This week, we celebrate the memorial of St. Benedict (July 11). A few years ago, I had the privilege of traveling to Italy and visiting the abbey at Monte Cassino. This is the first of the Benedictine monasteries in the world. It was here where St. Benedict put his faith into practice in a radical way. He knew that his calling to holiness was found in establishing a community of individuals who were unified in their belief in Jesus Christ as well as their efforts to become holy.
To accomplish this goal of holiness, St. Benedict, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote his motto for the entire Benedictine Order: “Ora et labora,” which translates to: “Prayer and work.” It was this simple motto that was the guide for the monastic life of the Benedictines as well as many other religious orders throughout the world.
St. Benedict knew that it was essential for the path of holiness to combine both contemplation (prayer) with labor (work). When these two were in the necessary balance, one would find the ideal of not only the religious life, but also the life of any Catholic. In the Gospel of Luke, we find the passage of the two sisters who meet Jesus, Martha and Mary. One chooses to labor for their guest, while the other sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to him. Many commentators on Scripture have seen the symbolism in the two sisters as being the representation of the two aspects of the life of a Catholic.
So how does this apply to us non-monks? Typically, we Catholics will forget to live well one, or both of these aspects of the Catholic life. Firstly, the Catholic life requires us to live a life of prayer. It is very tempting to dedicate ourselves to the labors of life that we will fail to have time for prayer. We will claim that we are too busy, or that we have too many responsibilities or that others around us require so much of our time, especially children. And so, the prayer life slips away. I think of St. Teresa of Calcutta when I think that I do not have enough time to pray. Here was a woman who had hundreds of people seeking her attention, and yet she led a life of deep prayer. I too, can choose to have a life of prayer. If you have children, bring them to prayer with you. What a gift to teach your children both how to pray and the importance of prayer. It is only through prayer that we open ourselves to the graces that God offers us so that we can become the holy people we are made to be.
We can also be tempted to fail to enter into the labora of the Catholic life. It is tempting to want to spend all of our lives in prayer just to “get away from it all.” We can dedicate our time to prayer and hope to avoid the labor of following the work that God has put in front of us. Like St. Peter on the mountain top, when the transfiguration occurred, Peter desired to remain up there and not go into the world, yet Jesus called him down to labor for the kingdom of God. So too, we must be about the work of our calling. As priests, we must write our homilies and visit the sick. As married couples, tending to the needs of the children and your spouse. As single people, serving those who need assistance and looking out for the spiritual needs of our parish and broader community.
This week, let us all pay attention to the motto of the great St. Benedict and live out our own personal calling to Ora and Labora.
When I think about the Saints, I often think about the amazing heroics that they performed for the faith. For example, I think about St. Patrick, and how he was willing to travel to the land of the people who forced him into slavery, to evangelize them and save their souls. Or St. Joan of Arc, who led forces into battle to defend France. However, what is not often spoken about with regard to these Saints is that they are not Saints because they did one single amazing event, but rather, they lived a life of holiness one day at a time, that allowed them to make their heroic gestures.
Similar to exercise, those athletes at the Olympics or the World Cup did not simply walk onto the field and perform these amazing feats. What we see is only the culmination of years of preparation, daily making the decision to get up, to practice, without any fanfare or attention. They simply practiced and made the little choices one day at a time which allows them to be able to perform at such a high level.
Similarly in the spiritual life, for us to become saints, it is not done by one heroic act, but rather, it is done through our daily living and growing in our spiritual lives. One example is St. Maximilian Kolbe. Many people know about his heroic sacrifice of his life in the concentration camp which saved the life of a Jewish man. However, this was not the beginning of his saintly life. Rather, he was one who pursued holiness as a youth, choosing to make time for prayer daily and consecrating himself to Mary. During his priesthood, he worked to spread the faith and founded other monasteries. All of this prayer, devotion to Mary, and daily living the faith prepared him well for the moment where he could sacrifice his own life for the life of another.
Every person at our parish, and truly every person on the globe, is called to become a Saint. This is not just something for an elite group, but is your calling. To become a Saint is not done in one simple moment, but is a daily decision to become holier than I was the day before. Choose today and every day to become the holy person God knows you can be. And when we create this habit of holiness, we will become the saints that God desires us to be.
