Are you a mover and a shaker?

Published on 30. Jan, 2011 by in Sunday Homilies

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I don’t profess to have a keen intellect in regards to things of an economic nature.  I couldn’t tell you, other than to repeat, perhaps, what I heard on NPR all the things that led to the collapse of the mortgage industry, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the Lehmann Brothers, etc.  But what I can say, with I hope, a bit of confidence, is that the movers and shakers of this country did not do their ethics research.  They were pretty blind to the consequences of their actions, both intended and non-intended.  Most of them knew that what they were doing was questionable at best and downright despicable at worst.  These were the movers and shakers of our economy, and they failed the common good miserably.  And I, like many, have seen enough.

I wonder if Jesus felt the same way in his day, as he looked out to his social and economic world.  All those years of living at Nazareth, working in his dad’s shop, traveling to Galilee (a day’s walk or so to the ‘beach’), seeing the bustle of life at Capernaum, and the ‘big city’ of Jerusalem were shaping him.  Observing and watching his world during those quiet years before he began his public ministry, combined with his connection to his father were building to a climax.  And perhaps, like most of us in our day, he had seen enough. John’s arrest caps it all off.  So when he begins his public ministry, when he first sits down to teach ‘the crowds’ about what he has seen and what he believes, what do we hear?  What does Jesus see in people/our world?

Let me tell you who the real movers and shakers are.  They are not whom you think they are.  They are not the leaders and policy makers, who declare war and broker peace, who establish policy and run the commerce.  Because those types of people never get it right.  They forget, lost in the worlds of their own making, what life is like at the bottom, at its most basic and simple and pure.  Do not look for these people to change the world – because they’ll never get it right.  Rather, look to those who are poor, or sorrowful, or meek, or hungry for justice, or merciful, or clean of heart, or peacemakers – these are the one who will change the world. They might have to endure persecution in the process, but they are the real movers and shakers.” These are the ones who are blessed.

That is what Jesus tells us.  And that is the refrain that Paul picks up in our second reading.  God chooses the “foolish to shame the wise…the weak chosen to shame the strong…the lowly…to reduce to nothing those who are something.” These are the ones who will live their lives with love as their driving force, and not with personal comfort or gain as its driving force. And when Jesus describes that kind of person, that kind of mover and shaker, it comes out so simply:  Blessed are poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, the ones who hunger and thirst justice, blessed are the merciful.

The danger, though, with these easy sounding phrases is that we read these beatitudes as nice and pious sounding thoughts, a comforting message to those who are victims on the forgotten side of life.  But make no mistake about this: The Beatitudes and the sermon that follows it is Jesus’ dropping of the gloves, throwing down of the gauntlets, putting the world on notice that things needed to change – AND, that PEOPLE needed to change.  They sketch out the path of love in action, love that is willing to suffer persecution for the sake of establishing the kingdom. We are to live this love to all that we meet.

So, this week, pick a beatitude, any beatitude!  Hunger and thirst for righteousness, show mercy, mourn with those who grieve, be a peacemaker.  But whatever you do, LIVE that beatitude into all the situations of your world – home, job, neighborhood, and community and world.  Because the truth is we are all called to be movers and shakers – not as the world defines that, but as our savior defines it.

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Pastor’s Pen – January 23, 2011

Published on 23. Jan, 2011 by in Pastor's Pen

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Helping hands…

You may have occasionally seen an unknown face around the St. Ann campus recently.  It belongs to a man named Kevin McLaughlin.  Kevin is a member of St. Gerard Magellan Parish and he is good at ‘fixing things.’  I ran into my old soccer coach, Fr. Tom Bryant, while I was at a meeting there, and was telling him about some of the minor maintenance work that, despite the best efforts of our local volunteers, never rose to the importance of ‘it really needs to get it done now’ status. (Dave Marstall is very good at making sure those IMPORTANT repair items are taken care of.  Thanks, Dave!)  “Make me a list of things that you want to get done,” he told me, “and I’ll figure out a way.” That is how we came to have Kevin’s services.  He’ll show up every so often to do those jobs that fall through the cracks – like replacing ballasts on florescent light bulb fixtures, changing  out defective 3-way light switches in the rectory, or touching up paint in the church.  So if you see a tall man, in his late 40’s(?) walking around with a tool kit in his hand, introduce yourself and tell him: “Thanks!”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day found us once more recipients of some labor from UMSL’s celebration of Dr. King’s life.  In its second year of running a service component to the celebration, UMSL enlists the volunteer energy of students, faculty and staff to help at various sites around the city.  Under the supervision of Bob Reid, the science lab got a good cleaning, chair rails and walls were given fresh coats of paint, doors and lintels were spruced up, and a lot of general clean up happened.  THANKS to them and to all our St. Ann parents who showed up to help during the day.  The school looks great, just in time for the open house at the end of the month.

Finally, there have been two tragedies that have once more brought out the best in St. Ann parish.  One of our 8th grade student’s apartment was severely damaged in a fire.  Many have come forward with donations, clothing items, and basic necessities to help them put their lives back together.  Secondly, with the death of Mr. John Wiedmann, our 8th grade teacher, there has been an outpouring of love and prayers for the family, as well as the planning of a few fundraisers to help John’s family during this time of loss.  Thanks for being such good ‘helping hands’ to these families in need.

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If you had an advertising slogan for the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, what would you choose?

I have a confession.  I really don’t care, one way or the other, if the Clydesdales are going to be in a Superbowl commercial.  But this week, I learned that they are, courtesy of a front page article.  With the run up to Superbowl Sunday and the traditional airing of the great ad campaigns for the year, it did get me to thinking:  If Jesus would have had a Superbowl ad, what would his slogan/tag line have been?  Whatever it was, it was wildly effective.  Just a word and those fishermen are hooked.  How did he get those stolid fishermen to leave behind everything – even their father IN THE BOAT – to follow him?  He must have had a heck of an ad slogan.  What would you choose as his slogan?

Though what I came up with might be a better slogan for a retirement community than the life of a disciple, somehow it stayed with me.

Life like it ought to be.

Just a simple: Life like it ought to be, and the disciples snagged, hook, line and sinker. “I don’t promise you great wealth.  Nor fame and prestige.  Nor positions of power and influence.”  In fact, Matthew begins the public ministry of Jesus on a somewhat ominous note: “After John has been arrested…”  Jesus knows that John’s message is part of ‘life as the FATHER thinks it ought to be.’  So he takes up the mantle.  He continues the mission that John was no longer able to perform – inviting people back to their roots, back to what makes sense of it all.

Out of that context that Jesus walks along the shore of Galilee.  And he sees something in these two sets of brothers.  Of all the fishermen dotting the shore that morning, he recognizes something in these four men – good, down to earth, no frills about them men – and thinks – “AH – here is where I start.  These are ones who will get ‘life like it ought to be, nay, life like the FATHER thinks it ought to be’.”  He saw that these four would be open to his message, would be able to proclaim the Gospel, and, like him, they too could be a light to those in darkness.  And he calls them.  Will you follow me and learn how to live life like it ought to be?

So, what does “life like it ought to be” – look like in your world?  We kind of intuitively know it, don’t we?  Gathering around to help those in need or those who are grieving, as we saw in the funerals of Mr. Wiedmann and Kiely and Favazza – comes almost as second nature to us here at St. Ann’s.  Living as grateful people, aware of how blessed and gifted we are and taking some moments at the end or beginning of each day to count and thank God for those blessings.  Living a simple enough life style so we have things to share with others struggling to simply live.  Praying: spending time daily connected to the source of it all in quiet and reflection, so we can hear the voice of God in the midst of all the other noises out there.

And so it goes.  Life like it ought to be – connected to God and his people.  We know the pattern – as we see it in every church in the land.  The cross’s vertical and horizontal arms gives shape to the pattern of how we are to live:  Connected to God vertically.  Connect to each other horizontally.

Like Peter, Andrew, James, and John, Jesus stands on the shore of our lives.  And he recognizes something in us, something that he can use to help bring about the kingdom.  We too have been called by the Lord to follow him as members of His Church. We too have been called to be a light to those in darkness. We too have been called to be “fishers of men” who bring others to Christ. We, too, are called to live “life, like it ought to be.”

This week, let that slogan run around in your head.  Or if you have a better one, let that be the subject of your prayer.  What does ‘life like it ought to be’ look like for you?  And does it look anything like “Life like the FATHER thinks it ought to be?”  And then get busy living…

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If you could design and name any phone app you wanted, what would you call it and what features should it have?

I got a new phone the other day, ‘cause the old one was, well, old.  (= 2 ½ years old = ancient).  If you don’t know, phones these days have all kinds of programs built into them or that you can purchase which are called applications (or apps for short).  You can turn them on or off, to suit your needs.  One app will recognize the song title and artist of any song you record into it.  Another one gives you the nearest Catholic mass, times and directions.  Another one will let you know where the cheapest ibuprofen is after last night’s adult dodgeball game at St. Ann’s. (Here’s one that names the best Campus Ministry directory in St. Louis.  Wow – look at that – it’s me!  Who knew?)

So that got me to thinking.  Wouldn’t it be great if there was an app named: “Behold” (short for Behold the Lamb of God”) – whose sole function was to let you know the God moments in your life?  And if there was one, what kind of features do you think it would have?  I thought of a few.

  • The “get your attention” features sports different ring tones for different kinds of God moments:
    • [Play “Light” sound] This one gets your attention for “beauty moments” – sunsets, art, music, your child as he slumbers, etc
    • [Play “Instance” sound] This one alerts you for life changing moments.  Take this job, do this task, meet this person, volunteer this service, forgive this mistake, etc., and you will know God is near.

That’s the one that went off in today’s gospel.  John, who didn’t have the luxury of a cell phone, had something better.  He had the Holy Spirit App going off inside of his life and prayer, telling him:  THERE! – this is the one, this is the moment, all that we have hoped and dreamed for is now present in THIS MAN named Jesus.  DON”T MISS IT FOLKS!  Can you imagine what that did among those listening?  How it already began to change lowly fishermen into evangelists, prostitutes into saints, and people without hope into bold proclaimers of a new kingdom?

  • A “Deepening your faith” feature.  Every time the app went off, you would become so aware of how good God is to you.  You would imagine God, not as this doting, indulgent grandfather, bouncing you on his knees, but rather as a God who is a great lover of your soul, passionately pursuing a relationship with you, desiring you to know his purpose, his dream for your life.  And the response would not be a tepid, “Ho-hum, another Saturday night/Sunday am liturgy,” but a rousing: “Look at how much we are loved?” kind of experience.

We’ll hear about that app next week – of Jesus calling his disciples and how that completely changed their lives.

  • A “raise your expectations” feature that lets you know when you are selling yourself or God or both short.  Though I haven’t completely figured out the sound –the closest is when John McLain in the Die Hard movie says: “eeeengh! – wrong answer” sort of warning.    “It is too little for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Israel.” I have so much more in mind for you – a LIGHT TO THE NATIONS I make you.  That is who you are and what you are called to do.  That is what I want you to know with every breath you take, every choice you make, every bit of energy you expend upon this planet.  Don’t sell my dream short – either for this world, or for you.  Rather, dream big and bold and loving and life changing.  That is who I am for you and in you and through you.

I was thinking about that app. a lot this week.  Our former 8th grade teacher, John Wiedmann was a man who had that ‘raise your expectation’ feature going off all the time in his world.  On the cover of his funeral liturgy was a poem by Walt Whitman that pretty much summed up his life:

This is what you shall do:  Love the earth and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy; devote your income and labor to others; hate tyrants; argue not concerning God; have patience and indulgence toward people…

The good news we celebrate today – that app does exist.  Only you won’t find it on your I-phone or in the ‘droid’ market place.  You’ll find it going off like crazy wherever people gather to listen to the scriptures, where they break and share the bread of the Lamb of God who takes away their sins, and where they then go forth, to love and serve the Lord and each other…That’s where you’ll find that app.  If you believe, it is going off right now.  And all through the week.  Listen for it.  Wait for it.  Expect it.  “Behold!”…

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What do Baptisms and Belly Flops have in common?

I recently made the mistake (oops – I mean the choice) to join Facebook.  Mostly, I wanted to see some pictures of a friend’s pool house that now had six tons of tree resting through its roof.  [I am still figuring out the “friend-ing” thing – so be patient if you have a request in to me for that.]  Besides the pictures of my friend’s pool house, I was able to see some pictures from my days at Christian Family camp this past summer.  Though it seems a dim memory this cold, cold weekend, the first week of Camp was incredibly hot.  And so, in place of the usual “Olympics” events held on a sweltering ball field, we had the first ever “water” Olympics.  What you need to know is that the final Olympic Sport was the Belly Flop contest.  Ooh Yeah!  And I’ve now seen the pictures on a camp Facebook page to prove it…

It struck me back then, and still strikes me now, that people’s approach to Belly Flops and to the Sacrament of Baptism share many things in common.  So think of the last time you did a belly flop or watched someone else do it – what do you remember about that experience?

