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Hands of Homeless Man with Change in CupThere are different kinds of watchfulness, aren’t there?

• There is the watchfulness of a child for the arrival of St. Nicholas and Santa Claus. It’s that wide eyed, on tip toes, openness and excitement to the possibilities of something good.
• There is the watchfulness of a security guard making his night rounds – especially after he has heard an unfamiliar noise.
• There is the watchfulness of a family around the deathbed of a loved one at the end of a long illness.
• There is the watchfulness of a college student for the due date of the paper/project.
• There is the watchfulness of a lover for the sound of her/his beloved at the door.
• There is the watchfulness of an expectant mother awaiting the beginning of labor pains.
We ‘watch’ with all kinds of different ‘eyes and ears and hearts’ – depending on the situation in our lives. What kind of ‘watchfulness’ are you into these days?

In the gospel, Jesus seems to be calling us to be aware that God is breaking into the world NOW, inviting us to see the extraordinary hidden in the midst of the ordinary. He does not seem to be warning us that the end of the world is coming, or that our own end is coming, although both are surely going to end someday. “It is like a man who went on a journey,” he tells us. Travel was not as predictable in terms of starting and ending as our days. You never knew just when the master would return. That was just a fact of traveling. So this passage is not a call to dread and fear about the future, as much as calling us to be more aware of, and more actively alive in the present. We are not called to quake at the thought of the coming of God, but to be found steady and prepared, serving at our post when He comes. “Watch! Be Awake!” we are told.

So if you could condense that kind of waiting, the watchfulness of advent down to two words; wouldn’t they be these two? “What if?” ”What if…”

Now I am not talking about the guilty “What if I would have done that better or differently,” but rather “the leaning forward, edge of the seat, on tip toes, filled with possibility” – expectation of something good and life changing about to happen.

So, What if Jesus was wanting to speak to DIRECTLY to you/me in just ONE encounter of each day of Advent? What if we EXPECTED Jesus to deliver us one message each day – maybe in a conversation, maybe in an insight, maybe through something we saw in the papers or heard in the news – would You/I hear it? Would we be present enough to that moment to let it change us?

He did that for me on Thanksgiving day. Just before the “Holy, Holy” one of our usual folks came in, sat for a moment, and then began to ‘make their rounds’, asking for whatever they ask for. (Usually, money for coffer, I think.) And I found myself getting angry, because I only see them while I am in the middle of saying mass, and never get the chance to “invite them not to disturb people at prayer.” As those thoughts were floating in my head, and the protective ‘frustration’ was starting to rise, and my ‘righteous anger’ was hitting its peak (all in the space of about 45 seconds) Jesus spoke directly to me in the next words of the Eucharistic prayer I was praying. “In your compassion, O merciful Father, gather to yourself ALL your children, scattered throughout the world.” … Dang, I was so busted. Because one of those children I was praying about was right in front of me, there in the back of church. And I heard the invitation of what I was praying: What if I really believed those words I was saying… Do I really try to love them with the compassion of God? …I knew the answer in my heart of hearts. Sigh…

There are other ‘What if’s” of Advent, more practical and more about actions than about attitudes.

What if each time we heard an ambulance/fire engine/police car drive by, we would stop, would REALLY stop – and say a pray for the person being attended to, the structure burning, the first responders involved.

What if each time we shopped, we bought an extra can or two to help those in need?

What if…

Advent is a time to practice active waiting, to prepare for the coming our God. Let those two words guide you. What if… What if…

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

November 30, 2014

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What if…

As you probably have already figured out, the retailers are trying a new tactic this shopping season. “Black Friday Deals” all week long. (Actually longer than that if you count the online deals.) Such a bargain! Those door buster prices on selected items to get you into their stores are now being offered long before thanksgiving week arrives. Whether it pays off for the merchants waits to be seen. In addition, there is a whole other group of stores who have chosen NOT to open at all on Thanksgiving day to give their employees a break. (Good for them. I will make their stores the ‘first chance’ stores looking for items over the other stores that didn’t..) Needless to say, things are changing in the retail world.

In my more cynical moments, I think, “Good Lord, what next?” It is bad enough that Christmas items hit the shelves before Halloween, but if this continues, then Christmas in July may become more than a slogan. Then, in my prayer, came THIS redeeming thought. “What if…?

What if we all got our Christmas shopping DONE before Thanksgiving? What if the retailers are actually doing us a favor by putting those early opportunities to shop out there? What if we were all done with the commercial side of Christmas by Thanksgiving, so that we could actually celebrate ADVENT? What if we actually celebrated the season of Advent in a way that worked to hasten the day of the Lord’s coming?

Is it a pipe dream, this land of “What if”? Perhaps. But I wonder if we could change our attitude about these days, just as the retailers are changing their approach to our shopping. What if we lived each moment thinking: “Now.” Thinking: “This is the acceptable time!” Thinking: “He comes right now into my world, into our world to bring about his Kingdom.” Wouldn’t we somehow be different by keeping that thought in our hearts?

“This then is to watch:
to be detached from what is present and
to live in what is unseen;
to live in the thought of Christ as he came once,
and as he will come again;
to desire his second coming, from our affectionate
and grateful remembrance of his first.”
(Blessed John Henry Newman)

This Advent let these two words be your guide through the season: “What if…”

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

November 23, 2014

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Winter is coming… (For you Game of Thrones fans, this is not about the Stark family motto) Having witnessed more than a few winters here at St. Ann, there are some things that are pretty predictable around the coming of winter. One of those is the tendency to ‘create’ your own parking space right in front of church.

I realize that parking is difficult here at St. Ann, and that there are not nearly the handicapped parking one might like. And I understand that some people are NOT very mobile, and appreciate being dropped off in front of church. That is fine. What is less than fine is the creation of ‘new’ parking spaces directly in front of our two exits from the glass doors. If you have been guilty of that ‘infraction’, I would call three things to mind as an invitation to reconsider your practice.

1) Heaven forbid there should ever be a fire, but if there were, those cars would directly impede the flow of people escaping from the church.
2) As the weather deteriorates, (and the snow returns) there really needs to be a ‘lane’ where people can drive up before church to drop off and after church to pick up our less mobile parishioners. Cars which create their own parking spaces make that courtesy difficult.
3) Emergency vehicles need to have unfettered access to our church facility. In medical emergencies, seconds count. When an ambulance has to slow down to ‘squeeze’ between illegally parked cars, precious seconds are lost forever.

Consider the extra steps you have to walk as ‘a chance to offer your suffering for the poor souls in purgatory’ and a chance to live sacrificial love in another small way for the good of our community.
—- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —-
A huge word of thanks to two of our stalwart school families for service above and beyond the call of duty. Karen Shirley-Johnson completed her 5 year run as the emcee extraordinaire for the Fall Talent Show with her usual grace and savvy. Cheri and Mark Smith finished their 10th and final year directing and coordinating the Show. What an amazing gift of time and talent and service to our school and parish community. What a wonderful job they have done each year, with a professionalism that would make Hollywood jealous. From a grateful pastor – THANK YOU for the opportunity you provide for our students to showcase their talents and skills. What a gift!

Finally, St. Ann history was made when our 7th grade Girls Soccer team became CITY-COUNTY CHAMPS in the CYC closed division. With the snow falling heavily, obscuring the lines on the field, they persevered and were victorious over Holy Spirit 2-0 in the final game. Congratulations to them and their coaches for what is literally a ‘banner year.’ (The Men’s Club puts a banner in the gym for every team that wins the City-County title!)

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peaceIs the Turkey thawing out slowly in the ‘fridge’? Do I have enough yams for the sweet potato lovers in the family? Will anybody really go down in the basement this year or can I skip cleaning it this holiday? Those are some of the usual suspects of things undone that can pre-occupy our thoughts this Thanksgiving week. When was the last time I checked the level of the transmission fluid in the family car? How about those air filters on the furnace? Are the fire extinguishers in the house up to date? Those are some of the un-usual suspects of things undone that can lead to trouble. And then, there are these: Have I clothed the naked, have I fed the hungry, visited those in prison, or cared for the sick? According to our Lord, those are THE ONES that can lead us to everlasting trouble.

