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Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Saint Maria Goretti, Alessandro Serenelli and the Triumph of Love and Mercy

Saint Maria Goretti, Alessandro Serenelli and the Triumph of Love and Mercy 

Though there are many horrible forms of sin that we witness every day, I think for most the abuse or harm of a child would rank near the top.

So if you tuned on the nightly news, and saw that a man was arrested for taking the life of a 12-year old girl he tried to rape, how might you respond? Understandably you would be horrified, or angry. Perhaps you’d hope that he received the death penalty if you lived in a state with capital punishment. You might see his mug shot and conclude from the bases of that 30 seconds on the news that this is a reprehensible disgusting person.

Indeed, when Alessandro Serenelli was arrested, by all accounts there was not much to love in this man.

Allessandro was a neighbor of the Goretti family, a poor family of farmers who had to work for other farmers.

On July 5, 1902, eleven-year-old Maria Goretti was sitting on the outside steps of her home, sewing one of Alessandro’s shirts and watching Teresa her infant sister, while Alessandro was threshing beans in the barnyard. Knowing she would be alone, he returned to the house and threatened to stab her with an awl if she did not do what he said; he was intending to rape her. She would not submit, however, protesting that what he wanted to do was a wrong. She fought desperately and kept screaming, “No! It is a sin! God does not want it!” He first choked her, but when she insisted she would rather die than submit to him, he stabbed her eleven times. She tried to reach the door, but he stopped her by stabbing her three more times before running away.

Apparently he had harassed her before as well.

Alessandro Serenelli was captured shortly after the attack: the police taking him to prison overtook the ambulance carrying Maria to the hospital. Originally, he was going to be sentenced to life, but since he was a minor at that time it was commuted to 30 years; judges even considered he was not as mature as he was expected to be for a 20-year-old, and that he grew up in a poor, neglectful family, with several brothers and relatives suffering from madness and an alcoholic father. It has also been suggested that it was due to her mother’s plea for mercy that he was not sentenced to death.

At first, Alessandro insisted he had attempted to rape her several times and decided to kill her because of her refusal and desperate crying. He remained unrepentant and uncommunicative from the world for three years, until a local bishop, Monsignor Giovanni Blandini, visited him in jail. He wrote a thank you note to the Bishop asking for his prayers and telling him about a dream, “in which Maria gave him lilies, which burned immediately in his hands.

After his release, he visited Maria’s mother and asked for her forgiveness. She said if Maria could forgive him, she could to. They attended Mass together, and received Holy Communion side by side. Alessandro later became a lay brother of the Order of the Friars Minor Capuchin, and lived the rest of his days as a receptionist and gardener until he entered eternal life in 1970. Maria was canonized in June of 1950. We celebrated her feast day Friday, July 6.

In a world where we can judge people so quickly, or be so quick to forget about the wooden beam in our own eye yet see the splinter in our brother’s eye, the story of Maria and and Alessandro illustrates what God’s love and mercy can do.

It reminds us that we must all be aware of our sins. There aren’t too many people who murder or attack children which is why it makes the news when it happens. But sins come in all kinds of forms; the secret things that people do to others; the sins of habit; the sins of secrecy that occur in families where there can be abuse; gossip; greed; envy – it’s an endless list of sin. Sometimes thinking about the sins of others makes us forget about our own sins and the need of redemption. And it would be depressing if we were not in fact redeemed. Alessandro and Maria’s story reminds us that no sin us unforgivable in the eyes of God – we just have to open ourselves to God’s mercy.

But with that, their story is a challenge too to be a person of mercy. When we look to others who’s sins are public, whether it’s in the news or things we hear about, we have to remember we don’t know the whole story, and that when someone reaches out to them, change is possible. For Alessandro, his family had many problems from alcoholism to mental illness. It’s the same story for many who are incarcerated today as well. That often doesn’t get reported. But there are many stories like Alessandro’s in what has happened when people have shown compassion and mercy. Indeed right within our own parish are people who visit prisons and try to help people turn their lives around; and there are many other stories of what love and forgiveness have done to heal broken relationships. We are not called to be a person’s best friend; and when we or loved ones are hurt, anger is understandable. There is nothing wrong with wanting justice or never having a relationship with the person. But when we pray, we can perhaps try to pray for those in prison, or those who have wronged us. And perhaps at some point, like Maria and her mother did, we might reach out to someone to talk with them, to forgive them, and to remind them that they are loved by God.

