Archive for July, 2012

July 28, 2012 – What’s To Come

July 28, 2012

Though it may be a case of “too little, too late” for many of our farmers and gardeners, it was nice to at least get some refreshing rain this past week and a little break from the extreme heat.  Hopefully there will be more where that came from, although there appears to be some more hot, dry days ahead this coming week.  At our meetings and discussion groups the last couple of weeks, we have been praying a prayer for rain provided by the National Rural Life Conference.  Here is a link to this prayer:

www.toledodiocese.org/index.php/home/149-archived-news-releases/572-drought-prayer

There is also a short prayer for rain on the homepage of our website.

If you are even a casual listener or reader of Catholic material, you may have heard or seen a couple of terms floating around during the last year or so. One of those is “New Evangelization”, and the other is the “Year of Faith”.  To try to explain each of these in detail would take up much more space and thought processes than one blog will allow. So imstead I thought I would just begin with a brief introduction to each, and then as time goes along, and as we hear more and more about these things, we can get into more detail on each of them. As is no surprise I’m going to switch the topics around and talk about the Year of Faith first.

At certain times in Church history, popes have called upon Catholics to deepen their understanding of a particular aspect of the faith.  For example, in 1967 Pope Paul VI announced a year of faith which coincided with the 1900th anniversary of the martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul.  During that year Catholics were called upon to not only recall the sacrifice that these two saints made for their faith, but also to use their example as an inspiration to make their own sincere profession of faith.  Last year Pope Benedict XVI declared that a Year of Faith will begin on October 11, 2012 and conclude on November 24, 2013.  October 11 of this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and also the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  During this Year of Faith, Catholics are asked to study and reflect on the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism in order to deepen the knowledge of their faith.

The opening of the Year of Faith will also coincide with a synod on New Evangelization.  A synod is a gathering of bishops from different areas of the world who meet with the pope to discuss the activity of the church worldwide.  This meeting is held to strengthen the unity between the bishops and the pope, and to provide counsel to the pope.  So, then, that leads us to the question of what the New Evangelization is.  Again, to explain it in detail would take a month of blogs, but in a nutshell, the New Evangelization is a call to each of us to strengthen our faith and belief in the Gospel message, and in turn to go forth to proclaim the Gospel.  The New Evangelization is focused on “re-introducing” the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith.  So you could say that the New Evangelization is a time of rediscovery.

We do not need to look far to see why there is a need for this New Evangelization.  According to a study done in 2008 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, only about 23 percent of Catholics in the United states attend Mass each week.  The most common reasons given by Catholics who do not attend Mass regularly are not the “controversial” issues such as the clergy sex abuse scandal, or the church’s teachings on abortion and contraception, but instead are reasons such as busy schedules and lack of time, family responsibilities, conflicts with work schedules, and a growing sentiment that missing Mass is not a sin.  The study also points to increased secularism, materialism, and individualism.

Secularism influences people to believe that religion is merely a private matter, and has no place in the public square.  Materialism causes people to hope that they alone can fulfill whatever needs they have.  And individualism squashes the belief that we are social beings who can only find true fulfillment in love for God and for neighbor.  The study also indicated that there is an erosion in our knowledge of the Eucharist and in the importance of setting aside Sunday as the Lord’s Day dedicated to prayer and rest.  The New Evangelization  tells us to “re-propose” the gospel to those who have drifted away from their faith.

So the next natural question would be “What is the link between the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith?  Well, they each offer us an opportunity to deepen our own faith and to strengthen our confidence in our ability to share the faith with others.  We are called by our Baptism to be disciples and to proclaim the Gospel.  They are both calls for us to experience God’s love and mercy through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation.  Evangelization is the basis of our Catholic identity.  Pope Paul VI wrote that “the Church on earth is by its very nature missionary since, according to the plan of the Father, it has its origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  The bishops of the U.S. have expressed a sincere desire to welcome all inactive Catholics back to their place in the Church.  They wrote that “we want to let our inactive brothers and sisters know that they always have a place in the Church and that we are hurt by their absence – as they are … we want to help them see that, however they feel about the Church, we want to talk with them, share with them, and accept them as brothers and sisters.”

You will certainly be hearing much more about both these initiatives, here and elsewhere.  You can also go to the USCCB website and find a lot more information.  Here’s your link:

www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/new-evangelization/year-of-faith/index.cfm

Particularly at this time when our religious freedom continues to be threatened and a very important election looms in a few months, we need to let our Catholic identity be known and to shine.  Have a great week.  Peace.

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July 20, 2012 – Sorting It All Out

July 21, 2012

Thursday I started thinking a little bit about what I was going to tackle in the blog this week.  To that point it had been a good week, and I was excited to tell you a little bit about a project I have become involved with concerning the upcoming 150th anniversary of our school.  So my thoughts were that this week’s blog should be pretty light-hearted and upbeat.  Then when I turned on my computer yesterday morning to finish up a few odds and ends, I saw the headline that said there was a massive shooting at a Colorado theatre, and that there were multiple fatalities and at least 50 people injured.  We now know that there were 12 people killed and 59 people injured.  We also know that the situation could have become even worse if someone had entered the suspect’s apartment without realizing that it was booby-trapped with explosives.  Obviously the suspect had a very elaborate plan that he had worked on for a long time.

We of course have had to react to news like this much too often.  I know for myself my initial reaction, which would have been complete shock years ago, has almost turned into a “here we go again” reaction.  And as I’m sure is the case with you, a flood of questions enter my mind.  How could the suspect have masterminded something like this without anyone noticing anything?  Would tougher background checks and gun laws have prevented this horrific tragedy?  Was there something in his background or how he was raised that set this off?  Is there a need for even MORE security than we already have, even at a seemingly innocent and fun place like a movie theater?

Answers to these questions will be discussed in more detail in the coming weeks, I’m sure.  Then the news will fade out of our minds and the discussion will die down until the next massive incident occurs.  Right now, with the tragedy still very fresh in our minds, I think there are two things that all of us can do to channel our anger and doubts.  First and foremost, we of course need to pray for those who were killed and for their families in their time of loss, for those who were injured that they may be healed, for those who were present at the movie theatre that they may be able to deal with their emotions and memories, and for all of us that we do not have another horrific tragedy like this occur again.

The other thing we need to think about as Catholic Christians is how we can begin to reverse this culture that seems to continue to de-value life.  It is hard to imagine that during the whole time the suspect was plotting this, that not once did he think that there will be children who will no longer have parents, or siblings who will no longer have their brother or sister, or that someone will lose their best friend they have known for years and years.  Reports appear to indicate that the suspect had well-respected parents who practiced Christian faith and that he was raised in a very nice neighborhood.  So how does the thought of taking multiple lives enter one’s mind?

It is large scale incidents such as this one that will draw the most news coverage and headlines, of course.  However, as we know by watching the local new and reading the local headlines, there are senseless killings happening in our country every single day.  In the year 2009 there were over 15,ooo homicides in our country, with over 9000 of these by use of a firearm.  Last night in Chicago, there were 3 people killed and 18 wounded by gunshots.  I’m not going on a soapbox about gun control, but I am saying that there continues to be a blatant disregard for the value of human life by some people, and unfortunately it sometimes takes a catastrophic event such as the one in Colorado to remind us of that.  We as Catholics need to continue to defend and respect all human life, including the unborn and people of all ages and races.  As I mentioned in my reflection when I held the Sunday celebration a couple of weeks ago, we are a nation that is still about 25% Catholic, and if we could mobilize into one voice, what a difference we could make.

After tackling such serious subject matter, there really is no good way to switch gears and talk about something much more light-hearted, so I’ll just get into it.  As you may have seen or heard elsewhere, our parish school began in 1863, which means that it will be celebrating its 150th anniversary next year.  There will be many activities taking place to mark this important milestone in our parish.  I attended a meeting the other night with a group that will be working on a commemorative book to mark the occasion.  It will be somewhat similar to the book that was published in 1992 for the 150th anniversary of the parish.  It will contain a history of the school along with other things.  I’m sure there are a lot of stories, memories, photos, etc. that are floating around amongst the alumni of our school, and it would be great if you could share some if this with us.  I have begun a Facebook page (yes, another Facebook page) titled “I attended St. Mary’s School in Chester, and I remember….”.  On this page anyone registered to Facebook can post stories, photos, etc, from their time at St. Mary’s and can also interact with other St. Mary’s alumni.  If you do not have a Facebook account, you can e-mail me directly at webmaster@maryhoc.org with your submissions.  You will be hearing much more about this in the next week or two as all of the parish families and registered alumni will be receiving a letter about it.

Well I did my part yesterday to end the drought – I washed my car.  If this doesn’t work, who knows what will happen.  I know farmers, gardeners, and others who rely on the rain for their livelihood are getting very frustrated, but we have to hold on to our faith and know that the Lord knows what is best for us.  Have a great week.  Peace.

July 13, 2012 – So How Was Your Weekend?

July 14, 2012

First of all, it’s about 8:00PM on Friday 13th and nothing bad has happened to me yet today, so unless the Cardinals blow their lead here, I should come through this one OK.  Well last weekend certainly didn’t turn out how I or anyone else around the parish thought it would.  I didn’t have any big plans; like most people I was just going to take in as much air conditioning as I could and do my usual things – website work, watch baseball, watch some more baseball – you get the drift.  But as you know a phone call can turn things on a dime.  I was surprised when I got a call about 12:30PM last Saturday and the rectory phone number came up on the caller ID.  It was Bonnie Smith calling to tell me that Fr. Lou did not want to get out in the extreme heat, and well, there was no priest for weekend Masses.  As a trained lay leader of prayer, this meant that I would have to spring into action.

So my first move was to call our other trained lay leader of prayer who informed me that he was in Chicago, which meant that I would be leading both services for the weekend.  OK, no problem.  You basically follow the same format at each service – I can do that.  Then I get another phone call from Bonnie telling me that Del is not feeling well, so there will be no organist for Saturday evening.  OK, I admit at this point that things are getting a little tense.  What will the next phone call bring?  A sanctuary cave-in?  The lock broke on the tabernacle?  But I take a deep breath and plan out what I need to do from here.

OK, what do I need to do first?  I have to find a joke.  Thank goodness for the internet and Google.  I search “homily jokes” and come up with a couple that I run by Mom.  The shortest joke gets the heartiest laugh.  Beautiful!  Next, I need to come up with a reflection to read following the gospel.  As a lay person we cannot give a full “homily”  but we can read a reflection.  Again, my friend the internet comes through for me.  I combine a couple of different reflections and have this taken care of.  Next, I go to my hymnal to find some songs that I think my very limited vocal range can handle. and check that off of the list.  Finally, I go through the rite itself to make sure I remember when all of the different things take place.  I think I’m ready for my first Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest.

Actually, my biggest fear was not leading the service itself.  The celebration is laid out nicely, and we have done quite a few services during Lent, so I was confident that we could have a nice little service.  My biggest fear was what people’s reaction would be to the fact that we did not have a priest for weekend Mass for the first time in my memory.  Would they be upset?  Would they storm out the doors?  Would they have no idea what the responses would be to the prayers?  What kind of questions would they have afterwards?  Well, I shouldn’t have worried, as the great people of St. Mary’s came through once again.   Not only were you understanding to the situation, but you participated very well, and I was so appreciative of all of the wonderful compliments you gave me afterwards.  It really made my week!  Also, a million thanks to everyone who helped me – Bonnie, servers, lectors, ushers, musicians, and everyone else I’m forgetting.

As well as our services went last weekend, we know that this is not what we want.  As Catholics, we know that the center of our faith is the Eucharist, and we know that there cannot be Eucharist without a priest.  Yes, we can still gather to worship, to hear God’s word, to even receive Communion that had previously been consecrated, but it is not the same as a Mass.  Nothing can replace the sacrifice of the Mass.  We must continue to pray for and foster vocations, and also as lay people, we are going to have to be willing to take on roles and responsibilities that we may not have thought we would have to do.  The reality of our present situation dictates that this will certainly not be the last time we find ourselves having to shuffle things around due to a last-minute emergency.  However, I know now that our people will be cooperative and understanding to whatever we have to do.

So why does it continue to be so difficult to foster vocations?  I’m sure there are many reasons which are too numerous to mention in the space I have left.  I think part of the answer lies in a society which seems to put less and less value on religion.  Cardinal Dolan of New York published an article this past week which talked about some disheartening statistics.  Over the last decade, 10% of Catholics have left the church.  Some have drifted away from regular practice of the faith.  Some have found another congregation more appealing.  But perhaps most disturbing of all is that many have left because they see no need for religion in their lives.  They claim to still have a belief in God but do not feel a need to belong to an organized congregation.  They consider themselves “spiritual”, but not “religious”.  This makes our duty as evangelizers even more difficult because not only do we have to try to persuade those who have left the faith to come back home, but in many cases we also have to take the initial step of communicating why religion itself is important in our lives.  This is a challenge of the new evangelization that John Paul II and Benedict XVI have spoken of.  Here’s the link to Cardinal Dolan’s full article:

http://blog.archny.org/?p=2842

Well as I wrote this, the Cardinals have indeed blown their lead, and my Friday 13th is not unblemished after all.  Oh well, can’t win them all.  Have a great week.  Keep praying for badly needed rain.  Peace.

