Terms and Limitations

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 17C

It has come to our attention that the pastor you received was shipped with a slight defect—he is not psychic. Because of this, you must observe certain procedures to ensure optimum performance:

  • It is necessary to inform him of any members who are hospitalized.
  • If someone you know is in need of prayer, the pastor must be told, or he won’t know.
  • If you are in need of a pastoral visit, you will get best results if you ask him.

We regret any inconvenience this may cause.

Someone had shared this on Facebook. It’s a good reminder of limitations we all have and the need for communication. If you do need to reach me, the most effective means is probably to send an email. I haven’t quite figured out the phone system here yet, and if you leave a voicemail, it could be a day or two before I get it. I plan to be in Hoven on most Tuesdays and Wednesdays and in Bowdle on Thursdays and Fridays.

You can plan on a rotation in the weekend schedule starting September 7, the first Saturday of September. The Saturday evening Mass (5 pm) will move to Bowdle. Sunday mornings (9 am) will be in Hoven, and each 2nd and 4th Sundays of each month (including September 8) will have a Mass at 11 am in Onaka. I hope to switch the location of the Masses between Hoven and Bowdle every four months (Sept to Dec, Jan to Apr, May to Aug), so that over the course of two years, each parish will have each Mass time (5 pm or 9 am) for each segment of the year. Onaka’s Mass will stay at 11 and will likely be suspended during the winter months.

I never planned on making changes to a Mass schedule so soon after arriving, but with Masses no longer offered in Hosmer, adjustments had to be made. I pray that change in this area will be a good thing, an opportunity to rededicate ourselves and to invite others to Mass.

As we continue to get acquainted with one another, please keep in mind that I am not specially gifted at remembering faces and names. If we go on a road trip together, I’ll probably know your name by the end of it. If you tell me your name on the way out from Mass, I’ve quite possibly forgotten it by the time I talk to the next person. I’ll try not to be bashful about asking for your name until I remember it, if you’ll be patient with me in learning.

God bless and keep you, and have a great week.

Receiving God on His Own Terms

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 16C

When I was growing up at home, I used to hate having visitors. And it wasn’t just because I was shy. It was also because I was lazy. You see, every time we knew someone was coming to visit, we’d have to clean up around the house. I tried to convince my mom many times that we really shouldn’t clean up for visitors. It was deceitful. Instead of welcoming them into our home, we would be welcoming them into an artificially-tidied-up version, really just the shell of our house that would then lack so much of that lived-in feeling. But with nine kids in the house, there was no escaping the strong sense that the house was definitely lived-in. And our small efforts at cleaning up were a sign of the respect we had for our visitors.

Our first reading and Gospel today are all about receiving guests, even receiving God Himself as a guest, although Abraham manages to welcome and feed his visitors without bringing them inside his tent. Martha and Mary each take a different approach to receive Jesus into their home, but both are very concerned to make Him welcome. Martha is busy about the house, tending to His physical needs, while Mary stays always with Him, hanging on His every word. Both roles are part of good hospitality, and most of us are more inclined to one or to the other. We either tend to be too busy all the time, not really knowing how to slow down and really listen. We often have too much noise in life to be able to recognize the voice of God when He speaks.

Other times, we’re far too lazy when it comes to spiritual things. I’m fine with being in relationship with God, as long as it doesn’t make any real demands on me or how I live my life. As long as I can just keep following my own desires and assume that this is also what God wants for me. As long as I don’t need to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus, in a different direction from where I was already planning to go. How often do we really pray to God the way that Jesus prays during His Agony in the Garden? “Father, not My will, but let Your will be done.” Each time we pray the Our Father, we say, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Thy will. ‘Thy’ is an older way of saying ‘Your.’ Your will be done, O God. Not ‘my’ will.

My mom had seven sons, and so I always remember her asking us if we’d thought about the priesthood. We also have two sisters, and she was sure to ask them if God was calling them to become religious sisters. But often, when she’d ask my brothers and me about the priesthood, we’d say things like, “Well, I’ve thought about it. I just don’t think it’s for me.” Then my mom would remind us, “It really doesn’t matter what you think about it. You need to ask God what He wants.” Even when it seems difficult or different, God’s will for us is always what will bring the most true joy, happiness, and fulfillment in life. Do we receive God on His own terms, or do we insist on our own way? Do we pray on a regular basis, asking, “Lord, what do You want me to do? I will follow You wherever You lead me.” Or, if we’re honest, does our prayer more often sound like this: “Lord Jesus, I will follow You wherever You go, just as long as You’re headed my way”?

We all like to think, we’ll always have priests to say Mass for us. Will we? We used to think that we’d always have religious sisters to teach in our Catholic schools and to care for the sick and aging in our Catholic hospitals and nursing homes. But we still persist in thinking, we’ll always have a priest. Jesus will always be there in the tabernacle waiting for us. We like to believe that, but the reality is that to continue having priests in our parishes, to continue having the sacraments available to our families, especially to continue having Jesus in His Body and Blood upon our altars and in our tabernacles, someone—not just someone else—someone needs to answer that call from God to follow Jesus in that way. And it starts with each of us receiving God on His terms, not ours.

A huge part of my own vocation story and being able to answer God’s call in my life to the priesthood was to witness and to come to understand more and more the faith and generosity of my parents, their trust in God’s ways. When they got married, they didn’t have a plan for what their life was going to look like, how many kids they were going to have, what kind of a lifestyle they would be able to afford. They trusted that God would provide, if they were willing to work. They received God on His own terms and were open to having and raising as many children as God would send them. As the youngest, I’m definitely glad they didn’t think, “Well, eight kids is really enough.” Seeing their faithfulness to God, to each other, and to their children is what gave me confidence to answer God’s call to the priesthood in my life, to receive God on His terms and to trust in His will for me.

So whether we’re more of a Martha or a Mary, we should all imitate them both in this one thing: to be more concerned with bringing comfort to the Lord Jesus, rather than just living comfortably ourselves, to fulfill God’s desires rather than our own. “Your will be done, O Lord. Grant us the strength and desire, to follow You wherever You lead.”

Pastoral as Christ is Pastoral

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 15C

Everyone loves a good storyteller, but a good teacher often goes unappreciated for many years. The goal of a storyteller can be merely to entertain and amuse, to hold our attention long enough for a good laugh, but a good teacher can change the way that we see things and the decisions that we make for the rest of our lives. Jesus in the Gospel is both Storyteller and Teacher. He often teaches the crowds using parables, using short stories and images, but the purpose of the parables is not primarily to entertain. Instead, the parables of Jesus confront us with decisions that we’ve made or that we’ve failed to make, the decisions to which God is constantly calling us, to surrender everything to His care, to Him who feeds every bird of the sky and who clothes every lily of the field. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him, rather than following our own ways or the ways of the world. To sell all that we have to buy the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price. Or like the Good Samaritan in today’s Gospel, to drop everything to take care of the person in need by the side of the road. How have we responded? Have we responded to Jesus? Do we live our lives for God and for others? Or do we still follow our own ways and the ways of this passing world?

When I was in seminary studying for the priesthood, and still today after four years as a priest, there are many strategies for ministry described as being “pastoral,” strategies for shepherding the people of God, gently, patiently, ambiguously. To be honest, I’ve found many of these strategies to be rather laughable and pointless, meaningless when we actually examine them and find that they’re very different from what we see Jesus actually doing in the Gospel.

One popular phrase today for ministry is “to meet people where they’re at.” Now this is all fine and good and even necessary. Obviously, communication is impossible if we don’t bother to start from some common ground. But “meeting people where they’re at” and “smelling like the sheep” is rather pointless if we don’t ever bother to lead them anywhere. If a sheep is headed in the direction of selfishness and the pains of hell, when a sheep is headed over the edge of a cliff, only a very bad and careless shepherd would simply reassure the sheep headed for destruction, saying, “Way to go! God loves you. He cares for you. Have a nice trip, as you fall into this pit.” Yes, Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners; He received and did not condemn the adulterous woman; He healed many of the sick and forgave their sins. But Jesus would often tell them, “Go, and sin no more, so that nothing worse may happen to you” (Cf. John 5:14; 8:11). And Jesus offers His own behavior as a model for life and true freedom when He says, “Follow Me.”

Just think of how this parable of the Good Samaritan would play out if the Samaritan would have used only the “pastoral” strategy of merely meeting the victim of robbers where he was at. The Samaritan sees this man wounded and ailing in the ditch, and so he decides to go and be with him, to lay down beside him in the ditch, to meet him where he’s at. So the Samaritan lays down beside him and says to him, “God loves you. God is merciful. I love you. Isn’t this great that we’re here together in this ditch? That you don’t have to suffer alone?”

When we have the ability to bring people to a better place, to greener pastures, to a hotel instead of a ditch, but we don’t, because our only concern is meeting them where they’re at… If we leave them in their misery and desperate, sinful situations without ever bothering to show them the way out to a more abundant life in Christ, this is not love or pastoral concern. This is laziness and indifference. We just want to get along, to be positive and avoid uncomfortable conversations, to avoid calling sin what it is. Any strategy of ministry that claims to be “pastoral” but also allows people to remain in ignorance, to remain in sinful, harmful situations without offering a better Way and greener pastures, this is not what we learn from Christ, our Good Shepherd.

If God does not actually offer us a better Way—even if this Way seems more difficult at first—if His Way is not truly more healthy and fulfilling than what the world and our own selfish desires offer us, then “salvation” doesn’t have any real meaning for us in this life. We were made to know the truth and to be made free by following the truth, the Truth who is Jesus Christ. God made us for more than just stumbling blindly through this life, being wounded and wounding others through our continual habits of sin. God offers us more in the life-giving commandments that He revealed to Moses and in all the teachings of His Catholic Church. That a life free from selfishness, drunkenness, sexual immorality, hatred, lies, violence, contraception, gossip, insults, pornography, laziness, and neglect of our relationships, a life lived in obedience to God and in accord with who He made us to be, this is truly a better and more abundant life, and it is made possible for us by God’s grace.

As we approach Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Good Teacher, the Good Samaritan, present in this Eucharist, may He set us free from all the lies that keep us bound, from the desires that enslave us to this passing world. Lord Jesus, meet us where we are, but don’t leave us there in our misery. Bring us to greener pastures. Help us to leave behind our sins and to embrace Your more abundant life.

Beyond Worldly Standards

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 14C

Recently, lots of people have been asking me whether I’m excited about my new assignment in Hoven and Bowdle. I usually respond by saying that, while I’m looking forward to it and eager to get started, I don’t really get excited. Packing and unpacking, relocating and having to meet new people are not the most exciting activities for me. But that has gotten me thinking about whether there is something that I’m really passionate about. What comes to mind right away is known as the universal call to holiness, that a life of prayer, penance, and heroic virtue is not just for popes and bishops, or for sisters and monks in monasteries, but holiness of life and becoming a Saint is the vocation of every last one of us. And holiness is a real possibility for everyone who has become a new creation by the Holy Spirit through Baptism.

St. Francis de Sales, in his Introduction to the Devout Life, speaks very forcefully about this universal call to holiness. It’s not enough for Catholics living in the world to be nice people, good people, according to the standards that the culture around us presents. We need to be God’s holy people, to live differently from the world around us, and to work to transform the world and culture by really living and proclaiming the Gospel. If the culture around us has made itself too busy for God, too busy for Mass on Sundays or holy days of obligation, that is no excuse for us. Is God or is God not more important than sports and travel and vacations and time at the lake?

When we stand before God at the end of our lives, I doubt that He’s going to ask whether we faithfully followed what was popular and generally accepted. Instead, He’s going to ask—and show us—whether we were faithful to what was actually right and just, whether we followed Jesus and the Church that He founded, even when it was difficult or unpopular to do so. Today in the Gospel, Jesus sends out 72 disciples, obviously more than just His 12 Apostles. All of us, as disciples of Christ are called to be His coworkers, to proclaim the kingdom of God throughout the world today, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in schools and workplaces. And at the end of our lives, we won’t just have to answer to one another. We won’t be judged according to the misguided standards of our own day. As Catholic Christians, we are held to the standards of the Gospel in every age.

Do we respect and reverence God above and beyond any human being? Do we have regard for what God is asking of us in proclaiming His kingdom, rather than what the culture around us might have come to expect? Besides missing Mass on Sundays and holy days, living together before marriage has become very common today. Contraception has become common even among Catholics. Redefinitions of marriage and human sexuality contrary to God’s plan for us have become widely accepted and even celebrated in the world around us. But what is right and wrong, what is holy and unholy, is not based on majority opinion or common practice. In our second reading today, St. Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” How much are we really willing to suffer and to bear the shame of the Cross of Christ, in order to remain faithful to the truth that God has revealed, rather than accommodating the misguided standards of this passing world?

As I come to the end of my fourth year of the priesthood, by the grace of God, I still believe with all my heart and soul that holiness and heroic virtue are possible for every last one of us, even in the most difficult circumstances. Holiness is not only possible but very much worth the effort. It’s worth every sacrifice. Sometimes I wonder, though, how many other priests and bishops still believe that God can really transform us and set us free, through the truth and power of His Gospel. The temptation is always there—for all of us—to have more regard for what is popular, to water down the Scriptures, to leave out or gloss over the more difficult teachings for the sake of always being positive and affirming, but at the end of my life, I won’t sit before a panel of former parishioners, who will be asked whether I made them feel welcome and appreciated. Instead, I will have to stand before God Himself and answer for every part of His Gospel that I was too afraid to proclaim.

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few. So ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” As Jesus sent 72 of His disciples, God calls each one of us in different ways to work with Him in His vineyard, to continue proclaiming the kingdom of God in every town and city today. Please continue to pray for me as I continue in the priestly ministry, as I begin the next chapter of my walk with God. I promise to continue praying for all of you, that God might grant us the trust and courage to live out fully the Gospel that is revealed for our salvation, and to proclaim everywhere in the world today the surpassing riches of Christ our Lord.

Grateful for Our Time Together

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 13C

As we write our final bulletin letters as parochial vicars of this parish, the Sunday Lectionary provides us with an interesting Gospel: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” God continues to call us onward, farther north, farther west, but you and your families, the Cathedral Parish and the leadership of Bishop Swain and Fr. Morgan will always be with us, as among the instruments God used to shape us into the priests we are today.

I’m not an overly expressive person, so I thank you for your patience with me during my time here. Please do know of my sincere gratitude and admiration for the faith and willingness to serve that I have witnessed in so many of you and your families. I was glad to be here for the 100th Anniversary of the Dedication of the Cathedral. What a legacy of faith, beauty, and endurance that has been handed down to us! Be assured of my continued prayers in the years ahead that we will all be able to respond generously to the invitation of Christ, to store up treasure in heaven and truly strive for life beyond the limits of this passing world.

Thank you. May God bless and keep you. May our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph watch over and guide you, even as they were privileged to watch over God Incarnate, Jesus, who lives and reigns forever. Amen.