From the Rector

Fourth Sunday of Lent - Cycle A

Father Stephen's Message

Tim Bruster tells a powerful story about a Mom who took her children to a crowded restaurant one day. Her six-year-old son asked if he could say the grace. He prayed: “God is great and God is good, let us thank him for the food, and God I would thank you even more if Mom gets us ice cream for dessert. And liberty and justice for all! Amen!” Along with the laughter from the other customers nearby, the woman at the very next table growled loudly: “That’s what’s wrong with this country. Kids today don’t even know how to pray. The very idea … asking God for ice cream! Why I never.”

Hearing this, the little six-year-old boy burst into tears and he asked his mother: “Did I do it wrong? I’m sorry. Is God mad at me?” The little boy’s mother pulled him over onto her lap. She hugged him tightly and assured him that he had done a terrific job with his prayer and God was certainly not mad at him. Just then an elderly gentleman walked over to the table. He winked at the little boy and he said: “I know God really well. We visit every day and I happen to know that God loved your prayer. It may have been the best one He has heard all day.” “Really?” the little boy asked. “Cross my heart,” said the man. Then he leaned over and whispered into the little boy’s ear. Pointing at the woman at the next table, he said: “Too bad she never asks God for ice cream. A little ice cream is good for the soul sometimes.”

Naturally, the Mom ordered ice cream for her kids at the end of the meal. The little six-year-old boy stared at his for a moment and then he did something that no one in that restaurant that day will ever forget. He picked up his sundae and without a word walked over and placed it in front of the woman at the next table. With a big smile he said to her: “Here, this is for you. Ice cream is good for the soul sometimes and my soul is good already!”

The poor man in today’s gospel was born blind, and suddenly Jesus gave him the ability to see. His world was opened to seeing the faces of his loved ones, seeing the beauty of a sunrise or sunset, seeing his way through the world without needing the guidance of others. It was an astounding gift he was given. But there were those who did not focus on the blessings. Like the woman objecting to praying for ice cream, they tried to see something wrong in something so good.

We are living in strange circumstances right now. There is fear that the illness caused by the coronavirus will strike many people, and because it is not well-understood and the course of treatment is still being discovered, many people are afraid. We are not able to gather as a faith community, schools are closed, many stay at home. Some are even saying that all of this must be some type of warning or punishment from God. Of course, Jesus shows us that that is not the way God works with his people.

Because we are taking many precautions in order to safeguard everyone, much has been taken away at this time. But in many ways that gives us a new opportunity to open our eyes to the beautiful world around us. We are not gathering for Mass at this time, but the family can renew their commitment to pray with each other and bless each other in these times of uncertainty. With fewer opportunities available to participate in activities outside the home, suddenly we see there is a special enjoyment of being with those most important. We worry about what the future will bring, but presently there may be a person who needs our help, for we are blessed enough to be able to share with them.

God loves us completely. There is no doubt about that. As we continue these days of Lent, during this week we are reminded to open our eyes to see again what is most important – our relationship with God, the love we share with one another, the simple gifts that make life meaningful if we will only share them. As people of faith, we know that the present circumstances are not permanent. God will see us through it all. He always has and always will. And it doesn’t hurt to pray for a little ice cream!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Third Sunday of Lent - Cycle A

Father Stephen's Message

The implication of the events in the gospel passage today is that the woman coming to the well is a social outcast. She did not come to the well in the coolest part of the day with the other women of the town. She was there at noon. In the course of the conversation with Jesus it is shown that she has personal issues. Jesus knows she has had five husbands and is presently living with a man without being married.

But Jesus did not come to condemn her. He asks for a drink of water, but he is thirsting for her decision to give him her heart. There in the presence of Jesus her faults become clear, but suddenly she discovers hope. She has a remarkable transformation. Instead of slinking home from the well when no one else would see, she becomes an evangelist. She goes to the town, telling others about Jesus. Another remarkable transformation occurs. The people of a Samaritan town, sworn enemies of the Jews, welcome Jesus and spend two days learning from him. This third week of Lent, Jesus continues to thirst for our decision to give him more than we have been giving.

By now it may be that our resolutions made on Ash Wednesday have fallen by the way. But we still have time to begin again in our efforts to be generous with those in need, to pray, to embrace our penances to grow closer to Jesus and his cross. This third week of Lent, we may be challenged to admit that there is something in our human relationships that is not in harmony with God’s ways. Perhaps someone is leading us to sin. Perhaps we have let anger or selfishness prevent us from caring for someone to whom we have made a commitment. Perhaps we have let the memory of something that hurt us build a wall that keeps us from loving and caring for someone.

We are like the mouse in an old fable from India. It seems that there once was a mouse who was terrified of cats until a sorcerer agreed to transform the mouse into a cat. And that solved the fear of cats — until the cat met a dog. So, the sorcerer changed the mouse-turned-cat into a dog. And that took care of that. No more worry about dogs, until the mouse-turned-cat-turned-dog met a tiger. So once again the sorcerer turned it into what it feared most. And once again it was content until the mouse-turned-cat-turned-dog-turned-tiger met a hunter and went back to the sorcerer again.

This time, however, the sorcerer refused to help. "I will make you a mouse again," he said. "For though you have the body of a tiger, you have the heart of a mouse." It seems so unlikely. One conversation with Jesus transformed the woman’s life. During this third week of Lent, perhaps it is time for us to pause and have a serious conversation with Jesus. Anger can be turned away and peace restored to our life. Someone else can become a better person through our influence. A stranger can be treated with respect and become a friend. A life filled with wrong decisions can suddenly turn back to love. We may think we only have little to offer. All it takes is a decision to turn our heart toward Jesus. He plans greater things for us than we can ever imagine on our own. A little heart filled with love can change the world!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Second Sunday of Lent - Cycle A

Father Stephen's Message

John A. Redhead, Jr. tells of a father and son who have a really good relationship. Among their many good times together, one stands out above all the rest: It was a hike up a particular mountain during which they seemed to reach the height of a beautiful friendship. After they returned home, there came a day when things did not seem to run as smoothly. The father rebuked the son, and the son spoke sharply in return. An hour later the air had cleared, and they reconciled. “Dad,” said the son, “whenever it starts to get like that again, let’s one of us say ‘The Mountain.’” So, it was agreed. In a few weeks another misunderstanding occurred. The boy was sent to his room in tears. After a while, the father decided to go up and see the boy. He was still angry and planned to continue the argument until he saw a piece of paper pinned to the door. The boy had penciled two words in large letters, “The Mountain.” That symbol was powerful enough to restore the relationship of father and son. Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain, and while they were there away from the crowd, his full glory as God shone through his human nature. They don’t seem to be too surprised by this in the account we read today from Matthew’s gospel.

Peter wanted to set up tents and stay for a while. But then the voice of the Father thundered from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” They were suddenly struck with terror and fell on their face before the revelation of his glory. But soon Jesus gently touched them, and they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

Jesus did not give these three the privilege of being present to see his Transfiguration just to show off how special he was. After all, they had already seen him turn water into wine and cure countless sick people and even bring a few dead people back to life. They had proof enough that he was divine. But Jesus has been teaching them that in order to accomplish his work he would suffer and die on a cross and then rise from the dead three days later.

All of the Gospel accounts say that they could not understand what he was talking about. The time for all of it to occur was near, and so Jesus gave them this experience so that they could remember and not give up hope. Peter soon enough would deny three times that he even knew his friend before he abandoned him to be crucified. He would remember what happened on the mountain and know that there was truth in the words of forgiveness and encouragement that he had heard Jesus speak so often.

Later, James would be arrested because he was a leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem, and as he prepared to be beheaded, he would draw courage from what he had seen on the mountain. As John stood there at the foot of the Cross with Mary and watched Jesus slowly die the torturous death, he would remember the mountain. What happened there would give him confidence that Jesus would be able to even conquer death.

Our experience of the glory of Jesus breaking forth into the world is not so obvious. That is why the words of the Father are so important for us to remember: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When we are feeling discouraged because we have chosen to sin and wandered far from God, the gentle words of Jesus touch our heart: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Listen to him. When things are dark in our life and we cannot find any way out of our troubles, Jesus is there: “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Listen to him. As we keep vigil while a loved one passes from this world, Jesus promises: “I am the resurrection and the life.

Whoever believes in me, even when they die, they live forever.” Listen to him. We can be encouraged because Peter, James and John, even though they had seen Jesus in his full glory still had to struggle with doubts and fears. Jesus brought them through it all and now they share in his glory forever. That is also his plan for us, if we will only remember the mountain and listen to him!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle A

Father Stephen's Message

Mark Twain once said this about the Bible: "I have no problem with those parts of the Bible I don't understand. It's those parts of the Bible I do understand that gives me fits.” As we listen to the words of Jesus in today’s gospel, they just don’t seem to fit into what we would expect from ordinary human beings. It might be that we were born with a passive nature, so turning the other cheek instead of fighting one who strikes us, or going an extra mile when we don’t really want to seems possible.

And because we have a generous heart and more than we need, we can be persuaded to give when someone asks for help. But then we come to the great challenge. Loving our neighbor, having good will towards the good people around us is not that difficult. We learned as a small child that if we treat others nicely, they will be nice to us. Jesus asks for more — he actually says we are to love our enemies! Most of us do not live a life in such turmoil that we are surrounded by enemies. But we know we have enemies.

It may be someone who hurt someone we love, and as we see their pain, we are angry that someone would put them through such agony. They are our enemy. It may be someone at work who is jealous of our talents, and so they are always looking for an opportunity to point out our shortcomings. They are an enemy. It could be that there is a person who is completely unlikeable, and we prefer to ignore them and stay away from them. And they return the attitude toward us, for we are enemies. Here is the part that gives us a fit: Jesus says we are to love our enemy.

It seems like something only Jesus could do, yet he says we are expected to do it. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once wrote: “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship ... We must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy.” The challenge Jesus is offering us in this passage is to remember and look for the goodness that is found in even our worst enemy.

Of course, with an enemy we know their goodness probably has been well hidden away. We prefer to focus on their evil intentions, their selfishness, their bad actions. But it is a fact that God has loved them completely all of their life. He sees so much good in them that Jesus was willing to offer himself in their place as he hung on the cross. There is something good to be discovered in every person. We may not be able to see it — the goodness is too well disguised. But there is one we love who is always good to us, caring for us, loving us. Jesus Christ. And so, as we face an enemy, we come to a moment of decision. We may know that they have done wrong to us, they have hurt someone we love. What is done is done and cannot be undone or forgotten. But because we love Jesus, we make the decision. We will pray for their good. We will put aside our right to punish what they have done. We will remove the obstacle and move on. For Jesus does not suggest that we should like someone who is our enemy, or suddenly begin to act as if we are friends. He simply invites us to love them because he also loves them. And he will give us the peace to put aside the offense we have received and move on. We cannot do it alone, but the love of Jesus within us makes it possible.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle A

Father Stephen's Message

The question on the job application read, "Have you ever been arrested?" The applicant printed the word "No" in the space. The next question was a follow-up to the first. It asked, "Why?" Not realizing he did not have to answer this part, one honest applicant wrote, "I guess it's because I never got caught." We have an interesting relationship to the Ten Commandments. We consider them to be God’s clear expression of how human beings are expected to act if they wish to live in harmony with him. Most of us would be comfortable in declaring that we observe them pretty well. Today as we hear Jesus say that he has not come to abolish any of the Law, and that to him our following of the commandments is the measure of whether we will belong to his kingdom, it makes us stop and think. After all, we have to admit we are not perfect. We just have good excuses for not completely following the commandments.

And since we haven’t been caught breaking them in a serious way, we don’t think much of it. But it isn’t enough to be confident that we did not kill anyone, or steal, or commit adultery. Jesus asks us for so much more as he calls us to consider also the attitudes and emotions that lead to the “big” sins. He is challenging us to strive for perfection. We haven’t killed anyone. But how often do we let resentment grow in our heart as we remember something that was said or done. Whatever it is cannot be changed. But peace only comes to us as we imitate Jesus and choose to love as he did. He gives us the power to forgive and move on. He even gives us the ability to pray for an enemy, if we will only choose to do so. And we won’t be in danger of going to jail for stealing. But we easily lose sight of how blessed we are as we look around at what others have. We begin to wonder why they are more blessed by God than we are or become angry because our life seems to be more difficult.

Living with a spirit of gratitude only becomes possible when we keep in mind that God loves each of us completely and blesses each of us with all we need and even more. Being unfaithful to the person to whom we have made a commitment is not that common. But we live in a world in which we are surrounded by images that are tempting, and only a few clicks on our phone or computer brings us into a world that is not worthy of a child of God. Not committing adultery is important. But truly sharing all we have with the one we love, day by day, year by year is the true expression of our commitment to our loved one. “Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” It is hard enough to just follow the rules, especially when there are so many of them. But Jesus invites us to take another step.

The laws we have from God are the bare minimum that is expected in our life with him. But we are created for much more. We are called to live a life filled with love for God and for the people around us. And we never have to worry about getting caught being too good and loving and generous. That is how we were created to be. And it is what Jesus expects of us.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle A

Father Stephen's Message

Years ago, three young men decided to hop a slow-moving freight train on the south end of a town in the Pacific Northwest. It was supposed to be a lark on a spring evening. The train was barely moving. As the three friends rode down the rails, the locomotive began to pick up speed. Before these friends knew it, they were doing about forty miles per hour. They had left the city. Darkness was setting in out in the boondocks. Soon these three friends were cold, lost, and scared. After half an hour or so, they decided that they had to do something. So, they lined up in the door of the boxcar in which they were riding, and they bailed out. It was a rough tumble down into some bushes, but they were okay. The problem was, they were terribly lost. It was pitch dark. Eventually, one of them looked off in the distance and saw a faint glow. It looked like there was a small town out there. The three humiliated joyriders began walking through the woods. As they traveled the light became brighter and more distinct.

There was a town out there! Soon the light became intense enough to illuminate their path. They wound up at a roadside restaurant and called for help. These friends got home safely because they saw a distant light and walked in its glow. It became an overwhelming beacon that led them to where they needed to go. (Randy Rowland, GET A LIFE!) When we walk into a room filled with windows in the middle of the day, we could care less if the light switch works or if the bulb in the lamp is still good. But, in the darkness, we depend on the switch working so that the light can shine into the darkness. Jesus makes a simple declaration to his followers: “You are the light of the world.” He sees in us one who has the ability to reflect his gentleness, his patience, his generosity, his mercy, his love. He has shown us the way by his life, and when we decide to be his disciple, he entrusts to us the responsibility of allowing him to shine forth through our example.

Surely he expects too much! But he continues, “. . . your light must shine before all that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Heavenly Father.” There are so many little things we can do because we love Jesus that “flip the switch” and let his light shine into the world. Perhaps we have a neighbor or a family member who has not come to church for a while. We don’t need to tell them they ought to go to church — we simply can invite them to join us next week as we come to church. It is not sufficient to simply keep our judgments of others to our self — we honor our brother or sister in Christ as we treat a stranger with respect or give our full attention to someone we would prefer to ignore. Telling a child they need to say their prayers is not the same as praying together as a family. Keeping our irritation to our self is not the same as forgiving and putting the offense in the past. Putting up with a disappointment is not the same as accepting the will of God cheerfully.

We cannot always know when a person is suffering, or discouraged, or needing to find hope. That is why we have to take the challenge of Jesus seriously. “Your light must shine before all.” It is what Jesus expects from us. And the darkness in the world around us needs us to be one who shines forth with the light of his love.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

The Presentation of the Lord

Father Stephen's Message

Years ago, a young man was riding a bus from Chicago to Miami. He had a stop-over in Atlanta. While he was sitting at the lunch counter, a woman came out of the ladies' rest room carrying a tiny baby. She walked up to this man and asked, "Would you hold my baby for me, I left my purse in the rest room." He did. But as the woman neared the front door of the bus station, she darted out into the crowded street and was immediately lost in the crowd.

This guy couldn't believe his eyes. He rushed to the door to call the woman but couldn't see her anywhere. Now what should he do? Put the baby down and run? When calmness finally settled in, he went to the Traveler's Aid booth and together with the local police, they soon found the real mother. The woman who'd left him holding the baby wasn't the baby's real mother. She'd taken the child. No one really knows why. But we do know that this man breathed a sigh of relief when the real mother was found. After all, what was he going to do with a baby?

In a way, each of us, is in the same sort of situation as this young man. Every Christmas God Himself walks up to us and asks, "Would you hold my baby for me, please?" And then thrusts the Christ Child into our arms. (King Duncan)

May and Joseph had already had some remarkable experiences. Their engagement had been taken in a new direction as God invited Mary to be the mother of his Son and Joseph to accept the role of being the one to care for Jesus and his mother. When they went to Bethlehem to fulfil the Roman law and be counted for the census, the baby was born in the rough shelter of a stable. And shepherds came with a wondrous tale of angel choirs singing in the heavens to herald the birth of their baby,

Being a faithful Jewish couple, they did what was expected. Joseph and Mary went on the eighth day to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice and to give their son his name. Their belief was that a son was a special gift from God, and their simple sacrifice expressed their grateful intention to care for the precious son God had placed in their arms. They did not expect anything out of the ordinary to happen. But, there in the quiet space surrounding the temple, they met two holy people who were waiting for them, without really knowing they were coming. In their simple faith, Anna and Simeon were confident that God would do as he had promised. And when the baby carried by Mary was placed in their arms, they knew it was true.

“Would you hold my baby for me?” God continues to offer the invitation. If only our simple faith were strong enough to recognize the moments. When we are discouraged because we are not as prayerful as we used to be, or we struggle with a sin that we cannot seem to conquer, God continues to invite us to come closer to him – he became one of us to help us in our struggles. When a child is difficult, or a parent is unreasonable, or someone we love disappoints us, God is inviting us to realize that he rejoiced to bring each person into the world. He sees good in them that we also can see if we put our simple faith into practice.

Every baby is a wonderous expression of joy and love and hope for the future. Of course, there are also those days of crying, and dirty diapers, and the constant demands for care. A baby calls for love every moment of every day. Even as Simeon held the baby in his arms, he assured Mary that a sword would pierce her. Before Jesus began his public life, Joseph would be gone. Mary would stand beneath the cross when her son was a young man in the prime of his life. Those who love God know that following him will not always be easy. God continues to invite us, “Would you hold my baby for me?” When we accept, just as Mary and Joseph learned, our life will take us into directions we never expected. But we will be exactly where God wants us to be.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle A

Father Stephen's Message

When James Moore was in his middle year in seminary at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, he took a course called Pastoral Care. In addition to the academic study, he was assigned to be the student chaplain of the 8th floor of the Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. One Thursday afternoon at one o’clock, the elevator doors opened, and the head nurse was standing there waiting for me. She said, “Jim, we need you today. Mrs. Davis in 858 is supposed to have brain surgery at 8 in the morning. There is a 50% chance she won’t even survive the surgery; she is so ill. And she has quit on us. She won’t let anyone come in the room. She won’t let family come in, she won’t accept any gifts or flowers, she won’t answer the telephone; she is just lying there trying to die. If anybody ever needed a minister, Mrs. Davis in 858 needs one to go to her.” James was scared to death.

He didn’t know what to say to Mrs. Davis who was facing surgery that she might not even survive, might not even get off the operating table. As he approached the door, he heard footsteps behind him and turned to see the head nurse running after him and she said, “Oh, Jim, I forgot the most important thing. Mrs. Davis is so critically ill that the doctors want her to be perfectly still and she is not allowed to speak.” He promptly went into the room and did everything wrong. He pushed the door open too hard and it slammed against the wall. He kicked the bed. He tried to talk to Mrs. Davis, and everything came out wrong. In desperation he tried to pray and botched up the prayer. He left that room totally humiliated. The next Thursday he went back to the hospital, went to the 8th floor of the neurosurgery ward, and looked down the list to see if Mrs. Davis had survived the surgery. There was her name! Condition: good. He was amazed! He went to her room, knocked on the door. The week before the room reeked of death – the drapes were pulled, no flowers, no cards, no gifts. This time it was the total opposite.

When he opened the door, sunlight was streaming in, music was playing softly, and gifts and cards were all over the place. Mrs. Davis was sitting up in the bed writing thank-you notes. He went over to her and said, “Mrs. Davis, you may not remember me.” And she said, “Don’t remember you? How could I ever forget you? You saved my life!” He said, “I don’t understand. I felt so terrible – I did everything wrong.” She said, “That’s just it. I felt so sorry for you. You were so pitiful that I just wanted to hug you.” She said, “ I felt compassion and it was the first time in months that I felt anything but self-pity; and that little spark of compassion that I had for you made me want to live again.” She said, “And now the doctors have said it made all the difference.” (James Moore, Collected Sermons) Sometimes we are so silly. We begin to think that we are in control of a situation, that we have the right words to speak and a wisdom that no one else possesses.

And then things go in a totally different direction than we expected. “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” Peter, James, John and Andrew had seen Jesus and listened to him. Like everyone else, they were impressed by him. But then, things went in a different direction than they expected. They received a personal invitation from Jesus to leave everything they knew behind and follow him. Even though he spoke of becoming fishers of men, there was no way of knowing how their previous occupation would prepare them for the work ahead. In the end, it was Jesus who became their teacher, and their love for him the guiding force for all their life from that time on. All they needed to do was accept the invitation. He would do the rest. This is exactly the way we are called to live our life. When we face troubles in our life, when we don’t know the right words to help a young person who is losing their way through life, or how to be at peace with the people with whom we live, there is an answer. When we are blessed and everything in our life is wonderful and we know we should find a way to express our gratitude, there is an answer. “Come after me.” When we say “Yes” to Jesus, he will take care of how things work out. He knows the way better than we.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle A

Father Stephen's Message

John the Baptist was very successful. He gathered large crowds and moved them by his powerful words to decide to change the direction of their life. He even had disciples who were bringing his message to others who did not yet know him. But John knew that he was preparing for someone greater. John says twice in today’s gospel that he did not know who it was. God would give him a sign. And once the sign was given, John’s focus in life was transformed. He now directed others to Jesus – “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Working in a small town in Latin America, a woman felt despair.

She was experiencing marital problems, as well as conflicts with people she worked with. Without warning, an earthquake struck one day. In those moments of panic and fear she ran with other people to the relative safety of a garden plaza as buildings shattered and dust billowed. "For those moments I saw everything so clearly," she recalls, "how I could become so much kinder to my husband, how other relationships could work out. In an instant and with such gratitude I saw how it would be so easy for me to turn things around." In that dramatic moment this woman had glimpsed how the brokenness in her life could be mended. At that moment she saw clearly how she could bring about healing in her life.

At that moment it was as if God had spoken to her in a most dramatic way. (David Douglas, Wilderness Sojourn (San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1987) There are many moments when we are determined to be very successful. As we take a spouse, we are determined to make them first in our life and give them all the love we have. When a new baby enters the family, we know we will protect them and love them and guide them to become a wonderful adult. In our life with God, so often we decide to grow closer to him, and be rid of the things that prevent us from loving him and be a faithful disciple in all things. But then we get distracted by life. We start measuring whether our spouse is caring enough for us and keeping us happy.

We don’t have time for our self as we care for the baby, and keep up with school activities, and help a teen find their way through their social world. God knows we love him, but there just isn’t much time to pray or do something extra for him right now. Time passes along and we leave behind opportunities for good that will not come back to us. We cannot wait for a natural disaster to wake us up to what is important in our life. We may be blessed enough to never experience such a moment. We cannot wait for someone like John the Baptist to challenge us to change the direction of our life. To be honest, we wouldn’t want to listen to them.

We are the only one who can decide to pause and reflect on what is most important in our life. Our work, our house, our money is not as important as the precious people we love and care for and live with. Our importance and ability to make people do what we wish is not very important because there is always someone more important and more powerful to take our place. Our greatest success in life is discovered in our own pointing to Jesus. Our children can learn about the gentle love of Jesus for them through our love for them. Our spouse can be brought closer to Jesus through our influence. We can create a better world simply by deciding that we will be sure today that what we say, how we act, our judgments and attitudes about others –all will be worthy of the one our life is centered on. We are successful when we point to Jesus.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

The Baptism of the Lord

Father Stephen's Message

Tucking his six-year-old son into bed one night, Dad tapped his son's chest and asked, "Do you know what you have in there?" The boy looked puzzled and responded, "My guts?" "No, you have a piece of God," his father replied. After a brief silence the boy responded, "God is in my guts?" "No," said his Dad, "we have a piece of God inside of us; it is God's gift to each of us." The boy smiled, tapped his Dad's chest, and asked whether his Dad had a piece of God in his guts. They laughed and together they began to ask the same question about the rest of the family. "Does Mommy have a piece of God?" "Yes," they answered, laughing. "Does sister have a piece of God?" "Yes."

Dad knew that the boy attended a day care center with a little girl named Mary who was so spoiled she made the people around her miserable. He said, "You know, even Mary has a piece of God." The boy looked stunned, and then he said emphatically, "No, not Mary." When his father insisted the boy said, "Daddy, I have been with her more than you. She doesn't have a piece of God."

Dad told his son that God never missed anyone; everyone has a piece of God inside. The boy pondered that for a while, and then said, "Well, her piece must be all covered up with junk!" (Mark Victor Hansen & Barbara Nichols with Patty Hansen, Out of the Blue: Delight Comes Into Our Lives)

John’s baptism is not too hard to understand. If our hands are dirty, we want to wash them clean. If we hurt someone we love, we want to find a way to make things right again. And in our relationship with God, we want to not only feel sorrow in our heart for not loving God as he deserves, we want to show that we are sorry. So those who repented of their past indifference to God could come down to the river with John, and as they expressed their desire to change, he would immerse them in the water. Their coming up out of the water symbolized a new-found commitment to walking more closely with God.

When Jesus stepped up to be baptized, John saw a problem. And we see a problem. There was nothing in the mind and heart of Jesus that was contrary to the will of his Father. He had no need to be symbolically cleansed of his past failings, for there were none. Jesus would go on to teach a new meaning for the ceremony of John — that indeed we must be born again by water and the Holy Spirit to have eternal life. In a real way, a part of God is placed in each of us at our Baptism, preparing us for our eternal union with God in heaven. But this understanding of baptism would come later.

Jesus entered our world to repair the relationship between God and human beings. Each of us in our own way has joined the side of Adam and Eve, choosing to put our will before what God would want us to be. We are sinners. Jesus shared our human nature not to be an interested observer, standing on the side pondering what humans are like. He instead chose to share our temptations, to laugh and to cry, to love and to be loved, to be tired, to enjoy living.

That day, standing on the banks of the River Jordan, Jesus chose to step down into the river with the rest of the sinners. He is not above our selfishness; he shows us how to forget our self and serve others. He is not condemning our anger; he inspires us with his willingness to forgive. He does not set a limit to how many times we can be forgiven and start over; he gives away everything on the cross, so we know with certainty how much we are loved.

There would come the day when Jesus rose from the dead and opened the path to eternal life for each of us. The entrance into that life would be our baptism, as the Holy Spirit enters into our soul to inspire and guide us through this world until we are called to our eternal home. A piece of God is in us. The first step would be that moment we celebrate today — Jesus got down into the river with the rest of us sinners to identify himself with us in our worst moments, so that he could assure us that he will be with us all our days until we rise, washed clean of all that keeps us from loving God as he deserves.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

The Epiphany of the Lord

Father Stephen's Message

A generous grandmother bought Christmas presents for her entire family every year. But, at the age of 90, she found it too difficult. So, she wrote out checks for all of them to put in their Christmas card. In each card she carefully wrote, “Buy your own present,” and then she sent them off.

It wasn’t until Christmas was over that she found the checks under a pile of papers on her desk. Everyone on her gift list had received a beautiful Christmas card from her with the message, “Buy your own present” written inside, but without a check. It was a Christmas they would all remember.

The events we recall today as we celebrate Epiphany are the reason we exchange gifts at this time of the year. The Magi are mysterious men. We know they were not Jewish, for they come from the East. We know that they discovered signs of momentous events in the movements of the stars. And each of them, as they came seeking the one signified by the rising of the star, brought their own gift.

Gold was a suitable offering for royalty. That is why, upon their arrival, they started their search at the palace of King Herod. Frankincense was used to accompany the prayers of worshippers offered to God. The child they would discover was God himself in human form. The most peculiar, and yet appropriate gift, was myrrh, used for preparing a body for burial. The beautiful baby was destined to hang on a cross to demonstrate how much we are loved.

By now, unless something unfortunate has happened, our gift-giving was finished weeks ago. But as we contemplate these three Magi bringing their gifts, they remind us of two important truths. First, the long-awaited Savior did not enter the world simply to fulfil God’s promise to his Chosen People. These men from the East were the first gentiles to worship before Jesus, but not the last. We ourselves continue their tradition. The Baby we honor at Christmas entered the world to offer salvation to all peoples, in every time and every place. He is not the personal possession of any one church or any individual. His love welcomes all.

The men we remember today remind us of a second truth. As we honor the birth of Jesus, we have to bring our own present. Perhaps we have been richly blessed with possessions and money. They are not meant to be simply enjoyed for our own pleasure. The Baby entered the world in poor conditions, and he continues to identify himself with those in need around us. We bring our own present when we share with someone in need, or with the work of the church.

The Baby would grow into a man who spoke words of inspiration and love and forgiveness. And as we enter into his presence, he is gently inviting us to bring our own present – a decision to turn aside from anger and forgive; a word spoken to encourage a young person who is doubting their value; welcoming a stranger and treating them as a friend.

The birth of Jesus changed our world forever. We no longer have to look for signs in the heavens to discover where God wants us to find him. He is present with us, speaking his word, sharing his love, preparing us in this world to live forever with him in heaven. But, as we remember this great gift, God with us, we also have to remember that our life with God is not simply about receiving from him. As we enter into his presence, we bring what we think, the words we speak, all our actions. He asks us to offer him everything. And we are each a unique person, with unique circumstances. So, we have to bring our own present for the Baby – no one else can do it for us!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Father Stephen's Message

Some years ago, a teacher assigned to tutor children in a large city hospital was asked to help a youngster with his homework. “We’re studying nouns and verbs in class,” the regular teacher said, “and I ’d be grateful if you ’d tutor him so he doesn’t fall too far behind.” So the visiting teacher went to the hospital to work with that youngster, but when she got there, she was horrified to discover that the boy was in the critical care unit, and that he had been burned so badly all over his body that he could barely talk. Nevertheless, she tried to work with him on his nouns and verbs, but the boy said virtually nothing.

When the teacher left to go home, she was distraught and felt like she had really failed. But the next morning when she came back, the head nurse asked her what she had done with the young boy. “We ’d been worried about him,” she said to the teacher.

“But ever since you were here, his attitude has changed and he’s fighting back, and he’s beginning to respond to treatment. We believe he’s going to live after all!” The teacher was dumbfounded and had no idea what she ’d done at all. Some weeks later, after he had been released from the hospital, the boy explained why the teacher’s visit had made such a difference. It was a simple realization that came to him that night after the teacher had left. He said with tears in his eyes, “They wouldn’t’t send a teacher to work on nouns and verbs with a dying boy, would they?” (Norman Neaves, “Quit Searching for God and Let God Find You!”)

Even in these joyful days as we celebrate Christmas, we know there are people who find themselves in dark places. Some are suffering terribly from physical ailments or hurting from a broken human relationship. Some are feeling the terrible loneliness of their first Christmas with an empty place at the celebration because this year someone has been taken away. Some have already lost the spirit of the joy of this season, feeling far away from the things of God because they have taken themselves far away from God through sin or indifference.

But today as we continue to celebrate that Baby living in the family of Mary and Joseph, we realize that God was never going to be content to let us stay in our dark places. He sent his Son to remind us of how important we are in his plan for things. His willingness to put aside divine power and become a helpless baby and embrace all we are as humans reminds us that we can for a time put aside our self-importance and actually give our full attention to a child or someone alone or even a stranger. We can reflect his love and bring hope to someone who searches for their way in the world. God inspires us to catch a glimmer of light in the darkest moments. If we were not important to him, if there was not a chance that we could become a better person, if we did not have a future filled with hope, then there would be no reason for God to have sent his Son to us. But God is with us — we see him in the Baby of Bethlehem. The Light has overcome the darkness!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Fourth Sunday of Advent - Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Howard Chapman recalls the days when he taught confirmation to each year's 9th grade Sunday School class. At this time of year, he would do the same exercise. He would tell the class that scholars thought that Mary was the same age as they were, about 14 or so. He would then show them Deuteronomy 22: 23-24, where according to Jewish law Joseph could have brought charges against Mary, and if found guilty, she could have been put to death. He would divide up the class with all the boys on one side and all the girls on the other. The girls' assignment was to list all of Mary's options, while the boys were to list Joseph's. This usually would generate a lively discussion, especially once they realized they did not have to stick to nice, neat, happy-ending choices. With not much prompting, they would generate quite a list. Mary could have ... claimed she was raped, committed suicide, run away, etc., etc. Joseph, on the other hand, could have ... brought her to trial, quietly sent her out of town, left town himself, eloped with her, made up a story, etc., etc. In one particular class when all of these options were listed on the chalkboard, my friend stood back. He asked, "What does all this tell you?" The class was very quiet for a moment or two. Then John, the worst troublemaker in the bunch, said, "Wow! Look at all that could have gone wrong. God was really taking a risk." As we draw near to the celebration of the birth of our Savior, we realize this is true. God was really taking a risk. He created human beings to share a personal relationship with him because he was filled with love for them. And he gave them intelligence and the freedom to choose to love him in return or not. Human history with God has not always been very good. Adam and Eve chose their way instead of God’s. And every person entering the world since them has made the same decision in one way or another, for we are all sinners. But God was not discouraged. Even in the beginning he promised to send a savior. When it became time for the entrance of the Savior into the world, it was a risk. A young woman was invited to put aside her plans and agree to be the mother of God’s Son. Mary said “Yes.” But her future husband was also meant to be part of accomplishing the plan. There was no conversation with an angel, as there had been with Mary. In a dream Joseph is told the child is of divine origin and Joseph should take Mary as his wife and care for her and God’s Son as his own. And Joseph accepted the inspired message from God. God continues to take a risk. He is building his kingdom, and he has decided to entrust each of us with a part in his plan that no one else can accomplish. He decided that our spouse was the suitable partner for our life, to be cherished and inspired to be a better person because of our influence. He has entrusted a child to our loving care, to be guided and molded to understand how precious they are to God because of the way we care for them. We have opportunities and money in our pocket because we can become a reflection of Jesus, blessing another in their need. We are surrounded by family and friends who love us and what we say and do in their presence is meant to reflect how important they are to us. Will we accept God’s invitation? The list of blessings will never come to an end. In unexpected ways, with people we may not yet know, God is going to invite us during these last days before Christmas to remember the greatest risk he took — becoming one of us! The Baby born in Bethlehem entered our human condition to show us how much we are loved. And we have to decide if we will take the risk and love God and each other just as completely as we have been loved. It is a risk!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Second Sunday of Advent - Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Pastor James Harnish tells about buying a home near a lake in northern Florida. The house had been vacant for over a year and nature had taken control. "Down at the lakefront right beside the dock, a massive bramble bush had grown. Its long twisting vines totally engulfed the earthbound end of the dock. It was not possible to get past the bush and onto the dock without being snagged by its thorns." On their first trip the Harnishes cut the brambles back just enough to get onto the dock. Finally, they could no longer postpone the inevitable task of cutting it back.

