Thursday, May 28, 2015
Sirach shows the importance of exposure to other cultures: Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, May 28th, 2015
(Listen to this homily here).
Yesterday after Mass one of our teachers told me how much she liked being introduced to the book of Sirach. I had to smile because Sirach is my favorite book in the Old Testament.
Written in the 2nd century BC, Sirach represents the best synthesis of Jewish belief. The historical context helped make this so—Jewish culture and religion was bumping into Hellenism—Greek culture, philosophy and religions.
Jesus ben Sira maintained the truths of Jewish faith and worship, rejected what was wrong in Greek culture and adopted what was good. For instance, our reading from this morning talks about God’s word, wisdom, nature and the like. All of these were important to Jews, but adopting some Greek insights only helped grow in understanding.
As we live in International Falls, it is important for us to learn from different cultures from our own. I can attest to how my life changed getting to know my brothers from Ghana, Africa. Through spending time in seminary, visiting their country and being immersed in Ghanaian lifestyle, my life changed. We have had many conversations about our respective cultures—how they are similar and different—and how we can learn from each other.
Be open to different cultures. The best way to do so—travel! If you are at all able to travel to a different place in the world, do so. If not, remember that we do have several nationalities represented in our own parish—Vietnamese, Filipino, American Indian, First Nations and Mexican. Get to know such individuals! Ask them to share their story! Invite them to share a meal!
Our Catholic faith embraces every culture in the world. She takes the good and purifies the bad. Be mindful that many different cultures make up our Church and our lives will only improve by learning from other ethnic groups of people.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
First, congratulations to two of our students who were baptized on Sunday! What was your favorite part, guys? Getting water dumped on me. And you? Same thing. That is the best part, because that is when the Baptism actually takes place!
And thanks, gentlemen, for carrying up Mary and the crown. I know you all had the chance to crown Mary at school, but I wasn’t able to come, so we’ll do a simple Marian crowning now. [Student comes up to crown Mary].
Here’s a question—why do we put a crown on Mary? She is God’s Mother. Yes, great answer! Who else wears a crown today? Jesus. Well…yes, he does wear a crown—a crown of thorns. But who today wears a crown? What sort of people? Kings and queens. Right, so if Mary wears a crown, what is she? A queen. Yes. But wait a second, I thought kings and queens were married to each other. Jesus and Mary were not married. What’s going on there? I’ll give you this one, as it’s a tougher question. In the Old Testament, the queen was the mother of the king! So Jesus’ mother—Mary—is the Queen.
Alright, now tell me what this is [I pull out my Rosary]. A Rosary. And what are the main prayers of the Rosary? The Hail Mary. The Our Father. Yep. One of the mysteries of the Rosary—the last one, in fact—is the Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth!
Finally, do we pray to Mary? Yes. Well, sort of. We actually only pray to God. We ask Mary to pray for us.
So let’s turn now to Mary and the saints and ask for their prayers as we continue Mass.
One of my favorite quotes from Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI is one he delivered speaking to young people; however, it applies to us allow. He said, “Have no fear in giving everything to God. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Similar sentiments can be found in our first reading and Gospel. Sirach states, “Give to the Most High as he has given to you, generously, according to your means. For the LORD is one who always repays, and he will give back to you sevenfold.” Peter, asking the reward for the disciples’ sacrifices hears Jesus’ response, “Amen, I say to you,
there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.”
When I was at The College of St. Scholastica, I heard an inspiring story about one of the Sisters. For a special occasion, her family gave her a beautiful watch. Since Sisters hold everything in communion—in other words, they have no private property—this Sister presented the watch to the prioress. Mother responded to this gift, “Thank you so much for this generous gift, Sister. Now I would like to ask you to use this watch and take care of it.” That’s often how God works!
I have experienced this in my own life as a priest—the more I give, the more I receive. What seems like a sacrifice one day reaps immense benefits the next.
