An Otherworldly Peace

Homily, Easter Sunday 6C

Earlier this week on Wednesday, I went to Milbank for the wake service of one of our priests. His funeral was on the following day in the Cathedral in Sioux Falls. Fr. Dana Christensen was only 44 years old when he died last Sunday from ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. I had gotten to know him a little bit during my years in seminary and during my time as a priest, I think mostly through email and Facebook, but they mentioned something at his wake and at his funeral that I had forgotten. Back in October of 2019, Fr. Dana had gone on pilgrimage to Fatima in Portugal to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. During that pilgrimage, as he prayed at the very site where our Blessed Mother had appeared to the three shepherd children, Fr. Dana asked Mary to make him a saint, no matter what it would take. And it was on his drive home from the airport as he returned from that same pilgrimage that he received a call and his diagnosis with ALS. 

Now it could have just been coincidence, but Fr. Dana came to accept and understand this disease as an answer to the prayer he had made to our Blessed Mother. By January of 2021, he would write these words about the disease that already taken him away from the administration of parishes. He says, “I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that this is the answer to the prayer I prayed to Our Lady of Fatima. It’s as if Our Lady and Our Lord chose this exact disease to make me a saint. Let me explain. I, as I mentioned before, am a prideful man, so Our Lord chose for me a disease that would humble me in every possible way. He saw I was ambitious, so he laid on my shoulder a cross that would force me to retire from active ministry. He saw I was a glutton, so he gave me a disease that would slowly take away my ability to eat. He saw I often went places I ought not go, so it was a disease that would take away my ability to walk that became my cross. He saw that I was given to gossip, detraction, and foul language, so he allowed ALS to take away my ability to speak. All this and more because he loves me and wants me to become free from sin! All this because of his mercy seeks to burn out of me every stain of sin! All this because he loves me enough to make me the saint he has always longed for me to be! 

“All this he desires for you too. He will choose for you the Cross that will most easily make you a saint, and a great one at that! But we would do well to ask our Lady for help. She will, as she did for me, soften the blow and prepare us to receive our cross. She is the most perfect of mothers. She will, if we give ourselves over to her as Jesus himself did, she will protect, defend, and console us. She will never leave our side. And when the moment comes, and we are called by Jesus to mount the wood of the Cross along with him, she will be there, at the foot of the Cross urging us on. And then, she stays. She will stay with us until we take our dying breath. Then, with St. Joseph, she will lead us to Jesus, the merciful and just judge.” 

In our Gospel today, Jesus promises us a peace that the world cannot give. This peace of Christ is what so many saw and witnessed in Fr. Christensen, as he was humbled, disabled, and as he ultimately died from this disease at such a young age. This is the peace and trust in God’s providence that Jesus wants to give to each one of us. That no matter our ability or inability, amidst whatever triumphs or tragedies of life, that we would know His love and presence, and His desire to be with us forever. “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” God longs to make His dwelling within us, and allow us to experience the peace and the joy that the world cannot give.  

One way or another, at the end of our lives, each one of us will have to surrender everything we have in this world. Will we be ready to let it go? And embrace God forever? What is it we still cling to, more than we cling to God? What pride, gluttony, sins of speech, or other attachments still keep from being the saints that Jesus desires us to be? Do we have the courage to ask God and the Blessed Virgin Mary to begin to purify us, even now? To make us saints, no matter what it takes? 

Fishing, Rogations, and Vocations

Bulletin Letter, Easter Sunday 6C

With graduations over and summer break beginning for our schools, along with warmer temperatures, it’s feeling more like summer all the time. If you enjoy fishing and having a priest to serve these parishes, one of the more interesting fundraisers each year is the Bishop’s Fishing Tournament. They’ll be at Big Stone on June 6 and in Pierre on June 13 this year, but virtual or remote participation is also possible from June 4 to June 13. Check out the Catholic Community Foundation of Eastern South Dakota website for details and registration: ccfesd.org. 

This upcoming week is when Ascension Thursday occurs, 40 days after Easter Sunday, even though in most places it is now transferred to the 7th Sunday of Easter. The Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday preceding Ascension Thursday have been observed as the Minor Rogation Days since the 400s. Since I was able to have a Rogation Procession in Hoven on April 25, the Major Rogation Day, and since I’ll be taking a few days off prior to the ordinations in Sioux Falls this week, we’ll have a special Mass time on Monday: 7PM Mass in Bowdle followed by a Rogation Procession. Again, these days are observed especially with processions, prayers, and blessings of fields and livestock. 

