Friday, April 30, 2010


We are in the middle of our Diocesan Stewardship Appeal. Years ago the powers that be, tried to describe this annual fund drive as, diocesan services appeal. Much more appropriate, but it never caught on. Last weekend I did my small introduction, sent a letter, and now we wait for the results.

We are still far away from understanding stewardship though. We labor under some sort of concept that the bishop sit in front of this big pile of money, doling it out on a whim. Then there is the, "why should I give for people across diocese," mentality. There is a spirituality that goes with stewardship, and it is really necessary to enable that outlook. It is not just so that these appeals can go easier, but there is a lifestyle of catholicity which is suggested by stewardship. It is the same notion that is found in Acts chapter 2, and in chapter 4.

People complain about the Second Vatican ll changes, and there are some things I would agree with. The 'turning the altar around' has only intensified the concept that we are watching a show. At the end of the performance we come up and get some 'holy bread,' and then go home until next week. It wrecks some of the very foundations of stewardship.

The Bishop's document talks about receiving God's gifts, nurturing those gifts, sharing the gifts, and then returning God's gifts with increase. Our faith has been passive for way too long. Ours has to be an active faith full of passion and joy. Stewardship is more about taking responsibility than about giving money.

The main thing is to know.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

If you want peace, work for justice

On one of the message boards I frequent, the question arose as to what the Church does for the poor. I am always stupefied by that question or statement. Even for catholics who are loosely connected to the church and parish, cannot help but notice the work and institutions that are directed towards the anawim, poor, oppressed, hungry, homeless and abused. Here at St. Mary's we put in a lot of time and energy to help people to know that Sunday night is our dinner night at Hope Haven.

But to be sure, the Social Teachings of the Church, and maybe even our social activity, seems to be the best kept secret. From the Beatitudes in Matthews Gospel, the role of the deacon in the early Church, to the work for justice and peace in the Church today, our faith community is one of a Preferential Option for the poor. I remember very clearly in grade school, the sisters taking every opportunity to talk about the needs and concerns of those who had less than us. And we were not wealthy by any means!

Each year our Church collects funds for Catholic Relief Services, and for the Catholic Charities. Parishes, like St. Mary here in DeKalb, tithe a portion of their Sunday collection for the poor and the needy. And of course we cannot forget St. Vincent DePaul.

St. Francis of Assisi is a wonderful example of the care and compassion that the Church shows in its care for the poor. Francis' early brothers would beg for alms for the poor. These they shared with the needy, and met their spiritual and pastoral needs. Like Jesus the Church has taught throughout its history of the importance of caring for all people, especially the poor and vulnerable. The Acts of the Apostles speaks of a community which gathers its goods together for equal distribution within the community.

It is really sort of hard to miss the corporal and spiritual works of mercy of the Church. Like Jesus the Church has made a determined effort to confront oppression, and to raise the human person to the dignity that is properly theirs. A place of light, happiness, and peace, continues to be the goal of the whole Church.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A God Will Teach Them.

I have always loved this particular story from Acts 8:26-40. The Ethiopian eunuch is reading Isaiah and encounters Philip. After Philip describes the suffering servant passage to him he desires Baptism. They stop the procession, Philip baptizes the eunuch, and is whisked away to a new mission. But the Word of God, and the teaching of a disciple have brought this man to faith, a faith which caused a desire to be baptized.

The RCIA and RCIC are supposed to be like that. Now the ideal program would be a three year program for adults and older children. Persons come into the parish throughout the year. There are some introductory sessions concerning the Church, sacraments, and scripture. Most importantly the person(s) talk about their relationship with God. In September there is a formal series of classes that is centered on faith and the teachings of the Church. This concludes with the Baptism and/or Confirmation and Eucharist, at Easter. Then the last year is taken up with even more learning and drawing the person(s) into the life of the Church.

The Parish can really be an instrument of catechises and evangelization. Actually it really has to take on that role. Many of our ministries and contacts are with the unchurched and uncatechized. Not unlike the eunuch they are reading or encountering something of the faith, or even the Church, and not fully understanding what they are taking in. But how can they understand unless someone explains it to them. So the greeter at the door, the Lector, and especially the Catechist, all have a role in bringing the faith to people.

Bringing people home to Christ has a lot to do with faithful discipleship. We hope that our experience can help othes have an experience of God.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

To Know

When I was very young, in grade school, I thought that the teachers in the upper grades were a lot smarter than the teachers in our grades. I mean lets be real, to teach first graders all you really needed was a solid fourth grade education. Or so I thought. I even remember being amazed when a third grade teacher became the fourth grade teacher in the class across the hall. She must have gone to summer school or something.

When we became altar servers (really altar boys since there were no girls) Father Raun mentioned that to be extraordinary servers we should attend these special Saturday morning classes. He had a bible study for fifth graders! We spent five Saturdays in and around Lent looking at the Prophets. It was great. This short time was one of the best things I could have done as a child. It put religion into a different perspective.

In my life I have met some really smart people who lack a lot of common sense, and some wise persons who went through high school. One of the aspect of Benedictine life I have always admired is the insistence of study, prayer, and work. It has become so apparent as I wander through my daily tasks, the value of being able to reflect on life and its meaning and people. It is good to know things, but also important to understand their interaction within the world.

I think about that in our faith. I was at a workshop some weeks ago on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. One of my brother priests went on about making distinctions between serious and grave matter. Why not, I thought, be compassionate and understanding, tell the penitent that God loves them, and offer absolution.

It is very good to be able to knows tomes of stuff. But we have to be able to use what we know to give water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, and to comfort the sick and grieving. Sr. Anna Patrice would ask if we were posing for a holy card, if we simply sat in her class. Our faith cannot have wallflowers, but needs to engage the head and heart in action.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Feed my Lambs

Yesterdays Gospel has to be one of my favorites. It is the perfect bookend of the first call of the disciples. Again Peter is found to be that sinful man. In one moment Jesus offers Peter reconciliation and calls him to lead the Church. "Follow Me." For any of us these are hard words to here. The gospels make the call from God seem so easy and effortless. Even as the gospel figures 'ponder' or 'wonder' what the call means for them, things seem to work out.

I think that we might forget that the stories are in the context of retrospect. We too can look back and see where God's grace and love have intervened. But we continue to be in the midst of a journey even today. There are a great deal of hurts, sins, and evil, personal and otherwise, that we deal with on a daily basis. It is a challenge at times to pronounce, "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord."

It would seem that we like Peter, have to articulate a response to Jesus, who continues to ask, "Do you love me?" And like Peter we have the challenge of faithful discipleship which asks us to tend to the flock, and to feed the lambs. Once in a while I threaten to run away and raise cattle for the rest of my life. But the needs and concerns of people still remains, that doesn't change anything.

Later in the week I will talk about stewardship. We are entrusted with a great responsibility. Around every spiritual hurdle is Jesus inviting us to, "Follow Me."

Friday, April 16, 2010

Courage of the Apostles

Way back in 1974, the future Cardinal Avery Dulles, exchanged a series of letters with the then Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI. In this exchange they discussed the vision or model of the Church. The Ecclessiology of Benedict was then and seems to be today, an understanding of what Christ handed on to the Apostles. The Mission and the Ministry of the Church is one in which the Church proclaims the Gospel, celebrates the sacraments, and guides men and women with a moral premise.

Some of you might recall Dulles' work from the 1970s, Models of the Church. This was an excellent premise in identifying our theology in which we interact as a Church, and even as persons in that Church. Benedict it would seem takes those various markers and employs them throughout his role as the Pontiff. To be sure he has a very keen universal view of the Church. While some have accused him of being solely European, or too western, he has an understanding of the culture and the history of the entire Roman Catholic Church. But what he does is to draw us back into the vision of that Early Church. While we might want to apply some sort label on him, none really fits well.

What so many would like is to have the Pope fulfill the role of a CEO. So we go out and do marketing studies and surveys, and the company makes various changes so as to remain competitive. The bottom line is always the bottom line, and we want our shareholders to be happy. The Vicar of Christ must lead the people of God according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Just as the message of Jesus was counter-cultural some two thousand years ago, it remains such even today. So our proclamation of life, human dignity, conversion, faithfulness to the 'Good News,' and stewardship, do not resonate well in our post-modern society.