What is undone in your/our world today?

For the St. Louis/Ferguson community, I suspect it is the things that are “UNDONE” that will be at the heart of whatever protest appears. The Michael Brown shooting was a terrible, but perhaps preventable tragedy on BOTH sides. But what has followed, is less about Michael Brown and more about what has been undone. We have not loved our neighbor as our selves. We have stayed silent as our Normandy education system slid further and further away from helping people out of poverty. We have not ended the addictions that fuel the drug battles that ended with two more dead on the streets Friday night. We continue to let the racial and economic divide between the haves and have not’s influence policy and laws and actions. We have left many, many things undone.

In today’s gospel, both the righteous and the unrighteous are surprised by the sentence that the King passes upon them. It was you that we loved or didn’t love? Though we can reflect on both groups, perhaps in light of whatever the events the coming days will send our way, we might do some fruitful praying around “what has been left undone.”

The second group is not judged for committing the seven deadly sins, or for endangering or rioting or theft. The only thing the King says as he judges them is that they failed to act in love, withholding love when they could have extended it; failing to notice or to care in the face of human need. In our time, what was undone for decades, both systemically and individually, has left us in quite a mess.

And here is perhaps a hard truth about things left undone. It does not matter “WHO” didn’t do them, they are still undone. (It doesn’t matter who didn’t replace the fire extinguisher when you need to use it and it doesn’t work.) Things left undone leave NO ONE off the hook. Not the protestors, violent or non-violent, nor the police officers, good or bad, nor the citizens of Ferguson, nor the people of our beloved St. Ann community, nor myself. What is left undone in our communities is a task for all of us. It is a task for us all.

How many acts of injustice have gone unchecked in our society, like weeds growing amuck in an untended garden, simply because good people failed to care, or to risk getting involved? This past Wednesday, the state of Missouri killed its 9th inmate to prove that killing is wrong. The Affordable Care Act, according to the website “Priests for Life”, uses tax payer monies to fund abortions. Our welfare system works against the family unit and often discourages people from seeking gainful employment and careers. Again and again, we are undone by those things we have left undone.

As we acknowledge our Savior to be our King, we are invited to do a little reflecting this weekend. Let me share with you one of the confession prayers in the Anglican Book of Common prayer. It is a slight variation from our own penitential rite, but hopefully different enough for us to really ‘hear’ today’s gospel message:

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against thee
in thought, word and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved thee with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

If we are all honest, there is MUCH that we have left undone. As we honor Christ the King this week, make a decision to do at least ONE of those undone things for the least of our brothers and sisters in Ferguson. Cross it off the list. Get it done. Get it done…

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

November 16, 2014

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Lessons from Gandhi…

It is Saturday night, Nov. 8th as I write these words. Perhaps by the time you are reading this, the Grand Jury has released the results of its probe into the shooting death of Michael Brown. Perhaps they have not. Perhaps things are still peaceful in our region. Perhaps they are not. But years ago, there was a scene from the movie “Gandhi” that indelibly etched itself into my memory. It bears repeating in the face of whatever decision was/will be made.

In the movie, it is the early stage of Gandhi’s career. He has met with some success, and great crowds are starting to follow him as he speaks in small, packed worship spaces and halls. He has also drawn the notice of the authorities, who are there in their uniforms, all sitting in the front row, waiting from some mistake or some excuse to ‘arrest the troublemaker.’ At one point, after Gandhi has made another stinging rebuke of the English forces that occupy his beloved India, a voice from the upper deck of the crowd shouts out: “I am ready to kill the English occupiers for you.” The soldiers all stiffen, and the tension in the crowd becomes electric. Gandhi responds: “A worthy sentiment, my brother, because in this cause, I too, am willing to give my life. There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but let me be very clear. There is no cause that I am prepared to kill for.”

That was a kind of turning point, at least for me, in my watching of the movie about one of the most effective agents of change the world has known since Jesus Christ. Gandhi’s willingness to endure suffering, to break the cyclic nature of violence still is both a dream and a challenge in our world.

To that end, Gandhi had a personal creed that rooted this non-violent resistance deep into his life.
I shall not fear anyone on Earth.
I shall fear only God.
I shall not bear ill will toward anyone.
I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.
I shall conquer untruth by truth. And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.

As we continue to pray for healing in our community, might we be willing also to be makers of peace, in our homes, our lives and our families.

PS – Our church is open daily for people to stop in and pray during normal office hours via the side door by the parish offices. Whenever the decision is released, please feel free to stop in and spend some time praying for healing and peace in our community…

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soccer gameA few years ago, I watched my former high school boy’s soccer team playing for the state championship. It was a great game with Borgia losing in the final 3 minutes of the 4th sudden victory overtime. There was a moment in the 3rd overtime that has vividly stayed in my memory. Borgia was applying significant pressure, and a Notre Dame player hit a long clearing ball toward the midfield. I watched Borgia’s sweeper hesitate for about 1 second, and then he took off to intercept the ball before it got to the opposing player. It was a quick, split second decision, but in that decision, he took a huge risk. If he doesn’t get the ball, then the other team has a breakaway. If he does get to it, they keep the pressure on. (as the case was, he did not get there first, and only a great save by the goal keeper kept the game going.)

Do you like to play it safe in the game of life or are you a risk taker? It seems like today’s gospel is less about sums of money, and more about the willingness to take risks. The first two quickly go and double their earnings – an adventure fraught with risk in those days as well as our own. As for the third, as he tries to ‘justify his actions, he says: “I knew you were a hard man…so, out of fear, I went and buried your money in the ground.” Out of fear, I chose not to take a risk. Out of fear, I played it safe. Out of fear, what you gave me is returned, unharmed, safe and sound.

It seems so harsh, the response. “Take what he has. Give it to another.” For to live in fear is not the way of the kingdom. To play it safe gains no points in the kingdom of heaven. Either you risk it all, or you will have nothing. “For whomever would save his life, will lose it, but whomever loses his life, for my sake will gain it.”

Do you like to play it safe or are you a risk taker? For it seems that there is no ‘safe ground’ in the gospel. Each moment becomes a moment when we can risk. Each moment, becomes an opportunity to double what we have been given. Or to bury what has been handed on to us. The choice becomes ours.

I confess, for many years, when I heard this gospel, I immediately thought, well, I’m the poor beggar who only received one talent – not much there, not much to give or share or grow. Not the five, surely not the ten talents were entrusted to me. Yet, I have come to realize that I have been given much. That we all have been given much.

One talent is 16 years worth of wages for a worker in the time of Jesus. So even if I only received the one – there has been a rich deposit given to me, a vast treasure dumped into my laps. It is the gift of faith and the knowledge of the love of God and family and parents poured into my heart. I am so rich and so blessed, and so gifted. Last night, the Archbishop spoke of the rich heritage of grace at the Newman Center for these past 50 years. I am so gifted to have served there, these past 14 1/2 years, and here at St. Ann these past 12 ½ years

This story, which was addressed to the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, becomes a story addressed to each of us who have received the rich deposit of faith and love in Jesus. And the question becomes, not, will I risk sharing it, but HOW will I risk sharing what I have received.
A few suggestions…

• Ask your spouse, your boyfriend or girlfriend, or just one of your good friends to pray together with you.
• Though we know not the day nor the hour, it seem apparent that something is about to happen soon in Ferguson. What are you willing to risk to bring about PEACE these days? What hard conversations will you chose, so as to make a difference in understanding between the citizens and the thin blue line of police and firefighters and first responders? Who do you need to have that conversation with?
• Make a commitment to adopt a family this Christmas – you can do the 100 neediest cases or through our Vincent de Paul society…

It was a split second decision by the sweeper – a bold risk that I am not sure I would have taken. But he did, and I am different because of his risk. I pray this week, that when I am given that opportunity, that split second moment to share what has been handed on to me – that I too, might have the courage to risk it all…

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

November 9, 2014

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