All posts by Joey Running

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