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Have you ever played the ‘question game’ as a sort of ice breaker?  There is a stack of cards or a book or a whatever, that has random questions on it.  You pull the card and answer the question.  Your answer tells the people in the group something about you, about what matters, and about what is important in your world view.

So here’s my question:  “If you could sit next to one person at a banquet, out of all the people in the history of the planet, past or present, who would it be?”  Innocent enough, isn’t it?  It could be a great figure from history – Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, General Eisenhower.  I could be a literary figure – William Shakespeare, Henry Thoreau, even a Daniel Brown.  Or on a personal level, it could be the grandmother you never met, but heard stories about, or the uncle who died in the war or the great grandmother who made the voyage from ‘the old sod’ to America and founded your family.  Whom you choose tells us something about you.

During the time of Jesus, they ‘played’ that game all the time.  However, they played it for real.  When you were invited to a banquet, as the hosts were providing the ritual washing of your feet in the courtyard of the house, you quickly sized up the other guests, decided who you wanted to be with and then you made a bee line to the chair next to them, so you didn’t have to spend the evening talking with someone who was ‘boring’, or who saw the world differently than you did.  Like got used to sitting next to like, people of one social status sat next to others of the same social status, and so it went.  (Really, is this that much different than what happens every day when you look for a place to land at the Nosh, or when you arrive a wedding reception and scope out the available tables?)  It is not a bad thing necessarily, and it certainly is a very human thing.  And though an evening like that might be entertaining and enjoyable, do you really learn much that is different about the world in that sort of setting?  Or rather, does the circle tighten as like minded conversations reinforce the same kind of views?

So watch what Jesus does when he sees that ‘game’ going on.  “Sit next to someone you would not normally associate with.  You’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn about them, about life and the world.” And, as one who always looked at ways to change the social order, always looked for ways to raise up those on the bottom of society, the implicit invitation was: “If you do get called ‘up higher”, you’ll be able to advocate for them – because you’ll know their world view from their perspective, see their struggles, have a sense of what it is to walk a mile in their shoes.  From them, you’ll learn how to change the world so all share the world as the brothers and sisters we are.”

“And when you are inviting people, he continues, when you are thinking about who you want to sit next to you at a banquet, instead of the usual suspects, think about the kind of things that you want to learn, and who the people are who can teach you that.  Those are the people to ask:  Invite the poor who have learned how to depend upon God for everything.  Invite the crippled and lame who can teach you about how to rely on others to get through.  Invite the blind – the ones for whom their other senses have become so acute – for they can teach you how to be so aware of the world around you, its needs, its injustices, as well as its hopes and dreams.  If you do this – then you’ll learn the humility I have come to teach you.  Then you’ll know what it is to sit at the heavenly banquet.”

Nor are these empty words from our savior.  This is his third banquet with the Pharisees with whom he is in a pretty antagonistic relationship already.  Luke notes: “They were watching him CLOSELY.”  Jesus wanted to understand them, and they – him.  He wanted them to recognize there was a common humanity deeper than their differences of opinion that called them to a relationship of love and mutual recognition.  That was the humility Jesus sought after and was modeling that day.

There is a simple quote from St. Vincent de Paul that might tie this all together. “There is not one person alive from whom I cannot learn something about God and life and grace.”

SO – Spend some moments in prayer around these two questions:

First: What do I (still) need to learn and who do I need to ‘sit next to’ so that I can learn that?

Secondly, what have I learned about those on the bottom that I can ‘bring up higher?”  Perhaps it to advocate for the unborn.  Or the illegal immigrant.  Or those in prison.  “Who is the Lord inviting me to ‘bring up higher?”  Pay attention to the ads and articles in the run up to November’s election and see what continually strikes your heart.  Then trust that those are the people God is asking you to represent…

The good news this day is that we are all invited to sit next to the guest of honor – Jesus.  Might we heed his example of humility, and learn from each other how to be brother and sister to all…

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Pastor’s Pen – August 29, 2010

Published on 29. Aug, 2010 by in Pastor's Pen

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Every four years…

Every four years, the priests of this Archdiocese are given a wonderful opportunity.  It is called “Convocation” – from the Latin words meaning a ‘Calling together’.  So for four and a half days in mid-September, we will gather at the Lake of the Ozarks (close enough to get away, far enough not to be tempted to return for parish meetings) for prayer, study, camaraderie and relaxation.  The theme this year is:  Our Priestly Identity: Claim It.

I always look forward to this unique opportunity to spend time in prayer and reflection, fellowship and fun with my brother priests.  This year will also be the first year with Archbishop Carlson.  He is planning to address us on Friday morning, presenting a kind of “State of the Archdiocese” address, including his priorities and vision for us as priests as we move forward.  I ask that you keep us in your prayers these days.

