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July 28, 2013

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Family…

By the time you are reading this, week one of Christian Family Camp will be done with one week to go. For many years, I was a week two camper, because of my brother and his wife, who were also week two folks. Then they became the directors for 5 years, and lo and behold, when they were done with that stint, not only did they recruit my brother to come, but both of them transferred to week one. Unfortunately, I didn’t find out until AFTER I showed up for week two that year. Since then, I have been ‘splitting my time’ between the two weeks, (Wed-Sat each week) so as to be able to spend time with my biological family the first week as well as my ‘adoptive’ week two families.

Every year, before I head back up the back campgrounds at Pierre Marquette, I ask myself – “Why am I going back? Why endure the heat, (though the forecast looks great by comparison to the last few years – [prayers are still being said]) the discomfort of less than stellar beds, the ‘skeeter bites and smell of deet and sunscreen and dust and dirt year after year? Isn’t it time to say: It’s been a great run, but time for another generation of priests to step up to the plate.

And then I arrive at camp and settle into those comfortable conversations with my camp friends, have the opportunity to celebrate mass in a field in the middle of the night with teens, a sunset liturgy and the inevitable late night camp fires that are such a celebration of music and community and joy – and poof – the temptation NOT to go disappears like the memory of a bad dream. May-be it is one of the ways I still live out the message I heard from John Paul II during his pastoral visit to St. Louis – “As goes the family, so goes society and the church” – and I figure this is one of the ways I can help at least a small group of families.

But the truth is less altruistic than that. I truly love the experience. Like the comfortable ritual of mass that opens me up to the divine mystery, there is a rhythm to camp that opens me up to my best self. And, as I tell my college students, when you experience that kind of freedom and grace, you have to follow where the grace leads.

So I head off to begin my 20th year of Camp – not knowing what the gift and challenge of the time might be, but confident that God will meet me there as he has always done. Keep us ‘week two’ folks in your prayers, and thanks for all the ways you are my ‘rest of the year’ families…

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On Friday of this week at Christian Family Camp, Tom Wagner had the opportunity to lead us in the morning session. As a part of his priming of the pump, as I call it, he shared a little story about a family interaction. It seems that on several occasions within a particularly difficult week, his children overheard him saying under his breath the same words. “Just enough. Just enough. Just enough.” This would be as he was zooming through the house multi tasking on several levels, from cleaning items kids left on the floor to fixing things to trying to get out of the house on time for work. On one particular day, the “just enough’s” were coming fast and furious. His youngest son got up enough courage to ask him: “Dad, what do you mean when you walk through the house like that, saying “just enough” over and over again. He paused, mid stride, and in what he describes as his ‘harried parent voice and look’ he said – “Oh that. That is shorthand for the prayer that I am praying. The full prayer is this: Dear God, give me JUST ENOUGH patience so that I don’t strangle my kids today.”

I suspect we all have our variation of the JUST ENOUGH prayer.
Lord, give me JUST ENOUGH:
• wisdom to keep my mouth shut during the staff meeting being led by that crazy co-worker of mine.
• courage to choose life for this unborn child of mine.
• understanding so that I will know how to listen with your ears and heart and not my own judgments and prejudices.
• TIME to get these tasks out of the way before my kids come back from school
• patience to listen to my parent with Alzheimer’s repeat the same story for the 10th time in the past hour
• energy – to stay awake and listen to my spouse after a long day of dealing with the kids.
And so it goes. There are a TON of variations on the just enough prayer.

It seems that even Jesus had his experience of the “just enough’ prayer. There, enshrined in what we have come to know at the Lord’s prayer, is his variation of “Just Enough.” Give us this day our DAILY Bread. Not tomorrow’s or next week’s or next years – but what I need right here, right now. Father God, get me through this moment faithfully, so that I can be your presence and love in the world. Get me through this “now” that is a challenge to my trust or faith or hope. In your providence, I don’t need the whole world, nor am asking for it. And I may need something else tomorrow. But right now, all I need is my daily bread.

That part of the Lord’s prayer has become my favorite part to pray this year. (Who knows, maybe a different part will become more important next year.) Because there is something about asking for my daily bread or for ‘just enough’ keeps me honest. When I pray like that, I’m not caught up in demanding of God what is impossible for me to do, nor for him to give. But, I am focused, here and now, in this demand, in this little in-breaking of the kingdom, this little moment of eternity, be it one with large consequences or small – because I know that NOW matters. Asking for my ‘just enough’ keeps me centered in the do-able, not the impossible.

So far, I have never had to pray the ‘just enough’ prayer asking not to strangle my staff or brother priests or even the Archbishop, as Tom had to pray for his own children. But I am grateful for his little insight into asking for my daily bread. And as we will pray that part of the Lord’s prayer in a few moments together as a community of faith, I’ll be keeping all those ‘just enough’ prayers in my heart this day. Who knows? If we all hold one another’s intentions in our hearts, like a father who will not give a stone to a child who asks for bread or a scorpion to a child who asks for an egg, we will discover that God will give each of us ‘just enough’ to get through our days…

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Of Supreme Court decisions…

Ms. Reichenbach and I sent a letter home to all of our school families in light of the recent Missouri Supreme Court decision. I share it with you, the rest of our St. Ann community.

