In 2004 I had the privilege of studying Italian while living in Assisi. The town has been unmistakably marked by its most famous son, St. Francis. Most people only know that St. Francis loved the animals. He’s often seen as an environmentalist or some kind of medieval hippie. I was intrigued by the legend of the man and wanted to come to appreciate the real St. Francis. The deeper you look, the more he amazes you.

Francis was actually named John. His mother was French and that seems to have given him his nickname: “Frenchman” (Francesco in Italian).  He lived during the late middle ages when trade and commerce started to create a middle class of wealthy merchants. There was money to be made and his father was good at making it. Francis appears to have been a spoiled rich kid, known for spending money and having a good time. After some misadventures he began to take his faith more seriously. He fell crazy in love with a man named Jesus. Francis read the Bible and believed what he read. He sold everything, gave it to the poor, and followed Jesus. Francis developed a deep love for poverty and a profound belief that God would take care of him. He survived on begging as he went around telling people the good news that they didn’t need to seek power, wealth, or success: the love of Jesus was enough.

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Ordinary Time, 17th Sunday. I like to ask couples, “When did you know your spouse was the One?” I get all kinds of interesting answers. Finding the right person is like finding a buried treasure or the pearl of great price. They are worth any price, any sacrifice. The Kingdom of Heaven is not a place that issues passports. It is the presence of Jesus. When we accept Jesus, we accept the kingdom. When we enter into Jesus, we are living in the kingdom. When did you know that Jesus was the One?

I met Jesus face-to-face in the person of St. John Paul II. That’s when I knew Jesus was the One. The Church is like the field. It looks just like any other field, but inside is buried treasure. Buy into the Church and you can dig up the riches of Jesus Christ. He is the treasure. And the pearl of great price is you. Jesus sacrificed everything to buy you. What are you willing to sacrifice for Him? His love is worth everything once you know He is the One. So when did you know that Jesus was the One?

(27 Jul 2014)

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This week the Christians in Mosul were forced to leave their homes. They were given the choice of converting to Islam, paying a punitive protection tax, or being killed. They chose to leave, and as they were leaving the city they were robbed of their money and possessions. But they triumphed, because they escaped with the pearl of great price, which is their faith.

This week, Meriam Ibrahim was allowed to leave Sudan. She was even able to meet with the Pope.  It is a sign that if you hold on tightly to your faith, God will make everything else work out.

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Fr. Joel ( 21 Jul 2014): Jennifer is a passionate woman and her passion for life is evident on every page of this memoir. Sometimes the sentences and writing style feel overwrought; she seems to be exaggerating for dramatic effect. But when she talks about free-lancing so she can jet-set with her boyfriend and hiring waitstaff to cater parties at their condo, you realize that this really is the authentic Jennifer. She has the all-star list of objections to being Catholic:

  • She doesn’t believe in God.
  • She doesn’t like Jesus Christ.
  • She finds Christians annoying.
  • She thinks that the Catholic church is medieval, corrupt, and generally horrid.
  • She’s decidedly pro-abortion.
  • She can’t imagine not using birth control.

In the post-modern, post-Christian world of jet-setting Austin, she turns to blogging to ask religious questions. Jennifer won’t stop searching for the truth, and one by one God slowly answers every objection. There are moments of beautiful Providence punctuated by the agony of admitting God into her life. This book is really a romance with the Almighty, with all the joy and agony of every romance. I was reminded of my own deep struggles to try and reconcile the mess of my life with the loving presence of God. I’ve always found answers, and so does Jennifer.

My one knock against the book is that the chapters don’t flow smoothly from one to the next. They feel like disconnected snapshots or separate blog posts. The story needs to flow better between them. I would also have liked a little more glimpse into life after conversion. She mentions peace and getting help, but looking back, can she say for certain that becoming Catholic really was the right choice? Still, the book covers a lot of ground in a way that’s delightful and fascinating. The chapters are short and focused and move along quickly. Some of the moments are truly priceless. No matter what your religious background, you’ll find this book an enjoyable read.

Overall I was impressed with her honesty and her tenacious search for nothing but the truth. So many Catholics object to one or many church teachings but they never make the time to honestly seek the truth. The image of Jennifer pouring over stacks of internet print-offs from the Vatican website should make one stop and think: am I passionately seeking the truth, or am I just content to believe comfortable lies?

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Ordinary Time, 16h Sunday. Jesus announces the kingdom of heaven, but it doesn’t look like any kingdom we are familiar with. The Kingdom is alive and growing in our midst. Like starter dough, the Eucharist transforms us from the inside, making us rise. This kingdom is the “little seed” that bears great fruit. The kingdom happens when we serve others instead of ourselves. Right now, we can choose any king, worship any God, and become weeds or wheat. Good and evil are intertwined in our world and in our hearts. But judgment is coming and good will shine while the evil will burn. For now God is patient and merciful; use this time to bear fruit. Make the little changes now that will bear great fruit for the kingdom.

(20 Jul 2014)

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Euthanasia and the Catholic Perspective

Helping your own relatives to die really could be a good thing. At least, that was the point of two recent pieces on public radio. The pieces were made to sound balanced by bringing in a small dissenting voice towards the end, but the point was clear. With Vermont passing a physician-assisted suicide law last year, I thought an article on this topic might be timely. Lacking good information people tend to be swayed by an appeal to compassion. But assisted suicide is not compassionate, as you will see.

Suicide was a common part of pagan cultures such as the ancient Greeks and the Japanese.  Someone who had brought shame on themselves or their family could be expected to end their own life as a way of righting the wrong. Suicide could be good and noble thing in pagan culture. People might also commit suicide for personal or existential reasons. Even the Bible talks about assisted suicide (parental advisory: not suitable for small children).

The pagans were at least wise enough to not let their doctors kill them. Two lines from the Hippocratic Oath stand out:

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Jesus tells the parable about the seed planted in the field. We have all heard the Gospel, we have all had the seed of the Word planted in our hearts, but we need to cooperate with God in helping that seed grow and bear fruit. In order for the seeds to grow, the soil needs to be tilled up, and suffering is what tills the soil of the soul. Also, there are weeds that need to be pulled, or they will crowd out the good work that God wants to do. Our sins and bad habits are the weeds that need to be pulled up.

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Ordinary Time, 15th Sunday. Christ is the sower. He sows the truth, and he sows love. We receive the word through our eyes and ears, and it takes root in our heart. It grows and bears fruit. But truth and love aren’t the only things being sown in this world. The enemy is sowing lies and selfishness. They take root in our heart and grow and bear rotten fruit.

What are you receiving? We have to be open to receive only the good seed, and reject the lies we are told and the ways we are treated with selfishness.

What are you spreading? Are you speaking the truth and treating others with love, or are you speaking lies and treating others with selfishness?

At Noon on Monday I just as you to pause and ask yourself these two questions:

  1. What have I been receiving this morning: Love and Truth, or lies and selfishness?
  2. What have I been sowing this morning: Love and Truth, or lies and selfishness?

(13 Jul 2014)

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This is adapted from a series of bulletin articles
by Fr. Benjamin Sember

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On June 7th, I celebrated a wedding at St. Mary’s in Lakewood. It was my first wedding since coming to these two parishes last July. As an interesting coincidence, this same weekend a federal judge struck down a Wisconsin state law barring same-sex marriage.

The Green Bay Press Gazette reported that Berri and Lisa West were the first same-sex couple to tie the knot in Brown County. “[They] have lived together for almost five years. They have been domestic partners for almost three. They have a daughter together and are expecting a son. But until Monday, they had not been able to legally marry in Wisconsin” the Press Gazette stated.

What is happening in Wisconsin is clearly part of a much larger cultural shift that is taking place in Western society. This is not a passing trend, but a shift in how we, as a nation and as a society, view marriage and family and incorporate that vision in law.

The Catholic Church, as you may have already heard, has refused to get on this train. The Catholic Church firmly believes that the basic structure of marriage that the Church promoted in the first century (against Roman practices of cohabitation, prostitution, and the keeping of mistresses) and continued to promote in her missionary efforts (against polygamy), was not only valid for the 1st – 18th centuries but was valid for all time.

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