One of the gifts we have as Catholics is the living Word of God. The first part of every Mass we celebrate is called the Liturgy of the Word. The Word, of course, comes to us from the Bible, the inspired Word of God. The Bible is far more than a historical account of the relationship of God and His people, it is the life-giving voice of God for us to hear, think about, and be informed, encouraged, and inspired by as we hear this week’s Sunday readings.
More than 3,000 years ago there were two women who were ordered to kill male children when they were born, but they refused. Their names are Shiphrah and Puah, and their goodness and concern for human life is recorded in the first chapter of the Book of Exodus. The Jewish people wound up in Egypt after Joseph was sold into slavery and then became a very high-ranking person in the royal family. But once Joseph died and time passed, the Jewish people were enslaved and the birth of their male children was seen as a threat to the King and his fellow Egyptians. Exodus 1:15-22 tells us: “The King of Egypt told the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was called Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives for the Hebrew women, look on the birthstool: if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she may live.” The midwives, however, feared God; they did not do as the King of Egypt had ordered them, but let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this, allowing the boys to live?” The midwives answered Pharaoh, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women. They are robust and give birth before the midwife arrives.” Therefore God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and grew very numerous. And because the midwives feared God, God built up families for them. Pharaoh then commanded all his people, “Throw into the Nile every boy that is born, but you may let all the girls live.”
These two midwives are our forebears in the Pro-life movement today. They refused to be threatened by what the King would do to them, and as a result, found peace with God and experienced His blessing. They saw beyond popular opinion and the law enacted by the leader of their nation.
This week’s reflection is brought forward to remind our parish members that the Fortnight of Freedom (which was established since the Obama administration attempts…(and I remind everyone…still attempts)…to remove religious freedoms from our public square. Too many believe that the Trump administration “has taken care of all that”. NOT TRUE…the Obama leftovers continue his agenda in full force and by every means possible. So let us not be lulled into a sense of false security. The Fortnight for Freedom of 2017 has begun last Wednesday, June 21st (the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More) to July 4th (Independence Day). This is a time to pray all the more for our country. The US Conference of Bishops asks us to reflect:
It is good to love one’s country, but ultimate loyalty is due only to Christ and his kingdom. Nationalism becomes idolatrous when loyalty to the nation is more important than loyalty to Christ. Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher show us what faithful citizenship looks like. They loved and served their country. But when they were forced to choose between God’s Church and the king, they were faithful to the Church. May their example continue to illuminate the path for us, as we seek to faithfully serve our Church and country.
Next week, we as a society honor the fathers who do so much (and like St. Joseph, himself) are given little fanfare. This year, in your celebrations, remember the new fathers that are not so well known to many: Father Joseph Scholten, Father Brian Eckrich, Father Andrew Thuringer, Father Tyler Mattson, Father Timothy Smith and Father Thomas Hartman (and Father … to be…God willing…Rev. Mr. Patrick Grode). Let us take a moment this week to prepare for next Sunday’s celebrations! Let’s not just think about our fathers for just one moment for one day this year.
Yes…we celebrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity this week. But, often, we are overwhelmed by the the Three in One Godhead. So…something to reflect –
At the Masses this weekend we will offer a special blessing to our fathers, grandfathers, godfathers, and all who offer us paternal love and care. They protect us, provide for us and support us often in many unappreciated ways. It is sad that all too often their holy vocation is depicted so disparagingly in sit-coms, movies, etc. Far from being bumbling dolts…our fathers are so often a great source of thoughtful advice, lived experience and compassionate encouragement. They are often faithful, quiet examples of hard work and loving dedication. We are deeply grateful for them and we ask our Heavenly Father to bless them this day.
There is a hymn in the missalette that always makes me pause on the greatness of the vocation of father’s as we think of the father of Jesus – St. Joseph (often thought of as the “forgotten” saint): “… And Joesph’s love make ‘father’, To be, for Christ, God’s Name”. (ref: By All Your Saints Still Striving) May, God our Heavenly Father, keep all our fathers close and blessed as they reflect His (often unspoken) Love.
Today is the eighth day in our celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. We prepared for our Easter celebration with forty days of Lent, a time to reflect on our life with God and His life with us. How good it is to be invited to rejoice in the wonder of Easter for fifty days. As we see in today’s Gospel, what seemed to end on Good Friday with the death of Jesus on the cross was renewed, re-nourished, and reaffirmed as the Risen Jesus appeared to His disciples who were behind locked doors for fear of being identified as His followers. His words were not words of disappointment or rebuke, but words of reassuring love: “Peace be with you!” He showed them His hands and His side, they saw that He was the one who was crucified. But most wondrously, He made it clear that He still loved them. Now that love would truly transform them and they would begin building up the Church, the Body of Christ in the world. No longer were they fearful, discouraged, or guilt ridden. He expressed not only His love for them, but also His faith in them as: “He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Not only did Jesus forgive them for their lack of courage, for abandoning Him, and denying Him when He underwent His passion, not only did He assure them of His life-giving love, He now breathed His Holy Spirit on them, entrusting and enabling to do what He did. Now they too could bring the peace of God’s mercy to all who would be open to it. Having personally experienced His forgiveness they were now empowered and impelled to extend that life giving power to all who opened their hearts to their need for it.
Without the Resurrection and the renewing power of God’s mercy and forgiveness, everyday is another time to try to escape the memory and guilt caused by past infidelities, betrayals, selfishness, anger, gossip, and apathy. Without the Resurrection and the renewing power of God’s mercy and forgiveness we expend time and energy trying to carry guilt and self disappointment that only weigh us down more and more. Our fifty day celebration of Easter, every celebration of Mass, every humble confession of sins in the Sacrament of Penance, all raise us beyond the devastating and energy draining power of sin, both our personal sins and failings and the sins and failings we see in our world every day.
Pure, unconditional love, love that is Christ-like and Christ-centered is at the core of what we need to share each day with our family, friends, and all those we encounter. Each time we love from our hearts as Jesus did and His commissioned disciples did after His Resurrection, the life-giving power of Easter is present. These fifty days of our Easter celebration communicate a message that is sorely needed in our world today. Will our world ever be free of such violence? The Resurrection is the beginning of the way to overcome all evils. Even more the power of the Resurrection encourages and enables us to rise always to be life givers in our thoughts, words, and actions. The Holy Spirit breathed onto the Apostles in today’s Gospel has been breathed into us in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. As we learned from our early years, a Sacrament is a visible sign of God’s grace. Filled with the goodness, wisdom, love, and mercy of the Holy Spirit, we become what fill us. Happy Easter!!!
The idea is that every aspect of human existence was better in the “good old days” than it is today. What childish nonsense! All of us are required to live in the present. The “good old days” are right now. The advances in modern technology and medicine are tremendous. People are living longer than ever before. The quality of life is much better now than in the “good old days.”
This Catholic Church of ours has our spiritual welfare in mind during these forty days. In Lent we rise above childish limitations to appreciate the value of this special liturgical season. The Church sees Lent in terms of three different aspects of our life in faith. The first aspect is: the Pascal Mystery, the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ which brings about our salvation. The Church gives us these forty days as a preparation for the celebration of the great event of Easter. The Paschal Mystery is at the very heart of our faith in Christ…as the Savior. It is through the Paschal Mystery that the Church came into being.
With the first aspect of Lent comes the second: Christian initiation. Early in Church history it became clear that the most appropriate time to introduce new members into the faith and Christian community is through the spiritual birth of baptism as the Church was celebrating Her own birth. Lent then became the annual season of preparation for the Sacrament of Baptism.
The third aspect of Lent is: Repentance and Renewal. The Church recognizes that Easter is the time for us Catholics to become reconciled to God and to His Church through the repentance that comes to us in the Sacrament of Penance. Each liturgical year one of the three aspects of Lent take on a prominence. And so during the year of Cycle A it is the turn of repentance to occupy center stage, because of the Gospel of St. Matthew, which features parables about the forgiveness of Jesus. As St. Paul preached repentance to the Romans by explaining how the Lord forgives sinners. “For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly.” Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
So Jesus suffered, died, and rose for all sinners, even the really bad ones. On this Second Sunday of Lent, we should turn our attention to our need for repentance by going to Confession (which isn’t just for the CCD students) as an important part of our preparation for Easter. And giving up treats, snacking between meals, (… or Twitter, Facebook, etc.) like we did in the “good old days” puts us in the proper penitential frame of mind.
Last Wednesday, as I was making my rounds visiting the students in our CCD program, I stopped in one of the classes as they were talking about making good moral decisions in life and choosing right over wrong. We had a very good discussion on morality.
This weekend we celebrate the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings this weekend focus on making wise choices in life. The first reading from Sirach focuses on trusting in God and keeping the Commandments. In today’s Gospel of Matthew, we continue reading the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says He has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Jesus teaches a strong message today. He came to teach a new way of living, not just know the law…but to fully live the law as it was meant to be lived.
– Valentine’s Day…another romantic side I didn’t know before –
Many of you will be celebrating your love for one another today on what is commonly called St. Valentine’s Day, but, as you probably already know, St. Valentine was dropped from the Church’s calendar of Saints in 1969. This is what the online Catholic Encyclopedia has to say; “At least three different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, are mentioned in the early martyrologies under the date of 14 February. One is described as a priest at Rome, another as bishop of Interamna (modern Terni…believe it or not…I actually been to Terni and didn’t know St. Valentine lived there ), and these two seem both to have suffered in the second half of the third century and to have been buried on the Flaminian Way. Of the third Saint Valentine, who suffered in Africa with a number of companions, nothing further is known.” Because there was so little factual information, the feast of St. Valentine was dropped. But where did the link with romance come from? It seems that it was from authors in England and France noting that the birds seem to pair off from around St. Valentine’s Day i.e. midway through the second month of the year. “For this reason the day was looked upon as specially consecrated to lovers and as a proper occasion for writing love letters and sending lovers’ tokens.”
