilt—and have started another good one—Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell. Their basic argument is that we need to find new ways to bring people to Jesus. Weddell specifies that for centuries we relied on catechesis and sacraments to retain Church membership. This no longer works! This isn’t to say catechesis or sacraments are unimportant—on the contrary they are crucial to living out our faith. But we first need to invite people to come to Jesus!
Revelations describes this process beautifully: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.”
I have never been more convinced that my holiness matters. Your holiness matters. The more we grow in relationship with Christ, the better our parish will become. I invite you to continue to open your heart to Jesus. Allow him in to permeate you with his love and mercy, and then his love will shine through.
We also heard the story of Zacchaeus, a tax-collector—a thief and sinner. Notice the invite Jesus gave him: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Jesus didn’t give him a theological argument or a catechetical talk—Jesus invited himself to his house. And this experience led to a great conversion—Zacchaeus made amends to the poor and those he wronged.
I have said before that you are the heart and soul of our parish. I encourage you to consider the ways in which you can bring others to Jesus. One simple way to do this is by welcoming people who come to us at Mass. You know far better than I who our guests are each week—make an effort to reach out to them. Sit with them! Many leave our Church because they don’t feel like a part of the community and you can make a difference here!
May we continue to open our hearts to Christ in order to fall more deeply in love with him and share the Good News he has to offer.
Monday, November 17, 2014
(Listen to this homily here.)
It has been said that the greatest sin in modern times is the failure to believe in sin itself. Indeed, if there is no sin, there is no need for a savior.
After commending the church at Ephesus for their strengths, Jesus warns them: “Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first.”
An important facet of the Christian life is to realize how much we fall when we sin.
This goes against modern attempts to dismiss sin altogether. One strategy used to chip away at the reality of sin is to focus solely on communal evils such as poverty, war or injustice without admitting of personal faults. Another is to blame all behavior on upbringing or genetics. Another is to appeal to a false understanding of conscience—if my conscience says its okay, it must be okay. (While we must obey our conscience, we must also inform it! And while habit, addiction, passions and the like may diminish the responsibility for sin, it never takes away the sin itself).
When we sin we hurt ourself, our family, our parish and our Church. And most of all we hurt God. We must honestly recognize how far we fall in sin, not to beat ourselves up or to fall to scrupulosity, but to fall on our knees and ask forgiveness in Confession. When we recognize the depths we fall, we will have a greater appreciation to the heights Christ’s mercy will bring us.May we take our sin seriously and ask for God’s pardon and peace.
Sunday, November 16, 2014
Please join me in extending a warm thank-you to Mary Morrisseau who recently submitted her resignation as Director of Faith Formation at St. Thomas Aquinas. She will complete her six plus years of service in formally helping lead our kids to Christ on December 22nd. Stay tuned for a farewell party for her!
I am personally grateful for Mary’s many years of service. Her efforts enable us to offer programs that are solidly Catholic and have provided a sure foundation build off of in the future.
The mark of any good leader is setting up systems that will run effectively after this leader moves on. Above all else, Mary left us with a number of amazing Catechists. As I continue to work with these men and women, I emphasize that being an evangelist does not require an advanced theology degree, having all the answers or being a perfect leader. What it does require is loving Christ, building relationships with our students and being faithful to Christ’s Church. Thanks to Mary’s invitation (and the yes offered by many) our core group of catechists will allow Christ to do some amazing things!
Moving forward, I will be hiring a part-time employee to help Jean, our catechists and I through the spring semester of faith formation. I am hoping to hire a full-time director of faith formation next summer. Please pray that the Lord will send the right person to continue the great work here.
While I was on vacation I had something on my mind a lot. It may seem a bit strange, but bear with me. I was thinking of childbirth. My brother and sister-in-law are expecting their first, so I am going to be an uncle any day. A number of my friends have just had babies, or are also expecting soon. While I was in Duluth I got to check in with the couples of our Teams of Our Lady small group. Each of them have small children and I they have shared the challenges and joys of being parents.
I had a particularly good conversation with one of these moms. She shared with me her struggles with the baby blues and even post-partum depression. I told her over the phone—“So let me get this straight…you were pregnant for nine months with sickness, uncomfortableness and all the rest, went through a painful labor and then felt like junk for a year?! That stinks!”
It is for good reason that Proverbs affirms the good wife/mom: “When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls…Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.” I want to thank you moms and dads for your openness to life, especially for all the sacrifices and suffering it took to bring a baby in the world. And I am grateful for my own parents who brought me into the world.
I bring this up because the image of a woman in labor is frequently used to describe the day of the Lord. We have an example of this in our second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: “When people are saying, ‘Peace and security,’ then sudden disaster comes upon them, like labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”
As our liturgical year is winding down, our readings at daily and weekend Masses have been focusing on the end—both our own death and the end of the world at Christ’s second coming. There have been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth lately! It is a fact that we will each die. It is also a fact that this world will not exist forever.
While these realities may be scary to think about, we may do so with joy and hope. You moms and dads, recall the first time you held your newborn. You did so after overcoming suffering—especially you moms! That suffering served a purpose and allowed you to bear life. Just so, any suffering we face on earth is but the labor pains of our birth to new life.
And consider the baby. For nine months they are in a dark enclosed womb—that’s the only reality they know. But then they are born into a completely new world! The world we know is but a dark womb as we prepare for birth in heaven.
Yes, our lives contain suffering, especially when facing death itself. But these experiences are preparing us for a new birthday when we enter eternal life. May we be faithful in experiencing suffering and keep great hope that God will bring us each to Himself at the end.