Dear Friends,

It’s been just over thirteen years now since the death of Pope Saint John Paul II. He died on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday. For twenty-seven years he guided the Church and historians say that he was instrumental in the downfall of communism. With vigor and zeal he brought the Gospel message to all the populated continents of the world. But to understand this great pope we have to understand the world in which he grew up. Poland is a nation that’s suffered greatly through the centuries. Not once, but twice, it was obliterated from the map of Europe. No sooner was the world recovering from the horror of the First World War, when it was then plunged into the horror of the Second World War. Poland was home to many concentration camps and communism tried to instill itself into its very core.

This is the world into which St. John Paul was born and raised. Communists might try to overpower the nation, but it would never take Poland’s
faith. This faith carried the people through a most terrible of times. In 1905 it was into this same world that St. Faustina was born. The
experiences of our Holy Father were most surely the same experiences of this simple, Polish nun.

Born in Lodz, Poland Faustina or Helena as she was known then first felt the call to religious life at the age of seven while praying before the
Blessed Sacrament. At the age of nineteen she moved to Warsaw to join a religious community. She did no research she just got on a train
and went to Warsaw. She had no money. She visited different convents trying to see who would take her. She was rejected many times, but
eventually the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy decided to give her a chance, provided she could pay for her own habit.

At this convent Helena did the cooking, the cleaning, and the gardening. After a year she was formally accepted and she took the name Maria
Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament. The name Faustina means fortunate or blessed one. In February of 1931 she had her first vision of Jesus.
He appeared to her as the King of Divine Mercy, wearing a white garment with rays of white and red light emanating from his wounded heart.
Our Lord told her that she was to have an image painted according to this pattern with the inscription: “Jesus I trust in you.” She was also to
make known to the world that God’s mercy is unfathomable and unlimited and that the first Sunday after Easter is to be the Feast of Mercy.
Divine Mercy Sunday.

A nun for just over ten years Saint Faustina died in 1938 at the age of thirty-three. She was to be the first saint canonized in the 21st century
and at the Mass of Canonization St. Pope John Paul stated that: “By Divine Providence, the life of this humble daughter of Poland was
completely linked with the history of the twentieth century. In fact, it was between the First and Second World Wars, that Christ entrusted
His message to her. Those who remember, who were witnesses and participants in the events of those years, and the horrible
sufferings they caused for millions of people, know well how necessary was this message of mercy.”

As we look at the world around us, we are living through some of the same realities that have gone on before us: war, terrorism, tragedies, and
famine. The feeling of insecurity within us and around us is still very real. And, yet this also is a time of mercy. Mercy is a part of our faith
and the rays of God’s mercy are what give us hope. And the role of St. Faustina was simply to draw attention, in a very spectacular way, to the
truth that God is the God of Mercy, and, that Jesus Christ is our merciful Savior.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus appears to the disciple in the room where they were hiding in fear for their lives, and he greets them with the words,
“Peace be with you.” Not only are they filled with fear, but they are also filled with shame and guilt, for they recognize their sin in the presence
of the Risen Lord. They had abandoned him but Jesus doesn’t take the opportunity to scold or condemn them. Instead he greets them
with peace. This is the mercy of the Risen Jesus. At the very moment that the Apostles are supremely conscious of their weakness, when they
are filled with shame and guilt, this is the very same moment that Jesus chooses to communicate, his power, to communicate his mercy, and to
communicate his love. This is exactly what happens in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; we come to the Lord with our sins; he shows us his
mercy, and he gives us his peace.

Today, we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. And to put it simply divine mercy is God’s love for us in the face of our weakness; God’s love as
it comes in to contact with our sins, obliterating them; Divine Mercy is God’s love as it reaches down and touches our needs. And such a great
gift requires three responses on our part. The first is gratitude, we thank him always. The second is trust, we trust God in everything. And
third, if we have received mercy, then we must show mercy. If we have been forgiven then we must forgive. There is no other way.
We are living in a world that so desperately needs the mercy of God. The face of suffering that St. John Paul and St. Faustina witnessed is still
seen today. But we are a people of hope. The same faith that sustained countless numbers of our fellow human beings throughout history is
the same faith that brings us together today. The wounds borne by Christ risen and glorified are visible signs of suffering and death. And
these visible signs of suffering and death have been transformed into channels through which the grace of God flows out to lift the world from
darkness to light. And this is the message of divine mercy.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

