December 30, 2011

A Christmas Insight


After Mass yesterday morning I knelt in front of the Nativity set up in front of the altar. Aside from the fact that I am one of those liturgical purists who object to anything set up in front of the altar, what really stood out for me was that the image of the Child Jesus was directly in line with the Crucifix on the wall behind the altar. The Child's arms were spread open as were Jesus' arms on the Cross.  The arms were both in the same position showing me that we cannot gaze upon and meditate on the Child in the manger without it leading us to the Cross.  If it doesn't, then the nativity of Jesus it is just a nice sentimental story, a peaceful scene that makes us feel good. If we don't see the Cross in that peaceful manger scene then the whole Christmas story means nothing.

Jesus is God assuming our human flesh, our frailties, our pains and our sorrows. He came in innocence and died as an innocent person. His coming leads to death, but not in the way we might think of it. It is death to sin. His suffering, His death leads to new life.  His suffering and death shows us that only in suffering with Him do we rise with Him.

Many years ago I heard a priest say in a homily that from the Manger Jesus looked upon the beams of the stable which would one day be the wood that would make up His Cross.  I dismissed the story at the time as simply a pious sentimental legend considering that Jesus was probably born in a cave and place in a feeding trough hewn out of rock. But the concept that His birth led to the Cross is undeniable. 

So what does this mean for me?  It means that I can find Christmas peace not in the cute, weak, perfect  image of the Baby in the manger, but in the strong yet broken body of the God/Man on the Cross. That is where my peace lies, that is where the spirit of Christmas shines forth for me this year.  Not from the light of the star but from the merciful rays of light that emanate from His wounds.

A Great Christmas Present


For Christmas my husband bought me Fr. Robert Barron's video series Catholicism. Portions of the series have been shown on PBS and EWTN but the discs have much more that was not shown on television.  I can't say enough about the quality of this series.

Two of my favorite episodes were the ones on the Blessed Mother and the one on the saints. I used the episode on the Blessed Mother with our RCIA class two weeks ago since I bought the series for work.  They said it really assisted them in understanding who Our Lady is as well as the Church's teaching on her.  Even our team members said they learned a lot by viewing it.

The episode on the saints impressed me since he chose only women to focus on, and these women were ones who all gave up a very privileged life to dedicate themselves to God.  He chose Katherine Drexel, Therese of Lisieux, Edith Stein, and Mother Teresa.  He begins the episode with the story of Jesus getting into Peter's boat, without permission, and ordering him to "put out into the deep" (Lk.5:4).  After catching multitudes of fish, Peter leaves his livelihood to follow Jesus.  Fr. Barron says that  "Saints are those who allow Jesus to get into their boats." I found that a very powerful statement which also challenges me.  Do I allow Jesus into my boat? Am I willing to leave everything to follow Him?

I am hoping to use the series at work in ways other than RCIA. It's great for Adult Faith Formation and for Small Christian Communities. I was thinking of even inviting a few friends over to my house perhaps one evening once or twice a month to view the videos and discuss what we got out of them. My husband and I have already had some discussions after viewing the DVDs.  The cost is a bit high but it is a bit less expensive on Amazon. I decided to purchase it from Fr. Barron's ministry Word on Fire to help support the great work he does.  Why not ask your pastor to purchase it for the parish?  

December 22, 2011

Happy Winter


Today is the winter solstice. While it is officially the first day of winter, here on Long Island it feels like spring.  I'm not complaining, I'll take this over 20 degrees and snow anytime.

The best thing I like about the first day of winter is that the days begin to grow longer. Soon it will not be dark as I wake up in the morning or drive home from work. I am the type of person who likes the light.  I don't like going out in the dark, and while cold dark nights are good for getting cozy with a hot cup of tea and a good book or watching a tear jerker chick flick on the TV, I find that too much darkness can become depressing. Psychologists have found that more people do suffer depression when the daylight is short.

I think the same can be said of our spiritual life. The longer we dwell in the "darkness" and allow the prince of darkness into our lives, the worse we tend to feel. And just like the gradual shorting of the days following the summer solstice, the darkness in our lives seems to creep up on us slowly and we only realize it when it starts having a negative affect on our lives.

We have a choice, we can give in to the darkness and wallow in it, or we can light a light and let it brighten our nights and our lives. Christ is that Light when we are in darkness. With His Light we have nothing to fear and all depression and sadness is brought into the Light and transformed into Hope and Love.

May these final days of Advent find you basking in not only the lights of your Christmas tree but in the Light of the Love of Christ.

December 20, 2011

Mary said to the Angel, I am the handmaid of the Lord.

I love the readings of this last week before Christmas, especially the Gospels. Today we again hear the story of the Annunciation that we heard on Sunday.  So many great artists have painted the Annunciation and I was happy to find this beautiful collage of such artistic depictions presented along with Hans Leo Hassler's Dixit Maria.  I loved singing this beautiful piece when I was in choir. I hope it helps lead your meditation these final days and brings you joy and peace. (just ignore the clapping at the end).

December 15, 2011

I am Sending My Messenger Ahead of You

As we approach the final week of Advent I was reflecting on today's reading from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus speaks highly of his cousin, John the Baptist, who is the bridge between the Old and New Covenant. He is the messenger, the one who is to prepare the way for the Lord.  It came to me, that we too are called to announce the Good News of the coming of Jesus and to prepare a way for Him.  John has something to teach us.  We are not to serve the Lord for any personal gain or for recognition. The way we are to prepare for the Lord, is first by preparing our own hearts and being open to the salvation that Christ offers us.

Another of my favorite Advent hymns is On Jordan's Bank.  This speaks of preparing our souls, of recognizing that we need to be cleansed from sin to make a proper "home" for our Lord, Jesus.

December 11, 2011

The Moon and Mary


This afternoon I attended our monthly Oblate meeting at St. Walburga Monastery in New Jersey.  We were treated to a presentation on the necessity of leisure and living in the present. A major part of the presentation was on awareness.  Part of living in the present is "being mindfully aware of our surroundings," Sister said, and how "God makes Himself known" through our encounters with God's creation. Awareness helps us remember "that God is God and we are not." On my drive home following evening prayer, while driving over the Goethals Bridge which connects New Jersey with Staten Island, I noticed the full moon, and was very aware of it off to my left as I traveled on the Staten Island Expressway. Once as the road veered off to the East the moon was clearly seen through the left side my front windshield.  As I was watching the moon (and watching the road) I had an understanding of what sister was speaking about.

It was not just the beauty of the moon that attracted me, but I recalled a quote that I heard earlier during our RCIA session.  I had showed one of the episodes of Fr Robert Barron's spectacular documentary series Catholicism.  It was the episode on the Blessed Mother. I showed this episode because of the feast of the Immaculate Conception last Thursday and tomorrow's feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  In the video, Fr Barron quotes Archbishop Fulton Sheen who said, "Mary is like the moon, for her light is always a reflection of a higher light."  

I was hoping that as I crossed the Verrazano Bridge into Brooklyn that I would see the beauty of the moon reflected in New York Harbor but then realized that I was heading in the wrong direction for that to occur.  Yet the Lord had other ideas.  As I drove through the plaza and onto the bridge, there was the moon, precisely in the center of the bridge uprights.  It appeared as if I were driving directly into the moon. For once I wished there was stop and go traffic on the bridge (as there often is) so that I could snap a picture with my phone, but that wasn't happening.  I lost sight of it for a few moments as I approached the high point of the span but then it was visible again for the final three quarters of a mile before I turned off the bridge.

The image that was coming to me all this time on the bridge was that Mary, the bright reflected light of Jesus, was leading me toward her Son.  But she was not only the moon light guiding me, but the bridge between heaven and earth.  Assumed into heaven, she alone experiences what awaits us at the resurrection of our bodies at the end of time.  As Fr. Barron states, she "becomes a sign of hope for the rest of the human race."

So was it coincidence that I chose to show the DVD this morning where the image of Mary as the moon was presented and that  the moon was just a day past full? Was it a coincidence that this afternoon's talk was about awareness of God's presence in our surroundings?  And, was it a coincidence that the moon just happened to be between the bridge uprights as I was traversing the span?  Coincidences?  Maybe, but I think not.  God had something to share with me and at any other time, if I was less aware, I just might have missed it.

A Rose by Any Other Name...


Today is Gaudate Sunday. It takes its name from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon for today's Mass. "Rejoice in the Lord always..." which is again repeated in today's second reading. We light the third, rose colored candle on the Advent wreath signifying that the time to commemorate Jesus' birth is close at hand. It is one of two Sunday's a year when priests and deacons wear rose vestments, and the two times a year when people ask "Father, why are you wearing pink?"  Father inevitably will say, "It's not pink, it's rose!" 


This always confuses me.  Think of it, when you say "rose" what color does that really mean?  If I go to a florist and ask for a rose, the person behind the counter will ask me what color rose do I want.  There are red roses, white roses, yellow roses, orange roses, there are even black roses, and of course there are pink roses. Does anyone ever go to a florist and ask for a rose rose? 

As an artist I am very conscious of color. Pigments can be broken down into very different shades and tints. Rose can refer to very different colors that are somewhere between red and magenta. There are also differnt tints to the color. We have a reddish pink, a salmon color, bluish tint, muted pink, pale rose, mauve, and so on and so forth. 

So why call it rose?  Roses have, since the Middle Ages, been associated with our Blessed Mother.  Part of the miracle at Guadalupe, when the Virgin appeard to Juan Diego in Tepeyac, Mexico in 1531, was that roses bloomed at the spot even though it was not the season for roses. We are celebrating that feast tomorrow. One of the titles of Mary is the Mystical Rose and we know that Our Lady is an important part of our Advent preparation. But still why call it rose and not pink? Is it because "real men don't wear pink?"  That seems rather silly since many men look very good in pink and rose is just as feminine sounding as pink. I guess it will remain a great mystery as to why we say rose rather than pink. 

One of my favorite Advent hymns is Low, How a Rose E're Blooming." It is a sixteenth century hymn that perhaps explains why we say rose instead of pink.  OK, that may take care of it for Gaudate Sunday in Advent, but what about Laetare Sunday in Lent.  Oh well, that's for another time and season.  In the meantime, enjoy the hymn.


December 8, 2011

Discipline


This week I finally did something that I should have done several months ago, I went back to Weight Watchers.  I stopped going seven months ago and was doing well until I had my surgery in September.  A few weeks of sitting home with little activity found me eating more and moving less and I put on quite a number of pounds.  My reasons for returning to meetings and getting back on program were for health reasons, to feel good and to have more energy and, in my vanity, to look good at my daughter's wedding coming up next October.  But I also found that a big reason is to have more discipline.  I was finding that I was lacking discipline in several areas of my life and I am working on getting back on track.  Weight Watchers program is highly structured and for the plan to work, you have to follow it, keeping track of what you eat, and changing the way you look at yourself and your life.  It's not just about losing weight, and it affects more than just eating.

One of the areas where discipline is absolutely necessary is in our prayer life. I know how important prayer is, but laziness or spending time doing other things often takes precedence over my prayer. When this happens I find that things just don't go right when I don't give God the time He deserves and the time I need to hear His voice. Just like the weight creeps up when I am off program, when I am not praying other things begin to seem more important and I lose sight of how I should be living my life the way God wants me to live it. I get depressed, anxious and everything I am and do are affected, and not in a good way.

We are called to be people of prayer.  It is funny, but I am finding that prayer is helping me keep on program.  When I have the desire to grab for something that I should not be eating, saying a quick prayer asking God to give me the discipline to say "no" often helps me keep on track.  Prayer is a wonderful thing. Now I just need the discipline to get on that elliptical machine, life some weights, or go for a walk.


December 6, 2011

And the Glory of the Lord Shall be Revealed

Still focusing on this past Sunday's first reading from Isaiah, I just love this selection from Handel's Messiah.  It is so uplifting and awe inspiring. In keeping with the rest of the passage, it is a cry of hope. "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it." While not a hymn that we in the assembly would sing in church, it is still one of my very favorites for Advent.



God promises that we shall see His glory revealed.  And indeed we have.  The Father sent us His only Son to reveal the Father to us. In Christ we get a glimpse of the glory of God, and in Christ we offer the Father all the glory that belongs to Him. Jesus reveals the Father to us, for He and the Father are One.  This is an image of an adult Jesus, at a time when most are focusing on the coming of an infant, and it is a promise of what is to be further revealed at His second coming for those who live their lives in Christ.  

December 4, 2011

Comfort, Comfort, O My People



The first reading for the Second Sunday of Advent, Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11, is so rich. There are  many beautiful Advent hymns based on these few passages that I want to share with you. I'll begin with "Comfort, Comfort, O My People," based on the first half of the reading. The passage is from Second Isaiah, the Book of Consolation, and it was written at a time with the people of Israel needed comfort and hope while nearing the end of their exile in Babylon. The Lord knew of their suffering and sorrow and spoke a word of encouragement and promise.



When I was in our diocesan choir we would sing this hymn at Advent Lessons and Carols after the passage from Isaiah was read.  I remember the lector that was chosen to read this passage had a strong and dramatic voice and would make this prophesy truly come alive.  It is joyful prophesy and it is reflected in the joyful tone of the hymn.  It is a hymn of hope, and in today's world we need hope and a word of comfort from our God, who promised to be with us always.

November 27, 2011

And also with your spirit.



