Signs and Symbols of a Bishop

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 7A

I’ve heard from a number of you that you saw me on TV or YouTube as you watched our new Bishop’s Ordination and Installation. For those who didn’t see it, it’s still available online. I’ve been able to attend several ordinations of deacons and priests by now, but the Ordination of a Bishop obviously happens much less often. There are many common elements, like the laying on of hands, which takes place also for those becoming deacons and priests, but others are reserved only for bishops.

As the prayer of ordination was pronounced by the bishops present, two deacons held the Book of the Gospels open over Bishop-elect DeGrood’s head, emphasizing his duty to faithfully hand on the Gospel in its entirety, always placing himself at the service of the Gospel, rather than “peddling the word of God for profit” as so many false apostles did even in the time of St. Paul (2 Cor. 2:17). A new priest has his hands anointed, pointing to the sacred power of changing bread and wine into the Body of Blood of Jesus in the hands of a priest. A new bishop has the top of his head anointed with Sacred Chrism (always a sign of the Holy Spirit). We pray that he’s given the wisdom of God for teaching, governing, and sanctifying as he serves all the people of the diocese as their head and shepherd.

Rings have long been used in weddings as a pledge of love and fidelity. A new bishop is also given a ring, and he is to care for the Church in his diocese as for a beloved bride. Even in Eastern Churches that allow married men to be ordained as priests, only celibate, unmarried men are able to become bishops, reinforcing this sense that a bishop, specifically, is “married” to the Church, even as Christ Himself is Bridegroom of the Church. The miter is the pointy hat worn by bishops, the two halves of which symbolize both the Old and the New Testaments, which are to serve as the Bishop’s horns in battle against error and sin. The crozier is his shepherd’s staff, usually with a curved top to hook straying sheep and drag them back to safety.

The Installation refers to the new Bishop’s officially taking up office in the diocese, signified by his being seated in his cathedra, the word for the Bishop’s chair, for which all cathedral churches are named. May God bless our new Bishop with many years of ministry and help him to embrace his new home and family in South Dakota.

No More Catholic Buts

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 6A

When I was studying theology in Rome, one of our professors was from Poland, and he talked about three different approaches to the role that the law has in people’s lives, as illustrated by the legal systems of three different countries. He said that in France, by and large, all things are allowed except what the law prohibits. And this is probably the healthiest approach for human beings. The law is there to point out the pitfalls and blind alleys, but otherwise allows for a great measure of freedom. The term ‘laissez-faire,’ live and let live, is French in origin. In Germany, the trend is, instead, that all things are prohibited except for what the law allows, so kind of the reverse of France. In Germany the law tends to exercise a lot more control over people’s lives. Now in Italy, the approach has usually been that all things are allowed, especially what the law prohibits.

In our own lives, because of the rebellion in our hearts, many of us can tend to have a very Italian approach to what we decide to do, and telling us not to do something often just makes us want to do it more. I think back to when I was a teenager—I often just couldn’t imagine that my parents had any idea of what they were talking about, at least when it came to understanding what I wanted or how I should live my life. Now it didn’t take me too many years to figure out that my parents were actually right about a great many things, but how often do we take the same stance when it comes to God and His Church, questioning the wisdom of God’s Law for us and the teachings of our holy Mother Church? What would God know about what I’m going through, about my desires, and what it means to be human? What does the Catholic Church know about how I should live my life, or what will bring me happiness and fulfillment?

In the Gospel today, Jesus presents a very high standard for those who choose to follow Him in carrying out the fullness of God’s Law and wisdom. To help us avoid the pitfalls and blind alleys of this life, Jesus calls us to put away from our hearts not only sinful actions, but also those things that lead us into sin, the anger and resentment, lust and self-indulgence, boastfulness and deceit. But as St. Paul tells us, God’s Law is a mysterious and hidden wisdom, “not a wisdom of this age nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.” So in the eyes of the worldly, God’s Law is always incomprehensible and seen as hopelessly oppressive, but to those who know the power and wisdom of God through His Holy Spirit, His Law is our freedom and joy.

God created us. God knows us, and He knows what He made us for, and in Jesus Christ, who became man and walked in our flesh, God knows us intimately, from the inside, what it means to be human, and what our humanity is really capable of, through the power of His Holy Spirit. God knows that simply to follow the crowd according to the standards of this passing world can never truly satisfy us. God made us for more. God offers us more. Through the Catholic Church, which draws upon more than 2,000 years of human experience, God continues to call us on to something greater than what the world offers, and through the power of the Sacraments, God gives us the grace we need to truly follow Christ, even when it is difficult, even when we don’t fully understand.

