Padre Paul’s Ponderings: An Attitude of Generostity

Every so often, every pastor has to talk about money. For me, that is right up there with going to the dentist. While I love the ministerial parts of priesthood and celebrating the sacraments, the financial and administrative parts certainly aren’t all that enjoyable.

  Of course though as a non-profit Church, we require money so we can serve the needs of the faithful. Our budget covers the costs of the building; the salaries and benefits of a staff; an investment into a school so we can educate both mind and soul, and numerous other areas all centered around one word: “ministry.” Our goal is to create saints and to help people on their faith journey. This we do through our time, talent and treasure.

  In coming weeks as we head into fall, we’ll be discussing the budget a little bit more, and ways of future giving to the parish so we can continue to provide for the needs of the faithful. But I thought I’d devote a little space to the topic this week because as we mark Labor Day, the labor and the fruits of labor that are shared with Saint Joseph’s do so much, and that’s something to think about.

  First, there is the generosity of those who work our parish. I’m consistently amazed at how selfless our staff is. It really feels like family when you go into the office. On top of this, there is this remarkable attitude of service. There are some in the world who view a job as a stepping stone to a higher paying or more “important” position; others are just there for a paycheck. And in some places, even in Catholic parishes, there can be in-fighting on a staff and it can be toxic. But the staff here at Saint Joseph’s is so remarkable in how they care so deeply about the parish. There is never a “what’s in it for me” kind of mentality, and even when things can become overwhelming at times in the parish office (for we could certainly have plenty to do for a much larger staff) there is never complaining or bitterness. I see the same thing in the school. We welcomed back our teachers last week and this week is of course the start of the new school year. We are blessed with a remarkable team who is dedicated on helping children grow and give so much to their vocation. I have to tell you, it’s a great feeling to come into the office every day and know you are surrounded by a supportive, hard-working team. Our parish is so blessed with the great people who work and serve us.

  Second, there are those who labor by volunteering. I was reminded of this when I stopped in to Kayla Rooney’s office, who heads up our lifelong faith formation program. I asked about catechists for this year, and Kayla shared with me how so many were willing to give of their time to teach the faith to our young people. That’s amazing. I did that once upon a time too, teaching 8th grade faith formation in my college years. It was a little intimidating, but rewarding too. Of course beyond our catechists we have the money counters, the funeral lunch crew, commission members, the gardeners., many committee members,  persons who tend to the flower pots and shrubs and more.  What I’ve found in all of our volunteers is, just as with our staff, there is never a focus on the self, but on the whole.

  Lastly, there is the giving. People here are quite generous. Sometimes on the national level, it can be disheartening when you hear of a situation where people want to “punish” the Church by not giving, but I can assure you donations do not go to some slush fund to pay off lawsuits. Like all parishes, we pay an assessment of our income to the archdiocese because the archdiocese provides things that all parishes need. This covers the salaries of people who work for the archdiocese and serve all the parishes, along with the Marriage Tribunal, Worship Office, Communication and Parish Services offices which benefit all parishes, along with the infrastructure and technology used at the central offices. As I preached on last week, the archdiocese has done so much to be vigilant in combating abuse and creating a safe environment through programs like VIRTUS and the hiring of a full time staff for Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment. The assessment is 8% of our Sunday income. There is also the Catholic Services Appeal, an annual fundraiser to support various ministries and programs of the archdiocese with a big chunk of that going back to help the parishes in the form of parish rebates. What has been uplifting is how people are generous here with their financial resources. They want to pay down the debt, to maintain our campus, provide ministries and services for one another. People here truly take ownership of their parish, and I’ve yet to meet a person who wants to be known for how much they give, or who has come into the office willing to give a big donation if in exchange the parish will do something for them. Instead, people freely give.

  So on this Labor Day, I’d like to say “thank you.” It’s such a joy to be a pastor here at a parish where people have a real attitude of gratitude. The civic holiday reminds us of the importance of work and the difference it makes in building our nation. Through our labor, we participate in God’s creation and building up of the world. And in so many ways, I’ve seen people freely give so much to our parish who want to continue to build it up too. Thank you for your generosity, and for always giving with no strings attached. No matter how much or how often you give of your time, talent and treasure, never forget what a lasting impact you leave on your parish – may God bless you for your kindness.

