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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless,

Fr. Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Pondering All that the Eucharist Means

This weekend we’ll be celebrating the first Communions of a number of our young parishioners.

A lot goes into preparing for the day; the children receive instruction in the classroom and parents are also involved. And when they come up to receive Communion, they are very reverent and it’s also an emotionally moving time for their parents as their children receive Jesus in this special way for the first time.

Preaching though at a First Communion can be a challenge. Talking about how Jesus is present and putting it at a second-grade level (or talking about it to any audience for that matter) can cause one to get pretty deep into theology pretty quick. So, what I try to stress to the kids is how much they are loved by God. I often equate celebrating Mass to celebrating Thanksgiving Dinner. The difference is we leave a big meal physically full, but at both we also are full in a sense from the time we’ve had to reconnect with loved ones and spending time with people we care about. When we celebrate Mass, we believe Jesus comes into the home of our body (“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”) and when He does this, we grow closer to Him. It’s His way of saying “I love you” and we celebrate Mass to commemorate what He did for us, but not just as a memorial; rather as a re-presentation of the Last Supper and the First Eucharist. Much like a child goes to grandma’s house for a big meal and leaves also feeling loved by grandma and grandpa and with an overall good feeling, we should leave Mass with that same feeling. Jesus has freely chosen to give Himself to us, and the Eucharist removes sin, deepens our relationship to God, and brings us closer to one another – for the Eucharist also symbolizes our unity as one Church. But we have to be open to that happening.

One way is of course through prayer and focusing on the importance of Mass. Jesus is made present each time we celebrate Mass, and as that time nears, we need to reflect on how we are loved by God and prepare for that moment when we welcome God, through Communion, in a special way into our hearts. We also need to be open to the effects of the Eucharist, which draws us closer to God and one another, which means actively participating in Mass and prayer rather than trying to simply fulfill an obligation or go through the motions. Mass isn’t about punching a clock. It’s about an encounter with our Lord. It’s also important to use the Eucharist to help us throughout the week. If we receive Communion and then are fighting in the car on the way home, gossiping about people, or not praying at all until next week’s Mass, we might want to think more deeply about what we’ve just received.

When we receive Communion, the response is “Amen.” For most of us, it’s quite mechanical, but that’s an important word to think about. Our bishops point out that: “The communicant should audibly respond ‘ Amen,’ indicating by that response his or her belief that this small wafer of bread, the wine in this chalice are in reality the body and blood of Christ the Lord.” This means that we do not say nothing at all, or say “yes it is” but rather affirm with “Amen” that we believe that it is the Body of Christ.

Among the effects of Communion is to free us from sin and bring us closer to God. Only those who are in a state of mortal sin should refrain from Communion; this needs to be grave in matter, the person has to have done it of free will, and know that it is grave. Jesus loves us deeply, and the Eucharist also frees us from venial sin. Some might feel that they must go to confession first, but this again is only in cases of mortal sin. Feel free to ask a priest in confession if you are confused as to the seriousness of something, but by in large most sins people commit are venial. Receiving Communion helps deepen our relationship with God.

Holy Communion must also connect us to one another too. Remember Holy Thursday and the washing of the feet? Communion is on the one hand a means of growing closer to God. But it also helps us to grow closer to one another. Mass is a sacrifice where we celebrate again the sacrificial love of God for us on the altar. But this is a love we are called to emulate. Holy Communion should open up our eyes on how to be more kind and charitable and how to think of the needs of others and how we treat them.

First Communion is such a special time, and congratulations to all who celebrate this moment. But for all of us, may we never forget the sacredness of what we receive in the Body of Christ. May it never become routine or mechanical, but a means to bring us closer to God and one another.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: With a bit of Patience, Amazing Things Can Happen in Others

During the third week of Easter at our Friday daily Mass, we had the story of the conversion of Saint Paul. You are probably familiar with the story: a Pharisee named Saul is on fire trying to go after the new followers of the Way or Jesus Christ. Saul sees this as a threat, and wants to clean house. Word is also out on the street about this man; everyone knows who he is and he is someone you avoid at all costs. As we hear this week’s first reading: “When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” Then, along comes Jesus to appear to Saul, asking him “why are you persecuting me?” He then is unable to see for three days, and Jesus appears to Ananias, a disciple, and tells him of his plans for Saul, who will now become Paul. Needless to say, he has is doubts: “Ananias replied, Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man, what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call upon your name.” (Acts 9:13). But Jesus assures him that there is a plan, and to just trust in that plan.

