Tuesday, September 27, 2022

A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO PARISH REVITALIZATION

    Welcoming Church vs Inviting Church 

We’ve decided to quit being a welcoming church. No kidding. We’re giving it up. It won’t be easy, but we’re committed to it. We’ll have to do it in stages, easing our folks into it step by step. We’ll have to deal with the fear of something new, the challenge of venturing into the unknown. But we’ll do it. It will take motivation, leadership, and constant reminders. But most importantly, it will take total commitment in embracing a new focus.

Like so many churches, we’ve sunk an amazing amount of time and energy into becoming a welcoming church. We changed worship styles, we trained greeters and ushers, we wore name tags, we percolated coffee, we went to workshops on hospitality, we put our friendliest people in the most prominent places on Sunday mornings. But we’ve realized we’ve been misplacing our emphasis. So we’re no longer going to do it.

Here’s what we’re doing instead. We are becoming an Inviting Church. That’s different. You see, “welcoming” from a missional perspective is passive. It denotes waiting for visitors and guests to drop by. When they do, we attempt treat them very well and do everything possible to make them comfortable. We’ll be willing to change who we are. We’ll follow particular formats that have proven to be more welcoming to new people. We’ll do whatever it takes to have them come back the next Sunday, even if they shouldn’t. Welcoming is about us, not about them.

“Inviting,” however, is different. That means we leave the comfort of our congregational home-court advantage. The main activity doesn’t happen in our worship space when people drop in, but in the neighborhood when we go out. It isn’t so much welcoming them into our place, but going out into their place and meeting them there.

Even that warrants a significant caveat. This is not just another gimmick to get people into the church. The foundation of this isn’t an attempt to bolster declining membership rolls and make a better parochial report to the bishop. No, it goes much deeper than that. It starts with who God has called us to be as church. It involves discovering our gifts and purpose. And it mandates joining God at work in the world. This isn’t about getting the world into God’s church; it’s about getting the church into God’s world.

If you’ve read any postings on this blog before, you know that God’s mission is what we are to be about. Everything comes from that—including the identity of the church. We exist as church only because God has a mission. Our purpose, our very identity, is called forth out of God’s loving care and redemptive activity in creation. We are steeped in God’s mission. We are drenched through baptism into this essential character of God. God is at work in the world, and creates, calls, and equips the church specifically for that work.

Each congregation has a purpose within God’s mission. Each congregation has particular gifts. Each congregation reveals the life-giving reign of God in unique ways. No congregation is everything to everyone. But every congregation is something to someone. Who can know God through your worship style? Who can experience forgiveness and grace through your congregational community? Who needs the gifts you have to offer? Who can offer gifts you need? Knowing those things, when in conversation over the backyard fence about their pain in losing a loved one, it would be natural then to invite that neighbor to your congregation’s grief support group that has made such a difference for many others. When in the employee lunch room chatting about the pressures of our jobs, it would fit to invite that co-worker to your congregation’s spiritual direction group for professionals. When sharing the struggles of parenthood with a friend while waiting for your kids to come out of school, it would make sense to invite their whole family to your cross-generational faith development where you have gained so much guidance from other parents. While paying for a car repair, your long-time mechanic lets slip that she has lost her faith, it would easily flow for you to invite her to join you (and all the other doubters who will gather this Sunday) in worship.

Welcoming involves hoping whoever happens to find you will join. Inviting involves sharing God’s specific gifts—made real in your congregation—in the world.

Based on a council study of the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath (Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc., N.Y. Copyright © 2010 by Chip Heath and Dan Heath) http://www.amazon.com/Switch-Change-Things-When-Hard, my congregation is going about this transition from being welcoming to becoming inviting in three specific ways. One leadership team is taking the lead for each portion. Each of these three approaches will be the topic of an upcoming post on this blog. As a preview, however, they are: motivating people to invite, taking on invitation in bite-size pieces, and changing the inviting environment. We aren’t sure what the final results will be, but we’re excited to find out. Join us on this journey as we jump off the cliff and (hopefully) learn to fly. Please offer feedback, ideas, and help along the way.


A RESPONSE

I like this idea, but rather than dropping one approach in favor of the other, I believe that we need both together. An inviting church must be a welcoming church or else those who come to join the community in worship can leave disappointed when no one greets them, notices them, acknowledges them or helps them navigate the worship experience once they have been invited. The guests could feel they have been victims of false advertising. 

