God’s Big Plans

Homily, Mary Mother of God

I sometimes wonder about my parents, at the time of their wedding, what ideas they would have had about what their life together was going to look like, whether they had any idea that they would be raising nine kids, and how much trouble each one of us would be. And had they known, would they still have gone through with it? As the youngest, I am definitely glad that they did not stop after the eighth kid. But throughout their life together, they remained open to God’s plan for their marriage and for their family, and with great generosity and faith, they received each new life with great thanksgiving. 

As we celebrate today the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, and as we continue to contemplate with the shepherds the manger scene, I often wonder if Mary realized at the time of the Annunciation—nine months earlier, when she said “yes” to her vocation as Mother of God—did Mary realize what this was going to mean for her life and reputation, and for her marriage with St. Joseph? Did she foresee the rumors that would circulate about the child’s origin, the gossip and the calling into question of her own fidelity, in being found pregnant before living with her husband? Today we think of “Mother of God” as a title of great honor, but during her own lifetime, Mary’s vocation as Mother of God probably brought her the suspicion and scorn of her neighbors. But throughout her trials, Mary remained open to God’s plan for her life and for her marriage, trusting that God’s plan would be far better than her own expectations and desires, even when that plan proved difficult, and next to impossible to understand. 

The Gospel today tells us that as Mary heard about the shepherds’ vision of angels, she “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Mary continued to try to understand what being the Mother of God would mean for her and for the world. As they named her Son Jesus, which means ‘salvation,’ did she ever wonder what that salvation was going to cost, what God the Father’s plan would entail for Jesus and for herself on Calvary someday? And just how bitterly her faith would be put to the test as she would witness her own Son’s crucifixion?  

We should not celebrate today’s Feast of Mary, the Mother of God enthroned in heaven, without keeping in mind and learning from what that title cost her. If it is true that God lifts up the lowly, then it’s often only through various trials and sufferings that God brings us to the glory He has planned for us. As I was growing up my mother made it clear to me and to my siblings, that what we wanted to do or what we wanted to be when we grew up was not nearly as important as what God wanted us to be and what God wanted us to do with our lives. I remember hearing one of my brothers tell her, “Well, I’ve thought about the priesthood. I just don’t think it’s for me.” Then she’d reply, “It doesn’t matter what you think. What does God think about it?” If it’s not something you regularly ask already, I encourage you to pray every day of this new year, and to ask, “God, what do You want me to do? What is Your will for my life?”  

And even if we’re older and we’ve already set out upon our vocation, there is never a stage of life when we no longer need to ask this question. I’ve become a priest. That is my vocation. But am I being the sort of priest that God wants me to be, or am I serving merely my own will? Out of concern for my reputation and comfort, do I take the easy road rather than the road that God has laid out for me? Do I shy away from speaking difficult truths, the teachings of the Church that are not as readily accepted by Catholics today? No matter what your vocation or occupation, how can your marriage better serve God’s plan and reflect God’s own sacrificial love? How can your work and your way of conducting yourself and your business better reflect God’s work in the world, God’s justice, mercy, peace, and generosity? In retirement, how can you use your time and resources to better serve God’s purposes and the people around you? For all of us, what are the compromises with evil that we’ve made, to avoid discomfort, to avoid any possibility of confrontation or difficult conversation, to avoid any trial of faith, and ultimately, to miss the opportunity of becoming what God has called us to be? What are the limits that we’ve placed upon ourselves or upon God that keep us from fully embracing all that God has revealed through the teachings of the Catholic Church? 

One of the most frequent things God says to us throughout the Bible is, “Do not be afraid.” Give yourself entirely to Christ and to God’s plan for your life. Whatever the trials or sufferings, I promise you, they are worth it. God’s plan for your life will far exceed your own desires and expectations. The world today is in desperate need of saints—those who have been radicalized for Christ—not people who are halfway. Mary gave everything to God and through her trials became Mother of all the living. Let’s follow our Mother’s example as we rely on her prayers. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen. 

