Thursday, December 05, 2013

A Hunger Games post

I've now seen the Hunger Games: Catching Fire a couple of times and have also seen the first movie a couple of times in the year (or so) since it was released. It has managed to tap into my imagination and made me think deeply about what they are trying to get across. Please let me give a little back story as I understand it and then offer a comment about what I see happening in the state of Iowa.

The Hunger games begins 74 years after a violent war in North America resulting in the nation of Panem divided into the capital and 12 surrounding districts. The capital is clearly the winner of the war as its residents have opulent lives of leisure and pleasure. The districts, on the other hand, each provide an important service to the capital, whether that be protection or some kind of material such as coal or wood. The residents of the districts are impoverished and must submit their name to a lottery each time they have to ask for food or medicine from the capital. Each year, two people (one girl and one boy) are chosen by that same lottery to enter into a game in which they try to be the last person surviving. The point of the game on the surface is to punish the 12 districts for their rebellion against the powerful capital. It also serves as entertainment for the people of the capital as they throw parties and parades surrounding the games. The victors of each game get to return to their districts and live in a special area where their needs would be met for the rest of their lives. However, it has become obvious that everyone who survives is also deeply psychologically wounded by their experience in the games.

Obviously, there is a lot more to these games than just this summary but please allow me to be brief for the sake of making my point. The books and the movie point out that one of the ways the capitol maintains its control is by getting the people in the different districts to see each other as enemies. Sure, the capitol seems like it's the ultimate enemy but none of the residents of the capitol are in the arena when the killing starts. Instead, you fight people who could grow up to be miners or police officers or soldiers or lumberjacks. The key is to see the other districts as just that: other. They are the people who get to have their children back while yours are dead. They are the ones who get the food while you have to beg, cheat, and steal yours. Power needs divisions to maintain control and, as we see in the hunger games, it cannot handle unity because it threatens their dominance.

So, how does this have anything to do with the State of Iowa? Let me begin by saying (thank goodness!) it's not because Des Moines forces us to provide 2 "tributes" to die in a sporting arena. However, we are divided. Perhaps most effectively, we are divided by towns and school districts. Especially in rural areas, where the population is declining, there are fierce town/school rivalries that are taught to children at a young age, oftentimes involving actions that took place fifty or a hundred years ago, between "our school" and that "other" school. We wait all year long for the football, basketball, or baseball game between our schools and the whole town turns up even if you don't have a kid in school. Yet, who is the real enemy in all of this? Is Garner, Hayfield, Ventura really the enemy of West Hancock and vice versa? Is Lake Mills really the enemy of Forest City and vice versa? I don't think so. I drive down the main streets of these small towns all the time and see empty buildings where there once was a clothing store or a bank. I hear people bragging about driving to Mason City and getting a deal on clothes or shoes or groceries and then hear about local shoe stores, clothing stores, and grocery stores struggling to stay open. We are our own worst enemies. Rather than encouraging young people to move into rural areas and dedicating their life to farming, too many farmers pay top price for the farm next door so that they can have the biggest farm in the county...not that son-of-a-gun from that other town. Rather than purchasing things locally or in the small town next door, we'll thirty, forty, or fifty miles to the closest big city. Why should the town next door get your money, right? We don't need Des Moines, Washingtown DC, or any other capitol to kill our towns. We'll do it ourselves. When will we learn that the human race will only flourish when none of us is seen as somehow less important or less dignified than anyone else?

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Who knows? Jesus may be right in front of you.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Peace be with you. Have you ever been talking to someone who very obviously had someone else far more important to whom they were waiting to talk. Sometimes while talking to someone, their cell phone rings and they take it out of their pocket, answer it, say, “just one minute” and walk away. Or, sometimes I visit homebound folks and they have the TV or the radio on and seem to be farm more interested in that than in talking to me. In a previous assignment, I had a pastor who was very good at raising money. He was very attuned to whether someone was paying attention to him. He would vent frustrations to me on car rides about someone who answered their cell phone in the middle of a conversation or someone who told him after five minutes of conversation that they had to leave. Yet, in a large group of people, he was notorious for talking to you while constantly looking around you. You had the feeling that he was looking for someone else more interesting or more important to talk to. One time, when I asked him about why he did that, he said to me, “Well, I can talk to you any time. I wanted to make sure there wasn’t someone out there that was only going to be around for a short time.

Today’s gospel is often referred to as the sending of the disciples. There’s a difference between a disciple and an apostle. The apostles were 12 men called by Jesus to play a key leadership role among the crowds. A disciple, on the other hand, was anyone who believed in the teachings of Jesus Christ. We are, in some ways, the descendants to the disciples. In today’s gospel, Jesus sends out 72 disciples to begin evangelizing. So that means that Jesus intended evangelization to not be restricted to those in holy orders. All of us are responsible to spread the good news of Jesus. So, we need to pay close attention to the advice Jesus gives us on how we are to evangelize.

Jesus begins by sounding a lot like Pope Francis with all his humility. He says, “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals;” Jesus doesn’t want concerns for material possessions to get in the way of evangelization. Yet, the next thing that he said was, “greet no one along the way.” At first, I was kind of perplexed about that part. Some scriptural writers suggested that Jesus might have been trying to protect his flock against thieves who would have been on the byroads. I don’t buy that explanation because I think Jesus would have said, “Don’t get robbed.” Instead, he says that they shouldn’t greet people along the way. Instead, I think Jesus wanted them to have a focus that wasn’t based upon evangelizing everyone along the way, just the ones that he sends us to.

When we start evangelizing, Jesus tells us to eat whatever is put before us. I think I’ve preached before that I find these kinds of commandments difficult because I tend to be kind of a picky eater. So, I think part of what Jesus is saying is that Fr. Miller needs to be grateful with whatever is set before him. However, there’s something profound that I also hear being proclaimed here. When I used to teach Faith Formation, I was often amazed at how much I learned because I was researching a question the students would ask. I often felt that I learned more than they did. Similarly, when we evangelize other people, when we share with people how Jesus has loved us and given us hope, we may find that we are evangelized.

So, think of one person who you know has been poorly evangelized or hasn’t been evangelized at all. How can you reach out to that person to let them know of the love and hope you have been given by Our Lord. Because, who knows, you may just see Jesus in them also.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Atheism isn't a religion

Fr. Robert Barron, rector of Mundelein Seminary, has spen a lot of time debunking the arguments of the modern atheists. I think he quite correctly says that one of the problems is that they aren't really all that new. All they're doing is rehashing arguments put forth by Frederich Nietzsche (God is used by the powerful to keep the powerless from becoming self actualized) and Karl Marx (God is useful like a kind of drug: it's a delusion that stops people from realizing the horror of alienation).

Recently, atheists in Florida erected a bench with some of the more shallow religious criticisms on it. Many atheists want their views to be recognized as a religious perspective so that it can be taught in religious studies departments. The problem is that it's really not a religion inasmuch as a reaction to religion. If there were no religions, there would be no atheism. That's why you can read this story on about a little boy who was killed when he fell off a float in a parade and read HORRIFIC comments from atheists. They react, oftentimes exceedingly pessimistically, cynically, and derogatorily, towards people who do believe. And, in the US, their voice seems to be getting louder and louder.

But, I don't think atheism should be considered a religion specifically because it doesn't contribute something positively to the conversation. Take the issue with the bench. This is a reaction to a 10 commandments monument that was allowed on a part of public soil. Say what you want about them but the 10 commandments are a positive statement of a way of life. Love God with your whole heart. Don't kill. Don't steal. Don't covet your neighbors goods. The bench doesn't provide a positive way of living life. It's just a reaction. Its statements are all about how God and religion shouldn't have anything to do in the world. Okay, so what should? Atheists can't tell us what they believe because they have no set of core beliefs. They only thing that unites them is not believing in something. Should we take care of the poor (Marx) or is the loss of a poor person simply part of survival of the fittest (Darwin)? Atheists can't agree. Is life essentially meaningless suffering (Sartre) or are we supposed to craft our own meaning (de Beauvoir)? Atheists are split. Should atheism erect a bench with anti-religious statements on it (those who won the lawsuit) or should they just try to get the 10 commandment monument taken off (those now critical of the "bench")? Atheists cannot agree. I could keep going but you get the point.

Ultimately, I personally believe atheism's downfall is that it is inherently pessimistic because of it's reactionary underpinnings. Atheism either says nothing to people who have lost a child or says that they are fools for seeking comfort. Religion offers hope that, despite all the chaos and apparent hopelessness, there is hope because there is something rather than nothing. Life will never be the same on earth for these parents and they deserve time to mourn and support from family and friends. But I hope these folks find comfort in the fact that the same God who made everything visible can also make something that is currently invisible where all pain and suffering is gone.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Priority to Christ

My Dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Peace be with you. What’s the first thing you do in the morning? What about the last thing you do at night? For most of us, we turn on the radio or television to see what’s happening in the world while we wake up a little. If you’re a little younger, you might unplug your smartphone and check facebook or Twitter and see who said what overnight. One of the hardest things we have to learn in our lives is how to set and honor priorities. Parents need to teach their children that they can’t spend all day watching TV or playing video games when there are other important things that need to get done like chores. A couple of weeks ago, I got an email that required a carefuly, well thought out response. I started working on it in the late afternoon and four hours later I was finally ready to push send. Now, I was glad that it wasn’t a phone call or a face to face meeting but I did have to question my use of time when it took four hours to complete. And the worst thing as I was thinking about it was that I knew it would demand another complex email the next day which ended up taking another three hours. I had to ask myself, in the end, if the responses deserved the priority that I was willing to give them.

Our readings today challenge us to reflect on this issue of priorities. In the first reading, it’s Elijah who is choosing his successor Elisha because God told him to. Now, I like the story of Elisha a lot. I like him partially because he was bald. But, I also like him because he was a person who made mistakes and learned from them. For instance, when called by Elijah to be the Prophet of the Lord, Elisha wants to say goodbye to his family. Now you might ask: What’s wrong with that? A similar thing happened in the Gospel. Someone felt called by God to follow Jesus but implied that he wanted to end up in some physical building in the end. Jesus assures him, as we know all too well in our cluster, that Jesus isn’t contained in buildings. “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” The next person wants to bury his father and receives the rather abrupt and, seemingly callous response to let the dead bury their dead. The last person, like Elisha, simply wants to say goodbye to his family. In all these situations, we may be tempted to think that either Elijah or Jesus wasn’t being fair in not allowing the person to take care of something that is high priority. But, think of it like this: imagine if you’re sitting there in your living room when the last number of the lottery is listed and you realize you just won a hundred million dollars. Would your first reaction be to call up a friend and say hello? Or call that friend who is sick and hope they feel better. Of course not. That lottery ticket would become your sole priority and everything else would become secondary. That’s the reaction that the Lord has in each of these situations.

A couple of weeks ago, the priests of this Archdiocese gathered with our Archbishop to learn about the issue of internet addiction and, in particular, addiction to pornography. I was very surprised to learn that 50% of marriages end, in part, because of one of the spouses involvement with pornography. It has a way of drawing people deeper and deeper into it searching for that next, better “high.” Technology has made setting priorities difficult. Now don’t get me wrong. Technology can be used for good things like taking the time to give a thoughtful response to a question that demands it. But it also has a tendency to want to take over our entire life. So, how about giving the first hour of the day over to the Lord? Don’t turn on the radio or television and just leave that smart phone on the charger. Instead, take some time to read sacred scripture or pick up those beads and pray a rosary or take out your favorite prayer book and pray those treasured prayers. Now, I know what you’re going to say. You’re thinking that you’re just not a morning person and, trust me when I tell you that I have nothing but sympathy for you. Anyone who has gone to 7:30 mass on Friday morning in Britt knows that I tend to show up at 7:27 or so just giving myself enough time to throw on my vestments before mass. I don’t like mornings. So, give the Lord the LAST hour of your day. Shut off the computer and television and do all that I suggested the others do in the morning. Give the Lord priority in your day to remind yourself what we all can’t do without.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Why I think the time wasn't right for an American Pope

What you are about to read is my opinion. I am not speaking on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church (as if I have the right to do that anyway) or anyone else for that matter other than myself.

I was laying under a blanket this last Wednesday afternoon with a case of stomach flu. However, I did have EWTN on the TV expecting to await the disappointment of black smoke. As I lay there, the commentators covered several of the rumors that were out there as to who would be the next Pope. I was relieved to find a station that didn't analyze things in terms of "liberal" and "conservative" so I kept listening. Shortly before the unexpectedly white smoke emerged, the announcers took up their own skepticism that it would be an American Pope. I listened intently as they said that, historically, the biggest concern has been the ideology of Americanism that was an ideology of some American bishops whereby certain they seemed to be pushing towards greater democratization in the church. I found it fascinating when they said that in the past there were some who were concerned that, by electing an American, the president could have undue influence on the Pope. Sort of the inverse of what President Kennedy felt when people worried that, by electing a Catholic President, he would be beholden to the Pope. Nonetheless, the commentators felt that this had largely been overcome by the USCCB opposition to the Obama HHS contraception mandate led, primarily, by Cardinal Dolan but supported by all the American bishops.

