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.

Returning to the Ordinary

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 2A

As classes continue to settle back into their regular routines and as the thermometer reaches new lows, I’m grateful for all the blessings experienced during the Christmas season. Thank you for all the prayers, gifts, and support you have offered for me over the course of these holy days. It is a busy time for everyone, I am sure, but also a very blessed time. I am also thankful for your patience with me. Though I am still young, my own pace of life is often more reminiscent of someone much more elderly. Your support and thoughtfulness is very much appreciated.

We return now to what is called on the Church’s calendar Ordinary Time or in Latin tempus per annum, “time through the year,” but I prefer the older terminology of Time after Epiphany. Epiphany means “manifestation” and “revelation” of God, and throughout Ordinary Time we should continue seeking the face of Christ, watching for where He shows up in our daily lives, and thanking God for the many epiphanies of His grace and truth that happen even in the midst of our regular routines, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

This week, I’ll be headed to Sioux Falls to wish Bishop Swain a happy retirement and to thank him for his many years of service to our diocese. As a high school senior interested in the priesthood, I was actually able to attend his own Consecration and Installation back in October of 2006. Certainly a lot has happened in the more than 13 years since then. The most time I spent with the Bishop—mostly silent, on the road—was during my previous assignment as the Diocesan Master of Ceremonies and the Bishop’s Driver. As far as I know, Bishop Swain plans to retire in Sioux Falls and serve, as he is able, as a chaplain in the Veterans Hospital. He had served in the military during Vietnam.

Please continue to pray for him in the weeks and months ahead and for a smooth start for Bishop-elect Donald DeGrood, set to be consecrated and installed on February 13, the day before his own 55th birthday.

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?

More than Leftovers

Homily, Epiphany

As we begin the new year 2020, many of us take the opportunity to look ahead and mark on our calendars the significant events and celebrations of friends and family, including birthdays, weddings, graduations, but how often do we look forward to the celebrations we will share together as the family of God? Today, the light of God’s glory has been revealed to the nations, as the three magi arrive to adore the Christ Child and to see His Mother. That light and revelation of God will only increase throughout the year, as we celebrate the mystery of the Cross, the saving death of Christ, foreshadowed even today in the gift of myrrh, and as the overwhelming light of the Resurrection dawns upon us at Easter, to scatter all darkness and to destroy sin and death forever.

God has big plans for us this year, as He does every year, if we are willing to spend it with Him, if we strive to place Jesus at the center of our families, at the center of marriages, at the center of all that we do in school, at work, in our free time. Jesus is Emmanuel, God-with-us, and He wants to be with us always. Do we welcome His Presence? Or does Jesus take a back seat to so many other things in our lives? Do we fill our schedules only to give God what is left over, if there is anything left? At the bidding of a star, the three magi uprooted their entire lives. They put all their other plans on hold, to walk hundreds of miles just for a chance to search for the newborn King of the Jews, with no guarantee that they’d actually be able to find Him. How many miles would we be willing to walk for God? How many months or years of our lives would we be willing to give in search of Jesus?

Throughout my own life, whether I realized it or not, I was always searching for Jesus. I had lots of interests. I was always an excellent student in school. I could have pursued pretty much any field of study or career, but I ultimately decided to waste my life on Jesus. Do you know why? It’s not because I thought it would be an easy life. It’s not even that I thought I could make much of a difference as a priest, although I probably thought so at one time. As the culture around us continues to shift away from God and as different scandals continue to break in parts of the Church, I fully expect to receive the hatred of the world in return for my service of God. So why am I still here? Why are you still sitting here on a Sunday morning? Why am I willing, even—in the eyes of the world—to waste my life in the priesthood? Only because Jesus Christ deserves it.

Jesus deserves everything. The One who gave everything on the Cross for our salvation, for my salvation, He deserves everything in return, whatever smallest good that I am able to accomplish by His grace, whatever small tribute we are able to lay at the feet of Him and His Mother. The magi brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh over many miles to waste them on a Child too small to make any use of them. And Jesus still deserves more. How much are we willing to give Him? How much are we willing to spend on Him? He deserves more than just some time on Sunday. He deserves more than what is left over in our schedules and in our energies and resources. In 2020, how much more are you willing to waste on Jesus Christ?

Co-Redemptrix

Bulletin Letter, Epiphany

Every new year starts with the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. We often think of this title as a great honor for the Blessed Mother, but it has more to do with being clear about who Jesus is. Mary, being the Mother of Jesus, is the Mother of God because Jesus is God. Jesus is the eternal Son of God and Second Person of the Holy Trinity who at the time of the Annunciation joined to Himself a perfect human nature in the womb of Mary. This was declared dogmatically at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Since then, three other dogmas about Mary have been defined: her Perpetual Virginity, her Immaculate Conception, and her Assumption—body and soul—into heaven at the end of her earthly life.

Another title of the Blessed Virgin that has been the subject of controversy, even recently, and often not well-understood is “Co-Redemptrix.” The word itself is simply the feminine form of the word ‘redeemer’ with the added prefix co- which means ‘with.’ This title has often been misunderstood to imply equality between Mary and Jesus in the work of redemption, but the prefix co- does not imply equality. In fact, it often implies subordination. The Church refers to priests as coworkers or collaborators with the bishops, but bishops are obviously of a higher rank in the Church’s hierarchy. A copilot would be another example: one who assists but is not in command of an airplane.

What is actually meant by Co-Redemptrix is that Mary cooperated and participated in a unique, powerful, and subordinate way in the supreme and irreplaceable work of redemption wrought by Jesus, her Divine Son. As only a mother could, she suffered with Him along His way of the Cross, her own heart breaking as she witnessed her Son, her own flesh and blood, scourged and torn and crucified for our salvation. And she offered her sufferings to God, united to those of Jesus, for the sake of the Church.

Even St. Paul would tell the Colossians, “I rejoice now in my sufferings for you, and I fill up what is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for the sake of His Body, which is the Church” (1:24). There is no value lacking in the afflictions of Christ. What is lacking is the conformity of our flesh to Christ’s Passion. “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow” your Lord and Teacher, crucified for our salvation. Our Blessed Mother as Co-Redemptrix shows us how in a preeminent way. St. Paul and every Apostle and disciple of Christ strove to do the same.

The Family God Chose for Us

Homily, Holy Family A

Something that almost all of us have in common, when it comes to our family and relatives, is that we didn’t choose them. We never sat down before we were born, to look through a brochure of available families, before deciding, “Yep, that’s the one, those are the people I want to be stuck with for the first 20 years or so of my life. Those are the people with whom I always want to share large portions of my DNA.” When it comes to our friends and other acquaintances, we might be able to avoid the ones who annoy us or rub us the wrong way, people we don’t like for whatever reason, but we don’t choose our family.

I’ve been convinced for quite a while now, that it is precisely those relationships that I would not have chosen for myself, that have actually challenged me and helped me to grow the most. Think of Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” If it were all left up to us and our own choice, most of us choose to avoid conflict, to avoid people that show us our weaknesses. We avoid people who annoy us or tell us what to do. In a healthy family, though, these things are unavoidable. In my family, I had six brothers and two sisters, and I remember fighting a lot with my siblings. And I don’t think we fought because we were bad kids—now maybe my parents would disagree—but we fought because that’s part of growing and learning for kids, and hopefully through those experiences we were also able to learn some better ways of dealing with conflict.

Even as we celebrate the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the most perfect human family that has ever graced this earth, we hear in the Gospel that they had their trials of their own. Joseph’s sleep was regularly interrupted by messages from angels, telling him when and where to move, to protect this new Christ Child and His Mother. I wonder if Joseph ever had second thoughts as he traveled on the road. What if he had stuck to his original plan, disregarded the angel’s message and simply divorced Mary and washed his hands of the whole situation? He could have stayed in Bethlehem. He wouldn’t have had to go to Egypt. He wouldn’t have to move to Nazareth.

Whether he would have chosen this life for himself, had he known all that it would eventually entail, and the many difficulties that he would have to face as head of the Holy Family, even the rumors that would circulate about himself and about his wife, this was the life that God chose for him. This was the Family that God chose for St. Joseph, and he could trust that God would provide what he needed at every stage of their journey together.

When the Bishop called me and asked if I’d be willing to move four hours away from Sioux Falls, five hours away from my parent’s home and my hometown, I didn’t know and I still don’t know what’s all going to be involved during my time as pastor of these parishes. If you were given the choice, you probably wouldn’t have chosen me as your new pastor. He’s too young. Too inexperienced. Too rigid, backwards, and traditional. But we are family now. We don’t choose our family. God does. And God will provide the graces we need to work together, to grow together, to learn together. Hopefully, to grow closer in union with Jesus Christ together. The Church is meant to be a holy family. Each parish and diocese is meant to be a holy family. There might be other people even here this evening, sitting in other pews of this church, maybe in the same pew, whom you might not especially like or agree with all the time, and you might not want to spend much time with them, but you are family. And God brought us together. To learn from one another, to test one another, to challenge one another, to grow in holiness and virtue together. To grow in our recognition and love for the Truth of Jesus Christ.

Every healthy family, every holy family in this world has joys and sorrows, conflict and resolution, pains and struggles along with victories. Real growth does not happen without pain. And real love does not develop without a commitment to one another through the difficult times. It’s good for us to be stuck with people whom we find difficult to love, because then our love can grow stronger and more genuine. For parents and children alike and fellow parishioners, there are countless opportunities for us to begin to love even as God loves, not because of anything the other person can do for me, not because the other person is necessarily deserving of love. God doesn’t love us because. He just loves us. He made us and He chooses to love us. Our own families, all those relationships that we perhaps would not have chosen for ourselves, these are the messy classrooms of learning love, of becoming holy, of growing in patience because these crazy people force us to really practice patience. And as we really choose to love those that God has placed in our lives, hopefully we’ll discover, as I have, that they are really better for us than any family we would have chosen for ourselves.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for our families, pray for our parishes, and for the whole family of God. Teach us—and help us to continue to grow—through the conflict, through the messiness and chaos of our lives. Teach us that God the Father’s love for us is unchanging, unflinching, unwavered. Teach us to love like Him.

The Standard of God

Homily, Advent Sunday 4A

I’ve always greatly admired St. Joseph, and he’s always been a special patron of mine. In the year 1870, St. Joseph was named the patron of the entire universal Church; he is also the patron of our Cathedral and the Diocese of Sioux Falls, and he’s the patron of my home parish in Elk Point, so at every level of the Church I saw that St. Joseph was always praying for meHe and I seem to have a lot in common as wellFrom all indications, hwas a man of very few words. In fact, in the whole Bible, we don’t find any words of St. Joseph recorded. And—here’s something we might all find encouraging—I’ve always considered St. Joseph to be a special patron of those who fall asleep during prayerbecause so many of his most important communications from God occurred while he was sleeping, through dreams.  

In today’s Gospel, God communicates his will to St. Joseph in a dream, challenging his understanding of God’s plan for him and his wife, and even calling him beyond the practices that were considered acceptable and justified in his own day. At the time of St. Joseph, this righteous man, according to societal standards and even in Jewish practice, it would have been perfectly justifiable for him to divorce his wife, when he knew that the child she was bearing was not his own. But God calls St. Joseph to something greater, something almost unimaginable, to become the guardian and foster-father of God’s own Son. Amazingly, once St. Joseph knows what God’s will is for his marriage, he immediately obeys and takes Mary, his wife, into his home, even though he probably still struggles to fully understand what this is all going to mean for him, how this is possible, and what sacrifices he will be called upon to make as he becomes the Head of the Holy Family and the Husband of the Ever-Virgin Mother of God. In faith, St. Joseph is able to follow God’s call, to go beyond the standards and practices considered acceptable in his own day. 

Throughout history, God challenges and calls His holy people beyond the standards of the world around them. Jesus challenged His Jewish contemporaries on their understanding of marriage and divorce, calling them on to something greater, to the indissolubility of marriage. It’s not surprising then, that authentically Christian marriage has always had standards that go beyond those of secular society. What makes Catholic teaching distinctive is that it is not a product of man-made religion; Catholic teaching is not subject to the same changes and shifts that we see in secular society or popular culture. Fundamentally, the Church’s teaching is not about what we think of God or our search for God or heaven or happiness.  

Catholic teaching is about Revelation that comes from God. Christmas is all about God coming to us, seeking us out, God’s initiative to reveal Himself in human flesh, and as He does so, God challenges our understanding of ourselves and, in faith, calls us beyond what we thought was possible, beyond even our own desires. God reveals His design and plan for humanity, and in doing so, he also makes clear those things that are incompatible with our true fulfillment. 

In our own day, God continues to call us beyond what the world offers us, to fulfill His will and to cooperate with our salvation in Christ. And the difference between the Catholic standards that have been revealed by God and the standards of the world is still most noticeable in this area of marriage, divorce, and chastity. Marriage and the family are the very foundation of society itself, and yet, we have seen in recent years how quickly this foundation seems to be shifting under our feet. But God, through the Catholic Church, continues to call us to something greater, despite the prevailing currents of society.  

Now I realize that there are even many well-intentioned Catholics who think that the Church will eventually just have to accept things like gay marriage, contraception, cohabitation and sexual relations prior to marriage, or divorce and re-marriage without recourse to the annulment process. There may even be Catholics who think that the Church will eventually accept abortion, but I am here to tell you that the Catholic Church is the custodian and steward of God’s Revelation, the Church is not its Master or Author. There is no Pope, no bishop, no council which has the power to change what God has revealed once and for all, even to make things easier for us or to make the Church more fashionable to society. Personally, I consider it to be the height of false compassion to offer people the false hope that the Church’s teaching could change in these areas of God’s plan for human sexuality.  

Please don’t misunderstand me. It is not my intention, nor is it the intention of the Church, to alienate or to exclude anyone. Every last human being is invited into faith and relationship with Jesus Christ and into His Church, but if God has a real plan for us, and if He desires our free cooperation in that plan, if we’re called not just to be passive onlookers, but to actually take up our cross and follow Christ and become His disciples, it only makes sense that there are behaviors, choices that we can make, sins that we can commit that place us outside of God’s plan for us, that take us off the Path that Christ lays out for us, and these require repentance. Almost everyone still acknowledges murder as something that definitely places us outside of God’s plan, but there are many other actions that fall short or go against what God asks of us.  

Please also understand that I hope to have, and hope that everyone will have, the utmost compassion for those who experience homosexual attractions, for those who go through divorce and would like to try marriage again, for married couples who contracept, and for couples who live together before being married, many of whom have never been presented with any clear alternative to what the world offers. We all sin in different ways, and I am a sinner as well. I’m often more blameworthy because of all that has been entrusted to me, but we don’t do anyone any favors by condoning behaviors and lifestyles that God has revealed cannot lead to their true happiness and fulfillment, according to His plan for our lives.  

Please pray for me as a shepherd of God’s people. And may St. Joseph intercede for us all, to follow Christ in real faith, as God continues to challenge every one of us to become His holy ones, to become Saints, to endure many trials and to go beyond the standards of this passing world, to experience a joy and lasting peace that is far greater than anything we could ask or imagine. 

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!

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!