God Bless,   ~ Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: “…And the Gates of the Netherworld shall not Prevail against it”

Last week I had the chance to write a light hearted article about my fondness for the State Fair. Then after the bulletin went to press, a major news story comes out that brings to light more wrongdoing by clergy in the Church, specifically in the state of Pennsylvania over a number of years.

Needless to say, my guess is one’s first reaction when reading what happened there was one of sadness, shock, anger and bewilderment at how something like this could have happened. But my hope is that as people think through the situation, they understand something as well: namely that good will ultimately prevail, and that grace, love and charity are so much more powerful than sin. And that is what we see in our universal Church.

Not too long before I was ordained, then auxiliary Bishop Richard Pates gave each of us a framed quote. It was from Saint John Henry Cardinal Newmann. Part of it states:

Trust the Church of God implicitly, even when your natural judgment would take a different course from hers, and would induce you to question her prudence or her correctness. Recollect what a hard task she has; how she is sure to be criticized and spoken against, whatever she does; recollect how much she needs your loyal and tender devotion. Recollect, too, how long is the experience gained in eighteen hundred years, and what a right she has to claim your assent to principles which have had so extended and so triumphant a trial. Thank her that she has kept the faith safe for so many generations, and do your part in helping her to transmit it to generations after you.

It’s a good quote because as members of the Church, when people in the Church make mistakes, and in some cases very serious ones, it can challenge our faith. But my hope is that we also realize that there is no one in the world without sin, and that despite the sinful actions of the few, the good actions of the many ultimately will triumph.

A couple of weeks ago, a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a comprehensive study over a period of many years of the Catholic Church in that state. Sadly, what it found was that there were a number of clergy in that time span that abused children. On top of this, there were some bishops who were silent about the abuse, perhaps fearful of what it would do to the Church if known (which is what also will often occur in family situations of abuse). And so what transpired was a colossal failure to protect minors, and sinful and criminal actions continued.

Pennsylvania is of course not an isolated incident. In our own archdiocese, we emerged from bankruptcy after settling cases stemming from over 50 years ago, and other dioceses around the world are doing the same thing.

When something like this happens, inevitably the faithful may ask “what is going on? How could this happen?” So what can we cling to when those who are meant to guide us not only let us down, but cause scandal and harm to people? How does one move forward and see the hope, rather than the pain?

As a starting point, we must remember again that Christ Himself founded our Church; every other one broke off from our Church. Our Church is made up of imperfect people however. Jesus Himself was betrayed by the first pope when He was denied. The others were cowardly and long gone by Good Friday. And then there’s Paul who became a great leader, but for a while helped kill people who were Christians. These were the founders of our Church and our first bishops. What a way to start. And yet the Holy Spirit helped them, and Jesus saw their potential. This should be something we think seriously about.

Over the years, there have been many, many scandals. Popes and bishops have committed many sins from those sexual in nature to murders, persecutions, you name it. But also through all of this, the Church has thrived, and also grown stronger, and done so much good.

When something occurs like what we have witnessed in Pennsylvania and in other areas, what is important is to continue to trust that God is still there to guide the Church. But what is also important is that those who are impacted by sin must see God in the faithful. The Church has strived to respond to these victims, but we of course know it should have been done much, much sooner. While we cannot change the past, I am glad to see how much the Church has done to reach out to those who have suffered so greatly. Obviously whenever we encounter people who have been impacted by sin, we must do all we can to help them.

A few other things to consider:

  1. Abuse most commonly occurs within family situations, and it impacts other religions as well. Within the family there are the same things; use of power, silence, etc. From a Newsweek article: “based on the surveys and studies conducted by different denominations over the past 30 years, experts who study child abuse say they see little reason to conclude that sexual abuse is mostly a Catholic issue. “We don’t see the Catholic Church as a hotbed of this or a place that has a bigger problem than anyone else,” said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “I can tell you without hesitation that we have seen cases in many religious settings, from traveling evangelists to mainstream ministers to rabbis and others.”

 

  1. Of the priests accused, many are dead, and the vast majority of these cases are from many years ago. This is not to diminish the gravity of what happened, but the point is over the past two decades, the Church around the world has made great strides. Years ago there was little psychological profiling or oversight in seminaries of people’s backgrounds. Now there is that, along with background checks, safety training to protect minors, steps in place for mandated reporting and so many things. We’ve come a long way and learned from this. The point is that abuse suspicions are addressed quickly and there is adequate training and as such what you see is a much better environment today than we had years ago.

 

  1. As a priest, I am impacted too. I deal with the silent stares, people wondering about my orientation, silently thinking “is he one of the bad ones” and all that. But I have no qualms about wearing my Roman collar in public. Even from years ago when you had these predators who were in the priesthood along with the silence of some bishops, there were also many good clergy as well doing their job and serving the Church, and the good far outweighed the criminal predators.

 

  1. My sense is some bishops panicked and were worried that what happened was so bad it would further damage the Church, or that they did not know the full scope of what was going on, or talked themselves into thinking it was not as big of a problem as it was, thinking a predator could be “cured” through therapy. Of course this was wrong and sinful – and we have to call it what it is, sinful and criminal.

 

  1. Again, I’d urge you to look at where we are in 2018. The actions of sexual abuse and silence were awful – but if you look at cases reported over the last decade, you see a sharp decline. That data proves this. And that’s because the right steps have been taken to ensure that kids are protected.

With this, the situation has made it more difficult to serve as a priest, because you sometimes have to worry about being suspected and as such are reluctant to even hug a child when they run up to you, or if a priest is accused there is this rush to judgment – a priest can be quickly pulled from ministry during an investigation and have no means to defend himself in the court of public opinion, and returning to ministry can be tough as there is gossip, rumors, etc. I know of one man who was forced out of ministry for an incident that happened years ago that was not abuse but an imprudent action (no charges were ever filed) and sometimes as a priest you feel like you walk a tightrope without a net, and wonder if you were accused of something would you be supported by people or your diocese. It is so important to protect children, but there also must be due process as well.

  1. I think it would be good for the Church to have a commission made up of clergy and laity to do a comprehensive study on where we were and where we are at. However in many dioceses, this has taken place already. But again, I truly believe where we are at is the silence of some bishops is not there anymore – cases of suspected abuse are quickly turned over to authorities. In our own archdiocese, we have a full time former law enforcement officer on staff who investigates any matters of misconduct and abuse as well.

 

  1. The media has reported on what has happened, but I do not believe they have adequately reported on the response. It is also important to note leaders of other religions have used faith as a weapon too; from extreme Islamic terrorism, to Protestant ministers, etc. Religion is used as a tool by some to corrupt others, take advantage of them, steal from them, etc. But the vast majority of people in ministry across faiths are there to help people. That being said you cannot get around original sin’s effects – people in all religions will sometimes choose to do evil acts, and once one is done, it can form a cycle or habit. However, the Church is also responsible for so much good and that does not get reported.

 

  1. Again, trust Jesus – He knew what He was doing when He made one Church, not multiple ones. He knew what He said when “the gates of hell will not prevail against Her.” These were horrible things that happened, no one can deny that. But hearing confessions for 10 years and going to confession for about 33 years now as a penitent, I can assure you people commit all kinds of sins. Bad things happen in people’s lives, and families. You can give your money to this Church because we are the Church founded by Jesus Christ. We are a Church that gives education, provides health care and hospitals, and helps people on their faith journey. The charitable activity of the Church and the good work done by the Pope, Bishops and local parishes is truly amazing. That will go unreported.

 

  1. Finally, it cannot be emphasized enough: from this we have learned the importance of protecting people from abuse. But there is so much more work to do. We must continue to reach out to victims and help them in any way. When we suspect something, we must alert the authorities and always err on the side of caution, not telling ourselves a parent maybe just “had a bad day” or “it’s none of our business.” We need to not only continually examine the Church and ask “are we doing enough” (which I truly believe we are doing so much so in this archdiocese) but also always ask that of ourselves and of our own families. And if we know of someone who has been hurt and has not had justice, or still carries pain within them, we need to reach out to them as well in any way to let them know we care and are there for them to help them in any way.

Yes, with 2000 years of history, a billion members, and an estimated 414,313 priests in the Catholic Church throughout the world, some of those people will do some very evil things. Some of them will betray just as Judas did. Some of them will cause pain. It’s okay to be hurt, angry, and frustrated. But if you think the answer to being guaranteed to be free of sinful leaders is found elsewhere in another faith, or in the secular world, that’s just not going to happen because original sin’s effects are there and always will be there. But so too will be grace and the love of God, which is far more powerful and the people who see this, who far outnumber those who do not. We cannot deny what has happened, but as we look to the future we must also have the hope and trust that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide and strengthen our Church and leaders as we journey forward as the people of God. I hope and pray we have learned as a Church from recent scandals, and pray for all of those impacted, and hope you do too. Don’t look to the past at the actions of some and think God abandoned His Church. Rather look to the past and learn from what was done (and not done), and look to the future by trying to ensure the love of God shines through you through your actions, knowing that the Church is there to guide and help you each and every step of the way.

