Summer Sun

Bulletin Letter, Corpus Christi A

With the pandemic restrictions, it’s been harder for me to notice the weeks going by. The other day, I had a rude awaking to the fact that summer is almost here. I went for a long bike ride during the middle of the day without really thinking about the angle of the sun. By the time I realized, it was already too late. It’s nothing too serious, but the back of my right hand has definitely seen better days. I’m grateful for the time away at my parents’. There’s even a good stretch of Highway 20 that I find quite pleasant. On the way down, the heavy rain near Sioux Falls and Beresford also gave me a free car wash.

  1. Why when Adam and Eve sinned did he choose to kick the rest of us out of the Garden of Eden?

The Fall or Original Sin had consequences not just for our first parents but for everyone who would come after them and for all creation. They would pass on to their children a weakened human nature, less able to understand truth and to choose good, and with our affections and desires drawn towards evil rather than good by concupiscence. Likewise, disharmony and strife entered into the rest of the world as well. In that sense, the garden of Paradise could no longer be found on this earth.

St. Ambrose says that death was introduced as a remedy and that the Angel guarded the way to the tree of immortality to protect us. Now that sin and suffering had entered into the world and we had lost the grace of Original Justice, to live forever on earth would be unbearable.

  1. Why did Adam just stand there and not help Eve? He was supposed to protect EVERYTHING in the garden, right?

Most likely, he was deceived in the same way Eve was and did not recognize the serpent as a threat but allowed distrust of God to enter his own heart. It’s difficult for us to grasp how either of our first parents could have been deceived in such a way or induced towards envy and pride, seeing as they were much smarter and stronger than we are now, but even on our best days, we still find ourselves choosing to do what we know is wrong.

Getting Warmer

Bulletin Letter, Sunday of Ascension A

It’s great to see the return of so much that is green around us, on the trees and in lawns and pastures. Next Sunday is already the Feast of Pentecost. Please pray especially for the Gift of the Holy Spirit upon those of our parishes who will be confirmed and those recently confirmed. Here are more questions from our 5th and 6th graders:

  1. Do the sacraments always give grace?

Yes, although we may not always be in the proper state to receive that grace. One of the purposes of the sacraments is to give us certitude that these are moments of God’s definite action and grace. Whenever the sacraments are celebrated by the properly authorized minister (usually a priest) according to the will of Christ and His Church, we can know for certain that God Himself is present and giving His grace in and through those sacraments.

But there are times when we are not properly receptive to God’s grace. Someone in a state of mortal sin who attempts to receive the Eucharist in Holy Communion, for example, receives the Body and Blood of Christ but sins against them, as St. Paul describes in 1 Cor. 11, eating and drinking judgment upon himself. These are called sacrilegious or unworthy Communions that are grave sins in themselves. Anyone aware of serious sins on one’s soul must confess those and be absolved to become receptive once more to grace of the Eucharist.

  1. What is a Nuptial Mass?

This usually just refers to a Wedding Mass or the Ritual Mass for the Celebration of Matrimony that includes many special prayers for the couple or couples being married at that Mass. Catholic weddings can also take place in church apart from the celebration of the Eucharist or as part of the Mass of a major Feast, even though the prayers of the Mass on certain Feast days would need to pertain more to the Feast rather than the wedding, and these would not normally be called Nuptial Masses.

  1. What is meant by divine Tradition?

Usually called Sacred or Apostolic Tradition, this refers to everything that is publicly revealed by God and handed down from the Apostles for our salvation apart from what has been committed to writing in Sacred Scripture. There were many things Jesus taught his disciples which they observed and handed on even before any of the New Testament had been written. The New Testament is also not very detailed when it comes to certain aspects of Christian life or liturgy.

Permission to Grieve

Homily, Funeral of Travis, 39

First, on behalf of St. Anthony Parish, I want to extend to all the family and friends of Travis our heartfelt condolences and a promise to continue to pray for the repose of his soul and that those who mourn his loss would find consolation in God. Over this past week or since I received the news, I’ve been wondering what I should say, or trying to imagine what this must be like especially for N. (wife) and N. (son), what I would most be needing to hear. Of course I can’t imagine what this must be like for you, or for Travis’s sisters or parents, or even for his friends. Travis was one of a kind, and so the grief of losing him is particular to each one of you. But what I most want to convey to you this morning and what I think is most important for us to hear in the face of tragedy is that it’s okay to be sad. It’s normal. It’s okay to be angry. It’s normal in this situation. It’s not fair to have to bury a son, a brother, a husband, a dad, when he’s only 39 years old. It’s not fair. It’s okay to be negative about this.

I think too often we feel pressured to move too quickly to try and put a positive spin on everything. We almost don’t even give ourselves permission or time to really grieve. Certain cultures have more established customs at observing formal times of mourning. In the Bible, it’s usually around 30 days that they observe this time of grieving after experiencing a significant loss. Sometimes the whole nation would be in mourning, like after the death of Moses. They might wear black or dark colors, or wear their hair differently, even as visible signs to the people around them that they’ve lost someone very dear to them.

Even the Church has shied away from some of these customs more recently, and not always helpfully. Black vestments used to be standard at funerals, expressing solidarity with those who are still coming to grips with a significant loss and not just glossing over that reality. Now we often see white vestments at funerals, meant to point us to the Resurrection of Jesus, but we know the reality is, it might take more than three days, more than thirty days, to start to experience something of the Resurrection after such a loss. And that’s okay. Give yourself permission to really grieve.

And when we pray, give to God whatever is on your heart. God wants you. He doesn’t want what you think you’re supposed to be. He wants you. When you’re sad, He wants to hear about it. When you’re angry, express that to God. Too often when we go to pray, I think we have this feeling like we just have to be thankful and pretend that everything’s great when we talk to God, but that’s not actually what we find in the Bible. Job spends a lot of his time complaining to God and wrestling with why tragedies happen to those who don’t deserve it. Jeremiah and his Book of Lamentations are definitely not bubbling over with positivity. And of the 150 Psalms, the Prayerbook of the Bible, over 40 % of the Psalms could be characterized as Psalms of Complaint. I hope you feel comfortable complaining to God because He wants to hear from you even when that’s all that’s in our heart to give Him. Or if all that we can manage is to sit with God in silence.

The other issue I’d like to address is that an accident is just that: an accident. This wasn’t part of anybody’s plan. This wasn’t anybody’s fault. This wasn’t anything that God wanted to happen. It’s tragic. It doesn’t make sense. But God is with you through this. And He will give you what you need to carry on. I’ve always loved depictions of the Pieta. We have one right here on the left side of the church. Just to contemplate everything that was in the heart of Mary in those moments, to see her beloved Son and Lord cut down in the prime of His life. Please ask our Mother Mary to draw close to you during this time. Trust that she knows something of what you’re experiencing right now. And trust that God will give you the strength to bear it, even as He gave Mary every grace in suffering. And entrust Travis, your son, your brother, your husband, your dad, your friend, into her gentle arms.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

Forty Hours Devotion

Bulletin Letter, Candlemas

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

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

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

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

Mean What You Say

Homily, Lenten Sunday 1C

Let me just start out by saying that hate is not nearly a strong enough word for the complete idiocy that is daylight savings time. Of course, we strive to be grateful for the extra penance as we begin our Lenten season. A man reading the paper one morning came across an article that talked about how, on average, women tend to use far more words than men do each day. He was excited to show this to his wife to prove that he had been right all along when he would tell her that she talked too much. So he showed her the article that said that men use about 2,000 words per day while women use closer to 7,000 words. His wife thought for a moment before saying, “Well, that’s because women end up having to repeat almost everything we say.” And the man, looking up from the paper again, said, “What was that?”

There’s an old saying that repetition is the mother of all learning. So much of what we say at every Mass is simply repeated, it’s what we say at every Mass, but the danger in this is that we stop paying attention to what we’re saying, and we no longer let ourselves be challenged or changed by the Word of God. Our first reading from Deuteronomy contains what many scholars believe is a primitive sort of creed of the Hebrew people. They would repeat this same formula each and every time they came to offer the first fruits of their harvest: “My father was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien. But there he became a nation great, strong, and numerous,” and so on.… It was a summary of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, their forefathers, and how God fulfilled these promises by bringing them into the Promised Land and granting them an abundant harvest even in their own present day. Much like the Nicene Creed that we repeat every Sunday is a summary of how God fulfilled and surpassed all His promises in Christ His Son, and by revealing Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But do we still pay attention to what we’re saying as we recite the Creed each Sunday after so many years? Are we able to make it our own prayer and an expression of the faith we place in the saving power of Christ, still active for us in our daily lives?

Besides the Creed, the whole Mass, everything we hear, say, and do at Mass is meant to be our most exalted prayer that we offer in union with Christ’s own perfect prayer to His heavenly Father. So are we able to really pray the Mass, or do we just try to ‘get through’ it, while our mind is in a thousand other places? Are we present in body but absent in mind and spirit? A great blessing for me as a priest has been having to read and repeat the prayers of the Mass and really think about what we are doing and what we are praying for. If we start to really mean what we’re saying, these are the most powerful prayers that the Church gives us. But even as a priest saying Mass every day, it always remains a challenge to really pay attention to what I’m saying and doing, and to not let it become just routine.

As I said before, routine and repetition are not the real problem. The problem is when our routine prayers become separated from living faith. In the midst of His temptations in the desert, Jesus always took refuge in the Word of God, in the words of Sacred Scripture. This is why Catholics memorize prayers and why other Christians memorize passages of the Bible, so that when we are tested and go through trials, we can fall back and find strength in the Word of God. It’s especially in times of temptation and trial that we are challenged to actually mean what we say and to exercise our faith. A good Lenten practice would be to strive each day to really be present where we are and to what we are doing, to be present to those around us, really listening when someone is speaking to us, and when God speaks to us through the prayers and readings proclaimed at Mass; and to strive each day to really mean what we say. When we tell someone, “I love you,” then we should prepare ourselves to sacrifice and suffer for the one that we love. And when we stand and say, “I believe in one God, the Father almighty,” then we should prepare ourselves to sacrifice and to suffer for the love of Christ, for the truth of the Creed for which countless martyrs bore the ultimate witness by the shedding of their own blood.

We should profess our faith not only here in the church, but to all the world by the way that we live every day. The world doesn’t need more Catholics who simply go through the motions. Our world needs Catholics who go through the motions animated by living faith. Even in the midst of temptations and trials, may all our thoughts, words, and actions—throughout this Lenten season and into eternity—proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

Taking God at His Word

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 8C

I think we all know a few people whom we might describe as not having any filter between what they think and what ends up coming out of their mouths. Maybe that’s even how people would describe you. It can be helpful at times. You never really have to ask their opinion on things, because they’re always just about to tell you. Other times, all we can do is sort of cringe in anticipation of what we know is going to be awkward. “From the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks.” What we say and how we say it can reveal a lot about us. Other times, it can be misunderstood or not come out quite right. Even if we’re usually careful about our choice of words and tone of voice, there are times for all of us when we say something, and then almost immediately regret it. Benjamin Franklin is often quoted as saying, “A slip of the foot you may soon recover, but a slip of the tongue you may never get over.”

On the other hand, hopefully all of us have experienced the great power for good that words can have upon us and those around us, affirmations, encouragement, even things that we continue to remember years later. As I was growing up, I remember having to pile into the car with my brothers and sisters. Because I was the youngest, I would often have to sit between my mom and dad in the front seat. Towards the end of one trip, someone was asking what time we would be getting home. When they heard it would be around 10 pm, they started to complain about how late that would be. So I piped up and said, “Well, at least it won’t be 11 o’clock.” And I’ll always remember my dad then saying to me, “You know, that’s what I like about you. You’ve got a positive attitude.” Now you’re all left wondering what happened to me since then to make me so negative. But there’s no denying that words can have a lasting impact, for good or for ill.

Hopefully, there are also words that our heavenly Father speaks to us that we have really taken to heart, that we remember and can recall for encouragement, consolation, even to stir up sorrow and repentance from our sins. We should have a sense that the words of Sacred Scripture are words that God is personally speaking to each one of us. We’re all familiar with the Parable of the Prodigal Son, how the Father welcomes him back and throws a feast, but actually the words that the Father speaks to the elder son are what stuck out to me during one retreat, and I continue to think of those words often. When the elder son refused to enter into the feast, the Father also comes out to him, and he says, “Son, you are here with me always. Everything I have is yours.” Do I really believe that God says that to me? “You are here with me always. Everything I have is yours.” Jesus is speaking to you and to me when He says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. 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, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Do we believe that?

The truth is that most of the time, we would rather not take God at His word. We’d rather not believe that sin is as damaging and as unsatisfying as God warns us it is. For many of us who find ourselves too busy to pray, we’d rather not believe that prayer is all that it is cracked up to be, and that we are so often missing out on the greatest opportunity that this life on earth has to offer. When we so often ignore and rebel against God, we’d rather not believe that living in the presence of God and in communion with His will for us is actually as great and as satisfying as God promises it is.

If anyone here suffers from FOMO, the “fear of missing out,” we know there are things we tell ourselves to help us cope with missing out on something good. “Well, I’m sure that party was lame anyway. I really never wanted to go. Would have been too loud. And I bet the food wasn’t very good, either.” We do the same even more so when it comes to our spiritual lives or our lack of a spiritual life. We tell ourselves, “A life lived for God can’t really be as good as Jesus says. The Resurrection and heavenly glory can’t really be worth all the sufferings that the Saints endured, the Cross that Jesus freely accepted,” because if it is, if what God keeps saying to us actually turns out to be true, then the way I’m living my life needs to change. If I’m living as if sin is no big deal, but it really is, that’s not a comfortable position to be in. If I’m living as if suffering is the worst evil that should be avoided at all cost, but it really isn’t, then my whole approach to life needs to change, and that’s not easy.

God speaks His heart to us. Out of His great love and concern, He continues to tell us the truth, through the words of Sacred Scripture and through the teachings of the Catholic Church. But we don’t really want to believe it, because we don’t want to have to live it. The season of Lent begins this Wednesday, another opportunity for us to take God at His word, to really believe Him, and to even make changes to the way we’re living to reflect the Truth of what God says to us. It can be a transformative experience, or it can be another missed opportunity. The choice is ours. Let’s make it a good one.

Worship Requires Sacrifice

Response to a Query

A few years ago, we had a Biblical scholar, Dr. Leroy Huizenga, come to our diocese to speak with all the clergy about the Gospel according to Matthew. One of the most intriguing points in his presentation concerned the eschatological sayings of Jesus, namely, concerning the end times.

In the Jewish mind, the concept of the destruction of the Temple was inextricably bound up with the idea of the end of the world and the coming of Messiah, so it is not always clear or distinct when Jesus is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem (“before this generation passes away”) or to His own death and return from the dead, or to His Second Coming at the end of days.

The reason for this conflation was that for the Jews, worship of God always involved sacrifice. The first ones recorded as having offered sacrifice to God were Cain and Abel, sons of Adam. The destruction of the Temple would imply the cessation of sacrifice (and therefore “worship” of the one true God in its full sense). For this to come to an end again after the Babylonian Exile would effectively, in the Jewish mind, bring about the end of the entire world.

John 4:20 makes little sense if we don’t have this in mind. “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” By this time, synagogues were in many, many places. Jews and Samaritans offered prayers and praise to God in almost every city they inhabited, so what was so special about Jerusalem that only there “people ought to worship”? This only makes sense if we know that worship always implied for them sacrifice. The Temple in Jerusalem was the only place where Jews were allowed to offer sacrifices to God and, therefore, “worship” in its primary sense.

The Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass is of course the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices, the New Covenant in His own Blood that Jesus entrusts and commands His Apostles to renew “in memory” of Him, in the fullest Jewish sense of “memory,” not just to recall pasts events abstractly in our minds, but by the ritual action and grace given by God, to make present again, throughout the generations, the saving work of Christ, the sacrifice of His own Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. So just after foretelling the end of Jewish worship of God, Jesus institutes a New Worship in Himself, the New Temple, in spirit and truth.

Only Christ’s own perfect offering of His whole Self to His heavenly Father is “worship” in the fullest sense, but as the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, we are called to participate in that one sacrifice, to imitate what we celebrate, to unite to the sacrifice of Christ all our “prayers, works, joys, and sufferings” of each day (Morning Offering). Insofar as the rest of our thoughts, words, and actions flow from and return to the sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist, they are part of our worship of God.

The practice of the presence of God throughout the day is prayer and adoration and in a certain sense an offering of our attention and ourselves to God, in imitation of Christ Himself. It is “worship” in a derivative sense, as it is by the grace of the Eucharistic Christ that we are able to live in awareness of God’s presence.

A Haven for Saints and Sinners

By Msgr. Ronald Knox

“You may object that St Paul perhaps wasn’t thinking of what we mean by the Church; he was thinking of the invisible Church, as it has sometimes been called–not a society of people distinguishable here and now by possessing a common faith and a common organization, but simply an ideal concept, the sum total of those souls whose names will, at last, be found written in the book of life. Only, you see, that won’t do, because our Lord himself doesn’t think of the Church in that way. The kingdom of heaven (which was his name for it) is like a mixed crop, part of wheat, part of it cockle, only to be separated at the final judgment; it is like a net cast into the sea, which brings up fish for the dinner-table and fish which are of no use to anybody, not to be separated till the net is brought in to land. The Church, then, as Christ himself envisaged it is a visible Church, rogues and honest men mixed; not all members of the Church are bound for heaven by any means.

“And if you look around, to-day, for a visible Church which is visibly one, there is hardly any competition, is there? I mean, Christians who belong to other denominations don’t even claim, as a rule, that their denomination is the Church. Church unity is something which existed in the early ages, which will, it is to be hoped, come into existence again later on; it doesn’t exist here and now. Anybody who has reached the point of looking round to find a single, visible fellowship of human beings which claims to be the one Church of Christ, has got to become a Catholic or give up his search in despair.”

As quoted in Daily Readings in Catholic Classics, edited by Fr. Rawley Myers

South Dakota Blues

Bulletin Letter, Eastertide Sunday 3B

Happy Easter! Most of us probably aren’t too thrilled about the weather lately, still having snow midway through April. I for one always hope that the Celebration of the Resurrection of Christ from the dead will bring on the new life of the spring season in earnest, but in South Dakota, you never can be sure. Seeing everything clothed in white is probably appropriate for Easter, though. The Easter season lasts until Pentecost on May 20, so we should at least see some green grass by then.

Back when I studied in Rome, I got to know some Australians pretty well, and it was so strange for me to hear about how they celebrate the same holidays in the Southern Hemisphere. Of course, with December at the start of summer for them, Australians are used to having a barbeque and going to the beach on Christmas. And while we usually have the new life of spring budding forth to call our minds to the Resurrection of Easter, Australians are entering the cool of autumn instead. So just remember, it could be worse.

Fr. Smith has already taken to running outside again. My legs are not quite as restless or ambitious, but I’ll be putting in lots of miles on the road with Bishop Swain for Confirmations in the upcoming months. Throughout the Easter season, I love the contrast that the Lectionary provides with readings from the Acts of the Apostles, after they had been “confirmed” and strengthened by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the accounts from the Gospel of the Resurrection appearances, when the Apostles were still not quite getting it, hesitant to believe, and holed up in the room of the Last Supper with the doors locked.

Now how often do we behave more like those Apostles locked in the upper room, rather than the Apostles set on fire with the Holy Spirit—even though we, too, have received of His fullness through Baptism and Confirmation? How easy is it for us to recommend to others a restaurant or a movie or an app on our phones, but how seemingly difficult to share about our relationship with Jesus and His Church? When we should be actively looking for opportunities to share our faith, as the Apostles took advantage of every occasion and opening, far more often we are only active in looking for excuses to keep it to ourselves.

As the sun comes to melt away the snows and uncover the green grass once more, may the fire of the Holy Spirit melt away the indifference from our hearts and open them to spread the love of Christ to every person we encounter, to every corner of the earth.

Mary, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, pray for us!

God Loved Us First

Homily, Ash Wednesday

Why are we here today?  There could be many different answers to this question. To get ashes on our foreheads. To begin the season of Lent. Right now, to pretend to listen to a homily on Ash Wednesday. Why are we here? There could be other answers, but as we begin this season of Lent and all our Lenten practices, it’s good for us to keep in mind the most important answer to this question, the most basic and foundational truth of our existence and the real reason for our presence here today.

So why are we here? St. Paul gives us the answer in our second reading: “For our sake, [God] made Him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” All of us are here today because God has so marvelously shown and proved His love for us, His great desire for each one of us. In Jesus His Son, who became obedient even to the point of death on a cross for love of us, we discover the meaning of life itself. We are here because of all that God has done for us.

There is often a temptation as we think of what to give or give up for Lent to be preoccupied with asking ourselves what we can do for God, or even what we can do for ourselves through our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Instead, it’s important that we always keep in mind that any good we do, any success we have in our Lenten disciplines is already a response to God’s infinite love for us, and that it’s only possible through His grace and providence. Our love for God in response to His love is the essential part of our Lenten practices; it is what remains “hidden and secret,” in our acts of penance, as Jesus mentions in today’s Gospel, “and your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

Most of our problems and lack of progress in the spiritual life stem from not sufficiently allowing ourselves to be struck and convicted, to be moved by the startling and overwhelming love of God that is revealed to us in Christ Jesus, revealed especially in His suffering, death, and Resurrection. One of my favorite devotions has always been the Stations of the Cross, and Lent is especially a time to consider God’s wonderful work of our redemption in Christ. Every Friday during Lent at 7 pm here at the Cathedral, we’ll be praying the Stations of the Cross, and I encourage you to attend, and to let the reality of what Jesus did for you and for me really sink in and stir your hearts.

Also, if you’ve never taken the time to just read one of the gospels from start to finish, maybe to do so over the course of a couple days, but to read one of the gospels as you would read other books, it can be a very powerful experience. This year especially focuses on the Gospel according to St. Mark, which is the shortest of the Gospel accounts, 16 chapters, and only 64 pages if you were to buy it in paperback form. I invite you to try it out, or to do it again as we enter into Lent, and as you read the Gospel, to pay attention to what you notice, to what surprises you, to the plot and movement of the Gospel events. Let yourself get caught up in the experience of the apostles and the first Christians who found in Jesus the great love of God in bodily form, the reason why we are still here, the reason why we still gather as Christians to worship God every Sunday.

God so desires to make us one with Him, to illicit a response of love from us by His grace, that Jesus even gives us His own Body and Blood to eat, at this Mass and at every Mass. Far greater than the ashes that we will receive on our foreheads, Jesus invites us to receive Him into ourselves, to consume Him and to be consumed by Him in Holy Communion. May this great love and desire of God for us move us to repentance, animate all our Lenten practices, and help us to pray to God with today’s Psalm, “Restore in me the joy of your salvation; [and] sustain in me a willing spirit.” Amen.