Bishop Barron says that Catholic moral understanding is against the atheist claim that wise, compassionate people can—on their own—discover “the good” or moral truths without God. While there is certainly a moral capacity within all persons, and great Christian teachers from St. Paul to Pope Francis have pointed out that a non-believer can be a good person or have good intentions, Bishop Barron joins with the perspective of our faith in maintaining that, eventually, detaching God as a necessary component in morality will erode the moral fiber of a person, community or society. If, in the end, what is good is not rooted in objective truth but rather if the good is only determined by what I decide—or we decide—is good, in the end moral relativism will emerge (my morality—which is different from yours—is just as good as your morality) and people and society will drift away from what is objectively and truly good…what is moral. Without a connection to God, how can morality be determined solely by human minds and hearts that are afflicted by sin?
That Bishop Barron and our Catholic moral tradition is absolutely right about this can be easily confirmed by looking at what is going on in our society that appears to want to drift further and further away from God. Just consider a partial list: the erosion of married and family life, the growing legalization of euthanasia in the western world, the libertine approach to drug use, the celebration, normalization and focus on a variety of lifestyles that were previously not considered to be ideal, the continued assault on life in the womb, the growth of terror around the world…etc.
This past week was the March for Life in Washington, D. C. Even amidst heavy snow and very cold weather, hundreds of thousands of people from across our nation gave public witness to the essential value of life and the moral imperative to promote and protect it. As I have written in the past, the Church and its allies in the pro-life movement have made great progress in turning around the thinking of many people in our nation about abortion. We are winning the argument, even if there is a lot of work still to be done. There is hope! In the face of our society’s trend toward immorality and detachment from God, the Evil One would have us react with hopelessness, resignation and passivity. But to be rooted in God is to have hope; our connection to the Lord should inspire us to action: learn more about the Church’s moral thinking and teaching, enter into informed conversation about these things with others…pray…find more joy in goodness than fear in the face of faithlessness.
The learning part is important. St. Catherine of Siena said, “The one who knows more, loves more.” If we cannot create morality in our own minds, then it is important that we learn the truth given to us by the One who is the source and expression of all goodness and truth. Ignorance in the face of secularism is a sure recipe for surrender. How can we outwit the compelling logic of our godless age if we do not understand the reasons for our teaching? Join our Adult Formation classes to learn more! (Tuesdays, Hoven at 7:00 pm and/or Thursdays, Bowdle at 7:00 pm).
Saint Teresa of Calcutta. A saint so close to our modern times, that most of us reading this article remember reading about her and seeing her on TV. She was a woman so short in stature, weak and powerless in appearance; yet relentless and powerful in her pursuit of perfection. Even when faced with doubts, failures, and depression – she continued to selflessly serve the poorest of the poor, one person at a time. I would like to share with you my favorite quote of hers, one that has sustained me through many difficulties:
“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
As we celebrate this Sunday, under the title: Mary, Mother of God…one has to pause and reflect (like Mary did)…God chooses to do (what seems to us) something impossible. He, the Creator, becomes creature in His creation. Even more amazing…God becomes subordinate to a human being. Sunday’s Gospel had a very challenging message for us. But, Mary’s answer is similar to Saint Teresa: “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” I believe this quote from Saint Teresa is one of the best interpretations of this Gospel passage. God, through the words of the Evangelist, is trying to drive a very important point home to us. We cannot let our success be dictated by the visible, tangible results that we perceive. We cannot let the Truth of our faith be determined by majority vote. We cannot let our desire to be affirmed by others become a stumbling block to our absolute dedication to the mission of the Gospel.
Throughout my ministry as a seminarian and a priest, I have not met many people who I would consider to be unreasonable, self-centered, and accusative. This is no doubt a blessing from God, and a reason why I have never viewed serving God’s people as a burden rather than a privilege. But what about Saint Teresa? She was called to work hands-on with the poor, sick, and destitute every single day. On top of that, she was constantly faced with criticism from big shot political gurus who couldn’t wait to find some ulterior motive or flaw in her relentless and uncompromising charity towards others. She could have continued to teach Geography to school kids (and probably would have still been united to God forever), yet she chose to quench the thirst of her less fortunate sisters and brothers. But it wasn’t primarily the thirst of the poor that captivated her attention. It wasn’t even her own thirst for Christ that captivated her the most. It was, without a doubt, Christ’s thirst for her, that dictated every action and word that came from her. The greatest truth of our faith is that God loved us first; Christ thirsts for you and me. Once we agree to accept this with the freedom that God gives to us, it is then that we can be the hands, feet, and heart of Christ to others. Jesus calls all of us to have a laser-focus on Him and Him alone. Nothing or no one can get in the way of His love affair for us. When we live in this reality, then nothing (including anyone else says or does to distract us from God’s Will) can touch us. Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us as our parishes prepare to witness (reflecting in our hearts) the Gospel of Life in our little way on January 22nd at the State Capitol.