Never Alone

Homily, Christmas

I have many fond memories of Christmas as a kid, having trouble sleeping over the excitement of the new presents the morning would bring, or wanting to catch a glimpse of Santa or the reindeer. Having nine kids in the house, my parents never had a lot of extra money, but they always saved enough to make Christmas really special for us. I know that to a lot of you I still look like a kid, but my Christmases in recent years are rather different from what I remember when I was younger. Instead of having any trouble sleeping, I’m sure that after a few of these Masses I’ll be having more trouble staying awake. Kids just naturally seem to have an easier time entering into the excitement of this season and the Christmas spirit. As we grow older, we spend a lot of our time just trying to recapture something of what we experienced at Christmas in the past. I know that not everyone has such fond memories of childhood, and even for those who do, chasing sentiments and memories can end up being pretty futile if we’re not also and always seeking to deepen our relationship today with the Christ Child, the One who was born for our salvation. We have to look to the meaning of the first Christmas if we want to not just look back fondly on memories but be able to also look forward in hope to many Christmases to come. 

We’ve all gathered to remember and to celebrate that first Christmas, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but have you ever wondered why it was such a big deal? Does it really make such a difference in the world that all of human history should be centered around that one moment? That everything else happened either “before Christ” or “in the year of our Lord?” What did Jesus bring us at that first Christmas? What was the gift He gave us that was so monumental? What did Jesus bring? 

In the history of God’s chosen people of Israel, the throne of David sat empty for almost 600 years, from the time of the Babylonian Exile. For 600 years the Jews waited for the return of their king, which God had promised. They awaited the Messiah, the Son of David who would deliver them from everyone who had made them suffer, the Christ who would establish a kingdom of perfect peace and justice that would have no end. But what did the Jews get for that first Christmas, those many years ago? Not exactly what they were expecting. They received a tiny, helpless Child, born into poverty, unable to wield a sword. Later on, a Boy at age twelve who submitted to the authority of his parents. And finally, a carpenter, a teacher, a healer, but ultimately a Man unwilling to defend even himself, let alone the Jewish nation, when He was accused before their Roman rulers. A Man betrayed and abandoned by His closest friends, to suffer a most shameful torture and death on a Cross, at the hands of the Roman oppressors that He was supposed to conquer.  

This is how many saw Jesus at the time of His death. A disappointment, a failure, not the one they had been looking for, waiting centuries for. This is the way that many people still see Jesus today. Maybe an interesting figure from history. A nice story once or twice a year. Even an inconvenience that forces us to come to church, but not all that significant in our day to day lives. Jesus came two thousand years ago to establish a kingdom of peace and justice, but here we are, more than two thousand years later, and the world doesn’t seem all that different. There is still war, still conflict, and as we know well during this past year, there’s definitely still sickness and infectious disease, there’s still suffering, terrorism, the taking of innocent life, human trafficking, and countless crimes and injustices. In many places in the world today, there is probably even more of these evils now than there was in the time before Jesus arrived. So what difference did Jesus make in history? What did Jesus bring?  

Jesus brought God. Jesus brought God into our weakness, into our suffering and pain, into our sickness; He brought God into our joys and into our failures, into our work and into our relationships; Jesus brought God into every human experience. Jesus brought God into the world and into human history to purify it of sin, of its rebellion and turning away from Him—our own self-destruction—and to let us know that we are never alone. We belong to Him. God has chosen us for Himself and longs to be with us forever. Jesus brought God into our suffering and death to let us know that He suffers with us and that our suffering has meaning in Him. Death is not the final word, but Jesus, the Eternal Word of God made flesh, is the first Word and the last Word, the beginning and the end, and His life and love for us and with us is stronger than any virus. His life is stronger than death. 

