Cultivating Virtue

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 16A

When people learn that I’m the youngest of nine children in my family, many tend to think that we must have grown up on a farm, but we never did. We always just lived in town, down in Elk Point. However, my mother always had a large garden next to the garage, and many of us spent our summers working in corn fields, for one of the local seed companies at the edge of town. I spent five summers in the fields. Even in my own limited agricultural experience, helping in the garden and in the corn and soybean fields, it’s always kind of amazing to me how quickly and how vigorously the weeds tend to grow, just as we hear in today’s Gospel. And I could never figure out why we always ended up with so much wild spinach in the garden, when my mom never planted any. Especially during times of drought and adverse conditions, like what many areas are experiencing this year, it can often seem like the weeds do a lot better than what we’ve actually planted.

Now one way to understand the parable of the weeds and the wheat in today’s Gospel is that each plant stands for one person, that each one of us is either a weed or a wheat, growing together in the field of God’s kingdom until harvest time. But another way of understanding the parable is that the wheat, the children and fruits of God’s kingdom, wheat refers to the many virtues that God plants in each one of us, the virtues of patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, the virtues that God asks us to cultivate in ourselves by cooperation with His grace. The weeds, then, are the vices, the children and plantings of the evil one, the habits of sin, impatience, anger, selfishness, violence, those tendencies in us that constantly threaten the good plantings of God.

Ultimately, God is the Gardener of each one of us. He gives freedom and strength by His grace, but He doesn’t decide everything for us. By our own actions, by the choices we make every day, we decide which plants in us are going to receive nourishment, either the virtues that come from God or the vices that come from our enemy. Are we going to choose patience, to react with kindness and perseverance to the inconveniences, challenges, and setbacks that life presents to us? I think we often forget that God does answer our prayers, but as St. Paul reminds us in our second reading, “we do not know how to pray as we ought.” The problem is not that we ask too much of God, but we ask far too little.

You see, God wants us to become Saints. He’s wanting the transformation of our minds, hearts, and actions, but oftentimes, we merely ask God to change our circumstances. We might ask God for patience, but then we quickly move on to asking him to remove from around us all adversity and to make things easier for us. Then God is left wondering, Which is it? Are we asking for patience, or are we asking for an easy life? If we’re really asking for patience, we should remember that this virtue is only cultivated and exercised precisely when things are not going our own way, when we’re forced to deal with people and with situations that make us feel very impatient.

So when we ask God for patience, and then we quickly run into countless situations that actually test our patience, why then do we complain that God doesn’t answer our prayers? He answers our prayers precisely in providing opportunities for us to exercise the virtues that He desires to see within us. But virtue is only proven through trials, adversities, and setbacks, through the saving but mysterious power of the Cross of Christ.

You are God’s field. You can either work with Him to cultivate and strengthen the good wheat of His virtues, or you can work with His enemy, and cling to the false idea of an easy life in this world. There is no easy life. A life of sin is not easy for those who are in it. And a life of virtue is difficult to reach, but a life lived with God and for God and for our neighbor is infinitely more worthwhile. So be bold. Ask God for patience and perseverance, and then prepare yourself for trials.

The Power of the Presence

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 15A

People often ask me, “Fr. Darin, when was it that you first thought about becoming a priest?” I’m not sure how old I was, but I remember going to Mass during the week with my mom. My other siblings must have already started school by that time. After Mass, my mom was painting an apartment for the company where my dad works, and I must have still been too young to do anything useful, so I just sat on the floor of the empty apartment and looked through a St. Joseph’s Picture Missal, that has what the priest says and what the people say at Mass, and I remember thinking then that it would be really cool to be a priest.

Now, fast forward to my teenage years, as I struggled to figure out who I was or where I would fit in the world, as I struggled with sin, and habits and slavery to sin in my life, as I wondered who could free me from the chaos of my mind and my desires, as I wondered where I could find refuge from the chaos and darkness of the world around me, I found myself drawn back, time and again, to the little Eucharistic chapel of my home church of St. Joseph in Elk Point. And there Jesus would ask me if I would be willing to give my life in the priesthood, so that another generation would always be able to find refuge and hope in His Eucharistic Presence.

Now, fast forward to the present day. After two years in the priesthood, am I still able to recognize that the proper celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist is the most important thing that I can do for the salvation of the world? That if I think the Mass is boring or if it becomes just routine, it’s because I’m not really paying attention to what I’m saying and doing, or rather, to what God is doing for us in the Mass. To make present for us again and again the one saving sacrifice of Jesus upon the Cross, the one perfect act of obedience that is infinitely more powerful than all the sin and evil of the world and the evil of my own heart. Am I still able to recognize in this Eucharist the great gift that the Apostles received, that “many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” Blessed indeed are our eyes and ears that receive Jesus Himself today, the Word of God Incarnate, through the Scriptures proclaimed, and in His own Body and Blood poured out for us upon this altar.

Do we ever stop and take the time to realize what God does for us at each and every celebration of the Mass? Do we really believe that just one worthy reception of Holy Communion is enough to heal every disease of my body and soul, to free me completely from every habit of sinfulness, as Jesus Christ comes to us in the Flesh? Someone once told me that loving our enemies is not actually the most difficult Catholic teaching to live out. Much more difficult is to really believe with living faith, and to have our actions reflect, that in a few moments, the bread and wine that you see upon the altar will be changed into Jesus Himself, Jesus who raised the dead to life, Jesus who commanded the wind and sea and the evil spirits, Jesus who reigns as Lord and King forever. It’s not a metaphor; it’s not a nice idea. It’s a reality that has the power to change us into what we receive, to change us into the Person that we receive, as Jesus, the Word of God, works to bear fruit in our lives. All the greatest Saints of recent times, Padre Pio, John Paul II, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and so many others, one thing that they all had in common was an extreme devotion to Jesus present in the Eucharist.

If I do nothing else throughout my entire priesthood, I pray that I may foster reverence and devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist, so that each and every person might find, always present in the tabernacle of every Catholic church, our one true hope and refuge from all the anarchy of the world. Not to treat the Gift of God casually, but to really pay attention to the One that we receive, and to prepare ourselves by Confession, penance, and prayer, even to treat the Heavenly Banquet of the Mass as an occasion that’s worth dressing up for, that’s worth showing up early for, and that’s worth giving thanks for in silence afterwards. To believe with living faith, that at every Mass we witness and are caught up into the one perfect sacrifice of Christ, who alone can free us from our sins, who alone can bring us the peace that we desire. Lord Jesus, strengthen our faith. Give us the eyes to see the realities communicated to us in your Sacraments. Give us the reverence to kneel in awe and wonder at all the marvelous things you have done for us, and all that you continue to do for us through your Most Sacred Presence.

Short Autobiography

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 15A

To start, I am the youngest of nine kids (seven boys and two girls) in my family. My own life as a Catholic and my vocation to the priesthood grew steadily over time. I attended public school through high school. There, a close Protestant friend really challenged me to live out my faith not just on Sundays, but to allow it to affect everything I did. His questionings of Catholic teachings and practice were also occasions for me to really understand the reasons behind them and, in a certain sense, to take personal ownership of my Catholic faith. It was no longer just something handed on to me by my parents, but I had a sense of discovering the faith for myself, or of being found by God, as I encountered more deeply the Truth of Jesus Christ, the Truth that sets us free.

For many who are considering a call to the priesthood, as I was even then, the question of celibacy and remaining unmarried can be a big factor. Different times when I would date, though, I think I always had a sense that I would be limiting what God wanted to do with me. He had made me for more than to love just one woman or one family, as wonderful as that would be. So, just after graduating high school, I attended Saint John Vianney College Seminary for four years, studying philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Afterwards, for another four years, I had the great privilege of studying theology and then specializing in spiritual theology in Rome, Italy, living at the Pontifical North American College and attending classes at the Angelicum University. My time at the heart of the Catholic Church in Rome was a tremendous experience of the Church spread throughout the world. In October of 2014, I was ordained as a transitional deacon in St. Peter’s Basilica with the rest of my class in Rome.

On June 26, 2015—by God’s providence, the 27th anniversary of my Baptism—I was ordained to the priesthood here at the Cathedral. My first assignment was two years as Parochial Vicar of Holy Spirit Parish in the southeast part of Sioux Falls, a time filled with tremendous graces from God. Now, I’ve been named as another Parochial Vicar of the Cathedral of St. Joseph and as the Diocesan Master of Ceremonies. I look forward to seeing more of the diocese on the road with Bishop Swain, but I especially look forward to serving you and equipping you to spread the love of Christ and the truth of the Gospel to your homes, your friends, your workplaces, and to everyone you meet.

Receiving the Word of God

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 13A

Sometimes I wonder whether I’ve made much of a difference, working as a priest. As I’ve mentioned before, my dad likes to joke with me, that because I entered the priesthood right after finishing school, I’ve never really had a real job. There are times when I am a bit envious of the work that my dad does. He knows how to fix almost any appliance, and a lot of what goes wrong with cars. And at the end of the day, it’s very clear to him whether he did his job well or if he needs to keep working on the same thing the next day. It’s usually easy for him to tell whether this refrigerator, air conditioner, light switch, or car that wasn’t working before is working like it’s supposed to when he’s finished. I like to do some of the same type of work in my free time.

But as a priest and prophet, so much of what I deal with every day are invisible realities, the mysteries of God and our relationship with Him and with one another, faith which knows, but often does not see, on this side of heaven. Even if people tell me that I’m doing a good job, that they enjoy my homilies or going to Confession with me, or the way that I pray the Mass and celebrate the other sacraments, or how I teach in the classrooms or in the Scripture course, still, I don’t often see whether it makes any real difference in people’s lives, whether it motivates anyone to actually change their behaviors and have a healthier approach to God, to life, to their families and to those in need.

Each one of us has a prophetic vocation. We are called to proclaim the Word of God by the way we live, in all our words and actions. But we cannot give what we do not have. We cannot proclaim what we have not first heard and received. The readings this weekend focus on what it means to really receive a prophet, to receive the Word of God deeply into our lives. The woman and her husband who received the prophet Elisha in our first reading were rewarded with the promise of a baby boy, after many years of being unable to have children. In today’s Gospel, Jesus promises, “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.”

What does it mean to receive a prophet because he is a prophet? To receive a prophet, not because we find him entertaining, not because we agree with almost everything he says, not because he tells us what we want to hear, but simply because he is a prophet, because he proclaims the Word of God to us. How well do we receive someone who, instead of making us feel good about ourselves, actually challenges us to conform our lives to Jesus Christ? To receive a prophet because he is a prophet. To go to Mass every Sunday, not because of what I can get out of the Mass, but because of what God wants me to receive from it. That even if the homily is boring or stupid, if I don’t like the priest or the people around me, God still gives us His most holy Word, as the Scriptures are proclaimed, as the prayers are pronounced, and especially as the Word of God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, gives us His own Body and Blood to transform us and make us new.

To receive a prophet because he is prophet. Do we actually change our course of action when the Word of God convicts us of the sin, the failings, the imbalances and excesses of our lives, or do we leave Mass, week after week, unchanged, unconverted, untouched by the Word of God? The seed is sown to us whether we realize it or not, but what have we done to actually make ourselves into good soil for its reception, that we might bear good fruit for the glory of God? “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.” Whoever receives the Word of God because it is the Word of God will become a word of God to others. Do not be sterile and unfruitful. God wants more for us. He wants our transformation. May God give us the grace to really open ourselves to Jesus Christ and surrender to His will for our lives.