Hands of Homeless Man with Change in CupThere are different kinds of watchfulness, aren’t there?

• There is the watchfulness of a child for the arrival of St. Nicholas and Santa Claus. It’s that wide eyed, on tip toes, openness and excitement to the possibilities of something good.
• There is the watchfulness of a security guard making his night rounds – especially after he has heard an unfamiliar noise.
• There is the watchfulness of a family around the deathbed of a loved one at the end of a long illness.
• There is the watchfulness of a college student for the due date of the paper/project.
• There is the watchfulness of a lover for the sound of her/his beloved at the door.
• There is the watchfulness of an expectant mother awaiting the beginning of labor pains.
We ‘watch’ with all kinds of different ‘eyes and ears and hearts’ – depending on the situation in our lives. What kind of ‘watchfulness’ are you into these days?

In the gospel, Jesus seems to be calling us to be aware that God is breaking into the world NOW, inviting us to see the extraordinary hidden in the midst of the ordinary. He does not seem to be warning us that the end of the world is coming, or that our own end is coming, although both are surely going to end someday. “It is like a man who went on a journey,” he tells us. Travel was not as predictable in terms of starting and ending as our days. You never knew just when the master would return. That was just a fact of traveling. So this passage is not a call to dread and fear about the future, as much as calling us to be more aware of, and more actively alive in the present. We are not called to quake at the thought of the coming of God, but to be found steady and prepared, serving at our post when He comes. “Watch! Be Awake!” we are told.

So if you could condense that kind of waiting, the watchfulness of advent down to two words; wouldn’t they be these two? “What if?” ”What if…”

Now I am not talking about the guilty “What if I would have done that better or differently,” but rather “the leaning forward, edge of the seat, on tip toes, filled with possibility” – expectation of something good and life changing about to happen.

So, What if Jesus was wanting to speak to DIRECTLY to you/me in just ONE encounter of each day of Advent? What if we EXPECTED Jesus to deliver us one message each day – maybe in a conversation, maybe in an insight, maybe through something we saw in the papers or heard in the news – would You/I hear it? Would we be present enough to that moment to let it change us?

He did that for me on Thanksgiving day. Just before the “Holy, Holy” one of our usual folks came in, sat for a moment, and then began to ‘make their rounds’, asking for whatever they ask for. (Usually, money for coffer, I think.) And I found myself getting angry, because I only see them while I am in the middle of saying mass, and never get the chance to “invite them not to disturb people at prayer.” As those thoughts were floating in my head, and the protective ‘frustration’ was starting to rise, and my ‘righteous anger’ was hitting its peak (all in the space of about 45 seconds) Jesus spoke directly to me in the next words of the Eucharistic prayer I was praying. “In your compassion, O merciful Father, gather to yourself ALL your children, scattered throughout the world.” … Dang, I was so busted. Because one of those children I was praying about was right in front of me, there in the back of church. And I heard the invitation of what I was praying: What if I really believed those words I was saying… Do I really try to love them with the compassion of God? …I knew the answer in my heart of hearts. Sigh…

There are other ‘What if’s” of Advent, more practical and more about actions than about attitudes.

What if each time we heard an ambulance/fire engine/police car drive by, we would stop, would REALLY stop – and say a pray for the person being attended to, the structure burning, the first responders involved.

What if each time we shopped, we bought an extra can or two to help those in need?

What if…

Advent is a time to practice active waiting, to prepare for the coming our God. Let those two words guide you. What if… What if…

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peaceIs the Turkey thawing out slowly in the ‘fridge’? Do I have enough yams for the sweet potato lovers in the family? Will anybody really go down in the basement this year or can I skip cleaning it this holiday? Those are some of the usual suspects of things undone that can pre-occupy our thoughts this Thanksgiving week. When was the last time I checked the level of the transmission fluid in the family car? How about those air filters on the furnace? Are the fire extinguishers in the house up to date? Those are some of the un-usual suspects of things undone that can lead to trouble. And then, there are these: Have I clothed the naked, have I fed the hungry, visited those in prison, or cared for the sick? According to our Lord, those are THE ONES that can lead us to everlasting trouble.

What is undone in your/our world today?

