Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Lenten Ideas from Pope Francis

Each year the season of Lent gives us a time to reflect on our lives, and enter into a time of spiritual growth.

So how do we make the most of the season? Recently seeing a parishioner post on their Facebook page some insights from Pope Francis about the things we can fast from, I went looking for some wisdom from the Holy Father on the season of Lent.

I came across the following from “FOCUS”, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, and thought it was a great way to take a new look at Lent. These are 10 tips that the Pope has spoken on that are great ways to enter into the season, with some thoughts added on to them from the author of this article.

  1.  Get rid of the lazy addiction to evil

“[Lent] is a ‘powerful’ season, a turning point that can foster change and conversion in each of us. We all need to improve, to change for the better. Lent helps us and thus we leave behind old habits and the lazy addiction to the evil that deceives and ensnares us.” – General Audience, March 5, 2014. During Lent, we can think about the sins we battle and look for ways to overcome them, rather than be resigned to evil, particularly sins of habit.

  1.  Do something that hurts

“Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.” – Lenten Message, 2014. While there’s nothing wrong with say, giving up Oreos, sometimes it’s better to focus on how we can enrich others as the pope says. For instance, maybe we’ve spent too much time away from family because are are busy with friends or activities – use Lent to spend more time at home. Or maybe we need to enrich ourselves by spending more time in prayer, choosing Stations of the Cross on Friday night rather than going out.

  1.  Don’t remain indifferent

“Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience. God is not indifferent to our world; he so loves it that he gave his Son for our salvation.” –Lenten Message, 2015. It can be easy to not see the needs of others, both in the world but right under our own roofs. We need to open our eyes.

  1.  Pray: Make our hearts like yours!

“During this Lent, then, brothers and sisters, let us all ask the Lord: ‘Fac cor nostrum secundum cor tuum’: Make our hearts like yours (Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). In this way we will receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart which is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference.” – Lenten Message, 2015. Jesus looks at others with love, always. Sometimes we have a hard time doing that. Use the season of Lent to ask yourself “who do I have a hard time loving as Jesus does” and work on it.

  1.  Take part in the sacraments

“Lent is a favorable time for letting Christ serve us so that we in turn may become more like him. This happens whenever we hear the word of God and receive the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. There we become what we receive: the Body of Christ.” – Lenten Message, 2015. Lent is a great time to celebrate reconciliation; our service is in 2 weeks, on February 27th, along with every Saturday with expanded times the last 2 weeks of Lent. You can also consider trying to make Mass more prayerful; sometimes it can be easy to go on “auto pilot” because Mass becomes familiar. Make a conscious effort to listen to the readings and apply them to your life. Listen to the words of the Eucharistic Prayer, and let God in so He can bring you closer to Him.

  1.  Prayer

“In the face of so many wounds that hurt us and could harden our hearts, we are called to dive into the sea of prayer, which is the sea of God’s boundless love, to taste his tenderness. Lent is a time of prayer, of more intense prayer, more prolonged, more assiduous, more able to take on the needs of the brethren; intercessory prayer, to intercede before God for the many situations of poverty and suffering.” – Homily, March 5, 2014. Prayer can be easy to forget to do as we get so busy with school, work, sports, family activities. Lent is a great time to get back into the routine of daily prayer so we can grow in our love for God.

  1.  Fasting

Sometimes we think of fasting with respect to food. However, it’s important to eat healthy – even our “fast” days are simply one full meal, two small meals, with no snacks. Pope Francis has said: “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.” So perhaps rather than food, we can fast from anger, gossip, or the need to always be right or seen.

  1.  Almsgiving

“Today gratuitousness is often not part of daily life where everything is bought and sold. Everything is calculated and measured. Almsgiving helps us to experience giving freely, which leads to freedom from the obsession of possessing, from the fear of losing what we have, from the sadness of one who does not wish to share his wealth with others.” – Homily, March 5, 2014. There is so much need – but almsgiving can also include not just money, but the gift of time, both to our loved ones and through volunteering.

  1.  Help the Poor

“In the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ. Our efforts are also directed to ending violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world, for these are so often the cause of destitution. When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth. Our consciences thus need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing.” – Lenten Message, 2014. From setting aside some money to help the poor to assisting at charities, there is so much we can do to make a difference.

  1.  Evangelize

“The Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope! It is thrilling to experience the joy of spreading this good news, sharing the treasure entrusted to us, consoling broken hearts and offering hope to our brothers and sisters experiencing darkness.” – Lenten Message, 2014. Praying for others, talking about our faith, inviting them to Mass – there are so many great things we can do to help bring people closer to God.

I hope you have a very wonderful Lenten Season. As you can see from this list, there’s a lot more to the season than meets the eye. Lent is the springtime in the Church; a time for renewal, growth and hope. A truly joyful season, not glum, where we grow in grace to prepare ourselves for the great feast of Easter, but even more so, where we emerge a better Christian prepared to meet our Risen Lord.

Have a very blessed Lent!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Faith Formation Lays the Groundwork for Sainthood

In just over a week, we’ll celebrate the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. On that day, as ashes are imposed on our foreheads, we’ll hear the words “repent, and believe in the Gospel.” The season gives us a chance to look at our lives and ask ourselves where are we going, and what in our lives do we need to change to re-focus on what will never turn to ashes, namely God and the Kingdom of Heaven. To get there requires a response to God’s invitation to follow Him, as we grow in faith, hope and love and learn how to pass on the faith we are given.

It’s especially important for children and youth to learn from an early age just how important God is. Not one of many things in their life, but the most important thing that guides everything else. Of course the message that not just kids, but indeed all of us can get from the world is what matters most is doing what you want, having power, having money, being a success. While there’s nothing wrong with having a good life and a good job or possessions, the problem is these things can take over. A child can become an expert at soccer or get into the perfect school, but if they have no relationship with God, ultimately they are spiritually empty. This is why faith formation is so crucial.

Faith formation starts of course at home. The Second Vatican Council stated in the Declaration on Christian Education: “Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators.” That’s why its so important parents help their children to learn the faith by coming to Mass, by praying together, and explaining what we believe and why.

Helping families is the role of the parish. As such, families deserve the best from their parish and programs that will help their children to grow in their faith. The parish is there to provide for the spiritual needs of the people of God. For children and youth, this means we have programs and classes to explain the faith, opportunities for prayer, ways to live out the faith through service, and other ways for the faith to blossom in people of all ages.

Key in this in parishes are those who work and volunteer in faith formation. It’s the responsibility of the faith formation director to develop a program and work with volunteers and staff to help the faith be passed on.

Currently, we are in the process of searching for a director of Lifelong Faith Formation. Esther Jaeger, who had served in this capacity, is no longer a part of our staff.  I am aware that she journeyed with many over the years in their faith life, and we wish her the best.

As I come up on 3 full years at Saint Joe’s, I can’t tell you how proud I am to work with a very good, dedicated staff. As we went through this transition, I made it a point to thank the staff for all they do. The Ministry Showcase this week is an example of that, as staff and parishioners come together to help our parish thrive, as was Catholic Schools Week last week which highlighted the good things in our school, much of which comes from very dedicated teachers. We are truly blessed with great people here.

As such, the bar is set high. My hopes for the new director of Lifelong Faith Formation is that they will:

  • Have a good knowledge of the faith, and also of people. It’s one thing to know the faith and it’s content, it’s another to pass it on. As my seminary professor said, this the “law of gradualism,” meaning you gently guide people and help them to come to know God and how to respond to God’s love.

 

  • Have great people skills. People do not think of a church as a business, but we are. We are in the business of making saints. It is so important that our staff treat people with kindness, a smile, and make people feel warm and welcome.

 

  • Work well with our amazing volunteers. So many in our parish are so dedicated to faith formation. They serve as a catechist. They come to a Bible study. They sponsor someone for RCIA. They help on a mission trip. This army of people will work with our faith formation director in helping to pass on the faith.

 

  • Come up with new ideas and evaluate our programs. Jesus says “follow me and I will make you a fisher of men” but sometimes you have to go to a different fishing spot and move the boat. Other times you have to use a new lure or try something new to bring in the fish. It’s so important we look at what we do and why we do it, and come up with new ideas and programs so our children and youth are involved.

 

  • Meet people where they are at. Jesus goes out to those in need and we need to do the same. Every family has a different story and is at a different spot on their faith journey; the faith formation director goes out to meet them and invites them to deepen their relationship with God.

As the process unfolds, we’ll make sure everyone is kept up to date. I’ll be conducing interviews with several parishioners on the interview committee. We’ll also continue faith formation in the interim during our search. I have full confidence that there are very qualified, dedicated people out there and as they are coming to an amazing parish, you, the parish, deserve the best. Thank you for your dedication to our parish.

Have a blessed week,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Saint Joseph’s School: Preparing Children for Life & Heaven

As I mentioned in my homily last week, when I visited New York City a few months ago, for all of the amazing buildings, scenery, and of course great food, one of the places that struck me most was the shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.

The first native-born American saint, she was instrumental in starting the Catholic School System by opening a girls Catholic School and founding the Sisters of Charity. From that small school and order, our Catholic school system blossomed.

What really struck me with that shrine though is it is a small church surrounded by buildings and a huge city. It could easily have been sold for millions of dollars, but is preserved as a place of prayer. But it also symbolizes to me how as Catholics, we live in the culture but are not defined by it. Rather, we try to change culture for the better by focusing on what matters most, learning how to be a good citizen, live a good life, but also educating ourselves not just with what will bring us success in the world, but will help get us to heaven.

This is what makes our Catholic School system so important. In the Catholic schools, we have access to things that do a lot to help students grow academically, but at the same time, we are able to talk about why our faith is so important, and help the students to live it out.

We start Catholic Schools Week this week, our annual celebration of the Catholic school system in our country. And while there’s a lot to be said about Catholic schools, my hope is that as we celebrate this important week, we keep a few things in mind.

  1. This is, and always will be, our school. One of the things some priests who are pastors at a parish with a school deal with is the divide that can exist in a parish between “school” people and “church” people. While of course many people send their kids to our school or went to Saint Joe’s themselves growing up, others of course have no children in the school. But both here, in my last parish which had a school too, and wherever the rest of my priesthood takes me, so long as I serve in a parish with a school I will always preach the same thing: this is our school. The church and school are one; literally the same building, but all part of the same family. Any parish that has a school has it as part of it’s operating budget, and as part of the parish. This means that whether a person had children or not, or whether or not they go to the school, a portion of their donation will support the mission of the school. It’s a great investment. So, too, do we support the school through prayers, and through our involvement in school activities.
  2. Living out the faith. Jesus, when He calls the apostles as we heard last week, says “come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” The apostles though begin the journey, but they also have to complete it and act on the call – hence the book Acts of the Apostles as they do this, and work with Jesus in His ministry. Going to Mass, saying prayers, these things are important – but if we do not actually think about what our prayers mean, there’s a disconnect. And this is what is so wonderful about our school: we try to make sure the connection is always there between learning the faith and living it out. Our students celebrate Mass weekly, but throughout the year there is so much more. There is a constant emphasis on respect of others, from anti-bullying to befriending other students. There are service projects during the year, and an emphasis on family with grandparents day and lots of parental involvement. Our students learn how to integrate Catholic teachings, how to focus on social justice, and truly live the faith. Anyone can say “I’m a Christian,” but being a Christian takes work – something that is emphasized to our students.
  3. Teachers see it as a vocation, not just a job. I’ve been consistently amazed at our principal, Kelly Roche, and how hard she and the teachers have worked in seeing what they do as a true vocation. A wise priest told our class a week before ordination, gentleman, there are priests who are station managers and those who are entrepreneurs; be the latter. By this, what he meant is that there are those who punch a clock and work as a means to a paycheck, and those who think bigger. Who want to leave a lasting impact, do new things, and work hard in the vineyard. I see so many entrepreneurs here. Our preschool is a testament to that. Through the efforts of many, it came to fruition, and Shannon Carroll, our preschool director, has helped the preschool to truly blossom. And when I walk into a classroom, when I see a teacher giving a child one-on-one attention; or just the positive attitude and demeanor expressed by the staff, I have to tell you it’s so great to see these things so often. Our teachers are so important in forming us for the rest of our lives, and the staff at our school truly does what they do for the children. We are so blessed to have them.
  4. We have a great curriculum. At Saint Joseph’s, our students are able to get a well-rounded education. There’s the faith component, but also a strong curriculum emphasizing the language arts, writing and math. Graduates of our school consistently excel in high school because of the foundation they receive in preschool through the eighth grade at Saint Joseph’s. On top of this, through service work, they learn how to live out their faith and what is required to be a good steward.

Looking at our school, as I said it truly is a special place. Academically, the school has excellent standards and helps kids to be truly prepared for the next phase of their education. But even more importantly, the children are prepared for the next phases of life and grow in virtue. Children leave Saint Joe’s not just prepared for high school, but better prepared for sainthood.

Celebrating this wonderful week, I’d like to thank all who support our school and please keep all involved in our school, from staff to volunteers to the students and alumni, in your prayers. As you consider education options for your family, I hope you’d consider sending your children to our school or preschool next year too, because it really has so much to offer. We truly have something very special in our parish school – so let’s celebrate that not just one week out of the year, but every day of the year as part of our parish mission and identity.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Be a Fisher of Men Every Day

A few weeks before I was ordained, a reporter from The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the archdiocese, contacted me. They were speaking to each member of our class about our upcoming ordination, and the questions where what you’d expect: who is your biggest influence, how did you become a priest, what are you looking forward to.

There were a few people I talked about that day.

When asked who my heroes were, I said my parents. I was recently looking at some photos of my parents big move in the summer of 1978 a family friend posted online, as he helped them move that day. At the time they were in their early 20s, and were moving into our home on the north side of Minneapolis. That home has a lot of memories, and they worked so hard to create them. Ever since I’ve known them, I’ve known two hard-working people who sacrificed so much for their family, who lived out their faith daily, and who have been a constant beacon to me of how to walk through life. Through how they have lived, I have learned how to live too, and through their encouragement I have been able to discern what God wanted me to do with my life.

The other person I mentioned that day was a man you might know, Fr. Vince Colon. Fr. Vince was the pastor at Our Lady of Victory when I was there from the fourth through the eighth grade. I really have no idea how the idea came into my head, but I remember asking my grandma one day about alter boys, and she said there had not been any at Our Lady of Victory in a few years since Fr. Colon had been there. Now as a priest I have to tell you, as much as I love working with altar servers, I can kind of get not having them too, especially at a smaller parish. It can be easier to just work with the “grown ups,” and indeed there was an older man, Andy, who was present at most Masses. But something got into this introvert in sixth grade, and I walked over to the rectory one day after school. They have an office in the front part of it, and Fr. Vince came to the door. I explained to him that I had an interest in serving at Mass. Now he could have easily said “that’s very nice, what’s your name? Paul, well Paul, that’s nice but we just don’t do that here. Have a nice day.” But, he didn’t. He invited me to serve, and showed me the ropes. He was patient with me as I tried to figure things out like how to hold the book and at what angle, and when to go down to get the gifts. It’s still a little nervous being in front of people but it was even more so as a 12-year old. It was an honor to have Fr. Vince be at my first Mass at that same church years down the road.

This week’s Gospel has Jesus meeting Peter and Andrew, where we hear that famous line “come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” Peter and Andrew form the early Church, and after Jesus ascends to heaven, they will be doing just that through their evangelization and their action. That same commission is give to us too.

Over the course of our lives, there are so many chances we have to be a true fisher of men.

It starts in our families. As I remind couples at baptism classes, they are not perfect. They inevitably let their kids down at times; they make mistakes. But when you add up a life, what’s clear is that parents and also grandparents and other family do so much to help their kids find the right path in life, and to develop their own relationship with God. Never forget the gift of time, of being present to family and listening to them, of making Mass a family priority, of doing acts of charity, of being a hard worker, of patience and showing love and respect towards one another, and so many other things that happen in families are teaching moments. My parents encouraged me to follow my dreams and told me they’d always support me, but they also challenged me to grow in my faith, to work hard, and to persevere. Vatican II reminded us that parents were the primary people to pass on the faith – so never forget being a fisher of men starts at home.

But also, never forget, God gives us all many opportunities over the course of our lives to help others see His face and hear His voice. For me, it was a September afternoon in 1989 when a kindly priest decided it would be just fine to have an altar server. True evangelization happens in ways that will surprise us. Through acts of kindness, of patience, of listening to people, through doing charity, this is how people come to the faith.

And lastly, never fear talking about your faith too. My parents explained our faith to me, but they also helped me to lead a better life. Fr. Vince didn’t just say “there are the altar servers vestments” and then start Mass, he explained things to me carefully and let me know if there was something that I should change. Actions are important, but so too is being an apologist or explainer of what it means to be a Catholic. So take the time to talk about why we go to Mass with your kids and what happens; invite people to come to church with you; and with others who may not go to Mass too often or be away from the Church, talk to them about the faith and what you get out of it. You may not find an instant convert, but over time, you might be amazed at how the faith grows in people. In fact, a great guy I worked with in another parish once shared with me how he and his wife have converted several Mormons. Pretty impressive. These were people who just came to their door, and rather than hide behind the shades or not come to the door, they invited them in, had a conversation, talked about what they believe as Catholics, then followed up with them and now, our Church is bigger because of this amazing husband and wife who are true fishers of people.

I spent 3 hours in a fishing boat once, and that was enough fishing for me for a lifetime. But the rest of my life as a Catholic, I know God has given me a job to be a fisher of people, to evangelize, and build up His Church. That stems not just from my sacramental priesthood, but from my baptism and confirmation. You have that same job. I caught no fish when I went fishing for the first time as a transitional deacon with a parishioner in the summer of 2006, but my hope is that as my life goes on, I will catch people and bring them to the Lord. So join me in that mission – odds are we might not always see the catch, but when we are together in God’s Kingdom, we’ll find a lot of people are there because of our perseverance.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Ordinary, Yet Extraordinary

This past Monday, January 8th, we celebrated the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Often this will be on a Sunday, but when the Epiphany is celebrated on a Sunday after January 6th, the feast gets moved to the Monday after the Epiphany. This Sunday is the second Sunday in Ordinary Time.

The Baptism of the Lord occurs when Jesus is about 30 years of age. And of course it’s not like a baptism we have today. Rather, in this action, Jesus is preparing for the start of his public ministry. He stands with other sinners and is baptized by John the Baptist. People would see John in the wilderness to go through the baptism ritual as a way of starting a new chapter in their lives. Jesus, in His baptism, shows us how He stands with us as sinners. Upon His baptism Mark’s Gospel tells us a voice comes from the heavens that says “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus is the one we all hope for; now He begins His mission.

This mission is one that changes us. At our own baptism, we are claimed for Jesus. The sign of the cross is made on our forehead by the priest or deacon and we are named, signifying that we are special and unique to God. The water poured over us, the chrism on our forehead, and the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” bring us closer to God. Through this, and through the mission of our Lord, we become adopted sons and daughters of God. The light of Christ shines with us every day, signified by the Easter Candle that is lit, from which the baptismal candle is then lit too.

What’s important to remember is that because we are created by God, and because of the actions of Christ, we are forever unique. We are not just one among many or a number, but we are forever loved by God. Nothing can separate us from that love. And that is important to remember in a world where we can compare ourselves to others, and in a society that values power and getting ahead. God’s Kingdom is not like “Survivor” where we have to compete and jockey with one another to win. The Crown of Eternal Life is there for us all. It just requires learning how to respond to our baptism. The Baptism of our Lord began His mission; He then carried that out in the three years that followed.

At the same time, what is important to remember too is that while baptism incorporates us into the Body of Christ, we still deal with our humanity.

Whenever I would hold a baptism class, this was something I always talked about with new parents. I reminded them that while they love their children and will surely do much for them, they are also human. They will make mistakes. They’ll let them down; they’ll forget something; do something wrong, etc. That’s because they are human. And this of course goes for priests too. I go to confession because I am a sinner. I try my best as a priest, but I sometimes make mistakes. For instance a couple of weeks ago, I forgot that the feast of Mary, Mother of God was not obligatory as it was on a Monday, so we had two Masses that day, and perhaps some people who came thinking it was an obligation because they were not informed by the priest (oops!). Another time I completely lost my place in the Eucharistic Prayer and skipped over a part after the consecration had taken place (yes Mass was still valid that day). Interestingly with respect to the holy day a parishioner sent me a very kind note saying “thanks for talking about it, it shows you are a real person.”

The point is that we are all striving to grow towards sainthood. Baptism does make is extraordinary in a sense in how it brings us closer to God; it claims us for Him, and we receive His love in a special way. Sin is no kryptonite. But we must also never forget as we move forward, we’ll continually do good things while also making mistakes – hence the other sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation to help us along the way.

