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I don’t know a single priest who likes to talk about money from the pulpit. Heck, I don’t even like to write about it. However, there are times when it is necessary to ask for your generous stewardship. And there are other times when I need to say a profound word of thanks to you all for responding so generously to the needs of our parish, our community and our Archdiocese.

If you are reading these words on Sunday morning, this year’s Sponsors Dinner Dance is now a wonderful memory. Thanks to all who worked so hard and for so many hours to make it possible. As you know, the Dinner Dance began as a way to help meet operating expenses for the parish. Then there was a period of time when it provided for bigger ‘wish list’ kind of items for the school and parish. With the slowing of the economy and the decline in birth rates and subsequent decline in school enrollment, these last years have found it returning to its original role – helping to meet the operational expenses of our school. (It does continue to provide some wonderful ‘wish list’ funds for the teachers and administration.) Your participation and support continue to make this a ‘night of nights’ for the parish community. Thanks for all the ways you (will) have been generous to our parish and school community.

We also continue the Archdiocesan Annual Catholic Appeal this weekend. You know how much it has done for the Newman Center and Fr. Vic’s deaf ministry in the past. Did you also know that this past year, the Appeal provided $1,400 for tuition subsidy for our grade school teachers to continue their study of the faith through St. Paul VI classes, $1,100 for Teachers professional growth fund, and $1,250 to parishioners through the Catholic Family Tuition Assistance program. Several engaged couples participated in the marriage preparation programs sponsored by the Office of Laity and Family Life – also made possible by funding from the ACA.

Finally, I am waiting for approval for our submitted budget from the Archdiocese for the coming school year before I can offer contracts to our teachers. I am hoping the approval comes long before you read this, but if not, keep that process in your prayers…

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Pastor’s Pen – April 18, 2010

Published on 18. Apr, 2010 by in Pastor's Pen

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These are painful times to be Catholic. And though it is easy to vilify the press because of their sensationalistic reporting of the continuing abuse crisis now centered in Europe and the Vatican and the Papacy, I don’t know if the church in the United States would be where it is in terms of healing and protecting God’s children without their relentless prodding. It is a needful, but painful purifying that we are undergoing. In the midst of all that, a friend sent the following article by a Jewish Businessman, Sam Miller, from Cleveland that you might find helpful.

“Do you know – the Catholic Church educates 2.6 million elementary and high school students everyday at the cost to that Church of 10 billion dollars, and a savings on the other hand to the American taxpayer of 18 billion dollars. The graduates go on to university studies at the rate of 92%. The Church has 230 colleges and universities in the U.S. with an enrollment of 700,000 students. The Catholic Church has a non-profit hospital system of 637 hospitals, which account for hospital treatment of 1 out of every 5 people in the United States today

But the press is vindictive and trying to totally denigrate in every way the Catholic Church in this country. They have blamed the disease of pedophilia on the Catholic Church, which is as irresponsible as blaming adultery on the institution of marriage.”

[The author quotes numerous statistics about abuse and pedophilia in other religious traditions that lend themselves to his conclusion:] “This is not just a Catholic problem.”

“A study of American priests showed that most are happy in the priesthood and find it even better than they had expected, and that most, if given the choice, would choose to be priests again…

[I challenge you to find another corporation or institution throughout the world that is being more transparent and forthright and pro-active in dealing with this issue than the US Catholic Church since the Dallas Charter in June of 2002.]

“Walk with your shoulders high and your head higher. Be a proud member of the most important non-governmental entity in the United States today. Then remember what Jeremiah said: ‘Stand by the roads, and look and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is and walk in it, and find rest for your souls’. Be proud to speak up for your faith with pride and reverence and learn what your Church does for all other religions and people. Be proud that you’re a Catholic.”

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If you are a fan of white castles, you may remember an advertizing campaign they ran many, many years ago. It was very simple. “Hamburgers for breakfast? Why not?” Though the thought of that onion flavor to mark the beginning of my day (and probably stay with me most of the day) is a little less than desired, is it much stranger than the breakfast Jesus offered his disciples that morning? A charcoal fire with bread and fish? Hmmm….

I don’t know about you, but if I had just spent the night fishing, (without much success, I might add) around the smell of boats and tackle and nets, the last thing I would be hungry for is fish. The bread I could probably go for, but “Fish for Breakfast? – WHY?”

