Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Fathers Help Chart the Path to Heaven

Over the course of my life, I’ve had a lot of faith formation.

As a product of the Catholic Schools through the eighth grade, it was here I learned about Mass, the sacraments, prayers and saints through the Benedictine Sisters at Saint Bridget’s.

In high school, I was confirmed and learned from catechist volunteers at our parish more about what we believe and why, preparing at an older age to affirm my faith.

And in seminary, we dove into everything you can think of with respect to the faith: Catholic history; the sacraments; “eschatology” or the study of death, heaven and hell; virtues; vices; spirituality; moral theology; the Trinity; and the list goes on and on and on.

It goes without saying all of these experiences were important to learn the content of the faith. But there’s a reason Vatican II, in it’s Declaration on Christian Education, singled out parents for their unique role. Specifically, the words in the document are:

Since parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it. For it devolves on parents to create a family atmosphere so animated with love and reverence for God and others that a well-rounded personal and social development will be fostered among children. Hence, the family is the first school of those social virtues which every society needs. …  Parents have the first and inalienable duty and right to educate their children. (Gravissimum Educationis 3, 6).

I might be biased, but as I look at the “first school” I had which was my home, I have to say for what I received, it was far better than a degree from Harvard. And that’s because both of my parents were well versed in being excellent teachers of what living out the faith means.

Thinking about my dad as we celebrate Father’s Day, I have gained, and continue to gain so much from him.

It wasn’t the Benedictine Sisters who taught me my first prayer. That was my dad. It was the Lord’s Prayer, and we would pray it nightly. But beyond that, his whole life has been a living testament to his faith.

Much like Saint Joseph did so much for Jesus in a quiet way, and there were so many moments that impacted Jesus that took place from Jesus seeing him work and care for he and Mary, the same is true with our fathers as well. In my dad’s case, he’s worked hard his whole life to provide for the family. Thanks to his hard work in maintenance in schools, teachers and kids had a great building to go to every day. He’d go above and beyond in doing great work there to make their lives better. And he did this in so many ways for us at home too.

After a long day at work, he wouldn’t disappear in front of the TV or be out with friends. He’d spend time with me as a kid, and we’d go to the park, out in the yard, or play a game of electric or Atari football (two very cool old school games if you grew up in the 80s). As the years went by, he’d be there for guidance and advice. He’d be patient as I navigated through my teen years and college wrestled with what to do with my life and found my way. He’d listen. And he’d help so many people like my grandparents, doing so much for them as they advanced in years. And he’d treat my mom like Saint Joseph treated Mary, with care, respect and love. Beyond this there were the other things that I learned over the years through seeing him do such things as shoveling an elderly neighbor’s walk without being asked; of praying each night; of showing tolerance and respect to others; of Mass not being something you even think twice about going to but that you center your life around each week; of being a man of your word, meaning what you say and living it out. The list goes on and on.

My dad has been an amazing teacher to me of how one is to lead their life. When I think of Him I think of Jesus in that I see a self-emptying love that knows no limits. He’s helped me to know what I need to do to become a better person, and most of all to know that the most important thing in life isn’t fame, recognition, money or power, but is rather about coming to know who God is and helping others to do the same.

To all of our fathers on this father’s day weekend, thank you for saying yes to this vocation. Never forget that for all the hours you put in at work providing for your family; for the time going to practices and ball games; the time working on fractions and helping your kids to sound out words; the time you had to be dad and not a friend and use tough love and the word “no”; the times you encouraged your kids to believe in themselves, to so many other things that you’ve done over the years, we your sons and daughters thank you. For in all these things, you’ve helped us to see the face of God, each action being a brush stroke on the canvas God gave you to fill through the testament of your lives. May God bless you!

Happy Fathers Day,

Fr. Paul

A Prayer for Fathers (from Saint John XXIII)

St. Joseph, guardian of Jesus and chaste husband of Mary, you passed your life in loving fulfillment of duty. You supported the holy family of Nazareth with the work of your hands. Kindly protect those who trustingly come to you. You know their aspirations, their hardships, their hopes. They look to you because they know you will understand and protect them. You too knew trial, labor and weariness. But amid the worries of material life your soul was full of deep peace and sang out in true joy through intimacy with God’s Son entrusted to you and with Mary, his tender Mother. Assure those you protect that they do not labor alone. Teach them to find Jesus near them and to watch over him faithfully as you have done.

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Rediscovering the Meaning of the Sacred Heart

I’ll never forget Sister Charlene.

Sister Charlene was an “old school” Benedictine sister who I had in the second grade.
Needless you stay, if you valued your life, you did not mess around with Sister
Charlene. But while she was not afraid to lay down the law in second grade, one thing I
do remember about her is how much she loved to teach, and had a genuine love for her
students.

She wanted us to learn not just things like reading or social studies, but she took her
role as a religious sister very seriously and helped us to grow in faith as we prepared for
the sacraments of first reconciliation and first Holy Communion. She also would give out
holy cards and medals. One picture in particular stood with me. It was a picture of
Jesus, with a prayer to the Sacred Heart on the back. She also gave us each a medal of
the Sacred Heart, complete with a red crocheted necklace that it would hang on.

The thing with the painted image is I remember it being so well done. The eyes of Jesus
seemed to follow you everywhere in a kind way, and you felt Jesus watching over you.
And burning was the loving heart of Jesus to remind you how much you were cared for
by our Lord.

While you probably are familiar with the term “Sacred Heart,” you might not know the
history of the devotion which we celebrate as a feast the Friday after the Second Sunday of Pentecost, which happened to be this last Friday.

