The Darkest Hour is Just Before the Dawn

Homily for Third Sunday of Advent (Year A) – Gaudete Sunday
December 15, 2017
Sacred Heart, EGF – 10:00 AM

Focus:             The darkest hour is just before the dawn.
Function:         Rejoice in hope.


darkest_before_dawn

A young man, weighted down by the guilt of his sin,
feels worthless, powerless, and hopeless.
He’s tried to rise and overcome his sins by his own power for so long.
He continues to fall and to fail.
He is losing hope.

The darkness is great.

It’s Easter night. He’s visiting with his family.  A Christian movie plays in the background, one of those movies that always plays on Easter night.  The acting is cheesy.  He pretends not to watch.

One line stands out to him: “All you have to do is turn to Christ…”

He thinks, “Yeah, if only it were that easy…”
A voice in his heart speaks: “Why can’t it be that easy?”

The light begins to pierce the darkness.

He begins to pray for the grace and courage to make a good confession.

Two weeks later, he enters the confessional. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.  It’s been four years since my last confession.  These are my sins…”

The priest listens while the young man speaks. The young man finishes, quite embarrassed at what he’s done.  He braces himself for what the priest will say…

The priest smiles, slaps his knee, and says, “Welcome back! Don’t wait so long next time!”

Absolution is granted. He feels the chains fall.  He’s free.  His heart is set ablaze.  Life is breathed into his soul which had been dead in sin.  He leaps for joy.  God is real.  His spirit rejoices in God his Savior.

An elderly woman sits alone at her kitchen table, wrapped in a blanket. She can’t sleep.  It’s been six months since her husband died.  Cancer.  Her heart is heavy.  It’s been heavy for a long time.

The pain of watching him suffer…
The helplessness of not being able to do anything to take away the pain.

She’s scared. She doesn’t know what to do.  He was her heart.  He did everything…paid the bills, fixed things around the house, plowed the driveway.

The driveway…

She sighs as she looks out the window. It’s early.  The light from the moon glistens off the freshly fallen snow.  The driveway is filled in.  She needs groceries but it looks like she won’t be going to the store today…

She was helpless to do anything for him in his sickness and now she feels helpless to do anything for herself.

The darkness is great.

She prays, “O God, how can I go on?”

Then, a noise. The rumbling of a motor.
Snow bursts forth from the ground into the air.

Her neighbor,
a young man with his own family to care for,
with his own driveway to plow out,
with his own job to get to,
walks down her driveway pushing his snowblower as the first streaks of dawn break on the horizon…a glimmer of hope on a cold winter day.

Brothers and sisters, today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday – “rejoice Sunday”.

In the darkest and coldest part of the year,
when the days are nearing their shortest,
the Church bids us to rejoice.

We rejoice because the Lord is near.
Ten days until Christmas.
Ten days until the Lord comes with power to save his people.

John the Baptist languishes in the darkness of his prison cell and though he cannot see the works of Christ, he hears about them:

The blind see. The deaf hear.  The lame leap.  The dead rise.  The poor have the good news preached to them.

Though we languish in the darkness of our hearts, we rejoice because of what Christ is doing…

A young man who has been blinded and paralyzed by his sin finally begins to see and is set free in the Sacrament of Reconciliation…

He had been deaf to the cries of those around him, cries like the widow next door, but now he hears. Now he hears, even in the early morning hours, and he moves, he rises, and sets to work setting her free.

And the good news is preached to her. God is near.  God loves her.  He has not forgotten about her.  He comes to her in the form of a young man whose heart has been set free, free to love with the love of Christ.

Brothers and sisters,
when you are tired,
when the outlook is bleak and you are tempted to give up,
when all hope seems lost and when the darkness is too great…
when you feel like you can’t take another step…

Wait. Wait just a little longer.
Watch. Watch with your eyes peeled for the coming of the Lord.
Remember. Remember that Jesus comes in the darkness of night.

It was in the fourth watch of the night,
between the hours of three and six AM,
when the disciples were losing hope in the storm.
It was then that Jesus came to them walking on the water.
In the darkest hour of the night, the Light of the world appeared out of nowhere, climbed into their boat, and calmed the sea.

Jesus comes in the darkness of night.

When it is the darkest,
it is then that
The dawn from on high shall break upon us
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.[i] 

It is today, on Gaudete Sunday,
when the white light of Christmas
pierces the dark violet of Advent,
transforming it into the shade of rose,
the color of a flower which brings the promise of summer,
a reminder that it is in the darkness of night
when the first streaks of dawn appear and the Morning Star rises in our hearts.[ii]

It was in the dark of night when a star, a single star,
could be seen in the distance,
shining over a simple stable in the hill country of an obscure town called Bethlehem…

It was in the dark of night when Christ was born.

Gaudete.

Rejoice, for even now, Joseph and Mary are making their way to Bethlehem for the census.

It may be dark, but the darkest hour is just before the dawn.


[i] Canticle of Zechariah.  Luke 1:78-79.

[ii] 2 Peter 1:19 (see Exultet, sung at the Easter Vigil)

Everything Changes When the Lord Looks Upon You

Homily for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
November 3, 2019
Sacred Heart, EGF – 10:00 AM

Focus:              Everything changes when the Lord looks upon you.
Function:         Let him look upon you.


zacchaeus.png

No one wanted to see Zacchaeus.

There wasn’t much to see. Nothing special about him.  He was small in stature.  There was nothing worth noticing.  He was a nobody.  An outcast.  No one liked him.  He was the most unpopular man in town.  It was his job to take their money.

No one wanted Zacchaeus to go to their house, and they certainly weren’t going to his.

No one wanted to see Zacchaeus.

And then everything changed.

Everything changed when Jesus came passing through.

Zacchaeus climbs a tree to look upon the Lord. He climbs the tree to see Jesus, but he ends up being the one who is seen, who is noticed.

The Lord looked upon him.

