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An email story worth the sharing…

“Nicholas, was in kindergarten that year. It was an exciting season for a six year old. For weeks, he’d been memorizing songs for his school’s “Winter Pageant”. All Parents unable to attend that evening were welcome to come to the dress rehearsal. So, the morning of the dress rehearsal, I filed in ten minutes early, found a spot on the cafeteria floor and sat down. Around the room, I saw several other parents quietly scampering to their seats. As I waited, the students were led into the room. Each class, accompanied by their teacher, sat cross-legged on the floor. Then, each group, one by one, rose to perform their song.

Because the public school system had long stopped referring to the holiday as “Christmas”, I didn’t expect anything other than fun commercial entertainment – songs of reindeer, Santa Claus, snowflakes and good cheer. So, when my son’s class rose to sing, “Christmas Love,” I was slightly taken aback by its bold title. Nicholas was aglow, as were all of his classmates, adorned in fuzzy mittens, red sweaters and bright snow caps upon their heads. Those in the front row – center stage – held up large letters, one by one, to spell out title of the song As the class would sing “C is for Christmas,” a child would hold up the letter C. Then, “H is for Happy,” and on and on, until each child holding up his portion had presented the complete message, “Christmas Love.”

The performance was going smoothly, until suddenly, we noticed her, a small, quiet girl in the front row holding the letter M” upside down – totally unaware her letter “M” appeared as a “W”. The audience of the 1st through 6th graders snickered at this little one’s mistake, but she had no idea they were laughing at her, so she stood tall, proudly holding her “W”. Although many teachers tried to shush the children, the laughter continued until the last letter was raised, and we all saw it together.

A hush came over the audience and eyes began to widen. In an instant, we understood the reason we were there, why we celebrated the holiday in the first place, why even in the chaos, there was a purpose for our festivities. For when the last letter was held high, the message read loud and clear:

“C-H-R-I-S-T-W-A-S-L-O-V-E”

And He still is.”

Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year to all…

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Are you a good receiver?

Published on 25. Dec, 2010 by in Sunday Homilies

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Are you a good receiver? (and I’m not talking Mizzou football here)

[Ask for a kid volunteer.  Have them unwrap gift … send child back to pew]

I’ll bet if I just asked you to describe what you just saw… you would be likely to say you saw me give a gift to a child.  And that would be true.  But there was something equally important that I wonder if you caught: N._____ received a gift.  S/he received it.

Christmas is often described as a season of giving. But we will never truly get Christmas unless we understand receiving.   The Christmas story is not about how blessed we are to be givers, but about how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers. You and I had nothing to do with that first Christmas, what God did for us in that Great Birth. All we could do at Bethlehem was receive it – a free gift from an incredible God.

To be capable of love we must become capable of both giving and receiving. It is, of course, absolutely necessary to learn to give.  Some of us could use a little work on the giving side, eh?  Probably more of us, however, are pretty good at giving, but need help on receiving.  There is a certain vulnerability and loss of control when we let people take care of us, pay attention to us, minister to us, listen to us, serve us.  It’s hard, in our culture, to be on the receiving end of love—God’s or anyone else’s.  The first thing we want to do is give a gift in return, not out of gratitude or even friendship, but out of guilt.  We don’t want to feel indebted.  We blush when we receive a compliment.  It’s our first default, isn’t it–to feel not worthy, or to feel a compulsion to give back and try to make up for it?  We are much more comfortable in the world of EARNING.  We want to ‘do something’ to merit the love/gift we receive.

That is precisely why, I believe, the story of our salvation begins in that tiny Bethlehem stable.  Of all the ways God could have broken into our world, he chose to come in the only way we’d have toreceive him – as a child.  Those of you who are parents know – when you hold that newborn in your hands for the first time – you KNOW there is NOTHING you could have done to earn that gift.  And so the Christ is born among us as a babe so that we’ll get the beginning of our salvation ‘right’ – we’ll learn to receive it.  We simply receive it.

And then, to make sure that we get it, that we understand that receiving is THE PATTERN of salvation history, what are the last words we hear from our Lord on the cross?  “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.”  Jesus asks his Father to receive the gift of his life, his sacrifice.  “Receive my life.  Receive my love.  Receive my sacrifice.”  ‘Built into’ both the beginning and end of Jesus’ life is the experience of receiving.

