bride and groom

A Marriage “in the Church” not in a Church?

Fr. Joel Church meets World

“Father, can you officiate my backyard wedding?” I get these calls several times a year. “No, I’m not allowed to celebrate a wedding outside a Catholic Church,” I explain. One US Diocese is temporarily permitting priests to celebrate outdoor weddings. It’s a one year experiment in meeting people where they are at (in the backyard, apparently). I understand the importance of meeting people where they are at. But I don’t think this is the right way to do it. Even if my Diocese followed suite, I would decline to celebrate outdoor weddings. Let me explain why.

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Your Seat in the Symphony | #836

Fr. Joel Homilies

Ordinary Time, 15th Sunday (B) Can you really “be anything you want to be?” If we take this too far, we find our puny will opposed by every other person, and the whole universe. Our human nature places limits upon us. You can be a janitor, but you can’t be a lightbulb. Trying to be what you weren’t made for leads to anxiety, anger, resentment, depression, even suicide.

There is another answer. You have a creator who has created, blessed, destined, and chosen you. God has made space in the universe for your tiny will. You have a reserved seat at the symphony; you have a roll just for you. Learn to listen to the Conductor and to play your roll well. Instead of screaming at others, “I’m significant”, start telling them, “You are a gift.”

(15 Jul 2018)

Going Deeper: Tomorrow, set out to treat every person you meet as, “Called, blessed, destined, and chosen.” How can your words and actions tell the people around you: “You are significant, You are a gift”?

Thanks to Bishop Barron and Bill Watterson

Pilgrimage Slideshow 2018

Fr. Joel Being Catholic

Thank you to all the walkers, supporters, and generous parishes that hosted us. It was a wonderful journey together and a time to unplug from “everyday” life and plug into God, nature, and our connections with other people. I’m looking forward to next year already!

Prophets, Fireflies, and Fireworks | #835

Fr. Joel Homilies

Ordinary Time, 14th Sunday (B) We probably think that prophets are called to preach the Gospel in far-off lands. But God calls you to preach the Gospel in your own town and to your own family. Here are three suggestions for preaching the Gospel to your children:

  1. Let yourself be challenged and changed
  2. Pray with your children
  3. Play with your children

When we get down to their level and see with their eyes, we begin to realize that they too are the prophets, and we are the rebellious house.

(8 Jul 2018)

Going Deeper: Teach your children the Our Father, if they don’t know it already. If you were to preach the Gospel at home, where would you start? Make a plan.

Image completion from A and B

Touched By Love | #834

Fr. Joel Homilies

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) The touch of Jesus is the touch of healing Love. Jesus touched José, Greg, and Kyle through Confessions, daily Mass, and CYE. Sometimes we have to seek Jesus and take hold of his garments. At other times we need to stay put and wait for Jesus. Are you confident in Jesus’ love for you?

(1 July 2018)

Going Deeper: Ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to help you be confident in Jesus’ love for you.

Tell Your Face The Good News | #833

Fr. Joel Homilies

Birthday of John the Baptist • Our family tells us where we come from, but only God can reveal to us who we are. Turn to Jesus for your identity. You will find him calling you to be a disciple and then sending you as a missionary. To be fully yourself, you must live John’s motto: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

(24 Jun 2018)

Image from Quotefancy

Going Deeper: Joe was an avid gardener and loved to share the fruits of his labor with everyone. Things that Joe loved most in life were the Lord and Blessed Mother, his family, and being a US Army Veteran. Obituary for Paul “Joe” Brabant

What will your obituary say you loved most?

Pruning for the Harvest | #832

Fr. Joel Homilies

Ordinary Time, 11th Sunday (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 Heart Problem

Fr. Joel Human Relationships, The Loving Life

In previous articles I talked about marriage as a covenant, not a contract. I pointed out that marriage, sex, and babies are a package deal. Approaching marriage in this way helps us prepare for a long and happy relationship. But some couples start off doing everything wrong and yet manage to make a marriage work. Other couples seem to do everything right and still wind up in a messy divorce. What gives?

It comes down to the heart. The risk of sex and cohabitation outside of marriage is that we think someone has given us their heart. And we may think we have given them our heart. But we may just be going through the motions without realizing it. If we don’t fix the heart problem, no amount of counseling or marriage retreats will ‘save’ the marriage. A couple may start off a marriage with very poor choices, but if they learn to give their hearts, the marriage will be fine. If the heart is in the right place, the rest will fall into place.

The same thing happens with our faith. We can learn lots about what it means to be Catholic. We can go through the motions of loving and serving God. But if we don’t give our heart to God, eventually the Catholic faith will become a burden and not a blessing.

It seems to me that my grandparents’ generation were just better at giving their hearts. They knew they were a gift and they knew how to give themselves away. As they attended church they learned to give their heart to God. As they walked down the aisle and said, “I do”, they knew what it meant and they really did it. Somewhere in the next couple of generations we forgot how to give our hearts. We kept walking down the aisle for First Communion and for Marriage, but the results were very different.

If you really want your marriage to work, learn to give your heart to God. When we put God first, other things fall into place. When we give our hearts to God we learn that we are a gift and He teaches us how to make a gift to another. Marriages and friendships are deeper, stronger, and more blessed when they are rooted and grounded in God’s love for us. Have you given your heart to your spouse? Have you given your heart to God?

–Fr. Joel

A House Divided Cannot Stand | #831

Fr. Joel Homilies

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?

Fr. Joel Human Relationships, The Loving Life

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?