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Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Vigilance in the Fight to Protect the Unborn

This Tuesday, January 22nd, marks a special day on the Liturgical Calendar: the Day of
Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. It is the day when the Supreme
Court permitted abortion in the United States in the Roe v. Wade ruling. And tragically,
millions of lives have been lost.

As the years pass since Roe v. Wade, while most people are still against abortion,
some are uncomfortable doing much about it, thinking about it, or talking about it.
Hence, you might come across the argument: “well, I would never condone that sort of
thing, but who am I to speak out against what others want to do.” Many people said the
same thing with regards to slavery and many people said the same thing with regards to
the Holocaust. Indeed, There is a story from the days of the Nazi atrocities that tells of a
church along a road where the trains passed, carrying Jews to execution. When they
passed the church on Sunday mornings, they would cry out in the hope that the
worshipers would hear their cries and rescue them. The noise of the wailing prompted
members of the congregation to ask the pastor, “What are we to do about this
disturbance to our worship?” The pastor paused and then said, “Tell the people to sing
a little louder.” We may not hear the voices of the unborn, but they cry out for us to act.
Ignoring this injustice will not make it go away. Indeed, the bishops of the United
States, in a 1997 statement, called the attitude of saying that it’s not the government’s
task to legislate morality, and that it’s a personal choice, “morally repugnant.”

What are we to do? There are numerous ways we can get involved.

One is by educating ourselves. Someone told me if you ask any parent who sees an
ultrasound of their unborn child, its hard to conceive how someone could then go on to
not have the child. While many in the world would call an unborn child not life but
potential life, consider how much development occurs in just the initial weeks and
months: blood flow by the fourth to fifth week; heart development between 18 and 25
days, and fingers and toes by the sixth week. Its understandable in that during the initial
weeks when one can’t see someone as being pregnant one might think that there is no
life present – but indeed, we have a human being, and so many just aren’t aware of all
that happens in the first moments of life. Our job as evangelists for Christ is to educate
ourselves and others about this truth, and also to be aware of the numerous resources
that are available help people chose life. Statistics do show that more people are not
choosing to end their pregnancy before birth, and some feel this may be in part to those
who are involved in the pro-life movement setting up centers near clinics that give
women resources and help. I truly believe they make a difference. You might not know
this, but the Knights of Columbus have been very active in paying for ultrasound
machines to be sent to life centers, places where women go for help who choose life
and I truly believe this equipment has saved many lives.

Secondly, forgiveness and compassion can never be emphasized enough. It’s what we
preach as a Church, and it’s what we must live out. The Church is there to help women
and those affected by abortion offering not just forgiveness through the sacraments, but
also to help people find the resources they need to heal. The sad thing is so many
woman feel the guilt set in. For instance, one woman I read about who shares her story,
Debbie, saw her life spiral downhill after she made the decision to not carry her child to
term. Initially, she handled it well she thought – she thought she could keep a secret
hidden in a deep part of her soul. But as the years went by, she began self-destructive
behaviors which led to drinking, drugs, two failed marriages and even an attempt on her
own life. But eventually, she met someone who told her there is help and hope. She
began to read the Bible, and the words of Isaiah 1:18-19 spoke to her: “Come now, let
us argue this out. No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it. I can make
you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can
make you as white as wool…let me help you.” Gradually she stepped out of her
darkness, and now she runs a recovery center for women who are looking for healing. It
took people for her to help see that light, and you and I have to be aware of the pain
that people may have. If we know someone who has had an abortion, or has lived with
pain or silence for years, we need to help them find healing by taking the time to talk
with them when they seek our help.

Third, we need to get involved. There’s a big danger that as time passes we might think
there is nothing we can do, or that abortion is somehow a matter for the courts. But
that’s hardly the case. We should consider life issues when we go to a caucus or vote
for someone, and while the Church of course doesn’t endorse candidates, the bishops
of the United States have given us a great document entitled “Faithful Citizenship” that
gives us an idea of what issues should be looked at, and speaks on abortion. Hopefully
we keep that issue in mind at the polls. Our legislators can greatly effect abortion. A
huge piece of legislation that just happened not too long ago was the Minnesota
Women’s Right to Know Law, a great bill. Twenty-three states now have such
legislation. It means that before a woman has an abortion, she be made aware of its
risks and alternatives. This bill was passed in 2003, but it didn’t happen overnight. It
took ten years of people working hard to put pressure on legislators for that bill to be
passed and signed into law. That’s just one example of how the people we vote for can
help to save lives, and when we speak up for life, they have to listen to us. Getting
involved can mean an op-ed letter to the editor, praying in front of an abortion clinic,
donating to MCCL or a pro-life group, praying for the unborn, talking about this issue
with people, having discussions online, and calling our elected officials.

And finally, we have to be vigilant and be on guard to avoid apathy. Abortion has been
legal my entire life in the United States. Many might be tempted to think nothing will
ever change. But by being active we can do so much. Unjust laws in our nation’s
history, from slavery to Jim Crow laws to laws preventing women from voting, have
changed only when people were dedicated to helping others see the truth of injustice.
So let’s not sit on the sidelines and think “nothing will ever change” or “who am I? I can’t
do anything about it.”

Here at Saint Joe’s, we have an amazing pro-life group. We have parishioners who pray
at Planned Parenthood, and are active in educating people on why it is so important to
choose life. Every human being is created in the image of God, and is worthy of life and
love. By being informed on this issue, speaking up for those who have no voice, and
reaching out with compassion to those who have been affected by its after-effects, we
can do so much to make that truth known, healing hearts and changing attitudes – but
only if we let the Holy Spirit work through us to be people of action, not silence.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Feast of the Baptism of the Lord Reminds us of Our Mission

One of the things Christmas reminds us of us how God loves us so much that He dwells
among us, and shows us precious we are to Him. This weekend, our Christmas Season
comes to an end with the Baptism of the Lord, and once again, as Jesus begins His
ministry at this moment, we again are reminded of how our God is with us always.

