St. Stephen is considered to be the first person called to serve as a Deacon. St. Stephen was a man of great faith who met his martyrdom by being stoned to death as he prayed for those who stoned him.
I certainly didn’t hope for that same fate as St. Steven but I prayed for that devout faith. Historically, we know that from the time of St. Stephen through the next 1000 years or so the diaconate grew to be a vital part of the church with three distinct levels of clergy; Bishop, Priest, and Deacon, but after that the office of deacon disappeared except as a step towards the priesthood. The Second Vatican Council restored the Permanent Diaconate to men only, who were over 35 years of age.
There are presently over 10,000 deacons in the U.S. alone. And the Diaconate is continuing to evolve by expanding the curriculum and broadening the requirements to better prepare each candidate.
As a Deacon, the question I am asked most often is, “What can you do compared to a priest?” It is the wrong question, because we are not in competition, through we both receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders, allowing deacons to administer the sacraments of Baptism and Matrimony, officiate at funerals, and proclaim and preach the Gospel. Presently, deacons cannot anoint the sick, hear confessions, or consecrate the Eucharist.
I think the greatest gift the diaconate brings to the church community is their many different life experiences. The deacons of our diocese come from all different backgrounds, teachers, police officers, business men, Doctors, social workers, engineers, accountants, military and laborers; we are black, Hispanic and white serving in parishes, yes, but also in a wide variety of ministries. We minister first in the work place, hospitals, prisons, soup kitchens, convalescent homes, help with drug and alcoholic rehabilitation, and many other unique ministries.
The needs of our communities are many and varied, many yet to be identified. Besides my involvement at Nativity which consisted of assisting at Mass, weddings, baptisms, and funerals when I was asked. My wife has worked with me in marriage preparation and assisted with baptisms and weddings.
I have become aware of another important aspect of the diaconate. We Deacons all make our living, like you do, in the workplace; wearing clothing appropriate for the job.
Is serving as a Deacon always a bed of roses? No, like anything in life it has its ups and downs, with conflicts at times. With my wife and family, a full time job, and my ministry setting priorities was often difficult. As a husband and father of three children, my family was always my number one priority; without their love and support I could never have served as Deacon.
Many have said to me, “It’s wonderful of you to make so many sacrifices to serve others,” That is not true; the greatest gift of the diaconate to me has been the discovery that life has its deepest meaning when we share, it’s in giving that we receive, those I have served truly helped me to come out of myself and live life to the fullest, yes, so that when serving as a Deacon because difficult I was able to think of the positives.
Thank you Nativity of Mary and May God Bless You and Yours,
Deacon Jim McLaughlin
A few weeks ago, I mentioned in the homily that I saw the documentary about Fred Rogers, AKA Mr. Rogers. It was entitled “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS. It was a staple of my television viewing experience throughout my youth. I knew there was something attractive about Mr. Rogers’ approach to his show, but I did not understand the depth of his wisdom or his love for people.
Upon watching the documentary, I awakened to the great lessons he was trying to teach me, now on a more mature level. And these lessons are still needed for adults today.
One of the profound lessons that Mr. Rogers taught was about feelings. Many times, people will respond to feelings in one of two ways: Either, they try to suppress a feeling, or they believe they must act upon that emotion. We often allow ourselves only these two options. However, Mr. Rogers offers a third way to respond to emotions, which is much more profound and helpful. In 1969, Mr. Rogers testified before congress to defend the budget for public television. The congressman asked Mr. Rogers about his show (which the congressman had not seen). And Mr. Rogers said that he taught children about many human experiences, including feelings. And here is what Mr. Rogers said, “I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.”
Mr. Rogers teaches that feelings are “mentionable and manageable.” We all experience feelings and they are found throughout the Bible: Happiness (Isaiah 12:3), Sadness (John 11:35), Anger (Ephesians 4:26), etc. Feelings are very mentionable. But not only are they mentionable (and here is the genius of Mr. Rogers), they are manageable. We can control what we do when we experience a feeling that we know is not leading us to a good choice. We are not robots who must act out every feeling that we experience. Rather, God has given us the ability to choose our actions and we must choose to respond to our feelings in ways that are good.
To drive home his point, Mr. Rogers wrote a song to help children (and adults) remember this truth: “What do you do with the mad that you feel? When you feel so mad you could bite. When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong, and nothing you do seems very right. What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag or see how fast you go?”
“It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned the thing that’s wrong. And be able to do something else instead ― and think this song ― “I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop anytime ... And what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man.”
Found in this simple song is a very powerful tool for living our lives as Jesus calls us to act. We all experience feelings, and we can be the ones to choose how to respond to those feelings. That is the genius of Mr. Rogers who knew the love of God in his own life, for he was an ordained Presbyterian minister. So the next time we experience a feeling, let us remember this lesson from Mr. Rogers, acknowledge the feeling to Jesus, and allow Jesus to guide us in how we should react to this feeling. Then we will have that very good feeling knowing we have chosen to do what God would want us to do...and that feels very good.
NB: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” is rated PG-13, so parents, please view the movie first and then discern if your children are of an appropriate age to watch this documentary.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus sends out his disciples to preach repentance to all who would receive them. It is important to note, however, that Jesus sent them out “two by two.” He sent them out in pairs. One of the reasons that Jesus did this was because he knew that we need other people of faith around us to support us. Very often, when we become isolate or even have the feeling of being isolated in our faith, we can be tempted to either drift from the faith or set it aside.
Also, our faith grows when we share it with others. By sending out his disciples two by two, Jesus also gave them a partner in the journey of faith. They had someone with them who already believed in Jesus and they could talk about their faith with each other. This helps solidify our experiences of faith and creates fertile ground for the faith to grow.
So for us here in Minnesota, we need to talk about our faith with each other. If you have a good friend who also is a faith-filled person, be sure to talk about how God is working in your life. If you are married, be sure to have those conversations about faith with each other. If you have a family member whom you know to be a person of faith, call them and talk about how God is working in your life. If you have children, be sure to talk about your experiences with God to show them that it is good to talk about God working in our lives.
We need to share our faith and talk about our personal encounters with God. So the following are a few suggestions of topics to discuss as you go through this life two by two:
These are just a few suggestions of topics to discuss with another person of faith. Jesus is sending all of us through the world and we need someone to walk with us as we journey. Let us not miss those opportunities to receive the graces of sharing our faith with another so that we might have our faith deepened.
God bless you,
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.