Dear Priests, Deacons, Religious and Faithful of the Arch- diocese of St. Louis,
As we approach the first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis, we recall his words at last year’s World Youth Day, to the young people of the world regarding the Sacrament of Penance, “Put on Christ: He awaits you in the sacrament of Penance, to heal by His mercy the wounds caused by sin. Do not be afraid to ask God’s forgiveness! He never tires of forgiving us, like a father who loves us. God is pure mercy”.
As the season of Lent draws near, it is a time to reflect upon the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is also a time for all of us to experience the Fatherly love that supported and gave strength to Jesus, as He faithfully accepted God’s will that would eventually lead Him to His Cross.
We experience this supportive love of God when we par take of the sacraments, especially the sacraments of Holy Communion and Reconciliation. Reconciliation is a wonderful opportunity to turn away from sin and draw closer to our Lord.
During the season of Lent, the parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, in conjunction with “The Light is ON for You” USCCB’s campaign, are joining together to offer numerous opportunities for the faithful to receive the Sacrament of Penance.
Starting with the first day of Lent, a full listing of dates, times and locations where the Sacrament of Penance will take place, can be found on our website at archstl.org. If you click on “The Light is ON for You” icon, there will be multiple resources and information provided. (FYI: St. Ann will have a penance service on Wednesday night, April 2nd.)
This Lenten season, I encourage each of you to join the thousands of faithful who have come to experience the healing and transforming love of Jesus Christ with hearts set on fire in years’ past.
I ask you to pray for those who have been away from this sacrament for a number of years; may they be open to receive this outpouring of God’s mercy and grace through this sacrament of forgiveness, as we journey through “The Light is ON for You,” initiative.
Be assured of my prayers for you and your loved ones throughout this Lenten season. I ask you to remember these recent words from Pope Francis’s 2014 Lenten Mes sage: “The Gospel is the real antidote to spiritual destitution: wherever we go, we are called as Christians to proclaim the liberating news that forgiveness for sins committed is possible, that God is greater than our
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson,
Archbishop of St. Louis
The famous actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman was recently found dead in his apartment, from all looks of things due to an overdose of heroin. Though I know nothing of his personal story, whether he is catholic or not, the question that some might ask of a life with so much promise that ended so tragically is: “Would you give him a Catholic funeral mass?” It seems like an odd question to ask. But here is what started me thinking about that. On May 14, 1998, Francis Albert Sinatra died. No one could wrap themselves around a song like him. When “old blue eyes” sang, it was amazing. AND, when Frank Sinatra was accorded a Catholic funeral, there was quite a scandal.
“Money talks,” the cynics said. He minimally met the requirements for a Catholic burial, in that, he was baptized a Catholic. But he seldom, if ever, darkened the doors of a church. He had a very public adultery while married to his first wife, who he then divorced to marry the object of his affair. In fact, he had 4 marriages and three divorces total, (though all were eventually annulled and his final marriage was recognized in the church.) He was a womanizer, he had connections to the mob, he had people ‘beat up’, he abused women – all those things disqualified him in many people’s minds from a Catholic funeral.
But there are two reasons why I think the church was absolutely correct and ‘on’ gospel message to give him a Catholic burial and funeral mass. When Jesus tells us to ‘love our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us”, they – the enemy – are not the point. WE are. Under the imperative Jesus gave to US, We are to pray for the enemy, those who persecute us. We are to give a Christian burial and mass to the unworthy and the scandalous. We are to reach out to those whose lives were less than exemplary. Why? We do so, not to endorse their way of life, but to endorse OURS.
That is what it means to ‘be a son and daughter of God.” We will love them as we are loved – by a God who lets his sun shine on the good and bad alike, who rains on the just and the unjust. Sinatra got a catholic burial, because as much as we might like to, as much as we’d be tempted to, WE will not hate our enemies. WE will pray for those of our own who have persecuted us by their behavior. We refuse to let them dictate to us who WE are. That is the first part of today’s gospel message.
And secondly, it was fitting to give him a catholic funeral because who are we to short circuit the process of grace. If God can move in the heart of a hardened criminal dying to the left of his son on the cross; if the prodigal son can find his way home; if the Samaritan Woman at the well and Zacchaeus can meet the Lord in a way that completely changes them; if Augustine who was a wild child, if Ignatius, Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day all have found their way home, then God ALWAYS has the last word in the lives of his people. And we can never know what goes on in the human heart in the last seconds of their existence.