My homily for the Feast of Mary, Mother of God could be summed up in two words: “think little.” What I preached on was that it was a series of little things and actions we can do to show our love for God and others over the course of our lives. Certainly that’s what happened between Mary, Jesus and Joseph over the 30 years prior to Jesus starting His ministry. But those many little things surely also had a profound impact on Him. That’s something to also ponder as we now start this brief stretch of Ordinary Time for the next month (amazingly, Lent is just a month away!). God’s love is truly extraordinary in that it is perfect, forever, and unceasing and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it. But we need to grow daily in learning how to respond to it – something that when you add up the many little things we do over a lifetime can truly take an ordinary soul and turn them into an extraordinary one called a saint, and do so much for other people too to help them on their journey through this life into the next.

Have a blessed week! 

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Jesus is a Gift for Us All

One time in a homily, I remember the priest telling a joke about a newly arrived group that was going through heaven. The group visited various parts of heaven, but upon getting off the bus to walk through a neighborhood, the tour guide told the people to be quiet. When one person asked why silence was necessary, the guide explained that they were in the Catholic part of heaven, but the Catholics think they are the only ones here so be quiet so as not to disturb them.

Now of course if you have a theological discussion, on the one hand we believe that one religion is not the same as no religion or any other religion. The reality is we do in fact believe that God is Triune, Father, Son and Spirit, and we do believe that Jesus established one, holy, catholic apostolic Church. One, not many. This is why we evangelize, why the Church has missionary activity, why we have RCIA, and why we reserve Holy Communion for those who are in full communion with the Catholic Church.

So what of those who do not enter into the Catholic faith? The Second Vatican Council, in the document The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World writes: ”Since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.” Our catechism also states: “Those who through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.” I truly believe that when we die, for those who may have had no opportunity to understand the Catholic faith, the truth of our faith will be revealed to them, and they will then have an opportunity to accept it fully.

This weekend, we celebrate Epiphany. It’s a big feast, one of the “Big 4” with Christmas, Easter and Pentecost being the others. Clues to it’s significance can be found when you look at the Magi in your nativity set. By the time of this publication, our figurines will have made the long journey from the ambo to the nativity itself. You’ll notice one of them is typically a person of color. We of course don’t know a ton about these wise men. It is pretty interesting though that the first people to recognize that the newborn Jesus was the king of the Jews, the long-awaited Messiah, were Magi from the East. They were outsiders, followers of Zoroaster, who had arrived at Jerusalem by following a star.

This feast is a reminder to us that Jesus is truly for all people. The challenge for us is to make sure we never forget that.

It starts right in our own parishes and homes, making sure all people are truly welcome.

A story I once used at a daily Mass was of a new pastor. He transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000-member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service, only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food – no one in the church gave him change.

He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit in the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares, dirty looks, and people looking down on him. As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you our new Pastor.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with all eyes on him. He walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ ‘The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry, and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?” He then dismissed service until next week.

Following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ should be more than just talk. It ought to be a lifestyle that others around you can love about you and share in.” Be a Christian all you want, but at least follow the teachings of Christ if you’re going to claim the title.

There can always be a temptation, even if we don’t intend it, to look down on people who might not be as active in their faith, or to judge someone’s relationship with God by our perception of their “orthodoxy” or lack thereof. So we should do some self-evaluation from time to time, and ask ourselves how do we welcome people? How do we treat a parent with a fussy child at Mass? How do we treat visitors, especially on big feast days when the church is more crowded? Do we ever think of ourselves as “holier than thou?” Do we invite others to Mass? Do we exhibit patience with those who may not fully understand the faith as we do? Do we judge others in our hearts based on their clothing at Mass? This is not to say we can never judge – rather it means when we judge an action, we want to then try to help a person grow in their relationship with the Lord.

Pope Francis has used the image of the Church as a field hospital, a good image to have. So as we journey through life, may we one day not bring Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh, but rather be fishers of men who bring souls to God, remembering that evangelization entails not just catechesis and talking about Jesus, but revealing who Jesus is through how we love, and welcome, one another.

God bless!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Family is truly the Gift that Keeps on Giving

Christmas blessings to you and your family. I hope that you’ve been able to by this point enjoy some time together with loved ones, and hopefully relax a bit after the busyness in the days that led up to Christmas.

Christmas in the Church is not just a one day event, but a season, albeit one of the shorter liturgical seasons we have. The 12 Days of Christmas runs until Epiphany, and then the season ends shortly thereafter with the Baptism of the Lord.

This weekend, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. We know very little about the unrecorded years of Jesus life, but the Holy Family has caught the attention of artists throughout the ages.

The Church puts a great deal of emphasis on the family, calling it the “domestic Church.” But sometimes we can take the family for granted. From an early age we fight with our siblings; as the years go by we lose touch, or we get so busy with our lives that we barely have time for one another. You may have spent more time with loved ones this holiday season, but as we head into a new year, remember that the people you are related to are so important. And while the gifts may have been opened (perhaps even returned) by this point, like it or not there is no returning the gift of our family. So how do we deepen relationships with them?

For one, we give the gift of time, as I wrote about a couple of weeks back. We are so busy these days, I wonder how many families have time for a family meal as opposed to finding out what is going on the lives of others through Facebook. Whether it’s having a family game night, talking to one another, or making time for extended family, time is a precious commodity – so why not share it with the ones we love?

Second, we can give the gift of patience. I once mentioned to my spiritual director that I was impatient with things, and he talked to me about Jesus growing up. He said, just think about how long he waited. Week after week, year after year, listening to teachers, to rabbis, to Mary and Joseph, even though He had such knowledge. He waited to begin His mission and was patient. As kids, we can be impatient with siblings; we can be impatient with parents for being “unfair.” But even if we are older, we can be impatient with others in the family, whether waiting for a child to mature or waiting for our adult siblings to mature. On our part, we can pray for one another, try to be non-judgmental, and present in the lives of others, and we may be surprised at the changes that occur as time goes by.

