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Defending Life — Living Hope

Once again, we find ourselves in the spectacular month of October—crisp, clean, air, and the hints of Autumn color. My earliest remembrances of October focus on Saint Francis of Assisi. From 1964, when I began my seminary education with the Franciscans at our minor seminary in Crystal Lake, Illinois, October 3-4 were clearly marked out as “high holy days” for me since they were so spiritually and emotionally charged with the celebration of the life and death of Francis. It has stayed that way ever since. October took on some special significance as I started to gather up devotion to beloved Saint Therese of Lisieux (whose hometown and shrine I visited on pilgrimage with many other Wisconsinites last year). Her feast day is October 1 and she is patron saint of the Little Way—the patron saint of Love of God. Another great saint of October is Saint Teresa of Avila—a fiery Carmelite Nun who reformed the Order and wrote seriously about the interior and mystical life. Her feast of October 15 was made even more significant for me because it was the day, in 2007, while living in Rome, that I received notification of Pope Benedict’s call for me to become a bishop. Of course, October 22, is the feast of Pope Saint John Paul the Great, and there is so much of interest and note about him that has had great impact on my life!

In October, however, the Church takes special time to direct our attention to the sanctity and respect of human life. The cause of respect for human life has, of course, taken on enormous proportion over the years since the encyclical, Humanae Vitae of Pope Saint Paul VI, 25 July 1968. The encyclical was the epicenter of the sexual revolution of the sixties and the stillpoint of the disobedience in the Church regarding contraception and the growth of the misunderstanding of abortion as “just another form of birth-control.” The objectification and abuse of women and the ignorance and brutality of men toward them continues to this very day. All of this was, of course, foretold by our prophetic Pope Paul VI and expounded upon by every pope since. The wisdom and spiritual direction of the church has been silenced over the years since 1968 unto our day as men and women battle for “equality.” In 1973, the ultimate ignorance was served in announcing that abortion was legal and was sanctioned by the United States Constitution. Over the years, the “legal” murder of children has continued into the millions. Women’s “reproductive rights” and the “control over their own bodies” have become political platforms and slogans defined by political parties of every stripe. Very few people—religious and non-religious—seem to offer pro-life opinions for the children. It seems as though they are the true remnant of the struggle and the true victims whose “rights” are being trampled! I still find myself reminding people of a bumper sticker I once saw years ago: “It’s easy to be ‘pro-choice’–after you’ve been born.” 

I have been a priest for forty-two years, and I have been Catholic—that is pro-life—every one of those years. I’ve had talks with folks who have had abortions and those who promote them for others. It’s never an easy discussion and it often makes us uncomfortable—people get a little upset with my pro-life belief. Nevertheless, I try to avoid getting entrapped in the politics and sides of the issue. I try to stay clearly on the spiritual side. Too many people have reduced the life issue to a division of political parties and then once they’ve decided if you’re pro-life or not then they determine the political party with which you may be affiliated. God does not belong to a political party.

Abortion, in our society is terrible evil. Our family structures have been incredibly violated and all of society is being damaged. This is a sad reflection on our ability to form authentic and loving relationships as men and women in the sacrament of marriage. Children are gifts from God who are to be born into loving families with fathers and mothers who are committed to each other in genuine and lifelong relationships. The highest honor and privilege of being a woman is the joy of motherhood. Thus, being “reproductive machines” with rights over their own bodies must yield to the consideration of the rights of motherhood and the lives of the children only they can bear. Children must be seen as part of loving unions of husbands and wives—not simply the by-products of indiscriminate sexual romps. Abortions kill children—millions of children since the Court has given permission for such vile and destructive behavior.

October is Pro-Life Month. Pray for pregnant mothers. Pray for fathers. Pray for babies. Pray that babies may be born and live in a world of genuine love and care.

Who is that Masked Man??

For those of you who are old enough to remember that “tag line” from the Lone Ranger TV show—God bless you, you might be as old as I am. If you are approaching your seventies, please continue to take care of yourself. My sister Joann was the one who got on my case for not wearing a mask in these “COVIDly” unsettling times. My assistant Debbie created the Walmartly fashionable creation I am sporting above.

