Parish Calendars

Friday, March 5, 2010

New home for the blog

Change is in the air, and I'm not referring to the coming of Spring or Spring Training baseball. The blog is moving to a new address: Come check it out!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent

Today we are presented with the Transfiguration of the Lord, in which Jesus appears to His disciples in a foreshadowing of His glorified body, speaking to two of the greatest figures in the Old Covenant: Moses and Elijah. In this event, we see the divine nature of Our Lord, which is reinforced by the voice of God our Heavenly Father speaking from the cloud, but it also gives us a foreshadowing of what our glorified bodies will be like at our resurrection at the end of time.

Apart from the descriptions in Scripture of the Transfiguration and images of Heaven, we don't have an understanding of what a glorified body looks like. A glorified body is one that has been freed from sin, and is filled with the grace of God. God's glory and majesty is so powerful that it becomes visible as a bright light. The light is so bright that the Sun pales in comparison.

One day, when we have been freed from the shackles of death and our bodies have been raised up following the final judgment, those who died in the state of grace will have their bodies glorified as Our Lord's was after His resurrection. We know this from St. Paul, who tells us that Our Lord “will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables Him also to bring all things into subjection to Himself.” We will share in the glory of God, and our bodies will be purified and raised up.

Sadly, however, that day is yet to come. We on Earth are still affected by sin, and our vision has been darkened by sin. We do not see the radiant glory of God, and would be stunned if we did experience that glory, as Peter, James and John were in the Gospel today. It's been said that if an angel appeared before us in all it's glory, we would not be able to tell that it was merely an angel and not God Himself. In fact, St. John in the Book of Revelation had to be told several times by the angel that appeared to him not to worship the angel, as St. John was awed by the glory of God shining through it.

As we look at the account of the Transfiguration given to us today, it's interesting that St. Luke chose to describe Our Lord's Passion, Death, and Resurrection in Jerusalem as his “exodus”, while Our Lord was speaking to the one figure in the Old Testament who is most well known for Israel's Exodus from Egypt. It's striking that the Exodus that freed the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt parallels the suffering, death and resurrection of Our Lord that frees us from the slavery to sin.

In both cases, a difficult journey with great suffering had to be made in order to gain this freedom from slavery and enter into the Promised Land. Moses had to lead Israel out of Egypt and suffer through the desert for 40 years so that the people of Israel could enter into the Promised Land, which Abram (later known as Abraham) was given by God. Our Lord had to undergo the suffering of the Roman and Jewish authorities, be crucified, die, and rise again so that we might enter into our Promised Land of Heaven.

It's important to point out that “our citizenship is in Heaven,” as St. Paul tells us. Just as the people of Israel were estranged from their homeland when living in Egypt, we are estranged from our Heavenly homeland during our lives on Earth. When you read the account of the Exodus, many in Israel were attached to the things of Egypt, making the Exodus difficult for the Israelites. Sadly, we too are attached to our land of exile, often caring more for the things of Earth over the things of Heaven. As St. Paul once again says, “Their minds are occupied with earthly things.”

To overcome this desire for earthly goods, we need to place our faith in God, as Abram did in the first reading, and as the people of Israel who entered the Promised Land did during the Exodus. When we put our faith in God instead of in the constant concern for earthly things, life won't be without challenge, as the Exodus was not without difficulty, but it will be “credited” to us “as an act of righteousness,” just as it was for Abram. When we are “righteous”, which means that we are in the friendship and grace of God, we too will one day enter into our Promised Land: the eternal joys of God's presence in Heaven.

As we go through our lives here on Earth, we join our exodus through the pain and sorrow that accompany this life to the pain and anguish that Our Lord suffered during his Passion and Death. May our exodus end at the Promised Land of Heaven, just as the Israelites' Exodus ended in their Promised Land.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Do you really need to work on Sundays?

From St. John Vianney's Little Catechism, Part I, Chapter 7:
You labor, you labor, my children; but what you earn ruins your body and your soul. If one ask those who work on Sunday, "What have you been doing?" they might answer, "I have been selling my soul to the devil, crucifying Our Lord, and renouncing my Baptism. I am going to Hell; I shall have to weep for all eternity in vain." When I see people driving carts on Sunday, I think I see them carrying their souls to Hell.

