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End of the year thanks…

I received three letters in the space of a few days from the Pontifical Mission Societies office of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. (Somebody was busy…) Msgr. Frank Blood thanked St. Ann parish for our generosity to the various mission appeals of this past year. They are:

World Mission Sunday – $1,309
Missionary Cooperative Plan Appeal – $1,840
The Latin American Appeal – $1,081

Each of these collections are ways that we keep spreading the good news of Christ, literally to all the corners of the globe. Bishop Andy Schierhoff used to say: “There is no greater poverty in a parish than when their vision extends only to their parish boundaries.” Thanks for your continued generosity far beyond the boundaries of our neighborhood. You make a huge difference.

Speaking of a huge difference, THE HEAT IS ON. And I am not just talking about the soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop. The final pieces of the boiler flu arrived and were installed. Conrad Philipp, Dave Marstall and I received a training on the new controls, and other than the heat being TOO effective in the school, we are up and running (and working on dialing it back down a bit in some of the areas of the school…) This was not without a few hiccups. If you can imagine what happens when you change the engine on an old car with a newer, more powerful one, so, too, with the new boiler. There were a few joints and traps and Danfuss valves that needed replacing in the steam piping, which added another $5,109 to the original bid.

But, because of your generosity to this year’s Visitation Drive, we are 88% of the way toward our goal of funding the boiler. The breakdown of the funds which have come in to date:

Grant from the Annual Catholic Appeal – $25,000 St. Ann Sponsor’s Dinner Dance – $25,000 Pastor’s gift – (to get us 1/2 way to the original goal) $X,xxx
Pay it Forward Appeal to Alumni/Friends- $8,000
Visitation Drive – $35,700
Total received to date: $95,290

Thank you for your amazing generosity to this year’s appeal and your willingness to go the extra mile.

Thanks to several donors who gave more than $1,000 to the cause. What a gift that is for us all. And I am still hoping for a rebate from Ameren, pending completion of some paperwork.

And, as an aside, this year, we are going to mail out end of the year statements, including your gift to the
Visitation appeal. I hope this will serve as both a written record for tax purposes and as my word of thanks to one and all for all you do for this great parish of ours.

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Henry Ward Beecher, the famed preacher and orator once said that the two most important gifts that parents can give to their children are roots and wings. It begins with roots, as it has to – to protect, love, nurture, and raise the most helpless infant in the animal kingdom to a point where they can fend for themselves. Most parents do the best job they are able to do in that regard. They kind of have that role down.

The roots given to Jesus are plain to see in the gospel. In the only snapshot we are given to see about the hidden life of Jesus at Nazareth, we are told simply: “Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover.” That small fact tells us that Mary and Joseph were devout Jews. It is no small feat to go to Jerusalem. It is not like they picked up a taxi, or the Metrolink. It is a ten day walk, one way. Yet EACH YEAR, they go. Those roots were set down well, for we are told at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, that he “went according to his custom into the synagogue.” Jesus is solidly rooted into his faith, by both his parents’ example, and then his own practice. Mary and Joseph knew how to give Jesus roots that would last.

But how do you give the Son of God wings? How does any parent teach their children to fly?

Don’t you face it in increments, almost like snapshots? Click: Mom takes 5 year old Sally or John from the sandbox to the first day of Kindergarten. Click: Dad runs besides his daughter as he teaches her to ride a bike. Click: Both parents hold their breath while sitting in the passenger seat with their proud 15 1/2 year holding their driver’s permit. Click: “Mom, I’m going to Creighton for college.” Click: It is the Father-Daughter dance at the wedding reception. Click: “It’s a girl!” Each of these moments is a snapshot into that core truth – that our children are NOT OURS TO KEEP – they are ours to give wings to.

That was the truth that Hannah knew as she dropped Samuel off. Samuel, the long desired child of her old age, and the fruit of her fervent prayer – is to be dedicated back to the God who gave him to her in the first place. She knew he was not hers to keep – only to give wings to. That was the painful truth that Mary and Joseph wrestled with on that ten day journey back from Jerusalem to Nazareth. They observed that Jesus was uniquely at home in God’s house – so much so, that He can respond to their frantic searching with that teenage type of dismissive reply: “Didn’t you know – here is where I have to be?” Click: Time to start that letting go…

On this feast of the Holy Family, where we celebrate being a family of faith around this altar, the same truths come into play. Roots and Wings – these are the two gifts we bring to each other each time we gather around this altar. We support one another in our struggles, and we call one another to greater holiness and service. So, what would it be for us to pledge to give roots and wings to each other?

