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Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Honoring our Vets Year-Round

Robert VanDerslice, like millions of people, found himself one morning waiting on a seat in a crowded airport for his boarding call. While looking around though the crowd, he saw a rather unusual sight. There was an elderly man sitting across from him, facing a large picture window that gave passengers a view of the runway. Robert notes that the eyes of the man reflected a life of hardship, and as he looked at the man, he noticed tears streaming down from his eyes. Wanting to do something, Robert walked over to him and asked if he could join him, asking the man if he was alright.

There was silence at first, and then the man asked “did you stand when She walked by?” Confused by the question, Robert said he didn’t understand. He then looked at him in his eyes, and asked again, “did you stand when She walked by?” Still confused, Robert told him that he didn’t understand, and asked the man if he stood when she walked by, with no clue as to who “she” could be. At this point, the elderly man turned and looked out the window to the tarmac. It seemed that the conversation was over.

Robert began to walk away, but was still troubled by the question. He boarded his plane, and found his seat as the plane began to clear the gate. He then looked back at the terminal that he had left, where he saw the man sitting alone facing the tarmac. He was still alone, and Robert saw that several others walked up to him, but left confused, shaking their heads, or just leaving quickly. And yet the man continued to stare out the window. It was then that Robert was able to see what the man was staring at.

About 300 yards away was a plane surrounded by military personnel. Watching from his plane, he saw a small procession of six men carrying a flag draped coffin away from the plane to a waiting hearse, where they stood after the rear door of the black car had been closed and they offered a salute as the car drove slowly away. He looked back to the window of the terminal, where the man was sitting still, offering a salute but not standing, for he was confined to a wheel chair.

The plane hadn’t completely left the gate yet, and Robert was able to get off the plane has it had a rolling stair gantry for passenger access. He walked quickly and headed for the terminal, back to the elderly man. He walked up next to him, and faced the plane as another coffin draped with the flag was placed in a waiting hearse, and this time he raised his hand in salute, allowing his hand to drop only when the hearse rolled out of view around a security fence.

The elderly man once again looked at Robert, visibly moved. He said in a quivering voice, “Thank you sir…for what you did. My greatest wish these days is to stand again for her, but I can’t. I gave my legs in ’43 and my oldest son in ’67 to that Lady, so she could keep walking. It hurts when no one cares that she walks by.”

Robert ended up missing that flight, but writes “my heart and soul found wings to the heavens on the words of a 90-year old man who dared to share a heart full of memories with me and dared to remind me why Old Glory still waves as the beacon of hope in a lost world.”

This Saturday, our nation celebrates Veteran’s Day. I’ve been honored to know so many of these unsung heroes, and I am thankful to them every day for preserving the liberties that I enjoy as an American. It’s so important though that we never take them, or our country, for granted.

With that in mind, I’d like to share a list that is posted on the website of the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs. It was developed by the Behavioral Health staff at the Spokane VA Medical Center. These are simple things we can do all year, and not just on November 11th. To those of you who have served so that I can have the freedom to pray, to write this column, and to live in this amazing land, thank you!

  1. Attend a Veteran’s Day event.
  2. Ask a Veteran about their time in the military, and really listen to the answer.
  3. Hang a flag in your yard.
  4. Ask an aging Veteran to share with you the song that most takes them back.
  5. Visit the gravesite of a Veteran.
  6. Visit a homebound Veteran in their home, talk with them, and thank them for their service.
  7. Visit a homeless Veteran under a bridge, and do the same.
  8. Take a Veteran out to dinner.
  9. Take dinner in to a Veteran.
  10. Tell someone (your family, a friend, a neighbor) about an experience you had serving a Veteran at the VA.
  11. Take flowers to a Veterans memorial.
  12. Write and send a letter to someone who’s currently serving in the military .
  13. Ask a neighbor about their deployment.
  14. Call a Veteran family member.
  15. Thank a Veteran co-worker for their service.
  16. Take a private moment to be proud of your country.
  17. Teach someone (a child, a friend, a neighbor) what it means to be a Veteran.
  18. Share pictures of a Veteran with someone.
  19. Say a silent prayer for those who are serving.
  20. Learn about a current or past war/conflict (this will make you a better helper).
  21. Look up your ancestry and learn about someone in your family who was a Veteran.
  22. Hug your family, and tell them that it’s thanks to Veterans that you get to.
  23. Observe a moment of silence with family and friends.
  24. Read something a Veteran wrote about their experience.
  25. Wear your favorite “Pro-Vet” T-Shirt. (Examples:  Free Hugs for Vets; Remember Our Fallen Veterans; Freedom is not FREE…; Thank a VETERAN; I Heart Veterans!).
  26. Buy a Buddy Poppy. Wear it all day, attach it to your purse or bag and keep it there until it falls apart.  When people ask what it is, tell them.
  27. Read and share the poem “In Flanders Field the poppies grow”.
  28. Make sure your children and grandchildren know who the Veterans are within their own family, and share the family stories with them.
  29. Do a project about Veterans with young children or grandchildren.  For example, let them make their own Veteran flag and plant  it in a pot of flowers in front of the house.
  30. Write on your blog about your appreciation for Veterans.
  31. Help young children or grandchildren make a thank you card, and post them in the window or at a grocery store bulletin board or library or some other public place.
  32. (Good for any day:) Stand out in front of the VA greet Veterans as they are being dropped off at the door.  Some older folks even need a hand getting out of the car.
  33. Tell a loved one why you enjoy serving Veterans.
  34. 34. Buy a homeless Veteran a cup of coffee.
  35. Donate time or money or supplies to local Veterans Day drives.
  36. Volunteer to help a Veteran’s Service Organization (there are lots!).
  37. Take a moment to reflect on what it means to live in America.
  38. Gather with friends and family and watch a patriotic movie.
  39. Go to a Veterans Day parade.
  40. Write in your journal how thankful you are for the service of Veterans.
  41. Take a quiet moment and imagine hearing “taps” played in your head.  Think about what it means.
  42. Thank a Veteran of his/her service while doing errands.
  43. Shake a Veteran’s hand.
  44. Send an email that tells a Veteran’s story to the people on your contact list.
  45. Pick one or two of the activities listed above, and resolve to do them at least one time every month this year when it’s NOT Veteran’s Day.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Neither Gone Nor Forgotten