In any case, the second point EWTN commentators made was just as fascinating. They said that if they elected an American Pope, we would send a deeply detrimental message to the Islamic world. It was thought by the commentators that Islam would see this as the Catholic Church siding with America in its foreign policy decisions. I thought this was an interesting insight but, in my opinion, probably not the nail in the coffin of an American Papacy.

The more I think about it, the more I think it has to do with the state of the Catholic Church in America. Let's face it, folks. We're in a mess. Not even 24 hours after the election of Pope Francis, several liberal websites posted a story that alleged that Pope Francis deliberately removed Jesuit protection from two priests who were abducted and held captive by the Argentinian government in 1976. Shortly thereafter, it moved from left-wing websites like and to more moderate sites like and The transition also meant that it moved from internet to television. Now, you may say that this is really a world-wide story that the Pope had to explain and move past and you may be right. Plus, some of you will say that they are all liberal websites and you can't trust them for news about the church. And that's precisely my point. I don't believe it's going too far to say right now that, in general, the Democratic Party is openly hostile to the Catholic Church. I frequently listen to MSNBC on my way from parish to parish and I cannot tell you the last time I heard anything positive about the Catholic Church on it. Well, let me take that back. When the news of Pope Francis first hit, the Catholic commentators seemed ecstatic to have a real "Dorothy Day style Pope". However, when it became clear that this Pope is not for gay rights or abortion, even Chris Matthews seemed to be losing his excitement for the social justice pope in favor of "the best that we can get." Now today they're all about how the Pope abducted and tortured two priests in 1976...I mean how he encouraged the government to abduct and torture two priests...I mean how he removed magic albino Jesuit protection from two priests who were abducted and interrogated by the government.

Sarcasm aside, you may be asking: So what? The problem is that many of our Catholic lay people agree more with everything that the media preaches than what any Pope preaches. This is the party of John F. Kennedy after all. Many lay people feel completely conflicted when Father preaches on Sunday what is labeled as hate-speech on Monday. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons that American Catholics have stopped coming to mass, moreso than distrust of the church because of sexual abuse. At least, when I talk to my college friends who no longer go to church they acknowledge that this is one of the reasons why.

And so, what do many younger clergy say is the solution: If the liberals hate us then we should become conservative! After all, we agree on abortion and abortion is really the only thing that's important, right? Let's all listen to Fox News and read! Let's demonize media by calling it all "liberal media" and tell our people that they can only watch Fox News or EWTN. That's great until you remember the strong objections that Pope John Paul II had with the Bush administration with regard to the two middle-eastern wars and, in particular, the war in Iraq. Remember Pope John Paul pleading with the Bush Administration to not invade Iraq and further weaken the area? If your answer to that is no, it may be because you only listened to Fox News, which was (arguably) one of the best propaganda devices for the war the Bush Administration had at its disposal. I'm pretty sure Fox News is the only network that still to this day believes weapons of mass destruction were hauled out of Iraq at the beginning of the war and that President Bush was perfectly justified in invading. Everyone else knows that the war was an inevitable oedipal war that has done nothing but anger the Islamic world...and made an American Papacy seem inconceivable to some commentators.

So, where do we go from here? One side is openly hostile toward us and the other uses us when we agree with them and ignores us when we don't. The animosity and hatred is just too deep on the one hand and the roots of anti-intellectual, anti-catholic Know-Nothing evangelicalism too present in the other. How do we become a moral voice again in a culture that seems increasingly only to accept the moral voice of the dominant political party in their life? What if we took seriously the model of an Argentinian Cardinal who seeks to remove the "pomp" of the job in favor of humble service? What if, instead of looking at Pope Francis as the exception to the rule, if we, clergy, tried to model our life after his? What if we clergy first and foremost wanted to be people of prayer and study and left nice rectories and cars to the concerns of the CEO. What if we became THE place that people went to in order to feel closer to God? Let me pause there for a day or two and come back to what that might mean. Your comments are welcome.

Go and sin no more

My Dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Grace and peace to you in God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ whose life and death have set us free. One rather effective way of praying is to read a passage of sacred scripture and then ask God to send the Holy Spirit down upon you to help, through your imagination, to enter into what’s happening in the story. So, you could imagine from last week that you’re the younger son being embraced by a loving Father who forgives you after you squandered your inheritance on a life of dissipation. Or, from the week before, you can imagine yourself standing on a mountain when you notice a bush on fire. When you investigate a little closer, you hear the voice of God revealing a part of himself to you, speaking his name with love. If you’ve never tried this type of prayer before, I’d encourage you to do so especially if you have a good imagination. However, let me provide one caution from today’s gospel before you begin.

Today’s Gospel passage carries with it much baggage. It is used by many self-styled theologians, secular humanists, and politicians to attempt to suppress the moral voice of the church. “Judge not, lest ye be judged” people generally say at the end of this story, though that’s actually from a completely different part of a completely different book of the Bible. In this story, we know that Jesus was afraid to come to Jerusalem because the Jewish leadership was trying to kill him. He comes in secret with his disciples and immediately goes to the Temple. You’d think he’d want to avoid this place so filled with the very people who want to kill him but, as we heard a few weeks ago when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, he wants to be in his Father’s house. While he’s in the Temple, he has several interactions with the Jewish leaders who were responsible for it, the scribes and Pharisees. This is just one of them.

Imagine, for a second, being the woman caught in the act of adultery. You’re probably not completely dressed and certainly not dressed well enough to be standing on the Temple. You’ve been caught in an incredibly embarrassing act cheating or your husband, helping someone else cheat on his wife, or both. In the back of your mind you knew this could happen but you decided that the chances of anyone caring were pretty slim. I mean, everyone does this, right? It’s not like your murdering someone, after all. Suddenly the doors are ripped open and you are hauled to the Temple Mount while your co-conspirator gets off scot-free. Maybe he ran away. More likely the men know that it would be less controversial to simply kill a woman because of her status in society. You crouch on the ground covering your head only allowing one eye to be open as you anticipate the pain from the first rock. The only man who can save you from this torture is an unknown Rabbi who seems totally disconnected, almost as though he doesn’t care about the world. But, then you hear the words this man says. He doesn’t say, as Moses did, “Let the one who witnessed the crime be the one to cast the first stone.” No. Instead, he says, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then, in your crouched position from the one eye you have opened, you watch as the last set of feet drops the stones they had brought with them and walks away. Lastly, it is just you and Jesus. You look up at him as he remains drawing in the dust and hear the incredible words of freedom that you never imagined you’d ever hear, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

There is nothing wrong with entering into prayer like that. However, if I may, I’d like to suggest that most of us are putting ourselves in the wrong character if we do that. The woman is a sinner caught in the act of sinning. She sits completely quiet awaiting her sentence until she is freed and then is given a fresh start, a choice as to whether she will sin from now on or not. I don’t believe this applies to most of us. I think most of us, if we are honest, are the scribes and Pharisees. Now, before you walk out, give me a chance to explain.

