Light for the World

Homily, Ordinary Sunday 5A

My dad likes to give me a hard time now and then. He says that because I started seminary right out of high school and now that I’m a priest, I’ve never actually had a real job. And sometimes, I tend to agree with him. I never had to go through an interview or give references to be appointed as pastor here in Hoven or in Bowdle. During seminary, I had yearly evaluations and discussions of my progress in spiritual, pastoral, academic, and human formation, but now a lot of the formality of that process is no longer there. I do hope to continue to grow and be challenged and held accountable by God in my ministry and in my life of prayer. And as the personnel board discusses their recommendations for priest assignments in the new pastorates, there might be something more like a job performance review going on in those meetings.

The Gospel today challenges each one of us to take seriously the work and the mission that we have received from God as followers and disciples of Christ. “You are the salt of the earth.…You are the light of the world,” a city set on a mountaintop. “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” If you had to meet with God today, to evaluate your job performance as a Catholic Christian, how do you think you would do? I, for one, would probably be more than a little nervous. Am I really making good use of the time, talent, and treasure that God has entrusted to me, to bring glory to His Name? Or do I more often cover it over with a bushel basket?

Our first reading from Isaiah provides us with the main outline of what we might call a job description for us as the light of the world. For a fuller description, we should call to mind all the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. First, the corporal or physical works of mercy: to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked and shelter the homeless, to visit the sick or imprisoned, and to bury the dead. How often in my life do I proclaim the Gospel of Christ by participating in these concrete acts of God’s mercy? When was the last time that I volunteered to serve the poor and vulnerable, or visited someone in the hospital or nursing home, or even those in the prison? Or wrote them a letter? When was the last time I gave clothing to the poor, when I have so much in my closet at home that I never really wear?

Next, the spiritual works of mercy can be even more challenging for us: to instruct the ignorant and advise those in doubt, to admonish sinners and to comfort the afflicted, to bear wrongs patiently and to forgive offenses willingly, and to pray for the living and for the dead. How often do I really bear witness to God’s truth in the midst of a culture of relativism that often tells us, “Believe whatever you like”? To actually warn the sinner about his sin, to have enough concern for the good of his soul, and enough courage to risk the tension of a conversation about those behaviors and choices that we recognize as unhealthy and unholy? Or how readily do we participate in gossip without regard for the dignity of those that we talk about? How long do I hold onto grudges, instead of growing in real patience and forgiveness with those who wrong me?

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 desperately. How well are we doing in our work and mission of spreading that Light through these spiritual and corporal works of mercy? The 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 an extraordinary minister of Communion, or a musician or choir member, or a reader, greeter or server, or any other of those 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, 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.

What God commands, God also supplies. In giving us His own Body and Blood, Jesus gives us every grace and strength that we need in order to carry out God’s will. To care for and love with God’s own love everyone we meet each day. God grant us the grace to be stirred into action, by the fire of the Holy Spirit and the flame of Jesus the Sun of Justice in this Eucharist, 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 that we meet.


Warming Up

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Sunday 5A

We had pretty nice weather for the Tolstoy Windchiller this year, but I still didn’t win. And my legs were pretty sore for a while afterwards because I hadn’t gone on many runs lately this winter. After last year’s race, I wasn’t nearly as sore because I had gone on a few longer runs during the week leading up to the race. You’d think I’d eventually learn my lesson from past experience, but it’s easier to be sore than it is to be consistent. 

The importance of warming up and practice reminds me of another season that’s part of the Church’s traditional calendar. From at least the 8th century in many places, this Sunday—the third Sunday before Ash Wednesday—was known as Septuagesima Sunday. The name comes from the Latin word for 70, being about 70 days from the Octave of Easter, even as the Latin word for Lent, Quadragesima, is named for 40 days. Septuagesima Sunday served as the start of a sort of warm-up period in preparation for Lent. 

This Pre-Lent is observed in various ways. It’s a great opportunity to begin considering what we plan to give up or to do as extra prayer, fasting, and almsgiving when we reach Ash Wednesday—now less than 3 weeks away—instead of scrambling to decide only a few days or hours before. You might even try out some of your penances in advance, to ease yourself into it. On the other hand, perhaps more common is to observe the next few weeks as the season of carnival, culminating with Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday.” Anticipating the long days of penance that Lent would bring, people made sure to get their feasting in beforehand, also an occasion in many places for parades, dancing, and music.  