So they took the clippers and hatchet, and began to cut the huge bramble bush down to the ground. When they reached the ground, they discovered an imposing root system. They hacked, chopped, and dug it out until they had cleared away as much as they could. It was then that they realized that they could not get all of the roots out. Harnish reflected several years after removing the bramble bush and wrote, "I know that some of those roots are still there. If I don't take the ax back to it now and then, it will return, trying to regain control of the shoreline."

The message of John the Baptist was stern and demanding. His listeners should not be confident because they were considered religious by others, or because they were part of God’s Chosen People. No one gets into heaven because they look good to others or because they know some good people. Each of us is responsible before God for keeping our relationship with him where it is supposed to be.

And during this time of Advent, our challenges is to be honest with our self. There may be things we are accepting that need to be trimmed away or chopped out completely if we are going to be the kind of person God created us to be. Perhaps as we pick up our electronic device another time to just scroll through social sites, we should trim our time with the internet and spend a few minutes reflecting on how much God loves us and bringing before him those we love in prayer. As we are deciding if someone deserves our attention or passing judgment on how a person in need will use our small gift, perhaps it is time to chop out a little of our self-importance and remember the call of Jesus to forget our self and serve another.

It is not our responsibility to judge another. In those moments when we think we have made such a mess of our life that we may as well just keep on sinning because we are beyond hope, we may be disappointed in our self, but God will not be disappointed. He continues to love us and invite us to the warm embrace of his forgiveness. He will untangle things when we feel like giving up. Jesus will return and the day will come when we stand before him to present our self as we are — no fault will be hidden; no good act will be forgotten.

If we are not yet ready today, then it’s time to start trimming and chopping at the things that keep us from loving God as he deserves. The work of preparing our self never ends, because there is always something that is keeping us from loving God as he deserves.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

First Sunday of Advent - Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Mr. Smith is riding through Manhattan with a reckless cab driver. At the first intersection they come to, the cab driver runs a red light. “Hey, what’s the big idea?” Mr. Smith yells. “That was a red light!” “Don’t worry, fella,” the cabbie replies, “My brother drives a cab too, and he does that all the time.” Mr. Smith grits his teeth and tries to remain calm, but he loses his cool when the driver runs a second red light. “Are you insane? You’re just asking for trouble,” he yells. “I know what I’m doing, man,” says the cabbie. “My brother runs red lights all the time, and nothing’s ever happened to him.” At the third intersection, the cabbie slows down and stops at a green light. “What’s your problem now? The light’s green!” the passenger asks. ` “Yeah,” says the cabbie, “but you never know when my brother might be coming through.”

We begin the season of Advent recalling a familiar theme. We must prepare our self, for at an hour we do not know the Son of Man will come. In the days of Noah Jesus says, people were just living life and then the flood came, and it was too late. And each of us is going along, living life, making plans, looking into the future. We are not planning on being here forever, but we definitely expect to have time to take care of the important things and get everything in order in our life before the Lord returns to take us home. We assume it is not going to happen just yet.

During these weeks of Advent, we are called to be more serious about how fragile our hold on life can be. An accident could take us today. A weakness in our body or a disease we are not yet aware is at work could soon break our hold on life in this world. Whatever time we may have remaining, long or short, is not simply an opportunity to do whatever we wish. The Lord will one day ask us to give an accounting of what we have done with his gifts. Are we ready? We prefer to have firm dates.

We are in the midst of preparations for Christmas, but we are very clear about which day the birth of Jesus will be celebrated and how many days remain to get ready. We don’t decide to get married and then go to the church and have the ceremony. The ceremony, and the guest list, and the reception all take planning, so we set a date and a time. As the birth of a child draws near, the exact date and time is not known, but all the preparations for what is needed for the baby are made long before the blessed event.

When we have a deadline, we calculate what needs to be done to be prepared. It is not our human experience that we will be given a date and time for our departure from this world. Jesus knows that, and so he urges us to be serious about living life with him at every moment. It is not enough to decide we will be more prayerful when life is less hectic. The Lord is giving us his full attention right now and is ready to hear about our hopes and fears and our gratefulness and love.

We are very busy selecting just the right gift for those we love. But we cannot forget the Lord is reflected in the face of that person who needs to be treated with respect and helped with the basic needs for comfort and security for just one more day. Those we love and depend on the most can never be told often enough how important they are to us while we still have time to say it. After all, “at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Advent is our time to prepare.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Thanksgiving Day

Father Stephen's Homily

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

An art gallery owner told an artist whose works were on display, “I have some good news and some bad news.” The artist asked, “What’s the good news?” The gallery owner replied, “The good news is that a woman came in here today asking if the price of your paintings would go up after you die. When I told her they would, she bought every one of your paintings.” The artist said, “That’s great! What’s the bad news?” The gallery owner told him, “The bad news is that woman was your doctor!” The temple in the time of Jesus was an architectural marvel. The building was constructed of blocks of granite that each weighed tons.

No mortar was needed because the ponderous weight of the stones kept them in place. As the center of the worship of God, the temple was decorated with golden ornaments given by the faithful to express their gratitude to God for hearing their prayers. It was said that as one approached Jerusalem, from a distance the white stone of the temple shone so brightly in the sun that it looked like snow on top of a mountain. But, Jesus had bad news for his disciples.

As they marveled at the beauty of the building and its surrounding plaza, Jesus tells them that soon not one stone would remain upon another. It would be completely destroyed. And he spoke the truth. As punishment for a Jewish uprising in 70 AD, the Romans completely destroyed the temple just as Jesus had predicted. Jesus continues with the bad news. There will soon come a time of betrayal by family and friends, and persecution and trials, all because they belong to him.

Speaking his name will become something dangerous. He is clear that following him will not be easy The same remains true to this very day. Sometimes we feel that our carefully constructed life is crashing down around us. It may be because we have chosen to ignore God and walked away from him. It often happens because someone we love has not loved us in return. The world is filled with accidents and diseases and events out of our control that change the direction of our life. Staying close to God, caring for our family, accomplishing our work all requires sacrifices that we don’t always want to make.

There is no life that is not touched by struggles. And one day, all in this world will come to an end. But Jesus has good news. We don’t simply have to grit our teeth and suffer in silence. Jesus promises to be with us always. He says he will give his followers wisdom that adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. When someone treats us unfairly, Jesus will be with us as we decide not to give their actions the power to stop us from being generous and loving and forgiving. When we are offended, Jesus will be with us to put gentleness in our words as we turn aside from our anger and speak words that do not hurt another.

When we are discouraged or worn down by the troubles of our life, Jesus will be at our side lending his strength assuring us that we will conquer with his help. All we have to do is hold on to Jesus. “By your perseverance you will secure your life.”

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

A man wrote to Reader’s Digest that his pastor, knowing that many members of the congregation were out of work and broke, put a hundred dollars, in one and five-dollar bills, into a wicker basket. Explaining that the money was from the church’s benevolent fund, he added, “I’m going to do something I have never done before in my ministry.” With that, he passed the basket of money to the congregation, urging those in need to take from it, without shame. They did, but when the basket returned, it contained $67 more than it had when it started out.

In today’s second reading St. Paul offers a special prayer for his congregation in Thessalonika: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father . . . encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.”

There are so many times when we know that we are in need. Someone we love dies and we are left alone without the joy of their presence in our life. A job changes and suddenly we are told we are not needed any longer. Someone we love and trust does not live up to our expectations and we find our self betrayed and hurting.

And those are just the big things! Everyday there are those who do not appreciate the good things we do for them. And there are those who hurt our feelings and don’t even seem to know or care that they are responsible for our pain. We make our plans, but so often circumstances end up taking us in a direction we did not want to go. It is not hard to feel sorry for our self.

But, look around. We can only imagine where that poor man or woman standing on a street corner begging is going to spend the night — while we are warm and comfortable in our bed. We don’t want to imagine the terrible suffering of someone badly burned or dying of cancer —we walk through the day with so few struggles. A family is struggling with a child who has lost their way in life — we in the meantime are irritated because we didn’t get our way in a family discussion.

As St. Paul says, “The Lord is faithful.” He never stops loving us, blessing us, inviting us to join him in the work of building up his kingdom by our words and actions. As we look around us, we discover we don’t have much of a reason to feel sorry for our self today. This is a day in which we have to look around for the opportunities that will come to share the blessings God has given us with someone who needs to be blessed.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

In three of the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke—someone in some crowd complains because Jesus eats and drinks with sinners. So this Episcopal priest with a good sense of humor had a tee shirt made with the verse in Greek, “He eats and drinks with sinners.” The priest would wear the tee shirt when he went into bars. Some curious soul always asked, “What does that mean?” followed up by the question, “Who eats and drinks with sinners?” Imagine the joy of this Episcopal priest and the surprise of his listener when he told them, “Jesus ate and drank with sinners. God in the flesh.” One of the standard responses he received to this tee shirt was, “Well, if Jesus wants to eat and drink with sinners, he has come to the right place.” (Jesus Freaks, compiled by dc Talk and The Voice of the Martyrs) As Luke wrote the gospel, he says that Jesus was intending to pass through Jericho that day, but that doesn’t seem to actually be the case. As Jesus walks along with the crowd, he comes upon a very peculiar sight — a grown man sitting up in a tree. And he doesn’t stop to consider how silly that looks. Instead Jesus says he came to town for that moment, to invite himself into Zacchaeus’s home.

If he was looking for a man who was lost, with no friends, no prestige in the community, no respect, he came to the right place. The life of Zacchaeus was transformed. He didn’t defend himself against those who condemned Jesus for being there, eating and drinking with sinners. Instead, his contact with Jesus moved him to be a force for good for others. As he gave away half of everything he had to the poor, imagine how many hopeless people were suddenly given new hope. Imagine the change of heart that occurred in those he had cheated as he paid them back all they had lost with interest. Zacchaeus’s change of heart also transformed his relationship with God, because Jesus declares that now he is saved. Jesus came to the right place — Zacchaeus was ready to receive his call to repentance and to change. Jesus is always coming to the right place. When we have been going for days ignoring him and all his blessings, and we suddenly decide we should stop and spend some time in prayer and reflection, he is already there waiting to join in the conversation.

When we become self-satisfied and begin to look down on the imperfections of others or to insist on having our own way, Jesus is already down below, calling us to come down to reality and admit that we need to forget our self and serve those around us. When we become discouraged because we seem to commit the same sins over and over, or we call out to God and he seems to be far away, we look at the cross and realize Jesus is always at the right place, helping us learn again how much we are loved and that we are forgiven. The example of Zacchaeus continues to challenge us. Few of us are inspired to give away half of all we have to the poor, but we have to be serious as we consider the responsibility placed in our hands, to use our material blessings generously, being an unexpected blessing to someone in need. And we have to be careful to give each person what is owed to them. Our loved ones deserve to be honored and cared for in a way that leaves no doubt that they are most important to us.

A stranger deserves to be treated with respect and welcomed as we would Jesus himself. And God deserves to be placed first in importance in our time and our attention and our appreciation. At all the right times and places, Jesus invites himself in to change our life. And if we welcome him, we will become different.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

Before refrigerators, people used icehouses to preserve their food. Icehouses had thick walls, no windows, and a tightly fitted door. In winter, when streams and lakes were frozen, large blocks of ice were cut, hauled to the icehouses, and covered with sawdust. Often the ice would last well into the summer. One day a man lost a valuable watch while working in an icehouse. He searched diligently for it, carefully raking through the sawdust, but didn’t find it. His fellow workers also looked, but their efforts proved futile.

A small boy who heard about the fruitless search slipped into the icehouse during the noon hour and soon emerged with the watch. Amazed, the men asked him how he found it. “I closed the door,'' the boy replied, “lay down in the sawdust, and kept very still. Soon I heard the watch ticking.'' (James Hamilton, Directions) The two men in the gospel parable today did not need anyone to tell them their proper place in the world. The Pharisee had studied the law and did everything possible to follow the law of God.

He prayed at the proper time, and ate the proper foods, and wore the proper articles of clothing so that everyone could see how religious he was. Everyone who looked at him assumed he was a holy man. And he seemed to believe it was true. The tax-collector had a job that involved some very antisocial behavior. He worked for the Roman government who ruled over the Jewish people.

He made his living by extorting an amount of tax that exceeded what the government required and kept the excess for himself. He was considered to be undesirable, a person to be despised by all because of the people and the work with which he was associated. And he seemed to believe it was true.

Both went to the temple and offered their prayers to God. We are not exactly surprised to hear the outcome of the story. One went home justified, one did not. We know there is something wrong about standing before God and bragging about our accomplishments. And in the presence of the complete love and goodness of God, no person can feel self-satisfied.

We all need God’s mercy in so many ways. So often we worry about someone else’s behavior. It may be a family member, a friend, even a total stranger. It is easy to see what is imperfect in them, to be the judge of their goodness. But God alone knows everything about the decisions of another, and the pressures and influences that are part of their life. It is not our place to decide if they are better or worse than we are.

That is why we need to sit quietly in the presence of God and reflect on how good and loving and generous he has been to us. All we can admit in the quiet moments of our life is that we are not perfect. We can only pray, “Be merciful to me, a sinner.” And Jesus reminds us often that it is the nature of God to answer our prayer, and he always loves and blesses us. Our great challenge is to decide if we are willing to enter into the silence and listen for what God will tell us.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

Natan Sharansky was a human rights activist, working to protect the rights of oppressed citizens in the Soviet Union. For his human rights work, Soviet officials sentenced him to thirteen years in a prison labor camp. For nine long years, Sharansky lived in a barren prison cell and performed hard labor daily. The story of his unjust imprisonment caught the attention of politicians and supporters around the world, and they finally pressured the Soviet government into releasing Sharansky in a prisoner exchange.

The exchange took place on February 1986 in East Germany, which was under the control of the Communists at that time. The Soviet officials and Natan Sharansky stood on the east side of the Glienecke Bridge in Berlin; politicians, human rights activists and journalists crowded the west side of the bridge. A guard released Sharansky and he began to cross the bridge to freedom. But he did a strange thing. Instead of just walking across the bridge, Natan Sharansky zig-zagged and skipped and danced from the east side of the bridge into the cheering crowd of supporters on the west side of the bridge.

When a reporter asked him later why he had chosen such a strange way to cross the bridge, Sharansky replied that the KGB had told him to cross the bridge in a straight line, and his last act of defiance against his oppressors was to dance his way across the bridge into freedom. (Barbara Amiel, “A Timeless Hero for Troubled Times,” MacLean’s, September 25, 1995) When we hear that someone has lost a loved one, we let them know as soon as we can, “You are in my thoughts and prayers.”

We hear about someone we don’t even know who has suffered some terrible tragedy in their life, and we feel the need to remember them and offer a prayer on their behalf. When natural disasters strike, or human evil harms many innocent people, even our political people feel called to proclaim, “You are in our thoughts and prayers.” . There are many who scoff at the idea that thoughts and prayers have any meaningful effect in the face of the terrible things of life that cannot be controlled or avoided.

They dismiss them as empty expressions that do nothing to help. But that is not what Jesus believes. The widow in his story knows what everyone else knows – the judge is completely corrupt. But she remains faithful to the rightness of her cause. She returns over and over until the judge is worn down and finally gives her the judgment she deserves. The point is not that God will finally give us what we ask if we wear him out with our persistent prayers. The point is that God values our faithfulness.

Every time we turn to him in prayer, we are acknowledging that we depend on him, and expressing our confidence that he will hear and answer our need. Faithfulness is never lacking from God’s side. But it has to be practiced by us in matters great and small. When everything is going well for us and we feel blessed, it is easy to be content with our relationship with God. But there are dark moments in life that challenge our faith as we suffer or face obstacles or find we are alone. And there are times that seem unimaginable when innocent people have terrible disaster come to them and we wonder where God can be in all this.

In those moments, our thoughts and prayers are so important because they keep us linked to the one whose love for us never falters, whose care for us knows no limits. Like the widow, we keep on going back. We may even discover we can dance across the bridge when things had seemed impossible to overcome. After all, God is always faithful. He will never stop giving us all we need.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Twenty-eight Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

In the book A Window on the Mountain, Winston Pierce tells of his high school class reunion. A group of the old classmates were reminiscing about things and persons they were grateful for. One man mentioned that he was particularly thankful for Mrs. Wendt, for she more than anyone had introduced him to Tennyson and the beauty of poetry. Acting on a suggestion, the man wrote a letter of appreciation to Mrs. Wendt and addressed it to the high school.

The note was forwarded and eventually found the old teacher. About a month later the man received a response. It was written in a feeble longhand and read as follows: “My dear Willie, I can’t tell you how much your letter meant to me. I am now in my nineties, living alone in a small room, cooking my own meals, lonely, and like the last leaf of fall lingering behind. You will be interested to know that I taught school for forty years and yours is the first letter of appreciation I ever received.

It came on a blue, cold morning and it cheered me as nothing has for years. Willie, you have made my day.” Since our youngest days we are well-schooled about expressing our gratitude. When someone gave us a cookie, or complimented our apparel, or admired our accomplishments, we always heard the voice of one of our parents in the background quietly coaching us: “What do you say?” And of course, we knew the proper response — “Thank you!” That early lesson continues to guide us through every day.

When a stranger opens a door, or helps us pick up something we dropped, or randomly does something nice, we are quick to show our good manners as we say, “Thank you!” We are not always so careful to express our gratitude to those who are more involved in enriching our life and giving it meaning. We rush our children along to make sure they get to school on time, but rarely take a moment to give them a big hug and tell them how proud we are to have them as our son or daughter. The routines of daily life move us to postpone expressing how important our spouse is until a birthday or an anniversary comes along.

Friends add joy and variety and support and encouragement to our life, but we can go for months without even making the effort to have contact with important people in our life. Perhaps the one taken for granted most is God himself. We often say correctly that everything we have is a gift from God. But truly living with a spirit of gratitude takes a conscious decision. We open our eyes to a new day — thanks be to God. We are able to get up and move around under our own power while some cannot — thanks be to God. We are surrounded by family and friends and not alone in the world — thanks be to God.

We enjoy a home, and work, and possessions and opportunities and we meet others who have nothing — thanks be to God. It is our daily obligation to thank God, for he blesses us more than we can even imagine. But we easily take God for granted. “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?” It is a terrible condemnation of our human nature spoken by Jesus in the gospel. It is so much easier to receive our blessings as something we deserve. But everything is a gift. Our decision has to be to take up the challenge to live in a spirit of gratitude every day. Anything less is not worthy of the endless blessings we are being given!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

Ernest Fitzgerald tells the story of Jeremy Bentham in his book, Keeping Pace. The man was a wealthy English philanthropist. In his will, Mr. Bentham bequeathed a fortune to a London hospital on whose Board of Directors he had sat for decades. There was, though, one peculiar stipulation. Mr. Bentham's will read that in order for the hospital to keep the money, he, Jeremy Bentham had to be present at every board meeting.

So, for over 100 years the remains of Jeremy Bentham were brought to the board room every month and placed at the head of the table. And for over 100 years in each secretary's minutes was a line that read: "Mr. Jeremy Bentham, present but not voting." “Increase our faith.” It seems a little surprising that the apostles would make this request to Jesus. After all, they heard his inspiring sermons and saw the crowds who came to listen and witnessed his miracles.

If anyone would be expected to have faith in Jesus, we would think they were the ones. But, confronted with the challenges of following Jesus and living up to what he was demanding, in their heart they came to admit that they were not really ready. “Increase our faith.” We face the same situation. It is our routine to come to church regularly – that is what we do. We avoid committing serious sins – that is what we do. We remain faithful to our life commitments to our spouse and children – that is what we do.

We have faith in God and try to do our best to live up to what we believe he expects of us – it is what we do. But what happens when the doctor gives us bad news, or someone we love is taken from us, or it suddenly seems that no matter what we do, things are not going well in our life? We want to approach such moments with confidence and the certainty that everything will work out because God is with us. But sometimes we are not so sure. We wonder if we are being punished or if we have been forgotten.

We understand that request, “Increase our faith.” A faithful life takes constant effort, because like every meaningful relationship, it begins with a personal decision to accept Jesus as our Savior, or to admit that someone greater than us is in control of our life. But, that moment of decision has to be reinforced and proved and put into practice over and over. When something good comes our way, it is not simply a matter of good luck. It is a sign of God’s generous blessing given to us personally.

As we are surrounded by family and friends who help us during a time of trouble or sorrow, we are given just a glimpse of how much God loves us and is involved with us in our struggle. In the moment that someone in need tugs at our heart, or we feel the call to do something more to express our gratitude for what we have been given, it is God who gently reminds us that we have an important part to play in his plan for the world. Sometimes we think that having good attendance at church, or developing the habit of daily prayer, or maintaining our good reputation among others is enough.

But saying we are a believer can become something routine that has little bearing on the meaning of our daily life. God expects more. We cannot be like Mr. Jeremy Benthem, present but not voting. Even the simple act of saying to God, “Increase our faith” can have a powerful effect. Because it only takes a little, even faith as small as a mustard seed, to open the door to the power of God in our life. And he will enable us to accomplish great things for him, for he is always faithful in his care for us!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

A botanist was studying the heather bell, a plant found in the highlands of Scotland that has a flower so small it can only be seen with a microscope. While looking through his microscope at this beautiful flower, he was approached by a shepherd who asked what he was doing. Rather than trying to explain, the botanist invited the shepherd to peer through his microscope and observe for himself.

When the shepherd saw the wonder of the flower, he exclaimed, "My God, and I have been trampling on them all my life!" Our world is filled with dramatic contrasts. There are the rich and the poor, the powerful and the helpless, the weak and the strong. And as we listen to the parable in today’s gospel, it presents a strong contrast. The rich man has such a comfortable life that he puts on his best clothing every day and every meal is a feast.

And Lazarus is the picture of total need and despair. He sits at the gate with the dogs hoping someone will take pity on him in his miserable condition. The problem for the rich man is not that he is cruel to Lazarus or kicks him out of the way as he comes through the gate into his home. Instead, he has allowed himself to be blind to the man in need at his own door, to pretend he has no responsibility for Lazarus in his need. He is trampling on him every time he passes him by.

It is not likely that we will open our door and find someone in desperate need lying there on the doorstep. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t surrounded by those who need to be acknowledged as one for whom we are responsible in some way. When a child does something wrong, it is easy to be impatient and angry. But they are still poor in life experiences and good sense, and instead of tramping on them, we are challenged to be willing to help them experience forgiveness and the opportunity to begin again and do better.

It is what we expect God to do for us in our imperfection. We all know someone who is demanding and selfish, someone we do not enjoy being around. And it is easy to do all we can to avoid them, to be rude to them, to walk by as if they were not there. But instead of tramping on their dignity as a person, we are able to decide to give them the gift of our attention and time. Jesus invites us to forget our self and serve another. It does not cost us much to do so.

It is easy to be influenced by the political people to divide others into groups and to give our self permission to judge another’s value by where they are from or what language they speak. Everything is easier if everyone stays in their proper category. But of course each person is loved and cared for and blessed by God, just as we are. And it is not our place to trample on those around us as we decide who deserves what. Prejudice is not part of the message of Jesus. The rich man begs Abraham to send his brothers a special messenger from heaven to set them on the right path. But that is not going to happen. There are beautiful people all around us waiting for us to treat them with respect, to help them in their need, to love them just as we know we are loved by God. They are there — we have to be sure we don’t just go tramping along, missing our opportunities to touch the hearts of others by our goodness and love

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

With the Second World War behind him, the German Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemoeller, wrote his now famous confession called I Didn't Speak Up. It says, “In Germany, the Nazis first came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, but I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.” The parable today has a very unlikely hero for Jesus to make the center of the story — a crooked manager who embezzled from his master. Obviously, he is not encouraging us to consider dishonesty or a criminal way of life.

The manager took extraordinary steps, cutting himself out of any possible profit in the transactions he made on behalf of his master. He hopes that perhaps one of the debtors would decide he was worth giving a chance after he lost his present position.

The challenge Jesus offers his listeners is to be as creative as this man was but in accomplishing spiritual things. We want to have a closer relationship with God, so that our faith will be strong enough for us to be confident in his loving care for us whatever the future will bring. But perfect attendance at Sunday Mass may not be enough.

It may take extraordinary measures — turning off the television to spend some quiet time reading the Bible or making a daily “appointment” with God that does not change, in order to spend time in the presence of God loving him as we speak in prayer.

We speak often about others being our brother or sister in Christ. But for this to be the reality we live with; we may have to do something extraordinary. Perhaps it will take an attitude adjustment as we stop judging others based only on their appearance.

There will often need to be changes in our own home as we decide to be patient, to marvel at the unique gifts someone else brings to us, to forget our self and give our blessings to another. Our brother or sister in Christ is always right in front of us. We live in a social atmosphere that divides everyone into groups and political movements and haves and have-nots.

Think how different our world would be if we were to simply make the decision to treat each person as Jesus does. Jesus sees each person as an individual, as someone to be welcomed and loved and cherished because they have an important part to play in God’s world. Our world view would be different if we decided to see each other as Jesus does. We often move through the world as if we have nothing important to contribute. We take care of our business and let others take care of theirs. But Jesus invites us to be more clever, to not just go through the motions, but to look for a new way to do something special to prove that we love him. We cannot wait for someone else to do it, because Jesus is waiting for us to do it!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

A little girl lived at the edge of a forest. One day she wandered off into the woods and thought she would explore all the deep dark secrets of the forest. But the farther she wandered away the denser it became until she lost her bearings and couldn't find her way back. As darkness descended fear gripped her little heart, and all of her screams and sobs only wearied her until she finally just laid down and went to sleep. In the thick of the night friends, family, and volunteers combed that area looking for that little girl.

Early the next morning as her father was beginning his search all over again, he suddenly caught a glimpse of his little girl lying on a rock. He called her by name, ran over to her as fast as he could. When the little girl heard her father's voice she woke up, jumped into his arms, wrapped him up as tightly as she could, and said, "Daddy, I'm so glad I found you!" It is easy for us to get lost. Sometimes it happens because we do not appreciate our blessings like the younger son, the prodigal one.

So, we do not spend any time in prayer because we use so much time for social media, and television, and being with friends. We waste opportunities to get closer to God, we ignore opportunities to express our love for those most important, we ignore opportunities to be better than we are right now. Other times we do not take time to appreciate our blessings because we are too worried about what others are doing, like that older son, the mean one. So, when suffering touches us, we wonder why God is angry or punishing us when others seem so happy.

When we realize we are not going in the right direction in our life, we look around and soon discover others who are worse than we are, so we feel excused. It seems there is no end of ways for us to get lost.

It is important for us to be clear about the point of all these stories told by Jesus. They are about how God treats us when we are lost. The woman did not decide to be accept the loss of one coin since there were nine remaining. She lit the house and swept the floor until the lost was found.

The shepherd was not content to sit watching the 99 sheep who remained, he searched until the lost one was brought back to the fold. And the father was always on watch for the lost one. When he sighted him on the horizon, he ran down the road to welcome him back and celebrate his return. So, it is with us. We can get lost in serious ways as we choose to ignore God and follow a way of life that is contrary to what he created us to be.

We can become entangled in all types of little things — lies, selfishness, anger, spiritual laziness — and as we become comfortable with these sins as part of our life, we do not appreciate what God is offering us already. There are those moments when we come to our self and realize that things should be different, that we need to return to our relationship with God in a more serious way. We are so proud that we have discovered God’s importance once again. But of course, God is always there, loving us, blessing us, running toward us to welcome us into the warm embrace of his love.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

Several centuries ago in a mountain village in Europe, a wealthy nobleman wondered what legacy he should leave to his townspeople. He made a good decision. He decided to build them a church. No one was permitted to see the plans or the inside of the church until it was finished. At its grand opening, the people gathered and marveled at the beauty of the new church. Everything had been thought of and included. It was a masterpiece. But then someone said, "Wait a minute! Where are the lamps? It is really quite dark in here.

How will the church be lighted?" The nobleman pointed to some brackets in the walls, and then he gave each family a lamp, which they were to bring with them each time they came to worship. "Each time you are here'" the nobleman said, "the place where you are seated will be lighted. Each time you are not here, that place will be dark. This is to remind you that whenever you fail to come to church, some part of God's house will be dark" It is easy for us to believe that most of the work of building up the kingdom of God will be taken care of by someone else. We don’t have to lead the church — Pope Francis will take care of that.

We don’t have to give money to the church — someone else is taking care of that, for the church is still operating. We don’t have to care for the poor or visit the sick — there are programs that take care of that. But, the words of today’s gospel do not invite us to be comfortable with that attitude. Jesus is clear, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Jesus is clear that he wants to be more important in our life than anyone else or anything we have. We will not get into heaven because our family and friends are so holy.

We will not get into heaven by making a big donation of our surplus possessions. We will only get into heaven if our love for Jesus is proved in the same manner in which he proved how completely he loved us — by carrying our own cross. Jesus was not being pessimistic as he spoke these words to his apostles. He was simply speaking plainly with his closest friends about what they were to endure because of their relationship with him. Andrew died on a cross; Simon was crucified; Bartholomew was flayed alive; James (son of Zebedee) was beheaded; James (son of Alphaeus) was beaten to death; Thomas was run through with a lance; Matthias was stoned and then beheaded; Matthew was slain by the sword; Peter was crucified upside down; Thaddeus was shot to death with arrows; Philip was hanged.

Only John made it through alive, but he was exiled to a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. There will be times when suffering will be part of our life — and we can fill the darkness with the light of our courage and patience and trust that God will care for us. There will be times when others want our help when we don’t want to be bothered or speak words that wound our heart and don’t care at all. And we have to decide if we will fill the darkness of need and selfishness with our generous decision to forget our self and imitate the example of Jesus. There are many times when someone needs to be comforted, or needs to be inspired, or needs to be challenged to do what is right.

As we consciously choose to speak or act as Jesus would, we do our part to shine the bright light of Jesus in a dark world. Jesus was speaking plainly with us. Following him is not going to be easy. It requires a commitment that involves every part of our life. Following the will of the Father involves embracing a cross. As we look at the cross we realize how much we have been loved. Each of us is called to reflect the light of that love into our part of the world. No one else can do that for us. “Whoever does not take up his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

Tony Compolo is a well-known evangelist and he once went to Honolulu to give a presentation. He found himself wide-awake in his hotel room because of the time difference from his hometown, so at 3 am he went out looking for a place to get something to eat. Down a small alley, he found a diner. When he walked in, the man behind the counter asked what he could serve him, and he asked for a cup of coffee and a donut. The man wiped his hands on his dirty apron, took a cup off the shelf and soon Tony was eating his donut.

About that time the door opened and a group of eight provocatively dressed working girls crowded in the small place. Soon Tony found himself sipping his coffee at the counter with a prostitute seated on either side. They were loud and boisterous and crude, and Tony felt completely out of place. And suddenly a discussion broke out between the two women sitting on either side of him. One said her birthday would be the next day. The other made fun of her, asking her if she expected them to give her a party. The first became angry and told her that there was no reason for her to be so mean. After all, no one had ever given her a birthday party and she didn’t expect anyone to give her anything.

When they left, Tony had an idea. He asked the man behind the counter if these women came in every night. They did. Tony asked if the woman with the birthday came in every night, because he wanted to give her a birthday party. The man called his wife in from the kitchen, and he told her, “This guy wants to give Agnes a birthday party tomorrow. What do you think?” With a big smile on her face, she agreed this was a great idea. The counter man said the cake was his specialty, and Tony could provide the decorations.

The next night, Tony arrived at 2:30 am with balloons and a banner that said, “Happy Birthday Agnes”. The place was already packed with other working girls who had heard about the party. And at 3 am Agnes walked in with her friends and was greeted with an enthusiastic rendition of “Happy Birthday to you!”

Tony said he had never seen a person so flabbergasted and stunned. Agnes stood with her mouth open, unable to speak. Harry, the counter man, told her to hurry up and blow out the candles so everyone could have a piece. But, with tears in her eyes Agnes said she had never had a birthday cake in her life, and she asked to take it home and keep it for a while. They all agreed, and she said she would be back soon because she lived nearby.

While Agnes was gone, Tony asked if they would mind if he led them in a prayer for Agnes on her birthday. They agreed and when he finished, with hostility in his voice Harry said, “You never told us you were some kind of a preacher. What church do you belong to?” Tony had a moment of inspiration and told him, “I belong to the church that gives birthday parties for prostitutes at 3 in the morning.” Harry didn’t believe it. He said, “There’s no church like that. If there were, I’d belong to it!” (as told in Tony Campolo, The Kingdom of God is a Party)

It’s the kind of church Jesus expects us to be. “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.” Think how different our week would be if we were to treat each person as someone important and valued. It would become more difficult to raise our voice at someone we love just because we aren’t getting our way. It would become uncomfortable to decide to avoid someone because they are difficult or from a different place. It would become unthinkable to decide we are better than someone else simply because we are more educated or more financially blessed.

It humors us to consider those people at the wedding feast jockeying for positions of importance at the table, only to be publicly humiliated as they are moved to a lower position. Of course, in the end where they sit will have no bearing on their eternal life with God. But there is a lesson for each of us. When we sit in church deciding who belongs, when we decide we have given enough because no one seems to notice our efforts, when we cannot be bothered by someone else because there are more important things to do, we should keep in mind that the Kingdom of God is like a party to which everyone is invited. Everyone!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

“Lord, will only a few people be saved?” That question from one of the bystanders in the crowd around Jesus is so interesting. The questioner probably thought he was on the right side of the question. As a member of the Chosen People of God, he felt sure he already had his place in God’s kingdom. But he wondered how crowded it would be, because obviously there were so many who did not seem worthy. On the part of God, everyone belongs, because the reason for each person’s creations is that they one day share eternal life with God. That is why the answer of Jesus is somewhat surprising.

He says the gate is narrow, and you have to strive to get in (the Greek word of the gospel literally means “struggle greatly”). Perhaps the hardest thing for us to realize is that the gate is not placed there by God, for he welcomes everyone into his kingdom. The gate is of our own creation. We are the ones who want to decide who belongs and who does not. So, we listen for language differences, or look at skin colors, or judge a person’s legal status, instead of seeing a brother or sister in Christ. Our struggle is not over. We are the ones who decide what is most important in our life.

So, when school or work or sports time is more important than family time, when our time on social media leaves little time for actual conversation with someone important in our life, our struggle is not over. We are the ones who decide that God is not offended by our selfishness, our anger, our lying, and so we excuse our self. We choose to sin and then depend on God’s mercy to be given in the future. The fact is we are not yet living in harmony with God. The struggle is not over. Lewis Smedes spent a day at the Los Angeles county jail trying to bail someone out.

After seeing a stream of assorted thugs and addicts coming in and out of the jail, Smedes became rather cynical. What a bunch of losers, he thought. He struck up a conversation with a young black man in a pastoral collar who was visiting the jail. It turns out that this young man was not a pastor; he was an insurance salesman who spent one day each week ministering to people in lock-up at the county jail. Smedes was curious about the kind of people he met in his ministry. Weren't they all addicts? Weren't they all losers? The young man replied, "Well, maybe they are, but that's just not the way I divide people up.

The only two categories of people I really care about are the forgiven people and the unforgiven people." (Lewis B. Smedes. A Life of Distinction) It is true, the gate is narrow, but everybody does not come in at the same moment. Each of us works our way along as we squeeze into that passageway between this world and the wonderful life God prepares for us. No one is created to be excluded. Going the wrong way is not important as long as we return to the right path. Our social position, our possessions, our abilities do not open the gate. Jesus has already opened it for us. We are all forgiven, if we wish to receive that gift.

But, the only way to get through the gate is to become like him. He has shown us the way. And our struggle is not over.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

A Baptist pastor fresh out of seminary was assigned to a small church in the hills of Kentucky. In his first sermon, he condemned gambling, especially betting on the horses. The sermon was not well received. "You see, Reverend," a parishioner explained, "this whole area is known for its fine horses. Lots of our members make their living breeding racehorses."

The next Sunday the pastor spoke on the evils of smoking, and again, his sermon was not well received – for many of his members also grew tobacco. The third week the pastor preached on the evils of drinking, only to discover after that a major distillery was one of the town's largest employers.

Chastised for his choice of sermon topics, the frustrated pastor exclaimed, "Well, then, what can I preach about?" A kindly older woman spoke up and said, "Pastor, preach against those godless Chinese communists. Why, there isn’t a Chinese communist within 4,000 miles of here!"

In some ways it is shocking to hear the words of Jesus in today’s gospel as he declares that he has not come to bring peace to the world, but division. We call Jesus the Prince of Peace, because he shows us that the world can be a better place if we choose to imitate his patience and forgiveness and selfless love. How in the world can Jesus be a source of division?

Think of those princes in the first reading who are offended by the prophet Jeremiah as he challenges the people of Israel to return to placing their trust in God and stop relying on their army. Jeremiah tells them to accept their current situation as part of God’s plan. Their answer to the challenging situation is to put the prophet down into a cistern. If he’s out of sight, they won’t have to deal with him any longer.

So often we try to do the same with the message of Jesus. Someone ignores our hard work, or says something we do not like, or perhaps even chooses to do something that offends us. We could simply put them on our “enemies list” and begin to act as if they longer exist. But Jesus does not accept our making such an easy decision. He calls us to forget our self and continue to have an attitude that reflects patience with their imperfections and respect for them as we choose to treat them as a brother or sister.

Often the ones we love the most also take us for granted the most. And when that happens, we can easily have our feelings hurt as they presume that we will be willing to forgive their selfishness or expect that their appreciation and love for us does not need to be expressed. But, as we follow the example of Jesus, we cannot give in to resentment or selfishness. The decision of Jesus is that he loves us so completely that we are going to be forgiven of any offense that we commit. And if we are on his side, we have to forgive in the same way.

It is easy to begin to approach our life with others as a type of balancing act. We measure what we give, the time we spend, the type of attitude we have toward another against how we feel they are willing to giving back to us. But then we consider the powerful love of Jesus – he embraced the terrible death on the cross and gave away everything he had so that we would never doubt that we are forgiven, and that we are loved. So, every time we decide to be selfish, that we have done enough for God or others, when we determine that someone does not deserve anything more from us, we discover we are putting our self on the wrong side. Jesus does not limit his love, so we cannot be comfortable doing so.

Jesus does not declare that he entered the world to set up a battle between his followers and the world. The division he speaks of comes about within our self. We choose to imitate Jesus, or we choose to allow things in our life that are not worthy of Jesus. The love of Jesus for us will not change. But, as we choose to focus on loving him, it changes us to turn away from all those things that are not worthy of one who follows Jesus.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

The respected priest Father Henri Nouwen once described in a story about a family of German trapeze artists called the Flying Rodleighs. Henri Nouwen greatly admired the Flying Rodleighs. They became close friends and they even let him practice with them on the trapeze.

Once, Nouwen recalls, he asked the leader of this group of trapeze artists about flying through the air. The leader of these trapeze artists explained his craft like this: “As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher,” he said. “The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of the air . . . I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me . . . The worst thing the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher. A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms that his catcher will be there for him.” (Robert A. Jonas, Henri Nouwen: Spirituality and Practice) Today’s second reading gives us an opportunity to reflect on the part our faith plays in our daily life. If asked, we would admit that we believe in God, that we are inspired and challenged by the teachings of Jesus, that we know that we were created for something greater than this world. We are people of faith.

But, does our faith make us ready, like Abraham, to leave behind things that we are comfortable with in our life to go where God leads us? Abraham left his homeland and his people to go to a new country, counting on the promise God made him that this land would be given to him and his descendants. We make our plans, but sometimes they don’t work out. We depend on other people, and they do not meet our expectations. It is easy to become frustrated and angry. But, when we remember that in the end God is in control of our life, and he loves us completely, we discover that we can be at peace with the fact that things are different – God is always there waiting to catch us.

Sometimes we grow impatient with God. We have been suffering for a long time and we wonder if this is the way our life will always be. We pray for someone we love, but their troubles continue to wear them down. We want to be closer to God but carrying out our good resolution to overcome a sin that is part of our life seems to end most times in failure. Abraham had been promised a son, but year after year his faith in the truthfulness of God was tested. Long after we would have given up, when Abraham was near 100 and Sarah 90, the promised son, Isaac was born. We don’t have the ability to schedule God. He answers our prayers and gives his blessings when he knows the time is right. We cannot snatch the answer out of the air.

Think of that terrible day when Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son. The Letter to the Hebrews says that Abraham trusted that God would be true to his promise to give Abraham descendants through Isaac. So, the writer of Hebrews says Abraham trusted that God would give Isaac back alive to carry through that promise. When we lose a loved one, our loss and loneliness become the focus of our life. But Jesus has promised that he will give them back to us alive. God tested Abraham’s faith, and he tests ours. But, out there in the darkness, he is waiting with strong hands to catch us.

As a person of faith, we are meant to fly – to find hope in moments of trouble, to be strong when it seems our faith is not enough to get us through the troubles, to love and serve because we want to be more like Jesus. It is not our job to catch God and wrestle him around to our way of thinking. But, when we leap out toward God with faith, he is already there, waiting to catch us in the warm embrace of his love.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

A rich woman lost her husband. Betty had been away from church for many years and she felt isolated and lonely in her grief. It seemed that God had forgotten her. She went to a grocery store, but found she wasn't particularly interested in buying groceries for one.

This store held many memories. Her husband often went shopping with her. He'd pretend to go off and look for some special food, but she knew what he was up to. She'd see him walking down the aisle with three yellow roses in his hands. He knew she loved yellow roses. Her heart was filled with grief. She wanted to buy a few items and flee. Shopping for one took time, more time than shopping for two.

She looked for a small steak, feeling lonely and forsaken, even by God. Suddenly a young woman came up beside her. She picked up a large pack of T-bones, dropped them in her basket, hesitated, and then put them back. She turned to go and once again reached for the pack of steaks. Then she saw Betty watching her. She smiled and said. "My husband loves T-bones, but at these prices ... I just don't know what to do." Betty responded, "My husband passed away eight days ago. Buy him the steaks and cherish every moment you have together." The woman placed the steaks in her basket and wheeled away. Betty was on the other side of the store when she saw the young woman coming toward her.

There was a package in the woman's arms and a bright smile on her face. Her eyes held Betty's eyes which soon filled with tears when she saw what the woman was carrying. "These are for you," the woman said, placing three beautiful long-stemmed yellow roses in Betty's arms. "When you go through the check-out line, they will know that these are paid for." She reached over and kissed Betty's tear-stained cheek, smiled, and left. Betty wanted to tell the woman what she had done but couldn't speak. Suddenly, it dawned on Betty that she wasn't alone. God had not forgotten her. "That woman was my angel," she said out loud. (from Ron Lavin) Part of us would like to be in the position of the man in the parable today.

His problem seemed to be that he had so much stuff he needed to create bigger barns to store it all. He was set to live and enjoy himself for a long time. But, of course, the problem was that he was leaving this world today and didn’t have any accomplishments that he could take with him as he stood before God. All his possessions would remain behind. It is difficult for us to live out the challenge Jesus offers in today’s gospel. We are like that man fighting with his brother. We want what we think belongs to us long before we become serious about the call of Jesus to forget our self and serve those around us.

But the valuable things we take with us as we leave this world will be measured out in terms of love and service and generosity. Perhaps we don’t have an extra dollar, but we have extra time and we can freely choose to give our full attention to someone as we allow a lonely person the pleasure of sharing their thoughts and concerns with us. Having a bigger house or a new car is exciting, but soon these things become commonplace. But family time shared at meals, playing games, helping someone else creates memories and good habits that last for a lifetime. It is reassuring to have more money than we need in our pocket, but when we decide to use what we have to bless another, or to help our church, we know that our generosity will never be greater than the generosity God will show to us. The world is full of people like the lady in the grocery store who need an angel. They aren’t always easily seen. But, when we pause and remember how much we have been given by God, we have to consider our responsibility. What is important when we leave this world is not what we have left behind, but what we have done today to use the blessings we have been given to bless those in need around us.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

Barbara Bartocci was searching for the perfect birthday card for her husband. She came across a promising one. On the outside it read: “Sweetheart, you’re the answer to my prayers.” Then she turned to the inside, which was inscribed like this, “You’re not what I prayed for exactly, but apparently you’re the answer.” The message on that funny little birthday card became the Bartocci family motto over the years. Whenever a family member struggled with a setback or disappointment, someone would remark, “Well, it’s not what you prayed for, but apparently it’s the answer.”

The Bartoccis learned to find comfort and wisdom in accepting whatever answer God sent them. (“The Unexpected Answer,” by Barbara Bartocci, Reader’s Digest, Sept. 1984, pp. 87-88.) We are people of prayer. Most of us would say that we do not pray often enough or well enough, but we make prayer part of our routine. And we certainly turn to God in prayer on behalf of a loved one or for our self in a time of need. We, like the disciple in today’s gospel, would like to know better how to pray, because in the end we are people who expect results. We want to turn to God with confidence that what we ask for will be given.

Perhaps the most important lesson Jesus gives on prayer is so familiar to us that it passes us by. He says we do not need to turn to God with fear or pounding on the door of heaven like the neighbor in the parable trying to get his neighbor out of bed to help him in his need. He says, we can turn to God and call him “Father”. The Aramaic word he uses is the same as our word “Daddy”. Just as we know that a loving father listens to every request made by their child, so does God himself. The Creator of the universe is not too remote or too busy to give us his full attention — he is always focusing his full attention on us. We know that a loving father gives their child what they know is best. Sometimes it is what they want. Sometimes it is a challenge. Sometimes the answer is “No” because it is not for their good. And Jesus says that if an earthly father loves in this way, imagine how our Heavenly Father will express his love. God chose to create each of us personally, he thinks of us at every moment, he knows what is best for us and wants to bless us even more than we can imagine. So, when we turn to God in prayer, we know that we are not bargaining, we are expressing our confidence that he loves us completely, he is listening, and it is his nature to answer our needs. Even when it seems we may not be given what we expected; we should not forget the correct answer is always given. Our Father always knows what is best.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Best-selling Christian artist David Crowder had an experience that changed his views on God. He was in high school, and he regularly attended church. He thought he had God all figured out. However, one particular day, he was feeling down. He wandered around his local mall, then bought a chicken sandwich and sat down to eat it. As he bit into this delicious sandwich, David suddenly realized that all good things come from God. And tears filled his eyes as he realized how grateful he was to God.

This happened, not in a church, not in a Sunday night youth group, but in the middle of a mall food court. He described the experience as a moment of unexpected joy. He writes, “That’s when I realized that every second is an opportunity for us to experience God. There’s not a second he’s not there and available to us.” (“One Great Sandwich” by Dave Crowder) I have a wonderful friend who is always sympathetic with Martha and irritated by the actions of Mary and Jesus.

After all, Martha was carrying out the serious obligation her society valued so highly (as we see in the first reading today when Abraham insists on offering hospitality to the strangers passing by his tent.) She was making all the preparations to honor their special guest with a delicious meal. And Mary sat there at the feet of Jesus, leaving her to do all the work.

My friend always says, “You know that after Jesus and Mary got finished with their discussion, their first question was going to be ‘What’s for supper?’” Yet Jesus is clear that Mary had chosen the better part — she is focused first of all on him. Like Martha, we have our moments when we feel we are being treated unfairly or decide we have done enough and someone else can take over.

But, in those moments we have to remember that Jesus is the reason we volunteer, love is the reason we make a sacrifice, gratitude for our blessings makes us willing to share them with others. Suddenly we experience the joy of knowing Jesus is with us in every good thing we do in his honor. Like Martha, we let our self become anxious and burdened by many things. Our parents don’t approve of our friends or our way of living.

A child breaks our heart because they are leaving behind our family’s values and traditions. Our health is bad, we don’t like our job, we feel like things are out of our control. But in those moments, we remember that we are loved by someone completely. We have the joy of knowing that Jesus is with us, he forgives our failings, he delights in every little good thing we do in his name. We have the joy of knowing that we are not alone because our brother Jesus is always at our side.

Mary did choose the better part. She chose to do what we also have to do — to take some time to quietly sit in the presence of Jesus, maybe in a church, maybe in our room, maybe in the food court of the mall. Jesus is always there, loving us, blessing us, inspiring us. And when we realize that, suddenly we realize that everything we do is an opportunity to unite what we do with Jesus himself. And he will make us happy.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

In October, 2015 Reader’s Digest had a story titled “The Man at the Market.” It was contributed by Leslie Wagner from Peel, Arkansas. Ms. Wagner told of being in a supermarket one time. When she checked out, the clerk tallied up her groceries. Much to Ms. Wagner’s surprise she discovered that her bill was $12 over what she had in her purse.

With embarrassment she began to remove items from the bags in her cart. Quite to her surprise another shopper saw her predicament and handed her a $20 bill. Embarrassed, Wagner said to the person making this generous offer, “Please don’t put yourself out.” “Let me tell you a story,” said this kind person. “My mother is in the hospital with cancer. I visit her every day and bring her flowers. I went this morning, and she got mad at me for spending my money on more flowers. She demanded that I do something else with that money. So, here, please accept this. It is my mother’s flowers.” And so, gratefully, she did accept the gift. The beloved story of the Good Samaritan in today’s gospel is a powerful challenge to each of us to be careful that we do not permit our self to ignore the opportunities around us to help another in their moment of need.

The one in need is the person Jesus sees as our opportunity to treat another in the way we wish to be treated —our neighbor. He says nothing about living next door to someone. Jesus says our neighbor is the one who is in need who can be blessed if we put our good will into action and do something to help them. But there is another side to this story we do not usually consider. The man attacked by robbers received the help of this stranger. He is definitely in a position in which we do not want to be — depending on the help of another. We want to be self-sufficient. So, we suffer in silence, and we struggle, and we do without something we need because we don’t want to admit our need.

The Good Samaritan was able to bless this stranger because he was willing to accept his help. When someone we love is taken from us, family and friends want to help but they don’t know what to say, so they want to bring food or help us take care of things for us. We can let them give us this gift of their care. When we are sick, doctors take care of us, but others want to give us a ride, or help us with laundry, or just sit with us for a time so we are not alone. We can accept this gift of their love. There are times when we need a job, or feel discouraged by our troubles, or wonder if we have been abandoned by God and everyone else. A sympathetic friend wants to help, to listen, to give us a shoulder to lean on.

We can accept their gift. Many times, we discover that we can bring blessings to another by forgetting our self and giving the gift of our time and our possessions to them in their time of need. We can be a Good Samaritan. But we should be careful to not let our pride prevent someone else from blessing us. In our need, we look up and there we see our neighbor, hoping we will accept the gift of their love.!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

Ray Sexton, a psychiatrist, tells about a troubled man who went to see a psychiatrist. The patient reported that he had difficulty when he arrived in his home. He would walk into his bedroom thinking that something was under his bed. Consequently, he would crawl under his bed, look thoroughly and see nothing, and would then be hit with the idea that something was on top of his bed. Quickly, he would look at the top of his bed closely and see nothing. Again, the idea would hit him that something was under his bed. This would go on over and over. Top, underneath, top, underneath, top, underneath. The gentleman told the psychiatrist that this was driving him crazy. He needed some relief.

The psychiatrist reassured him that he had a correctable problem but that it would require weekly visits to dig out his deep-rooted conflicts. The cost would be $100 per visit, once per week over a period of about two years. Somewhat dazed, the patient left the office without making an appointment. He was not seen or heard from by the psychiatrist for about six months. The psychiatrist accidentally ran into him at a neighborhood restaurant. The psychiatrist asked him, “Joe I haven’t heard from you. Whatever happened?”

The patient said, “Well when you told me how long it would take and the expense, I was devastated. I immediately went to the bar to drink away my despair, but the bartender cured me in one session for ten dollars. I haven’t had a problem since.” The psychiatrist asked him, “What in the world did the bartender do?” Joe happily responded, “The bartender told me to go home and saw the legs off of my bed.” “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few, so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” These words from today’s gospel are often used to encourage us to pray for religious vocations, for there continues to be a great need for more priests, deacons and women and men in religious life to continue the ministry of the church in an official capacity.

But, think about the 72 appointed by Jesus to go to the neighboring villages. They were not apostles. They were representatives of Jesus.

They were instructed to not bring extra provisions for their journey – God would assure they would be cared for by the generosity of the people who received their message. They had no special training or program to follow. They came with the simple message of the love of Jesus. And they were successful beyond their expectations, because God was working through them.

When we hear the words of Jesus, our temptation is to make the focus of his challenge too narrow, that it is only the work of ordained and consecrated persons that transforms the world around us. But the harvest is great, and the laborers are few. Each of us has a part to play. No special equipment is needed, simply a good heart. We don’t need to give a sermon to those in our home about patience, or forgiveness or generosity. There will be plenty of opportunities to put these into practice if we seriously want to reflect the love of Jesus to those we love.

We don’t have to open a food pantry in our garage – there is a lonely neighbor or a member of our family whom we haven’t seen for a time. We can invite them to join us for a meal because we love Jesus. There is no need to pressure another to join us in prayer or to come to a retreat. Our example of goodness, our words of comfort, our willingness to help as soon as we are asked – our example speaks powerfully about the power of Jesus for good in our world.

There are those who think everything is complicated and programs are needed and money has to be spent. But it is actually rather simple. Jesus is inviting each of us to join him in bringing his message of love to those who need to hear it. As we make sure that what we think and how we speak and what we do always reflects well on our relationship with Jesus, he will take care of the rest. The harvest is great, but the laborers are few. We have work to do! -

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

There is a story about a board meeting that Satan once called in hell. At this meeting Satan put this question to his senior advisors: “We need to develop a new strategy for causing havoc upon earth. Do you have any suggestions for a new means of reaching human beings for our side?” One advisor suggested, “Tell them there is no heaven.” Another said, “Tell them there is no hell.” But the prize-winning suggestion was judged to be much more effective: “Tell them there is no hurry.” Today’s gospel passage describes Jesus on his final journey to Jerusalem. And we see that even though he knew what was to come, he continued to invite others to follow him. By this time, he was famous, so some had a desire to be with Jesus. Others received a personal invitation from Jesus. As the passage unfolds, one theme remains constant. There were always other things in life considered to be so important that following Jesus could be postponed. There would be time to follow Jesus later.

At a certain moment in our life, we made the decision to be a disciple of Jesus. For most of us we were already familiar with what was needed, because our parents had led us into our relationship with Jesus by our baptism and our religious education. For others, it came after our study and conversion. Perhaps we walked away for a time, and then came to see again how important Jesus is in our life. But whether we were aware of it or not, Jesus was always there inviting us to follow him.

So many times we are not in a hurry to follow him. There are times we would prefer to excuse our selfishness or pride or anger because we are a weak human being. But Jesus is calling us to be his disciple now, accepting the opportunity to share our blessings or give away our time. He calls us to forget our self and look for the opportunity to serve another. He gives us the ability to keep things in perspective, to not let something someone says or does cause us to stop reflecting his love and goodness.

In our home we live with those who are most precious to us. But so often we get busy with work and with activities outside our home and we forget what is most important. It is easy to miss having a conversation because everyone is focused on the screen of their personal devices. There’s not much time to enjoy each other’s company if there is never a meal together, or a family outing, or conversation between parents and children to share dreams for the future. Living with a spirit of gratitude as we look for a way to bless others, to invite them into our home or care for them in their need does not happen if we don’t take the time to create the opportunity. When we decide there’s no hurry in creating a home filled with love and happiness and forgiveness, we soon enough discover everyone is grown up and gone their own way.

We have our moments of inspiration when we decide we are going to be more prayerful, or become more involved at the parish, or make sure that those we love know how important they are to us. And we have our moments when we commit our self to being a better disciple of Jesus. But, the time to put all the good intentions into action is now, because there is one thing of which we can never be sure. Whenever we say to our self that there is no hurry when Jesus invites us to follow him, to do more and love more and give more, there is a possibility that the opportunity is passing us by, not to return again! -

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Father Stephen's Message

There is a little town in Alabama where the major livelihood was raising cotton. One year, when everyone thought they were going to have a bumper crop, a little insect called the "boll weevil" invaded, devastated the crop, and destroyed the economy of that little town.

There were some farmer there who were determined not to just sit back and move into the poor house. One man got the idea that he could plant peanuts instead, because boll weevils don't like peanuts. Another farmer decided to plant peanuts and others followed suite and before long, bumper crops of peanuts began to repair the economy of this town. The town later became known as Enterprise, Alabama. Do you know what they did? They erected a monument to the boll weevil, because they look at the boll weevil today, not as a curse, but as a blessing. Every one of us has big plans. The plans are not about our work, or about our children, or about our rising to importance in this world. Our plan is to one day achieve what God created us to be — one who lives forever with him in heaven.

We cannot really imagine what that will be like in this world because everything here is passing — every joy can be turned to a moment of sadness, everything we possess can be lost, even those persons who make our life rich with purpose can be taken from us. But we are promised there is something more. Today we recall the great gift of himself that Jesus left for us. As St. Paul reminds us, it has been handed on to us that at the Last Supper as Jesus took the bread and wine of the Passover supper, he gave it a new significance.

He transformed it into his Body and Blood and told his apostles to continue doing the same in remembrance of him. He would continue to become present on every Altar as the priest repeated his words. He would give a brief experience of heaven in every Communion as he promises those who receive that they will live forever with him one day. He remains present in the tabernacle, a constant reminder that we are not left to find our way through the darkness alone. Jesus is with us. So many times we treat the presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist like the standard for measuring our life with God. If we haven’t committed any serious sins, we go to Communion. If we are aware of serious obstacle in our relationship with God, we refrain from receiving.

But this gift of himself is the greatest sign of Jesus’ love for us. So, as we go to Communion, we shouldn’t feel content because we are only a little angry, or generous most of the time. The love of Jesus challenges us to love others as much as he has loved us. And, if we are not receiving Communion, the love of Jesus continues to call us to do all we can to change the things in our life that keep us from him, for nothing will stop him from loving us. We have great plans — one day we will live forever in heaven with God. But today we are reminded that Jesus has even greater plans. He’s not waiting for us to get there — he is with us today. He is not remembered in some monument erected in his honor. In every Mass, each time we receive Communion, as we kneel before the tabernacle, we remember what has been handed on to us.

The presence of Jesus with us offers us the possibility of living with him now in such a way that we are ready to be with him forever, whenever that moment comes.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Trinity Sunday

Father Stephen's Message

The story is told of a Sunday class that was asked the question, “In your time of discouragement, what is your favorite Scripture?” A young man said, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Psalm 23:1.” A middle-age woman said, “God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1.”

Then Mr. John, who was 80 years old, stood up and said with as much strength as he could muster, “And it came to pass — in the Bible 85 times.” The class started to laugh a little thinking that old Mr. John’s memory was starting to fail. When the laughing stopped, he said: “At 30 I lost my job with six hungry children and a wife to feed. I didn’t know how I would make it. At 40 my eldest son was killed overseas in the war. It knocked me down. At 50 my house burned to the ground. Nothing was saved out of the house. At 60 my wife of 40 years got cancer. It slowly ate away at her. We cried together many a night on our knees in prayer. At 65 she died. I still miss her today.

“The pain I went through in each of these situations was unbelievable. I wondered where God was. But each time I looked in the Bible I saw one of those 85 verses that said, ‘and it came to pass.’ I felt that God was telling me, my pain and my circumstances were also going to pass and that God would get me through it.” Then he said, “And it came to pass.” (from The Timothy Report)

In today’s second reading St. Paul writes a very peculiar thing to the Romans: “. . . we even boast of our afflictions, . . .” This idea seems to be possible as long as it is left to be theoretical. We know that if we fight temptations, we become stronger in doing what is right. We know that when we face terrible moments in our life with courage, we grow in our confidence that we can overcome what life brings. We know that the human spirit is strong, we can triumph over obstacles that seem to be impossible to overcome. In theory we know these things, we just don’t want to have to prove this in our own life.

St. Paul was so confident that we could face anything in our life and be victorious because of the mystery that we celebrate today. Jesus revealed something about God not known before his coming. God’s nature involves a community of love between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And by our baptism we were given the ability to share in that community of love. So, when our life is filled with worry and sorrow and suffering, we remember that we are being watched over by a loving Father, who personally chose to bring us into the world, who holds us in his loving hands at every moment, who will never stop loving us and caring for us.

Even as we feel the weight of our cross, we remember that our brother Jesus has shown us that we can overcome any obstacle. He loved us so much he entered into our human condition, he shared our sorrows and joys, he offered himself on a cross so that we would never doubt how much we are loved or that we are forgiven. And after dying on that cross, he took up his life again and promises us that he will be there to give us what we need to get up from whatever weighs us down, for he will share eternal life with us. There are moments of doubt, when we wonder where God is to be discovered in the troubles we face. And the Holy Spirit, reminds us that we are loved, lends us the strength we need to go on, gives us the courage to confidently renew our hope, for the presence of the Spirit assures us that God will never abandon us.

Good times and bad times always “come to pass,” for nothing in this world lasts forever. But we know the great truth that we celebrate today. Our baptism introduced us into a wonderful community of love — we share in the life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Pentecost Sunday

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

There was a college student who spent a year living with a group of Native Americans of the Navajo tribe as part of his doctoral studies. As he did research, he lived with members of a Navajo family. He slept in their home, ate their food and worked side by side with them every day. As much as was possible, he tried to live as one of them.

The old grandmother of the family spoke no English and the student spoke no Navajo and yet a close relationship developed between the two. They spent a great deal of time together. Despite the language problems, they shared a common understanding of love and friendship.

And over the months, they each learned a few phrases from each other. When it came time for the young man to return to college, the tribe held a going away celebration for him. The next day, as he prepared to get in his pickup and leave, the grandmother came to tell him good-bye. With tears in her eyes, she said, "I like me best when I'm with you." (from Preaching Well) Jesus had spent three years with his apostles, and on the night before his death, he made them a promise: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” They did not know exactly what those words meant as Jesus was laid in the tomb, and then in those remarkable days when he would meet with them and eat with them, alive once again.

As they watched him ascend into heaven, they still did not appreciate what we celebrate this day. In a manner they could not have anticipated, the promise was fulfilled. On that Pentecost Sunday, with dramatic signs that something amazing was being done by God, the Holy Spirit was poured forth upon them. And the change was remarkable. No longer timid and filled with fear, they stepped out to boldly preach what they had spent years learning from Jesus. The Holy Spirit taught them how to do it and reminded them of what to say. They were at their best when they were with Jesus, and now with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they could take on the work of bringing his love to the entire world. On the day of our baptism the same Holy Spirit was poured forth upon us, and the presence of the Spirit was made more powerful in our life on the day of our confirmation. We, like those first disciples, have to admit that we would be so much better if we would always be aware of Jesus with us.

And that is exactly what the Holy Spirit is doing for us. In those moments when things are difficult and we are tempted to complain or feel that God has forgotten us, the Spirit gives us the courage and strength to embrace our part of the cross with Jesus.

When temptations are strong and we are tired of struggling to do what we know is right, the Spirit reminds us how much Jesus loves us, and our love for him gives a reason to do what we should. Jesus never wanted us to feel that he is distant from our experiences or unconcerned for our needs. So, he sent us the Advocate, the Spirit, to remind us over and over that Jesus is there with us. And we know how important it is to remember that we are with Jesus, because, “I like me best when I’m with you.”

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

The Ascension of the Lord

Father Stephen's Message

For the apostles, the days after Easter must have seemed like the perfect ending. They had witnessed the torturous death of Jesus and knew where his body had been laid to rest. They had known the overwhelming grief of suddenly losing their loved one in death.

But, for forty days they had a new experience. Jesus was alive! He had joined them on occasion for a meal and appeared when they did not expect it. They had proof that Jesus was with them, even when they did not see him directly every day. But then, things changed.

Jesus reminded them that the work was not yet completed. He was returning to the glory of heaven, but they were to travel to the ends of the earth as his witnesses. As they watched Jesus ascend beyond the clouds, none of them could imagine that their little group would grow to be the church we now know, with more than 1.2 billion followers of Jesus. But immediately one thing is made clear: they could not stand there looking up at the sky. There was work to do. Donald Grey Barnhouse tells about a sad incident that happened in the 1936 Olympics. In the women’s four-hundred-meter relay race, the Germans were far in the lead when the third runner passed the baton to the last runner. With a clear five‑yard lead and the race as good as won, the last runner dropped the baton and cost them the race. Pictures showed the despair on the face of that last runner.

Shortly after the games Barnhouse was looking at an illustrated magazine with pictures of the Olympics. The magazine happened to have texts under the pictures in three languages. The English said, “They dropped the baton,” and the French said they dropped “le temoin.” “Temoin” is an ordinary French word which means witness. The idea was that the runner who reached the tape had to have the baton as a “witness” that the full distance had been covered by each of the runners. Many centuries separate us from that group standing there looking up into the sky. But they were the first witnesses to the power of Jesus to change lives. They passed their message to others who in turn passed on the faith.

Some were martyrs, proving by their witness that loving Jesus was sometimes more important than living in this world. Some devoted their life to teaching others about how much Jesus loves them. Some became the gentle hands of Jesus caressing the sick and the sorrowful. Some lived a life of goodness and charity simply because they loved Jesus.

Our personal life is filled with witnesses. We may call her our grandmother, whose devotion to prayer challenges our ability to go through an entire day not thinking of God at all. We may call him a friend who inspires us to be more generous as we see their generous heart and good spirit even when things are difficult. We may even call them an enemy, as someone’s words or actions challenge us to consider our attitudes and willingness to imitate Jesus. Our life of faith did not just drop down out of heaven. Many have influenced and guided us all through our life, moving us to know Jesus better and love him more. Our faith is a gift, meant to be passed on to others through our influence. We are meant to be a witness to Jesus. We can’t just stand here looking up at the sky. There’s work to do!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Father Stephen's Message

A legend tells of two knights in armor who were riding down a road. They passed a shield which was hanging from a tree. They both stopped. One said, "Did you see that magnificent white shield hanging from the tree?" "I did," the other knight answered, "but, it was black." "You are color blind," shouted the first knight.

"I am certain that it was white." The debate became so heated that they climbed down from their horses and began dueling with their swords. A monk, who was passing by saw the fierce fight and stepped between them. After listening to their opposite opinions as to the color of the shield, the old monk smiled, as one possessing great wisdom, and said, "Good gentlemen, let us strike a compromise. Let us agree that the shield was not pure white or pure black; rather, it was a delicate shade of gray, which one of you saw as white in the sunlight and the other saw as black in the shadows." The knights, overcome by such wise insight, agreed.

All three men went their separate ways - and all of them were wrong. For the truth was that the knights had passed the shield on opposite sides, and the shield was black on one side and white on the other. The Jewish converts to Christianity were there first. The Acts of the Apostles describes their efforts to put into practice the call of Jesus to forget their self and to care for others.

They even sold what they had and gave the money to the apostles to care for the vulnerable people in their community. But things began to change. Paul and Barnabas were very successful in bringing the gentile people to accept and follow Jesus, and those who were there first had a problem.

These people were different, they didn’t belong to the Chosen People. Those Jewish converts thought they had the perfect solution — if the gentile converts would become just like them, embrace the Jewish religious customs and then follow Jesus, all would be well. But, as we read today, telling grown men they had to be circumcised according to the Mosaic practice in order to be saved caused “no little dissension and debate.” No doubt! They saw following Jesus from one side, the gentiles from the other. They were so sure of the righteousness of their position that one thing was lost — they were not focusing on the one who gives salvation: Jesus Christ.

After so many centuries we are tempted to see this whole controversy as an interesting historical note with little bearing on what happens here in our Christian community. We would not be comfortable using racial or ritual tests to decide who is worthy to be here. True. Yet think how easily we decide that someone who is disturbing our prayers should not be here. And we pass judgment on someone else’s lifestyle or orientation to decide if they should worship with us. If we see someone who has offended us, we become focused on them and lose our focus on why we are here. It is still easy to forget the one who brings us all here: Jesus Christ.

The ancient prescription is still the best. “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden . . .” All they were asked to do was avoid the things that would cause grave scandal to the faithful. So, it is with us. We are not the judge of anyone else. We are called to leave them alone and focus on the one who is the center of all we do: Jesus Christ. And if we do that, all we do in our community will be blessed.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Father Stephen's Message

Most Protestant churches removed from some of the early versions of the Creed: "He descended into Hell." The reason we took it out was that there is scant Biblical evidence for it, but I want to say to you that it is real. My friend, Jim Harnish, tells the story of a chaplain in a mental hospital, working with patients to prepare a worship service. When they came to the Creed they discussed whether or not to leave it in or take it out, and one of the patients said, "It has to be there! I have to know that He has descended into hell with me!" He's been there with us and He knows what it means to be human. In the same fashion we need to be there for some others in the hell of their lives, loving them for Christ. He continually asks the question: Will you love as I love? (Maxie Dunnam)

When Jesus says to his closest friends that he is giving them a new commandment, it is surprising that he says something so old: “Love one another.” That had been taught by the prophets. After three years of listening to his teachings and observing his actions, surely none of them were surprised. They had heard about denying yourself and taking up the cross and loving an enemy and that we are to forgive because God has forgiven us. But in so many ways, Christian life for them was a beautiful ideal, a theory for approaching God in a more positive manner.

Jesus was not there to reinforce happy ideas. Soon he would endure terrible torture and embrace the cross and offer himself in the place of all sinful humanity so that we could be saved from the guilt we carry because we have not loved God as he deserves. He gave away all he had so that we could never doubt that we are forgiven and that we are loved. “Love one another as I have loved you” is a beautiful aspiration until we come to realize how Jesus proved his love. As he has done, so we are to do.

We want to have a welcoming church community. So, we have to decide if we believe everyone is welcome here. We alone can give the gift of our full attention to someone we would prefer to ignore, especially if they have offended us or we think that they want something from us. As Jesus has loved, so must we.

We want a home filled with faith, because we know there will be times of suffering and challenge and we will need the assurance that God is with us in our troubles. But we decide to make the time to pray together, to enjoy each other’s company, to practice generosity and forgiveness with those who share our home. As Jesus has loved, so must we.

There may even be someone we know who is living in the hell of their own life, perhaps because of circumstances, perhaps because of their own decisions. It is easy to stay away because we don’t know what to say or do, or to sit as their judge because we are more perfect. But, as Jesus has loved, so must we.

What is it that makes, “Love one another” something new? Practicing that beautiful idea in the manner of Jesus — giving everything we have because we love Jesus.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

The famous American painter, Benjamin West always told the story of how he became a distinguished artist. One day, Benjamin was left at home to watch his baby sister. Unknown to his mother, he took out his oil paints and brushes — and painted a rather unique picture of his younger sister. He made a huge mess in the process. His mother returned home earlier than expected from her errands. She saw the awful mess and the portrait of his younger sister.

Benjamin said what she did next completely surprised him. She picked up his painting and said, "My, what a beautiful painting of your sister." She gave him a kiss on the cheek and walked away. With that kiss, West says, he became a painter. It was the kiss of encouragement. (Eric Ritz) As we celebrate Mother’s Day we have an opportunity to reflect on all the moments of encouragement we have received from our mother.

Dorothy Rose Dieter Bierschenk had eight sons and six daughters and growing up as the eldest child of that huge family, I was able to learn some powerful lessons from her example. She showed us that prayer is a way of life. We began the day with the Morning Offering, asking God to help us give all we did that day for his honor.

We added extra prayers to the grace before meals, asking for rain, or in thanksgiving, or just so the “little kids” could learn them. In a big storm, my mother would light a blessed candle and gather us all in the hallway of our small house to say the rosary as the winds rattled the windows. In countless little ways God was made present, for my mother had us join her in speaking to him as part of our daily routine. My mother showed us that each person is valuable. We were a competitive bunch. Some were talented musicians. Some were very intelligent. Some were athletically skilled. Some were driven to achieve. Others were content with doing what was easiest and nothing more. But negative comparisons were not allowed. My mother would glory in the honor achieved by one of her children, and she would celebrate every achievement, and she would gently encourage us if we were discouraged by reminding us that the most important thing was doing our best in any endeavor.

My mother showed us that love was the bond that held us together as a family. We led a simple life as poor people with few luxuries. But we were encouraged to include younger and older brothers and sisters in activities and chores. We learned to share, to be patient, to enjoy the hilarious moments of life and to help each other in times of trouble.

My mother wouldn’t allow holding grudges or being selfish. With her leadership and example, we were bound together with loving care for one another that continues to this day. If she had her way, every mother would continue to care for and control her child as if they were three-years-old. But the day always comes when each son or daughter becomes their own independent person.

Today we pray in a special way that God will reward each mother for her sacrifices, that she will be surrounded with honor and love. After all, it is from her encouragement that we know the type of person we should be today.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Third Sunday of Easter

Father Stephen's Message

In his book, Remember Who You Are, William H. Willimon says that he recalls one thing his mother always told him whenever he left the house to go on a date during his high school days. As he left the house, she would stand at the front door and call after him, "Will, don't forget who you are." Today’s gospel tells an interesting story.

Jesus had spent three years preparing his disciples for very important work. They were to be his representatives, sharing his message with the whole world. But, after he rose from the dead, he was not with them every moment of every day as he had been during his public ministry.

He appeared to them, ate and drank with them, and then he disappeared. It seems that they did not exactly know what to do next. So, one day Peter decided to go back to what he had been comfortable with for so many years – they got back into the boat and went fishing. It seems they had forgotten who they were, the chosen disciples of Jesus.

Then history repeats itself. After being unsuccessful in catching anything, a voice from the shoreline calls out a suggestion that they try throwing the nets over the other side of the boat. Our response would probably be to be angry because someone who had not spent the night struggling with nets had the nerve to call out a suggestion from the comfort of the shore. But, when they tried it, the results were dramatic. The net was filled with fish, just as it had been that day when Jesus first called Peter and Andrew to become fishers of men.

As events unfold, they eat breakfast with Jesus, but they are too overwhelmed to even ask if he truly is Jesus. Then something beautiful happens. Jesus does not confront Peter about the terrible burden he is carrying in his heart. Peter bragged at their last meal together that he would die with Jesus. But then he betrayed him as he acted as if he did not know him at all on that terrible night before the crucifixion. Jesus takes him aside, and instead of condemning him, he invites him to express his love three times. And each time he calls Peter to remember who he truly is, “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” During this Easter season we are reminded over and over that we have the opportunity to begin again in our life. Even the worst sin can be forgiven because Jesus died on the cross. When we die, it is not the end, for Jesus rose from the dead and promises that we will one day live forever with him in glory.

On the day of our Baptism we were transformed into a sister or brother of Jesus. We are now meant to be his disciple, his representative in the world. But it is all too easy for us to go back to our old ways. When it comes to giving away some of our money or some of our time, we suddenly revert to being like a two-year-old and declare this is “Mine!” as we excuse our selfishness.

Faced with someone who treats us unfairly, we go back to our ten-year-old days as we think about what can be said or done to pay them back for offending us. In those moments when the people we know best and love the most are getting on our nerves because they are so imperfect, we suddenly decide to return to our days of being single and act as if we only have to do what we want to do.

“Don’t forget who you are.” We belong to Jesus, he is our model and inspiration, his goodness and love continues to challenge us to do more to be just like him. It all began on the day of our Baptism. And one day all that is promised us will be fulfilled as we share in the glory of Jesus in heaven. And until then, every day is another opportunity to live in a way that reflects who we are – a sister or brother of Jesus.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Second Sunday of Easter - Divine Mercy Sunday

Father Stephen's Message

A young man named Charlie was in love with a charming young lady named Ava. She was in love with Charlie, but so far, he had been unable to persuade her to marry him. Then one day he invited her to lunch. They drove to the Los Angeles Coliseum, the largest sports arena on the West Coast.

In the center of the vast playing field were placed a small table and two chairs. A maître d’ showed them to the table, a captain seated them, and a waiter waited behind each chair. Apart from this small oasis, the Coliseum was empty. Something like 100,000 empty seats stared down at Charlie and Ava. The table was elegantly set. Caviar and champagne were served. Then a soufflé and salad and more champagne. And as they were waiting for dessert, Charlie directed Ava’s attention to the huge electronic scoreboard at the far end of the field. In a prearranged signal he raised his glass, and on the board flashed the words, “Darling Ava, will you marry me?” She, of course, said yes. (Milo O. Frank, How To Get Your Point Across In 30 Seconds or Less) Our life with God could be so much simpler if he would give us clear signs.

If only we could go to the index of our Bible and find our name and all the passages that refer to how we should live. We would love to hear a simple clap of thunder when we were about to do something wrong so we could change our mind. Instead, so often we are left with doubts. We hear of a really good family that experiences some terrible disaster. We have a loved one who suffers terribly and yet lingers on without relief. We have a serious need, and we have been living a good life and we call out to God over and over, but he seems to remain silent. We have our moments when we wonder if God is listening, if he loves us, even perhaps if he exists. God created us with the ability to think and reason, and so it is only natural for us to want to be able to comprehend and explain even God himself. But we cannot.

The apostle Thomas had the clear testimony of the others that Jesus was alive. But their word was not sufficient. He didn’t even suggest that the appearance of someone looking like Jesus would be enough. He wanted to see the scars, for they would prove that the person before him had given everything to prove his love.

None of us will be given the proof that Thomas received. We cannot touch the wounded hands of Jesus or see his face or hear his voice in this world. But, while Jesus admired Thomas’s quest for truth, he speaks words of higher admiration for us: “Blessed are those who have not seen but have believed.” We have our doubts, but there are signs of God at work all around us. As we look into the beautiful face of a baby quietly sleeping, we are reminded that the love of God is surrounding us just as it does that baby lying safely in its place. When we meet a person, who treats us with respect and admiration as if we were an old friend, we are given a glimpse of how important we are in the plan of God.

We know a volunteer who works tirelessly and without recognition simply because they want to give that gift of themselves to something important. They call us to become more generous with our love and service. The proofs of God at work are all around us. We want deep faith, a faith strong enough to face the struggles of life and continue on with confidence. That is why we remember the promise in today’s gospel. Thomas wanted proof he could touch that Jesus was alive. And he got it. But, “Blessed are those who have not seen but have believed.” We have been given that blessing of faith, and that faith will continue to guide and strengthen us every day if we continue to look around us. The signs of God’s love and care for us are all around us.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Easter Sunday

Father Stephen's Message

Max Lucado once told about a missionary in Brazil who discovered a tribe of Indigenous people in a remote part of the jungle. They lived near a large river. The tribe was in need of medical attention. A contagious disease was ravaging the population. People were dying daily. A hospital was not too terribly far away. It was just across the river, but the Indians would not cross that river because they believed it was inhabited by evil spirits. And to enter its water would mean certain death. The missionary explained to the people how he had crossed the river and was unharmed. But the tribe was not impressed.

He then took them to the bank of the river and placed his hand in the water. They still wouldn’t go in. He walked into the water up to his waist and splashed water on his face. It didn’t matter. They were still afraid to enter the river. Finally, he dove into the river, swam beneath the surface until he emerged on the other side. He raised a triumphant fist into the air. He had entered the water and escaped. It was then that the people broke into a cheer and followed him across. “I am the resurrection and the life, and whoever believes in me, even if they die, they will live forever.” As Jesus spoke those words to Martha it was a theoretical concept for her. The Jewish people believed in eternal life, but, just like us, she had never seen someone laid out in the tomb restored to life. Then Jesus went to the tomb and called for Lazarus and gave him back to his sisters alive.

But, one day, Lazarus was returned to his tomb. And one day, we will all be brought to our tomb, for we cannot remain in this world forever. Jesus proved that he was not just speaking words of encouragement to Martha. He jumped fully into the river as he himself experienced human death. But then he took his life back up again and left the tomb behind to live forever. And in that moment, he showed us that in every life there is no end to the possibilities of our beginning again.

This Easter, if we are discouraged because we did not truly use our Lenten time to grow as close to God as we had expected, Jesus is not discouraged. We can begin today being more prayerful and more generous. We can take up our good intentions and make them live again. This Easter, if we are sad because a loved one who was here last year will not be with us today, Jesus continues to promise to be standing there when we leave this world in our own time, waiting to give us back alive our loved ones who have gone before us. Jesus did not speak words of challenge from on high or pass out condemnations for those who were not perfect.

He jumped into our human condition, he shared all the joys and sorrows of human existence, and then he crossed over the last great obstacle that we all will face. He accepted death. And then he returned alive. He lives with us, he shows us the way, he will never abandon us. He promises us great things — if we live with him now, we will live with him forever after we cross that last great obstacle. For the power of death has been destroyed by the power of Jesus, who is alive, and with us today.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Palm Sunday

Father Stephen's Message

There was a man named Sundar, a convert to Christianity who decided to go to India to be a missionary and bear witness to others about Jesus. One day, late in the afternoon, Sundar was traveling on foot high in the Himalaya Mountains with a Buddhist monk. It was bitterly cold and darkness was rapidly starting to fall. The monk told Sundar they would be in danger of freezing to death if they did not reach the monastery before nightfall.

As they crossed a narrow path above a steep cliff, a cry for help was heard. Deep down in the ravine a man had fallen and was severely injured. His leg was broken and, therefore, he could not walk. The monk warned Sundar, "Do not stop. God has brought this man to his fate. He must work it out by himself. That is the tradition. Let us hurry on and continue our journey before we perish." But Sundar replied, "It is my newfound tradition that God has brought me here to help my brother. I cannot abandon him, especially now." So, the monk set off through the snow which had started to fall heavily.

Sundar climbed down to where the injured man was lying. Since the man had a broken leg, Sundar had to find some way to carry him. He brought with him a blanket from his knapsack and made a sling out of it. He got the man into the sling and hoisted him onto his back. Then together they began the arduous climb up to the path. After a long time, Sundar, was faint from fatigue and overheated from exertion, but he finally saw the lights from the monastery in the distance.

Just then he took a step and stumbled, almost falling. He looked down and found that he had stumbled from an object lying in the path. He bent down on one knee and brushed the snow from the body of the Buddhist monk, who had frozen to death within sight of the monastery. Kneeling down, Sundar recalled a passage from Luke's Gospel: "Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it" (9:24). At that moment Sundar understood precisely what Jesus was saying and was glad that he had decided to "lose his life" for another.

Years later, when Sundar had his own disciples, they asked him, "Master, what is life's most difficult task?" And Sundar replied, "To have no burden to carry." “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, . . . becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

We begin Holy Week today. It is a unique opportunity to reflect on how much we are loved. God could have simply decreed that forgiveness was given and he would begin over with human beings. But instead, he chose to enter into our human condition. Jesus understood everything we experienced, because he too experienced it. He knew about working hard every day, about sharing family life, about the sadness of losing a loved one. He shared the joys of friendship and the sadness that touches every life. He was even tempted as we are. But there was one difference. He chose always to be faithful to the will of his Father. And he chose to offer himself in our place on the cross so that we would never doubt the powerful love of God that forgives every sin.

As we contemplate Jesus bearing the burden of the cross for us, we are forced to humbly consider the quality of our love for him. When we are unhappy or offended, do we complain and become angry, or embrace the burden of our little cross? When our life is happy and we are blessed, do we enjoy our good fortune, or do we accept the burden of using our gifts to help those in need around us? We know we could do more for God, but we are too busy or unwilling to change, and so we cannot be bothered to carry the burden of loving God more carefully and more completely.

This week we are invited to participate again in the most precious moments of our life with God. He became one of us, he gave himself for us on the cross, and he remains present with us. Every day Jesus is inviting us to join him, to carry our burden. And because we are loved so much, that seems the least we can do to show how much we love him who gave away everything for us.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Fifth Sunday of Lent - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

Dr. Carl Meninger, well-known psychiatrist, wrote a book entitled, Whatever Became of Sin. In it, he reported how a stern, plainly dressed man appeared on a busy corner of Chicago’s Loop. As people passed by, he would from time-to-time solemnly lift his arm and point to a passerby and say just one word: “Guilty!” Then without changing expression, he would drop his arm. After a few seconds, he would raise his arm again, and with an accusing finger pointing at another person, he would utter that oneword indictment: “Guilty!”

The effect of this on the people was extraordinary. Some stared, started to laugh, then stopped, hesitated, looked around with furtive glances, and hurried on with quickened step. One passerby turned to a companion and exclaimed, “But how did he know?”

Of course, we would not stand on a corner acting like that — people would think we were crazy. Not only that, it would obviously be hypocritical, for we do not have the power to know the state of another’s soul, if they are guilty before God or not. But so often we don’t mind making our self the judge. We can see clearly the faults in other and often delight in their failings. We judge them to be inferior to our virtue and are sure how superior we are in comparison to them. It is easy to point to the guilt of others, but we don’t want to have to bring that same effort into our own life.

The woman in today’s gospel got caught. There is not even a question about her committing adultery. The self-righteous people who brought her to Jesus did not care about her guilt or her public humiliation. The wanted to trap Jesus. They believed he would either ignore the teaching of Moses or set himself above the Roman death penalty by imposing it himself.

The gospel says that Jesus started writing in the dust at his feet. Perhaps he was writing the sins that all agree were serious. The Jewish teaching was that the three worst sins were idolatry, adultery, and murder. But they persisted so Jesus invites the one without sin to be the first to cast a stone at the one who was guilty. Then he returned to his writing. It must have been something that began to convict each one there of their own unworthiness to judge someone else.

One by one they departed until the woman was left alone with Jesus. He who knew her guilt well, forgave her and then offered the chance to begin again. A beautiful ending for a terrible story.

During this week of Lent, this event invites us to put our self in the presence of Jesus and reflect on our guilt, exposed by his perfect love. We may not be able to point to idolatry, but perhaps we will have to admit we do not give God the place he deserves in our daily life, for prayer easily gets left aside in the rush of the day. Perhaps adultery is far from our experience, but often our conversations, the entertainment we enjoy, the thoughts we dwell on are not worthy of one who loves Jesus. We are not in jail, so murder is not a crime we have committed. But it is possible that our conversations in the last week killed the good name of another, or our resentment over a past offense continues to destroy a relationship that is important.

In the presence of Jesus, it is true, we are guilty. We do not love enough, or give enough, or do enough compared to what we have received. But it is not the nature of Jesus to condemn. He forgives and invites us to go on and accomplish something wonderful for him.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Fourth Sunday of Lent - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

An auctioneer held up an old violin, battered and scarred. He looked at it wondering why anyone would ever think that it was worth his while. But he holds it up anyway and cries, "Who will start the bidding? How about a dollar? Anyone a dollar? How about two dollars? Only two dollars? Two dollars? Will anyone make it three? Three dollars anyone? ... Three dollars once, three dollars twice. Going for three...." Suddenly he is interrupted by a voice from the back of the room. A gray-haired man comes forward and picks up the bow of the old violin and wipes off the dust.

He tightens the strings and then plays a melody so pure and so sweet on that old violin that it sounds like a song the angels of heaven might sing.

When the gray-haired man finishes playing, the auctioneer continues with a voice that is quiet and low. He says again, "Who will start the bidding for the old violin?" He holds it up high and cries, "A thousand dollars? Do I hear a thousand dollars? Who will make it two? I hear two thousand dollars. Who will make it three? Do I hear three thousand dollars? Three thousand once. Three thousand twice. Going and going and ... gone!"

The people cheer! The crowd is exuberant! But some of them ask, "We do not quite understand — what changed its worth?" Swiftly came the reply. “The touch of the master’s hand.”

In today’s second reading St. Paul declares, “We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.” We could imagine St. Paul representing Christ, or maybe Pope Francis or someone we consider to be truly holy. But, when as the last time we looked at our self and felt responsible for being an ambassador for Christ, representing him as we walk through the world each day?

Just think about last week, what we talked about with friends, or the entertainment we enjoyed, or the places we visited on the internet. And when we were in a bad mood, or when someone treated us unfairly, what was witnessed by the imperfect people around us? We don’t go through the day preaching about Jesus in a direct way, but since others know that we profess a relationship with the Lord, our words and actions take on a special force.

We live up to who we say we are, or we are seen to fall short. How can we possibly take on the role of representing Jesus himself? We know we are imperfect, often thoughtless of others, perhaps unwilling to change our self to be more like Christ.

But, if we put our self in the hands of the Master, something begins to happen. As we sit quietly in the presence of the Lord, we realize how much we are loved and blessed, and we become inspired to be more generous with those who need our help. As we turn to the Lord and receive his merciful forgiveness, we see a new reason to be patient and forgiving of those who offend us. The gentle hand of the Master guides our life into surprising avenues for being a source of blessing to those around us.

In the hands of an untrained amateur, a violin will only produce screeching noise. But in the hands of a master, beautiful music fills the room. Our challenge during this week of Lent is to remember that we carry a great responsibility — we are meant to be a representative of Christ in the world. We cannot do it on our own, but, as we place our self in the hands of the Master, considering what he would say or do in our situation, we suddenly discover we can have a beautiful influence on the world around us.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Third Sunday of Lent - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

The people in today’s gospel who turned to Jesus to talk about the murder of innocent people while they were worshipping seems to jump right out of the news. We know similar stories. Innocent Muslims were massacred at their prayers in their mosques in a country that is considered to be beautiful and safe. And before that a community of Jewish people were attacked in their synagogue as they prayed in Pittsburg. And before that a small congregation of Baptists in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Good, holy people are not safe from evil men.

Jesus takes the conversation into an even more troubling human situation — people killed because a tower collapsed upon them. It continues. Children in their classroom in Nigeria are crushed as their school building collapses. Every tornado or blizzard carries away persons who did not expect their end was near. Even for the strong and healthy, our hold on life is always fragile because an accident or an illness we do not expect can take us away.

Faced with the uncertainties of life, we are like the people coming to Jesus, wanting ultimately to know what God is going to do to make things right and justify the terrible things that happen in this world. Jesus begins by assuring them that terrible things that happen are not a judgment passed on the victims or their society — there might even be one of us who more deserves a building dropping on them than an innocent child. The solution offered by Jesus is the parable about a fig tree that is not producing fruit. The gardener suggests digging around it and fertilizing to see if there is still hope that something good will come of it.

During the Nazi occupation of Paris, a husky storm trooper stepped into a subway car and tripped headlong over the umbrella of a little old lady sitting next to the door. After picking himself up, the bruised Nazi launched into a tirade of abuse, then bolted from the car at the next station. When he was gone, the passengers burst into spontaneous applause for the little old woman. "I know it isn't much," she said, graciously accepting the compliments, "but he's the sixth one I brought down today."

We cannot simply sit around waiting for God from on high to solve all the hatred and persecution and injustice in the world. We have to do our little part to make the world better, to bring goodness into our present situation.

Hatred and prejudice still exist, so we have to make sure that we welcome every person as a child of God, valued by him, and treated with respect by us. Suffering continues to touch many lives, and we have to make sure we are a source of comfort in what we say, and a source of blessings as we share our material things with those who have little. Evil is all around us, so we have to continue our efforts to be more prayerful, more like Jesus in our words and actions. Whatever we do isn’t much, but if each of us does our best to produce good things for the Lord, what a force we will become to change the world to be what God expects it to be.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Second Sunday of Lent - Cycle C

Father Stephen's Message

We remember the basic story of Abraham. He was invited by God to leave behind everything and everyone he knew and move to a new country. And Abraham did it. In return God promised Abraham that he would possess the land to which he traveled, and that he would have numerous descendants.

Like everyone, Abraham thought that possessions would assure a comfortable life in the years to come. But, more than that, Abraham longed for a son to carry on his family’s heritage. God assured him it will be so. In this situation two great questions arise.

Can Abraham make that act of trust? But, even more important for us to know, can God be trusted? As the story unfolds, Abraham seems to be the hero. After almost 25 years, he continues to trust that God will give him a son. But it is not because the signs are there — he is approaching 100 and Sarah is near 90.

We would clearly decide that they have become delusional — no one their age conceives a child. In the mysterious event recounted in the first reading, God renews his promise. And one year later, Isaac is born. Henri Nouwen beautifully illustrates faith as letting go when he recounts his experience of seeing a German trapeze troupe perform.

After the breath-taking performance, Nouwen sat down with Rodleigh, the leader of the troupe, and asked him how he was able to perform with such grace and precision. Rodleigh explained: “The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher.

The secret is that the flyer does nothing, and the catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me. The worst thing the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher. I am not supposed to catch Joe. It’s Joe’s task to catch me.” (Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life)

Each of us in our own way is involved in the same dance of faith with God into which Abraham entered. We admit that we cannot control everything in our life, so we turn to God for his help. It may be something little — good weather on the day of the picnic.

It could be very personal as we struggle with a moral problem or a health problem or a family problem. We may even enlist a multitude of friends to storm heaven on behalf of a loved one who faces serious trouble, praying that things will come to a happy conclusion.

We have trust that God loves us and cares for us. We need his help. But, in the end we are often left to wonder if God can be trusted. Troubles sometimes become worse, someone we love continues to suffer, circumstances do not unfold as we had hoped. During this second week of Lent, the example of Abraham reminds us why we can have trust in God.

God does not show us the future, but as we look back, in small things and in serious, we see the hand of God at work in our life in so many ways. He has helped us through to this moment, and he will continue always to be there.

We don’t have to try to catch him. He is already there, waiting to catch us if we will only make that simple act of faith of putting out our hand to reach for him. He has always caught us, and he always will.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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First Sunday of Lent

Father Stephen's Message

At the end of World War II, the Russians were marching German prisoners of war back to Germany. Ordinary Russian people lined the streets by the thousands to see the spectacle. 40 million Russians died as a result of the war. One could not possibly imagine the feelings of these ordinary Russian people as the German soldiers were marched in front of them. A chorus of hatred, heckles and jeers permeated the scene. First came the German officers, relatively well fed, in their uniforms, marching in step, able to keep a semblance of dignity and respect. The Russian people had no problem sustaining their hatred of them. But after a while the vast bulk of prisoners appeared, the ordinary German foot soldiers.

They could hardly march at all, let alone in step. They were emaciated, with few clothes, truly humiliated, wretched, gaunt, pitiful creatures. The jeers and abuse stopped. There was a hush over the crowded lines of people. Then a couple of elderly Russian women, broke through the crowd to these ghostly figures and held out crusts of bread. The bread was gratefully and eagerly accepted and soon many other ordinary Russian bystanders were moving amongst the columns of German prisoners with offerings of bread. It became so overwhelming that the Russian guards could not stop the crowd.

Somehow, those ordinary Russian people were moved with an unconditional love that revealed to them that their enemies were simply other people’s children who were lost, hungry and needing to go home. (Kim Thoday, Hewett Community Church of Christ, South Australia) We begin the first week of Lent reflecting on a human experience shared by all of us.

It was first seen with Adam and Eve, when they decided it was worth the risk to disobey God because they might become more like him. And it continues in each of us, because we all have our moments when we are tempted. We know what God expects, but we do not want to do that, so we sin by omission. Or we see something good in someone or some thing that we know is contrary to the will of God, and we choose what we want instead of being true to God and resisting sin. Sometimes in serious ways, other times in small ways, we all feel the pull of temptation in our life. The gospel reminds us that Jesus shared so completely in our human condition that he too experienced serious temptations to turn away from the will of his Father.

And we know that he would find himself at the end praying to be spared his terrible death, if possible. But, even in that moment of temptation, his prayer was, “Not my will, but your will be done.” During this first week of Lent, as we reflect on our common experience of temptation to sin, the example of Jesus challenges us. When we have been treated unfairly and we react, what is the will of our Father? When we feel the inspiration to spend some time in prayer, but it is time for our favorite TV program, what is the will of our Father? When it is clear that someone needs our help but we do not want to be bothered, what is the will of our Father? We often want to march along with our head held high as if we were holier than the people around us.

But in the end, as we consider that we are surrounded by God’s unconditional love, we have to be serious about all the temptations of life, big and small. We have to admit that we would be lost without Jesus. Jesus did not come to condemn the sinner, but to show us the way to the Father. “Father, not my will, but your will be done.”

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Eight Sunday in Ordinary Time

Father Stephen's Message

The gospels that we read today began with members of the church sharing with each other their remembrance of what Jesus had said and done. He used remarkable stories to help the crowds remember his teaching. And as a very good teacher, Jesus repeated certain themes over and over so that his listeners would remember them beyond the moment when they stood before him. Being honest about our self before God must have been a very important theme of Jesus’ preaching, because the gospels record that he condemned hypocrisy and judging others over and over. It is very easy to see what is wrong around us.

We have a natural ability to set standards for how others should live, and who their friends should be, and even whether they are good enough to associate with people like us or should be excluded. Of course, the task becomes more difficult when we turn the focus on our self. We know it would be inappropriate to declare that we are perfect, but we have so many excuses for the things that are not as they should be. We are tired, we are busy, we are just a weak human being, they knew just the thing to say, under the circumstances anyone would have done the same – each of us has a ready list of reasons that are meant to remove our responsibility.

A woman who was dying of AIDS summoned a minister to comfort her. Her emotional pain was as real as her physical pain. Everything seemed hopeless. “I'm lost," she said, "I've ruined my life and every life around me. I'm headed for hell. There's no hope for me." The minister saw a framed picture of a pretty girl on the dresser. "Who is that?" he asked. The woman brightened, "She's my daughter, the one beautiful thing in my life." "Would you help her if she was in trouble," asked the minister, "no matter how many mistakes she'd made? Would you forgive her if she asked you to? Would you still love her, no matter what?" "Of course, I would," the woman exclaimed. "Why would you even ask a question like that?" "Because I want you to understand," explained the minister, "that God has a picture of you on His dresser too." In the end, our ability to judge another is only superficial, based on what we observe.

We can only guess their motives and the forces in their life that make them who they are. And even within our self, it is hard for us to not become discouraged when we consider all the opportunities for good God gives us and admit how much more we should be doing for God.

Jesus asks us to admit a simple fact – only one can be the judge – God himself. It is not our place to decide who is worthy or who is not. The challenge we face is to be willing to choose to see each person as God does – his wonderful creation, with valuable qualities waiting to be discovered. And when we can’t seem to do that, we have to pause and consider if that is because we prefer to condemn in them the very faults they see in us.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Father Stephen's Message

A number of years ago, The New York Times Magazine told the story of Nicholas Gage and his mother Eleni. Eleni was a Greek peasant who smuggled her son out of the village before he could be “re-educated” by the communist party. As a result, she was tortured and murdered on August 28, 1948. Thirty-two years later, her son quit his job as a reporter for the New York Times. He devoted his time and money to finding his mother’s killer. He sifted through government cover-ups and false leads. Eventually he found the person who ordered Eleni’s death. His name was Katis. He tells of going up the path to a seaside cottage, where he sees Katis, fast asleep.

He stood and looked at the man who had killed his mother. But as he pondered his revenge, Gage remembered how his mother did not spend the last moments cursing her tormentors; rather, she faced death with courage because she had done her duty to those she loved. “I could have killed Katis,” he confessed. “It would have given me relief from the pain that had filled me for so many years. But as much as I want that satisfaction, I have learned that I can’t do it. My mother’s love, the primary impulse of her life, still binds us together, often surrounding me like a tangible presence. Summoning the hate to kill my enemy would have severed that bridge connecting us.

It would have destroyed the part of me that is most like my mother.” (New York Times Magazine, 3 April 1983) We are all familiar with the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” It is a teaching older than Jesus, found in one form or another in many religions. It is a time-proven way of living that would assure a world of respect and harmony and good will if we all put it into practice. As we listen to the words of Jesus in today’s gospel, it becomes clear that Jesus is calling us to move beyond the Golden Level to the Platinum Level. He challenges us to love our enemies, and to do good to those who hate us, and to lend things never expecting them back, and to stop judging and to forgive.

When we consider his teaching on the theoretical level, it all seems too much to expect from an ordinary human being. But then we have to decide how we are going to deal with someone who has broken our heart or ruined our reputation. We have to figure out our relationship with a parent who cannot accept who we are as a person, or a child who has betrayed our trust. There comes a time when we want to say we have given enough and will give no more. But then we remember that Jesus went beyond the Golden Rule. He embraced the cross, giving away all he had so that we could be forgiven and share eternal life with God. His offering was not on the theoretical level.

As he endured that torturous death, he made it very personal to each of us. He knew our most deeply hidden sin, he knew our indifference, he knew our willingness to just do what we have to do and no more. And his love for us personally was so great he offered himself in our place, so we could never have a doubt how much we are valued in his eyes. Our call is to make sure that that love is part of our life. That love will give us the power to choose to ignore the temptation to look for revenge and instead put aside our anger and invite God to give us a peaceful heart in spite of our enemies.

That love will enable to be rid of the list of offenses we keep in our mind and to focus on the love we have for those closest to us. That love poured out for us without limits will give us the courage to give more, to love more, to entrust more to God without worrying about what will come back to us. That love will keep us bound to Jesus.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Father Stephen's Message

In a certain town, a man walked into a bookstore to return a purchase. "It’s a Bible," he said, handing it to the clerk at the cash register. "Was it a gift?" asked the clerk. "No, I bought it for myself," he said, "and I made a mistake." "Didn’t you like the translation? Or the format?" "Oh no," the man said, "the format was clear, and the translation was fine. I made a mistake." The clerk said, "Well, I need to write down a reason for the return." "In that case," said the man, "write down that there is a lot in that book which is tough to swallow." (William G. Carter, Praying for a Whole New World) The gospel of Luke has a different version of the Beatitudes than the one we are most familiar with taken from the gospel of Matthew. In today’s reading, Jesus offers four special blessings for those who follow him. But he also has four warnings, as he says to them “Woe to you . . .” As we reflect on his words, we may also find them hard to swallow.

We look forward to the blessings. We would hope that if we are poor in some way, God is preparing something better for us. And if we are sad, we need hope that we will find comfort and consolation. When we are not appreciated or approved of because of our Christian values, we know that God sees all and will reward us for our faithfulness.

Those warnings are harder to accept. We probably do not count our self among the rich – except when compared to most people in the world, for we are comfortable and cared for and have more than we need. And we know that we are not usually worried about whether we will have something to eat at the next meal, but about how to keep from eating too much at our next meal. We want to have a good reputation among others, that is why we are careful to say the right things and sometimes keep our religious beliefs to our self, so we do not appear judgmental or different from everyone else.

There was a large group of people gathered around Jesus on that day, but the gospel says that these words are addressed to his disciples – those who committed themselves to following him and learning from him. We know that the values of which Jesus speaks and the challenge to accept self-denial is not something every person will accept. Only those who love Jesus are able to do so. As we deepen our commitment to follow Jesus, we discover that God is going to provide more than we need, and so we begin to view our possessions in a new way. We see God’s generosity and discover opportunities to share what we have been given with someone in need. Our commitment to daily prayer helps us realize Jesus is our constant companion, that he laughs with us and cries with us and is always bringing our needs to the Father. When we are being faithful to Jesus, what others think becomes less important, because no one is condemned for being too good or too generous or too loving.

If we find these words hard to swallow, we don’t return the book. Instead, we remember how much we have been loved. And we return the love as we take up the challenge to follow Jesus wherever he leads us. When we are serious about being a disciple, we become different. We become a reflection of Jesus in what we say and do.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Father Stephen's Message

William Bausch tells the story of a nun who worked as a chaplain in a women’s prison in Chicago. She received some extra grant money and went to the women and said, "I have some money that I want to spend on you and I'm going to give you some options: 1) I can hire an attorney to come and talk with you on how you can shorten your sentences, 2) I can hire a welder to come in and teach you to weld so that you can have a marketable skill when you leave the prison, or 3) I can hire a dancer and a painter to teach you how to dance and how to paint." Ninety-five percent chose the dancer and the painter because, as they said, "We always wanted to express ourselves, but never had the chance." Even in their bleak surroundings, her gift opened a new world of possibilities to these hardened criminals. One day as Isaiah was praying in the temple, he had the vision described in the first reading.

He immediately admitted that, in the presence of God, he could only declare that he was doomed because he had witnessed the full goodness of God. Yet, he volunteered to be the one who would proclaim God’s words to his people. God promised he would provide what was needed to make up for his imperfections. Paul recounts to the people of Corinth that he is the least worthy to be called an apostle because he persecuted his fellow Christians. But, when Jesus appeared to him, it was to call him to be his voice to the gentile nations. We can imagine that as the sermon ended and Peter prepared to deliver Jesus back to shore, when Jesus suggested that Peter put his nets out one more time, he must have rolled his eyes because nothing had been caught all night long. even though nothing had been caught all night long.

But he decided to humor the famous young rabbi. Soon he found himself knee-deep in fish and Peter knew he was in the presence of someone remarkable. All he could do was declare he was not worthy to be there. But Jesus had already chosen him to join him in fishing for new disciples. Isaiah and Paul and Peter were just going about their everyday life when God intervened and invited them to do something out of the ordinary.

Their willingness to follow God opened the way for the power of God to transform the world. It may have been true that they were not holy, but God will provide the necessary holiness and goodness. The same process continues today. Here in our community we may see that someone is needed to step up to take leadership to accomplish something new or help with a ministry. Even though we know there may be someone holier or better qualified, like Isaiah, perhaps it is our turn to simply put things in God’s hands and declare “Here I am. Send me.” We are not called to be a witness to the gentiles like Paul, but we can witness to another about the power of Jesus at work in our life as we gently turn aside from anger and choose to forgive.

We can help a child learn the joy of being generous with someone who is in need as we join them in sharing what we have. Sometimes we just need to put the net back into the water like Peter. God continues to want to speak to us and inspire us, if we will just renew our commitment to spending time in prayer each day. We can open our heart and our hands to those in need because we have not yet done enough. God will never slowdown in showering us with his blessings so that we have something to give. There is an interesting thread tying together the three readings today.

To accomplish great things, God is not searching for the perfect, for those who have been well prepared, for the one we would expect to most qualified. Instead, he invites ordinary people like us to join him in dreaming that something better can be brought into the world. All we need to do is say, “Here I am. Send me.” And God will use our gifts in ways we cannot now imagine.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Father Stephen's Message

When I was five years old and my brother Jerry was four, we were sitting one evening on the curb in front of our house in Ft. Worth. I was always playing tricks on him, and as we sat there, I picked up a piece of gravel and pretended to put it in my nose. He picked up a piece of gravel and put it into his nose. So, I faked putting in another stone and another, and he continued imitating me, except he was actually doing it. He put so many rocks up his nose that my parents had to take him to the emergency room to have them removed.

Many years later, Jerry was a distinguished choral director. And at a symposium for music educators, Dr. Jerry Bierschenk gave a presentation. He was greeting people afterwards to receive their appreciation when someone came up to him and asked, “Are you the one with the rocks up your nose?” His story had gone well beyond our family!

The gospel passage today continues the story of Jesus returning to his home town at the beginning of his public ministry. The people knew his story well. His family had lived there for years. They had heard about the remarkable things he was doing in other places, and they came to hear what he had to say. But, as events unfold, Jesus makes them so angry they are willing to throw him over the cliff. What had so offended them?

His message was too challenging for them to accept. He said that he was the fulfillment of the passage from Isaiah he had just read — he was the Messiah sent by God to change their relationship with God. But they knew he was the son of the carpenter. Who did he think he was to act so special? And Jesus pointed out that because they would not accept who he was, they were keeping alive the tradition of their ancestors, who had refused to listen to the words of God spoken through the prophets. Because they could not admit the truth to themselves, they decided to be rid of Jesus.

There probably isn’t much in the message of Jesus that makes us angry. It is not as new to us as it was to his home town people. But that does not remove the challenge of his words if we let them sink into our heart.

As we listen to the political leaders, we are often encouraged to divide people into groups and decide who belongs or who is not welcome. But Jesus does not expect us to view each other this way. Each person is a unique creation by God, an opportunity for us to see in them the good that God sees as he considers the person he created. Treating others as we would want to be treated is not a slogan. It is meant to be the manner in which we walk through each day, if we are willing to accept the teaching of Jesus.

There will be moments when someone hurts us or one we love. And our anger will lead us to look for a way to pay them back, to assure that they are hurt as badly as we have been. But Jesus hung on the cross and his prayer was that those who put him there be forgiven. It is not easy to accept the teaching of Jesus that we be willing to turn aside from anger, to offer the other cheek when someone strikes us. But he shows us it is possible.

It is easy to become discouraged when our plans fall apart, or suffering is our daily companion. We begin to wonder if God is angry with us or if he cannot be discovered in the events of our life. The invitation of Jesus for all those who desire to be his disciple is to be willing to take up our cross every day. But he does not leave us alone. He asks us to follow him. He is leading the way, lending his strength, promising us that if we are faithful, he will lead us to something better. Embracing the cross is not natural for us human beings, but Jesus shows us it is possible.

The words of Jesus are not meant to cause anyone to be angry. But he always speaks the truth of what we should be if we want to be pleasing to God. Sometimes it is easy. Sometimes it is a challenge we don’t want to accept. But if we love Jesus, we do not want to be rid of him. We want to follow him, wherever he leads us.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Father Stephen's Homily

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Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Father Stephen's Message

When Johnny Carson was the host of The Tonight Show he interviewed an eight-year-old boy. The young man was asked to appear because he had rescued two friends in a coal mine outside his hometown in West Virginia.

As Johnny questioned the boy, it became apparent to him and the audience that the young man was a Christian. So, Johnny asked him if he attended Sunday school. When the boy said he did Johnny inquired, "What are you learning in Sunday school?" "Last week," came his reply, "our lesson was about when Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into a lot of wine."

The audience cheered and applauded, but Johnny tried to keep a straight face. Then he said, "And what did you learn from that story?" The boy squirmed in his chair. It was apparent he hadn't thought about this. But then he lifted up his face and said, "If you're going to have a wedding, make sure you invite Jesus!"

We tend to focus on the miraculous element of the story of the wedding in Cana — turning ordinary water into a delicious wine. To run short of wine might have been the end of the party, but it would not have been the end of their marriage or the end of the world. And Jesus was not invited to be the backup plan for such a problem. But, because he was invited, he was there to bring this couple a special blessing they did not expect.

The same can happen for us. Every day when we wake up, we don’t consider that a miracle. But if we take a moment to invite Jesus to be with us throughout the day, something remarkable happens. We begin to see every good thing that happens not as good luck, but as a blessing given personally to us by God. We remember Jesus is with us, and suddenly the words we speak are more gentle, we become less self-centered, we are willing to let another have their way.

The ordinary things of life become something wonderful if we invite Jesus in. There are moments when disasters strike. And when we are in need or a loved one is suffering, we look for a miracle. When things become desperate, we hope God will make our distress disappear. In those moments we have to make sure to invite Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “Father, if it possible, take this from me.” We are not called to invite suffering and hardship.

It is human nature, even in Jesus, to pray we be spared. But, Jesus continued, “Not my will, but your will be done.” He never promises us we will be spared the cross, but only that with him we will overcome as he did. Plain water became something wonderful because Jesus was invited. The same is true with all the ordinary things of life. As we go to school, or do our work, or care for our family and our home, there is no end to the things we have to do.

But we can give the drudgery of our chores and the routines of life a new meaning if we decide to do our best, to take on something difficult without complaining, because we want to honor Jesus. He is the one who gives us our talents and opportunities. If you have a wedding, if you are headed to work or school, if you wake up to a new day, you better invite Jesus. He is the one who has the power to take all the ordinary things of life and turn them into something wonderful!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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The Baptism of the Lord

Father Stephen's Message

Pastor John Ortberg was giving a bath to his three children. Johnny was still in the tub. Laura was out and safely in her pajamas. He was trying to get Mallory dried off. Mallory was out of the water but was doing what was known in their family as the Dee Dah Day dance.

This dance consists of running around and around in circles, singing over and over again, "Dee dah day, dee dah day." When Mallory was too happy to hold it in any longer, when words were inadequate to give voice to her euphoria, she danced to release her joy. So she did the Dee Dah Day dance.

On this particular occasion her father was irritated. "Mallory, hurry!" he prodded. So she did. She hurried. She began running in circles faster and faster and chanting "Dee Dah Day" more rapidly. "No Mallory that is not what I mean!" said her father. "Stop with the Dee Dah Day stuff and get over here so I can dry you off. Hurry!"

Then Mallory asked her father a profound question: "Why?" Why did she have to hurry? John Ortberg suddenly realized he had no answer. He had nowhere to go, nothing to do, no meetings to attend, no sermons to write. He was just so used to hurrying, so preoccupied with his own little agenda, so trapped in this rut of moving from one task to another.

Here was life, here was joy, here was an invitation to the dance right in front of him — and he was missing it. So he got up and he and Mallory did the Dee Dah Day dance together. (John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted). Why? The same question arises as we consider the reason that would move Jesus to get down into the river with John and be baptized. John was clear about the meaning of his ritual.

He was calling people to repentance, to admit their sins, be baptized, and rise up out of the river with a new commitment to live a life closer to God. But Jesus was completely in harmony with the will of God. He would never choose to sin, or have need for repentance. So why did he choose to join the sinners there in the river? He is there so that we would never doubt how closely he wants to be united in our human experiences of life.

That is important to remember in the serious moments of life. When we lose a loved one to death, Jesus promises this is not the end, there is something greater than this world on the other side. He knows it is true, for he has been there and will bring us there. When suffering fills our day, or the burdens of life weigh us down, Jesus promises that if we are faithful, he will give us the strength to overcome these passing trials as he prepares something better for us.

He knows it is true, for he has embraced the cross and conquered death. It is important to remember Jesus is united with us in the little things of life. As we remain faithful to the duties of our daily life, as we forget our importance to think of the needs of other, as we put aside our dignity to be silly with a child, Jesus is giving meaning to every act of kindness and goodness we choose to do. Most importantly,

when we consider our relationship with the love of God and have to admit that we are imperfect and so often choose to sin, we remember how much Jesus is willing to give for our sake. He got down into the river with the sinners, he embraced the cross for our sake, offering himself in our place so that we can never doubt how much we are loved, or that we are forgiven. Perhaps it’s time for us to dance, to be filled with joy for the love we have been given!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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The Epiphany of the Lord

Father Stephen's Message

A kindly 90-year-old grandmother found buying presents for family and friends a bit much one Christmas, so she wrote out checks for all of them to put in their Christmas cards. In each card she carefully wrote, "Buy your own present" and then sent them off. After the Christmas festivities were over, she found the checks under a pile of papers on her desk!

Everyone on her gift list had received a beautiful Christmas card from her with "Buy your own present" written inside, but without the checks! Her intention to bless them was certainly understood from a different perspective by those who received her card. As we celebrate the coming of these three mysterious men from the East bearing gifts for the child Jesus, we call this celebration the Epiphany.

The name is from a Greek word meaning “the manifestation”, because early in the life of Jesus it was the intention of God to reveal to all people that the Savior was now present in the world. These men were the first people who were not of the Hebrew people to adore Jesus. We know that in some mysterious way God revealed to them the birth of his Son. He guided them with a star and they were willing to follow wherever he led them.

We see by the gifts they offered that they had also understood better than any others who visited this child what was happening. They brought gold to honor a king, frankincense to honor the presence of God, and myrrh to prefigure the child’s death, which would save all. As we reflect on the gospel, we often forget that God also was unfolding his plan to another — Herod.

As these visitors appear in his court, Herod consults his religious experts and they are able to tell him exactly where to locate this newborn king.

But his reaction is not curiosity or reverence for what God is doing. He develops a cruel plan to destroy the one who has been born. The Savior entered the world through the Chosen People of the Old Testament. We remember today that it is God’s intention to invite every person to adore his Son, to offer their gifts, and receive eternal life in return.

But we see in the contrast between the reaction of Magi and Herod that each of us has to decide if we will let God lead us or go our own way. His intention is clear. All belong to him. But we have to “Buy our own presents”. We choose to make Jesus the king in our life by doing our best to reflect him in our words and actions.

We proclaim Jesus is “God with Us” as we are faithful to our daily conversation in prayer. We are invited to live so closely with Jesus that we are willing to forget our self and join him in accepting our share in the cross without complaint. Today we remember how much God loves us.

His blessings are not intended for one group of people or only for those who can perfectly follow him. He wants to lead all of us to be with him forever. The wise among us allow him to guide their way and offer their gifts to acknowledge the One who shows us the way to the Father.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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The Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God

Father Stephen's Homily

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Writer Richard Foster tells about a father who was walking through a shopping mall with his two-year-old son. The child was in a particularly bad mood, fussing and fuming. The frustrated father tried everything to quiet his son, but nothing seemed to help. The child simply would not obey. Then, under some special inspiration, the father scooped up his son and holding him close to his chest, began singing an impromptu love song. None of the words rhymed.

He sang off key. And yet, as best he could, this father began sharing his heart. “I love you,” he sang. “I’m so glad you’re my boy. You make me happy. I like the way you laugh.” On they went from one store to the next. Quietly the father continued singing off key and making up words that did not rhyme. The child relaxed and became still, listening to this strange and wonderful song. Finally, they finished shopping and went to the car.

As the father opened the door and prepared to buckle his son into the car seat, the child lifted his head and said simply, “Sing it to me again, Daddy! Sing it to me again!” The familiar events in the gospel passage today speak of a frustration we have all experienced in one way or the other.

It is only natural in families to have misunderstandings. Mary and Joseph have been frantically searching for Jesus for three days, and Mary cannot help but letting her son know how worried he has made them with this antic of remaining behind talking theology with the teachers in the Temple. “Son, why have you done this to us?”

Jesus is enjoying himself so much that his discussions seem to be more important than the worries of his parents. “Why were you looking for me?” It seemed only natural for him to be there in the Temple discussing the things of God. The gospel says that Mary and Joseph could not understand what he was talking about. The resolution of the frustrations between the parents and their child comes is a simple and sweet way.

Jesus “went with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them.” Jesus put into practice the important lesson he would later impart to all of us, that to be great in his kingdom we must forget our self and serve others. Today, as we honor the Holy Family of Jesus and Mary and Joseph, we are invited to imitate what this glimpse into their family life shows us. We know the people in our home better than any others – the wonderful qualities we love, and the imperfections that irritate us and make them less loveable.

Those who live in our home are our first and most important opportunity every day to prove our commitment to following Jesus. They offer us inspiration by the example of their goodness. And they offer us opportunities to grow in patience and generosity and forgetting our self as we serve another.

Each of us is part of a family. And as we live our life together, we should remember the song of that father to his young son. How beautiful and amazing our home will be if we focus on what we love about one another, and speak our love to one another, and leave no doubt how much we value one another. It is a song we can sing again and again!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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The Nativity of the Lord

Father Stephen's Homily

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Father Stephen's Message

Rev. Roy T. Lloyd tells the story of a young family during the Great Depression. There were three — Mom, Dad and six-year-old Peter. There was absolutely no money for Christmas presents so they came up with an idea. They would make pictures of the presents they would give if money were no object. They drew pictures or cut out pictures from catalogs and wrapped up their presents. Soon there was a mound of presents under their spindly Christmas tree.

Christmas morning they sat around the tree to open their presents. They were symbolic, but they represented Christmas giving. Dad opened his gifts — a picture of a new sports car, a motor boat, sweaters, a heavy coat. Mom opened hers — a diamond necklace, some beautiful new dresses, a beautiful new house. The biggest pile of make-believe presents were for Peter. He had pictures of a new bicycle, sports equipment, all types of amazing toys and gadgets.

Mom and Dad had not expected a gift from Peter, but with a squeal of delight he crawled under the tree and from the back of the tree he retrieved his gift to them. It was clumsily wrapped in colorful paper. And when they opened the package his parents found a gift more precious than all the others. It was a crayon drawing of three smiling people holding hands. Under the picture Peter had written a simple inscription — US.

Tears filled their eyes because they realized the truth of that picture. Whatever the future would bring, good or bad, whatever presents they might be better able to purchase in the future, they already shared the most precious gift of all, their love for each other.

This week we will celebrate a remarkable event. It involves a gift we could never have imagined. God chose to become one of US. The all-powerful God became a helpless baby. His family had to flee the danger of persecution by the government. He knew the joy of sharing family life, and the sadness of losing a loved one. He worked hard to make a living. He worried, he welcomed those in need, he inspired others by his example and his words.

He shared all our human experiences except choosing to go against the will of his Father and sin. In the end, he would prove the depth of God’s love for us by embracing the cross and offering himself in our place so that we would have no doubt that we are forgiven.

A baby born in exotic conditions, angels and shepherds and kings, trees and lights and presents — everything about our celebration can become sentimental. But it is about something very serious. As we gaze at the image of the baby lying in a manger with his arms thrown open, we should remember God gave the gift of his Son to invite us to enter more deeply into the embrace of his love.

And as we gather with those we love, our family and friends, he is present, blessing us and inspiring us to remember what is most important — our love for one another and for him. It is all about US remembering how much we are loved.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Third Sunday of Advent

Father Stephen's Homily

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First Sunday of Advent

Father Stephen's Message

In New York City, a man was running down the pier, heading for the ferry boat, afraid he was not going to make it. He was an important executive in a large corporation, a man who was very concerned about his dignity. He ran down the ramp in his perfectly shined shoes, waving his expensive briefcase over his head. He was yelling at the boat to stop so that he could get on it.

He ran all the way to the end of the pier, furiously jumped and landed safely on the deck of the boat. Very proud of himself, he straightened his tie and recovered his dignity. It was only then that he discovered that the boat was not going out; it was coming in. Today we begin the season of Advent, and in many ways, we are not unlike the man jumping on the ferry boat.

It is never clear in our mind – are we preparing to celebrate Christmas? All around us are decorations and celebrations of the Christmas season. Or, as we listen to the words of Jesus in today’s gospel, are we getting ready for the end of the world? Perhaps the correct answer is “Yes” to both questions. The word Advent means “the coming”.

Our whole religious life is focused on the coming of Jesus into the world, for as God became human, he shared everything we experience. He knew the joy of family life, and sharing happiness and sorrow with family members, and being loved without condition in a human family. The teachings and example of Jesus inspire us and guide us so that we can live in a way that prepares us to live forever with him in heaven.

As he offered himself on the cross on our behalf, he left no doubt about how much we are loved by God, or that we are saved from the effects of our sins. If Jesus had not come, we would be lost in our search for forgiveness and our life would not have a clear direction. But we do not look only at the past during this time of the year.

We were created for something greater than this world, and we look forward to the day we will be called to our place in heaven. The dramatic coming of Jesus at the end of the world will also happen in a less spectacular way for each of us as our time in this world comes to an end. And there is no clear indication as to when either coming of the Lord will occur.

That is why we are encouraged during this time of the year to reflect seriously on whether we are prepared at this moment, or if we still have work to do. Jesus died on the cross and we were given the gift of pardon for all our sins. Perhaps we need to spend time during these coming weeks being more careful to only speak words of goodness and encouragement to others. We may need to choose to turn aside from anger and decide to forgive someone and move on.

We may need to actually humble our self and admit our sins in confession and celebrate the forgiveness offered to us, no matter how imperfect we are. Our custom of gift giving arose from the idea that we remember the great gift of love God gave us in his Son. But there is a danger that we become distracted by the things we are giving and receiving and forget the types of gifts most valuable.

We know someone who is lonely and far from home – and we can give the gift of inviting them to share in our Christmas celebration. We know someone is cold and hungry, and we can share the blessing of our money to support those who care for them. As we welcome a stranger and treat them as a brother or sister, we give the gift of respect.

Even as Jesus describes the frightful events to come, he does not encourage those he loves to hide and protect themselves from the danger. He tells us to stand up and hold our head high, because he has come to show us how to live each day, so we are ready. And when he comes again, he will be our guide to gently lead us home to the Father. We don’t have to be afraid. But we need to be ready – Jesus is coming!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Christ the King

Father Stephen's Homily

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Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Message

A school teacher asked her class of first graders to draw a picture of something they were thankful for. She thought of how little these children from poor neighborhoods actually had to be thankful for, but she knew that most of them would draw pictures of turkeys or tables with food. The teacher was taken aback with the picture Douglas handed in. It was a simple childishly drawn hand. But whose hand? The class was captivated by the abstract image. "I think it must be the hand of God that brings us food," said one child. "A farmer," said another, "because he grows the turkeys."

Finally, when the others were at work, the teacher bent over Douglas's desk and asked whose hand it was. "It's your hand, Teacher," he mumbled. She recalled that frequently at recess she had taken Douglas by the hand. She often did that with the children, but she had not realized it meant so much to the forlorn child Douglas. Perhaps as we draw near to celebrating the official national day of thanking God for our blessings, we should take a moment and simply look at our hand. It is a marvel in so many ways. Our hand can gently touch the face of a loved one to express our affection.

It anchors us as we pull our self up from a chair. It warns us of danger when something is too hot or too sharp. Our hand also closes tight to make sure what is ours is ours. And it clenches as a sure sign of the anger we are carrying in our heart. We can even us our hand to strike someone or drag a child where they do not wish to go. Our hand is a sign of our friendship as we extend it to a stranger. As we hold it open, it expresses our confidence that someone else will be generous in giving what we ask for. Our hand is used to give away something we hold, so that another can be blessed by our generosity.

As we look at our hand and think of what we are thankful for we turn our thoughts to God. So often we open our hand to him, seeking his blessings. And he never fails us. We are healthy when so many are suffering. We are surrounded by family and friends when so many are alone. We are free to go where we wish, to live our life as we choose in freedom, while so many live with no hope their life will ever improve. There will never be a time when God chooses to fail to fill our hand with his blessings.

But, as we reflect on our blessings, we can never forget that God’s gifts carry with them a responsibility — that we open our hand to share his blessings with others. A hand offered in friendship to someone who is different, perhaps makes us uncomfortable, expresses our belief that every person is a child of God, to be respected and cared for just as we are. A hand passing a few dollars to someone in need may give them hope they can make it through another day. A hand can express our love for our closest companion, encouragement to someone unsure of their way, the strength of friendship assuring someone they are not alone in facing their troubles.

Thanksgiving Day does little to satisfy our need to appreciate all the blessings we have in our life. Every day should be lived in a spirit of gratitude, because God will always be loving us and blessings us. Our hand is full!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Message

A woman lost her husband and she was having difficulty moving through the stages of grief. For weeks, she went each day to the cemetery to put flowers on his grave. She simply could not let go. No matter what she did it seemed that her grief would not dissipate. In her despair, she went to her doctor for a check-up. When she told him about taking the flowers each day to the cemetery, her doctor made a gentle suggestion. He said, “Instead of taking flowers to the cemetery, let me suggest you take them to the hospital. I have two patients who are alone. They have no family in this city and they would really enjoy receiving some fresh flowers.

Why not take those fresh flowers, for one day, to the hospital rather than to the cemetery? Ask them about their progress and give them some encouragement. See if there is anything you can do for them.” The lady took the doctor’s suggestion. She took the flowers to the hospital rather than to the cemetery. Soon she was able to work through her grief and embrace life again.

As we think about the widow who gave everything she had to the collection in the Temple, the first question that comes to mind is why she would do such a thing. A few cents would have little impact on taking care of that elaborate place of worship. She was giving away all that she had, so what was she expecting to happen to her next? Her generous spirit was not noticed by anyone – except Jesus! Her gift was not being given because she was obliged or had made a promise. Her gift was a response to the generosity of God.

Think how often we make our giving depend upon how it will affect us. We give our time to an organization that we like, because we can look back with satisfaction on how what we did made a difference. We choose to withhold helping someone with even a few dollars because we decide that they will waste our gift and use it in a way of which we do not approve.

We give our attention to someone we enjoy being with, but if we do not like someone, the conversation soon ends. Our giving comes with strings attached. But Jesus sees all. He challenges us to be inspired by the example of the one who had so little to give but gave away everything. He doesn’t invite us to consider giving the leftover change in our pocket when the collection basket comes by.

Our gift should reflect our gratitude for God’s continued care for us. Our giving of our time to serve our community cannot be so that others will admire how hard we work. We give of our self because the Lord has made it possible for us to have the opportunity and the ability to do more with our time than just scratch out a living.

Our challenge is to be sure we are not focused only on our self. God blesses us so that we can care for those we love and enjoy this world. But all his gifts come with the responsibility to remember how much we are blessed, and to constantly look for ways to bless others with what we have been given. How much will we need to give in order to satisfy Jesus? Today’s gospel gives us the answer.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Message

While Fr. Sean O’Kelly was a student at Drew University in New Jersey, he was also pastoring a Catholic church in the heart of Newark. To see urban blight and poverty and hunger, all you have to do is to take a trip up and down the streets of Newark.

On one occasion, Sean heard that a family in his parish was hungry. Because of a bureaucratic foul-up, a mother with five small children had no food and no hope of getting any until the end of the month. He knew the family was not Catholic, but Fr. Sean went to the grocery store and bought a supply of groceries.

There were three full sacks, and he went to the apartment building where the family lived. He carried the groceries up four flights of stairs and walked down a long hall before coming to the apartment. He rang the doorbell, and a little boy about seven years old answered. He looked at Father O’Kelly’s clerical collar and the sacks of groceries, and then screamed at his mother: "Mama, Mama, come quick. Jesus brought us some food!" In telling about that incident,

Fr. Sean said, "I will never forget that child’s comment. At that moment, I realized that I was the Christ for a hungry child." As we listen to Jesus summarizing all the Law in two simple statements, he does not say anything that surprises us. God is the source of our existence and every blessing and so much greater than us. It is only natural that we love him with all that we possess and in every way.

And practicing the Golden Rule by treating our neighbor as we would want to be treated is good self-defense. We all would get along so much better if everyone acted that way.

The questioner in the gospel approved of the wisdom of Jesus’ answer. But, we know that the teachings of Jesus do not end with these two statements. At the Last Supper he gave a more powerful challenge to those who love him – “Love one another as I have loved you.” The measure of our love is not meant to be limited to what we would like to receive for our self. Jesus expects us to do even more.

Being satisfied because we have gone to Mass or said our morning prayers is not sufficient. Jesus chose to do his Father’s will in all things, even dying on the cross. And as we declare that God is the most important in our life, the first, it becomes necessary to consider how much time we spend every day focused on him. Prayer time is easily filled with other activities.

If we love God above all else, perhaps we will have to decide that it’s time to stop excusing our prejudice against others, our selfishness, our excusing of little sins we are comfortable with because we are imperfect. And then there is loving our neighbor as Jesus loves them. The candidates to receive this love are endless: the spouse we just fought with; a child who will not listen or obey; a parent who will not accept us as we are; the stranger who is rude; the friend who insists all things must be as they want; someone who does not look like us or speak our language; a politician who will not stop speaking; the one who makes us angry simply because they are there; the one who is alone; the one who is suffering; the one who is helpless to care for themselves.

The formula sounds so simple, yet it consumes every part of our life if we take the call seriously. We are to be Christ to others – speaking his words, touching other lives with his gentle care; loving each person as they need to be loved. When we achieve that, we will not be far from the Kingdom of God!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Twenty-eight Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Message

An expert in diamonds happened to be seated on an airplane beside a woman with a huge diamond on her finger. Finally, the man introduced himself and said, "I couldn't help but notice your beautiful diamond. I am an expert in precious stones.

Please tell me about that stone." She replied, "That is the famous Klopman diamond, one of the largest in the world. But there is a terrible curse that comes with it." Now the man was really interested. He asked, "What is the curse?" As he waited with bated breath, she replied, "It comes with Mr. Klopman."

The man at the center of today’s gospel is a very good man. Kneeling in the presence of Jesus, he can honestly say he has kept all the commandments that Jesus describes since he was a young man. The gospel says something wonderful about him – Jesus looks at him and loves him. And, because Jesus loves him, he challenges him to not be satisfied with what he has already accomplished.

He invites him to do more – to give up what he owns, for that leads him to believe he is self-sufficient. If he will give his treasures to the poor, he will become rich in the eyes of God. And freed from these things, he will discover he is better able to follow Jesus. Yes. Following Jesus is like the Klopman diamond. It comes with a great challenge. We may be doing well and leading a good life, and Jesus looks at us and loves us for the good we do. But Jesus always invites us to give him even more.

The man’s encounter with Jesus has a sad ending. He walks away in sadness, for he has decided the price is too great to take the risk of following Jesus completely. His experience is a challenge for us to consider. There are times when we feel offended. And we relive what was said and what was done. We allow the heat of our anger to smolder in our heart until the right moment arises to let it out as we take our revenge on the person or tell everyone who will listen about their failings.

But, what would happen if we were willing to put our hurt feelings aside and move on. Jesus forgives us any time we turn to him. He lends us his strength to choose to forgive just as he did in our regard as he hung on the cross. And we will discover that we can have peace in our heart as we become more like the loving Jesus.

So many times, we would like to do something more for Jesus. We do not have to wait until Lent to become more dedicated to our daily conversation with God in prayer. If we turn off the television, or put down our phone, we can open the conversation in a quiet time of our own creation. We don’t have to travel to a foreign land to bring the message of Jesus, because there are young people in our own Faith Formation Program who need to hear how important they are in the eyes of God.

As we give the gift of some of our time and share our faith experience, Jesus blesses our children. We have to decide if we are willing to give away some of our time to accomplish something special with Jesus. We give our self a pass as we hear about how difficult it is for the rich to get into heaven. After all, we are not that well-to-do. But, we have a roof over our head, while there are some who live under the bridge down the street from the cathedral.

We have food, and worry about losing weight, but there are many in our own neighborhood who find their daily meals are sometimes uncertain. We have work, we have skills to provide for our self and our family. But there are some sitting with us in church today who find their future is dark with uncertainty. So, we have to think seriously about what we drop into the collection basket, and how we approach the person begging on the street, and if our money is being used with a spirit of gratitude for the generosity God has shown us.

We can never give away as much as we are going to receive in return from God. There is a great challenge to following Jesus. We can never be satisfied that we have given enough or done enough or loved enough. Jesus looks at us and loves us. And then he asks us to give him more!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

At the time of Jesus, the teaching of most rabbis was very lenient about a man divorcing his wife. All the husband was required to do was writing out on a piece of paper his complaint, and then throwing the paper at her feet. The marriage was dissolved. The reason could be as serious as adultery. But it could also be as trivial as the fact that her voice could be heard in the next house.

But it is clear that Jesus is quite serious about the importance of marriage. The Pharisees are trying to get him into a debate about grounds for dissolving a marriage. Instead, he reminds them of how things were in the very beginning, as God created Adam and Eve as a husband and wife. A man and woman leave all others behind, join their separate lives into a new life together.

And what God has joined, no one must separate. The Pharisees look for the reasons to walk away, but Jesus chooses to focus on those who do not choose that path. We know that often a couple begins their relationship because of feelings – happiness being together, attraction to the appearance and qualities they see in the other person.

But, feelings depend on a person’s mood that day, or how things are going at the moment. Something more important happens. They make a decision. That decision shapes the rest of their lives, as they choose to enter into the commitment of marriage. And there is no way to see into the future, no way to know the good times and bad times they will experience together. But, their love gives them the power to trust one another.

Of course, then the good times and the bad times come along. And so, their decision has to be renewed over and over. We call that commitment. The commitment Jesus calls for does not look for escapes or pine for happier times. It involves renewing the choice to love the other and sacrifice all that a spouse possesses to create a home and a family and a life together. Their decision to marry set the direction for all their life. Their commitment brings them to their destination together.

When I was newly ordained, the priests I lived with at St. Monica wanted me to invite my parents to lunch one Sunday after Mass. So, my parents came for lunch, along with the six children still living at home. We had a wonderful time, although the old bachelor priests were a little disconcerted by so many young children joining us at one time.

The lunch was prepared by Thelma, a wonderful woman who cooked for us. Thelma wore four wedding rings, and at that time was making preparations to be married for the fifth time. As she and I stood in the kitchen watching all the Bierschenk’s headed across the parking lot, she noted that my father took my mother’s hand and they walked along hand-in-hand toward the car. Thelma shook her head and pronounced,

“My oh my! Fourteen kids and still holding hands!” She was amazed. The Pharisees were looking for an escape. The gospels say that the apostles were amazed at what Jesus taught about marriage. But, it is clear that Jesus is serious about the meaning of this commitment. We weak human beings are not always able to live out the decision that is made. But, there is another always involved – God is at work, joining hearts and minds, lending strength and inspiration, blessing in little ways and in great.

Today we pray that each couple living out their marriage commitment will know how much they are loved by God and share that love with one another.

Father Stephen's Message

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Message

Leland Gregory tells about an amazing incident that took place in the Republic of Benin, a small nation in West Africa.

Benin doesn’t have a golf course, but a man who lived there, Mathieu Boya, is a dedicated golfer. Benin has five airfields within its borders, but only one has a paved runway. It was here at the Benin Air Base where Boya routinely practiced driving golf balls.

Boya was simply practicing driving the ball, when he struck a hapless passing seagull in mid-air. The unconscious gull subsequently fell into the open cockpit of a French-built Mirage III fighter plane which was taxiing the runway. The gull landed on the pilot’s lap.

The bird regained consciousness and began flapping wildly, which startled the pilot. The pilot lost control of the plane and crashed it into the four other Mirage fighter jets sitting on the tarmac. The pilot was okay, and the gull flew out of the cockpit before impact, but all five jets, the entire fighter defense force of the Benin nation, were completely destroyed.

An errant golf ball flew into a flying bird which landed on a pilot who lost control of his plane and thereby destroyed the Air Force of an African nation. (Tales of Stupidity, Strangeness, and Mythconceptions) All we have to do is look around to see that there is no one among us who takes the words of Jesus in today’s gospel passage literally.

There would be few among us who would be left whole if that were the case. Obviously, the Lord does not expect us to begin chopping off the offending parts of our body when we sin. But, Jesus is giving us a stern warning – we need to take sin seriously, because it all begins with the little things. We use our hand to make our first expression of welcome and greeting. And when we have affection for someone, we touch them and pat them and hold them.

Our hand is always at work. But, what if we are welcoming gossip by assuring we are with like-minded people who will join us in tearing apart the reputation of someone who is not with us. A little thing can lead to great harm, for we cannot take back the hurt our words cause. Our feet are always moving us from one place to another. But, interestingly enough, we rarely end up somewhere accidentally. We go to a place on purpose.

And so, it is difficult to say we did not intend to walk past an opportunity to do good. We did not choose to walk along with some friends simply to offend God, but they may lead us to a place unworthy of a child of God. Our feet carry us to places that become better because we have chosen to bring the loving care of Jesus as we serve another. We decide where we go. Our eyes open the world before us in all its wonder and beauty.

But, the eyes can open up a world of unhappiness as we see other’s possessions or accomplishments and give in to our feelings of jealousy. Our eyes can look at the beauty of another person and we can give in to feelings of lust as we begin to see them only as an object of desire. Our eyes open up our world to beautiful inspiration from God, or they lead us into dark places where God is not found. No one sets out to offend God deeply by choosing to sin in a terrible way.

But, we become comfortable living with little lies, a moment of anger uncontrolled, bad thoughts, selfishness. The little things are important, because they may lead us somewhere we did not intend to go. That is why we have to take the advice of Jesus to heart.

Sin is serious. If there is some thing or some person in our life that keeps us from loving God as we should, cut it out. The love of Jesus is more important.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Many years ago, this bit of gossip was printed in a London newspaper about a famous painter and an equally famous writer: "James McNeil Whistler and Oscar Wilde were seen yesterday at Brighton talking, as usual, about themselves." When Whistler saw that small line of gossip in the newspaper, he clipped it out and sent it to Oscar Wilde with a note that said, "I wish these reporters would be more accurate. If you remember, Oscar, we were talking about me." Oscar Wilde replied in a telegram that said, "It is true, Jimmy, we were talking about you, but I was thinking of myself." The gospel passage today is so embarrassing! It was bad enough that the apostles were arguing among themselves about who was most important.

But, to have to admit before Jesus himself what they had been doing. That made it all the worse. The most miserable moment of all came when Jesus gave them his ideal for how they should be behaving – it was all upside down. To be the greatest, a person has to be the least of all and the servant of all. And just in case they did not understand how differently he expected them to look at the world, he placed a child in their midst and put his arms around the child and said – “See me in this child.”

In the ancient world, a child was usually treated as little more than property. They provided extra hands to do the work that was needed for the family. So, having many children was a sign of prosperity for the family. But a child was not consulted for their opinion or placed at the center of a conversation. Their feelings and needs were not considered to be important. They were just there.

When a child is being difficult, or breaks our heart, or asks for more than they deserve, or wants to act as if they are in control of all things, Jesus asks us to see him in them. He invites our patience, our good example, our loving response to moments when a child is not loveable. Whatever we do for them, we do it for Jesus and the One who sent him. When we look at another and begin to wonder about how they are dressed or the language they speak or why they are so different from us, it is easy to make our self the judge, deciding if they are worthy of our attention and respect. Jesus asks us to see him in them.

They have a name, they have a history, they have the same worries and joys and hopes that we do. And as we choose to treat them as we would wish to be treated, we do it for Jesus and the One who sent him.

We know we don’t even have to say anything. We speak our bad words in our mind and compare our goodness to what we can see in another, and we don’t have much trouble knowing who is the better person. But, Jesus asks us to see him in every person, to love him in every person, to look for the good he sees in every person, no matter how well they hide it. And, as we choose to do so, we discover a remarkable change happening within our self. It becomes easier to see we are the least of all, and the servant of all, because in all whom we meet, we see Jesus, and the One who sent him.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Message

A family went into a restaurant. The waitress walked up and, looking at the young boy, said, “What will it be?” The boy eagerly shouted back, “I'll take a hamburger, French fries, and a milkshake.” The mother immediately interrupted, “Oh, that's not what he wants. He'll take the roast beef, a baked potato, and a glass of milk.” To the surprise of both the mother and the boy, the waitress completely ignored her and again asked the boy, “And what do you want on that hamburger?” The boy shouted back, “Ketchup, lots of ketchup.” “And what kind of shake?” “Make it chocolate.” The boy then turned to his parents with a big smile on his face and said: “She is amazing! She thinks that I'm real.”

We would be furious if we came to church and one of the ushers looked us over and told us we were suitable to sit at the front, or we were told that we would need to sit in the rear with the other less desirable persons.

We know that there is no limit to the love of God. He is delighted with each of us, loving us even when we are not loveable, treasuring every good thing that we choose to accomplish because we love him. He looks into our heart and mind and understands our weaknesses, our doubts, our motives for choosing good and choosing evil. He knows us better than we know our self.

We should not be too quick to condemn the attitude described by St. James in the second reading. We may not display it so blatantly as he describes. But, it is not too difficult for us to make our self the judge of another’s worthiness. It comes to us so easily. There is that difficult person. It may be a spouse, a child, a coworker, someone we see often in social settings. And as soon as we see them we are already on edge, getting ready to tick off the next thing they are going to do to make us upset. We cannot even imagine things unfolding in any other way – the judgment is already passed.

Sometimes it is clear that someone does not belong. We look at the way they are dressed, consider the people with them, listen for the language they speak. They may even be putting us through the same examination. And because the judgment has been made, a wall goes up that makes it impossible to discover a new friend right in front of us.

We live in a world divided in so many ways. Our political leaders don’t look at us as individuals, but as member of a group that might give them a vote. Under their influence we begin to view each other with suspicion. We end up judging that what we like is most important. We miss the opportunity to know each person as an individual, a brother or sister in Christ.

We should be very nervous in those moments in which we begin to be the judge of another’s worth. We don’t have the knowledge of another’s heart, or the understanding of their motives and the pressures in their life. God is the only one who has the right to judge – he looks at us with love and most importantly, he sees that we are real! He chose to create us as the unique person we are. Leave the judgment to him.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

A family went into a restaurant. The waitress walked up and, looking at the young boy, said, “What will it be?” The boy eagerly shouted back, “I'll take a hamburger, French fries, and a milkshake.” The mother immediately interrupted, “Oh, that's not what he wants. He'll take the roast beef, a baked potato, and a glass of milk.” To the surprise of both the mother and the boy, the waitress completely ignored her and again asked the boy, “And what do you want on that hamburger?” The boy shouted back, “Ketchup, lots of ketchup.”

“And what kind of shake?” “Make it chocolate.” The boy then turned to his parents with a big smile on his face and said: “She is amazing! She thinks that I'm real.” We would be furious if we came to church and one of the ushers looked us over and told us we were suitable to sit at the front, or we were told that we would need to sit in the rear with the other less desirable persons.

We know that there is no limit to the love of God. He is delighted with each of us, loving us even when we are not loveable, treasuring every good thing that we choose to accomplish because we love him. He looks into our heart and mind and understands our weaknesses, our doubts, our motives for choosing good and choosing evil. He knows us better than we know our self.

We should not be too quick to condemn the attitude described by St. James in the second reading. We may not display it so blatantly as he describes. But, it is not too difficult for us to make our self the judge of another’s worthiness. It comes to us so easily. There is that difficult person. It may be a spouse, a child, a coworker, someone we see often in social settings. And as soon as we see them we are already on edge, getting ready to tick off the next thing they are going to do to make us upset. We cannot even imagine things unfolding in any other way – the judgment is already passed.

Sometimes it is clear that someone does not belong. We look at the way they are dressed, consider the people with them, listen for the language they speak. They may even be putting us through the same examination. And because the judgment has been made, a wall goes up that makes it impossible to discover a new friend right in front of us.

We live in a world divided in so many ways. Our political leaders don’t look at us as individuals, but as member of a group that might give them a vote. Under their influence we begin to view each other with suspicion. We end up judging that what we like is most important. We miss the opportunity to know each person as an individual, a brother or sister in Christ.

We should be very nervous in those moments in which we begin to be the judge of another’s worth. We don’t have the knowledge of another’s heart, or the understanding of their motives and the pressures in their life. God is the only one who has the right to judge – he looks at us with love and most importantly, he sees that we are real! He chose to create us as the unique person we are. Leave the judgment to him.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Message

The Queen of Sheba came to visit King Solomon, and one day she put him to the test. She brought artificial flowers so perfectly formed that no human eye could detect them from real flowers.

She put her flowers in a vase on Solomon’s table, in his throne room next to his flowers. As he came in, the Queen of Sheba said, "Solomon, you are the wisest man in the world. Tell me without touching these flowers, which are real, and which are artificial." It is said that Solomon studied the flowers for a long time and spoke nothing, until finally he said, "Open the windows and let the bees come in."

Before a Jewish man sat down to eat, he first performed an elaborate hand washing ritual. He took water in his hands and rubbed them together. He then lifted his hands so that water ran down to his elbows. Then he lowered his hands to let the water that remained drip from his fingers.

Only then did he dry his hands and sit down to eat. The ritual was not really about cleanliness so much as it was about being faithful. The elaborate ceremony marked a person as being dedicated to their Jewish faith. Ordinary working people did not have the access to the quantity of water and towels needed to perform this ritual. And as the selfdeclared holy people, the Pharisees and the scribes looked down upon them and declared them sinners for not observing the outward expressions of faith.

We see in today’s gospel that they were especially critical of Jesus and his companions, for they were always looking for an opportunity to object to what Jesus said and did. When the religious leaders complained, the response of Jesus was simple – what is important is not looking good. Performing rituals and wearing the proper attire can become a meaningless habit, especially if we forget the reason behind it.

What is important is being good – living in a way that reflects love for God and commitment to following his ways. Of course, it is not always possible to determine if a person is in the right relationship with God simply by looking. Are they real or are they artificial? That is why God lets the bees come in.

Just looking at us, it may not be possible to determine what our relationship is to our possessions. We may be selfish, greedy, jealous because others have more. Or we may live with a spirit of gratitude, realizing that everything we have is a gift from a loving God. That is why God sends in the bees. Someone asks us for help, and we start judging whether they will use our gift in the proper way or waste it.

Or, we tell our self we should give more to help the St. Vincent de Paul or someone in our family who is struggling. God is challenging us to be generous as he is generous. Are we real or artificial in our appreciation for God’s blessings? Being offended is part of every life. Sometimes our anger is easily recognized by the look on our face and the words from our mouth.

But, it is possible to let resentment grow in our heart, and we make every little word and action a test of another’s love, and soon we carry around a terrible weight of bitterness. We begin to avoid a person, or make sure that those around us hear about how we have been offended. Then God sends in the bees. The same person who offended us will be there with us, and we are invited to remember how much we are loved and how often we have been forgiven. God will give us the power to choose to put aside our anger and choose to begin again. Is our Christ-like love real or artificial?

When we see a person sitting in church with a rosary in their hand, it is easy to judge that they are a good person. And when a person makes us uncomfortable by their appearance or the people with whom they associate, we can decide we want nothing to do with them. But, we can never be comfortable with judging by appearances. It is not enough to look good to others. Jesus actually expects us to be good. If we are or are not will become clear as God sends in the bees.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Wayne Rice tells a story about the Sydney Swans of the Australian football league. Until recently, the Swans had the worst record of any team in the league. They also had the worst attendance. Most of their home games were played in front of empty seats.

But a strange thing happened. The team got a new coach and a few new players--and started winning. Before long, the team that had been the laughingstock of the league was a powerhouse. And since everybody likes a winning team, the stands began to fill. Thousands of people who had no interest in the team before began to attend games religiously. Soon it became almost impossible to get a ticket to a Swans game.

One Sunday afternoon the Swans were playing a rival team before a capacity crowd. As the TV cameras zoomed in on the revelry and joy in the stands, one camera focused on a single man who was cheering and waving a homemade sign Grinning proudly, he held up his sign for all the world to see. The sign said: I WAS HERE WHEN NOBODY ELSE WAS!

Very few church buildings are built to be large enough to comfortably contain everyone who comes for Mass on Christmas or Easter. If they were, there would be plenty of empty seats every other day of the year. It is a fact that there are many who have a casual relationship with the Lord, acknowledging him at holidays or when someone gets married or baptized or buried. If pressed, they admit they are Catholic, but that is mostly the “brand name” of their affiliation with God, not an expression of their true-life commitment.

When Jesus first multiplied the loaves and fishes and fed thousands, all the people with full stomachs declared they were ready for some more of that bread that Jesus was talking about. But, as he became more specific, it became harder for them to accept. In fact, as he insisted that he was the bread and they must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life, their association with Jesus began to fall apart. “This is a hard saying; who can accept it?”

We are having a hard time right now with our association with the Catholic Church. National news stories and local news stories speak of terrible things done to innocent young people, and those entrusted with their care have been shown to be unworthy of the position of respect and trust in which they were placed as leaders of the church. Our hearts are broken and there is righteous anger over the terrible suffering left in the wake of this scandal.

The response of some is to walk away from the church, to point the blame at bad priests and bishops who wait until trouble is revealed before they act. It is hard to condemn those who cannot stay. But, consider the last part of the gospel passage today. Jesus says to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” And Peter replies, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

This is a wonderful community of faith. The priests and deacons of the cathedral are humbly doing their best to reflect the loving care of Jesus to each person with whom they have contact. There are hundreds of volunteers who give their time and share their talents to minister to others, to serve at our Masses, to put into practice the call of Jesus to live with a servant’s heart. Every weekend thousands of people make the journey to the cathedral to put themselves in the presence of the Lord, to listen to his words, to draw strength from his presence, and to begin another week refreshed and encouraged because God loves them so much.

It is always true that there are evil people, and in the church at times they are in positions to do great harm and hurt many people. But, as we hear about these things, we should remember it is Jesus himself who can say, “I WAS HERE WHEN NOBODY ELSE WAS.” We are all here because we love him. And he will help us through difficult times, because his loving care cannot be taken away. That is the reason we are here.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Years ago, Harry Emerson Fosdick, then at the height of his influence as minister of the Riverside Church, New York City, was making a tour of Palestine and other countries of the Middle East. He was invited to give an address at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, where the student body comprised citizens of many countries and representatives from sixteen different religions. What could one say that would be relevant or of interest to so mixed and varied a group? This is how Fosdick began: "I do not ask anyone here to change his religion; but I do ask all of you to face up to this question: What is your religion doing to your character?"

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” How many times have we received Holy Communion since our First Communion? Most of us have lost count of that long ago, because receiving Communion has become part of our religious routine. When we come to Mass, we receive Communion. And so often we do so without much reflection – we are busy observing the fashion decisions of others or looking at the flowers at the Altar as we approach. And then, we hear, “The Body of Christ.” We answer “Amen”, receive the host, and we are on our way back to the pew.

When Jesus gave himself to us in this way, he knew how important it would be for us to have personal contact with him, to be reminded over and over about how closely we are united with him. He wanted us to be known that we are not alone, that he is always there preparing us to live forever with him in heaven. But, we must face up to a question: What is our close contact with Jesus on a regular basis doing to our character.

We receive the Prince of Peace. And he challenges us to become peacemakers. But, think how often we focus on the little things that people do that irritate us, instead of looking for the good in them. And so, we begin to allow unintentional acts of thoughtlessness become important and cause us to be angry or resentful. As Jesus gives himself to us, he invites us to draw from him the strength to forgive the, for they know not what they do.

We receive the one who gave away everything so that we would never doubt how much we are loved by God. We know we are blessed, and God will continue to bless us. But it is often difficult to be willing to share. We want to keep our time for our self instead of listening to a child or helping a friend who needs someone to share their troubles. We want to keep our money for our self because we cannot be sure if the one in need will use our gift in a way of which we would approve. As Jesus gives himself to us, he invites us to look for the opportunities he offers every day for us to forget our self so that we can serve those around us.

We receive the one who taught us to call God our Father. He became human to share in all our joys and all our sorrows. And he reminded us that God loves us without limit. As Jesus gives himself to us, he challenges us to be sure that the words that come from our mouth, and the way we act, and even our thoughts are worthy of someone he considers to be his sister or brother.

There are many who do not have the privilege of being so close to the Lord as we are each time we receive the Bread of Life. But, because we have been given this remarkable opportunity, we must pause often and reflect on the gift we are given. As we unite our self with the Lord, what is this close contact doing to our character. He gives himself to us so that we can become more like him.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Message

At the time of the Napoleonic Wars, the famous British Admiral Horatio Nelson was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. His sailors lifted his casket over their shoulders and majestically carried his body into the cathedral. Draping his coffin was a magnificent British flag. After the service, the sailors once more carried his body high in the air, this time to the graveside. With reverence and with efficiency they lowered the body of the world’s greatest admiral into its tomb. Then, as though answering to a sharp order from the quarterdeck, they all seized the Union Jack with which the coffin had been covered and viciously tore it to shreds, each taking his souvenir of the illustrious dead. A swath of colored cloth as a memento. It would forever remind them of the admiral they had loved. “I’ve got a piece of him,” one sailor remarked, “and I’ll never forget him.”

Every time we look at the crucifix we are reminded how much Jesus loves us. He was totally innocent of any wrongdoing but chose to offer himself in our place as he embraced that terrible death, so that we would never doubt how much we are loved, or that we have been forgiven.

But Jesus did not to simply leave us with the crucifix as a memento. He chose to give us himself, present at every Mass, present in our Holy Communion, present in the Tabernacle. “I am the bread of life.” He is here with us until the end of time.

So, in those moments when we are filled with joy as we celebrate a Baptism, or a wedding or a special blessing that has come our way, Jesus is here sharing our joy, blessing us more than we can imagine. “I am the bread of life.”

And in those times of sorrow, as we bring a loved one for their final prayers before burial, or we carry before the Lord the burdens of our life, we know that he is there, crying with us, lending his strength, promising that there is something wonderful to come. “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

When we become discouraged because we have ignored our opportunities to do good, or we have chosen to sin again, we come to the one who welcomes sinners, and inspires us to forget our self and serve another and invites us to grow closer to him. The one who hung on the cross thinking of us personally is here to give himself personally to us in the Eucharist. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him.” Jesus will never stop inviting us to come nearer.

When we truly love someone, we have many ways to express that love – with words, with actions, with gifts that show our esteem. We have to use many ways to express love, because nothing we say or do is adequate. But, as we reflect on the powerful love of Jesus for us, we realize that we have so much more than a memory or an image to remind us. Jesus is always with us to remind us how much we are loved. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” That promise will be renewed again today, as we receive the bread of life.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Message

An old man goes to a diner every day for lunch. He always orders the soup du jour. One day the manager asks him how he liked his meal. The old man replies, "It was good, but you could give a little more bread. Two slices of bread are not enough." So, the next day the manager tells the waitress to give him four slices of bread. "How was your meal, sir?" the manager asks. "It was good, but you could give a little more bread," comes the reply. So, the next day the manager tells the waitress to give him eight slices of bread. "How was your meal today, sir?" the manager asks. "Good, but you could give a little more bread." The next day the manager tells the waitress to give him a whole loaf of bread with his soup, 16 slices. "How was your meal, sir?" the manager asks, when he comes to pay. "It was good, but you could give just a little more bread," comes the reply once again.

The manager is now obsessed with seeing this customer satisfied with his meal, so he goes to the bakery, and orders a six-foot-long loaf of bread. When the man comes in as usual the next day, the waitress and the manager cut the loaf in half, butter the entire length of each half, and lay it out along the counter, right next to his bowl of soup. The old man sits down, and devours both his bowl of soup, and both halves of the six-foot-long loaf of bread. The manager now thinks he will get the answer he is looking for, and when the old man comes up to pay for his meal, the manager asks in the usual way: "How was your meal TODAY, sir?" The old man replies: "It was good as usual, but I see you are back to serving only two slices of bread!"

It was not just a few complainers. After generations spent in slavery in Egypt, after God had worked dramatic signs to force Pharaoh to give them their freedom, the whole community of Israel quickly grew dissatisfied. They thought that they would be better off dead than having to endure their present situation. It seems that it is easy to complain and difficult to appreciate. Yet we see that it is the nature of God to go on blessing those who do not see how they have been blessed as he showers them with even more than they asked for.

Of course, complaining did not end there in the desert with the Israelites. We too are easily dissatisfied. Sometimes it is about things out of our control – the weather, the way other people act or think. We can become dissatisfied because someone else seems to have a happier life, or more opportunities. A bad mood is not far away when things do not go as we had expected. It is easy to complain and difficult to appreciate.

But, there is a sure way to be able to keep things in perspective. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes n me will never thirst.” Those familiar words of Jesus remind us how blessed we truly are. When we feel treated unfairly we can come to him and through our love for him we will discover the ability to forgive the one who offends us. In those moments we are alone with no one at our side to help, we come into his presence and remember that he chose to stay with us until the end of time. There will be times when we have to admit we have been selfish and wasted the opportunities for good that we were given. But, even then, there is no end to the blessings God has prepared for us. His love does not end.

It is easy to complain, because life is always presenting us with problems and sufferings and disappointments. But, Jesus chose to remain with us to help us through, to console us and strengthen us no matter what may come. And when we remember how close the Lord is to us, we discover that it is no longer difficult to appreciate how blessed we truly are!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Message

One day in religion class, the teacher gave her students a riddle to solve. She asked them what was brown, had a bushy tail, and liked to run up and down trees. After a while, one little girl raised her hand and told the teacher, “Well, it sure sounds like a squirrel. But, since we are in religion class I’m pretty sure the answer is Jesus.”

In today’s gospel Jesus poses a question. Confronted with a multitude of hungry people, he turns to Philip and asks, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Philip has the obvious answer — there’s not enough money to make it happen. But, in the end, as the miracle unfolds, the right answer turns out to be Jesus. He has the power, but he chooses to share the responsibility. The foundation of this cherished miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes was a small gift — a boy willing to offer what he had to Jesus.

So many things divide us from each other. Politicians seek an advantage by separating one group of people from another, and suggesting we need to fear those who are different from us. It is easy to become offended by the attitudes and misunderstandings that are a part of being around other people. How are we going to live in harmony with each other? The answer is Jesus. He challenges us to see each person we meet as a unique individual, his brother or sister, as an opportunity to love and serve him.

But, if that is going to happen, we have to offer him our little gifts. Instead of judging a group of people, we can choose to give respect to each person as they deserve, to make sure that we treat them as we would want to be treated. Being offended is part of life, but we can offer our little gift of choosing to let it go and move on because we have chosen to be a peacemaker. Our decision to treat each person as important and loved by God as completely as we are opens the door for Jesus to create a miracle — a world filled with his love.

There is terrible suffering in the world. People live on the streets and children go to bed hungry. Someone we love faces a battle with cancer or they slowly lose contact with us because of Alzheimer’s. Perhaps we find our self in a struggle, bearing pain we never expected to be part of our life. How can any good be brought into all these bad things? Jesus is the answer.

But, he asks us to bring along our little gifts. We cannot feed every hungry person, but our gift to the St. Vincent de Paul society enables them to care for others on our behalf. When someone we love is suffering, we cannot take part of the pain upon our self, but, we can bring them before the Lord in our prayers as we speak their name and ask that they be strengthened and consoled in their struggles. As we deal with our own frustrations and sufferings, we look to the example of Jesus, and even as we pray that we will be spared, we imitate Jesus as we humbly accept the Father’s will.

We want a better world for our children, a safer community for our home, a happier way of life. And there are many conditions in the world around us that would rob us of achieving our intention to living in harmony with each other and with God. How can that every happen? The answer, of course, is Jesus. He is inviting us to join with him, offering our little gifts of generosity and service and love. And he will take the little things we do to make the world a better place and multiply their effects to be greater than we could have ever imagined. Just look at the gospel story — there will not only be enough blessings to go around. There will be leftovers!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Don Webb was appointed to serve as the captain of the HMS Switha in the British navy. As the new captain, he wanted to impress the crew with how wise and brave he was. The crew’s first assignment was to check the anchors on the large buoys that marked the shipping channel. The only way to do that was to send a diver down to the bottom of the ocean in a big suit with an iron helmet and heavy weights.

Captain Webb was told that the previous captain always made the first dive. So, even though he had never gone deep-sea diving and knew nothing about it, he went, rather than admit weakness to the crew. Scared to death, he put on the heavy suit with thick gloves, leaded shoes and a huge helmet. As he floated to the ocean floor he began to panic. He tried to take a step and realized he was stuck and he fell face down in the mud. As he fell, he let go of the lifeline. He lay there in the mud and realized the last thing the Ensign told him, “Sir, whatever you do, don’t let go of the lifeline. If you need help, just give it a tug.”

Webb thought, “This is how it ends. I’m going to die here, stuck face down in the mud on the ocean floor.”

Just a few minutes later, he felt a gentle touch on his shoulder. The crew, sensing he was in trouble, had sent an experienced diver down to bring him safely back to the surface.

Today, the first reading has a powerful condemnation of those who were entrusted to care for God’s people and did not take their responsibility seriously. They are bad shepherds. And the first reading offers a powerful promise – God is going to make things right, he will send someone who will rule wisely and will save his people. We call him the Good Shepherd.

Imagine what it must have been like for Jesus and his disciples to make plans to get away from the crowds for a few days of rest, only to arrive at the opposite shore to be met by a vast crowd, every one of them wanting something from Jesus. But there is no resentment or frustration in his reaction. Instead, his heart is moved with pity, and he went back to work, teaching them many things. He is there for these sheep without a shepherd.

Sometimes we let our pride take us places we did not expect to go. Someone says or does something that deeply offends us, and we do not want to let it go. And so, we sink deeper, letting hurt and suspicion begin to become a barrier between us and those who are most important. But, our Good Shepherd gently teaches us about being a peace maker, about not setting conditions on our love, and he shows us that we can choose to forgive, just as he has forgiven us.

We get stuck in the mud, for months or years just doing what is required and no more. But, the Good Shepherd teaches us many things are available to breathe new life into our relationship with God. Because we have many blessings he opens our eyes to a reason to be more generous with helping those in need by volunteering our time or making a donation. Because we have a good heart, he will inspire us to see that we can lead a child to know how much they are loved and cared for as we decide to teach in Faith Formation this year.

Sometimes we fall flat on our face. Knowing perfectly well that something offends the love of the Lord, we still choose to sin. And we decide to give up. Since we have already sinned, we will just keep on sinning. But, there is that gentle touch of the Good Shepherd, calling us back, loving us so much that no sin will stop him from embracing us in his loving arms of forgiveness.

It is the nature of Jesus to be there, welcoming all who come to him. He is not waiting for us to pull on the lifeline to signal we are in trouble. He is always loving us, inspiring us, gently touching us and guiding us back to where we need to be. He is our Good Shepherd.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Douglas V. Steer, tells a story that comes out of Maine. A young blacksmith in a small town fell in love with a local girl who was very tall, but he was so short in stature that he was too bashful to tell her. One day she came into the smithy to get a tea kettle that he had fixed for her and she thanked him so nicely that he suddenly found courage to ask her to marry him. She consented, and he got up on the anvil and put his arms around her and sealed it with a kiss. Then they took a walk out through the fields together and after some time he asked her for another kiss. When she refused, he said, "Well, if you are going to be like that, I'm not going to carry this anvil any longer."

In today’s gospel passage, the twelve apostles are being sent out on a very daunting assignment. They are being sent out in pairs to share with people the message of hope and spiritual healing that Jesus had given. They are to invite their listeners to change the things in their life that would be an obstacle to their relationship with God. None of them were the type of persuasive public speaker that Jesus was. None of them had the spiritual powers of Jesus. Yet, off they went. As they took on this important task of representing Jesus himself, they were given peculiar instructions. They were not to take along any food, no luggage was allowed, there was to be no money in their belt. They were to be entirely dependent on the kindness of others. Wherever they happened to be, that was where God intended them to stay.

The point of it all was that Jesus wanted them to understand that their success did not depend on their talents or any paraphernalia they might bring. Jesus shared with them his power to change hearts and help people in their need. His blessings would be given, and his work accomplished. If they began thinking that the kingdom depended on their cleverness, or their power of persuasion, or their resources, these things would become a burden they carried. They would lose sight of the fact that everything came from Jesus. But, as they let the power of Jesus work through them, their efforts had remarkable results.

It is so often the same with us. There are those times when everything seems so uncertain. We cannot find a job. We cannot get our child to listen to our advice. We do not feel as close to a loved one as we use to be. What are we going to do? We carry around the weight of our fear of what is to come. Yet we look back and realize that God has helped us through other dark moments and helped us to be strong when things seemed impossible. And he is still with us today. Everything depends on him.

Sometimes we face a terrible decision. Someone we love has hurt us deeply, or someone we love has been harmed by another. We know that things cannot stay as they are. We believe the Lord asks us to be willing to forgive. But we are carrying some heavy burdens – anger, pride, resentment. We cannot just simply say everything is back to normal and move on. But, the one who hung on the cross was so filled with love he prayed that those who placed him there not be held responsible. And our love for him gives us a power we did not know we possessed. We can decide to put aside our natural demand for justice and choose to put the offense aside and pray for peace in our heart. Jesus gives us the power to forgive as he did.

We always want to think that everything depends on us. If we work hard, we can have everything we want. We expect everyone who meets us to love us and want what is best for us. We know the future is uncertain, but we plan for it to be filled with happiness and goodness. Perhaps the biggest burden we carry about is believing that everything is in our power. But, of course, the lesson Jesus gives his apostles still applies to us. Everything is in the hands of God. And the wonderful thing to remember is that he loves us completely. Everything will be OK.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

The three readings today give us an interesting opportunity to reflect on our willingness to admit the need to let God lead our life. Ezekiel has been chosen by God to be a prophet to a people that God describes as “ . . . hard of face and obstinate of heart.” Not only were they unwilling to change, they were proud of it. And God tells Ezekiel they may not listen, but they are going to know that there is a prophet among them – Ezekiel is called to make them uncomfortable. Ezekiel did not choose this path for his life. God chose him.

St. Paul had a personal revelation of Jesus, and he became a powerful force in bringing the message of Jesus to the gentile people. He was so successful that God reminded him that all the good he was accomplishing was not by the power of Paul, but by the power of God. He had to keep things in perspective. Jesus was the one who chose him.

When Jesus returned to the city in which he grew up, something peculiar happened. The people felt they knew Jesus well enough already. And as he returned home, they were not able to consider that he was calling them to understand God in a new way, to make their relationship with God more personal. Because they were not willing to accept who Jesus was, little changed in their life.

A young man who wanted to be a super salesman went to lunch at the fashionable Delmonico's in New York's Wall Street district. As he entered the busy restaurant and walked across the crowded dining room behind the maitre'd, he purposely knocked a glass-laden tray out of a waiter's hand. Within a split second the eye of every executive in the place was on the young man. He loved the attention, hoping he would not be forgotten by any one of them if they met again. Other salesmen by the hundreds came and went to Delmonico's unnoticed, but not this man. Calling attention to himself, he hoped to gain recognition and potential customers.

We are much more careful as we dine out in public. We do not look for undue attention. We get embarrassed and want to leave if we accidentally knock over the water glass. But, we profess that we were chosen by Jesus to be his witness on the day we were baptized.

And every day, we find our self in situations with persons who can be influenced by our example. Hopefully they are not “ . . . hard of face and obstinate of heart.” They know that we say we follow Christ, so if we are gentle, patient, generous, loving, God uses our example to lead them closer to him.

We also know that it is not hard for us to want to impress others with our accomplishments as we make sure the conversation is all about the things that interest us. And it is natural to associate only with those who share our view of the world, who judge others as we do, who keep us comfortably believing that everything is already perfect because it is the way we like it to be.

We do not have control over everything in our life. Sometimes that point is obvious, other times we live as if we rule the world. In the end, our challenge is to be willing to admit reality. We accomplish some wonderful things because God gives us the abilities and opportunities to do so. We are loved because God has brought remarkable people into our life who embrace us even though we are imperfect. We live in a land filled with opportunities and blessings that most people in the world can only dream about. As we admit that all is a blessing and a gift, we admit that our life is not about our self. It is about living in a spirit of gratitude for our relationship with God every day. And in that spirit of gratitude, we let God lead us where we need to be.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

In the Viet Nam War years, triage (sorting out) referred to the policy by which medical assistance was given. It was up to the doctors to "color-tag" the wounded, placing them in one of three categories according to their condition. One color meant hopeless – nothing can be done to save them. Another tag meant they’d make it whether they get help or not. The third color-tag indicated a doubtful prognosis – a chance to live only if medical assistance is given. Since there were severely limited medical supplies assistance was being given only to this last group.

Lou was badly blown apart, including one leg severely wounded. The doctor who examined him made the decision that Lou was a hopeless case and tagged him as such, leaving him to die. But a nurse noticed Lou was conscious and began to talk with him. They discovered they were both from Ohio. Getting to know Lou as a person, the nurse just couldn't let him die. She broke all the rules and changed his color-tag.

There followed a two-day trip in the back of a truck and months in a hospital. But Lou made it. He met a girl in the hospital whom he later married. Even minus one leg he led a full happy life, all because a nurse broke the rules of triage and changed a tag. (Billy D. Strayhorn, Friend of the Hopeless)

We are never surprised when people in desperate situations turn to Jesus – it is exactly what we do ourselves when we face a serious problem or have a loved one who is suffering. Jairus was the synagogue leader, responsible for organizing the study and praying of the scriptures in his neighborhood. As a religious leader, he probably would not have turned to Jesus for himself. It would not be proper for a person in his position to acknowledge Jesus as a religious leader. But he had heard about the powerful things the young rabbi was doing, and seeing his young daughter near death, he put aside any doubts or worries about religious protocol and threw himself at the feet of Jesus. He needed help. And his prayer was heard.

As Jesus was on his way to Jairus’ home, another remarkable moment occurred. The sick woman was actually not permitted to be in a crowd by the Law.

Because of the nature of her illness, anyone who touched her was considered to be ritually impure and not allowed to enter the Temple. But, after many years of isolation and declining health she is desperate to try anything. She does not have enough confidence to present her problem to Jesus directly. She comes up to him in the crowd and reaches out to simply touch his clothes. And after years of suffering, all was made well.

We find our self often in need of blessings from Jesus. We may even perform a type of triage as we present our prayer. When everything is going well, and we are happy, we may decide that all is right with the world and forget to live in a spirit of gratitude as we take our blessings for granted. At other times, as we pray for help or inspiration or strength, we place things in God’s hands and assume that all will get better – we’ve placed our order with God and we expect him to answer. In dark moments, we decide it is hopeless – we have ignored God too long, or sinned too much, or something terrible happens that we know we do not deserve. We decide that God is not listening or is angry because our prayers seem to stop at the ceiling.

Jesus knows us as a person. Jesus knows our needs even before we ask, to give us hope when it seems there is only darkness before us, to bring joy into terrible sadness. He doesn’t even require us to fall on our knees before him to be heard – all we have to do is gently reach out to touch him. He loves us so completely he will bless us in our need. It is the nature of Jesus to do so.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. Then the problems began. Chippie’s owner decided to clean his cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She'd barely said "Hello" when "ssssopp!" Chippie got sucked in.

The bird’s owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum cleaner, and opened the bag. There was Chippie – still alive, but stunned. Since the bird was covered with dust, hair and all the stuff found in a dust bag, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the tap, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do . . . she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air.

Poor Chippie never knew what hit him. A few days after the trauma, a friend who had heard about Chippie’s troubles contacted his owner to see how the bird was recovering. "Well," she replied, "Chippie doesn't sing much anymore – he just sits and stares."

Today we celebrate the birth of a great figure in our religious history – St. John the Baptist. We are familiar with John the Baptist in his adult life and his role as the final prophet of the Old Testament, the one who would point out that the Messiah now walked among his people.

The events we recall today are actually rather stunning to consider. John’s mother Elizabeth had always wanted a child. But, everyone knew, as the angel Gabriel remarked to her cousin Mary, she was sterile. But, God was still at work.

Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah was a member of the priestly clan. He was taking his turn working at the Temple, when he had a sudden turn of good luck. He was the one chosen to enter into the Holy of Holies, the most sacred part of the Temple, to end the public worship of God for the day by offering incense. And he had a vision. God sent an angel to tell him that he was to be blessed with the son for which he and Elizabeth had been longing. It was hard to imagine or accept that God would be so good. Zechariah was literally left speechless – but God was still at work.

The mother and father break family tradition and give their son the name John. He would come to be a powerful religious leader. The neighbors could not get over the circumstances of the baby’s birth and felt sure that one day he would be someone special. After all, God was still at work.

Elizabeth and Zechariah were simple people of faith. There is no indication in the scriptures that they were remarkable in any way. But, God was at work, and they cooperated with God in rearing the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah. They would have been stunned to imagine what the future would bring. But their simple faith led them to do what God expected of them in the moment. That was all that was needed.

We are so often put in the same position. In our family we easily lose sight of how precious each person is. Everyone is busy. No one is perfect. But we did not accidentally become a member – God chose these people for us. And God is always at work. The joy of a child reminds us to be appreciative of the little things that give meaning to life. The sad things that happen help us appreciate not having to face the troubles alone. In our family we discover something amazing – we are loved because of the special person that we are. God expects us to grow in love, to learn patience and generosity. Our simple faith lets God lead us every day.

There are those moments when things surprise us. We have been praying but God does not seem to be listening. We are doing our best to be a good person, and suddenly something out of our control changes our life. We love someone with all our heart, and they break our heart and we don’t know how to go on. But, God is at work. We don’t have to feel that we never knew what hit us. God does not show us the future. He simply asks us to come along with him, to trust that his love will never fail. He will always be there. And he asks us every day to do what he expects in the present moment. That is all that is needed.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Robert P. Dugan, Jr. in his book Winning the New Civil War tells of hearing the mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, address the final breakfast meeting of a seminar for Christian college students. The mayor’s comments were forceful and on target. Suddenly she shifted gears: She began, “How many Polish people . . .” she began.

For a split second Robert Dugan’s mind raced. “She wouldn’t be about to tell an ethnic joke, would she?” he thought. “Of course not; she’s not that kind of person, and besides, she’s too intelligent to destroy her career with that kind of humor.” Then he heard her complete the question: “How many Polish people does it take to turn the world around?” She paused. “One, if his name is Lech Walesa.”

“Ahhh!” writes Dugan. “What a beautiful twist. The frequently maligned Polish people got a magnificent compliment. One of their shipyard workers becomes an independent trade union leader whose courage and humble effectiveness results in his country’s first free election in forty years and the installation of the first eastern bloc non communist prime minister in decades. That one man helped change the course of Eastern European history.”

In a free society such as ours, Christianity is not always respected, and it does not have influence in the life of every person we meet. Still, it is easy for us to act as if the Kingdom of God is a completed project. There are many churches, many people who believe Jesus is their Savior, many programs and institutions to carry out the work of Jesus.

But, we should never forget that one little mustard seed. It needs to be planted over and over by each of us.

Often a young person becomes discouraged or loses their way as they try to sort out the direction of their life. It only takes one parent, one grandparent, one brother or sister who makes the effort to give them extra attention, to be their friend, to speak words of encouragement and support. Suddenly that young person realizes they are not alone as they find their way through life.

We all know someone who has lost a loved one. And we do not know the right words to help them in their time of sorrow. Because we are uncomfortable, our first reaction is to say we are sorry for their loss or whisper a prayer for them from time to time. But, it only takes one friend to make a call the week after the funeral, or to invite the person over for dinner, or to simply let them know they are being thought of. Suddenly the person realizes they still have people in their life who love them and care for them.

Anyone we do not know as we come into church is a “stranger”, even if we see them week after week. We can plant the seed of a stronger community simply by saying “Hello” and introducing our self as their brother or sister in Christ. Suddenly our church becomes a place of welcome instead of a place filled with strangers. It only takes one person willing to make the effort.

The work of creating the Kingdom of God is not finished. There are seeds to be planted. And all it takes is one person to make it happen!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Hilding Halverson, a gospel musician, overheard his son one day talking to two other boys. The boys were bragging about their fathers--which Dad was more powerful. One boy bragged, “My Dad knows the mayor of our town!” “The other boy said, “So, my Dad knows the governor of our state!”

Halverson’s son was the last to speak and he said, “That’s nothing, my Dad knows God!” Upon hearing this Halverson quickly slipped away to his room and with tears in his eyes he prayed, “O God, I pray that my boy will always be able to say, ‘My Dad knows God!’”

Today, as we honor our fathers, that is the great challenge faced by every father, to live and love in such a way that their family sees reflected in them the loving care of God our Father.

My father was a simple man. He and my mother were born in Lindsay, Texas, but when he was a young boy his family moved to Weatherford, Texas. He left school after the ninth grade and served in the Army near the end of World War II. He then worked for a time on a ranch in Kansas.

Lindsay, Texas, a small German community in north Texas, had a yearly reunion to which anyone who had lived there was invited. My father traveled from Kansas to see his parents there at the reunion, and someone set up a blind date for him and my mother at the big dance. When my mother came home that night, her sister asked how things went. She declared, “He is too country for me!” But, my father was in love. He never returned to Kansas, and six months later they were married.

Together, they created a family of fourteen children – eight sons, six daughters. My father took a job in Fort Worth at a lumber yard and came to be a master carpenter. He worked hard, and most days he came home exhausted. We were poor people in terms of money and possessions. But, our life was made rich in so many ways by the example our father gave.

He was clear that God was an important part of life. He involved us in church life and made prayer a part of the family routine as we prayed before meals and said a decade of the rosary as a family before the “little kids” went to bed each evening. When trouble came to the family, he would tell us to not worry, because God would take care of things. He did not see any reason to feel sorry for our self or complain.

Our family was filled with individuals of strong opinions and various talents. Some were very academic, some were great singers and musicians, some were athletes. Our father never compared the accomplishments of one to another. Instead, he challenged each one to do their best, and then celebrated with them each achievement.

Most importantly, my father showed us how strong a family can be when we remember to love one another. We never doubted how much our father loved our mother. There were plenty of disagreements with so many people living together in a small house. But, my father always made it clear that mistakes are forgiven and then we move on; that there’s no need to be jealous, because everyone has different gifts; that you are loved for who you are, not for what you have.

Our prayer is that God our Father, who knows all things, will bless each father today and every day for all they give of themselves as they care for their family, and fill their home with love. May every father clearly be known as someone who knows God!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Father Stephen's Message

John Claypool tells of a young man who went into the service. He was from a rural area in Southern Georgia. When he entered the armed service, he brought with him the values, ways, and habits that he had known while on the farm. One of those habits was reading his Bible at night and kneeling by the side of his bed to pray.

His drill sergeant took that as a personal affront. His effort was to try and make the young recruit over in his own image. The more the young recruit read his Bible and prayed, the more it infuriated the drill sergeant. The young recruit was confined to the barracks on a weekend. He was kneeling beside his bed praying when the sergeant came in from a drunken night on the town.

It was raining, and he was wet and muddy. Seeing that young recruit kneeling by the bed caused the drill sergeant to be infuriated. He took off one of his muddy boots and threw it at the young recruit and hit him on the side of the head. The soldier resumed his posture of prayer. The sergeant took off the other boot, threw it, and hit him again. Again, the young man assumed his posture of prayer.

The drill sergeant muttered some profanity and went into his room and fell across his bed asleep. Upon waking the next morning, the first thing the drill sergeant saw was those boots, polished and shined, set in a chair by the table.

You can crucify this quality of love, but you can never kill it or defeat it. Our gospel passage today is a familiar scene. And it is a sad scene.

Jesus is having his final meal with his friends. One will soon leave to betray him. Another will end the night denying that he even knows him. All but one will flee as he is arrested and led away to his death.

But, this is also the scene we recreate over and over, because it makes present the greatest promise of Jesus. He had taught that if we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we will live forever with him.

He took the bread and wine of the Passover meal and gave it a new significance. “This is my Body, . . . this is my Blood.” He was about to embrace the torturous death of the cross so that we would never have a doubt how deeply we are loved.

And, because we often need to be reminded and reassured how much we are loved, Jesus makes himself present and available to us over and over. We come to Mass and as we reflect on the powerful love Jesus has shown us, we could become discouraged as we think about the past week.

We may have let opportunities to do good pass us by because we were too busy or did not want to be bothered. We may have let angry words pass our lips or spoke them in our mind. We went through entire days without pausing to speak to God in prayer. What we say or how we entertain our self may not be worthy of a child of God. We feel the pressures of life and worry about what the future will bring for those whom we love.

So many things work together to make us wonder if God is listening to our prayers or are we on our own? But Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread and wine, and returned them to us as his Body and Blood. And as we kneel in his presence and join our self to him in Communion, we are reminded in a powerful way that we are not alone. Because Jesus continues to be with us in this personal way, he helps us to be different.

We can be a comfort to those in sorrow because Jesus is with us in our times of sadness. We can speak words of love and forgiveness when it would be easier to lash out at the one who offends us, because the pardon won for us on the cross is made personal to us on the Altar. We can pray for those who do not love us, because we join our self with Jesus who loves us completely.

Every time we enter the church and genuflect before the Tabernacle, Jesus is here with us. As we listen to the words of Jesus, “This is my Body, this is my Blood,” Jesus is here with us. As we receive Communion, Jesus is united with us in a personal way we could never imagine if it were not his decision to love us so completely.

Just in case we would forget how much we are loved, Jesus gives us himself over and over. And if we are loved so completely, we have to be different – we have to be sure that what we receive fills us with so much love for Jesus that it is reflected in all we say and do to share his love with one another

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Trinity Sunday

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

There are countless churches across the world in which God is worshipped and the sacraments are received. Some are huge, some are tiny. There are humble, simple places of worship, and some that are covered with beautiful artwork and precious decorations. But while places of worship are important, they are not the reason for the church.

There are programs to prepare those who are to receive a sacrament. There are programs in the church to help parents be better parents, and married couples love each other more. There are ministries and prayer groups and events that bring people together simply to enjoy each other’s company. But, all the programs and ministries and organizations are not the reason for the church.

As Jesus was ascending to heaven, his final words set the direction for everything the church is meant to be. “Go and make disciples of all nations.” This work began with the eleven apostles watching Jesus ascend into the clouds there in Galilee. It grew after Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit inspired others to follow Jesus, and then to invite others to come hear the story of Jesus and commit their life to following him. They changed their relationship to God as they were baptized “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And their faith grew stronger as they were taught everything Jesus had commanded.

The process was simple. It began with a personal invitation. And that continues to be the most effective way to spread the message of Jesus. When we are angry with a member of our own family, we don’t need a sermon on being a peacemaker. Only we can decide to put aside our pride and forgive and move on. When we hear of someone who is suffering or who is mourning a loved one lost, we know there are programs to help with grief, but our prayers, our simple words of condolence assure them that they are not alone in the darkness. There is no end to those who are needing a smile, a word of encouragement, to simply be treated with respect as a person. We help them know they are important to God as we make them important to us.

Dr. Mordecai Johnson, an African-American educator, once told of a colleague of his. He tried to interest his friend in Christ, but he was always met with polite refusals. Finally, Johnson got the man to talk. It seems that when he was growing up in a small southern town, an evangelist visited for a week of meetings in a tent. The little boy had gone, drawn by the excitement of it all, and sat in the back of the tent reserved for Negroes. At the end of the week it was announced that Sunday morning would climax the week when all those who were ready to receive Christ would be baptized in the river. Those wanting baptism were to appear on the bank dressed in white.

So, the little boy had hurried home to tell his mother what he wanted. His poor mother had to take a sheet off one of the beds to make him a little robe. Proudly, yet somewhat frightened, the child made his way to the river on Sunday morning. It was quite a meeting with a crowd of people singing, Scripture reading, testifying, and preaching. One by one, many were baptized. When finally, the service was over, and the crowd dispersed a little boy stood alone on the riverbank in a little white robe that was all dry. He was waiting for someone to notice him, to talk to him, to baptize him. The work of making disciples does not belong only to the clergy, or those who are leading a ministry or teaching a class. Each of us is a member of the church, and every day a new opportunity is offered for us to do our part.

There is someone standing there waiting to be noticed and talked to and invited to come into a deeper relationship with the Lord through our influence. “Go and make disciples.” As a member of the church, that is our most important work.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Pentecost Sunday

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

There is a true story related about a church in the Pacific Northwest, who much like us, has a time during the service for passing the peace of Christ. They greet one another, and their guests, with handshakes and hugs, and kind words of welcome. Nobody thought much about the weekly ritual until the pastor received a letter from a man who had recently joined the congregation. The new member was a young lawyer from a prestigious law firm. He drafted a brief but pointed letter on his firm's letterhead. "I am writing to complain about the congregational ritual known as 'passing the peace,' " he wrote. "I disagree with it, both personally and professionally, and I am prepared to take legal action to cause this practice to cease." When the pastor phoned to talk with the lawyer about the letter, he asked why he was so disturbed about sharing the peace of Christ. The lawyer said, "The passing of the peace is an invasion of my privacy."

And, in the Pastor’s response to this man, we find the truth of the Christian life. He said, "Like it or not, when you joined the church you gave up some of your privacy, for we believe in a risen Lord who will never leave us alone." And, he said, "You never know when Jesus Christ will intrude on us with a word of peace." (Jeremy Rebman, So Send I You)

In the first reading last Sunday, we read that Jesus told his disciples to remain in Jerusalem, for in a few days they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. They did not even know what that meant. But, as we read today, as they were gathered in prayer, their lives were changed forever. Suddenly the Holy Spirit rushed upon them, like a powerful wind or a roaring fire.

And they, who had been promised by Jesus that they would not be left alone, suddenly discovered the power of the Holy Spirit living within them. They were able to become powerful messengers for Jesus, willing to overcome any persecution, even face death, in order to proclaim Jesus lives with us.

The interesting thing to remember is that the same Holy Spirit they received came to dwell with us as we were baptized. And the full power of the Holy Spirit was given to us as we received the sacrament of Confirmation. Our trouble is that as the Spirit works with us to remind us that Jesus lives with us, it is usually without drama. We know that the Holy Spirit has been given to us, but where are the tongues of flame and roaring winds? It becomes so easy for us to ignore the influence of the Holy Spirit or overlook his power in our life.

But the Holy Spirit is always there, reminding us that Jesus lives with us. The Spirit helps us to find the strength to turn aside from anger when we are offended and become an instrument of peace as we forgive and move on. The Spirit opens our eyes to an opportunity to share our riches with someone in need because we live in gratitude for all God gives us, and confidence that he will continue to be generous in blessing us. The Spirit gives us the courage to admit those parts of our life that are not in harmony with God’s will, and the strength to put aside our pride, confess our sins, and turn back to the love of Jesus.

The Spirit is always at work reminding us that we are meant to be different from ordinary people. Jesus lives with us. And because he is there, then everything we say and do is important. And when we forget, the Holy Spirit will whisper to us – Jesus is here!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

The Ascension of the Lord

Father Stephen's Message

There is a story about two tribes in the Andes that were at war. One tribe lived in the lowlands and the other high in the mountains. The mountain people invaded the lowlanders one day, and as part of their plundering, they kidnapped a baby. The lowlanders didn’t know how to climb the mountain. They didn’t know any of the trails that the mountain people used, and they didn’t know where to find the mountain people or how to track them in the steep terrain.

Even so, they sent out their best party of fighting men to climb the mountain and bring the baby home. The men tried first one method of climbing and then another. They tried one trail and then another. After several days of effort, however, they had climbed only several hundred feet. Feeling hopeless and helpless, the lowlander men decided that the cause was lost, and they prepared to return to their village below.

As they were packing their gear for the descent, they saw the baby’s mother walking toward them. She was coming down the mountain and she had the baby strapped to her back. How could that be? One man greeted her and said, “We couldn’t climb this mountain. How did you do this when we, the strongest and most able men in the village, couldn’t do it?” She shrugged her shoulders and said, “It wasn’t your baby.” (Meir Liraz, The 100 Top Inspirational Anecdotes and Stories.)

This week we celebrate Mother’s Day. This is an important day because our mother was the one who first loved us, even before we were born. She was the one who answered our cry in the middle of the night. She never made us doubt that we were a valuable person with so much to offer. She dried our tears, and joined in our dreams, and worried about us when we didn’t have enough sense to be worried about our self.

My mother had fourteen children, eight boys and six girls. When my baby brother was born, my mother was 45 years old, and one of the nurses came in to visit and told her, “I always visit the older mothers, because usually they are depressed to have a child at their age.”

My mother often told us that she told her, “This is my fourteenth child, and I’m just as happy to have him as I was to have the first.”

This Mother’s Day I think of some of the valuable lessons my mother taught her children. She taught us that God was an important part of daily life. We began each day saying the Morning Offering before breakfast, entrusting all we did that day to God. If we complained about something, we were reminded that we should offer it up for the Poor Souls in Purgatory.

We ended every day gathering with our parents to recite a decade of the rosary before the little ones went off to bed. My mother taught us to be focused on what is truly important. We did not have many possessions, and we were not encouraged to miss what we did not have. We lived in the country and raised our own food and entertained our self outside playing games or taking hikes.

We learned about loving and sharing with others by the way we lived together in our small house. She kept us involved in church activities and looked for ways for us to help a neighbor who needed us. Our mother was gentle, and patient and full of good humor. She would talk one minute with one of her sons about batting averages, and the next be helping one of her little girls fix her hair.

It is hard to imagine all the obstacles faced by my mother as she cared for a baby, and tended to a sick child, and washed mountains of clothes and fed an army every day! But, she accomplished such wonderful things. Dorothy Rose Dieter Bierschenk had no idea what a powerful influence for good she was bringing to the world. But, she continues to be reflected in the faith and values lived out each day by her children and their children and grandchildren.

Our prayer is that every mother will know how much she is loved and appreciated and how precious she is to her family, not just on Mother’s Day, but every day. No one else loves us like our mother, and she makes our world a wonderful place. May God surround her with his love and blessings!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

A certain high society matron took a course in First Aid. A few days after completing the course, she was an on-the-spot witness of a bad auto accident. Occupants of the car were thrown out by the impact and lay seriously wounded on the street.

Later, describing the accident to a friend, the woman said, “It was awful, awful — and it happened so fast, right there in front of me. Tires squealed, brakes screeched, and all of a sudden there was the grinding crash. The next thing I knew people were lying in the street, bleeding and moaning.”

“Yes — and what happened next?” the friend asked anxiously and excitedly.

“At first I hardly knew what to do,” continued the woman. “Then I remembered what they taught us in First Aid Class. Immediately I sat down on the curb and put my head down between my knees, so I would not faint.” She knew exactly how to take care of herself!

“This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” We are not surprised to hear these words of Jesus. He became one of us to show us how deeply God loves us. As he hung on the cross, he loved us so much that he offered himself completely so that we would never doubt that we are loved and that we are forgiven.

The words and example of Jesus constantly challenge us to love in the same way. In the earliest days of the church, the identity of the Christians was found in their love for one another. The non-believers found it remarkable that the Christians even treated those who did not belong to the church with loving care.

The force of Jesus’ command continues today. As we commit our self to following Jesus, we are meant to be seen by those around us to be different because we are so loving.

We have learned through prayer and experience what we need to know to be a true witness of the love of Jesus to the world. But, we often forget to put into practice the command to love one another as we have been loved.

It is more comfortable to act as if love is simply good will toward others and generally leaving other people alone, so they don’t bother us. But, Jesus calls us to do more. When someone makes us angry and we are planning out how we will make them regret it, we remember how often we have been forgiven and begun again with the Lord. As we have been loved, so we must love.

When someone asks for our help and we are really busy, or we wonder if they really need or deserve what they are asking for, we remember how often our prayers have been heard and answered. As we have been loved, so we must love.

When we are frustrated, and things are not going well, our first reaction is to complain and let others share in our unhappiness. But, as we compare our troubles with our blessings, we consider how much we are loved, and so must we love.

Loving one another is not just a high ideal to strive for. We always know how to take care of our self. It is the expectation of Jesus that we live in a different way. He has loved us completely. And our work is not finished until the day we are loving one another as much as we have been loved.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Fifth Sunday of Easter

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

A boy went to a contest for homemade racing cars sponsored by the Boy Scouts. It was one of those events where the contestants are supposed to do their own work but most of the fathers help too much.

The boy had no Dad and showed up with a racer he had obviously made with his own unskilled hands. The contest pitted boys in pairs, one against another with the winner advancing to the next round in a series of eliminations. Somehow this one kid’s funny-looking car won again and again, until, defying all odds, he was in the finals against another scout with a slicklooking, well-made racer.

Before the championship race, the boy with the funny-looking, homemade car asked the director to wait a moment before they began, so he could pray. The crowd, now enthralled by the unlikely story unfolding before them, stood in silence, loving the boy and secretly praying with him that he might win. He seemed so deserving.

The boy won the race and was given a trophy. The director said, “Well, I guess it is a good thing you prayed, so you could win.” “Oh, no!” the boy protested, horrified to have been misunderstood. “I didn’t pray to win. That would have been wrong. The other scout had as much right to win as I did. I couldn’t pray that God would make him lose. I just prayed that God would help me keep from crying if I lost.” (Rev. Ken Kesselus)

As Jesus uses the parable of the vine and the branches to describe his relationship to us, we so often think the point of the story is obvious – if we are attached to the vine, we live, if we are cut off, we die. But of course, no living relationship is so static. The roots of the vine soak up the nutrients and moisture in the soil, the leaves on the branches absorb the power of the sun, and as they work together, the fruit develops and grows to maturity.

The branch must be attached to the vine for this to happen. So it is in our relationship with God. Belonging is not just a matter of being attached to God by our Baptism. We believe God is watching over us and blessing us, intimately involved in every moment of our life. He inspires us to love him more deeply, he strengthens us when we grow weak or indifferent.

He pardons us and makes it possible for us to live again united with him. Even as we work hard, we know that everything is a gift, because it is God who gives us talents and opportunities that are ours alone.

Jesus shows us that the key to our union with the vine is prayer. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.” So often we approach prayer as a part of our emergency equipment. When trouble comes, when we have an urgent need, we fall on our knees and begin to storm heaven. And in those moments when we need God to be close to us, we cannot be sure if we are heard because we do not have enough experience to trust in his closeness to us.

Being spiritually alive and healthy involves joining our daily life to God. We grow in our faith as we recognize the hand of God at work in our daily life. The love we receive from others gives us a glimpse of the powerful love God has for us, which cannot be dimmed or lost. The regret and sorrow we feel as we reflect on our failing to avoid sin becomes an invitation to return to the warm embrace of God’s loving forgiveness. As we bring before the Lord even our most basic daily needs in prayer, we humbly acknowledge that we know everything is in the hands of Someone who loves us completely.

Our purpose in this world is not simply to cling to life on the vine. We are to produce fruit. As we turn to God in gratitude for all the gifts great and small that we have received, as we choose to imitate his great generosity in countless little gifts of our self to others, as we humbly admit our imperfections and seek the strength to be better, something remarkable happens. Our relationship with God becomes such a part of all we do and say and think that we don’t need to turn to God hoping he will hear us. We will know that he is there, helping us so we don’t cry if things don’t go as we hope. We will know that everything is as it should be, because we are united with God.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Third Sunday of Easter

Father Stephen's Homily

Easter Sunday

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Palm Sunday

Father Stephen's Homily

Fifth Sunday of Lent - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

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Fourth Sunday of Lent - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Second Sunday of Lent - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

First Sunday of Lent - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Ash Wednesday

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Sixt Sunday in Ordinary Time

Father Stephen's Homily

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Charles R. Swindoll, in his book Dropping Your Guard, tells of Flight 401 bound for Miami from New York City with a load of holiday passengers. As the huge aircraft approached the Miami Airport for its landing, a light that indicates proper deployment of the landing gear failed to come on.

The plane flew in a large, looping circle over the swamps of the Everglades while the cockpit crew checked out the light failure. Their question was this, had the landing gear actually not deployed or was it just the light bulb that was defective?

To begin with, the flight engineer fiddled with the bulb. He tried to remove it, but it wouldn't budge. Another member of the crew tried to help out . . . and then another. By and by, if you can believe it, all eyes were on the little light bulb that refused to be dislodged from its socket. No one noticed that the plane was losing altitude.

Finally, it dropped right into a swamp. Many were killed in that plane crash. While an experienced crew of high-priced and seasoned pilots messed around with a seventy-five-cent light bulb, an entire airplane and many of its passengers were lost.

The crew momentarily forgot the most basic of all rules of the air -- "Don't forget to fly the airplane!" As the gospels describe the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, it was a very hectic and demanding time. There were crowds of people, each person craving his attention. When he retreated to the quiet of Peter’s home, Peter’s mother-in-law was sick.

As Jesus took some quiet time away, the gospel says that his companions pursued him to tell him people were waiting to see him. The simple life of a carpenter, working at his own pace, was gone forever. We can understand his experience, because in so many ways our life reflects the same situations. Whether we are at work or at home, there is always a coworker, or a friend, or a child, or a spouse, or even a stranger wanting our attention and needing something from us.

When we retreat to the quiet of our own home, we may have someone sick who needs our care, and our companions in life need daily attention, and the outside world is always pressing in on us because we have so many devices to bring it in. Jesus remained focused on what was most important – he was preaching a new way to understand God so that everyone would realize they were welcomed and forgiven and loved.

And the key to keeping his focus was simple – getting away to pray. In his conversation with his Father, Jesus could put everything into perspective. He had come to do the will of his Father. That was most important. We also know that prayer is important in our daily life, to help us keep things in focus, to see what is important. But, we often let the distractions and demands of daily life turn our conversation with God into a passing acknowledgment that he is present or a frantic call for help when things become serious.

The key is to remember the example of Jesus, to make the effort and give a part of our day to quietly being in the presence of God. In a quiet moment with the Lord, we can discover that the ability to put things into perspective and not let a thoughtless word or action cause us to be angry or vindictive. Instead, we become a source of peace. In a quiet moment with the Lord, even as we think about the worries a loved one is bringing us, we are reminded of how much they are loved and how important they are. We see the reason we will forgive and love them in their imperfection.

In a quiet moment, we discover that God loves us, he blesses us, he seeks us out even when we ignore him. We begin to marvel at God’s relationship with us. There is no end to people who need us and troubles come when we least expect them. And it is easy to lose our focus. But, we cannot forget to fly the plane. That is why we pause, take our quiet time with the Lord and remember what is most important.

He will remind us about who we love, and why we love them. And when we see that, everything in our life becomes clear.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

For centuries Aristotle was regarded as the greatest thinker of all time. People believed that Aristotle was right when he said that the heavier an object was, the faster it would fall to earth. Of course, anyone could have taken two objects, one heavy and one light, and dropped them from a great height to see if he was correct. But no one did until nearly 2,000 years after Aristotle's death. In 1589 Galileo summoned learned professors to the base of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Then he went to the top and pushed off a ten-pound weight and a one-pound weight. Both landed at the same instant. The theory of Aristotle was disproved. But, the power of belief was so strong, that the professors denied their eyesight. They continued to insist Aristotle was right.

Capernaum was the home town of Peter, Andrew, James and John, the fishermen called by Jesus to be his first disciples. And as Jesus began his public ministry, he went to the synagogue just down the street from Peter’s house. It was customary for the leader of the synagogue to invite someone who felt they had something to say to do so.

And as Jesus took his turn, it became clear that he was different. He did not feel the need to quote from the words of one of the prophets or to give weight to what he said by pointing to other learned scholars who thought as he did. Instead, as we read all through the gospels, he clearly spoke by his own authority. Jesus knew the truth of God just as surely as Galileo understood the power of the force of gravity. As he spoke and the manner in which he treated people revealed a way of understanding God that had not been possible before. Jesus was the authority on God, for he was God.

The gospel says that the man Jesus encountered in the synagogue was afflicted by an unclean spirit. As the unclean spirit begins to proclaim the divine power of Jesus, Jesus silences it and it leaves the man with a loud cry. We can’t help but bring to mind all sorts of Hollywood images of demonic possession and exorcisms.

But the true point is that this good man sitting in a synagogue had an unclean spirit, and Jesus demonstrated that there was no reason to despair. His authority was greater. The unclean spirit could not maintain its hold on the man. To this day, it remains hard for us to always accept Jesus at his word, to truly believe that God is as Jesus says he is. We too have our unclean spirits. Perhaps we have been hurt and our anger and resentment keeps us reliving the offense and giving it power in our life, so that we cannot imagine moving past what has happened, much less forgiving from our heart.

But, Jesus offers to lend our heart the same love that he showed as he hung on the Cross and prayed for those who placed him there because they did not realize what they had done. Jesus shows us it is possible, if we will believe him.

It is possible that we have lost a loved one, or the circumstances of our life have taken us far away from the places and people that we love. And in our loneliness we begin to doubt that we are loved by others, and feel that we are far away from God. We may even decide that God has forgotten us or is punishing us. But, in the gospels, Jesus assures us that when we are weary and find life burdensome, he is there at our side, offering us comfort. He will inspire us with new opportunities to see his hand at work in our life, for he is always seeking the sheep that is lost.

In those moments when we wonder how we could be loved so much, because we are so imperfect; when we cannot see the good in another person because they have hidden it so well behind their imperfections; when we decide we may as well just keep on sinning because we have already been forgiven more times than we deserve, we become sure that God sees us as we see our self. But, Jesus is clear – God is not vengeful, or angry, or looking to punish. Jesus says we should call him, “Our Father” for so he is. We believe this on the authority of Jesus. What more could we need?

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

A heavy rain had been falling as a man drove down a lonely road. As he rounded a curve, he saw an old farmer surveying the ruins of his barn. The driver stopped his car and asked what had happened.

“Roof fell in,” said the farmer. “Leaked so long it finally just rotted through.”

“Why in the world didn’t you fix it before it got that bad?” asked the stranger.

“Well, sir,” replied the farmer, “it just seemed I never did get around to it. When the weather was good, there weren’t no need for it, and when it rained, it was too wet to work on!”

We all remember as a small child having people ask us what we wanted to be when we grew up. And there was no pressure to commit to our decision. After all, we could want to be a movie star one day and an astronaut the next and a teacher the next. We had many years ahead of us in which to get around to making a final decision.

It is interesting that as the gospel describes the manner in which Jesus began to invite others to join him in his ministry, it began with a decision made in an instant that changed everything. Peter left his business and his wife behind to begin following this young man who invited him to come along. And James and John left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men to accept Jesus’ invitation. When Jesus called, there was not time to think about what might happen in the future or what others might think about their decision. Their decision to walk with Jesus each day took their life in a direction they had not planned for or expected.

So often we act as if following Jesus is something we can get around to when we need to. So, we are inspired by something we hear in a sermon or look back on a missed opportunity to do something good and decide we are going to do better. We decide it is time to start praying because we really need God’s help at this point in our life. If we were asked we would admit we are a follower of Jesus, but it is hard to say he is our constant companion.

Our decision to follow Jesus sets our life on a course that makes our life different. But we discover that the decision is not really about what our life’s work will be, as it was for Peter and Andrew and James and John. Instead, wherever we are, whatever we do, Jesus is inviting us to follow him.

He says we are to love everyone, even an enemy, and we cannot imagine why he would want us to have a welcoming and generous attitude toward someone who does not seem to be very loveable. But Jesus is inviting us to follow him in that moment.

And we know we should be forgiving because we have been shown mercy so many times. But surely that is not expected when we or someone we love has been hurt by a person who does not care about what they have done. But Jesus is inviting us to come with him at that moment.

When we are in pain or everything we had planned is falling apart, and we don’t know where God could be in all this darkness, Jesus is there, inviting us to join him and place our trust in our loving Father as we join our suffering with his on the Cross.

We have already decided to follow Jesus. Being his follower does not require us to leave everything familiar behind. Instead, we will be invited over and over to bring Jesus into wherever we are, with each person we meet. We cannot be satisfied with waiting to get around to accepting the invitation. We may be holier one day, or have more time later, or be better prepared to be reflect Jesus than we are now. But the invitation is going to be offered sooner than we expected. We have to accept it when it is given, for it will not come our way again.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Samuel was left by his mother to live with Eli at the temple when he was three years old. He was familiar with the daily routine at the holy place. But, as we read in today’s first reading, he suddenly discovered that his life with God was going to involve more than the prayers and rituals with which he was familiar. He was destined to be the great prophet of God who anointed King David and helped guide him as he established the nation of Israel. But first, Samuel had to learn to listen for the voice of God and answer him.

President Franklin Roosevelt often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, "I murdered my grandmother this morning." The guests responded with phrases like, "Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir." It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, "I'm sure she had it coming."

So often we are comfortable thinking that God is not speaking directly to us. After all, we do not hear a booming voice coming from the clouds above, nor have we had a conversation with a burning bush. We even speak to God in our rituals and in our personal prayers, but we do not really expect a direct reply. But all through the day, God is speaking to us in more simple ways. 

As we find we cannot sleep in the middle of the night, instead of lying there reliving all the troubles of the day, God is gently opening the way for us to spend a quiet moment in prayer, simply putting our self in his hands, thanking him for his blessings, whispering a prayer for the person not known to us who is spending the night in pain because they are ill, or suffering through the night because they have no safe place to sleep.

Every day is filled with activities and demands on our time. And all through the day, God is presenting us with opportunities to show how much we love him. He is speaking through the cranky, demanding child who needs to be patiently comforted. He is speaking to us through the person who offends us, as he invites us to put into practice our decision to forget our self and turn aside from anger so that we can love as we are loved by God. He is waiting for us to speak his words of welcome to a stranger, to treat someone who is different not as an annoyance, but as a brother or sister.

  At times God speaks words that inspire and challenge us. After a long time, we suddenly realize that God deserves to be included in our daily routine, and so we decide to have an appointment every day to quietly sit in the presence of God to pray and reflect on his love. After a long time, we admit that we have grown comfortable with our selfishness or anger or pride, and it’s time to make a change. After a long time, we admit that we can be more generous with our money, or help as a volunteer, or make sure that those we love hear from our lips how important they are to us.

In some ways it would be easier if we could hear God calling us with a loud voice from above. We would not have the option of ignoring such a command. But, instead, we have to be attentive, train our self to see God at work and hear his invitation to come closer and love him more. Samuel was to be a great prophet, guided by God’s voice all his life. But first, he had to sit quietly in the night and say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And we have to do the same.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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The Epiphany of the Lord

Father Stephen's Message

There are fourteen peaks in the world that are considered major challenges for mountain climbers. Fourteen peaks over 26,000 feet, which is about five miles high. These are the major challenges for mountain climbers. One must supposedly use oxygen to be able to climb to the top. There is only one individual living that has climbed all fourteen peaks. His name is Reinhold Messner.

Reinhold has been the object of scientific inquiry to understand why he alone has been able to do what he has done. They looked at his technology. He had no more technology than anyone else. In fact, he didn't use as many ropes or ladders or technology that others did. And he used no oxygen at all. Then they looked at his athletic ability and decided he was no more athletically gifted than another million people in our world. Reinhold was an individual who had been able to do what nobody else had ever been able to do.

They asked the question, "How?" There are those times in life when we come to a wall, whether we say to ourselves or the world says to us, "This is impossible. You can’t go no further." But people like Reinhold Messner say, "I am going on." And he does so. He does not let failure detour him. He is not put off when people say, "You can't!" He continues to go on. He finds a way. He pursues. He perseveres. He persists The men we celebrate today are a mystery to us. We are not sure exactly of their country of origin.

We often call them wise men because in the ancient world those who studied the movement of the stars and planets in the night sky were considered to be the most educated, able to decipher mysteries ordinary people could not understand. We usually focus on the gifts, which were very expensive and had a symbolic meaning beyond their extravagant nature. But, their greatest importance is that they were the first nonJewish people to be led by God to witness the remarkable thing that God was doing. He had become one of us!

As they entered the house to worship and offer their gifts, they represented each of us, who are also called to follow their example, searching for the signs in the world around us that Jesus is present, and then offering our gifts in gratitude for his being with us. And so, we cannot let failure cause us to give up. Even as we remember our sins, or we despair because of something we said to another we wish we had not said, Jesus is inviting us today to give him the gift of our heart, because he came to assure us that there is always the opportunity to begin again, to be forgiven and rebuild what has been destroyed. We seek the light of his wisdom, and he will show us what to say and what to do.

We know that we should imitate the love of Jesus, who welcomed the imperfect and the sinner. But we find it hard to look past the fact that someone looks different, or speaks another language, or does not fit into our group. Jesus is inviting us today to see each individual as a new opportunity to welcome him, to honor his presence, to serve him. It is not always easy, but we seek the strength to not give up, so that we can give this gift of our self to the Lord.

These three men were not sure where their journey was taking them or how long it would take. And they did not imagine how the journey would end, in the presence of a baby born to simple people. But God brought them exactly where they needed to be. God did not become human just to save a few people. He came to welcome all people. And these three men offered their gifts, not to gain some advantage for themselves, but in gratitude for learning the greatest truth of all – God is with us!

Our challenge is to imitate their example, to seek to discover Jesus present all around us. And we can never give up looking for ways to offer him our simple gifts – love, service, generosity. It is the least we can do to express our gratitude for God’s great gift to us.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

New Year's Day Mass

Father Stephen's Homily

New Year's Eve Mass

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The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Father Stephen's Homily

Christmas Day Mass

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Christmas Eve Mass

Father Stephen's Homily

Fourth Sunday of Advent - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Third Sunday of Advent - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Father Stephen's Homily

Second Sunday of Advent - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Carl Michalson, a brilliant young theologian, once told about playing with his young son one afternoon. They tussled playfully on their front lawn when Michalson accidentally hit the young boy in the face with his elbow. It was a sharp blow full to his son's face. The little boy was stunned by the impact of the elbow. It hurt, and he was just about to burst into tears. But then he looked into his father's eyes. Instead of anger and hostility, he saw there his father’s eyes sympathy and concern; he saw there his father's love and compassion. Instead of exploding into tears, the little boy suddenly burst into laughter. What he saw in his father's eyes made all the difference! James W. Moore, (Some Things Are Too Good Not to Be True )

In today’s second reading, St. Peter reminds us of an important truth about our relationship with God. He says, “The Lord does not delay his promise, but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” God is so patient!

Of course, we often forget that. We get discouraged because we have tried to resist temptation in our life or turn from a sin with which we have been comfortable. And when we sin again, we decide that we may as well just give up and keep on sinning, because we are not going to be able to change. But, that is not the way God sees us. He is never disappointed, or discouraged. He does not give up. He welcomes us back, gives us his pardon, and then gives us his grace to help us once again to carry out our good intentions.

God is so patient! We want everything to go well. And so we plan our life, we plan special events, we plan each day. And when things do not work out as we expected, it is easy to become angry or to get discouraged. But, in the end, we cannot control everything that happens, and the guiding truth of our life is that everything is in the hands of a loving Father.

He often allows our patience to be tested, and leads us in directions we do not expect, but through it all, he will continue to work with us to fill our life with blessings and opportunities and love. God is so patient!

People hurt our feelings or treat us unfairly. We look around and it is obvious that some people have more than we do, and some families are so happy and contented, and even people who are not concerned with living a good life seem to have everything they want. We have moments when we wonder if God is listening to us or perhaps we are being ignored. When we get our feelings hurt, we may even decide to be angry with God and turn away from him. But, God looks at us and loves us completely. God is so patient!

The little boy was assured of his father’s true intentions and feelings when he looked into his eyes and saw reflected there his father’s love. And in those moments when we wonder if we are forgotten, or if God truly loves us, we remember that he sent his Son. His Son understands our sufferings, he shows us how to follow God’s will, he looks at us in our imperfection and offers to give himself in our place on the Cross. And if we forget how much we are loved, when we cling to the things that keep us from loving God as he deserves, God does not give up. He looks at us with eyes filled with love and offers us another opportunity to get closer to him. We have not had our final chance to be holier and closer to God. This second week of Advent we are being invited again to repent and turn back to God. God is so patient!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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First Sunday of Advent - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Message

Sue Monk Kidd tells about when her daughter was small and got the dubious part of the Bethlehem star in a Christmas play. After her first rehearsal, she burst through the door with her costume, a five-pointed star lined in shiny gold tinsel designed to drape over her shoulders. "What exactly will you be doing in the play?" her mother asked her. And with a big smile her daughter answered proudly, "I just stand there and shine." (Eric S. Ritz) 

In the parable, as the man leaves the country, he gives each of his servants their own work to do. And it is obvious as the simple story unfolds, that they are each expected to do their work while he is gone, because the point of the story is that since they cannot know when he will return, they have to always be ready.

It is remarkable to consider how much confidence God places in each of us. He wants those who are struggling and hungry and cold to be cared for, so he gives us money and an open-hearted generosity so that we can bless them in his name.

He wants the stranger to be welcomed, and so he helps us recognize our sister or brother in the person who doesn’t speak our language well, or dresses differently, or does not seem to be like us. With a warm smile and a loving embrace, we welcome them in his name and God blesses us with a new friend.

God wants someone who has lost their way to be gently guided back onto the right path. He gives us the right words to speak, if we will only say them.

He wants the one whose heart is broken to know that they are not alone and that they will be helped to find their way through the darkness. We know they are there, if we will only go stand at their side. God insists that every child be seen as his precious gift, and inspired and cherished by us as deeply as they are by him.

We have to remember that as we love and forgive and give away what we have to help them become the wonderful person God created them to be. God has never chosen the most perfect to act in his place. He chooses us. He gives us each our own work to do.

The story Jesus tells ends with a warning: “Watch!” We cannot know exactly when God will decide that our work for him here in this world has been completed. And, while we are waiting, we are to be busy every day, serious about doing our part in bringing the love and mercy and generosity of God into the world. We don’t have to make up opportunities. We just have to make sure we stand there and shine with the love of God, reflecting him to every person we meet. Then, we will be ready when he returns.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Christ the King

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

A man arrived at heaven and was shown into God's office to wait for judgement. One wall was a huge window looking down on earth. The earth was beautiful with its blue waters, green forests, and white clouds. There was a pair of glasses on the table. He decided they must be God's glasses.

No one was around, so the man tried them on and looked at earth again. This time he saw hunger, poverty, sickness, and so much inhumanity that he could not bear it. He heard a voice behind him, "Take off my glasses." He did so, and he awaited his punishment. After a pause, the voice gently asked, "What did you see?" "I saw hate, corruption, and evil!" the man answered.

"Did you feel any love or compassion?" the voice asked. "None!" said the man. "I would destroy the whole planet without any hesitation or regret!" "That's why you can't use my glasses," said God. "You may not see what I see, unless you can feel what I feel." (Stan Meade)

Today’s gospel contains Jesus’ description of the moment when he will return in glory and the judgement that has been made on each individual’s life will be publicly revealed.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the scene is that the basis on which God has judged human beings is not really what we expect. Jesus does not speak about avoiding mortal sin, or being faithful in attending Mass. A faithful person, in love with the Lord, would find those things to be a natural part of life.

The test involves simple things anyone can accomplish. Feed the hungry, give water to a thirsty person, clothe someone who is ragged, welcome a stranger, take care of someone who is ill, visit someone in jail. Simple things, but not easy.

We forget to make a donation to St. Vincent de Paul because the collection happened and we weren’t ready. The person far from home and family sits all alone as we celebrate a holiday because we did not invite them to join us. Colder weather is coming, and we have extra coats in the closet that we will never wear that would change a person’s life.

We think about calling our aging grandmother who cannot get out of her home to come visit, but then we let the inspiration pass by without any action. We judge someone standing on the street asking for help, or the person sitting near us in church who seems different and decide that they are not our concern. We have kind words that can be spoken, and we can decide to smile in a difficult situation, and being kind and generous in little things does not take much time or effort. Simple things, but not easy.

Today we declare that Jesus is the King of our life, that he is our inspiration and source of strength and the reason for all that is good in our life. But we should not forget the most interesting part of the parable – the reaction of both groups is exactly the same.

The good are surprised that their actions were in service of Jesus, because his love and service and generosity had become so much a part of their nature that they did not have to consciously think of why they acted that way. And those found lacking are surprised, because they had become so indifferent to relating their life to Jesus that they could not see him in any situation.

The world around us is filled with people who need to be welcomed and cared for and encouraged and inspired and comforted. And the world is filled with those who need to be forgiven and challenged and changed by our influence. We are not asked to change everything for the better. But, as we grow closer to the Lord and let his love grow in our heart, we begin to see things exactly as God sees them. The test is simple: every person is an opportunity to express our love for Jesus. But, it is not easy. We need the Lord’s help to make it happen!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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Thanksgiving Day

Father Stephen's Homily

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

A college graduate moved to New York City to make his fortune in banking. He was driving a very nice car, a graduation gift from his older brother. One day as he was getting into his car, a poor twelve-year-old boy from the inner city stood admiring the car. "My brother gave it to me," the young banker explained. The kid started, "I wish...." And immediately the banker thought he was going to say, "I wish I had a car like that!" But, instead, he said, "I wish I could be a brother like that!" "Do you want a ride?" the banker asked. "Wow! Sure I do," the boy said and got in. Soon the boy asked if he could stop in front of an old building while he ran upstairs. Thinking the boy was going to fetch a friend to gawk at his car, he was amazed when his young neighbor came down carrying his severely handicapped brother. "Just look at this car! Isn't it fine? Someday I'm going to buy you a car like this!"

The parable about stewardship in today’s gospel reminds us that God looks at his giving differently than we generally look at our giving. The Master gives each man differing amounts – one five, another two, another only one. And then he does something remarkable. The first two took what was entrusted to them and doubled it. And because they were trustworthy in this small way of taking care of their master’s property, greater responsibilities were handed over to them.

Each of us is entrusted with differing talents, according to our ability. Perhaps we have been blessed with a family. And God expects us to increase the gifts he gives – welcoming a new baby; helping our children to learn about patience and forgiveness and sharing as they see their parents practice these virtues in their home; making sure that our home is a place of peace and an inspiration to faith by the way daily life is lived together

Perhaps we have enough financial success that we are comfortable and not worried about life day to day. We know the Lord is not going to be worried about what kind of car we drove, but if it was used to take us to places to help others. And the Lord is not going to be impressed with how large our home was, but if we did something for those around us who are in need of food and clothing and shelter. The Lord will not be concerned only with our sitting in the pew every Sunday, but also about whether we used our financial gifts to help care for our parish family.

The first two men returned to the rich man and simply said, “What was received has been doubled.” That has to be our attitude as well. We have a smile, and as we share it, we brighten someone else’s day and they in turn share a smile. As we welcome someone who is a stranger, or different, or alone, we treat them as a brother or sister in Christ and open the door to discovering a new friend. Each time we give away a blessing, we are not losing anything, because God will continue to bless us with even more, so we can continue to double his gifts in the world.

The sad example of the third man makes us nervous because his failure could become our failure. The Master did not expect much from him, and he received even less than expected. In fact, when he is confronted about doing nothing with what he received, this man tries to say the problem is that the Master expected him to do something with what he was given. He did not want to be responsible.

In the end, we have to admit the ownership belongs to God – he is the source of everything we have and all the opportunities we enjoy. But, God has such confidence in us that the stewardship is ours. We have to be sure every day that we are worthy of all that we have been given. We have to be careful to see the responsibility our gifts carry with them. We want to be the kind of person who sees the gifts as God sees them – an opportunity to bless our brother or sister in Christ.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Rev. Robert Schuller served the Crystal Cathedral in California for many years. He once told of traveling with an associate, Mike Nason. On the plane they were studying their itinerary--about three pages detailing several events in upcoming cities.

When Schuller had finished reviewing a page of the itinerary that he thought summarized that day’s events, he took the sheet of paper and crumpled it up to throw it away. Mike said, "That’s tomorrow’s page! Don’t throw away tomorrow."

Robert Schuller said, “A light went on. I discovered a universal principle: Don’t throw away tomorrow. That’s so easy to do. Crumple the paper. Throw it away. Move to the next subject.” (Robert H. Schuller, Don’t Throw Away Tomorrow: Living God’s Dream for Your LifeI)

Ten young women were invited to a wedding. The custom of the times was that the groom would surprise his bride by appearing when she did not expect him. These women knew they possibly would have to wait a long time before he decided the right moment had come. In the parable, half the young women are described as wise, and half are described as foolish.

It seems that the one characteristic that distinguished the two groups was that some were looking ahead to the possibility that the wait would be long. They came prepared with extra oil for their lamps. The others were only focused on the present moment. So, as the night drew long, their lamps burned out.

And because they did not look beyond the present moment, they threw away their opportunity to join the celebration. We often find our self in the same situation. We grow discouraged because we seem to commit the same sins over and over and changing is not easy. So we decide that since we have already sinned, we might as well keep on doing it.

But, we cannot throw away tomorrow. God never grows discouraged with our imperfection. Tomorrow we can begin again, because when God looks at us, his love for us sees the saint he created us to be.

Our human relationships can often break our heart. A child will not listen to our advice and we know they are headed down a path that leads to problems and failure. A parent cannot accept the person we are and insists that we change to be what they want us to be.

A friend in whom we place our confidence proves to be untrustworthy and we can no longer trust them. The easiest thing is to simply give up. But, as we choose to give the gift of our love in a difficult moment, we discover that tomorrow offers a new opportunity to treasure and rebuild an important relationship in our life.

We grow discouraged because life is difficult and God does not seem to be listening to our prayers. We wonder if God is ignoring us or perhaps angry with us for some unknown reason. And since we cannot control the future, we begin to worry if this is the way things are going to be for us from now on.

But, as we look at our life, we remember other difficult moments that God has helped us through. And we remember so many blessed moments that came without our planning or expecting them to happen. And the same loving God who has been with us at every moment, will continue to be there tomorrow, gently leading us through the dark moments.

God loves us so much and so personally that at a certain point in time he brought us into existence, and he always has his attention focused on us, and he has already planned a special place only for us with him in eternal happiness and peace.

So, we cannot be comfortable living as if today is all we have. We have to always be preparing our self, because God has wonderful plans for us. We can’t give up, or ignore our opportunities, because that would be like throwing away tomorrow!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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31th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

A man arrived in 1953 at the Chicago railroad station to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He stepped off the train, a tall man with bushy hair and a big mustache. As the cameras flashed and city officials approached with hands outstretched to meet him, he thanked them politely. Then he asked to be excused for a minute.

He walked through the crowd to the side of an elderly black woman struggling with two large suitcases. He picked them up, smiled, and escorted her to the bus, helped her get on, and wished her a safe journey. Then Albert Schweitzer turned to the crowd and apologized for keeping them waiting. It is reported that one member of the reception committee told a reporter,

"That's the first time I ever saw a sermon walking." (Roy T. Lloyd, Charades and Reality) It is interesting that the scribes and the Pharisees at the time of Jesus knew all about religion. And they knew well their place in society. They were used to being respected and given honor because they were considered to be closer to God than most ordinary people were able to be.

The problem came to be that they did not make sure that what they expected everyone else to be was actually reflected in the reality of their personal life. That is why so often Jesus calls them hypocrites. The challenge Jesus gives is to be what we say we are.

He gives a litany of titles to avoid: teacher, father, master. Each of these positions are part of life, but the prestige associated with them does not come from the position itself. Jesus offers a different standard. “. . . whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” We are a teacher only if we are a true teacher.

We are a father only when we are a true father. We are a mother only when we are a true mother. We are a worthy master only when we a true guide to others as we lead them to be someone better. Humility gives us the ability to admit it is not about us at all. There is someone more important.

Whatever we do is about reflecting and honoring Jesus, whom we are committed to follow and imitate. That is why we say we are Christians. But, we have to always be considering if that is true. It is not enough to simply carry the title. We live in a nation of great freedom and opportunity. We are able to enjoy life, and plan a bright future for our children, and work hard to accomplish good things in our life. We are grateful.

But the truth of that is discovered in how we use our opportunities – if we have a concern for those who are newly with us, seeking the same opportunities; if we look for opportunities to help someone else by blessing them with our own money, not waiting for some community program to do so.

We know that suffering and struggles cannot be avoided in life. And Jesus is clear that if we are his disciple, we will be invited to take up our cross every day and follow him. But, it is a temptation to look at the happiness and comfort someone else enjoys and feel jealous because our life is so different. It is difficult to remember that a loving Father is guiding our life when all our plans seem to be falling apart and we are upset and frustrated by the direction of our life.

The Cross is a powerful sign of the depth of love that Jesus has for us. But, it is also the test of whether our love for Jesus is truly what we say it is. We know there is no end to people who are difficult to like, and moments of decision about if we will forget what we like and give someone else the pleasure of having their way instead. We know that in spite of our good will, there will always be someone who is selfish and infuriating in the way they treat us. We may even know that sometimes we are better than someone else, and have accomplished more.

But, in the eyes of Jesus, what is important is that we keep things in the right perspective. Our being a follower of Jesus is not about what we say we are, it is about what is true about the way we think about others, and what we say to them, and how we treat them. A title is not enough. Each of us is meant to be a sermon walking, truly putting into practice our love for Jesus as we love those around us.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Message

IsidorIsaac Rabi, a Nobel Prize winner in Physics, and one of the developers of the atomic bomb, was once asked how he became a scientist. Rabi replied that every day after school his mother would talk to him about his school day. She wasn't so much interested in what he had learned that day, but how he conducted himself in his studies. She always inquired, "Did you ask a good question today?" "Asking good questions," Rabi said, "made me become a scientist."

As we read the gospels we often find that Jesus is being asked a question. Many times the person is a serious enquirer, hoping to gain insight or inspiration from the words of Jesus. Other times the question is asked to set a trap so that the words of Jesus can be used against him. Jesus is asked good questions and bad questions.

Once again in today’s gospel Jesus is being tested. And his simple summary of all that God expects from us challenges us to ask our self some good questions.

Jesus reminds us first of all that God expects us to give him all that we have —our whole heart and mind and soul. And so we have to ask a good question. Are we actually inviting God into all parts of our life? The answer is there if we are honest.

Of course we do not live in a monastery with our entire day scheduled around prayer and meditation and work for the Lord. That way of life is only meant for some people. Our challenge is to begin each day thanking God for new opportunities and asking him to show us all through the day new opportunities to love him.

Faced with a challenge, we are invited to seek his wise counsel as we decide what to do. As we are with loved ones, our loving God invites us to see what a gift they are and to treat them always with respect and patience and generosity. As we look back at the end of the day and realize that there were times we ignored God or turned away from him, our loving Father pardons us and promises us another opportunity to give him all we have tomorrow.

The second part of the answer is so familiar —love your neighbor as you love yourself. We remember the man in the gospel who didn’t want to deal with the implications of that statement and asked for a definition of who is a neighbor. We don’t need to go there because Jesus answered with the story of the Good Samaritan. Our good question is will we treat each person as we treat our self?

We understand that being under pressure or having a bad day makes us impatient or irritable. We feel the injustice when someone will not give up reminding us of a past mistake. We know how uncomfortable we are with a group of people who know each other already and make no move to invite us into their conversation.

Loving our neighbor as our self involves such simple decisions. We decide to turn aside from anger and treat someone with patience. We decide that we will not let an offense build a fall between us and a loved one, and so we give our pardon and move on because we love Jesus. We decide that we will not place a person in our preconceived categories but instead see them as a unique individual with a special place in God’s world. And so we welcome them with respect.

The questioner in the gospel was looking for simple answers to an important question. But as we consider what God expects from us we realize the simple answer is going to take an entire lifetime to answer—one day at a time, one person at a time, one decision at a time.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

The gospel passage today says the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. We can see why they left, because if you are going to try to trap someone into saying something they shouldn’t, you do not plan it in front of them.

But, there is more to it than simply being sneaky. Jesus was teaching in the temple area, and these religious leaders had such respect for God that they felt they had to leave the area for their plotting, and send their disciples back to do the dirty work. That way they were free of responsibility for offending God in his own house.

They felt they devised the perfect trap. If Jesus agreed that the Roman tax was reasonable, the ordinary people who despised their oppressors would no longer feel that he was on their side. And if he spoke against the Roman tax, he would be in trouble with the ruling authorities. They were sure that Jesus could not escape.

But Jesus simply pointed out that the coin had Caesar’s face on it, so it already belonged to him. But, then he leveled a much more difficult challenge. Repay to God what belongs to God.

Honesty requires each of us to admit that everything we have is a gift from God, so if we are serious about accepting the words of Jesus, then we have to consider how we are going to repay God for all we have received.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkinserves the Synagogue of the Performing Arts in Los Angeles. In his recent book, Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, he tells how he begins his presentations. He asks his audience how many of them can go for 24 hours without saying any unkind words about, or to, anybody.

Many people raise their hands "Yes." But many people admit the truth. "No," they cannot go 24 hours without saying at least one negative thing about somebody.

Rabbi Telushkinthen brings the point home. He challenges the crowds in words to the effect that "If you can't go 24 hours without a drink, you're an alcoholic.

If you can't go 24 hours without a fix, you're a druggie. If you can't go 24 hours without cutting someone down or saying unkind words about others, you've got a serious, serious problem with your tongue. You've lost control over your mouth.

Repay to God what belongs to God. Today as we contemplate the attempt to trap Jesus if he says the wrong thing, perhaps we should pause to think about the amazing power God has given us in our ability to speak.

We are able to go beyond simply barking and grunting at each other to get our ideas across or express our emotions. We can speak of our love to another and move their heart and mind as they receive our love and return love to us. We can inspire another to see within themselves possibilities to accomplish great things in their life that perhaps they cannot see on their own. We can join our words to beautiful music and help others imagine the glory of God or powerful emotions of patriotism or joyfulness.

But, our words also have a terrible power. A lie destroys the confidence and trust that we have created in our relationship with another. A cruel word spoken in anger can be remembered over and over, and the wounded heart cannot heal very easily.

Our words of prejudice destroy our ability to see each individual as a special opportunity to recognize the face of Jesus in another and welcome him in them.

Repay to God what belongs to God. Imagine how different the coming week will be if each of us simply decided today to use our gift of speech in a way that honors the one who gives us that ability.

For 24 hours only speaking words of love. For 24 hours only speaking words of encouragement. For 24 hours only speaking words of welcome and friendship to each person we meet. It is hard to imagine what it would be like. So, let’s try it, and see what happens!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

In the wild West, a tough, old cowhand sauntered into a saloon and began drinking whiskey by the bottle. The more he drank, the more unruly he became, shooting holes in the ceiling and floor. Everybody was afraid to take on the old cowhand. Finally, a short, mild- mannered storekeeper walked up to the unruly cowhand and said, "I'll give you five minutes to get out of town."

The old cowhand holstered his gun, pushed the whiskey bottle away, briskly walked out, got on his horse, and rode out of town. When he left, someone asked the storekeeper what he would have done if the unruly cowhand had refused to go. He said, "I would have extended the deadline.“

In the parables we have considered in the past few weeks, Jesus comes to a point that we don’t really want to spend much time considering. Eventually we will stand before God and in the light of God’s love honestly consider our relationship with him. We often call it a judgment, but actually it is simply facing the facts.

They are what they are. Whatever in our life is unworthy of a child of God will be clear. And because we cannot know when this moment will occur, the wise counsel of Jesus is always that we need to do what is necessary now to be prepared.

In the parable of the wedding feast for the king’s son, the plan for the celebration begins with an elite group – those chosen because of their close association with the king. But, because they did not appreciate what was offered, the king invites everyone who can be found to fill his banquet hall. It is clear that as Jesus paints this picture of how God looks at things, the plan is to have everyone join him for the eternal feast. The parable ends with an especially troubling detail. One man is discovered who is not properly attired, and he is thrown out.

The reaction seems so harsh after the king has gone to so much trouble to invite in everyone. But, the custom for a royal event was to provide the proper attire to all who attended. This man is not in trouble for an unfortunate fashion choice. He is ejected for ignoring the garment that was offered to him. He is silent before the king because he has no excuse to give.

We know that there are things we need to change in our life, but we always assume that God has extended the deadline – we still have time to do what we should.

We have good manners and treat strangers and coworkers with respect because we don’t want to have a bad reputation. But, when we get home, we take those closest to us for granted. We know that we are to forget our self and serve others, but don’t really remember that this applies to taking out the garbage or helping with the dishes. We are counseled by Jesus to turn the other cheek when someone offends us, but in the privacy of our own home we sometimes let our anger out on those we love the most, simply because they are the nearest target.

We know we should do everything we can to make our home a place of loving care, and some things need to change today. But, perhaps the deadline has been extended.

As the parable reminds us today, everyone is welcomed by God. And we speak often of our brothers and sisters in Christ. But it is part of human nature to make our self the judge. We look at someone and often accept that we do not have to welcome them or accept them because of what they look like, or the way they are dressed, or the language they speak. And we let the words of our politicians enter into whether a person is a part of our community or should be put out.

God looks at us with complete love. He invites us to look at one another in the same way. And if we are not yet doing so, the time to change is now.

But, perhaps the deadline has been extended. At this time, the moment we stand before God is purely theoretical. It has not yet occurred. And we are assured by the words of Jesus that God is preparing wonderful things for us, and everyone is welcome, and he is offering everything we need to be there with him forever. So, if we were to come to that moment unprepared, the reason is discovered in our self.

The time to change is now. Of course, perhaps the deadline has been extended. We cannot be sure!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

There was a church located next door to a supermarket. Since the church was short on parking spaces and the supermarket was closed on Sundays, the church leaders asked the owner of the supermarket for permission to park in his lot.

The owner’s response was “Fine. You are welcome to use it 51 weeks a year.” “What about the other week?” the church members asked. “That week,” said the owner of the market, “I’ll chain off the lot so you will always remember that the lot belongs to me, and not to the church.”

Today the first reading and the gospel feature a parable about a vineyard. The stories are similar, and it is clear in both stories that the vineyard belongs to God, and those who care for it are expected to use God’s property to produce a good harvest.

Jesus uses many different stories and examples to remind us of this important truth. Everything we have is a blessing and a responsibility. We are expected to use God’s gifts in a way that honors him. And one day we will be asked to account for what we have done with what we have received.

Each time we hear Jesus making this point we already know how the story will end. But we have to remember those tenants became so accustomed to being in charge of the vineyard that they began to think that everything belonged to them. Forgetting who the owner was led to their downfall.

There is no doubt in our mind that the beautiful newborn baby placed in our arms is a gift from God. But, when that baby won’t stop crying, or gets a little older and will not get along with others, or becomes a teenager asserting their independence from our guiding wisdom, God is giving us reminders about the precious gift he has placed into our care.

They learn about the patience of God through our patience. They learn about God’s forgiving nature through our willingness to forgive and begin again. They discover that they are treasured and loved unconditionally by God as they experience that spirit of acceptance surrounding them in their home.

A little baby grows up so fast that the time to accomplish great things for God with them is short. Everyone loves a wedding. Two young people who are so much in love promise everything to each other, in good times and bad, sickness and health, for their entire life. Soon enough the worries and struggles of living together and having a family and facing the future become a part of daily life.

But through it all, God is sending them reminders of what a precious gift they are to each other. When wonderful things happen, they have someone special to share the moment. When troubles come, they have a shoulder to cry on. When everything seems dark, there is a wonderful ray of light shining in their life – someone who loves them is at their side.

No couple knows how many years they will be given to work together, so remembering the little things that express love every day is important. We work hard and use our talents and we take care of our needs and those of the ones we love. And because of our opportunities, we take for granted a level of comfort in our life that people in other parts of the world have no hope of ever obtaining.

We begin to believe that all that we have is the result of what we do. But, then God sends us little reminders that all these things are gifts. We see pictures of people who have lost everything in an earthquake or a flood; we see a poor man begging on the street corner; we feel the call in our heart to tell others about God’s work in our life.

There are so many ways we can give our time, give our money, share our talents and our willingness to help. And amazingly, however much we give away, God is simply going to give us more to continue his work! God is in control of everything, even when we forget. He is generous and patient and offers us gentle reminders every day that there are new opportunities coming to us to accomplish great things for him.

And every good thing we do is preparing us to be ready for that day when he calls us home and we give an accounting of what we have done. And God will love us so much for what we have accomplished for love of him.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

The sixteenth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center was a couple of weeks ago. Among the thousands of victims of that attack was Father Mychal F. Judge, the fire department chaplain who, while ministering to the fire fighters working at Ground Zero, was killed by falling debris from the Towers.

In Father Mychal's pocket was this prayer that he always carried with him: "Lord, take me where You want me to go; Let me meet who You want me to meet; Tell me what You want me to say, and Keep me out of Your way."

Jesus told the parable of the two sons to invite the religious leaders, who believed they were holier and better than the others, to look into their own life. These people declared by their words, and by the way they dressed and by how they told others to act that they were the ones closest to God. But, they were judgmental and angry and did not truly help others to understand God’s love.

The parable reminds us of a simple truth – words do not meaning anything if they are not put into action. One said “Yes” and did not go, the other said “No” but then went to obey his father. We know we have been like both of the sons. It all depends on our attitude at the time. Sometimes we give our self permission to continue sinning simply because we’ve already sinned so we might as well continue.

Sometimes we are discouraged because we have not done as well as we could have, but then we realize that if we try harder next time, we can do better. We get inspired by something we hear or read and decide we are going to be a force for good, helping others in a time of need. And then we get busy and our good intentions fade into the background and nothing changes.

We always want to say “Yes” to God. “Yes” he loves us completely. “Yes” he has blessed us more than we can imagine. “Yes” he deserves more from us than we are presently giving. Wherever God wants us to go, whatever he wants us to do, the proper response, because we love him, is to say “Yes.” But, “to say” is not the same as “to do.” We say that everyone is loved by God, but then we see that person who has hurt us and we want to figure out a way to pay them back, because revenge would make us feel happy.

God invites us to remember how much we have been forgiven and put the memory in the past and pray for peace in our heart. But, will we say “Yes” and then do it? We know we should do more to express our gratitude to God for all the blessings we have been given. And so we could volunteer our time to serve our community as a volunteer with St. Vincent de Paul, or teaching or helping with faith formation classes, or being more generous with our money in helping our parish or someone in need. God is presenting us with opportunities to share with others every day.

But will we say “Yes” and then do it? We have our plans, but so often things just don’t go as we expected. Someone needs our help at an inconvenient time. We know that Jesus invites us to forget our self and serve another. Sickness or a change in our work suddenly takes our daily life in a direction we did not expect, and we remember the example of Jesus who entrusted himself to the will of the Father as he hung on the Cross. We want to say “Yes” in every situation, but it is so hard to do it.

It would be much easier if we could just say “Yes” to God one time, accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and then go straight up to heaven. But, God is not stuck in just one moment. Over and over, he invites us to remember how much we are loved and then to decide in this particular moment, with this person to make his love present in our words and actions and thoughts. We know we want to say “Yes,” so we also have to do it!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Message

A young man and his wife were expecting their first child. He was filled with anxiety because all he could think about was the new responsibility that was coming to him.

He wondered if he would be able to welcome this unknown person into his life and not simply feel the burden of worrying about providing for his growing family.

And then he held his new son in his arms for the first time, and he was overwhelmed with love –there was nothing he would not do to protect and care for his child.

Several years later he and his wife were expecting again, and he had a new worry. He loved his son with all his heart. How would he be able to explain to the new child that it would not be possible to love them as much as he already loved his firstborn?

But, something wonderful happened. When his wife presented his new daughter to him, he discovered something he did not know was possible.

His capacity of love had not been divided, it had been multiplied. Now he loved his daughter with all his heart just as he loved his son.

We are so used to thinking in terms of fairness and equality in the workplace that when we listen to the parable about the workers in the vineyard, we focus on the poor workers who labored all day long and did not receive any more payment for their hard work than the ones who worked for only an hour.

If God is going to be just as generous with the one who turns to him at the last minute as he is to the one who is faithful all their life, then where is our motivation for working hard to stay as close to God as we can? God is going to be generous to everyone!

That would be an interesting excuse for doing less for God if it were true that we are at work earning our way into heaven. Then, perfect attendance at Mass would count for more than just coming to Mass on Christmas and Easter.

Sharing our money with the work of the church or to help someone in need would get us higher up in heaven than just keeping everything for our self. We would always be careful about what we say and do and think if God were simply a celestial accountant, adding up all the good and bad in our life, because what if the good in our life was out of balance on the day we stood before God?

We should always remember that our life with God is not a contest –he is not comparing us to anyone else, or testing us more than anyone else. He knows us so well and he loves us completely.

All we have is a gift. That is why we have to be uncomfortable as we begin to pass judgment on God’s generosity or his wisdom as we wonder about what we have been given compared to another.

All is a gift. As we remember that it is God who placed us in a family where we learn about his love, we realize that there is still so much more that our life of faith can become. As we are involved in serving our parish community, and devoting time to our prayers, and looking for the signs that God is at work in our daily life, our capacity to love increases.

We cannot ever say we have done enough, because the more we receive, the more we need to give back. We are surrounded by the love of God, so we have to stop measuring what we have received, and realize there is so much more love yet to be given. We are surrounded by infinite love –we call him God. So what reason can we ever have to be jealous of another or to stop returning that love?

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

A man was an umpire in a softball league in Colorado. One day, during the off season, this umpire got stopped by a police officer for speeding. He pleaded for mercy.

He explained to the policeman that he was a good driver and told why this particular day he had to be in a hurry. The officer didn’t buy his argument. “Tell it to the judge,” he said.

When softball season rolled around, the umpire was umpiring his first game. The first batter up to the plate was the same police officer who ticketed the umpire for speeding.

They recognized each other. It was awkward for the officer. “So, how did the thing with the ticket go?” the officer asked as he prepared to swing at the first pitch.

With a menacing look on his face the umpire replied, “You better swing at everything.” (John Ortberg, Faith and Doubt) It is hard for us to imagine how important forgiveness is to our relationship with God. In the beginning, as Adam and Eve chose to sin, God’s response was to promise a Savior.

For generations, God prepared his Chosen People for the coming of their Savior, and all along the way, he forgave them when they were unfaithful and began again with a new generation.

God was so intent on teaching us the lesson of how to forgive that he became one of us. Jesus not only illustrated how central forgiveness is to our relationship with God with powerful stories like the one in today’s gospel.

Jesus demonstrated such loving pardon as he hung on the Cross, and he offered himself thinking of us personally, giving away all that he had, so that we could be forgiven.

Our personal relationship with God is based on this powerful gift we have been given – we are forgiven. We did not earn forgiveness. We cannot demand to be forgiven. It is God’s nature to forgive.

God’s gift brings with it a terrible responsibility – we pray every day, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Over and over we commit our self to be as generous in pardoning as God is with us.

In the days of Jesus, the rabbis taught that a person had to Forgive someone three times. So, Peter doubled that amount and added one more and thought he was going well beyond what was required.

But, Jesus in effect made forgiveness a requirement that knows no limits. When we have been forgiven so much, we have to reflect the same attitude. The test of our willingness to forgive is usually not very dramatic.

As we drive down the street and another driver does something dangerous, they cannot hear what we yell or what we call them in our mind. And they will not know that we have whispered a prayer for their safety and the protection of those around them.

When someone we love does the thing that they already know irritates us, they don’t have to realize the momentary anger we have felt if we decide to just let the moment pass by because we love them.

Even in the presence of someone who has hurt someone we love, we can discover the ability to pray that God will give us peace in our heart instead of resentment. He answers such prayers.

The most important fact in our relationship with God is that we are forgiven. We see the proof every time we look at a crucifix. But, the love we see there is also meant to be present in our heart.

Because we have been forgiven so much, we too must forgive one another.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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