In becoming human, Jesus has invited us to live with God. We will still suffer, we will still die, but we will never again be alone. We will be with God by His grace, and we will rise again with Him on the last day. God’s gift to us this Christmas is the same as at that very first Christmas. God gives Himself to us. We exchange gifts at Christmas to remind us of this greatest Gift in human history. God gives Himself to us. And so the question we still face today that was the question for the Jews in the days of Jesus: Is God enough for us, is Jesus the One we’ve been longing for, waiting for, for so many years, or are we still looking for someone else, or for something else, to try and fill us? Jesus still brings God to meet us in this Eucharist, Jesus who is our Emmanuel, God-with-us. May we receive with joy the God who comes to save us, the God who will stop at nothing to bring us back to Himself, and may we desire at all times to live and to die with Him. 

Top 10 of 2020

Bulletin Letter, Advent Sunday 2B

This probably won’t go down in history as the most popular year of all time, but like every year, it’s had its challenges, blessings, and definitely its memorable moments. Here have been some of the highlights for me: 

10. Having a laser shot into my eye to fix a couple peripheral retinal holes. Not the most pleasant experience, but a first for me. At the follow-up last week, everything looked good.

9. Beginning a study of the Psalms for our Bible study. Anyone who has attended knows it involves a lot of other books of the Bible as well, salvation history, language, and things more tangential. We’ve almost reached Psalm 50.

8. Composing an original chant melody for the Entrance Antiphon of Palm Sunday, probably never to be used again, as the simple entrance is rarely used and was only required this year due to the pandemic. Not how I imagined my first Holy Week liturgies as a pastor, but I’m used to having to make adjustments.

7. Living in Bowdle and Hoven during this time of pandemic and riots. Even as close as Gettysburg, though, they had demonstrations for George Floyd. An uncle of his lives there, as I understand it. But there’s never been a better time to live away from the degeneracy and population density of bigger cities.

6. Generally good health, aside from minor sinus and allergy issues, but I’ve yet to lose my senses of smell and taste.

5. Conferring the Sacrament of Confirmation for the first time (and for around the twentieth time), as I had to carry it out for the candidates of both parishes last spring.

4. Attending our new Bishop’s Ordination in February and being able to show him a bit of our parishes when he visited in the spring. I’m very grateful to have such a great pastor as our Bishop, and one from a farm of rural Minnesota.

3. Celebrating a Schmidt Thanksgiving in Aberdeen with two of my brothers and their crazy families. I’m aware that many others around the country were not as fortunate or able to gather as they usually would.

2. Celebrating my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary last June, although we had to postpone the large family gathering until next summer. They’ve always been outstanding witnesses to faithful love and openness to God’s will in their lives.

1. Continuing to serve as pastor to two of the finest parishes and three beautiful churches in the Great Plains of South Dakota.

Many thanks to you and your families and blessings upon you as we enter 2021! 

Settling for False Comfort

Homily, Advent Sunday 2B

This past Thursday I was in Aberdeen for a little procedure at the eye doctor. Turns out I had two little holes in the periphery of the retina of my right eye. So after probably an hour or more of waiting around, first in reception and then in the exam rooms, along with signing my name and getting drops in my eyes several times, the procedure itself took less than 5 minutes, which just consisted of burning the edges of the holes with a laser. Really nothing too exciting, all things considered. But as I reflected on the readings for this Sunday and the type of comfort that God desires for His people, I couldn’t help but wonder what that conversation with the eye doctor could have sounded like if the standards of health in recent decades had shifted as much as moral standards seem to have shifted.

You might imagine the doctor saying something like this: “Well, we’ve found a couple holes in your retina, and we used to tell people that holes are bad, unhealthy, not ‘normal,’ but you know, some people nowadays actually like having some holes in their retinas, and for them it’s just more of a lifestyle choice. In a number of years, they could lead to other problems—well, we’re not allowed to call them problems anymore, but—other events in your eye, like, for example, the complete detachment of the retina and blindness, but again, I’m not here to make any judgments or to tell you how to live your life. I’m just sharing a little of what I’ve seen and what makes sense to me, but I don’t know your whole story or how attached you might be to these holes in your retina, but if eventual blindness is something you think you’d like to avoid, if possible, there is something we can do.”

