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tableIn one of the more memorable songs from Fiddler on the Roof – Tevya asks his wife Golde: “Do you love me?” Her initial reaction is so human: “Do I WHAT?” After much protesting and going back and forth, listing every-thing she has done for him, Tevya asks again: “But, do you love me?” “I suppose I do.” And Tevya responds: “And I suppose I love you too.” They both sing: “It doesn’t change a thing, but even so, after twenty five years, it‟s nice to know…”

There is a wonderful book called The Five Love Languages. In it, the author says that humans have a preferred way to express love and a preferred way to receive love. Some express love through words of affirmation. Others express it best in gifts. Or quality time spent with the beloved. Others prefer physical touch. Finally, some express love best through acts of service.

My mom and dad best expressed their love through acts of service. I am very much their son in that regard. It is the language that I am most comfortable in – doing acts of service. So I shoveled the walks during winter time. (with a little help from my friends Gary Uthoff and Bob Reid.) And set up lights in the sanctuary for the liturgical seasons, and in the parish center for dinner dances. And ran internet lines through the school and pre-school nooks and crannies. And cooked auction thank-you dinners. And locked up the church on Sundays as I pray/sing for all the people I have interacted with that evening/morning. And cut grass at the Newman Center. In ways seen and perhaps not so visible, I have tried to say I love you by those simple acts of service.

And, in my secondary love language, I use words of affirmation to express who you are to me. Most people would call them homilies. I might call them love letters. Words and phrases that I struggled over to introduce you to the One whom I love the best. All crafted in the hopes that those images and thoughts and gospel questions might inflame in you what they set ablaze in me – a deep love for our Lord. That is what I most wanted you to know – that there is a love Who has known each of you from your mother‟s womb and Who has come, that you might have life and have it to the full.”

I hope you “heard” those words of affirmation and acts of service for what they were – my way of saying “I love you.” My way of expressing the joy in my soul for the gift and privilege of being among you. My way of putting into action (and words) the love that God has put into my heart to give to you. And though, in the words of Tevya and Golde, “it doesn’t change a thing.” But even so, after 16 years, hopefully, it is nice for you to know…

I do love you…

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May 29, 2016

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Are you easily satisfied?

Published on 29. May, 2016 by in Sunday Homilies

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table“They all ate, and were satisfied.” A group of human beings satisfied—now that is a rare and wondrous thing to behold, then as now. Satisfied does not mean stuffed. Nor does it mean hungry. Satisfied means my desires, expectations and needs are taken care of.
Satisfied contains two main concepts.
1) I AM CONTENT with what I have.
2) The belief that what I have is enough to do what I need to do.

Our Lord was faced that day on the hillside with a multitude of people and a small band of disciples who all shared a common misperception about the universe. They operated from an assumption that there was not enough to go around, that their lives were defined by scarcity rather than abundance. And so that very fear kept them all bound to a life of scrambling and scratching out an existence in a world that favored only the most aggressive, where only the early bird got the worm, where the rich could get richer and the poor would get poorer only because there was not enough provision for all of them in the first place. Only the fittest could survive in such a competitive world. Does that world sound familiar to you?

Jesus lived from a different sense of reality – that of abundance and blessing. God has provided enough for every legitimate need in creation. Jesus knew that the only thing that is needed for everyone and everything to prosper and thrive is to share that abundance rather than hoard it.
• There is enough food produced to end world hunger right now? Poverty and hunger are not problems of overpopulation, but poor distribution. There is enough to go around, enough to satisfy any sized multitude.
Jesus invited his disciples to be content with what they had, trusting the Father that it would be enough.

There is a little story a friend sent that has helped me to be content in the upcoming transfer.

I was regretting the past and fearing the future
Suddenly my Lord was speaking: “MY NAME IS I AM”

He paused:

“When you live in the past with its mistakes and regrets,
it is hard. I am not there. My name is not I WAS.

When you live in the future with its problems and fears,
it is hard. I am not there. My name is not I WILL BE.

When you live in this moment it is not hard. I am here.
MY NAME IS I AM.”

Maybe that is the simplest way to learn to be content with what we have – to trust that God’s name is “I am.”

Second, the little boy was young enough to trust what Jesus could do with his meager gift. And it became enough. If we want to be satisfied, then WE are invited to trust God to take what looks meager and make it enough. We are invited to learn the open palm of the small boy who offered his small lunch to Christ rather than hoard it for himself.
And look what God does with that attitude: At the end of meal, there was not only enough, there was enough left over for each stunned disciple to labor under the weight of a basket full of left-overs. If we could only learn to trust God more, to see the world as full of abundance rather than almost empty, we might begin to open our palms more, share our small portion more. And maybe, just maybe, after sharing the laughter and generosity of plenty with others around us, we might find that we have finally found within us that treasure that had eluded our grasp for so long. We would finally feel satisfied and content.
And that brings us to the table of the Lord, where once again a meager amount of bread is taken, blessed, broken, and given. It never looks like much food, but the feast at this table will be enough for us all. For Jesus Christ is not only the host of this meal, he IS the meal itself. Come to the Lord’s table, you who long to be satisfied. There is enough. There is enough to satisfy ALL that we need…

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May 22, 2016

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simbaFr. Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward, The Spirituality for the Second Half of Life, writes: “We all seen to suffer from a tragic case of mistaken identity. Life is a matter of becoming fully and consciously who we already are, but it is a self that we largely do not know. It is as though we are all suffering from a giant case of amnesia.”

If you are a devotee of ‘the Lion King’ –you will know the scene where the now nearly grown Simba has just had a fight with his girlfriend over whether he should return to the Pride Lands of his birth. Confused and hurt, he finds some solitude along the edge of a lake. Looking at his reflection, he now sees himself as a full grown Lion, which surprises him a bit. As he continues to gaze into the reflection of the stars in the lake, they reform, into the image of his father, Mufasa. Then comes the simple admonition from the spirit of his father: “Remember who you are.” “Remember who you are.”

I wonder if that admonition is also a great way to enter into the heart of the feast we celebrate today – that of the Holy Trinity? So many of the great stories of our western and eastern traditions, then and now, all hinge around the fact of a prince or princess, a noble or a daughter or a son of god, not knowing who they are. They have to grow up to fathom their own identity. And the plot of these hero/heroine stories revolves around the quest to uncover what is already there all the time.

Fr. Rohr says uncovering that deepest identity in God is precisely THE JOURNEY of the second half of life – to remember who we are, the divine nature that is our deepest and truest self. The Rite of Baptism tries to root us in that identity with these words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Learning who we are deepest down is the goal of the Christian life. But too often, we stumble through life, unaware of or intentionally denying who we are. A hurt, a loss, an experience of shame, a time when we questioned the presence of God – all of that can be the cause of our spiritual amnesia.

In the Lion King, it is the lies that Scar told Simba about his ‘causing’ the death of his father, that results in his spiritual amnesia, his burying his truest identity, his deepest down knowing of who he is. Like many of us, he has chosen to believe the lie instead of living into the truth of his birthright. “Remember who you are,” comes the command. And remember he does. That remembering, that tapping into the deepest truth about who he is sets his feet on a journey back to his homeland, back to the task that was his to perform, his to do. And you know the rest of the story. Confronting his own demons and his evil uncle, he restores the balance and completes the circle of life.

So, how might you and I “remember” who we are? Is there a cure for the spiritual amnesia that keeps our hearts small and our journeys timid?

1) Simplest way – change the desktop background on your computer to an image from the Lion King – and let be a visual reminder of the grace and gift God put into your heart.

2) Mean the sign of the cross that we do so automatically: In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This food I am blessing, this activity I am beginning, this moment I am present to, this worship I am entering into, let me do it in accord with who I am.

3) Make a post-it note with that phrase: “Remember who you are” and put it where you will see it. Remember that I am made in the divine image –Father, Son and Spirit. And all that the Father does to create life is mine to do. All that the Son does to redeem life, is mine to do. All that the Spirit does to sanctify life, is mine to do.

4) Finally, pray with this one amazing line that St. Paul tells us in our reading from Romans: “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” More than any words or definitions we could use to describe the Trinity, our experience of God is just that – an experience of love itself being poured into our hearts. Pray with that line until you believe it.

Do you have spiritual amnesia? Then, hear again, who you are and remember. We are those in whom the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit resides.

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Perhaps you remember the song “To Sir, With Love,” from the movie of the same name. Performed by an artist called Lulu, it summarized the human journey of these inner city street kids under the tutelage of Mark Thackery (played by Sidney Portier). My favorite words from the song say this: “How do you thank someone who has taken you from crayons to perfume? It isn’t easy, but I’ll try…”

So, how do you thank a parish who has taken you in and formed and shaped you and welcomed you into their families and lives? It isn’t easy, but I’ll try.

Thank you:
for introducing me to the world called Sprenke
for dinner dances and fish fries and late nights in the parish center..
for men’s clubs and ladies guilds and scouting groups and SA(C)PO and parish councils and finance committees – those who do the ‘work’ of parish life
for field days, held both inside and out
for Advent concerts and mass choirs and amazing songs lifting my heart in praise
for the “St. Ann Diner” experience
for “Recycle dude” and images of Bob Reid balancing a bicycle on his chin…
for talent shows and eighth grade plays and spaghetti suppers and advent liturgies
for parish center kitchen and bathroom renovations, for stage lighting controls and pew re-finishing and internet wiring and pipe organs and sound systems – the stuff we’ve updated and created together…
for heavenly dusters and outdoor gardens tended with loving hands and green thumbs
for rallying so consistently and powerfully around the families of those taken from us way too soon
for kids running amok during fish fries
for quiet servants who do things behind the scenes (you know who you are)
for opening your hearts and pews and lives to the good people from Ascension/St. Paul during our merger
for Halloween parties and Christmas gatherings and jubilee year celebrations
for taking in wounded brothers in the priesthood who needed a place of healing and peace
for the way that you all pray the Our Father TOGETHER – Sunday after Sunday. (listen next time – nobody is ahead of each other, no one is behind – you are ONE when you pray the prayer Jesus taught us…)
for your patience in teaching me how to be not just a good pastor, but a holy priest and hopefully a good man.
for shaping me over half of my priesthood by your kindness and witness and example and challenge and faith.
for leaving footprints all over my heart…

Thank you for being so wonderfully and amazingly and generously YOU…

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ListenFr. Anthony DeMello, S.J. wrote a series of reflections on various stories and poems from eastern mysticism.  One of them went like this:

I used to be stone deaf. I would
see people stand up and go through
all kinds of gyrations. They called
it dancing. It looked absurd to me

– until one day I heard the music!

I don’t know if you and I will ever understand the decisions and choices of saints until we hear what they hear so plainly – the music of the Holy Spirit. They seem crazy. They seem almost incomprehensible – until you hear what they hear –until you hear the music of the Spirit.  So let me tell three quick stories about how people hear the Spirit.

At the end of our Newman Center legacy dinner, (where our graduating Seniors make a commitment to pay back to the center $1,000 over the course of the next 4-5 years) we invite our graduates to tell a story about what the Newman Center has meant to them.  Every year, I am blown away by what I hear.  One said: “I grew up catholic.  I was very involved in my parish and at the Newman center my freshman and sophomore years. Then I joined a sorority, and began to drift away.  There just was not time for both in my life.  Then Rachelle left, and the place was not quite the same without her.  So I let go of my faith.  And was okay for a year.  But then I realized that something was missing. [tears are now flowing from her eyes] So I called Rachelle. She said “Talk to Erin.” (our new Campus Minister then)  So I did.  And bit by bit, Erin helped me to see what I was missing.  So I came back.  SOOO glad I came back.  Because I know life here that I don’t know anyplace else.”  She is someone who heard the music of the spirit – who let that emptiness lead her step by step back ‘home’ to the church..

Saturday morning, 109 lay ministers were commissioned by the Archbishop to serve the Archdiocese in their parishes.  Many said yes to the three year preparation process out of friendship with their pastor (Gary Uthoff, is one of them)  But something happened along the way.  To a man or woman, they fell in love with God all over again.  And because of that, they will give the next three years of their lives back in service to the church – “as messengers of the gospel.”  110 more people heard the music of the spirit and learned how to dance.

And even though you may not trust it now, I too, heard that music of the spirit in the move that is upon me.  When Msgr. Shamleffer asked me at the luncheon back in February, if I was interested in a move, my initial reaction was: No way!  I love it here.  Why on earth would I even think of moving?  “Precisely!” came the voice in my prayer.  There is no reason on EARTH why I would.  But something started happening in my prayer -this little tickle, in the back of my heart, started going off.  It is the same one that I sense when the ‘homily idea’ suddenly clicks into place.  “Ahh, here is what I need you to speak about today.”

And there it was, but only when we talked about St. Justin.  Not when we talked about a few other options. I tried to ignore it.  I tried to pretend it was not there.  I would wake up at 4 O’clock in the morning, and there it was.  “Really, Spirit? You want me to go there?  Don’t you know what that means?  It means I have to let go of the place where I have spent half of my priesthood.”  “No,” came the reply.  “It is not about what you are holding on to.  It is all about what I am calling you to.”  And it did not go away. For two months, it did not go away.  And even when I had already said yes to St. Justin, and then Archbishop called me a day later and offered me the choice to go to a DIFFERENT, west county parish – it did not go away!  So, though I have no idea what is in store for me there, I hear that music of the spirit.  And I choose to dance with that music, because I know that the Spirit has life for me.

I used to be stone deaf. I would
see people stand up and go through
all kinds of gyrations. They called
it dancing. It looked absurd to me

– until one day I heard the music!

Anthony DeMello concludes his little reflection this way:  “I fail to understand why saints – and lovers – behave the way they do.  So I am waiting for my heart to come alive.” I’ll add: “So I am waiting to hear the music of the Spirit.”

If you wonder why priests can say yes to uprooting their lives, why saints and holy men and women throughout the ages have been able to choose and do heroic things – then pray that most ancient prayer of the church with me:  Come, Holy Spirit.  Fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created.  And you shall renew the face of the earth.

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“One last time, Relax, have a drink with me
One last time Let’s take a break tonight
And then we’ll teach them how to say goodbye
To say goodbye You and I”

These are lines from the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, as George Washington has announced that he would not seek another term as president. Hamilton was shocked. “Mr. President, they will say you’re weak. No, they will see we’re strong. Your position is so unique. So I’ll use it to move them along. Why do you have to say goodbye? If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on. It outlives me when I’m gone.”

George Washington knew a truth about goodbyes. Jesus knew that truth as well, in the feast of the Ascension that we just celebrated. One of the effects of saying goodbye well is that people learn to move on, they learn to be empowered to take up their lives and continue on the path God has set out for them.

There are three tasks to saying goodbye. To say: “I‟m sorry.” To say “Thank You.” And to say: “I love you.” Allow me a moment to begin to say those things.

I’m sorry. (And: “Will you forgive me?)

For the obvious things:

  • for not getting out to see you in the hospital when I heard you were there
  • for not getting over to the school classrooms to spend time teaching your kids.
  • for making you „invisible‟ at social functions, not because I didn‟t see you, but because I couldn‟t remember your name and felt embarrassed to ask you the 40th time
  • for not organizing a parish response to the events in Ferguson
  • for not having gotten the “ACTS” retreat program off the ground here at St. Ann

For the not so obvious things:

  • for not being a voice in ‘political’ things which affected our neighborhood
  • for using the excuse of “‘being busy” as a reason not to engage with you
  • for shepherding this parish in a “let‟s keep things running mode” instead of “I have a vision for doing n._______ mode”
  • for not spending nearly enough time in prayer for and with you
  • for falling into the trap which said: “Because I can do many things, I should do them myself (instead of empowering you to take your roles of leadership in the church)” and much more that space will not allow here…

George Washington put the following into his farewell ad-dress. “Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will view them with indulgence.” I carry with me the same hope, that you, the good people of St. Ann will view my shortcoming and failures with indulgence – and forgiveness.

Next week – “Thank You” (though it may take more than a week…)

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May 15, 2016

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now whatHave you ever spent so much time focused on getting to the goal that once you achieved it, you had no idea what came next?  The new career mother, who has looked forward to the birth of their first child, now returns home with baby in tow, has all the friends and relatives there for a little celebration of those first wonderful days.  The first Monday morning rolls.  The hubby heads off to work, the door closes, and suddenly it hits her:  “I’m not going back to work, not for a long time.”  Then, that most human question hits her dead in the face:  “NOW WHAT?”

            The graduating senior walks across the stage, picks up their diploma, smiles this huge smile of relief, pauses at the end for the picture next to the U.S. flag, walks back to their chair in the auditorium, and sits down.  Once they take a breath or two, the dawning realization hits them like a sledgehammer:  “Now what?”  I don’t have to wake up tomorrow early for classes.  I don’t have to get my books for the next cycle of classes, etc.  Now what?

And in our stories from the Acts of the Apostles and Matthew’s gospel we see the disciples facing the exact same: “Now what?” question.  Jesus had been raised from the dead.  And he hung out with them for a period of time.  And they were becoming kind of used to his risen presence, when suddenly, it seems, he is taken from their midst.  You get the sense in the Acts of the Apostles that they didn’t quite see that one coming.  They were still asking questions about when Jesus would restore the political kingdom.  Instead, Jesus speaks to them about being clothed with power from on high, and the promised gift of the Spirit.  And then he was gone.  He was gone.  They stand there with mouths open, gaping at the heavens.  Now what?

So God, with his usual patience, sends two heavenly visitors.  “Men of Jerusalem, why are you standing around looking up to the heavens?”  Don’t you understand, it’s “Now what” time.  It’s time to begin the NEXT stage of discipleship.  Empowered by the spirit, YOU are to be the witnesses, you are to be the ones to continue the building of the kingdom.  Clothed with power from on high, the mission is yours now to accept and undertake.  You’ve got the only tool you’ll ever need – the gift of the Spirit. “Now what?”  Now it is time to get busy living and loving for the kingdom.

Now what?  I think we all know both sides of that experience in various ways and different times – the “deep gulp” side of that moment as well as the ‘being sent to the next stage of the mission’.  So here is the truth about the Feast of the Ascension this year at St. Ann parish.   It is “Now what time” in a very real way for you and me.

For me, the “Now What?” means that the long expected call came from the Archbishop’s office a few weeks ago.  On my ordination day, I placed my hands and life into the hands of my Archbishop and promised to serve the church wherever and however the church needed me to serve it.  That promise has not changed over the years.  So, beginning July 1st, I will become the pastor of St. Justin the Martyr parish in Sunset Hills.  And a young priest named Nick Winker, class of 2010, and current associate pastor at St. Joseph’s in Imperial will become the pastor here at St. Ann.

And like the disciples’ reaction to the ascension of Jesus, that news can leave us a little dumbstruck, or empty, or shocked or sad, or a combination of all of those emotions.  And that is okay.  But what I know in faith is this: the apostles would never have grown into the full measure of their mission and maturity if Jesus had stayed with them.  They would never have learned to trust the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit if they could just ask Jesus directly.  So, too, it is good for this parish that a new pastor comes – one who can take you places where I could not.  And who can foster and encourage and strengthen you to be ‘clothed with power from on high” with skills that I don’t have.  That doesn’t negate what we have done together, and how God has been working in and among us all.  Nor does it say that God is suddenly going to leave this parish that he has shepherded these past 160 years.  But it does say that a new chapter will open in the great history of this great parish.

Now what?      I have no idea what is in store for me or for you.  I could tell you that St. Justin’s is about twice the size of St. Ann.  They have a school of about 250 students.  That it is about 8 minutes from where mom lives.  I could tell you that your new pastor is one of 5 kids, he grew up in St. Jude parish, went to Holy Trinity Grade school, has a degree in engineering from Rolla and is, in his own words ‘ecumenical’ because he went to SLUH & his brother went to CBC.   But none of that really answers the question.  Thank goodness! How exciting for us all!  How exciting it is to see what God will unfold and explode into his church, here at St. Ann and at St. Justin.

Now what?         Now…..what!

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