Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What is your golden calf?: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, July 27th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            One of the first modern-day examples I think about when I ponder the Golden Calf incident is the trophy presentation at major sporting events.  Now don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy sports and don’t want to condemn all athletes and fans of idol worship.  But seeing thousands of people—millions over television—rejoicing over a trophy, be it the Stanley Cup, Superbowl, World Series or NBA Finals, must be the closest example to the Golden Calf.
            What is your golden calf?  What is that hidden pleasure, obsession or sin you turn to when it seems like God is far away (as Moses was gone 40 days on the mountain)?
            Now the key question—do you take responsibility for such sin?
            Listen again to Aaron’s ridiculous statement after the people demanded a god to worship: “…I told them, ‘Let anyone who has gold jewelry take it off.’  They gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and this calf came out.”  Really?  Melted gold just happened to form a golden calf?  Uh, that’s not how it works, Aaron!
            The blame game and irresponsibility for sin has been consistent since the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.  It is seen again in Aaron’s not taking responsibility for forming an idol.
            May we recognize the ways in which we place stuff before God and take responsibility for these sins, especially in the sacrament of Confession.  

Sunday, July 26, 2015

How are you fed?: 17th Sunday Ordinary Time

(Listen to this homily here).

            Imagine entering an all-you-can-eat buffet—a first-class joint.  Picture the steak, lobster, ribs and chicken in the main course display with all the sides—mashed potatoes, bacon (the best side of all) and the like.  And the salad—if you’re into that sort of thing—plus all the fruits and vegetables.  Finally, the dessert!  All you can eat for every course.  Where would you begin?  You could eat all you could and there would still be leftovers.
            This is like our Catholic faith at the spiritual level—an all-you-can-eat buffet.
            We begin a five-week walk through John 6—one of the most important chapters in the Bible that every Catholic should know.  This is the chapter in which Jesus promises to feed us with his very flesh and blood—the Eucharist.
            In the first fifteen verses of John 6 we had a remarkable pairing with Elisha in 2 Kings.  In both cases there was a hungry crowd.  Both featured a gift of bread—but a gift that could not have fed everyone.  Elisha the prophet, and Jesus, both took these gifts, multiplied them and fed all in attendance.  And both narratives state there were leftovers.  The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.”           
In light of these accounts, I want to speak about how we are fed within our Catholic faith.  Part of the reason for this is that the most common reason for brothers and sisters leaving the Church is, “I’m not being fed.”  This should motivate our Catholic parishes to be welcoming and hospitable, provide good homilies, reverent music and the best worship possible.  At the same time, we have ample opportunities to be fed—but like the crowds we have to show up.
The main course of our Catholic buffet is the Eucharist—which is what John 6 is all about.  Jesus feeds us with his body and blood.  While we may not always feel like we are fed, if we receive Jesus’ body and blood we are.  This is an objective reality.  No matter how bad the homily may be, no matter how unwelcoming the congregation—even if the music is bad—Jesus feeds us in the Eucharist.  I would argue that no Catholic who believes in the Eucharist could ever leave our faith—because this is what feeds us.
And another sacrament we can receive any day—Confession.  At any moment we can be fed with God’s infinite mercy, be forgiven of our sins and nourished by his forgiveness.
Now let’s look around at some of the other ways we can be fed each day.  First is the way I seek nourishment every day—the Bible.  Any moment you would like to hear God’s voice—simply open up the Scriptures and read…and pray.  If you aren’t feeling fed—read the Bible.
Or another resource—and this is one of the most underrated books in our Church—The Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Now you may think, “That looks like a thick book with no pictures and nothing more than a list of rules.”  Well, it is thick and has no pictures, but it isn’t a sterile rulebook.  This isn’t a manual of no, bigotry or rules.  It is a study from the Scriptures and inspiring teachings of the saints.  It guides us deeper into love of God and neighbor and can be taken to prayer. 
Eventually I want to get a bookshelf in the back of our Church with nothing but Bibles and Catechisms for your use…keep your eyes peeled!
