In a former parish where I was stationed, as I would drive into the car port, I would see stored in the rafters two barely use basketball hoops and backboards. And each time I saw them, I was saddened. You see, the hoops had been put up on the playground of the school. And then taken down within a week and a half, because people were frightened about WHO was using the hoops. They wanted them up for their school children, but discovered that a lot of the neighborhood teens and older folks of various ethnic varieties were using them. And they were afraid. They were afraid for their kids. So as quickly as they went up, they came down. And I would think each time I parked: How do we get to the place where John got – how do we learn to see a new heavens and a new earth?
I was at a wedding reception Friday night – relatives of the gal who cuts my hair – and I was sitting with the Father-in-law. “How do you like Pope Francis?” I have known him long enough to recognize ‘that tone’ in his voice, so I responded by flipping the question back to him – “What do you think of him? “He’s making a mess of the church – Is everything going to be up for grabs? That’s where we’re headed.” “I, John, saw a new heavens and a new earth.” In his fear for what might be lost, he didn’t…
Living in a time of instant global awareness of all the tragedies and terrorism of our time, it is sometimes hard to believe that God is with us. It is hard to ‘see’ that there could be a new heaven and a new earth coming to be. How do you learn to see a new heavens and a new earth? That is where the work of our faith comes into the fore. We have to believe it before we can see it. We have to believe before we see.
Growing up, my mother dragged my brothers and me to the cafeteria at Our Lady of Providence for several weekends, beginning at Thanksgiving. There we helped carry bags of clothes and toys and items to be given to the poor from our car and from the cars of people dropping stuff off. Sometimes we helped in the sorting through of the items. (and sometimes we just played) But I remember thinking I wish I could have the toy that I was putting into a box for some unknown family. “Mom, could I have this?” “No”, was her answer each time I would ask. “The poor need it more than you do.” I don’t know if I was ever convinced by mom’s rationale that that was a true statement. But I was convinced by her love of people that she had never met, that this was worth the doing. Mom believed that God had a special love for the poor. Because of that belief, she saw the need of people who were struggling more than we were, and so she began the work of wiping tears away from the eyes of children at Christmas time with her clothing and toy drive. Because she believed, she saw that a ‘new heaven and a new earth’ needed to come to be, and she worked to create it.
John didn’t have much at his disposal on that island of Patmos – but a quill and some parchment – and the belief that God was indeed dwelling with his people. So he set down the vision that still calls each of us who are ever tempted to respond in fear or become complacent in our faith. God is dwelling with us – so get busy comforting mourners, wiping tears from eyes, ending the same sad story that we read in the daily paper. There is a new heaven and a new earth coming to be. But, to see it, you have to believe it. And to believe it, you have to be convinced that God is NOT done with us, and that the Spirit of God continues to guide and lead us.
“I, John, saw a new heavens and a new earth.” DO you? Dare you? If so, then, like my mom, like John the Evangelist, like the countless generations of believers who have seen because they believe – get busy creating it.
Voices in the rectory after hours. Lights in the parish center after dark. People armed with scissors and staplers and fabric in the school cafeteria. The ringing of the doorbell. The smell of new wax wafting up through the church air returns. And extra loads for the postman. It all adds up to one thing. The St. Ann Sponsor’s Dinner Dance must be just around the bend.
This coming Saturday, April 30th, marks the 46th Annual Sponsor’s Dinner Dance. What a gift that evening is to our parish community. And what a village it takes to pull it off. People who solicit gifts and sponsorships and auction items. People who give gifts and sponsorships and auction items. The Men’s Club members who help Alan Zagurski with the yearly stripping and waxing of the floor. Jennifer Bahan and her amazing creativity to create the ambiance for the night – assisted by a cast and crew of volunteers working late one Thursday night in the school cafeteria. Kate Flatley (this year’s chair) and her mom Pat, cataloging the items for the program. Randy Cosby who prints the auction book. Sean Leahy, joined by my nephew Peter Kempf, working on the computer programs which will tabulate the bids, and keep track of everything. Newman Center students, staff and volunteers who take tickets and run the computers and serve as gofers during the evening. Pat and Eileen receiving the items and answering doorbells and taking reservations and doing countless small tasks on ground zero we call the rectory. It does take a village to raise a Dinner Dance.
I have three hopes for what happens around the entire process. First, that people are empowered to use their gifts of time and talent and treasure for the good of the parish and school. Second, that all who help and all who attend strength-en the bonds of friendship, love and community that exist already among us. And third, that we are successful in meeting our financial goal for the good of our parish and school. What a gift ALL of those outcomes are and hopefully will be. THANKS, one and all, for all you have already done, and will continue to do this week as we prepare for the 46th installment of our Sponsor’s Dinner Dance.
A blessing and a challenge:
The Newman Center is the recipient of a grant for the next five years to help foster lay vocations in service to the church. A portion of those funds are ear marked for an intern – some-one who volunteers two semesters worth of his/her time and talent to our Newman Center – assisting with outreach and retreat work, all the while discerning how God might be calling him/her to a life of service in the church. That is the blessing. The challenge is the grant did not include a housing stipend. That is where YOU come in. I am looking for someone who might have a spare room in their house who would be willing to open it up to our intern. (we are interviewing next week – two guys and one girl candidate). He/she would live with you (or watch your house if you are going to be gone for an ex-tended period) but serve our community. So I ask you to think and pray about that possibility. And then let me know if you have a solution to our challenge…
The Courage to Love…
It is an apropos Theme for this year’s Annual Catholic Appeal. Perhaps each generation has the same response as they age – the world seems a bit colder, a little sadder, a little less like the world they grew up in. As I age and see more grey on the top of my head than ever used to live there, I realize what an act of courage it is to continue to love, to continue to hope, to continue to believe that God is not done with me, nor done with this world of ours, despite the gloom and doom brought to our attention in the nightly news and the daily papers.
This theme resonates strongly with me – and I hope with you as well. God is NOT done with us, either in this corner of the world called St. Ann nor the other parts of the Archdiocese. Rather, there are still new initiatives of grace, more outreach to the struggling poor, more chances for us to live the corporal works of mercy. If I have the courage to love – to continue to open my heart to the cries of ALL my sisters and brothers, then how can I not open my heart to serve them as well?
You know the drill. Volunteers will be in the back of the church with pledge cards for you. Take a moment to fill yours out, either before or after masses this and the next two weekends. Let the sharing of your treasure be an expression of the courage in YOUR heart to love. And know that any donation, no matter how small or large, continues the work of the Kingdom. (As an aside, St. Ann teachers receive Tuition assistance from the Catholic Appeal. The Newman Center received $68,000 last year. What a difference your support makes for us!) Be courageous this year.
Speaking of your support, thank you for the amazing outpouring of Sponsors for the Dinner Dance. I continue to be amazed by your generosity. Some great oral and silent auction items have also found their way to the rectory. If you have a donation and are waiting for your chance to bring it up, NOW is the time. And, if you plan on joining us for the Dinner Dance on Saturday, April 30th, and have not sent in your reservation, please do so at your earliest convenience.
Finally, we are always in need of volunteers the week before and the week of to prepare for the great event. Alan Zagurski needs a few good men (and/or women) to strip the wax off the old floor and put down a few layers to spruce things up. And Kate Flatley and Co. can use the help in decorating and setting up the silent auction items. Contact Pat Marstall or Kate Flatley to be put on a list for either or both groups…
PS…All are welcome to attend the Confirmation Mass for our 7th and 8th grade students this Monday (April 18) at 7:00 p.m. in our church.
I saw a card while I was picking out birthday cards for my family which said on the front cover: You are my favorite “what if.” Though I am not sure why someone would send such a card, I confess, having just celebrated a reunion of the volunteers whom I worked with in Northern Ireland in ’79 – ’81, it did set my imagination down that road for a while – thinking about some of those ‘what if’ people and ‘what if’ moments of my life.
I suspect all of us have those ‘what if’ moments in our lives. Moments when a choice we make closes off one trajectory of ‘what if’s’ and sets our feet firmly on the path that becomes our life. Turning points which set the course for everything that follows. Some of them are chosen. I chose this college; that degree; this person to take to the prom; that company’s job offer. Others happen to us: This cancer. That company’s closing. This accident! Whether by choice or fate, those turning points set the stage for everything that follows.
Today’s first reading tells the story of one of the bigger turning points in the early church. Paul and Barnabas are on the road, doing their usual thing. They arrive in a city, then they meet with the synagogue leaders. Paul shows them his bona fides as a Pharisee and asks permission to speak. They grant it. And then he preaches to them. And rather successfully, so that many people begin to notice, and not just the Jews. The authorities in power feel threatened and start a persecution, throw Paul and Barnabas out of the synagogues and sometimes the cities. In the mean time, a TON of gentiles come to believe in their message. That pattern is repeated again and again.
It gradually becomes apparent that God was not going to be limited to the borders of religious background any more than He was limited by the borders of geography! So eventually Paul and Barnabas had to change their strategy, and follow the path of the Holy Spirit’s prompting. We hear that turning point this morning: We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. We now turn to the gentiles. What a profound moment in the church.
New Testament scholar, Frank Stagg, points out that these stories in Acts show the Church gradually coming to understand and to embrace this truth: The Gospel cannot and will not be hindered by any man-made boundaries or categories—not race, not gender, not national identity, not religious background, not geographical location, not social-economic status. At each defining moment of the narrative in Acts, the Holy Spirit shows up as a persistent and powerful force drawing the church across any and all boundaries that separate or segment humankind. And so at the very last, with the final sentence Luke uses to close his story of the book of Acts, Paul is shown living and preaching in Rome, welcoming ALL who come to see him, preaching the Gospel unhindered by any constraint. It was a huge turning point in the church.
I like to think that our current Pope is one of those great ‘turning points in the church.” Like every Pope, he brings his gifts to the office. I believe his pastoral and scriptural approaches to discipleship are a huge opportunity and blessing for the church. Fr. James Martin, SJ, in an article in America Magazine, summarized the pope’s encyclical of last week – “The Joy of Love” – into a kind of top ten list. Point #10 says simply: All are welcome.
He writes: “The church must help families of every sort, and people in every state of life, know that, even in their imperfections, they are loved by God and can help others experience that love. Likewise, pastors must work to make people feel welcome in the church. “Amoris Laetitia” offers the vision of a pastoral and merciful church that encourages people to experience the “joy of love.”
So, to quote Men in Black III, this might be my NEW favorite “What if” moment in the church. My new favorite ‘turning point’ in the history of St. Ann church. What if we, the members of St. Ann parish lived with such a welcoming heart, that anyone who comes through our doors would know they are loved by God? What if we made sure that at every mass, we LOOKED for people whom we didn’t recognize, and made sure to introduce ourselves? What if there was only one sign emblazoned on the front of our St. Ann Church—WELCOME, ANYBODY!
That would be a turning point worth living for…
Toward the end of one of my days last week, I realized that in the space of two weeks and a day, through the sacramental ministry of the church, members of our parish will have experienced the indwelling of the entire Trinity.
On Sunday, April 3rd, Charli Niemczyk experienced the life of the Father (and Son and Holy Spirit) through the sacrament of baptism. What I believe about baptism, in addition to all that the church teaches in the Catechism, is that the Father continues to speak at each and every Baptism, just as he spoke at his Son’s baptism in the Jordon. And the word God speaks is: “Beloved.” “This is my beloved son.” “This is my beloved daughter.” And those of you who know the gift of children and grandchildren, know how much you ‘live’ in them, how much life you share with them. So, too, in Baptism, the Father chooses to dwell within each newly born son and daughter as their beloved.
Then, this Sunday, April 10th, our first communion class will experience another level of that indwelling of God. Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, chooses to become as intimately connected to those students as food does to the body. Just as the food we eat becomes body and muscles and sinew and the very flesh of who we are, so too, does this Eucharistic food. It too, becomes “US” – digested on the level of body AND soul. Not only does Jesus dwell with us in love, but he dwells with us in the intimacy of bread and wine becoming our body and blood. St. Augustine said so profoundly: “We become what we eat.”
Finally, on Monday, April 18th, at 7:00 pm (all are invited) our 7th and 8th grade students get to experience the choice of the Spirit to dwell with them in the sacrament of Confirmation. Perhaps because we think about Baptism and Eucharist more often, it is easy to overlook what happens in Confirmation. What the Father is to Baptism and the Son is to Eucharist, the Holy Spirit is to Confirmation. It is that moment when the very Spirit of God chooses to dwell within us – to imbue our heart and sinew and bone and flesh with “the power of a mighty wind.” It is the moment when the Spirit, who is that ‘conversation’ between Father and Son – who is the very love of the Father poured into the Son and the Son’s obedient self emptying of Himself back to the Father – now become the song of love at the heart of each of the confirmandi.
What an amazing thing for us at St. Ann to see and experience in just over two week’s time. And what a fruitful meditation for us all – to realize each of us is heir to that indwelling of the Trinity…
- What day is today? (Means you forgot an anniversary or birthday)
- How old are you? (If somewhere with a beverage you shouldn’t have at your age)
- Where have you been? or it’s variation:
- What have you done? (They know good and well, but now you know the stuff is about to hit the fan.) But none of those trump THE four word question:
Do you love me?
Those four words are guaranteed to send chills down the spine of every man, woman, young adult, teen or adolescent who has to give an answer. We know it is a loaded question before we ask it or answer it. If the person who is asking, doubts our answer, then nothing we can say or do really can prove it, can it? If we are asking, and we doubt their answer, they cannot prove it. There is a powerlessness in both the asking and the answering of that question.
But we know how powerless we are before those words in a different way, too. Deepest down, those are the words we want to hear – that one answer that makes all the difference in our world. I love you. But we know that words are cheap – that words can spill from lips without the backing of the heart. SO, we want to hear the other say the only YES that really matters. YES – I love you, not just with my heart, but with my life. When we ask that question, when we answer that question, we want to hear that yes in both words and in deeds.