And everything changed.

Jesus takes notice and this nobody becomes a somebody.

“Zacchaeus, hurry down, for today I must stay at your house.”

Everything changed. Everything changed because Zacchaeus had been penetrated and captured by a gaze that recognized him and loved him for what he was.[i]

Zacchaeus was lost and is now found. He is saved.  Zacchaeus thought that he was the one who was seeking Jesus, but in reality it was Jesus who had come to seek and to save him.

Those of you who are married, think of the first time you noticed your spouse. The first time you looked upon them.  The first time they looked upon you.

Everything changed.

Everything changed when they returned your gaze.
Everything changed when they looked upon you.
Everything changed when you looked upon them looking upon you.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord is looking upon you like he looked upon Zacchaeus. Are you willing to look back?

Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus. He was willing to put himself out there, to risk ridicule in order to see the Lord.

Are you willing to do the same?

Are you willing to climb the tree? To make the effort?  To risk being noticed?

It’s a scary thing to allow the Lord to look upon us. We have so many fears.

Fear of being uncomfortable.
Fear of my sin.
Fear that I might have to change.
Fear that I won’t know what to say or how to respond.

It makes me uncomfortable to let the Lord look upon me.
It’s safer, it’s easier, not to look.

But the Lord wants you to look.

Let him look upon you.

Look upon him looking at you.

St. John Vianney once walked into his country church and found a man sitting before the tabernacle. He asked him, “What are you doing?”  The man replied: “I look at Jesus and he looks at me.”

Before the Lord the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.

And yet, the Lord notices.

He noticed Zacchaeus.
He notices you.

He looks upon you, with love.

Today, Andrew and Kayla bring Jasper here, to this place, to the waters of baptism.  They bring him here to allow the Lord to look upon him.  And Jesus says, “Jasper, today I must come to stay at your house.”  Today, salvation comes to this house.

Today, you come to this Eucharist. You stand in the pew, in the crowd.  You dare to come forward.  Jesus sees you.  “Today, I must stay at your house.”

That means you have to change.

Zacchaeus had to change.
Jesus’ look made him change.
Everything changes when the Lord looks upon us

Today salvation has come to this house.

Indeed.

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and I shall be healed.


[i] Servant of God Luigi Giussani, founder of Communion and Liberation (from the November 2019 Magnificat Reflection)

Chaplain’s Conference: Keep Death Daily Before Your Eyes

Chaplain’s Conference
Sacred Heart School – High School
October 29, 2019


All Saints' Day

All Saints’ Day at Saint Meinrad Cemetery

We are coming to the end of October and the beginning of November.

October was Respect Life month. We give thanks to God for the gift of life and we prayed for a greater respect for all human life from conception to natural death.

November is the month of the dead. During November, we are called to remember and to pray for our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection.[i]

In November, you will see in the Church a book of remembrance. The Book of Remembrance contains the names of those from our community who have died in the last year.  It also has a space for you to write the names of loved ones – friends and family members – who have died and whom you would like to be remembered in prayer.

Last Thursday, a man named Terry called his brother Tom at 4:30 PM to make plans for deer camp. At 5:15 PM, Terry told his wife Lynette he was going to drive into town to pick up some subs for dinner.

At 6:30 PM, Lynette and Tom received phone calls from the police department. Terry had had a massive heart attack while driving and his vehicle ended up in a ditch full of water.  He was being transported by ambulance to the hospital.

Terry did not return home. I am presiding at his funeral in an hour.

St. Benedict had a saying in his Rule. It was this:

Keep death daily before your eyes.

In other words, remember that one day you will die. Remember that every day and live for that day. Keep death daily before your eyes.

Doing so points our eyes to Heaven and makes us focus on what’s important.

On Thursday, Terry did not expect that his 4:30 PM phone call would be the last time he would speak with his brother in this life. He did not realize as he left home that that would be the last time his wife would see him on this side of eternity.

Would he have done anything differently had he known that?

What about you?

What if today was your last day?

What if today was your last day of school at Sacred Heart?
What if today was the last time you’d play a volleyball game with your teammates?
What if tonight was the last time you would sit down for dinner with your family?

What would you do differently? What would you say?

Keep death daily before your eyes.

If Jesus were to come today, would you be ready?

Are you living your life today so as to be ready for the day of your death? Or are you forsaking the glory of eternity for the glory of the moment?

Death is nothing to fear if we live for that day…if we live our lives keeping death daily before our eyes. Death is nothing to fear because Christ has conquered death.  The suffering of the cross leads to the glory of the resurrection.  Death is no longer the end.  It is the doorway to eternal life.

Do we live for that day?

Keep death daily before your eyes…otherwise we cannot glimpse Heaven properly and prepare our life here on earth to point there.

How do we prepare for that day?

In a word: gratitude.

Have you ever noticed that when ever the last thing rolls around, we remember the good times and always wish that we had a bit more time?

We go through our high school years, complaining about homework or assignments or meetings, and then suddenly we are in our last week of school during our senior year and our hearts long to spend a little more time with the community here.

We come to our last game of our high school career, and all of the pettiness falls away and we’re left with tears, tears of sadness that this chapter comes to a close but also tears of gratitude for the time and the memories we’ve been given.

We prepare to move out of the house and away to college, and suddenly our brothers and sisters don’t seem so annoying. In fact, we realize how much we love them and how much we’re going to miss them.

What if we could see that today?

What if we could slow down in the present and take time to appreciate the people that are in our lives today even as our lives are passing away like the scenery outside of the car window as we barrel down the highway during a trip across the country?

Keeping death daily before your eyes is not a morbid thing to do. No, keeping death daily before your eyes changes your way of seeing and cultivates gratitude in the heart.

Gratitude is the memory of the heart.

At the end of November, we celebrate Thanksgiving.

What if you woke up tomorrow morning and the only things you had were those you thanked God for today?

Gratitude is the memory of the heart.