From an article written by Kathy Schieffer of The National Catholic Register, we can get
a nice summary of the devotion. She writes:

***

Devotion to the wounded heart of Jesus has its origins in the eleventh century, when
pious Christians meditated on the Five Wounds of Christ. There grew up among the
faithful prayers to the Sacred Heart, prayers to the Shoulder Wound of Christ—private
devotions which helped Christians to focus on the passion and death of Christ, and thus
to grow in love for our Savior who had suffered and died for us.

It was not until 1670, however, that a French priest, Fr. Jean Eudes, celebrated the first
Feast of the Sacred Heart.

Around the same time, a pious sister by the name of Margaret Mary Alacoque began to
report visions of Jesus. He appeared to her frequently, and in December 1673, he
permitted Margaret Mary—as had once allowed St. Gertrude—to rest her head upon his
Heart. As she experienced the comfort of his presence, Jesus told her of his great love
and explained that he had chosen her to make his love and his goodness known to all.

The following year, in June or July of 1674, Margaret Mary reported that Jesus wanted
to be honored under the figure of His Heart of flesh. He asked the faithful to receive Him
in the Eucharist frequently, especially on the First Friday of the month, and to observe a
Holy Hour of devotion to Him.
And then in 1675, during the octave of Corpus Christi, Margaret Mary received the
vision which came to be known as the “great apparition.” Jesus asked that the modern
Feast of the Sacred Heart be celebrated each year on the Friday following Corpus
Christi, in reparation for the ingratitude of men for the sacrifice which Christ had made
for them.

The devotion became popular after St. Margaret Mary’s death in 1690. However,
because the Church is always careful in approving a private apparition or devotion, the
feast was not established as an official feast for all of France until 1765.

On May 8, 1873, the devotion to the Sacred Heart was formally approved by Pope Pius
IX; and 26 years later – on July 21, 1899 – Pope Leo XIII urgently recommended that all
bishops throughout the world observe the feast in their dioceses.

So how then does one practice a devotion to the Sacred Heart? What I think it comes
down to is thinking back also to the feast of Divine Mercy, the Second Sunday of Easter,
where we contemplated how deep God’s love is for us. The Sacred Heart devotion
emerged at a time when the Church was combatting Calvinism and Jansensim, the
former a Protestant movement, the latter a schism in the Catholic Church but both
having a very pessimistic view of human nature holding only a few would be saved. The
visions of Saint Margaret Mary, and that of Saint Sister Faustina Kowalska, both
occurred at dark times; Margaret Mary’s in the midst of these pessimistic movements on
human salvation, and Sister Faustina’s as World War II was about to break out. Through
both is that message of mercy and love.

So how then do we live out a Sacred Heart devotion? I’d suggest a few things:

1. Remember that humanity is good. Love much inspire humanity; this is why God never
gives up on us and showed us how much we are loved. We must never give up on one
another.

2. In what Jesus does for us, He shows us a better way – the way of love. We must do
the same for one another.

3. We must resist getting down on ourselves but be a people of hope. We all have
setbacks, even after we think we’ve overcome something. We should make use of
confession and Mass, do a daily act of contrition, and always remember how much God
loves us by welcoming His mercy into our hearts and souls.

4. Bring that hope into the world by being person of mercy and love.

Our faith emphasizes God’s mercy and love so strongly because through Jesus, we are
redeemed. We must never lose sight of the fact that on the one hand we are a people in
need of redemption, while on the other never getting so down on ourselves we think that
somehow we aren’t worth of that mercy that is God’s free gift. The Sacred Heart of
Jesus is a reminder of that important truth.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Another Great School Year Winds Down

Over the course of my priesthood, I’ve been privileged to serve in 4 parishes, each of
which have a school. In each, I’ve seen the same thing: dedicated teachers and staff,
amazing children who work so hard, and many parishioners caring deeply about
supporting their parish school seeing it as part of the parish mission.

It goes without saying that Saint Joseph’s school is a truly amazing place. Over the past
four years, I’ve had the honor of visiting classrooms and doing everything from reading
stories to packing food at Feed My Starving Children to celebrating Mass each week
with the school children. It’s a joy to see how great our kids are at Saint Joe’s in how
they care for one another, work so hard, and learn so much at our school about
academics but even more importantly their Christian faith.

As pastor, I of course try to promote the school, but what I love about our parish is that
there is this sense that this is truly “our” school. And that’s a good thing, because it fits
in with our parish mission to help form people for heaven.

This week, another school year comes to an end. And if you aren’t aware of all the
many good things that are happening at our school, I thought I’d share just a few of the
great things that are going on.

This weekend, we honor our graduates. We have 17 graduating from the school.
They’ve done a great job achieving so much, but also have been great role models to
our younger students. It’s always great to see our older students buddy up with younger
students at school Masses as ways to mentor them too.

The year has been a very busy one. Many of you had the chance to see “Peter Pan” the
musical that our students and Mrs. Leann Mansour, our music teacher, worked so hard
to get ready for.

Throughout the year so much has been going on too.

Mrs. Kelly Roche and our amazing staff of teachers worked hard to prepare for MNSAA
accreditation. This is a process that happens once every 7 years where Minnesota
Nonpublic School Accrediting Association comes in for a thorough examination of a
school to look at all that it does from teaching to curriculum to safety, and thanks to their
hard work our school passed with flying colors. This was quite an endeavor, taking 2
years to get ready for.

Our pre-school also continues to thrive. In our first year, we’ve seen enrollment be very
strong with 43 students. We’ll also be having a summer preschool program with 22
student registered.

Back in the great never ending winter that was April, we also had a school gala that took
place during the first blizzard warning for the Twin Cities metro since 1983. People still turned out, and it was a great success reaching fundraising goals and also highlighting
the great things going on at our school. This was all possible thanks to the hard work of
many volunteers that night.

