Novena to Our Lady

The feast of St. Andrew, marks, the beginning of the nine days of special devotion (Novena) to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. It’s a great opportunity for us to show her our affection and love. Think of some prayers that will have a real effect on ourselves as we make our way through the Novena, and let’s be generous in our spirit of sacrifice as a sign of dedication to her and The Lord. For some inspiring ideas on living this Novena according to St. Josemaria, check out this PDFdownload

The Importance of Second Reactions


Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people:
“What is your opinion?
A man had two sons.
He came to the first and said,
‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’
He said in reply, ‘I will not, ‘
but afterwards changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order.
He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir, ‘but did not go.
Which of the two did his father’s will?”
They answered, “The first.”

This week’s Gospel (Matt 21: 28-32)  hinges on the delayed reaction of the first son, who changed his mind, and went out into the field as his father asked him. This son becomes a kind of hero in the parable because he is faithful. We, too, want always to be faithful, and we might find ourselves in similar circumstances of refusal, followed by a conversion of the moment, and then fulfilling God’s will in the end.

Isn’t it true that when faced by a difficulty in life, or an unexpected demand is placed upon us, we find ourselves in a position of rebellion? Why is this? It comes down to simple pride and humility. We go through our days building a kind of world of our making: work; family; recreation; free-time. Whenever that is interrupted we can easily rebel: “I will not go out to the field.” But this is usually just a first (prideful) reaction, and should not be taken too seriously as the final answer. Rather, one’s second reaction is usually the more humble, reflective, and considerate (“he changed his mind and went”).

The key to a proper second reaction is reflection. We need to pause, recollect ourselves, and then make a decision in favor of carrying out an act of service when asked for it. Let’s give ourselves a minute and reflect whenever we are approached with a new demand in our life of faith. Many times we are asked to “work in the vineyard today”; while our first reaction might be one of a rebellious “no!”, may our second reaction (the more important one because it is the reaction of conversion) be an action-item: like the faithful first son, may we always go out to the vineyard of the Lord.

Notes on Grace

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Contemplating the Hudson River the other day helped me realize that the Church Fathers were right to say the work of grace within each of us is greater than the whole work of creation. The justification of sinners transformed into loving Children of God is the greatest gift of all, and we are called to cherish and understand it the best we can. For some days in New York City I have been giving a course in Theological Anthropology, focusing on the workings of grace within us. If you have any interest in my class notes, click here on… GraceStudyNotes

Pastoral Days in the City

IMG_20170527_075050 (2)During the past few days I have been giving a Pastoral Theology class in the middle of Manhattan. It seems like just the right place take on such a project, as the “flock” of New York City needs attention and care just as much as those in the Midwest countryside, where I usually serve. So far, I have been struck by the amount of people “moving around, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36) but I am also moved by the fact that in city or in the country, we are all pretty much the same, and urgently in need of God’s mercy and a sense of community. The above picture of the Empire State Building was taken as I was on my way to celebrate Mass at an Opus Dei center near where I am staying. Although I like to be with all the people on the streets, still I enjoy the quiet and seeming emptiness of the streets in the morning. And speaking of buildings, I love how this panorama shot of the 9/11 Memorial seems to show the buildings around the memorial humbled and reverent.

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Into the Triduum

jesus-washes-his-disciples-feet_ethiopiaI love the Pascal Triduum (“three days” that are actually four days: Holy Thursday; Good Friday; Holy Saturday; and Easter Sunday) for many reasons. Of course, for Catholics, it is the holiest time of the liturgical year, when the ceremonies last long into the night, and special choirs and processions make their marks. This is really beautiful stuff. But it’s not only the ceremonies and celebrations that attract me. Rather, it’s some of the abrupt changes in my schedule and routines that I have come to appreciate. As a priest, this is expected; we need to be present at all the special ceremonies (on time!). But also, we priests need to be connected to the ‘ecclesial feeling’ that one should not be doing much else very distant from the holy Triduum. For example, Good Friday is not a good night for a popular comedy movie or maybe even watching a sporting event. It’s simply not a night for laughing and yelling, because the laughing and yelling remembered on Good Friday condemned Jesus to death. Likewise, Holy Saturday (sometimes referred to as “Black Saturday” commemorating Jesus’ burial) has always felt to me like a day to stay inside, or at least to not travel far.

It’s a good thing to be abruptly reminded that there are more important schedules out there than my own. Do yourself a favor in faith: consider cancelling some routine things in order to attend the Triduum ceremonies of the Lord’s Last Supper, his Passion and Death; and, of course the Vigil Mass of  his Glorious Resurrection. Help your friends and relatives get to these celebrations as well. Good Friday, for example, is often an excellent opportunity for many to receive God’s Mercy in the Sacrament of Confession. May we all celebrate these holy days in the spirit of the earliest Christians, the ones whose routine lives were forever upended by Our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection.


