A Power Source Greater Than the Sun

Fr. Joel Being Catholic 2 Comments

You often hear me talking about a personal relationship with God. By personal, I don’t mean “private.” I’m not encouraging everyone to have their own “personal” Jesus. I am referring rather to a relationship between persons. You are a person, and the One God is three Persons, and so your relationship with God is a relationship between persons.

Now Pope Francis is a person, and I’m a person too. I know a lot about Pope Francis. I’ve read some of his writings. I see him in the news. I get his tweets every morning as if the Pope were texting me. I saw him in person in St. Peter’s Square on June 26, 2013. But I don’t have a personal relationship with him. We’re not friends, we don’t talk regularly, and even if we met in person we wouldn’t share deep personal things.

I think a lot of us expect to have this same kind of relationship with God. We believe in his existence. We know about him. He seems like a nice guy. He dresses in white and lives a long way off. He can’t possibly be interested in little old me. And so we are content with an impersonal relationship. But God is not content to remain at a distance from you. In a famous letter to her sisters, Mother Theresa wrote:

Jesus wants me to tell you again, specially in this Holy Week, how much love He has for each one of you – beyond all you can imagine. I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus – one to one – you and Jesus alone. We may spend time in chapel – but have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? Do you really know the living Jesus – not from books but from being with Him in your heart? Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you? Ask for the grace, He is longing to give it. Until you can hear Jesus in the silence of your own heart, you will not be able to hear Him saying, “I thirst” in the hearts of the poor. Never give up this daily intimate contact with Jesus as the real living person – not just the idea. How can we last even one day without hearing Jesus say, “I love you” – impossible. Our soul needs that as much as the body needs to breathe the air. If not, prayer is dead – meditation only thinking. Jesus wants you each to hear Him – speaking in the silence of your heart. (“Varanasi Letter” of 25 March 1993)

Some people are surprised to hear a Catholic saint talk like this. “We never heard this growing up; that’s something those Bible churches talk about.” But all the great saints had this one thing in common: at some point they became friends with God. They experienced his love in a personal way and said “Yes” to his love for them. His love fueled their passion to dare great things: feed the hungry, serve the poor, teach children, convert pagan nations, and turn wastelands into flourishing monasteries.

The burning love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the engine that powers the Catholic faith. His love warms our churches and burns away our sins. It inspires young women to give their life to him as sisters, and young men to be celibate priests and monks. It inspires Catholic families to be open to life and to raise Godly children for heaven. Love for him is incarnate in our beautiful old churches built by poor immigrants, our many Catholic schools and universities and hospitals and long history of heroic saints.

Why is the Catholic Church running out of steam? Has Jesus stopped loving us? Absolutely not! The sun itself is less powerful than the love of Jesus, and will burn itself out long before we run out of God’s love. But we are freezing to death, insulated from God’s love by comfortable consumer lives. More and more we don’t even know how to let other human beings love us, let alone God himself. And in this state of coldness we think that celibate priesthood is too much to ask of a young man. Yes, celibacy, saving sex for marriage, openness to life, faithfulness in marriage — it’s all too much to ask if we are relying on our own power.

Anyone who is sincerely trying to live his Catholic faith to the best of his ability will sooner or later discover that the Catholic faith is beyond his ability to live. And we will be faced with two choices: put up a good show, or find a way to change the teachings we find impossible to live. But there is a third way, and that is allowing yourself to be  “plugged in” to the ultimate power in the universe. Jesus could not have been more clear: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We don’t have to look far to see all the nothing we can accomplish by our own hard work. But with God, all things are possible.

Are you friends with God?

The Fire of Judgement Day: Purifying or Terrifying? | #953

Fr. Joel Homilies 1 Comment

Ordinary Time, 33rd Sunday (C) Judgement Day isn’t just about the end of the world. It’s also about the end of ‘your world’ and your final judgement. Even today God’s purifying fire is burning in your life. If you avoid the cross it only builds up fuel for a terrifying and devastating fire. If you embrace the cross, you will find a healing and purifying fire. Every day is judgement day. Stick close to Jesus and you’ll be fine.

(17 Nov 2019)

Going Deeper: Thing about a terrifying and devastating tragedy that turned out to be healing and purifying. How will ‘judgement day’ look different if you embrace your cross? What can I do personally to stay close to Jesus?

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A Different Perspective on the Catholic Vocations Crisis

Fr. Joel Being Catholic 2 Comments

Recently I rode to Stockbridge with Fr. Bob Karuhn, Fr. Ted Hendricks, and another man. We were attending the funeral of their classmate, Fr. Marty Fox, who had served at St. Joseph in Oconto from 1974 until 1983. These men were part of a class of 19 men ordained in 1965. They are now 80 years old. Some of these men were the “Pioneer” class at Sacred Heart Seminary, a boy’s high school in Oneida that opened in 1953. Their era is considered by many to be the ‘glory days’ of the Catholic Church in America. Seminaries were full, convents were full, Catholic schools were bursting at the seams. Though not all was well in the church, many speak fondly of these years.

Sacred heart seminary would close in the mid-1970’s. Nuns began to disappear in the same era, churches are closing, and vocations have slowed to a trickle. In fact, our recent Clergy Congress raised the question of how to cover Masses for the next five years. Almost one quarter of the clergy serving in our Diocese are foreign priests; they want to try and limit that number to 25%. They plan to use up to 25% parish directors, that is, deacons and Sisters and lay people who “run” a parish. They can provide pastoral care and sign checks but they cannot offer Mass or Confessions. The Diocese is proposing that priests be required to stay on two additional years after retirement and serve as Sacramental Ministers for parishes that will not have a resident priest. This move would be necessary to ensure that the parishes we currently have could continue to have Sunday Mass celebrated for the next 5 years. After that, it’s anybody’s guess.

Several people have asked me if the Pope is considering allowing married priests. They’ve heard just a snippet from the Synod on the Amazon, a gathering in Rome meant to discuss the pastoral needs in this one particular world region. Ordaining married men was one suggestion raised by some Bishops. People are hinting that married clergy might solve our vocation shortage. The Church moves very slowly on anything, so don’t hold your breath. I have a different question to pose to you:

How many young Catholic men call Jesus a friend, talk to him often, know how to listen to him, and trust him enough to go wherever Jesus would call them?

What if I told you that you were going to spend the rest of your life with someone. From now on, you wouldn’t have anything that was just ‘mine.’ All your money, possessions and property would be theirs too. All your free time would belong to them; you would be expected to spend all your vacations together. You had to be available to help them 24/7 no questions asked. They would be approving all your career choices and had to be informed of all your friendships and relationships. And at some point you would probably become jointly responsible for some totally helpless and screaming human beings, too, just to make life interesting. And you would be stuck in this relationship until you died. Sounds like good news?

I may have left out one important detail: this was the man (or woman) of your dreams, and you were both deeply in love with each other. Marriage without love looks (and feels) a lot like slavery. A married couple has to find ways to stay in love or they risk ‘happily ever after’ becoming a dreadful drudgery. Our Catholic faith, it turns out, is very similar to a marriage.

We used to teach children: God created you to know him, love him, and serve him in this life and so be happy with him forever in the next life. Catholics were taught to obey God’s commands or they would burn in Hell forever. What a great religion! I may have left out an important detail: the God who created you also knows you better than anyone, loves you more than you could possibly imagine, and serves you every day of your life. He wants you to get the Heaven, and the rules help you stay on the narrow path. In the last 50 years we’ve talked a lot more about God’s love and a lot less about Hell. But knowing about God’s love for us isn’t the same as knowing in my heart that God loves me. It is only when I have experienced his love for myself that a personal relationship with God can begin. And this is when ‘the rules’ of our Catholic faith finally start to make sense.

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Don’t Trample the Image of God | #952

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Ordinary Time, 32nd Sunday (C) Our first reading is from one of the seven extra books we find in Catholic Bibles. The Greeks were ‘inviting’ the Jews to eat pork — and brutally killing those who refused. These seven sons and their mother believed in the resurrection of the dead. It gave them courage to prefer faithfulness to God over obedience to the emperor. This same belief gave courage to Christians in Rome and in 17th century Japan. Do you believe in the Resurrection? Fr. John Tourangeau died and saw Jesus. He came back with new courage to live his mission and reconcile with family members. Believe in the Resurrection and it will help you to serve God faithfully here and now.

(10 Nov 2019)

Going Deeper: Read about the near-death experience of Fr. John Tourangeau. Pick up his book or another great book or movie about near-death experiences. Leave me a comment with your thoughts on the afterlife.

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Jesus Who? | #951

Fr. Joel Homilies 1 Comment

Ordinary Time, 31st Sunday (C) Are we friends and followers of Jesus? Jesus desires friendship with You. He offers friendship to anyone willing to take a step towards Him. He will make you worthy if you welcome him. In the end, only this friendship truly matters.

(11 Nov 2019)

Going Deeper: How would you describe your friendship with Jesus?

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No One Walks Alone On the Pilgrimage to Eternal Life | #950

Fr. Joel Homilies 1 Comment

All Souls • Today we remember all those who have died, especially members of our three parishes who passed in the previous year. The world would tell us to have a celebration of life, scatter the ashes, and move on. But the Church encourages us to bury our dead in a cemetery, visit their graves, and remember and pray for them. We are not afraid of suffering because God comes to meet us there.

God is a brilliant engineer and a genius artist. He is also a loving Father who shared His own life with His children. Even though we sinned and wandered from His love, God never stops loving His children. He sends us Jesus to comfort and accompany us. Jesus suffers and dies for us, rises from the dead, and takes our hand to lead us to Eternal Life.

(2 Nov 2019)

Going Deeper: Visit a cemetery and pray for the dead some time this week.

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Only Saints Go to Heaven | #949

Fr. Joel Homilies 1 Comment

Solemnity of All Saints • Heaven is a wonderful place: no sin, no death, no gossip, no lying, and no bullies. We can’t track any of those things into heaven. And that means if we sin, gossip, lie, or bully, then we can’t get into heaven!

How could anyone possibly get into heaven? There are four things that give us confidence:

  1. Our Father loves us and wants us to be in Heaven with him forever.
  2. The blood of Jesus can clean anything we’re sorry for.
  3. God gave us the Holy Spirit to help us become saints.
  4. We are surrounded by Angels and Saints who are praying for us and helping us make the journey to heaven.

You’ve all dressed up like saints who inspire and encourage you. But if you live a true Christian life then come all saints day, someone will be dressing up like you.

(11 Nov 2019)

Going Deeper: Did you know someone who lived a life of love, and you’re pretty sure they are now in Heaven with God? Give thanks for their life and ask them to help you become a saint too.

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Harvest of Souls

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Growing up I remember always having a large garden. We joked that my Mom planted on an empty stomach. We spent hours hoeing and weeding the garden. A few cucumbers and beans were the meager fruits of our labors. Then it was like the garden had exploded. Zucchini, squash, corn, tomatoes… it was hard to keep up with all the produce. We ate what we could and froze or canned the rest. Despite Mom’s efforts with cages and beds, the tomato plants became a jungle. Many of the tomatoes were spoiled by bugs or rot and had to be thrown on the compost pile. But the good fruits came home in laundry baskets. Everyone pitched in as the kitchen became a red-splotched processing center. Many years we canned over 100 quarts of tomato sauce. At the time the work bothered me but now I miss it. I don’t feel ready for Fall without putting away garden produce for the winter. I know farmers feel the same way with corn still standing in the fields.

There is also a harvest time for souls. Jesus sees the world like fields. We are called to cultivate souls, and to ask the master of the harvest to supply enough laborers. The angels will be coming through to harvest the crop of souls. The good will be stored in barns and the bad will be burned with “unquenchable fire.” Are you helping to cultivate a harvest of souls? Are you yourself bearing fruit for the kingdom?

Catholics believe that some “processing” happens after death. As long as a soul isn’t completely rotten, it can be purified in Purgatory. I suppose it’s like cutting the bad parts off a tomato and saving the good. In fact, the Church has dedicated the month of November to praying for souls. On November 1st we celebrate All Saints Day, a holy day of obligation.  We remember in particular all the saints in heaven who don’t have a feast day but are still examples of faith and intercessors on our behalf. November 2nd is All Souls Day for those still in Purgatory. During the first 8 days of November, you can receive a plenary indulgence for these souls by visiting a cemetery and praying for them. I encourage you to put together a little display of your own deceased relatives and friends. Gather some pictures on a table in the home. Light a candle for them and gather as a family to remember and pray for them. Know that they are praying for you too. Because your own harvest isn’t as far off as you might think.

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O God, I Thank You That I Am Not Like This Pharisee | #948

Fr. Joel Homilies

Ordinary Time, 30th Sunday (C) The Pharisee is not a bad dude. He probably does more good things than you and me put together. So what is he missing? Just one little thing: Love. And getting his motive wrong makes a mess of his whole life.

You know who was a really good Pharisee? The author of our second reading: St. Paul. But then he met Jesus face to face and said, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” He began to see how God loved him and poured out His life for him. St. Paul learned to imitate Christ and poured out his own life as a sacrifice of love. And his life became a beautiful tapestry.

(27 Oct 2019)

Going Deeper: Take an honest look at your life: Do you look at yourself and you’re glad not to be like the rest of humanity?
Do you look at yourself and you’re disappointed in the mess that is you?
Or do you look at Jesus and let Him love you and transform you into a mature disciple?
Ask St. Paul to help your life become a libation of love.

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