Next, please check out our parish library.  Over the past couple of months we have sorted through books and updated what we offer.  I want our library to be a place with the fullness of Catholic teaching that inspires us to grow.  We also focused on evangelization.  Our library is at the head of the donut line—check out a book and learn!
Since moving to International Falls, I have discovered another way to be fed intellectually—through Lighthouse Media cds.  They feature inspiring talks by some of the best speakers, youth ministers and priests around our country.  With the long drives we have, why not put in a cd to help you learn?
These are a few of the many options in our buffet.  I could go on and on about Catholic social teaching, morality, service to the poor, sacred art and music and the like.  The point I want to make—show up and be fed!  Sample the all-you-can-eat buffet and come back for seconds with what you really enjoy.
Check out John 6 this week.  Reflect about how you are fed.  If you aren’t feeling satisfied, make an effort to be fed with the abundance of our faith.  And enjoy being fed today through Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist.

Use what you have been given--Totus Tuus day #5: Daily Mass Homily--Friday, July 24th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            This is your last quiz.  And you have to pass this quiz or else there won’t be a water fight later!
            First, what does totus tuus stand for?  Totally yours.  And what language is this?  Latin.  And who said it?  John Paul II.  St. John Paul II, yes.  Wow, you guys are smart!
            Next up, let’s review the strings we received each day.  First string color?  Green.  And green stands for?  Hope.  Remind me what we connected these strings with—a certain prayer?  The Rosary.  Yep, and which mysteries?  The Sorrowful Mysteries.  Nice—you’re rolling!  What is the first Sorrowful Mystery?  The Agony in the Garden.  So we see our green string, reminding us of the green garden in which Jesus agonized.  All to give us hope.
            What is the second color?  White.  Which stands for?  Purity.  And the second Sorrowful Mystery?  Scourging at the pillar.  Jesus, in shedding his blood for us, purifies us from sins.  The prophet Isaiah said, “By his stripes you are healed.” 
            Third color?  Purple.  Which is for?  Royalty.  How do we see this in the third Sorrowful Mystery?  Jesus is given what?  A crown of thorns.  Yep.  It was ironic that the soldiers mocked Jesus as a king—but he really was!
            Moving to the fourth Sorrowful Mystery—carrying of the cross.  So we wear a blue string to remind us of what?  The tears of the women.  
            Finally, what color did we receive today?  Red.  To symbolize?  Jesus’ blood.  And this is a great reminder of the fifth and last Sorrowful Mystery—the crucifixion.
            Excellent work everyone!  I should have quizzed the adults to see if they are as smart as you.
            To finish today, remember the Gospel—Jesus compares his Word to seeds that are planted in the ground.  They have to be fed, watered and cared for to grow.  You have received many seeds of faith this week—be sure to take care of them!  One of the best ways to do this is to keep coming to Mass.
            I’ll finish with a true story involving a young girl down in Kansas.  She went to Totus Tuus for a week and was so excited she wanted to go to Mass the following Sunday.  Her parents didn’t usually go to Church, but on Sunday morning she woke up, knocked on her parents’ bedroom door and asked them if they could go to Church.  They replied, “No, honey, we’re going to sleep in today.  Go back to bed.” 
            The next week something similar happened, though the girl did her homework.  Sunday morning she once again knocked on her parents’ door and asked if she could go to Mass.  They said no again, so she asked if she could bike to Mass.  They answered, “No, just stay here this morning.”  Now this girl was clever—she pointed out, “You let me bike to the park and Church is closer than that.”  The parents finally agreed to let her bike to Mass.  Imagine this young girl biking to Mass with her pink streamers and Barbie helmet!  She marched in by herself and attended Mass.
            The next Sunday, this girl went to knock on her parents’ door and they were dressed and ready to come back to Church.
            You have received a great gift this week.  You have learned more, prayed more and had a lot of fun.  Be sure to use the gifts you have been given!  If you are already coming to Mass with your family, praise God.  If not, keep asking them to bring you!