Some suggested Lenten sacrifices (guest blog)

This week, SheepTrick welcomes to the fields, Rev. Rene Schatteman, a priest of Opus Dei, who offers some practical suggestions for a Lenten strategy in ordinary life. Don’t choose them all, but hopefully you can find a number of sacrifices that will help you carry the Cross with Jesus this Lent…

crossOur Lord has said: “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Lk 9:23). And St. Paul has written: “With Christ I am nailed to the cross. It is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh, I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.”(Gal 2: 19-20)

In his Message for Lent 2015, Pope Francis has said: “Lent is a time of renewal for the whole Church, for each community and every believer. Above all it is a “time of grace” (2 Cor 6:2). God does not ask of us anything that he himself has not first given us. “We love because he first has loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). He is not aloof from us. Each one of us has a place in his heart. He knows us by name, he cares for us and he seeks us out whenever we turn away from him. He is interested in each of us; his love does not allow him to be indifferent to what happens to us….” And after giving a number of suggestions on how to combat what he terms “a globalization of indifference” he concludes: “During this Lent, then, brothers and sisters, let us all ask the Lord: ‘Fac cor nostrum secundum cor tuum’: Make our hearts like yours(Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). In this way we will receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart which is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference. It is my prayerful hope that this Lent will prove spiritually fruitful for each believer and every ecclesial community. I ask all of you to pray for me. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you.”

Our mother the Church gives us great freedom in selecting the ways in which we will deny ourselves, pray and show charity towards others. Here are some possible sacrifices; each person could freely choose to follow some of these points or formulate other resolutions in keeping with his/her age and circumstances.

Sacrifices in food: Fast; eat less; eat less of what I like most; eat more of what I like least; skip some condiment such as salt, sugar, ketchup, cream. Not eat in between meals. Hold off a few minutes before eating or drinking what is in front of me. Not take ice in drinks.

Sacrifices in rest: Go to bed on time; get up on time; skip naps.

Sacrifices in posture: Sit up straight; do not cross my legs; do not use the backrest.

Sacrifices in personal grooming: Take a cold shower; take a shorter shower; floss; keep use of the mirror to a minimum; offer use of the bathroom to others before taking my turn; clean up afterwards.

Sacrifices in entertainment: Limit TV watching or skip it for the duration of Lent; listen less to music; read more and better works; less use of video games or skip entirely. Avoid using the Internet without a clear, useful purpose; eliminate Internet surfing; cut back on texting, the use of social media and the need to respond to others instantly; refrain from constantly checking emails and news on line. Read only certain parts of the newspaper. Resolve not to look at billboards. Avoid shopping without a definite purpose. Try not to spend money.

Sacrifices in social settings and conversations: Think ahead and bring up good topics for conversations so as to avoid gossip and backbiting. Give others a chance to speak and listen to them attentively. Be courteous to other drivers. Don’t complain. Don’t blame others.

Consult your spouse; offer to do him/her one favor each day. Try to see the good in your spouse and compliment her/him more often; do the same for your children and for brothers and sisters. Use a cheerful tone of voice. Drop what you are doing to greet others in a friendly fashion. Have a great and blessed Lent!

Fr. Rene can be reached by email at

Be crafty this Lent


img_20170209_133519As Lent begins we consider what sacrifices will help us grow best in our love for the Cross of Jesus. Most people choose something to give up in the area of food and drink. This is natural and good because we eat frequently, and because personal likes and tastes are intense areas of potential self-indulgence. This doesn’t mean that all enjoyments have to go by the wayside during Lent. In fact, our mortifications (“self-death” practices) should be somewhat hidden, and our dispositions cheerful. On Ash Wednesday we hear The Lord’s admonition: “And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast” (Mt. 6:16).

So in addition to generous self-denial of personal comforts and tastes, an interesting sacrifice to consider is trying new things, and in particular new foods and drinks that aren’t part of our regular gastrological regimen. All the better if these new products please others around us and make them happy. For example, I recently discovered “craft” (specialty) sodas. There used to be many small soda companies, but most of these got pushed aside or ingested by the big companies. This is the way of business, of course. But now it is encouraging to see the rise of the “craft” products again, mainly beers and wines, but also sodas. So far, one of my favorites is an Akron, Ohio based company called “Norka” (Akron spelled backwards). There is also “Natrona” (a small town near Pittsburgh, not spelled backwards). Like all “craft” products, these sodas are more expensive than the popular name brand ones, but they also often taste better, and make great conversation starters as well, like local history and small business philosophies.

So whether you might be giving up the pleasures of alcoholic beverages or just want to try something different as a way of breaking from routine fasting practices, try something new this Lent, like craft sodas (in moderation!) which will bring a smile to your face, as well as those faces around you. Happy fasting!

Since first posting this article, a friend pointed me to Fitz’s pop products in St. Louis (yes, they say “pop” there). Enjoy this cool video of it’s root beer production and distribution. Sorry you can’t taste it here!