Recalibrate this Lent

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Rector of St. Joseph Cathedral

As we begin this season of Lent, what really matters is where it leads us. We know by our place in the history of Salvation that Lent ends in Easter joy. We prepare by rending our hearts to the Lord in fasting, prayer and almsgiving; a Lenten journey that seeks to raise our spiritual aspirations above what we demand for our bodily needs. To borrow a phrase from our Declaration of Independence, we desire pretty basic things: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The methods we use to attain these goals can complicate our spiritual life and lead us away from the Gospel of Christ and our goal of heaven.

Lent is more than giving something up for the sake of the season. At its core, Lent is a recalibration of our desires, habits and actions within the context of Gospel holiness. When we choose to ‘give something up’ or exercise a corporal or spiritual work of mercy each day, it is imperative that we place our sacrifices in terms of our own sinfulness and desire to be reconciled to God.

One thing that seems inescapable is the amount of noise in our lives. The television barks about the dire political and economic woes facing the world, our radios blare as we are putting on our socks or stuck in traffic and so on. We feel we have to be constantly engaged on the cell phone, on the computer and social expectations keep us on the run. “It’s life!” we say, but how important to our lives is the question. Even in the midst of our Lenten sacrifices, can’t we just slow down and disconnect a little more? If we could do this, we’d have more time to reflect and listen to the Lord instead of the constant jabbering of daily life.

We seem to refute the possibility that time can indulge us in the pursuit of quiet prayer and reflection. If we are too filled and preoccupied with the things in life, where will we ever find the Life that is Christ? One hour out of a week that has 168 isn’t going to leave us as filled as Christ promises or desires us to experience. Careful examination of time will lead us to surprising conclusions, foremost of which is the fact that we have more time for what is spiritual than we realize.

So even if we are giving up watermelon or something more substantive, try a little sacrifice of worldly television, radio, cell phone or computer this Lent for the sake of simple quiet. Read a holy book, sit in silence, pray the rosary or just pray….it doesn’t have to be to the exclusion of our responsibilities or for hours on end,; just enough to hear God and state your case for desired holiness.

The Church’s Wisdom is Imperative for our Time

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Rector of St. Joseph Cathedral

“For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, For Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet. Until her vindication shines forth like the dawn And her victory like a burning torch.”

With the specter of so many worries hanging over the world today we must be vigilant and deliberate about which way we turn for consolation. The news in our city, state, nation and world is rife with bad news complete with all the sordid details. Open rejection of God and His Eternal Law is applauded with glee or met with a shrug of the shoulder. Saints and sinners alike are victimized by the way the world is going, which contributes to a sense of malaise that is increasingly difficult to avoid.

These days, it seems that any answer the Church gives is met with howls of derision and protest. There is an attractive convenience in the avoidance of truthful self-examination and spirituality based upon the Commandments of the Father and the Gospel of His Son; instead it is traded for a ‘don’t tread on me’ conception of freedom that demands liberty from any constraint or moral absolute. The Catholic Church teaches freedom for the truth … our culture continues down the path of freedom from the truth and we are experiencing the fruit of this philosophy now.

Pornography, perversion and anatomy is subject matter for cheap laughs on primetime television. Abortion providers are trumpeting the freedoms they have ensured for society and children think sexting is a grown-up way of acting. Lack of civility is rampant and the discord we all experience demands that God not be mentioned anywhere in the public arena. The United States Army this week was cowed into removing ‘For God and Country’ from their recruitment advertising. What are we so afraid of? Ordinary Time has returned to our Church calendar. Can we spend time studying and researching the vast treasure of wisdom as taught to us by centuries of theological thought emanating from Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Culture brands the Church as irrelevant for the modern world, as if the arrogance of progress and technology somehow trumps the same human nature that has existed since the fall of Adam and Eve. If we don’t recognize this lie, the price we pay will be high. The issues that the Church takes a stand on are not going away, nor will they be solved through legislation, popular opinion or keeping our heads in the sand. There is no doubt we are paying a price now. The bill already due is all over the news and all over the world. One ready example was provided by Pope Paul VI when he prayerfully predicted the fallout from widespread use of contraceptives over forty years ago:

· The general lowering of moral standards throughout society
· A rise in marital infidelity & divorce
· The dramatic lessening of respect for women by men
· The coercive use of reproductive technology on women

Vigilant and deliberate about where we turn for consolation means we are going to have to do more than complain about these problems or complain about those with these problems. The first thing we can do is eradicate any filth from our lives now. We must learn what our faith teaches and why. We ought to fast and pray for our nation and the world. Life is short and our judgment will be thorough, and while we do not discount the compassion of a merciful God, if we are careless enough to think His mercy is summoned like a car insurance commercial, we are in big trouble. Presumption is a sin and an effective weapon of Satan. Instead of trying to outthink God and the Church, it is imperative that we learn what She teaches and why … then live in the freedom Christ extends to us through Her. This freedom will enable us to live in the world and be untainted by it.