Recent revelations of sexual abuse is the problem of all of society, not just the Church. Should the Bishops responded differently? The answer is extremely complex. Sound bytes cannot tell the whole story. Benedict XVI continues to lead the Church in the context of the apostles, who received their mandate to spread the gospel message, from Jesus Christ. It is important for us to continue to pray for healing and peace, and especially for the Holy Father. We want also to pray that the Church continue to lift up good and faithful shepherds to share the 'Good News.'

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Benedict XVI in the news

There was a book that came out some years ago entitled, "All the Pope's Men." It examined the inner workings of the Vatican. It was outstanding and frightening at the same time. How can such a huge complex organization be run in such a seemingly inefficient and random manner. But then again the Church is not Ford or IBM.

In recent weeks now we have had all sort of accusations and allegations thrust against Benedict XVI in regards to the sexual abuse of children in Europe, and in regards to some situations in the United States. At once we have to say that the sexual abuse of children, or even sexually taking advantage of anyone, is a terrible and sinful act. It causes shame and emotional distress for a lifetime.

It seems that we are to quick to jump into the fray here. At a closer look there are situations in which Benedict, as Pope, and in his former responsibilities, was either not enacting a decision in regards to the abuse of a child, or was not in a position to do so. There were some matters that were up to the local Bishop, and in a California case, as Cardinal Ratzinger, the abusing priest had left active ministry many years before any paperwork ever reached his desk.

We also have to understand the difference between confidentiality and secrecy. Persons are entitled to their privacy, especially in the middle of an investigation. We do not accuse people out in the open or in public.

But it seems that we are painting the Church with one large broad brush. On message boards involving teachers sexually abusing children, the Biblical notion of "Judge not, lest you be judged," is the highlight of the discussion. In the U.S. the Priests and Bishops made heroic strides in making sure that abuse does not happen again, in the "Protecting God's Children," charter.

If we are a Church and a Holy people, we have to work to bring healing to the victims and their families. We need to bring healing and closure to parish communities, and then also work towards forgiveness. We proclaim and preach God's enormous mercy and forgiveness at every Eucharist, we should take our cue from that.

Lastly we should pray for the Holy Father and the Church. This should be our ongoing daily prayer. It's St. Paul, I believe, who gives us this image of broken vessels. But our fragility and brokenness should not hold us back from being God's Holy people.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Passing on the Faith?

It was interesting this past Sunday, during the adoration with the youth group. I suppose I noticed it before, but it struck me on Sunday night, how few prayer responses the young people knew. As I went through the Glory Be, and the litanies, we had to walk these young adults through the responses. Now granted I am not really a public reciter of the Rosary, and there are a few other devotions I am only aware of, some of the basic prayer models are very absent.

Now I am not going to launch into blaming the secular public education or the Church after Vatican II. When I observe some of our more orthodox brothers and sisters, and even those of the Jewish faith, there does seem to be a more complete catecheses. Maybe it is not enough to do the prayers with our children, but to offer a theology lesson as well. But I think that this is part of the difficulty. To be able to teach we also have to know. If our religious education ended at eighth grade, it would be hard to explain the Triduum, precepts of the Church, or even the Church's teachings on social justice.

I have reminded our junior high children that if they carefully read their religion books, they will have a greater knowledge of religion than their parents. And that is really sad. We have at various times offered Catechesis for adults. We have the same ten to fifteen people there. But I really wonder how many out there would like to understand the Church position on any variety of topics. Some people will tell me, "Father if you just say it from the pulpit." 8- 10 minutes at a homily is barely enough time to even begin some of our topics.

the Second Vatican Council emphasized the importance our taking responsibility for our faith. I like to use the example of making prayer rugs out of navel lint. There has to be more than staring at our belly button. We can't defend our faith, or pass it on if we ourselves do not understand it. Again its that whole thing of conversion and discipleship by sharing our faith in witness and Word.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

During the Eucharistic prayer, we pray that the mystery we celebrate might bring salvation to all of the world. When I pray that I cannot help but think about the people, places and things that are in need of salvation. I remember reading the Genesee Diary by Fr. Henri Nouwen. He spent several months in a monastery to spiritual growth and just to 'come and see.' In a seemingly perfect place Father discovered frustration and discord. Even amongst monks not everyone was happy all of the time. We all need salvation.

