Today we enter into Holy Week, the most sacred time of the year for Christians. During this week we remember in a special way the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. What each Sunday is to the week, these days are to the whole year. As much as possible we should set aside time to pray and reflect on the events of our salvation in Christ. These are days to savor the great Mysteries of our faith. Most especially we should join with our sisters and brothers in celebrating the liturgies of the Paschal Triduum (Three Days of Easter):
Mass of the Lord’s Supper: 7:00 pm at St. Charles. On Holy Thursday evening the Church remembers Jesus’ final meal with his disciples before he died. It was during this meal that Jesus gave us the gift of the Eucharist and the ministerial priesthood. At this liturgy we imitate Jesus’ example of washing the disciples’ feet. (See John 13:1-15.) Our feet are washed as a symbol of the humble service we are called to render to one another. At the conclusion of Mass this evening the Blessed Sacrament is solemnly carried to a special place of reservation and the faithful are invited to remain in prayerful vigil. Our vigil before the Blessed Sacrament will conclude at midnight.
Solemn Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion and Death: 1:00 pm at St. Charles. According to ancient tradition, the Church does not celebrate Mass on this day. Instead, the Passion of the Lord is proclaimed and the faithful are invited to venerate the holy Cross. Holy Communion is received from the elements consecrated on Holy Thursday. Despite the solemn nature of the celebration, we do not lose sight of Jesus’ victory over sin and death. His Cross is our salvation!
Tenebrae: 8:00 pm at St. Peter’s. This is a scriptural service of light and darkness. One by one, candles are extinguished as we reflect on Jesus’ suffering and death. The church takes on the atmosphere of a tomb as we are left in silent darkness.
The Great Vigil of Easter: 8:00 pm at St. Charles. In the darkness of the night a fire is kindled and from it the Easter Candle is lit. The light grows until the whole church is illuminated with the Light of Christ. We listen to the great stories of salvation history from the Creation and Exodus to the Resurrection. The church bells peal as we intone the Gloria and for the first time since Lent began we sing out, “Alleluia!” The Easter sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist are celebrated. This most glorious and beautiful liturgy of the entire year ushers in the great 50-day festival of
Easter: Christ is risen! Following the Vigil there will be a reception in the Narthex.
Welcome Fr. Larry Berger! Fr. Berger is a senior priest of the Diocese of La Crosse. He is filling in this weekend as Fr. Charlie and I are attending the Alpha Retreat in Black River Falls. Please keep all those attending the retreat in your prayers.
Beginning this Sunday communal celebrations of penance are being held at area parishes. A number of priests will be available at each of these celebrations which include individual confession and absolution. If you’ve not yet been to confession this Lent, please make time to join us at one of the following celebrations. The time is here for all of us to get our spiritual “spring cleaning” done!
Sunday, March 13
3:00 pm. at Holy Ghost, Chippewa Falls
5:00 pm. at Holy Cross, Cornell
Monday, March 14
7:00 pm. at St. Charles, Chippewa Falls
Tuesday, March 15
7:00 pm. at Notre Dame, Chippewa Falls
Thursday, March 17
7:00 pm. at St. Joseph Church, Boyd
7:00 pm at St. Paul, Bloomer
Next Sunday is Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, the beginning of Holy Week. I hope that we will all set aside extra time to enter into the celebration of this most important time of the year as together we celebrate the Lord’s death, rest, and resurrection. Please plan to join us especially for the liturgies of the Easter Triduum:
- Holy Thursday – Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 7:00 pm at St. Charles.
- Good Friday – Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion and Death at 1:00 pm at St. Charles. Tenebrae at St. Peters at 8:00 pm.
- Holy Saturday – The Great Vigil of Easter at 8:00 pm at St. Charles.
Once again we are inviting young people in Grades 2 – 5 to participate in the Easter Vigil liturgy on Saturday, March 26. The children will be helping us tell the story of creation and ringing bells during the Gloria. There will be one practice on Saturday, March 26 at 10:00 am at St. Charles. Please call the Parish Office at 715.723.4088 to let us know if your child will take part – Thanks!
A Time for Mercy
In this Year of Mercy we are being invited to experience in a more intense way the forgiving love of our merciful Father. Today’s gospel of the Prodigal Son beautifully expresses the compassionate concern God has for us, his sons and daughters. In the parable the father runs to meet his wayward son, embraces him, and commences to throw a party. The father rejoices that his son has come home!
Celebrating the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is an invitation to experience the mercy – and the joy – of the Father. Going to confession is a gift both to God and to ourselves. There, we are embraced by the Father who has been waiting for us to come home. There, we not only receive forgiveness but are filled with joy. Indeed, as Jesus tells us all of heaven rejoices when a repentant soul is absolved from sin. (Cf. Luke 15:7.)
Beginning next Sunday there will be a number of communal celebrations of penance at area parishes. A number of priests will be available at each of these celebrations which include individual confession and absolution. If you’ve not yet been to confession this Lent, please make time to join us at one of the following celebrations.
Sunday, March 13
3:00 pm. at Holy Ghost, Chippewa Falls
5:00 pm. at Holy Cross, Cornell
Monday, March 14
7:00 pm. at St. Charles, Chippewa Falls
Tuesday, March 15
7:00 pm. at Notre Dame, Chippewa Falls
Thursday, March 17
7:00 pm. at St. Joseph Church, Boyd
7:00 pm at St. Paul, Bloomer
To help you prepare for a good confession, the following site contains a detailed examination of conscience:
Let’s not waste the opportunity this season of grace offers us, especially in this Year of Mercy!
At the Border
Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas knows first-hand about the immigration crisis. Located on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, Bishop Seitz’s diocese deals daily with the influx of immigrants. As he recently wrote, “Since the spring of 2014, over 100,000 Central American families and 100,000 unaccompanied children have reached the United States in search of safety from organized crime elements in their countries. The stories of violence, sexual assault, and murder against innocent citizens by gang members and smugglers are well-documented.”
Last week Pope Francis celebrated Mass and visited the U.S./Mexican border at Ciudad Juárez, which abuts the United States at El Paso. The Pope went there to draw attention to the plight of these thousands of immigrants. Bishop Seitz continues: “His border visit, to an area so politicized in the U.S. immigration debate, will remind us that there are human beings behind the rhetoric, some who suffer and die to earn the necessities or obtain the security many of us take for granted.”
“No doubt,” wrote the Bishop, “there will be those who criticize the pope as supportive of illegal immigration, but they would be missing the point. To the contrary, he is calling on the powerful to reform their institutional structures and legal systems so that immigrants and refugees do not have to suffer and die to find safety or to support their families. Nations have the authority to control their borders, but they also have a moral obligation to protect human rights and human life.”
In this election year immigration will be a key issue. May we not forget, as Bishop Seitz said, “there are human beings behind the rhetoric.” This is why Pope Francis went to the border – to try to put a human face on this difficult situation. The solution, according to the Holy Father, is conversion. And that is what Lent is all about. May our hearts be open to Jesus’ words: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35.)
This Friday and Saturday we are celebrating “24 Hours for the Lord” at the Goldsmith Chapel. The hours run from noon on March 4 to noon on March 5. This is an initiative called for by Pope Francis for the Holy Year of Mercy. St. Charles and St. Peter’s parishes will be leading “Meditations on the Seven Last Words of Christ” from 4 pm to 6 pm Friday. Please see this week’s bulletin for more details and join us for this special Holy Year event.
If you’ve been following the news you may know that Pope Francis recently met with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch, Kirill. This was the first time a Pope has met with the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. The historic encounter took place in Cuba as Pope Francis was on his way to Mexico to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Recent popes had tried to broker a meeting with the Russian Patriarch without success. It is truly a grace from God that this encounter finally took place.
Why was this meeting so important? The Russian Orthodox Church is largest branch of Eastern Orthodoxy. For the first 1000 years of Christianity the Churches of the West (Rome) and East (Constantinople) were united. Then, in 1054 these two historic branches of Christianity became estranged over theological and political issues. Over the last fifty years progress has been made towards healing this rift, including the lifting of mutual excommunications. But relations with the Russian Orthodox have remained tense. The meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill signals a warming of relations.