There’s a lot of anger out there these days, and we should have a justified anger when we see injustice or evil action. But we should also do something about it, and remember that grace transformed people like Paul who persecuted and helped kill Christians and Alessandro who took the life of a young woman and turned them around. May we use that grace too to help others experience the healing powers of God’s love, and never give up on those who seemingly have walked away from God, but rather through prayer and mercy strive to help them to find a lasting relationship with the God who is love.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Peter and Paul Remind us of Unity in Diversity

As June came to a close, our Church celebrated the solemnity of the feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29th. What strikes me though when I think of both of these leaders of our faith is how both were very different, yet very much united.

One the one hand, Paul was educated; Peter a fisherman. Peter was apparently a better speaker; Paul better at writing. And both had differences of opinion in terms of how to minister to new people coming into the Church. Yet through it all, both men were united and overcame any differences to use their gifts to help the Church grow.

Indeed, if you’ve ever seen an icon of Peter and Paul, they are often depicted closely together giving one another the sign of peace.

Thinking about the situation in the world today, to me it seems Peter and Paul and how they lived and evangelized is more timely than ever. This is because there can be so much division.

On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with some division. It’s a good thing for people to like different things and have different interests; it’s also a good thing in the Church to have people with different gifts and talents, and even some different liturgical styles. But sometimes things can go a bit too far. When we look at someone who differs from us as less of a coworker in the vineyard and more as a threat or someone we have to “fix” this can be a problem. Certainly there is a balance, in that there are some things that are non-negotiable in our faith and moral teachings. We also believe that our Church is exclusive in that Christ created one, holy, catholic apostolic Church, not thousands of denominations. But what we can learn from Peter and Paul is how to both work together and how to evangelize to others.

A starting point is knowing that we are all the same: equally sinners, but equally loved by God. Humility is a good thing. All the great saints have it; remember Saint John the Baptist who said He was not worthy to untie the sandals of Jesus and who humbly pointed the way to the Lord. Paul would often boast of weaknesses or call himself least of the apostles for his past in persecuting the Church. Peter’s first words to Jesus are to depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man. Neither of these holy men assumed they had a right to anything, yet Jesus calls them. And His love and the Spirit transform them. As Christians, we must always be aware of the two sides of the coin. On the one hand, recognizing that we have gifts, and also having fortitude because there may indeed be a “right” way and a “wrong” way, in particular when we work with others on faith and morals. But on the other, we also must remember we are works in progress. Sometimes it can be easy to slip into arrogance or a condescending demeanor to others. Even after they followed Jesus, both Peter and Paul sinned again like we all do. But they are saints because they never let that authority and power given to them get to their head.

We also must recognize that there is often more than one way to do something. Peter and Paul knew this well thanks to the Holy Spirit. At the Council of Jerusalem, where the two initially disagree about the requirements for Gentile converts, Peter learns from the guidance of the Spirit that he needs to back off on being so rigid and set in his ways for new converts to follow certain dietary laws and circumcision. Stubbornness can be a real obstacle to spiritual growth and also developing new friendships. Change can be difficult at times, but we have to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit and in one another too. This means being open to change, listening to others, and recognizing the gifts that we each have. I also encourage people to try different things to help in their own spiritual growth. There’s so much our Church offers spiritually in terms of practices and reading material and ways to pray. Maybe you’ve never tried a retreat, a Taize prayer service or a rosary. Check these things out and don’t get stuck in a rut.

