Friday, December 6, 2013

Holidays? Holy Days?

I often have the question in my mind about why, when we have set aside days of a religious nature, gathering as a people to honor God seems to be low on the priority list.

Here are a few of the things that come to mind.

  1. Gathering before Thanksgiving Day for religious services and then not gathering to pray together on Thanksgiving Day as a group of the faithful.
  2. Not having Christian Services on Christmas Day itself.  Many groups will only do a service on Christmas Eve.
  3. Canceling Sunday Services if Christmas is on a Sunday. It may be Sunday and Christmas, but we will not celebrate as a Christian community.
  4. Having a single Protestant sunrise service on Easter Sunday (even though there are 5+ congregations or ministers in a community) at a neutral location and not celebrating Easter as individual congregations. Many times only one of the local clergy members presides at the service while the others are out of town.
One of the reasons I hear for these attitudes is that the ministers want to spend the holiday with their own family. Sometimes the extended families or in-laws are not local so they need time to travel. In other communities, a lot of the other members of the congregation have the same issues. They don't have time to go to church because they have to get to the family celebration. These holiday (holy days) seem to have shifted from focus on God to focus on us.

As a priest who is usually assigned to multiple communities, I know that I can not bi-locate. I've had people who have gone to Mass elsewhere because I've not had Mass in their community on Christmas Eve, but rather on Christmas Day. But, as we look at the significance of days set aside to honor God, I want to suggest that we encourage our parishes and congregations to set aside these days to honor God on the day designated so that God is once again our real priority. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Fighting for the faith

After a heads-up from LifesiteNews I just finished watching this video (graphic, viewer discretion is advised) about an attack late last month on the Cathedral of San Juan in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A group of men, mostly young, stood several deep, arm-in-arm, to keep a group of radical women from desecrating the cathedral. The women, several having bared their breasts, were promoting abortion and lesbianism. The women drew on the Hitler style mustaches on the faces of the men. They sprayed paint on their faces and crotch areas. They performed lewd acts in front of the men who continued to pray in front of the cathedral. The women later burned an effigy of Pope Frances.

Now that I've described what took place, I have a question that causes me concern. If we were to get word that a similar event were about to take place at a cathedral in the United States, could we find enough men ready to humble themselves to stand strong against such an attack? I know there would be some who would protect the Church, but whereas we do not make up a huge majority of the population, would the minority have the courage to stay strong? Would other Christians stand by us, be indifferent, or stand on the side of the protestors? Some Christian groups are opposed to some of the teachings of the Catholic Church.  If you were called to stand in the face of such violence, would you be there?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Community Thanksgiving Service Homily 2013 Big Timber

I’d like to begin by thanking the ministerial association for allowing us here at St. Joseph parish to host this year’s Thanksgiving remembrance. I’d like to thank the parishioners for the work they’ve put into tonight to be such gracious hosts. I’d like to thank each and every one of you for taking time to join with us today. I’d like to thank my housekeeper in Livingston for assisting me with the meal we will be enjoying tomorrow. I’d like to thank Macy’s for hosting the wonderful parade that many of you will watch tomorrow. I’d like to thank the Packers, Lions, Raiders, Cowboys, Steelers and Ravens for what should be an interesting day of football. I’d like to thank all of the retailers who are opening their shops on Thanksgiving Day for our shopping pleasure, and all of those who are preparing for the Black Friday madness. And finally, as I’ve heard some schools have taught, I’d like to join with the pilgrims in giving thanks to the Indians for helping them make it through their first winter in the new world. Without them we would all probably still be living in the old world. We know how great we are. We know what we’ve been able to accomplish. We know that because of us the world is a better place.

By now, I’m sure you’ve picked up on the fact that I’m being a bit sarcastic. But, as we look around our society, I think we’ve lost a lot of the real reason for our Thanksgiving Day celebrations. I’d like to share a few lines from Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation of the first Thanksgiving Day.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. . . .No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

As we can see from Lincoln’s proclamation, the purpose of tomorrow’s holiday is about God. It is not about what we have done, but what God has done through us. It is not about recognizing our goodness, but about how God has used us to make a difference in the lives of others.

In our gospel reading about the ten lepers, we hear of only one that returned to Jesus to give thanks. We do now know if the other nine thank God in some fashion for their healing. I am guessing that they realized that the healing was truly a gift from God and in some way were thankful.

Here in the United States we have a lot for which to be thankful. How many of us have a refrigerator at home? How many of us have food in said refrigerator? How many of us have a vehicle to get us where we need to go? How many of us have fuel or electricity delivered to our homes to provide heat? There are many parts of the world where they do not have refrigerators. There are many people who are hunger each night. There are many who have to search for fuel to light a fire for heat or cooking.

We can thank American innovation for our blessings, but the real thanks goes to God. I’d like to go back to what I said in the beginning and maybe re-phrase it a bit.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of faith here in Sweetgrass County which allows us to gather here today. Thank you, Lord, for the spirit of generosity with which you’ve instilled with this community to allow them to be gracious hosts. Thank you, Lord, for giving your people a spirit of thankfulness. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of family and friends with whom to share Thanksgiving Day. Thank you, Lord, for the blessings upon our country that allow us to enjoy some of the entertainment that will be provided tomorrow for our pleasure. Thank you, Lord, for the prosperity with which you’ve blessed our nation so that we have the resources to have a “Black Friday”. As we prepare tomorrow to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, help us to realize that you are the source of all of these gifts. Help us to set aside the day to give thanks, even as we might enjoy the other festivities that have become a part of this holiday.

As we reflect upon the blessings which we’ve graciously received through God’s grace, let us also generously share some of those blessings when the time comes to support the mission of the ministerial association or other worthy charities in our community, the nation and the world.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Disaster Relief | Knights of Columbus

I think that most of my blog followers are also friends on facebook.

Just in case a few are not, I'm sharing this here.  I shared this last yesterday on facebook

Disaster Relief | Knights of Columbus:

'via Blog this'

Country stars make fun of Obamacare on the CMA awards


This is, what, my fourth post today after not having posted in a long time. I'm going to have to slow down again.

This just about sums up a lot of what seems to be happening with our system today.

You left why?

I will sometimes receive letters from people who choose to fall away from the Church. These aren't the people who just stop going over time, but those who make it a choice. I am reminded about a book of stories of conversions to the Catholic Church. In the forward, the author was sharing a common comment he hears from his Protestant peers. I'll paraphrase it, but the gist of the conversation goes like this.

Protestant: You know, there are a lot of Catholics who are becoming Protestant as well.

Author: How many of those Catholics fully believed and practiced everything that the Church teaches and holds to be true and leave because they think they've found the truth someplace else? Most of those who leave the Catholic Church leave because they disagree with and never practiced the Church's moral teaching, they got mad at a priest or sister, they don't think their is enough fellowship, the parish is not welcoming, etc. It usually has very little to do with finding the truth someplace else. Those profiled in the book were strong in their prior beliefs (some were even vocally anti-Catholic), but upon searching the scriptures and the writings of the early Church fathers followed truth to the Catholic Church.

I have to agree with the author of the book. Here are some of the reasons people have passed on to me about leaving my parishes.

1. Father kept talking about sin
2. Father kept talking about money
3. I don't agree with Father's staffing decisions
4. I don't agree with the Church's teaching on contraception, divorce, same sex marriage, etc.
5. I never hear about Jesus at Mass
6. I don't like the Mass time.

Perhaps you can share some of the reasons you've heard.

10 Nov: Leo the Great

I thought I would share the fact that today is the Feast of Leo the Great.

Fr. Z offers some reflections upon Pope Saint Leo I

10 Nov: Leo the Great

Intentional or Accidental

This past week I was attending the mid-year meeting of the Knights of Columbus for State Chaplains and State Deputies. One of the discussions that took place involved the idea of Intentional Discipleship. This is not the first time that I've heard this idea. A comment was made that many Catholics seem to be accidental disciples. They were born into the faith and they go to Mass each week, but never really seem to do much to learn more about their faith, or really change their lives so that faith has the primary place. Many of the converts to the faith are truly intentional disciples. They chose to be Catholic and follow Christ through his Church. They have delved into the faith to learn all about what it means to be Catholic. They take seriously the precepts of the Catholic Church.

Many of those raised as Catholics do not even seem to know the precepts of the Catholic Church. They may have a vague idea about what they are, but they make little effort to make them the key points of their lives.

I believe that intentional discipleship begins with the Precepts of the Catholic Church. A person can find the precepts by making a quick visit to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Let me give my quick view of the precepts.
  1. "You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation." This really does not need much explanation.  One had better have a pretty good excuse not to attend Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation.
  2. “You shall confess your sins at least once a year."  This is especially true if you are in the state of mortal sin.  Each person should be in the practice of going to confession on a regular basis.  The practice of regular confession helps people grow in holiness as they reflect upon their lives and then make efforts to change the lives they've been living for the better
  3. “You shall humbly receive your Creator in Holy Communion at least during the Easter season." You will note that while you are required to attend Mass each week, you are not required to receive communion.  One should only come to communion in the state of grace.  The going to communion once a year is tied in with the once a year confession.  They should take place during the Easter Season. 
  4. “You shall keep holy the holy days of obligation."  Our focus on these days should be on God and the feast that we are celebrating. So often we put more emphasis on the secular side of many of these celebrations than on the religious side.  It is like those who want to attend the 4 pm Christmas eve Mass so they can enjoy the rest of Christmas day in a secular way.  We need to try to refrain from unnecessary work and spend more time reflecting upon the greatness of God.
  5. “You shall observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence."  Most Catholics remember that we are to abstain from eating meat on Fridays of Lent. They also remember to observe the two primary fast days of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  What a lot of Catholics fail to realize is that we are called to keep all Fridays as days of penance. Catholics should abstain from eating meat every Friday of the year except in those places where permission for a substitution has been granted. In the Untied States we are permitted to substitute another form of penance on Fridays. The norm is still to abstain from eating meat. We are not suppose to completely forget about penance on Fridays. For those who do eat meat on Fridays, an alternative might be to spend a little time in the church on Friday praying before Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  One might also so some other additional prayers on a Friday, recognizing that it is truly meant to be a penance that is being completed, offering it up for our sins and those of the world.
  6. While it is not listed as a specific precept there is one other item listed in the Catechism: 
    The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his abilities.  This includes supporting the local parish and the parish school if there is one, the local diocese and the mission of the universal Church. We each know what our own abilities are. I would hope that we take this expectation seriously.  The Church should not have to beg to complete its mission, the faithful should see to it that the resources are provided to get it done, and get it done well.
Let us all take to heart what it means to be an intentional disciple.  These precepts are just the beginning. Now we have to go learn more about our faith so we can continue to grow.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Prayers are answered

As I was trying to put groceries into my pickup at about 2:30 yesterday I had a call from a parishioner who has been helping organize the 40 Days for Life vigils at the Mountain Country Women's Clinic in Livingston. At first, I could not hear him as my bluetooth device in the pickup had kicked in and when I hit answer everything went through that speaker and I was still outside the pickup. After I hung up he immediately called back and I was able to hit the right button to actually speak with him.

He passed on the word that the clinic was closing on Oct. 1. Needless to say, there is a lot of joy in the neighborhood. However, we now need to find a way to replace the clinic with a resource that truly attempts to help women, and not see abortion as a viable option. Please continue to pray that we can find a way to bring a resource for women into Livingston which will meet the needs that are here.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Homily for 18 Aug 2013, 20th Sun OT C

In today’s first reading, we hear about the struggle that Jeremiah was facing as a prophet to the people. The princes, who had the ear of the king, sought to end Jeremiah’s life because they did not like the message he was spreading about the need to change their lives. They were content with the way things seemed to be going, even when it would mean destruction later on. It is not always easy for us to accept the realization that sometimes we get too comfortable with our current way of doing things that we stand in the way of change that may lead to our own survival.