Mary got this! Hers was an utter receptivity to God. “Let it be done to me…”  Jesus understood it in his life and death.  What about you and me? Will you dare to stand before the Crib with open hands and open heart and receive the love that is there for you this year?  Will you let yourself hear God say: “I love you?” this Christmas?  Can we receive the many ways God comes to us now?  Can we name it for what it is: GOD blessing us!

On Friday night of this past thanksgiving weekend, some plans fell through.  And there I was, stuck in the rectory, and feeling very much alone (and a bit pathetic).  So after a dinner of some very good leftovers, but leftovers, none the less, I went up to my room.  I was working my way up to a pretty good pity party, when the phone startled me out of my ruminations.  An old doctor friend from CoMo had dug up my phone number through a link on the Newman Center website.  We had the most wonderful of conversations – catching up on life.  And when it was done, I sat in my chair, and gave thanks to God for loving me so well. One might argue, “That’s just my friend loving me.” Yes, it’s your friend… but ultimately it is God loving you THROUGH that friend!  Can we name that?

Concretely this Christmas season I challenge you focus on the receiving part:

  • When you hear an affirmation, a compliment, hear it as God affirming you!
  • When you look up at the night sky – hear God say, “I love you.”
  • If you’re lucky enough to sit across the table with family, or watch them do dishes, take out trash, etc… hear God say “I serve you.”
  • When someone confides in you… hear God say “I trust you.”
  • If with a friend, “I want to be with you”
  • The kindness of a stranger… (clerk) – “I love you.”
  • Let God love you hug you through that hug…
  • Let God serve you through that kindness…
  • Let God listen to you through the ears of that confidant
  • Let God move you through the creativity of a poet, artist, musician… beauty and song
  • When you are eating – alone or with family/friends, let God feed you.
  • Through this whole Sacrament of the Eucharist: The people/choir singing/the decorations/our communion – let God love you

Can you imagine, if we let ourselves frame reality like this—let ourselves just receive these gifts— how absolutely loved we could feel every day?  I can’t imagine anything God would want more from us this Christmas… Because one of the things the giver of any gift wants most is that the gift be received…

Just a little bit ago, a volunteer came up and you saw me give her a gift.  But more importantly, you saw her do something essential to salvation for each of us.  She received.  This Christmas, may we learn to do the same…

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On December 8, 2010 St. Ann students delivered food to the Caritas House in Normandy.  Here’s a link to the story in the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Story Link (click here)

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For your winter viewing enjoyment here is a video remix of photos from the November 13, 2010 St. Ann Murder Mystery Dinner.

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There are a lot of good people out there…

I am always amazed at the goodness of people.  I grew up reading and re-reading a Christmas picture book that had these great stories about people helping their neighbor or a stranger, only to find out at the plot twist at the end, that the stranger or neighbor was Christ Himself.  That book certainly fostered a spirit of looking to recognize Christ in all kinds of different situations.  It also formed my heart in the practice of intentional kindness – looking for opportunities to do a good thing for others, even if it costs of my time or talent or treasure.

The Newman Center and the Parish have been on the receiving end of such kindness recently.  Donny Koviak, from Koviak tree service, at the prodding of a member of the Newman Center Board of Directors, brought his whole crew up to the Newman Center, and there proceeded to fell a huge dead tree in our yard, trim up several of the trees closest to the house, as well as put a piece of board to cover the hole where a slat fell out of the undercroft with their bucket truck.  (The slat was 2 ½ stories up, above the staircase leading to the basement – making getting there with a ladder nearly impossible.)  “Father, it’s no charge.  Just pray for us.  Work is a bit scarce and a few of our guys have some issues they could use some divine assistance on.”  So, I have been praying.  But I also wanted to let you know of their kindness, and should you need a tree removed, I’d recommend them highly.  (Thanks also to the Boul clan for their help in the cutting up and splitting of the wood for use in our fireplace.

Our cemetery road was the recipient of two acts of generosity, plus some good leg work by Bob Beckring.  Fred Weber construction gave us an unbelievable price on 65 tons of asphalt and Pace Paving company DONATED the installation of the product to complete drive that runs through the cemetery.  The asphalt should keep us from having to purchase aggregate stone every 2 years to fill in the washed out and runoff rutted road, not to mention the back breaking labor to ‘install’ the rock.  Thanks to Bob Beckring for making the contacts and doing some pretty effective begging for our cemetery.

As Advent continues, may we all look for opportunities to recognize the Christ in our neighbor and be the Christ to our neighbor…

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Parish Picnic 2010 Remixed

Published on 07. Dec, 2010 by in Alumni, Events, News

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It’s cold outside.  Very cold! To help keep you warm we thought we’d share this remix of photos taken at the 2010 St. Ann Parish Picnic. (At least it was warmer compared to now.)

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Is hope a strategy?

Published on 05. Dec, 2010 by in Sunday Homilies

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In 2001, Rick Page, published a book entitled: Hope is Not a Strategy: The Six Keys to Winning the Complex Sale.  Though I don’t know how successful the book was, the phrase itself has worked its way into our American politics during these difficult economic days.  Democrats fling it at the Republicans over health care.  Republicans fling it right back over the deficit.  The point of the metaphor is to get beyond the mere hoping for something to happen, and get busy with the doing of something.  Don’t remain frozen in inactivity, with a vague ‘belief’ that somehow, things might get better.  Anyone can play the victim.  But nothing changes if no one takes responsibility for their life choices.  Get off your duff and DO something.

There is much truth in this perspective.  In our “get it done” Western culture, men and women of action are our models, our real-life action heroes.  There is a time and a place for relying on the truth of the phrase, hope is not a strategy.

But there is a limitation to this perspective as well.  There are times when action is neither possible nor wise, when the circumstances of life demand a posture of waiting, or dependence on forces beyond our own.  For such times as those, there is a strategy for coping which requires great courage and patience, and which will seem counter-intuitive to our take-charge culture.  And that strategy is called hope.

HOPE IS A STRATEGY. It is really is.  Christian hope is not just pie-in-the-sky, wishful naiveté.  It is not a cop-out for those too frightened or too lazy to take matters into their own hands.  The truth is, sometimes life is out of our control, even for the most powerful action hero.  Sometimes the only valid strategy in the face of life’s most difficult moments is to summon the inner strength and faith to cling to right when wrong seems to prevail, to hold to your principles when no one else around seems to care, to believe in God when there is no tangible evidence to support your faith.  In such moments, hope is perhaps the only strategy.

When the rift of unforgiveness deep, and you have offered the olive branch time and time again, but nothing seems to have changed, what do you do to keep pushing forward, to keep trying to bridge the gap?  You reach for hope.  When cancer rears its ugly head and the doctors tell you there is nothing medicine can do for your loved one; what do you do?  You reach for hope.  When loneliness sets in after the break up of your relationship and threatens to cripple your heart; you reach for hope.  When the dark night of the soul brings doubt to your faith and God’s presence seems so far away, you reach for hope.  It is hope in God’s action, or just hope in God Himself that is our best strategy.  We learn to lean upon him and to rely on him.

Like a small green shoot sprouting from the stump of a felled tree, Isaiah reminded Israel to anchor their hope to God’s covenant love, even if there was very little evidence at the time to prove God still cared for them.  His vision must have sounded like a pipe dream to the cynical hearers in his day, since Israel was surrounded by powerful enemies waging war against them.  They thought he was crazy.  But Isaiah was a man of hope.  Here, O Israel is the dream – of natural enemies laying down side by side, of peoples streaming to Jerusalem, not to tear it town, but to worship God there – this is what I hold out to you.  And 700 years later, all it took was a little ‘street preaching’ by a man named John to ignite that hope.

Hope is a powerful strategy, especially when there are no actions or quick remedies, because hope keeps the vision alive, and makes the dream something to be striven for, even when its attainment is out of reach.  Hope stared down a tank in Tiananmen square and stopped the Chinese Army.  Hope endured the water hoses in a Birmingham street, to set a new course for the races in our country.  Hope gave dignity to the dying on the streets of Calcutta.  Hope offered comfort to the lepers on Molokai, until it became a leper itself.  Hope sees beyond the current moment in life, or even beyond an entire lifetime, and clings to the belief that good wins over evil at last, even when there is no visible sign that the forces of evil are weakening.

Reinhold Niebuhr once remarked, “Nothing truly lasting, or truly worth doing, can be accomplished in a single lifetime, and that is the reason we are saved by hope.”  Advent is the season of hope.  It is the season when we are reminded, hope IS a strategy.

This week, don the armor of hope.  Like John the Baptist’s invitation to those whose hearts were hardened – trust that God is not done with you yet.  In your prayer – identify just one area where you need that gospel virtue, and then pray for that gift of hope.  Nurture that hope.  Vision the outcome.  And then wait hopefully for God’s advent in your life and world…

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Advent Day of Recollection

Published on 03. Dec, 2010 by in Events, News

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