Storm Inside the Boat

Homily, Ordinary Sunday 12B

Growing up in the plains of South Dakota, I’ve always loved storms. Watching the clouds roll in from miles away, to see the lightning and hear the thunder, and the pounding rain and strong winds. But I don’t think I’ve ever had to be out during a storm or suffer too much from the consequences of hail or damaging winds. It’s one thing to watch a storm roll through from inside the comfort of our homes or even from inside our vehicles, but it was something very different for the Apostles, exposed in their fishing boats on the water, with the waves piling higher, filling the boat and always threatening to sink it. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you have water hitting you from every direction, and the boat under your feet is constantly moving and convulsing, being tossed around on the waves. 

Life always has its storms, those situations that can feel overwhelming, whether natural or man-made, at the level of international crisis with the pandemic and violent protests, or at the level of our own hearts, as we struggle and ask ourselves why we continue to make the same mistakes, to go after the same false gods, to commit the same sins time and time again. What is our reaction, what’s our instinct in the midst of these storms, of dangers and threats from outside or even from within our own hearts? Do we give ourselves over to fear, to anxiety, anger, and despair? Do we place our focus on the wind and waves that are passing away? Or do we take refuge in Jesus, the unshakable One, the same yesterday, today, and forever, who is able even to sleep through the worst of storms? 

I know I always found it a great comfort to be able to go up to the church in my hometown and always find Jesus there in the tabernacle, near the red glow of the sanctuary light. No matter what else was going on in the world or in my own life, no matter what storms were raging, Jesus in the Eucharist was always there. That unshakable Rock that I could always count on. Even part of my answering a call to the priesthood came from reflecting on how great a comfort it was to always find Jesus there in the tabernacle, and how that’s really only possible because men continue to answer the call of Christ and follow Him in the holy priesthood. 

Just recently, even in national news there’s been something of a storm concerning the Catholic Church and Jesus truly present in the Eucharist. Now I don’t often feel the need or much of any desire to comment on these controversies as they’re happening because that often seems like drawing too much of our attention to the wind and waves of the storm. But it is always fascinating to see how the Church is perceived or misunderstood by the wider culture, and often even by those who at least claim to be Catholics themselves. That anyone, let alone Catholics, should be surprised that the Church would have as a requirement for receiving the very Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion, that we actually be free from unrepented grave sins and free from public advocacy and support of grave sins, of the slaughter of millions of innocent human lives, it’s just amazing to me.  

That anyone on earth should be surprised by this, let alone actual Catholics, is a clear indication of how poorly these topics have been taught—or not taught, and misunderstood. And to believe that things like abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide are merely political issues, partisan stances that have no bearing or consequence on our eternal souls, this is the height of stupidity and willful blindness. The killing of millions of innocent human lives every year is the most pressing humanitarian issue, not just a political issue. I don’t care if you identify as Democrat, Republican, independent, if you’re a human being, you should have the same stance—publicly—as the Catholic Church has always had against these grave moral evils, which have such devastating consequences on human society throughout the world.  

And that there are any Catholic bishops who seem unwilling to even teach clearly about that, bishops who hum and haw about whether the USCCB should even write a document that probably very few people will actually read anyway, these bishops are an embarrassment to the Church. They are a dishonor to the legacy of countless martyrs throughout the centuries of the Church who bore unwavering witness to the truths revealed by God not just with words but with their very blood. Most of all, they dishonor Jesus Himself, the King of Martyrs, and His most precious Body and Blood entrusted to us upon the altar and in our tabernacles.  

The storms rage on, in the world outside but even within the boat of the Church, exposed to the wind and rain even as the fishing boat of St. Peter had no effective cover from the storm. But Jesus is still in the boat. Even when He seems to be asleep. And the answer for you and for me is still the same. Our true Refuge is still unshaken and unshakable. Draw close to Jesus. Receive Him as often as we can in the state of grace. That at least in us He may find a welcome home, a heart and mind and life open to Him, to bring rest and comfort to His most Sacred Heart. And that we may continue to find in Him our only true Refuge from the storm. 

Re-birthday and Father’s Day

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Sunday 12B

I am grateful to all those who remembered me, prayed for me, sent cards or others gifts for my birthday. Really, it’s my mom who should get most of the credit for what happened that day. For a long time now, I’ve tried to make more of a point to observe and celebrate the anniversary of my Baptism, my Re-birthday as a child of God. All the more so after 2015, when my Ordination to the Priesthood happened to fall on the same day. Saturday of this next week, June 26, will mark the completion of 6 years of priesthood for me and 33 years as a member of God’s Catholic Church.

June 26 is also the Feast Day of Sts. John and Paul, early martyrs mentioned in the Roman Canon, between “Lawrence, Chrysogonus,” and “Cosmas and Damian.” John and Paul were faithful and trustworthy servants of Emperor Constantine’s daughter, Constantia. As Christians, they were often engaged in the works of mercy, and when Constantia died and left them sizable properties, they distributed these also to the poor. When Julian became emperor, knowing their reputation as valuable servants, he even offered them a promotion. Instead of serving in the household of an emperor’s daughter, they would serve the new emperor directly.

Only one catch. This emperor known as Julian the Apostate (an apostate is one who renounces the true Faith) would require John and Paul to offer sacrifice to Jupiter (Zeus) and renounce their Christian faith. Both refused and were beheaded on June 26. The cowardly emperor had the executions carried out inside someone’s home, so as not to draw attention to the deaths of servants so well-beloved by the poor and by all who knew them. Through their intercession, God grant us always to place our love for God and for “the least brothers” of Christ above all concern for career, reputation, or material wealth.

This Sunday is of course Father’s Day, so be sure to remember, call, and make an effort to show your appreciation for your dad and grandpas. As I get older, I appreciate more and more how similar I am to my dad and how much I’ve learned from him. It’s also a bit strange now to see him in his role as a grandfather, now to 18 grandkids. As I was growing up, I never remember him keeping so many tootsie rolls in his pockets to hand out to us. I never really knew my own grandfathers—who had died either before I was born or shortly after—but my dad makes a great one. Father’s Day can also be a difficult time for those who lost their dads or grandads in recent years. Please remember to pray for those who mourn and for the repose of the departed.

Find Your Rest in God

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Sunday 11B

“Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31) This week I’ll be away on retreat at the Sioux Spiritual Center across the river in the Diocese of Rapid City. All priests are required to make an annual retreat for our spiritual health. This will be my first time out to this retreat center. In our own diocese, we have Broomtree and the Abbey of the Hills that regularly host retreats and other events. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to spend some extra time in prayer and reflection. 

One good thing about not getting all the hours covered during our 40 Hours Devotion in the two parishes is that it forced me to spend those hours with Jesus. I’m very grateful to those who were able to sign up or stop by during exposition, and I hope it was a fruitful time for you. Someone once compared Eucharistic adoration to going sunbathing. It gives Jesus, the Sun of Justice “with healing in His rays,” the opportunity to work on us, to give us a sort of spiritual tan even when we don’t always recognize or experience the benefits as its happening, little by little (Mal. 4:2). 

I mentioned in a homily a rule of thumb once told to me, that we should spend one hour each day, one day every month, and one week every year in more deliberate prayer and recollection. We get pulled in so many directions today that we need these times to re-collect ourselves, gather ourselves back together when we tend to spread ourselves too thin the rest of the time. And so many forms of entertainment today fall short of actual rest and leisure. They tend only to distract us for a time without doing anything to resolve the stresses of life or bring real or lasting refreshment. 

One of the most central commandments in all the Law and in the life of Israel concerned Sabbath rest and worship of God. For Christian’s, we observe the Lord’s Day, Sunday, when Jesus rose from the dead. God commands us to gather for Sunday Mass and to rest and recollect ourselves because it is real and critical need for human beings. Even Jesus Himself knew this well, often “rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark,” to go to deserted places to pray (Mark 1:35). “For You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You” (St. Augustine, Confessions I.i).

