Archive for August, 2011

August 26, 2011 – Fear of the Future

August 27, 2011

As I write this early on Friday evening I’m not enjoying my usual TV fare, which would be ESPN or the baseball channel or the local news.  I find myself glued to the Weather Channel following Hurricane Irene.  Who would have thought even a week ago that we would be worried about a hurricane affecting New York City of all places.  I certainly pray that the storm will not be as intense as feared and that people will be able to get out of harm’s way.

There were other happenings this week that caught us off guard.  We lost a parishioner, David Straight, at the relatively young age of 53 as a result of a motorcycle accident.  I did not know Dave well, but rare was the time that I stopped at Rozier’s on the way home from work that Dave wasn’t out stocking shelves or organizing things or helping someone find something.  He will be missed.

Those of us who follow sports closely also were caught off guard by the story of Pat Summitt.  She is the coach of the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team.  She is a legendary coach – she has won more games than any other men’s or women’s college basketball coach in history.  I enjoyed listening to her talk about growing up on a dairy farm and how her background helped her in her coaching.  She learned that you should be gracious in both winning and losing – to not brag about it when you win  and to be congratulatory when you lose, and to keep working just as hard no matter what the result.  At the still relatively young age of 59, she revealed that she had been diagnosed to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.  She is receiving treatment, and she is going to continue to coach for the time being, but it came as a surprise because she just seemed like one of those people that would just keep going and going without anything affecting her.  Here is the video of the statement that she made concerning her condition:

I mention all of these things because as we all know we do not know what the future holds, and what twists and turns our lives can take in a short time.  And at times it is scary to take ourselves from the present into the future.  Our Parish Council met this past week and much of the discussion centered on the parish renewal and restructuring plan that has been introduced by Bishop Braxton.  I have talked a little about this already, but the plan has now actually been published and made available for viewing.  Here is a link to view the plan:

 www.diobelle.org/resources.aspx

I have talked before about our Council having the ability to, while discussing serious concerns, still being able to share laughs and to take a light-hearted look at things.  However, our meeting took a little more serious tone this time, I think because we were talking about the future, and the uncertainty that it brings.  As I have said before, I am optimistic that our parish will be OK when this process ends, but there is still an aura of uncertainty, and we can be pretty sure that parish around us will be affected in some way.  It is absolutely necessary for us to plan for the future, but not necessarily a process that we look forward to.

We do have a huge advantage, though, as we enter this process.  We have the assurance that the Lord will be present with us to guide us down the right path.  As part of our “post-meeting” discussion, the question arose as to why people, particularly young people, continue to drift away from the church and continue to abandon religion.  As with many things, there is probably more than one reason.  But I do know that when someone abandons their faith, they are abandoning more than a community.  They are abandoning hope.  They are abandoning joy.  They are abandoning the lessons of life that only God can give.

As with anything else, the Bible gives us guidance in order to better accept what the future holds.  Jeremiah 29:11 tells us “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  And Psalms 33:11 says “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” 

About 20 years ago country singer Reba McEntire lost her entire band in a plane crash.  Some years later in an interview she was asked if she prayed that a tragedy such as this would never happen again.  Her reply was that “I can’t control many things that happen, but I can pray to God that he prepare me if another tragedy would occur.”  As we enter this process of parish planning, we do not know what the final results will be, but we can pray that we be as prepared as we can and to be as open minded as we can.  And we can also pray that we stay optimistic about  our own futures in the midst of a tough economy and other challenges that surround us.

Well as I wrap this up I have a choice of staying with the hurricane coverage, flipping to the Cardinals game or to the Rams game.  I think Rams game it shall be.  Have a great week.  Again we keep the folks on the East Coast in our prayers.  Peace.

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August 19, 2011 – A Walk Down Memory Lane

August 20, 2011

Those of us who surf the internet know that there are always new things coming out to explore and try out.  Lately I have noticed a new trend on Facebook in which people are starting groups in order for people to post their memories.  For example, there is a group called “You know you are from Chester when …” and people who live in town or used to live here have been posting some of their memories and even old pictures.  I have also joined a group called “I attended Gibault High School and I remember …”.  We have been posting memories of teachers and traditions that have certainly jarred a lot of memories.  As school has now started again and I have been reading these postings, I started to think back to my days at St. Mary’s.  So I thought I would share a few of my memories with you – maybe it will jar your memories of yesteryear (and maybe I can think of enough memories for this blog because nothing else is coming to my mind!).

I can remember first grade when we went on a trip to Nazareth – that’s right, Nazareth.  Of course, it was an imaginary trip but as a first grader, it was still an adventure, and we had tales of everything we did with Jesus when we “returned.”  And I believe we all received “pills”, which is what Sr. Mary Edna called the hard candy she gave us.  I also remember a very important life lesson learned in first grade.  Wanting to prove myself as the “angel” of the class, one time when Sr. Mary Edna left the room I noticed someone got out of their chair to look out the window.  I thought that I must report this to her on her return and get on her good side, so I did.  My reward was the class singing the “tattle-tale” song to me and one of several encounters with Sammy the yardstick.  Lesson learned.

I can remember that at times the punishment we received actually worked to our advantage.  I believe it was 4th grade, and the old water tower which was by the VFW was being torn down.  No offense to Mrs. Kerkhover, but several of us found what was going on outside to be a little more interesting than what was going on inside.  So those of us who were gawking out the window were told to stay inside for recess and watch the workers tear the tower down.  I didn’t say anything, but I thought to myself – COOL!.  We can always play keep away another day.

Moving on to 5th grade meant moving upstairs and having different teachers for different subjects.  Moving to the upper grades also meant that once a week or so Fr. Kribs would pop into your religion class for a lesson.  What would the lesson be about?  One never knew.  One time the lesson was about how much money the church would save by no longer providing copies of “Our Sunday Visitor” because the change people left in the box was not enough to cover the cost.  Hmmm … a religion and accounting lesson all in one.  It certainly was a wake-up call to the fact that there’s much more to being a Pastor than what we see for an hour or so on the weekends.

I think it was in the upper grades that my love of electronic gadgets began.  Of course in the early 80’s, the latest gadgets were the little hand-held Mattel electronic games that had the little dots as players, and it was a common practice to swap games for a night.  I believe I was in 8th grade when the school got its very first computer – an Apple PC.  I don’t really remember doing anything constructive on it, but I do remember playing Oregon Trail, and thus my road to technological addiction began.

I could go on and on with the memories.  In a world where we are always saying how fast time goes, and where we are always worried about what’s next, I think it is beneficial for us to take a look back at the good and not so good times we have experienced and see how those memories have shaped the person we have become.  Maybe reading a few of my memories jarred a few of your own and allowed you to roam back in time.  Do you have a memory that really stands out about St. Mary’s School or the school you attended?  Leave a comment and share it with us.

A couple of weeks ago I talked about a process that will be beginning in which each parish in our Diocese will be asked to look at its current viability and to report the findings back to the Diocese.  These findings will be used as a basis for decisions concerning the possibility of combining and perhaps closing parishes that are found to no longer be viable.  Parish schools will also be looked at to determine whether it is feasible to keep them open while maintaining the other ministries a parish is expected to provide.  The current issue of the Messenger contains a Pastoral Letter from the Bishop about this process which has been titled a “Pastoral Plan for Parish Renewal and Restructuring”.  There is also a summary of the plan and how this process will play out.  If you do not receive the Messenger, you can log on to www.diobelle.org and find the documents there.  Again, we ask for your prayers and cooperation as we begin this process.

My gut feeling at this point is that our parish is not in danger of closure.  We have about 400 families and despite the tough economic times we have been experiencing, the generosity of our parishioners has sustained our mission.  Of course, the reality of the situation is that a great deal of our resources are used to maintain our school.  This is something that concerns the Bishop as he feels that if too many resources are directed toward the school, the other parish ministries suffer.  I personally feel we have a viable school.  Our enrollment has been increasing and we are the only Catholic school in a fairly wide radius.  Hopefully this is what will be considered and we will have a school for many years to come.

I’m not trying to scare anyone, and again not a single decision has been made about any parish or school.  I tell you this in hope that you will cooperate with us during this process, and that you will continue to spread the good news of St. Mary’s!  We have much to be proud of, and this is what we want to show everyone!

Have a great week.  Peace.

August 12, 2011 – My Reactions

August 12, 2011

This week there were several news items, headlines, etc. that caught my attention, so I thought I would just throw them out there and give my reactions to them, for what they are worth.

Most Catholics in our area I’m sure saw the story that the Diocese of Belleville will no longer continue to appeal the case brought against it that it covered up known sexual abuse by Raymond Kownacki, and continued to assign him to parishes despite knowing that he was a pedophile.  The payment to James Wisniewski totaled $6.3 million after interest.  Some of this was paid by insurance, but much had to come from the coffers of the Diocese.  If you did not see the story, here is a link to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article: 

www.stltoday.com/news/local/illinois/article_29ee3e11-f79e-570f-95cb-8d1e17fee518.html

Bishop Braxton and Diocesan officials are taking a lot of heat for this, but having been in meetings where this was discussed and knowing a little about the circumstances surrounding this, I feel I can offer a little different perspective.  The Diocese throughout this process followed the advice of reputable attorneys who felt that the statute of limitations should apply in this case as it had been in the past, including an earlier case against Kownacki.  The decision by the Illinois Appellate court was not unanimous – it was a 2-1 decision, so there was a judge who felt the Diocese was in the right.  It appears that the law was not necessarily followed, but that an exception to the law was made in this case.  The arguments made by the appellate judges who ruled against the Diocese made little reference to the law.  The vast majority of their argument centered around the circumstances of the alleged abuse.

The diocese has also taken heat for not having direct contact with Mr. Wisniewski, not offering him an apology and not offering him help.  The reason for this is that Mr. Wisniewski never approached the Diocese seeking help.  The Diocese has and continues to provide help to those who claim that they have been victims of abuse, including paying for therapy and rehab, and providing other financial support.  Mr. Wisniewski never sought such help.  He simply saw a report about alleged abuse victims winning lawsuits and receiving large sums of money, and the lawsuit was filed.

Again, there is no excuse for the many cases of abuse and the hierarchy of the church not taking more timely action to quell the situation.  And those who are receiving help in forms of therapy, etc. are more than deserving of it.  But I would ask if simply receiving a large sum of money will make an individual’s situation better?  Has the individual thought about the implications for other people?  Will there be even more jobs lost if the Diocese cannot afford to continue to provide its current services?  Will people who rely on the generosity of services such as Catholic Charities or Catholic Urban Programs have to suffer?  Will people who are victims of abuse currently receiving help from the Diocese be left out in the cold?

The attorney for Mr. Wisniewski made the statement that “I hope this will help the Catholic community.”  It remains to be seen what the long term effects of this will be, but having to pay this judgement, and having other cases in the pipeline will force us to make tough decisions and put us in at least a short-term bind.  Did the Diocese handle this perfectly?  No.  I think Bishop Braxton should have been more open in providing information about the case to us.  But as is usually the case, there is more to these things than is on the surface, and even if I have over-stepped my bounds in sharing some of this information, I think it is information people have a right to know.  Obviously our Diocese and the Church as a whole needs our prayers as we continue to deal with the sins of the past.

There were a couple of other items that caught my attention this week.  An online petition began a little over a week ago by a gay and lesbian rights group saying that Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie should be “married.”  My first reaction was yet another group of people with WAY too much time on their hands.  Then my thoughts were on the continued attacks on what marriage is.  Marriage is something that should not have to be defined – for umpteen years marriage has been a sacred bond between a man and woman who deeply love each other.  Just because culture has changed, doesn’t mean that definitions should change.  Marriage is something that should not have to be given a label such as “same-sex” marriage or “mixed marriage”.  Marriage is marriage, and we as catholics who abide by biblical principles should fight to keep this bond sacred.

On a more positive note, I saw an interesting blog this week by a member of the USCCB staff about our devotion to Mary.  She refers to Mary as the “milk and cookies” of Catholicism, or in other words the one who provides us comfort and nurturing on our times of need.  Here is the link to the full article:

http://usccbmedia.blogspot.com/2011/08/devotion-to-mary-milk-and-cookies-of.html

The article points out a misgiving of the Catholic faith that we “adore” Mary and the saints.  The truth of course is that we pray for the saints to intercede on our behalf when we call upon them.  I could actually expand beyond the reference to our Blessed Mother and say that our entire faith provides us a dose of “milk and cookies”.  It provides us hope when it seems hope is lost, it provides us a respite when the world around us has beat us down, and it provides us the promise of eternal life if we live by God’s commands. 

I can’t believe that school starts again this week.  I with all of our students, parents, teachers and staff a successful year.  We have a wonderfully dedicated group of people who continue to make our school a very special place to be. 

Finally, as I wrap this up, the rain is falling!  Thank you Lord for the much needed moisture and the cooler weather.

Have a great week.  Peace.

