From the Rector

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!

Christ the King

Father Stephen's Homily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father Stephen's Homily

Palm Sunday

Father Stephen's Homily

Fifth Sunday of Lent - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

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

Father Stephen's Homily

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

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

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

Father Stephen's Homily

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Father Stephen's Homily

Christmas Day Mass

Father Stephen's Homily

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

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

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

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

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

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