Are Our Excuses Lame?

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Rector of St. Joseph Cathedral

The blame game never works. Retribution against an opponent on the playing field is the act the referee  always seems to notice, not the instigation. Trying to shift responsibility onto bosses or co-workers for less-than-optimal performance or results  never looks good and is a weak defense. As we see in the Gospel today, it doesn’t work with Jesus either.

When the servant was called to account for his fearful inaction he decided his best defense was not true honesty or self-examination, it was to accuse his Master for somehow forcing him to bury his talent. Was the Master as terribly demanding as  the servant accused him of being? We can reasonably assume by the manner in which he doled out his possessions that the Master was prudent with his treasure and just in dealing with his servants. All three accepted their Master’s generosity. Unfortunately for the third servant, he just didn’t get it…the Master wasn’t just giving him a task, he investing in the servant; and that servant took the easy way out. He did nothing and then blamed the Master for his deficiencies.

The blame game may be a popular strategy, but that doesn’t mean it works well. True intellectual and spiritual maturity allows us to see our own culpability and shortcomings so that we can honestly assess ourselves and dissect the chain of events like the one  we experience in today’s Gospel. The responsibility of this episode was not due solely to the fact that the Master was a demanding man as the servant tried to contend. His excuses were lame.

Are our excuses lame? It is like the time the man enters the Confessional to confess his sins to the old Monsignor. He begins, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. My wife……”

As we continue through the month  of November praying for the souls in Purgatory, we also remain focused on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. A good prayer point for reflection is an assessment on how much and how often we employ the blame-game to exonerate our own actions or inaction in order to shift responsibility to others. Remember the words of St. Augustine. “The more we pay attention to the sins of others, the less attention we pay to our own.”  Our spiritual life and the custody of our souls is the most important ‘talent’ the Lord has entrusted to us. Careful reflection upon our actions and desires in the daily situations of our lives is key to our growth, maturity and holiness. We will serve God and ourselves if we use this time well.


The Synod of Bishops

Posted by Fr. Andrew Young, St. Joseph Cathedral

Over the past two weeks the headlines on most television networks, newspapers and magazines has been about what is going on in Vatican City with the Synod of Bishops. All the headlines seem to say that “change is in the air” but of course, most of that is simply speculation from the media. This Synod of Bishops does give us an opportunity to  understand the workings of the Church in a more profound way. How the Holy Father, Pope Francis, works in conjunction with the College of Bishops to  tackle difficult questions and challenges within our society and Church. Our world today is not the same place as it was 200 years ago,  we all know that fact. How the Church responds to modern problems, especially those that affect the modern family, are essential and need a clear teaching.

Shortly after the  Second Vatican Council in 1965, to continue the spirit of collegiality and communion among all the Bishops of the world, Pope Paul VI established the permanent institution in the Catholic Church called the Synod of Bishops. It is an assembly of Bishops from around the world who assist the Pope on important issues facing the Church. The Synod of Bishops can meet as a General Assembly in two different kinds of sessions – Ordinary or Extraordinary. The Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops are convened to deal with matters “which require a speedy solution” and which demand “immediate attention for the good of the entire Church.” The Synod that we have been hearing so much about for the past two weeks is an Extraordinary General Assembly, only the third ever held since the creation of the institution in 1965.

This year’s Synod  was convened on October 5th and finished on Ocotber 19th in Vatican City. It assembled Bishops of many ethnic backgrounds and cultures from around the world along side Pope Francis. The Synod looked at topics that relate to the family and evangelization – The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization. A vast array of discussion items fell under this umbrella, a few of which have been highlighted by the news – Church teaching on the indissolvability of marriage, divorce, remarriage, same-sex attraction, openness to life, and contraception. The hope was that the “synod of fathers would thoroughly examine and analyze the information, testimonies and recommendations received from the particular Churches in order to respond to the new challenges of the family.” In 2015, an Ordinary General Assembly of Bishops, representing a greater number of Bishops from around the world, will continue the work of the just completed Synod and reflect further on the points discussed and distribute guidelines for the faithful and pastors to implement.

n the opening homily of the Synod on October 5th, Pope Francis laid the groundwork for the Bishops so that free, open and frank discussions could be held for the greater good of the faithful and Christ’s Church. He said, “Synod Assemblies are not meant to discuss beautiful and clever ideas, or to see who is more intelligent. They are meant to better nurture and  tend the Lord’s vineyard, to help realize his dream, his loving plan for his people. In this case the Lord is asking us to care for the family, which has been from the beginning an integral part of his loving plan for humanity.” May the work that our Bishop’s completed in this Synod continue to bear fruit in all our
families and in the family of the Church.


