Archive for April, 2013

April 26, 2013 – One God, One Church

April 26, 2013

Well thankfully this past week was somewhat quieter than the last, although that’s not to say there are no hardships out there that folks are dealing with.  Locally the high water is causing problems for those in the flood plains, and globally there is continued unrest in Syria, where it appears chemical weapons may have been used by the government against rebel forces.  We have much to be thankful for, and we must give praise our God who gives us all good things.  However, there is never a lack of intentions to pray for, and this is certainly our duty as Christians also.

Although he has only been our Pope for about a month and a half, I think it is more than clear what the College of Cardinals saw in Pope Francis that led them to believe he would be a wonderful leader of the Catholic faithful.  His humility and simplicity of lifestyle have been great examples of being a true witness.  He has recognized the need to reform the Curia by appointing a group of 8 Cardinals from all parts of the globe to advise him in this task.  And hardly a day goes by that he doesn’t say something powerful and significant. 

 This past Tuesday, during Mass with some members of the College of Cardinals, Pope Francis spoke in his homily about something which was of interest to me, and should be of interest to all Catholics – active and especially non-active.  Some of those who do not attend church regularly make the argument that they can be prayerful people and can live good lives on their own – that attendance in a church is not required to be a follower of Jesus.  Pope Francis, however, made clear in his homily that this is not the case.  He tells us that “the Church is increasingly a Mother, a Mother of many, many children: she becomes a Mother, ever more fully a Mother, a Mother who gives us faith, a Mother who gives us our identity. But Christian identity is not an identity card. Christian identity means being a member of the Church, since all these people belonged to the Church, to Mother Church, for apart from the Church it is not possible to find Jesus.  The great Paul VI said: it is an absurd dichotomy to wish to live with Jesus but without the Church, to follow Jesus but without the Church, to love Jesus but without the Church.  And that Mother Church who gives us Jesus also gives us an identity which is not simply a rubber stamp: it is membership. Identity means membership, belonging.  Belonging to the Church: this is beautiful!”

Pope Francis then elaborates on that day’s Gospel reading, in which Jesus said “But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.  My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  He tells us “Let us think of Mother Church, who is increasing, growing with new children to whom she gives the identity of faith, for one cannot believe in Jesus without the Church. Jesus himself says so in the Gospel … unless we are “Jesus’ sheep”, faith does not come; it is a faith which is watered down, insubstantial.”  This message is particularly important in today’s society, in which there is more of a trend toward “believing without belonging.”  And of course there is the trend of leaving behind any kind of belief.  I mentioned the statistic last week that about 20 percent of our population have no religious affiliation.  When you break down the numbers a little further, the trend is even more disturbing.  A third of those born after 1980 are unaffiliated, compared to 15 percent among their “baby boom” parents and five percent in their grandparents’ generation.

So what is causing this trend, particularly among younger people?  As is usually the case, I’m sure there is not just one simple answer.  Our culture has turned the church’s teachings on social issues such as abortion, religious freedom, and many others completely upside-down.  Others still have not gained their trust in the church since the sexual abuse crisis surfaced along with other scandals.  And for some people, Sunday has become just another day to try to squeeze in sports and other activities, and church gets “conveniently” shoved to the background.  I’m sure there are other factors at work also.  The bottom line was laid out recently by Cardinal Dolan, who said that “while more and more people have no problem at all with Jesus Christ, they love him and accept him as their Lord and savior, they do have problems with the church.  More and more people don’t see the need for the church.”  For Catholics, he said, faith in and love of Jesus Christ have always been linked with being part of the church.  “The two were a package deal – you don’t have one without the other.  We have to reclaim that lustre. We have to reclaim that relationship that Jesus and his church are one.” 

These trends scream at the need for evangelization – for us to be messengers of the meaning and nature of the church.  This would be a challenge under normal circumstances.  However, in our Diocese, with the decline in the number of clergy and the need for parishes to combine resources, the challenge becomes that much greater.  As our parishes continue to meet in our partnerships and discuss the future, we must remember that our main goal has to be how we will continue to be church to everyone with fewer clergy.  Before we concern ourselves with how we will use buildings, with what times our Masses will be and where they will be, how finances will be used, etc., we must have a plan for being church.  How will we continue to provide the Sacraments to the most people?  How will we effectively educate our youth as well as adults?  What additional roles will lay people have to assume to remain church?  None of these questions will have an easy answer, and we need the prayers of the Holy Spirit to guide us as the process continues.

Have a great (and dry) week.  Peace.

