masked priest in front of church steps

What the Still Small Voice Said | #1041

Fr. Joel Homilies 2 Comments

Ordinary Time, 19th Sunday (A) Today I get to introduce myself to my new parishes. It’s always hard to make a transition to a new assignment. It is particularly hard for me after 10 years in the same place. I know it’s a challenge for you to have your last pastor leave after just 2 years. On top of the normal challenges, the covid situation has made everything difficult and stressful and weird.

Covid caused us a cancel all kinds of activities. Perhaps in the midst of the slowdown, you heard that still small voice. It’s not so much a voice as a Presence. The great silence of the universe is the quiet presence of God. You knew that God was there with you and things would be OK.

I knew it was Jesus calling me to come to Antigo. I told him it would be hard to move and he said, “Come.” And lo and behold everything worked out — I had help to pack, move, unpack, and hang pictures (thanks Mom and Dad :-). I had sailed into a storm, and yet I had peace.

Then Monday I had a little meltdown and a bigger one Wednesday. By Wednesday afternoon I was feeling frustration. I was starting to sink into the waves. That’s when I remember the Surrender Novena. When you face the chaos of the world around you, enter into the peace and silence of God’s love for you. Perhaps you will hear that still small voice whispering to you: “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.”

(9 Aug 2020)

Going Deeper: Do you think I’m just crazy, or have you had a similar experience of God’s quite presence in your life? Tell me about it.

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Riding the Merry-go-Round Without Getting Dizzy | #1040

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Ordinary Time, 17th Sunday (A) Life can often feel like a merry-go-round. We go up and down and around and around; too much to do and not enough time. How do we keep from getting dizzy?

King Solomon turns to the Lord. He doesn’t ask God to change all the things around him. He asks God to change his heart. All my assignments have been too much for me to handle. After trying everything, and feeling overwhelmed and angry, I finally went on a silent retreat. I found the Lord waiting for me and offering me peace. A daily holy hour, and an annual retreat, became survival skills.

Focusing on God helped me to see people more clearly. I started realizing that my job was helping people and not ‘getting things done.’ You only get a thriving, vibrant parish by investing in people and taking care of people. And I started to realize that we are all in this together. I was helping others, and they were helping me.

I used to think I had to give people answers or solve their problems. I had been overwhelmed because I thought I was supposed to do it all. But now I direct them to Jesus and help them discover that He is the pearl of great price. I am willing to give everything for my relationship with Jesus. I love serving the people of southern Oconto County, but I love Jesus more.

Feeling dizzy? You don’t need God to change all the stuff around you. You need a change of heart. Go to Jesus. Discover that He is the pearl of great price. Focus on him and everything changes.

(26 Jul 2020)

Going Deeper: For many of us, Sunday Mass is the most important way we stay focused on God. What helps you on a monthly and yearly basis? How about on a daily basis?

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

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Do This Before You Kick the Bucket | #1039

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Ordinary Time, 16th Sunday (A) Last week’s Gospel was about the Word of God bearing good fruit. Now wheat and weeds are growing side-by-side. We might think God is paying no attention, but there will be a harvest. All who cause others to sin and all evildoers will be gathered up and burned like weeds, but the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. God is patiently waiting for the evildoers to repent and bear good fruit. Are you preparing for the harvest?

Friday I checked an item off my bucket list: paddling a kayak across Green Bay. Right in the middle of our journey, my partner started talking to me about his funeral plans. Not exactly what I wanted to think about when we were five or six miles from land. We did finally arrive safely in the promised land — Door County.

You shouldn’t just set out tomorrow on a 12.5 mile paddle trip. You need the proper equipment and you need proper training. In a similar way, your life on earth is a journey to Eternal Life. You’ve been equipped by the Church, the Sacraments, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. But don’t load your kayak down with bling. Don’t paddle in circles, allowing yourself to be blown by the waves and winds of current events. Let the Spirit guide you and know that Jesus paddles with you. Keep moving towards Eternal Life and you will be ready for the harvest.

So this summer, check some items off your bucket list. But first, take some time to plan your funeral.

(19 Jul 2020)

Going Deeper: How can your funeral reflect your belief in Jesus’ second coming, the Resurrection of the dead, and life everlasting?

Roundup for the Soul | #1038

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Ordinary Time, 15th Sunday (A) Seeds of faith and vocation were planted in the hearts of Fr. Benjamin Johnson and Fr. Kevin Ripley. Now they will plant seeds in the hearts of others. As your pastor, I have planted many seeds of faith, hope, and charity. I have watered seeds that were planted by others. I have uprooted many weeds that were growing in souls. What is growing in your heart?

If you want a good crop, you must plant God’s word. How much of God’s word do you receive daily or weekly? Here are three ways to feed your soul on the good seed of God’s word:

  1. Open your Bible and read it every day. Read Jenny Uebbing’s testimony on Mama Needs Coffee.
  2. Subscribe to a daily Missal like the Magnificat or The Word Among Us.
  3. Download a Bible app on your smartphone and read it instead of scrolling Twitter or Snapchat.

What difference does it make?

A young Alessandro let the weeds of selfish pleasure grow in his heart until they yielded the bitter fruits of rape and murder. But Little Maria had planted the good seed of reproach and forgiveness and they would slowly grow into a beautiful harvest. What is growing in your soul?

(13 Jul 2020)

Going Deeper: Read the Spiritual Testament of Alessandro Serenelli for yourself. What is the best Bible app? Tell us in the comments.

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O Jesus, I surrender myself to You, take care of everything! | #1037

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Ordinary Time, 14th Sunday (A) The United States of America threw off the yoke of King George III and became an independent nation. But today Jesus invites us to accept his yoke and be subject to his Kingship. Paradoxically, accepting the Kingship of Jesus makes us more free. In a similar way, it was only because of the interdependence of the 13 colonies that they were able to win their independence from England. The Kingship of Jesus frees us from the tyranny of sin, fear, and death. It frees us from competition and allows us to truly support one another. “O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything!”

(5 July 2020)

Going Deeper: Pray the Surrender Novena or yourself or buy the pamphlet from Full of Grace.

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The Lost Art of Hospitality | #1036

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Ordinary Time, 13th Sunday (A) In the stranger-danger world of social distancing, hospitality has become a lost art. Hospitality tells a person, “I may have never met you before, but it is a good that you exist.” All of our best friends were once strangers. Even our spouse used to be a stranger until you welcomed them into your life and they welcomed you. This is why St. Benedict instructed his monks to welcome every guest as Christ. What would happen if our families lived by that motto?

Thank you for welcoming me into your hearts, your homes, and your parish. Your presence has been a blessing to me, and I hope that my presence has been a blessing to you. I hope you will welcome your new pastor with the same hospitality that you welcomed me. Why does the Diocese move priests? I can think of three reasons:

  1. Training. You start with easier parishes and work up to bigger and more complicated ones.
  2. Getting the best coaching. Every priest has different gifts and asks different things from his people. When we rotate priests, the people keep growing and the parishes stay well-rounded.
  3. Connecting people with Christ. My job is to connect people with Jesus, and not with me. I help you grow in your faith and then step out of the way. Jesus will still be here teaching you and loving you.

I hope that you have seen Jesus in me. We all know that priests are called to die to themselves so that Jesus can live in them. But this is also the job description of every Christian. Do people see Jesus in you? Today Jesus welcomes you into His home and feeds you with the Eucharist. Open your heart today and let Jesus be the Guest of Honor.

(28 Jun 2020)

Going Deeper: Read more about the treatment of guests from The Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Chapter 53: Reception of Guests

Thank you Sue, and Sue’s dad too!

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Pilgrims Experience the Father’s Care | #1035

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Ordinary Time, 12th Sunday (A) We just finished our 10th annual walking pilgrimage from Oconto to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, WI. Eleven people, five days, 56 miles, 150,000 steps and a load of blessings. We experienced the loving providence of God along the road in water, weather, and BOGO pints of custard. God is not a deadbeat Dad too busy running the universe to pay attention to His children. He is a loving Father who listens, cares for, protects and provides for his children.

The perfection of manhood is fatherhood. Fathers should reflect the Fatherhood of God. Know that God loves you, He cares for you, and He hears you. Pray for men to be good fathers, to protect and provide and guide us in the ways of God. Know that God the Father receives your prayers.

(21 Jun 2020)

Going Deeper: Next time you pray the Our Father, picture God the Father hearing you and receiving your prayer.

priest elevates host at consecration

Finally We Can Be Together in Flesh and Blood | #1034

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Corpus Christi (A) For the last twelve weeks we have been in this together, even though we haven’t been able to physically be together. Finally we can be together as a parish community. Digital communication helps us stay connected but it’s not the same as actually being together in flesh and blood.

God is always with us. But he wanted to be together, “in the flesh.” So the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, as a man and in the gift of the Eucharist. Love isn’t content to be at a distance; love wants to be with the beloved. And Jesus is willing to be with you no matter what. Jesus is not afraid of our racism and violence, viruses and death. Come forward and receive Jesus as if this were your first Communion, your last Communion, your only Communion.

(14 Jun 2020)

Going Deeper: Do I long for Jesus like he longs for me? To what lengths am I willing to go to be together with Jesus?

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How to Sew America Back Together | #1033

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Trinity Sunday (A)

The Diocese is evaluating the feasibility of linking Oconto with Sobieski and having Oconto Falls and Stiles get a separate priest. Two issues have emerged that would need to be addresses: Oconto and Sobieski have 5 weekend Masses between them, and Sobieski for sure would need to drop a Mass. We would need a rectory for the priest in Oconto Falls. The Diocese has held listening sessions with staff and parish leadership regarding these issues.

One thing has emerged from these discussions — people feel that the cluster of 3 parishes have been working well together. “You brought us together, and we have been doing so well together,” people said. I had forgotten that Oconto and Oconto Falls used to be rivals. We put the bulletin together. We did walking pilgrimages and Care Ministry and the shelter meal together. We did Alpha and St. Vincent de Paul together. People started to know each other and feel comfortable in the ‘other church.’ They even felt comfortable going to a different Bible study if they missed the one at their church. “You brought unity,” they said. One person summed it up: “We’ve gotten to know people from the other parishes and we’ve realized, they’re not so bad after all.” This is the journey of unity — from “us” vs. “them” to seeing “them” as “us”, too.

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Cherish the Gift of the Holy Spirit | #1032

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Pentecost (A) Through the Holy Spirit we receive the forgiveness of sins that welcomes us back into the family of God our Father. The Holy Spirit incorporates us into the Body of Christ and brings out our individual gifts for the good of all. The Holy Spirit makes us His temples and bids us carry His presence into the whole world.

Today will be the first day since March 20th that many of you were able to receive Communion. Open your heart to Jesus, cherish Him, spend the week giving thanks for His love. Hold tight to the Sacred Heart and live in your identity as a child of God, and Peace will reign within you, too.

(31 May 2020)

Going Deeper: Spend half the week giving thanks for the gift of the Eucharist, and the second half of the week preparing to receive Holy Communion again.