Today's transition to the revised texts made for some very interesting vocal happenings at Mass this morning. The most common being the confusion over the new response "And with your spirit."  I had a feeling this would be the most difficult. First off, it is repeated five times during the Mass. Secondly, no one, not even the most diehard missalette reader, follows in the book for this response. And finally, by the time we got to the end of Mass many forgot that these words changed.  But all in all it went quite well.  The longer prayers, the Confetior and the Creed, were read perfectly although I did hear a bit of stumbling at the word "consubstantial."  Also at the Invitation to Communion there were quite a few who continued to use the old words.  The presider, a priest from Ghana, prayed Eucharistic Prayer III slowly and deliberatly with only a stumble or two.  I do know that our priests have been practicing and it showed.

I think we have to give it a few weeks and it will be as natural as if we have be saying these prayers for years. But then come Christmas Eve there will be more confusion than ever as those who only come to Mass for majoy Holy Days find that the prayers they are familiar with have been revised.  It should be interesting to say the least.

November 26, 2011

Happy Advent

I mentioned in a previous post that the family calls me Mama Scrooge.  Unlike Ebenezer, it is not that I dislike Christmas. Quite the contrary I love Christmas. What I don't like is celebrating the "Holidays," which seem to get more and more commercial every year.  I also do not like celebrating Christmas in November. Since before Thanksgiving one local radio station has been playing Christmas music 24/7.  There are quite a number of homes in my neighborhood that are already fully decorated and lit and this week, on December 1st, I am going to a Christmas Dinner. Even my home parish has Christmas trees up in the sanctuary.

The thing is I like celebrating Advent. It is probably my most favorite liturgical season. I am what I call an Advent purist. I even have an Advent wreath hanging on my front door (with purple and pink decorations) and purple and pink bows on my windows.  Advent is a time of joyful anticipation for not only the commemoration of the birth of Jesus but in anticipation of His coming again. It is a time that I refer to as a "pregnant pause" from our busy lives to focus on preparing ourselves for the Lord's coming.  But the truth is, that for most people, this time of year are busier than ever. They rush around, anxiety levels are high as they rush around looking for the best bargains, writing out cards, decorating, cooking, baking, going to parties. No wonder that the day after Christmas most people have had enough of the "season."


Starry Night Over the Rhone by Vincent van Gogh
For me Advent is a time of introspection. It is a time to take a look at my life and to focus on my own preparedness for the Lord and to find moments of peace, time to pray and meditate on the mysteries we celebrate this Advent season. Most of all I love Advent hymns.  The sad thing is that most people are not familiar with them. They speak of hope and of the coming Savior. Over the coming weeks I will share some of them. My favorite is Creator of the Stars of Night.  This ninth century hymn reminds me of the clear, cold night sky of winter and the beauty of God's creation.  No one can look at a night sky and not ponder the vastness of the universe, and the realization of how tiny we are. Yet despite our obvious insignificance, God chose to come to us, to be one of us, and we wait in patience for when He will come again.  

November 25, 2011

More on the Missal Launch


Having eaten my fill yesterday afternoon, which is probably why I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4 AM,  I opened my e-mail to read some more doomsday articles and comments regarding the launch of the revised English texts of the Roman Missal. At Thanksgiving Mass yesterday, our pastor mentioned that this would be the last time most of us would be praying the texts we have been so used to praying for close to forty years.  Some might see it as a sad ending to a Mass that has brought joy and comfort to many, but I see it as a new beginning.  My early years were spent with what we now call the Extraordinary Form, the "Latin Mass," but the dialogue Mass was what I was used to, so we at least prayed the responses from our personal missals. I still have mine from 1963.  As we transitioned into English, it was an exciting time, but I am sure there were many who bemoaned what they grew up with and who didn't like the change.  So too with the revised texts we will begin praying Saturday evening.  But I really don't anticipate the uproar that others predict.

I have presented twelve Missal workshops over the last year. I honestly have to say that I have heard objections from less than a handful of people.  Some may object to a word or two but overall the reaction has been good.  They like the idea that the language will sound more formal and more theologically accurate.  I had sixth graders, anxious to run home and share with their parents the meaning of the words consubstantial, incarnate and oblation.  Are we so used to texting and tweeting shorthand that we can't open ourselves to learning words that are more than four or five letters long?  Are the words that I learned early on in my formal study of theology really going to turn away people?

I am looking forward to the changes.  In fact, even though I rarely attend the Saturday anticipated Mass, I just might go tomorrow evening to be among the first to hear the new texts prayed. But today and tomorrow morning I will be praying the texts that I know so well. I will miss the familiarity of them, but I anticipate that very soon these new texts will become just as familiar.  Will it renew the liturgy and bring people back to church?  Probably not, for that I believe, will take more than new words, but a real change of heart that comes not from the formal words we pray, but from a personal encounter with Jesus.

November 23, 2011

Here we go again.

It’s that time of year again!  No I am not thinking of the Christmas season, although my family has referred to me as Mama Scrooge since I don’t believe in celebrating Christmas until the evening of December 24, but that is for another day.  I am referring to the time of year when the 7th and 8th grade students in our school and faith formation program must hand in the first part of their  “Confirmation Workbooks.”  In our diocese there is a two-year preparation program for Confirmation which requires students in those two grades to complete a workbook reflecting on things such as their baptism, our Blessed Mother, saints, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the dreaded “Gospel reflections.”  Why are they dreaded?  Well for one thing it requires them to go to Mass on Sunday, which a large number of them do not do. Then, since they do not go to Mass, they have to find out which Gospel was read on a particular Sunday, give the chapter and verse, write a brief summary, the name of the priest who celebrated the Mass, and write about what the Gospel meant to them.  They, or should I say their parents, get very creative in finding out about the Gospels.

So why do I like this? It's because I am one of the "readers" of these workbooks, and I see some very interesting reflections. Also, the women in the parish office have designated me, the Pastoral Associate, as the one they transfer phone call to from mothers who are seeking information about the Gospel that their children didn't hear because they didn't go to Mass.  Workbooks are due on Monday so the phone calls have started to come in.  I get kind of a sick enjoyment in giving the parents a difficult time of it.  Most of the callers are inquiring the name of the priest who celebrated a given Mass. They tell me that they arrived late to Mass and didn't hear the name of the priest.  Rather than just give them the name I ask them to describe what the priest looked like.  After asking this question there is usually a long pause and the parent then tells me that they personally didn't attend that Mass  and they will have to wait until their child comes home from school to ask what the priest looked like.  Or they say he looked average. Now in our parish we have a tall young priest with a shaved head, a priest from Ghana with a heavy accent, a short very gentle priest from India, a gray haired priest in his mid sixties, and our pastor who is in his early seventies. They usually don't call back with the child's description.

The other question they ask is what the Gospel was because they didn't write it down from the missalette (As if I believe that). Usually they just go to the church during the week to check the missalette. Yesterday however was the day our maintenance crew switched the seasonal missalettes.  Two moms called asking if we had any left over missalettes, most likely to look up the Gospel. Even though I probably could have found some, I told the callers they were thrown out already.

I also can't wait to read the workbooks, which will arrive on my desk next week. In addition to scripture references which don't match up with the Gospel, there are reflections that are exactly the same as other students and ones that obviously were written by the parents or taken off the Internet. There are also discrepancies with regard to the name of the priest who celebrated a particular Mass.  My all time favorite was the student who put down the name of a former pastor as the celebrant. The problem was that he had passed away several years earlier.

I also get a few laughs out of some of the other reflections. The best was the student who explained the Immaculate Conception as Jesus leaping out of Elizabeth's womb into Mary's womb.  I must have missed that class in my graduate course on the New Testament.  Their explanations of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are also amusing. The gift of Knowledge always has to do with doing well in school and somehow all the other Gifts relate to earning money and being successful. The Gift of Fortitude (Courage in their book) usually has to do with standing up to bullies. Descriptions on service projects often speak of helping Mom wash the dishes or helping little sister with homework. Gee, I thought those types of activities were part and parcel of being a member of a family.

While I do find this all amusing, it is also very sad. Parents are teaching their children that aside from it being OK not to go to Mass,  it is fine to basically cheat on their Confirmation assignments and to not put effort into to reflecting on the questions. Not a good way to prepare to receive a Sacrament.  I understand the reason they do this, because it has to be done. It is a cultural necessity (really) to receive Confirmation but not to practice the faith that goes along with being spiritually prepared to receive the Sacrament and to live the Christian life.  I look forward to reading the workbooks and I pray that this year will be different.  There are  those students whose reflections are truly insightful and I enjoy reading them because it shows me there are still kids out there who care about their faith and a relationship with Jesus.  I hope I see more of those types of reflections on my desk next week.

November 20, 2011

Seven Days Till Missal Launch


It is now one week before the revised English translation is implemented in dioceses throughout the United States. I for one say, "OK let's get this going."  I have refrained from writing about the revised texts basically because I have been heavily involved with these texts for a long time. I have working on them on the parish and diocesan level for a few years. Since Advent of 2009 I have been writing articles and blurbs in our bulletin about the texts. I will, as of this coming Tuesday, have presented twelve sessions on the Missal in several parishes, certainly not as many as some of my colleagues but it was a significant number. I have written two brief articles on the revision published by Liturgy Training Publication. I have traveled around the country attending workshops conducted by the Bishops Committee on Divine Worship and the Federation of Diocesan Federation of Liturgy Commission. You could say I have been immersed in the Missal.

The workshops I attended were fun and I learned a lot from some of those who were on the ground level of preparing the texts. Presenting workshops was fun as well and I did not hear many objections to the texts from those in attendance, which is a good thing.  I must admit that when I first saw the "green book," the original texts that the bishops had to work with, I did not care for the texts at all. But over the years in following the debates, reading revisions and more revisions, studying them, and most of all, praying with the texts, I have come to appreciate the beauty in them. They are poetic, sacred, and express important theological terms and concepts much better than the current text.

Today at Mass, our priests briefly spoke about the texts. The pastor even practiced "And with your spirit" with the people. I am excited!  I confess I have already been saying the new texts softly for the past few months, but I am sure I too will need to glance at the laminated pew cards we will have tucked in with the missallettes.  As I wrote in our bulletin this week, and as our priests mentioned at Mass, we will need to be patient with our priests, for while in reality only a few words in the prayers  we in the assembly will pray are changing, for the priests there are significant changes, and they will have to have their eyes glued to the texts for awhile.  Also there are less instances where they could use "these or similar words." My pastor also informed us that there are slight differences in the layout of the new Missal compared with the present one. 

With seven days to go, I think it is important this week to keep our priests in prayer and to pray that these first few weeks of transition to the new texts goes smoothly so that these revisions will enhance our appreciation of the sacrifice of the Mass, lead us to reflect on the texts we pray, and most of all, to worship the Lord with our whole hearts and minds so that having been nourished by God's Word and His Eucharist we may "go in peace, glorifying the Lord with (our) lives."

November 10, 2011

A Big Move and a New Beginning


Today the long awaited announcement was made regarding the fate of Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, Long Island.  The seminary has educated and formed priests for the dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre since 1930.   It has also educated hundreds of lay men and women in its MA and D.Min programs as well as formed deacons for the diocese of Rockville Centre.  Beginning with the fall 2012 semester, seminarians from Brooklyn and RVC will be formed and educated at the New York Archdiocesan seminary, St. Joseph's in Yonkers.

Adoration at the Seminary Chapel
It wasn't a complete surprise to those of us who keep up with these things. Discussions have been going on for at least two years now. While it is probably a good move to consolidate the two seminaries since both  have low enrollments, it comes with a lot of sadness. I earned my MA in Theology, post graduate certificate in Pastoral Ministry, and Doctor of Ministry degrees at the seminary.  I have enjoyed studying with the seminarians and getting to know the professors and working with some of them in my ministry.  I am on the Graduate Association Board, and the board of their online journal, Seat of Wisdom, have taught a summer workshop there, and was part of the diaconate formation faculty for two years. I often find myself up in Huntington for different events, workshops, lectures, retreats, convocations, days of recollection, or to use their excellent theological library when researching for articles or a class.   It holds a special place in my heart.

The building is not closing however. The graduate program will still continue so that many more lay people will be able to earn their degrees and better serve in ministry in Rockville Centre and Brooklyn.  The building will also be open for retreats and other programs that will serve the priests, deacons and laity of the Metropolitian area, and especially our young people. New programs associated with the New Evangelization will be housed on campus.

Things change, and as as we are discovering with the transition to the revised English texts of the Roman Missal, some will find it difficult, some will miss what we have now, but many are looking forward to the good that these changes will bring to our celebration of the Mass. So too with the changes to our beloved seminary. We will miss being part of the seminarians experience, for I do believe that the presence of the laity in classes and in the building was beneficial to their formation. Hopefully the changes will bring new opportunities to interact with priests and deacons and to gather with those in lay ministry. I am sure it will bring a new springtime to the old building, new people in the halls, new programs to be part of, new ways to educate and form good men and women to work in the vineyard of the Lord.

I pray that the transition will be a smooth one.  I know one priest on the faculty who is excited to pack his bags and head across the Throgs Neck Bridge and search out the golf courses and eateries in Westchester in addition to the new experiences that will await him in Dunwoodie if he is asked by our bishop to accompany the seminarians there.  The seminarians too are probably looking at this move as something bittersweet.  Some are leaving a place that has been home for several years.  It will be a good thing for all three dioceses and the people of of Rockville Centre, Brooklyn and the Archdiocese of NY will benefit in many ways.  New programs and new opportunities to grow in our faith. But for now, it's bit sad...

November 8, 2011

We are Unprofitable Servants

Today I went to a meeting of a diocesan committee that I am part of. As part of our prayer to open the meeting we read and reflected on today's Gospel from Luke (17:7-10).  After the reading, one of the committee members sighed, stating that the last sentence seemed to speak her ministry. "We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do." We all agreed. 

I know sometimes in my own ministry I feel like an unprofitable servant.  It is not that I look for recognition (an occasional "thank you" is sufficient), but lately it seems that some of us in parish ministry are looked at as nothing more than someone who is only there to meet the particular needs of parishioners, at their time, and the way they want it. This is especially true when it comes to sacraments and sacramental preparation.  It seems the consumer mentality has taken over and what we can offer parishioners is just one of many services that are on their list of needs and wants, but only when  it is  convenient or not too demanding. When we try to do what we are trained and required to do, people sometimes get hostile with us for "denying them" or making things difficult.  When we try to speak the truth at meetings or in courses and workshops, we are met with arguments that the Church is out of touch or that the teachings are singling out people who do not live according to our moral laws. 

We keep plugging along, doing what we are obliged to do because we truly believe we are doing God's work, doing God's will.  But it does get frustrating.  I don't think anyone in ministry is immune from this frustration.  I know the answer lies with prayer, and lots of it. It also helps to know that even on those days when it seems our efforts are for naught we don't really know if what we say or do will at  some point make a difference in someone's relationship with God.  It is still difficult, still frustrating. Sometimes I think it might be a call from the Lord to take a good look at what I am doing in my ministry and to adjust or make changes.

We are hearing a lot about New Evangelization.  I just see being presented with new programs that will only add to the frustration when the only people who show up are the same faith-filled people who probably have a better relationship with Christ than I do. However I do believe in having Hope. So I will embrace the new programs, and work tirelessly to reach out to those Catholics whose faith has grown cool or those who faith really hasn't developed, those who haven't come to a relationship with Christ.  And through it all, I'll remember that I have done what I am obliged to do as a disciple of Christ the Lord. 

November 7, 2011

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord


One June evening in 1972, Donna Mundy, MaryJo Lapkowski, Rosalie Binetti and I stood in the sanctuary of St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre and sang Day By Day from the musical Godspell as a meditation song at our high school graduation Mass.  As a liturgist, looking back I would say it did not meet all three judgments for appropriate liturgical music as put forth in the document Music in Catholic Worship. But that document only came out in 1972, (maybe even after our rocking performance) and I never knew it existed until I began studying theology over a decade later. It was the seventies, and things were kind of in the experimental stage at Mass back then (and in some places still are). But this is not a commentary on liturgical music.  

In 1971 the off-Broadway play Godspell opened. Now this was a big deal for those of us in Catholic high schools. The music of Godspell along with the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar that came out a year earlier, made what we were learning in theology classes come alive.  While both musicals focused on Jesus and stories from the Gospels, Godspell's focus was more on the parables of Jesus, and it was fun. 

Last night I had the opportunity to see the revival of Godspell that is currently playing at Circle on the Square theatre on Broadway.  It has been forty years since I was first introduced to Stephen Schwart's wonderful musical score and I did everything I could to keep from singing along to the songs that I know so well.  The theatre was perfect for the performance as every seat was an orchestra seat and you truly felt as if the actors were speaking directly to the audience, even engaging them as part of the performance.

Sometimes revivals disappoint, but I have seen productions of Godspell many times and have never been disappointed.  This production was very up to date and seems to include a bit more improvisation and references to current events than I recall from other productions. They even made a comment about Steve Jobs introducing the iPad to the man at the Pearly Gates to make keeping records of good deeds easier. They even included a "rap" number and a line dance. 

The one thing I did miss from this production was the putting on and removal of clown make-up. I also missed the funky barnyard sounds in "We Beseech Thee," but the trampolines made up for it.  I figure I have to be nostalgic about something.  The production however did not disappoint.  It brought be back to high school to that personal loving relationship that I developed with Jesus.  I think Godspell was one of those things that kept me Catholic in the tumultuous seventies as I graduated high school and began college.  

So all can do now is leave you with a bit of what I experienced last night and recommend that, if you are in the New York City area try to catch the show. Remember Advent is coming, and the readings for these weeks are all telling us to get ready and prepare for the Lord's coming.

November 3, 2011

Kids and the Missal Launch


I find it difficult to believe that I have been writing this blog for eight months and still have not written a post about the Roman Missal.  In twenty-four days we will be praying with the revised English texts and I have been preparing for its implementation for quite a number of years. As a pastoral associate, one of my responsibilities is parish liturgy. I also serve on the diocesan liturgy commission and have been facilitating and teaching courses, workshops and training sessions for liturgical ministers for over ten years. Before that I served in liturgical ministry since 1967 being part of our parish's first folk group and the youngest member of the first liturgy committee in 1971.  So when I first heard of the revised English texts of the Missal I began keeping up to date with what was going on and as time got closer I became more and more involved by attending national workshops and conferences and eventually presenting workshops on the revised texts.

Today I presented a workshop to the sixth grade at our parish school. I haven't been in in front of a class of children since I gave up my teaching job over fifteen years ago, but I have worked with children and looked forward to introducing the revised texts to them.  It was a wonderful experience.  I gave the kids copies of the revised texts and we had a lively conversation on the differences between the current text and the one we will be using on the first Sunday of Advent.  They were so interested, especially when I introduced words and concepts that might have been strange to them.  I was also very happily surprised at how much the kids did know about what we pray and do at Mass.

The most interesting conversation occurred when we look at the Creed. They were very surprised to learn how old the Nicene Creed was and the various reasons why it was so important to even have a definitive statement of our beliefs.  We talked about those beliefs and the discussion really went well when we came to the words "consubstantial" and "incarnate."  They were eager to offer their thoughts and I think following our discussion they understood the meanings quite well. I gave them the assignment to bring up these words at the dinner table and see if their parents knew what the words meant.  The teacher found this part of our discussion so interesting that she is putting those two words as bonus questions on their next religion quiz.

They had lots of questions but I chuckled that one of the questions was one that I heard at almost all the workshops I have done with adults.   "Will Mass be longer?"  What I didn't hear was any complaints about the words being used, their difficulty or how it wasn't the way we might normally speak. They seemed excited and I think they are looking forward to it. I hope that they will pass on this excitement to their parents.  The teacher even said she was going to let the other teachers know that would gladly do a presentation for their classes as well.

So, it seems that after my minor meltdown last week when I had to cancel some of my adult programs, God has shown me that He still can use my talents to reach people, even if they are little ones. Perhaps what God is telling me is that the way to reach the parents is to go through the kids, get them excited about being in relationship with God and worshiping Him in the sacrifice of the Mass.  Then maybe we will have more families in church on Sunday and we can begin the work of New Evangelization.


October 31, 2011

Broken

I broke a statue of our Blessed Mother on Saturday.  It wasn't just any statue as it was given to me as a gift for being in the choir when I was in fourth grade.  That was 48 years ago.  The statue has occupied a place of honor for all those years. First it was on my dresser in my bedroom where I would create an altar around her and crown her with flowers and have her hold my rosaries.  When we moved from Brooklyn she came with us to Long Island and found a place in my room along with pictures of the latest teen idol and a growing collection of records (remember those?).  When I married I carried her off to our new home and she went from a place in the bedroom to a new home on the bookshelves in the living room, where she has remained for well over 30 years. 

A few weeks ago we began redecorating the living room and I had to take things off the bookshelf.  Mary has survived remodeling and redecorating before without a scratch. I brought her, along with other knick-knacks, to my bedroom and placed her on my dresser. I figured she was safely on my dresser for all those years before marriage so she should be safe now.  Saturday I went to put something in my jewlery box and slightly bumped into her and she fell over hitting one of the other things on the dresser.  A part of her sleeve broke off into several pieces.  I was heartbroken. 

I was once asked of all the things I possess, if I had to choose one thing to save (other than people or pets) in a disaster what would it be and I replied my statue of Mary; not photographs, not my computer, not my jewlery or even my beloved books.  So now I sat on my bed angry with myself that I allowed the statue to be broken.  It even crossed my mind that I should just throw it away, I didn't want to be reminded of the fact that it was broken.  As the day wore on, I began to reflect on what St. John of the Cross wrote about detachment.  I was attached to an object, and for what reason?  Was the statue representative of my relationship with our Blessed Mother, or was it a sentimental reminder of my childhood?  I had to sit with that for awhile.

Yesterday while driving to work I received a word from the Lord. "I want you to have a relationship with my Mother, not with a statue," was what I heard in my heart.  WOW, did that hit me like a ton of bricks.  You see while I do hold Our Lady in great esteem and believe all the Church teaches about her, my relationship with her has been less than adequate to say the least. I do pray the Rosary, but often it is half-hearted while driving in the car or when I can't sleep.  Even my attempts to develop my relationship with Mary is half-hearted.  Yet recently I did pray to her to help with a specific situation and she appears to have helped me in this regard, but I didn't recognize it.

Today while driving to work I received another word. "The statue can be repaired, so too can you repair your relationship with my Mother."  Another WOW moment. I have most of the pieces from the statue, and as an artist I am sure I can touch up the area with paint once the pieces are glued in place. With regard to my relationship with Mary, I have all the "pieces" to glue the relationship back together.  Perhaps this incident is calling me to a deeper relationship with Mary.  Perhaps I need to take "Mary" off the shelf and allow her to be part of my life.

October 30, 2011

We Need to Become Witnesses

It's been a very busy week and I haven't found the time to post between presenting missal workshops, teaching, my normal workload and redecorating the house (which now includes tearing down half a wall) and I find my free time is better used just vegging out in front of the TV or taking a nap.  I do feel compelled to write on one interesting presentation I attended on Friday at our diocesan seminary in Huntington, NY.  It was at our annual Catechetical Leader formation day and the guest speaker was Brooklyn's Auxiliary Bishop Frank Caggiano.  His presentation was on the New Evangelization and "facing the headwinds."  

While he didn't offer any concrete solutions to the problems that we in catechetical ministry face today, he did get us thinking.  The first thing he said was that formation must come before evangelization, and the ones that need to be formed in the faith are those who will be evangelizing. It is so clear that so many Catholics today do not know their faith and that hampers any attempts at evangelizing others. People can't share what they do not know.

He also spoke of the difference between personal faith and private faith.  In this world of rampant individualism, many people have a personal faith but they keep that faith private.  It is not something they talk about. It is not something that involves others.  Bishop Caggiano said that our Catholic faith is deeply personal, but it can never be private.  As Catholics we are part of a community of believers and for faith to blossom and grow it must be shared.  He explained that in order to know how to evangelize we need only look back at the ancient Church, back to the beginnings.  People became followers of Christ because they had a personal encounter with Him or with those who knew Him.  As Christianity spread more and more people came to know Christ through the witness of others.  "We need", the bishop said, "to become witnesses."  This is done not only through our words, but through the witness of what we do and integrity of our lives. We see this in today's gospel.  Jesus tells his followers to listen to what the Pharisees say but not what they do.  In other words, "actions speak louder than words."

In a room full of DREs, youth ministers, priests, deacons, Pastoral Associates and other Faith Formation leaders, we were all aware of the troubling statistics regarding the state of the Catholic Church here in the states, and more so elsewhere in the world.  How do we overcome these troubling times where 88% of Catholics, according to a recent poll, believe themselves to be good Catholics even though they don't follow Church teaching and only 33% attend Mass on a regular basis?  We need to do as the ancient Christians did, we need to help people discover the Truth in the person of Jesus Christ. But first we ourselves must know the Truth.  We must be well formed in our faith in order to introduce it to others. 

I really did like Bishop Caggiano's presentation and I made a connection with him in that we were both baptized at St. Simon and Jude Church in Brooklyn, and his family lived just down the road from my Dad's office where I worked for so many years.  He is also young, dynamic and energetic, and I am sure he will go far.  He inspired all of us who gathered on Friday to renew our commitment not only know and pass on the truths of our faith but to truly know the Truth in the Person of Jesus Christ who is "the Way, the Truth and the Life."


October 23, 2011

A Different Perspective


It's amazing what a $20 can of paint can do. For thirty-three years we have had wallpaper on our dining room walls.  It has changed througout the years but it was always a floral pattern of various colors.  When we decided to redecorate in anticipation of our daughter's wedding next October, I needed a major change.  Down came the wallpaper.  After a few weeks of looking at bare walls and  painted on splashes of sample colors, I chose a soft pastel green that is very soothing.  Saturday we painted the walls.  I can't tell you how different the room looks and feels. It is a tiny room to begin with, but the solid color makes it appear much larger.  I felt like the woman in the commercial that can't stop looking at her newly painted living room. I could not take my eyes off of it. The only thing I put back on the walls was a crucifix, and I think that I am going to keep most of the walls bare except for the wall leading to the basement where my oil painting of dogwoods looks perfect.  I even uncluttered the cabinet and like it this way. I might get rid of some things or find other places for them to go. It's like a whole new room!

This morning I was reflecting while again gazing at my newly painted walls, that change often is a good thing. It helps us to look at things differently, with a new perspective, and often with a eye for possibilities that we would not have considered before. I bet you think I am going to be posting about the changes in the text of the English translation of the Missal.  While it is true that I am very much immersed in introducing the new texts in parishes throughout our diocese, this is not what I am referring to.  A few days ago I posted a rant about having to cancel presentations for adults in the parish due to lack of interest.  I was extremely frustrated, as would anyone who worked as hard as our team to come up with decent programs to form adults in the faith. A number of people pointed a few things out to me that got me thinking.  The biggest observation was that perhaps what we as a parish staff and adult formation team are focusing on what we think they need and not what they want.  There is probably some truth to that, although a few years ago we did conduct a survey and based our programs on the results of it.  But in few years things can change.  The Millennials have come of age and I have been told that their needs for religion and spirituality are different than the generations before them.  But that doesn't get us off the hook in teaching them the truth about our faith.  In actuality, I think their needs and desires are the same, they are just not aware that what they are looking for in life, is God.


What needs to be changed is the way we reach out to not only the new generation of Catholics, but to all Catholics as well.  Technology is changing the world and maybe it's time to take advantage of advances in information communication and use these new tools to evangelize.  Who knows, instead of sitting in their cars texting their friends they could be reading a reflection on their iPhone about Catholic teaching on the family.  We could use Facebook to send out little bits of information that would make them think about their faith in a way they never did before.  In addition to using technology we could address the needs that both women and men have to socialize with others of their own sex to discuss things that are important in their lives.  This affords a wonderful opportunity to gather together and to talk about their lives, but also to bring in the faith perspective.

So perhaps my minor meltdown last week was a good thing. I called a meeting of our faith formation team for later this week, and my pastor thinks we should form a focus group to explore new ways to reach out to people and meet them where they are.  We need to paint with broader strokes, and hopefully while be open to  what God is calling us to, throw away what is not working, and to evangelize our parishioners in new and exciting ways that will bring them closer to Christ.

October 18, 2011

Faith Cancelled (Updated)

The Pope as declared A Year of Faith beginning on October 11, 2012, the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. I keep hearing about New Evangelizaion and how we need to make an effort to reach out and bring people to Christ, especially Catholics who more than ever are giving into the secular world.  I just can't get excited about this.  It is not that I don't agree with the Pope, for I certainly do on all counts.  My problem sadly is that many people don't care about their faith and despite all that we do, the forces of the secular world are too strong.

Perhaps I am just a bit frustrated right now because today I am cancelling a terrific adult program because no one cares enough about their faith to come.  The program we named Faith Express and it is a 40 minute express class on different aspects of our faith that meets at the same time the children's faith formation classes meet.  One of the complaints we had been receiving from parents is that it is difficult to come in and out of our parking lot at class times. We offered this class so that parents would not have to drop their kids off, go  home and then come back.  It worked well for the first two years although we never got big crowds.  This year it crashed.  No one came except members of my Adult Faith Formation Team.

I must tell you that these sessions are all taught by priests, deacons, parish staff and some parishioners, all who have advanced degrees in Theology. All of the them are good teachers.  We even offered coffee and cookies during the sessions.  As the instructors left their empty sessions over the last few weeks, they found cars all occupied by parents texting, talking on the phone or reading, some with their engines running, waiting for their children to be dismissed.  I don't get it.

Our parish has a good adult program.  We offer several five week basic theology courses a year, scripture study, workshops, lectures, even films and video series. I can't tell you how many we have had to cancel do to lack of interest. We have tried different times, days, more advertising , sending out letters, encouraging people anyway we can.  The diocese thinks we have a great program, but still only a few or no one shows up.

Tonight I have scheduled a lecture on Blessed Pope John Paul II.  I am praying that some people attend other than my team.  The last two lectures we held were embarrassing when only three from my team attended and no one else. The speakers were good and well prepared.  My presentation last week on the revised texts had 17 people attend out of a parish of 3,000 families.

New Evangelization?  How do you evangelize people who don't want to be evangelized?  How do you reach people who do not want to hear what we have to say?  It gets tiring week after week, year after year.  I sometimes just want to give up.  But I won't.  In a few minutes I will go to our meeting room and wait for our guest speaker to arrive.  I know that some of my team at least will be there. I know the talk will be good and we will get something out of it.  Maybe as others have said, we will need to be satisfied with a smaller Church of people who are faith filled.  I hope the the New Evangelization committee in the Vatican can answer some of my concerns, for I know I am not alone in feeling this way.

Enough of my rant for this evening.  All I can do right now is hope.

UPDATE:  Four people came to the presentation last evening (two of them were on the committee)...but unfortunately the presenter put the wrong date in his calendar and he didn't show up.  The Lord must be trying to teach us something by this.  I wish He would make it clear.

October 16, 2011

Thirsting for God


As a deer longs for flowing streams,so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God,for the living God.When shall I come and beholdthe face of God? My tears have been my food day and night,while people say to me continually,‘Where is your God?’ 
This afternoon at our monthly Oblate meeting we reflected on the first stanza of Psalm 42.  Like a growing number of lay Catholics, I pray the psalms every day.  Of all the psalms my two favorite have to do with thirsting for God. Psalm 63 is my favorite and Psalm 42 comes a close second.  The idea of "thirsting" for God speaks very loudly to me.  We all experience physical thirst at times although it is no where near the thirst that people experience who have no clean water to drink and truly thirst. However the kind of thirst the Psalmist is speaking of is not the physical but the spiritual. It is that thirst for God which can be so deep that at times it mimics true physical thirst, but is usually that longing that St. Augustine speaks of when he wrote, "You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You."

One of the questions we were asked to reflect on was our experience of God, in what ways do I need to experience God.   While having a mystical experience of God would probably bring me great joy and consolation, after spending two years pondering the writings of John of the Cross I have become quite comfortable doing without personal theophanies or other mystical experiences.  Have I had them?  I can honestly say I have, and it was great, but I am at a point in my life right now where my relationship with God does not depend on mystical experiences.  This does not mean I don't experience God, it is just that He reveals Himself in the ordinary, in the people I see everyday, in my family, friends and in my ministry. I experience Him in His Word and in the Eucharist. I don't always feel His presence, but through Faith I know He is here with me always.

Desire and longing for God is a thirst that I know will not be quenched on this earth, but it gives me Hope.  Hope is something that I believe is lacking today.  There are too many cynics, too many pessimists and far too many living without Hope. It is true that there are a lot of things that are wrong in the world today and in seems as if the evil one is getting the upper hand. But there is always Hope.  Hope is that flowing stream, that running water that cools and refreshes and quenches the thirst we have for something greater than ourselves, Someone who is the source of all our Hope.

October 15, 2011

Real Time or God Time

Last night I caught a snippet of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher."  I had never seen the show because I don't like Maher as an on screen journalist, if you could call him that, but while channel surfing I heard the word "religion." Being who I am, that sparked my curiosity so I kept the channel on.  He was introducing Penn Jillette from the duo Penn and Teller.  Penn and Teller are magicians and comedians and Jillette is an espoused atheist and libertarian. Maher was interviewing him to promote Jillette's new book "God, No."  I don't know what makes Jillette an expert on religion, but he stated that he was in youth group as a teen and read the entire Bible and that anyone who really reads it will come to the conclusion that there is no God. "The best way to become an atheist is to read the Bible,"he said. He agreed with Maher that the Old Testament is full of some horrible things but  Jillette added that the New Testament is just as horrifying and is anti-family saying that it basically states, "No matter how much you love your family, love Jesus more."  He sees something terribly wrong with that. He also spoke of morality and stated that  if you are doing what you are doing for a reward or because of fear of eternal punishment then it's not really moral living. He said we should live moral lives  out of love and out of love alone.

The problem I see with Jillette's logic is in his reading of scripture. He is reading it on the surface only, without digging deeper and certainly without prayer. He did admit that to come to his conclusion he did not study the scriptures  but read them almost like an historical text.  I just can't abide by his assessment of what the scriptures are saying. Yes, Jesus is asking us to put Him first, but in doing so, we are not abandoning our families but loving them all the more. To put Jesus first is to follow His Way, to live a life striving for holiness in our relationships with God and with all humanity, especially our families.

With regard to morality I agree with Jillette that we should live moral lives out of love and out of love alone. But here we part company. We must strive to live morally out of love, but we are not perfect people and just as young children learn by giving positive and negative reinforcement, God encourages us to live good lives by offering us the heavenly reward and instilling a fear of eternity in hell.  Hopefully as we grow and mature in our relationship with Christ, we will live good and holy lives out of Love of God alone.  But there is nothing wrong with "the fear of God," as motivation to living a moral life as we progress toward perfection. 

As I stated, I never watched Bill Maher before and I probably never will again. As a self admitted "former Catholic," he sees nothing wrong with bashing religion and a quick look on YouTube at past episodes show that he seems to enjoy it. As for Penn Jilliette, I could do without him and his partner as well. I never found them funny or entertaining, and I have a problem with show business personalities speaking as experts on religion and politics, especially when they take cheap shots at Christianity or any religion for that matter.

Christianity and Catholicism especially seem to be acceptable targets for ridicule these days, especially in the media. We also know that Christians are being persecuted and martyred in the Middle East, in Asia and other areas of the world, but this kind of persecution is more subtle.  No one dies, no one is hurt, but we have a gradual eroding of faith especially among those who are vulnerable to believing most of what they see and hear in the medial. We seem to just sit back and let it happen.  Perhaps it is time to fight back with prayer, fasting and speaking out when we see this kind of ridicule and spreading of lies about our faith.  It is time to stand up for Christ.

October 13, 2011

Making the Mundane Holy


Most of my time at work these past two weeks have been filled with paperwork, forms, inputting data and checking the status of our many, many parish volunteers. Thanks to the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People all our parish and school volunteers have to undergo background checks and Virtus training. I agree that, unfortunately, all this is necessary but it seems that each year we are required to add more requirements and paperwork to achieve compliance before the national auditors visit the diocese. Since one of my responsibilities in the parish is volunteer administrator, all this falls on my shoulders.  Yesterday found me complaining to whomever would listen about how all this monotonous work had nothing to do with the ministry I was well educated for and was leaving me little time to do my other work like prepare for classes I am teaching, RCIA, getting ready for the "Missal launch," and for meetings with different ministry groups.

Last evening, after complaining to my husband, he reminded me that St. Benedict asked that those who follow his Rule view work, even the most mundane, as prayer and necessary for the journey toward holiness. As an Oblate I know this, but when it came down to doing this tremendously boring and arduous task, all I thought about was the fact that I didn't want to do it.  He also reminded me that out of obedience I am called to do all that those who have authority over me (my pastor/boss, the diocesan offices) require me to do as part of my job. Again I was given a healthy dose of humility.

As I approached the pile of papers on my desk this morning, I also recalled the words of St. Benedict who wrote, “Whenever you begin any good work you should first of all make a most pressing appeal to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection.” So I began work today praying that I would please God through my work.  It is still boring, but at least I am not resenting it. I also realised that it doesn't all have to be done today and that if I do this work a little at a time it won't seem so overwhelming and I could still get my other work done.

I was also reminded of all those who work at mundane tasks day after day, month after month, year after year just to make a living and provide for their families. These are the forgotten workers, the ones on assembly lines and in factories, those doing repetitive office work, or work  no one else wants to do. They don't complain, they are just happy to have a job, and in these tough economic times that is a blessing.  I offer my work today for them.

October 12, 2011

Priorities


One of the things that occupied my time during my recovery was watching HGTV.  For those not familiar with it, Home and Garden Television is made up mostly of decorating and home improvement shows and since I am in the process of redecorating in preparation of my daughter's wedding one year from today, the shows offer me many ideas. For the most part, the designs are way beyond my budget, but I still get some suggestions that I can possibly translate into a cheaper counterpart.  One of the shows that is on often is House Hunters.  In this show, couples looking for new home are shown three possibilities to choose from.  The camera follows them room through room as they comment on what they NEED in a home.  It often amazes me what these people think is absolutely necessary. If the kitchen hasn't been remodeled since 2005 and doesn't have granite countertops it's too dated.  The master bedroom has to be the size of a football field.  And my favorite, the bathroom has to be big enough to host a party with half the neighborhood.  

I remember when we went shopping for our first home.  We were 24 years old, married a year and a half, had no kids, and figured the house we found was the perfect starter home. It cost us less than what we  spent for our kids college tuition for a year and less than what some people pay for a luxury car these days. We ended up staying and we have lived here for thirty-three years.  Our house, by HGTV standards is tiny.  Our king size bed practically takes up the entire bedroom, there is one small closet and we don't have an "en suite" bath.  In fact, we only have one bathroom in the whole house that is smaller than a walk in closet.  I discovered some important things over the years. A family of five can live just fine with one bathroom, even as the kids became adults. Friends of mine had eight kids and only one bath and they survived. As far as a kitchen goes, what do granite counters actually do for you and bamboo flooring has to be washed the same as linoleum tiles. I discovered that having an 8x10 bedroom isn't going to destroy a kid's life, and sharing a room made my daughters close friends. With regard to property, a small yard can be just as nice as an acre or more and there is a lot less to mow. We have a needlepoint hanging in our kitchen that says "A small house is better than a large mortgage."  We own our home and even though it would be nice to have a bit more room (and storage), now that the kids are almost all moved out we are finding it is a good size "empty nest" home.  And the biggest advantage, there is less to clean.

I have a few friends and relatives who have built homes for Habitat for Humanity. This organization, founded in 1976, builds homes for the poor and has grown to an international organization. The homes are simple and small but have all the necessities for a family to live in comfortably. But there are so many people in the world who live in substandard housing, in shacks and shanteys with no electricity or running water.  And then there are those, even in our own communities who wander the streets homeless with all their possessions in a shopping cart they took from a supermarket parking lot.  Necessities?  I live in luxury compared to them.  It makes me truly reflect on my priorities in life.

I don't deny people the joy of having a large house with all the most up to date amenities.  I guess if you have the money why not have a great big home to enjoy. My own extended family and friends have beautiful homes that I enjoy visiting. The thing that bothers me is the idea that so many people think these luxuries in a home are necessary to find happiness and TV shows like this perpetuate this myth.

Jesus tells us in Matthews Gospel, "Foxes have lairs and birds have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head (Mt 8:20).  What is important to finding happiness is not where we live, not how big our home is or if we have granite and stainless steel in our kitchens.  We find happiness by following Christ, caring for the poor, and sharing His message of Love, Hope and Mercy.