The school also expanded technology. We’ve got 60 Chromebooks for students; put two
tubs of tablets into each of the Kindergarten through second grade classrooms, and
increased teacher professional development related to technology integration and
infused more technology into the curriculum.

Beyond this, we expanded the Spanish program to include the kindergarten.
Our school also continues to emphasize formation of whole person as well. This week
we celebrate the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, and in my priesthood I try to
stress both how much we are loved by God and the Eucharist helps us in that journey to
grow closer to God, but that this must also be a way of life meaning we can’t privatize
our relationship with Christ but must live it out. Our school works hard to do that. We
added a day of Eucharistic Adoration to introduce this spiritual practice to our students
during Catholic Schools Week. But our school also stresses the dignity of the human
person and how we must love one another through service and volunteering, and also
through a school wide honor system and a daily honor pledge. Throughout the year
students are affirmed for the good deeds they do for one another.

This list could continue for serval more pages, but I think you get the point: Saint
Joseph’s School is one amazing place thanks to the dedication of Mrs. Roche, great
teachers and so many volunteers who care. We are so lucky to have such a great
school.

As this year winds down, you may be already thinking about next fall. Our school has
plenty of space, and we’d love to welcome new students. So please prayerfully consider
our school as an education option for your family if you have school-age children, or
letting friends and family know about how great our school is. You can email Mrs. Kelly
Roche directly at kelly.roche@stjosephcommunity.org, or call her at 651-423-1658 x.
4100. Our tuition for next year is $5,229. We do offer $500 “new family” grants for new
families, and also have multi-child discounts as well for families with three or more kids
in the school. Mrs. Roche would be happy to give you a tour of the school anytime.
You don’t need me to tell you what a great school it is, you’ve known that for years, but
as the year comes to an end I wanted to share the tip of the iceberg of the great things
going on at the school. Thank you for your support of our school, and to all of our staff
at the school thank you for your hard work, you’re the best!

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Remembering the True Cost of Freedom

Sometimes, it can be easy to take for granted all of the freedom we have as Americans. We can go to Mass freely and proclaim our faith. We can say what we want and express our opinions through our voices or our writings. We can peacefully assemble to express these too. Good luck trying to do that in China or Iran.

Of course there are people in the world who hate our way of life. We even see them on TV occasionally chanting “death to America” or through acts of terrorism. These are people who would want to destroy America and what we stand for. But why do we have these freedoms? Because so many people make a choice to defend our freedoms, and many pay the ultimate price.

In Arlington National Cemetery, you will find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It’s a place I hope to visit someday.

Wanting to know a bit more about it, I came across the following article written by Ellen Wexler, who writes in the Virginia area about local history for public television:

***

Lloyd Cosby remembers standing on the plaza at Arlington Cemetery, inspecting a guard change at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, when an elderly woman approached him. “Are the guards here at night?” she asked.

It was the late 1950s, during the year and seven months that Cosby served as the Tomb guards’ platoon leader. Later that day, the woman would tell Cosby about her son who had died at war, but had never been identified. The Tomb of the Unknowns was the only place she could come to pay her respects.

“Yes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Cosby told her. “Every second of every minute of every day.”

He told the woman that Tomb guards were, in a way, continuously awarding the Unknown Soldier the nation’s highest honor: a 21-gun salute. Cosby pointed to the Sentinel on duty, and counted as he turned to face the Tomb for exactly 21 seconds. The Sentinel turned again, paused for another 21 seconds, and took 21 steps forward. When he reached the other side of the Tomb, he started the process over.

There has been a Sentinel repeating this pattern since July 2, 1937 when the cemetery first posted a 24-hour guard at the Tomb. But the Tomb dates back to 1921, when Congress approved a resolution for an unknown and unidentified soldier from World War I to be buried in the Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Amphitheater.

The idea came from Great Britain and France, both of which had already conducted ceremonies to honor their unknown dead. There was some debate over where the U.S. soldier should be placed — some favored the Capitol, and at least one man favored Central Park, but Congress settled on Arlington. And on Memorial Day, 1921, four unidentified U.S. soldiers were placed side by side in identical caskets, and Sergeant Edward Younger was asked to select one randomly. He chose the third casket from the left.

The soldier was buried at Arlington later that year, and the grave was marked with a simple marble tomb that was to serve as the base for a more elaborate structure. A few years later, Congress would approve funding to build the 11-foot tall white marble sarcophagus that marks the site today. An inscription carved on the back of the structure reads, “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

Families visiting Arlington in the early 1920s often mistook the Tomb for a picnic area, so the cemetery posted a civilian guard in 1925. It posted a military guard in 1926, but only during cemetery hours. At some point between 1926 and 1937, people began stealing pieces of the memorial after the cemetery closed for the day, and the Tomb Guard became a 24-hour position.

Today, all Sentinels are volunteers. They are all between 5-foot-10 and 6-foot-four, with a proportionate weight and build. They know the grave locations of nearly 300 veterans, and they are able to recite seven pages of Arlington Cemetery history word for word. They walk at a pace of 72 beats per minute, and they spend hours practicing their steps with a metronome. They get haircuts twice a week.

Only members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment are allowed to volunteer, and even then, training can only begin after an initial interview and two-week trial period. During training, volunteers learn how to conduct the Changing of the Guard, and how to care for their weapons and uniforms. They also learn to recite the Sentinel’s Creed, which states, “my standard will remain perfection. / Through the years of diligence and praise / and the discomfort of the elements / I will walk my tour in humble reverence.”

Sentinels are expected to maintain this standard at all times, and in all weather conditions. When a snowstorm shut down the government for a few days in 2010, the Sentinels were at the cemetery. They remained at their posts through Hurricane Isabel, Hurricane Irene, and Hurricane Sandy.

