A Prophet’s Reward

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 13A

From time to time, I wonder whether I’ve made much of a difference, working as a priest. Priests don’t often get to see the fruits of our labor, which can be fairly intangible. I may have mentioned before that my dad likes to joke with me, that because I entered the priesthood right after finishing school, I’ve never actually had a real job. There are definitely times when I’m rather envious of the work that my dad does. He knows how to fix almost any appliance, and a lot of what goes wrong with cars. And at the end of the day, it’s usually very clear to him whether he did his job well or if he needs to keep working on the same thing the next day. It’s easy for him to tell whether this refrigerator, air conditioner, light switch, or car that wasn’t working before is working like it’s supposed to when he’s finished. I like to do some of the same type of work or tinkering in my free time.

But as a priest and prophet, so much of what I deal with every day are invisible realities: the mysteries of God and our relationship with Him and with one another, faith which knows—but often does not see—on this side of heaven. Even if people tell me that I’m doing a good job, that they enjoy my homilies, or how I pray the Mass and celebrate the other sacraments, still, I don’t often see whether it makes a real difference in people’s lives, whether it motivates anyone to actually change their behaviors and have a healthier approach to God, to life, to their families and to those in need.

But these more spiritual works are not just for those who have been ordained as priests. All followers of Christ, all the baptized, each one of us has a prophetic vocation in the world today. No matter what other jobs or occupations you might have, we are all commissioned by God to faithfully proclaim His Word by the way we live our lives, even by the way we carry out those other jobs or conduct ourselves in school or in our time off and recreation. All our words and actions are to bear witness and give glory to the One Word of God who is Jesus Christ. But we can’t give what we do not have. We can’t proclaim God’s Word and live as true Christians in the midst of a world that wanders further and further from Christ, if we have not first listened and received the Word of God ourselves. The readings this weekend focus on what it means to really receive a prophet, to receive the Word of God deeply into our lives. The woman and her husband who received the prophet Elisha in our first reading, who went to all the trouble of even making a place for him in their own home, these were rewarded with the promise of a baby boy, after many years of being unable to have children. In today’s Gospel, Jesus promises, “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.”

What does it mean to receive a prophet because he is a prophet? To receive a prophet, not because we find him entertaining, not because we agree with almost everything he says, not because he tells us what we want to hear, but simply because he is a prophet, because he proclaims the Word of God to us. How well do we receive someone who, instead of making us feel good about ourselves, actually challenges us to conform our lives to Jesus Christ and to God’s laws? To receive a prophet because he is a prophet. To go to Mass every Sunday, not because of what I can get out of Mass, but because of what God wants me to receive from it. That even if the homily is boring or stupid, if I don’t like the priest or the people around me, God still gives us His most holy Word, as the Scriptures are proclaimed, as the prayers of the Mass are pronounced, and especially as the Word of God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, gives us His own Body and Blood to transform us and make us new.

To receive a prophet because he is prophet. Do we actually change our course of action when the Word of God convicts us, convicts us of the sins, the failings, the imbalances and excesses of our lives, or do we leave Mass, week after week, unchanged, unconverted, untouched and unaffected by the Word of God? The seed is sown to us whether we realize it or not, but what have we done to actually make ourselves into good soil for its reception, that we might bear good fruit for the glory of God? “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.” Whoever receives the Word of God because it is the Word of God will become a word of God to others. Do not be sterile and unfruitful. God wants much more for us. He wants our transformation. May God give us the grace to really open ourselves to Jesus Christ and surrender to His will for our lives, that we may bear witness everywhere in the world to the One whose kingdom has no end.

Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem meam…

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 13A

In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll slowly be getting back to normal when it comes to our Sunday celebrations of the Eucharist. The first thing that I’d even like to start this weekend is to have altar servers again along with Mary’s helpers in Hoven. I’ve never liked having to wait for the collection to be finished for the other gifts to be brought forward, so we may still be asking our ushers to keep doing what they’ve been doing these past couple months. We’ve been hearing from the Bishop that they are in the process of deciding when the dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation will end, so stay tuned for any news on that front.

We do not expect to be able to host the annual Christmas on the Prairie concert in Hoven this year. Many of the singers are more advanced… in wisdom and experience, and a number of folks travel long distances and from out of state to attend, and the goal has always been to pack the pews quite full, so at least at this point it seems likely that we’ll be taking this year off. Keep this loss of donations in mind as you consider your own gifts to the parish.

Each parish has had some maintenance expenses this year. The floor in the basement of Bowdle has been repaired and retiled. We’re still looking to have work done on the bricks and steps on the front of the church, along with the windows repaired on that side. The geothermal pumps in Hoven received some repairs and the roof, exterior, and drainage seem to be an ever-ongoing project.

I’ve been very impressed with your generosity to the parishes and CFSA, even throughout this pandemic. Beyond financial support, there is not much that would be possible without the help, willingness, time, and energy of so many volunteers. Keep up the great work to ensure that our parishes and churches continue to be places of real encounter with the truth, beauty, and goodness of God.

Fear God, and You Will Have No Fear of Men

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 12A

One of the many disappointments for me during this season of pandemic has been missing out on the Chrism Mass and the ordinations this year. There aren’t too many occasions when most of the priests of the diocese get together in one place, but those are some of the main ones. And they’re usually specific times of renewal for priests. Usually, it’s during the Chrism Mass each year, when the bishop of each diocese blesses and consecrates the holy oils for use throughout the diocese, that the bishop also leads his priests in an annual renewal of their priestly promises. Since most of us couldn’t be there this year, we still plan to do this at a later date. Of course we can each renew those promises on our own, but it’s not the same as being there and renewing them with so many of the other priests. Of course, the Ordination Masses always bring back memories as well from our own ordinations, and tuning in on Youtube definitely isn’t the same experience as actually being there inside the Cathedral. Still, there have been lots of opportunities during this time for me to reflect back on my first five years of the priesthood, and the readings today highlight an important lesson.

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” There were many in the time of the Prophet Jeremiah who wanted to silence him, really, to silence the Word of God that he proclaimed and that made them uncomfortable, or made them feel guilty. They wanted to silence his very negative message that because of their sins Jerusalem and the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed and that many of them would be taken into exile far away from the Promised Land. They didn’t like what he had to say. They thought he was mean, to point out their sins. And they were willing to kill him to shut him up. Jeremiah had to decide whether he would obey God or try to pander to the tastes of his listeners. He decided to obey God.

In my first years of the priesthood, I had to make a similar decision, and it’s one that I continually have to make. Would I follow the subtle temptations of using the priesthood to serve my own ends, my own comfort? Would I remain silent on certain topics that would be difficult to communicate, difficult for people to receive? Would I strive to be well-liked, popular, funny, entertaining? Or would I strive to follow Christ and the laws of His Church, even if this should prove to be unpopular?

We all like to think that we can have it both ways, that there will never be any real conflict between the love of God and love for my neighbor, between the fear of the Lord and the fear of men. But there are conflicts. There are times when we have to decide, Will I serve God first, above all? To correct, to admonish, to discipline, even if that means that as a parent you won’t be your child’s best friend? “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.” On account of your faithful following of Jesus Christ. “Your reward will be great in heaven, for their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.” But “woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.”

Back in 2018, when everything came out about Mr. McCarrick and how so many of the priests and other bishops around him must have ignored, failed to take seriously and investigate allegations, even so many who continued to promote him, so many cowards who stood by and allowed a wolf to prey upon the sheep, so many who stood by to get ahead, to further their “careers” in the Church, it became even clearer to me just how much is at stake. Those who do not fear God and strive to serve him faithfully above all will make all sorts of compromises and allowances to stay in the good favor of men, even of the most despicable men.

The temptation is always there—for all of us—to have more regard for what is popular, for what others around us might think, to water down the Gospel, to leave out or gloss over the more difficult teachings for the sake of always being positive and affirming, but at the end of my life, I won’t be standing before a panel of former parishioners, who will be asked whether I made them feel welcome and appreciated. I won’t even be standing before a panel of popes, or bishops, or other priests. Instead, I will have to stand before God Himself and answer for every part of His Gospel that I was too afraid to proclaim.

That question is there for each of us. Will you be faithful to what God is asking of you, above all? Or will you live as a slave to the opinions of those around you? Those who strive to serve God faithfully will have nothing to fear.

Re-birthday, Father’s Day, and Pew Missal

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 12A

I am grateful to all those who remembered me, prayed for me, sent cards or others gifts for my birthday. Really, it’s my mom who should get most of the credit for what happened that day. For a long time now, I’ve tried to make it more of a point to observe and celebrate the anniversary of my Baptism, my Re-birthday as a child of God. All the more so after 2015, when my Ordination to the Priesthood happened to fall on the same day. Friday of this next week, June 26, will mark the completion of 5 years of priesthood for me and 32 years as a member of God’s Catholic Church. Please pray for me, especially as this will be my first time observing it as the pastor of parishes (two of the finest parishes in the diocese, I might add).

This Sunday is of course Father’s Day, so be sure to remember, call, and make an effort to show your appreciation for your dad and grandpas. As I get older, I appreciate more and more how similar I am to my dad and how much I’ve learned from him. It’s also a bit strange now to see him in his role as a grandfather, now to 18 grandkids. As I was growing up, I never remember him keeping so many tootsie rolls in his pockets to hand out to us. I never really knew my own grandfathers, but my dad makes a great one.

Father’s Day can also be a difficult time for those who lost their dads during this past year. There have been many in our parishes, and two in particular that were very unexpected and young. Please remember to pray for those who have buried their fathers, and pray for the repose of the departed. “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom every family in the heavens and on earth is named, that He might strengthen you with His Spirit…” (Ephesians 3:14-16).

Believe it or not, now’s around the time to be looking at hymnals/books for the pews for this next year. I’ve been considering the Ignatius Pew Missal. It’s published in collaboration with the Augustine Institute. It’s a higher quality printing, a fraction of the cost, one volume for the year (so no changing books every few months) and quite a bit slimmer than the one-volume from Oregon Catholic Press. You can check it out at pewmissal.com.

Present to the Presence

Homily, Corpus Christi A

When was it that you gave your life to God? When were you saved? As Catholics, we don’t often ask these questions. They’re much more common among other Christians, but it’s helpful for us to reflect on what our answers would be. Have you given your life to God? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? One answer would be: at our baptism. At least that’s where it began for most of us. Even if we were infants, at our baptism, we began to participate, to take part in the life, death, and Resurrection, in the whole saving mystery of Jesus Christ. We were washed clean in His Most Precious Blood. But as we grow and develop as human beings, our faith and our response of faith need to grow and mature as well. When we’re able to think for ourselves and to make free choices and our own decisions, do we use that freedom to recommit ourselves to Christ, or do we stop following Jesus in any tangible way?

A few years ago, I attended a Catholic youth conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, with 43 young people from Sioux Falls. During one of the talks, the speaker led those of us who were willing, in a prayer and pledge, to stand and commit our lives to Jesus Christ. He warned us not to do this lightly, not to just do it because of the people around us, and not to feel pressured into it, but he invited us to freely commit our lives to Christ, if God had prepared us to do so at that time. Now this was a great thing, and a powerful moment for many who felt they had never really done something like that before, and we need to renew our commitment to Christ time and again in our own words or in words that we find fitting for the occasion.

But, as I listened to the speaker emphasize the seriousness of making this commitment to Christ, I couldn’t help but to find myself asking: Don’t we realize, as Catholics, that this is exactly what we’re doing, every time we go to Mass, recommitting our lives to Jesus Christ in an even more real way? Granted, it’s a serious thing to stand and speak your commitment to Christ at a youth conference, but I would say, it’s a more serious thing to become witnesses and participants in the eternal, saving sacrifice of the Son of God, renewed for us at every Mass upon this altar. And much more serious still is to come forward for Communion, to say “Amen, I believe,” to the very Body of Christ, and to receive Jesus Himself, the Holy One of God, into our own bodies.

Whether we realize it or not, in coming to Mass and in receiving Holy Communion, our actions and words make the proclamation that we belong to Jesus Christ, that we have been purchased at a price, ransomed for God by the Blood of His Son. We no longer belong to ourselves but to Him who died and rose again for our salvation. That’s what our words and actions proclaim at every Holy Communion, whether we realize it or not. Do we realize it? Is Jesus in the Eucharist truly the source and summit of our entire lives, or are we just mouthing the words, going through the motions?

Do we realize that when we stand together and profess the Creed on Sundays, when we stand and say together, “I believe in one God,” when we profess the faith of the Universal Church, the same faith for which thousands of martyrs gave up their property, freedom, and life, do we realize that we recommit ourselves to God in that moment and are meant to cling to that faith with the same fidelity as the countless martyrs who shed their blood for it? Do we realize that when we offer the bread and wine at Mass—and it’s not just the priest who offers the bread and wine, but the priest together with and on behalf of everyone here and of all the Church—that when we offer the bread and wine, we also offer our work, our joys, our sufferings, all our cares from throughout the week, and our very lives to be placed upon this altar, to be united to the one sacrifice of Christ, signified and made present here?

Do we realize what we do at each and every Mass? Do we say what we mean and mean what we say at Mass? Or do we just go through the motions? When we’re young or new at it, it’s important that we learn what to do and what to say during the Mass, the right responses and the postures and everything else, but as we grow and develop and are able to think and act intelligently, do we become more aware of what it is we’re actually saying and doing, or are we still infants in our faith? Most of us here graduated high school, maybe even had several more years of schooling after that, but how many of us are still around a 3rd or 5th grade level when it comes to our understanding of the catholic faith? Do we pay attention to the words and prayers of the Mass, so that we can understand what we’re doing, and pray intentionally, or are we just waiting for it to be over?

All of us here, decided to be at this Mass today. We each decided more or less freely, and perhaps for various reasons, but we’re here now, so let’s be here. Be present to what we’re doing here, to the prayers and actions and what it is that they mean. At every Mass, Jesus makes Himself really present to us. The question for us is: How much are we really present to Him?

Summer Sun

Bulletin Letter, Corpus Christi A

With the pandemic restrictions, it’s been harder for me to notice the weeks going by. The other day, I had a rude awaking to the fact that summer is almost here. I went for a long bike ride during the middle of the day without really thinking about the angle of the sun. By the time I realized, it was already too late. It’s nothing too serious, but the back of my right hand has definitely seen better days. I’m grateful for the time away at my parents’. There’s even a good stretch of Highway 20 that I find quite pleasant. On the way down, the heavy rain near Sioux Falls and Beresford also gave me a free car wash.

  1. Why when Adam and Eve sinned did he choose to kick the rest of us out of the Garden of Eden?

The Fall or Original Sin had consequences not just for our first parents but for everyone who would come after them and for all creation. They would pass on to their children a weakened human nature, less able to understand truth and to choose good, and with our affections and desires drawn towards evil rather than good by concupiscence. Likewise, disharmony and strife entered into the rest of the world as well. In that sense, the garden of Paradise could no longer be found on this earth.

St. Ambrose says that death was introduced as a remedy and that the Angel guarded the way to the tree of immortality to protect us. Now that sin and suffering had entered into the world and we had lost the grace of Original Justice, to live forever on earth would be unbearable.

  1. Why did Adam just stand there and not help Eve? He was supposed to protect EVERYTHING in the garden, right?

Most likely, he was deceived in the same way Eve was and did not recognize the serpent as a threat but allowed distrust of God to enter his own heart. It’s difficult for us to grasp how either of our first parents could have been deceived in such a way or induced towards envy and pride, seeing as they were much smarter and stronger than we are now, but even on our best days, we still find ourselves choosing to do what we know is wrong.

From Competition to Cooperation

Homily, Holy Trinity A

The Catholic tradition is rich in having lots of prayers with set words that can be committed to memory or read from a prayer book or from the Psalms or other parts of Scripture, or those composed by many marvelous Saints in the Church’s history. Of course, we can also pray to God in our own words or even without words at times, but it’s often helpful for us to use the same prayers that have nourished the faith of countless Catholics throughout the centuries, especially the Rosary, while meditating on its mysteries.

Now of all the set prayers that we have in the Catholic tradition, there is one that tends to stand out among the rest. This one single prayer has probably been said more often than any other, in the history of the world. This prayer is so powerful, that it has been the occasion of countless healings of mind and body. It has the power to cast out demons and to overcome all the false power of Satan, in the Church’s exorcisms. In Baptism and in the Sacrament of Confession, this prayer transforms sinners destined for the everlasting flames of hell, into sons and daughters of God, to become joint heirs with Christ and the Saints in the kingdom that has no end. This prayer is also so simple, that it’s probably the very first prayer that we learn as Catholics.

“In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” As I say the words of this prayer, your hand probably moves without thinking, because most often we pray this, as the Sign of the Cross. We might not even think of the Sign of the Cross as being a real prayer, because it’s just something we do before and after saying other prayers, or as we come into church, but the Sign of the Cross in the Name of the Most Holy Triune God is really one of the most powerful prayers that we ever say.

A good practice that some of us might have is to pray the Sign of the Cross before and after almost everything we do, when we wake up in the morning and before we go to sleep, as we begin driving in our cars and in thanksgiving for safe travels when we arrive at our destinations, when we begin our work or any particular task and once we bring it to completion. Have you ever considered how our lives might change if everything we did, and everything we thought or said would be done in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?

