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Early on in my priesthood, I participated is something called Liturgy camp. It was a program designed to teach high school kids some of the basics about liturgy and liturgical planning. There was a lunch conversation where I playfully threw a little tidbit out there, that was absorbed without comment by one of the kids. I didn’t think much of it until 2 weeks later, when I get a phone call from a woman who is laughing hysterically on the other end. “Father, just wanted you to know that one of your time bombs went off. At lunch today, toward the end, my daughter paused and asked me in all seriousness – ‘hey mom, did you know that they took the word gullible out of the dictionary?’” “Boom” It went off. And at least one mother and one vocation director got a huge kick out of it.

Time bombs. Little sayings or bits of humor in this case or catches of wisdom that plant themselves into the psyche only to appear at the right time. Little bits of insight that we may not always be ready for, but that lodge themselves into our consciousness, waiting for the right moment to explode our understanding and growth.

Jesus was pretty good at planting time bombs, wasn’t he? Except that he called them parables or stories or images: The Good Samaritan; The Prodigal Son; The lost sheep. Images that kind of work their way into our hearts and minds, and hopefully, explode when the moment is right.

He planted today’s time bomb not with a two week fuse, but 2 thousand year one – as one of his little time bombs exploded in my world. Most people know the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. It is one that we can retell the gist of from memory. And most of us get that Jesus is holding up the tax collector for us to emulate – acknowledging that we are sinners and that all we can do is trust in the mercy of God.

But as I was praying and reflecting on this during the week, the time bomb went off. Because one of the reflections that seems to always surface in my mind is something like: “O God, I thank you that I am not like that Pharisee, so self-righteous, so self-assured, so full of himself that he says the word “I” four times in 2 sentences!” Then Jesus turns toward me and says: “Gotcha!” For when I hear the first part of the parable, I start judging the Pharisee, much as the Pharisee was judging (and comparing himself to) the tax collector. “Boom!” goes the time bomb.

It is such a toxic world, this world of comparisons. This world of judging where you stand by comparing who you are in relationship to someone else’s choices. It is the world that Jesus, who told this parable to those who believe in their own self righteousness while looking down on others, wanted to keep us from. Instead of comparison, he wanted Pharisee and the tax collector alike to see that they really were both the same: sinners, imperfect people, precious to and loved by God! Is that how I see myself? Is that how I see others?

It is so easy to judge others, even from a stance of right behavior and holding up a dream of what you value. We’ve made a profession of it in Washington ALL sides of the aisle. In painting their respective visions for the values our elected officials cherish – we can’t seem to refrain from judging as evil or stupid or out of touch those who hold an opposing set of values. Those obstinate House Democrats! Those intractable Tea Party Republicans. Those… fill in the blank… And hopefully, as often as we think or say those things, Jesus’ time bomb from today will go off in our hearts.

You see, Jesus tells this parable to all of us who don’t even see that we unconsciously are judging others and ourselves… And the invitation is to live in a world where our worth is not found in the comparisons we make, the harsh judgments we form, but the love that is in our hearts.

You know, the good news is that they didn’t take gullible out of the dictionary. However, if we work very hard, perhaps we can get them to take the words COMPARISON and JUDGEMENTAL out…

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

October 27, 2013

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On the national level…
The diocesan arch/bishops approved the establishment of a national collection for the Archdiocese for the Military Services. This special collection is not an annual collection; it will take place every three years.

With the funds raised from this collection, the Archdiocese for the Military Services will be able to ensure that all Catholic men, women and families have the access to the Sacraments, authentic Catholic education, and the spiritual guidance of a Catholic chaplain wherever they go. With no military or government financial assistance, the Archdiocese for the Military Services relies on the generosity of others to operate its many programs and services.

The national date for this collection is November 9 – 10, 2013. Our Sunday Visitor has prepared envelopes and other items for the special collection. My apologies for not notifying you in advance; I received information regarding this collection today. Many thanks for your support of this special collection.