In the Gospel, we hear Jesus telling us that he came to “set the earth on fire” and wishes “it were already blazing!”

It should illicit in each one of us a question about how the fire is burning within our own lives. Are we able to really burn with a zeal that causes us to go beyond our comfort zone to be a part of the new evangelization? One of the commentaries I read about the gospel for this weekend went so far to suggest that when Jesus becomes the first priority in our lives there may be some division within households as some strive to faithfully follow Christ while others stand as roadblocks to the truth, which is Christ. I know from my experience as a priest that there have been many families who have faced these difficulties. There is a tension between a desire for Christ and a desire for the things of this world. Many of us and our family members fall somewhere in the middle of the continuum concerning these two poles. We do not see the full division of which Christ speaks. In a word, most of us are comfortable with where we are at the moment. We are not fully on fire.

As the priest, and more importantly, as the pastor of the parish, part of my task is to help direct you beyond this life and, hopefully help you find the fire of which Jesus speaks and fan the flames so that it may burn all the brighter. It is not an easy task. Sometimes, people respond much like the princes who went to the king seeking to silence Jeremiah. This is because change is scary. Change is difficult. Change sometimes means sacrificing some of our comfort.

Will you today let the fire of change burn in your hearts so that you have the zeal to go out to all the world and tell the good news? It might mean changing some of the expectations you have of yourself and or others. It might mean looking at your faith through a new lens. It might even mean considering serving the Church in a professional way, such as being a teacher at a Catholic school, volunteering to be a part of a parish team or even, if you are not yet married, considering whether or not God might be calling you to serve him as a consecrated religious, or a priest.

Jesus came to set the world on fire. We are called to fan the true flames of faith. We may be treated like Jerimiah in order to get the job done, be we can be sure that God is with us.

As we heard in the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews:
For the sake of the joy that lay before him
he endured the cross, despising its shame,
and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.

Let us be filled with the same joy. Amen

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Where is your treasure?

Here is a draft of my homily for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

As some of you know, yesterday Garrett and I attended Fr. Francis McInnis’, “Fr. Mac’s”, funeral in Great Falls. While I was there, I had the opportunity to visit with Father Guinan and go to confession. With the second reading in mind, I could have some good material for my homily, but I’m going to go in a different direction.

Thinking about the Gospel, and to some extent the first reading, I want to share some things Fr. Guinan shared with me. First, he said to tell all of those who were here when he was the pastor he said hello. He then asked how things were going with the school. I told him that like most small Catholic schools we can always use more money. He said that he wished when he first arrived in the parish about years ago to increase the giving of the parishioners to support the parish and the school. He wished he’d done more to bring the salaries of the teachers closer to a living wage. He was here when the Saint Mary’s Educational Trust was set up. However, there has not been much of an effort over the years to greatly increase our endowments. We have one new endowment that started with a $40,000 anonymous gift and a few additional contributions. The income from these sources pay about half of one of the 24 payrolls we face during the year.

As a parish, we strive to keep Catholic education affordable for our families. In order to accomplish that goal, we need to come up with additional monies from endowments and direct gifts. While I’ve been using the school as the example here, the same applies to all ministries in the Catholic Church. We have to keep in mind the need to support the Church on the local level, the diocesan level and the universal level.

Today’s Gospel and 1st Reading remind us not to get overly hooked on ourselves, but rather to see how we can use the gifts we’ve received from God to build up the kingdom. The gifts we’ve received are not simply so that we can “rest, eat, drink and be merry.” It has been entrusted to us to be used for the betterment of others. We are not expected to starve ourselves to feed others, but we could think about cutting back on some of what we do eat and give some of the savings to benefit others.

But God said to him,

‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”
We need to look at what does really matter to God and find ways to act appropriately with our lives. If you have been entrusted with much, much will be expected. As you think about St. Mary’s school and parish, remind yourself what Jesus said before he told the parable,
“Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope to Resign?

This is from Vatican Radio

Pope Benedict XVI on Monday said he plans on resigning the papal office on February 28th. Below please find his announcement.

Full text of Pope's declaration

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

From the Vatican, 10 February 2013