Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Be a Fisher of Men Every Day

A few weeks before I was ordained, a reporter from The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the archdiocese, contacted me. They were speaking to each member of our class about our upcoming ordination, and the questions where what you’d expect: who is your biggest influence, how did you become a priest, what are you looking forward to.

There were a few people I talked about that day.

When asked who my heroes were, I said my parents. I was recently looking at some photos of my parents big move in the summer of 1978 a family friend posted online, as he helped them move that day. At the time they were in their early 20s, and were moving into our home on the north side of Minneapolis. That home has a lot of memories, and they worked so hard to create them. Ever since I’ve known them, I’ve known two hard-working people who sacrificed so much for their family, who lived out their faith daily, and who have been a constant beacon to me of how to walk through life. Through how they have lived, I have learned how to live too, and through their encouragement I have been able to discern what God wanted me to do with my life.

The other person I mentioned that day was a man you might know, Fr. Vince Colon. Fr. Vince was the pastor at Our Lady of Victory when I was there from the fourth through the eighth grade. I really have no idea how the idea came into my head, but I remember asking my grandma one day about alter boys, and she said there had not been any at Our Lady of Victory in a few years since Fr. Colon had been there. Now as a priest I have to tell you, as much as I love working with altar servers, I can kind of get not having them too, especially at a smaller parish. It can be easier to just work with the “grown ups,” and indeed there was an older man, Andy, who was present at most Masses. But something got into this introvert in sixth grade, and I walked over to the rectory one day after school. They have an office in the front part of it, and Fr. Vince came to the door. I explained to him that I had an interest in serving at Mass. Now he could have easily said “that’s very nice, what’s your name? Paul, well Paul, that’s nice but we just don’t do that here. Have a nice day.” But, he didn’t. He invited me to serve, and showed me the ropes. He was patient with me as I tried to figure things out like how to hold the book and at what angle, and when to go down to get the gifts. It’s still a little nervous being in front of people but it was even more so as a 12-year old. It was an honor to have Fr. Vince be at my first Mass at that same church years down the road.

This week’s Gospel has Jesus meeting Peter and Andrew, where we hear that famous line “come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” Peter and Andrew form the early Church, and after Jesus ascends to heaven, they will be doing just that through their evangelization and their action. That same commission is give to us too.

Over the course of our lives, there are so many chances we have to be a true fisher of men.

It starts in our families. As I remind couples at baptism classes, they are not perfect. They inevitably let their kids down at times; they make mistakes. But when you add up a life, what’s clear is that parents and also grandparents and other family do so much to help their kids find the right path in life, and to develop their own relationship with God. Never forget the gift of time, of being present to family and listening to them, of making Mass a family priority, of doing acts of charity, of being a hard worker, of patience and showing love and respect towards one another, and so many other things that happen in families are teaching moments. My parents encouraged me to follow my dreams and told me they’d always support me, but they also challenged me to grow in my faith, to work hard, and to persevere. Vatican II reminded us that parents were the primary people to pass on the faith – so never forget being a fisher of men starts at home.

But also, never forget, God gives us all many opportunities over the course of our lives to help others see His face and hear His voice. For me, it was a September afternoon in 1989 when a kindly priest decided it would be just fine to have an altar server. True evangelization happens in ways that will surprise us. Through acts of kindness, of patience, of listening to people, through doing charity, this is how people come to the faith.

And lastly, never fear talking about your faith too. My parents explained our faith to me, but they also helped me to lead a better life. Fr. Vince didn’t just say “there are the altar servers vestments” and then start Mass, he explained things to me carefully and let me know if there was something that I should change. Actions are important, but so too is being an apologist or explainer of what it means to be a Catholic. So take the time to talk about why we go to Mass with your kids and what happens; invite people to come to church with you; and with others who may not go to Mass too often or be away from the Church, talk to them about the faith and what you get out of it. You may not find an instant convert, but over time, you might be amazed at how the faith grows in people. In fact, a great guy I worked with in another parish once shared with me how he and his wife have converted several Mormons. Pretty impressive. These were people who just came to their door, and rather than hide behind the shades or not come to the door, they invited them in, had a conversation, talked about what they believe as Catholics, then followed up with them and now, our Church is bigger because of this amazing husband and wife who are true fishers of people.

I spent 3 hours in a fishing boat once, and that was enough fishing for me for a lifetime. But the rest of my life as a Catholic, I know God has given me a job to be a fisher of people, to evangelize, and build up His Church. That stems not just from my sacramental priesthood, but from my baptism and confirmation. You have that same job. I caught no fish when I went fishing for the first time as a transitional deacon with a parishioner in the summer of 2006, but my hope is that as my life goes on, I will catch people and bring them to the Lord. So join me in that mission – odds are we might not always see the catch, but when we are together in God’s Kingdom, we’ll find a lot of people are there because of our perseverance.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Ordinary, Yet Extraordinary

This past Monday, January 8th, we celebrated the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Often this will be on a Sunday, but when the Epiphany is celebrated on a Sunday after January 6th, the feast gets moved to the Monday after the Epiphany. This Sunday is the second Sunday in Ordinary Time.