These people are perfectly justified in doing what they’re doing. We may be tempted to think that they’re just over-judgmental busybodies who are condemning people in what is essentially a private act. But, adultery is never a private act. At minimum, this affected three people: the two people involved and the spouse. It probably affected children, parents, friends, and a whole host of other people and it violated the sacred quality of marriage. The penalty was clear, stoning. The scribes and Pharisees want to force Jesus to have to make an unpopular decision: Either sit by and watch a woman be stoned to death by your declaration or change the law and diminish the importance of marriage. Jesus, instead, offers a third route. And, in my opinion, this is where I find myself especially entering in as one of the chief Pharisees.

Jesus sits on the ground and starts to scribble. At first, it doesn’t seem like he’s writing anything but then you can see that he is slowly writing the word “adultery” on the ground. Right when he is finished, he takes the palm of his hand and wipes it out. Then, he writes the word “hatred” on the ground and wipes it out. Then he writes the word “gossip” on the ground and wipes it out. What’s he saying? What does this mean? I don’t understand. So, he stands up and looks at us with those eyes that knew this woman was adulterous even before she set foot on the Temple and says, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And we finally understand that when he was writing those sins on the ground, he knew not only her sin but the sins of each one of us. He wants to forgive us for what we’ve done. What stops us from forgiving each other? What stops us from putting down our rocks, going, and sinning no more?

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Top 10 ways to know that you're a pastor of multiple parishes.

10. When you coordinate your drive with a really good radio program. "I love listening to car talk on the drive up to Buffalo Center. However, I tend to arrive 4 hours early and if I use an analogy involving a blown transmission one more time in my homily, I'm afraid they're going to lynch me."
9. When you've developed the third possible way to get to a given town. "I used to go one way but it involves passing through too many towns. Then I found a back way but it involved driving part way on gravel. Now I go 10 miles out of the way to avoid gravel and towns that takes the same amount of time as the original route but seems quicker because I'm always in motion."
8. When you have to think for a second where you park at a particular parish. "I used to park by the church but now I park clear in the back of the parking lot so that no one can see my truck and decide to go to a different mass."
7. When you go to a high school volley ball game and realize you have parishioners on 5 of the 6 teams participating. "Nice spike Stephanie! But next time please don't hit Tiffany quite so hard in the face because she goes to Lake Mills and I need her to serve on Sunday!"
6. When you start to travel down the road and realize that you're heading for the wrong town. "Oh no! I'm going to Lake Mills Ministerial Association not Britt Ministerial Association. Now how do I get there from here?"
5. When you have to figure out a person's name by remembering which parish they're from. "Let me think, you're from St. Wenceslaus so you're name is probably Czech right? Are you a Trca?"
4. When you begin to associate days of the week by what parish you said mass in the day before. "It must be Thursday because I said mass in Britt last night. At least I think it was Britt."
3. When you start to worry that you've missed a meeting somewhere because you've stayed in the same town for two days. "My calendar says nothing but there has to be a pastoral council meeting somewhere!"
2. When you answer the phone and have to think for a second to remember which parish you are at. "Hello, St. Boniface, I mean St. James, I mean St. Patrick's...just a second I can't find a window"
1. When you turn to a kid at a high school basketball game and try to determine which parish he's from by the team he's cheering for. "Oh, you're a Cardinal. So you either go to St. Boniface or St. Wenceslaus, right? Is your last name Czech by any chance?"

Monday, March 04, 2013

From schadenfreude to freude

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Grace and peace to you in God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit as we gather for this beautiful Sabbath celebration. Have you ever heard of the word schadenfreude? (Pronounced shaw-din-froy-duh) If not, let me give you a couple of examples. Once, when I was in college, I was traveling back to Dubuque from Marshalltown on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I was going 60 in a 55 but, nonetheless, began to be followed by a fellow who must have wanted to get into my trunk judging by how closely he was following me. And he was doing that thing where, every three seconds, he would swerve into the other lane to see if he could pass but we were going up a hill and there was a lot of oncoming traffic. As we crested the hill, the driver felt he had enough room to pass so he pulled into the other lane and floored it. Even with all four cylinders working at peak efficiency I could tell he didn’t have enough room to pass so, at first, I just took off my cruise control but it wasn’t enough. I slammed on my breaks and came to a complete stop in the middle of the highway. I looked over and noticed the car coming toward us had been forced to do the same thing. Then, I noticed a light above the other stopped cars mirror and a row of concealed lights that are the hallmark of an undercover police officer. He turned on his lights, did a three-point turn and headed after the idiot that passed me. A couple miles down the road, I slowly passed a red-faced, screaming state patrolman yelling at a kid and I made sure to smile and wave as I went past. That’s schadenfreude. Just in case you still don’t catch it, here’s another example. This past Tuesday, I was at home watching the news with my parents. I was still fuming at how the referees had stolen a victory from Iowa State in men’s basketball the night before because of an incredibly boneheaded call. A story came on about something bad happening in Kansas and I immediately thought to myself that’s what you get when you take advantage of the Cyclones.

Schadenfreude is a compound word of two German words: Schade meaning to feel bad or sad and freude meaning to feel happiness or joy. So, schadenfruede is finding happiness or joy at other people’s sadness. Haven’t we all laughed when we saw a teenage boy trip and fall while trying to impress a girl? That’s schadenfreude.

We think it’s something new but it really isn’t. In fact, Jesus encounters it in the gospel of Luke today. Most of his followers came from the northern part of Israel called Galilee. So, when they heard about a massacre by Pilate involving some of their Galilean brothers, their first reaction is to find joy in the fact that these were the bad, sinful Galileans. Jesus not only challenges them on this assumption but he asks them if they think the same thing about what happened when a tower collapsed just north of the Temple Mount near the pool of Siloam. Bad things don’t always happen to bad people. Most of the time they just happen. And, as Christians, we shouldn’t take pleasure in other people’s pain. Instead, as St. Paul said in the second reading from First Corinthians, we should see it as a caution that bad things could happen to us. It should be a moment to mourn with those who are suffering not a party to celebrate the suffering of others. Let’s face it, it could have been me traveling at 60 in a 55 getting pulled over by the police just as easily as it was the other guy.

