I came across this prayer for the New Year last December, just after we had printed the bulletin that would cover New Years week. Yet, I thought it worth the praying so I saved it to a file for use THIS year. What a world this might be if we all were able to pray from this place and this awareness.

“May you be aware of all the places your feet carry you in the New Year and conscious that “The feet of those who bring glad tidings are blessed indeed.”

May you have compassion so deep that you can taste the tears of all your brothers and sisters who know pain and hurt in the far corners of the world.

May you be the one with welcome written on your smile and hello etched upon your outstretched hand…the hand you extend to everyone who blesses you with their presence.

May you awake each morning with “thank you” on your lips and in your heart, recognizing that all is gift…all is blessing.

May the grace of these sacred holidays spill over into your New Year and increase your joy and peace. May God bless you, throughout the New Year. Amen.”

by Sr. Mary Elizabeth Tebo, FSP

And this, from the writings of St. Francis De Sales:

“Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life: rather,
look to them with full hope that as they arise,
God, whose very own you are,
will lead you safely through all things;
and when you cannot stand it,
God will carry you in his arms.
Do not fear what may happen tomorrow;
the same understanding Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day.
He will either shield you from suffering,
or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace then, and put aside
all anxious thoughts and imaginations.”
May we all have a blessed and mercy-filled 2016…

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

December 27, 2015

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bookWhen the Kempf family simplified our Christmas giving years ago, to picking one adult and one of the kids to share gifts with, (and matching your giving to a charity of your choice) the nieces and nephews were a little disappointed. So, we replaced the serious gifting with a “Rob Your Neighbor” experience. You were to bring some kind of gift, whether funny or useful or any place in between, costing $10 or less for the exchange. And everyone was happy, the first year. The second year ended with a very tired youngest nephew in tears because somebody ‘stole’ the gift he wanted to keep. (we roll dice and when you get doubles you HAVE to exchange.) And then an interesting side competition came to being: Who brought the hottest gift?

So, if this gives you any insight into the Kempf family, this year’s hottest gift, (which I scored) was this little book entitled: <<show book>> “How to traumatize your children: 7 proven methods to help you screw up your kids deliberately and with skill.” (How could you even make this up?) The back cover tells you all you need to know about why the book was so popular in our family: “Don’t leave your most important job to instinct and gut reactions.” “Give your children enough material to write a memoir someday.” It was the hot item of this year. And knowing that gives you a pretty good insight into the craziness of the Kempf family.

Today’s gospel also gives us a little insight into the Holy Family – a little snapshot, as it were, that helps you understand the heart of Jesus’ family during those formative years. And if these were normative for the holy family, then perhaps they hold some truth for us. Let me share three quick insights that this verbal snapshot of the gospel reveals to us about the Holy Family.

1) We hear that each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem. So it’s family custom to pray together, to observe the law together, to be grounded in the community of believers together. All you teens and college students back from campus, when your parents drag you out of bed on Sunday morning or Saturday evening to come here, they really are NOT trying to traumatize you. Rather, they are forming you in the same way Mary and Joseph formed Jesus.

2) We also hear that everything was not completely ‘perfect’ nor without struggle in that Holy Family. Jesus seems to get absorbed in a conversation and loses all track of time. Evidently, it never dawned on him to send word to his parents! Meanwhile, they are frantically searching for him, hearts racing, afraid they would never see him again. Every parent here can understand how terrified Mary and Joseph were for their one and only!

When they did find him, Mary’s fear turns – understandably – to anger. She did not hold back her rebuke. “Son, why have you done this to us?!” Jesus shoots back: “Why were you looking for me?” Did you not know I must be in my father’s house?” I could imagine that later Jesus apologized for HOW he said what he said, but not for WHAT he said. Family means being aware of how our actions affect those around us. And how to expand the sometimes closed in view of who belongs – family is more than just biology but all those who are faithful to God’s word.

And finally, we get a little snapshot into the life at Nazareth. Jesus obedient; Mary, pondering, wondering, treasuring all these things. And Jesus growing in age and grace and wisdom before God and all. Which meant he was doing what all Jewish children would do, being obedient to their parents, learning a trade, doing the dishes, and hanging out with friends, going to school, playing sports, etc. etc. etc.. The Gospel snapshot of the holy family invites us to know that it is never about perfection, but always about figuring out, about mutual love, and about openness to what God has in mind.

The good news, even in the Kempf family <<show book>> – is that it is never about traumatizing our children. Today we draw our inspiration from Mary, Joseph and Jesus, asking that we might be given the grace to become better members of our own “holy families.” Then, what was said of the Child Jesus today might also be said of us someday…that we too grew in wisdom, and the Grace of God was upon us.

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cb and linus50 years ago, A Charlie Brown Christmas aired for the first time. Charlie Brown is best known for his uniquely striped shirt, and Linus is most associated with his ever-present security blanket. Throughout the story of Peanuts, Lucy, Snoopy, Sally and others all work to no avail to separate Linus from his blanket. And even though his security blanket remains a major source of ridicule for the otherwise mature and thoughtful Linus, he simply refuses to give it up.

In the climactic scene of the movie, in response to Charlie Brown’s question: “Can anyone tell me what Christmas is really about?”, Linus takes the center stage to quote Luke’s account of the birth of the savior. Mid way through, an amazing thing happens. As Linus is sharing “what Christmas is all about,” he drops his security blanket! And what is most telling is the specific moment he drops it: when he utters the words, “fear not”, for behold I bring you tidings of good news…

Coincidence? I think not. What that great theologian Charles Schultz was trying to teach us, oh so subtly, was the profound truth that the birth of Jesus separates us from our fears. The birth of Jesus frees us from the habits we are unable (or unwilling) to break ourselves. The birth of Jesus allows us to simply drop the false security we have been grasping so tightly, and learn to trust and cling to Him instead.

50 years later (or 2000, depending on your perspective) we still have not learned that lesson very well. The world of 2015 has been a scary place, and most of us find ourselves grasping something other than Jesus as our security blanket. Some politicians want us to build higher and bigger walls between the US and Mexico to ease our fears. Some presidential candidates would have us close our borders to the biggest mass exodus in human history – as over 1 million people have fled the wars in Syria and Iraq to Europe this year. Some parents debate whether having a firearm in the house is a good deterrent or an unsafe risk against home invasion. Some students choose a wall of unfeeling rather than the vulnerability of relationship.

If Christ is to be our Savior as this day proclaims, then we need to acknowledge this difficult truth: we all carry security blankets around with us to keep fear at bay. Fear as an emotion comes to us all. And like Linus and his blanket, the temptation is to cling to something, anything that will help us manage that fear, even if it makes us look silly…

Isn’t the challenge of this day to learn how to let the one who is Wonder counselor, God-hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace be just that in our day and time? Perhaps this is the Christmas in which our response, both individually and as a nation, needs to be exactly what Linus chose in that cartoon 50 years ago: To let go of all the ‘security blankets’ WE cling to out of fear to really hear and heed the message of the angel: “Do not be afraid.” Can we learn how to NOT decide and act from those places of fear – but rather from a place of trust in the goodness of God?

So, what other wisdom did Charles Schultz have up his sleeve in that theological classic of his to help us do that? I think it is this image of what happens when we learn to act out of trust and not fear. Linus does pick up his blanket at the end of his monologue, and carries it again, but only for a short time. And only to lay it at the feet of that poor, lonely, sad Charlie Brown Christmas tree. In doing so, Linus is responding to that invitation to ‘fear not.’ And as the rest of the cast assemble around the tree, and effortlessly slide into “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” an amazing thing happens. That scraggly, struggling, bare boned twig of a Christmas tree becomes this thing of beauty.

I like to believe that this is precisely what would happen in our world if we all had the courage to respond to the Angel’s message to “fear not.” I wonder:
• how many Syrian refugee families might be adopted?
• how many failing kids in failing school districts might find tutors who would mentor them into life?
• how many families broken by addiction would find treatment?
• how many siblings estranged by long forgotten slights might find the courage this season to reconnect?
• how many governments might find the path to peace this day?
What an amazing beauty we might create…

LinusDropsBlanketThis Christmas, hear the invitation to lay all your security blankets down – all the defenses, all the clinging to the very real and sometimes not so real fears – to lay them down not just anywhere, but forever at the foot of the manger, before the One who is indeed our prince of peace. “Fear Not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy…” That was true 50 years ago in A Charlie Brown Christmas. It was true 2000 years ago on that hillside in Jerusalem. And, it is true for us all this night…

(Jason Soroski, a blogger and youth pastor was the source of the Charlie Brown Christmas insight about Linus dropping the blanket…

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Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, Israel,

Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, Israel

One of the eye opening moments of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land was learning the very concrete topography of several of the sights. Few so opened a new understanding in me as the site of the Visitation. So, when the gospel says that Mary set out in haste to the HILL COUNTRY, we think – oh, how nice that must have been. Beautiful scenery (it is) Nice breezes. (they were) Wonderful perspective from Elizabeth’s house. (Yessiree, Bob). All those things are very true.

But then there is this one more detail. The well where you drew water. Because the cities were all set on the hillside, the wells would be either impossibly deep to have been dug into the hillside, or they would be at the bottom of the hills upon which the towns were built. So they show you the well. At the BOTTOM of the hill. At the BOTTOM of the very LONG hill. At the BOTTOM of the VERY STEEP, VERY LONG hill. They did not call it the hill country for naught.

When you know that, it puts another level of understanding to the yes that Mary said to be the handmaid of the Lord. If it was true that the only sign given her about the truth of the angel’s word’s to her – that Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant – was indeed the case, then Mary sets out to the hill country precisely because she knows that Elizabeth will be needing the help – the practical help of carrying the water up the hill.

bucket 2Let that little fact sink in.

The first thing that Mary chooses to do, once she has said “YES” to being the handmaid of the Lord – is to BE just that, in a very practical way. She sets out to serve. To make that daily or more than daily, walk from the bottom of that very steep, very long hill to bring the needed water to Elizabeth’s house. To take that burden off of aged Elizabeth in her pregnancy. What a practical, concrete way of being love to her kinswoman. “Let me draw water for you from the well…”

I wonder if that is exactly how you and I could spend this fourth week of Advent – looking at one family, one person in our life and asking the same question: How can I concretely be of service to them? What is the ‘hill country’ that they will find/are finding difficult in their lives? What is the ‘bucket’ of water that I might bring to them?

I think of my friend’s wife, Ann, and their two kids – now celebrating their first Christmas without Dave – and found myself asking her: “What can I do that would be helpful in dealing with these days?” “We will be fine through Christmas. I will be needing you to be around in January, when all this business slows down, and the reality will completely sink in.” SO, I plan to go watch a water polo game of their son Thomas in Dave’s place. And to cook a meal for the family and some guests on a day of their choosing in Feb.

What of befriending with a letter one prisoner – one person who is not likely to receive any kind of letter or gift or communication from a loved one? What would it be to commit to a letter a month?

I find myself asking about the ‘hill country’ of ISLAMAPHOBIA that seems to be gripping more and more of the rhetoric of our election debate, and realize that I need to log into the various websites of the various candidates and elected officials to make sure that the voice of those fleeing certain death from their own government still have a hearing in the policies and laws our government is considering in the wake of San Bernardino.

Sometimes, it seems like the ‘hill country’ is all around us. That the road to the top, to the view, to the breeze where all is according to God’s will might not ever come to be. But, if like Mary, we are willing to be handmaids and servants in our days, then one bucket at a time, one choice of love at a time, one practical decision at a time, we will be the ones of whom it is said: “Blessed are you who believed, and who put God’s word into practice…”

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Christmas 2015

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Rejoice! The weeks of Advent waiting are over, and Christ is born! We rejoice in our Savior’s birth—remembering the great gift of faith He has given us through the mystery of His incarnation and the saving power of His death and resurrection.

Each year, the people of our archdiocese have been asked to make a special gift on Christmas Day to support our seminarians at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. The men of our seminary, who have responded to Christ’s call to follow Him, are truly a gift to the Church and to the Archdiocese of St. Louis. It is these men who will bring the faith given to us by Christ 2000 years ago to future generations here in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

I ask you, once again, to pray for vocations and for all our priests and seminarians. I also ask you to be generous in your donation to the Christmas Day collection, which helps pay the day-to-day expenses and maintenance of our seminary.
Please be assured of my prayers for you during the season of Christmas. May the Lord of life come into your hearts and homes in a special way during this holy time of year.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson
Archbishop of St. Louis

Let me add my prayers and those of our staff for you as well. May you know the heart of love this season in all your gatherings and celebrations..…. Fr. Bill
… … … … … …

More than a few people have asked if we are going to conduct our Visitation Drive this year. The answer to that is no and yes. We will not be sending out a general mailing to all of our parishioners as in other years. We will be contacting those, however, who have not or chose not to make a pledge to the Beyond Sunday Campaign. Part of that letter will be a last chance option to be a part of the joint capital campaign. However, for those who want to help underwrite the unfunded operational expenses of the school and parish, without buying in to the larger needs of Catholic education in the Archdiocese, we are happy to provide you with that opportunity. Certainly, if you have made a pledge to Beyond Sunday, that is the priority. But if you have not, then the need is still here at St. Ann. Please respond with the same generosity as in prior years.

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

December 20, 2015

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You did it!!!

Though the pledges keep trickling in, at this stage we are at just under 117% of our goal in the Beyond Sunday Campaign. EVERY gift, from great to small and every-thing in-between, will make a difference, not just here at St. Ann, but across our Archdiocese. Thank you, not just for your gifts, but for the faith behind your gifts. That is what makes my heart proud as a pastor – to know that you are willing to make sacrificial gifts, not just for our St. Ann parish, but for Catholic education throughout the Archdiocese because of your love of the Lord. What a treasure that is as I pray at night for all of you.

So, when do the repairs start?

Block one of the campaign runs from this past June through Dec 31st. They will take final stock of the pledges, payments and what is still owed. From the money they actually have ON HAND from those pledges as of that day, they will determine our 40% for this first period of the pledges. An electronic transfer of funds will hap-pen for that initial 40% somewhere around the beginning of March. I suspect that first transfer to be around $20,000. On June 30, 2016, they will look at what has been collected SINCE Jan. 1, 2016, and transfer those funds around the beginning of September. That pattern will repeat, twice a year, until all the pledges are fulfilled.

In the mean time, though we have some rough estimates on one method of replacing the roof over the center part of the church, I will seek advice and bids from at least three companies. Combined with some Sponsor’s dinner dance funds, I hope to have the best solution for roofing scheduled and in place before the end of this fiscal year in June…

And then we will proceed with the repairs to the window framing behind our stained glass window that protects it from the elements. And so it goes, down the list as our priorities’ needs for the funds. Thus, the work with the St. Ann’s portion of the funds will proceed as the funds are made available to us, twice a year, because of your ongoing faithfulness to your pledges. Once again, thank you for your AMAZING generosity. To quote one of my students: “You make my heart happy!”
___ ___ ___ ___ ___
Finally, thank you for your patience with the boiler re-pairs. We think we have isolated the last needed change to the system and have made those repairs. God willing, all that remains is routine maintenance…

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do itIn the summer when it became known that I would become pastor here at St. Ann while remaining director of the Newman Center, almost every person I received the same message over and over. “Father, you are going to be really busy!” Or: “How are you going to do all that work? You will be really busy.” Did I mention that you told me: “I was going to be really busy?” After a few weeks of listening to that mantra, I quickly realized that this was NOT going to be a healthy way of living. That if I followed that ‘map’ of how to do priesthood at two places, I would soon find myself crazy or burned out or both. (I get you can probably still make the argument about crazy..) I realized I needed another map, another way of thinking about my ministries. Fortunately, there was one available in a quote from St. Vincent de Paul: “Do the doable, not the impossible.” I don’t even know who said it to me, but I realized that this was precisely the map that would work. Do the doable, not the impossible…

Isn’t that precisely what we hear from John the Baptizer as the various groups approach him? You don’t need to do impossible to sustain those one time acts of repentance from the religious high that is your baptism here – the ones that will leave you exhausted and unable to minister over the long haul. Rather, look at the concrete reality of your occupation and vocation, and from there, do what is possible.

I suspect the Roman soldiers were the most surprised. As occupiers, they knew the locals did not have a high opinion of them. And they had done their share of the dirty work in subduing populations in the past. So they knew the reputation of ‘soldiers’ that they carried. You can almost hear the trepidation in their voices: “What is it that we should do? To their surprise, John does not ask the impossible. Nor does he demand that they give up their profession as occupiers. ‘Don’t use force to get your way, don’t file false police reports, and be content with your salary.’ Lessons that we are still learning in our post Ferguson world – John tells the soldiers not to abuse their power over people as they do their work.

To the tax collectors – ‘try a little honesty. Since nobody but YOU know how much tax the Romans are asking of the population, don’t skim off the top.’ To the crowds – ‘be generous with what you have, not with what you don’t have. Extra cloak in the closet – give it to someone who has no cloak. Extra food in the pantry – there are plenty of folks who are hungry. Generosity goes a long way, folks.’

To all three groups, John says the same thing: Do the doable, not the impossible. Be intentional about what you do – making sure that you are busy about what God desires for you…

• If you choose to write Christmas cards, do you whisper a prayer for the people as you write them?
• If you are blessed to go to a Christmas party, do you really ‘arrive there, and enter the conversations?’ Or are you still going through the laundry list of ‘to do’s’ which keep you from being present to the people right in front of you.
• Doing laundry … In your car driving … Studying for exams … in a job you dislike … is there a way to do that with love, and so be awake the fact that each of those moments is an opportunity to serve the Lord
• Shopping for gifts … Can we be intentional about different possibilities of gift giving – not STUFF, but things of blessing for people? The social Justice committee will be selling the ‘water with blessing’ kits that provide drinkable water for families without access to it.

Finally, one last thought about doing the doable and not the impossible. I discovered quickly on that it might be possible for me to play hooky kind of easily. To the St. Ann people I could say –“I’m up at Newman.” To the Newman people I could say – “I am at St. Ann.” And then I go golfing… Don’t lightly let yourself off the hook on what is doable and not impossible. Just because something is hard, does not mean it is impossible.

I learned quickly on, that summer of the change, that I would need a map to guide me as I worked two places. “You are going to be so busy” was not an option. I wonder if these last two weeks of advent hold the very same temptation for each of us: We tell ourselves, we are going to be SOOO busy getting everything ready for Christmas. Perhaps we are. But if we keep that mindset, we will miss what God is doing here and now. The choice is clear – attempt the impossible? Or do what is in your power to do? Which ‘map’ will you use?

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

December 13, 2015

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