Why I’m Pro-Life

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 3A

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Top 10 of 2019

Bulletin Letter, Holy Family A

On the threshold of 2020, we have opportunity to recall some of the great blessings of the past year. After much prayer and discernment (sort of), I give you

Fr. Schmidt’s Top 10 of 2019:

10. Getting repairs done after my vehicle’s first close encounter with a deer.

9. Receiving a flu shot for the first time in my life. The taste reminds me a bit of carbonara.

8. Finally getting to try Schmidt Beer. It’s a fairly standard American lager. At least it’s better than Hamm’s, in my opinion.

7. Beginning to compost food waste, hair and nail clippings, etc. Might have to take up gardening in the spring to put it to use.

6. Being able to use the hardwood floor in the sanctuary and sacristies of St. Augustine after helping to restore it with Fr. DeWayne Kayser and others from the parish back in the summer of 2010.

5. Surviving my first Christmas on the Prairie Concert in Hoven. I’m convinced it’s even better than the Christmas at the Cathedral Concert in Sioux Falls.

4. Having the consolation on particularly cold mornings to observe the great beauty of a heavy frost covering the branches of all the tress.

3. Moving into two of the finest rectories in South Dakota. I especially enjoy the wood-burning fireplace in Hoven. Unfortunately, I still haven’t fully unpacked or reorganized either rectory to my satisfaction quite yet.

2. Having a second set of twins (fraternal, one boy, one girl) born in the month of February among my nieces and nephews. The first twins (identical girls) were born in February back in 2006 in the family of another of my brothers.

1. Becoming the Pastor of two of the best parishes and three of the most beautiful churches in the Diocese of Sioux Falls.

And for all the countless blessings that I have neglected to notice or mention, I give thanks to God. Let’s continue to hold one another up in prayer and to give endless thanks for the immense blessings He has bestowed upon our parishes. May we use them well for the building up of His Kingdom in the New Year and every day of our lives. Happy 2020!
Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

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. 

Time is Running, Eternity is Waiting

Bulletin Letter, Advent Sunday 3A

Hard to believe we’re already reaching the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete (“Rejoice”) Sunday. And though the winter solstice isn’t until Saturday, the 21st, many of us have probably had our fill of winter already. I hope your Christmas shopping is going well. Before you know it, we’ll be ringing in the new year. 2020. Already 20 years since all the concern over Y2K for banking and digital systems, if you were around for that. I was just mentioning to someone that if I remain in good health, I won’t be able to retire until the year 2063. How’s that for perspective?

Last year, Bishop Swain went on a pilgrimage to Poland to visit many of the sites that were significant in the life of St. John Paul II. One highlight he often mentioned after his return was seeing the parish church where Karol Józef Wojtyła was baptized and where he attended Mass during his childhood in Wadowice, Poland. On the side of the church, just outside the house where he was born and lived, there is a decorative sundial that the future saint probably saw several times a day for the first eighteen years of his life. For the title above the sundial are the Polish words for, “Time is running. Eternity is waiting.”

Another common saying along the same lines in Latin is, Tempus fugit; memento mori. “Time flies. Remember death.” In Sirach 7:36, we find, “In all you do, remember the end of your life, and you will never sin.” Hopefully, we all have regular—even daily—reminders that our life on earth is temporary, not out of any excessive fascination with death but to give us a healthy perspective on life. Is what I’m doing each day really worthwhile? Are the things I worry about and stress over so often going to matter much next week, next month, next year, or in the next life? Am I becoming the person I’ll want to be when I meet Jesus face to face?

Having that reminder just outside his front door during all the years of his childhood no doubt formed St. John Paul II in the perspective that urged him to spend well the years on earth entrusted to him by God. Time is running. Eternity is waiting. How will you spend these final days of Advent, waiting with anticipation for the Coming of Christ?

This Wednesday, December 18, Friday, December 20, and Saturday, December 21, are the Winter Ember Days. Please join in offering to God some extra fasting and prayers, thanking Him for the harvest and begging him for more holy priests and religious to labor in His vineyard.