Monday, November 17, 2014

Did you know…?

What do you do on days when the weather is so bad that school is cancelled, work is called off and it’s simply too nasty to even think about going outside? Today, of course, many kids have TONS of distractions with video games, mp3 players, iPads and the like. These things weren’t around when I was young so my brothers and I used to entertain each other with trivia. We would find weird facts in magazines or catalogs or stuff we learned in school and challenge each other to guess the right answer. Some of the goofy questions we posed were:
· How many blood cells dose your body produce every second? Answer - 15,000,000
· Which “king” in a deck of cards does not have a mustache? Answer - King of Hearts
· How many pennies are minted each day? Answer - 26,000,000!
· True of false - the Mona Lisa does not have eyebrows. Answer - True
How many of those could you have answered correctly? Several years ago I was asked how many homeless people are residing in Sioux Falls. (Talk about being stumped.) I said that there were probably less than 100 living in our fair city. Imagine my surprise when I was told that there were approximately 700! How would you have answered? Does it surprise you that there are so many?
I have lived my entire life in Sioux Falls. I grew up on the north end near the Cathedral and have always been proud to live here. I have consistently envisioned Sioux Falls as a “big small town” where the needs of the people were always met by someone (family, neighborhood, church, or government). It never dawned on me that there could be so many that “slipped through the cracks”.
Here are some more interesting facts about homeless people in Sioux Falls:
· Over 55% of them have a full-time job.
·  22% are single-parent families.
· 18% are military veterans.
· 218 are children.
The one number that really hits me in the heart is the fact that the Sioux Falls School District identified 935 students who were homeless at some time during the 2013-14 school year - 935! Many spend the nights in vehicles, under bridges, or at a motel (when their parents can afford it). For the last few years the Salvation Army has provided a temporary emergency shelter during the winter months so people would have a place to sleep out of the cold and the elements. They announced early this year that they are no longer able to provide that service.
Most of us don’t have to worry about ever being homeless. We have a place to go, good relatives or friends to help us in times of trouble, and enough of an emergency fund to see us through bad times. But just imagine if you were suddenly homeless. What would you do? Where would go if all of the doors were closed to you?
Enter the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House (BDHH). This is an effort by the Sioux Falls Diocese along with many other churches and businesses to provide a dignified place for people to stay in an emergency. There will be a section for men, women and families (currently there are NO emergency shelters that provide a place to keep families together). This new facility will be able to house 120 people per night. It will also offer the homeless in Sioux Falls a way to meet with many other social service providers. The Good Shepherd Center (a daytime drop-in facility) will also be housed at the BDHH. This gives people an opportunity to use phones, computers, showers, and laundry facilities as well as place of hospitality and community.
So, what can you do? PLEASE be ever aware of the homeless in Sioux Falls. This is Homelessness Awareness Week. Keep in mind the plight of so many who work hard but don’t make quite enough money to pay a security deposit or rent. Make plans to volunteer at the BDHH. In time, there will be many daytime and overnight volunteers needed. And, assist them financially if you are able. The BDHH is not yet fully funded and needs your contributions. Please put the BDHH on your list of worthy agencies to receive your donations.
There are many percentages and numbers that can be examined concerning homelessness in Sioux Falls. But remember - these are not trivia but a fact of life for far too many in our “fair city”.
As I finished writing this piece for our church bulletin last week it was announced that a woman had frozen to death in the stairwell of a downtown parking ramp. What a tragedy. Sure, alcohol may have been a factor but this poor woman was still a child of God deserving dignity and respect. Hopefully, this is the last time we will hear of such devastating news.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Catholic Synod of Bishops said what!!??

