childcare booksThe humorist Irma Bombeck once said: Every child threatens to run away from home at some point or another. Then she adds: “Sometimes that is all the hope a parent needs to keep on going.”

It takes a lot to survive parenting, doesn’t it? And to survive being parented, as well. If you Google “Parenting books” – you will get 296 MILLION pages of possible responses to that. That is a lot of potential advice from a lot of potential people on parenting. So many people weigh in on parenting because the family is so integral to who we are and who we have come to be. Whether it is our family of origin, (where we came from, whether extended or traditional, functional or dysfunctional, or any of the hundred variations we experience); our family of construction (the one we create by marriage/kids/adoption) or our family of choice, (the people we choose to enter into relationships of life and love with) we know, for better or worse, what it is to belong to a particular unit that we call family.

St. Paul weighs in on the debate on how best to be a part of a family with these wonderful words to one of his families of choice at Colossae. “Put on … heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another … as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.” You see, somehow this Paul knows this truth about those intentional families that he helped to create called the church: “Families don’t just happen, they are made to happen.”

It always takes work. It’s not supposed to be easy. So when we’re struggling on some part of the journey that is particularly uphill or confusing, we hear what we are supposed to do: be compassionate, humble, patient, forgive each other; above all, love one another.

That kind of loving and living is a choice, isn’t it? A choice that we are allowed to make again and again, even if we’ve completely messed it up every day of our live and our family till now. And most of the time, the choices are not presented to us in the big moments. It is not life or death kind of decisions to clothe ourselves in this kind of mercy. Rather, it is in the small moments that we train ourselves to choose family, to choose the common good.

I was on the phone with a good friend from Texas last night. Suddenly, I heard the sound of wailing and tears approaching. “Just a minute, child situation to manage.” “What’s wrong?” I overhear. “She won’t let me watch my show” he wailed through 3 year old tears. A little wrangling and bargaining went back and forth between mom and son and daughter, and then: “It’s agreed – you both will share the TV? Good.” That is how we learn heartfelt compassion and mercy – by practicing it in those small situations.
On this day when all the church throughout the world calls us to mirror the Love of the Holy Family, and to see the journeying of Mary and Joseph as a model, we are invited to take stock in our own families, be they of origin, of construction or of choice. 296 million web pages tell us that holy families and holy friendships and holy relationships don’t just happen – they are made to happen.
In prayer this week, we are invited with St. Paul, to do a little examination of conscience. Pick one ‘family’ or family member – be it origin, construction or choice – and use Paul’s litany as a little test to see how well you are doing in making family happen. Heartfelt compassion – check. Kindness – check. Humility – check. Bearing with one another – oops: not so checked!

Because Irma Bombeck was wrong about the hope parents and children, friends and families need to keep going. It doesn’t come from the promise to ‘run away from home.’ Rather, it comes from the choice to create that home together. So, in the words of St. Paul – “get busy putting on all that heartfelt mercy, compassion, and kindness…”

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In 2014, the city of St. Louis will celebrate its 250th anniversary and the 800th birthday of our patron, Saint Louis IX, King of France. As part of the year-long celebration to commemorate the founding of St. Louis and the birth of our beloved patron, the Archdiocese of St. Louis is partnering with the group, STL250, to host special events throughout 2014. More information will follow in the months to come, but mark your calendars now for a very special way to usher in the New Year…

At 11:00 p.m. on December 31, 2013, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Most Reverend, Edward M. Rice will offer a New Year’s Eve Holy Hour and Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis for anyone interested in participating in a “spiritual kick-off” to the city’s 250th anniversary. All are welcome.

For more information on CatholicSTL250 events, visit www.archstl.org/catholicstl250.

I would like to say a word of THANKS to two people whose services are nearly invisible, but who make a huge difference in our celebration. Karen Hubbard has been writing the prayers of the faithful and dutifully bringing them up on Saturdays for the past – “I don’t even remember how long” – years. Thank you for your ministry of leading our prayer.

After nearly 12 years of service to our St. Ann Com-munity, Janis Henricks is ‘retiring’ from her role as the coordinator, trainer, and facilitator of the Lector and Eucharistic minister schedules. That ministry has been a huge labor of love for her – and one for which I am extremely grateful. To have holy ministers and folks with “well trained tongues” is a huge blessing to our communal celebration of the Eucharist. Thank you, Janis, for your ministry among us that has been so faithful and enduring these years.

Thanks, too, to Laura Zamborsky, who has graciously agreed to step into those shoes and continue the work of scheduling. If you know of someone in the parish, whose example of faith and/or ability to pro-claim the word catch your attention, please let me know – I will be happy to discern with them a possi-ble invitation to these ministries for our St. Ann family of faith…

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

December 29, 2013

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Many years ago I pondered the age old question about Christmas: Did God the father pass out cigars on Christmas morning, slapping the angels heartily on the back, beaming proudly – “It’s a boy.”? And then, the inevitable second question: Do they even have cigars in heaven?

We have imagined so much about the scene of Christmas – the stable, the shepherds, and the angel choirs; even the ox and ass and sheep became part of our imagining. The Christmas Carols we sing invite us to reflect on that first night – all about a Father’s love begotten, about Joy to the World, about Angel Choirs and Silent and Holy Nights. Our decorations try to capture a bit of the beauty contained in the mystery. Yet I realized, with a bit of a shock, that I never imagined perhaps the most important thing of all about Christmas.

What gift(s) does God want to put under our Christmas trees in 2013? God is not sending Jesus back to earth as an infant this year, but he still desires to enter our world profoundly again. So what gift does God wait to place under our Christmas trees this year?

Now, interestingly enough, when I woke up this morning, there were three presents underneath my tree. And, even more exciting, each of them said the same thing: To: Father Bill, From: God. (3 volunteers to open.)

eyeglasses1) [1st present is opened: have kid hold up and then read the ‘tag’]
“God’s Eye glasses.” Very interesting! Let’s see what these look like on you. Not bad. But what do they do? Any idea? Wait, it looks like there are some instructions in the case. “The wearing of these glasses allows the viewer to consistently see the world as God sees it.” Two thousand years ago, God sent his Son, pleading that we might see our dignity because of him. Christmas 2013 bids us to see that dignity anew, to remember how precious we are. Because God always sees us through eyes and a heart that wants to save and redeem us, then we are invited to believe in our goodness, and the goodness of each last and least and lost among us. Because I have become who you are, God tells us, you need to see what I have seen and known – how beautiful it is to be human. !!! Oh, there’s a Warning label: “All who wear these glasses will see that what God has done for us in Jesus was just the start.” The glory he restored to humanity in Jesus – he has placed into our hearts. When we love our neighbor, we love our God. And what we do, or don’t do, to our neighbor, is what we do or don’t do to our God. (Dismiss volunteer – and they keep the glasses/case)

energy2) [Different kid opens 2nd gift.] Reads tag: “HOLY SPIRIT ENERGY DRINK.” (any idea why God would think that is an important gift to give this year? – answers??) Why – because God knows the work of the Kingdom is tough stuff and needs all of the energy we can muster. Missouri is one of 8 states that put people to death this year. Our Normandy school district will be financially insolvent by March. This is the 91st year of the 100 Neediest Cases drive in St. Louis, and the need continues to grow. Hmm. Maybe we’re gonna need more than one of these puppies a day. (Start to dismiss volunteer with the energy drink –“hmm – your mom and dad will kill me if I let you take that home and drink it on Christmas eve. How about these mint M & M’s instead?)

flashlight3) [Kid opens third gift – reads tag]. “The Light of Christ Flashlight.”
Do you have any idea why God would give us this? Jesus first coming brought the light of God to a weary, darkened world. And so we too, are called to do the same. To all the places in our families where there is pain, we are to bring the light. To those whose worlds are filled with darkness of grief, we are to be a loving presence. We are to flood our families and friends with our love, filling the space around us with the very light we know here at this altar.

I suspect you will find more than these three gifts under your Christmas tree this evening or in the morning. But, if we have the Eyes to see this world as God does, if we drink of the Holy Spirit’s Energy, and we bring Light of Christ to all the dark places of our world, then the yearning that God felt that first Christmas night will once more give birth on this earth. And once again, we will find the Father slapping the backs of the angels in joyful glee, passing out cigars right and left, crying out: “It is sons and daughters!!” “It is parents and children!!” “It is my people born once again into a world’s dark!!!”

Merry Christmas!

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carpentry shopJoseph was good at fixing things. After all, he was a carpenter, and carpenters had to know how to fix stuff. Give him a door with a broken hinge; a table with a broken leg; a bed with a broken slat, he would fix it and fix it well. If it could be made or fixed with a chisel, saw, hammer and nails, Joseph was your go-to-guy. He knew how to use his hands.

But this situation? This he could not fix – no matter how skilled his hands might be. Mary is to have a baby. He knows he’s not the father. He doesn’t know much else, except the torn despair in his heart, still mingled with the love he has for Mary. What is a ‘doer’ to do? In my imagination, he retires to the wood shop, and absentmindedly starts working with his hand on his latest job, mulling the choices before him. The options were not good:

He could have Mary put to death by stoning according to the Mosaic Law. Or, he could divorce her publicly but that would shame her whole family in a culture where honor and favor were everything. Or he could divorce her quietly, but that would shame him & his family. There was just no way to fix this. Give him a chair that had fallen apart: give him anything made out of wood. That he could fix – but not this. He had wanted to build her a home, to create a family together, but now all of that seemed completely out of his hands.

And so Joseph does what he believes is the most loving thing to do. He does so knowing that it-does-not-fix-everything. He does what he believes Love tells him to do, hoping that God will somehow bring some good out of this. His choice would be to be as loving and true as he could be in the midst of a painful mess which – no matter how hard he tried, no matter how skilled his hands – he could not make okay. He would act and then put the matter into God’s hands.

Note that it is THEN that the angel appears to him. Only AFTER he decided to do the loving thing that the angel appeared in a dream to tell him things were not as they appeared. God had provided wood for his carpenter’s hands – the wood of salvation from the stump of Jesse’s tree. It was for him to fashion a door of welcome fitting for the Lord’s entry into this world. (You are to take Mary into your home.) He was to build a bed for this child to dream about God’s kingdom. (You are to name him Jesus because he will save people from their sins) He was to hew a table for a family to gather around in memory and hope, for sustenance and strength. (They shall name him Emmanuel – God is with us) He was to become a different kind of carpenter, working less with his hands and more with his faith.

It is that decision – to make the most loving choice in the situation as possible – that creates room for God to act. Joseph realizes that God has a hand in this, but so does he. And his loving choice becomes enough for God. And more than enough for Mary and Jesus.

You and I: there is so much we can’t fix either isn’t there? There is stuff in our family that we just can’t make okay. There are things in relationships we just can’t mend. There are things in this world that are beyond our own capacity to make right, no matter how skilled our hands are, how good we are at the doing and fixing of things. But this 4th week of Advent, all 3 days of it, there is one thing we can do. It is to do what Joseph did: to make the most loving choices we can in the midst of whatever it is that is broken. And then to leave the rest in God’s hands. And if we do, THAT will be enough.

I wonder if Joseph knew in that moment of decision all the ways his simple goodness would make a difference in the history of this world. Yet, here we are 2,000 years later telling his story again, and finding strength for our own difficult choices because of what we have seen modeled in him. We may never know, in our moments of decision and surrender, all the ways our simple goodness will make a difference in the history of the world. Yet here at this table, like the one Joseph hewed for his family, we bring the work of our hands and the surrender of our hearts – asking God for the grace, only and always to do the most loving thing in each moment we are able.

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Christmas greetings from my boss..

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Rejoice! The weeks of Advent waiting are over, and Christ is born!

We rejoice in our Savior’s birth — remembering the great gift of faith He has given us through the mystery of His incarnation and the saving power of His death and resurrection.

Each year, the people of our archdiocese have been asked to make a special gift on Christmas Day to support our seminarians at Kenrick – Glennon Seminary. The men of our seminary, who have responded to Christ’s call to follow Him, are truly a gift to the Church and to our archdiocese. It is these men who will bring the faith given to us by Christ 2000 years ago to future generations here in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

I ask you, once again, to pray for vocations and for all our priests and seminarians. I also ask you to be generous in your donation to the Christmas Day collection, which helps pay the day – to – day expenses and maintenance of our seminary.

Please be assured of my prayers for you during this most blessed season of Christmas. May the Lord of life come into your hearts and homes in a special way during this holy time of year.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson

You have noticed all the work going on at the Epworth Children’s Building (former site of Oscar’s and ReMax). They requested permission to cut the power to their building which in turn affects OUR building during one phase of the remodel. So, on Dec. 30th and Dec. 31st, beginning at 9am through 5 pm of each of those days, we will have no power at the house. I have given the staff the day off. Our phone system battery backup should keep the phones running at least until about 2 pm each of those days. But if you call and get a repeated busy signal, you’ll know the reason. We’re not trying
to ignore you, it’s just that no one is here.

Since the power outage will also affect our heating system, I will be working at the Newman Center – you can reach me there in case of emergency – 314 – 385 – 3455.

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

December 22, 2013

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

December 15, 2013

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Televised mass update:

Katie Pesha from the Archdiocesan Communications office sent this update on the weekly televised mass. “You recently heard from me about changes made to our local TV Mass offerings. In full appreciation of the fact that the recent changes have not fully satisfied the needs of our homebound, the archdiocese has entered into a new partnership with a company that offers TV Mass for dioceses across the country, Heart of the Nation, an apostolate of Santa Fe Communications out of Milwaukee. I am pleased to announce that as of December 22, a new Mass will be offered on WRBU-TV, channel 46. I have been told this is a full power, 100% coverage station.

With the adoption of this partnership, I have a couple additional updates:

We have been invited to send viewers to Heart of the Nation’s website to view the Mass online at
http://heartofthenation.org/onlinemass  Due to this added convenience and a low viewership of our current online arrangement, we will cease the live stream from the Cathedral Basilica after Sunday, December 15.

As an extension of their apostolate, Heart of the Nation offers free Prayer & Worship Guides for the  home bound that complement their TV Mass. Any home bound parishioners who previously received the Leaflet Missal from American Catholic Press (funded through the archdiocese) will now receive Heart of the Nation’s Prayer & Worship Guide.

For those who plan ahead of time, the Christmas and the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God (New Year’s) schedule of masses for this year is as follows:

On Christmas Eve – masses at 5 p.m. and Midnight
Christmas Morning -10 a.m.
New Year’s eve – 5 p.m.
New Year’s Day – 10 a.m.

Extra Confessions will be held after the Morning Masses on the 23rd and 24th of December. Or by appointment – call Fr. Bill to set up a time.

Due to the Advent liturgy on Wednesday, Dec. 18th at 6:30 p.m., there will be no All School mass on Wed morning. Rather, mass will be at 8 a.m. that morning. Finally, Sunday marks the 29th anniversary of my being absolutely convinced that God has a great sense of humor…

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standing roomI was nine days ordained. And already I knew I needed a new map for my priesthood. (“That didn’t take long!” a voice in my head said with a kind of sigh.) It was Christmas eve, after the 5 pm mass at St. Joseph’s parish in Manchester. And I was angry. The cause of my anger was, to my newly ordained mind, a righteous one. It seemed like all the people that I had come to know just a bit during my 5 months there arrived at mass at their usual time. And they were the ones who were standing, not the Chreaster’s. The people who only darkened the doors of the church on Christmas and Easter – they must have gotten there an hour ahead of time – they were all seated in the pews. And all the people who were there week after week – they were in the back, standing. It wasn’t right. “They should pass out seating tickets the week before” I grumbled at dinner that night. That plea fell on deaf ears.

Maybe because it was my first Christmas as a priest – but something had gotten into my craw when I saw “my faithful peeps” standing. And my anger would not go away. So, with a sigh from my guts and anger in my heart, I went over the church around 9:30 to see if I could pray myself to a different, more redeemed place. I needed a new map, a new way of thinking about this, a new way of putting all this in perspective. And despite the best intentions of my brother priests at the rectory, nothing they suggested was helpful. It had to be ‘my map.’

So I sat there in a restless silence, in the now empty church, for what seemed like a long time. (I have no idea how long.) My eyes were drawn to the crèche. I’d turn away and look at those empty pews in my memory, filled with faces I did not know, but I’d be drawn back to the crèche. More stranger faces in my mind’s eye, and my friends standing. And I was drawn back to the crèche. Hmm! Something is there for me. Finally, and suddenly, one thought, nearly a voice, came to my attention. Like prayer before an icon, the voice came from the heavenly side of the infant Jesus – looking out at me/and those pews that had been filled with those unknown faces.

“I came for them, too.” Bingo. “I came for them, too.”

And this nine day old priest had a new map. A new way of looking at those crazy crowds.

John the Baptist needed a new map. There, in the lonely dark of the prison cell, he wondered – “Did I have it right? This Jesus, he is nothing like I thought. No fire, no brimstone! Where’s the winnowing fan? Where is the chaff flying everywhere in the face of the divine wrath? He’s nothing like I thought.” And John, not newly ordained but near the end of his life, needed a new map in the worst way.

Jesus, speaking, not from the image of a crèche, but through the two disciples that John had sent, gives him the same message, doesn’t he, that I heard that Christmas eve 29 years ago. “I came for them too. Tell John – the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have the good news preached to them. All those who needed a new vision and a new way of looking out at this weary world – I came for them too.”

I like to think that was enough for him. Like that transformative night so early in my priesthood, I like to think John now had a different map, a different way of looking at the Chreasters of his day – the scribes and Pharisees and self righteous folks who came to him for ‘baptism’ or ‘spectacle’ or ‘something’ out in the wilderness. And that, somehow, he knew that Jesus knew he had done his part in pointing the way to him, even if he misunderstood till then what Jesus was really about.

How about you? Do you find yourself needing a new map this Advent/Christmas season? Does the craziness of the malls or the pressure of finding that perfect gift make you go “Bah Humbug?” Does a habit of sin keep you trapped in a cycle that you can’t seem to escape from? Maybe this is the first Christmas without a parent or spouse – and it is hard to imagine how you’ll ever get through it all, much less recapture some of the joy and hope of this season. Do you need a new map in situations both large and small this year?

The good news – There is a map, a way, a path through whatever struggle or difficulty grips your world. The same Jesus who replied to John, who replied to that priest nine days into his priesthood, wants to speak a word to our own hearts and our own dreams. Jesus wants to transfigure our disillusionments and broken hopes into something that mirrors the kind of life and love and ministry he lived.

May that be our prayer this third week of Advent – to let our dreams of how this Christmas should be, even how this world should be – be transformed by the dream that Jesus asks us to live into… .

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