While all of us as Catholics are baptized, when we celebrate it as Christians, it gives us
the grace and strength to overcome sin through the virtues of faith, hope and love, and
it incorporates us into the life of the Church. So what’s going on with Jesus then? He
certainly doesn’t need virtues to overcome sin if He has no sin and is God Himself. And
He’s the one who establishes the Church founding it on Peter.

Jesus, through His baptism, is doing His first thing in public – and that is standing by you
and me in line. He’s encouraging us through this act to do what He does – to focus on
repentance and becoming a better person, and taking up our mission too.

Tomorrow starts the season of ordinary time. The color of green is used, as green is
meant to symbolize hope and life. Think spring – the hint of green on the trees in early
spring or seeing that green substance again under the snow reminds us of new life.
Eventually the snow and ice melt away and the landscape comes back to life again.
That also happens from our souls too as spiritual growth happens, and through our
baptism, we can think about our own spiritual growth and how we can help fan the
flames of faith in the greater world.

Our own personal growth is something we’ll focus on a bit more here come March when
we begin the season of Lent, but really it’s not limited to the 40 days of the Lenten
Season. When we are baptized, we are claimed for God. (And certainly unbaptized can
go to heaven; you might remember “limbo” as this kind of perpetual happy state but not
quite heaven that was taught once upon a time. Well there was no real theological basis
for it which is why Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI definitively removed it from the Catholic
lexicon). So what is happening is on the one hand, when we say a person is removed
from original sin, think of it as turning someone toward God. It isn’t a personal fault of
anyone (hard to think an infant is capable of sin when we use the term “innocents” to
describe babies). But rather human nature has been wounded, and as humans we are
inclined to sin. Through baptism, a person is turned back toward God and given special
grace and strength. The “effects” of original sin, and temptations to sin, which we call
“concupiscence” though remain. So what do we do about it? Well we don’t presume
baptism punches our ticket to heaven. But we continually look at ways we can grow in
grace and become better people by examining our conscience, going to confession,
receiving Holy Communion, finding time for prayer, and realizing that we are always
works in progress. It’s important to rejoice in the progress we make while always
realizing there’s room for growth, and sometimes sins can crop up again when we least
expect it. That’s nothing to be afraid of because God loves us – but it’s something we
must acknowledge.

Second, we participate in the mission as an evangelist. We believe that Jesus is a
priest, prophet and king. During the baptism rite, the oil of chrism is placed on our
forehead. This symoolizes the Holy Spirit and symoolizes God’s favor and presence.
We are a priest by living a life of prayer; a prophet by talking about who God is; and a
king by leading through example. So this means that daily, our mission will take on
different forms. We pray daily to grow closer to God. We lead a life of example of doing
some things and avoiding others to inspire others as often we are the only Bible a
person ever reads. And we at various moments in our lives talk about what our faith
means to others and why we believe what we do. That’s why growing in holiness but
also our understanding of the faith as life goes on is so important if we are to evangelize
one another.

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas Season, but as you put away the tree (assuming
it’s plastic like mine) and the manger, remember that while Christmas invites us to look
back and be reminded every year how much we are loved, the Christian should also be
always looking forward as Jesus does at His baptism. His mission will entail both joy but
also suffering and difficulty – but He will see it through to the end. Our mission can be
tough at times too – turning away from sin and being faithful to the Gospel which we’ll
hear on Ash Wednesday as the ashes are placed on our foreheads is a challenge to
sometimes live out. But it’s something that we can do through the grace God gives us at
our baptism and through His ever presence in our lives, not just as an infant who came
many years ago but as one who is always there for us. Like Jesus, may we focus on our
mission ahead which can ultimately lead us to heaven if we strive to daily welcome
Jesus into our hearts and be a people of hope, to bring God’s love into this world
through our words and actions.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Living Out our Faith Takes Work

Twice a year, the Catholic Church celebrates what is called an “Octave,” or an 8-day
celebration because of the magnitude of the event. These occur at Christmas and
Easter.

In Easter, all of the readings are from after the resurrection, and some are duplicated in
the following Sundays. It takes on a very festive feeling after the solemn days of Lent,
which the focus on the resurrection and triumph of Jesus over death.

Christmas certainly is festive too. But you find some days in there that certainly don’t
seem all the festive.

For instance the 26th is Saint Stephen’s Day; Stephen being the first martyr of the faith.
The 28th we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents who were killed by Herod. The
29th is the feast of Thomas Becket who was killed by the English king’s knights in a
power struggle. And when we get to today’s feast of the Magi, while it is often depicted
as three astrologers from the East who come to see Jesus, the journey was certainly
very difficult and took quite some time to make. There’s a lot to unpack, but when we
look at the Octave of Christmas, we can get an understanding of how the faith is really a
journey in so many ways with some challenges we all have to face.

One among them is the necessity of patience. One account of the Magi’s journey
estimated it at 2 years. While we don’t know the exact length, it’s pretty obvious they
couldn’t take a flight or a train. When we try to live out our faith, that can be tough.
There can be spiritual dryness, where we don’t feel God’s presence. Then there’s the
waiting we have to do too as we pursue our vocation; seminary took me 6 years and
every married couple goes through ups and downs waiting to get married as they learn
a relationship takes work. There’s patience too that is needed with other people as we
hope for them to get more active in our faith; (on Saint Stephen’s Day we hear of a
young man named Saul helps to kill Stephen who later goes on to become a saint). And
patience with ourselves is needed too as we deal with the daily battle against sin. When
we are patient though we realize that we don’t go from sinner to saint in a day but that
it’s a journey – patience though has to be a part of it.