Inviting Christ In

Homily, Corpus Christi B

Recently, I’ve been trying to get everything lined up for having Fr. Axtmann fill in for me next weekend. I still have some tidying up to do in the rectory in Bowdle. It brings back memories of growing up at home and having to clean up around the house each time we knew someone was coming to visit. I tried to convince my mom several times that we really shouldn’t clean up for visitors. It was deceitful. Instead of welcoming them into our home, we would be welcoming them into an artificially-tidied-up version, really just the shell of our house that would then lack so much of that lived-in feeling. But with up to nine kids at home, there was no escaping the strong sense that the house was definitely lived-in and well occupied. And our small efforts at cleaning up were a sign of the respect we had for our visitors. 

As we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Most Sacred Body and Blood of Jesus, it’s good for us to consider what sort of preparations, what efforts at tidying up do we make to receive such a guest as Jesus in the Eucharist, as Holy Communion? Jesus is the King of the Universe, the Ruler of all that exists. He’s more important than the pope or the president of the United States, and He comes to visit us at every Mass. Jesus visits us humbly, under the appearances of bread and wine, but what sort of reception do we give Him? Are we attentive to Jesus as our Guest? Or does our attention wander to so many other things during Mass and even in those first moments of walking back to our pews after receiving Him in Holy Communion?  

Unlike some guests we might have over to our house, Jesus actually wants to go to work in us and help us to clean up our lives by the power of His grace. To cast out from us as temples of the Holy Spirit whatever is unworthy of Him, even as He overturned tables and cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem those thousands of years ago. Zeal for His Father’s house consumes Him. And it still consumes Him. Each one of us is meant to be a temple and dwelling place of God, through our Baptism, Confirmation, but most especially through our reception of Holy Communion. What Jesus needs most of all from us is an open door. There are probably parts of our houses that we don’t normally bring visitors into, maybe a utility room that’s kind of dungy or an unfinished basement. But there should never be any part of our lives that is kept off-limits to Jesus. We shouldn’t be afraid to let Jesus into the mess and into the darkest places of our hearts, because it is His presence that transforms darkness into light. 

At the same time, we know and acknowledge that mortal sins lock Jesus out and make us incapable of welcoming Him into our hearts. When we receive Holy Communion while conscious of grave sin on our souls, Jesus is not able to enter in. Instead, we insult our Guest further by greeting Him only with a locked door. To open the door to Him again, we need to meet with His great mercy in the Sacrament of Confession, where the priest, as God’s instrument, exercises the power of the keys and opens the way of Christ that we had shut, and brings new life to a soul that was dead in sin. Are there still areas of our lives that we refuse to open to God’s grace? Places in which we’re unwilling to give up worldly ways and disordered desires to live instead according to God’s Revelation and the teachings of His Catholic Church? What are the cluttered closets and unfinished basements where Jesus is not quite welcome? 

In our first reading today, as Moses is ratifying the covenant between God and His people, the Israelites declare—twice—their fidelity to God and His commandments. “We will do everything that the LORD has told us. … “All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do.” They didn’t say, We’ll obey most of what God has said, or, We’ll follow the commandments that we agree with or understand fully or the ones we find easy to follow. All. Everything. Jesus is looking for hearts that are open fully and completely to Him and to the guidance He provides us through His Church. He is looking for minds that are open, not just to some things from the Bible, but open to being guided by all that God has revealed for our salvation. 

Over a hundred years ago, an Angel appeared to three shepherd children at Fatima and taught them a prayer that I’ve always found very striking. We’ll conclude with that prayer, as we continue to ask for a deeper appreciation and reverence for the great gift of Christ’s Body and Blood in this Eucharist. “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly and I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifferences by which He Himself is offended. And by the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners. Amen.” 

Special Schedule for June 12 & 13

Bulletin Letter, Corpus Christi B

More and more things are getting back to normal. Around this time last year my parents celebrated 50 years of marriage together (June 13, 1970), but it wasn’t the celebration we had hoped it would be. We had planned a big get-together of all my siblings and their families—the first in quite a few years—but that had to be postponed. Instead, we’ll be together to celebrate their 51st Anniversary next weekend. 35 people total, if I counted correctly. Please keep my parents in your prayers, and the rest of my family that we celebrate safely and joyfully. 

