—– Part 2 of 3 —–

Christ the Lord already reigns through the Church, but all the things of this world are not yet subjected to him. The triumph of Christ’s kingdom will not come about without one last assault by the powers of evil. On Judgement Day at the end of the world, Christ will come in glory to achieve the definitive triumph of good over evil which, like the wheat and the tares, have grown up together in the course of history. When he comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each man according to his works, and according to his acceptance or refusal of grace. (Catechism of the Catholic Church para 680-682)

Death is never convenient. I distinctly remember Wednesday afternoon, February 21, 2013. I was talking on the phone in my office at the portable trailers on the west side of Oconto Falls when my father called and left a message: “Call me.” I called him back and he said tersely, “Joel, my mother just died.” ‘Grandmy’ was cheerful and healthy, enjoying her 70’s and looking forward to golf. I was at a total loss. Fortunately, Holy Mother Church is never at a total loss; she knows just what to do when someone passes. Our loved one has to be transferred from the land of the living to the land of the dead. This involves three tasks: 1) wrap up their life on earth 2) take care of the body 3) take care of the soul.

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Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome. The church building serves as a visible reminder that God dwells among His people. Just like the Jewish temple, so the church is a place where heaven and earth are in right relationship and where you can encounter God. We sacrifice (time money, your heart) and God responds by blessing us. The true temple of God is not the church but your heart. Your heart is a place of encounter where we offer sacrifice and God returns blessing. God wants to dwell in your heart. Cast out the clutter to make room for Christ.

(9 Nov 2014)

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—– Part 1 of 3 —–

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin

“They say death and taxes are the only things that are inevitable. The truth is, you can not pay your taxes. I’ve done it, and there’s consequences, but it can be done. Death you’re not going to get out of, and you kind of got to deal with it.” – Steve Earle

November is a month when Catholics pray for the dead. One thing we know for certain: you are going to die, and there’s no way out of it. To be human is to face death and come to grips with it. If we look back to the Victorian era, just a century or two ago, death and grieving were woven into the fabric of society. Gathering around the deathbed of a relative was a sacred ritual. Whole families, including children, took time praying and keeping vigil. They listened closely for any last words the dying said that might give clues about the other side. Too often, though, death was sudden and tragic, the result of a runaway horse, factory fire or plague. It could come at any time; people were always prepared for death.

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The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (Family Mass #2). If you want to catch a deer, you have to think like a deer. Satan uses money and candy to catch humans. How can we escape the trap? By thinking like God. We are running around in the maze of everyday life but God looks down and sees the right way to go. How can we start thinking like God? Pray every day. And read the Bible. The Bible readings at Mass tell us how God thinks.

How does God think about the dead? “The souls of the just are in the hands of God.” They see God face to face and experience His joy and peace and love. One thing keeps them from being perfectly happy: We aren’t there with them yet! They are praying for us to make it home. Let’s pray for them too.

(2 Nov 2014)

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Solemnity of All Saints. The Book of Revelation gives us a glimpse into Heaven. It is meant to encourage Christians to persevere through the tribulations because Christ is coming soon. Heaven is more than just a place, Heaven is a person, and His name is Jesus Christ. The love, peace, joy and healing that we long for all come from being in the presence of God. Heaven is happy and beautiful because it always experiences His presence. The Beatitudes sketch the face of Christ. They also show us what our faces will look like when we begin reflecting Heaven’s light. Live in His presence today.

(1 Nov 2014)

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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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