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.

Travels and Corpus Christi

Bulletin Letter, Trinity Sunday A

Next weekend, my parents will celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary. We had planned a big gathering of the whole family, but that’s been postponed due to the pandemic. I’ll still be heading down to Elk Point this week to spend some time with them, though. I’m glad I’ll be back for the Feast of Corpus Christi and Eucharistic Processions.

It’s a great time to be begging our Blessed Savior for peace in the world, blessings upon our land and communities, and for intelligent reform wherever it is needed to law enforcement, the justice system, and the general dysfunction of our federal government and many major cities. I’ve always liked the Rabbi’s “blessing for the tsar” in Fiddler on the Roof. For us, the ‘tsar’ might represent any number of people in D.C. “May God bless and keep the tsar—far away from us!”

  1. If God was there forever, why did he stay in the dark for sooooo long?

God exists outside time because in Him “there is no variation or shadow of change” (James 1:17). In His divinity, God already was what He is and always will be. He is infinite Being and perfect Act. Before God created time, there was no time, so no succession of moments to make it seem like a long time. Even to speak of something being ‘before’ time existed is to try to use a temporal relation that ultimately doesn’t make much sense ‘before’ the existence of time.

In eternity, God was already doing what He continues to do and always will do, in the eternal relations between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: as God knows Himself perfectly, the Father gives all of His divinity to the Son, His eternal Word, and the Son receives all from the Father. And as God loves what He knows (Himself and all that He could create), the Holy Spirit proceeds in full divinity from the Father and the Son. But these “events,” too, are eternal, always occurring in God’s eternal “now” in a great dynamism, with no beginning and no end. A mystery that slips from our comprehension, as all that we have directly experienced is bound in time and space.

As for His being in the dark, just because material light did not exist yet, we do not normally understand God as existing in darkness. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). He is light because He sees and knows all, and in eternity, God sees and knows Himself perfectly with perfect clarity, perfect light. Again, the spiritual, intellectual light of the mind of God is different and far greater than the material light that we’re more familiar with, visible to our physical eyes.

Looking Forward to Heaven

Homily, Ascension A

If I were to ask you, When did Jesus save us? What was the precise moment when the work of redemption was accomplished? we might have various answers. Certainly the Incarnation, when the Son of God became man and took to Himself our human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that moment changed us and changed the world forever. Most would probably point to His suffering and death on the Cross, His perfect obedience even to the point of death making up for the disobedience and infidelity of our sins. We would also point, of course, to His Resurrection, rising from the grave never to die again. These events have consequences for all of us.

We could even point to His ordinary life, the many years that we don’t actually hear much about. Of course, His being born from a human Mother, His growth and development from infancy to adolescence to adulthood. The fact that God experienced all these things in the Person of Christ changes them for us, consecrates them, allows them to be holy events even in our own lives. To know that God worked and sweat as a carpenter changes work for us. That He ate and drank, that He wept at the death of His friend Lazarus, all that He did and suffered and accomplished was part of the work of salvation and consecrating our humanity to God.

One event that we might not often think about as being for our redemption is what we celebrate today, the Ascension, that our own human nature in Christ is now glorified at the right hand of God. That man has finally entered fully into heaven, body and soul, for the very first time. Jesus didn’t just die on the Cross and rise from the dead so that He could walk around on earth some more. He ascended into heaven to lead us there and to show us that we are meant for much more than anything this world has to offer us. Even if we could live forever, this world and the things of this world, even the relationships that we form in this world can never truly satisfy us. We were made for more. We are destined to see God face to face and to become like Him, to share in the communion of all the Saints, or to be eternally frustrated. The Ascension of Jesus saves us from the lie that we could ever be fully satisfied with anything less than God Himself. And in Christ, our human nature comes to its final rest and already enjoys the reward of its labors.

How often do we really think about heaven and what it will be like? To look upon and enter into union with the One who is more beautiful than anything we have ever experienced, more glorious and satisfying than anything we ever could experience in this life. Do we exercise our desire for heaven and allow it to be our strength as we endure the trials, frustrations, and restlessness of this life? If you’re anything like me, we don’t think about heaven nearly often enough. It’s always easier to plan a trip and to deal with obstacles we meet along the way when we have and keep a specific destination and goal in mind for ourselves.

