December 3 – First Sunday of Advent

To be attentive and to stay attentive is very hard.  It takes a significant effort to stay focused on the task at hand. And yet, this is what the Lord is asking of us in our 1st Sunday of Advent readings.  As much as we like to think we can multi-task, it has been proven that it’s better to focus on one thing at a time than to try to juggle multiple activities at once. How many of us try to juggle prayer with our daily activities, only to come to the conclusion that we are failing to pray as we ought? Currently, I’m thinking of all the things I need to do to get ready for Christmas, from liturgical duties like extra confessions and Masses to buying Christmas presents for my niece and nephews so that I can keep the title of “Coolest Uncle.” Yet, in all these tasks that need to be done, the most important task should be preparing my heart for the Lord and his coming.  

The Advent season begins a new liturgical year for the Church. Similar to the resolutions we make for our calendar New Year, the Church is asking us to make a resolution now. In the Gospel today, the Lord is asking his disciples, which include us, to keep watch for his coming. We need to recommit to being attentive, and to preparing our hearts to receive the Lord. Isn’t that much easier said than done? 

The winter season naturally is a perfect time for refocusing.  As the sun sets earlier each day, nights come sooner and the temperature begins to drop. Have you ever walked outside on a crisp cold night?  I feel that during these late night walks my thoughts become clearer and prayer becomes easier. Maybe it’s the cold waking me up, the silence as nature is hibernating in the darkness, or maybe it’s the awe of looking up at the stars on a clear night. The Advent season seems to help us turn even more towards reflective prayer, just as the Lord has asked it of us.

I’d encourage you to take advantage of this Advent season. Don’t get up caught up so easily in the noise and distractions of preparing for Christmas, or in the busyness of daily life. Instead, take the time to pull away and be attentive to the longings of your heart for our Lord who has come, is coming, and will come again.

Father Michael

November 26 – Christ the King

When I was first ordained a deacon, it was hard for those who had known me before my Ordination to start calling me “Deacon Frank.” For example, at the seminary, when I answered a question, my teacher would call on me: “Frank.” And then she would become very apologetic, “Oh sorry, Deacon Frank.” In order to show her it wasn’t a big deal, I jokingly replied, “It’s actually Your Majesty.” Because of this, the young adults at my parish started calling me “Your Majesty” in casual conversation. “Your Majesty, can you move that table?” “How’s it going, Your Majesty?”

This might sound goofy, but that is what we celebrate today on the last Sunday of the liturgical year: the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. We celebrate that the One we should really call “Your Majesty” became one of us. A traditional image of kingship in the Bible is of a shepherd, but as Jesus tells us, the Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. He shows us that the true meaning of kingship is not to be served but to serve.

That is what is so striking about the First Reading. God keeps using the word “I.” Rather than sending down someone else to take care of the lost sheep, He says, “I myself will pasture my sheep.” God shows us that true kingship does not mean being distant from those you rule, but being close to them, in fact, becoming one of them.

The fact that God became man in Jesus Christ also has other implications. In the Gospel, at the end of time when Jesus comes in His kingly glory, He tells us that He will judge between the sheep and the goats. The standard He uses to judge them is an unusual one: “Whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Because God has become one of us, He has raised us up to royal dignity. In our baptism, we are made God’s children and anointed priest, prophet, and king.

But that also is a call for us to imitate Christ our King in laying down our life for our brothers, especially the poorest of the poor. I think this Gospel is scary because we can see so clearly what we are called to do, and how often we fall short. But if we believe that “the Lord is [our] shepherd,” then He will guide us in “right paths,” helping us to recognize Him in those in need.

As beloved children of the true King, we all have a claim to the title “Your Majesty,” but like Jesus, we are called not to lord it over others, but rather to serve as Jesus Christ our King has taught us. When we do this, then we can hope to hear Him say to us: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Father Frank

November 19 – Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Growing up, my next-door neighbor and good friend had all the talents: from cool toys and a pool in the back yard to the newest gaming system. On top of that, he was the better natural athlete. I was constantly comparing myself to my friend. There was a lot of discouragement that I felt and it showed the depth and depravity of the sin of jealousy. 

There are over 8 billion people in the world. Out of the 8 billion people that God created, how many are the same as you and me? Exactly no one else! It is crazy to realize that each human being is unrepeatable and beautifully made. Everyone is put on this earth by God, and given a variety of unique gifts and talents.  

Yet, it’s amazing how we can constantly find ourselves stuck in the cycle of comparison and jealously.  The reason why jealousy is so dangerous is because it blinds us to the gifts the Lord has given each and every one of us. Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton said, “Gratitude, being nearly the greatest of human duties, is also nearly the most difficult.”    

In reading our Gospel, we can get caught up in comparing the number of talents the Lord has given us. In the story, the master gives talents to his servants. One was given five, another two, and finally the last servant was only given one. At the end of the story, we might ask why the servant with one talent failed to even invest it. Maybe it was because he was discouraged by jealousy, and was comparing himself with the servants who had two or five.

Yet, the importance of the Gospel is not in how many talents we are given, but in what we do with the talents! The Lord gives unique gifts to each person. And yes, some gifts are different and are given in different proportions. And that’s okay! The question we need to focus on is “how can I use the gifts the Lord has given me?” At the end of the parable, the servant with five talents and the servant with two talents both received the same reward because they used their talents them wisely. Let us turn away from jealousy and comparison, and ask the Lord for the ability to see the gifts we have received and for the strength to use those gifts for his glory.

Father  Michael

November 12 – Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Church has a beautiful tradition of adoring the Blessed Sacrament during the night. When I was in college, I would reluctantly sign up for a Holy Hour in the middle of the night, knowing that I would probably fall asleep. And sure enough, I would fall asleep almost every week at some point in the hour. One week, when my hour was up, my friend who was coming in for the next hour, found me sleeping, and I embarrassedly got up and went to bed.

In the Gospel, we have a similar situation. There are ten virgins who are waiting with lighted lamps for the Bridegroom to arrive. Because he is delayed, they fall asleep. The five wise virgins have enough oil to last them through the night, while the five foolish virgins need to go out to buy more, and so are absent when the bridegroom arrives.

Even when it wasn’t nighttime, I would periodically fall asleep during prayer, so I brought it up to my spiritual director. I was going to bed on time, and I was praying at a normal time during the day, but I still fell asleep. I said that at that point, I had done all I could, and I just had to leave it in God’s hands. The director said that that kind of dependence on God is the attitude that we need in order to receive the good gifts He desires to give us.

All ten of the virgins are living a life of virtue, walking the walk of being a Christian. However, only the five wise virgins have the oil of God’s love to help them to be ready to greet the Lord when He comes. We can do all the good works we want, but we need to have the love of God as the reason behind them. As we do this, no matter how well we do, we will come face to face with our human weakness, such as my falling asleep. In those moments, we have the choice whether to give up because our human efforts have failed or to surrender into the hands of God, and receive the oil of His love as a free gift. This is the only way to have enough oil so that our lamps can be lit to meet the Lord when He comes.

I still sometimes fall asleep during prayer time, but I don’t sweat it as much anymore. After all, even the wise virgins fell asleep. But we need to see it as an opportunity to rely on Jesus. When we do this, we can receive the oil of God’s love so that we are not holding empty lamps, but can meet Jesus with lamps brightly burning.

Father Frank

November 5 – Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Hello! My name is Jared Beltz and I am a first year seminarian for the Diocese of Joliet. Our Lady of Mercy is my home parish, and I am very grateful to have the opportunity to come back home and share my faith journey with all of you at Mass this weekend.

I was born into a Catholic family, and we attended Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, participated in religious education, and were active at the parish. I served in many ministries at Our Lady of Mercy, ranging from altar serving and singing in the choir as a kid, to cantoring and serving as a Eucharistic Minister as an adult. Through these ministries, I gained perspective into the life of a priest, and formed personal relationships with the priests at OLM.

As I progressed through college, I began to feel more comfortable telling others about my faith in God, and found myself spending more time in prayer at church, helping at Vacation Bible School, and going on Mission Trips with OLM. I had been trying to decide what I wanted to do after college, and the thoughts of priesthood and serving the Church in this way were always in my mind. Multiple people started asking me some variation of “Have you ever considered the priesthood?” or “Have you ever thought about becoming a priest?” These encounters, along with my persistent thoughts, made me begin to seriously discern the priesthood. In addition, I felt that God was trying to speak to me last year as I listened to the readings on Holy Thursday when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and made the point of serving others before himself (John 13:1-15). I believe this was God working through the people in my life, as well as through his Word.

Since deciding to take the step to enter into seminary formation, I have had many graces come into my life. I am currently in the midst of a “Spirituality Year”, a stage in formation that allows men like me to dive deeper into our Catholic faith. I have been given the opportunity to grow in my faith through reading the Bible and Catechism in a year. I have also grown in service through ministering in impoverished neighborhoods in the city of Chicago. I am so blessed to have begun this journey to the priesthood. Please know that I keep all of you in my prayers, and I ask for your prayers as I continue my seminary formation.

God bless!

Jared Beltz

October 29 – Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A day I will never forget is when I walked in on my parents watching a movie about St. Thérèse of Lisieux. That movie begins with a simple line, taken from Thérèse’s writings: “I want to be a saint.” I didn’t know that you could want that, but now that I knew, I wanted it! The problem was that I had unusual ways of pursuing that desire. For example, St. Thérèse died at the age of twenty-four of tuberculosis. As a result, every time I left a physical, I would leave disappointed because my tuberculosis test would come back negative. Long before I turned twenty-four, I realized that my life would look different, but that did not mean that I gave up my desire to become a saint.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul writes, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers.” We are called to imitate the saints and Jesus so that we can become a model for others.

It does not mean we have to imitate the concrete details of every saint’s life. As we approach the Solemnity of All Saints on November 1st, we have different opportunities to enter into the lives of the saints, such as the Saints Around the World event on October 28th. As we look at all these saints, we see how different their lives are, but also how they all have one thing in common: love of God and love of neighbor.

In each of the saints, this love shone out in ways as unique as each one of them, and that is what we are called to imitate. Just as they made Jesus’ commandment to love take flesh amid the concrete details of their lives, so are we called to love amid the concrete details of our lives. But we can’t keep this to ourselves.

In the Gospel, Jesus says the greatest commandment of the law is to love God and to love our neighbors. At the Last Supper, Jesus takes this even further by giving us a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Because we have received the love of Jesus that led Him to the Cross, we are called to love others with that same love. This might seem daunting, but when we look at the saints, we see that it has been done thousands of times and thousands of different ways.

Loving as Christ loves does not necessarily mean dying of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-four, but it means taking the love we have received from Christ and making it present to others. Pope Francis wrote in C’est la Confiance, his Apostolic Exhortation on St. Thérèse, “In the heart of Therese, the grace of baptism became this impetuous torrent flowing into the ocean of Christ’s love and dragging in its wake a multitude of brothers and sisters.”

Father Frank

October 22 – Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We are not as cunning as we think we are!  When I was little, there were two punishments I received: soap in the mouth or spanking. However, as a 5 year old, I had a brilliant idea to get around this form of punishment. Of course, I had to test my theory, so I went into the doorway of the kitchen where my mom was and said a curse word. This triggered the consequence of a punishment, but I ran to the couch where I sat down and covered my mouth thinking I had beaten the system! Little did I know the strength of my mom, and I came to realize that my plan had failed.

In our Gospel this weekend, the Pharisees think that they are cunning and can entrap Jesus by asking him a simple question about paying taxes to Caesar, “Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” (Mt 22:17) If Jesus would say yes to paying taxes he would be implicit with a foreign power and the people would revolt. If he said no, the Roman Empire would punish him for encouraging dissidence among the people. 

Jesus, however, asks to see a coin.  When the Pharisees present the coin, it shows the hypocrisy of Caesar by carrying an image of the Emperor who claimed to be a god. Then Jesus bypasses their entire trap by replying with the simple phrase, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”(Mt 22:22)

This is a challenge to us too. We know that the coins belong to Caesar, and in our daily lives this means being a responsible citizen and giving respect to the proper authorities. What is God’s?  It is our very selves. We all bear the image of God within our souls, and are called to give our very lives back to God!  This may seem like an impossible task, but God reveals through Christ that he is willing to model what he is asking of us; Jesus Christ offers us his very self!

Let us reject any ways of trying to outsmart God by avoiding that which he is asking of us. God calls each of us to know him and love him, even if we are not aware of it or if we try to ignore or outsmart him. He says this same thing to the Persian King Cyrus in the first reading: “I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not” (Isaiah 45:4). Everything we have we owe to the goodness of God, and he desires that we put him at the center of our lives. Let us turn away from those things that prevent us from giving ourselves over to the Lord.

Father Michael

October 15 – Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Hello! I am so grateful to have gotten the chance to meet many of you at the parish. For those that I have not gotten the chance to meet, my name is Jonathan Hernandez. I am the seminarian assigned to Our Lady of Mercy by the Diocese. Perhaps you may have noticed that during the summer months this year I was absent. I was asked by my vocations director to stay at our cathedral and do a program called CPE (Clinical Pastoral Experience). This program was extremely helpful for my vocation. Through that experience I received the opportunity to serve at a hospice center, a homeless shelter, and bring communion to the sick on a consistent basis. I was able to encounter others’ sufferings in different forms and was in a privileged place where I was often let into places of deep suffering. Often faced with a loss of words this summer, I felt the Holy Spirit guiding me in how he wanted me to minister to each person I was with. I felt Christ wanting to heal his sons and daughters.

This summer experience made me realize that I too was suffering in ways that I didn’t acknowledge. As a seminarian, I experience a constantly shifting environment. Often, I am bombarded with activities, homework, and responsibilities. This can all be very tiring. While praying with the suffering of Christ, I realized at a heartfelt level that suffering should point outwards. Suffering is part of the human experience, and we weren’t meant to take it on all by ourselves. At the minimum, it should be given to Christ. Furthermore, it is when our suffering points outwards that we realize our suffering has a greater meaning. For example, we are called to love our neighbor even though this isn’t the easiest thing to do. Our neighbors often hurt us in words and deeds. Scarred by their actions, we can wallow in the injustice, or we can allow ourselves to feel the hurt, bring it to Christ, and try our best to treat them with the love and respect they deserve as people made in the image of God. Even if they do not reciprocate, we are loving as Christ loved.

What I have just described, is made possible only through a life anchored in Christ. It is his grace and his strength that allow us to abide in his vineyard. We hear St. Paul affirm this in the second reading: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). When we refuse to give our sufferings to God, we are pointed inwards, and this can become a truly dangerous place to be. In the Gospel reading today Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding feast. As the King came in to meet the guests, there was one who was not dressed properly: “…how is that you came in here without a wedding garment?” (Mt 22:12) May this remind us to put on the life of Christ, configure and unite our thoughts, words, and actions to him. Give him your sufferings, and live for others, so that you might not be caught without a wedding garment!

God bless you, Jonathan

October 8 – Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

As soon as I was old enough, my parents would put me in charge of watching my two younger siblings when they would go out. If they didn’t listen to me, I would put them in time-out, which meant they were pretty much in time-out every time my parents went out. One day they decided that they wouldn’t listen to me anymore, so I called my parents because they were ganging up on me!

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard owner, who at harvest-time sends servants, and ultimately his son, to collect his produce from his tenants. The tenants did not accept them as representatives of the vineyard owner, and in disrespecting them, ultimately disrespected the vineyard owner, showing that they would rather be their own master.

Because my siblings did not respect my authority as the one my parents put in charge when they were gone, they did not respect my parents. They wanted to be in charge of themselves. The only problem was that my parents had not asked me to discipline my siblings; they had only asked me to keep an eye on them. In my own way, I was taking advantage of being put in charge, and trying just as much as my siblings to be a law unto myself.

Do we also reject the authority of God? Maybe we do this in outright ways by choosing to sin, but very often this happens in more subtle ways. We might feel a tug to pray but choose to watch TV instead. We might know that we need to reach out to that one person who really annoys us, but we instead choose to ignore them and talk to our friends. Or maybe there is one part of our life that we don’t want to surrender to Jesus yet because we don’t want to give that thing up yet.

Jesus ends the parable by saying, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” He doesn’t do this as a master over a servant, but as a loving Father.

In John 15, Jesus calls Himself the True Vine, and us the branches. We can bear fruit if we abide in Him. Instead of desiring to be in charge of ourselves, we become so united with Jesus, the Vine, that our wills become one. We are no longer hired servants working for wages, but we simply want to do His will because we know this is what will make us truly happy, and because, as beloved children of the Father, we desire to return that love He has given us.

Unlike my siblings’ desire to do whatever they wanted when my parents were gone, or my desire to take over when they put me in charge, we are called to surrender to God. By doing this, we are able to bear fruit because we have united ourselves to the True Vine, Jesus Christ.

Father Frank

October 1 – Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

As someone who studied math, when I come across this Gospel, I think of the other possible sons that the man in the Gospel could have had. The first son says he will not work in the vineyard but changes his mind and works, while the second son says he will work but never actually does. Couldn’t the man have had a son that said yes to the father’s task and actually completed it? Wouldn’t that be a perfect son, like me? Or couldn’t the man have had a son that said no, and then didn’t complete his task? Wouldn’t that be a son who was completely depraved and separated? 

Of course, you could make up those possibilities, but Christ only puts two options in the story for a reason. Why? Well, none of us are perfect and none of us are completely depraved from God’s grace!  And yet, don’t we put ourselves and others in those categories all the time? 

How often do we try to pursue perfection, not only in our work and relationships, but also in our spiritual life? How many of us walk around thinking that nothing is wrong, and that everything is just fine?  It’s an allusion that usually moves from indifference to despair. Usually those who believe they are perfect eventually see their allusion crumble and end up falling into despair! It confirms what the prophet Ezekiel shares with us in our first reading: “Thus says the Lord: You say, ‘The LORD’s way is not fair!’ Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” (Ezekiel 18:25) 

The Lord is not expecting us to be perfect, but to seek his mercy and love and to turn back to him when we fall. To live a life of conversion means that we can never stop turning back to him.  Let us not fall into this unfair way of thinking: where we feel either too perfect for the Lord, or too far from calling out to him in our failures.  Let us always trust that it is never too late to be redeemed by him. When we call out to him, the Lord will always respond!   

Father Michael

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