August 6, 2011 – The Future is Near

August 6, 2011

There is a song that came out a couple of years ago by one of my favorite singers, Brad Paisley, called “Welcome to the Future”.  The song talks about how much the world has changed in a very short time.  For example, not long ago we had to go to an arcade to play video games, and now we can play them on our cell phone.  Or not long ago we were fighting the Japanese, and now they are one of our closest allies.  Point being that things we thought would be way far out into the future have come upon us quickly, and the “future” we talked about just a few years ago is already here.

This morning our Diocesan Pastoral Council, of which I am a member, met with Bishop Braxton in Belleville.  The entire 2 hour discussion was focused on the future.  And as the song I referenced indicates, the future is not far away.  The subject of parish planning and restructuring is not a new one.  In fact, the topic was addressed well over 20 years ago when Bishop Keleher was here.  Then Bishop Gregory addressed the subject by establishing parish clusters – groups of parishes that were encouraged to work together to see what resources could be shared between them, including sacramental preparation, catechesis and even clergy.  Now after a lengthy preparation process, Bishop Braxton has decided to approach the subject.

Now you may have heard a little about it already, or may have heard rumors floating around.  So you may have a few questions as we enter into another process of parish planning.  Your first question may be “Well, how many parishes are going to close?”.   This has not been determined and will not be without input from the parishes and clusters.  So your next question may be “We have been through this before and nothing really changed – how is this round of evaluations and discussions going to be any different?”.  I think the best answer to this is that the situation dictates that concrete action has to be taken given the changing demographics of the diocese.  Currently there are 117 parishes functioning in the Diocese that serve 70,000 active Catholics.  The bulk of these Catholics are in or around the Belleville area.  There are 69 active diocesan priests ministering in these parishes, along with 22 missionary priests on loan to us from other countries.  However, of the group of 69, many are older men, and some continue to minister despite advanced age, health problems, etc.  For example, there are 5 priests still in active ministry in our Diocese who are 75 years of age or older.  And even though Bishop Braxton has been successful to this point in securing the services of priests from other countries, there is no guarantee that this will continue.

So how is this process going to work?  Well, as far as the specifics, I cannot really get into that until the final draft of the proposal has been prepared and the Bishop gives the OK for release, which will probably come in the next couple of weeks or so. What I can tell you is that it will involve discussion, prayer, and hopefully frank evaluation of where parishes are in terms of their viability.  And hopefully from this process there will be clear recommendations and practical solutions, which unfortunately could include closing or merging of churches and schools.  Yes, evaluation of the viability of the parish schools will be part of the process also.

As we enter this process, even though the final details have not been revealed, there are still several things all of us can do in the meantime.  First of all, we can certainly pray – we can pray that the process yields successful results, we can pray for vocations, and we can pray that those who have left the church or are thinking about leaving the church have a change of heart and embrace the Catholic faith once again.  Secondly, we should not make any assumptions about what is going to happen, and allow the process to play out.  For example, we should not just assume things such as “Well, any church with less than 100 families is going to get the axe”, or “Any school with less than 100 students is going to close.”  The final decisions will be based on many factors.  For example, even though Belleville is a populated area, there are 7 parishes in a relatively small radius, so things like geography will have to be examined as well.  Again, everything is on the table at this point.

Finally, we need to bring an open mind to the process, and we need to take an honest look on ourselves.  We cannot take the attitude of “yeah, it’s OK if parishes close, as long as it’s not ours”.  We need to frankly look at our strengths and weaknesses as well as those of our neighbors and let the process play out.  The ultimate goal of the process is that the people of the parishes will realize what changes need to take place and make sensible recommendations for the Bishop’s approval.  If this is not done, then the decisions will be made for us.

I do not share this with you to scare you, and as I said there have been no final decisions made about anything as of yet.  We should enter this process with the attitude that we are being presented with an opportunity to evaluate ourselves, identify what we are doing well and address things that may need improvement.  If we do this, then whatever final determinations are made, the outcome will be positive.  I will share more with you at the appropriate time.

Please pray for Fr. Gene, our parish staff, leadership, and our parish as a whole.  Besides the normal activities, we will be working on this parish planning process, implementing the revised Roman Missal, introducing the Fanning the Flame program, and starting Confirmation prep, all within the next few months.  So we will be busy beavers.  Please be patient with us as we work through our duties.

Thanks again for reading.  Your support of our website is always appreciated.  Have you joined our Facebook page yet?  Go to our website, www.maryhoc.org, and click the Facebook tab and go from there.  We have 46 members now.  I post death notices and other tidbits on this page, and it’s a chance to stay in touch with current and former parishioners.  Have a great and hopefully cooler upcoming week.  Peace.