Reunion with the Orthodox Church would bring together the two largest Christian bodies. Because the Orthodox have preserved the tradition of the Apostles (priesthood, sacraments, morality, etc.) they remain closest to us. In fact, St. Pope John Paul II famously spoke of the Church breathing with two lungs – East (Orthodox) and West (Catholic). The meeting between Francis and Kirill is a further step towards the restoration of full communion between us. As they said in their joint Declaration: “It is with joy that we have met like brothers in the Christian Faith….”
Why did this meeting happen now? In their joint Declaration the Pope and Patriarch indicated the need for a common witness and response to several contemporary issues. First and foremost they addressed the persecution of Christians in places like Syria and Iraq where the Church is being targeted and the majority of Christian faithful have been forced to flee. They also spoke to the exclusion of Christian voices in the secular west. The Declaration goes on to address concerns regarding traditional marriage and family life, abortion and euthanasia. To read the entire statement, visit the Vatican website: http://w2.vatican.va.
As we continue our Lenten journey may we pray that this historic meeting will bear lasting fruit in the life of the Church. Perhaps we can offer our Lenten penance in a special way for the unity of Christians, especially for the healing of the divisions between Catholics and Orthodox. As brothers (and sisters!) may our family soon be able to share at the same table of the Lord.
Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving
Welcome to Lent! On Ash Wednesday we heard Jesus speak about prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These three practices are to mark the lives of Christians all year round, but in Lent we make a special effort. As we enter into this holy season I invite you to take up these disciplines in a special way. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy let’s not be content with the bare minimum observance of Lent, but make the most of these forty days of grace.
Prayer. Once again we’ve provided copies of “Five Minutes with the Word.” These devotional aids have been popular in previous years as they help us reflect on the daily Lenten scriptures. Divine Mercy holy cards are also available, which include instructions for praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. There are also copies of the booklet, “Embracing the Year of Mercy” published by our diocese. This book contains a month of daily reflections centered on the theme of mercy. All of these are meant to aid our effort at prayer this Lent.
Fasting. Many Christians “give up” something during the season of Lent. It can be a symbolic gesture, like giving up sweets. Or, it might be a real challenge like fasting from gossip or trying to break a bad habit. The point is some type of self-discipline that helps us focus on what is most essential. Ultimately fasting – giving up what we don’t need – is meant to free us for more prayer and works of charity. In other words, giving up something is not an end in itself. It’s meant to lead us to something better.
Almsgiving. Each Sunday in Lent we will be taking up a special Lenten collection before Mass. This collection will support three charities this year. A portion will go to Fr. Emmanuel Kiganda in Uganda, Africa. (Some of you may remember Father Emmanuel from his time here in our parishes.) The money will be used for a water well project and other essential needs. Another portion of the Lenten collection will be sent to our diocesan mission parish in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. This parish relies heavily on the financial support they receive from our diocese each year. And the final portion of the collection will support our parish Emergency Fund. This fund provides assistance to local folks in need of such things as gas, food, utilities, emergency shelter, and rent assistance. In advance, I thank you for your generous support of this year’s Lenten Collection!
This week the season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 10th. While every Lent is a significant time in the life of the Church, this year it takes on a special significance in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. Lent is especially a time to seek God’s mercy and find strength for a renewed commitment to our baptismal vocation. Lent during this Holy Year will feature a few special celebrations.
24 Hours for the Lord. Pope Francis has called for us to set aside the Friday and Saturday before the Fourth Sunday of Lent (March 4-5) as a special time of prayer and penance. Our deanery will celebrate these 24 Hours for the Lord at the Goldsmith Chapel from noon on March 4 to noon on March 5. Each parish will be responsible for leading prayer throughout the observance and volunteers will be needed to be present before the Blessed Sacrament throughout the night hours. Please watch the bulletin for more details on this special event.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation. We’ve already initiated extra time for confessions on Mondays at St. Charles from 5 – 5:30 pm. The week of March 13th there will be communal penance celebrations throughout our deanery. During Holy Week confessions will be heard on Monday evening at St. Charles and Tuesday evening at St. Peter’s. Please plan now to take advantage of these opportunities for sacramental confession during Lent!
Anointing of the Sick. Next Tuesday, February 16, there will be a special Mass with Anointing of the Sick at 11:00 am at St. Charles. Lunch will follow in the Narthex. All are invited to join us for this special celebration of the Lord’s healing power. The Anointing of the Sick will also be celebrated at various area nursing home and assisted living centers during the month of February.
Stations of the Cross. This devotion will be prayed at St. Charles on Sundays at 7:00 pm and Mondays at 5:00 pm. At St. Peter’s the Stations will be prayed on Monday as part of the Novena devotions at 6:00 pm and on Thursdays at noon with the school children.
Alpha. We’re currently running our Alpha Course at St. Charles on Mondays at 6:15 pm and at St. Peter’s on Tuesdays at 6:00 pm. You can still take advantage of Alpha starting this week. The topic is “Why Did Jesus Die?” Those who have participated in the Alpha sessions but did not make the Weekend Away are invited to join us March 12-13 in Black River Falls. Contact Greg Gilbertson for more information.
May the coming Lenten season be a time of renewal for us all as together we celebrate the Lord’s merciful love!
One in the Lord
The week of January 17 I was privileged to be part of an ecumenical conference, “Experience Alpha.” It was an opportunity for leaders from Catholic and Protestant communities to come together to be immersed in the Alpha approach to evangelization. We were able to see firsthand how Alpha has transformed the lives of thousands people – especially young adults. We learned the “nuts and bolts” of running the Alpha Course and shared our own experiences of running Alpha in our communities. It was an enlightening and affirming experience.
It was perhaps coincidental that this ecumenical gathering took place during the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,” an annual world-wide observance. Certainly the conference drew us Catholics and our Protestant brothers and sisters closer together. One of the most poignant moments was when the Protestant participants prayed over us Catholics and then we did the same for them. Many were visibly moved as we prayed for a spirit of mutual forgiveness and in thanksgiving for the gifts each tradition brings to the Body of Christ. Such common prayer together throughout the conference was a truly beautiful experience.
In his homily at an ecumenical service to conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Francis spoke about the importance of Christians working together, despite our differences, especially in terms of evangelization. The Holy Father said, “While we are moving towards full communion among Christians, we can already develop many forms of cooperation to aid the spread of the Gospel. By walking and working together, we realize that we are already united in the name of the Lord.” I’m almost tempted to think he had our Experience Alpha conference in mind! We all experienced that sense of unity Pope Francis preached about.
This week marks the beginning of another annual observance: Catholic Schools Week. It’s an opportunity for us to reflect upon the tremendous gift of Catholic education. Our parishes are blessed with fine Catholic schools – made possible by your generous support. As we celebrate our Catholic Schools, I want to say thank you for all the many sacrifices of time, talent and treasure you make on behalf of Catholic education. Please join me in praying that our Catholic Schools will be effective instruments of evangelization, leading students and their families to a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ. I also want to invite you to join us for Mass with Bishop Callahan this Thursday, February 4th at 9:30am at McDonell Catholic High School.
In today’s gospel Jesus gives us his “mission statement” as he reads from the prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Boldly, Jesus declares that Isaiah’s words are fulfilled in himself. He is the one anointed by the Spirit to fulfill God’s plan for humankind. This is the mission entrusted to him by the Father. In this passage Jesus is declaring that he is the Messiah or Christ, the Anointed One of God. As we’ll hear in next Sunday’s gospel, not everyone was thrilled by Jesus’ claim for himself. But today we are invited to simply ponder God’s purposes in Jesus.
And God’s plan for Jesus is his plan for us as well. We too, as Christians, are anointed to carry on the mission of Jesus in the world today. The very name “Christian” means literally “another Christ.” And note that Jesus is being sent by God not to the comfortable and powerful, but to the poor, to prisoners, to the blind and the oppressed. His mission is to the margins of society – to those most in need of God’s mercy and compassion. As Pope Francis has repeatedly reminded us, this is where we as the Church are being sent by God as well.
Jesus’ mission is meant to be our mission as well. It is a task we are “anointed” to carry out – empowered by the Holy Spirit. But sometimes we need a “reboot.” We need to rediscover our original baptismal calling to be “another Christ” in the world. In a sense I think this is Pope Francis’ intention for us with the Holy Year of Mercy. This special year of grace is ultimately about helping us all to recommit to the mission of Jesus Christ – to the work of mercy in our wounded world.
The Alpha Course has helped many Christians “reboot” their foundational calling to be disciples of Jesus. Alpha provides an opportunity to rediscover our baptismal anointing and release the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. So, as I’ve been doing the past several weeks, I want to invite you once again to “Come and See”. Join us on Monday evening at St. Charles or Tuesday evening at St. Peter’s for Alpha. Give your faith a “reboot.”
I’m away this week attending a special clergy conference on Alpha. It’s an opportunity to delve a bit deeper into Alpha’s philosophy and to share insights and ideas with clergy from around the country. Please keep me and all the conference participants in your prayers. Also, pray for those who will be attending our own Alpha Course which begins January 25 at St. Charles and January 26 at St. Peter’s! Several other parishes in our diocese are also starting up Alpha – let’s keep them in prayer as well.
Today’s gospel recounts Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana. There he changed water into wine – to the delight of the servants and guests! Wine is a sign of joy and festivity – and what could be more festive than a wedding? That the Lord chose this as the first of his signs is revealing. As he will later tell his disciples, “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:24.) Jesus wants us to be full of joy!
What’s interesting in the story of the wedding at Cana is that the stone jars which become the vessel for this miracle were used for Jewish purification rituals. They are sitting empty until Jesus orders them to be filled. What had been a sign of sin becomes through Jesus a source of joy. The old rituals had become empty gestures, but Jesus turns the purification vessels to a new purpose, bringing new life in abundance.
Sometimes we can be like those stone jars, feeling a bit empty and hollow. Or maybe we feel like we’ve been used up, drained to the dregs by life’s problems and challenges. The good news is that Jesus wants to fill us – even as he ordered those jars filled to the brim. He wants to fill us with the wine of his Spirit – with that joy which “no one can ever take from you.” (Cf. John 16:22.) All we have to do is ask.
One of the amazing things about the Alpha Course is that on the retreat I’ve experienced people who asked and received – who were literally filled with joy in the Lord. In fact, I would say joy is one of the biggest fruits of the Alpha Course. So, if you’re feeling a bit “empty” … if you could use an extra dose of joy … consider joining us on the upcoming Alpha Course. Remember, Jesus wants us to be filled with joy!
In a few short weeks we will begin the season of Lent. (Ash Wednesday is February 10.) The Feast of the Lord’s Baptism is not too early to start thinking about how you and I will keep Lent. Lent is all about preparing to renew our baptismal covenant at Easter. The prayer and penance we take on during Lent is meant to help us live more deeply the life of grace initiated at our baptism. In other words Lent invites us to ask whether we are truly living as a beloved son/daughter of God, redeemed by the suffering and death of Jesus. Lent highlights the perennial challenge of Jesus to “put out into the deep water” in terms of living our faith. (Cf. Luke 5:4.)
I’d encourage you to consider keeping Lent this year by joining us for the Alpha Course which begins January 25 at St. Charles and January 26 at St. Peter. Each evening begins with a meal at 6:00 p.m. followed by a presentation and discussion. Over the course of 10 weeks and a weekend retreat participants come to know Jesus in a more deeply personal way. Alpha has been a deeply spiritual encounter for many people. It has helped folks come to know Jesus for the first time. And it has helped rejuvenate the faith life of cradle Catholics. Running the Alpha Course on two nights, at both parish locations, we hope to get as many as possible to participate.
We are in the midst of a special Holy Year of Mercy – an important moment of grace in the life of the Church. Participating in the Alpha Course may be the way the Lord wants to extend his merciful love to you in this Holy Year. But you’ll never know until you “come and see.” Join us on the 25 or 26. If you like what you see and hear, keep coming back. It’s that simple. Visit us online at www.chippewafallsfaithformation.net/alpha.
As the Christmas season comes to an end, Fr. Charlie and I would like to thank you all for the many cards, gifts, and expressions of gratitude. It is all deeply appreciated! Please be assured of our prayers for you and your intentions in this New Year.
The Bread of Life
Many thanks to all who made last Sunday’s Celebration of Summer a success! To all who helped organize and prepare … to all who worked at the various venues … and to all who supported us by their presence and participation – Thank you! As I’ve written before, these parish festivals are important for the sense of community they help to build. Working together helps to strengthen the ties that bind us as a parish family.
We’ve been reading from John 6 over these past several Sundays at Mass. This chapter which begins with the miracle of the loaves and fish is often called, “The Bread of Life Discourse.” Jesus enters into a dialogue with his followers about himself as the “living bread come down from heaven.” I’d encourage you to take some time to read through all of Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. It will enhance your experience of Mass over these Sundays!
Scholars agree that this teaching about the Bread of Life is a teaching on the holy Eucharist. Written about 80 years after the death of Jesus we see that the early Christian community had a deep understanding of the significance of the Eucharist. Jesus will insist on the reality of his Presence in the Eucharist – “My flesh is true food and my blood true drink.” His description of disciples eating/chewing on his flesh is graphic in its literalism. In the end, some of his followers will leave him because of this teaching.
Over the centuries the Church has continued to wrestle with how Jesus can give us his Body and Blood under the appearance of bread and wine. The best answer so far has been that of St. Thomas Aquinas who wrote that the “substance” of the elements is transformed, while the outward appearance (the “accidents”) remains unchanged. In other words, what looks like bread and wine and tastes like bread and wine is no longer bread and wine at all but the true and living Christ: body, blood, soul and divinity. After the words of consecration what is present on the altar is the Lord Jesus himself under the appearance of bread and wine. The technical term for this is “transubstantiation.”
Other Christian groups do not always share this same understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They may understand Christ to be present in a spiritual way, alongside of the elements of bread and wine. For them the bread and wine represent Christ, but do not actually become his Body and Blood. Such differences in belief are part of the reason we Catholics do not share in communion with other Christian denominations. While there is much that we do hold in common, the Eucharist continues to be one of the issues that divide us. We pray that one day such divisions will cease so that all Christians will be able to share together in the one Bread of Life.
NOTE: Saturday, August 15th is the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary. Because it falls on a Saturday the obligation to attend Mass is dispensed this year. However, you are certainly still encouraged to join us for Mass on Saturday morning at St. Charles to honor our Blessed Mother.
Body and Soul
Even though it was not obligatory to attend Mass this year, Saturday was the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary. This feast celebrates Mary’s entrance, body and soul, into heaven. As the first of her Son’s disciples, she is the first to share fully in his Resurrection. Mary’s destiny reminds us that one day our bodies are also destined for eternal glory.
Unlike other religious traditions that view the body as something we leave behind forever in death, Christianity holds that our bodies are an essential part of who we are as human beings. Our mortal bodies have a dignity comparable to the dignity of our immortal soul because God himself has chosen to assume a body in the person of Jesus Christ. Our conviction of the sacredness of the human body reflects the goodness of creation itself. The material world is not something “evil” to be avoided, but a good to be enjoyed according to God’s plan.
This is why morality becomes an important feature of Christianity, including sexual ethics. As St. Paul tells us, not only do our bodies bear the goodness of creation, as Christians our bodies become temples of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Paul says, we are to “glorify God in your body.” (I Corinthians 6:20.) How we care for our bodies and how we use our bodies is meant always to “glorify God.” It means leading a healthy, chaste life. It means caring also for the physical welfare of others: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, etc. It means that our bodies are not something disposable nor something we can freely change at will. Our body, including our gender, is a given part of who we are.