Thank you!
Archbishop Robert Carlson

On the Local level….
Beginning this past Sunday, changes to the normal Sunday TV Mass on Fox will take effect due to
expanded morning news programming. The time is changing from 6:30am to 9:00am AND is moving to their digital channel that is only accessible on cable (Charter) and over-the-air antennas. Charter Cable customers will be able to tune in on channel 167 and over-the air antenna customers on channel 2.2. Dish Network, Direct TV, AT&T U-verse customers and others impacted by this change, will hopefully be satisfied by one of these other alternatives:
TELEVISION – EWTN offers Sunday Mass at 7:00 am (live) or 11:00 am (encore)
RADIO – Covenant Network (WRYT AM 1080 / KHOJ AM 1460) offers Sunday Mass at 10am, live from the Cathedral Basilica
ONLINE (NEW!) archstl.org/mass – Sunday Mass at 10am, live streamed from the Cathedral Basilica (beginning this weekend 10-27) and Archived recordings will be available at livestream.com/archstl

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Are you a leaner?

Published on 20. Oct, 2013 by in Sunday Homilies

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(Sing) Lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on. For it won’t be long, ‘til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on…

That song, by Bill Withers, captures something that is important, I think, in our spiritual journey. There are times when we lean on others. And times when they lean on us. It is just the nature of the beast. But even more so, it is something that God desires for us in God’s great plan of salvation. Are you a natural leaner? Or does that come only with great difficulty?

In that first reading we hear that interesting story of Moses and the battle with the Ameleks. But before I go any further about that, I ask you to hold your arms straight out in that gesture of praying – hands facing upward toward the heavens. Hold them in that position as long as you can. As long as you can…

As long as Moses had his hands raised, in this gesture of supplication – the Israelites had the better of the battle. And when his arms grew tired, and they drooped, it did not go well. Perched on the hillside, holding the staff which split the Red Sea in two, that symbol would be an obvious sign that the same God was with them in the battle. (arms tired yet?) He knows he has to hold his hands up, to let people know that the strength for this war comes from God, and God alone. And so he leans on Aaron and Hur. He relies upon their support, their strength to get through the battle. Moses was a leaner.

In an interesting side note – you cannot find any mentions of the Ameleks in any history book (save the Bible which is not a history book per se). Perhaps it was a real battle. We won’t know, at least on this side of eternity. (How are those arms doing?) Perhaps, though, “Amelek” is a rather a symbol of all that challenges us on our spiritual journeys home to God. The battle with Amelek stands for all that must be faced and defeated and conquered. And it is a battle that is longer than our strength. Like Moses, the Israelite people had to learn to lean on one another and lean on God to see the journey through. And like Moses, we have to be willing to ask for the help we need to see the journey through. To let our Aaron’s and Hur’s strengthen us and hold up our arms when our faith is struggling. [drop arms now.]

This is why Jesus formed a church, and not a group of rugged individuals. It is good for us to lean on folks at time. It is good for us to be leaned upon. It is almost hardwired within us.

And so, this week, ask yourself, where do I need to do a little leaning – in the area of homework, the arena of relationships, or even with a looming ‘life’ decision about what to do after college, or after this relationship? Then seek out a friend, or a favorite Newman Center staff person and have a heart to heat about what’s going on.

And, from whom can you be the one leaned upon? Do a little proactive question asking about a roommate’s week – any tests, difficult meetings, etc, that they need some help and prayer about? Let the answers to those questions give you some insight into how you might love them better.

Because when it is all said and done, (Sing) “We all need somebody, to lean on.”

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

October 20, 2013

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Ooops…

It seems, in my rush to get to press last weekend, that I inadvertently ‘killed’ one parishioner and brought another one back from the dead. The Knights of Columbus Chalice (that we now have in our possession) was in memory of Anthony Schmidt (deceased) presented to the parish by his mother Phyllis and brother, Tom (living) and not the other way around. I expressed my apology to Tom when I caught the mistake in-between confessions this Saturday. He was very gracious, and still very much alive. To quote Mark Twain: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

On other fronts, while you are reading this, the Newman Center Awakening retreat is happening at Camp Rockyvine, on the outskirts of Dutzow, MO. Our student leaders have spent weeks of their time preparing and praying, writing talks and sharing in small groups. The group of first time awakeners is a little smaller this year than some years, but the enthusiasm is just as great, as is the sacrifice the team makes for the weekend. If you would, continue to keep us in your prayers as often as you think of it this weekend. I know that a few of the students are carrying some heavy burdens and could use all the prayer support we can give them.

At the beginning of the retreat, I set the table by telling the retreatants that “they are not alone.” There are circles and circles of people who are praying for them, sacrificing for them and holding them up to God in prayer. I read a letter from the Archbishop with his pledge of support. And I point to the tables of cookies, brownies and snacks as visible proof of the love of people whom they have never met who make God very real by their love and sacrifice. The rest, I say, is up to you.

Thanks for allowing me to say that with such gladness in my heart and such affection in my voice. You really do make a difference in their lives, even though you may never meet them, nor they you. But this weekend, there is a bond of connectedness between us. That bond is a foretaste of the mystical body of Christ that we all belong to, and one day will become in fullness in the kingdom of heaven. It is how we are meant to be and live – caring for each other, supporting one another, challenging one another to walk the journey of faith together. On behalf of the team and staff and the Awakening and Growth retreatants, let me say simply: Thanks for making God’s love real and visible for them. You are AMAZING!

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I was the kid whose mom had to force me to sit down and write thank you notes to Grandpa and Grandma for the Christmas gift they gave me. It didn’t help that their gifts were usually the very practical stuff mom probably told them we needed – socks, scarves, and gloves. It was hard enough to write a thank you note with my bad chicken scratch that passed for penmanship, much less muster any kind of enthusiasm for the job for receiving new underwear. To this day, I do not do a good job with writing thank you notes…

I used to feel horrible about that. “What a schmuck I am,” not to be able to crank out a simple thank you note. I was not ungrateful, but there had to be a better way to say thank you than some silly, forced words on a card. “Let me cut their grass, mom. I’m happy to do that. Let me show my appreciation by doing something for them, shoveling the snow, painting the garage, anything but writing these stupid cards – that works for me, mom. It wasn’t until a 1995 book called The Five Languages of Love, that I realized what was going on inside of me. I best express my thanks and love for people by acts of service. Not by words of affirmation or quality time or gifts or physical touch – but by ‘doing stuff’ for them. That is how I say thanks. And that is how I best express my love for people. I believe our ‘thanksgiving language’ is other side of the love language. So how we say thanks, mirrors how we love people. And we can have one language for how we want to express love and another for how we best receive love.

So, as I was praying about the stories of healing in today’s readings, I found myself thinking about which ‘love language/thanksgiving language’ might have been operative in the stories. Naaman, wanted to express love by giving gifts. When the prophet would have none of that, he asks to take two cart loads of earth back with him. He wanted to receive love through physical touch. If I can’t see the God who saved me, at least I can touch the earth where I was healed – and be connected to the one to whom I owe my life. I can plunge my hands into the dirt from the place where I was saved – and I’ll know the healing that restored me to my family and friends.

The Samaritan, perhaps, was the only one into words of affirmation. Once he knew he was healed, he leaves the others because he has to say something to Jesus – he HAS to tell him about the gratefulness in his heart. He skips the formal process of being declared clean by the priests because his love language is words – and nothing will stop him from saying those words and expressing his thankfulness with those words of affirmation as quickly as possible.

What about the other nine? We don’t know. Did they use their love language as a way to say thanks? Maybe they figured the quality time they’d spend with their families whom they had been cut off from for as long as they were declared ‘unclean’ would be more than enough thanks to the creator of those families. Maybe they wanted to say thanks with their acts of service in their synagogue or neighborhoods. Or, they were intending to send gifts Jesus’ way to help this itinerant preacher. We just don’t know.

What we do know is this truth, taught by the actions of the Samaritan – WHATEVER our love/thanksgiving language – (acts of service, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts or physical touch) it has to CONNECT us to the one we love. Jesus makes sure that his disciples knew there is something different about this one – “Were not all ten cleansed?” he asked. “Where are the other nine?” They’ve missed something crucial – that relationship with me. And then he goes to say to the Samaritan – “Your faith has SAVED you.” Not just cured you, but saved you. What your love language did was bring you to a relationship with me that makes all the difference.

So how do you say ‘thank you’ to the God who gave you the gift of this day? How do you do it in a way that connects you to Jesus in a relationship that is life giving? I know that I am not so good with the words of affirmation. I also know that it is easy NOT to connect to the people I am serving. So that my acts of service can be a way of me keeping God at an arm’s length. “I’ll do my work. You stay over there. I’ll love you from over here, where it is safe and I can control how involved and how far the relationship will take me.” It can be easy to hide beneath all that doing…

This week – take some time to thank the people who teach you about love and life – spend some quality time, write some words of affirmation, give them a hug or a gift, or serve them in a way that brightens their day. And in these next few minutes of our worship take a lesson from the Samaritan – whether it is by quality time you spend after receiving the Lord in communion, the acts of service in your singing and ministering around this table, your words of affirmation and AMEN, your gifts in the offertory, the sign of peace you exchange with your neighbor – let your love language connect you to the Lord who wants not only to heal you from your struggles, but to SAVE you unto life eternal…

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Gifts that will keep on giving…

It has been a busy month in the ‘St. Ann Church Goods Department’. Marie (Mims) Gagnepain (our centenarian + three) donated a chalice and paten that had been given to her and her husband on their 60th anniversary of Marriage. The chalice bears a simple inscription: Marie and Charles Gagnepain, 1930-1980. I am happy to work it into the rotation of chalices for our daily masses for distribution of the Precious Blood.

For the observant who attend the weekday masses, you notice that the main chalice, given to me by my uncle, Fr. Wally Boul, remains a constant. The other chalices come from the Knights of Columbus. (and now Mims G.) There is a custom, upon the death of a 4th degree Knight, to have a chalice made in their honor, engraved with “In Your Charity, Please Pray For Sir Knight” and the name of the decedent, and presented to the priest or religious institution of the family’s choice. The Sir Knight is remembered at every Holy Mass in which the chalice is used at the consecration of the precious blood. (I was to have this particular chalice presented to me this Tues. morning, but the Knight involved had an unexpected conflict this morning.) My understanding is that the chalice is engraved in the name of Phyllis Schmidt, mother of former Knight Tom Schmidt and current parishioner Anthony Schmidt. (But I won’t know until I am presented with the actual chalice.) Thanks to the family for their gift which also will be put into the rotation.

Finally, in a different type of remembrance, it was the wish of Don Muckerman, Sr. (and Celeste Gleason) to make a donation for needed items for the church in Betty’s memory. After consultation, we came up with three items that I hope will enhance the worship experience of the congregation. The first is a replacement of the wireless microphone that the priest uses when at the chair, altar and preaching in the aisle. (The current one is being held together by guerilla glue.) The second is a new mixing board for the choir microphones and instruments.

The final piece is a hearing assist system, which, as I understand it, will enable folks with newer hearing aids (with something called a T-Coil) to wear a belt pack and then a ‘ring’ around their neck that will allow their own hearing aid to tune into everything coming out of the speakers. There will also be other devices with direct earpieces for those with regular hearing aids, or who do not have any devices at all. Once installed, we’ll figure out the system for people to make use of these hearing assist devices. Thanks to Don and Celeste for their gifts. I am sure Betty is smiling in heaven…

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

October 13, 2013

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“It isn’t much,” the young man thought, as he picked up the bulky, old, never quite in tune 12 string guitar, the echoes of the piano concert from the basement still ringing in his and the rest of the student’s ears. “How can these 12 strings and a five-chord song compare to Bach and Beethoven and Stravinsky played on a Grand Piano by a concert pianist?” But his friend had asked him to play for night prayers that night. “How can it compare, how can it be enough?” he thought? With not even a mustard seed’s worth of faith, he began playing.

She was an ordinary woman. Nothing special about her. Except. Except she saw. She saw that there were things “that wanted doing” as her friend Peter Maurin would say of her. So, she started all kinds of activities: a newspaper, houses of hospitality, feeding programs, communal farms. Her name was Dorothy Day. And she became very popular. So much so, that many admirers came to see her, to look at her, to touch her, if possible. Sometimes, they would tell her that she was a saint. Or say to someone else within her earshot that she was a saint. That would do it. With a sharp turn of the head and voice she would respond: “Don’t say that. Don’t make it too easy for yourself. Don’t escape this way. I know why you are saying, ‘she is a saint.’ You say it to convince yourself that you are different from me, that I am different from you. I am not a saint. I am like you. You could easily do what I do. You don’t need any more than you have; get kicking, please.” And just a mustard seed of faith was enough to propel her into action.

With just a mustard seed of faith, what could you and I do? That is the challenge of today’s readings. We hear from Habakkuk that the vision still has its time, still presses on to its fulfillment. What will we do with the mustard seed that is in us? You see, Jesus tells the disciples that ‘more is not better.” In fact, in regards to faith, less is better, because then we will know that the outcome is not due to our skills and talents, our efforts and trying. To have just a mustard seed of faith – the smallest of all seeds – is enough to change the world. It was enough to make me pick up that guitar in the seminary chapel that night after the concert. I remember breathing a quick: “Lord, let it be enough” prayer, wincing when the guitar was still out of tune, yet being overwhelmed when the place filled up with voices that sounded like the heavenly choirs. Never before or after in my four years of leading music at night prayer, did it sound so beautiful. With not even a mustard seed of faith, God did amazing things.

A sense of things that ‘wanted doing’ and a mustard seed of faith was enough for Dorothy day to begin what became the Catholic Worker movement – still flourishing today. A mustard seed is enough for those who, each Sunday evening since 9/11, have held and continue to hold a peace vigil for our country and our world. And with a mustard seed’s faith, a UMSL Newman Center alum left his job and career, and is completely changing the abortion battle through the “40 days for Life program” here to St. Louis.

It is easy to think that we don’t have enough. It is easy to mirror the apostles’ line of thought: We need more – more training, more faith, more education, more…whatever, before God will use us to do his will. Often the truth is closer to what Dorothy Day tells us – get cracking, there is work to be done. So, whether you have a mountain or a mustard seed worth of faith, let it move your heart to act this week.

Concretely:
• Is there some work, some volunteering you have been putting off ‘until you are more ready, more prepared?” Make the phone call today.
• Spend some time writing down the vision that presses your heart – something that keeps gently rearing its head in your thoughts and prayers. And even if it seems crazy, like Brian Westbrook’s dream to end abortion in America, one heart at a time, make sure you share that hope and dream with one other person this week. And then keep sharing it with the Lord in prayer….
• Jesus chose mulberry trees for his image, because He knew they had an extensive root system that twined itself deeply into the earth below it. They were hard to uproot. Ask for the gift of a mustard seed of faith about a struggle you wrestle with that has entwined itself in your life – perhaps it is the addiction to pornography that actually rewires the pathways in our brains; maybe it is sin of gossip that entangles us deeper and deeper into a net of harmful interactions. Whatever the struggle, trust that God wants to uproot that sin like a mulberry tree, and set you free in renewed love and service.

You see, it is not about more, despite the incessant pleas of society to have more. A mustard seed of faith is plenty enough to bring about the kingdom…

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