So, it’s Lent, how are you doing? We are about half way through the season of Lent; how are you doing with your disciplines of prayer, charity, forgiveness, fasting and abstinence? It is important to remember that Lent is not just about being 100% perfect in what we chose to “give up” or decided to “take on.” Lent is about striving to perfect our ways and to start over – and over again – if we should fail during the season. I often reflect on why Jesus fell three times as He carried the cross. Couldn’t He, as God, carry the cross without falling under the cross? Of course He could. I believe Jesus exhausted Himself – fell three times – to teach us a human lesson. The lesson is that we will fall (ourselves); but, when we fall, we are to pick ourselves up and continue on. (And sometimes, like the song says – asking “With a little from my friends.”) We are not done when we fail, but we are done when we give up trying or when we no longer desire to even try. I recall another great line that I once heard in a movie: (paraphrased) “You are not defined by your failures in life – but you are defined by how you rise after you fall.”
So, how are you doing this Lent? If you are 100 % on track – excellent! If you have stumbled a little in the Lenten disciplines, see this as an opportunity to pick yourself up and start again! (That is what the Sacrament of Confession is all about.)
Having talked about Lent, how are you doing with planning the celebration of Holy Week and Easter? Among my best and strongest memories growing up are those revolving around that week. My parents taught us to allow the Church and our celebration of the Paschal event to regulate our lives that week. As a family, on Holy Thursday we celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and did the pilgrimage to visit Our Lord in Repose at seven churches around our area (as I know some of you still do as a family / friends tradition). I recall this was so ingrained in me that when I was a senior in college, I still went to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday night and took all of the guys with me throughout Boston! Let’s admit it … these devotions are difficult in our area … but maybe … at least stop into church to spend some quiet time for prayer.
Of course, Good Friday night was the time to color our Easter eggs! Holy Saturday was going to Confession and then staying around to lock the church doors and help to decorate the church for the Vigil.
Sometimes, we would come back and celebrate the long (but great) Easter Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday night! It was an awesome experience to recount the darkness of life without the Light of the Resurrected Christ (as we celebrated the Old Testament readings in “the dark” and the New Testament readings in “the light”). If we couldn’t make the Vigil – then it was Mass on Easter Sunday morning – then off to a great Easter Buffet Brunch…with orange juice mimosas.
These are my memories of the Triduum and Easter (and how I learned to celebrate it from my parents within the life of the Church). I share them with you and ask you to plan and question for yourself: what Easter memories are you creating for your family?
I would like to offer a few observations this week regarding the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. As your priest, I would like to be sure that this Sacrament (as well as all of the Sacraments) are properly and prayerfully celebrated…and often!
The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is for those who are ill, and may be received more than once in a person’s life. This Sacrament may be celebrated prior to surgery, as someone progresses through an illness and experiences a decline in health, or received by someone who is near death. The Sacrament is a Sacrament of the LIVING, and is to be celebrated while the recipient is alive (and cannot be given after death).
Talking with some priest lately, it has been noticed that some wait too long to call upon us to come and celebrate the Sacrament. Some have actually waited until the person has died to contact a priest. It is important to note, as you care for yourself or for a loved one, and it is possible or even likely that the patient is progressing towards death, the Sacrament of Anointing should not be delayed. Some priests have often noticed that families may wait until the last minute to call us to come to celebrate Anointing. This is a problem because it risks the possibility that no priest will be available (especially during the weekend Mass times). As soon as someone is aware that their illness is that serious, Anointing should take place. This should happen to pray for healing and hope. It should take place to be properly prepared should death occur. If someone enters nursing home care, it is advisable to have them Anointed even if they are in stable condition.
It is important to note in that once a person has received this Sacrament, they have received the Sacrament. (Multiple anointings are not needed, nor are they even appropriate over the span of a week, several weeks or a few months). But, as many of you know, I do try to make the Sacrament generally available and celebrated during weekday Masses quarterly (or so).