We also have to accept the fact that because we are many, we have to let things go at times. The Church is not a democracy; we are guided by the pope and bishops who work with us, and love us, but ultimately will also challenge us. The content of the faith never changes, but our understanding of it and how we live it out does change over time. At the universal level, we may see liturgy changes, or receive a teaching from the pope or bishops that might challenge us. The struggle isn’t a bad thing – but taking an attitude of “the pope and bishops have no authority to change the structure of the Mass” or “Who’s the pope to tell me whether I can or cannot use birth control” is a problem. He is the vicar of Christ, but he works in conjunction with the bishops of the world and of course the guidance of the Holy Spirit. At the local level, it’s also important we work with one another and accept changes too. Changes are inevitable in parishes on many things; we might not all like them and may disagree, but we need to work together and give our brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt that we are both working towards the same mission, namely making our local and universal Church better under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Thinking things through with prudence is also key. Sometimes we can get set in our ways, but we need to listen and to be open to other ways of doing things. Of course this includes prayer, listening to the voice of God. But it also means listening to others who have different ideas just as Peter listened to Paul at the Council of Jerusalem. We might find that a person we disagreed with initially may in fact be on to something.

Lastly, prayer should always be a part of all that we do. Working with others can be difficult, both in the parish and in the world. When we disagree with people, it can be easy to get frustrated. But they are still our brothers and sisters in Christ. We should open our eyes to their gifts and always keep them in prayer, and pray also for ourselves to be patient and try to see their positives and not just the negatives.

Indeed we are many parts but one body. In an era where things can be so divisive, Peter and Paul remind us to work together with one another to build up God’s Kingdom. We may always have different ideas of how to do it, but hopefully we can strive to focus more on what unites us rather than what divides us.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: This Independence Day, Cherish and Use Your Freedoms

James Madison, the fourth President of the United States, doesn’t get as much notoriety as, say, George Washington or Benjamin Franklin. But as one of the founding fathers and one of the biggest reasons the Bill of Rights came to be, one of the ways he can be under-appreciated is with respect to how strongly he felt to enshrining freedom of speech in our Constitution.

In an article that ran in “National Review” from last September, Jay Cost writes:

In Madison’s view, a free republic depends ultimately upon public opinion. A Constitution could divide power this way and that, but in the end it is the people, and only the people, who rule. And for the people to rule wisely, they have to be able to communicate with one another — freely, without fear of reprisal. Thus, freedom of speech and press were not, for Madison, merely God-given rights. They were preconditions for self-government.

Mr. Cost concludes his article by stating: Madison’s commitment to free speech should serve as a reminder that, while people say things that we might find personally offensive, we should never wish the state to squash their right to do so. Our First Amendment freedoms combined — freedom of religion, of assembly and petition, of press and speech — give us the right to think what we like and say what we please. And if we the people are to govern ourselves, we must have these rights, even if they are misused by a minority.”

Madison was of course joined by the other founders. George Washington said: ““If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”

I think this is more important than ever, because we live in a time where certain very vocal groups want to stifle speech. The State may be prevented from quashing speech – but some might take it upon themselves to do so. These tactics aren’t anything new; they have been used throughout history by various groups on the far left and far right. Some people preach tolerance but they don’t so much tolerate views contrary to their own.

I could not help but think of this when Sarah Sanders, the press secretary for President Trump, was asked to leave a restaurant because the owner found some of her views “immoral.” Let’s think about this for a minute. A couple (the reservation was made by her husband) and their friends make a reservation to dine out. They are not there for anything other than a simple meal. No political rally, no speech, just dinner as paying customers. As I read about this, I could not help but wonder are we really at the point where we are going to have Republican and Democratic Restaurants because we despise each other so much? Can we not find common ground where we can tolerate one another, disagree, but also engage in civil debate and arguing?

The point is this: no matter what your political view may be, as Americans, we should never pipe down just because it is politically incorrect or a contrarian view. The Church has teachings that would make people across the aisle uncomfortable. At the same time, we have to be civil with one another while not being afraid to argue, and not hate someone just because of their political viewpoints.

I think as we celebrate Independence Day with fireworks, barbecues, hot dogs and get togethers, it’s worth thinking about our freedom. Catholics were only marginally tolerated at best at the time of the Constitution, but throughout US History Catholics have spoken out on many matters, from Civil Rights to abortion to marriage. It is disheartening to see that there are some out there who are not just comfortable in disagreeing or looking for an argument, but looking for a true fight or resorting to scare tactics to either change others views or force them to conform. The Catholic Church will always hold views that are not politically popular. But we as both Catholics and Americans should never live in fear of being labeled or offending someone. So what are we to do?

I think a few things to remember are first to try to listen to the other person. We may not agree with them, and we may never agree on certain issues. But listening affirms the dignity of the person, and can give us insight into where they are coming from.

Next, I think it’s good to affirm a person, but we then formulate an argument – to say “I can understand where you are coming from, but here is why I feel so strongly on this.” Remember arguing is different from shouting or just attacking or abuse. (See the classic Monty Python “Argument Clinic” sketch for more detail on the differences). This is why we need catechesis, to know what the Church teaches and why. When are argue, we formulate opinions based on facts or premises. For instance if conversing with someone who said one religion is good as all or I don’t have to go to Mass, I’d start by thanking them for conversing with me, and that it seems they are looking for deeper meaning in life. I wouldn’t jump to “you have to go to Mass” but talk about something such as love – a need we all have, and how when we love someone we get to know them better, and how when we are loved we are made better. I might move on to talking about how Mass and prayer make us better people and help us on our life long journeys. My hope would be the conversation would continue, but it would require patience.

Patience is also important. It can be very frustrating when people reject teachings of the Church. But as we heard two weeks ago at Mass, the mustard seeds take time to grow – so don’t give up on people.

Lastly, tolerance is an important moral principle too. I can break bread with people from different political backgrounds. I can agree to disagree. And this is so very important for us not just as Americans but as humans. But while I will certainly tolerate a person, I will also not be fearful of never engaging them in dialogue or challenging them too. We are not called to keep our beliefs private behind the stained glass windows – we are called to bring them out into the world and to be a true evangelist.

So as we mark our country’s birthday this week, lets remember Madison and the founders were onto something very important, which is why the worked so hard to defend it. Ideas may offend, that’s a good thing, but an even better thing is getting someone to think rather than shout.

Happy Independence Day,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: We Should Take Pride in our Entire Identity, Not Just Part of It

Every June in major cities around the world, what is commonly called “pride” week or month takes place. The period focuses on those who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender celebrating their identity and culture.

On the one hand, taking a stand against discrimination is a good thing. There is no excuse for ever taunting, demeaning or insulting someone.

However, every year when I see this festival, the “pride” parade, or the other events, I respectfully disagree with what I think the focus has become. If this were just about respect and non-discrimination, I think that would be a great thing. But, defined at the Twin Cities Pride Festival website as simply a “celebration of the LGBTQ community,” I would contend there is much more to celebrate than part of one’s identity.

I remember in seminary, our rector at the time, Bishop Frederick Campbell, commented one day on “pride” movements, saying that the problem was they focused on only part of one’s identity, not the whole human person. He’s right. The problem is in a society that puts so much emphasis on sexuality, this part a person’s identity can dwarf over the other things that make up a person. A person is one created in the image and likeness of God. A son or daughter. A friend. A family member. A good listener. A hard worker. The point? Many things, not just one, make up our identity.

And others share these views too. Eighteen years ago, a gay pride parade came to Rome. Saint John Paul’s response? He said this was an “offense” to Christian values and an insult that commanded acrimony. His exact words: ”In the name of the Church of Rome I can only express my deep sadness at the affront to the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 and the offense to the Christian values of a city that is so dear to the hearts of Catholics throughout the world.” He went on to say “Homosexual acts are contrary to the natural law…The Church cannot be silent about the truth, because she would fail in her fidelity to God the Creator and would not help to distinguish good from evil.”

More recently, Pope Francis also gave a speech with respect to the importance of heterosexual parents. Talking to about 25,000 followers from the diocese of Rome, the pope said the differences between men and women are fundamental and an “integral part of being human..” He said: “Children mature seeing their father and mother like this; their identity matures being confronted with the love their father and mother have, confronted with this difference.”

Now does this mean that the Church somehow “hates gays” as some in the media would say or is “homophobic”? Far from it. For Pope Francis also affirmed to a gay man that God loved him, and when asked about saying “who am I to judge?” in reference to gays, he stated: “On that occasion I said this: If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person? I was paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized…because before all else comes the individual person, in his wholeness and dignity,..And people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love…I prefer that homosexuals come to confession, that they stay close to the Lord, and that we pray all together…You can advise them to pray, show goodwill, show them the way, and accompany them along it.”

What I love with the comments of both Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II is they get to the Catholic response to a culture that has done what Adam and Eve did in taking from the fruit of the tree of which they were forbidden to eat: taking what belongs to God and applying it to man, namely defining morality. God has ordered natural law; it is not up to us to re-define it, as we have done with marriage. This is why on the one hand it is so important to respect the dignity of the human person, but also on the other to not be afraid to speak up for what we believe, even when doing so could cause one to be called names, labeled or ostracized. We as Catholics cannot shy away from the truth.

So what then is our response to those who want to re-define marriage? How do we walk the line between tolerance and respecting one’s choices, but at the same time speak out on the truth that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that marriage is the proper place for physical relations between people?

First, we start with love and charity. I realize this is a difficult issue for people; many of us have family members or friends who have same sex attractions or may be in a same-sex relationship. If I had a sibling or close friend who asked me to be at a “gay wedding”, while I obviously would not officiate, because I loved that person and cared about our relationship, I would attend. (And indeed I’ve told people who’ve asked me if they could attend that they could). Why? Because perhaps a good starting point is showing someone that you love them and care about them. It could be down the road, because you stood by them and they remembered this, that this is the impetus for further conversation.

Second, that loves means we must never discriminate or show hate. I think perhaps the original intent of pride festivals was a good one – people saying we as a group have been harassed and ridiculed and lived in the shadows and this is wrong. There is never an excuse for cruelty. Jesus would not use hurtful language, and neither should we.

Third, we can’t though be afraid to remember that as Catholics we have to live out the spiritual works of mercy. These include instructing the ignorant and admonishing the sinner. These are very counter-cultural in an age of relativism. But as I’ve said before, is our goal to make others “feel good” or avoid conflict, or do we truly want to help others? This does not mean we go looking for a fight, but engage in a true argument (not a shouting match or online war of words). There is a reason “God created them male and female.” There are reasons why it is beneficial to have two parents of the opposite sex. There are goods that come from marriage as being defined in it’s definition from God as between a man and a woman. We should not shy away from these. And of course, as we do so, we have to expect people may not like what we have to say. But we might start to get people to think and get past emotion on these issues, which may eventually lead to them seeing the truth as God defines it, rather than how culture defines it.

Fourth, we have to be patient. As I said, it’s a lot easier to shout or be a keyboard warrior on social media than someone who actually argues and has a discussion. Odds are a person isn’t going to change and at the start may just be angry and hostile. But don’t give up on talking about the truth.

Finally, through it all we of course pray. We pray for strength. We pray for people who disagree with us; who hate us. We pray for all of God’s people.

Indeed, we are called to love one another. But love isn’t just a warm-fuzzie feeling, or saying to someone all is well when it’s not. When we love one another, we truly want them to become a saint and to grow in holiness and virtue. Talking about how to do that isn’t intolerance. It’s OK to make someone feel uncomfortable. It’s OK to stand up for what is true. Doing so might get us all kinds of labels in our modern society, but it also just might help people to think more deeply about what it means to respond to the love that God has given us.

I’d like to close with a link to a great organization I learned about while helping out one summer at the Archdiocesan Office for Marriage and Family Life: Catholic EnCourage. The website address is: https://couragerc.org/encourage/. As noted on their website: “EnCourage is a ministry within Courage dedicated to the spiritual needs of parents, siblings, children, and other relatives and friends of persons who have same-sex attractions. Standing by the true teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, EnCourage members support one another and their loved ones through discussion, prayer and fellowship.” This is an outstanding organization with local chapters that ensures family, friends and those with same-sex attractions first and foremost know that they are precious to God, and helps them on their journey.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Fathers Day,

Fr. Paul

A Prayer for Fathers (from Saint John XXIII)

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

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

I’ll never forget Sister Charlene.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Throughout the year so much has been going on too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless,

Fr. Paul

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

God bless,

Fr. Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless,

Fr. Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless,

Fr. Paul