Still, the world is all too full of those we might call “Catholic buts,” people who say things like, “Well, I’m Catholic, but I disagree with the Church’s teachings on contraception, or gay marriage, or needing to go to Mass every Sunday,” or “I’m Catholic, but I don’t let that affect how I vote or how I live my life outside of Mass.” The world doesn’t need any more Catholic buts. We have far too many already. The world needs Catholics today who will embrace and strive to live and understand all that the Church teaches, everything that God has revealed for our salvation and our true freedom, even and especially when it is difficult and when it differs from what the world is telling us. I don’t often need the Church telling me I’m wrong where I already know I’m wrong. I need the Church to tell me I’m wrong in those areas where I think I’m right.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” When we encounter what seems difficult in the high standards of Christ and His Church, how often do we give up on them before we’ve even started? Reject them and think ourselves wiser than God and His Church, even before we’ve bothered to understand why the Church teaches what she does? God grant that our hearts be opened in faith and trust, to the mysterious wisdom of His Law in the teachings of our loving Mother, the Catholic Church, to keep us clear from the pitfalls and blind alleys—the slavery to sin—that the world offers us, so that we might safely reach, at last, our eternal home.

To the Apostles and Rome

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 6A

With our new Bishop Donald DeGrood installed this past Thursday, it’s a good opportunity for us to reflect on what a bishop is and why we need one. Even in the time of Moses, his brother Aaron served as the first high priest in the tent or tabernacle that housed the Ark of the Covenant during their travels through the desert. Aaron’s sons assisted their father as fellow priests in offering sacrifices, while the rest of Aaron’s tribe (the Levites) assisted with various other tasks connected with the sacred things while not as directly involved in the priestly duties of Aaron and his sons. This model of sacred ministry persisted through the centuries even as King Solomon constructed the first Temple in Jerusalem: one high priest, several assisting priests, and the Levites.

When Jesus founded the Church upon the Apostles, and as the Church spread from Jerusalem to other cities, they would establish three degrees of ordained ministry as well. The first we read about in the New Testament are the deacons (from the NT Greek diakonoi, “servants,” Cf. Acts 6). Initially tasked with “serving at table” impoverished widows so that the Apostles could concentrate on prayer and proclaiming the Gospel, deacons correspond most readily to the Levites of the Old Testament. Next, we hear of the Apostles Paul and Barnabas appointing priests (presbyteroi, “elders,” Acts 14:23) in each city as they returned from their first missionary journey, to govern the Church in their absence. Eventually, as the Apostles themselves began to be martyred, each major city would have one high priest, a bishop (episkopos, “overseer”) and successor to the Apostles.

Bishop DeGrood now serves as our visible link through all the centuries of the Church to the Apostles and Jesus Himself. He is also our link to the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, who rightly presides over all other bishops as successor to St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles. Rome is also where St. Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, shed his blood for Christ, and at the time of Jesus, Rome was the capital of the known world.

All the ministry carried out by other priests and deacons in each diocese is done as under the authority of and in communion with the local Bishop and the Pope, the two who are mentioned by name in the prayers of every Mass. Through them, we belong to “one flock and one shepherd,” the one Church of Christ spread throughout the world and down through the centuries (John 10:16).

Performance Reviews

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 5A

My dad likes to give me a hard time. He says that because I started seminary right out of high school and now that I’m a priest, I’ve never actually had a real job. And sometimes, I tend to agree with him. I never had to go through an interview or give references to be appointed as pastor here in Hoven or in Bowdle. And I haven’t really sat down with the bishop to go through my job description and evaluate how things are going since I started here. During seminary, I had yearly evaluations and discussions of my progress in spiritual, pastoral, academic, and human formation, but now a lot of the formality of that process is no longer there. I do hope to continue to grow and be challenged and held accountable by God in my ministry and in my life of prayer.

The Gospel today challenges each one of us to take seriously the work and the mission that we have received from God as followers, disciples of Christ. “You are the salt of the earth.…You are the light of the world,” and “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” If you had to meet with God today, to evaluate your job performance as a Catholic Christian, how do you think you would do? I, for one, would probably be more than a little nervous. Am I really making good use of the time, talent, and treasure that God has entrusted to me, to bring glory to His Name?

Our first reading from Isaiah provides us with the main outline of what we might call a job description for us as the light of the world. For a fuller description, we should call to mind all the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. First, the corporal or physical works of mercy: to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked and shelter the homeless, to visit the sick or imprisoned, and to bury the dead. How often in my life do I proclaim the Gospel of Christ by participating in these concrete acts of God’s mercy? When was the last time that I volunteered to serve the poor and vulnerable, or visited someone in the hospital or nursing home, or even those in the prison? Or wrote them a letter? When was the last time I gave clothing to the poor, when I have so much in my closet at home that I never really wear?

Next, the spiritual works of mercy can be even more challenging for us: to instruct the ignorant and advise those in doubt, to admonish sinners and to comfort the afflicted, to bear wrongs patiently and to forgive offenses willingly, and to pray for the living and for the dead. How often do I really bear witness to God’s truth in the midst of a culture of relativism that often tells us, “Believe whatever you like”? To actually warn the sinner about his sin, to have enough concern for the good of his soul, and enough courage to risk the tension of a conversation about those behaviors and choices that we recognize as unhealthy and unholy? Or how readily do we participate in gossip without regard for the dignity of those that we talk about? How long do I hold onto grudges, instead of growing in real patience and forgiveness with those who wrong me?

The world around us is in desperate need of the Light of Christ. Our homes, our schools, our workplaces, every relationship, and every human being need the Light of Christ. How well are we doing in our work and mission of spreading that Light through these spiritual and corporal works of mercy? The mission entrusted to you by God is not about doing more here at the church or at parish functions. It’s not about being an usher, or an extraordinary minister of Communion, or a musician or choir member, or a reader, greeter or server, or any other of those good things that we might volunteer to do here at church. Your primary mission is to bring the Light of Christ that you receive in the Word of God and in this Eucharist, to bring that Light out into the world, into your families, to your coworkers, into all your relationships, into every day and moment of your week, to spread that Light to everyone through the works of mercy.

God grant us the grace to be stirred into action, by the fire of the Holy Spirit, to stop waiting around for someone else or for some other saint, but to become saints ourselves and fulfill our mission of bringing the Light of Christ to everyone that we meet.

Septuagesima: It won’t be long now…

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 5A

As I was growing up, my parents always just called each other Mom and Dad, so you can imagine my surprise the other day when I found out that my mom actually has a first name of her own. And if I mention that my parents now have a dog from Kansas named Toto, you might even be able to guess what my mom’s name is. What brings it to mind is that St. Dorothy’s feast day was this past Thursday, February 6, which I actually knew this year before my mom mentioned it.

I’ve been learning more about the old calendar of feasts and which Saints died on each day as I read the Roman Martyrology. It’s fascinating to learn just a bit about these Saints, sometimes only their names, but each representing a life given over to Christ. Also on the old calendar of feasts, today’s Mass wouldn’t just be another Sunday in Ordinary Time. It was actually the beginning of a sort of pre-Lenten season. As Lent refers to the approximately 40 days prior to Easter, Septuagesima Sunday comes from the Greek word for 70, being about 70 days from the Octave of Easter.

This Pre-Lent is observed in various ways. It’s good to begin considering what we plan to give up or to do as extra prayer, fasting, and almsgiving when we reach Ash Wednesday, now less than 3 weeks away. You might even try some of your penances out in advance, to try and ease yourself into it. On the other hand, perhaps more common is to observe the next few weeks as the season of carnival, culminating with Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday.” Anticipating the long days of penance that Lent would bring, people made sure to get their feasting in beforehand, also an occasion in many places for parades, dancing, and music.

However we decide to spend these final weeks before Lent, it goes quickly. Don’t let Ash Wednesday catch you off guard this year. Spend some time in prayer, really asking God what He would like you to do, so that you and our parish and our Catholic Church throughout the world can experience a real renewal this year, as we look forward to the matchless gift of our salvation, the victory of Life over death, the Resurrection of Jesus, our Easter Joy. Renewal in the Church and in our state and country begins with your relationship with Jesus Christ.

Bucket List from God

Homily, Feast of Presentation

I’m not sure how long ago it was that I first heard about the concept of a bucket list, but I’ve never thought much of it, let alone compiled one for myself. For those who aren’t aware, it’s a list of things that you want to do or accomplish or places you want to visit before kicking the bucket, before you die. Another related phrase that’s come into usage is yolo, which stands for, “you only live once,” which could just be another way of saying, “Carpe diem” or “seize the day.”

Bucket lists and these other phrases can bring more into focus for us the question of, what makes for a meaningful life. What makes a human life worthwhile? And where do our answers to these questions come from? “You haven’t really lived till you’ve eaten this particular dish, or gone skydiving or bungie jumping or visited this amazing destination.” Does true life merely consist in chasing experiences or traveling the world or reaching a certain place in a career? And is it God telling us these things, or do we receive our direction in life, our desires, our goals and ambitions, more from the evil one, or the standards of this passing world?

The old man Simeon, who receives the Infant Jesus in his arms today, as Joseph and Mary present the Child in the Temple, Simeon seemed to have just one thing left on His own bucket list. The Holy Spirit had told him that he would not see death before he had seen the Christ. And as he finally sees with his own eyes the Christ Child in the Temple, and bears witness to the salvation that has come for all the nations of the earth, he prays to God, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word.” Now that I’ve seen the Light of Christ, I’m ready to die. How often is it that we ask God what He wants for us in this life? What are the items that He would place on our bucket list? And by the end of our lives, what kind of legacy are we going to be leaving behind?

A few years ago, I attended a funeral, and the deceased had been cremated, so I knew there wouldn’t be a full casket present, but I was surprised and disappointed with what was chosen as a final receptacle for the ashes. Right up in front of the altar was a fairly cheap, plastic, tackle box. And inside that tackle box was placed the cremains of the one who had died. Now I don’t know who had arranged for this, if it was part of the wishes of the deceased, but it just seemed so strange to me, and reductive of the meaning and value of a human life. I’m absolutely certain that there was much more to this man than the fact that he liked fishing, and I hope that for each one of us, there’ll be much more that people remember at the end of our lives than just one of our hobbies or a devotion to a certain sports team. Will they remember the times that they saw the Light of Christ in us?

All of us here have received much more than Simeon or Anna during their lifetimes. Not just to look upon Christ with our eyes but to become one with Him through the waters of baptism, to share in Christ’s own identity as sons and daughters of God. And most of us here have also eaten His Flesh and Blood, we’ve received His Soul and Divinity in Holy Communion. Do we really believe that we’ve already received the fullness of Life in this great Sacrament? That there’s nothing greater that we’ll ever do or accomplish, that at every Mass heaven itself comes to visit us, and there’s no greater place we’ll ever be in this life? Does receiving Communion change us and transform our priorities? Or for the rest of the week, do we just go back to living as if we’d never seen the Christ?

You only live once. But you will also live, somewhere, for all eternity. What legacy are we leaving by how we’re living today? And could we be living for something more? Something more meaningful, more lasting, more divine? Jesus is the Life of our life. Don’t let it pass you by without living for Him.

Forty Hours Devotion

Bulletin Letter, Candlemas

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

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

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

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

Stuck Together by God

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 3A

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

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

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

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

Why I’m Pro-Life

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 3A

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

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

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

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

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

Use Your Words

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 2A

A few years ago, in a small town much like this one or others in South Dakota, a new postmaster arrived in town, so everyone—as they visited the post office to pick up their mail or to drop things off—was introducing themselves. Towards the end of the week, the local parish priest came to pick up the mail for his parishes. He introduced himself and asked how the new postmaster was settling into town, if he was able to find everything he needed, where he was moving from, how their town compared, and other points of interest like the weather. As the priest finished speaking with him and turned to go, the new postmaster said, “Father, aren’t you forgetting something?” The priest replied, “Do I have a package that I need to pick up?”

“Well, no, but aren’t you going to invite me to come to Mass on Sunday?” The priest was sort of embarrassed and said something about not realizing he was Catholic, but the postmaster went on to say, “Just so you know, Father, since I arrived in town, several members of each of the other churches, the Lutherans, the Methodists, the Baptists, I’ve already had several of each invite me to join them for their Sunday worship service, and they didn’t seem too concerned to know whether I was of the same faith tradition or not. They just wanted to share what they found valuable in their own lives. But you know, Father, not even one Catholic that has been through here this week has invited me to join them for Mass on Sunday.”

When was the last time that we shared our faith by simply inviting someone to come to Mass with us, to pray the rosary with us, to come to Confession with us? Have we ever invited anyone else into God’s Wedding Feast, the Supper of the Lamb that we celebrate every Sunday or even every day? In the Gospel today, St. John the Baptist bears witness to One greater than himself, the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. John testifies that Jesus is the Son of God. How often do we actually bear witness to Christ in our words and actions?

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

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

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

The riches of the Catholic faith are truly meant for all. If there are roughly 7 billion people in the world, and just over a billion Catholics—and of those only a small portion that really believes and practices the faith—what does that mean for us? It means that there are still an awful lot of people in the world that should become Catholic. So, let’s get to work.