Forty Hours Devotion

Bulletin Letter, Candlemas

Forty days after the Nativity of Christ, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the Temple to consecrate Him to God as a firstborn Son and to offer a pair of turtledoves for Mary’s purification after childbirth, according to Levitical law. The number 40 shows up quite a few times in Sacred Scripture, from the number of days it rained during the flood of Noah, to the number of years that Moses led the Israelites through the desert and the years of King David’s reign. In the New Testament, we have the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert after His Baptism in the Jordan and the days that He spent with His Apostles between His Resurrection and the Ascension. 

Another instance that I recently came across was the tradition that Jesus spent about 40 hours in the tomb, from 3 pm on Good Friday to around 7 am on Easter Sunday. Of course, the precise hour that the Resurrection occurred on that first Easter morning is not recorded in the Bible, but from this and other occurrences of the number 40 developed what’s called the 40 Hours Devotion. The 40 Hours Devotion usually involves Solemn Exposition of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament for a continuous period of 40 hours. Along with the Corpus Christi Procession, the 40 Hours Devotion is expected to happen at least once a year in each parish. 

Part of the challenge, of course, is that we are never to leave Jesus exposed upon the altar even for a moment without someone there to adore Him and to keep guard in the churchThe nighttime hours can be particularly challenging to fill. Lent seems like an especially appropriate season for us to observe this time-honored practice as we all are called to recommit ourselves to spiritual exercises of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. And if we desire spiritual renewal in our parishes, spending time with Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament is the surest way. 

To limit the 40 hours to just one overnight period, I’m thinking of going from 6 am on a Saturday morning to 10 pm on Sunday. We’ll plan on the first weekend of Lent following Ash Wednesday in BowdleFebruary 29 and March 1, and the following weekend in HovenMarch 7 & 8. I’ll have a signup sheet available at the entrance of each church. Please be generous to God with your time and commit to one or more hours as part of your Lenten discipline. Your time spent with our Eucharistic Lord will never go unrewarded. 

Stuck Together by God

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 3A

During this past week, my sister asked me if I like my assignment in these parishes better than my previous assignments, but it’s difficult to compare because it’s so different. This is my first assignment as a pastor. I don’t have to drive the Bishop around anymore as his Master of Ceremonies, but now I have to drive myself around a lot than what I used to. The biggest change and what I noticed most at first is that I live by myself now. And back in July, I realized it’s probably the first time in my entire life. After high school, I entered seminary, and even if I had my own room, I really didn’t live by myself. There were always other seminarians around and people to talk to. After ordination, at my previous assignments as a parochial vicar, I always lived in the same house with one or two other priests. 

I used to think that priests have a lot in common with the disciples of Jesus, and that a call to the priesthood was like the call that we hear in the Gospel today, as Jesus calls His first Apostles by the Sea of Galilee, and as Peter and Andrew, James and John respond, by leaving everything behind to follow Jesus, leaving their nets, their boat, and their father. Priests definitely have a lot in common with the Apostles when it comes to our mission of proclaiming the Gospel and of serving the people of God by exercising authority in the Church. But I often wonder what it was like during those three years of Jesus’ public ministry, to be stuck with the 11 other Apostles, day in and day out. Maybe the eight years I spent in seminary would be somewhat comparable, but most seminaries have more than 12 students. If I really didn’t get along with certain other seminarians, it would have been easy enough to steer clear of them, but in a class of just 12, there wouldn’t be much choice about whom you spend your time with. The other Apostles were stuck with these four fishermen, and with Matthew the tax collector, Simon the Zealot, and even with Judas Iscariot, the one who would betray Jesus.  

For each of us who follow Jesus and become His disciples, a particular challenge for us is to really love—and over time, to learn how to love—those people that God has stuck us with, whether they are family members, relatives, in-laws, coworkers, classmates, or teachers. How would our lives be different if, instead of going out of our way to avoid the people that we find difficult, if instead we went out of our way to makes efforts at showing them kindness and concern, and to spend more time with them? I know in my own experience, in my family and in my preparation for the priesthood, having to live with other seminarians and other priests, it was especially those relationships that I perhaps would not have chosen for myself that have helped me to grow the most. How often in our lives do we end up resisting God’s work in us by avoiding anything difficult or awkward in our families and in our social interactions? 

In our second reading, St. Paul is heartbroken that divisions and cliques have made their way even into the Church at Corinth, that the one family of God has become divided. But Christ is not divided. As we receive the one Lord Jesus Christ in this Eucharist, may He continue to draw each of us closer to Himself, to unite us all together in the one Light and Truth revealed for our salvation. And may we always look to Jesus in the Eucharist as the source of our unity and of the strength that we need to reach out to those whom we would rather avoid or exclude. Lord Jesus, make us one. 