So, to that point, I would like to offer Anointing of the Sick this coming First Friday Masses. I celebrate the Mass at the Bowdle Nursing Home (in the activity room) at 10:00am; and, then will be in Hoven for adoration, confessions and Mass at 7:00pm. This is a time for anyone who knows they will have surgery or serious medical tests (or in recovery) in the coming months to be anointed. It is also a time for those among us who are going thru marked levels of a condition – growing more serious – to also receive the Sacrament again.
Please know (as many of you promote …!!! Thank You !!!) that I am always here to serve your Sacramental needs, and it is my duty to properly administer the Sacraments. I share the above because I have noticed some tendencies that need to be clarified (and the word spread)…Anointing of the Sick is not for just the dying anymore!
If you made a Lenten plan and if you are working the best you can to fulfill this plan – AMEN! Keep up the great spiritual work! If you allowed Ash Wednesday to pass without a plan in place — it is not too late. It is far better to look at the 40 days ahead rather than the few that are in the rear-view mirror. It is not too late to reflect and begin to live this Lent well. Similarly, if you have begun, but stumbled a little, it is time to “pick yourself up, brush yourself off and start again!”
This is the message of Lent…this is the message of our Catholic Faith…and this is clearly the message of our Scripture this Sunday. We are reminded in the book of Genesis of the story of Noah. Here is a man who was told by God (paraphrasing Him): “OK Noah…I am going to give you some time to get ready for a cataclysmic event that will shake the world. I need you to focus and work My Will and not yours. Ready…Go!”
Looking at our first parents in the Genesis story, it was through Adam that sin entered and it is through the (new Adam) Jesus Christ, that redemption entered, our world and lives. Adam put God to the test and gave in to the temptation of sin, as he tried to seize for himself all that God had already promised him.
Noah, in contrast, says to the world, “I will trust You know what You are doing. Everyone thinks I am weird for observing Your rules. But – I’ll trust I will be better off working out Your Plan for me.
We live in Grace. Jesus Christ was obedient until death (death on the Cross) and in the power of Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection we have the power to realize that sin no longer masters us. Lent is our call to Trust and Believe that the power of Grace is alive in our very lives, and that it is stronger than the power of temptation and sin.
As we begin to live Lent we need to recognize this season as a season of Repentance. As we live in this period of repentance, we grow in confidence in God and in His mercy, compassion and love. Lent, especially through our repentance, opens our individual heart, mind and soul to allow Jesus to transform us to live with a new heart, a new mind and a new soul. This is why we are called by the Church to deeper prayer, adoration of the Eucharist, sacrifice, fasting, abstinence, service and charity. These become the vehicles, working together in a dynamic (like God and Noah working together), for us to open ourselves to God’s Grace.
Remember, we have just begun to live Lent. It is never too late to begin to grow closer to Jesus in repentance, prayer, sacrifice and service. In doing so, we will emerge stronger as we allow the “new Adam,” Jesus Christ, to reign and triumph over temptation and sin in our personal choices. May God bless you, and our Mother Mary watch over and intercede for you always…but most especially during this season of Lent!
I am sure you join me in thinking: “Lent, already? Really?” With the sub-zero temperatures, it is difficult to think that we are actually in Lent, but we are and so the simple question: “Do you have your Lenten plan in place?” Also, “What is Lent really all about?”
The season of Lent is a time to reflect back on our Baptism and how we practically live our Sacrament of Baptism on a daily basis. Regretfully, some people today may see Baptism just as a family tradition or custom, but it is really a living reality. The grace of Baptism forms us as part of the Body of Christ and connects us to one another as a real family in our parish and throughout the Diocese of Sioux Falls. And, when you think about it, when you come into any Catholic church, the grace of Baptism connects us to Catholics and Christians throughout the world and to our brothers and sisters who have gone before us and share in the next chapter of life eternal.
