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“Then, I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth.” I don’t know about you, but I am very ready for that new heaven and new earth. I grow tired of reading the papers, watching the news, surfing the net only to hear the same, tired story of this murder or that tragedy or this lawsuit or that conflict. It is so tempting, just to unplug from the data stream – to do the ostrich thing of sticking my head in the sand.

Perhaps you feel that as well. It is so easy to want to escape from it all, to think that ‘that kind of stuff’ –whatever that might be – only happens to the people ‘out there’. The pull of hoping for a new heavens and a new earth, even if that hope is born in faith, can become a kind of spiritual escapism. Like those summer movies that provide a respite from the intensity of our problems and world, and the work that is ours to do, we lean on the scripture promise of a new heavens to bring us a kind of peace in a troubled world.

“Then, I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth.” It is easy to see these words of John as precisely that – a kind of spiritual escapism. John, writing on that tiny island of Patmos, disconnected to the ‘data stream’ of life in Jerusalem, can ‘see’ God: “wiping away every tear from their eyes,” ending death, mourning, wailing and pain; “making all things new” at some point in the future.

What is easy to miss, in the passage from Revelations, is the little time bomb midst of those revelations. John tells us simply of the voice which says: “Behold, God’s dwelling IS with the human race.” Not will be, or used to be, but NOW, HERE, IN THIS PLACE and THIS TIME – God is with us. That is the truth that changes everything for John, his conviction that God IS WITH US, as he promised. It is that believing that allows him his bold kind of seeing, even in a world that was dominated by the reigns of the emperors Domitian and Nero – who initiated persecutions against the early church.

Living in a time of the tragedies in Newtown and now in Boston, and the countless lives that are lost daily to gun violence, it is sometimes hard to believe that God is with us. It is hard to ‘see’ that there could be a new heaven and a new earth coming to be. And that is where the work of our faith comes into the fore. We have to believe it before we see it.

Growing up, my mother dragged my brothers and I to the cafeteria at Our Lady of Providence for several weekends, beginning at thanksgiving. There we helped carry bags of clothes and toys and items to be given to the poor, and sometimes helped in the sorting through of the items. (and sometimes we just played) But I remember thinking I wish I could have the toy that I was putting into a box for some unknown family. “Mom, could I have this?” “No”, always came the answer. “The poor need it more than you do.” I don’t know if I was ever convinced by mom’s rationale that that was a true statement. But I was convinced by her love of people that she had never met, that this was worth the doing. Mom believed that God had a special love for the poor. Because of that belief, she saw the need of people who were struggling more than we were, and so she began the work of wiping tears away from kids at Christmas time with her clothing and toy drive. Because she believed, she saw that a ‘new heaven and a new earth’ needed to come to be, and she did what was in her power to create it.

John didn’t have much at his disposal on that island of Patmos – but a quill and some parchment – and the belief that God was indeed dwelling with his people. So he set down the vision that still calls each of us who are ever tempted to spiritual escapism. God is dwelling with us – so get busy comforting mourners, wiping tears from eyes, ending the same sad story that we read in the daily paper. There is a new heaven and a new earth coming to be. Believe it. See it. And then, like my mom, like John, like the countless generations of believers who have seen because they believe – get busy creating it.

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

April 28, 2013

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John J. Conley, S.J., the Knott Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Loyola University Maryland wrote a challenging column in the Feb. 25th edition of America Magazine, entitled: An Unwelcome Anniversary. I don’t think I have seen a more concise or co-gent description of why the Campaign for Religious Liberty is so important. After speaking at length about the changes in the abortion landscape since Roe vs. Wade, he writes:

“The pro-life movement has become intertwined with the effort to defend the rights of conscience. It is no accident that our bishops’ noble campaign to de-fend religious liberty is very much a crusade to oppose legal efforts to force health care workers to participate in abortions, nursing homes to facilitate physician-assisted suicide, pharmacists to distribute abortifacients and employers to finance the destruction of human life and of the very capacity to give life. Decades ago, the campaign to legalize abortion and euthanasia appealed to privacy. But it has since be-come an effort to make every citizen an accomplice in the culture of death under the rubric of access.”

It was hard to read those words. I recognize in them a truth that cannot be wished away, ignored or conveniently dismissed. We are closer to becoming a nation of accomplices under the guise of access to ‘health care.’ As much as we acknowledge the need and right of individuals to affordable health care, it cannot be at the expense of our souls. Fr. Conley continues: “As our bishops have reminded us, the struggle to protect the lives of the vulnerable at the dawn and dusk of existence is the preeminent civil rights issue of our age. When the right to life recedes, the entire edifice of human rights buckles.” In 1981, a man named Tom Mallon said to me, on my final night of volunteering in Northern Ireland: “I fear a world where life is cheap.” Some 30 years later, sadly, I understand what he was trying to tell me.

