Archive for May, 2013

May 26, 2013 – Go Forth and Be Annoying!

May 26, 2013

I guess I should have titled this blog “Better Late Than Never.”  If you are like me, your normal schedule was probably thrown out the window this weekend.  It’s a holiday weekend, there are graduations and graduation parties to attend, and whatever else is going on this time of year, so you probably don’t mind if the blog is a little late this go around.  As we enjoy our activities this weekend, we remember that there are a lot of folks in Oklahoma who will not be celebrating, but rather rummaging through debris and continuing to care for victims as a result of the deadly tornadoes last week.  If you would like to help with the relief effort, you can make a donation through Catholic Charities.  Here is the information on how you can give:

1. Donate Online

Click here to donate online. The website is safe and secure!

2. Donate by Phone

Call the toll free number at  1-800-919-9338 to make a contribution using VISA, MasterCard, Discover, or American Express.

3. Donate by Mail

Mail your contribution check, payable to Catholic Charities USA, to:

Catholic Charities USA P.O. Box 17066 Baltimore, MD 21297-1066

This weekend, of course, we are also reminded to take time out to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and our freedom.  We also pray for those around the world who continue to be in harm’s way.  I came across this brief 3-minute video which is a great reflection on Memorial day from a religious perspective from the leader of the Archdiocese for Military Services.  It reminds us that whether we agree or disagree with the decisions to go to war, we must always honor those who made the commitment and sacrifice to defend our freedom.  Here is the video reflection:

Turning to our appreciation of our freedom, the beginning of the second annual observance of the “Fortnight for Freedom” is less than a month away.  Archbishop Charles Chaput, leader of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, wrote an article this past week that used some very frank language to remind us of the fact that we can no longer consider our religious liberty a “given” right as our forefathers intended it to be.  He says that “we need to wake up” and start fighting for our liberty.  Here is a link to what I consider a “must-read” article for all Christians:

http://catholicphilly.com/2013/05/think-tank/weekly-message-from-archbishop-chaput/religious-freedom-and-the-need-to-wake-up/

OK, last week I concluded my blog by mentioning that Pope Francis had told us that we should follow the example of Paul and “take courage.”  That we should conduct ourselves with apostolic zeal and be “annoying” Christians as we go about spreading the word of God.  Well, one thing I love about the blogosphere is that someone will pick up on any little thing that anyone says and expand on it.  This past week someone took what the Pope told us and actually thought up eight steps that we can take to become annoying Catholics.  I wanted to share some of them with you and add my own thoughts to them.

We as Catholics need laugh and radiate joy.  Many people think the Catholic Church exists so it can take away everyone’s fun.  But the true Christian is a person of hope, and we as Catholics see the example of people such as Pope Francis, Cardinal Dolan, and even our own pastor, Fr. Gene, and you can see the joy that the Catholic way of life has brought them.  Anyone who has been to one of our Parish Council meetings knows that us Catholics have the ability to laugh and to see the lighter side of life.

We as Catholics also need to keep it real.  Us Christians realize our imperfections, and we know that we all have our share of weaknesses.  It is OK to own up to those weaknesses and show our imperfections.  People will learn more from the “real” us than from the “fake” us.   When we need prayers, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for them. When we’ve screwed up, we should admit it.. When people struggling with their own marriages ask you why yours is so perfect, be honest and tell them it’s not.  In other words, instead of spending our energy trying to hide our imperfections, we should be confident that God’s grace will be ours despite our failings.

We as Catholics should strive to know our faith better.  Besides knowing some basic prayers and rituals, we should now more about church history and why we do things.  We should know  the “why” behind the hard teachings—on issues such as marriage, contraception, chastity, and homosexuality.

We as Catholics should do more to share our faith.  If we see someone who is going through a hard time, tell them that we will pray for them  We should be as comfortable in talking about Jesus as we are any other person.  We should talk about what He has taught us and how He has comforted us during the challenging times.  Cardinal Dolan, when asked who His role model is or who is best friend is, always immediately says that it is Jesus Christ.  We need the courage to give the same answer.

We as Catholics should show everyone that we are loving people.   Smile at the clerk in the grocery store. Visit the elderly neighbor up the street. Give to the poor. Talk to the homeless. Call your mom. Babysit your best friend’s kids so she can take a nap  Tell your pro-choice college roommate who’s struggling with infertility that you’re praying for her. Praise the hard work of the gay couple that runs your favorite coffee shop.  Tell your pro-choice friend who’s struggling with infertility that you’re praying for her. Praise the hard work of the gay couple that runs your favorite shop.  As we say, :Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

And of course, to be really annoying we should pray often.  Praying gives us every possible opportunity for God to enter into our hearts.

So you have my permission, and God’s orders, to go out into the world and be annoying pests.  Enjoy the rest of your weekend and have a great week ahead.  Peace.

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May 17, 2013 – The Numbers Game

May 17, 2013

You know, sometimes in life there is just so much excitement going on around us that we need an activity to sort of slow things down.  To even bore us, if you will.  Once in a while we may need to watch paint dry, or read the webmaster’s blog (WHAT!).  I just say this to prepare you for the basis of this week’s blog, which is going to talk about statistics.  I know statistics are not on the list of people’s most exciting thing to explore, but it’s sort of one of those necessary evils.  We need statistics to help us track trends and to allow us to further study why these trends are occurring.  This past week some statistics were released concerning the Catholic church worldwide, and I thought that I would share at least the summary of them with you.  I’ll try to keep this as painless as possible.   These statistics, by the way, come from the 2013 Pontifical Yearbook.

The number of Catholics worldwide rose from 1196 million in 2010 to 1214 million in 2011, an increase of 1.5%.  Since this growth is only slightly higher than that of the Earth’s population (1.23%), the presence of Catholics in the world remains essentially unchanged (17.5%).  The continents of Africa and Asia saw growth in number of Catholics above that of population growth, while the Americas and Europe saw growth in Catholic population pretty much right in line with overall population growth.

Globally, the presence of diocesan and religious priests has increased over time, growing in the last decade from 405,067  as of December 31, 2001, to 413,418 as of December 31, 2011 (+2.1%). However, these numbers vary greatly depending on the geographic region.  The dynamics of the number of priests in Africa and Asia is encouraging, with a +39.5% and +32.0% respectively (and with an increase of over 3,000 priests, for the two continents, in 2011 alone), while America remains stationary around an average of 122 thousand. Europe, in contrast to the global average, has seen a decrease of more than 9% in the past decade.  Though not part of the overall report summary, here are the trends in the number of priests in the United States:  In 1965: 58, 632.  In 1985: 57, 317.  In 2000: 45,699.  In 2012: 38,964.  It is not difficult to see in which direction the trend is going.

Those who have kept up with these numbers will not find anything particularly alarming thus far.  However, perhaps the most “unexpected” trend revealed in the report is the boom in the permanent diaconate, increasing from a total of more than 29,000 in 2001, to about 41,000 units a decade later (a spike of over 40%). Europe and America registered both the most numerically significant and vibrant trend. In fact, the European deacons, little more than 9,000 in 2001, were almost 14,000 in 2011, an increase of over 43%. In America the number grew from 19,100  in 2001 to more than 26,000 in 2011. These two continents, alone, account for 97.4% of the global total, with the remaining 2.6% split between Africa, Asia and Oceania.  This trend holds true in the United States, with the numbers going from 7,204 in 1975, to 12, 378 in 2000, to 17, 289 in 2012.  Fr. Gene could certainly speak muck more expertly on why this trend is occurring.  My thoughts are that because 1) this is still a relatively new ministry, having been re-established as part of Vatican II, 2) it is a vocation in which the gentleman can be married and still enter into, and 3)  there are more men such as school teachers, military, and others who are taking advantage of early retirement, yet are still vibrant enough to take o another vocation.  I’m sure there are others, but the point of emphasis here is that in the changing look of the church, permanent deacons will be asked to take on more of a pastoral presence.  They may do more baptisms, officiate at more weddings and funerals, hold more services in the absence of a priest, etc.

Not as surprising, though, is the trend in the number of women religious, with an overall decrease of 10% from 2001 to 2011. The decline particularly affects three continents (Europe, America and Oceania), with significant variations (-22% in Europe, -21% in Oceania and -17% in America). In Africa and Asia, however, there has been a sustained increase of more than 28% and 18% respectively . Consequently, the fraction of professed religious in Africa and Asia out of the global total increased from 24.4% to about 33%, at the expense of Europe and America, whose dropped respectively by a total of 74% to 66%.

OK, if you are still awake, then what does all of this mean?  It means that e continue to see a changing church.  We continue to see  decline in clergy in our neck of the woods, while less secularized areas such as Africa are seeing  a boom in vocations.  This has meant a great deal to our local area over the last 5-10 years, as many of the international priests whom are serving as missionaries in our Diocese are from Africa.  However, there is no guarantee that we will continue to receive this aid, which is why it is important for us to continue to work on the Diocesan Pastoral Plan in an open and cooperative manner.  Our parish council will have a joint meeting this coming Wednesday with the parish council of St. Mary’s in Ellis Grove.  Please pray for us as we continue to develop a plan of partnership.

Quickly turning to another subject – those of you who have been regular readers of this blog know that a few years ago I was hesitant to enter the realm of social media.  However, I am now a Facebook fanatic.  I am posting items almost daily on our Facebook group page.  In fact, it may be an annoyance to some people that I continually fill their wall with tidbits that I find.  I felt sort of guilty about this until now.  Pope Francis, who is continually sharing golden nuggets of wisdom in his daily homilies, said this yesterday: “There are backseat Christians, right? Those who are well mannered, who do everything well, but are unable to bring people to the Church through proclamation and Apostolic zeal. Today we can ask the Holy Spirit to give us all this Apostolic fervor and to give us the grace to be annoying when things are too quiet in the Church, the grace to go out to the outskirts of life. The Church has so much need of this!…So let us ask the Holy Spirit for this grace of Apostolic zeal, let’s be Christians with apostolic zeal. And if we annoy people, blessed be the Lord. Onwards, as the Lord says to Paul, ‘take courage!’ ”  So to those who think I am a holy pain in the you-know-what, Pope Francis and I say THANK YOU!

Have a great week.  Peace.

May 11, 2013 – The Argument For Church

May 11, 2013

We end the week trying to sort through yet another tragedy – this time near our own backyard as 4 children died in what apparently was a purposely set fire.  There are already several different stories, or rumors, going around as to what the motive of the individual was and the events that led to this horrific tragedy.  The events will sort themselves out in due time.  What we do know is that we need to pray for the family, friends, and all who were affected by this terrible tragedy.  We also need to pray for those who may be having thoughts of taking the lives of their fellow human beings, that the Holy Spirit enter their hearts and lead them to the Lord’s path.

Last weekend I attended both Masses so I could give a little talk about our parish directory and how things were coming along with it.  I want to thank you first of all for your compliments about how the directory looks.  As I said, it is still a work in progress, and there are still more families I hope to receive photos from in order to complete it, so keep checking back on it.  Also, since it is something we can continue to update as time goes on, I plan to continue to add to and update the photos of different parish activities as well.  It has been a project that, though it has progressed a little slower than I had hoped, has also been a lot of fun, and something that we will have at our disposal for years to come.