Click: Be a family faithfully at prayer this year. Don’t miss these Sat eve/Sun. morning opportunities to be together around this altar. Commit yourself to be here, come what may, every weekend during this Year of Faith. (And though I could pray for you to be ON TIME for that, I not asking for that miracle…)

Click: Notice one gift in one member of your family this year – be it biological, chosen or faith family. Perhaps you notice how much you daughter likes to cook. Introduce her to the St. Patrick Center Casserole experience. You son loves to work with his hands? Sign up for a habitat for humanity workday. That parishioner in the pew has a lovely voice? Invite them to sing in the choir. Your neighbor has a green thumb? Volunteer to weed the garden area that fronts Natural Bridge in front of our church.

There are two gifts every good parent strives to give their children – roots and wings. Our God has given us both. May we use them well….

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

December 30, 2012

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Christmas carols have a way of sticking with you, don’t they? You hear one line of a tune and “Frosty” stays in your head the whole day. Or a different one catches you and now your stomach can only think of ‘Chestnuts roasting on open fires’. Or you spend the entire day on living on “Santa Claus lane…” However annoying that can be to have those things stuck in your head, there is also the redeemed side of that experience, isn’t there, when lines from the great carols catch not only our memory, but our spirit.

And so, the snippet of Christmas carol that has caught my heart, follows these words: “Said the night wind to the little lamb.” Most of you will know that as: “Do you see what I see?” In the song, that question is initially about the star, “shining in the night, with a tail as big as a kite.” As the question morphs in the next verses to “do you hear what I hear” and “do you know what I know” – my prayer was caught up into WHO was asking me to do that. Not the night wind or the little lamb or the shepherd boy, nor even the mighty king – but GOD himself inviting me to see what He sees.

To practice our faith is to train our eyes to see what God sees. We are invited to recognize that which is most fundamental and true about reality since the incarnation of Jesus. The great insight Christianity has offered the world about Divinity Itself, the Mystery we call “God”, is that God is Love, and wherever Love is God is! The eternal love of God not only took flesh in our world, but continues to take flesh WHEREVER and WHENEVER love is found. DO you see what I see, God asks us? Do you see how love still births itself into this world’s chaos?

One man, responding to the gut-wrenching images coming out of Newtown, CT, recounted what his Mom taught him when he was a little boy and tragic things would come up on the news. To help him cope, and to see beyond that which was horrible, his mom would say to him, “Look at all the people helping. Keep your eyes on the helpers.” The man went on to say that, to this day, when tragedy strikes, he is always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” Do you see what I see, God asks? Not just the horror, but the hope?

When God is the one asking us to “see what he sees”, it changes things, doesn’t it? “Do you see what I see” becomes an invitation: “Will you see what I see.” Joseph learned that the hard way. When the child in Mary’s womb was viewed as the likely product of infidelity, he was ready to divorce her quietly. When God invited him to see this child as the fruit of the Holy Spirit – Joseph is undone – and he graciously accepts Mary and the child in her womb into his home. “Do you see what I see, Joseph?” “Yes, Lord, I do…and I will take her into my home/world…”

Though there might be other questions spurred by other Christmas carols for you, I invite you to ponder on that invitation which I have heard loud and clear these days– to take the risk to see the world as God does – to somehow ask for eyes to see and a heart that understands this world of ours as God does. But know, like Joseph and Mary, like all believers throughout the ages who have seen this way, it will cost us. When we see as God sees:
• We can no longer see anyone as an enemy, because we all have been redeemed.
• We can longer be oblivious to the cries of the poor – they are our brothers and sisters.
• We can no longer put off the work of co-creating this world by our stewardship of its resources – it is the place where love continues to take flesh.
• We have to carry the victims of all violent crimes and all the wars and conflicts in our hearts – by our choices to create a different, more peaceful world.

“Do you see what I see” is a much better song to have stuck in your head than Frosty the Snowman, I’ll admit. But it is infinitely more challenging as well. If Christmas celebrates that love was not only born in a manger, but is also born in every human heart and in every moment of time, then whatever the carol that catches your heart this year, may it open you to the truth that God is indeed “with us.” Will you see what God sees? For the sake of this world, I hope so. I hope so…

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No one has to tell small children to be excited this time of year. Virtually EVERYTHING has the possibility of making them jump up and down, clap their hands gleefully and twirl excitedly in circles. Christmas carols. Cookies. Beautiful ornaments. Lights on trees. Wrapped gifts beneath the tree. They are so present to the promise of this season. It seems they practically spend the entire month of December on their tip toes, ready at any moment to leap for sheer joy and the good things before them. Perhaps it is just the sugar from the Christmas cookies that does that in them, but I don’t think so. Children know something, don’t they, about leaping for joy, that we who have seen more winters sometimes take for granted. They know how to trust in promises. They know how to trust in promises.

They are in good scriptural company in this regard. We hear this in the story of the Visitation, in the lives of Elizabeth and Mary who trusted “that love would keep its promise” to appear, even in seemingly impossible situations. Elizabeth was elderly and beyond child bearing years. Mary was unwed, ‘having no relations with a man’. And yet, there they are, impossibly pregnant, with John leaping for joy in the womb to announce to them both what God in his love is doing for them.

It’s the leaping, though, that catches their attention. Elizabeth was probably overjoyed to see Mary in her own right. (It’s not like she could have texted or called ahead of time to let her know she was en-route.) But now, she has that awareness ratcheted up because of John’s leaping. And what was before ‘just’ a joyous event, now becomes a faith event because of that stirring in her womb. Elizabeth proclaims about Mary – “Blessed are you who are so loved by God”, and “blessed are you because you have believed.” It is John’s dance in the womb, his leaping, that transforms the moment.

So too, the leaping for joy we observe in small children can have that effect on us. It can transform ordinary moments into faith moments. We, who too often see this world with tired eyes, are invited by leaping children to see this world as a place of wonder and hope. I was at a friend’s house on Wednesday when they did the great ‘unveiling’ of a new play area in the basement. Gracie, the younger of the two girls wasn’t quite sure what to make of the transformation, until she saw her sister Bella giggling and doing this little dance routine in the middle of the new carpet. That was all it took – seeing that ‘dancing for joy’, and Gracie joined Bella in the dance, because she could trust in that new space created for them.

So, this fourth week of Advent, (all 36 hours of it before the celebrations of Christmas begin) I invite you to keep your eyes open for leaping, excited children. They shouldn’t be too hard to find. Stop your world long enough to ‘see what they are seeing’, to let their excitement and joy propel you through the business of the days
• to see hope on the horizon,
• to see love at the door,
• to see a world made whole and holy by the child to be born in our midst.

Have a blessed, albeit short, 4th week of Advent…

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Rejoice! The weeks of Advent waiting are over, and Christ is born!

Especially during this Year of Faith, we rejoice in our Savior’s birth—remembering the great gift of faith He has given us through the mystery of His incarnation and the saving power of His death and resurrection.

For many years, the people of our Archdiocese have been asked to make a special gift on Christmas Day to support our seminarians at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. The men of our seminary, who have responded to Christ’s call to follow Him, are truly a gift to the Church and to our Archdiocese. It is these men who will bring the faith given to us by Christ 2000 years ago to future generations here in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

During this Year of Faith, I ask you, once again, to pray for vocations and for all our priests and seminarians. I also ask you to be generous in your donation to the Christmas Day collection which helps pay the day-to-day expenses and maintenance of our Seminary.

Please be assured of my prayers for you during this most blessed season of Christmas. May the Lord of life come into your hearts and homes in a special way during this holy time of year.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson
Archbishop of St. Louis

Allow me to add my own wishes of a blessed and holy Christmas time for you and your families. These are wonderful days, days when we celebrate not just the gift of family and friends, but the gift of gifts – our Saving Lord incarnate of the Virgin for our salvation. A friend of mine sends a yearly advent card with a little reflection. It bears repeating here.

There is a whisper in the darkness,
Hope on the horizon,
with future and past about to intersect.
All is possible, passion is stirring,
dawn is breaking.
Now, only to wait and catch our breath,
not to give up,
while the God of Advent tames the wilderness
and rushes into our awaiting hearts!

Blessed Advent and Merry Christmas, one and all…

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

December 23, 2012

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

December 16, 2012

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The world is supposed to end this coming Friday, 12-21-12, the last day of the Mayan Calendar.  I confess I had not given it much thought until yesterday (Friday).  And then, with the unfolding of the events in Newtown, Connecticut, I thought, “Maybe it would be a good thing if the world would end.”  I, like you, find myself horrified at the thought of such a slaughter of the innocents.  And find myself appalled that such killing also goes on in abortion clinics, though in a much more hidden form.  And I am dismayed at the drone attacks sanctioned by our government.  I am weary of the endless cycle of wars.  I am saddened by the drug addiction in our nation that fuels the cartels of power and violence.  I am tired of the paralysis of politics and a civil discourse marked more by hard lines drawn in the sand than a seeking of the common good.  I am tired of a nation of victims.  I am… I am…  I am…  The list is long.  I am so ready for that kind of world to end.

I hope you share that sentiment.  Maybe our lists of the things we are ‘tired of’ or ‘horrified at’ or ‘appalled by’ differ.  But what is clearer to me now than it was before Friday, is the need for that kind of world of ours to end.  But you know, the tough part about that desire is ‘that kind of world’ is ‘this world of ours’.  It is all tragically and wonderfully mixed together.  There is no dualism, no good world over here and bad world over there, as if to say we can isolate one from the other.  It is all one.  It is all one.

