Archive for August, 2010

August 28, 2010 – There’s No Place Like Home

August 28, 2010

Well with all of the technology now at our fingertips you would think someone could figure out a way to bottle up our weather from the last couple of days, and save it for a 100 degree or a 10 degree day.  What a gorgeous last few days we have had.

For the last few weeks there has been a rabbit hanging around in my front yard.  Every evening without fail he has been there.  In fact one evening I didn’t realize that he was right at the front door and I nearly stepped on him.  Imagine trying to explain that one: “HEADLINE – Large, seemingly kind-hearted man squashes innocent rabbit.  Video too gruesome to air.”  Anyway, I’ve been trying to figure out why this creature continues to hang around.  Perhaps he has picked up the habits of the occupant of the home and is simply too lazy to pick up and go elsewhere.  Perhaps he feels that sticking close to the buildings will protect him from the harm of coyotes, hunters, etc.  Or perhaps he has just found something comforting in the new surroundings he has discovered.

At this point you are probably thing to yourself “Um, Brian, did you happen to forget to take your medication this morning?  All you can think of to talk about is the weather and a rabbit?”  I promise this is leading somewhere.  For whatever reason the rabbit has found a place that is comforting and a place where he feels welcome – in other words he has found a home.

In a few weeks I will begin teaching PSR once again.  We are not celebrating Confirmation this year, so I always felt that part of my job with the 7th & 8th graders was to try to express to the kids that it is still important to learn as much about our faith as we can even though we are not preparing for a sacrament.  One section of our class is titled “Being Catholic”.  We know that we believe in the one true God, we know that we proclaim ourselves as Christians, but have we really thought about what it means to call ourselves “Catholic”?  Does it just mean that we go to the church on Swanwick St. instead of the one on State St.?  Does it mean that we do different things in church than other denominations?  Or does it mean something more?

The word “Catholic” actually means “universal.”  I have always thought that one of the really neat aspects of the Catholic church was that you can participate in a Mass anywhere in the country or even the world and you recognize what is going on.  You may not recognize the language but you recognize the rituals, the symbols, the Eucharist.  Part of the reason that the church is transitioning to a newly revised Roman Missal is to assure that the Order of the Mass will have the same wording in all parts of the world.  We can truly compare entering a church to entering a home – gathering as a community to worship together and to share a meal.  I know personally that when I enter our church I feel like I am entering a second home – it’s a place that’s comforting, a place that’s serene, a place to find nourishment.  And even though we are a universal church, it’s just not quite the same when you attend Mass at another church.

A couple weeks back I mentioned that the Diocese will be examining some of the smaller parishes to examine their viability and to see if it is still practical to keep some of the very small churches functioning.  What makes the decisions so difficult is that when you close a parish, you are not just putting a lock on the door – you are keeping people from entering their home.  At some point practicality has to reign, but there is of course always some type of loss with change.

It is easy to be critical of people who do not attend Mass regularly.  I have certainly done my share of it.  But there is a reason for everything, and for some reason the element of the church being a “home” is missing from these folks’ periphery.  Perhaps these people need to be invited by someone personally to come back “home”, to have the “welcome mat” put out for them to see.  Perhaps they need to be reminded that like my new rabbit friend, there is something safe and enticing to be found in our place of worship.  There is a reason, after all, that we call it “God’s house”, not just God’s building or God’s shelter.

A couple of other notes: As I noted on our Twitter and Facebook pages, our website has been getting a good amount of traffic recently.  Thanks so much for continuing to visit and also for spreading the word about our website.  Also, if you haven’t joined our Facebook group yet, consider doing so.  We are up to 40 members now.

We had our first meeting with our new parish council the other night, and all indications are that it is another great group.  We discussed a lot of issues and exchanged a lot of information.  It is a group that has a true interest in making our parish that welcoming place we all desire.  I’m looking forward to more gatherings with our group.

Next week I will be celebrating a milestone for the blog.  I will keep you in suspense until then (I have to draw you back somehow!).  Have a great week, and pray for inspiration for the Cardinals.  It was a painful week!  Peace.

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August 21, 2010 – More Miscellaneous

August 21, 2010

Last week I talked a little bit about life’s pros and cons.  One of my pros this week was that it was a pretty uneventful week – no unexpected crises or nothing to cause me to lose any sleep.  The con to this is that I didn’t have anything happen that gave me any real inspiration to write a blog entry.  I thought about skipping this week, but I don’t want to break my current winning streak (unlike the Cardinals – good job of motivating the troops LaRussa!).  So I’ll just jot down a few thoughts and see what happens.

Test of willpower: There have been certain foods that I have missed as I have been making the effort to eat healthier, but I have been fortunate that I haven’t missed sweets that much.  Even the desserts at the Monday KC lunches, while decadent and divine, have not touched my lips.  But what I perceived as a strength was shaken to the core yesterday, torn down to the very foundation, exposed for the world to see.  There, at our local Wal-Mart, by the bread, was a temptation the likes that has not been seen since biblical times – a new Entenmann’s display!  Donuts, muffins, etc., etc.  I don’t know what it is about an Entenmann’s that makes it so enticing.  But my willpower got the best of this archrival, and I settled for reduced fat Cheez-Its.  Besides, eating an Entenmann’s with a glass of SKIM milk would be like eating a pizza with no cheese – what would be the point.

Got a nice e-mail from Fr. Gene this week.  Someone who works with disabled vets in Southern Illinois called him.  He got a look at our website and was impressed that we had a page to honor those in the military, present and past.  I mention this not to brag on myself, but to remind you that we do have a military page which was set up to recognize those from our parish (or anyone with a connection to our parish) for their brave service to our country and to remind people to pray for our military personnel.  If you would like to include someone on our page or if you see something on the page that needs updated, please send me the information.  Here’s a link to the page:

www.maryhoc.org/military

The other reason that I mention this is because moments like this remind us of the power of the internet, and that we may be reaching people that we never dreamed of.  Last week at my Diocesan Pastoral Council meeting we talked about the need to market the Catholic Service and Ministry appeal more effectively, but that professional marketing services are very expensive.  My suggestion was to utilize the internet as a way to get information out about the many valuable programs that the CSMA supports.  I cited our website as an example – I use just a basic small business starter program, and look at all of the information that can be sent out – not just to our parishioners, but to anyone who is interested.  So keep spreading the word about our website and about all of the other great things taking place here at St. Mary’s!

The vitality of a parish is something that is going to be explored in the coming months and years.  You may have seen articles in the paper about documents that came out of the Bishop’s office that talk about a process that is going to begin exploring the possibility of merging and/or closing small parishes.  At face value this seems like a scary concept, but let’s delve into it a little further.  From what I can gather the small parishes in our diocese aren’t going to automatically be padlocked shut.  There will be a process in which the smaller parishes will be examined – what is the faith life like, what has been the trend in terms of # of families, does the parish sustain itself financially, what are the geographics, is there a suitable alternative should the parish close?  All these and other factors would be considered.  Our pastoral council has been reminded on several occasions that compared to other dioceses our size, we have the largest number of parishes.  We have been fortunate as a diocese that for the most part, we have access to a “neighborhood” church and do not have to travel a great distance to receive the sacraments.  But population shifts, etc. may require a change in this model.  Pray that as this process of discernment begins that wise decisions are made for all involved.

Finally, it has been a tough week for the Cardinal faithful.  Now we know what it’s been like for Cub fans the past 102 years.  It is perplexing because the Cardinals have the talent to win, but are not playing inspired ball.  I’m usually not one to say change should be made for the sake of change, but it may be time for Tony to pay more attention to his animals.  Just sayin’.

Have a great week.  That was a lot for having nothing to talk about!  Thanks again for reading.  Peace.

August 14, 2010 – My Saturday Sabbath

August 14, 2010

You know life sure would be less complicated if so many things didn’t come with both pros and cons.  If you eat a cheesy, crispy bag of Doritos, your taste buds and appetite are satisfied, but you gain weight.  If you win the lotttery, you are filthy rich, but you have to pay mega-taxes and all of those relatives you hadn’t heard from in years come out of the woodwork.  When I was battling health issues, I missed a lot of meetings and other committments.  Now that I have improved, I don’t have to deal with severe headaches and woosiness as often, but now it’s back to a full slate of meetings and committments.  Of course, I’ll take all the meetings, etc. over the alternative.

My Saturday today certainly took on a “church” theme.  This morning I had a meeting of the Diocesan Pastoral Council in Belleville, this afternoon I’m blogging and doing other website work, and this evening I get installed as Parish Council President.  Good thing these are such lucrative positions (ha, ha).   Actually I look forward to days like this – they are a nice change of pace from the same old routine.  Also, I know that I will either learn something new or I will be reminded of something that I should be paying more attention to.

Our Pastoral Council meeting this morning focused a lot on the Catholic Service and Ministry Appeal.  Like many other fund-raising efforts, this appeal has seen a decline in donations in recent years, and we are brain-storming ideas to try to boost donations for this important effort.  Many important organizations rely on this funding, and if their budgets continue to be cut, some of these organizations will have to cut back on the services they provide, and in a worst-case scenario, may have to cease entirely. 

Our parish has always and continues to be very generous in contributing to the Appeal, but there are other areas in the diocese that cannot say this.  Of course there are outside forces affecting people’s ability to give such as the bad economy.  But in thinking about why it is so important that we support the Appeal, there are two things to think about:

1) The monies collected do not go to the Office of the Bishop.  These monies go directly to the agencies that are funded by the Appeal, such as Catholic Urban Programs, Daystar in Cairo, the Newman Center in Carbondale, and many, many others.  Our parish and town have benefitted from the Appeal.  We have received grants in the past for things such as the Help-A-Student program and our Parish Library.  The Hospitality House at Menard has been a frequent recipient of funding.  If someone ceases giving because they disagree with the policies of the Bishop or the Diocese, it does not affect the hierarchy but affects these types of grass roots organizations.

2) Many people’s view of church does not go any farther than the building with the steeple on it that they attend on Sunday.  The word “Catholic” means “universal”.   Our parishes are parts of the larger community of faith that is the Diocesan, United Sates, and worldwide Catholic church.  Bishop Braxton has stressed that the priests currently ministering in our Diocese from other countries are not “foreign” priests because they have been trained and nurtured to serve in the universal Catholic Church the same as any priest.  We need to be aware of those things going on in our Diocese even if they may not be present in our hometown.  A great way to do this is to subscribe to The Messenger, or to check out some of the Diocesan links on the links page of our website.  You’ll be hearing more about this as the plan is finalized.

I cannot believe the school year starts Wednesday.  Where did the summer go?  Prayers and best wishes to our school teachers, staff, students and parents as they embark on another year.

My sports note of the week: A pitcher gets shoved against the backstop by his own teammates, then starts kicking everything in sight with the metal cleats of his shoes, giving a player from the opposing team a concussion, and only gets suspended for 7 games, and since he is a starting pitcher, will probably really only miss one game?  All I can say is I can’t wait until the Reds come to St. Louis next month!  Playoffs, here we come!  And as for the Cubs, well, you know ….

Thanks again for reading.  Peace.

August 6, 2010 – My Definition of Success

August 6, 2010

When I turned 40 last year, part of me found myself wondering where the time had gone and wishing that I could go back in time and do some things differently, but another part of me actually found myself wondering about the future and wondering what changes I would see in myself as time went by.  There are the obvious physical changes – a little less hair in some places and a little more hair in others, a few more aches and pains, etc., etc., but I have also noticed a change in how I view things and what my real goals in life should be.

When I was in college, as part of the general education requirement I took a couple of philosophy classes.  I admittedly did not take these classes very seriously at the time.  I had the attitude of “I can’t believe all of these people actually get paid for sitting around trying to figure out the meaning of life.  They could be doing something more constructive.”  But as I have gotten older and wiser (debateable) I have found myself reflecting more on life, in particular what is the criteria for deeming one’s life a “success”.

If I would have thought about this 20 years ago, I’m sure my definition of success would have included things like a good job, money, big luxurious house, fancy car, and the best of other material possessions.  But as the years have passed my definition of success had changed.  When I got out of college and was looking for a job, I pretty much stayed around this area to do so.  Could I have moved away from here or could I have gotten more schooling and gotten a higher paying job in my field?  Maybe.  But sub-consciously, something kept me here.  Maybe I didn’t have the courage to pull up and start a new life far away, or maybe fate kept me here, but I think it was an early sign that my priorities were changing.

As the years have passed, I have continued to notice more changes in my definition of success.  Having a lot of money is not as important as it once was.  I don’t have to have the fanciest car in town.  I don’t have to be lavished with material posessions (although I’m the guy that owns 3 computers – you have to splurge on something, right?).  My definition of success now has turned the focus to different priorities – happiness, making a contribution toward making our world a better place, helping those less fortunate, and pleasing the one true God.

All right, now let’s really get deep here – what constitutes true happiness?  There are artificial ways to make us happy, at least temporarily – alcohol, drugs, food, money, posessions, etc.  But what makes us truly happy?  I know the times when I’m truly happy are times when other people are involved.  Some of the most fun times I had were in college.  No, not because I went to SIU Party Central, but because that is where I met some of my most dear friends.  Also it may seem weird, but I find happy times after church meetings – it’s great to share time with people who have as strong or stronger faith than I do, and I find hope in that.

But I think the happiest times are when I have done something that I know has contributed to the common good, or when I have done something that I know pleases God.  When I receive a letter or a photo from the child that I sponsor in Guatemala, it turnes the darkest day bright.  When someone says how much they like our church website or when I get elected President of the Parish Council for the, well, I lost count how many times, it gives me a sense of accomplishment that allows me to tell myself “yeah, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

So what do I feel brings true success?  I take inspiration from this Sunday’s gospel, in which Jesus shares a parable with his apostles that provides the lesson that we should always be prepared for God’s coming, for we do not know the time when it will happen.  Jesus told his disciples “be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.”  If we live our lives in such a way that we are confident in being prepared for God’s coming whenever he comes, then we have found true success.  And it doesn’t matter how big our bank account is, or how fancy our car is, or how many computers we have (3 is enough, maybe).

A couple of miscellaneous notes: Had a busy week on the website, with almost 200 pages viewed.  Also had 12 visitors to the blog last Saturday, which was the busiest day for a while.  Thanks again for supporting our website.

Finally, I saw on the news where Kurt Warner, who I mentioned last week, is going to be on Dancing With the Stars.  Didn’t see that one coming.  Somehow I don’t see him doing the mambo or the cha-cha.  Should be interesting to watch.

Another hot week coming!  Stay cool.  Peace.