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What were you born to do?

Published on 24. Jun, 2012 by in Sunday Homilies

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What were you born to do? - St. John the BaptistI’m not sure if that is a single character in all of the Scriptures who invokes the image of a prophet more clearly in our minds than John the Baptist. We picture him, I think, as an amalgam of all of the gospel accounts: dressed in camel’s hair, living in a desert, looking a little wild-eyed and crazy. We hear the famous words that he spoke and that the gospel writers speak about him. John “prepared the way of the Lord,” made the “rough ways plain, lowered the mountains and raised the valleys” so that our God could come to us more easily and abundantly. John cried out to all who would listen, calling them to repentance for their sins, even as he calls us to end our religious hypocrisies. It was what John was born to do.

Our Scriptures this weekend describe how God prepared John for his task: not just in the great story of the angel and Zechariah and the naming of John, but also in the poetry of the first reading, “The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.” So John grows up, knowing that the hand of God was upon him. Hearing the stories (perhaps way too often when Zachariah had one too many) of the awe inspiring events around his birth with the question everyone is asking: “What will this child be? – John knows something is afoot. John knows that he has been born for God’s task of pointing to Jesus.

What the church proclaims about these great figures is also what we believe to be true about us. From the beginning of time, the same Love that created us, has been calling us and preparing us to put our lives at the service of love in our world. You and I were born to do something. God has been preparing us to proclaim the presence of Love in our midst, calling us to share more deeply in his life and inviting us to witness to that love. That part is settled – what we are born to do is to be beloved sons and daughters. HOW we do that, what shape that takes, that is a bit more difficult to ascertain. How do we know what we were born to do?

Sometimes it is an internal call we heed. Some people always knew they were supposed to be a doctor. Or a nurse. Or a lawyer. Or a priest. There was never a question in their mind about that. (I hated those people because I never had that kind of certainty.) John seemed to always know: “He must increase, I must decrease.”
Others discover what they are to do in the events of their lives. Sr. Helen Prejean, of Dead Man Walking fame, never set out to be an advocate for people on death row or for abolishing the death penalty. She just became a pen pal of an inmate at the request of a friend. “Pretty soon, that little stream joined a bigger and bigger one – and now I find I’m traveling the world – trying to be the face of love to victims and killers alike.” It is the unfolding of our personal history in all those seemingly insignificant choices that teach us what we were born for.

And sometimes, it is the course of history that helps shape us. I think of the men and women of what Tom Brokov called the greatest generation – those who were called to fight in WWII. They had ordinary dreams – to fall in love, to wed, to raise children, to enjoy old age. Yet, when history’s stage called, they responded.
We are in the middle of another of those defining moments in our country’s history. As you know, our Bishops have invited us to a Fortnight for Freedom – Fourteen days, leading up to the celebration of Independence day, where the church asks us to pray for our most cherished liberty, that of religious freedom. And that is more than just the freedom to worship, but the freedom to exercise our beliefs in the public square free from interference. There are worrying measures threatening our religious freedom on the state and national level – such as laws which would prohibit the spiritual and charitable assistance given by the church to undocumented immigrants. On the national level, the health care mandate that would require employers, including Catholic agencies, to provide insurance that violates our belief in the sanctity of life. To that end, there is an insert in the bulletin, a link to the Archbishop’s video in the pastor’s pen, as well as other concrete action steps in the bulletin, giving practical ways to on where and how to respond and a blue prayer card at the entrances of church, to pray daily with your family.

You know, I’m pretty sure that John the Baptist is the only other person aside from Jesus whose birthday celebration bumps the regular Sunday readings. I’m not sure historically why John’s birth is given such importance in the Church’s calendar. But I’d like to think that it is because John’s birth reminds us that we are all born to do something amazing for God. We are all born to prepare the way of the Lord. Through the intercession of St. John, may we have a share in the courage he knew, so we can do what we were born to do…

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I have been cleaning out the back bedroom at my mom’s house.   That may not sound like hard work, but I confess, it has been more than a little wearying to do so.  You see, the back room is where mom had stored all her papers from the various causes she has championed over the years: Pro-Life issues such as the health dangers of contraception and the pill and the hidden poison in some of the sex education courses being planned in the 70’s and Planned Parenthood’s efforts to shape the Abortion debate as ‘tissue’ instead of human life.  There were articles on the New Age movement, the Siecus Circle, the Guttamacher Institute.  There were highlighted columns from the Review and the New York Times alike.  There were countless letters from so many groups asking for her urgent donation to keep their ministry alive.