This past week, we officially entered into Summer, though many of us have already started our summer break from school. It is during these summer months that the great Twin Cities exodus begins. Bumper to bumper we sit on I-94, I -35, 169, creeping along like salmon trying to swim upstream. It won’t be long before David Attenborough and the BBC Planet Earth documentary crew will create an episode on this unique migration. Even to understand this, one needs a Minnesota-English dictionary! “Where are you going?” To which we reply vaguely “Up north!” To which the inquirer will reply, “Yes, but where up north?” And we reply “To the lake,” as if that is of any help to the listener.
It is our internally famous “cabin culture” that causes this weekly event. And it becomes an enjoyable time for many. However, there is a great temptation to see the time away at the cabin as being a time away from attending mass. We can think that because we are away from our regular parish, that it is no longer required to go to mass. This is not the case. We are the Catholic Church, which means we are just about everywhere on the planet (even Antarctica, but more about that in a later article).
Last Summer, Pope Francis was speaking in St. Peter’s Square and he said to the crowd that he knew the students were on their summer vacations and he said, “It’s important that in the period of rest and breaking away from daily concerns, you restore the energies of your body and soul, deepening your spiritual journey.” This holds true not only for the students, but for any of us on vacation, that we use our vacation time to also deepen our spiritual lives.
So, here are a few tips:
1. Find your local mass. We live in the “information age” and we have it all at our fingertips through our phones and our computers. It is easier now than ever to find a Catholic mass. Just download the app called “Mass Times for Travel” or go to the website https://masstimes.org/. Here you can put in a zip code and find the local mass and confession times. As Catholics, we are still required to go to mass on the weekends, so let’s not miss out on our greatest worship of God.
2. Pack your faith with your fishing gear! We will often make sure we have all of our fishing gear, but do we have a prayer gear? Bring along a Bible and get some reading by the lake! What better stop? Also, bring along your rosary that your mom gave you. If the fish aren’t biting, pray the rosary that they will.
3. Listen on the drive up. Rather than adding road-rage to your list of sins for confession while sitting in traffic, listen to Catholic media while in the car. There are dozens of apps that provide Catholic content, such as EWTN, Relevant Radio, Catholic Lighthouse Media, Focus on the Family, Adventures in Odyssey as well as many physical CDs that can be acquired. You will have a few hours to think about God and his love for you.
4. Talk about your faith with your family. It is the time in the car where we can become the most frustrated, so why not turn our conversation and our minds to the good things. Ask your children questions about what they are learning in religion classes. Tell about your faith that you experienced when you were young. Quiz the children on what Father’s homily was about last weekend (it will be a good refresher for you too!).
We have the great gift of vacations and weekends “up north.” So let us use them as God intended, to rest ourselves and deepen our relationship with God.
Dear friends in Christ,
Two weeks ago, I was pleased that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced that it had reached a settlement with the victim survivors of clergy abuse. This settlement is a long-anticipated act of restorative justice for the victim survivors and one I pray will offer them greater peace and closure. I also join Archbishop Hebda in his thanks to the victim survivors who courageously brought forward the evil that had been done to them, to the advocates for the victims, those involved in the judicial process and the many who gave their time and energy to bring about this settlement, which will bring to a conclusion the bankruptcy claims against the Archdiocese. The settlement establishes a trust fund for the approximately 450 victim survivors amounting to about $210 million dollars. I am also thankful that the institutional changes the Archdiocese has made create greater vigilance and a safer environment for children and vulnerable adults.
I also write you today because this settlement has particular significance for Nativity of Mary parish. We were one of the approximately 100 parishes in the Archdiocese that had claims of abuse against the parish itself, as a sepa-rate legal entity from the Archdiocese. These claims against Nativity of Mary parish were filed regarding three incidences with an associate priest, Father James Stark, who served at Nativity of Mary from 1969 to 1973. Father Stark died in 1999.
The settlement that was reached on May 31, 2018 with the Archdiocese included a channeling injunction, which means that not only have the claims against the Archdiocese been settled, but also the claims against the parishes. This includes the three claims against Nativity of Mary parish.
A key element of helping this settlement come to reality was the decision by many parishes within our Archdiocese to voluntarily contribute to the restorative justice fund for the victim survivors. Many of the parishes that contributed to this settlement had claims against them, however, there were others who contributed which had none.
It is my conviction that Nativity of Mary should contribute to this effort. In consultation with the trustees of our parish and the finance council, who provided generally positive feedback, it has been decided that Nativity of Mary will contribute $5,000 to the victim survivor fund. The money for this contribution will come from our Pastor’s Fund ($3,000), which is designated for discretionary spending by the pastor and from the Pastoral Care Fund ($2,000), which is used for the care of those in need. This spending does not deplete the Pastoral Care Fund. Along with this voluntary donation, a portion of the excess premiums paid by Nativity of Mary to the Archdiocese general insurance fund and medical plan fund are part of the parish settlement payments. Finally, Nativity of Mary parish has prudently expended its funds for legal fees related to the bankruptcy and the three claims (approximately $2,800).
While the financial settlement for the victim survivors does a great deal to bring justice, it does not complete our work as a Church. We will continue to explore ways that we can bring the healing presence of Jesus Christ to those who were harmed by members of his Church. This parish must continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ for all those who have been harmed in any way. It is then that we are living the external mission of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Yours in Christ,
A few weeks ago, we returned to “Ordinary Time” in the yearly calendar of the Catholic Church. In the Catholic Church, we have seasons that we celebrate: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Ordinary Time. Very often, when we enter into one of the first four seasons on our calendar, we know what they are about: Advent is a time or preparation, Christmas is a time of remembering Jesus’ presence in the world, Lent is a time of penance and Easter is a time of joyful reflection on the resurrection.
And then there is Ordinary Time, which is often forgotten. This season is the longest in the Catholic Church and yet it receives the least amount of attention. The season is visually marked by the wearing of green vestments, however, not much else sets this season apart.
I would like to propose that the season of Ordinary Time is used for the ordinary life of a Catholic. So what is the ordinary life of a Catholic? Simply put, it is a time to grow in holiness. The ordinary life of any Catholic ought to be centered on loving God better and loving your neighbor better. Every time we enter into Ordinary Time, we should ask ourselves these two questions: Am I loving God better than a year ago? Am I loving my neighbor better than a year ago? If the answer is “yes,” then we should challenge ourselves to improve further. If the answer is “no,” then we should focus on what needs to change.
So here are a few tips on how to grow in holiness during Ordinary Time:
1. Read the Bible every day. As I travel around, I see so many people focused on their cell phones. I do not know what they are reading, but every one of us could easily be reading the Bible verses for the day on our phones and encountering God more via our phones. An easy app that you can download right now is iMissal. This app has all the readings for each and every mass.
2. Praying with others. Families will often pray together, but praying together, not just before meals at home, but praying before meals when we are out in public. Pray with others before the family goes on a road trip for safety. Pray with others before we have a sporting event so that we all stay safe. Bring God into your everyday life.
3. Volunteer more with others. It is very easy, nowadays, to find opportunities to serve others in your neighborhood with the Internet. Sign-up your family to serve others. Sign-up with your friends to serve others. We have more time during the summer, why not use some of it as a group service project with no other goal than to do good for your community.
These are just a few suggestions as to how to enter into the ordinary life of a Catholic, growing in holiness. I pray that Ordinary Time is a season where you love God and your neighbor more than ever before.
On Tuesday, May 29, Nativity of Mary will be hosting over 150 relics of the Saints of our Church. It will be a wonderful time for us to encounter the Saints. So, what are relics?
A relic is a piece of the body of a saint (1st class relic), an item owned or used by the saint (2nd class relic), or an object which has been touched to the tomb of a saint (3rd class relic). Because the remains of a Saint are still connected with who they are, the relics become a way of connecting with the holiness of that individual.
In the Bible, we find several accounts where individuals would come into
contact with holy people and they would receive a special grace:
· When the corpse of a man was touched to the bones of the prophet Elisha, the man came back to life and rose to his feet (2 Kings 13:20-21).
· The signs and wonders worked by the Apostles were so great that people would line the streets with the sick so that when Peter walked by at least his shadow might ‘touch’ them (Acts 5:12-15).
· When handkerchiefs or aprons that had been touched to Paul were applied to the sick, the people were healed and evil spirits were driven out of them (Acts 19:11-12).
We are celebrating Memorial Day this Monday, and many people have the tradition of going to the graves of relatives or friends who have passed away. They go to the grave to connect with that person. Even though they know that the person has passed on, the mortal remains still carry with them a connection for the individuals. In a similar way, the remains of Saints connect us with the ones who have been canonized and are in heaven.
The veneration of relics has a long history in our faith. At the martyrdom of St. Polycarp in 156 AD, the people knew that he was holy, and so they had great respect for his remains, “We adore Christ, because He is the Son of God, but the martyrs we love as disciples and imitators of the Lord. So we buried in a becoming place Polycarp’s remains, which are more precious to us than the costliest diamonds, and which we esteem more highly than gold” (Acts of St. Polycarp).