The word Eucharist means “thanksgiving”.

Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we remember, with gratitude, what we so often forget. We remember the love with which Christ loved us.

A love that created us.
A love that surrounds us with friends, family, and a community who love us.
A love that died for us so that we might live forever, if only we live our lives for that day.

We have in our midst one who models gratitude:
the one whose soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
the one who carried “thanksgiving itself”, “eucharistia”, the Body of Christ, within her body…
the one who pointed to her Son and said do whatever he tells you…
our Blessed Mother, Mary, on whom we cast all of our cares. Let us pray for her intercession that both now and at the hour of our death, we may keep death daily before our eyes:

Hail Mary…


[i] Eucharistic Prayer II

Who’s Writing Yours?

Homily for 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
September 29, 2019
Sacred Heart, EGF – Sat 5:00 PM; Sun 5:00 PM.

Focus:             The choices in this life will impact us for all eternity
Function:        Choose to help those in need.


Dives and Lazarus
The rich man and Lazarus

If this Gospel reminds us of anything, it is this:
Heaven is not a guarantee.

What we choose today will affect us tomorrow.
The choices in this life will impact us for all eternity.

Lying at the entrance to the garden of Eden, we cried out to God for mercy. In the fullness of time, Christ came to our aid and won for us our salvation.  We did nothing to earn it.  But we can do, (or rather, fail to do) something that will cause us to lose it.

We were once Lazarus, but Christ the rich man came to our aid and has given us the treasures of Heaven. Lazarus has been redeemed and now stands as the rich man in us.  It is now our turn to help the Lazarus who lies languishing at our door.

Our lot has been radically reversed, and we are called to radically reverse the lot of others in need.

Can we do it?

Will we do it?

Who is the Lazarus lying at your door?

What do you find yourself withholding from him?

Monetary help?
Praise?
Affirmation?
Love?

In the parable, the rich man was of no help to Lazarus,
Yet he expects Lazarus to be of help to him.

If we take our Christian obligations lightly and fail to help those in need, we will have only ourselves to blame when we find ourselves facing the harsh judgment of God.

If we fail to show God’s mercy in this life, we will face God’s judgment in the next.

On that day, we may find that our sins of omission (what we have failed to do) may be worse than our sins of commission – (what we did).

Lazarus will be there, standing by the just judge.

Will he accuse you?
Or advocate for you?

For I was hungry and you gave me food.
I was thirsty and you gave me drink.
I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
I was naked and you clothed me.
I was in prison and you came to me. 

Lord, when did we see you?

Whatever you did for Lazarus, you did for me.
Whatever you did not do for Lazarus, you did not do for me.

Heaven is not a guarantee.

A letter of recommendation from a poor person would be of great help.

Who’s writing yours?

Chaplain’s Conference: “That in All Things God May Be Glorified” – On Integrity

Chaplain’s Conference
Sacred Heart School – High School
September 4, 2019 

ES Commons window

That in all things, God may be glorified.

This phrase in the new window in the elementary commons is fitting for a school founded upon the Benedictine heritage. The Rule of St. Benedict was written to govern the life of a community so that in all things God may be glorified.

A little bit about St. Benedict:

  • 480-547 – Italy. The Great Roman Empire was disintegrating.
  • Benedict left his home in Nursia, Umbria to attend school in Rome.
  • Disgusted with the paganism he saw there, so he renounced the world to live in a cave in Subiaco where he devote his life to the pursuit of God.
  • The people of the are noticed him, and some monks asked him to be their abbot – their father who would show them how to live.
  • Benedict: “you don’t want me to be your abbot” – they insisted. Benedict accepted their offer with reluctance.
  • Monks tried to poison him – sign of Cross over chalice and it broke.
  • Benedict left this settlement and founded a monastery in Monte Cassino, south of Rome. It was here that he wrote his rule for community life – a rule that would allow a community to pursue holiness and to become saints who would glorify God by their lives.
  • The Rule of St. Benedict has stood the test of time, used by Benedictine communities for over 1500 years. The Sisters of Mount Saint Benedict in Crookston, who started our school, order their community life by the Rule of St. Benedict. And it is from the Rule of St. Benedict that we draw the Benedictine values that we wish to instill in our students.

The Rule of St. Benedict was written to govern a community’s life, so that in all things, God may be glorified.

So, too, this school exists so that in all things, God may be glorified.

It was St. Irenaeus who said that the glory of God is man fully alive.

Sacred Heart School exists to form students in body, mind, and soul – to form saints for the Kingdom who live fully and love deeply.

This school exists to form students who are fully alive, so that in all things, God may be glorified.

This is the Eagle Way.

We focus on our Benedictine Values in all that we do. How will we know if we are accomplishing our mission? We look at our students. We look at you.

What does a Sacred Heart Graduate look like?

Who will you be when you leave this building on the day of your graduation?

Our hope is that you will embody,
you will enflesh,
the Benedictine Values.

I was formed at a Benedictine Seminary in southern Indiana. The name of the seminary is St. Meinrad. St. Meinrad was a Benedictine monk who lived in the 800s. The Benedictine Values were and are alive at St. Meinrad. The priests who formed us would often remark that people should be able to look at a priest who was formed at St. Meinrad and say “He’s a Meinrad man” and name the Benedictine values that they see in him. He’s a man of hospitality and community, he’s a man of integrity, a man who listens, a man of obedience, discipline, and humility.

So too for you. People should be able to look at you and say, “Oh, she graduated from Sacred Heart.”

That does not mean that we are all the same. We all have different gifts and talents. We have differing likes, dislikes, and interests.

But we all have the same God in whose image we are made, and we all have the same high calling – to live like the one in whose image we are made.

That in all things, God may be glorified. This is why we exist.

The Glory of God is man fully alive.

This is what we desire for you.

Do you desire it for yourself?

Do you desire to glorify God in everything you do?