The Baptism of the Lord occurs when Jesus is about 30 years of age. And of course it’s not like a baptism we have today. Rather, in this action, Jesus is preparing for the start of his public ministry. He stands with other sinners and is baptized by John the Baptist. People would see John in the wilderness to go through the baptism ritual as a way of starting a new chapter in their lives. Jesus, in His baptism, shows us how He stands with us as sinners. Upon His baptism Mark’s Gospel tells us a voice comes from the heavens that says “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus is the one we all hope for; now He begins His mission.

This mission is one that changes us. At our own baptism, we are claimed for Jesus. The sign of the cross is made on our forehead by the priest or deacon and we are named, signifying that we are special and unique to God. The water poured over us, the chrism on our forehead, and the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” bring us closer to God. Through this, and through the mission of our Lord, we become adopted sons and daughters of God. The light of Christ shines with us every day, signified by the Easter Candle that is lit, from which the baptismal candle is then lit too.

What’s important to remember is that because we are created by God, and because of the actions of Christ, we are forever unique. We are not just one among many or a number, but we are forever loved by God. Nothing can separate us from that love. And that is important to remember in a world where we can compare ourselves to others, and in a society that values power and getting ahead. God’s Kingdom is not like “Survivor” where we have to compete and jockey with one another to win. The Crown of Eternal Life is there for us all. It just requires learning how to respond to our baptism. The Baptism of our Lord began His mission; He then carried that out in the three years that followed.

At the same time, what is important to remember too is that while baptism incorporates us into the Body of Christ, we still deal with our humanity.

Whenever I would hold a baptism class, this was something I always talked about with new parents. I reminded them that while they love their children and will surely do much for them, they are also human. They will make mistakes. They’ll let them down; they’ll forget something; do something wrong, etc. That’s because they are human. And this of course goes for priests too. I go to confession because I am a sinner. I try my best as a priest, but I sometimes make mistakes. For instance a couple of weeks ago, I forgot that the feast of Mary, Mother of God was not obligatory as it was on a Monday, so we had two Masses that day, and perhaps some people who came thinking it was an obligation because they were not informed by the priest (oops!). Another time I completely lost my place in the Eucharistic Prayer and skipped over a part after the consecration had taken place (yes Mass was still valid that day). Interestingly with respect to the holy day a parishioner sent me a very kind note saying “thanks for talking about it, it shows you are a real person.”

The point is that we are all striving to grow towards sainthood. Baptism does make is extraordinary in a sense in how it brings us closer to God; it claims us for Him, and we receive His love in a special way. Sin is no kryptonite. But we must also never forget as we move forward, we’ll continually do good things while also making mistakes – hence the other sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation to help us along the way.

My homily for the Feast of Mary, Mother of God could be summed up in two words: “think little.” What I preached on was that it was a series of little things and actions we can do to show our love for God and others over the course of our lives. Certainly that’s what happened between Mary, Jesus and Joseph over the 30 years prior to Jesus starting His ministry. But those many little things surely also had a profound impact on Him. That’s something to also ponder as we now start this brief stretch of Ordinary Time for the next month (amazingly, Lent is just a month away!). God’s love is truly extraordinary in that it is perfect, forever, and unceasing and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it. But we need to grow daily in learning how to respond to it – something that when you add up the many little things we do over a lifetime can truly take an ordinary soul and turn them into an extraordinary one called a saint, and do so much for other people too to help them on their journey through this life into the next.

Have a blessed week! 

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Jesus is a Gift for Us All

One time in a homily, I remember the priest telling a joke about a newly arrived group that was going through heaven. The group visited various parts of heaven, but upon getting off the bus to walk through a neighborhood, the tour guide told the people to be quiet. When one person asked why silence was necessary, the guide explained that they were in the Catholic part of heaven, but the Catholics think they are the only ones here so be quiet so as not to disturb them.

Now of course if you have a theological discussion, on the one hand we believe that one religion is not the same as no religion or any other religion. The reality is we do in fact believe that God is Triune, Father, Son and Spirit, and we do believe that Jesus established one, holy, catholic apostolic Church. One, not many. This is why we evangelize, why the Church has missionary activity, why we have RCIA, and why we reserve Holy Communion for those who are in full communion with the Catholic Church.

So what of those who do not enter into the Catholic faith? The Second Vatican Council, in the document The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World writes: ”Since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.” Our catechism also states: “Those who through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.” I truly believe that when we die, for those who may have had no opportunity to understand the Catholic faith, the truth of our faith will be revealed to them, and they will then have an opportunity to accept it fully.

This weekend, we celebrate Epiphany. It’s a big feast, one of the “Big 4” with Christmas, Easter and Pentecost being the others. Clues to it’s significance can be found when you look at the Magi in your nativity set. By the time of this publication, our figurines will have made the long journey from the ambo to the nativity itself. You’ll notice one of them is typically a person of color. We of course don’t know a ton about these wise men. It is pretty interesting though that the first people to recognize that the newborn Jesus was the king of the Jews, the long-awaited Messiah, were Magi from the East. They were outsiders, followers of Zoroaster, who had arrived at Jerusalem by following a star.

This feast is a reminder to us that Jesus is truly for all people. The challenge for us is to make sure we never forget that.

It starts right in our own parishes and homes, making sure all people are truly welcome.

A story I once used at a daily Mass was of a new pastor. He transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000-member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service, only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food – no one in the church gave him change.

He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit in the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares, dirty looks, and people looking down on him. As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you our new Pastor.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with all eyes on him. He walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ ‘The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry, and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?” He then dismissed service until next week.