One key distinction is that we do not worship the Saints. They are humans, just like you and I. They are not the ones who can save us from our sins. However, they are great examples of our faith and God continues to give his grace to us through the Saints. St. Jerome explained our veneration of the Saints well when he said, “We do not worship relics, we do not adore them, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the creator. But we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore him whose martyrs they are” (Ad Riparium, i, P.L., XXII, 907).
We venerate relics only for the sake of worshiping God. So, I invite you all to come to this great event at our parish on Tuesday, May 29 at 7 PM, beginning in the Sanctuary. Bring your family and friends. It will be a time filled with great grace for all those who attend and Nativity of Mary Catholic Church.
We have many different calendars in our lives: The yearly calendar, the fiscal calendar, the school calendar. One calendar that affects all Catholics is what we call, “The Liturgical Calendar”. This is the calendar that informs us what spiritual event or Saint we celebrate on each day of the year. For example, the liturgical calendar informs us what day we celebrate Easter, each year.
Many Catholics are unaware that there are many different celebrations throughout the entire year: The feast day of St. Francis (October 4), the feast day of Nativity of Mary (September 8), the feast day of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (June 8). Because we have so many different feast days that have been added to the calendar over the 2,000 year history of the Church, it is rare that anything would be added to the calendar (not unlike a family’s calendar). Admittedly, not all of these feast days are Holy Days of Obligation, however, they are still of great importance.
On March 3, 2018, Pope Francis made the rare move and actually added a feast day to the official calendar of the Church. He declared that every Monday after Pentecost would be celebrated as “Mary, Mother of the Church.” The Blessed Virgin Mary has the most feast days of any Saint in our Church (18, before this new celebration), and with good reason. So, it is even more surprising that, yet another Marian feast day would be added to the calendar. However, Pope Francis truly felt this conviction from the Holy Spirit to bring the new feast day to the Church.
We know that Mary is the Mother of God in that she is the mother of Jesus and Jesus is God (Mary, Mother of God feast day is January 1st). She has always been taught to be the Mother of the Church as well, going back to St. Augustine (d. 430 AD). In the proclamation about this new feast day, it was written, “Indeed, the Mother standing beneath the cross (cf. Jn 19:25), accepted her Son’s testament of love and welcomed all people in the person of the beloved disciple as sons and daughters to be reborn unto life eternal. She thus became the tender Mother of the Church which Christ begot on the cross handing on the Spirit. Christ, in turn, in the beloved disciple, chose all disciples as ministers of his love towards his Mother, entrusting her to them so that they might welcome her with filial affection.” As Jesus was on the cross, he said to John, “Behold, your mother.” And with that statement, Mary became the one to care for the entire Church.
“This celebration will help us to remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, to the oblation of Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed.” So it is with great joy that every year on the Monday after Pentecost, we will celebrate Mary, Mother of the Church.
At the beginning of every Mass, we make the sign of the cross. Following that, is the first greeting. There are several different options for the priest to greet the people: “The Lord be with you,” or “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” or “The grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
These greetings are not merely creations of the priest at the moment. Rather, they come directly from the Bible. St. Paul, in his letters, often begins with a salutation, similar to the beginning of our letters today when we write, “Dear So-and-so.” However, if we pay attention to the greetings of St. Paul, they are not simply a way to say “hello” to one another, they are a theological statement.
St. Paul wants his readers to recognize that even in their greeting they are living in the grace of God. St. Paul was so connected to Jesus Christ, that he would not forget about Jesus, even when writing to others. It was Jesus Christ who taught him how to treat his neighbors, how to treat the Romans and the Ephesians; how to love the Corinthians and the Thessalonians. It was Jesus Christ who shaped everything in his life, including his friendships.
And so, at the beginning of each Mass that we Catholics celebrate, we greet each other, not as mere acquaintances, but as people who have been baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a result, when we begin our Mass, we do not merely say “hello” to each other, but rather, we greet one another in the grace of Jesus. This type of greeting ought to remind us why we are gathered together each Sunday morning. We are not a social club, but a people who know that God loves us and that we are gathering to give God worship, praise, and honor.
And so, the priest greets the people in the grace of God and the people respond, “And with your spirit.” This is a rather recent re-translation of the Mass and its meaning is much more obvious than in the previous translation. When the people say “spirit,” we are acknowledging that we are entering into a spiritual reality, a spiritual encounter with the true and living God. We are preparing for a moment of grace as we celebrate the Mass together.
So at the beginning of Mass, let us all pay attention to the words we are using to greet one another and let us see that we gather as a people prepared to encounter the grace of the divine.
