Fifteenth Sunday In Ordinary Time

Each year here at Sacred Heart we try to participate as a parish in a project outside of the church. In my first year, we helped Interfaith prepare some apartments for transitional housing, and last year we helped put a well in Bethlehem. We participate in these outreach efforts as a way of remembering that we are called to serve one another and that the Church is much larger than just our community here a Sacred Heart. Typically we dedicate the month of January to speaking about this project, catechesis about serving one another, and opportunities for people to donate financially to the project if they choose to do so.

For a variety of reasons this past year, that January push never materialized. I was a little bothered that it never happened, as I felt somewhat personally responsible, and was about to start kicking myself when the Lord in His mercy spoke through one of the parishioners. An opportunity came up to participate with Habitat for Humanity in building a house in the area. As a parish, we will have a chance to get involved in a variety of ways. During the month of July we will have our “House” in the back of the church for those who may want to contribute financially. As always there is no expectation that anyone give financially, but for some this is the best way to give of the gifts God has bestowed on them.

We will also have the opportunity to give of our time in the actual building of the house on one of the “build days” the parish has been assigned. We, along with a number of other organizations, will come together in helping to do the manual labor necessary for the construction of the house. Each group has been given a couple of days on which they provide labor for the day. The actual work we will participate in is sort of a grab bag, because the needs of construction don’t follow a strict schedule, but we do know that whatever we are asked to help with will be meaningful and appreciated. We will be having a number of informational sessions about the project as well as parish updates periodically to see how we have made a difference as a parish. It should prove to be a worthy task.

Prayers Always,

Fr. Joseph Altenhofen

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Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Brothers and Sisters, it is good to be back. As you all know, two weeks ago I was down in California on vacation with my brother. It was great! We woke up late everyday, had a leisurely morning, ate ice cream for breakfast (kids, that may sound awesome, but I can assure you if you do it more than two days in a row it’s not so awesome anymore), and played golf all day. We played two rounds of golf every day except one. My brother made the travel arrangements and had a special surprise waiting for us on our arrival—a convertible Camaro. The thing seriously looked like the Batmobile! Having the top down was a new experience full of surprises, including a slight burn on the top of my head the first day because I forgot to wear my hat on the ten minute drive to the course.

I had it all planned out in my mind that I would be prepped and ready after all this golf to win the Priest golf tournament this week at Ocean Shores, but the Lord had other plans. In His infinite wisdom He saw fit to have my clubs get lost on my return flight from California. No worries, I thought, I’ve been playing enough that I should be fine using my backup set. In my rush out the door I forgot them, which meant I had to use some third-string clubs borrowed from my father. They were a great set, but so different from mine that I spent too much time making up for little mistakes. Even so, I am proud to say I still won both of the long drive events, and with a borrowed driver no less.

Lots of changes coming upon us this week. As we all know, it is with a sad heart we say goodbye to our beloved Ruth Miller as she makes the move to St. Mary Parish in Anacortes. She will be sorely missed, but I have come to see the hand of God behind it all. I have decided to take my time and really pray about the best option going forward in filling Ruth’s position. For the interim, I have asked Melissa to step up a bit to take care of financial stuff and Rick to handle facilities, with the intent to have everything in place by September 1st. We also welcome our new PA for Evangelization this week, Andi Wells, who will be joining us from Oak Harbor area. She is about as kind as they come and I think she will shine in the position.

As stated earlier, with Newman out for the summer, we will have daily mass on Wednesday at 9am starting this week and continuing through the middle of September. With all the changeover adjustments will have to be made, but I am confident our parish will be in a great place moving forward. In my short time here I have realized one of Sacred Heart’s greatest attributes is the willingness of our parishioners to add their gifts to the mix. With all of us working together I’m sure we will be running strong in no time.

Prayers Always,
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen

 

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Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

 Recently the Holy Father made some comments about priests being “missionary disciples” in a “missionary church”.  Do we realize what that means?  Do we realize it applies to all of us?

It is easy to see the Church as a huge entity set in Her ways.  In reality we are all called to be missionaries in our daily lives.  While we easily think of missionary territory as Appalachia, areas of Central America, or parts of Africa, missionary territory is anywhere where the Word is not fully encountered by the residents. We are responsible for the future of the Church, and bringing the Gospel message to everyone is an ongoing responsibility.  Our missionary activity is also referred to as evangelization.

If we don’t live out our baptismal calling as disciples we have fallen short. In the Baptism Rite we are anointed as priests, with a lower case “p”.  This reference to “priest” is synonymous with “holy person”, one who belongs to the Church, a disciple of the Lord. 

If we don’t bring Christ into our daily lives and every encounter with another, than we are not being disciples.  The missionary idea is that we are always evolving, always growing, always desiring to help others enter into communion or relationship with our Lord. We are called as disciples to reach out to those we encounter and bring Christ into their lives.  We don’t need to get on a soap box, we don’t need to shout from the roof tops, we don’t need to drag them into church; we need to be authentic in our everyday lives and our everyday activities as Catholics.

