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

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Grace is Amazing, but not Cheap

On a final exam question in one of my seminary classes, the professor posed us with the question: “what is wrong with the song “Amazing Grace?”

We all know the song, and it is a beautiful hymn. But it was written by John Newton, the former slave ship mariner and eventual Anglican priest, so it does come from a Protestant perspective. And while there’s a lot right with it, sometimes the words can be a little misleading and need further explanation.

Among them is how a quick reading of the lyrics might think that through grace one is born again and, voila, one is saved. Grace though is no magic trick. Yes, grace does save. But it requires us to participate in it as well. Mr. Newton did do just that; he realized he had turned away from God, and turned his life over to him. But he grew in that faith by learning it, and let grace work on him so he became a voice for the ending of slavery in England, something he eventually lived to see.

This week in the Gospel, Jesus has a conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus is a good man, but he’s a man on a journey. Earlier in John, he shows up at night (not wanting to be seen with Jesus during the day) to talk to Jesus about His teachings. Nicodemus is a name we’ll hear on Good Friday too, as after the crucifixion he appears to provide embalming spices and assists in burying Jesus. In our Gospel this week, Jesus has a conversation with him about how faith requires a response. Whoever does wicked things hates the light, but those who live the truth come to the light “so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”

Here’s where the rubber hits the road. God loves us, and nothing will change that. There is also nothing we can do to merit our salvation or get it on our own. But God also challenges us. The salvation offered to us is a gift, but not a guarantee. Think of Jesus not as the answer, but as the question requiring a response. Lent, in particular, gives us the chance to look at how we are answering that question.

For one, we can ask “how do I choose the darkness?” Newton chose grace; but he had to continue to reform his life and work on his commitment. Lent is a time where many celebrate the sacrament of confession prior to Easter (and I’ll be hearing confessions an extra hour next week and Palm Sunday). Sometimes sin can creep up on us, and we can fall into it, or we can become neglectful of things we should do to live out our faith. Doing a daily examination of conscience can help us learn how to apply grace to every aspect of our lives and grow in holiness.

So, too, does the Gospel require suffering. Nicodemus, if he’s going to become a disciple, can’t stay in the shadows of night. We can’t be a part-time Christian. So it’s worth asking, are we willing to suffer to grow in our faith? Are we willing to suffer to help others? Living the faith takes commitment. There’s an element of suffering to working hard at school or to provide for the family; to sacrificing time to help people; to avoiding certain behaviors because we know they are wrong. There’s also suffering for proclaiming our faith in the public square. But doing so will not only help ourselves to become better people and grow in faith, it will help others to come to the faith.

I’ve said many times one of the things I appreciate most with my Catholic faith is that it takes work. The good news? God journeys with us every step of the way, and His love is infinite. We celebrate that every time we come to Mass, recreating the sacrifice that happened on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Communion is our food for the journey, but just as the apostles were told not to look at the sky when Jesus ascended but to baptize and proclaim the Gospel, we have the same job. Like them, we too will suffer. But also like them, we can grow in holiness and build up the Church when we say “yes” not just to conversion or to accepting Jesus, but also “yes” to taking up our crosses daily to follow Him.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Anger: A path towards vice or virtue

We are used to Jesus curing people, or preaching, and forgiving. But this week in our Gospel, we get a scene we aren’t used to: Jesus making a big scene, and being angry. John tells us: “He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,

as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” (John 2: 14-16).

Anger is something that is a part of our emotions. And while sometimes “anger” comes up in confession, whenever someone confesses it, I try to get a little bit more information about the context of the anger. Because anger is certainly not always sinful. Our emotions are different than the anger that is a sin. But the question is what causes it, and where does it lead, because anger can lead to good actions or it can lead to seriously sinful actions.

Where anger can be a problem is when it is self-centered. This kind of sinful anger results in impatience with the weaknesses of others; it can be caused by a sense of entitlement or a “me first” mentality. We see it in the angry child who does not want to share their toys; the person in the line at the store who is angry about not being served first; the person with road rage who is tailgating; the person yelling at the telemarketer making minimum wage and calling them during their meal.

Now of course the Church distinguishes emotions from actions. You can’t control emotions from occurring. It’s OK to be annoyed with someone or angry; we have feelings of anger towards people on the road, at the office, on TV with politicians, with family, etc. But we can control what we do with those emotions.

So with respect to anger, on the one hand, it’s important to look at the causes of it. Some are angry because of something else going on in their life, such as stress. Others are angry because they are lacking love, or perhaps are just fearful about something. Or sometimes anger towards someone gets buried over the years, so they are short tempered with them about one thing but really are upset about something unresolved long, long ago. Selfishness can be a cause of anger too; a person not seeing anything other than their own position, or wanting to get their way.

While we all get angry, when anger emerges, we should look back on our anger, and see what our conscience tells us about why we got angry. We’ll likely learn whether it was justified or not.

Sometimes we know deep down we made a mistake and need to apologize to someone for use of language or our tone, because words can leave a lasting impact. It is important to argue even with loved ones and not bottle up things that trouble us, but we don’t want that to lead to using harsh, condemning words, or thinking silence is a substitute for saying “I am sorry.”

When we get angry, it’s also good to have a plan on dealing with it. Sometimes it helps to take a deep breath, to step outside, or as I’ll sometimes mention to kids in confessions if anger comes up, to go to our room for a bit or hit a pillow to try to calm down. Prudence is a helpful virtue here – it prevents us from doing things rashly.

Other times when we look back on our anger, we should examine if it’s related to the sin of pride. Pride is where we put ourselves at the center, and sometimes anger can emerge because someone challenges us and tells us something we don’t want to hear but that we need to hear. Or, we can get angry when we lose control, so need to assess if we are trying to actually help someone or if we are trying to be controlling of their life or their decisions. We also need to be mindful of how Jesus washed the feet of others showing humility, and look at ourselves and make sure we do the same, not becoming arrogant or self-centered, which can often be the root of anger.

Jesus’ anger though is like none of this. He’s not angry because he’s stuck in line to get into the Temple. He’s not angry because people aren’t listening to Him. He’s not angry because He’s not getting His way. Rather, He is angry because he sees a great injustice. People are not concerned about serving God; rather they are concerned about making money and treating the Temple in a callous way. His anger leads to a response not to cause harm to others, but to show through His actions that things have to change.

And this is where anger can actually be a good thing. When we see people being bullied, being mistreated; when we see the attack on the unborn; when we see human suffering, it should cause us to be angry. But that anger shouldn’t mean we go and yell or blast people on social media; it hopefully causes us to try to help others. Just yelling about something requires follow up. And Jesus of course shows how much He loves the Father by trusting in the Father’s plan, laying down His life out of love for us all.

Anger than doesn’t mean yelling or getting into someone’s face. What it does mean is our conscience sees something wrong, and then we decide to act on it to bring about change. Sometimes we might not see the fruits of our labor, but it’s also important to avoid apathy, thinking there’s nothing we can do or nihilism and not caring about anything or just giving up on the world.

Through it all, Jesus sees the good in us all – this is why God chose to live with us and to die for us, for He sees the good. Seeing evil in the world, or seeing people make bad decisions should make us angry. But hopefully that anger inspires us to use the tools God has given us to truly help others. Speaking our minds when bad things are happening is tough and costly – the cleansing of the Temple is one of the last acts of Jesus before His Passion – but it is so important to not ignore the wrongs in ourselves, in the lives of others, and in the greater world, but to truly make a difference. Sometimes we may have to upset the apple cart. But when we do, we just might cause people to think, and to discover the truth, and to help them find the way to make the changes they need to make to better respond to the love of God by changing their lives.

Have a blessed week,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Growing in Holiness and Thinking “Outside the Box”

Last week at Mass, I mentioned the sacrament of confession, and how at times it can be easy to think of a few sins or the familiar battles we may have, but there may be other things that we aren’t fully aware of.

A quick point: when we go to confession, all sins are forgiven, even the things we aren’t thinking of. God’s love is never conditional.

