Gaudete Sunday

This is Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent in which we are called to rejoice, as we enter the final stretch before the season of Christmas.

I have found that in some years, I experience Advent in a very profound way. It’s like I don’t even have to make much of an effort. Physically, emotionally and spiritually speaking, I am “in” the season of Advent and looking with great anticipation toward Christmas. And then there are years like this one when I feel like I am kind of going through the motions. Like everyone else is having this great spiritual experience, and I am just an observer.

In years like this, it’s hard to come to Mass and hear the first reading from Isaiah when he says, “I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul.” It’s hard to hear St. Paul in the second reading say “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks…May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I don’t know about you, but I know that I am not “perfectly holy.” I am not “blameless.” And when I’m not “feeling” God’s grace bringing me to that perfection, I can be subject to all kinds of doubts. I begin to wonder if maybe holiness isn’t really possible for me. Maybe this is as good as things are going to get. Maybe God has gotten tired of me and my sins.

And I begin to reminisce about happier Advents and Christmases. But here is the thing. I remember how happy I was, but I seem to forget what a wicked little tyrant I was at the time. It’s true! I know that holiness is still a long way away for me. But I am much closer than I used to be, thanks be to God. God has done great things for me! And I’m sure that if you thought about where you have come from, you know it to be true of yourselves! Probably many of us are not there yet, but God is bringing us along! It’s good to look honestly at our past now and then to remember how far we have come.

It’s also good to remember that God is not done with us yet! I was thinking about this and it reminded me of my dad. He just turned 83 this last September.

Growing up, if you would have asked me to describe my dad, “saintly” is not an adjective that would have come to mind. I would have said he had a “bad temper” (especially when we were moving cows.) I would have said he was a “hard worker.” I would have even said that he was a “good man.” But I would never have called him a saint.

Yet, I remember, because he always got up so early, he also went to bed very early. And I can vividly picture him kneeling down in front of a chair outside of my parent’s bedroom every night and praying. Sometimes it was only for a minute. But he did it every night before he went to bed.

I’ve shared before that about 12 years ago, dad was diagnosed with emphysema. He smoked for most of his life. The doctor said that he only has about 30% lung capacity but his heart looks like that of a 30-year-old. Thanks to that and the miracle of modern medicine, dad is still living. But he has had to make changes.

For most of his life, he measured his own self-worth by how much he had accomplished on a given day. But he liked to work hard so for most of his life, that philosophy suited him. Now, he found, walking across the room was enough to exhaust him. So he couldn’t accomplish much of anything. As a result, he was feeling worthless.

These last 12 years I’ve seen my dad struggle with that. And yet, I have also seen his faith grow tremendously. These days, he only misses Mass if he is too sick to go. He prays the Rosary with Mother Angelica and her sisters on EWTN every night. He frequents the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Because mom’s hearing is diminished, he spends most of his days communicating in a very loud voice. More than once, the priest has told him in the confessional “Bill, lower your voice or the whole town is going to know what you’ve been up to.”

Even if he goes to Mass he will watch the televised Mass which is filmed up in Casper. He keeps me posted on which priest is saying the tv Mass each month. And he even tells me which priests give the best homilies. That is a secret I must now take to the grave. While he can’t do much physically, his mind is forever focused on trying to take care of my mom.

I can’t judge the state of dad’s soul but I see there is a gentleness and a sense of peace that wasn’t there before. If he is not yet a saint, it seems to me that he is very close. “Saintly” is now a word that comes to mind when I think of him. Obviously, that makes me happy for him. But it also gives me hope.

While I can’t presume that God is going to allow my own path to sanctity to go on for 83 years, I do see how God’s mercy has allowed for time in my dad’s case. I do see how God took the smallest acts of piety on my dad’s part, like kneeling down in prayer every night, to bring him closer to holiness. It gives me hope. I am sure if you thought about it, there are parents or grandparents or friends in your life who God has been sanctifying right before your eyes.