June 13 is a significant date for other reasons as well. It’s the Feastday of St. Anthony of Padua, the patron of the parish in Hoven. It will also be the date of the Final Mass at St. John the Baptist Church in Onaka and the celebration of the many lives and families that have been touched by God’s grace there through its many years of service. 

Fr. David Axtmann will be filling in for me at the Masses that weekend. Remember that we’ve canceled the Sunday morning Mass in Hoven on June 13. The special Mass schedule is as follows: 
5 pm in Hoven on Saturday, June 12 
10 am in Bowdle on Sunday, June 13 
4 pm in Onaka on Sunday, June 13 with the Bishop 

I plan to be back for the Final Mass in Onaka and for the celebrations that follow. For more than 70 years since being built to replace the previous one that burned down, the church in Onaka has seen children born again unto eternal life through the waters of baptism, sins forgiven in Confession, marriage bonds formed and blessed, funerals prayed for the deceased, and bread and wine changed into the very Body and Blood of Christ.  

Even as our houses and homes become such special places for all the memories made there and the growth that they witness, our churches are witness to so many miracles, spiritual growth, and countless memories of the greatest significance. Please pray for all whose lives have been touched and hearts uplifted within the walls of St. John the Baptist Church through the course of these many years. 

Not Just What but Who

Homily, Trinity Sunday B

If I ask you the question, “What am I?” there are several possible responses. I am a Catholic priest. I am a young man. Maybe the most fundamental answer would be that I am a human being. Now if I ask the question, “Who am I?” we might expect the responses to be a little different or maybe more detailed and particular. Who I am is not simply a Catholic priest or a young man, but one with a particular personality, with my own history of experiences, likes and dislikes, and relationships to other people. What I am is a Catholic priest, but who I am is Fr. Schmidt, the Catholic priest called to be a spiritual father to you and your families and the communities under my care. What I am is a young man, but who I am is the seventh son and youngest child of Arlynn and Dorothy Schmidt, the favorite younger brother of all my siblings—even if fewer than all of them would admit it—who grew up in Elk Point, went to school for more years than I’d like to remember, and was called by God and His Church to serve Him where I am now. 

Here’s another way of thinking about these two questions and the difference between asking What and Who. The question what points to the nature of a thing, what kind of thing is it? Is it human, is it a tree, is it a dog? The question who points to the personality of someone and their relationship with others. We use similar words to describe the great mystery that we celebrate today of the Most Holy Trinity. We can ask the question, what is our heavenly Father? What is Jesus Christ? What is the Holy Spirit? And the answer to these three questions can be the same, namely that what they are is God. Each of the three divine Persons possess the one divine nature in all its perfection, glory, power, and divine simplicity.  

Now because of the Incarnation of God the Son, when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, there’s actually another answer we can give to the question, what is Jesus Christ? The one Person of Jesus actually has two distinct natures, one divine and one human. He is both God and man—God from all eternity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and man from the moment He joined to Himself a human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

If we move on to asking the question, Who is Jesus Christ? then we’re asking about His Person rather than His natures. Who He is, is the eternal Son who proceeds from the Father, the Word of God that the Father speaks from all eternity. He is the Son who—with the Father—breathes forth the Holy Spirit and sends Him upon His own Apostles after ascending into heavenly glory. Jesus is also the Son of Mary of Nazareth in His human nature, the Messiah, the Christ anointed with the Holy Spirit to bring the dead to life, especially through His own victory over death on His third day in the tomb after being crucified for our sins. 

Who is the 1st Person of the Most Holy Trinity? He is the Eternal Father, from whom the Son proceeds or is proceeding, the Father who with the Son is breathing forth the Holy Spirit from all eternity and for endless ages. Who is the 3rd Person of the Holy Trinity? He is the Holy Spirit, the Breath or Wind of God who proceeds from the Father and the Son, “who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.” Anyone still following what I’m saying? What they are is the one God, the one divine nature having but one perfect intellect or mind and one all-powerful will. Who they are, are the three divine Persons, living in relationship to one another from all eternity and for endless ages. We could contemplate this great mystery for the rest of our lives—many saints throughout the history of the Church have done so—and even into eternity without ever fully comprehending it. One of the great joys of heaven is that the infinite depths of God are inexhaustible, always more to learn and more to love of His infinite Being. 

