Monday, December 31, 2012

New days ahead...

As the frivolity and (often) insanity of this evening looms I am pressed to consider what is different about my life from New Year's Eve one year ago. Although I am a sinful person, often flawed in horrific ways, I can see a few positive lights from 2012:
  • I seem to be more keenly aware of my own sin. I do get to "confession" more often.
  • I am more reflective and habitually "examen" (for St Ignatius fans) my day.
  • Even though I get myself involved in many more "social justice" causes I am keenly aware of my inability to solve these problems.
  • My study of the 2nd Vatican Council has opened my eyes and my mind to the great hope and possibilities that lie ahead if we only read and follow the Documents.
  • I am much better at living life one day at a time instead of by weeks, months or seasons.
As I look to the days ahead I would like to:
  • Be better at keeping a journal - I have started and stopped this process so many times it's embarrassing. 
  • Always be reading at least one book for recreation and enjoyment. 
  • Become more "quiet". I love the silence of early mornings, of empty chapels, and of deserted parks - "in the silence, God speaks".
  • To respect the way God created me (diabetic) and to live my life in obedience to that nature.
  • To listen.
What about you? What's different about you from a year ago? What will be different in the days ahead?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Les Mis

If you haven't seen the new musical movie "Les Miserables" do yourself a favor and get there. The story, which has been told in many movies and plays, is timeless. Although set in France in the early 19th Century, the themes are relevant to our day today.
For me, the most moving part of the story is when Jean Valjean is released from prison (19 years for stealing a loaf of bread) and, after experiencing much rejection and mistreatment, spends the night in the rectory of the Monsignor (Bishop, in some adaptations). After Jean steals the silver tableware from the rectory and is caught the Monsignor has mercy on him. The police are ready to send him right back to jail but because Jean has told them that the items were a gift, they take him back to the rectory. The Monsignor tells the police that the items were indeed a gift and he is so glad they brought Jean back because he had forgotten the matching candlesticks. This one act of mercy becomes a profound experience of conversion for Jean Valjean. He tears up his parole papers and begins his life anew.
It brings tears to my eyes every time I see that scene. The healing effect of mercy versus the harsh and unrelenting consequences of the law - a great lesson for me in my ministry to the inmates in the jails and prisons right here in South Dakota.
Click here to watch the trailer.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas presence

My mother told me that Christmas was not a big day for presents in her family. They lived in the rural area around Sisseton, SD where their father attempted to make a living as a farmer. He was a bad alcoholic and never had much success. Their mother did as well as she could for them at Christmastime but, with little money or other resources, the kids usually received just some hard candy and an apple.
One Christmas, when my mother was about ten, she received a real present - the first doll she had ever owned. She told me she adored that little doll and took it with her where ever she went. She combed its hair and dressed it up and played with it everyday. A few days before Christmas the next year her mother came to her and told her she had to give the doll back. It was her sister's turn to have a toy. Amid tears, she reluctantly surrendered the dolly to her mother. She was so heart broken that she was sure this would be the worst Christmas ever. And then she saw how much excitement and happiness her sister experienced upon getting that present.
Even though she only 11 years old she learned an important lesson. Christmas is not about what you get, it is about what you give. When they went to Mass on Christmas morning she said that, for the first time in her life, she understood the sacrifice that God made in sending Jesus to us on that first Christmas Day. She finally realized that true Christmas joy came not from presents, but from the true presence of Jesus Christ at Christmastime and every day.
This story has taught me much about what is important in life. I give thanks to my mom for always making Christmas, regardless of the presents, a time of realizing the true presence of Jesus Christ in my life.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

We wait, we need

We Need In the Niel Diamond soundtrack of Jonathan Livingston Seagull there is a song called "Dear Father" that I find inspiring. As I was out for my walk today I listened to it and thought about how appropriate one of the verses is for Advent. The verse goes something like this:

Who are we to need?, We need, we need,
While we wait...

As I pondered the answer to that question I wondered; "what is it that I need?" I could think of many material things that I think I need but that would only complicate my life, like more money, nicer vehicles or fancier clothes. I sometimes think I need more time, more intelligence, more capacity to think and discern and pray. But all of those things presume that God somehow made a mistake when creating me - a theological impossibility.

What I need (and maybe what you need) is union - union with God. God has made us for Himself and our hearts are restless until they rest in God (to quote St Augustine). And what better time to wait for that need to become better fulfilled than Advent? We wait in hope. We wait in expectation. We wait in anticipation. For what? The coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ!

Watch, wait, hope, and realize your need. And who are we to need? Sons and daughters of the Dear Father.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Who is wearing the crown in your life?

Yesterday was Christ the King Sunday in the Catholic Church. On this day we recognize the Lordship of Jesus over the universe, the world, the nations and the Church. Indeed, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, Jesus Christ is king. If we as nation or church think we can we can bring about truly positive change, to make real strides in our world, or to "win" the battle over evil without Jesus we are as St Paul says "the most pitiable of people" (1Cor 15:19).
The fact, though, is this: Jesus Christ cannot be Lord of nation and Church unless he is first Lord of our lives. There is a Christian author who has observed that our culture is filled with what he calls "Christan atheists". These are people who go to Church on Sunday but then live the rest of their lives like God does not exist. If this describes you, then Jesus is not Lord and King for you.
I lived a portion of my live in this "mode". I thought if I just showed up at Church once a week I was "fulfilling my duty". What a crock. A little over 20 years ago my own hypocrisy was pointed out to me. Since then, I have slowly allowed Jesus Christ to become Lord of my time, my career, my family, my marriage and my money. My fear when starting this process was that I would end up with less of all of these things since I was giving them up to God. The fact is I have more time, a better job, a great family, more true friends, a better marriage and more money then I have ever had.
I invite you TODAY, to the best of your ability, to ask Jesus Christ to be Lord of all aspects of your life. You do this by praying for family, spouse, coworkers, and boss. You do this by praying before deciding what to do with your time, your talent and your money. Try this between now and Christmas Day. Make this an Advent devotion and journey and see what God can do with your life that you have never been able to do on your own.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Why won't you talk to ME?...