You might well respond by telling the doctor, “Well, of course blindness is something I’d like to avoid. Are you crazy?” But this is how a lot of conversations around moral issues are actually conducted today. You’re not allowed to say that certain behaviors or lifestyle choices are actually sinful and gravely sinful, and that if unrepented, they will lead to something far worse even than physical blindness, namely, everlasting hell. But as much as the standards of this passing world have changed, the standards of God have not changed. That’s why when our first reading talks about comfort, bringing comfort to God’s people, this is not contradicted by the preaching of St. John the Baptist, who is telling the people to acknowledge their sins, to renounce them, and be converted to God.

The type of false comfort that’s often proclaimed and praised by the world tends to ignore, make excuses, sometimes even to celebrate or take great pride in sin and perversity. And why would anyone ask forgiveness from God for what they think is just a different way of living, different lifestyle choices? Violence, looting, lying, fraud, just different ways of being human. Who’s to say what’s actually unhealthy, unnatural, sinful? And without knowing and acknowledging our sin, asking for God’s forgiveness, we won’t be receptive to his mercy, to the treatment that He has prescribed for our disease.

Now the one part of my eye procedure that I haven’t mentioned yet—and what was the most uncomfortable—is that to properly aim the laser, the doctor takes a lens and presses it right up against the eyeball. That was definitely not comfortable, but I am comforted in knowing that we’ve done what’s possible to keep it from becoming a bigger problem. And often when we examine our conscience and try to take a clear look at the sins in our life, and as we bring those to the Sacrament of Confession, that can be an uncomfortable experience. But Confession is especially how God chooses to extend His mercy to us, to restore us to life and spiritual health, and to prevent further complications down the road, even everlasting complications.

Comfort, give comfort to my people, says the Lord. Our God comes to save us, to save us most especially from our sins, from the dead ends in life that cannot bring us genuine happiness and fulfillment. God offers us the comfort that the world cannot and will not give. Rather than the false comfort of ignoring the holes in our retina that could lead to blindness, ignoring the sins in our life that lead to everlasting death, God offers us the opportunity for repentance, forgiveness, and healing, if we will acknowledge our sins and strive to follow Christ. Don’t miss this opportunity. None of us knows the day or the hour when the Lord will call us from this life, and following the false standards of this dying world rather than the standards given to us by God and his Church will be no excuse. Repent and believe in the Gospel, for the Lord is near.

Conquest of Mercy

Homily, Christ the King Sunday A

A long time ago, there was a young man who grew up in a small house, in a small town, in a small country, but he had big dreams of ruling the entire world someday. He knew the Scriptures, and he was convinced that he would be the one to fulfill the prophecies. He would have a kingdom that would stretch from sea to sea. And not only that, but his reign would never end; he would sit as king from age to age, ruling every place, every people and nation, for all time. And how would he realize this lofty dream of his? For almost thirty years, he worked and sweat and practiced… carpentry. With his father in their workshop, he built tables and furniture. For bigger projects they would work on houses and roads. But still, beyond a small circle of friends and family, and those who hired him as a carpenter, this man was largely unknown, and he probably seemed rather unremarkable.

When it came time for him to strike out on his own, he began to travel to the other small towns in the area. He told people about the kingdom of God. He healed the sick, drove out demons, pronounced forgiveness of sins and new life to the most notorious sinners, and he raised people from the dead. As you can well imagine, this was a much more effective campaign strategy than his many obscure years of carpentry. He traveled the country like this for almost three years, and people flocked to see him.

But every time they tried to make him king, he would slip away and move on to the next towns. In fact, the only time he admitted to being a king was when he stood bound as a criminal, on trial for rebellion, accused by the leaders of his own nation. For this, he was put to a most shameful death, publicly, with the charge written in three languages above his head, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Humanly speaking, his name should have been forgotten, buried in the shame of his crucifixion.

But God’s ways are not our ways. This Man who lived most of His earthly life in obscurity and came to His end in the greatest shame is the One that we proclaim today as our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth to establish the Kingdom of God in our midst, but He also said that His kingdom is not of this world. God’s ways are not our ways. Even in today’s Gospel, when the Son of Man comes in all His glory, and all His angels with Him, and He sits upon His glorious throne with all the nations assembled before Him, He comes to us as a Shepherd tending his sheep. Not exactly what most of us would expect from an all-powerful king.

But God’s ways are not our ways. He has no police to enforce His royal decrees. He has no armies to expand the borders of His kingdom. He doesn’t use media censorship or mail-in ballots. Instead, Jesus still conquers today in the same way as He did during His earthly life, by conquering human hearts, by feeding the hungry and giving the thirsty something to drink, by welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked, by caring for the sick and for those in prison, and by inviting us into the truth. This is how Christ conquers and how He has always conquered.

And this is how He wants to conquer our own hearts today. He gives us His own Body and Blood in this Eucharist to satisfy every hunger and thirst of our souls. He welcomes even the strangest of us into His own family through Baptism and Confirmation, and gives us a lasting home in heaven. He clothes us in His own innocence and destroys the shame of our sins in every Confession. Through His holy anointing, He unites all our illnesses and sufferings to His own perfect prayer and to His saving Cross, and through the words of His Gospel, he brings true freedom even into the prison cell. May Christ the King gain ground in our minds and hearts each day, so that God’s ways may become our ways as well.

As we surrender to his love and become part of His kingdom, we, too, are called to do what He does for the least of His brothers and sisters. But we cannot give what we have not first received. We cannot love those that Christ is calling us to love, we cannot feed, welcome, clothe, and care for our parents, our spouses, our children, our friends, our neighbors, our enemies, and the poorest of the poor, unless we first allow Jesus to do this for us—especially in our reception of the sacraments of His Church—so that Jesus can then carry out these works of mercy through us. We are all missionaries of Christ the King, called to spread the kingdom of God by conquering human hearts through concrete acts of love and mercy. May God grant us the grace today to surrender to Christ the King, to open our hearts to receive His truth and love. In the end, when all other kingdoms have come and gone, Christ alone will be victorious, and those who have served Him will reign with Him forever.

An Act of Dedication of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
(to be renewed annually on the Solemnity of Christ the King)

Most Sweet Jesus, Redeemer of the human race, look down upon us humbly prostrate before Thine Altar. We are Thine, and Thine we wish to be; but to be more surely united to Thee, behold, each one of us this day freely dedicates himself to Thy Most Sacred Heart.

Many indeed have never known Thee; many too, despising Thy precepts, have rejected Thee. Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus, and draw them to Thy Sacred Heart. Be Thou King, O Lord, not only of the faithful who have never forsaken Thee, but also of the prodigal sons who have abandoned Thee; grant that they may quickly return to their Father’s house, lest they perish of wretchedness and hunger.

Be Thou King of those whom heresy holds in error or discord keeps aloof; call them back to the harbor of truth and the unity of faith, so that soon there may be but one fold and one Shepherd.

Be Thou King of all those who even now sit in the shadow of idolatry or Islam, and refuse not Thou to bring them into the light of Thy kingdom. Look, finally, with eyes of pity upon the children of that race, which was for so long a time Thy chosen people; and let Thy Blood, which was once invoked upon them in vengeance, now descend upon them also in a cleansing flood of redemption and eternal life.

Grant, O Lord, to Thy Church assurance of freedom and immunity from harm; unto all nations give an ordered tranquility; bring it to pass that from pole to pole the earth may resound with one cry: Praise to the divine Heart that wrought our salvation; to It be honor and glory for ever and ever.  Amen.

Give Thanks in All Circumstances

Bulletin Letter, Christ the King Sunday A

You’re no doubt aware that the year 2020 is not getting the best reviews, and that’s unlikely to change by the end of the year or as we look back on it in the future. All the more reason for us to really be deliberate about focusing on the blessings of God that this year has brought, “for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus: to give thanks in every circumstance” (1 Thess. 5:18).  

Those who celebrated one of the first Thanksgiving meals in the New World were definitely not without hardships and tragedies of their own at the time. Think of how severely European diseases swept through and ravaged native populations. Think of the challenges the settlers faced to yield even a meager harvest in a new and unfamiliar environment, without the machinery, sprays, or insurance that we so often rely upon today. And thinking of all the summers and winters they endured should at least make us thankful for things we so often take for granted, including electricity and indoor plumbing. 

But despite their hardships—and perhaps in a lot of ways, even because of their hardships—they gave thanks to God, who is able to bring life even out of death, and growth and maturity through the endurance of various trials and setbacks. Hopefully this year has been an opportunity for growth and purification in our spiritual lives, greater insight and commitment to those things that are truly important in this life and for the life to come. Whatever this year has been, and whatever it could still prove to be, we must give thanks to God who gives us life and light each day. 

The word Eucharist is from the Greek word for thanksgiving, and we are especially thankful for the Gift of Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity that He continues to faithfully provide for us upon the altars of His Church. May Jesus help us to recognize and never take for granted the blessings that surround us each day. 

The Poor Souls

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Sunday 33A

Each year, the month of November is especially dedicated to offering prayers, penance, indulgences, and Masses on behalf of the faithful departed. Many parishes have the tradition of setting out a Book of the Dead during this month, and parishioners are invited to write the names of the deceased for remembrance and intercession. In some homes, a table is set out with pictures of deceased relatives as a special reminder to continue to pray for them and to have Masses said for the repose of their souls.

Today, it is fairly common and popular to convey the idea that getting into heaven is fairly easy and pretty much a foregone conclusion for most of us. This idea is even conveyed during Funeral Masses, when we should especially be praying for the deliverance of the deceased from any sins or disordered attachments that still clung to them at the end of their life. We might well imagine many preachers today saying something like this: Enter by the wide gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to life, and those who enter by it are many. But the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to destruction, and those who find it are few. The only monumental problem with this idea is that it is the exact opposite of the message proclaimed by Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Cf. Matthew 7:13-14).

Jesus never promises us an easy way, but He does promise us a more abundant life (Cf. John 10:10). It is not easy to take up our cross and follow Him to our own Calvary, but it is worth it (Cf. Luke 9:23-26). The Way to heaven is narrow and difficult for us, not because God is not merciful, but because we are not merciful. If the Way is as difficult and narrow as Jesus says, and if we really care for those who have died and gone before us, we will strive to help the poor souls in Purgatory by our prayers, works of penance, indulgences, and by having Masses said on their behalf.

A Mass of Remembrance for those who had funerals and/or burials in our parishes during the past calendar year will be held at 7 pm on Wednesday, November 18 in Hoven and at 7 pm on Thursday November 19 in Bowdle. Please join us in praying for those who have died and for the families and friends affected by the loss.

Between You and God

Homily, Ordinary Sunday 32A

Growing up as the youngest of nine kids in my family, I got pretty used to sharing things with my siblings, whether food or clothes, or rooms in the house. Thankfully, though, there were some things that were just too personal to receive as hand-me-downs. I always got my own socks and underwear.

Many of us, when we hear the parable in today’s Gospel, we just can’t understand why the five wise virgins couldn’t have just shared their oil with the five foolish so that all ten could get into the wedding feast. But like the wedding garment of another parable, the oil represents the preparations that each one of us is expected to make before meeting the Lord. Personal character, integrity, and maturity are things not so easily passed and shared between us. The wisdom of really obeying and acting upon God’s Word is an invitation extended personally to each and every soul. When we come to the end of our lives, each of us will have to stand on our own two feet before the judgment seat of God, to answer for all that we did or did not do with the time and resources that God entrusted to us. No one else will answer for you. No one else was entrusted with the exact same gifts or responsibilities.