However we decide to spend these final weeks before Lent, it goes quickly. Don’t let Ash Wednesday catch you off guard this year. Spend some time in prayer, really asking God what He would like you to do, so that you and our parishes and the Catholic Church throughout our diocese and the world can experience a real renewal this year, as we look forward to the matchless gift of our salvation, the victory of Life over death, the Resurrection of Jesus, our Easter Joy. Renewal in the Church and in our state and country begins with your relationship with Jesus Christ.  

Men of the Beatitudes

Homily, Ordinary Sunday 4A

Some of you may be familiar with the series titled, The Chosen, which is the first multi-season dramatization of the Life of Christ and many scenes from the Gospel. They are currently in the midst of the release of its third season, which I haven’t watched those episodes yet. It’s not perfect by any means, and there’s a fair amount of artistic interpretation, but in my opinion, it’s very well done, professionally acted and produced and directed, much like the quality of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ or other major movies. More than anything else, it can be a useful tool for helping others and ourselves to realize the significance and drama of the events of the Gospel on a more human level. Season 2, which I have watched, led up to the Sermon on the Mount in its finale, the beginning of which we just heard in our Gospel today.

It’s depicted in the show and in Matthew’s Gospel as a crucial event and new stage in the public ministry of Christ. After working many healings and exorcisms and as word has spread beyond the limited audiences who have met Him or heard Him speak in one of their synagogues, this is the first time that Jesus addresses so many people at once, the crowds gathered around Him outside, for a lengthier discourse. And while the rest of the Sermon goes on for three more chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, the Beatitudes have always occupied a special place as the very first part and really a summary of all Christ’s teachings.

This Gospel is one of the options for Funeral Masses, and I’ve seen it used a number of times for that, and it has also served as an examination of conscience. Different saints, like Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, have been described as “a man of the Beatitudes,” and if we would really strive to embody these teachings of Christ, this summary of all His teachings, they would bring us into closer union with Jesus Himself and holiness of life. To be poor in spirit. How often our attachment and overindulgence in the things of this passing world leads us into sin and away from the attachment we should have to God and to the things of God! Instead of being meek and merciful, we are often consumed with pride and concern only for ourselves and our own interests, and any small wrong committed us looms larger because of our own inflated self-interest.

To be pure and undivided in heart, in the midst of so much noise and so many images and screens competing for our attention, immersed so often in the impurities and filth that regularly surrounds us on all sides and within our own hearts and minds. The things we watch and listen to have a lasting effect, along with the words that come out of our mouths. How careful are we, in the sight of God, about the quality and purity of what enters our minds and hearts, of what comes out of our mouths, and about what we allow into our homes through TVs, phones, computers, what we allow into our children’s classrooms at school? Are these things bringing us closer or farther from God? And how much time do we devote to daily prayer and reflection on the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church, the pure light that God has entrusted to those who love Him and follow His ways?

To be peacemakers rather than those who only seem to stir up strife and live to provoke others. How much of the news that we watch and take in actually conditions us more towards anger and conflict, the condemnation and total dismissal of enemies, rather than striving to pray for them and give the benefit of the doubt about their motives, that at some level, what they are doing and pursuing is at least perceived as good in their own minds. Even to repeat the prayer that Jesus prayed as they were crucifying Him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And to be among the blessed who weep and mourn, not with a worldly grief or anxiety, but above all with sorrow for our sins, our offenses against God and neighbor, so that we can also receive the consolations and mercy that comes from God. To hunger and thirst for righteousness, even to the point of being persecuted for it. How often do we take shortcuts or the easy way out, thinking more of what people around us might think, rather than choosing what we know is right in the sight of God, regardless of what might follow from doing the right thing? And to trust that God will provide for those who follow His will and His ways.

Just as these Beatitudes are at the center and summarize Christ’s whole teaching and New Law, so we should strive to keep them at the center of our lives, a constant companion and examination of our conduct. To be men and women, boys and girls of the Beatitudes, living out the virtues we see in Christ so that we also share in His holiness, part of that lowly and humble remnant of Israel mentioned by the Prophet Zephaniah, waiting eagerly and always ready for the glorious return of our Lord and Savior who has set us free.

Abandon Your Nets

Homily, Ordinary Sunday 3A

Many of you are familiar with my vocation story, how I ended up in the priesthood. It’s fairly simple and straightforward, much like the call of Peter and Andrew, James and John in today’s Gospel. I was the youngest of nine from a big Catholic family. I was aware of a call to the priesthood from a very young age. I often considered it and prayed about it. I entered college seminary right out of high school, went on to major seminary, was ordained a transitional deacon, then a priest. Pretty simple. Many other priests have a more interesting story to tell. Fr. Smith, who’s the priest staying in Bowdle now and studying canon law, is a convert to the faith. He only became Catholic after he had started working, so it’s not really surprising that it took him a few more years to answer that call to the priesthood. Now does that mean that God had not been calling him, even from the beginning of his life? 

In more recent years, I’ve read this account of the call of the First Apostles differently from what I thought of it for most of my early life. Before, I always just assumed that Jesus was specifically calling these four people: Andrew, Peter, James and John to follow Him. And these are the four, out of everyone who was mentioned, who do end up following Jesus. But that’s not the only possibility. It could be that Jesus was actually saying, “Follow Me” to everyone who was mentioned: to the four who would become Apostles, of course, but also to Zebedee, and to the other hired men in the boats whom St. Mark mentions in his account of this same scene. But out of everyone there, Andrew, Peter, James and John were the ones who were actually ready to abandon their nets and boats and to follow Jesus, at that point in their lives. 

There’s a lot of talk in different areas of the Church and areas of the world about a “vocations crisis,” especially as we gear up for the new pastorates or parish clusters in July and yet another round of pastoral planning within our own diocese. But God certainly knows how many priests we need, how many religious sisters and friars and monks. God is still calling, but there are many who for various reasons are not able to hear or to recognize that call, let alone to respond generously yet to such a call from God. There are many whose lives are filled with too much noise that drowns out the voice of God or even the desire to hear it. Before Fr. Smith became Catholic, even if God was calling him to the priesthood, how much sense would he have been able to make out of that? That’s actually part of Bishop Swain’s vocation story. Our former bishop who is now deceased, Bishop Swain recognized a call and desire for the Catholic priesthood even while he was still a Methodist. 

But the question for each of us is, What kept Zebedee and the hired men from also following Jesus? What was keeping them from abandoning their nets, maybe not to become Apostles like the four, but at least to become disciples of Christ? You see, this doesn’t just pertain to those having a religious vocation, but there are many ways that all of us put off and avoid a more radical following of Jesus, no matter what our vocation in life. What are the nets and boats that we still refuse to abandon? That’s an interesting verb, abandon, found in St. Mark’s account. “They abandoned their nets.” To me, it seems to suggest that they didn’t bother making plans for their nets or boats as they left them. Peter and Andrew didn’t pause and say to Zebedee, “Well, since you’ll be sticking around, we want you to take our nets and boats and put them to good use.” Instead, they just dropped them on the shore, turned and followed Jesus without giving those nets a second thought. 

Too often we look back. We look back with longing on what was—even when it comes to our sins—and we fail to keep our eyes fixed on Christ and to look forward to the possibilities and fullness that a life of radical dependence on Jesus is able to bring. We cling to our own plans and ideas of what our marriage or relationships should look like, what our family should be, the direction our work and career is supposed to take, even ideas about what a parish and ministry is supposed to look like. And by clinging to our own nets and boats, we miss out on the opportunities that a more radical following of Christ would bring to us as His disciples, all of God’s plans for our relationships, for our families, our work, our schooling, for our parish and diocese. God’s will for us is often expressed through the decisions of the chief shepherd of our diocese, Bishop DeGrood, so we need to pray for openness and unity in the months ahead as we approach July 1, when the new parish groupings will take effect.  

It has certainly been a process for the priests and deacons of our diocese as well. During my eight years in seminary formation and preparation, I never quite envisioned the structure of my own diocese and the parishes in it to look like this, but the same thing is happening with our schools and sports teams, consolidating, working together, traveling longer distances. And other dioceses and archdioceses are going or have gone through a similar restructuring. In our second reading, St. Paul’s main concern is for the unity of the Church, for the unity of the parish in Corinth. Rather than divisions and rivalries over which priest they like best, Paul or Apollos, or Peter, Cephas, they should keep their eyes on Christ as their true Shepherd and Guardian, the One who gave His own life for them and through whose baptism they were reborn. The new structure of the diocese will bring to most parishes collaboration involving multiple priests and deacons, but they are all instruments of Christ.  

