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God is Love? But What’s Love?

            We often hear the statement that “God is love.” It appears in Scripture and in descriptions of God, and rightly so, for God truly is love; however, that idea does very little to help us understand God. I mean, we all appreciate the concept of love; but we usually associate love with a feeling of peace and contentment, happiness and joy. In reality, those are the after effects of love. Those are the feelings we receive from love. They are not love, itself.

            So what is love? Fortunately, St. Paul spoke to the Corinthians about love. He named love’s characteristics. He helped them, and us, to recognize love as it appears in the world. He shared the truth about love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

            Now we can look at the individual characteristics of love. We can see the truth about love – patience, kindness, no jealousy, no arrogance, no exaggeration, no rudeness, no self-centeredness, slow to anger, no brooding, no happiness about wrongs, happiness in truth, tolerant, faith-filled, hopeful, enduring. Those are things we can look for and recognize. Those are traits we can emulate. Those are the things we appreciate in others.

            When we focus on the characteristics of love to understand our God, we have a clearer picture of Him:

  • He is patient. He would never force Himself into our lives, but waits for our invitation.
  • He is kind, so no mean thing comes from Him. His plan was not to have illness, disasters, pain, or death. His plan was and still is paradise for all of us.
  • He is not jealous. He wants the best for us.
  • He is not arrogant. After all He is God, He could be demanding of our choice and behavior, but He is not.
  • He is truth. Even if the information is challenging, He shares what He knows we need.
  • He is not rude. He does not want us to fail or to be hurt or to be less than all we can be.
  • He is not self-centered. His desire is for our happiness.
  • He is slow to anger. Just imagine the number of times we would have done away with humankind if we were in charge.

The litany could go on and on.

            If we understand God in this light and if we choose to be more like our Father, we have a real path to follow. In Jesus, we have a clear picture of God and how to walk that path. We can be love for one another and love our God.

God is love. There is no greater choice than to be more like our Father.

– Jan

Everyone is a Missionary

October 21st is the feast day for St. Gaspar, the founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood.  When I was considering what type of priest I wanted to be, I reflected on going to a foreign land to spread the knowledge of God.  There are different kinds of priests.  Some minister to a local area (diocesan priests) or others have teaching as their focus (Jesuits), but I chose to be a missionaryA missionary doesn’t always mean going to a different country or culture but an attitude of active preaching, living and learning of our faith.  Missionary is just as much learning God from the people you are living with as much as bringing your idea of God to others.
This past week I got to observe God Happenings right in front of me.  During the tornado watch, the kindergarten through 5th grades came to the basement of St. Michael’s Church.  It was a time of confusion and fear.  For some, this was the first time they felt this fear without their parents being at their side.  We gathered together to put ourselves in the Lord’s care as we prayed.  It helped to pray together and be God’s arms for each other as siblings calmed each other or classmates assured each other with a hug.  The kids were being missionary to me as I witnessed care, concern and love overcome fear and doubt.  I was pretty proud of our young ones.
At the soccer games this week, the missionary spirit came forwardWe prayed for a victory and placed the players in the Lord’s hands.  Even though the victory was not won on the field of soccer, I saw students and parents hanging around to console, comfort and encourage the team and coaches.  This strong sense of community is nice to behold.  When this spirit reaches out from a local community to a world community or even a neighboring community, that is being missionary.
Our faith is played out on many fields and locations not necessarily in a church building.  This week I was reminded what it means to be a missionary.  Thanks to everyone who showed the face of God to me this week.
Have a blessed week.  Fr. Mark

Jesus, the Eucharist

            A while ago I heard an elderly person struggling with issues of old age say that in his life Jesus endured every kind of human suffering except old age. I thought how true, he was only 33 years old when he died. He could not have faced any challenges that we might experience as we grow older. However, I recently realized how wrong that statement was.

            Consider Jesus today. It is really, truly Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist – body, soul and divinity. All that was Jesus during his 33 years of life on Earth is all present as the Eucharist. Certainly for us as humans, the visual presence of Jesus has changed, but that does nothing to alter the fact that it is the same Jesus. With that in mind consider what he continues to endure in his “old age”.