The one question I’d leave you with today on this great Feast is, How often do we relate to God as if He were just some thing rather than some One? Do we pray or go through the motions as if He’s some impersonal force? Rather than a Trinity of Persons who wants to live in relationship with us? The Son of God came into the world to make the Father known. Do you know the Father, personally, intimately, not just what He is but who He is? Who He is to you. Do we know Jesus also as the One who reveals us to ourselves, the perfect Image of what we are meant to be in our human nature and in relation to our heavenly Father? Do we know the Holy Spirit as our very breath, our Source of life and of all that is good in us? Not just what God is, but who God is, and who He is to each of us. 

What’s in a Name?

Bulletin Letter, Trinity Sunday B

By the time you read this, the Diocese of Sioux Falls will likely have three new transitional deacons and three new priests beginning their public ministry this weekend. Please pray that God would guide, bless, and strengthen them in their service of His holy Church. Continue to pray also for many more holy vocations. Three ordained each year is a good number for a diocese our size, but it’s still not enough to keep pace with the number of retirements in the near future. “O Lord, grant us priests. O Lord, grant us holy priests. O Lord grant us many holy priests and religious vocations.”

In the past few weeks, one important symbol often used in our churches and religious art has come up in conversation quite a few times: IHS. You’ve no doubt seen it before, but we may not be familiar with the whole history and meaning of it. Basically, these three letters are a sort of abbreviation or symbol for the Holy Name of Jesus. They are in fact the first three Greek letters of His Name as it appears in the New Testament: IHΣOYΣ, although the Greek letter sigma (Σ) has been simplified into the more familiar S.

Another variation is JHS, since j’s have more recently been introduced into alphabets as the consonant form of the vowel i. J was not a letter of its own in ancient alphabets. Sometimes the three letters are said to be an acronym for the Latin phrase Iesus Hominum Salvator (“Jesus Savior of Men”) or another phrase, but these were not likely part of the original intended meaning.

This symbol for the Holy Name (IHS) was used and popularized by the Franciscan St. Bernardino of Siena, whose feast is on May 20, as he spread devotion to the Holy Name wherever he went. Much like the Jewish reverence for the Name of the God of Israel as He revealed it to Moses on Mt. Sinai (I Am Who Am or Yhwh), Christians have always reverenced the Holy Name of Jesus, the proper Name given to the Incarnate Son of God.

Even naturally, a name serves as a symbol or icon that stands in for the person, gives access and allows us to call upon them. Most especially with a Holy Name of God—who is present everywhere at all times—saying His Name and keeping it always upon our minds and hearts brings us into His presence, or makes us aware of His constant presence, keeping us present to Him even while He is always present to us by His divine nature. “For whoever invokes the Name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Rom 10:13).

Beyond the Doors

Homily, Pentecost B

When I was the Master of Ceremonies for the Diocese and the Bishop’s driver for two years, I witnessed and assisted with a lot of Confirmations throughout the Diocese, and I would often think back to the day of my own Confirmation, now more than fifteen years ago. It was on Divine Mercy Sunday of 2006, [with the same verses from John’s Gospel as what we just heard proclaimed, along with the rest of the story of doubting Thomas.] Last year due to the COVID restrictions, I even had the great privilege of conferring the Sacrament of Confirmation on a number of our students in Hoven and Bowdle. So when it comes to this great Feast of Pentecost, I often think of the graces we receive in the Sacrament of Confirmation. 

One question I would often ask Confirmation students was to explain to me the difference between the grace of Baptism and the grace of Confirmation with respect to the Holy Spirit. “Well,” they’d offer a guess, “in Confirmation we receive the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit,” maybe because they’d just been learning about these in their CCD classes. But we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Baptism as well. “Maybe it’s the fruits, then.” No, that’s not the difference. The difference between Baptism and Confirmation is mainly the difference between receptivity and proclamation. 

In Baptism, the first sacrament we receive, the Holy Spirit sanctifies us, makes us a new creation in Christ, and places God’s seal upon us, especially to enable us to take part in divine worship. Baptism makes us receptive to the grace of the other sacraments, receptive to the Word of God proclaimed at Mass. In Baptism, the Holy Spirit prepares us to receive every grace we need towards salvation, to continue to grow and be formed by God into His own image and likeness. So the graces of Baptism largely involve making us receptive to the actions of God. 

The grace of Confirmation, on the other hand, strengthens us not only to continue receiving the helps and guidance of the Holy Spirit for ourselves, but especially so that we can bear public witness to the Gospel of Christ to the people around us. Not just to receive the graces of God, but to share His grace with others. The grace of Confirmation is the grace of this Feast of Pentecost. When the Fire of the Holy Spirit took these frightened Apostles, who the Gospel tells us, even after they had witnessed Jesus Risen from the dead, they were often gathered together in the upper room behind locked doors for fear of the Jews, for fear of what they might have to suffer as followers of One so recently crucified. But at Pentecost the Holy Spirit casts out all fear from their hearts, and they go out beyond those doors to proclaim Jesus to the crowds gathered in Jerusalem. And thousands are baptized on that day.  

The Acts of the Apostles tells us that after Pentecost they would even have the strength to rejoice in their sufferings, in their sharing of the Cross of Christ, being jailed and put on trial before the same Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus, being flogged and scourged as Jesus was when they refused to stop telling everyone about Him, ultimately bearing supreme witness by the shedding of their blood in martyrdom for the sake of the saving Gospel. This is the grace of Pentecost. This is the grace of Confirmation, not just to receive the grace of God, but to bear public witness to Christ, without or at least in spite of any fears we might have. 

Do we believe this? That God still sends upon us the same Holy Spirit that He sent to His Apostles on the day of Pentecost? God has no other Spirit to give us, and He does not ration His Spirit. The Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit upon us whole and entire, in all the fullness of His power and divinity, “the Lord, the giver of life,” as we profess in the Creed each Sunday. Now this is also part of the reason that I’m of the opinion we wait way too long to give our children the Sacrament of Confirmation. If we’re really called to be Lifelong Catholic Missionary Disciples through God’s Love as our Bishop tells us, then it seems to me that even young kids could really benefit from the graces of Confirmation. If they’re old enough to talk, they’re old enough to tell others about Jesus. And they are often among His greatest witnesses. 

The world around us is in desperate need of the Light of Christ. Our homes, our schools, our workplaces, every relationship, and every human being need the Light of Christ. The Holy Spirit wants to help us as He helped the first Apostles to let the Light of the Gospel shine to everyone we meet. How well are we doing in our work and mission of spreading that Light through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy? The primary mission entrusted to you by God is not about doing more here at the church or at parish functions. It’s not about being an usher, or a musician or choir member, or a reader, greeter or server, or any other of these good things that we might volunteer to do here at church.  

Your primary mission is to bring the Light of Christ that you receive in the Word of God and in this Eucharist, to bring that Light out into the world—beyond these doors—into your families, to your coworkers, into all your relationships, into every day and moment of your week, to spread that Light to everyone through the works of mercy. God grant us the grace to be stirred into action, by the Fire of the Holy Spirit as those first Apostles were, to stop waiting around for someone else or for some other saint, but to become saints ourselves and fulfill our mission of bringing the Light of Christ to everyone we meet. 

“For our God is a consuming Fire” (Hebrews 12:29)

Bulletin Letter, Pentecost B

I’ve always been fascinated by fire. As I was growing up, I could sit for a long time just watching the flames dance in our fireplace at home. And fire has always been my favorite image of the Holy Spirit, who appeared to Mary and the Apostles at Pentecost and filled them with zeal and courage to proclaim the Gospel of Christ throughout the world. Fire is not very balanced or moderate. It is not politically correct. Fire is not interested in negotiation. Instead, it seeks to completely consume everything it touches. The Holy Spirit wants to consume us, completely, making us a pure offering to God—not on our own terms, but according to the will of God. He wants to purify all our thoughts, words, actions, and desires. 

