Saturday, February 27, 2010

Soup and Speaker

One of my most favorite activities at St Mary's is our soup and speaker, On Fridays during Lent a group is responsible for bring in meatless soups and bread. A person or persons share their faith, or faith experience. The we all go to the church for stations of the cross. It is always very good. We have had up to ninety people for the evening.
Now stations of the cross is an ancient habit of walking the path of the Crucifixion of Jesus. Of course in our churches we have depictions of the key or central events of the way of the cross. These can be paintings, plaster cast, or carvings. There are fourteen stations. While around since the fifth century, they were developed by Francis of Assisi in the thirteenth century.
While the stations can be prayed at any time, they are most popular during Lent. Throughout the stations, as we reflect on the sufferings of the Chriist, we are also to ask ourselves when and where we may have rejected people, judged others, mocked people, or in any way neglected compassion and charity. There is a real social justice component with the stations since the gospel stories convey to us the central role ofthe crowds. We understand how social Sin can destruct persons or groups and hide behind the mask of the crowd.
Last nights speaker(s) was our youth. We had three of our teen leaders briefly present how they came to the place where they are. To be sure for each of them it has been a journey of faith. Even though they did not expand on the experience much, it is very hard today to be Christ centered in the public sphere. Especially if one is a teenager. But that is the cross aspect of their lives to be sure. They did a great job in talking about that one conversion experience, and the necessity of going back to the table to be fed and nourished. In matter of fact one of the girls talked about Liturgy, prayer, and scripture as being so very important in maintaining her faith and keeping herself focused on Jesus.
It is always neat to gather to pray with the people of God, especially after we have been inspired by such faithful witnesses. Personally I like to sit in the back of the church in the corner. But it is a good time to pray, reflect, and contemplate the source of our salvation.

Friday, February 26, 2010

This is My Beloved Son

I like the story of the Transfiguration. (The image above is not the Transfiguration) I was at Mt Tabor about two years ago. Its not a hill, it is a huge mound which stands about 1,800 feet above the valley floor. It has been a holy place for peoples in Israel, Christians and Jews, for centuries. Jesus is transfigured into his glorious self, with Elijah and Moses. It helps us understand that Jesus is the fulfillment of both the law and the prophets.

When I went to St Meinrad Seminary, the place sat on a hill. From the fifth floor of the main seminary building you could view the surrounding countryside of southern Indiana. Its pretty impressive and really peaceful. My spiritual director would remind me occasionally that I could not stay there; I was called to serve the people of northern Illinois. Even today I occasionally long for the serenity and peacefulness that the seminary offered. St. Mary Parish seems to alway be in the middle of chaos and crisis.

But recollections of St Meinrad offer some focus and solace. I wonder whether Peter, James, and John, found themselves remembering Tabor on that Thursday night, and Friday afternoon. Even many years after the resurrection how much more could they speak about the glory of Jesus Christ, not only witnessing his suffering and death, but also seeing his glory.

We all need the Tabors and Meinrad's to help focus us in the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We understand that we cannot stay there, but it is good to gather around the Bread of Life that gives us strength and nourishment for the journey. Eventually we all need to go out and love and serve the Lord.

Lent is a really neat time to remember covenants and the promises of Jesus Christ. When we bless ourselves coming in to church, we call to mind our baptism and the dying and rising of Jesus Christ. May this continue to be a fruitful journey of faith.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Chastity and charity

I got back a little while ago from our eighth grade R.E. class. We are beginning our Diocesan Chastity program. I like it, it relies heavily on the catechism of the Church, and the scriptures. It is quite a difference from teaching fifth grade boys the 'facts of life.' In this small group they are "grossed out" by some of the blatant sexual inuendo that exists in our world. Or at least they say that they are. I can only hope that their distaste for making sexuality something ugly or base continues throughout their lives.

Bishop Doran was my marriage and family life teacher in high school. A stellar teacher to be sure. He had us read C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves. A great text which I continue to use today. The parts are Friendship, Eros, Affection, and Charity.

I think that the latter is a natural outcome of the relationship which is solely based on the love of Jesus. When we can tend to others well, offer compassion, forgive, and allow ourselves to be forgiven, Charity begins to take shape. Great couples are very giving people and maintain a sense of dignity towards their spouse and all others around them.

It was good tonight to plant these ideas with these young people. I just hope these thoughts will bear much fruit down the road.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Chair of St Peter

Today we celebrate the primacy of St. Peter, the first shepherd of the Church. The Pope has an awesome and vefry difficult role in pastoring such a diverse, ever unfolding Church. And the Church is a sign and symbol of communion with God, and our brothers and sisters. Those who encounter the Church should be able to encounter the unity and community that the Church signifies. To be sure the celebration of the Eucharist and the paschal mystery is at the center point of this great spiritual body, the Church.

As we sent our catechumens and candidates to Rockford on Sunday, I am always reminded of the workings of the Holy Spirit in the Church today. Sometimes folks get caught up in stuff that is really not the Church. Everything from popular practices to ritual that is centuries old. Certainly the Church has not always been the best behaved. But our teachings have remained consistant, and our spirituality is deep and alive.

When I came to St. Mary parish so many years ago, I noticed that we needed to do three things. These have been my constant mantra. Catechesis, Evangelization, and Stewardship. These are elements that will continue to enliven and enrich the vitality of the parish. So many of the staff wanted me to know what other parishes were doing. I wanted us to develop our own identity. I really think that we need to demonstrate the catholic Church for the city of DeKalb. So that is sort of what we have been trying to do.

Today I went to Milwaukee to go church shopping. We had been given a donation for a monstrance. So I bought a nice tall ornate monstrance. The owner had talked to me also about votive candles. I really want to clean up our chapel, and having votive candles in there would be really neat. So I will eventually have to talk to the parish about all of this.

On this very wonderful feast, I have hopefully fed my portion of the Church. This is an outstanding time to think about conversion and newness of life.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

It's my back ... really

In seminary we were required to take a course called, Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE. This was done in a health care setting usually over a summer. I did mine at Rockford Memorial Hospital. It is an intense learning experience in a real life situation, with a personal evaluation component. During this time we would often discuss how often physical sickness followed emotional crisis or personal brokeness.

Many persons with heart issues did not always take care of themselves, often times due to multiple work and family responsibilities. Stomach issues seemed to follow years of holding on to anger, frustration, and disappointments. Persons who seemed to be able to multi-task their lives had their backs strained.

The need to be healed and to heal is so great in our lives. In John's Gospel we have the story of the Woman at the Well. One of my favorite. We come to understand that she is forgiven, but she is also restored to her community. Moreso her dignity and worth are re-affirmed. So many folks walk around bruised and battered, and like little children, do not always konw how to be healed.

Our faith gives us a perspective of recieving oneness and communion with God and others. Faith cannot be a run through the wildflowers; or at least by itself. Its work. Healing and reconciliation are really important. Too often we hold on to gunk that we should have had put down long ago. Through prayer and faithfilled communities we need to look for healing.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Turn away from Sin ...

I got back a little while ago from our Grade School liturgy, for Ash Wednesday. We had lots of parents and visitors there today. I always am conflicted in marking little children and infants with ashes. The ideas of conversion, transformation, Sin, and Evil seem a bit out of context for them. Of course for junior high kids you should dip them in eggs and buttermilk, and then roll them in the ashes. The season of Lent can be a powerful time of reflection, and then conversion and discipleship. Its really not about dealing with weight or smoking Per Se, but seeking and following Jesus Christ.

I remember once as a child talking about giving something up for Lent. My Mom suggested that we siblings try to be nice to each other for Lent. We all thought that was an absurd idea. But in reality changing our response to others, treating others with compassion and kindness, is not that far fetched of an idea. Our Liturgy talks about the salvation we have because of the paschal mystery. This is a good season for us to live like we have been saved.

We find that both in the Hebrew Scripture and New Testament, peoples were called to do penance and to atone for Sin. Our entire faith journey is one having to do with transformation. An adult faith demands an adult response. For Religious, and as a pious practice it is good to look at how well we lived out the day. Let sacred scripture be our guide in directing and strengthening our thoughts, words, and actions.

I really like this season. We have soup and stations on Fridays. I like the sacrament of Reconciliation. It is a neat time to pray and reminisce about the things of God.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The white thing?

Every now and then, folks will offer to help by saying something like, "Give me one of those white things," as they gesture to their throat or collar. Or as I am describing my sometimes fast driving, they will comment, "Of course with that white thing you probably get out of a ticket." Each and every time they are referring to the Roman Collar. Whether for good or for bad, the Roman Collar, or Clerical Collar, is associated with priesthood. Of course the tab shirts which are common today are quite different than the clerical wear of thirty or forty years ago.

In actuality the Stole and not the Clerical Collar is the sign of priestly office. It had been widely believed that the stole was derived from the Jewish prayer shawl. More likely it is connected to a Roman scarf which was worn by government officials. The very early Christian documents mention the stole as part of the presbyters attire. Some early Christian writers, in commenting on Priesthood, speak of wearing the stole in relationship to putting on the yoke of Christ.

It is understood today that the stole is to be worn while presiding at Liturgy and sacramental rites. Evan without an alb (the long white garment) the stole should be worn while celebrating reconciliation and blessing people or objects.

One of the neatest parts of the priestly ordination is to receive the chalice and bread with the direction to imitate the mystery that we celebrate. That sort of sums up what priesthood is all about. Wearing a stole reflects back to Jesus stooping down to wash the feet of his disciples. At least for myself, putting on a stole is like putting on an apron, or my scuzzy clothes. Wearing a stole, and minitering under its symbolism, is one of the best parts of priesthood.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

We remember NIU

"Always Remember ... Never Forget." It was two years ago today that a young man entered a NIU classroom and began shooting. He killed five persons, and himself. He left around twenty individuals injured. It was a horrific and sad day not only for NIU, but really the community of DeKalb.

I remember being in the hospital E.R. as the students and the families began to arrive. The first parents that came in (whom I realized later were the parents of one of the deceased) had such a horrified and pained look on their face. I will never forget the look of agony they had. Parents and students were overwhelmed with shock, disbelief, and grief.

When parents send their kids to college, it is with the assumption that this is a safe place. They might drink too much at their first party and have a hangover the next day. That's the worse that could happen. Being the victim of such blunt violence is not even on the horizon.

The young man who was the shooter, it is had to perceive what was really going on in his mind. We can hypothesize all we want but will never really know or understand the hows or the whys. Such brokenness is so deep and sorely misunderstood.

When we talk about Sin and Evil, it's not just about stealing a candy bar, or a scene from the Exorcist. It is much more complex than that. Our human lives can become so disjointed as to confuse right and wrong, and injure others in the process.

Hardly a week goes by that I do not think about the shooting. Whethter I am on the campus, in the hospital, hear an ambulance go by, the events that day remain haunting. I always pray for those young people, but also for an end of violence, as well as healing. Our thoughts and prayers are always with the NIU community and their families.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Go forth to love and serve ...

We finished up our clergy conference yesterday. I felt bad for Father, he was delayed in getting to Chicago from Washington, because of the blizzard, and yesterday (Wednesday) they were getting their second blizzard of the week. Most likely Father spent the night in St. Charles.

Anyway, after about two hours of sobering statistics, mass counts, active catholics, et al, we heard about some great parish based programs to enliven the parish. They sound real good and are not your typical cookie cutter cardboard box like programs. These are small faith sharing groups and are very basic.

A few years ago we did the Why Catholic program, which centered on the catechism, and involved faith sharing. I think that one of the difficulties was that some of our leaders needed more training and support. Wonderful people, full of love and dedication to their faith, but leading a group was overwhelming. These groups I think would would be gentler since they use the catechism to answer the really difficult questions, and are limited in their topic and duration.

I really wish we could do Theology On Tap still. Sometimes talking about faith and religion around beer, or double-chocolate cake and coffee, seems easier than in a classroom. The classroom can be too formal. But I think that my parish can look forward to Awakening Faith sometime in the Fall.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Go make Disciples

We have now spent two days with Fr. Frank DeSiano, CSP, from Washington, DC, discussing the very necessary topic of Evangelization. Today as we try to do ministry, keep the parish afloat, solve crisises, its a real need for all of us. Plus I get to see a lot of guys I usually do not see.
These last few years I have been trying to push Stewardship at St. Mary's sadly many still equate this with money getting. The bishop's document, Stewardship: A Disciples Response, is an excellant outline. The text reiterates for us the importance to receive God's gift joyfully, to share and cultivate those gifts, and to return them with increase. Stewardship has to be a lifestyle. Moreover it demands conversion and discipleship. The ideal reminds individuals that collectively we are the Body of Christ. So a stewarship parish lives in a particular manner. The document mentions Dorothy Day in her observation that the Church needs to meet the people in the street and soup kitchens.
With all of this said, the beginning and the end of this is Evangelization. The Church and those who minister in it are called to share the Good News, which is the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We had talked about this in another conference, but our post-modern society is very much centered on the individual, and the individuals needs. To be sure it is not simply a matter of showing someone that they need heaven, but really how their life makes connections with the life of others. Why are relations important? Why is a relation with God, and his Church important?
People are seeking friendships on social networks and try to meet via computer services. But our societies attention span is so limited. That is the context the church is working in.
I keep reminding our staff, Catechesis, Evangelization, and Stewardship. These are the big three areas our parish needs to concentrate on. But really they are areas that our ministry should probably center on. The evangelizing needs to be soft and inviting, but should have something substantial as well.
I will be back. Take care.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Pajama party

Today we begin our three day diocesan clergy conference. The entire presbyterate gathers together at the Pheasant Run resort in St. Charles, Il. for a conference and fraternity. This year we will study and reflect on Evangelization in the Church. Of course more importnatly in the parish. For many years the Church relied on its membership to procreate new members. We baptize parishioners kids, marry them, and baptize their kids. If folks tripped into our Church, well that would be nice too.