That can be hard to do though, because we all have plans. And among those plans is a goal to spread our faith. We like seeing people come to Mass; live out their faith, and understanding what we believe. But then things happen. A person loses their faith. Or, perhaps even more common, a person becomes apathetic. Others just see no point in going to Mass. Some even argue with us or come after us for our Catholic faith, perhaps not to the level of Saul but there are plenty of people who are vocal about their distaste for Catholicism.

This is hard enough when it’s strangers, but often these things happen in families too. What then is a person to do?

One little bulletin column will not solve all the problems with respect to getting everyone to come to Mass and believe in the faith. But one key component of evangelization that I think is so important is patience.

This was part of my homily last week when I spoke about Saint Charles de Foucald. As I said at Mass, one of his beliefs was that it might take a very long time for the harvest to happen, and sometimes all we can do is clear a bit of the soil. But this is a key component for the harvest to happen. Interestingly, our man Saul when he becomes Paul will later write that the first component of love is that it is patient. So how can we incorporate this into dealing with people to make it a part of evangelization?

I think a good first step is to listen. That’s tough. We talk a lot more than we listen. But it can be so helpful. We can sometimes pick up on things too. For instance, when a person might be attacking the Church, or saying they have no interest in Mass, maybe there is more to the story. Perhaps they had a bad experience in the Church; or maybe they are overwhelmed due to a life situation and don’t feel the Church can help. Whatever it may be, by simply listening first to the person, we can better assess the situation.

Positivity is also a big help. When we get impatient, we can get negative. I think sometimes we want to just say “what’s-a matter you?!” But positivity can really make inroads. If a teacher were always telling a student what they did wrong, or a parent were always pointing out mistakes but never the progress, a child probably isn’t going to develop well or is going to get more entrenched and defensive. That’s true for all of us. But when we start with saying positive things about what a person, or think of positive things about someone we are trying to evangelize that can help. Many people who aren’t practicing religion may be active volunteers, pleasant people to be around, good friends, etc. Building these things up can be a help.

Empathy is also a big help. Sometimes people argue back and forth because one person can’t seem to relate to the other, so a situation just escalates. But saying something like “I can appreciate how you feel” rather than using “you” statements (e.g., “you really need to do this) can help prevent the person building a wall.

Prayer is of course also key. Prayers can do so much to help a person, and even if they know we are praying for them, even if they might not admit it or seem to respond, I think it really makes them think about faith a little bit more. Prayer of course also helps us, as we should often pray for an increase in patience with others.

Setting an example is also key; this was the way Saint Charles de Foucauld. He approached the Muslims not with the “I must convert them” mentality, but first began by being a welcoming person of hospitality who cared for them by learning about them, learning their language, dressing like they did, etc. When someone we are hoping changes doesn’t, but we then change becoming more negative, condescending, etc., that’s not going to do much for their conversion. But when we continue to be kind, tolerant, forgiving, it can cause someone to think. Over the years at funeral planings I’ve met scores of people who had fallen away from the faith, but so many speak of the faith of the loved one saying things like “grandma to Mass every week” or “mom prayed the rosary daily.” It’s clear that inside of them, that flame of the Holy Spirit is burning. And I have little doubt that their loved one continues to pray for them too. Sometimes we might be amazed at what happens in a person because of the example we set.

Finally, we should also remember people have been patient with us too over the years. Think of God’s patience with humanity – time and time again we screw up, and time and time again, He forgives. But at our own lives, many of us look back on moments and say “what on earth were you thinking?” I know looking back I have a few of those moments. But because people like my parents were patient with me, my faith deepened.

Evangelization isn’t easy. It’s taxing, and sometimes frustrating. But never give up. Because that Saul in your life just might go on to have a conversion because like Jesus seeing past Saul’s shortcomings, you saw the potential that was within.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: The Holy Spirit: A Light on our Faith Journey

This Saturday, we celebrated the confirmation of a number of young men and women from our parish at the Cathedral of Saint Paul.

I remember my confirmation day in the winter of 1995. Archbishop Flynn presided that day, and I remember seeing him after the Mass, and he made a suggestion to me that I might consider becoming a priest. Needless to say, I took him up on it and he ordained me 12 years later.

As I shared last week though, our faith life is always a journey. I at times struggled with going to seminary and wondering if I was making the right decision. I even had some doubts leading up to the day I got there, but I trusted in the promptings of the Spirit and it all worked out. The same is true on the day of my confirmation. I remember that having mixed emotions. It was a joy to be confirmed, but my faith was still very much something I was working out (and indeed still am working out, as we all are). I remember even being a little unsure of all that the Catholic Church taught, struggling with some things. But I continued through the faith formation classes that year on Wednesday nights, and despite some mixed emotions in my heart, I walked up and the bishop (Bishop Welsh was co-presiding that day) placed the oil on my forehead on my hands, as I heard the words “be sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

Afterwards, there were the photos, a family meal, some cards and cake with grandma and grandpa. But looking back now as a priest, I can think about exactly what was going on that day. And if I were to sum it up, I’d say it was grace working on me. Confirmation was my accepting the faith, but it was also my encounter with the Holy Spirit who was coming into my life in a special way at that moment to give me more strength for my life long journey. Even if I had some struggles at that moment and questions, God was working on my soul and leading me to a deeper place. So how does this happen in us?

