Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Treat Prophets with Honor

For years I’ve been a part of camera clubs.

The first one I joined was one in Minnetonka. It was a great club, and I’d still go there if meetings did not conflict with parish council and commission nights as they meet the first Thursday of the month.

The second one I joined was one that is closer to Rosemount, though I was a member even when I was commuting from Delano, and that is the Minnesota Nature Photography Club. It too has been an enjoyable club, and is more geared to the kind of photography I’m most interested in, wildlife and birds and nature and landscape shots.

As part of both clubs, there is what is called a “salon.” This is where photographers submit images to be judged.

What you quickly learn is that while no one is mean, this is not the world of Facebook where when you post an image everyone seems to like it or say “nice photo.” The point for submitting it is you hope that it does well and is liked by others, perhaps winning an award at the end of the year, but those judging it might not like it as much. They’ll generally say something positive too, but if the photo needs work or could have been done differently, they’ll let you know how to do it better. This is especially the case in the nature club, and in fact I remember there was one person in the Minnetonka club who, when I learned of the nature club, remarked “they are so mean! They take things that will get a perfect score here and not even accept them!”

Well, despite the perceived “meanness” of the nature club, I still enjoy going. And over the years, some of my images the judge has liked a lot; others they said was just so-so. I’ve won some awards, and left with a slightly bruised ego as well. But I can say that in the past decade since I started photography, I’ve gotten better. Shots I took ten years ago I thought were really neat at the time I look back and say “well that’s just OK.” I’ve learned more about processing images (though I’m still not a Photoshop expert). I’ve come to understand more things like shutter speed, aperture, ISO settings, camera noise, background, subject placement, and all that other stuff. And I’m still learning and hope to become better because I really enjoy the hobby.

All that being said, there’s something far more important that I hope to attain than an award for photography, and that is the crown of life. And just like the camera club salons, to get there people will comment on the portrait we present to them of ourselves. Some times it will be a very good review such as something we did selflessly for them, or how we seem to be living our lives. But other times it might be something very challenging. Hearing something from someone about our health, how we treat our spouse or kids, a bad habit, or our conduct that isn’t all that flattering can cause us to become defensive. But we have to ask ourselves a question, do we want to just coast through live and be average, or do we truly want to be great? If we want greatness, we have to listen to the prophets in our lives.

A little over a week ago at daily Mass, our Gospel of the day was from Matthew 13, where Jesus returns to his native place. The people who hear Him wonder where He learned to speak as He did in the synagogue and essentially ignore what He has to say, dismissing Him as the son of a carpenter. Perhaps they remember Him from HIs younger days, or think less of Him because of His family’s social status. What is clear is they don’t have much respect for what He has to say.

Sometimes we can be just like those people with the prophets in our midst, especially with people we know well such as friends and family. And while it certainly could be the case that someone misjudges us, sometimes a person who knows us well will challenge us about something that’s really worth thinking about.

We all want to be perfect, but sometimes we don’t want to travel the road to perfection as we were reminded of last week at Mass in our readings because the road is hard. If you are a human being, you have shortcomings. God’s love and mercy are always there, but we are called to respond to it. So be open to the prophets in your midst. Honestly look at your temperament and personality and ask yourself do people fear giving you honest feedback, whether it is family or coworkers or perhaps people you supervise on the job? Do you get defensive or listen carefully to what they have to say? Do you follow up on what someone says to you by getting another opinion? Do you pray about it when your conscience or another person is challenging you? Do you seek out people who will tell you what you need to hear and not just what you want to hear?

Spiritual growth is not easy. Just like on a performance review at work it’s a lot more comforting to hear what we did well and not the “areas for growth” the same is true in life. Thankfully even if we die with some work to do, God will help us sort all that out. But along the way there, He sends wise people to us who have a lot to tell us. So don’t be afraid to take the good with that which challenges you, because you just might find it enables you to present a beautiful picture to the world of virtue.

Have a great week,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Trusting in God through Adversity

Very often I use a phone app called “Waze” to help me get from point A to point B. With step by step instructions, I generally get to where I want to go. And in the event “Waze” can’t find the spot, the Apple map app usually can.

Life of course doesn’t work that way. For, as they saying goes, if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans. We might have all kinds of plans, but the Holy Spirit has a way of changing them by helping us to learn what we are called to do.

That can be pretty tough though sometimes. Life can be quite hard. We can have setbacks of all kinds; we can start something with a big dream or feel called to do something only to find that getting there is awfully tough.

Such is the case for the Israelites in our first reading this week. They’ve gotten out of Egypt and are no longer slaves. God has parted the Red Sea, led them into freedom. But now, it’s been a while since all that happened. The whole promised land thing hasn’t come to fulfillment. And our first reading finds the Israelites grumbling, forgetting about how bad things were in Egypt, thinking that it was in fact better there because the road to the promised land is taking a long time to travel. Might it be God left them? Far from it.

The great preacher Billy Graham once told a story of a man who became shipwrecked on a deserted island years ago. He managed to build himself a hut to live in and with it stored the possessions he was able to salvage from his boat after it was wrecked.

He would watch every day for some sign of a ship or airplane passing by. He prayed to God for help. Some days he would get discouraged and wonder if he would ever get off that island, but still … he prayed.

One day he was on the other end of the island and noticed some smoke coming from the direction of his hut. He ran as fast as he could back to the hut and then he realized that his fears had come true. His hut and all his belongings were destroyed by a fire. All that was left was the smoke and rubble of it all.

He asked God why did this have to happen. He did not understand. Soon he would find out. Later that day a ship appeared on the horizon and soon landed on the island and rescued him. They told him that they were plotting a distinct course and noticed smoke off in the distance and thought the smoke was a signal for help.

