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. 

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.

The Divine Proposal

Homily, Baptism of the Lord A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Son of God and Son of Mary

Homily, Mother of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the Face of God

Homily, Christmas Day

In my family growing up, I was the youngest of nine kids, and being the youngest, I was never around babies very much. I never really understood all the excitement that people tend to have about babies. They don’t really do all that much, besides eat, sleep, cry, and fill their diapers. So what’s the big deal, I thought? Probably some of my older siblings thought the same thing about me, when I showed up at home. What’s so great about him?

Today—if I counted them correctly—I have a total of 18 nieces and nephews, and as they get older, they definitely get involved in more activities than when they were just babies, but it has still always puzzled me why the Birth of Jesus at Christmas has become such a big celebration in the Church and in the world. All that happens is simply a change in location for the Baby Jesus. For nine months already, Jesus has been in the Virgin Mary’s womb. Now He’s out. But the really momentous event is what happened at the Annunciation, when Jesus was conceived by the power of Holy Spirit, the moment when God first became man and took our flesh upon Himself. That’s when everything changed for us and for all creation. So what’s so special about the Birth of Jesus?

In this world so full of darkness and pain, so full of violence and injustice, when our faith is frequently put to the test, it’s often not enough for us to simply believe that God is with us, even for us to know that Jesus is there, hidden away in the Virgin’s womb. The great desire of all the Saints of the Old Testament is still the deepest desire of every human heart. We want to actually see the face of God. Not just to know Him or to hear Him but to actually see Him with our own eyes. This is what we celebrate at Christmas, that “the grace of God has appeared” visibly to us, that in the features of the Christ Child, we see the Face of God Himself, the visible Image of the invisible God. Come, let us adore Him. Let us stand in silent wonder, that God has finally visited His people, shown His Face to us, and revealed His Glory.

And this is not just a privilege for His Holy Mother Mary, or St. Joseph, or the shepherds at the manger scene, or even all those who would be able to look upon the Face of Jesus during His earthly life. No. If we truly believe what we confess as Catholics, we know that each one of us is given the very same privilege at each and every Mass. That under the humble appearances of bread and wine, we truly look upon Christ Himself, made present to us, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Just as He once appeared humbly as a Baby born in a poor stable, so Jesus continues to reveal Himself to us as the humble Host upon the altar, the Victim of sacrifice for our salvation. As we gaze upon Jesus in the Eucharist, as we behold the Lamb of God, He is looking back at us. As we continue on in this world of darkness, and as the world around us threatens day by day to grow even darker, our life of faith needs this visible reassurance. We need to see God, to look upon Him with our own eyes in this Eucharist, every Sunday, even every day, we need His Presence.

In the new year of 2020, why not all of us make one resolution together, together as a parish, as a diocese, as a Catholic Church throughout the world, and a resolution that we’ll actually keep and hold each other accountable for, the resolution to grow in our devotion to Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in silent adoration of His Presence in every tabernacle of the world? To extend this grace of Christmas throughout the entire year and to seek the Face of the God of Jacob, especially every Sunday. Nothing else has the power to bring peace to the world today. No one else can motivate us to a more genuine service and concern for the poor and the abandoned. Nothing else is going to matter quite so much at the end of our lives, as how we responded to the Face of Christ present in our midst. A Child is born for us, a Son is given us. On this altar, our God reveals His Face to us again. Come, let us adore Him.

Keep Mass in Christmas

Bulletin Letter, Advent Sunday 4A

The other day I came across this phrase online. Of course, we are all probably familiar with the campaign to “Keep Christ in Christmas” that warns against Christmas being reduced to commercialism, economic stimulus, and empty sentimentalism, often missing the fact that the real miracle of this season is that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” God became man in Jesus Christ and changed human history for ever.

But to “keep Mass in Christmas” recalls that the main celebration of this or any other holiday (holy-day) is to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is where the suffix –mas comes from. Other examples include Candlemas on February 2, now the Feast of the Lord’s Presentation in the Temple, which includes a blessing of candles. Michaelmas is September 29, now the Feast of the Three Archangels. Other names for holydays that are used even less frequently include Martinmas on November 11 for St. Martin, Hallowmas on November 1 for All Saints, and Childermas on December 28 for the Holy Innocents.

The only “sacraments” or “liturgy” that seems to still be part of pop cultural observances of Christmas include gift exchanges, caroling, baking unhealthy, sugary snacks, and the ritual lighting of Christmas trees. I always found the “lighting” of the Christmas tree outside in the garden after it had dried out to be much more impressive, flames engulfing and making very short work of it. All this pales in comparison to offering the Flesh of God upon our altars and being fed by Him who is “a consuming Fire” (Hebrews 12:29).

Every Sunday is a holy day for Christians, and the main way we’re called to keep the Lord’s Day holy is by coming to Mass. If we’re too busy even for that, we’re too busy. Period. I’d hate for any of us to stand before the Lord on Judgment Day and say, “Well, lots of other Catholics and non-Catholics didn’t go every Sunday or holy day, either.” Since when has the Christian standard been reduced to what’s common or widely accepted? You know better.

Keep Mass in Christmas and on every Sunday and holy day of obligation, so that we can stand without shame in the presence of God at the end of our lives as we give an accounting, not for anyone else, but for our own conduct and how we’ve made use of what was entrusted to us by God. That we may know the joy that comes not from health, wealth, or success, but the joy that comes uniquely from God, the peace that the world cannot give nor ever take away. A very Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Jesus is the One

Homily, Advent Sunday 3C

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” You may have noticed by now that I am not the most expressive or energetic person in the world. I have a very German ethnicity, and even though people often tell me that I should smile more, it still feels very strange or even creepy to me to smile at other people for no apparent reason. I’ve also determined—and the Masses I sometimes have in Hoven at 7:20 am have confirmed—that I’m not really a morning person. It’s not until about 9 am that I start to hit my stride. If you do ever see me smiling a lot at in the morning, please call someone, as I will probably be in need of immediate medical attention. In general, I find that I can communicate most of what I want to express just by using my eyebrows. 

On this Gaudete Sunday, we’re more than halfway done with Advent. We light the rose-colored candle of the Advent wreath and wear rose vestments as a way of anticipating Christmas joy. And we’re told to rejoice, to rejoice in the Lord, not just to be superficially happy or silly, or artificially smiley, but to recognize and to give thanks to God for all the marvels He has done. In the Gospel, John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the One who is to come, or should we look for another?” Are you the Messiah? Are you the answer to the hopes of all Israel, the answer to the hopes and dreams of every person on the earth? Or should we keep looking for something or someone else? 

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” Jesus is the answer and fulfillment of every human hope. Jesus is the healing for every wound and affliction we can experience. Jesus is the One, the only One, who can bring us to life from the dead. Yet how often we keep looking for someone else, for something else to bring us peace, to bring us joy, to bring fulfillment and meaning to our lives! Are you the One who is to come, or should we look for another? Jesus is the One. So stop looking elsewhere! No one else and nothing else can fill you the way that Jesus wants to feed you in this Eucharist. 

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son” to die for our sins upon the Cross, so that we might have eternal life. And yet so often we act as though that’s not good enough. We want money. We want success. We want pleasure. God offers us His own life, the opportunity to become sons and daughters of God and to live forever. And we settle for living only for today. He offers us citizenship with the Saints in heaven, and we settle for trying to fit in and make a name for ourselves in a dying world. Jesus offers us the peace that the world cannot give, and we settle for merely avoiding conflict and argument, and ignoring the problems we’d rather not face or deal with. 

What are you looking for in a Messiah? If you were to ask that question of Jesus, “Are you the One who is to come, or should we look for another?” what answer from Jesus would actually satisfy you? “The blind regain their sight.” So what? Why should I care? I can already see. But do we see and understand things as clearly as we think we do? “The lame walk.” Who cares? I can walk just fine. But do we walk and conduct ourselves as we really should? “Lepers are cleansed.” I take a shower every day. But are we really as clean as we know we could be? “The deaf hear.” Do we listen as we really should, and can we recognize God’s voice when He speaks? “The dead are raised to life.” We are alive, but are we really living? Do we often find life burdensome? And if we do, have we learned to find rest in God? “Come to Me, all you who labor and are weary, and I will give you rest,” says the Lord. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me. For I am meek and humble of heart. And you will find rest for your souls.” 

Jesus is the One. There is no other. Looking elsewhere for someone or something else will never bring us the rest that we seek, the joy that we desire. What is it that you’re looking for? And not just on the surface, but what is your heart longing for? And if you haven’t found it yet in Jesus, look again. 

Keep Watch and Pray

Homily, Advent Sunday 1A

Seems like every year they start playing Christmas music on the radio earlier and earlier. I think the Hallmark Christmas movies started playing back at the end of October, and they’ve continued, uninterrupted ever since. Listening to Christmas music or watching Christmas movies before Christmas is not necessarily a problem, but it can distract us from really appreciating and entering into the unique graces of the liturgical season that we begin today, the season of Advent. Even as we shouldn’t be chowing down on chocolate rabbits in the middle of Lent as we prepare for Easter, a certain amount of restraint is appropriate during this time of preparation for Christmas. 

Advent was the last liturgical season to develop in the Church’s history, as a penitential season leading up to the full joy of Christmas, just as Lent is meant to prepare us for Easter. The name Advent simply means ‘coming,’ and the season focuses on three moments when Christ comes to meet us. As we begin Advent, and for the next couple weeks as reflected in our readings at Mass, the focus is on the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the world and the judgment that each of us will face at the end of our lives. Only with the Third Sunday of Advent the focus will shift to Christ’s First Coming into our world, as a baby in Bethlehem.  