Oh, how mistaken in his calculations is he who labors hard on Sunday, thinking that he will earn more money or do more work! Can two or three shillings ever make up for the harm he does himself by violating the law of the good God? You imagine that everything depends on your working; but there comes an illness, an accident.... so little is required! a tempest, a hailstorm, a frost. The good God holds everything in His hand; He can avenge Himself when He will, and as He will; the means are not wanting to Him. Is He not always the strongest? Must not He be the master in the end?

There was once a woman who came to her priest to ask leave to get in her hay on Sunday. "But," said the priest, "it is not necessary; your hay will run no risk." The woman insisted, saying, "Then you want me to let my crop be lost?" She herself died that very evening; she was more in danger than her crop of hay. "Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that which endureth unto life everlasting." [Jn. 6: 27].

What will remain to you of your Sunday work? You leave the earth just as it is; when you go away, you carry nothing with you. Ah! when we are attached to the earth, we are not willing to go! Our first end is to go to God; we are on the earth for no other purpose. My brethren, we should die on Sunday, and rise again on Monday.

Sunday is the property of our good God; it is His own day, the Lord's day. He made all the days of the week: He might have kept them all; He has given you six, and has reserved only the seventh for Himself. What right have you to meddle with what does not belong to you? You know very well that stolen goods never bring any profit. Nor will the day that you steal from Our Lord profit you either. I know two very certain ways of becoming poor: they are working on Sunday and taking other people's property.
I would add to the great St. John Vianney that we should not be encouraging Sunday work by doing our shopping or other errands on Sundays. We have 6 days in the week to buy groceries, fuel up the car, and the like. There should be only one focus on Sunday: God.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

When we look at the Gospel passages of the Temptation, such as we heard in today's Gospel reading, I think we feel a little bit of comfort that we can share with Our Lord the fact that He was tempted the way we are tempted. At the same time, this passage is very instructive for us because it shows us the sins that the Devil uses to snare us.

I'm taking much of this from a former professor of mine at Mundelein Seminary, Fr. Robert Barron. For a couple of years now, he has been doing a series of brief videos on the Internet called Word on Fire. In these videos, Fr. Barron explains some aspect of the Catholic faith, or takes an aspect of the secular culture and explains it through the eyes of the Catholic faith.

Fr. Barron's most recent video focused on the Three Temptations of Our Lord, which we read in the Gospel passage chosen for this First Sunday in Lent. The point that Fr. Barron made in his reflection on the Temptations is that we can see the sins that the Devil tries to trick us into committing in order to ensnare us.

The Devil's first temptation of Our Lord was to turn the stones that surrounded them in the desert into bread. This temptation is to make sensate pleasure the center of our lives. This would be excessive use of physical pleasures, such as food and drink, to the point that they replace the focus that we should have on God. There's no room for God in our lives because these pleasures have filled them up.

The second temptation of Our Lord is being taken up and shown all the kingdoms of the world. The Devil temps him, saying, “All this will be yours, if you worship me.” (Luke 4:7) The temptation is for glory and power, making Jesus the most powerful person in the world.

For many people, this is the strongest temptation. They may be able to handle the physical pleasures, finding little or no temptation in them. Give them power and glory, however, and they will fall for the Devil's trick every time.

Third temptation finds Our Lord on the parapet, the highest point, of the Temple. The Devil tries to tempt Our Lord to throw Himself off of the parapet, quoting from the Scriptures that the angels will guard and protect Him. First of all, this is a temptation to put God to the test. Secondly, by putting Our Lord on this high place in the temple, which was the center of the society, the Devil was putting Him on the top of society, bringing Him honor and esteem.

Again, for some people, this may be the most dangerous temptation. These people may not want the pleasures of the world, they may not want power, but they seek honor and esteem from those around them. Give them this honor and esteem, and they'll fall for the trap.

