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Those were the days, these are the days…

A parishioner commented after the 5pm mass last night – “It sure is nice to see three priests hanging around the church after mass.” (Fr. Nord, the visiting missionary, Fr. Evan Villanueva and myself) Many of you remember those days when that was the norm for parishes. Each parish was staffed by a pastor and two associates. We can smile and think, romantically, “Ah, those were the days.” And in many ways, they were the days. Never before in the American church did we have such a high ratio of priests to laypeople in our parishes. That was a peak moment in the history of the unfolding of God’s design for his church.

And now, things are different. And though my faith tells me that “This, too, is the unfolding of God’s design”, I hear a few challenges to my complacent shrug of the ‘Oh well’ shoulders.

The first is to pray daily for an increase of vocations to the priesthood. It is what our Lord asked of the apostles and the early church. There will always be a need for laborers to work in the vineyard, always a need for ardent men and women of faith to sacrifice and give their lives totally in the dedication of celibacy to the church. So pray for good vocations, holy men like Conor Sullivan, the seminarian who finished his stay with us on July 28, that they may persevere in their calling.

Secondly, one interpretation of these signs of the times is that we (the church) need to find ever more inclusive ways to invite people to leadership roles within the church. Part of this movement is practical – to accomplish all the tasks that were on the plate of those two associates in every rectory. But it is more than that, more than just getting things done. It is about being co-workers in the vineyard, co-laborers in the fields.

This shortage, I believe, is an invitation from God to move us from the “pray, pay and obey” model of parish life, to one where every parishioner is able to reach the dignity of their baptismal calling to be priest, prophet and king. When each of us are in touch with the unique gifts that God has placed in our hearts for the good of the community, and has an avenue within the parish to share those things, then we become, as the Archbishop is fond of saying, Alive in Christ, and our parishes become places of growth and love.

So to that end, I am seeking folks who are willing to serve on the parish council, to be a leaven of leadership within the parish for the next three years. Our agenda during that time – everything that has to do with making this parish fit the seven hallmarks of a vibrant parish as enumerated by Archbishop Carlson. Think about it and pray about it, and when I call to ask you to be a part of this work in the parish, ask for the grace to say yes…

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What do you do with leftovers?It is impossible to go to a banquet or wedding reception in our country without food being leftover. Running out of food makes the caterers look bad, the hosts look chintzy and leaves a lot of unhappy, hungry people not in the best of all moods. So there is always an abundance of food at banquets. And even at normal dinners, food always seems to remain after everyone has eaten. While some of that food is saved for the next day or taken home by some people, much of the food is discarded. In fact, the Department of Environmental Protection estimates that we Americans threw away 33 million tons of food in 2010.

Though this Sunday’s Gospel focuses on the multiplication of the loaves, my prayer honed in on one aspect of the story – how Jesus deals with the leftovers. It seems, on initial reading, that the intent of the miracle is about the feeding of the people and that the leftovers were simply signs of God’s abundance. But Jesus is specific in his directions to his disciples to “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” The gathered leftovers fill 12 wicker baskets. Why be so attentive to the leftovers?

Certainly, food was not to be wasted, both then and now. Jesus was part of a society where obtaining enough food for oneself and one’s family was a daily challenge. Furthermore, food, whether divinely multiplied or a result of natural processes, was seen as a gift from God to be reverenced. Wheat grew, trees bore fruit, animals provided nourishment, and seeds became life sustaining crops, because God, the creator, was at work.

But maybe there was another reason. Throughout the Gospel Jesus seems to be concerned about leftovers. He was concerned that leftover food not be discarded, and he was even more concerned about human “leftovers” as well. They were the persons that society readily disregarded and discarded as “leftovers” – the lepers, the unclean, the crippled, the blind, the prostitutes, the poor, the powerless, the widows, the orphans, the sinners. Jesus came to gather them to himself and bring them into God’s embrace. Jesus loved the leftovers of our world.

12 wicker baskets full were gathered, we are told. We know that number – 12 – representing the 12 tribes of Israel and then the 12 apostles. It is those twelve who continue to gather the leftovers from the abundance God pours out upon the world in His Son. We, the church, are still charged with both the task of multiplying the loaves – using our loaves of time and talent and treasure, loaves of sacrifice and service that continue that one act of Jesus feeding the multitudes with his love and care. And we are called to continue the work of reaching out to and gathering in the ‘leftovers’ of our world.

And if leftovers don’t seem so grand, think about this. 12 baskets of fragments spread by the 12 apostles changed the course of the world. Never underestimate the power of God to take what we give, multiply it and then create so much that the abundance is falling out of our hungry hands.

How we treat leftovers, whether they are the kind that remain on our tables or that walk among us in society, reveals a great deal about our reverence for God’s creation and our reverence for God’s children. Jesus it seems saw nothing, saw no one, without value. Everything, everyone, was worth saving! So this week, as you gather those leftovers from the table, breathe a word of thanks – thanks for the abundance and thanks for the reminder of God’s providence. But mostly, thanks for including us, every last and least and lost and leftover among us into the glory of your kingdom.

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Medical experts tell us that stress – be it good or bad, has the same effect on the body.  It wears us down, raises blood pressure, decreases our ability to perform our daily tasks.  But here is the interesting thing about stress.  The body is unable to tell the source of the stress – whether it comes from achievement and positive experiences – the so called ‘good stress’ or failure and negative experiences.  Regardless where it comes from, stress is not good for the body or for the soul.

Though the gospels are neither medical nor psychological documents, it seems that Jesus was pretty intuitive about recognizing stress.  This is the good kind.  The disciples have just returned from their first mission trips – and they are telling all the success stories and the demons cast out and good news preached.  Good stress or not, the master recognizes its effects on the disciples.  Let’s get away.  Time to recharge the batteries.  The gospel describes the scene – people coming and going in great numbers.  It doesn’t take much to imagine the scene, because our lives are just like that – busy, coming and going from one fun or not so fun summer activity to the next…  Time to get away.

However, things don’t go as Jesus hoped.  They must have been cutting a corner of the Sea of Galilee (it’s not that big)  People see where they are headed – start heading them off at the pass.  It wouldn’t be hard from the boat to see the crowd following on foot along the shore.  Watch what happens – Jesus gets there, as sees the crowd – and his heart was moved to pity and instead of the REST and QUIET he was hoping for – he throws himself right back into ministry.  HOW does he do that?

In my prayer – I see Jesus seeing the crowd heading to where he was going.  He looks at the distance, the disciples rowing, the wind and thinks:  “I’ve got 18 minutes.  18 minutes.”  So he closes his eyes and in the calm of breeze blowing off the lake, and the gentle sounds of the oars pulling the water, he centers himself in his Father’s presence.  IN those 18 minutes, he finds that space within that stays willing.  He finds the source of the “YES” that he said to his Father – I’ll shepherd after your heart.  And that short time is all he needs to let the stress go.  Finding that center, he can get off the boat and start again.

What recharges you?  What allows life to FLOW FROM YOU instead of happen to you?  Sometimes, it is a vacation – like the one I just returned from.  I don’t remember believing that I needed one so badly in a while.  golf was just the thing I needed to recreate my spirit.

What recharges you?  Sometimes we have the luxury of vacation.  But most of the time, our lives are like Jesus on the boat.  We have 10 to 12 – maybe 15 minutes of time to pull it together.  Jesus had no hesitation to make sure he and his disciples had the space to be recreated.  In the midst of ‘people coming and going in great numbers’ – he said – We’re out of here.

Perhaps it is a trip to Ted Drewes.
5 min cat nap.
dinner with a spouse away from the kids,
Conversation with a good friend.
Extra time over a second cup of coffee in the morning.

Whatever it is, give yourself permission to step away from the work to find that YES that stays willing, that center that is so rooted in God, that it only takes a moment of living in that space to make you whole again…

What recharges you?  Whatever it is, spend some time this week doing that – so that when the boat of your life hits that busy shore, like Jesus, you can look out over the family, the workplace, the meeting, the church gathering, and roll up the sleeves – put me in Lord, I’m ready to go…

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It was better than I feared…

When all the bids were opened and evaluated, Albert Arno Heating and Cooling Company had the low bid on the boiler project for church and school by $2,200. I signed a contract on the 29th of June and the ‘deconstruction of the boiler’ began today (Tues. July 10th). In addition to the boiler replacement, we are also replacing the hot water heater which services the entire school building with a unit that is 96% effi-cient. (I can’t quite figure out what the efficiency rat-ing of the boiler is – I have the technical specs in front of me, but don’t know all the ‘language’ they are written in. The gentleman working today said you’ll ‘pay’ for the boiler in about 15 years through the gas savings – and in 10 years if the price of natural gas continues to rise…) So the good news is that we will have heat for the coming winter. What is a shame is that we couldn’t just package the heat from these warm summer days and use that come winter…

Total cost for the project – is $103,180. The boiler comprises $96,700 of that total and the water heater $6,480.