Please continue to pray for our Bishop as he makes these difficult decisions for the health and future of our diocese. Pray for the priests and deacons. Pray for all members of the faithful to be open to God’s will, to be ready to abandon our nets and boats, our own plans for our parishes and families so that all of us together can follow Christ more faithfully, more radically, with hearts and minds open to the new possibilities that a life lived in Him always brings. 

In the Line of Melchizedek

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Sunday 3A

In these first weeks after Epiphany, on weekdays we’ve had readings from the Letter to the Hebrews. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it is basically a transcript of an early Christian homily given by St. Paul or someone of similar rhetorical skill to answer the question of how Jesus can be a high priest, even though He was reckoned a Son of David, of the tribe of Judah, rather than being a son of Aaron of the Levites, the tribe associated with the Jewish priesthood. 

Hebrews is probably the most explicit and systematic treatment of the priesthood of Christ and of certain liturgical elements of Christian worship, although the Gospel, other New Testament epistles, and the Book of Revelation address these topics as well, to a lesser extent. Another concern of the author of Hebrews is to show that Christian worship is in no way inferior but in every way superior to the Jewish worship that preceded it, which was merely “a shadow of the things to come” (Col. 2:17). This was at a time when the ceremonies carried out in the grand Jerusalem Temple—with its animal sacrifices, priestly vestments, and strict precepts—looked much more impressive (from an earthly standpoint) than those early celebrations of the Eucharist, often carried out in one of their homes. 

A central figure to the argument in Hebrews is the mysterious Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He shows up for three verses in the Book of Genesis to bring out bread and wine and to bless Abraham after his victory over five kings of Canaan to rescue his nephew Lot and their possessions. Hebrews takes for granted that his blessing Abraham and receiving tithes (a tenth of the spoils of victory) means that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, and by extension greater than Levi and Aaron, descendants of Abraham. Melchizedek and his priesthood is mentioned again in Psalm 110, which was probably used for the coronation of the sons of David and was understood to speak of the Messiah as well. 

As kings of Jerusalem, the sons of David were perhaps seen as successors to Melchizedek, king of Salem (which was likely a precursor to the same city of a lengthened name) and so also sharers in Melchizedek’s priesthood. With no beginning of days or end of life recounted in Scripture, Melchizedek images the eternity of Christ, the Son of God, having “a life that cannot be destroyed” (Heb. 7:16). With his offering of bread and wine and king of Salem being translated as “king of peace,” the parallels continue to grow. May Christ, our eternal High Priest, faithful and compassionate, bring us one day with His Saints to share in His heavenly glory. 

Consistent Life Ethic

Homily, Ordinary Sunday 2A

Throughout his life, St. John the Baptist had just one goal and purpose: to proclaim the Christ, to point out to Israel the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He says in today’s Gospel, “The reason why I came baptizing with water was that He might be made known to Israel.” In another place John says, “He must increase and I must decrease.” From St. Luke we find out that John the Baptist and Jesus are actually cousins and that John is actually six months or so older. He was growing in his mother Elizabeth’s womb already for six months by the time of the Annunciation to Mary and the conception of Jesus, so how can John say, “A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because He existed before me”? It’s because he recognizes that Jesus “is the Son of God,” the Word of God Incarnate, coeternal with the Father in His divinity. So even if the human nature of Jesus is younger than John, God the Son who took on flesh always existed, and so also existed before John did. 

John’s singular purpose in pointing others to Christ began even in his mother’s womb, as our first reading also bears witness: “You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory. Now the Lord has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb.” We’re all familiar with the scene of the Visitation, how when the human nature of Christ was only a few days old, John was able to recognize His Presence and leap for joy within the womb, making his own mother Elizabeth the first one that John would lead to Christ, even three months before his own birth, as Elizabeth exclaims, “How does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” 

From these and other passages of Scripture, the Church has always recognized the great dignity that is ours even from the moment of our conception. And yet, you can still find people today claiming to be Christian and pro-choice or pro-abortion. And we shouldn’t assume that the acceptance of offenses against human life and dignity are limited only to so-called “Catholic” politicians or to members of other Christian denominations. Plenty of ordinary Catholics have accepted or even embraced grave evils against human life and dignity just because the culture around us accepts them or views as great goods. 

Of these connected to abortion, the most commonly accepted evil among Catholics is the use of contraception. There are still lots of people who lie and say that if we really wanted to stop abortion, we should become the biggest promoters of contraception. But everywhere that the use of contraception has increased has also seen significant increases in the numbers of abortions. The cultural acceptance of contraception always leads to more abortions because when contraceptives fail, which they frequently do, people who have been trained to want sex without its fruitfulness will frequently resort even to abortion to cut off its natural fruit, the unique and unrepeatable human life that resulted. But besides the gravely sinful nature of the use of contraceptives and their leading to an increase in direct abortions, many chemical contraceptives can also be abortifacient. This means that when they fail to prevent fertilization or the conception of a new human life, they also render the mother’s womb inhospitable for implantation and the growth of the child, who ends up being discarded, and it is difficult to know for sure when one of these contraceptives has had this abortive effect. 

Another grave offense against human life and dignity that is widely accepted throughout our culture is IVF, in vitro fertilization. The term literally means “in glass,” fertilizations carried out at the hands of physicians in petri dishes, new human lives being conceived completely separated from the loving embrace of their biological parents, which God designed to be a part of the origin of every human life. But instead, these are produced, in glass. And then many of these human beings are frozen temporarily or indefinitely, as they always produce more than what they will end up implanting for gestation as part of this process. Despite these grave offenses against human life and dignity, IVF is widely accepted even among Catholics. Mainly because it is a great trial and hardship that couples deal with who struggle to have children of their own. But that hardship or our sympathy for it, and even the beauty of the children who have been carried to term by means of this process, cannot justify the continued use of this barbaric method. But no one really says much against it because it is a big business and money maker. 

Often connected with IVF, and reaching more and more prominence today because of so-called “gay marriage,” is the use of surrogacy. In cases of same-sex couples or individuals, the arrangement has as its goal from the outset that the child will be deprived of either his father or mother. Even when the couple who will raise the child are man and wife, in every case of surrogacy, there is a bonding that takes place naturally between the child and the woman carrying him during pregnancy that is then torn away after birth. Deliberating choosing these offenses against human dignity from the outset and as part of an arrangement is obviously different than the situation of biological parents who—because of circumstances often beyond their control—find themselves unable to adequately care for a child, and married couples who are generously willing to adopt. 

As Catholics, our hearts certainly go out to those couples who do struggle to have children of their own and experience this as a great hardship, and many people are not aware or well-informed at all about the grave evils involved in some of these methods used today to treat infertility, because informing you will not make you more likely to buy their product. God’s mercy is always waiting for those who realize they have done wrong. And there are also resources available and personalized treatments that are in keeping with good ethics and morals and medical professionalism. The Paul VI Institute is one organization that strives to do just that. 

The world today does not need any more compromised and compromising Catholics. There are far too many already among the Joe Bidens and Nancy Pelosis of the world. Rowe v. Wade has been overturned, but that doesn’t mean the fight for life is over, just that the tactics have changed. Already a petition is circulating to try to get one of the most anti-life, pro-abortion bills on the ballot for South Dakotans to vote on. Similar efforts are being made all across the country. We need to redouble our efforts, redouble our prayers. We need to be purified and well-informed about any elements of the culture of death that we have accepted or approved of or grown complacent about because “everybody does it.” The hundreds of millions of human lives murdered in abortion need us to be as devoted as St. John the Baptist in proclaiming Christ, the Light of the world. With our whole life to speak up for the least of His brothers and sisters, those silenced by abortion and all offenses against human life and dignity, from natural conception to natural death. 

Maps & Merry Mary Melodies

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Sunday 2A

This week, I’ll be headed to another diocesan clergy meeting, this time in Brookings. I plan to leave on Wednesday and return Friday. I’m told that the maps and groupings of the new pastorates will be finalized and released shortly afterward. Please continue to pray for God’s will to be accomplished through this Set Ablaze process. 

We’ve returned to Ordinary Time and green vestments, but I usually point out that there’s still one more Christmas mystery celebrated on February 2 at Candlemas, the Feast of the Lord’s Presentation in the Temple, 40 days after His birth. It’s nice to have a few more weeks to view the Nativity scene. Connected with that date are the Marian antiphons typically sung at the end of Compline each night, which I often use at one of the Masses during the week as well. These antiphons have been around since the 13th century or even earlier.  