So, how to do we resist these temptations? In the first two readings, we see that we need to confess our faith in God. The first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy is a confession of faith of the Israelite people as they are entering into the Promised Land and reaping the first fruits of that land. Confessing their faith that God has lead them to this Promised Land, they turn over their first fruits to Him in gratitude and thanksgiving.

In the second reading, St. Paul tells us that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) This brief statement shows us what we need to do to overcome the temptations of the Devil. We must believe in our hearts the promise of Our Lord that we will be saved and confess that belief publicly through our words and actions in order to overcome the snares and tricks of the Devil. We must also be like the Israelites in the first reading, giving the first fruit of our gifts over to God in gratitude and thanksgiving.

During this Lenten season, may our hearts be open to believing in the promises of Our Lord and may our lives confess that belief, so that we may be saved and help free others from the snares of the Devil.

Praying Continuously

From the Second Reading of today's Office of Readings:

"Prayer and converse with God is a supreme good: it is a partnership and union with God. As the eyes of the body are enlightened when they see light, so our spirit, when it is intent on God, is illumined by his infinite light. I do not mean the prayer of outward observance but prayer form the heart, not confined to fixed times or period but continuous throughout the day and night." -- St. John Chrysostom

Do we make prayer "continuous throughout the day and night", as St. John challenges us? Do we make every moment of our lives a prayer, or do we only pray during those few times a day we set aside for prayer? This is our challenge in our day and age. We must pray every day, and pray unceasingly. Not only in front of the Blessed Sacrament, as important as Adoration truly is, but at work, at home, in our cars, or anywhere else that life takes us.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

This week I preached off of an outline instead of a full script. Here's the outline for the week:
  • Do we understand what it means to be a prophet?
    • Guy standing with "End is near" sign
    • Prophetic speech
      • Idea that prophesy is telling the future

    • Prophet appears throughout our readings
      • Jeremiah's call
      • St. Paul "prophesying partially"
      • Our Lord "prophet without honor in his native place"

  • 2 purposes in the OT for prophesy
    • Call to conversion
      • Israel kept falling away from God the Father
      • Prophets called them back

    • Point to future coming of Jesus
      • Show fulfillment of covenant
      • "Partial will pass away"
        • Revelation in Jewish Covenant was partial
        • Jesus is the fullness of revelation
          • "The perfect"

  • We are called to be prophets
    • Through baptism we share in Christ's ministry
      • CCC 436: "Jesus fulfilled the messianic hope of Israel in His threefold office of priest, prophet, and king."

    • What does it look like to be a prophet?
      • Not foretelling the future
      • 2 purposes
        • Call to conversion
          • Need to do this first in our lives
            • Lead others by example

        • Point to Jesus
          • We need to live our lives by following Christ
          • Allow our witness and example to bring others to Him

        • Priest assembly
          • Example of priests = vocations
          • Example of dedicated Christians = more followers of Christ

  • We are all called to be prophets through our baptisms. Are we willing to answer that call?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Vocation Story part 4 - God's 2x4

I often say that I can be very hard-headed. There are all too many times where it's taken a long time for something to sink in, especially if I'm set against it. The idea of discerning a call to the priesthood is one of those things that took a long time to sink in.

With all the involvement in the parish and all my reading and independent studying, the idea of living my faith become more and more important. I wanted to structure my daily life around the practice of the faith. I wanted to avoid sin and grow in holiness. I wanted to develop a fervent prayer life. In short, I wanted to be 100% Catholic, no reservations, no excuses.

When studying the teachings of the Church, it's not long before you're confronted with the concept of submission to God's will. The more I would read and pray, the more I would hear that word: submission. Submit your will to God's will. Discern how God wants you to live your live instead of floundering around on your own.

It sounded good to me, but I also was leery. I started to get an idea of where this might lead. Those little whispers in the back of my mind were still there, and I was still resisting them. I wanted to do God's will, so long as it didn't involve the priesthood.

I discovered very quickly, however, that if you give God a crack in the door, He'll open it all the way. I began to pray for understanding of God's will, and those whispers became more insistent.