While in the seminary I and a few friends went to a Ukrainian Rite Catholic Mass. Ukrainian Rite Catholics are in communion with the Pope so we are free to attend Mass at their churches. All the prayers and hymns were in Ukrainian. There was lots of incense, bells were rung many times and the priest celebrated Mass with his back to us. After Mass we were invited to the basement for coffee and donuts. The Priest and the tiny community couldn’t have been more friendly or welcoming. What I remember most about that Mass was communion time. The altar bread they used for consecration was cut into tiny little cubes. And when we went up to receive communion the priest gave us communion on a tiny spoon. After placing the body of Christ into the precious blood we received the Eucharist on that tiny spoon by tilting our heads back and opening our mouths wide. And the priest placed the Eucharist into our mouth. Walking back to the pew I couldn’t help but think about how baby birds open their mouths in the very same way when they are being fed. And so back at my pew I meditated on that. And maybe that’s weird, or maybe not. After all, our Lord is sometimes represented by the symbol of a Pelican. We have one on our tabernacle. The pelican is always shown surrounded by its babies. Ancient men and women once thought that in times of famine when food was scarce pelicans would pick at their breasts until they bled. The blood was then used to feed the hungry babies. So we can see how the pelican came to represent Christ who feeds us with his blood, who fills us with his precious blood.

Now what made me think of baby birds as I was walking back to my pew in that Ukrainian church was a pair of barn swallows that would build their nest every summer on the lamp next to our front door. They were very messy and my mom always threatened to knock the nest down, babies and all. But I always promised to clean up after them. And I eventually did. As a youngster I was very fascinated by this little family of birds I’d watch them unseen from the window for long stretches of time. And one thing I noticed about those baby birds was the size of their mouths. They were huge, and when they were opened up wide, compared to the rest of the body the mouth was greatly out of proportion. And to look into those mouths was to see a whole lot of emptiness just waiting to be filled.

Now our goal during these forty days of lent is to open ourselves up wide, and to empty ourselves of any sinful disorder so that we can be filled by our Lord, we want to create a whole lot of emptiness so that we can be filled by our Lord’s grace. Now we are at the beginning of this forty day period and last week someone asked, “Why forty days in Lent?” When we look at the number forty we see it repeated often in scripture. It rained for forty days and forty nights. Moses was up on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments for forty days. The Israelites wandered around the desert for forty years. All of these forties are a necessary and not so comfortable prelude
preparing for something new to take place.

It’s very interesting that it takes forty weeks for a baby to develop. It takes forty weeks before new life can emerge from the womb. In Noah’s case it’s the rebirth of a sinful world that had been cleansed by the raging flood waters. In Moses’ case it was the birth of the people of the covenant. For the nomadic Israelites it was the start of a new and settled existence in the Promised Land. And for Jesus his forty days in the desert prepared him for his public ministry of proclaiming the Gospel of New life with our Father in Heaven. A new life reconciled from sin.

Jesus went into the waste of the desert to make it once again a garden of paradise. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, once lived in that garden but their sin took that garden from them and turned it into the desert, a desert with hatred, division, violence, and a lack of love. But Jesus came and went into that desert to make it a garden again. From the very beginning God intended a garden for all of us he intended for us a life in the good, a life in the right, and a life lived in justice. He intended a rich garden for every one of us. A remnant of that Garden, the good that God created, was saved on the Ark but our Lord now is the definitive Ark. In his person creation is remade in his image. The wild beast and the angel the bodily and the spiritual are joined together anew.

St. Athanasius once wrote that, “God became man so that men might be made God.” God had divinized us by uniting us with Christ in baptism. Just as Jesus took on our human flesh, so it is God’s plan that we humans would take on Jesus’ divine likeness. This doesn’t mean we become little gods, it means that God’s Holy Spirit can transform us can transform us so much that we begin to think and act, to live and to love just as Jesus did. When Jesus took on human nature, he not only lowered himself to become like us; he also raised us up to become like him.

So during these forty days we sit with Jesus in prayer, we go to him in the Sacraments and we fast from whatever distracts us we fast from whatever makes our soul a desert. We fast from judging, gossiping, anger, bitterness we fast from whatever distracts us from God so that we create a whole lot of emptiness and longing within our soul, opening ourselves up wide to be filled with God’s garden of grace and power. To be filled with God’s own life.