I just watched a CNS video posted on the Deacon's Bench blog about communications in our day. Although technology and social media are clogged with posts, tweets, and etc. most persons are experiencing an unhealthy solitude today. The face-to-face is becoming much less common as we would rather "text" than talk. As Archbishop Celli expresses in this video, so much of communication is nonverbal. In our gestures and facial expressions we communicate a love and care that just doesn't come through on Facebook and Twitter. While these methods of connecting with one-another are OK, they simply cannot replace human company. Please watch this two minute video and examine your own life, communication methods, and relationships.

Peace to you.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My Conscience is bothering me...

What does it really mean when we say that? Why is that, when we have done a wrong or committed a sin, most of us are haunted by "something"? That "thing" is, of course, our conscience. The word conscience means "with-knowing". This knowing is what keeps us accountable to God, to society and to our own deepest self. Theologians tell us that there are two types of conscience - anterior and subsequent. Anterior conscience is what we use when we are searching and deliberating about what we should do in a particular situation. Subsequent conscience is when we look back and examine an action  or decision already made.
The challenge for us as Christians is to make sure that always seek to better form our conscience so it is capable of leading us to good moral choices and of examining choices already made. We do this in prayer by asking God to reveal to us our own "dark side" so that we can continue to improve. We also do this in study by reading and understanding Scripture, digging into the Catechism and other trustworthy resources, and by taking time every day to reflect on our thoughts and actions. In the end we rely on God's grace given through the Sacrament of Reconciliation to propel us to a saintly lifestyle. 
I am attending a 4-hr talk this Friday on "conscience". I'll write more on this when I process the speaker's message.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

We don't wail like pagans...

...but weep with Jesus Christ who wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus.

This is a quote from the homily given by Fr Paul Rutten at his father, Ed Rutten's funeral. What a beautiful witness to hope in the wake of the death of one whom he loved so much. It takes a lot of faith to understand death as the end only of earthly life and the beginning of a new stage of life. Certainly, grief and loss are still felt but those feelings are assuaged by the sure and certain knowledge of the resurrection of the body. Fr Paul and his mother and his eight siblings and all of the grandchildren showed that belief at the funeral. What a glorious sendoff for a holy and faithful man.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What's Eating Away At Your Faith? (1)

At St Michael Parish we are going to do our best to assist people during this "Year of Faith" so that all of us can come out of it in a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. We have all sorts of plans to use Social Media, our website and our printed material to challenge our members. In our committee meetings we will take a small portion of the time and dedicate it to a teaching or a prayer time.
Our associate pastor, Father Russell, asked a good question at our meeting the other day, "What is eating away at your faith?" This is where we really need to start if we're going to identify a way to strengthen our faith. So I ask YOU - "What is eating away at your faith?" Is it your job, your busy life, your neglect, or your own bad habits? Is it other people, bad preachers, scandals, or sin? All of us have something in our life that works against our natural desire to be in a deeper relationship with God. Some of those things we can control and some of them we cannot. Please take a few moments NOW to identify those corrosive elements in your life.
I plan on writing a couple of more times about this topic with some more specific things I have found that affect my faith and what I've found out from others.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Blessed are the poor...

In Luke's version of the beatitudes, he states them a little differently than Matthew. Instead of saying "blessed are the poor in spirit" he just says "blessed are the poor". The conclusion to his version has the "woe to's", where he admonishes those with wealth by saying things like "Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation" (Lk 6:24). Sayings like this to the people of his time were shocking because the prevailing belief was that the rich were blessed by God and the poor were cursed. If you read all of Luke's Gospel, indeed if you all of what Jesus said in his lifetime, you learn that the poor do have a special place in his heart.
Which brings me to today. In our town (Sioux Falls) our City Council recently passed an ordinance against the panhandling of people in motor vehicles. This seems to be aimed at those persons who stand near Interstate exit ramps holding their cardboard signs. I see those people often as I exit I29 at 26th Street and I usually do not give them anything. Sometimes I even get a little disgusted with the whole situation, but in the end I appreciate the reminder. Those people serve to remind me (and all who see them) that there is a poverty / homelessness problem in our city. We who live away from the center of the city don't always realize that there are hungry, homeless, impoverished people in our own town. This type of "in your face" image reminds me to call the Banquet and get on the calendar to serve a meal, to take my unused clothing to the St Vincent de Paul Store and to say a prayer of thanksgiving for all of the ways God has blessed me and my family. Without those "exit beggars" who will remind us?
I know the City Council will defend their actions as a safety issue and maybe there is something to that. But I suspect that the underlying reason for the ordinance is the complaints from people who just don't like the reminder and would rather not have to think about Jesus blessed friends - the poor.
"If you oppress poor people, you insult the God who made them; but kindness shown to the poor is an act of worship" Proverbs 14:31

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Did Jesus Love Me Even Then?

Why is it so hard for me (and some others) to accept love and forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ? There are some things that I have done in my life that I am utterly ashamed of. I have confessed those sins and heard the words of absolution but I still struggle. In my mind I know that God forgives me but in my heart I question. This leaves a wide open door for the devil to attack me and to bring me down in guilt and shame.
What could be so serious a sin so as to cause these inner battles? In a word - birth control. In our early marriage, my wife and I used many different forms of artificial contraception and this practice proved very harmful to her good health. That is one of the reasons I feel such guilt - that I could have been hard hearted enough to practice something that would eventually harm her. The other reason is much more serious, at least for me. As I look back on my married life I KNOW we should have had more children. My wife has said the same thing. There is no more terrible regret for me than this because I cannot go back and undo it. I hope any young married person reading this will consider their choices carefully and stay open to life (in reasonable and holy ways) throughout their marriage.
But the reality is this. Jesus loves me now and he loved me even then. His will for me was much different from the way I lived but He walked with me anyway. And He walks with you. Regardless of what we have done, no matter what our worst sin is, Jesus stands ready to forgive in love. So I pray that God's love will penetrate into those deep recesses of my heart and that I will be open to that love. And I pray that any shame or guilt you are dealing with from your past will receive that same healing touch.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Debate Viewer Advice