But at the same time, both when we go to confession, and when we go to Mass as we prepare for Holy Communion, it’s a good idea to always be thinking about how we can become even better. Much like professional baseball players, currently at spring training, already know the game well and are the best in the world, they want to become even better. You and I should have that same hunger, and while we already do many things well, we can always do it even better.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share a brief examination of conscience based on a very familiar reading you may have had at your wedding. I use parts of this for our penance service (and it’s actually part of a 21 page document), and I thought you might find it helpful for Lent during your own prayer time. We say the word “love” all the time – but how do we live it out? The ministry of Jesus and His sacrifice for us all is the greatest love story ever told. So when we say we love God and one another, that truly has to be a way of life. The following reflections are a great way to grow in that over not just Lent, but over our lives.

The Law of Love: A Reflection Drawn from 1 Cor 13:4-6

“Love is PATIENT” (1 Cor 13:4).
Am I impatient?
Am I brusque?  Irritable?  Pushy?
Have I been edgy or abrupt?
Do I rush too much myself?
Do I drive too fast?
Do I have a habit of trying to get other people to speed up?
Have I been crabby when I have had to wait?

“Love is KIND” (1 Cor 13:4).
Have I been harsh, critical, or cruel?
Have I been mean-spirited?
Have I acted with bitterness or resentment?
Have I cut other people down?  Have I been uncharitable?

“Love is NOT JEALOUS” (1 Cor 13:4).
Am I envious of someone else’s good looks?
Do I find myself wishing I had someone else’s intelligence?
Am I jealous of somebody’s popularity?  Their abilities?  Their success?
Do I covet another person’s job?  Their money?  Their clothes?
Am I upset because everyone else gets all the breaks?

“Love is NOT POMPOUS” (1 Cor 13:4).
Do I strut around, thinking that I’m better than everyone else?
Have I been arrogant?  Egotistical?  Conceited?
Do I think I’m a star and everyone else is a loser?
Do I think that I’m special?
Do I think I deserve special treatment?
Do I believe that most others are “below me?”

“Love is NOT INFLATED” (1 Cor 13:4).
Am I proud?  Vain?  Self-centered?
Do I act “stuck up” sometimes?
Have I been a “show off?”
Do I think and act like I am better than I really am?

“Love is NEVER RUDE” (1 Cor 13:5).
Have I been impolite?  Boorish?
Do I interrupt?  Speak out of turn?
Do I dominate the conversation?  Talk too loud?
Have my table manners been lacking?
When I disapprove, do I roll my eyes?  Toss my head back?  Grunt or groan?

“Love does not SEEK ITS OWN INTERESTS” (1 Cor 13:5).
Do I always have to have things my way?
Have I been uncooperative?  Inconsiderate?  Inflexible?  Uncompromising?
Have I ignored someone else’s feelings?
Have I paid attention only to my own needs, while being inattentive to others?

“Love is NOT QUICK-TEMPERED” (1 Cor 13:5).
Do I fly off the handle easily?
Have I lost my temper?
Do I raise my voice with stinging criticism and sarcasm?
Have I taken things too personally?  Have I overreacted?
Do I make issues bigger than they really are?

“Love does NOT BROOD OVER INJURY” (1 Cor 13:5).
Am I harboring a resentment?
Have I been spending time mulling over how I have been mistreated?
Have I brought up an old injury over and over again?
Am I still punishing someone for the way the person hurt me long ago?

“Love rejoices in the TRUTH” (1 Cor 13:6).
Do I tell lies?
Have I twisted the facts to discredit someone?  Make someone look bad?
Have I made up stories to get out of trouble with my parents?  My spouse?
Do I cheat on tests or homework?  Do I falsify tax records?
Do I exaggerate so I will look better in other peoples’ estimation?

There are many other examinations of conscience you can find online. Here is a link to where I took this particular one from, but also where you can find several others that are quite helpful:

As we grow in love, confession is a great way to celebrate how much we are loved by God and receive the grace to grow in holiness. You can join us Monday night here at Saint Joseph’s for our parish penance service which starts at 6:30 p.m.

May God bless you on your Lenten journey!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Catholic Services Appeal: Coming Together, We Can Make a Difference

While there are many things that are part of our Catholic identity, one of the things that has always been important to me is that as Catholics, we have a sense of unity, but also a sense of mission.

With respect to unity, Jesus is present on our altars all over the world, and we believe that our Church was founded by Jesus Himself. And while there are many parishes throughout the world, we share the common faith and as such people come together to build churches. Our parish here as we turn 150 is an example of that.

But all of us share a sense of mission too. Throughout the world the Church as a social justice mission, and people give so much. Our parish history is filled with people who sacrificed greatly to build our parish up to a thriving faith community now 150 years strong. Beyond that though, we have always thought beyond the walls of our parishes, which is why the Church is a global leader in service to the poor, evangelization, and social justice. Even cloistered nuns pray for you and me. The point is that the Catholic never looks inward, but looks outward.

Each year, our Archdiocese asks us to look outward through our support of the Catholic Services Appeal. While we can do a lot on our own in our parishes, no single parish could have all the resources necessary to help the Catholic School system thrive, to run a mission in Venezuela, the help the homeless, assist seminarians and provide services for numerous ministries. And that’s where the Catholic Services Appeal comes in.

You probably have been receiving information in the mail concerning the annual Catholic Services Appeal. Last weekend, envelopes were in the pews for people to put in the collection plate. You can still put them in the plate this weekend, or donate online, or via mail as many so generously do at our parish.

Working together, the Appeal money is pooled to go to numerous important ministries of our diocese. These include the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women; Campus Ministry at the Newman Center and Saint Paul’s Outreach; Catholic Charities which will assist the poor (which receives nearly a million dollars for it’s work from the appeal); ministry to the deaf; funds to assist the Catholic Schools; promotion of evangelization; hospital chaplaincy; Indian Ministry; Latino Ministry; $1,800,000 for parishes in the form of rebates; prison chaplaincy; funds to help Saint Paul Seminary and Saint John Vianney College Seminary and support for the Venezuelan Mission.

Additionally, for each parish that reaches it’s goal, a rebate is given back to the parish of 25%. Our goal last year was $56,072 and the generous parishioners of Saint Joseph’s pledged $60,086, the vast majority of which has been collected. It’s hardly surprising to me because people here are so generous with their time, talent and treasure.

When you give to the Catholic Services Appeal you provide food and shelter, education, spiritual support, and sacraments to individuals who are in need, disabled, imprisoned, hospitalized, or in nursing homes. You support low-income seniors, pregnant mothers, refugees, and immigrants. You support seminarians preparing for the priesthood. You help our 65,000 brothers and sisters at the mission parish of Jesucristo Resucitado in Venezuela. All of this happens when people come together.

The Catholic Services Appeal is a separate corporation from the Archdiocese. They provide funding for services, but have no bond with the Archdiocese. This means that they are unaffected by the bankruptcy filing, and no part of the appeal is going to settle lawsuits. Rather, the appeal provides for important services for people. The Archdiocese has been very transparent with respect to finances. All of your donations go to support services and needs that we need in the local parish and universal Church.

As a generous parish, we need to be always mindful of our connections to one another.  I certainly see this all of the time here at Saint Joe’s, in that so many come together to help make things happen.  Every gift helps, even if you can give only a small amount.

Finally, be sure to check out the Catholic Services Appeal web site: Here you’ll find all the information you could want on the Appeal, including a break down of dollar amounts, frequently asked questions, and more detailed information on each group who is helped through the Appeal.

Thank you for your generosity, and never forget what a big impact you can make, whether you are giving a few dollars or a few hundred. God bless you, and thank you for prayerfully considering a gift for this important yearly stewardship effort to support the services of our Archdiocese. Working together, we truly can have such an impact!

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Lenten Ideas from Pope Francis

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

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

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

  1.  Get rid of the lazy addiction to evil

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

  1.  Do something that hurts

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

  1.  Don’t remain indifferent

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

  1.  Pray: Make our hearts like yours!

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

  1.  Take part in the sacraments

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

  1.  Prayer

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

  1.  Fasting

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

  1.  Almsgiving

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

  1.  Help the Poor

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

  1.  Evangelize

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

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

Have a very blessed Lent!

Fr. Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

Have a blessed week,

Fr. Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless,

Fr. Paul

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

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

There were a few people I talked about that day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Ordinary, Yet Extraordinary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a blessed week! 

Fr. Paul