 

July 6, 2012 – Tidbits of Past, Present and Future

July 8, 2012

Weather Update: HOT!  Moving on, there were a couple of items that I wanted to mention last week but did not get around to due to my lengthy synopsis on the issues related to the Fortnight for Freedom.

A week ago Friday I mentioned tongue in cheek on our Facebook page that I was going to fast in observance of the “Fortnight for Freedom”, and that I had hoped people would wish me luck in this endeavor.  Yesterday, I had someone ask if I made it through the day.  Yes, I did make it through, and it wasn’t bad at all.  I’m sure my doctor will inform me Monday when I have my check-up that I probably need about six months worth of fasting, but one step at a time.

Also, as those of you who live here in the area have noticed, work on the steeple and bell tower of our church has been going on in earnest.  We pray for the safety of the workers as they continue this tough task, especially in the record-breaking heat we have been having.  This needed work would not have been possible without the generosity of so many people who gave toward our capital campaign.  Thanks to you we collected enough money to pay fully for the steeple work, as well as for some other future needed work on our building such as window trim, interior work, etc.  As we have been reminded of the last few years with the numerous roofing jobs, school renovations, etc., our older buildings require a lot of upkeep, and it is through your generosity that we are able to maintain our beautiful church and other buildings.  Thank you again so much.

OK, with those leftover items taken care of, let’s move on to a present issue.  This past week in the Messenger was the listing of appointments and transfers for our clergy.  A couple of things stuck out at me going through the list.  First, I am grateful that our current pastor, Fr. Gene, will be sticking around for at least another year, which will be year #9, proving once again that there is no such thing as a short pastorate here at St. Mary’s.  We again continue to be blessed in that we have a pastor that we can call our very own, something which many parishes cannot claim.  There were again appointments that stated priests would be taking on administration of parishes in addition to the ones they already have.  So many of our clergy continue to be stretched more and more.  Also, this list was actually released via e-mail last week, and when it was shared with our Fanning the Flame group, the most common comment was “who are these guys?”  The face of our clergy has certainly changed over the last 10-15 years, as more and more of our clergy are not “homegrown” guys, but rather are priests who have come from other areas and have been ordained to serve here, or are priests on loan from other countries.  The makeup of our clergy will continue to change as it will be at least several years before there is another priesthood ordination in our diocese.  If it were not for the international priests that have been brought here and for the number of older clergy who continue in full-time ministry despite being eligible to retire, we would have a much greater crisis situation than we are in now.

International priests have helped to put a “band-aid” on the problem, but most of these men again are on loan to us from other dioceses, and are here to serve generally 3 to 5 years.  As was in the Messenger, 3 of the international priests who were ministering here are moving on to other assignments, and this cycle will continue.  There will be a lot of critical decisions to be made in the next year or two, as the changing face of our clergy and diocese will change in a more rapid and radical way.  We of course must continue to do what we can to pray for and foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Now moving on to another future item.  We have just completed the “Fortnight for Freedom”, which by all accounts was a very successful endeavor led by our Bishops.  The unified voice of our Bishops has not only brought the issue of the erosion of our religious freedom to the forefront for us Catholics, but has also attracted the support of other faiths.  If you are reading this blog, chances are you know what the issues are and what is at stake for all Christians.  The challenge now is getting this message to people who still do not get it, Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  I read an excellent blog yesterday titled “Let’s Move Beyond Preaching to the Choir.”  The author offers 5 ways to reach out beyond our “comfort zone” and spread our message to those who have not been receptive to it up to this point.  They are: 1) Encourage the Faithful.  Rally Everyone Else.  We need to continue to encourage those who grasp this issue, but we also need to devote more time and energy toward those who do not have a handle on the threats to our religious freedom, 2) Pray Daily.  This is of course something we all can do, 3) Set a Good Example.  Part of our duty as a Christian is to be a good witness, and to make sure that when people observe us, they know that we practice what we preach, 4) Use the Right Arguments.  We need to make it clear to those who do not share our beliefs that this issue affects them also as this is an attack on our individual freedom that we have never seen before, and 5) Act Now for Future Generations.  Our children and grandchildren deserve to enjoy the same freedoms that we have, which is why this fight cannot wait for the future.  If you would like to read this full blog, here is the link:  www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2012/07/randy-hain-lets-move-beyond-preaching-to-the-choir/.  It is an excellent read.

It sounds like we may have a break in our heat wave.  Pray that everyone will receive a good dose of needed rain and that the cooler weather will be with us for a while.  Have a great week.  Peace.