Saturday, July 26, 2014

Wheat and Weeds - Plants can't Change, but People Can

Location: Holy Trinity Catholic Church (Luxemburg, IA) – 4 p.m. Saturday
                St. Joseph Catholic Church (Rickardsville, IA) – 6 p.m. Saturday
                Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic Church (Sherrill, IA) – 8 a.m. Sunday
                Holy Cross Catholic Church (Holy Cross, IA) – 10 a.m. Sunday
Date: Sunday July 20th, 2014 (16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

1st Reading: Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Resp. Psalm: Ps. 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
2nd Reading: Romans 8:26-27
Gospel: Matthew 12:24-43 (OR Matthew 13:24-30 {short form})

FOCUS: Human nature is not “static” – people can change, and we can help them.
FUNCTION: Share your faith with your friends; invite others to come with you to Church.

            Some things just are what they are.  A cup, for instance, will always be a cup – it might get used to hold pens and pencils, or to drink out of, or to put grease in after cooking, or to water flowers and plants, but no matter how it’s used, it will always be a cup.  You can’t change a cup’s nature, no matter what you do with it, even if you break it – then it’s a broken cup.  But it will always be a cup. 
          By way of contrast, the more I’ve reflected on human nature, the more I’m convinced that we are not so “static” – we can be other than what we’ve been; there are lots of stories in the history of Christianity of sinners who became saints, of hardened criminals who become upstanding citizens, of good people who became bad, and of bad people who became good. 
          St. Paul, before he became St. Paul, was a Pharisee who persecuted the Church, but became a devoted follower of Christ and the apostle to the gentiles after meeting the risen Lord on his way to Damascus.  St. Peter, before he became St. Peter, was probably a rough-and-tumble fisherman, who maybe swore a lot, was perhaps not particularly religious, but who heard the call of Christ, was converted in mind and heart, and eventually became the first Pope.  St. Augustine, before he became the Saint we know him as now, was a womanizer who struggled with chastity, but who came to know the Lord through the reading of the scriptures and became one of the Church’s greatest teachers. 
          Stories like these abound in the history of Christianity.  They’re stories of conversion – stories of people who became something other than what they were.  These stories point out the possibility that people can become something other than what they’ve been; a person’s nature can change – they can go from being bad to becoming good, or from being good to becoming bad.  Unlike cups, our nature is not “static” – it’s “dynamic.”  We can change – we can be more than what we think or imagine.  Everyone can be more than what they think or imagine.

          I think that’s an important principle to keep in mind when we think about the Gospel reading this weekend.  In Jesus’ interpretation, the wheat are the children of the kingdom, while the weeds are the children of the evil one.  And in some sense, it’s true, but these are not and cannot be “static” identifications; and this is where the analogy breaks down – while literal wheat and literal weeds cannot change their natures, such that wheat becomes weeds and weeds become wheat, human beings and human nature can change.  Children of the kingdom could potentially become children of the evil one, and children of the evil one could potentially become children of the kingdom.  Human life is dynamic.  The people we call evil have the potential to accomplish great good; and the people we call good have the potential to commit great evil.
          If we are children of the kingdom – children of God – we have a duty to share the good news of the kingdom with the so-called “weeds” among us – those who do not know the love of God, who do not have a relationship with God, who are seemingly outside the communion of the Church.  In one of Pope Francis’ recent “tweets” on Twitter, he said, “The Church, by her nature, is missionary.  She exists so that every man and woman may encounter Jesus.”  That’s a good reminder that our essential vocation as Christians is to share the good news of Jesus Christ with whoever has ears to listen. 
          By our word, by our example, it’s possible that “weeds” could become “wheat” – by our word, by our example, it’s possible that people who do not yet know God might come to know, love, and serve Him; it’s possible that we could become the conduits by which other people come to know the love of God.  And what an awesome and exciting responsibility that is!
          This is why the Church exists – to proclaim the presence of God’s kingdom in our midst, to proclaim that God is love, to proclaim that salvation is possible in and through the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world.  And truthfully, sometimes we are downright failing at our mission. 
          We don’t challenge young couples – in love, of course – to refrain from living together before they’re married so that their marriage can be pure and holy; we don’t invite friends, neighbors, and family members who are away from the Church to come back and build a relationship with God; we don’t talk about our faith and the ways in which God has worked in our lives.  We keep God a secret; we don’t share the message of the Gospel; we’re more interested in “maintaining” the Church than we are in “growing” the Church; we fail at living as God’s hands and feet in the world around us.

          We need to get better at this.  There are souls at stake.  People could get to heaven a little easier if we talked about heaven a little more.  People could find the pathway to the kingdom if we showed it to them.  People could grow in holiness if we challenged them to do so.
          So let’s do it.  Let’s share our faith with our friends.  Let’s invite others to come with us to Church to hear the message of the Gospel.  Let’s ask a non-Catholic if they’ve ever thought about joining the Church.  Let’s be God’s hands and feet in the world around us.  With God’s grace, everything is possible.                       

The Word of God Speaks - Are We Listening?

Here's my homily for my first Sunday as pastor of the St. LaSalle Pastorate - bit of an introduction to who I am, and some thoughts on the Bible and prayer :)  

Location: Holy Trinity Catholic Church (Luxemburg, IA) – 4 p.m. Saturday
                Saint Joseph Catholic Church (Rickardsville, IA) – 6 p.m. Saturday
                Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic Church (Sherrill, IA) – 8 a.m. Sunday
                Holy Cross Catholic Church (Holy Cross, IA) – 10 a.m. Sunday
Date: Sunday July 13th, 2014 (15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

1st Reading: Isaiah 55:10-11
Resp. Psalm: Ps. 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14
2nd Reading: Romans 8:18-23
Gospel: Matthew 13:1-23 (OR Matthew 13:1-9 {short form})

FOCUS: A good way to prepare for Mass is to read the readings before you come. 
FUNCTION: Engage in opportunities for spiritual growth like lectio divina.

          It’s a privilege to be here this weekend as your new pastor :)  This is an exciting opportunity for me, especially since I’m a brand-new pastor.  I’m pretty sure both Fr. Ray and Fr. Jose were both pastors before they were assigned as pastor of the St. LaSalle Pastorate.  So, you get to put up with a priest who’s still learning the ropes :)  Please be patient with me. :)  As I’m sure some of you are wondering, my last name is simply pronounced “Diehm” – one syllable.  It’s not “Di-ehm” or “Dime” or “De-ham” – just “Diehm,” one syllable.  And whereas the previous two priests both went by their first names, my preference is to go by my last name – so I prefer to be called “Fr. Diehm” rather than “Fr. Noah.”  Maybe it sounds a little formal, but you’ll soon discover I’m really not a terrible formal person, except when I need to be. 
          Before I talk about the great readings we have this weekend, I thought I’d take the time to introduce myself.  I was born and raised in Dubuque, and my parents still live there.  I was involved in Catholic education practically all my life – grade school, high school, college, and of course seminary.  After my four years of college at Clarke in Dubuque, I was in seminary for five years – I spent one year at Loras College (Iowa’s premiere Catholic college (: ) with the St. Pius X college seminary program, and then spent the next four years in southern Indiana at the Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology, where I was trained predominately by the Benedictine monks of the Saint Meinrad Archabbey in Saint Meinrad, IN.          
While I was getting my M. Div. (or Masters of Divinity, a ministerial degree that all priests have in one form or another), I was ordained a transitional deacon (which is the step immediately before being ordained a priest) on April 10th, 2010 and was then ordained a priest three years ago on June 25th, 2011 at the age of 27.  And I recently celebrated a birthday this past Tuesday (move day), and I’m now a very happy 31 year-old priest and your new pastor :)
          My appointment from the Archbishop as pastor is for a six-year term, with the possibility of being renewed once.  So, I look forward to spending at least six, if not twelve years with you here as Pastor of the St. LaSalle Pastorate and Pastoral Coordinator of LaSalle Catholic Schools.  You’ve been forewarned J  And during my time here, I look forward to visiting with many of you when you invite me to your house for supper (FYI – that’s a not-so-subtle suggestion (: ), or while having coffee with some of you after daily Mass, which I’ve been able to do this past week in Sherrill, Luxemburg, and Holy Cross.
          I’m a big fan of film and music.  I enjoy watching and playing basketball, although I haven’t played much basketball since I left seminary.  I’m an extrovert, but I’m usually ready to not see or talk to anybody after about 8:30 or 9 o’clock at night.  I plan to work hard in this assignment as your pastor, and I hope to be surrounded by other hard-working Catholics.  You’ll get to know me better once I’ve been here a little longer, and I look forward to building the kingdom of God here in our pastorate during my time as pastor :)