We also need to be aware of what children go through, as parents, but all of us, share in
helping young ones come to know who God is. Typically we think of childhood as a
happy, carefree time. And certainly for many kids there is that part of it, and many of us
look back on childhood with some great memories. But sadly, the reality is childhood
also has many challenges too. Some children are never born at all; and we must strive
to develop a pro-life mentality by working for an end to abortion and helping people to
choose life, not thinking this issue something we can do nothing about. Thanks to
sidewalk counselors, pro-life centers, and groups who help people chose life, lives are
saved each year. Some children also endure abuse. The clergy abuse scandal revealed
what happened when people said nothing and ignored sin. But abuse is far more
common in families, as there are many more families than priests, and as such we must all be vigilant in protecting children, reporting abuse anytime it’s suspected. More
common though is children dealing with issues such as bullying and stress. When we
become aware of these things we need to be there for kids to listen and affirm them.
Kids also deal with a lack of faith formation in the home, which is why it’s so important to
be involved and teach them the faith, take them to Mass, and pray with them. Even if
you aren’t living under the same roof, by looking for opportunities to talk about the faith
with them when you see them, or to spend time with them on the phone listening to
them, it can do so much to help fan the flames of the faith.

We also must be aware that we too will be persecuted for the faith. There are aspects of
our faith that are very counter-cultural or politically incorrect. As Catholics, we need to
be aware of that and help others understand things like the sanctity of life in the womb;
why we are against capital punishment; marriage as between a man and a woman; the
needs of immigrants, etc. It’s important we don’t fear having discussions and arguments
with others and engage those who aren’t active in the Church to we can help catechize
and evangelize. The faith isn’t meant to be kept within the Church.

The feast of Epiphany reminds us that Jesus comes for all of us. As Catholics, we want
to balance ecumenism, or working with people of other faiths, with the reality that Christ
indeed did create one, not multiple churches. For those of other faiths, I do believe
evangelization and missionary work is good, which is why we can’t fear talking about
our faith. But I also believe the truth of the faith will be fully revealed to those who did
not learn it when they die and stand before Jesus (the theologian Fr. Karl Rahner
referred to this as the “Anonymous Christian.”). However, even within our own Catholic
faith, some people can have tunnel vision and think “their way” or the way things are
done at their parish, or their preferred style of liturgy, is “holier” than the other parish, or
they can be quick to criticize something in a bishop or pope they don’t like. Lets leave
the governance of parishes up to bishops and the pope. Certainly we can have opinions
and lively discussions about liturgy and devotionals and the teachings of our Church;
that’s a good thing to be engaged. But we also can’t condemn other styles that the
Church says are perfectly acceptable simply because we dislike them.

Lastly, as I said on Christmas, as life goes on, continually give Jesus the gift of yourself.
Jesus accepts us as we are; and we give to him our acts of love and charity. But we
also give to Him our sins and struggles. The infant Jesus stayed with Mary and Joseph
after the Magi left, but the risen Christ the King journeys with us always after we leave
Mass.

A popular saying is “wise men still seek Him” and that’s very true. The Christmas Story
is one of God seeking us out – so let Him into your lives. The journey after we say “yes”
to Christ isn’t an easy one. We’ll still have struggles along the way, and people might
not like what we have to say. But we must never fear ourselves or the world or the
future, for Jesus is with us always. So seek the King of Kings who seeks you.
God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Keeping the Family Healthy and Holy

Odds are this time of year you’ve been seeing family more often. You’ve sent out the Christmas cards and received them to hear about loved ones. You’ve had family get-
togethers. And hopefully the Christmas Season has allowed you to reconnect.

Then there is of course the people you life with under the same roof that you see every
day. More than likely with vacation this time of year you’re spending more time together
too.

For the most part, that’s a good thing, as we love one another in our families. But we
also of course drive one another crazy at times. We can fight over petty things whether
we are kids or adults. We can hold grudges. And we can just kind of get on one
another’s nerves. But at the end of the day, hopefully love always wins out.

This weekend, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. We know very little about the
time of Jesus birth to the time He begins His ministry. But many artists have depicted
the life of the holy family using the images that would be reflective of our own families;
Jesus, Mary and Joseph together as one under the same roof, working and spending
time together. Surely there must have been so many good things that happened under
the roof at Nazareth.

Holiness and the health of our families is something we all strive for. So how do we do
it?

I’ll preface this by saying I am not a family therapist (though I did see part of an episode
of “Dr. Phil” once). But I am a part of a family, and also as a priest come to know many
families. And there are some things that I truly believe can be very helpful.

Prayer. Prayer is how we communicate with God. When a family prays together, it hits
home a very important point: God is at the center of our lives. Prayer is a reminder that
God is above school, the careers, the sports and everything else. When we pray
together, we ask God to strengthen our families, and we also pray for one another’s
needs.

Communication. On the one hand, we are more connected than ever with our smart
phones, social media, and talking and texting all the time. But I wonder if we are more
connected to our job or friends than the people under our own roof? There is no
substitute for face-to-face communication. When you sit down to a family meal, or have
a conversation together without the distractions of the TV or the phone, it can do so
much to help people to grow. It’s so important to know what’s going on in the lives of
one another.

Listening. Listening is hard. We are often quick to give advice, to correct someone, or
to talk, but listening can work wonders. It forces us to hear a person’s whole story. It
affirms them and says their opinion matters. And it also can help us pick up on things a person might not be saying such as stress with a teacher or at work. Forcing ourselves
to listen to others in the family and be engaged by looking at them in the eye, and not
“half listening” as we look at the TV or the phone is so important for us to deepen
relationships between one another. It’s amazing what we learn when we force ourselves
to be silent.

Downtime. I think sometimes families can be so overextended; each kid is in a few
sports leagues, and then you add homework, shopping, household chores and the time
is gone. I remember at a prior parish I was at though I was invited over to a family’s
home for dinner and invited to stay for “family game night.” It was a little something they
did each week. It was great to witness. I realize that might not be realistic for every
family, but I do think it is important to have periods of rest. Part of the joy I have in going
to visit my parents is I can just “be me” and unwind and engage in conversation as I
play a game of cribbage with mom or dad or we watch a show on television together.
When you think about our lives some of our best moments are when we are relaxing
with families on trips or at dinner together – it really allows us to connect.

Opening Up. At Christmas, I spoke about how when we come to Jesus, we need not
fear hiding anything from Him. After all, it’s not as if He does not know what we are
going through. But sometimes in families we can hide things from one another. If we
love one another though, our families should be people we can trust. It’s so important
spouses and kids and parents feel comfortable talking to one another about both the
good and the not-so-good. A loved one might not like what we have to say at times, but
we really love one another we have to remember family is there for us through thick and
thin.

The Straight Dope. Coupled with opening up though, it’s so important we are honest
when we see a problem. An unhealthy relationship is one that buries uncomfortable
things; or when a person fears the other’s reaction so they do not tell them what needs
to be said. We love our family members, but sometimes a person needs to hear not
what they want to hear but what they need to hear. A family member can struggle with
an addiction; or some sin that creeps into their lives that they don’t see; or maybe they
are becoming more distant or making a series of bad decisions. Whatever it might be,
we can’t avoid confrontation. But when we are willing to challenge someone (and also
be challenged ourselves) it can do so much for long-term growth for the individual and
the family.

Visiting Extended Family. So often we might only see extended family at the holidays,
or at weddings and funerals. Try to stay connected throughout the year. I think it’s really
important as well to try to visit elderly relatives who may not be as mobile or who may
have lost their spouses. Even just a phone call from time to time can do so much for a
person to remind them they are loved and part of a family.

I’m lucky in that I can see my parents quite often, and from them I’ve learned so much.
They taught me much of what our faith contains and I learned much from the theology books in seminary, but it’s in the domestic church of the family that I’ve learned so much
about how the faith is lived out.

May God bless you and your loved ones, and may you daily grow in love for one
another. Never forget what a precious gift family is. Yes, at times we may drive one
another crazy. But when we open ourselves up to the grace of God, we can also do so
much to bring one another closer to sainthood.

God bless!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Christ is Our Light Every Day of our Lives

Each year at Christmas, people will often share a letter that looks back over the year to
share with loved ones some of the high moments of the past year, such as vacations,
events in the lives of kids at school or with sports, or perhaps a new job or a graduation.
They are a way for a person to connect with extended family and friends they might not
see as much as they’d like to.

The thing of it is, while these letters are great, they also are, understandably, not too
personal. For instance, a person probably would not write in a Christmas letter “I’ve
been battling feelings of loneliness, I went to confession a few times but am still
struggling with a sin I worked on last Lent, I’m worried about the future, and haven’t
been to Mass in a while.” But while that would be a little awkward to send to extended
family, I’d suggest it is exactly the kind of letter that God would like to get from all of us.
And that’s because God knows us inside out.

As I’ve mentioned before borrowing the phrase from another priest, we are indeed the
reason for the season. God chooses to become one of us because He wants to show
us how much we are loved. And over the course of His life and ministry, Jesus will do
that culminating with His Resurrection and triumph over death. We’ll hear the words “the
people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light” on Christmas. And my
hope is that you open your eyes to see the light of God’s love in your life.

It starts by realizing God loves you, all of you. He loves the person who comes to Mass,
but He also loves the person who may have an ongoing struggle or is a little rough
around the edges. So invite Him into your life. Make Mass a regular part of your life if it
isn’t. Pray each day. Pick up a Bible or do some spiritual reading. Come to confession a
few times a year. Do an honest look at your life not just at Lent but every day, asking
yourself what you might like to change and ask for His continual help, knowing you can’t
do it alone. We do not know the exact date of Christ’s birth, but the feast falls right at the
winter solstice as the days get ever so slightly longer from here on out. Little by little too
the light of Christ needs to increase over the course of our lives as we develop an
ongoing relationship with this God who is love.

Finally, let others in. I was reminded of the importance of this not too long ago. I tend to
be a bit reserved; I like to make folks laugh or tell a joke or a story, but I also am a bit
uncomfortable showing grief. In August and September, my large dog, a Golden
Pyrenees named Kirby, got ill and dealt with a rapidly growing cancer that took his life. It
was (and still is) quite difficult, as he’d been with me every day for the past 7 years, and
was my first dog. When he crossed over, I wasn’t planning on talking about it much at
the office. Part of me felt like I had to move on quickly. But seeing I was hurting, the
staff were there with their support. My family were too of course. And every single one
of the kids in our school signed cards which were given to me by each grade. This was
so helpful, and reminded me that I was loved and I did not have to hide pain. The point
is that our simple actions of love can truly do so much to help one another. So on the
one hand, as I learned, don’t feel as if you have to bottle up emotion or pain. Find people you can count on and talk to them about what is weighing on your heart. But
also look for ways to bring the light of God’s love to those in need. The gift of listening,
of compassion and being there for others in moments of need truly does so much, and
is a gift far more valuable than anything in a box. Never forget what an impact you have
on the lives of others.

As we celebrate Christmas this week, I hope you have a wonderful holiday with loved
ones. But as you come to Mass and see the Christ child in front of the altar, and gaze
on Jesus in the Eucharist, remember always that even if you were the only person in the
world, God still would have come for you because He loves you so much.

Have a very blessed Christmas!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: The Light in the Darkness

Sometimes it can be easy to look at the state of affairs in the world and lose hope. But
what if we looked at the state of the world and looked at the people around us and
instead decided to respond with hope? What might happen?

Certainly among many there was little hope when World War I broke out in Europe, and
it became clear that it would be a long war claiming many lives. And while it was known
as the “war to end all wars” as we tragically know, it wasn’t long before another major
war began.