I often think of a childhood friend, Martin, who came to our school in the middle of fourth grade. Several of us wanted to go play baseball and convinced Marti to stop by his house to get his glove. He was extremely reluctant to do this, but we convinced him otherwise. He crawled into his house. He literally fell out of the back door, his mom cursing and yelling at him. He said she was sick. Today I think otherwise. I often worry about what happened to Martin. There is a real need of salvation and peace in the lives of so many people.

Our faith, and the mission and ministry of Jesus, reminds us of the ongoing necessity of conversion and discipleship. Part of that has to be reconciliation. The Sacrament of Reconciliation of course holds enormous healing power. But we have to reconcile with each other, be able to forgive, and receive forgiveness. It seems, especially lately, we are too ready to be angered and upset. I cannot help but to recognize that Jesus showed his disciples the Kingdom, rather than to become angered with them and lash out. He demonstrated love and forgiveness.

In our families, schools, church, community, and world our offer of peace has to be substantial. It has to be symbolized by a commitment to truth, life and love. "My peace I give to you."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Christ Has Died, Christ Has Risen, Christ Will Come Again

What an awesome week! There is just something fantastic about celebrating the Paschal Mystery. The Resurrection grounds us and focuses us on the immense love and mercy that our Father in Heaven holds out for us. In a very real way the passion, death, and resurrection, reveals the level of God's faithfulness, and challenges us to respond with an outpouring of love for the Father. Jesus initiates us into the Kingdom of God.

The texts from scripture in the coming weeks are taken from the Acts of the Apostles. This is the story of the Church after the resurrection as the apostles go out to proclaim the Good News. We see in their message, and the response to the message, healing, conversion, and discipleship. The early Church grows on a daily basis as those who are unbelievers see and hear the love this early Church has amongst its members. The celebration of the Eucharist and the preaching of the Gospel become foundational in the lives of these men and women.

What has always drawn me to the early Church community is they continue to "do" theology. Jesus did not leave texts or rubrics with the apostles. Wherever the apostles, or the early Church is, they have to look at their pastoral situation through the lens of the Paschal Mystery. The question they end up asking themselves often is where the dying and rising of Christ fits into the current scenario. Moreso the early bishops and presbyters make a conscious effort to imitate the the Gospel and the sacraments.

The Resurrection renews the whole world, and renews our relationship with God, and each other. Where there was Sin and separation, the grace of the resurrection gathers us together into the Body of Christ. This is for us a great time to celebrate the mystery we have received.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Holy Triduum

This is my most favorite time of the the year. The Triduum. Here we dissect the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Tomorrow we will proclaim the great Vigil of Easter, and pronounce in faith the Jesus is alone the source of our salvation. We have to go through the passion and death first though.

Yesterday the priests of the Diocese met in Rockford for the Chrism Mass. The Bishop presides with his priests, to reflect on the ministerial priesthood, and to bless the oils to be used in the sacraments of the Church. Then last night we gathered here at St. Mary to celebrate the Liturgy of the Last Supper. We have had a tradition here of doing a Tri-lingual liturgy with the three major ethnic groups, the Anglos, Latinos, and the Vietnamese. I think that some of the more traditional folks are bothered by the upbeat Spanish music, and a language they cannot understand. It is nice to see three different communities worshiping together.

The great movement of the Thursday Liturgy is how it begins with a joyous acclamation of Christ and his work, and leaves us in a very solemn almost somber mode. It is so very important for us to reflect upon our salvation and peace from Christ Jesus.

Good Friday will see us in the Church all day. We have three different passion celebrations going on throughout the day. The Latinos will also have an outside stations of the cross. Again this will be a very powerful and prayerful day.