Archive for October, 2011

October 28, 2011 – A Deserved “Thank You”

October 28, 2011

I’m not sure how this blog is going to turn out.  Like a lot of Cardinal fans I’m running strictly on adrenaline today after staying up late to see the incredible game on Thursday night.  As I have at many points in the last couple of months, I resigned myself to seeing the season end, and lo and behold my Cardinals somehow muster a comeback and stay alive.  Well tonight it will end one way or another, and I can return to my “normal” life. 

Of course most of us really can’t claim that our lives are always “normal”.  There are always the unexpected things that come up – things that require us to go above and beyond the call of duty.  Things come up that we know we have to endure even though we would rather be doing other things.  Things come up that we have never experienced before and we are not sure what the final outcome will be.  I think this certainly would qualify as an accurate description of the life of a priest.  The month of October in our nation is dedicated to showing appreciation to our clergy, and in particular the last Sunday of October is designated as Priesthood Sunday in the United States.  Our priests continue to face more and more challenges, and they deserve to be recognized for their tireless service to others.

A few weeks back I talked a little bit about the changing “face” of the Church that I observed when I attended the last West Deanery meeting.  This is even more evident when you look in the Messenger this week.  Many parishes placed an ad thanking their pastors and other priests that do parish ministry, and you can note the same things – That the number of clergy continues to fall, that a large block of clergy continuing to minister is aging, and more international priests on loan to our diocese are filling these roles.  The Messenger also highlighted that there are 4 more international priests who have come to our Diocese to serve for a 2-5 year period, and it also profiled the 5 seminarians from our diocese currently studying to hopefully fulfill the vocation of the priesthood.  Someone on the outside looking in may think that is great to have 5 gentleman in the seminary, and we certainly should be grateful for them.  However, considering that one is an older gentleman, and that the younger men will be in study for approximately 8 years if they complete their education, then we would still be averaging about ½ an ordination per year.  In other words, there will be some years in which no one will be ordained, and considering again the age brackets our current priests fall into, we certainly see a future scenario that will require radical changes in how we receive church.

I don’t share this to scare folks, but in order to stress a couple of points.  That first of all, one of the important ways we can show appreciation to our current priests is to pray for and encourage vocations.  As I have said before, this is sort of an uncomfortable subject for me to talk about because there was a time that I contemplated pursuing a vocation, and ultimately decided that it was not the path I was meant to take.  But I know that there are men who have what it takes to be a good priest, and it is a matter of them hearing God’s call and being encouraged by those close to them.  I also share this because again it illustrates the need for the parish planning process we are going through right now.  Only those parishes who are deemed viable will be assured of the presence of a priest in the near future, and the future down the road may require even more radical changes if an increase in vocations does not occur. 

At our parish council meeting the other night it was discussed why we proclaim a prayer for priestly vocations each week, but do not include other vocations such as religious brothers, sisters, and deacons.  It is not that these vocations are not important, and it is not that the increased role of lay people in parish ministry is not important.  But the heart of our faith is the Eucharist, and of course it must be a priest who celebrates Mass and is able to consecrate the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.  And the question of whether there will be a priest to send in 5, 10, 20 years time must be addressed.  As with many things, it is prudent to hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

So on this Priest Appreciation weekend, I thank our pastor, Fr. Gene, for his willingness to share his gifts with us. His knowledge of church history, his dedication to Catholic education, his ability as a homilist, his willingness to take a stand on social issues the Church deems important, his humor, and of course his care for the parish and the people who constitute it, have all made our parish a stronger and more welcoming place.  I also thank those who have pastored here in the past, living and deceased, for their contributions to our community that we continue to enjoy the fruits of today.  And finally, I thank all of those who made the courageous decision to give their lives to serving God and to being shepherds to His people.  We pray for all of them that they experience joy and satisfaction in their vocation, and that more will decide to join their mission and ease the burden of their ministry. 

OK, I think this made some sort of sense.  Maybe my mind is not as jumbled as I thought.  Well, then again, my mind is always jumbled.  No matter what happens in Game 7, this will go down as one of the most memorable seasons I have ever experienced.  Of course, the win would make it that much sweeter.  Enjoy the game, Happy Halloween, and continue to enjoy the gorgeous fall season we are having.  GO CARDS!  Peace.

October 21, 2011 – Our Addictions

October 21, 2011

I was listening to one of the all-sports radio stations today and the broadcaster, who is a former assistant football coach, was talking about the sick feeling he had in his stomach this morning after the Cardinals loss Thursday night being similar to the feeling he had when one of his football teams would lose a game.  Now as you can tell by the size of my girth I rarely feel sick to my stomach, but I certainly have been obsessed with watching every move the Cardinals make.  I have been having to remind myself to make sure to keep up with the “important” stuff in between all of the games like, um, prayer, paying the bills, etc.  I was so joyful this week when my schedule of meetings worked around the games that I could hardly contain myself.  I’m not sure what this makes me – a dedicated fan, an obsessed fan, or someone with a true sickness?  Whatever the case, it had been a great ride for us Cardinal fans, and hopefully it will continue a bit longer.

All of the attention I have been paying to the Cardinals got me thinking about championships of the past.  The first Cardinal World Series that I experienced was in 1982, which ended in the birds winning the championship in 7 games.  The catcher on that team was Darrell Porter.  He did not have a good year offensively that year, hitting only .231.  But when the postseason came around he got hot, and he ended up being named the most valuable player of the league championship series as well as the World Series.  This was a nice story in itself, but what made the story even more satisfying was that he had battled a drug and alcohol addiction a few years before that and came back to be a pretty good player, and an even better person.  He did work for many charities, and was actively involved with his church and with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  You can go to the website and read more about his career and life.

Unfortunately, he could not keep his addiction under control, and in 2002 he was found dead at the age of 50 from what was found to be the effects of cocaine use.  At first one might have the reaction of disappointment.  How could somebody who knew the effects of drug abuse from a prior experience start using again?  But when I read and remember more about his life, and remember all the good that he did for people and all of the people he probably influenced, the reaction turns to sadness.  This was a very good man who unfortunately had a powerful addiction that got the best of him in the end.

I’m sure most of us if not all of us have some type of addiction or temptation that we have had to fight at some point in our lives.  The obvious ones we think of are of course alcohol, drugs, smoking, junk food, etc.  But there are many other addictions as well.  I cannot imagine going through a day without firing up one of my 3 computers or my I-pod touch and checking out my favorite websites.  Or I can’t imagine having to miss one of these Cardinal games.  Are these as serious as the alcoholic who gets behind the wheel after a drinking binge, or the teenager who becomes hooked on illegal drugs?  Probably not.  But the premise is the same, and no matter what the addiction is, it doesn’t make us a bad person, it proves that we are imperfect human beings, and we need help and support not only from our God, but from each other as well.

God, as with any other hardship we face, provides us support and advice.  In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul tells us that “no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  No matter what the temptation or the addiction, God provides us a way out.  Of course, God is not going to pull us through the escape route – we have to take the necessary steps to make the escape ourselves, and once we have made the escape, we have to continue to work to avoid going back down the same path.  Again the key to this is to be open to support from not only our God, but from those close to us as well.  Those who have the gift of a group of people who look out for our best interests are blessed people indeed.  When Darrell Porter made the decision to tackle his addiction, it was a former player who had battled addiction himself who convinced him to seek help.  We need to look out for each other, and be able to show compassion toward one another while at the same time being brave enough to tell someone that they need help.  Pray for all those who are victimized by addiction that they are able to “escape” into the arms of God.

This past week we held our final meeting for the Parish Renewal and Restructuring process.  Overall the process went well.  It would have been ideal if more folks would have been willing to participate and to give us their feedback as to how we are doing in serving the needs of our parishioners.  However, we received good input from those who did participate, and though I’m still working on tabulating the results, I can tell you that in general most of the evaluations were positive, which I think is a tribute to all of us in the parish, particularly given the limited resources we have.  After the results are tabulated, a summary along with the evaluations will be submitted to the Diocese.  We also must still fill out a report for the school, and we must meet in our cluster of parishes, as well as continue to count the attendance at weekend Masses through the spring, so the process will continue for some time. 

Finally, for those who have been seeking to find that diet drink that tastes like those sugary drinks we love, the new Dr. Pepper 10 soda is pretty good stuff.  I think I may be becoming addicted (lol).  Have a great week.  Go Cardinals!  Release the squirrels!  Peace.

October 14, 2011 – Change On My Mind

October 14, 2011

People who write headlines for a living I’m sure were thrilled at the result of last night’s (Thursday’s) Cardinal game.  I heard more than one reporter say that “the wolf must have eaten the squirrel,” referring to the Brewers starting pitcher Randy Wolf and the now all too famous rally squirrel.  So now we are even at 2 games a piece, but the trend this year has seemed to be that the Cardinals play their best when their back are against the wall, so we’ll see what happens from here.  Oh, by the way, the Cubs hired a new general manager who previously was with the Red Sox.  Good luck with that.

Now on to more serious matters (really, there are more serious matters?).  This past week St. Mary’s hosted a meeting of the clergy and religious from the West Deanery.  If you are not aware our diocese is divided into 6 deaneries, and our West Deanery basically consists of Randolph and Monroe County.  They come together every quarter I believe to enjoy a meal and to hear various reports from different diocesan departments.  It is also a chance for them to “touch base” with one another.  I was privileged to be invited to snap a few pictures (which I have posted on our website) and to enjoy lunch (roast pork & dressing, yum!!!).

One of the things that struck me was the “make-up” of the group.  If this group met say 20-25 years ago, chances are that most parishes would have had their own priest, and they would have been priests who for the most part were born and raised in this area.  Now as I saw this group together I observed many priests who have more than one job, whether it be having to minister to multiple parishes and/or performing other duties for the diocese.  I also saw an aging group of “homegrown” priests, and also a growing group of priests who have come to us on loan from other countries, including 2 who have recently come from Africa who are currently getting acclimated to our area.  We of course are all aware of the need for an increase in vocations to the priesthood, and we need to continue to pray for this.  But besides this, it gave me pause to think that the face of our Catholic Church is changing.

The topic of change has been on my mind since earlier this week when I read that October 11 was the 49th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.  This day was also designated by Pope John Paul II to be the feast day to commemorate Blessed Pope John XXIII.  Those of us who were not around yet at that time I don’t think appreciate or realize the scope of change that the Catholic Church went through during this time.  There were of course the obvious ones – Masses were now permitted to be proclaimed in each nation’s own language instead of Latin.  The priest was now permitted to face the people during the consecration of bread and wine instead of having his back to the congregation.  There were, however, many other changes that came from the Council, including an increased role for lay people in terms of consultation and a revival of the ministry of the diaconate.  Here is a link to an interesting reflection video on Pope John XXIII which I think will help us, especially those of us not as familiar with what happened at that time, with the impact of the change that took place.

Despite the historic changes that took place at that time, there are those who still believe that the church is way out of touch with our modern world, and need to make more dramatic changes.  We need to allow priests to be married and have a family.  We need to ordain women priests.  We need to change our positions on social issues such as abortion, contraception, and euthanasia.  We need to accept the fact that homosexuals can be “married.”  And the list goes on and on.  Those who are vocal about making these changes believe that the church would be stronger and that those who have left the church for whatever reason would be more apt to return.

But would this really be the case?  There are also those who would argue that it appears from the outside that our church was stronger before the Second Vatican Council.  There were more clergy.  Churches were fuller.  Catholics were more devout.  Perhaps it was these changes that are driving Catholics away from their faith.  So we stand at a crossroads.  Who is right?  Is either side right?  As with any situation, I think there are multiple factors at play here.  Families are not as large as in the past.  People become angry when they don’t feel that instant sense of satisfaction when they go through bad times and they feel that God is not helping them.  They are disappointed in the church’s handling of the sexual abuse crisis.  And there are simply more and more distractions keeping people from making church a priority.  And the list could go on and on.

We Catholics who regularly practice our faith I think are always searching for a magic “potion”, some magic words that we can use to bring people back to the church.  As we know it simply isn’t that easy.  Should that keep us from trying to bring wayward Catholics back into the fold?  No.  Should we continue to offer invitations to these people?  Yes.  Should we continue to publicly express our faith by holding events such as the rosary rally this weekend?  Yes, absolutely.  What we need to avoid is becoming frustrated when our efforts don’t seem to be working.  And even if we disagree with what the church is doing policy-wise, whether we fall on the side of desiring more change or desiring to roll back to the days of old, we need to remember our true purpose: to spread the gospel of Jesus and to be witnesses of how He taught us to live.

A final note: To those who have not yet participated in one of our meetings concerning the Pastoral Renewal and Restructuring, there is a “Town Hall” style meeting on Tuesday, October 18 at 7:00PM at the KC Hall.  ALL parishioners are invited to attend and participate in the process of assessing our parish viability.  Hope to see you there. 

Continue to enjoy our beautiful fall.  Peace.

October 7, 2011 – The Future of Catholic Education

October 7, 2011

It is during these times when one of my favorite teams is in the playoffs that I start to question my priorities.  When I woke up this morning, the first thought that entered my head was that somehow, someway, I have to squeeze in a little time to put out the blog before 7:30 this evening when the Cardinal game comes on, because at that point everything else will be shut down except the TV.  We have to admit, though, it has been an exciting series, with good pitching, great defense, timely hitting, squirrels, etc.  Hopefully this time next week my priorities will still be out of whack as the Cardinals continue their improbable playoff run.

 As my regular readers know, besides my love of the Cardinals I also love to surf around the internet and find what at least I think are interesting things.  I came across an article that was published in the Wall Street Journal last week written by Richard Riordan, who formerly was the mayor of Los Angeles and is also the founding president of the Los Angeles Catholic Education Foundation.  This is a foundation that provides tuition assistance to low income families who wish to send their children to Catholic schools.  This foundation has announced a campaign to raise $100 million in hopes of providing aid to all families who qualify for assistance.  If you would like to read the entire article, here is the link for you, though I will hit on a few of the main points.

The article points out a report from Loyola Marymount University which states that the number of Catholic schools nationwide continues to dwindle.  Forty years ago the U.S. had over 13,000 Catholic schools with 5.5 million students.  Now there are only 6,900 Catholic schools with 2 million students.  Why has this occurred?  It certainly is not because of lack of a quality education.  98% of students who graduate from Catholic grade schools go on to graduate high school, and a vast majority of these students move on to college.  In contrast, in the Los Angeles area only 30% of students who graduated from urban public schools went on to finish high school.

The article goes on to explain why he feels there is such a discrepancy, despite the fact that Catholic schools generally are running on tighter budgets than public schools or charter schools.  Catholic schools focus on instilling beliefs, values and standards.  They also provide a safe learning environment, structure and a faith-based education.  There is a sense of community and a set of goals that every child is expected to achieve.

Thinking back on my 12 years in Catholic schools and what I observe now, I can see the same things happening.  I see the students from our school moving on to achieve success in high school and beyond.  I see faith-based values being instilled in our kids.  I see the sense of community not just in each grade, but among the grades.  Our school slogan, “A Family of Families”, certainly rings true.  So why during this process of Pastoral Planning and Re-Structuring is the school such a focal point, and why has the diocesan Office of Education determined the future viability of our school to be “questionable”?  Of course the issue comes down to funding and our ability to continue to support not only the school but the other areas of ministry that a viable parish should be able to offer.

As I said last week, ideally the parish should not be subsidizing more than 40% of its income to the school.  It is felt that if the percentage is higher than this, other areas that make up a parish would suffer.  Currently this figure is about 49%, which is an improvement from past years, thanks to a bump in tuition, increased fund raising efforts, and increased enrollment.  I share this with you again not to question our ability to maintain our school and keep it open, but to inform you why we were put into a “questionable” category.  It is not a question of quality of education, or performance of students, or the dedication of parents, grandparents, staff and volunteers.  The question is whether in the long-term we can continue to find sources of funding as costs continue to rise, and can we find ways to support those families, Catholic and non-Catholic, who are on the lower income level yet want their children to receive the obvious benefits of a Catholic education.

As the article states, we have an obligation to the next generation to see that they have the opportunity to receive a quality education.  This will require an investment on our part.  We need to remember the school in our wills, bequests and memorials.  We need to persuade our representatives to give families freedom of choice when it comes to educating their children.  We need to continue to find ways to keep our enrollment at an acceptable level – not only welcoming our own parishioners, but those of other faiths and those from other communities.  I am not disparaging the efforts of our public schools and other parochial schools, but I know what I gained from a Catholic education, and how it helped to shape what I have become (please, no fat jokes – ha ha), and I want future generations to be afforded the same opportunity.  With everyone’s efforts, we will achieve this goal.

A couple of personal notes before I close.  First of all, I ask for your prayers for the 2 gentleman who suffered serious burn injuries at the Gilster – Mary Lee Pasta Plant in Steeleville.  I do not know the gentlemen personally, but working for the same company, I feel a sense of closeness to them.  Unfortunately, even with safety procedures in place, accidents can and will happen.  Pray for their quick recovery and for their families.

Finally, I feel it is my duty that when I witness a true miracle, I must bring it to light.  Yesterday I had to go to the driver’s license bureau to get my license renewed.  Usually 2 things are a given in this venture – that you will have to wait, and wait, and wait, and that you will probably have to deal with someone who is, well, how to put this delicately, is less than cooperative.  However, yesterday I was helped right away, just had to answer a few simple questions, take the eye test, get the picture taken, and within a minute or 2 I had my new card and I was out the door!  The whole thing took like 5 minutes.  So kudos to the employees at the license bureau for making my day.  May your next experience at the license bureau be as pleasant as mine.

Continue to enjoy our beautiful fall.  Peace.