There’s a verse in Sirach that says, “In all that you do, be mindful of the end of your life, and you will never sin” (7:36). We often think of the end of our life referring to our death and the judgment we will then render to God for what we have done or not done during life, but the end of our life can also refer to our goal, what we’re aiming for: heaven. In all that we do, if we are mindful not only of our death and judgment but also of the superabundant joys and everlasting satisfactions of heaven, the false pleasures of sin will lose their attraction for us, all the easy ways out and the overindulgence of the paltry pleasures of this passing world will seem to be “like so much garbage,” as St. Paul puts it, in comparison to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ and being found in Him.

All that Jesus accomplished, every part of our life on earth that He redeemed and consecrated, even His victory over sin and death was incomplete until He finally opened the gates of heaven and entered into the lasting rest and exceeding joy that He has promised to those who love Him. “In all that you do, be mindful of the end of your life,” be mindful of the joys of heaven, that you may have the strength to persevere through any temptation without sin, so that where Christ our Good Shepherd has gone before, we might follow and share in His unending glory.

Time Switch

Bulletin Letter, Easter Sunday 4A

Even though it’s unclear when public Masses will be allowed to resume, this would normally be the weekend for the Sunday Mass times to switch between Hoven and Bowdle (every 4 months). Our Confession times will change this weekend to reflect what the Mass schedule will be when we resume, so I’ll be available for Confessions at 4:30 pm on Saturdays in Bowdle, from May through the end of August. In Hoven, I’ll be available from about 8:15 to 8:50 am on Sundays. Keep praying that God would guide our leaders with wisdom and with respect for the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, allowing discernment at more local levels whenever possible. 

  1. What is a vow?

A vow is a solemn promise made to God. Probably the most frequent vows made are those related to what are called the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Those who consecrate themselves to God or enter a religious order usually make vows concerning these three ways that reflect how Jesus Himself lived. Poverty (being poor) is often lived out by members of religious orders owning everything in common rather than having personal property. Chastity is lived in celibacy, committing to remain unmarried and striving for a deep intimacy with God. Obedience is vowed to God and superiors of the order, often coming into play when there is a question of where a member of the order should be serving and what his responsibilities involve (like when a priest is moved to a different parish and if he will serve as pastor or priest in residence or chaplain of a school or hospital). 

  1. What is servile work?

The term is usually brought up regarding the commandment to keep the Lord’s Day (Sunday) holy. Servile work refers to work that is unnecessary and burdensome, activity that prevents us from getting to Sunday Mass and experiencing the rest and renewal of body, mind, and spirit through prayer and contemplation of heavenly things. This commandment goes back all the way to when the Israelites were being freed from slavery in Egypt, freed especially to offer right worship to the true God. Jesus tells us not to work merely for earthly “food that passes away but for the food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). Certain types of work are obviously necessary even on Sundays. For example, medical personnel can’t just tell the sick and feeble to take care of themselves for the day. But when it comes to other activities, how much priority do we really give to the Holy Mass and time spent with God? 

Confirmations

Bulletin Letter, Easter Sunday 3A

One news item: Bishop DeGrood has delegated me as Pastor of these parishes to carry out the Confirmations since he will not be able to reschedule so many after the quarantine is lifted. We’ll likely still need to wait till public Masses are reinstated, but this also means that each parish will have its own Confirmation Mass. We were able to have First Communions in Hoven before the lockdown, but we will also be looking to reschedule those in Bowdle. Now more questions from our 5th and 6th graders.

  1. Will the world eventually end?

Yes and no. “The world in its present form is passing away,” (1 Cor. 7:31) and will come to an end after everyone is raised from the dead and Jesus pronounces the Final Judgment. But as was mentioned previously, “we await new heavens and a new earth” (2 Pt. 3:13), and we say in the Glory Be, “world without end.” After the Final Judgment, all human beings will be in either heaven or hell, so there won’t be any on the earth as we know it today after that. But we will have resurrected bodies, still related in some way to the material universe and capable of movement, etc.

Time is the measure of change, and since movement (change in posture or location) requires time, there will be something like time still in heaven. It’s a common misconception to think that the Saints have passed completely out of the realm of time, but God is the only One who is properly eternal (outside time) and changeless. So, the world as we know it today will come to an end, but certain elements of the present world (our bodies, something like time, and the angels and spiritual elements part of our world already, among other things) will continue after the end and for ever.