Yesterday I spent part of the afternoon at the hospital with two dying people, and their families. Now I do well at health care ministry, but I am exhausted afterwards. So anyway I was thinking about the family members there who might not be catholic, or maybe minimally so, and how important this moment is to be praying and anointing a dying loved one. It is one of the reasons I always go to the hospitals, nursing centers, and the homebound. There is a lot of healing going on there.

Then last night I watched the Super-Bowl with some Genoa parishioners. I really was expecting the Colts to win something like 20-6, or somewhere in that neighborhood. But that is another entry. Here we are, my good friend Fr. Tim Seigel, adults, and kids of various ages, celebrating being together. But I thought how neat is this, non-clergy type people watching their priests enjoying the company of each other, and others.

I mention these two situations to ponder that this is evangelization. The idea that Father, and really the Church, can hold a motehr's hand as she is dying, and relax for an evening of football, speaks volumes of the mission and ministry of the Church. There is no way that we can wait for people to come to us. It is what I used to like about Theology on Tap. Speaking about theology with young people, where they gather.

So, this is an important topic and I am looking forward to it. I will be blogging from St Charles, Il this week.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Here I am!

Add VideoSt John Cardinal Newman, Bishop of Philidelphia, organizer of a catholic school system, writer, teacher, and a convert to catholicism. That is St. John Newman's life in a sound byte. What a journey though. Through reflection and contemplation his life took profound turns, and in doing so caused those around him to reflect deeply on their own lives. Personally and emotionally some of the decisions he made in life were difficult. The roots of his faith was always the starting point of all that he did in life.

Sometimes the idea of being called seems so easy. God speaks from a cloud, or in the darkness of the temple, and we respond. From there we become a prophet, or apostle, or priest, or religious. There is always the struggles, the questions and the doubts. Not unlike Isaiah and Peter we can be accutely aware of our own Sinfulness. Doesn't God know who he is calling?

The very difficult yet very necessary task for us is to trust in God. Recently I have been moved by the Is 49 text, "I have carved you on the palm of my hand." It reminds me of the deep intimacy that God has with us. Our entire lives are a process of conversion and discipleship. To be sure its not just priesthood and religious life, but being married, raising families, the single life, and well into old age, is a faith journey. Sr. Ann Patrice, O.P. used to call us out if we didn't participate in her class, "Are you posing for a holy card?"

The Lord is my light and my salvation.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ceasar and the Church

On one of the message boards that I frequent, the conversation often turns to the Church meddling in politics. Often posters are irate in what they consider the Church making noise about issues which are seen as civil in nature. Specifically life issues.

But this is where the Church belongs. Our basic understanding of our relationship with God begins with the Genesis story. God formed us out of the clay of he earth, and breathed life into us. As we stumbled through life God sustained us and guarded us. When we forgot to love each other God pointed out the Sinfulness of our misdeeds. And of course as John describes it, God so loved the world... . This is the springboard which we go back to again and again to reaffirm the sanctity and dignity of all life.

Holy men and women like Francis of Assisi, Vincent DePaul, Frances, Cabrini, and Dorothy Day, were so utterly fixated on the sanctity of life, that they gave their entire selves to the care and goodness of peoples around them. They went beyond being "nice" to people. To be sure they were counter-cultural in their lifestyle.

The Church teachings up to Rerum Novarum and since then have begun and ended with the understanding that life is sacred. This is where we get into trouble because we speak publicly about these truths. We also as our legislators to guarantee the protection of human life. Some might see this as interfering with public policy. The Gospels would suggest that we are conveying the 'Good News.'

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Feast of the Presentation

This feast commemorates the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple. In Mosaic law a mother who gives birth to a son is considered unclean. Exodus 13 gives us the details of how a woman ought to be purified by the priest of the temple. An offering of thanksgiving is made to God. At this time Jesus is presented and purified at the temple.

Two powerful, yet obscure figures, are mentioned at this time in Luke. Simeon whom we are told is a righteous man, whom was told by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Christ, praises God for the gift of salvation. He honors Mary, the mother of Jesus, foretelling the sorrow she will experience at the death of her son. Then there is Anna. We are told that she is a prophetess; holy and righteous. She also praises God for the wonders of his salvific love. Again she will honor the Holy Family who welcome the Word made flesh into their home.

This is the day also known as Candlemas. Today the candles for the church, and peoples candles are to be blessed. The antiphon, "Lumen ad Revelationem," is song as the people process into the church, preferably with lit candles, to begin the celebration of the liturgy. Like Simeon and Anna we are to recognize the light of the world who is Jesus Christ. At this time of the winter we all long for the long, warm, and bright days of spring and summer. As a people of God we look forward to the Kingdom of light, happiness, and peace.

Lord, now you may let your servant go in peace,
your word has been fulfilled:
My own eyes have seen the salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.