The Steadfast and Just Way of Life

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Rector of St. Joseph Cathedral

If you were to ask my brothers and sisters which of my father’s greatest quotes is most memorable we would all respond in unison…”Who said its gotta be fair?”. His pearl of truth led to more arm-flapping, wailing in consternation at injustices rendered and downright disbelief at the reality of the world than any other answer he ever gave us to our problems with people, places or things.  It was a masterstroke of his intellect. It is also an unfortunate reality.

Referees weren’t fair. Teachers weren’t fair. The taxman, tests, traffic laws, bosses, and not being allowed to go to every party was unfair. His response each time brought a howls of protest from his child and a wry grin of triumph to his face… and darnit, he was correct.

Fairness is a wonderful concept, yet rarely is it a complete reality. Someone always gets the short straw it seems..and boy do we get indignant when it happens to us.If we were as good at being fair in our day to day affairs as we are at keeping score about the times we were somehow shortchanged by being treated unjustly maybe life wouldn’t seem so unfair at times.

‘Steadfast and just’ is a description we hear many times attributed to St. Joseph. His adherence to this way of life was a cause for joy that we can experience as well. It is not the kind of joy that makes us hoot, holler and celebrate though; it’s the kind of joy that perpetuates itself by seeking the same thing over and over again because it resonates with and finds its roots in what is good, true, just and beautiful… and these are the hallmarks of God.

Our resolute mindset  in living the steadfast and just way of life is the only real protection against the disappointment and indignation  we experience when treated unfairly or unjustly.

The steadfast and just way of life is our safety net when we react poorly at first to these disappointments as well. It helps us shake off the anger and betrayal we may feel toward the perpetrator of the offense, even when we accuse the Lord for being the offender.

I can never blame the Lord for my woes. It always comes down to the way I use/misuse my freedom or the way in which my neighbor has. The steadfast and just way of living protects us in both instances and helps us to carry on for the sake of our true and ultimate purpose: to know God, live his ordinances and strive for virtue.


Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Rector of St. Joseph Cathedral

The main steps to the entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome are flanked by two huge statues: one of St. Peter holding the keys of the kingdom, the other is St. Paul holding his epistles and a sword. In these two great saints of our Church we commemorate not just the example of their lives in Christ, but the Church itself as well; One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic.

These four marks of the Church are attributes really, “inseparably linked with each other,
indicating essential features of the Church and her mission” (CCC #811). This paragraph in our Catechism goes on to explain that “the Church does not possess them of herself; it is Christ who, through the power of the Holy Spirit makes His Church One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, and it is He who calls her to realize these qualities”.

That’s right; we are called to realize these qualities….to make them happen. From teaching our children the faith to avoiding the sins our culture readily encourages us to partake in, our unity as the People of God is the reflection of our union with Christ. The source for our Church is Christ Himself, and the mysteries that surround her cannot be reduced to what we think or want them to be. We must be careful to avoid forming Christ in our own image, but to be formed in the image and likeness of Christ. The dissension, conflict and selfishness we see at work in the world today are directly attributable to the fact that God is being ignored. Luckily, these two great saints we remember today did not ignore Christ. Sure they made mistakes and struggled mightily to live in holiness, they readily admitted their weakness; but they stayed in the game, a living testimony to the faith that remains today as proof that the Church is alive despite the frailty of members. Christ is alive; hence the Church lives as well.

Every time we enter the Cathedral through the main doors we pass under the gaze of St. Peter and St. Paul who flank the depiction of Christ the King. Each year we commemorate these great saints while at the same time proclaiming yet again “Christ yesterday, today and forever”. Our unity as Church means we never forget the treasures the past has provided for us in the present as we continue to proclaim and teach the faith for the sake of future generations. This is our unbreakable bond with Saints Peter and Paul because it is our bond with Christ Himself. It is our treasure, blessed assurance and joy. Happy Feast Day!