Third, stop making excuses about why you can’t see someone, or why you can’t forgive. We sometimes have a long memory, or get busy so we never make time for others. It is true a relationship changes over a lifetime; sometimes two siblings live far apart, get married, and maybe can’t see one another. But time is ticking for all of us. Work on trying to reconcile the past if there are hurts, and if you never see someone, try to reach out to them beyond just a yearly Christmas card.

Fourth, remember you are part of God’s family. Your own family is special, but we are all part of God’s family. And as such, parents have a duty to pass on the faith to their children. Some kids get the message that top priority is a 4.0 GPA or being on enough sports teams to make a college application look good. We’ve got our priorities messed up as a society, and as we become more secular, God can be seen like the “break glass in case of emergency” fire extinguisher. God is always journeying with us, so it’s important as a family to pray together, to come to Mass, to receive the sacraments, and to grow in our understanding of this God who loves us so much. Part of this also means remembering we are unified to one another and all loved the same by God, no matter what our background is. It’s important to remember we are connected. Living the faith out is so important! Remember, if you don’t take the faith seriously as adults, what kind of message does that send to children?

Fifth, forgive and ask for forgiveness. Remind yourself, you are a sinner. You are not perfect at being a brother, sister, husband, wife, mom or dad. If you do something you shouldn’t, apologize to your loved ones and own up to it. If someone seeks reconciliation with you, try to open your heart to making that happen. It teaches a valuable lesson especially to children about our need for humility and forgiveness.

Sixth, rejoice in the “little moments.” If you look at the artwork or stained glass windows of the Holy Family, it’s often a relatively simple scene of life on an ordinary day in the home of Mary and Joseph. I’ve yet to have someone come in to plan a funeral and recall what they got for Christmas in a box one year. Rather, people share stories of growing up with their parents that are so impactful. It’s the simple things all strung together that leave a lasting impact, not the “perfect gift.” Cherish the time you spend together by making the most of it.

Lastly, remember that when we die, life is changed, not ended. We all have family we wish were with us at Christmas Mass or dinner who have gone to eternal life. Remember though that Christmas is God coming into the world to redeem us, which culminated with Easter. Because of Jesus, death’s power is gone. Our loved ones live on forever, but we should also pray for them as they pray for us, think of them, and of how they led their lives. As we do this, we find that we too will be changed for the better as we emulate their good qualities and live out the meaning of Jesus’ words, “love one another as I have loved you.”

I cherish visiting my family whenever I can, and am blessed they live locally so that’s often once a week. My family has been so supportive of me in my vocation, and it’s so nice to go home where I can relax and be truly myself. Our families are so very important, so let’s make sure we never take them for granted, and stay connected with them not just at Christmastime, but throughout the year.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Giving the Gift of a Relationship with God

By now many of us are finishing up our last-minute shopping, and trying to get the right gifts for those on our list. But one of the greatest gifts we can give to others is to help them foster a meaningful relationship with God. And most often this will happen in ways we might not even think about.

I once heard a story of two alter boys who had an experience that put each on different paths. One boy woke up late and was supposed to serve; he hurriedly arrived to the church but the cold priest told him to go home and that he would never serve again. Another altar boy had the privilege of serving at a Mass with the archbishop. At the Mass, one of the glass cruets fell and shattered on the stone floor, so everyone in the cathedral heard it and knew he dropped it. The bishop merely smiled, made a kind comment about it, and no one thought much of it and the altar boy breathed a sigh of relief. The boy who was treated with cruelty by the priest was Josef Stalin; the boy who was treated with kindness was Bishop Fulton Sheen.

Whether or not the story is true, the situation is certainly very common. As a priest and a life-long Catholic, I’ve heard many stories both positive and negative. A person may have a fond memory of a good nun in school, or the warmth of their parish growing up and clung to the faith over the years. Others were treated with cruelty by someone in the Church or just had a bad experience in a parish, and that caused them to drift or become embittered.

With that in mind, it’s so important to remember that we are ambassadors of God and of the Catholic Church through our baptism. It seems some in the world are catechized to have prioritize popularity, money, and being a busy-body with sports, school activities and a million other things. At the end of the day though we are preparing for eternal life, which means to do so we need to strive daily to grow in our love for God and work to glorify Him by making His presence known through how we lead our lives. The gifts we will give in packages have a life span; giving someone the gift of better spiritual vision though can last for an eternity.

Following are some simple things we can do to help people foster a deeper relationship with God:

  1. Kindness and hospitality. One of the true tragedies that has occurred in Christianity is the divisions we have. We’ve come a long way with ecumenism, but even within our Catholic Church today, there have been divisions. Some have been between neighboring parishes based on ethnicity or parish culture; others have been between so-called “liberal” and “conservative” Catholics, others have been based on money, or “school” people and “religious ed” people. Other times we can silently have an attitude of knowing who “belongs” at church and who doesn’t. How pathetic and petty we Christians can be sometimes. At Christmas, our church will be much more full – we all know that. Other times throughout the year visitors come and go. When a person comes to a parish, a little kindness and hospitality can go a long way. A person will remember feeling made welcome; not feeling judged or looked down upon; or a kind word. And this might just be the spark that brings them back. But this also continues outside of church. When we are at parties at work or with family; when we make an effort to talk to someone we might not talk about too much, or refuse to engage in gossip and put-downs. Prior to this Saint Joseph’s I served another church named Saint Joseph’s, and in it was a beautiful window of Saint Martin of Tours, who was not yet Catholic but a catechumen, and gave part of his cloak to a beggar. In a dream, he saw the beggar as Christ, who said “do you see Martin? He is yet a catechumen yet he clothed me.” As I enter year 3 here at Saint Joe’s, I have to say I sense a lot of people like Saint Martin here. So many people make hospitality a way of life.

 

  1. Watching what we say. Words mean things, and sometimes we can forget that. On the one hand we all have to vent, but if we are putting others down, that can encourage others to do that too. We need to be mindful of what we say about the Church and other people. If we are on social media or at dinner, and putting down the Church; either our parish, the bishop, the pope, what kind of reflection does that give to others? When we are at Christmas gatherings, sometimes chit-chat can also turn into gossip which can destroy people, so we also want to be aware of how we are talking about family and friends.

 

  1. Invite people to Mass. Christmas gives us the time to connect with others who may not always come to Mass regularly. Rather than use judgmental language that can push them away, from time to time invite them to come with you. Such things as “say, you are in town for the holidays, this Sunday is the Feast of the Holy Family – it’s a really neat celebration. Would you like to join me?” or “just so you know you are always welcome to join us on Saturday night for Mass” can plant mustard seeds.

 

  1. Pray for others. Prayer can do so much, for both the living and the dead. Sometimes after praying for a long time for someone, we can meet up with them again down the road and be surprised at where they are at. I truly believe in heaven we will meet many people who are there because of our prayers, and we’ll see how they helped them in ways we never knew.

 

  1. Be patient. Sometimes for those who are active in the faith, or returned to it, patience with others can be tough, because they want others to be right where they are, right now. If they aren’t patient, sometimes a zealous or judgmental attitude can push people away. If we are always in someone’s face about how they do not go to Mass, or talking about our faith all the time to them, it might not work. Rather, we need to look for the right time to talk about the faith with them, finding the balance between never saying a word or saying too much. They might not come right away, but over time amazing things can happen.

 

  1. Be the Gospel they read. As the saying goes, “sometimes you are the only Bible people read,” we need to remember that is quite true. When we are kind, positive, uplifting and generous with our time, people will come to see it as a reflection of an interior love of God.

 

  1. Look for ways to deepen the faith of others through discussion and involvement. If you remember Jay Leno’s tenure on “The Tonight Show,” you may recall his segment “Jaywalking.” He asks people on the street a question that should be quite basic – such as “Who was the first president of the United States” and people give ridiculous answers. Some things should seem obvious to a Catholic, but there is a lot of misconceptions and ignorance about the faith. A person might not understand what is meant by the Trinity, the Eucharist, the Saints, etc. We can’t be condescending but rather should engage them. Ignorance of the faith, both from people who are Catholic and those who are not is rampant. We need to learn about the faith more deeply ourselves, but look for ways to talk about it; from talking to kids and grandkids about stained glass, statues, or the colors the priest is wearing, to giving someone a rosary and explaining how to use it and what it means. Remember through your baptism and confirmation you are a priest, prophet and a king, sharing in the duty to be a shepherd of souls.

In a little over 10 years as a priest, one of the greatest joys I see is when someone who I had not seen much before all of a sudden starts to come to Mass after a wedding, funeral or major feast day. People in the world are so hungry, which is why there can be so much energy on passing things of this world, they just don’t always know what they hunger for. At Christmas, let us help them drink the water given to them by Jesus so they will truly never thirst again.

Merry Christmas!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: The Gift of Time

One of the parts of my ministry as a priest is to be with families as they cope with the loss of a loved one. When there is a death, I meet with them and get a biography of the person’s life. I typically like to use a story too to lead into the homily as I do with most of my homilies.

At a recent funeral Mass I celebrated, I came across a story shared by a son with respect to his mom and how he thought of her. And I think it’s quite timely for Christmas as we think about the “perfect” gift in that no matter what we buy, people will look back on us and remember the most important thing we gave them was not material, but rather that we were there or them when they needed us.

In a story he shares about his mom, Dale Jackson, a contributor to a book dedicated to moms, talks about how he realized this one day in the hospital.

The morning sun brightened and warmed the hospital waiting room as he and his siblings awaited the results from his mother’s latest surgery. He feared the worst, and that led him to contemplate specifically what it was that made his mother so special to him. Like most children, he believed that his mother was the best anyone could have. How could you feel otherwise about the person who gave birth to you, fed you, cleaned up after you, cared for you when you were sick, held you close when your first love broke your heart, and did millions of other things for you?

As he enjoyed the warmth of the sunlight it dawned on him that the most extraordinary thing his mother did for him, the one characteristic that illustrated everything about her as a mom, was that she always put her book down.

When he was a teenager, Dale admits he was so wrapped up in himself that he felt his issues were the most important and weighty things in the world. Also like most teens, he’d keep his worries and concerns to himself and try to figure things out on his own, since no one else could possibly understand what he was going through. But every so often he could not ignore the need to talk to someone and would drift into his parent’s bedroom to unburden himself to his mother while she was sitting in bed reading.

As the mother of five rambunctious children, she’d often retreat to her room in the evening for some down time. Dale was sure she viewed this as her time to relax, unwind and get away from the pressures of caring for a husband and children even if only for a few moments. Yet even though this was to be her time for herself, she would never close the bedroom door. This was because Dale’s parents stressed to them that they were always welcome to talk to them about anything, at any time.

Dale would sit on the edge of the bed and begin with some idle chitchat as he worked up the nerve to talk about what was bothering him. His mom would always do something remarkable – she’d put her book down. The impact of that simple act still resonates with him many decades later. How easy would it have been for her to sneak peeks at her book and act as if she was listening? But she put the book down and in so doing demonstrated to her child that he was loved, accepted, and cared for. She never once complained that she was interfering with “her time,” never asked if he could come back later, and not once did she act as if his thoughts and concerns were stupid, irrelevant or silly. She simply put her book down and actively listened to her child for as long as was needed.

In the decades since Dale tried to embrace the lessons that his mother silently taught during those mother-son conversations. He noted that many times when someone comes up to him and strikes up a conversation, he almost automatically puts down whatever he’s reading to give this individual the same gift that his mom gave to him. He strives to remember how it felt to know that what he had to say was important to someone else and what a wonderful and powerful message can be sent by simply putting the book down.

As he thought about all of this next to his mom, who made it through that surgery, he reflected that yes his mom was special in many ways, and not the least of which was she put her book down.

Needless to say, the person who’s funeral I celebrated that day clearly did that in the lives of the people who filled her life. As one family member put it, she made you feel like you were the only person in the room and were important when she was talking to you.

No matter how much we have, all of us have the ability to give that same gift of time. And it’s something we are called to do every day. Consider asking yourself:

  • Do I listen to the needs of my spouse, my kids, my parents?
  • Do I multitask when someone is speaking to me or give them my full attention?
  • Do I try to pick up on something a person may be holding in?
  • Do I make an effort to visit loved ones who may have a hard time getting out of the home or in assisted living?
  • Do I know what is going on in the lives of the people I live with?
  • Do I let people I care about know that I am always available for them to talk and listen?
  • Do I make time for God every day and listen to what He may be telling me?
  • Do I actively listen and resist the urge to fix something or speak quickly so I can get a better sense of what is in a loved one’s heart, and what the “real story” is?

Time is a precious commodity. But when we give this gift to one another, we can help them realize a very important truth: they are loved by God, precious in His eyes, and also loved by us. So let’s pass on what we’ve been given, and put the book down too.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Heeding the Messengers

A story I’ve heard more than once is of a man who died in a flood.

The storm was predicted, but the man decided to wait in his house and ignored the weather warning.

The police came buy and urged him to leave before it got too bad, but he said no, I will be fine, God will see me through the storm.

The flood waters came and grew higher, and a boat came by in front of his home, with the people offering to give him a ride to safety. Again, his response was no, God will provide.

As the storm grew worse and the flood enveloped his home, he climbed to the roof, and a helicopter arrived. But again, the man ignored the pilot and said God would rescue him from the flood.

The man eventually died in the flood, and stood before God. He demanded, “why didn’t you rescue me?” God’s response was I sent you a police officer, a boat and a helicopter!

Indeed, God doesn’t just go showing up telling us what to do every day. But He does guide us in many ways. The question for us is do we listen?

This weekend in our Gospel we meet the messenger John the Baptist. He is preparing the way for the Lord’s arrival. John’s lifestyle and preaching inspire people to follow him and to respond by being baptized. His message was to prepare for the one who would be greater than him.

People listened to his message, and would then try to incorporate it by changing their lifestyle. The baptism he offered was a cleansing ritual, symbolizing the old life being cleansed and a new life beginning as a person went about in a new direction. People recognized his holiness. Even the man who executed him, Herod, recognized that John was holy when John had called him out for adultery.

Herod of course did not listen to John or change, but we have the opportunity to do so. The challenge for us is do we listen?

Advent is a time of joyful waiting. A time of thinking about how we need God in our lives, and of how we can prepare to welcome our Savior better as people who profess to be Christian.

The first step is to listen to God. God can speak very loudly in the silence, and when we pray, when we meditate, or just spend time in silence we can get direction from God. I remember prior to entering seminary, before going to an informational dinner with the archbishop, I went to pray at the cathedral near the statue of the Sacred Heart. I felt this overwhelming sense of calm and peace, and it was one of my first steps on the road to ordination. God is speaking to us all the time, we just need to listen.

But we also must listen to other people. It’s worth asking ourselves who is the John the Baptist in my life? If we are going to grow spiritually, it’s important to ask for directions to heaven. People fill our lives to help us. And it’s important to ask them what they think and for guidance. Whether it’s a decision with our kids, a job, or something with respect to our battle with various sins, people are there to help us. Sometimes we can’t bring ourselves to ask for advice. And it may happen that someone comes to us and expresses a concern about us. It can be tough to hear when someone talks to us about our health, a drinking problem, temperament or other behaviors – but we need to overcome defensiveness and listen to what they have to say. Maybe we are like the man in the house and the floodwaters our the sins we battle with or life’s problems, and God keeps sending us lifelines but we are too proud or stubborn to take them.

Life can be overwhelming at times. But the good news is God did not just come many years ago and leave us. He is so very much alive and speaks to us in so many ways. Let’s make sure we listen to him and the many messengers he sends us to help us on our journey through life.

God bless,

Fr. Paul