            Thank you to our teachers for a great week, our volunteers for all their hard work.  Thanks to you and your family for your presence and let’s keep learning, praying and having fun in our Catholic faith!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

You know more about Jesus--Totus Tuus day #4: Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            It’s great to be back for Mass with you on our fourth day of Totus Tuus!
            So did we get another string today?  Yes, it’s blue!  Blue?  And what does blue stand for?  Tears?  Really?  Boy, that’s a bit of a shift from things like hope, purity and royalty.  And why do we think of tears today?  What’s the fourth Mystery of the Rosary?  The carrying of the cross.  Yes—and do you think Jesus cried when he carried his cross?  Probably—it must have hurt a lot.  Jesus shows us that it is okay to cry—and that even through tears he is with us.
            I want you to think about the last couple of lines from our Gospel today: “…blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear.  Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
            Think of this—tell me someone from the Old Testament—the beginning of the Bible.  Adam and Eve.  Ok, did Adam and Eve know Jesus?  No.  No, they didn’t!  They came way before Jesus!  Who else from the Old Testament.  I don’t even know what that is.  The Old Testament is the first part of the Bible.  Anyone else?  How about someone who survived in a den with lions?  Who was that?  Daniel!  Did Daniel know Jesus?  No.  Daniel survived the lions which is pretty cool, but he didn’t know Jesus either!  Anyone else?  God.  Sure, God is in the Old Testament, but what about humans?  Or how about someone with an ark?  Noah.  Did Noah know Jesus?  Nope. 
            Here’s my point—you know more about Jesus than anyone in the Old Testament!  There are some amazing people that did incredible things—yet they didn’t know Jesus Christ.
            We are so blessed to know God’s son—to know that Jesus died for our sins.  Be very thankful today for being able to know Christ!

No complaining, bread from heaven--Totus Tuus day #3: Daily Mass Homily--Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            Welcome to Mass again on day number three of Totus Tuus!  And it looks like you have new strings today!  What color did we get?  Purple.  And who brought them to you?  A moose with juice!  Really?  I didn’t know we had moose walking around here—and with juice?
            So what does the color purple remind us of?  A king.  And which king do we remember.  Jesus.  Yep—that’s always a right answer here in Church!
            And what was the third Sorrowful Mystery we learned about this morning?  The crowning of thorns.  Yes.  You know, the soldiers were making fun of Jesus by calling him a king and they gave him a crown of thorns that hurt him.  But all along, Jesus was really the King of the world!
            Now a couple of thoughts for our readings today.  Remember what happened in the readings yesterday?  Moses led the people through the Red Sea—on dry land!  Remember, we pretended our seminarian Beau led us through Rainy Lake?  So the Israelites make it through the Red Sea safe and sound.  And do you know one of the first things they do on the other side?  They complain!  They complained after seeing how powerful God was!  A great lesson for us—we should never complain.
            Now God answered the Israelites’ complaint by giving them some special food.  Do you remember what it was?  It was called bread from heaven…manna.  I don’t know if you knew this, but did you know they had several cool recipes for the manna?  They made ba-manna bread.  And mannacotti.  Come on, those are supposed to be funny!
            Where do we receive special bread from heaven?  When we go to Church!  Indeed—every time we come to Mass God gives us Bread from heaven—Jesus’ body and blood.
            As we come to Mass today, let’s remember not to complain, because God has given us so much.  More than anything else, he feeds us with Jesus’ body and blood.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Jesus wants to be our brother--Totus Tuus day #2: Daily Mass Homily--Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            Alrighty…well I hope you have your thinking caps on and I hope you are on your best behavior at Mass today.  And here I’m not just speaking to our kids, but to the peanut gallery in the back!  And Beau!  Beau, be on your best behavior.  Let’s show the adults how well you can be at Mass today.
            Now to the thinking caps.  Who can tell me where we are?  Church.  Yes, but what kind of camp are we at?  St. Thomas Aquinas.  You’re right—but what is the event called?  Totus Tuus.  And what language is that?  Latin.  And who said it?  John Paul II.  And what does it mean?  Totally yours.  Totally mine?!  You mean, you’re all totally mine?  No—we are totally God’s.  Yes.  Never forget that—we are totally God’s.
            And it looks like you all have a new string on today—what color do you have?  White.  And what does white stand for?  We don’t know yet.  You don’t?  Well what have our teachers been doing all morning—taking a nap?!  I think white stands for purity.
            I noticed something cool when I put on my vestments this morning—white and green are the colors I am wearing!  My alb is white, symbolizing purity.  My chasuble is green, symbolizing hope.  Pretty cool that what I am wearing matches our strings!
            Now for our readings today…Jesus tells us that those who do his will are his brothers and sisters.  Think of how cool that is!  Jesus is God, right?  Yes.  Glad I got that one correct!  Yes, Jesus is God!  And now he is telling us he wants to be our brother?  That’s amazing…think about that.
            As we continue to learn, pray and have fun, never forget that Jesus wants to be your brother and friend!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Jesus is greater--Totus Tuus day #1: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, July 20th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

             Wow, what a fancy bracelet you’re wearing!  And you, too…you’re both wearing nice green jewelry.  And you too!  What, did you all facebook each other to wear matching bracelets this morning?  They’re for Totus Tuus!  And why green?  What does green stand for?  Hope.  Who are you hoping in?  Jesus!
            Alright, and what else have you been learning today?  Any special prayers you’ve learned?  The rosary.  Cool, and who is the rosary about?  Jesus!  Yep, Jesus is always a right answer here.  Jesus and who else?  Mary.  There you go.  Check this out [I pull a rosary out of my pocket].  How many of you have rosaries in your pockets?  No one?!  How about our adults—kind of a quiz question for you.  You should always have a rosary with you!
            Ok, now to the readings.  I confess, I wouldn’t have chosen these for day one of Totus Tuus, but some pretty important things happened.  First, we had this guy named Moses do something pretty cool.  What did he do?  He led the people through water.  Indeed he did!  Imagine our seminarian Beau leading you all to Rainy Lake, hitting the ground with his walking stick and having the lake separate so you could walk through it.  This is what God did through Moses.
Or Jesus mentioned a man by the name of Jonah.  Jonah was eaten by a shark…right?  No, it was a whale!  Oh yeah, it was a whale.  I suppose if Jonah was eaten by a shark he wouldn’t have been spit back out.  But yes, Jonah was eaten by a whale, stayed in its stomach for three days and came out again—pretty impressive. 
Then there’s king Solomon—one of the great kings of Israel.  He was reportedly the richest and wisest of all the kings.
But you know what Jesus said?  There is something greater here…something greater than Moses walking on dry land, greater than Jonah and the whale and greater than Solomon.  And who is that?  All together now…Jesus!  Yep, we come to Mass to be with Jesus, the greatest in the world.
As we continue to learn, pray and have fun at Totus Tuus, let’s always remember that we are about Jesus!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Confident in our Shepherd: 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

(Listen to this homily here).

            There is a story of a Shakespearean actor who liked to host dinner parties in his mansion.  After dinner concluded he provided the entertainment by taking requests.  Someone would ask to hear something from Romeo and Juliet, Othello (and those are the only plays I know from Shakespeare), and he would perform them.  As the evening went on, he got more and more into it, earning greater applause.
            One evening, an elderly priest stood up to make a request and he said, “Sir, would you mind reciting the 23rd Psalm?”  The actor agreed, provided that the priest would also recite it.  The priest agreed.  The actor performed Psalm 23 with great eloquence, perfect diction and emphasis.  He earned a standing ovation at the end.  The priest thought to himself, “How am I going to beat that?” but he bowed his head and from his heart prayed Psalm 23 as he had done so often in his life.  While he didn’t have the same gusto, dramatic flair or enunciation, you could hear a pin drop when the priest finished and there were tears in many eyes.  The actor said to the crowd, “Do you see what happened?  I knew the Psalm.  Father knew the Shepherd.”
            Do you know the Shepherd?
            Our readings were all about shepherds this weekend.  We start by hearing the prophet Jeremiah condemning bad shepherds.  Here, context will help understand why.  Jeremiah prophesied in the darkest period of Israelite history.  The kingdom had been split with the northern tribes (Israel) having been decimated by the Assyrians.  The southern kingdom (Judah) was about to meet the same fate at the hands of the Babylonians.  Throughout this history the people were led by 42 different kings (starting with Saul, David and Solomon).  Of these, only six were described as good in the Bible!  The rest were described as evil, wicked and not knowing God.  Through Jeremiah, God condemned these false shepherds, and promised to send a good shepherd.
            Then we prayed Psalm 23—one of the most famous Psalms in the Bible and poems in the world.  Like the Lord’s Prayer, this is a prayer that fits all seasons.  It is used in Baptisms and at funerals and can be sought in both joyous and sorrowful times.
            Might I encourage you to memorize this Psalm?  Consider that some homework for this week.  And I know you can!  When I was at my last assignment, I began the candy basket—offering candy to our students if they could memorize a Bible verse (nothing like bribing kids to memorize the Bible!).  The sixth graders were a bunch of punks—apparently they were too cool for candy—and hardly any kids took up my offer.  So one day I marched two third graders into the sixth grade class—and they both recited Psalm 23.  If third graders can do it, so can you!
            And when Jesus, in the Gospel according to Mark, “…saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”
            The good news for us—Jesus continues to shepherd his Church almost 2000 years after his death.  One of the ways he does this is through the hierarchy (pope, bishops, priests) he established.  Now many may cringe when they hear this word—hierarchy—today.  “That’s too rigid,” or “It’s all about power” some think. 
            But do you know what the word for shepherd is in Latin?  Pastor.  Pastors—myself included—are meant to be a shepherd of souls, to nourish, protect, guide and assist the flock of Christ. 
            Jesus continues to give us pastors to ensure the people of God are shepherded today: Pope Francis for the universal Church, Bishop Paul Sirba for the Diocese of Duluth and I have the humble honor to serve you. 
            Please pray for your pastors—for your shepherds.  Can you imagine Pope Francis’ job?  He needs our prayers!  Pray for his health, safety and wisdom.  Or Bishop Sirba.  I can tell you first-hand that no priest wants to be a bishop (and a priest who wants to be a bishop should never be a bishop!).  Bishop Sirba didn’t want this job, but he said yes when he was asked to serve our Diocese.  Please pray for him.  And you all know by now that I need prayers.  Please pray that, as a young man, I may be given the strength, wisdom and joy to lead you well.
            Finally, always remember that we are all about Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.  Popes, bishops, pastors and priests come and go.  Remember, we all follow Christ!  If you receive anything good from a priest, bishop or pope, remember that is the Good Shepherd working!  If you receive less than that, it is due to a man’s sin or imperfections.  Please God, our earthly pastors will lead many to the Shepherd.
As we heard about shepherds today, we are grateful that Christ continues to Shepherd his flock through the holy Catholic Church today.  Let’s strive to follow Jesus the Good Shepherd faithfully today and during this week.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Follow up on clergy sexual abuse: Parish Bulletin--7-19-15

This week I want to provide you with a written response, based on my homily from last weekend, to the seven names of credibly accused priests by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate last weekend. 
Even without knowing all of the facts—who did what, when and where—this absolutely breaks my heart—as I am sure it does yours.  As a priest, I find myself disgusted, embarrassed, ashamed, angry and a whole lot of other words that I can’t write in this column, whenever I hear of crimes—or alleged crimes—committed by a member of the clergy, especially against a child.
Yet my reaction—our reaction—only pales to the damages done to victims of clergy abuse and their families.  First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go to anyone who has been harmed or abused by a priest.  On behalf of our parishes, diocese and Church, I am so sorry.  I beg you—if you have not already—go to law enforcement.  As a beloved son or daughter of God, you deserve justice.  As the Psalmist says, “Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.”  You deserve healing.  You deserve wholeness.  Please take that courageous step to speak with law enforcement about what happened.  You do not have to suffer in silence and you could help stop current abuse from happening again.
I pray also that victims of clergy abuse—or any other abuse—may find healing through Jesus, through our Church and through the sacraments.  Know my door is also open if you have experienced such egregious behavior in your life.
I want to be clear—priests who have harmed children—like any other person—are criminals.  They are not above the law.  Their actions represent neither Jesus Christ, who said “Let the children come to me…” nor the Catholic Church, nor the Diocese of Duluth nor our parishes.  They reflect the actions of criminals and the ugliness of sin and evil.  Frankly, such offenders are sick and they must experience justice and healing through our civil and ecclesial systems. 
Sadly, we live in a world and society where abuse is far too common.  While the Catholic Church makes the front page for such crimes (which isn’t the worst thing in the world, as it keeps us accountable), the Catholic priesthood is actually among the lowest percentage of offenders in any demographic—less than 2% of priests have been accused or convicted of such crimes.  In no way does this excuse any misconduct—one case is far too many—but the fact is that abuse is a national problem.
And, despite what you may see (or not see) in the media, the Catholic Church in the United States is on the front lines to combat this issue.  I have seen this firsthand in my time in seminary.  Before I could even enter seminary I had to pass a thorough psychological examination and a background check.  Throughout my time of formation, education on safe environment, boundaries and best practices were consistently taught.
In the United States, the Diocese of Duluth and our parishes, safe environment training is required for all priests, religious, employees and volunteers, as is a background check, for anyone working with minors.  I also have the right to ask for such training and a background check from anyone else who works or volunteers in our parish. 
We are trained—to various degrees based on our profession (think here of our teachers)—to look for signs of abuse and have been consistently told to call the civil authorities if we suspect abuse.  Our Catholic churches and schools today are actually among the safest places your kids can be. 
Many of you know the men whose names appear on the list I read from Bishop, and I would like to speak to you.  I have heard you share your own shock, disappointment, confusion and grief: “Fr. so and so did my wedding,” “I was a good friend of his,” “He baptized my children.”  Again, I am sorry for the pain you may be feeling now. 
Please remember, our Church has been and will always be made up of sinners.  Think of the 12 apostles—Peter denied Jesus, Judas betrayed Jesus and only one out of the twelve were with Jesus as he hung upon the cross.  Yet our Church, made up of sinful members, is “without spot and wrinkle.”  If Christ worked in your life through a priest—even if this priest did bad things on the side—Jesus still worked, especially in the sacraments.  It is Jesus who presides at the sacraments.  In the ancient church there was a famous saying, “When Judas baptizes, Jesus baptizes.”  The mystery of the Mystical Body of Christ is that it is perfect—yet made up of imperfect people.
Finally, as I have prayed through difficult situations in my priesthood, I find we must remember two things.  First—when evil strikes, how do I respond?  What is my personal answer to evil?  How do you respond?  I hope you respond with holiness.  I hope you respond in the exact way the evil one hates—by growing closer to God.  Our world and our Church—both going through some dark times—needs saints.  This is your call.
Second, I am reminded of a line at Mass.  It is one of my favorite lines that I and other priests proclaim: “Lift up your hearts.”  Lift up your hearts!  God has given our parishes many blessings: joy, excitement, new families, growing school, growing faith formation, hospitality, service to the poor and yes, even donuts.  Let these continue in the name of Jesus Christ! 
Jesus Christ has led the Church he has established for 2000 years.  He has now led the Diocese of Duluth for 125.  For nearly the same time he has led our parishes.  Anyone who has studied Church history knows we have been through a lot during this time and have lived through some crazy times.  For me, one of the greatest proofs that our Catholic and Christian faith is of God is that we are still around!  We have tried to mess it up over and over, yet here we are.  Because we are all about Jesus Christ.  He promises to heal the brokenhearted and to be with us until the end of the age.
So we turn to him in the most holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  We offer our prayers on behalf of victims of abuse and their families.  We offer our prayers for truth, justice and forgiveness.  We offer our prayers for our own parishes, community and diocese.
Lord, let your truth spring out of the earth, and your justice look down from heaven.
God Bless.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The power of God's Name: Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, July 16th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            This morning we heard one of the most mysterious passages in all of Scripture—the revelation of God’s name: I am who am.”  This name gets at God’s essence—that God is pure being, that God has existed for all time with no beginning or end.
            This name is mysterious because the Hebrew grammar only made sense when the one saying the name was the One whose name it was.  The Jewish people believed that uttering this name was blasphemous and worthy of capital punishment.  Thus they had a profound respect for the name of God.  It was never spoken aloud, save for once a year by the high priest at the feast of Atonement.  Even in writing this name was substituted with (the English equivalent) LORD in capital letters.
            God’s name has power.  Today we honor Mary under the title Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  The origins of the Carmelite religious order come from this mountain in Galilee, the place where the prophet Elijah battled the priests of Baal.  In 1 Kings 18 these men had a contest.  Both set up an altar and a sacrificial victim, but were not to light it.  The priests of Baal called upon their god to consume the sacrifice, but to no avail.  Then Elijah, having covered the sacrifice with water to prove a point, called on God’s name—and the offering was consumed by fire.  The crowd who watched shouted, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God!”
            Yet how often do the crowds today disrespect, denigrate or use God’s name in vain?  Perhaps this is a vice in your life that needs to be cut out!  I often tell kids that it is a million times better to use the F word than God’s name in vain.  (I also tell them they shouldn’t spew out profanities either!)
            May we respect the awesome name of God today.  It has power and should be revered!

Names signify: Daily Mass Homily--Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            I want to thank you and Fr. Carlson for your hospitality and welcome to your parish.  I am tempted to share some stories about Fr. Carlson from our time in seminary together, but he is the presider and would get the last word.  So I’ll let what happened in seminary stay in seminary!
            I want to speak a bit this morning about names.  You know, names tell what something is.  Yesterday our group was in Valleyfair and the names of the rides we went on said a lot.  One of our bravest members went on the Rip Cord—a really high bungee type ride.  You get dragged up backwards and then have to rip the cord to enter a free fall.  Perhaps a better name for this would be Fall to Your Death.  Or my favorite ride—the Lazy River.  This is also self-explanatory.  You sit on an inter tube in a chlorinated river and do nothing until you have gone the whole way around.  It’s awesome.
            As we are introduced to the book of Exodus, we will hear about God’s name.  The reading I have in mind will come tomorrow, in which God tells Moses, “I am who am”—God’s name reveals that He is pure being, pure existence.  His name signifies Who God is.
For today, remember how powerful this experience was for Moses and how powerful God’s name is.  We live in a society in which God’s name is taken in vain, mocked and denigrated.  Respect God’s name today!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Trials leading to victories: Daily Mass Homily--Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            As we hear the beginning of the exodus story—when God delivered His people out of Egypt—we are introduced this morning to our hero Moses. 
            Exodus 2 recounts the wrath of Pharaoh as he had killed the Hebrew baby boys. To save his life, his mother placed him in a basket and hid him in a clump of reeds in a river.  Moses was actually named for how he was saved: “…she said, ‘I drew him out of the water—this is what Moses means. 
Imagine the peril the baby Moses was in sitting in that basket in the water!  Yet think about what happened later in Moses’ life—he led the Hebrews through the Red Sea on the path to freedom.
How often God uses experiences—especially negative ones—to bring victory later.  I think here of my friend Fr. Albert in Ghana.  As a young boy he was uneducated, poor and served as a shepherd.  Now he is a priest—a shepherd of souls!
Or imagine Alcoholics Anonymous.  What began as a group of individuals struggling with an addiction has led to a fellowship that has helped millions of men and women experience freedom from addiction.
I know in my own life, the sins and weaknesses through which I have struggled for many years, have prepared me to help others in similar challenges.  This is especially true in the confessional or in counseling.
And today, we celebrate St. Kateri Tekakwitha—the first American Indian saint.  Having received the Gospel in the 17th century she lived an austere and prayerful life.  For this she was ridiculed and persecuted.  Over three hundred years later there are Kateri circles around our country and she serves as an inspiration not only to the first residents of this land, but to us all.
Let’s trust that God has a plan for everything we experience today.  Even if we face challenges, He will use them for His glory if we are open.