Thursday, February 26, 2015

The lengths God goes: Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, February 26th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            The passage from Matthew 7:7-12 is a beautiful source for mediation, comfort and peace.  In it, Jesus uses human love as a foundation to describe God’s love: “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asked for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asked for a fish?  If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.”
            I know that I go to great lengths for loved ones.  As a recent example—I drove down and back to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, just to see my newly born nephew—in twenty-four hours!  This was time spent without question on a national holiday (Thanksgiving).  If my family or friends need anything, I’m there. 
            Think of what you would do for your children, spouse or friends.  Remember, you and I would do such thing even though we are sinners!
            Now try to imagine the lengths God wants to go for us.

Jonah and Jesus and Pat (the bat): Daily Mass Homily--Wednesday, February 26th, 2015 (School Mass)

(Listen to this homily here).

            In seminary I had a class in which we were given a difficult topic on which to preach.  We only had a couple of minutes to think, then had to give a homily!  I wish we would have had a chance to practice for a Mass like this, where a bat comes to visit a children’s Mass!
            I see a hand raised…yes?  We should name the bat!  Ok…let’s call it Pat the bat.  We should bless the bat!  Moving on…
            There was a man who was in our first reading and Gospel today.  Who was it?  Jonah.  Way to focus during Pat’s visit!  And what was Jonah famous for?  Jonah and the…?  Whale!  And what happened with Jonah and the whale?  He ate it.  Jonah ate a whale?!  No, the whale ate Jonah!
            So here is what happened with Jonah.  God asked Jonah to preach in a place called Nineveh.  Do you know what Jonah did?  He ran away!  He got on board a ship that was going away from Nineveh.  So God said, “Well Jonah, you can’t run away from me!  I’ll have a whale eat you!”  Jonah finally got out of the whale and finished his job.
            Now Jonah was compared to someone else in the Gospel.  Who was this?  Jesus.  Yep.  Why?  Here’s a hint: Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale.  Jesus was three days and three nights in…?  The tomb!  Exactly.
            Jesus, unlike Jonah, always followed his Father’s will.  He came to earth and gave his life on the cross.  He was buried in a tomb.  Then he rose again!
            Lent is a time to grow closer to Jesus.  We do this by praying, by giving something up (gossip!) and being respectful to people in our life.  May we have a great Lent so that we may have a great Easter!

The Greatest Story Ever Told Session #16: Matthew, Mark

(Listen to this session here).

Welcome to the New Testament!  We transition from the covenants of Old to the New covenant Jesus established with His Church.  The heart of the NT is the Gospels, as they share the life, death and resurrection of the Messiah--Jesus Christ.  In this session we focused on two of the Synoptic Gospels--Matthew and Mark--especially their unique viewpoints and presentation of the life of Jesus.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Editorial for the International Falls Journal

I recently submitted an editorial to our local paper about giving up gossip for Lent.  It can be found here  for your reading enjoyment!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Our Father comforts the brokenhearted: Daily Mass Homily--Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            One of the humbling roles I have as a priest is to walk with people through suffering.  As someone entering an intense situation from the outside, I have often seen clearly the truth of a powerful line in the responsorial Psalm: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.”  In the heat of trauma, pain or anger it may be difficult to see God.  As a priest, I see Him carrying these very men and women.
            One of the most powerful ways I have seen God repeatedly work is through the Lord’s Prayer—which we had for our Gospel this morning.  Almost universally this prayer draws people to comfort, peace, tears—an opening up to God—in the midst of human suffering.  This is true whether a person or family is a faithful Mass-goer or hasn’t graced a church in decades.  It is a powerful go-to prayer especially in times of calamity—while someone is on a death bed, terminally ill, facing mental illness, divorce, and the like.
            At Mass this morning, let’s really focus on the powerful prayer that Jesus gave us—especially if we are suffering in any way.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Three gems from Leviticus: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, February 23rd, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            If you took a straw poll, the book of Leviticus would probably be voted the most boring book of the Bible.  That’s just the fact.  In a previous homily, I said I imagined Leviticus as the last kid picked on a playground kickball team!
            Yet this one reading alone shows how important the book of Leviticus is.  Within these ten verses we have three magnificent teachings.
            First, we have one of the most important verses of the Old Testament: “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.”  I have mentioned before that the entire Bible could be summarized in one verse—John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”).  If I had to pick one verse for just the Old Testament, this would be a good one—“Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.”  The OT is about God’s holiness—His otherness—and His call of His chosen people.
            Second, we have a stark reminder about our Lenten mission to avoid gossip: “You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin…”  There’s another verse to add to the ones I gave you this weekend!  And for anyone that thinks gossip isn’t a big deal—read again the second half of this verse: “…nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake.”  This is a deliberate sentence by the sacred author, implying that gossip is as bad as watching a neighbor’s life being risked without helping!
            Finally, the Golden Rule itself comes from Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
            The easily-forgotten book of Leviticus has much to say as we begin Lent.  May we grow in holiness, as God is holy.  May we avoid gossip.  May we love our neighbor as ourself.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The great flood foreshadows Baptism: 1st Sunday of Lent

