Around 9 am on Saturday, March 2, 9 students and 2 chaperones from Western Michigan University at Kalamazoo will be arriving at St. Ann rectory, to take up residence for a week of service. They will be working with Beyond Housing, from about 9 am to ~3:30 pm daily. Then they will return here, for dinner, reflection, community building and support. They also will visit some of the city, as well as tap into some of the Newman Center sponsored programs during Social Justice month.

They’ll be sleeping on couches, floors, and the occasional spare beds scattered through the house. And meeting in the Library and/or Living room. They will also join us for Sunday morning worship (not sure which mass), though I am not sure of the religious makeup of the group. They have done service trips here for several years, but the place where they had grown accustomed to staying changed their policy about service trips, which left them scrambling for a place. Though the Newman Center was an option, one shower for 11 people would not have been ideal. We have the room and the space, and their promise to leave the place cleaner than when they arrived…. So if you see all kinds of lights on, late into the evening, and a few minivans parked in the lots, you’ll know who it is… (And, no, they don’t do windows.)

This past Sunday marked the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion for folks in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. It is one of the pivotal moments in a journey toward full communion with the Catholic Church. And it invites us, the St. Ann Community, to become more intentionally focused on prayer and support of these, our candidates.

For reception into the full communion of the Catholic Church, we have Tina Ingoldsby and Elizabeth McKinney, both Newman Center Students. For the sacrament of Confirmation, Erika Kuekenmeister, Brooke Murray, and Nikki Island are all in the final stages of their preparation. And for the sacrament of Baptism, we have the children of our grade school aid, Dequina Henderson being tutored under the watchful eye of Mrs. Gen Barton. We will welcome Te’ella and Tahj into as newborn Catholics into the life of grace. Please keep them all in your prayers in the days to come.

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

February 24, 2013

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How often do you shine?

Published on 24. Feb, 2013 by in Sunday Homilies


There is usually a moment in every wedding I am graced to witness when the couple just glows. Most often, it is after the vows, when they are more relaxed and the moment kind of sinks in. There is a wonder to their face, and honesty and excitement about their future, and they just shine. There is no better word to describe it. So too, even in the discomfort of pregnancy, don’t you notice that there is a radiance to the mother to be – something within that just shines, just pours forth out of them as from their very souls. Or if you have ever been at the airport at just the right time, when there are some military personnel walking from the concourse just behind you, and as you approach the security point, you don’t even have to ask who the husband or the wife is – it is so obvious. They just shine. Joy, relief, gratitude – it just flows from the deepest place in their hearts.

We know those human experiences, don’t we? When the goodness that is deep within somehow finds a crack, – a chink, an opening in our armor that usually keeps ourselves even hidden from ourselves – and we are just on fire, we literally shine. Those experiences are less rare than we might believe.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is shining. The one who was totally other centered, totally self sacrificing and totally generous with who he was for others sake – just shined. And in that moment Luke records that Peter, James and John (who were never very good at staying awake with Jesus in prayer) became totally awake – awake because the veil was pulled from their eyes, and they saw Jesus as he really was all the time. Note the context. It was as Jesus was speaking with Moses and Elijah about his exodus, his passage, his journey to love us on the cross, that he was transformed. As Jesus was having that conversation about dying, about sacrifice, about loving, the fire within, the love within, the sacrifice within, just kind of took over. And he shined.

And it is no wonder that Peter, James and John did not want to leave. None of us do when we are around people like that, people who shine because all they do is love. That kind of living transforms from within, doesn’t it? And from within, we see a glory, a shining there. We want to be around that, hopefully so that we can ‘catch’ some of that same energy and love in our lives.

I believe this happens in each of us at different moments in our life’s journey. WE shine when we embrace who we truly and fully know ourselves to be and the task that is ours to do in any given moment. It can be lifetime commitments like weddings or an hour long conversation with a friend in need – it doesn’t matter. What matters is our acceptance to that which is within. Because in the truth of that acceptance, in the surrender of our lives to that moment, God embraces the humanity that we have chosen to live, no matter the context. And that embrace of God just shines forth inside of us.

That ‘shining’ comes in different contexts.
• I have seen it faces streaked with tears, in a moment of pain and deep sorrow, as a husband and wife prayed the stillborn child the doctor had gently laid in their arms back to the God who created that life in the first place. They knew all they had to do in that moment was to love that child and be with each other in the loss. 27 years later, and I can still see their faces, shining in the truth of that moment.
• I have known it in conversations where a person who had hidden their suffering behind years of walls and defenses, found the courage to let the barriers down. Just for a moment, you saw the spirit within, yearning to be healed and open to the work of the spirit in that process. Though they would doubt my perception – there was a glory shining from them in that moment.
• Last night, as I was leading singing for college students at a Washington University retreat, there was a moment when I so wanted to pull out this huge mirror and let them see what I was seeing. As they were singing arm in arm, (the refrain from Sweet Caroline, as a matter of fact) growing ever more connected to each other in the gift that shared singing brings – their faces were radiant. And I am pretty sure mine was as well. How could you not shine, because you know at that moment, you are exactly where you are meant to be, doing precisely what you are supposed to be doing with the people God wanted you to be loving.

Jesus shone for a moment on that mountain top. It was a sight that the disciples never forgot – the glory that shone from within as he chose the path to the cross. It is the glory that appears in each of us when we live fully a life of emptying love.

And you, where will you shine this week?

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

February 17, 2013

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It would be easy, wouldn’t it, if all temptations came with some kind of tangible warning sign – perhaps flames of fire surrounding them, or with a flashing neon light, or had a warning sound, blaring like a police siren, or even the vibration of a phone app to tell you “Stay away – this is dangerous stuff. Somethin, anything, would be helpful to give you the heads up that you are flirting with the devil. We’d be so on top of our sinfulness, wouldn’t we? We’d be so ready to be successful as Christians. But they don’t, do they? So how do you know when you are being tempted?

Today’s gospel gives us some insight into that. The way that the devil tempts Jesus will be the way he will tempt us. His attack is threefold.

1) Forget who you are and whose you are!

That is how the devil starts. He knows if he can get Jesus to doubt that he really is the Son of God, and what that implies, then everything else will be easy. So, too, for us. The first temptation is to get us to forget who we are – made in the image and likeness of God, baptized into his grace, adopted as his children. That is who we are – so loved by our God. And if we forget that, then there are a whole slew of arenas where temptation surfaces.
• IF there is no innate dignity to people, then I can use them, and they can use me. It comes out as pornography, promiscuousness, unhealthy relationships.
• It will surface in the beginning and end of life issues – if we are not made in the image of God, then it is okay to take a life in the womb, and to end a life to ‘stop’ the suffering.
• If I am NOT made in the image and likeness of God, then I don’t need to take care of my body, worry about what I eat, what I read, any disciplines of health. Binge drinking is fine, objectionable lyrics – no problem. All of that flows when we forget who we are.

Jesus tells the tempter – my food, my identity, all that strengthens me for the journey, comes from God himself – and it is only in relationship to him that I am fed. So, too for us. ANYTHING that tries to make us treat ourselves/others as objects, as unworthy of love, as lacking in dignity; anything that tries to tell us another truth but the one that says we are God’s beloved sons and daughters, even in the midst of our failures, is a lie. Don’t fall for it…

2) Who is at the center?
You heard me talk on Ash Wednesday about the pope’s decision to step down from the papacy. It is a perfect example of keeping God at the center of each decision and choice. The easy thing for the pope to have done was to keep on pushing on, through the weakening of his mind and body. His prayer, though, asked the opposite – “Is this what God wants me to be doing?” God is in the center of my life, not my ego, nor even a precedent set by 259 of the last 265 popes. Jesus says it this way: “You shall worship the Lord, and him alone shall you serve.” If the choice before you puts anyone but the Lord in the center of your life, then beware…

3) Normal rules don’t apply to me.
There was a prominent athlete in his sport, who made some very public mistakes that hurt a lot of people. In his apology he said a very insightful thing. “I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules did not apply. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled.” If the devil can’t get you to forget who you are, and who is in the center of your life, then he’ll appeal to exceptionalism – normal rules don’t apply here.

