Many of you know that I am a priest of the Diocese of La Crosse—that is, a diocesan (or secular) priest. In other words, I do not belong to a religious institute. However, that is not entirely accurate. I am a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Dominic, a branch of the Order of Preachers, or Dominicans. St. Dominic’s feast day is August 8th so I thought I would explain this facet of my priesthood a bit.
From the very beginning of the foundations of the Order of Preachers, there have been diocesan priests who have affiliated themselves with the Order of Preachers but without becoming Dominican friars. Before 1968, the Order (like many others) was divided into three parts: the First Order of the friars, the Second Order of the nuns, and the Third Order of laity. After 1968, the Dominicans abolished these divisions and realized that no matter how one is a Dominican, all members are part of the “Dominican Family.”
In 2014, I began formation in the Dominican tradition—learning the Dominican preaching charism and observances of the Rule—in order to formally affiliate myself with the Dominican Order through profession in the third order, what is now called the Priestly Fraternity of St. Dominic. The Priestly Fraternity is a fraternity of diocesan priests who have been urged by supernatural grace to enroll in the Order of St. Dominic and who profess a rule of life suited to their state. Profession in the Order of St. Dominic makes these priests members of the Dominican Family and sharers in the grace and mission of the Order of Preachers. However, these priests are free for service in their own diocese and under the jurisdiction of their own bishop. They are not Dominican friars but rather “Dominican diocesan priests”—Sons of St. Dominic.
On September 14, 2016, after over two years of formation, I made my solemn profession to live according to the Rule of St. Dominic. Kneeling before the Prior Provincial of the Province of St. Albert the Great of the Order of Preachers, with my hands in his hands, I made a promise that I would live according to the Rule of St. Dominic for life. Being a full member of the Order of St. Dominic, I strive each-and-every-day to be imbued with the spirit of St. Dominic so that I can pursue greater perfection before God and the world. Please know of my prayers for you all and humbly request yours for me! St. Dominic, pray for us!
This weekend I am celebrating my tenth anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. My actual anniversary is on June 22 but this weekend worked out better to celebrate at and after the Sunday 10:00 AM Mass. Like most people celebrating anniversaries, I have been asked if it seems like ten years. The response will be familiar to many: some days it seems like a lot less and some days it seems like a lot more!
I was struck when I saw my previous assignments typed out in the program for this Sunday’s Mass: I’ve served as a priest in three deaneries of the diocese, having grown up in a fourth and served as a seminarian in a fifth. My time studying canon law in Washington, DC seems like yesterday and yet I completed the program in 2019. Even here at OLQH, I am starting my third year as pastor. Time flies, as they say!
Our own plans never really turn out the way we expect them to. We can plan and organize and devise and, in the end, it’s God’s plan that happens. I am reminded of Father Robert Letona’s ordination to the diaconate that took place here at Our Lady Queen of Heaven in May of 2009. There is a photo of the then-Deacon Letona and me (as a seminarian) outside of the parish office in the Gathering Space. Little did I know then that 12 years later I would be named pastor of the parish. I felt God’s humor when Bishop Callahan called to tell me I was assigned to OLQH and remembered that Mass all those years prior.
In all of this, I believe the lesson learned is that God is control. It’s not an easy lesson to learn. We want to be in control. Yet, when we try to plan, it usually doesn’t work out. I am reminded of a line from a Robert Burns poem: “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” In my ten years of priesthood, I certainly have learned to expect the unexpected and to trust in Divine Providence, as difficult as that is sometimes. Nonetheless, it’s a lesson for all Christians to learn.
I am hopeful for the next ten years. Who knows what the future will bring. In the program for my first Mass, I wrote that I had one request: “Please pray for me. Please pray that I may be a good and holy priest. Please pray that I may be a fervent priest that is able to bring souls to God.” That is still my request. Pray for me and I will pray for you. God bless you all.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, known as Corpus Christi. This feast began in Italy with a priest who had lost his faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and decided to walk to Rome as a pilgrim in an effort to once again believe in the Real Presence.
One day in 1263 in Bolsena, Italy, while this priest was celebrating Mass, the consecrated Host he held above the altar began to bleed onto the corporal, the small cloth upon which the host and chalice rest during the Mass. The remains of this Eucharistic miracle and the very corporal itself are still in existence and you can venerate them if you ever get to go to Italy and visit the Cathedral in Orvieto in Umbria. I have been privileged to visit that Cathedral several times and attend Mass in front of the corporal.
St. Thomas Aquinas, who was living in Orvieto at the Dominican studium generale, a school of theology, was asked by Pope Urban IV to write the Office (the texts for the Liturgy of the Hours) and the Mass texts for the solemnity of Corpus Christi that the pope was to institute the following year, in 1264. St. Thomas wrote the hymns for the Office which include the Pange Lingua, the Tantum Ergo, and the O Salutaris Hostia. Thomas also wrote the sequence Lauda Sion Salvatorem which we chant on every Corpus Christi Sunday. Thomas also wrote the prayers for the Mass on Corpus Christi, which we use in English translation as well.
You may have noticed that we sung a sequence on Pentecost Sunday as well. There are several feasts in the Church year where we sing sequences. Sequences are hymns sung before the Gospel. Traditionally it is sung after the Alleluia but in modern times, it is sung before the Alleluia. Before the year 1570 there were sequences for many of the feasts throughout the year: in fact, at the height of their use, there were sequences for nearly every Sunday and feast day of the year. After the Missal of Pius V was promulgated in 1570 the number of sequences was reduced to four but one other (the Stabat Mater, which we traditionally sing at the Stations of the Cross) was later added in 1727. By the time of our current Missal, there are only four sequences left in the Mass and only those on Easter Sunday and Pentecost Day are required.
I end with a strophe from Thomas Aquinas’ Pange Lingua. May it be our encouragement today:
Therefore, the great Sacrament let us reverence, prostrate: and let the old Covenant give way to a new rite. Let faith stand forth as substitute for defect of the senses.
As many of you heard at the Masses last weekend, the church air conditioners went on the fritz when we started them up this year—so the Mass you were at might have been warm or cold! We had to replace a condenser fan and a capacitor in one of the units. This replacement was not a major issue; what is the bigger concern is the control system that controls the HVAC in the church, offices, school, and rectory. You may remember that I wrote about this in my November 6, 2022 bulletin column. We are now at a point to address the HVAC control system.
The proposal to replace the entire control system for the boilers, air conditioners, and everything in between is a large project: in fact, a $90,000 project. Of that $90k, $50,000 of it is for the units in OLQH School. This project needs to be done and will hopefully give the parish much more control over the whole HVAC system in the offices, church, school, and rectory. The parish currently has the money to be able to accomplish this from the Inspired by the Spirit campaign, a recent bequest to the parish, and from our savings. Assumption Catholic Schools has agreed to pay their share of the school cost, as well. This will be finalized at the next parish finance council meeting, pending diocesan approval.
In addition, we are finalizing proposals to fully air condition the rectory. For some reason, only half of the rectory is air conditioned. Three of the bedrooms have no AC (including my own). We are looking at the most cost-effective way of getting AC into those bedrooms without cutting too many holes (if any) in the flat roof of the rectory. This project will hopefully be accomplished in the near future.
After Mass last weekend, one of the parishioners mentioned to me that I must feel like a homeowner as pastor. I certainly do, at times; although not many homes have 2 boilers, 4 furnaces, and 19 air conditioners! Nonetheless, like any home, we have to take care of our infrastructure. Thanks to your continued generosity, the parish is at a place where we can not only keep up with the maintenance but improve on what we already have. As always, please do not hesitate to ask if you have any questions or concerns.
The month of May is dedicated to Our Lady. Many of you may have grown up praying the Angelus at 6:00am, Noon, and 6:00pm. Traditionally church bells peel out at these times to remind the faithful of the Annunciation of Mary and subsequent Incarnation of Christ. Pope St. Paul VI wrote that the Angelus “reminds us of the Paschal Mystery, in which recalling the Incarnation of the Son of God we pray that we may be led through his passion and cross to the glory of his resurrection.”
Our own church bell rings for the Angelus as well, although at 7:00am rather than 6:00am (lest we awaken the neighbors too early). In the Vatican, since the time of Pope St. John XXIII, the popes have appeared in the window of the Apostolic Palace on Sundays to give the weekly “Angelus Address” and to pray the Angelus and bless the crowds gathered. However, during the Easter Season, the Angelus is replaced by the Regina Caeli, known in English as “Queen of Heaven.” It’s a fitting title for our parish!
The Regina Caeli is prayed every night after Night Prayer (known as Compline). Each liturgical season has its assigned Marian anthem (for example, the “Hail, Holy Queen” is prayed during Ordinary Time). In Easter, it’s the Regina Caeli. You’re probably familiar with the words: Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia. The Son you merited to bear, alleluia, Has risen as he said, alleluia. Pray to God for us, alleluia.
Why is Mary considered the Queen of Heaven? The Venerable Pope Pius XII taught that Jesus is King throughout all eternity by nature and by right of conquest: through Him, with Him, and subordinate to Him, Mary is Queen by grace, by divine relationship, by right of conquest, and by singular choice of the Father. Mary is called Queen of Heaven because her son, Jesus Christ, is the king of Israel and the heavenly king of the universe; indeed, the Davidic tradition of Israel recognized the mother of the king as the queen mother of Israel.
Pope Pius XII established the feast of the Queenship of Mary through his 1954 encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam (‘To The Queen of Heaven’). Pope Pius XII gives us a commission: “Let all, therefore, try to approach with greater trust the throne of grace and mercy of our Queen and Mother, and beg for strength in adversity, light in darkness, consolation in sorrow; above all let them strive to free themselves from the slavery of sin and offer an unceasing homage, filled with filial loyalty, to their Queenly Mother. May Mary’s name be held in highest reverence, a name sweeter than honey and more precious than jewels. All, according to their state, should strive to bring alive the wondrous virtues of our heavenly Queen and most loving Mother through constant effort of mind and manner.”
Today we celebrate Palm Sunday, or officially, Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. On this day the Church recalls the entrance of Christ the Lord into Jerusalem to accomplish his Paschal Mystery. According to the Gospels, Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem, and the celebrating people there laid down their cloaks in front of him, and also laid down small branches of trees. The crowds kept crying out and saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” Hosanna is Hebrew and comes from the word hôshia-nā’ which means “save, rescue” and, liturgically, refers to a cry expressing an appeal for divine help.
Centuries ago, the emperors used to distribute branches of palms among their nobles and commoners. Today, palm fronds and other small branches are given and held during the procession and beginning of Mass. While in the United States, palm fronds are the most common, throughout the world, other types of branches are used. When I lived in Italy, I saw that olive branches are quite common there on Palm Sunday.
At the beginning of the procession before Mass, the priest gives a brief address in which the faithful are invited to participate actively and consciously in the celebration. The priest explains that since the beginning of Lent until now the faithful have prepared their hearts by penance and charitable works. On Palm Sunday, the faithful gather together to herald with the whole Church the beginning of the celebration of the Lord’s Paschal Mystery, that is to say, of his Passion and Resurrection. For it was to accomplish this mystery that he entered his own city of Jerusalem.
Therefore, with all faith and devotion, the priest encourages everyone to commemorate the Lord’s entry into the city for their salvation, following in his footsteps, so that, being made by his grace partakes of the Cross, the faithful may have a share also in his Resurrection and in his life.
We pray to God this weekend that He may, as the Collect for Palm Sunday states, graciously grant that we may heed Jesus’ lesson of patient suffering and so merit a share in his Resurrection.
I enjoy reading the Magnificat each month. One of the parts I enjoy reading are the brief commentaries on the psalms in the daily morning and evening prayers. Last month, one of these commentaries struck me. It said, “Pride sets subtle snares. Whenever we imagine that we are in control of life—our own or someone else’s—we have fallen prey to the ancient whisper in the Garden: ‘You shall be like gods.’ Mortality is the enduring reminder that we become like God not by our own power but by the power of the cross.”
Many of the sins that we fall into have at their root some form of pride: that it’s all about us and what we want—all that matters are our own desires, wants, pleasures, and needs. We subtly forget about both God and our neighbor. We can easily fall into this pride as easily as we step on a rock. We want to believe it takes stepping across the Grand Canyon but in reality, sin is much subtler. Temptation can be almost imperceptible when we aren’t paying attention.
Sometimes people ask me why they seem strong in resisting temptation after the Sacrament of Confession or a retreat or other spiritual exercise. They might be good for a while and then fall back into the old habits of temptation and sin. It is that old whisper in the Garden. We imagine that we are in control of our lives but, in reality, God is in control. He’s the one that we should rely on to guide us and tell us what to do. When we put ourselves in control we are bound to fail and fall back into our old ways. Therefore, we must pray at all times, both in temptation and outside of it. We can never become complacent in fighting against evil or in seeking God in all things.
As the Magnificat commentary states: “we become like God not by our power but by the power of the cross.” During this season of Lent, we have many opportunities to reflect on the cross, the instrument of our salvation. One of my favorite Latin sayings is “Ave, O Crux, Spes Unica!” — “Hail, O Cross, Our Only Hope!” We cannot save ourselves and we already have a savior, Jesus Christ, who won for us our salvation on the cross. By uniting ourselves closer and closer to Jesus and letting God have control, we become more the person we were created to be. In the end, I am reminded of the beginning of a prayer by St. Basil of Caesarea: Steer the ship of my life, Lord, to your quiet harbor, where I can be safe from the storms of sin and conflict.
Last year, when all the parishes in the diocese were instructed to have listening sessions for the upcoming Synod on Synodality in Rome, one of the things that came out of those listening sessions was a desire for more resources on the Sacrament of Confession. With that in mind, I have some news to share with you about the Sacrament of Confession here at Our Lady.
First, as I mentioned at the Masses last weekend, we are installing a new confessional in the former ushers’ closet in the southeast corner of the church. Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish has been blessed over the years to have two priests assigned to it and yet we only have had one confessional. During the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent, when there are more frequent confessions, if both priests want to hear confessions, we need to “set up shop” in our office which is not the most convenient place for either the priest or penitent. Now, with an overflow confessional, we will be able to quickly have access when there are a number of confessions. This smaller confessional will be “behind the screen” only (due to space limitations). A chair will be provided as well as a hearing assistance telephone for the hard-of-hearing. I am excited to have this confessional available around the time of Lent. I want to thank Deacon Tom, Andy Kaminski, and the Mens’ Club for their help in building the new confessional.
Secondly, since the listening sessions requested more resources on confessions, I am planning on having one of the literature racks in the Gathering Space be entirely on the Sacrament of Confession. Various aids and pamphlets will be available to help you make a good and worthy confession. In addition, Father Weller and I will be giving at least one homily specifically devoted to confession this Lent. May it help you prepare and make a good confession.
Third and finally, on Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2023, the words of absolution used by the priest in confession are slightly changing. Just as the Roman Missal translation was updated over a decade ago, the Order of Penance has been retranslated as well. The changes are minimal and even if a priest forgets to use the new formula after April 16 (the last day the old version can be used), the absolution is still valid. There will be a bulletin insert next week explaining the changes in more detail. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.
A priest I knew growing up told me that you can always judge the health of a parish by how many people go to confession. Our parish seems to be in a healthy place considering we are needing to build a new confessional. If it’s been a while since you’ve gone, now is a great time. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).
January 29 through February 4 was Catholic Schools Week, the annual national celebration of our Catholic schools. As a parish, we have always recognized the value of Catholic education and have supported our families and schools in educating our young people so they can reach their full potential. We acknowledge the vital role of parents and also the school faculty, staff, and volunteers in this effort. We also celebrate our students as they learn about their faith and the skills they need in the 21st century.
Our parish has always been linked to Catholic education in Wisconsin Rapids: It was in October of 1948 when Bishop John P. Treacy approved plans to construct St. Mary’s School. The school opened on September 19, 1949 with 155 students in attendance. In September 1951, Tri-City Catholic High School (later to be renamed Assumption High School) was established and began to use the second floor classrooms of St. Mary’s School for classes. Assumption used these classrooms for three years while the new school was constructed on Chestnut Street. In September 1954, the students moved to the current Assumption High School building.
This years’ theme for Catholic Schools Week — “Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service.” — focused on the core of Catholic education. Schools are not only communities themselves, they are also part of larger communities, including the parishes of the Wisconsin Rapids Deanery and our entire nation. As a parish, we support our Catholic schools through prayer, resources, and significant monetary subsidy. The schools, in turn, collaborate with families to develop our children into future model leaders and citizens. This year’s theme also highlighted key elements of Catholic education: academic excellence, leadership, and dedication to service. These elements are what set Catholic schools apart from other educational options.
Our Catholic schools are a part of our future as a Church and as a nation. May God bless them and all who contribute to the important work they do on behalf of the children of our deanery and parishes across the country.
Happy New Year! May 2023 be happy, holy, and healthy to you and your families. Since 1967, January 1st is observed as the “World Day of Peace” in the Catholic Church. In his 1967 encyclical on the development of people, Populorum Progressio, Saint Pope Paul VI notes that “peace is not simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day toward the establishment of the ordered universe willed by God, with a more perfect form of justice among men.” As war continues to rage in Ukraine, Yemen, Ethiopia, and in other places, may we continue to pray for peace in our world and may 2023 be the year that these tragic wars come to an end.
Switching gears entirely, some of you may know about St. John Bosco, known affectionately as “Don Bosco” in Italian. He was an Italian priest, born in 1815, and died in 1888. He dedicated his life to the betterment and education of street children, juvenile delinquents, and other disadvantaged youth. He is the patron saint of schoolchildren. As we begin a new year, many of us will make New Year’s Resolutions. I found the following “Resolutions” written by St. John Bosco that are still applicable today and I share them with all of you as good New Year’s Resolutions for our participation in Mass:
1. Try to be early for Mass always. A few minutes spent in before Mass can open your soul to wonderful Graces.
2. When you enter or leave the church take Holy Water and sign yourself with the Sign of the Cross.
3. Always genuflect when you enter or leave your seat. This is an Act of Adoration to Almighty God, present in the tabernacle. So take time to genuflect reverently, facing the altar and saying “My Lord and My God” as your right knee touches the floor.
4. Don’t talk in church unless absolutely necessary. Talk only to Jesus—it is Him you have come to visit. Don’t talk as you leave either. Some people may still be praying.
5. Listen to the sermon. It is a message from God which could bear much fruit for you.
6. Don’t start to leave church until the priest has left the church. Stay to thank God for the Graces you received from Him in the Mass.
Finally, St John Bosco reminded us that every day we take a step closer to Heaven, that every act should be for the greater glory of God and that every morning we should renew our resolve to work for the Salvation of souls. May God bless you this year and always. Happy 2023!