          Now for a few thoughts on the Sunday readings :)  I think the readings this weekend challenge us to think about how we receive (or fail to receive) God’s word spoken in our midst.  Please pardon me for using the long form of the Gospel but I thought it was worth it for us to hear the full passage.  Most of us – myself included – don’t often give enough consideration to the fact that when we hear the reader proclaim the readings, we’re actually listening not to the words of a human (although the Bible has many authors), but rather to the words of God.  Just think, at every Mass, it is God who speaks to us through His word.  We believe it’s His inspired word, because after every reading, we hear the reader say, “The word of the Lord,” or we hear the priest say, “The Gospel of the Lord.”  Of course, there was a human author who was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the sacred text; and because of that inspiration, we believe that it’s God who’s actually the author of the books of the Bible, such that it’s God who’s really speaking to us when we hear His word proclaimed.
          The Mass gives us the opportunity to hear the voice of God.  It’s a good to stop and consider how well we prepare ourselves to listen to His voice.  One good practice is going through the readings at home before you come to Mass, or arrive early enough that you can sit and read them before you hear them.  And if you’re technology-savvy, you might appreciate looking the readings up online, at the website,, or using any number of fancy “apps” to read the readings on a tablet such as the Apple iPad or the Kindle Fire.
          In my own preparation for preaching, I like to sit with the readings early on in the week (on Monday or Tuesday) and ask God what He wants to tell me, and what message He wants me to share with others.  If you ever wanted to better appreciate what a priest does, you might sit with the readings and think about what kind of homily you’d preach if you were the preacher.  Or maybe you just want to sit down, read the readings, and focus on 3-4 sentences that really speak to you.  That’s a practice commonly called “lectio divina,” in Latin, or “divine reading” in English.  It’s a practice of prayerfully reading the sacred words of the Bible and considering how God’s word might be applied to your life.    
          God is still speaking to the world, but we are often too busy or we don’t try to open the ears of our heart to listen to what He has to say.  We all need to take time to slow down and listen for the voice of God. 
          So I invite you to do that this week – take some time and prepare yourself to come to Mass next Sunday; read the readings before you get to Mass, or arrive early enough so that you can read them before you hear them; ask God what He wants to say to you; ask Him what He wants you to share with others.  When we open our ears to hear God’s word, we’ll probably be amazed at what we hear.                             

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

6th Sunday of Easter - A Reason for Your Hope

Location: Basilica of Saint Francis Xavier (Dyersville, IA) – 5 p.m. Saturday & 8:30 a.m. Sunday
                Saint Boniface Catholic Church (New Vienna, IA) – 10 a.m. Sunday
Date: Sunday May 25th (6th Sunday of Easter, Year A)

1st Reading: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
Resp. Psalm: Ps. 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
2nd Reading: 1 Peter 3:15-18
Gospel: John 14:15-21

FOCUS: Following St. Peter’s command, we should be prepared to explain and defend our faith.
FUNCTION: Attend the Cluster CRHP retreat; take time to read your Bible; learn your faith.

            Every once in a while, I’ll watch a TV show like Law & Order, and it’s always very fascinating; it’s interesting to see how the law gets played out (often in a dramatic way, but, hey, that’s TV).  Someone’s accused of a crime; one attorney in the legal drama is the prosecutor, who’s trying to bring about a conviction for the person charged with a crime, who’s known as the defendant; and it’s then up to the defense attorney to come up with an argument, testimony, and evidence about why the defendant should not be charged with the alleged crime.  Then the jury takes the testimony, the evidence, and the arguments presented by the prosecutor and the defense attorney, deliberates on it, and returns with a verdict of either guilty or not guilty regarding the alleged crimes.

