Our Christian Baseline

Listen to the Homily: https://www.strobertchurch.org/sermons/july-14-fr-stephen-our-christian-baseline/

What is our baseline? 

A couple of years ago, I had an internship at St. Mary’s hospital.  I was able to participate in rounds on the floor that I was seeing patients on.  One of the phrases I learned right away was patient is at baseline, or patient’s numbers are returning to baseline.  Basically, this means there numbers are returning to the norm, and to where they should be at.

Moses wants to return the Israelites to their baseline in our first reading.  They received the Law years ago, but now it has become familiar.  It no longer means much to them anymore, so Moses is calling them back to the Law and to God. Return to the lord your God with all your heart and all your soul.  Return to your baseline. 

Our readings this weekend give us the baseline for a Christians.  They tell us what needs to be present at minimum in every Christian.  The baseline for all Christians is this: 1) confess there is a God and that we are not him, 2) to be known and loved by God and to know and love God in return, and 3) to love our neighbor as God loves us.  This is baseline Christianity. 

Everything starts with confessing that there is a God and we are not him.  This is what Moses is reminding the Israelites.  This is so important for us today. If we recognize that there is a God who created us and this world, then we also will recognize that God created this world with order and purpose.  If we do not, then we think we are our own masters or our own gods… this is fundamental to know that we are not god.

After confessing that there is a God and we are not Him, we are called to experience a loving relationship with God.  This is the greatest gift.  All of us have a desire to know and to be known by someone.  What greater gift is there in this life than to be known and to know our God? We do this through prayer, Mass, the Scriptures and the Sacraments; where we experience the love of God in our lives.

Finally, as we heard in our Gospel this morning, love of neighbor is a non-negotiable in the Christian life.

After WWII, Stanley Milgram wanted to understand why so many nazi soldiers claimed, “we were just following orders.” Could this really be the case?

So he developed an experiment that remains controversial to this day.  He found volunteers help with what they called a science experiment.  The volunteers came in and played the teacher.  They were instructed to deliver an electric shock to the student when the student answered a question wrongly. There were different levels of shock, mild, somewhat severe, to severe.  The greater the severity the greater the chance for health risks.

There were variations to the experiment.  In one variation of the experiment, the teacher was in the room, but merely pressed the button that delivered the shock. In the other variation of the experiment the teacher was in a different room where he could neither see/hear the student.  He was merely told when the student got a question wrong, and to press the button to give the shock.

What Milgram found out was that the proximity to the student mattered.  For the teacher that was in the same room with the student sixty five-percent of the teacher-volunteers refused to continue delivering shocks once they were asked to deliver more severe shocks.  Here’s the terrifying part, for the volunteers that were in a different room, and could not hear the or see the pain of the student, only 35% refused to continue. 

What Milgram really found out is separation or abstraction, when we cannot see the person we are inflicting pain on, we are more likely to consent in negative behaviors.

For example, why is it so easy for us to gossip?  To bring it home, how often do we gossip with the person right in front of us?  Rarely, because if that person was around us, we would see the pain we are causing.  But when we talk about a person with others while that person is not with us, it is so much easier to gossip about that person. Because in that moment, that person remains an idea, and we cannot see the pain we are inflicting…

Jesus gives us a non-negotiable to Christian life.  He confirms for us that love of neighbor is a part of baseline Christianity.  One-hundred percent of the time, he says, we are called to meet the needs of the person who is right in front of us. Not just when they are in front of us but even when they are not in front of us.  Whether people are there in our midst concretely or in the abstract, we are always called to love our neighbor.

Moses encouraged the Israelites to return to the Lord with all their heart and soul.  May we too return to the Lord by returning to our baseline as Christians; as a people who believe in God, love him and love our neighbor.

In Christ’s love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Listen to the Homily: https://www.strobertchurch.org/sermons/july-14-fr-stephen-our-christian-baseline/

Do we bring peace and joy?

The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so, ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. How appropriate are these words for us today?  In the past, associates would have had 6-10 years as an associate before leading a parish.  Here, at Saint Robert’s, you had to say goodbye to Fr. Mulhall after only three years…  The Lord needed Fr. Mulhall and sent him to Holy Redeemer to minister to the people of Jenison.  Goodbyes are hard, but I think I am not alone in my belief that Fr. Colin is going to thrive as a shepherd of God’s people.  Some of you know that Fr. Colin and I are childhood friends.  It is a humbling and a great joy to follow him here at Saint Robert’s.  I can assure all of you, that Fr. Colin has had the same experience as the 72 disciples who in our Gospel returned rejoicing.  Fr. Colin experienced many blessings here at St. Roberts.

Behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves… We are reminded by these words, that Christ is sending all of us here out on mission.  Notice, this mission was not just the 12, it was to 72.  The fact that he sent out 72 shows us that Christ intends to send many out on mission.  The mission is not just for the 72 in our Gospel.  This mission is for each of us now.  Each of us has been chosen and has also been sent.  We too are disciples who are sent by Christ to bring the peace and joy that comes from God into the world.  That is the purpose of our mission.  

Behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves…  This statement from Christ explains how we are to act on our mission.  When we go, we are to go not as warriors, or wolves, who bring violence, death, and division.  No, we are to go as lambs in order to have the personality of a lamb where we will bring peace, joy, and life.  

But we are sent like lambs among wolves partly because we are not guaranteed that it will be easy or free from anxiety.  Sometimes, the mission will be hard.  But Jesus asks us to go anyway. Why? Because just like Fr. Colin, Christ needs us to help Him carry out his mission.  And sometimes, it might be hard to leave where we are comfortable to go and serve the Lord.  And sometimes, it might be hard because the people do not want to hear the Good News. But we are called to go anyway…  The reason we go is this:  we are so convinced by Christ’s love, joy, and peace in our lives, that we want to give that same love, joy, and peace to others.

Here’s the best part, Jesus tells us how to do it.  He equips us with everything that we need for this mission. So, your mission, our mission, should you choose to accept it, (see what I did there?), is to be like these 72. In the movie, Mission Impossible, there were times when Ethan Hunt, went ill-equipped for a mission and his safety was far from a guarantee. Hence the name, Mission Impossible. This mission that Christ gives us may not seem possible, easy, or appealing. But, listen to these words from our savior again, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals. In other word, don’t bring what you think you need, Jesus says, instead have a radical trust in me.  Christ promises us that all we need for this mission is our friendship with him. With His help, the help that comes from the Holy Spirit, do we have the hope to carry out this mission.  And we do have it!  We have been equipped by Christ by our baptism and confirmation!  Our mission is not impossible, but it requires relying on God’s help and grace!

This is “[our] mission … to announce his coming, to present him to the [others], to open their hearts to faith, and to arouse in them a desire for his coming.” (TLY, 316)

The words of our Gospel this morning I find very moving.  They are a great encouragement for me also as I begin my time here at Saint Robert’s. I have been sent here by Bishop Walkowiak, to live in residence.  I have received lots of questions about what that means. I’ll be honest, I really don’t know.  But we will learn together. The main thing that it means is that my full-time job is with the diocese.  Bishop’s mission for me right now, is to help Christ find laborers for the harvest as the Vocations Director for the diocese.  With that said, I do not intend for this role to preclude me from loving and ministering to all of you.  My hope is that, I, along with Fr. Len and the pastoral staff here at St. Robert’s, are all able to bring each of you into a deeper relationship with God.  It is a hope, most likely, shared by each of you.  And so, these words for me have been an encouragement and a challenge: How will I enable God to bring his peace and joy to each of you? And that same encouragement and challenge is for each of us this weekend: How are we allowing God to bring his peace and joy to others through our ministry.  We have been chosen and sent.  My we too experience the great joy of bringing peace and joy to others as the 72 did in our Gospel. We’ll pray for one another as we begin our time together at Saint Robert’s.  I’m excited to be here, and God bless you all.

In Christ’s Love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen


A couple of months ago, Dan Vos, the construction company leading our project,  invited me to a Catholic Business Leaders breakfast at the diocese.  Here’s the catch, it began at 7am.  That’s not the time I had to wake up, but that’s the time I had to be there… 

When we arrived, I was walking by a table filled with parishioners from Our Lady.  Here’s how they greeted me:  “Father, this is early for you… We are surprised to see you here!”  

Dan Blundy, the man who invited me turns to me and says, “they seem to know you well Fr. Steve.” That they do. 

It’s no secret that I do not like mornings.  But the reason I’m telling you this, is when I returned to the parish that morning Fr. Tony asked me how it went.  I said, “Dude man, the worst possible thing happened, it was so good.. which means if I get invited again I’ll probably go!?” 

All kidding aside, it was one of the best presentations I have been to.  The business owner spoke about his company’s vision, and that his company really became successful when they asked the question “why”.  He was inspired by a TED talk from Simon Sinek, which he showed us.

Here is the example that Simon Sinek used…  

So, what makes apple different than other computer companies? 

Have you ever noticed that people who buy from Apple seem to be big supporters.  Why is it that people who buy apple are big fans.  Simon Sinek, the author of Start with Why, explains the reason apple is successful and different from other computer companies.  

If apple was a typical computer company that advertised like most companies, they would communicate like this:  

We make great computers. 

Beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly.

` Want to buy one? 

How many of you are convinced that you want to buy an apple computer?  That type of advertising scheme elicits a “meh” response, doesn’t it? 

But Simon Sinek points out how Apple really sells computers:  

Everything we do we believe in challenging the status quo

We do things differently. 

The way we do this is by making something beautifully designed, simple to 

    use, and user friendly.

We just happen to make good computers, want to buy one? 

Now, I’m not here to convince you to buy and iPhone.  But, in many of Apple’s ads on TV, Apple challenges you to do something and it has nothing to do with buying their product.  They challenge you to “think different.”  This is their why: they challenge the status quo and ask you to think differently. 

What I find interesting is what Mr. Sinek points about companies that do not have a good sense of why.  Without a good sense of why, companies are forced to manipulate.  This is when you here from Art-Van its our last sale of the year, and its December 31st. Then the very next day, its our first sale of the year so don’t miss your chance! The problem with a “sale” is that people will only buy when there is a sale.  

Ultimately, the conclusion that Simon Sinek makes applies to us more than we might realize.  His conclusion is that the “People, don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it!”  

So, Mr. Sinek has challenged me to really think about this question at the parish level.  Why?  Why are we here? 

So just as a I did a few moments ago with apple, I will do it again with our parish. 

Starting from the way we typically communicate and without a clear sense of why this is what we would say:

At Our Lady, we are a Catholic Church.  We have the sacraments. 

We have Masses daily, offer times for reconciliation and ways to learn about 

your faith at this parish. 

  Want to be members here? 

Feel inspired? 

The point is, we could have the best school, the best facilities, the best youth center, the most beautiful church and the best technology…  If we have all of these things without a clear understanding of our why, then we have nothing.  Because it won’t matter. People won’t buy it.  And what I mean by that is people will not believe that we are who we say we are.  We need to know our why.  

Here is how Simon Sinek suggests we communicate to our community: 

We at our Lady of Consolation, love because Jesus Christ loved us.  

We believe so much in the power of Christ’s love that we actively invite 

people to a deeper relationship with Christ Jesus through 

Eucharistic Celebration (our parish mission statement).

We do this by celebrating mass, the sacraments, and offering ways for people 

in our parish to grow in their faith and relationship with Jesus Christ. 

Would you like to join us? 

The latter is much more inspiring.  And here’s the thing, its the truth. And it’s what we celebrate this weekend. 

We are here for one reason and one reason only.  We are not here because we have the greatest school, or the best technology, or the best staff, or even because of the priests; Fr Tony, me or your next associate Fr. Andrew.  These are not the reasons why we are here.  We are here because of the power of Christ’s love.  Our why, comes straight from Saint John, we love because he first loved us. 

Friends, this weekend, we are celebrating the mystery of our why.  We are celebrating Corpus Christi Sunday.  The Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus Christ is the Sacrament where Jesus continues to pour out his love upon each of us. The Eucharist brings us back week after week to the one moment where Jesus love us to end— to that one moment on the cross.  The Eucharist, is the sign of God’s love.  And the Eucharist is the foundational element of the Christian community.  Without it we have nothing.  

So what is your why?  Is your life inspiring others because it is so obvious that you have found your why?  Your why, our why, is simply this: we love because he first loved us. 

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Thank you!

This has not been an easy bulletin article to write.  I have experienced many moments of writer’s block.  In fact, in this moment I am two days overdue from the time I said I would turn it in.  Really, I think the problem is this: writing this bulletin has a certain finality to it.  It is the end. It means it is time for me to listen and trust in Christ’s words, Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. This is priesthood.  Going where God needs you and not necessarily where you want to go. 

I would like to first express my gratitude to Fr. Tony.  He has been a blessing to me in many ways, and I would like to highlight two ways in which he has been a great gift to me.  Fr. Tony is very faithful to his prayer life.  It is said that good leaders never ask others to do what they themselves are unwilling to do.  Fr. Tony is constantly reminding us how important it is to go the classroom of silence and pray. Friends, we are so blessed to have a pastor who lives it.  Bishop Walkowiak reminded his priests, and encouraged the newly ordained at Fr. Andrews’ ordination, that all priests ought to “be with Christ” every day.  This is Fr. Tony.  He has encouraged and helped me remain faithful to my prayer life in these early years of ministry.  Fr. Tony has also given me confidence and hope that I can be a good priest.  Fr. Tony, thank you for your affirmations, for your patience, and for helping me grow into this life.  It truly has a been an honor and a privilege to have you as a mentor. I truly thank God for your love and friendship.  Never forget that you are a great priest. 

