“And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.” Matthew 19:29

“And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.”

Matthew 19:29

Many years ago I read a book by Dr. Wendy Wright titled, Sacred Dwelling in which she explored family spirituality.  She spoke about how the heart of a parent expands with the birth of a child.  Our capacity to love grows.  This is certainly echoed in my own experience. As I gazed upon the face of my first child, I was overcome with the love I felt for my daughter.  I didn’t know it was possible to love another so much.  But, as a relatively new mom, it was what Dr. Wright said next that really hit me.  Welcoming each new child into the family expands our hearts, but saying goodbye to them expands them even more.  

This profound truth comes back to me each Fall.  It is a time of transition for families and there are many goodbyes.  Whether a parent is dropping a little one off for school for the first time, saying goodbye to a recent graduate who is off to basic training or leaving an eager freshman in his college dorm room, the sense of loss is real.  We begin our goodbyes almost as soon as they arrive. One season of life ends and a new one begins.  It is one way that family life teaches us a gospel truth.  This week, Jesus’ apostles lament that they have given up everything to follow him.  He reassures them,  “everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.”  (Matthew 19:29)  This is one of many examples where Jesus tells us something that seems to be contradictory.  How can we gain something by losing it?  How is it that we must die in order to live?  How is it that by giving we receive? How is it that our letting go of our children expands our capacity to love?  From the outside, the Lord’s ways seem mysterious.

Part of the answer lies in understanding the nature of God’s mercy and love.  Fr. John Riccardo, who will be our speaker at this year’s Summit, shares a beautiful reflection on the First Luminous Mystery of the Rosary, the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.  In it, he says that water, by its nature flows to the lowest spot.  Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River, which flows into the Dead Sea, the lowest point on planet earth.  This can tell us something about God’s love and mercy — it, too, by its very nature rushes to the one who is most in need.  We find an abundance of God’s love wherever we are weak, wherever we are hurting, wherever we are reminded that we cannot be self-sufficient.  Sometimes our hearts are hard and they need to be broken in order to grow.  If we welcome God into our broken hearts, He expands them.  Our capacity to love grows.  With each good-bye we experience with our children, we have the opportunity to love more.  And the shedding of a few tears as we do, is actually a great gift. It allows the mercy of God to flow into our hearts.

It is an added grace when we do not experience this transition alone.  This past weekend, Fr. Christensen, our pastor, offered a blessing for all the members of our community who will be heading off to college, to the military or to new jobs.  This very concrete expression of the care of the larger community is a great comfort to both parents and young adults.  It is an experience of the fellowship we desire to foster as part of our understanding of Stewardship.  Many pastors and parishes offer those that are leaving this support and also take the extra step to help students connect with a faith community wherever they are going.  This is so important!  Statistics show that 80% of Catholic students stop practicing the faith at some point in college.*  There is a great opportunity here for us to go the extra step in stewardship and generously give time and effort to assisting young people in finding the same kind of support we offer in their new environment.

This year the support and blessing of Fr. Christensen and the Cathedral offered was particularly touching.  Because today, we will travel to Winona, Minnesota and drop our youngest son off to begin his first year at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary.  We will be “empty nesters.”  On Sunday, Fr. Christensen called Josiah over from his spot in the choir and presented him with the Liturgy of the Hours, a gift from our faith family.  And then he prayed a beautiful and heartfelt blessing over him.  We are all deeply grateful for this sign of love and support.  It is another seeming irony of our walk with Jesus that he can fill our hearts with such joy and sadness at the same time.  It is the end of one season of life, but our hope and joy lies in the fact that the season to come holds even greater joys for us. My deepest thanks to our faith family for walking next to us into it!



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Build Gratitude through the Examen

In the Office of Vocations we are busy preparing for another summer of Duc In Altum — “put out into the deep.” (Luke 5.4) This coming week we will train two teams of four and one team of five young adults and send them out as missionary disciples, crisscrossing the diocese evangelizing and catechizing our children, youth and families in the Tradition, beauty and the richness of our Catholic Faith.

One of the many topics that we will present this week, beside the Creed and Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary is the Examen Prayer. The Examen is a method of prayer that Ignatius of Loyola taught in his Spiritual Exercises. The Examen Prayer is a method of prayerful reflection on the events of one’s day in order to take notice God’s presence and how one responded in generosity or held back on the movements of the Lord in ones heart throughout one’s day. This prayer also offers us the opportunity to look at those choices one has made that are not of God.

There are number of adaptions to the way one prays the Examen prayer, but traditionally there are five steps. In Fr. Timothy Gallagher’s book, The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for our Lives Today, he gives this outline as a guide in praying the Examen:

  • Transition: I become aware of the love with which God looks upon me as I begin this Examen.
  • Step One: Gratitude. I note the gifts that God’s love has given me this day, and I give thanks to God for them.
  • Step Two: Petition. I ask God for an insight and a strength that will make this Examen the work of grace, fruitful beyond my human capacity alone.
  • Step Three: Review. With my God, I review the day. I look for the stirrings in my heart and the thoughts that God has given me this day. I look also those that have not been of God. I review my choices in response to both, and throughout the day in general.
  • Step Four: Forgiveness. I ask for the healing touch of the forgiving God who, with love and respect for me, removes my heart’s burdens.
  • Step Five: Renewal. I look to the following day and, with God, plan concretely how to live it in accord with God’s loving desire for my life.
  • Transition: Aware of God’s presence with me, I peacefully conclude my Examen.

If you have never prayed the examen before or have been lukewarm in its practice, I encourage you to give it a try this week. It is right in line with the lens of lively faith: prayer, study, and formation in our stewardship initiative.  The Examen prayer also roots our lives in gratitude, which is the foundation of living Stewardship as a Way of Life.

Father Gallagher also gives this wonderful example of how to live and pray the Examen together as a family. He recounts how a father and mother, with their four young children, pray a family Examen together. The mother describes it this way: “For the last several years, my husband and I have introduced Examen as part of our evening meal with our four children (ages thirteen, ten, seven, and four). Using a very simple adaptation of the Examen, we propose these two questions: What have you been most grateful for today? What have you been least grateful for today?”

The mother goes on to say the sharing of their responses to these two questions become the material for their dinner table discussion. Each member is given a turn to respond to the questions with other members of the family listening respectively (on this point we try!) In the end the mother said, “It encourages us to listen to each other, and at times to be challenged to listen more than superficially. It helps our children to learn to get in touch with their inner experience, and to learn to share that with others.”

I would be curious to hear your experience in praying the Examen prayer individually or with your family.

St. Ignatius pray for us!

Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy

Several months ago, I was heading into the staff lounge at the Chancery Annex at Terra Sancta to eat lunch. I noticed that Dan Brechtel, who is the facilities manager, was eating what looked like homemade pizza to me. I thought to myself, “Wow, pizza! That looks tasty.” I asked Dan if it was homemade pizza. He smiled and said, “It sure is.”

I told Dan that I have not had homemade pizza in a long, long time. Suddenly, a flood of memories came rushing back to me from my childhood.  Our family used to have homemade pizza on special occasions and my mom could make the best pizza. I started to share with Dan how much I loved my mom’s pizza. Dan said, “You should come over to my dad and mom’s house for pizza. They make pizza every Sunday at 1 pm. I said, “Every Sunday?” “Yep every Sunday,” Dan said.

About a month ago, I ran into Dan’s father, Hugh.  I said, “Hugh, I heard you make pizza every Sunday afternoon at 1 o’clock.” Hugh’s response was, “Yep, every Sunday at 1 o’clock; you should come join us, Fr. Mark.” Several weeks ago, I took Hugh up on his invitation to join his family for homemade pizza. They had all the traditional ingredients plus some. He invited me to make my own pizza, which I gladly did.

As I was making my pizza, I asked Hugh, “How long has this Sunday tradition been going on?” His answer surprised me — probably 25 years or more. I thought to myself, “25 years, of making pizza every Sunday. That is a long time!”  What a beautiful family tradition the Brechtel family has developed and lived for the past 25 years and I love that they do it on Sunday — the Lord’s day.

To top it all off, we had ice cream with home grown strawberries, an extra treat. We finished the afternoon with a game of dominoes. I had a lot of fun that afternoon at the Brechtel’s home. It was a great reminder to me how important it is for us to keep the Lord’s day holy. To truly learn how to rest on the Lord’s day, which fosters lively faith.

St. John Paul II, in his apostolic letter Dies Domini, (On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy), speaks of resting on the Lord’s day in this way:

“In order that rest may not degenerate into emptiness or boredom, it must offer spiritual enrichment, greater freedom, opportunities for contemplation and fraternal communion. Therefore, among the forms of culture and entertainment which society offers, the faithful should choose those which are most in keeping with a life lived in obedience to the precepts of the gospel.” St. John Paul II gives this example, if you have a family, perhaps you might wish to get together as a family to plan special family activities for Sunday. This does not mean you need to spend money. Even what otherwise might be a “chore,” such as gardening or working on a home improvement project, might offer opportunities for “spiritual enrichment, greater freedom, [and] fraternal communion” when done together as a family.

How does your family rest on the Lord’s day?

“First one to pick up their phone does the dishes!”

The Office of Stewardship and Vocations would like to take this opportunity to wish all of you a blessed Thanksgiving. In Stewardship: A Disciples Response says that: “Good stewards live with joy and gratitude for the blessings they have received.” This is a great reminder to all of us on this Thanksgiving weekend. As we spend time with family and friends, let gratitude and joy fill our hearts.

            For some, Thanksgiving is a time of anxiety and stress; especially in families who are struggling with resentment, jealousy, bitterness and unforgiveness with one another. If this is true for you and your family, I would encourage you to spend a few moments in prayer calling upon the power of the Holy Spirit before you sit down at the Thanksgiving Day table. In the Gospel of Luke 12:12 we read, “for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say.” Or John 14:26,   “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.” We must have confidence that the Holy Spirit will lead our conversations this Thanksgiving weekend.  We need to call upon the Holy Spirit and trust that the Holy Spirit will bring the healing our families need, especially when it comes to our relationships with one another.

            Again in Stewardship: A Disciples Response we hear, “Stewardship is fundamentally the work of the Spirit in our lives. When we accept our lives as sheer gifts, the Spirit can use us as apt instruments for spreading the Gospel. Wherever the Spirit works, there is joy. Good stewards are always the joyful bearers of the good news of salvation.” May this Thanksgiving weekend be one of great joy for you and your families.

            One last musing: no cell phones at the Thanksgiving Day table. Have face-to-face conversations filled with joy and laughter and not “LOL or a “haha.”  I say the first cell phone checker has to do the dishes. Give thanks, not thx.

Fr. Mark’s Musings

10 Common Values of a Healthy and Growing Church

In last week’s Musings I listed the seven traits of an Amazing Parish. One of the speakers at the Amazing Parish conference was Father James Mallon, who is the Pastor of St. Benedict’s Parish in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Father Mallon wrote a book recently called Divine Renovation: Bringing your parish from maintenance to mission.

I am halfway through his book and finding it to be a great read. Father Mallon list 10 common values of healthy and growing churches.

  1. Giving Priority to the Weekend
  2. Hospitality
  3. Uplifting Music
  4. Homilies
  5. Meaningful Community
  6. Clear Expectations
  7. Strength – based Ministry
  8. Formation of small Communities
  9. Experience of the Holy Spirit
  10. Become an Inviting Church

It is worth noting that the list of seven traits and ten common values of a healthy and growing parish families do not make the list, although implied. However, as Fr. Steve Biegler commented on my musings last week “My first reaction is that they are missing an extremely important trait of amazing parish – Strong Families. We will limp along with it.  The Church calls the family the ‘nucleus of society’ and the ‘domestic church.’   If we are not focused on helping families be strong in the faith, then our work may not endure.  That was the insight in our diocese that led us to a generational approach to faith formation.”

Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium, speaks of the capacity for the cultural transformation of the parish: “The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community.” (EG, no.28)

Fr. Mark’s Musings