Time Switch

Bulletin Letter, Easter Sunday 4A

Even though it’s unclear when public Masses will be allowed to resume, this would normally be the weekend for the Sunday Mass times to switch between Hoven and Bowdle (every 4 months). Our Confession times will change this weekend to reflect what the Mass schedule will be when we resume, so I’ll be available for Confessions at 4:30 pm on Saturdays in Bowdle, from May through the end of August. In Hoven, I’ll be available from about 8:15 to 8:50 am on Sundays. Keep praying that God would guide our leaders with wisdom and with respect for the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, allowing discernment at more local levels whenever possible. 

  1. What is a vow?

A vow is a solemn promise made to God. Probably the most frequent vows made are those related to what are called the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Those who consecrate themselves to God or enter a religious order usually make vows concerning these three ways that reflect how Jesus Himself lived. Poverty (being poor) is often lived out by members of religious orders owning everything in common rather than having personal property. Chastity is lived in celibacy, committing to remain unmarried and striving for a deep intimacy with God. Obedience is vowed to God and superiors of the order, often coming into play when there is a question of where a member of the order should be serving and what his responsibilities involve (like when a priest is moved to a different parish and if he will serve as pastor or priest in residence or chaplain of a school or hospital). 

  1. What is servile work?

The term is usually brought up regarding the commandment to keep the Lord’s Day (Sunday) holy. Servile work refers to work that is unnecessary and burdensome, activity that prevents us from getting to Sunday Mass and experiencing the rest and renewal of body, mind, and spirit through prayer and contemplation of heavenly things. This commandment goes back all the way to when the Israelites were being freed from slavery in Egypt, freed especially to offer right worship to the true God. Jesus tells us not to work merely for earthly “food that passes away but for the food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). Certain types of work are obviously necessary even on Sundays. For example, medical personnel can’t just tell the sick and feeble to take care of themselves for the day. But when it comes to other activities, how much priority do we really give to the Holy Mass and time spent with God? 

New Eyes to See the Cross

Homily, Easter Sunday 3A

I’ve never been very good at picking out gifts for other people. Maybe it’s not always the case, but for me, I think it has a lot to do with my being the youngest in my family for so many. For a long time, I wasn’t really expected to give a lot of presents, and then when I did, it was almost always for people older than me. So by the time my nieces and nephews came around, I really didn’t have much experience. When I was still at Holy Spirit Parish, my niece in Sioux Falls was having a birthday party and I was sure what to bring. I had a little Christmas tree in my office and thought, “Maybe she can use it as a nightlight.” I found out later, though, that the lights had already stopped working. My other siblings are much better at giving presents. For the baptism of our nieces and nephews, one of my sisters often gives them a wall cross that looks like it’s made out of kids’ alphabet blocks—you may have seen one before—the blocks spell out “I ‘heart’ Jesus” and “Jesus hearts/loves me.”

A very nice gift to hang in a child’s nursery, but I often think of how far removed it looks from what the actual and original experience of the cross was for those in the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus. Most of us grow up seeing crosses or crucifixes pretty much anywhere, in churches and in our homes, in cemeteries and in greeting cards. The cross has become a great sign and reminder of God’s love for us, but we can almost become desensitized to the fact that it is a depiction of torture and execution. To understand why the Apostles and disciples seemed to struggle so much in coming to terms with what happened to Jesus, it’s helpful for us to keep in mind the original meaning of the cross.

For those in the Roman Empire at the time of Christ, the cross was the most shameful form of public execution. To be hanged naked for hours, on a hill where everyone in the city and in the surrounding areas would be able to see. The more modern gallows or electric chair would be much more humane. And those who died upon a cross were always seen as cursed by God and by man. It was unthinkable that the Messiah that the Jews had been waiting for and expecting all this time, the chosen and perfect One sent by God to redeem Israel, it was unthinkable that the Christ would die upon a cross. Even Muslims, who erroneously view Jesus as merely a good man and a Prophet of God, really can’t handle the fact that He died on the Cross. Such a thing would never happen to a Prophet of God. They usually say that someone else went in place of Jesus to die on the cross instead of Him. No one besides Jesus Himself was expecting such an end to His life or to the life of any Messiah or Holy One of God, so it’s not surprising that a few days later we have these two disciples on the road to Emmaus talking about the crucifixion and then saying, “But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel,” taking as fairly obvious that anyone who dies on a cross is thereby disqualified from being the Messiah and Redeemer. The reports that he had risen from the dead seem only to add to their confusion.

Now before we think that we would have caught on a lot sooner than these disciples, let’s think of all the times that we’ve experienced crosses in this life, illnesses, setbacks, tragedies, pandemics, corrupt systems that seem to be stacked against us, and how many times when we encounter these obstacles do we almost immediately start to question, “What have I done to deserve this? God must be punishing me for something. He must not love me like I thought He did. Why would God put someone He loves through all this?”

You see, most of us, like the disciples before us, just can’t wrap our minds around the mystery of suffering, how any good can come from it. Most of us believe, whether consciously or unconsciously, whether we admit it or not, in what is called the prosperity gospel or the theory of retribution, that those who do good and are faithful to God should enjoy God’s blessings and protection, even in this earthly life, and that if those blessings of health or wealth or prosperity are taken away, it’s because we’ve done something wrong, or God doesn’t love us like He used to. So for Jesus to die upon the cross seemed to be compelling evidence to His first disciples that He wasn’t actually as perfect or as innocent as everyone had thought.

So how do we have our eyes opened? How does the Cross of Christ change for us from being an undeniable curse into being the greatest of gifts entrusted to us by God? Only real faith and a radical shift in our perspective, surrendering to God’s will for our lives, can allow us to persevere in seeing God’s love amid the crosses of this life, to see God’s love for us expressed in a special way even through our sharing in the trials and sufferings of Christ, even as Jesus was the One to redeem Israel precisely through His death on the Cross and not in spite of it. For the first disciples, it took the power of the Holy Spirit to open their minds to the meaning of Sacred Scripture. It took the power of Christ’s Resurrection to lift them up from their fears. I know in my own life, at different times, I’ve often been afraid of becoming too holy, drawing too close to God, because I saw how much so many of the great Saints have suffered throughout history, but the love of God transforms our sufferings. So what’s still holding us back from giving ourselves entirely to Christ, surrendering ourselves completely into the Father’s hands even as Jesus did upon the Cross? What comfort or convenience do we still love more than we love God?

Permission to Grieve

Homily, Funeral of Travis, 39

First, on behalf of St. Anthony Parish, I want to extend to all the family and friends of Travis our heartfelt condolences and a promise to continue to pray for the repose of his soul and that those who mourn his loss would find consolation in God. Over this past week or since I received the news, I’ve been wondering what I should say, or trying to imagine what this must be like especially for N. (wife) and N. (son), what I would most be needing to hear. Of course I can’t imagine what this must be like for you, or for Travis’s sisters or parents, or even for his friends. Travis was one of a kind, and so the grief of losing him is particular to each one of you. But what I most want to convey to you this morning and what I think is most important for us to hear in the face of tragedy is that it’s okay to be sad. It’s normal. It’s okay to be angry. It’s normal in this situation. It’s not fair to have to bury a son, a brother, a husband, a dad, when he’s only 39 years old. It’s not fair. It’s okay to be negative about this.

I think too often we feel pressured to move too quickly to try and put a positive spin on everything. We almost don’t even give ourselves permission or time to really grieve. Certain cultures have more established customs at observing formal times of mourning. In the Bible, it’s usually around 30 days that they observe this time of grieving after experiencing a significant loss. Sometimes the whole nation would be in mourning, like after the death of Moses. They might wear black or dark colors, or wear their hair differently, even as visible signs to the people around them that they’ve lost someone very dear to them.

Even the Church has shied away from some of these customs more recently, and not always helpfully. Black vestments used to be standard at funerals, expressing solidarity with those who are still coming to grips with a significant loss and not just glossing over that reality. Now we often see white vestments at funerals, meant to point us to the Resurrection of Jesus, but we know the reality is, it might take more than three days, more than thirty days, to start to experience something of the Resurrection after such a loss. And that’s okay. Give yourself permission to really grieve.

And when we pray, give to God whatever is on your heart. God wants you. He doesn’t want what you think you’re supposed to be. He wants you. When you’re sad, He wants to hear about it. When you’re angry, express that to God. Too often when we go to pray, I think we have this feeling like we just have to be thankful and pretend that everything’s great when we talk to God, but that’s not actually what we find in the Bible. Job spends a lot of his time complaining to God and wrestling with why tragedies happen to those who don’t deserve it. Jeremiah and his Book of Lamentations are definitely not bubbling over with positivity. And of the 150 Psalms, the Prayerbook of the Bible, over 40 % of the Psalms could be characterized as Psalms of Complaint. I hope you feel comfortable complaining to God because He wants to hear from you even when that’s all that’s in our heart to give Him. Or if all that we can manage is to sit with God in silence.

The other issue I’d like to address is that an accident is just that: an accident. This wasn’t part of anybody’s plan. This wasn’t anybody’s fault. This wasn’t anything that God wanted to happen. It’s tragic. It doesn’t make sense. But God is with you through this. And He will give you what you need to carry on. I’ve always loved depictions of the Pieta. We have one right here on the left side of the church. Just to contemplate everything that was in the heart of Mary in those moments, to see her beloved Son and Lord cut down in the prime of His life. Please ask our Mother Mary to draw close to you during this time. Trust that she knows something of what you’re experiencing right now. And trust that God will give you the strength to bear it, even as He gave Mary every grace in suffering. And entrust Travis, your son, your brother, your husband, your dad, your friend, into her gentle arms.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

Confirmations

Bulletin Letter, Easter Sunday 3A

One news item: Bishop DeGrood has delegated me as Pastor of these parishes to carry out the Confirmations since he will not be able to reschedule so many after the quarantine is lifted. We’ll likely still need to wait till public Masses are reinstated, but this also means that each parish will have its own Confirmation Mass. We were able to have First Communions in Hoven before the lockdown, but we will also be looking to reschedule those in Bowdle. Now more questions from our 5th and 6th graders.

  1. Will the world eventually end?

Yes and no. “The world in its present form is passing away,” (1 Cor. 7:31) and will come to an end after everyone is raised from the dead and Jesus pronounces the Final Judgment. But as was mentioned previously, “we await new heavens and a new earth” (2 Pt. 3:13), and we say in the Glory Be, “world without end.” After the Final Judgment, all human beings will be in either heaven or hell, so there won’t be any on the earth as we know it today after that. But we will have resurrected bodies, still related in some way to the material universe and capable of movement, etc.

Time is the measure of change, and since movement (change in posture or location) requires time, there will be something like time still in heaven. It’s a common misconception to think that the Saints have passed completely out of the realm of time, but God is the only One who is properly eternal (outside time) and changeless. So, the world as we know it today will come to an end, but certain elements of the present world (our bodies, something like time, and the angels and spiritual elements part of our world already, among other things) will continue after the end and for ever.

  1. Can your prayers be answered if you have mortal sin on your soul?

Yes. One of the most important times for us to pray is when we’ve fallen from grace that we may quickly return to it. Contrition and sorrow for sin are graces from God, along with the desire to be reconciled through sacramental Confession. These are all graces we can and should pray for, especially when we have sinned mortally. Certain things, like indulgences, can only be obtained while in the state of grace, but we should never stop praying, especially when we feel too unworthy to pray.

Humbled by Trust

Homily, Easter Sunday 2A

Before the events of today’s Gospel, the last time that Jesus had been gathered together with His disciples in the upper room was, of course, for the Last Supper. At the Last Supper, Jesus foretold the betrayal that one of them would carry out, but Peter had proclaimed that he would follow Jesus even if that meant having to die with Him, and the Gospel says, all the rest of the disciples made similar professions of their constancy and willingness to suffer. But by the time we see the Twelve on Good Friday, all of them, except for John, had run away and abandoned Jesus. The Good Shepherd was struck and put to death, and His sheep scattered. Judas had betrayed Him. Three times, Peter had denied any knowledge of Him. In the hour of His greatest need, these chosen men who had left everything to follow Him, they finally abandoned their Lord and Savior to public execution by the Romans on the wood of the Cross. Maybe one of the reasons why the Apostles were slow to believe or didn’t want to believe the reports that Jesus had really risen from the dead, was because they were afraid of what He would say or do to them after what they had done, or failed to do, for him on Good Friday. Desertion is a serious crime.

Now imagine if you had been through what Jesus went through, and these Twelve whom you had chosen and invested in for three years had all turned tail and fled during your Hour of greatest need. What do you think would be your first words to them, the next time you saw them? What are the first words of Jesus to His Apostles that we hear in today’s Gospel? Instead of scolding them or asking them where they were while He was being handed over to death, His first words to them are, “Peace be with you.” And when He had shown them His hands and His side to let them know that it was really Him, Jesus even says to them a second time, “Peace be with you.” He not only tries to comfort them after they had so miserably failed to support Him, Jesus even goes on to entrust to them His own sacred mission. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And He breathed upon them the Holy Spirit, the very life of God.

This is the Divine Mercy that we celebrate today, the infinite mercy of God. Jesus never gives up on us. Even when we have abandoned Him, and denied Him so many times and in so many ways through our words and actions, through our sins, His invitation always remains. His peace is always ready to console us and even to entrust to us His own mission in the world today. We often think humility comes from being humiliated and brought low, and when we’ve let someone down the way the Apostles had abandoned Jesus, we almost want to be punished. We want Him to be mad at us, to scold us, but it often humbles us even more when we are lifted high, knowing that we don’t deserve it. When we realize once again not how angry God is, but just how patient God is with us. Just how good He is. And then to realize that despite the number of times we’ve screwed everything up, He still knows that we are capable of great good if we would finally rely on His power. He trusts us to carry out His own work in the world today, even though we’ve proven so many times to be unworthy of trust. That’s the mercy of God that humbles us, shocks us, hopefully moves us to repentance.

The incomplete, counterfeit version of mercy and love that the world tends to talk about today is merely tolerance or enabling, even indifference. But God doesn’t just put up with us or look the other way. The truly amazing thing about a God who really loves us is that Jesus wants to see us actually turn away from our sins and start to do the very same things that He Himself did during His time on earth. And God breathes upon us His own Holy Spirit, not just to cover us over superficially with the snow of His righteousness, but to really transform our minds and hearts, to redirect our desires and give us that strength to carry out the mission of Christ in our daily lives.

What is the mission of Christ that He entrusted to His Apostles, the work that He started that they were to continue? What is the mission that Jesus still entrusts to each of us today? Nothing less than to reconcile the world to God. The Holy Spirit gives each of us the strength to challenge ourselves and to look for opportunities with those we interact with on a daily basis, to challenge everyone we meet to take more seriously our relationship with God. Even if it’s not popular today to talk about or to be serious about religion, the Holy Spirit helps us to share with others our relationship with Jesus Christ, to invite others back to Mass and to Confession, to invite non-Catholics to become Catholic, to join the one Church that Jesus Himself founded.

I guarantee that it was not culturally acceptable for Peter and the Apostles after Pentecost to tell the crowds, “You crucified the Son of God. Now be baptized, every one of you, into His Name, because there is no salvation, there is no true life for any of us except through the Name and in relationship with Jesus Christ.” What Peter and the Apostles told the Jewish crowds was not culturally acceptable, but this was not a concern for them, and it should not be a concern for any disciple of Jesus Christ. If we are truly grateful for the Divine Mercy that we have received from almighty God, why are we so hesitant to share that with others, to invite others to experience that same mercy, the only life that’s worth living, in relationship with God? And when we know that our sins cannot satisfy us, why do we hesitate to leave them behind, once and for all, to finally allow the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts and minds, to set us free from the mere tolerance or indifference that the world offers?

Receive the Holy Spirit. As the Father sent Jesus into the world, so now Jesus sends each of you, to proclaim the Gospel and to reconcile sinners into right relationship with God. No one else is going to do it for us. The mission of Christ is now our mission, Christ Himself working through us. There is no other work during the course of our entire lives that is going to matter more once we reach the end. Receive the Holy Spirit, and become instruments of God’s infinite mercy.

Are You Smarter than a Catholic 5th Grader?