As ONE response to these challenges, our Bishops are encouraging Catholics throughout the country to offer their Friday acts of sacrifice and penance, and particularly to abstain from meat and fast on Fridays until Christ the King Sunday (November 24, 2013), for the intention of the protection of Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty. Go to www.USCCB.org for more action steps…

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

April 21, 2013

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There is an unwritten liturgical rule somewhere which states that you may not have a funeral mass without the song “On Eagles Wings.” I don’t know where that law is, but it’s there somewhere. Yet, for all of its familiarity, that refrain resonates with us in a powerful way. It continues to make a promise about God’s commitment to us especially in the face of loss or tragedy or fear that is profound. (sung a capella): “And he will raise you up on eagles’ wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hand.”

That refrain could be inspired by any number of scripture passages, perhaps Isaiah 49:16, “See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name.” But I think today’s gospel is also a source of that promise, where Jesus assures his followers: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.”

“No one can take them out of my hand.” I can’t decide if we believe it because it is part of the deposit of scriptures or because we want so badly to believe it in the face of our own hurts and fears. Perhaps a little of both, but we do want so badly to believe, don’t we: that someone is holding us, that someone is protecting us, that we have a direction and a purpose and that life endures through the tough time. We need to believe that someone (sung) “holds us in the palm of his hand.”

When homemade bombs kill children and wound a cheering crowd, don’t we want to know that, that we are still held somehow and protected?

When an explosion at a factory, where people just like us work to eke out a living for their families, kills dozens of people, don’t we want to hold onto our belief that someone is holding the wives without husbands and children without mothers and fathers?

When our loved one is dying or terribly sick and we cannot help them or fix it or get their suffering out of our heads, don’t we want to believe that someone is leading us somewhere?

When we can’t make ends meet or things work out at home, when the grades aren’t right and the friends don’t work out, when things just haven’t gone as we planned, and we’re not sure when they will, don’t we at that point really want, perhaps even need, to hope in a Good Shepherd? Someone who (sung) “will raise us up on eagles’ wings…”

Isn’t that the power of the gospel, of the 10th chapter of John’s that is read on Good Shepherd Sunday every year? The promise that Jesus knows us, knows you and me, and we have a chance to hear his voice even in the midst of so much around us that might be calling us in other directions. The promise that we are not alone even though our loved ones have passed on or let us down. And more than that, that we are loved, held, safe no matter how great the storms and tribulations that shake us. Isn’t that the core teaching of Easter anyway, that Love conquers everything, even death? That we will not only get through what we’re going through, but actually rise because of it? Because as important as faith is for teaching us about life, so much of its power comes in its promise about death, all of the deaths that touch us large and small. It tells us that no one less than the source of all Love and Life has promised to raise us above those sadnesses to a greater love and a new day. Isn’t that, in fact, so much of what Jesus offers us, and what we, in trust, look for in a Savior? In a shepherd?

I was thinking how much our country needs this kind of shepherd in light of the tragedy at the Boston Marathon. So many people want to run this most historic and prestigious race, that you have to qualify to do so. Only 10 percent of marathoners can run well enough to do that. What must it have been like for them, then, to be able to share in the longest running marathon in U.S. history only to have that day of your great triumph stolen from you by senseless violence and tragedy? To have so many of the wounded suffer the amputation of the very legs that carried them to that finish line. It’s just wrong, and sad, and I don’t understand it.

But I don’t understand so much of life: cancer, violence, poverty, heart-break. It all just makes me want to cling all the more tightly to Jesus’ promises today. It reminds me of my need for a good Shepherd, my need to be protected against so much that I cannot control or manage or even understand. Perhaps it is your reflections on Boston that makes you know your need for a shepherd; or something else that triggers it for you. Whatever the experience that opens up in you the awareness of your need for a shepherd, let the words of that great song wash over you now, and in the moments of your struggle, with the promise of our God that you are always, always, always, held in the palm of a hand that will never, never let you go.

(Join with me in singing): “And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hand.”

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Archbishop Robert J. Carlson requests your support for the Fourth Annual Archbishop’s Gala for the benefit of the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation on April 25, 2013, at the Missouri Athletic Club downtown St. Louis. Proceeds from the Archbishop’s Gala will be used to provide needs-based tuition assistance scholarships to underserved families desiring a Catholic elementary school education for their children. To become a sponsor or purchase tickets please call 314-792-7621, email sha-rongerken@archstl.org, or go to www.archstl.org/ttef.

From the USCCB:
This past Monday, April 15, Americans had to file their taxes and many are awaiting refunds. Millions of children in working families depend on powerful tax credits to escape poverty. As Congress continues to deliberate proposals to reduce the deficit and place our country on a sustainable fiscal path, we need to let them know that effective antipoverty programs should be protected.

Taken together, the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit are the most effective child antipoverty measures the federal government has. Last year alone they lifted over four million children out of poverty.

The EITC and CTC have traditionally enjoyed broad bipartisan support because they encourage family formation and employment. A substantial body of research points out that the wage supports for working parents like the EITC and CTC also improve school performance for their children.

And Catholic teaching clearly supports this type of policy. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church unambiguously states the importance of ensuring that workers make a wage that allows them to start and support a family, and also states, “There can be several different ways to make a family wage a concrete reality. Various forms of important social provisions help to bring it about, for example, family subsidies and other contributions for dependent family members. . .” (no. 250).

Millions of American families rely on this support to live in dignity, and they rely on us to stand in solidarity with them to protect these programs.

In the last budget deal, improvements to these pro-grams were only extended temporarily, and they are in serious danger of being scaled back. Act now and let your member of Congress and Senators know that tax reform should not increase poverty, and improvements to low-income tax credits must be made permanent in their current form.

Go to http://www.usccb.org/about/justice-peace-and-human-development/ for more information or to click on “Take Action Now” links…

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

April 14, 2013

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For most of my life that I have been praying and studying scriptures, until 2:53 Saturday pm, I have pictured this scene in the gospel along the lines of a scene from Fiddler on the Roof. In the musical, there is this wonderful moment where Tevye, a man trying to hold to tradition in a rapidly changing world, asks his wife: “Do you love me?”

She answers by telling him all the things she has done for him. It’s not enough. Tevye persists:”Do you love me?” Golde answers: “I’m your wife.” He says, “I know. But do you love me?”

She then sings, “Do I love him? For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him, fought with him, starved with him, twenty-five years my bed is his. If that’s not love, what is?” Tevye concludes, “Then you love me?” She says, “I suppose I do.” He says, “And I suppose I love you too.” Together they sing: “It doesn’t change a thing. But even so, after twenty-five years, it’s nice to know.” (Lights fade to black…)

And in my mind, that is the scenario going on in today’s gospel. Jesus pulls Simon aside and has a little heart to heart, just as Tevye is using a moment when the room is quiet in the run up to Sabbath and he is alone with Golde to do the same. Jesus gives Simon a chance to make it right, to say aloud what he couldn’t say and do in the courtyard of Caiaphas. Three yes’s for the three No’s.

Yet, something in the text kept nagging at me. If this was in that context – a private one on one – why would Peter be hurt/embarrassed enough so as to say such strong words: “You know everything, you KNOW that I love you…” It’s overkill for that situation.

As I was praying/thinking about that, at 2:53pm, I suddenly realized what the gospel narrative DIDN’T say. It didn’t say that Jesus pulled Simon apart from the others. Nope. He asks this burley fisherman, right there in front of his peers, if he loves him! This is no warm, fuzzy scene from Fiddler on the roof anymore. Right there in front of the others – 3 times which would instantly remind the other disciples of the three times Peter denied him – he asks him about love, and tells him the consequence of it.

And then the other piece clicked into place. Our tradition always speaks about the “Primacy of Peter” – his role as ‘head’ of the apostles. The image of Peter being the one to haul in the net with 153 fish (the number of known ‘countries’ in the world at that time according to some scholars), is symbolic of him exercising that function, and of that primacy. And now, very publically, he is being asked about his love for Jesus. Jesus is up to something!

This is the commissioning moment for Peter. This is not a sentimental ‘Fiddler” moment, but the rock hard, put your feet to the road moment. Jesus says to Simon: “Peter, it is not about fishing anymore. It is not about going back to life as it used to be any more. DO YOU LOVE ME – then get to work! Do you love me?” then feed my sheep! Do you love me? Then be the leader of this motley crew that I am commissioning to bring my good news to the corner of the world. Oh, and by the way, it will cost you. You’ll be led to places you would rather not go, to do things that you would rather not do. This is what I ask of you in my love for you – to go where I send you.”

Do you hear that difference in the unfolding of this scene in the gospel. Certainly we can pray about in in the context a chance to tell Jesus that we love him and to let him tell us in the Eucharist he loves us too. But that is not the most important part of this scene in the gospel.

Feeding my lambs! Tending my sheep! – that is what matters. So, too, for us. The Lord appears to us and asks US whether we love him. If so, there is a bill in the Missouri legislature – #446 that would preclude any possibility of mediations for people in the foreclosure process that many people are still struggling with. Social workers and local governments think this is a bad idea. A section of the banking community thinks it is a GREAT idea. (hmm…) Find out about it and make a response. Or, our bishops are encouraging us to stand up for religious liberty in the face of the HHS mandate which would deny the conscience rights of employers. And to make a stand for the scriptural definition of marriage as defined by God as something between a man and a woman. There are prayers to be prayed and fasts to be undertaken and congressmen to be written to. And on the local level, the Vincent de Paul society continues to do that feeding and tending and supporting the poor in the very tangible way Jesus asked Peter to do… Give them a hand.

“Do you love me?” Tevye asks Golde. “I suppose I do.” “It doesn’t change a thing,” they both sing, but “it’s nice to know.”

“Do you love me?” Jesus asks us. “We suppose we do,” – that’s why we’re here this morning. But, unlike the play, this changes EVERYTHING….

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Of many things…

If you remember, Conor Sullivan is a seminarian for the St. Louis Archdiocese who was assigned here last summer. He is preparing to be ordained to the Diaconate. He sent me the following ‘open invitation’ to all of you. He and his family “invite you all to join in prayer for Conor, and to celebrate this happy occasion with him at his ordination at 10am on May 4th at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica. That same evening, he will deliver his first homily at the 5 PM mass at Our Lady of Lourdes in Washington, MO. Everyone is welcome to a dinner reception in the parish hall, following the Mass. This is an open invitation and no RSVP is necessary. We offer to the Lord praise and thanksgiving for the gift of Holy Orders, and we pray for an increase in holy vocations for the Church.” So we do just that – give thanks to God for another servant in the church and ask for the Holy Spirit to continue to guide him on his journey toward priesthood.

Today we also celebrate a milestone in the life of our school/parish community. Estella Bahan, Ethan and Olivia Bulard, Alex Lawrence, Audrey Quinlisk, and Josh Rice will join us at the table of the Lord’s Sup-per for the first time at the 11 am mass. They have been preparing their hearts, praying, practicing and doing all they can to be ready to receive our Lord in that great gift of communion with Him. Their reverence as they practice and the wonder in their eyes as they will receive the Lord for the first time always gives me pause to realize what I am so privileged EACH time I approach the altar. May this weekend find each of us increasing our devotion to our Lord, and our appreciation of this gift of gifts – our Eucharistic Lord.

It is two weeks before our Sponsor’s Dinner Dance – our biggest single fundraiser for the School and Parish. The donations have been coming in by a steady stream this week. Thanks so much to all who have been so thoughtful in providing wonderful items for the rest of us to bid on, as we support a great cause. Alan Zagurski once more is donating his time and equipment to help get the floors into amazing shape for the celebration. If you have any time this coming Thursday at 3:00-4:30pm, Friday, April 19 at 9 am and again at 5 pm, and Saturday, April 20 – at 9 am, just come on by. Or give Alan or Pat Marstall a call to let them know when you can join us. Thanks for your help and I hope to see you on the 27th at the Sponsor’s Dinner Dance….

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My family is closing Friday on the Kempf family homestead, a three bedroom (with a 4th added in the basement when my sister was born) that housed us 6 kids and mom and dad. It is the only ‘house’ I have ever known. (I have known 7 rectories – 3 as a transitional deacon and 4 as a priest.) So the event is a little bitter-sweet.

On one hand, the family is glad that the house, vacant since mom moved into Our Lady of Life Senior apartments, will now have someone occupying its space and creating their own memories of the place. My brother-in-law and his kids are glad that it is gone before the summer grass cutting season hit with a vengeance. Mom is glad to be out from the utilities and taxes. I am glad that everything is out of there, and ready for the new owner. Life moves on.

On the other hand, the phrase: “You can never go home again” takes on a new and more profound meaning. In our family ‘farewell’ to the house Easter Sunday, we journeyed from room to room, retelling the memories and the stories of all that we did and all that went right and even some of the things that went wrong. (Like the black charred marks in the hardwood floor, one from an iron [“Oops”, said mom] and one from a fireworks malfunction [“Oops!” said the spirit of my father].)

We stood in the back yard and remembered the perpetual bare spots in the grass from the endless games of wiffle ball and bottle caps and goal-to-goal soccer. There was still the trace of the indentation in the ground from a 5th of July collection of all the gunpowder from unexploded fireworks where my brother Dennis inadvertently created about a ¼ stick of dynamite by putting a circular smoke bomb in the top. He thought it would shoot in the air. Instead it sealed the tube and created the loudest explosion I remember.

And so it went – our time of being grateful for the place and spaces that nurtured us and provided the framework around which our family grew and felt protected, strengthened and nurtured for the lives to which God called us.

If it is true, (and I believe it is) that the spaces and communities where we live have a way of calling us and preparing us for our roles in the world, (as 7433 Brightwood did for the Kempf family) then a question for all of us this Divine Mercy Sunday is simply this: What is our St. Ann home calling us and preparing us to do NOW, so that we can spread the Good News of the love of God in our time and place?

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