Before you invite someone to dinner, you first you get to know them. Once you invite them to dinner, you need to welcome them at the door and have something delicious and healthy to serve them and be ready to focus your attention on the gifts they bring to the exchange! No one excitedly invites people to dinner and then ignores them, talks over them and serves them leftovers! 

The biggest challenge of all is for us to practice what we preach before our words can be credible to others! Faith is contagious, but so is lack of faith! 

Sunday, September 25, 2022

THE SIN OF CONVENIENT BLINDNESS

 



GIVEN AT ST. LEONARD CHURCH AND ST. FRANCES OF ROME CHURCH

There was a rich man covered with purple
and fine linen who dined sumptuously every day.
Lying at his gate was a poor man covered with
sores who longed for the rich man’s table scraps.
Luke 16

Did you know that “doing nothing” can actually be illegal? Many countries, but not the United States, have “Good Samaritan Laws” that legally require citizens to assist injured people and people in distress. The last time I checked, failure to offer assistance in France can be punished by up to 5 years in prison or 100,000 Euros. This is actually the case of the photographers at the scene of Princess Diana’s fatal car accident. They were investigated for violation of the French "Good Samaritan Law," for their failure to offer assistance.

Did you know that “doing nothing” can not only be illegal, it can also be sinful as well. This is actually the case in today’s beautiful gospel story about a very rich man and a very poor man. Before we look at the sin here, a sin of omission, let’s look at this wonderful story in detail because it is the details that are so stark and shocking.

The rich man has no name, even though he has traditionally been called “Dives,” meaning “rich” in Latin. Dives, in today’s language, lived in a gated mansion, ate gourmet exotic and costly food every day and dressed in the very finest robes. Lazarus, we are told, oozing with open sores, was dumped in front of Dives’ mansion. Peering through the gates, this poor man could see loads of food being carried in and out of the mansion. Poor Lazarus did not even imagine ever sharing in that food. He simply longed to eat some of the big baskets of bread scraps being loaded into the dumpster, but no one ever offered any of it to him. Rich people back then wiped their hands, not on napkins, but chunks of bread that were simply thrown away. Too weak from hunger to fight them off, we are told that alley dogs came and licked Lazarus’ open sores.

Dives was filthy rich, but that was not his sin. Dives ate gourmet food every day and dressed in Armani suits, but that was not his sin. Dives did not order his security guards to have Lazarus removed from around his gate! Dives did not verbally or physically abuse poor Lazarus! There is no indication whatsoever that Dives was evil. In fact, he didn’t do anything harmful to Lazarus. However, that seems to be the whole point of the parable: the rich man did nothing wrong, he simply did nothing. His sin is that he didn’t even see Lazarus, and because he didn’t even see him, he did nothing! He was so self-focused that he had become complacent! He was so absorbed in living his own cushy life that he didn’t even see the suffering right in front of his front gate.

Dives is like “the complacent” that Amos the prophet condemned in our first reading today - lying on ivory couches, eating lamb chops and tenderloin, drinking fine wines and dabbing themselves in expensive perfumes while the people around them starved.

Let me be clear on one thing. This gospel, again tis week, is not condemning wealth. Besides, you don’t have to be rich to be blind to the suffering of those around you. Jesus did not condemn wealth. Rather, he taught that “to whom much is given, much will be required.” He is teaching us that the richer you are, the more responsibility you have, but he does not let those of us who are neither rich nor poor off the hook! We all have a responsibility to notice the suffering around us. The sin here then, is not wealth, but the blindness that goes with being totally self-focused.

The first step to helping those around us who suffer is to notice them. We cannot do something about the poor and suffering without compassion for the poor and suffering. We cannot have compassion for the poor and suffering without first noticing them.

When I worked at Bellarmine University, we offered the students yearly opportunities to notice the poor and suffering up close. There were some who had their eyes opened in a dramatic way on trips to Guatemala and Appalachia. For some these trips were life changing. Others volunteered to work in places like nursing homes for the very old and places like the Home the Innocents for the very young. We called them “consciousness raising” experiences.

After I left Bellarmine, I started volunteering personally in the Caribbean Missions in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, one of the poorest countries down there. After I went down several times, I invited group of five adults to join me – a doctor, a nurse, a computer teacher and two other young adults. Others who could not go down got involved in the renovation of the diocesan pastoral center in the Diocese of Kingstown and the purchase a couple of needed vehicles. Some helped us send seven youth to world youth day. Others were involved in sending school supplies, surplus medical supplies, Christmas toys and used liturgical furnishings. I have been down a total of twelve times after I retired. Archbishop Gordon of Trinidad and Tobago, when he was the bishop of Barbados and Saint Vincent, got me started.

