This weekend we begin our 2019 Catholic Services Appeal. While it is tempting to simply hear that it is the “usual request” and either simply give out a sense of routine or to perhaps even pass it off as the usual “ask” that occurs annually. I encourage you to resist this temptation and prayerfully examine the request.
This appeal, as they often state, is designed to assist in the areas of ministry that are not able to be supported by one parish. For example, this annual appeal supports the Archdiocesan mission parish located in Venezuela. Since 1970, the Archdiocese has assisted in this poor region of Venezuela with at least one priest as well as building connections to our Archdiocese. No single parish is able to support this mission, though collectively, we are able to reach out to assist Venezuelans during this significant time of crisis with their spiritual and physical needs.
Also, this mission appeal assists the two seminaries that we have in the Twin Cities. These seminaries are not attached to any single parish and thus do not have the typical consistent donations to aid them. The Catholic Services Appeal aids them in their mission to prepare young men to become priests.
A third, but not final ministry is that of the hospital chaplaincy. In the Twin Cities area, we are blessed with many quality hospitals. It is during those times of illness that we can often feel alone and disconnected from our parish communities. While most of the parishes work to meet the spiritual needs of parishioners who are in hospitals, sometimes the priest or other ministers are unable to be there immediately in a moment of crisis. As a result, we have hospital chaplains who work to meet the spiritual needs. These priests and lay people give of their efforts to help those suffering to be united to Jesus Christ.
There are a total of twenty different ministries that are supported through this annual appeal. It is important for us to approach this request with prayer to the Lord. He will be the one to guide us in our use of our resources for the continuing mission of our parish, our Archdiocese, and the entire Church. May God bless you for your generosity to all.
Click here to watch the 2019 Catholic Services Appeal Video
Click here to help the poor.
Even as a young child, I was interested in bigger questions. As I would mow our yard I would think about deeper questions such as, “What is it that makes humans different from animals?” “Do other material beings have thoughts like we do?” It may have been these types of questions that led me to enjoy both science fiction TV shows as well as philosophy. One question I remember thinking about is “What is time?”
If one turns to multiple sources for a definition, we do not find a single, universal response. However, the general ideas shared in the definitions is simply: A measure of change. Time is a tool by which we measure the changes in the physical universe.
So how ought we understand time in light of God and in light of stewardship?
When God created human beings, He made us to live in time. And what we discover is that time is actually a gift from God. All that we have and all that we are is a pure gift from God, including time. If we think of time as a measure of change, time allows human beings to grow, mature, and actually become better than we are right now. Every second of each day that we have on earth is an opportunity to either become better or become worse than we are at this very moment. So when we think about time in the light of our God, it is such a gift because now we can become more like Jesus each day by our decisions and our actions.
To speak of time in light of God and our idea of stewardship, we ought to see time as a gift for me to use as God desires: Using it to help me become the person I ought to be...become better at loving God and loving my neighbor. This is why we must be people of prayer. We must return to God and ask God how He wants me to use my time this day. Sometimes it is obvious: getting the children to school on time, going to work, returning home to the family. Other times, it’s not as clear: I have a free afternoon, how should I use these couple of hours to become an even better person? How can I use this time to become a saint? This is part of being a good steward of our time.
Time is a gift from God and we are called to be good stewards of even this gift from our loving God. Let us always use this gift in a way that helps us become the people we know we have been made to be, let us use this gift like saints.
When I was young and going to mass on Sundays, I had only met one religious sister in my life. Her name was Sr. Pascaline. I thought she was the last religious sister on earth and once she passed away, I imagined that there would be no more religious sisters on the planet...I was completely wrong. While the numbers of religious sisters and nuns (yes, there is a difference) has been waning, the Holy Spirit has still been actively calling women to the consecrated life...and young women have been responding.
One example of this response is the new religious sisters that have moved into our neighborhood. As many of you know, the Poor Clare religious sisters have had a presence in Bloomington dating back to the large expansion in the 1950’s. Their numbers diminished over the years, yet the sisters played a powerful role in our community. A few years back, the Poor Clares decided to share space with the Franciscan sisters in Rochester, while maintaining their contemplative life. This meant that they needed to discern what God wanted for their convent, located near 88th St. and Penn Avenue. In God’s amazing plan, a group of religious sisters from Peru had begun ministering in the Twin Cities. The Pro Ecclesia Sancta sisters were praying for a place to live and pray. And behold, by God’s grace and the generosity of the Poor Clares, the convent will continue to be just that...a convent for religious sister.
The Pro Ecclesia Sancta sisters will sometimes attend daily mass here at our parish and can be found in the neighborhood. On February 17th, they will be having an open house convent from 10:30am to 1pm. You will be able to meet our new neighbors, have a tour and connect with the wonderful Catholic tradition right here in our own backyard. I pray that many of the families of our parish will be able to meet these sisters and perhaps even the seed of a religious vocation may be planted in the hearts of some of the young ladies of our parish. Please join me in praying for an increase of vocations to the religious life.
A few months ago, we had the first part of our stewardship campaign here at Nativity of Mary. At that time, we focused on the “treasure” portion of stewardship. This weekend, we are focusing on the “time and talent” portion of stewardship.
As you may recall, stewardship is not merely the idea of giving. Rather, like all things in our Catholic life, it begins and ends with God. When we look in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we find that the word “stewardship” is used in several different passages: No. 859, “[The Apostles are] ‘stewards of the mysteries of God’”; 893, “The bishop is the steward of the grace”; 952, “A Christian is a steward of the Lord’s goods”; 1117, “The Church . . . is the faithful steward of God’s mysteries”; 2238, “God has made [those in authority] stewards of his gifts”; 2280, “We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us”.
Notice, that in all of these cases, it all starts with God. To be a steward, one must recognize the truth that all we have comes from God, and this includes our time and our talent. When this recognition happens in our minds, we think about our time and our talents in a much different way: We want to use them properly, we want to care for them and use them with love.
I often liken it to that recognition of all that my parents have done for me. My parents gave me a house to live in, food to eat, the time to play with my friends, the education that I received. If not for my parents, I would not have survived. Because of this recognition, I not only have a greater appreciation for their gifts, but I want to use them in a way that respects why they gave them to me. My parents did not help provide for my housing so that I could use the house in any way I wanted. They provided housing so that I would use it properly, keeping it clean, making my bed, putting away my laundry. My parents did not provide dental care so that I could treat my teeth in any way I desired, but rather, I now had a duty to brush them daily, floss, and visit the dentist every six months (can you tell my mom was a dental hygienist?).
In a similar way, and perhaps a more real way, this is how we are to treat our time and our talents. We should be a people who recognize just how much God has given us out of love. God has blessed each of us in these special ways. And now, we have a moment where we turn to God and ask Him, how do you want me to use my time and my talents.
This week, you have been given a time and talent letter and the purpose is not simply to fill it out, but rather, for it to become a tool for prayer. It is important to turn to God and ask God to show you how to use your time and talent. Perhaps there is a talent that has been hidden in you that God now wants to bring out. Or maybe your life has changed in the past few years and now there is new time available that God is asking you to put to service in a new way.
Each one of us has been gifted by God and we are now stewards of these gifts, meaning that we are not the source nor the end of that gift. Rather, we are caretakers of these gifts and realize the love that is found in each gift. Let us respond to that love by turning to God
It is now the heart of the winter. I, for one, enjoy the winter. I find the snow and the cold exciting, I enjoy getting out to ice skate and play hockey, I like the beauty of a soft snowfall, I get excited when my nostrils freeze together (well, maybe not that part). However, I realize that there are those who do not enjoy winter as much as I do, and thus they like to escape to warmer climates. Many couples will get away for a few months and there are families that travel during spring break. As a society, we travel quite a bit.
One temptation that can occur when we travel is to forget about the importance of prayer. Because we are out of our usual setting or away from our routines, we can be tempted to miss the prayer that needs to be a part of our lives, even when we are away from our homes.
The reality is that God is everywhere and God’s love is everywhere for us. We need to respond to that love in prayer. So here are a few suggestions for continuing to pray while you travel.
First, remember that traveling with others is a great time to pray together. We often pray alone, but when we are traveling, we typically travel with others. This is a great time to practice praying with other people. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am” (Matt 18:20). We have been designed to pray together. It can be a simple prayer each morning as your start your day or a prayer to St. Christopher for safe travelers (he is the patron Saint of travellers). Regardless of how you do it, it is good to pray together.
Second, schedule time for mass. Vacation from work is not a vacation from God or His call for us to attend mass. It is essential for us as Catholics to attend mass every Sunday and Holy Day of obligation. So when you travel, look up the local Catholic churches and their mass times. If you do not know how to find the parishes, you are in luck: www.masstimes.org is an incredible website that will help you find masses using the zip code or address. If you use your cell phone, you need only push the button and it will use the GPS to find your location and the closest churches and their mass times.