First, some people, no matter how they try, approach the water “protecting themselves”.  No matter how hard they try, the knees come up, the arms fold in, in that instinctive habit to keep themselves safe.  So, too, with Baptism.  Often, people approach that water wanting to keep ourselves ‘safe’ and ‘protected’.  “I’ll follow you Jesus, as long as it doesn’t cost us too much.” We do the easy things our baptism requires of us, like going to church on Sunday, but avoid that which calls us to deeply hear the voice that calls us “Beloved”.  If we really realized what our Baptism calls us to be – who we really are – God’s beloved – we’d realize, like Isaiah, that we are called to the Victory of Justice.  And that we cannot rest until everyone knows that victory.

Secondly, you can’t do a good belly flop “elegantly” can you?  There is something about that experience that is all about abandonment, all about a moment of throwing yourself completely into the water.  So, too, with Baptism – you can’t do it “elegantly”.  We are immersed into a life that is all about abandonments and surrender and letting go into a relationship with God.

  • A recently married student gave a talk where they paralleled the commitment of marriage to our baptismal commitment.  “No one on their wedding day says: I take you for better or for worse – but not too much worse, and if you snore, all bets are off and if you spend more time at the office, I’m out of there.  I take you for richer and poorer – but nothing less than 70K a year, until death, or my whim do us part.  It’s not how it works, in marriage or in Baptism.”  And now, she and her husband are in Montero, Bolivia, for the next two years, as missionaries – because they both threw themselves ‘inelegantly’ into the waters of baptism…


Finally, you have to know that there will be pain associated with the experience.  The picture of Jeff Jansen, the winner of the contest says it all – arms open wide, back arched at just the correct angle – you knew that his belly [and it was a big belly] was going to bear the brunt of the assault…

So too, with baptism –we are promised that there will be pain.  St. Paul tells us:  Are you not aware that you who are baptized into Christ Jesus are baptized into his death?”

Sometimes that death is ‘mild’ – like the choice of a parent to drive a son to and from a social gathering, even though it is inconvenient.  Or a single mom’s choice to herd the four kids to church on Sunday morning when it would be so much less a hassle to stay in bed.

Other times the ‘death’ costs more.  I had a conversation with a woman who gave up a chance for a part time job offer with health benefits, because she found out that some of the things this organization stood for went against Catholic teaching.  She is still job searching.

In a few moments, you’ll have the opportunity to experience, not the impact of a belly flop, but the sprinkling nonetheless of the waters of our baptism.  And you have a choice – will you protect yourself from what those waters mean, what they call you to?  Or will you boldly enter into that embrace of baptism – and throw yourself into all that being a Son or Daughter of God demands of you.  The choice is yours…

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Pastor’s Pen – January 9, 2011

Published on 09. Jan, 2011 by in Pastor's Pen

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Of Crystal Balls…

One does not need to be clairvoyant to know that some things will be changing in 2011.  A quick visit to the USCCB (United States Catholic Conference of Bishops) tells me that beginning the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 27, 2011, the new translations of the mass will be put into place.

There is much work that must be done prior to that day.  Some of that work falls into the hands of the musicians, as new settings for the mass must be composed.  Choirs will then have to learn those settings, so that they can lead us in our singing of the new mass parts.  As a congregation, we’ll have to practice those mass parts prior to that weekend, so we’ll be ready to pray them.

As a congregation, we’ll have to re-learn some of our ‘automatic responses’.  When the priest says:  “The Lord be with you,” we’ll have to be ready to respond, not with “and also with you,” as we have been accustomed to doing, but with: “And with your spirit.”  And we’ll have to know WHY we are saying: “And with your spirit.”

(Spoiler alert!)  We’ll use that response because it is a more accurate translation of the Latin that many of you may remember from the Latin mass: “et cum spiritu tuo.”  But more than that, it matches the response that already exists in most other major languages, including Spanish, French, Italian and German, signifying our union with the universal church.

The purpose of this greeting is not just to say Hello or Good Morning. It alerts participants that they are entering a sacramental realm and reminds them of their responsibilities during the time we will be spending in prayer.

Both the greeting and the reply come directly from our scriptures.  “The Lord be with you” appears as a greeting in Judges 6:12, Ruth 2:4, 2 Chronicles 15:2, and Luke 1:28.  “And with your spirit” is inspired by passages that conclude four of the New Testament epistles: 2 Timothy 4:22, Galatians 6:18, Philippians 4:23, and Philemon 25.  Paul addresses the words to the Christian community, not to one minister.

The two parts of this greeting express a desire that the Lord be present to the spirit of the entire community, and roots us more deeply in the scriptures.  In the case of the greeting, it brings us into the language of St. Paul.

…More to come during the course of the year…

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St. Ann Catholic Church at Christmas

Published on 04. Jan, 2011 by in News

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In case you didn’t make it to St. Ann Catholic Church for Christmas mass here’s a photo of how the church was decorated this year.  Click on the photo for a larger version.

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What’s wrong with our St. Ann crib scene?

There is a bit of a problem with the St. Ann nativity scene, apparently for at least as long as I have been pastor.  One of the three kings is missing.  The figurine that I had been so diligently moving window by window as one of the three kings is actually either another shepherd or the camel caretaker.  How do we know this?  There is no third gift, nor crown upon his head.  We have the box with the gold.   We have the silver censor indicating the frankincense.  But where is the myrrh?  Where is the Magi with “the bitter perfume, that breathes a life of gathering gloom?”  I don’t think I have ever seen that one here at St. Ann.  (As one 8th grade student commented: “So, Father, it seems we’re missing the Myhrr-man…”)

Perhaps there is some divine symbolism God wants us to not miss here at St. Ann, I don’t know.  But of all the gifts the Magi brought to honor the newborn King, myrrh would have to have been the hardest one for Mary and Joseph to swallow.  The gold – “No problem,” thinks Joseph.  “A little careful saving and we have his rabbinical college fund in place.  Incense?  The house could always use a little something to cover up the odors.  But the myrrh?  Why would I want to be reminded of the shortness of life by having burial perfume around?”  On some level, everyone parent knows that one day their child will die, as they will, and every parent prays that THEY never live to see that day.  But “sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in a stone cold tomb?” – do I have to inject that somber note into my Christmas ruminations?

Matthew is careful to tell us “Yes.”  You see, there are a few things incredibly striking about this infancy narrative of Matthew’s.  First: people will resist both the message and the messenger.  Herod becomes the first example of those who will be threatened by this child and the message of change that his kingdom portends.  We know the kind of ‘homage’ Herod intended to ‘greet’ this child with once he found out where he was.  “Don’t over romanticize this idyllic scene displayed in the ceramic figures up here,” Matthew tells us.  Jesus’ coming is life and death kind of stuff, with deadly consequences for all who would acknowledge this child.  The purpose of Jesus’ incarnation is all about his dying on the cross.  Though the celebration of his birth is the dawn of our salvation, its fulfillment comes after he has been sealed in that stone cold tomb.  Don’t misplace the myrrh-man…

And secondly, Matthew crafts this story about the star and the Magi to confront his Jewish audiences’ prejudices about God and salvation.  Jesus came, not to remain anonymous and unknown in some backwater town in Galilee, or in some small part of our hearts.  Nor did he come to be the sole possession of the Jewish people.  Rather, the Christ was born so that he would be KNOWN to us – that he be the center of our lives and our world.  The purpose of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection is that he is revealed to us as the pattern of our lives and the gateway to our salvation.  We are destined for union with him.  We are destined for glory with him.  And we’ll only know that as we are willing to make the journey through the death of our own wills and hearts, the taking up of our crosses to embrace his way of life.  Which brings us back again to the myrrh-man – and the challenge to accept the death to self that he symbolizes.

What’s wrong with the St. Ann crib scene?  Everything or perhaps nothing.  Everything if we miss the gift of myrrh and the journey it symbolizes for our lives.  But nothing, if the reason why that figurine is gone is because we are the ones bringing that gift to our Lord!  As we bring forth the gifts of bread wine to be transformed upon this altar, I invite you to bring forth your “gift of myrrh” – your willingness to live the dying and rising of Christ into all the places of our neighborhood and world that need our sacrificial love.  Then we’ll complete this crib scene – by bringing our gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh to our Savior and King..

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