The sacredness of our bodies is also revealed in the very sacraments we celebrate. God comes to us in very physical ways: washing (baptism), anointing with oil (confirmation), food and drink (Eucharist). Even the bodily union of husband and wife in marriage is holy – a sacrament of God’s love. In the liturgy we use our bodies to worship God, along with our mind and voice: standing, kneeling, signing with the cross, striking our breast, bowing, etc. It’s also why the Church treats the bodies of the dead with such great reverence, preferring bodily burial over cremation. Again, our body is who we are. We are not simply a mind or spirit. We are a unity of body and soul.
Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven reminds us this important truth we profess every week in the creed: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” The Apostle’s Creed is even more explicit: “the resurrection of the body.” This week in the gospel Jesus tells us that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day.” Again, the physical reality of Jesus’ promise was – and continues to be – a scandal to those who fail to recognize the goodness of flesh and blood. As you receive the Lord’s Body and Blood this weekend, give thanks that your flesh is destined to rise on the last day!
Words of Life
“Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
These words, spoken by Peter, are meant to be spoken by each of us. There are many voices in the world promising all kinds of “salvation.” The whole media/advertising industry is meant to get us to listen to those voices promising a better life awaits us … if we buy the right toothpaste; drive the right car; get the best price on insurance; etc. And, truth be told, we sometimes believe them! Young persons are confronted with the voices of peer pressure, leading them to do “what everyone else is doing” in order to be accepted or popular.
All these many voices … all the words with which we are inundated on a daily basis. Whose voice, whose words do I listen to? If the Lord is not guiding me daily life, who is? Or, is the only voice I listen to my own, thinking that I can manufacture my own happiness? (Which is another way of saying I can achieve salvation by myself.)
Like the crowds in the gospel today, many refuse to listen to the Lord’s voice: “This teaching is hard, who can accept it?” We’re told that they “returned to their former way of life.” They chose to listen to another voice – a different promise of salvation. We see this in the lives of many Christians today. They may claim to believe (usually only a vague belief) but by their lives it’s clear their listening to voices other than the voice of Jesus. Some other promise is guiding their lives.
How can you and I better hear and listen to the words of Jesus? The Alpha Course is an effective means of hearing his words – sometimes for the first time! Alpha is also a means of re-hearing the Good News in a way that makes it relevant for your life today. Many of the folks from our parishes who have attended Alpha are life-long Catholics, yet Alpha helped them to appropriate the Gospel in new and profound ways. They’ve come to understand in a deeper way “the words of eternal life” that cut through all the false promises of the world around us. Here’s what a couple folks have had to say about their experience of Alpha:
"Alpha has given me the tools and understanding of how to use those tools in order to have a relationship with God. The weekend away gave me the ability to finally fully accept myself as I am and a sense of calm and peace that I carry with me every day. I know truly know and feel God with me every day."
“The Alpha Course and especially the Weekend Retreat were life changing for me! I experienced a peace and joy that I have never known. I continue to feel this peace and joy, a closer relationship with Jesus, and a deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit in my life.”
Alpha begins on Tuesday, September 8th. I believe so strongly in what Alpha can do for folks, I’m praying each day that as many parishioners as possible will take the Alpha Course. Please consider joining us this fall on Tuesday evenings from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. For more information and to register for Alpha, visit us online: www.chippewafallsfaithformation.net/alpha.
“Welcome back!” That’s what many children and young people are hearing as a new school year begins. “Welcome back” to school… to a new year filled with possibilities! The slow, restful pace of summer gives way to a flurry of activity as students and teachers and parents shift into the high gear of fall. Please join me in praying for God’s blessings on all our students and teachers, especially in our Catholic Schools.
The start of a new school year also means that many parish programs, apostolates, and meetings get underway. This fall promises to be especially rich here at St. Charles and St. Peter’s.
- On Tuesday evenings we will be running the Alpha Course. I’d encourage everyone to “come and see” on September 8th from 6 – 8 p.m. Even better: invite someone to come with you! Alpha meets in the St. Charles School. Each evening includes a meal, presentation, and small group discussion.
- On Wednesday evenings we’ll be hosting “Catholicism 201” for those who have completed Alpha. This eight week follow-up course covers aspects of the Catholic tradition, from sacraments to saints to some thorny moral questions. Like Alpha, Catholicism 201 includes a meal, presentation and discussion.
- Sunday nights see the return of the “Dead Theologians Society” for young people Grade 7 through high school. In addition, our confirmation candidates will be participating in Youth Alpha, a version of the adult course designed especially for teens.
- Religious Education resumes later this month. If you’ve not yet registered, please do so asap!
- Charles Parish Choir resumes their regular rehearsal schedule on Wednesday evenings. They are always looking for more members! Please contact Jerry Boorsma if you are interested in the choir, or serving as a cantor.
Our various parish ministry teams also resume meeting in September. The Liturgy Team helps plan and prepare for the various liturgical seasons and feasts, devotions, and pastoral care of the sick. The Discipleship Team tackles faith formation “from womb to tomb” as we all continually grow into more mature disciples of Jesus Christ. The Mission Team helps coordinate outreach to the wider community; service/assistance to those in need; and pro-life activities. The members of these three teams come from both our parishes and they then form the parish pastoral councils of each parish. If you’re interested in serving on any of these teams, please contact the Central Office – we welcome new members and new ideas!
One of the main objectives our teams and councils will be focused on this fall is preparing for the special “Holy Year of Mercy” proclaimed by Pope Francis. This extraordinary holy year begins December 8th – the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council. As a preliminary preparation for the holy year, a pilgrimage to venerate the relics of St. Maria Goretti on October 16th is in the works. (St. Maria forgave the man who attempted to rape her as she was dying from the wounds he inflicted upon her.) Watch for other holy year events to come!
So many new beginnings! So many possibilities the Lord opens before us! I pray that we’ll make the most of these opportunities … that each of us will take a step forward in faith by attending, volunteering, or serving this fall. “Welcome back!”
All Hands On Deck!
School is now well underway and even though Monday is a holiday it seems as though another summer has flown by. The start of a new school year signals the start of many parish programs and initiatives, especially here at St. Charles and St. Peter’s! Our hope is that you’ll consider being part of things – whether as a volunteer or participant. “Many hands make light work,” it is said. We’re counting on many hands to help us make the coming year successful!
We’re still in need of volunteers to help with Alpha which begins this Tuesday, September 8th. There are many small tasks to be done that only require a weekly commitment of time. Please see the accompanying “Help Wanted” ad in this week’s bulletin. For those planning on attending Alpha I want to make a special plea for table “hosts.” All that hosts do is help facilitate discussion over coffee and dessert. No teaching, just conversation with starter questions provided. Contact Greg Gilbertson 715-723-4088 ext. 102 if you can help with this – thanks!
At St. Charles we are in need of volunteers for Friendship Sunday. If you are willing to make some bars/cookies; pour coffee/juice; purchase needed supplies please call the Central Office. Again, these are all relatively small but necessary tasks to ensure our time of fellowship on the 2nd and 3rd Sundays of the month continue.
We’re always looking for more liturgical ministers at both parishes! If you have a good speaking voice, would you consider reading at Mass? If you have young people Grades 4 and up, would they consider serving at Mass? If you sing – even if just in the shower! – consider being part of the parish choir or serving as a cantor. For all ministries training is provided. Again, the commitment is not huge but the tasks to be carried out at Mass are so necessary! Call the Central Office to sign up for any liturgical ministry.
One of the things you’ll discover by volunteering is how good you’ll feel knowing that you’re doing your part to serve the Lord and keep our parishes vibrant. Getting involved is also a great way to feel a greater sense of community. As one participant in Alpha remarked, his experience helped him put names with the familiar faces he saw each Sunday. A parish shouldn’t be just a collection of “nameless individuals” but a true community of fellow disciples who know and care for one another. Stepping up to the plate is not just about getting a job done, but becoming who we are called to be as a Church. We really do need “all hands on deck.”