I am also very grateful to the staff at Our Lady of Consolation.  This staff is filled with people who are committed to our parish mission.  I am grateful for Linda’s joy and ability to bring a smile to anyone’s face.  I will miss Julie’s good, and sometimes facetious, humor. I am thankful for Nickie who seems to have the battery life of an infinite number of energizer bunnies. Mary, whether it was the songs you taught the school kids or the Emmaus song at the end of the Easter season, I found myself emotional because the presence of the Holy Spirit in those moments were undeniable. To Kevin, who has such a fatherly heart for our school kids. I admire Shaun for his servant’s heart.  He is a man that constantly denies his own needs in order to help others; someone Fr. McGivney would be very proud of.  To Anne Marie who has a wealth of parish life experience that has been very valuable to me and the entire staff. And finally, Steve and Leah, who have been a great addition in the office and have given us an outsiders perspective on how to continually improve. But to summarize, this staff is a group of committed people, who give everything that they have in order to help those they serve realize how much God loves them.  

Two years ago, I arrived here a baby priest.  I arrived excited for priesthood.  But I also arrived with feelings of uncertainty. Do I even know how to be a priest?  Well, as it turns out, I had no idea how to be a priest.  And yet, that is what I am most grateful for. After moments of both great successes and struggles, I leave here with a better understanding of priesthood.  I leave here with a better understanding of what it means to love God’s people.  I leave here truly thankful for the love you all have shown me.  Last year, reflecting on my first year as a priest I wrote: 

“Friends, the priest’s vocation is to imitate Christ’s loving service completely. The life of a priest is a shared gift.  It has been a great gift to me as I have encountered God in so many people and experiences [during my time at OLC]… Much more can be said here, but I end with this, somedays I fear I am receiving much more from all of you than I could possibly give to you.  But isn’t that whats truly great about Christian friendship, we become icons of God’s goodness, grace and love for each other.”

And so, I would be remiss if I did not thank all of you, the parishioners of Our Lady of Consolation.  Thank you for your love.  Thank you for your prayers.  And thank you, for teaching this baby priest how to be a priest.  I will be forever grateful and hold this awesome parish close to my heart wherever I go. 


Fr. Stephen

Have you seen the Lord?

Have you seen the Lord?

If someone were to ask you that, right now, what would you say?  Would you be able to say that you know what Christ’s voice sounds like? Would you be able to talk about that moment, I mean the moment, where you first experienced beyond a shadow of a doubt God’s love for you?  Could you say where and when it was? Saint Peter challenges us to be prepared to answer such questions,  always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope ~ 1 Peter 3:15.

I think if we are honest, this is one of the hardest things to do… Why is that?  I think it’s because we are like Mary Magdalen. In our Gospel this Easter Morning, Mary came while it was still dark. Saint Gregory the Great, one of our early Church Fathers, wrote that Mary came in the dark, because she was filled with despair and had lost hope because of Jesus’ death.  Mary was lost, confused, filled with despair and experiencing the dark night of grief. Many of us come to Mass this Easter Morning but we are not filled with hope.  Rather, we are filled with everything else. We are filled with our hurts, our loneliness, our anger, and our sufferings… and we wonder where is God? We know all too well what Mary Magdalen is going through this morning… We are just like her…

One priest who writes books about evangelizing parishes said that he “honestly believes that this is the reason why so many lips remain silent in our churches on Sunday morning.” This is why Saint Peter’s challenge is so hard, because, “too many literally have nothing to sing about… Only the evangelized can evangelize… Only those who have received the Good News as Good News can proclaim it to others.  Good News is never a burden to share with others – indeed, it is the most natural thing in the world.”

Why is this?  Why do so many seem to be without any experiences of Christ to talk about?  Because at some point we need to actually “See the Lord in our lives.” This is what happens for Mary Magdalen.  Immediately after our scene today, after Peter and John leave the empty tomb, Jesus appears before Mary.  She is unable to see Him.  Then he says here name and she recognizes Jesus’ voice.  The first thing she does is she goes and tells the apostles, “I have seen the Lord.”

Just like Mary, we can be so focused on what is wrong, so focused on our hurts that we cannot even see Christ. At some point we need to go from hearing about Christ, to having experiences of Christ.  In order to help you get there…

I could tell you that Jesus came to live this earthly life so that you would be able to develop an intimate friendship with God…

I could tell you, that Christ looks at us with the same eyes of mercy and forgiveness that he used to look at Peter after he denied Jesus for the third time…

I could tell you, that Jesus died on the cross for you… Not just for the world… but for you… And that if only you could stand in front of Him at His crucifixion he would tell you the same thing —   that he has done this for you. 