For past convocations, I have been able to rely on my part time associate to cover mass duties from Tues through Friday.  Obviously that cannot happen this year.  Fr. Emmanuel will be on his way back to the Congo by then.  The usual suspects of Archdiocesan subs will also be at the convocation.  Though I continue to make phone calls, we may have to get by with communion services led by Deacon Jack Shannon that week.  Ah, the joys of a shrinking priesthood.  It is one of the many challenges that face us as priests and as a church in this Archdiocese.

Every year…

A reminder that SPRENKE-TIME is fast approaching, with its usual opportunity for St. Ann parishioners to be a beacon of hospitality to so many visiting athletes and their families.  I ask that you continue this wonderful tradition of warmth and welcome, now in its 49th year.  As always, the Men’s Club welcomes volunteers to help with the always succulent BBQ, and the staffing of the food and beverage lines.  I also remind people of the need to monitor their intake of certain beverages over the course of these days.  Our children and the children of all our guests do watch us and we do teach them by our example.  Might the example we give be Christ-like in word and in deed.

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A quick show of hands:  How many of you have flown recently?  Okay, how many of you have used the lavatory in the airplane recently?  Talk about narrow doors.  If Webster was confined to pictures to define something, the restroom doors in an airplane would be the pic they’d use for narrow doors.  They are accessible, but they take a bit of patience to negotiate, especially if you are carrying something.  I mean, how do parents change baby diapers on airplanes in those rooms?

So, when that anonymous person in the crowd shouts out ‘the question’ that gets asked in every religious circle – “who gets in and who is shut out”, Jesus uses an image that his listeners, and to a lesser extent, you and I are familiar with.  The narrow door.

Narrow doors!  Some exegetes speak of a narrow gate in Jerusalem – one that was tall, thin, and accessible, but a fully loaded camel would not be able to negotiate its way through. It would have to be stripped of its possessions to enter.  And now, we begin to have a hint at what Jesus is asking/inviting his disciples to know.

Contrary to a popular belief that it takes NOTHING MORE THAN LETTING JESUS LOVE YOU to get to heaven, Jesus invites any of us who would be his disciples to a deeper truth.  “Many will strive to enter but will not be strong enough.” I don’t know about you, but that is one scary line coming from the lips of my savior.  “Many will strive but not be strong enough.” YIKES!!! Your baptismal certificate will not get you in.  Nor will your lifetime Life-TEEN membership card or your Sunday collection envelope.  Only by striving and yearning and longing for the kingdom in very concrete and practical ways – will you enter the narrow gate.

So, what are the narrow gates YOU face?

  • In academics, maybe it is the diligence you have to use for your studies – taking 3 hours when others are done in one.
  • In the arena of service, perhaps the narrow gate is the opportunity you have tomorrow to help a student who is lost on campus, or is sitting alone in the Nosh on the first day of classes because people have already labeled them as ‘losers’.  In fact, I am on a one priest campaign to eliminate the UMSL shuffle.  (demonstrate walking straight ahead with eyes fixed firmly on the ground)  How amazing it would be to go a whole year walking through the narrow gate of making EYE CONTACT and trying to bring a smile to the face of your fellow students…
  • Maybe the narrow gate is figuring out as a freshmen how to use your new found freedom to navigate that balance between study and play and work and living a healthy, fully human life?
  • In relationships, maybe the narrow gate is figuring out how to be true to the relationship that is exciting and new, but tempts you to say more with your body then your heart really wants to say or is able to say at the moment.
  • Or, like the camel that needs to be unburdened from its load, perhaps the narrow gate is the unforgiveness you still harbor, or the wound you won’t let heal or the person you won’t let back into your life.  And you’re gonna be stuck at that gate until you let it go.
  • Perhaps the narrow gate is the choice you must make to set the alarm 15 minutes early because that’s the only time you’ll be alone enough to spend time in prayer…  or leave the party 15 minutes earlier because you pray best at night and that is the only time you have to pray…

What are the narrow doors in your life that you have to navigate?  The ones that you face – not anyone else?

The good news of today:  The door is open. It is possible to get through.  It can be walked.  And Jesus is beckoning, is inviting us to enter.  BUT, it is narrow.  And you’ll have to strive with all you’ve got.  Live this week, this semester, choosing only that which will allow you to pass through…

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Pastor’s Pen – August 22, 2010

Published on 22. Aug, 2010 by in Pastor's Pen

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Alive in Christ…

The St. Louis Archdiocese has a strong tradition in Catholic education.  St. Ann school has been a part of that tradition for the past 150 years.  Our new Archbishop has made strengthening Catholic education his number one priority.  To help that tradition continue and grow, the archbishop has established a new Mission Advancement Initiative for Catholic education here. The multi-year initiative, which is being planned with the help of a team of educators and fundraising professionals, will focus on helping parishes and schools implement the archbishop’s vision for Catholic schools.

“I believe in Catholic education,” Archbishop Carlson told the members of the Mission Advancement Initiative earlier this summer. “I also believe that as archbishop of St. Louis I have a God-given responsibility to do everything I can to help our schools be ‘Alive in Christ’ — vibrant centers of faith and learning committed to excellence and to holiness, to make them available—and affordable—for every Catholic family that desires a Catholic school education for their children, and, wherever possible, to offer this ministry to other (non-Catholic) families who share our values and who want a Catholic school education for their children.”

To that end, a series of meetings have been scheduled.  The one closest to us will be held at Trinity High School on Tuesday night, October 5, from 7-9 pm.  Each parish is invited to send TEN representatives, who will be divided up into three ‘question’ areas.  How can we strengthen our schools in their catholic identity?  How can we increase the number of students in our Catholic schools?  How can we make our schools financially sound, and, at the same time, help those who otherwise could not afford a Catholic school education?

These are important questions, not just for the future of education in the Archdiocese, but for the future of St. Ann school.  Soooo, I am looking for volunteers who are passionate about St. Ann school, and about catholic education in the Archdiocese, who would be willing to join me for the evening.  Call me and leave me a message on my voicemail, and I will select from those who volunteer a group of ten to represent our parish.  I’d like to have the names to submit by September 5th, so please rsvp asap…

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One of the charges leveled against Christians of all ages is being so heavenly minded we are of no earthly good.  Though that may be true of individuals and perhaps each one of us at some point or other, I believe it is not a correct ‘understanding’ of the church’s dogma, nor particularly of this Feast of the Assumption.  For what the Assumption of Mary celebrates is that all that we are – this body and soul matrix AND our relationship with THIS world in which we live- will be taken up into the victory of Christ.  Mary is always the first fruit of that.  And what Mary’s assumption tells us is that this earthly world of ours, in which we live and move and have our being, also somehow needs to get caught up in that same change.  Or, as one author put it:  God promises us a future beyond time in which all reality is transformed into the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.

I confess, I don’t understand exactly how that is going to all happen. On a personal level – I visit our cemetery enough to know that bodies decay.  That indeed, we are dust and into dust we shall return.  But in the mean time, my spirit enlivens “THIS DUST” – and melds sinew and bone into a body which expresses who I am.  But science tells me that even this “ME” is not as permanent as I might think.  Every 9 months (or something like that) each and every cell that composes my body has been ‘exchanged’.  All the matter that matters –(my me) –, is replaced by new matter, and yet “I” remain.  I persists through those changes.  And somehow that “ME” will have to be present to God at the end of all things.  Like Mary, this body and soul will be caught up into the mystery of God himself.  Transformed, caught up, changed, but still me.

I understand even less about how this Assumption works on a worldly level.  I find myself thinking a lot – wouldn’t this be a nice time for Jesus to return and put everything right.  Clean up the gulf oil spill with a snap of the finger.  Put the economy back on track with a word of command.  End wars and violence.  Heal the victims of the clergy abuse scandal.  Unite the divided parishioners of St. Stanislaus with each other and the Archdiocese.  But if I take the Assumption seriously, then I MUST BE INVOLVED in the transformation of this world.  I must do MY part to make the necessary changes.  That is what it means to cooperate with grace.  That is what Mary did with her yes.  It is what we are invited to do.

Concretely, may I suggest a few things.

1) Take the words:  “It doesn’t matter” out of your vocabulary.  Ban it forever from your lips.  Never let those words: It doesn’t matter pass your vocal chords again.  You see, Every decision DOES matter, on a personal and corporate level, because every decision becomes the “matter” which is going to be transformed.  It matters whether you take care of your health.  It matters that our planet has enough resources to sustain all life, not just in our life time, but for years to come.  It mattes that mom and dad create a safe home environment for their kids.  It matters that all life is sacred and that we treat it so.  Because we believe that life is precious HERE and in the HEREAFTER, all decisions matter.

2) How do you and I honor this BODY” which will one day be caught up in the mystery of God – the resurrection of the dead?  I invite you to inventory for a week what you take into your body.  What do you let your eyes see –what movies, tv shows, websites.  What conversations do you let your ears hear; what music lyrics impinge on them; what sounds of nature do you nurture yourself with.  Look at all the things that you let your body experience.  And then, at the end of the week, look at that inventory.  Are the things listed there worthy of being assumed and changed into the life of heaven?  Are they worthy to be caught up into that transformed, changed life?

Are Christians so heavenly bound that we are no earthly good?  Not if we understand what we celebrate this day…

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Pastor’s Pen – August 15, 2010

Published on 15. Aug, 2010 by in Pastor's Pen

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A resource should you need it…

The good folk from St. Vincent Home for Children sent me the following information.  Hopefully, no one in our parish will ever find themselves in need of this service.  I do think it is wise to have a file of just such things at hand, should I ever need to refer someone.  So, for your file…

Families sometimes find themselves in difficult situations that can quickly spiral out of control.  Sadly, things can become so unstable and volatile that the family is in danger of facing removal of a child by the state, a child entering the juvenile justice system, or a parent wanting to voluntarily place their child in out-of-home care.  The goal of our Temporary Shelter Program is to prevent that family disruption from happening.

We will serve youth ages 12-18 from all parts of St. Louis County who are experiencing behaviors that have placed them at risk of entry into foster care and/or placement in the juvenile justice system.  The behaviors that have placed them at risk include property damage, assault, incorrigible behavior, aggression at home and/or school, poor school attendance or suspension from school, and posing a risk to family and/or siblings.

The youth we serve are experiencing difficulties at home, at school, or in the community.   Most of them exhibit severe academic and behavioral deficits in school, poor social skills and poor problem-solving skills.  We also will accept youth who have mental health diagnoses (treated with medication) that precipitate problems with verbal and physical aggression, difficulty with authority figures, problems complying with family rules, and a general lack of trust of adults.

The Temporary Shelter Program will provide up to 30 days in care on the campus of St. Vincent Home for Children…  The youth will be supervised around the clock, seven days a week by trained child care staff.

Treatment Services will be provided upon admission and continue for 90 days following discharge from the shelter.  These services will be provided by Masters level counselors under the supervision of a licensed therapist (LPC or LCSW).  Treatment services include:

Intake, Assessment & Treatment Planning, Individual and Family Counseling, Psycho-Educational Groups, Case Management, Resource Referrals, Collateral Contacts

Services are provided at NO COST to the family.  For more info, contact Connie Doty, MSW at: (314) 261-6011  ext. 176

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How High are your expectations?

Published on 08. Aug, 2010 by in Sunday Homilies

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“Keep your expectations low, and you’ll rarely be disappointed.”

It is a somber view of life, one which often short changes those around us and those whom we love.  We don’t expect much from the friendship or relationship so we just kind of settle for whatever, and in so doing, miss out on many wonderful opportunities for growth and change and love.  And I wonder, as believers, if we too often fall into this kind of thinking.  But I wonder in a different sort of way than you might think.  I have been wondering lately if I have short changed God’s expectations of me?

And it is dear ole’ Abraham’s fault.  We heard that wonderful reading from the author of Hebrews about faith and Abraham setting out in hope and trust.  Ho hum.  Very nice.  But what you might miss, unless you know the rest of the story is one significant little fact.  Abraham was NINETY years old when he set out.  No spring chicken by any one’s imagination.  Somehow, at ninety, Abraham had this sense that God was not done with him.  He came to believe that there was something MORE that God wanted from him, another journey to make, another task for him to accomplish.  And so he and Sarah set out, to cross hundreds of miles to a land God would show him, and moreover, a destiny that was hard for him to even think about becoming a reality at his age.

“You will be a father to NATIONS.  If you will dare to hold this high expectation in your heart, then I will do great things with it.  But you have to hold it in your heart.  You have to trust that I am not done with you.” That is what God says to Abraham.  And to his credit, Abraham breathes in that promise and believes and sets out and makes that journey of faith.  God had high expectations for Abraham.  Much was demanded of him.  And much was accomplished through Him.

I had a moment in a conversation on Thursday at Christian Family Camp when I realized I had set God’s bar for me too low.  I was sharing that there is a committee in the Archdiocese that has just been formed to look at what to do about the dwindling numbers of priests and how we might best allocate them and what that might look like in terms of staffing parishes, etc.  I have been named to the committee.  And I was sharing how daunting that was and how I was not sure if I had the right gifts and talents for it.  It will eventually involve the laity and the religious communities and effect every catholic in the Archdiocese as we figure out ‘how to be church’ in the days to come.  And though I had pushed for this idea of planning for 4 years in the priests’ council, I was really hoping that someone else would do it.  A gal named Kate in our small group put that whole package in a very different light for me when she said simply:  “How exciting for you.  You get to be involved in the transformation of the Diocese.” (2x)

Didn’t see that one coming!  But woof, there it was.  And somehow though I am still intimidated by the prospect, I was able to see it as part of the expectation that God has for me and for us as a church, to do things differently as we go forward.  I feel this hand upon my shoulder – with a reassuring, but challenging nudge saying GO…

And for you, have you sold God short in his expectation for you?  I have a single Question for you to think of and pray into this week.  I’ve asked it before.  Now I want you to think about it in light of God’s high expectations FOR you:

“What is MINE TO DO this day?” What does God still expect me to accomplish with the gifts and talents and time he has given me?

Abraham changed human history when he set out at the age of ninety.  Imagine what we can do…

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Pastor’s Pen – August 8, 2010

Published on 08. Aug, 2010 by in Pastor's Pen

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Starting back up…

The floors have been refinished. New faculty have been hired. Familiar faces will be returning. The science lab is finally done. Two more MIMIO smart board/projector/laptop combo’s have been purchased. Faculty days of formation, retreat and planning are in process. Everything is gearing up for the beginning of the next year of grace and learning and formation at our beloved St. Ann School. Many thanks go to Mrs. Reichenbach for her hours of work this summer meeting with prospective parents and students. As always, (it seems) many thanks also go to Dave Marstall for coordinating all the needed repairs and improvements to our facility. All that is left is for the students to arrive (there is still room in most of the grade levels) and we’ll be off and running.

The same is true for the Newman Center. The new hire is in place. Her name is Rachelle Simon. A native of Sedelia, MO, she comes to us from Villanova University with a Masters in Counseling and two years as a graduate assistance in Campus Ministry, as well as an undergraduate degree from the Jesuits at Rockhurst. Our officer retreat/formation days are scheduled for Wed. and Thurs. of this week. Flyers have been printed, welcome materials prepared, and the ever present ‘color changing Newman Center cups’ are ready to welcome another year of life and love at the CNC.

In a slight schedule change, (please make note) our Sunday night masses will be held at 8:30 pm. instead of the 8pm of the past few years. This is to accommodate our musician who is now playing a 6pm Life Teen mass instead of the 5pm of previous years. All are still welcome to join us, beginning August 22.

Finally, the parish swings into another year of the unfolding of God’s grace and mercy and love. I have booked a ‘retreat’ for those who want to partake beginning March 27, 2011. Like the Busy Students’ Retreat on Campus, a team of directors will be on hand to meet with the retreatants for a half hour one-on-one each day. Retreatants commit to a half hour of prayer with scripture prior to their meeting with their director, at a mutually agreeable time. You can find out more at www.weekofguidedprayer.org.

In the mean time, we’re baaack!!

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What comes to your mind when you think of our “Church?” Perhaps you think of the clergy, or Rome and the hierarchy, or your parish, your family and friends sitting next to you Sunday morning. Is the Church in need of new life? Is it rising or declining? We cannot even discuss such questions until we agree about what the Church really is. Our Church is beyond simple definitions, so Sacred Scripture uses images or metaphors to speak of the Church: the building raised up by Christ, the house of God, the temple and tabernacle of God, his people, his flock, his vine, his field, his city, the pillar of truth. Here are five major metaphors or “models” of the Church.

1. The Church is an Institution. Our Church is an organization like a business corporation or a government. A worldwide church requires organization, lines of authority, rules, doctrines, and social structure. We have a hierarchical structure that arose out of European history and it stands in tension with the other four models of what a church is.

2. The Church is a Mystical Communion. This model of the Church sees all Christians as the People of God and the Mystical Body of Christ. The life of grace—the interior graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit—bind us in invisible membership with all those who live the life of love of God and neighbor.

3. The Church is a Sacrament. Sacraments produce within us what they symbolize. The Church is a community that symbolizes Christ when we love one another. The Church is acting as a sacrament when we act as Christ in hope, in joy, in self-forgetful love, in peace, in patience, and in all other Christlike virtues.

4. The Church is a Herald. A herald announces the messages from the king. Our Church announces the Good News of the Gospel to us all. The Church as Herald celebrates our call by God’s Word—the Gospel– to live in love for one another.

5. The Church is a Servant. Our Church is Jesus present in today’s world. He is here to serve, to heal, to reconcile, to bind up wounds. We are the Servant Church when we live the Gospel values: freedom, justice, peace, charity, compassion, and reconciliation.

One or two models make an incomplete Church. All five together help us to see the Mystery.

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