At our confirmation, we pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon us as we take a next step in our faith journey. We call it “confirmation” because it confirms and strengthens the grace we receive at our baptism.

You’ll find many different explanations of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and one I came across was written by Minneapolis native Laura Jean Rabiipour, who now writes for “The Catholic Company,” an online religious goods site that also features various Catholic articles. Here’s a quick synopsis of the 7 Gifts of the Spirit:

The Gift of Wisdom is our ability to value spiritual things over worldly ones. It enables us to desire the things of God and correctly order the things in our life. This gift helps us view the world through God’s perspective and the light of our faith. It instills a desire to contemplate the things of God.

The Gift of Understanding helps us grasp the truths of the faith more easily and profoundly. Our human intellect cannot grasp all of God’s mysteries, but through the gift of understanding we can be lead to truth, even when we do not fully comprehend. This gift strengthens our insight through prayer, scripture, and the sacraments.

The Gift of Right Judgment/Counsel acknowledges the difference between right and wrong and bestows proper judgment. A person with right judgment avoids sin and leads a life for Christ. Counsel inspires us to speak up and encourage others to do the correct thing. It bestows upon us prudence, allowing us to act promptly and rightly in the face of difficult situations.

The Gift of Courage/Fortitude sustains our decision to follow the will of God in any situation. It allows us to stand up and defend our faith, even when threatened by bodily injury or death. This gift allows us to be steadfast in our decisions to do well and to endure evil even when we do not want to.

The Gift of Knowledge is awareness of God’s plan. It is not simply an accumulation of facts, but rather an understanding of God’s purpose and how we ought to respond. Knowledge helps bring to light the temptations that we face, and to discern whether to give in or live a life worthy of God’s approval.

The Gift of Piety or reverence is our obedience to God and our willingness to serve him. It is not just obedience through a sense of duty or obligation, but rather obedience out of love and devotion. It facilitates a deeper respect and honor for God and His Church.

The Gift of Wonder and Awe/Fear of the Lord makes us aware of the glory and majesty of God. This gift is also synonymous with the “Fear of the Lord”, in which we dread sin and fear offending God. We fear displeasing God and losing our connection with him because of our love for Him. Wonder and awe increases our desire to draw closer to God and depart from sin.

Through our Confirmation, we are united more closely to Jesus, and get the strength from the Spirit to continue on our journey. And looking back, I can see these at play. The Holy Spirit helped me to appreciate and understand my faith in a deeper way. Knowledge helped me to understand my vocation. Fortitude helped me to make the leap into seminary. Counsel helps me so often in making decisions as a Christian and as a priest. As you can see, the Holy Spirit is a very big deal – and hopefully we think about the Spirit more than just on Pentecost Sunday.

As our lives go on, there is so much for us to sort out. Where to go in life, what our vocation is, right and wrong. It’s a series of decisions and steps that can bring us closer to God. Free will is given to us, but to help us make the right decisions the Holy Spirit is sent. Please join me in praying for our newly confirmed. May our candidates and all of us remember that we are all working towards something far greater than power and prestige in this world. We are striving for heaven – and the Holy Spirit helps us get there with virtue. It’s up to us to respond.

A big thank you to all who have helped these young women and men to respond to God’s love – to our catechists and to our parents and sponsors, and to Mijanou Sampers who has been working very hard coordinating the program as we finalize our new director of lifelong faith formation.

May God bless our newly confirmed, and may all of us who have celebrated this sacrament realize that when we received the Holy Spirit in a special way on our Confirmation day, that day was not an end to faith formation, but a continuation of our faith journey. Faith formation is truly lifelong – let us strive go grow in our faith daily through the grace of the Spirit.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Mary Shows us the Importance of Trust

Last week at daily Mass on Monday, we celebrated the feast of the annunciation. Typically the feast is March 25th, 9 months before Christmas, but in years where it falls during Holy Week or the Octave of Easter, the feast gets moved to the first Monday after the Second Sunday of Easter.

While you probably have seen many artistic depictions of the annunciation, especially on Christmas cards, what can get lost in it is how terrifying it must have been for Mary. Mary has a plan. She is going to marry Joseph and lead a simple life. And then along comes an angel with another plan. And this plan could have very dire consequences for Mary. She is a young woman, probably around the age of 13 or 14, so without Joseph she may have no support and be out on her own, at best. At worst, for being an expectant mother outside of marriage in that culture, she could be killed by religious zealots. And she is a very devout woman, so this plan could also cause problems for her loved ones and Joseph too. How easy it would be for her to say “please find someone else.” But instead there is that “yes,” where she says “behold I am the handmaid of the Lord may it be done according to your word.” And with this, the Divine Plan begins to unfold, a simple, faithful, Jewish peasant woman being instrumental in it.

There is so much Mary has to teach us. Among them is the importance of trust. And that is something that can be harder than ever to have these days. It can be hard to trust others who let us down. It can be hard to trust what is real or fake in the news (especially these days with weather reports in our alleged “spring”!). Sometimes it can be even hard to trust in the Church.

But the thing of it is, when we have a bit of trust, things do work out. It does not mean we cannot question, but we also were not put here in a vacuum. So what does that trust look like?

For one, we trust God. This might be easier said than done, because sometimes God can seem distant, or silent. Other times things might move very slowly. But God ultimately does have a plan, and remember what Jesus said to the apostles before He ascended to the Father: behold I am with you always.

Closely related to that, we remember God can do amazing things. The angel Gabriel says: “nothing will be impossible for God.” This does not mean that God waves a magic wand and makes all our problems go away. But it does mean that God gets involved in ways that we might not always see. I think for instance of the power of grace and how it operates on people. A person may to the eye seem far removed from their faith, but then little by little they come to respond to it over the course of a life. Or out of a seemingly hopeless situation, stories of love and mercy appear. We might read a situation as without hope, but God sees it completely differently. Sometimes we have to remember there is a plan and God will make things happen, it just might not be what we expected or on our timeline.

Third, we also trust in the guidance of others. Mary not only trusted in God, she trusted in Joseph and Joseph trusted in her too. As Catholics growing in faith, we are called to trust in the Church and other people too. The Church will never err in matters of faith and morals. Jesus created one Church upon Peter, not thousands of churches. So this means that while it is fine to struggle and question, we have to remember the Church has a mission – salvation of souls – and She is going to be there to give us the guidance so we can reach our potential. This is why it’s so important to make faith formation life long, to go to Mass, and to celebrate the sacraments. And with that, it’s also important to listen to others too who are there to give us advice and counsel as we discern things in life.

Lastly, let’s not forget while we should not trust only in ourselves, we should also trust that God has given us gifts, has a plan for us, and execute that plan, meaning sometimes we can get down on ourselves and think “I can’t.” God is not going to make all your problems go away. You still have to take that math test, you still have to go to work, you still have to deal with family issues and whatever curve balls life throws at you. That is the reality of life. But Mary could have looked at her situation and said there is no way this will work out – I am a nobody in the world, and I already have so little, if I say yes to this plan I will have nothing. But she trusted that God would guide her, and this woman shows such amazing fortitude and determination. She guides her Son; she visits her cousin Elizabeth; she follows her Son to the Cross. She never gives up. God gives us grace, He helps us through other people who are there to give us guidance, but ultimately He also gives us a virtue called fortitude that we use to act and live out our mission.

Last week we celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday, and as I mentioned at Mass, the image I referred to is of Jesus with beams of red and white coming out from his heart. Often the words “Jesus, I trust in you” are seen in depictions of Sister Faustina Kowalska’s vision. May we have that same trust that she did, and that our Blessed Mother did in God, and realize that no matter what life brings us, He will see us through. We are not alone – He is with us, as is the Church He created, and the people we are blessed to have with us on our journey. Like our Blessed Mother, may we see it through to it’s completion.

Have a great week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: No Doubt About it, Mass Helps us on our Lifelong Journey

Was it just me or was it a little more crowded last week? So how do we get there each week?

There are some who might take a cynical attitude and think there is nothing that can be said or done on these days to get people to consider coming back, but you and I should realize much can be done. Maybe we just need to think outside the box.

Take, for instance, the diocese of Phoenix. Not too long ago, Bishop Thomas Olmsted, along with others, decided to exercise their vocation of being fishers of men and plant mustard seeds. And so, they turned to the media, and showered local TV stations with commercials inviting people to come back to the Catholic Church. They also set up a special web site, catholicscomehome.org, which features information on the Church and various testimonials of people who returned to the faith. (Just recently I saw an ad featuring Lou Holtz on ESPN.)