If we’re hoping to just coast into heaven on the coattails of someone else’s holiness, perhaps a pious grandmother, or a priest that we’re buddies with, we might just find ourselves locked out and left in the dark when we come to the end. Too little, too late. While intercessory prayer is effective and important, we should know, too, that God will not force Himself onto anyone, and we cannot blame God for respecting the refusal of His grace on the part of individual souls, who seem unconcerned, too busy with the things of this passing world to make personal preparations for eternity.

As I reflected on this Sunday’s readings, I couldn’t help but think of something written by St. Cajetan, a great Catholic reformer of the early 1500s. On his feast day of August 7, in the Office of Readings, we read from a letter written by Cajetan. One paragraph in particular is a good reminder for us to not make excuses but to finally take responsibility for our spiritual life. St. Cajetan writes,

I am a sinner and do not think much of myself; I have recourse to the greatest servants of the Lord, that they may pray for you to the blessed Christ and his Mother. But do not forget that all the saints can not endear you to Christ as much as you can yourself. It is entirely up to you. If you want Christ to love you and help you, you must love him and always make an effort to please him. Do not waver in your purpose, because even if all the saints and every single creature should abandon you, he will always be near you, whatever your needs.

In His Word and in this Eucharist, God gives each one of us everything we could ever need to become great saints in the world today. God gives us the fullness of the divinity of Christ, and His perfect humanity to transform us from within. He gives us patience to wait with trust and to endure the many things that lie outside our control and influence, and the strength to remain attentive to those things that God actually places in front of us each day. The election and the premature announcement of its results, the investigations into numerous reports of fraud in several states, are not things that we can affect much from here, besides continuing to pray and to wait with hope that the truth will actually come to light, that God would strengthen those who are in a position to expose and correct corruption. But becoming preoccupied and allowing it to disturb our peace only makes things more difficult for us, not for those who threaten the integrity of our democratic processes.

So let’s strive to always be prepared to meet the Lord, and to meet whatever challenges lie ahead of us. While I was in school for so many years, I became an expert in procrastination, but it’s not the healthiest or the wisest way to live. The question is sometimes asked, When’s the best time to plant a tree? In the spring or the fall? Actually, the best time to plant a tree is ten years ago. Much like physical growth, spiritual development and healing usually takes time. If we’re hoping to be ready to meet Christ the Bridegroom by the end of our lives—and Christ reminds us that we know neither the day nor the hour—or to meet the challenges and persecutions we will face as Catholics in a world more and more hostile to truth, let’s stop putting off what should have been done yesterday, what should have been done ten years ago. Let’s give ourselves entirely to Jesus Christ today, with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Give God the time and the energy that He deserves, today and every day. No one else is going to do it for you.

An Otherwordly Thirst for Righteousness

Homily, All Saints

Now that we’re just a few short days from the highly anticipated election, God in His providence has seen fit to try and broaden our perspective once again by placing this Solemnity of All Saints on a Sunday. The Saints—who now live in heaven, seeing the almighty and infinitely beautiful God face to face—the Saints were people from all different walks of life, people from every country and race, kings, slaves, bishops, wives and mothers, husbands and hermits. The Saints include people who lived through wars and revolutions, martyrs killed by dictators and killed by brothers, people who lived in kingdoms, empires, republics, colonies, city-states, democracies, tribes and clans. Despite the wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences, there is one thing they all had in common: they were saved and washed clean by the most Precious Blood of Christ. They longed and persisted in their desire for the kingdom of God, beyond this passing world. They allowed themselves to hunger and thirst for righteousness, for authentic justice, even when they realized they probably would never experience it on this side of heaven.

Do we allow ourselves to hunger and thirst for righteousness, even if hunger and thirst can be painful experiences? Or do we just settle for whatever happens? Resign ourselves to injustice and sin, to compromising our ideals, even in our daily lives? The Saints are those who realized that they shouldn’t expect the world around them to change and be well-ordered according to authentic justice, let alone those parts of the world 1500 miles away, if they remained unwilling to change themselves, to change their own hearts and minds, to live according to God’s truth even when that would mean having to suffer for the truth. Election day is just one day out of every four years—besides primaries, mid-terms, and other elections—and it’s definitely important for us to vote and to vote according to God’s truth and God’s will for our country, our state, our counties, and all the rest, but if you think voting is the only way that God is calling you to contribute to society, to guide and to shape the culture around you, you are gravely mistaken.

What are we doing on the rest of those 364 days out of the year to overcome sin in our lives, to be washed by the Blood of Christ, to exercise our desire and to order all our thoughts, words, and actions towards the kingdom that has no end? Countless Saints remained faithful to God and loving towards their neighbors under extremely anti-Catholic governments, in the midst of anti-Catholic cultures and societies, often having opportunity to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecuted them.

No matter what happens on Tuesday or any other day, the goal of our lives is not going to change. And the person who is the biggest obstacle to you or to me reaching our goal is still going to be the same. I am my greatest obstacle to reaching heaven and becoming a saint. It’s not the government. It’s not the president. It’s not bad cardinals or bad bishops in the Church. It’s me. It’s not the circumstances around me. Look at the lives of the Saints and learn from them. There are lots and lots of Saints who have done far better than I have who were given far less than what I’ve received. And until we stop blaming other people and making excuses for our own sins, we’re not going to see the change we desire in our own lives. We’re not really going to be open to the mercy of God, which has the power to transform us. And we’re not going to see authentic justice in society around us if it doesn’t start with you and with me, at the level of our own hearts, minds, and souls.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” How much do we hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness? Do we have the strength and courage to hold fast to our ideals in the midst of a world that is far from ideal? The Saints we celebrate today allowed themselves to burn with desire for our heavenly homeland, no matter how unjust and opposed to heaven the earthly kingdoms of their day became. And because of their persistence, not only did they reach their eternal goal, but they also became forces of cultural transformation on earth during their lives and after their deaths. Don’t resign yourselves to what the world offers us. Like all the Saints, you were made for heaven itself. Hunger and thirst for God, and don’t stop until you reach Him.

Spiritual Multi-tasking

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Sunday 28A

Some of us are definitely more skilled at multi-tasking than others. You’ve no doubt heard the expression, “He can’t even walk and chew gum at the same time.” I’ve also heard that women are generally better multi-taskers than men. Perhaps that’s why the Blessed Virgin Mary was able to “store up all these things in her heart,” reflecting on all that God had done even while going about the rest of her day. She is, of course, a model of prayer for all of us and especially as we pray her Rosary.

October is the month of the Rosary. While almost all of us learn the mechanics of the Rosary and the different vocal prayers involved, there are far fewer that really engage in meditation or mental prayer focused on each of the mysteries of the lives of Jesus and Mary as we pray each decade, each set of 10 Hail Mary’s. The very repetition of the prayers is to help foster meditation. The names of the mysteries are not announced at the beginning of each decade just to be forgotten as we start into the vocal prayers, but the real soul of the Rosary is to enter into those mysteries as we pray.

I can already hear the replies, “But Father, I get so distracted as I pray. Most of the time, all I can manage is to say the words.” I am well aware of the problem of distractions, as is pretty much everyone who has ever attempted prayer and meditation. The most important thing is to persevere through the distractions, not to get upset at ourselves which only tends to give the distractions more energy, but simply and gently to turn our attention back to God whenever we notice our minds and hearts straying from His presence.

If one decade of ten Hail Mary’s involves 50 attempts at turning our minds back to the mystery at hand from every other distraction, that’s 50 times we’ve made a conscious effect to express our love for God and His mighty works in the lives of Jesus and Mary. Don’t get discouraged but remember how pleasing every small effort is to our loving Father, who knows that all of us are His restless, rambunctious, but very, very dear children, incapable of anything without His help which He delights to give.