New Life in Christ (Easter Letter 2019)

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“I was not expecting that!” One of the second-grade students shook his head in wonder. We were acting out the story of the Prodigal Son. We had gotten to the point where the son comes to his senses and decides to return home. The kids were expecting this worthless son to be greeted by an angry father. Instead the father runs to him, embraces him, and kisses him. “You are still my son, and I love you unconditionally” — that is meaning of the ring, the sandals, and the finest robe. We were not expecting an explosion of love and mercy.

We were not expecting the Resurrection. Jesus was supposed to be the King who would bring about the Kingdom of God. Instead of ending on the throne, he ended on the gallows. He had utterly failed to make an impact on the politics of the day. He had not achieved any economic success. The powerful and important had all rejected his message. His followers abandoned him just as quickly as they had joined him. The poor were still poor, the oppressed were still oppressed, and the dead were still dead. His life, by any human standard, was a colossal failure.

This ‘failure’ turned out to be the most successful life ever lived. Jesus’ life marked the turning point in human history. Everything before him prepared for his coming. His Incarnation unites him to every human being. His death was offered to forgive your sins and mine. His Resurrection is the explosion of love and mercy that we desperately need.

Jesus won a new life for us. So why are we still living the old life? Why do we keep trying to figure out how to become successful by human standards? Why do we run from past failures and try to bury them? Why do we judge ourselves by the image in the mirror or the amount in our pocketbook? Why do we let fear and anxiety control us? Why do we run from the Father’s love for us? Awake O sleeper and rise from the dead and Christ will give you life! The Resurrection will only change your life when you begin to believe in God’s love and mercy. Stop trying to survive in the pigsty. Come home to the Father’s love for you. On that first Easter, Jesus rose from the dead. This Easter, it’s your turn.

Peace and Easter joy,
Fr. Joel

Now it’s Your Turn to Rise from the Dead | #924

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Easter Sunday • The weather is getting warmer and all around us we see signs of new life. Sometimes, emptiness is a sign of new life. Take for example an egg. If you were to go walking in the woods and find an egg shell cracked open and empty, you would know that some new life has hatched.

We see new life as we gather at an empty tomb. The One who was dead has Risen from the dead, and now He lives forever and ever. Today, this Easter, God wants to give you new life. Where have you experienced death or hopelessness? This is where God wants to heal, transform and resurrect you. Jesus is already there in the darkness working to transform you. Here are three ways to help grow His new life within you:

  1. Practice dying. Each night when you go to bed, pray an Act of Contrition and die to the old you. Then say a Hail Mary and put your life in the hands of our Blessed Mother.
  2. Practice rising from the dead. Every morning you can rise to a new day and a new you in Christ. Pray an Our Father and let God help you be his wonderful child.
  3. Practice going to heaven. Heaven is a place of peace. There are no Mondays in heaven. Our work there is to praise God. We are all brothers and sisters and no one is rich or poor. And God is with His people. We can experience Heaven every single Sunday: a day of rest, renewal, relaxation, and worship. A day for family and friends. A day when the Risen Lord meets us at Sunday Mass. There we eat His flesh and drink His blood and receive God’s new life within us.

Two thousand years ago Jesus rose from the dead. Now is your time, today is your day: it’s your turn to rise from the dead.

(21 Apr 2019)

Going Deeper: Practicing dying. Practice rising from the dead. Practice going to heaven.

The Cross in the Ashes | #923

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Good Friday • In the midst of the burned out wreckage of Notre Dame Cathedral, God’s light is shining. Jesus could carry his cross because he knew that his Father would be with him every step of the way. His life had meaning, his suffering had a purpose, and this would all be worth it. This is the Paschal Mystery. God brings light out of darkness and the dead to life. Can I recognize the Paschal Mystery in my life? (19 Apr 2019)

Going Deeper: How do your sufferings look different when you see them in the light of the Paschal Mystery?

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Lamb of God

The Banquet of the Lamb | #922

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Holy Thursday (Mass of the Last Supper) The Passover Lamb was sacrificed and his blood saved the Israelites from the Angel of Death. They gathered and ate the lamb they had sacrificed. Christ our Paschal Lamb has been sacrificed; come to the feast! Do you truly believe in Jesus’ love for you? Then let Him was your feet so that you can enter into Communion with Him. (18 Apr 2019)

Going Deeper: Read the passages from the Book of Revelation that refer to the Lamb.

Thank you William!

Battle Ready: Are You Fighting the Wrong Battle? | #921

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Lent, Palm Sunday (C) The theme for Lent has been ‘Battle Ready.’ We got ready to fight the good fight alongside Jesus. Now we watch Jesus win the victory over sin and death. And we realize he’s fighting a different battle then we are. We fight daily to make things go our way. The true battle is not about proving our worth, but believing our worth. It’s not about getting our way but about following God’s way. Jesus fights to love even his enemies all the way to the cross. Jesus’ love brings at the best, and the worst, in others. Pray that Jesus’ love will bring out the best in you. (14 Apr 2019)

Going Deeper: “You will never be happy if your happiness depends on getting solely what you want. Change the focus. Get a new center. Will what God wills.” – Fulton Sheen

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Battle Ready: Live for the One Who Died for You | #920

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Lent, 5th Sunday (C) Let us read today’s Gospel in the light of Palm Sunday. Jesus is the true King and the final judge. He alone is free of sin; he alone can throw the first stone. Instead he grants mercy. She can go free because Jesus takes her place and pays the price for her sin. Jesus takes your place; Jesus pays your penalty. Will you live for the one who died for you?

(7 Apr 2019) Guest stars the Langer Family Choir. Thank You!

Going Deeper: Next time you feel tempted to point fingers or hurl stones at those who have done wrong, offer them the same mercy that Jesus has offered you.

Learn More: Who is the Woman Caught in Adultery? Her Identity Will Surprise You (#616, Lent 5)

Unplanned (Movie Review)

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I still remember our college trip to watch The Cider House Rules. Michael Caine plays a doctor who secretly performs illegal abortions in the 1940’s. Tobey Maguire plays a young orphan who becomes his assistant — and uncovers his dark secret. In the course of the movie Tobey’s journey helps him come around to understand the doctor’s motivations. Full disclosure: I went to see this movie with our pro-life club. We wanted to understand the movie so we could respond to it. The movie opens with a scene in which Tobey Maguire is taking a pot outside to bury its contents. Later you realize that the pot contained the remains of an aborted fetus. As I mulled over the movie’s message, I remember thinking, “No matter how clever your smart take on abortion, just open the lid and show us what’s in the pot, and your argument is over.” Unplanned lifts the lid and shows us what’s in the pot.

This is not a heartwarming, family-friendly Christian film. It’s a movie about abortion and Planned Parenthood. It is based on the true story of a woman’s journey into the world of Planned Parenthood and back out again. It warns you right up front that it’s a messy story. I had already read the book and knew the basic story. Still, to see the scenes from the book acted out on screen is something I wasn’t fully expecting.

This movie is heavy stuff. It’s very personal and very honest. You see a teenage girl pressured by her parents to end her pregnancy, and a woman whose mother is begging her not to have an abortion. And you see everything in between: blood, agony, and lots of tears. Her boss is cast as a villain, and Planned Parenthood as a sinister corporation. But the abortion clinic workers are kind and professional; it actually feels like a decent place to work most days. There are angry protestors with signs of aborted babies, and kind protestors reaching through the fence. The movie doesn’t try to be too big or intentionally shocking. It’s a small story, told with reverence and hope. You needn’t be afraid of what you will see. Just bring some tissues.

The movie doesn’t have all the answers, and it doesn’t tie things up in a pretty bow. But it does end with a beautiful tribute to the children whose lives were lost to abortion. It is deep, touching, and rewarding. You cannot watch this movie and not be changed by it. If you’ve heard conservatives raving about it, that’s not because the movie says a bunch of stuff they agree with. Its because they were touched and changed by this movie in ways they weren’t expecting.

How did this movie change me? I have a new appreciation for the weight someone like Abby, or any former clinic worker, carries with them when they walk away from the clinic. I have a new appreciation for the struggle women face when they find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. I have a new appreciation for perseverance. The pro-life message wins because it is true and good and beautiful. But we have to keep showing up at the clinic and speaking the truth in love, no matter the results. And we need to learn how to love those on the “other side of the fence.” The “Coalition for Life” people are presented as kind and unconditionally loving. Some might argue it’s an unrealistically positive portrayal of pro-lifers. I see it as an invitation for all pro-lifers. The only unrealistic thing I saw was Doug, Abby’s amazingly wonderful husband. He’s a total stud. To all you men reading this: Be Like Doug.

You should see this movie. Especially if you’re one of those people that just doesn’t get what the fuss is all about when it comes to abortion. If you’re not sure you’re pro-life, and uncomfortable with a film that is, then make it a double-feature. Stream The Cider House Rules first with your friends, then take the same crew to Unplanned. I watch a lot of superhero movies and spy thrillers. But after walking out of this movie I thought: The real drama is right here, all around us. We don’t need to fly to some foreign planet or uncover a secret plot to destroy the world. The battle for life and love is right here — every day, every life, is high drama — even the 12 week old baby that started all this. You’ll look at life differently after you see #whatabbysaw

Unplanned Still

Battle Ready: Home Base | #919

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Lent, 4th Sunday (C) We need to come back to Home Base: the Father’s love for us. Sometimes we are the younger brother, sometimes the older. But we are all called to love like the Father. Experience God’s mercy 77 times, and welcome others as He welcomes you. (31 Mar 2019)

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Going Deeper: Come early to church. Park far away. Sit in the middle. Go out of your way to help others feel at home. Whether you agree with the message or not, go see Unplanned for yourself. Or at least watch this little 4 1/2 minute interview.

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Battle Ready: How to Fertilize a Burning Bush | #918

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Lent, 3rd Sunday (C) The ancient gods are forces within creation. But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob isn’t just another force in the universe: I Am Who Am. He is The Creator, not a creation. Moses needs to be convinced of three things: 1) God’s Power 2) God’s Plan 3) God’s Love. When we are convinced of these three things, we can turn life’s “crap” into fertilizer. (25 Mar 2019)

Going Deeper: Dump your ? at Confession this week.

Thank You Mission Partner Sally and Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

Battle Ready: Birds of Pray | #917

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Lent, 2nd Sunday (C) It’s the second week of Lent – have you been falling asleep on your Lenten resolutions? Peter, James, and John were falling asleep when they were supposed to be praying. Abraham, on the other hand, chased away the birds of prey and resisted the temptation to run from God. He fights for the Covenant and God blesses him abundantly.

We need to fight for the things that matter: family time, couple time, God time. If you fight the little battles of couple time and prayer time, you’ll be ready for the big battles. If you let the little things slide, you won’t be prepared for Gethsemane. Want to win the battle? Chase away the vultures. (17 Mar 2019)

Going Deeper: Schedule couple time with your spouse, if you’re married — or quality time with God, or both.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay and