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What I wouldn’t have given to hear the line addressed to Bartimaeus in today’s gospel being addressed to me when I was discerning my call to the priesthood.  “Take courage; Get up, Jesus is calling you.”  Oh, for such clarity in my discernment.  But it was not seemingly there.  Or if it was, I was unable to hear it.  Still, of all the words recorded in the gospels that ‘the crowd’ speaks, in my opinion this is the most important.  In Mark’s narrative of the story of Jesus, ‘the crowd’ usually functions in two ways – it either helps people to Jesus or it hinders their approach to Jesus.  In today’s gospel, it actually does both.  Scholars have noted in this regard that the role of the crowd parallels the role of the church.  The church is meant to help people get to Jesus.  Sometimes it does that well.  Other times, not so much.  Yet they tell us, it is important to hear the words of the ‘crowd’ as words that are addressed to us as believers.

So, what does it mean to hear the crowd say to us, today:  “Take courage; Get up, Jesus is calling you.”

Take Courage. Sometimes courage looks like trusting in the fact that God made you good and made you for a purpose.  Sometimes courage means to stand up in a relationship and speak the truth in love, even when it is difficult.  But when I thought about the church and the call to take courage, I thought of politics this week.

Nothing is worse than being stuck in fear.  Political attack ads know that, and they know if they can get you to vote from a place of fear and not a place of courage, they have a better chance of swaying your vote to their candidate/issue.  Sad, isn’t it.  But judging by the sheer number of attack ads, it works.  What would it mean, instead, to vote from a place of courage this year?  To cast our votes, not from that place of fear and who or what we are against, but from our vision of what this country can be and should be when formed by the gospel?  Our Bishops have laid out such a perspective in their document “Faithful Citizenship”.  You have nine days.  Do some praying to vote from a place of courage.

Get up.  I think of those words as ‘morning words’.  As in ‘time to get up.’  Yet, it is easy to sleep walk through life.  To not make a stand.  To follow willy-nilly the currents of life and society.  Get up invites us to do life differently.  Though it is early, what would it be like if we did our approach to the Holiday season differently?  The St. Ann social justice committee is conducting a Fair Trade Market on Nov. 11th.  Fair Trade Good are not made by sweatshops, but by folks who earn a living wage from their labors.  So items from Fair Trade consortiums in impoverished countries will be available.  Or for $50 you can purchase a filter kit which will provide one family with pure drinking water for a year.  Get up – there is the work of justice to be done.

Jesus is calling you.  “Gulp!”  Really?  Me, Lord?  Can’t someone else volunteer Lord?  And then sometimes it is the “I do so much already.  It’s someone else’ turn.”  Maybe.  But what if the Lord is calling you?  How can you turn him down?

Bartimaeus, the man to whom these words were first addressed by the crowd, is in my opinion the most courageous man in the gospels aside from Jesus, because at that threefold command, he tosses aside his cloak, (pardon the pun, but he’ll never see it again.  He doesn’t even know what it looks like) comes to Jesus and asks for the grace to see. We are told that he follows Jesus ‘en te hodos’ – On the Way – which is Marcan shorthand for being a disciple.  May we follow his example and do the same.

Take courage; get up.  Jesus is calling YOU…

 

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Year of Faith top Ten continued…

As we continue the Year of Faith, here is the second part of the list of ten things Catholics can do to live this year of faith according to Bishop David Ricken of the USCCB.

6. Study the Catechism. Published exactly 30 years after the start of the Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church covers the beliefs, moral teachings, prayer and sacraments of the Catholic Church in one volume. It’s a resource for growing in understanding of the faith. Another helpful resource is the U.S. Cath-olic Catechism for Adults (USCCA).
7. Volunteer in the parish. The Year of Faith can’t only be about study and reflection. The solid grounding of the Scriptures, the Council and the Catechism must translate into action. The parish is a great place to start, and each person’s gifts help build up the com-munity. People are welcome as ministers of hospitali-ty, liturgical musicians, lectors, catechists and in oth-er roles in parish life.
8. Help those in need. The Vatican urges Catholics to donate to charity and volunteer to help the poor dur-ing the Year of Faith. This means to personally en-counter Christ in the poor, marginalized and vulnera-ble. Helping others brings Catholics face-to-face with Christ and creates an example for the rest of the world.
9. Invite a friend to Mass. The Year of Faith may be global in its scope, focusing on a renewal of faith and evangelization for the whole Church, but real change occurs at the local level. A personal invitation can make all the difference to someone who has drifted from the faith or feels alienated from the Church. Eve-ryone knows people like this, so everyone can extend a loving welcome.
10. Incorporate the Beatitudes into daily life. The Be-atitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) provide a rich blueprint for Christian living. Their wisdom can help all to be more humble, patient, just, transparent, loving, forgiving and free. It’s precisely the example of lived faith needed to draw people to the Church in the year ahead.

More information on the Year of Faith is available online: www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/new-evangelization/year-of-faith/index.cfm

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

October 28, 2012

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

October 21, 2012

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Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, chairman of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, offers “10 Ways Catholics Can Live the Year of Faith.” Rooted in guidelines from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, some of these suggestions are already requirements for Catholics; others can be embraced by Catholics at all times and especially during the Year of Faith:

1. Participate in Mass. The Year of Faith is meant to promote the personal encounter with Jesus. This occurs most immediately in the Eucharist. Regular Mass attendance strengthens one’s faith through the Scriptures, the Creed, other prayers, sacred music, the homily, receiving Communion and being part of a faith community.

2. Go to Confession. Like going to Mass, Catholics find strength and grow deeper in their faith through participation in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Confession urges people to turn back to God, express sorrow for falling short and open their lives to the power of God’s healing grace. It forgives the injuries of the past and provides strength for the future.

3. Learn about the lives of the saints. The saints are timeless examples of how to live a Christian life, and they provide endless hope. Not only were they sinners who kept trying to grow closer to God, but they also exemplify ways a person can serve God: through teaching, missionary work, charity, prayer and simply striving to please God in the ordinary actions and decisions of daily life.

4. Read the Bible daily. Scripture offers first-hand access to the Word of God and tells the story of human salvation. Catholics can pray the Scriptures (through lectio divina or other methods) to become more attuned to the Word of God. Either way, the Bible is a must for growth in the Year of Faith.

5. Read the documents of Vatican II. The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) ushered in a great renewal of the Church. It impacted how Mass is celebrated, the role of the laity, how the Church understands itself and its relationship with other Christians and non-Christians. To continue this renewal, Catholics must understand what the Council taught and how it en-riches the lives of believers.

To be continued next week…

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plungerBehold! the household plunger.  (Show plunger)  Great for fixing drains in sacristies.  Wonderful for unplugging the kitchen sink when the garbage disposal stops working.  Great for making thrones useable again.  And great for any disciple who would sit upon a throne in glory.  Let me propose it is the most appropriate household item for a disciple.   Why?

1) There is no way to carry this ‘proudly’.  You certainly don’t want to grip it on the rubber part – you know where it’s been and where it’s going.  It looks rather silly to carry it like this: (Visual image of carrying it as if it were a crown on a pillow).  The closest you come is like this (holding near the bottom, as if it were a sword) but then you look like a soldier in the idiot army.  By its physical design, it’s almost impossible to feel any sense of entitlement while you are carrying it.

2) Because of what the plunger does, it’s hard to FEEL important when carrying it to your assigned task.  Unlike the business briefcase, the cell phone, the palm pilot which bear with them a sense of power and prestige, no one carries a plunger thinking:  “Look at me – I’m important.  I’m carrying a plunger.”  Plus, unlike cell phones designs which are very chick and very trendy, the plunger hasn’t changed shapes or style almost since inception.  (You never hear people say: Look at this, the latest in plunger models, the Plunger 210 – isn’t she a beaut?)

3) Then, there are the types of jobs that you are doing when using the plunger.  Non glorious.  You have to get your hands dirty.  Involved.  ‘Nuff said.

4) When the job is over, no one looks at the plunger and says ‘good job’.  They look at the sink that is now flowing, the throne now working, or the drain now unstopped and give thanks that THOSE items are now working.  It’s not about the plunger, it’s about the sink, the drain, the throne.  The plunger is placed in the back of the closet, without further ado.

“You know those recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority felt.  It shall not be so among you.”   It shall not be so among you…  Those are iron hard words from Jesus.  Because in that one simple sentence he undercuts the merit system of religion – the Deuteronomic system where enjoying the good things of life was a just reward from God and a sign that you were living right.  Turning that on its head, Jesus tells us greatness is only measured in service.  Only measured in service.  And those who know the secret of the plunger, know also how to best be disciples.  For just as it is not about the plunger, so it is not about the disciple.

As I was praying this week about all this, a story that a college student shared with me came to mind.  She was stressing over some papers and some tests that had to get done before Thanksgiving break.  It finally got to her.  So at about five in the morning she calls her mother at home, even though she knows she will see her in just a couple days.  And she goes on and on and on about her problems.  And her mother just listened to her.  And was so present to her.  What she did not know is that her mother had been up all night caring for her father who had just been diagnosed with cancer and had just come home from his first chemotherapy.  For the past four hours before she called, her husband had been throwing up, and she had been caring for him.  They had decided to wait till she got home from break to tell her.  So while her mother was having perhaps one of the worst nights of her married life, she made the choice to be so present to her daughter.  The student said “it was the most loving thing that I have ever experienced.   And I knew that I would spend the rest of my life trying to live into that gift of service from my mother.”  Ah, a disciple who knows the secret of the plunger…

This week, if you have a plunger, take it from under the sink, and put it on your dining room table.  Or at the foot of the cross that is on your living room wall.  Or wherever you will notice it on a daily basis.  And let it teach you its secret – the secret of the Son of Man, who came, not to be served, but to serve…

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We know his type.  Young, eager and enthusiastic.  A bit of an idealist, perhaps.  Ready to give anything for the poor.  Ready to be put into an important  role in service to the kingdom.  Ready to make a GREAT sacrifice for God.  “Ask me to be a missionary – I’ll do it!  Ask me to give up being married – maybe a priest or a deacon – you got it Lord.  I am ready to do the heroic thing to follow you.  Just tell me what that looks like.” My gut tells me that is the type of person the young man must have been to approach the Lord that way.

And yet, he goes away SAD…  How can that be?  He was so willing to give anything, to do anything to follow the Lord.  He timed his approach of Jesus just right – just as Jesus was setting out on a journey.  He would bring so much if he got invited along.  He’d make sure they had decent lodging and decent food.  The Lord wouldn’t have to be a beggar in his own country, not while HE was around.  He knew what he could bring to the table.  Yet Mark tells us “he went away SAD, for he had many possessions.”  What happened to all that zeal for it to die so quickly?

It is a little frightening to contemplate, especially because he received something which no other person in the New Testament did.  Mark reports that the Lord “looking at him, loved him.”  I think to myself, “Man, if I had that, then it would have been so easy.  I am so with you Lord, whatever, wherever it takes me.”    If I just had one physical chance to look the Lord in the eyes and see him loving me, then, it would all be easy, wouldn’t it?

But here is what happens that I don’t always expect.  When the Lord does looks into our hearts, he can see the Achilles heel that will trip us up and make us fall.  He sees the goodness and willingness and gifts we bring.  But He also sees that within us that will slowly poison our hearts and our love, that will slowly betray our best selves and leave us bitter and angry and feeling betrayed.  For that young man, so enthusiastic, he knew it would be his wealth that would take him down.  By inviting him to ‘sell his belongings’, he is giving him the chance to become the disciple he wanted to be.

I was at a wedding in Quincy Illinois last night, and speaking with an UMSL graduate.  “I’m married now, Fr.  But the hardest part of the preparation was when I shared that sometimes I felt distrustful because I was insecure.  The priest told me: “You have to deal with that now.  Otherwise, that seed of distrust will slowly kill the joy in your marriage.  Deal with it now, or I won’t marry you…  He was a wise man.”  He knew her Achilles heel.  Perhaps for you it is the harboring of unforgiveness.  I name it in myself these days as the part that wants to be ‘well liked and well respected’ – that at times keeps me from being completely free to follow the Lord.

And make no mistake about it.  Our Lord’s deepest desire is that we be FREE to follow him unreservedly, nothing holding us back, nothing standing in the way.  Free just to love without counting the cost.  And He offers us the same grace he offered to the rich young man – the ability to become the disciple that we want to be.

When the Lord looks at US and loves us, he also sees that within us which needs to go, that which keeps US from being free.  He sees our Achilles heel and he wants us to be free from it.  Perhaps it IS your relationship toward money/possessions that gets in the way for you.  Maybe it is that ego that wants to be in control.  Perhaps it is your addiction to certain websites that causes you to stumble.

This week, take a look inward, but not just with your own eyes.  Invite the Lord to “look at you with love”, and ask for the grace to see the stumbling block in you, your Achilles heel of faith.  And then pray – pray for the grace to let go of whatever it is for YOU that keeps you from being free, you from being the disciple that you want to be.  Then, simply trust the promise that with God, all things are possible, even the healing of your Achilles heel…

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Of many things…

If you remember, it was with great hope on the feast of Pentecost that I planted three seeds of the Sequoia Gigantica in a little pot on my windowsill. Germination time was 90 to 120 days. My pledge was to pray for the outpouring of the Spirit, not just upon the seeds, but upon the people of St. Ann’s Parish. Though I don’t know what has happened as a result of the prayers I have said daily for you all as I attempted to keep the soil moist but not wet, I can say that first attempt to grow the Fr. Bill Kempf Sequoia has met with failure. Alas, no giant sequoia seedlings!

So I will try again. This time I will try a different type of soil. And I will continue to pray daily for the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon this parish. Who knows what kind of growth God has already worked because of those prayers, and what more he has in store for us? We will find out.

As of now (late Tuesday night) we have 25 students signed up for the Awakening Retreat, another 10 in leader-ship roles, plus 15 on the Growth retreat for this coming weekend. Add to that our Newman staff and a musician, and we end up with a total of 55 folks on retreat the week-end of Oct. 19-21st. If you could keep us in your prayers, that would be a huge blessing. (A few cookies, brownies or salty snacks wouldn’t hurt either…)

Last week, at the Archbishop’s Fishers of Men Summit, Fr. Chris Martin, the vocation director, laid an interesting challenge at our feet as priests. All it would take here in St. Louis to turn the corner on the “stable but lower than we need to replace the priests who retire or die numbers of priests” trend is a simple math equation. One every ten. If every parish produced ONE vocation every TEN years, then we would be in a position to not only sustain the numbers of priests available, but to GROW the number of priests who will serve our parishes and Archdiocese. 1 every 10.

I am not even sure who the last vocation was from St. Ann parish, (unless you count Fr. Phil Krill, but that is a different story) but I can tell you with certainty, we have not had one progress from the seminary to the priesthood in the past ten and a quarter years that I have been pastor. So we are behind the curve…

My challenge to you – look around this parish and focus on those who are in the “11’s” (6th grade or juniors in H.S.). There seems to be something ripe in young men at that age that makes them receptive to the invitation to priesthood. Pray, asking God to put in your heart the names of those kids in those ages you would like me to approach and invite to one of the various programs sponsored by the Vocation Office. And we’ll let God’s Spirit take it from there…

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

October 14, 2012

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Click to view PDF file version

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