It was a sign for much needed help and it was a sign from God that He was still in control and He would not forsake His beloved child even if there was a doubt or not.

Out of the ashes of this life we can build another day. We can have beauty for ashes.

The point? God is in control. And just as Ash Wednesday where we start Lent each year leads to the renewal and joy of Easter, the same is true with respect to our lives. So what can we do when we find ourselves like our ancestors in the first reading, wandering trying to find a way out, wondering where God is?

For starters, we can pray. Remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. All seeming lost, He prays. And on Good Friday, He prays again – A Psalm, My God, My God, why have You forsaken me? Seemingly at that moment, the prayer is not answered. But it does not mean the Father has ignored the pleas of the Son. When we pray we are reminded of God’s love for us. Sometimes we can also just mediate too. I like to sometimes sit in silence before the tabernacle, or just gaze at the stars of the sky. It allows me to feel God’s presence, and even when I’m going through challenging things,  I am reminded I am not in the battle alone.

Second, related to prayer, Mass is our perfect prayer. When we go to Mass, we are also given food for the journey. We recall all that God has done for us, and receive the sacrificial love of the Body of our Lord. Remember the words of the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer: “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end…” No matter how challenging or difficult a situation may seem, remember we are not in it alone, ever. Mass gives us a powerful reminder of that every time we gather around the Lord’s table.

Third, sometimes we can learn things along our journey into the promised land if you will, and these things make us better in the end. We can learn from our mistakes. We can look back and realize a tough job or class or volunteer position we said yes to ultimately helped us to become even better at our vocation.

Fourth, it’s important to believe in ourselves. Each of us are given different gifts; and there are some things we have to accept we cannot do. I will never be a Minnesota Viking for instance. But there are also so many things we can do. This is something I share with the school kids at Mass at the end of the year. I invite them to look back to the fall, and where they are now and see all the amazing things they learned along the way from their parents and teachers and through hard work. Yes there are some things we can’t do and will never be able to do; but there are also so many things we can do but quit too quickly because it’s hard.

Lastly, never forget you are never alone. The Israelites not only had God, they had Moses to lead them and other good leaders among the people too who ultimately helped them get to the promised land. Our presence with others who are going through adversity can do so much, and the same is true when we are going through difficult times too. It’s so important to not be afraid to ask for help and counsel, for as a body of believers we build one another up.

There is no getting around the reality that life can be very difficult at times. But just as the Israelites eventually reached their homeland, we will reach ours of heaven too. When we wonder “God, are you out there?” may we never forget that Goes was not limited to being with us for 33 years two millennia ago, but that He continues to be active within our world, and within our lives. God has a plan for you – He didn’t say it would be easy, but He did promise that He would be with you and all of us until the end of time. So, as they say, “trust the process” and remember that while the journey might be tough at times, in the end with God, with His continual love, with the virtues He gave you and other people who fill your life, you too will enter into your eternal reward as we persevere on the journey of life through it’s peaks and valleys.

Have a great week,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Getting the Word Out about Saint Joe’s

This weekend is the annual “Leprechaun Days” celebration. As a part of it, I’ll be walking in the parade along with other people from our parish and our staff.

Bridget Samson who is a familiar face to many as our Director of Parish Life, has been working for quite some time getting ready for the parade. We’ll have a little float, be wearing shirts, and have some other giveaway items to hand out to people as we walk through Rosemount to get the word out about our parish and our school.

While the parade is an annual event, ideally we as part of the Saint Joseph’s family are getting the word out year around about the great things that are going on at our parish and our school. With so many people moving into the area, sometimes people may not know all the many things that go on here. (And indeed this is a big reason we are installing an eventual sign, paid entirely through donations from those who have offered to support it). It’s surprising how many people you run into in the community that aren’t aware that we are so much more than a place where people come for Mass. Many aren’t even aware we have a school let alone a preschool, and many others have no idea about our many ministries and activities. That’s where you and I have to come in.

Usually around Easter, I get something put on my door from a Protestant church inviting me to worship at their congregation. (As I am typically busy that day, I have yet to take up that offer). Obviously they aren’t aware of where the Catholic priest lives, but their intent is good: get out there in the community and communicate about our church. My hope is that we can look for ways to do the same thing. And there are many ways that can happen.

First is simply inviting people to come to Mass with us. Many of us know people who may have been away from the faith for a while, or who are looking for a parish home. Perhaps they are considering changing parishes too for whatever reason. Let them know about Saint Joseph’s and invite them to one of our weekend liturgies. It really is a joy to celebrate Mass here because liturgy, thanks to the hard work of Bill Bradley our worship director and selfless volunteers who join him in music ministry, is incredibly vibrant. A lot of planning and care goes into it and it’s at the center of what we do as Catholic Christians. Coming to Mass gives people also a chance to meet others, and experience the warm and welcoming environment that is our parish. I’m always struck by how people are greeted as they come in, and how many do the “Minnesota goodbye” after Mass and greet and visit one another. Our parish is really like a family, not a “Mass factory” and its so great to see people so interconnected.

Second, get a sense for what is going on in our parish. Each week there are so many things going on. Some of these are in the narthex; others are coming up during the week. There are so many ministries, organizations, commissions and committees and each one can meet a need someone has or serve as a way for someone to share their talents. When we are aware of these we can suggest to others both inside and outside of the parish ways they can be more involved. In sales a person lets a customer know about the benefits and features of a product, but they also know the client – and odds are no matter what walk of a life a person is in, there is something our parish can do to help them.

Third, don’t forget we’ve got a great school. Right now in summer, people are still considering final options for the fall. Our school has room, and has so many great things going on. From a dedicated staff to an outstanding curriculum, our students learn academics and even more importantly how to excel at living out their faith. Invite people to call our school for a tour or to get more information as they look at education options for their family.

Fourth, get involved. There are so many ways you can be involved at Saint Joe’s, from our commissions to our scores of ministries. When a person gets more involved in their parish, they are able to connect with others, learn more about their parish, and invite others to do the same.

Lastly, always remind people they are welcome in God’s House. Pope Francis has used the image of the Church as a field hospital in the world, and so many people in the world are hurting. Others are lonely, or just kind of adrift not knowing where to go. We all know people who have been away from the faith for a while. Look for opportunities to remind them that at our parish there is no judgment, just welcome, and that they always have a seat at the table. Weddings and funeral Masses are added opportunities for this too as often people are together as a family for the first time in a while, and there is a higher number of people present who may not have been to Mass in some time.

I think in years past some parishes just assumed people would find them as they moved into the area. We can’t just assume people will show up, we truly have to be fishers of people. That’s a commission we all have, so let’s get the word out about our great parish. A parade float is a great means of communication, but Jesus calls us to cast our nets every day of the year. Thank you for working so hard to support your parish, and let’s strive daily to add not just to our parish but to our universal Church as we help bring people to the faith, and into a relationship with the God who is love by helping them learn how to respond to that love and live out their faith.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Finding a Deserted Place

Reading through the Gospels, one of the things we find is that Jesus is very much someone who is always on the move, along with the apostles. Jesus and then the apostles preach, listen to people’s needs, cure them and bring them peace and comfort. But as we all know one can’t run on an empty tank. Perhaps this is what is on Jesus’ mind as he says to the apostles, who report to Jesus this week about all they have done after being sent out in last week’s Gospel, that they should “come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

As the Gospel unfolds, these well-intended plans don’t quite work out as people get wind of where they are going and go out to follow Jesus to get more help from them, and He doesn’t dismiss them but continues to minister to them.

I imagine most of us would do the same if people had an urgent need, but many times there isn’t an emergency that needs to be tended to, but we can lose sight of tending to ourselves. Life is so hectic. We run from one situation to the next, and have work, school, sports, and a million other activities going on all the time. You add to this how we are all multi-taskers with phones and laptops and tablets, sometimes true “down time” can be hard to come by.

I do think it’s important though that we all try to find a “deserted place” to go to. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi points out that silence is not just for the women and men who have chosen a cloistered life. In his words, “reflection, meditation, contemplation are as necessary as breathing…time for silence – external but above all internal – are a premise and in indispensable condition for it.” When we find time for silence, we can hear the voice of God.

With that in mind, one thing to consider it trying to find some time for both silence but also rest and leisure in your life.

With respect to the latter, I think rest and relaxation are so important for both individuals and families. When I was at a prior parish, I was invited over to a family’s home for dinner and a family game night. They set aside a night each week where they made sure to eat together, and then after dinner the family played some board or card games together. What a great concept – eating together. Family dinners used to be staple each night, but with so much competing for our time it seems sometimes even eating together has to be put in to our iPhone calendar. Hopefully we don’t have to do that within the family though, but have time for eating together and just enjoying one another’s company. This allows people to know what’s going on in one another’s lives and brings us closer together.

With the former, silence can also be very helpful for us as individuals. There are retreat centers you can find locally that actually offer silent retreats. As for me, I prefer moments of silence, and often vacation alone. For me, watching the stars come out over Lake Superior or out west in the mountains are retreat-like experiences for me. But each day, I try to find time for silence. Try to find your own deserted place too and remember prayer and encountering God does not always entail talking. Our common devotions often involve words, but sometimes just in silence we can grow so close to God. So find a spot you like. A park or a church; a library; or your living room or porch after others have gone to sleep.

Maybe like Jesus you feel everyone is on you all the time with one need or another from the boss to the kids to the relatives to the demands of your schedule. Don’t be afraid to say “I can’t go out tonight” or “I’m just too busy.” Down time and silence are very good things because they allow us to fill up our spiritual tank – so find your favorite “filling station” and let God fill your heart with His grace and wisdom.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Saint Maria Goretti, Alessandro Serenelli and the Triumph of Love and Mercy

Saint Maria Goretti, Alessandro Serenelli and the Triumph of Love and Mercy 

Though there are many horrible forms of sin that we witness every day, I think for most the abuse or harm of a child would rank near the top.

So if you tuned on the nightly news, and saw that a man was arrested for taking the life of a 12-year old girl he tried to rape, how might you respond? Understandably you would be horrified, or angry. Perhaps you’d hope that he received the death penalty if you lived in a state with capital punishment. You might see his mug shot and conclude from the bases of that 30 seconds on the news that this is a reprehensible disgusting person.

Indeed, when Alessandro Serenelli was arrested, by all accounts there was not much to love in this man.

Allessandro was a neighbor of the Goretti family, a poor family of farmers who had to work for other farmers.

On July 5, 1902, eleven-year-old Maria Goretti was sitting on the outside steps of her home, sewing one of Alessandro’s shirts and watching Teresa her infant sister, while Alessandro was threshing beans in the barnyard. Knowing she would be alone, he returned to the house and threatened to stab her with an awl if she did not do what he said; he was intending to rape her. She would not submit, however, protesting that what he wanted to do was a wrong. She fought desperately and kept screaming, “No! It is a sin! God does not want it!” He first choked her, but when she insisted she would rather die than submit to him, he stabbed her eleven times. She tried to reach the door, but he stopped her by stabbing her three more times before running away.

Apparently he had harassed her before as well.

Alessandro Serenelli was captured shortly after the attack: the police taking him to prison overtook the ambulance carrying Maria to the hospital. Originally, he was going to be sentenced to life, but since he was a minor at that time it was commuted to 30 years; judges even considered he was not as mature as he was expected to be for a 20-year-old, and that he grew up in a poor, neglectful family, with several brothers and relatives suffering from madness and an alcoholic father. It has also been suggested that it was due to her mother’s plea for mercy that he was not sentenced to death.

At first, Alessandro insisted he had attempted to rape her several times and decided to kill her because of her refusal and desperate crying. He remained unrepentant and uncommunicative from the world for three years, until a local bishop, Monsignor Giovanni Blandini, visited him in jail. He wrote a thank you note to the Bishop asking for his prayers and telling him about a dream, “in which Maria gave him lilies, which burned immediately in his hands.

After his release, he visited Maria’s mother and asked for her forgiveness. She said if Maria could forgive him, she could to. They attended Mass together, and received Holy Communion side by side. Alessandro later became a lay brother of the Order of the Friars Minor Capuchin, and lived the rest of his days as a receptionist and gardener until he entered eternal life in 1970. Maria was canonized in June of 1950. We celebrated her feast day Friday, July 6.

In a world where we can judge people so quickly, or be so quick to forget about the wooden beam in our own eye yet see the splinter in our brother’s eye, the story of Maria and and Alessandro illustrates what God’s love and mercy can do.

It reminds us that we must all be aware of our sins. There aren’t too many people who murder or attack children which is why it makes the news when it happens. But sins come in all kinds of forms; the secret things that people do to others; the sins of habit; the sins of secrecy that occur in families where there can be abuse; gossip; greed; envy – it’s an endless list of sin. Sometimes thinking about the sins of others makes us forget about our own sins and the need of redemption. And it would be depressing if we were not in fact redeemed. Alessandro and Maria’s story reminds us that no sin us unforgivable in the eyes of God – we just have to open ourselves to God’s mercy.

But with that, their story is a challenge too to be a person of mercy. When we look to others who’s sins are public, whether it’s in the news or things we hear about, we have to remember we don’t know the whole story, and that when someone reaches out to them, change is possible. For Alessandro, his family had many problems from alcoholism to mental illness. It’s the same story for many who are incarcerated today as well. That often doesn’t get reported. But there are many stories like Alessandro’s in what has happened when people have shown compassion and mercy. Indeed right within our own parish are people who visit prisons and try to help people turn their lives around; and there are many other stories of what love and forgiveness have done to heal broken relationships. We are not called to be a person’s best friend; and when we or loved ones are hurt, anger is understandable. There is nothing wrong with wanting justice or never having a relationship with the person. But when we pray, we can perhaps try to pray for those in prison, or those who have wronged us. And perhaps at some point, like Maria and her mother did, we might reach out to someone to talk with them, to forgive them, and to remind them that they are loved by God.

There’s a lot of anger out there these days, and we should have a justified anger when we see injustice or evil action. But we should also do something about it, and remember that grace transformed people like Paul who persecuted and helped kill Christians and Alessandro who took the life of a young woman and turned them around. May we use that grace too to help others experience the healing powers of God’s love, and never give up on those who seemingly have walked away from God, but rather through prayer and mercy strive to help them to find a lasting relationship with the God who is love.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Peter and Paul Remind us of Unity in Diversity

As June came to a close, our Church celebrated the solemnity of the feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29th. What strikes me though when I think of both of these leaders of our faith is how both were very different, yet very much united.

One the one hand, Paul was educated; Peter a fisherman. Peter was apparently a better speaker; Paul better at writing. And both had differences of opinion in terms of how to minister to new people coming into the Church. Yet through it all, both men were united and overcame any differences to use their gifts to help the Church grow.

Indeed, if you’ve ever seen an icon of Peter and Paul, they are often depicted closely together giving one another the sign of peace.

Thinking about the situation in the world today, to me it seems Peter and Paul and how they lived and evangelized is more timely than ever. This is because there can be so much division.

On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with some division. It’s a good thing for people to like different things and have different interests; it’s also a good thing in the Church to have people with different gifts and talents, and even some different liturgical styles. But sometimes things can go a bit too far. When we look at someone who differs from us as less of a coworker in the vineyard and more as a threat or someone we have to “fix” this can be a problem. Certainly there is a balance, in that there are some things that are non-negotiable in our faith and moral teachings. We also believe that our Church is exclusive in that Christ created one, holy, catholic apostolic Church, not thousands of denominations. But what we can learn from Peter and Paul is how to both work together and how to evangelize to others.

A starting point is knowing that we are all the same: equally sinners, but equally loved by God. Humility is a good thing. All the great saints have it; remember Saint John the Baptist who said He was not worthy to untie the sandals of Jesus and who humbly pointed the way to the Lord. Paul would often boast of weaknesses or call himself least of the apostles for his past in persecuting the Church. Peter’s first words to Jesus are to depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man. Neither of these holy men assumed they had a right to anything, yet Jesus calls them. And His love and the Spirit transform them. As Christians, we must always be aware of the two sides of the coin. On the one hand, recognizing that we have gifts, and also having fortitude because there may indeed be a “right” way and a “wrong” way, in particular when we work with others on faith and morals. But on the other, we also must remember we are works in progress. Sometimes it can be easy to slip into arrogance or a condescending demeanor to others. Even after they followed Jesus, both Peter and Paul sinned again like we all do. But they are saints because they never let that authority and power given to them get to their head.

