Feast of the Holy Family
Jesus not only came as a baby at Christmas, He also entered into a human family - with all the joys and frustrations that go with it. We are challenged in all relationships, but especially in the family, to put the wants and needs of others before our own, to stretch our hearts, to learn how to love more, to sacrifice for each other. Our readings today all challenge us to put others first, "Children, obey your parents in everything...Wives, be subordinate to your husbands...Husbands, love your wives." Jesus loved us, and so He subordinated Himself to our needs, even to the point of death. We can practice this kind of love every day, especially in the family!
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night, Oh night divine
4th Sunday of Advent
On this 4th Sunday of Advent, Deacon Brian gives an incredible homily on Mary's fiat to God ("may it be done to me according to your word") which lays the groundwork of the vision for our parishes in the coming year. In it he uses the analogy of a NASCAR race to portray God's first call and primary challenge for all the lay faithful to be drivers for Christ in the great Christian race of missionary discipleship, with the clergy being your pit crew and the fans being the whole world!
As we, lay parishioners and ministers alike, discern in this coming year how to transform our parishes of St. Joseph and St. Ann into communities that welcome the Lord's call to "go and make disciples of all nations", we ask for your prayers and support, that together we all might echo back to God Mary's fiat: "may it be done to me according to your word," and that we might draw many more to echo those word along with us!
3rd Sunday of Advent
People started following and listening to Jesus in large part because of the signs that accompanied his message - the miracles he was performing. December 12th was the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In 1531 Mary appeared to an Aztec peasant named Juan Diego asking that a Church be built on the spot. Accompanying these apparitions were three miracles - the miracle of the roses, the miracle of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appearing on Juan Diego's cloak/tilma (which can still be seen today in Mexico and which defies all modern explanation), and the miracle of over 9 million people converting to Christianity in a matter of years and following Christ because of this apparition and image. In our Gospel today John the Baptist is preparing the way for our Lord; Mary has prepared the way for our Lord Jesus in so many ways, both through her life on this earth and her continued apparitions to God's children. Inspired by the miracles that God has done, let's ask God to continue to work miracles in our lives and in this world, that we may follow Him with more conviction and that others may be opened to hearing the message of Jesus Christ!
1st Sunday of Advent
We humans change one step at a time - it's just the way we're wired. And once we've made a change that tends to become the new normal and we stick to it, for better or for worse. This Advent season God wants to work in your life in new and powerful ways! But for that change to occur, there is a requirement: DAILY prayer and reflection. To give Jesus the space He needs in our lives and minds and hearts to work out His grace within us requires the daily practice of openness to God in prayer and reflection. One day a week is okay, 2 days is all right, 3 is getting better...but if we're wondering why we've plateaued and not much seems to be changing or growing in our spiritual life, it's because God needs our daily permission to work His good grace in us, one step at a time!
Feast of Christ the King
We've been so concerned recently with who's going to be our president, have we stopped to ask ourselves how concerned we've been with Who's going to be our King? This weekend, as we near the end of our liturgical year, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King as we we look ahead to the end of time - when Jesus Christ will come in glory to rule all of creation forever. If politics can get us passionate and worked up about a man who will run our country for a handful of years and then go into the history books, then our faith and relationship with Jesus Christ should inspire us to incredible passion for sharing Who is going to be our King for all eternity! As citizens of God's kingdom, we're not called only to live personally as disciples of Jesus Christ, but we're also expected to reach out call others to join this incredible kingdom. How do we do that? Start listening to find out!
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
This last week we celebrated both All Saints Day and All Souls Day. On All Saints we rejoice and thank God for those whose souls are fully united to God in heaven; on All Souls day we pray for those people who have died and whose bodies are decomposing yet whose souls live on into eternity. Why do we pray for them? What need would they have that we can help with? Why not just celebrate All Saints Day and forget about All Souls Day? When the word "purgatory" gets brought up in conversation I'm usually met with incredulity, people thinking of it as an outdated or unnecessary idea - if God is love why would there be a purgatory? But maybe the way we're thinking about it is all wrong; maybe there's something incredibly relevant and timely about purgatory, both for us and for all souls, whether living in the body or out of it.
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Michelangelo, one of the greatest artists of all time, loved sculpting most of all. He could look at a block of marble, see the potential, a vision for what that block of marble was hiding, and then carve away everything that was not that potential. When we stand in front of the mirror, each one of us is looking at a block of marble called, "The rest of your life." Do we have a vision for what we want that block of marble to look like at the end of our life? Can we see and appreciate its full potential? Because God has a vision for each one of us, He sees so much potential, He tells us in the Gospel today that within each of us is a heart that can love God with everything we've got and love our neighbor as ourself. What do you want to look like at the end of your life: a roughly carved block of untapped potential tromping around heaven, or a true masterpiece of God's creation? It's already inside of you! How will you let God keep carving you this week?
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The parable which Jesus gives about a king inviting guests to the wedding reception of his son is ultimately a parable about eternal life and heaven (which our 1st reading from Isaiah speaks of as "God's holy mountain"). The king in the parable is God, his son is Jesus, and the wedding banquet is eternal salvation. Some have ignored the invitation (God's original Chosen People, the Israelites), so the king has sent out his servants (the Apostles) to invite anyone and everyone, the bad and the good alike (the Church), to this wedding reception. One man, however, is thrown out for not wearing his wedding garment. While it may seem harsh, the wedding garment symbolizes the garment we were given at baptism when we were asked to put on Christ. We may say "yes" to God's original invitation, but Jesus makes it clear that one "yes" is not enough. After that, we also have to say "yes" to putting on Christ each and every day, to wearing the wedding garment we've been given. And as we learn at the end of the parable, busy-ness, laziness, forgetfulness, whatever made that man not wear his garment, is not a good enough excuse when the final day comes. What are you wearing today?
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In this Sunday's Gospel we have a story of change: one son says "no" to his dad's request but then changes his mind and does it; the other says "yes" to his dad's request but then changes his mind and doesn't do it. We all have the possibility to change, for better or for worse, every single day. Every day is an opportunity to follow God's voice again...or to choose to let that voice fade into the background. A disciple is one who follows the voice of God each and every day; one who has an obedient and faithful heart - not just in word, but especially in action; not just on Sunday, but on Monday through Friday as well. Which son are you now? Which son will you decide to be tomorrow? Change is always possible!
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
This weekend our readings center on forgiveness, especially on how we will NOT be forgiven unless we first forgive others. While Jesus in the Gospel responds to a question by Peter saying he must forgive seventy-seven times (which seems very magnanimous), Jesus also goes on to give a parable in which a man is punished and condemned because that man does not forgive others and treat them with mercy (which seems quite harsh to our ears). Jesus ends the parable by saying our Heavenly Father will do the same to us if we don't forgive others. The Scriptures make it clear that in order for us to be forgiven, we must forgive others...ALL others. So what does that have to do with politics?! Listen to find out, and no matter where you stand on whatever issue, be prepared to feel the Lord challenging you to more!
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Authority is a theme in our readings today - in both our first reading and Gospel "keys" are spoken of, symbolic of a position of authority. This time of Coronavirus has led to a lot of discussion about who has authority: who's in charge of what, to what extent can a governor proclaim a state of emergency, what rulings and content are under the authority of state Supreme Courts , what authority does the CDC have, how much authority does a governor have to mandate action, who has the authority to enforce those mandates? For as much as we like to talk about all these things and weigh in with our opinion, the truth is that we individually have almost no authority in changing overall societal response to Covid. I think that we as humans (me included) really enjoy talking about how others should use their authority and what decisions they should be making, but we really don't enjoy confronting how we are neglecting to use OUR God-given authority! So what exactly is the authority that God has given to each of us? Listen to find out!
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
It's proven that certain practices make for a happier and healthier person - prayer and generosity being two of those practices. Why is that? God made us to live in relationship with Him, Jesus lived a life of intense moments of prayer and generosity, and the more we live that prayer and generosity the more we become like Jesus Christ and enter into the only relationship that can truly make us happier and healthier in all senses of those words!
