Have You Forgotten Who You Are? | #908

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Baptism of the Lord (C) We enter the church through one main door and around the Baptismal font. Baptism greets us at the ‘door’ of the church and leads us to the Eucharist. Baptism also sends us out into the world to be light and hope. Jayme Closs hasn’t forgotten who she is. Elizabeth Smart had to keep remembering who she was. Baptism washes away our false identities and welcomes us to the altar of praise. It sends us into the world to bring to the good news to others. God has not forgotten you. Have you forgotten who you are? (13 Jan 2019)

Going Deeper: What helps you remember who you are? Here’s a song that has helped me.

Jason Gray – Remind Me Who I Am

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Why the Nativity Scene has an Ox and a Donkey | #907

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Holy Family (C) We want the best for our children. At Baptism they are adopted into both of Jesus’ families. We need to help them know personally their Heavenly Family (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and their Holy Family (Jesus, Mary, Joseph). Do we want our children to be humble, hard-working, generous, and willing to say yes to God’s call? Then we must live the same way. Let Jesus be the King of your heart; let him be the Lord of your family.

(30 Dec 2018)

Going Deeper: Check out Anchor of Hope TEC. Make plans to bless your home with chalk on Epiphany.

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Come Home to Bethlehem this Christmas | #906

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Christmas, Midnight Mass • We left the Garden of Eden and wandered in the cold and darkness outside. Until we come to the warmth and light of Bethlehem. Become humble to welcome a relationship with God. As we hold the helpless babe, we too are held in stronger hands.

Welcome the Christ child into your hearts and homes. Let the warmth of His love fill you and transform you. Come home to Bethlehem for the holidays. (25 Dec 2018)

Going Deeper: Where have you experienced a moment of peace and joy this Christmas season? Find some quiet time to commune with the Lord.

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This Is Why Grandmas Kept the Christmas Decorations Up Until January 6th | #905

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Advent, 4th Sunday (C) Why is the birthday of Jesus such a big deal? Our ancestors realized that most people haven’t grasped the True Meaning of Christmas by the time December 25th comes around. So they taught the true meaning of Christmas with three more feasts:

Jesus The True Sacrifice (January 1st)
Jesus is the Lamb of God, born to give his life for you and me. Ancients saw in Jesus’ circumcision a first shedding of his blood for all mankind.

Jesus The True King (January 6th)
Wise Men arrive from the East. The ancients depicted this scene as the Christ Child seated on his mother’s lap, like a King receiving tribute from his faithful subjects.

Jesus The True God (February 2nd)
Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant, bringing the presence of God to the world. When Jesus is Presented in the Temple we go out to meet him with lit candles. Candlemas is the sparkler sendoff for the Christmas season.

Do you want to understand the true meaning of Christmas? Mark these dates on your calendar. Keep your Christmas decorations up through January 6th. Keep up your nativity scene and your Advent wreath until February 2nd. Let the truth of Jesus sink into your soul.

(23 Dec 2018)

Going deeper: Read the story of King David and the Ark in 2 Samuel 6. Do you see parallels with Luke 1:39-45?


Is the Christmas Tree a Christian Symbol?

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You cut down a tree and then you dress its corpse with candles?” ~Olaf

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree. Why would you sing about a Christmas tree? And why do we even have Christmas trees? We chop down a perfectly healthy tree, drag it inside, dress it with lights and ornaments as it slowly dies. Looks like the work of a madman. People often explain the tree as, “an old pagan holiday that was Christianized.” But there has to be a reason why this madness spread. If you mediate on the Christmas tree, you will see that it holds many lessons about the Christ Child.

Evergreen: This tree doesn’t lose its leaves; in the dead of winter it stays fresh and green. The human race was dead in sin like a forest in winter. Jesus comes to give us true life, eternal life. He is evergreen, and he wants us to be evergreen.

Lights: Jesus is the Light of the World, the light that the darkness cannot overcome (see John 1). When we let Jesus into our hearts, he frees us from darkness and makes us shine with God’s light.

Ornaments: We hang beautiful, precious, and sentimental things on the tree; our favorites often remind us of childhood. Jesus holds all good things, our past and our future. He is always with us, and he cares about the things that are precious to us.

Candy Canes: Their shape reminds us of a shepherd’s crook. Shepherds greeted the baby in Bethlehem. He is a descendant of the shepherd-king David. Christ is the Good Shepherd sent to lead God’s flock. His sheep hear his voice and follow Him.

The Star or the Angel: We top the tree with a star or an angel, both images from His birth, and images of Heaven. They remind us that we are on a journey to heaven. We must keeps our lives pointed towards Eternity.