We also must recognize that there is often more than one way to do something. Peter and Paul knew this well thanks to the Holy Spirit. At the Council of Jerusalem, where the two initially disagree about the requirements for Gentile converts, Peter learns from the guidance of the Spirit that he needs to back off on being so rigid and set in his ways for new converts to follow certain dietary laws and circumcision. Stubbornness can be a real obstacle to spiritual growth and also developing new friendships. Change can be difficult at times, but we have to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit and in one another too. This means being open to change, listening to others, and recognizing the gifts that we each have. I also encourage people to try different things to help in their own spiritual growth. There’s so much our Church offers spiritually in terms of practices and reading material and ways to pray. Maybe you’ve never tried a retreat, a Taize prayer service or a rosary. Check these things out and don’t get stuck in a rut.

We also have to accept the fact that because we are many, we have to let things go at times. The Church is not a democracy; we are guided by the pope and bishops who work with us, and love us, but ultimately will also challenge us. The content of the faith never changes, but our understanding of it and how we live it out does change over time. At the universal level, we may see liturgy changes, or receive a teaching from the pope or bishops that might challenge us. The struggle isn’t a bad thing – but taking an attitude of “the pope and bishops have no authority to change the structure of the Mass” or “Who’s the pope to tell me whether I can or cannot use birth control” is a problem. He is the vicar of Christ, but he works in conjunction with the bishops of the world and of course the guidance of the Holy Spirit. At the local level, it’s also important we work with one another and accept changes too. Changes are inevitable in parishes on many things; we might not all like them and may disagree, but we need to work together and give our brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt that we are both working towards the same mission, namely making our local and universal Church better under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Thinking things through with prudence is also key. Sometimes we can get set in our ways, but we need to listen and to be open to other ways of doing things. Of course this includes prayer, listening to the voice of God. But it also means listening to others who have different ideas just as Peter listened to Paul at the Council of Jerusalem. We might find that a person we disagreed with initially may in fact be on to something.

Lastly, prayer should always be a part of all that we do. Working with others can be difficult, both in the parish and in the world. When we disagree with people, it can be easy to get frustrated. But they are still our brothers and sisters in Christ. We should open our eyes to their gifts and always keep them in prayer, and pray also for ourselves to be patient and try to see their positives and not just the negatives.

Indeed we are many parts but one body. In an era where things can be so divisive, Peter and Paul remind us to work together with one another to build up God’s Kingdom. We may always have different ideas of how to do it, but hopefully we can strive to focus more on what unites us rather than what divides us.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: This Independence Day, Cherish and Use Your Freedoms

James Madison, the fourth President of the United States, doesn’t get as much notoriety as, say, George Washington or Benjamin Franklin. But as one of the founding fathers and one of the biggest reasons the Bill of Rights came to be, one of the ways he can be under-appreciated is with respect to how strongly he felt to enshrining freedom of speech in our Constitution.

In an article that ran in “National Review” from last September, Jay Cost writes:

In Madison’s view, a free republic depends ultimately upon public opinion. A Constitution could divide power this way and that, but in the end it is the people, and only the people, who rule. And for the people to rule wisely, they have to be able to communicate with one another — freely, without fear of reprisal. Thus, freedom of speech and press were not, for Madison, merely God-given rights. They were preconditions for self-government.

Mr. Cost concludes his article by stating: Madison’s commitment to free speech should serve as a reminder that, while people say things that we might find personally offensive, we should never wish the state to squash their right to do so. Our First Amendment freedoms combined — freedom of religion, of assembly and petition, of press and speech — give us the right to think what we like and say what we please. And if we the people are to govern ourselves, we must have these rights, even if they are misused by a minority.”

Madison was of course joined by the other founders. George Washington said: ““If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”

I think this is more important than ever, because we live in a time where certain very vocal groups want to stifle speech. The State may be prevented from quashing speech – but some might take it upon themselves to do so. These tactics aren’t anything new; they have been used throughout history by various groups on the far left and far right. Some people preach tolerance but they don’t so much tolerate views contrary to their own.

I could not help but think of this when Sarah Sanders, the press secretary for President Trump, was asked to leave a restaurant because the owner found some of her views “immoral.” Let’s think about this for a minute. A couple (the reservation was made by her husband) and their friends make a reservation to dine out. They are not there for anything other than a simple meal. No political rally, no speech, just dinner as paying customers. As I read about this, I could not help but wonder are we really at the point where we are going to have Republican and Democratic Restaurants because we despise each other so much? Can we not find common ground where we can tolerate one another, disagree, but also engage in civil debate and arguing?

The point is this: no matter what your political view may be, as Americans, we should never pipe down just because it is politically incorrect or a contrarian view. The Church has teachings that would make people across the aisle uncomfortable. At the same time, we have to be civil with one another while not being afraid to argue, and not hate someone just because of their political viewpoints.

I think as we celebrate Independence Day with fireworks, barbecues, hot dogs and get togethers, it’s worth thinking about our freedom. Catholics were only marginally tolerated at best at the time of the Constitution, but throughout US History Catholics have spoken out on many matters, from Civil Rights to abortion to marriage. It is disheartening to see that there are some out there who are not just comfortable in disagreeing or looking for an argument, but looking for a true fight or resorting to scare tactics to either change others views or force them to conform. The Catholic Church will always hold views that are not politically popular. But we as both Catholics and Americans should never live in fear of being labeled or offending someone. So what are we to do?

I think a few things to remember are first to try to listen to the other person. We may not agree with them, and we may never agree on certain issues. But listening affirms the dignity of the person, and can give us insight into where they are coming from.

Next, I think it’s good to affirm a person, but we then formulate an argument – to say “I can understand where you are coming from, but here is why I feel so strongly on this.” Remember arguing is different from shouting or just attacking or abuse. (See the classic Monty Python “Argument Clinic” sketch for more detail on the differences). This is why we need catechesis, to know what the Church teaches and why. When are argue, we formulate opinions based on facts or premises. For instance if conversing with someone who said one religion is good as all or I don’t have to go to Mass, I’d start by thanking them for conversing with me, and that it seems they are looking for deeper meaning in life. I wouldn’t jump to “you have to go to Mass” but talk about something such as love – a need we all have, and how when we love someone we get to know them better, and how when we are loved we are made better. I might move on to talking about how Mass and prayer make us better people and help us on our life long journeys. My hope would be the conversation would continue, but it would require patience.

Patience is also important. It can be very frustrating when people reject teachings of the Church. But as we heard two weeks ago at Mass, the mustard seeds take time to grow – so don’t give up on people.

Lastly, tolerance is an important moral principle too. I can break bread with people from different political backgrounds. I can agree to disagree. And this is so very important for us not just as Americans but as humans. But while I will certainly tolerate a person, I will also not be fearful of never engaging them in dialogue or challenging them too. We are not called to keep our beliefs private behind the stained glass windows – we are called to bring them out into the world and to be a true evangelist.

So as we mark our country’s birthday this week, lets remember Madison and the founders were onto something very important, which is why the worked so hard to defend it. Ideas may offend, that’s a good thing, but an even better thing is getting someone to think rather than shout.

Happy Independence Day,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: We Should Take Pride in our Entire Identity, Not Just Part of It

Every June in major cities around the world, what is commonly called “pride” week or month takes place. The period focuses on those who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender celebrating their identity and culture.

On the one hand, taking a stand against discrimination is a good thing. There is no excuse for ever taunting, demeaning or insulting someone.

However, every year when I see this festival, the “pride” parade, or the other events, I respectfully disagree with what I think the focus has become. If this were just about respect and non-discrimination, I think that would be a great thing. But, defined at the Twin Cities Pride Festival website as simply a “celebration of the LGBTQ community,” I would contend there is much more to celebrate than part of one’s identity.

I remember in seminary, our rector at the time, Bishop Frederick Campbell, commented one day on “pride” movements, saying that the problem was they focused on only part of one’s identity, not the whole human person. He’s right. The problem is in a society that puts so much emphasis on sexuality, this part a person’s identity can dwarf over the other things that make up a person. A person is one created in the image and likeness of God. A son or daughter. A friend. A family member. A good listener. A hard worker. The point? Many things, not just one, make up our identity.

And others share these views too. Eighteen years ago, a gay pride parade came to Rome. Saint John Paul’s response? He said this was an “offense” to Christian values and an insult that commanded acrimony. His exact words: ”In the name of the Church of Rome I can only express my deep sadness at the affront to the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 and the offense to the Christian values of a city that is so dear to the hearts of Catholics throughout the world.” He went on to say “Homosexual acts are contrary to the natural law…The Church cannot be silent about the truth, because she would fail in her fidelity to God the Creator and would not help to distinguish good from evil.”

More recently, Pope Francis also gave a speech with respect to the importance of heterosexual parents. Talking to about 25,000 followers from the diocese of Rome, the pope said the differences between men and women are fundamental and an “integral part of being human..” He said: “Children mature seeing their father and mother like this; their identity matures being confronted with the love their father and mother have, confronted with this difference.”

Now does this mean that the Church somehow “hates gays” as some in the media would say or is “homophobic”? Far from it. For Pope Francis also affirmed to a gay man that God loved him, and when asked about saying “who am I to judge?” in reference to gays, he stated: “On that occasion I said this: If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person? I was paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized…because before all else comes the individual person, in his wholeness and dignity,..And people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love…I prefer that homosexuals come to confession, that they stay close to the Lord, and that we pray all together…You can advise them to pray, show goodwill, show them the way, and accompany them along it.”

What I love with the comments of both Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II is they get to the Catholic response to a culture that has done what Adam and Eve did in taking from the fruit of the tree of which they were forbidden to eat: taking what belongs to God and applying it to man, namely defining morality. God has ordered natural law; it is not up to us to re-define it, as we have done with marriage. This is why on the one hand it is so important to respect the dignity of the human person, but also on the other to not be afraid to speak up for what we believe, even when doing so could cause one to be called names, labeled or ostracized. We as Catholics cannot shy away from the truth.

So what then is our response to those who want to re-define marriage? How do we walk the line between tolerance and respecting one’s choices, but at the same time speak out on the truth that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that marriage is the proper place for physical relations between people?

First, we start with love and charity. I realize this is a difficult issue for people; many of us have family members or friends who have same sex attractions or may be in a same-sex relationship. If I had a sibling or close friend who asked me to be at a “gay wedding”, while I obviously would not officiate, because I loved that person and cared about our relationship, I would attend. (And indeed I’ve told people who’ve asked me if they could attend that they could). Why? Because perhaps a good starting point is showing someone that you love them and care about them. It could be down the road, because you stood by them and they remembered this, that this is the impetus for further conversation.

Second, that loves means we must never discriminate or show hate. I think perhaps the original intent of pride festivals was a good one – people saying we as a group have been harassed and ridiculed and lived in the shadows and this is wrong. There is never an excuse for cruelty. Jesus would not use hurtful language, and neither should we.

