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In this week’s Gospel we hear again about Martha and Mary. So let us begin with the better part.

Mary: As of Sunday we’re nine days out from the feast of St. Ann, our parish patron. St. Ann is more important than ever today. As the grandmother of Jesus, the loving mother of the Blessed Mother, and a patient believer in God’s will, she is a powerful patron for families. Today there is a seemingly unending litany of brokenness in family life; divorce, death, abuse, infertility, unwanted pregnancies, pornography, infidelity, drugs, over incarceration… While there is much we can do as “Marthas” to help those who are suffering, and as Mary (Magdalene) we can repent , but the most important thing we can do for our world is to pray. Starting Monday for nine days through the Feast of St. Ann on July 26th we will conclude our petitions at Mass with this novena prayer to St. Ann for family life. I invite you to pray with us, either at Mass or on your own.

Novena Prayer to St. Ann
Oh Blessed St. Ann, mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary and grand-mother of our Savior, Jesus Christ,
When life seems barren, help us to trust in God’s mercy.
When we are confused, help us to find the way to God.
When we are lost in the desert, lead us to those whom God has called us to love.
When we are selfish, teach us to cling only to that which lasts.
When we are afraid, help us to trust in God.
When we are ashamed, remind us that we are God’s children.
When we sin, lead us to do God’s will.
You who know God’s will for the family, keep all families close to you.
You who trusted in God’s will, help us to respect God’s gift of family life.
You who gave birth to the Blessed Mother, strengthen all parents.
You who taught the Mother of God, protect and nurture all children.
You whose hearts trusted in God, hear our prayers. Amen

Martha: there are so many that do so much to make this parish what it is. I want to thank all that labor to make our parish such a beautiful community. I want to make special note of three projects you might notice around campus. First, the Men’s Club has agreed to pay the majority of the cost of repairing the blacktop behind the school. That blacktop was no longer safe for use as a playground. Volunteers from the Men’s Club have dug up the rough spots and leveled them out. Next a contractor is going to cover the whole thing with asphalt.

You may have noticed that the sidewalk in front of the most “recent” addition to the school is roped off. Some of the brick work on that side and part of the building has deteriorated rapidly and needs major tuckpointing work. This is a serious enough and big enough project that we are contracting with a tuck pointing company. I want to thank the parishioners who helped identify, assess, and arrange for a contractor to fix this problem before it got worse. Hopefully the bricks stay put and repair work will begin in a week or two. Finally, the Knights of Columbus have volunteered to help pay for and install new LED lights for the Church. These new lights should last longer and use less energy, saving the environment and saving the parish money. Hopefully the church will be “bathed in new light” in the next week or two!

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Blew it out of the water…
$75,642. That is how much we raised this year at the Sponsor’s Dinner Dance. That is the MOST money raised at the dinner dance in my 16 years of being here. KUDOS to Kate Flatley and her team for an AMAZING gift to this parish. We are already using some of those funds for school repairs, as well as replacing the carpet in Fr. Nick’s sitting room and bedroom. (The gentlemen who is doing the installation said he has been in the business 32 years and has never seen the set up for securing the rug that they used. So, my guess is the rug is at least 33 years old…)

Perhaps you remember, but some weeks or so after I became the Pastor here at St. Ann, I shared my experience of ‘life without a map.’ I realized that I had a vision of what life would be as an associate pastor. But I did not have an image in my head about what being a pastor should look like. My “map” had run out.

So, with great patience, you taught me what being a priest/pastor might look like. Leading from the front, not from the side or behind as I was accustomed to doing. Learning how to say “Yes” when I could, and “No” when I had to. (The Fr. Bernie Nienhaus rule of being a pastor.) Learning how St. Ann worked and who did what. Mostly, I think, just learning the rhythm of life and love and service here at St. Ann as we prayed and played and worked together. Long before I got here, you were ‘doing the kingdom of God.’ And long after I leave, God willing, you will still be doing that.

So, thank you for teaching me how to listen and walk with you in that role as pastor. And now, you get to train another ‘rookie’ how to be the chief shepherd of St. Ann Parish. I pray that you are as gentle to him as you were to me.

As I head to St. Justin, it occurs to me that I am again going to a place where I have no preconceived “map”. But because of you, I can walk into that place trusting that God will be there as he was here. Thank you for giving me that confidence. And know that as often as we partake of the one bread and the one cup, we are joined together in that bond we call the Mystical Body of Christ.

Though no one ever really leaves St. Ann, we do move locations. So my new location is:

11910 Eddie and Park Road
Saint Louis, MO 63126
314-843-8482

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Wrapping up
In various ways these past weeks, people have asked or commented on a variation of the same question. Sometimes it comes out as: “Why are you leaving?” or “Why does the Arch-bishop move priests around?” Or even “Did you have any say in the transfer?” St. Paul, no stranger to frequent ‘transfers’ himself, had a profound answer to those questions in today’s 2nd reading. He says simply: “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me.”

If this move were just on the ‘human level’ – then it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I am with people whom I love. And two ministries that I love. (And close to the golf course I love.) It is what I have known these past 16 years. Besides, after enduring 2 years of a messed up Natural Bridge, they finally got the street looking lovely… If this world were all that there is, then I would exercise my ‘right’ as a pastor to ‘not be moved without my permission.’

As people of faith, though, we know a bit better, don’t we? “HERE” is not everything. It is a good thing, no doubt, but at the end of the day, we are all just passing through. And like the pledge of celibacy that makes no sense without a referent to the divine plan and the Kingdom of Heaven, the choice to be obedient – the choice to listen to the call of the Holy Spirit when S/He invites me to follow – only makes sense if there is a God. That is the gamble that I have staked my life, as well as my death upon.

If you heard Gary Uthoff’s speech in the parish center, he quoted (impressively) Karl Rahner, one of the great minds and theologians of the last century. “In those moments when we are faced with the question of how we are to cope when things or people are taken from us we can protest, despair, become cynical and cling all the more desperately and absolutely to what has been taken from us. But it is better to abandon with resignation what has been taken from us and accept them as events of grace.”

I do trust this is an event of grace. And like St. Paul, I try to live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me. Because I have experienced how well Jesus has loved me, and how well you have loved me, I can go forward in great confidence. Thank you for that gift.

Let me leave you with one quote that my classmate put on the ‘memorial card’ for his ordination/first mass weekend.
“The will of God will not lead you where the power of God will not sustain you.” St. Augustine

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At my farewell at the Newman Center on Tuesday night, Erin Duffy composed a prayer of blessing and had members of the community pray them over me. I was undone. I had managed to hold it together as various people told stories and shared anecdotes of our time together at the Center. (just barely) And then they started praying over me…

I learned again the truth of the quote from Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings: “Not all tears are evil…”

I share that prayer here, because it also reflects my own prayer for both the Newman Center folks and you, the people of St. Ann.

May you know, always, that you are loved.
May you know your impact, that your actions, your love and your presence has touched the lives of so many.
May you have faith, that you are exactly where you need to be, and are going exactly where you need to go.
May you have hope, that all things are being made new and that on this servant path, all your needs are being cared for.
May you journey with hands wide open, receiving all that God is providing, in every moment.
May you walk in safety, in humility, in peace and in joy.
May carry this community in your heart, as we carry you in our hearts.
We thank you, we bless you, we send you forth as you continue the work of God, as you continue to build the kingdom of God here among us.
We ask all of this through Christ our Lord, and through the intercession of Blessed John Cardinal Henry New-man…. Amen … … … … …

Finally, to answer the most asked question of recent days:

I will officially leave sometime the week of June 27. I have to report to St. Justin at some point on the 30th, and my first mass there will be July 1st. The exact date depends on when Fr. Weber moves out of his rooms (soon to be mine) and they do some painting of the rectory. That date depends on when the priest who is at the parish where he is going moves out which depends on when that priest can move into his place which…. So, by June 30th at the latest…

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Of many things…

For some people, the way to their heart is through their stomach. For me, it has always been my ears. I remember crying one night on a drive home when I heard the Celtic Women’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” the first time. It was so incredibly beautiful.

Music has always had that power over me. I was one of the few boys in my grade school choir. My brothers would make fun of me for singing while I was doing the dishes. I took up guitar so that I could accompany myself and others in that favorite pastime of singing. And I am heir to a huge gift liturgically here at St. Ann in our various choirs. I close my eyes and I can still hear the 11 am choir singing that old spiritual: “Over my head, I hear music in the air; there must be a God somewhere!” For so I do – I hear the music and know the goodness of God.

For 16 years, the parish family of St. Ann has been blessed with an amazing volunteer choir. And an even more amaz-ing volunteer Choir Director – Mrs. Kathy Reid. The energy and enthusiasm and prayer she brings forth from the choir as they lead us in sacred song simply takes my breath away. How well you sing with them brings a smile to my heart. And the things she has our Children’s choir doing is equally outstanding. She is an example of what happens when you let God use you.

And, after 16 years, she is stepping down from that role of 11 a.m. volunteer Choir Director at the end of this month. That will be a huge director’s wand to fill.

I have begun a search process. Part time choir directors are not always the easiest to find. In the short term, Mrs. Kate Garrett and Ms. Catherine Tobben will be filling in on most of the Sundays in June. There will be some times when Don Muckerman and Barbara Jackson will be filling in. Yet, I do trust that God is preparing exactly the right person to step into this role. Just as He has with new principals and new secretaries and new teachers and every-thing that has been necessary to keep this parish alive and growing and vibrant. I will work with Fr. Winker throughout the process, and, God willing, we will have another amazing director in place soon…

Kathy, from the bottom of this pastor’s heart – thank you for your years of service. What a gift you have been to all of us!!!

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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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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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“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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Pastor’s Pen – May 8, 2016

Published on 08. May, 2016 by in Pastor's Pen

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December 11, 2015 marked a milestone in my life. Though I did not realize it at the time (my internal math had somehow put that date in mid March) that was the day when I had spent exactly half of my priesthood living at St. Ann parish. I was ordained on Dec. 15, 1984. And I took up residence here on June 12, 2000. So when you do the math, and add in leap days, Dec. 11th marked half of my priesthood living at St. Ann parish. I could not be more richly blessed, nor more thankful. These nearly 16 years have been an amazing gift.

And then, continuing the math, on January 23, 2017, I will once more have lived less than half of my priesthood at St. Ann parish. You see, I have been asked to become the shepherd of the people of a different parish (as yet, I am unable to say where, until all the changes are done) effective on July 1, 2016.

As you can imagine, my emotions have been quite mixed. I have said it early and often, I am the most blessed pastor in the entire Archdiocese of St. Louis in my assignment here. I love you, the people of St. Ann parish. And I love my college students at the Newman Center. And the thought of not being among you on a day to day basis is a sad one for me.

Yet, if you remember a homily I gave at the end of October – I spoke about the Priest Profile I am asked to fill out every year, and how I made completely sure I had checked the box saying: “I want to stay in my current assignment.” And then, after much praying, eventually also checked the box regarding possible future assignments that said: “Here I am, send me, no strings attached.”

Fast forward to February, when my classmate, who is on the priests’ personnel board, asked me at my priest support group – “Bill, they are throwing your name around for a few parishes, and I want to know what you want,” my reaction was “No way. I don’t want to move!!” Yet, I found that when I took that to prayer that night, in the deepest place in my heart, I had already said ‘Here I am, send me, with no strings attached.’

I never saw that ‘yes’ coming. But there it was.

Perhaps it is what you know as married couples all the time. There are some decisions that seem like they are not ‘easy to make’ because they involve change and sacrifice, but in reality, they ARE easy to make, because you have made that foundational choice when you said those vows: “For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.” And though I used different words on the day of my ordination, that ‘intention’ was also at the heart of my promise to the Church on that December day in 1984 – that I would love her and honor her, all the days of my life, no matter where that promise took me.

You will hear more in the weeks to come about that transition (at this stage, I don’t have a clue who is coming here…) But in the mean time, I continue to be, and always will be, the most blessed pastor in the Archdiocese because of who you are… Thank you for a wonderful half of my priesthood…

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Pastor’s Pen – May 1, 2016

Published on 01. May, 2016 by in Pastor's Pen

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Beyond Sunday…

Two bits of good news to report to you. St. Ann received its first share of the Beyond Sunday monies. As you remember, each parish receives 40% of the parish campaign total, distributed twice a year – once in March, for all the funds collected the previous July through December, and once in October, for all the funds received from January through June. So our first installment (and probably the largest, as more than a few donors paid off their entire pledge up front) was a check for $34,809.87. That money was deposited in our parish fund on March 31st.

Our first two priorities are the exterior center roof of the church and the glass and steel ‘cage’ that protects our magnificent stained glass window. I have signed a contract with RMT Roofing Consultants, a firm recommended by the Archdiocese, who will do a thorough analysis of the current church roofs, develop the scope of work, put those out for bids, and make recommendations with appropriate budget projections including alternate solutions with value analysis. Once we have selected a contractor, RMT will provide the timetable for installation, and guide us through the repair process.

I am in consultation with an alum about a time table (and more importantly, a payment schedule) for doing the work on the structure which protects our Stained Glass Window. My hope is to have both of those projects done by the end of summer. (though this former project might have to wait for the October installment of funds for payment.)

The second bit of good news is that six Saint Ann School families received $9,000 in scholarship funding for next year. These funds come from the Archdiocesan share of the Beyond Sunday Campaign. (60%) Around the Archdiocese, they have awarded $1.2 million dollars worth of Scholarships, including at least one scholarship to every Catholic High School (there are 27) and scholarships to 98 parochial schools. These scholarships are in addition to the Alive in Christ Scholarships, which this year total $98,000.

Thanks again, to all who made their pledge, and have begun paying those pledges off. They are already making a difference in our parish and Archdiocese. (If you did not pledge to the Beyond Sunday Campaign, but still want to, please contact me at your convenience. I would be happy to assist you in any way possible.)

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