            Like a person confined to home or a health facility, Jesus waits for his brothers and sisters to come visit him, he can not go out to them without help. He sees that some come willingly, anxious to be with him. He sees those who come grudgingly, inattentive, sharing nothing with him. He sees those who are distracted, focused on something else. He sees those who smile and those who scowl. He witnesses the closeness of some and the distance of others. Perhaps most of all, he is painfully aware of those who did not come at all. Jesus knows exactly what it is like to be immobile and unable to communicate.

            With that in mind, how are we responding to Jesus in his “old age”? Do we come willingly and openly to Mass? Do we participate and include everyone? Do we make time to share an extra visit with Jesus in addition to Sunday Mass? Do we take advantage of Eucharistic Adoration to gaze on him? Are we aware of his look of love toward us?

            Sometimes our worship as Catholics is picked apart because it is different from other religious denominations. It needs to be different. It can not be the same as a social gathering – the King of the Universe is in our midst. We can not receive the host without reverence – we hold the Savior of the World. The reverence of the priest and the people is the only way we have to outwardly communicate that Catholic worship is different because present physically in our gathering is God.

Why Some People Choose Eminem over Emmanuel

My nephew and his wife were on television this week. I told a lot of people to check out the show. They were on a show on Home and Garden channel for first time house buyers.

I have to admit it was pretty neat to see my nephew on national television. His five minutes of fame gave me five minutes of fame.

I also have to let you know that it was my first time watching HG (Home and Garden) television. Real men don’t watch such shows.

Isn’t it funny what we brag about. I’ll associate myself with someone famous  or on television but will distance myself from a perceived woman’s show. I thought it might make for a good discussion or thought provoker when it came to being a Christian.

We will associate with all kinds of music or activities but rarely will tell our friends or colleagues at work that we went to church over the weekend.

We’ll say that we went to a sports event but will shun going to a church retreat. What will others say or think? When did it become so unpopular to be good or go to church? When did everyone’s opinion sway me from doing what is right for me?

How Parents Can Take a Stand

This is a guest post by Connie Cleemput the Director of Religious Education.

Where do you stand on abortion, on underage drinking, on the death penalty?  Where do you stand on taking time to pray as a family, on having a meal together or attending church on Sundays as a family?  Where we stand, so stands our children.  They mirror what we say and do as their parents, as their role models, as they people they look up to.

When practicing songs and prayers for Mass (after three weeks of practice) I mentioned to the First and Second graders to ask their moms and dads to take them to Mass on Sunday mornings or Saturday afternoon.  I said “Your parents will say yes, just ask them.”  I can not tell you how disheartened I was when a second grader told me that he had asked his parents and they said no.

Where do we stand?  How can you, as parents, help your children be the best Catholic they can be?  How can you help them form their consciences so they can make good, moral decisions?

As parents we have a moral obligation and a Catholic obligation to help form and support our children into whom God calls them to be.  Yes, God calls all of us to take a stand.  God has placed these children in our care, knowing and trusting we will do our best to raise them in our Catholic faith.

Take a stand.  Take them to church, pray as a family around the dinner table at least once a day, tell them about God.  Look in the mirror and you will see a reflection of your child.  Listen to your voice and you will hear your child.  Do you like what you see and hear?  Take a stand.

Surviving Marriage and Locusts

It’s October and St. Michael’s always puts on a Pre-Cana to help couples get
ready for living their marriage.  Topics such as communication, finance,
in-laws and faith are covered in the day.  Much time is spent putting on
a festive event.  During our Pre-Cana time, we try to look at putting on a
festive life.

I love weddings.  I have done over 900 weddings and love every one of them.

It is nice to share in the excitement, joy, fear and commitment of the couples and their guests.  It is often at these heartfelt times, in the
depth humanity, God is found.  I love weddings.

Some of my best priest stories happen around weddings.  With over 900
weddings that I have witnessed as a priest, there have been some very human  and very Godly times.  Here are a couple of stories.

I had a wedding when the 17 year locust epidemic was in full bloom in
Virginia.  As the bride made her way to the church, the locusts were
attracted by a white moving object.  By the time she got in church, the
dress was a moving living brown outfit.

With 5 minutes before the ceremony, bride remembered to pick up her mom at  the hotel which was 45 minutes away from the church.

I got to marry a couple in the hospital two days before the groom went to
his eternal reward.

I got to be the DJ at the reception when the hired help became intoxicated.
(There was a lot of “Brick House” (my favorite dance tune) being played that night.

I especially like to talk to couples in my office to hear their stories
first-hand.  My job is to talk them out of getting married.  If I can talk
them out of getting married they were probably not too ready in the first
place.  (There is a movie starring Robin Williams which has the same story
line.)  If a couple passes my interviews, I’m ready to celebrate their vows
with them.

We have a good time in the office and the questions are fun.  The youngest couple to come in to get married was 14.  The oldest person I married was 92.  Marriage is a lifetime in which a couple picks each other to share in the fullness of life, to share in finding the Lord.  They celebrate that God has called them to share in the fullness of life as a couple.
I have lots of weddings coming up including three family weddings.  The best to all of you.  The best to our Pre-Cana weekend.

What advice can you give our Pre-Cana couples this weekend?

Parents, It’s Time for You to Talk to Your Kids about the Three Letter Word

Hi to everyone.  Last week was supposed to be Catechetical Sunday in the parish, but I got sidelined.  So it has been pushed back to this Sunday.  So I’d like to put in a plug for teaching. 
Many people admit that it is a difficult time for children.  They get so many messages out there.  So much of our children’s time is spent with technology; television, phones and computers.  Who or what is teaching our kids the important lessons of life.  Believe it or not, children still learn from their parents.  Parents are still the largest influence on their children.  So on this catechetical weekend, here’s a salute to parents.
So have you had that talk with your kids yet?  Fathers, have you had that talk with your sons?  Moms, have you explained where life comes from to your daughters?  Do they know about the birds and the bees and heard it from a reputable source?  There is a lot of information out there and not all accurate.  It is a subject that is difficult to talk about.  How do you get started?  Will it be embarassing to the kids?  You would think that a discussion about a three letter word wouldn’t be so difficult.  I still remember when my dad talked to me. 
Yes, I remember when my dad talked to me about “God”.  What three letter word were you thinking of?   
Yes, it was my intention to trick you.  In our society, we hear so much language about so many things including other three letter words.  God language used to be part of our vocabulary and social gatherings and home life. 
With children being so busy with their own social lives, where do they get to learn the real life lessons: that God is the source of all life?  There is no substitute to the home.  Religion classes and going to church are good complements to what is taught in the home.  But speaking in religious language seems to be difficult to do.  I was blessed to have parents that spoke about their faith and backed it up by going to church and practiced it in the home. 
On this Catechetical Sunday, I challenge all families to claim their faith, to claim God.  God has claimed us.  Shouldn’t we do the same and do it for our families.  If you aren’t praying in your homes at table or at bed time with your kids, make a start.  God is everywhere.  Shouldn’t He be in your home?
Sorry to have tricked you but wasn’t that easier to talk about than the other three letter word?  Talk God this week.    

What’s the BEST part of Putnam County?

I talked to my travel agent this week to check on a return trip to New Zealand.  It looks like there’s a spot for me in mid-January.  I can’t wait to return.  I’ll be away from Putnam County for ten days.  Ten days goes so fast so I want to do as many fun things as possible.  The country has so much to offer like mountains, beaches, hiking and biking, wineries, cafes and cows.  New Zealand is known for its natural beauty – I may not know where to start. 

But I do know where to start, and that is with all the people I miss.  As a parish priest of small parishes, you get to know people pretty quickly.  I’m not going back just to see one of the world’s most beautiful countries.   The warmth of the people is calling.

This weekend I’ll  canoe with a group of high school seniors from our church.  I had to check out the conditions of the river on Tuesday to make sure everything was good for the kids later in the week.  On the trip down the mighty Blanchard River, we saw lots of birds (including a bald eagle), a raccoon and squirrels, fish jumping into our boat and just the calm of leaves falling from the trees above the river.  We hope to offer the kids a day of beauty and calm away from texting and cell phones. 

Putnam County has a lot to offer.  Some refer to it as God’s Country.

Last weekend, people from all over came back to Kalida for Pioneer Days.  It was a nice weekend, with tons of people coming back to Putnam County for all the best it has to offer.  The parade route was filled, as was the downtown square.  As I drove our church float, it was a nice feeling to see all the people joined on a glorious day. 

People from New Zealand ask me what Putnam County offers.  I could tell them about the eagle on The Blanchard, the rich heritage of the people and its beautiful churches and the flat, productive farmland, but I would rather tell them about what happens at Pioneer Days:  people gathering for friendship.

During Pioneer Days, the offer of a hand of friendship was offered hundreds, maybe thousands of times.  Many times the offer came with the offer of a beer – it seems the German thing to do.  Ever since I was shot when I was eight years old, my stomach can’t do certain foods and beverages.  I can’t do apple juice, Hawaiian punch, Sunkist Orange or beer .  It is easy for me to say no to this offer of liquid hospitality and to be able to tell the difference between the offer of friendship and the offer of a beer. 

It is not just a weak stomach that makes me say no to the beer, either.   I do worry that sometimes our young people can’t distinguish between the offerings.  Somehow beer, hospitality and friendship fused together in this community.  With my stomach injury I said no to the one offer and yes to the other offer quite easily.  But our young people and others who want to avoid alcohol may find it difficult becuase they don’t want to reject the offer of hospitality and friendship. 

In New Zealand the offer of hospitality also included a drink: usually a hot beverage of tea, coffee, milo (hot chocolate) or hot water.  In this German community the welcome comes out, “Want a beer?” Translation:  “It’s good to see you, welcome to our home.”

This area offers so much.  Just like New Zealand, the greatest gift is the gift of its people.  The kindness, hospitality and friendship keep people coming back.  When people from New Zealand ask what the area offers, I tell them to come and meet the people.  They offer the best the world can give.

Living the Sweet Life

It’s Pioneer Days in Kalida and it will be a busy weekend. I’ll be working with the Bingo booth, Duck Races, flipping social burgers, calling square dances and most of all enjoying the food and atmosphere.

When I was young, church festivals and fairs were tough to attend because I did not have money for a lot of extras.  That meant I had to be careful of how I spent my quarters, dimes and pennies(yes, I am old).  I thought to myself of how neat it would be to run away with the circus, so to speak.

I’d be surrounded by cotton candy, taffy and parades all the time.  I think I was secretly called to be a carnival person rather than a priest.  As a young person I was looking for the sweet life, and that meant cotton candy.  My mom always said that too much cotton candy would make my teeth fall out.

Either my mom was telling me stories, I didn’t eat enough to make my teeth fall out or there was a lesson my mom was trying to teach me.  I’m banking on the latter.  Life isn’t always a sweet carnival. There is real food that must be eaten sometime.  Sweets are fine for short intervals but will I really grow without substance?

I believe this lesson goes not only for the body but for the whole person.  To be a whole person there will be things on our plate that might not be the sweetest but may bethe best for us. Sacrifice and hard work are hard to swallow but may help us grow more than selfishness and laziness.

Mom always said our teeth would fall out if we had too many sweets.  Mom made sure our teeth didn’t fall out due to proper eating habits at the table and in life.  I am better for it and smile with my own teeth.

I believe we want a sweet life for our kids and for ourselves.  Jesus came that we might have life and have it to the full.  When I see the kids here I smile and want the best for them.

Today, I don’t think they have to run away to the circus to be filled with sweet things.  The circus is here. As a nation and a community we have been blessed with many sweet things.  The challenge for parents and our community is to help the kids keep their teeth and to smile because they have a full life.

And yes, I will have some cotton candy this weekend.  I’ll also work the booths to keep our community strong.

In the spirit of Pioneer, what are you most looking forward to in this weekend’s festivities?

Mass-a comfort zone?

Hi to all you bloggers.  After a week off, I’m ready to get back in the saddle.  Last week, I kind of bucked and kicked a bit, but now I’m settled in again.  After a tough week, sometimes it is nice to settle back into something comfortable and familiar, even on a spiritual nature.

For many people, the Sunday Mass is a comfort from life’s adventurous ride. The familiar prayers with familiar people praising a familiar God brings peace to the close of a hectic week, and begins the new week with the hope of promised blessings.

I love the Mass.  Even though I get scared every time I have to preach,I enjoy the blessings of the Lord with great people.  Even in a big church like St. Michael’s I see everyone and everything.  I pray for families who have shared stories of life and death with me.  I pray for parents with little ones who make it hard to pray.  I pray with joy as I see newlyweds returning from honeymoons.  Sometimes it is hard to pray because I’ve had a tough week, weekend or night, but the opportunity to celebrate Godly moments and God’s love with so many keeps me coming back.

In October, I will be talking about the Mass during the sermon time.  I know that many people have questions about the Mass.  If you could get those to me before I do my talks, I will try to answer some of them within the talks. It’s nice to be back in the saddle again.