In all seriousness my dear brothers and sisters, I am hoping and praying that you are all taking good care of yourselves, washing your hands, covering your mouths, and all the things we are told to do to stay alive—and healthy.

The priests of our Diocese—your pastors—are maintaining contact with the Diocesan Central Offices in order to speak about questions and concerns coming from you to them and on to us for advice and answers. These are challenging times for all of us and we do need to move slowly, patiently, and prudently. Please keep that in mind when you are addressing your pastors—and even me. Thank you. We, your priests and bishops, are trying to do our best to stay in contact with the state leadership; encouraging everyone at that level to understand how important our faith is to us and, especially during the Easter season, for us to attend Mass and receive the sacraments. Let us continue to pray that God will send a remedy for us in this time of distress.

The Year of Saint Joseph will be a big help for us. St. Joseph is a principal patron of our Diocese and, of course, our Cathedral. On Friday, 1 May, I will celebrate with you, via livestream media, the Holy Mass at 12:00 noon, in order to launch this year of prayer and good works. Please check the website diolc.org for further information and ideas—beyond the time of pandemic. (It will come to an end, we trust.)

In all other areas, please remember to call one another on the phone or send notes via email or snail mail. Remain close to one another in His Love and ask for God’s blessings as we make our way together.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Our Lenten journey this year has been most striking. We read of the ancients going through the desert, separating themselves and being alone with God. We too have joined in their practice, not by our choice but for our safety.

Despite our separation and inability to celebrate Easter together in church, we must continue to proclaim and believe the most astonishing fact about our Lord and Savior. He suffered, He died and He rose from the dead on that first Easter morning. The first witnesses were filled with many deep emotions and their hearts were moved to greatness. To this day, we too are comforted by the Resurrection and His promises.

We are an Easter people! Easter Sunday begins the Octave of Easter; eight days to continue the celebration of Easter. Eight days to hear accounts of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances. The final day of the Octave, the Second Sunday of Easter, is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. We hear the words of our Lord, recounted in the Gospel, when he tells Thomas and he tells us, “Blessed are they who have not seen me, but still believe.” (John 20:29)

Easter is known as the ‘Feast of Feasts’ – the solemnity of solemnities. The celebration of Easter extends to Pentecost Sunday. Forty days after Easter we celebrate the Lord’s Ascension. The Church then remains in prayer as we await the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Fiftieth day of Easter, concluding the Easter Season.

So let us keep the Easter spirit alive in our hearts and proclaim it to everyone we meet.

We are an Easter people!

Blessed Easter to you – and I’ll see you at Sunday Mass!

Triduum in the Domestic Church

Holy Week is the culmination of our 40-day Lenten practices. It is the most solemn period of the Church year. We typically gather to remind ourselves of the solemn mysteries of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. With many signs and rituals, we become deeply engaged in the action of the resurrection and by offering our own participation and prayers, attempt to enter into this very central mystery of our Faith. This year, however, will be quite different. The priests of our diocese will celebrate the Mass without their congregations, and the faithful will be praying in their homes.

In his Feb. 7, 2007, general audience remarks, Pope Benedict XVI said that “Every home is called to become a ‘domestic church’ in which family life is completely centered on the lordship of Christ and the love of husband and wife mirrors the mystery of Christ’s love for the Church, his bride.”

This year, I invite you to join me in the Liturgies of the Sacred Triduum live-streamed from our cathedral. Holy Week begins with Passion (Palm) Sunday (9:30 a.m.). The Sacred Triduum begins with Holy Thursday: The Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper (5:00 p.m.); Good Friday: Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion (12:00 Noon), Easter Vigil Mass (7:00 p.m.) and Easter Sunday (9:30 a.m.) from the Cathedral. The modifications in the liturgical celebrations decreed by the Vatican will be observed. Many of your pastors will also be live streaming Holy Week liturgies so you can join with them spiritually in your own homes.

I also encourage you to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Pray with Monsignor Hirsch and the children of Casa Hogar as they offer their prayers for you and your intentions.

I am so grateful. It is by your most generous gifts to our Diocesan Annual Appeal and the efforts of our Diocesan Communication Staff that we are able to provide these live-streamed moments of shared prayer and liturgical celebrations. This is life-giving and Faith-building in action.

I trust that as you have the talents and abilities to serve the Lord and His Church, you will each find ways of drawing strength and courage in these challenging times. I pray for you, your families, and those particularly touched by this dreadful pandemic. As we navigate these uncharted waters, remain healthy and pray mightily!

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

Call to Prayer | Friday, March 27

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

May the Lord give you peace.

The unprecedented actions of the past weeks, though challenging for each of us, highlight our need for spiritual sustenance. Let us use this time by placing Our Lord at the center of our lives. Our Diocesan website, diolc.org, offers links and resources as we pray for help, protection, and healing. I heartily encourage you to check it out.

In addition, I urge you to participate in the special prayer of Pope Francis taking place in Saint Peter’s Square this Friday, March 27. This event will be broadcast and streamed on the website of the Vatican News, www.VATICANNEWS.VA, at 12:00 p.m. (noon) Central Daylight Time. The Holy Father will grant to all participants a Plenary Indulgence before imparting the Urbi et Orbi Blessing, the special blessing to the City of Rome (Urbi) and the World (Orbi).

The Holy See’s March 20 Decree explains that the current Plenary indulgence at this time of pandemic is “granted to the faithful suffering from Coronavirus, who are subject to quarantine by order of the health authority in hospitals or in their own homes if, with a spirit detached from any sin, they unite spiritually through the media to the celebration of Holy Mass, the recitation of the Holy Rosary, the pious practice of the Way of the Cross or other forms of devotion; or, they may simply recite the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and a pious invocation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, offering this trial in a spirit of faith in God and charity towards their brothers and sisters, with the will to fulfil the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer according to the Holy Father’s intentions), as soon as possible.”

An indulgence, Pope St. John Paul II explained, is “the expression of the Church’s full confidence of being heard by the Father when—in view of Christ’s merits and, by his gift, those of Our Lady and the saints—she asks him to mitigate or cancel the painful aspect of punishment by fostering its medicinal aspect through other channels of grace” (General Audience, September 29, 1999).

I pray for each of you during this crisis, that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy through the intercession of our Mother Mary and our patrons, St. Joseph and St. Francis of Assisi. Imploring God’s blessings on you in this time of need, I am

+William Patrick Callahan, OFM Conv.

Bishop of La Crosse

Join me for Mass this Sunday at diolc.org/live

Given our present state of affairs, I’ll be celebrating Mass privately this Sunday at 9:30 a.m. at the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman. I hope you will join me at diolc.org/live. If you can’t make 9:30, the Mass may be viewed on demand at the same link throughout the day. It grieves me to be physically separated from you during this prudent effort to stop the spread of the virus by temporally limiting gatherings. I’m fervently praying for a resolution to this spread, and begging God to bring us back together once again.

Several days ago, I had the opportunity to speak with a friend concerning “private Masses” and the Catholic notion of “Spiritual Communion.” She is younger than I and like most Catholics younger than I, missed out on some of the elements of Catholic doctrine that many folks my age take for granted and learned early on—thankfully—in our wonderful Catholic elementary schools at the hands of the good sisters who ran our education system in those days.

Nevertheless, as we talked about “private Masses” I took the opportunity to remind my friend about the fact that through the Catholic practice of Spiritual Communion, many of our brothers and sisters who were unable to receive sacramentally (for one reason or another) had a moment of deep and sincere communion with our Blessed Lord spiritually.

In his encyclical, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia” (“A Eucharistic Church”), in April 2003, Pope Saint John Paul the Great encouraged the practice of Spiritual Communion, “which has been a wonderful part of Catholic life for centuries and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life.” St. Thomas Aquinas described it as “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the most holy sacrament and lovingly embrace him” at a time or in circumstances when we cannot receive him in sacramental Communion. These days of the dreadful coronavirus pandemic, when our priests are limited to the private celebration of the holy Mass, demonstrate the wisdom of the Church as She shares this great spiritual gift for us in these extraordinary and difficult times.

The Catechism of the Council of Trent devoted a special section to Spiritual Communion in its program of renewal in the late 16th century. In the past, instruction manuals gave as a most familiar example, a mother’s need to stay home from Sunday Mass to care for a sick child, thereby missing the opportunity for Communion. In such cases, the mother could make an act of Spiritual Communion, uniting herself with the Mass in her parish church and receive the spiritual benefit of Holy Communion. The opportunities for receiving Spiritual Communion are limitless, but the particular circumstances make it appealing and pertinent for our time. Today, there are many Catholics who may not be able to receive Communion because of a marriage not recognized by the Church. They are often in a process of getting their marital status rectified through the Church Tribunal, but until that is done, they cannot participate.

It is important for us to keep in mind that the current situation regarding “health warnings” and “social distancing” are not being forced on society—and especially upon the Church—in some sort of atheistic or secular closure of the Church. This current health crisis and its governmental intervention is a temporary difficulty and sadness that for us, as Catholics in particular, affects our spiritual lives.

We will recover from this pandemic and its dreadful effects with the help of God. In the meantime, the Church in Her ever inspired and wonderful love of Almighty God for His children provides us with abundant grace and proximate care for us to be with Him and receive Him spiritually in our hearts and souls until such time as we are able, once again to receive sacramental absolution as necessary and to attend holy Mass and receive our Blessed Lord in the Source and Summit of our lives in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

O, Sacrament most Holy, O, Sacrament Divine, All praise and all thanksgiving, be every moment Thine!

Lent Greeting

The Church has given us Lent as a time to awaken our God given Gift of Faith. Faith is a gift that only God can give. Faith is a precious gift and needs to be cared for each day. We ask God to strengthen our Faith – especially during Lent – through prayer, fasting and alms giving. These pious practices are done to open ourselves up to a heightened awareness of God’s presence in our lives.

When we pray, we come to Jesus “as we are” and lay before him all our thoughts, our desires and our failings. We come in humility, begging for the King of Kings to enter more fully into our hearts with His boundless Love and Mercy. It is through prayer that we come to a deeper understanding and awareness of how, through our Baptism, we are called to carry out the Will of God here on earth.

Lent is also a time to make a good confession. Make time to examine your life. Be honest about your failings and shortcomings. Approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation with a repentant heart and willingly receive the peace and joy of his merciful love. God will not spur a contrite heart.

Take advantage of the many spiritual practices that are talked about during lent. Strive to incorporate just one practice into your daily routine. You, and those around you, will notice the difference!

Blessed Lent to you. Let us pray together as we journey to Easter.

In Christ Alone

Merry Christmas everybody! This greeting of Joy and good wishes has so much meaning for us this time of year. It reminds us that Christ was born and in Christ alone is our true and lasting happiness. It gives us hope for the coming year and offers us consolation that Christ is reigning in our heart!

The mystery of Christmas depends on God. We believe that God became truly man while remaining truly God. Every time we pray the Nicene Creed, we proclaim that Jesus Christ is true God and became man! He came as a baby and we look with new reverence and amazement each and every time we see a manger scene. Our Christian perspective understands that His coming opened up for us the possibility of eternal happiness, and that we are now children of God.

In the readings this Christmas we hear from the letter to the Hebrews; “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son.” My brothers and sisters, take this passage to heart, pray about what this means and believe that in Christ alone we will find direction for our lives through the Church, where we will find lasting happiness in the life of grace.

Believe, belong, and be ready to proclaim with great joy Merry Christmas!

May you live in joyful hope!

Brother James Miller

Brother James Miller—born and raised in central Wisconsin, martyred in Guatemala, and living today in the Heavenly Jerusalem—will be declared “blessed” this Saturday, December 7, in Huehuetenango Guatemala.

Like all others who have been declared “blessed” by the Church, Brother James was remarkable—indeed, heroic—in sanctity. He lived, served, loved, taught, and died after the example of Jesus. Through Brother James’s own flesh and blood, Jesus became incarnate to those whom Brother James served.

Yet, even in his holy heroism, James Miller was one like us. He was born in Stevens Point, raised on an Ellis dairy farm, and graduated from Pacelli High School. In these and many other respects, Brother James was no different from you or me.

Brother James entered the novitiate for the Christian Brothers in 1962, and eventually taught at Cretin High School in Saint Paul. In addition to teaching religion, Brother James taught English and Spanish, coached football, and worked in the maintenance of the school building. “Brother Fix-it,” in fact, became his nickname from his ability and desire to work with his hands. He is often depicted today with wrench in hand!

Brother Miller would go on to take final vows as a Christian Brother in 1969. He would serve as teacher, director, and even builder of schools, both in Nicaragua and in Guatemala, serving the poor in need of his—and Christ’s—care.

On February 13, 1982, Brother James Miller was shot multiple times and killed by three unknown gunmen. He was doing what God had made him to do. Standing on a ladder, attending to his school’s building, Brother Fix-it was restoring God’s kingdom—ordered, beautiful, and at the service of those in need—out of the rubble of a fallen, sad, and sinful world.

The ordinary ladder upon which he died, a tool of work in a mundane world, is, by God’s design, an extraordinary image of his own elevated path to heaven. In some ways, this ladder, like the wrench in his hand, signifies his own life: an ordinary boy with Wisconsin roots rises to an extraordinary man of faith in Guatemala and radiates a blessed image of Jesus from heaven.

A “beatification,” such as James Miller will receive on Saturday, is not simply another step along the road to an official declaration of “Saint.” To be declared “blessed”—which is what the ceremony of “beatification” does—is to be declared joyful, blissful, and happy. Being like Jesus makes us happy, and Brother James, in the service of Jesus to his people, was a happy, blessed man. Such is the lesson worth pondering in James Miller. Do the seemingly small things well—coach football, fix the fence, teach the children—and Jesus can radiate through you. And make you joyful.

Because Blessed James Miller was one like us, we can aspire to become one like him. In light of his beatification, reflect upon your own life: Where were you born? What are you doing today to further God’s kingdom in the ordinary life around you? How are you working for heaven? From Wisconsin to the Heavenly Jerusalem, let us live our ordinary lives in an extraordinary way.

Blessed James Miller, pray for us!

Celebrating our Blessed Brother James Miller, FSC

Loving and gracious God,
we thank you for the gift of our
Blessed Brother James Miller.
By his example and intercession,
grant that we may follow his example
of selfless service to those entrusted to our care.
May we also carry on his work
of educating the poor and alleviating their oppression.
We ask this through
Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Saint John Baptist de La Salle—Pray for us!
Blessed Brother James Miller—Pray for us!
Live Jesus in our Hearts—Forever!

—Prayer provided by the Christian Brothers of the Midwest

Expectant Hope

Advent greetings everybody. I don’t think I have to remind you that Advent is my favorite liturgical season. It is, of course, the great season of expectation and anticipation. It is a time of wonder and a deep and abiding sense of the fulfillment of promise and the opening of a new age.

I think I have used these themes with you in different times over the years I have served as your Bishop, but I think the message, like Advent itself, bears repeating and these themes make it easy for us to think about this great season. There are three ways of considering Advent and the coming of Christ: first, in History; second, in Mystery; and third, in Majesty.

We remember Christ coming as the Babe of Bethlehem and the entire wondrous miracle of the Christmas story. All of this allows us to consider the Incarnation— the manifestation of God in human flesh in our human history.

The second coming of Christ is in the Mystery of the Eucharist—the living and Real Presence of the same Jesus—Son of God and Son of Mary—made manifest for us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

 The Mysterious and Sacred Presence of Jesus until the end of time. Then, finally, the appearance of Christ in Majesty at the end of time. The liturgical season of Advent calls our attention to each of these three “comings” of Christ and opens our minds, and hearts, and souls to the promises of God and the manifestations of Christ as the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Prayer is a joyful method of keeping us aware of the promises of future and realized glory as we make our way through the weeks of Advent. Keep alert, maintain your vision in Christ. He will keep His promise, He is with us, and He will come again. Come, Lord Jesus!

Blessed Advent to you all!