Weekly Reflection

Experience God's Presence

Weekly Reflection

 

February 5, 2023

Year of Mary
October 1, 2022 to December 8, 2023

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In northern Israel, there is a lighthouse in the middle of the desert. Since deserts are unusual places for lighthouses, it begs the question: why would you expect to find a lighthouse there? Truth be told, I am exaggerating a bit. The northern area of modern Israel, which we call Galilee, is much drier than Wisconsin, it is hardly a desert. And the lighthouse that I am speaking of is not an aid to navigation, but rather the great church of the Basilica of the Annunciation that is built over the site of Mary’s house in Nazareth. The architect of this great church intentionally designed the dome to be a great lighthouse, a light that can be easily seen from anywhere in Nazareth and even beyond.

Lighthouses have two functions. They direct ships into safe harbors and warn them of hazards on the sea. Christ called himself the Light of the World (see John 8:12). By this he meant that we should look to him to be the light by which we navigate our lives. His word is a sure guide that warns of the dangers of the world, the flesh and the devil. Just as the light of a beacon cuts through the gloom of a deep fog, his words are a light of hope that cuts through the dark gloom of sin, death and despair. And it is by his light, and his light alone, that guides us safely into the harbor of heaven.

What is even more amazing is that he calls us to be light too. In this Sunday’s Gospel, he calls us with these words, “You are the light of the world.” He tells us that we cannot hide the light of the Gospel under a bushel basket, but rather we must be a lamp set on a lampstand to give light to the whole world. Christ’s language is strong here. He is not making a recommendation or a suggestion about sharing the Light of the Gospel. Rather he is making it clear in no uncertain terms that every Christian is required to share the Light of the Gospel with others.

These words naturally make most of us uncomfortable. The wider culture discourages us from shar-ing our faith with others. Although the faith is deeply personal, it is not a private matter. Not only does Christ require us to be a light unto others, but the world is also desperately in need of us to share the Light of Christ. Our world is filled with fear of war and rumors of war, confusion, despair, and pessimism. If Christ has conquered death, can he not also conquer war and violence? If Christ has conquered death, can he not also conquer despair and pessimism? Can he not be the light of clarity in times of confusion? The an-swer to all these questions is a YES. And we are called to proclaim Him in whom we believe and in whom we place our trust.

Let us be confident that through the power of our baptism we share in his victory. Let our confidence be bold, that through the gift of His Spirit, our words and actions may proclaim that Christ is the light.
Blessings,
Father Bill


January 29, 2023

Year of Mary
October 1, 2022 to December 8, 2023

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In this Sunday’s Gospel, we hear the familiar words of the Beatitudes. These enigmatic proverbs reveal Jesus’ plan for our happiness. Aristotle states that happiness is what all people seek, but he finds it difficult to describe happiness. In seeking happiness, people often try to find it in possessions, financial security, honor and esteem, power or influence over others. The wisdom of Aristotle, the inquiry of modern psychology, and the experience of many people all agree that these pursuits do not lead to greater happiness.

Jesus offers a plan for happiness that does not seek riches, honors, or power. He says, rather, that it is the poor, the lowly and the meek that will be truly blessed and happy.

We don’t expect this.

Very few people would seek poverty, lowliness and humility as a path towards happiness. Jesus is not just speculating about happiness. He is not offering an untested theory. Jesus lives the beatitudes, and by the demonstration of his life, he shows us that the path of the beatitudes is the surest way to happiness.

“Blessed are the poor…” What does it mean to be poor? The poor do not have the resources to provide for their own needs. The poor depend upon others. The saintly, now deceased, archbishop of Chicago, Francis Cardinal George, said that the poor cannot afford their own necessities, but even more so, the poor cannot afford any illusions about their lives.

A person who lives the beatitudes has no illusions about their lives. They accept that their own efforts fall short of providing for what the human heart truly seeks. They know that they have little control over the course of their lives. This realization overwhelms many in our world today. But a person who lives the beatitudes is not defeated.

Jesus looked toward His Father. He knew that His Father, who provided for the flowers of the field and the birds of the air, would also provide for Him. A man or a woman of the beatitudes does not stop at their poverty. Rather, when all the illusions of life are stripped away, then they begin to trust. Imitating Jesus, they lift their eyes to-ward their Father in heaven, and with a grace-filled trust they can pray “...give us this day our daily bread…” They believe that God can provide for them, since even God’s weakness is stronger than human strength, and even God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom (see 1 Corinthians 1:25).
Blessings,
Father Bill


January 22, 2023

Year of Mary
October 1, 2022 to December 8, 2023

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Gospel that is read at Mass this Sunday includes Jesus’ first recorded sermon. It is only one line, and can easily be committed to memory.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”
(Matthew 4:17b).

The early baptism practice of the church dramatically illustrates repentance. When an adult was baptized in the early church, he or she would be asked to make their baptismal promises. “Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all of his empty promises?” The catechumen would be facing in a westerly direction while responding to these questions with a hearty “I do.” After responding to the last of these questions, the catechumen would spit towards the west, and then turn towards the east.* Only after turning towards the east did the catechumen continue to make their baptismal promises. “Do you believe in God…”
Repenting is literally turning in a different direction.

This ritual illustrates a basic principle: Before we embrace the Faith, we must turn away from evil and immorality.

Although REPENT is Jesus’ first recorded word, I hardly recall any homilies or religious lessons that focused on Jesus’ call to repentance. Repentance has not been a common theme of preaching or teaching. As a preacher, I can say it is difficult to echo Jesus’ call to repentance. Like any other discipline, very few people enjoy hearing a call to repentance. This goes a long way towards explaining my own hesitation to preach about repentance, and the glaring negligence among preachers and teachers of the faith.

Yet, Jesus’ words cannot simply be set aside. It does not matter if they are challenging or unpopular, Jesus’ words cannot simply be set aside.

Although Jesus’ first sermon was extremely short, it is also extremely challenging. Repentance is difficult. Repentance requires humility. Humility is required to accept that we are not perfect, and often we are attached to sinful words and actions. Repentance is frustrating. Sin, evil and immorality seem to be “sticky.” And even when we recognize that we are attached to words and actions, it is often only through the challenging path of penance, prayer and fasting that we are able to break the bondage of sin in our lives.

Despite the challenges and struggles that repentance entails, those who take this commitment seriously often find that repentance is the first step towards joy. Jesus never asks us to sacrifice without promising that we will receive something even greater in return. If Jesus’ first word is REPENT, recall also some of his last words, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be full” (John 15:11, ESV).
Blessings,
Father Bill

* The east symbolizes the direction from which Christ will return. To face east is to face Christ. This is why the priest traditionally faces east while celebrating Mass, and why Catholics are traditionally buried facing east.


January 15, 2023

Year of Mary
October 1, 2022 to December 8, 2023

Hear to Serve…
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE

Do you remember these words of St Paul; “Love is patient, love is kind, love does not seek its own interests, love is not quick tempered, love bears all things, believes in all things, hopes in all things, and endures all things?” These words taken from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is a popular choice for young couples on their wedding day because they set the tone for how they hope their love grows for each other. Related to this is today’s Psalm 40. The psalmist starts out with, “I have waited, waited for the Lord.” How many times have we done the opposite of what St. Paul tells us? How many times have we lost patience with the people we love? How many times have we lost our patience with the Lord?

There have been too many times in my life when my patience has been nonexistent with my loved ones and with others. I wanted to wait for no one. I wanted people to respond immediately. There also have been times I expected God to be quicker in His response to my prayers and requests.

Even though we may have to wait, remember that God is never far away from us. God’s love is always there for us because we hear that God has stooped down and heard our cry. But like any good parent, God doesn’t always give us what we ask for on our timetable. Like any good parent, God can see beyond the immediate problem, God can see the real problem and the real solution. We are like little children who can only see what is immediately around us.

When God does act, He gives us a lasting joy. “He put a new song in my mouth.” So often we fall victim to temporary happiness, the joy that the world offers us. As I think back on my life I can remember all the times I thought I would find lasting happiness in material things and in doing things my way. I remember all the times it didn’t last, and I was left not with a new song, but a bitter taste in my mouth.

We have to realize that our true happiness lies in our obedience to God and His ways. As we hear, “To do Your will, O’ God is my delight.” This is what St. Paul re-confirms as he tells us, “Love does not seek its own interest. True love is not a random act. True love is a willful act. This is what God has done for us. It was God’s willful act when the Word was made Flesh so we could be saved from our sins.

This willful act of true love is what we must reciprocate. This means that to love God we must give up our pride and our selfishness. We must give up our attitude of my will be done, and remember it is, “Thy Will Be done.” When we do this, we can then proclaim, “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.” It is then that love can endure all things, and not wither and die.

Let us take to heart the words of Psalm 40 and the words of St. Paul and allow them to set the tone for our lives. Let us remember that Love is patient and let us seek God’s will and not our own so that our love can bear all things and put a new song of joy in our mouths.
Viva Christo Rey,
Deacon Gary


January 8, 2023

Year of Mary
October 1, 2022 to December 8, 2023

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This Sunday, we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord. In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear the familiar story of the Magi from the East who come to search for the newborn king, and to offer them their precious gifts.

What I find interesting is that the Magi are primarily concerned with what they give to Jesus, rather than what Jesus can give to them. How would it change our experience of Mass if we approached the celebration of the Eucharist in the same way?

At each Mass, we hear the priest say these words during the offertory, “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father” (emphasis added). What is the sacrifice that you offer?

The Second Vatican Council taught that Mass is primarily an act of worship. We don’t use that word “worship” often, but it means to give to God what he deserves. He deserves our praise, and sacrifices. People will sometimes say they do not come to Mass because they “don’t get anything out of it.” It’s hard to understand how someone can truthfully say that they “don’t get anything out of Mass,” since at Mass we receive the Word of God proclaimed as a living Word, and we receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, when we receive the Eucharist. We get a lot out of coming to Mass!

But even if we feel that we don’t receive anything from coming to Mass, nonetheless, we should imitate the Magi and come to Mass not to receive anything but rather to offer the gifts of our time, talent, and treasure to God. These words are echoed beautifully by the popular prayer often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “...for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

What can we offer to the Lord? Again, we look to the example of the Magi. They offered gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. While each of these gifts have a symbolic value, it is also true that they are expensive and rare. These gifts were the very best gifts that they could offer. So, while we may not have gold, frankincense, and myrrh to bring forward, we too should offer our very best gifts. Perhaps, we could offer the Lord our undivided attention, rather than distracted thoughts during our times of prayer and during the celebration of the sacred liturgy. Time is more precious than gold, and hence the time we spend in prayer is a sacrifice most precious to the Lord.

Each of us has different gifts and talents to offer Him. But the principle is the same for us all. Whatever we offer to the Lord should not be marginal or from our leftovers. Rather, in imitation of the Magi, we should offer the best that we have.

We should not hesitate in our generosity with the Lord. The Magi returned to their native land with more than they gave because the Lord filled them with the richness of His Word. Whatever we give to the Lord, He receives, He transforms, He multiplies, and He returns it to us. We see this in the Eucharist. We offer Him bread and wine. He receives it. And by the promise of His words, the bread and wine become His Body and Blood. He returns this greatest of gifts to us when we come forward to receive Holy Communion, and we are enriched by His grace and the gift of eternal life.
Blessings and Merry Christmas,
Father Bill


January 1, 2023

Year of Mary
October 1, 2022 to December 8, 2023

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Even if today was not a Sunday, January 1 would be a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics. It is not only the secular celebration of the New Year, but it’s also the So-lemnity* of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

A week ago, we celebrated the Birth of Jesus, and today we honor his Mother, Mary. This is in fact the oldest feast day dedicated to the honor of Mary on the church’s liturgical calendar. On this day we rightly honor Mary as the Mother of God. This is a title that Mary received in the earliest days of Christian history.

This is a controversial claim. The Roman Empire was brought to the brink of civil war between the factions that honored Mary as the Mother of God and those that did not. Even in our own day, many Protestants will say that it is idolatrous to call Mary the Mother of God.

To clear up this controversy, we first recognize that everything we teach and believe about Mary is taught that we might have a better understanding of who Jesus is.

By calling Mary the Mother of God, we are not saying that she is the source of the divinity of Jesus. Rather we are recognizing that the child she bore was both fully human and fully divine. If she is not truly a mother, then Jesus is not truly human. If she is not truly the Mother of God, then Jesus is not truly God. If Jesus Christ was not human, then human nature is not redeemed. If Jesus Christ is not God, that is if he is “merely a man,” then he could not save us. By calling Mary the Mother of God, we recognize both the divinity of Jesus and His incarnation.

This might all seem overly theological, but that does not mean it’s not important. Afterall, Jesus himself taught that the greatest commandment was “to love the Lord with all your soul, all your heart, and all your mind” (emphasis added, see Matthew 22:37). This means that an essential part of being a Christian is devoting our mind to understanding our beliefs bet-ter. The direct application to our lives may not always be that apparent, but it does delight God that we want to learn more about Him, and to understand Him better.
Entrusting you to the prayers of Mary, our Mother,
Father Bill

* The Catholic Church has three ranks of feast days: Memorials are the lowest rank, and most saints are assigned as Memorials; Feasts hold the middle rank, and are reserved for more important saints, and some of the Mysteries of the life of our Lord, or our Lady. The highest ranking feasts are called Solemnities. These are considered as important as Sundays, and often if they fall on a Sunday, the Solemnity will be celebrated instead.


 

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