Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place..." This is from the sixth chapter of Mark's Gospel. That sense of business is what happens here a lot in the parish. It is not uncommon have an apple or fruit bar for lunch, and be interrupted by the phone. This week has been especially busy. Father and I have been rushing to the hospital all week, and have had confessions all week at different locations. I am looking forward to the celebrations themselves, but also looking towards my parents house and one of my sister's family.

But this is what we do. Last night I was with a group of high school students from a catholic high school, far away. These last several days I call to mind the other scripture also from Mark's gospel, "They were like sheep without a shepherd." As I bonce off of the walls here, I recognize how important shepherding the people of God really is. I threaten to run away to a monastery or cattle ranch. My brother priests and staff remind me that I cannot run away. To which I respond. "Why not?"

In seminary we used a theme (which I allude to occasionally) for Lent, Sin and Confusion. There does seem to be a lot of that around. Brokenness and dysfunction almost seem to be the norm anymore. I had asked a nine or ten year old about his family once, as he tries to explain the people in his house, he finally said, "Its sort of complex." Ten year old should not have complexity.

As we approach the high holy days, I am poignantly reminded that we really need shepherds today. There are a lot of hungry people who have been living off of junk food. They need to be nourished. Our Church needs holiness and conversion and discipleship. I think stewardship is very important, but so is catechises and evangelizing.

I am looking forward to the next few days. These are great days to celebrate our salvation. Have a blessed and joyous Easter.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

While they were at supper

More out habit than anything else I end up walking by the people lined up to receive food on Tuesdays, by our food pantry. In the years I have done this I find them to be really nice people. I usually have the hound with me and they all want to pet Kosia. A lot of them are families and some I suspect live with two or three unrelated adults. I sure that their stories are interesting.

This week the gospels meticulously go through the last supper up to the agony in the garden. The disciples are almost like little kids and now their meanness and fear all come to the surface. And here is Jesus, as always, ready to reconcile all people by his passion death and resurrection.

And here is the Church, committed to the truth of the gospel, ready to share the Good News. Now I have never been really impressed by bishops and such. Some of the guys have the hierarchy all worked out for the next fifty years. I will be happy when we really do stewardship at St. Mary's, have lots of people at Eucharistic adoration, and small faith groups coming out of the woodwork. Someone once asked where my ideal parish was, I mentioned DeKalb, and they almost fainted,

I think that the Eucharist, broken bread with broken people, is so vital and essential to our Church. Our celebration of the Eucharist says so much about who we are on so many levels. As the sign of Christ's love it becomes the springboard that allows us to be with those folks who line up for food week after week. In the Eucharistic Prayer we pray for those who are gathered before us and all of our brothers and sisters, "Wherever they may by."

The Church teaches us that this mystery is the source and summit of our faith. In his pastoral letter, many years ago, Archbishop Mahoney, commented that our Eucharist begins and ends at home. It really makes a lot of good sense.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Pange, lingua, gloriosi proelium certaminis. This evening at Vespers we begin the very solemn celebration of Holy Week; starting with Palm Sunday. Even in this dank recollection of the death of Jesus the Christ, there is also a sense of joy. This is not because we know the rest of the story per se, but rather the mission and ministry of Jesus leads to the cross. Remember that Peter, after proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah, is later admonished when he suggests that Jesus not go to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is where the work of Jesus really takes place.

Lately I have been inspired by John's reflection, "God so loved the world ... ." God has to be like this little child that is so madly in love with us that he cannot sit still. As proof of that we only need to look at the Incarnation. But because our Sin is do big, Gos needs to save us in a big way. So the Cross is God's 'amen; for us. It is God's unconditional yes.

Suffering and death are anathema to God in his divine plan. The Paschal Mystery frees us from Sin and Death, restoring us to new life in Christ. We begin to celebrate our salvation this week. It is also a time now to pray more, begin a fast, and prepare ourselves for the Easter celebration.

Trinitari gloria, cuius alma nos redemit atque servat gratia. Amen.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Another funeral

Today I had a funeral for an elderly man whom I had known in my previous adventure at St. Mary, and over these last several years. A wonderful man who at times seemed to have a gruff exterior, but was so very kind and generous. While it saddens me to see these old people die, I really feel privileged to be able to do their funerals.

I love the prayers of the funeral mass too. The words, gestures, scripture, and even music speak about faith and hope. The Paschal mystery and our participation in the mystery of the passion, death, and resurrection, are the primary focus. While we do allow cremation now, the preference of the Church is to have the body there for the funeral. The Body has dignity and worth. And of course through Christ's body we have salvation and everlasting peace. The funeral mass leaves us on a hopeful note.

It is most difficult to convey that to families today. Often times at funerals they want to remember how nice the person was. Even those who insist on doing eulogies (which we do not allow) they talk about their hobbies or what a good neighbor they were.

Some years ago Fr. Robert Barron wrote an article entitled Beige Catholic. He wrote about the very catholic culture in which he grew up in, and the liturgy which screamed out, 'sacrifice.' When we offer families the opportunity put the pall on the body, or explain some of the symbols, we are met with the deer in the headlights look. Perhaps we had whitewashed so much of our liturgy that the ideas of paschal mystery, and saving death of Jesus, do not make sense to most people anymore.

Moreso are the times when 'father' or 'mother' were a faithful practicing catholic, and the kids want something at the funeral home. It might be good to reiterate our catholic-ness wherever we are. It would be good to start up a conversation to discuss the hows and whys of what we believe in.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Today would be a nice summertime feast. Take some time in the middle of June or something to contemplate the Incarnation. Just before mass this morning my two major thoughts were not about Mary or an angel, but the dry cleaning I needed to pick up and candles for the Vigil. And maybe that's the point for putting this feast in the latter part of Lent.

For God there is a plan of salvation. St. John reminds us of the great love and mercy God has for us. But God is revealed to us in unexpected ways. When I go to the hospital most of the visits are very routine. Then there is that one patient who really needs a priest, the Eucharist, anointing, and even confession. It is easy to spend an hour with this person.

Moments of Solemnity come at inconvenient times. We don't get to plan our burning bushes or moments at the cross. Ignatius would remind us that we need to be prepared always to empty ourselves out on behalf of Jesus Christ. I know already that we will be busy next week. And as much as we plan there will be that person who needs to see Father, or the crisis that needs to be resolved. Each day we pray, Take Lord receive all my liberty, my understanding, my entire will. Your grace is enough for me. The prayer is actually a bit longer but that's good for now.

Tomorrow is another day of potential Solemnities. I can only pray, "I am the hand-maid of the Lord ...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I confess ...

Yesterday my brother priests and I attended a clergy day, on Confession. The presenter was a Father Dennis McManus, formally of Georgetown University. Now I was ready for an overly pious, or even heady discussion in the sacrament of Reconciliation. I was extremely surprised.

Father reiterated throughout this discussion the ministerial nature of the sacrament. Just as Jesus forgave Sins, and drew people into con version and discipleship, we are expected, as priests, to minister to penitents who come to us for this awesome sacrament. Taking time with the sacrament, making it convenient, preaching about it, and holding it out as a tool in our spiritual journey, are all pieces of making this a holy encounter with Jesus. Moreso Father reminded us priest type people that we also needed to go to confession.

At St. Mary Parish, I have been impressed with the amount of people who come to confession, and more importantly the quality of confessions. I am happy that I added extra confession times throughout the week. We are sometimes busier on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings, than the more traditional Saturday afternoon. I was at one place where the reconciliation rooms doubled as a storeroom and R.E. closet. Lots of people came in - to obtain a box of candles, or an extra religion book.

When we look at the Prodigal Son, Woman at the Well, or the story of Zachhaeus, it is inspiring to see how the compassion and love of Jesus can and does move people to conversion and transformation. When we are honest with ourselves and see our sins and Sinfulness, hopefully we are courageous in approaching Jesus in this sacrament for healing and peace. Some of my junior high kids will comment on how "neat" it would be to hear confessions. They are sort of thinking its like 'E' television or something. But it is really a lot like doing spiritual direction.

So, next week is Holy Week, my most favorite time of year. I look forward to this. The Liturgies are most beautiful and always moving. Take care and God bless.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lazarus Come Forth

Growing up Saturdays were housekeeping days. With six of us kids, two dogs, cats, rabbits, and fish, there was always stuff to do. We would finish our work in the morning and then we had the afternoon to play and roam. Even in the cold of the winter it was great to go outside. It would have to be frigidly cold, or a torrential downpour for us not to be outside. That was sort of our version of being free.

The line that has always inspired me from this weekends Gospel, is Jesus' command that Lazarus be untied and set free. Death has a stench which is most offensive. For Jesus it is beyond an offensive odor, it is an evil that cannot be tolerated in the Kingdom of God. So Jesus the Christ demands that those elements which disable Lazarus, the stone, cloth wrappings, and especially death, be taken away from him. In the mission and ministry of Jesus, he recognized the aroma of Sin and brokenness. It was no accident that Jesus came upon the hurt, hurting, crippled and sinful. He sought them out unbound that which hobbled them, and set them free.

Getting back to my family. I know that when we were together we got along most of the time. But I still remember wars of territory, T.V. time, food we were saving, and an assorted other. When we argued and fought the entire house was frustrated. I like to share with the little kids that just as we can bring hurt and pain into the house, we can also bring peace and joy. It really is that sense of being free from the yuck and gunk that hobbles us.

Being free is really about yearning for the fresh air and playtime. Seeking that which is good and proper and true really does keep us out of tombs and being tied up. So on this cold Saturday morning, I am thinking about housekeeping and doing good.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Solemnity of St Joseph

This morning I preached about being open to the extraordinary in the ordinary events of life. I always find the stories from folks who have directed RCIA, Ministry of Care, Hospitality, or some other parish ministry, for ten, fifteen, or even twenty years. Usually the story begins with how Father asked them to "take care" of an area for a little while. Years later they were still in the same ministry. It is amazing how our lives change after we say 'Yes.' I think that a lot of times we are not always aware of the implications of following our call, and the life-changing events that come with it.

How could Joseph ever imagine a vision of angels, or even being part of the salvific plan of God. And yet it is his trust in God, as well as his belief that God is always present to us as a source of strength and courage, that allows him to say 'Yes.' Of course in Luke's Gospel we have that beautiful text of Mary's proclamation. "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord." Persons of deep faith can perceive and understand the grace and blessing of God.

I often think about the young married couples who walk down the aisle. They cannot fathom what lies ahead of them. In marriage they say yes to God and each other, and will need to continue to pronounce their 'Amen.' It is no different in priesthood. I often think of the day more than seven years ago when Bishop Doran suggested I go to DeKalb. Like Joseph it is important to have faith and trust in God's word, and believe that God is really in charge.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St Patrick

I cannot pass by today without commenting on St. Patrick. Patrick was born in the early fourth century near Dumbarton, Scotland. A son of a Roman official, he was kidnapped at 14 and sold to a farmer in Ireland. For the next six years he tended sheep, and learned the various cultural and cult-ways of the Irish people. During this time he turned to God in prayer. He escaped back to his homeland when he was 20. He entered seminary and was ordained a priest. His "real" call, or yearning, was to return to Ireland so as to plant Christianity among the pagans there. He eventually did just that. Consecrated a Bishop, Patrick used simple examples to explain the mysteries of the Christian faith.

One of the best known examples of this is his teaching on the Trinity. Using a shamrock he indicated the oneness of God the Father, and the three natures of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are told he drove the snakes out of Ireland. Not the reptiles but the evil that was prevalent through the Druid practices. His deep love and kindness brought many of the Irish people to the Christian faith. Patrick was certainly a great missionary and a holy priest.

When we are ordained, we share in Christ's priesthood as Priest, Prophet, and King. As priest we offer up the sacrifice of bread and wine, which become the Body and Blood of Jesus. We do this as a participation in the Pascal mystery, and a continuation of the consecration of God's people. As a prophet we are to proclaim the truth of the Gospel message. And then as king priests preside over God's people, shepherding hem with care and compassion. It is a very holy and humbling service that we are part of, we priests.

To be sure I am always aware that I am on 'holy ground' each and every time I anoint, offer the sacrament of reconciliation, visit the sick and the home-bound, and even when I am with the junior high kids. There is that line in the ordination ritual which challenges the priest to, "imitate the sacrifice they celebrate."

Patrick is one of those models of faith who helps us understand what the Church and ministry is all about. Continuing to proclaim Good News is a large and ongoing task. We do this in the image of Christ so as to bring the likeness of the Kingdom to God's people.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Seminarian Collection

This weekend our Diocese will have a collection for our Seminarian fund. Many years ago we developed a foundation to support the education of our seminarians. OF course with our recent economy, we have lost some of the monies, and are having problems returning to its original level. Seminary is graduate school, and is expensive. So we take a diocese wide collection.