Eternal life begins at the moment we are conceived. We transition from life in the womb to life outside of the womb. Baptism is the grace that unites us to God and addresses the estrangement caused by original sin. To truly live our Baptism means that we live as a faithful son or daughter of God. Growing up, I remember a teacher (from the Deep South) had a strange phrase that I heard over and over again. Whenever we would go to recess (or head home) she would remind say: “Remember, don’t make shame!” That simple phrase reminded me to live as a boy, teenager, young man and now an adult man in a manner worthy of our Catholic name; to bring honor to our faith and not disgrace. To live our Baptism means the same. We are to live as a faithful son or daughter, not making shame (meaning avoiding sin). We are to live a life faithful to the teaching of God as the objective standard of Truth. We are to live knowing that we belong to the Body of Christ, and not as some abandoned and isolated being.
Though we may not have anyone seeking to join the parishes this Easter, we can learn a great lesson from the Catechumens of our Church during this Season of Lent. Our Catechumens remind us of the quest for Truth as they break open the Word of God and as they search for understanding in the teachings and life of the Church. Our Catechumens have an eager joy which directs them, and us, to thirst for God. In a few short weeks we will hear Jesus say “I thirst” as He hung upon the Cross. These two simple words remind us to do the same, to thirst for God. Lent is a time of a “desert journey” and our image of a desert is to thirst. A desert is really a place filled with life. I recall many years ago taking a day-long tour of the Great Salt Lake desert in Utah. It was an awesome experience as I learned of the life which exists in the dry climate of the dessert. I learned where the sources of water existed as well as the sources for food and essential nutrients which all exist within the desert. (And, weirdly, I saw the beauty of animal and plant life that naturally exist in the desert.)
Please allow Lent to be a desert experience for you. See the life that exists when we simplify our daily running around. See the richness and inner peace that comes from eliminating “things” and “running to events,” and simply exploring a life with God. See the source of food, water and essential nutrients which exist in our Sacraments, Adoration Chapel, adult small group continuing education. See the many opportunities in the area (even from other parishes around us) as nutrients leading to a full and healthy life with God in this world, all in preparation for the transition from life on earth to life with God in the kingdom to come.
This coming Monday and Tuesday, the Church will be celebrating the Feast Days of some fascinating people St. Agatha (Monday) and St. Paul Miki and His companions (Tuesday). Today is a natural day to reflect on the meaning of our own Baptism and exactly what Baptism means in our Church and life of faith. It seems that life often takes on different themes at different times. Recently, it seems that many questions regarding Baptism have presented themselves to me. Let’s take a few moments to consider the meaning of Baptism.
Basically, Baptism implies the participation in the mystery of Jesus Christ and His Body…the Church. We are Baptized to be members of the Body of Christ. In the 21st century, a person can be Baptized into a particular Christian tradition. Although many of the Christian traditions recognize each other’s Baptism as being valid, there are some Christian traditions that do not. Even though different Christian traditions may acknowledge each other’s Baptism as valid…it also does not mean that you are a member of that particular denomination or church. Up to the Reformation, there was one Catholic / Orthodox (Christian) Church. From the time of the Reformation onward, there are many different Christian churches, and the Roman Catholic Church is one of the many Christian traditions.
Why do I raise this simple and obvious point? I have observed that some families right here at our various parishes are attempting to raise their children in two different Christian (and at times non-Christian) religious denominations. It seems that this generally is being done because the parents are of two different religions and desire to have their children learn both faiths. These parents want their children to make a decision on their own (when they become an adult) as to which church they wish to identify with. When a couple is married in the Catholic Church, the priest MUST HAVE the couple agree to: fidelity, openness to having children…and the children of the marriage will be baptized AND RAISED Catholic. If this is not agreed to…the priest IS NOT PERMITTED to marry the couple.
Every analogy is weak, but permit me one. There are different ways of educating children. Today, the two most popular forms of education remain the traditional school/classroom model and home-schooling. I do not know any family where the parents, wishing to expose their children to both methods – have them in a school all day and then come home to be homeschooled for another six hours. Both traditional school/ classroom education and home-schooling provide an education and have different reasons, methods and philosophies behind them. Parents choose one method to follow and do not follow both at the same time.
In terms of faith, the same is true. This is a real problem and I fear one that will lead minimally to our children growing up confused, and maximally lead to their abandoning faith altogether. They do not and will not have a strong foundation.
Each denomination or religion in the West has their particular beliefs. For example, the Catholic Church is the only one with seven Sacraments. We are the only ones who believe, in the Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Penance. With our contemporary world, in light of the Supreme Court decision regarding marriage, some Christian churches have departed to a more-secular understanding of marriage within their religion. Other churches, like our Catholic Church, have maintained a traditional, God-defined understanding of Marriage. These are only a couple of examples.
The interpretation and understanding of Scripture also depends on which church you belong. Some subscribe to a historical-critical method of interpretation…while others are very literal and fundamental in determining its meaning. Other interpretation methods also exist. Finally, the rooting of the moral life also depends on “sola scriptura”, faith and good works, and/ or Scripture and tradition (just to name a few different ways of thought).
I would believe that most, if not all of us, have confronted in our family and circle of friends someone who feels they are in the bind of passing-on two different faith traditions to one set of children. Of course, I would encourage the passing-on of our Catholic tradition, but I would also encourage teaching our children one particular faith tradition and not create confusion in their lives over the very meaning of Sacraments, Scripture, liturgical practice, formation of morals and Church history and tradition. Last month as we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord, reflect on the meaning of the Body of Christ. Please see, as St. Paul reminds us, that we are members of one another. Baptism assimilates us to Christ and as we unfold the mystery of the meaning of Baptism within Christ’s Body, THE CHURCH, it is then that we understand the meaning of mercy, love and the proper way to live life ordered to one day sharing in the Resurrection of Christ. In short, Baptism invites us to live a life within the life of the Church. Baptism invites us to accept, embrace and love the Truth of God as defined within the Catholic Church and to make that Truth the very foundation of our life. I know I have made the Catholic faith the single foundation of my life. No house has two or three different foundations and remains standing. A solid house has one solid foundation, and as the Scripture reminds us, the solid house has a foundation built solidly on rock and weathers all of the storms. It remains standing. When you study the lives of the martyrs, one has to recognize their faith was the very foundation of their lives. Maybe one of the reasons why so many turn away from faith is because there is not one solid rock foundation for them; but, foundations built on the sands of confusion regarding the Truth of God and faith.
May we renew our own commitment of Baptism, today. May we desire to live a life within the life of the Church, and trust the Truth of our Church enough to be the rock foundation for a joy-filled and fulfilled life in this world, as we prepare for the fullness of life in the world to come (as did Agatha and Paul Miki and his friends).
Finally, I want to thank all those who were so kind and generous to remember me at Christmas with cards, gifts, cookies, food, cakes and even a few bottles of wine! (Except for the wine), I recently consumed the last of Christmas! Your kindness is greatly appreciated. May God continue to bless you!
In this week’s Second Reading from St. Paul presents a challenge to the Church 2000 years ago…and to us today: are we willing to be led, or do we wish to lead our leaders? It is important to use the standard of the Gospel to assess our leadership. If Church leaders are in the truth of the Gospel…are we willing to trust their leadership (even if we disagree with their decisions)?
This is an important question to ask, both with our ability to follow our Church leaders (pope, bishop, priests, deacons, religious and consecrated as well as lay leaders) as well as civil officials. Do you wish to be led by Christ and the Gospel; or, by popular thought, politically correct ways of thinking, and/or relativism?
Are you willing to be led even if you do not know where you are going? This is an increasingly difficult issue for many of us. We are willing to follow…provided that we are given a full trip-tic and tour of the journey.
I sense this in many facets of our own parish life. We are not willing to go on a retreat or attend a class or program if we do not have full disclosure of the agenda and content prior to attending. Are we willing to trust in faith that we need to be led, and all that is necessary will be revealed when we need to possess the knowledge?
Worship is essential to the life of faith and to understanding mercy. As we are now in the New Year, are we willing to really worship God with our full mind, heart and soul? Perhaps a good New Year’s Resolution would be to truly spend time in worship. Although I admire families who work hard to make sure they “get to Mass” on the weekend, amidst many other obligations and activities, I often wonder what long-term effect this has on true worship. Can we take the time to block off and be in church five or ten minutes prior to Mass to reflect on the readings and pray, in order to truly worship, rather than be looking around to see who else is around us. And maybe even stay for a few minutes (let everyone else leave) to pray and reflect on what was just celebrated with our Lord?
If we are able to follow all of the above we may realize that God is going to call us to discern His Will, and to understand and live His Mercy in a much different way than we currently understand.
The final question is this: Will we be able to change our plans and directions, as St. Paul suggests, based on what we discern God’s Will to truly be? The only means to discern His will is to take time to listen and seek direction from those He gives us as leaders and guides.
It is that time of the year again! I am not talking about the cold and the snow, although that is here as well. “It” refers to Ordinary Time. For a brief period we will be in “Ordinary Time” of the Church’s liturgical cycle.
We finished the celebration of the Christmas Season last Sunday with the Baptism of the Lord. Two weeks ago Monday, we began Ordinary Time. This calls us to reflect on Jesus’ ministry. When we heard about His Baptism from the hands of John…we will continue this Sunday to hear about His ministry. John may be arrested…but…that will not stop Jesus and the establishment of His gospel and His Church. In Mark’s Gospel, the arrest of John the Baptist begins Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus goes out and begins to date His…soon to be…Bride the Church.
Briefly, this is not a story of “a” nuptial union, but a description of “the” nuptial union: the wedding of the Lamb; the Kingdom of Heaven, which is “the” nuptial union. All of the Baptized are in a covenant with God, which culminates in eternal life. Eternal life is the perfection of the nuptial union. This nuptial union is symbolized for us in the marriage of husband and wife.
The scripture is loaded with spousal language. In the Old Testament, we hear God speak in spousal language in reference of Himself with His spouse, the chosen people of Israel. In the New Testament, we hear spousal language often. John the Baptist, of Advent and Christmas memory, has been referred to as the “best man” to the bridegroom (Jesus). Jesus refers to Himself as the bridegroom in different places in the Gospels. It is Jesus Who is the future Bridegroom in today’s Gospel and we are His Bride, as we come to understand the fullness of the nuptial union in heaven. As we see the permanent commitment, faithfulness, love and sacrifice of husband and wife, we are reminded that Jesus will never abandon His Bride, the Church.
We are also reminded of Jesus’ perfect faithfulness to each of us. He will always honor the truth of the relationship we share with Him. Jesus’ perfect love is sacrificial, as He gave His life for us on the Cross. Today’s Gospel reminds us of the importance of the Sacrament of Marriage and why we, as a Church, honor and protect its meaning and integrity. God is the Author of life, and husband and wife are invited to be co-creators with God. In their marriage they have the potential to create life. This sacrament reminds us of the nuptial union of heaven and the perfect marriage of God with each of us (born and unborn). Just as sin entered into the world through a woman, Eve, so too, redemption enters into the world through a woman, Mary. Adam, in Genesis, tells God the “woman” You put here gave me the fruit to eat,” and in John’s Gospel Jesus tells us His Mother, Mary, is the “woman” through whom redemption from sin takes place.
As we live our Baptism, which leads to the permanent nuptial union in Heaven, we look, as the “Bride” of Christ, to become one daily with our Bridegroom…Jesus.