The Month of the Dead

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 31A

Each year, the month of November is especially dedicated to offering prayers, penance, and indulgences on behalf of the faithful departed. Some parishes have had the tradition of setting out a Book of the Dead during this month, and parishioners are invited to write the names of the deceased for remembrance and intercession. In some homes, a table is set out with pictures of deceased relatives as a special reminder to continue to pray for them and to have Masses said for the repose of their souls.

Today, it is fairly common and popular to convey the idea that getting into heaven is fairly easy and pretty much a foregone conclusion for most of us. This idea is even conveyed during Funeral Masses, when we should especially be praying for the deliverance of the deceased from any sins or disordered attachments that still clung to them at the end of their life. We might well imagine many preachers today saying something like this: Enter by the wide gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to life, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to destruction, and those who find it are few. The only monumental problem with this idea is that it is the exact opposite of the message preached by Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Cf. Matthew 7:13-14).

Jesus never promises us an easy way, but He does promise us a more abundant life (Cf. John 10:10). It is not easy to take up our cross and follow Him to our own Calvary, but it is worth it (Cf. Luke 9:23-26). The Way to heaven is narrow and difficult for us, not because God is not merciful, but because we are not merciful. If the Way is as difficult and narrow as Jesus says, and if we really care for those who have died and gone before us, we will strive to help the poor souls in Purgatory by our prayers and works of penance, and by having Masses said on their behalf.

Please make this a month of renewed awareness to pray for those who have died, and renew your commitment throughout the year to help many of our brothers and sisters in Purgatory to finally reach the peace and joy of heavenly glory.

May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Put on the Mind of Christ

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 30A

If you’re anything like me, there are plenty of lines from Sacred Scripture that we’ve heard or read dozens of times without really thinking very carefully about what they mean. In today’s Gospel, we hear once again the great commandment of love, to love God with all that we are, and to love our neighbor as our self. But beyond loving God with all our heart and soul, have we ever really considered what it means to love God with all our mind?

We tend to view our own thoughts as very private matter. Why should anyone, even the Church, or even God Himself tell me how to think, or what to think? We also tend to overestimate the independence of our thoughts, that our conclusions come as a result of our own objective investigations and free-thinking. We often don’t realize just how much we are influenced by what we choose to watch, or listen to, or read—how much bias and skewed vision of reality can make its way into our minds through our phones, computers, movies or TV.

But Jesus says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” and I will send you “another Advocate,” and “when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (John 8:32; Cf. 14:16 & 16:7; 16:13). St. Paul’s letters speak often about putting on the mind of Christ and taking “every thought captive in obedience to Christ” (Cf. Philippians 2:5; 2 Corinthians 10:5). The Christian formation of our minds and thoughts has always been central to the message of salvation.

Salvation does not just involve doing the right thing; God wants us to do the right thing for the right reasons. To love our neighbor, not because he deserves it, but because God is God. Sprinkled throughout the commandments given in the Old Testament is God’s solemn declaration to His people, “I am Lord, your God.” Why should you care for the foreigner, for the widow, for the orphan, why should you care for the poor and disadvantaged ones? Because I am Lord. Because I am Lord, your God, who heard your cries and freed you from slavery in Egypt. In the New Testament, Jesus gives the same reasoning. St. Teresa of Calcutta liked to summarize the Gospel on one hand, with five words: “You did it to me.” Jesus says, Whatever you do or fail to do for the least ones, you have done or failed to do for me. Why? Because I am Lord. Because I am Lord, your God, who died on the Cross to save you from the slavery of sin and death. Why should we love our neighbor? Because God has so loved us.

The only way to be able to love as God loves and to fulfill the commandment in today’s Gospel is to open our minds to receive God’s Revelation. Otherwise, our love of God and neighbor will always be limited to our own paltry sense of compassion, and our own fickle sentiments of religiosity. Only by keeping always before our minds the image of the crucifix, the image of the unbounded love of God, can we hope to respond adequately.

God saves us by giving us a share in His own vision of reality, His own divine perspective. Just think of how many years we spend in school, studying things that will ultimately pass away. How much time do we devote, then, to pondering the eternal truths of our salvation, and allowing God’s Revelation to form our minds—to love God with all our mind? And how does this compare to the number of hours we devote to movies and TV, the Internet and video games, allowing our minds to be formed instead by the skewed and sinful vision of reality presented to us there? In evaluating the influences we allow into our homes, onto our screens, or through our earbuds, how often do we ask the question, Is this or is this not bringing me closer to God, bringing my thoughts more into line with God’s thoughts? Are we vigilant about what is forming our minds or the minds of our children? It’s a difficult task, I readily acknowledge, and there’s only so much each of us can do, but giving up altogether only feeds the problem.

How many hours do we spend actually putting God’s vision into practice, through the works of mercy? And how many hours of our lives are wasted staring at screens, binge watching or playing FIFA World Cup, while accomplishing nothing but the decay of our society? God wants more for us. God offers us more than a screen. He has a face in Jesus Christ, His eternal Word. As we eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, Christ longs to transform our minds and hearts and offer us a more abundant life, a peace that the world cannot give. Why not surrender? Why not take God at His Word? He longs to set us free.

Life, Death, and Taxes

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 29A

They say there are just two things guaranteed in this life: death and taxes. Most people are not too thrilled about either one. While we live this short life, we are called to “render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” to serve well as citizens of a kingdom that is passing away. Even this well-known phrase from the Gospel illustrates how temporary kingdoms of this world tend to be. “Render unto Caesar.” Well, there aren’t any Caesars around anymore, or at least the names have changed because their kingdoms do not stand the test of time. After a few more generations, there might no longer be a Congress or a presidency. The kingdoms of this world are not built to last.

Even so, it’s important that we uphold the law, pay our taxes, and respect lawful authority, authority that God Himself has entrusted to those who rule. This authority can be and often is abused by those who hold it in these earthly kingdoms, but God intends it for our good and the good ordering of society, for peace and tranquility. In our first reading, the title “Messiah” or “Anointed One” is given to someone who’s not even Jewish. The secular emperor Cyrus is called “Messiah.” Even though Cyrus is a Gentile, he becomes an instrument of God as he gives the order that the Jews be allowed to return to the Promised Land and bring an end to their lengthy Babylonian Exile. All authority ultimately comes from God, and when it is exercised wisely, even secular rulers cooperate with God’s plan for His creation. Still, the political approach that many of us often have might be summarized more accurately in a line from the Fiddler on the Roof. Someone asks the Rabbi if there is a proper blessing for the emperor. He replies, “Of course! May God bless and keep the [emperor]… far away from us!”

But if we owe respect and obedience and the aid of our prayers to those who rule in earthly kingdoms that are passing away during our short stay in this life, how much more do we owe to the One whose kingdom will have no end? To the One who exercises authority only and always for our genuine good? The One who “died and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14:9). Give “to God what belongs to God.” Give to Him that which bears His image and His inscription. Give your entire selves, your life, your death, everything you are, you who were created in God’s own image and likeness. Give to God your perfect obedience, you upon whose hearts and minds God has inscribed His own Law, through His Holy Spirit given to us (cf. Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10; Rom. 2:15; 2 Cor. 1:22).

If we owe taxes, money and financial support to the State that issues the currency we use, how much more do we owe our entire existence and every part of it to the One who has given us “life and breath and all things,” together with the gift of His Only-begotten Son (Acts 17:25; cf. Rom. 8:32)? In this Eucharist, God gives us everything in giving us Jesus Himself, but how often do we fail to respond? How often are we so set on spending our short life on our own small plans and trivial goals that we never open ourselves up to God’s designs? Why not spend ourselves entirely in the service of God’s kingdom, that has no end? There is nothing more worthwhile or lasting.

Each one of us is given only a short time in this life, the blink of an eye against the backdrop of eternity. Death is a guarantee. The mortality rate of human beings is still 100%. Make friends for yourselves with false and fleeting wealth, so that when this life is over, the Saints may welcome you into eternal dwellings (cf. Luke 16:9). This is the one and only purpose of our life on this earth, to become part of God’s heavenly and everlasting kingdom. We only get one shot at it. Why put it off any longer? God alone can satisfy our infinite desires. God alone is worthy of our unconditional allegiance. Why not let God be in charge of your life? You will not regret it, for ever.

Gather Them All into My House

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 28A

As I was growing up in the small town of Elk Point, we would always pick up our mail at the local post office on Main Street, and for a lot of small towns the post office served as something of a social center because of how many people would make their way to it almost every day. A few years ago, in a small town just like many we have here in South Dakota, a new postmaster arrived in town, so everyone, as they visited the post office to pick up their mail, was introducing themselves. Towards the end of the week, the local parish priest came to pick up the mail for his parishes. He introduced himself and asked how the new postmaster was settling into town, if he was able to find everything he needed, where he was moving from, how their town compared, and other points of interest like the weather. As the priest finished speaking with him and turned to go, the new postmaster said, “Father, aren’t you forgetting something?” The priest replied, “Do I have a package that I need to pick up?”

“Well, no, but aren’t you going to invite me to come to Mass on Sunday?” The priest was sort of embarrassed and said something about not realizing he was Catholic, but the postmaster went on to say, “Just so you know, Father, since I arrived in town, several members of each of the other churches, the Lutherans, the Methodists, the Baptists, I’ve already had several of each invite me to join them for their Sunday worship service, and they didn’t seem too concerned to know whether I was of the same faith tradition or not. They just wanted to share what they found valuable in their own life. But you know, Father, not even one Catholic that has been through here this week has invited me to join them for Mass on Sunday.”

When was the last time that we shared our faith by simply inviting someone to come to Mass with us, to pray the rosary with us, to come to Confession with us? Have we ever invited anyone else into God’s Wedding Feast, the Supper of the Lamb that we celebrate every Sunday or even every day? If we’re not able to see the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass or the Stations of the Cross or the Sacrament of Confession as something valuable in our own lives, if we see the Church’s teachings only as a burden that weighs us down, instead of what they are really are, a communication of the Truth that sets us free, the Truth that allows us to really live, beyond the slavery to sin and status, beyond the materialism, emptiness, depression, and anxiety that the world offers us, until we’re able to really appreciate all of what is ours as Catholics, we’ll never fulfill the King’s desire to gather everyone into His house, into the one Church founded by God’s own Son.

So what is it that holds us back? What’s keeping us from putting off the worn-out rags that the world offers us and being clothed in the spotless wedding garment that the King Himself gives us in our Baptism and in the Sacrament of Confession? What are the ways of thinking and evaluating that we’ve inherited from the misguided culture around us that keep us from really putting on the mind Christ and being able to recognize the riches of a life lived for Him? At the end of our lives, we will have no excuse for why we so often neglected the Wedding Feast of Christ’s own Body and Blood, for why we never bothered to invite anyone else to the most valuable Banquet freely given, why we never brought anyone else to experience the peace of hearing those words said with authority, “And I absolve you from your sins.”

There is no excuse for us. “The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.” The riches of the Catholic faith are truly meant for all. If there are roughly 7 billion people in the world, and just over a billion Catholics—and of those only a small portion that really practices their faith—what does that mean for us? It means that there are still an awful lot of people in the world that should become Catholic. So, let’s get to work.

Answer Me

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 27A

God wants to see us bear good fruit, not for any profit of His own. He is God. He needs nothing. In Himself, He possesses everything. God wants to see us bear good fruit, only for our own advantage. Because He loves us as His own dear children, He wants to see us grow to be strong and mature. To be able to love even as He loves, unconditionally and without limits. To be able to respond in kind to the love that He has shown for us. 

I’ve always been struck by how disproportionate our response to God tends to be. In my own life, being blessed by God with such great parents, such a great family, such great examples of virtue, with a great education and natural abilities, so many advantages that most other people in the world and throughout history were never given, and what sort of response have I been able to give God for His countless blessings to me? I’m still so attached to my own sins, to my own comfort, to my own laziness and pride. As a priest, I am called to do penance and make sacrifices on behalf of all God’s People, especially for those who come to me for the Sacrament of Confession, but I have hardly even begun to do penance for my own sins. 

The vineyard that bears sour grapes, the tenants that reject and kill the prophets, these are not just God’s People in the past. We are the ones, today, that “crucify the Son of God again, to [our] own harm, and hold Him up to contempt,” by our continued sin and rebellion against God, by our lack of response to God’s infinite love (Hebrews 6:6). 

At the noon Mass this past Friday, I shared what are known as the Reproaches of Good Friday, but quite a few people told me afterwards that they had never heard them before. The Reproaches are meant to be sung during the Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday. As I was growing up, I was familiar with them as part of a couple versions of the Stations of the Cross. They have always been a rich source of prayer and meditation in my own spiritual life, so we’ll end our reflections today with these Reproaches, but I’d encourage each one of us to spend some time in the days ahead thinking more specifically, what are the particular gifts and blessings that God has poured out upon my own life, and how is He calling me to respond?

My People, what have I done to you? 
Or in what have I offended you? Answer Me!
What more should I have done, and did not do?

I scourged Egypt for your sake with its firstborn sons,
and you scourged me and handed me over.

I led you out from Egypt as Pharoah lay sunk in the Red Sea,
and you handed me over to the chief priests.

I opened up the Red Sea before you,
and you opened my side with a lance.

I led you out in a pillar of cloud,
and you led me into Pilate’s palace.

I rained down manna upon you to sustain you in the desert,
and upon me you rained blows and lashes.

I gave you saving water from the rock to drink,
and for drink you gave me gall and vinegar.

I struck down for you the kings of the Canaanites,
and you struck my head with a reed.

I placed in your hand a royal scepter,
and you placed on my head a crown of thorns.

I exalted you with great power,
and you hung me on the scaffold of the Cross.

My People, what have I done to you?
Or in what have I offended you? Answer Me!

In this, and at every Mass, I give you everything. I give you My Body and Blood, My Soul and My Divinity. I give you My entire Self, holding nothing back. What more should I have done, and did not do?

My People, what have I done to you?
Or in what have I offended you? Answer Me! 

The Daily Rosary

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 27A

As I was growing up, I would often hear my mom say, “The family who prays together stays together.” I wasn’t always thrilled to hear this when I was younger, because it usually meant it was time to shut off the TVs and gather together to pray the rosary as a family. We did this consistently, almost every evening, until there were fewer of us around, probably till I was in high school.

By the time I was a senior in high school, I had come to appreciate the rosary more and more. I also had more love for my family members by then. During that year, one of my sisters was living at home again, going through the dental hygiene program at USD. Every once in a while, we’d still gather with our parents in the living room to pray the rosary at the end of the day. Afterwards, we’d often just stay and talk. Those were some of my favorite evenings. As the youngest in my family, I was always glad that my sister was still at home and was able to see me grow up in ways that perhaps my other siblings were not around to see. I often wonder whether my older siblings still just view me as their little kid brother.

Along with being Respect Life month, October is the month of our Lady of the Rosary. One hundred years ago, our Blessed Mother instructed the shepherd children of Fatima to pray the rosary every day to obtain peace in the world. This Friday, October 13, is the 100th Anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima. At 7 pm, we will have a Holy Hour of Eucharistic Exposition and Confessions in the main body of the Cathedral. We hope you will be able to attend and invite many others for this momentous occasion.

On Sunday, October 15, at 3 pm the Annual Rosary Rally will take place at McEneaney Field of O’Gorman High School. What a great opportunity to gather with others from around the city and diocese to show our love for Jesus Christ and for His Immaculate Mother! And to pray for peace and religious liberty. Every day during this month, we can recommit ourselves to praying a daily rosary, meditating upon the inexhaustible mysteries of the lives of Jesus and Mary. And when we pray with others, we allow God to strengthen our bonds and draw us closer to one another. The family who prays together stays together. As a Cathedral Parish family, may God always unite us together in prayer, for peace in our world today.

Call to Action

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 26A

Most things in life are easier said than done. It’s a lot easier to say that we’re going to exercise more, or eat healthier foods, that we’re going to pray more and give more time to God, it’s much easier to say these things than to actually have the discipline necessary to wake up earlier and be committed to a change in our established schedule or regular way of doing things. In the Gospel today, it was easy for the second son to say he would work in the vineyard and then not follow through, to let himself get too busy with other things.

We are creatures of habit. Whether we realize it or not, most of us get into a pretty regular routine, even to the point where, when someone asks us to do anything extra or something other than what we’ve already been doing, we tend to feel horribly inconvenienced. When I was still in school and certain teachers or professors would assign more homework, I’d always be asking myself, “Don’t they realize how busy I am? Don’t they know that I have other classes and activities, and that they shouldn’t assign anything that I would actually have to take home and work on outside of study hall?” But what was really so important, that I couldn’t afford to spend a little extra time reading or writing every once in a while? How much time was I spending just staring at screens, watching TV or movies, on the computer or playing video games? How much time and energy was I putting into things that were really rather trivial and pointless?

At the end of our lives, when we face the judgment seat of God, He is not going to ask us how our favorite sports teams are doing, or how many likes we’ve gotten on Facebook. He will not be interested in how many lines we can quote word for word from our favorite movies or TV series. God will ask, “Do you love me? And what did you do for the least ones, my brothers, for the poor, the sick, the unwanted, the unproductive and inconvenient ones? Whatever you did for the least of my brethren, you did for me. And what you did not do for these least ones, you did not do for me.” What will matter at the end of our lives is how we have responded to God’s invitation of love, and how much we have put it into practice concretely in our own lives and relationships.

Today is Respect Life Sunday. It’s easy for us to say that we’re pro-life, but what do we actually do concretely, on a regular basis, to really foster a culture of life? How would we actually respond to an unexpected pregnancy? It’s difficult to know until it happens among our own relatives. How often do we visit those who are sick, those who have a hard time getting around, those who are lonely or depressed? Do we ever visit or write letters to prisoners? Whatever you do or fail to do for the least of my brethren will follow you to the grave. When was the last time we took a critical look at our own schedule, from day to day or from week to week? What are the things that we spend most of our time and energy on? And how do those things measure up, in the context of eternity? 

Socrates, the great philosopher, once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. As we examine our own lives, how confident are we that we’re headed in the right direction, that we are spending ourselves on what really matters, on what’s going to count at the end of our lives? How might God be calling us today, not just to say that we’ll work in His vineyard, but to actually get our hands dirty, to clear our schedules, and make time to serve the most vulnerable, the least ones? To advance the culture of life not just with our words or social media posts, but with our own actions? Jesus is waiting, but He will not wait forever.