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April 19, 2013 – We Need the Cross of Christ

April 19, 2013

Well we have seen yet another week that has probably left us with many more questions than answers.  The terrible tragedy in Boston, the explosion of the fertilizer plant in Texas, the large earthquake that affected Iran and Pakistan, the letters that contained poison addressed to our country’s political leaders, and the seemingly endless list of hurtful events can certainly make us wonder if we are living in a world that has gone out of control, and can also make us wonder if God is truly there for us.  We who practice Christianity make the decision to continue to maintain our faith in God, and believe that He is always present among us.  We also know that until the end of time, we will live in an imperfect world because God is so compassionate, he gave us free will, and unfortunately some people will choose to use their free will in a destructive way.

We as Christians shouldn’t be concerned with whether God is with us – this should be assumed.  What should concern us is why it appears that fewer and fewer people believe that this is the case.  In a study released in the fall of last year, about 20% of Americans have no religious affiliation.  These are not just people who have ceased practicing the faith for whatever reason, but people who do not believe in the existence and power of God.  I am sure that events such as the bombings in Boston, the school shootings in Newtown, CT, and so many other acts of violence have influenced this growing number.  I am sure it has caused people to question how a God who is supposed to be merciful can cause such horrific things to happen. 

We have already stated that God doesn’t “cause” these things.  God certainly did not tell these individuals to construct bombs and place them in a crowded area.  God did not tell the terrorists on 9/11 to fly planes into large buildings.  This is the work of Satan, the master of darkness.  However, there seems to be a prevailing attitude among more and more people that being religious should entitle you to some sort of shield of protection, some sort of exemption from having to experience tragedy.  And to an extent I can see the irony.  We currently are in the Easter season, a time when we are told to rejoice.  We proclaim in our readings from Psalm 118 which tells us that “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Yet there are many people this week who have seen their lives turned upside-down, and will have a much more difficult time finding joy in their lives.

What people who do not believe in the true God fail to understand is that being religious gives no guarantee of protection from hardship.  The Bible, as a matter of fact, is full of tales of hardship and tragedy.  Floods, famine, disease, war – many of the same things we still experience today.  The Massacre of the Innocents, the order from King Herod to kill all infant boys 2 years and younger in fear that the rumored “Messiah” would claim the throne, was probably much bloodier than the Newtown tragedy.  And of course there was the ultimate act of hatred – the killing of not only an innocent man, but the Son of God, by the most torturous means possible.  Yet it is this suffering that gives us hope, because as we know Jesus conquered death and rose to eternal life.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan, when he returned from the conclave to elect Pope Francis, told of something that happened when the Cardinals were holding meetings prior to the conclave.  They began the meeting with prayer, and during the prayer they were asked to focus on the cross of Christ.  However, when the Cardinals looked around the room, no one could see a cross.  Cardinal Dolan had been in the same venue before, and he knew where the cross was supposed to be.  In its place was a video screen on which they could see each of the Cardinals who were scheduled to speak.  So Cardinal Dolan went to the technician and told him that he thought they needed to raise the screen.  When he did, the cross was revealed, and the Cardinals applauded.  Why would the Cardinals applaud at having to see this portrait of suffering?  Why is it that we as Catholics display the suffering servant on our crosses when other churches do not, if they display a cross at all?  Because, as Cardinal Dolan said, we need to see the cross of Christ.  In 1st Corinthians, chapter 1, verse 23. Paul says, “…but we preach Christ crucified…” , and in Corinthians 2:2 Paul writes, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  Some feel it is distasteful to show Jesus at his most vulnerable.  Well, this should make us uncomfortable. Every lash that he took, every blow that drove the nail into his hands was caused by you and me. Our sins hung Jesus on that cross. The crucifix is the ultimate expression of the lengths that a loving God will go to reach us. 

This past Wednesday, several of our parish representatives met with several from St. Mary’s, Ellis Grove.  It was a good first meeting.  We expressed concerns and surfaced issues that we will have to work on as we form our partnership.  One of the concerns is how we can do a better job of evangelizing while at the same time having to combine resources, provide fewer Masses, and deal with other consequences of fewer clergy, fewer young people filling the pews. etc.  We as a parish partnership will also have to keep our focus on the cross of Christ.  We will have to keep in mind that our main priority is how to remain church in the face of change.  Before we can tackle the sharing of material things such as buildings, money, etc., we need an effective plan for providing the Eucharist to the most people in the most effective way.  If we maintain our focus on the cross of Christ, the Christ who conquered all, we know that we can remain a viable church.

Have a great week ahead – hopefully a quieter week ahead.  PEACE.

April 12, 2013 – Clerical Sacrifices

April 12, 2013

First and foremost, I once again have to say thank you to everyone who played any part in making the 17th annual Dinner/Auction another huge success.  Every year I continue to be amazed at how well everything is run and staffed.  From the efforts of the auction committee who spend so much time planning and setting up, to those who prepare the food (a true 5-star meal), to the courteous wait staff, to the auctioning staff, to those who give so generously as far as items, money, time, etc., and of course those who attended and bumped up those bids (and anyone else I forgot), mere words cannot express how thankful and impressed I am.  It is a true credit to the spirit and generosity of our parishioners and all who attend and are involved with the auction.  And my evening was made because I came home with a couple more electronic gadgets.  I got a bluetooth speaker system, which allows me to just sit in my chair with my cell phone and program whatever song I want to play, and the house is filled with great sounding music.  And I got a Ninja food processor, which in my hands may be extremely dangerous, so just giving fair warning.

I haven’t heard a lot of reaction to the Diocesan Restructuring Plan which came out last week.  Most of the people who have said something to me about it are not people from this parish.  This would indicate to me that either not a lot of people have read it yet, or that all in all we have done a pretty good job of keeping people informed of the situation and what will have to happen in the future.  Again, if you haven’t read any of the report, I would encourage you to begin to at least read it in parts, beginning with the opening cover letter from the Bishop (this was included in the Messenger this past week along with an interview with the Bishop).  I also ask for your prayers as several representatives of our parish along with St. Mary’s, Ellis Grove will gather this week for an initial meeting.  I anticipate that this will not be a meeting in which a lot of decisions will be made – rather, it will be a first opportunity to share feelings and concerns and to set a base for future meetings and planning.

We know that whatever plan comes forth from our discernment, there will be challenges and it will take a lot of cooperation in order to make this work.  However, my hope is that those involved will also see new opportunity.  I can foresee a chance for our youth to get together for activities.  I can foresee our ladies’ groups getting together and helping each other out.  I can foresee a common RCIA program and common education programs.  I can foresee a common website packed with even more information, photos, etc (you knew I would get that one in).  In other words, I can foresee an opportunity for evangelization that would not be possible from just one congregation.  As we begin to meet, please pray for us and all in the diocese who are facing similar uncertainty, that the Holy Spirit will guide us on the right path.

Throughout this process, we will have to do all we can to support our priests.  We know how dedicated our clergy are to their ministry, but we may not realize the personal tolls, both physical and psychological, that they currently endure and how much more that they will have to endure in the months and years ahead.  Many of our priests who were counting on retiring at a reasonable age continue to be full time pastors – not just having to keep all of their current duties but rather taking on more and more.  Many priests who have been attached to the same congregation for a number of years will now have to get to know a new group of people and discern their pastoral needs.  They will become involved in even more of the intimate moments of people’s lives – baptism, marriage, the death of a loved one, etc.  They will have to find a balance between their sacramental ministry along with management, meetings, personal committments, etc.  We will all have to sacrifice something to make this work.  We may lose our favorite Mass time.  We may have to attend a different church on occasion for Mass.  Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest may become a more frequent occurence.  But we cannot forget the enormous sacrifices our priests will have to make, and so we have a duty to our God and to our Catholic community to do our part to remain a community.

Speaking of priests who have made sacrifices, yesterday Capt. Emil Kaupan, a priest from Kansas and army chaplain during the Korean war, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor during a ceremony at the White House.  He was recognized for helping to carry an injured American for miles as Chinese captors led them on a death march, and for risking his life to drag the wounded to safety while dodging explosions and gunfire.  In November 1950, after Chinese soldiers overran U.S. troops near Unsan, Fr. Kapaun defied orders to evacuate, knowing it meant he would most certainly be captured. He pleaded with an injured Chinese officer to call out to his fellow Chinese to stop shooting, an act that spared the lives of wounded Americans.  As Kapaun was being led away, he came across another wounded American in a ditch and an enemy soldier standing over Sgt. Herbert Miller, ready to shoot.  Kapaun pushed the enemy aside and helped Miller as they were taken captive. They arrived days later, by foot, at the village in Pyoktong, where a POW camp eventually was established.  At the camp, Kapaun cleaned others’ wounds, convinced them to share scarce food, offered them his own clothes and provided spiritual aid and comfort. On Easter in 1951, he defied his communist captors by conducting Mass with a makeshift crucifix.  He died on May 23, 1951, at age 35, after six months in captivity.  You can hear more about this heroic priest by watching “The World Over” program from EWTN.  Here’s the YouTube link to it:

Have a great week.  Peace.

April 5, 2013 – The Process Begins

April 5, 2013

I hope you had a good Easter celebration.  A lot of time in church last week but all of the liturgies were really nice and meaningful.  I attended both Easter Masses because I took photos afterward for our directory.  This turned out to be really fun, especially watching the families with little kids and their folks trying to get them to pose for a few seconds.  Photographers definitely earn their money!  Some people are still asking whether it is too late to submit a photo for the directory, and the answer is no.  I have set up a few more times after Masses this month if someone needs a picture taken, or you can contact me and I’ll be glad to set up a time.  My hope is by early May to have something ready for viewing and to see about getting published.

If you saw the St. Louis news last night or this morning, you probably saw the reports about the Diocese of Belleville and the Pastoral Planning Process.  Bishop Braxton has released his response to the recommendations made by the Pastoral Plan Committee concerning the structure of the Diocese and how to deal with pending issues such as declining number of clergy, shifting populations, etc.  As you recall, this process actually began about a year and a half ago when we had a series of meetings within the parish asking you to evaluate different aspects of parish life.  These evaluations were read by members of the committee and based on their findings along with other data, recommendations were made to the Bishop as to how to remain a strong and viable family of faith while dealing with these present and future realities.  The report is lengthy (about 52 pages), and to try to summarize it along with trying to guess how it will impact us as a parish will take many blogs.  So for this go around I am just going to give a brief overview of what I read, and what we will have to do in the near future for our part in this.  As I begin, keep in mind that this is going to affect EVERY parish in the diocese – no one is exempt from this process.  By the way, here is a link to the full report:

http://www.bellevillemessenger.org/PDF/Full%20Report.pdf

First of all, the leadership structure of the Diocese will change based on limited financial resources and changing pastoral needs.  Some roles are being reduced, while others are being expanded.  This is shown in the diagrams in the report (p. 11 & 12).  Also, the structure of the Diocese itself will change.  Currently we are divided into 6 deaneries, with us being in the West Deanery of Monroe and Randolph County.  Beginning May 1, the Diocese will be divided into 5 Vicariates.  We will be a part of the West Vicariate which will include Randolph, Perry, Jackson, and Union counties.  This is something that was probably long overdue given population shifts, etc.

OK, now for the question that you are probably asking – how is this going to affect my parish.  Well, in the very short term, probably little if at all.  However, the heart of this plan is that we form “Parish Partnerships” as directed by the Bishop.  These partnerships could be described as being similar to the cluster structure, however they generally involve fewer parishes and for the most part, are formed with the goal of eventually being ministered by one priest.  We have been placed in partnership with St. Mary’s in Ellis Grove (p. 28), which makes sense for many reasons: we are geographically close, most of the kids in both parishes are in the same school district, we have KC members from Ellis Grove, parishioners from Ellis Grove are buried in our cemetery, and there are other ties.  As partners, the leadership of both parishes will be asked to begin meeting to formulate a plan in which one priest can minister to both parishes.  This plan is due to the Bishop by the end of the year.  How our structure will be is to be determined.  Will we remain functioning as two separate parishes?  Will we be under one parish umbrella at two different sites?  Will the 2 parishes combine into one at Chester with Ellis Grove being a chapel site?  Or will we see something completely different emerge?  These are just some of the questions we will have to wrestle with over the next 7-8 months.

As I said, all parishes will have to enter into these partnerships.  For example – our other cluster parishes of Sparta, Evansville and Walsh are to enter partnership with Willisville, with the eventual goal of paring down to two parishes served by one priest.  Everyone will have difficult decisions to make.  This will not be an easy process, but it is a necessary process.  The Parish Partnerships will allow us to have input into how we will be structured in the future.  If we remain status quo until the last minute and hurry into these important decisions, no one will be satisfied.  We always lose something with change, and this process re-emphasizes the fact of our need to pray for and encourage vocations.  But with a spirit of cooperation and prayer, we can still remain a strong Catholic community.  We are a universal church, and we have the chance to show that spirit here.  Please pray for all involved as we enter this process.

As I said earlier, and if you went to view the report, you see that it is lengthy.  I plan to use some of my future blogs to break the report down and to go a little more in depth into each part of it.  We will certainly also keep you updated on our progress as we begin meeting and hashing out how we will be structured in the future.  As you read the report, as the Bishop suggests I would take it a section at a time.  Read the beginning letter from the Bishop, the summary of the process, and take it a section at a time from there.

I’m looking forward to a good weekend.  Spring is slowly but surely coming forth, and our dinner/auction is tomorrow night.  This will actually be the first time that I am attending the auction as a guest, so I am excited to enjoy a wonderful dinner and to see what else I can clutter my house with.  Have a great week ahead.  Peace.