Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A message of joy from Bishop Paul Sirba: Daily Mass Homily--Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            This morning I want to relay greetings and blessings from Bishop Paul Sirba.  He assured us of his prayers as we enter Holy Week as a diocese and as individual parishes.  He also asked us to pass along a message about joy to our parishioners, and I am happy to oblige!
            Bishop spoke about joy from three perspectives at the Chrism Mass yesterday evening.  First, he spoke about joy as a fruit of the Spirit that is a result of love.  More than feeling, joy is a spiritual reality that takes place when we love and are loved by Jesus.
            He then moved to reflect how joy is connected to evangelization.  Using Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel as a witness, Bishop affirmed that joy is essential to discipleship.  Using Pope Francis’ language, he asked, “If you had to choose, would you rather spend time with a sour-puss or a joy-filled person?  Of course, the joyous one!”  As we strive to make disciples (which we are striving to do here!) we must be joyful witnesses to the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Joy is attractive.
            Finally, Bishop Sirba illustrated the joy of partaking of the sacraments.  If you need proof of this, just look at the faces of those who will be confirmed at the Easter Vigil!  Look at a family who presents a baby for Baptism.  Look at the kids who receive their first communion.  Receiving Christ through tangible signs of God’s love should spark joy in our hearts.
            Carry joy, and the theme of joy, throughout the rest of Holy Week.  Even in the darkest moments—Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal, the crowds’ condemnation, the crucifixion and death of Jesus—remember the joy Christ brings through his passion, death and resurrection.  Carry joy with you to Easter!

Chrism Mass: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, March 30th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            Right after Mass I will be driving to Duluth.  This evening I will be gathering with Bishop Paul Sirba and the priests of our diocese for the annual Chrism Mass at the Cathedral.  The Chrism Mass in our diocese takes place Monday of Holy Week and it reflects a powerful start to Holy Week.
            At this Mass Bishop Sirba will consecrate the oils we use for the sacraments for this year.  These include the Oil of the Sick (used in the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick), the Oil of Catechumens (used in Baptism) and the Oil of Chrism (used in Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination).  It is pretty cool to think that anytime someone is anointed, baptized, confirmed or ordained this year—no matter where in the diocese—we will all be using the same oil.
            Another powerful moment happens, especially for me as a priest.  Right after the homily, we will renew our priestly vows.  I took my vows for the diaconate on June 10th, 2011 and to the priesthood on June 22nd, 2012.  For you married couples, this would be similar to renewing your vows.  It is a very powerful moment for me to renew my commitment to the priesthood!
            Please pray for your priests, that we may be faithful to God and you.  Please pray for all who will be anointed, confirmed, baptized and ordained with the holy oils Bishop will consecrate this evening. 
            The Chrism Mass is a powerful experience—if you have some time this evening it would be worth the drive to Duluth!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Holy Week: Parish Bulletin--3-29-15

This week—Holy Week—is the most sacred time of the year.  Please come to as much as you can to enter into Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection!  Here is a brief description of the mysteries we will be entering and the times they will be celebrated:
·      Chrism Mass (Monday, March 30th at 5:30pm at the Cathedral of our Lady of the Rosary, Duluth)
o   This Mass, celebrated by Bishop Paul Sirba, will feature the consecration of the three oils we use in our sacramental life—the Oil of Catechumens, Oil of the Sick and Chrism Oil.  These oils will be brought back to our parishes to be used throughout the year.  Additionally, the priests of the diocese concelebrated this Mass and we will renew the vows we made at ordination.  It is worth a trip to Duluth to be part of this amazing diocesan celebration!
·      Holy Triduum (which literally means three days) consists of three days that host one Liturgy: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. 
·      Holy Thursday (April 2nd)
o   8:30am:  Rosary celebrating the Luminous Mysteries.  There is no Mass offered the morning of Holy Thursday so our usual daily Mass will be replaced with the Rosary instead.
o   7:00pm?:  Mass of the Last Supper (St. Thomas Aquinas). 
o   This Mass commemorates the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood and the washing of the disciples’ feet.  Adoration will follow until midnight and Confessions will be available immediately following the service.
·      Good Friday (April 3rd)
o   8:30am:  Rosary celebrating the Sorrowful Mysteries
o   3:00pm (St. Thomas Aquinas), 7:00pm (St. Columban): Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion
o   Good Friday service features the Passion narrative, veneration of the cross and reception of holy Communion.  This is the only day of the year where Mass is not said, as the service is a continuation of the Triduum liturgy begun.  Confessions will follow both services.
·      Holy Saturday (April 4th)
o   8:30am:  Rosary celebrating the Glorious Mysteries
o   10:00am:  Blessing of food (St. Thomas Aquinas).  This well-kept secret is a rich cultural tradition that features bringing a basket of food which will be feasted upon Easter morning.  Bring your food to Church!
o   7:00pm:  Easter Vigil Mass (St. Thomas Aquinas)
o   This is the most sacred liturgy of the year and is saturated with symbolism and rich in feasting on God’s Word.  In the Easter Vigil we celebrate the light of Christ, salvation history, Baptisms and Confirmations and most of all, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 
·      Easter Sunday (April 5th)
o   8:30am:  Mass at St. Columban
o   10:30am:  Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas
o   While the Easter Vigil is the high point of our Church year, don’t forget about Easter Sunday!  Even if you attend the Vigil, please come on the morning of the Lord’s resurrection.
Finally, please invite and welcome your family and friends to celebrate this Holy Week with us.  This week is a key moment of evangelization.  It is an opportunity to be a bridge to Christ’s love and mercy to those who need it and an invitation to those who have drifted away from faith.  This is the week to grab your friends and family and bring them to Church!
God Bless!

An Introduction to the Theology of the Body: Kevin Pilon's Talk at 40 Hour Devotion

Kevin Pilon, youth minister and director of religious education at St. John the Evangelist Church in Duluth, joined us for our second night of our 40 Hour Devotional.  Specifically, he came to share about John Paul II's Theology of the Body.  Throughout this presentation, Kevin explains what it means to have a body, what the mission of man and woman is and how the Theology of the Body can impact our faith and life.

(Listen to this talk here).

(Recorded and published online with Kevin's permission).

The hypocrisy of the crowds: Palm Sunday

(Listen to this homily here).

            Something haunts me every Palm Sunday—the crowd. 
            As we started Mass in the gathering space, we heard the crowds proclaim, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  In the passion narrative the crowd cries merely days later, “Crucify him!”  What is chilling to consider—there had to have been at least some of the same people in these two different gatherings.
            Then I realize I am a member of these crowds.  One moment I am at Mass, praying or striving to do God’s will.  The next moment, through my sins, I am crying out, “Crucify him!”  We are all guilty of the hypocrisy of the crowds.
            There are two important realities in light of this sad fact.  First—this is why God gives us Confession.  At any moment we may receive his mercy for when we have sinned.
            Second—always have hope!  Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.  I love what Fr. Drew said on Friday evening.  He asked, “What motivated Jesus through his passion, suffering and death?  You.”  While our sins put Jesus on the cross, he had us in mind. 
As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man — though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die.  But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Power of Eucharistic Adoration: Fr. Drew Braun's talk at 40 Hour Devotion

We had the pleasure of hearing from Fr. Drew Braun, pastor of St. Mary's (Cook), St. Martin's (Tower) and Holy Cross (Orr) to help us kick off our 40 Hour Devotion of the Blessed Sacrament.  Fr. Drew spoke about the power of Eucharistic Adoration and how, by simply being in Christ's presence, we are changed for the better.

(Listen to Fr. Drew Braun's talk here).

(Recorded and published online with Fr. Drew's permission.)

Jesus and Abraham and the claim of divinity: Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, March 26th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            Last weekend I preached about the importance of covenants.  Here is more proof of this exchange of persons with a person, oath and sign: “When Abram prostrated himself, God spoke to him: ‘My covenant with you is this: you are to become the father of a host of nations.  No longer shall you be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a host of nations.’”  We also prayed together in the Psalm: “The Lord remembers his covenant forever.”
            This morning I would like to point out the radical statement Jesus made about Abraham in John’s account.  Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you,
before Abraham came to be, I AM.’”  This is an example of the I am statements of Jesus given by John in an intentional way.  Through John’s narrative Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the door,” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the bread of life,” “I am the resurrection and the life,” “I am the way, the truth and the life.” 
These I am statements evoke God’s mysterious name given to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’  And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
What is revolutionary about this particular claim of Jesus and Abraham is that he actually takes the divine name for himself: “before Abraham came to be, I AM…”  You can’t see it now, but the lectionary shows “I AM” in capital letters.  Capitalizing YHWH in the Old Testament was the way in which the Jews avoided saying, or even reading, God’s name aloud because to do so would be to call oneself God.  The lectionary captures what Jesus is claiming with the same method.  Note, the Jews think he is blaspheming—they pick up rocks to stone him!  If Jesus was not God, Jesus would have indeed been guilty of such a crime.  But Jesus is.
God came down to earth.  He came to be ever present among us.  As we prepare for Holy Week, may we be present with him!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ecumenical Prayer Service--The Commandments of Life: 6th and 9th Commandments: Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

This evening we hosted a soup supper and ecumenical prayer service at St. Thomas Aquinas parish.  As part of our prayer service I gave a talk on the 6th and 9th commandments, largely influenced by St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body.  The audio for this talk can be found here.

The degree to which God is with us: Daily Mass Homily--Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 (Solemnity of the Annunciation)

(Listen to this homily here).

            The solemnity of the Annunciation is a profound feast day.  This is the day in which we celebrate Jesus Christ—the second person of the Trinity—beginning his journey as a human.
            Think about this—in the incarnation God became man.  He did so in a miraculous way—without an earthly father.  But the beginning of his existence as a person began in the same way as each of us.  He began as a zygote—a group of cells!  He grew as a zygote, embryo, fetus and baby in Mary’s womb.  He was born.
            This is what was promised through the prophet Isaiah: “…the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us!’”  The Annunciation is what it means for God to be with us.
            Finally, remember the words of the angel Gabriel—“Hail, full of grace!  The Lord is with you…”  These are the first words of the Hail Mary.  We should never forget that Mary’s yes—her fiat—helped bring Jesus into the world. 
            As God is truly with us, let us be with Him.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Greatest Story Ever Told Session #19: Romans, 1 Corinthians

(Note--I stopped recording in the middle of this session so there are two different recordings.  The first is here.  The second is here.)

We begin reflecting on the letters of the New Testament with St. Paul's letter to the Romans and his first letter to the Corinthians.  In Romans, Paul provides his deepest theological treatise.  He reflects passionately about justification by faith apart from the Law (but not alone!), a Christian's moral code and the impact of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.  In 1st Corinthians Paul continues his focus on the crucified Christ and applies this truth to a particular church in Corinth.  He specifically addresses some sins of the Corinthians, most severely against disunity.  Topics such as the Eucharist, the Church as a body of Christ, organized worship and the resurrection are also covered.

Complainers and the Cure: Daily Mass Homily--Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            Our first reading from Numbers records the wanderings of Israel for forty years in the desert.  Over and over again they complain.  Consider the example from today: “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water?  We are disgusted with this wretched food! 
The complainants grossly forgot some important details in their whining.  Like the plagues.  Or the crossing of the Red Sea.  Or the manna which God was miraculously providing.  And this food was wretched?!  All that God did and the Israelites whined about being hungry?
Lest we judge—how often do we complain?  Spiritually speaking we have everything we need to receive God’s grace.  We have been baptized, confirmed and are fed with Jesus’ Body and Blood.  Materially speaking, did you walk to a well with unclean water to drink this morning?  Did you get to eat today?  We are in a first world country—do we keep things in perspective?
Back to the Israelites—they were punished by serpents and many died.  Yet the cause of the punishment became the cure: “Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.”
And this is what Jesus did.  The cause of calamity—the fall of humanity—became the cure in Jesus Christ.  Like the bronze serpent, the Son of Man was lifted up for our salvation.  What do we have to complain about?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Susanna, sin and the woman caught in adultery: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, March 23rd, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            There’s a lot of cool stuff going on in this long reading from Daniel.  This morning I’d simply point out why I think it is placed in Lent—it is a poignant reflection about sin.
            First, the elders fall to the sin of lust.  As they did so the sacred author notes, “They suppressed their consciences; they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven, and did not keep in mind just judgments.”  Isn’t this what happens with any sin?  When we chose something immoral—be it through lust, gossip, greed—we suppress our conscience, don’t look to heaven and don’t keep in mind good judgment.  That’s precisely what sin is.
            Second, Susanna had a heroic response in the face of sin.  “‘I am completely trapped,’ Susanna groaned.  If I yield, it will be my death; if I refuse, I cannot escape your power.  Yet it is better for me to fall into your power without guilt than to sin before the Lord.’”  Susanna chose to die before sinning.  Would you die before sinning again?
            Finally, for when we fall short of such heroism, we turn to the antithesis of Susanna—the woman caught in adultery.  Jesus utters that famous line: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  So too, if we approach Jesus humbly after sinning we receive his mercy and are told to “…go and sin no more.”

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Covenants and the Paschal Mystery: 5th Sunday of Lent

(Listen to this homily here).

            We live in a society that is driven by contracts.  Think about it.  If you have a job, you signed a contract.  If you own a home or are renting an apartment, you signed a contract.  Do you have a car?  A cell-phone?  Insurance?  All of these require signing a contract.  Have you ever read the receipt you sign if you pay with a card?  “I agree to pay the following…”  Another contract.
            Contracts, agreements about stuff—money, services, goods—help our economy and daily lives run.  But life would be pretty sad if every relationship was limited to a contract.
            In fact, the Bible reveals a different sort of relationship that goes deeper than contracts—covenants.  This is a key word to our Catholic history, theology and faith today.  Simply put, a contract is a promise that lasts forever.  God forged several covenants with His people in the Old Testament—Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David—and this is how he built His family. 
The best modern example of a covenant is a marriage.  In the wedding a man and woman promise to be faithful until death.  They promise this through sickness and health, good times and bad for richer or poorer.
            Every covenant had two parts.  The first was the promise or oath, usually addressing future descendants, land or prosperity.  The second was a sacrifice.  These may appear bizarre to our eyes, but was a reality.  An animal (or several animals) was slaughtered and their blood was shed.  Abraham actually divided the parts of the animal and walked through the remains.  The priests in the temple would sprinkle or dump animal blood on the people.  Can you imagine if I brought in a bucket of animal blood and poured it over you during Mass? 
            Why so much blood?  One reason is that the Israelites believed the source of life resided in blood.  To forge a covenant, the offering of blood showed the offering of a life to seal the oath.  Another reason is that it was a sort of accountability.  Sacrificing an animal was like saying, “If I am unfaithful to my promise, let me be like that animal!”
            Now with these thoughts about covenants in mind, listen again to the words of Jeremiah: “The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (this is why I don’t have to pour blood on you!).  “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD.  I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
            Where is this prophecy fulfilled?  Look at the cross!  Jesus fulfills every covenant through his crucifixion.  Through this act, God promises us eternal life.  He promises us forgiveness of sins.  And Jesus seals this covenant by shedding his own blood.  He gives his own life to ratify the greatest covenant of all.
            Another name for Jesus’ sacrifice is called the Paschal Mystery.  This is another key phrase that we should know well as Catholics.  It simply means dying equals rising.  It is what Jesus is getting at in the parable about the grain of wheat: “…unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
            What a powerful image.  Imagine how small a seed is and what it can grow into—what it can produce.  I remember from elementary school a DNR officer coming in to teach us about the habitats of lakes.  He brought in some wild rice and showed us how it had burrs to allow it to embed in the mud.  He also told us never to put it in your mouth…so we all did and it wound up in our bellies! 
            Jesus is that grain of wheat that fell from heaven and came to earth.  He gave his life so that we all may live.  His sacrifice on the cross led to eternally abundant fruit.  Jesus did this for us by fulfilling the Old Testament covenants.  Through the Paschal Mystery we enter into this covenant.  So how do we give our lives to God and others?

40 Hours Devotion: Parish Bulletin--3-22-15

As we gather to celebrate the 5th Sunday of Lent, we are only one week away from our Lenten 40 Hour Devotion.  I am excited to fill in some of the details now:

·      We will begin at 7:00pm on Friday, March 27th.  Fr. Drew Braun will be speaking about the power of Eucharistic Adoration.  (Previous speaker Kevin Pilon is unable to come until Saturday—he and his family close on a house on Friday!)
·      Around 7:30pm we will transition into our time of Adoration, praise and worship and confession.  Formal reposition of the Blessed Sacrament will take place and we will have five to six priests hearing confessions.  (This is your time to get to confession with a visiting priest!)  We will also have praise and worship to enhance our time of prayer.
·      Scheduled adorers and greeters will begin after confessions have been completed Friday evening.  Adoration will continue until 10:00am Sunday morning.
·      Saturday afternoon (March 28th) will feature our regularly scheduled confessions (4:00pm) and Mass (5:00pm).  Light refreshments will follow Mass and Kevin Pilon will give a talk on Theology of the Body at 6:30pm.  Adoration will resume after its completion.
·      At 10:00am on Sunday morning (March 29th) we will conclude the 40 Hours with formal Benediction and Divine Praises.  Kevin Pilon will be playing music for both this and our 10:30am Mass. 

Please sign up for an hour (both adorers and greeters are needed)!  As the Church will be open throughout the weekend, please stop by any time to pay a visit to Jesus Christ.  I pray this 40 Hours will prepare our parishes for a dynamic holy week and Easter Triduum.

God Bless!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Radical faith of St. Joseph: Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, March 19th, 2015 (Solemnity of St. Joseph)

(Listen to this homily here).

            St. Joseph doesn’t have a line in Sacred Scripture.  But his actions speak volumes.
            First, in the opening verses of the Gospel according to Matthew, Joseph learns of Mary’s pregnancy: “Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.”  We probably think, “Well that was a nice act, Joseph.”
            Not quite.
            In the mind of a Law abiding Jew, Mary’s pregnancy would have warranted death!  Remember the woman caught in adultery in John 8?  She was about to be stoned when Jesus stepped in.  Joseph knew that Mary’s baby wasn’t his, and instead of turning Mary in, he was going to divorce her quietly.
            Here the angel intervenes: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.  For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”
            Even with 2000 years of reflection, the Annunciation and Immaculate Conception may be hard to believe.  Indeed, they are both impossible at the natural level.  Now imagine Joseph—who didn’t know the whole Jesus story—be told that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit!  What faith!
            Joseph, like us, was a sinner.  Yet look at the extraordinary faith he had.  It would not be an overstatement to say his faith was radical.
            St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church, pray for us.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A mother and Father: Daily Mass Homily--Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            We hear about both a mother and a Father in our readings today.
            First, the last lines from the prophet Isaiah: “Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?  Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”  The first thought I had when reading this passage came from a recent visit with my best friends.  Unfortunately, the kids were sick and Emily was holding her two-year old daughter.  Allie puked all over her…four times!  The whole time, Emily was comforting her and seemingly unconcerned about getting soaked in puke.  Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?  Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”
            Moving from a metaphor to reality, Jesus says in John 5: “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.”  This may seem innocent enough to us, but remember what John added after this line: “For this reason they tried all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God.”  Jesus was killed because he called God Father.
            A big reason why we believe in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit comes from John 5.  It is from passages like this we understand God as Father and Jesus as Son.  This means it is okay to call God Father and to understand God as such!
            The love of a mother and father to a child is said to be the greatest human love possible.  If this love is so great, try to imagine God’s love for His children.