Finally, I chuckle at Jesus’ promises of such rewards: “…houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life…” It’s like Jesus snuck a reminder in about trials in the faith! The point—committing our lives to Christ will lead to immense blessings, but also suffering.
Let’s live our life for Jesus today and remain faithful through both blessings and hardships.
Monday, May 25, 2015
A few weeks ago I had an interesting experience. I can’t remember all of the details, but I think I was at a family’s home for dinner when one of the kids said, “Fr. Ben said a bad word at church.” At this, my heart skipped a beat. I could see myself letting something slip! I didn’t remember anything of the sort so I asked the child, “What did I say?” He said, “The H word.” I was really puzzled then when the Mom said the word I had used was hate.
This moment inspired me in two ways. First, good for this mom and dad teaching their children to speak well and pure! They were instilling in their children the call to love, not hate. Second, I had used the word hate in a flippant way—I probably said, “I hate when the donuts are gone”—and it was good to be reminded of the importance of good speech.
At the same time, remember that some things at some times are okay to hate. Yes, we want to strive to love, but listen again to the words of Jesus Ben Sira: “Turn again to the Most High and away from your sin, hate intensely what he loathes, and know the justice and judgments of God…”
At a deeper philosophical level, remember that God Himself does not hate—God is love. God doesn’t have emotions or even make choices in time as we understand it. Yet the sacred authors of the Bible personify God’s manifestation of things outside of His love as hatred.
It is good to hate sin. It is good to hate error. It is good to hate evil. In so doing we never hate people but wicked actions, ideas or beliefs.
With these thoughts in mind, here is a great examen to ask yourself: do I hate what God hates? Do I love what God loves? Think about these questions today…
Sunday, May 24, 2015
As we celebrate Pentecost, we heard the powerful manifestation of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. There were tongues of fire. There was a loud wind. The building shook. Those huddled in a locked room out of fear were emboldened and they preached in every language.
This weekend I would like to make one simple point: the Holy Spirit, who worked so powerfully at Pentecost, is the same Spirit at work today.
Since I arrived at St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Columban we have had eight Baptisms. Actually, numbers nine and ten will take place after the 10:30 Mass. Each of these children received the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of Baptism. The same Spirit.
We have also had ten Confirmations—four adults at the Easter Vigil and six of our high school students. Now I didn’t see tongues of fire, but the same event took place as at Pentecost—the Spirit confirmed their faith.
Or think about some of the recent blessings God has given our parishes. I commend you for growing in joy. Take a look at coffee and donuts—I know I will be joyful! And it’s not from a chocolate donut! One of our senior members of our parish recently said to me, “Father, we have our happy back.” Praise God! This joy comes from the Spirit.
Or consider the ways in which we serve. I have always been proud of your efforts here. Whether it is coming to Mass at Good Samaritan, visiting the elderly, bringing communion to the sick, serving dinner at the Community Café, working in the Clothes Closet and the like, “there are different forms of service but the same Lord.” Such charity is not possible without the Spirit.
Finally, I am grateful for our growth in hospitality and welcoming guests to our parishes. In the United States, hospitality is consider a nice quality—something good to practice. But in Jesus’ time—in the period of the Israelites—hospitality was an essential virtue.
Last weekend I noticed a new person walk through the doors—this young woman may potentially be working in IFalls for a few months and stopped by for worship. After Mass was done I put you all on the spot and asked her what her experience of our parish was like. She said, “Father, I felt so welcomed. Several people said hello and made me feel at home.” Praise God! Again, this is the Spirit at work.
Now reflect on how the Spirit is working in your own life. You are here at Mass. You made it here on a holiday weekend. Perhaps it took an extra tug from God to leave the lake or the cabin to come, but here you are. You cannot come to Mass without the Holy Spirit first beckoning you.
Have you ever prayed? “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Prayer requires the Spirit first moving our hearts.
Do you love anyone? “God is love.” No God—no love!
Finally, let’s think about the Catholic Church around the world. We have over 1.2 billion members worldwide. In the last 2,000 years, no one has fed more of the hungry, clothed more of the naked, educated more students or visited more of the imprisoned or hospitalized than the Catholic Church. This is fruit of the Spirit.
We heard how the disciples spoke in many different languages as they proclaimed the Gospel at Pentecost. The Catholic Church today literally speaks every language in the world. This weekend, there is Mass in Germany in German, Mexico in Spanish, and many languages in Africa. We literally speak every tongue known to man.
This is all in addition to the ways God has worked through the Sacraments. Billions—perhaps trillions—have been baptized, confirmed, fed by the Eucharist and healed through Confession and the Anointing of the Sick. The Spirit is alive and well!
Do you see this?
The disciples in the upper room received the Spirit and now we are 1.2 billion strong. There were far less in that room than in this Church. Imagine what God could do with us if we are open to the Holy Spirit!
Sorry for neglecting to turn in my bulletin last week. I bet you were all waiting with bated breath to read the babblings! Here goes…
This weekend I would like to make a few points regarding our annual United Catholic Appeal (UCA) campaign which has officially began.
Since we are in a remote location within our Diocese, it may be challenging to witness the many blessings God has bestowed on our regional Catholic Church. But did you know that the Diocese of Duluth is considered a leader in our state and even nation in several areas of ministry? Consider the following:
· Between 2006-2009, we were in the top five in our country (per capita) for our number of seminarians (those studying to be priests). We were as high as fourth. FOURTH!
· Since then, many of our seminarians became priests (including me). This means that we now have one of the youngest collective priesthoods in the nation.
· Our efforts in faith formation are recognized nationally through the leadership of Fr. Mike Schmitz (UMD Newman Center chaplain and the Coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministry).
One of my goals as pastor is to continue strengthening the relationship between our parishes and the Diocese of Duluth. This means both continuing to invite people to come here and seeking opportunities for formation out of town.
In this spirit I am grateful for the visit from Aubry Haben last weekend. She was another example that many from around our diocese want to spend time in the northernmost part of the state! I hope her words inspired you to be generous.
Similarly, this summer we have the privilege of hosting a seminarian—Beau Braun. Beau is a great man and I can’t wait until we serve as brother priests in our diocese! He is also the younger brother of one of my best friends, Fr. Drew Braun (pastor in Cook, Tower and Orr). Beau is on track to be ordained a transitional deacon for the Diocese of Duluth in 2016 and a priest in 2017. God willing, he will serve for many decades as a priest in our Diocese after that.
Through Aubry’s words last weekend and Beau’s service this summer, I hope you will continue to see just how blessed we are in our parishes and throughout the Diocese of Duluth. None of this would be possible without your spiritual and financial support both to our parishes and to our Diocese.
My challenge to you—let’s raise $45,000 by December 31st for UCA. This would cover our assessment (just under $40,000) and chip into what we owe from the past.Thank you and God bless!
Thursday, May 21, 2015
Explanations of heaven with help from our students: Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, May 21st, 2015 (School Mass)
It is great to be with you all this morning! I was out last week and we had to change our usual school Mass this week, but here we are.
I have a joke for you this morning…can I tell a joke? What is the difference between a Pharisee and a Sadducee? [Blank stares]. I’ll give you a hint—they’re two different sects of ancient Judaism. [Blank stares]. Ok, I’ll just tell you. The difference between a Pharisee and a Sadducee is that a Sadducee doesn’t believe in the resurrection. That’s why they are sad, you see?
Wow, tough crowd this morning! I thought that was funny!
Anyway, when we talk about the resurrection, what are we talking about? Jesus. And what about Jesus? What did he do when he rose from the dead? He went to heaven. Yes, exactly.
Tell me something about heaven. It’s a place where no one gets hurt anymore. Wow, what a powerful definition of heaven. You are exactly right—in heaven there are no tears, sadness or pain. What else? Heaven is where we are with Jesus. Again, what a perfect definition of heaven! We get to be with Jesus in heaven forever.
