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This homily was delivered at the UMSL community at 8:30pm on 9/29/13. – Fr. Bill

Our family was unable to afford comic books growing up, so I was introduced to them only in college, where two classmates had extensive collections. Superman, the Fantastic Four, the X-men – really, all the comic book characters with the exception of Captain America and Conan the Barbarian – had super powers. And they would use these powers for good. (Except the bad guys, of course, who would use those powers for evil) Super powers were a good thing.

If you or I could have a super power, what would it be? Or what would you ask for? The ability to fly? Or like the Flash, to go incredibly quickly, so you could get all your papers and homework done in a blink. Or in a different vein, to heal a broken heart? To create world peace at the drop of a hat? As I mused on this, it dawned on me – I do have a super power. Yep. I’ve been holding out on you these years. I have a secret super power.

You see, I can make people invisible. I can make them invisible.

It’s a little funny, though, this power. Sometimes I control the effect. Other times, it just happens. It works initially only for me. I am the only one who can’t see them. They are right there. Others can see them. They can see themselves. But I can’t see them. But if I work hard, sometime I can get other people to make the same person invisible. Making people invisible is a scary secret power.

The rich man in today’s gospel had that power as well. He didn’t see Lazarus. Sure, he knew he was there. He would have had to step over him on his way in and out of the house. He allowed him to beg by his door – rather than have him run off by the police. He even knew his name – as we discover, when he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to dip his finger in water to comfort him. But he never SAW Lazarus. He had made him invisible – so he wouldn’t feel guilty. So he wouldn’t have to deal with a situation that would confront his eating comfortably, his dressing in wealth and finery.

The last time I used that power was Friday night. At the dedication of the garden, I was walking from one conversation to get some water. There, in my periphery, was a couple that I recognized from back in the day, but could not remember their names. Rather than admit my poor memory, I just made them invisible. And kept right on walking. It happens at UMSL when you are the second one to show up to a classroom, and it is that ‘odd’ student sitting there, and rather than taking the risk to be associated with them, you make them invisible and sit across the room. We know that sometimes in our own families/apartments, when our spouse or sibling or roommate has angered us by any one of a countless number of things -–and we grow tired from being healthy and confronting them with what we need and what we can tolerate and what we are willing to budge on – so we make the problem invisible and ignore them until it blows up in our face…

Sometimes we even make ourselves invisible- because we don’t trust that people will want to hear what we have to say – so we hold back – and our friends never get a glimpse into the things that we hold sacred in our hearts…
And those are just the easy times when we do that. Archbishop Carlson has made this weekend IMMIGRANT AWARENESS weekend. Which is another whole population that we tend to make invisible. It is enough that we profit from the cheap food that their backbreaking labor provides. But to see them, and to see them as our brothers and sisters – well, that would have consequences. It is easier to make the issues around immigration invisible. (See the website www.justiceforimmigrants.org for more information and action steps)

Super powers. I thought they were great when I was first introduced to comic books. Until I realized that I too have powers, and that I too, have used them to the detriment of the kingdom. I encourage you this week to examine the ‘powers that you exercise’ as you relate to people. Perhaps, like Superman, you can see beyond appearances to the heart of what people struggle with. Use that power this week as you listen to folks with all your strength. Perhaps, like me, you have made people invisible. Learn to see them this week by having lunch with them or a conversation…

But know that you have great power within you – the power to nurture life and love, the power to return love for hatred, to bring light in the places of darkness, to be hope in a world full of despair. It is the power that comes from the one who sees us all so clearly and loves us all into life- Jesus whom we receive at this table.

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In my 28 ½ years of being a priest, this weekend is the first time an Archbishop has told me what topic to address in my preaching on a given Sunday. So I figured I better pay attention. He did not tell me how to address it. I do not approach the issue as a politician or a sociologist or an economist or even a lawyer. (sorry to the lawyers out there.) But I am here to address it as a person of faith who takes the revelation of God in our Scriptures as something normative for my approach to life.

The question is simple: “How do we frame the immigration debate in our country?” The answers are not so simple. There is a lot of impassioned rhetoric on all sides of this debate. Fortuitously, the gospel story this Sunday provides the perfect framework. In this story of Jesus, the main character flaw of the rich man is his treatment of Lazarus. He is not a bad person because he is rich. Or dresses well. Or dines sumptuously. Nor is it because he has a cruel or unkind heart. In fact, he is genuinely concerned about the welfare of his own brothers once his own fate is sealed. He is presented as the villain simply in the fact that he does not recognize that the beggar at his door is his brother in the Lord.

That being said, his treatment of Lazarus is probably better than most. The fact that Lazarus stayed at the gate was a tribute to at least some shred of decency – he could have had the police drag him away, as we often do in our own city of St. Louis when homeless tent cities pop up. And he is on a first name basis with him – because from the abode of punishment, he asks father Abraham to “send Lazarus” to dip the tip of his finger in water…

But what he does not do, and perhaps, cannot do, is see Lazarus as HIS brother – because then he would have had to DO something about his sufferings. Instead, it appears that he thinks of Lazarus as merely a servant or a slave. “Send him to me with water to quench my thirst. Send him to my brothers.” That is not the language of equals. To the rich man, all that Lazarus will ever be, even in heaven, is a servant/celestial errand boy and NOT his brother.

If there is a framing that need to happen in our country’s immigration debate, doesn’t it start there – with the seeing of them as our brothers and sisters? If they are seen as “illegal immigrants” or “aliens” or “job stealers” or “welfare moochers” as they often are characterized, then, like the rich man, we don’t have to do much about them or for them. As long as they remain “invisible’ in my world, then I can eat of the produce of their back breaking labor in the fields, without ever having to worry about living wages or safe working conditions.

However, if they are our brothers and sisters, then everything is different. THAT, is the framing that father Abraham invited the rich man and his brothers to – what the prophetic tradition spoke of over and over again – you shall care for the stranger and widow and alien and orphan in your midst. Jesus took it a step further. As often as you did it for the least of these, MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS – YOU DID IT FOR ME. And that, I propose, is the framing that must mark our immigration debate in our country.

Minimally, a few options:
1) Erase the words: “Illegal Aliens” or “Outsiders” from your vocabulary. Under that definition, Jesus, the Son of God, is an illegal alien. As was Joseph and Mary when they fled Herod to go to Egypt. Strive, rather, to view everyone you meet as your brother and sister in the Lord. That is how Jesus sees them. There are about 6 different categories of immigrants. Use the correct one in your debates and conversations about a just path forward.

2) There is a specific action step in my pastor’s pen – involving contacting your House representative and encouraging them to work on USCCB legislation goals that provides a path to citizenship for the undocumented and that preserves family unity.

3) Finally, visit the justiceforimmigrants.org website in the days and weeks ahead, or the archstl.org website – with links to the USCCB and other websites for further information and specific action steps. Use that as a spring board for your prayer and reflection.

The most frightening thing about today’s gospel is that the rich man was not too different than you and me. He just needed a different set of glasses to see Lazarus, not as his servant or a slave, but as his brother. So, too, all who dare to approach this table and say “amen” – affirm in that simple word that EVERYONE, each person is sister and brother to us. Give us the grace, Lord, to frame every debate from there.

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The stranger among us…

Archbishop Carlson has designated this weekend as Immigration Weekend. Let me share just a part of his letter to us priests, as well as some possible action steps.

In the context of contentious and complex policy is-sues such as migration, how do we approach this issue, and through what lens do we analyze the intricacies of the debate? When it comes to the immigrant can we embrace him or as the gospel commandment says love him as we love ourselves? How do we use our pastoral gifts of prayer and Catholic social teachings and action to best serve the needs of our new immigrants?
– –Archbishop Robert Carlson

The U.S. Senate has passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation by a large margin. The U.S. House of Representatives is currently considering whether to address immigration reform legislation that can provide significant relief to potentially mil-lions of people and their families. Now is a critical time to contact your House members and urge them to pass common sense immigration reform.

The USCCB have urged congress to pass immigration reform which:
Provides a path to citizenship for undocumented persons living in the United States.
Preserves and strengthens family unity as a corner-stone of our national immigration system.
Provides legal avenues for low-skilled immigrants to come and work in the U.S.
Restores due process for individuals caught up in the immigration system.
Promotes efforts that will address the root causes of migration, such as poverty and persecution.
Please contact your House member today and urge them to support immigration reform legislation that provides a path to citizenship for the undocumented and that preserves family unity.

Action steps:
To send a pre-written, instant email to Congress, go to www.justiceforimmigrants.org.
Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard and 202-225-3121 and ask for your Members’ office. (For more information, go to www.house.gov.

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

September 29, 2013

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Are you a fan of Pope Francis?

Published on 22. Sep, 2013 by in Pastor's Pen

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Apparently Pope Francis made more than a few people in the blog-o-sphere uncomfortable with an interview he gave this week. He had the audacity to say out loud “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently,” Francis said. “We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”  Rather, he said, the Catholic Church must be like a “field hospital after battle,” healing the wounds of its faithful and going out to find those who have been hurt, excluded or have fallen away.

For some people, this is a very threatening development. For others, it is a long overdue message. For all of us, it is a challenge to live out the heart of today’s intriguing gospel passage.

Scholars are still divided over the parable of the dishonest steward. Who is the God figure in this? What role does the steward play? Does he represent Jesus, or Jesus’ followers? Is the debt really just about olive oil and wheat, or is there something more spiritual than this. And why does Jesus seemingly praise dishonesty in the steward?

We get a clue to Jesus’ intention in the word he uses for ‘squandering his property.’ It is the same word used to describe the younger son’s wastefulness in the parable of the prodigal son we heard last week. The manager, following the younger son’s appetites, ‘enlarged the debt of the tenants of the estate to support HIS extravagant lifestyle.” So, when the rich man comes and sees how the steward is living, it doesn’t take rocket science for him to know that there is no way he can be living like he is on normal income from the land he manages.

Now you have to understand, as steward, he has a ton of freedom to control the land and its use. He is entrusted with not just the produce of the tenant farm – what comes back to the owner in profit, – but the well being of the tenant farmers as well. So when his life style catches up to him, he realizes that he has emphasized the wrong end of his two duties by asking more from the farmers to support his life. So he makes amends. His forgiveness of the debt hones in on what is of ultimate value for the rich man – the GOD figure in this story– in regards to the tenant farmers. It is not about the profits raked in, but about the well being of the farmers. It is not about jars of oil and kors of wheat, but the relationship between the owner of the estate and those working his fields. He truly wants them to prosper. Or to put it in the recent words of Pope Francis, “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules,” he lamented. “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.”

The dishonest steward is praised because, at the end, he realizes what his master truly values – as we heard in the story of the prodigal son that is linked to this story – every last and least and lost among us. And he acts accordingly. He does what is in his power to do to make sure that message, that value, takes root and finds a home. He uses the opportunity given him to genuinely help the circumstances that the tenant farmers find themselves in. Suddenly one has 50 more measures of oil, the other, 20 more kors of wheat to feed their families. By reducing what is ‘owed’ to his extravagant lifestyle, the workers are better off.

And isn’t that what Pope Francis is doing as well? Finding himself at the helm of the church, at this time in history, after the scandal of the abuse crises, and two popes, who in their leadership felt called to make sure the church was aware of the doctrinal side of our faith, he calls us to make sure that people know the mercy as well. Make sure that people know that Jesus Christ has saved them. “It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars!” Francis said. “You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.”

On this stewardship Sunday in the church, all of us are invited to look at how we are using the gifts God has given to us to heal the wounds of our society and world. And we are called to prudent, immediate action. (Think of the Senate debate to cut 4 Billion in aid to the food stamp program.) Like the dishonest steward, perhaps that means a shift in our understanding of what the Master really values, not kors of wheat and measures of oil, but the well being of each of the tenant farmers working the fields. And like the challenge that Pope Francis has left for us, may this church also seek to find and heal each least, last and lost among us…

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2013 Fiscal Report Part 1

2013 Fiscal Report Part 2

As you read in my pastor’s pen this weekend, besides thinking of Stewardship in terms of the three “T’s” – Time, Talent, and Treasure – we are invited to think of three other words: Prayer, Participation and Generosity. All three of these lead back to the fundamental insight of St. Ignatius of Loyola – that all we are given is a means to either help us or hinder us on the journey back to God. To the extent that we are people of prayer, that we participate in the life of our parish and community, and that we are generous with the gifts and talents God has given us, to that extent will we align our wills and actions with that of our savior and God, Jesus Christ. That is the ultimate gift of stewardship – it leads us on the path of faith.

As a (hopefully) good steward of the resources of this parish community, it is part of my responsibility to publish our annual financial report. As I wrote in our pastor’s pen a few weeks ago, this year we were significantly in the RED, due mainly to our capital expenditures. Here is a ‘verbal’ breakdown of the FY2013 report, beginning with those capital expenditures.

Capital expenditures totaled $180,590.96. (For those who read the bulletin closely, this number is ~$15K higher than was I reported in my Aug. 3rd Pastor’s pen, because the Archdiocese asked us to reclassify where we had expensed the new computer lab- paid for from the Auction- into the Capital Expenditures section) The breakdown is as follows:

61 – Capital Expenditures:
Parish Building expenses of $21,365.94 including $13,142 for the Parish Center Bathroom remodel, $866 for a new door for the shed and $ 7,358 in window repairs and replacements. (some of the window costs were offset by Insurance payments in #46 –Grant Revenues listed above)

Equipment expenditures (parish) were $115,179.43, which included $109,049 for the new boiler and HVAC infrastructure, etc. as well as $2,625 to repair water damage to some of the pipes in the organ. We also purchased a new office computer for Eileen, bought out the end of lease rectory copier and procured a used riding lawnmower for the cemetery for a total of $2,506 additional expenses.

Building improvements in the school totaled $10,994 and included $6500 for computer room plastering and painting, some artwork for the front school foyer, a water fountain replacement, repairs to the gym floor and half the expense of the stairway window replacements. (The other half of the window expense will hit in this fiscal year)

Equipment expenses for the school totaled $33,051. Of this total, $23,570 revamped the antiquated computer lab, $4,275 purchased a new copier for the school, (cheaper in the long run than leasing), $41 provided doorbells for morning care, and $5,165 went for new short throw projectors and wall mounts for our MIMIO interactive whiteboards.
65 – Non Cash expense – attributed to bad debt and uncollectable tuition.

Back to the beginning of the report on the revenue side:

41 – Unrestricted Revenues – of $363,682 was down by $17,649 from last year’s giving. This includes our Envelopes, Holy Day and loose changes, as well as memorial gifts.
43 – Restricted Offerings and Gifts – Up by 114% due to the specialized appeals for the boiler fund in both our Visitation Appeal and the Pay It Forward appeal. (Visitation = $41,853 and Pay It Forward/Boiler appeal = $12,866)
44 – Program fees compromise tuition, book fees, registration and the like. As you see, it is for accounting purposes, unchanged from ’12.
45 – Investment Income – It was a good year for our endowment, with increases of on our principal from negative numbers to positive gains. We were able to realize $2,651 from that investment (That gain hit our books July 1st of THIS fiscal year, so will be in next year’s report.) Barring any significant change in the markets between now and December, we should see a similar return next year.
46 – Grant Revenue – up by $11,527, due primarily to a gift from the Katherine Manley Gaylord Foundation to St. Ann School of $10,000. Insurance claims, teacher’s tuition re-imbursement and a bit of Alive in Christ moneys composed the rest of this category.
47 – Other Revenues – shows an 21% jump, partly due to a reclassification of Teacher’s Wish List monies from the Dinner Dance into this category, as well as reflecting the relative fiscal health of the various organizations that comprise St. Ann parish – Men’s Club, Ladies Guild, SAPO, and the like.

Thus, total revenues show an increase of 6.3% or $75,586, two thirds of which can be attributed to the Boiler fund via the Visitation Appeal and the Pay It Forward Appeal.

On the “non-capital” expenses side,
51 – Personnel Costs rose at a 3.9% level, reflecting a 3% raise for faculty and staff, with the resulting increases in Federal taxes, Insurance premiums and the like.
52 – Supplies – were slightly higher over all because of the purchase of a new Math Series of Textbooks for the school. (We are replacing a series of books a year going forward…)
53 – Fees and Services – were steady.
54 – Occupancy – a slight rise, but when you realize we are comparing the mild winter of 2011-2012, when the boiler was shut down from early March through the season, to 2012-2013’s more normal experience of winter, the new, more fuel efficient boiler is making a difference.
55 – Transfers to Other Parishes/Diocese – jumped with the first year of the Alive in Christ formula of 1% of external revenues going to the Archdiocesan fund. I expect to see a similar jump this year, as the initiative hits its “2% of external revenues” ceiling.

So, when you add it all together, we are left with a net income of a negative $107,164.65.

In summary, as years go, this was an expensive one. In the short term, our cash reserves are not where I would like them to be. And the school enrollment is also lower than I would like it to be. I am cautiously hopeful that we will continue to be able to fulfill the mission given to us by Anne Lucas Hunt, when she donated the land and a few thousand dollars to the Jesuits to “see to the needs of the community and the education of the children” without resorting to extraordinary measures. However, we are watching the budget numbers very closely this year, and will keep you appraised should anything need immediate attention. We will be conducting the Visitation Appeal later this fall, and the Pay It Forward appeal this spring. In the mean time, for the 157th year and counting, we will continue to be a community “living Faith since 1856”.

— Fr. Bill

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

September 22, 2013

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 “Find the right path toward the Door of Faith.” – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

During this “Year of Faith”, the Archdiocese celebrates its 13th Annual Stewardship Awareness Sunday this weekend with the theme: Stewardship: The Path of Faith. We are not accustomed, perhaps, to thinking about Stewardship in this way. Most of us have been well educated to the three “T’s” of Stewardship – Time, Talent, and Treasure, with the emphasis in our minds on that last “T”. But truly, first, and foremost, Stewardship is the way that Catholics are called to live out their faith. I wonder if this year, we can begin by thinking of three different words also at the heart of the Stewardship message: Prayer, Participation and Generosity.

Prayer – reminds us that God has given to each of us unique gifts and talents, experiences and opportunities that he has never given to anyone else in the history of this planet. In the words of Blessed John Cardinal Henry New-man, “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission.” Prayer connects me to that mission.

Participation – can take many forms. At its heart it is being generous with the time that God has given us. Attending mass and praying daily; becoming actively involved in some parish ministry or forming a new ministry; participating in the spiritual enrichment activities of the parish; sharing your unique talents, job skills or knowledge to help organize, manage and maintain our parish – these are just a few of the forms our participation can take.

Generosity – reminds us that everything we have and are is a gift from God. Gratitude is the spiritual response to the goodness of God to us. When we learn to be grateful for what we have (and not what society tells us we still need) we discover that not only has God given us enough of what we need, but that He has given us something to share. Opening our hearts to gratitude naturally spills over into generosity. How can we not ‘unwrap’ the gifts that God so lavishly gives us, and use them for the good of this world and the kingdom?

This Stewardship Sunday, I leave you with Archbishop Carlson appeal to pray this one simple prayer each day of your life: “Lord, how would You like me to be generous with all the gifts you have given me?”

ps. – The Parish Financial Report and explanation is posted on the website: http://stannchurch.wpengine.com/category/blog/administrative/

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

September 15, 2013

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