For the St. Louis/Ferguson community, I suspect it is the things that are “UNDONE” that will be at the heart of whatever protest appears. The Michael Brown shooting was a terrible, but perhaps preventable tragedy on BOTH sides. But what has followed, is less about Michael Brown and more about what has been undone. We have not loved our neighbor as our selves. We have stayed silent as our Normandy education system slid further and further away from helping people out of poverty. We have not ended the addictions that fuel the drug battles that ended with two more dead on the streets Friday night. We continue to let the racial and economic divide between the haves and have not’s influence policy and laws and actions. We have left many, many things undone.

In today’s gospel, both the righteous and the unrighteous are surprised by the sentence that the King passes upon them. It was you that we loved or didn’t love? Though we can reflect on both groups, perhaps in light of whatever the events the coming days will send our way, we might do some fruitful praying around “what has been left undone.”

The second group is not judged for committing the seven deadly sins, or for endangering or rioting or theft. The only thing the King says as he judges them is that they failed to act in love, withholding love when they could have extended it; failing to notice or to care in the face of human need. In our time, what was undone for decades, both systemically and individually, has left us in quite a mess.

And here is perhaps a hard truth about things left undone. It does not matter “WHO” didn’t do them, they are still undone. (It doesn’t matter who didn’t replace the fire extinguisher when you need to use it and it doesn’t work.) Things left undone leave NO ONE off the hook. Not the protestors, violent or non-violent, nor the police officers, good or bad, nor the citizens of Ferguson, nor the people of our beloved St. Ann community, nor myself. What is left undone in our communities is a task for all of us. It is a task for us all.

How many acts of injustice have gone unchecked in our society, like weeds growing amuck in an untended garden, simply because good people failed to care, or to risk getting involved? This past Wednesday, the state of Missouri killed its 9th inmate to prove that killing is wrong. The Affordable Care Act, according to the website “Priests for Life”, uses tax payer monies to fund abortions. Our welfare system works against the family unit and often discourages people from seeking gainful employment and careers. Again and again, we are undone by those things we have left undone.

As we acknowledge our Savior to be our King, we are invited to do a little reflecting this weekend. Let me share with you one of the confession prayers in the Anglican Book of Common prayer. It is a slight variation from our own penitential rite, but hopefully different enough for us to really ‘hear’ today’s gospel message:

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against thee
in thought, word and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved thee with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

If we are all honest, there is MUCH that we have left undone. As we honor Christ the King this week, make a decision to do at least ONE of those undone things for the least of our brothers and sisters in Ferguson. Cross it off the list. Get it done. Get it done…

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soccer gameA few years ago, I watched my former high school boy’s soccer team playing for the state championship. It was a great game with Borgia losing in the final 3 minutes of the 4th sudden victory overtime. There was a moment in the 3rd overtime that has vividly stayed in my memory. Borgia was applying significant pressure, and a Notre Dame player hit a long clearing ball toward the midfield. I watched Borgia’s sweeper hesitate for about 1 second, and then he took off to intercept the ball before it got to the opposing player. It was a quick, split second decision, but in that decision, he took a huge risk. If he doesn’t get the ball, then the other team has a breakaway. If he does get to it, they keep the pressure on. (as the case was, he did not get there first, and only a great save by the goal keeper kept the game going.)

Do you like to play it safe in the game of life or are you a risk taker? It seems like today’s gospel is less about sums of money, and more about the willingness to take risks. The first two quickly go and double their earnings – an adventure fraught with risk in those days as well as our own. As for the third, as he tries to ‘justify his actions, he says: “I knew you were a hard man…so, out of fear, I went and buried your money in the ground.” Out of fear, I chose not to take a risk. Out of fear, I played it safe. Out of fear, what you gave me is returned, unharmed, safe and sound.

It seems so harsh, the response. “Take what he has. Give it to another.” For to live in fear is not the way of the kingdom. To play it safe gains no points in the kingdom of heaven. Either you risk it all, or you will have nothing. “For whomever would save his life, will lose it, but whomever loses his life, for my sake will gain it.”

Do you like to play it safe or are you a risk taker? For it seems that there is no ‘safe ground’ in the gospel. Each moment becomes a moment when we can risk. Each moment, becomes an opportunity to double what we have been given. Or to bury what has been handed on to us. The choice becomes ours.

I confess, for many years, when I heard this gospel, I immediately thought, well, I’m the poor beggar who only received one talent – not much there, not much to give or share or grow. Not the five, surely not the ten talents were entrusted to me. Yet, I have come to realize that I have been given much. That we all have been given much.