Here’s a question—do we become angels in heaven? Raise your hands if you think we become an angel in heaven…raise your hand if you think we do not become angels in heaven. The fact is, we do not become angels in heaven—angels are completely different from us! We become saints!
And who is the greatest saint of all time? I’ll give you a hint, I’m wearing an image of her today. Mary! Yes—Mary is the greatest saint because she followed Jesus the best. In fact, she was Jesus’ mother! In the month of May we celebrate Mary—the greatest of saints.
Let us stand now and offer our prayers to our heavenly Father.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
(Listen to this homily here).
The line that stood out to me this morning came in the last line from our Gospel: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”
You know, I would never think this intentionally, but sometimes I am taken aback when trouble happens in our parish, diocese, world or in my personal life. Again, I know Jesus never promised it to be easy, but doesn’t it always seem like a raw deal with bad things happen?
Jesus was very clear when he promised, “you will have trouble”. On the contrary, the Bible never claims that life will be easy if we are faithful.
So troubles are bound to come—it’s not a matter of if but when. How do we respond? Do trials and tribulations cause us to grow bitter or become better?
Here’s the good news—Jesus has conquered the world! No matter what loss we think we experience here—no matter how many battles we lose—Jesus has won the war!We are on the winning team. Always remember that in difficult times.
On this glorious solemnity of the ascension of Jesus Christ we celebrate Jesus’ return from where he came.
Remember, Jesus Christ was God—the second Person of the Holy Trinity—God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He has existed for all time. He came to us as a man and spent thirty-three years on our planet. He then returned to heaven.
Have you ever thought of what this must have looked like? Did Jesus have rocket boosters on that blasted him to space? Did he fly? Was he in a plane? Well, obviously they didn’t have planes in Galilee! It is interesting to think—how did Jesus go back to happen? What did it look like?
We might think—without even knowing or intending to—this is just a story. Yet the Bible makes clear, both in our first reading from Acts and in the end of the Gospel according to Mark: “So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.” Jesus really returned to heaven.
Here’s an example from nature that may help explain the ascension of Jesus. It’s something we are surrounded with in Northern Minnesota—in fact, you can hear it right now—rain! Specifically, think about the water cycle from elementary environmental studies. It begins (or to be more precise, continues) in the sky in clouds—in the heavens. Rain then falls to the earth where it provides life—we see springtime here and can see the green grass and buds on trees from after the rainfall. The lakes and rivers fill and teem with life. Indeed, all life requires water. And when the water has done its job, where does it go? It returns to the heavens.
A key, if you will, to understanding how Jesus returned to heaven is by remembering how water returns to the sky. There are no waterfalls running upwards—for water to ascend it changes to a gas. Its substance, while the same, changes states. Yes, Jesus went back to heaven, but he did so in a glorious form—in a different dimension.
Isaiah captures this metaphor well. Listen to Isaiah 55:10-11: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
Finally, note the last words Jesus said to his followers: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” Never forget our basic mission—love God, love our neighbor, seek the lost and make disciples. Share the story of the Good News of Jesus!
Jesus Christ hasn’t left…in fact he is more fully in charge of the Church now—seated at God’s right hand—than ever! He sent the Spirit (which we will celebrate next weekend) to give us courage to preach the Gospel. May we respond to this charge this week.
Sunday, May 10, 2015
A very happy Mother’s Day to all you Moms! None of us would be here without a Mom and thank you for all you do (especially if you have a punk son who is now a priest).
Also, welcome and good luck to you fishermen on the opener. If you are reading this, you came to Mass on opening weekend—praise God! You defy the false reasoning (as did St. Peter) “I’d rather be fishing thinking about God than in Church thinking about fishing.” (By the way, would anyone say this about a million dollars—“I’d rather be fishing thinking about a million dollars than in a bank cashing out a million dollars thinking about fishing”?)
Moving on…I would like to thank you all for your efforts in welcoming people to our family of faith! For the past several of months, it seems like every weekend there is a new person or family paying us a visit. More than this, people stopping by for worship are paying God a visit! A smile, greeting, introduction and offering to sit with newcomers goes a long way in making them feel like part of our parish.
I have heard many good reports from both parishioners and non-parishioners of our efforts to grow as a welcoming community. This is what evangelism—sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ—is all about. Keep up the great work.
One of the simplest ways we show hospitality is by hosting coffee and donuts after our 10:30 Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas (or the last weekend of the month at St. Columban’s). I know, I know, I may be obsessed about chocolate covered raised donuts, but bear with me! Stop and look around what goes on at our post-Mass celebration of delectables—kids are happily running around after a sugar spike, parents are talking, visitors are introduced—in short fellowship occurs and our parish grows because of it.
Two thoughts—summer is coming up and I would like to see such fellowship continue after 10:30 Mass, especially as we will have many visitors to welcome and host. I realize it’s vacation season, but if you could commit to a weekend or two to serve coffee and donuts during the summer months we would all appreciate it! (By way of reminder, hosting is easy…it will take about ten minutes of your time and provide hundreds of smiles and satiated stomachs). Please call the office or stop by to pick a date and receive instructions.
Second—keep introducing yourselves to people you don’t know in these opportunities of fellowship—this includes both visitors and the regulars. The reality is, most of our weekend attendees don’t know everyone at Church. While it may be awkward to introduce someone you’ve seen at Mass for years, keep building connections with parishioners and guests alike.
Evangelism, hospitality and welcoming go hand-in-hand-in-hand. Keep inviting people to come to Mass and reach out to them when they arrive!
Happy Mothers’ Day and opening fishing!God Bless!
This will be John 15 part two. Last week I preached about the first eight verses of this chapter. Remember the image of the vine and the branches? We also heard about the themes of remaining in God, love and bearing fruit.
Today we heard my favorite verse in all of Scripture. To prove I’m not just blowing smoke and making up my favorite verse, here’s a little show and tell for you. This is my holy card…on the front side is St. Sebastian, my patron saint. On the back, you eagle eyed people can see a verse—John 15:13: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” This verse is also etched into the bottom of my chalice.
A few powerful points as we continue walking through John 15.
First, laying down one’s life. Jesus is the ultimate example as he laid down his life on the cross for his friends—his friends of old and his friends today. He offered himself as a pure sacrifice for our sins.
The Second Vatican Council had an insightful message about laying down our life. In Gaudium et Spes the Church taught that, “Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift through a sincere gift of himself.” We are unrecognizable—even to ourself—if we do not lay down our life in love for others. This is what Jesus did, and this is what we must do.
Another point—friendship. This theme also has a special place in my heart. For many years the description of friendship in the Scriptures has inspired me. Here’s another show and tell item—this is my Master’s Thesis [showing it in book form]. Don’t worry, I won’t make you read it! The culmination of my research came in Jesus’ declaration, “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends.” This features an entirely new way of relating to God.
In the Old Testament, only two individuals (Moses and Abraham) were described as a friend of God. And such a description was only used once! Every individual in the Old Testament—David, Solomon, Isaiah and the rest—were always called a servant or slave of God—never a friend. Now Jesus says to his disciples, and to us, “I have called you friends.”
Remember that Jesus isn’t referring to us as friends as a sort of drinking buddy, fishing partner or chum. True, Jesus wants to be with us through every day life, but the friendship to which he refers is much deeper. In ancient times, the greatest love that was humanly possible was the love between friends. This exceeded the love of a man and his wife! The spirit, it was thought, was not clouded by passions and the love was a disinterested sort. Jesus calls us to friendship, and that is completely new.
Another theme addressed—“You did not choose me, but I chose you.” So often we think about how we can grow in our faith. How can I pray more? How can I discover God in new ways? In what ways can I serve better? These aren’t bad, but the fullness of our spiritual lives does not come in finding God—it comes in recognizing that God finds us. There’s a great poem called The Hound of Heaven which describes God as a relentless hound that hunts us across the globe. God is searching for us long before we search for Him. Our faith isn’t so much as finding God as letting us be found by God.