Are you a Catholic all day, every day?  Do you represent Christ in your encounter with the cashier, the receptionist, the bus driver, the waitress/waiter?  If Christ was standing beside you as you interacted with another, would He be pleased with your actions?  If not, why not?

Our prayer lives dictate our actions. If we take the time to pray, to remember our relationship with our Lord and Savior, to remember that with Christ in our lives - we live more fully.  When we live more fully we are delighted in sharing our relationship with Christ with others.  Again, no need to hop on a soapbox, just live authentically as a Catholic. Remember the old song, “They will know we are Christians”?

Being new to the area, newer to the Parish, I don’t presume to know your relationship with the Lord, or how you live your lives.  I do know we are called to spread the Good News and we do that by being holy, prayerful, and loving to our fellow man.  Saint Francis suggested that we live the Gospel through our actions.  Who am I to disagree?

I wish you peace, Deacon Kevin

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Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ladies and gentlemen, we have successfully made it through another school year at WWU, which means I get to sit back, relax and have only one job for a few beautiful months. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love college ministry, but it’s good to take a break once in a while, something that unfortunately I’m not very good at. To this end I am leaving immediately following the 11:00 a.m. Mass today and heading for an airplane that will bring me to my poor man’s paradise with $20 golf and pizza by the slice for a buck. I have been sooooo waiting for this! Surprisingly enough even though I have been out of the office so much I haven’t gone on vacation since last October and it most definitely is time. I will be back for Masses next weekend and then I have the priest retreat at Ocean Shores, so it will be a great leisurely kick-off to a great summer of rest and recharge.

Each year for the last number of years, starting on the 21st of June, exactly  two weeks before the Fourth of July, the bishops of the United States have called on the people of God to prayer and sacrifice for religious freedom. This year their theme is “Freedom to Bear Witness.” In many places around the world, Christians and people of other faiths are not allowed to openly practice their faith because of governmental or societal pressures. The bishops ask that we might take the two weeks prior to our Independence Day to pray for those around the world, and also for the United States.

Often we forget our freedom of religious expression is eroding little by little and in subtle ways. Many children are afraid to pray at school, whereas fifty years ago prayer in the classroom, even in public schools, was commonplace. There are cases before the courts as we speak about whether a priest can be held in contempt of court for not relating information heard in the confessional, and many religious organizations have been forced to close their doors due to their refusal to submit to laws that they feel are contrary to their beliefs.

In many ways we here in the United States are the model for the rest of world as to what a truly free society looks like. Let us pray that we, as a people, think all things through to their logical end before we simply surrender to popular opinion. I’ve always wondered if I could get elected President by promising to give everyone in the U.S. a million dollars. It sounds like a great deal until you realize that doing something like that would ruin our financial infrastructure. A wise man once said, “A man is not truly free until he is no longer enslaved to his own passions.” There are prayer cards at the entry of the church to remind us to pray during this time. Pray that we may all find this freedom before the Lord returns.

Prayers Always,
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen

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Corpus Christi

This week in “How golf is like the spiritual life: the 150 yard shot.” Sometimes when talking about golf, people will want to know what clubs I use from various yardages. For instance: “Father, what club do you hit from 150 yards?” When I was younger this was a source of machismo--you wouldn’t want someone to be able to hit the ball farther than you do. Now though, I always answer the question with another question--"What’s the situation?" If the ball is in the middle of the fairway, on level ground, with no wind, on a summer’s day, I hit an 8 iron. But if it’s raining, cold. or uphill, I would hit a 7 iron. If I’m in the trees, I hit a punch 4 or even a topped driver; if I’m in the weeds I don’t hit anything. A lot depends on the situation I’m in.

I would say the spiritual life is very similar in a number of ways. Sometimes people ask, “Father, what do I say to my sister-in-law who has stopped going to Church?” Well, a lot depends on the situation. Why did she stop going to Church? If it’s because she got in an argument at coffee and donuts because some kid took the last sprinkle donut by knocking her son out of the way, the answer is going to be a lot different than if it’s because she thinks the Church is way off-base with their Athanasian proclamation of the consubstantial triune God. (Just checking to see who was paying attention last week.) Likewise if it’s because she doesn’t feel spiritually fed the answer is different than if it has to do with her feeling that God isn’t real because she has been sick for so long.

Sometimes people want me to tell them “Just do this,” when there really isn’t an answer to give. Just like on the golf course you have to take into account all your surroundings before you make a shot selection. This is the whole journey of the Christian life. Sometimes you just have to hit a lot of balls and look at the results to what might work best where. There is no way for a person to just pick up a club and perfectly do whatever the situation requires—this takes practice. Likewise with the spiritual life; the more you pray, the clearer things become. Plus, I’m pretty sure God is the best “Swing Coach” there is, so a few lessons under His tutelage should go a long way.

Prayers Always,
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen

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Trinity Sunday

 

Lately, I have had the occasion to talk with an unusually large number of people seeking validation. They have mostly been unplanned, casual occurrences at a party where someone sees your collar and recognizes you as a representative of the Church. (Come to think of it—that probably has never happened to any of you J.) You get what I mean, though. In our times there are so many things bombarding us at all times. We have to run the gamut of everything from religious affiliation to sexual orientation and everything in between, and we all just want to know where we fit in. I have recognized a common theme, though.