Lift High the Cross
Monday, September 14 is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, commemorating the finding of the True Cross in Jerusalem by St. Helena in 326 A.D. It is a feast celebrated not only by Catholics, but by the Orthodox, Lutheran, and Anglican churches. September 14 is also the anniversary of the dedication of the church of the Holy Sepulcher built over the site of Jesus’ tomb. Such tangible things like the wood of the cross and the site of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection remind us that our Christian faith is not built on myths and legends, but upon real historical events. Relics, like that of the True Cross or the Shroud of Turin, help to literally put us “in touch” with the events of our salvation.
In today’s gospel Jesus predicts his coming passion and death and tells us that if we want to follow him we must be willing to “take up the cross” each day. Each of us in some way shares in the Cross of Jesus. For some, the Cross is large and clearly visible to all. For others, the Cross is invisible, something borne in the heart and soul. No matter what size or shape it takes, the Cross you bear is one chosen by God for you. When we bear this Cross in loving acceptance it becomes a source of life and strength: it becomes redemptive for ourselves and for the world. Our sharing in the Cross is an active participation in the ongoing work of redemption – the salvation of the world.
The one who has shared most intimately in the Cross of Jesus is his mother, Mary. September 15 is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, reflective of her deep share in the passion and death of her Son. Sometimes, the heaviest Cross we bear is standing by while our loved ones suffer. How many times have I witnessed families surround a dying spouse, parent, or grandparent and thought of Our Lady standing at the foot of the Cross with St. John and Mary Magdalene. Anyone who has suffered through such and experience can truly say they have stood at Calvary. Yet almost all of them – myself included – would not have wished it otherwise. It is a profoundly holy thing to be with the dying. Our Lady of Sorrows embraces all who have wept at the foot of the Cross.
While not diminishing the grief, pain, and sorrow that the Cross often entails, these two feasts this week remind us that the story doesn’t end at the Cross. The story ends with Easter, with the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We can be sure that, as St. Paul says, “if we die with the Lord we shall also live with him” (2 Timothy 2:11.) This is what makes bearing our share in the Cross not only possible, but a reason for hope and joy. We lift high the Cross not as an instrument of death, but a sign of victory. For us the Cross is the path to life – and to glory.
- On Tuesday, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, St. Peter’s Elizabeth Ministry is hosting a Memorial Service for Miscarriage, Infant or Child Loss at 7:00 p.m. at St. Peter’s. All are welcome to join us in prayerful support of those who have lost children.
On Tuesday of this week Pope Francis arrives in the United States for a six day visit. This is not only his first visit as pope, but his first time ever in our country. During his visit the Holy Father will address Congress – the first time a pope has done so – and the United Nations. But the main purpose of his trip is the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. There he will undoubtedly affirm the importance of family life and the sanctity of marriage as God designed it from the beginning. In his Letter to the World Meeting of Families he urges us “to rediscover ever again the royal road, in order to live and proclaim the grandeur and beauty of marriage and the joy of being and making a family.”
Another highlight of the Pope’s visit will be the canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra. Father Serra was a Spanish missionary who evangelized much of what is now the state of California. He established many historic missions which became centers of faith for Native Americans. While some groups contest such missionary activity as colonialism, Father Serra’s faith led him to promote the rights and dignity of Native Americans. Most of all he desired to share the Good News of Jesus in word and deed and so can serve as a model for us who are called to share our faith with others.
Among the issues we can expect Pope Francis to address are immigration, religious liberty, and the care of the earth, “our common home.” These are all themes which form important parts of the Holy Father’s recent teaching, especially his recent encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si.” Because English is not a language Pope Francis has facility with, we can expect that much of what he says will be in his native Spanish. (By the way, it is estimated that within the next couple decades the majority of Catholics in the United States will be Spanish speaking.)
Of course Francis is a pope of surprises, so we can expect a few “unscripted” moments during his visit. He will visit with prisoners in Philadelphia and an inner city school in Harlem. All in all, we can expect this to be an exciting week not only for Catholics but for all our fellow Americans of good will. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will move hearts to embrace the Gospel that Pope Francis comes to proclaim in word and deed. Like soon-to-be “saint” Junipero Serra, the Holy Father come to us as a “missionary.” May the Spirit make us receptive to his message of mercy and hope!
Papal Visit 2
I’m writing this on the day the Holy Father arrives in the United States. If his message in Cuba is any indication of the themes he will strike here, Pope Francis will undoubtedly call upon us to care for the weakest and most vulnerable members of society. At the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity the Holy Father called for a “revolution of mercy and tenderness” exemplified in the Virgin Mary who “went in haste” to visit her relative, Elizabeth. Mary, said the pope, reveals the Church who is always meant to be going out from herself to care for others. Using one of his favorite expressions, Pope Francis spoke of the Church as “accompanying” people in every situation, just as the Virgin Mary accompanies each of us in our journey of life.
This idea of accompaniment – of walking together – on the pilgrimage of life and faith is central to Pope Francis’ message. None of us is meant to make the journey alone. Nor are we to leave anyone unaccompanied. This means, like the Good Shepherd, going out in search of the one that has strayed; the one that is lost and alone in the world. The Holy Father keeps calling us insistently to go out – to be missionary disciples – bringing love and mercy to others.
At the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia the Pope will undoubtedly speak about the special need for the Church to accompany families, especially in this time of great cultural and social change. This will also form a big part of the agenda of the Synod on the Family in October. There bishops from around the world will continue their discussion of what this accompaniment of the family looks like. How can we, as a Church, walk with and support married couples and families in their vocation? How do we “go out” to families that are hurting or broken? How do we proclaim the truth of marriage in a culture that has largely forgotten what marriage is meant to be?
These are not just abstract questions. They really touch upon the lived reality of so many in our parishes and communities. At some point the discussions being held at gatherings like the World Meeting of Families and the October Synod on the Family need to be translated into local action. In my own experience one thing is certain; we can no longer expect folks to come to us. We need to find ways of “going out” to them. This is where each of us needs to hear the call to be a missionary disciple – to be unafraid in sharing our faith and the difference it makes in our lives. Each of us knows someone who needs such accompaniment; who needs a companion on the journey; who is just waiting for an invitation to a closer walk with Jesus.
October 4th is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Even though the celebration of Sunday takes precedence today, it would be good for us to take some time to reflect upon this important saint. Francis of Assisi has always been popular, but the fact that our present Pope has taken his name has given him special prominence today.
Moreover, the Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Laudato Si, is inspired by St. Francis who regarded creation as “brother” and “sister.” This is not just romantic sentimentalism, but the recognition of what the Holy Father calls the inter-dependence of all things. We are all connected – to one another… to the earth … and to earth’s creatures. To harm creation is ultimately to do violence to ourselves. We are called to be stewards of creation, caring for the earth and all living things. This is why Christians must be concerned about things like pollution, waste, and climate change. This makes St. Francis of Assisi an important saint for our time.
St. Francis is also known for living a life of radical simplicity and voluntary poverty. (We witness Pope Francis exhibiting these same values today!) St. Francis stands in stark contrast to the consumerism that marks our society today, especially what Pope Francis calls the “throw away culture.” Everything tends to become “disposable” in such a consumer culture – from diapers to relationships to people themselves. During his visit to the U.S. the Pope made an interesting connection between consumerism and a profound loneliness that afflicts so many today. The material simplicity and selflessness of St. Francis can serve as an antidote for what ails us today.
St. Francis went to the peripheries – caring for lepers and the outcast of society. And he engaged in dialogue – meeting with the Muslim Sultan al Malik, despite the real possibility he would be killed. Again, these are things Pope Francis keeps calling us to do: going to the marginalized and encountering others in a spirit of dialogue. Francis of Assisi continues to be a saint for our time in many striking ways. His life reveals what Pope Francis calls an “integral human ecology” – a life lived in harmony with creation and all humanity. It is expressed beautifully in the following prayer which is often attributed to St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Last Sunday marked the beginning of the long anticipated Synod on the Family in Rome. Two years of preparation have led up to this gathering of the world’s bishops to discuss the Church’s response to the many challenging realities confronting family life today. Undoubtedly the Synod Fathers will also seek to re-emphasize the beauty of marriage and family life in ways that speak to contemporary men and women. In his homily for the opening of the Synod Pope Francis returned to a theme he raised while in Philadelphia last month. He turned to the issue of “loneliness” that afflicts so many today – especially in more “advanced” societies.