Sometimes, in situations involving one pastor with multiple parishes, I notice a kind of reverse schadenfreude that can happen. People believe no one should get anything good if everyone doesn’t get it. So, if Father starts having a holy hour in one parish, the members of another parish immediately start to gripe that Father never does anything for them. Or, if Father has to cancel a Sunday or weekday mass in one parish but not the other, people will gripe it’s not fair that something good is happening somewhere as long as we don’t get to have it here.

In some ways, as Christians we are a people of schadenfreude. But, instead of finding happiness at the suffering of others we find it in the suffering of one: Jesus Christ. He is the one who took on the sins of the world and suffered death. His once-for-all death means that we shouldn’t find joy in other people’s suffering but that we should find real joy because of the death of Jesus. In other words, instead of being a people of schadenfreude, we should just be a people of freude, just pure joy.

One of the areas that is a source of joy for us is the confessional. Now, I know that some of you are going to look at me strangely as I say this but I think this is exactly what Jesus is talking about in the gospel parable of the fig tree. Humanity screams out that we should just cut it down and inflict immediate punishment on those who sin but God responds that he wants to give them some time to produce the good fruit of repentance, the repentance normally offered in the sacrament of reconciliation. Sometimes, I hear Catholics say that they don’t go to confession because they confess their sins at the beginning of mass when we say the penitential rite or they even offer the protestant argument that they just go directly to God with their sins. I’ve heard people say that they don’t go to confession because it’s been too long since last they went and they don’t remember the formula or because it would take too long. Imagine if it has been a couple years since you last went to the dentist and you were to use the excuse that it’s just been too long; you won’t remember how to talk while they clean your teeth or it will just take too long and cost too much. So how are you going to get rid of your teeth pain? I’m invite each of you to find the joy in the sacrament of reconciliation, the joy that lets us experience the forgiveness offered to us by God the Father, the joy that makes us bear good fruit, and the joy that heals us from our true suffering of sin.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Temptation in the desert

My dear brothers and sister in Christ

Grace and peace in God, our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit as we celebrate this Sabbath day of rest. Shortly after I after I arrived here to be pastor, I went to the WIT Rally up in Forest City. I tried to make it to all the civic celebrations for the towns of my parishes that summer but, unfortunately, some of them overlapped each other. When I walked the rally grounds, I saw all kinds of vehicles. But, being a camper myself, I wanted to see the inside of one so the guy who was showing me around walked me over to the new campers. He first showed me a diesel pusher with three slide-outs. It was a huge camper with two bathrooms, beautiful tile floors and a queen-size bed. At the time, I was living in Forest City so I figured that I should probably get rid of my camper and have an actual Winnebago. So I asked my tour guide how much it would cost. He told me around $300,000 and I realized I probably wasn’t going to own that particular model. So, he showed me a couple of others that were just as nice and then he showed me the smallest model they made at the time. It was on a truck chassis and had a small full-size bed in the back and a small bathroom and dinette. I thought to myself that I could probably get something that size so I again inquired about the price. Let’s just say that it was still out of my price range, which is why Fr. Paul, who owned a Winnebago prior to moving here, now lives in Forest City and I live down south. The crazy thing is that these vehicles are supposed to be used to go camping. We go camping to remember the simple life, to “rough it” for a few days. Yet, then we bring TVs and satellite dishes, cell phones and computers with internet connections and all other kinds of amenities until you wonder if you’re even “roughing it” at all.

As we begin this Lenten journey, we start by hearing about the desert, the ultimate place of roughing it. Both in the first reading and in the gospel there are references to it. The challenge for us, Iowans, is that we probably don’t know what it’s like to live in the desert. We may think that we’ve been in the desert the past couple of years because of the drought but that’s like someone who has a broken leg thinking that they know what an amputee is going through. To be in the desert is to be surprised by the presence of rain not the absence of it.

Yet, despite the fact that most of us probably haven’t lived in a desert, I still think it’s an apt metaphor for the beginning of this Lenten season. In Pope Benedict’s book, “Journey to Easter” he says that the desert has two qualities to it. First, there is silence. The silence is what draws us there. We go because we think we want the peace and quiet of being alone. But, then, when we get there, we find out quickly the second quality of the desert: it is a place of temptation. You start to miss things like Television, telephone, internet, and other things.

We hear about Jesus in the desert in the gospel today. The devil comes three times and tries to tempt Jesus and three times he fails. My favorite statement from this gospel is when St. Luke says, “(Jesus) ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry.” There’s a part of me that thinks, “Duh! You think so? He’d been fasting for 40 days of course he’d be hungry.” But, St. Luke is merely letting us know that Jesus is weak physically so the devil thinks it’s his chance. First with food, then with power, and ending with authority, the devil thinks that he can trick a starved, tired messiah into doing his will. But, each time he proposes something, Jesus sees through it for the trap that it is. Even the reasonable things are ways the devil thinks that he can get into our life. The Pope says that Jesus will once again be the in the desert when he is on the cross and once again the devil will be there to tempt him. But Jesus began in the desert saying God’s will be done and the crucifixion will be no different.

I don’t know about you but at this point in Lent, I think I can sympathize with some of what Jesus is going through. I usually start to question whether I can sustain the discipline necessary to keep up my fast. I think that it would be better if I just moderated my use of pop or television or candy or whatever instead of just giving it up entirely. Maybe it would be better to just watch the news and nothing else instead of giving up watching TV entirely. In my heart, I know this is the devil trying to get me to say “My will be done” instead of “Thy will be done.” Yet, we know we must remain faithful to the Lord through our Lenten acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Let’s take strength this Sunday from the Lord who shows us how to avoid the temptation toward mediocrity and how to gain spiritual perfection by following the example of the one who first said no to the evil one.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Personal reflections on the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI

There have been four popes who have reigned during my lifetime but I only remember two of them, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict. As you probably know, the papacy is an ancient institution, tracing itself all the way back to St. Peter himself. I have a feeling that there will be a lot of papal history in the news in the next few days so I won't even try to put something here that is worthwhile. I'll just tell you what this means for me today.