Through all this, I was doing a job I enjoyed, but was feeling like it might be a dead-end. As a computer geek, being responsible for multi-millions of dollars worth of servers is a big deal, but I didn't see any way beyond that. I knew I didn't want to be a supervisor, and I wasn't sure remaining an server administrator was what I wanted either. I also felt a tug on my heart that made me think, "Is this it? There has to be more for my life."

One day I finally broke down and asked, "God, what do you want? I want to do your will, and not mine." I feel that God responded to me, not so much in a voice as an echo in my mind, "I want you to be a priest." This is when I often say that God hit me upside the head with a 2x4. The subtle hints didn't work with me, so He had to go with the direct route. In response, I said, "OK, OK, I'll look into it."

I wasn't going to make a commitment at that time. In fact, the first thing I did was search the Internet for vocations websites, and found quite a few. Several diocese had a series of questions as a kind of "quick quiz" on whether or not you might have a vocation. Much to my surprise, and despite my continued denials, many of the questions on those quizzes could be answered in the affirmative.

What were the questions? Things like, "Have you ever found yourself regularly thinking about the priesthood?" and, "Are you reluctant to tell friends and family that you're having these thoughts?" The more I read these vocation discernment web pages and thought about the questions that they were raising, the more the idea became possible.

One of the steps which many of the vocation discernment sites encouraged was to speak to a priest in your parish about the priesthood. I still wasn't ready to come out in the open just yet, so I didn't to mention anything to Fr. Jim. One Sunday, Fr. Jim was on vacation and had a fill-in priest from the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. This priest, a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who ran the shrine and housed their headquarters there, was a total stranger, therefore "safe". He didn't know me, I didn't know him, so I figured he'd be a good "first contact".

I caught this priest, Fr. Tony, at the end of Mass, after the usual handshakes and greetings had been exchanged with the Mass attendees. I was very nervous, but Fr. Tony politely listened to my stammered, "I'm thinking about the priesthood." He spoke with me for about 5-10 minutes before he had to return to the sacristy to get ready for the next Mass. His main advice, which I probably should have expected, was that I needed to visit with to Fr. Jim and contact the diocesan vocation director.

It took me a couple of months to muster the courage to follow up on his advice, but after more reading, thinking and praying, I finally got up the courage to ask Fr. Jim about the priesthood. He was very pleased that I was discerning a call to the priesthood, and was more than willing to meet over lunch at the local Chinese restaurant. (As an aside, what is it about priests and Chinese food? I've come to know a lot of priests who would live on Chinese if they could.)

We had a great lunch, with a good conversation about the priesthood. Fr. Jim was able to answer some of my questions and allay some of my concerns. I did wonder what I was getting into when he laughed after I asked him about a typical day in the priesthood. Of course, now I know why that was such an ironic question: there is no typical day in the priesthood. Every day is unique, for better or worse.

An analogy for following God's will is following a path that He has laid out for us, and every so often the markers for that path become completely and totally obvious. During our conversation, I found that God had given me a connection of which I was unaware. Fr. Jim asked me where I was thinking about being a priest, diocesan or religious. I told him that I was leaning towards the diocesan, likely back home in Eastern Montana, the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings. At this point, Fr. Jim said, "I know the vocation director there." I was stunned. How could Fr. Jim, a priest from the Diocese of Belleville, 1200 miles from Montana, know the vocation director in Montana? It turns out that Fr. Jim and the vocation director, Fr. Dale, were classmates at Mundelein Seminary.

This was too much of a coincidence. It was obviously a very clear sign that I was on the right track. What are the odds that I would pick the parish whose pastor is a classmate of the vocation director of the diocese I was discerning towards? Fr. Jim did try to convince me to consider remaining in the Diocese of Belleville, but I really felt pulled back to Montana. If I was going to become a priest, I was going to do it at home, and Montana was home.

Following the dinner conversation, I sent off an email to the vocation director expressing my interest in discerning the priesthood for the diocese. This began an email conversation in which I introduced myself and told some of my discernment up to that point, and led to meeting with Fr. Dale in Billings a couple days after Christmas when I was able to be home for a couple of weeks.

