Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The third way--thoughts on the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex unions: Daily Mass Homily--Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

           This morning I would like to share with you Fr. Mike Schmitz’ idea of the third way.  He has a book coming out about this, and has also given a talk on Lighthouse Media on the subject.  The reason for sharing in this manner is the recent Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex unions in our country.
            Fr. Mike’s idea—consistent with our Church’s moral teaching—is the reality of a third option when it comes to men and women with same-sex attractions.  The first option—posed by secular society—is to endorse any action an individual seeks as long as it doesn’t harm others.  This way leads to a false dichotomy that you either  “support us or are a bigot” mentality.  In issues of same-sex attractions, our society poses an either/or mentality.
            Yet these aren’t the only options.  Our Church has always posed this third way—to reject sin while loving the sinner.  This is what Pope Francis meant when he said, “Who am I to judge?” when he was asked about men and women with same-sex attractions.
            I also bring this controversially issue up because of our first reading.  Now, please grant me a pass on explaining the fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah…but the fact is the Bible is clear that the men of Sodom, in desiring to sexually abuse other men, sinned grievously.  Sodomite and sodomy today are still defined by the acts these men desired.  The Bible is clear that sexual relationships of any kind outside of the marriage between one man and one woman is immoral. 
            At the same time, we don’t believe in a “kill the sinner” mentality.  I mean, some people, in the name of Christ, think that hurricanes have been God’s way of punishing gay people!  Come on!  Yes, we can remain steadfast in calling sin a sin and calling wrong wrong.  But we do so gently, firmly and all the while welcoming the sinner back to Christ.
            Finally, consider the early Roman martyrs.  Under the wicked Emperor Nero they were stripped naked and crucified.  They were made into human torches.  Yes, the Supreme Court opened the door to attacks on religious liberty and our faith.  But this isn’t nearly so bad as it has been for Christians in other times and places!  While we are rightly frustrated with this poor decision, we don’t need to panic or think the end of the world has arrived.
            We continue to stand with Christ—in truth, love, and mercy—and his Church, seeking to glorify him in all we do.

Monday, June 29, 2015

St. Peter and St. Paul--Daily Mass Homily: Monday, June 29th, 2015 (Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul)

(Listen to this homily here).

            We celebrate a unique solemnity today in that we rejoice in both Peter and Paul.  Think about it…when we celebrate the life of a saint we celebrate one person.  The only exceptions to this are when we celebrate a saint and their companions (for example, on June 3rd we remember St. Charles Lwanga and Companions).  Today we have two of the greatest saints sharing the same feast day even though they had different lives and days of death.
            St. Peter and St. Paul were very different.  Consider how they even got to know Jesus.  Peter was called right away and spent three years—day in and day out—with the Lord.  Paul was knocked to the ground and met Christ through a mystical experience.  Or do you remember to whom they ministered?  Peter sought the Jews—Paul the Gentiles.  The Scriptures even record a fight between the two men when Paul called Peter out on acting hypocritically.
            What did Peter and Paul have in common?  They both got Jesus’ fundamental question—“Who do you say that I am?”—right. 
Sinners are boring.  Saints are unique and exciting.  God has called Peters—cradle Catholics who walk with Jesus every day.  God has called Pauls—those with dramatic faith conversions with 180 degree changes.  God has called you—with your unique gifts, talents and personalities—for mission.
May we proclaim the Good News of Jesus today like Peter and Paul!
St. Peter and St. Paul, pray for us!

God did not make death...but He conquers it: 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

(Listen to this homily here).            

           “God did not make death nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living…”
            Have you ever imagined what it would be like to live forever?  I’m guessing most of us have fantasized about immortality.  But did you know that we believe that, had Adam and Eve not sinned, they would have been immortal?  Both the Scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church teach that we were created for immortality!  For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him.”
            It’s cool to think about what else Adam and Eve were like before the fall.  These are called the preternatural gifts (preter = before).  For instance, prior to sin we know they were in right relationship with God, their own person, each other and nature.  Sin caused disintegration in each.  Perhaps this is most obvious to see with God.  The first sin caused an eternal break between God and man.  Other consequences may not be as obvious.
            For instance, we constantly experience disharmony in our bodies.  Even though our will wants to listen to a homily or teacher in school, our body falls asleep.  Rather than exercise—which would be good for us—we watch TV.  We eat chips but not oranges.  Our body does not always do what our minds want it to.  This was not the case before sin.  Mainstream Catholic theologians think that Adam and Eve had seamless integration of their bodies and souls.
            Sin features the breakdown of marriage and families.  See any newspaper or news broadcast to see this!
            Many theologians speculate that a unique connection to nature was also part of Adam and Eve’s experience prior to sin.  You know how animals—horses, dogs, birds—can tell a storm is coming without seeing a weather report?  It is thought that we, too, had such a sense because God made us in harmony with all of creation.
            Finally, it is largely assumed that before sin, Adam and Eve would not have suffered.  They probably didn’t experience pain.
            Suffice it to say, Adam and Eve messed up big time!  But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who belong to his company experience it.”
            God did not make death.  But He conquers death.  That is the heart of our Christian faith! 
            Today we heard of Jesus’ authority over death.  A twelve-year old girl (sixth or seventh grade age today) died.  Imagine witnessing the grief and heartbreak of her family.  Now picture Jesus telling this dead child, “Talitha koumLittle girl, I say to you, arise!” and seeing her get up!  Everyone in that room knew that Jesus was God—after all, who but God could raise someone from the dead?
            But Jesus didn’t just conquer the death of one little girl.  He conquered death itself.  God sent His son to die for our sins.  God, who was rich, became poor for us.  Look at the cross.  Look at the empty tomb.
            God did not make death.  But through His son, Jesus Christ, He conquers it.

Grateful to be a Priest: Parish Bulletin--6-28-15

            This past week I celebrated my third anniversary to the priesthood—praised be Jesus Christ!
            Next to life—first as a person and second as a Baptized Christian—being ordained a priest is the best gift I have ever received.  In fact, one of the first prayers I offer when I wake up each morning is, “Thank you God, for another day to serve you as a priest.”  Each night my day concludes with a similar act of gratitude. 
I could not imagine my life not being a priest.  I have the honor of celebrating Mass every day.  I am in the humble position of offering Christ’s forgiveness for sins in Confession (and also receive this sacrament frequently).  I am charged to baptize, witness marriages, anoint and preside at funerals.  I consistently get to walk with the grieving, sick and poor and have plenty of opportunities to teach both in our parish and school.
            And after serving at St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Columban for nearly a year, I can tell you how honored and happy I am to serve you.  I know this joy and peace runs deep—I have actually had a couple of nightmares that Bishop asked me to leave our parishes.  Each time I woke up with that panicked feeling and thought, “Thank God that was just a dream and I am still here!”  God (and Bishop!) willing, I hope to be here for many years!
            During this joyful time in my life as a priest, here are three requests to you all:
i.)             If you are a single guy (ages two and up!), please consider the awesome vocation to the priesthood.  If you are called to be a priest, you will have the ride of your life.
ii.)            Please pray for more vocations to the priesthood in our diocese.  We will soon unveil our Diocesan Vocation Prayer at every Mass (more on this later) but pray that many young men will respond positively to Christ’s call to be a priest.
iii.)          Please pray for me.  I want nothing more than to lead you to Jesus Christ.  Pray that I will be happy, healthy and holy as a priest.  Pray that God may give me wisdom to guide our parishes, especially with difficult and/or unpopular decisions.
Know of my prayers of gratitude for the priesthood and for you all during this joyous time!
God Bless!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Building your house on rock: Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, June 25th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            Given Jesus’ parable this morning about the house built on rock, I would like you to remember the floods from last summer.  Doesn’t Jesus’ words apply to that time?  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted…”  The power of that flood was powerful—destructive even.  Remember the wrecked docks, homes as well as all the sandbags?
            As I have been visiting people now I have found it interesting how many people have replaced old docks with ones built on rock cages.  No more docks on wheels or ones people put in and out each year! 
            Another image I thought of when I read this Gospel was from one of our parishioners’ homes.  Their retaining wall next to the lake looks like something from a fortress.  It is a couple feet thick and several feet high.  This rock structure looks like it could take on a hurricane and protects their yard and house from the elements.
            This parable of Jesus has deep meaning.  The rain, floods and winds represent sin, the secular world, illness and death.  Building a house on sand suggests a weak foundation which may come in the form of selfishness, radical individualism, materialism and the like.  We see people around us building such lives and they are blown around by every wind.
            The obvious point is that we must build our spiritual lives on rock—on Christ…on the Church.  And the two most basic ways we can do this: the sacraments and daily prayer.  If we are faithful to Christ and his Church in these two simple areas, we will help build our souls on rock.
            With the image of last summers’ floods in mind, remembering the power of water in the natural world, keep in mind there are more powerful forces in the spiritual world.  Strive to build your life on Christ, through faithfully receiving the sacraments and growing in daily prayer.  Only then will we remain on a sure rock foundation.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

John the Baptist: Jesus' relative, friend and recipient of salvation: Daily Mass Homily--June 25th, 2015 (Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist)

(Listen to this homily here).

            Here’s a riddle to start your day—what do John the Baptist and Kermit the Frog have in common?  [Silence].  They have the same middle name.  [Insert crickets sound effect].  Get it—the?  [Awkward laughs].  Wow, tough crowd this morning.  And I stayed up all night thinking of that!
            Moving on, we do have a great solemnity this morning of the birth of St. John the Baptist.  He was the bridge between the Old and New Testament and the herald of the Messiah.
            While much could be said about St. John the Baptist, this morning I want to share the ways he was in relationship with Christ.
            First, John and Jesus were related by blood.  Remember how Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth (John’s mother)?  Thus they were in fact related by blood.
            Second, John was called the friend of the bridegroom.  He himself says: “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full.”  In a modern context, this title is similar to a best man at a wedding. 
            Finally, John saw Jesus as his savior.  While John baptized Jesus, Jesus saved John!  Thus John uttered a simple line that we should all memorize and know well: “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30).
            Brothers and sisters, we are called to relate to Jesus in similar ways.  While we are not related to Jesus by blood, we are indeed his brothers and sisters.  By his coming as a man, we became adopted sons and daughters of God!
            We, too, are called to be friends of Jesus.  Jesus specifically said, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
            Finally, Jesus is the one and only savior.  We are sinners—Jesus the savior.
            Following the example of St. John the Baptist, may we proclaim the Good News of Jesus to the world.  May we live today as his brothers and sisters—as his friends.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pearls before swine, Golden Rule and the narrow road: Daily Mass Homily--Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            Jesus gives us some great parables about growing in holiness this morning.
            First, he tells us what not to do: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.”  These are some powerful images, especially when considering that the pig was the most unclean animal for Jews. 
            What is holy, what are represented by the pearls—is the Good News we have all received.  It is the grace God has given us.  Jesus’ examples describe what happens when we sin.  Picture taking pearls—the grace of Christ—and throwing them in a pigsty.  Imagine the pigs trampling them in their own waste—and then attacking you!  Now that is a vivid image of sin!
            Jesus then tells us what we should do: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”  The Golden Rule—simple as that.
            And how fitting is his last parable about the wide versus narrow road.  It would be easy to go with the flow in our society—to think only of myself, my needs, my desires, my wants.  Jesus calls us to be gifts of ourselves to others, to follow him in a countercultural way.
            Today may we not throw away the grace God has given us.  May we love our neighbor as ourself as we seek to follow the narrow path.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Praise God for my third anniversary of ordination to the priesthood: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, June 22nd, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            With gratitude to God, I am celebrating my third anniversary to the priesthood today.
            Ordination weekend three years ago was the best weekend of my life—hands down.  I was ordained on a Friday afternoon.  This was the moment in which I was consecrated and sealed to be a priest for all eternity.  If you have never been to an ordination try to get to one!  Saturday morning I presided at my first Mass with my family and friends in attendance.  Sunday morning featured a Mass of thanksgiving at my home parish, Holy Family, in McGregor.  My best friends served as lectors, musicians, ushers and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion.  It was a joyful weekend all around.
            This morning we heard about Abraham (at this point Abram).  In the 12th chapter of Genesis—the 12th chapter of the whole Bible—God simply tells Abram, “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.”  Abram’s response: “Abram went as the LORD directed him…”  Abraham is rightly called our father in faith.  He followed God without hesitation, without excuse, without question.
            If I have learned anything in three years of priesthood, it is that the closer we follow God’s will, the happier we are.  I love a quote from Pope Benedict XVI I have quoted before: “Do not be afraid of Christ!  He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything.  When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return.”  Like the countless men and women who have gone before us, let us not be afraid to follow Christ unreservedly!
            Finally, this morning I humbly ask of your prayers.  Pray that I may be a healthy, happy and holy priest.  As I said when I arrived last summer, I want only to lead you to Jesus.  Pray that I may be such a bridge—and never an obstacle—to Jesus.  Pray that I may receive wisdom for difficult decisions I need to make as a pastor.
            It is an honor to serve you and your families—please pray that I may do so faithfully!

Storms: 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

(Listen to this homily here).

            The common theme in our readings this weekend is storms. 
            Like you, storms have always fascinated me.  I wouldn’t call myself a storm chaser or anything, but it is pretty cool to watch nature put on some fireworks.  I have to admit though, ever since becoming a priest I have grown to love storms—when it storms at 4:00pm on Saturday or 10:00am Sunday people are reminded to leave the lake and cabin and come to church!  If I could, I would set a clock to bring us a storm every weekend at these times.  Lucky for you, I don’t have such authority.
            Storms amaze us—and we know a lot about them.  We have meteorology and weather forecasts.  We know about things like atmospheric pressure and electricity.  Yet a storm still fascinates.
Now imagine being alive three thousand years ago and experiencing a thunderstorm.  You, like everyone else, would attribute such a phenomena to the work of gods (or God).  In the Old Testament, one god to which storms were given credit was Baal.  The followers of Baal believed that a storm represented his terror and reign over humanity.  He would shout at humans with thunder and throw arrows at them (lightning). 
Naturally, the Israelites also saw God’s power and majesty in nature through storms.  Thus we hear that, “The Lord addressed Job out of the storm,” and in the responsorial Psalm, “They cried to the LORD in their distress; from their straits he rescued them, He hushed the storm to a gentle breeze, and the billows of the sea were stilled.”  Most especially we see this in the calming of the storm by Jesus Christ.
The setting of the Gospel was on the Sea of Galilee.  Now when we hear the word sea we probably think of a vast body of water, like an ocean.  The Sea of Galilee, though, is actually a lake.  To compare it to our area, the Sea of Galilee is one-sixth the size of Rainy Lake—thirteen miles at its longest and eight miles at its widest.  Storms could thus come up quickly on fishermen, leaving them in a dangerous position.
Imagine the terror the disciples experienced!  They weren’t wearing modern life jackets.  Waves were pounding the small boat up and down and were coming over the bow.  The wind was howling.  Thunder and lightning were booming.  The rain poured from heaven.  The disciples were probably thinking they were going to drown.
            Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.  They woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’  He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Quiet!  Be still!’  The wind ceased and there was great calm.  Then he asked them, ‘Why are you terrified?  Do you not yet have faith?’”
            If these men saw God’s majesty, power and authority in storms, who but God alone could calm a storm?  In this small boat, the disciples knew that Jesus was God!
            I would like to bring this to the spiritual level—metaphorically speaking we all experience storms in life.  Whether it is an addiction, depression, anxiety, cancer, illness or other trials, storms are bound to come our way.  How often do we, like the disciples, call out to Jesus “…do you not care that we are perishing?” while he seems to be sleeping?
Yet the account of Jesus calming the storm should give us great hope.  We see how Jesus immediately answered the disciples.  Jesus answers our prayers, too.  Not only this, but also Jesus had the authority to calm the storm.  So too does he have the power to answer our greatest needs.  And just as Jesus was near in the disciples’ time of fear and danger, he is always close to us. 
Just as storms in nature come and go, we each experience storms in our lives.  Have faith…Jesus is close!

Come to Daily Mass!: Parish Bulletin: 6-21-15

            In the spring of 2003, one of my friends challenged me to a Lenten resolution—attending 8:00am daily Mass.  I didn’t have a car at the time so he agreed to pick me up.  Most mornings we made it even though I was in college and 7:45 was way too early! Towards the end of Lent the priest (who noticed a couple of college vagabonds at his parish) made an announcement: “I know some of you have been coming to daily Mass throughout Lent.  Don’t stop when Lent is over!”  Praise God, this advice stuck and daily Mass became a regular part of my week.  This changed my life.
            Jesus says in John 6:54, “…he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”  The great news about being Catholic is that we receive Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  We may do so not only on a weekly but also on a daily basis!
            Two weeks ago I put forth a challenge: let’s increase our daily Mass crowd.  Are you retired?  Off from school for the summer?  On vacation?  Employed with flexible hours?  Wanting to grow closer to Christ?  Bored in the morning?  Check out daily Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Monday-Thursday at 8:30am.  There is no better way to start the day!
            But don’t take my word on this.  Currently we have 20-25 daily Mass-goers and they would be happy to share how this choice has impacted their life.  In fact, I will be encouraging them to invite you to join us for Mass during the week!
As always, know you are welcome at St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Columban parishes.  In a special way know this includes 8:30am Monday-Thursday at St. Thomas Aquinas for Mass!
            God Bless!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Power of the Lord's Prayer: Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, June 18th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            One of my summers on the path to priesthood was spent doing CPE—a clinical pastoral experience—at St. Mary’s hospital in Duluth.  I was assigned to the cardiac floor and cardiac ICU.  It was a great summer with many influential experiences.
            At the same time, my summer in the hospital was a bit awkward.  What I mean is, I was a seminarian at the time and as I visited patients I recognized that people needed the sacraments—Anointing, Confession, Eucharist.  All I could provide was my presence and prayers!  So I leaned heavily on the Lord’s Prayer and saw firsthand its power.
            One of the greatest was when I stopped by to see a young man that had attempted suicide.  He had a couple of kids, a broken relationship and ran into drug and alcohol problems.  After a long visit I asked if we could pray and led him in the Our Father.  Halfway through he began crying and after we said Amen he told me, “I think it’s time to come back to church.”
            We pray the Lord’s Prayer all the time—at Mass, within the Rosary, in other times of need—yet how often do we recognize its power?  People who have been away from Church—who have been away from God—for decades know the Our Father.  Half-conscious souls on their deathbed will start mouthing the prayer when they hear it.
            The Our Father is the only prayer that Jesus taught his disciples.  As we pray these words at Mass, let’s do so with gusto!  Remember how much power these simple words have in our lives.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Be a Cheerful Giver: Daily Mass Homily--Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            I love this line from St. Paul: “…for God loves a cheerful giver.”  What a great line to start the day!  And as we gather for Mass we might ask ourselves: am I a cheerful giver?
            Why should we not be cheerful givers?  St. Paul says as much as he continues in his address to the Corinthians: “God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.”  We each have all we need—from basic necessities to abundance to God’s grace and love. 
            Paul concludes what the purpose of such blessings is for: “You are being enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving to God.”
            May we be cheerful givers today, both to God and our neighbor.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Poverty, joy and generosity: Daily Mass Homily--Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            St. Paul speaks about an apparent contradiction to open the first reading.  He tells the Corinthians, “We want you to know, brothers and sisters, of the grace of God that has been given to the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their profound poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.”  The people in Macedonia apparently were going through some difficult times.  They faced profound poverty—and they were joyful?  Generous?  This doesn’t make sense from a materialistic or consumerist society.
            But in my life experience, it is true.  It seems that the poorer the region, the more joyful and generous people actually are.  I have seen this firsthand in Ghana when I have had the chance to visit my friends.
            Here’s one example.  A year and a half ago I was in Ghana with a number of parishioners from St. John’s—including some high school students.  One of our high school students gave out a bag of Starburst to a bunch of kids.  She gave away the last Starburst and another child showed up.  We watched as a little girl—four or five years old—unwrapped her piece of candy, broke it in half and gave it to her friend.
            Yesterday I spoke about detachment.  This is so important for us in a place with everything.  Poverty—detachment—helps puts things in perspective and makes us realize whatever we have is God’s.
            And this comes straight from God Himself!  Listen again to how our first reading closed today: “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich…”  Jesus emptied himself—detached himself if you will—to become poor.
            Like the Macedonians…like Jesus himself…may we become poor in order to be joyful and generous.

Monday, June 15, 2015

More than pacifism?: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, June 15th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

             We heard some of the powerful words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount this morning.  Matthew 5:38-42, like the rest of this sermon, flips conventional norms on their head.  He showed what the Law and prophets were really about—as opposed to the rigid interpretation of the Pharisees and hypocrites. 
            What leaps up at most readers are the famous lines, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.  When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.”
            Here many stop reading.  Jesus is a pacifist!  Jesus is promoting non-violence!  Well, sure.  But is Jesus telling us to never defend anyone?  Is he saying that, if you see a child being punched by an adult, we shouldn’t offer resistance?  Are there times we should defend ourself or others?  Now of course Jesus is against violence, war and the like.  And I don’t mean to open up a can of worms on a huge topic. 
            My main point this morning—keep reading!
            Jesus, after telling us to turn our cheek then says, “If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.  Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.”
            I would suggest that Jesus, among other teachings, is preaching about detachment.  Note that he referred to the body (being hit), possessions (cloak and tunic) and time (going the extra mile).  He is showing us that we must not be overly attached to what God has given us—our body, things and time.
            As we meditate upon the Sermon on the Mount, may we grow in detachment and recognize the gifts we have been given are God’s—not ours.