I hope you were able to celebrate Ash Wednesday this year. If you blinked, it has already passed us by; it is quickly receding in the Lenten “rearview mirror.” If you blink again it will be Holy Week and the “best of intentions” will have to wait for another year. So… as I asked two weeks ago, what is your plan for Lent?
We are called to be intentional in our life of prayer and to create a place and space in our life to be in relationship with God. Now that Ash Wednesday has passed, what is your Lenten plan to make room in your life to be filled with God’s grace? How about a Lenten check list? Set aside time every day for prayer and reflection with
- Daily Scriptures www.usccb.org/bible/readings/index.cfm
- “Joy in the Journey” booklet available at the back of the church (while supplies last!
- Follow my Lenten reflections on the daily gospel – only 140 characters long! How long could that take to read? Twitter address: @GeorgeOFM
- Receive a daily Lenten reflection email from Fr. Robert Barron – sign up on our Lenten Resources webpage. http://bit.ly/MTLZlh
- Your own awesome resources and spiritual reading. Lenten Simple Soup Suppers and Stations of the Cross
Fridays at 6:30 pm in the Parish Hall with Stations beginning at 7:30 in the church. Lenten Mission with Fr. Bill McConville, OFM
March 17th, 18th, and 19th at 7:00 pm in the church. Sunday Morning Parent Enrichment Group (PEG)
Every Sunday at 10:30 am at the Sacred Heart Campus PEG room (2nd floor, just at the top of the stairs).
The Light is On for You
March 27th celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation from 5:00 pm until 7:00 pm. Our Lenten Resources webpage http://bit.ly/MTLZlh
Select some reading materials, podcasts, video, or daily reflection emails for your private prayer.
It is your spiritual life. Make it your plan!So...what are you giving up for Lent?
Isn’t that always the question? As if that is the reason for the season. Growing up, everything I remember about Lent circled around the acts of self-denial – what food, entertainment, or habit one would give up and how hard it was to deny oneself of that thing. It was not always made clear that the denial was meant to help one think about God and Christ’s sacrifice.
Of course it’s understandable that the deeper meaning of Lent can be missed. Even elsewhere in this bulletin we mention the religious traditions, rituals, and “Lenten obligations,” which are easier to promote, understand, and implement than spirituality and faith. We Catholics understand rules. It is far easier to tell kids (and ourselves) to obey rules than to explain to them why we should desire to act rightly. We can end up following the rules simply because…well, because that is what we do, that is how we think of religion. In Lent, too often we are denying ourselves for the sake of denial. We give up chocolate or Facebook thinking that act of denial is the purpose of Lent. And we end up missing the point.
Lent isn’t about denial. It is about transformation. It is the season in which we prepare to encounter the mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection by endeavoring to become more Christ-like ourselves. Transformation is about letting ourselves be filled with God’s presence so that we can be shaped by God’s grace. But we have to make room for God’s grace. We have to empty ourselves to make room for God – and that may mean Downton Abbey reruns, chocolate, or whatever else takes up time, space, and energy in your life. And so we give up things/habits as a way of beginning the transformation. In our faith tradition, this process has a word: kenosis
– the “self-emptying” of one's own will and becoming entirely receptive to God's divine will. Denying ourselves in order to allow God to fill us. The Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving help prepare us to be transformed. We deny ourselves so that we can be reborn as new creations – to live more fully as the Kingdom citizens God desires us to be – to go and do the good that God would have us do.
Last week I spoke about being intentional in one’s life of prayer and about making a place and space in your life to be in relationship with God. Once Ash Wednesday passes, what is your Lenten plan to make room in your life to be filled with God’s grace? Will you create time to join the community in the Lenten Simple Soup Suppers and Stations on Fridays? Mark your calendars to join us for our Lenten Mission with Fr. Bill McConville, OFM (March 17th thru the 19th at 7:00 pm in the church). Go to our Lenten Resources webpage and select some reading materials, podcasts, video, or daily reflection emails for your private prayer (http://bit.ly/MTLZlh). Create the space for God in your life this Lent. Be intentional! Be with GodBeing Intentional
Someone asked me why I get up most mornings for 5:30 swim practice – wouldn’t I like an extra hour or so of sleep, or maybe be able to stay up a little later the evening before? Extra sleep – sure. Stay up a little later – maybe. But the basic reason I get up so early is because I am intentional about having some semblance of a balanced life and that includes physical exercise. Once I am back at the parish, the course of the day may go as planned…or not, but I am free to respond without wondering if I can squeeze in a workout later in the day. It is liberating, even if a little bleary-eyed.
