Father Kevin’s Reflection–April 10, 2016– Third Sunday of Easter

CrossWhen Catholics ask “Why isn’t the Church doing something about fill in the blank?”, what they’re really asking is “Why aren’t the clergy doing something about that?” And that tendency to identify the work of the clergy as the work of the Church comes from a tragic misunderstanding of the dignity and demands of our Baptism. When anyone who is baptized is engaged in making just laws, teaching those in need of instruction, consoling the sorrowful, feeding the hungry, counseling the doubtful, visiting the sick or imprisoned, or serving someone in any kind of need, then the Church IS doing something about those problems, because everyone who is baptized is a member of the Church and bears responsibility for fulfilling the Great Commission.

 

Even more, all of the baptized have the high privilege and grave obligation to sanctify the world by their witness to Jesus Christ, and this can be done in every field of human endeavor. The Christian businessman who makes or sells something others need and does so honestly while treating his employees and customers with respect and fairness is bearing witness to the grace of his Baptism. The Christian politician who seeks to serve the common good and assist in the just governance of society according to the law of God is bearing witness to the grace of her Baptism. Christian doctors, lawyers, teachers, musicians, professors, accountants, journalists, architects, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, engineers, mechanics, soldiers, nurses, social workers, secretaries, pharmacists, artists, and shop keepers who work to the uttermost limits of their gifts and do so with integrity and virtue are bearing witness to the grace of their Baptism.

 

But if all of the above is true, then the converse is also true: Christians who sin gravely and behave badly and fail to live according to the Gospel give scandal to the world and make it more difficult for others to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. We know this instinctively about priests, but it is true no less of everyone who is baptized and called by the Lord Jesus to be his disciple and follow him in the Way of the Cross. That is among the many reasons why all the baptized must strive with all their might to repent of their sins, believe in the Gospel, and cooperate with God’s grace to live in the evangelical freedom of the children of God.

 

Finally, while living an upright life is an essential part of fidelity to one’s Baptism, it is no substitute for explicit proclamation of the saving truth that Jesus Christ is Lord. All of the baptized are also called to announce the Good News of salvation in Christ and must be prepared at all times to speak to others about their friendship with the Lord Jesus, the truth and beauty of his Gospel, and the joy of living the life of grace in his holy Church. Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!

 

Father Kevin’s Reflection–April 3, 2016– Divine Mercy Sunday

CarlHeinrichBlochThe_ResurrectionDuring the Advent and Christmas Season, we say Merry Christmas to each other as we pass by … wouldn’t be great if, like modern Greeks, we would say public to each other… Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!   These Greek acclamations mean “Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen!”, and in the Christian East — both Catholic and Orthodox — these acclamations replace the usual greetings of hello and goodbye during the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost, the liturgical season of Easter or Eastertide.   During Eastertide, the first eight days have a special identity, and today (in the liturgical calendar) — eight days after Easter Sunday — has three names: 1) the Octave Day of Easter, 2) the Second Sunday of Easter, and 3) Divine Mercy Sunday.

 

The number eight has special meaning in the sacred liturgy because it is a symbol of the new creation (the eighth day of the week we await for Christ’s 2nd Coming).   The drama of creation unfolded over seven symbolic days, and the eighth day is the sign of God’s pluperfect love revealed in the new creation. This is foreshadowed in the Old Covenant through circumcision taking place eight days after birth and is confirmed by the Resurrection taking place on Sunday, both the first day of the week and the eighth day.  Accordingly, in the liturgical calendar the eight days from Easter Sunday until today are kept as one festive celebration of the Resurrection, and today completes the eighth day or Octave of Easter.

 

Moreover, because the Gospel appointed for today speaks of the Divine Power to forgive sins which the Lord Jesus gave to his Apostles when he first appeared to them after his Resurrection, the emphasis of the liturgy today is on the great mercy of God.  Modern devotion to the Lord Jesus as the embodiment of Divine Mercy is connected to the spirituality of St. Faustina, a Polish mystic and religious Sister who was canonized by Pope Saint John Paul the Great.   (You may remember, John Paul died on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005, was beatified on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2011, and was canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2014.)  It was Pope Saint John Paul who decreed that the Second Sunday of Easter would be kept as Divine Mercy Sunday, and with Pope Francis’ a Jubilee Year of Mercy which will conclude in on the Solemnity of Christ the King this year.

 

In his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (or Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis explained that as a teenager he had a life changing experience of mercy by going to Confession. “After making my confession I felt something had changed. I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice or a call.”   This moment of mercy in the life of Jorge Bergoglio helps explain his burning desire to share God’s mercy with others, and now as Pope Francis he describes the Church as a “community [that] has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy” (EG, 24).   Let us keep this Octave of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, by resolving to seek the Lord’s mercy for ourselves and be instruments of that mercy for others.   Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!

 

Father Kevin’s Reflection– March 27, 2016–Easter Sunday

CarlHeinrichBlochThe_ResurrectionAs I sit in the office, looking back at where we have been in the past year (thinking about what we will be soon facing for Easter, Confirmation, Graduation … tired and wondering about a nap … I want to say a few “thank you’s”.   I want to thank all the people who have dropped off cookies and cakes and other sweets as well as a great surprise of shrimp of all things (for my Fridays).   Thank you from the bottom of our stomachs!   Thank you also to the others who gave us gifts too.   It is overwhelming to feel the generosity of so many people.

 

I’d like to thank the folks who decorated all the churches for the Christmas season. They both came out beautifully and the hard work is appreciated the wonderful music during our Concert and Christmas celebrations.   Music lifts us up when performed well.   Now that Lent comes to an end, the somber will be replaced with awesome glory.   Those who plan and execute the music for the churches mightily lift us up!

 

I mention now just those who are directly involved in the church and the liturgy celebrations.   Now, thinking of those who do so much outside the church.   Those who volunteer at the Treasure Hut, those who help at the Food Bank, the hospital, the nursing homes, pro-life causes merit recognition.   The witness is often lived (and tends to be just “assumed” that’s the way it should be).

 

Thanks to the rest of the staff and CCD volunteers of both St. Anthony and St. Augustine for all their hard work this past year.   There is so much that needs to get done behind the scenes and the folks that work for us do a great job, every day, all the time.   When I’m feeling overwhelmed, they bring me back; when I need to see the good in others, they show me.    When I feel sad about something they cheer me up and there is something to be said for good people who do good things just because it is the right thing to do.   On top of all that they are crackerjack at their respective jobs…all of them.    Next time you see or interact with a staff member or volunteer, tell them they are awesome, because they are … and so much more.

 

There are many more people I could thank, but I think I’ll stop with the last but not least, God … Who we tend to forget when thanks givings are going around.   God has blessed me so much and I know He has blessed you too.    I thank God for the many blessings, but I truly thank God every day that I am here as your pastor and while I’m not perfect …  I hope you will join me in this prayer as we journey together on the road home.

 

Father Kevin’s Reflection– March 20, 2016–Palm Sunday

palm sundayNow it is Getting Serious

Holy Week includes the last of the 40 Days of Lent, the Sacred Paschal Triduum, and Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord. These are the holiest days of the year and the annual celebration of the sacred mysteries through which we are saved from sin and death and restored to the glory of the children of God.

 

Today, on Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, the sacred liturgy begins with this instruction from the priest: “Dear brethren, since the beginning of Lent until now, we have prepared our hearts by penance and charitable works. Today we gather together to herald with the whole Church the beginning of the celebration of our Lord’s Paschal Mystery, that is to say, of his Passion and Resurrection. For it was to accomplish this mystery that he entered his own city of Jerusalem. Therefore, with all faith and devotion, let us commemorate the Lord’s entry into the city for our salvation, following in his footsteps, so that, being made by his grace partakers of the Cross, we may have a share also in his Resurrection and life.”

 

Traditionally during Holy Week, all the priests in the diocese will gather with the Bishop at the altar of the Cathedral Church of St. Joseph in Sioux Falls.  We renew the promises of our priestly ordination, and the Bishop will bless the three Holy Oils that are used throughout the year in the celebration of the sacraments.

 

On Maundy Thursday of the Lord’s Supper (this year in Hoven), we will celebrate a Solemn Mass in the evening to recall Christ’s gifts to the Church of the Priesthood and the Holy Eucharist.  Then the Most Blessed Sacrament will be carried to a place of repose and the altar will be stripped — signs of the impending grief to come.

 

On Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord, we will meditate on the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus as recorded in the Gospel according to St. John, and then we will adore the Holy Cross on which hung the salvation of the world.

 

Then, in the night of Holy Saturday (again, in Hoven), we will keep the Vigil of the Resurrection of the Lord.  The whole plan of salvation will be unfolded in Holy Scripture, and the sacraments of Holy Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist will reveal the glory of the Risen Christ in our midst.   Finally, at Mass on Easter Sunday, all the baptized will renew the promises of their Baptism so that we may rededicate ourselves to follow Christ in the Holy Catholic Church.   But all that lies ahead.   For now, let us acclaim Christ: Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel.   Hosanna in the highest.

 

Father Kevin’s Reflection– March 13, 2016– Fifth Sunday of Lent

Lent.5This week we celebrate the lives of three men of great importance to the Church.  Thursday is the memorial of St. Patrick (died 461), who brought Christianity to Ireland.   Then Friday is the memorial of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (died 386), who became Bishop of the Holy City in 348 and is remembered for brilliant catechetical essays and homilies on the sacred liturgy and the sacraments.   And Saturday is the Solemnity of St. Joseph:   Spouse of the Virgin Mary;  Foster Father of the Lord Jesus;  and Patron of the Universal Church!

In 1997, NBC and the Wall Street Journal conducted a national poll on the place of religion in the lives of Americans, and that same poll was conducted in 2014.   In 1997, 14% of Americans reported that religion was “not that important” in their lives, and in 2014 the number of those who gave that same answer has risen to 21%.   This falling away from religion is an illustration of what is often called secularization — the trend away from a worldview formed by religious faith towards one in which religion has no place or only a marginal place, and it cuts across all segments of our society.   When confronted with this trend, too many Christians begin to look for ways to make the Gospel and the Church “more attractive” by trying to change the Mass, the doctrine of the faith, our organizational forms (like marriage), etc.    But such a response to secularization assumes that we are offering a product in the marketplace and that to increase our market share.   Like the line is the movie Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg – we just need to tweak the product line and get better advertising.   To think that way is to reveal that one has not heard and understood the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Who promised us that we would be opposed, rejected and persecuted just as He was.   By our Baptism we are called to friendship with the Jesus and a share in His Cross.   During this Year of Mercy, we should remember more keenly than ever – Christ sends us in the Great Commission to continue His work among the nations by proclaiming the Gospel, celebrating the Sacraments and caring for the least of His brethren until the Last Day.   Want to resist the trend of secularization?   Invite someone to come with you to Mass.   Ask a friend to pray the rosary with you.   Invite someone the Eucharistic Adoration.   Give a good book about our faith to a neighbor or colleague who is searching for … well, for something or Someone not yet known.  Volunteer to serve someone in need.   This is how we proclaim the Gospel.

 

Father Kevin’s Reflection– March 6, 2016– Fourth Sunday of Lent

4th Sunday of LentLent is coming close to an end.   In the coming weeks, the Church enters the final part of Lent: Passiontide.   Next week … until the Vigil of the Resurrection in the night of Holy Saturday – crosses and statues are veiled and the Mass of each day takes us more deeply into the heart of the Paschal Mystery, as the Church cries out in faith:  “Save us, Savior of the world, for by Your Cross and Resurrection You have set us free.”

 

The veiling of sacred images during Passiontide is a custom with roots in Christian antiquity, and it prepares us for the great sundering of Christ’s atoning death. But even in Passiontide, stained glass windows and the Stations of the Cross remain visible, and these artistic catechisms can teach us a great deal about the dignity and difficulty of being disciples of the Lord Jesus. This is true in any Catholic church, but it is most especially true in St. Anthony and St. Augustine where we are blessed with sacred art of great beauty and power.

 

Running through the nave are the Fourteen Stations of the Cross, a devotion made popular by St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century.   (Interestingly enough, St. Francis made popular the tradition making of the Nativity Scene at Christmas too.)   At a time when Christians could not travel safely to Jerusalem because the Holy City was under Islamic rule, St. Francis devised a simple method for Christians to follow the Lord Jesus in the Way of the Cross in their own churches. The fourteen traditional stops or stations on the Via Dolorosa are depicted in works of art that invite pilgrims to pause and pray while meditating on Christ’s passion and atoning death on the Cross.

 

We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You … because by Your holy Cross You have redeemed the world!

 

Father Kevin’s Reflection– February 28, 2016–Third Sunday of Lent

Lent.3Before my priestly ordination, I traveled back by car from the East Coast.   Driving through Pennsylvania, I met “the Amish” for the first time.    The Amish, was a community formed in the 17th century by a schism within the Mennonite movement in Switzerland.   They are best known for their radical separation from the world: they will not use modern technology, they dress differently from their neighbors, they cease formal schooling after the 8th grade, they refuse to serve in the armed forces, they will not participate in Social Security or purchase medical insurance, and so forth.

These behaviors are regarded as odd by most people, and with good reason: Such a way of life is not required by the Gospel, and in many ways it is contrary to the Gospel. And that is why Catholics cannot live like the Amish.

We do not dress differently than our neighbors. We do not fear technology or the benefits of modern science. We do not separate ourselves in politics, commerce, education, military service, or civic responsibility from those who do not share our faith. And we do not do these things because to do so would make it impossible for us to fulfill the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28. 18-20)   We are called to be salt and light in the world, not to hide behind a barricade for fear that we will be polluted.

The impulse to flee from “the world” is, of course, also a part of Christianity, if by “the world” we mean that part of the created order (starting inside of us) which is in rebellion against God. For this reason, religious life has been with us since Christian antiquity, and all Christians need a deep formation for genuine holiness of life. But that is not the same as the Amish refusal to live in the world, something that Catholics cannot accept as compatible with Christian discipleship. The Letter to Diognetus (written in the 2nd century) explains it:   “Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life … With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven … To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body.”

Are we living as the “soul of the world”?