Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Alternative Year-Round Gifts

Black Friday has now come and gone, and admittedly it was not all that big of a deal for me. I don’t do much at the malls; I may go out to get a gift card for my sister at one of her favorite stores, but I do what I can to avoid the crowds and will have most of my Christmas stuff shipped to me.

 

While I have a pretty good idea of what I’ll be getting for family (Kirby is the easiest to shop for, he’s good with either turkey, salami, ham or chicken) as I was thinking about what to give people, I couldn’t help but think of year round gifts. Sure, there is the jelly of the month club membership (the gift that keeps on giving) but there are a number of gifts that we can give loved ones that really do make a difference throughout the year. Most of these don’t have a monetary value either so you won’t have to stand in line. But they do require a bit of time. So as you are sending out the cards over the next few weeks, consider these gifts that can really make a difference in the lives of others (and yourself). In no particular order:

 

  1. Pray for the people in your life. Praying for the living and dead is one of the spiritual works of mercy. Prayer connects us to others, and helps us think of one another. Make it a point to pray daily both loved ones and people in your life you think could use some extra prayer, including those who you might not be on the best of terms with.

 

  1. Visit loved ones, especially those who aren’t as mobile. People often look forward to Christmas cards, or get-togethers, but so many times we can’t find the time to drop in and visit people. Time is a limited commodity for us all, so maybe as the year goes by you can think of people you could spend more time with and give them the gift of your presence.

 

  1. Make time for your family. It sounds obvious, but we are such busy bodies. Sometimes the family dinner, a family game night or movie night, or just spending a night in is a foreign concept. When we break bread together or spend time together, we’re able to know what’s going on in one another’s lives, and have meaningful conversations. A family meal shouldn’t just be at Thanksgiving.

 

  1. Occasionally, take it easy. This too should be self-explanatory, but if God took a day off we can too. It’s important to have time for rest. Try to have down time for yourself and your loved ones.

 

  1. Do things without being asked. Growing up sometimes our parents need to remind us to do our chores, because we find that it’s more preferable to say watch TV or hope that someone else does them. But on the one hand while we do need time to take it easy, sometimes we can take that too far and take advantage of others. In real life there is no fairy godmother or Mary Poppins. We all have to do our fair share in our homes, so take initiative.
  2. Do something nice for someone on an ordinary day. Birthday cakes, graduation parties, and other milestones are great, but one of the things I encourage couples to do in my wedding homilies are to have date nights on occasion, and to do nice things for one another on any ordinary day. It’s a nice way to say “I love you.”

 

  1. Our parish thrives because so many people give freely of their time. There are so many opportunities to volunteer and serve both here at Saint Joe’s, in your school and in the community. It’s a rewarding thing to give of your time.

 

  1. Be a mentor. We are so used to a rapid-pace life, we can forget that people need patience, guidance and advice. This could mean being aware of what’s going on in the lives of your kids and spending more time listening to them, or helping a friend or other family member. The advice, prayer and support of others has done so much to help me on my life journey.

 

  1. Assist the elderly and handicapped. One of the things that I learned as a child was that when shoveling the walkway, it was automatic that I’d shovel the walkway of my grandparent’s neighbors. Both were at a point where it was dangerous for them to shovel, and it was the least I could do for them. Maybe you have people in your family or a neighbor who needs a bit of help shoveling, or grocery shopping or with some other housework.

 

  1. Make Mass a weekly priority. If you are reading this you probably were at Mass recently, but one of the greatest gifts we are given as Catholics is the Eucharist. The Eucharist gives us grace and love of God. God loves us so much, and a great gift we are given is God’s love. But when we make Mass a priority, it sends a message to others that this is the most important thing of our week too, and encourages people to have a long-lasting relationship with God.

 

  1. Letting go of grudges isn’t easy, and perhaps there are people in your life whom you are estranged from, or have a hard time with. Maybe you’ll come across some as you work on Christmas cards. Try to reconcile with them, and let go of anger. It will help you as much as it will help them.

 

  1. Show kindness. It can be easy in life to tear others down, to be blind to their needs, or be condescending. Simple kind acts can do so much to brighten a person’s day and remind them they are loved. A nice word to a waitress or salesperson, holding the door open for someone, a compliment to a coworker, teacher, police officer or member of the armed forces, letting someone into your lane, not tailgating, etc. The list is endless. Random acts of kindness added up do so much to bring people closer to God. So do them, every day.

 

  1. Who in your life needs you? What are people you care about trying to say but maybe have a hard time saying? Who might be hurting? When we listen to others and truly get to know them, we might find they need us to help them deal with a school bully, a class they are struggling in, a difficult marriage, or other life transition. Spending time with people we can truly know their deepest needs.

I’m sure Santa will bring many gifts for your family this year, and while I’ll be buying gifts and enjoying seeing people open them come Christmas, as I reflect on my family and the great people who fill my life, it really is the many simple things that people have done for me that have left such a big impact. I’ve yet to have a funeral planning session where someone shared with me the incredible tangible Christmas gifts from years gone by, but most every funeral planning meeting includes some of the many things on this list. Never forget what a great gift you are to the people around you – use the gifts God has given you to help people see Him every day.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Grandparents: Our Life-Long Companions on the Highway to Heaven

The vast majority of my Christmas decorations have been up for a couple of weeks now.