Much has been said in the United States news media about the recent document released by the Synod on the Family especially on the topic of persons in homosexual relationships. Some early reports were clearly mistranslated by many in the media when reports came out on CNN and other cable news networks claiming the Catholic Church was moving toward the acceptance of same-sex unions. This was scaled back somewhat by official reports from the Vatican but the true intention of the Synod was still not being accurately reported. Furthermore, many "traditionalists" or "conservatives" in the Church reacted severely when the initial reports were made public.
The "final document" of the Synod has been released and the tone of the document is much different than the early media stories. There are two paragraphs in this final version (three in the draft report) regarding the topic of same-sex unions. Here they are:

55.       Some families have members who have a homosexual tendency. In this regard, the synod fathers asked themselves what pastoral attention might be appropriate for them in accordance with the Church’s teaching: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family.”Nevertheless, men and women with a homosexual tendency ought to be received with respect and sensitivity. “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” )Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 4
56.        Exerting pressure in this regard on the Pastors of the Church is totally unacceptable: this is equally so for international organizations who link their financial assistance to poorer countries with the introduction of laws which establish “marriage” between persons of the same sex.

As you can see, there is no evidence here that the Catholic Church is changing its doctrines on homosexual issues. However, the Church is indeed changing its approach to persons with same-sex attractions. The emphasis is shifting from a severe outlook that tended to summarily dismiss or reject gays to a stronger push toward understanding and welcoming and finding ways to minister to homosexuals and involve them and their individual gifts in parish life. 
And so, the Synod did not go far enough for some who were expecting/hoping the Church to change its teaching on homosexual matters and it went too far for some who are more traditional or conservative in their outlook.
In truth, no one should be looking for the Church to change any doctrine regardless of the topic. The Church has NEVER done that. But what you can expect is a more open armed attitude and approach to all persons in difficult pastoral situations (divorced & remarried, homosexual, single parent, etc.). This openness truly begins at the grassroots level with you and me being Jesus to each and every person we meet each and every day. (You can read the entire document by clicking here.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Blessed are the PEACEMAKERS

I had the great privilege of spending about 10 days in the Holy Land last fall. What a great trip and opportunity to see all of the Holy Sites. It was humbling to be able to pray in the tomb where Jesus lay, at the site of his birth and in all of the beautiful places in Galilee. Besides being tourists and sightseers, we were "pilgrims" as well - meaning that this trip had a spiritual and cultural component, too.
The one thing that was impossible to ignore was the animosity between the different religious and cultural groups in Israel. The Israeli population is approximately 77% Jewish, 18% Muslim, and 2% Christian. The remaining 3% are Druze and other religious groups. While we traveled and listened to the "ordinary" people of the country we heard lots of hatred from all of the groups toward the others. I have long devoted some of my prayer time to praying for peace in Israel. Unfortunately, my visit there nearly sapped all of the hope for peace out of me.
So what do we do? How are we supposed to involve ourselves in all of this hatred, violence and unrest? I read an article in Relevant Magazine recently that addressed this very issue. The author, after interviewing those working for peace in the area, concluded that there are two things we in the west can do.
  1. Pray and work for peace. Continue to pray that through the power of faith, hope and love a new era of peace can descend on Israel. Although the possibility of this seems remote, if we are believers in God's providence we know our prayers can be effective.
  2. Don't take sides. Those interviewed in the article asked us (especially Americans) to avoid supporting either side in the conflicts. In this way we are open to praying for all sides and all persons involved and intercede for everyone instead of our 'favorite'. 

The article is long but it is worth reading. Click here to find it.

The United States typically supports the Israeli government in any and all conflicts. While our government officials may have their own political motives for this, we as individuals can choose to work for peace for all. We are still a Christian country (by majority) and almost every Christian in Israel is a Palestinian. They need our prayers and support, too.
Remember, Jesus Christ brought the issue of nonviolence and peacemaking to a pinnacle in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5, 6, 7). He shows by the example of His life, and especially by the example of His passion and death, that nonviolence and peace are the path of the Christian disciple.
As you listen to the news and read the papers keep Jesus' words in mind from the Beatitudes: Blessed are the PEACEMAKERS, for they shall be called children of God.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reductionism...What's that???

On Sunday, Pope Francis met with a group that is studying "an increasingly more inclusive economy". In the meeting he decried the tendencies of economic systems to reduce the human being to a simple means to an end, a cog in a wheel, a mere tool in a system that promotes economic imbalance. In this system, mankind loses humanity. (Notice the chart above - it doesn't even mention human beings.) And when we lose are humanity, what happens? What is the outcome of a society where the human is reduced to his or her productive capability and usefulness to the ends of an economic system? That is when the human being becomes dehumanized and disposable. (Neither the Pope nor I are criticizing or affirming any particular type of economic system, simply the inhumane ways people are treated in different systems.) It doesn't take long to look at the state of our world today, indeed our own country, to see the effects. Many are seen as a burden and looked at as persons who have lost (or never had) any usefulness. This shows an increased suicide rates particularly among persons over 65 who kill themselves 20% more often than the general rate (according to a New York Times article 8/7/2013). It shows in our willingness to "mercifully kill" those in terminal conditions instead of loving them and affirming their great value right up to the natural end of their life. It shows in our willingness to abort babies because their continued existence is seen as inconvenient or burdensome.
We as Christians, indeed as HUMAN BEINGS, should be railing against the reduction of the human person to their economic usefulness. Please work in your own life and in your treatment of others to affirm their (and your) great worth despite age, illness, infirmity or economic status. Each and every person is in need of others to show them their great value. How will you and I respond to that need?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Less is more

On June 13th of this year 17 of us from St. Michael Parish embarked on a journey to Belize, Central America. We drove to Omaha late in the day, spent the night in a Catholic school and rose early to be at the airport by 6:30 a.m. We flew to Dallas, waited a few hours and then took off for Belize City. We arrived at about 12:30 p.m. and there began a mission of challenge, self-discovery, hard work, meaningful worship, new friends, and great experiences.
The time was challenging because we lived in tough conditions. In other words, we lived much like the people of Orange Walk Town with whom we worked for several days. We slept on air mattresses in rooms that could be hot and stuffy, drank warm water, took cold showers, and fought off a multitude of bugs and other creatures.
We worked very hard on a variety of projects in and around Orange Walk Town. We erected a fence around San Juan Church, finished and painted the ceiling of the Church of Palmar, assisted in feeding the “poorest of the poor” at Mercy Mission in the center of Orange Walk, painted the inside rooms of a convent, sanded and stained pews, and painted the exterior of a church in just two and a half hours. Some of our group helped paint new Stations of the Cross for the San Juan Church as well as painting inspiring banners to be hung around the place we stayed (Muffels College). Note - Muffels College is not a college in the way we think of them - it was more like a junior high.
We attended Mass on our first Sunday in Belize at La Immaculata Church in Orange Walk. The priest (Fr. Smalls) is responsible for 21 parishes in the area so most of the parishes only get Mass once or twice per month. The music was wonderful (Latin American), the people were VERY welcoming and the Church was packed to the gills with many people standing outside by the open windows. It was Father’s Day so they had a nice presentation of certificates and small gifts for all of the dads who were present. They also sang a song in Spanish for all of the dads who had passed away. Although I couldn’t understand the words, I could tell it was an emotional song as dozens of people in the Church wept openly in love for their deceased fathers. We also had Mass every evening and fun programs in which to participate.
We met great people from the local area who opened their hearts to us in gratitude, generosity and hospitality. They were friendly, happy people. We also met many new friends who came from other parts of the United States to participate in the work camp.
I believe I speak for all who went on the trip in saying that it was also an experience of self-discovery. When we reached our hotel in Dallas on the way home we gathered in the dining area and discussed our experiences. Rhonda asked us what we were grateful for or what we learned. These are some of the responses:
· “I am grateful for school –the youth in Belize only go until the sixth grade and most cannot afford to go to high school so I am going to quit complaining about school.” (There is no public school in Belize)
· “The people of Orange Walk were so happy, so generous and so grateful for our help.”
· “Simplicity is the best way of life.”
· “The people were very joy-filled and proud of their homes, their churches and their families.”
· “God showed me what true happiness is. Despite the fact that the people live in poverty they are joy-filled and content.”
· “The people showed me a level of kindness I had never experienced before. I have never felt so at home when I wasn’t.”
That is just a sample of the many responses the young adults shared.  For me, I now appreciate the Mass (daily and Sunday) much more than ever. The people in the Orange Walk area live good and holy lives while only receiving the Eucharist once or twice per month. They are lucky if they get to go to Confession once per year. We truly are blessed (and maybe a bit spoiled) because we can receive these Sacraments daily if desired. I also learned that I had not yet appreciated the lesson I learned in Guatemala several years ago - people with very little are much more happy, content, faithful and family centered than people with much. To interact with the Belizean people and see the love of God beaming through their smiles and their open hearts was a humbling experience. It seems that less stuff means more God and simple living conditions lead to strong families and caring communities. I have to keep asking myself “When will I learn?” these simple but important lessons?!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How's your luck?

Do you feel lucky?...
Luck is an interesting concept or word. Depending on who you talk to, luck can be supernatural, superstition,  or just random coincidence. According to Webster’s Dictionary luck is "a purposeless, unpredictable and uncontrollable force that shapes events favorably or unfavorably for an individual, group or cause" .
I read an article recently in Inc. Magazine that said luck is most certainly under your control. The gist of the article was that the events we see as simple good luck or coincidence were determined by the diligence and preparedness of the so-called ‘lucky one”. For example, the baseball player that makes the seemingly impossible (lucky) catch in the outfield was able to do so because of years of practice and discipline. You or I, without that same training, would NEVER be able to make that catch. Business success, according to the article, was not a matter of luck but of good preparedness and staying connected with many people. Ray Kroc, the man who made McDonald’s famous, says that “Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get”. Another wise person has said “Luck is preparation meeting opportunity”.
Each one of us can probably point at times or events in our lives when we were inexplicably lucky. Regardless of our efforts, sometimes things just turn out well. But the opposite can be true, too, can’t it? Sometimes bad things happen that we could not have avoided if we tried. For example, my mother has Parkinson’s Disease. There is no way she could have dodged it by her own effort or by changing one single thing in her life. Others get cancers or other diseases seemingly out of the blue. Or maybe you’re driving down the road following all of the rules of good, safe driving and someone runs into you anyway. All sorts of “random bad luck” can happen at any time.
As Christians, though, I think we are called to try and find God in our good luck and in our bad luck. Somehow, God can play a role in our life regardless of the circumstances - we simply need to stay open to God’s presence.
For example, I knew a person who had been arrested and put in jail for an extended period of time. I visited her regularly and encouraged her to do her best to see God - even in the jail. This young lady was able to assist two different people who attempted suicide. First, she found them during the attempt and stopped it, and second, she helped them spiritually afterwards in the way that she prayed with them and ministered to them. She marveled later on how these things would not have happened had she not been placed in jail.
In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie TenBoom recounts her time in a Nazi Concentration Camp. She, her sister, and her father had been placed there for trying to help their Jewish neighbors escape Holland during the German occupation.  They endured horrendous conditions in the camp but Corrie eventually found a blessing even in the worst of circumstances. She tells about a time when her section of the barracks was heavily infested with lice. Although she hated the lice, the fact that they were infested kept the guards away and they were able to have a Bible study and share the love of Jesus Christ with their fellow inmates.
And, for one last example, a man I know told me about his adult daughter who suffered for many years from a traumatic injury. She was bedridden and unable to get along in life as she once did. She eventually died from a series of infirmities and at her funeral her father told an interesting story. He said that, although he would have never chosen for his daughter to be in the condition she was, it had brought them much closer. They had been estranged for some time and when she got hurt he started visited her again and their relationship was eventually healed. He said this never would have happened had she not suffered this tragedy.
So there you have it. God can use even our worst days and our most trying experiences to bring hope, healing, and light to our lives. I try to remind myself of this each time I am frustrated by my own “bad luck”. How about you? How has God made you feel lucky even in tough times?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Lesson's From Mom

Something my mother always taught me and my siblings was a patience and concern for others - especially those who were poor or “different” in any way. She grew up in a very poor family in the northeast corner of South Dakota and had to survive on very little most of the time. For long periods - sometimes months - she and her brothers and sisters would eat nothing but potatoes. She tells of one day when the only thing left in the house was a plate of butter and little bit of sugar so they split it up and ate that until their mother could get more spuds. Because of her experience and because she was a very loving person and strong Catholic, my mom never let us make fun of anyone because of their economic status. There were two very poor families that lived just one block north of us. The kids wore old clothes that didn’t fit well and were sometimes unable to bathe for long periods of time (the water in the house didn’t work). If we said anything derogatory about them my mom would threaten to give them our clothes, our bedroom, our bath privileges and we could have theirs’. We learned to accept them just the way they were. Now and then a pair of our pants or shoes would be “missing” and we would soon see one of the kids from up the block wearing them. Once I even saw their mother wearing a winter coat that once belonged to my mom.
Pope Francis has been a strong advocate for the poor of the world. Long before he was elected Pope, Cardinal (Bishop and Father before that) Bergoglio spent much time ministering to the poor of Argentina. He turned his back on the comforts he was offered as a high church official and lived a simple life instead. He used his own resources and the resources of the Church to bring comfort and aid to those who needed it most. He admonished the Argentine Catholics to take the Gospel to the streets of their cities and do so with love and joy.
Last Friday, I was at a seminar at St John’s School of Theology entitled “A Poor Church and a Church for the Poor?”. The presenter, Dr Shawn Colberg, did an excellent job of using Old and New Testament Scripture, quotes by Saints, and much of what Pope Francis has said to educate all of us in attendance about the urgency of our calling to assist the poor.
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, surely I will hear their plea” (see Exodus 22:15-24)
“This is the temple of the Lord! Only if you thoroughly reform your ways and your deeds; if each of you deals justly with his neighbor; if you no longer oppress the resident alien, the orphan and the widow...will I remain with you in this place?” (see Jeremiah 7:3-7)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:3)
“A young man approached Jesus and said “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”…. Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect - go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven then come, follow me”. The young man went away sad for he had many possessions. (See Mt 19: 16-26)
These are just a few quick examples of the plethora of instructions in the Bible to TEND TO THE POOR. Whether it is through direct service or service through an agency, we are called by God in Scripture to be mindful of those who are poor.
What does Pope Francis have to say about the poor? A great deal, indeed! Just after he was elected, Francis was giving a press conference and stated, “How I would like a Church that is poor and for the poor!” He also gave a homily in a Brazilian barrio (Varginha) and said “When we are generous in welcoming people and sharing something with them … we are enriched. Doing this with love demonstrates that true riches consist not in material things, but in the heart.” (July 25, 2013 in Brazil)
“We are called to be poor, to strip ourselves of what is not essential and to do this we must learn how to be with the poor, to share with those who lack basic necessities, to touch the flesh of Christ! In this way we save ourselves from the shipwreck of the world.” (October 4, 2013)
I can only tell you that I left this conference feeling challenged. Pope Francis doesn’t just say these things, he lives them! We as a parish, each of as individuals, as families and neighborhoods are to encounter the poor and thereby touch the flesh of Christ. I need to remember this in all I do and in all I say in my own life. I thank my mom for teaching me the dignity of each and every human person and the call to assist those in need without stripping them of their pride. Like Pope Francis, she modeled this behavior in her life, sharing even the meager resources she had at her disposal. Happy Mother’s Day, mom - blessed are you!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Living ALL of Holy Week

Wow! It is nearly Palm Sunday - already! I say already because it seems to me that Ash Wednesday was recent and, at that time, Easter seemed so far off. But here we are just one week or so prior to the MOST important Holy Day in all of Christianity. Recently, I said that to a group of people in a conversation and they were perplexed. They thought that Christmas was the big day - not Easter. Certainly that is true in our culture, isn’t it? Christmas is the big celebration with gift giving, big meals, family gatherings, etc. Easter is a day when people do gather for special meals but not with the intensity or commitment they do at Christmas. But it is necessary for us to understand that it is the Resurrection of Jesus that makes everything else about His life significant - including His birth. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, His miracles, His ministry and His life would have quickly faded away and no one would still be talking about Him today.

But I’m getting ahead of myself because we still have a week to go before that glorious celebration. Palm Sunday, and for the days following, we ponder Christ’s coming into Jerusalem to shouts of honor and great “Hosannas” and His quick demise in the eyes of the people, the religious leaders and the government officials of Jerusalem.
This entire week is called Holy Week. I recommend that you to try and live that last week of Jesus life with Him and walk in His steps as He did His best to preach and minister to the people. What happened? Why did the tide turn against Jesus so quickly?
Sunday: Jesus comes into Jerusalem and is welcomed with great joy. Let that palm in your hand remind you to travel with Him throughout this week. According to Mark’s Gospel (11:11), Jesus went that night and stayed in Bethany. Who was He with? Pray with Jesus as He considers the rough week ahead of Him.
Monday: According to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke Jesus comes to Jerusalem and cleanses the temple by driving out the merchants and money changers. He also rebukes the crowd for their lack of faith. Make plans to purify your “temple” by making it to the Sacrament of Confession this week.
Tuesday: Jesus returns to Jerusalem where He is confronted by the religious leaders. They want to know who he thinks he is and by what authority he threw the merchants out of the temple. Jesus responds with  parables and prophecies about the wedding banquet, the vineyard and the destruction of Jerusalem. What parable or warning would Jesus give you as he approaches His passion and death?
Wednesday: This day is traditionally called “Spy Wednesday” because this is the day that Judas conspires with the Pharisees and Scribes to hand Jesus over to them. At the Last Supper Jesus foretells His betrayal and Judas says “Surely it is not I, Lord”. Pray for the grace and strength to be faithful to Jesus regardless of the social pressures or persecutions you might face.
Thursday: The Passover meal is prepared and Jesus and His disciples gather in the “Upper Room”. As Catholics we recognize this Last Supper as the First Mass. Jesus instates the Eucharist and the disciples share in His body and blood. They head to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prays. After Mass tonight we will head to a “garden” in our chapel where the Blessed Sacrament will be reposed. Can you pray with Jesus for just one hour? Tonight?
Friday: Jesus is held all night in a dungeon awaiting trial by Pilate and Herod. He is scourged, crowned with thorns and , at the request of His own people, is crucified and dies on the cross. Please come to the Good Friday liturgy and reverence the cross of Jesus Christ.
Saturday: Jesus’ body is in the tomb but His soul is among the  dead announcing to them that the Kingdom had come! The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear it will Live (John 5:25). At the same time His disciples are spending the Sabbath in great sorrow and distress because they have forgotten Jesus promise to rise from the dead. You and I must NEVER forgot His promise to rise. We must live our lives immersed in the new life He came to give us through His Passion, Death and Resurrection. Participate with us this evening at the Easter Vigil. Invite others to come with you as we celebrate the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist with those who have been preparing to enter the Catholic Church. Sing “Alleluia” for the first time in 40 days!
There you have it, a quick telling of Jesus’ last week. Live it with Him! In prayer, in Mass, in Confession, in Adoration and, in profound reverence, experience Holy Week as you never have before.