Probably the most familiar is the one used during the Time after Pentecost: the Hail Holy Queen (Salve Regina), which concludes the Rosary as well. The Regina Coeli is also familiar to many, often used in place of the Angelus prayers during the Easter season. The other two are probably not as familiar to most. From the beginning of Advent until February 1, the Alma Redemptoris Mater is used, and from February 2 to the end of Lent it’s the Ave Regina Caelorum. Each is a beautiful prayer to our Blessed Mother.  

Alma Redemptoris Mater in translation:
Nourishing Mother of the Redeemer,
who remain the open gate of heaven and the star of the sea,
help your falling people who strive to rise:
You who gave birth to your holy Sire while nature marveled, a Virgin before and after,
receiving that “Ave” from Gabriel’s mouth, have pity on us sinners.  

Ave Regina Caelorum in translation:
Hail, Queen of the heavens, hail Lady of Angels:
Hail root, hail gate, from which Light has risen for the world:
Rejoice, glorious Virgin, splendid above all:
Farewell, O exceedingly elegant one, and beseech Christ for us. 

Spend Your Life on Him

Homily, Epiphany Sunday

As we begin a new year, many of us take the opportunity to look ahead and mark on our calendars the significant events and celebrations of friends and family, including birthdays, weddings, graduations, doctor’s appointments, or we rely on digital calendars to send us reminders, but how often do we look forward to the celebrations we will share together as the family of God? Today, the light of God’s glory has been revealed to the nations, as the three magi arrive to adore the Christ Child and to see His Mother. That light and revelation of God will only increase throughout the year, as we celebrate the mystery of the Cross and saving death of Christ—foreshadowed even today in the gift of myrrh—and as the overwhelming light of the Resurrection dawns upon us at Easter, to scatter all darkness and to destroy sin and death forever.  

God has big plans for us this year, as He does every year, if we are willing to spend it with Him, if we strive to place Jesus at the center of our families, at the center of marriages, at the center of all that we do in school, at work, in our free time. Jesus is Emmanuel, God-with-us, and He wants to be with us always. Do we welcome His Presence and seek Him out? Or does Jesus take a back seat to so many other things in our lives? Do we fill our schedules only to give God what is left over, if there is anything left? At the bidding of a star, the three magi uprooted their entire lives. They put all their other plans on hold, to pack their bags and walk hundreds of miles over the course of several months, just for a chance to search for the newborn King of the Jews, with no real guarantee that they’d actually be able to find Him. How many miles would we be willing to walk for God? How many months or years of our lives would we be willing to give in search of Jesus? 

Throughout my own life, whether I realized it or not, I was always searching for Jesus. I had lots of interests. I was always an excellent student in school. I could have pursued pretty much any field of study or career, but I ultimately decided to waste my life on Jesus. Do you know why? It’s not because I thought it would be an easy or comfortable life. It’s not even that I thought I could make much of a difference as a priest, although I probably thought so at one time. As the culture around us continues to shift away from God and as different scandals continue to break in parts of the Church, I fully expect to receive the hatred of the world in return for my service of God, even for believing things as simple as marriage being between a man and a woman, or that boys can’t grow up to be women and girls can’t grow up to be men. So why am I still here? Why are you still sitting here on a Sunday morning? Why am I willing, even—in the eyes of the world—to waste my life in the priesthood? Only because Jesus Christ deserves it.  

Jesus deserves everything. The One who gave everything on the Cross for our salvation, for my salvation and for yours, He deserves everything in return, whatever smallest good that I am able to accomplish by His grace, whatever small tribute we are able to lay at the feet of Him and His Mother. The magi brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh over many miles to waste them on a Child too small to make any use of them. And Jesus still deserves more. How much are we willing to give Him? How much are we willing to spend on Him? He deserves more than just some time on Sunday. He deserves more than what is left over in our schedules and in our energies and resources. In 2023, how much more are you willing to waste on Jesus Christ? 