God bless,

Fr. Paul

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Think Little

Hard as it is to believe, this week marks the beginning of the Minnesota State Fair.

The Fair is something that is truly engrained in me. I have gone every year since I can first remember. In fact, if someone says they aren’t going to the Fair, I might give them the “oh that’s nice” Minnesota line, and wonder if perhaps they are from Wisconsin or out of state. Not go to the Fair? By choice? How is this possible?

In all seriousness, I get the Fair is not for everyone, and it can also get a bit expensive especially if you are going with a lot of people. But one of the reasons I look forward to it each year is for the simple things that it brings that are wonderful to enjoy.

For one there is the food. One need not get into the strange stuff, the best things are the foot long hot dogs, cheese curds, and the malts, and an amazing Iowa import called the “gizmo,” an Italian beef with mozzarella you can find near the Pet Building (you’ll thank me when you find this wonderful stand).

Then there are the photo ops. The Fair is a favorite subject especially at night, because I love photographing the Midway (though the last time I was on a ride was a very long time ago), and the various food vendors who are all lit up after dark.

And of course there’s the booths with the literature, the pens and the things that will go in a bag and sit someplace in my home until they are thrown out mid-October. And the people watching too, along with the media and local celebrities and daily parade and of course Fairchild the Fair Mascot.

Indeed, each year is the same. I take it all in, often sit for a while on a bench, and think “this is great.” My Fair Day usually is about 9 hours at minimum, and some years entails two trips. It’s well worth it, even if my heart sinks a bit as I leave knowing I am saying farewell for another year and soon to my favorite time of year, summer.

This year, I was fortunate to be selected to have a photograph displayed at the State Fair in the Fine Arts Building which is also for sale there (I’ll have another copy I’m donating along with others to the parish for the Harvest Festival). It’s not of the Fair though, it’s of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was part of a trip I was on last fall, and I returned there and to New York a couple of weeks ago too again taking a number of pictures. And it got me to thinking about why I fell in love with not just the Fair but photography, and that is I hope to help people enjoy the simple things more. By this, what I mean is that there are so many things that go by each and every day, and we miss them because we are too busy or over-scheduled. What I try to do through photography is capture things that make people think a bit and see the beauty that is all around them; from the glory of the Brooklyn Bridge, to the birds in their back yard, to a tranquil waterfall or the stars in the sky above them. Indeed, there’s so much out there. You look at something like the Brooklyn Bridge, or walk around New York City, and you think to yourself “wow what an amazing place to just take in and enjoy.” But for that to happen, one has to open their eyes to what is around them.

So whether you intend to go to the Fair or not, or whether you enjoy photography yourself or aren’t that into it, one thing I hope you can truly do each day is try to stop and smell the roses, and take in the beauty that is the world around you. I think it’s especially worth remembering as summer wanes and we head into what can be a busier time of year with school starting in a couple of weeks, fall activities, etc. Value the daily little things and make time for them in your life. Have a family dinner. Go for a walk. Spend some time in the yard. Watch a sunset. Have an actual conversation and not a text message back-and-forth. Play a game with your children or grandchildren. Count the stars in the sky. And in all things, give thanks. Bring these things to prayer too, and maybe along with asking for needs and help, give thanks to God for the blessings in your life, and keep a copy of that list to look at for the moments when you might be tempted to think you are a lot worse off than others who seemingly have it so much more easier or so much more than you.

I have not seen the film, but I saw a poster with the characters from AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books promoting the latest film about a grown up Christopher Robin who apparently has become so busy with life he’s forgotten about his childhood friends and needs a reminder of how to live again and find happiness now with his own family instead of being a miserable busybody. The line on the poster from the rotund little bear was “Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing.” Apparently the full line from A.A. Milne is: “Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” Some pretty good advice. We all have to be busy and do things and work – that’s important too. But so too is looking at all that is around us every day. You don’t have to go to the Fair or New York to find beauty in the world or in your life, it’s all around you in the simple things, so take it all in and give thanks for it, because it’s a true blessing.

Hope you have a Fairly good week ahead,

Fr. Paul

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