Advent Darkness and Silence

Bulletin Letter, Advent Sunday 1B

When I was little, winter was always my favorite season, and I loved the snow. When I had to start shoveling sidewalks and trying to drive on icy roads, I thought again about whether winter was so great. For a while, I think my favorite season changed to autumn, but there’s always something about winter that is particularly peaceful.

A number of years ago after a big snowfall, I remember walking down the middle of the streets in Elk Point in the early hours of the night. The sidewalks were still buried in snow, and there weren’t many vehicles out anyway. Everything was so silent and still, street lights lighting up the white snow. I felt like I might have been the only living thing out of doors. Just God and I in all the world. I’ve always found the snow and even the darkness of these days helpful for prayer and reflection, and just sitting and watching in silence. Advent is a season of peace, of waiting, of keeping vigil, and the approach of winter seems to foster that anticipation of Christmas joy.

With all the frantic activity that goes along with this season, with Christmas shopping, Christmas concerts, Christmas plays, I hope you’ll make the time to really enjoy the graces of the Advent season. Sit by a fire and just watch the flames dance. When it starts snowing, just take five minutes (or more if you can spare them) to watch the flakes fall from the sky to decorate the earth. Take a break from your breakneck pace of life to just be, to be in the present, to be in the presence of God. Take the time to realize that the world is not going to end if you don’t actually get all twenty things done that you needed to get done today. Go to Confession to give the darkness of your sins to God so that He can be the Light of your life.

Liturgically, as we look forward to Christ’s Second Coming at the end of days, as we celebrate His coming among us today through the grace of His sacraments, and as we prepare to commemorate His First Coming at His Nativity in Bethlehem, Advent is a great opportunity to observe longer periods of silence before, during, and after Mass (cf. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 45). A noticeable difference in our approach to the use of musical instruments and decorations is also helpful to distinguish this season and open ourselves to its special graces, an approach marked by moderation that “does not anticipate the full joy of Christmas itself,” even for Weddings during Advent (Ceremonial of Bishops, 236; cf. Order of Celebrating Matrimony, 32).

With Christmas on a Monday, this year has the shortest Advent season possible. Let’s do all that we can to really enter into Advent, to really grow in how much we watch, how much we listen, how much we are really attentive to the needs of those around us rather than our own fleeting desires. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Let’s give God the time and opportunity to change our hearts and to speak to us in the dark and in the silence.

All Hail Christ the King

Homily, Christ the King A

A long time ago, there was a young man who grew up in a small house, in a small town, in a small country, but he had big dreams of ruling the entire world someday. He knew the Scriptures, and he was convinced that he would be the one to fulfill the prophecies. He would have a kingdom that would stretch from sea to sea. And not only that, but his reign would never end; he would sit as king from age to age, ruling every place, every people and nation, for all time. And how would he realize this lofty dream of his? For almost thirty years, he worked and sweat and practiced… carpentry. With his father in their workshop, he built tables and furniture. For bigger projects they would work on houses and roads. But still, beyond a small circle of friends and family, and those who hired him as a carpenter, this man was largely unknown, and he probably seemed rather unremarkable.

When it came time for him to strike out on his own, he began to travel to the other small towns in the area. He told people about the kingdom of God. He healed the sick, drove out demons, pronounced forgiveness of sins and new life to the most notorious sinners, and he raised people from the dead. As you can well imagine, this was a much more effective campaign strategy than his many years of carpentry. He traveled the country like this for almost three years, and people flocked to see him.

But every time they tried to make him king, he would slip away and move on to the next towns. In fact, the only time he admitted to being a king was when he stood bound as a criminal, on trial for rebellion, accused by the leaders of his own nation. For this, he was put to a most shameful death, publicly, with the charge written in three languages above his head, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Humanly speaking, his name should have been forgotten, buried in the shame of his crucifixion.

But God’s ways are not our ways. This Man who lived most of His earthly life in obscurity and came to His end in the greatest shame is the One that we proclaim today as our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth to establish the Kingdom of God in our midst, but He also said that His kingdom is not of this world. God’s ways are not our ways. Even in today’s Gospel, when the Son of Man comes in all His glory, and all His angels with Him, and He sits upon His glorious throne with all the nations assembled before Him, He comes as a Shepherd to tend his sheep.

Not exactly what most of us would expect from an almighty king. But God’s ways are not our ways. He has no police to enforce His royal decrees. He has no armies to expand the borders of His kingdom. Instead, Jesus still conquers in the same way as He did during His earthly life, by conquering human hearts, by feeding the hungry and giving the thirsty something to drink, by welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked, by caring for the sick and for those in prison, and by inviting us into the truth. This is how Christ conquers and how He has always conquered.

And this is how He wants to conquer our hearts today. He gives us His own Body and Blood in this Eucharist to satisfy every hunger and thirst of our souls. He welcomes even the strangest of us into His own family through Baptism and Confirmation, and gives us a lasting home in heaven. He clothes us in His own innocence and destroys the shame of our sins in every Confession. Through His holy anointing, He unites all our illnesses and sufferings to His own perfect prayer, and through the words of His Gospel, he brings true freedom even into the prison cell. May Christ the King gain ground in us each day, so that God’s ways may become our ways.

As we surrender to his love and become part of His kingdom, we, too, are called to do what He does for the least of His brothers and sisters. But we cannot give what we have not received. We cannot love those that Christ is calling us to love, we cannot feed, welcome, clothe, and care for our parents, our spouses, our children, our friends, our neighbors, our enemies, and the poorest of the poor, unless we first allow Jesus to do this for us, so that He can then do this through us. What a privilege, what a calling we have in Christ Jesus to do for Him in the least of his brothers and sisters what He first does for us. We are all missionaries of Christ the King, called to spread the kingdom of God by conquering human hearts through concrete acts of love and mercy. May God grant us the grace today to surrender to Christ the King, to open our hearts to receive His truth and love. In the end, when all other kingdoms have come and gone, Christ alone will be victorious, and those who have surrendered to His love will reign with Him forever.

An Act of Dedication of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus 
(to be renewed annually on the Solemnity of Christ the King)

Most Sweet Jesus, Redeemer of the human race, look down upon us humbly prostrate before Thine Altar. We are Thine, and Thine we wish to be; but to be more surely united to Thee, behold, each one of us this day freely dedicates himself to Thy Most Sacred Heart.

Many indeed have never known Thee; many too, despising Thy precepts, have rejected Thee. Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus, and draw them to Thy Sacred Heart. Be Thou King, O Lord, not only of the faithful who have never forsaken Thee, but also of the prodigal sons who have abandoned Thee; grant that they may quickly return to their Father’s house, lest they perish of wretchedness and hunger.

Be Thou King of those whom heresy holds in error or discord keeps aloof; call them back to the harbor of truth and the unity of faith, so that soon there may be but one fold and one Shepherd.

Be Thou King of all those who even now sit in the shadow of idolatry or Islam, and refuse not Thou to bring them into the light of Thy kingdom. Look, finally, with eyes of pity upon the children of that race, which was for so long a time Thy chosen people; and let Thy Blood, which was once invoked upon them in vengeance, now descend upon them also in a cleansing flood of redemption and eternal life.

Grant, O Lord, to Thy Church assurance of freedom and immunity from harm; unto all nations give an ordered tranquility; bring it to pass that from pole to pole the earth may resound with one cry: Praise to the divine Heart that wrought our salvation; to It be honor and glory for ever and ever.  Amen.

How Will You Spend Yourself?

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 33A

How often do we allow fear to direct our actions, or to keep us from following God’s will in our lives? I still remember the first times in school that I was expected to stand up in front of the class and give a speech. I’ve always been naturally shy, and in a crowd, I usually hate to be the center of attention. Since my earliest years, though, I had sensed a call from God to the priesthood. I don’t think it ever really dawned on me till much later, just how often priests have to talk in front of crowds of people. But where would I be now if I had let my initial fears overwhelm me? If I had not persevered through whatever anxiety and nervousness to get some experience and realize that it’s not that big of a deal, even if I screw up and embarrass myself, life goes on. Where would I be now if I had let fear direct me? I would not be standing here today. I would have missed out on some of the greatest opportunities in my entire life. And now I can tell you, with all confidence, that proclaiming the Word of God and striving to be a prophetic voice in today’s world has been one of my favorite parts of being a priest.