I am decidedly NOT a fan of watching presidential debates. I get tired of the way candidates (from both parties) shift nearly every question back to their own talking points and ignore the moderator. Some of that was evident last evening. Despite my aversion to these debates, I did mange to watch about 70 minutes worth on Wednesday evening.
So, here's the advice. If you plan on watching the next two presidential and/or the vice-presidential debate please form your own opinion on the outcome. When the debate is over, TURN OFF THE TV! Pundits and so-called experts will analyze everything down to the last participle of speech and try to tell you who won or who lost. Don't listen to them. For the remainder of the campaign form your own opinions based on the content of each candidate's platform and plans - not on emotion, news-guy spin or sound bytes.

Monday, October 1, 2012

More Cell Phone Etiquette

Our city (Sioux Falls) just began a "texting ban" last Friday, making it an offense to text while driving. To me this is nothing short of amazing. People do all sorts of silly things while driving but I cannot imagine anything more dangerous and distracting than texting. What's amazing, of course, is that we need an ordinance as an effort to regulate this behavior. Unfortunately, a motorcyclist was killed earlier this year by a man driving well over the speed limit AND sending a text message at the same time. There is really a message that needs to be sent so urgently that it cannot not wait until your destination is reached?!
As you have likely experienced, there are all sorts of rude cell phone behaviors. When I was in the retail business it was always maddening when people would talk on their cell phones the entire time they were checking out. Oftentimes people, while in a conversation with another person, will answer their cell phone or read a text instead of concentrating on the live person in front of them - how dehumanizing can we get? It wasn't too many years ago (15-20) that cell phones were very rare and the only people carrying them were construction foremen and realtors. Somehow they have become indispensable devices to the expense of (what used to be common) polite human contact.
Here is a suggestion I saw on another blog today (Deacon's Bench). If you have other suggestions please post them.

Sunday, September 30, 2012


I don't know you can listen to the Letter of James in the New Testament and not feel a need to get busy. For the past five weeks, we have been listening to excerpts from his letter in the readings at Mass. In case you don't remember some of his admonishments, here are two that stick with me:

"Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourself."

"So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead."

As I meditate on these readings as well as the tendency of Jesus to associate himself with the poor of the world, it raises up in me a strong desire to serve and sacrifice for the poor. In the world over a billion people are hungry - more than any time in the history of the world. Approximately 25,000 people die every day of starvation and most of those are children. It can be overwhelming and paralyzing to think about. "Experts" will tell you that there is plenty of food in the world but that it can be difficult to get it distributed to the places it is so desperately needed. Which brings up a question - Do we not possess the will to solve this problem? I am a father and a grandfather. I cannot imagine what the parents and grandparents of these little ones go through each and every day as they watch their children suffer and die.

That's where Mother Theresa's advice is so appropriate - "Do what is in front of you. You cannot feed everyone - so feed one." Please join me today in committing to a simple promise. As you move about in your day and the problem of hunger and poverty confronts you do something about it. Give a few dollars to the beggar, donate to a good agency that works with the impoverished, or volunteer at an agency. Simply DO WHAT IS IN FRONT OF YOU!

Here is a link to a great organization that is fulfilling the mission of the Church in the world:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Guilty or Not Guilty?

(Be sure to watch the video at the end of this post.)
You have probably been asked at some time in your life "If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" A good question for any of us to ponder as we journey through life. This past weekend, while helping out at our parish's Confirmation class, this question was presented in a new way. "If you were accused of being a Catholic, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" What a great question. It was fun to discuss it with the high school sophomores that attended the Confirmation class. Most of them felt that they could indeed be convicted because they went to Catholic school, they attended Mass (most of the time), or because they were attending the Confirmation class. While none of these are bad reasons, by themselves they do not necessarily make a person Catholic.
Our Church exhorts all it's members to be "holy". One of the documents of Vatican II actually speaks of the "universal call to holiness". Whether a priest, a bishop, a nun or a lay person each and every Catholic is to have a relationship with God that becomes the center of their life and subsequently calls them "out" of the world. Certainly, we all have to live in the world and do our best to effect our culture in positive ways, but we are also supposed to take time away in order to listen to our God and renew our spirit.
Besides this call to holiness, and as an aid to it, the Catholic Church asks some specific things of its members - that they follow the precepts of the Church and that they engage in the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. In case you have forgotten what they are:


  1. Attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation, and rest from servile labor.
  2. Confess your sins at least once a year.
  3. Receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.
  4. Observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.
  5. Help provide for the needs of the Church.
  6.  Observe the Church’s laws on marriage.

  1. Feed the Hungry
  2. Give drink to the thirsty
  3. Clothe the naked
  4. Shelter the homeless
  5. Visit the sick
  6. Ransom the captive (visit/assist those in prison)
  7. Bury the dead

  1. Instruct the ignorant
  2. Counsel the doubtful
  3. Admonish sinners
  4. Bear wrongs patiently
  5. Forgive others willingly
  6. Comfort the afflicted
  7. Pray for the living and the dead
Based on these, could you be convicted of being Catholic?

Now, watch this video and decide how you would fare in this court:

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Where do you stand? - death penalty

The death penalty is an issue that will be front and center once again in South Dakota as Donald Moeller and the men who killed Correctional Officer Ronald Johnson are scheduled to be executed soon. The question of the death penalty has been an issue of public debate for years. Those who we would all call "people of good will" line up on different sides of this contentious issue.  I stand against the death penalty for a number of reasons:
  1. Everything I have read from the criminal justice sector would say that the death penalty is not a deterrent. A New York homicide detective that I saw interviewed on TV many years ago said that if death penalties worked, most crime would have ceased by now. The reasons he cited were that murders are committed in two basic settings - in an act of overwhelming anger or in a premeditated fashion. The "angry" person is not considering the consequences of their actions because of their state of mind so it really doesn't matter what the penalty is. The premeditated murderer thinks they are NEVER going to be caught even if they are sloppy in the execution of their crime.
  2. Death Penalty as Punishment?: This harkens back to the "eye for an eye" mentality of ancient times. Certainly, a person who has committed an intentional murder needs to be punished and segregated from the rest of society in our prison system. It could even be argued that a life-long prison sentence is even more severe than execution.
  3. For me, the most compelling reasons against the death penalty are moral. I believe that every person (even a murderer) is a child of God and deserves to be treated with dignity. Certainly, every precaution must be utilized to ensure the safety of correctional employees. (If I understand the news reports properly it seems that those procedures were NOT followed in the case of Ronald Johnson's murder). In almost every situation we are able to keep society and prison workers safe within the penal system so there is no compelling need for the death penalty. God's love can and does change people every day and the murderer deserves the chance to experience that love. Also, it can be argued that the execution of people by the state simply fuels the fire of violence in our culture. The state, representing all of the people, should act in ways that are more merciful and deliberate. After all, which of us wants what we truly deserve? Who could hope for heaven if God used a system of justice like ours?
Anyway, these are my thoughts on the death penalty. This is going to be in the news almost daily in the coming weeks in our area so tell me -  where do you stand on the death penalty - and why?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where do you stand? - my answer

Yesterday, I asked a simple question - where do you stand? Should the United States government have authorized the killing of Osama bin Laden back in the 90's when they had the chance? It is tempting in today's world to say "yes"! If only we had killed him when we had the chance the 9-11 attacks would have never happened.
Although that sounds like a compelling argument, I would have to say that President Clinton's administration did the right thing. Good moral reasoning would say that you cannot perpetuate an evil even if your intent is good. Evil, in some way, always begets evil just as violence begets violence and etc. Now don't get me wrong. There is a part of me that craves revenge by any means. There are things that happen in this world (including 9-11), in our country, in our own community that are heinous enough to make my blood boil with a desire to kill and maim and dismember the perpetrator. But is that the spirit that should lead us? As people of God, as Christians, and as human beings shouldn't we respond to a higher calling in our desire for retribution and justice?
Osama bin Laden (like it or not) was created in the image and likeness of God. He was (is) a child of God and, despite his own actions, deserved to be treated with dignity. He deserved to be brought in front of the proper court and tried in a fair way. (Who knows, killing him back in the 90's may have made him an instant martyr for his cause and inspired terroristic plots in intensity and number that would have killed and injured even more Americans.)
The principle is simple: you cannot do an evil even if your intent is good. Just look what it has done for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq and Osama himself.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Where do you stand?

Lately, there has been some discussion in the news media concerning the killing of Osama bin Laden. This resurgence in interest springs from the fact that some of the military personnel involved in the operation that took his life have "gone public". It seems they are reacting against the fact that certain political officials have taken undue credit for killing bin Laden and say they are coming forward now to set the record straight.
This has reminded me that several years ago (in the 90's) the CIA or the military had found bin Laden somewhere (Africa?) and "had him in their sights". The president at that time would not give authorization to kill him. So, the "Where Do You Stand" question is this: Should the United States government have killed Osama bin Laden when they had the chance? Why or why not?
I will post the answer that my Catholic faith leads me to believe tomorrow. In the meantime, please respond and do your best to defend where you stand.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Civil discourse

It's presidential campaign time again and the negative, demeaning, and character assassination ads are on the networks and on Facebook and other social media. We live in a very fortunate time. With the help of technology we can learn the TRUTH about any candidate if we are willing to spend some time reading and studying. It doesn't take much effort to "Google" Mitt Romney or Barack Obama and find out what their positions are on economic stimulus, taxation, entitlement programs and abortion and every other issue. We can examine their past voting records and policy statements and find out all about them in a very objective fashion. But that is not where most of us get our information about candidates. We live in an age of slick marketing and sound bites. Candidates, like advertisers, appeal to our emotions and sense of "good looks" rather than tell about their own position on issues. (To that point, one of my college marketing instructors made the point that Abraham Lincoln could never be elected in today's culture because he was not a "good looking" man.) Many in our electorate actually believe the half-truths and bald faced lies that are told in those campaign ads paid for either by their opponent or by some political action committee.
My Catholic faith teaches that all of the problems facing our society can never be met by any one candidate, political party or election. At the same time we need to participate in the process and bring a personal witness of faith along with us. We are called to know our faith which means knowing what is intrinsically evil and can never be tolerated, and what issues, although serious and moral, may be approached from a variety of reasonable positions by persons of good will. I implore each and every citizen to examine their own hearts and determine through intelligent research which candidates to vote for this fall in national as well as local elections.
A great guide for Catholics and others is published by the Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops and is available in PDF form by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Vatican 2 "did you know?"

Many people would probably argue that the Second Vatican Council had little or nothing to say about birth control -or- the "regulation of birth" but that is not so. They might even say the Council basically left it up to the conscience of the individual - also not so. The longest document that the Council produced is "The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" (Gaudium et Spes). In the first half of the document, a foundation is laid for the necessity of the Church's activity in the modern world and in the second half specific issues are examined including marriage, family life and birth control.
As you may be aware, the more definitive document on this topic is an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI in 1968 entitled "Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life)". But the council has a few things to say about it as well in the Pastoral Constitution. There are a few long paragraphs and sections dealing with conjugal love and I will quote just a couple of sentences. In section 51 this paragraph sums up what the Church wants all of humanity to be aware of in regards to these matters:
"For God, the Lord of life, has conferred on men the surpassing ministry of safeguarding life in a manner which is worthy of man. Therefore from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes. The sexual characteristics of man and the human faculty of reproduction wonderfully exceed the dispositions of lower forms of life. Hence the acts themselves which are proper to conjugal love and which are exercised in accord with genuine human dignity must be honored with great reverence. Hence when there is question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, the moral aspects of any procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives, but must be determined by objective standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love. Such a goal cannot be achieved unless the virtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely practiced. Relying on these principles, sons and daughters of the Church may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law." (emphasis added) 
When I was newly married and deciding about these matters I did not follow what the Church taught but arbitrarily made my own decisions - something I deeply regret today. As I read the documents now and understand more fully the Church's teaching on the human person and human sexuality I finally "get it". The Church is NOT our enemy regarding marital love but teaches in a way that allows the spouses to live it out in beautiful and meaningful ways. I challenge all who have read this post to go the links below and read all of Humanae Vitae and sections 47-52 in Gaudium et Spes.
Comment and let me know what you think. Do these teaching surprise you?
Humanae Vitae