He says to Jesus: “If you are the son of God, then throw yourself down… Gravity doesn’t even apply to you.” To us he says: “Normal rules are not for you, not for someone who knows who they are and has God in the center.” They are for weaklings, for people who need them, not for one such as you. Yet, we know, innately, don’t we, that some behaviors are wrong – cheating on our spouses, lying to friends, using people in relationships. In my own life, it sounds like this: “You are a priest, you are already holy. You don’t need to spend time in prayer…” We get caught when we tell ourselves those rules don’t apply to us…

Temptation would be easier to resist if the devil appeared with fire or sound or light or vibration. But as we know, the devil is not so obvious a figure as he appears in this Sunday’s Gospel. However, we know that he will come after us the same way he went after Jesus. So this Lent, live with a little phone-like app in your head that goes off to warn you. Any time the rules don’t apply, you are in the center and you forgot who and whose you are – know the devil is near. And ask for the grace to resist…

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Changing of the Guard…

When I first thought of writing this week’s pen with the title: “Changing of the Guard”, I had no idea that Pope Benedict was going to make his historic announcement. But he did. Technically speaking, any Catholic, baptized male can be elected as the next pope. Realistically, you have to be a Cardinal for that to happen. So you can take my name out of the running, as well as yours. (Despite the lively debate that one of my UMSL students began on her facebook page: Fr. Bill or Fr. Joe for Pope – you decide…)

That being said, there are two other ‘changing of the guards’ that I ask you to consider. One of them I suspected was coming. The other caught me by surprise.

Kay Dieckmann and Cheri Smith have informed me that this is their last year to head up the Sponsor’s Dinner Dance and Auction. What an amazing job they have done. Over the past 6-7 years (I don’t remember how long, actually) they have built on the foundation of a long line of chair people and made the dinner dance the most successful and enjoyable evening of the St. Ann year (that doesn’t count Sprenke – because that lasts a month…) Last year, they (and you) helped to raise $68,827 for the good of the school, the new boiler and the parish. Where would we be without them? In your name, let me say a profound word of thanks!

And then, after the 8 am mass this past Sunday, George Copp came running across the pews as I was making my way toward the sacristy. “Fr., did Al talk to you yet?” “No, actually, he didn’t.” “Well, here is the deal. We are both ready to step down from our roles coordinating the Fish Fries. (they have been doing it for at least as long as I have been pastor – for these past 11 Lents and perhaps more). We’ll do this year, and work with whomever for next year, but it is time for others to take the lead.” Again, in your name, let me say a profound word of thanks.

So, like the universal church, we are looking for leader-ship. Unlike the church, we don’t have the luxury of calling a consistory and having the Cardinals go into a con-clave to elect the next leader. What we do have is the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your hearts and lives….

So, among the many things to reflect and pray about this Lent, I invite you to consider the invitation to leadership here at St. Ann’s. Whether it is a Dinner Dance Co-Chair, or a Fish Fry Overseer, bring that choice to prayer and ask a simple question: “Is God inviting me to use my talents and gifts for the service of St. Ann parish this way for the next two years?” And then let me know… Or say yes, when I call and ask…

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I know the question is a little backward. But please notice that I am not asking you what you are giving up, or what practice you are choosing, or even how you and the world will be different because of this Lent. Rather the question is: What aren’t you going to do this Lent?

I ask because Pope Benedict announced to the world what he was not going to do during Lent. He informed us that he was not going to lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics as our Holy Father. It’s a pretty phenomenal thing, isn’t it? In his own words, he told the world: “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”

Let me make sure you heard that correctly. After repeatedly looking to his conscience. It was not like he woke up and said to himself, “I’m feeling pretty fallible today, I may as well step down.” Rather, it was after repeated prayer and after repeated reflection on what he was good at and what he was no longer good at, that he realized God was asking him to give up the Papacy. His prayer was not about what he wanted, but about asking God what God wanted him to be doing. And not only did he have the courage to ask that question, but he had the faith to say ‘yes’ to that invitation. He is the first Pope to do that in 600 years.

I’m not sure I have the courage to even ask that question – about St. Ann or the Newman Center – much less than to listen for an answer.

It would sound like this, wouldn’t it? “God, do you still want me to be the pastor at St. Ann… and the director of the Newman Center? I love them both, you know. I really don’t think I want to leave either of them, for a long time, if I can help it. But the prayer that I am afraid to pray and the question I am afraid to ask is the one that Benedict just prayed and asked and responded to: God, do YOU still want me to be doing those things?”

I wonder how different our Lents would be if that was the question in all of our hearts and prayer? “Lord, what don’t you want me to be doing? What good thing am I involved in, (and we are all involved in lots of good things) what practice or ministry or service am I doing because I said ‘yes’ years ago to your invitation, that now you want me to stop doing. Stop, either because I can no longer do it well, and you need your people loved in ways that I can no longer do, or stop, because you want someone else to be in that position or ministry?”

Or, perhaps the question looks like this: “What good thing am I doing that is getting in the way of the GREAT thing that you want for me, for my family, for the school/parish or the world?” When we get so caught up in what we are doing, it is hard to see that God may be inviting us to something different – because our attention is fixed on the things we are already doing.

I think for many of us, a way to approach that question this Lenten season is along the old adage: less is going to be more. It seems most of us run at 110%, always doing, always on the go, always cramming in as much of life as possible. So much so, that we don’t ever have time just to listen, just to be quiet, just to pray that bold prayer: What do YOU want me to be doing, O God?

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

February 10, 2013

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I received this letter from Archbishop Carlson. I pass it on to you both because he asked me to and because the matters contained within are important. As I have written before, these are not all of the issues that matter, nor all of the issues the USCCB addresses. But they are some that are moving toward their decisive moment in our nation’s history. So read, reflect, pray, and then act.

“I’m writing to you about an important initiative I’d like to engage you in. Our country is at a crossroads and the Church is facing unprecedented challenges. We find ourselves in a position in which prayer and prayerful action are absolutely necessary to combat the rapid social movements and policy changes currently underway in our country and in our culture.

By mid-to-late summer, the effort to redefine marriage may be front and center with potential Supreme Court rulings during this time.

As you know, August 1, 2013, is the deadline for religious organizations to comply with the HHS contraceptive mandate. Without a resolution to this matter that respects the conscience rights of individuals, Catholic Americans face religious persecution. Our religious freedom is also threatened in other areas, including: immigration, adoption, and humanitarian services.

For these reasons, I’m urging you to participate in the U.S. Bishops’ “Call to Prayer” and I’m asking you to encourage the faithful you serve to do the same.

The U.S. Catholic bishops have launched a pastoral strategy that addresses the necessity of prayer and prayerful action with regard to three key issues: Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty. This past November, the bishops approved a 5-part “Call to Prayer” strategy with an overall focus of rebuilding our culture into one that is favorable to life and marriage and for increased protections of religious liberty. “Call to Prayer” components include:

Monthly Eucharistic Holy Hours
Daily family Rosary
Special Prayers of the Faithful at all Masses
Fasting and abstinence from meat on Fridays
The second observance of a Fortnight for Freedom

As Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco recently stated, “The pastoral strategy is essentially a call and encouragement to prayer and sacrifice–it’s meant to be simple.” He added that, “It’s not meant to be another program but rather part of a movement for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty, which engages the New Evangelization and can be incorporated into the Year of Faith. Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty are not only foundational to Catholic social teaching but also fundamental to the good of society.”

The USCCB is providing a variety of resources to assist you with this vital prayer movement. Visit www.usccb.org/life-marriage-liberty for more information. Your participation can and will make all the difference.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson

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My brother Joe quoted a friend who – in the middle of a number of family crises in a row – said “Good grief, another rotten growth opportunity… Where can I find a prayer for a shallow life?”

“Where can I find a prayer for a shallow life?” We know the question: “Is there a way not to have to think so much, struggle so severely, feel so deeply; hurt so badly. And there is. It’s called a shallow life. But, the consequence of a shallow life is – a shallow life. There is a gift to be found only through the hard work of self-knowledge; through the struggle to understand in times of failure and loss; and by going deeper in the mystery that is our life.

Today’s gospel offers us a brilliant allegory for just that sort of deep work. Jesus says to the disciples, and to us, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” In other words, you’ve been working in the shallow areas of life long enough. It’s not that shallow is bad, necessarily: it’s just that you are limited to what you can catch there.

Sure enough, Peter is skeptical. He thinks, “I’m the fisherman. I know how to do this. We’ve been doing it our way all night.” He was just not so sure about heading out into the deep water. But, in the end, the disciples do trust Jesus enough to try it, and what happens? … It almost kills them! There’s just so much there. The boats are in danger of tipping. The nets are tearing. They have to call for help. It’s a huge mess, and they feel as if they might lose everything.

That is a great image for what happens when we actually look at ourselves and our own actions and go deeper in life. It can be overwhelming for us as well. It’s messy; it’s scary; it’s hard. It feels like our sense of self is tearing. We discover a world that teems with mixed motives, selfishness and love; desire & sin and hope and grace. We feel like we are being swamped with the weight of it all.

Yet, if we can trust that deeper lowering of the nets into our own hearts, and hang in there, then we’ll know what Peter knew, what Paul discovered, what Isaiah spoke about in our readings today. We will meet the living God, right there in the midst of our wrestling. “Ah, Lord, I’m such a mess. You don’t want to have any part of me,” Peter says. Isiah cries: “Woe is me, for my eyes have seen Lord of hosts.” Those are the words an authentic encounter with Life … with God … with Love … with meaning. When we are willing to go deeper, we find God right there, waiting for us.

Most human beings go through the first half of life trying to succeed. We want to be good enough, strong enough, worthy enough, safe enough, etc. But we all fail. We are not perfect. At some point, we get depressed at the failure and selfishness at the heart of us. In response to our failures and disappointments, most people usually either get fixated on some moral issue and get angry at the world (usually, this moral thing does not ask much of us) or we get very shallow and settle for little things that aren’t a deep and painful living.

We know how to live shallow lives, don’t we?
• FaceBook! It’s nice, a great way to share pictures and snapshots of your life, but when was the last time you had a heart to heart on your wall? Doesn’t it by nature, keep us (gesture) up here?
• By focusing on the wrongs or actions of others. If we can blame others for our unhappiness, then we don’t have to look at the tough stuff in our lives.
• By our addictions… or busy-ness … or by continuing to think we are EARNING God’s love by how we live, instead of meeting God where God is most found: in our failures and our sufferings.

Being ‘shallow’ isn’t horrible, I guess. It just means that we can only enjoy the surface of things, and never drop through the chaos of our own inner journey to where God lies waiting.

It is a great grace that we were given these readings just before the season of Lent begins. If we live it rightly, this season throws us deeper into the blessed mess of who we are. However, it is also so easy be shallow even about what we choose for LENT: “I gave up jelly beans and coffee and beer and TV and/or whatever.” Okay. But did you let that take you deeper, or was that just something that you did? “I said this many prayers…” Okay. Did you do the work that would open you up to meet the living God, which is much harder?

So as you reflect on the practices that you will choose to mark the season of Lent, reflect on that temptation to live a shallow life and then ask a simple question: Will this “________” (fill in the blank) assist me to go deeper? Or will it simply enable me to stay in the shallow end of the pool? For the same Lord who stepped surprisingly into the boat of Simon and bade him to put out into the deep, waits to walk into your life as well. Will you let Him? And, at His invitation, will you put out into the deep?

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