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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

Fr. Joel Homilies 1 Comment

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.

distributing communion at holy trinity

Communion Services Begin May 30-31

Fr. Joel Being Catholic 10 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 https://Facebook.com/HolyTrinityOconto/Live, 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?