Anyway, once in a while I actually enjoy attending both Masses.  Call me nerdy, or call me someone who needs to fill up their social calendar, but I enjoy seeing the 2 different crowds, seeing how big of a laugh Fr. Gene’s joke gets at each Mass, and most importantly I enjoy the opportunity to spend that time with the Lord.  As I spoke at the Masses and saw the empty spaces in the pews on both occasions, my thoughts again turned to how it seems that we continue to find more and more excuses to push Mass aside in order to catch up on other things on our schedule. I didn’t want to turn this into a “the future of the church depends on you” sort of lecture, because if you are reading this you are probably a regular Mass attendee.  However, we still have the responsibility to evangelize, and to try to find the means to convince folks to come through the doors of our sacred space.

Pope Francis has stressed in his short time that we cannot find Jesus without also finding the church.  There are also so many other benefits to attending Mass.  This past week I came across a listing of 18 reasons why someone should return to Sunday Mass.  I just want to touch on a few of the ones I thought hit home and may be good persuaders for those who you’ve noticed hasn’t been at Mass for a while.

One is that it is our way to relive the Last Supper.  Every time we go to Mass we do what Jesus commanded us, to receive His body and drink of His blood in the form of bread and wine.  This can only be done during the Mass with a Priest present to celebrate it.  We cannot perform this act at home and we participate in the action without a priest.  We of course have means of gathering together in prayer, but it does not replace the Mass.

Another is that if you want to spend eternity with Christ, you need to get to know Him now.  You probably know people as I do who are good, giving people.  People who would give you the shirt off of their back if you needed it.  However, they do not attend church regularly or even practice their faith.  It is easy to tell ourselves that God still has a place in heaven for them, but do we truly believe that?  I’m sure we believe that if someone does go to church but is not a good, giving person outside the walls, that there may not be a place for them in heaven.  It is a package deal.

Another is that statistics say that people who go to church are less stressed.  I agree with this one 100%.  I look forward to Mass for many reasons, but one of them is that it is an opportunity to get away from the distractions of the “outside” world and focus on other things.  Admittedly, I probably spend too much time with my electronic devices.  Some of it is necessary in order to do website work, to gather information, to check the score of the Cardinal game, etc.  But there are other times when I could probably put down the I- phone or Kindle.  I know that at least during the time I’m in church I will not have those distractions in my way.  Even if the occasion for going to church is not to attend Mass, I still enjoy the time.  If I’m just dropping off something or checking on something, I’ll take an extra minute to enjoy the serenity and feeling of calm and reassurance that the inviting doors of the church bring.

One more is that “Is one hour too much to give to God?  How many do you spend on other priorities?”  This sort of goes back to my original thought that people seem to find more and more reasons NOT to attend Mass, instead of searching for the reasons to attend Mass.  I hear complaints about how much time other activities take, especially sports.  It is bad enough that the Wednesday evening “family nights” are pretty much non-existent, but now more and more activities are on Sunday – out of town tournaments, etc.  Folks still manage to juggle their schedules to accommodate this, and part of that juggling is to set Mass aside.  And until we decide to make a united stand against these things, the juggling will continue.

There are other reasons why folks should return to Sunday Mass, but these are ones that stuck out to me.  I hope you will share them with someone whom you haven’t seen at Mass lately.  It may work, it may not, but God will love us for the effort either way.

Finally, I wish all of our Moms a Happy Mother’s Day, especially my awesome Mom.  May you have a very special day with your families.  God Bless you for all you do!  Have a great day and a great week!  Peace.

 

May 4, 2013 – A Milestone Moment

May 4, 2013

I don’t have to tell you how fast time goes, and how the details of a lot of the events we experience in life sort of just fade into the background.  However, there are those milestones where we can almost immediately place ourselves right back to that point in time and remember the details of what was happening, and also remember the emotions we felt.  It may have been the day you got married, or the moment a child was born, or the day you walked into the store and discovered that a new flavor of Doritos came out. It may have been Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, when you knew you would be dragging the next day but just couldn’t bring yourself to go to bed, and the joy you felt when David Freese hit that home run in the 11th inning!  Ummm, anyway, there are those moments, good or bad, when we can in our minds almost literally take ourselves back to that point in time.

