Archive for March, 2013

March 30, 2013 – The Easter Focus

March 30, 2013

I hope your Lenten season was a grace-filled time and that this Holy Week brought forth a renewed sense of what it means to be a Christian.  Before I went to the Good Friday liturgy last night, I caught some of the service from the national Basilica in Washington, D.C.  The homilist talked about how this was a Lent that really stood out.  In fact an event happened this past Lent that we hadn’t seen in 600 years.  He was of course referring to the resignation of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis.  We also had this past week the hearings in the Supreme Court dealing with the issue of same-sex “marriages” which garnered a lot of press coverage.  These are tremendously important events in the life of the church.  However, these do not compare to the importance of the event that we celebrate this weekend.

The event of Jesus overcoming death and rising to new life is the most important historical event that has ever occurred, and will ever occur until He comes again.  Easter is the feast of feasts, the greatest joy and gladness of all Christians.  Because Jesus lives, we have hope. We are a new creation. We can look at life through new eyes, think with life-giving thoughts, and speak words of wisdom and understanding. Because he lives, we have peace. The unknown doesn’t have to shake us. God is for us, and nothing can separate us from his love. Because he is alive, we are free from the law of sin and death. We are forgiven. Period. Jesus’ blood has cleansed us, and because he lives eternally, this cleansing is powerful. Though our lives are hidden in Christ now, one day we will appear with him in glory.

I have always enjoyed Holy Week.  You hear the usual complaints – “there’s so much church,” or “the Easter Vigil is so long.”  But for me it brings the focus back where it needs to be – why we are Christians in the first place.  It brings back to focus why despite our imperfections and sinfulness, that we still have the opportunity to enjoy eternal life with God if we follow His teachings.  It brings back to focus the completely unselfish acts of Jesus over those 3 eventful days.  It brings back to focus what our true priorities should be.

It is certainly important to follow current events and how they impact the life of the church.  But in the midst of all that is around us, we cannot forget the basic fundamentals of Christian life.  Even if we struggle with some of what the church teaches, the focus of Easter can bring us back to the basics of our faith.  I saw a brief video a while back from Fr. Robert Barron that talks about what we would say to someone who is struggling with church teaching.  Here is what he says:

 The great and wonderful Good News for christians everywhere is that God is near. Our sins caused us to be separated from God. They put an infinite distance between us and God. Our Creator, our infinitely loving Father in heaven, has, in His Son Jesus Christ, opened the way back to Him. The tree in the Garden of Eden that brought death to us has been replaced by the Tree of the Cross in the Garden of the Resurrection. The seduction of Satan in Eden’s garden has been nullified by the love of the crucified Christ, a love that could not be contained by the tomb and which burst forth in Easter’s dawn, that dawn which ushers us into God’s New Creation.  This is the basis of the Christian life.  If we keep this in mind, everything else will fall into place.

I wish you and your loved ones a very happy Easter season.  May the Risen Lord bestow His abundant blessings upon you.  Thank you for your continued support of our ministry and our website.  Have a great Easter week!  Peace.

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March 25, 2013 – It’s His Plan

March 25, 2013

Well my 2 or 3 avid fans know that this blog is WAY later than usual.  No matter how much we try to formulate a schedule and stick to it, at times things go awry, and you have to adjust.  There was no big emergency or anything that popped up to throw me off track.  I got home last Friday evening and had a lot of computer work staring me in the face.  This took much of the evening to complete.  It included putting a copy of the Gala Auction Booklet on our website, which you can now go to and look at for a preview of all of the items which will be available for bidding on April 6 at the Dinner/Auction.  As you will see, it includes 2 copies of my first 230 blogs in book form.  I figured these would fetch a couple bucks until I saw that the minimum bid is $5.00, so someone will have to be either very generous or very sympathetic to pay this kind of premium price.

Saturday I was out of town much of the day at a dual great niece/great nephew birthday party.  Thankfully, with the help of modern technology, I was able to keep tabs on what was happening with our awesome volleyball team at the state tournament.  The girls won a thrilling first match in three games before falling just short in their second match in three games.  Still, what a great year it was!  A team with just three 8th graders, three 7th graders and three 6th graders winning their conference, a regional championship, and making it to the second round of state!  They provided a lot of great, long lasting memories, especially as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of our school.  We have much to be proud of with our school, academically and otherwise.  Here is a photo of our troops:

hawks rule

OK, so now my plan is to sit down Saturday evening and hammer out a blog.  But a couple of things get in the way.  I need to get treat bags, etc. ready for our Easter party in PSR the next day.  Plus I also realized that the NCAA basketball tournament had been on for 3 days, and I hadn’t really gotten to watch any of it, so… maybe the blog can wait until tomorrow.  Unfortunately for Pope Francis and the Jesuits, it was a rough evening as St. Louis University got thumped by Oregon and the #1 seed Gonzaga also went down.  So now the plan is Mass and PSR Sunday morning, then blogging Sunday afternoon.  But again, my best laid plans went awry as some other things came up.

So we come to Sunday night, and of course, well, hey, its Sunday night, there’s more basketball on, and who wants to blog on a Sunday night?  So Monday afternoon it is!  I could have made that a much shorter story, but as you can probably gather, my creative juices aren’t running real plentiful right now.  Also, I write this to show something that we all know.  No matter what our schedule is, no matter how carefully we have planned things out, ultimately things are out of our hands, and we have to adjust and follow whatever it is God has planned for us.

Jesus is such a wonderful role model for us because He is the ultimate example of doing whatever was necessary to follow the plan of God our Father.  Sometimes I think it is a blessing not knowing what may be awaiting us in the future.  Imagine being in Jesus’ shoes, knowing all along that His ultimate fate would be perhaps the cruelest, harshest death anyone could ever suffer.  Imagine being Jesus, just hours away from being betrayed by one of His beloved apostles; a betrayal which would set off a chain of torturous events.  Yet, He lowers Himself into the role of a servant, washing the feet of ALL of His apostles, then sharing a meal with them that would become an everlasting legacy.  Imagine Jesus, in the midst of being put on trial for crimes He did not commit, hearing His chosen apostle Peter deny three times that he even knew Him.  Imagine Jesus, experiencing indescribable pain as he await His death on a cross, yet having the wherewithal to make sure that His Mother Mary would be cared for by the apostle John.

Jesus follows His Father’s plan step for step, not taking any short cuts along the way.  He does this not for His own gain, but for the purpose of saving us from our imperfections.  What a tremendous act of selflessness!  Yet when the church asks us to refrain from sexual relations before marriage, or when we are asked to respect issues that promote life such as refraining from abortion, or when we are asked to formally confess our sins once a year, or when we are asked to make our Sundays holy by attending Mass, many of us take the more convenient, selfish path.  We focus so much on these “hot-button” issues in the church, it takes us away from the fundamental teachings – that God is love, that He loved us so much that He sent His Son, and that His Son is truly present in the Eucharist.  It is one thing to try to emulate Jesus and fail.  After all, we are imperfect.  It is an entirely different matter not to try at all.  Today, March 25, marks the feast when we recognize another act of total selflessness – the moment when Mary says “YES” to God when she is asked to be the Mother of Jesus.  A woman probably no more than 13 or 14 years old, an unwed virgin, taking the weight of the world upon her shoulders.  We Catholics love and honor Mary more than any other religion, and why wouldn’t we?

And this week, the week that we call Holy, why wouldn’t we, as baseball coaches love to preach to their players, get back to the fundamentals of what our faith is based on.  If we do that, we will see more clearly what God’s plan is for us.  We may not know what lies ahead tomorrow or the next day, but we will know what our ultimate destination is – eternal life in heaven.  God bless you this Holy Week.  Peace.

March 15, 2013 – Viva il Papa Francesco!

March 15, 2013

Well, kind of a ho-hum week.  Not a lot going on.  Let’s see… The St. Louis Cardinals are still deciding on their 5th starting pitcher.  Steven Jackson signed with the Falcons.  Very nice day today.  What else, what else … oh yes, HABEMUS PAPAM!  We have a Pope!  If your initial reaction was similar to mine, then you were probably a bit surprised at the choice, thinking that they would go with someone a little younger.  However, as more details emerged about the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, it became clearer and clearer as to what the College of Cardinals saw in this man.  A headline I read today I think put it best: “Pope Francis humble but direct.”  Clearly this is a man of simple means who has a special attachment to the poor and disadvantaged.  He displayed this in Argentina by giving up lavish things such as chauffeured cars and a plush residence in favor of public transportation and a modest apartment.   He humbled himself to wash the feet of AIDS patients and those in hospice care.  In the midst of talking about the scandals of the church such as clerical sexual abuse, Vatileaks, etc., a fact that has been lost is that the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world.  We do tremendous work with those in need, and I think the example of Pope Francis can help put the spotlight back on this fact.

Another quality that is evident is his prayerfulness.  This may be a trait that makes you say “well, duh.”  But I think the moment when he asked the crowd in St. Peter’s Square to pray for him, then yesterday when he visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major and knelt at the image of the Virgin of Snows for 10 minutes, showed that he will give true witness to the importance of prayer.  I am also impressed by the fact that he appears unafraid to go “off the cuff” when speaking.  The director of media relations for the USCCB says this about the Pope’s public speaking nature: “Pope Francis’ style will make work harder for journalists. He ad libs or even rejects entirely speeches written for him. That means the Vatican cannot always distribute speeches ahead of time under embargo. Today in his meeting with the cardinals he ad libbed so much the Vatican had to do some hurry up work. The press office got the Italian text out a while after he delivered his address but the text in other languages were slated to come later.”  I think this is a wonderful trait that will draw people to him.  God Bless Pope Emeritus Benedict for his contributions, especially his collection of wonderful writings.  But he was a reserved and soft-spoken individual, and not necessarily someone who could mesmerize a crowd (though admittedly he had a very tough act to follow in Blessed John Paul II).  I think Francis may have the ability to do that.  I am anxious to see the reaction to him at the upcoming World Youth Day in July in his home continent at Rio de Janeiro.  I hope it is inspirational for many young people.

When possible, I tried to watch EWTN for coverage of Francis’ first moments as Pope, because I knew the major network types such as Piers Morgan, Chris Matthews, etc. would ultimately ask the question of whether this Pontiff will introduce reforms to the church such as allowing priests to marry, to allow women to be priests, to accept same-sex marriage, to favor abortions, etc.  What these people do not understand is that we are guided by this thing called a Bible that tells us how God wishes us to live.  And it is not just the duty of the Pope, Bishops, and Priests, but the duty of all Catholics to spread this message.  Thankfully Francis has shown that he will stay true to Catholic social teaching.  For example, as Cardinal, speaking on same-sex marriage when it was legalized in Argentina in 2010, said that  “This is no mere legislative bill. It is a move by the father of lies to confuse and deceive the children of God.”  Hopefully the humble but direct nature if Francis that I spoke of earlier will allow him to communicate the teachings of the church in a more effective way. 

So we now have our first American Pope and our first Jesuit Pope.  My hope is that in breaking of some of the patterns of the past, that indifferent Catholics will take another look at the church.  We celebrate a new Pope as a study shows that the strength of U.S. Catholic identity is at a low point.  According to a Pew Research Center analysis, about a quarter (27%) of American Catholics called themselves “strong” Catholics last year, down more than 15 points since the mid-1980s and among the lowest levels seen in the 38 years since strength of religious identity was first measured. The share of all Catholics who say they attend Mass at least once a week has dropped from 47% in 1974 to 24% in 2012; among “strong” Catholics, it has fallen more than 30 points, from 85% in 1974 to 53% last year.  And I’m sure that this is not just a U.S. issue, but an issue in many other parts of the world.

So our Francis faces many challenges, and certainly needs our prayers.  But judging him over the last few days, I would say he has the demeanor and the faith to tackle the task ahead.

A couple of things to wrap up.  I had the privilege of attending this evening’s volleyball game which saw our St. Mary’s Hawks win the regional championship!  They will now move on to the state level tournament on March 23 in Herrin.  Congratulations to the coaches and players!  Here is a photo of the proud group:

regional champs 042

Finally, it is of course still the season of Lent.  I came across this brief 2-minute Youtube video from the Archiocese of Santa Fe which is a wonderful reflection on the Stations of the Cross.  I thought you may want to make it part of your Lenten reflection:

Have a great week.  Peace.

March 8, 2013 – Habemus Datam!

March 8, 2013

I thought on and off today about what I would write about this week, and really didn’t have any one thing come to mind.  It’s been a while since I just “winged it” and saw how things went, and this seems like a good time to do that.  Obviously the big news of the day is that the College of Cardinals will enter into conclave on Tuesday to elect the new successor to St. Peter.  This has been an interesting process to follow.  In 2005, even though we had communication tools such as the internet, we did not have the volume of social media that we have today.  I certainly have memories of the days following Blessed John Paul II’s death, especially the funeral Mass celebrated by then Cardinal Ratzinger whom would of course become Pope Benedict XVI.  But I don’t have a lot of memories of the actual process leading up to the conclave.  This time, however, any event leads to a blow-up of my Twitter and Facebook accounts.  This, along with the unusual circumstances of B16’s resignation, I think has put much more emphasis on the process leading up to the conclave.

The general consensus seems to be that the conclave will last a relatively short time.  The Cardinals have been in meetings all week, and have probably had some other “get to know you” times outside of the formal meetings, so the feeling is that they will be well-prepared entering into the conclave and will have a clear idea of whom they feel will fit the profile of a Pontiff in the year 2013.  Also, as Cardinal Dolan stated in his radio briefing today, “I miss New York and I’m almost out of socks.”  Of course, if Cardinal Dolan would be the choice of the Cardinals, he may have to have the papal tailor knit some new socks.  A lot of the news shows in the U.S. continue to report that perhaps this is the time for an American, particularly Dolan, to be elected Pope.  As I’ve said before, I would be thrilled if this were the outcome, but I would be very surprised if this happened.  I just don’t see the College of Cardinals taking that leap just yet.  I don’t know any more than anyone else, and really can’t even venture a guess  as to whom I think our next Pope will be.  If I had to wager a milk shake, I would go with Cardinal Odilo Scherer from Brazil.  He is 63 years old, and demographics may be in his favor.  Some 42 percent of the world’s Catholics now live in Latin America, making the region home to the largest group of Catholics on the planet, according to Reuters. Europe is home to just 25 percent of the world’s Catholics.  Also, the next World Youth Day, along with the next Olympic Games, will take place in Rio de Janeiro.  Here is a link to an article that talks a little more about whom the favorites may be:

  http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2013/03/08/brazilian-cardinal-becomes-favorite-as-conclave-is-set-to-pick-next-pope/

Of course, having said this, I’m probably completely wrong.  Also, I have developed another rooting interest.  There is a neat website which allows you to “adopt-a-Cardinal” as the conclave process begins.  You are asked to pray for your adopted Cardinal and learn a little more about him.  Here is the link if you want to adopt your own Cardinal:

https://www.adoptacardinal.org/

The Cardinal I adopted is Reinhard Marx from Germany.  Born in 1953, he has been a Cardinal since 2010 and his function is Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany.  This is a position once held by Pope Emeritus Benedict.  I was initially excited by being paired with someone who shared my German heritage, but because I’m not a beer drinker, I’m probably pretty much of a disgrace to my German heritage.  But Cardinal Marx, along with all of the Cardinals, will certainly be in my prayers this week.  And likely we will be talking next week about our new Pope.

The comments of another Cardinal also caught my interest this past week.  Along with the possibility of an American emerging as Pope, much of the coverage has focused on the scandals and problems within the church.  There really hasn’t been a time when the church hasn’t had to deal with some type of challenge, and this was put into perspective by Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria.  Cardinal Onaiyekan, one of the newest Cardinals, stated that “If Jesus had wanted a church free of scandal or problems, he would have put it in the hands of angels, not a humanity he loved.”  He does not deny that the church is in need of reform, because since it is guided by imperfect humans, it will always be in need of reform.  He said the church shouldn’t be concerned with being “credible,” in the sense of its message being believed or accepted by everyone.  “You can’t be credible to everybody. Authentic, yes, but authentic means a message that is as close as possible to the message of Jesus; that I’m worried about …  “The church cannot go around, obviously, all the time trying to be popular, to be acceptable” to the views, positions and opinion of journalists and the dominant culture, he said.  But that “doesn’t mean that we go out of our way to be difficult to understand, no. We do our best to explain as much as we can” and face the challenge of making the message seem as relevant as possible.  “Even Jesus didn’t have it easy explaining to the people of his day what his message was about,” he said.  So we always must work to better our church, but if we have the expectation that things will always be perfect, then we’ve lost our sense of humanity.

To wrap up, I did some initial work on our church directory this past week.  It was fun seeing the pictures and seeing the book start to come together.  There’s a lot of work ahead, but I think it will be an aid in strengthening our parish community.  Thank you for your support of this project.

Have a great week.  I’m anxious to see what this week will bring.  Peace.

 

March 1, 2013 – Our View of Vocations

March 2, 2013

Well there was certainly no shortage of news items, stories, thoughts, opinions, observations, etc. this past week.  Benedict XVI is now Pope Emeritus Benedict.  We are now in a period of “Sede vacante”, or “vacant see”, as we now await the College of Cardinals to begin meeting on Monday to determine when the conclave to select a new Pontiff will take place.  Our national legislature continues to shine, as while potentially devastating spending cuts are about to take effect, Congress decided to leave town, and our President found out that he needs some work on his science fiction movie references.  And a man in Florida along with his home were “swallowed up” by a sinkhole.  Not sure how this last one affects me,  but it is definitely an eye catcher.

Sitting down to write this evening allowed me an opportunity to do a little reflection on this historic period for our church, globally and locally.   Many clergy were asked this past week what qualities they would like to see in the new Pope.  Some common themes emerged from many of the answers. The new Pope should be a good pastor, an intellectual person, a good administrator, and a prayerful person.  The new Pope should have the gift of relating well with people (particularly young people), and relate well to our new world of communications and social media.  The new Pope will need the ability to lead the church through challenges such as the clergy sexual abuse crisis, the declining trust of people in its church, the growing influence of secularism, the threats to religious freedom, and declining church attendance and committment to religious life in developed parts of the world.  In other words, the new Pope has a tall order ahead of him.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in several of the interviews he has done, has pointed out another challenge the new Pope will face – dealing with a vocations crisis.  One would assume that this crisis involves the lack of priests, sisters, and other vocations to religious life.  However, Cardinal Dolan points out that we face perhaps an even greater vocations crisis – that of the vocation of marriage.  Cardinal Dolan points out that fewer people are making the committment to marriage, not only within the Catholic faith. but in churches of other denominations as well.  Divorce rates in the Catholic faith are also close to that of the general population.  So in saying we have a vocations crisis is really to say that there is a crisis of committment.  Below you can see Cardinal Dolan making his comments:

Cardinal Dolan’s comments, the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, and the upcoming changes our own Diocese faces as the results of the Pastoral Planning and Restructuring Process are revealed, caused me to think a little about vocations.  As I mentioned earlier, this was really the first chance I had this week to reflect a little bit on this past week’s events.  My other evenings saw me at a couple of volleyball games, helping at Wednesday communion service and having Parish Council meeting afterwards, and of course updating the parish Facebook and Twitter accounts, working on the website and preparing to start entering information and photos for our Parish Directory.  I am certainly not complaining about being busy.  I know we all are people “on the go,”  many much busier than myself.  In fact, part of my prayer today was thanking God for giving me the physical and mental ability to do these sorts of things.

This is also not to say that being a single layperson is all candies and nuts (well, maybe some nuts).  There have been times when I have gone through challenges and thought that it would be nice to have a spouse or a close friend to lean on for support.  There have been times when I haven’t gone to events out of fear of going alone and not knowing anyone there.  There have been times when I felt out of place as most people around me were talking about their families, their homes, sending their kids to school, etc., and all I can muster is “So how about those Cardinals.”  Again, this is not a sympathy plea, but there are times when I am made to feel that I do not have a vocation because I’m not married, do not have kids. and for various reasons have not made the committment to consecrated religious life.

As we transition as a Diocese, this is a myth that I hope is quelled.  We of course must continue to pray for vocations to the priesthood, and hopefully by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, more young men will explore this way of life.  In the meantime, however, we must look at the situation practically and realize that if we are going to continue to be a vital church, if we want to leave a legacy of faith to future generations, we have to embrace the forthcoming changes that our Bishop and those advising him are developing.  Part of this will be an increased involvement of the laity in the pastoral work of the church.  Clergy are already stretched a mile wide and a quarter-inch thick, and as our number of priests continues to decline, the involvement of the laity will become even more vital.  Things we associate as the job of the priest such as visiting the sick and homebound, planning liturgies, parish administration, etc. are going to fall more on the laity.  And there will probably be more instances when a lay leader of prayer will be required to lead services in the absence of  priest.

We cannot be church without the Eucharist, and in order to allow those priests that we do have to keep this as their highest priority, we as laity will have to assume some of these other duties.  So in order to make these upcoming changes work, we will need to change our slant on what a vocation is.  And whether our vocation is to the religious life, to the married life, or to the single life, we all deserve the prayers of each other in support of whatever vocation we have been called to, and we need to encourage each other to make the committment to that given vocation.

God Bless You in your vocation.  Have a great week.  Peace.