We all just want to be accepted and feel loved. This, in itself, is a good and holy desire. What I have noticed, though, is that many times we try and find this love and acceptance in things outside of God. St Paul tells us, “If God is for us who can be against us…what will separate us from the love of Christ?” In this he is couching our whole identity in the fact that God has loved us, end of story! If you think about it, it makes sense. As important as all our self-identifiers are, they can only lead to a partial identity. Political party will never bring you to perfect happiness, and race, color, creed or orientation will only be able to encompass a small facet of you, but the love of God is all pervasive.

If one truly recognized the love God has for them, they wouldn’t need the validation of His minister. If God is fine with what you believe or how you live or what you do, then what could I possibly say that would matter one way or the other? No--my guess is that all this identity crisis stems from something much deeper. I think deep down we might not all be sure that God does approve of what we believe, the way we live, or what we do. There really is only one answer to this. You have to ask Him! If you are really and truly talking to God He won’t lead you astray. If He tells you something is OK, why look any farther? You should be perfectly at peace. If peace isn’t there, maybe you need to ask Him again until you find it. He is not a God of anxiety, so whenever you find anxiety in life, that’s not God.

Prayers Always,
Fr Joseph Altenhofen 

 

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Pentecost Sunday

Dear friends in Christ,

It is with mixed feelings of sorrow and joy that I tell you I will be leaving my position as Parish Administrator at Sacred Heart and the Newman Center, effective June 30, 2015. 

I have accepted a wonderful opportunity to move to Anacortes and work as the Parish Administrator for St. Mary. During the past few months as I discerned this prospect, I experienced a constant and powerful feeling that God was calling me to serve his community at St. Mary. Of course, there was also the persuasive voice of Fr. Marion (Qui-Thac) Nguyen urging me along. I will begin at St. Mary during a time of transition for the parish: all the staff will be newly hired, including the priest, Fr. Mel Strazicich, so the possibilities for where God will lead us are very exciting.

I was thrilled to take this position at Sacred Heart in 2008, as it has always been my desire to minister in some capacity; to do so at my own parish was the icing on the cake! The bottom line is I love this job and my parish because I get to be with all of you as we do the work to build God’s kingdom and for his glory. That is not to say there haven’t been challenges along the way, but they were overshadowed by the accomplishments. During my seven years as the Parish Administrator, and twenty years as a parishioner at Sacred Heart, you have become my family. Working with you has strengthened my love for our faith, witnessed daily by your love for Jesus and one another. Thank you.

Over the last twenty years, we have worshiped with several pastors, each bringing their style and vision for the parish, beginning for me in 1995 with Fr. Gary Morelli, to Fr. Marion who hired me, and then to our wonderful current pastor, Fr. Joseph Altenhofen. This coming year will also be a time of transition here at Sacred Heart and the Newman Center. I have no doubt that with God’s help and your support, Fr. Joseph will continue to implement his vision for the future of Sacred Heart…you’re in good hands and I am truly blessed to call him friend. 

I am reminded of the verse from St. Paul’s letter to his brothers and sisters in Christ at Colissae: “whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. Be slaves of the Lord Christ.” Col 3:23-24.

Your servant,
Ruth Miller

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Ascension of the Lord

Sacred Heart is blessed to once again have a deacon, Deacon Kevin Bagley.

Growing up in an army family, Deacon Kevin has lived in Oklahoma, Texas, California, Kansas, Georgia, Colorado and Virginia, as well as three years in Naples, Italy. He married Donna in 1981, and the couple has lived in Oklahoma, South Carolina, Indiana, Ohio and Maryland. They moved to the Pacific Northwest in July, 2014, when Logos Bible Software hired Deacon Kevin to be the Director of Verbum, the Catholic division of the company.

Deacon Kevin has worked in retail management, served as a municipal police officer, and with the Department of Defense as a security specialist and criminal investigator.

Cardinal William H. Keeler ordained Deacon Kevin as a permanent Deacon on June 23, 2001 at The Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore. He assumed a full-time position as Pastoral Associate at Saint Clare Parish in Essex one week after ordination. In the fall of 2002 he became the temporary administrator of the Parish. Six months later, he was installed by Bishop William C. Newman as the Pastoral Life Director for a six year term the first Deacon in the Archdiocese to hold this title.  Deacon Kevin also served at Saint Leo the Great Parish in Baltimore, Maryland, until his departure to Washington State last summer.

Deacon Bagley holds a Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Central Oklahoma, a Master of Arts in Theology in Biblical Studies from Saint Mary's Seminary and University in Roland Park, Maryland, and a Doctor of Ministry specializing in Liturgy and Sacramental Theology from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He earned Professional Catechist and Professional Youth Minister Certifications from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and served as an instructor with their Church Leadership Institute for over five years.

He also served in the United States Coast Guard Reserve for eight years, and is currently in the Coast Guard Auxiliary. He is a Fourth Degree in the Knights of Columbus.

He is also the owner of Bagley Ministry, an apostolate dedicated to assisting the continuing formation of deacons and lay ecclesial ministers.

Deacon Kevin and Donna have four children and four grandchildren.

Make sure to say ’Hi’ when you see him.

Prayers Always,
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen

 

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Sixth Sunday of Easter

As I told you all last week, I am now finished with leadership classes which means the only remaining outside requirement for me is Spiritual director training. You all got sort of a raw deal because when I came to Sacred Heart, I still had to go to monthly “new priest” sessions down in Seattle as well. Over the last couple of years those sessions have tapered back and as of June I am no longer considered “New.” I have to laugh because I don’t know what they label me now—“Old”, “Used”, “Like new.” I could go on and on with the possibilities. So with all those classes, my presence here has been limited. Hopefully that will be improved as the only thing I have is the Spiritual director training.

I attended these last year as well, and it is by far the best program I have been involved in. Leadership classes were good, but the director training has not only nourished me, it has also begun to bear fruit in the parish. The program consists of three 5-day sessions a year in Chicago. One of the advantages of the program is that one of those 5-day sessions is a retreat, which I’m required to make each year anyway, so I won’t have to be gone from the parish at some other time. It’s like a two-for-one bonus for all of you here in Bellingham. This coming week is the May session for this training; I won’t be here during the week, but will be back for the weekend Masses, so you will only have a little time to miss me.

I’m happy to announce that I have found a Campus Minister for over at the Newman Center so I won’t have to be completely in charge over there. His name is Jonathon Baggett and right now he is finishing the school year at University of Boston, where he is currently a FOCUS missionary. He brings a depth of experience in the area of Evangelization that will be a great addition for the Newman ministry. For those of you who don’t know, FOCUS is an organization that specializes in bolstering campus ministry by 1:1 encounters on campus. So basically they are really good at striking up conversations and friendships that lead to a deepening of the faith. I also am happy, though a little delayed, to welcome Melissa Johnson as our new Administrative Assistant manning the front desk. She comes to us with vast experience, though minus the Scottish accent; I’m trying to teach her, but some things I think only Martha could handle. Make sure to pop in and say Hi.

Prayers Always,
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen

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Fifth Sunday of Easter

It’s official! As of last Thursday I am a certified leader. I concluded the last session of my leadership courses last week, and I have to say I feel way more competent than when I started. Coming to Sacred Heart three years ago, I would have said that I felt fairly competent in the Spiritual department, mostly competent in the social department and less than competent in the administrative department. Some of you may be nodding your heads saying now it makes sense why xyz happened. I’ve been told that admitting weakness doesn’t inspire trust in your followers, but I don’t think getting nailed to a cross would score high in that category either. You’ll all be happy to know that I am significantly more competent in all areas, which should bode well for our future here at Sacred Heart.

One of the most helpful pieces for me was a breakdown of personality types we did at the beginning of our classes. It suddenly became clear why people may act the way they do. I learned that some people just like to talk and that information isn’t always being passed on. I also learned that I am not one of those people, but that’s OK too. As I’m sure you all have noticed, I have also started to take better care of myself the longer I have been here. I learned in the early sessions that my go-to personality trait is to want to help everyone, which is great, until you wake up one morning and you can’t move because you’ve been running too fast, for too long. It turns out that being nice to people can sometimes work against you, but with better boundaries I think everything has leveled out and I think I have been smiling a lot more lately.

The lesson that will probably bear the most fruit for the parish as a whole is the one on collaborative governance. Coming in, I knew that what other people thought was important, and that I was in charge of everything. The problem was there was really no guidebook to the balancing of these two principals. I’ve spent some time over the last few years bouncing back and forth, but am pretty sure I found the best method with the team building structure we were given in the classes. It incorporates a huge amount of input from all participants, which is helpful in seeing all the options, but still ultimately comes back to me, as leader, for final approval and implementation. Once we have our Pastoral Council running to full capacity I think we will be in a place in which everyone’s voice is heard and decisions are truly made for the common good. Thank you for your support as I have learned these lessons.

Prayers Always,
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen

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Fourth Sunday of Easter

I knew a guy one time who loved to order stuff online. It wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary for him to receive several packages in one day. The trouble was that he was out of town a lot for work so the boxes and envelopes would pile up outside his door. You always knew when he had come back from a business trip because the three deep pile on the porch suddenly disappeared overnight. Then you knew when he was out of town again when the packages started clogging the walk like a Big Mac lover’s left ventricle. I don’t know how he even had time to use all the things he got because he wasn’t around much.

Sometimes I think we treat our spiritual lives like that guy and his packages. We come to the Sacraments and receive the grace, but it sort of sits outside on our doorstep until we are finally “home” in our connection to the Lord. Anyone who was Confirmed as a teen because that’s what their Mom wanted them to do, but who didn’t really practice their faith until they had kids, knows exactly what I’m talking about. You see, Sacraments always give grace regardless of our disposition. Jesus is present in the Eucharist just as much for a believer as for an unbeliever. Disposition DOES however dictate the effect the grace has on us.

