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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a very blessed Christmas!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: The Light in the Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless,

Fr. Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a joyful week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Celebrating the Season of Advent

This week, we began our journey through Advent.

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

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

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

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

The Advent Wreath

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

What to do during the season?

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless,

Fr. Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life. Every day is a gift.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many Blessings to you and your family this Thanksgiving!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Veterans Teach Us So Much

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Balancing Faith, Politics in the Voting Booth

Before I entered seminary, I was a student at the U of M, and my major was political science. I was a part of a campus political group, volunteered in a campaign, and really thought politics would be in my future. In a way, I never shook the political bug. I still follow polls, watch ads, and follow what politicians have had to say. I’m also pretty set in my political views too and have voted the same way since 1996, with the exception of voting for Jesse “The Body” in 1998. (Hey, at least he lowered our license tabs right?).

Depending on who you ask, the most important issues will vary. Indeed, a lot weighs on the mind of a voter. And while there’s no real moral issues over a lot of issues, other matters carry a lot of moral weight. What does a candidate feel on life in the womb? How does he or she feel on immigration? How might the candidate define marriage? What do they believe with respect to being a steward of the earth or on the environment?

It goes without saying that while the Church does not endorse candidates, She does speak out on issues. The Bishops of the United States do have a voters guide called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which doesn’t tell people how to vote but does address what a Catholic should be thinking about when they head to the polls. You can read it all online at, but in it here are some key points:

One is that life issues should be a foremost consideration. The bishops state: “The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Direct attacks on innocent persons are never morally acceptable, at any stage or in any condition. In our society, human life is especially under direct attack from abortion. Other direct threats to the sanctity of human life include euthanasia, human cloning, and the destruction of human embryos for research.” As such, while other issues certainly deserve attention, life issues are paramount. This is because when we are talking about attack on innocent life, it is an intrinsic evil. The bishops go on to say: “all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions.”

It goes without saying though sometimes a Catholic will vote for a politician who may be at odds with church teachings on life. Does this constitute sin? The answer is only if the person is voting for the candidate for that reason. From the bishops: “A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position” (emphasis added).

Besides life issues, other areas are covered, including marriage. They say that marriage “must be defined, recognized, and protected as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, and as the source of the next generation and the protective haven for children.” We believe that God ordered marriage between a man and a woman. There’s a reason it takes a man and a woman to have a child. We are not forcing people to live a certain way, but what we are saying what we call marriage is a sacred institution and a society should recognize that.

The bishops also stress that it’s important a Catholic forms their conscience, which is a process:
“First, there is a desire to embrace goodness and truth. For Catholics this begins with a
willingness and openness to seek the truth and what is right by studying Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church as contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is also important to examine the facts and background information about various choices. Finally, prayerful reflection is essential to discern the will of God. Catholics must also understand that if they fail to form their consciences they can make erroneous judgment.” This means we have to carefully look at the position a candidate may hold on an issue and then make a prudent judgment about how we should then vote.

One additional note (well actually two): tolerance and respect are so important, but so too is fortitude and a willingness to engage and argue. It seems we have become more polarized both in politics but also even in the Church. We may have different ideas and viewpoints. As I said, if you were to sit down with me and try to convince me to vote for someone other than who I’m voting for this week, it’s not going to happen. You also could never convince me to wear a Green Bay Packers jersey. That being said, I do not hate people who have different views than I do. One of my closest friends is the polar opposite of me politically, but we maintain a great friendship. And I serve people as a priest from all ends of the political spectrum. However we also cannot be afraid to talk politics or religion. Arguing is what we learn in logic class and is one of the first classes one takes in seminary – how syllogisms can lead to a conclusion. As I’ve said before, I fear we are losing our ability to argue and are more prone to shout or spout off on social media and name-call. Don’t be fearful of talking about your beliefs, in particular how they relate to your faith. Research where candidates stand and what the Church has to say. Read the platform of your preferred political party. Study issues. And engage with others and have discussions. While you might not convince me to change my vote, through arguing I’ll have a better idea of where you are coming from and others will also have more food for thought. We need to do a better job of doing our homework rather than just shouting all the more loudly “I’m right you’re wrong!”

We truly live in a remarkable land, and it’s so easy to take our freedom for granted. Tuesday
gives us a chance to make our opinions heard, so please do vote. No matter who wins on
Tuesday, odds are some of us will be pretty unhappy. Do strive to put away anger on Wednesday morning, and join me in praying for our newly elected leaders.


Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Programming “Heaven” into Our Spiritual GPS

Just a few weeks ago, 7 new saints were canonized in a Mass at Saint Peter’s in Rome.
But of course, there are many other saints who are in heaven too that we’ll only know
about when we get there.

So, what is heaven exactly and how do we get there? How does one become a saint?
Well, it’s not as simple as saying “I believe.” That’s a starting point. But there also needs
to be a transformation of a soul into someone who is fully loving of God and others. And
this transformation, and our connection to one another, is something the Church invites
us to think about. Not just the final destination, but how to get there.

On the one hand, it is grace that saves us. We do not rack up a certain number of good
deeds like frequent flyer miles to move up to first class. But the Christian must also
cooperate with grace. That entails thinking about the flaws, and then living out the
commandment of our Lord to “love one another as I have loved you.”

The problem is though we do not like to think about the flaws. It’s easier to pretend we
are perfect. But the reality is we are all sinners, and all flawed. Capable of love and so
much greatness, but still capable of sin. The saint learns how to be open to God’s love
and fully live it out.

In the saints, his love is seen clearly, and in all of us God’s love is there. And that love is
a two way street. It requires a reception on our part, being open to saying the prayer of
the tax collector “God have mercy on me a sinner” and it requires us to help one
another to become better.

And so with that in mind, what our feast days that start November do is to help us to get
the right perspective on death, sin, and what the transformation from sinner to saint
looks like.

With respect to All Saints Day, the day is to celebrate the many people in heaven who
are saints known to God. There are canonized saints, people who go through a process
where the Church looks at their life and with the help of the Holy Spirit determine that
this person loved God perfectly. But there are many others too. A saint is simply
someone who is in heaven. We believe that the saints are close to God. And so we
celebrate the fact that there are so many people in heaven to help us. What the saints
can do for us is that they can inspire us. We can look to people who have lived heroic
lives, some of whom we may know who have been among our loved ones, and be
inspired to become like them. They also help us. We believe that as they are close to
God, they can intercede for us – and so we can ask people to pray for us, just as we
would do so on this earth.

So what of All Soul’s Day? This is the following day, and it is a day where we pray for all
of our beloved dead. We do this because we believe that there is a journey to heaven.
For some when they die, they have already learned to love God fully; they go to heaven.

For some, they may have rejected God completely, and they go to hell, which is the
absence of God; hence the eternal frustration of someone who can do nothing to undo a
completely closed heart. However, we also believe in purgatory. And as I’ve noted
before citing then Cardinal Ratzinger who wrote on the subject, purgatory is not some
type of concentration camp. Rather, it is a process, known to God, where His love
purges us of those sins and things we cling to. We can go to confession, and sin is
forgiven, but there is still sometimes in us the tendency or temptations to do those same
sins again. After we die, God helps us through that so that its permanently removed. Sometimes there is pain in letting go of something that isn’t good for us. Purgatory isn’t
a matter of time being served. Rather it’s a “letting go and letting God” point, and so we
pray for a person as they go through that process just as we would encourage someone
in this life who is trying to kick a bad habit or better themselves.

Both days also remind us that we are connected to the dead, and it’s important to have
a clear picture of that too. From the good, we can learn so much, and we can ask for
help from those who have died and the saints to pray for us. I am still inspired by people
like my grandmother Pat or my grandfather Henry to be a better person. We have so
much to learn thinking about the heroes we knew too. But we also need to acknowledge
our flaws and even flaws of those we care about. At this point I’ve celebrated hundreds
of funerals, and in some families there is nagging pain and tension because there is hurt
going on in that family. We are there at a Mass to pray for the person in the casket and
for ourselves. And that goes on after the funeral too. With those who have died, we
should also pray for them and for ourselves and work through the pains, even the anger
we may have towards them. People are human, and humans sin. Sometimes a person
doesn’t see their drinking problem, their nasty temper, their cold demeanor, that they
ignore Mass and prayer, etc. But God does; there’s no hiding this from Him. And that
would be pretty scary if God were out to get us or took delight in seeing us suffer.
Rather, God takes delight in liberating us from our sins, so we pray for those who have
died, and acknowledge their shortcomings.

