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listenDid Michael Brown hear those words?
Did Daren Wilson hear those words?
Did the rioters and looters in Ferguson hear those words?
Did the serial killer just arrested in Indiana hear those words?
Did Jaylen Fryberg of Maryville, Washington hear those words?
I wonder…

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself. Somehow the data suggest that a lot of people have not really heard those words in a way that makes a difference. What I know is this:

These words will be heard by this weekend by Christians who on Monday will gain substantial commissions on financial products that put their clients at high risk of losing their life’s savings.

These words will be heard by Christians who exploit foreign workers, pay them below minimum wage, and threaten them with deportation if they complain.

These words will be heard by Christians who close their eyes to the cruelty, violence, and suffering that affect so many innocent people today. So many that Pope Francis has said we are the midst of a Third World War, but one spread out piecemeal across the globe.

How is it that Christians can live as if Jesus never said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself”?

Perhaps that can happen because when we hear the Gospel we often hear what we want to hear, and in the way we want to hear it, and then we are deaf to those words that challenge and indict our way of living. The problem is not with the words, but with our hearing.

We hear Jesus speak of loving God with all our being and we decide that we fulfill that command by going to Sunday Mass. We think that love of God merely means being at an act of worship an hour a week. Pray and sing, kneel and stand, and then ‘we are done with that till next Sunday.’ An alum posted on her facebook page this morning: “Since I can’t sleep, I might as well go to mass and get that out of the way.” Hmm….

We hear Jesus speak of loving our neighbor as ourselves, and we decide what people fit that category. Neighbors are the kind of people we like living near us, playing with our children, inviting us to their social gatherings, and agreeing with our politics.

There is a problem with our hearing, isn’t there? No matter how well intentioned we might be, until our lives begin to match the life of Jesus, then we have not ‘heard’ the words in the way the need to be heard. We need a set of Christian hearing aids – that will help us in the concrete decisions of our lives be like Jesus who lived those words.

For Jesus, loving God meant making the Father’s will the guide for his life. “Not my will but yours be done,” spoke those Christian hearing aids into Jesus’ ears. In every choice, those words guided his actions.

Loving his neighbors meant associating with the outcast, the powerless, the sinner. It meant seeing those that society ignored and discarded with the eyes of the God who made them. It meant saying from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

So, if Christian hearing aids existed, what would they be ‘translating into our ears these days?’ A quick look at the papers gives us a place to start. Wouldn’t they be saying we need to be standing with the families of both Michael Brown in their sorrow, and Daren Wilson in his fight for a just hearing. That we need to be finding a way to end the scourge of gun violence that tragically has taken the lives of 113 on the streets of St. Louis this year, and 2 people just yesterday at a high school in Washington State. That we need to help the countries stricken with the Ebola epidemic, not just to prevent it from ‘coming here’, but because thousands are dying daily.

And so it goes. We know these words by heart. As did all the Michael Browns and Daren Wilsons and Jaylen Frybergs and each brother and sister who let them bounce too quickly off their eardrums and not into their heart. This week – put on a new set of ears, a new set of spiritual hearing aids – so that the words that truly guided Jesus in all of his choices, might be our guide as well.

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From the Pastor’s Pen:

Many thanks to all who helped to make our annual garage sale such a huge success. Rough estimates put the funds raised at about $3,000. As always, a huge thanks to Bob Reid for organizing the affair, arranging the pick-up of large items, and organizing the clean up and repurposing of the unsold items to various charities in the neighborhood. Thanks to Sr. Celine, Pauline Strope, Bobby White, Dee Henderson, Maria Thornton, Deanna Mendez, Warren Paul, Margaret Saak, Terry Durand, and everyone else who helped place, price, staff and sell all the treasures for the good of our school and parish community. Thanks to our ‘cleaner uppers’ – The Dunkers, Mary Nahm, Mary Lou Krueger, George and Gabby Copp, Matt Thornton, Yves Owana, Jean Kustura, Isabelle Williams and anyone else who packed up the leftover goodies for use at other charities. Together, we make a difference.
— — — — — — —
Imagine if a whole diocese committed to a four year plan…

Matthew Kelly, founder of Dynamic Catholic, a group whose mission is loosely described as “to re-engage disengaged Catholics and increase engagement among Catholics in general” wrote a potentially game changing book called: The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic. In his first chapter he notes that 6.4% of registered parishioners contribute 80% of the volunteer hours in a parish; 6.8% donate 80% of the financial contributions. These are “the 7%” – those who are “dynamic Catholics”. Imagine if we doubled or tripled that number: the Catholic church could change the world.

So, beginning January of 2015, the Archdiocese will be implementing Dynamic Catholic, Alive!, an initiative based upon Matthew Kelly’s book. It is a four year plan, to focus on the characteristics of a dynamic catholic. As a part of that initiative, we will be distributing copies of that book to every family in the parish, most likely at Christmas time. (Details still to be determined, pending more information from the Office of Laity and Family Life.) Stay tuned for more information.

Finally, in one of those quirks of the Liturgical calendar, the Feast of All Saints falls on a Saturday this year, so though it remains a Holy Day, the ‘obligation’ is removed. We will have a morning mass at 8 am that Saturday for those who wish to honor the feast. The Weekend masses (including the Saturday evening vigil) will celebrate the feast of All Souls…

PLEASE NOTE: DAYLIGHT SAVINGS ENDS ON SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 2ND AT 2:00 AM….PLEASE REMEMBER TO SET YOUR CLOCKS BACK (SPRING FORWARD, FALL BACK) ONE HOUR BEFORE YOU GO TO BED SATURDAY NIGHT, NOVEMBER 1ST.

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

October 26, 2014

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of Gratefulness and Stewardship…

After my stewardship report of a few weeks ago, a parishioner put it upon herself to start the “21 Club” to help reduce the deficit. In her own words, she said: “All I could think was this, if 21 people gave $1000 it would cure the deficit. If 42 people gave $500, if 84 people gave $250 we could reduce the deficit. I know people from St. Ann’s have big hearts and are very generous.” So she sent some emails to people in her address book and encouraged them to forward on to others, and already a few people have made that generous pledge. (Thanks so much!)

I confess, I was not expecting anything like that. My ‘ask’ in the stewardship report was not about ‘curing the deficit’ (though that never hurts) but about people looking to what God has given them and, on an ongoing basis, to up their weekly contributions at whatever level they feel God allows them to do so. (And if every family who uses envelopes could increase their weekly donation going for-ward by $5 per week, that would indeed go far to put our parish/school on stable footing.)

That being said, Stewardship at its heart, is less about ‘curing deficits’ and more about making an act of faith and a gift of love to the God who has been so good and generous to us. It is one way we acknowledge to our God that “everything we have has been given to us…our time, our work and leisure, our talents and skills, our family and friends, and our financial and material resources. When we joyfully return our gifts to God with gratitude, we come to realize that we are His sons and daughters, and we deepen our love for our brothers and sisters.” That is why I invited people to a prayerful discernment of an ongoing gift in-stead of a one-time gift – it is a concrete way to put our faith into action and to remind ourselves on a regular basis how good God is always to us.

Don’t get me wrong. I am VERY grateful to those who stepped up to the plate and made that sacrificial gift. Those gifts will help to replenish our cash reserves depleted by last year’s deficit. And whether you increase your stewardship to God via the one time extra large gift or a weekly extra ongoing gift, the result is the same. So thanks for all who have indeed made a pledge to increase their stewardship – by either the 21 club or your weekly parish envelopes.

People of St. Ann, indeed, have been very generous in responding to the invitation to increase their stewardship. Once we have a month’s worth of collections in as our ‘sample size’, I’ll let you know where we are at. In the mean time, as we hear in today’s gospel, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s but to God, the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:21

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

October 19, 2014

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chalice1“Whose image is this and whose inscription?” was the question that Jesus asked. Though directed to his adversaries about the coin in his hand and in the broader scope, – the rendering to Caesar what is his and to God what is God’s – it seems like one of those ‘bigger questions that stands on its own. It is one that kind of ‘floats down the ages’, one that has less to do with politics immediately and everything to do with how we view one another. If you remember way back in that first story of creation in the first chapter of Genesis (vs.26) you hear God saying: “Let us make man and woman in our image …” If we really see whose image is “written” all over the people around us; if we really saw the ‘inscription’ that marked them at God’s sons and daughters by baptism; if we really let THAT truth sink in, wouldn’t it hugely effect how we “spend” our time with them, or how we treat them. If all of the people around us belong to God – and we know this because we can see God’s image in and on them, then this passage is really about how we “repay” or offer back to God, the gifts of those around us.

<<pick up chalice>> This chalice belonged to Msgr. Sprenke. I used it a lot when mine was being repaired. I have always been struck by its beauty. I’ve always wondered about the large diamond that is in the center of the cross. Certainly it is stunningly beautiful. Almost distractingly so, as I usually turn the cross side to face you so I don’t get caught up in admiring it as I consecrate the wine.

So what if our safe broke and I sent this home, student by student, day by day during the course of the year, for you to keep safe and then to bring it back for the following Sunday’s mass – how do you think that would go? Don’t you think that people would treat this as the treasure we know it to be, something of complete value and worth? I’d like to think it would not get tossed on the pile of dirty laundry in the corner of the room. I’d like to think each would treat it with great care, and great honor, respecting both the dignity of its beauty, but also what it is used for – to hold the precious Blood of Jesus. Wouldn’t we honor it and care for it? I think so.

And yet, we who are much more in God’s image than this chalice, don’t we treat each other so poorly at times. We can find all kinds of ‘good’ reasons to do so. “He started it.” “They looked down their nose at me”. “They never remember my name.” And those are just the ‘good’ justifications for bad behaviors. And as humans, we can behave in pretty ugly ways toward one another, can’t we, that makes it hard for others to see the God-self beneath our exterior. We can find a hundred ways to forget that question: “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” in the person who is before us, as well as the person looking back at us in the mirror.

  • I was on the sidewalk walking to get into the college church a while back on my way to a wedding rehearsal and a young boy about 9 or 10, with his father and a sister a few steps behind approached me. He asked for a handout. I wasn’t prepared for that question coming from a ‘family unit – individuals, maybe, but not a dad and two kids’. I didn’t even make eye contact as I mumbled some kind of response and walked on. I was so busted. Though I may not have been obliged to give them assistance, I was certainly called to treat them with the dignity of the sons and daughters of God.

“Whose image is this and whose inscription?”

Our faith tells us that God has written the Divine image into each sister and brother and carved their name into the palm of his hand.

Practically this week, as often as a coin comes across your hand this week – ask the question – whose image, whose inscription is on the face of the person closest to me at that moment. Maybe it is the cashier at the store. Maybe it is the roommate who came in drunk last night. Maybe it is the sister you don’t always see eye to eye with. Whoever, it is, treat them as you would repay your debt to God.

chalice2It is an amazing chalice (pick it up). Perhaps one day I’ll know the story of the diamond on the center of the cross that so captures my eye with its beauty. But I can tell you this about it, as often as I pick this up and see that diamond, it is never worth more than you whom I see past my hands as I hold it up. This is just a beautiful chalice. YOU – you are the image and likeness of God.

“Whose image is this and whose inscription?” -God’s. Only God’s.

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

October 12, 2014

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The challenges before us… Diocesan wide…

So an interesting thing happened at our Deanery meeting this past Monday. Our dean had but one topic of discussion for us to begin to mull over. But it is a doozy. If you remember more than a few years ago, there was a small task force assembled to begin some strategic planning around the area of utilization of priests and the administration of parishes. Much was talked about, but not much happened with their recommendations. Till now.

Behind the scenes someone has done a lot of projections and demographics concerning the current numbers of priests in the Archdiocese. The summary goes like this: We have been/will average the following:
5 priests ordained each year
1 priest incardinated each year
-2 priests leave active ministry each year
-10 priests die each year.
So we will average a net decline of 6 priests per year going forward. Thus, we can expect 30 fewer diocesan priests in the next five years and 60 fewer in the next ten.

With this as a backdrop, they have asked us to put thought and energy around this concept:
IF tomorrow there were 3 fewer full time priests than today to serve your deanery:

At what parish would you place the remaining priests and would they be full time or part time in their parochial roles?

At which parishes would you place qualified and trained deacons or lay leaders for pastoral roles?
What adjustments would you make to parishes them-selves (e.g. – changing mass times to accommodate priests serving more than one parish)?

It is a process that is long overdue. And though it is frightening at first glance to even begin such a discussion, what I sense is the Holy Spirit at work, inviting us to look, not with a wistful nostalgia over what has been, but with faith filled eyes over what God is calling us to.

Please hear this clearly: this is not a process about ‘closing parishes’ or ‘shuttering buildings’, but one about using the gifts of both our priests and laity fully to continue to be the presence of God in our neighborhoods and communities. Mass schedules might change. Rectory assignments might look different. Parishes might share a priest. But in the heart of our communities the Lord will continue to dwell and continue to breathe life and love wherever “two or more are gathered in His name.”

(fyi – input is welcome…. we have one month to make our initial proposal…)

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invitationIt is a strange ending, isn’t it, to today’s gospel passage. The guy is invited last minute to the feast, and then is yelled at and kicked out because he did not have time to rent a tux. How do we understand this? Is it really about the clothes he is wearing? Or something more?

So let me share a true story from our priest’s convocation last month that may help. I had the gift of sitting at the table with the Archbishop Carlson for one of the morning sessions. The work of that morning’s session was to name the values for us as priests to live in our relationships with one another. In the course of our conversation, the Archbishop articulated two ‘negative’ values, as things he did NOT want to see, as a way of helping us own what we DID want to see. He said there is no room in the priesthood for:

  • Priests in private practice
  • and what he called “the second Tribalism” — priests who only relate to those who think the same way they do.

Nothing will destroy a diocesan priesthood more quickly than those two trends. Nothing will prevent the bonds of fraternity from deepening than those attitudes.

I have reflected on those words these past few weeks since our return from Convocation. I realized that I am guilty sometimes of being a “pastor in private practice”. You have been very patient as I have slowly learned how to be a pastor ‘while on the job’ here. But more often than not, I tend to hold my own counsel in terms of decisions, and in terms of the running of the parish. Though that is an efficient way to make decisions, it does not work very well in terms of using the gifts of the baptized. It speaks of an attitude that does not shepherd the community by empowering its leaders. It is easy to be a pastor in private practice.

It, I fear, is also easy to be a parishioner in ‘private practice’. “I come to mass. I get there just in time or on St. Ann time. I say the prayers, lend my slightly off key or wonderful voice to the singing. I receive the Lord in communion. And make my way home without ever having interacted with the people in the pew two in front or two behind me. And more importantly, without ever asking how God might be inviting me to be a parishioner in PUBLIC PRACTICE – connecting, serving, giving of who I am in concrete, tangible ways.”

THAT is why the man is thrown out of the banquet. He was ‘there’ physically, but not there, ‘dressed for the banquet’ – not engaged in doing the work of the kingdom – by being involved in relationships, caring for others, giving of who he was for the good of others. Sure, he could have gotten a garment from a supply that most hosts would have in a side closet. (like the jackets and ties that some fancy restaurants also provide.) But the fact that he didn’t and that he stayed silent said he was only there for the food and nothing else. This little story, tells us exactly what the Archbishop said that morning around the table: there is no room in the kingdom for people trying to go it alone, people unwilling to get involved in life, involved in relationships, involved in caring for others. The bouncers toss him from the gathering because he is unwilling to do what the celebration asks of him.

To put it another way, it is not sufficient just to be called/just to be a catholic. Once one answers the call, one must choose to be ready for the festival, to be prepared for the joy, to dress for the event. Everyone is invited, but the decision as to what you do when you arrive is up to you.

Concretely, like that exercise at the priests’ convocation, this week in your prayer, if you had to name a few values or virtues that we, as the people of St. Ann should be living, what would you name? We understand that tribalism and private practice don’t cut it. But what does? Hospitality – certainly we do that. Engagement? And how would you be willing to live that out? By volunteering at one event per semester? Make it as concrete as possible. And then please filter those ideas to me, or to the stewardship committee as they work to move me away from being a pastor in private practice.

The good news is that we ALL are invited to the party called the kingdom of heaven. Get ready for it, for it is not just the party of the season, or the century, but of our eternity.

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October 5, 2014

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