“It gets cold, it gets hot — but the Sentinels never budge,” the guards’ website states. “And they never allow any feeling of cold or heat to be seen by anyone.”

They do, however, take safety precautions when they serve under harsh weather conditions. During Hurricane Sandy, the team of Sentinels brought in a two-day supply of food and changed into wet-weather versions of their uniforms. They stood guard under a small enclosure 20 feet from the Tomb, where they were protected from the storm.

When it’s particularly cold, soldiers wear an overcoat, a warmer hat, and warmer gloves.

“These guys want to be here, they work hard to stay here,” Sgt. 1st Class Tanner Welch, Sergeant of the Guard, said during the 2012 snowstorm. “The guys in Afghanistan, they can’t stop because of snow. Guys in the mountains of Korea didn’t stop because it was snowing.”

Now, there is also an unknown soldier from the Korean War buried near the Tomb, as well as an unknown soldier from World War II. At one point, there was an unknown soldier from Vietnam — but in 1998, scientists were able to use advances in DNA testing to identify him. His body was returned to his family, and the crypt honoring the Vietnam unknown remains empty.

And with today’s technology, it’s possible that there may never be another unknown soldier. But that doesn’t change the Sentinels’ mission. They have a motto: A soldier never dies until he is forgotten.

“Right when you cross the threshold of the chains — it’s like nothing else even matters,” John Arriaga, one of the current Tomb guards, said. “It is just 21 steps, 21 seconds — you and the three unknowns. It’s a feeling I can’t even explain.”

***

What strikes me with that story is the dedication of these guards. They stand outside in all elements, and work hard to show reverence and respect. How about us?

As we celebrate Memorial Day weekend, my hope is on the one hand we celebrate summer and don’t feel bad about firing up the grill, enjoying the Indy 500, or going up north. But hopefully we remember too that freedom isn’t free, and like the guards of the Tomb of the Unknown, show reverence to these heroes who have preserved our liberty. It can be so easy to take for granted all we enjoy as Americans. So let’s open up our eyes to the price paid by so many, and pray for them, thank those who have served, exercise our freedoms, and pass on to our young the stories of these heroic soldiers who gave it all for us by setting an example for them through the love and respect we show to the fallen.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Keep the Fire Burnin’ with the Holy Spirit

As one of the images of the Holy Spirit is fire, and being forever stuck in the 80s, I certainly could not pass up the opportunity to incorporate REO Speedwagon into this week’s bulletin column.

That being said while the song “Keep the Fire Burnin’” is about a relationship, at another level the Holy Spirit, whom we celebrate this weekend, is the means by which the fire of faith and of our relationship with God grows stronger. So what exactly does the Spirit do? Quite a bit!

In the universal Church, we see the Spirit at work in how we understand doctrine in a new light, or go through important changes such as the Second Vatican Council. The Spirit ensures the Church is alive and well, and guides our pope and bishops in their work as shepherds.

But the Spirit guides us as well on a personal level. How?

First and foremost, the Spirit gives us virtues. These include faith, hope and love (the theological virtues received at baptism) and justice, temperance, charity and fortitude (the “human” virtues received universally). The Holy Spirit helps us understand the faith; with hope we hope for heaven but then live out that hope by living in this world as Christians wanting to make God’s love known; Love is where we pass on the love God shows us to one another.

Then, there are the tools that are the gifts and fruits of the spirit.

With respect to the 7 gifts of the Spirit, the first 3, wisdom, knowledge and understanding help us to know what the faith contains, and this is ongoing. Just as if you went in for surgery to a doctor, you’d hope the doctor didn’t stop learning 40 years ago, the same is true with our faith. We are continually learning about the faith, and with the Spirit’s help, we can keep our continuing education going.

Fortitude is what helps us defend the faith. Fortitude helps us to do difficult things. It could be telling someone something they don’t want to hear, or using tough love as a parent or spouse, or doing something challenging for the faith such as the work of a missionary. With fortitude, we are able to put the faith into action and, like the apostles, leave the locked room and go into the world to proclaim our faith.

Piety and fear of the Lord can be misunderstood. We don’t go around being terrified of God like the Cowardly Lion before Oz. Rather, a better way to understand this is love and respect. When we love someone, we fear letting them down by making a bad decision; we honor them by making them a priority in our lives. With piety and fear of the Lord, a person can say you are the center of my life to God, and everything else revolves around that.

Finally, counsel is that which helps us to decide right from wrong. It’s the gift of a conscience, which we form by learning about the faith, talking to people, and growing in the faith. Daily, we make decisions that shape us for the better or the worse. The more we do things like skip Mass, or make excuses for doing things we know are wrong, the more we fall into those ways of behavior. But the more we do right things and work on overcoming sins, the closer we come to being like the Trinity, which is love perfected. Our conscience is not there to make us feel shame, but rather to help us become better which is why it has to be continually formed.

On top of these gifts, there are the fruits of the spirit.

Charity (or Love) includes love for God and of our neighbors. It’s not just a passing feeling or infatuation. It is an unconditional kind of love that expects nothing in return. It puts the needs of others before our own and it manifests in concrete actions toward God and other people. The Cross is the perfect example of this.

Joy. We all want to be happy but the happiness found in earthly things is fleeting. Joy here isn’t a passing state. Rather, it is a lasting kind of happiness that can only be realized when we put God at the center of our lives and if we believe that we will live our eternal life with Him.

Peace. Peace is tranquility that can be experienced when we put our complete trust in God. When we rely on God, we believe that he will provide for our needs and this relieves us from any anxious thoughts about the future.

Patience. Patience allows us to have compassion over people in spite of their flaws and weaknesses. This fruit comes from an understanding of our own imperfect state and how God has given us His unconditional love and mercy so we should do the same for others.