For single, nerdy electronic geeks such as myself, these moments may not seem quite as dramatic as, say, the moment your child drives up the road for the first time by themselves after they get their license.  Nevertheless, they are our moments, the moments we will treasure and remember as a turning point.  I had one of these moments yesterday.  It is still not a completed project, but for the first time I inputted the information that allows our parishioners to go online and view our pictorial directory.  No, it is not as earth shattering as finding out that we have a non-European Pope, but hey, its my moment, and I’m going to bask in the glow of my computer screen.

I of course say all of this in jest.  It is a good feeling, however, to see how the work you have done has come at least partially together to make something practical.  It is also a good feeling to know that we will now have access to something that now and into the future may help us stay a little closer to one another as a parish family.  I know that it is still difficult for some folks to embrace a “new” way to do things, and we will have printed copies made of the book in the very near future.  However, the new technology and the new means of communication are here to stay.  We can make the choice, then, to let it pass by and allow others to dictate how it will be used, or we can embrace it and use it as a means of evangelization.  I have been happy to see that Pope Francis is leaving messages on his Twitter account on an almost daily basis, and that he is up to 6 million followers (take that Kardashians!).  So anyway, the information you need to access the directory is on the homepage of our website, www.maryhoc.org.  I thank you and everyone who has participated in this endeavor, and I hope you enjoy it.

Speaking of how time flies, we have now already entered the month of May, and although I could still see my breath this morning, we know that graduations are right around the corner, and plans will begin for the next school year.  Our Pastoral Plan for our Diocese of course addresses how parishes will be partnered in order to address the shortage of clergy.  What perhaps hasn’t gotten as much attention is that it also addresses the viability of our Catholic schools, and the standards that schools will have to maintain in order to remain open.  For example, schools that have a K-8 enrollment of less than 50 will be considered for closure.  Also, parish subsidies to its school cannot be more that 40% of its total income, or they will be considered for closure.

So where do we as a parish stand?  Overall, I think we are currently in pretty good shape.  Our K-8 enrollment is in the 80’s right now, and hopefully we can stay in that range for a while.  Currently, we subsidize the school at over the new mandated rate of 40%, but with some creative bookkeeping this number could be lowered.  The concern, of course, lies with the future.  Can we continue to maintain the minimum enrollment in an age in which families are having fewer children and fewer of those families are associated with a religion?  Can we continue to keep up with rising costs? 

National statistics tell a gloomy tale.  According to an article released this past week, since the year 2000, nationwide 2,090 Catholic schools either closed or consolidated, and enrollment fell 24.5%.  A big problem of course is money.  In 1950, 90.1% of the professional staff in Catholic schools were clergy or members of religious orders.  Today, that number is only 3.2%.  Religious staff worked for relatively low salary, and though lay people in Catholic schools generally do not make the salaries of their counterparts in public schools, they still must be paid a just salary in order to make a living.  I can remember when I first attended St. Mary’s in 1975, tuition was $45 per year.  This past year it was $2000.  This is still low in comparison to most schools.  Currently tuition averages $3,673 for grade school, and $9,622 for high school.  So the challenge in finding ways to increase enrollment is obvious.

Our hope is that entering into partnership with other parishes will open the doors for more students outside our parish boundaries to consider coming to St. Mary’s.  We also hope that at some point our government will realize that the more students the public system has to absorb due to Catholic school closures, the more the drain on an already tense budgetary situation.  A voucher or tax subsidy program would be helpful to our Catholic schools in maintaining and increasing enrollment.  You can read more about the issues facing our Catholic school nationwide by going to this link:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/02/us-usa-education-catholic-idUSBRE9410PN20130502

Our schools may have to add ark building to their curriculum if this rain continues.  What a far cry from last year.  Pray for favorable weather so our farmers and gardeners can get their needed work done.  Have a great week!  Peace.