Use Your Words

Homily, Pentecost A

You may not know this about me yet, but I often like to joke about not liking Franciscans, those countless religious orders that look to St. Francis of Assisi as their spiritual father, but in many ways I actually do admire them. I even imitate their aesthetic by keeping a beard, often untrimmed, and by wearing sandals most of the time. I think it’s more just the popular misconceptions that many people have about St. Francis that I find particularly annoying. When we think of St. Francis, for example, many of us just have an idea that, well, he liked animals. Okay. That’s not untrue. St. Francis did have a great appreciation for all members of God’s creation, and we can learn from that. Statues of Him often include birds or other animals. But the great love of Francis’ life was poverty, the poverty of Christ that he strove to imitate in concrete ways. To be free of worldly attachments and possessions that so often come to possess us. That’s why he appreciated birds so much. Birds don’t store up food in barns and silos for themselves. They live day to day, depending on the providence of God.  

St. Francis was especially devoted to the Passion of Jesus, His Way of the Cross, when the poverty of Christ was at its height. As He was hanging from the Cross, naked, stripped of everything, Jesus was even abandoned by most of His closest friends and disciples. He was left with nothing and no one on this earth but the Cross and His trust in God the Father. St. Francis was so devoted to the Passion of Christ upon the Cross, he meditated upon this mystery for so many hours and years that God gave Francis what’s called the stigmata, the wounds of Christ manifested in his flesh, the nail marks and some of the pain along with them in his hands and feet, and a wound in his side. 

Now you’re probably wondering why I’m talking to you so much about St. Francis on this Feast of Pentecost. I would venture to say that St. Francis is one of the most widely misunderstood saints in the history of the Catholic Church, while at the same time, he was one of the saints that strove most fully to imitate the virtues of Jesus and to become a living image of Christ, and Francis was only able to do that through the grace of the Holy Spirit that he received in his Baptism, in Confirmation, that he also exercised in his ministry as a deacon.  

Now we still haven’t come to the most obnoxious misuse of the memory and legacy of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis is frequently quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” The only problem with this quote is of course that St. Francis definitely never said it. And it goes against much of how Francis himself lived. St. Francis was not the type of person to pass up any opportunity to tell the people around him about Jesus Christ, explicitly, with his words and his actions, even at the risk of his own life. There was a time during the life of St. Francis that the Muslim king of Egypt was offering a gold piece to any of his subjects for every head of a Christian that they would bring to him. So what did Francis decide to do when he heard about this? He wanted an audience with that ruthless king. So he traveled with a companion to Egypt. They were captured. They were beaten. They were imprisoned, but finally, Francis got his audience with the king. And to this Muslim king, St. Francis proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ. He told him to repent of his sins, to be baptized, and to believe in Jesus, the one and only Savior of the world. 

When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost to the Apostles in the upper room, these men who were once frightened and cowardly were emboldened and strengthened to proclaim Jesus Christ to the crowds gathered from throughout the world. Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, we continually hear how they were even able to rejoice in the sufferings, persecutions, and dishonor that came to them in response to their bold, explicit preaching of Jesus Christ, using words and actions. The Holy Spirit who appeared to them as tongues of fire… if you’ve ever wondered why St. Luke calls them tongues of fire instead of flames. Maybe he calls them tongues of fire because we’re actually supposed to talk about Jesus and use our words to proclaim the Gospel. 

I think many of us like the saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words” because we’re lazy and cowardly, because we’re looking for any excuse to not have to proclaim Jesus Christ explicitly, in both word and deed, because we don’t want to risk upsetting anyone, really, because we don’t want to risk anything in our following of Christ. We’ve discovered a better way, a safer way, to live as Christians in a world that wants to go its own way, in a world that rebels against the One Way of Jesus Christ. We’ve found a way to stifle the fire of the Holy Spirit, the one who so animated all the Apostles, St. Francis, and every missionary in the history of the Catholic Church. 