Kindness is more than being kind to others. It is having a heart that is willing to do acts of compassion and give to others above and beyond what we owe to them.

Longanimity/Long-Suffering. This is being patient even when being provoked. While patience involves tolerance, longanimity means enduring quietly and remaining steadfast in the midst of attacks of others.

Mildness. To be mild in behavior means having a heart of forgiveness and grace. It means not being easily provoked and choosing a response of meekness and peace rather than one that leads to revenge.

Faith. Faith is at the core of our Christianity. To have faith means living according to the will of God and believing that He is the master of our life. The Holy Spirit helps us to grow in our understanding of what we believe and why.

Modesty. Being modest means being humble. It is believing that any of our successes, blessings and talents are gifts from God. It also means being content with what we have and not harbor any selfish ambitions.

Continence. Continence means having temperance and self-control. We can enjoy the pleasures of life, but this helps us not to indulge to excess or do things that are destructive.

Chastity. The Holy Spirit helps us to respect the sanctity of the marital act and of the body by not objectifying it, remembering we are always body and soul.

As you can see, there’s a lot there. I’d invite you to find time to think about these in greater detail. I added my own explanations and used several online articles in the above descriptions. But you can find some great stuff at Catholic websites such as Catholic Answers and ewtn.com.

Of course too the Holy Spirit is these things and so much more. Through the Spirit, we are guided in our decisions, our vocations; we are given strength to get through trying times; we become holier by invoking the Spirit too at Mass to confect the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and free us from our sins in confession. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The bottom line? The Holy Spirit is the fuel for the Church and for our souls to keep the fire burning that is the love of God, and to set the world afire with that love. So lets not just turn to the Holy Spirit once a year, but look to the Spirit daily to help us grow in our faith.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Mothers are Witnesses to the Faith

This week, as we celebrate the feast of the Ascension of the Lord, we are reminded that all of us are called to follow Jesus and be His witnesses through our words and actions. Our Gospel this week from Mark says “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” and in our second reading from Ephesians, Paul says “I, a prisoner for the Lord, urger you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.” Evangelization and being a witness takes many forms, and some of the best examples come from our families.

When I think about my mom and dad, what strikes me with both is how they have been such witnesses to the faith. With respect to my mom, she has been an incredible example of living out the faith. She’s a person of sacrifice, doing so much for the family. She’s always been a hard worker. She’s helped extended family, been active in our home parish, and does it all with love and joy. Now a grandmother, it’s a joy to see her and my nephew Henry who is 4 spend time together too, and I see the love she shows him just as I’ve known for 40 years. Above all else she’s always been there – day in and day out as the years went by to help with the homework, to uplift spirits, to talk to for advice, to help through childhood illnesses, to help me to learn things, to be there through the peaks and valleys of my life. Through how she leads her life, just as our blessed mother Mary brought Jesus to us, my mom (and odds are yours too) brings me closer to Him.

As a priest, I’ve gotten to know a number of families, and one of the constant things that amazes me is how hard parents work in living out their vocation and how the exhibit sacrificial, unconditional love. From great parents, we really see what it means to lead a life of living out the faith.

The Ascension marks Jesus returning to the Father, His mission on earth comes to an end. But it’s not just a celebration of an event that must have been amazing to witness. Rather, when we reflect on the readings, we have to look deeper to what Jesus wanted His disciples to do. In the first reading, He tells His disciples: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria.” Paul, in our Second Reading, tells us “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call.” And the Gospel from Mark, Jesus says it’s now up to us to go into the whole world and live out the faith you have learned. The common theme here is that the follower of Christ has to respond to that faith. And through though vocations, our moms do that a million ways every day.

Our moms teach us this important reality, that the faith and our vocations need to be lived out daily. Just ponder for a moment all that our moms do for us: the getting up in the middle of the night when we are infants; helping us to tie our shoes and sound out words to read; helping us to learn who Jesus is and why we go to Mass; teaching us that we should think of others first from the basic “please and thank you” to the deeper sacrifices we make for one another. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Our moms teach us tolerance, patience, compassion. Are they perfect? Of course not (other than my own mom of course.) But in all seriousness while our moms are human just like we are and make mistakes, at the same time so may respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and grow in love as time goes by, helping us to see what it means to not just say one is a Christian, but rather how to live out the Christian way of life. Our moms through how they lead their lives do so much to teach us through words and actions how we can get to heaven.

So as you think about the Ascension and also all that your mom has done for you, take a page from her. Make some time for prayer. Help out a family member. Be generous with your time. If you’re still growing up and living at home, spend extra time on homework. Being inclusive to a person at school. If you have kids, make time for them and be a person who is patient and compassionate. Take you kids to Mass and make the faith the center of your life, not traveling sports leagues, school or being a busybody. If you have a loved one who is elderly and not mobile, make sure to call and visit them. Just think of our Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph, and the many family moments that happened over the years of Jesus life that weren’t recorded, and all that they sacrificed for the Lord and all the loved they demonstrated to Him. That’s evangelization in action.

Mother Teresa said “not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” Our moms do that in so many ways day in and day out – and it’s something all of us who say we are Christian are called to do too. Let us truly do just that, and go and be a witness.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Pondering All that the Eucharist Means

This weekend we’ll be celebrating the first Communions of a number of our young parishioners.

A lot goes into preparing for the day; the children receive instruction in the classroom and parents are also involved. And when they come up to receive Communion, they are very reverent and it’s also an emotionally moving time for their parents as their children receive Jesus in this special way for the first time.