The Severed Tree: The tree is cut down in order to give us life and light. Jesus, too, was cut down on the cross for our sins. The tree makes a sacrifice for you; it gives its life to brighten your Christmas. Never forget the sacrifice that Jesus made for you.

We need to be reminded over and over of the true meaning of Christmas. We need time to let it sink into our hearts. Put your nativity scene in a place where you can sit and reflect on it by the glow of the Christmas tree. Keep your tree up through the 12 days of Christmas, until the Wise Men come on January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany. Then bring home blessed chalk from Church and bless your home. You might even sing a hymn: O Christmas Tree!

Christmas peace and joy,
~Fr. Joel Sember

The Long Walk To Christmas

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I recently attended a meeting at the Diocese with Bishop Ricken and 20 or so priests. We went around in a circle to introduce ourselves and, ‘name your favorite season.’ I think Fall was the front runner, followed by Summer, Spring, and a few Winters (which elicited groans from the other attendees). As it circled around, one of the last ones said, “I’m Father so-and-so and my favorite season is Advent.” In a group of priests, only one thought to name a Liturgical season. And liturgical seasons include Christmas and Easter, why Advent? As we reach the third week of Advent, I’m starting to agree with him. First off, I love the looks on peoples’ faces when I wear pink, er…, Rose, vestments. But second of all, I love the almost-but-not-yet that comes with this season. It is full of anticipation.

Our world hates anticipation. We are surprised when we buy a package on Amazon and it won’t arrive for 3 whole days. Sex before marriage is the norm. The few engaged couples who choose chastity often find their friends (and even their parents) pressuring them to move in together before they get married. But expectation deepens the joy. It’s worth waiting for a lifetime of married memories. Our church building project began to take shape in the spring of 2014, almost 5 years ago! The process seemed to be taking so long. All the meetings, the conversations, the fundraising… Would we ever get there?

I am reminded of a time Relevant Radio interviewed walking pilgrims. The interviewer assumed that the pay-off was arriving at the shrine. Sure, you could ride a bus and enjoy pulling up at the door, but walking five days made the moment that much sweeter. I had a hard time explaining to him that pilgrims enjoyed the journey. Not all of it, certainly: there are hard days and bugs and rain and blisters. But there are “pay-offs” all along the way: the outdoors, Christian camaraderie, surprise joys, great food. It’s not all about arriving; the journey is precious, too. Building the church has a great pay-off, but it’s been a great journey. Advent is the walking pilgrimage to Christmas. Enjoy the journey. ¡Buen Camino!


Forgiveness Is A Light In The Darkness | #904

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Advent, 3rd Sunday (C) John the Baptist preaches repentance: Stop going along with society and start being the best version of yourself. Hearing Confessions makes me feel like John the Baptist. But I’ve also been going to Confession, and learning to forgive other people. Forgiveness invites God’s light and love into a dark place in your life.

In the name of Jesus, I forgive (Name) for _, and I ask God to bless (Name).

Advent is a time to prepare for Jesus. Most of us subconsciously expect Jesus to dramatically appear in our lives. But when we embrace the ordinary, live forgiveness and be quiet inside, we discover the Lord is in our midst. Jesus is quietly waiting in the dark of our hearts for us to find him there.

Accept your failures and they become stepping stones towards God’s beautiful plan for your life. Let Jesus be the King of your Heart. Let him be the Lord of your failures. (16 Dec 2018)

Going Deeper: “The struggles of life tend to get amplified during Advent. What is good in our life or marriage or family tends to feel even better. But what is messy in our life or marriage or family also tends to get amplified or magnified.” – Fr. Mark Toups (Rejoice! Advent Meditations with Mary)
What struggles has Advent revealed to you?
How are you responding to these dark places in your life?

Look What You Find Hidden In The Ordinary | #903

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Advent, 2nd Sunday (C) • Yesterday was anything but an ordinary Saturday. After Holy Day Mass and First Reconciliation I was driving to Saturday night Mass, the only “ordinary” part of my day. The winter sun cast long shadows on the snow and suddenly felt like an extraordinary moment.

Today’s Gospel goes through a list of civil and religious leaders. There’s nothing particularly extraordinary about the moment or the time when John the Baptist heard God’s call. His father Zacheriah had an angel visit him at work. Mary received the Annunciation while at home. We often dismiss the ordinary. We want amazing lives; we want to be part of something wonderful. When we let go and embrace the ordinary, we discover something wonderful. It’s as though a mother hid candy under piles of laundry and unwashed dishes so when her kids did their chores, they would discover the gifts. God has hidden joy and peace and extraordinary things under the ordinary moments of every day life.

