Christmas Memories

Benjamin God & Faith

– Fr. Benjamin

Christmas has always been a time of great excitement for me. My parents made church services an important part of the Christmas season, and often my father would read the account of Christmas from the Gospel of Luke. When I was young, however, the excitement focused on the candy and cookies that we would make, and on the gifts I would receive. I looked forward with giddy anticipation of that joyful moment when we would tromp downstairs to open presents. I remember being puzzled by the ending of, “How the Ginch stole Christmas.” Christmas had come without presents?

As I grew older, the gifts lost their luster. Small things I could buy for myself, and the things I really wanted, like a new car, were too big to ask for. Slowly it began to dawn on me that the joy of Christmas was never about the gifts.

The seminary gave me the opportunity to study in Rome, which had a lot of beautiful moments but also some great challenges. I was fortunate that my twin brother, Fr. Joel, was studying with me. In December, facing our first Christmas away from home, we decided to go to Slovakia to visit the land of our great grandfather and hopefully see some snow. We had connections with a family in Slovakia who opened their home to us. Their celebration of Christmas was very subdued compared to what we were used to in the United States. They had a family dinner on Christmas Eve and then exchanged a few small gifts. They included a small gift for each of us, since we didn’t have anything from our family to open. The midnight Mass was celebrated completely in Slovak. I understood very few words but I knew exactly what was happening.

I realized later that the “impossible” had happened. Christmas had come without the candy, the cookies, or the large gifts. Without my mother’s home cooking, without our family home, without our family traditions or any of my family except my brother, outside of my own country, Christmas had still come.

Many people long for the wonder of their childhood Christmas when Santa Claus brought presents and the world seemed wrapped in joy. If the gifts, the feasting, and the family celebration have lost some of their magic, it is only because they never had any magic of their own. They only participated in the magic of Christmas that pours out of the stable of Bethlehem. At Bethlehem the impossible happened: the king became a slave; God became a human baby in Jesus Christ. The wonder of that Holy Night shines in the darkness of innumerable winters and fills countless souls with peace and joy. God is among us! God is poor and helpless! Suddenly the weight of the world is lighter on our shoulders, because the Almighty carries that burden with us.

Christmas was always a time of excitement for me, but I can say with all my heart that Christmas is more exciting and more magical than it was when I was a child. As I have grown, the wonder of what Christmas means has grown with me.

Wishing each of you a Christmas full of wonder.

Fr. Joel’s homily for Dec 20

Fr. Joel Homilies

Adv4 – Pregnant with Hope (6:30)

Advent, 4th Sunday. The world has been growing darker, but meanwhile our Advent wreath is growing brighter. Hope is already in the world though we have not yet seen its effects. In the same way Mary is pregnant with hope, carrying Baby Jesus. Even though John and Elizabeth cannot see or hear Christ, they believe, and they wait for the fulfillment. So must we. (20 Dec 2009)

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H1N1 and the Priest

Fr. Joel Priesthood

Even priestly ministry has been touched by swine flu. Our local Catholic hospital has put special requirements in place for anyone who is dealing with H1N1 patients. Specifically, you must wear an N95 “particulate mask” when dealing with such patients. This mask is designed to fit tightly around the face and filter any airborne viruses. As a priest on call with the hospital, I was asked to get fit-tested.


Fit testing is a procedure where they verify that you can correctly put the mask on. First they put a giant clear-plastic hood over your head (it looks like something from a 1960’s sci-fi movie). They spray a bitter mist into the hood to verify that you can taste the bitter material. Then you remove the hood and put the mask on your face and seal it carefully. Then you don the giant plastic hood again and they mist in more bitter solution. “Do you taste anything?” No. Good.
Try turning your head from side to side and breathing. No?
Please talk normally. How about now?
Here is a short passage, please read it.
They spray in more of the solution.
Please stand. Tip your head up and down. Still nothing? Good.
I can now successfully wear the “normal” size N95 mask. It looks like a giant duck-bill. But it could save my life.

The Mask in Action

Two days later I stop by the hospital to visit parishioners. They were just about to call me — we have an H1N1 patient who needs anointing. Please go as soon as possible. A feeling of low-grade panic spreads through my body. I nod with a show of bravery and stride over to the elevator. The bravery stays on the first floor as I slowly ascend. I walk slowly through the hall examining every door. There it is – Room 415. I walk by the door once, then twice, then three times. Yes, that’s the correct door. And yes, it has the precautionary sheet.

Slowly I pull on my mask. It just so happens that there is a shortage of N95 masks. They have also asked me not to dispose of my mask after each use. So I brought my fit-testing mask home in a little bag and kept it with me. They also want to to wear a generic surgical mask on top of the N95. Fully attired in disposable armor, I admire my work in the mirror. I look ridiculous.

I take a deep breath and step into the room. The patient is coughing and clearly sick. Her daughter is on the phone with the parish cancelling the family portrait for the parish directory. We talk for a few minutes and then I do the anointing. Unconsciously I have been speaking loudly, hoping my voice will carry through on the masks. I back out of the room slowly, then discard one mask and save the other. Not sure if I should wash my hands before or after, I do both.

A sense of accomplishment washes over me. I have anointed a patient, and I didn’t die. I also have a new respect for doctors and nurses. What I have just been through is part of their hourly routine. They work every day around dangerous infectious diseases. Any day they could take one home with them. So thank you, medical personnel for risking your lives for us. And just know that if you happen to become infected, I have an N95, and I’m no longer afraid to use it!

Living Well – True Joy

Fr. Joel The Loving Life

At his weekly Angelus this weekend, Pope Benedict blessed the Baby Jesus for nativity scenes. His little address is very interesting. If what he says is true (I’ll let the reader judge that), it contains the key to true joy:

“It is a source of joy for me”, said the Holy Father, “to know that your families still conserve the custom of making nativity scenes. Yet it is not enough to repeat the traditional gesture, however important it may be. We must seek to live what the nativity scene represents in the reality of our everyday lives: that is, the love of Christ, His humility and His poverty”.

“The blessing of the ‘Bambinelli’ – as they are called in Rome – reminds us that the nativity scene is a school of life where we can learn the secret of true joy. This does not consist in possessing many things but in feeling ourselves to be loved by the Lord, in making ourselves a gift for others, and in loving one another

Let us consider the nativity scene: the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph do not appear to be a very privileged family, they had their first child amidst great hardship, yet they are full of intimate joy because they love one another, they help one another and, above all, they are certain that God is at work in their story”.

“And the shepherds”, the Pope asked, “what reason do they have to be happy? That newborn infant will certainly not alter their poverty and marginalisation. Yet faith helps them to recognise in the ‘child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger’, the ‘sign’ of the fulfilment of God’s promises for all the men and women ‘whom He favours’, even for them!”

For this reason, Benedict XVI explained, true joy consists in “feeling that our individual and community lives are touched by and filled with a great mystery, the mystery of the love of God. In order to be joyful we need … love and truth, we need a God Who is near, Who warms our hearts and responds to our most profound expectations.”

Benedict XVI, Angelus, 13 Dec 2009

Fr. Joel’s homily for Dec 13

Fr. Joel Homilies

Adv3 – Rejoice, the Lord is Near (7:50)

Advent, 3rd Sunday. Rejoice in the Lord always, the Lord is near! John the Baptist calls his listeners to their deepest desires – Peace, Joy, and Unconditional Love. These desires can only be filled by God. Advent is the season of realizing our need for God and of refusing all the things that fail to satisfy. Just as we rejoice in the Lord, so also God rejoices in us. (13 Dec 2009)

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Soft sole moccasins

Benjamin Free Range

– Fr. Benjamin

My little brother’s slippers had holes in them. He likes to take his shoes off at the door and wear moccasins all day long, and he had worn through his $17 slippers. “We could make you some moccasins,” I told him. He was excited at the idea of a project. Before going home for Thanksgiving break, I had to locate some leather, needles, thread, an awl, and patterns. I write this post mainly because I relied on online sources, and trying to live the gratitude that Fr. Joel suggests I feel I should contribute to the online knowledge.

We decided on plains Indian style moccasin. A single piece of leather goes under the sole, and is folded over the top of the foot and sewn on one side. Following some directions, I took a tracing of the foot and then added 3/4 inch behind the heel and 1/4 inch around the toes. From the widest part of the foot, the pattern goes straight back to the heel. The upper was a mirror image of this.

The problem was, this pattern DID NOT FIT. It was too small. After thinking about the problem, I measured the CIRCUMFERENCE of the foot and added to the upper until it equaled the total circumference (in the picture the addition is marked with the pen). Pictures of these moccasins suggested that the upper was, in fact, a little larger than the sole.

After figuring out the pattern, the project went quickly. I punched holes with the awl and my brother did the whip stitch. We had to adjust the stitching to take up the difference in size between the upper and the sole. Then we cut a hole in the top (marked by the upside-down T in the pattern), cut a little flap at the base of the heel, and sewed up the back of the moccasin. The stitching was done with the moccasin inside out so the seams wind up inside.

These moccasins are made of cow hide suede, which is flexible but durable. It seems to have less give to it than dear skin. We finished the moccasins by sewing a small tongue into the opening in the upper, and threading laces to hold them on.

It was a fun project and it was good to accomplish something with and for my brother. I made a larger pair for myself, and have been enjoying them around the house. I always wear them with socks, since the seams are on the inside and they irritate my foot if I don’t. Now, my mother is talking about slippers for Christmas; looks like I might have one gift figured out.

Living Well – Gratitude

Fr. Joel The Loving Life

"We must change from looking at the lack in our lives to looking at the abundance in our lives and being grateful." – LaVon Rader

This little quote was part of a presentation on living a simple abundant life at the Diocese of Green Bay’s convocation for 2009. When I heard it, I realized that I had personally been looking at the lack in my life and it was making me unhappy. Now I finish my journal entries with one thing I am grateful for that day. Slowly I am discovering that the good things I have far outweigh the things I lack. So during this "season of giving", we might be asked to make a list of all the things we want. Maybe it would be smarter to make a list of the things we are grateful for and spend time enjoying them rather than asking for more.

Thanksgiving in Wisconsin

We woke up Thanksgiving Day to a thick blanket of snow, our first for the year. Now I could look at the "lack" of warm weather, but instead I’ll be grateful for the abundance of snow. And I am also grateful for the sun, which by early afternoon had melted all the snow.

thanksgiving (2)

thanksgiving (5)

Living Well – A New Series

Fr. Joel The Loving Life

Priests see people at their worst. It would be odd if I went through a whole week without someone breaking down and crying in front of me. “Father, can I meet with you?,” people always ask. Chances are slim that they go on to say, “I’ve had a great week and I just want to tell you about the wonderful things God is doing.” No, instead it seems to always be, “My life is a mess and I need your help.” So a priest hears every different way that life can go badly. Sometimes life is a mess because of circumstances beyond a person’s control. But more often than not, the life we lead is a result of the choices we have made. So what kind of choices do we have to make in order to live well?
If you say that someone “lives well”, most people think you mean they are living a rich life. In the same way, if I say, “I ate well every night this week,” you will think  I have been going out to eat, having lots of fancy foods and coming home stuffed. But “eating well” really means not “eating badly” – good, healthy foods in good quantities. In the same way, when I say “living well”, I mean living a healthy life full of purpose and meaning. It seems to me that healthy living includes being healthy physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally. In other words, a good life.

But what does it take to lead a good life? What does it mean to be living well? Cultures have generally collected tips about living well in the form of reflections, stories and insights that provide guidelines to the next generation. The knowledge and art of living well is called Wisdom. Previous generations had the habit of passing on this wisdom from generation to generation. Our culture has lost this habit. Our elders don’t take the time to collect wisdom and our youth don’t take the time to listen to it. We expect to learn what we need to know from school or the internet and we rarely take the time to look back and reflect on whether it is working. So this is the reason for this new series. I hope to collect tips and insights from personal experiences and from others, and pass them on. Please leave comments on this or other posts and I will be happy to include your wisdom as well. Maybe together we can learn to live well and help others to do the same.

Fr. Joel’s homily for Nov 8

Fr. Joel Homilies

Ord32 – How to buy Heaven for Two Pennies (9:11)

Ordinary Time, 32nd Sunday. What do we do when even our best isn’t good enough? Today we see two widows who do not have enough. One gives here little to Elijah and God rewards her generously. Another gives her little to the temple and wins the admiration of Jesus. What do we do when however much we have, it still isn’t enough? We give it to God. And it will be more than enough. (8 Nov 2009)

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