Something for all of us to consider this weekend is, Where in my own life is fear still holding me back from what God is asking of me? Where is fear still keeping me, from some of the greatest opportunities of my life? Just as in the Gospel today, God wants to see us use our gifts, to spend ourselves, with all confidence that God will supply what is lacking, and bring a return on our investment. It is the evil one, the devil, who uses fear to try and steer us away from some of our greatest opportunities.

I often think of what so many Saints have said, and what Pope Francis has often repeated, that the Church is missionary, the Church is evangelizing, by her very nature. We cannot be what we are meant to be as Catholic Christians if we are not actively inviting others to become Catholic. Our own faith cannot be what it is meant to be, if we are not sharing it with those around us. Very often, it is only through seeing how the Catholic faith brings new life to others that we are renewed in our own faith. This has been my great privilege and experience in assisting at different times with RCIA programs. I was a cradle Catholic myself, always going to Mass and never really being away from the Catholic faith for any significant time. But many of those who attend RCIA are seeing the Catholic faith with new eyes, and what they see and notice about the Catholic Church helps me to appreciate these aspects of our faith in a new or renewed way.

Jesus promises us, “Whoever seeks to save his own life will lose it, but whoever spends his life for My sake and for the sake of the Gospel will save it.” Whoever keeps his faith to himself will lose it. What are the opportunities that we are missing out on, through fear of what others might think, how they might react, not wanting to put ourselves out there or rock the boat? What’s keeping us from inviting others to Mass, inviting others to pray a rosary together, or the Stations of the Cross, or to read the Scriptures together? We cannot be who we are meant to be as Catholic Christians if we are not actively inviting others to share in our Catholic faith.

Oh, but Father, isn’t it enough that everybody just be a good Christian, or even if they’re not Christian that they just worship God as they see fit, or even if they don’t believe in God, that they just try to be a good person? What would you say to that? If Jesus Christ and the Church that He founded is not Good News and the sacrament of salvation for the entire world and for every person that we meet, then you’re wasting your time. If this Eucharist and the way that God Himself revealed that we should worship Him is a matter of indifference, then I have wasted my life. But I will gladly waste my every breath upon Jesus Christ, to spend myself and to be spent in the service of His Gospel and of His Church. Life can have no greater meaning. Death can have no other lasting defeat.

The choice is yours. How will you spend your talent? Will you spend it only on the passing things of this world? Will you bury it and keep it to yourself for the time being? Or will you step out in faith and confidence to spend yourself on Jesus Christ and His Church? What will we wish we had done, when the Master returns?

It’s Up to You

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 32A

Growing up as the youngest of nine kids in my family, I got pretty used to sharing things with my siblings, whether food or clothes, or rooms in the house. Thankfully, though, there were some things that were just too personal to receive as hand-me-downs. I always got my own socks and underwear.

Many of us, when we hear the parable in today’s Gospel, we just can’t understand why the five wise virgins couldn’t have just shared their oil with the five foolish so that all ten could get into the wedding feast. But like the wedding garment of another parable, the oil represents the preparations that each one of us is expected to make before meeting the Lord. Personal character, integrity, and maturity are things not so easily passed and shared between us. The wisdom of really obeying and acting upon God’s Word is an invitation extended personally to each and every soul. When we come to the end of our lives, each of us will have to stand on our own two feet before the judgment seat of God, to answer for all that we did or did not do with the time that God entrusted to us. No one else will answer for you. No one else was entrusted with the exact same gifts or responsibilities.

If we’re hoping to just coast into heaven on the coattails of someone else’s holiness, perhaps a pious grandmother, or a priest that we’re buddies with, we might just find ourselves locked out and left in the dark when we come to the end. Too little, too late. While intercessory prayer is effective and important, we should know, too, that God will not force Himself onto anyone, and we cannot blame God for respecting the refusal of His grace on the part of individual souls, who seem unconcerned, too busy with the things of this passing world to make personal preparations for eternity.

As I reflected on this Sunday’s readings, I couldn’t help but think of something written by St. Cajetan, who was a great Catholic reformer of the early 1500s. On his feast day of August 7, in the Office of Readings, we can read a letter written by Cajetan. One paragraph in particular is a good reminder for us to stop making excuses and finally take responsibility for our spiritual life. St. Cajetan writes,

“I am a sinner and do not think much of myself; I have recourse to the greatest servants of the Lord, that they may pray for you to the blessed Christ and his Mother. But do not forget that all the saints can not endear you to Christ as much as you can yourself. It is entirely up to you. If you want Christ to love you and help you, you must love him and always make an effort to please him. Do not waver in your purpose, because even if all the saints and every single creature should abandon you, he will always be near you, whatever your needs.”

We need to stop making excuses for ourselves. In His Word and in this Eucharist, God gives each one of us everything we could ever need to become great saints in the world today. God gives us the fullness of the divinity of Christ, and His perfect humanity to transform us from within. So what holds us back? It’s not too difficult. Nothing is too difficult for the power of God that has been entrusted to us. Nothing too difficult for Christ Himself who is always near us. It’s not too difficult. We are just too lazy. Too tied to our own comfort, to our own pleasure. Too attached to our own sins, disobedience and pride. The intercession of all the Saints and Angels of the entire heavenly kingdom cannot accomplish as much in you as one single act of genuine surrender to God’s will. So, let’s stop making excuses or looking to someone else. God wants you.

While I was in school for so many years, I became an expert in procrastination, but it’s not the healthiest or the wisest way to live. When’s the best time to plant a tree? The spring or the fall? Actually, the best time to plant a tree is ten years ago. Much like physical growth, spiritual development and healing can take time. If we’re hoping to be ready to meet Christ the Bridegroom by the end of our lives—and Christ reminds us that we know neither the day nor the hour—let’s stop putting off what should have been done yesterday, what should have been done ten years ago. Let’s give ourselves entirely to Jesus Christ today, with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Give God the time and the energy that He deserves, today and every day. The Bridegroom is on His way, for you.

Blessed are the Hungry

Homily, Solemnity of All Saints

A few years ago when I was still in high school, I played basketball for Elk Point-Jefferson, and at some point, our coach adopted as our motto the word “unsatisfied.” Now I’m not sure if that was supposed to be an indication of how well we played, and “unsatisfied” is definitely more challenging to say at the end of a huddle, rather than just saying “break” or “Huskies,” but it did drive home to us that we should always be striving for more, never fully satisfied with how we played during our last game, or how much we hustled during our last practice, or how many free throws we were able to make yesterday. Unsatisfied. We should always be striving for more.

As true as this is for athletes and sports, it is even more important in our lives of faith and in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Instead of a game we’re playing and trying to win, we have just one life entrusted to us by God. We need to be continually striving to live it well, according to the truth of who God made us to be; to practice, every day, as long as it takes, to get good at receiving God’s love, and sharing that love with everyone we meet, to love even those who don’t deserve it, because we didn’t deserve it. And since our eternal destiny depends upon how we live this one life, we should be willing to lose everything else in this short life on earth, if only we might receive the salvation Christ has for us in eternity. Are we doing everything we possibly can, to make sure that we are headed for heaven, to join with the Saints in God’s glory, or do other questions and concerns take priority? Am I more concerned about what other people think of me and my place in this world, rather than about what God is asking of me and my place in the world to come?

All the Saints that we celebrate today were those who were always striving for more, always challenging themselves and being challenged by God to answer more fully each day the call to holiness, to pray without ceasing and to serve the least ones. Unsatisfied. The Venerable Solanus Casey, who was born in Wisconsin and who will be beatified later this month in Detroit, Michigan, Solanus was a man who grew up, lived, and worked here in the Midwest, and he was always striving to better serve those who were sick, those who asked for his prayers, always striving to give more and more of himself to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Unsatisfied. He was among those who are called Blessed in today’s Gospel, the poor, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, the merciful and clean of heart. Solanus Casey was among those who were never fully satisfied with life in this world, or among those who don’t allow themselves to grow comfortable and complacent with the things of this passing world. We were made for much, much more. Unsatisfied. Are you unsatisfied with the state of your own spiritual life? If so, you’re on the right track. But don’t stay there. Keep chasing after Jesus. Keep striving after all the Saints.