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Are you a caregiver for a parent, relative, or friend? The Friends
of St. John the Caregiver will meet at 6pm on Wednesday, Feb. 7
in the St. Philip parish center. For more information contact John
Grap at 269-213-7604,, or on Facebook.
But you, O LORD, are my shield; my glory, you lift up my
head! When I call out to the LORD, he answers me from his holy
mountain. – from Psalm 3

The Tri-Parish Pro-Life Ministry will hold their next meeting on
Thursday, February 15th, at 7:00 pm in the St. Joseph Parish Center
Board Room. We hope you can join us for a report on the March for
Life and to discuss plans for our Spring and Fall events. Come and
meet our new Co-Presidents, Karen Rabineau and Julie Staab.

The annual Lenten luncheons will be held
at St. Jerome Parish Hall in Battle Creek
every Wednesday from February 14th
through March 21st . There will be a Mass
celebrated by Father James Richardson
on Wednesday, February 14th (Ash
Wednesday) at 11:000 a.m. with the distribution
of ashes. The other Lenten
luncheon Masses will begin at 10:45 a.m.
The speaker of the day will begin his address following the celebration
of the Mass with a light lunch following the presentation.
There is no charge for these events, but a free will offering would
be appreciated

2018 Speakers

February 14 Father James Richardson (St. Mary Parish, Kalamazoo)
February 21 Father Patrick Murphy (V. A. Medical Center, Battle Creek)
February 28 Bishop Paul Bradley (Diocese of Kalamazoo)
March 7 Father Thomas McNally ( St. Augustine Cathedral, Kalamazoo)
March 14 Father Bill Jacobs (St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Portage)
March 21 Father John Fleckenstein (St. Philip Parish, Battle Creek)
Please join us for these inspirational talks about the Lenten season adn enjoyo food and fellowship

Abstinence from eating meat is to be observed by all those 14
and above on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays
in Lent. On Fridays outside Lent, they may substitute another
penitential act in place of abstinence.
Fasting is required of those 18 to 60 on Ash Wednesday and
Good Friday. The USCCB has defined fasting in the United
States as one full meal and two smaller meals not equaling
another full meal together. Snacking is not permitted.
People may be excused from these practices for certain reasons,
e.g. pregnant mothers.

Dear Friends,

In Scotland in the 1600s Catholics were persecuted, both priests and laity had to flee the country or go
into hiding to avoid imprisonment or even death. One day a Bishop wanted to explore his diocese to see who was left of
his flock, and to see how they were faring. And so there he was walking from village to village in the mountains, dressed
like a poor farmer to escape capture. It was winter, and as the sun went down he became lost among the snow covered
hills. Almost exhausted with wandering, he finally saw a dim light in the distance, and made his way towards it. It was a
poor cottage on the edge of the woods; he knocked on the door. The family welcomed him, warmed him at their fire, and
prepared him some food. They were extremely kind and hospitable, and as he ate their delicious food, they conversed politely
and pleasantly. He didn’t see any crucifix or image of Mary in the house, so he concluded they weren’t Catholic. He
didn’t bring up the topic of religion.

As the Bishop sat there he noticed that the family seemed sad underneath their good-natured hospitality. And so he asked
about this, and the mother explained that in the back room, on a bed of straw her father lay dying, but he refused to admit it,
and so he was not preparing himself well for death. The visitor offered to speak with him, and he was led to the back room.
Sure enough, the old man lay there, feeble and clearly dying. The bishop offered words of sympathy, but the old man
seemed to regain strength and said, “No sir, I am not yet going to die. That is impossible.” The disguised bishop asked
why he was so sure, and after hemming and hawing, the old man asked quietly if the visitor was Catholic.

Assured that he was, the dying man gave this explanation. “I also am a Catholic. From the day of my first Communion
until now I have never failed even for a single day to pray to Our Blessed Lady for the grace of not dying without first having
a priest at my bedside to hear my confession and give me the Last Sacraments.” “Now sir, do you think that my heavenly
Mother will not hear me? Impossible! So I am not going to die till some priest comes to visit me.” Tears rolled down
the bishop’s face as he realized that he was God’s faithful answer to this man’s humble and confident prayer. This dying
man in the presence of God’s representative was an example of humility and confidence. He spent his whole life in humble
confidence before God.

Our leper today in the Gospel is also an example of humility and confidence; in fact, he’s very confident. He rushes to Jesus
without even shouting out that he’s unclean. To the first century Jew this would be seen as an act of aggression. Any
leper of that time was to avoid society and if someone inadvertently approached a leper, the leper was to warn him by
shouting, “unclean, unclean!” Yet this leper sees something in Jesus, he sees something extraordinary, he sees the person
where divinity and humanity meet. And so in confident humility he kneels before Jesus asking to be made clean. He says,
“if you wish, you can make me clean.” He appeals to the will of Jesus just like any Israelite would appeal to the will of
God. The leper is confident that this is God standing in front of him.