A couple weeks ago St. Anthony parish was given an extraordinary gift — a relic of St. Anthony himself! Relics remind us that the saints were ordinary people. They lived daily lives just like we do. What was extraordinary about them was that they accepted where they were and what God had given them. And in living it peacefully, generously, lovingly — embracing the ordinary — they became extraordinary.

St. Anthony was originally named Ferdinand. He was born in Lisbon, Portugal around 1195. He joined a monastery as a religious brother. For ten years or so he prayed and studied. It was relics of Francisan martyrs that changed his life. He was so filled with a desire to be a martyr that he joined the Franciscans and sailed for northern Africa. But an illness and a violent storm diverted him to Italy. He quietly joined a convent there and lived a hidden, ordinary life.

It happened that Anthony accompanied the Franciscan Provincial to an ordination, where both Dominicans and Franciscans were present. No one had been assigned to preach, and no one wanted to look silly by preaching unprepared. So finally the Provincial pushed Anthony forward and bid him say a few words. Anthony began to preach, and all were amazed. This launched a career in teaching and eventually being an itinerant preacher and wonderworker.

Oconto Falls, take off your robe of mourning: “I have so much to do. My life is so boring. Why can’t I have fun like everybody else?” Put on the mantle of my glory! In embracing the ordinary you discover peace, joy, and God himself. A woman was writing Christmas cards. As she did, she began to think about each person. Then she began to pray for each person. And just like that, an ordinary chore was transformed into a joy and a blessing.

“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

Gandalf, The Hobbit

Embrace the ordinary, and fill it with small acts of kindness and love this week. Let Jesus be the King of your Heart, and the Lord of the Ordinary. (10 Dec 2018)

Going Deeper: Read more about the life of St. Anthony at
Do some small acts of kindness and love this week.

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A Speed Bump On Advent Road | #902

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Immaculate Conception • Why do we pause, just as Advent gets started, to celebrate Mary’s conception? God had such a great gift to give us, that no one was ready to receive it. So He made Mary Immaculate so that she could receive His great gift. God has to get us ready for His Son. Advent is about God preparing our hearts for the gift of Jesus. He is the joy of Christmas, He is the source of peace, and He is the gift that no Grinch can steal. (8 Dec 2018)

Going Deeper: What kind of Christmas are you preparing for — the Christmas that the Grinch can steal, or the Christmas joy that no one can take from your heart?

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By Anonymous - Chatzidakis. Byzantine Art in Greece, Public Domain,

The Lord of All Time | #901

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Advent, 1st Sunday (C)

There’s nothing more British than the long-running TV series, “Dr. Who.” The main character looks like a normal man but he’s actually a Time Lord. They are supposed to be an advanced race with advanced knowledge of space and time travel.

Today’s Gospel has similarly cosmic characteristics. “The powers of the heavens will be shaken.” To ancient people the sun, moon, and stars are the constants in the world. No matter what disasters were happening on earth, the stars stayed the same and the Sun came up on schedule. They were the clock, before there were clocks. They were the navigational aids before there was GPS. These were the constants in an unpredictable world.

Jesus is telling us that His word is more dependable than the cosmos. Jesus is the true sun, Mother Mary is the spiritual moon, the saints are the stars in the heavens. God’s love is more dependable than the rising of the Sun. When we bless the Paschal Candle at the Easter vigil, this is what we say:

Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him, and all the ages, to him be glory and power through every age and forever. Amen.

Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, the true clock and the true navigational aid. He is the Lord of All Time. He doesn’t just look like a human being; he is fully human. And he doesn’t need to regenerate because He lives forever and ever.

When we try to be the masters of our own time, we find ourselves surrounded by anxieties. My past and my future become a heavy burden. And I escape through carousing and drunkenness.

This is the season where the Grinch sneaks in and steals all your time. How can we use our holiday time well? Here are three thoughts:

  1. Time is a gift from God. What do we do with God’s gifts? We give them back to him! Sunday Mass. Daily Prayer. Give God priority in your schedule.
  2. Discern how to invest your time. Time is not an infinite resource. You have exactly 1440 minutes every day to spend any way you want. Spend wisely.
  3. Trust Him when things change. The Lord of All Time is managing your schedule. They’ll be time for the important things when you let Jesus manage your time.

Let Jesus be the King of your heart and the Lord of your time.

(2 Dec 2018)

Going Deeper: Prayerfully discern your use of time today. Are you trusting Jesus to be the Lord of your time?

*Brother Priest Preaching Podcast 2019*

This homily is episode 1 of season twelve of the preaching podcast. Last year was Building the Disciple Ship. Now it’s time to equip missionary disciples and launch them into the world. The term for those who are sent is Apostles. The album is called “Season XII”. It reminds us of the 12 Apostles and that this is the season for a new evangelization. This is the season when you are called and formed and sent on mission.

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