The thing all these experiences had in common, both at Bellarmine and in the Caribbean, was they helped us all wake up and take notice of suffering we were not aware of, something Dives was unable to do until after he died. There he met poor Lazarus whom he never even saw sitting at his gate and regretted his blindness after it was too late.

Poor Lazarus longed to eat the scraps from Dives table, but nobody made and effort to get them to him. However, I am happy to say that there are some people and organizations in this town who do make sure that our leftovers are not wasted. All these amazing efforts began with noticing. Kentucky Harvest was started by a man who noticed that grocery stores and bakeries were throwing away perfectly good, but outdated food while many were hungry. That organization has spread to other cities. On one trip to Florida, I helped a local man of some wealth who volunteered to pick up flawed oranges from a citrus grove to take to homeless shelters. The dining hall downstairs at the Cathedral, staffed by its many volunteers, has fed thousands and thousands over the years by collecting leftover food from neighboring hotels, restaurants and food companies. That whole operation began when a few people started noticing the poor and the waste and brought them together in a brilliant solution. At Nord’s Bakery on Preston, near my condo, volunteers from the Franciscan Shelter House pick up day-old doughnuts to feed the hungry. When I was working in the Caribbean Missions, we were able to send ten tons of surplus and expired medical supplies coming out of our local hospitals and nursing homes to the hospitals on the island of Saint Vincent through Supplies Over Seas located down the street from St. Frances of Rome Church. Because somebody noticed the waste and recruited teams of volunteers, they help get it to needed areas around the world, rather than dumping it in our local landfills.

Friends, the message today is simple: true Christianity is not just about avoiding evil, but even more about doing good. In the eyes of Jesus, the failure to do good is often just as sinful as actively doing evil. At the beginning of Mass, in the Confiteor, we often confess to “what we have done” and “what we have failed to do.” In another passage, Jesus gives us a parable about judgment day when people stand before God and ask, “Lord, when did I see you hungry?” Jesus answers them, “As long as you failed to do it to one of these, you failed to do it to me.” Maybe our biggest sin is not the evil we do to others, but the good we fail to do for them. Before we can do that good, we have to look beyond the ends of our own noses, beyond what’s going on in our own lives, and notice the people around us and what is going on in their lives.

There is a lot of condemnation of "wokeness" in American political news. "Wokeness," as I understand it, is a hyper-attentiveness to social injustices. The critics of "wokeness" complain that too much awareness makes people feel unnecessarily uncomfortable and guilty. From what I know of the teachings of Jesus, willful blindness to injustice, the turning away from injustice to make ourselves feel more comfortable and less guilty, is to be avoided. Like Dives in today's gospel, we are being called to at least notice the Lazaruses laying outside our gates, even though sometimes we may be unable to do much about it personally!















Thursday, September 22, 2022

SHE WAS CERTAINLY "PURE OF HEART!"

 


Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.
Matthew 5:3-12


I meet a lot of wonderful people, and without taking anything away from them, every once in a while I get to meet an outstanding living example of how some teaching or another of Jesus is seriously lived-out. Such a person was the woman from the Little Sisters of the Poor whose funeral I celebrated a week or two ago. I have been hearing confessions and helping out with Masses there for a few years. The deceased was a daily Mass attendee who greeted me every time I was there. Her name was Rosemary.

As I was considering what Scripture to preach on, it didn't take me long to land on the Gospel of Matthew's version of the Beatitudes, especially the line that says "Blessed are the pure of heart."

Rosemary, at least in my book, was “pure of heart.” What does “pure of heart” actually mean? When I was young, I used to think that being “pure of heart” meant being free from lustful thoughts, but that’s not what it means! A person who is “pure of heart” has the innocence of a little child. People describe them as uncomplicated, grateful, kind-hearted, accepting, non-judgmental, generous, thoughtful – and always connected to God through prayer.

Well, those words were words actually written to me by her niece about her “Aunt Rosie.” She said that Rosemary was “uncomplicated, grateful, kind-hearted, accepting, attentive, non-judgmental, generous, thoughtful – and always connected to God through prayer.” What she was describing are the qualities of those who are “pure of heart.”

