Archive for September, 2011

September 30, 2011 – What Were We Thinking?

September 30, 2011

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  No, it’s not Christmas time just yet (although you would think so if you went back to the garden area at Wal-Mart).  Besides being my favorite season of the year, with just a bit of chill in the air and the leaves turning, for sports fans such as myself these are the high holy days – baseball is now entering the post-season, football is in full swing, and hockey is just around the corner.  And of course this year is particularly special because the Cardinals made an unexpected push to get into the playoffs.  Life is good indeed!   I give credit to Channel 2 News who showed a story of a priest in South St. Louis who is a huge Cardinal fan and has been praying diligently for them all season.  They also pointed out that the Pink Sisters, whose mission of prayer you may remember was credited with the beautiful January weather when Pope John Paul II visited St. Louis in 1999, are now praying for the success of the Cardinals.  And of course you know our resident pastor is sending prayers of his own, so I think we are a shoe-in for the World Series (lol).  Anyway, enjoy the upcoming games.

As you see the title of this blog is “What Were We Thinking?”  When you hear a statement such as this we usually associate it with something negative.  You may hear something to the effect of “Oh, we were supposed to operate on the other side of the brain – what were we thinking?!”, or “We are actually Cubs fans – what were we thinking?!”.   However, this past Wednesday night we held another meeting concerning the Parish Renewal and Restructuring process, this time with a larger group of parishioners.  Besides going through the process of evaluating different areas of parish life, it was an opportunity to hear what some people were thinking about how things are going in our parish and if there are areas that could be improved.

To go through each and every comment or concern would take up my entire hard drive, but I think there were a couple of general themes that came out of the session.  First of all, it is very clear that our school remains a point of pride for our parish, and is an important part of parish life.  Many people have worked and continue to work very hard to keep our school vital and functional.  After a period of rapidly shrinking enrollment several years ago, we have moved back up to an acceptable level.  The concern is the amount of resources that a school in this day and time must have to function.  We no longer have the advantage of having nuns who would work for paltry salaries.  Not that our teachers are getting rich, and I’m sure they could go into the public system and be compensated more greatly, but nonetheless salaries are a relatively large expense in terms of the total budget.  And to stay reasonably current with advances in technology takes a great investment as well.  This of course is not to mention the funds it takes to maintain the buildings. 

Our parents and parishioners have done a heroic job in holding numerous fundraisers in order to supplement the school’s income.  Because of this, the parish currently subsidizes the school with about half of the income it takes in, which is a lower percentage than it has been in the past.  The diocese, however, recommends that this figure not be higher than 40%.  The reason for this is that if the percentage is higher, there would not be sufficient funds left over to maintain the other areas of the parish – building maintenance, ministries, adult education, etc.  So despite these efforts, the diocese has placed our school in a category of “questionable” viability.  Does this mean that the diocese plans to close the school?  NO.  What it does mean is that we have to continue to find ways to aid the stewardship of the school and the parish, and also continue to encourage families to send their kids to our school – Catholic and non-Catholic.  But with the desire that people have shown, I am confident that our school will remain here for a long time.

There were also a few other concerns that were raised.  One was whether our shut-ins were being ministered to sufficiently.  This is an area which I think there is more going on than many of us realize.  Besides the organized efforts of the parish, I know that other folks are taking it upon themselves to visit those who are shut-in or are in need of extra attention.  Again, can this be improved in some way?  Sure.  And this is part of what this process is about – to evaluate ourselves and to welcome suggestions from anyone who wishes to offer them.

Overall, though, the general tone of the meeting was very positive, and I think the process was certainly worthwhile, not just to meet the requirements of the diocese, but also to do our own self-evaluation and to get people’s input on what we are doing well and what could be improved.  In my personal opinion, I think we are doing very well in most areas of the parish, particularly given the limited resources that we have.  Again this is in most part to so many gracious people who give of their time, talent and treasure.  If you have not attended one of these meetings yet, there is one more opportunity on Tuesday, October 18 at 7:00PM at the KC Hall.  All parishioners are welcome to attend this session.  Please come and offer us your input and suggestions.  And we also don’t mind hearing what we are doing well also.

 Well the weather for the next week looks glorious.  This will offer our farmers the much needed opportunity to do their fall harvest work.  Pray for their safety and for a fair price for their crops.  Enjoy the baseball and football this coming week.  I leave you with a link to one of my favorite comedy routines by the legendary George Carlin comparing football and baseball.

 http://youtu.be/qmXacL0Uny0 

Have a great week.  Peace.

 

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September 23, 2011 – To Be “Born Again”

September 24, 2011

I have learned that one of the signs of getting older is that the signs of getting older seem to be popping up more often.  Besides the graying edges of hair, the spot without hair, the growing girth, etc., etc., this past week I paid a visit to my friendly Catholic optometrist and words came up such as “bifocals”, “cataract”, and “well, since you are over 40 now … “.  Oh well, I least I could still hear the conversation.

This year as you probably know is a Confirmation year for our parish.  In PSR the first chapter of our books talks about our Baptism.  It talks about the relationship between Baptism and Confirmation and also tells the story in the Gospel of John about Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night.  Nicodemus is only mentioned in the Gospel of John (3:1-21).  Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the highest judicial body of the Jews – sort of like our Supreme Court.  So obviously he was highly respected among the Jewish people.  Yet when he approaches Jesus, he is told that this is not enough to enable him to enter the kingdom of God.  Jesus tells him that unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of god.

Nicodemus becomes confused at this point, going so far as to ask Jesus how an old person can re-enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time.  This of course is not what Jesus meant at all.  He is speaking of a “spiritual” birth, being born of water and the Spirit through our Baptism.  Jesus even goes so far as to scold Nicodemus, saying that he is a teacher of Israel and yet he does not understand the concept of being born in the Spirit.  This leads to perhaps the most recognized Bible verse there is – John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish, but have eternal life.”

Going through the lesson plan for my class and reading again through the story of Nicodemus got me thinking about “rebirth”, or being “born again”.  We hear the term “born again Christian” quite often, particularly as a part of other denominations.  However, depending on who you talk to, there are mixed opinions about this phrase.  A priest that I knew years ago was particularly adamant that there was no such thing as a born again Christian.  Once you have been Baptized, you are a Christian, no matter if you stop attending church, or if you break every commandment, when you are Baptized you are a member of the Christian community.  There is no such thing as being able to be “born again.”

But of course there are many people who consider themselves born again Christians.  They are people who were believers at one time and for whatever reason, God took a back seat in their lives.  They then found inspiration to practice their faith once again.  So does this mean that they ceased being a Christian for a time and then returned once again, or were they a Christian all along, and just stopped practicing their faith for a period of time?

My personal opinion may sound like that of a politician, but I can see both sides.  On one hand, Baptism is a sacrament which we only receive one time.  If we as Catholics stray away from the church for some time and then decide to return, we of course would not be Baptized again.  We may profess our faith once again, but we would not be Baptized again, which would seem to suggest that we do not need to be “re-declared” a Christian.

On the other hand, when I hear a self-professed born again Christian speak of their experiences, I can see where they are coming from.  For whatever reason, whether they feel they were abandoned by God or if they simply chose to maintain their distance from God, they feel that they were no longer a Christian and that it took an act of God to bring them back into the fold, or in other words, they were indeed “born again”.

OK, so who is right?  Or maybe a better question is whether there is a clear right or wrong in this situation.  Perhaps the terminology is not the most important thing – it’s the fact that those who stray away from God can indeed come back, and in fact be welcomed back with open arms, as the parable of the prodigal son tells us.  So call it being “born again”, call it pressing the reset button, call it what you want.  I’ll let those who are more intelligent than myself hash this one out.  The bottom line is that it is never too late to be born of water and the Spirit.

Well I can’t think of a better test of faith than being a St. Louis sports fan.  the Rams, after winning every pre-season game and looking like they were making progress, have lost their first 2 games thanks to all kinds of stupid mistakes, by players and coaches alike.  And the Cardinals have made a great run to get close to making the playoffs, only to give up 6 runs in the 9th inning yesterday and lose to a lowly Mets team.  But I keep the faith because 1) the Cubs are here, and no matter what happens from here on out I can always tell myself that it could be worse – I could be a Cubs fan, and 2) the Rams play the Ravens, and I know ahead of time that there will be no surprises in that one – the Rams will get their tails handed to them.  Disappointment goes down a little easier when you know it is coming.

Have a great week.  Enjoy the fall weather.  Peace.

September 16, 2011 – Deserved Thank Yous

September 16, 2011

Well even though autumn doesn’t officially begin until next Friday, many of the signs of fall are already here.  Popeye Picnic has come and gone,  the weather has cooled off,  I’m seeing locally grown apples in the store, and of course football is in full swing.  Around the parish also, you can tell that the slightly more leisurely pace of summer has ended and things are in full swing again.  Of course school has been back in session for about a month now, our parish school of religion begins its classes this Sunday, RCIA begins in a couple of weeks, and groups that had not met over the summer are gathering again.

We of course cannot emphasize enough how important our priests are in the life of the church.  They are teachers.  They are leaders.  They are there during some of the most intimate moments of our lives.  But as we see the activity in our parish increase again, we also see the importance of lay people in the parish, particularly those who voluntarily give of their time, talent and treasure.

This past week Pope Benedict XVI greeted over 100 new Bishops who gathered in Rome.  He emphasized several things to them, but one of the points he made was to be sure to “welcome the gifts of the laity for the sanctification of the church and the vitality of the apostolate.”  It is reassuring to those of us who give of ourselves to the parish that the hierarchy of the church recognizes and appreciates the contributions of lay people to the life of the church.  Perhaps  our local shepherd is in need of a reminder of this concept (I’m just sayin’).

This past week we held our second of four meetings dealing with the Parish Renewal and Restructuring process.  This gathering included the parish council, finance council and school board.  We went through a process of evaluating different areas of parish life.  It was interesting to discuss with others their thoughts on our parish vitality and what direction they see us going in the future.  But there was an unexpected aspect of the meeting that I also took satisfaction in.  I enjoyed seeing the different committees gather as one group.  Though I feel that I am pretty active in parish life, I certainly do not belong to every committee and do not have a hand in every task.  It struck me that there really is a large, dedicated group of lay people who are doing many things to keep our parish and school vital and functional – even larger than I probably realized.

I do not want to get into individual names because I know I will leave some out, but I think the dedicated volunteers who continue to sacrifice of themselves need to be recognized.  So here goes: To the altar servers, ushers, lectors, extraordinary ministers, PSR catechists, RCIA team, Parish Council, finance committee, school board, maintenance committee, liturgy committee, cemetery committee, Council of Catholic Women, Knights of Columbus, Parent/Teacher Organization, those who minister to our parishioners who are shut-ins, nursing home residents and hospital patients, food pantry volunteers and donors, and all of the other groups of volunteers that I know I have missed – thank you for your care and dedication to our parish.  The present and the future is in good hands in large part because of all you do.  We are proud of all of you!

Just a couple other random things this week:

This coming week the priests of the diocese will gather in St. Louis for their annual convocation.  They will be discussing the Parish Renewal and Restructuring plan.  Pray that they have a productive gathering and that they enjoy their time together.

We are drawing a little closer to the time when we will begin the “Fanning the Flame” program that is being offered by the diocese as part of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Belleville  which we will celebrate next year.  The Fanning the Flame program will be based on the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.  This book will be offered at a discounted price of $12.99 when ordered through the parish.  The book contains 36 chapters, and the program is designed to focus on one chapter per week throughout the year (there will be some weeks such as during Holy Week and Easter, when we will take a break from the program).  The diocese will also provide guides for each chapter which contain reflections and discussion questions.  Fanning the Flame may be done on a small group setting, or may be done individually.  We will be providing you more details as the time draws closer.  You can certainly also go to the Fanning the Flame website for more information.  The link is www.ftfdiobelle.org.  This program should be a great opportunity to re-familiarize ourselves with the teachings of the Catholic faith and to renew ourselves in our faith.

Other than that, there’s really not much going on (lol).  But it would certainly be more worrisome if there were few activities going on.  The Holy Spirit is certainly at work here.  Enjoy the week ahead.  I’m keeping my slim hopes for the Cardinals alive (my confidence in the Rams took a hit last week).  Peace.

September 9, 2011 – Remembering 9/11

September 9, 2011

You would think being a lifelong resident of Chester that I would know the proper lingo, but I’m still not sure whether to wish folks a “Happy Popeye Picnic”, or a “Merry Popeye Picnic”, or just “Happy Popeye.”  If someone knows the proper greeting, please let me know.  Anyway, I hope you enjoy the festivities this weekend, or if you are reading this after the picnic, I hope you had a great time.

Of course while we celebrate our annual festival, and football fans rejoice at the beginning of the NFL season, I’m sure we all will take at least a moment to reflect on the events of 9/11/2001.  It was one of those days that you remember where you were and what you were thinking.  I was in my office at work, and the radio station I had it on first gave a report that a plane hit the World Trade Center.  Not realizing it was a passenger jet, I originally thought that it was probably just a jokester in a small plane similar to the one that had hit the White House not that long before.  But then of course more details started coming and the seriousness of the situation became clear.

Not having access to a TV until I got home that afternoon, my initial memories of that day were not the images from New York, but just how the mood changed that day.  There were no jokes being told, no one teasing each other.  I remember even walking to lunch, the atmosphere was just different, there was an eerieness in the air.  I think it was just difficult for people to process what was happening.  This was the United States, the world’s superpower.  Something like this was not supposed to happen.  We were supposed to be invincible.  And now, we found out how truly vulnerable we were.

However, as we have seen in so many other tragedies, we saw the power of the human spirit come through.  We saw all of the fireman and policeman and other rescue workers work desperately to find survivors.  We saw people come together in prayer.  We saw Congress come together as one in a show of unity.  Yes, our country took a huge blow.  But after the initial shock, you had a feeling that we could become a stronger nation from this experience, that we could unite in a common cause.

So ten years later, we reflect not only on the tragic events themselves, but on how our country changed as a result of the events.  We are thankful that there has not been another major terrorist attack on our country.  We can take pride that our freedom has not been highly compromised.  There has been some controversy concerning airport security and how much invasion of privacy is too much, but overall we are still free to go where we want, when we want.

We see other things occurring, though, that may disturb us.  After almost 10 years, we are still involved in a war in Afghanistan that we find harder and harder to justify.  We have a Congress that refuses to work together and can’t seem to get anything constructive done.  And there are still far too many examples of hatred toward one another.  Let us pray as we remember the events of that horrific day that we not forget the lessons that were brought before us as a result of that tragedy.

There are of course many TV specials and things online in remembrance of 9/11.  I would like to point you to just a couple of links.  First, Pope Benedict XVI issued a letter to Archbishop Timothy Dolan and the church of the United States with his thoughts and  blessings.  Here is the link to read it:

www.archny.org/media/files/Papal%20Letter%20on%20September%2011th%20%282%29.pdf

Also, you can read a transcript of an interview Archbishop Dolan did with Vatican Radio about the admirable response of the people of New york to 9/11.  Here is the link:

www.oecumene.radiovaticana.org/en1/Articolo.asp?c=519117

I have known all week really that I would be reflecting on 9/11 in my blog this week.  I did not know, however, that an announcement would be made during the week that could greatly affect our area.  As I’m sure you have heard, Gov. Quinn has proposed to close 7 state facilities and lay off over 1900 state workers in a money-saving move.  One of the facilities proposed for closure is the Chester Mental Health Center, which employees almost 500 people.  If this facility were to close, it obviously would have a devastating effect on our area, particularly in a time when the economy is already in a fragile state.  Some think that this is just a political ploy by the governor in order to persuade the legislature to add to the state budget.  If it is, then he should be ashamed for using people’s jobs and livelihoods as bargaining chips.  If this is a serious proposal, then obviously he does not realize that so much of what fuels the economy of our town and our area is the prison and the mental health center.  We were asked to pay almost double the rate of state income taxes this year, yet the money can’t be found to keep this vital facility open?  There is no wasteful spending occurring in our state that could be eliminated?  As Catholic Christians we of course need to pray that this proposal does not go through and that our jobs stay in our area.  And as citizens, we need to exercise every means possible to make our voice heard, whether it be through communicating with our legislators, signing petitions, etc.

Finally, we had a good first meeting about the Parish Renewal and Restructuring Process.  We have another this week with some of our parish committees.  As we have been going through the evaluations and criteria, we are finding that our parish is doing a good job providing what we are asked to given the resources that we have.  I’m sure this will come through when we submit our final reports to the Diocese.

Again, enjoy the weekend and have a great upcoming week.  Go Rams!  Peace. 

 

September 2, 2011 – What I Have Seen And Heard

September 2, 2011

As I pound out my 150th blog, I’m taking a little bit of liberty this week.  During now Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s time here in the diocese, I always enjoyed reading his column “What I Have Seen And Heard.”  In fact, he has continued writing this column as Archbishop of Atlanta.  The link to see his columns is www.georgiabulletin.org/sh/.  I thought this week I would touch upon a few things that I had seen and heard that caught my attention.  I am writing this in the midst of a 4-day weekend away from work to celebrate Labor Day.  Is this a great country or what?

First I have to throw in another 2 cents worth on the Parish Planning process that we have begun in the Diocese.  If you read the newspapers this past week, you saw that they gave the impression that 20 parishes are going to close.  Could this happen?  Possibly.  Has this decision been made?  No.  Again I stress that no decisions have been made about any parish or school.  The point of the Parish Planning process is to collect as much data as we can in order to make informed decisions, and to have parishes examine themselves to see if they feel they are still viable.  This could result in consolidation of parishes, and could indeed mean closure of some parishes.  But again, these decisions have yet to be made, and any arbitrary number thrown out or any pre-conceived assumption about what will occur are premature.  This coming week we will begin meetings among parishioners to go through the process and to make evaluations about where we stand as a parish.  If you are invited to these meetings, I hope that you make every effort to attend, and I hope that you come with an open mind and with a fair, honest attitude as we evaluate our different ministries, functions, etc.

In the Messenger this week there was an article about Pope Benedict XVI gathering with a group of his former students (Pope Benedict at one time was a professor in Germany).  He delivered a message saying that “cradle” Catholics haven’t done enough to convince people of the existence of the one true God and the fulfillment that He can bring to our lives.  He went so far as to ask for forgiveness for older generations, who he believes took their faith for granted because they grew up during a time when the church was thriving, but now they see fewer and fewer attending Mass.  He also believes that today’s young Catholics are reluctant to give witness to their faith because they realize that they are in the minority among their peers.

I can see how Pope Benedict can come to these conclusions.  It is a difficult time for us Catholics to get our message heard in the midst of tons of negative press against the church and in our materialistic society.  However, the tools are there for us to evangelize.  We can of course pray for those who have left the church.  We can offer an invitation to those whom we haven’t seen in church for a while.  We of course can use the many means of communication that are available to us now.  Part of the reason that I began this website and the blog is to spread the good news of not only our parish, but of the Catholic faith in general.  It is an effective means of reaching a lot of people at once, and it does not cost the parish a dime.  If we are on Facebook, or one of the other social sites, we can let people know that we are Catholic and that we are proud of our faith.

Speaking of our website, www.maryhoc.org, I heard through the grapevine that the website was discussed at the Council of Catholic Women’s meeting this past week.  There were also some positive comments left on our Facebook page.  This led to a monster day on Wednesday this past week, when there were 110 pages viewed on the website!  That is the most in a long time.  Keep spreading the word and letting folks know how valuable our website can be.  I plan to add some more links, etc. to the website over the weekend.  Also, we are up to 48 members on our Facebook page.  Can we make 50?  Go to our homepage and click the Facebook tab and go from there.  Anyone can leave a comment there and I also post death notices and other random items there.

As you know the focus this coming week and especially next weekend will be on the 10th anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11.  I’ll talk more about it next week, but there are a couple of links I’d like to direct you to.  First of all, there will be a lot of television coverage next week.  Here is a link to some of the programming choices:

www.stltoday.com/entertainment/television/gail-pennington/article_20999174-ccc5-533d-9b71-aad143a1d8ab.html

Also, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website has put up a page dedicated to 9/11.  It includes prayers, reflections, and liturgical resources.  Here is the link:

www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/september-11/index.cfm

I’d like to give you a heads-up on something that I will be posting on our website this weekend.  One of our parishioners, Dolores Clendenin, will be celebrating her 100th birthday on September 14.  I will be posting an article about her life written by her family.  She currently resides at the Chester Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.  If you would like to send her a greeting, here is her address:

Chester Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, 770 State St., Room 124, Chester, IL  62233.

Finally, this sports fan has a much brighter outlook on things than he did a week ago.  The Cardinals swept the Brewers, and still have a slim chance to catch them for first place.  The Rams continue to look good in the pre-season, and college football starts this weekend!  Yes, life is good.

I hope you have a good Labor Day weekend.  We pray for those who work hard to provide for their families and for those looking for work that they can utilize their God-given talents.  Have a great week.  Peace.