The Virtue of Holy Cunning

Posted by Fr. Andrew Young, St. Joseph Cathedral

As we come into the Cathedral today we will see that the Nativity Scene has been taken down, the trees have been placed in the recycling, the bows are boxed up – the Christmas Season has officially ended. Not only has Christmas ended, but the final college football game has been played – my alma mater Navy won their bowl game – and the Minnesota Vikings are sidelined for yet another year. So does that mean we cheer for the Packers and Bears? Nope, they are out too! Winter is setting in and there is a long way until March madness kicks off for college basketball. Sometimes the journey forward can look bleak, but let us not forget what we have received – the Light of Christ!

For the past few weeks we have had many celebrations, solemnities and feasts in the Church. We celebrated Christmas, the gift of the Holy Family, the presence of the Mother of God – Mary, and just last weekend Epiphany where the three Magi come to adore the Lord in Bethlehem and then set out on journey after encountering Christ. After leaving Bethlehem, the journey of the Magi looked dangerous with many obstacles but having seen the Light of Christ, they trusted that He would brighten and guide their way.

Our journey through this life at times can also have obstacles, sufferings and hurdles, which need to be confronted. Our faith and trust in God can be tested. Sometimes, like the wise men, we may lose track of that star and feel the darkness closing in upon us. Does the light of Christ we encounter in the manger of Bethlehem on Christmas guide and lead us in our journey today and tomorrow or do we simply fall back into the mundane and darkness of the world?

At the Epiphany Holy Mass, Pope Francis encouraged the faithful to be like the Magi and to go out on this journey of faith with the virtue of “holy cunning.” He explains that holy cunning is a “spiritual shrewdness, which enables us to recognize danger and avoid it.” The Magi used this virtue by recognizing that King Herod had no desire to go and give worship to Jesus in Bethlehem and would be waiting for their return to do them harm. Through their holy cunning, they decided to take another path to their homes. “These wise men from the East teach us how not to fall into the snares of darkness…but to guard the faith, guard it from darkness.”

As we enter into the new liturgical season of Ordinary Time, don’t let the light that we have just encountered these past few weeks simply fade away or get obscured in the darkness of the world! Let the Light, let Christ, guide your path and accompany you along the journey of faith. Grow in the virtue of holy cunning to recognize the good, the true and the beautiful and to avoid that which tries to obscure it!


The Precious Role of the Elderly

Posted by Fr. Andrew Young, St. Joseph Cathedral

Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas, but also a waiting for Him to truly come again at the second coming. We are all waiting, waiting for Christ to come. As I try to picture how we as a people should be waiting and not being so busy and going all the time, I think to the many parishioners and family members who currently rest in retirement and nursing homes waiting…really waiting for anyone to come through
their door to visit them. As priests, we have a responsibility and obligation to visit our homebound and those living in nursing homes. This is also a responsibility each of us have, to be Christ to the homebound, many who are elderly and even our own family members, to visit them and care for them in this their time of need.

Last week Pope Francis gave a very challenging daily homily reflecting on the Book of Maccabees where he recounts the story of Eleazar, who was a 90 year old man who was provoked by the authorities to eat pork which was against the Jewish Law. He refused this order and preferred to suffer and die than to go against the Law of God. Eleazar wanted to hand on and show to the future generations his faithfulness and trust in God, even
at the cost of his own life. He wanted to leave behind a noble and true inheritance to the next generations. Pope Francis used this witness of Eleazar, an elderly man, to point out the important and invaluable role that our elderly have played in the life of the Church and society. Unfortunately, these contributions and sacrifices are often overlooked and forgotten. He stated, “We live in a time when the elderly don’t count. It’s unpleasant to say it, but they are set aside because they are considered a nuisance” yet “the elderly pass on history, doctrine, faith and they leave them to us as an inheritance.”
We owe a great debt of gratitude to our elderly, many of whom belong to the Greatest Generation.
Pope Francis stated that we should exalt the precious role of the elderly in the Church and in society. They should not be forgotten or sidelined or left in nursing homes often abandoned. This Advent, let us remember to visit our loved ones, our parishioners or even a stranger who is homebound or living in a nursing home. When we visit them we recognize and remember their contributions of how they handed on to us the faith, how they sacrificed for freedom and how they upheld the moral fabric. To not do this would truly be an injustice. Pope Francis pointed out that, “A people that does not care for its grandparents, that does not respect its grandparents, has no future.”

“We should do well to think about the many elderly men and women, about those who are in rest homes and also those…who have been abandoned by their loved ones. Let us pray for them that they may be consistent to the very end. This is the role of the elderly, this is the treasure. Let us pray for our grandfathers and grandmothers who often played a heroic role in handing on the faith in times of persecution. Especially in times past, when father
and mothers often were not at home…grandmothers were the ones who handed on the faith.”


The Season to Reflect on the Last Things

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, St. Joseph Cathedral

The Cathedral choir gave us a special evening of remembrance Saturday night by their beautiful rendition of the Faure’ Requiem. As we reverently prayed for our parishioners, family and friends who died this past year, they also helped to set the tone for this month and our contemplation of the four “Last Things”; particularly Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.

  November is the time of year we turn our attention more intently to these last things. This is not necessarily morbid because it is an acknowledgement of the reality of our biological life. In the spiritual sense, we place the inevitability of our earthly death in terms of the purpose of our existence; to know God, to love Him and live according to His ways for the sake of eternal life. We are at the end of the liturgical year, of which Advent will mark the beginning of a new one. We celebrated the Solemnity of All Saints on Friday, followed by the Commemoration of All Souls on Saturday. Their placement at the beginning of November aims to put us in a frame of mind that exhorts the faithful to focus on our biological mortality, while never forgetting the immortality offered through Christ. So November and the Last Things are really about life and the Gospel path to its promise.

  We profess our belief in the resurrection of the body after the homily each Sunday. Are we professing the Creed by rote and repetition, or do we pray it? Prayer leads to belief through faith. Merely saying the words leads to something less.

  Christ points the way for us in all He says and does. The resurrection of His own mortal body reassures us that the power of God wills that we all be reunited body and soul in Heaven before Him one day. The Profession of Faith is a great prayer for outside of Mass as well. It is a prayer of affirmation in times of doubt, difficulty or despair. Through it we confess the great mysteries of our faith. Our Creed can console us to continue in fighting the good fight because it helps us focus on why we endure the crosses and difficulties of life and keep our eyes on the prize of Heaven.

  These next weeks are a time of sober reflection on the state of our souls as we pray for our dearly departed family members and friends. Use this time wisely and fruitfully. It’s an excellent way to prepare for Advent.


Pope Francis Doesn’t Cease to Surprise Us!

Posted by Fr. Andrew Young, St. Joseph Cathedral

We can read all throughout Scripture where our Lord surprises, amazes and astounds the crowds as well as His own disciples. Whether it be through His miraculous healings, seemingly contradictory practices or His simplicity and humility, He surprises.

Pope Francis in many ways carries out some of these same characteristics in how he has served as our Holy Father whether it be in his actions, writings or decisions. He doesn’t cease to surprise us!

Actions: Just last week he decided to go to Lampedusa, a small island off the coast of Italy, to show his support for immigrants. Weeks ago, a group of immigrants were trying to make it to the island from Tunisia, but the small boat ended up sinking causing the death of many. Pope Francis went to this small island to show his support and love for the marginalized, particularly the many immigrants that have died while trying to make the dangerous journey from Africa to Italy. Not something I would have expected of the Holy Father, especially without at least six months of planning or organizing!

Writings: Additionally, Pope Francis released his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, the Light of Faith, which was not only written by him, but also Pope Benedict XVI – four hands, not two! Not something that has been done or at least publically acknowledged in the past. I encourage you to pick up this encyclical either at the Vatican website or eventually at one of our local bookstores. As we read this document, the hope is that it will surprise us at the gift of faith that is in our life. So often we just take our faith for granted – something we just have or do. We forget that our faith helps lead us to a true encounter with Jesus Christ and if we don’t nurture it, our faith begins to fade. In the encyclical, Pope Francis says,

“There is an urgent need, then, to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, other lights begin to dim….faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time.”

Decisions: Not only that, but Pope Francis also announced the approval for canonization of two of our most recent Popes – Blessed John Paul II and Blessed John XXIII. This is cause for surprise as well, since Blessed John XXIII only has one recorded miracle and not the required two miracles for canonization – but he is the Pope!

 One thing is for certain, Pope Francis does not cease to amaze us in his role as the Holy Father. TIME Magazine agrees when it reported that religion is “IN”. Why? Because of the example – and might I say surprises – of Pope Francis. Let us pray that we too can draw people to believe in Jesus Christ through our own actions, words and decisions – our own little surprises. The Good Samaritan in our Gospel today, surprised the man who was injured along the side of the road. Who are you willing to surprise today?