One of the challenges in our modern society is a difficulty in knowing how to handle death.

Understandably, most of us might not think about it until our time is very short, if we have any time to prepare for it at all. But as for the theology of death, many of us still can have a hard time what to make of it. Indeed we had a whole course at seminary on the very topic of death, heaven, hell and purgatory. And while one bulletin column is far too small to do the topic of death and the afterlife justice, these are important things to think about, especially in November, a month where the Church as a special focus on them.

For one, as a quick refresher of what we mean by heaven, hell and purgatory. Heaven is where we are with God forever; and many people are there. Some are canonized and we declare them in heaven; many more are known only to God, the people we celebrate on All Saint’s Day. In heaven, the joy and happiness are perpetual as we are with God forever.

There are some who reject God entirely. God loves, but it is not a forced love. The reality of this is a consequence we call hell; the absence of God. It is eternal frustration because a person is away from God forever.

And as for purgatory, this is often a source of confusion for people. I’ve never much cared for the term “poor souls in purgatory” that you sometimes have heard people pray for, not because we should not pray for people after death, but “poor souls” implies that it is some horrible state. Far from it. When we die, we are no longer in time. Time is an element of this earth; hence we can pray at a cemetery and have earthly remains of someone while that person can still be in heaven too. It could be the case that a person loves God deeply, but has a nagging sin they have struggled with, or needs to take a final step or two to have their love perfected. It is not a matter of “doing time” or waiting, rather for those who pass through purgatory, it is God’s presence there who helps a person take those final steps to become perfect.

What we see in this is our connection to our loved ones and how it remains strong. We pray for our dead in the event they are continuing on their journey home to heaven. Of course, they may already be in heaven. And they are probably praying for us too on our journey as it continues through life.

Through it all is the love of God. This love is given to us time and time again, and when we die, that love is still there to welcome us home, and enable us to make the final few steps to get home to heaven. This means we move forward in hope.

But it also means we move forward together with our loved ones. Death impacts us all. But we also need to know how to deal with it properly.

You may have heard the term “gone but not forgotten.” On the one hand, a person is gone physically when they die, and that pain must be acknowledged. You never really get over loss entirely until you are reunited in heaven.

But on the other hand, a person is not just a collection of memories. Eulogies for instance are not allowed at Catholic Funeral Masses. One can have words of remembrance which are offered prior to the Mass starting. And this is not to be cold, but rather because the purpose of the funeral Mass is to offer worship to God for Christ’s victory over death, to comfort those who remain, and to pray for the soul, not to hear a a speech about the person’s life or accomplishments. This is why memory sharing is more appropriate at the wake or at a funeral luncheon. Memories are well and fine, but the person who is in the casket is not gone. During the Mass itself, we hear readings of the Resurrection, of hope, and of how life is eternal.

This needs to continue after the Mass though too.

On the one hand, I have memories of people I’ve lost I think about all the time, and often reminisce with family and friends about them. But I also know that I am forever connected to these wonderful people who I might not see any more physically, but who journey with me every day. I pray for them every single night in my evening prayers. I believe they pray for me. And I take what I gained from my time with them on this earth, and try to emulate those things into my daily life. The things they can’t quite teach you in a theology book: how to have a sense of humor, how to be a person of joy, how to think of others first, how to be patient. These are things the loved ones I’ve lost have shown me, and because of them I know that I can keep on striving to become a better person because they have truly shown me how to do just that.

The reality is on the one hand we are only here for a little while, as much as we might want to ignore that. But the truth is also the words of the two men in dazzling garments at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday: “why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5). Jesus is risen, and we will rise too to be with Him forever. But just because we go to Him, does not mean that for those of us who hope to go to heaven too that we are separated because of death. Quite the contrary. Death does not have the last word. Jesus does – and may that fill us with hope. And just as Jesus comes to us in a different way today than He did when He walked the earth physically 2000 years ago, the same is true for our loved ones. I may not be able to enjoy my grandma’s chocolate chip cookies, or watch the World Series with my grandpa any longer. But I know they live on, and pray for me as I pray for them, and are a part of my journey every single day. So are your loved ones too. So visit a cemetery. Pray for them. Remember the good times, but also remember all that you learned from them. And remember that one day, you will see them again – but until that day comes, they are living on in you too in how you put into practice all that they showed you about how to truly live.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Don’t Overthink Halloween

High school was one of the first times that I was really exposed to people of other faiths. I remember the first week of school, an inter-faith Bible study group formed prior to school starting. Hearing this over the PA, I thought it would be great to join.

To be sure, there were some very good experiences in that group. But when faiths intermingle, even if we are all Christian in name, the reality is we are separated due to the consequences of history and effects of original sin between denominations in Christianity. As Catholics, we are part of the original Church and still have the guiding of the Church with Tradition with the capital “T” – something that is very helpful to help us grow in holiness and understand the faith which is being continually understood at a deeper level by the Church.

Among the issues that came up in this Bible Study club was Halloween. Specifically, there was a staff member at the school who was Assemblies of God. He hosted at his home an informal gathering for students with food, and it was about this time of year. I remember him remarking that his kids and family did not celebrate Halloween, associating it with the devil.

While it might be understandable one could make that link, in reality, if I were to go back or to have a conversation with him today and he had children who were of “trick or treating” age, I’d politely say for crying out loud man, let your kids enjoy this rite of childhood and do not overthink the day turning a day for stocking up on candy into something that it isn’t.

The holiday’s history is the eve of All Saints Day. It was known as a time for Christians to mock the devil by reveling in the triumph of Jesus Christ over evil and death. To borrow from the website catholic.com” “That sound you now hear every October 31 is the devil mocking us. It seems some Christians, displaying a Grinch-ish dislike of the simple joys of dress-up and candy consumption, have literally demonized the traditional observation of Halloween as pagan—and worse…Many Christians through the centuries have entertained an unhealthy fear (as distinguished from a healthy fear) of the devil. Dressing children in “scary” costumes for the amusement of the neighbors can defang evil by demonstrating that innocence is adorable and evil is but a damned parasite on all that is good and noble. But in a hyper-scrupulous environment, it can be difficult for Christians to appreciate that there is spiritual value in such a mockery of evil—or even that it is mockery of evil and not participation in it.”

Looking at history a little more deeply, about the year 610, Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Roman Pantheon (still a lovely place to visit) to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to all Christian martyrs and set aside the day in their honor. The day coincided with a pagan Roman celebration to satisfy the restless dead. A century later, the day of All Saints was moved to November 1st. “All Hallows” eventually joined the stable of popular designations of time in the Church’s calendar when the Church commemorates the saints.

Those of you who know Irish history might have heard of a link to the Celtic festival of Samhain, a feast for the Druid “lord of the dead” god. The Celts celebrated a time of the closeness of the natural and supernatural with fall ending and winter beginning. However there is no direct link that was intended by having the festival on the same date. And in Ireland, newly baptized Christians were not forbidden to build bonfires during the autumn months, or to carve gourds into lanterns, or to set out treats for the dearly departed. Realizing the missionary value of incorporating non-evil pagan folk practices into Christian customs, the Church allowed Christians to continue these old customs, seeing in them ways to pass on the faith.

Enter the Calvinists. If you want to ruin a party, invite a Calvinist. (There aren’t that many around anymore, but John Calvin and his ideas led to even Christmas not being celebrated for a time in England). In the 17th century, all “popish” holidays were crushed when the Puritans ruled England and those areas in the American colonies where they settled. Christmas and Easter proved too important to the Christian liturgical year to be snuffed out permanently and were for the most part restored as Christian holy days. Halloween, on the other hand, never recovered. To this day, Christians from Fundamentalist Protestant to conservative Catholic remain locked in debate whether Halloween is a Christian holiday—and, if it is, to what extent Christians should celebrate it.

So the bottom line is Halloween is a day to enjoy, for children to get some candy, for parents, grandparents and neighbors to smile as the little ones come to the door, and to have a bit of fun. Remember, costumes of all kinds are fun, but saints are another option to dress up as at times. This would be an opportunity to get to know the saints and their many great stories as they are just like us.  They show us how to overcome sin and how to become spiritually great and are wonderful stories to share with kids too.

Have a great week and happy Halloween.

God bless,    Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Prudence, Tolerance, and Freedom of Speech

Recently a lot of headlines have been made about some “taking a knee” during the National Anthem in the NFL. It’s even spread to a few youth teams here and there. An Iowa marching band even walked off the field last week during the national anthem. The debate has been this is “freedom of speech.” But to me, there’s deeper issues here that give us the chance to look at the whole issue of freedom of speech, and when it’s right to use it, verses to exercise restraint.

For one, I think we must remember freedom of speech has limits. You can’t yell “fire!” In a crowded theater. As this applies to the NFL, I do think that players have the right to “take a knee” if they so desire. I would not propose a law jailing someone for taking a knee during the national anthem. BUT, (and it’s a big BUT) what I think is being missed here is the prudence of doing such a thing, and the fact that while for you and me, the NFL is a source of entertainment, for the men on the field, it is their place of work.

That being said, as an NFL fan, I do not like the “taking a knee.” I find it disrespectful of the flag, and also question if it helps or hurts the message the players doing it are trying to convey (more on that later). That is not the point of this column however. But with respect to the limits of freedom of speech, what I think is being missed is that the owners have a right to limit it, because the “taking a knee” is being done on their time, by their employees. Whether they choose to do so will remain to be seen. I continue to enjoy the NFL, and am not boycotting it. But it’s important to remember while we have the right to express our opinions and say it, employers can also limit this. I had to do just that once. At a prior parish I served, we started child care during Mass (hopefully we’ll have that here too down the road). One person on staff promptly put something on Facebook implying children were not welcomed at Mass because she did not like the change. I told her this needed to be removed as she worked for the parish, and we can’t have employees voicing disagreement with the parish. She did remove it without any pushback. I also had a friend, now a priest, who once drove for Coca Cola. He told me that if he were seen with a Pepsi in the truck he’d be canned (no pun intended). And if I as a priest went off on social media against my bishop, or “took a knee” at a meeting during the National Anthem, I’d expect a phone call from “downtown.” So the bottom line is we can’t have a sense of entitlement and think we can say whatever we want without consequences.

We also need to ask ourselves how will what I am doing impact what point I am trying to make, and will this help or hurt my message? Think of the Westboro Baptist people – the people who protest funerals, Chiefs games, concerts, etc. They may have a freedom to protest, but their doing so hurts other people. No matter what your issue, I think most would hope that they could have dialogue or change the mind of the other person. The problem is we seem to be arguing less, and shouting more as a society. As I mentioned in my homily last week, a Christian pro-life group got kicked out of a coffee house in Seattle, Bedlam Coffee, by it’s owner, Ben Borgman, who told the group, “I’m gay, you have to leave.” Ben didn’t seem to even want to talk to them, and proceeded to mock Christ and hurl profanities at them. They just wanted some coffee. Sadly these things aren’t isolated. It’s good to try to listen to others, to have a conversation, and to agree to disagree if needed. But while one my have the freedom to shout, to yell, to get on social media, if all it accomplishes is making you feel better for a few minutes but no real change, we might want to think about our speech.

It’s also important to think about how our speech impacts others. A few weeks ago I watched my beloved Twins in New York. The crowd was having fun with Max Kepler, who dove for a ball that perhaps he didn’t need to dive for. They took it upon themselves to jeer and taunt him; my favorite were the women in front of us. One said to the other “don’t make fun of him, he’s from Minnesota, he’s miserable enough!” Now this is what you’d expect in the outfield of a Major League Baseball game, especially in the Bronx. There was no hate or animosity there. But think if you yelling at a 12 year old, or his coach. Why are you doing this? Perhaps you have a right to yell or jeer, but might that embarrass or hurt the feelings of someone? To take it a bit further, if one is going off on social media on their family, or even not respecting a family member’s wishes not to post pictures of them or talk about them all the time online, or if a Catholic is condemning the pope and bishops, is that really a prudent use of speech? I’d argue not. We never want to harm others or our Church with our speech (or what we put on social media!), so it’s important to think about what we say and write before we do it.

Tolerance is also an important thing for us to have. Again, in this age of shouting, it’s important not to hate. If we see someone taking a knee on TV, but then hate everyone who takes a knee or call them all a “bunch of unpatriotic bums,” that’s a problem. Now we don’t have to watch them, or even support them. Some have tuned out the NFL and that’s just fine. But we need to respect the voices of those with whom we disagree. This is why I think with respect to the national anthem, it might be better for those who do take a knee to instead consider having a town hall meeting, blogging, giving money to their causes or interacting with fans on social media so people know what their message really is all about. This is true with other issues too. We can be very passionate about our politics, our faith, and passion is good. But even if we know we won’t change on an issue, we can at least hear the other person out, and respect them and their right to speak their minds.

Lastly, thinking before we speak is a good thing. It can be easy to click “send” online or to let emotion bubble over when we get into heated discussions. But if we want others to really hear our message and not just our voice or emotions, speech requires thought. Again, we need to think about how what we say will impact our families, friends, Church, or reflect upon our faith. It’s good to know what we are talking about by studying our issue. Take what goes on in the pro-life movement with sidewalk counseling outside abortion clinics, or at life centers that help moms choose life. There is no judgment, no shouting, no hate. Rather presented are the facts of what happens as a child develops, prayer, tolerance, and ways for people to make a better choice. This kind of action has led to thousands of babies being saved, and even led to the conversion of Norma McCorvey, who was the “Jane Roe” in Roe v. Wade and one time abortion activist to change. Because of their work to help others see the sanctity of life in the womb and to truly educate, as opposed to shouting at people or making attacks, the pro-life movement has changed minds and saved lives. There’s a lot we can learn from how they get their message across.

