Archive for December, 2012

December 28, 2012 – Looking Back … and Ahead

December 29, 2012

I hope you had a good Christmas celebration.  Of course, as I was reminded of in one of the items that came across my Facebook feed, we Catholics will be celebrating the Christmas season until the Baptism of the Lord on January 13, so really we are just a brief time into our Christmas celebration.  It also seems that more and more families are not having their gathering on Christmas Day, but rather on the weekend before or after or even on New Year’s Day, which our family will be doing.  So anyway, whatever your celebration consisted of, we continue to rejoice in the coming of the Savior to earth.

Well as you probably guessed, with this being the final blog of the year its a fitting time to look back at the year past and to look ahead at what the coming year may bring.  On a national level for us Catholics, I would say that the fight against the HHS mandate which requires employers to cover contraception, sterilization and medically-induced abortions in their health care plans was the biggest story of the year.  As we know the fight against this continues in the courts in the form of numerous lawsuits, with mixed results thus far.  Though the fight continues, I was pleased at how the bishops of the United States came together to put up such a strong front against this, and all indications are that they will continue to voice their opposition in the coming year, with plans already being made for another “Fortnight for Freedom” as well as other strategies to promote life and religious freedom.

In October we saw the Synod of Bishops in Rome, which focused on the “New Evangelization” and how we can more effectively spread the good news the Catholic Church has to share.  October also marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, which provided an opportunity to re-visit what the Council was about, how the events of the Council unfolded, and what the conclusions of the Council were.  October also marked the opening of the Year of Faith as proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI, which will continue through November of next year.  The Year of Faith is an opportunity for Catholics to experience a conversion – to turn back to Jesus and enter into a deeper relationship with him.  The “door of faith” is opened at one’s baptism, but during this year Catholics are called to open it again, walk through it and rediscover and renew their relationship with Christ and his Church.

Looking ahead to the coming year, in addition to the continuing focus on life and religious freedom issues, there will be a World Youth Day in July in Rio de Janeiro, which Pope Benedict will attend.  Also, On the feast of Corpus Christi, June 2, Pope Benedict will lead an hour of eucharistic adoration to be observed simultaneously around the world, highlighting a traditional devotion that fell largely out of use in the decades after the Second Vatican Council, but which has lately grown more popular with the pope’s personal encouragement. This promises to be one of the most visually impressive of many events scheduled for the Year of Faith, which ends Nov. 24.

Turning to our little corner of the world, there were several things that stood out to me in the past year.  First was the success of our participation in the “Fanning the Flame” program.  I think those who studied the adult Catechism, read the weekly reflections, and attended our weekly discussion group gained a new appreciation of their faith.  Secondly was the successful capital campaign to raise the funds to repair the steeple of the church.  The generosity shown by so many people was overwhelming.  Also, on a bit of a personal note, we saw our first occasion of not having a priest available for weekend Mass this past July, and yours truly stepping in for a Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest.  I am still amazed at how well our parishioners accepted the situation, and I think we will do well in whatever the future holds for us with the continuing decline in the number of priests.  Finally, there was the saga of the incredible shrinking priest.  Our pastor still sounds like Fr. Gene, and has the sense of humor of Fr. Gene, but is it really Fr. Gene?  I’m kidding of course, and I hope you had the chance to read the profile of Fr. Gene in this past week’s Randolph County Herald Tribune.  It is a well-written piece and gives some great insight into our talented and personable pastor.

In looking ahead to what will be happening here at St. Mary’s in 2013, the main focus will be on the 150th anniversary of the founding of our parish school.  There will be special events throughout the year, which you will be hearing more about.  We also are in the initial stages of putting together a commemorative book for the occasion, which we hope will be available for Christmas next year.

So what does the Webmaster have in mind for the coming year?  Well there are a couple of things I HOPE to accomplish in the coming year.  It has been over 8 years since we have published a parish directory, so we are certainly due.  However, getting a directory together normally requires forming another committee, setting up appointments to take pictures and order photos, and then putting the book together.  There are now tools online in which folks can submit their own photos and a directory can be put together pretty easily.  So that’s one goal.  The other thing I am still determined to do is to set up a means for people to donate to the parish online.  As usual, a Webmaster’s work is never done (lol).

As I always do with the last blog of the year, I want to thank you for your continued support of our parish and our website.  It truly is a labor of love for me, and I am so appreciative of your compliments and your continued use of the information on our website.  Let us pray for a peace-filled 2013, and in particular let us pray for a year in which our public servants will find ways to work together for the good of all people, particularly those who are disadvantaged for whatever reason.

Have a great week and a great 2013.  Peace.

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December 22, 2012 – A “Perfect” Christmas

December 22, 2012

Well ready or not Christmas is now upon us.  I had the past week off of work so I am proud to say that I have all my cards sent, all of my shopping completed, and I also cleaned and organized my bedroom.  The cleaning and organizing may seem to sound like a minor task, but in my case, it was a yeoman’s chore.  Now the challenge will be to stay organized (which again, may seem to sound like a minor task, but in my case is a HUGE challenge).  Sounds like a New Year’s resolution, eh?  Well, that’s for next week’s blog.

Those of us who follow Catholic websites and read the articles know that there has been a lot written about reminding ourselves that the reason we have Christmas in the first place is to mark the arrival of our Savior.  One of the best quotes I have seen is from the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who put this celebration in perspective: “If Christmas were just the birthday of a great teacher, like Socrates or Buddha, it would never have split time into two, so that all history before the advent of Christ is called B.C. and all history after, A.D.”  Powerful stuff.  Yet though we know at least in the back of our minds that this is the “reason for the season,” I still hear people talk about how they will be glad when Christmas is over.  That they are “shopped out, partied out, hostessed out,” etc.  Perhaps part of the why we as a society have lost perspective on what Christmas is all about is that we try to make things too “perfect”.  We search and search for the “perfect” gift.  We want to prepare the “perfect” meal and host the “perfect” party.  We want to write the “perfect” message in our cards.  We want our decorations to look “perfect”, because we know that this is a special celebration.

But even if everything isn’t “perfect”, is that such a bad thing?  After all, the conditions in which Jesus was born were certainly less than “perfect”.  Being close to her due date, Mary and Joseph had to make the long journey to Bethlehem to be counted in the census, only to find that the inn where they planned to stay was full.  So they had to stay in what was probably a cave, where Mary had her baby.  Then, according to the gospel of Matthew, they had to flee to Egypt to hide from King Herod, who ordered that all boys 2 years age and under be killed in fear that one of them would rise up and conquer his throne.  So somehow, I don’t think Jesus cares if we couldn’t find the red Furby and had to settle for the green one.  I don’t think Jesus cares if the ham we have for Christmas dinner has a bit of grizzle in it.  I don’t think Jesus care if the inflatable Santa in the front yard won’t stay blown up.  What Jesus does care about is that we rejoice in the fact that he is among us, and that we celebrate that fact not only at Christmas time, but in the days after Christmas and the entire year.  Ah, I can feel the stress leaving now!

OK, since I’ve starting doing the blog I have had a little Christmas tradition.  I play the game of if I ruled the world and could give any gift to anyone I choose, these are the gifts I would give.  Since originality is not my strong point, here once again is my list:

To Fr. Gene: The opening of a local men’s store so he can keep up with his ever-changing wardrobe.

To St. Mary’s School: A couple of things this year.  One is a joyous and memorable 150th anniversary celebration.  The other is to find a cafeteria manager that can even come close to the hard work and organization that Bernice has provided the last 10 years.

To farmers, and all who rely on river transportation: Bountiful rain and moisture to fill the river and make for a better growing season next year.

To my St. Louis Cardinals:  Healthy years for Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright and a 12th World Championship!

To hockey fans such as myself: We just want hockey – whether it be good hockey, bad hockey, field hockey, whatever hockey.

To the State of Illinois: Where do I begin?  I would wipe out the entire leadership structure and replace them with people NOT from Chicago before we go farther into the proverbial cra**er.

To Pope Benedict XVI: Continued use of the social media tools that are available.  If he would like me to come to Rome and give him a lesson or two, I could squeeze it into my schedule, or of course we could just Skype.

To President Obama and Congressional Leaders: This one has become very repetitive, but again its a dream list, so I would give them the eyes to see that they need to work together in order to do what is best for the most people in our country, and that a culture of life needs to pervade our souls.

To my Mother: Anything she wants.

To me: I have enough electronic gadgets (for now).  So I just wish for continued good health, continued ability to do what I’m doing, and to somehow keep coming up with ideas to make our website the best it can be.

To the people of Newtown, CT, and all those affected by violent crimes: Obviously it will be hard to find any joy in this Christmas for those folks, so I just ask that they know that God is with them wrapping His arms around them in comfort, and that there will be healing in time.

And for our world:  That Christ will make His way into our hearts and that those in need will find means to provide for themselves: That the hungry will have food, that the jobless will have employment, and that fighting factions will find peace.

I wish you and your family a blessed Christmas.  May the newborn King bestow His blessings upon you.  And if your Christmas isn’t “perfect,” it’s still going to be OK.  It was for Jesus.  Have a great holiday.  Peace.