If one is open to the grace and participates with it truly life changing things can happen. However, if one is closed off to the movements of the Spirit the grace is often left outside waiting until you “get home,” so to speak. I have, to some parents’ chagrin, always been opposed to making people receive Sacraments against their will. I have seen amazing things happen when people skipped Confirmation or First Communion as kids and came back later in life to receive them. The fact they waited until they truly felt God was calling to that allowed the grace to really permeate their souls.

This line of thought is also applicable to the average Catholic sitting in the pews on a weekly basis. Many of us have had the experience of engaging in a Bible study or catechesis session only to find that suddenly the faith is coming alive in a whole new way. That’s one of the best parts of our faith, you can dig as deep as you want and you’ll never run out of ways to experience the Lord anew each day. So dig deep, try hard, give all you got, because the more you put in the more you’ll get out of it.

Prayers Always,
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen

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Third Sunday of Easter

Growing up we only had four television channels—five, if one of us held the antenna at a certain angle, but we really didn’t like that channel anyways—plus we were limited on the amount we could watch, so we had lots of time for reading and playing outside. Growing up in a place where it rains, or at least drizzles 80% of the year, we had lots of inside time to fill, so I was quite a reader. Like most young boys I liked my ancient warrior books and I grew up on the Iliad and the Odyssey, in condensed form of course, King Arthur and the ancient Greek myths. These came to my mind recently.

As a Priest I am called on from time to time to listen as people pour out their sorrows. This can take place in all sorts of locale, though I have to say the airport terminal and the Wendy’s parking lot are a few of my favorites. Working on campus I have had an increased number of “my relationship fell apart” encounters over the last three years. The classic literature came to mind, because I have been consistently surprised by how quickly relationships move these days. In my books a guy would have to do a series of quests before he could even see the face of the princess and now sometimes all he has to do is smile right.

While I knew the stories were a little over the top I rather liked the heroic ideal of having to prove myself before I could gaze upon the beauty of the maiden. The problem for me was limiting myself to just one, I just like serving everyone, and I wasn’t sure how to find out if the princess already had a suitor. I kid you not, I was afraid I might have to fight someone if I stepped on the wrong toes. In my defense, anyone who has seen Disney’s Bambi knows precedent is set when Feline is all grown up and Bambi has to fight Bruno for her.

It’s not a “Macho” thing. Women are just as capable as men, sometimes more so, but I rather liked the idea that the girl would have some sort of expectations of what sort of guy was worth her time. I suppose you could say the same thing for everyone, that we shouldn’t settle, I guess I have had more encounters with the feminine side of things. It’s just hard to see people getting so hurt, because they were so hungry for love that they gave away the treasure they are as individuals without much of a quest. Ladies, and guys too I guess, I think requesting the head of a Minotaur or magic fruit is totally legitimate. You’re worth it! So don’t settle, expect great things from those you date or marry. Make sure they’re committed before you commit, you won’t regret it and it might just save you some pain.

Prayers Always,
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen

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Sunday of Divine Mercy

Today we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. Often people ask me what “Divine Mercy” is. What follows comes from an online resource that I found helpful. Divine Mercy comes from the diary of a young Polish nun, a special devotion began spreading throughout the world in the 1930s. The message is nothing new, but is a reminder of what the Church has always taught through scripture and tradition: that God is merciful and forgiving and that we, too, must show mercy and forgiveness. But in the Divine Mercy devotion, the message takes on a powerful new focus, calling people to a deeper understanding that God’s love is unlimited and available to everyone — especially the greatest sinners.

The message and devotion to Jesus as “
The Divine Mercy” is based on the writings of Saint Faustina Kowaleska, an uneducated Polish nun who, in obedience to her spiritual director, wrote a diary of about 600 pages recording the revelations she received about God’s mercy. Even before her death in 1938, the devotion to The Divine Mercy had begun to spread.

The message of mercy is that God loves us — all of us — no matter how great our sins. He wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. Thus, all will come to share His joy. It is a message we can call to mind simply by remembering ABC.

 A— Ask for His Mercy. God wants us to approach Him in prayer constantly, repenting of our sins and asking Him to pour His mercy out upon us and upon the whole world.

B— Be merciful. God wants us to receive His mercy and let it flow through us to others. He wants us to
extend love and forgiveness to others just as He does to us.

C Completely trust in Jesus. God wants us to know that the graces of His mercy are dependent upon our
trust. The more we trust in Jesus, the more we will receive.

Devotion to The Divine Mercy involves a total commitment to God as Mercy. It is a decision to trust completely in Him, to accept His mercy with thanksgiving, and to be merciful as He is merciful. The devotional practices proposed in the diary of Saint Faustina are completely in accordance with the teachings of the Church and are firmly rooted in the Gospel message of our Merciful Savior. Properly understood and implemented, they will help us grow as genuine followers of Christ. 

Prayers always,
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen     

 

 

 

 

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The Resurrection of the Lord

Have you wondered what the Blessed Mother was doing on the morning of Easter? Scripture says that Mary Magdalen and Mary the mother of James and Salome went to the tomb on the morning of the first day of the week; interestingly enough Mary the Mother of Jesus is not mentioned among them. Now I’m sure much holier and more intelligent people than myself have mused on this before, but so far I haven’t seen anything on the topic. It stands to reason that she would be at the tomb of her only son, especially since they didn’t have time to fully prepare Him for burial a few days earlier. The fact that she isn’t mentioned as one of the women present is particularly peculiar.

I’ve had the sad duty, in my short time as a priest, to walk with mothers who have lost their children, and it’s one of the most difficult things in the world. Add to the loss itself the fact that Mary’s son was beaten, spit on, nailed to a tree and then that she was prohibited from properly preparing him for burial for a couple of days, and you have the greatest motherly loss in the history of the world. I’ve grieved with mothers who struggle leaving the graves of their children period, so to have Mary not be mentioned as one of those present that morning ASAP on the first day of the week is incredible.

After thinking about it for quite some time I came up with two possible reasons, though I don’t really think either of them makes all that much sense. One is that He had visited her at home and appeared to her before He appeared to anyone else. This is all together possible, but I just can’t get over the fact that apparently she had never told anyone about it, as it is absent in all four Gospels. The other one is that as His perfect disciple she fully knew and believed that He had to suffer and would rise from the dead. This line of thought inspired quite an insight.

The question that kept popping into my mind was if she knew all this ahead of time, why was her reaction to all that happened to her son just like any mother’s? I think the question answers itself; her reaction was like that BECAUSE she was His mother. Fore-knowledge of a greater good coming from an event doesn’t eliminate the suffering that we feel as we walk with the person through the suffering. This speaks volumes for us as we go through life’s trials. Just because our faith tells us that there is something much better in Heaven doesn’t make the loss of a loved one any easier. Neither does it eliminate the suffering we feel here on earth; even Jesus wanted to “Have this cup pass from me if it be possible.” One would have to assume He knew what was coming.

Prayers always,
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen 

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Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Palm Sunday with the reading of the Passion narrative can sometimes take on kind of a dour tone so I thought a Jesus joke might lighten the mood a little. It also happens to be one of my favorite golf jokes as well, and it’s clean. So one day Jesus, Moses and an old man are playing golf. They spin the tee and Moses is first to hit. It’s a rather difficult hole as it is made up of a thin shoot of land surrounded on both sides by lakes. Now Moses, of course, has always struggled with a slice, and this time is no different. He rears back and pounds one straight down the middle, but it starts leaking right and tails off into the lake bordering the right side of the fairway. “No problem,” he says, “I’ll just part the water and I should have a clear shot to the green from there.”

Jesus is up next, and as perfect God and perfect man, he plays the low hook for maximum roll. A true traditionalist, he still plays forged blades, no cavity backs for this guy. There is a slight breeze, so he decides to go with a one iron but catches it a little off the toe (apparently not even God can hit a one iron). The ball starts off left of center, but after bouncing twice it skips into the water about ten feet from the left side of the fairway. “No problem,” He says, “I can just walk out there and it shouldn’t be too hard of a shot to the green from there.”

Now it’s the old man’s turn, and he sort of hobbles up to the tee box with a wooden club that looks like it has been around from the foundation of the world. After watching his playing partners both go in the water after having aimed at the center of the fairway, he decides to go with a different strategy. He points straight left aiming for the spot where Christ’s ball had just come to rest. Jesus and Moses both snicker a little as the old man waggles his club head a few times. He then sort of chops at the ball with a quick chaotic movement and all watch as the ball heads straight for the water.

Just as it’s about to splash down a big-mouth bass leaps out of the water and swallows the ball, leaving everyone wide eyed. As if that’s not enough, as the bass descends with its prize a bald eagle swoops down, talons bared, and grabs the bass for a satisfying meal. With a few flaps of its wings it rises up again and makes a beeline for its nest at the far end of the hole. All of a sudden there is a flash of lightening and the sound of thunder, and a few feathers and some smoke are all that’s left of Mr. Baldy. The bass falls out of the sky, and with a hollow thud lands next to the green. The ball pops out of its mouth, trickles down the hill and stops at the edge of the hole. It teeters for a moment before a slight gust of wind tips it into the hole. Jesus turns to the old man and says, “See Dad, that’s why no one wants to play with you.” 

Prayers always,
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen     

 

 

 

 

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Fifth Sunday of Lent

As any good leader can tell you, the vision of the leader means nothing unless the followers make it their own. So while I have no doubt that my vision, of having all of Bellingham attending Sacred Heart, is accepted by all of you, it will be merely a pipedream unless the parish as a whole can take it up personally. With this in mind I will be reformatting the way I use the Pastoral Council here at Sacred Heart. In my first three years here I haven’t used the council as effectively as I could have, and I recognize that. The council is supposed to be a representative body that advises me on parish issues and policies. While the council we have now does this I have used them neither often nor to their full depth. I have also done a poor job of letting the parish know who is on the council, which significantly limits the impact they can have. If I want all of Bellingham to join us here we’d better start making this machine work to full capacity.

Our first order of business is to fill out the roll of the Pastoral Council and make them all visible to the parish. I will be putting all their names and pictures up on the bulletin board in the back of the church and encourage all of you to get to know them as they will be your representatives in helping to form who we are and what we do as a parish. Our current members are Doug Burghart, Kathy Stambaugh, Margaret Karcher, David Day and Audrey Jabbora. Starting in the next couple of weeks I will be inviting more people to join the council as I would like to round out the number of members to eight, which would give us enough depth that meetings would still have a good number even if someone can’t make it.

I would like to have the council formed and running by next September so that we are in a good place when we all start transitioning out of summer mode. This new council will be instrumental in creating goals for the parish as a whole, and also with helping to name parish priorities. One of the greatest pitfalls of an organization like the Church is that we try and do everything, and things don’t always get done well. By limiting ourselves to five or six real priorities we will be able to focus our energy and really pour ourselves out so that things are done well, and within a reasonable time frame. This will then allow us to move on to other priorities, and we will actually end up accomplishing more. This is an exciting time for our parish and I look forward to helping facilitate the parish’s efforts to be Christ for the world.

Prayers always,
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen

 

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Fourth Sunday of Lent

 Some of you may have noticed, but only if you got reeeeal close, that I have started to sprout a beard. The Newman students are always on me about possibly growing one out; I figured it would be a good Lenten penance both for me and for you, because you have to look at it. I tried last year during Lent but Mom caught me after about a month. At the time none of you were able to see it, because my hair is invisible until about ¼ inch or so. Last year even 26 days wasn’t long enough to get that much growth, so I’m sure most of you never even noticed. This year I increased my protein intake to make another go at it. Last Monday Mom saw it and said nothing, so now it’s around until Easter.

Before anyone gets any ideas I just want you all to know that come Easter it’s gone. I have no intention of keeping it a day longer. It makes my face itch and holds in heat, and in case you haven’t noticed the majority of my blood is usually in my cheeks, so I don’t need the extra warmth. Also, I actually don’t mind when people still think I’m in high school; if I breathe in on a helium balloon beforehand I can still get junior rates at the golf course. Plus, I’m pretty sure that if I let it stay I’ll have to start taking care of it, and I try and keep my hair maintenance to a minimum.

In other news, I leave next Saturday early, early, for the annual Newman Center mission trip to Mexico. This year we are only working with Esperanza, where we help build houses, and not Casa del Migrante, the center for recently deported men. This means the whole group will stay together, which makes life a little less hectic for me. Last year I had to be driven back and forth so that both groups could share in my presence. I’ll be out through the following Saturday and plan on being back home for the Vigil Mass for Palm Sunday.

Continuing along the Newman Center vein, Rachael Becker announced earlier that this year would be her last as Campus Minister. The plan was to make it through the school year and then do a changeover of ministers. Our plans got pushed up a bit when Rachael accepted a position at the Archdiocese of Seattle as the Assistant Director of Youth Ministry. We’re sad to see her go, and are hugely thankful for her nine years of service here in Bellingham. I think she is ready for the new challenges and we are looking forward to the future as well. My plan is to try and hire a new Campus Minister by the end of June, and until then I’ll have to rely more on my current Peer Ministers. This is an exciting time for the Sacred Heart/Newman community.

Prayers Always,
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen

 

 

 

 

 

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Third Sunday of Lent

It was quite fortuitous that I put stuff in the bulletin last week concerning my vision for the parish. I had to write it up before I went to leadership training because I knew I would be too busy during the week. Then they spent the whole week telling us how important it was for the leader of a corporation to both have a vision and communicate it to those in the organization. I couldn’t believe it, talk about the Holy Spirit moving! Hopefully it bodes of good things to come. 

Growing up I had the privilege of being right in the middle of the golden age of Disney animated film. The Lion King came out when I was in middle school and my cousin and I saw it like four times. One scene has always stood out for me. Simba, has run away from home after his father’s death and grown up with the freestyling Timon and Pumba, forsaking his birthright as the king of the savannah. His people are in need of a leader and Raficki, the baboon, his trusted servant, goes looking for him.

The scene that sticks out is right after the young prince has been located and is asked to come back. The lad is understandably confused and is wandering the wilderness looking for clarity, when a voice from the Heavens speaks to him. The voice, that of his father, tells him (and this is my favorite part) to, “Remember who you are, you are my son and the one true king…remember, remember” and it fades out. Totally epic! Simba realizes that he has to return and the kingdom is restored, the evil uncle defeated, and everyone is happy.

That scene has stuck in my mind because of its Christological significance. Simba is just like one of us, lost in this world yet the heir to something amazing. That voice from heaven is so much like our heavenly Father calling out to us reminding us to remember who we are. We are made in His image and likeness and made for great things, yet many times we prefer the carefree life we think we can have by running away. The only problem is that it is not true! We are so necessary for the great plan of salvation and we need to return to fill our role.

I have used this scene a variety of times throughout my life to both remind and bolster fellow travelers on the road of salvation. With identity fully restored there isn’t anything that can hold us down. Like our second reading last week “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Remember who you are, you are my son and the one true king. Through our baptism this statement becomes true of us. Washed in the blood of the lamb we become the beloved Son and our glorious birthright is restored. So let us remember, remember, remember…

Prayers Always,
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen

 

 

 

 

 

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Second Sunday of Lent

Someone asked me what my vision for the parish is and I told them that I would have to get back to them on that one. I’m sorry to say it, but that was last year. At the time I legitimately was on my way to somewhere and didn’t feel I had the time to give the subject due diligence, but the more I thought about it the more I realized how far from a crystallized vision I had. Sacred Heart is both blessed and cursed with being a mid-size parish with fairly stable annual income. Blessed, because it allows for intimate liturgical celebration as well as a small community hospitality and feel; cursed, because it has the perfect makings of a first pastorship for priests that are recently ordained. This has led to a large priest turnover in the last decade and a half as pastors have been moved just when you had gotten them all trained. Thankfully, I expect that trend to end with me as I have a strong feeling I’ll be here for a while.

 Still I did come to you recently minted and so you have had to bear with some of my “new priest” foibles, lack of a set vision being only one of them. After some prayer and thought I think I am ready to answer that question from last year. I have often told you in homilies that I want all of Bellingham to come to Sacred Heart and that I have plans to extend the Church across the street via a sky bridge, and that is no exaggeration, except for maybe the sky bridge part. As Christians we have been given a simple instruction by the Master Himself to “Go and baptize all nations,” and we have to take Him at His word. It is then our duty to take the gospel with us wherever we go, into the work place, at the gym and to the grocery store.

 My vision is for Sacred Heart to be a place where the love of God is fostered, shared and lived. This is no small feat, considering that it demands total holiness on the part of every parishioner, but you’re up to the challenge. It would be my expectation then that every parishioner would be comfortable and competent enough to share the faith with those they come in contact with. I’m not talking beat people over the head with scripture verses or abrasive Catholicism, but like an exuberant mother showing baby pictures, like we have talked about before. If you can fill in the blank, “I like Jesus because…,” you are well on your way to being the perfect parishioner.

 Here at Sacred Heart we don’t expect perfection, but we do expect exertion. I don’t want you to pray because I told you to, or come to Mass because it’s sinful to miss. No, I want you to pray and come to Mass because you can’t really know Jesus if you don’t talk to Him and like going to your friend’s house. I want all of you to be able to invite everyone you know to come be part of our community. We are only responsible for bringing them to the Master, He takes it from there. Let’s be a community where Christ isn’t just alluded to, but is encountered.   
Prayers Always,
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen

 

 

 

 

 

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First Sunday in Lent

My grandfather would be thoroughly disappointed in me. As I have told you all before, growing up he always told me that any priest that doesn’t celebrate Mass for his people on a federal holiday should be drug out into the street and horsewhipped. Well last Monday was President’s day and guess who forgot? That’s right, that would be me! Now I have two things that could possibly go in my favor. First I did celebrate Mass, just not for the entire parish so I may have at least fulfilled the spirit of the law. Secondly, and this one is more of a stretch, only one of our presidents has been Catholic and grandpa didn’t like Kennedy stating, “He wasn’t much of a Catholic anyways, his life wasn’t much of a testament to the Gospel.” I’m sure some of you out there liked JFK and I do have to say that gramps was the only Catholic I have ever known who didn’t like him, but I’m hoping this once that gramps’ dislike may get me a pass. Needless to say I won’t miss another federal holiday.

 In other news, Lent has begun. This means the return of soup suppers on Tuesdays following the 6:00 p.m. Mass starting this week. As we have done in the past each week a different group from the parish will be taking the lead by providing soup and service. We will start the meal with a time for fellowship and then from time to time we will offer opportunities for catechesis on social justice issues led by members of the social justice committee. We, of course, still invite everyone to RCIA catechesis sessions, they run from 7:00-8:30 p.m., with our typical Lenten program on the Ten Commandments.

 Lent also means Stations of the Cross at 7:00 p.m. on Fridays. I’ll try and be there as often as I can to hear confessions beforehand as reconciliation is an important piece of our Lenten journey. I have been disappointed with not being able to provide as many hours of confession time as we have in the past. The recent cut back I made has helped my health. Please pray to the Lord that I may remember that I am only a tool and He really does all the ministering.

 I will be out this week at leadership training, I only have a few sessions to go before I graduate and you all have a certified leader; I hope you are satisfied with the results. So far I have learned how to lead myself (the hardest task), lead others, small groups and now we are going into corporations and across business relationships. I don’t feel much like a CEO, but apparently the training is similar. From the experience I have been given some insight into what may benefit our parish most and have some exciting ideas floating around in my head. I want to run them past the Pastoral Council before I go widespread with details, but I hope to soon be able to get going.

 Prayers Always,
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen

 

 

 

 

 

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