Preaching though at a First Communion can be a challenge. Talking about how Jesus is present and putting it at a second-grade level (or talking about it to any audience for that matter) can cause one to get pretty deep into theology pretty quick. So, what I try to stress to the kids is how much they are loved by God. I often equate celebrating Mass to celebrating Thanksgiving Dinner. The difference is we leave a big meal physically full, but at both we also are full in a sense from the time we’ve had to reconnect with loved ones and spending time with people we care about. When we celebrate Mass, we believe Jesus comes into the home of our body (“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”) and when He does this, we grow closer to Him. It’s His way of saying “I love you” and we celebrate Mass to commemorate what He did for us, but not just as a memorial; rather as a re-presentation of the Last Supper and the First Eucharist. Much like a child goes to grandma’s house for a big meal and leaves also feeling loved by grandma and grandpa and with an overall good feeling, we should leave Mass with that same feeling. Jesus has freely chosen to give Himself to us, and the Eucharist removes sin, deepens our relationship to God, and brings us closer to one another – for the Eucharist also symbolizes our unity as one Church. But we have to be open to that happening.

One way is of course through prayer and focusing on the importance of Mass. Jesus is made present each time we celebrate Mass, and as that time nears, we need to reflect on how we are loved by God and prepare for that moment when we welcome God, through Communion, in a special way into our hearts. We also need to be open to the effects of the Eucharist, which draws us closer to God and one another, which means actively participating in Mass and prayer rather than trying to simply fulfill an obligation or go through the motions. Mass isn’t about punching a clock. It’s about an encounter with our Lord. It’s also important to use the Eucharist to help us throughout the week. If we receive Communion and then are fighting in the car on the way home, gossiping about people, or not praying at all until next week’s Mass, we might want to think more deeply about what we’ve just received.

When we receive Communion, the response is “Amen.” For most of us, it’s quite mechanical, but that’s an important word to think about. Our bishops point out that: “The communicant should audibly respond ‘ Amen,’ indicating by that response his or her belief that this small wafer of bread, the wine in this chalice are in reality the body and blood of Christ the Lord.” This means that we do not say nothing at all, or say “yes it is” but rather affirm with “Amen” that we believe that it is the Body of Christ.

Among the effects of Communion is to free us from sin and bring us closer to God. Only those who are in a state of mortal sin should refrain from Communion; this needs to be grave in matter, the person has to have done it of free will, and know that it is grave. Jesus loves us deeply, and the Eucharist also frees us from venial sin. Some might feel that they must go to confession first, but this again is only in cases of mortal sin. Feel free to ask a priest in confession if you are confused as to the seriousness of something, but by in large most sins people commit are venial. Receiving Communion helps deepen our relationship with God.

Holy Communion must also connect us to one another too. Remember Holy Thursday and the washing of the feet? Communion is on the one hand a means of growing closer to God. But it also helps us to grow closer to one another. Mass is a sacrifice where we celebrate again the sacrificial love of God for us on the altar. But this is a love we are called to emulate. Holy Communion should open up our eyes on how to be more kind and charitable and how to think of the needs of others and how we treat them.

First Communion is such a special time, and congratulations to all who celebrate this moment. But for all of us, may we never forget the sacredness of what we receive in the Body of Christ. May it never become routine or mechanical, but a means to bring us closer to God and one another.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: With a bit of Patience, Amazing Things Can Happen in Others

During the third week of Easter at our Friday daily Mass, we had the story of the conversion of Saint Paul. You are probably familiar with the story: a Pharisee named Saul is on fire trying to go after the new followers of the Way or Jesus Christ. Saul sees this as a threat, and wants to clean house. Word is also out on the street about this man; everyone knows who he is and he is someone you avoid at all costs. As we hear this week’s first reading: “When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” Then, along comes Jesus to appear to Saul, asking him “why are you persecuting me?” He then is unable to see for three days, and Jesus appears to Ananias, a disciple, and tells him of his plans for Saul, who will now become Paul. Needless to say, he has is doubts: “Ananias replied, Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man, what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call upon your name.” (Acts 9:13). But Jesus assures him that there is a plan, and to just trust in that plan.

That can be hard to do though, because we all have plans. And among those plans is a goal to spread our faith. We like seeing people come to Mass; live out their faith, and understanding what we believe. But then things happen. A person loses their faith. Or, perhaps even more common, a person becomes apathetic. Others just see no point in going to Mass. Some even argue with us or come after us for our Catholic faith, perhaps not to the level of Saul but there are plenty of people who are vocal about their distaste for Catholicism.

This is hard enough when it’s strangers, but often these things happen in families too. What then is a person to do?

One little bulletin column will not solve all the problems with respect to getting everyone to come to Mass and believe in the faith. But one key component of evangelization that I think is so important is patience.

This was part of my homily last week when I spoke about Saint Charles de Foucald. As I said at Mass, one of his beliefs was that it might take a very long time for the harvest to happen, and sometimes all we can do is clear a bit of the soil. But this is a key component for the harvest to happen. Interestingly, our man Saul when he becomes Paul will later write that the first component of love is that it is patient. So how can we incorporate this into dealing with people to make it a part of evangelization?

I think a good first step is to listen. That’s tough. We talk a lot more than we listen. But it can be so helpful. We can sometimes pick up on things too. For instance, when a person might be attacking the Church, or saying they have no interest in Mass, maybe there is more to the story. Perhaps they had a bad experience in the Church; or maybe they are overwhelmed due to a life situation and don’t feel the Church can help. Whatever it may be, by simply listening first to the person, we can better assess the situation.

Positivity is also a big help. When we get impatient, we can get negative. I think sometimes we want to just say “what’s-a matter you?!” But positivity can really make inroads. If a teacher were always telling a student what they did wrong, or a parent were always pointing out mistakes but never the progress, a child probably isn’t going to develop well or is going to get more entrenched and defensive. That’s true for all of us. But when we start with saying positive things about what a person, or think of positive things about someone we are trying to evangelize that can help. Many people who aren’t practicing religion may be active volunteers, pleasant people to be around, good friends, etc. Building these things up can be a help.