“Today we experience the paradox of a globalized world filled with luxurious mansions and skyscrapers, but a lessening of the warmth of homes and families; many ambitious plans and projects, but little time to enjoy them; many sophisticated means of entertainment, but a deep and growing interior emptiness; many pleasures, but few loves; many liberties, but little freedom… The number of people who feel lonely keeps growing, as does the number of those who are caught up in selfishness, gloominess, destructive violence and slavery to pleasure and money.”
The antidote for this existential loneliness is a return to a strong and vibrant family life. “For God, marriage is not some adolescent utopia, but a dream without which his creatures will be doomed to solitude! Indeed, being afraid to accept this plan paralyzes the human heart.” The Holy Father emphasized that the Church’s mission is to proclaim God’s plan in its fullness while at the same time extending compassion and mercy to those who find themselves in difficult circumstances. This is the delicate balancing act facing the Church today: fidelity to God’s plan and mercy towards those who find this plan difficult or even impossible to live out.
As was mentioned last weekend, our parishes are undertaking a new initiative aimed at supporting and strengthening married couples. Teams of Our Lady is an international movement in the Church, recognized by the Holy See. Five to seven couples meet monthly to share a meal, talk about their highs and lows, and reflect upon Scripture and the Church’s teaching on marriage and family life. I am very grateful to Dennis and Annette Hunt who are piloting Teams of Our Lady for our parishes. Even if you missed the informational meeting last Sunday you can still become part of the movement. Just contact Dennis and Annette, or call me at the Parish Office for more information. Teams of Our Lady is a wonderful opportunity to strengthen your marriage in Christ!
As the Synod on the Family continues over the next several weeks, please join me in praying that the Holy Spirit will guide Pope Francis and the Synod Fathers in their work and that the Synod will bear lasting fruit for the good of marriage and family life.
Last Sunday we welcomed Msgr. Joe Hirsch to our parishes to speak about Casa Hogar as part of the annual diocesan mission co-op. This Sunday is designated as “World Mission Sunday.” Both St. Peter’s and St. Charles have a wonderful history of generosity in terms of the missions. In advance, I want to thank you for your continued generous support of the Church’s missionary efforts.
While supporting the missions in far-away places is good, we need to remember that mission begins right at home. It’s been said that if you are baptized, you are a missionary. In fact Pope Francis often refers to us all as “missionary disciples” – we are called to follow Jesus (discipleship) and to share our faith with others (mission). Often we share our faith through humble acts of service, caring for one another, for the sick and the poor. But we are also called to witness to our faith in Christ; to tell others the difference Jesus makes in our lives.
Yet sometimes we tend to keep our faith in the background. I remember being told as a young person that the two things you never discuss in polite society are politics and religion. And while it’s true that sometimes religion can be used as a wedge to divide people – or a hammer to crush them – the religion of Jesus is about uniting people and lifting them up. That’s something that certainly needs to be shared – not hidden away or kept secret.
It’s something we saw Pope Francis doing during his recent visit to our nation. He met with people of all political and religious persuasions. He asked those with no faith to wish him well. We saw how Catholic Christianity can be a force for bringing people together and seeking to raise us up above the usual fray of political diatribes and polarization that afflicts our culture. I heard one news commentator remark that Pope Francis did what none of the current presidential candidates seem able to do – unite people across a broad spectrum of opinions and beliefs. And he did it in very humble, gentle, unassuming ways.
As I’ve mentioned in my homilies, this Holy Father not only preaches Jesus, he shows us what it means to follow Jesus. He is modeling for us what it means to be a “missionary disciple.” I’m sure the pope would be the first to say he is only doing what every baptized Christian is supposed to do. As the excitement of his visit recedes into the background, the real test of his example is up to you and me. Will we be “missionary disciples” who through service and witness help to heal the wounds of sin and division in our communities? Humbly and gently, will we share the hope and joy that is ours in Christ?
October is traditionally the “month of the Rosary.” The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary falls during this month on October 7. It’s a good time to recall this ancient and beautiful devotion of the Church, which St. Pope John Paul II called “a compendium of the Gospel” because we meditate on the mysteries of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The word “rosary” means “crown of roses” – the idea that the offering of our prayers is like offering a bouquet of flowers to Our Lady.
The origins of the rosary are obscure, but most scholars believe it arose out of the monastic practice of reciting the 150 Psalms. Since most people did not have the leisure or literacy of the monks to pray the Psalms, they substituted the familiar “Hail Mary.” In fact, pious legend has the Blessed Virgin refer to the rosary as “the Angelic Psalter.” (The traditional 15 decades totals 150 Hail Mary’s corresponding to the 150 Psalms.) By the 13th Century the rosary had come to take the form by which we know it today, and was promoted especially by the Domincan Order. In 2002 St. Pope John Paul added another series of mysteries, bringing the full rosary to 20 decades.
The rosary combines two forms of prayer – vocal and mental. As we recite the prayers of the rosary we are to meditate on the mysteries: joyful, luminous, sorrowful, and glorious. Having a mental image of the particular mystery or reading a relevant scripture passage prior to praying each decade can be helpful. One could also take St. Ignatius’ approach and imagine yourself in the particular scene – a shepherd at Bethlehem, or a bystander at Calvary, for instance. Ultimately, the rosary is not meant to be a mere repetition of words but a true prayer of the heart.
If you’re new to the rosary, or just out of practice, a helpful site is www.theholyrosary.org . You’ll find all the prayers and the mysteries, along with a good deal of other information. I hope that each of us will take some time during the remaining days of October to pray the rosary. Your Mother is waiting to hear from you!
- Next weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. At each of the weekend Masses we will be remembering those from our parishes who have died during the past year. May they be numbered among the Saints in heaven!
All Hallows’ Eve
All Hallows’ Eve – Halloween – is the vigil of All Saints. We use the word “hallow” every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer: “hallowed (holy) be thy name.” The Saints are those holy (hallowed) men and women of every time and place who now stand “before the throne and the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-14.) While there are many Saints with their own special days, today is a day to honor the “vast multitude which no one could count.” Many of the customs now associated with Halloween have their origins in today’s observance of All Saints and tomorrow’s Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls).
Trick-or-Treat, for example, started out as an opportunity to pray for the dead. Children would go door to door begging for “soul cakes” with the promise to pray for the family’s deceased loved ones. Today we might see trick-or-treating as an exercise in holy hospitality. Strangers arrive at our door and we welcome them, giving them something to eat. (See Matthew 25.) Once home, children sit down to a sweet feast – perhaps an image of the heavenly banquet that awaits us at the end of our earthly pilgrimage. (If you love chocolate Halloween is truly a “taste of heaven” Psalm 34:8!)
Jack-O-Lanterns, originally thought to ward off evil spirits, are also known as “Death Heads”. Yet even the face of death is illuminated by the light of the Risen Savior. The warm glow of the carved pumpkin can remind us that by his Resurrection Jesus has robbed death of its fear: “Where, O Death is your victory? Where, O Death is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55.)
Skeletons remind us of Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14). It is an image of resurrection as the bones come together, are clothed in flesh, and finally have the Spirit of life breathed into them. Through Ezekiel the Lord says to Israel: “My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live….”
Finally, ghosts can remind us of the souls who are still in need of purification before entering into God’s presence. We call this purification “purgatory” and we believe our prayers can assist our sisters and brothers who are being purified of attachment to sin. (See 2 Maccabees 12:43-46.) Purgatory is really a consoling teaching of the Church which emphasizes the mercy of God who desires to bring us to himself despite our sins and failings. Today we think of it as a final healing through the encounter with God’s love rather than some sort of punishment. And so we pray, “Eternal rest, grant unto them, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon them.”
Alpha Takes the Diocese
Welcome Deacon Steve Mitchell! Deacon Steve is the National Director of Alpha in a Catholic Context. He is with us this weekend as part of a day of diocesan-wide training for Alpha. What began with our two parishes is now taking the diocese by storm as a growing number of parishes are seeking to implement the Alpha Course. On our recent weekend retreat we had guests from La Crosse, Marshfield, Bloomer and Prescott. It is truly exciting to see what the Holy Spirit is able to bring about once we begin to open ourselves up to his presence and power!
I’m grateful to Deacon Steve for preaching this weekend about the Alpha experience. Our third run of the Alpha Course concludes in a couple weeks. A new course will begin late January, coinciding with the season of Lent which begins February 10, 2016. It’s not too early to prayerfully consider joining us for the next Alpha Course. We will be offering two sessions on Monday evenings at St. Charles and Tuesday evenings at St. Peter’s beginning January 25 and 26. The weekend retreat, a key component of the Alpha experience, is scheduled for March 12-13. If you’ve been thinking about Alpha I’d really encourage you to plan now to join us this coming Lent!
This weekend’s Scriptures present us with two very generous widows. Neither are named, but both give out of their substance. The widow of Zarephath shares her remaining food with the prophet Elijah, and in the gospel a nameless widow is praised by Jesus for contributing “all she had, her whole livelihood” to the temple treasury. Their examples give us an opportunity to reflect upon our stewardship of our gifts – particularly our treasure.
According to the Bible, we are to give God a percentage of our income. This is called a “tithe”. Biblically, the first ten percent of a person’s wealth was to be given to God. Today, Christians might give 5% to the Church and the remaining 5% to worthy charities. God’s Word promises that if we give for the sake of the kingdom, we will be richly provided for. (Cf. Luke 18:29, Matthew 6:33, Mark 10:29.) God is never out done in generosity!
In the coming days you’ll be receiving a Stewardship Renewal mailing that details the biblical understanding of tithing. Each of us will be asked to “Take A Step” towards that biblical goal of 5% in terms of our parish support. It is a small step, but if we all take a step together our parishes can continue to move forward on more solid financial footing. Please watch for this mailing and take time to review the enclosed materials – Thanks!
- This past week electronic door openers were installed at St. Charles on the back ramp entrance. This should make opening the two doors much easier for our parishioners with disabilities. This improvement to our church was made possible through the Future Fund Trust. Thanks to all our Future Fund donors!
Christian stewardship begins with gratitude. We realize that all we have, all we are, all we might ever become is a gift of God. We know what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, who died that our sins might be forgiven. We have hope of the everlasting life that is God’s faithful promise. We are, as Christians, the people who “always and everywhere give thanks.” It is this basic stance of gratitude for God’s many blessings that marks a Christian steward.
For us Thanksgiving is not a day but a way of life. As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches it’s a good time to reflect upon how our lives express thanks-giving to God. Every household will be receiving a special financial stewardship mailing this week and I ask that you take time to read over the enclosed materials and renew your financial commitment to the parish by completing the “Giving Intention Card.”
If you’re wondering, “How much should I be giving to my parish?” The Bible provides the answer! According to God’s Word we are to tithe a percentage of our income. This means being intentional with our giving and not just offering to God our “left-overs” – what we happen to have in our wallet on Sunday morning. The biblical tithe is 10%. Today Christians might give 5% to the local parish and the remaining 5% to worthy charities. Since most of us are not quite there yet, the challenge is to “take a step” in faith and increase your level of support by ½%.
Tithing doesn’t ask, “How much does the church need to pay the bills?” Rather, tithing is about my need to give based upon how God has blessed me. A better question might be to ask, “What might our parish be able to do if everyone tithed?” How many more needs could be met? How many more lives changed? How many more people served, evangelized, or catechized? I can tell you that there is so much more we could be doing pastorally if only there were sufficient financial resources. Tithing is not about simply maintaining what we have, but envisioning what might yet be done for God’s glory and the salvation of souls!
You might say, “My ½% increase is not that significant. What could it possibly do to help?” Remember what our Lord did with five loaves and two fish which people thought were too little to feed the vast crowd. Or think about the widow’s mite from last Sunday’s gospel. Your gift does make a difference. And if everyone increased by that ½% it can make a huge difference!
As your Thanks-giving to God please return your “Giving Intention Card.” We want to hear from every household, even if your contribution will remain unchanged for next year. In advance, thank you for your continued generous support and commitment to our parish community!
A Kingdom of Mercy
As we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King and prepare to enter the season of Advent the Church’s liturgy turns our attention towards to final coming of Christ. Today’s first reading from the prophet Daniel is almost a continuation of last Sunday’s passage which spoke about the final battle between good and evil. In this Sunday’s reading Daniel sees, “one like a Son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven.” The second reading from Revelation uses similar imagery of Christ “coming amid the clouds.” Indeed, each Sunday we profess in the creed this glorious return of Jesus who “will come again … to judge the living and the dead.”
But what kind of Judge is Jesus? In a recent address Pope Francis commented on a painting in the church where he was speaking. Making reference to today’s gospel of Jesus before Pilate, the Holy Father said, “we contemplate the transformation of the Christ judged by Pilate into the Christ seated on the throne of judges. An Angel brings Him the sword, but Jesus does not assume the symbols of judgment, in fact, He raises His right hand showing the signs of the Passion, because He ‘gave Himself as a ransom for all’ (1 Timothy 2:6). ‘For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him’ (John 3:17).”
The one who comes on the clouds of glory to judge the world is a merciful Judge. In fact, Pope Francis reminds us, he is “the face of mercy.” It is the face of a God who has emptied himself and taken the form of a slave, accepting even death on a cross (Cf. Philippians 2:7). It is the face of a God who has given his very self to save us from sin and death. In Pilate’s courtroom Jesus did not receive mercy, but an unjust condemnation. Yet he accepts this merciless sentence precisely in order to pour out his mercy upon all humanity.
Last Sunday a special Mass was celebrated at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris for the victims of the terrorist attacks in that city. One of the most moving moments of Mass was the Kyrie (Lord, have mercy) taken from a famous Requiem Mass by the French composer, Maurice Durufle. As the choir implored God’s mercy the whole assembly turned toward the cross in the sanctuary, including the Archbishop and all the clergy. The large golden cross is barren with the Pieta (Mary holding the dead Christ) at the base. It was at once a deep expression of grief and a cry of hope in the mercy of Christ, who alone can heal the wounds of sin and division.
This week we celebrate Thanksgiving and in two weeks we will begin an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Among the many blessings for which we can give thanks let us be mindful of God’s mercy. Because of this mercy we have hope and joy even amid the troubles and sorrows of this world. Because of Divine Mercy we can always and everywhere give thanks – most especially this Thanksgiving Day!
Good News of Great Joy
Our theme for this Advent-Christmas season is “Good News of Great Joy!” Yet, the scriptures today seem full of bad news – nations in dismay; people dying of fright; the powers of heaven shaken. They almost seem to be talking about the daily headlines as we witness so much violence and terrorism in the world. Many people are on edge, especially in large cities. And all of us wonder where this world is headed.
All the more reason we need “Good News of Great Joy!” The good news of Christ’s coming is in fact the antidote to all that afflicts our troubled world. For in Jesus we encounter God’s love and mercy, which alone has the power to heal the wounds of sin and division. It is Jesus who brings us true and lasting joy – the joy of being reconciled to God and to one another. When the angels announced “good news of great joy” to the shepherds they also proclaimed “peace on earth.” Peace is the fruit of those who hear the good news and take it to heart!
This is why the task of evangelization (proclaiming the good news) is so important. The solution to what ails our world does not lie in political or economic strategies, but in conversion. It should not surprise us that as the world drifts further and further from God the culture spins out of control. The world desperately needs to hear the “Good News of Great Joy.” The world needs Jesus Christ.