Dear St. Ann School Family,

You may be aware of the recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling regarding students transfers from the unaccredited Normandy School District to other public school districts in the St. Louis area. Today’s headline revealed more of the details unfolding in the decision. Normandy will provide transportation only to the Francis Howell School District, some 20 miles distant, in St. Charles County.

St. Ann Catholic School is proud to be a neighborhood school that offers your family so much more than any public school alternative including:
Small class sizes
Rigorous academic standards
Strong emphasis on faith and values
Award winning faculty and staff
A welcoming environment that is conducive to learning
Opportunities to be involved in and give back to the community where your child attends school

Perhaps like never before, we know that you have choices about where you will educate your children. St. Ann Catholic School has a 157 year history of forming and educating students for their roles in the church and the world. While we are hopeful for improved education-al opportunities for students in the Normandy School District because of the ruling and pray for their success, we also ask that if you know anyone who is interested in a local quality education with a proven track record, please have them contact us.

When all the factors are weighed, we are convinced that you will continue to support St. Ann Catholic School, a school that is truly ‘Alive in Christ’ – “where children are valued and values are taught.” If you have any questions, you may contact Ms. Reichenbach or Fr. Bill at your earliest convenience.

It is too early to know how this ruling will effect enrollment in our school. But I ‘believe in the product’ and am always happy for opportunities to advocate for our “beloved St. Ann.” And I thank YOU for your generous support of our mission to educate the next generation of believers…

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As you know, I just returned from vacation on Thursday evening. It was a wonderful time. Four celibate guys had done a pretty good job getting along, and doing so without the usual breaks for solitude that are built into our lives- the ability to go to our rooms, close the door and be alone. It was the second last morning. We were waiting for the full breakfast that we had ordered to be delivered from the kitchen staff. I looked around the table and here is what I saw: Fr. Bob was reading the morning paper. Fr. Kevin was checking his email on his phone about the condition of his brother who had a health crisis before we left. Fr. John was on his phone finding out information about returning the rental van the next day. And I was researching facts about the golf courses that we were going to be playing later that morning and afternoon on my phone. Four guys, sitting around the table, less than 5 feet from each other, not saying a word. We were all ‘connecting’ to something – the world, the task at hand, family, the day ahead. But none of us was connecting to each other.

Now I get that married couples know those patterns of quiet – when there is a comfortable silence that does not need words. This was not that experience, at least for me. 5 feet from each other and each of us was connected to completely different worlds.

Into that experience, like a little wisp of grace, falling down upon me, came the line from today’s gospel that I had read the night before: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and anxious about many things. Only one matters…”

It was important that Kevin knew about his brother. And John about the rental car. Perhaps it was less important that I knew about the golf courses we were going to play (it didn’t help my game that much…) Or that Bob had read the morning tabloid about things going on in Aberdeen, Scotland. But the danger is that even our desire to be connected to the world can at the same time disconnect us to what really matters, the here and now. “Only one thing matters” came Jesus’ invitation to a very busy, very connected Martha. Martha was doing good things, hospitable things, things that were important for Jesus’ well being. A good, home cooked meal was just what a tired pilgrim would need to refresh his spirit, she thought. But she was so caught up in the doing, in being connected to those tasks, that she missed the presence that was right before her. Kind of like us around that breakfast table, she was connected to things that mattered, but not the ONE thing that really matters.

James Martin, S.J., in his book, The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, writes about the need for the solitude that connects us to God and to ourselves. Quoting a study about the seeming pathological overwork that has people SOO connected at every moment, he suggests that as a society, we may not know how NOT to be busy. We may not know how NOT to be busy.

If Mary has indeed chosen the better portion, as our Lord tells us, – then a part of our spiritual health means cultivating time for solitude – time to connect to what REALLY matters in our world. A time to sit as did Mary, attentive to our Lord and attentive to our own inner thoughts, not DOING stuff, but simply BEING.

My challenge to you and to myself is simple. UNPLUG from the stream of EXTERIOR connectedness for just 10 minutes a day this next week. Turn off the cell phone, the laptop, the ipad; put the paper down, turn off the radio and TV, and JUST BE. Choose the one thing that Jesus says matters – spending time in silence listening. It may be harder than you think.

It was hard, sitting around that breakfast table, where all of us were so connected to the outside world, but not to each other, to turn the cell phone off and to engage them in conversation. Yet the one thing that mattered was to do just that. It is hard, for all of us, who can get so caught up in our daily routines, to do the same – to calm our hearts and spirits so that we can listen for the one thing that matters. May we learn to do just that – here as we compose ourselves to receive the one person who matters – Jesus, our saving Lord in the Eucharist…

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July 21, 2013

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July 14, 2013

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Poetry…

A recent edition of America Magazine, a periodical that I read with regularity, carried, as it often does, a panel with a poem that caught my attention. Poetry, at its best, juxtaposes words and images that challenge perceptions and invite a new way of seeing the world. Kathleen Pesta, the author, directs a confirmation program at St. Catherine’s parish in New Jersey and is a freelance writer and editor. I share her poem with you, in the hopes that it might open up in you what it has within me…

Prayer

“Repeat this prayer 10 times.
send it to 15 friends.
Within 3 days you will receive a blessing
you have been waiting for.”

Who is this God, I wonder, who people think
has to be begged, cajoled,
and manipulated
into caring for his children?
He is not my God.

Still, it makes no sense, what we call prayer.
Me, six times on bended knee pleading
for my daughter’s unborn babies
and each time only blood and death.
“What father whose child asks for bread
would hand him a stone?”

Indeed.

All the while I hear my mother’s mantra,
“I prayed to St. Anthony and found my keys,”
The steadfast creed of those
secure in their on-the-job God.

Who is this God, then, this finder of keys,
who attends to household needs
but ignores a mother’s strangled cries?

I cannot imagine, but this I know:
That is not my God.”

“And you,” to paraphrase the gospel from two weeks ago, “Who do you say that God is?”

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One of the books I read as a child is also a book you might know. It was called, THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD. It’s the story of a train full of food and toys for children on the other side of a very high mountain. The train needs an engine to pull it, but engines decline for various reasons. Some think that they are above such a task. One says, “I cannot, I cannot.” But there is an unlikely tiny blue engine with a kind heart who wants to try. Though it seemed like such a big task, the little engine repeats again and again, “I think I can, I think I can. I think I can, I think I can.” And maybe you know the end of the story: The little engine that could does it! It makes it! The moral of the story seems to be: If you believe in yourself, you will achieve great things!”

There is certainly some truth in that. It is good to believe that we are people who can make a difference in this world. But I suggest there is also something quite dangerous about thinking that, if we believe, we will succeed. It can create in children an unrealistic expectation of success. That concept often turns into, we MUST succeed. And, we can grow up with the notion that failure is unacceptable. Yes, a positive attitude is helpful. But certainly, there are situations where we can say, “I think I can, I think I can” and try with all our might; but we still simply cannot. Maybe the train is too heavy; the mountain too high, and our engine simply inadequate to the task. It seems unfair to teach our children always to expect success when it is inevitable that they will experience failure.

Yes, we need to try, to give important things our best effort. Yet, as one writer said, “Failure is the norm. It is unfair to young people to leave them wholly unprepared for monster screw ups … and much, much worse.”

We all experience times when things do not go well or as we planned. It happens in sports, and even in preaching. In happens in all aspects of life. Today Jesus speaks to all of this. He says, “When you go out into the streets and try your darnedest to preach the gospel and you – or your message – are not received, then what? Then shake the dust from your feet and move on.” In other words, of course it won’t work sometimes! Of course you will fail. Don’t let it eat you up.

Acknowledge your loss, and keep going. Jesus experienced failure as well. He had a reputation of wonder-working, deeds of power, and yet he would experience a disappointing reception in his own hometown.

What if this shaking of the dust from the feet was his way of shaking off failure? What if it was his way of saying to us, “God is not interested in your success, but only cares about your faithfulness”?

Failure happens! Business plans don’t always work out. Not every marriage is made in heaven. Not every surgery is successful. Not every investment is wise. Not every new product is a winner. Not every person who walks into St. Ann for Sunday Mass is going to get what they came for. Most students in college don’t make honors. Friendships are full of missteps; mistakes and misstatements. Maybe we should not be surprised when these things happen.

One writer even speaks of the sacrament of failure. For there is something of life… of goodness … of God… we can only experience when embracing our failure. If we make an idol of success, we will lie to each other and ourselves, we will cheat on tests, we will use performance enhancing drugs as athletes. Whoever we are, we will do whatever it takes to try to win; and the costs of that are just too great.

If there is such a thing as a “sacrament of failure”, it teaches us not to fear failure, but to be ready to carry on in spite of it. It stands as a warning against unrealistic expectations and can save us from a perfectionism that is destructive to ourselves and our relationships. Instead of berating yourself for your human frailty, acknowledge it, admit your failures, trust the promise of forgiveness, and move on. “Shake that dust from those feet of yours!” You are more than that failure. You are more than that mistake. You are more than that loss.
The truth is, you and I are going to win some and lose some. We can only control the effort; we cannot control the outcome.

If I had nephews or nieces – or maybe great nephews and nieces at my age 🙂 – I’d read them The Little Engine That Could. But I’d add my own stories that tell them to expect that there will also failure and to embrace that, too, when it comes. I would want my kids to hear: “Much more than your success or failure – it is your faithfulness, your integrity that counts.”

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July 7, 2013

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