The Good News for us is that the Spirit of God is ever ancient and ever new. His strength has not weakened at all over the course of the past 2000 years. He is still able to do marvelous things in those who are willing to risk, in those willing to put themselves out there for the sake of Christ. You have not received any other spirit than the one received by the Apostles, Prophets, and Martyrs. By your Baptism and Confirmation, you have been strengthened with the infinite strength of God. So cast off all fear and go. Proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person under heaven. Risk something. Use your words and your actions. 

In a few moments, I’ll invite the Confirmation candidates to stand and renew their baptismal promises. I’ll pray over them and then anoint them with Sacred Chrism, sealing them with the Gift of the Holy Spirit. They will be anointed on the forehead, which for most of us—unless you have a lot of hair covering it up—is one of the most public parts of the body, a reminder that those who are confirmed are to take a more active and public role in the world in bearing witness to the catholic faith.  

In both Baptism and Confirmation we are given the grace of the Holy Spirit. The main difference is that while Baptism disposes us to receive God’s grace, to assist at Mass, to receive the wisdom and guidance that comes from God’s Word and the nourishment that comes from the Body and Blood of Christ, the grace of Confirmation is directed more towards being able to convey God’s grace to those around you, not just to receive grace for yourself, but to become an instrument that shares the Gospel with everyone you meet. The grace of Confirmation is the grace of the Apostles at Pentecost, not just to be huddled together in the upper room but to go out with boldness to proclaim Christ in the world today.  

After anointing the forehead, I’ll also say to each of the newly confirmed, “Peace be with you,” as I give them a slight slap on the cheek. This gesture has long been associated with Confirmations as a reminder that the peace of Christ—which the world cannot give—is not incompatible with adversity and persecution. That if you actually share the Gospel as you are called to do, if you actually live your Catholic faith fully in the world today, you’ll likely be hated for it. But God gives us the grace as He gave the first Apostles after Pentecost even to rejoice in our sufferings, in our sharing in the saving Cross of Jesus Christ. “Preach the Gospel at all times,” and remember that words are necessary. The grace you receive today is not just for you. It’s for everyone you will meet, everyone who will witness your words and your actions. May they always speak of Jesus our Savior. 

Summer Ember Days

Bulletin Letter, Pentecost A

This Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday (June 3, 5, and 6) are the summer Ember Days, observed with fasting, abstinence from meat, and prayer for vocations and for the fields and herds. Ordinations were traditionally held on these days as well. During this past week, Bishop DeGrood ordained three men to the transitional diaconate: Jacob Doty, Jeffrey Schulte, and Scott Miller. Please pray that they serve well as deacons this summer and finish well their preparations for the priesthood during this next year. On Friday, two were ordained to the priesthood: Fr. Michael Kapperman and Fr. Tony Klein. Please join in observing Ember Days this week to pray for blessings upon our land and for the holiness of these new ministers of God’s love.

  1. Can God talk to you if you have a mortal sin on your soul?

Yes. We distinguish between sanctifying (habitual) grace and actual graces. Now the name ‘actual’ grace might make it sound like we’re implying other graces are not ‘real’ graces, but they are named ‘actual’ because they refer to particular and passing actions, whereas sanctifying grace refers to the state of being, the habit of holiness that persists after baptism as long as we do not sin mortally. It’s the difference between doing things, performing certain actions, and being human or, with sanctifying grace, being a child of God.

Mortal sin takes us out of the state of grace. We lose sanctifying grace and the theological virtue of divine charity, but God could still speak to us because those would be actual graces, passing actions that God can grant even to someone who is not in the state of grace. And He might grant them precisely to spur us to repentance, to Confession, and a return to sanctifying grace.

  1. Why does God know that bad things will happen and He doesn’t try to stop them?

God gives us free will and understanding into the natural processes of the world. Responsible action depends on both of these things. Imagine how difficult it would be to act responsibly if we really couldn’t depend on the consequences of the law of gravity, for example. Bad things happen due to gravity all the time. You can fall down, scrape your knees, or much worse. And if God were constantly intervening and suspending the laws of gravity just to make sure we’d never get hurt, we wouldn’t really be able to rely on the normal process of gravity and make adjustments to our own behavior as responsible and reasonable people. The same would hold true with diet, health, medicine, weather, etc. God directs the natural processes of the world according to patterns that can be relied upon so that we can respond accordingly and act responsibly.


Looking Forward to Heaven

Homily, Ascension A

If I were to ask you, When did Jesus save us? What was the precise moment when the work of redemption was accomplished? we might have various answers. Certainly the Incarnation, when the Son of God became man and took to Himself our human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that moment changed us and changed the world forever. Most would probably point to His suffering and death on the Cross, His perfect obedience even to the point of death making up for the disobedience and infidelity of our sins. We would also point, of course, to His Resurrection, rising from the grave never to die again. These events have consequences for all of us.

We could even point to His ordinary life, the many years that we don’t actually hear much about. Of course, His being born from a human Mother, His growth and development from infancy to adolescence to adulthood. The fact that God experienced all these things in the Person of Christ changes them for us, consecrates them, allows them to be holy events even in our own lives. To know that God worked and sweat as a carpenter changes work for us. That He ate and drank, that He wept at the death of His friend Lazarus, all that He did and suffered and accomplished was part of the work of salvation and consecrating our humanity to God.

One event that we might not often think about as being for our redemption is what we celebrate today, the Ascension, that our own human nature in Christ is now glorified at the right hand of God. That man has finally entered fully into heaven, body and soul, for the very first time. Jesus didn’t just die on the Cross and rise from the dead so that He could walk around on earth some more. He ascended into heaven to lead us there and to show us that we are meant for much more than anything this world has to offer us. Even if we could live forever, this world and the things of this world, even the relationships that we form in this world can never truly satisfy us. We were made for more. We are destined to see God face to face and to become like Him, to share in the communion of all the Saints, or to be eternally frustrated. The Ascension of Jesus saves us from the lie that we could ever be fully satisfied with anything less than God Himself. And in Christ, our human nature comes to its final rest and already enjoys the reward of its labors.

How often do we really think about heaven and what it will be like? To look upon and enter into union with the One who is more beautiful than anything we have ever experienced, more glorious and satisfying than anything we ever could experience in this life. Do we exercise our desire for heaven and allow it to be our strength as we endure the trials, frustrations, and restlessness of this life? If you’re anything like me, we don’t think about heaven nearly often enough. It’s always easier to plan a trip and to deal with obstacles we meet along the way when we have and keep a specific destination and goal in mind for ourselves.

There’s a verse in Sirach that says, “In all that you do, be mindful of the end of your life, and you will never sin” (7:36). We often think of the end of our life referring to our death and the judgment we will then render to God for what we have done or not done during life, but the end of our life can also refer to our goal, what we’re aiming for: heaven. In all that we do, if we are mindful not only of our death and judgment but also of the superabundant joys and everlasting satisfactions of heaven, the false pleasures of sin will lose their attraction for us, all the easy ways out and the overindulgence of the paltry pleasures of this passing world will seem to be “like so much garbage,” as St. Paul puts it, in comparison to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ and being found in Him.

All that Jesus accomplished, every part of our life on earth that He redeemed and consecrated, even His victory over sin and death was incomplete until He finally opened the gates of heaven and entered into the lasting rest and exceeding joy that He has promised to those who love Him. “In all that you do, be mindful of the end of your life,” be mindful of the joys of heaven, that you may have the strength to persevere through any temptation without sin, so that where Christ our Good Shepherd has gone before, we might follow and share in His unending glory.

Getting Warmer

Bulletin Letter, Sunday of Ascension A

It’s great to see the return of so much that is green around us, on the trees and in lawns and pastures. Next Sunday is already the Feast of Pentecost. Please pray especially for the Gift of the Holy Spirit upon those of our parishes who will be confirmed and those recently confirmed. Here are more questions from our 5th and 6th graders:

  1. Do the sacraments always give grace?

Yes, although we may not always be in the proper state to receive that grace. One of the purposes of the sacraments is to give us certitude that these are moments of God’s definite action and grace. Whenever the sacraments are celebrated by the properly authorized minister (usually a priest) according to the will of Christ and His Church, we can know for certain that God Himself is present and giving His grace in and through those sacraments.

But there are times when we are not properly receptive to God’s grace. Someone in a state of mortal sin who attempts to receive the Eucharist in Holy Communion, for example, receives the Body and Blood of Christ but sins against them, as St. Paul describes in 1 Cor. 11, eating and drinking judgment upon himself. These are called sacrilegious or unworthy Communions that are grave sins in themselves. Anyone aware of serious sins on one’s soul must confess those and be absolved to become receptive once more to grace of the Eucharist.

  1. What is a Nuptial Mass?

This usually just refers to a Wedding Mass or the Ritual Mass for the Celebration of Matrimony that includes many special prayers for the couple or couples being married at that Mass. Catholic weddings can also take place in church apart from the celebration of the Eucharist or as part of the Mass of a major Feast, even though the prayers of the Mass on certain Feast days would need to pertain more to the Feast rather than the wedding, and these would not normally be called Nuptial Masses.

  1. What is meant by divine Tradition?

Usually called Sacred or Apostolic Tradition, this refers to everything that is publicly revealed by God and handed down from the Apostles for our salvation apart from what has been committed to writing in Sacred Scripture. There were many things Jesus taught his disciples which they observed and handed on even before any of the New Testament had been written. The New Testament is also not very detailed when it comes to certain aspects of Christian life or liturgy.

Commandments of Love

Homily, Easter Sunday 6A

If we were doing a word association exercise, where I say a word and then you respond with the first thing that pops into your head, what do you think would be the most common things associated with the word “love” today? Maybe hearts, romance, Valentine’s, marriage, maybe even commitment or sacrifice. But what would we probably not expect to hear as a response when prompted with the word “love”? Commandments. Obedience.

Jesus says to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” and, “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.” In another place He says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Not usually things that leap to our mind when thinking about love. Is it because Jesus doesn’t understand what love really is? Or are we the ones who don’t really understand love or the commandments? A lot of people talk about love. That we just need to love one another, to come together, to accept one another, but I often wonder what it is we actually mean by the word ‘love.’ Because to me, a lot of what I hear in the wider culture about ‘love’ sounds much more like mere tolerance or even indifference. “Do whatever you like. It doesn’t matter. As long as it makes you feel happy. As long as you’re being true to yourself. Be whoever you want to be, whatever you want to be, even if that’s something different than the reality of who God made you to be, and who He is calling you to be.” But this is not really love.

A good Catholic definition of love is to will the good of another, to desire what’s best for them. But how do we know what’s actually good for ourselves or for another person, not just what’s pleasing to them for the moment, not just what they happen to want right now, but what they genuinely need? Love, to actually be love, needs to be grounded in the truth, grounded in the reality of who we are and what we were made for, who God made us to be, and the genuine good that God has designed for us, those things that truly satisfy us and bring fulfillment. And as Jesus tells us in the Gospel, love needs to be grounded in the commandments, the commandments that God reveals for our salvation.

At home, as I was growing up, how did I know that my parents actually loved me and really cared about me? Did they tell me, “Do whatever you want?” Not very often. More often, they would say, “Do your homework. Do the dishes. Do your chores. Clean your room. Get off your lazy butt, and be the person that we know you can be.” They gave me direction. They gave me motivation. They wanted me to learn, to grow, to develop as a person. To learn from my mistakes, take responsibility for my actions, and reach my full potential. They wanted me to follow Jesus and the Church that He established with His own authority. Now I always knew that my parents would love me no matter what, no matter what mistakes I made or trouble I got into, but I also knew that they loved me enough to want what was best for me, to challenge and discipline me to really strive for the true good, even if that meant that they wouldn’t always be my favorite people at the time.

In a similar way, God really loves us. He doesn’t just tolerate us or shrug His shoulders at whatever we do. He wants what’s best for us. He wants us to truly live and thrive as human persons. He gives us His commandments and the teachings of the Church not to restrict our freedom, but to free us from the lies of the world around us, to free us from our slavery to sin and pleasure, to give us boundaries that keep us safe from the many dangers and behaviors that harm us, to help us reach our full potential. God has revealed to us what makes for true and lasting happiness. Why do we still hesitate to just give it a try, all of it, for once? All the rules and commandments of the Church, why not actually try them out and see what happens? Or have we even bothered to learn what those commandments are, and the reasons behind them?

The Church as God’s instrument of salvation and the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Truth who speaks through her—are not the ones out of touch with reality. It’s those who are too much influenced by the lies and relativism of the world and culture around us who are really out of touch. God and His Church are not insensitive to what people might want, but they are much more concerned about what we actually need. And God is not the one who benefits when we follow His commandments. We are. Don’t settle for the tolerance or indifference of this world. You were made for the love of God. God gives us the grace and strengthens us with His Holy Spirit to follow His commandments, to reach our potential and have life in abundance. Why not actually try it, and see what happens?

Rogation Days and the Original Novena

Bulletin Letter, Easter Sunday 6A

If you missed the Major Rogation on April 25, you’ll have a few more chances this week on the Minor Rogation Days, which are observed on the three days before Ascension Thursday (which is transferred to the following Sunday in most places). Rogation Days are named for the Latin verb rogare, “to ask,” and are observed with solemn procession while singing the Litany of Saints, the Penitential Psalms, and several other prayers for God’s blessings and deliverance from evil. Fasting, abstaining from meat, and other forms of penance are also encouraged on these days.

The Major Rogation, on April 25 each year, is likely the earliest one observed, probably to counteract and replace the pagan Roman festival of Robigalia, held on the same date with public games and the sacrifice of a dog to the false god Robigus for the protection of grain fields from disease. Rogation Days retain this agricultural connection, and besides the Litany and procession, the blessing of fields and flocks became customary in many places on these days. The Minor Rogations (held on the three days leading up to Ascension Thursday) were introduced around the year 470 in France by St. Mamertus, bishop of Vienne, and observance spread out from there, eventually extending to the whole Church. Both the Major and Minor Rogations came to be observed in the same ways.

We’ll plan to have processions like we did on April 25, from the church to the cemetery and back. In Hoven on Monday and Tuesday (May 18 and 19), just after the Mass at 5:15 pm, the procession should start close to 5:50 pm. In Bowdle on Wednesday, May 20, we’ll start the procession at 7:00 pm. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate. Since May is the month of Mary, we’ll also be asking for her intercession in a special way.

This week also includes the start of the Original Novena. A novena is a prayer said on nine consecutive days, often concluding on the Vigil of a particular feast day. The Original Novena refers to the nine days between Ascension Thursday and the great Solemnity of Pentecost, during which the Apostles and disciples were gathered together in prayer with the Blessed Mother in the upper room, preparing and beseeching God for the great Gift of the Holy Spirit. Starting on Friday and concluding on the Saturday Vigil of Pentecost, a novena for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit is fittingly prayed. Using a keyword search, it’s easy enough to find this novena online, including on the EWTN website. Come, Holy Spirit!

Greater Works than These

Homily, Easter Sunday 5A

When we think of the great works that Jesus did during His earthly life and hear Him say in this Gospel that those who believe in Him will do the same and even greater works, what does that mean? Probably what seems most conspicuous and what sticks most in our minds are the many visible signs and miracles that Jesus performed, physical healings from sickness, demonic possession, and disability, allowing the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the mute to speak. We think of the multiplication of loaves and fish, the walking on the water, the calming of the storm at sea, even raising the dead to live again. What could be greater works than these that we still see today from the followers of Christ? 

At least at the time of the Apostles we do see part of the answer even in these more physical signs and wonders. Sts. Peter and Paul do many of the very same things, even raising the dead to life. And in one aspect, they may have even done greater. Jesus healed the woman with the hemorrhage when she merely touched the hem or tassel of His garment. But compare this to the people who were healed as St. Peter merely passed by and as his shadow fell upon them or as others were healed just by receiving handkerchiefs that St. Paul had touched. 

But in the end, all these physical healings and signs and wonders are just temporary things, temporary fixes. Have we ever considered the rest of the story, that all those that Jesus or the Apostles heal or even raise from the dead will—with the passage of time—eventually grow old, possibly get sick again, but ultimately die. A greater work at the time of Jesus and still today is the spiritual healing brought about through the forgiveness of sins. Jesus often uses physical healings to point to this deeper reality and greater healing of forgiveness. Still today, this greater work is brought about through Baptism and in the sacrament of Confession. Even souls dead in sin that had merited the everlasting pains of hell are restored to the life of grace and communion with God. A good Confession can have eternal consequences. But this is not the only “greater work” that the Holy Spirit has for us today. 

Consider the teachings and revelation of Jesus Christ. The proclamation of the Gospel and the deepest truths of human life and ultimate realities is a greater work than any physical signs or wonders. Yet during the three years of Jesus’ public ministry, His proclamation of the Gospel was mostly confined to the Jews in Palestine. But His Apostles after Him would be entrusted with a greater work, to carry the Gospel to all the nations throughout the world. And this is still the same greater mission that is entrusted to us and to every follower of Jesus today, to proclaim His salvation to every man, woman, and child. 

The other greater work that the Holy Spirit strengthens us to accomplish today is another that we witness in the Acts of the Apostles. At the time that Jesus said these words of the Gospel at the Last Supper, He had not yet accomplished His greatest work: His Passion and Death on the Cross, and His Rising from the dead, never to die again. The Holy Spirit greatly strengthened the Apostles and took these once cowardly men who had for many days been locked in the upper room and after Pentecost, allowed them even to rejoice in their sufferings, in being jailed, scourged, and put on trial, for refusing to be silent about Jesus Christ. Later on, they and many, many others would have the strength to rejoice even as they went to their own martyrdom, glad to be able to share something of the Cross and death of Christ in the great hope of His Resurrection. This faith of the martyrs is also a greater work than simply being rescued by God from every earthly trial.  

Despite what we know by faith about eternal life and spiritual realities, many of us can still feel disappointed that God doesn’t often choose to perform miraculous physical healings through our hands or through our prayers. We all know people who could benefit from miracles, afflicted with various diseases and limitations. But again, what is really the greater work? That God would heal someone physically through your presence, that He would take away the symptom of some physical discomfort and pain, temporarily? Or, in an age when so many people around us are pushing for euthanasia, for “mercy” killing, and selective abortions, is it not a far greater work of the Holy Spirit that God would be able to use us today to continue to affirm the value of each and every human life, even in the midst of suffering?  

In some ways, it’d be a lot easier to convince someone of God’s love for them if we could at the same heal them physically, but God calls us to an even greater work, to recognize and have genuine faith in His love even as He allows us or others to continue to suffer. That life doesn’t have to be perfect or free from pain to have infinite value. That regardless of someone’s condition or level of productivity, they still are in the image of God to us and worthy of our time, attention, and unconditional love. That human suffering can have meaning and value, when borne patiently and joined to the saving Cross of Christ, offered for the conversion of sinners and in reparation for our sins and the sins of others. That those who are sick are not the only ones who benefit from a visit, but those who care for the sick can actually receive more than they are able to give. 

These are some of the “greater works” that the Holy Spirit is calling us and enabling us to engage in today, the forgiveness of sins, the proclamation of the Gospel to everyone we meet, to speak and to act prophetically in the face of a culture of death, even through the patient endurance of trials. This is the power of God that He entrusts to each and every one of us, to say to every person that we meet, no matter what their status, their ability or inability, to say to each one, “You are loved by God. God longs for you and wants to spend eternity with you.” And these greater works call for real faith through the Holy Spirit, not just a curiosity or fascination with signs and wonders. Our life on this earth is short and temporary. May the Holy Spirit always be preparing us and those around us, to live for ever. 

Back to Mass: May 15

Bulletin Letter, Easter Sunday 5A

As we return to public celebrations of Mass in the following weeks, please be advised and abide by the following:

  • If you are sick or not feeling well—stay home. If you are not yet comfortable being in public—stay home.
  • Clean your hands often. Cover coughs & sneezes. Avoid close contact over extended periods of time. Keep a personal hand sanitizer with you as needed.
  • Family households may sit together, but social distancing should be maintained in Church between different households and individuals, in a reasonable manner.
  • To limit the number of people handling the gifts and vessels, we will go without altar servers, Mary’s helpers, and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.
  • There is to be no Offertory procession, but one of the ushers may bring the collection forward when they finish and place it near the altar rail towards the right.
  • Only Father will distribute Holy Communion. Social distancing is to be maintained by the faithful as they receive Holy Communion, approaching in a SINGLE FILE LINE in the middle aisle.
  • If choir members and musicians are able to maintain proper social distancing in the choir loft, Holy Communion will be administered to them immediately following the conclusion of Mass or the recessional hymn. They should approach the altar after Mass as soon as they are ready.
  • Holy Communion WILL NOT be distributed in the hand to anyone wearing gloves. (Sidenote: gloves actually tend to be less sanitary, as we are usually able to wash/disinfect our hands more often than we wash or get a new pair of gloves.)
  • The exchange of the Sign of Peace remains suspended.
  • Church members are welcome to wear a face mask—but this is not mandatory and the decision to wear or not wear a mask should not be looked down upon—and any masks should be removed when about to receive Holy Communion.
  • There should be no social gatherings on parish or Church property after liturgies until further notice.
  • The Sunday Mass obligation for all Catholics of the Diocese remains dispensed by Bishop DeGrood until further notice. This measure is intended to affirm that individuals are relied upon to make the best decision for themselves about how much interaction with others is appropriate given their health and other considerations that are particular to each.

The above guidelines are subject to change. At this time, no member of the Church should feel pressured to return to public worship. I know many of our Church members who are going to wait a few weeks before deciding to return to Sunday Mass. The televised TV Mass with Bishop DeGrood will still be available on KELO every Sunday at 10am for you to participate from home. I say again—if you are not ready, or if you feel that the measures outlined above are inadequate—stay at home. If your main concern is the lack of distancing at the moment of Holy Communion, you do not have to receive or come forward at every Mass you attend.

By now everyone has learned a lot about practicing common sense and personal hygiene. Keep it up—stay safe—and trust in God!

The Good Life

Homily, Easter Sunday 4A

What does it mean to really “have life and have it more abundantly”? The Son of God became man so that we might have life. The Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep so that we might truly live. So what makes for an abundant life? Is it freedom, doing what we want when we want? Or money, being able to buy what we need and what we desire? Being able to travel and see the world? Is it pleasure, health, security, safety? Surrounding ourselves with good things, or being surrounded by good people? And where does our relationship with God fit in? What is an abundant life? What would your answer be? What would my answer be? And is our answer different from what Jesus teaches about what it means to truly live? And if our answer is different from His, why is it different? Where do our ideas about the good life come from?

Every movie and show that we watch, everything we read, all the media that we consume is constantly communicating to us certain ideas about what’s important in life, shaping and influencing our own desires, even shaping what we perceive as needs and essentials. Every commercial and advertisement is trying to sell you something, convince you that your life is incomplete, that it would be so much better or easier or carefree if we would save some money on our car insurance, or if we had some new non-stick and indestructible pans for our kitchen, or the latest iPhone with the best and cheapest provider. Do we ever think about how much we’ve been influenced by the world around us, often by those trying to make a profit from us?

But Jesus, the Good Shepherd, takes nothing from us to enrich Himself. Instead, He gives. Everything. What is an abundant life? And what do our actions—how we spend our time, where we spend our energy, what we spend our money on—what do our actions say about what we really think is the answer to what makes for a good life? This summer, my parents will be celebrating 50 years of marriage. All through my life it’s been clear to me that they value things differently than the world around us, with every reaction I would witness when I’d say that I’m the youngest of nine kids. Even most other Catholics I met seemed to value things differently. And if you’d ask my parents why they had so many kids, using contraception never entered their minds. For one thing, contraception is gravely sinful, but even beyond that, I think, for my parents, it was more about their deep trust in God, that God would provide if they were willing to work. And because of their trust in God, they were willing to accept any and all that God would entrust to them.

I can’t even begin to describe how abundant a life God has given to my parents because they really choose to follow the Good Shepherd, or how abundant a life God has given to me and to my siblings through their generosity. My parents never felt the need to pay for everything for us, to pay for our college. Far more important to them was to educate us on how to work, how to save, how to stand on our own two feet, how to earn scholarships by really studying and understanding, by applying ourselves to whatever we chose to do. I can’t thank my parents enough for all the lessons they taught me, of what’s really important in life. All that world has to offer in this life is just so boring, so overrated, and as St. Paul puts it, all that the world offers is as so much garbage when compared with the surpassing riches of Jesus Christ.

In our first reading, St. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, calls upon the crowds: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation. Repent and be baptized, every one of you.” Since the very beginning of the Church, catholic Christians have always been called to live differently, to value things differently from the world around us. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, through the teachings and sacraments of His Catholic Church offers us a truly more abundant life. “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried” (G.K. Chesterton). Jesus continues to call each one of us by name, and if we would follow Him, leaving the world behind, He would lead us to greener pastures and a life more abundant than we could ever ask or imagine.

Bishop’s Little Hat

Inquiry, April 2020

If you’ve been watching the Bishop’s TV Mass, you may have noticed he actually has two hats, one that’s pointed (called a miter) and a much smaller fuchsia hat. This smaller hat is called a skull cap or zucchetto (Italian for “little gourd,” either because gourd is another name for one’s head or because the hat tends to have seams/ridges like a pumpkin). I have a black zucchetto I wear occasionally, though not during any liturgies. Cardinals have red ones. The Pope’s is white.

The original purpose was to cover one’s tonsure (clerical haircut). Tonsure used to be the first step or initiation into the clerical state. Why or how the practice originated, I am not sure, but may be related in some way even to the practice of the Nazirite vow of the Old Testament (Numbers 6:1-21), practiced also by St. Paul and some early Christians (Acts 18:18; 21:20-24). The main idea is that the hair cut and offered represents the time of one’s life offered to God. Other possible origins relate to the practice of shaving the heads of slaves in antiquity (even as St. Paul calls himself a “slave of Christ” in Romans 1:1). St. Jerome attested to this connection in the 4th or 5th century. Another possibility was that shaving one’s head was a sign of grieving in many cultures (Micah 1:16), a reminder that we live on earth as a sort of “exile,” in a “valley of tears,” as the Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen) says, until we reach our heavenly homeland. Certain religious orders keep their tonsure more conspicuous, like many of the Franciscans. St Anthony’s hair did not just grow naturally only around the ridge of his head.

So the little cap was used to keep the part of the head that was bare—either from religious tonsure or natural tonsure (balding)—to keep it warm in the big, stone, often cold churches and chapels. The zucchetto is removed during the Eucharistic Prayer and any time Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is exposed upon the altar or in a monstrance as a sign of reverence to Christ. It’s still customary for men to remove their hats when inside buildings, especially while inside churches. Clerics have a few hats that are worn liturgically, even inside (the priest’s biretta, and the Bishop’s miter, and obviously, his zucchetto), but even the small zucchetto is removed when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.

Things like this often arise for practical purposes (keeping the bald spot warm) and theological explanations are often ascribed later. Because of its connection to tonsure and admission to the clerical state, the zucchetto serves as a reminder of religious vows or priestly promises and the duties of a cleric, especially the promise to pray, the promise of chaste celibacy, and the promise of obedience to those who are above us: for a priest, his own bishop and the Pope; for a bishop, the Pope; and for everyone, God.