I suspect that Jesus knows that about us as humans. And that he knew that particularly about Simon Peter. Because it is only after Peter told Jesus, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” – that Jesus asks him to feed his sheep. “It is not enough, Simon, for you to say the words. You must DO the loving. You must do the actions that speak the love in your heart.” And though it might have seemed harsh for Jesus to ask three times, especially in front of the rest of the disciples, it gave Simon the chance to reverse his three betrayals. And it gave Jesus the chance to impress upon his disciples AND US, that it is never enough to just say the words.
“Do you love me?” That is the feared question that our Lord asks not just of Simon Peter, but of all of us this Easter season. Then, be about the feeding and tending and loving of my sheep. Be about the actions that back up the words of your heart.
So, let me suggest one, very concrete way of doing that. Read the Pope’s new encyclical – The Joy of Love. It is a reflection on the recent synod of the family. It is meant to situate our human love of the family within the great framework of the Love of God. It acknowledges that families are not perfect – that they struggle and fail and succeed in various and sundry ways. But together, as a family, they are called to do the work of that foundational love that then strengthens them to be able to tend to all of the sheep of God’s flock. (click HERE to download the pdf)
Do you love me? Hear that question, not as a moment to strike fear into your heart, but as an opportunity to show, in both word and deed, that you do indeed love your Lord…
(at 11 am mass only) A final question to our first communion children. What did Jesus do for the disciples while they were out fishing all night long? What did he have ready for them when they were done? BREAKFAST! Yup, breakfast. Maybe not your favorite kind – fish and toast, but it was breakfast nonetheless. Because Jesus knew they would be hungry, he became a short order cook – and made sure they were fed. And then he told Peter to do the same – to make sure the sheep were fed. And 2000 years later, that same Jesus has breakfast ready for us, doesn’t he? Again, maybe not your usual breakfast – wine and bread – but food nonetheless. Why? Because he knows that we are hungry – he knows that we need to take in the food that will nourish us and strengthen us. And like that morning on the lake, Jesus is asking us the same thing he asked Peter – do you love me? So when you receive the Lord and get back to your pew, I ask you to make the same response as Peter – to say: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you…
Of the many, many things for which I am grateful here at St. Ann’s, our music at mass ranks right at the top. So, after our Choirs ran the musical equivalent of a marathon during the Triduum – in your name, let me say thanks to all who lent their voices and instruments and skills to proclaiming in song the great story of the Paschal Mystery – from the Last Supper through the resurrection. What a gift you are to our faith community.
And what a gift you are to this presider’s heart. I need to tell you that YOU are one of the ways that God ministers to me during mass. As presider, I don’t have the luxury I had prior to ordination of just being able to follow the Lord’s inspiration when it strikes during mass. Like the host of a party, my mind can be caught up in the necessary details. But then you sing a two part harmony during the Easter Alleluia verses, or a lovely piece that spills over from communion into the meditation time, or an acapella beginning to the recessional song, and I am undone! Thanks for singing me, and this community into life.
Thanks, as well, to whomever cut the grass and trimmed the grounds around the church prior to the Easter masses. (Bob Reid, Dave Marstall, and/or Eddie Eisenhart are the likeliest suspects) The grounds looked their Easter finest. And I have already seen Carol Giblin, Kris LeBoeuf and Margaret Saak trimming and weeding and sprucing up the flower gardens and pots. You make our grounds look amazing!
And then, if you have not been down to the cemetery in a while, treat yourself to the walk. Spearheaded by Joe Schweitzer and Jim Niemczyk, and joined by a veritable who’s who of St. Ann volunteerism, (Mike Marty, Don Davenport, Dave Graham, Bob Maixner and ???) they have cleared a multitude of the under-brush that choked access to the creek and encroached on the tombs on the right side of the cemetery. Tombstones have been repaired and set straight, and branches and twigs have been cleared away. What a difference they have made with their winter and early spring efforts.
And then, on Holy Saturday Bob and Jack Reid cut down the HUGE tree limb that had crashed into the fence next to their back yard and rested like the sword of Damocles over prime ‘capture the flag running lanes’. Thank you for that work.
Finally, thanks to Kate Garrett, Velja Lacey, Sandy Vogt, Fran Uthoff and Mary Lou Krueger who transformed our space from the sparseness of Lent to the glory of Easter. Your gifts are so appreciated.
Finally, keep our first communicants in your prayers in these final days of preparation for receiving the Lord in the Eucharist on April 10, and our Confirmandi as they prepare for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them on April 18th…