Thousands of inactive Catholics have come back to the Church in that diocese thanks to the TV campaign. As far as the web site, it has gotten millions of hits from all 50 states and 80 countries. Mass attendance across the diocese went up 12% over the year after the launch.

The question I’d invite us to ponder as we continue to celebrate our Lord’s Resurrection is how do we understand what it is we do around this altar every week? Why is it that we are here? Why does Mass matter so much? How do we spread that message with the world?

For one, it opens our eyes to the Body of Christ. The Easter story reminded us again of how much God loves us; we live this out each time we are at Mass. We can’t hold onto the physical body of Christ as Thomas does in our Gospel today, but Christ gave us the gift of His Church, and the Sacraments to help us deepen our relationship with Him. If we really say “yes” and want to respond to that love, we have to share in the most intimate experience of self-giving there is that Jesus gives to us, and that is Holy Communion. This gives us grace, and brings us closer to God. But in that act, we also recognize Jesus in our brothers and sisters who share that meal with us. Holy Communion isn’t just some representation of Jesus; it is the Body and Blood, the Soul and Divinity of our Lord made present on that altar. Christ himself becomes our nourishment, and it deepens our connection with Him. But it also deepens our connection with one another. We come together to share the Body and Blood of our Lord around this table, and right before that we have the sign of peace. It’s more than just an opportunity to give the person in the pew next to you a handshake. It’s a sign that reminds us of how we are connected to each other, and as Saint John Paul II said, it reminds of “of the commitment to mutual love which is made in sharing the one bread.”

Secondly, while God loves us all equally, we each respond in to that love differently. The more we go to Mass, the more we can develop habits that make ourselves open to God’s love. The more we receive Jesus, the more we hear the Word proclaimed, and the more we come together in prayer, the better disposed we can be to living out the love of God and bringing it into the world.

Finally, Mass also gives us a chance to let God talk to us. We talk in prayer to God, but we also have to do some listening too. We do this at Mass through the Liturgy of the Word. I’d invite you to do your best to pay attention to the lector and listen to the words being proclaimed and reflect upon how God may be talking to you. And when we pray the Eucharistic prayer, it is our prayer, all of us together. We pray “through Christ our Lord” because it is the prayer of Christ united with His Body, the Church. And while we may have heard those words “This is my body…this is my blood…do this in memory of me” so many times, play close attention to them, because that is God speaking to you too. The bread does not just become any flesh. It becomes the flesh of Christ who gave himself up totally for us. The flesh of Christ who gave His life to reveal just how much God truly loves us. And when we hear “do this in memory of me,” we aren’t just challenged to go to Mass but to live out the self-giving love that the Mass celebrates.

Many have looked at this week’s Gospel as a confrontation with doubt, but that misses the mark. Thomas is no doubter. The word “doubt” does not even come into the passage. Let’s not forget Thomas left everything behind to follow Jesus. Thomas was the one who spoke up when Jesus was going to go to Bethany, where there was the threat of Him being killed, and was the only apostle to do so saying “Let us also go to die with him.” And he makes one of the most incredible professions of faith in Scripture: “My Lord and my God.” His eyes see a man; his heart sees his God. Faith comes not from touching, but by Jesus offering himself to the believer. Thomas responds to that by following Jesus and giving His life for the faith.

Jesus has offered Himself to you and me through this beautiful gift we are given in the Church and the sacraments. So much happens at Mass. He offers Himself to you and me continually, and even if at times the love of God can seem far away, know that our religion isn’t about the warm-fuzzie feeling. When those come, when we have the mountaintop experience, that’s wonderful. But even when it doesn’t happen, the love of our God is still there. The challenge for us is to just make sure we don’t throw in the towel and look at doubt and spiritual dryness as signs that God has abandoned us, because He will never leave our side. It can be very easy to fall away from the faith and admittedly, sometimes we won’t have our mind on what is happening on the altar but on the rest of the day or the week ahead. Sometimes the music won’t be that uplifting, and the homily will leave something to be desired. But no matter what, what happens on that altar will happen time and time again until the end of the world: Jesus becoming present, Jesus giving us a sign of His love, and Jesus inviting us to come forward and to have His Body and Blood come into our hearts and souls. Let that love happen by always reminding yourself no matter who you are or where you’ve been, your spot at the table is always ready and waiting for you. Come into the Mass, and embrace it and let it transform you. Don’t just come to punch a clock and fulfill an obligation, but truly let God’s love help make you who have been called to be: someone who, at the end of their journey, will be in heaven in the love of our God forever, with Thomas, not a doubter, but a questioner and a saint.