I knew Rosemary was “pure of heart” after the first or second time I met her. She got in the habit of stopping by the sacristy door after Mass to say hello to me. She insisted on whoever was pushing her wheelchair to stop! She did not want to get something from me. She wanted to give me something. She would reach her fragile little hand out and pat my hand and say, “I love you! I am glad you are here!” That, my friends, is what it means to be “pure of heart:” “uncomplicated, grateful, kind-hearted, attentive, non-judgmental, accepting, generous and thoughtful.”

As far as knowing whether she was “always connected to God through prayer” all you had to do was look at all the religious hardware she wore around her neck. First of all, she had more religious medals and pins around her neck than Tonini’s Church Goods sells in a year! Religiously, I knew where she stood with God. Obviously, they were friends! She loved her religious medals like they were her children. She mothered them! They helped her feel the presence of God throughout the day – from morning to night! The metals were not just metal and plastic. They made real spiritual beings come alive for her. They made her feel like she was "surrounded by a cloud of witnesses." She loved to pray, alone and with others, as well as being prayed for!

Religiously, I knew where she stood with God. Obviously, they were friends! When I would give her communion, she was laser-focused on what I was handing her. When I said, “Body of Christ,” I did not get one of those wimpy out-of-the-book, one-word “Amens!” No, she declared in a firm voice, “Yes, we are! Thanks be to God!” Actually, that was quite insightful on her part. I would say “Body of Christ” as I held the host before her eyes. She would respond, “Yes, we are! Thanks be to God!” She was right. We can speak of the “body of Christ” present in the host, but we can also speak of the “body of Christ” present in the people of God gathered in his name.

Many times, I hear people talking about funeral “eulogies.” I don’t give “eulogies, I give “homilies.” What’s the difference? A “eulogy” is about all the wonderful things the dead person did for God. The problem with that is, sometimes people feel that if they can name enough good deeds, they can conclude that the deceased person deserved heaven because they had earned his or her way into heaven.

A homily, on the other hand, is the opposite. It is about the wonderful things God did for the dead person. If that is where the emphasis is placed, then all that is required are expressions of gratitude. A woman who is “pure in heart” is inspired to do the millions of small acts of kindness, not because she is trying to get God to love her, but because she already knows that she is loved by God and just wants to express her gratitude! That realization and that gratitude was at the heart of Rosemary’s life!

Religiously, I knew where she stood with God. Obviously, they were friends! Today, I can imagine Rosemary walking confidently (without her wheelchair) into heaven and Jesus sticking his hand out to pat her hand and saying, “I love you! I am glad you are here!” Two good friends finally meeting in person after all these years – that’s what we celebrate today!










Tuesday, September 20, 2022

TAKE A TRIP TO "GOOD OLD SAINT THERESA" ON OCTOBER 15

ORIGINAL
1870-1950
Whether you have moved away, drifted away or were never there, join us at "old Saint Theresa" as we remember, give thanks and look forward to a renewed future for a very special old place. After a year and a half of determination, hard work and amazing generosity, we are going to celebrate the blessing of the new St. Theresa Family Life Center in the former St.Theresa/Cross Roads School building.   

THEN
SAINT THERESA/CROSS ROADS SCHOOL
1950-1993
NOW
SAINT THERESA FAMILY LIFE CENTER

COME FOR THE WHOLE DAY OR ANY PART OF IT 
COME CELEBRATE THE FEAST OF SAINT THERESA OF AVILA WITH US

Mass celebrated by Archbishop Shelton Fabre in Saint Theresa Church
Saturday, October 15, 2022 
Feast Day of our patron, Saint Theresa of Avila
4:30 pm

Blessing of the new Saint Theresa Family Life Center with Tours and Dinner to follow. 

If YOU ARE COMING TO DINNER, PLEASE LET US KNOW HOW MANY SO WE CAN BE PREPARED
sttheresa@bbtel.com 


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One of my very favorite old movies is "The Trip To Bountiful," starring Geraldine Page who plays the role of Carrie Watts and old woman who yearns to go back to her old hometown before she dies. She finds a way, after dodging many set-backs and obstacles, to go back to her crumbling old hometown of Bountiful, Texas. It is a interspersed with that beautiful old gospel song, "Softly and Tenderly, Jesus Is Calling." Anyone who was ever raised in a small town or old neighborhood, with nostalgic memories, can identify with this moving story. 

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Sunday, September 18, 2022

THE PROBLEM OF A DIVIDED HEART

    

You cannot be a slave to two masters at the same time.
Luke 16


Let me be perfectly clear, right up front. I’m not against money and neither is God. In fact, the responsible use of money is an important part of the spiritual life. I taught the importance of responsible personal financial planning to would-be-priests at St. Meinrad Seminary before I retired. 

I insisted that they develop a savings plan for retirement to be implemented immediately with their first salary check. I even gave each of them $100.00 from the stipends I received from leading priest retreats all over the country to open their own Individual Retirement Account. I asked them to take the salary and benefits they will receive as a priest and create a budget showing how to lower expenses, how much they will give to charity, how much they will need to pay off loans and how much they want to save each month. The amount, I told them, is not as important as the consistency and discipline of personal financial management. Anything else, these days, I believe is irresponsible! I started saving in 1970, by opening a Christmas Club account, even when a priest’s salary was $90 a month! At that, I was able to save $5.00 a week! When Christmas came I never spent it, but kept saving it toward long-term goal of having my own place in 45 years when I retired.  

Even Jesus had a designated treasurer for his band of disciples. Sadly, he is an example of what Jesus teaches us today not to do. It wasn’t the money Judas held that was bad, it was his attitude toward it. The money he was entrusted with got more of his attention than it deserved and his obsession with it finally took him down!

As I said, I am not against money and neither was Jesus. So, all you investment professionals can sit back and relax because you’re not in for a verbal beating. Besides, I expect there are a few collection baskets around here somewhere, all greased up and ready to go, so I am not about to bite the hands that feed this place!

Even the old expression “Money is the root of all evil,” is a mistranslation of the original Greek in I Timothy 6:10. The actual translation is not "money is the root of all evil,” but “an obsession with money is the root of all evil.” What God is against is the misuse of money, the obsessive accumulation of money for its own sake, the dishonest acquisition of money and the selfish use of money.

One famous Hollywood comedian once said, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” Personally, I have been happy with money, and I have been happy without it. It is certainly not the passion of my life or I would certainly have gone into something besides priesthood. Even at that, I know for a fact that poor people can be greedy. It’s not how much money you have, but your attitude toward it! With all this said, my job is to deal with this Scripture and see what it has to teach us today, whether we are rich or poor!

To teach us how to be clever and imaginative about discipleship, Jesus tells a strange parable about a rich man’s deviously clever steward. This steward, the one in charge of managing the rich man’s property, was reported for squandering his master’s money. Finding out about it, the master calls his steward in to fire him. Knowing he was about to be fired, the steward does something quite clever to ingratiate himself with those who owed money to his master. He slashed their bills, one by 50% and another by 20%. By doing this, he made friends with them, hoping they would take him in, once he lost his job. When the parable ends, even his master commended his devious steward for his slickness.

Jesus tells his listeners, “Would that you would be as clever about living and promoting the faith as this crooked servant was in taking care of his business!” Jesus is not teaching us to imitate the dishonesty of this steward, but to imitate his dedication and cleverness in living our faith. He puts it this way. “The worldly are much more clever than the other worldly in dealing with their own kind.”

No, God is not against money, but the obsession with accumulating money, money dishonestly acquired and the selfish use of money. What Jesus says is this: “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these other things will given to you besides.” “You cannot serve two masters. You will either love one and ignore the other or be devoted to one and ignore the other.” So Jesus teaches us to be obsessed with the kingdom of God first and then we will have what we need. Be obsessed with making money and you will very likely have little else. If you are obsessed with money or you are susceptible to getting it in a crooked way or use it, not for the common good, but for your own good, you are treading on dangerous water!

Over the years, I have been exposed to several people that the world would call rich. Yes, a few tend to be flashy, wasteful and selfish, but most seem to know money’s limits, to live more modestly than they would have to, to be more willing to share their money and more willing to take responsibility for using their money for the good of the whole community. They seem to understand the words of Jesus when he said, “To whom much is given, much is required.” They know that with wealth comes responsibility. They are the ones who give generously of their time, talent and their treasure to the various charities around our community.  I had the opportunity of serving on the J. Graham Board Foundation Board for two terms. We gave away millions of dollars. I learned from that experience how hard it is to give away money wisely, where it can really life people up, not just make them more dependent. 

We are challenged today to heed the wisdom of Jesus. “Knowing how to live” is always more important than “making a living.” When “making money” is at the heart of your life, you are on a slippery slope. We all have to “make a living,” but knowing how to “have a life” is always more important, no matter how much or how little we “make.” If your highest priority is your relationship with family, friends and the world at large, I believe the resources you need will always be there for you. In fact, I have discovered personally that the more generous I am, the more I have to be generous with! Being generous has never left me poorer!