From Father's Desk

From Father's Desk

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Dear Parish Family,

We find ourselves at a special confluence; two rivers of thought intersect to create a beautiful spiritual and cultural landscape. It is the third week of our Message Series, Harvest Principle and our diocese kicks off Called by Name vocation campaign. The harvest principle is this: we reap what we sow. This reality helps us to see how our choices, our virtues and really our whole lives are connected to the seeds we plant. Last week we focused on character, and how we build our character through our choices for virtue. This week we center on vocation. Jesus himself says, “The harvest is great, but the laborers are few, so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Mt 9:37-8). This image Jesus paints has often been interpreted as a call for priests, a call for shepherds to join in the work of Jesus and the apostles.  Hence, the confluence.

Bishop O’Connell has long encouraged all pastors to invite young men to the priesthood. He calls each of us a local “vocation director” and he notes that we need to seek out and nurture vocations. As the baby-boomer priests retire, our diocese finds herself stretched thin. In our area a decade ago, almost every parish had two priests. Now we are just about one priest per parish. And in the next five years, we can anticipate about 15-30 priests retiring, while about 10 men will be ordained. So, the crunch is coming.

Dear Parish Family,

Last week we inaugurated a new Message Series on the Harvest Principle… you reap what you sow; and it is always later; and it is always greater. This fundamental ground rule for life we see manifest in many ways. In our gardens, in our families, in our relationships. But probably the best place to begin with the principle is by looking in the mirror, starting with ourselves and the way we have the power to shape our habits and our character.

I read a great book on habits earlier in the pandemic, called The Power of Habit, and it made me realize how little things that changed in my life were having ripple effects. Regular trips to the gym that stopped; meetings with friends that went virtual; so many pieces of my life shifted, changed, stopped and that was affecting my habits. The pandemic has shaken up a lot of people’s lives and ways of doing things. So much is different. Our priorities have changed. And almost everything that affects habits eventually crosses over to character. What we do shapes who we are.

My Dear Friends,

Today we embark on a five week adventure, exploring the reality of the Harvest Principle. This is the season of harvest. We have experienced a warm September. Peppers and tomatoes are still ripening in my garden and the chard provides me with fresh greens. Whenever I see apple cider in the store, my favorite season is here! But before we dig into the “Harvest” part of things, let’s dwell for a moment on “Principle.”

A principle is a fundamental truth, a ground rule, an anchor for a system of belief. It is a fact that works, that does its job in the world whether we recognize it or not, believe it or not. So it is valuable and wise for us to recognize and dig into this principle.

So, here it goes: you reap what you sow. First on the natural level: sow a tomato seed, get a tomato; blow dandelion seeds all around with the kids, reap a yard full of dandelions! But this reality also exists beyond planting. It is true and most evident from attending to the rhythm of farming and the seasons, but it is true in our relationships, true in our families, true throughout the world.

My Dear Spiritual Family,

One weekend a year, usually in October, we present our annual financial report, a task we are obliged to do. An opportunity to reflect on our situation, it builds on the previous two weeks related to our buildings and volunteers. Our parish is certainly not its buildings, nor its financial statement, but a living reality of the Gospel growing in our midst. That is our primary mission and goal. Above all, our members make the mission possible. We thank you for the many ways you participate in the mission as we journey in faith together.

But we still gotta pay for that mission, and as my Dad used to say money doesn’t grow on trees, which seems obvious. (The Aztecs used cocoa beans for money, which does grow on trees, but generally speaking Dad was right.)

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Dear Friends,

Last week I shared some updates with you, mostly focused on our campus and the buildings. Given our newest building dates to 1970 (51 years old) repairs and maintenance are always required. Some of those needs have been deferred but we are striving to catch up and formulate a strategic plan for our campus and parish.

But what is a parish without the people? The term “parish” comes from two greek words meaning dwelling beside or sojourning. You may have heard that the universal Church is convoked in worldwide synod on the very topic of synodality. “Synod” means together on the way, or walking together. Even the greek word for church “ekklesia” means to be called out from, and hence an assembly. All of these terms have at their root, members. People being called out of an old life to live a new life and walk together on the way to God and his kingdom. Members gathered together for the common purpose of living a Gospel life.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

For the next three weeks we are pausing from our Message Series. Be on the lookout for “Harvest Principle” beginning Oct 24th!

This pause gives us a chance to catch up in another way. Many questions have been percolating and there is much good news to share with you. Today I will focus on our campus. Please pass along this good news, since good news travels fast.

First for a school update: when we shut down for COVD in March 2020, we had no idea our school would not reopen before June. In those first months, people were extra careful. Our building was not left in a state to be used for other purposes. Much work had to be done. So far, we have held two clean up days and a garage sale, not to mention preparations for those events. One of the highlights of our garage sale: entrusting 30 computers, keyboards, etc to a man preparing a container to send to Africa. It is heartwarming to know even older machines will find a useful second life for children who have never even seen or used a computer. The work continues. We are in the process of envisioning what our 21 classrooms could be used for. If you have suggestions, please come see me. The building costs about $100,000 a year for the basics, so using our resources well will be essential.

Heart Matters: Week 5

Firm not Sluggish Hearts

Dear Spiritual Family,

We have been on quite a journey with James during this series Heart Matters. It is not too late to pick up the Letter of Saint James and hear the wisdom of that Bishop of Jerusalem. Not only is James wise but he is quite a motivator. He exhorts, admonishes, urges, and even goads. It is not all warm and fuzzy.

Key to our reading is the biblical concept of the heart, which is far more than feelings. For people of the day, feelings were felt in the gut. When they spoke of the heart, that included feelings, but the heart was really the center, the place of integration and harmony.

Dear Friends in Christ,

We continue with the Letter of James this week in our message series Heart Matters!

From our take, the letter is an exhortation to engage our whole being in living the Gospel. We are not called to be merely hearers but doers, those who show the beauty and power of our faith through good deeds. Not just good things done, but works accomplished in faith for love of God and neighbor.

The passage this week (Jas 3:16 - 4:3) is quite challenging. James must have been a fiery preacher! He contrasts jealousy and ambition with wisdom, while bringing to light the hard truth that passions or disordered affections cause “wars” with us. Towards the end of the section (beyond the text for Sunday) we find the remedy to what ails us: “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you,” (4:8).

Truly our verse goes into greater detail. The whole reads “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds,” reminding the hearer of these disorders and the need to purify our hearts. Again, the biblical heart being the center or deepest core of our existence.

My Dear Friends,

I have really enjoyed your comments and insights related to our current Message Series, Heart Matters. In the first week after Mass, someone said that they had never heard that our faith is not all about coming to Mass. In the homily I had said that our worship should change our lives. Our primary calling is to live the Gospel in the world, really to be living Gospels (as one author expressed holiness.)

Sometimes historically it has seemed that as Catholics we were comfortable just coming to Mass. If we missed Mass, we needed to go to Confession, and if we came to Mass unless we robbed a bank - we were “good” for the week. A certain strain of 20th century Catholicism seems to have held to that. Yet Mass is not the end or goal, but the beginning. We gather for worship because it is what is due our God. It is just and fitting for his creatures to comply with his just commandment. But the command is for us, for our benefit. God mandates our attendance so we can gather, worship and be fed, leaving refreshed in order to live out the Gospel in the world. Church is an oasis, a place of refreshment God knows we need to make it through the week. Otherwise, we will die in the desert of the world.

Dear Friends in Christ,

We are underway with our Message Series, Heart Matters! - a study of James. In preparation, I have been praying with the Letter of James over the past several weeks and every time I take it up, I find new wisdom and insight. It is very rich! The inspired Word of God is a mine of endless riches. Each word and phrase offers a unique wealth since it was composed by the human author, while also written by the divine author.

The rhetoric, or stylistic plan, of James appears to me as somewhat spiral. The young bishop explores a series of topics and then returns to each in greater depth. For example, in James 1:19 we read, “Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…” counsel related to the listening and speaking. Later, James gives an in-depth reflection on the need to take care in speech (Jas 3:1-12). In part noting, “The tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions. Consider how a small fire can set a huge forest ablaze. The tongue is also a fire… but no human being can tame the tongue.” These verses are a huge help for anyone who struggles to bridle the tongue.