I’d like to say that I’ve made this my life’s mission, to spread the Fire of the Holy Spirit and the Truth of Jesus Christ to everyone I meet, but at the same time, I know how far I fall short, how much of myself that I continue to hold back from the Fire of God. But God doesn’t ask us to serve Him with half or even most of our heart and mind. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord, our God, is Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29-30; Deuteronomy 6:4-5). 

I’m not interested in adding to the already staggering number of mediocre Catholics. The world doesn’t need any more. Instead, I want to “fan into flame the gift of God” that we received at our Baptism and on the day of our Confirmation, that we might burn with love and knowledge of Him and give ourselves entirely (2 Timothy 1:6). If we think we’re just going to gently coast into heaven at the end of our lives, I think we’ll all be in for a rather rude awakening. “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Source of God’s creation, has this to say: ‘I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth’” (Revelation 3:14-16). 

Following Christ is serious business. Let’s keep at it, by the Fire of His Holy Spirit. 

The Shortest Route

Homily, Ascension B

It’s a common saying—and it’s a true saying—that the shortest distance between any two points is a straight line. I would often think of this back when I was driving Bishop Swain around to Confirmations all over the diocese—or when calculating the fastest route to a Knights of Columbus convention on the other side of the State—how much faster it would be to fly there, in a straight line. Unfortunately in South Dakota, there’s rarely a road that goes directly from where we’re starting to where we’d like to end up. The other time I’d think of this saying about straight lines and short distances is when I was mowing lawns.  

As I was growing up, we mowed quite a few lawns as a family, and as best as I could manage, I wanted the grass to look good when we finished, so I always tried to make straight lines with the wheels of the lawn mower. Anyone else who has attempted such a feat knows how difficult that can be, especially when there are bumps in the lawn, different obstacles to go around, or long stretches. Someone once told me that the best way to get a straight line when mowing is just to pick a spot on the opposite end of the lawn, keep your eyes fixed on that spot, and walk toward it, or if you’re on a riding lawn mower, to steer toward it. In my experience, this actually seemed to work pretty well. At least it was much more effective than staring down at just the part that I was about to cut or staring at the wheels of the lawn mower, which would usually leave curved or jagged lines in the grass. 

I think of this too in our spiritual lives. If we’re interested in taking the shortest route to heaven, a straight line to living in communion with Jesus, then we need to keep our eyes and focus fixed on Him. Even as we contemplate Jesus today ascended into heavenly glory, we need to see Him and walk towards Him, to follow Him there by the most direct route. Too often in our spiritual lives, we get so bogged down and focused on the here and now, all the problems and stresses of this present life, that we end up meandering by curved and jagged lines. We run in circles around the very same problems, the very same sins, every day, every week, every year, without making much progress towards our final goal. The goal and destination for each of our lives should be the same: the eternal life of heaven. And the straight and narrow Way to get us to heaven should also look really similar for all of us, because Jesus Himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

As we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into the glory of heaven, what are the ways that we have failed to keep our eyes fixed on Him? What are the distractions, the anxieties, the fears that continue to tear our attention away from Jesus? Do we ever spend any time specifically thinking about heaven? What it will be like and the endless joy that awaits us? If our destination is not clear to us, we’re going to have a harder time getting there. If we never consider what heaven is like, we’ll have a much harder time ordering our desires and our actions in that direction. At the end of our lives, God will give us what we most truly desire. But if we go throughout our lives without much of a commitment or desire for prayer, if we can’t be bothered to really spend any time alone with God during this life, what makes us think we’re going to suddenly want to spend an eternity with God at the end of our lives?  

Heaven is not just some generic happiness, a sort of country club or bar in the sky. Heaven is a continual growth in the knowledge of and enjoyment of God Himself. If we still love any thing more than we love God, we have a ways to go. If we still love anyone else or even ourselves more than we love God, we’re not quite there yet. The time to prepare ourselves for heaven is now. The opportunity is here, to fix our eyes upon Christ who goes before us and who wants to lead us by the shortest and straightest path to the glory that awaits us. Keep your eyes fixed upon Him, and walk, just as He did.