When I started paying attention at mass, I heard "John Paul, our pope" all the way until I was ordained a priest. I can remember the transition from hearing "Daniel, Francis, William, and James, our bishops" to just "Daniel our bishop" and, eventually to "Jerome our bishop" but it was always preceded by "John Paul, our Pope". I was a priest when John Paul II died and I have to admit that I had a difficult time praying for "Benedict, our Pope." It was not because of the man. I loved the man himself and have admired everything that he has done as a pope. From reaching out to the Muslim world, to the great writings and encyclicals he gave us, and his strong encouragements of the use of technology, Pope Benedict has been a great pope. The problem I had with saying, "Benedict, our pope" was that I had always heard "John Paul, our Pope." It was a break with my childhood, a break with what had always been. Now a whole new group of Catholics will get to experience this difficult transition.

I can remember praying for Pope John Paul II during the last few days of his life. Pessimists griped that he could linger for months if not years in a vegetative state. It was good for the world to watch this man who had taught us so much about the dignity of life to also learn from him the dignity of death. So many people wanted him to retire but I think he knew that it was just as important to show the world that the church is not just an anti-abortion political cabal. We honestly believe that all life is gift from God that should be respected from natural birth to natural death and that suffering is a constitutive element of being human.

Yet, Pope Benedict has gone in a different direction and decided to retire. Is he giving into the liberal wing of the Catholic Church and trying to limit the influence of the papacy by making it seem just like every other temporary position in the church? I don't think so. There's a part of me that thinks the papacy is too important of an institution to not have someone who has already done the job who can advise a successor with difficult decisions. I know that there are some who will say that having a retired pope somewhere in the world is a problem. What type of authority does he have? What authority is taken away? What do we call him? Is it still appropriate for him to wear papal clothing? etc.

But, I have a feeling that having a former pope will actually be an incomparable asset. Dare I suggest that this Pope has learned something from our presidential system. I recently heard part of the book, "The President's Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity" by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. It talked about how former presidents, even presidents from different parties, would support and advise current presidents, especially on matters of foreign policy. For instance, President Nixon apparently turned out to be one of President Clinton's most important advisers on China. This Pope who has lived through so much can now be an invaluable source of wisdom for the next pope and ensure continuity at a time when it is so important. And, if he chooses not to do that, he can also be a fierce prayer warrior for whoever is the next pope.

Thank you, Pope Benedict, for your years of service and know of my love and prayers as you enter into the next part of your life.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

We are made for love.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Grace and peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. When I was in college, I got to know a very frustrating young man. He was born and raised in a strong Catholic family, sent to a Catholic grade school, Catholic middle school, and Catholic high school before attending Loras College, which, as most of you know, is a Catholic college. But there was something about this guy that I didn’t trust from the first time I talked to him. He said that in high school he joined an evangelical protestant youth group and had given his life to Christ and been saved. But it wasn’t that. He said he had read the Bible backwards and forwards several times. It wasn’t that. At first, I couldn’t figure it out. Then, I read the second reading for today’s mass and it hit me.

The hardest part about the second reading is that we’ve all heard it before and we all associate it with one particular activity: weddings. This is the second reading at almost every wedding. And the truly tragic thing about that fact is that St. Paul wasn’t just talking about marriage when he wrote chapter 13 of his first letter to the Corinthians. In fact, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t thinking about it at all. He does talk in an earlier passage about marriage. In chapter 7, St. Paul said that he wishes everyone would remain as he is, that is to say celibate. But, since there are those who burn with lust so intensely that to stay unmarried would be sinful, those weaklings should get married. It’s funny that most brides and grooms don’t want me to preach about that for their wedding. I can’t understand why.

In chapter 12, the chapter immediately prior to this passage, St. Paul talks about using our God-given gifts and talents for the building up of the church. You might remember that two weeks ago I preached about how this is still true and that it’s the reason that we have a stewardship committee. Since then, one of my parishioners gave me a book called The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic. The first part of the book talks about how, in society, 10% of the people do 90% of the work. However, in the church, it’s more like 3% of the people doing 90% of the work. Just like the Corinthians, we all have to pray about and ask ourselves if we are using our gifts and talents to build up the body of the Christ that is the church.

At the end of this chapter, St. Paul says that there is one gift that is even more important than those, one that is present in all the others and that one gift is love. He says that if he was the greatest of all preachers, someone like Archbishop Dolan of New York or Pope John Paul II, but preached without love, he would be “a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal”, a whole lot of noise but totally without meaning. He says that if he was the most intelligent person in the world, if he was Stephen Hawking or Carl Sagan, and did not have love he was nothing. He says that if he was the most philanthropic person in the world, if he was Warren Buffett or Bill and Melinda Gates, giving incredible amounts of money to the poor and oppressed, and did so without love, he would accomplish nothing.

Then, he lists what love is. The challenge with this list is that he really says that love is only two things: Love is patient and love is kind. Everything else that St. Paul says is what love is NOT. It is not jealous or pompous or rude or seek its own interests. What all this has in common is that love seeks out what’s best for others rather than what is best for ourselves.

What mystifies St. Paul is that love is the one charism that we will carry with us into the afterlife. What need have we of faith when we are looking at God face-to-face? We won’t need hope anymore in heaven since hope is what drives us past the difficulties of life and points to the bliss of eternal life in heaven. Yet, when we are looking into the loving eyes of God, we will continue to love him for eternity.

What really bugged me about my evangelical friend in college was that he claimed to be so much better of a Christian than we, Catholics but he was really an incredibly selfish, angry person. And, to be completely honest, what really bugged me was I saw too much of myself in him. I was and still am not always as loving toward others as I could or should be. For St. Paul, God is love. That’s why love lasts: because it is God. And, for me, the hardest people to love are the people like my evangelical friend: self-righteous, judgmental, angry people who tell me that I’m not good enough. But, as the prophet Jeremiah experienced in the first reading and Jesus experienced in the gospel, it’s more important to be loving toward them than to those who are easy to love. Love isn’t a warm, happy feeling. Nor is love found in pacifying lies. Love is being part of the March for Life and standing up for the unborn. Love is taking part in an intervention to tell an out-of-control family member that you’re concerned enough about them to force them to deal with their drug use. Love is taking some food or some warm clothes to a homeless person standing by the side of the road. Love is reaching out to help a family that you know is in trouble even though it could harm your reputation with your own friends or family. Love is what defines what it means to be a Christian and, indeed, God is love. How can we be more loving to our neighbors, especially the ones that are hardest?

Friday, February 01, 2013

Les Miserables and October Baby

I'll be brief.

I watched the new movie Les Miserables the other day. I've been listening to a concert performance of this musical since I was in High School. I was prepared for everything except one thing. I couldn't believe how well the church is portrayed. From the kindness of the bishop who changes Jean Valjean's whole concept of forgiveness to the convent that unintentionally provides protection from Inspector Javert all the way to the end (no spoilers) the church is portrayed doing the good works that it does most of the time instead of just the exceptional scandals that are usually the only thing we heard about.

Tonight I watched October Baby. Again, I was prepared for pretty much everything except for one thing. God plays, at best, a minor role in the whole movie until the end when a kindly priest offers the best advice of all. The main character even admits that she's baptist but the church was signficant in her life so she went there to pray. But the priest didn't sexually abuse her. He didn't turn into a demon and possess her. He just listened to her and gave her great advice.

The sad thing is that I am so accustomed to priests as sexual abusers, nuns as physically abusive, and bishops as power mongers that I just start to expect to see it in every movie. These two movies deserve to be praised for showing the heart of most priests, nuns, and bishops.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What's the point?

One of the "lessons" I learned from my leadership training course was that you have to have a end-goal in mind for every project you are doing and you have to know what that end-goal is before you start the project. Even end-goals that are imposed from without need to be personally appropriated to be successful. In other words, even when someone else tells me the end goal, if I don't hear what the goal is or don't understand what the goal is, I will not be successful in achieving it and the goal is pointless. I have to accurately know what the goal is in order to complete it.

The challenge with some activities is that there are times when the activities have to change due to changes in society and church. It's hard to remind ourselves that activities that were more short term in nature can be eliminated if they get in the way of the larger goal. To use an example, the goal of a catholic parish is to spread the gospel message to all people in a given area until the coming of the kingdom of God. One way we do that is by helping people be connected to a part of a parish community so that they will make being belonging to the church part of their daily lives. So, let's say we have coffee and donuts after mass so that people will stick around and get to know parish leadership and learn more about some of the other activities the church has in the hopes that they will want to get involved in the parish. What happens when the coffee and doughnut attendees are the same people every Sunday, if the group is seen as cliquish and weird? Or what happens if you find that the cost of doughnuts is a lot more than either the amount of money you bring in at the event or the number of new volunteers you get because of coffee and donuts? Well, you then have to decide if you just want to cancel the event, repurpose the event, or change the event altogether. Do you want to tell the people to buy their own darn doughnuts, say that the event is to keep the people already involved motivated, or start serving hot breakfast with presentations of what is happening in the parish?

All of this is prelude to the question I have a the subject: namely, what's the point of a blog? For several years, I would use this one to post interesting things about Catholicism in an effort to counteract the negative press that seems to crop up on occasion. More recently, I've tended to use it as a dumping grounds for my latest homily. That's not a bad use but it's not the original intent. So, the question it prompts me to ask: Is that enough? My original goal was, "to give every reader another reason to love the Catholic Church." I can't say that's the purpose of my homilies and, to be honest, I personally feel like it's too broad of a meaning for what a blog can accomplish. It makes me not want to put anything controversial here or, if I do, to be exceedingly polemical about it to the point of being considered defensive and off-putting to those struggling with their faith. So, again I ask what is the point of this blog? What am I trying to accomplish by it?

I've been thinking that the point is, "to let others know a bit of insight into the mind of a Catholic, Midwestern priest." I'm not sure that really captures what I'm trying to do here either but I'm hoping that, by re-purposing that as such, it will remind me of two things: 1. This blog is a place for me to share some of the thoughts that have been a bouncing around in my brain NOT the official teachings of the Catholic Church. 2. It will motivate me to want to write more posts here so that people who want to know what's happening in my life can have know. Don't be surprised if I overuse the word "so," of if all the posts are pro-Iowa State Cyclone or pro-Catholic Church. I'm still a happy Cyclone priest. However, if I criticize the Republicans or the Democrats, I'm not doing so as the official spokesperson of the Catholic Church. I'm just doing so as a priest from the Midwest. Let's see if that helps me get back to my blog now.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hearing and acting

My Dear Friends in Christ

Grace and peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. A few years ago, I was asked by my cousin to take a weekend off from my parish responsibilities in order to celebrate her wedding in Des Moines. It was a nice time to catch up with some extended family that I only get to see at these types of occasions and it offered some important rest from my parishes. Since the next day was Sunday and the wedding not only took place before 4:00 but was not focused on the Sunday Celebration, that meant my family still had our Sunday obligation to attend mass. Thank goodness there was a priest, namely me, available at the hotel (another good reason to encourage your son to become a priest, by the way). The hotel was good enough to give us a meeting room and I found members of the family to do all the ministerial roles, even someone to take up collection. I started mass, as I always do, with the sign of the cross, the greeting, and then an invitation to silence. I closed my eyes to remember how loving and forgiving God is only to have my nephew, about two seconds in, shout, “Wake up Uncle Dennis!.”

In thinking about what my nephew shouted, I couldn’t help but think that he’s got a point. There’s something that happens whenever we celebrate mass that most of us don’t experience anywhere else. We take time to allow for silence. So much time in our lives is filled with clutter. Television, radio, telephone, computers; all of these can be used for good and even necessary activities. The problem is that they also have two big difficulties: first they can clutter up our lives with a lot of noise and activity that make prayer and peace difficult. And, yet, a further problem is that these effects seem to linger. They shorten our attention spans and make us slaves to constant positive stimulation. If we aren’t being entertained by what’s happening, then we simply turn the channel and look for something that does entertain us.

In this constant search for stimulation and entertatinment, we lose something that is fundamental to our humanness, the need for quiet and rest. That’s partly why, when we gather here, we begin mass by taking the time to quiet ourselves so that we can be ready to hear the Word of God. Our readings today speak of how important it is to hear God’s Word. In the first reading, we hear of the priest, Ezra, gathering all of Israel together to hear the first five books of the Bible that our Jewish brothers and sisters call The Torah. For some reason, the scrolls for those books got lost and, when Ezra and his sons found them, they decided to read them all to the people. Can you imagine how angry people would be if they came to church and the liturgy of the word alone lasted several hours? Don’t worry. I’m not going to try it today. I did find it interesting; however, that it says they all listened intently. It’s true that Ezra took time to explain what was being said and that may have helped them to concentrate but, fundamentally, they paid attention to what was being said because it was a priority for them.

Similarly, in the gospel, Jesus reads part of the Old Testament book of the Prophet Isaiah. His reflection passage is short and sweet. He declares that he is the one who has been sent to bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. It’s short, but as a set of goals, it’s packed! I wonder if Jesus were to preach that same brief homily in our church today, how many people would be too busy thinking about what they’re going to have for supper/lunch, reading the bulletin, or thinking about the last episode of their favorite TV show to hear what he actually said. And, I wonder which television show I’d be thinking about.

We especially need to take the time with what we remembered this past week. As you are aware, one of the reasons that our mass schedule is different this weekend is because Fr. Paul has taken people to the March for Life in Washington D.C. Part of the reason that we have abortion in our world today is because of a failure to listen to God and, instead, a willingness to listen to the voices that prize pleasure and selfishness. We have women who have listen to the call of radical feminism that prizes success at work over children who ruin your life, men who listen to the call of a childish machismo that says sex and sexuality is just a part of dating. And, we have politicians who listen to an abortion industry that makes millions of dollars by killing the most innocent around us. The question is: who is listening to the church calling us to respect life? And, even more imortant, who is listening to the child in the womb who is voiceless?

Maybe my nephew was right. It is time to wake up: The time to listen intently, as St. Paul said in the second reading, to the spirit calling us to be the body of Christ for a world so capable of harming those most in need of its care. Yet, all of this begins and ends in prayer. It begins and ends with quiet and, only in the middle has peaceful action. Therefore, I’d like to offer these humble suggestions as to how we do this. Begin by setting aside time before mass, not only as a time for fasting from food for an hour, but as a time for fasting from noise. Leave the TV, car radio, computer and whatever else that distracts you off. To go along with that, take an hour each day to turn off all the noise for a while. You can use this hour to converse with your family or sit quietly and pray the rosary or some other form of prayer such as reading the scriptures for next Sunday’s mass. Listen intently on how God calls you to be a person who acts in peaceful ways to make this a more just world and then act on it. For now is the time for fulfillment. Now is the time to wake up.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Knowing what our gifts and talents are

My Dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Grace and peace in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit be with you. I pray that the grace of God will overflow from you as superabundantly as the wine in Today’s Gospel did. You may notice that, since last week, we have undergone a transition from the Christmas season back into a few weeks of Ordinary Time before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent. Our Christmas trees have been put away along with the nativity scene and poinsettias, all the things that are so visually connected with the Christmas season to be replaced by the green of Ordinary Time. We begin this season with the story of the first miracle, or sign to use the terminology of St. John, Jesus performed. Ever since last December, the primary gospel that we’ve heard at Sunday mass has been the Gospel of Luke but today we hear from the Gospel of John. I find it interesting about the story they chose to use in this respect. The Pope, in his new volume of Jesus of Nazareth, reminds us that there is a long-standing tradition with regard to the Gospel of Luke that says Mary contributed to the writing of that gospel. There are several passages in which Mary’s voice is heard throughout that Gospel. This is in sharp contrast to the Gospel of John, which mentions Mary only twice; at the wedding feast of Cana and at the crucifixion. Mary represents bookends to Jesus’ minister, she is present as his ministry begins and she is present at the end.

In the wedding feast of Cana, I’m struck by the strength of Mary. she, Jesus, and some of his disciples are invited to a wedding. I think it’s interesting that we never hear about the bride and groom, only about who attended. In any case, at some point, the wine ran out and Mary went out of her way to convince her son to perform his first miracle. This prompts two questions for me. First, how did Mary know that her son could do this? I suppose the easy answer to that question is that a mother always knows. Parents know the hidden talents and potentialities of their children before anyone else. There are many young men and women who have accomplished great things because their mothers and fathers believed in them and encouraged them even when the children didn’t believe in themselves.

Yet, this puts forth a second, related question for me: Do you think Mary knew all those years that she lived with Jesus that she was living with a wonder-worker and yet never asked him to, say, multiply her loaves, turn the water into wine at the dinner table, or double her money to make ends meet? There’s no scriptural evidence to support the idea that Mary ever asked Jesus to do so and the reluctance that Jesus shows in the wedding at Cana would seem to indicate that he didn’t. Yet, after the death of St. Joseph, how could a powerless widow have never asked her son to use his miraculous power to help her our when she was so quick to ask him to help others? Think about it: If you had a child who had miraculous power to change water into wine, would you wait until someone’s wedding to make him do it? Wouldn’t you ask him to double it at home too? After all, as I heard in an all-parish meeting since coming here, charity begins at home. But, for Jesus and Mary, it appears the needs of others come first.

We can see this in the reaction of Mary to hearing that her cousin, Elizabeth, was pregnant. Despite being pregnant herself, Mary’s first thought is to travel in haste to the hill country to see her cousin. It’s all about other people. And we can see this in the example of Jesus in the desert. We know he knew, from the wedding at Cana, that he could perform miracles. After forty days of fasting, anyone would be hungry. Yet, when the devil suggested he turn some stones into bread for food, in many ways a perfectly reasonable suggestion, Jesus declines. We know that later in the gospel Jesus will multiply two loaves and five fish for 5000 people, why not a half loaf for himself after a long fast? What are Mary and Jesus telling us through these choices? They are telling us that God’s gifts to individuals are not primarily for their or their families’ benefit for but the service of others.

That is what St. Paul also tells us when he says, “to each person is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” not just for our own good.

One of the gifts that I’ve been truly treasuring this week is Fr. Lippstock’s organizing the trip for the March for Life. To my knowledge, this is the first time that such a trip has been made by any of our cluster parishes. It is an opportunity for 24 Christians to witness to their faith and I personally want to thank those who have supported them and those who are sacrificing vacation days from work and time in school in order to attend. Please know that you will be in our cluster’s prayers as you travel and as you return. And yet, it’s now time to organize our next trip, not to Washington DC but to Ames. On February 7th, there will be an event called Operation Andrew there in which men who are aged High School Junior and older are invited to take some time to think if God is calling you to be a priest. I’ll be sending out some letters to individuals this week but, if you know of a young man who you feel would make a good priest, I’m asking each of you to make a personal invitation to him and tell him to get in touch with me about this.

Today is a good day to ask ourselves, “What gifts has God given to me. Am I using them mainly for personal profit or for the service of others?” We sometimes wonder why there are so few manifestations of the Holy Spirit in our world, so few miracles like we read in the Bible. Maybe the reason is that we have grown more selfish. If we begin using the gifts we have for the common good – like the gifts of prayer, singing, teaching, caring, sharing, encouraging, supporting, motivating – then these gifts may just grow and we may see miracles in our midst.