Being intentional is an essential and intrinsic part of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Discipleship, spiritual maturity, or however you would wish to describe being whole and complete as a Christian, is not an accident. Seeking God speaks of intentionality — the believer who desires to know God in a deeper way and strives toward that goal. When Jesus invited disciples to follow Him, it was a call to intentionally seek Him, to know Him, and to live for Him. This involves spending regular time with Him.
Worship at Mass, individual prayer, Bible Study, private reading and reflection, journaling – these are but a few of the intentional ways of seeking a deeper relationship with God. Hopefully, coming to Mass is intentional in that you prepare and participate in the Divine Worship, but it is only an hour or two out of 168 during a week. What about the other 167 hours or so? How do you intentionally seek out God? How much time is given to God? Add it up. I think you will be surprised.
Surveys indicate that women are more likely than men to pray outside of Mass. About 50 percent of people say they set aside a point in the day for intentional prayer a few days a week. 30% report intentional prayer between weekly and monthly. The remaining 20% report rarely to never being intentional about prayer. How about you? Or how about me? Am I as intentional about prayer as I am swimming? I am, but then I also have the benefit of a communal prayer life with my Franciscan brothers that frames and sets a rhythm for the day. In between I have my own prayer and reading.
Lent is coming up. Ash Wednesday is March 5th. If there is a season of the liturgical year that just calls for intentionality about prayers and reflection, it is Lent. What is your plan for Lent? What is your plan to plan? It has been said that if we aim at nothing, we will hit it every time. The same is true for prayer. If we are aimless in our prayer-life we will pray randomly, at best. May your Lenten season be intentional for Him.February 16, 2014
At the beginning of December, we announced that the Vatican wanted to hear your voice about “Ministry to the Family.” More than 6,800 folks from the diocese took the time to complete the online survey. Bishop Lynch promised he would report on the “sensus fidelium”
of the people on these matters. True to his word, last week he published the summary on his blog (http://bishopsblog.dosp.org/
). There is also a link to a far more detailed report. Given that there were survey and narrative responses, the Diocesan staff did a great job reading and compiling the narrative results. I thought that I would share a synopsis of the Bishop’s report. Who Responded
. As the Bishop noted: “The survey responses generally reflect the ‘choir,’ those people who faithfully attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation [85%]…[the survey does] not represent the feelings of those who have fallen away from the practice of their faith, are angry or frustrated or feel alienated by the Church. How I wish I could have heard from them as well…” Another group that was not well represented within the responses were “young single” and “young married” couples – together they only comprised 4% of the respondents. Nonetheless, Bishop Lynch wrote: “Overall, the Church which I am privileged to lead has some real concerns about precisely the matters which the Holy Father wished tested.” What did they have to say?
As you can imagine, summarizing the free-form comments and responses was a challenging exercise, but the Bishop reported them in the following summary [with some editing herein for space limitations
- There was very strong support for the notion that marriage is sacramental and is between one man and one woman.
- Having said that, it was also clear that the respondents felt that the Church needed to be prepared to better respond to the reality of same-sex marriage and not engage these folks in a way that comes across as judgmental and ready to drum them out of the pews.
- The respondents generally tended to suggest that the Church needed to be kinder and gentler to those who identify themselves as gay and lesbian, be less judgmental and more welcoming.
- Very clearly stated was the opinion that an adopted child of same-sex parents should be treated in the Church exactly the same as a child born of a traditional marriage between a man and a woman.
- The respondents felt very strongly that something needs to be done to reconcile and welcome back the divorced and remarried beyond the present annulment process. But it is also clear that there are many misconceptions about divorce, the status of children of a broken marriage, and sacramental participation.
- The media takes a hammering in the survey results, largely because it is seen as the force majeure for challenging traditional concepts about marriage and family life. The respondents strongly said that the Church needs “to wake up and smell the coffee” on cohabitation. It is commonplace and there are some reasons for it which cannot be summarily dismissed.
- Finally, on the matter of artificial contraception the responses might be characterized by the saying, “that train left the station long ago.” Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fidelium suggests the rejection of Church teaching on this subject.
Bishop Lynch wrote: “So, a natural question is ‘What next?’ The survey results raised issues that can only be resolved by the universal church and ultimately by the Holy Father himself. I gather from what I read that our results are not markedly different from those being reported elsewhere around the world. I hope that the effort to canvas the thoughts of the People of God in this diocese, which was unique in Florida, will be helpful to those who will soon gather in synod with the Holy Father.”
“But there are pastoral results from the survey which we can attend to and I hope we will. I have made it known that I will not tolerate any discrimination or anything which smacks of the punitive to children of same-sex couples. I think all representatives of the Church’s many ministries can be kinder, gentler, more welcoming and less judgmental of those who find our praxis and preaching on marriage and family life to be at odds with their experiences. We need to address clearly that divorce itself is not something which bans a person from reception of the sacraments and that annulments do not illegitimize children born of previous marriages. Working with our diocesan Marriage and Family Life Office and with our priests and deacons, we can either begin or strengthen the process of healing for many in the Church. Finally, if the “choir” is singing this anthem, imagine what we might have heard had we had the time and access to those alienated, fallen-away, hurt or frustrated.” My Own Initial Reaction.
First, my thanks to the Bishop for hosting the survey and reporting the results. Second, I am hopeful. Not that there is theological or magisterial change in the wind, but that at the core of so many responses is the echo of St. Paul’s words from Holy Family Sunday: “Put on, ….heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, …And over all these put on love
.” (Col 3:13-14) It seems to me this is the Spirit of God, the example of Pope Francis, the calling of each of us, and our mission as Church in the world. We are not here to impose, but only to propose our Faith. “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence
.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)Being Salt and Light
Last week I wrote about the Sermon on the Mount, which contains the Beatitudes and is one of the great discourses in the Gospel according to Matthew. I thought I would provide some more food for thought as our Sunday gospel continues with the Sermon on the Mount.
In our reading today, Jesus uses two of the most well-known metaphors: “You are the salt of the earth.
” and “You are the light of the world.
” (Mt 5:13-14) Two things that are vital to human life – not nice, but vital. Several years ago, NPR aired a report about an isolated area of Myanmar (Burma) with no natural salt deposits. This very fertile land was unoccupied because of that reason until an earthquake moved a mountain and a road was opened to the region. At least then people could live there and travel to market to buy salt. Salt is vital to human life. But beyond the minimal life-giving aspect, salt gives flavor and is used to preserve, to prevent corruption.
“You are the salt of the earth.
” This is what Jesus proclaims to the disciples, to the ones who have already responded to his call to follow him. And all of this is in connection with the Sermon on the Mount’s focus of letting disciples know the demands of the kingdom. Disciples of Christ need to be life-giving, need to add the distinctive flavoring of being “blessed,” and to preserve others for life in the eternal kingdom.
Disciples, if we are true to our calling, make the earth
a purer and a more palatable place. But we can do so only as long as we preserve our distinctive character: tasteless salt has no value. The Rabbis commonly used salt as an image for wisdom (cf. Col. 4:6), which may explain why the Greek word translated as “lost its taste”
actually means “become foolish.” A foolish disciple has no influence on the world; a foolish community makes no difference in its locale.
It raises the questions whether as a community or individuals – are we salt for the earth? What is distinctive about us as disciples? Our church building is very distinctive. But are we?Have A Blessed Day
This weekend the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (Feb 2nd) falls on a Sunday – and so we celebrate that event in the life of Christ. When the Feast falls on Sunday, it replaces the Ordinary Time celebration and the associated Gospel, which happens to be “The Sermon on the Mount.” The Sermon contains the listing of the Beatitudes and is one of the great discourses in the Gospel according to Matthew. I thought I would at least provide some food for thought here in the column.
Each Beatitude begins with “Blessed are…
” Blessedness is something that is part of, or should be part of, the fabric of our life. As a friend pointed out, the message on my phone concludes with “Have a blessed day.” I am not sure what people think, but I always feel hopeful when I hear it and I appreciate its spirit of goodwill. But it carries no guarantee. My friend who kids me about my message tells the story of being in line behind a woman at the grocery store who seemed agitated and in a real hurry. The check-out clerk finished bagging her groceries and said, “Have a nice day.” The woman replied, “I'm sorry, but I have other plans.” Some days the best attitude in the world can't keep misfortune at bay. What does having a blessed day mean on those days? What does it mean to be blessed?
A lot of people think the Beatitudes originated with Jesus, but they are found in the wisdom literature common to the Old Testament Psalms and Proverbs. Israel's sages and poets used them to commend admirable but traditional actions and attitudes.
- “Happy the one who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding.” (Proverbs 3:13)
- “Blessed those whose way is blameless, who walk by the law of the LORD. Blessed those who keep his testimonies who seek him with all their heart. They do no wrong; they walk in his way.” (Ps 119:1-3)
- “The just walk in integrity; happy are their children after them!!” (Proverbs. 20:7)
The Psalter opens with this Beatitude: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers. Rather, the law of the LORD is his joy; and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Ps 1:1-2)
The Beatitudes offer formulas for what constitutes blessedness—not good fortune or prosperity or personal achievement, but rather being surrounded by a sphere of spiritual well-being as an individual and as a community. In the Old Testament that meant pursuing wisdom, following the commandments, and treating others with respect. The fruit of such a path in life is, “He is like a tree planted near streams of water that yields its fruit in season; Its leaves never wither; whatever he does prospers.” (Ps 1:3)
Jesus' beatitudes have a paradoxical twist. They begin well enough in Matthew's version. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:3) But quickly blessedness is associated with mourning, meekness, being merciful, being persecuted, and also reviled. What about self-reliance and building a good reputation for productivity and success?
Positive attitudes are a good thing. But Jesus' Beatitudes are less about insuring individual prosperity and reputation and more about risking it for the sake of his vision of God's kingdom. They seem not to care about personal success and security. Rather, it is our alignment with the values of risky faith, radical mercy, and an active search for justice for the entire community that matters to God.
So when Jesus says to us “Have a blessed day,” the response “Sorry, but I have other plans!” is not what is called for. Perhaps we can borrow from the Prophet Samuel and reply, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”Contagious Generosity
Parish life has its own ebb and flow. There is an annual event that falls between the Christmas season just past and the Lenten season ahead: the Diocesan Annual Pastoral Appeal (APA). You might be thinking, didn’t we just finish the appeal for 2013? We did, and last year’s campaign ended well! For the first time in the history of the Diocesan appeal, our parish met its assigned goal of $236,197 – in fact we exceeded it by a little over $16,000 (all of which, by the way, was returned to the parish!). For the first time when we reach the end of the fiscal year in June, I will not have to write a check out of funds for parish operations to the Diocese to make up the difference between our pledges and the goal. My first year as pastor, the check was for $107,000. It was “breath taking” in all the wrong ways.
Some folks wonder about why the Diocese takes this collection each year and why the recently completed capital campaign does not cover such things. Simply put, the capital campaign is about the future; APA is about funding the ministry and work of the Diocese this year. There are many ministries that are best served at a Diocesan level; they are just too much for any one parish. Examples include Pinellas Hope; faith-based adoption services and pregnancy centers; mobile medical services to immigrants and refugees; temporary and permanent housing for the least among us; as well as all the ongoing work of the offices of finance, human resources, information technology, insurance, risk management, construction, schools, and the important ministry of forming seminarians for service as priests in the Diocese. Trust me, there are many more examples of the work, ministry, and support done for us and in our name.
There is a “contagious generosity” afoot! Last year, parishioner pledges increased 44% with 35% more families and households participating – although overall only 15% of all the registered households contributed. But the contagion of generosity is reflected across a wider span than just APA. People are increasingly giving of their time, talent, and treasure across any number of parish ministries and events. It is a wonderful contagion of the Spirit moving people’s hearts to ever engage more deeply in their life of faith and in the life of the parish.
Over the coming weeks we will provide information to you in many different forms about the APA leading to the weekend of March 1st/2nd when we will come together as a community to make our pledges and do what is ours to do.
Thanks for listening.What Kind of People Worship Here?
On Monday, we as a nation will celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I thought it would be good that we, again, listen to the words of Dr. King from his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
“I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi, and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: ‘What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?’
“Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson, and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.
“There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators.’ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were ‘a colony of heaven,’ called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated.’ By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.
“But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”