December 15, 2012 – Just What’s on My Mind

December 16, 2012

In what has seemed to become the norm rather than the exception, I’m running late in getting my blog up for the week.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  One is that I spent last evening at St. Mary’s School Christmas Program and the party/fellowship afterwards at the KC Hall.  It was a delightful evening.  As always the kids and teachers did an outstanding job with the program, and a great time was had by all at the party afterwards with lots of good food, drink and company being shared.  Over the next couple of days I hope to sort through the video and photos I have and get them posted for you to view.  My initial plan was to get home and at least start on writing the blog, but probably like most people yesterday, my mind kept drifting to the horrific tragedy of the school shooting in Newtown, CT.  So instead I turned on CNN and watched the latest updates and like everyone else, I tried to make some sense of what hs become a much too common occurence.

Even during the festivities last evening, a time that should have been focused on the talents of our school kids and celebration of the season, a tinge of guilt kept creeping over me because I knew that the folks in Newtown were going through a much different experience, and it may be a very long time before there is any type of celebration in that community and in that school.  As I watched the school kids perform, particularly the smaller ones, I thought about what several people had said on the news – that they never dreamed that something like this could happen in what they thought was a safe community.  What if all of the sudden 20 of the kids that were on that stage last night were gone?  How would our community react?  Could we go on and return to some type of normalcy?  Could we find it in our hearts somewhere down the line to forgive the person who committed these hideous crimes?

We of course cannot begin to imagine the heartache and emotions that the families of the victims, the kids and the families of those that were in the school at the time, and the other townspeople are feeling right now.  But in watching our kids last night there were some emotions going through me that I’m sure other people were sharing as well.  Many of my thoughts were toward the gunman.  How could someone look into the eyes of an innocent child, a child that we know now would have been a first grader, a child that had his/her whole future ahead of them, and put an abrupt end to that child’s life?  If this person were so distraught with his situation, why didn’t he just take his own life?  Why did he have to take so much innocent life with him?  How could this person be so troubled without someone else noticing it?  Could there be someone living among us in a similarly troubled state?

In the days ahead there will be a lot of debate and discussion about how to prevent this sort of tragedy in the future.  Should there be stricter gun laws?  Should there be extra security in schools, such as a full-time security person or more lockdown procedures?  Can we do more to diagnose and treat those who suffer from mental illness?  These and other questions will be hashed out enough in the days to come.  What we know for sure is that evil was present in the heart of the gunman.  If this man had Jesus Christ in his heart, do you think this would have happened?  While so many of us, myself included, will feel that sense of anger (myself included), we must take a different approach.  We cannot change the evil acts that took place, but we can show the world the need for Christ even more.  We cannot change the tragedy that happened in Newtown,  but we can do our part now – we can conquer evil with good.  Now more than ever, we must evangelize a world that desperately needs to see the love of Christ in their lives.  Christ’s love has the power to heal broken hearts and overcome the evil that led this to happen.

In getting on Facebook and other social sites, many people were offering their prayers for the victims, families and townspeople (myself included).  Churches in the community of Newtown were overflowing with worshipers and mourners.  Many of those were at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church.  It is certainly a good thing that many people are turning to God in a time of dire need.  However, at least in my case, I thought about whether I called on God enough BEFORE this and other tragedies occurred.  In addition to praying for everyone after the fact, I should have offered a prayer yesterday morning that God keep everyone safe and that violence not rear its ugly head once again.  As a Catholic Christian I know that I must pray constantly to God.  However, too often other things get in the way.  This is something I have confessed before, and will again this coming Monday when I receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation at our Penance Service.  I pray that this event will motivate me to be a more vigilant “pray-er”.

One of the reasons I enjoy writing this blog is because it gives me a chance at times to express my feelings about things, and I appreciate you for allowing me the opportunity to talk about what is on my mind.  I’m sure this will not go down as one of my best pieces of writing, but if this is what has been weighing on my mind, I’m sure it is weighing on the minds of others.  As we approach the joyous days of the Christmas season, let us keep in mind the words of Cardinal Dolan: “Once again we speak against the culture of violence infecting our country even as we prepare to welcome the Prince of Peace at Christmas. All of us are called to work for peace in our homes, our streets and our world, now more than ever.”

Have a great week.  Peace.

December 7, 2012 – In the News

December 8, 2012

Well I just returned from the Vigil Mass celebrating the Immaculate Conception.  Some of us “hardcore” Catholics were in attendance, but I would imagine that a good number will excuse themselves from this obligation.  Granted, this Holy day fell on a Saturday, and typically we are excused from the obligation to attend Mass if the day falls on a Saturday.  A couple of days ago I turned on the Catholic radio station when I got in the car.  It was a call-in program, and the first caller asked if there was some way to attend Mass once on Saturday and have it count for both the Holy day and the Sunday.  The host had to break it to her that this was not possible.  I normally don’t go into rants or elaborate on my pet peeves, but I always question why people can seem to juggle most other things in their lives such as sports practices, but when they are asked occasionally to put aside another hour or so to observe a special feast day, well they just can’t seem to fit that in.  Just a thought.

Since the election was decided last month, most of the news from a government perspective has been about the impending “fiscal cliff”, which to this point of course no progress has been made on, as both sides would rather play political games than give us citizens some reassurance about the future of our financial situation (gee, I think I just went on another rant).  We have not heard much about the fate of the issues that are threatening our religious liberty such as the HHS mandate.  Be assured that the Bishops of the United States are continuing to strategize and there are still many lawsuits against the government to put a halt to this mandate.  This past week a ruling by a New York judge stated that a lawsuit by the archdiocese of New York against the HHS mandate could proceed.  The Obama administration had argued that the archdiocese’s lawsuit was premature, since the administration may still make adjustments to the mandate that would stop it from having any effect on the archdiocese.  “There is no, ‘Trust us, changes are coming’ clause in the Constitution,” said the judge. “To the contrary, the Bill of Rights itself, and the First Amendment in particular, reflect a degree of skepticism towards governmental self-restraint and self-correction.”  The judge observed that the archdiocese is preparing for the possibility of millions of dollars in damages should the mandate take effect. He also pointed out that the rule was announced 10 months ago and that “the Departments have had ample opportunity to enact a meaningful change to the Coverage Mandate. The fact that they have not further suggests the likelihood of injuries to plaintiffs.”  There are currently 40 separate lawsuits nationwide challenging the HHS mandate.

Also this past week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released a 5-point pastoral strategy for the next year in order to promote and pray for the causes of life, marriage, and religious liberty.  There are some details that still have to be released, but to summarize the 5-point plan suggests the following:  1) Parishes hosting a Eucharistic Holy Hour on the last Sunday of each month, beginning with the feast of the Holy Family on December 30, 2) Promote the praying of the rosary on a daily basis, 3) Pray special Prayers of the Faithful at Mass for life, marriage and religious liberty at Mass, 4) Abstain from meat and fast each Friday (this may not only be an act of penance for me, but may be a necessity after I see the doctor next month!), and 5) Observe a second Fortnight for Freedom in June/July of next year.  As we have mentioned before, the Bishops of the U.S. have been very aggressive in their stance on these issues, and judging by this plan, that aggressiveness will continue into the next year.

In news on the marriage issue, the Supreme Court announced today that it will hear 2 cases challenging state and federal laws that define marriage to include only unions of a man and a woman.  One of the cases, from California, could establish or reject a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. The justices could also rule on narrower grounds that would apply only to marriages in California.  The second case, from New York, challenges a federal law that requires the federal government to deny benefits to gay and lesbian couples married in states that allow such unions.  The USCCB then released a statement calling the court’s decision to hear these cases “a significant moment for our nation.”  You can read the full statement by clicking this link:  http://www.usccb.org/news/2012/12-213.cfm.

This blog has come out more link a news report than just the ramblings of a Catholic computer nerd, but I think it is important to stay in touch with what is going on with these significant issues, particularly when the media invests little or no time reporting them.  We as Catholics need to pray that our efforts in the next year will be fruitful and that our religious liberty will remain a true freedom for us, as our forefathers intended.

Finally, Catholic social media and computer geeks everywhere rejoiced this past week when the announcement was made that Pope Benedict XVI will now have his own Twitter account!  His Twitter handle is @pontifex.  He already has gained 700,000 followers (myself included) and is expected to top one million followers by Christmas – not quite Justin Bieber territory, but impressive nonetheless.  He is scheduled to make his first tweets this coming Wednesday, which will be responses to some of the questions people are submitting on his Twitter page.  If you are not on Twitter, you can go to our website where there is a Twitter feed on the homepage, and you will be able to see the Pontiff’s postings.  Will this solve the problems of the Church?  Doubtful, but we have a duty to make the Gospel present where people are, and this is where many, many people are.

That’s all for now.  Have a great week.  Don’t let holiday preparations stress you out!  Peace.

November 30, 2012 – Advent and Other Thoughts

December 1, 2012

Well I just returned from the Lighted Christmas Parade.  As a proud St. Mary’s alum, I have no problem in saying that St. Mary’s had the most beautiful and impressive display.  In addition to the beautiful float, we also had a large lighted cake to signify the upcoming 150th anniversary of our school.  If you were not able to make it to the parade, I posted a short piece of video on our Facebook page and also hopefully will post the video on our website tomorrow of our magnificent entries.

The Christmas on the River festivities and the beginning of Advent tell us that our preparations for Christmas are in full swing, although the weather we had today would indicate otherwise.  Of course stores, decorators, and shoppers have been in intense Christmas mode for some time.  The easy route for a Catholic blogger to take here would be to rant about how commercialized and lengthy the Christmas season has become, and how we have lost our focus on what this season is truly about – the marking of the arrival of our Lord and Savior to earth.  Well I’m certainly not proud enough to avoid the easy route, but I also have a few other things to mention here, so I won’t take up the entire space with this.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this: It’s a sad piece of research that says 45 percent of society would rather skip Christmas because of the hassle.  The poll, which was conducted by CNBC, cited financial pressures as the main reason for this. Could these be lessened if people got out of the mindset that Christmas presents have to be the biggest and the best, especially for kids. Hassle might be alleviated too by pausing to ponder what we’re celebrating: the birth of Jesus in a stable and the promise that he will reign in our hearts as the Prince of Peace.  Points to ponder as we enter Advent.

Speaking of Advent, I promised last week that I would direct you to a few resources for you Advent preparation.  So here we go.  First, the USCCB has many reflections and materials available on their Advent page, including a daily calendar which has suggestions for each day of Advent.  Here’s the link to it:

http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-resources/advent/

Also, “Our Sunday Visitor” has posted an article titled “Keeping an Advent Attitude”, which tells us what we can do as families to keep our focus on our Advent preparation amidst the other hustle and bustle of the season.  Here is the link to this:

http://www.osv.com/tabid/7621/itemid/10191/Keeping-an-Advent-attitude.aspx

Finally, the website “American Catholic” always has some good resources posted during the special seasons of the Church Year, and this go around is no exception.  This year they have video reflections as well as other good resources.  Here is that link:

http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Seasonal/Default.aspx?id=3

I’m sure there are other good resources out here to be found, but these are some of my favorites.

OK, I also wanted to touch on a couple of things that I had posted on our Facebook page this past week.  Pope Benedict XVI recently released a book titled “The Infancy Narratives – Jesus of Nazareth.”  In the book the Pope lends some historical perspective to the event of the birth of Jesus.  He tells us that  in the gospels there is “no reference” to the presence of animals in the stable – actually, it was probably a cave – where Jesus was born.  He also explain that the tradition of the ass and ox came from reflecting on parts of the Old and New Testaments. Christian iconography then adopted the motif early in Church history to show that even animals knew Jesus was the son of God.  Well, from these seemingly innocent statements of fact came these headlines: “Killjoy pope crushes Christmas nativity traditions,” “Pope sets out to debunk Christmas myths,” and even this jewel: “Pope bans Christmas”.  Some bloggers even wrote that the pope had spoken out against Christmas carols.  Benedict says the evangelist Luke wrote that at the moment of Jesus’ birth the angels “said” the well-known phrase “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased”.  But in the next line he explains that “Christianity has always understood that the speech of angels is actually song”, that “the angels’ song of praise has never gone silent”, and that it is “only natural that simple believers (even today) join in their caroling on the Holy Night”.  So do not fret my friends.  It is still OK to pit animals in your nativity scenes, and its OK to sing carols.  In fact, in St Peter’s Square, workmen have started building the Vatican’s larger than life nativity scene, which is expected to have animals and singing angels.  This just goes to show that any ordinary Joe with limited computer skills can write anything they want online, whether it is fact or not.  I’m glad I don’t associate with anyone like that… ummm …. anyway, moving on.

We heard plenty during the last campaign about Social Security and how it will be funded in the future.  Part of the problem of course is that there are more and more retirees to support and fewer workers to help pick up the tab.  This is especially evident with the religious people of the Catholic Church.  By the year 2022, it is projected that religious (priests, deacons, sisters, etc.) past the age of 70 will outnumber religious under the age of 70 by a ratio of nearly 4 to 1.  This shows us a couple of things.  It of course tells us that our church continues to be in dire need of men and women who are willing to heed the call of God to enter religious life.  It also tells us that at least in the near future, there will be many religious who will need help to supplement their retirement income.  When we have the opportunity to contribute to the cause of retirement for our religious, we need to be as generous as we can, just as they have been to us.

Thank you again for reading.  Have a blessed Advent and a great week ahead!  Peace.