This weekend is the kickoff for our annual diocesan Catholic Services Appeal (CSA). The CSA provides incredible opportunities to spread the faith of Jesus Christ in northwestern Wisconsin - for our seminarians, for our youth, for our schools, for our parishes - opportunities that I witness and see the fruits of firsthand! I'm challenging you this year to stretch yourself in prayerful generosity to all of your favorite organizations and non-profits. I challenge you particularly this week to think what you might be able to sacrifice monetarily to support the CSA for your parish this coming year.
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus comes to the disciples today walking on the water - that's a Big Moment, a miraculous moment, one that's hard to miss, and it strengthens their faith. Elijah is told in our 1st reading that the Lord will be passing by: there is a great wind, a tremendous earthquake, a blazing fire, and yet, Scripture says, God was in none of those seemingly big moments. Rather, God was in a tiny, whispering voice - a Small Moment, so small it could be easily missed, but just as real as a Big Moment...and I would say even more important! God's ordinary language is in Small Moments, countless little whispers to us throughout the day. He gives us a few privileged Big Moments precisely so that we will continue looking and listening for Him in the hundreds of Small Moments every day.
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
There are two movements in the Christian life - one is a turning away from sin, the other is a stepping towards God. The readings this weekend are more focused on the latter - stepping towards God. The individuals in our parables find something of great value to them! To get it, however, they have to sell everything else. It's a question of priorities and re-prioritizing things in their lives. There are so many good things we can focus on in life, so many good actions and decisions we can pursue...but only one can be our top priority, and only one our second priority, and only one our third. All of these good things can't be our top priority, which means that much of the Christian life is deciding which priorities God is calling us to put first, and which ones (however good they may be) the Lord is asking us to put further down the list. Following God isn't just doing good things; following God is doing the good things God has planned for us to do!
As a second installment I invited Dan Tracy, a seminarian for our Diocese, to say a few words at the end of Mass. He spent part of the summer here with us at St. Joseph and St. Ann parishes and will be heading back to seminary in the weeks ahead - he is a good man and will be greatly missed!
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
With all of the polarization in the media and the emotionally driven statements part of me wonders what happened to true, honest, good ol' arguments. In this sermon, building off of my last sermon on judgment, I explore why I think our country has lost the art of argument (which we used to possess) and what steps we as individuals can take to bring that art back. It won't be easy, but bringing God back into the public sphere (which then brings respect for every life back into the public sphere) is part of the answer!
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Life requires decisions, decisions require judgments. Tt follows, then, that we make judgments all day long. Every decision we make involves judging and judgment of various factors (even indecision is making the choice not to decide, which is guided by our judgments). So why does "judging" get such a bad wrap? Why does God speak so directly against judging others in Scripture? Can we judge or can't we? The answer is, "Yes, we can and should judge"...but there is a distinction to be made between two very different kinds of judgment - one that we must make, and one that we ought never to make. The problem is, we often jump right from the first into the second!
As a freshman in high school I remember the day it hit me: that Jesus is physically present in the Eucharist! How many times had I heard that in religion class or at Church? And yet it seemed to always go in one ear and out the other. But this particular day it finally hit me - what looks like bread and what looks like wine is actually changed entirely into Jesus! If the Eucharist is a nice symbol of Jesus...so what? There are lots of nice symbols of Jesus in our world. But if the Eucharist IS Jesus Christ...then that changes everything! That was the start of my reconversion to the faith, and that was the start of my call to the priesthood. So what does it mean for you that Jesus is physically present in the Eucharist (vs. symbolically present)? What difference does that make in your life? For me it's made all the difference!
This weekend we celebrate Jesus' Ascension into heaven - that after rising from the dead and appearing to His disciples for a number of days, Jesus ascends to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. The ascension is not just a one-and-done event of history, though: creation is called to follow where its Master has gone before. The ascension is still happening - heaven is waiting for it to be complete in three distinct ways! Can you name them?
5th Sunday of Easter
Every Christian, by their baptism, is anointed priest, prophet and king. Peter challenges us this weekend to that first anointing: "be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God." There is the ordained priesthood by which priests in the Church offer to God the sacrifice of Christ and offer to God's people the sacraments, but there is also the priesthood of the baptized by which every Christian, in Jesus, is called to offer spiritual sacrifices to God. Every day we can offer these spiritual sacrifices, and at Mass we have the opportunity to collect them all from that past week - our thoughts, words, prayers, actions, and intentions...even our anxieties, worries, concerns, hopes, and dreams - and place them on that altar as our sacrifice to God in the power of our baptismal priesthood! And like He does with the bread and the wine, He can take what we offer to Him and transform those sacrifices into something even greater.
3rd Sunday of Easter
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus walks up alongside two of his disciples, though He's not recognized for who He is but thought to be a stranger. This Stranger begins to unpack for them the Scriptures and how they foretell and prefigure the Christ. The hearts of these two disciples are set on fire as Jesus teaches them, though they don't fully realize it in the moment. It's only at the end of the day, in the breaking of the bread, that they recognize Who was with them, and then Jesus vanishes from their sight. Take a walk on the road to Emmaus, let Jesus draw close, even if you don't recognize Him at first, let Him teach you about the Scriptures and Himself, let Him set your heart on fire!
2nd Sunday of Easter/Divine Mercy Sunday
On this Divine Mercy Sunday, Deacon Brian reflects on the immensity of God's mercy. He lays out two common traps (both springing from pride) that we as Christians can fall into and which limit our reception of God's mercy. Like children at Christmas or Easter who freely and joyfully receive gifts, he encourages us to remember the mercy of God as an undeserved gift, but a gift that God desires to give to us. Let us open our arms, hearts and minds to accept (with the joy and enthusiasm of a child) the incredible gift of mercy that our Savior desires to share with each of us!
During this time of COVID-19 I've heard people say both how unfortunate and difficult of a time this is, and how many blessings are hidden in this time. While I agree with both (and I most certainly see God's hand at work in my life, in our Church, and in our world in the midst of the difficulties) there is an easy mistake to fall into while trying to make sense of it all. The mistake is to look at the blessings and the good coming out of it and say, "God did this so that...(list your blessing or good thing)." The problem is that if we say that God did this in order to bring about good things, then we also have to say that it's His fault that bad things and struggles are happening in so many lives - we inadvertently, but very quickly, turn God into a monster. The appalling message of Easter, of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, is that God can bring good out of ANY situation. Not that He wants bad things to happen, not that He wanted His son to be rejected, tortured, and murdered, but out of anything - whether good, neutral, bad, or downright horrific - God is able to bring good. God's goodness is unstoppable! Not even death can stop Him! Christ is Risen! Alleluia, alleluia!
“Holy” literally means “different.” As we enter into this year’s Holy Week we are certainly experiencing a very “different” time in our country and world. I would propose, however, that this time of COVID-19 can actually assist us in entering more deeply into this Holy Week, more deeply into the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, than we ever have before!
Note: I will be live streaming Easter morning Mass from St. Joseph at 9:00am on Sunday, April 12! Please visit the parish website www.stjoseph-hayward.org to view live or watch the recording.
5th Sunday of Lent
This weekend one of my deacons, Deacon Brian McCaffrey, preaches the homily. During this unique time of COVID-19, I have decided to record and upload my deacons' homilies onto my website and podcast as well. While nobody is able to see us preach in person, I pray that being able to at least hear the homily will help us feel connected in these very unique times of "Safer at Home" which Wisconsin has instituted.
This weekend Deacon Brian considers the sin of anger, how it often goes unnoticed as sinful, how it takes root in our lives, how we give into and feed it, and how it prevents us from being the person God is calling us to be. Like Lazarus in the Gospel who, after coming out of the tomb, Jesus orders to be unbound from his burial cloths, God desires to untie us from the sin of anger in the ways that it still binds us. When we give unrepented anger over to the Lord, the power of the Son can transform us into something spiritually new and incredible!