And so the question asked of John the Baptist, that has always been perhaps THE practical question for believers to wrestle with, takes a more urgent twist after Friday’s events.  “What is it that we should do?”  What ARE we to do?  John the Baptist, responding to those direct questions in his day, had some very practical and doable suggestions, based on the concrete lives of the soldiers and tax collectors and crowds that came to him.  So, ala John the Baptist, what is it that WE should do, after a Newtown, Connecticut?

  • Pray.  Obviously and firstly for the families of the victim.  Get down on your knees and just surround that community with your loving presence in prayer.  That is the easy and obvious response.  Here is the wild-man John the Baptist response:  Pray for the shooter, who is likewise dead.  If we can’t learn to pray for an ‘enemy’ who is no longer a physical threat to us, then how will we ever learn to pray for one who is?
  • Examine your ‘conversations’ of the last week, whether on the phone, face to face, on your facebook page or blog spot or twitter account:  Are those conversations marked by angry or hurtful words?  Are there things there that perpetuate the hatred and violence, the addictions or compulsions that so need to end in our world?  Remove them today from your electronic media.  Ask forgiveness on the phone or in person to the one you spoke them to.  Do not let the sun go down on your anger. “Or as a friend of mine says: ‘Take the ugly out of your world’.
  • Parents: We become so aware of our love for our children and our wanting to protect them and hold them and keep them safe.  Use this opportunity to look at that balance between work and home, between the things you must do to support that family and the actual time you spend with your family.  Do you like what you see?  Kids, you are not off the hook.  Take a moment to share with your mom and dad something that is important in your world every day.  Or, in one of my favorite lines from the movie Men in Black II, Agent “K”, after just neuralizing a family says: “You will love and cherish each other for the rest of your life.  To which Agent J replies: Which could be the next 27 or 28 minutes …” Or in this case, if the Mayans were right – 6 days.  So get busy loving and cherishing.”
  • Concretely, I will post the address of the Catholic parish, St. Rose of Lima, in Newtown, Ct. in the bulletin next week.  Adopt one of the three priests or deacons, or woman religious in your prayer as they work with the families, and send them a quick note of your support.

Maybe the world will end on this Friday.  I don’t know.  But after this past Friday, it is clear that many things have to change before the Kingdom arrives in its fullness.  In the mean time, the question still remains: What is it we should do?

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Ramblings…

If you know anything about non-profit organizations, then you probably are familiar with the good-cheap-quick triangle. The ‘rule’ is that in non-profit management you can only have two of those three legs at any time. It can be quick and cheap, but it won’t be good. It can be quick and good, but it won’t be cheap. Or it can be good and cheap, but it won’t be quick. The parish center bathroom renovations fell into that final category. It was nearly a two year process from design stage to completion. What an incredible job done by ALL to re-make those spaces into areas that we can be proud of. (Inasmuch as anyone is proud of a restroom facility…) A full list of everyone who had a hand it this will come out soon, but now that they are fully operational, I just wanted to say THANKS to one and all for a job well done.

Secondly, I want you to know how good God continues to be to the people of St. Ann parish (and its pastor.) Fr. Ron Chochol moved into the neighborhood about 8 months ago. He has done a few stints working with retirement communities in the area and beyond. And now, he has decided to enter into ‘retirement’ from any official assignments from the Archdiocese. But, because of his proximity to St. Ann (he lives across the street practically) he has volunteered to help out with the weekend mass schedule. And he has also agreed to give me ‘first right of refusal’ for subbing weekdays when I am on vacation or retreat. So, beginning January 1, Fr. Ron will be rotated into the weekend mass schedule, saying one of three weekend masses from here. He also plans to help out my brother priests in the same predicament, who need someone to fill in while they are gone. So make sure that you give him a warm St. Ann welcome when you meet him next…

Finally, just a heads up about the Christmas and New Year’s Mass schedule. Masses for Christmas will be held on Christmas eve at 5:00 pm, with carols starting about 4:30. Midnight mass will be at 12 am, with carols starting about 11:30 pm. And mass during the day will be at 10 am. On New Years, the feast of Mary, the Mother of God, we will have an anticipated mass on Monday, Dec. 31, at 5 pm, and Mass on Jan. 1 at 10 am. Also, we are in need of volunteer servers for all these masses. Please let Pat Marstall (385-5090) know asap.

Because of these holidays falling on Tuesdays, dead-lines to get things into the bulletin are pushed up significantly. Please speak with Pat Marstall if you think/know you are going to need some space to find out when items are due

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