Before I got to meet Fr. Dale, I figured now would be a good time to let my parents in on the news. If I was going to drive to Billings, using one of their cars, I should probably let them know in advance what it's going to be about. Here's how I introduced the topic to them: "I'm kinda, possibly, thinking about considering looking into (etc., etc., etc. I think I added about 2 minutes worth of disclaimers.) going into the priesthood." Yeah, I wasn't going to make a firm commitment to my parents. Not yet.

Well, my dad laughed and my mom said, "We were wondering when you were going to tell us." Wait? When I was going to tell you? I just figured it out for myself, and you already knew? Why didn't you tell me? They had pretty much figured it out with my becoming active in the Church, and thought that it was just a matter of time.

With that load of my shoulders, I began to wait impatiently for Christmas vacation, which finally arrived. During the meeting with Fr. Dale, he gave me the paperwork for applying to both the diocese and Mount Angel Seminary. I also took the psychological exams required while in Billings, so this was getting serious. I was on the way to entering the seminary, and I thought it might even be that coming fall, the Fall of 2000.

At this point, my procrastination and reluctance started kicking in. I had the paperwork, I knew what I needed to do to get into the seminary, and I was unwilling to do it. When I arrived back in Illinois, I threw the paperwork on a counter in my apartment and let it sit. I wasn't going to rush into things, besides I still had 6 months to fill it out.

Shortly after my Christmas vacation, I found out through the Scott AFB base chapel, where I was still attending daily Mass, that the Archdiocese for the Military Services was sponsoring a discernment retreat in Washington, DC, at the Theological College of the Catholic University of America. The chaplain, knowing that I was in the discernment process, encouraged me to consider attending., and I agreed. I figured that if nothing else, I would get a nice weekend in Washington, DC, and get to see the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

I did get to see the National Shrine, and fell in love with it, but it also turned out to be a great opportunity for prayer and reflection on the priesthood, and gave me much to think about in my discernment. It also introduced me to the Liturgy of the Hours for the first time, something which has become a vital part of my prayer life.

I'd like to say that the retreat gave me a shot of excitement about my vocation, and that I filled out my paperwork immediately upon returning, but that wasn't the case. I did get some of it filled out, and got a good start on collecting the paperwork I needed. Unfortunately, the excitement wained as I returned to my usual routines of daily life, and the paperwork collected dust once again.

That dust remained pretty much undisturbed, except for the occasional cleaning, until June. One Saturday in early June, I got a call from Fr. Dale: "I haven't heard from you in a while. Are you still thinking about going this Fall?" I hemmed and hawed, and came up with every excuse, "I have loans, I need to think about this more," and so on. Before we finished, Fr. Dale encouraged me to think and pray about it more. I promised I would and got off the phone.

The next morning happened to be Pentecost Sunday, as Easter was late in the year 2000, and I got up and went to Mass as had become my custom. It was a beautiful late Spring day, just slightly warm, and the church was full as usual. During Mass, I felt that I had a Pentecost moment. No, not speaking in tongues or flames descending on my head, but I felt the Holy Spirit move me to get going on everything I needed for the seminary now. Not next year, not next week, now. I still had time to apply to the seminary, and I needed to enter that Fall.

Before I even got back to my apartment, I called Fr. Dale and left a message that I was going to finish up the paperwork. I told him through the message that the seminary would receive it by the end of the week, even if I had to pay for it to be sent overnight.

If you've ever seen the applications for many diocese and seminaries, they're not small, quick applications. The diocesan application was only 4 pages long, but required a number of longer essays. The seminary application was much longer, closer to 30 pages, and required even more essays, not to mention supporting documentation like a copy of the baptismal record. Yet, with all the paperwork needed, I was able to complete the applications and get them in the mail in time for the application deadline.

Fr. Dale had assured me that I was going to get in, but it was still nerve wracking waiting for word back from the seminary. Finally, after a couple of weeks, a large envelope from Mount Angel Seminary arrived in the mail. The envelope contained an acceptance letter stating that I had been accepted for the 2000-2001 college freshmen class. It also contained preparation instructions as well as where and when to arrive. I was going to seminary, 2000 miles away and a whole new way of life.

Continue to Part 5 - Seminary Discernment (Coming sooner than part 4 did!)