But we also acknowledge our pain too. As I wrote about last week – it is OK to cry, and
grief does not have an expiration date. We also need to acknowledge other emotions;
it’s OK to be angry at someone who died or frustrated about things that happened. Life
is messy, as are people. Emotions should not be covered up, and sometimes I think
people feel all they can think about is a person being in heaven or just the good. God
though doesn’t think that way. We as people crucified Him. His best friends deserted
Him. And His response was, through it all, love. The marks in His side were not covered
up after the Resurrection – they were a sign of what happened, but the resurrection was
also a sign of the future. The love of God overcame it all. So let that love heal you. I
think it’s important to bring things to our prayer life, or to even bring them to Jesus when
we receive Communion, and ask for God to help us let go of pain. Sometimes also
talking about it with someone we trust, or even a counselor can help too. It doesn’t do
much good to hold onto anger; Jesus let go of it on the Cross, and we need to do the

As we journey through this world to the next, let us prepare for it by striving to become
better each day through the inspiration and intercession of the saints, and help all of our
loved ones, living and deceased, to do the same through our prayers for them. Death
isn’t much fun to think about, nor are the flaws that we and others have. So rather than
ignore them, may we deal with them directly and realize that through the power of God’s
love, all of us can be transformed and truly find the way to Heaven.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: The Importance of Grief

I remember in seminary, one of my professors was commenting on the modern funeral
liturgy, and made the comment that he wonders if we give people enough time to
grieve. His point was there is this emphasis on rejoicing and the resurrection (a good
thing) but we also sometimes might lose sight of the fact that loss is real. And while we
have the hope that our loved one is at peace and in heaven, we also have the reality of
still being here on earth and not having them with us physically, which is painful.

Admittedly, I think he’s on to something. For instance, we give people time off for a
funeral, but dealing with loss is tough, and sometimes we can both in the Church and in
larger society put so much emphasis on heaven, we forget about the here and now. And
that’s why it’s important to have the proper perspective on dealing with loss.

As I’ve shared, I recently lost my beloved dog Kirby, who journeyed with me for 7
wonderful years. Every day I grew accustomed to seeing him (though in our later years
it required opening the refrigerator door not just the house door for him to come running
up the stairs). Losing him pretty quickly (he got ill and died within a month as cancer in
dogs is so rapid) was a shock. The day I lost him was the first time I’ve cried in quite
some time. And then coming home that day, there was the added pain of seeing his
food dish; of going into the fridge where I had special meals I made trying to get him to
eat before I knew he had cancer of ground chuck and potatoes and rice; of putting away
his toys. And even a month later now, I still sometimes see a dog hair here or there, or
come home looking downstairs hoping to see a pair of eyes peer around the corner but
knowing that’s not going to happen. There will always be pain there, and on different
levels there’s also pain with the other types of loss. For instance in October, I’d love to
be watching baseball games over at my grandparent’s house with my grandpa Henry,
but I lost him nearly 17 years ago. And I’d love to stop by my grandma Pat’s house and
spend time with her as she insisted on making me a meal, but I lost her nearly 16 years
ago. With Kirby and my grandparents and so many other people in my life, there is on
the one hand an understanding that they are at peace, and they are also loved by God,
but on the other hand there’s also the grief that doesn’t have an expiration date. So I
think something good to think about is how do we as Catholics and humans deal with

I imagine people wiser than me have covered this in many self-help sections at
bookstores, but these are just my musings as a member of the human race and as a
priest at what I do to move forward.

As a starting point, I think it’s important to remember that it’s okay to cry. When Kirby
passed, and I was given the news that this wasn’t just some gastrointestinal thing but
something far more serious and that it was time to help him pass in peace, I cried at the
vets office. It was the first time I had cried in quite sometime; I couldn’t tell you the last
time that happened. And two days later, when I offered Mass and told the kids in my
homily how little things we do for others help so much, I cried again because I was
talking to them about the cards they made for me with Kirby’s photo on them that was the last photo ever taken of him. I do not like getting emotional (other than laughing) in
front of people. But if you saw that wonderful film “Inside Out” (great for adults and kids
alike) from Pixar a few years ago, who’s message is that all of our emotions matter,
even sadness, we have to be OK with grieving. And remember it does not have some
end point. I’ll probably cry again thinking of a loved one as something will trigger a
memory, and we have to accept that if Jesus can cry (as He does when informed of
Lazarus dying) we can too.

Second, I think it’s important to have a support network. Sometimes we can hold our
emotions in. Kirby for me was that in a lot of ways. Yes he couldn’t talk, but if you are a
dog owner you know what I mean. I’d tell him my problems or what was on my mind.
But we also need people who can talk back. It’s so important to have people you can
talk to about your emotions and can help you navigate through pain, both through loss
and through the other things life throws at us.

Third, remember we have a connection always to our loved ones. I say at most every
funeral Mass remember this person is not someone who once was, but is someone who
still is. I truly believe that while I can’t go over and watch the World Series with grandpa,
he is praying for me and he continues to inspire me to become a better person. So think
often about your loved ones you’ve lost; pray for them; visit the cemetery, and even talk
to them in your heart and know they will always be with you.

Fourth, don’t keep things hidden. With Kirby, there never was a bad day. Dogs just love
unconditionally. And even when he bolted out of the door and I had to chase him up the
block, or he decided to squat in the living room and do something we need not get into
detail about in this space, there was nothing he could do that would be remotely painful
to me. That’s dogs. Humans though are complicated. We can hurt one another. We can
say mean things. We can hold grudges. And odds are with even people we loved the
most, sometimes there may have been something they didn’t do right. Or maybe it was
more serious and they weren’t as loving as they should have been. It’s important to talk
about these things too to people, perhaps even a counselor. If there were some things
with a loved one that went unresolved, don’t bury these things but remember they are
important to talk about and work through.

Lastly, think about the good you were for your loved ones too. Of course we too can
think “I should have done this” or that with our loved ones. They knew you loved them.
But it’s important to also remember that so many good things were brought about
through your loving actions. And you’ll be reminded of this when you meet again in

Life is a blessing, but it can also be very difficult. The journey does not end with death;
Jesus changed the meaning of that entirely. We move forward with hope and with the
promise of being forever in God’s love, which also helps us through the pain. But while
we have that hope, we also must acknowledge the reality of pain and loss too by not
burying it, but truly dealing with it in a healthy way knowing it’s truly okay to laugh and to be happy, but also quite okay to cry and grieve no matter how long it’s been since we
said a temporary good bye to physically seeing those who mean so much to us.


Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Some Favorite Places, Far and Near

Hard as it is to believe, it’s MEA break time coming up.

I actually don’t remember MEA as a kid in the 80s, but maybe it existed back then.

I also was surprised when I became a priest with a school how many people seemed to travel over the MEA break. By that point, the leaves are gone and we’ve kind of entered what I refer to as the lousy time of year in Minnesota, as much as I love it (sorry winter lovers, you’ll never find this guy saying anything positive about snow. Though I guess one positive with winter is owls show up in northern Minnesota to take pictures of, but I digress). The point is I figured not too many people would be traveling. We certainly never did; our vacation was going “up north” a time or two in the summer. And they were great vacations. But “up north” was a little chilly post fall foliage.

Now knowing that a lot of folks travel, the question is where should one travel to? Why should one travel?

Admittedly I write this article while traveling and doing so early for our wonderful bulletin editor Bobbi Neuens who will be – wait for it – traveling soon too. And I love to travel – sort of. I love road trips and being in my car. Airline travel? Well not so much.

As far as why I travel, believe it or not, it’s often a spiritual experience for me. I often travel alone (it’s great – eat when you want, go where you want, make better time, etc). But as I do so, I often find myself having a great appreciation for the amazing things that are around me. Some are the accomplishments that people can do when they use their gifts to glorify God; walk through Chartes Cathedral for instance, my favorite church that I’ve ever been in (well, excluding Saint Joe’s of course). Or look at the ceiling in the Sistine chapel. These were done by people using the gifts God gave them to glorify Him. And then there are places like Ellis Island, which make you think of the struggles immigrants went and still go through to find a better life; or the Statue of Liberty, the first thing people would see as a testament to the freedom we enjoy as Americans and cherish.

Where you should go is of course up to you. But what I’ve found in my travels so far is that there are many places that I’ve fallen in love with, both far away and closer to home. So in no particular order, here’s some places you might consider visiting.

Places a Little Father Away…

  1. Our national parks. When I really got into photography, national parks became a place that I really wanted to see. The first one I went to was Badlands National Park, taking a trip out there with my family shortly after I was ordained. It was amazing to see the rock formations and the color. Since then, I went to the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, and Everglades National Park. They are all wonderful, though if I had to pick just one on the list, Yellowstone. The beauty is you can visit there and drive – it’s about 20 hours and you can stop in Rapid City. Think of it as you can stand 20 hours in TSA line and fly, or just drive. I think the choice is clear.

    South Dakota. Badlands made the list above, but so much is in the Rapid City area. You’ve got Spearfish Canyon as well, along with Custer State Park which is great for it’s wildlife.

    3. New York City. Yes, that’s the place where they make the salsa that is not Pace, which is made in El Paso (if you remember that commercial you’ll get the reference.) On the one hand, New York is not my kind of town. I’m an introvert, I don’t much like crowds, and New York is a zoo. People are out everywhere at all times of day, and riding the subway is much like those Garfield cats you’d put on your car window. But nonetheless, it’s a city with such great history and so much to see that is a 2 1/2 hour flight. The photo ops are endless, and from sports to Broadway to just spending your time walking around and visiting museums or taking it all in, it’s a great destination.

    4. Rome, London and Paris. Admittedly I have no current plans to ever go back to Europe – too long of a flight, and again the crowds above. But having visited these cities, they are all full of history. Each has beautiful churches; going to King’s College in Cambridge for an evening prayer service was very moving. These are great destinations to take in not only Christian history but also to see so much of world history as you walk through the Louvre, or gaze upon Parliament and Big Ben in London. (Just always keep your hand on your billfold while riding subways!).

Places a Little Closer to Home…

  1. The North Shore. Were the distance not too far to visit family, I’d probably be a priest of the diocese of Duluth. Yes, winter is harsh, even harsher there. But it’s also beautiful, and close enough to where I grew up. Rosemount is 2 1/2 hours from Duluth and from there you can see so much; any one of the state parks, great wildlife areas, and of course the big lake. Such a great place to just get away.


  1. Red Wing to Winona. I love driving down here in winter on my day off, because this is a great place to watch eagles. Eagles are great to photograph, and the great spots, which are Colvill Park and Read’s Landing, are free to stop and enjoy them. You’ll also find other waterfowl in the open water. Southeastern Minnesota is also underrated for fall color – everyone seems to go north, but don’t forget go south too. Lanesboro is a great town to visit.


  1. Any state park. We have a great state park system. So too does our neighbor to the east, Wisconsin. So check them out. Nearby is Frontenac State Park, just south of Red Wing with great views of Lake Pepin and trails. Favorites in the state for me include Banning, north of Hinckley, which has beautiful trails and vibrant colors; Gooseberry Falls which is actually free; Split Rock Lighthouse Park with great views of the Minnesota Icon; Judge C.R. Magney which is across from the lovely Naniboujou Lodge which is a great place for a meal or just to check out the amazing architecture and walls and ceilings; Frontenac State Park near Red Wing and Grand Portage State Park on our border with Canada where you can view the high falls. Next door, great parks in Wisconsin include Wyalusing in the southwest part of the state, Amnicon Falls (due east of Cloquet), Copper Falls (just east of Amnicon) and Willow River (near Hudson).


  1. Como Zoo and Conservatory. Both are free and close to home. The conservatory is a great place to visit in winter to remind you yes you will see life again outside once the snow melts, and are great family options.


  1. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum located in Chanhassen. A three mile loop trail and ever-changing gardens make it always worth a visit.


  1. The Sax-Zim Bog. This area in northeast MInnesota, northwest of Cloquet, is known for it’s amazing birds. Warblers in summer; owls in winter. It’s probably my single favorite “go-to” spot in state as a photographer, but even if you aren’t into photography, consider driving the rural roads here to find some birds.

Lastly, don’t forget to choose your own adventure. You don’t have to go far or spend all that much. We are blessed with great local spots to go for a walk, from county parks to places that are just a short drive. As the saying goes, “stop and smell the roses.” It’s a big, beautiful world out there. And I think we sometimes spend so much time over-scheduling ourselves or our kids, or think we have to spend a lot of money to go far away, that we forget so much great stuff is right here. One of the things I appreciated with my parents is how we got to see so much in-state. I loved our trips to Duluth and “up north” but also the trips I took with my mom to the local park or just a day trip.

Oh, and one last thing (yes I know the previous paragraph says “lastly). Encourage the kids (and yourselves too) to put down the tablets and phones on road trips and to take in the beauty around you.

Have a great MEA break if you are taking some time away. But whether you are staying locally or going to MSP, never forget that all around is so much to see – so take it in and enjoy God’s beauty in Creation.

Happy Trails,

Fr. Paul