Now like the old man and the leper we too want to grow in confident humility before God. And there are three things that
we can practice in order to grow in humility and confidence. First, thank God at the end of every day. Focus on the gifts
he’s given throughout the day, and throughout your life. Thank Him for opportunities, for friendships, and for graces. Doing
this we put everything into proper perspective, gratitude reminds us of God’s unbounded goodness, and of our childlike
dependence on Him. Second, be the first to say sorry. Conflicts between two people are almost always the fault of both
people involved, at least a little bit. When we take the first step to make peace, we are following in the footsteps of Christ
himself. And third, go to the sacrament of confession. This is the best exercise because it was invented by God himself.
Confession is the perfect imitation of the leper’s encounter with Jesus. Everything the leper did, we do, every time we go
to confession. We kneel there asking to be made clean.

As sinners we are meant to approach Jesus with confidence. Jesus doesn’t step back when we approach in our sinfulness,
he’s moved with pity and he stretches out his hand to heal us. The Church is the mystical body of Christ it’s the extension
of Christ’s incarnation into our space and time and through the sacraments our Lord’s hand still reaches out to heal us. Let
us always humbly and repeatedly approach Him without fear.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Permanent adorers needed for Sacred Heart Adoration Chapel (Seton Center):
Wednesday 4-5 p.m.
Thursday 8-9 a.m.
Friday 1-2 p.m.

Dear Friends,

Every fall the Kalamazoo Diocese holds a priestly convocation. This is a meeting of all the priests of our diocese
and the Bishop. The meeting is usually held in Cadillac or at a retreat center. These meetings are used to help us learn where speakers
are invited in to teach. These meetings also help the priests and Bishop to better know one another and to build fraternity. And there’s
always good food.

I went to my first convocation soon after my ordination. I had a great time, mostly. As is the custom in this Diocese the newly ordained
is usually the main celebrant for one of the daily Masses during the week. No pressure there, you’re preaching to the Bishop and
fifty other seasoned priests. I had a month and a half of experience under my belt, no problem. On my day to preside, it was the feast
of St. Pio and in my homily I talked about St. Pio and how he was a good role model. No one could disagree with that. The homily
went fine there were a few smiles and a few laughs at the appropriate times. And there were no grimaces or scowls, so far so good.

When I got to the prayers of the faithful, however, I realized that I’d forgotten them in my room. I was in a panic for a second, but
that’s ok, I said a quick prayer to the Holy Spirit and made up the prayers on the spot. They were fine they didn’t sound too weird. The
Mass was going beautifully, the Bishop was smiling.

Now there’s a saying I learned in seminary, “The only perfect liturgy is in Heaven.” And there’s a good reason for this saying. Because
after finishing the Consecration, not mispronouncing a single word, something awful happened, something I never would have
imagined. In all the scenarios of what could go wrong I never imagined this. The altar collapsed. I don’t know why it fell but it did.
And the precious blood spilled everywhere. This was after the consecration it was no longer wine. Fortunately there were a couple of
priests with very quick reflexes in the front row. They along with me grabbed the chalices before they rolled off the altar. Fortunately
no Precious Blood spilled to the floor. All was contained to the altar linens and my chasuble.

This incident, awful as it was, made all the more poignant the message, “His blood was poured out for our offenses.” I saw it pour out;
I saw it spill, right before my eyes. In great art we sometimes see Angels depicted with chalices catching our Crucified Lord’s blood.
That thought sometimes goes through my mind as I elevate the chalice filled with his blood. “I’ve captured your blood Lord, it didn’t
fall wasted to the ground.” This blood was shed for our benefit; his heart was pierced for our benefit. In John’s gospel we read, “One
soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out.” This lance was thrust right into the heart of Jesus.
In our beautiful crucifix we see that wound at his side. That water that flowed out represents baptism and that blood that flowed out
represents the Eucharist, sacraments that strengthen and heal. It’s from the Cross that the healings flow.

In today’s Gospel we read that Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. “He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.” He approached,
God is always after us, he’s always approaching us. Never think for a moment that he’s not reaching out for you. God always
initiates and it’s always a loving action that he initiates. From that heart that was pierced flows the love of God.

We next read that Jesus grasped her hand and helped her up. Jesus is still doing that, when we approach the Eucharist he in a very real
way is grasping us. Are we reaching out to grasp his hand as the mother-in-law did? Are we reaching out to be healed? Every time we
come to Mass every time before we walk down these aisles we say something important. We say, “Lord I am not worthy that you
should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” Are we asking to be healed as we come down the aisle
to receive the Eucharist, are we asking to be healed of traumatic memories, are we asking to be healed of strained relationships, are we
asking to be healed of anxieties, and ailments? Are we asking to be healed of whatever is troubling our soul?

Every Mass allows us to take part in the onetime bloody sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. The Mass allows this participation, as if in a
time machine, in an unbloody manner we are there on Calvary for His passion when his Heart was pierced out of love for us. All the
good works in the world are not equal to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because they are the works of men and women; but the Mass is
the Work of God. It is the sacrifice of God for us. When we look at a crucifix we see the true intention of God, it’s not about himself,
it’s not about God, it’s about you and me.

As you come down the aisle for Communion asked Jesus to heal you in whatever way you need healing. His heart was wounded so that
we might gain entrance into his heart, His heart was wounded so that we might receive his healing blood, and His heart was wounded to
give us his all. Ask for healing at this Mass and every Mass.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

As we read in today’s Gospel the people in the synagogue were astonished. They were astonished because Jesus speaks to them as one having authority. He doesn’t repeat the words of an Old Testament prophet and he doesn’t refer to an older respected teacher. This poor carpenter out of Nazareth claims his own authority. Sometimes this word authority is translated as the word power. He speaks as one having power. And the original word from which we translate into either authority or power is dynamis. Our Lord speaks with dynamis. This is where the word dynamite comes from. So maybe we could even say our Lord speaks with the power of dynamite, it’s no wonder the people sitting in that synagogue were astonished. His words shook them out of their complacency.

Now as we read there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit but with just five words our Lord exorcises the unclean spirit and the man is freed. “Quiet! Come out of him!” His words have the power to exorcise. There’s an exorcist in Rome by the name of Fr. Amorth and he’s successfully conducted hundreds of exorcisms. But even with this experience of success he will always tell people, “One well done confession is more powerful than ten exorcisms!” An exorcism is a sacramental while confession is a sacrament, a sacrament where our Lord’s voice speaks to us. You may hear the sound of a priest saying the words of absolution buts it’s our Lord, with the power of dynamite, who’s speaking to us.

Once in a letter to a missionary priest, St. Therese of Lisieux wrote about the sacrament of confession. And she used the example of two small guilty boys. Have you noticed that in these examples of guilt it’s always the boys that are bad? So in this story the father comes home to find that his two sons have been disobedient. They’ve caused some sort of ruckus in the home. They’ve been fighting, they’ve been destructive, they’ve done something, and both sons in their heart of hearts know that they probably deserve punishment. We’ve all been there. Now the first son, as soon as he sees his father, runs in the opposite direction trying to get as far away as possible from his father. This first son is filled with fear and trembling.

Now the second son is much more crafty, but crafty in the right way. This second son throws himself into his father’s arms telling him that he is sorry to have hurt him, that he loves him, and that he will prove it by being good from now on. And for punishment he only asks for a kiss. Of course the son’s love has to be genuine, with a real desire to behave better. And the father is wise because he knows that his little son will fall into the same faults again and again and again, but he’s ready to forgive him every time, if his son catches him by the heart, he forgives. We too should catch our heavenly Father by the heart, and we do that just by entering the door to the confessional. We capture our Father’s heart, drawing down his forgiveness and grace.

Confession when it’s done well, properly and with the right attitude of repentance is a privileged means for helping us to rediscover God’s real face, his infinite love, his forgiveness, his generosity, and his unbelievable patience towards us. Entering the door into the confessional we capture our Father’s heart. We capture it by telling him that I have truly sinned, telling him my heart was hard, telling him I was proud and I despised my neighbor, telling him I sought my own pleasure at other people’s expense, and above all telling him I had forgotten all about Him, the one I should love most of all. When we do this we capture our Father’s heart and he forgives; with a new outpouring of his love. It gives him great pleasure to forgive us. Each confession is a little Pentecost, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a kiss of the Divine.

Now some critics of St. Therese would say that her great trust in God’s forgiveness was because she had hardly committed any sins. But she responded saying even if I had committed every sin possible I would still have that same trust. All that multitude of sins would only be like a drop of water falling into a blazing furnace. I trust in God not in myself.

Our Lord still speaks to us with the power of dynamite. We hear him in Scripture, we hear him during the consecration, and we hear him in all the sacraments. In the sacrament of confession it may sound like me but it’s His voice saying to you those sweet powerful words, “I absolve you from your sins.”

Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley