cares emoji holding Sacred Heart of Jesus

Cherish the Gift of the Holy Spirit | #1032

Fr. Joel Homilies Leave a Comment

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.

distributing communion at holy trinity

Communion Services Begin May 30-31

Fr. Joel Being Catholic 9 Comments

I want to begin with a note of gratitude. Thank you for your patience! I know that for many of you, Sunday Mass is the highpoint of your week. It gives you a chance to connect with God and with your church family and focus on the things that matter. You leave with a renewed sense of your identity as a child of God the Father, a member of the Body of Christ, and a temple of the Holy Spirit. Since restrictions first began on March 20, you have eagerly awaited in exile for the day that you could come “home”.

You have experienced a little taste of the Babylonian Captivity. For over 50 years, the Jews waited to return to their homeland. When they did, they found a lot of rebuilding was necessary. In a similar way, the return to church will be a gradual and perhaps challenging process of rebuilding. We will begin with a return to Communion on May 30-31. It won’t quite yet be the Mass that we know and love, but it will be an opportunity to receive Communion.

When and Where

Communion will be offered at Holy Trinity in Oconto on Saturday, May 30 and June 6, from 5:30 to 6:30 PM. Communicants will enter through the main doors that face Arbutus Street and leave through the side doors on Jefferson Street.

Communion will be offered at St. Anthony in Oconto Falls on Sunday, May 31 and June 7, from 10:00 to 11:00 AM. Communicants will enter through the doors that face the playground and exit through the main doors of church.

How to Receive

Communicants should be free from communicable diseases and flu-like symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, fever over 100.4ºF, loss of taste or smell). You are encouraged to wear masks but not gloves. A total of 16 people will enter at a time, 8 in church and 8 in the gathering space, social distanced 6 feet apart. We will do a short prayer and the Our Father together and then you will have a chance to receive Communion. You will not be able to stop and pray in the pews. We also ask that you not congregate in church or in the parking lot before or after, for your own safety and the safety of others. Those age 65 or above and those with compromised immunity are encouraged to stay home.

Be Ready

In order to receive Communion, you should be in the state of grace (free from mortal sin), having fasted from foods for 1 hour, and having prepared yourself by some kind of participation in the Mass. You should watch our live stream at, listen to a radio Mass, or at the very least read and pray with the scripture readings for the day as a family. After receiving Communion you are encouraged to spend some time in prayer. Prayer cards and bulletins will be available as you leave.

Thank You For Your Kindness

It all sounds very cold, I know. These guidelines came directly from the Diocese of Green Bay. It is pretty much exactly all the things I feared that “return to church” might look like. But we are being obedient to Bishop Ricken. In doing so, I believe that this moment can be an experience profound Communion with God and with each other. Many of us haven’t fasted this long from the Eucharist since our First Communion. Your patience, love, and obedience will be rewarded with blessings beyond your wildest dreams. I look forward to seeing you in person, even if briefly, and to hearing about the blessings God gives you through this encounter with our Eucharistic Lord.

When Can We Get Back to Mass?

I expect that these mini Communion services will last just two weeks and then we will be able to offer public Masses with some restrictions on attendance. Thank you for your patience. The best is yet to come.

Peace and joy,
Fr. Joel Sember

priest showing a book

Let Me Share With You My Finest Achievement | #1031

Fr. Joel Homilies 1 Comment

Easter, Ascension of the Lord (A) I have accomplished many things in my 9+ years of service in these three parishes. But one of my finest achievements was putting new tabs on the Roman Missal. I did that all by myself without any help from anyone. The rest of my achievements were really our achievements, things that we did together, with me as the head and you the members of our parish.

In a similar way, Jesus is our head. When the head ascends to Heaven, the body remains on earth. It is like the Body of Christ has been stretched between Heaven and Earth. We, the members, must have a good connection with Christ, our Head. Pray for the Holy Spirit to strengthen your connection with Christ.

(24 May 2020)

Going Deeper: Meditate on the words of our second reading:

Brothers and sisters:
May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,
give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation
resulting in knowledge of him.
May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call,
what are the riches of glory
in his inheritance among the holy ones,
and what is the surpassing greatness of his power
for us who believe.

Tears of Gratitude | #1030

Fr. Joel Homilies 4 Comments

Easter, 6th Sunday (A) We know that the work of the Holy Spirit creates the Church, the Priesthood, the Eucharist, and the other sacraments. But the Holy Spirit is also working in this crisis. It is the Holy Spirit that has kept us connected to Jesus and to one another during this time of isolation.

Today, too many couples practice physical intimacy before they learn how to be emotionally and spiritually intimate. They often struggle with these deeper forms of intimacy. In a similar way, a lot of Catholics were prepared to be physically intimate with Jesus, but have not been taught how to be emotionally or spiritually intimate. We have been deprived of physical intimacy with Jesus so we can grow in spiritual and emotional intimacy with Jesus.

Everyone is having a hard time right now. We can get frustrated that things are opening up too slowly, or too quickly. We can feel that people are being too careful or too careless. During this time of crisis, please be kind to people. And please focus on being grateful. As of today, 0.2% of the population of the State of Wisconsin has a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 and 0.009% of the population has died. Those are big numbers for a disease, but those are small numbers in the overall picture. I’m not saying this to minimize the suffering of those who have been infected. I’m saying that we should be grateful for these numbers.

I haven’t always been grateful for my parish assignment. In August, I will begin serving the three parishes in Antigo, WI. It makes me realize what an incredible blessing it has been to serve you for almost 10 years. The good work that I did here was Jesus in me, and me in Jesus.

Today Jesus promises, “I will not leave you orphans.” Jesus isn’t leaving. He will continue to walk with you and care for you through the hands of other priests.

The vast majority of the ministry that is done in these parishes is not done by me, but by you. You are the ones teaching your children their prayers, encouraging your co-workers, holding the hand of a dying person, being kind to someone who is struggling. You do far more ministry than I do. And your ministry too is Jesus in you, and you in Jesus.

Mother Mary Catherine used to be with the Missionaries of Charity. She once asked Mother Therese, the foundress of the order, “Why do you bow to each of us?” Mother Theresa responded, “I bow to Jesus in you.” What a wonderful reason to be grateful! What a beautiful motive to be kind.

[bows to the congregation]

(17 May 2020)

Going Deeper: How have you grown in spiritual and emotional intimacy with Jesus during these challenging times?

New Assignment to Antigo Beginning August 3rd

Fr. Joel Being Catholic 5 Comments

Dear Friends,

I recently presented at a virtual Zoom conference called the Parish Life Line. I told the participants that prayer should always begin and end with gratitude. So following my own advice, I want to begin this letter with gratitude. I think we have all learned recently to appreciate little things like a hug, a handshake, or a dinner out with friends. As a young pastor I often felt myself burdened by expectations rather than blessed by abundance. But I have come to realize what incredible staff, volunteers, and parishioners we are all blessed with. You have been patient, understanding, encouraging, and grateful in the midst of difficult times. You don’t know how often a prayer, a word of encouragement, or a thoughtful note came just at the right time to help me through. You are a blessing and I am grateful for you.

When I first started here, people kept asking, “How long will you be here?” I would often respond, “I think a decade would be a good run, and then we’ll see.” I never actually expected to stay 10 years. But now, almost ten years later, I can finally answer the question. Effective Monday, August 3, I will become the pastor of the three parishes that serve Antigo, WI.

But before I leave, the Diocese has begun a process of reviewing the linkage. Having Oconto, Oconto Falls, and Stiles at once is a very challenging assignment. Comparatively speaking, St. Maximilian Kolbe in Sobieski is a much less demanding assignment. They have put on the table the question of possibly rearranging how these four parishes are linked. Bishop’s intention is to keep all four parishes open but to see if there is a more equitable way to care for them. That reconfiguration will have to be decided first before the final assignments are made, which should all happen before I leave on August 2.