Please pray for the men to be ordained on Friday, May 27. You might know Zach Schaefbauer from Aberdeen. Mitchell McLaughlin and Nicholas Haiar will also be ordained. The way it sounds, this might be the last priestly ordination in our diocese for a few years, so please pray for and encourage vocations in any way that you are able. Our number of priests in active ministry has been dwindling, unfortunately, and these things don’t happen automatically. Someone, not just someone else, has to answer that call from God if we are to continue having enough priests to serve our parishes into the future. 

And if we expect our priests to be healthy and holy for the long haul, they need the support and assistance of parishioners. I’m very thankful for the many laborers and volunteers that make these two of the best parishes in the diocese. I really don’t think I could have asked for a better assignment for my first time as a pastor. Continue to give of yourselves to God and to your parishes, and think about how we might more effectively foster priestly and religious vocations even here, from our own families. 

Blaming the Spirit of Truth

Homily, 4th Sunday after Easter Octave

The truth revealed to us by God for salvation does not change. It greatly saddens me that the strategy chosen by many today to undermine and corrupt the faith handed down to us from the Apostles so often involves taking the Name of the Holy Spirit in vain. In more mundane things, people often blame their own dumb ideas on the Holy Spirit, saying things like, “I prayed about it, and the Holy Spirit is definitely telling me to do this.” But the Holy Spirit has also been invoked on a larger scale by Catholic Bishops, whether in attempts to justify the rejection of older liturgical forms or the so-called “development” of doctrines that contradict the teachings of the Church as they were always understood and expounded throughout the centuries since the time of Christ and His Apostles.

We see these attempts today especially in the areas of sexual sins, homosexuality, transgenderism. Conveniently enough for the Church to avoid any Cross or persecution from the world, God apparently decided to bring about these new “developments” of doctrine in these areas precisely at the time when the godless secular culture around us has become more and more militant in imposing a new morality of sexuality and mutilation. Very convenient, if the goal of the Church were not to proclaim the unchanging truth of the Gospel “in season and out of season,” and to become like our Master in every way. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before you…Because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

St. James tells us that in God “the Father of lights…there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.” In the Gospel, Jesus emphasizes the permanence of His own teachings and the role of the Holy Spirit. “When He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will [teach] you all truth. He will not speak on his own, but He will speak what He hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” The Holy Spirit says nothing different from what Jesus Himself taught. Yet today, countless priests and Bishops at least try to give the impression that the Holy Spirit is now leading the Church into uncharted territory, into alien doctrines that contradict what was previously taught, and into all kinds of liturgical abuses and sacrilege.

Bishops and priests have received a sacred duty and authority to defend the faith from the corruption of error and to ensure the reverent celebration of divine worship. They seem very willing and eager to wield such authority ruthlessly against any older expressions of the Church’s liturgy or of the ancient Faith, or to close our churches during an outbreak of disease, but when it comes to actually making distinctions about which pro-abortionists can receive Holy Communion, or heretics preaching at parish missions, or all manner of liturgical abuse and sacrilege, they seem all too eager to simply stand by and see how things will play out. The Holy Spirit “blows where He wills,” after all.

What makes the references to the Holy Spirit so much worse, of course, is that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is specifically what Jesus names in the Gospel as an unforgivable sin. And in the original context, false attribution is most likely the sin the Pharisees were committing. Jesus was casting out demons, healing the sick, forgiving sins, and performing many other miracles and works that He received from His heavenly Father. He carried out these works by the power of the Holy Spirit. But instead of attributing these good works to the Holy Spirit, the Pharisees accused Jesus of having a demon, accomplishing these things by an evil spirit.

Today, many in the Church are doing just the inverse of what the Pharisees were doing. Instead of attributing good works to an evil spirit as they were, today the tendency is to attribute evil works to the Holy Spirit, to claim that God Himself is inspiring me to corrupt the doctrines received from the Apostles, to stamp out earlier expressions of the Church’s liturgy and introduce novelties and abuses in their place, to listen and learn from the godless nihilism of the world outside the Church where the ancient serpent still exercises his own crumbling dominion. Please pray for the Church. Pray that God will bring about the authentic renewal she so desperately needs. Pray the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth and deepen your own supernatural sense of the Faith, to hold fast to what has been handed down from Christ and His Apostles and to reject anything contrary. The renewal the Church needs always starts with you and me.

Expect the Cross

Homily, Easter Sunday 5C

Many of you know by now that I grew up in a small town of about 2000 people, Elk Point. But my first four years as a priest after ordination were spent in Sioux Falls. There are a lot of things I do not miss about living in Sioux Falls or a bigger city, and among them are traffic and traffic lights while driving. Inevitably, I would end up waiting behind another car or cars at a red light. And then watching the light turn green and waiting several longs seconds for the first car to actually notice and get going was extremely frustrating. I’d often wonder if they were on a cell phone or what the deal was. But these tests of patience aren’t isolated to big-city living, either. Just this afternoon on my way here, I came up behind someone who must have been stopped for about 30 seconds at the stop sign next to the cemetery in Bowdle. As I waited for him to finally turn and get out of my way, I started wishing I had thought earlier about just going around him.  

I’m definitely the only person to struggle with patience while driving, and I’ve reflected a lot about what makes it so frustrating. It has a lot to do with our own disappointed expectations. You see, I can tell myself time and time again, that people are really not very good drivers, that they’re often not paying much attention to their surroundings, and I should lower my expectations. But at the back of my mind, a large part of me is still thinking that they really should, and so when they’re not, I get angry, I get frustrated. Things are not how they are supposed to be. When our experience falls short of our expectation, we get mad. 

Of course, the same thing also happens in our spiritual lives, in our relationship with God. Many of us, whether we really think about it or not, whether we’d be able to admit it or not, many of us have very strange expectations when it comes to the spiritual life and our following of Christ. Many of us buy in to a sort of ‘prosperity gospel,’ thinking to ourselves, “If I’m a good person, if I follow the commandments, follow the Church’s teachings, send my kids to religious ed or to Catholic school”—whatever it might be—“if I do what I’m supposed to do, then God is supposed to bless me. God is supposed to protect me and my loved ones from anything bad or difficult from ever happening to us. If I do what I’m supposed to do, then God should do what He’s supposed to do and make life easy for us.” Now, we wouldn’t always put it in those exact words, but when some obstacle, setback, or difficulty arises and we immediately start to question, “What have I done wrong? Why is God allowing this to happen to me or to my loved ones?” It seems pretty clear what our expectations really are. 

Our first reading talks about Sts. Paul and Barnabas coming to the end of what’s called Paul’s First Missionary Journey. As they return through some of the same cities they visited on the first leg of their trip, we are told that they “strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith.” How did they do this, what words did they use? They said, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Probably not the first thing that leaps to mind for us as very encouraging words. “You, must, suffer, to enter God’s kingdom.” They didn’t say: It is likely, or it is advisable for us to endure hardships. Instead, they said, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus Himself after the Resurrection asked the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and so enter into His glory?” In another place, He says, “Whoever does not deny himself, take up His cross daily and follow Me cannot be My disciple.” God never promises us an easy life. He promises a more abundant life, but not an easy one. “How wide the gate and easy the road that leads to destruction, and there are many that follow that way. But how narrow the gate and constricted the path that leads to life.” 

How realistic are our own expectations for the spiritual life? Do our expectations actually line up with the words of Scripture and with what Jesus has told us so many times? “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me,” says the Lord. Jesus is clear about what our expectations should be. No one carries a cross unless they’re headed towards their own crucifixion. So why are we so surprised when we encounter obstacles and setbacks, when we encounter many hardships in our following of the footsteps of Christ, who walked the Way of the Cross? “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” So don’t get mad. Don’t get frustrated. But expect it, and ask God for every grace to grow in patience, to grow in perseverance, to grow in appreciation for the share in Christ’s own Cross that God entrusts to us.  

In giving us a new commandment in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” What does this love of Christ look like? Jesus willingly suffered and died on the Cross, out of love for you, for our salvation. So if we are not willing to sacrifice, to suffer for one another, we shouldn’t pretend to be following Christ’s commandment to love even as He has loved us. In your following of Christ, expect the cross. If we expect the cross, it will not overwhelm us when we encounter suffering. And like the Apostles who went before us, we may even have the grace to rejoice in our sufferings out of love for Jesus Christ. To Him who was crucified for us be endless glory, honor, and praise forever and ever. 

