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vote ad(First, a short homily about the readings for this Sunday.)

I watch just enough TV to know that the mid-term election ads are ramping up. Perhaps because I am becoming a bit more cynical or a bit more realistic, depending upon how you look at it, what I know is this. Promises made in campaigning are not always followed up upon. (Gasp! Horrors! Say it ain’t so, Joe!) A “yes’ to a position in September or October often is followed by a “No” in January. So too, a “No” during election cycles often becomes a “Yes” once elected.

Jesus warns both his disciples and those who were the ‘keepers’ of the law – the powers that be – to be aware of that tendency within us. Who is the one who did the will of God? The one who’s ‘Yes’ was accomplished not in their words, but in their deeds. That truth remains for us, 2000 years later. So, perhaps as a way to get through this election cycle, as often as you see a political ad, certainly evaluate it for the truthfulness of the “Yes” or “No” contained within. But mostly, let it be a reminder to you on your walk of faith of that important question that Jesus poses to US – “Am I saying yes with my words only, or with my deeds as well?”
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(Now, the ‘state of the parish’ address…)

Today is Stewardship Sunday across the Archdiocese. Many of you have probably already read the short version of the past year’s financial report in today’s pastor’s pen. For those who have not, here is the short summary of the short summary. There are three major issues we face as a parish.

1) We were in the red this past year by $21K. And I am proud to say the culprit is our St. Ann school, specifically, our enrollment. Because of the Missouri transfer ruling, we experienced a huge initial decline in enrollment, and slowly recouped some of those students, but still ended the year with a net loss of about 10 students. No one foresaw that coming, and the resultant loss in tuition revenue explains most of the fiscal crunch that we are in. And, salaries and benefits, determined by the Archdiocese, rose by 4.7% from last year.
2) Parish Subsidy: St. Ann parish has always subsidized our school – usually to the tune of $140-150K a year. Because of that loss of tuition, that subsidy rose to $204.5K, a jump of $52K.
3) Cash Flow: As I have written in the Visitation Drive and the Pay It Forward letters, we are a bit strapped for cash because of the boiler replacement of two years ago, and the shortfall from last year. That has been exacerbated by the Alive In Christ revenues – which are a God send, but ONLY hit the books twice a year. Yet we have to pay into it monthly and pay our salaries twice a month. So the cash flow is still problematic.

That is a brief summary of our financial status for this past year. Check the parish website in the next two weeks for a more detailed report.

What is next for our St. Ann parish? Before I answer that, let me tell you WHY we are going to do what we do going forward. And I say that, not in my own words, but in the words of our 7th and 8th grade students. Here is what St. Ann School has meant to them and what it has taught them:

• “I learned at St. Ann that no matter the color you are, we are all equal. We don’t think twice about our color.”
• “Everyone is so kind and this is where I met my ‘family.’
• (in that same vein) “St. Ann school is pretty much home to me.”
• “St. Ann has changed me/taught me how to strive for peace with God, others, myself; even when I feel I can’t do it on my own”
• “St. Ann has taught me what it means to be Catholic and how to live my faith.”

If you have wondered what you might be able to do in the face of the events in Ferguson, MO, you don’t have to look any farther than our St. Ann school. Here we educate not just our 65 St. Ann Parish students, but 12 students from other parishes and 75 non-Catholic students from the neighborhood. This is their family. This is their home, both for their education and for their development as believers in Jesus Christ. This is why we do what we do.

SO, here is what we have done and what I propose going forward.

1) If you supplied us with a working email, you should have received an electronic survey in your inbox. I ask that you take the time this week to fill that out – 8-12 minutes – so we might better help you use your gifts of time and talent as a way of putting your faith into action. Paper copies for others are coming in the next few weeks.

2) To address the issue of Cash flow, I am encouraging people to consider making their gifts electronically. Your weekly or monthly parish gift would be taken automatically from YOUR bank account and deposited in OUR bank account – either using our system of ACH deposits, or your own bank’s Electronic Bill Pay system. This would be for your weekly/monthly parish tithe. Special collections would still use the envelopes. (SHOW FORM) These forms are by the doors. I am not trying to put our money counters out of business, , but I am trying to make it easier for people to put God first in terms of returning to him the gifts God entrusted to them. If you still want to use your envelopes, you need do nothing.

3) We walk a fine line in our tuition increases because our tuition is right at that magic 8% of median income levels at which experts tell us people can no longer afford private school. Yet, because of the higher parish subsidy than normal, we increased tuition by about 5% this year to have parents shoulder more of the actual costs per student. But even that increase will still leave us with an expected shortfall of about $8-9K.

4) So, for the second time in my 12 ¼ years as pastor, I am asking for an increase in your weekly offerings, to fund the mission of our parish and our parish school. While our salaries have risen yearly by about 4%, our weekly parish giving has remained absolutely static for the past 4 years. You know what happens when expenses go like this (upward line) while income goes like this (flat line). Though I am not a whiz on finance, I know that if each household could give an additional $5 a week, we’ll be able to keep treading water, keeping our head afloat. If each household were able to give more, then many things become possible.

Thanks for all you do to keep the vision alive. Thank you for continuing to make me the most blessed pastor in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. I invite you to pray, reflect on God’s goodness to you, and then decide how you will say “Yes”, not just with your words, but with your time, talent and treasure. Together, with God’s help, we’ll keep living faith here at St. Ann’s, just as we have done every year since 1856.

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Parish Stewardship Report – the short version…

Though we will mail out a complete version of the parish financial report with your year-end statements, and will have that report online within a week or so, I wanted to give you the ‘thumbnail sketch’ of the parish finances for this past fiscal year, ending June 30, 2014. If you are like me, numbers tend to swim in my head, but words I can grasp. So here is the narrative version of the report.

For those who like the bottom line first, we showed a total parish deficit of $21,007 after capital expenditures and bad debts were added in. In terms of ‘normal’ operating budget items, we showed a slim ‘profit’ of $25K, compared to a ‘profit’ of $85K last year. Cash in our checking account and money market fund total $75,797, down from $121,789 last year.

So, what were the major variances in income and expenses from last year? In a word:
Salaries
School enrollment decline
Teacher salaries and benefits, set by the Archdiocesan School office (and mirrored in the rectory staff in-creases) saw an increase of $38.7K. (4.6%) School enrollment two years ago hovered in the 157-159 range. Because of the Missouri Transfer Law ruling, last year’s enrollment began at 143 and crept slowly to the 150-152 range by February, with a resultant loss of $43K in tuition revenues. (FYI – current enrollment as of today is 152, with more than a few families on a Pastor’s scholarship plan to make up the difference between their Alive in Christ Scholarship, what they can afford to pay, and the tuition we charge.)

Salaries and Enrollment – those are the two biggest challenges to our parish finances. In terms of the rest of the budget report – an increase in Archdiocesan Assessments for the Alive in Christ Initiative was offset by in-crease grant Revenues from the Alive in Christ foundation. The Early Childhood Center showed a slight profit once more. Unrestricted revenues were flat; we saw modest declines in restricted offerings and gifts, rental income, (parish center), and fund raising (Pay it Forward and Visitation). On the positive side, “Ordinary expenses’ of supplies, fees, services, and utilities were down. We are running as tight a ship as we know how.

So, what does this mean for us? Simply this. We have an opportunity before us to keep our St. Ann school and parish solid as the rock of Normandy that we have been for 158 years and counting. But it will entail a deliberate choice to deepen our stewardship of all the gifts God has entrusted to us. More details on what that will look like in today’s homily…

p.s. Anyone who provided us an email address should have received a link to our stewardship survey. If you did not, please contact Meg Naes (341-9498) or Bill Hook (382-5786).

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

September 28, 2014

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

September 21, 2014

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Stewardship and the ACA

I received a letter from Archbishop Carlson, congratulating all of you for your efforts and sacrifice for the Annual Catholic Appeal. As you may have read in the St. Louis Review, the campaign was a success, largely due to parishes like ours who not only reached our goal, but also reached our challenge goal. Thank you for your stewardship of the gifts of treasure God has entrusted to you. Be assured of his continued prayers of gratitude and support.

Next weekend is Stewardship Sunday in our Archdiocese. As part of my stewardship of your gifts, a summary of the Annual Parish Finance report will be presented in the Pastor’s pen. The entire report will be available online on the parish website. The news is not great, but nor is it unexpected. We have some challenges before as we continue the mission of Christ here in our neighborhood. I intend to lay out a vision that hopefully will guide us forward for the next year or two at all the masses next weekend.

As part of that vision, we will be sending out a link to an electronic survey from our Stewardship team during this upcoming week to all those who have supplied us with an email address, as well as have paper copies available for people to take home. I would ask that each household take the time necessary to fill the survey out. Part of that survey is informational, part of it is seeking input about current practices within the parish, and a part of it is to ask for an accounting of the gifts that God has given you for the building up of the church. I ask that you take time to prayerfully look at those gifts of time, talent and treasure that God has given to you, and then ask for and listen to whatever guidance God is putting in our heart about your stewardship of those gifts.

Finally, next weekend we are going to distribute a form which will allow you to do your weekly/monthly giving electronically via an ACH transfer. It will simplify your support of our mission, and hopefully provide a steadier income stream during the disruptions to mass attendance caused by inclement and winter weather. You certainly are not obliged to use this form of giving, but as more and more people do their banking online, we thought you might like the option.

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Are you prone to jealousy?

Published on 21. Sep, 2014 by in Sunday Homilies

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envy(Or, in today’s gospel story, do you picture yourself in the front or the back of the line?)

• “Check out my new ride. The insurance payment from the accident covered everything! It is so sweet! I LOVE THIS CAR!”
• “It is so good to be dating again. It feels like it has been forever. We’re going to the movies on Friday and to dinner on Saturday and then Sunday we’re…”
• “I’m so excited. I just got a full ride scholarship for my Master in Nursing at Wash. U. Life is so good!

These are common experiences, aren’t they, as people share their world and their life’s story with us. If I am having a good day, it is easy to rejoice with them, isn’t it? “That is great news! Congrats! Way to go! If I am having a ‘not so good day’, I might say those same things, but when I lay down in bed and have my little talk with God –my truer feelings come out.
• “How come I’m still stuck with that clunker that burns oil and seems to be nickel and diming me to death?”
• “Great – they are out on a date, and once more, I am in my room on a Friday night. ALONE. AGAIN.”
• “What gives, Lord I’m working two jobs to pay my tuition at UMSL, and they’re getting a full ride? And who has the time to fill out scholarship applications anyway?!”
When that green monster of envy appears, it is so difficult to rejoice in the good fortune of others.

The people at the back of the line in today’s story found that to be true. All they could think about was their toil, their labor, their suffering. What they had endured, and therefore, what THEY had earned in terms of reward. “WE have labored all day in the scorching heat…” They were so trapped in their own world that it was hard for them even to phrase what the experience might have been for those in the front of the line. “How exciting for them!” was not even in their vocabulary, much less their hearts.

Of course, in my mind, I am always toward the front of the line – not the first group, but close enough to be glad for the people in the front who received such generosity, who were the recipients of good news. Of course it is easy to celebrate success in other people’s lives. That’s me, Lord! No green monster of envy lurking under my bed. Or so I thought until this Thursday.

We had an opportunity on our convocation to make a holy hour, and they had the option of the sacrament of reconciliation. I wasn’t planning on going. So, I was praying in the back of the room. And in the quiet, I found myself looking around the room at some of the guys and thinking, “Boy, he’s got a plush assignment – no school and no financial worries. And what about him – a school that is full and two full time associates. What a sweet life. I’m a lot busier than him, and his associates combined…” And that little ‘pity party voice’ was playing in my head: “They don’t HAVE to work as hard as you do, Bill Kempf. ” And there was that green monster staring me right in the face. And suddenly I was in the back of the line in today’s gospel, one of the grumblers, one of the murmur-ers, instead of being excited by the gifts that these, my brothers, bring to their parishes and assignments. After that, I put myself in the line for the sacrament of confession…

What do you do when jealousy rears its ugly head? And how easy is it for you to celebrate the good fortune of others. Among the many things that this difficult parable asks us to do is just that – to open up our hearts in rejoicing for the good that happens in other’s lives. Instead of being threatened by it, as if the world is a zero sum game and there is only so much goodness that God is going to mete out, we are called to rejoice that God is generous in the lives of so many people. In some ways, it is a little barometer of our life in grace – that ability to give thanks to God for goodness and experiences of generosity wherever and whenever we find it. And that is the best antidote I know to the green monster of envy – gratitude for what I have been given by a loving God.

So, this weekend, – give thanks for the good that God has given to you, but even more so, find reasons to celebrate the good that God is doing in others. Be generous with your love, and even more generous with your enthusiasm. And whether you find yourself in the front of the line or the back of the line, be ready to dance a jig to the tune of the amazing grace we all have been gifted with….

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So, we will see how it goes…

In the category of things that I have mixed emotions about, I am very excited for Pat Marstall, our parish secretary, who is going on an extended period of vacation beginning next week. It is a kind of trial run for her, as she looks to options on how to spend the silver and golden years ahead. I am glad for her and the opportunity before her. And I pray for a restful, relaxing time, with much sunshine and enjoyable weather in Florida.

The mixed emotion side of things is that she will be gone for an entire month. Not since the hiatus between Sr. Dorothy’s leaving that position and Pat’s hire, will there have been such a gap without a secretary to handle the flow of phone and foot traffic that wends its way into our St. Ann rectory on a regular basis. I suspect it will become very clear how much I rely upon her to keep the parish running so smoothly. I also expect to find out how many little things she does quietly and efficiently behind the scenes that I take for granted.

In the interim, Eileen will be busier than normal, finishing off and editing the bulletin, answering the doors, and attending to the normal interactions that compose “a day at St. Ann.” We will make full use of the auto-attendant while Pat is gone, so to reach Eileen, dial extension 852, and to reach me, dial 855 when the message kicks on. I would ask that you be a bit more patient at the door if it takes us a bit longer to answer it, or if there are moments when no one answers, because Eileen is making a run over to school or I am at the Newman Center. We will do our best to post notifications on the door when no one will be around on a given hour or day to greet you.
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Next week, September 15-19, 2014, the priests of the Archdiocese of St. Louis will join Archbishop Robert J. Carlson for the 2014 Convocation. This meeting occurs once every four years and offers our clergy a unique opportunity for prayer, reflection, and discussion as coworkers, brothers, and friends.

Fr. Ron has graciously agreed to cover masses here while I am gone. (Be sure to thank him, as most parishes will only be having communion services in the absence of their priests…) Please keep Archbishop Carlson and the priests of our archdiocese in your prayers during this special time.

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

September 14, 2014

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crossIt was a simple wooden cross that marked the far wall of the Trappist monastery at Snowmass, Colorado. It was about 5 feet high by 2 ½ feet wide. It was made of what looked to be oak. I didn’t think much of it when I first saw it in their chapel. It was plain and simple, like everything else in that place of worship. About mid-week, that all changed. I heard a remarkable thing during lunch. You see, the Trappists take their meals in silence, while a monk reads out loud from the latest book that they are using for their Lectio Divina. In that reading, they explained that the wooden cross on the wall of their chapel would become a grave marker. The cross hanging on the wall in their chapel would mark the grave of the next monk who would die from that monastery. What an amazing tradition. Each monk lives and prays in the shadow of the cross. And not just any cross, but the one that might mark the end of his personal journey through Calvary to Jesus.

I took a walk that afternoon and found the graveyard of the monks. There were 14 crosses that marked the passing of monks from this place of prayer and solitude. Fourteen crosses filled with the memory of the hymns and songs and prayers of the community that journeyed together toward their God. Fourteen crosses – fourteen symbols of the power of Jesus to save and raise up those who come under its spell. And the remains of fourteen lives lived under the triumph of the cross. How do YOU live under the shadow of the cross?

You see, we are invited to live our lives, as did the monks, under the shadow of the cross. We are invited to let our lives echo the life of Jesus that we hear of in St. Paul’s hymn – in that self emptying of love for the world. Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself. And then he emptied himself again upon the cross. And there, free from all pretensions, free from all images of self and importance, free from everything but his father’s will, he was triumphant. There, ‘lifted up’ as John tells us, Jesus reveals to us who we are, whose we are, and how we are to live.

It is the pattern for us to live into, the truth about our lives. The cross is everything that the world is not – powerlessness, surrender, and suffering. It is about finding life in death, finding meaning in suffering, finding the deepest truths about living in the giving of ourselves away. And you and I live under that cross, whether we trust it or not. The monks made that very visible in their chapel. We are called to make it very visible in our lives.

Let me suggest three possible ways to live into this.

1) If you are familiar with the play, Les Miserables, you might remember the last scene opens up with Jean Valjean praying at a small table in his room. At the ends of that table are two silver candlesticks. Reminders of the act of a kindly Bishop who instead of having Valjean put into prison for stealing the silver table goblets they had used at dinner, gave these as well to satisfy the police of his charity. Though Valjean sells the goblets to start his life over, he cannot part with the candlesticks. Each night, as he prays, they are there as the visible reminders of the price paid for his redemption. Is there a cross in your room somewhere? Do you have a visible reminder in your dorm room, apartment, home, that reminds you of the journey made for you and the journey you are to make?
2) Take on the same mind as is in Christ this week –that of self-emptying love. Do the dishes that your roommate left in the sink. Stick a load of laundry in for your mother. Take out the trash even though it is not your turn. Discover the freedom that Paul spoke about – the emptying of the self so there is only room for God.
3) Offer up a suffering you are undergoing for the good of someone who is struggling. Don’t complain about an ailment, don’t whine about a small thing – instead, transform that suffering into a prayer that someone else will know a moments peace in an addiction, a bit of relief from their grief, a moment of joy in their sorrow.

The monks had it right – to physically remind themselves the mystery they stand under – the Triumph of the Cross. May we, who gather under that same shadow, learn how to live the redemption we celebrate at this meal.

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

September 7, 2014

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