  1. Can your prayers be answered if you have mortal sin on your soul?

Yes. One of the most important times for us to pray is when we’ve fallen from grace that we may quickly return to it. Contrition and sorrow for sin are graces from God, along with the desire to be reconciled through sacramental Confession. These are all graces we can and should pray for, especially when we have sinned mortally. Certain things, like indulgences, can only be obtained while in the state of grace, but we should never stop praying, especially when we feel too unworthy to pray.

Are You Smarter than a Catholic 5th Grader?

Bulletin Letter, Easter Sunday 2A

Some of our 5th and 6th graders submitted some questions to me, but I thought I’d share them and give you a chance to see how many you already know. References to the 1997 Catechism of the Catholic Church are abbreviated CCC followed by the paragraph (not page) number.

  1. Will Jesus ever come to earth again?

Yes, as we confess in the Creed, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” At the end of time, on the last day, all who have died will be resurrected in their bodies and gathered for the Final Judgment. (Cf. CCC 1001, Mt 25:31ff). CCC 682: When he comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each man according to his works, and according to his acceptance or refusal of grace.

  1. Will there be pets in heaven? If not, why?

I think it is debatable and not clearly revealed. Scripture tells us of “new heavens and a new earth” and uses many images of gardens even for what heaven will be like. We will have our bodies back after the general resurrection, and as part of the “new earth” or the participation of material realities in the Resurrection of Christ, it is conceivable that other plants and animals will be there as well, so if that’s the case, could we keep them as pets? I suppose.

What we don’t have evidence for is that the very same pets we have now will somehow be returned to us in the end. We have good evidence, and it’s revealed by God, that human beings have immortal souls that survive the death of the body, and between the time of our death on earth and our resurrection at the end, it is the survival of our immaterial souls that ensures continuity of our identity. We don’t have the same evidence for other living things on earth. Much more likely is that when they die, their souls do not survive, so there would be nothing tying the identity of Scruffy to some other, even very similar, dog in heaven.

So, if there will be pets in heaven, it’s very unlikely they’d actually be the same ones as we had on earth. And if there are not, it’s because we don’t actually need anything other than God to be supremely happy. We are often tempted to love in disordered ways. To love anything that is not God as if it were God is called idolatry. Similarly, to love anything that is not a person as if it were a person is a disordered form of love.

Happy Divine Mercy Sunday to one and all!

A New Way of Seeing

Homily, Lenten Sunday 4A

Personally, I’ve had a long history of problems with my eyesight. I was only in first grade when I was fitted for my first pair of glasses. I switched to contacts while in school and sports, but these would eventually start to irritate my eyes. My latest pair of glasses I ordered online for a fraction of the usual cost. A couple of my brothers now have had laser eye surgery, but I might wait a while longer for that. The interesting thing about almost always having corrective lenses is that most of the time, we don’t even realize how blurry our vision is until after we get a new prescription. We just get used to not seeing things so well, but then with a new pair of glasses, it’s like we suddenly realize again that trees have individual leaves on the branches, and we see blades of grass, or perhaps more distressing, we might suddenly notice ants or spiders crawling around in our rooms at home. The whole world comes at us again in stunning detail and high definition.

Now the man in today’s Gospel is not just seeing clearly again, having his sight restored, but is seeing things for the very first time in his life. Because the man was born blind and now receives from Jesus a whole new kind of vision that he had never experienced before, this Gospel passage was always seen as an image of the gift of faith, a whole new spiritual vision that God gives to us, to see things according to God’s perspective. We receive the eyes of faith at our Baptism, but if we fail to really nourish our faith, if we focus exclusively on trivial things, only on the here and now, without viewing them in the context of eternity, we run the risk of becoming rather nearsighted in faith.

How much of our time and energy do we invest into things that are really rather pointless and trivial, things that quickly pass away? Whether video games, sports teams, movies and television, the music we listen to, the gossip we engage in. And how does that compare with the amount of time or energy that we give to prayer, to fostering our relationship with God that will hopefully last forever? How much do we invest in really learning Christ, learning not just the teachings of the Church but also the reasons behind them? How much do we really strive to understand our Catholic faith and grow to love it and live it, to learn the Scriptures and the history and Tradition of the Church, and to act upon this knowledge?

Now I played sports in high school. I ran track, played football and basketball. I probably enjoyed basketball the most, but to me they always remained sports, games, things that were meant to be fun, not taken too seriously. Sports can also teach important lessons of the value of discipline, hard work, setting and reaching goals, but I’ve always been very critical of our culture’s level of obsession with sports and performance. It’s one thing to play sports at our leisure and to learn the lessons that the game teaches to those who play, but it’s another thing entirely to have a whole culture and several industries centered around professional, college, and high school athletics. To have so much attention and pressure focused, that someone’s injury could lead them to question their entire identity and purpose in life. It’s not healthy, and it needs to change. The current pandemic has stripped away a lot of sports and many other things that we would consider part of normal life. It’s good for us to reflect: how have these restrictions affected us? How have they affected our faith? And in the wider culture, how has the concern over a disease—that could mean life or death for many—how has this crisis called into question the level of importance and value we tend to place on so many trivial things?

If Catholics and people of faith are unwilling to question and challenge the misguided values of the culture around us, if instead we just let ourselves be swept up into the madness, we fail in our prophetic mission, and we risk losing sight ourselves of what’s truly most important and lasting, in life and in death. We risk a spiritual blindness that is far worse than the loss of our eyes. God grant us the lens of faith to see everything more vividly in the perspective of eternity, and in view of the accounting that we must then render to God for every idle word and vain pursuit.

Bucket List from God

Homily, Feast of Presentation

I’m not sure how long ago it was that I first heard about the concept of a bucket list, but I’ve never thought much of it, let alone compiled one for myself. For those who aren’t aware, it’s a list of things that you want to do or accomplish or places you want to visit before kicking the bucket, before you die. Another related phrase that’s come into usage is yolo, which stands for, “you only live once,” which could just be another way of saying, “Carpe diem” or “seize the day.”

Bucket lists and these other phrases can bring more into focus for us the question of, what makes for a meaningful life. What makes a human life worthwhile? And where do our answers to these questions come from? “You haven’t really lived till you’ve eaten this particular dish, or gone skydiving or bungie jumping or visited this amazing destination.” Does true life merely consist in chasing experiences or traveling the world or reaching a certain place in a career? And is it God telling us these things, or do we receive our direction in life, our desires, our goals and ambitions, more from the evil one, or the standards of this passing world?

The old man Simeon, who receives the Infant Jesus in his arms today, as Joseph and Mary present the Child in the Temple, Simeon seemed to have just one thing left on His own bucket list. The Holy Spirit had told him that he would not see death before he had seen the Christ. And as he finally sees with his own eyes the Christ Child in the Temple, and bears witness to the salvation that has come for all the nations of the earth, he prays to God, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word.” Now that I’ve seen the Light of Christ, I’m ready to die. How often is it that we ask God what He wants for us in this life? What are the items that He would place on our bucket list? And by the end of our lives, what kind of legacy are we going to be leaving behind?

A few years ago, I attended a funeral, and the deceased had been cremated, so I knew there wouldn’t be a full casket present, but I was surprised and disappointed with what was chosen as a final receptacle for the ashes. Right up in front of the altar was a fairly cheap, plastic, tackle box. And inside that tackle box was placed the cremains of the one who had died. Now I don’t know who had arranged for this, if it was part of the wishes of the deceased, but it just seemed so strange to me, and reductive of the meaning and value of a human life. I’m absolutely certain that there was much more to this man than the fact that he liked fishing, and I hope that for each one of us, there’ll be much more that people remember at the end of our lives than just one of our hobbies or a devotion to a certain sports team. Will they remember the times that they saw the Light of Christ in us?

All of us here have received much more than Simeon or Anna during their lifetimes. Not just to look upon Christ with our eyes but to become one with Him through the waters of baptism, to share in Christ’s own identity as sons and daughters of God. And most of us here have also eaten His Flesh and Blood, we’ve received His Soul and Divinity in Holy Communion. Do we really believe that we’ve already received the fullness of Life in this great Sacrament? That there’s nothing greater that we’ll ever do or accomplish, that at every Mass heaven itself comes to visit us, and there’s no greater place we’ll ever be in this life? Does receiving Communion change us and transform our priorities? Or for the rest of the week, do we just go back to living as if we’d never seen the Christ?

You only live once. But you will also live, somewhere, for all eternity. What legacy are we leaving by how we’re living today? And could we be living for something more? Something more meaningful, more lasting, more divine? Jesus is the Life of our life. Don’t let it pass you by without living for Him.

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.