As was mentioned in last week’s bulletin, some of our young people will be receiving their First Communion this weekend. It is a great time for not only celebration, but also for all of us to reflect on what Holy Communion means for us in our faith.
First, we make a distinction in our faith between the terms “Eucharist” and “Communion.” When the Church uses the term “Eucharist,” the first meaning of the word is the entire celebration of the mass. This might surprise people because we often use the term “Eucharist” to refer to the consecrated host, however, the first meaning of the term Eucharist is the entire celebration of the mass from the opening hymn to the proclamation to “Go in peace.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Eucharistic celebration always includes: the proclamation of the Word of God; thanksgiving to God the Father for all his benefits, above all the gift of his Son; the consecration of bread and wine; and participation in the liturgical banquet by receiving the Lord's body and blood. These elements constitute one single act of worship.” (CCC 1408).
The term “Communion” or “Holy Communion” refers to the part of the Eucharist where Catholics, who are properly prepared, come forward to receive communion. The term “communion” is an interesting phrase. When we break down the term “communion” we conjoin two words “union” and the prefix “com.” The term “union” is rather obvious; it is the act of joining together. The prefix “com” means “with.” So, when we put the two together, we see that communion literally means “joining with.”
In our Catholic faith, we recognize that when one comes forward to receive Holy Communion, there is a “joining with” that occurs. In fact, there are two “joining with” events that occur. First, when we receive Communion, there is a joining with our Lord and God. The consecrated host may appear to be bread, however we understand from the words of our Lord at the Last Supper that it is not merely bread, but rather it is the real presence of Jesus Christ. So when we receive Holy Communion, we are uniting ourselves to the very person of Jesus Christ. It is very important that we see with the eyes of our hearts that this is the God who died for us and rose from the dead for us.
The second “joining with” that occurs when we receive Holy Communion is that we are joined with all the other people who receive communion. We are one Church in the Body of Christ, and thus, when we receive communion, we become united with all the members of that Body, both those who are on earth now as well as those who have gone before us and are in heaven: all of our loved ones who are in heaven and the Saints. So we must see that intimate connection as well.
This weekend, please pray for those young people who are receiving Communion for the first time at the Eucharist. Let us pray for our parish and the whole world, that we might all grow in our appreciation of the great gift that it is to receive Holy Communion.
A friend of mine here in the Twin Cities takes his Catholic faith seriously and works to live it out on a daily basis. By this, I do not mean that he only spends time praying his rosary (though he does do this), but he also realizes that our Catholic faith is not something that is discovered by accident, but has been intentionally shared from one generation to the next. As a result, he has stumbled upon one of the most authentically Catholic practices: porch ministry.
He has six children and works full time. As a result, he does not have much free time to go out and about. Rather, he is one who invites in. During the spring, summer and fall months (and sometimes winter), he invites men over to have dinner with his family and then retreat to the porch for time to chat. The conversation usually starts with the simple enjoyments of life, such as sports, or movies. Very quickly, though, the conversation will move to the much more important elements of life: growing-up, maturing as a man, being a father, living the Catholic faith, encounters in prayer, etc. What makes this particularly important is that he will intentionally invite younger generations to be a part of this conversation. He recognizes that it is essential that we mentor the younger generations in the Catholic faith beyond the catechesis that we receive at school or at religious education.
It is very tempting to complain about the lack of practicing Catholics among the younger generations. It is as easy as complaining about blizzards in April. Though, I see Christ as responding to us with the question: What are you doing to mentor them? And there is the key...mentoring. The younger generation needs not only information, but the environments to learn from the Catholics who are actually living the faith, who are practicing the faith from day-to-day. Their encounters with the faith cannot only be the priest’s homily on Sundays and the informational websites that Google prioritizes for them. They need the previous generation to actually mentor them.
I encourage all of the Catholics here at Nativity of Mary, and beyond, to make the time to mentor the younger generations. Welcome not only your peers to dinner, but welcome those who are younger than you. Share your wisdom with them. Enjoy their company. Build the relationships.
I know that for myself, as a priest, I am indebted to many of the veteran priests who are in their twilight years for reaching out to me. I still meet with some of my brother priests who are in their nineties. When I was newly ordained, I would never have thought to invite myself over to their parish for dinner, but they reached out to me. From them, I learned not only the data of our Archdiocese, but also the spiritual wisdom they gained from years of experience.
This ought to be the case for living our lives as Catholics. Resist the temptation to only have friends of the same generation. Recognize our opportunity to foster deeper relationships that allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to mentor the next generation of Catholics.