One talent is 16 years worth of wages for a worker in the time of Jesus. So even if I only received the one – there has been a rich deposit given to me, a vast treasure dumped into my laps. It is the gift of faith and the knowledge of the love of God and family and parents poured into my heart. I am so rich and so blessed, and so gifted. Last night, the Archbishop spoke of the rich heritage of grace at the Newman Center for these past 50 years. I am so gifted to have served there, these past 14 1/2 years, and here at St. Ann these past 12 ½ years

This story, which was addressed to the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, becomes a story addressed to each of us who have received the rich deposit of faith and love in Jesus. And the question becomes, not, will I risk sharing it, but HOW will I risk sharing what I have received.
A few suggestions…

• Ask your spouse, your boyfriend or girlfriend, or just one of your good friends to pray together with you.
• Though we know not the day nor the hour, it seem apparent that something is about to happen soon in Ferguson. What are you willing to risk to bring about PEACE these days? What hard conversations will you chose, so as to make a difference in understanding between the citizens and the thin blue line of police and firefighters and first responders? Who do you need to have that conversation with?
• Make a commitment to adopt a family this Christmas – you can do the 100 neediest cases or through our Vincent de Paul society…

It was a split second decision by the sweeper – a bold risk that I am not sure I would have taken. But he did, and I am different because of his risk. I pray this week, that when I am given that opportunity, that split second moment to share what has been handed on to me – that I too, might have the courage to risk it all…

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St John Lateran Basilica(i.e.: Something that Jesus or Paul or any of the New Testament writers said that doesn’t quite work for you?)

It may not have been Paul’s best moment as a writer. It certainly does not match the poetry 10 chapters later – with those great images of love as patient and kind, not jealous, enduring and hoping and bearing all things. In fact, it is pretty blunt.

“You are God’s building.”

Really? That’s what you have for us, Paul? A building? Bricks and stones and mortar? Steel and concrete and glass? Sorry. Not doing much for me. Nor is this feast day – the feast of John Lateran. I get that it is the Pope’s cathedral church in Rome. Before the current St. Peter’s was built in the 1600’s, it was the home of the popes. It has survived fires and earthquakes. But when it is all said and done, it is just a building. Just a place where people gather, like so many other places and like our dear St. Ann’s here…

“You are God’s building.” It is just not doing it for me…

But here is where my prayer took a turn this week. What happens when you turn the noun at the end of that sentence into a VERB? You are God’s BUILDING. Not a noun, not a ‘place’ – but a ‘becoming’; an ‘experience’, a ‘creation.” You are the place where God is actively working in YOU to shape you and form you and make of your life something amazing. God is trying to make of you something for the good of our world; for the good of each of our brothers and sisters.

SO what might God want to be BUILDING in each of us? On what appears to be the eve of whatever announcement is coming down in Ferguson, what might God’s Spirit be trying to construct within and among us? There are some who will try to build a violent, vindictive world – inciting for an eye for an eye kind of response. There are others who are trying for something different. And better. Barry Buchek let me know of an initiative called Compassionate Cities – an expansion of the “Charter for Compassion” movement started by Karen Armstrong. At its heart, it is a movement to make the golden rule be the center of everything that we do – first as individuals, and then as communities.

So, what if we allowed that principal of compassion to be the “building” that God is doing in each of us? Would not that be a proper response to the days ahead? What if we made St. Ann parish an intentional community of compassion? What if the ‘building’ we let God do in us is precisely the choice to let compassion in.

Here is how the charter begins. Let me read it slowly – to see if it connects you to whatever dream God is trying to build in our hearts, both as individuals and then as members of St. Ann and our surrounding community of Ferguson:

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly
• to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures,
• to dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and put another there,
• and to honor the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and emphatically from inflicting pain.
• To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest,
• to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody,
• to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity.
We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

Though there is more to the charter, these three movements are a wonderful starting place:
• to Act from Compassion;
• to refrain from inflicting pain;
• and to acknowledge our failures when we do indeed fall.

We are God’s building? As a matter of fact, we are. And God is not done with us yet. Thank God, God is not done with any of us yet…

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vintage phonetelephone-operatorMy mom has one of the LIFE-ALERT buttons should she fall. St. Mary’s hospital had been hosting the service, but decided to divest itself of that service, so as to better fulfill its primary mission. Vicky Hohl, the woman who oversaw the program, sent a note with the necessary information for the changeover. In additions, she sent a lovely personal note, as well as a lovely story that has stayed with me. I share a slightly abbreviated version of it with you today.

When I was quite young, my father had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood. I was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination. I discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person – her name was “Information Please” and she knew so much! “Information Please” could supply anybody’s number and the correct time.

My first personal experience came one day while my mother was visiting a neighbor. Playing at the tool bench in the basement, I hit my finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible, but there didn’t seem to be any reason in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy. Then I thought: “The telephone!” Climbing a footstool, I said, “Information Please,” into the mouthpiece just above my head. A small clear voice spoke into my ear. “Information.” “I hurt my finger. . .” The tears came readily, now that I had an audience.
“Isn’t your mother home?” came the question.
“Nobody’s home but me.” I blubbered.
“Are you bleeding?” “No,” I replied. “I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts.”
“Can you open your icebox?” she asked. I said I could.
“Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it to your finger,” said the voice.

After that, I called “Information Please” for many things. I asked her for help with my geography, and she told me where Philadelphia was. I asked, “How do you spell fix?”, and she told me.
Then, there was the time Petey, our pet canary died. I called “Information Please” and told her the sad story. She listened, and then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child. But I was unconsoled. I asked her, “Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?”

She must have sensed my deep concern, for she said quietly, “Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in.” Somehow I felt better.

All this took place in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. When I was 9 years old, we moved across the country. I missed my friend. But “Information Please” belonged in that old wooden box back home, and I somehow never thought of calling her from my new home. As I grew up, I thought about how kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy.

Years later, on my way west to college, my plane put down in Seattle. Without thinking what I was doing, I dialed my hometown operator and said, “Information, Please”. Miraculously, I heard the small, clear voice I knew so well. “Information.” I hadn’t planned this but I heard myself saying, “Could you please tell me how to spell fix?”

There was a long pause. Then came the soft spoken answer: “I guess your finger must have healed by now.” I laughed. “So it’s really still you,’ I said.” “I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time.”
I wonder”, she said, “If you know how much your calls meant to me? I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls.” I told her how often I had thought of her over the years and I asked if I could call her again when I came back to visit my sister. “Please do,” she said. “Just ask for Sally.”

Three months later I was back in Seattle. A different voice answered “Information.” I asked for Sally.
“Are you a friend?” she said. “Yes, a very old friend,” I answered. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” she said. “Sally had been working part-time the last few years because she was sick. She died five weeks ago.” Before I could hang up she said, “Wait a minute. By any chance, is your name Paul?” “Yes it is.” “Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called. Let me read it to you.”

The note says: “Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in. He’ll know what I mean.”

I thanked her and hung up. I knew what Sally meant.

Today, on All Souls Day, we remember that there are indeed other worlds to sing in. Our loved ones who have gone before us are gone from our sight, but not from our lives.

In our second reading, St. Paul says this important sentence: “I would not have you grieve as those who have no hope.” The message is not that we would not grieve. Of course we would. When someone we love dies, our world is changed forever, and there is an empty place no one else could fill. Yet we do not grieve “as those who have no hope”.

For it is our faith that there is a life beyond what we can see, and we have a deep connection with our loved ones who have died, even now. And somehow, like that little boy and that woman on the other end of the phone, God gives us each other along the way.

Together, as fellow travelers on the way, we remember that there are other worlds to sing in.

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listenDid Michael Brown hear those words?
Did Daren Wilson hear those words?
Did the rioters and looters in Ferguson hear those words?
Did the serial killer just arrested in Indiana hear those words?
Did Jaylen Fryberg of Maryville, Washington hear those words?
I wonder…

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself. Somehow the data suggest that a lot of people have not really heard those words in a way that makes a difference. What I know is this:

These words will be heard by this weekend by Christians who on Monday will gain substantial commissions on financial products that put their clients at high risk of losing their life’s savings.

These words will be heard by Christians who exploit foreign workers, pay them below minimum wage, and threaten them with deportation if they complain.

These words will be heard by Christians who close their eyes to the cruelty, violence, and suffering that affect so many innocent people today. So many that Pope Francis has said we are the midst of a Third World War, but one spread out piecemeal across the globe.

How is it that Christians can live as if Jesus never said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself”?

Perhaps that can happen because when we hear the Gospel we often hear what we want to hear, and in the way we want to hear it, and then we are deaf to those words that challenge and indict our way of living. The problem is not with the words, but with our hearing.

We hear Jesus speak of loving God with all our being and we decide that we fulfill that command by going to Sunday Mass. We think that love of God merely means being at an act of worship an hour a week. Pray and sing, kneel and stand, and then ‘we are done with that till next Sunday.’ An alum posted on her facebook page this morning: “Since I can’t sleep, I might as well go to mass and get that out of the way.” Hmm….

We hear Jesus speak of loving our neighbor as ourselves, and we decide what people fit that category. Neighbors are the kind of people we like living near us, playing with our children, inviting us to their social gatherings, and agreeing with our politics.

There is a problem with our hearing, isn’t there? No matter how well intentioned we might be, until our lives begin to match the life of Jesus, then we have not ‘heard’ the words in the way the need to be heard. We need a set of Christian hearing aids – that will help us in the concrete decisions of our lives be like Jesus who lived those words.

For Jesus, loving God meant making the Father’s will the guide for his life. “Not my will but yours be done,” spoke those Christian hearing aids into Jesus’ ears. In every choice, those words guided his actions.

Loving his neighbors meant associating with the outcast, the powerless, the sinner. It meant seeing those that society ignored and discarded with the eyes of the God who made them. It meant saying from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

So, if Christian hearing aids existed, what would they be ‘translating into our ears these days?’ A quick look at the papers gives us a place to start. Wouldn’t they be saying we need to be standing with the families of both Michael Brown in their sorrow, and Daren Wilson in his fight for a just hearing. That we need to be finding a way to end the scourge of gun violence that tragically has taken the lives of 113 on the streets of St. Louis this year, and 2 people just yesterday at a high school in Washington State. That we need to help the countries stricken with the Ebola epidemic, not just to prevent it from ‘coming here’, but because thousands are dying daily.

And so it goes. We know these words by heart. As did all the Michael Browns and Daren Wilsons and Jaylen Frybergs and each brother and sister who let them bounce too quickly off their eardrums and not into their heart. This week – put on a new set of ears, a new set of spiritual hearing aids – so that the words that truly guided Jesus in all of his choices, might be our guide as well.

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chalice1“Whose image is this and whose inscription?” was the question that Jesus asked. Though directed to his adversaries about the coin in his hand and in the broader scope, – the rendering to Caesar what is his and to God what is God’s – it seems like one of those ‘bigger questions that stands on its own. It is one that kind of ‘floats down the ages’, one that has less to do with politics immediately and everything to do with how we view one another. If you remember way back in that first story of creation in the first chapter of Genesis (vs.26) you hear God saying: “Let us make man and woman in our image …” If we really see whose image is “written” all over the people around us; if we really saw the ‘inscription’ that marked them at God’s sons and daughters by baptism; if we really let THAT truth sink in, wouldn’t it hugely effect how we “spend” our time with them, or how we treat them. If all of the people around us belong to God – and we know this because we can see God’s image in and on them, then this passage is really about how we “repay” or offer back to God, the gifts of those around us.

<<pick up chalice>> This chalice belonged to Msgr. Sprenke. I used it a lot when mine was being repaired. I have always been struck by its beauty. I’ve always wondered about the large diamond that is in the center of the cross. Certainly it is stunningly beautiful. Almost distractingly so, as I usually turn the cross side to face you so I don’t get caught up in admiring it as I consecrate the wine.

So what if our safe broke and I sent this home, student by student, day by day during the course of the year, for you to keep safe and then to bring it back for the following Sunday’s mass – how do you think that would go? Don’t you think that people would treat this as the treasure we know it to be, something of complete value and worth? I’d like to think it would not get tossed on the pile of dirty laundry in the corner of the room. I’d like to think each would treat it with great care, and great honor, respecting both the dignity of its beauty, but also what it is used for – to hold the precious Blood of Jesus. Wouldn’t we honor it and care for it? I think so.

And yet, we who are much more in God’s image than this chalice, don’t we treat each other so poorly at times. We can find all kinds of ‘good’ reasons to do so. “He started it.” “They looked down their nose at me”. “They never remember my name.” And those are just the ‘good’ justifications for bad behaviors. And as humans, we can behave in pretty ugly ways toward one another, can’t we, that makes it hard for others to see the God-self beneath our exterior. We can find a hundred ways to forget that question: “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” in the person who is before us, as well as the person looking back at us in the mirror.

  • I was on the sidewalk walking to get into the college church a while back on my way to a wedding rehearsal and a young boy about 9 or 10, with his father and a sister a few steps behind approached me. He asked for a handout. I wasn’t prepared for that question coming from a ‘family unit – individuals, maybe, but not a dad and two kids’. I didn’t even make eye contact as I mumbled some kind of response and walked on. I was so busted. Though I may not have been obliged to give them assistance, I was certainly called to treat them with the dignity of the sons and daughters of God.

“Whose image is this and whose inscription?”

Our faith tells us that God has written the Divine image into each sister and brother and carved their name into the palm of his hand.

Practically this week, as often as a coin comes across your hand this week – ask the question – whose image, whose inscription is on the face of the person closest to me at that moment. Maybe it is the cashier at the store. Maybe it is the roommate who came in drunk last night. Maybe it is the sister you don’t always see eye to eye with. Whoever, it is, treat them as you would repay your debt to God.

chalice2It is an amazing chalice (pick it up). Perhaps one day I’ll know the story of the diamond on the center of the cross that so captures my eye with its beauty. But I can tell you this about it, as often as I pick this up and see that diamond, it is never worth more than you whom I see past my hands as I hold it up. This is just a beautiful chalice. YOU – you are the image and likeness of God.

“Whose image is this and whose inscription?” -God’s. Only God’s.

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invitationIt is a strange ending, isn’t it, to today’s gospel passage. The guy is invited last minute to the feast, and then is yelled at and kicked out because he did not have time to rent a tux. How do we understand this? Is it really about the clothes he is wearing? Or something more?

So let me share a true story from our priest’s convocation last month that may help. I had the gift of sitting at the table with the Archbishop Carlson for one of the morning sessions. The work of that morning’s session was to name the values for us as priests to live in our relationships with one another. In the course of our conversation, the Archbishop articulated two ‘negative’ values, as things he did NOT want to see, as a way of helping us own what we DID want to see. He said there is no room in the priesthood for:

  • Priests in private practice
  • and what he called “the second Tribalism” — priests who only relate to those who think the same way they do.

Nothing will destroy a diocesan priesthood more quickly than those two trends. Nothing will prevent the bonds of fraternity from deepening than those attitudes.

I have reflected on those words these past few weeks since our return from Convocation. I realized that I am guilty sometimes of being a “pastor in private practice”. You have been very patient as I have slowly learned how to be a pastor ‘while on the job’ here. But more often than not, I tend to hold my own counsel in terms of decisions, and in terms of the running of the parish. Though that is an efficient way to make decisions, it does not work very well in terms of using the gifts of the baptized. It speaks of an attitude that does not shepherd the community by empowering its leaders. It is easy to be a pastor in private practice.

It, I fear, is also easy to be a parishioner in ‘private practice’. “I come to mass. I get there just in time or on St. Ann time. I say the prayers, lend my slightly off key or wonderful voice to the singing. I receive the Lord in communion. And make my way home without ever having interacted with the people in the pew two in front or two behind me. And more importantly, without ever asking how God might be inviting me to be a parishioner in PUBLIC PRACTICE – connecting, serving, giving of who I am in concrete, tangible ways.”

THAT is why the man is thrown out of the banquet. He was ‘there’ physically, but not there, ‘dressed for the banquet’ – not engaged in doing the work of the kingdom – by being involved in relationships, caring for others, giving of who he was for the good of others. Sure, he could have gotten a garment from a supply that most hosts would have in a side closet. (like the jackets and ties that some fancy restaurants also provide.) But the fact that he didn’t and that he stayed silent said he was only there for the food and nothing else. This little story, tells us exactly what the Archbishop said that morning around the table: there is no room in the kingdom for people trying to go it alone, people unwilling to get involved in life, involved in relationships, involved in caring for others. The bouncers toss him from the gathering because he is unwilling to do what the celebration asks of him.

To put it another way, it is not sufficient just to be called/just to be a catholic. Once one answers the call, one must choose to be ready for the festival, to be prepared for the joy, to dress for the event. Everyone is invited, but the decision as to what you do when you arrive is up to you.

Concretely, like that exercise at the priests’ convocation, this week in your prayer, if you had to name a few values or virtues that we, as the people of St. Ann should be living, what would you name? We understand that tribalism and private practice don’t cut it. But what does? Hospitality – certainly we do that. Engagement? And how would you be willing to live that out? By volunteering at one event per semester? Make it as concrete as possible. And then please filter those ideas to me, or to the stewardship committee as they work to move me away from being a pastor in private practice.

The good news is that we ALL are invited to the party called the kingdom of heaven. Get ready for it, for it is not just the party of the season, or the century, but of our eternity.

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fruitful lifeThere was a entrepreneur who deeded some land, brought in a railroad company, built a park and started a racially diverse community. It had its ups and downs, like most towns. But then, THE EVENT happened. So the new owners were forced to send servants to protect the town. It did not go well. They drove one into exile, toward others they threw rocks and bottles and at others they shouted racial epithets. So they brought in the National Guard. Those, they treated the same way. Then they sent one of their own, saying, they will respect him. And they did for a short time. But eventually they treated him the same way. What will the owners of the town do to those protestors?

Perhaps it was just me, but the second part of today’s gospel story was eerily parallel to the experience of the people of Ferguson. It did not take me long to ‘rewrite today’s gospel story.’ And though I am not nearly as good a story teller as Jesus was, like many of Jesus’ stories, where he lets the people draw their own conclusions, we, the people of North County are left to create our own ending. What will “the owners of the town or the people who are protesting, or those caught in the crossfire do?” And the ending we create, says as much about us as it says about the community of Ferguson.

In the gospel, Jesus asks his listeners to answer the question. One interpretation of Jesus’ conclusion to their choice of how to respond was that they got the answer wrong. They wanted to call down vengeance, ‘bring that bad crowd to a bad end.’ To which Jesus says: “THAT IS WHY the kingdom will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” Violence is never the answer in the kingdom. And whether that is the institutional violence of the powers that be, the response of those oppressed, and the resultant next round of violence in response to the response – Jesus says: Wrong answer. Try again. Please. All who think the Kingdom of God is going to be a matter of violence and putting those bad people to a bad end – please reread the story. Reread not just any story, but Isaiah’s story of the vineyard.

Let me sing my friend’s song concerning his vineyard. Every Jew would know Isaiah’s story. Jesus certainly knew it, and he would have known its poignant plea about the vineyard from the heart of its owner: What more was there to do that I had not done? That is the answer that Jesus was hoping for from those listening, and from us. That somehow our hearts would be filled with that same yearning, that same longing at the heart of the Father for each unarmed, black male, each police officer walking that thin blue line, each resident and shop-owner trying to make their imperfect way in imperfect times through an imperfect city here in North County. He would have them know the yearning love from a God who wants not vengeance and violence, but for them to produce the fruits of love and patience and peace.

St. Paul gives practical advice on how to get there. “Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent and worthy of praise – think of these things.” These are the things that bond communities and individuals together.

Concretely, we can continue to sing the song of God’s vineyard, in the way he wants us to sing that song; in the way that he would write this story in our days. Come and join the Archbishop at January Wabash park this coming Thursday at 4:30 pm – Oct 9th – to pray the rosary, say the Divine Mercy chaplet and pray to Mary, the ‘undoer of knots.” Or find a way to pray those prayers in your own home daily. Pray that Jesus, the cornerstone of peace, might continue to be the cornerstone, not just of Ferguson, MO, but our parish neighborhoods, our families, our homes and our lives.

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vote ad(First, a short homily about the readings for this Sunday.)

I watch just enough TV to know that the mid-term election ads are ramping up. Perhaps because I am becoming a bit more cynical or a bit more realistic, depending upon how you look at it, what I know is this. Promises made in campaigning are not always followed up upon. (Gasp! Horrors! Say it ain’t so, Joe!) A “yes’ to a position in September or October often is followed by a “No” in January. So too, a “No” during election cycles often becomes a “Yes” once elected.

Jesus warns both his disciples and those who were the ‘keepers’ of the law – the powers that be – to be aware of that tendency within us. Who is the one who did the will of God? The one who’s ‘Yes’ was accomplished not in their words, but in their deeds. That truth remains for us, 2000 years later. So, perhaps as a way to get through this election cycle, as often as you see a political ad, certainly evaluate it for the truthfulness of the “Yes” or “No” contained within. But mostly, let it be a reminder to you on your walk of faith of that important question that Jesus poses to US – “Am I saying yes with my words only, or with my deeds as well?”
___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___

(Now, the ‘state of the parish’ address…)

Today is Stewardship Sunday across the Archdiocese. Many of you have probably already read the short version of the past year’s financial report in today’s pastor’s pen. For those who have not, here is the short summary of the short summary. There are three major issues we face as a parish.

1) We were in the red this past year by $21K. And I am proud to say the culprit is our St. Ann school, specifically, our enrollment. Because of the Missouri transfer ruling, we experienced a huge initial decline in enrollment, and slowly recouped some of those students, but still ended the year with a net loss of about 10 students. No one foresaw that coming, and the resultant loss in tuition revenue explains most of the fiscal crunch that we are in. And, salaries and benefits, determined by the Archdiocese, rose by 4.7% from last year.
2) Parish Subsidy: St. Ann parish has always subsidized our school – usually to the tune of $140-150K a year. Because of that loss of tuition, that subsidy rose to $204.5K, a jump of $52K.
3) Cash Flow: As I have written in the Visitation Drive and the Pay It Forward letters, we are a bit strapped for cash because of the boiler replacement of two years ago, and the shortfall from last year. That has been exacerbated by the Alive In Christ revenues – which are a God send, but ONLY hit the books twice a year. Yet we have to pay into it monthly and pay our salaries twice a month. So the cash flow is still problematic.

That is a brief summary of our financial status for this past year. Check the parish website in the next two weeks for a more detailed report.

What is next for our St. Ann parish? Before I answer that, let me tell you WHY we are going to do what we do going forward. And I say that, not in my own words, but in the words of our 7th and 8th grade students. Here is what St. Ann School has meant to them and what it has taught them:

• “I learned at St. Ann that no matter the color you are, we are all equal. We don’t think twice about our color.”
• “Everyone is so kind and this is where I met my ‘family.’
• (in that same vein) “St. Ann school is pretty much home to me.”
• “St. Ann has changed me/taught me how to strive for peace with God, others, myself; even when I feel I can’t do it on my own”
• “St. Ann has taught me what it means to be Catholic and how to live my faith.”

If you have wondered what you might be able to do in the face of the events in Ferguson, MO, you don’t have to look any farther than our St. Ann school. Here we educate not just our 65 St. Ann Parish students, but 12 students from other parishes and 75 non-Catholic students from the neighborhood. This is their family. This is their home, both for their education and for their development as believers in Jesus Christ. This is why we do what we do.

SO, here is what we have done and what I propose going forward.

1) If you supplied us with a working email, you should have received an electronic survey in your inbox. I ask that you take the time this week to fill that out – 8-12 minutes – so we might better help you use your gifts of time and talent as a way of putting your faith into action. Paper copies for others are coming in the next few weeks.

2) To address the issue of Cash flow, I am encouraging people to consider making their gifts electronically. Your weekly or monthly parish gift would be taken automatically from YOUR bank account and deposited in OUR bank account – either using our system of ACH deposits, or your own bank’s Electronic Bill Pay system. This would be for your weekly/monthly parish tithe. Special collections would still use the envelopes. (SHOW FORM) These forms are by the doors. I am not trying to put our money counters out of business, , but I am trying to make it easier for people to put God first in terms of returning to him the gifts God entrusted to them. If you still want to use your envelopes, you need do nothing.

3) We walk a fine line in our tuition increases because our tuition is right at that magic 8% of median income levels at which experts tell us people can no longer afford private school. Yet, because of the higher parish subsidy than normal, we increased tuition by about 5% this year to have parents shoulder more of the actual costs per student. But even that increase will still leave us with an expected shortfall of about $8-9K.

4) So, for the second time in my 12 ¼ years as pastor, I am asking for an increase in your weekly offerings, to fund the mission of our parish and our parish school. While our salaries have risen yearly by about 4%, our weekly parish giving has remained absolutely static for the past 4 years. You know what happens when expenses go like this (upward line) while income goes like this (flat line). Though I am not a whiz on finance, I know that if each household could give an additional $5 a week, we’ll be able to keep treading water, keeping our head afloat. If each household were able to give more, then many things become possible.

Thanks for all you do to keep the vision alive. Thank you for continuing to make me the most blessed pastor in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. I invite you to pray, reflect on God’s goodness to you, and then decide how you will say “Yes”, not just with your words, but with your time, talent and treasure. Together, with God’s help, we’ll keep living faith here at St. Ann’s, just as we have done every year since 1856.

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