Have a blessed Easter Season!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Easter Continues What Lent Began

One of the things that I try to hit on at the start of each Lent is that the season gives us the chance to look at our lives and say “how can I emerge as a better person?” when we get to Easter. In some cases, people may give up something they enjoy as an act of penance, and while that is a great practice, as I also say each year, the point of the season is not to hide the Oreos just to tear them open come Easter. The point is to truly become a petter person. So if a person, say, gives up going out on Fridays to go to Stations of the Cross, or alcohol, or whatever it might be, they may have learned over the season that maybe these things took too high of a priority in their lives and learned how to be more temperate.

I also encourage people to “think outside of the box” and quoted the pope in my Ash Wednesday homily. Pope Francis has encouraged different kinds of fasting. As a reminder, among his recommendations: Fast from hurting words and say kind words; fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude; fast from anger and be filled with patience; fast from pessimism and be filled with hope; fast from worries and have trust in God; fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity; fast from pressures and be prayerful; fast from bitterness and fill your hearts with joy; fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others; fast from grudges and be reconciled; fast from words and be silent so you can listen. Very good ideas indeed!

Well, Easter is now finally here, and hopefully you’ve made progress and learned something. Lent is really about transformation, not resumption of old ways. And the thing that I hope transforms the most in people is a desire to have a deeper relationship with God.

The trouble is for a lot of people, God can seem removed. What does God have to do with passing a math test or making a football team? How can God help pay a mortgage? How can God help me make sense of why my life is so stressful? The end result is in the world are many people who are busybodies, but keep God as one among many things in their life, when really, God should always be front and center.

It is so easy to put God at a distance. We’ve gotten quite good at multi-tasking but I think while we are great at sending texts and tweets, God can be further away than ever for most people. Which gets us to the question, why does today matter? Because Easter changes everything!

Easter is a tough day to preach. It’s a big crowd, and quite diverse from the daily Mass goer to the person who checked out after you said “In the name of the Father.” I always try to welcome people from all walks of life into the doors of our church. I think we do a great job of that here at Saint Joe’s. But my hope is that if they don’t remember a single thing I say, they leave with a notion in their hearts that this Easter story is so important because they are so important. Our God is closer than we can imagine. Human beings chose to move away from God through making bad decisions, and, though He could have come in any form, God chose to become one of us and to show us the ultimate meaning of love. We’ve heard that love story told again during these solemn days leading up to Easter. But my challenge too to people is that God is close – He is with us day in and day out. The Eucharist is a reminder of that, our food for the journey, but God really does come to us in many ways.

I’ll be the first to admit, sometimes God can seem far away. We all experience Good Fridays in life, and perhaps even more excruciating for our Lord then the physical pain He endured was the emotional pain – seeing his friends leave Him and sensing the abandonment of the Father; but yet He trusted in the Father, and because of His act, we were redeemed and the whole world learned the true meaning of how deeply God loves us. I can’t give someone all the answers about why bad things happen in the world, but one thing I can look to is the cross as God’s definitive statement that I am loved and I matter.

And so, as we come together again on Easter, my hope is that you see today as a reminder of how deeply loved you are. So respond to it. Lent is over; but hopefully this Lent you learned how to grow closer to God and learned a bit about yourself too. If you have been away from the faith for a while, try to make an effort to start coming back to Mass. Remember you are always welcome here. Rather than spending every last waking minute online or texting or running from one sports league to the next and being a perpetual busybody, set aside a few moments each day for prayer. Do a regular examination of conscience and think about how you can become a better person, and ask for God’s help to do that. Listen to the voice of God who may be challenging you to do something new or to change as a person. And with that, set aside time for family and other people too. Remind yourself to sacrifice for them and for one another, helping one another to grow in holiness. At the end of our lives, we don’t want to say to God “I made a lot of money” or “I managed to be busy 99.9% of the time” but “I learned how to grow closer to you and to bring your love to the people I met.” When we have that mentality, we’ll be amazed as God opens our eyes to the difference we made in the lives of others by being a person of hope.

Being a Christian is a 24/7/365 affair. The story of what Jesus did for us is the greatest love story ever told, and Easter, when our Lord triumphs over death, shows us that sin, death and darkness do not have the last word, but that God does. God wants a relationship with you – hopefully He doesn’t get a busy signal when trying to call your soul.

Have a blessed Easter, and remember we’re here every Saturday night and Sunday three times for Masses at 7, 8:30 and 10:30 God’s house is your house too!

In Christ,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Holy Week: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

Sometimes when we get to Holy Week, people think it’s the busiest time of the year for a priest. To be honest, it’s busy, but it’s not really busier than normal. (The “busiest” time is hard to predict; it tends to be when there are a lot of funerals or meetings or other things going on in a parish). Yes, there are “big” liturgies. But on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, there are no morning Masses. Things tend to be more quiet with school out of session and no evening meetings.

But I will say this, every year when we get to Holy Week, it builds my faith as a Christian and as a priest. As the title suggests, it’s the holiest time of the year. And I look forward to it so much. The celebration of the three days of the Last Supper, Passion and Resurrection of the Lord reminds me anew of God’s love for me, and I’m inspired as I see so many people turn out to have their faith strengthened too and to grow closer to God. I’ll confess my favorite part of priesthood is not meetings or administration. It’s liturgy, and being with people for the celebration of the Eucharist. This week gives us a sacred time to think about how far our God goes to show us how much He loves us.

My hope is that as we begin this week, you too will find it a way to grow closer to God. Maybe you come every week, or have been away from Mass for a while and are just returning. Maybe you have felt really close to God this Lent, or maybe you are stuck in a rut and go to Mass but are in “auto pilot” mode, with God lumped in with the other things in a busy schedule. Use this week to re-connect with God, and to deepen your relationship with Him.

What I’ve found is that each of the liturgies can have a different way of helping me to grow in my faith. And I hope you’d think about that as you prepare to celebrate this most solemn week on our calendar.

We begin at Palm Sunday, and what strikes me with the day is the shallowness of people. Many of us been burned by fake people in our lives; but let’s be honest, sometimes we have done that to other people. You have the crowds who say “Hosanna!” but then drop the palms and walk away quickly when they realize Jesus is not going to be a political leader. You have jealousy from the Sanhedrin and those who see Jesus as a threat to their power. You have the cowardice of Pilate who knows the right thing to do but doesn’t do it, even when God is literally staring him in the face. You have Judas pretending to be loyal but betraying his friend with a kiss. And Peter and the others running away showing cowardice too. This liturgy challenges us in a way to think about how serious we are about the word “love” (more on that on Good Friday). Do we really mean that word when we say it, or only when it is convenient? Palm Sunday gives us the opportunity to think about how serious we are about love, being a disciple, and following Jesus.

Holy Thursday gives us a lot to think about too. There is the institution of the Eucharist, God’s gift of love to us when we celebrate at every Mass. There is the institution of the priesthood too, and I think about my ordination and how I live out my vocation. But what I’ve always been struck by is the washing of the feet. We do this as a reminder of what Jesus did, but what I love with this ritual is that it’s a visible thing we do at liturgy to basically say “OK people, if you are going to receive Jesus in Holy Communion, and say I am a Christian, here’s what it means.” Holiness does not come through the bells and the smells. There is a lot of beauty in liturgy, and, like Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof,” I love tradition. A good liturgy can bring us higher and touch the soul. But liturgy always has to connect us to the greater community. Remember the words of Pope Francis, that the Church is a field hospital. So as we see the feet being washed, it helps us think about who’s feet we need to wash. Who might be hurting in our lives; who we might be neglecting; or who might be hurting. Jesus even washes the feet of Judas. Some people in our lives our easily lovable. Some people are more challenging. We can’t just serve or love when it is convenient – what Jesus does is give us a mandate to do for others what He the master has done for the 12. That’s something that we need to live out daily.

Good Friday is a unique liturgy in that it’s the only day of the year with no Mass. The altar is bare; the church is dimly lit. Two things really hit me on Good Friday. The first is the ugliness of sin. It’s all there in the Passion; cowardice, betrayal, greed, pride, you name it. And as we think of the Passion, all of us can on the inside silently nod and think “yes, I too have done these things” because all of us are culpable. Just as the soldiers who drove the nails into our Lord, our sins do the same. But all of this is overcome by the Passover Lamb, Jesus. What strikes me with Good Friday is yes, you have the sin but that’s overcome through the incredible love and mercy of Jesus. Think of all that power He had; the power to bring down fire and brimstone; to get revenge; to show everyone who He was. But He surrenders to the will of the Father; and He reveals for us love on the Tree of Life, the Cross. Even with respect to Judas, Jesus still loved him. Yes, we are sinners and do evil things. We are like those who drop the palms and walk away. But we are loved – and this is how far God goes for us out of love. Think about that on Good Friday as you touch the cross and reflect on the Passion again. Turn your sins and struggles over to the one who is love itself and let that liberate you.

Lastly, Holy Saturday. The light dispelling the darkness, the triumph of life over death, of love over sin. If you have never been to the Easter Vigil, do consider going. Yes, it’s longer, but parking is a lot easier, and you can sleep in a bit on Easter, go find the Easter basket, and then go off to your ham dinner. What I love with this liturgy is how we hear of salvation history; of God time and time again coming to our rescue. It’s so amazing to see the light dispelling the darkness as the Easter fire is lit; the new Easter candle blessed and all the candles being lit from that candle. We are reminded of God having the last word over death and of our redemption. It fills one with hope, and when you hear the Exultet chanted, and the Litany of Saints prayed for the newly baptized and confirmed, you are overwhelmed with this sense of God’s love and the power of the love that exists in the body of believers, the Church. The sight of all the candles lit and celebrating baptism and confirmation with the RCIA candidates and catechumens is also so meaningful, because it reminds me of how we are a community and support one another, but also of the fire of faith that burns in the souls of the people of God. The candles are only lit for the first part of the liturgy, but inside us all is the fire of Christ’s love, something I see time and time again as a priest in the great people I’ve come to know.

So much more could be said about Holy Week, but I’ll just close with this: consider going to the liturgies each night. They are not obligatory holy days, but as you experience the liturgies this week, my guess is that you truly will grow in your faith and be touched by the love and grace of God as you hear the greatest love story ever told. And if you can’t make it each day, just remember one thing: God loves you, and even if you were the only person God ever made, He still would have done all of this for you.

Have a blessed Holy Week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Love Unveiled

One of the most familiar sights we see is the cross or crucifix. It is likely in your home. It’s on our steeple. And, it’s before us every time we enter into a Catholic Church. But how often do we stop to think about it’s meaning? For it means many things – our redemption; how we are loved; how far God goes to show us how we are loved; suffering; triumph, and many more words could be used to describe it.

This week, as we begin the final two weeks of Lent, we enter into a period called “Passiontide.” One of the options during this time is to have all crucifixes and statues covered in veils. This is done until the Triduum, when the statues are uncovered and the Triduum begins.

Though optional, I’ve always liked this tradition. We don’t have clothes yet for all of our statues (maybe next year!) but we will cover the crosses. As for why we cover them, it’s to make us think a bit of the meaning of the Cross. We are so used to seeing it we can take it for granted. The exact origins aren’t known, though some think it dates back to Germany, when in the 9th century a large cloth was extended before the altar at the start of Lent, called the “Hungertuch,” or hunger cloth, which hid the altar from the people during Lent, and was removed during the reading of the Passion on Wednesday of Holy Week, at the words “the veil of the temple was rent in two.” Later in the Middle Ages, the images of crosses and saints were covered at the start of the Lent; it was at about the 17th century that it was moved to “Passiontide,” the last two weeks of Lent. Now it is completely optional.

What I like about it is that it helps us to think about our faith at a deeper level, because suddenly something we are used to seeing is hidden. When looking at a cross, a key takeaway for me is that it has to be a way of life. We are meant to have God inform all that we do. When we look to the cross, we are reminded of how to live. The cross symbolizes Jesus’ complete trust in the Father and His will. It also symbolizes Jesus’ complete love for you and for me. When we see the crucifix, we should get a reminder that this is how we are to live. By covering it up, it causes us to think more deeply about it’s meaning, especially when unveiled come the Easter Triduum.

During these last two weeks of Lent, I’d invite you to again think about the meaning of the Cross in your life. Remember, Lent is meant to transform us and we emerge on Easter a better person. As the cross is covered this weekend, perhaps we can think about the following:

* Do I think about how much God loves me and all He did for me?

  • Is God’s love is covered in our souls by sin; by our actions or inactions?
  • Do I focus on other worldly things rather than on radiating God’s love.?
  • Can I love as Jesus loves? Do I think of others and show them love in actions from my family under my own roofs to my greater human family, or do I hold back on my love or have an asterisk next to the words “I love you?”
  • Am I selfish or selfless? Loving as Jesus did, giving everything out of love and forgiving takes work.
  • Do I show my love for God by regularly praying and going to Mass?
  • Do I strive to see Jesus in others even when He can seemingly be hidden beneath a person’s shortcomings?

When the veil is removed during the Triduum, maybe a deeper thing to ask is can we make sure come Easter, the veils are removed from our souls too, so that we emerge on Easter having journeyed through Lent with a better perspective on what matters most and with better spiritual vision so that we keep our eyes fixed on God, rather than on the things that turn to ashes. There are so many good things in this world to enjoy, but to get to heaven, where the joy will never end, this requires a constant focus on God, and also a picking up of our own crosses daily as we follow Christ. Sometimes both God, and the reality that faith requires work, are things we can veil as life goes on. Through the Cross, though, the victory was won. Let us partake in that victory by opening our eyes and following our Lord through faith, commitment, and, most of all, love.

God bless,

Fr. Paul