How are we going to pay for this, you might be think-ing? As you heard our ‘seminarian for the summer’ Conor Sullivan announce two weeks ago, the Annual Catholic Appeal Parish Emergency Fund gave us the largest possible grant awarded to a parish – $25,000. (Just another example of how the Annual Catholic Appeal does so much for the good of the Archdio-cese) The Sponsor’s Dinner dance from this past year is matching that amount. I have made a three year pledge of $1,590. With those three sources, we are exactly half the way there in terms of paying off the boiler.

That leaves a balance of $51,590 to be made up through various funding sources. As you know, for the past few years we have conducted a “Pay It For-ward” appeal to Alumni and Friends of St. Ann par-ish. This year’s appeal will be the “Heat our Home”/“Buy our Boiler” version. My hope is to raise an additional $20,000 from that appeal.

Once those ‘totals’ are in, we will conduct a ‘mini’ capital campaign among the parishioners, tailoring our request to parishioners based on our balance due and their history of giving. Because of the generosity of the ACA and your past generosity to the Dinner Dance, we should be able to manage this without breaking the bank – either yours or ours…

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Uncle WallyImagine how hard it was for Paul to say those words. “When I am weak, I am strong.” Paul was brilliant. Highly educated. Hard working. Physically – he was a tough nut – he survived shipwrecks, stoning, whippings, inprisonment. He was socially skilled – he could interact with wealthy and poor, educated and uneducated alike. He was in many ways, the scriptural equivalent of a Renaissance man. He could do just about everything…

And yet… And yet, there was something that he simply could not do with his own power. No matter how hard he tried, no matter how sharp the intellect, how firm the will, how devout the prayer, there was this “thorn in the flesh”. “Three times I prayed…” for this to pass. You can almost hear the desperation in his voice as he says that. (And that is more than ‘three times’ like yesterday, the day before and the day before. Think of three as a biblical number of excellence – that Paul prayed quite some time about this.) Gradually, or all at once, we don’t know, but something different happens in Paul in his prayer and reflection so that now he can THANK God for his weakness…

Do we know what his weakness was? Scholars are divided. Some say it was the divisions in his community that was his thorn. Others say the thorn is a metaphor for the spiritual struggle against the devil. Others, (and this makes the most sense to me) think it was a kind of physical ailment – perhaps blindness which would have been devastating to this well read and educated man. We don’t know. But we know that Paul prays himself to a place where only Jesus matters – and his power flowing through him.

I was thinking about that as I have been going through the keepsake stuff in mom’s house. It seemed she inherited my Uncle’s stuff when he died – Fr. Wally Boul. So I have seen some pictures of him I had never before seen – from growing up, from his early years of priesthood, from the war and him saying mass on the hood of a jeep. And then some from his 25th (when I was this tall) and his 50th anniversary celebrations as a priest (where he asked me to preach). And I remember what he said to me in preparation for that day. “Billy, (he called me Billy- only he and mom did that) I count my alcoholism as my greatest grace in my 50 years of priesthood.” I was pretty stunned. “Really, I thought. Of all the things you have seen and heard and been privileged to be a part of – you’re going with the alcoholism thing?” After a slight pause to wipe the ‘mist’ from his Irish eyes, he continued. “Because there is not a day, not an hour, not a moment of my life where I don’t know in my bones that I need my savior. I can’t do sobriety without him. And I can’t do life without being sober. I know I need my savior because of my alcoholism.”

Woof.

If you ever saw Wally’s breviary, you knew he meant what he said, because he had prayed that book ragged, day after day, month after month, year after year. He NEEDED his savior. Not just in his head, but in his gut.

THAT is precisely how I understand these words of St. Paul ever since that conversation. Paul is able to thank God in his weakness, in his thorn in the flesh, in that which he cannot do on his own, because it reminds him, like my uncle Wally, every moment of every day that he needs a savior.

My friends, we often experience what it is like to be powerless, to know the kind of weakness that drove Paul to his knees and finally allowed him to surrender. And I would suspect that 99% of the time we don’t like it at all. It is so frustrating to feel weak. But I invite you to try the “Pauline Pledge” or the “Wally Weakness” – however you want to say it – and THANK GOD for your weakness – for all that you can’t do, for all that is still weak and powerless and struggle about you. And if it takes you more than “three times”, hang in there – you’re in good company. But surrender. Surrender to the one who can use that weakness to draw you always and completely to Himself. Learn, as did Paul, as did Wally, as do so many believers, that God’s grace is always enough for you…

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