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.”

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!

Christ the King

From a Homily on the Feast of Christ the King

Father Aloysius Schmitt was just finishing the 7am Mass aboard the USS Oklahoma docked at Pearl Harbor when eight torpedoes slammed into the ship's side. Within minutes the ship rolled over and began to sink. The 32-year old Catholic priest immediately began to direct frenzied men through a small porthole to escape the capsizing ship. Bob Burns, who had served at Mass that morning, was one of those sailors who escaped. Burns recalls: “[Father Schmitt] recognized my voice and said, ‘Over here!’ There were two gentleman topside pulling, and he was pushing people through — he pushed me out. He was one of the finest men I had ever known. It was an honor knowing him.”

Father Aloysius SchmittThe priest was being pulled out of the porthole when he heard the voice of other men behind him. He insisted he be dropped to help those still trapped. Father Al died alongside 429 men aboard the Oklahoma. The Catholic priest was the first of any chaplain to die in WWII. The 5th year anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood would have been the next day—December 8th.

When the ship was raised from the bottom of the bay 16 months later, the priest's body was not found, but only the chalice he used at Mass. Recognizing the heroic priest's bravery, in 1944 the Navy presented to Fr. Al's hometown in Iowa a crucifix made of wood from the deck of the Oklahoma. The body of Christ on the cross was shaped from the ship's metal. Then, in 1947, a chapel was dedicated to Father Schmitt by Samuel Cardinal Stritch of Chicago and Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. 75 years later, on December 8, 2016, his remains were at last identified and interred in that Iowa chapel. A true king serves, and Father Schmitt acted like a king. The name of the chapel was, fittingly, Christ the King.

Pentecost

From a Homily on Pentecost

Chicago reinvented itself in the latter half of the 20th century. The city went from an agro-industrial to a "knowledge" economy. Whereas cities like Detroit and Pittsburgh, based on the automobile or steal industry, were unable to recreate themselves when those industries declined, Chicago was able to do so. Gone were the meat-packing plants and warehouses, replaced by skyscrapers offering financial and legal services. Chicago has continued to renew itself, becoming a global economy, and hopefully will continue to do so.

Families renew themselves too. When children move away to college and then out of the house to work and marry, empty-nester parents renew themselves. When a child or young adult can no longer play organized sports, they find other interests to stay engaged.

Today, the Feast of Pentecost, is the great day of renewal. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, they were transformed. They went from a motley group of indecisive and disloyal fisherman to bold proclaimers of the Good News. Even the feast of Pentecost itself was transformed. Pentecost was originally a Jewish holiday, occurring 50 days after Passover and meant to celebrate the harvest. Then the Israelites celebrated on this day not so much the harvest but the date when the Torah was given to Moses on Sinai. That, by the way, is why, on Pentecost 33AD, all the different nationalities were gathered in Jerusalem: it was required to make a pilgrimage to the holy city.

Renewal. Seen in the celebration of Pentecost, the apostles, families, and the city of Chicago. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, enkindle in them the fire of your live; send forth your Spirit and they shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth.

Memorial Day

From a Homily on Memorial Day

At last the woman who had been sobbing outside of the president's office was granted entrance. She explained that her husband, fighting in the war, had gone missing and with it the money he had been sending home. She begged the president to discharge one of her two enlisted sons, as she had no means of support. Abraham Lincoln, staring at the fire, hands behind his back and head bowed low, simply said, as if speaking to himself, “I have two you, you have none.” The president walked over to the desk and wrote a note of discharge.

Several weeks later the same woman appeared in the executive mansion. Upon entrance she explained to Lincoln that she had located her son who was stationed in a small town named Gettysburg, but that she had arrived too late. He was already in the ground. Through tears, the woman asked if the president could write a note for her other son. Similarly as before, with head bowed low facing the fire and hands behind his back, Lincoln stuttered, “I have two, you have none.” He went back to the desk after a pause and wrote a second note. It was said that the woman accompanied him to the desk and “smoothed his thick and disorderly hair with motherly fingers.”

We celebrate with parades and barbecues on Memorial Day, but we ought not forget those who died in service to our country and the families who mourn their deaths. We can show compassion, as Lincoln did. The best way to do so is by prayer; to pray that the deceased are at rest in heaven and that the mourners' anguish may be assuaged. We will be confident, then, that these dead will not have died in vain.

Good Friday in Nuremberg

From a Homily on Good Friday

Befehl ist Befehl. Translated: ‘I was only following orders.’ That is the plea known as the "Nuremberg Defense," used by the Nazi officers convicted of crimes during the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-1946. Hermann Goering and others claimed they were only following orders; they did not know of the atrocities that were occurring within the Reich. The Final Solution was all the work of Hitler, Himmler, and Goebbels, they argued. The judgment of the International Tribunal upon the ex-Nazis? Guilty.

Shirking responsibility did not occur only at Nuremberg. It occurred in Jerusalem. We could label it the "Good Friday Defense."

  • Judas, the Jews, the religious leaders, Pilate, and the Romans all attempted to offload their responsibility, and they are all guilty. Judas gives the 30 pieces of silver back. He commits suicide instead of facing a resurrected Christ. Guilty.
  • The Sanhedrin refuse to take Judas' money and buy a plot of land with it. Then they refuse to execute Jesus themselves, but send him instead to the Romans. Finally they too refuse to believe in a resurrected Christ. Guilty.
  • Herod refuses to execute the condemned man, under the grounds that Jesus is crazy, and returns him Pilate. Herod could have freed Jesus himself. Guilty. Pontius Pilate is convinced of Christ's innocence, yet scourges him, issues the decree of execution, and then wipes his hands clean. Guilty.

No one on Good Friday wanted to be responsible. Befehl ist Befehl, they all say. It is in their cowardice that they are all guilty.

Not owning up to one's sins and seeking forgiveness is one of the great crimes of Good Friday; one of the great crimes of today. If we cannot acknowledge that we have crucified Jesus, then our story will end on Good Friday instead of two days from now.

Irish Mass

From a Homily on the Saint Juliana Irish Mass

William Francis Meagher (pronounced "Mar") was born in Waterford, Ireland in the 1820s. Identified by the British as a threat early into his adulthood, he was arrested and exiled to the penal colony in Tasmania. Meagher would escape, sail to New York City, and rise through the political ranks, eventually ending his career as the governor of Montana. His political success was owed to his leadership of the Irish Brigade in the Civil War, of which Robert E. Lee said “I have never seen men so brave.” The unit of Irishman performed admirably in many battles–Bull Run, The Peninsula Campaign, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville—so much so that President Lincoln elevated Meagher to Brigadier General. From this position of authority, Meagher had the War Department create green Irish flags with a harp symbol. The men carried this flag into battle, and in the event that the men were separated from the flag, or the flag was destroyed, the Irish soldiers could be identified by a green sprig in their cap, for which Meagher also gained permission. Two other allowances Meagher provided that endeared him to his men: the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day and the presence of a Catholic priest for every regiment.

To be proudly Irish is to rejoice in the things of the earth: the color green, corned beef and cabbage, Guinness, the drone of bagpipes. Celebrating the goodness of our human nature is to celebrate God, for he redeemed all of humanity. Meagher picked up on this, and he utilized the goodness of creation to rally the Irish and further their cause in America. We celebrate and thank God for the Irish at Mass in an American church this evening. We owe a toast to William Meagher and many other Irish Americans for making that possible.

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.

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.

Erasmus

Five hundred years ago on October 31st, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the cathedral door at Wittenburg, thus commencing the Reformation. The origins of the Reformation can be traced well before this event, however, and an important figure in this movement was a fellow by the name of Erasmus of Rotterdam. Without Erasmus Luther could not have arisen. Erasmus translated the New Testament into Greek and critiqued the sumptuous lifestyle of the clergy, especially of the papacy, in his satire, The Praise of Folly. He wrote about “the philosophy of Christ”, exhorting popes and all Christians, for that matter, to imitate Christ's poverty, tasks, teachings, crosses, and so on. He wrote, “Make Christ the only goal of your life. Dedicate to him all your enthusiasm, all your effort, your leisure as well as your business. And don't look upon Christ as a mere word, as an empty expression, but rather as charity, simplicity, patience, and purity—in short, in terms of everything he has taught us.”