A key question that I would encourage you to ask yourself often this year:
Does this bring glory to God?
Or does this bring glory to myself?

That in all things, God may be Glorified.

In all things. Not only in some things. In every aspect of my life.

One of our Benedictine values is Integrity.

  • Integrity, Integration. All Things. Whole.
  • Opposite: Disintegration. Compartmentalization.
  • We are all about forming the whole person – body, mind, and soul. Not forming a disintegrated, compartmentalized person.

A compartmentalized person is a person whose life exists in separate boxes. I change who I am based on who I am with. I act this way with one group and that way with another. This part of my life is about God; that part of my life is not about God. Who I am in public is different than who I am in private.

That leads to disintegration and a lack of integrity. No one knows who I really am because I don’t know who I am.

I wonder how many of us put on the mask of a “good kid who goes to Christian school” for some people but live unrepentant lives of sin while with other people?

An integrated person is a transparent person. What you see is what you get. Who I am in private is who I am in public. There is no duplicity or two-facedness in me.

Do you put on masks, a poker face, a game face, that isn’t the real you?

If so, what’s behind that? Why do you do that?

Because you want to be accepted?

If you have to be someone else in order to be accepted, then the person being accepted is imaginary and not the real you. Who wants an imaginary friend? I’d rather have a real friend, and I know that deep down, so do you.

Where do you compartmentalize? Where is there disintegration in your life?

Where are you compromising on living the Benedictine values? Where do you cut corners and make excuses in your discipleship? Here, I am not talking about struggle.  Holiness comes through the struggle.  Integration comes through my willingness to struggle and to be better, with God’s grace. I am talking about being a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I am talking about knowingly cutting corners and making excuses for sin in my life with no desire to change, no effort to repent, and no action to change the way I’m living.

Are you willing to face these areas, to address them, to name them and confess them so that Christ can shine his light on them?

Integration is the work of growing up. For that to happen, I have to be aware of where I compartmentalize my life and be willing to ask myself or another person “why I do that”? A person striving for integration recognizes where he/she is not integrated and strives to work on it, with God’s grace.

Here I would like to highlight the power of Confession and Spiritual Direction. Every Wednesday over your lunch period, a priest will be in the high school chapel upstairs. The chapel is across from the art room. If you want to work on becoming a man or woman of integrity, take advantage of this time. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation. Integration happens when I speak to another person about my struggles. Being able to hear what God may have to say to you will be quite helpful. Try it. Some students pop in every week just to check in.

Integration comes through community life – a community that loves me enough to challenge me when I need to be challenged, a community that puts up with my shenanigans even while it calls me to grow up and to move beyond my shenanigans.

Are you willing to be challenged, not just academically, but in your moral life as well?

You are in a great environment for this to happen.

Sacred Heart School exists to form you in body, mind, and soul.

Mr. Karas, Miss Wilson, your teachers, the priests – all of us are here for you to help you to become who God created you to be – a person who loves deeply and is fully alive.

The glory of God is man fully alive. Sacred Heart School exists so that in all things, God may be glorified.

This is the Eagle Way.

Take advantage of what is offered to you here, and God will indeed be glorified…in you.

 

True Charity is a Fire that will Divide

Homily for 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
August 17-18, 2019
Sacred Heart, EGF – Sat 5:30 PM; Sun 8:00 AM, 5:30 PM
St. Francis, Fisher – Sun 10:00 AM

Focus:              True charity is a fire that will divide.
Function:         Be a fork in the road


fork in road.jpg

Father, make of me a crisis man.
Bring those I contact to decision.
Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork
that men must turn one way or another
on facing Christ in me.[i] 

This prayer by the evangelist and martyr Jim Elliot,
an evangelical Christian missionary to Ecuador,
hung outside of my classmate Mark’s door
when we were in the seminary.

Mark was a crisis man,
a man of conviction,
a man set on fire with the love of God.

The fire of divine love that raged in his heart was a dividing fire,
a fire that called me out on a few occasions
and made me realize
where I was compromising in my own discipleship:

The fire of his silence after I had spoken an uncharitable word about another classmate…

The fire of seeing him reading his Bible at the end of his early morning holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, when I was late for mine…

The fire of his courage to stand up for what was right even if it was unpopular to do so…

Father, make of me a crisis man.
Bring those I contact to decision.
Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork
that men must turn one way or another
on facing Christ in me.

Our God is a consuming fire,
a devouring fire.

I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!

The message of the Gospel is meant to rid us of every burden and sin that clings to us.
It is a burning fire,
a purifying fire,
a fire that clears away the dead so that new life can spring up.

The Church’s message is Jesus’ message, and that message is meant to challenge us.
A “get along attitude” is not the attitude of the Gospel.

Charity, divine charity, is the message of the Gospel.

And true Charity is a fire that will divide.

Division is not the intention of charity, but true charity will cause division at times. And that is OK.  In fact, it is necessary.

Pope Benedict XVI:
If the Church simply aims to avoid conflict,
merely to ensure that no disturbances arise anywhere,
then her real message can no longer make any impact.
For this message is in fact there
precisely in order to conflict with our behavior,
to tear man out of his life of lies and to bring clarity and truth.
Truth does not come cheap.  It makes demands, and it also burns.

True charity is not a bland indifferentism that accepts everything a person says.

True charity is a love that convicts the heart,
a love,
a passion,
that wills the good of the other.

True charity is a love, a choice,
to be for someone.

True charity is the passionate opposition
to that which works evil in the life of the beloved.

That evil must be burned away. It must be burned away by the Word of Truth which must be spoken.

If you want to see how charity divides, pick any issue that has to do with the dignity of the human person and speak the truth of the Church’s teaching to that issue. Have a conversation and speak the truth
in charity,
in love,
out of care for the true good of the other person,
to the issue of:

  • Abortion
  • Contraception
  • Euthanasia
  • The death penalty
  • Immigration
  • What marriage is and what marriage is not
  • Living together outside of the sacrament of marriage
  • Gender issues

To speak a word of love is to speak a fiery word.

It is to speak not my word,
but the word of God
in this or that situation,
and to allow that word to clear out all that is opposed to it.

To be on fire with the love of God is to be a man or woman of conviction,
a man or woman who is convicted by the love of Jesus for me and for you,
a conviction that causes me to stand up for what is right and to face with courage what is wrong,
to stand up and to face it because of my love for God and because of God’s love for you.

True charity calls us to be men and women of integrity, truth, and goodness,
men and women on fire with the love of God for souls,
disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ who came to cast a fire on the earth!

Jesus came to cast a fire upon the earth,
and he says that this fire will cause division.

True Charity is a fire that will divide.

To be for one thing is necessarily to be against another.[ii]
To turn toward one thing, it is necessary to turn away from something else.

To face the East is to have your back to the West.
To turn to the Good is to turn away from Evil.

We now come to this Eucharist, and we turn toward Christ.

We turn the One who came to cast a fire on the earth.
We come to our God who is a consuming fire.

In consuming him, we are to allow him to consume us.

In the words of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati:
Feed on this Bread of the Angels
from which you will draw the strength to fight inner struggles,
the struggles against passions and against all adversities,
because Jesus Christ has promised
to those who feed themselves with the most Holy Eucharist,
eternal life and the necessary graces to obtain it. 

And when you become totally consumed by this Eucharistic Fire,
then you will be able to thank with greater awareness the Lord God
who has called you to be part of his flock
and you will enjoy that peace
which those who are happy according to the world have never tasted.
Because true happiness…does not consist in the pleasures of the world and in earthly things, but in peace of conscience which we can have only if we are pure in heart and in mind.[iii]

My classmate Mark allowed Christ to consume him,
and Mark’s life became a fork in the road that compelled me to turn more toward Christ.

So too for you.

If you come forward to consume him and allow him to consume you,
his divine fire will rage within you
he will make of your life
a fork
that men must turn one way or another
on facing Christ in you.


[i] Prayer by Jim Elliot.

[ii] Bishop Robert Barron, Homily for August 18, 2019.

[iii] (Staten Island, NY: Fathers and Brothers of the Society of St. Paul, 2008), 129.

Faith Pushes Us Forward on Our Pilgrimage

Homily for 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
August 6-7, 2016
St. Philip’s Bemidji – 5:30 PM; 7:30 AM; 9:00 AM

August 11, 2019
Sacred Heart, EGF – 8:00 AM; 10:00 AM

Focus:              Faith pushes us forward on our pilgrimage.
Function:        Take the next step.


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It is good to be with you again. As you may know, three weeks ago I left for a pilgrimage to Spain to walk “el Camino de Santiago,” or “The Way of Saint James.”

The tradition holds that, after the ascension of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, St. James evangelized Spain. In the 9th century, a shepherd discovered the tomb containing his bones and, in time, a Church was built over the site.  It became a popular pilgrimage site, and there are paths beginning in France that lead across Northern Spain, ending at the Cathedral in Santiago.  This became known as the Camino, which is Spanish for “the Way” of Saint James.  Many, many pilgrims walk the Camino each year as a pilgrimage.  Some start in France and spend 4-5 weeks walking the 775 kms to reach the Cathedral.  Our group started in Sarria, Spain, and walked the last 115 kms in 6 days.

When we arrived in Sarria, we had a rest day before we started walking. I remember walking through town.  It was an unsettling experience.  I didn’t understand the language very well.  The surroundings were unfamiliar.  I wasn’t entirely sure where I was on the map.  The Cathedral seemed so far away.  I was making this pilgrimage with a group, and only for 6 days.  I began to think of people who made this pilgrimage by themselves.  It seemed like such a daunting undertaking.  If I’m honest, I have to admit that some fear set in – fear that would have discouraged me from starting out on the journey had I been alone – fear that would have taken some faith and courage to overcome.

Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things unseen. Faith led Abraham, our father in faith, to leave his home and all that was familiar and to set out for a far-away land that the Lord had promised to give him. He had the strength and courage to leave because he had faith in the God who had made the promise.  Even though he could not see where he was going, he had a real faith that he would arrive in the land that was promised to him.

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The next day, when we started out on our pilgrimage, we came across the first of many granite markers we would see. These markers had a yellow arrow that pointed to the path and indicated how far we were from the Cathedral.  As we walked, we kept our eyes open for the next marker.  They were everywhere. They were the evidence of our destination, the Cathedral, which we could not see.  By following the path that the markers laid out for us, we had faith that we would realize – that we would come to see – the Cathedral that we hoped that we would see.  The markers with their yellow arrows gave us faith and hope that we were going in the right direction. Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things unseen.

A pilgrimage is not always easy. Sometimes things don’t go as we had planned. Sometimes there are blisters – painful, nasty blisters.  We walked 14 miles the first day.  At the end of that day, my friend Deacon Jerry had 4 blisters on the bottom of his feet.  He rested his feet that afternoon, applied some moleskin to them, and set out with us the next day.  We walked another 14 miles, and Jerry had a couple of more blisters at the end of that day.  He rested again and applied some more moleskin.  Day 3 was a shorter walk – only 8 miles.  By the end of that day, Jerry was in agony.  He could hardly walk.

When we got to the hotel, someone in our group asked the clerk if there was anyone who would be able to look at his blisters and treat them properly. The clerk contacted a massage therapist who often visited pilgrims on the way.  Ludi arrived at the hotel in minutes, took one look at his feet, and said he needed to have a doctor look at them.  She then drove us to the hospital in her own car and then waited with us for over an hour while they treated his blisters.  She then drove us back to the hotel, and adamantly refused to take any money for her time.  “No, no, no, you are my friends.”

Pope Francis has said that “Faith is not a light that scatters all our darkness, but a lamp that guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey.” In other words, faith does not light up the whole path so that we can see the destination, but it is just bright enough to help us see the next step we should take.  Faith does not remove the darkness of suffering, but it accompanies us in the darkness.  The light of Faith shines brightly when the darkness is great.  In the hour of trial, faith brings light.  The name Ludi means “light”, “one who is full of light.”  Ludi was, indeed, a great light for us on the Way.

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Deacon Jerry had to skip 2 days of the pilgrimage, but was able to rejoin us for the final day. After 6 days and 76 miles of following the yellow arrows on the granite markers, we finally reached the Cathedral in Santiago.  They yellow arrows had pushed us forward on our pilgrimage, and by following them, one by one, one after another, we reached our destination.

Brothers and sisters, life is a pilgrimage. We are journeying toward a destination – the heavenly Jerusalem – the Kingdom of Heaven where Christ, the premier pilgrim, has gone before to mark the way for us.  He blazed the trail and has left markers along the path so that we can follow where He has gone.

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He has left us yellow arrows in the Commandments that show us how to live – where to walk – so that we do not stray from the path that leads to eternal life. Wide is the road that leads to destruction and narrow the way that leads to the Kingdom of God, but the command of the Lord is clear, giving light to the eye, so that we can see the path we should follow.

He has left us the Eucharist – the Mass – as the Memorial of his Sacrifice to nourish and strengthen us on our journey and to keep us on the path to eternal life – the Memorial which we do in remembrance of Him who made us the great promise: “I am going to prepare a place for you…” Our faith in what God will do is strengthened when we remember what God has done.

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He has given us friends and family – fellow pilgrims along the way – some of whom are ahead of us – who know the way because they can see the next marker on the horizon when we do not yet know where we are going.

Life is a journey. Life is a pilgrimage.  There are hills and valleys.  There are blisters on our feet.  There are fellow pilgrims along the Way.  There are markers pointing out the way we should go even though we may not yet see the destination.

Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things unseen. Faith pushes us forward on our pilgrimage.

Have faith, take the next step, and look for the next marker.

And when the journey is over, we will have a great story to tell.

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Cathedral of Saint James (“Santiago”)

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The main altar inside the Cathedral

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The tomb of Saint James in the crypt of the Cathedral

 

So Many Things Don’t Matter to God. Some Things Do.

Homily for 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
August 3-4, 2019
St. Lawrence, Mentor – Sat 7:30 PM; Sun 10:30 AM
St. Joseph, Fertile – Sun 8:30 AM
Sacred Heart, EGF – Sun 5:30 PM

Focus:              So many things don’t matter to God
Function:        Seek what matters to God


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DL Moody (1800’s preacher): Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.

 So many things don’t matter to God

  • Your hair color
  • The car you drive
  • Sports results
  • The plot of the latest TV show
  • The latest drama on social media
  • Your job title
  • Vanity – having my ego stoked
  • Money, possessions

So many things don’t matter to God

Some things matter greatly to God:

  • Relationships
  • Quantity time
  • Virtue: the disposition to love and to live in right relationship with others. Humility, Patience, Generosity, Gratitude, Diligence, Discipline, Temperance, Chastity.
  • Learning to love – learning to make a gift of yourself to others
  • Loving God and Loving others: union with God and union with others. PURPOSE – THIS IS WHY YOU EXIST. God made us for him.
  • Prayer, which fosters and strengthens your relationship with God
  • Repentance: “turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel”
  • Eternity – our eternal salvation

So many things don’t matter to God.

Some things matter greatly to God.

Holiness: transforming our desires so that “what matters to me is what matters to God.”
To advance along the path of holiness is to stop chasing what matters to me and to start chasing what matters to God.

In your own life, how do you know what matters to God?

The gospel gives us a clue.
The gospel puts it into perspective.

The man in the gospel chased things that did not matter to God. He had been given all of these riches, all of these good things.  Instead of emptying his barns and making a gift of what he had to others, he stored them up for himself so that he could rest on his laurels.

And that very night his life was demanded of him.

How do you know what matters to God?

Here’s the test:
If your life was demanded of you tonight, what will you wish you would have done?

Recently I listened to a talk where the speaker likened how old you are to the time of day.
If you are 15 years old, it’s 10:25 AM.
If you are 20 years old, it’s 11:34 AM.
If you are 25 years old, it’s 12:42 PM – just after lunch.
If you are 35 years old, it’s 3:00 PM.
If you are 45 years old, it’s 5:15 PM.
If you are 50 years old, it’s 6:25 PM.
If you are 70 years old, it’s 11:00 PM.

It puts it in perspective, doesn’t it? I thought I had more time…

Are you chasing what matters to God?  Or are you chasing what matters to you?  When you get to the end of your life, you will wish you had chased what mattered to God, because what matters to God is what will ultimately matter to us in the end.

Cardinal Francis George: The only things you take with you in the life to come are the things you’ve given away on earth.

Bishop Robert Barron: You’ll have in the heavenly realm nothing other than the love you’ve cultivated here below.

The man in the gospel would not give his life away, so his life was demanded of him.

John Paul II: Man will not fully find himself until he learns to make a sincere gift of himself.

Jesus: He who loses his life for my sake will find it.

We are meant to give our lives away.

My work in the Office of Vocations with the Diocese of Crookston: walking with guys discerning a vocation to the priesthood. It’s so often the same.  “I think this is what God wants.  It’s not what I want”

To the infinite call of God, man must add his finite yes.

God empties himself in the call to the man, man must empty himself so that he can receive that call.

The man being called to the priesthood must learn to want for himself what God wants for him.

The man must die to himself, must empty himself, in order to be filled with what God desires to give.

It’s a painful thing to give up what you want, but once you do, you find that really you wanted what God wanted for you all along.

State of things in the Diocese.  It takes 6-8 years to journey through seminary. 15 of our 35 active priests eligible to retire in that time.  We have 4 men in seminary.  God will provide.  This is not a cause for despair, but it is a cause to ask ourselves if we are doing our part, if we are doing all that we can.

God is still calling, but the men he is calling may not want what God wants.  To get to that point – they need your help.

They need you to empty yourself of your riches so that they can discover what God wants for them, and ultimately, what we want for them – to realize their vocations as priests.

Will you give of the riches of your encouragement, speaking that word that you’d rather hold in because you don’t know how it will be received?

Will you pour out the gift of your prayers and the sacrifice of your time? In the words of your pastor: “How can we expect a man to give his whole life in service to God’s people when we will not give an hour a week before the Blessed Sacrament praying for his vocation?”

Brothers and sisters,
The goal of life is not to fill your barn.
The goal of life is to empty your barn,
to empty it so that you have room to receive what God wishes to give you: life to the full on this earth and eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let me say it again.

What matters to God is not that you fill your barn.
What matters to God is that you empty your barn so that he can fill it with what he wants to give you.

What ultimately matters to God? You.  He emptied himself for you.

What does he want to give you?
His very self (Crucifix)

What does he want to give you?
His very self (Eucharist/altar)

He emptied himself for you.
Will you empty yourself for him?

There is Need of Only One Thing

Homily for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
July 21, 2019
St. Francis, Fisher – 8:00 AM; Holy Trinity, Tabor – 10:00 AM

Focus:               There is Need of Only One Thing
Function:         Listen to Him.


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Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Johannes Vermeer
ca. 1655

Unum Est Necessarium…

There is need of only One Thing…

In an attempt to become more focused and more organized, I recently purchased a new planner. It has everything:

A place to list my goals for the upcoming year and to outline my next steps for each goal

A monthly calendar so that I can see my big commitments that are coming up

A weekly preview so that I can look ahead to the next week and see what must get done this week, and a place to record my weekly “big three” – three items that I need to accomplish this week to advance my goals for the year

Daily pages that list my schedule for today, my “big three” for today, my miscellaneous tasks that will crop up during the week.

At the heart of this planner is the weekly preview. Sit down at the end of each week, review the previous week, and look ahead to the next week.  Plan it out.  What did I accomplish last week?  Did I focus on what was essential?  Why or why not?  Look ahead to next week.  Where do I have blocks of time?  Plan what to do with that time, so that when it comes I don’t spin my wheels doing the mundane but rather focus on the essential.  Focus on the One Thing rather than on the many things that distract me from the One Thing.

There is need of only One Thing…

This week I ran across a book that I ordered during my seminary years. The book is called “The One Thing”.  It’s a business book.  The premise of the book is that the many things I could do should never be at the mercy of the One Thing that I should do. Successful people know what their “One Thing” is and they focus all of their energy into that One Thing.  Often it’s one small thing that pays big dividends over time.  At the beginning of the book is a Russian Proverb: If you chase 2 rabbits, you will not catch either one. In other words, focus on the One Thing…

There is need of only one thing…

Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.

Many things vie for our attention and our energy. Often they are good things.  Providing hospitality for a guest who is the Son of God is certainly a task worthy of our energy.  And yet we can get so caught up in needing to have everything perfect that we miss out on the person right in front of us.

It is important to provide for the material needs of the person in front of us, but what about their spiritual needs? The need to be heard, the need for an encounter, the need for a gaze of love and of deep sharing.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the many things vying for our attention that we miss out on the One Thing…

There is need of only One Thing…

What is the One Thing?

At the end of your life…
When all is said and done…
When you leave this world and stand before your God on the day of your judgment…
What will be the One Thing you will wish you had done?

In John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks these words: This is eternal life, to know you, the One True God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).

That’s it. That’s the One Thing. To know you, the One True God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. This is the One Thing because this is Eternal Life.

How do we know him? The same way we know any person.

Listen to him.

In order to truly know another person,
we have to spend time listening to them,
listening to them share their heart,
listening to their joys and struggles,
listening to their thoughts and opinions, their hopes and dreams,
listening to what they value as most dear.

That is often the most difficult thing to do. It is much easier, for me anyway, to bustle about the kitchen than it is to sit in front of another person with no agenda and to listen to what they have to say.

Listen to him.

At the transfiguration, the Father’s voice was heard: This is my chosen Son.  Listen to him (Luke 9:35).

This is the One Thing. This is what Mary did.  She sat at his feet, listening to him speak.

This is often the most difficult thing to do. For me, it’s easier to sit in the chapel when I am praying the breviary or working on a homily than it is to sit there in silence, with no agenda, listening for the voice of the Lord to speak.

And yet there is need of only One Thing…

This is the One Thing…to know you, the One True God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Know him and you will love him.
Know him and you will keep the commandments.
Know him and you will see him in your daily life.
Know him and everything else falls into place.

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of being the Spiritual Director for the JPII Middle School camp. The kids at the camp had a lot of time to sit at the feet of Jesus in adoration.  We challenged them to speak to the Lord in adoration.

On the last day of camp, they had an opportunity to share an experience from the week in front of the other campers and their parents.

One young man described how he had sat in the front row during adoration on Monday evening. He looked at the Eucharist in the monstrance and silently asked, “Jesus, if you are there, can you show me?”  Right at that moment, I turned on my microphone and repeated part of the first reading from mass that morning:

I am with you. I will never leave you.  I will protect you.  I will lead you home.

He felt a wave of peace wash over him as he sat at the feet of Jesus.

On Wednesday evening, we were in adoration again. I told the story of woman with the hemorrhage for twelve years, of how she had spent everything she had for a cure but nothing had worked.  Jesus is passing by in the crowd.  She says, “if only I can touch the tassel of his cloak, I will be healed.”  She reaches out, touches Jesus’ cloak, and is immediately healed of her affliction.  Jesus turns around and, aware that power had gone out from him, asks, “Who touched me?”  The woman falls at his feet and tells him the whole truth.  Jesus looks at her and says, “Woman, your faith has saved you.  Go in peace.”

After sharing that story, I told the campers that Jesus would again pass through the crowd and they would be invited to touch his garments and ask for what they needed. I then carried the Eucharist through the crowd, holding the monstrance with the humeral veil and inviting the kids to touch the humeral veil as they offered their prayers.  One by one, the Eucharist stopped before each kid.  One girl described touching the cloak and feeling a huge burden that she had been carrying be lifted off of her shoulders.

Peace descended upon her as she sat at the feet of Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, can we sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his words? Can we do that this week?  What if we spent 10 minutes each day this week with the gospel reading for that day or for next Sunday?

What if we read the passage and gave some time of silence?

What if we read the passage a second time and asked, “Lord, where does this touch my life?” and gave some more silence?

What if we read it a third time and asked, “What are you saying to me, Lord?” and gave some more silence?

Pope Benedict XVI has said that sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to his words in Scripture in this way would bring about “a new spiritual springtime” within the Church.

There is need of only one thing. Listen to him.

Listen to him, and you will learn from him.
Listen to him, and you will care with him.
Listen to him, and you will cry and laugh with him.
Listen to him and you will suffer and rise with him.
Listen to him and you will be transfigured with him.[i]

As you go about your week, ask yourself: “What’s my One Thing?”

This week, be willing to sacrifice the many things in order to focus on the One Thing: Jesus Christ, the one who leads us to eternal life.


[i] http://substancehopedfor.blogspot.com/2012/10/st-denis-and-his-companions-mostly.html#!/2012/10/st-denis-and-his-companions-mostly.html

The Sacred Heart of Jesus Has All We Need

Homily for Solemnity of the Sacred Heart
June 29, 2019; 8:30 AM
Sacred Heart, EGF (125th Jubilee with Eucharistic Procession)

Focus:          The Sacred Heart of Jesus has all we need
Function:    Let the Eucharist Lead


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One of the images here at Sacred Heart that has always captured my attention is the stained glass window of the Good Shepherd. It’s behind you in the balcony, but it’s always in front of me.  Of all of the windows in the Church, that one is the most vibrant and easy to decipher.  It’s the image that catches your eye, at least my eye, every time I walk into the social hall.

It’s a beautiful image but I’ve always thought it was a bit of an odd image, for us anyway. I have nothing against the Good Shepherd, but it seems to me that an image of the Sacred Heart would have been more appropriate for such a prominent spot.

Msgr. AI Merth was the pastor here when that window was installed. As it turns out, he had indeed asked for a stained glass window of the Sacred Heart to be commissioned for that space.  He desired that the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as the namesake for our parish, be honored in that way.  Imagine his surprise when they brought him into the church after installing the window and he saw the image of the Good Shepherd…He was quite disappointed.

When I heard that story, I shared Msgr. Merth’s sentiment. A beautiful image of the Sacred Heart might inspire one to a greater love and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus under whose Lordship we have placed this parish, and whose feast we celebrate today.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus has all we need.

As Jesus hung upon the cross, the soldier’s spear thrust through his sacred side and pierced his Most Sacred Heart, pouring forth the treasure that was contained inside:

The blood poured out for the remission of our sins.
The water that cleanses us in baptism.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus has all we need. What is this heart?

It is the font from which all graces flow.
It is the wellspring of the Church’s sacraments and the source of their power.
It is a fount of love and mercy.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus has all we need because the love of Jesus is all we need.

What is this love?

It is the love that led him to sacrifice himself for the sake of the Beloved.
It is the love that leaves the 99 and goes in search of the one.
It is the love that rejoices when the sinner repents and comes home to the Father’s house.

The love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the love of the Good Shepherd.

Perhaps the image of the Good Shepherd is the perfect image for Sacred Heart parish.

It is the perfect image because the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the Heart of the Good Shepherd.

If you want an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,
If you want to see what it looks like in action,
look to the Good Shepherd.

I will tend my sheep.
I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered.
I myself will pasture my sheep.
I myself will give them rest.
The lost I will seek out: Baptism.
The strayed I will bring back: Reconciliation.
The inured I will bind up; the sick I will heal: Anointing of the Sick.

Such is the love of the Good Shepherd.
Such is the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus has all we need,
and God, in his love, allows this Heart to remain with us always.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus the Good Shepherd remains with us in the Eucharist.

Today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart, we let the Eucharist lead us.
Today, the sheep follow the lead of the Good Shepherd.

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We follow where he leads even if it’s not where we want to go.

We follow because we trust that he is leading us to the greenest pastures
even if we need to leave pastures that appear green right now,
to pass through the desert,
over barren rocky crevices,
into what seems like a wasteland.

We follow even though we’d rather stay put.

We follow even though we’d rather stay in Egypt.

We follow because we know he is leading us into the Pastures of the Promised Land,
to the better streams of a better life even in this world.

Today, the heart of the Good Shepherd will use you to draw others’ attention to his heart.

Today he will lead you along streets and sidewalks,
over railroad tracks,
across DeMers Avenue
through traffic and campground.

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Today he will use you to bring others to his Heart. Today you bear witness to the power of his heart in your own life.  Your footsteps on this pilgrimage today proclaim to the world, to the city of East Grand Forks: “I am willing to follow”.

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People may ask: “What are you doing?” Give a simple answer: “We are following the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Join us!”

Take courage.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is the Heart of the Good Shepherd who will never lead you astray.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is all we need.

He now gives his heart to us again as we celebrate this Eucharist.

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His Body, His Flesh is now given to us to nourish us for the journey ahead.

His Blood, poured forth from His Sacred Heart,
will soon flow once again through our veins
just as we will soon flow through the streets of this city.

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May the Heart of Jesus,
in the Most Blessed Sacrament,
be praised, adored, and loved with grateful affection,
at every moment,
in all the tabernacles of the world,
even to the end of time.