Pope Benedict XVI stated this past week that young men should not be afraid to pursue the call to priesthood. When I was young (dinosaurs still roamed the earth) I told no one that I was thinking about priesthood. Back then it was the oddity of not being married. Today we think about sexual abuse. But it is not an easy decision, nor is there always a lot of support.

The fear of what others will think, whether God is really calling, whether one can handle the complexities of the ministry are all very real and valid fears. Prayer, reflection, and spiritual direction are very good ways to discern and make decisions about a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.

This weekend I was able to spend some time with a good priest friend of mine, Jack. I have known him since I was a seminarian. He has always been easy going, gentle, and a great friend. His support and encouragement at so many times in so many ways has been insightful and even challenging. We all need friends like this.

So remember to pray for our seminarians, and young men thinking about the priesthood. Let us make our community of faith where people will not be afraid to think about priesthood.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Social Sin

The prodigal Son reading yesterday, love your neighbor the other day, and Jesus heals on the Sabbath tomorrow. Sin and Evil leads to confusion and disorientation from God and others. Even when we do not think we have sinned we might want to look again. The story of the Rich man and Lazarus is a story of inactivity. Remember we pray, "For what I have done, and what Ihave failed to do."
In both the, Church in the Modern World, and Called and chosen, The Church, that is us, is supposed to be prophetic in the world. By our preaching, teaching, and ministry, we are supposed to call attention to the poor, anawim, and the oppressed. Our awareness would hopefully lead others to become more aware, and responsive, to the needs and concerns of the poor. When I was growing up in Rockford, St Patrick School would sponsor a skating party three or four times a year. The admission was two canned goods. The sisters would explain the needs and hungers of many of the poor and dejected.
But also we want to be aware of the global needs of men and women by the way we vote, use natural resources, and save and invest money. The Church, and all of the baptized, are invited to do more than be nice to others. The Church is to be an advocate for human life and dignity. Our teachings are not always appreciated but very necessary in this, what John Paul II called, the culture of death.
It is important to remember and share what Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, and groups like St Vincent DePaul, do for people. Stewardship asks the question, "What do I do after I have said Amen.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I turn 50 today

In junior high I read a story in which the main character was going through some sort of mid-life crisis. He was meeting people from his childhood, and it became apparent to him that he was getting old. At fifty I have yet to have that experience. I do have appointments today, a wedding, confessions and mass tonight, and tomorrow it starts all over. I do sort of wish that you could a day off for your birthday. My only birthday wish would have been to sleep in today.
Anyway I am named after some uncle that I do not remember meeting. If I understand the story correctly he was a researcher at UW-LaCrosse (my paternal homeland) Kenneth is a form of the name, 'Kennet,' which is Welsh. Our family actually has some Irish members and Kennet is proff of that. St. Kenneth was a Welsh monk and abbott who lived about the 5th century. He established three abbeys in present day Wales, was a teacher and theologian.
It was the Irish monks that gave us the present day form of Reconciliation, more or less, and a spirituality more suited to western Europe. Of course in the nineteenth century the Irish priests came with many of the immigrants to help establish the church in America as it pushed westward.
I do enjoy sharing with those of Irish background, that it was my forbearers the Vikings, who in 998 A.D, invaded and conquered Ireland. It is a bit if trivia that I delight in sharing with others; especially the Irish.
If I had the time, I would spend the day visiting the significant places in my life, especially western Wisconsin and Island Avenue in Rockford. But I have budgets to do, letters to write, and evaluations to complete. I am going to finish morning prayer and get to work.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My parish center is falling down

Okay, its not that bad yet. I thought that we might make it through this winter without any boiler problems. But a few weeks ago it decided not to boil water at one point, and the next week the valves were all blocked. Then in the courtyard and around on the sidewalks you can see where pieces of the brick are falling apart. If we had lots and lots of money, we could probably gut the building, put a new heating plant in it, and fix the skin. Or of course take the entire structure down and build a new building.

I had often thought how different some of our programs and even Sunday mornings would be if we had a place to go which was comfortable and dependable. Right now its used a lot and has a multiplicity of problems. Eventually I want to put real pictures of the building here.

Speaking of which. I had another strange idea while walking the dog yesterday. We have a bingo set up and a kitchen. We have been doing game night once in a while. I wonder how it would be to combine a dinner in the gym, with cards or other games, and then have bingo down in the cafeteria. Just an idea.