(Listen to this homily here).

            Our first reading came from the first book of the Bible and in the opening pages.  The portion we heard came right after the great flood and featured God’s promise to never flood the earth again. 
            Whenever I think of the story of Noah and the ark, I always picture illustrations from the kids Bible.  You know the one with the elephants and giraffes walking onto the boat with Noah and the family?  This is one of the most well known stories in all of the Bible.
            This morning I would like to talk about how this great story foreshadows a great sacrament—Baptism.  Our second reading features a unique occurrence in the Bible—an explicit interpretation of the Old Testament in the New Testament.  Listen again to what St. Peter wrote: “…while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water.  This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.”  Peter points to Baptism as the key to interpret Noah, the ark and the great flood.
            In seminary my professor taught me some easy phrases to remember the effects Baptism has on our soul: sin out, God in, in the Church.  Sin out, God in, in the Church.  These phrases can be helpful in connecting this great account in Genesis to our very lives.
            Sin out.  Why did the flood happen in the first place?  The sacred author attributed it to human sinfulness.  God was reported to wanting a “fresh start” after the wickedness of man became so great.  The waters of the great flood symbolized this fresh start, something that was cleansing.  The waters of Baptism does the same thing—we receive forgiveness for both original and actual sin.  As Peter wrote, “It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”
            God in.  God saw Noah’s faithfulness—that Noah and his family was faithful to God.  Because of this, God made a covenant with Noah—a promise never to flood the earth again.  Baptism forges a covenant between us and God.  We receive a seal on our soul—in a way we are branded for God—that will never go away.  In a special way God comes into our soul.
            In the Church.  Just as Noah was saved through the ark, so too we are saved by boarding the Church.  In fact, since the time of the Church Fathers the Church has been compared to a ship.  Think about some of the big cathedrals or basilicas in the Gothic style.  The flying buttresses are meant to look like a ship.  Also, you are currently sitting in the nave of our church—this word comes from the same Latin word for ship—navis.  The Church is an ark—a ship—that carries us over the waters of chaos, sin and devastation.  And she will carry us faithfully.
            As we begin Lent, a couple of questions for you to consider.  First, how are you living out the great call of a baptized Christian?  Your baptism was the most important event in your spiritual life.  Would people know you were baptized?  Are you striving to grow in your faith?
            For you parents—you promised at your child’s baptism to be faithful in helping them grow closer to Jesus.  You promised to keep the light of faith burning.  How has this been going for you? 
            Lent is a time to think about such things.  May we live out more fully our call as baptized Christians.  May our prayer, fasting and almsgiving help us be more faithful to God’s covenant with us.  May the Church continue to lead us over the waters of darkness as the ark of salvation.

Bible Verses on Gossip: Parish Bulletin--2-22-15

Last weekend I proposed a challenge for all of us during Lent—to give up gossip.  This weekend I would like to show how this challenge comes straight from the Bible.  Consider the following verses:
·      Exodus 20:16 (the Eighth Commandment)—“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
·      Psalm 34:13—“Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.”
·      Psalm 50:20—“You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son.  These things you have done and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself.  But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.”
·      Proverbs 21:23—“He who keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.”
·      Proverbs 26:20—“For lack of wood the fire goes out; and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.”
·      1 Corinthians 12:20—“For I fear that perhaps I may come and find you not what I wish, and that you may find me not what you wish; that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.”
·      Galatians 5:14-15—“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.”
·      Ephesians 4:29—“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.”
·      James 3:6-11—“And the tongue is a fire.  The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell.  For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue — a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brethren, this ought not to be so.”
When we strive to grow in the virtues, it is helpful to have Bible verses on hand for inspiration and in moments of temptation.  The above verses are a sampling from the Scriptures that deal with speech that you may find helpful to bring to prayer or even memorize.
I cite these not to point fingers or in a spirit of judgment.  As I said before, gossip is something I continue to work on in my own life because I have always been a chatterbox.  My only desire is to help us grow in holiness.  I know that your life, your family, our parish, our community and even our world will be better for us striving to avoid gossip!
Finally, if all this gossip-talk has been challenging, have great hope!  True change is slow change, and God is always ready to forgive us for when we mess up and give us grace to help us grow!
God Bless!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Choices: Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, February 19th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            Each of our readings features the need to make a choice between one of two options. 
Moses eloquently summarizes God’s proposal to His people: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.  Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live.”
The responsorial Psalm was from the very first Psalm—Psalm 1 acts like an introduction to the 149 Psalms to follow.  In it, the righteous and the wicked are in contrasted.  The former would be like a tree planted by still water.  The latter would be chaff. 
And listen again to Jesus’ own words: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
Lent is a time to make a decision.  The key decision is, as the Second Vatican Council stated, to offer ourselves as a gift to another.  May our prayer, fasting and almsgiving allow us to choose life for others.

Ashes and Palms: Ash Wednesday--Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            I learned something new this week.  I’m just curious—do you know where we get the ashes for our Ash Wednesday service?  I had a vague notions that palms were burned to make the ashes but I had always they were ordered in from somewhere else.
            Yesterday students and parishioners gathered in our parking lot to burn the blessed palms from last year.  After the fire went out and things cooled off, the ashes were put in a strainer and then mashed to get the ashes we have before us. 
            The palms and ashes have stood out to me as we begin Lent.  They act as bookends to this season.  Today we will be signed with ashes in the shape of a cross and reminded, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”  In about six weeks, we will receive palms to commemorate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  These two physical symbols—ashes and palms—frame the Lenten season.
            But think of these symbols in another way—the palms and ashes frame the rest of the year.  Start with the palms we receive on Palm Sunday—they are fresh, green and supple.  As the year goes on they begin to dry out, decay and become brittle.  Eventually they are burned to form the ashes.
            That’s a lot like our own life, isn’t it?  We begin with youthfulness and zeal.  As time goes on our very bodies get sore, tired, brittle and sick.  At the end, every one will die.  The palms are a great metaphor for our own life on earth.
            Lent is a time to die to ourselves.  This is why we give something up, and focus on our prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  The point is to enter into the great mystery of our faith—the Paschal Mystery—in which dying leads to rising.  Jesus’ death led to life for all.  Our own sacrifices have the potential to give life to others.
            I pray you have a blessed season of Lent and that by dying to yourself you may provide much life.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Greatest Story Ever Told Session #15: Sirach

(Listen to this session here).

This session features the last remaining book to cover in the Old Testament.  While it is not the last in chronological order in the Bible (this goes to either 2 Maccabees or Malachi, based on where the Deuterocanonical books are placed) it is fitting to conclude our study of the OT.  This work represents a high point of synthesis of salvation history while applying the Jewish faith to a particular time and place as Judaism faced Hellenism (Greek culture).  This masterpiece is unique in many of its practical teachings and comes highly recommended as my favorite book in the Old Testament!

Never underestimate the power of good people working together: Daily Mass Homily--Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            Jesus warns the disciples, “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod…”  This is not the only time Jesus uses the image of leaven—yeast—in his teaching.  In another parable he refers to how little yeast is needed to raise a whole batch of dough.
            Now I am not a baker and don’t have much experience using yeast to make bread.  But I have used yeast for another means of consumption—brewing beer.  It amazes me how little yeast is needed to make five gallons of brew.  And yeast is arguably the most important part of the batch.  If you don’t have yeast, you simply make dirty water!
            Don’t ever underestimate what a few good people can do working together.  Look at the apostles.  Jesus took twelve men and now has over two billion followers world-wide!
            Another more local example is the great work that Dynamic Catholic is doing.  This is the place from which we ordered books for our mission and for Christmas.  They are changing the face of evangelization in our country, offering free books, CDs and evangelism programs around the nation.  And it all started with Matthew Kelly and a few of his friends who had a dream to proclaim the Gospel.
            God is calling us to be the yeast in our society.  Never underestimate what good people like you to raise the dough of your family, community and world.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Our Lenten mission backed by Scripture: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, February 16th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            This weekend I challenged our parishes to give up gossip for Lent.  The reason why I take seriously such an endeavor is because God’s Word does.  Listen again to what we heard from the responsorial Psalm this morning: “You sit speaking against your brother; against your mother’s son you spread rumors.  When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it?  Or do you think that I am like yourself?  I will correct you by drawing them up before your eyes.”
            The Bible, especially in the book of Psalms and Proverbs, consistently teaches that our speech matters.  We are not to gossip, spread rumors or use cutting language.  While it is difficult to gain mastery over our speech, Jesus calls us to do it.
            What a providential reminder of what we committed to this weekend.  May God bless us in our parish endeavor to give up gossip for Lent.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

I will not gossip: 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

(Listen to this homily here).

            This past week I was blessed to be in Grand Rapids for the Blandin Leadership Conference.  I have to admit, I didn’t get to preach throughout the week, so I may have some pent up homilies coming out!
            It was an amazing week in which twenty-three leaders from our community got together to learn skills in leadership.  Most of all I was impressed with the optimism and enthusiasm of the men and women I met for a hopeful future here.  They made me proud to make that drive back on Friday afternoon!
            During this week I chatted with many people about I project I have in mind for our parish and community.  It’s a project that is inspired by teachings like St. Paul’s this morning: “Avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.”
            My challenge for you this Lent: let’s give up gossip. 
            Gossip is unique in that it is a universal problem.  It happens in schools, churches, health care facilities, politics and more.  Everyone here has probably been hurt by gossip at some point.  And on the other side, each of us has probably been guilty of gossiping—including myself.
            A common question I have heard as a priest—whether in counsel or confession—is: “When does conversation become gossip?”  The answer here is not a science, but an art.  I am still working on curbing my own chatterbox to avoid giving offense to others.  What I offer here are some basic guidelines of what gossip is and is not.
            First, I am not asking us to give up all conversations about third parties.  A huge benefit of living in a small town is that necessary news travels quickly—“Did you hear that John and Suzy got married?” “The basketball team won/lost last night” “So and so died and we should support their family.” There are even times when it is a good thing to vent to trusted loved ones (about behaviors and ideas, not to judge).
            To determine what is gossip and what is not, we must discern our intention.  Am I trying to overcome a trial I have experienced with someone’s behavior or tearing down another’s character?  Am I trying to make myself feel better by cutting someone else’s dignity?  I have learned that keeping someone’s name out helps me focus on behaviors or ideas rather than persons.
            Another question to consider—do I really know the facts?  My Mom always got on me for this—and she still does!  Do I really know what happened or who said what to whom?  I heard a story from a parishioner last week who told me that, as a little girl, she cut the tip of her finger off.  Later that afternoon—only five or six hours after her accident—someone came to her house to grieve the loss of her whole arm!  Now here was a case where the small town grapevine allowed people to show their concern for a child.  But what were the facts?  Presumably an injury to the tip of her finger became her whole finger, to her whole hand, to her whole arm.  Imagine if this continued—her whole body may have disappeared!
            Finally, there are some things that are true that we don’t need to share.  “Did you hear Jane and Joe are having an affair?”  Well that may be true, but is that my business?  Is it my job to let everyone else know of this?
As a new member of our community, I have had several conversations about small town gossip.  I have heard over and over again, “It’s the Falls, that’s just the way it is.  Get used to it.”  I am not satisfied with this attitude.  I know Jesus is not satisfied with it, and I hope you are not satisfied with it either!  We have a great opportunity to model how we should use our words to build others up, not tear them down.
With the challenge to give up gossip for Lent, I promised you a gift.  I bet you didn’t sleep well this week wondering what it was.  I bought 600 purple bracelets (purple for Lent!) that simply say, “I will not gossip.”  Don’t worry, I asked if they could withstand negative 100 degree wind chill!  Now I don’t like wearing wristbands—my watch is annoying enough—but I will be putting this on for Lent, and I hope you do too.
This will be a simple reminder to give up gossip.  Small and consistent reminders like this can raise awareness and keep your goal in mind.  If you catch yourself slipping up, change wrists.  As you do, pray for forgiveness and ask God to help you learn from this slip to grow in positive speech. 
These wristbands will offer serve as an opportunity to evangelize.  If someone asks you why you are wearing it, simply tell them that our parish is striving to give up gossip for Lent.  I’d be willing to bet that they will be inspired by your efforts.
By striving to give up gossip I pray we will build good habits in using our words and communication possibly.  I guarantee you that if you work hard at this goal your life will be better, your family will be better, our parish will be better and our community will be better.

Give up gossip for Lent: Parish Bulletin--2-15-15

            As we approach the Lenten season I want to assure you and your families of my prayers.  I pray this season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving will draw you closer to God and neighbor!
            A rich tradition we Catholics share is giving something up for Lent.  This Lent I am challenging our entire parish to give up something together—gossip.
            The very word gossip is one which can have different meanings and I would like to clarify what I mean.  I do not have in mind a blanket “don’t ever talk about others if they are not there.”  Indeed, there are good ways to talk about others—passing on good news, affirming a quality of another, or celebrating the accomplishments of others.  There are even healthy ways to share frustrations about another person’s actions with loved ones provided we focus on a behavior (not a person), leave out their name and try to share good qualities about this person as well. 
What I am encouraging us to give up is the sort of talk behind another person’s back that belittles or detracts from their character.  The key to understanding what is gossip and what is not is to examine our intention.  Am I speaking about another with their best interest in mind or just to attack their character?  Am I sharing this frustration to help process a negative experience, or out of a sense of judgment?  Am I focusing on a behavior or detracting from someone’s character?  Even if something true, is it necessary or kind to share with another?
As I read the Scriptures, texts from the New Testament have a prevalent theme—unity in the Church.  St. Peter, St. Paul and even Jesus consistently proclaim unity.  My intention in this Lenten challenge is to help us take unity at our parishes seriously as well.
Similar to other factions of society, gossip can cause the greatest division(s) in our own parishes—not different desires in the liturgy, not different theological positions, not different priorities, not different approaches to financial decisions and not different perspectives in other areas of parish life.  Gossip, however, eliminates construction conversation, creates mountains out of molehills and stifles, distorts facts and may even attack someone’s character. 
As I have discussed the reality of gossip with others (without using names and addressing behaviors, not persons), a common response I have heard is, “Well, we live in a small town and that’s just the way it is.”  I am not satisfied with this response, and I hope you aren’t either!  We have the opportunity not only to improve our own lives, not only to improve our excellent Church family, but to improve our community itself by making a commitment to avoid gossiping this Lent.
With my challenge comes a gift.  I have purchased (from my personal account) 600 wristbands that simply state: “I will not gossip.”  (Yes, they are purple for Lent!).  We will be passing them out at Masses at St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Columban and I would encourage you each to wear one during Lent.  The wristband itself will be a good reminder of our goal, especially if you switch wrists when you catch yourself gossiping.
Know that I am challenging myself in this endeavor and will be wearing my wristband throughout the Lenten season.  I pray you will join me in following the wise words of Thumper, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all”!
God bless and know of my daily prayers!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

+Sister Ingrid Luukkonen (OSB): Parish Bulletin--2-8-15

           Last Sunday I received a phone call from Sr. Lois Eckes (Prioress of the Monastery of St. Scholastica) relaying to me the sad news of the passing of Sr. Ingrid.  Shortly thereafter the Sisters sent out the following email:

Our Sister Ingrid Luukkonen, OSB, age 87, of St. Scholastica Monastery, was called home to God unexpectedly on Friday, January 30, 2015, at St. Scholastica Monastery.  Her Wake will be at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, February 7, with the Mass of Christian Burial following at 10:30 a.m. in Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel at St. Scholastica Monastery.

Thank you for remembering Sister and our Community in your prayers.

My love,
Sister Luella
The Duluth Benedictines

            While you will read this after the wake and funeral, I pass this on because Sr. Ingrid served St. Thomas Aquinas parish for many years—nearly 18—and warrants our thanksgiving and prayers.  As a Benedictine she exemplified the charisms of St. Benedict, which include hospitality to the stranger, care for those in need, visiting the lonely and seeking work and prayer as a rule of life.
            Both the Sisters of St. Scholastica and our parish lost a great woman and servant of Christ.  Please continue to pray for her and for the community at St. Scholastica during this period of transition.  And, on behalf of our parish, I want to publicly thank Sr. Ingrid for her many years of service.  I am also grateful to the Sisters of St. Scholastica for allowing Sr. Ingrid to serve here as well as for the many blessings and gifts they have given our diocese and parish throughout the years.
            Sr. Ingrid, may you rest in peace.