Gaudium et Spes:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

People and work and things...

As I continue to study the documents of the Second Vatican Council statements like the one above take on a deeper meaning. In "The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World", no small amount of space was dedicated to human labor. This realization comes first from the fact that Jesus Christ was a skilled laborer. He was a carpenter, one who worked with His hands to fashion items to make life easier for others. In our world today, indeed in my own work experience, people are often used - often with their permission. Such was the case with me. I worked very hard and stayed on the job for long hours in my previous state of employment because I wanted to get ahead. I wanted to please my boss and I was self-driven to excel. Although in one regard there is nothing wrong with any of those motives, it is when I allowed them to become obsessive and when they actually obscured (rather than supported) my vocation as husband and father that they became sinful. In other words, I allowed myself to be used.
In doing so I was worshiping work and the things I could get from working. I often fooled myself into believing I was doing these things for "the good of the family" but oftentimes I just wanted more stuff or nicer stuff. 
In a document written several years after the Council (Laborem Exercens, On Human Labor), Pope John Paul II (a huge contributor at Vatican II) says this: "The Christian vision of reality focuses on the human person and their dignity as created in God's image." This means that the PERSON must always be the priority of work. In other words, work is for the person and NOT the person for work. The Pope goes on to say: "Work is a great thing but man in incomparably greater. Man is sacred and this sacredness is inviolable."
The questions become these:
  1. Are you aware of what the Catholic Church teaches about human labor and the reality of work?
  2. What is your personal view of your own work? Are you a workaholic? Have you allowed yourself to be "used" in the workplace?
  3. Have you "cheated" your employer by not putting forth the reasonable amount of time and effort requested?
By the way, I found the image at the top of this post on Fr Bob Lacey's Facebook page.

Recognizing Jesus

In the Gospel reading for Mass today, Jesus is recognized for who is REALLY is as Messiah, Son of God, the Holy One of God, etc. etc. This recognition does not come from one of His followers, friends, or disciples but from a demon! (Luke 4:31-37) This causes me to question my own perception or image of Jesus. Who is He, to me? Do I see Jesus as a human, specially blessed, but still just a man? Do I see Him as a convenient friend who can work His magic and get me out of a tight spot? Is He, for me, something like an aspirin that I only reach for when I need it? All of these are common and erroneous ways of relating to Jesus. He is who the demon described - the Holy One of God! He is the Savior, the Prince of Peace, King of Kings, and Messiah. Jesus is who He is regardless of who I want Him to be. Many of the Jews who followed Jesus thought he would be the one to throw off Roman oppression and restore the Davidic kingdom to Israel. Many of us today think Jesus is going to overthrow our enemies so we can live the life of wealth and convenience that we desire.
Today, take a few moments to ponder how you would recognize Jesus. Is He, for you, the Holy One of God? Is He your savior? (Which means that you need to be saved.) Do His peaceful, humble, and tough love ways make you uncomfortable?  If you can answer "yes" to these then you are well on the way to true recognition of, and relationship with, the One who loves you best.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Light to the nations...

"Christ is the light of the nations." So are the first words in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church - Lumen Gentium. As I have been rereading the Vatican II documents in preparation for the 50th Anniversary of the Council I have been again surprised by their beauty and readability. The Bishops, and those that wrote and re-wrote Lumen Gentium, did a wonderful job of describing the Church (people of God) and its hierarchy. I would bet that many fans of Vat II have not read this very important Constitution. I would exhort all Catholics to read (at least) the four Constitutions that the Council Fathers approved.
In the First Vatican Council, the infallibility of the Pope was a big topic but that Council ended early due to the Franco-Prussian War. The Second Vatican Council takes up that issue once again and expounds upon it. While Lumen Gentium affirms everything that was said at Vatican I about the Pope's decision making power it also includes the notion of collegiality, saying that the best pronouncements in the Church come from the Pope and Bishops working together. Lumen Gentium also has an entire chapter describing the role of the Laity - something no other council in the Church's history attempted.
So here are some questions:
  1. Did you know that Vatican II affirms the doctrine of papal infallibility?
  2. What do you know about "religious assent" and "full submission"? What is the difference and what does it mean for Catholics?
  3. Do you know what the Council says about the role of the laity in the Church?
  4. Were you aware that the Council (in Lumen Gentium) opened the door for the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate?

Please let me know what questions you have about the Second Vatican Council in the comment section.

You are NOT lacking

Are you baptized? Do you receive Jesus Christ regularly in the Eucharist? Have you been Confirmed? If you said yes to at least two of these three then congratulations. You are not lacking in any spiritual gift. Paul says as much at  the beginning of his 1st Letter to the Corinthians as he tells them: "I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gifts as you await the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Our challenge today is to LIVE as persons who believe what that verse says. Maybe you'll get some inspiration from this video that I found posted on the Deacon's Bench Blog:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Your assistance please...