While the reasons for the outbreak of war can fill books, one of the things that is clear
from World War I is that on the one hand, governments tried to stir up their people to
hate the enemy. In 1914 when war broke out in Europe, The high command of both
sides were posed with the challenge of keeping a fighting spirit going by helping the
soldiers to understand just how awful the other side was. And so in World War I,
governments engaged in propaganda the likes of which had never before been seen.
Germans for instance were alleged to have bayoneted small children and attacked
women, and this was why they had to be stopped. In the words of one historian, you
needed a deep moral hatred of your enemy to stop him, and you could not think of him
as just an opponent. You had to hate and to want to kill him.

Indeed, inside humans can be a lot of hate. From Cain killing his brother Abel to the
wars and violence through the centuries that has happened between people of different
countries and religions to right under the roofs of people’s homes in families, humans
can do horrible things to one another. Just look at what we did to God on the Cross.
But the thing of it is, is that despite the cruelty and evil people are capable of, so much
greater is the power of love. God sees this potential in us, which is why the birth of
Christ takes place. And while the power of evil is always there, so much greater is also
the power of good.

As the Great War unfolded, the strategy of appealing to the worst in humanity seemed
to be working as despite the stalemate, fighting was constant with each side firing over
the trenches at one another. And in an effort to boost morale, the Allied High Command
ordered an offensive on December 19th. However, it has the opposite effect. No ground
is gained, and both sides are slaughtered in the largest numbers of the war to date.
Retreating back to the trenches, morale is as low as it has ever been. Christmas is just
6 days away, and everyone knows they will not be home for Christmas.

Both sides do try to cheer up the troops, as letters and warm clothes and gifts are sent
to the front lines from the public. But as it turns out, something very unexpected would
do much to boost morale and it’s certainly something the High Command would not
approve of. And that was the inherent goodness in humanity showing itself.

On Christmas Eve in 1914, in the fifth month of the Great War, Allied soldiers are
astonished by what they see and hear. At first, they think it’s some kind of trick. There
are lights from the German trenches and songs being sung. “Silent Night” is heard in
German, and British Private Frank Sumter recognizes this hymn and so encourages his
side to sing as well, in English. And in some spots along the front, you have the same
song being sung at the same time in different languages.

It was an astonishing sight, but what happened the next day was even more amazing.
Lt. Bruce Banirsfather, a soldier and an artist, fell asleep that night dreaming of a
messenger coming across No Man’s Land with the message that the war was off and
people could go home. That proved to be a dream, but emerging in No Man’s Land was
a German soldier. He had a tree with candles on it. Now at this point, the Christmas
Tree was not known in Europe; only Germans had the tree, and so to the Allied soldiers
this tree with candles was rather strange. But it was a gesture and one by one, the
British began to pop their heads out of the trench. Private Leslie Walkington who was
there that day said at first they were quite scared, as you were told to kill these other
people, but then really you realize that these young boys were not made to kill one
another and were really just afraid of one another.

Others that morning said “if he can do it we can do it” and on both sides, men began to
emerge from the trenches. They walked into No Man’s Land, and shook hands. Initially
they were afraid, but after they shook hands, they realized that the other side was not
what the Propaganda Machine from the government had made them out to be. A mutual
consent emerged that there would be no fighting that day, and now they were shaking
hands, laughing and talking.

As they spent the day over the trenches, a spirit of friendship emerged. They talked and
conversed; they played soccer together. Barbara Littlejohn, the daughter of a soldier,
also remembers her dad telling her how a German cut the hair of a British soldier for
him. One British Soldier wrote: “My dear father, mother and girls; just a line to let you
know that I’ve had quite a merry Christmas to talk about. Never saw a friendlier sight;
one officer took a photo of troops from both sides; they met in no man’s land from both
sides and swapped cigarettes and it was rather like a crowd at a football match. We
exchanged bits of food, just like a lot of boys from neighboring schools.” And they also
saw for the first time the horrors of war and what it was doing to both sides. Dead
bodies were in many places; and each side showed respect. Robert Renton, a British
Corporal, writes of how Germans would join the British in burying French soldiers. They
also found the hate they had been taught was unfounded, as they really were not all
that different from one another. One British soldier found that his uncle and the uncle of
the German worked close by one another. Another actually borrowed a German helmet
and returned it to the German soldier later in the day – an incredible act of trust.

While sadly fighting resumed the next day, in one moment of darkness this was
changed in a most unexpected way – the singing of some troops causing others to sing,
and the brave actions of a man bringing a Christmas tree to others.

There’s no getting around people do horrible things to one another. But as we celebrate
the coming feast of Christmas and mark this Third Sunday of Advent with the rose
colored candle that reminds us to rejoice, may we never forget that inside all of us is the
power to do so much good for one another.

With that in mind, as we finish up the gift buying and head into Christmas, may we strive
to be the light in the darkness in the lives of others. Just as a simple action daily can do
so much – let’s make sure our eyes are always open for new ways to bring joy into
people’s hearts and souls, not just one day a year, but every day.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Are you a Joyful Person?

Something I see quite a bit around Saint Jos’s are joyful people. When I walk in the
office, I see Ann greeting people with a smile and friendly “hello.” I’ll see Josh, one of
our maintenance people, washing a window and asking me how I’m doing. I’ll come to
commission night and feel a sense of positivity in the room as we share a meal and
come together. And at Mass, you see people smiling and hanging around afterwards to
talk to one another. Joy abounds!

I have to tell you, that’s not the case in every parish. Sure, we have rough days at Saint
Joe’s, but they are the exception, not the norm, and what I don’t see here is a spirit of
negativity or cliques. In some parishes you come in and it feels about as uplifting as a
long line at TSA at the airport, or you go to Mass and no one smiles, and people stare at
a parent who has a fussy child or the person who had the audacity to sit in a space that
they normally don’t sit in. Other times there’s intense friction between different people in
the parish. Thankfully I don’t see that here. Instead, I see a whole lot of joy.

Joy is a good thing, and this week’s readings have joy throughout them.

We hear from the prophet Baruch, ‘Take off your dress of sorrow and distress.’

We hear from the psalmist, ‘we are filled with joy.’

We hear from St. Paul, ‘I pray for all of you, I pray with joy, remembering how you
helped spread the Good News.’

We hear from the Gospel of St. Luke, ‘And all shall see the salvation of God’.

Pretty uplifting stuff. And so, a question for us to think about this week is how do we
radiate true joy in our lives? I think it comes down to being a person of action and a
prophet.

With respect to action, by how we lead our lives in terms of our relationships with
people, we can do so much to help them see God more clearly, and to be people of joy
too. Its so many little things we do – bringing a spouse flowers on an ordinary day;
helping a son or daughter with homework; or spending time together as a family, that in
and of themselves might seem so insignificant, over a lifetime, those little moments can
do so much to foster faith. And so over these next couple of weeks as we are running
around from malls to card stores to post offices, my hope is we don’t forget that while
the gifts under the tree will be great, so much more so are all those intangible gifts that
we give over the course of the year in the forms of kindness and love that will do so
much to change hearts and win souls for Christ.

Finally, while those gifts of kindness and love need to apply to those we know in our
families, they also need to apply to the people that sometimes can get forgotten.
Prophets reminded the people of God’s presence and love for them, and we must
remember we share in that ministry through our baptism. It’s so easy to take for granted
what people do, and to see them just for their function first, rather than their humanity.
And while we do not have to be everyone’s best friend, I think more and more in a
society that gets less personal, it’s so easy to become blind that we are to see everyone
as Christ sees them, and must treat one another with love. So do little things, such as
thanking someone for the job they are doing or taking a few moments to get to know someone at the office, rather than starting the conversation with “can you take care of
this for me.” It can mean calming down when service as slow at a restaurant rather than
berating a waitress, taking into account that maybe they are short-staffed and she is
going as fast as she can; or not taking out holiday shopping frustration on the clerk
when a return policy isn’t to our liking. By saying a word of kindness to a checkout
person at the mall, it might not seem like much, but their day may just become a little
better because we decided to live out our faith in that moment. So many in our world go
to work day in and day out and feel such little satisfaction, or take seasonal jobs just to
get by or to have some money for their family. I think often we are good at seeing the
big needs of the world and parish, such as poverty or raising funds for building projects,
but we can lose sight of the spiritual needs that people have – one of the biggest of
which is the need for love and to be treated as Christ would treat them. Saint John Paul
II, called this the personalistic norm, which says “A person is an entity of a sort to which
the only proper and adequate way to relate is love.” When we do that, we can do so
much in helping one another realize how much we are loved by God, and help to shed
light on the darkness that can sometimes fill our lives, by saying with our actions you
are more than a waiter, an administrative assistant, or a cashier: you are a human being
who is unique and created in the image of God.

When I look at my life and the people who handed on the faith to me, I learned so much
not just from seminary, but through the hard work my parents did at their jobs, but also
at home in helping me with homework; in seeing them help my grandparents, and
seeing them make sacrifices for their family – things they did out of love for others. I
look back and see what they have done, and continue to do, and see a faith that is put
into practice on a daily basis. We may not have a constant happiness about shoveling
the driveway or sitting on the freeway at 7 a.m., but my hope is we do have a constant
joy in our lives – a joy that reflects our faith, and permeates every day and causes us to
do what we do for the glory of God, out of love for Him and one another.

Have a joyful week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Celebrating the Season of Advent

This week, we began our journey through Advent.

So what does the season really entail? After all it can get kind of lost as we go into
Christmas mode with the lights, cards, shopping and Christmas music (all good things
to do and enjoy, but it’s also worth remembering it is a holy time of joyful waiting as we
prepare to celebrate our Savior’s Birth).

The word Advent is from the Latin “adventus” for “coming” and is associated with the
four weeks of preparation for Christmas. Advent always contains four Sundays,
beginning on the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, (November 30)
and continuing until December 24. It is not a penitential season but a season of joyful
waiting; a time of the liturgical theme of preparation for the Second and Final Coming of
the Lord and has a joyful theme of getting ready for remembering the Bethlehem event.

Since the 900s Advent has been considered the beginning of the Church year.

The traditional color of Advent is purple or violet, however the color can be different
from the color used during Lent. This is because Advent is not a penitential season;
Lent is. Therefore, it is a blueish shade of purple or lighter purple.

The Advent Wreath

Customarily the Advent Wreath is constructed of a circle of evergreen branches into
which are inserted four candles. According to tradition, three of the candles are violet
and the fourth is rose. The rose candle is lit the third Sunday of Advent, for this color
anticipates and symbolizes the Christmas joy announced in the first word of the
Entrance Antiphon: “Rejoice” (Latin, Gaudete). Rose color vestments are used too
(though I won’t be offended if you call them pink). We also use Rose Colored vestments
on the Fourth Sunday of Lent; both those days symbolize a kind of a turning of the
corner as we approach the upcoming feasts of Christmas and Easter. As Christmas
gets closer, the light from the candles increases, symbolizing the light of Christ,
dispelling the darkness.

What to do during the season?

While we are looking forward to celebrating Christmas, really the Christmas event has
already happened. Christ has come the first time. But, he will come again. Advent gives
us the chance to re-order our lives to prepare for that event.

For one, think about how you can see God better during this time. Think about where
your energies are going, and keeping your eyes fixed on the final destination which is
heaven.

Thus, Advent recalls the Lord’s first coming, his final return, and his presence among us
now in the life of the Church. So look for God here, not just in the manger but all around
you. We can see God better by making more time for God; by praying; by making Mass a priority; by celebrating confession (we have our penance service as a parish this
Monday starting at 6:30, and the Third and Fourth Sunday of Advent I will also be in the
confessional an extra hour). Find a kind of spirituality that works for you, and use it. It
could be the rosary; or reading a chapter from the Bible each night, or just spending
five minutes in conversation with God using a prayer you like or a prayer from our heart.
We should make sure that while there was no room for Jesus when He came into the
world the first time, there is room in our hearts for him to come to us.

Secondly, Advent reminds us to live each day in preparation for Christ’s return. As
Christians, we do that by reminding the world that Christ is not distant and far away, but
alive. Actions for instance can speak so loudly. I recently celebrated a funeral Mass,
and anointed the person prior to her death. When I go to the hospital, she was next to
her loving husband. Though she could not respond to me, I could see in how attentive
her husband was to her that this sacred moment was one of many moments of love
over the course of their marriage, something that was echoed by her husband when he
shared stories of his wife. All of us have the power to be agents of hope and love by
passing on to others the love God gives us through our actions. We can also give the
gift of our time too. Even taking the time to write a personal note in a Christmas card
can be very meaningful as it says to a person “I care about you.” As we do these things,
it means we are people not just of action, but we use Advent to help people see God.

One final note: Also occurring during Advent is a Holy Day of Obligation, the
Immaculate Conception, which we celebrate next Saturday, December 8th with two
Masses, one Friday evening and another Saturday morning. This feast which celebrates
Mary’s conception invites us to reflect on how we too can be like our Blessed Mother
and be selfless in trusting God completely, and how we can like her bring Jesus to the
world through how we lead our lives.

I hope you have a blessed Advent Season as you prepare for Christmas. While my tree
has been up along with lights for quite some time, and I’m fully in the busyness of
getting ready for Christmas with the cards and shopping, and it’s great to celebrate
Christmas and be in a festive spirit, let’s not forget about this great season.The season
of Advent gives us the chance to reflect upon the fact that while we may get some nice
things under the tree, the greatest gift has already been given to us – God Himself,
coming as an infant born in a manger, and it gives us the time to think about how we
can give that gift to one another throughout the upcoming new year.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: So Much to be Thankful For

As you’ve heard me preach for a few years from now, you probably know my style is to
introduce the homily with a story before getting into the main takeaways from the week’s
readings. I started doing that early on in my priesthood, as I used to listen to “Paul
Harvey’s ‘The Rest of the Story’” every day on the radio and loved learning about
historical figures, but you’d never know who he was talking about until you got to the
end of the story. There was also a seminary priest who would preach that way too, Fr.
Mike Byron who I greatly admired and is a phenomenal preacher. Every priest has his
own style, and it’s the one I’ve felt the most comfortable with. Some weeks it works,
some not so much. Perhaps in a future column I’ll expound upon the “Star Trek II: Wrath
of Khan” homily I gave at a daily Mass at 6:45 a.m. trying to make a point about
revenge, or the time I preached about “Doc Hollywood” at a teen Mass, a lesser known
film from 1991 because I thought it would be a great way to relate to the teens. (Hint: it
was not effective).

One time though I came across a story about a person that was so compelling I wanted
to track them down. Her name is Mary Jackson. She’d been through so much; losing
her husband to ALS; running into red tape while trying to do charitable work in the
Washington, D.C., area, and chronic conditions that set her back not to mention nearly
losing two of her children. (You can read her story here:
https://www.catholicherald.com/news/local_news/they_called_her__sr__mary_/). As I
said last week in my homily, at one point in my life I was working as a reporter so I used
to do a lot of interviews of people, and with the help of the Internet was able to reach
her. We had a great conversation, and Mrs. Jackson is a woman of profound faith.

One of the things I’ll never forget about our conversation is how despite all she has
been through, her faith is as strong as ever. And she mentioned to me that if one wants
to grow in faith, they really need to not just ask God for things, but be thankful for things.
Despite her sufferings, she points out she and all of us have so much to be thankful for.

I couldn’t agree more. There is no getting around life is hard. And it’s important to ask
God for intercessory prayer. But as Mrs. Jackson put it, we should also thank God too.

This time of year gives us a chance to look at what to be thankful for. And as I do that,
here’s a few of the things that I’m grateful for not just at Thanksgiving but every day of
the year.

Life. Every day is a gift.

Family. I’ve been blessed with parents who have been with me always and taught me
so much, a great sister, wonderful grandparents and for the past five years a wonderful
nephew. A joy of each day is being able to talk to my parents on the phone and see
them regularly, and while seminary taught me so much about the faith, my parents have
done so much to teach me about the faith in action.

The Parish. I really love being here at Saint Joe’s. I’m surrounded by so many great
people who give selflessly of their time and talent to make our parish thrive. We have so
much going on in our parish: a thriving school and preschool; active commissions; and
scores of ministries. It’s so uplifting to be in a parish where people work so well
together, there’s no “turf wars” and people really come together for the greater good.
And I really feel welcome here like part of a family – it’s an honor to be your priest.

Staff. I work with amazing people. Our staff is so dedicated and go above and beyond
the call of duty because they, like me, really care about our parish. As with the parish as
a whole, internally the staff really functions much like a family. We pray for one another,
help one another out, and see one another as serving the greater good. In some
parishes there can be so much dysfunction both in the community, on staff or both, but
that’s not the case here. What it is is an attitude of love and service.

Simple joys of nature. About 10 years ago I really got into photography. My first “photo
shoot” was taking my new camera at the time and going for a walk on a winter’s day in
Medina at the regional park. None of the photos were keepers, but what I remember
that day was taking the time to enjoy the sunset, look at an old barn, and enjoy the
quietness of being in nature. Since that time I’ve taken to bird, wildlife and landscape
photography and getting outside as much as I can. The point is there’s so much around
us to enjoy. So take time to enjoy it.

Knowing God. Coming to know God is a lifelong process and I hope one day to be with
Him in heaven forever. But I see Him at work in my life and in our world, and what a
blessing to have a God who journeys with me, who forgives me, and who helps me daily
to become a better person.

My priesthood. The joys of being a priest are you are with people at their best and
worst moments. Like any vocation it has ups and downs, but I go to bed each day at
peace, content and fulfilled. The people I serve also serve me by making me a better
person and helping me to grow. I learn so much from coworkers and people in the
parish. And I hope I’ve been able to help people too on their spiritual journeys. It’s a
wonderful feeling when you know inside you’ve discovered what you were called to do
with your life and have a vocation that brings you such joy.

My country. I’m so blessed to be an American. Our founders realized our freedoms
were given to us by God, not by a government, and our nation works to preserve them.
We are so lucky to have freedom to speak, to worship, and to lead our lives the way we
do. May we never take for granted the sacrifice so many have made to preserve our
liberty.

My mistakes. I’ve made plenty like we all do. But when we make mistakes in life, or
commit sins, we also learn from them. More mistakes will be made. More sins will
happen. But I know God’s love will forgive me, and I’ll also emerge a better person.
There’s other things to add too. The forthcoming Vikings Super Bowl. Burgers. Pizza.
Turkey dinners with white AND dark meat, potatoes and gravy. Summertime. But there’s only so much space here. I’m sure your list would be pretty long too. The point is
let’s think about it more than just once a year. In life it’s OK to complain sometimes even
to God. But take time to look long and hard at your life and the people who fill it, and I’ll
bet you find there’s so much more to be thankful for than to complain about. We really
are pretty blessed!

Many Blessings to you and your family this Thanksgiving!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Veterans Teach Us So Much

Last weekend, I preached on the importance of loving our neighbor. And if you want to
see how this is lived out, every day among us are people who personify this virtue,
namely our veterans who have served our country and give so much to preserve our
freedom.

While stories of sacrifice abound, one of the ones that has struck me the most was the
story of what happened on a transport ship during World War II. I shared this story back
during the Easter Season in one of my homilies.

On February 2, 1943, a United States troop ship was crowded to capacity. There were
902 service men, merchant seamen and civilian workers on board. The ship was in a
convoy, moving across the waters from Newfoundland toward an American base in
Greenland. It was a dangerous path to take, as German U-boats were constantly going
through the sea lanes, and several ships had already been sunk.

The Dorchester was now only about 150 miles from its destination, but the captain
ordered that the crew sleep in their clothing and to keep their life jackets on. Some
unfortunately disregarded the order because of the heat of the engines, or chose not to wear the jackets as they were uncomfortable.

At 12:55 a.m., a periscope from U-223, a German U-Boat, breaks the surface, and
spots the ship. Three torpedoes are fired, and one hits striking well below the water line.
Water began to flood the ship, and the captain gave the order that everyone abandon
the ship. It had 20 minutes left before it would be sunk.

On board, panic began to set in. A number of the sailors were killed in the initial blast.
The survivors began piling into the lifeboats and rafts, but some were so over-crowded
that they capsized; other rafts drifted away before the sailors could get into them.

However, through the pandemonium, four Army chaplains brought hope in despair and
light in darkness. Lt. George Fox, a Methodist Minister; Lt. Alexander Goode, a Jewish
Rabbi; Fr. John Washington, a Catholic Priest, and Lt. Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed
minister. They tried to calm people down, and help the wounded, and guide those who
were disoriented to safety. The rabbi even gave a sailor his pair of gloves when he tried
to go back to get his pair, as he knew the sailor had to get off the boat. According to one
witness, “I could hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing
that kept me going.”

As the minutes passed and the sailors got topside, the chaplains began giving out the
life jackets. The problem was as they were distributed, they ran out. And with no more
lifejackets in the storage room, each of the chaplains removed theirs and gave them to
four terrified young men. Survivors in nearby rafts reported that as the ship went down,
the four chaplains could be seen linked together arm by arm, and were braced against
the slanting deck of the sinking ship, offering prayers.

One of the survivors, John Ladd, said “It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see
this side of heaven.” In an article written on the event the author stated: “Ladd’s
response is understandable. The altruistic action of the four chaplains constitutes one of
the purest spiritual and ethical acts a person can make. When giving their life jackets,
Rabbi Goode did not call out for a Jew; Father Washington did not call out for a
Catholic; nor did the Reverends Fox and Polling call out for a Protestant. They simply
gave their life jackets to the next man in line.”

These four brave chaplains, like so many of our veterans, have so much to teach us.

For one, our vets show us the importance of sacrifice. Loving God with our whole heart,
mind and soul and our neighbor as ourselves as we heard last week, entails giving.
How far are we willing to go to serve our families, our country, our parish and those in
need?

Vets also show us the importance of unity. As I mentioned last week, sometimes we can
be so polarized and divided. The four chaplains were all of different faiths, but were
united in bringing hope to a dark place. It’s important to stand for what we believe in, but
can we work for greater unity in our Church and country? Can we strive to bring people
together rather than be divisive?

So too to vets teach us humility. I’ve never met a veteran who wanted to boast of what
they did in the service. When you meet veterans, it’s not about themselves, it’s about a
greater good. And you see them continuing to serve too quietly in so many ways even
after they leave the service through their volunteering and continued dedication to our
country.

This Sunday, we honor all of our vets. But while this is a holiday once a year, I think
every day we can pray for our veterans. When we see a person who served or who is in
active duty, we can thank them. And we can look to them and remember what it truly
means to serve something greater than ourselves.

You also might have noticed our new honor wall, which will be blessed after our 8:30
Mass Sunday. A group of Saint Joseph’s parishioners who are veterans have been
working on this since last spring, meeting and coming up with ideas and then putting
those ideas into motion to make our Veterans Wall a reality. This wall bears names of
any parishioners who have served in our military dating all the way back to the Civil
War. It will continue to have names added in future years as well. Please stop by and
take a look, and keep all of our vets in your prayer.

Edmund Burke, the Irish politician, famously said: “All that is necessary for evil to
triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Thank God for the men and women who do
something to stand up to evil, to fight for truths that matter, and for our great country.
May God bless them and keep them in His loving embrace, and may we never forget
the great sacrifice all those who serve and have served make.

God bless,

Fr. Paul