Confirmation Misconceptions

Bulletin Letter, Easter Sunday 5C

It has been two years since we’ve celebrated Confirmations in these parishes. Because of COVID, I was delegated by the Bishop to celebrate those last time, but hopefully he’ll be able to make it up this way next year. We are planning on a Confirmation Mass sometime during the next academic year, hopefully in the spring, so parents who have children that have not yet been confirmed should be thinking about it. 

People today tend to have a lot of misconceptions about the Sacrament of Confirmation. One most prevalent and frustrating is that once someone has been confirmed, they should be done with their religious education. But Confirmation is one of three Sacraments of Initiation. Initiation refers to the beginning, not the end. Our education in the faith is a lifelong process. Traditionally, the instruction we receive prior to the celebration of these sacraments is referred to as catechesis, while the instruction we receive after Initiation—no less important—is called mystagogy, instruction given to those who have already been transformed by the mysteries of God, the sacraments. 

Confirmation is also not our opportunity to make a conscious Yes to God after most of us were too little at the time of our Baptism to do so. Like all the sacraments, we are asked to participate fully and consciously, as best we can, but the overwhelming emphasis should always be on God’s action in the sacraments, who is always the initiator and even provides the grace for our response. “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). This misconception of finally giving our Yes to God makes even less sense when you consider that most have already been receiving the very Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion for years before being confirmed and saying “Amen,” to God each time they do so, a much more serious Yes. 

Theologically, the proper order for receiving the Sacraments of Initiation was Baptism first, then Confirmation, then the Eucharist as the crown and completion. But since Pope St. Pius X reduced the age required for reception of Holy Communion in the early 20th century, many areas failed to follow suit with the Sacrament of Confirmation, which has led to them being out of sequence only for the past century or so.  

The main difference between the grace of Baptism and the grace of Confirmation is that while Baptism transforms and disposes us to receive grace from God for our own sanctification, Confirmation strengthens us especially to publicly proclaim the Gospel and share the grace of God with others, like the Apostles did after Pentecost. Seems to me, with all the temptations and challenges our children face today at younger and younger ages, they could really benefit from the grace of Confirmation earlier on. And if we are really called to be Lifelong Catholic Missionary Disciples through God’s Love, they’d be strengthened to also share the faith from a young age. I’m very open to working with parents and kids who are interested in celebrating Confirmation at earlier ages than what has been typical. 

Self-Destructive Sheep

Homily, Easter Sunday 4C

What images come to mind when we think of shepherds? Maybe some of the peaceful and pleasant scenes from Psalm 23 or from popular religious art: green pastures, gentle breezes, streams of water, sheep grazing quietly on the hillside; or we picture the shepherds kneeling at the manger scene in front of the baby Jesus. But the actual life of a shepherd in the ancient world was hardly ever comfortable or easy, and often not very peaceful. Shepherding tended to be a dirty job done by rough men. They stayed with the animals constantly, enduring the scorching sun and heat of the day and the cold of night. Shepherds had to be watchful of dangers from predators, storms, and thieves. King David mentions fighting bears and lions to rescue his father’s sheep from their mouths. And shepherds had to be mindful of the inattentive and wandering sheep that so easily could get lost or get themselves into trouble.  

To be a shepherd in the time of Jesus and to keep the sheep safe from the many dangers of this world—and the danger that a sheep can be to itself—was and is hard and messy work, despite the romanticized view that many people tend to have. Now those of you who work cattle probably tend to have a better idea of what would be involved. Just the other day, I was listening to a couple guys talk about problems they’ve had with the same cows year after year, maybe not knowing their cows by name but by number. Of course, Jesus says of His sheep, “I know my own and mine know me.”  

And we are the sheep. We’re the ones that get ourselves into trouble over and over again. Probably cows and sheep are actually easier to train than human beings. It takes a lot for us to actually learn from our mistakes. I always think of one of the definitions of insanity is to keep doing the same thing expecting a different result, and that’s so often the case even in our daily lives and in our struggles with sin. We make the same mistakes, commit the same sins, thinking, “It’ll be different this time. I finally have it figured out.” And then we wonder why the peace and joy that God promises to those who actually follow Him still seems to escape our grasp. 

