Ordinary Time, 30th Sunday. Priesthood isn’t complicated: All you have to do is love God, and love His people. It’s not complicated, it’s just humanly impossible.

Jesus is asked which commandment is the greatest and he tells them: the one you recite every day. It sounds simple but its humanly impossible. No matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to love others as we should. What’s wrong? We have to put the first commandment first. We can’t really love our neighbor until we have loved God. More specifically, we have to start receiving God’s love for us. Only when we know we are loved can we respond with love. 

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Official Vatican Prayer to Saint John Paul II

Oh, Saint John Paul, from the window of heaven, grant us your blessing!
Bless the church that you loved and served and guided,
courageously leading it along the paths of the world
in order to bring Jesus to everyone and everyone to Jesus.

Bless the young, who were your great passion.
Help them dream again,
help them look up high again to find the light
that illuminates the paths of life here on earth.

May you bless families, bless each family!
You warned of Satan’s assault against this precious and indispensable divine spark that God lit on earth.
Saint John Paul, with your prayer, may you protect the family
and every life that blossoms from the family.

Pray for the whole world, which is still marked by tensions, wars and injustice.
You tackled war by invoking dialogue and planting the seeds of love:
pray for us so that we may be tireless sowers of peace.

Oh Saint John Paul, from heaven’s window,
where we see you next to Mary,
send God’s blessing down upon us all. Amen.

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The recent Synod on the Family has stirred speculations that the Catholic Church might relax her rules on divorce. Most Catholics are aware of three basic rules:

  • Catholics aren’t allowed to get divorced.
  • Catholics who want to remarry can go through the Annulment process which nullifies the first marriage and allows them to remarry just like anyone else.
  • Catholics who get remarried without first getting an Annulment aren’t allowed to receive Communion in the Catholic Church.

Many see these rules as old fashioned and arbitrary. Those who have dealt with the pain of divorce sometimes feel like the Church won’t let them move on to a healthy new relationship. The rules begin to make more sense when you understand where they came from and why. In fact, if you go back far enough you will find that the Church teaching on divorce started with something one person one said. And that person happens to be Jesus.

Every religion and culture that I know of has accepted some form of divorce. The Jews were allowed to get divorced. There were few stipulations related to divorce (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4), the primary one being that a divorce had to be put in writing (called a “bill of divorce”). There were debates over legitimate reasons for getting divorced. Some said your wife could be a terrible person, but if she didn’t commit adultery, you were stuck with the marriage. Some said any cause whatever was allowed. Their opponents joked that if your wife burned breakfast, you could get a new wife to cook you dinner. The Pharisees ask Jesus his opinion, and his answer is shocking:

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In Part 1 I explained that the Catholic Church’s difficult position on divorce comes from Jesus himself, who told us that divorcing your wife and marrying a new one was equivalent to adultery.

What about Annulments?

Let’s imagine that a man claimed he had never been validly Ordained a priest or validly Confirmed. He would have to make the case that something important was missing. For example, the Bishop who came to do the Confirmation was an impostor who had never actually been ordained a Bishop. If that were the case, his Confirmation would be considered invalid and then have to be repeated. So the Catholic Church has applied this same logic to marriage. An annulment makes the case that something vital was missing in the first relationship such that it was not a valid marriage. Both are free to marry because the first marriage, though legal, was not a valid sacrament.

The annulment concept makes sense in some rather extreme cases. If you are marrying someone who is already married (bigamy), marrying someone who is totally lying to you about everything (deception), or forced into marriage against your will (force or fear), you shouldn’t have to stay. It would be foolish for a man to threaten and force a young woman to marry him, then claim that she has to stay because Jesus said marriage is forever. This is the kind of “unlawful marriage” Matthew seems to be talking about.