That First Coming of Christ in weakness at the First Christmas was in the past, and the Second Coming of Christ in power and glory will be in the future. The third moment that Christ comes to us is in the present, today, through grace and the Sacraments, even right now in this Holy Mass. God’s work in our world and history is not just a thing of the past or of the future, but God wants to transform us today, and in every present moment through the coming of His Messiah into our lives. 

Now because Advent focuses on the fulfillment of God’s promises, His promises to the people of Israel long ago, Christ’s promise to return at the end of time, and His promise to give us new life here and now, the virtue that we should especially foster during this season is hope. Christian hope desires and obtains what God promises to give. There are many things that we hope for, even on a natural level, and God is generous in pouring out His blessings upon us, even if we do have to suffer from time to time. But even more than the blessings of health, food, shelter, and education, or any other good thing, God especially wants to give us Himself, in this Eucharist, in the communion of prayer, and ultimately in the eternal life of heaven. 

So how do we go about exercising our desire for God and His gifts during this Advent season? Most people are familiar with the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and most Catholics try to give up something or do something extra throughout the season of Lent, but do we ever commit ourselves to doing something special throughout the season of Advent? During Advent, the focus is not so much on fasting or almsgiving, but we are called to “Stay awake!” to keep watch and to pray, even as the readings remind us today. “Stay sober and alert.”  

very appropriate practice for Advent is to keep vigil, to spend some extra time in prayer and in silence, especially in the darkness of night or early morning. We observe in nature, at least in the northern hemisphere, that this is the darkest time of the year with the shortest days of sunlight. True Christian hope waits with patience and perseverance even in the darkness, for the dawning of the Light of Christ. In nature, this is also the most quiet time of the year, all except for the windThe rest of creation waits with us in silence for its renewal in Christ Jesus. During this season of Advent, we might make more of an effort to shut off the radio and the podcasts, to shut off the TVs and the Netflix to make more time for genuine silence and for prayer, for waiting and watching with patience and hope for the Advent of Christ our Savior. 

How often do we really think about heaven and what it’s going to be like? To exercise our desire for the coming of God’s kingdom? Every time we pray the Our Father, we prayThy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven, but many of us have grown quite comfortable with our lives on earth, living very often according to our own will, rather than God’s. And we’re not all that eager for Christ to return. Something for us to consider today is whether we actually look forward to the end of the world with hope, or do we dread it with fear? If the return of Christ at the end of the world or at the end of our lives is something we fear, how might God be inviting us to change and to be transformed, so that our outlook can be infused with Christian hope? Please do what you can to make this Advent season special, to make it an opportunity to step back from the busyness of the world, to wait and watch in darkness and in silence for the coming of Christ into every moment of our daily lives. Stay awake! Keep watch and pray! 

The First Thanksgiving

Bulletin Letter, Christ the King C

During my assignment at the Cathedral in Sioux Falls, one of the other priests there started a small garden next to the rectory, growing basil, peppers, and tomatoes. Every so often, he would use a very fragrant fertilizer made from fish parts. If you’re familiar with the story of the first Thanksgiving, you’ll recall that the Native American Squanto taught the Pilgrims to plant their crops along with placing fish in the ground for fertilizer. This helped them to even have a harvest to celebrate Thanksgiving in October of 1621. What we probably don’t realize, and what most history books don’t mention, is that the feast in 1621 among English settlers was actually not the first Thanksgiving Feast held in what is now the United States.

The First was actually celebrated among Spanish settlers near what would become St. Augustine in Florida on September 8, 1565, more than half a century earlier. After making it to shore, the chaplain of the expedition, Fr. Francisco Lopez, celebrated Mass (the word ‘Eucharist’ comes from the Greek for ‘Thanksgiving’) to give praise and thanks to God for a safe voyage. Being September 8, they celebrated in honor of the Birthday of Mary, the Mother of God (nine months after the observance of her Immaculate Conception on December 8).

After Mass, Fr. Lopez ordered that the natives from the Timucua tribe be fed along with the Spanish settlers. That first Thanksgiving meal consisted of the supplies of the voyage, salted pork, garbanzo beans, ship’s bread, and red wine—after the Body and Blood of Christ received during Mass, of course. The meal may have also included Caribbean foods collected when they made a stop in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on their way to Florida. If the Timucua natives contributed food, it would have likely included corn, fresh fish, berries, or beans.

Even the presence of Squanto and what he did to aid the survival of the Pilgrims leading up to the later English Thanksgiving was due in part to the help of Spanish Catholics. Squanto had been taught English and trained as an interpreter by settlers from previous expeditions in New England, but one of the officers took him back to Europe and planned to sell him into slavery. Franciscan friars in Spain found Squanto and ensured his freedom, instructed him in the faith, and likely baptized him. He later made his way to England, where he worked as a shipbuilder while improving his English. He joined an expedition to return home, where the Pilgrims would meet him a year later at Plymouth.

This Thanksgiving, we praise God for the many blessings He continues to share with us, our families, our friends, our State and country. We thank Him especially for the great gift of our Catholic faith, the salvation Christ won for us, and the nourishment He provides in His own Body and Blood in the Eucharist, that First and most awesome Thanksgiving meal.

Faithful to the Living God

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 33C

The end is near. Keep watch, and be ready. It’s likely that every generation has had members who were convinced that the end of the world was going to take place within their own lifetime. I was able to find a list of the different dates and years that have been predicted as the end of the world, many of which were even proposed by Christians. One hundred and seventy-four predictions that have come and gone, and the world keeps spinning. No doubt there have been many, many other predictions that are not found on that list that have also not come true. The signs that Jesus talks about in the Gospel, “wars and insurrections,” nation rising “against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” … “powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place, and awesome sights and mighty signs” from the sky, we know that all these things Jesus mentions have been part of every age in human history, and our own is not all that unique. 

Still, today, there are many convinced that the end is finally near, whether from climate change or even because of signs and events in the Catholic Church. If you don’t pay much attention to news coming out of Rome these days, you’ll probably have a more peaceful life. But those who have been watching are no doubt aware of different controversies that arose during the recent Amazon Synod.  

The most noteworthy was probably the allowance at the synod and events connected to the synod of a certain image that came to be known by the name of Pachamama, the name of a fertility goddess revered by indigenous Amazonians. Wood carvings of this image were present at an opening tree-planting ceremony in the Vatican Gardens, in which participants formed a circle with the Pachamama image at the center and bowed themselves to the ground toward it. The images were also present in a church just down the road from St. Peter’s while the synod was going on. The images were at one point taken out of the church by a Catholic man and thrown off a bridge into the Tiber River nearby. They were later recovered. The person who threw them into the river did so because he thought this was a clear instance of idolatry that had been allowed into the Vatican and into a Catholic church. Those looking for signs of the end times might point to such things as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel, the “abomination of desolation” set up in God’s holy Temple. 

Now I don’t personally have intimate knowledge of the history of Pachamama in the Amazonian missions or what the participants in the tree-planting ceremony would say they were doing, what significance bowing to the ground towards any statue has in their culture, or who or what they would say was being depicted by those wooden statues, so I can’t say with 100% certainty that it was a case of pagan idolatry, but from the outside it definitely looks that way to many Catholics.  

Perhaps the most troubling thing about the whole affair was the response from members of the Vatican press office, even from bishops and priests in that office. One explanation they gave is that we shouldn’t see the images as pagan or sacred, neither depicting Pachamama nor Our Blessed Mother Mary, but merely as symbols of womanhood, life, fertility, mother earth, etc. But then, my question would be, where else in a Catholic context would it ever be appropriate to pray to or venerate symbols of abstract concepts or inanimate objects? Seems to me that’s the very definition of idolatry. As Catholics, we pray to persons, to conscious beings, to the angels, to the saints, to those who can hear and respond to our prayers and intercede for us. We pray to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Source of every blessing, and we worship Him alone. Mother earth is not a person. She’s not listening. There were lots of people who would pray to “symbols of fertility.” Every pagan, naturalist religion has used fertility idols, but these are the very false gods that the First Commandment absolutely prohibits.  

So when what’s at stake in allowing the Pachamama image or whatever it was into the Vatican or into a Catholic church, when what is at stake is the false worship that was punished with death in the Old Testament, and then the explanation is just that these should be seen as symbols of life and fertility, if there’s any doubt at all, any possibility that this even could be idolatry to the false goddess of Pachamama or any other false god, then it shouldn’t have been allowed on Vatican grounds or in any Catholic church. And the fact that the Vatican spokesmen seemed confused as to why this seemed like such a big deal to so many Catholics makes clear that they really don’t understand what is at stake. 

I certainly hope that no one here is in the habit of praying to or bowing down to a football or to a volleyball, or any symbol of sportsmanship. I hope we understand what’s at stake and strive to offer true worship to God alone. May the Holy Trinity continue to purify us from all our idols and false gods and give us perseverance to live the true faith, even when we are handed over, as Jesus says, “by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,” by members of our own household of faith, even to death. The most bitter persecution of the Catholic Church is the persecution that comes from within, persecution from our own fellow Catholics. Whether the end of the world is near or not, the end of each of our lives will come “on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour.” Stay faithful to Christ above all. Persevere to the end, and you will have life without end.