Bulletin Letter, Easter Sunday 2A

Some of our 5th and 6th graders submitted some questions to me, but I thought I’d share them and give you a chance to see how many you already know. References to the 1997 Catechism of the Catholic Church are abbreviated CCC followed by the paragraph (not page) number.

  1. Will Jesus ever come to earth again?

Yes, as we confess in the Creed, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” At the end of time, on the last day, all who have died will be resurrected in their bodies and gathered for the Final Judgment. (Cf. CCC 1001, Mt 25:31ff). CCC 682: When he comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each man according to his works, and according to his acceptance or refusal of grace.

  1. Will there be pets in heaven? If not, why?

I think it is debatable and not clearly revealed. Scripture tells us of “new heavens and a new earth” and uses many images of gardens even for what heaven will be like. We will have our bodies back after the general resurrection, and as part of the “new earth” or the participation of material realities in the Resurrection of Christ, it is conceivable that other plants and animals will be there as well, so if that’s the case, could we keep them as pets? I suppose.

What we don’t have evidence for is that the very same pets we have now will somehow be returned to us in the end. We have good evidence, and it’s revealed by God, that human beings have immortal souls that survive the death of the body, and between the time of our death on earth and our resurrection at the end, it is the survival of our immaterial souls that ensures continuity of our identity. We don’t have the same evidence for other living things on earth. Much more likely is that when they die, their souls do not survive, so there would be nothing tying the identity of Scruffy to some other, even very similar, dog in heaven.

So, if there will be pets in heaven, it’s very unlikely they’d actually be the same ones as we had on earth. And if there are not, it’s because we don’t actually need anything other than God to be supremely happy. We are often tempted to love in disordered ways. To love anything that is not God as if it were God is called idolatry. Similarly, to love anything that is not a person as if it were a person is a disordered form of love.

Happy Divine Mercy Sunday to one and all!

In the Darkness of a Tomb

Homily, Easter Sunday A

If you’re anything like me during these past few weeks, it still doesn’t feel much like Easter today. Even with a new Easter candle and singing Alleluia, it’ll feel much more like Easter when we’re able to gather together again as a parish family, and when you’re able to receive Holy Communion again. But we still confess that Christ is risen, even while the quarantine makes it more difficult to be in an Easter mood. One of the great privileges I experience being a priest is that people are very willing to talk to me about their spiritual lives. Even someone I’m meeting for the very first time will often ask me about prayer, about faith, the Church’s sacraments, and our relationship with God. And a lot of the time, I hear very similar things from a wide variety of people. Things like: “Father, I pray, but I don’t feel anything. It doesn’t seem like anything’s happening or that it does any good. I’ve gone on retreats and mission trips, I’ve tried using the Scriptures to pray, but still, I don’t feel anything. I try to follow God’s commandments and the Church’s teachings, but I’m not sure if it’s making any real difference.”

On this Easter morning, it’s good for us to recall that the most significant event in the history of the universe was felt by no one. The moment that changed the world for all time and finally revealed that in Jesus Christ, we can live forever, the event of the Resurrection was seen and witnessed by no one. It happened in the darkness of a tomb. Jesus alone. None of the disciples, none of the women, were there to see it. When the first Man rose from the dead never to die again, it was felt by no one else. Everyone missed it. So what do we do?

We do the same as those first disciples. We encounter the Risen Christ in mystery, seemingly in disguise, like the Gardener that Mary Magdalene meets, like the Stranger walking the road to Emmaus, like the Man on the seashore of Galilee whom the disciples were slow to recognize. We encounter the Risen Christ upon this altar, in this tabernacle, in the Sacrament that He Himself entrusted to us at the Last Supper as His abiding Presence, under the humble appearances of bread and wine, even as we long to receive Him once again. It takes real faith, not just a fascination with signs and wonders. We are called to encounter the Risen Christ on the streets, disguised as a poor man asking for our help. We are to learn to see the Risen Christ in our next-door neighbors and family members, especially those whom we find the most difficult for us to love. And we discover the Risen Christ in ourselves, when we find ourselves able to love in the way that Jesus loves us: to forgive and to do good, even to love those who hate us, to have patience with those who annoy us to no end, to give, without expecting anything in return.

And as we encounter the Risen Christ in the silence of prayer, in the sacraments we are still able to receive in this difficult time and those that we long for, the sacred mysteries of His Church, and in the works of mercy done for those in need, we too become witnesses to His Resurrection for the rest of the world today, even as his first disciples carried His Name to all the ends of the earth, even as the women at the tomb became apostles to the Apostles, prompting Peter and John to see the empty tomb as well.

The precise beginning of the Resurrection of Christ was experienced by Jesus alone in the darkness of the tomb, felt by no one else, as we sing in the Exultet of that sacred night, which alone knew the time and hour of Christ’s rising from the underworld. But the power of His Resurrection and His Presence has continued down to our very own day. In faith, we need to keep our eyes wide open, to the realities and opportunities that we encounter each and every day, to the Risen Christ revealing Himself in our midst. “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:14). In baptism, we have been enlightened by Christ. Jesus gives us eyes for seeing and ears for hearing, what we might otherwise gloss over and miss out on, to recognize the Risen Christ in disguise around us every day. We are to walk always as children of the light, whether we feel like it or not. Jesus offers us meaning, purpose, fulfillment, eternal life. How much longer shall we continue to wander in the darkness, looking for life apart from Him? Jesus is the only Way.

A Felt Absence

Homily, Good Friday

I’ve mentioned before that I come from a big family. I’m the youngest of nine kids. And as you might imagine, things weren’t always neat and tidy. But that’s also one of the great joys of having so many siblings. They definitely keep life interesting and help each other to grow in many ways. But with so many, it’s not always noticeable right away when one of them is missing. One brother in particular was left behind at Grandma’s house on more than one occasion. I’m sure he didn’t mind too much. Grandma probably just fed him cookies until we came looking for him. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but that’s only true when that absence is noticed and felt. There’s nothing worse than getting back from a long trip and asking someone, “Well, did you miss me?” only to hear the reply, “Oh, were you gone?”

When I was in seminary, one of the priests on staff would always say something that at first I thought was kind of strange, but I’ve learned to appreciate it more and more over the years. He told us to make sure that during these days of the Easter Triduum, we take some time to pray in the church in front of the bare altar, and the empty tabernacle. To notice that absence and allow ourselves to feel it. When we came into the church today, did we notice these things? Or did we just genuflect, like we always do, and go into our pew?

Do we take these things for granted? Well, we’ll always have priests to say Mass for us. Will we? 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, to continue having the sacraments available, 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.

As we continue to contemplate the Lord’s Passion, His death, His burial, don’t let the anticipation of Easter cause you to miss out on these graces of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, when we notice it, when we allow ourselves to feel it. With the restrictions in place because of the pandemic, I don’t know of anybody who hasn’t felt this absence in a deeper way this year. Experiencing absence helps us to not take for granted or just gloss over the immeasurable, constant blessings that God bestows on us. As we pray at this bare altar, in front of this empty tabernacle, let’s pray for vocations, for many holy priests. Let’s no longer take for granted the greatest Gift of Christ’s Body and Blood. The Blessed Mother and the disciples were overwhelmed with sorrow as the Body of Jesus was sealed in the tomb. Many of them wondered, would they ever hear His voice again? Would they ever see His Face, just one more time? Let their sorrow touch our hardened hearts. Let their love for Jesus move us to always live for Him.

God Made Visible

Homily, Holy Thursday

Because of the words that we just heard in our Gospel reading this evening, and because of what often takes place as an extra part of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, many people—when they think of Holy Thursday—they think mainly of the washing of the feet, and this beautiful expression of Christ’s humble and loving service as His washes the feet of His own disciples, and His command that we love one another, but the most enduring expression of Christ’s love for us is and always will be the gift of the Most Holy Eucharist, the gift of His own Body and Blood that He continues to pour out for us at each and every Mass.

Beyond being the evening when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, that night of the Last Supper was when Jesus instituted the Mass and the holy priesthood. That before He went to die upon the Cross for us, He wanted to ensure that His Apostles and their successors would be able to continue to make Him present, throughout all the ages and throughout the world, not just in a spiritual sense by their love and service, but also by giving them the power to change bread and wine into His own Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.

Over the centuries, there have been many Saints that have reflected on the fact that Jesus was born to die. That in a very real sense, even from the manger, the Life of Jesus was always pointing to the Cross. He took on our flesh so that He could be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, precisely by laying down His life for us. In a similar way, we can also recognize that God became Man so that He could speak to us with human language, in ways that we can understand, so that He could become visible to us, tangible, even edible.

And He wanted to be visible and tangible not just to one generation of those who happened to live in Israel during the 33 years of His earthly life. No, He wanted to be present in this way to all generations that would follow, and throughout the entire world. And the way that He chooses to do that is through the Eucharist. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer,” (22:15) because now He would finally bestow the great Gift of Himself to all generations of His Church. What a tremendous Gift, but how difficult, to really believe, that through the Eucharist Jesus is just as present to us today, as He was to His Apostles on the night of that Last Supper. Do we believe this? Do we recognize, not what, but Who this is upon the altar, after the words of consecration?

This is my fifth Holy Thursday that I’ve celebrated as a priest, my first as a pastor of parishes, but already God has poured out so many blessings upon me, that I can hardly even begin to repay him for the great gift of the priesthood, for allowing me to share—and to continue in the world today—His own ministry of proclaiming the Gospel, of healing souls of their sins, of washing and bringing to new birth so many sons and daughters of God through holy Baptism, and above all of celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, continuing to offer the one perfect sacrifice for the salvation of the world and to make Jesus visibly present to His holy People.

I’m very thankful for having the privilege of serving the Parishes of St Anthony and St Augustine. Please pray for your priests. We need it. Pray for your bishop. The washing of the disciples’ feet, the feet of the very first Christian priests, is not just a gesture of humble service. It’s also a reminder that the men chosen by Christ to become priests are sinful, imperfect men, who are as much or often more in need of God’s mercy than the members of the lay faithful. Pray for the bishops and for your priests, and pray that reverence and worship of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist might everywhere increase, that we might continue to strive in every age to fulfill His command to love one another, even as He has loved us. Jesus Himself, present in this Eucharist, is the only One who can equip us to love like that.

Hungering for the Flesh of God

Bulletin Letter, Easter Sunday A

I definitely didn’t plan on spending my first Easter as a pastor of parishes in a general quarantine with public Masses suspended, but then, Fr. Kopel probably never planned to spend his last before retirement this way either. In his 43 years of priesthood, he says he’s never experienced anything like this. And it’s most difficult for those in nursing homes or alone at home unable to have visitors, unable to receive sacramentally the greatest Visitor of all, Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist.

For all the graces that God is able to pour out through spiritual communions, through knowledge of His presence everywhere and more particularly through His sanctifying grace in our souls, through the words of Scripture and prayer, there’s no denying that being unable to receive Jesus in sacramental Communion is a heavy cross that you’ve been asked to continue to bear even into the Easter season. But God is faithful. Whatever He asks of you, He will also give you the grace to bear.

We don’t often consider that for huge portions of the Church’s history, frequent Communion was not all that common. To receive at only the highest feasts, just a few times throughout the year—always after making a good Confession—was the much more typical practice. Otherwise, Catholics would attend Mass every Sunday or more often, praying for a spiritual communion almost every time. And yet, God raised up countless Saints in His Church during those centuries. His grace was never lacking to those willing to cooperate with it. And I’m sure each time they did receive Holy Communion was almost as memorable as their First.

There is a danger in anything frequent becoming merely routine. Hopefully this unique time gives us a chance to better reflect on the matchless Gift of the Most Holy Eucharist and not take for granted or pass over with indifference the God who took on Flesh that He might feed us with His very Self. “And whoever feeds on Me will have life because of Me. And I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:57, 40).

Christ is risen! He is truly risen, never to die again. And He promises the same to all those who hope in His word, those who do not merely call Him “Lord, Lord,” but who put into practice what He commands (Cf. Lk 6:46; Mt 7:21). As difficult as it may be because of all that is happening, “do not be sad this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Alleluia! Praise the Lord! Happy Easter to you and yours!