Saturday, January 8, 2011

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

This is a link to my weekly letter to my parishioners. It is a call to action regarding the need to encourage vocations. I hope that it is helpful.

A Reflection On My Vocation to Priesthood

The following is a reflection included in my parish bulletin for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord / Vocations Awareness Week.
I will never forget my bus ride to Columbus, Ohio to begin my first year of seminary formation. Between Chicago and Valparaiso I sat next to a women who engaged me in conversation. In answer to her question about why I was going to Columbus I explained that I was beginning studies to become a Catholic priest. Of course, the usual conversation ensued about religion. But what is memorable about the conversation was her parting comment. She said: “You’re such a nice young man. It’s too bad you’re going to waste your life as a priest. You’d make such a good husband.” Uff-da!
One of the things I have come to realize is that in no way, shape or form do I feel that I have wasted my life. After my first ten years (over half of which I have spent in my current assignment) I can say in all honesty that I am glad that I first heard and then answered God’s call in my life.
To be sure, this life isn’t what I chose for myself! I was open to the possibility (mostly), but it was not something that I pursued of my own choice. So, how did I come to hear and answer this call?
First of all, from the time that I was young, my parents made it clear that GOD COMES FIRST. I can actually count on one hand the number of times we missed Mass in my first 18 years of life. We were active in our local parish, but more importantly, my parents modeled a life of charity in our local community. We were also taught that because Church is important, being a priest is a worthy way in which to spend our lives.
As I went through junior and senior high school I got sidelined (maybe inevitably?) by those incredibly attractive creatures known as females! As God designed, I really became attracted to the idea of marriage and children. No doubt my parents were somewhat disappointed that I seemed to have left behind the idea of priesthood, but time would confirm that their patience and prayer was to be rewarded.
As I began life as a college student I continued in the habits my parents had cultivated of being active in my local parish. In fact, four months after starting school in Eau Claire I had a job playing organ for one of the local parishes. It turned out that I had to take a humanities course and so I chose an Old Testament scripture course. A few weeks later my room mate predicted that I’d become a priest. I told him that he was crazy! However, my parents taught me well. My ears were open and even though I was very happily dating God called to me during Mass one day. I bartered, I kind of tried not to listen. However, two things my parents and parish priest had taught me kicked in at this moment: 1) obedience; and 2) God wants you to be happy. So when He calls, it is out of love and a desire that you be as happy as possible.
Of course, there were plenty of people who shook their heads at this. More than once I heard as a refrain the words of that lady on the bus. However, I came to realize, as I pondered what they had said, God want those who will be “Father” to his children to be loving and respectful towards women and children. As I’ve come to ask parishioners: what kind of priest do you want in your parish? What kind of man do you want pastoring your wife, your sons and daughters?
Some people ask if I don’t get lonely living alone. To this I answer that there is a different between living alone and being lonely. I interact with people on a pretty intense level most every day. As a result, I relish the time that I can be “alone” with my greatest love—God.
You see, if I am to give witness to the relationship to which God invites us I must be fully engaged in that relationship. As we’ve discussed, this takes time, just as it does in a marriage relationship. That means lots and lots of heart-to-heart communication with God (aka: prayer).
Also, if I am to serve God’s people well I need to be fully immersed in the Gospel I have been called to preach. I also need to be attentive to the teachings of the apostles (our Holy Father, and our bishop) so that I will know what the issues are that I need to be addressing. Finally, I need to know the issues that affect the people to whom I have been sent. That means studying the news carefully—be it agricultural issues, politics, moral issues of the day, or business trends—if I am to effectively engage the people to whom I have been sent, I need to know more than just a little something about what is affecting their lives. These mean averaging a couple of hours of reading each day.
Of course, we are called to relationship with God and with one another. That means getting out and being with the people to whom I have been sent. With two parishes/schools and the several other responsibilities that go with modern parish/diocesan life I don’t get to do nearly as much of this as I would like, but I certainly try and I appreciate your invitations to your homes and to those events which are important to you.
As you’ve heard me say many times, I am very happy that God called me to serve Him and you as a priest. I hope that this is evident in my attitude and joy. I also hope that it gives you confidence to encourage the young men in your life to keep their ears open for God’s call in their lives—and to answer when He calls. They, and you, won’t be sorry. I can guarantee it!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Something worthy of consideration...

"Do not become utterly absorbed in activism! There would be so much to do that one could be working on it constantly. And that is precisely the wrong thing. Not becoming totally absorbed in activism means maintaining consideratio -- discretion, deeper examination, contemplation, time for interior pondering, vision, and dealing with things, remaining with God and meditating about God. One should not feel obliged to work ceaselessly; this in itself is important for everyone, too, for instance, every manager, too, and even more so for a Pope. He has to leave many things to others so as to maintain his inner view of the whole, his interior recollection, from which the view of what is essential can proceed.”
--Pope Benedict XVILight of the World, with Peter Seewald

I can hardly wait to get my copy of our Holy Father's latest book. The above is such a gem! It reminds me of Blessed Mother Teresa's reply when someone criticized her for not using her fame and influence to "do more". This person suggested that instead of "wasting" her time gathering up the poor off of the streets of Calcutta she should be out raising money and then building big hospitals and other facilities that would help many more people. Mother replied that that was not God's way. Her place was precisely in the streets of Calcutta loving "one person at a time" and caring for them.

This often crosses my mind just as I get busiest. I always try to remind myself that one can be busy, busy, busy every day - all day. But, "if I have not Love, I am but a clanging gong." Useless to God's purpose.

So, let me be God's tool, not my own or anyone else's. Let me be completely in love with Him and let our love spill out on all of those with whom I come in contact. This will only happen if I am completely grounded in Him. May I, and all of us, keep this solidly in mind and truly change the world - one heart at a time.

Monday, January 3, 2011


This weekend we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany. When we celebrate a feast year in and year out two things become very important. The first is to instill in our children the story. I hope that as we have all celebrated this Christmas season we have all opened our bibles at home and read to our children the story of the visit of the Magi, along with the rest of the Christmas story. Just in case you haven’t had a chance yet, the story of the birth of Christ is found in the Gospels according to Sts. Matthew and Luke. The story of the Magi is found in Matthew.
I recall being quite scandalized, some years ago, when a group of children I was teaching didn’t know the real story of Christmas at all – apart from Jesus was born and Mary is his mother. If the soil of our children’s hearts, minds and souls is to be prepared for belief the story must be known at least as well as the storyline of their favorite movie. So, please, if you haven’t already done so, sit down as a family and share this wonderful story of God’s love and favor.
The second important thing that we do when we celebrate this feast is become a part of the story. That is the difference between celebrating something that happened 2,000 years ago and something that is continuing to happen in our midst as a continuing act of God’s love and favor. We become part of the story when we recognize and act, that is, participate in the essence of the story. So how do we participate in this story? Well, that is going to depend on where we are in life and who we are. Some things are going to be different for each person, others are going to be common to all of us.
We start, as small children, by coming to know the story well and making the story a part of our lives by keeping it in our hearts. This must be the beginning, of course. How else can we reflect on it and begin to mine its riches? So, please, make sure that first part happens with your children, grandchildren, even yourself.
As we get a little older we begin to make very practical moves towards participating in the story. It may be little “gifts” we bring to baby Jesus such as a renenewed commitment to praying every morning and night. It may be a promise to be more kindly towards family members. We just call to mind the song of the Little Drummer Boy, maybe even listen to or sing it as a family. In this we learn that our gifts to our new-born king need not be big, flashy and expensive. We give what we have. The greatest gift is the gift of ourselves.
As we get older still, we begin to have the capacity to see that we serve Christ in our brothers and sisters. We are most fortunate in our parishes to have this opportunity through our “Giving Tree” (St. Boniface) and our “Baby Shower” (Holy Family). In these we recognize the “baby in the stable” among us and seek to serve our new-born Lord in them. I am quite proud as a pastor that these efforts just seem to grow and grow. It is a good sign that the love of God is indeed to be found in our hearts. Of course, the love of God extends to the unwanted as well. And so, when it comes to welcoming and preserving the lives of all children, especially the most vulnerable among us will we be like Mary & Joseph and welcome the children God chooses to send us? Or will we be like Herod and see that child as a threat to our position, something to be destroyed at all costs? Will we be like Herod’s soldiers and become complicit in this crime against God and His love? Or will we be like the Magi and do even the little we can to protect that life? Our choice is our answer to God’s invitation to be a part of the story – a part of His eternal family.