Finally, bring your rosary. I travel with my rosary and it is a beautiful simple prayer that you carry in your pocket. It has even been cleared by TSA on all of my air travels. When you are on the plane, put away your electronics for just a few minutes and pray the rosary. If you have forgotten your rosary, good news: God gave you ten fingers and you pray the rosary that way! The rosary is the traveling prayer. It is also a good reminder to pray when you keep it in your pocket. You may put your hand in your pocket looking for your keys and you feel your rosary: That might be God reminding you to pray that day.
People enjoy traveling and it is easier than ever for us to explore this amazing world that God has given to us. As we travel creation, let us not forget the Creator and make time for prayer.
In the Catholic faith, we have seasons, just like the season of the weather. The year begins with the season of Advent, followed by Christmas. We then move into Ordinary time which is broken up by Lent and Easter. Then we return to Ordinary time.
Last weekend brought the Christmas season to a close with and began Ordinary time. Each of these seasons has a purpose or a focus. For example, Advent is a time to prepare for receiving Jesus into our lives. Christmas is a season where we recognize the union of God with ourselves. Lent is the Season of penance and Easter is a season for celebrating Jesus victory over sin and death.
The question that some may ask is: What is the focus of Ordinary time? I often look at Ordinary time a season where we ought to be getting better at doing the “ordinary” things of our Catholic faith.
Have you ever noticed how many professionals say they are “practicing” their work? For example, a doctor “practices” medicine. Or a lawyer “practices” law. This indicates that they are always striving to be better at their work. They never view themselves as having perfected it and never want decline. They always want to be better and every day is an opportunity to improve.
This is the attitude we ought to have toward our faith, particularly in Ordinary time. This season of Ordinary time is a when we ought to be striving to improve ourselves spiritually. We should begin by asking the question: Where do I need to improve as a disciple of Jesus Christ? We ought not only focus on which sins should we strive to eliminate, but also where should we grow? Perhaps we need to grow in our prayer life, both in time and in quality of our prayer. Maybe we need to be more generous with our resources. Possibly we need to be better at our vocation to marriage and the family life.
I will recommend two books to help during this Ordinary time. The first is An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Frances de Sales. This is a collection of letters that St. Frances de Sales wrote to a cousin on how to grow in the spiritual life. The second book is the Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. The Screwtape Letters are fictional letters written from one demon to another demon on how to prevent humans from being good disciples of Jesus Christ.
However you choose to enter into Ordinary time, do not miss the opportunity to “practice” your faith well and always improve on building your relationship with Jesus Christ.
I remember when I was growing up, there was a plaque on the wall of my bedroom that stated my birthday, my height and weight at birth and the date of my baptism: December 31st, 1980 at St. Jerome Catholic Church in Maplewood, MN. I do not remember who made the plaque, but I remember that for my parents, the date of my baptism was very important. It was only when I became older and understood what baptism was really all about that I grasped why it was such an important date for my parents and especially for myself.
We celebrate our birthdays because they are a recognition when we entered into the world. It is a great day for us to remember and recall. We mark our birthdays by celebrations, friends, cake and songs.
And when we think about what happens at baptism, ought we not to have the same level of celebration, if not even a greater celebration! Baptism is our spiritual birthday! It is the day where the grace of God’s divine love was poured into our hearts in a new way and we are “birthed” into the life of the Church, into this new family where we call each other “brothers and sisters in Christ” and we now address God as “Father.” Just as our physical life was a pure gift from our parents, our spiritual life is a gift from God and ought to be recognized as such.
Pope Francis recently said of our baptisms, “Sometimes it’s something we don’t remember but a way we can definitely remember it and incorporate it into our lives is to celebrate the date of our baptism...it's the date of our rebirth as children of God.” He even gave all of us the “homework” of finding the date of our baptism within one week...and I echo that challenge to you...if you do not know it, find the date of your baptism and then, celebrate it with great joy, because it was on that day that the Holy Spirit washed you free of original sin; it was on that day that you were received into the Body of Christ, the Church; it was on that day that you were able to call God “Father” for the first time; it was on that day that the grace and mercy of God poured into your heart in a definitive and transformative way.
Our birthdays are special and for us as Catholics our spiritual birthdays are joyous occasions. Let us celebrate the anniversary of our baptisms with great joy because it is through this sacrament that we become children of God.
Homily homework question: What insect did Fr. Gjengdahl reference in his homily to describe baptism and how did this relate to baptism?
There is a long tradition in the Catholic faith of a blessing of houses on or around the feast of the Epiphany using blessed chalk. It is more common in Europe than in the United States, however this practice is growing. It is a way to offer a blessing for each person who passes through the door in the the household, just as the magi were welcomed into the manger. The tradition of using chalk had perhaps begun as a symbol of the frankincense incense brought by the magi for the child Jesus. You can use the chalk that you receive at mass to perform this blessing. NB: The chalk is blessed and thus should not be used for decorations on the sidewalk, but rather, just as with any blessed item, it should either be buried or burned for proper disposal.
Here’s a suggested format for the blessing:
(All make the Sign of the Cross)
Leader: “Peace be to this house and to all who dwell here, in the name of the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God.
Reader: When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
The word of the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God (Using chalk, write on the outside of your house or inside above the front main entrance, above or next to an entrance on the door frame):
+20 + C + M + B 19+
All: Lord God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only begotten Son to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who live here and all who visit. May we be blessed with health, kindness of heart, gentleness and the keeping of your law. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our love for each other may go out to all. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
I was recently conversing with a priest about a parishioner, Evelyn, at his parish who was turning 101 years old. We were discussing just how many changes had occurred in her lifetime and even our own. She has seen the rise of flight, the fall of communism. She had experience the advancement of computers, the recession of the stock market. The death of the horse carriage and the birth of self-driving cars.
With the new year, I begin thinking about all the changes I have seen in my few decades on this earth: The invention of the internet, the changes creation of a musical style called “ska” and the summer of pogs. We all live in a constant experience of change.
As each new year begins, we often look to the past to see where we were and to the future to see where we are going. While we all know with our minds that to live means that there will be changes, it is a challenge to live out those changes. As humans we long for something solid on which we can put our feet, something consistent that will be a rock for us in our lives...and far too often, we are left adrift. We desire a place where we can find a harbor and anchor our lives which will be a stable home.
This longing for all to have something consistent is a God-given desire, but what we often fail to remember, is that desire can only be fulfilled in God Himself. It is essential for all Catholics, all Christians to hear the words written in the Letter to the Hebrews. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” (Hebrews 13:8). That short phrase is both a statement of encouragement and a challenge.
Is it an encouragement when I want something onto which I can grasp, when I feel out of place, when I think that all is disorder. Remembering this reality and returning to Jesus gives me that stable rock on which to stand.
This statement is also a challenge. It is a spiritual challenge to all of us to review our lives and ask: “Is Jesus, always and everywhere, the center of my life?” We must remember to keep Jesus as the bedrock of our lives. Jesus reminds us in a parable of the wise man who built his house on rock, on that which is immovable, so that his house, his life, would not be shaken when the winds and rains of change occurred (Matthew 7:24-27).
Everything else can be changed, either by ourselves or by circumstances outside of our control. Thus, we will never find our contentment outside of Him. I am reminded again of those famous words from St. Augustine, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” (St. Augustine, Confessions).
As we enter into this new year, it is essential to remember that it will only be Jesus Christ who will be the constant and it is only Jesus Christ who is our life and our all. May God bless you in this new year and may you always remain in Christ.
I have enjoyed watching the TV show Doctor Who for quite some time. It is a science-fiction show from the BBC. Each year they have a Doctor Who “Christmas Special.” However, this year, it made the controversial move to have a New Year’s Special rather than a Christmas Special. While this has upset some fans of the show, I was not surprised, because the show, like many other secular adaptations of Christmas was forced to make a choice with regard to Christmas: Is it a religious event or is a “spirit of.”
What I mean by this distinction, is that I often hear people talk about “the spirit of Christmas” in a rather vague tone. It conjures images of Christmas trees, warm fires, red and green coloring, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire (which I have only eaten once...and not during the Christmas season). These are very pleasant and good images. However, it runs into difficulty when the question is asked: Why does Christmas matter? If it is merely a sentimental feeling or a particular color palette, why does it matter? What is its purpose? I think this is part of what the writers for the Doctor Who show encountered and understandably, they moved on to the next holiday. There was no reason to keep it, because it had no grounding other than the habit of having a Christmas Special since 2005.
So why does Christmas matter for Catholics? Why is this an important holiday for us? While Catholics will have many of the same elements found in a secular definition of Christmas, we have one more thing...a divine savior. Christmas matters because this is the time when God reaches down from heaven to embrace humanity. God has literally become one with us. And even more...God has become one with us to save us from our sins.
Christmas is where God shows us what love truly means. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that God became a human being, “so that we might know God’s love” (CCC 458). God sacrifices all of His glory, all of His comfort to become a human being, share the message of mercy and forgiveness for sins, and then to offer Himself as a sacrifice for all the sins of humanity. It is the greatest act of love.
We all have many beautiful and comforting traditions around Christmas, and these are good. We ought to decorate for Christmas and distinguish this time from others. And in the middle of these good practices, let us remember why all of this matters, why the spirit of Christmas matters...because we have a savior who loves us.