I could tell you that Jesus calls you by name, just as he called Mary Magdalen, to give you hope and life…

I could tell you all of these things, but for the most part it doesn’t matter.  No matter what anyone says, it won’t be believed in our hearts until we have experienced these things in our own lives. And friends, that is what my prayer is for all of you this Easter Sunday.  I pray that everyone here will have a powerful encounter with Jesus that you will know and believe of Christ’s love, of his friendship, of his mercy and forgiveness, and how much you matter to Him.  I want you to know this, but Christ wants you to know it.

And friends, not only do I want this for you. But Christ wants it for you.  Christ wants you to have an Easter Faith. One who has both seen the Lord and shares the Lord with others

So, do the question to pray about today and throughout this week, Do you have an Easter Faith?  Have you seen Jesus?  And what are you doing about it? 

In Christ’s Love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Aren’t we just like them?

In our second reading Saint Paul explains why we remember the Exodus from Egypt.  This is the story of how Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt and into freedom. It also the story that manifests the Israelites lack of trust in God. Paul reminds us that after Moses freed the Israelites from Egypt, God gave them water during the journey and gave them food when they were hungry.  And yet, after being set free, given water and food, the Israelites grumbled and complained against God. And so, Saint Paul warns us, Do not grumble as some of them did. I think it is important for us to call to mind the specific moments where the Israelites lacked confidence and trust in God… If we read and reflect on these words with humility, we will see that we are not that different from the Israelites.

Now Pharaoh was near when the Israelites looked up and saw that the Egyptians had set out after them. Did we not tell you this in Egypt, when we said, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? Far better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness. ~ Exodus 14:12.  We know what happens, God protects them and uses the Red Sea to free the Israelites from the Egyptians. 

Aren’t we just like them?!?  Don’t we often prefer the comfort of our own sinfulness rather than our freedom?  For example, consider when we are angry with someone, and are challenged to offer them love and forgiveness.  How often do we prefer to remain angry, to continue to complain about “those people” rather than seek to truly be free from anger?  When we feel that someone is trying to take us away from our anger, I think many of us have said similar words… Far better for me to be angry than to offer forgiveness to that person… But God wants to set us free… 

Here’s another example, Then Moses led Israel forward from the Red Sea, and they marched out to the wilderness of Shur. After traveling for three days through the wilderness without finding water, they arrived at Marah, where they could not drink its water, because it was too bitter. Hence this place was called Marah.  As the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What are we to drink?’ he cried out to the LORD, who pointed out to him a piece of wood. When he threw it into the water, the water became fresh. Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water. ~ Exodus 15: 23-25

Aren’t we just like them?!?  The Israelites are struggling with patience, endurance and trust.  How often do we pray and pray for something, and then complain that God is not listening to us; only to have our prayers answered in a way we never expected? We are reminded here that prayer is the wellspring that connects us to God, and gives us the grace to hope and endure even when it seems that God is not listening.

Here in the wilderness the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our kettles of meat and ate our fill of bread! But you have led us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of famine!’I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them: In the evening twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will have your fill of bread, and then you will know that I, the LORD, am your God.~ Exodus 16: 2-3, 12

Aren’t we just like them?!? What’s amazing here is that the Israelites use their freedom from Egypt as an opportunity to blame God. The tendency here is that can be so focussed on present day struggles that we wish God had done nothing in the first place!  I think about divorce.  Often times I’ll hear from people, why did God even put that person in my life if he knew it was going to end this way?  But this mentality lacks awareness that God is still taking care of us…

When the people saw that Moses was delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for that man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him. ~ Exodus 32:1

Aren’t we just like them?!? It’s almost as if this moment was the final straw for the Israelites… God you are taking too long.  We give up.  We are worshiping something else.  The obvious way this happens today is when people literally do give up on God and leave their faith.  But it happens in subtle ways too… When we struggle with sin, or anxiety, or loneliness… and we think that God will never truly be there, so we turn to other things.  We thin that sports, pleasure, or money, or sin will fill the void that only God can…

Friends, God has freed us from the bondage of sin by Baptism just as he freed the Israelites from the power of the Egyptians.  And we are not unlike the Israelites…  We too, continue to fall back into old habits of behavior. Lent is a time for us to struggle to leave Egypt again. Lent is a time to recommit ourselves to our God. As we go through out our week, let us ask God for his help to leave Egypt behind again this Lenten season.

In Christ’s Love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

I Will Sing of your Salvation

I will sing of your salvation. 

Good News… Good News! I am reminded of the musical wicked.  It begins with a song proclaiming Good News… If you’re familiar with the musical, you know that it is talking about the death of the wicked witch… Good News!  What would be Good News for me?  Well, this past week hell froze over, so I was hoping the Good News I would be experiencing was a Detroit Lions Super Bowl victory.  But alas, hell froze over and still no super bowl. But the Good News at least is is it is warming up.  Good News would also be the Patriots losing…

Okay but what is the point.  What is so important about Good News?  Well, going back to the musical, Wicked, the story starts at the end, “Good News” the witch is dead.  The musical is the story of Good News.  And isn’t this what we do with Good News?  We tell others about it! For example, if the Lions did in fact win the super bowl, you bet I will be making a facebook post, instagram post, and calling my brother to celebrate.  In March, my sister is having a baby, and when she does, I can’t wait to tell others about it.  When we experience something amazing that we have to share it. 

Our psalm this weekend is about sharing the good news.  I will sing of your salvation Lord!  Here’s the question, how are we doing in sharing the Good News.  Fr. James Mallon said that he “honestly believes that this is the reason why so many lips remain silent in our churches on Sunday morning.  Too many literally have nothing to sing about… Only the evangelized can evangelize… Only those who have received the Good News as good news can proclaim it to others.  Good news is never a burden to share with others – indeed, it is the most natural thing in the world.”

Our Psalm is a perfect starting point.  I will sing the salvation of the Lord.  I will sing because I know what the Lord has done for me in my life: Jesus has saved me (1st stanza), in the second stanza God is our foundation, third stanza God is my Father who created me out of love, and the fourth stanza God has done amazing things in my life.  Do you know this?  Do you experience this as the Good News in your life?  

If we have experienced the Good News, then we must share it with others. That is what will attract people to become Catholic.  The  Good News.  When we experience the Love that Saint Paul is talking about so dramatically in our lives, others are attracted to experience that Love as well. 

Let us sing of our salvation, and sing Good News! 

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Remember who you are, You are a child of God!

It’s great to be home.  Most of you know that I spent that last two weeks in Rome.  It was a great vacation filled with memories I will cherish.  One of the greatest blessings was that I was able to celebrate Mass at the tomb of Saint John Paul II. The experience of seeing all of the churches was also powerful.  Something that I have personally been praying with since Christmas is how truly amazing it is that Christ has changed this world.  At Christmas, this Church was packed, all because of one man, Jesus Christ.  In Rome, there are 900 Catholic churches… again, all because of one man, Jesus Christ, who came to proclaim the Father’s love to the world.

Jesus came to proclaim the Father’s love to the world. Today we have the great gift of celebrating the Father’s love. Today we celebrate our Lord’s baptism. We hear these amazing words, the heavens [were] opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon [Jesus] in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased.” And so, today, we not only remember His baptism, but we also celebrate and remember the gift of our baptism.   This is the day that we remember who we are.  We remember that we belong to the Heavenly Father.  We are His beloved sons and daughters.

In Disney’s, The Lion King, Simba is struggling to remember his identity – to remember who he is.  He blames himself for his Father’s death.  He has run away from home and no longer believes he is worthy of love and worse, no longer worthy to be known as Mufasa’s son. Then he meets the monkey Rafiki who helps Simba reclaim his identity. In this beautiful scene, Rafiki says to Simba,

“Look into the water, and see your father.”

Simba looks and says with disappointment, “That’s not my father, that’s just my reflection.”

“No, Look harder,” Rafiki says encouragingly, “see in your reflection, your father lives in you.”

Then Simba begins to see his Father and miraculously begins to hear his Father’s voice: “Simba you have forgotten who you are, and so forgotten me. Remember who you are, you are my son!

Have we forgotten who we are…?

When we believe we have committed the worst sin, and are unworthy of forgiveness… we have forgotten who we are.

When we believe we have to earn other love from others or even earn God’s love …. We have forgotten who we are.

If we believe holiness is impossible… or, in other words, we will never be good enough… we have forgotten who we are!

So, when we begin to believe that our sins define us and that they make us unworthy of God’s love, we need to remember who we are – we need to hold on to our identity in Christ.  Trever Lawrence was asked how he plays so calm under pressure as a freshman quarterback.  He said, its because he knows that no matter what, whether he plays poorly or well, all that matters is what “Christ thinks of me and what I believe Christ thinks of me.”

When we believe we have to earn God’s love, all we need to do is look at the cross.  That’s what earned our salvation.  That is the sign of our worth.  We are worth it.  You are worth it.  God loved you that much, that he died for you.  There is nothing more we need to do in order to “buy” God’s love.

Holiness is possible.  Why, because you are baptized.  And you are good enough!  God has made each of us with our own particular gifts and talents. You are good enough.  Remember who you are.  You are a child of God loved by the Father.

Friends, over the past several months I have struggled with all three of these… Bishop assigned as the associate vocations director of the diocese last spring in addition to my duties here.  And there have been times where I have felt that I’m not doing either well.  And so, this fall there have been times of doubt and struggle and I was looking forward to my time in Rome.  To some time for prayer away. 

I was walking around the city, and my buddy and I found a random church; one of the 900… My buddy and I went inside. It was beautiful by our standards, average by Rome’s.  I found the side altar where the Blessed Sacrament was kept.  I sat there and prayed for a few minutes and then looked up.  I saw, written in Latin, the words we heard in our Gospel today, you are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.  And friends, in that moment, I heard the Heavenly Father say, “Stephen, stop trying to be perfect.  Don’t lose hope. Don’t despair of your sins. You are a good priest.  Remember who you are. You are my son.  With you I am well pleased.”

Friends, this weekend, Jesus wants to remind each of us that he has given us the power to become children of God, because we too have been baptized in Christ.  And the Father says to us, just as he said to his son, “You are my beloved sons and daughters, with you I am well pleased.  Remember who you are.  Remember You are my child!”

In Christ’s Love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Will You Receive the Gift?

Lord, you didn’t want heaven without us. So, Jesus, You brought heaven down.  These words are from the Christian song, What a Beautiful Name, that has become a favorite of mine recently.  These words perfectly sum up what the Christmas celebration is all about.  “God comes down from heaven to be with his people” (113).  This is the message.  God became one of us so that we could be one with Him. 

It is important for us to reflect on this for a moment.  We have heard this story over and over again and in some ways, we can be too familiar with the incarnation of God.  In ancient Judaism, this would be absurd.

One Jewish Rabbi put it this way, “God and man, however small the distance between them may become, never completely come together… God has never wholly come down to earth, and men have never quite climbed up to him: the distance always remains” (114). The Rabbi emphasizes that there was a separation between God and humanity, that kept God at a distance and made it difficult for humanity to really trust in God’s love.   And so this much is clear, what would never have been possible in the Jewish theology of the Old Testament has happened in the incarnation: “God has ‘really come to earth’, God has really come together with [humanity]” (115).

This Christmas, we ought to give reverence to just how much of a gift God’s incarnation really is.  “The time of salvation is no longer primarily the Exodus when God was close to Israel and saved it, but the earthly existence, the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus.  These are the once-and-for-all, valid saving event and the time of salvation” (115). The saving event of Jesus starts with His birth.  The separation between God and us no longer exists.  The Father sent his Son into our lives in order to proclaim His love in the world. Jesus was to be a sacrament of the Father.

What is a sacrament?  A sacrament makes visible something that is invisible.  Or another apt definition is a sacrament makes present that which it signifies.  So Jesus makes God present in our lived human experience.  Jesus is the sacrament of the Father and the sacrament of salvation.  Something that I have been thinking about is how do we receive this gift today?  Think about it: have you ever been envious of those who lived during Jesus’ time?  They lived with Jesus, they talked with him, experienced him and God’s love in his earthly life. This begs the question, how do we experience the incarnate Christ, the living Christ, the Jesus who has entered totally into our humanity, how do we experience him today?

Well, just as Jesus is the sacrament of the Father the Church is the sacrament of Christ. If anyone here is thinking, “I wish that I could meet Jesus.  I wish that I could talk to him and experience him in my life just as the early Christians did.”  Well, I have good news for you… You can!  You can experience Christ in a beautiful and intimate way in the life of his Church

Here’s how we can experience the incarnation of Christ in our lives.  First, we encounter Christ in His Word; in sacred scripture… The Gospels give us real-life human experiences of Christ in our world — and we can relate to those experiences!  Here is one simple way: after Peter denied Christ for the third time, the Gospel writer Luke tells us that Christ looked at Peter.  How many of us can relate to Peter, that in a moment after our greatest sin, we saw the loving gaze of Christ?  How can we know Christ if we don’t read or reflect on his life in the scriptures?

We also experience Christ in the Eucharist. The Eucharist provides for all our needs. Jesus said to us that he is the bread of life, he is the new bread come down from heaven in order to give life to us. I cam so that you might have life and have it abundantly. The Eucharist is truly and really the body of Christ that gives us the spiritual nourishment to love as Jesus loves.  It is a personal encounter with the Lord who loves us and loved each of us to the end (Jn 13:1).  Our spiritual lives need the Eucharist more than our physical bodies need food/water. We cannot live or know Christ without this sacrament.

Christ is present in the priest and the community.  Fr. Tony’s role as pastor and my role as associate pastor of Our Lady of Consolation is to imitate Christ in his loving service for all of you. We try our best to live our lives like Christ so that we can help each of you know of our Heavenly Father’s particular love for you.  We aren’t perfect, we struggle with sin, impatience or selfishness as much as anyone but in a mysterious way, Christ chooses to be present in the sacramental ministry of the priest. And so you should expect that your priests resemble Christ and bring you closer to Jesus.  And this is why our lives are supposed to be lived generously for you.  We are supposed to make the sacramental life of the Church available for the people of Rockford. 

Christ’s presence among us as a community cannot be overlooked.  Just this past weekend, we celebrated a funeral mass for a long time parishioner.  As we were praying a rosary at Pederson’s funeral home on Friday, I was moved by the presence of Our Lady parishioners.  Then the next day, there were about 300 people that attended the funeral; many who are parishioners of Our Lady of Consolation.  This is what it means to be a parish.  We are family, and Christ said to us that where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them – Matthew 18:20. When someone among us is hurting and broken we are supposed to be the presence of Christ for them.  Christ, the one who came to heal the brokenhearted chooses to bring his hope, peace, and love to the suffering and broken hearted through the Christian community.  Something that breaks my heart is all those who feel that they have been abandoned by God.  I wonder, how many more would experience Christ’s loving presence if they were more involved in their parish community?

So the gift of Christ’s incarnation lives on today.  But… God respects humanity’s freedom to such an extent that he enters into our life in humility… He humbles himself and then relies on humanity to make room for him on earth. The proud man, on the other hand, drives [God] away from the world (113) (Jn 1:11). Jesus, the one who came into this world humbly, in a manger, will not force himself into your life.  He stands at the door and knocks, but he will only enter into your heart after you open the door.

Friends, Christ’s incarnation really happened.  The Christmas event really happened.  We honor Christ and show reverence to him, by receiving the gift.  And receiving the gift of the incarnation means allowing God to live in your life today. And that means humbling confessing your need to experience Jesus’ presence in your life.  We experience him through his word, the Eucharist, his sacraments, the priest and the Christian community. God wants to give you the greatest gift imaginable, he wants to enter into your life just as entered into our humanity 2000 years ago.  Will you receive this gift?

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Merry Christmas!

The Journey of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth

“Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king.  For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truthEveryone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.

Christ the King Sunday.  With this Solemnity, we celebrate the end of the journey that began last Advent—the start of the liturgical calendar. 

The journey is one of Beauty, of Goodness, and Truth.  The goal of the liturgical year is to touch our hearts with the beauty of God’s love.  To change our lives with the goodness of a God who sacrifices everything for us.  All of this, so that at the end of the journey we can confess what is true.  That Jesus Christ is our Lord and our King.

I’ve heard it said, that if you want to evangelize someone, if you want someone to know Christ, do not start with knowledge and facts or “things that are true”.  Start with Beauty and Goodness.  For example, rather than tell someone God is real, maybe go to a beach and look at the sunset and wonder out loud, “how does the beauty of something like this exist?”  Or, when at work and a co-worker asks you, “how was your morning?” Give them an honest answer.   My morning was good.  I went to That Man is You at my Church, and am becoming more aware of God’s presence in my life and growing my faith with other men who have become brothers.”  If we want others to know God, we need to start with what is beautiful and good before we establish what is true. 

And our Church too utilizes this way of evangelization. The entire liturgical year has established what is good and beautiful, that we have God who loved us enough to send his son, to live with us, live our life, to die for us in order to raise us to new life.  Today, we are talking about what is true, because we have heard and seen already what is beautiful and what is good. The truth is that Jesus is our Savior, our Lord, and our King.  The question now is, are we able to recognize the truth?

Pope Benedict XVI said, “the unredeemed state of the world consists… in the failure to recognize the truth.” Think about it, would the Pharisees and Jewish leaders have crucified Jesus if they had recognized the truth and knew he was God?  Of course not… But they didn’t recognize him… Can we recognize the truth?  The truth is that Jesus is our King.  And that means that our lives must conform to him and give witness to him.

“Bearing witness to the truth’ means giving priority to God and to his will over against” our interests and “the interests of the world and its powers” (pg. 192-3).  We must be witnesses of the Truth.  And this means we are witnesses of Christ.  Our lives must be a proclamation of the Gospel. That means that just as Jesus loved so are we called to love.  That means that when Jesus said, Go sin no more, we are willing to turn away from evil and bad habits even if the world says it’s okay.  Proclaiming Christ as the truth means being mindful of the poor.  Bearing witness to the truth means being willing to share the good and beautiful experiences we have had with Jesus —the person who is truth.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king.  For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truthEveryone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.


In Christ’s Love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen