Letters from a Pastor to His People

Get Shocked!

Dear Parishioners,

I taught recently the 4th graders in school during their religion class about the liturgical season. We spent, of course, a decent amount of time on Advent. Why purple for Advent (and Lent as well)? (My brother-in-law, who is from Minnesota and is a Vikings fan will love this post.)

Purple, a fusion of red and blue, is an interesting color. Blue symbolizes calm, steadfastness, and stability. Think of a deep blue sky or sea. Red, on the other hand, symbolizes passion, energy, and movement. Think of fire. Purple combines the steadiness of blue and the fervor of red. In Advent we are called to be focused, recollected, and somewhat solemn as we prepare for our Lord's coming into our lives at Christmas. But we are also called to be alert and excited—and for the same reasons.

The segment from Isaiah (Is 40:1-5, 9-11) in our first reading has this mix of emotions. “Comfort, give comfort to my people,” we hear in the opening line. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,” continues the prophet. This is quite blue.

But it turns red quickly. “A voice cries out...cry out at the top of your voice.”

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Happy Advent!

Dear Parishioners,

Happy Advent! The Israelites before Christ waited for a savior to come into the world, and, in a way, we wait too. Look at this line from the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading: “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” (Is 63:16). Could we not today ask that same question?

God came into this world when he took on flesh 2,000 years ago. But he needs to come again into the world, and he needs to come more fully. By ‘more fully,’ I mean he needs to come more completely into our lives. We do not know Christ as well as we ought. We do not love him as much as we could. Advent is a time to deepen our love and knowledge of Jesus—to allow him to come into the world.

Jesus intends to come again, which means he intends for us to have a better relationship with him. This is why he tells us to watch in the Gospel. Be on the lookout this Advent season!

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Kings and Queens

Dear Parishioners,

Today is the Feast of Christ the King. I'd like to incorporate in my little scriptural reflection an homage to Claudette Link. Claudette will be retiring from the parish staff on November 30th. Claudette raised her family at St. Juliana and has worked at the parish for nearly 25 years.

The parish secretary is on the front line, answering phone calls, meeting visitors, etc. A person's impression of the parish can be affected by the personality of the secretary. Well, I would bet people's impression of Saint Juliana was that of a caring, joyful, and vivacious place. Because that is the type of person Claudette is! Claudette genuinely cares about every person she meets, and usually instantly becomes friends with that person.

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Buried Treasures

Dear Parishioners,

We all have different gifts. Some are blessed with athletic or musical talents, some are blessed with financial acuity, some are blessed with affability, and some are blessed with the ability to grow facial hair, particularly mustaches (myself). Whatever your gifts are, they are given to you by God and need to be put into action. That is one lesson from the parable this Sunday about the talents (cf. Matt 25:14-30).

The man given only one talent who fails to invest it but instead buries it in the ground until the master comes for the accounting, is scolded. He not only has the talent taken away (and it is given to the servant who was originally given five talents and then made five more), but he is thrown out into the darkness. This isn't about the master being harsh. It is about the servant wasting the opportunity.

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This is the end, my only friend.

Dear Parishioners,

I've had stuck in my head this past week "The End" by the Doors. This is the end. My only friend, the end.

Saint Paul writes about "the end" to the Thessalonians. He wants them to be aware of the end; to be as knowledgable as possible about where all those who have died currently are. “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13).

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Looks can be deceiving.

Dear Parishioners,

Do you care how others perceive you? Are you hyper-sensitive to how you come across and, if so, do you try to appear better than you think you are? If so, then our Lord's message in today's Gospel is intended for you. Read it, pray over it, and allow it to pierce your mind and heart so that it can help you in this area.

The Pharisees, says Jesus, focus too much on their appearances. “All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi’” (Matt 23:5-7).

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Men must not shave...

Dear Parishioners,

I don't know about you, but I'm a neat freak. I'm very organized and I look to declutter and simplify whenever and wherever I can.

The Gospel this week thus resonates with me. There were over 600 laws in the Torah. Some laws were good and necessary, like “Do not oppress the weak” (Law 18). Some laws were not so essential, like “Do not bow down before a smooth stone” (Law 51). Some I wish were still laws, like “Men must not shave their beards with a razor” (Law 69).

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Gracious Goodness

Dear Parishioners,

God can pour out his grace upon anyone. It is not only committed Catholics or sacred objects that can be instruments of God’s will in the world. Secular authorities, professional athletes or artists, people of different religions can make God known.

This is what we hear in the opening of our first reading from Isaiah today. “Thus says the LORD to his anointed, Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp...” (Is 45:1). Cyrus was the Persian King. He was not Jewish. He could even have been seen as an enemy of Israel. Yet, we hear God not only speaks to Cyrus, but he considers him his anointed! Let me repeat: a pagan, non-Israelite is God's chosen. “I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not.”

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A kingdom for a party.

Dear Parishioners,

We might be tempted to think, upon reading Christ's parable this weekend, “Um, I think the King has a bit of an anger issue.” Here's the parable in a nutshell. The King invites guests to his son's wedding reception and none of them attend. So, we read: “The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city” (Matt 22:7). But wait, it gets better (or worse). The King instead invites beggars and random people off the street to attend the reception. These people accept the invitation, but when the king spots one of the new guests not wearing appropriate attire, he flies off the handle. “[The King] said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‹Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth›” (Matt 22:12-13).

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Anxiety Antidote

Dear Parishioners,

I think the opening line from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians deserves a citation: “Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).

I guess we aren't the only age that experiences anxiety. People 2,000 years ago were filled with worry and anxiety as well. In fact, they probably had more cause for anxiety than we. Food was much more difficult to come by, sickness and disease much more prevalent, and death a constant companion.

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Tale of Two Sons

Dear Parishioners,

Our Lord's parables are challenging. They force us to examine ourselves. Because, you see, the parables are spoken at us. Jesus did not just speak to the crowds 2,000 years ago. He speaks to us today, and the parables—his way of speaking—contain messages that we need to apply in our lives. In order to apply the parable we need to examine ourselves. It's in this process of interior reflection that we see we are far from perfect and that we need conversion, hence the challenge of the parables.

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Late to the faith never too late.

Dear Parishioners,

As the Bears get set to play the Packers this Thursday I take great consolation in the last line from today's Gospel: “Thus, the last will be first and the first will be last” (Matt 20:16). The Bears have been "last" a lot of late, while the Packers have been "first." Enjoy it now, Cheeseheads. Our time is coming.

But this isn't what I want to focus on this week. Jesus gives us the parable about the workers who are brought in at different parts of the day to labor in the field. They all receive the same wage. The ones who work eight hours receive the same pay as the ones who work one hour.

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