On October 11th, our Church celebrates the 50th anniversary of the convening of the Second Vatican Council. For our time, this was the MOST significant event in Church governance. I will be doing a presentation beginning Thursday, October 11th at St Michael Parish in Sioux Falls covering the Council. Here is where I NEED your help. What is your perception of what happened at the Council? What questions do you have about it? PLEASE use the "Comment" Section of this post to let me know what YOU would like to see covered at a presentation on Vatican 2. Your help can assist me in shaping a presentation that is relevant to those who attend.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Satan's Plan For Your Life

I just read an interesting little ditty that a coworker handed to me. The title of it is "Satan's Plan - and why we are so busy". The story reminds me a little bit of the C.S. Lewis book "The Screwtape Letters". It tells of Satan's plan to undermine the spirituality and faith of God's people by making them busy, busy, busy.
Satan would like all of us to have two mortgages, two car payments, credit card debt and a lake cabin we're trying to pay for so we have to work, work, work. He would also like us to have the constant humdrum of video games, mp3 players, television, the internet, and cell phones to distract us away from a good practice of faith. Satan is crafty. He is NOT going to show up in our lives with horns and a tail. But he will show up in the form of all the things we think we need. He is going to dangle the carrot of "success" before our eyes hoping we will relentlessly pursue the "American Dream".
We need to ask ourselves questions like this: When was the last time I spent more than a few minutes in prayer?, When was the last time my family and I discussed our faith together? When was the last time we all sat down for a meal together? How much time have I spent nurturing my relationships with spouse, children and Savior? Be honest with yourself as you s-l-o-w-l-y go through these questions. Remember - Satan cannot have you unless you cooperate with him and his crazy plan for your life. Do something today to connect yourself more firmly to God.

You can read the entire story I refer to here:

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The purpose of life...

Sorry for the short absence but my wife and I have been in Chicago on vacation. I took my iPad along but haven't quite figured out how to make the blog app work.

I listened to a  Fr Larry Richards cd while we were on the road and a couple of things he talked about have been haunting me. First, what is life all about? and second, Why am I so judgmental? Answering the first question correctly and living it faithfully will take care of the need for the second question so here goes.
The purpose of life, according to the old Catechism, is to "know love and serve God". Simple, huh? Then why is there so much confusion in the world. Why have there been periods of confusion in my own life. I have gone through the stages of believing that life is about accumulating stuff, about being "happy" (whatever that means), about being successful, independent, and well liked. I spent quite a bit of time after college and in our early marriage working my tail off for 60+ hours per week with my eye on "the prize" - a promotion, a raise, or a big bonus. This effort did bring me some "success" but it came at a high cost. I missed many events, games, activities that my kids were involved and a plethora of extended family meals and events. My employer was good to me and compensated me well but I question how I could have been that blind to what was truly important. 
Anyway, my faith life has been the center of my life for many years now. A couple of decades ago, after studying the Bible and Catechism extensively, I realized that knowing a lot about Jesus and about God and about Catholicism doesn't mean much unless all of that knowledge is rooted in a loving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That "epiphany" came to me on the last day of Cursillo Weekend. Thank goodness for the holy people that put that weekend together and keep it going in our diocese today.
Understanding at the very core of my being that God loves me has become the touchstone of my life. Realizing that God wants that relationship with EVERY person on earth has directed much of my "knowing, loving and serving". My goal every day is to be a witness. People don't care how much I know unless that know that I care. People don't want to hear about Jesus Christ from me unless they can SEE what He has done for me. Our Church call this the "New Evangelization - letting our actions and our deeds speak LOUDLY.
In the next days and weeks I will be posting a great deal more about this. Our Pope has declared a "Year of Faith" to be celebrated beginning October 11th (the 50th anniversary of the opening of the 2nd Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the new Catechism). In the meantime, ask yourself "What is the purpose of my life?" Be honest with yourself and then, through prayer and time spent with God, become more and more the witness he created you to be.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Sex Selective Abortion in India

There is a sad story on Catholic News Service today about the abhorrent practice in India of aborting female babies. Apparently, the dominant Hindu culture present there prefers male children because only a son can perform certain burial rites for the parents that free them from the endless cycle of birth, suffering and death.
Women in the Hindu cultures have another fear, providing they are born in the first place - dowry failure. If they or their family cannot pay the prescribed dowry for marriage the young girl can be killed. More often, they commit suicide under pressure from their husband and family if they cannot meet the dowry demands.
You can read the entire news article here:

Sometimes it takes looking at the injustice in another land to realize the horror in our own. As you read the story contemplate the fact that about 3,000 babies will have their lives ended TODAY in the good old U S of A. Then pray to God that he would put in on our hearts and on the hearts of all persons to accept and love each and every human person. What can you do today that could bring about a culture of life in your own world?

If you want peace, work for justice. (Pope Paul VI)

Lawrence, patron of diakonia

St. Lawrence - Martyr Today we celebrate a great Feast in the Catholic Church - that of St Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr. Just a few days ago we remembered Pope St Sixtus. Lawrence and six other deacons were in charge of the treasury of the pope and distributed it for the care of the poor and the needy. When the Emperor Valerian decreed that Christianity and its followers should be eradicated in 258, Sixtus and six of his deacons were led off to be slaughtered. However, Lawrence was not taken in this first group because he was to gather the treasure of the church for the prefect of Rome. Legend has it that when the guards came to him for the treasure he showed them the poor and the lame and declared that they were the treasure of the church. 
Legend also has it that Lawrence was roasted on a grill. While this, and the stories that have spread around it, is fascinating it is very likely untrue. The practice of the day for "disposing" of clerics was beheading which is probably what happened to Lawrence. I have always been a person who preferred to believe in the truth of the lives of our Saints rather than the lore. Instead of focusing on the apocryphal stories of his death, I believe it is more prudent to study the little we know of his life. As a deacon, Lawrence lived his life in service of his Pope and of the Church. In doing so he followed Jesus' command to "take up his cross daily and follow". Let that be for us today the lesson of Lawrence - simple, sacrificial service of God and neighbor.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Blessing of Bread

In the Gospel readings this weekend from John 6 we hear Jesus claim that He is the bread of life. What an amazing statement! Bread is the staple of life in most cultures. Certainly there are different ways of baking, making and storing bread but it is one of the common blessings of life. 
The next time you enjoy a slice of bread consider Jesus words. The bread of earth is needed but all who eat it will eventually die. The person who feasts on the "Bread of Life", Jesus Christ, will live FOREVER. Are you "filled up" with this bread that is true food? Is your soul nourished in Word and in Sacrament? Jesus words in John 6 are very clear and in need of little interpretation. He expects us to feast on Him. He established the perpetual method for doing that in the Mass. Be there every Sunday or be square.
Here's a neat blessing that Fr Cimpl uses in his homily this coming weekend:

Irish Bread Blessing

Be gentle when you touch bread.
Let it not lie uncared for, unwanted.
So often bread is taken for granted.
There is such beauty in bread,
beauty in turf and soil, beauty of patient toil.
Wind and rain have caressed it,
Christ often blessed it.
Be gentle when you touch bread.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Can I get a witness?

Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. (Matt 5: 15-16)
Have you ever heard of Julio Diaz? He is a 31 yr old Social Worker in New York City. Every night he had a one hour subway ride home which he always ended one stop early so he could easily walk to his favorite diner. Then one night something different happened. As Julio stepped off the train and headed for the stairs a teenager approached, brandished a knife, and demanded his money. Julio calmly handed over his wallet and the mugger began to run away. That's when something very strange happened. Julio called after the young man to wait. He said: "You forgot something. If you're going to be running around all night robbing people you are going to cold. Please take my coat, too." Dumbfounded, the boy asked him, "Why are you doing this?" Julio answered, "If you are are willing to risk your own freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money." Diaz then invited the young man to join him for dinner. 
When they arrived at the diner, the young man was amazed. Everyone in the place seemed to know, like, and respect Julio. Even the dishwashers came out of the kitchen area to say hi to him. When he questioned Diaz about this, he was informed that all persons are worthy of good treatment.
When the check came at the end of the meal, Julio told the young man he was going to have to pay since he had the wallet. Without even thinking, the teen handed the wallet back. Julio paid the tab and then gave the boy a $20. In return, he asked the boy for his knife which he quickly surrendered.
Wow! Would you have the fortitude to "let your light shine" like that? Would I? I hope so, but I'm not so sure. It is truly essential if we are going to be the beacons Jesus expects us to be. The culture we live in is hungry for people who will WITNESS to their faith in beautiful, radical, and loving ways. In fact, this culture is not going to listen to any teacher unless they are also a witness. Our society is not given to listening to preachers who pound the pulpit, speak in platitudes, and expect transformation and conversion in their congregation that they are not willing to experience themselves.
You and I need to take this message to heart as we prepare for the "Year of Faith" that Pope Benedict has established (begins Oct 11). In our home, our workplace, our neighborhood, our parish and our city we are called to bring light. Not our own dim light but the bright and satisfying light of Jesus Christ. We do this by LIVING the Gospel. Julio Diaz was able to transform the life of his would-be mugger because he was willing to live the Sermon on the Mount. He had no idea what the outcome might be but he trusted God to bring something good out of an otherwise bad situation. Julio was able to do this because it was the way he lived each and everyday of his life. 
My challenge to you (and me) is to be that powerful witness today. Think of ways (authentic ways) that you can change the culture of your home and work environments by living the Gospel. It can be as simple as not laughing at a crude or racial joke. It can be as easy as cleaning up your language and encouraging others to do the same. Or it can be as difficult as lovingly confronting your boss if he/she treats an employee unjustly. 
There are many ways to bring Jesus into this world. Will you be his light today by witnessing to the truth in love?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Deacon Tom Bates

Last evening (Tuesday 7/31/12) my good friend and classmate Deacon Tom Bates passed from this world to the next. Deacon Tom and his wife, Lois, stayed with Mary and I during our years of deacon formation. He and Lois lived in Sisseton at the time so they used our spare bedroom. Tom was one of the most 'Catholic' people I know. He believed and lived what our Church teaches and did it with out hesitation and with joy in his heart. He had a hardy laugh and I enjoyed his company immensely. Besides being a husband and Deacon, Tom was the father of four - two boys and two girls. Unfortunately, the family lost Laura (the oldest) to breast cancer earlier this year.
I thank God that Tom's time between diagnosis and death was short - about 3 and 1/2 weeks. He had time to say his goodbyes and did not linger or suffer for long in pain.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord and the let the perpetual light shine upon him. Amen

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Two Simple 'Rules' To Examine Your Life

Today is the Memorial of St Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th century man who, although always Catholic, had a remarkable conversion experience while convalescing from an injury received in battle. This soldier, in his idle time, found that he was much inspired by the writings of the saints and that he gained much joy in meditating upon them. He also found that his fantasies and meditations on worldly things led only to fleeting happiness. This experience changed his entire perspective on life and he dedicated his life to God and Church. His Spiritual Exercises are widely used as the basis for retreats at many centers. He was canonized a saint on March 13, 1622 and his feast day is July 31st - the day of his death.
I have studied the "Rules of Spiritual Discernment" by St Ignatius and have profited greatly from them in my own spiritual life. I would highly recommend them to anyone desiring to deepen their own faith journey and experience of God. 
The first two rules have been most helpful to me. Although they are very simple and fundamental they serve as a reminder of how easily I can slip away from walking the right path. Rule #1 says: "In persons going from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is commonly used to propose them apparent pleasures, making them imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins. In these persons the good Spirit uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason." In other words, if I am feeling guilty and heavy laden and at ill with the way I am living it is time for Confession and conversion.
The 2nd Rule is like it:"In persons who are going on intensely cleansing their sins and rising from good to better in the service of God, it is the method contrary to that in the first rule. Then it is the way of the evil spirit to bite, sadden, and put obstacles, disquieting with false reasons that one may not go on; and it is proper to the good Spirit to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet while easing and putting aside obstacles, that one may go on in doing well." So, if I am consoled by the Holy Spirit and constantly tempted and disquieted by the evil one, I can be better assured that I am the right path. 
Please allow these two rules to be a spiritual guide for you. Examine your heart and your life each evening and see which spirit you are following. Then take the proper steps to change (or strengthen) the path you are on through prayer and Sacrament.
 In the persons who go from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is commonly used to propose to them apparent pleasures, making them imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins. In these persons the good spirit uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A neat prayer...

Here's a prayer I found on another blog that I hope blesses you this day:

Lord of Pots and Pans
“Lord of all pots and pans and things,
Since I’ve no time to be
A saint by doing lovely things or
Watching late with thee,
Or dreaming in the twilight or
Storming heaven’s gates.
Make me a saint by getting meals or
Washing up the plates. Although I must have Martha’s hands,
I have Mary’s mind, and,
When I black the boots and shoes
Thy sandals, Lord, I find.
I think of how they trod the earth
What time I scrub the floor,
Accept this meditation, Lord,
I haven’t time for more.
Warm all the kitchen with thy love,
And light it with thy peace,
Forgive me all my worrying
And make all grumbling cease.
Thou who didst love to give men food
In room or by the sea
Accept this service that I do
I do it unto thee.”

We are mustard shrubs and yeast

An amazing reality for me is the fact that, 2,000 years after Jesus death, we still "know" Him. Most people's memory fades rather quickly after they die. In my own reflections and prayer I realize that I will probably not be remembered beyond the lives of my grandchildren. Yet, Jesus legacy lives on and on and on. He did this by inspiring a relatively small bunch of followers (12 apostles and a few dozen disciples) to go out into the world and proclaim His name, His identity and His teachings. In doing so these people became the yeast that leavens the whole loaf and the shrub grown from a small seed that ends of sheltering many birds. By following Jesus' commands and working in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, these men and women formed and passed on the Church that carries forward the message today.
Think this through. The only way the next generation and the one after that are going to believe is for you and I to pass on what we have received. As we come to Mass and receive Jesus in Word and in Sacrament we take on an enormous responsibility - that of becoming "salt and light and leaven" to this world. The Mass is a great blessing for all who attend but that blessing is for the good of the entire community. Today, how can you and I go into our "worlds" and make the love of Jesus Christ present? We do it in word and in action. We have the strength of Jesus in us through the Sacrament and the support of our parish community. There are no excuses left - go and give out what you have received.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Eucharistic Community - a Homily for Today

Two weeks ago today I had the pleasure of accompanying our parish youth (mostly Confirmation students) to a Catholic Heart Work Camp in Davison, MI. The trip took two pretty good days of bus travel and we arrived there on a Sunday at about 2:00 p.m. While we were on the way I was wondering just how the organizers of the work camp would go about turning us into a "community". As I observed our kids, I noticed how they each had their little cliques and there wasn't a whole lot of "common" bond between them. Besides our group, there were going to be many others there and the whole lot of them would need to be transformed from individuals and little bands into one body if the tasks of service before us were to be accomplished. 
What I witnessed after we arrived and started participating in the programs and meetings that were scheduled was nothing short of miraculous. Within one day the 317 attendees were bonding into a working community. By the end of the second day the kids were no longer hanging out exclusively with their own friends but had discovered new ones to get to know. At the general meetings you could no longer pick out one parish group from another because the kids were all mixed together. Through hard work, common meals, shared suffering (long lines for showers and meals, working in extreme heat), shared fun and participating in the Mass together every day a "new creation" had been formed. You might say that we had become "the Body of Christ".
In this new form our community accomplished a great deal, completing over 80 projects in the Davison/Flint area and touching the lives of dozens of people. The message from the organizers on the first evening we arrived was to go out into the mission field and "set the world on fire"! By working in peoples homes, praying with them and serving them above and beyond the call, our kids did just that.
On the last evening, the people who had been served were invited to come to the program and tell of their experiences. What moving testimonials they gave! They talked of their renewed confidence in the youth of our country and they were most grateful for what YOUR kids did for them. They had indeed set the area on fire!
In today's Gospel, Jesus performs this miracle of feeding the 5,000 with only 2 fish and 5 loaves of  bread. I wonder what kind of community was formed among the people receiving this "Eucharistic" meal? As they discovered how this food had been mysteriously multiplied by Jesus there had to be a lot of conversation among them. I imagine that they were initially setting in their family groups but gradually spread among each other as the news of this astounding event spread. In receiving this meal and sharing their experience they became the Body of Christ!
Which brings us to today. We have all arrived here from different homes, families and neighborhoods with the hope of "being fed" on the Word and on Eucharist. If we receive them well we can become personally transformed and strengthened in faith. But, to what end? Is this the entire purpose of the Mass? Of course not! In sharing this experience together, the idea is that we will become bonded in a special way. The personal blessings we receive are not just for us as individuals but for the good of this community. As we take in Jesus in Word and Sacrament the idea is that we will become the Body of Christ. Jesus KNOWS we need each other if anything good is going to be accomplished in the world. Our kids could never have succeeded in their mission trip had it not been for the community that was formed in Davison, MI. The same is true here. If we leave here with the same attitude with which we arrived, namely that we are individuals and that this community doesn't make much difference we will NEVER be able to do what Jesus expects of us.
Our Eucharistic prayer admonishes us to "become one body, one Spirit in Christ". When we come forward today and the minister presents Jesus to us and says "The Body of Christ", we say "Amen". With that response we are not only saying that we believe in Jesus' physical presence, we are saying "yes" I am in communion with everyone here and with the whole church. We are staying that we believe in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic mission of the Church and that we want to be a part of it.
Today, allow the grace of Jesus Word, Body and Blood to transform this assembly into the very Body of Christ so that we can go forward from here and "set our families, our work places, and our neighborhoods on fire" with the LOVE of Jesus Christ.