Despite your personal tastes, though, I invite you to think about what Jesus is really offering them in the breakfast. Besides the ‘comfort food’ of bread and fish, a staple of any fisherman’s diet, what he was really serving was a memory, wasn’t it? A memory that even they couldn’t miss, and that would set them back on the journey they had begun so long ago. When Jesus first met the disciples in Luke’s gospel, he commandeers Peter’s boat, and uses it to preach. Then he bids them to set out and fish, right there in the middle of the afternoon, the worst possible time to catch fish. You know the outcome, then. An enormous catch. More than they could handle. So when Jesus bids them to cast their nets on the other side and they haul in an enormous catch, they would begin to remember. And when they counted the number of fish, 153, it would have become clearer. 153 was the number of known nations at the time of Jesus. (so goes the thinking of many scholars on the number 153) So, Jesus was creating a new memory for them, but one that called them back to THE JOB, the moment when it all began. Fishers of men! Fishers of all God’s people! And it all begins again. But this time, to ALL the NATIONS.

But Jesus takes the memory one step further, doesn’t he? “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Now he is in deep water – because he is going right to Simon’s guilt and shame and failure. And the memory of his failure was something Peter was sure to get stuck in, unless Jesus could replace that memory with a different one. Three times he gives Peter the opportunity to create a new memory. Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you really love me? And on the third time, Peter gets it. Now he understands that Jesus is giving him the chance to say it all over again. “Yes Lord, you know that the deepest truth in my life is that I love you. More than my failure and lack of courage and betrayal – there is this truth. I love you with all I am, and all that I was and all I will be.”

That MEMORY will feed Simon throughout the rest of his life. And instead of being afraid of the Jews and afraid of what they might do to him, he will, as we heard in the first reading, rejoice in the fact that he was found worthy of suffering for his Lord.

It is the best breakfast, really, that Jesus offered his disciples and Simon Peter. The memory of who they are deepest down within. The memory that set their hearts free and their feet on the road to proclaim the resurrection. And it is the same menu that you and I share this evening/morning- the memory of the meal that Jesus asked us to do in his honor, which makes him really present to us here at this altar and here in this community. Like Simon Peter, may we echo our own “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” And may that response set US free to feed his lambs, to tend his sheep and to grow always in love and in service of each other.

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A classmate of mine (Fr. Kevin Schmittgens) did a rather fascinating project with his high school students, a project I encourage you to do as well. Simply put: they were asked to write a memoir of their lives. The trick was, they could only use six words. He actually stole the idea from a book he read which is based on this very simple, yet very intriguing premise.

Some of the memoirs were goofy, yet revealed some truth nonetheless. One procrastinator just scribbled very quickly: This is not good. I’m sorry. Another bold young man, stealing from Julius Caesar wrote: I came, I saw, I conquered. Some were very upbeat, while others are rather poignant. One girl, a dancer and an incredibly intelligent student wrote: Dancing through life, stumbling over myself. Another wrote: Only my music knows the truth.

Fr. Kevin writes: “One of the memoirs really stuck with me. It stuck because I believe that it is one that a lot of people experience, if not all of humanity. She simply wrote: I’m used to the word “no.” I’m used to the word “no.” Isn’t that the story of humanity in general? We sin. We say no to life. We suffer. Life says “no” to us. And we die – the ultimate “no” perpetrated on humanity. No. No. No. No. No. No. They are all before us, beside us, around us and inside us. And we begin to believe them. You can’t change the world. You can’t make a difference. You’re not good enough or smart enough or… whatever. And pretty soon, we believe that message. To paraphrase a vulgar bumper sticker: Life’s a “no” then you die.”

The disciples in the gospel had already succumbed to that “NO” mentality. When the women came back and reported what they had seen – what is their response? NONSENSE! Couldn’t be! He is dead! He is finished! (We are finished) Could Jesus be alive? The answer is no! I wonder how often I jump to that same conclusion. Could God be doing something NEW in my life? “Nonsense”.

But on Easter, we remember, we celebrate, we rejoice in a God who firmly and unequivocally responds to all of life with a “yes.” By raising Jesus from the dead, God says “yes” to creation, “yes” to life, “yes” to us. “God, are you there?” Yes. “God, do you care?” Yes. “Do you forgive us?” Yes. “Is the long reign of sin and sadness ended?” Yes. “Do you give us the chance and grace to start over?” Yes!

What Peter went to check out – if just to get the women to shut up – is the most impossible, implausible YES in all of the world. And there, Luke’s gospel leaves us this Easter evening – along with Simon Peter, peering into the empty tomb of our “NO”s, looking at all the ways we’ve shortchanged ourselves and God and life – wondering if there might be a different outcome, a different possibility.

So we too, stand before the empty tomb, and we remember this central, vital, essential tenet of our faith. We stand against the night, against the darkness, against the hate, against the futility, against the gloom, against the senselessness and dedicate ourselves to living the fullness of life in Christ. Our lives must now be a “yes” and we need to share that with a world that is far too used to the word “no.”

Because of Easter, our memoir can now and always be written in six words.

Christ is risen! Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

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Easter wisdom…

Published on 11. Apr, 2010 by in Sunday Homilies

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A few years ago, when our 8th grade presented the ‘living’ stations of the cross before our students and faculty, one of our faculty members was visibly moved by the spectacle of ‘Mary’ holding the dead body of her son ‘Jesus’. As she wiped a tear or two from her eye, one of her students, a first grader, looked up, saw the tears, and gently rested her head on the teacher’s arm. Then after a moment, she looked up and quietly asked: “Can I say something that is helpful?” (a code phrase in the classroom) “Sure,” she said. “He didn’t stay dead.”

Out of the mouths of babes, comes the deepest truth about our Lord and savior. “He didn’t stay dead.” And that, to quote the car commercial, changes everything. You see, if Jesus did not remain in the grips of death, if the tomb could not and would not hold the risen one, then it will not hold us either. And though we tend to think of that, usually in an ‘end of my life/days’ type of scenario –‘not staying dead’ is so much more immediate!

You see, ‘not staying dead’ means that there is a power within us that we can draw upon in any situation. And that power is full of LIFE, full of growth, full of change. We’re not stuck in our past mistakes or failures. And, we have an ability to walk into the places of death and bring life, bring change, bring growth. That power calls us to make a difference each day.

‘Not staying dead’ means that there is an URGENCY to our life – a preciousness to each moment, each opportunity to proclaim good news. That is what we hear in the gospel accounts of the resurrection – a kind of breathless excitement. “Go quickly and tell the disciples”, the angel says. The women “went away quickly from the tomb, fearful, yet overjoyed, and ran to tell the apostles”. It records the disciples running to the tomb. Not staying dead means that we run to all the places of the world that need good news spread to them.

As we take these next 50 days of the Easter season to unpack the wonder and mystery of the resurrection, we are meant to do that, not only in our Liturgical celebrations, but by our concrete acts of witness. We are to live and act in a way that cannot be explained except by the presence of the risen Jesus in us. He didn’t stay dead. Neither should we. Neither should we…

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It is one of those details you can easily miss. But in both of the appearance accounts – it notes WHERE the disciples were. Locked in the upper room. Locked in. Doors bolted. Behind barriers. Safe, they thought, from anyone who might try to get to them. And even more so, they were locked in an upper room – removed from things. (Think of the diary of Anne Franke.)

And there, Jesus makes use of his second occupation – and perhaps his most important one after the resurrection. Locksmith. John describes him as being able to break through any obstacle, any thing we put in the way. And almost whether we want him to or not. You see, the risen Jesus wants to get into your heart, mind, and life. His desire is to get to all the trapped places of our lives, all the things that hold us in the grip of fear and remorse and shame. And he will do it despite all the obstacles we’ll set in his way.

We call that grace – what God accomplishes in me, despite my resistance to it, despite the fear that would keep my trapped behind whatever closed doors there are in my life. We call that the divine mercy, and it is Jesus all about being a locksmith to the doors that would keep us trapped. This feast, celebrated now in the church for the past 10 years, is an invitation to us to all of us, no matter what we have done, no matter how our life has turned out, to turn to our Lord, confident that we can begin again.

And if you don’t quite trust that, then listen to the next little detail in John’s gospel that sometimes get’s missed. After his first wishing of the disciple’s: PEACE, what does he do? He shows them his hands and sides. He shows his disciples the effects of their rejection, the wounds he endured for their forgiveness. He shows them the mark in his hands, and the hole in his side. “Don’t forget what the world did to me. And don’t forget that you had a part in that in your denial, in your betrayal, in your running from my side. Now that he is sure that THEY know they have sin – Having shown them his hands and side – he says “SHALOM.” Peace to you. It is forgiven. It is let go. It is done and gone. And like a locksmith picking the lock to a door, GOD’s forgiveness made available through Jesus Christ is able to break through the barriers the disciples put in the way of Jesus – and the barriers you and I put in the way.

We are sinners. That is a truth about our lives. But the story does not end there. We are FORGIVEN sinners. Any and all sins can be forgiven. Call it Redemption. Salvation. Access to eternal life, Divine Mercy – all of these are the same. All comes down to that truth. God is not served by our staying trapped in the wounds of our sin and hatred and smallness of heart. He IS SERVED by our willingness to be set free and to become conduits of that love and grace and mercy to everyone. God is not served by our being trapped in our fear and shame and un-forgiveness. Stop wasting your time there. Life is too short to stay trapped. And the church’s mission to bring the whole world into the experience of divine love is too urgent to stay removed in some upper room.

You see, you and I share the same occupation of the risen Christ – to be mediators of the divine forgiveness, bearers of the divine love, locksmiths for the kingdom of God to all we meet. Amen. Alleluia!

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Pastor’s Pen – April 4, 2010

Published on 04. Apr, 2010 by in Pastor's Pen

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Wrong season?

I woke up with my brain ‘singing’ a song from the musical “Mame” this morning.  I have no idea how it got there, but there it was.

Haul out the holly; Put up the tree before my spirit falls again.  Fill up the stocking, I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now. 
For we need a little Christmas, Right this very minute, Candles in the window, Carols at the spinet…
(what’s a spinet, you might ask…) Yes, we need a little Christmas now!

Why this song, of all songs, to go off in my head this morning, I have no clue.  But it has stayed with me all day – with ONE little twist.  Replace the word Christmas with EASTER – and that is the song in my heart.  We need a little EASTER now…

For I’ve grown a little leaner, 
Grown a little colder, 
Grown a little sadder, 
Grown a little older,

It is easy to buy into the depressing news brought to us each day.  It is easy to forget that the final chapter of the book of life has been written – and in that book, God’s answer is YES.  God’s answer to the pain and sorrow and suffering is to redeem it from within.  That is why Jesus suffered and died for us – to redeem ALL of our human experiences – including death.

Well, once I taught you all to live each living day.

That is the improbable, astounding and amazing news of the empty tomb – God has taught us how to live each resurrected day – trusting in his promise, joyfilled in his love, courageous in his victory over death for us all.  And the power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power that is ours to live into all of our living days.  We too are called to live God’s triumph over sin and death in our lives and experiences.  For every moment of our lives is touched by grace.

You know, once you get used to it, it is not a bad ‘hymn’ to guide us through this Easter season.

For we need a little music, Need a little laughter, Need a little singing, Ringing through the rafter.  And we need a little snappy “Happy ever after,”

We need a little Easter now.

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Early on in Lent, I was at a meeting with the Archbishop.  As he led the closing prayer he used a simple image: “Lord, help us to be faithful in our journey to the foot of the cross.”  That phrase got me to thinking about a couple of things.  First, I am grateful that I don’t have to climb on that cross – that suffering love has already been endured for my salvation.  I don’t have to re-do what our Lord has done.  But journeying to the foot of the cross made me realize that I have to face the sufferings that Jesus embraced upon that cross.  I had to see what Jesus took to himself in his agony.  I had to understand what Jesus was reconciling in his body as he suffered.  I became aware of those sufferings in different ways this lent.

Listening to NPR as I drove in my car, I heard recent stories about the gang and mafia related violence in and around Mexico City.  The reporting commented that these are primarily fueled by drugs, fueled by people in the U.S.’s addiction to cocaine and marijuana.  People are dying in Mexico because people in St. Louis and around the country want to enjoy a ‘toke’ on the infernal weed, or a hit of the white powder.  I find myself at the foot of the cross trying to figure out how to stop the demand on this side of the Rio Grande so that people might live on their side of the Rio Grande.

Like you, I’ve been reading and hearing as the abuse scandal that we faced in our country is now being faced in Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands and the like.  Parallel to our experience, some of what is written is true – and we need to hear it and face it.  Some of it is false, and it needs to be corrected.  And some of it is blatantly attacking the church in an effort tear down and destroy the body of Christ – and that part needs to be confronted.  I find myself at the foot of the cross praying once more for victims and perpetrators, leaders and followers in this church of ours – that we might let the example of Christ lead us.

On a more personal note, my family has been dealing with issues around my mom’s broken but slowly healing arm, her failing mobility, her fierce independence and our desire to love her in a way that keeps her safe but respects her freedom.  So I find myself kneeling at the foot of the cross called aging and geriatric care, asking for the wisdom to know a path forward.

And then there is that pesky Lenten resolution to spend more time in prayer.  Where did that go?  How did I get to Good Friday and not significantly change my behaviors and patterns despite my best intentions.  And I find myself at the foot of the cross, begging forgiveness and mercy.

What brings us here tonight is probably as varied as the people sitting in the pews next to you.  Whether corporately or individually, we have all journeyed to this moment and this hour – to the foot of the cross.  Perhaps it is the foot of the cross of cancer where you find yourself this year.  Perhaps it is a lousy job that you are trapped in, especially in this economy.  Perhaps it is the corporate sin of our country so locked in one way of thinking that we can’t even disagree civilly anymore.

Whatever the cross invites you to face this year, we assemble at its foot.  In a few moments, we will have the chance to venerate the cross.  Bring whatever you need to this place of costly grace – your sin, your repentance, your need for God, the situation YOU are FACING  – and surrender the burden.  Lay it down upon the Lord.  It is what he wants to do – for you, for me, for the world…

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