SO the question is never about the Francis Albert Sinatra’s or the Philip Seymour Hoffman’s of our world – and the many before him and the many after him – and whether they deserve a Christian Burial in the church. Rather, the question is always this: What are we about? Will WE let the sun shine on the good and the bad, will we rain God’s love upon the just and the unjust alike? THAT is where the question always lies.
I was not asked to do a funeral for Philip Seymour Hoffmann. I’d like to think that I would have said “Yes” *snap – just like that. I am asked, though, every day, to love my enemies and to do good to those who hate me, not because it is easy or convenient or even because it feels good. I am called to do it because that is exactly how God loves all of his creatures. So, as Jesus tells us, “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Perhaps you are a fan of the winter Olympics. I find myself tuning in, late at night before heading up to sleep. If you caught any of the figure skating competition, you’ll notice two sets of scores. Technical Merit. Did they do the required triple lutz and triple axel movements? Did they perform the correct number of spins moves and footwork requirements? Did they land the toe loops on the correct inside or outside edge of their skates? The first set of scores make sure they did what was required of them.
The second set of scores –Artistic Merit [officially called Component Scores] – go so much further beyond the technical requirements, don’t they? Was the program captivating? Was there a flow to the loops and spins and jumps that made the routine delightful to watch? Was it obvious that they put their entire heart and soul into their routine? Did they go beyond the required elements to craft a thing of beauty and love? That is the second set of scores: Artistic merit – that will make or break an Olympic champion.
It’s hard for me not to hear today’s gospel in light of those two categories for judging figure skaters – Technical and Artistic Merit. In life, most of us do well in the technical merit stage: You shall not kill. Got it. No blood on these hands. You shall not commit adultery. No one has shared my bed but my spouse. You shall not take a false oath. Heck, I have never even been in a courtroom, except for jury duty. Our scores on technical merit usually do just fine.
But, Jesus reminds us, that is not the ONLY level on which we are to be held accountable for our actions. Unless your righteousness SURPASSES the scribes and Pharisees, he says, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. There is another level of walking through this life beyond the mere obeying of duty. And whether you call that artistic merit or the call to holiness, today’s scriptures remind us that salvation is not known by technical merit alone.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets,” Jesus tells us. Murder, Adultery, divorce, false witness – all those activities wreak havoc on the life of communities and the individuals effected by them. But Jesus calls us to more: “I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill.” It is not just murder that is prohibited, but the anger that leads to it; not just adultery, but the lust that leads to it. Couples can strictly keep the fidelity of their marriage vows yet not keep the promise to deeply, passionately love the other person in a bond that grows and deepens each day.
So, what if all the Olympic cameras were on you or me these days? What if my every decision, every conversation, every choice, was being judged on the more difficult “Artistic merit.” Would people see in us something that is beautiful, compelling, grace-filled and inspiring? Is there a beauty to our life, a flow through it that is gracious and merciful?
• I doubt that the cameras would catch us killing anyone. But would they catch us in a conversation, saying something about someone that kills their reputation? Would the cameras find our words building up and encouraging; or would they capture hurtful words that crush someone’s spirit.
• In my marriage, would the camera angles show the work that it takes to keep a pool of affection for my spouse… the negotiating how we argue; the forgiveness; the time to laugh?
• And when we fail or fall, would they see us get up. Would they see that we remembered our dignity even when we trip up – or get tripped up – and our willingness to begin again?
• Would they know in you a love that is Olympian – faster to love, higher to serve, stronger to give all you are? Would they see a heart that has trained and prepared for a life of holiness and love?
Whether or not you like Olympic figure skating, it does provide a reminder to us. To God, there is so much more than WHAT we do, the letter of the law, the technical merit. It also matters greatly to God HOW we do it. May our lives be lives of beauty and love and integrity.
Of many things..
I received the following note from Sr. Lorraine Foster:
“On behalf of God’s thirsty children and their mothers, please accept my thanks for your generous collaboration with our mission. Your ‘fair trade market’ supplied the funds to equip 26 new Water Women for 2014. We can project that well over 200 children and their families will drink clean water for years to come, because of your kindness. May God bless all of you with abundant grace for your generosity.”
Sr. Lorraine Foster – Water with Blessings
Thanks from this pastor’s heart as well, for your commitment to making this world a better place.
Last weekend was one of many farewells (or, “until I see you again”) that I have had to do in my career as a campus minister. But this one impacts our St. Ann family as well. Amalie Cobb, who has been the female vocalist with Steven Brinkmeyer every other Sunday at the 11 a.m. mass since Advent, is leaving this week for Michigan. (And she is going there on purpose! “So it is not cold enough for you here this winter?) It is where she has discerned the next stage in her life needs to unfold. She has asked for our prayers and support as she relocates and strives to find gainful employment. I am grateful for the gift of her time and talent in encouraging the active participation of all of us in sacred song.
Lucy Ellermann, a Newman Center grad student in optometry, has agreed to assist Steven going forward. I know you will continue the fine tradition of praising God in song with your voices and hearts going forward.
This coming Lent, instead of an Archdiocesan penance weekend, with a few designated parish within each deanery as a central site for confessions, the decision was made to have each parish hold their own ‘confession marathon’ (my words, not theirs.) The window given was between March 21st and April 5th. So, I will gather some of my priest friends to help out with a parish penance service on Wednesday, April 2nd at 7pm. Please mark your calendar accordingly.
Finally, a public word of thanks to Gary Uthoff and Bob Reid, who have helped me keep the sidewalks and steps around church relatively snow free this winter. And to Dave Williams who brought his snow blower to help with the school and preschool sidewalks. What a blessing they are to us all!
In a world where there are a thousand combinations of spices and herbs to flavor food, salt is pretty passé. And for those who have high blood pressure, salt is pretty prohibited – too much is bad for you. So, though I get the image of ‘salt of the earth’, I wondered if I could improve on Jesus’ statement in light of a cold, Midwestern winter, like the one we are having. What if we changed just one word in that phrase of his – could it open up for us another level of richness to his invitation to us?
Here is what I came up with: “You are the salt of the Streets.” <<Big, corny smile, hands up for approval, as if I am really pleased with myself!>> You ARE the salt of the streets!
We understand that image this winter, don’t we? Salt, which does flavor foods – the predominate image of Jesus – also melts the frozen path, turns snow-packed highways into drivable interstates; and exposes the dangers of potholes and bumps and obstacles hidden beneath the blankets of white snow. (I get that it also makes messes of carpets and church floors, rusts out cars, etc) So what happens when we take those images of what salt does to snow and apply them as invitations/metaphors for our human condition?
As “The salt of the street” we are called: 1) to melt the frozen heart, 2) to make people’s hearts ‘driveable’ (unstuck) and 3) to expose the unseen dangers underneath a lot of what our world thinks is safe.
So, how do we do that?
1) Hearts seem to most often be frozen with un-forgiveness or trapped in grief. Somebody did something that was hurtful or hateful or spiteful, and rather than risk that pain again, we stop trusting. Or spouse is gone and the hole in our heart seems huge. And that muscle that was so open to all of life just get frozen, and stops loving. Jesus invites us to ‘melt’ the frozen heart. Maybe it is a yellow rose of friendship we have delivered to their door. Or a note asking for or offering forgiveness. Maybe we make it a point to just to stop by a widower’s house with a cup of coffee once a week – or a phone call at the same time every week – something that says to them: We haven’t stopped loving you or supporting you. Melt a frozen heart this week!
2) Make a heart ‘drivable’ this week. One of my favorite stories of healing at the Newman Center was one a student shared years after the actual event. “I struggled all my life with both faith and with being loved. I know I was never the prettiest creature God ever created. But all my life, I wanted someone, anyone, to think I was beautiful. On retreat, during that one prayer exercise, one of the whispered voices we were to hear as if it was the voice of God said exactly those words to me: “You are so beautiful. You are so beautiful.” And I who never cry, had tears rolling down my cheeks, because I heard that voice as if it was directly from God. And I realized that God had been trying to tell me that all my life, but I just never heard it. But now I do. And I could move forward again!”
Maybe there is a son, a daughter, a parent, an aunt or uncle whose heart has been waiting for a voice, any voice, to say what God has been trying to tell them all along. Use this Valentine’s day as a excuse to write them a little note to say how beautiful they are to you – how much you love them with God’s love. Make one heart drivable by your words of affirmation this week.
3) Finally, that white blanket of snow hides the dangers of pot holes and debris and crumbling roadways underneath. We need to melt some of that blanket away to see underneath. This upcoming Lent, I invite you embark on a spiritual journey, called Lent 4.5. You can read a bit more about it in my pastor’s pen today. The bulk of it is a series of inserts in the bulletin, inviting us to look at gospel simplicity; to examine our use of food, water, energy, transportation as moral acts, and finally, to hear a gospel call to gratitude and generosity. Create time to read them as a way to expose some of the dangers in our culture. And/or, next week, you’ll have a chance to join one of several small groups to delve even deeper to these issues as a response of faith. Use your salt to expose the dangers underneath.
You are the salt of the street. And the salt of the earth – called to melt the frozen heart, make the roads to the human spirit drivable and expose the dangers on the journey. It’s been a tough winter already. And more snow is coming, this we know. There is a lot of salting to do, both on our streets and in our world. You, who are the salt of the streets, get busy.
Through a measuring tool called Global Footprint, humans are able to assess the impact of various lifestyles upon the Earth. It is a complex process, but a simple formula. At present, there are more than 6.5 billion people on the planet. If we were to divide the Earth equally among all of us, 4.5 acres would be available to each person. 4.5 acres is what we are each entitled to use. It is a fair share.
From that 4.5 acres each of us would have to find the wherewithal to cultivate our food, the space and materials to construct our home, the energy to heat and cool it, the water for our lawn and toilets, a place to dispose of our wastes, the timber or plastic to put together our furniture, the fibers to produce our clothes, the metals to manufacture our appliances and cars, the petroleum for our transportation, and anything needed to make our gadgets and “stuff.” 4.5 acres would be each person’s fair share. Yet, as you can imagine, not every country gets their 4.5 acres.
Regardless of our personal habits of consumption, anyone who lives in North America benefits from the infrastructures, food choices, travel options, medical advantages, and conveniences of a standard of living that demands a lot more than 4.5 acres. (22.3 to be exact. However, if 4.5 acres is our fair share of the planet’s resources, then others must do with less so we can maintain our level of affluence.
Lent 4.5 is a seven week faith formation program which inspires and informs Christian communities on how to use the traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and alms giving to protect God’s creation, embrace Gospel justice and nurture spiritual fulfillment. It offers practical opportunities for people of faith to apply the values of Christian Simplicity to their everyday lives.
Through a series of hand outs in the bulletins and optional small faith group reflections, you and I are invited to journey this Lent in a way that does the work of justice. There will be groups that meet on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday evenings and one group that meets on Wednesday mornings. Next weekend, there will be people in the back of the church to answer questions about Lent 4.5. They will also be happy to sign you up for a small group of your choice. Let the bulletin inserts be an invitation to reflection this Lent. Prayerfully consider joining one of the small groups – they are wonderful opportunities to challenge and support one another to be good stewards of the resources God has given to us all.
Visitation Appeal – you folks are amazing…
From this grateful pastor’s heart, let me say THANK YOU for your generous response to our Annual Visitation appeal. Your needed generosity has bought us a little breathing room in our operating budget. Obviously, there are still challenges before us, the largest still being the declining enrollment in the population base for school aged children in this neighborhood. This appeal helps from the parish side of that equation. (In Ireland, during the ‘troubles’, the pastor would instruct his congregation: “Go out and MAKE the vote.” In this age, I don’t think I can tell you to go out and “make the school!”)
So, the totals for the Visitation Appeal aligned this way: $33,506 went directly to the Appeal and the parish coffers. In addition, two donors matched their giving through Boeing’s Matching Gifts program. That money goes directly to our St. Ann school. Their gifts, when matched, totaled an additional $4,200. So the total for the Appeal ended up at $37,706. What an amazing generosity from one and all. Thank you so much for your gifts which help us to weather this perfect storm of financial challenge with an even more perfect storm of generosity and love. YOU MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE in the lives of our school community.
I don’t know if I say it often enough, but I am so deeply grateful for this parish, for the opportunity to be a part of your lives and world, and for the grace to walk the journey of life with you these past 11 ½ years. You have made this my home. And for that, I can never thank you enough.
Though it is hard to wrap my mind around it, remote preparations for the Sponsor’s Dinner Dance in late April are beginning. As you know, Kay Dieckmann and Cheri Smith stepped down after many years of co-chairing the event. Nicki Island is beginning her time as chair, and like everyone who has chaired the event, is looking for good volunteers. We need them in all stages of the event, from planning to soliciting donations to set up, all the way through to clean up on Sunday morning. Hear this as your invitation: – We Need YOU! You may contact Nicki at: [email protected] or 314.604.0124 to volunteer.