          It’s exciting stuff; the lawyers have to be ready to give some good arguments about why someone should either be convicted or acquitted.  In a similar way, this weekend’s second reading says we should always be ready to give a defense for what we believe and why we believe it.  Obviously our defense or explanation won’t be quite as dramatic as the presentation by the defense attorney in a TV show like Law & Order, but it what’s we’re called to do, regardless.  St. Peter says, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence…” 
          This verse is often used as the basis for Catholic apologetics.  Now, the word “apologetics” doesn’t have anything to do with apologizing – we’re not called to go around saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry for being Catholic, this is just the way I was raised…..yeah, I’m sorry that we believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist…...yeah, I don’t know why we have a Pope, either…’re right, we do make too big a deal about Mary.”  No, no, no….nothing like that.  Apologetics is about offering up reasons – based on Scripture and Tradition – for why we believe what we believe.  This is something that we Catholics need to be able to do a much better job of.  Many of us don’t know our faith like we should.

          Yes, we believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, but we might not have any idea where to turn to in the Bible or the tradition of the Church for why we believe in the Real Presence; and to do that, we should be familiar with the Gospel of John, chapter 6, where Jesus speaks about Himself as the Bread of Life in His famous “Bread of Life discourse.”  And we should know about someone like St. Ignatius of Antioch (from the early 2nd century), who frequently talked about the Church’s faith in the Eucharist in his letters. 
          Likewise, we give Mary the highest honor after God Himself, but perhaps we can’t adequately explain why; and to do that, we should be familiar with the text of the Annunciation to Mary in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, and how the Archangel Gabriel addresses her as “full of grace,” and how that means that she’s been specially chosen by God and set apart in a special way to be the mother of His only-begotten Son; and we should probably know a little bit about her title, “Mother of God,” and how that title came about because the early Church Fathers in the 3rd and 4th centuries were trying to defend the divinity of Christ from heretics who tried to say that Jesus wasn’t actually God.
          Furthermore, we all know that we have a Pope, but we might now know why we have a Pope, and how that position in the Church came about; and to do that, we should be familiar with the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 16, and St. Peter’s confession about the identity of Jesus, and how Jesus named Him Peter and said that He would build His Church upon Peter, whose name means “Rock,” and how Jesus gave Peter the keys of the kingdom, giving Him the power to bind and loose.   And we should know about how St. Peter became the Bishop of Rome, and how successors were chosen after He died, and how the Church in Rome developed a primacy among Christians because of Peter’s authority among the apostles.

          The Eucharist, Mary, the Pope – these are just a few of the many topics that we should be able to talk about intelligently as Catholics; we should know our faith and be ready to give an explanation for our hope to people who ask.  How do we do that?  I think we all have to spend a little more time learning about our faith.  Maybe we need to spend a little more time reading our Bible; or listening to a good CD from Lighthouse Catholic Media; or reading a good Catholic book by someone like Scott Hahn or Patrick Madrid or Edward Sri or Brant Pitre; or visit a website like (the website for Catholic Answers) or (the website for Catholics United for the Faith) and read some of the content they offer.  There are so many ways we can grow in our faith.
          We must not be accidentally Catholic; we have to be intentionally Catholic – because we believe that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, that He founded the Church upon Peter, the first Pope, and that He died and rose from the dead, and sent His disciples out to preach to the whole world the truth of the Gospel and God’s plan of salvation.  That’s why we have to be intentionally Catholic; we have to know our own story; we should be familiar with our family history as Christians, as members of the Church, the family of God.  If we’re just going through the motions, then we’re missing the point.  Faith is something that either needs to be continually growing, or it will shrivel up; faith is like a plant – you have to water a plant in order to keep it alive; the point is, if our faith isn’t being nourished by continued learning, we shouldn’t be surprised if it feels kind of dead.
          One way to nourish your faith would be to get involved in the Cluster CHRP retreat – Christ Renews His Parish.  Many people have learned that when they started giving more to God, God gave them a lot more in return.  Is it a sacrifice?  Perhaps, because it means we’re not doing something else.  But could it be just what you need?  Absolutely.  Give God a little, and He can do great things. 
          I especially encourage our Catholic men to step up to the plate about attending the upcoming CHRP retreat, quit being afraid, and become the kind of spiritual leader that your wife and family and this community needs.  The point is this: if we know our faith, then we’ll always be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have in Christ.