So I think, when we experience those times where we feel like we are just going through the motions, we have to trust that even then, God is shaping us in some mysterious way. We don’t want to presume that we have lots of time, but it’s good to remember that God does have time. He has all of eternity. And even if we can’t see progress, God does see it. So don’t give up. Don’t be scandalized by your own sins. God is not surprised by them. He knows perfectly well the evil we are all capable of. So don’t be scandalized by your sins, repent of them.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how many times you fall down. What matters is that you get back up one more time.

Most importantly, do not allow your struggles to cause you to give up thinking about heaven. Do you still think about heaven? Do you allow yourself the time to dream about what it will be like?

I think sometimes we don’t allow ourselves to think about heaven because we know we can’t get there. But God knows it to. That is why he sent his only son. When St. Paul calls us to be perfect in holiness and to be preserved blameless, he says “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.” You see? It’s not all on us thanks be to God!

So if you feel like this Advent is one where you are going through the motions, remember, it is all in anticipation of the gift of Christ who is leading us to perfection and to the glory of heaven.

So let’s allow ourselves time this week to dream big. Imagine a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God. Picture a place where every broken heart will be healed, where captives and prisoners will be set free. A place where there is no more war, or violence, or abuse. Where there is no more cancer or disease, no more addictions. And there will be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain. Every tear will be wiped away, and when we enter heaven’s gate, we will be greeted by lost loved ones.

My brothers and sisters, let us rejoice heartily in the LORD, for he is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.


Protecting the Unborn and the Immigrant: A Uniquely Catholic Perspective

“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.”

One of the challenges of engaging our divided culture from a Catholic perspective is realizing that,
at some point, you will likely offend everyone. In a sense, you become an “equal opportunity
offender.” But what standard of measure makes it a Catholic perspective? What distinguishes our
perspective from other ideologies?


Read more…


parable of talents

The Stewardship of Talents

Making Disciples

We believe that as Disciples of Christ, we are not just called to be as individually holy as we can be, but we are called to help others grow in holiness as well. Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus told his apostles to go and make disciples of the nations. And this great commission also falls on us. One of the ways we make disciples of others is by helping them recognize the gifts God has given to them and encouraging them to share those gifts with others. We are called to foster vocations and encourage people to enter into ministries. The Church struggles with this endeavor.

First of all, why do people bury their gifts? The Gospel reading tells us that the third servant buries his talent out of fear. I think, if the Church is to improve its success in making disciples it has to help people overcome their fear. I think this fear can look differently depending upon where we are at in our faith journey.

Welcoming Communities

Before people can consider uncovering those buried gifts and sharing them in a particular ministry, they need to feel a certain level of comfort in a Church community. They need to feel like they belong. So consider the likely fact that someone who is celebrating Mass with us tonight is here for the very first time. What has their experience been like so far? When they entered the doors of the Church with us tonight, did they get the sense that they were welcome? Did anyone make eye contact with them? Did they feel noticed?

There was a time in my life when I stopped coming to Mass. Then when I went to the Army, one day, I decided to go with a friend to Mass at St. Francis Cabrini parish in Savannah Ga. After Mass, an older couple came up to us and said, “We’ve never seen you before. What are your names? Where are you from?” Then they invited us to coffee after Mass, and we tried to think of every excuse not to come, but they insisted. And they introduced us to many other people. They never failed to come talk to us after Mass. And if we missed Mass one time, the following weekend they would say, “we noticed you weren’t here last week. We figured you were probably out in the field. But we missed you, and we’re glad you’re with us today.” It was a beautiful ministry that this couple had taken on. And I will never forget them for it.

Welcoming Ministries

Once people know they belong in a Church community, then we can help them take the next step toward active ministry.

One particular area that the Church as a whole can improve in is being more welcoming in the ministries themselves. I’m going to use a hypothetical example to explain what I mean.

Pretend I’m not a deacon, I’m a lay parishioner here and I suddenly feel the Holy Spirit is calling me to become a reader at Mass. This can be an anxious thing, because it is a more public ministry, I will be proclaiming the Word of God in front of the community, and I may feel a very common sense of unworthiness. At this point, I could very much use some encouragement from those who have been doing it for a while.

But let’s say I receive the training and my name is put on the list and I’m on the rotation. After a few times, I begin to really enjoy this ministry, I look forward to doing it, I feel good about giving my time during the week to prepare for the readings and I like reading at Mass. This becomes a source of tremendous joy for me.

After a while, the Holy Spirit moves the hearts of others toward this ministry. But I recognize that more readers means less time I get in the rotation. And if I have begun to think of this as my ministry, my work, my opportunity at joy, I can become resentful of them. Chances are, they are at that same anxious stage I went through and are feeling unworthy and they could really use some encouragement. I could really help them by telling them, “Yes, it’s challenging at first, but hang in there because the joy you will experience will be worth it!” Can I give them that encouragement?

Only if I remember that this is God’s ministry, and God’s work, not mine. This could be the very thing that will turn their lives around and changes everything for them and their families. I cannot be an obstacle to that grace. And it could be that the extra time I now have in this particular ministry is a sign that God is calling me to consider applying my other gifts elsewhere. There is certainly no shortage of needs.

Of course, I have used the example of the ministry of being a reader, but this temptation can exist in any ministry. We have to resist the temptation of becoming territorial in our ministry.

Suffering is a Part of Discipleship, but Still Only a Part

Finally, I think another reason why the Church has struggled with making disciples is because we have allowed in our minds and in the minds of others for the idea of discipleship to be reduced as an equivalent to suffering. As if being a disciple equals suffering. After all, Jesus says, “if you want to be my disciple, you must pick up your cross and follow me.” But we know that suffering is a part of life, whether you choose to be a disciple or not. Note that Jesus did not say, “If you want to be my disciple, I will create a cross for you.” He says, if you want to be my disciple, you must pick up your cross, -the one life has already laid upon you- and follow me.

Everyone suffers, whether they are a disciple or not. The difference is, as a disciple of Christ, our suffering finally has meaning. It has a glorious value. And we carry it because we believe Jesus is going to transform it. Ok, but doesn’t Jesus also say that we will suffer uniquely for being his followers? Yes he does. That is true.

Even so, suffering is an important part of discipleship. But it’s still just a part. There is so much more!

There is also tremendous joy. Particularly the joy that comes from sharing our God-given gifts, putting our time, talent and treasure at the service of God and his people. The thing is we enjoy doing what we are good at. Ask the kid who is good at sports to stop playing when he has had enough, and he will play all day long. Why? Because he likes doing what he is good at.

If you have been baptized, the Holy Spirit has given you unique supernatural gifts called charisms. Maybe you have the gift of healing, or of teaching or of music, or of counseling or of hospitality. Maybe you have the gift of administration. Or perhaps you have a charism that will lead you to advocate for the poor? These are just a few examples of charisms. Why did the Holy Spirit give them to you?

He gave them to you because they are needed to build up this corner of the Kingdom of God. And He wants you to have a share in the tremendous joy that comes from such work. If you apply that charism you will find that you are good at it. And we like doing what we are good at!

First World Day of the Poor

Tomorrow is the first World Day of the Poor as instituted by our Holy Father Pope Francis. St. Joseph’s will be hosting a meal for the poor tomorrow at noon and St. Mary’s will be hosting a meal beginning at 1pm.

Typically, people are very generous around the holidays, then donations and volunteering tend to drop off in the months following. For that reason, Holy Trinity has decided to wait to host its lunch until February 25th. In the meantime, we will continue collecting warm weather items and food during the month of November and we are all welcome to join St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s tomorrow.

The point of the World Day of the Poor, is not to make it a single day of giving, but to encounter our brothers and sisters, to let them know we see you. We are all poor in one way or another. The tragedy of our poverty is not that someone doesn’t swoop in and fix it for us. The tragedy is that our poverty is completely ignored. We are treated as though we were invisible in our poverty. The materially poor can see us in our poverty, can we see them in theirs?