The annulment approach worked when marriage failure was rare and unusual (even 100 years ago). Nowadays, all the other Christian churches have changed their position to accept divorce. The state has made it quick and easy to get divorced (in fact, a marriage is easier to back out of than any business contract). Given the marriage climate, people can wind up in situations that are an awkward legal limbo from a church law perspective. Many people have been hurt by divorce, and then hurt again when they have to choose between receiving Communion and being in a new and healthier relationship. It is hard for people to feel loved, welcomed, and accepted when an otherwise healthy and happy relationship is treated like “adultery.” Speaking as a pastor today, I can say that our current approach is very difficult for both clergy and laity alike. What should we do about it?

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Ordinary Time, 29th Sunday. God uses Cyrus, king of Persia, to accomplish His plan for the “chosen one.” The Thessalonians were chosen by God to spread His good news, using the language of the Greeks and the Roman roads. God is working behind world events to accomplish His plan. Our Gospel warns us that there are more important things than who gets our taxes and how much we pay. God wants to be the Lord of their lives and their country. But the leaders have their minds made up — they are not open to the truth. Do we accept God’s Lordship, or do we have our minds made up? Render to Ceasar the things that are Ceasar’s, and to God what belongs to God….what does not belong to God?

(19 Oct 2014)

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I recently returned from a great men’s retreat. Like most retreats, the participants went home on a “spiritual high.” But this retreat emphasized followup before sending us out. They suggested meeting weekly with a small group and going through a short accountability list: Piety, Study, and Action. The idea is simple but brilliant. Here’s how it works.

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Ordinary Time, 27th Sunday. The Chief Priests of the Chosen People had gotten comfortable with God at a distance. They didn’t like what He had to say face-to-face. Too often we get comfortable with God at a distance and forget He wants to speak to us every day. We need to let God’s truth penetrate our hearts.

St. Ignatius of Loyola discovered that God had better plans for His life. He followed God’s plans and found true happiness. He would always start his prayer with two important steps:

  1. Consider how God our Lord looks upon him.
  2. Name his own desire for the prayer time.

Chances are, you’re “too busy to pray.” But that’s because you’ve filled your life with activity. Most of us don’t know who you want to be, or how to get there. Let God tell you. If you don’t pray yet, I challenge you to give God 5 minutes at the beginning and the end of each day. Because God wants to bless us with the Truth, but we have to give Him the chance.

(5 Oct 2014)

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Ordinary Time, 26th Sunday. We all need a savior. Tax collectors and prostitutes entered the Kingdom of God when they admitted it. The chief priests and elders did not admit they needed a savior and did not enter the Kingdom of God. Maria Simma tells the story of a priest who talked about God’s mercy and a prostitute who received it. As Christians we profess belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus. How many of us have said, “Yes” to God’s call but were still just sitting there in the pews, not actually doing the will of God?

This past Saturday I was in prison. Vince, the young man who lit St. Anthony on fire, had asked me to be his sponsor when he entered the Catholic Church. He is part of an amazing little group of Christians in the Racine Youthful Offender Correctional Facility. Tax collectors, prostitutes, prisoners and arsonists are entering the Kingdom of God before us, because they said “No” and then they did what God asked. We have said “Yes” but are  we doing what God has asked us to do?

(28 Sep 2014)

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Regular readers will know that I keep my eye on modern technology. I like to think I’m pretty tech-savvy, at least for a priest. So imagine my surprise when I went computer shopping at Best Buy and had no idea where to start. Touch-screen laptops, detachable laptops, all-in-ones, portable all-in-ones, Chromebooks, MacBooks, AMD, Intel…. I was totally lost. I asked the sales kid a lot of questions, but I got the feeling that even he didn’t really know what they all did. I walked out with a Windows 8 desktop computer — the old fashioned kind with cables that plug in, and a screen that doesn’t “touch”. You go with what you know.

The new computer introduced me to the new world of Windows 8 (actually 8.1). I’ve been using Windows a long time. I remember when the Start button was a new feature (1995). The blue bar of Windows XP is forever emblazoned in my memory. I used Vista for as short as possible, upgrading to Windows 7 as soon as it came out. That was five years ago. I can see lots of room for improvement with Windows 7, but overall it’s been a stellar performer. Has Microsoft created a more perfect Windows?

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