Freedom of Speech is one of our cherished rights, as it should be. But as God gave us a mouth, He also gave us virtues, among them prudence, which guides us in so many things, among them in how to speak and use that mouth. So let’s use that virtue and think about what we say and how we say it, while at the same time remembering that person with whom we disagree is also a human being created in the image and likeness of God.

Have a great week! 

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: From Presumption to Preparation

In the familiar short story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” an emperor is so vain and so preoccupied with the beauty of his garments, that when two shady individuals decide to take advantage of his vanity by pretending to prepare garments for him that only others can see, he is made a fool for being at a parade without any clothes on.

The story may be a fable, but on a deeper level we too must be on guard that we are not caught like the emperor when we stand before God at the end of our lives, avoiding the presumption that our ticket to heaven is stamped, but rather daily preparing for the banquet that awaits us.

This week in our Gospel, we are told that a king and his son are hosting a wedding banquet. Many people are invited to the banquet but some refuse to come. When messengers go out a second time, they are given excuses from people why they cannot come, and some even do violence to the messengers. Finally, servants of the king go into the streets to find people to come to the wedding, the “bad and good” alike. One person though has no wedding garment. When asked why he is unprepared, he is reduced to silence, and thrown out of the feast.

It seems like a rather cold thing to do. After all, this person gets invited to a party with relatively short notice. And who could expect him to actually have a wedding garment ready?

To understand this, we need to understand what is meant by “wedding-garment.” In the time when this parable was written, whatever state of life you were in carried with it certain obligations, and among these were wedding customs which applied to everyone, no matter what. If you were invited to a wedding, you were required to come properly dressed, and there were no exceptions. The man is unprepared.

The people in the story are symbolic of the people in the world. The king symbolizes the Father; the son of the king represents Jesus. Some in the world react with violence to the message; others with indifference.

From this Gospel, we have a couple of challenges.

The first is that we must be vigilant to be on guard to have the opinion that based on our status, we are entitled to an invitation to the banquet. Much like the people in the vineyard last week, just being there does not mean all is ours forever. Sometimes, we can get high on our horse and look down on others. We can become judgmental; looking down on some for their past, or for whom they associate with, or think that we can peer into their souls. We can then have a lofty opinion of ourselves and think we are entitled to heaven because we are “better” than others because we say more prayers, go to Mass every week, or are knowledgable with respect to what the Church teaches. It can be very easy to overlook gossip, a condescending attitude, or a “holier than thou” mentality. Small wonder Jesus is so often critical of Pharisees, those who were good at knowing the rules but not focused on interior conversion.

That interior conversion and daily call to holiness is the challenge of our Gospel as well. We never know when we will stand before God. The term “God fearing” can be confusing. We should not fear God because He will punish us; rather the fear is the fear of letting Him down. Daily we should strive to grow in holiness by asking ourselves “how can I become a better person today?” Much like a tailor working to make beautiful garments, we do the same thing with grace. Grace is the invitation that is given to us to go to the banquet, but it requires a response. We have to acknowledge what God has done for us and daily strive to return that love.

Indeed, the joy for us in heaven is beyond anything we can comprehend. As our first reading tells us, “He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let is be glad and rejoice…” Let’s make sure we are prepared for the banquet by being mindful that all are invited to it, and reminding ourselves that the materials for the garment are given to us by God, and working on the proper response takes daily preparation.

Blessings,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: All of us are Guardian Angels

Last week we celebrated the feast of the Guardian Angels on Monday, October 2nd.

Though there’s a lot of theology behind angels, the web site “saintoftheday.org,” (run by the Franciscans, very helpful to learn about the feast days of the various saints) summarizes guardian angels in the following way:

Perhaps no aspect of Catholic piety is as comforting to parents as the belief that an angel protects their little ones from dangers real and imagined. Yet guardian angels are not only for children. Their role is to represent individuals before God, to watch over them always, to aid their prayer, and to present their souls to God at death.

The concept of an angel assigned to guide and nurture each human being is a development of Catholic doctrine and piety based on Scripture but not directly drawn from it. Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:10 best support the belief: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”

Devotion to the angels began to develop with the birth of the monastic tradition. Saint Benedict gave it impetus and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the great 12th-century reformer, was such an eloquent spokesman for the guardian angels that angelic devotion assumed its current form in his day.

The day also coincided with the news of the tragic shootings in Las Vegas that left more than 50 dead and hundreds wounded.

On the one hand, when we see such events, the inevitable question of “why?” emerges. Tragedies occur daily in the world, and perhaps one might wonder why angels don’t intervene to stop accidents, wars, and violence.

Certainly evil is permitted to continue in the world by God, but this does not mean He is absent from it. Remember, He suffered along with us and was victimized by evil too, dying for us. But this does not mean that we are alone in the world. Indeed, angels do watch over us, but we also see angels in the flesh in the sense that from tragedies, we see heroes emerge. And that is something all of us are called to be: a guardian angel in this world.

On the one hand, there are those in uniform. The heroes in our military. The people who are police officers. The firefighters and paramedics. Two police officers were killed last Monday. These people do not get the respect that they deserve, and we should honor them, thank them, pray for them, and appreciate all they do for us. When we have an accident, when someone is breaking into our home, or when a family situation is escalating and becoming dangerous, they are the first people on the scene to bring peace to it. They are true guardian angels in a dangerous world.

But we also must remember that we are called to that role as well. Sin is ugly, and there is no escaping the reality of evil. As such, we need to do something about it and be guardian angels too for people in the world, especially children and vulnerable adults.

Certainly on the one hand, any time we suspect abuse, we must get involved and alert authorities. It’s always better to err on the side of caution, and that phone call to the police could save a life.

More often than not though, it’s the things that go on daily where we need to use fortitude to act to get involved. We need to be aware to what kids go through at school, when there is bullying going on, when a child may be exposed to pornography, or dealing with an overbearing parent at sporting events. The list really is endless, but that’s why God gives us a conscience that tells us “you need to do something.”

There will always be evil in the world, and there is no way to shield children from it all. But if you’ve seen guardian angels depicted in art, they are often pictured walking with children through a journey, and that needs to be all of us. When we do the right thing, we can truly combat evil with good, and by being aware to the presence of evil in all it’s many forms we can live out those words from Matthew’s Gospel that we proclaimed last Monday: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” Jesus also wants us to be their angles, so let’s do that by being aware of what children deal with, and when we see threats, do something about them rather than remain silent.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: The Marathon of Service

Every fall, Catholic schools around the country have a marathon. Growing up going to two different Catholic schools, I participated in such events myself.  This year at St. Joseph School, we will not be collecting pledges, but will be giving of ourselves in service. Students are encouraged to bring in coin donations that will go directly to Feed My Starving Children.  Our fundraising efforts will be focused on the winter Catholic Schools Raffle and our Spring School Gala on April 14th, 2018.

When I arrived at Saint Joe’s and asked about the marathon, I learned that it was going to have a bit of a different flavor. Instead of getting pledges for running, walking and biking, the students would use that time and instead be boxing food at Feed My Starving Children. This food will then be sent to people in need in underdeveloped countries such as Haiti, and help fight malnourishment and hunger. The meals are specifically formulated for malnourished children. FMSC has reached out to over 70 countries. Though the people who pack the meals and those needy children who eat them may never meet on this earth, such a big difference is being made thanks to people giving of their time.

What a great idea. By doing this, it reminds us of how we are connected to one another. Walking and biking is great, and we should exercise to take care of our bodies, but we also need to take care of the Body of Christ. Our service marathon gives students a chance to think about how they, too, can reach out to others and make a difference. What a great teaching moment!  So often we get stuck in our own little world, and forget there is so much good that we can do.

Filling one bag with food might not end malnutrition, but it leaves an impact. And daily, we have the chance to make a difference too. A marathon is a tough thing to run – it takes endurance and determination. We run the marathon of life for the crown of eternal life. So let’s learn from our students and ask ourselves how we can do a daily service marathon for people in our lives who need our time, our forgiveness, our compassion, and our presence.

It’s also important that we emphasize to the students what a Catholic education is all about. As Catholics, we emphasize that faith must lead to action. Living out the faith is something that isn’t just for a marathon, but needs to be a way of life. As Catholics we live that out daily.

While I exercise daily I don’t plan on running a Marathon anytime soon, but let’s all “run” this marathon daily by looking for ways God wants us to make a difference in the lives of one another each and every day. Thank you to our students for showing us how to bring God’s love in the world, and thank you for your support of our service marathon.

God bless and have a great week,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Unsung Heroes Make a Parish Thrive

While in seminary, there’s a lot of focus on the content of the faith. This is understandably important as you need to know what you are talking about, and articulate what the Church teaches if you are going to help people. And this is ongoing too, as the Holy Spirit continually guides the Church as we understand God’s revelation to us anew as the years go by. The academics help you understand how to hear confessions, give spiritual counsel, preach and interpret, and also formulate theological opinions too with respect to the content of the faith. But that’s just part of it.

Knowing what the Church teaches matters, but the “how” is what goes on in the parish every day. How people understand how it’s all wrapped up in loving God with your whole heart, mind and soul and loving your neighbor as yourself, that’s a lot more than hearing confessions and preaching. The priest is merely part of the whole equation, it takes a team for someone to truly become closer to God. And that’s why I think of parish work as ministry, rather than “jobs.”