Third, we can’t though be afraid to remember that as Catholics we have to live out the spiritual works of mercy. These include instructing the ignorant and admonishing the sinner. These are very counter-cultural in an age of relativism. But as I’ve said before, is our goal to make others “feel good” or avoid conflict, or do we truly want to help others? This does not mean we go looking for a fight, but engage in a true argument (not a shouting match or online war of words). There is a reason “God created them male and female.” There are reasons why it is beneficial to have two parents of the opposite sex. There are goods that come from marriage as being defined in it’s definition from God as between a man and a woman. We should not shy away from these. And of course, as we do so, we have to expect people may not like what we have to say. But we might start to get people to think and get past emotion on these issues, which may eventually lead to them seeing the truth as God defines it, rather than how culture defines it.

Fourth, we have to be patient. As I said, it’s a lot easier to shout or be a keyboard warrior on social media than someone who actually argues and has a discussion. Odds are a person isn’t going to change and at the start may just be angry and hostile. But don’t give up on talking about the truth.

Finally, through it all we of course pray. We pray for strength. We pray for people who disagree with us; who hate us. We pray for all of God’s people.

Indeed, we are called to love one another. But love isn’t just a warm-fuzzie feeling, or saying to someone all is well when it’s not. When we love one another, we truly want them to become a saint and to grow in holiness and virtue. Talking about how to do that isn’t intolerance. It’s OK to make someone feel uncomfortable. It’s OK to stand up for what is true. Doing so might get us all kinds of labels in our modern society, but it also just might help people to think more deeply about what it means to respond to the love that God has given us.

I’d like to close with a link to a great organization I learned about while helping out one summer at the Archdiocesan Office for Marriage and Family Life: Catholic EnCourage. The website address is: https://couragerc.org/encourage/. As noted on their website: “EnCourage is a ministry within Courage dedicated to the spiritual needs of parents, siblings, children, and other relatives and friends of persons who have same-sex attractions. Standing by the true teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, EnCourage members support one another and their loved ones through discussion, prayer and fellowship.” This is an outstanding organization with local chapters that ensures family, friends and those with same-sex attractions first and foremost know that they are precious to God, and helps them on their journey.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Fathers Help Chart the Path to Heaven

Over the course of my life, I’ve had a lot of faith formation.

As a product of the Catholic Schools through the eighth grade, it was here I learned about Mass, the sacraments, prayers and saints through the Benedictine Sisters at Saint Bridget’s.

In high school, I was confirmed and learned from catechist volunteers at our parish more about what we believe and why, preparing at an older age to affirm my faith.

And in seminary, we dove into everything you can think of with respect to the faith: Catholic history; the sacraments; “eschatology” or the study of death, heaven and hell; virtues; vices; spirituality; moral theology; the Trinity; and the list goes on and on and on.

It goes without saying all of these experiences were important to learn the content of the faith. But there’s a reason Vatican II, in it’s Declaration on Christian Education, singled out parents for their unique role. Specifically, the words in the document are:

Since parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it. For it devolves on parents to create a family atmosphere so animated with love and reverence for God and others that a well-rounded personal and social development will be fostered among children. Hence, the family is the first school of those social virtues which every society needs. …  Parents have the first and inalienable duty and right to educate their children. (Gravissimum Educationis 3, 6).

I might be biased, but as I look at the “first school” I had which was my home, I have to say for what I received, it was far better than a degree from Harvard. And that’s because both of my parents were well versed in being excellent teachers of what living out the faith means.

Thinking about my dad as we celebrate Father’s Day, I have gained, and continue to gain so much from him.

It wasn’t the Benedictine Sisters who taught me my first prayer. That was my dad. It was the Lord’s Prayer, and we would pray it nightly. But beyond that, his whole life has been a living testament to his faith.

Much like Saint Joseph did so much for Jesus in a quiet way, and there were so many moments that impacted Jesus that took place from Jesus seeing him work and care for he and Mary, the same is true with our fathers as well. In my dad’s case, he’s worked hard his whole life to provide for the family. Thanks to his hard work in maintenance in schools, teachers and kids had a great building to go to every day. He’d go above and beyond in doing great work there to make their lives better. And he did this in so many ways for us at home too.

After a long day at work, he wouldn’t disappear in front of the TV or be out with friends. He’d spend time with me as a kid, and we’d go to the park, out in the yard, or play a game of electric or Atari football (two very cool old school games if you grew up in the 80s). As the years went by, he’d be there for guidance and advice. He’d be patient as I navigated through my teen years and college wrestled with what to do with my life and found my way. He’d listen. And he’d help so many people like my grandparents, doing so much for them as they advanced in years. And he’d treat my mom like Saint Joseph treated Mary, with care, respect and love. Beyond this there were the other things that I learned over the years through seeing him do such things as shoveling an elderly neighbor’s walk without being asked; of praying each night; of showing tolerance and respect to others; of Mass not being something you even think twice about going to but that you center your life around each week; of being a man of your word, meaning what you say and living it out. The list goes on and on.

My dad has been an amazing teacher to me of how one is to lead their life. When I think of Him I think of Jesus in that I see a self-emptying love that knows no limits. He’s helped me to know what I need to do to become a better person, and most of all to know that the most important thing in life isn’t fame, recognition, money or power, but is rather about coming to know who God is and helping others to do the same.

To all of our fathers on this father’s day weekend, thank you for saying yes to this vocation. Never forget that for all the hours you put in at work providing for your family; for the time going to practices and ball games; the time working on fractions and helping your kids to sound out words; the time you had to be dad and not a friend and use tough love and the word “no”; the times you encouraged your kids to believe in themselves, to so many other things that you’ve done over the years, we your sons and daughters thank you. For in all these things, you’ve helped us to see the face of God, each action being a brush stroke on the canvas God gave you to fill through the testament of your lives. May God bless you!

Happy Fathers Day,

Fr. Paul

A Prayer for Fathers (from Saint John XXIII)

St. Joseph, guardian of Jesus and chaste husband of Mary, you passed your life in loving fulfillment of duty. You supported the holy family of Nazareth with the work of your hands. Kindly protect those who trustingly come to you. You know their aspirations, their hardships, their hopes. They look to you because they know you will understand and protect them. You too knew trial, labor and weariness. But amid the worries of material life your soul was full of deep peace and sang out in true joy through intimacy with God’s Son entrusted to you and with Mary, his tender Mother. Assure those you protect that they do not labor alone. Teach them to find Jesus near them and to watch over him faithfully as you have done.

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Rediscovering the Meaning of the Sacred Heart

I’ll never forget Sister Charlene.

Sister Charlene was an “old school” Benedictine sister who I had in the second grade.
Needless you stay, if you valued your life, you did not mess around with Sister
Charlene. But while she was not afraid to lay down the law in second grade, one thing I
do remember about her is how much she loved to teach, and had a genuine love for her
students.

She wanted us to learn not just things like reading or social studies, but she took her
role as a religious sister very seriously and helped us to grow in faith as we prepared for
the sacraments of first reconciliation and first Holy Communion. She also would give out
holy cards and medals. One picture in particular stood with me. It was a picture of
Jesus, with a prayer to the Sacred Heart on the back. She also gave us each a medal of
the Sacred Heart, complete with a red crocheted necklace that it would hang on.

The thing with the painted image is I remember it being so well done. The eyes of Jesus
seemed to follow you everywhere in a kind way, and you felt Jesus watching over you.
And burning was the loving heart of Jesus to remind you how much you were cared for
by our Lord.

While you probably are familiar with the term “Sacred Heart,” you might not know the
history of the devotion which we celebrate as a feast the Friday after the Second Sunday of Pentecost, which happened to be this last Friday.

From an article written by Kathy Schieffer of The National Catholic Register, we can get
a nice summary of the devotion. She writes:

***

Devotion to the wounded heart of Jesus has its origins in the eleventh century, when
pious Christians meditated on the Five Wounds of Christ. There grew up among the
faithful prayers to the Sacred Heart, prayers to the Shoulder Wound of Christ—private
devotions which helped Christians to focus on the passion and death of Christ, and thus
to grow in love for our Savior who had suffered and died for us.

It was not until 1670, however, that a French priest, Fr. Jean Eudes, celebrated the first
Feast of the Sacred Heart.

Around the same time, a pious sister by the name of Margaret Mary Alacoque began to
report visions of Jesus. He appeared to her frequently, and in December 1673, he
permitted Margaret Mary—as had once allowed St. Gertrude—to rest her head upon his
Heart. As she experienced the comfort of his presence, Jesus told her of his great love
and explained that he had chosen her to make his love and his goodness known to all.

The following year, in June or July of 1674, Margaret Mary reported that Jesus wanted
to be honored under the figure of His Heart of flesh. He asked the faithful to receive Him
in the Eucharist frequently, especially on the First Friday of the month, and to observe a
Holy Hour of devotion to Him.
And then in 1675, during the octave of Corpus Christi, Margaret Mary received the
vision which came to be known as the “great apparition.” Jesus asked that the modern
Feast of the Sacred Heart be celebrated each year on the Friday following Corpus
Christi, in reparation for the ingratitude of men for the sacrifice which Christ had made
for them.

The devotion became popular after St. Margaret Mary’s death in 1690. However,
because the Church is always careful in approving a private apparition or devotion, the
feast was not established as an official feast for all of France until 1765.

On May 8, 1873, the devotion to the Sacred Heart was formally approved by Pope Pius
IX; and 26 years later – on July 21, 1899 – Pope Leo XIII urgently recommended that all
bishops throughout the world observe the feast in their dioceses.

So how then does one practice a devotion to the Sacred Heart? What I think it comes
down to is thinking back also to the feast of Divine Mercy, the Second Sunday of Easter,
where we contemplated how deep God’s love is for us. The Sacred Heart devotion
emerged at a time when the Church was combatting Calvinism and Jansensim, the
former a Protestant movement, the latter a schism in the Catholic Church but both
having a very pessimistic view of human nature holding only a few would be saved. The
visions of Saint Margaret Mary, and that of Saint Sister Faustina Kowalska, both
occurred at dark times; Margaret Mary’s in the midst of these pessimistic movements on
human salvation, and Sister Faustina’s as World War II was about to break out. Through
both is that message of mercy and love.

So how then do we live out a Sacred Heart devotion? I’d suggest a few things:

1. Remember that humanity is good. Love much inspire humanity; this is why God never
gives up on us and showed us how much we are loved. We must never give up on one
another.

2. In what Jesus does for us, He shows us a better way – the way of love. We must do
the same for one another.

3. We must resist getting down on ourselves but be a people of hope. We all have
setbacks, even after we think we’ve overcome something. We should make use of
confession and Mass, do a daily act of contrition, and always remember how much God
loves us by welcoming His mercy into our hearts and souls.

4. Bring that hope into the world by being person of mercy and love.

Our faith emphasizes God’s mercy and love so strongly because through Jesus, we are
redeemed. We must never lose sight of the fact that on the one hand we are a people in
need of redemption, while on the other never getting so down on ourselves we think that
somehow we aren’t worth of that mercy that is God’s free gift. The Sacred Heart of
Jesus is a reminder of that important truth.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul