Archive for February, 2011

February 25, 2011 – In An Instant

February 26, 2011

Well those of us who are dedicated Cardinal fans are still trying to get over the shock of losing our best starting pitcher, Adam Wainwright, for the year with a torn elbow ligament.  I’m still looking forward to the season and I’m confident we can still overtake the Cubs, but it certainly will make it much tougher to reach the playoffs.  I thought about sending a vile of Lourdes water to the Cardinal front office, but the surgery is already a go.

This event got me thinking about how our life can change in an instant.  An event such as this of course won’t prevent the sun from coming up in the morning, and won’t keep me from my summer ritual of enjoying baseball, but I’m sure all of us have experienced an event that happened in seemingly an instant that changed our lives.  Some of these events may have been positive – you got the call that you got the job you applied for, or your spouse said yes when you asked them to marry you, or you found out that you were going to have your first child, or you found out that there was now Pizza Supreme flavored Doritos (I just had a little taste, gotta stick to the diet!). 

Unfortunately, many events that happen in an instant can affect our life in a negative way.  You find out that your job is being cut, or you get the diagnosis that you were fearing, or you find out that a family member has been in an accident, and so many other things that can happen in just an instant that can really jar us.

In less than 2 weeks we will begin the season of Lent, the season of preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.  We know the routine during this time of preparation – prayer, fasting and giving of alms.  It is nicely laid out for us.  But there is no guide for how to prepare for those instances when in an instant our life can be turned upside down and inside out. 

The truth is that we can probably never be truly prepared for the unexpected events of life, but we can prepare ourselves to live our lives in such a way that we know that when these events occur, that the Lord will be with us and that He will help us handle whatever life throws our way.  And if we live our lives worrying about what might be coming around the corner, then we will not be able to enjoy life to its fullest.  This weekend’s gospel gives us just that message.  Jesus tells us “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span?  …. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.”

It of course is easy to tell ourselves not to worry.  It is another thing entirely to actually do.  It was almost 5 years ago that a tornado devestated much of our property.  Even to this day it is hard not to feel some anxiety when a tornado warning is issued or when the warning sirens blow.  As with anything else, we humans are imperfect and must continue to try to improve.  I have decided that this is one of the things I am going to work on this Lent – to take each day as it comes and to worry about tomorrow when it comes, and to pray that no matter what life may throw at us, that we remember that God is at our side to help us through.

It is helpful when we are dealing with the ups and downs of life to have the help and support of good people.  I have mentioned them before, but I must repeat how much I enjoy our Parish Council and what a great spirit they have for their faith and for our parish.  During our meeting the other night we discussed many serious issues, some dealing with our parish and some in the Diocese and church as a whole.  However, even in the midst of serious discussion, we were able to share a laugh and we had a great fellowship following the meeting.  I don’t think I have ever walked out of a meeting not feeling better about things than when I walked in.  Everyone in our parish can feel good that we have a group that cares so deeply about its well-being and its future.

Well its time to go back to the drawing board and figure out what to do about the Cardinals pitching staff (I’m not even going to mention our first baseman; after all there’s no use to worry about tomorrow until tomorrw comes.  Right?!?!).  Have a great first week of March.  Peace.

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February 19, 2011 – More Church Business

February 19, 2011

Well as you may have noticed I’m a little late in getting this out today.  I just returned from a Diocesan Pastoral Council meeting in Belleville.  This darned church business always seems to have a way of throwing my schedule off (ha, ha).  Seriously, we had a good meeting with the Bishop and I’ll share with you some of what I can from the meeting.

We first talked about the ongoing sexual abuse case against the Diocese.  Recently as you may have read the appellate court panel of 3 judges handed down a 2-1 decision against the Diocese.  It has been decided to now move the case along to the Illinois Supreme Court.  I’m not a lawyer and will never pretend to be an expert in legal matters, but my understanding is that the Diocese first petitions the court for permission to hear the case, then if/when that is granted, the case itself will then be considered.  The Diocese continues to pursue the case because it is felt that in terms of the law, that the case is on very solid ground, and that a judgement against the Diocese would be contrary of the law as it was interpretted at the time.  This is probably all I can say right now as this would get too deep into the legalities, but to summarize I can say that to this point no money has changed hands, and will not until the Illinois Supreme Court completes its work, which will be many months in the future.

The next item on the agenda was about the future of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.  They are experiencing a phenomenon that other hospitals are going through.  Because more and more procedures are on an outpatient basis, and because of its close distance to St. Louis, they have many empty beds and are finding it more difficult to stay economically feasible.  Nothing will likely happen in the short-term, but there are possibilities being discussed such as moving the campus to an area such as O’Fallon or near SWIC where there would be more room to expand and where the hospital would be closer to the population growth in the area.  There is also discussion of making the current St. Elizabeth’s strictly a place for outpatient procedures and a clinic.  Again, this is not a short-term happening, but something to keep in mind in the future.

The next item of discussion was investigating the possibility of parish re-structuring in the Diocese, whether that be the possibility of closing parishes or merging parishes or other outcomes.  This is a process that is just beginning, and at the moment everything is on the table.  Because of the shortage of priests, limited resources, population shifts, declining attendance, and other factors, the Bishop feels the time has come to look at our 117 parishes and see if the current structure is still practical. 

Many people who have heard about this process may immediately think that the smaller parishes are in trouble and the large parishes will survive, but this is not necessarily true.  All things will be looked at including distance between parishes, parish vitality, etc., etc.  In the city of Belleville for example there are some large parishes and some relatively smaller, but there are parishes that are close together and so the possibility of some of these parishes and even schools merging together will certainly be looked at.  The thought of change is always scary, especially when it directly affects you and your parish.  We identify so closely with our parishes.  Even in my blogs I have talked about St. Mary’s being like a second home.  But change, as painful as it can be, is sometimes inevitable.  Our Diocese has been through many changes in its 125 year existence, and we will continue to evolve and change.

This discussion led to informal conversation about vocations, particularly why places such as Africa are seeing their seminaries overflow, while places such as the United States continue to see a shortage in vocations.  Part of the thinking is that poorer areas which have not seen the secular influence penetrate their society such as we have are more accepting of religion and thus will have more people entering religious life.  It is also a reason that other religions such as Islam are gaining more members – they are so enthralled in their religion that it gives them an escape from the secular life.  It was interesting to hear that religious orders who are actually in better shape in terms of vocations are the strictest orders such as monesteries and religious orders with a strict prayer and life regimen.  Perhaps its because our world has gotten so complicated and so hustle-bustle that these orders provide an “escape” and an attractive alternative lifestyle.

Finally we talked about the upcoming celebration of the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the Diocese of Belleville which will be next year.  The celebrations will be a little bit lower key than a 100th or 150th anniversary because they traditionally are and also because of the economy.  There will be a special Mass to mark the occasion which is tentatively set for April 29th, 2012 at 2:00PM (mark your calendars)!  We have also talked about the Fanning the Flame program which will be a part of it and which you will be hearing more about in the near future.  There may also be other things planned as the time draws closer.  The Bishop does want the celebration to emphasize that it is not the 125th anniversary of Belleville, but of the Church of Southern Illinois as a whole.

This was probably not the most entertaining blog you have read, but I think it is important to let you know what some of the issues are that the Diocese is dealing with and what is on the Bishop’s mind.  It continues to be a pleasure for me to serve on this Council because I feel I’m in the “know” and because I feel I have the vehicle to share what I learn and for people to react to it.  Feel free to leave a comment about anything I have talked about.

Finally, last week I talked about whether technology and the internet may be having a little too much influence on our lives.  This past week I was having a conversation with a parishioner and we were talking about how depressing it can be to watch or read the news and learn of all the bad things happening in our world.  But then the parishioner added that they get a “pick-me-up” when they log on to our website and read all of the good news.  So the internet certainly has its purpose and it made me feel good to know that the website is not just informative but that it can touch someone in such a way.  Thank you again for your support of our website by visiting and spreading the word about it.

Well time to take a short break from church stuff until I, well, go to Mass.  I CAN”T ESCAPE IT!!!! AAAAAAHHHHHH! (kidding of course).  Have a great week.  Peace.

February 11, 2011 – Is Technology Going Too Far?

February 12, 2011

First I want to pass along my sincere thanks to you for not giving me too much grief over my wrong Super Bowl prediction.  What can I say, even Babe Ruth didn’t hit a home run every time he came to the plate.  At least it turned out to be an entertaining game, and unlike the people who went to the game only to find out they didn’t even have a seat, I enjoyed the game from a comfortable chair and probably had a better view than most people in the stadium.

OK, we all know that technology continues to play a larger role in our lives, and much of it is entertaining and useful.  But I became aware of something this week that makes me wonder if technology is starting to play too large of a role in our lives.  One of the hot things right now is the “apps” that people can download to their i-phones, blackberries, android phones, or i-pod touches.  I do not have a cell phone capable of downloading these, but I do have an i-pod touch that I can use wherever there is wireless internet access.  I have some useful apps on it which include things that provide news, weather, sports, music and games.  To this point I had not thought about using it for religious fulfillment, although I figured there were some Catholic apps out there.

If you saw some of the Catholic related news this week, you may have seen that there is now a new app available called “Confession: A Roman Catholic App.”  Being the gadget geek that I am, I went and checked out this app.  The preview says this in the first line: “Designed to be used in the confessional, this app is the perfect aid for every penitent.”  It goes on to say that it will provide you a custom examination of conscience based upon age, sex and vocation, a choice of 7 different acts of contrition, the ability to add sins that are not listed in standard examination of conscience, and a confession “walk-through”.

Predictably, after the release of this app, more articles came about, including from the Vatican, which advised that this app is NOT a replacement for the reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation – that only God can forgive our sins and that the rite of absolution can only be performed by a priest.

The cost to download this app is $1.99, and I have made the decision not to invest in it, not because of the cost, but because I feel that this is one area in which technology is not needed or even appropriate.  I think when we ask for forgiveness of our sins, the request should come from the heart, not from a list that we have compiled on a cell phone.  When we go to confession, I don’t think that the most important thing is to remember every single flaw that we have done, or that we remember to the day when our last confession was, or remembering every single word of our act of contrition (although I’m confident I can do a better job with my act of contrition than Christina Aguilera did with the National Anthem at the Super Bowl).  The most important thing to me is that we bring our admission of fault to our God and our promise to try to do better, and in turn our priest provides us absolution and consolation and our God gives us forgiveness of our sins.

Certainly it is important for us to examine our conscience before we enter the confessional, and even at other times.  But again, would a true confession really entail kneeling behind a screen reading off of a list, or should it be a heartfelt admission that we have failed at times?  I would think if God spoke to us, He would say the latter.

In my mind this is an example of technology perhaps taking too large of a role in our lives.  It certainly has its place – cell phones are a very convenient means of communication, and the internet is a very practical way to get a lot of information out to a lot of people at a minimal financial cost.  But has our technology begun to replace the one-on-one contact that humans need and were meant to have?  I really wonder what to think when people who are in the same building or even in the same room are texting or chatting online without even talking to each other.  No matter what sort of technology is developed, nothing will ever replace the feeling of a human touch or a personal greeting.  I will continue to use technology (including blogging), but I also must remind myself not to let it become so prevalent in my life that I lose the human element.

Finally, I would like to share a cause with you that is close to me.  About  a year ago a classmate of mine from Gibault High School, Kathy Baxmeyer, died trying to save her son and her best friend’s son after they fell through the ice on what they thought was a frozen pond.  In a wonderful case of triumph over tragedy, a foundation has been set up by Kathy’s cousin called Project Skipper, which is working to educate individuals, particularly kids, about the dangers of ice.  The acronym Skipper stands for S(tay calm), K(ick – like a swimmer), I, P, P(ull yourself up onto the ice), E. R(oll away).  Their website has more information.  It is www.projectskipper.com.  They also have a Facebook page which you can go to and press the “like” button.  You can make a donation if you would like, but the main thing they want all of us to do is help make kids and adults for that matter aware of the dangers of getting on unstable ice, and to spread the slogan “see ice, think twice”.  Thank you.

Well finally we are getting a break in the weather (praised be Jesus!).  I actually heard a meterologist say the other night that our winter really hasn’t been that bad compared to some others, and he actually said it with a straight face!  I definitely missed my calling.  Enjoy the week.  Thanks again for reading.  Peace.

February 4, 2011 – Knowledge is Key

February 5, 2011

It has been a slow process over the years as I have gotten older, but I think this winter has brought me to the breaking point – I think I am ready to join the “I do not like winter and I wish spring would get here already” club.  I used to think that people who didn’t like winter were crazy.  You could play in the snow, skid on the ice, throw snowballs, etc.  Now I hope not to fall and break something and I hope to stay away from the flu.  Alas, life evolves.

As our lives and world evolve, so also it seems does the church.  As I was thinking back to when I was a kid and winter time was so great, I also found myself thinking about what our church was like in those days.  I can remember when we had four weekend Masses, and they were all generally well attended.  Now we have two weekend Masses and at times there are still an abundance of empty pews.  I can also remember when I began school here at St. Mary’s that there were over 200 kids in grades 1-8, with over 30 just in my class.  Now our enrollment is less than half of that.

So when I look at what has happened in a relatively short amount of time I naturally try to find a simple answer to these changes, but there are several factors at work here.  First of all, families are smaller than they were years ago.  One or two children are now the norm instead of the four, five or six that was more common years ago.  My hunch is that this is due to economic and societal changes which now see both parents working in most households.  Another factor in this change is that more and more young people are leaving the area to pursue their careers and are gravitating to larger cities.  This is not a unique situation, especially here in rural Southern Illinois.  And of course there is the factor that even though many people still consider themselves Catholics, fewer and fewer feel the need to attend church regularly and to practice their faith in their daily lives.

OK, so the situation is laid out, and these factors that I have stated are really no big secret to anyone, but it does not make the situation any less frustrating to me or to other devoted Catholics.  I can also imagine the frustration of pastors when they are aware of people who do not attend Mass or support their parish in other ways, yet they expect to be catered to when it is time for a funeral, or wedding, or baptism, etc.  I experience some of this first hand when I prepare kids for the sacrament of Confirmation, only to watch some of them disappear immediately afterwards.

So what can we do to try to encourage people to put their faith in a more prominent place in their lives?  We of course can invite these folks to come to Mass or to a church event, but I understand the fear people have in trying to do that, as more than likely the invitation will be rejected for whatever reason (we just don’t have time right now, I don’t get anything out of the Mass, I am still angry about the sexual abuse crisis, etc., etc., etc.).  There certainly seem to be many more reasons, or should I say excuses not to go to Mass or to participate in the life of the faith community.  So what does that leave us to offer to these people?

When I hear people who are not regular church goers talk about their views of the Catholic Church, they are either misinformed or they have not taken the time to find the proper information.  People will say things such as “Catholics pray to these saints as if they are God”, or “all of the money collected in the Catholic Service and Ministry Appeal ends up in the Bishop’s pocket”, and the list goes on and on.  So as Catholics who are to be witnesses to others, besides our invitations we can also offer resources to find the proper information about our religion.

Anyone who surfs the internet realizes there’s a lot of garbage floating around.  But there are websites that offer good and accurate information.  People can start at our website and look at the Catholic links such as the Vatican website, the Diocesan website, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, etc.  There is also a program that will be taking place next year as a part of the Diocesan celebration of its 125th anniversary called “Fanning the Flame”.  Much more information will be coming down the pike, but this program will involve study and discussion of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  The Catechism is a summary of the principles of the Catholic Church, sort of a question and answer guide if you will.  “Fanning the Flame” can take on several forms – group study, small group sharing, individual study, and internet resources are some of the forms it will take.  It will be a great opportunity for us to renew our knowledge of our faith, and likewise we will be more prepared to instruct those who lack the proper knowledge about our faith.  The diocese has set up a website which talks more about this upcoming program.  It includes a message from Bishop Braxton.  The website is:

www.ftfdiobelle.org

Knowledge is power, and the more knowledge we have, the more we can appreciate what our faith has to offer.

OK, now let’s once again test my knowledge of football.  Time for my Super Bowl prediction.  My prediction is not based on my rooting interest; I’ll be rooting for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, but I have to discect this without bias.  The Steelers defense is tough against the run, and I think they will be able to slow down the Packer offense enough for them to pull it out in the end.  So despite what my heart tells me, I have to go with the Steelers 23-20.  No wagering, please.

Have a great week despite the weather.  Peace.