Father Dennis

to let others know a bit of insight into the mind of a Midwestern Catholic priest.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Facing my fears and finding out that I should have never been afraid in the first place

Today I did a funeral for a four year old. I have been afraid of this scenario since I was first ordained a priest. I dreaded being a part of something so tragic. Throughout the week and especially at the vigil, I had to stop myself from picturing my own nieces and nephews laying in the tiny little casket so I wouldn't lose it.

But right before things got started this morning, I realized something that I should have realized 14 years ago: It was not about me. I had to keep two goals in mind, namely to acknowledge the tragedy of a lost child and to give the family hope because of a crucified child. That's all And most of that came from prayerfully reading the book the church provides for me. I only had to create 8-10 minutes of my own material and the Holy Spirit even helped with that.

In the end, what mattered was focusing on the family and their needs and their hurts. And that's not something to be afraid of. That's something to love.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Christ our priest, prophet, and King leading us to holiness.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Peace be with you. One of the things that marks a person who receives a sacrament is taking on the three munera or offices of Jesus, namely priest, prophet, and king. For example, after the actual baptism, the person conferring the sacrament takes sacred chrism and anoints the forehead of the baptized person while saying…

"The God of power and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people.He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life."

These three offices are a part of each sacrament. I’ll talk more about baptism later but let me use marriage as an example. The priestly element of a vocation is when someone acts as an intermediary between the person and God. In this regard, the priestly goal of a husband is to help his wife get to heaven and vice versa and, if they’re blessed with children, the priestly goal of parents is to raise their children in the faith by bringing them to Mass, teaching them to pray, and making sure they regularly celebrate their sacraments. A prophet proclaims God’s teachings and certainly parents are responsible for teaching their children about what is right and wrong but also a husband or a wife may have to instruct a spouse in God’s ways as well. Lastly, marriage shares in the kingly ministry of Jesus by working and providing and maintaining home and other property.

These three offices are especially emphasized in the ordination ritual because priests and bishops exercise them in a more public, unique way. I’ll speak to my experience as a priest. I remember, shortly before I was ordained, a seminary professor telling me that most priests begin thinking that the hardest part would be the priestly or sanctifying parts but would soon learn that actually the kingly part is the hardest. Most people appreciate and understand thinking of their priest as priest and a prophet. A priest stands in the place of Christ our high priest and continues the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ by celebrating the sacraments and especially the Mass. A priest acts as a prophet by challenging the people to turn away from their sinful ways and return to the Lord with their whole heart. In general, I have found that people appreciate the priestly and prophetic role of priesthood and that those who don’t are in error, asking me to follow them down the rabbit hole of heresy.

I will admit that my professor is, in general pretty accurate. The office of priest as King tends to be the one that causes me the most headaches and heartaches. Part of it has to do with understanding what it means. We don’t always have a good impression of the term “King.” As you’re aware, we don’t have royalty in this country because we threw them out at our foundation. And, when we try to compare the King to our president, we notice some pretty striking differences. For instance, a king isn’t chosen by the people like a president is and a King is supposed to avoid divisive party politics in favor of what’s best for his people. Personally, I like the connection with the office of king with the title of pastor or shepherd. As your pastor, it’s my responsibility to lead the sheep. Sometimes the sheep don’t want to go in a certain way and sometimes they resent when I make a decision they don’t agree with, especially when it’s something dealing with money. But it’s my job to always make sure that any given parish is making financial decisions more on the basis of what God wants than any selfish motivation they may have.

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with lepers and, I’ll admit, very little. During my preparation for this homily, I really felt like our hearts were focused on the second reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In it, St. Paul was articulating his priestly role in three powerful ways. He begins by stating that whatever we do, we should do it for the glory of God. When we’re watching TV, do we do it for the glory of God? When we go watch a movie, do we do it for the glory of God? When it’s late at night and we’re alone with our computers, are we acting in a way that gives glory to God? God has given us so much glory in creating us in his divine image and giving us his son to be our savior. We should give God glory in all parts of our life. Next, St. Paul says that we should please everyone in every way, not seeking our own benefit but that of the many. Fr. Robert Barron will talk about sin as a spiritual curvature of the spine in which the sinner is always concerned about his own needs and wants. If we put our focus on giving glory to God, it means focusing on the needs of others and trying to reach out to them in love and undoing the curvature of our sinful spiritual spines. Lastly, St. Paul tells us that, if we put our focus on giving glory to God and reaching out to others, we will be an example that will inspire others to holiness. In my opinion, this is the best form of evangelization! If we live our lives giving glory to God and caring for the needs of others, people will see our good deeds and come to faith through them.

We are just a few days away from beginning the Lenten season. In my opinion, lent is about exercising the priestly role of Christ in our daily life. Don’t get me wrong, we are encouraged to grow in the holiness of Christ the high priest and continue to speak out in a prophetic way during Lent. Nonetheless, I feel like we often know what we need to do to grow in holiness but we lack the commitment to actually do it. Lent is our opportunity to put our nose down and get the job done. As we enter into this great season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, let’s put our focus in giving glory to God by reaching out to those in need and being an example of holiness for others.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

January 22, 2015

Sorry for the absence. I'm still working to get these little updates into my regular schedule of life. I want to talk a little bit about yesterday and then I'll write about today later on. It was Wednesday, which means I do not have a morning Mass so I worked on other things before I celebrated an evening Mass in Lake Mills. Then, I drove to Britt where I heard confessions for some students there. Here's my dilemma: I am very conflicted with hearing confession for students at Faith Formation. I think it ties a sacrament that is ongoing and life-long to religious education classes which end (at best) at graduation. And, in general, it forces people who may not be prepared spiritually or psychologically for confession, to go because your catechist says it's time. First of all, it should be the parents who bring their kids to confession not the catechists because the parents should be attending the sacrament with their kids. After all, in some ways, we need the sacrament of reconciliation more as adults than we do when we are in school because we are incredibly aware of our faults in middle school and high school through parents, teachers, coaches, tests, peers, etc. but can become incredibly unaware of our faults as adults. Secondly, I know that people believe that students who go to confession will translate into adults who go to confession. However, that's not happening. There are many times throughout the week that I sit alone in a confessional waiting for someone to come in to be relieved of their sins.

Most of the time, a kid learns how to behave in church more from their parents than from any priest or catechist. If they don't see their parents go to church or to confession, then they think that it's unimportant and I don't think that bringing a kid to confession once a year is going to reverse that. Still, I hear faith formation confessions because I don't know what the alternative is. If there's one thing we have learned from the reaction to Vatican II, it is that replacing something that we don't think is working (the rosary, adoration, novenas, 30 hours, etc) with nothing is really bad for the basic spiritual formation of the people of God. So, until it's clear what we should do differently, I sit in a confessional and and am stoned to death with the cotton balls of grade school confession. And, who knows? Maybe three minutes of honesty will translate for at least one kid into a life-long commitment to confession.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Vocation to a life of joy - 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time year B

This past weekend in my homily, I talked about some of the negative reactions I've got when I've suggested someone has a vocation to priesthood. I talked about how that's understandable because of the negative impressions people have of priesthood, both those caused by sexual abuse and angry priests and those caused by the perception that the only way to lead a happy life is by having sex. I then talked about the first four chapters of Samuel. If you haven't read these chapters, please do so. They're great. It's a story of contrasts between Hannah and Eli. Hannah is faithful to God. She is mocked by her husband's other wife because she seems to be barren but, when she promises to dedicated her first-born to God, she doesn't react like a person scorn. She offers her son Samuel to the service of the priest, Eli. Eli, on the other hand, seems like a faithful person but has managed to appoint his power-hungry sons, Phineas and Hophni, to positions of power, He is not a good shepherd. That's why chapter 3 is so complex. It says that the Word of the Lord was was scarce and vision infrequent. Why? What were Phineas and Hophni and Eli doing if not listening to and preaching the Word of the Lord? We know from chapter 2 that Phineas and Hophni were busy stealing from the best sacrifices and making sure their bellies were full and possibly meeting women at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. They were worried about their comfort more than the will of God. I contrasted that with Samuel who was told during his calling that his first job was to tell Eli that his time has come to an end as the priest and that he and his sons would die.

All too often, we think our goal in life is to be happy. But, a true vocation has moments of happiness and frustration. It has moments that test our patience and moments of testing our abilities. It has moments of being yelled at and moments of failure. But, it is still joyful amidst all this. We have to think more in the long run than in the immediate, short-term. Is it worth the sadness and frustration and anger? I think being able to give people the body and blood of Christ and telling them that their sins are forgiven is incredibly joyful. I think helping people say goodbye to a dead relative and helping them welcome a new baby is joyful. It's not always happy but I can guarantee you that anything worth doing is both challenging and joyful.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday January 16, 2015

One of the things I treasure about being a priest is that there are days like yesterday where I feel like I'm constantly preparing for or in a meeting and there there are days like today, where I celebrated Mass and then pretty much had the whole day to myself. I worked on my Sunday Homily and worked prepping pronouncing Spanish for Mass tomorrow night. I went to the gym and managed to take a nap. And, since I was hitting my usual preparation wall, I took a break and watched the cartoon/musical Frozen tonight. It was a good day of prayer, study, and relaxation, which is good because tomorrow and Sunday look pretty packed.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Thursday January 15 2015

Every day, I'm going to try to write a brief paragraph about the ups and downs of my priestly ministry. I'll always give them the title of the date and give my homilies actual titles so you can tell the difference.

Today was a good day. I celebrated Mass at St. Boniface church in Garner. I'm reflecting upon the letter to the Hebrews right now as the church has us using it for the first reading at daily Mass for the next few weeks. After Mass, I came back and worked with my staff on a couple of small projects before going to my room to spend some time working on my homily for this weekend and my Spanish pronunciation. I have a Spanish Mass Saturday night. This afternoon I made it to the gym and then went to Forest City to converse with and pray with Fr. Paul. Then, I attended a very hopeful meeting of the Cluster Pastoral Council. This body is made up of two members from each of my six parishes who come together to work toward greater unity and seek common solutions. They're a really helpful group and one that helps me see the forest through trees and bear poop. Now I'm home for the night ready for a good night of sleep.

 Actually, it's been a great week. In early December, I came up with a solution to a problem that I've had ever since I became pastor here. I have been consistently celebrating two Masses on Wednesday in order to fit the total number of daily Masses in a week. However, the Daily Mass people from one of the parishes, St. Boniface in Garner, agreed to only have one Mass per week, making it possible to move their Mass from Wednesday to Monday! And meaning I only have to wake up three days before 8:00 am. But tomorrow is one of the earliest days so I better head to bed.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Lord is with us! May it be done unto me according to God's will.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Peace be with you. I couldn’t help but notice a connecting freeze between the first reading and the Gospel. In the first reading, when the prophet Nathan is asked by King David if he should build a house for God, the prophet responds “Go, do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you.” In the Gospel, when the Archangel Gabriel goes to Mary, he says, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” We should not be surprised to hear this phrase. As Catholics it is one of those phrases that is at the heart of our prayer. Several times in mass I will say The Lord be with you and you all respond and with your spirit. Or, at least, most of the time we respond and with your spirit sometimes we forget and do that phrase that we stop using four years ago “and also with you” especially if we’re around someone that doesn't make it to church very often. The good thing is though we are very patient with those people because we're going to see them in the next couple of days for Christmas and they may not remember that some of the words have changed so it’d be good to be patient and help them. But I digress, the phrase “the Lord be with you” is so pervasive in Catholic culture that I heard a rumor about the first Star Wars movie, which was released in 1978. When one of the characters turned to Luke and said “The force is with you.” Catholics instinctively responded “and also with you.”

But, the question is, do we really think about what we are saying when we say “the Lord be with you”? We are saying that all the time throughout our lives the Lord is with us. In my mind there are three ways that we can look at this two of which are unhelpful and one which is probably the best. The one way to look at it is the way that King David does in the first reading today. David has just finally found a place of his own in his relatively newly created city of Jerusalem. He has a nice house and has the Ark of the Covenant safely secured outside. So David believes that it's his responsibility to make as nice of a house for the Ark of the Covenant as he is living in. When he asked for advice from the prophet Nathan, initially he says basically go for it because the Lord is with you. But soon after the Lord, through the prophet Nathan, tells King David that he does not want him to build the temple because he's perfectly fine living in a tent. He says to King David who are you to build a house if I didn't ask you first? David assumes that he knows the will of God when he really didn’t. This is a very dangerous thing to do because none of us can know the mind of God. We all rely upon two things to know God's will; divine revelation in sacred Scripture and sacred tradition and the church led by the pope and bishops. So yes The Lord is with us but that does not guarantee that we will always guarantee that we will know what God wants.

On the other hand, I'm reminded of something that happened to me that you may have experienced something similar to. When I was in middle school, we had a strange study hall that happened every three weeks or so. It was an odd configuration and I honestly don't remember why it was this way. But one week the teacher who is supposed to supervise the study hall who clearly hated having to do this, forgot to show up. At first we were kind of reserved and didn't say or do anything different but the longer that it was clear that the teacher was not going to show up the more that we got rowdy and loud. Some even Left the classroom and wandered the halls of the school. When the teacher found out he claimed that he was testing us and that we all failed but it was clear that he knew he was the one who had failed because, from then on, he not only didn't miss any more classes but he was suddenly early. I use that an example of the way we sometimes think of our relationship to God. Sometimes we think of God as somebody who catches us doing wrong thing, as the teacher who is there to tell us to sit down and shut up. In this case, we may feel like we want to keep God distant and removed because he is only going to punish us if he actually shows up.

Clearly we need a better understanding of what it means for God to be with us. We can't think of God as somebody for whom we occasionally do something nice to make sure that he does nice things for us and we can't think of God as a mean judgmental teacher constantly trying to catch us doing the wrong thing. In my opinion, a better way to think of God being with us is the way Mary does. When the angel approaches Mary to tell her that she will be the mother of God, at first she struggles to understand how this could happen given the unusual circumstances surrounding her pregnancy. But when it is made clear that it is through the divine action of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary responds by saying may it to be done unto me according to your word.

This should be our attitude as well. We are invited to respond like Mary in that we want to do God's will whatever it is. When we follow God's will, God is with us to give us his grace. When we do our best but don't ask God first what he wants, God still loves us like he did King David but he invites us to ask him first what his will is. When we do not do God's will, we distance ourselves from God and are in need of a powerful sacrament to be forgiven. Just as a reminder, we will be having communal reconciliation this afternoon at 4 o'clock at St. Patrick's in Britt. You are all welcome to come be a part of God's forgiveness.

Ultimately when we say the Lord be with you and with your spirit we are reminding each other of God's presence among us and our desire to be close to God by doing his will. We remind our selves of our true nature, that in the end we all want to be able to echo the sentiments of Mary, “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done unto me according to your word.”