Pruning for the Harvest | BP#832

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Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Do you get rid of things you don’t really need? Do you keep the things you really need? Every Sunday the Oconto Catholic Community deals with 12 steps, bathrooms in the basement, and no gathering space. Our church needs to be pruned. We can prune away the rotten parts while saving the things we really love.

What in your life needs pruning? Sometimes we need to prune away a hobby, ambitions, or even the cabin up north. God wants us to be prepared – not just for power outages and rainstorms – but for eternal life. If you want to give a good harvest at the end, you need to do some pruning now.

(17 Jun 2018)

Going Deeper: Find all your flashlights (or electric torches). Are they ready to use? Decide: 1) How many do you really need? 2) Where to keep each one 3) How to keep them in tip-top shape.


Send me an email with the subject “Flashlight” and you could win this classic Mini Mag-Lite. Entries are due by July 15. Must be 18 or older and a resident of the United States. Void where prohibited by law.

A House Divided Cannot Stand | BP#831

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Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Adam and Eve decide not to submit to the will of God. No sooner have they sinned against God then they begin to turn against each other. We are a house divided when we reject God’s will. Jesus teaches us that God’s will is the path to a united heart and a united home.

(10 June 2018)

Going Deeper: Just for one day, try to do the will of God in all things. Pause before decisions and prayerfully as, “God, what is your will in this situation?” Before entering into a difficult conversation ask, “God, what do you want me to say to this person?” If you’re married, sit down with your spouse and pray together to discern the will of God. Do what you think God’s will is in each situation. Then let me know how it went.

Marriage: Contract or Covenant?

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It may seem that marriage has fallen out of popularity. Many young people decide to live together first, buy a dog, buy a house, maybe have a kid before finally choosing to get married in a backyard ceremony. Grandma complains, “How come kids these days don’t want to get married?” But interviews reveal that young people really want a deep, intimate, life-long union. They don’t want to dive head-first into the icy waters of commitment. If you’re going to sign a life-long contract, you’d better know what you’re getting into first. So they wade in slowly with sex and cohabitation before finally deciding to “sign on the dotted line.”

As the years go by and babies come and the marriage moves on, they start to feel cheated. There’s not enough sex, or there’s too much sex and not enough conversation. One partner feels like he or she is doing all the work and the other partner is having all the fun. You realize you didn’t bother to put the expectations in writing because you thought  you both agreed on things. Both partners are mystified at why the whole thing seems to be so hard and frustrating. Multiple conversations happen trying to renegotiate the contract without success. Finally one says, “I’m just not happy,” and files for divorce. The other partner is devastated.

It’s not you — it’s the contract. A contract is fundamentally selfish. I sign a wireless contract because of what I can get (phone service) not because of what I’ll have to give (the monthly fees). This is fine for things, but not for people. Approaching marriage as a contract turns people into objects. They are giving us pleasure, or making us feel complete, filling our +1 at a wedding, helping with the rent, and we are doing the same for them. We end up using people, and letting them use us, and calling it love. But that’s not love.

Love demands a covenant: a gift of self that is total, faithful, fruitful, and free. Preparing for a covenant is not about a “trial period.” Rather you must give your heart, and that means taking back the gifts-of-self you have made to others. Giving your heart means time, deep conversations, plans for the future, engagement, and planning a marriage. Before the altar you place yourself totally in other other’s hands, and they put themselves in yours. The last thing you give is your body and it seals the deal, creating a bond over the total gift of self. It’s about giving, but when we give generously, we get so much back in return. Do you treat marriage like a contract or like a covenant?

Elevation of the Host

What To Do With The Gift That Is You | BP#830

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Corpus Christ (Year B) I was given the gift of priesthood so I could give it away. The Eucharist teaches us that you are a gift. What do you do with the gift that is you? Don’t use others and let them use you. Instead, the Eucharist teaches us how to give ourselves away.

(3 June 2018)

Going Deeper: Married: Spend a day going out of your way to just give generously to your spouse, without counting the cost or comparing how much they are giving. Single: Sit down and make a little plan for giving generously tomorrow at work or within your community.

Another Holy Trinity

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The three persons of the Blessed Trinity are united in self-giving love. When God created human beings, He made us capable of creating a community of love. Intimacy between a man and a woman creates new human beings. Across times and cultures, parents have been expected to make a stable commitment to one another before they start creating life. We call this marriage, the promise of the couple to stick together and raise the little lives they might create. Three things, marriage, sex, and babies, have always been seen as a package deal: if you were choosing one, you needed to accept all three.

That attitude changed dramatically in the last century. Contraception emerged as an answer to overpopulation and the stress caused by children. To quote Jimmy Stewart, “You call this a happy family? Why do we have to have all these kids!” The assumption was the marriages would be better without the stress of ‘unwanted children.’ Contracepted sex quickly become the norm, and not just for married people. Unmarried people felt themselves entitled to sex with people they weren’t married to, and people they had no desire to have a baby with. In people’s minds, marriage, sex, and babies came to be seen as three separate and unconnected things. You could pick whatever you wanted and leave the rest.

It took only a single generation for abortion to be legalized. We would never have been OK with killing or own children until we started to see the ‘unintended consequences’ of expecting sex to not create life. The cultural expectation of sex without commitment leads to the #MeToo movement. Listen up, celebrities: you know you have her consent when she says, “I do” at the altar. To many people, this sounds extreme and old-fashioned. But there is a natural unity to marriage, sex, and babies. Treating them as a package deal allows you to personally reap the benefits of working with nature. One blogger, writing about yet another celebrity accused of non-consensual sex, suggested these simple rules for a happy sex life:

  1. If you’re not married, assume there’s never consent.
  2. If you are married, treat your spouse like a person and not an object.

As I watch the news or listen to people talk about relationships gone bad, I am struck over and over again by how many of these problems could have been solved by the simple rules above. God’s plans are not easy, but they are simple. God’s simple plan leads to true love.


The Trinity Is Our Identity and Our Mission | BP#829

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Holy Trinity (Year B) The Sign of the Cross gives us our identity and mission. There is only One God, the Lord of the whole Universe. Yet He is also our God, a community of persons united in love. Baptism invites us into God’s community of love. Our actions should flow from our beliefs. Live your life, and every moment, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

(27 May 2018)

Going Deeper: Practice making the sign of the cross slowly and prayerfully.

Filled with the Spirit | BP#828

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Pentecost (Year B) God gives Himself to His people in the person of the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit enters He fills us with love, shapes us in God’s image, and restores us to Communion with God and one other. Ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit. Better yet, let the Spirit pray through you for the building up of another. The gift of the Spirit grows to the degree that we give it away.Read More


Seeing With Your Heart | BP#827

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Ascension of the Lord (Year B) Jesus returns to the spiritual realm where he came from. We can’t see Him but He can see us. He is present to us through the Spirit that dwells in our hearts. May the eyes of your heart be enlightened so you can live your daily life from Jesus’ eternal perspective.

(13 May 2018)Read More

Mass on Facebook Live – Apparently It’s a Thing

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The blizzard of April 14-15 forced us to cancel our regular weekend Masses. I still celebrated a small weekend Mass with a few folks present. I shared it with those at home by streaming from my tablet on Facebook Live. At the time it seemed a practical way to share Mass with those who were stuck at home. People loved it — almost 400 people tuned in. Deacon candidates stranded at a retreat center watched the Mass together. So did the Spiritus team in Menasha, WI. I got this message from a grateful participant:

It felt so good and comforting and a relief not to have to miss feeling a part of the church community during the mass. I had just gotten home with a brand new baby and really needed that mass!

Since then it’s generated a lot of buzz. The Compass, our Diocesan newspaper, published a nice article last week: Spring snowstorm leads priests to offer virtual Mass for the masses. I was invited to speak about it on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air show on Wednesday, May 9. I talk for the last 12 minutes of the second hour show. You can still watch the original video on Facebook; as of this posting it’s gotten 9.7K views. And I talked about the experience in the following week’s homily: Shepherd in a Snow Storm | BP#825

I’m not entirely sure what the buzz is all about. Today’s technology makes “going live” on the internet incredibly easy to do. That particular weekend there were thousands of people who would usually have been at Mass who had nothing to do but sit on Facebook. It hit a particular need at a particular time. Is this the next wave, or just a curiosity? Let me know what you think about it, because I’m not sure what to make of it.

No Homily for May 6, 2018

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I didn’t preach this weekend so I have nothing to share with you. But here are a couple of older homilies if you’re looking for inspiration. May you more deeply experience the merciful love of God this week.

From 2015:
What Happens When You Fall in Love… with God (#527, Easter 6)

From 2012, which was also Mother’s Day:
How to know it’s really Love (Homily for Mother’s Day)

And a mediocre recording from way back in 2009:
Fr. Joel’s Homily for May 17