God in Man Made Manifest

Bulletin Letter, Epiphany

A number of years ago, I first came across the custom of blessing chalk on the Solemnity of the Epiphany. I had never seen or heard of it in my first decade of life. For those not familiar, the custom is for each family to gather at the entrance of their home and pray for God’s blessings upon them and upon all who enter under their roof during the new year. The head of the household takes chalk blessed on the Day of Epiphany and writes on the lintel over the main entrance to the house and perhaps over other entrances or doorways, “20+C+M+B+2 3” while pronouncing (if possible) in his best Latin, “Christus Mansiónem Benedícat,” meaning, “May Christ bless the house.” The letters “CMB” also stand for the traditional names of the three wise men: Sts. Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. The digits at each end are for the current year.

In many Eastern churches, the Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated with even more festivity than Christmas. The Epiphany, from the Greek word for “unveiling, revelation, manifestation,” recalls the visit of the three magi and the first revelation of the Christ Child to non-Jewish nations, whom the magi represent. Many Christians still exchange gifts on the Feast of the Epiphany since that’s when the magi brought their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Besides the visit of the magi, there are two other moments from the life of Jesus connected to this Great Feast: the Baptism of the Lord and the Wedding Feast at Cana. Jesus being baptized by John in the River Jordan is often considered the first clear revelation of God as a Trinity of Persons: the Father manifested in the voice from heaven, the Son Jesus standing in the river, and the Holy Spirit descending upon Him bodily like a dove. Unlike most other baptisms where the water is used by God to make the one being baptized holy, when Jesus was baptized, He actually made the waters holy. Some Christians still practice the Epiphany tradition of taking a dip in a freezing lake to recall the Lord’s Baptism and one’s own baptism. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend trying it around here.

The changing of water into wine at Cana is regarded as Christ’s first public miracle, the manifestation of His divine power. By the grace of the Lord’s Epiphany, may we always make Christ more manifest, better known throughout the world by our own words and actions. 

The Name of Jesus the Foundation of Faith

UNOFFICIAL English translation of the Office of Readings for January 3, the Most Holy Name of Jesus

From the Sermons of St. Bernardino of Siena, priest (Sermo 49, chap. 1)

The great Name of Jesus is the foundation of faith

This indeed is that most holy Name which was so desired by the ancient fathers, awaited with so many anxieties, delayed for so many falterings, invoked with so many sighs, requested with so many tears, but in the time of grace was mercifully given. Hide, I pray, the Name of power; let it not be heard as a name of vengeance; let it be held the Name of righteousness. Give us the Name of mercy; let the Name of Jesus resound in my ears, for thy voice is sweet and thy face comely.

Therefore, the great foundation of faith is the Name of Jesus, producing sons of God. For the faith of the catholic religion stands firmly in light and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, Who is the Light of the soul, the Door of life, the Foundation of eternal salvation. Anyone who shall not retain this or who has abandoned it shall be as one without light who goes through the darkness of night and with eyes closed walks dangerously through perils. And let however much eminence of rationality blaze forth, he is as one who follows a blind guide, as long as he follows his own intellect in trying to understand heavenly secrets, or as one who, having neglected the foundation, strains to construct a house, or one who, having overlooked the door, wishes to enter through the roof.

Therefore, this foundation is Jesus, the Light and Door, who shall show Himself to be the Way to those straying. He has revealed the light of faith to all, through which one may be able to seek the unknown God, and having sought, to believe, and having believed, to find. This foundation sustains the Church, built on the Name of Jesus. The Name of Jesus is the splendor of preachings, because it makes His word to shine brightly, to be proclaimed and heard. And from where do you think so sudden and so fervent a light of faith came into the whole world, if not from Jesus having been preached? Was it not also through the light and savor of this Name that God called us into His marvelous light? To those enlightened, and who in this light are seeing light, let the Apostle rightly say: Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord: walk as children of light.

Therefore, O glorious Name, O gracious Name, O lovely and virtuous Name! Through Thee crimes are pardoned, through Thee foes overcome, through Thee the sick are delivered, through Thee those suffering in adversities are strengthened and gladdened! Thou Honor of believers, Thou Teacher of preachers, Thou Strengthener of workers, Thou Supporter of the failing. By thy fiery fervor and heat, desires are inflamed, requested helps are procured, the contemplating soul becomes inebriated, and through Thee all the triumphant are glorified in heavenly glory. With whom, most sweet Jesus, through this, thy most holy Name, may Thou cause us with them to reign.