Jesus knows us. He knows we’re messy, dirty, sinful, but He doesn’t give up on us. How well do we really know Him, our Good Shepherd? Can we recognize His voice and distinguish it from all the other voices competing for our attention? Or do we tend to fill our lives with too much noise, drowning out the voice of God, who speaks to us in silence? Christ knows us, loves us, laid down His life for us on the Cross, He feeds us even with His own Flesh and Blood in this Eucharist, and still we run away from Him and get lost in waterless deserts, in sins that don’t even satisfy us. Instead of doing the same things expecting a different result, instead of acting like dumb sheep, why not try actually doing something different? “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”  

If we actually want different results, if we want the peace and joy that the world cannot give, greener pastures than the deserts following our own stubborn will has led us into, we actually have to do something different. Cause and effect. Change our behaviors if we want different results, different fruits. If we want to enjoy the fruits of the Holy Spirit, we have to follow the Spirit’s lead. Jesus, our Good Shepherd continues to call us, and His voice is still clear to those who have shut out the noise and other voices of the world. Jesus still offers us a more abundant life, if we would follow Him with everything we are, everything we have. Sheep don’t do too well without their Shepherd to guide and protect them, and yet, every day, we decide to go our own way. But if we really desire life, there is no other Way than Christ. “The one who sits on the throne will shelter them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Follow Him and listen to His voice, if you want to truly live. 

One Vine, One Tongue

Bulletin Letter, Easter Sunday 4C

As the academic year winds down and we hopefully see some warmer temperatures, I wanted to alert you to some upcoming events. I’m not sure how often you go in to Aberdeen, but on Sunday, June 5, the Feast of Pentecost, the Aberdeen parishes are hosting a big event called One Vine at the NSU Barnett Center. They’ve invited everyone in the region to participate, and it will be the only Mass offered in Aberdeen that day. The Roncalli High School parking lot will serve for additional parking with a shuttle bus available. 

The Lumen Christi team will have activities for the kids during the morning hours, and Archbishop Robert Carlson will be the keynote speaker before celebrating Mass with him and Bishop DeGrood and the Aberdeen priests and area Catholics. It should be a great event, especially to get a sense that the Church is bigger than any one of us on our own, bigger even than any single parish. Please look for more details on the diocesan website sfcatholic.org and consider attending if you are able to get to Aberdeen that Sunday. 

During these summer months, I’d also like to start offering something I did when I was back at the Cathedral in Sioux Falls: Latin lessons. A number of families have expressed an interest in learning the basics of the Latin language. I already have around ten lessons prepared that I’ve taught before. When we get through those, we’ll see where we’re at and if there’s still a desire for additional lessons. Handouts will be available even if someone misses a session or more, and it may be possible to record lessons as well. I was thinking every other Sunday after the Latin Mass, so around 3:15 pm in the basement of the church in Hoven starting on May 22, then June 5, and so on. 

Latin is the official language of the Roman Rite, the liturgical tradition of the Church we all belong to. In addition to helping us understand and pray the Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei still used at Mass, uniting us to the Church throughout the world and the Saints throughout the centuries, Latin is also the mother of all so-called Romance languages today, including Spanish, French, and Italian. Latin’s structure is also immensely helpful in learning grammar and features that apply to every language, including English. English itself, though not a pure Romance language, derives a large portion of words from Latin due to the influence of French and other languages over the centuries. Come, give it try anyway. 

As a Child Again

Homily, Easter Sunday 3C

Someone once asked me a great question about this Gospel passage and the Apostles catching all those fish. She asked if there was any significance to it being the right side of the boat. Well, I couldn’t pass that up, so I quickly replied, “Of course. He told them to cast the nets over the right side because it’s not the wrong side of the boat.” Strangely enough, these seasoned fishermen don’t seem to catch many fish in the Gospel accounts except when they follow the instructions of the carpenter from Nazareth.

Far more puzzling to me, though, in what Jesus says to them, is that he calls these grown men, “children,” when he calls to them from the shore, saying, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” and they don’t seem to notice or react as if this is a strange way to address them. Now fisherman at that time, using nets, were not small or weak men. To mistake them for children, even from a distance, would seem rather unusual to me. It’d be like calling out to a group of men doing road construction today or tagging calves, and saying to them, “Children, have you actually done anything for the past twenty minutes?” I wonder how they would respond, or if they would be inclined to follow your instructions after calling them children. But to God Himself, to the Risen Christ, even the most advanced among us in age, grace, or strength are always like little children: frail, goofy, and awkward, often messy, but exceedingly precious in his sight.

The other part of this Gospel that sounds oddly similar to a description of childhood or even infancy is actually the prediction of St. Peter’s martyrdom and old age. “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you [or carry you] where you do not want to go.” There’s often a kind of symmetry to human life for those who live long enough to experience it. When we’re born, we’re completely dependent upon others for food, warmth, bathing, changing diapers, pretty much everything. And towards the end of life, whether due to the effects of age or illness, we tend to become a lot more dependent upon those around us once again.

And that’s a real struggle for most of us, after we’d gotten used to doing things ourselves, being productive. Seems like we have a much easier time helping others out rather than needing to ask for or receive help from others ourselves. But Jesus tells us elsewhere in the Gospel: “Unless you turn and become like children, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” I still haven’t seen the new movie about Fr. Stu, but I’ve watched or read different interviews with him or his family members. And a big part of Fr. Stu’s story is learning to accept suffering, learning to accept the effects of a disease that left him weak, exhausted, and dependent upon the people around him for help.

Before his conversion to the Catholic faith, Fr. Stuart Long was an athlete, someone who prided himself on his physical ability and strength. Eventually his favorite sport was boxing. Now he never ended up pursuing it as a career, but it was still a big part of his personality. So when he was diagnosed during his studies for the priesthood with a disease that would not only lead eventually to his death but would also involve more and more diminishment of his energy, strength, and use of his muscles, that wasn’t an easy thing for him to accept. But his faith allowed him to see meaning and value in his suffering, in his diminishment and growing lack of independence. To join his own sufferings and inability to Jesus, who suffered and had hands and feet pinned for long hours on the wood of the Cross for our salvation. To lift up his hands and allow others to dress him, to feed him, to lead or carry him wherever he would go.

One statement I found really powerful is from Fr. Stu’s sister. And I don’t think she’s Catholic herself, quite yet. But she grew up always looking up to her big brother. She said in an interview recently that she’s convinced that the Catholic faith really saved her brother’s life. Now obviously, he died, but she said that without the Catholic faith, she doesn’t think her brother would have been able to accept and deal with his diagnosis and illness. That it would have broken him, but his Catholic faith saved his life. And his witness of patience in suffering and surrendering himself into the hands of God and to the charity and service of those around him, he has touched countless lives since then.

It’s never an easy thing, to need help. To let others love us. To let God love us, when we really can’t do much for Him in return. But “unless you turn and become like children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” Let God love you. Let God dress you with His own virtues in this Eucharist. Let Him carry through those places you’d rather not go, through the trials that join us to His own saving Cross. Let God save your life, now and for eternity.

Spirit Blows Where He Wills

Bulletin Letter, Easter Sunday 3C

I’ve been thinking about wind lately. You’ll never guess why. At Masses during this past week, we had the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus from the Gospel according to St. John. When Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit, He often uses the image of wind or breath. Just like English does today, many ancient languages had what are known as homonyms, one word that can be used to mean several different things. The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greek word for spirit is pneuma, which can also mean breath or wind. The English words pneumatic and pneumonia come from this Greek root. There are similarly versatile homonyms in Hebrew and Aramaic, which may be more likely the language Jesus was speaking with Nicodemus, that John then translated into Greek for his readers.

If you know a bit about what causes the wind to blow or what allows us to breathe with our lungs, you know that the flow of air ultimately stems from differences in air pressure. Wind is basically a convection current that forms between an area of high pressure—where cooler air tends downward—and an area of low pressure, often caused by the rays of the sun heating the surface of the earth and the air above it, making it rise.

These differences in pressure and temperature stem from the different properties of what receives the sun’s rays. The water of lakes, rivers, and oceans holds more energy and so heats or cools more gradually than most other surfaces. Ground covered with plants also heats/cools more gradually than bare asphalt. For breathing, our diaphragm causes our lungs to expand, lowering the air pressure inside them and causing air to rush in from the higher air pressure that then surrounds us. The movement of air in breathing and in the wind is nature’s attempt to restore equilibrium between two extremes. It’s just too bad we’re so often caught in the middle.

But wind isn’t all bad, and our every breath is dependent on the same process of air’s tendency to move from high pressure to low pressure. Jesus found the energy, power, freedom, and life-giving properties of wind and breath to be an apt description of the Holy Spirit’s role in bringing spiritual life to our souls. May the Holy Spirit always bring the peace and equilibrium of God into our hearts and minds amid the highs and lows of this passing life, that our every breath, word, and action may be for the glory of God and salvation of souls.

A Humbling Mercy

Homily, Easter Sunday 2C

Before the events described in today’s Gospel, the last time that Jesus and His disciples had all been gathered together in the upper room was only a few days earlier for the Last Supper. Besides instituting the Mass and the holy priesthood at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, Jesus also predicted His Passion and death, and the betrayal that one of the disciples would carry out, but Peter proclaimed that he would follow Jesus anywhere, even if that would mean having to die with Him, and the Gospel tells us that all the rest of the disciples made similar professions of their constancy and willingness to suffer. But by the time we see the Twelve on Good Friday, all of them—except for John—had run away and abandoned Jesus. The Good Shepherd was struck and put to death, and His sheep were scattered. Judas betrayed Him and handed Him over to those who would put Him to death. Three times, Peter denied even knowing who Jesus was.

In the hour of His greatest need, these chosen men who had left everything to follow Him for three years, they finally abandoned their Teacher, Lord, and Master to public execution by the Romans on the wood of the Cross. Maybe one of the reasons why the Apostles were slow to believe or didn’t want to believe the reports that Jesus had really risen from the dead, was because they were afraid of what He would say or do to them after what they had done—or failed to do—for Him on Good Friday. Maybe another reason they kept the doors locked. Desertion is a serious crime.

Now imagine if you had been through what Jesus went through on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, and these Twelve whom you had chosen and invested in for three years had all turned tail and fled during the hour of your greatest need. What do you think would be your first words to them, the next time you saw them? What are the first words of Jesus to His Apostles that we hear in today’s Gospel? Instead of scolding them or asking them where they were while He was being handed over to death, His first words to them are, “Peace be with you.” And when He had shown them His hands and His side to let them know that it was really Him, Jesus even says to them a second time, “Peace be with you.” He not only tries to comfort them after they had so miserably failed to support Him, Jesus even goes so far as to entrust to them His own sacred mission. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And He breathes upon them the Holy Spirit, the very life and breath of God.

This is the Divine Mercy that we celebrate today, the infinite mercy of God. Jesus never gives up on us, just like He never gave up on His Apostles. Even when we have abandoned Him, and denied Him so many times and in so many ways through our words and actions, through our sins, His invitation always remains. His peace is always ready to console us and welcome us back, even to entrust to us His own mission in the world today. People often think humility comes from being humiliated and brought low, being punished for our sins and failings, and when we’ve let someone down the way the Apostles had abandoned Jesus, we almost want to be punished by God. We want Him to be angry, to yell at us, but it often humbles us even more when God continues to pour out His blessings upon us, when we know and become more and more aware that we don’t deserve these blessings.

Not only does God forgive us. He trusts us. He commissions us as He commissioned the Apostles to carry out His own work in the world today, to continue His proclamation of the Gospel and the kingdom of God to everyone we meet, to call to repentance and the life of grace and the sacraments. God continues to trust us even though we’ve proven so many times to be unworthy of trust. That’s the mercy of God that has the power to humble us, even to shock us, and hopefully move us to real repentance and true discipleship.

There are many incomplete, counterfeit versions of mercy and love that the world offers today, but these false versions involve mere tolerance or enabling, even indifference. But God doesn’t just put up with us or look the other way. The truly amazing thing about a God who really loves us is that Jesus wants to see us actually turn away from our sins and leave behind our unhealthy habits and start to do the very same things that Jesus Himself did during His time on earth. God breathes upon us His own Holy Spirit, not just to cover us over superficially with outward appearance of righteousness, but to really transform us from within, to change our minds, hearts, and actions, to redirect our desires and give us the strength to carry out the mission of Christ in our daily lives.

Far beyond offering us the holes in His hands and feet or the wound in His side, as He offered to St. Thomas, Jesus gives us His very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, His whole Self as our food and sustenance. Nourishment for our bodies and souls, to make us more like Him. We have not seen in the same way that St. Thomas or the other Apostles saw, but we have still believed, and we cry out together with St. Thomas as we look upon Jesus in this Eucharist, “My Lord and My God.” Have mercy, bring peace, give strength, that we may carry on Your work in the world today.