These were the battles of her time and day, reflecting the values that mattered enough to her to collect articles and read books; to write Bishops and Senators and Representatives and School Board presidents; to do the hard work of voicing what she both feared for our children in the present and what she hoped to provide for them in their future.  These certainly were not all the battles that needed to be fought these past 40 years, but they were mom’s battles that SHE needed to fight with all she was and hoped to be.

This process has given me pause to think about the Fortnight for Freedom that we are now in the middle of in our country.  The USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) have championed many causes over the years and been outspoken opponents to lots of issues that face our republic: The Issue of Peace during the cold war; A pastoral response to people with Aids; Opposition to the Death Penalty; Cuts to the social safety nets that support the poor and those on the margins of society.  And for these next two weeks (and beyond) they are focusing on the issue of Religious Freedom.  Like my mom, they have identified this battle as one of the crucial ones to fight in our age and our time.  And they do so because in this issue, the Health Care Mandate, the government is trying to redefine WHO we are as a church.

You can view the Archbishop’s speech given at the Capitol on the Archdiocesan Website.  (archstl.org/liberty) You can go to fortnight4freedom.com for more information and further action steps.  But mostly, you can pray for the success of the church’s response to this issue of our day.  There are cards at the entrances to church with a prayer to pray during this fortnight of freedom.

And if you feel that this is not the only issue that the church needs to address, you may join our social justice committee as they try to expand our awareness of the many needs and issues that face the church as believers and citizens in this great country of ours.  Contact Barry Buchek or Holly Scheibel for more information.

“Almighty, eternal God,
in whom we find true freedom and lasting peace,
look with favor, we pray, on our needs
and, seeing the faith that inspires us to pray to you,
grant what we truly need, especially the freedom to serve you in love.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.”

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Fortnights for Freedom…

The USCCB as well as a group of religious women are suggesting that the fourteen days from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day, be dedicated to a “fortnight for freedom”—a great hymn of prayer for our country. Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.

Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action would emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty. “To all our fellow Catholics, we urge an intensification of your prayers and fasting for a new birth of freedom in our beloved country. We invite you to join us in an urgent prayer for religious liberty.”

Almighty God, Father of all nations,
For freedom you have set us free in Christ Jesus.
We praise and bless you for the gift of religious liberty,
the foundation of human rights, justice,

and the common good.
Grant to our leaders the wisdom to protect and promote our liberties;
By your grace may we have the courage to defend them, for ourselves and for all those

who live in this blessed land.
We ask this through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, our patroness,
and in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
with whom you live and reign,

one God, forever and ever. Amen

 Back in April, a statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops highlighted its criticism of budget proposals from House Republicans and Congressman Paul Ryan as failing to protect the poor.  In response, some women religious are beginning their ‘fortnight for freedom’ with a bus tour called “Nuns on the Bus: Nuns Drive for Faith, Family and Fairness”.  Catholic Sisters across the country work every day with people struggling at the economic margins.  The Ryan budget cuts will harm millions of the people they serve.  During their tour through nine states they will highlight the work of Catholic Sisters, visit social service agencies and offices of members of Congress, highlighting their opposition, as well as the U.S. Catholic bishops’ opposition, to the Ryan budget that passed the House.

For more information please go to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/post/nuns-on-the-bus-take-on-paul-ryan/2012/06/11/gJQAS3RdUV_blog.html

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Plant a radish.   Get a radish.
Never any doubt.   That’s why I love vegetables;
You know what you’re about!

Plant a turnip.   Get a turnip.
Maybe you’ll get two.  That’s why I love vegetables;
You know that they’ll come through!

While with children, It’s bewilderin’.
You don’t know until the seed is nearly grown
Just what you’ve sown.

Radishes

 

Those lyrics are from the musical, The Fantasticks.  Dads – your Father’s Day present is that I didn’t sing them.  But certainly, they capture a bit of what it is like to be a father.  Like gardening, fatherhood, is hard work.  Ask any gardener; ask any parent.  Yet, as the song names so well, with gardening, there is a little more predictability.

 

 

Plant a beanstalk. Get a beanstalk.
Just the same as Jack.  Then if you don’t like it,
You can always take it back!