Empathy is also a big help. Sometimes people argue back and forth because one person can’t seem to relate to the other, so a situation just escalates. But saying something like “I can appreciate how you feel” rather than using “you” statements (e.g., “you really need to do this) can help prevent the person building a wall.

Prayer is of course also key. Prayers can do so much to help a person, and even if they know we are praying for them, even if they might not admit it or seem to respond, I think it really makes them think about faith a little bit more. Prayer of course also helps us, as we should often pray for an increase in patience with others.

Setting an example is also key; this was the way Saint Charles de Foucauld. He approached the Muslims not with the “I must convert them” mentality, but first began by being a welcoming person of hospitality who cared for them by learning about them, learning their language, dressing like they did, etc. When someone we are hoping changes doesn’t, but we then change becoming more negative, condescending, etc., that’s not going to do much for their conversion. But when we continue to be kind, tolerant, forgiving, it can cause someone to think. Over the years at funeral planings I’ve met scores of people who had fallen away from the faith, but so many speak of the faith of the loved one saying things like “grandma to Mass every week” or “mom prayed the rosary daily.” It’s clear that inside of them, that flame of the Holy Spirit is burning. And I have little doubt that their loved one continues to pray for them too. Sometimes we might be amazed at what happens in a person because of the example we set.

Finally, we should also remember people have been patient with us too over the years. Think of God’s patience with humanity – time and time again we screw up, and time and time again, He forgives. But at our own lives, many of us look back on moments and say “what on earth were you thinking?” I know looking back I have a few of those moments. But because people like my parents were patient with me, my faith deepened.

Evangelization isn’t easy. It’s taxing, and sometimes frustrating. But never give up. Because that Saul in your life just might go on to have a conversion because like Jesus seeing past Saul’s shortcomings, you saw the potential that was within.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: The Holy Spirit: A Light on our Faith Journey

This Saturday, we celebrated the confirmation of a number of young men and women from our parish at the Cathedral of Saint Paul.

I remember my confirmation day in the winter of 1995. Archbishop Flynn presided that day, and I remember seeing him after the Mass, and he made a suggestion to me that I might consider becoming a priest. Needless to say, I took him up on it and he ordained me 12 years later.

As I shared last week though, our faith life is always a journey. I at times struggled with going to seminary and wondering if I was making the right decision. I even had some doubts leading up to the day I got there, but I trusted in the promptings of the Spirit and it all worked out. The same is true on the day of my confirmation. I remember that having mixed emotions. It was a joy to be confirmed, but my faith was still very much something I was working out (and indeed still am working out, as we all are). I remember even being a little unsure of all that the Catholic Church taught, struggling with some things. But I continued through the faith formation classes that year on Wednesday nights, and despite some mixed emotions in my heart, I walked up and the bishop (Bishop Welsh was co-presiding that day) placed the oil on my forehead on my hands, as I heard the words “be sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

Afterwards, there were the photos, a family meal, some cards and cake with grandma and grandpa. But looking back now as a priest, I can think about exactly what was going on that day. And if I were to sum it up, I’d say it was grace working on me. Confirmation was my accepting the faith, but it was also my encounter with the Holy Spirit who was coming into my life in a special way at that moment to give me more strength for my life long journey. Even if I had some struggles at that moment and questions, God was working on my soul and leading me to a deeper place. So how does this happen in us?

At our confirmation, we pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon us as we take a next step in our faith journey. We call it “confirmation” because it confirms and strengthens the grace we receive at our baptism.

You’ll find many different explanations of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and one I came across was written by Minneapolis native Laura Jean Rabiipour, who now writes for “The Catholic Company,” an online religious goods site that also features various Catholic articles. Here’s a quick synopsis of the 7 Gifts of the Spirit:

The Gift of Wisdom is our ability to value spiritual things over worldly ones. It enables us to desire the things of God and correctly order the things in our life. This gift helps us view the world through God’s perspective and the light of our faith. It instills a desire to contemplate the things of God.

The Gift of Understanding helps us grasp the truths of the faith more easily and profoundly. Our human intellect cannot grasp all of God’s mysteries, but through the gift of understanding we can be lead to truth, even when we do not fully comprehend. This gift strengthens our insight through prayer, scripture, and the sacraments.

The Gift of Right Judgment/Counsel acknowledges the difference between right and wrong and bestows proper judgment. A person with right judgment avoids sin and leads a life for Christ. Counsel inspires us to speak up and encourage others to do the correct thing. It bestows upon us prudence, allowing us to act promptly and rightly in the face of difficult situations.

The Gift of Courage/Fortitude sustains our decision to follow the will of God in any situation. It allows us to stand up and defend our faith, even when threatened by bodily injury or death. This gift allows us to be steadfast in our decisions to do well and to endure evil even when we do not want to.

The Gift of Knowledge is awareness of God’s plan. It is not simply an accumulation of facts, but rather an understanding of God’s purpose and how we ought to respond. Knowledge helps bring to light the temptations that we face, and to discern whether to give in or live a life worthy of God’s approval.

The Gift of Piety or reverence is our obedience to God and our willingness to serve him. It is not just obedience through a sense of duty or obligation, but rather obedience out of love and devotion. It facilitates a deeper respect and honor for God and His Church.

The Gift of Wonder and Awe/Fear of the Lord makes us aware of the glory and majesty of God. This gift is also synonymous with the “Fear of the Lord”, in which we dread sin and fear offending God. We fear displeasing God and losing our connection with him because of our love for Him. Wonder and awe increases our desire to draw closer to God and depart from sin.

Through our Confirmation, we are united more closely to Jesus, and get the strength from the Spirit to continue on our journey. And looking back, I can see these at play. The Holy Spirit helped me to appreciate and understand my faith in a deeper way. Knowledge helped me to understand my vocation. Fortitude helped me to make the leap into seminary. Counsel helps me so often in making decisions as a Christian and as a priest. As you can see, the Holy Spirit is a very big deal – and hopefully we think about the Spirit more than just on Pentecost Sunday.

As our lives go on, there is so much for us to sort out. Where to go in life, what our vocation is, right and wrong. It’s a series of decisions and steps that can bring us closer to God. Free will is given to us, but to help us make the right decisions the Holy Spirit is sent. Please join me in praying for our newly confirmed. May our candidates and all of us remember that we are all working towards something far greater than power and prestige in this world. We are striving for heaven – and the Holy Spirit helps us get there with virtue. It’s up to us to respond.

A big thank you to all who have helped these young women and men to respond to God’s love – to our catechists and to our parents and sponsors, and to Mijanou Sampers who has been working very hard coordinating the program as we finalize our new director of lifelong faith formation.

May God bless our newly confirmed, and may all of us who have celebrated this sacrament realize that when we received the Holy Spirit in a special way on our Confirmation day, that day was not an end to faith formation, but a continuation of our faith journey. Faith formation is truly lifelong – let us strive go grow in our faith daily through the grace of the Spirit.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Mary Shows us the Importance of Trust

Last week at daily Mass on Monday, we celebrated the feast of the annunciation. Typically the feast is March 25th, 9 months before Christmas, but in years where it falls during Holy Week or the Octave of Easter, the feast gets moved to the first Monday after the Second Sunday of Easter.

While you probably have seen many artistic depictions of the annunciation, especially on Christmas cards, what can get lost in it is how terrifying it must have been for Mary. Mary has a plan. She is going to marry Joseph and lead a simple life. And then along comes an angel with another plan. And this plan could have very dire consequences for Mary. She is a young woman, probably around the age of 13 or 14, so without Joseph she may have no support and be out on her own, at best. At worst, for being an expectant mother outside of marriage in that culture, she could be killed by religious zealots. And she is a very devout woman, so this plan could also cause problems for her loved ones and Joseph too. How easy it would be for her to say “please find someone else.” But instead there is that “yes,” where she says “behold I am the handmaid of the Lord may it be done according to your word.” And with this, the Divine Plan begins to unfold, a simple, faithful, Jewish peasant woman being instrumental in it.

There is so much Mary has to teach us. Among them is the importance of trust. And that is something that can be harder than ever to have these days. It can be hard to trust others who let us down. It can be hard to trust what is real or fake in the news (especially these days with weather reports in our alleged “spring”!). Sometimes it can be even hard to trust in the Church.

But the thing of it is, when we have a bit of trust, things do work out. It does not mean we cannot question, but we also were not put here in a vacuum. So what does that trust look like?

For one, we trust God. This might be easier said than done, because sometimes God can seem distant, or silent. Other times things might move very slowly. But God ultimately does have a plan, and remember what Jesus said to the apostles before He ascended to the Father: behold I am with you always.

Closely related to that, we remember God can do amazing things. The angel Gabriel says: “nothing will be impossible for God.” This does not mean that God waves a magic wand and makes all our problems go away. But it does mean that God gets involved in ways that we might not always see. I think for instance of the power of grace and how it operates on people. A person may to the eye seem far removed from their faith, but then little by little they come to respond to it over the course of a life. Or out of a seemingly hopeless situation, stories of love and mercy appear. We might read a situation as without hope, but God sees it completely differently. Sometimes we have to remember there is a plan and God will make things happen, it just might not be what we expected or on our timeline.

Third, we also trust in the guidance of others. Mary not only trusted in God, she trusted in Joseph and Joseph trusted in her too. As Catholics growing in faith, we are called to trust in the Church and other people too. The Church will never err in matters of faith and morals. Jesus created one Church upon Peter, not thousands of churches. So this means that while it is fine to struggle and question, we have to remember the Church has a mission – salvation of souls – and She is going to be there to give us the guidance so we can reach our potential. This is why it’s so important to make faith formation life long, to go to Mass, and to celebrate the sacraments. And with that, it’s also important to listen to others too who are there to give us advice and counsel as we discern things in life.

Lastly, let’s not forget while we should not trust only in ourselves, we should also trust that God has given us gifts, has a plan for us, and execute that plan, meaning sometimes we can get down on ourselves and think “I can’t.” God is not going to make all your problems go away. You still have to take that math test, you still have to go to work, you still have to deal with family issues and whatever curve balls life throws at you. That is the reality of life. But Mary could have looked at her situation and said there is no way this will work out – I am a nobody in the world, and I already have so little, if I say yes to this plan I will have nothing. But she trusted that God would guide her, and this woman shows such amazing fortitude and determination. She guides her Son; she visits her cousin Elizabeth; she follows her Son to the Cross. She never gives up. God gives us grace, He helps us through other people who are there to give us guidance, but ultimately He also gives us a virtue called fortitude that we use to act and live out our mission.

Last week we celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday, and as I mentioned at Mass, the image I referred to is of Jesus with beams of red and white coming out from his heart. Often the words “Jesus, I trust in you” are seen in depictions of Sister Faustina Kowalska’s vision. May we have that same trust that she did, and that our Blessed Mother did in God, and realize that no matter what life brings us, He will see us through. We are not alone – He is with us, as is the Church He created, and the people we are blessed to have with us on our journey. Like our Blessed Mother, may we see it through to it’s completion.

Have a great week!

Fr. Paul