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The Archbishop, the Pope and Fr. James Martin…

Once more, Archbishop Carlson sends his Easter message to us, inviting us to remember the heart of this great feast.

“Christ has overcome sin and death. Because of that we know, in the words of Pope Francis, that when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved by God.

Let us pray that the light of Christ will shine in our hearts this Easter, and reach out to others through us. We know that our Savior lives. Let us share with others the joy of knowing that they are loved by God!”

And, on a more practical side, he also reminds us that the second collection today is to support the retired priests of our Archdiocese at Regina Cleri.

Fr. James Martin, in his book Jesus: a Pilgrimage, writes this about the impact of the Resurrection: “Nothing is impossible for God. That’s the message that I return to most of-ten. On the first day of the week, the Gospel of John tells us that most of the disciples were cowering behind closed doors, out of fear. After Good Friday, the disciples were terrified. Earlier, on Holy Thursday, we are told by Matthew and Mark that all of them fled from the Garden, in fear. That evening Peter denied knowing Jesus. If they were afraid before Jesus was sentenced to death, imagine their reaction after seeing Him marched through the streets of Jerusalem, nailed to a cross and hung there until dead. Locked behind closed doors after the death of the person in whom they had placed all their hope, is there a more vivid image of fear?

…How many of us believe parts of our lives are dead? How many believe that parts of our family, our country, our world, our church cannot come to life? How many of us feel bereft of the hope of change? That is when I turn to the resurrection. Often I return to the image of the terrified disciples cowering behind closed doors. We are not called to live in that room! We are called to emerge from our hiding places and to accompany Mary, weeping sometimes, searching always, and ultimately blinded by the dawn of Jesus’ new life – surprised – delighted and moved to joy. We are called to believe what she has seen: He is Risen.”

On this Easter morn, may you know that great truth at the heart of all we are and hope to be – if the tomb cannot hold the Risen One, than neither will it hold us who are baptized into His dying and rising…

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

March 27, 2016

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Happy Easter!

Published on 27. Mar, 2016 by in Sunday Homilies

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freedomMy classmate, Fr. Kevin, loves movies as much as I love golf. At the Chrism mass on Thursday, he told me I HAVE to see a movie called ROOM. It was one of the films nominated for Best Picture this year. YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS FILM. (and for those who do not like spoilers, I invite you to leave the church now)

The film begins on Jack’s fifth birthday. He wakes up and says “Good Morning” to all the objects in the room, a chair, a table, a closet, a toilet, a bathtub, a TV. He wakes his mother and they begin to make Jack’s birthday cake. Immediately, you sense that something is not right. And it isn’t. Jack’s mother is a kidnapped young woman. She has been held in sound proofed shed for the last seven years against her will. And Jack is five years old. When you do the math, you figure out what is going on. The mother has tried to create a loving environment in the cramped shed. She tells him stories; the Biblical story of Samson is one of his favorites. She shields him when her kidnapper enters their space, telling him to stay in the closet until he is gone. She has created a world, a world of love within the small space.

But Jack’s fifth birthday is a turning point. His mother begins to explain to him that the world is bigger than what he sees in the room, or what he watches on their TV. At first, Jack is angry. He accuses his mother of lying. Why would they stay in the room if there was a bigger world? Why would she deny him that? There is no other world, it’s not true! But at long last, she convinces him that he needs to do something, something that will change their lives.

At first, she tells her captor that Jack is sick and needs to go to the hospital. He doesn’t buy it. Plan B. She tells Jack what her real name is and what to tell others. She teaches Jack how to stay stiff and still in the carpet. Then she teaches him how to roll out of the carpet that is in the shed. Roll, Jack, roll. She then rolls him in the carpet and tells her kidnapper that Jack died in the night.

The man puts Jack, rolled up in the old carpet in the back of his pickup truck, and he drives away, presumably to bury his body, the evidence of his crime. As the truck drives along the streets of the town, Jack begins to roll. It is a titanic struggle. As you are watching the film, you begin to rock back in forth trying to help Jack escape. Finally, after what feels like forever, Jack rolls out of the carpet, and for the first time in his young life, sees the wide open sky. Jack freezes. It is almost too much to process. Everything he knew, everything he believed, everything he thought was real, explodes. The world is not a single room, his mother didn’t lie. Like a butterfly bursting out of his cocoon, Jack finds a life he never knew before – beckoning.

To make a long story short (and further ruin the movie for you), Jack does jump out of the truck and run, he does find help and save his mother. But that is only halfway through the film, so there is still some story I haven’t ruined, yet.

Kevin remarked: “I have never seen a better symbol of the resurrection in my life.” What we celebrate this Easter is the fact that Jesus opens up a new world, a new life for all of us. Jesus helps us to see that our cramped little existence is not the whole story of our lives, there is a big bright wide sky to see. Our celebration of Easter reminds us that when sin has kidnapped our souls, has forced us into a restricted room, a confined space; when we think that what we have around us is all there is and all there could ever be – we are to trust there is more, live into the promise there is more, and find the fullness of the resurrected life. By breaking free from the tomb, Jesus demonstrates that life is more than just a limited existence. That is what we rejoice in today.

And when we truly believe this, it changes everything,[at Easter Vigil: It washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy. casts out hatred, brings us peace and humbles earthly pride] especially how we treat one another. There is another scene in the movie. Jack’s hair had never been cut. The kidnapper obvious did not trust Jack’s mother with anything sharp. When they return to the real world, Jack’s mother has a difficult adjustment. She feels guilty for being kidnapped. She feels guilty for not trying to escape earlier. She even feels a bit guilty about Jack’s very existence. She attempts suicide, and is taken to the hospital. While she is gone, Jack tells his newly discovered grandmother that he wants to get his hair cut. When she asks why, he reminds her of the story of Samson from the Bible. “I want to give her some of my strong,” he says.

We live in a world of victims and victimizers. We live in a world where people are forced to live or choose to live restricted, small, closed lives. Easter calls us to know we have been made for more and we are called to share that more, to give the world some of our strong. Happy Easter!

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faithApparently, we have a budding theologian among our children’s liturgy of the word group. He was smart enough to ask the question “Why do we call it Good Friday? We don’t call it Good Easter, or Good Sunday. So why do we call it Good Friday? There is nothing good about it.” Smart kid! On the most important level, he gets it. There is not much that is good about death. There is not much, on the surface level, that seems good about this day. But I love that he asked that question. I hope that he keeps asking that question, and questions like it for the rest of his life. For I believe that Good Friday is all about asking good questions….

He is not the first to ask questions about this day. The author of the letter to the Hebrews gives an answer to one of those good questions to ask in our second reading: Why did Jesus have to die? He tells us simply: Now we have a God who completely understands our struggle. Who completely gets the difficulties, the hardships, the wrenching losses and the physical pains of what it means to be human. In this, he reveals a God who is not aloof from our experience of life, but understands it completely. Thus, he concludes, we can confidently approach God to receive his mercy.

Perhaps a second “good question to ask on Good Friday” is: What do we know about God because of the Death of Jesus?

Fr. David Baronowski writes: The death of Jesus was absolute proof of God’s personal love and care for each of us. For the God who took on flesh and came among his people loves us in an individual and personal way. We are not simply one among billions. Each of us is the one for whom Christ died. As Saint Augustine told us, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us to love.”

There is a story that my brother Joe tells in his First Communion video – it is about a soldier in battle time. The shelling was heavy and the soldier’s friend forward of the battle lines was caught in one of the first blasts. He saw his friend take the hit and he began immediately to climb out of the fox hole to get him. His sergeant pulled him back. “Where are you going son?” “I’m going to save my friend.” “You can’t go out there. Your friend is done for, and if you go out there, you will get killed or shot up as well. It is not worth it. Leave him, son.” “Sir, I’ve got to go, and you can’t stop me.” With that, he leaps out of the hole, and runs across the field to where his friend was laying. After a moment, he begins to hoist him on his shoulders and starts to carry him back. Another shell blows up, close by, and they both fall. After a bit, somehow, he gets back up and staggers his way back to the fox hole, and collapsed there, with the body of his friend. The sergeant is angry: “See, I told you it was not worth it. You friend is dead, and you are all shot up. What a stupid waste that was! It was not worth it.” “Begging your pardon sir, but it was worth it. You see, when I got there, my friend was still alive. He looked at me and said: ‘I knew you would come. I knew you would come.’ So you see, it was worth it.”

Isn’t THAT precisely why this Friday is Good? It reveals the promise of God to all of us who lie wounded and broken on the battlefield of life – that He will come to us. He may not take away our cancer. He may not cure our sickness. The terrorists that plotted Tuesday bombings may be plotting the next attack. But God will come – and we will not be alone.

And then, perhaps, there is this final GREAT question that I hope my young friend learns to ask: How might I live the goodness of this day in my own time and space? How might I be that compassion and mercy and presence of God in a world that saw the bombings in Brussels this week, and the beheadings of ISIS this year, the tragedies of the Syrian Refugees, and the seeming daily killings on the streets of North St. Louis? How might I take the power of the cross and make that a pledge for a different way of living in this world?

In a few moments – we will have a chance to venerate the cross. . Certainly bring all that is wounded and broken to that time – all that needs forgiveness and healing and grace. AND, bring the desire, however small and fledgling it might be, to continue to break open the power of that day in your time and your space.

Why is this day called Good? It is a great question to ask. And an even more important one for us to answer with our lives….

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servantThis past January, while on vacation with my support group, Bishop Stika said a memorable thing at one of our daily masses. He was talking about a challenge he gave to the priests in his diocese. “Are you living your priesthood as a celibate or as a bachelor? Many will tell you it is tough not being married. And in some ways, they are right. But you did not choose ‘not to be married’. You chose to be celibate – you chose the freedom to embrace the church and serve her with all your heart and soul. The temptation in the priesthood is to live as a bachelor – enjoying your quiet time, your fishing, and your hobbies. And, as a person who is not readily accountable to another person, it is easy to get comfortable in your patterns of rest and work.

It is easy to live like a bachelor. So, when that phone call comes in the middle of the night, and you are living your priesthood as a bachelor, you won’t answer it. But if you are living it as a servant, you will. And when you are asked to beyond the call of duty, if you are living as a bachelor, you won’t. But as a servant, you will. So the choice is yours – are you willing to live your priesthood as a celibate, or will you live it as a bachelor?”

It has been a good examination of conscience for me since that January vacation. There are times, when I would look back on the end of a week’s journey and realize, I did a good job as a bachelor this week. Got my round of golf in. Made sure I got enough sleep. Had the chance to go out to dinner with some friends and made use of the opportunity. All of those are good things, aren’t they Lord? But then I remember, I had the chance to visit some folks in long term nursing facilities far outside the parish boundaries, and did not do so. I could have used a window of time to drop by the upper block classrooms, but I never feel like what I would do off the cuff is better than what the teacher had planned, so I didn’t. And then there was that student who didn’t look like they were having the best day. But rather than engage them deeply, I did the “I’ll keep you in my prayers’ thing. Prayers are always a good thing to do. But was that the celibate/servant thing to do? Hmmm…

Though we might use different words to describe that level of commitment depending on the context of our lives – isn’t that precisely the ‘question’ that Jesus ‘asks’ his disciples as he washes their feet? “If I, your Lord and Master have washed your feet, then you must do the same.” And, isn’t that exactly why Peter resisted having Jesus wash his feet? Peter knew EXACTLY what Jesus was asking of him in that loving action. Who will you be living your life for, Simon? Will it be about you – making sure you have your needs taken care of, making sure that you live comfortably within the confines of your life as a fisher man and a fisher of men. Or, will it be not about YOU – but rather, about the love that you pledge to the world that I send you to?”

“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asks not just the embarrassed and reluctant Peter and his disciples. Some 2,000 years later, do we understand what he has done for us as well?

In a few moments, you will have the opportunity to discover the amazing freedom that comes from the choice to be a servant and not a bachelor. There are three chairs here. I’ll be manning the one in the center. Come there if you need your feet washed and your heart loved and any smallness of heart washed away. The servers will start the other two. Once they have washed your feet, they will hand you the towel and basin to wash the feet of the person after you…

As we celebrate what this night asks us to do ‘in memory of me’, may we do ALL of this – our communion, our prayer and praise, and our washing of the feet and serving of one another, not as a bachelor, but always as a servant, with generous hearts and generous love.

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dashBefore the reading of the gospel:

It is not the first time that any of us has heard and celebrated the story. We know the players. We know the plot line. We even know the outcome – the good guys win.

And yet, we still gather to hear and tell the story – to let it pierce our hearts and lives. If you are like me, different parts of the narrative call to us year by year. So I ask you: “What is the most important part of the passion for you THIS YEAR? What line, what character, what moment calls to you and invites your attention? As you hear this story proclaimed – be attentive to that movement of the spirit, for it may say much about the journey the Lord invites you to be on.

After the Gospel

For some, it is the moment when Jesus dies upon the cross, and, having journeyed with him, they feel the power of that moment to set them free. For others, who have been hurt by ones they love, they identify with Peter in the courtyard. Still others hear Jesus’ words, uttered on the cross as impossibly difficult for them. “Father forgive them.” How can I say that when I have been so hurt?

For me, the moment was in the garden, the moment that makes the rest possible. “Take this cup away from me, but not what I will, but what you will.” How do you pray like that? Because I haven’t been liking very much what I have experienced of God this.

Personally,

  • my friend Dave’s death from ALS was tough.
  • mom’s two broken hips and surgeries and follow up have drained my energy.
  • Mom’s continual health decline has not been fun to accompany – will she recognize me in a few months?

In the public square,

  • I am not liking what appears to be my political choices come the fall election.
  • The continued erosion of civil liberties gives me pause.
  • The senseless acts of terrorism and violence against Christians in the Mideast is troubling and tragic.
  • And the refugee crisis continues unabated.

“Not my will, but yours be done.” Really? You had to go and say and pray that?! You had to live that freely and openly to the Father’s will, come what may? Don’t know difficult it is to do that? How seemingly impossible that is for us? Sigh! SIGH!

Which is EXACTLY why you did that. So that we might see in you an example, a witness that it can be done. That it should be done by those who strive to believe. Ahhh! Lord. That is why that is in my head. Because you are inviting me to trust. To surrender. To give my life so freely and completely…as you did. Not to be protective of my time as I am sometimes want to do, but to stay open at each moment. Not to be fearful of a phone call from the personnel board, should that come. Not to spend time wondering how long my mom will still be around on this planet and will she remember me in even a few month’s time?

And you? What moment caught you? And what is the invitation you find in that moment? What is Jesus’ passion and death trying to awaken inside of you?

We know this story. We know its beginning and ending. But what happens in the middle – the middle of our lives as we live it here and now – that is what truly matters…

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“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”

“What are we to make of these extraordinary words?

There are two main ways of understanding these words which Jesus quotes from Psalm 22. The first possibility is that Jesus’ words are not an expression of abandonment, but, paradoxically, an expression of hope in God…

But there is another possibility: Jesus really DID feel abandoned… It is not unreasonable to imagine Jesus, in this grave hour, FEELING as if the Father were absent. …The one who abandoned himself to the Father’s will in the garden of Gethsemane the night before, who had given himself entirely to what the Father had in store for Him, now wonders on the cross: “Where are You?”

Jesus does not despair. He is still in a relationship with Abba – calling on Him from the cross. In the midst of horrific pain, abandoned by all but a few of His friends, and facing His imminent death, when it would be almost impossible for anyone to think lucidly, He might have felt abandoned.

So Jesus understands…not only our bodily sufferings, but also our spiritual sufferings in these feelings of abandonment. He was like us in all things but sin. And He experienced all we do.

So, when you struggle in the spiritual life, when you wonder where God is, when you pray in doubt and darkness, and even when you are close to despair, you are praying to someone who understands you fully…”

This quote, from Fr. James Martin’s book: Seven Last Words seemed appropriate as we begin this holiest week in the church’s calendar. The challenge of Holy Week is to make the journey with Jesus, not as spectators, but as participants. Again, The schedule for our common prayer is as follows:

Morning Prayer – Thur-Fri-Sat – 8am

Holy Thursday
7:00 p.m. Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Adoration begins after Mass
11:30 p.m. Night Prayer

Good Friday 7:00 pm: The Lord’s Passion

Holy Saturday 8:00 pm: The Easter Vigil

Easter Sunday
8:00 a.m. Mass
11:00 a.m. Mass

Finally, in your kindness, pray for Kyle Cronan who is making his profession of faith into the Catholic church, as well as Jennifer O’Neill who is being confirmed and receiving first communion, and Janelle Miller who is being confirmed, all at the Easter Vigil. And on Easter Sunday morning, join us in welcoming Charli Niemczyk who is being baptized, and who will join her class at first communion two weeks later.

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

March 20, 2016

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voicesI grew up with voices in my head. Voices that spoke pretty loudly at times. Voices that tried to convince me of two very different things. On the one side, there were the voices that said: “You are a good kid, Bill Kempf. You are a good listener, obedient, respectful, and genuinely caring for people.” Voices that very seductively tried to have me buy into the one end of the confession and repentance spectrum: “Everything is fine between me and God’ – there is nothing to be repented of. You’ve got this ‘God and You’ thing down.”

On the other end were the voices that said this: “You are just Fred’s brother, or Joe’s brother, or Dennis or Walt’s or Mary’s brother. There is nothing special about you.” In fact, you are so unworthy of being your own self, of being loved, that when you fail, not even God could forgive what you have done. God could never want a person like you.” Both ends of that spectrum are deadly for the spiritual life. In today’s gospel we see those played out. And we see the desire of Jesus to embrace people hearing those voices on both ends of the forgiveness spectrum.

The ‘Scribes and the Pharisees’ fall perhaps into that first category – those who figure that they have it all together. And because they do, they can judge those who do not have it together. Because they believe that they have it together, then how easy is it for them to take to task those whom, like the woman, obviously don’t. And because they resent this Jesus who called rich and poor alike to repentance, they set their trap.

You can hear the tension after they present their case. “What do you say?” Their righteous challenge echoes through the air, and it hangs there, in the middle, as surely as the woman stands there in the middle.

So, what does Jesus do? He bends down and begins to write upon the ground. Maybe with a stick. Maybe with his finger. But he writes on the ground. We don’t know what he writes. But I can surmise why. He writes to buy some time, doesn’t he, for a reasoned response. He lets that mob mentality energy kind of die down in the sudden silence. People shuffle a bit, straining to hear what Jesus will say. And in that silence, suddenly, they can hear their own heart beat, can hear their own breath. They can see the flushed face of the women they make stand there, no longer a nameless woman caught in the act, but a scared human being, worthy less of judgment and more of mercy. He writes to give them time to return to themselves. And then we hear that most famous of all lines. “Let the one without sin, be the first to cast the stone.”

This time, he bends down and writes again – but no longer to buy time. Rather, to give them time to look into their own heart – to see their own need for mercy. In that space, in that non-judgmental moment, THEY are offered salvation. They are offered mercy – not the judgment of Jesus, calling them out, one by one in a Texas stare down; not Jesus holding them in their sin as they held the woman – but rather, that gentle doodling on the ground which allows them the time to see their need for the very mercy they were refusing to give.

Do you hear the voices in your life that call out your need for mercy?

Then, to the woman, after they had all gone away, you hear that same compassionate voice asking: “Where are they?” “Where are all those voices that wanted to hold you in your shame? Where are the voices, external and INTERNAL that wanted you to believe that what you had done was deserving of death – both spiritual and physical. That you had no hope of being loved and forgiven and accepted ever again. “Has no one condemned you?” If they, in their human smallness of heart can let this sin go, then, can you trust that I can as well? In my imagination, the woman’s feet don’t touch the ground the whole way back to her home.

Do you only hear the voices of the Scribes and Pharisees saying ‘you have no need to repent? Do you find yourself, perhaps like the woman, only able to hear the voices which say there is no possibility of forgiveness for you?

Hear today the only voice you need hear –that of the divine physician Jesus, who desires THAT ALL should come to know God’s mercy and forgiveness. Hear him say to the self righteous side within – “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” Hear him say to the seemingly unlovable part within you: Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more…”

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

March 13, 2016

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