The two groups I always feel bad about are the young adults and the elderly. For the latter, I still want to do a trek to Our Lady of the Snows, or Holy Hill. The biggest expense is the bus. For young people, I am really a boring person and cannot think of a good activity for them. I had thought of a foreign film night or canoeing. But do young people really like that? I am a nerd so I do, but what about that 19-29 year group?

Well I keep hoping that a new building descends from the heavens, and we get some volunteers for fore-mentioned groups. I keep reminding myself: Catechesis, Evangelization, Stewardship.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Our side is better

A few weeks ago a young'in, who is a parishioner and a NIU student, called about advise for his student teaching assignment. Several of the choices are in the Rockford area, and knowing that I am a Rockfordian, he was seeking advise. Now, each of the places would probably qualify for an inner-city school. But I had to steer him away from the southeast side, into the equally crime-prone far west side.

I was thinking about this after I had suggested the schools that I did. I grew up in a upper neighborhood with lots of blue collar and low level management people. We knew and understood that crime was around us and were always careful. Yet I have always considered our far west neighborhood better than the southeast side of Rockford. The first time I came to DeKalb, I rode my bike to Cortland. There on the main street were several fairly dirty, shirtless kids playing on an old chevy station-wagon, parked next to a beat up pickup truck. Cortland must be a "hillbilly" town. Why do we do this?

Folks like Mother Teresa and Francis of Assisi have always been such great role models for me. They looked at the needs and concerns of people as opposed to their zip codes. One of the best jobs I had ever had was working as a janitor in my home parish. I met lots of service people and laborers who enjoyed doing what they were doing and valued family and friends more than anything else. There is that saying, "bloom where you are planted," which is so important alla of the time. Moreover the human person is so much more than where we are from and where we are going. I sometimes have to learn to get over myself.

I hope that this young man enjoys the West side of Rockford as much as I did. Going into the unfamiliar and even the uncomfortable places of life is such a great teaching tool for all of us.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Confession Season

The back of my car, which cluttered anyway, now has an alb and stole wadded up in a corner. This is the time of year that we priest type people go from parish to parish to assist each other with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I like getting together with brother priests whenever I can. But it is also nice being the strange priest in another parish. Sometimes folks are embarrassed to go to their own pastors.

I was talking to an adult group about the Precepts of the Church the other night. Going to Reconciliation is still one of the top five we catholics ought to do. We spoke about the fact that while an annual confession, and times of mortal sin, were all that is reuired, it is a good practice to go to Reconciliation on a regular basis. Part of our faith journey, not only during Lent, but throughout the year, is to reflect on our moral and faith status. Reconciliation asks us to look closely at our relationship with God and others.

Statistics will say that less and less catholics are going to Reconciliation. Here at St Mary's we seem to have a healthy cliental. The two things that I think help that is that we preach and talk about Reconciliation often. We make it available to the grade school children and the youth on a regular basis. But we also have times outside of Saturday afternoon for confessions. This in and of itself is a good thing.

This is my favorite time of year. I love Lent. Reconciliation is an intrigal part of the conversion and discipleship process. I will be at a parish near you soon!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"The main thing is to know"

At our staff, and in our Evangelization Committee meetings, we had talked for some time about doing something at Mass to recognize folks who live a catholic sacramental life. What we had decided was to bless couples on the month of their wedding anniversary. So on the fourth Sunday of every month, we ask couples who have had an anniversary that month to stand, or wave, or some sort of thing. As a gathered faith community we bless them. I think its nice to do and the people seem to like it.

I still want to do something for singles and widowed persons. The Spirit and Truth program never really took off, so maybe we can do a singes dinner or something. But I think it is really good and important to identify and bless people at the various stages of their lives. I will remind the young people every now and then that we come to church to worship God, and pray wit hand for one another. I want them to know that that old woman in the back of the church is praying for them, as they would pray for her. That is the really neat thing about being in a parish family.

Our own families are unique and living entities that are filled with joys and concerns. Within the families we work on faith and character formation, with the Church and it's teachings and guidance to offer a foundation on which to set our lives. The scriptures help us understand the necessity of quality time as well as nurturing between spouses, parents, and children. None of us are the Brady Bunch and shouldn't try to be. But we can be like the Holy Family with Jesus living in our household.

Sometimes on Saturday nights a priest friend and myself go to a parishioners home for dinner and a game of cards. It is fun. But it connects us priest-type people to moms and dads with kids. And I am sure it is a chance to personify "Father" for that family. Because really we are One through Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. So we bless each other as we live in a Stewardship of relationships.