The Advent-Christmas season is a prime time for you and me to share this Good News. At holiday parties, family gatherings, wherever the “season” is being celebrated we have an opportunity to speak about Jesus – the “reason for the season.” Many people are just waiting for an invitation to come to Mass or to attend Alpha. It’s not complicated: “Would you like to join our family at Mass sometime?” “Our parish is offering this course on Jesus, would you be interested?” That’s all it takes. If you want to help heal the world … do it.
On Tuesday of this week we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation. This Friday St. Charles is hosting a special “Family Friendly Friday” to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe whose feast is December 12. In Advent and Christmastime our thoughts turn in a special way to Mary, the Mother of God. This week in particular gives us pause to reflect on Mary’s role in the life of the Church.
Mary’s “Yes” to God undoes the “No” of Eve. Our medieval ancestors took great delight that the Angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary, “Ave!” is the Latin form of Eve “Eva” spelled backwards. Mary’s sinlessness by God grace reverses the sinful consequences of Eve’s disobedience. St. Augustine famously spoke of Mary undoing the “knot” of sin. This has led to a popular devotion to Mary as the “Undoer of Knots” – a devotion beloved by Pope Francis.
Perhaps the Holy Father had this in mind when he declared the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy to begin on the feast of the Immaculate Conception this year. The advent of God’s mercy to us in Jesus begins with Mary. By opening herself to God’s grace and cooperating with his plan she makes possible to whole mystery of our Redemption in Christ.
It is in this sense that Mary is “Mother of Mercy.” Through her “Yes” Jesus enters the world: he who is “the face of mercy.” God in his infinite wisdom made his mercy dependent upon Mary’s cooperation. God never forces himself upon us, yet at the same time he gives us every possible means to open ourselves to his grace. He continues to depend upon our “Yes” – our willingness to open the door of our heart to him.
To commemorate the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy St. Charles Parish has commissioned a special icon of Mary as “Mother of Mercy.” The icon will be solemnly blessed and enthroned on January 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It’s my hope that this image of Mary as Mother of Mercy will not only inspire greater devotion to the Blessed Virgin, but also inspire us like Mary to bring mercy to birth in our lives, our parish, and our community. We do this the same way she did – by saying “Yes” to what God is asking of us today; to open the doors of our hearts to him and to one another.
Door of Mercy
This past week Pope Francis opened the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy by opening the “Holy Door” at St. Peter’s Basilica. This Sunday other holy doors will be blessed and opened at cathedrals, shrines and basilicas all over the world; including our Cathedral of St. Joseph and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse. Going in pilgrimage to pass through the holy doors is symbolic of the journey of faith we are called to make as Christians. The doors are symbolic of Christ himself who is the Way to the Father, the Door (Sheep gate) of the flock of Christ. In the Book of Revelation Christ says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (3:20).
Recently Pope Francis commented on the significance of the Holy Door:
Before us is the door, but not only the Holy Door, the other – the great door of God’s Mercy, and it is a beautiful door! – which receives our repentance, offering the grace of His forgiveness. The door is generously open; a bit of courage is needed on our part to cross the threshold. Each one of us has within himself things that burden him. All of us. We are all sinners! Let us take advantage of this moment that is coming and cross the threshold of this mercy of God, who never tires of forgiving, never tires of waiting for us! He looks at us, He is always beside us. Courage! Let us go in through this door!
Picking up on these beautiful words, may I suggest that this Advent each of us pass through the great door of God’s Mercy in the Sacrament of Penance? Beginning today (Sunday) there will be communal penance services held throughout our deanery. In addition, here at St. Charles we have confessions on Mondays at 5:00 p.m. and there will be confessions heard the week of Christmas on Monday and Tuesday evenings at St. Charles and St. Peter’s respectively.
As the Holy Father says, “The door is generously open” all we need is “a bit of courage” to cross the threshold. But what a wonderful gift awaits us when we do! It is the very best gift you can give yourself for Christmas – to experience God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Penance. Especially if you’ve not been to confession in a long time, the Lord is waiting for you! In Advent we usually focus on our waiting for Christ, but in truth it is he who waiting for us! He stands at the door and knocks … may we have the “courage” to let him in.
Mother of Mercy
“There is space for everyone beneath your cloak,
because you are the Mother of Mercy.”
Pope Francis, Prayer on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
As Christmas draws near the Church’s liturgy turns our thoughts to the Virgin Mary. In today’s gospel we hear of her visit to Elizabeth. Mary’s journey can be seen as an image of all the many journeys we make during the Christmas season, especially travelling to visit relatives and friends. Elizabeth rejoices in Mary’s visit and her unborn child leaps with joy in the womb. Our visits with family are also occasions of joy. If you’re like my family, Christmas is one of the few times we are all together – a real reason to rejoice!
Of course the ultimate source of joy in Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is the Child Mary bears within her. “Jesus Is the Reason for the Season” as the slogan says. And it’s true. The real joy of Christmas is the birth of Mary’s Son, the Savior of the world. Jesus is the “Good News of Great Joy” that the angels announce to astounded shepherds – and to us! As we gather with family and friends this Christmas may we not forget the true reason for coming together is that God himself was born into a human family, just like yours and mine.
Mary’s visit to Elizabeth was also an act of charity and a work of mercy. She comes to the assistance of her elderly relative who is also expecting a child. Part of the journey we make at Christmas is a journey towards the poor and forgotten – a journey of mercy. Many of you have made the journey and donated items to Sojourner House, the Spirit of Christmas, and the Tilden “Golden Mass” – thank you! Know that your generosity will bring joy to those in need.
Wherever Christmas takes you this year, may your journey be safe and joy-filled. And in your visits may you have the grace to recognize, as Elizabeth and John did, the presence of Christ our Savior. On behalf of myself, Fr. Charlie, and the Parish Staff of St. Charles and St. Peter’s, a blessed and joyous Christmas to you and your family!
20 + C + M + B + 16
Happy Epiphany! The inscription above is the traditional way of marking one’s door on Epiphany. The letters, C,M,B stand for the traditional names of the three wise men: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. They also stand for the Latin phrase, Christus mansionem benedicat, “May Christ bless this house.” The numbers are the new year, 2016 which has just begun. The crosses stand for Jesus Christ. We’re providing blessed water and chalk for you to carry out this blessing at home – see the prayer below.
Especially in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, doors take on a special significance. Special “Holy Doors” have been opened at cathedrals, basilicas and shrines around the world. These doors represent Jesus who is the way to the Father. To pass through the holy door is to experience the merciful love of God who always waits to welcome us home to himself: “Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” (Revelation 3:8.) The open holy doors also point to the heavenly Jerusalem where the door is always open (See Revelation 21:21, 25.)
By inscribing the Epiphany blessing above the lintel of our doors, we can make our own “holy door”. It can serve as a reminder to ask for God’s blessing on all our comings and goings; upon the visitors who enter our home; and on our daily family life. The blessing over the door reminds us that each home is called to be a “domestic church” – a place where Christ dwells among us in faith, hope, and love. Finally, it is a reminder that our door is always to be open to welcome the stranger and those in need of friendship, consolation, or support.
(Another version of this blessing was in the Christmas bulletin. )
All make the Sign of the Cross.
Leader: Peace be with this house and with all who live here.
Response (All): And peace be with all who enter here.
Leader: During these days of the Christmas season, we keep this Feast of Epiphany, celebrating the manifestation of Christ to the Magi, and thereby to the whole world. Today, Christ is manifest to us! Today this home is a holy place because of the presence of Christ here.
Leader: Listen to the Gospel according to Matthew. (Read Matthew 2:1-11.)
Leader: The word of the Lord.
Response (All): Thanks be to God!
Leader: O God, Lord of all that exists, you revealed your only-begotten Son to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who inhabit it. Fill each of us with the light of Christ, that our concern for others may reflect your love. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Response (All): Amen
The head of the household or another person marks the lintel above the door with the inscription 20+C+M+B+16 and sprinkles the doorway with holy water. If desired, other rooms may also be sprinkled with holy water. A Christmas carol may be sung to conclude the celebration.