Bishop Ricken intends to name a priest to replace me by July. He is responsible for the care and well- being of all the parishes in his Diocese and he makes the decisions about how to tend the flock in each parish so that all the parishes thrive. I hope that you have thrived under my care. It’s time for me to let someone else tend the flock here.

This is not at all how I anticipated sharing the news with you. Nothing about this spring has been in any sense normal. So I cannot say exactly what ‘saying goodbye’ will look like. But I do know that I owe each of you a hug and a big, “Thank You.” And you’ll be getting it, one way or another. Though I may be leaving, you will not be left without a shepherd. Of course we can always count on the Good Shepherd. I am grateful for you and for the ways you have blessed me. Your next priest, or priests, doesn’t yet realize how lucky he is. And don’t ask him how long he’ll stay, just be grateful for him, as I am grateful for you.

Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Joel Sember

Bishop Ricken: Letter of Appointment Fr. Joel Sember (PDF)

Bishop Ricken: Letter to the Parishioners of Oconto, Oconto Falls, Stiles (PDF)

heart with lots of little hearts inside of it

You Have a Place Prepared for You | #1029

Fr. Joel Homilies Leave a Comment

Easter, Fifth Sunday (A) Mothers are made to hold others in their arms and in their hearts. Every month, a woman’s body prepares a place for a potential child. Holy Mother Church also prepares a place for her children. You are chosen and precious and have a place prepared for you in Heaven. At your funeral, Mother Church will birth you into eternity and Jesus will be there to catch you.

The church is preparing to welcome people back within her walls. In the meanwhile, we need to be preparing a place for Jesus. Considering consecrating you home to Mother Mary, or learning the Pentecost Sequence (see the notes below). You are chosen and precious. You have a place prepared for you in church and in Heaven. Have you prepared a place for Jesus in your home and in your heart?

(10 May 2020)

Going Deeper: Learn more about the Consecration of the United States to the care of our Blessed Mother and download the guide for yourself in three different languages. Pray it as a family.

Learn to sing the Pentecost Sequence, Veni Sancte Spiritus, in English or Latin or both. Make your mama proud!

When Can We Get Back to Church?

Fr. Joel Church meets World Leave a Comment

What peace we have, even in this wounded world where the battle rages on. We will not fear, for we know who heals our souls. Hallelujah is our song!

When can we get back to church? I’ve had some variation of this conversation at least a dozen times. I know two things for sure: We will be open for public Masses at some point, and Mass will look a little different when we do open up. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has published a three-page plan called the Catholic Comeback. They plan to limit attendance to 25% of the church’s capacity and will enforce social distancing by using only every other or every 3rd pew. Ushers will be wearing masks and not shaking hands. The collection will take place by large baskets at the entrances or baskets on handles. All missals or paper will be removed from the pews. The plan takes effect the weekend of May 30-31.

In the Green Bay Diocese we are awaiting guidance from Bishop Ricken and his team. Governor Evers’ Safer-at-home order is set to expire May 26. He doesn’t plan to allow gatherings of more than 10 until Phase 2 of the “Badger Bounce-back Plan.” Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have recently doubled in both Brown County and Oconto County. If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t put money on the last weekend in May.

I have a leadership team that has been discussing these issues with me. I call them the Health Emergency Response Ministry Team (or HERMiT for short). The team is Lori Scanlan, Sue Beschta, Kevin Smits, Dave Westenberg, Amy Dessart, and Bill Dolan. They are a kind of staff meeting and mini parish council combined. I am grateful for their support. I also plan to hold a combined Parish Council and Finance Council for all three parishes virtually on Thursday, May 14. We will take a look at where things stand and plan for the future.

I continue to be grateful for my amazing staff and wonderful parishioners. You have been so encouraging, supportive, patient, and grateful. I have had a great deal of peace throughout this whole experience. The peace comes, not from watching the news or from feeling in control, but rather from knowing that I am loved by God and I am being taken care of. God will provide, protect, and support me. When I start feeling to feel that peace slip away, it is a sign that I have taken my eyes of God and am looking at the battle (or the waves) raging around me. But all I have to do is say, “Lord, save me!” and Jesus is right there to take my hand. I pray that you, too, are experiencing Christ’s peace and Easter joy.

~Fr. Joel

national day of prayer USA flag

Why Should God Bless America? | #1028

Fr. Joel Homilies Leave a Comment

National Day of Prayer for the USAAbraham Lincoln called the United States of his day to penance, prayer, and humiliation. What do we have to repent of? Our country has been guilty of exploiting human lives to ensure an abundance of cheap goods, food, and fuel. And there’s more. What part of the Lord’s Day actually belongs to God? We like to say that God is #1 in our lives but every Sunday we have a chance to prove it. Do we spend the first hour of the first day of the week on God, or on ourselves? Does it surprise us that God has deprived us of Sunday Mass? Does it surprise us to that we have been deprived of our beloved sports? God will bless America when America blesses God.

(7 May 2020)

Going Deeper: Read the proclamation and listen to a dramatization on Fox 11’s Website

[image source]
priest consecration good shepherd

What Did Jesus Mean When He Said I Am The Gate? | #1027

Fr. Joel Homilies 1 Comment

Easter, 4th Sunday (A) Jesus is the leader we have been looking for. He loves his sheep, cares for them, and lays down at the entrance to the sheep fold. His own body saves the sheep from the dark and nasty outside.

Jesus does not promise that our lives, or our church, will be free of thieves and robbers. But he does promise that he will always be there. If we stay close to the shepherd, we will be fine. Be careful whom you listen to.

Yesterday I had a beautiful family wedding. I started looking back and wondering what I would have told myself from 20 years ago. I could have never guessed all the hard times ahead of me. But the most difficult moments were the most profound experiences of God’s faithful presence. No matter what is going on outside, or inside, stay close to the Shepherd and you will find peace.

(3 May 2020)

Thank you Paula for your support! Congratulations on your May anniversaries and Happy Birthday to all the May babies!

Read More
pilgrims walking

Registration is Open for the 2020 Walking Pilgrimage

Fr. Joel Church meets World Leave a Comment

What: A five-day walking pilgrimage. Good for body and soul!

When: June 15-19th, 2020

Where: Departing from Holy Trinity in Oconto, WI and walking to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, WI

Why: A pilgrimage is an ancient form of prayer and devotion. The Early Christians were fond of traveling to Holy Places. The best places were the Holy Land to see the places Jesus walked, taught, died and rose and the tombs of great saints. In recent years places where Mary appeared have become very popular. A pilgrimage is not a vacation; it is a transformational journey during which significant change takes place. New insights are given. Deeper understanding is attained. On return from the pilgrimage, life is seen with different eyes. Nothing will ever be quite the same again.

Who: You


Do you walk on the highway? No. We walk on foot paths and country roads as much as possible. Before the highways existed, this is how people got from place to place.

Where do you sleep? We line up lodging in church basements and old convents. You will be warm, dry, and safe every night. People even serve us delicious, hot food.

What do I need to bring? You will need hiking clothes and a good backpack, a mat and sleeping bag, a rain poncho, water bottles, toiletries (some places will have showers) and whatever you use for prayer (Bible, journal, rosary).

What about the safer-at-home restrictions? Currently in the State of Wisconsin, restrictions expire May 26th. If restrictions are extended we will take steps to comply with the relevant laws. We always make every effort to keep pilgrims safe.

Signup Deadline is May 15

  • Experience a one, two or five day journey.
  • Pilgrims must attend the required meeting on June 3rd at 6:00 PM. (All excuses must be approved).
  • Pilgrims must be at least 18 years of age and in reasonably good physical shape. Those who are over the age of 55 must submit a physician’s release.
  • Volunteers on our On-Call Support Team will be available to help those who are sick or injured.

How can I participate if I can’t walk all that distance?

Use the sign-up sheet but sign up as a Spiritual Pilgrim. You can pray from your own home or neighborhood and join in the pilgrimage spiritually.

Cost is $50 (or $10 each for Monday and Friday if only walking 1 or 2 days). Fees are fully refundable in the event of a cancellation.