Why I’m Pro-Life

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 3A

This past Wednesday was the 47th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which effectively legalized abortion throughout the United States. Since then, more than 60 million lives of the unborn have been lost to abortion. For some perspective, all the wars and military conflicts the US has been involved in account for the loss of just over 1.1 million lives of US soldiers.

It always sounds ridiculous to me when people say that men are not allowed to have an opinion when it comes to abortion. That it shouldn’t concern us. It doesn’t affect us. But abortion affects everyone. There is a loss to every generation, even if it is not always noticed. As I went through school and college and seminary, I would often wonder just how many of my own classmates I never got to meet. How many friends, coworkers, even fellow priests were just gone, never even given a chance at life. We may never know on earth the full extent of the loss sustained by the human race through abortion. But we all witness the effects every day.

I’m thankful for all those who attend the March for Life in Washington and similar events in Pierre or other state capitals, prayers outside of clinics, and every effort made to work towards ensuring the legal protection of every human life, from conception to natural death. The other threat to the dignity of human life at the level of public policy is assisted suicide, which has already become legal in some eight states and the District of Columbia, but it’s being pushed in many other places. What should be a no-brainer in providing pain management and palliative care can turn into a manipulative bid for insurance companies to save some money or for hospitals to free up some beds by killing off patients.

At the same time that we work for change at the level of laws and public policy, we need to also be working to correct the cultural values that give rise to such unthinkable “choices.” A culture that demands sex without consequences will always end up killing its own, whether legal or not. Catholics that have accepted the use of contraception and sterilization against the laws of God have contributed to this same culture that sees the gift of life as an unwanted burden and God’s plan for human sexuality as intolerably oppressive. Do we look down on unwed mothers instead of offering support? How do we show love and support to those who are advanced in age or seriously ill? To bring meaning to their lives and to their sufferings, many of which are not physical sufferings?

Being pro-life involves more than just public events a few times a year. The effort needs to be made daily and in every place and interaction, to build a culture of life at the level of the human heart. Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!

Use Your Words

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 2A

A few years ago, in a small town much like this one or others in South Dakota, a new postmaster arrived in town, so everyone—as they visited the post office to pick up their mail or to drop things off—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 lives. 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? In the Gospel today, St. John the Baptist bears witness to One greater than himself, the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. John testifies that Jesus is the Son of God. How often do we actually bear witness to Christ in our words and actions?

There’s a popular saying that’s often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. “Proclaim the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” The problem with this saying, though, is that St. Francis never said it, and it’s often used as an excuse to never proclaim the Gospel with actual words. Our words are necessary. In his day, St. Francis even risked his life to be able to speak to the Muslim king of Egypt, to tell him about Jesus Christ and invite him to be baptized and convert to the true faith. St. Francis used his words to bear witness to Christ, to invite others to the practice of the sacraments, even when this meant risking being put to death and not just embarrassment or awkwardness or what others might think, or any other excuse many of us use to remain silent about Jesus Christ and His Church.

Since my arrival in these parishes, many have commented that maybe now with a new pastor, and with Mass starting on time, maybe we’ll see a lot of parishioners come back to Mass and to Confession. But it doesn’t happen automatically. It doesn’t happen without people inviting them back, inviting new people in. It doesn’t happen without each of us falling more and more in love with Jesus Christ, with this Sacrament of His Body and Blood, with this perfect Sacrifice of the Mass that is not meant to entertain us but to sustain us. Our parishes will not be renewed until each of us realizes that when it comes to the Mass, it’s not so much about whether we’re able to get anything out of it. More important is whether we’re actually able to bring anything to it. Do we offer to God “the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings” of each day? Do we bring the rest of our lives to be offered with Jesus on this altar? And when we receive Jesus Himself in return, what more could we hope for to get out of it?

So what is it that stops you from inviting others in, from inviting others back to Confession, back to Mass? What’s stopping you from actually using your words to talk about Jesus and to share your faith? You might say, Well, Father, that’s your job. But it’s also yours. And I’m just one person. There are people and places that you can reach that I would never be able to reach, in your homes, in your workplace, in your schools, in restaurants, stadiums, and stores. There are ways that you can share the Gospel more effectively and more convincingly than if someone were to hear the same thing from me or from another priest. It’s easy for people to be dismissive of what they hear from a priest. “He has to say that stuff. That’s his job.” But if you were to invite them back to Confession, maybe they’ll listen.

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 believes and practices the 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.

Returning to the Ordinary

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 2A

As classes continue to settle back into their regular routines and as the thermometer reaches new lows, I’m grateful for all the blessings experienced during the Christmas season. Thank you for all the prayers, gifts, and support you have offered for me over the course of these holy days. It is a busy time for everyone, I am sure, but also a very blessed time. I am also thankful for your patience with me. Though I am still young, my own pace of life is often more reminiscent of someone much more elderly. Your support and thoughtfulness is very much appreciated.

We return now to what is called on the Church’s calendar Ordinary Time or in Latin tempus per annum, “time through the year,” but I prefer the older terminology of Time after Epiphany. Epiphany means “manifestation” and “revelation” of God, and throughout Ordinary Time we should continue seeking the face of Christ, watching for where He shows up in our daily lives, and thanking God for the many epiphanies of His grace and truth that happen even in the midst of our regular routines, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

This week, I’ll be headed to Sioux Falls to wish Bishop Swain a happy retirement and to thank him for his many years of service to our diocese. As a high school senior interested in the priesthood, I was actually able to attend his own Consecration and Installation back in October of 2006. Certainly a lot has happened in the more than 13 years since then. The most time I spent with the Bishop—mostly silent, on the road—was during my previous assignment as the Diocesan Master of Ceremonies and the Bishop’s Driver. As far as I know, Bishop Swain plans to retire in Sioux Falls and serve, as he is able, as a chaplain in the Veterans Hospital. He had served in the military during Vietnam.

Please continue to pray for him in the weeks and months ahead and for a smooth start for Bishop-elect Donald DeGrood, set to be consecrated and installed on February 13, the day before his own 55th birthday.

The Divine Proposal

Homily, Baptism of the Lord A

One great thing about being celibate and never getting married is that I will never have to think up some elaborate way of proposing. Now, it isn’t always the case, but most guys try to put at least some thought into it. You want the proposal to be memorable and make for a good story in case anyone asks. And you also want to have a lot of confidence beforehand that she is going to say yes. I always get nervous, though, when I see proposals on TV or in stadiums. Anything too public can really end up backfiring. Sometimes it seems like the guy is hoping that the public pressure will ensure an affirmative response, but as we all know, it doesn’t always work out that way.

In the Scriptures, the Lord often describes His relationship with His people as a marriage covenant. The book of Revelation describes the wedding supper of the Lamb that takes place in heaven and is anticipated in every Sacrifice of the Mass. Sin and disobedience to God’s Law and the courting of other gods, allowing anything in our lives to take priority over our relationship with God, this is compared in Scripture to infidelity towards the Lord as our Spouse, as the Church’s Spouse.

In the Gospel today, John the Baptist has prepared in the wilderness the way of the Lord. He has prepared a people for the Lord’s possession. He has called Israel back, to repent of their sins and to recommit themselves with greater fidelity to God, “to fulfill all righteousness” in anticipation of the Coming of the Messiah. In another place in Scripture, John calls himself the friend of the Bridegroom—or the best man at a wedding—who rejoices at the Bridegroom’s voice.

Of course, Jesus is the Bridegroom, who today, by undergoing John’s baptism of repentance, commits himself in love and fidelity to sinful humanity. Even though Christ Himself is without sin and has no need of repentance, Jesus shows that He is willing to take upon Himself and share all that belongs to his beloved bride, even the consequences of our sins, the inheritance we have earned by our disobedience. In any marriage, the man and woman are called to share in a real partnership of life. What was hers becomes his, and what was his becomes hers. So when Jesus consummates His marriage covenant with us upon the Cross on Calvary, He will even accept death, which rightly belongs to us, so that we might share eternal life, which rightly belongs to Him.

In His Baptism, Jesus weds to himself our sinful humanity, restoring to us the inheritance of his perfect obedience. This inheritance is the Holy Spirit of God, who comes to rest upon Jesus at His Baptism. The Holy Spirit will be sent to dwell in the Apostles and disciples at Pentecost, those first members of Christ’s holy Church, just as the Holy Spirit continues to fill all those who are joined as members to the Bride of Christ through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation up to our own day.

Today, we also hear the Father’s voice from heaven, saying, “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, as a light for the nations.” In the mystery of His Baptism, Jesus takes upon Himself everything that belongs to us, so that we can share in everything that belongs to Him, including His obedience to God the Father, which brings about a more abundant life than anything we can experience through sin and disobedience and our many wanderings.

At this and at every Mass, Jesus renews His covenant of unending love with us, and He proposes once again to each of us as we approach for Holy Communion, offering the Gift of His very self, His Body, His Blood, His Soul and Divinity. He offers everything that belongs to Him. What is our answer and response to Christ’s proposal? Do we say, “Amen,” so be it, to all that Jesus has done for us and to all that He still longs to do in our lives? Or too often do we say “Amen” to Jesus at Mass, only to say “No” to Him throughout the rest of the week? If you’re married, you’re not just married when it’s convenient or advantageous. If you belong to Christ, and if Christ belongs to us, it’s all the time, not just to have our sins forgiven and to keep on sinning, but to allow Jesus to actually guide our thoughts, words, and actions, to take up our crosses daily to follow Him in the Way. Jesus committed Himself to us even to the point of death on the Cross. When will we finally commit ourselves, and conform ourselves to Him?

More than Leftovers

Homily, Epiphany

As we begin the new year 2020, many of us take the opportunity to look ahead and mark on our calendars the significant events and celebrations of friends and family, including birthdays, weddings, graduations, but how often do we look forward to the celebrations we will share together as the family of God? Today, the light of God’s glory has been revealed to the nations, as the three magi arrive to adore the Christ Child and to see His Mother. That light and revelation of God will only increase throughout the year, as we celebrate the mystery of the Cross, the saving death of Christ, foreshadowed even today in the gift of myrrh, and as the overwhelming light of the Resurrection dawns upon us at Easter, to scatter all darkness and to destroy sin and death forever.

God has big plans for us this year, as He does every year, if we are willing to spend it with Him, if we strive to place Jesus at the center of our families, at the center of marriages, at the center of all that we do in school, at work, in our free time. Jesus is Emmanuel, God-with-us, and He wants to be with us always. Do we welcome His Presence? Or does Jesus take a back seat to so many other things in our lives? Do we fill our schedules only to give God what is left over, if there is anything left? At the bidding of a star, the three magi uprooted their entire lives. They put all their other plans on hold, to walk hundreds of miles just for a chance to search for the newborn King of the Jews, with no guarantee that they’d actually be able to find Him. How many miles would we be willing to walk for God? How many months or years of our lives would we be willing to give in search of Jesus?

Throughout my own life, whether I realized it or not, I was always searching for Jesus. I had lots of interests. I was always an excellent student in school. I could have pursued pretty much any field of study or career, but I ultimately decided to waste my life on Jesus. Do you know why? It’s not because I thought it would be an easy life. It’s not even that I thought I could make much of a difference as a priest, although I probably thought so at one time. As the culture around us continues to shift away from God and as different scandals continue to break in parts of the Church, I fully expect to receive the hatred of the world in return for my service of God. So why am I still here? Why are you still sitting here on a Sunday morning? Why am I willing, even—in the eyes of the world—to waste my life in the priesthood? Only because Jesus Christ deserves it.

Jesus deserves everything. The One who gave everything on the Cross for our salvation, for my salvation, He deserves everything in return, whatever smallest good that I am able to accomplish by His grace, whatever small tribute we are able to lay at the feet of Him and His Mother. The magi brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh over many miles to waste them on a Child too small to make any use of them. And Jesus still deserves more. How much are we willing to give Him? How much are we willing to spend on Him? He deserves more than just some time on Sunday. He deserves more than what is left over in our schedules and in our energies and resources. In 2020, how much more are you willing to waste on Jesus Christ?

Co-Redemptrix

Bulletin Letter, Epiphany

Every new year starts with the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. We often think of this title as a great honor for the Blessed Mother, but it has more to do with being clear about who Jesus is. Mary, being the Mother of Jesus, is the Mother of God because Jesus is God. Jesus is the eternal Son of God and Second Person of the Holy Trinity who at the time of the Annunciation joined to Himself a perfect human nature in the womb of Mary. This was declared dogmatically at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Since then, three other dogmas about Mary have been defined: her Perpetual Virginity, her Immaculate Conception, and her Assumption—body and soul—into heaven at the end of her earthly life.

Another title of the Blessed Virgin that has been the subject of controversy, even recently, and often not well-understood is “Co-Redemptrix.” The word itself is simply the feminine form of the word ‘redeemer’ with the added prefix co- which means ‘with.’ This title has often been misunderstood to imply equality between Mary and Jesus in the work of redemption, but the prefix co- does not imply equality. In fact, it often implies subordination. The Church refers to priests as coworkers or collaborators with the bishops, but bishops are obviously of a higher rank in the Church’s hierarchy. A copilot would be another example: one who assists but is not in command of an airplane.

What is actually meant by Co-Redemptrix is that Mary cooperated and participated in a unique, powerful, and subordinate way in the supreme and irreplaceable work of redemption wrought by Jesus, her Divine Son. As only a mother could, she suffered with Him along His way of the Cross, her own heart breaking as she witnessed her Son, her own flesh and blood, scourged and torn and crucified for our salvation. And she offered her sufferings to God, united to those of Jesus, for the sake of the Church.

Even St. Paul would tell the Colossians, “I rejoice now in my sufferings for you, and I fill up what is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for the sake of His Body, which is the Church” (1:24). There is no value lacking in the afflictions of Christ. What is lacking is the conformity of our flesh to Christ’s Passion. “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow” your Lord and Teacher, crucified for our salvation. Our Blessed Mother as Co-Redemptrix shows us how in a preeminent way. St. Paul and every Apostle and disciple of Christ strove to do the same.

Son of God and Son of Mary

Homily, Mother of God

As I was growing up, math always came easily to me. In fact, all of my siblings and I were good at math when we were in school. To give you some idea, all six of my brothers studied engineering of one kind or another, and my oldest sister is a high school math teacher, so I think it was something genetic that allowed us all to excel in mathematics. And I believe it was in Math class that I first heard about the transitive property or transitive relations. Now I realize that many people struggle with math, and hearing something like ‘transitive property’ might drudge up painful memories or just a general sense of confusion or hopelessness, and it’s probably still a little early after a late night of New Year’s parties to be talking about logic, but stay with me, and I’ll try to illustrate what I’m saying with simple examples.

Let’s use Star Wars as our first example. There’s a new movie out but in one of the original trilogy, we find out that Darth Vader is the father of Luke Skywalker. We also know that Luke Skywalker is a jedi. Therefore, Darth Vader is the father of a jedi. Now for those who aren’t as familiar with Star Wars, let’s take another example. As I mentioned before, my brothers are engineers, and my mother is also the mother of my brothers. Therefore, my mother is the mother of engineers. Make sense? That’s the transitive property at work. We use it all the time, without even thinking about it. We substitute ‘engineers’ in one sentence for ‘brothers’ in another statement, because we know that these two terms refer to the same individuals, that the brothers are engineers, so the mother has the same relationship to both.

Now the Solemnity that we celebrate today honors Mary with the title ‘Mother of God,’ but it also safeguards what we believe about Jesus Christ. This is why it’s always been difficult for me to understand why so many non-Catholics have a problem with this title of the Blessed Mother. If we believe Jesus is God, the Son of God, with the same divinity as God the Father and the Holy Spirit, if we believe that Jesus was truly God even at the time of his birth, and if Mary is the Mother of Jesus, then, quite logically, Mary is the Mother of God.

Of course, we know that the divinity of Christ does not originate in Mary the way that His humanity does. Mary doesn’t give birth to God the Father. And God the Son—as God—has His origin from the Father from all eternity, before time began and before Mary even existed. But calling Mary the Mother of God reminds us that the Incarnation is real. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He was really born in time and history from a human mother for our salvation. And the Baby that Mary gave birth to and that we adore in the manger scene did not become the Son of God at some later time, but already, from the moment of His conception in Mary’s womb through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was the Son of God in human Flesh. And the Incarnation is so real that whatever can be said of Jesus in His humanity can also be said of the Son of God, because ‘Jesus’ and ‘Son of God’ refer to the very same Divine Person, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. So Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is also called Mother of God because Jesus is God.

This title of Mary is also Scriptural, because we find in Luke 1:43 at the Visitation, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth asks, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” The Mother of my Lord. Who is Elizabeth calling “my Lord” if not the Lord of all, the God of Israel, believing that the Messiah would somehow be identical with God Himself, as we hear from St. Paul in the second reading today, that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” of God. We have confidence that God is close to us, that He really shares in our humanity and raises it up in His divinity. In this Eucharist, Jesus really feeds us with His Body and Blood so that He can also feed us from the fullness of His divine nature. Jesus nourishes and raises up our own body and blood with His, so that in every aspect of our lives, we can live more and more as sons and daughters of God by His grace in us.

As we begin the year 2020, we pray for the resolution to recommit our lives to Christ, to share patiently even in the sufferings of His Cross so that we can share also in the joy and fullness of his Resurrection. We pray for the logic of recognizing Christ for who He really is, Christ our Life and our Light, our Lord and our God, and the confidence to know that staying close to Mary, the Mother of God, will help us stay focused on Christ during this new year and to follow Him wherever He leads us. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.