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By way of intro…

I asked the two seminarians who will be doing their second year field work here to ‘introduce themselves’ with a short paragraph, as they begin their service among us this weekend.

“I was born and raised in the little farm town of West Point, Nebraska. After years of struggling with the Catholic faith, I finally encountered Jesus in a real and personal way in my last year of high school and began thinking about the priesthood. I studied aviation as a student pilot at the University of Nebraska at Omaha before transferring to St. John Vianney College Semi-nary in St. Paul, MN in 2010. I came to Kenrick Seminary here in St. Louis last year, and I’m so grateful that the Lord has sent me to spend this year at St. Ann’s. You all make up a very significant part of my formation as a priest, and that means a lot to me. I’m eager to meet you all!”
Taylor Leffler

“My name is Padraic Stack and I am a seminarian studying for the Archdiocese of Omaha. I am beginning my second year of theology and my fourth year overall at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, having gone through their Pre-Theology program as well. Prior to seminary I studied both architecture and civil engineering and worked for an architecture firm for several years doing structural engineering. Though I loved the design world greatly, I could not ignore the Lord’s invitation to enter into a deeper relationship with Him and to enter into His Holy Church. I am a relatively new Catholic as I just came into the Church in 2010, but in these past five years I have grown to truly love the Church, which has led me to follow the Lord into formation for His Sacred Priesthood. I look forward to these next nine months that I will get to spend at St. Ann’s and to meeting many of you in the weeks to come.”

Students in their second year of theology focus on the Pastoral Care of the Elderly, Sick and Dying, which can take place in a variety of settings, including Home-bound Ministry, and the Visitation of Hospitals and Nursing Homes within the parish. So, in addition to assisting at mass, they will be making some communion calls, visiting folks in the hospitals and nursing homes, and in general, being a pastoral presence here among us. They are expected to do 3-4 hours of apostolic service during the times they are with us on Sun-day mornings/afternoons. Please give them your usual warm, St. Ann welcome.

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

August 30, 2015

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fridge2Our housekeeper is very good at keeping the rectory clean. But she also knows not to touch the food and leftovers that I have in the refrigerator. So, as I was putting away some food yesterday afternoon, I noticed some of ‘my’items in one of the crispers that had been there “longer than they should.” My question was: “Can you grow penicillin on kale?” I didn’t think so either. More disappointing was finding the leftover pizza that I thought would be great for a lunch, but when I opened the box, I was not sure if the grey looking stuff was a thin veneer of cheese over the sausage or part of something else… And, did you know that when you leave a lime in the back corner of the ice box for a couple of months (I’m not sure just HOW old it was) it become pretty much like a corkball – small, rock solid, and able to bend steel knives <<snap>> just like that. How can stuff that is so good get so bad so quickly? (Or maybe not so quickly, as the case is. This undoubtedly says more about how often I clean out my stuff in the fridge.) But it still turns my stomach when good food goes bad.

How does something so good, turn into something so bad is also the question with which today’s scriptures grapple. How can religion, which is such a good thing, faith, which is responsible for so much human flourishing, that helps so many people hope and hang on, go so bad? How does the practice of faith that has served and helped the poor and needy so well, – how does it sometimes become so toxic? And yet, we’ve all seen it. We’ve all seen it when the good of religion and faith and church, somehow turns bad inside and what comes out in anything but holy. We certainly get that in the extremes of religious practice – the genocide between rival “Christian” tribes in Africa, the beheadings of Isis and the destroying of historical and cultural landmarks of our days. Yet, in the normal practicing of faith, how do you tell when, like food left in the ‘fridge too long, your practice of the faith is spoiled? Today’s Scriptures give us at least three guiding criteria:

The first insight comes from James’ letter. He says clearly, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only. Religion that is pure … care(s) for orphans and widows.” How can we know if our practice of our faith is healthy and good and nourishing? James says that it leads us to compassionate action – to actually DO SOMETHING for the people of this world – especially those on the margins of society. James goes so far as to say that if my faith isn’t leading me to more compassionate, concrete actions, then it’s time to clean out the fridge.

Secondly, in addition to being “doer’s of the word,” Jesus says that healthy religion also has to focus on what happens in our hearts, on our interiority. He says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” And it is “from within people, from their hearts” that come evil thoughts and sin.” Faith must make our hearts bigger. Unhealthy practice of our faith focuses too much on the exterior, on how I look to others. That begets the envy, arrogance and folly –that whole list of attitudes Jesus confronts. When I find myself asking: “Am I doing this the “right” way? – AND then judging those who are obviously doing it “the wrong way”; when I ask: Where is my reward for having sacrificed for God?” I know my heart is not where it should be. I suspect that it’s time to clean out the fridge.

Finally, Jesus again focuses us on one of the values deepest to his own heart: that healthy religious practice is inclusive. Those practices of the law which began is such a positive way: “What nation has laws like we have” that allow us to follow the path to God so completely – began to become an end, and not the means to the end of loving God and neighbor. His great critique of the religious practice of his day were these “human traditions” the Pharisees clung to. Following them all too often put them as the insiders – the saved, the elite – and others as unwelcome. It was too easy to create “a spiritual country club of the elite” instead of people of the gospel. When I find myself keeping people out of my sphere of love and influence, excluding them from my life and service, then it’s time to clean out the fridge.

The practice of faith, like the food in the back of my refrigerator, can go bad. Or it can be one of the most transforming things of all.

This week, look at the way that you practice the faith with that gospel question to guide you – does my love of God spill over to help those on the margins, does it expand my heart, and does it become more and more welcoming of all I meet. Or, is it time to clean out the fridge?

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

August 23, 2015

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catholicI have a confession to make. I am a recovering “Shopping Cart Catholic.” You know how it goes. You walk down the first aisle of Catholicism – “I’ll take a can of ‘Holy Days of Obligation”, no problem. “The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and the other sacraments” – better stock up on those. And there, on the top shelf, “the preferential option for the poor” – I love that stuff! It is easy to put those into my ‘cart’ – to live as a Catholic Christian with those teachings. Because they make sense of my world, because they fit my understanding of how Jesus visions the way we should be and could be – all the things in aisle one of Christianity.

But, when you turn down aisle two and three, it has not always been that easy. What about the church’s teaching on sexuality, whether that is in the orientation question, pre-marital sex or the birth control side? And then there’s that women ordination question. Better to not even touch that one. Next, is that whole aisle of ethical teachings – from capital punishment to human cloning to abortion to dignity of life and euthanasia issues. Do I have a sense of what the church is teaching there? Better leave it on the shelf! “Shopping Cart Christianity” – following Jesus down the convenience aisles of life – without ever dealing with the more difficult issues. I admit – I am a recovering shopping cart Catholic. Just like the folks in the time of Jesus.

After this long bread of life discourse – you finally hear the reaction of the people of Jesus’ time. Murmuring. Doubting. A hardening of the heart – ‘who can accept it?’ And then the conclusion: “As a result of this, many disciples returned to their former way of life.” Shopping cart disciples. People who were in it for the bread or for the healings or for the fame of being around him or for anything but the Spirit and life Jesus promised. But once it became clear what Jesus was about and what it might cost them, it was so hard for them to continue. It was so hard for them to trust. Because eventually that is what it is all about – trusting in Jesus as being the Spirit and life, of having the words of everlasting life. …What do you do when you are faced with the hard choice of following Jesus?

In many ways, the shopping cart stage of life is an apt description of the experience of college as well. It is a time for the trying out of so many different and new things. Let’s put a box of living on my own in the cart. Ahh, sweet freedom! And how about a nice bottle of “Party Hearty!” for Friday nights. “Awesome!” Hey, check this out <<reach for imaginary item>> – One “skip every morning class” card. That rocks! But, then you turn down aisle two, and you see items like
“4 hrs of STUDY a night’.
‘Keeping up with the parents and family while away from home’. ‘Smart choices around alcohol consumption!’
How do you find your way through? Will you go through life, only sampling the convenience items at the checkout lane – usually junk food/items which have little permanent value? Of all the choices before you, how will you choose that which will help you be your truest and best self? Today’s gospel invites you to try what I call the Simon Peter test.

When Jesus turns to the twelve and asks them what they will do in the face of his difficult teaching, it is Simon who gives us the answer. And at first breath, it is not exactly a ringing endorsement of Jesus. “To whom shall we go?” It’s kind of like saying to your spouse on your 25th anniversary – “I’ll stay with you ‘cause I couldn’t find anyone else who would put up with me…” But, to his credit, Peter doesn’t stay in that kind of ‘path of least resistance following of his Lord.’ In his next statement, he hits it out of the park. “You have the words of eternal life.” AHH! There is an experience of life, of love, of an expanding ability to be in and of the world when I am true to who you are and what you teach me about life. This following of you, step by step, brings me to a place of holiness and self giving that I might never have known any other way. That’s the Simon Peter test about the difficult teachings of Jesus and the church. Does being faithful to this teaching bring me closer to Jesus and does it awaken in me an experience of eternal life?

And here is the other truth I know. Unlike some things in college where you can sort of know what to expect without much effort, to integrate the things of God and the truths of the Spirit in your life, you have to ‘put it in your cart’ first. You have to live and walk the teaching from the inside so you can test it. You can’t learn by reading the label and leaving it on the shelf. You have to live the teaching/truth/value – which is a work of humility and hope and trust. The challenge is to live the teaching until you come to know the deepest truth about it…

This evening, the same Jesus who asked the Twelve disciples – “Will you also leave?” asks us the same question. Will you be a shopping cart Catholic? Or will you take the Simon Peter test? In all the choices you make and the decisions you choose, will you live them asking that simple question:– Does choosing this lead me to life and life to the full? Does it allow me to say, with Simon Peter: “Lord, You have the words of everlasting life?”

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Divine Mercy Daily…

For those who are on their computer more often than not, check out a quick and powerful resource called Di-vine Mercy Daily. Brought to you by the same people who put out the Catechism in a Year and The Gospels in a Year, instead of sending out a daily gospel reading or passage from the Catechism, you receive, among other things, daily excerpts from the diary of St. Faustina.

The first note began this past Saturday, August 15th, in honor of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since I did not receive the information until after the bulletin had been sent off, this was as quickly as I could get the info to you. There is plenty of time to sign up now! Just go to: https://flocknote.com/divinemercydaily.

Beyond Sunday…
As in most capital campaigns, things roll out in a slow, orderly process. So, some families have already been met with and have made their pledges. Others have received a letter saying that a member of the committee is going to contact them soon, and are in the process of finding a time to meet. The majority of you have yet to receive any information aside from my pulpit announcement and the information you have gleaned from the St. Louis Review. Be patient with us. We will be in contact with you. (I promise!) And we will be asking you, as we have asked everyone, to consider a sacrificial gift over the next five years. Thanks to those, who in their eagerness to help the parish and the Archdiocese, have ‘jumped the gun’ and sent in gifts already. Your eagerness to help out is a source of joy to this pastor’s heart. Thanks for yet another reason to smile and to consider myself the luckiest pastor in the entire Archdiocese.

School….
We are up and running for what I unofficially believe is the 157th year here at St. Ann School. Enrollment figures, which are always a moving target, show that there are 147 students enrolled, K through 8th grade. That is also the number of students we had at the end of the past school year. Our Kindergarten class is a hefty 20 students, of whom 12!!! are ‘graduates’ from our Early Childhood Learning Center run by Anna Hook and her amazing faculty. Thanks for being such a great place for those crucial learning years, and for being such a feeder for our ‘big school’ next door.

Our Faculty has one change – Mrs. Kathleen Burwell is now our part time Computer teacher, replacing Mr. Michael Clark, who is dedicating himself full time to his passion of exploring and hosting people on our great Missouri rivers. As always, the weekly Parent Newsletter is posted on the wall just to the left of the doors going into the church in our vestibule.

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one wayThe fastest growing religious group in the United States is “Ex-Catholics”. Folks who were in the fold for many years, but now, have found a reason not to stay. For many, the sex abuse scandal was the last straw. I see it in my work with college students – the current generation of students come from parents who left the church because of how the church dealt with the abuse – so they know little of the faith and the heritage that is ours. For others, it was that radical Pope N, (fill in the blank) – Benedict or John Paul or Francis – something about what they presented about the faith was shocking or scandalous or just a bridge to far. For others, it was the teaching against gay marriage. Or the teaching about the evil of abortion and the rights of the unborn.

For the followers of Jesus, it was his teaching on the Eucharist: “This kind of talk is hard to endure!” And they would no longer walk in his company. Those must have been hard words for John the evangelist to write. I suspect he could close his eyes and name about 20 good men who left, 20 women who no longer followed, 35 kids who tugged at mom and dad’s side as they walked with the master – now just gone. I can close my eyes and do the same. My oldest brother. Two of my favorite Newman center alumnae. Three parishioners here at St. Ann. All part of the fasting growing religion in the U.S.

Fr. Barry Moriarity, the dean of formation at the seminary, once said this: “If you want to leave the seminary, you will find a reason to do so. It might be the ‘no facial hair part of the dress code’ or the celibacy demanded of priests; it might be the more difficult teachings of the church, or your own grappling with the leadership role the church is asking of you. But if you want to leave, you’ll find a reason to do so. The challenge is to be in touch with the reasons why you stay! The challenge is to be in touch with the reasons why you stay!

In wonderful ways, Simon Peter’s response to Jesus when asked if he, too, would leave, gives us both ends of the spectrum of why we might stay, doesn’t he? “Lord, to whom shall we go?” As if to say: “I got nothing else. No imagination, no energy, nor passion – so let me just float along, because it is the path of least resistance. I know this, so I will just stay here. And though that may keep you coming to church for a while, what I know about that choice is this. 1) You will be a nominal Catholic at best. 2) Like the seminary, if that is the only reason why you stay a committed Catholic, then you, too, eventually, will find a reason to leave. (I delayed ordination to the priesthood precisely for that reason – I could have been ordained with my classmates – but it would have been the easy decision – the safe choice. It is what I knew, what I trained and studied for. But that was not enough to keep me in line for ordination. I needed something more than the path of least resistance.)

The second pole of Simon Peter’s profession is where he hits one out of the park. You have the words of everlasting life! AHHH, now we’re talking. There is an experience of life, a fullness, a gift that wells up within you. I am never so challenged, yet so alive as when I find myself a part of this body of Christ we call the Roman Catholic Church. I can be outraged, and angered and saddened and frustrated – but all of those things are because I have found something that is ‘the stuff of eternal life’ here. There are things worth the disagreements and disappointments and struggles that come with being a follower of Jesus in the Catholic Church.

I keep coming back to Jesus because in his words – however perplexing – I’ve heard something that rings true. And I experience in my attempts to follow the gospel a life that wells up in me beyond my own small world. And I stay because there is a presence here at this altar that I find NO WHERE else on this planet. THIS experience of communion, this experience of life, gathered around a table, NOT JUST AS INDIVIDUALS, but TOGETHER – I find nowhere else. Here, I feel more alive than I do anywhere else in my world. HERE, around this altar, gathered with you in prayer, I know the presence of the One who has life for me, for US, as we walk the road together. Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Holy One of God…

So, do you want to become a member of the fastest growing religion in the U.S.? You’ll find a reason. If you want to stay, you’ll need to be in touch with that experience of everlasting life, of everlasting love that wells up within you. Let that question of Jesus – Will you also leave? – and the response of Peter – “You have the words of everlasting life” – be the source of your prayer and reflection this week.

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

August 16, 2015

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Of Many things…

Taylor Leffler and Padraic Stack… Remember these names. They belong to two seminarians who will be sharing their Sunday mornings with our St. Ann community, beginning August 30th. One of my hats is to be an adjunct formation advisor for two seminarians. Padraic I know from my first year of doing this. Taylor is a new assignee, as my other advisee transferred to a different seminary for this fall. As a way of helping the adjunct formation advisors (aka: me) know their seminarians and see them in a more routine environment, they will be doing a portion of their field education work here at St. Ann. As I understand it, the focus of this year in their field education will be to work with the elderly. I imagine them doing some communion calls and some home visits, at least in the beginning. More than that, I will find out at an orientation meeting next Thursday. It will be good to have some seminarians around for us to pray for and support and mold and challenge as they prepare for the life of service that priesthood is. I ask that you welcome them with your usual St. Ann hospitality. (And if you have any great ideas for things that they can be doing, I am all ears…)

Fall is also the time when we begin the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) process here at St. Ann parish. One of the wonderful restorations of Vatican II was the recovery of the rites of initiation and the way the early church brought new members into the community. It is a formation program for both the mind and heart, opening up a way for people to join in the full communion of the Catholic Church. So, if you have been attending St. Ann for a while, but are not Catholic, and would like to be, now is your opportunity. Classes will begin in September – at a mutually acceptable time and day of the week. If you are interested, or know of someone who is, please call me (314-385-5090 ext. 855 at your earliest convenience. Or if you know someone and would like me to call him/her, let me know that as well.

Finally, the Committee working on the Archdiocesan sponsored “Parish Planning Process” is 2/3 of the way through our work. There will be a series of meetings to invite the feedback of EVERY PARISHIONER at St. Ann. All are welcome to this ‘second implementation’ – to look at the conclusions of the control group, refine and evaluate the strengths and challenges before us at St. Ann, and finally, to come to a consensus about contingency plans for staffing the parish in the years to come. The committee will be looking at some dates that will accommodate as many people as possible. I will relay those to you when they are set. In the mean time, keep us in your prayers…

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imageThe USDA lists 6 food groupings – six categories that are helpful in thinking about a healthcy diet, and into which most foods fall. • FruitsVegetablesGrainsProteinsDairyOils If you add JUNK food, there are 7. However, I think they missed a significant category. Today, I would like to talk about one particular kind of food: dangerous food.

I call this food ‘dangerous’ because this food <<hold up bread and wine >> when we bless it at Mass is a person. And this person asks of us a response. The meal we share so many weekends together: This is dangerous food

When Jesus said today, “I am the bread of life … whoever eats this bread will live forever… he was talking about HIS WAY OF LIFE! Eating the bread that is his body, drinking the cup that is his blood means a commitment that we will take on HIS world-view, HIS commitment to love. It is the choice to go forth from here and let this make a difference in how we live. Today. This is dangerous food indeed.

I wonder, if at times, it is too easy for us to treat the Eucharist as if this is merely some kind of a ‘comfort food’ so, to speak. I made the sacrifice to be here, and now I get this thing which is good for me, and kind of makes me feel good about myself. It gives me strength in the struggles and battles; and sees me through the rough patches. And that is all well and good.

But this Eucharist we receive is SO MUCH MORE than that. This food asks of us a commitment to a way of life. That we would let ourselves be transformed by him. This is food for the most important journey ever: the DIFFICULT journey of love.

Please allow me one story that has always haunted me a bit …

Some years ago, a newspaper photographer was sent to Ecuador to cover a devastating earthquake. In the midst of catastrophic suffering – he saw a simple scene of compassion that moved him deeply.
He said the line for people receiving food was long and at the very end, stood a young girl about 12 years of age. As she was slowly getting closer to the front, her attention seemed always to focus on three figures under the trees across the street. At long last she stepped forward to get her food. The workers were almost ashamed to tell her that all that was left was one banana. Quietly she took the precious gift and ran across the street where three small children waited.

He watched what happened and said, “She peeled the banana and then very carefully divided it into three equal parts. She placed the precious food into the eager hands of those three younger ones, then sat down herself, and …. licked the inside of the banana peel. The photographer said: “In that moment, I swear I saw God!”

Yes, he did see the face of God. For that is indeed the kind of God we have. Jesus “gave it all away”, even life itself that we could live. How right, then, that we would gather for Eucharist, to give thanks for such amazing, self-emptying love.

But we are more than spectators here. We too are called to enter into this dying, being willing to allow our bodies to be broken for love, our blood poured out for others. When Jesus asked the sons of Zebadee: “Can you drink of the cup of which I am to drink?” he was not asking if they had sufficient motor skills to get the cup to their lips. He was asking, “are you willing to do the dying that love will ask of you today?” And here is the other truth about that. Each time I come to this altar, I know that question is being asked of me. I never know exactly what that will look like, but I know it will be asked of me this day, in ways little, or big. When I drink of the cup, I am saying that I am willing to do the dying love will ask of me this day. This is dangerous food, indeed.

FruitsVegetablesGrainsProteinsDairyOils. The USDA would have us think about the food with take in with this framework in mind. Here, at this altar, we are called to remember that there is another food group: dangerous foods. Food that demands of us each day to do the dying that love asks. Will you drink the cup? Will you take the bread? The choice is yours…

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