Finally, everything is about joy: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Jesus wants us to be happy. God wants us to be happy. The Church wants us to be happy. We can only experience joy through what Jesus teaches us in this powerful passage of Scripture. We must lay down our life for others, seek friendship with God, be found by God and allow joy to grow in our hearts.
I’ll finish this week as I did last week—please take John 15 to prayer. Discover what God wants to speak to you in this powerful section of the Bible!
Thursday, May 7, 2015
(Listen to this homily here).
“I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.”
One of the greatest gifts from Pope Francis is his focus on joy. I love it! And it makes sense…if Jesus has won the battle, why shouldn’t we be joyful? Jesus wants to give us joy—joy that is full!
I have preached and written about joy frequently…this morning I would like to make a simple point about joy. Joy isn’t a fake smile, fake bubbliness or pretending to be happy.
Rather, joyfulness can be present even if someone doesn’t experience pleasure. A cancer wracked patient may witness abundant joy. No, this person may not feel pleasure…but joy isn’t about pleasure.
The more you are open to the virtue of joy the better you are. The better your family is. The better we are as a parish.
I pray that we may be joyful. In so doing, may we as a parish be joyful!
First I want to point out how well our first and second graders read this morning. You had some hard words to read!
Question for you—what were the most difficult words you read? Circumcision. Okay—ha! That is a tough one…especially with the silent C it starts with. I’m going to skip this word this morning. If you have any questions, ask your parents. Any others? Presbyters. That is another tough one. Okay, what is a presbyter? Here is a hint—there is one presbyter at Mass this morning? A priest! Yes—I am a priest, which in the period of Acts was called a presbyter. (That’s Greek, by the way…)
Do you know what is really cool? The presbyters from our readings are the priests of today.
Let me give you an example. I have asked a few people to come up for a demonstration this morning. Let me call up one of our older students in school. [A 3rd grader volunteers to come up]. Next, I see one of our youngest parishioners (between the ages of 1 and 2) whose Mother brought him here. Can you both come up? [They do]. Finally…how about one of our senior parishioners. [Mr. N whom I talked to before Mass comes up.] By the way, I asked him Mr. N if it was okay to call him up during the homily and he agreed…and he still sat in the very last pew!
Alrighty…to our student of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School—were you baptized at St. Thomas Aquinas? Yes. Did I baptize you? No. What year were you baptized? I don’t remember. Were you baptized as a baby? Yes. Well, since you are eight years old, I am guessing you were baptized in 2007. This means I did not baptize you.
To [a mother with child]: When were you [addressing Mom] baptized? 1980. And when was your [two year old son] baptized? 2013. And who baptized him? I wasn’t here yet, so which priest baptized your son N.? Fr. Kris McKuskey.
To [our senior parishioner]: Do you remember when you were baptized and the priest who baptized you? I was baptized in 1930 by Fr. Sliewsovich...
This is what is really cool about our faith. I have had the privilege of serving here for the past nine months. Before I arrived another priest was here. And before that, another. Our priests could trace a line all the way to Jesus!
Here is what I want you to remember today: the presbyters we heard about from the book of Acts served in the same role as the priests today. This is amazing! And I’m not preaching in favor of a particular priest…I am speaking about the priesthood!
For example, I am a priest, right? Yes. But I, as a priest, have been personally impacted by other priests. Think about it. Before I was a priest I was baptized by a priest. My first Confession was by a priest. I received first Communion from a priest. I was actually confirmed by a priest [due to a transition of our Diocesan Bishop]. Priests to this day hear my Confessions.
Jesus gave us an amazing gift of the priesthood. And do you know what? As a priest myself, this is the greatest gift I have received.
For you little guys, who wants to be a priest today? Have you ever thought about being a priest?
If God is calling you to be a priest, you are called to an amazing life. Please say yes!