Following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ should be more than just talk. It ought to be a lifestyle that others around you can love about you and share in.” Be a Christian all you want, but at least follow the teachings of Christ if you’re going to claim the title.

There can always be a temptation, even if we don’t intend it, to look down on people who might not be as active in their faith, or to judge someone’s relationship with God by our perception of their “orthodoxy” or lack thereof. So we should do some self-evaluation from time to time, and ask ourselves how do we welcome people? How do we treat a parent with a fussy child at Mass? How do we treat visitors, especially on big feast days when the church is more crowded? Do we ever think of ourselves as “holier than thou?” Do we invite others to Mass? Do we exhibit patience with those who may not fully understand the faith as we do? Do we judge others in our hearts based on their clothing at Mass? This is not to say we can never judge – rather it means when we judge an action, we want to then try to help a person grow in their relationship with the Lord.

Pope Francis has used the image of the Church as a field hospital, a good image to have. So as we journey through life, may we one day not bring Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh, but rather be fishers of men who bring souls to God, remembering that evangelization entails not just catechesis and talking about Jesus, but revealing who Jesus is through how we love, and welcome, one another.

God bless!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Family is truly the Gift that Keeps on Giving

Christmas blessings to you and your family. I hope that you’ve been able to by this point enjoy some time together with loved ones, and hopefully relax a bit after the busyness in the days that led up to Christmas.

Christmas in the Church is not just a one day event, but a season, albeit one of the shorter liturgical seasons we have. The 12 Days of Christmas runs until Epiphany, and then the season ends shortly thereafter with the Baptism of the Lord.

This weekend, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. We know very little about the unrecorded years of Jesus life, but the Holy Family has caught the attention of artists throughout the ages.

The Church puts a great deal of emphasis on the family, calling it the “domestic Church.” But sometimes we can take the family for granted. From an early age we fight with our siblings; as the years go by we lose touch, or we get so busy with our lives that we barely have time for one another. You may have spent more time with loved ones this holiday season, but as we head into a new year, remember that the people you are related to are so important. And while the gifts may have been opened (perhaps even returned) by this point, like it or not there is no returning the gift of our family. So how do we deepen relationships with them?

For one, we give the gift of time, as I wrote about a couple of weeks back. We are so busy these days, I wonder how many families have time for a family meal as opposed to finding out what is going on the lives of others through Facebook. Whether it’s having a family game night, talking to one another, or making time for extended family, time is a precious commodity – so why not share it with the ones we love?

Second, we can give the gift of patience. I once mentioned to my spiritual director that I was impatient with things, and he talked to me about Jesus growing up. He said, just think about how long he waited. Week after week, year after year, listening to teachers, to rabbis, to Mary and Joseph, even though He had such knowledge. He waited to begin His mission and was patient. As kids, we can be impatient with siblings; we can be impatient with parents for being “unfair.” But even if we are older, we can be impatient with others in the family, whether waiting for a child to mature or waiting for our adult siblings to mature. On our part, we can pray for one another, try to be non-judgmental, and present in the lives of others, and we may be surprised at the changes that occur as time goes by.

Third, stop making excuses about why you can’t see someone, or why you can’t forgive. We sometimes have a long memory, or get busy so we never make time for others. It is true a relationship changes over a lifetime; sometimes two siblings live far apart, get married, and maybe can’t see one another. But time is ticking for all of us. Work on trying to reconcile the past if there are hurts, and if you never see someone, try to reach out to them beyond just a yearly Christmas card.

Fourth, remember you are part of God’s family. Your own family is special, but we are all part of God’s family. And as such, parents have a duty to pass on the faith to their children. Some kids get the message that top priority is a 4.0 GPA or being on enough sports teams to make a college application look good. We’ve got our priorities messed up as a society, and as we become more secular, God can be seen like the “break glass in case of emergency” fire extinguisher. God is always journeying with us, so it’s important as a family to pray together, to come to Mass, to receive the sacraments, and to grow in our understanding of this God who loves us so much. Part of this also means remembering we are unified to one another and all loved the same by God, no matter what our background is. It’s important to remember we are connected. Living the faith out is so important! Remember, if you don’t take the faith seriously as adults, what kind of message does that send to children?

Fifth, forgive and ask for forgiveness. Remind yourself, you are a sinner. You are not perfect at being a brother, sister, husband, wife, mom or dad. If you do something you shouldn’t, apologize to your loved ones and own up to it. If someone seeks reconciliation with you, try to open your heart to making that happen. It teaches a valuable lesson especially to children about our need for humility and forgiveness.

Sixth, rejoice in the “little moments.” If you look at the artwork or stained glass windows of the Holy Family, it’s often a relatively simple scene of life on an ordinary day in the home of Mary and Joseph. I’ve yet to have someone come in to plan a funeral and recall what they got for Christmas in a box one year. Rather, people share stories of growing up with their parents that are so impactful. It’s the simple things all strung together that leave a lasting impact, not the “perfect gift.” Cherish the time you spend together by making the most of it.

Lastly, remember that when we die, life is changed, not ended. We all have family we wish were with us at Christmas Mass or dinner who have gone to eternal life. Remember though that Christmas is God coming into the world to redeem us, which culminated with Easter. Because of Jesus, death’s power is gone. Our loved ones live on forever, but we should also pray for them as they pray for us, think of them, and of how they led their lives. As we do this, we find that we too will be changed for the better as we emulate their good qualities and live out the meaning of Jesus’ words, “love one another as I have loved you.”

I cherish visiting my family whenever I can, and am blessed they live locally so that’s often once a week. My family has been so supportive of me in my vocation, and it’s so nice to go home where I can relax and be truly myself. Our families are so very important, so let’s make sure we never take them for granted, and stay connected with them not just at Christmastime, but throughout the year.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Giving the Gift of a Relationship with God

By now many of us are finishing up our last-minute shopping, and trying to get the right gifts for those on our list. But one of the greatest gifts we can give to others is to help them foster a meaningful relationship with God. And most often this will happen in ways we might not even think about.

I once heard a story of two alter boys who had an experience that put each on different paths. One boy woke up late and was supposed to serve; he hurriedly arrived to the church but the cold priest told him to go home and that he would never serve again. Another altar boy had the privilege of serving at a Mass with the archbishop. At the Mass, one of the glass cruets fell and shattered on the stone floor, so everyone in the cathedral heard it and knew he dropped it. The bishop merely smiled, made a kind comment about it, and no one thought much of it and the altar boy breathed a sigh of relief. The boy who was treated with cruelty by the priest was Josef Stalin; the boy who was treated with kindness was Bishop Fulton Sheen.

Whether or not the story is true, the situation is certainly very common. As a priest and a life-long Catholic, I’ve heard many stories both positive and negative. A person may have a fond memory of a good nun in school, or the warmth of their parish growing up and clung to the faith over the years. Others were treated with cruelty by someone in the Church or just had a bad experience in a parish, and that caused them to drift or become embittered.

With that in mind, it’s so important to remember that we are ambassadors of God and of the Catholic Church through our baptism. It seems some in the world are catechized to have prioritize popularity, money, and being a busy-body with sports, school activities and a million other things. At the end of the day though we are preparing for eternal life, which means to do so we need to strive daily to grow in our love for God and work to glorify Him by making His presence known through how we lead our lives. The gifts we will give in packages have a life span; giving someone the gift of better spiritual vision though can last for an eternity.

Following are some simple things we can do to help people foster a deeper relationship with God:

  1. Kindness and hospitality. One of the true tragedies that has occurred in Christianity is the divisions we have. We’ve come a long way with ecumenism, but even within our Catholic Church today, there have been divisions. Some have been between neighboring parishes based on ethnicity or parish culture; others have been between so-called “liberal” and “conservative” Catholics, others have been based on money, or “school” people and “religious ed” people. Other times we can silently have an attitude of knowing who “belongs” at church and who doesn’t. How pathetic and petty we Christians can be sometimes. At Christmas, our church will be much more full – we all know that. Other times throughout the year visitors come and go. When a person comes to a parish, a little kindness and hospitality can go a long way. A person will remember feeling made welcome; not feeling judged or looked down upon; or a kind word. And this might just be the spark that brings them back. But this also continues outside of church. When we are at parties at work or with family; when we make an effort to talk to someone we might not talk about too much, or refuse to engage in gossip and put-downs. Prior to this Saint Joseph’s I served another church named Saint Joseph’s, and in it was a beautiful window of Saint Martin of Tours, who was not yet Catholic but a catechumen, and gave part of his cloak to a beggar. In a dream, he saw the beggar as Christ, who said “do you see Martin? He is yet a catechumen yet he clothed me.” As I enter year 3 here at Saint Joe’s, I have to say I sense a lot of people like Saint Martin here. So many people make hospitality a way of life.

 

  1. Watching what we say. Words mean things, and sometimes we can forget that. On the one hand we all have to vent, but if we are putting others down, that can encourage others to do that too. We need to be mindful of what we say about the Church and other people. If we are on social media or at dinner, and putting down the Church; either our parish, the bishop, the pope, what kind of reflection does that give to others? When we are at Christmas gatherings, sometimes chit-chat can also turn into gossip which can destroy people, so we also want to be aware of how we are talking about family and friends.

 

  1. Invite people to Mass. Christmas gives us the time to connect with others who may not always come to Mass regularly. Rather than use judgmental language that can push them away, from time to time invite them to come with you. Such things as “say, you are in town for the holidays, this Sunday is the Feast of the Holy Family – it’s a really neat celebration. Would you like to join me?” or “just so you know you are always welcome to join us on Saturday night for Mass” can plant mustard seeds.

 

  1. Pray for others. Prayer can do so much, for both the living and the dead. Sometimes after praying for a long time for someone, we can meet up with them again down the road and be surprised at where they are at. I truly believe in heaven we will meet many people who are there because of our prayers, and we’ll see how they helped them in ways we never knew.

 

  1. Be patient. Sometimes for those who are active in the faith, or returned to it, patience with others can be tough, because they want others to be right where they are, right now. If they aren’t patient, sometimes a zealous or judgmental attitude can push people away. If we are always in someone’s face about how they do not go to Mass, or talking about our faith all the time to them, it might not work. Rather, we need to look for the right time to talk about the faith with them, finding the balance between never saying a word or saying too much. They might not come right away, but over time amazing things can happen.

 

  1. Be the Gospel they read. As the saying goes, “sometimes you are the only Bible people read,” we need to remember that is quite true. When we are kind, positive, uplifting and generous with our time, people will come to see it as a reflection of an interior love of God.

 

  1. Look for ways to deepen the faith of others through discussion and involvement. If you remember Jay Leno’s tenure on “The Tonight Show,” you may recall his segment “Jaywalking.” He asks people on the street a question that should be quite basic – such as “Who was the first president of the United States” and people give ridiculous answers. Some things should seem obvious to a Catholic, but there is a lot of misconceptions and ignorance about the faith. A person might not understand what is meant by the Trinity, the Eucharist, the Saints, etc. We can’t be condescending but rather should engage them. Ignorance of the faith, both from people who are Catholic and those who are not is rampant. We need to learn about the faith more deeply ourselves, but look for ways to talk about it; from talking to kids and grandkids about stained glass, statues, or the colors the priest is wearing, to giving someone a rosary and explaining how to use it and what it means. Remember through your baptism and confirmation you are a priest, prophet and a king, sharing in the duty to be a shepherd of souls.

In a little over 10 years as a priest, one of the greatest joys I see is when someone who I had not seen much before all of a sudden starts to come to Mass after a wedding, funeral or major feast day. People in the world are so hungry, which is why there can be so much energy on passing things of this world, they just don’t always know what they hunger for. At Christmas, let us help them drink the water given to them by Jesus so they will truly never thirst again.

Merry Christmas!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: The Gift of Time

One of the parts of my ministry as a priest is to be with families as they cope with the loss of a loved one. When there is a death, I meet with them and get a biography of the person’s life. I typically like to use a story too to lead into the homily as I do with most of my homilies.

At a recent funeral Mass I celebrated, I came across a story shared by a son with respect to his mom and how he thought of her. And I think it’s quite timely for Christmas as we think about the “perfect” gift in that no matter what we buy, people will look back on us and remember the most important thing we gave them was not material, but rather that we were there or them when they needed us.

In a story he shares about his mom, Dale Jackson, a contributor to a book dedicated to moms, talks about how he realized this one day in the hospital.

The morning sun brightened and warmed the hospital waiting room as he and his siblings awaited the results from his mother’s latest surgery. He feared the worst, and that led him to contemplate specifically what it was that made his mother so special to him. Like most children, he believed that his mother was the best anyone could have. How could you feel otherwise about the person who gave birth to you, fed you, cleaned up after you, cared for you when you were sick, held you close when your first love broke your heart, and did millions of other things for you?

As he enjoyed the warmth of the sunlight it dawned on him that the most extraordinary thing his mother did for him, the one characteristic that illustrated everything about her as a mom, was that she always put her book down.

When he was a teenager, Dale admits he was so wrapped up in himself that he felt his issues were the most important and weighty things in the world. Also like most teens, he’d keep his worries and concerns to himself and try to figure things out on his own, since no one else could possibly understand what he was going through. But every so often he could not ignore the need to talk to someone and would drift into his parent’s bedroom to unburden himself to his mother while she was sitting in bed reading.

As the mother of five rambunctious children, she’d often retreat to her room in the evening for some down time. Dale was sure she viewed this as her time to relax, unwind and get away from the pressures of caring for a husband and children even if only for a few moments. Yet even though this was to be her time for herself, she would never close the bedroom door. This was because Dale’s parents stressed to them that they were always welcome to talk to them about anything, at any time.

Dale would sit on the edge of the bed and begin with some idle chitchat as he worked up the nerve to talk about what was bothering him. His mom would always do something remarkable – she’d put her book down. The impact of that simple act still resonates with him many decades later. How easy would it have been for her to sneak peeks at her book and act as if she was listening? But she put the book down and in so doing demonstrated to her child that he was loved, accepted, and cared for. She never once complained that she was interfering with “her time,” never asked if he could come back later, and not once did she act as if his thoughts and concerns were stupid, irrelevant or silly. She simply put her book down and actively listened to her child for as long as was needed.

In the decades since Dale tried to embrace the lessons that his mother silently taught during those mother-son conversations. He noted that many times when someone comes up to him and strikes up a conversation, he almost automatically puts down whatever he’s reading to give this individual the same gift that his mom gave to him. He strives to remember how it felt to know that what he had to say was important to someone else and what a wonderful and powerful message can be sent by simply putting the book down.

As he thought about all of this next to his mom, who made it through that surgery, he reflected that yes his mom was special in many ways, and not the least of which was she put her book down.

Needless to say, the person who’s funeral I celebrated that day clearly did that in the lives of the people who filled her life. As one family member put it, she made you feel like you were the only person in the room and were important when she was talking to you.

No matter how much we have, all of us have the ability to give that same gift of time. And it’s something we are called to do every day. Consider asking yourself:

  • Do I listen to the needs of my spouse, my kids, my parents?
  • Do I multitask when someone is speaking to me or give them my full attention?
  • Do I try to pick up on something a person may be holding in?
  • Do I make an effort to visit loved ones who may have a hard time getting out of the home or in assisted living?
  • Do I know what is going on in the lives of the people I live with?
  • Do I let people I care about know that I am always available for them to talk and listen?
  • Do I make time for God every day and listen to what He may be telling me?
  • Do I actively listen and resist the urge to fix something or speak quickly so I can get a better sense of what is in a loved one’s heart, and what the “real story” is?

Time is a precious commodity. But when we give this gift to one another, we can help them realize a very important truth: they are loved by God, precious in His eyes, and also loved by us. So let’s pass on what we’ve been given, and put the book down too.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Heeding the Messengers

A story I’ve heard more than once is of a man who died in a flood.

The storm was predicted, but the man decided to wait in his house and ignored the weather warning.

The police came buy and urged him to leave before it got too bad, but he said no, I will be fine, God will see me through the storm.

The flood waters came and grew higher, and a boat came by in front of his home, with the people offering to give him a ride to safety. Again, his response was no, God will provide.

As the storm grew worse and the flood enveloped his home, he climbed to the roof, and a helicopter arrived. But again, the man ignored the pilot and said God would rescue him from the flood.

The man eventually died in the flood, and stood before God. He demanded, “why didn’t you rescue me?” God’s response was I sent you a police officer, a boat and a helicopter!

Indeed, God doesn’t just go showing up telling us what to do every day. But He does guide us in many ways. The question for us is do we listen?

This weekend in our Gospel we meet the messenger John the Baptist. He is preparing the way for the Lord’s arrival. John’s lifestyle and preaching inspire people to follow him and to respond by being baptized. His message was to prepare for the one who would be greater than him.

People listened to his message, and would then try to incorporate it by changing their lifestyle. The baptism he offered was a cleansing ritual, symbolizing the old life being cleansed and a new life beginning as a person went about in a new direction. People recognized his holiness. Even the man who executed him, Herod, recognized that John was holy when John had called him out for adultery.

Herod of course did not listen to John or change, but we have the opportunity to do so. The challenge for us is do we listen?

Advent is a time of joyful waiting. A time of thinking about how we need God in our lives, and of how we can prepare to welcome our Savior better as people who profess to be Christian.

The first step is to listen to God. God can speak very loudly in the silence, and when we pray, when we meditate, or just spend time in silence we can get direction from God. I remember prior to entering seminary, before going to an informational dinner with the archbishop, I went to pray at the cathedral near the statue of the Sacred Heart. I felt this overwhelming sense of calm and peace, and it was one of my first steps on the road to ordination. God is speaking to us all the time, we just need to listen.

But we also must listen to other people. It’s worth asking ourselves who is the John the Baptist in my life? If we are going to grow spiritually, it’s important to ask for directions to heaven. People fill our lives to help us. And it’s important to ask them what they think and for guidance. Whether it’s a decision with our kids, a job, or something with respect to our battle with various sins, people are there to help us. Sometimes we can’t bring ourselves to ask for advice. And it may happen that someone comes to us and expresses a concern about us. It can be tough to hear when someone talks to us about our health, a drinking problem, temperament or other behaviors – but we need to overcome defensiveness and listen to what they have to say. Maybe we are like the man in the house and the floodwaters our the sins we battle with or life’s problems, and God keeps sending us lifelines but we are too proud or stubborn to take them.

Life can be overwhelming at times. But the good news is God did not just come many years ago and leave us. He is so very much alive and speaks to us in so many ways. Let’s make sure we listen to him and the many messengers he sends us to help us on our journey through life.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Mary, A Model of Humility

As we start the season of Advent and celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary this Friday, one of the themes that stands out is that of humility. God humbles Himself to be born through a human being, and is born in a manger. And in the reading from the feast day, we will hear how Mary puts her trust into God, saying “”Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” When Jesus grows older and prepares today, one of His last acts is to wash the feet of His disciples and He tells them to do the same for one another. Humility is something we see in Mary, Jesus, and in all of the the saints, and it’s important for us to have it as well.

Recently I came across some suggestions on how to be humble from a web site called “The Catholic Gentleman,” which is a blog geared towards Catholic men. Humility though isn’t just for the Catholic man, it’s for all people. So how can we embrace it? Sam Guzman, the author, has a very helpful list.

He suggests 6 methods; much of these are his own words, but I do add a few too.

  1. It is safe to say that no virtue is ever formed in our souls except by frequent prayer. If you truly desire to be humble, pray every day for this grace, asking God to help you overcome your self-love. “We should daily ask God with our whole hearts for humility,” teaches St. John Vianney, “for the grace to know that we are nothing of ourselves, and that our corporal as well as our spiritual welfare proceeds from him alone.

 

  1. Accept humiliations Perhaps the most painful, but also the most effective, way to learn humility is by accepting humiliating and embarrassing circumstances. Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene (a Carmelite priest, confessor and spiritual director of the mid 20th century) explains:  “Many souls would like to be humble, but few desire humiliation; many ask God to make them humble and fervently pray for this, but very few want to be humiliated.  Yet it is impossible to gain humility without humiliations; for just as studying is the way to acquire knowledge, so it is by the way of humiliation that we attain to humility.” In our lives, people may mock and laugh at us for doing the right thing, but they did the same thing to Christ.

 

  1. Obey legitimate superiors. One of the clearest manifestations of pride is disobedience (ironically, disobedience and rebellion are hailed as virtues in modern Western society). Satan fell through his proud, Non serviam, “I will not serve.” On the other hand, humility is always manifested by obedience to legitimate authority, whether it be your boss or the government. As St. Benedict says, “The first degree of humility is prompt obedience.” We need to trust the Church to guide us, but also have humility to recognize in life when other people are giving us sound advice

 

  1. Distrust yourself. The saints tell us that every sin we commit is due to our pride and self-reliance. If we completely distrusted ourselves and relied only upon God, they say, we would never sin.  Dom Lorenzo Scpuoli (a 16th century Catholic writer) went so far as to say that, “Distrust of self is so absolutely requisite in the spiritual combat that without this virtue we cannot expect to defeat our weakest passions, much less gain a complete victory.” Now of course we should trust ourself to a certain extent by listening to our conscience and our heart, but the problem can be if it turns into pride where we trust only ourselves and not God and other people. It’s important to have a banalcne.

 

  1. Acknowledge your nothingness. Another highly effective way of cultivating humility is to meditate on the grandeur and greatness of God, while simultaneously acknowledging your own nothingness in relation to him. St. John Vianney puts it this way: “Who can contemplate the immensity of a God without humbling himself into the dust at the thought that God created heaven out of nothing, and that with one word he could turn heaven and earth into nothing again?  A God who is so great, and whose power is boundless; a God filled with every perfection; a God with his never-ending eternity, his great justice, his providence, who rules everything so wisely, and looks after everything with such care, and we a mere nothing!”

 

  1. Think better of others than of yourself. When we are proud, we inevitably think we are better than others. We pray like the Pharisee, “Lord, I thank you that I am not like other men.” This self-righteousness is incredibly harmful to our souls, and it is detestable to God. Scripture and the saints both affirmthat the only safe path is considering everyone as better than ourselves.  “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves,” says St. Paul (Phil. 2:3).

You also might consider the Litany of Humility. It was written by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Va, the Secretary of State for Saint Pius X. Not a bad thing to tuck into your Bible or favorite prayer book:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus. (repeat after each line)
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,
That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. (repeat after each line)
That others may be esteemed more than I ,
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

There’s nothing wrong with believing in our abilities, taking pride in a job well down, and celebrating our accomplishments. But the season of Advent invites us to think about why we need a Savior in the first place and how much we are loved by our God. May we never forget we need God daily, and strive to grow in holiness and love, taking a page from Saint John the Baptist whom we’ll hear next week in our Gospel say: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.” We are indeed not worthy to either, but God has created us and redeemed us out of love. Like Mary, like Jesus, like Saint John the Baptist, may we embrace humility too, remembering we may not be perfect, but God will show us how to become so if only we trust in Him and realize on our own, we are lost. Thankfully He shows us the way to perfection – like Saint John the Baptist, may we show others the way to Him.

Have a very blessed Advent,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Alternative Year-Round Gifts

Black Friday has now come and gone, and admittedly it was not all that big of a deal for me. I don’t do much at the malls; I may go out to get a gift card for my sister at one of her favorite stores, but I do what I can to avoid the crowds and will have most of my Christmas stuff shipped to me.

 

While I have a pretty good idea of what I’ll be getting for family (Kirby is the easiest to shop for, he’s good with either turkey, salami, ham or chicken) as I was thinking about what to give people, I couldn’t help but think of year round gifts. Sure, there is the jelly of the month club membership (the gift that keeps on giving) but there are a number of gifts that we can give loved ones that really do make a difference throughout the year. Most of these don’t have a monetary value either so you won’t have to stand in line. But they do require a bit of time. So as you are sending out the cards over the next few weeks, consider these gifts that can really make a difference in the lives of others (and yourself). In no particular order:

 

  1. Pray for the people in your life. Praying for the living and dead is one of the spiritual works of mercy. Prayer connects us to others, and helps us think of one another. Make it a point to pray daily both loved ones and people in your life you think could use some extra prayer, including those who you might not be on the best of terms with.

 

  1. Visit loved ones, especially those who aren’t as mobile. People often look forward to Christmas cards, or get-togethers, but so many times we can’t find the time to drop in and visit people. Time is a limited commodity for us all, so maybe as the year goes by you can think of people you could spend more time with and give them the gift of your presence.

 

  1. Make time for your family. It sounds obvious, but we are such busy bodies. Sometimes the family dinner, a family game night or movie night, or just spending a night in is a foreign concept. When we break bread together or spend time together, we’re able to know what’s going on in one another’s lives, and have meaningful conversations. A family meal shouldn’t just be at Thanksgiving.

 

  1. Occasionally, take it easy. This too should be self-explanatory, but if God took a day off we can too. It’s important to have time for rest. Try to have down time for yourself and your loved ones.

 

  1. Do things without being asked. Growing up sometimes our parents need to remind us to do our chores, because we find that it’s more preferable to say watch TV or hope that someone else does them. But on the one hand while we do need time to take it easy, sometimes we can take that too far and take advantage of others. In real life there is no fairy godmother or Mary Poppins. We all have to do our fair share in our homes, so take initiative.
  2. Do something nice for someone on an ordinary day. Birthday cakes, graduation parties, and other milestones are great, but one of the things I encourage couples to do in my wedding homilies are to have date nights on occasion, and to do nice things for one another on any ordinary day. It’s a nice way to say “I love you.”

 

  1. Our parish thrives because so many people give freely of their time. There are so many opportunities to volunteer and serve both here at Saint Joe’s, in your school and in the community. It’s a rewarding thing to give of your time.

 

  1. Be a mentor. We are so used to a rapid-pace life, we can forget that people need patience, guidance and advice. This could mean being aware of what’s going on in the lives of your kids and spending more time listening to them, or helping a friend or other family member. The advice, prayer and support of others has done so much to help me on my life journey.

 

  1. Assist the elderly and handicapped. One of the things that I learned as a child was that when shoveling the walkway, it was automatic that I’d shovel the walkway of my grandparent’s neighbors. Both were at a point where it was dangerous for them to shovel, and it was the least I could do for them. Maybe you have people in your family or a neighbor who needs a bit of help shoveling, or grocery shopping or with some other housework.

 

  1. Make Mass a weekly priority. If you are reading this you probably were at Mass recently, but one of the greatest gifts we are given as Catholics is the Eucharist. The Eucharist gives us grace and love of God. God loves us so much, and a great gift we are given is God’s love. But when we make Mass a priority, it sends a message to others that this is the most important thing of our week too, and encourages people to have a long-lasting relationship with God.

 

  1. Letting go of grudges isn’t easy, and perhaps there are people in your life whom you are estranged from, or have a hard time with. Maybe you’ll come across some as you work on Christmas cards. Try to reconcile with them, and let go of anger. It will help you as much as it will help them.

 

  1. Show kindness. It can be easy in life to tear others down, to be blind to their needs, or be condescending. Simple kind acts can do so much to brighten a person’s day and remind them they are loved. A nice word to a waitress or salesperson, holding the door open for someone, a compliment to a coworker, teacher, police officer or member of the armed forces, letting someone into your lane, not tailgating, etc. The list is endless. Random acts of kindness added up do so much to bring people closer to God. So do them, every day.

 

  1. Who in your life needs you? What are people you care about trying to say but maybe have a hard time saying? Who might be hurting? When we listen to others and truly get to know them, we might find they need us to help them deal with a school bully, a class they are struggling in, a difficult marriage, or other life transition. Spending time with people we can truly know their deepest needs.

I’m sure Santa will bring many gifts for your family this year, and while I’ll be buying gifts and enjoying seeing people open them come Christmas, as I reflect on my family and the great people who fill my life, it really is the many simple things that people have done for me that have left such a big impact. I’ve yet to have a funeral planning session where someone shared with me the incredible tangible Christmas gifts from years gone by, but most every funeral planning meeting includes some of the many things on this list. Never forget what a great gift you are to the people around you – use the gifts God has given you to help people see Him every day.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Grandparents: Our Life-Long Companions on the Highway to Heaven

The vast majority of my Christmas decorations have been up for a couple of weeks now.

I usually put them up in early November once daylight savings time ends. While the added light in morning is nice, with it getting dark at 5 p.m., it’s nice to brighten up the house a bit. After all, the lights can either stay in a Tupperware bin or be turned on, so why not turn them on?

As I put out the village and the tree and turn on the lights, one of the last things to go up is the Nativity figurines and the ornaments.

As I pull out the ornaments each year, one of the things that I’m reminded of every year are my grandparents, because many of them were created by my grandmother, Pat, and collected by my grandparents Henry and Evelyn.

Grandma Pat is quite the remarkable sewer. On my tree there is a grandfather clock, a mailbox, a small set of golf clubs, a fireplace, a pair of ice skates, and numerous other little ornaments she sewed over the years. On top of that, at my parents home were small buildings she created. As a child, she wanted me to have my own town. So she’d spend her days literally creating a town out of needle and thread. It included a hardware store, a TV repair shop (we may buy them now when they break but back in the day, my grandpa Mike ran his own repair shop), and a church.

The Nativity Set came from Italy, and my Godmother Gen purchased it in the early 1950s. She was in many ways like a grandmother to me too. As a child, I remember visiting her home which I thought was the neatest house I’d ever been in; it was in Southeast Minneapolis, and had been the family home. And to this day, I’ll never forget her wonderful car that I’d love to take for a spin: a late 70’s model lime green Dodge Dart.

This week, I am privileged to celebrate Mass on Wednesday as our school marks grandparents day. Knowing many grandparents of our school children who come to daily Mass, it’s always a joy to see them all together with their grandkids for a morning of fun activities.

The reason though I use the term “life-long” to describe grandparents, and refer to my grandma Pat in the present tense, even though she passed away 15 years ago, is that I know that no matter what the future holds for me, my grandparents will journey with me every day. Evelyn is my last living grandmother, who just turned 100 this past fall. I’m privileged to be able to still visit her and spend time with her.

They journey with me in the sense that they pray for me as I pray for them, but the ornaments I put out, the buildings I’m still able to look at that are made of yarn, these are not just nice things to look at. They are reminders. Reminders to me of people who sacrificed so much for their families. Of people who lived out their faith. Of people who were generous with their time and put others ahead of them. I have so many great memories of Pat, Mike, Henry, Evelyn and my Godmother Gen, but I also am inspired as life goes on to keep trying to become a better priest and man because of what I learned through them.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving in a few days, I’ll be seeing loved ones again, while at the same time thinking about how I could still be watching football with my grandfather before the turkey or having my grandmother make sure that the gravy was more than I’d need for my potatoes and turkey. I won’t be physically sitting down to have a meal with them anymore. But they are a whole lot more than photos and hand made ornaments. They are people who made, and continue to make a difference in my life and are now at a banquet that is far better than anything you or me will be enjoying Thursday evening. One day I hope to join them there, and I truly believe I can because they help me to get closer to them every day, one step at a time.

To all of our grandparents, thank you for the difference you make in our lives. May God bless you and your families this Thanksgiving.

God bless,

Fr. Paul