What does it mean to do something in the name of someone or something else? Even in popular culture, we use this phrase: To “stop/ in the name of love,” to experiment in the name of science, or to command in the name of the law. The phrase usually means to do something on someone else’s behalf or by their authority. Now it should seem incredible to us that we would be able to do anything on behalf of God or by His own authority. But this is the dignity that is given to us as His sons and daughters, to work more and more according to God’s will for our lives, to become His coworkers and cooperate with God in a real sense, as He works within us and around us, according to His power, wisdom, and love.

The theology of the Trinity can seem difficult to understand. We proclaim one God in three Persons. As a mystery, it always goes beyond what our minds can fully comprehend. But by revealing Himself to us as three Persons always in mutual relationship with one another—even from all eternity—by revealing Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God invites us to share in that relationship, in that love and fellowship, so that we all might be united in Him. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that genuine cooperation is possible. Distinct persons can work together as one, without rivalry and without ceasing to be who each one is, without the destruction of any one of them in favor of the others.

The unity that we see in God is the model for unity in all creation and especially within the Catholic Church and within the human family. No matter how different we are from one another—and some of us are really different—as a Christian able to act in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I am called to love my neighbor as myself, to love my neighbor as another self, to know that we’re all on the same team. That your good and health and happiness are bound up with my own. That we are ultimately not rivals or enemies, but we are in relationship with one another, whether we acknowledge it or not, and whether we like it or not.

When Jesus is asked in the Gospels to specify, “Who is my neighbor?” He replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Now at that time in history, for the Jews, the Samaritans were their sworn enemies, those who had interfered with their return from the Babylonian Exile and the rebuilding of the holy city Jerusalem and its temple. In the parable, Jesus holds up this Samaritan, this enemy of the Jews, as the example of what it means to be a loving neighbor, to help anyone in need. So no matter who it is or what group of people we just can’t stand, whoever we see as rivals or competitors, or inferiors or superiors, we are called to love them, to love them “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” because it is only by the power of God that we can overcome the divisions that exist within our Church and within our human family, the divisions that even now threaten to tear our country and its communities apart.

During this upcoming week, I encourage all of us to pray more often—and with greater attention—the Sign of the Cross, this most powerful prayer. When we are in the midst of temptation, it reminds us of God’s presence and the power that He gives us to overcome sin in our lives. When our mind is racing with anxiety or anger, the Sign of the Cross calms our thoughts and bring upon us the peace of God which surpasses understanding. When we become cynical and focused only on the negative aspects of life or the news, this prayer can lift our eyes to see the countless blessings around us, and the enduring faithfulness of God. At all times and in every place, may we strive with all the saints to think, say, and do everything “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

Travels and Corpus Christi

Bulletin Letter, Trinity Sunday A

Next weekend, my parents will celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary. We had planned a big gathering of the whole family, but that’s been postponed due to the pandemic. I’ll still be heading down to Elk Point this week to spend some time with them, though. I’m glad I’ll be back for the Feast of Corpus Christi and Eucharistic Processions.

It’s a great time to be begging our Blessed Savior for peace in the world, blessings upon our land and communities, and for intelligent reform wherever it is needed to law enforcement, the justice system, and the general dysfunction of our federal government and many major cities. I’ve always liked the Rabbi’s “blessing for the tsar” in Fiddler on the Roof. For us, the ‘tsar’ might represent any number of people in D.C. “May God bless and keep the tsar—far away from us!”

  1. If God was there forever, why did he stay in the dark for sooooo long?

God exists outside time because in Him “there is no variation or shadow of change” (James 1:17). In His divinity, God already was what He is and always will be. He is infinite Being and perfect Act. Before God created time, there was no time, so no succession of moments to make it seem like a long time. Even to speak of something being ‘before’ time existed is to try to use a temporal relation that ultimately doesn’t make much sense ‘before’ the existence of time.

In eternity, God was already doing what He continues to do and always will do, in the eternal relations between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: as God knows Himself perfectly, the Father gives all of His divinity to the Son, His eternal Word, and the Son receives all from the Father. And as God loves what He knows (Himself and all that He could create), the Holy Spirit proceeds in full divinity from the Father and the Son. But these “events,” too, are eternal, always occurring in God’s eternal “now” in a great dynamism, with no beginning and no end. A mystery that slips from our comprehension, as all that we have directly experienced is bound in time and space.

As for His being in the dark, just because material light did not exist yet, we do not normally understand God as existing in darkness. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). He is light because He sees and knows all, and in eternity, God sees and knows Himself perfectly with perfect clarity, perfect light. Again, the spiritual, intellectual light of the mind of God is different and far greater than the material light that we’re more familiar with, visible to our physical eyes.