But if your issue  Doesn’t kiss you,
Then I wish you luck. For once you’ve planted children,
You’re absolutely stuck!

The point is: one of the sufferings of being a dad is how little control he has.  It’s perhaps one of the hardest things, too, for moms, and for anyone in all of history who has ever cared for another.

Today’s Gospel names a bit of the mystery at the heart of growth.  “It is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.  Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.”  There is certainly much beyond what the farmer – and any dad can – control.  Yet, we must do our best.  Social scientists tell us a dad’s role is crucial in the upbringing of children.

  • Children need a dad who isn’t an absentee landlord, but who is involved and spends the time nurturing in his children the values he trusts as essential for their fulfillment in their lives.
  • Children need a dad who doesn’t shame them but affirms and encourages. 
  • I was at a wedding yesterday, and the father prided himself by saying:  “I always told Paul, the ONLY thing I wanted for him as he grew up was for him to be and do the things that he found deepest in his heart.  I didn’t need him to follow my career path, or attend the school I did.  Just to be true to HIS heart.”  Our children need a dad who doesn’t make them into who he is, his agenda, but celebrates who they are, differences and all.

These are hard tasks, and none of us does these perfectly.  So a fourth task is perhaps the most important thing a dad could do towards possibly repairing those wounds: to say “I’m sorry.”  What a world that opened for my brother and his children when he was able to do that – Peter and Gracie learned they didn’t have to be perfect to be dad’s kids.  They just had to be in relationship with him…

Dads – like the farmer, you are facilitators of growth.  Yet, as important as your role is, you have no guarantees of the outcome. While the farmer plants a carrot, goes to bed each night, and gets a carrot, you have no idea how your kid will turn out.  You have no assurance that they are going to be good, contributing citizens or men or women of faith.  Heck, you have no idea if they are going to still be living in your basement when they are 50.  Because the human being is free, they can always go a different direction than what you have nourished.  That’s what makes it so bewildering.

Yet, you have to guarantee their freedom.  For the freedom to screw up their lives is also the freedom that allows them to be great.

This letting-go is tough.  If they mess up, unlike a row of corn, you can’t plow these under and start over.  Though we are called to do our best on this – the most precious responsibility a person could ever be given – each dad must also trust that there is also is a power at work beyond our greatest efforts … beyond our weaknesses.

Perhaps “The Fantasticks” got it right

Plant a carrot,  Get a carrot, Not a Brussels sprout.
That’s why I love vegetables. You know what you’re about!

While with progeny, It’s hodge-podgenee.
For as soon as you think you know what kind you’ve got,
It’s what they’re not!

To the kids of any age – and that’s all of us – let’s make great choices and make our dads living on earth or beyond – proud.

I’m not very good at gardening.  I don’t know how I would have been as a dad.  Certainly this day, I take my hat off and give a bow to my brothers who take this so seriously and work so hard to nurture loving and vibrant children.  Thank you.

When it comes to vegetables, they’re dependable!
They’re befriendable! They’re the best pal a parent’s ever known!

While with children,  It’s bewilderin’.
You don’t know until the seed is nearly grown
Just what you’ve sown.

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Safe Environment

As you know, for the past ten years, the Catholic Church has worked to foster a safe environment for our children, in our school, parishes, churches and any venue where we interact with minors.  The Safe Environment Program (SEP) is one of many responses to the issue of the abuse of minors by adults/clergy.  Background checks for volunteers, ongoing training for anyone interacting with our children, and guidelines for establishing boundaries and environments that are safe for minors have all helped to address this problem that seems to cut across all classes and mixes of society.

Each year, our parish is audited for compliance with the ‘best practices’ in creating and monitoring safe environments.  Today (Wed.) was the audit for St. Ann.  Angie Vorholt, Coordinator for Compliance for the Safe Environment Program commended Pat Marstall our parish coordinator for her exemplary work.  I was not surprised.  Pat does such a good job on so many levels as secretary here at St. Ann.  In your name, let me say to Pat: “Thank You!”

Since a lot of attention in the SEP is about increasing awareness in the minds of caring adults to take action when warning signs and potentially dangerous situations arise, let me bring to your attention a potential hazard which I observe nearly every Sunday, but which I had not given much thought to – namely the bathrooms in back of church and in the church hall.

It comes as no surprise to anyone attending mass at St. Ann that there is a steady stream (pardon the pun) of kids to make use of the restrooms in the church.  Besides being a distraction to the celebration of the Eucharist (the moving body always gets the attention), when a child goes to the bathroom alone and unescorted, they are put at risk.  Ideally speaking, no one should have to use the restrooms during the less than one hour that they are in church.  A minute or two of ‘prevention’ at home before leaving for church would serve everyone well.  Practically speaking, accompanying them yourself provides the safest environment.  Sending a sibling along is the next alternative.  Thank you for your attention in this matter.  It is my fervent prayer that we will never have to deal with the aftermath of event where a minor is abused.  On our part, vigilance continues to be the watchword…

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TapsThe playing of taps as a military honor guard salutes a flag draped casket holding the remains of a soldier killed in Afghanistan.  A funeral procession passing the firehouse with the huge flag draped between two ladder trucks, carrying the coffin of a firefighter who died when a building collapsed under him.  Ranks of police officers standing shoulder to shoulder as a bagpiper plays “Amazing Grace” while the casket of a fallen officer is solemnly carried from a church.  These scenes always touch our emotions, don’t they?  And they do so because they confront us with the deaths of individuals who were not just “in the line of fire”, but who willingly put their life on the line for others.  There is something so powerful in that choice – to put your life on the line for others.

In today’s Gospel we hear a familiar passage that is the basis for the words of consecration prayed at every Mass. “While they were eating, he (Jesus) took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.'”   What I am afraid of about those words is this: Over the years of attending Mass and listening again and again to the words of consecration, we may have become less conscious, less appreciative, of what Jesus did for us.  Today’s Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ challenges us to look with fresh eyes on the fact that Jesus put his life on the line for us.

It was a deliberate choice of Jesus to do so at that last supper.  And then to live what he proclaimed on that Good Friday, as his body was broken and his blood poured out.  He was not a policeman ‘accidently caught in the line of fire’, or a soldier at the wrong place and the wrong time, or even a firefighter in a rickety building.  Jesus CHOOSES to lay down his life for us.  He chooses this (point to the cross) sacrificial love.  He chooses to WALK precisely into the line of fire, the place of danger, there to rescue us from all that would threaten us.  And He continues to lay down his life for us as he allows his body and blood to be placed into our hands during the celebration of Mass.

Think about that.  Each time Mass is celebrated that sacrifice of Jesus is made present. In the liturgy, Jesus gives his body and blood that we might be freed from the power of darkness, sin, and everlasting death and that we might grow in our relationship with God and with our fellow Christians and become one “holy communion” of love.  And each time we approach this altar, we are invited to do the same – to put our lives on the line for our brothers and sisters.

What might that look like?  For those who are firemen and policemen, or who have sons and daughters in the military – thank you!  It IS what you do every day.

For the rest of us, putting our life on the line is less about life and death decisions, and more about those chosen, small sacrifices to love as we have been loved.

  • The choice to smile at the world when our hearts are saddened by the loss of a friend or neighbor, or when our bodies are aching with arthritis.
  • The decision to send a donation to a group of religious women who are organizing a bus tour to protest cuts in programs for the poor and working families in the so called RYAN federal budget passed by the House of Representatives.
  • Or to protest the Health Care Mandate that threatens our religious freedoms.
  • The act of picking up a carelessly tossed morning paper and placing it on the doorstep of an elderly neighbor.
  • Adding our enemies or the people who have disappointed us to our list of people we pray for each day.

Sometimes it does takes hearing the bagpipes playing Amazing Grace at a policeman’s funeral, or seeing the flag draped coffin of the soldier, or the ladder trucks with the huge flag at the fire station to become aware of all the people who put their lives on the line for us.  But for us who believe, it is much simpler, and in some ways, much less dramatic.  Just a small of bread, and little cup of wine – and we know the love of the ONE who always puts his life on the line for us.  May we learn to do the same…

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Always amazing…

Well, the totals (for all practical purposes) for the 2012 version of the Sponsor’s Dinner Dance are in.  Thanks to ALL of you for your amazing generosity, year in and year out.  Between the Sponsors and the Raffles and the Auction Items and the Reservations and the Bar, we raised ~$61,500.  What a gift that is to our parish community.  That is good news indeed.

There are just three items that the funding will help to cover this year:  A new computer lab and peripherals, new bathroom stalls and fixtures in the second floor of the school and a contribution toward the new boiler.  (More about that in the future…)  Thanks for allowing these major improvements to our school and parish community by your generous stewardship.  It makes this pastor’s heart glad.

Last year, through your generosity, and the time and talents of some amazing parishioners, we were able to renovate the front foyer/hallway in the school, upgrade the ground floor restroom, stalls and fixtures, purchase and install ceiling fans, refinish the floors in a few rooms, and pay for a full time teacher’s aide in the 5th grade.  In the parish, many of you have seen the renovation of the women’s bathroom.  The rave reviews are still coming in.  A former parishioner commented this morning (their first time back) on how incredible the women’s rest room looks.  Work on the men’s bathroom is slated for early June, with a mid-July completion date.

Mel Husmann did a little calculation of the man-hours that were given to this project (so far), and what it would have cost us just in LABOR if we had to include that in our renovation.  Fourteen parishioners and friends of St. Ann worked a total of roughly 255 hours on the project.  At normal ‘construction’ salary, that would be nearly $16,500 in additional costs to the project.  Thanks again to “the Crew” for all their time and work and energy on making our parish center hall the gem that it is.

We will be needing more volunteers to donate time and talent on the men’s restroom remodel.  If you are handy or if you just like to work and assist people who are, contact George Copp or Mel Hussmann, and we will be happy to use your gifts in ways that are helpful and needed.

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America magazine had an article about the cosmos and recent developments in Cosmology – the study of the universe and world around us.  The medium for the study of the universe is the light energy we are able to ‘see’ via the Hubble telescope and X-ray and Radio telescopes and the like.  I found it fascinating.  If I could sum up the summary of recent discoveries in Cosmology, here is what we know.

GalaxyThe ordinary matter that forms planets, stars and galaxies (as well as humans) cannot account for all the gravitational strength we observe in the heavens.  So scientist speak about something they have termed “Dark Matter” which contributes to gravity’s pull. (“Dark” Matter because we can’t ‘see it.)  However, here is the interesting piece.  The universe continues to expand at an ever increasing rate.  If the rate of expansion was constant after the big bang or slowing down because of gravity, that would make sense.  But the rate of expansion is increasing.  Why? Scientists posit there must be some mysterious force pushing everything apart.  Like the dark matter which cannot be seen, that force is now called “Dark Energy”. (An unfortunate name choice, I think)   So, put it all together, our universe is composed of 72% Dark Energy, 23% Dark Matter and just 5% “atoms’ – or regular matter.

I found myself fascinated by the so called Dark Energy.  Translation: There is an energy field stronger than gravity accelerating the expansion of space.  There is something at the heart of this universe, that compromises ¾ of all the ‘STUFF” of the cosmos, that keeps wanting to push outward, to fill the void, to expand the universe, to keep things moving forward.  And though I am sure scientist would cringe at my interpretation of that bit of data, what does it do to your prayer if you rename the force – the dark energy that is accelerating the universe – as the “Holy Spirit”?  Think about it.

The Spirit is unseen.  He is described as the love between Father and Son, the energy that exists as the Father pours himself into the Son and the Son pours himself back into the Father.  The same Spirit drove the early disciples out of that upper room where they would have collapsed under their own gravity, and sent them to push the Love of God to all the corners of the known world.  The Spirit gave the disciples the energy they would need to Baptize all nations.  The Spirit continues to birth the church and inspire men and women, you and I, to expand our love beyond just our little circle of friends and acquaintances – to keep going, to keep filling ALL the places where we go and live with Love.

And then, if you think about how vast this universe is, and what kind of dark energy it takes to accelerate GALAXIES, imagine that same force, given to you at baptism and reinforced at Confirmation also contained in your heart and soul, relentlessly giving you the energy and strength you need to love even more fervently and amazingly.

And if the proportions that fill the known cosmos stay the same on the individual scale as on the cosmic scale –then 72% of who we are, is that Spirit energy, driving us, pushing us, encouraging us.  GO, THEREFORE, AND BAPTIZE ALL NATIONS.  Go, therefore.  GO!

So, the next time you are outside, looking at the cosmos, think of those vast spaces, not empty, but filled – with energy, with unseen matter, – and with GOD’s love and spirit – wanting to set you afire, to push you into all the places where God still needs to be made known…

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