One of the first people I met when I found out I was going to Saint Joe’s was Patty Stibal. Fr. Paul Jarvis was giving me a tour, telling me about the parish, and it was at a point where I knew I’d be moving on from my prior assignment. I was a little nervous about what lied ahead, but just seeing the people here and the parish filled me with a calm. Patty had this great demeanor and joy about her when I first met her, and that continued when I officially started in July of 2015. Not knowing much at all about the parish, she quickly filled me in on who’s who, on the office, helped me get settled, and helped me to build bridges between parishioners.

But then I also got to see her in action day to day. She’s amazing. She makes people feel welcome. She greets everyone with a smile. She looks people in the eye and listens to them. She makes you feel like family. She goes out of her way to help others both on staff and in the parish. She truly sees her work as ministry, far from just punching a clock. I can honestly say she has helped me on my own faith journey, and made me a better priest. Yes, she is truly one of our unsung heroes.

A couple of weeks ago, Patty met with Randy Haney, our parish administrator, and me, and gave us some difficult news, that she had discerned that now was the time for her to move on from Saint Joe’s. She has been here now for 17 years, and feels called to serve elsewhere. After prayer and discernment, she’ll be taking a position managing the office at Saint Michael’s parish, which is in her hometown in Farmington.

Saint Michael’s gain is our loss, but I know that Patty will do great in her new position. She’ll bring a lot of gifts to our neighboring parish, and God has new chapters now to be written in her life. While she’ll be very hard to replace, we do have her position listed with the archdiocese, and have received a number of applicants. She’ll also be able to help our new person transition and learn the ropes, and when we do have a person in place we’ll be sure to let you know who that is right away. I am confident they’ll feel welcomed here too much as I have been. Saint Joe’s is a really special place.

Patty’s last day will be this Friday, September 29th. We’ll miss you, Patty! Thank you for helping our parish to thrive and grow, and for the joy you have brought to our faith community. People like Patty truly exemplify the words “thy kingdom come,” for we see God’s love in this world more clearly through people like her.

As I preached on last weekend, God calls us all on an adventure, and it’s up to us to follow His plan. I’m so honored Patty followed His call to be with us at Saint Joe’s, and wish her the best as He has now called her to serve Saint Michael’s. God bless you Patty, and may the road ahead be filled with many more joys and blessings.

Have a wonderful week, 

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: September 11th Reminds Us of the Power of Good in All of Us

Last week our nation marked 16 years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

For me, that was the first week of seminary. I remember first seeing some of the footage on one of the TVs in a hall at Saint Thomas, and then seeing the rest of the day’s events unfold on TV and online. One of the images I remember from that day itself was of a photo of the smoldering Twin Towers, where if you looked closely it appeared to be the face of the devil.

While it was a striking image and likely just the result of light hitting the smoke, far more powerful than that image were the stories that came out of the day of so many people who leaped into action.

In my homily at daily Mass that day, I shared the story of two marines who were featured in an article running in “Business Insider” which I’ve attached below:

While the planes were hitting the World Trade Center, 27-year-old Jason Thomas was dropping off his daughter to his mother in Long Island.

When Thomas heard what had transpired, he changed into the Marine Corps uniform he had sitting in his trunk — he was a former sergeant who had been out of the Corps for a year — and sped toward Manhattan.

“Someone needed help. It didn’t matter who,” Thomas told AP. “I didn’t even have a plan. But I have all this training as a Marine, and all I could think was, ‘My city is in need.’”

Around the same time in Wilton, Connecticut, Dave Karnes was working in his office at Deloitte watching the attack unfold on TV.

We’re at war,” the former Marine staff sergeant said to his colleagues, before telling his boss he might not be back for a while, according to Slate. He went and got a haircut, changed into his Marine uniform, and drove toward New York City at 120 miles per hour.

Once both Marines reached the collapsed towers — the site now covered in ash and debris — they began searching for survivors, but first, they found each other. They had little gear with them besides flashlights and a military entrenching tool, AP reported.

Along with other first responders, the pair climbed over the dangerous field of metal, concrete, and dust, calling out, “United States Marines! If you can hear us, yell or tap!”

According to Stripes:

When they reached a depression in the rubble of what had been the south tower, he said, “I thought I heard someone. … So I yelled down and they replied back that they were New York Port Authority police officers. “They asked us not to leave them.”

Karnes told Thomas to get to a high point to direct rescuers to the site, then called his wife and sister on his cell phone and told them to phone and give the New York police his location.

The two officers, William Jimeno and John McLoughlin, were on the main concourse between the towers when the South Tower began to fall, but made it into a freight elevator before the collapse. They were alive but seriously injured, trapped approximately 20 feet below the surface.

According to USA Today, once they heard the voices of the Marines, Jimeno began shouting the code for officer down: “8-13! 8-13!” After they were located amid the unstable mountain of debris, it took rescue workers roughly three hours to dig out Jimeno, and another eight to reach McLoughlin, who was buried further down. 

An exhausted Thomas, who never gave his first name, left the site after Jimeno was rescued, but returned to Ground Zero for the next 2 1/12 weeks to help. His identity was a mystery until after Oliver Stone’s 2006 film “World Trade Center” chronicled the rescue of the officers, and Thomas emerged from the shadows.

Karnes also left after Jimeno came up, but helped at the site for another nine days. After he returned to Connecticut, he went to his reserve center and reenlisted, and later served two tours of duty in Iraq.

In the readings for September 11th, Paul says in his letter to the Colossians: Brothers and sisters: I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.” When I first read that, it seemed a bit odd, for how could anything at all be lacking in the sufferings of Jesus? Paul’s point isn’t that anything is lacking in what Jesus did for us. Rather his point is that he invites us be close to Jesus and to suffer like Jesus did for one another. This does not mean we have to intentionally seek suffering. But it does mean all of us are called to sacrifice.

And when we look back on the sacrifices of people, whether it was the two marines Jason Thomas and David Karnes, or the countless other people who were first responders that day and who worked tirelessly in the days that followed, we see how good triumphed over evil. This requires sacrifice though. A willingness to suffer for others.

The challenge for us is to always see the bigger picture and the potential, and to see what good can do. Hopefully we will not face such a horrific situation in our lives, but through the sacrifices we make, there is so much good we too can bring into the world. Giving of our time to serve others can make such a big difference in this world.

Indeed, so many are willing to do just that, which is what gives me hope for our world and for all of humanity. It should’t take a major tragedy though for us to spring into action, so may we daily look for ways that we can truly serve one another and bring God’s love into this world.

I haven’t seen the image of the devil in the smoldering towers since it first ran on 9/11. But I have read many stories like those of the two marines, and daily see so many good things going on this world from the events of our own parish, to the thousands of volunteers pouring into Texas and Louisiana from all over to help people in need, to the millions raised to help people rebuild. God sees the good in us all, which is why He created us, and died for us. Let’s respond to that by bringing to completion his love in the world as Paul invites us to do, never forgetting our sacrifices can bring about such good to make this world a better place where God’s love is seen and known.

 

God bless,

 

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Food, Fun & Fellowship

Growing up Catholic, one of the staples of my summer and fall was the church festival. From enjoying underage gambling and winning a whopping $20 in Bingo, to having some of the best meals known to man, to the polka Masses, I’ve always loved a great festival.

Now as a priest, I’ve been blessed to be at my fourth parish where the festival is a big yearly event. While our parish festival might not be on the level of Leprechaun Days, it is a very big deal. You’ve probably seen all of our publicity in the bulletin, or the signs up and down area streets to promote it. I believe we also rented the Good Year Blimp to fly over the Bank for the Vikings opener to promote it too.

Well, perhaps that last part didn’t happen, but if you have been in the dark or on the fence about the festival, I hope you’ll consider joining us this upcoming Friday or Saturday. There’s still time to volunteer too.

We’ll be getting underway Friday night with an Oktoberfest theme. Naturally this will feature brats, and we’ll also have pretzels, beer and polka music until 10 p.m. We’ll have pull tabs, raffles and bingo as well, along with games for kids and a Craft Fair.

The festival will continue Saturday night with an Irish theme, starting with 150th Anniversary Kick Off Mass at 5 pmand then move to our Social Hall with a Chicken Dinner and Irish music, along with raffles, pull tabs, bingo, kid’s activities and the craft fair.

Our Prize raffle will feature beautifully made quilts, framed photographs, and many Craft Fair items.  Our Cash raffle will feature two $500 prizes, a $750 prize, one $1000 prize and a grand prize of $2500. We also had a bonus for the parishioner selling the most tickets of $500. The drawing was August 28th, and the winner was Karen Leiferman, congratulations!

On the one hand, our festival is a big fundraiser for our parish. Monies raised from the festival help us to provide more ministries to our parish.

But on the other, just as the Minnesota State Fair is known as the “Great Minnesota Get-Together” where families and friends often meet up and people connect with one another, the same is true for the parish. The festival gives us a chance to come together and get to know better some of the familiar faces we see each week at Mass. It also gives us a chance to celebrate our parish and is a great event for everyone. So too is it a great way to showcase our parish, which is why we are promoting the festival so much in our community. Hopefully this will result in some new faces joining Saint Joe’s as well. (I even found a flyer at my doorstep. Needless to say, I’ll be there. I think Kirby is interested too.)

Bridget Samson and a small army have been working for months to gear up for our festival. They have been contacting sponsors, coming up with new ideas, getting the food ordered, and working so hard for this event. Thank you, Bridget &  Committee!    A big shout out to the Harvest Festival committee:   Maureen & Bob Sturm, Doris McCarty, Katie Johnson, Maria Weber, Wayne Rychwalski, Carmen & Dave Johnson, Tony Brand, Rick Chodek, Pam Keuler and the late Gene Gergen.  With their help under Bridget’s guidance is making sure the Festival will be a very fun and memorable weekend.

I look forward to being there both nights (brats and chicken with all the fixings? Yes please!). Thank you for coming out to this event for our parish. What a great way to start the celebration of our 150th year as a parish which we’ll celebrate next year at this time.

See you Friday and Saturday!

 

God Bless  ~Fr. Paul