I usually put them up in early November once daylight savings time ends. While the added light in morning is nice, with it getting dark at 5 p.m., it’s nice to brighten up the house a bit. After all, the lights can either stay in a Tupperware bin or be turned on, so why not turn them on?

As I put out the village and the tree and turn on the lights, one of the last things to go up is the Nativity figurines and the ornaments.

As I pull out the ornaments each year, one of the things that I’m reminded of every year are my grandparents, because many of them were created by my grandmother, Pat, and collected by my grandparents Henry and Evelyn.

Grandma Pat is quite the remarkable sewer. On my tree there is a grandfather clock, a mailbox, a small set of golf clubs, a fireplace, a pair of ice skates, and numerous other little ornaments she sewed over the years. On top of that, at my parents home were small buildings she created. As a child, she wanted me to have my own town. So she’d spend her days literally creating a town out of needle and thread. It included a hardware store, a TV repair shop (we may buy them now when they break but back in the day, my grandpa Mike ran his own repair shop), and a church.

The Nativity Set came from Italy, and my Godmother Gen purchased it in the early 1950s. She was in many ways like a grandmother to me too. As a child, I remember visiting her home which I thought was the neatest house I’d ever been in; it was in Southeast Minneapolis, and had been the family home. And to this day, I’ll never forget her wonderful car that I’d love to take for a spin: a late 70’s model lime green Dodge Dart.

This week, I am privileged to celebrate Mass on Wednesday as our school marks grandparents day. Knowing many grandparents of our school children who come to daily Mass, it’s always a joy to see them all together with their grandkids for a morning of fun activities.

The reason though I use the term “life-long” to describe grandparents, and refer to my grandma Pat in the present tense, even though she passed away 15 years ago, is that I know that no matter what the future holds for me, my grandparents will journey with me every day. Evelyn is my last living grandmother, who just turned 100 this past fall. I’m privileged to be able to still visit her and spend time with her.

They journey with me in the sense that they pray for me as I pray for them, but the ornaments I put out, the buildings I’m still able to look at that are made of yarn, these are not just nice things to look at. They are reminders. Reminders to me of people who sacrificed so much for their families. Of people who lived out their faith. Of people who were generous with their time and put others ahead of them. I have so many great memories of Pat, Mike, Henry, Evelyn and my Godmother Gen, but I also am inspired as life goes on to keep trying to become a better priest and man because of what I learned through them.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving in a few days, I’ll be seeing loved ones again, while at the same time thinking about how I could still be watching football with my grandfather before the turkey or having my grandmother make sure that the gravy was more than I’d need for my potatoes and turkey. I won’t be physically sitting down to have a meal with them anymore. But they are a whole lot more than photos and hand made ornaments. They are people who made, and continue to make a difference in my life and are now at a banquet that is far better than anything you or me will be enjoying Thursday evening. One day I hope to join them there, and I truly believe I can because they help me to get closer to them every day, one step at a time.

To all of our grandparents, thank you for the difference you make in our lives. May God bless you and your families this Thanksgiving.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Honoring our Vets Year-Round

Robert VanDerslice, like millions of people, found himself one morning waiting on a seat in a crowded airport for his boarding call. While looking around though the crowd, he saw a rather unusual sight. There was an elderly man sitting across from him, facing a large picture window that gave passengers a view of the runway. Robert notes that the eyes of the man reflected a life of hardship, and as he looked at the man, he noticed tears streaming down from his eyes. Wanting to do something, Robert walked over to him and asked if he could join him, asking the man if he was alright.

There was silence at first, and then the man asked “did you stand when She walked by?” Confused by the question, Robert said he didn’t understand. He then looked at him in his eyes, and asked again, “did you stand when She walked by?” Still confused, Robert told him that he didn’t understand, and asked the man if he stood when she walked by, with no clue as to who “she” could be. At this point, the elderly man turned and looked out the window to the tarmac. It seemed that the conversation was over.

Robert began to walk away, but was still troubled by the question. He boarded his plane, and found his seat as the plane began to clear the gate. He then looked back at the terminal that he had left, where he saw the man sitting alone facing the tarmac. He was still alone, and Robert saw that several others walked up to him, but left confused, shaking their heads, or just leaving quickly. And yet the man continued to stare out the window. It was then that Robert was able to see what the man was staring at.

About 300 yards away was a plane surrounded by military personnel. Watching from his plane, he saw a small procession of six men carrying a flag draped coffin away from the plane to a waiting hearse, where they stood after the rear door of the black car had been closed and they offered a salute as the car drove slowly away. He looked back to the window of the terminal, where the man was sitting still, offering a salute but not standing, for he was confined to a wheel chair.

The plane hadn’t completely left the gate yet, and Robert was able to get off the plane has it had a rolling stair gantry for passenger access. He walked quickly and headed for the terminal, back to the elderly man. He walked up next to him, and faced the plane as another coffin draped with the flag was placed in a waiting hearse, and this time he raised his hand in salute, allowing his hand to drop only when the hearse rolled out of view around a security fence.

The elderly man once again looked at Robert, visibly moved. He said in a quivering voice, “Thank you sir…for what you did. My greatest wish these days is to stand again for her, but I can’t. I gave my legs in ’43 and my oldest son in ’67 to that Lady, so she could keep walking. It hurts when no one cares that she walks by.”

Robert ended up missing that flight, but writes “my heart and soul found wings to the heavens on the words of a 90-year old man who dared to share a heart full of memories with me and dared to remind me why Old Glory still waves as the beacon of hope in a lost world.”

This Saturday, our nation celebrates Veteran’s Day. I’ve been honored to know so many of these unsung heroes, and I am thankful to them every day for preserving the liberties that I enjoy as an American. It’s so important though that we never take them, or our country, for granted.

With that in mind, I’d like to share a list that is posted on the website of the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs. It was developed by the Behavioral Health staff at the Spokane VA Medical Center. These are simple things we can do all year, and not just on November 11th. To those of you who have served so that I can have the freedom to pray, to write this column, and to live in this amazing land, thank you!

  1. Attend a Veteran’s Day event.
  2. Ask a Veteran about their time in the military, and really listen to the answer.
  3. Hang a flag in your yard.
  4. Ask an aging Veteran to share with you the song that most takes them back.
  5. Visit the gravesite of a Veteran.
  6. Visit a homebound Veteran in their home, talk with them, and thank them for their service.
  7. Visit a homeless Veteran under a bridge, and do the same.
  8. Take a Veteran out to dinner.
  9. Take dinner in to a Veteran.
  10. Tell someone (your family, a friend, a neighbor) about an experience you had serving a Veteran at the VA.
  11. Take flowers to a Veterans memorial.
  12. Write and send a letter to someone who’s currently serving in the military .
  13. Ask a neighbor about their deployment.
  14. Call a Veteran family member.
  15. Thank a Veteran co-worker for their service.
  16. Take a private moment to be proud of your country.
  17. Teach someone (a child, a friend, a neighbor) what it means to be a Veteran.
  18. Share pictures of a Veteran with someone.
  19. Say a silent prayer for those who are serving.
  20. Learn about a current or past war/conflict (this will make you a better helper).
  21. Look up your ancestry and learn about someone in your family who was a Veteran.
  22. Hug your family, and tell them that it’s thanks to Veterans that you get to.
  23. Observe a moment of silence with family and friends.
  24. Read something a Veteran wrote about their experience.
  25. Wear your favorite “Pro-Vet” T-Shirt. (Examples:  Free Hugs for Vets; Remember Our Fallen Veterans; Freedom is not FREE…; Thank a VETERAN; I Heart Veterans!).
  26. Buy a Buddy Poppy. Wear it all day, attach it to your purse or bag and keep it there until it falls apart.  When people ask what it is, tell them.
  27. Read and share the poem “In Flanders Field the poppies grow”.
  28. Make sure your children and grandchildren know who the Veterans are within their own family, and share the family stories with them.
  29. Do a project about Veterans with young children or grandchildren.  For example, let them make their own Veteran flag and plant  it in a pot of flowers in front of the house.
  30. Write on your blog about your appreciation for Veterans.
  31. Help young children or grandchildren make a thank you card, and post them in the window or at a grocery store bulletin board or library or some other public place.
  32. (Good for any day:) Stand out in front of the VA greet Veterans as they are being dropped off at the door.  Some older folks even need a hand getting out of the car.
  33. Tell a loved one why you enjoy serving Veterans.
  34. 34. Buy a homeless Veteran a cup of coffee.
  35. Donate time or money or supplies to local Veterans Day drives.
  36. Volunteer to help a Veteran’s Service Organization (there are lots!).
  37. Take a moment to reflect on what it means to live in America.
  38. Gather with friends and family and watch a patriotic movie.
  39. Go to a Veterans Day parade.
  40. Write in your journal how thankful you are for the service of Veterans.
  41. Take a quiet moment and imagine hearing “taps” played in your head.  Think about what it means.
  42. Thank a Veteran of his/her service while doing errands.
  43. Shake a Veteran’s hand.
  44. Send an email that tells a Veteran’s story to the people on your contact list.
  45. Pick one or two of the activities listed above, and resolve to do them at least one time every month this year when it’s NOT Veteran’s Day.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Neither Gone Nor Forgotten

One of the challenges in our modern society is a difficulty in knowing how to handle death.

Understandably, most of us might not think about it until our time is very short, if we have any time to prepare for it at all. But as for the theology of death, many of us still can have a hard time what to make of it. Indeed we had a whole course at seminary on the very topic of death, heaven, hell and purgatory. And while one bulletin column is far too small to do the topic of death and the afterlife justice, these are important things to think about, especially in November, a month where the Church as a special focus on them.

For one, as a quick refresher of what we mean by heaven, hell and purgatory. Heaven is where we are with God forever; and many people are there. Some are canonized and we declare them in heaven; many more are known only to God, the people we celebrate on All Saint’s Day. In heaven, the joy and happiness are perpetual as we are with God forever.

There are some who reject God entirely. God loves, but it is not a forced love. The reality of this is a consequence we call hell; the absence of God. It is eternal frustration because a person is away from God forever.

And as for purgatory, this is often a source of confusion for people. I’ve never much cared for the term “poor souls in purgatory” that you sometimes have heard people pray for, not because we should not pray for people after death, but “poor souls” implies that it is some horrible state. Far from it. When we die, we are no longer in time. Time is an element of this earth; hence we can pray at a cemetery and have earthly remains of someone while that person can still be in heaven too. It could be the case that a person loves God deeply, but has a nagging sin they have struggled with, or needs to take a final step or two to have their love perfected. It is not a matter of “doing time” or waiting, rather for those who pass through purgatory, it is God’s presence there who helps a person take those final steps to become perfect.

What we see in this is our connection to our loved ones and how it remains strong. We pray for our dead in the event they are continuing on their journey home to heaven. Of course, they may already be in heaven. And they are probably praying for us too on our journey as it continues through life.

Through it all is the love of God. This love is given to us time and time again, and when we die, that love is still there to welcome us home, and enable us to make the final few steps to get home to heaven. This means we move forward in hope.

But it also means we move forward together with our loved ones. Death impacts us all. But we also need to know how to deal with it properly.

You may have heard the term “gone but not forgotten.” On the one hand, a person is gone physically when they die, and that pain must be acknowledged. You never really get over loss entirely until you are reunited in heaven.

But on the other hand, a person is not just a collection of memories. Eulogies for instance are not allowed at Catholic Funeral Masses. One can have words of remembrance which are offered prior to the Mass starting. And this is not to be cold, but rather because the purpose of the funeral Mass is to offer worship to God for Christ’s victory over death, to comfort those who remain, and to pray for the soul, not to hear a a speech about the person’s life or accomplishments. This is why memory sharing is more appropriate at the wake or at a funeral luncheon. Memories are well and fine, but the person who is in the casket is not gone. During the Mass itself, we hear readings of the Resurrection, of hope, and of how life is eternal.

This needs to continue after the Mass though too.

On the one hand, I have memories of people I’ve lost I think about all the time, and often reminisce with family and friends about them. But I also know that I am forever connected to these wonderful people who I might not see any more physically, but who journey with me every day. I pray for them every single night in my evening prayers. I believe they pray for me. And I take what I gained from my time with them on this earth, and try to emulate those things into my daily life. The things they can’t quite teach you in a theology book: how to have a sense of humor, how to be a person of joy, how to think of others first, how to be patient. These are things the loved ones I’ve lost have shown me, and because of them I know that I can keep on striving to become a better person because they have truly shown me how to do just that.

The reality is on the one hand we are only here for a little while, as much as we might want to ignore that. But the truth is also the words of the two men in dazzling garments at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday: “why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5). Jesus is risen, and we will rise too to be with Him forever. But just because we go to Him, does not mean that for those of us who hope to go to heaven too that we are separated because of death. Quite the contrary. Death does not have the last word. Jesus does – and may that fill us with hope. And just as Jesus comes to us in a different way today than He did when He walked the earth physically 2000 years ago, the same is true for our loved ones. I may not be able to enjoy my grandma’s chocolate chip cookies, or watch the World Series with my grandpa any longer. But I know they live on, and pray for me as I pray for them, and are a part of my journey every single day. So are your loved ones too. So visit a cemetery. Pray for them. Remember the good times, but also remember all that you learned from them. And remember that one day, you will see them again – but until that day comes, they are living on in you too in how you put into practice all that they showed you about how to truly live.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Don’t Overthink Halloween

High school was one of the first times that I was really exposed to people of other faiths. I remember the first week of school, an inter-faith Bible study group formed prior to school starting. Hearing this over the PA, I thought it would be great to join.

To be sure, there were some very good experiences in that group. But when faiths intermingle, even if we are all Christian in name, the reality is we are separated due to the consequences of history and effects of original sin between denominations in Christianity. As Catholics, we are part of the original Church and still have the guiding of the Church with Tradition with the capital “T” – something that is very helpful to help us grow in holiness and understand the faith which is being continually understood at a deeper level by the Church.

Among the issues that came up in this Bible Study club was Halloween. Specifically, there was a staff member at the school who was Assemblies of God. He hosted at his home an informal gathering for students with food, and it was about this time of year. I remember him remarking that his kids and family did not celebrate Halloween, associating it with the devil.

While it might be understandable one could make that link, in reality, if I were to go back or to have a conversation with him today and he had children who were of “trick or treating” age, I’d politely say for crying out loud man, let your kids enjoy this rite of childhood and do not overthink the day turning a day for stocking up on candy into something that it isn’t.

The holiday’s history is the eve of All Saints Day. It was known as a time for Christians to mock the devil by reveling in the triumph of Jesus Christ over evil and death. To borrow from the website catholic.com” “That sound you now hear every October 31 is the devil mocking us. It seems some Christians, displaying a Grinch-ish dislike of the simple joys of dress-up and candy consumption, have literally demonized the traditional observation of Halloween as pagan—and worse…Many Christians through the centuries have entertained an unhealthy fear (as distinguished from a healthy fear) of the devil. Dressing children in “scary” costumes for the amusement of the neighbors can defang evil by demonstrating that innocence is adorable and evil is but a damned parasite on all that is good and noble. But in a hyper-scrupulous environment, it can be difficult for Christians to appreciate that there is spiritual value in such a mockery of evil—or even that it is mockery of evil and not participation in it.”

Looking at history a little more deeply, about the year 610, Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Roman Pantheon (still a lovely place to visit) to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to all Christian martyrs and set aside the day in their honor. The day coincided with a pagan Roman celebration to satisfy the restless dead. A century later, the day of All Saints was moved to November 1st. “All Hallows” eventually joined the stable of popular designations of time in the Church’s calendar when the Church commemorates the saints.

Those of you who know Irish history might have heard of a link to the Celtic festival of Samhain, a feast for the Druid “lord of the dead” god. The Celts celebrated a time of the closeness of the natural and supernatural with fall ending and winter beginning. However there is no direct link that was intended by having the festival on the same date. And in Ireland, newly baptized Christians were not forbidden to build bonfires during the autumn months, or to carve gourds into lanterns, or to set out treats for the dearly departed. Realizing the missionary value of incorporating non-evil pagan folk practices into Christian customs, the Church allowed Christians to continue these old customs, seeing in them ways to pass on the faith.

Enter the Calvinists. If you want to ruin a party, invite a Calvinist. (There aren’t that many around anymore, but John Calvin and his ideas led to even Christmas not being celebrated for a time in England). In the 17th century, all “popish” holidays were crushed when the Puritans ruled England and those areas in the American colonies where they settled. Christmas and Easter proved too important to the Christian liturgical year to be snuffed out permanently and were for the most part restored as Christian holy days. Halloween, on the other hand, never recovered. To this day, Christians from Fundamentalist Protestant to conservative Catholic remain locked in debate whether Halloween is a Christian holiday—and, if it is, to what extent Christians should celebrate it.

So the bottom line is Halloween is a day to enjoy, for children to get some candy, for parents, grandparents and neighbors to smile as the little ones come to the door, and to have a bit of fun. Remember, costumes of all kinds are fun, but saints are another option to dress up as at times. This would be an opportunity to get to know the saints and their many great stories as they are just like us.  They show us how to overcome sin and how to become spiritually great and are wonderful stories to share with kids too.

Have a great week and happy Halloween.

God bless,    Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Prudence, Tolerance, and Freedom of Speech

Recently a lot of headlines have been made about some “taking a knee” during the National Anthem in the NFL. It’s even spread to a few youth teams here and there. An Iowa marching band even walked off the field last week during the national anthem. The debate has been this is “freedom of speech.” But to me, there’s deeper issues here that give us the chance to look at the whole issue of freedom of speech, and when it’s right to use it, verses to exercise restraint.

For one, I think we must remember freedom of speech has limits. You can’t yell “fire!” In a crowded theater. As this applies to the NFL, I do think that players have the right to “take a knee” if they so desire. I would not propose a law jailing someone for taking a knee during the national anthem. BUT, (and it’s a big BUT) what I think is being missed here is the prudence of doing such a thing, and the fact that while for you and me, the NFL is a source of entertainment, for the men on the field, it is their place of work.

That being said, as an NFL fan, I do not like the “taking a knee.” I find it disrespectful of the flag, and also question if it helps or hurts the message the players doing it are trying to convey (more on that later). That is not the point of this column however. But with respect to the limits of freedom of speech, what I think is being missed is that the owners have a right to limit it, because the “taking a knee” is being done on their time, by their employees. Whether they choose to do so will remain to be seen. I continue to enjoy the NFL, and am not boycotting it. But it’s important to remember while we have the right to express our opinions and say it, employers can also limit this. I had to do just that once. At a prior parish I served, we started child care during Mass (hopefully we’ll have that here too down the road). One person on staff promptly put something on Facebook implying children were not welcomed at Mass because she did not like the change. I told her this needed to be removed as she worked for the parish, and we can’t have employees voicing disagreement with the parish. She did remove it without any pushback. I also had a friend, now a priest, who once drove for Coca Cola. He told me that if he were seen with a Pepsi in the truck he’d be canned (no pun intended). And if I as a priest went off on social media against my bishop, or “took a knee” at a meeting during the National Anthem, I’d expect a phone call from “downtown.” So the bottom line is we can’t have a sense of entitlement and think we can say whatever we want without consequences.

We also need to ask ourselves how will what I am doing impact what point I am trying to make, and will this help or hurt my message? Think of the Westboro Baptist people – the people who protest funerals, Chiefs games, concerts, etc. They may have a freedom to protest, but their doing so hurts other people. No matter what your issue, I think most would hope that they could have dialogue or change the mind of the other person. The problem is we seem to be arguing less, and shouting more as a society. As I mentioned in my homily last week, a Christian pro-life group got kicked out of a coffee house in Seattle, Bedlam Coffee, by it’s owner, Ben Borgman, who told the group, “I’m gay, you have to leave.” Ben didn’t seem to even want to talk to them, and proceeded to mock Christ and hurl profanities at them. They just wanted some coffee. Sadly these things aren’t isolated. It’s good to try to listen to others, to have a conversation, and to agree to disagree if needed. But while one my have the freedom to shout, to yell, to get on social media, if all it accomplishes is making you feel better for a few minutes but no real change, we might want to think about our speech.

It’s also important to think about how our speech impacts others. A few weeks ago I watched my beloved Twins in New York. The crowd was having fun with Max Kepler, who dove for a ball that perhaps he didn’t need to dive for. They took it upon themselves to jeer and taunt him; my favorite were the women in front of us. One said to the other “don’t make fun of him, he’s from Minnesota, he’s miserable enough!” Now this is what you’d expect in the outfield of a Major League Baseball game, especially in the Bronx. There was no hate or animosity there. But think if you yelling at a 12 year old, or his coach. Why are you doing this? Perhaps you have a right to yell or jeer, but might that embarrass or hurt the feelings of someone? To take it a bit further, if one is going off on social media on their family, or even not respecting a family member’s wishes not to post pictures of them or talk about them all the time online, or if a Catholic is condemning the pope and bishops, is that really a prudent use of speech? I’d argue not. We never want to harm others or our Church with our speech (or what we put on social media!), so it’s important to think about what we say and write before we do it.

Tolerance is also an important thing for us to have. Again, in this age of shouting, it’s important not to hate. If we see someone taking a knee on TV, but then hate everyone who takes a knee or call them all a “bunch of unpatriotic bums,” that’s a problem. Now we don’t have to watch them, or even support them. Some have tuned out the NFL and that’s just fine. But we need to respect the voices of those with whom we disagree. This is why I think with respect to the national anthem, it might be better for those who do take a knee to instead consider having a town hall meeting, blogging, giving money to their causes or interacting with fans on social media so people know what their message really is all about. This is true with other issues too. We can be very passionate about our politics, our faith, and passion is good. But even if we know we won’t change on an issue, we can at least hear the other person out, and respect them and their right to speak their minds.

Lastly, thinking before we speak is a good thing. It can be easy to click “send” online or to let emotion bubble over when we get into heated discussions. But if we want others to really hear our message and not just our voice or emotions, speech requires thought. Again, we need to think about how what we say will impact our families, friends, Church, or reflect upon our faith. It’s good to know what we are talking about by studying our issue. Take what goes on in the pro-life movement with sidewalk counseling outside abortion clinics, or at life centers that help moms choose life. There is no judgment, no shouting, no hate. Rather presented are the facts of what happens as a child develops, prayer, tolerance, and ways for people to make a better choice. This kind of action has led to thousands of babies being saved, and even led to the conversion of Norma McCorvey, who was the “Jane Roe” in Roe v. Wade and one time abortion activist to change. Because of their work to help others see the sanctity of life in the womb and to truly educate, as opposed to shouting at people or making attacks, the pro-life movement has changed minds and saved lives. There’s a lot we can learn from how they get their message across.

Freedom of Speech is one of our cherished rights, as it should be. But as God gave us a mouth, He also gave us virtues, among them prudence, which guides us in so many things, among them in how to speak and use that mouth. So let’s use that virtue and think about what we say and how we say it, while at the same time remembering that person with whom we disagree is also a human being created in the image and likeness of God.

Have a great week! 

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: From Presumption to Preparation

In the familiar short story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” an emperor is so vain and so preoccupied with the beauty of his garments, that when two shady individuals decide to take advantage of his vanity by pretending to prepare garments for him that only others can see, he is made a fool for being at a parade without any clothes on.

The story may be a fable, but on a deeper level we too must be on guard that we are not caught like the emperor when we stand before God at the end of our lives, avoiding the presumption that our ticket to heaven is stamped, but rather daily preparing for the banquet that awaits us.

This week in our Gospel, we are told that a king and his son are hosting a wedding banquet. Many people are invited to the banquet but some refuse to come. When messengers go out a second time, they are given excuses from people why they cannot come, and some even do violence to the messengers. Finally, servants of the king go into the streets to find people to come to the wedding, the “bad and good” alike. One person though has no wedding garment. When asked why he is unprepared, he is reduced to silence, and thrown out of the feast.

It seems like a rather cold thing to do. After all, this person gets invited to a party with relatively short notice. And who could expect him to actually have a wedding garment ready?

To understand this, we need to understand what is meant by “wedding-garment.” In the time when this parable was written, whatever state of life you were in carried with it certain obligations, and among these were wedding customs which applied to everyone, no matter what. If you were invited to a wedding, you were required to come properly dressed, and there were no exceptions. The man is unprepared.

The people in the story are symbolic of the people in the world. The king symbolizes the Father; the son of the king represents Jesus. Some in the world react with violence to the message; others with indifference.

From this Gospel, we have a couple of challenges.

The first is that we must be vigilant to be on guard to have the opinion that based on our status, we are entitled to an invitation to the banquet. Much like the people in the vineyard last week, just being there does not mean all is ours forever. Sometimes, we can get high on our horse and look down on others. We can become judgmental; looking down on some for their past, or for whom they associate with, or think that we can peer into their souls. We can then have a lofty opinion of ourselves and think we are entitled to heaven because we are “better” than others because we say more prayers, go to Mass every week, or are knowledgable with respect to what the Church teaches. It can be very easy to overlook gossip, a condescending attitude, or a “holier than thou” mentality. Small wonder Jesus is so often critical of Pharisees, those who were good at knowing the rules but not focused on interior conversion.

That interior conversion and daily call to holiness is the challenge of our Gospel as well. We never know when we will stand before God. The term “God fearing” can be confusing. We should not fear God because He will punish us; rather the fear is the fear of letting Him down. Daily we should strive to grow in holiness by asking ourselves “how can I become a better person today?” Much like a tailor working to make beautiful garments, we do the same thing with grace. Grace is the invitation that is given to us to go to the banquet, but it requires a response. We have to acknowledge what God has done for us and daily strive to return that love.

Indeed, the joy for us in heaven is beyond anything we can comprehend. As our first reading tells us, “He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let is be glad and rejoice…” Let’s make sure we are prepared for the banquet by being mindful that all are invited to it, and reminding ourselves that the materials for the garment are given to us by God, and working on the proper response takes daily preparation.

Blessings,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: All of us are Guardian Angels

Last week we celebrated the feast of the Guardian Angels on Monday, October 2nd.

Though there’s a lot of theology behind angels, the web site “saintoftheday.org,” (run by the Franciscans, very helpful to learn about the feast days of the various saints) summarizes guardian angels in the following way:

Perhaps no aspect of Catholic piety is as comforting to parents as the belief that an angel protects their little ones from dangers real and imagined. Yet guardian angels are not only for children. Their role is to represent individuals before God, to watch over them always, to aid their prayer, and to present their souls to God at death.

The concept of an angel assigned to guide and nurture each human being is a development of Catholic doctrine and piety based on Scripture but not directly drawn from it. Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:10 best support the belief: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”

Devotion to the angels began to develop with the birth of the monastic tradition. Saint Benedict gave it impetus and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the great 12th-century reformer, was such an eloquent spokesman for the guardian angels that angelic devotion assumed its current form in his day.

The day also coincided with the news of the tragic shootings in Las Vegas that left more than 50 dead and hundreds wounded.

On the one hand, when we see such events, the inevitable question of “why?” emerges. Tragedies occur daily in the world, and perhaps one might wonder why angels don’t intervene to stop accidents, wars, and violence.

Certainly evil is permitted to continue in the world by God, but this does not mean He is absent from it. Remember, He suffered along with us and was victimized by evil too, dying for us. But this does not mean that we are alone in the world. Indeed, angels do watch over us, but we also see angels in the flesh in the sense that from tragedies, we see heroes emerge. And that is something all of us are called to be: a guardian angel in this world.

On the one hand, there are those in uniform. The heroes in our military. The people who are police officers. The firefighters and paramedics. Two police officers were killed last Monday. These people do not get the respect that they deserve, and we should honor them, thank them, pray for them, and appreciate all they do for us. When we have an accident, when someone is breaking into our home, or when a family situation is escalating and becoming dangerous, they are the first people on the scene to bring peace to it. They are true guardian angels in a dangerous world.

But we also must remember that we are called to that role as well. Sin is ugly, and there is no escaping the reality of evil. As such, we need to do something about it and be guardian angels too for people in the world, especially children and vulnerable adults.

Certainly on the one hand, any time we suspect abuse, we must get involved and alert authorities. It’s always better to err on the side of caution, and that phone call to the police could save a life.

More often than not though, it’s the things that go on daily where we need to use fortitude to act to get involved. We need to be aware to what kids go through at school, when there is bullying going on, when a child may be exposed to pornography, or dealing with an overbearing parent at sporting events. The list really is endless, but that’s why God gives us a conscience that tells us “you need to do something.”

There will always be evil in the world, and there is no way to shield children from it all. But if you’ve seen guardian angels depicted in art, they are often pictured walking with children through a journey, and that needs to be all of us. When we do the right thing, we can truly combat evil with good, and by being aware to the presence of evil in all it’s many forms we can live out those words from Matthew’s Gospel that we proclaimed last Monday: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” Jesus also wants us to be their angles, so let’s do that by being aware of what children deal with, and when we see threats, do something about them rather than remain silent.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: The Marathon of Service

Every fall, Catholic schools around the country have a marathon. Growing up going to two different Catholic schools, I participated in such events myself.  This year at St. Joseph School, we will not be collecting pledges, but will be giving of ourselves in service. Students are encouraged to bring in coin donations that will go directly to Feed My Starving Children.  Our fundraising efforts will be focused on the winter Catholic Schools Raffle and our Spring School Gala on April 14th, 2018.

When I arrived at Saint Joe’s and asked about the marathon, I learned that it was going to have a bit of a different flavor. Instead of getting pledges for running, walking and biking, the students would use that time and instead be boxing food at Feed My Starving Children. This food will then be sent to people in need in underdeveloped countries such as Haiti, and help fight malnourishment and hunger. The meals are specifically formulated for malnourished children. FMSC has reached out to over 70 countries. Though the people who pack the meals and those needy children who eat them may never meet on this earth, such a big difference is being made thanks to people giving of their time.

What a great idea. By doing this, it reminds us of how we are connected to one another. Walking and biking is great, and we should exercise to take care of our bodies, but we also need to take care of the Body of Christ. Our service marathon gives students a chance to think about how they, too, can reach out to others and make a difference. What a great teaching moment!  So often we get stuck in our own little world, and forget there is so much good that we can do.

Filling one bag with food might not end malnutrition, but it leaves an impact. And daily, we have the chance to make a difference too. A marathon is a tough thing to run – it takes endurance and determination. We run the marathon of life for the crown of eternal life. So let’s learn from our students and ask ourselves how we can do a daily service marathon for people in our lives who need our time, our forgiveness, our compassion, and our presence.

It’s also important that we emphasize to the students what a Catholic education is all about. As Catholics, we emphasize that faith must lead to action. Living out the faith is something that isn’t just for a marathon, but needs to be a way of life. As Catholics we live that out daily.

While I exercise daily I don’t plan on running a Marathon anytime soon, but let’s all “run” this marathon daily by looking for ways God wants us to make a difference in the lives of one another each and every day. Thank you to our students for showing us how to bring God’s love in the world, and thank you for your support of our service marathon.

God bless and have a great week,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Unsung Heroes Make a Parish Thrive

While in seminary, there’s a lot of focus on the content of the faith. This is understandably important as you need to know what you are talking about, and articulate what the Church teaches if you are going to help people. And this is ongoing too, as the Holy Spirit continually guides the Church as we understand God’s revelation to us anew as the years go by. The academics help you understand how to hear confessions, give spiritual counsel, preach and interpret, and also formulate theological opinions too with respect to the content of the faith. But that’s just part of it.

Knowing what the Church teaches matters, but the “how” is what goes on in the parish every day. How people understand how it’s all wrapped up in loving God with your whole heart, mind and soul and loving your neighbor as yourself, that’s a lot more than hearing confessions and preaching. The priest is merely part of the whole equation, it takes a team for someone to truly become closer to God. And that’s why I think of parish work as ministry, rather than “jobs.”

One of the first people I met when I found out I was going to Saint Joe’s was Patty Stibal. Fr. Paul Jarvis was giving me a tour, telling me about the parish, and it was at a point where I knew I’d be moving on from my prior assignment. I was a little nervous about what lied ahead, but just seeing the people here and the parish filled me with a calm. Patty had this great demeanor and joy about her when I first met her, and that continued when I officially started in July of 2015. Not knowing much at all about the parish, she quickly filled me in on who’s who, on the office, helped me get settled, and helped me to build bridges between parishioners.

But then I also got to see her in action day to day. She’s amazing. She makes people feel welcome. She greets everyone with a smile. She looks people in the eye and listens to them. She makes you feel like family. She goes out of her way to help others both on staff and in the parish. She truly sees her work as ministry, far from just punching a clock. I can honestly say she has helped me on my own faith journey, and made me a better priest. Yes, she is truly one of our unsung heroes.

A couple of weeks ago, Patty met with Randy Haney, our parish administrator, and me, and gave us some difficult news, that she had discerned that now was the time for her to move on from Saint Joe’s. She has been here now for 17 years, and feels called to serve elsewhere. After prayer and discernment, she’ll be taking a position managing the office at Saint Michael’s parish, which is in her hometown in Farmington.

Saint Michael’s gain is our loss, but I know that Patty will do great in her new position. She’ll bring a lot of gifts to our neighboring parish, and God has new chapters now to be written in her life. While she’ll be very hard to replace, we do have her position listed with the archdiocese, and have received a number of applicants. She’ll also be able to help our new person transition and learn the ropes, and when we do have a person in place we’ll be sure to let you know who that is right away. I am confident they’ll feel welcomed here too much as I have been. Saint Joe’s is a really special place.

Patty’s last day will be this Friday, September 29th. We’ll miss you, Patty! Thank you for helping our parish to thrive and grow, and for the joy you have brought to our faith community. People like Patty truly exemplify the words “thy kingdom come,” for we see God’s love in this world more clearly through people like her.

As I preached on last weekend, God calls us all on an adventure, and it’s up to us to follow His plan. I’m so honored Patty followed His call to be with us at Saint Joe’s, and wish her the best as He has now called her to serve Saint Michael’s. God bless you Patty, and may the road ahead be filled with many more joys and blessings.

Have a wonderful week, 

Fr. Paul