GETTING TO KNOW… Each Other—Ourselves—The Lord

Last year, through the Covenant and other efforts of the Stewardship Team, we tried to help you grow in your relationship with God.

I fervently pray that taking the time to assess your relationship with God, your parish community, and those around you has helped you grow as a Christian.

This year (beginning next weekend), we will focus a little more deeply on this process. We will provide specific events, exercises, and programs to help you get to know more people in your parish community. You probably are already familiar with those who attend the same Mass with you each Sunday, particularly those who sit in your vicinity.

Beginning next Sunday, we are inviting everyone to come to the Parish Center after Mass for a complimentary donut and cup of coffee. (We will, of course, accept donations if you feel moved to make one.) This will continue every Sunday morning. It will be hosted by different groups who will probably have a concurrent fund raiser (breakfast burritos, Bake Sale, Pancake Breakfast, etc.). Please continue to support our ministries who raise their own funds in order to not burden the parish budget.

Over the last two years, I have watched our parish change and grow in its morale and spirit. The membership in ministries and groups has grown—in some cases even doubled or tripled! New ministries have been formed. We now have a conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and a pantry ministry, Feed My People.

Even our Stewardship Team has grown from three to fifteen impassioned parishioners. Seven members of the team will be flying to Chicago in October for the annual conference of the International Catholic Stewardship Council. (If you wish to make a donation to help defray the cost, it would be most appreciated.) This is very exciting, because they will each be moved by the Spirit in a special way and will bring back something that touched them. They will then have more to share with the parishioners to make their spiritual journey more fulfilling.

Our Spanish-speaking and English-speaking communities are collaborating on a frequent basis. Before each major decision, we address concerns on how we can work together on the project.

In the past year, we have welcomed many new parishioners who have found us to be very warm and welcoming, beginning at the front doors and continuing into the pews.

We recognize that, along with getting to know others better, we grow significantly by getting to know ourselves on a more personal basis: Getting to Know Ourselves.

During Lent, we will be offering a two-week seminar on Living Your Strengths. This is an assessment that identifies your gifts and talents. If identified and used well, they turn into strengths. I have personally become involved with this and can attest to its power in my life. It has made me much more effective in what I do and how I relate to others.

Some parishioners have come forward this past year and shared stories with me of their personal transformation as a result of Stewardship as a Way of Life and more specifically, the act of making a Covenant with God. At the Masses next weekend, you will hear a Witness Talk after a brief homily.

The following weekend (September 12 & 13), we will renew our Covenant with God. Please pray about this and make it a meaningful experience. It has the power to change your life! The Covenant, along with some other offerings, will help you in Getting to Know the Lord. God Bless you!

Another Form of Progress and Development

This article, written by Mary Ann Otto, Stewardship Director, Diocese of Green Bay, WI, was originally published in the August newsletter of the International Catholic Stewardship Council.

It is not unusual that I have an immediate emotional or spiritual response to something I read. Recently, I had one such reaction when Pope Francis tweeted in June: “A decrease in the pace of production and consumption can at times give rise to another form of progress and development.” Upon reading those words, my body relaxed and I felt at peace.

Though Pope Francis’ comment was an insight directed at environmental and human ecology, the potential outcome of such a decrease overwhelmed me. The thought of living in a world that was not production or consumption driven immediately created an image in my mind of what taking a step closer to the Kingdom might look like and it made me happy.

I imagined what we consistently talk about in stewardship becoming more of a reality. It was about taking time to receive God’s gifts gratefully, nurture them responsibly, share them generously and return them to God in abundance. It was about assessing our lives as followers of Jesus and as members of humankind. The statement was a call to set priorities that reflect a God centered way of life and a change in understanding the definition of power and success.

As a baby boomer, I remember Sundays when the stores were closed and my family would take turns entertaining or visiting our cousins. On beautiful summer days we might spontaneously gather with our backyard neighbors (many of them widowed or retired) for a picnic. We scavenged our kitchens for ingredients to make a dish to pass around, put our lawn chairs in a circle and spent the day together. It was simple, but yet some of the most wonderful memories of my childhood.

When I look at my children and grandchildren I would like for progress and development to reflect a faithful simplicity and generosity. It would be a way of life that honors the earth and humankind. We would be able to redistribute the world’s resources so no one would go without. In the end, I want my children and grandchildren not to experience instant gratification and great wealth, but to experience lifelong joy. That would be progress!

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Weekend of August 22-23, 2015

In today’s Gospel, we hear that a number of Jesus’ followers left him because his message was too difficult for them to accept. In essence, they did not believe in him. He then asked the Twelve if they wished to leave as well. Peter responds by making a profound profession of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. The Twelve made a choice and stood by their choice, remaining loyal to their commitment to Jesus.

A good question for our reflection might be this: Are we satisfied with the stewardship we exercise over our baptismal commitment? Are we just “along for the ride?” Are we keeping Christ in front of us as we make decisions about our daily activities, our relationships, our parish, issues in the workplace, issues such as peace and justice? What is the quality of our stewardship?

Hopefully you have received last year’s Covenant in the mail (764 were mailed out last week) and have had time to reflect on the commitments you made at that time. You will have the opportunity to forge a new promise with God three weeks from today.

7 Signs You Love Comfort More Than Jesus, Part II

Refer to last week’s bulletin for the first half of this article.

4.) You keep God on a leash.
“You stay right there, God. And don’t do anything crazy.” This is the implicit mantra of comfortable Christians. God is confined to a box. Answers rarely fall in the gray area. God rarely operates beyond human understanding. Miracles. Healing. Demons. None of these filter through the box well.
So, they are out.

Comfortable Christians often use phrases like “God doesn’t work that way” and “God can’t do that” because God isn’t all-powerful…he is “most of the time” powerful.
A God without a leash is a God who will act in ways man can’t understand. That’s uncomfortable. But if God is not all-powerful, he is not a God worth serving. So, we must make a decision. Let go of the leash or follow a false god.

5.) You begin to compromise your morals.
Yesterday I ran across the first few chapters of Judges. It was around Judges 2:12 God started doing work on my heart. This is what the Spirit awakened in me: when comfort sets in, morals are compromised. The Israelites entered the Promised Land, conquered the nations in their path, settled into their new home, and…started serving other gods? Anyone else find this baffling?
How could they desert God so easily? The answer…comfort. The Israelites needed God to conquer the nations. They couldn’t do it without him. Once the conquering was over, the need for God dissipated. And when the need for God subsides, morals follow closely behind.

Here is where God split open my heart…I am no different from the Israelites. Every day, I allow the god of comfort to shackle me. I take my eyes off him and justify actions God clearly condemns.
Think about your life. Are you lowering the moral bar? Do you value holiness? This is not about legalism. This is about your heart. A heart desperate for God is a heart dedicated to thinking and acting in ways that reveal your love for him.

6.) You view Christian living as a list of “don’ts.”
Comfort-driven Christians have a laundry list of “don’ts.” They believe in righteousness by subtraction. So, you won’t catch them drinking or cursing…at least not in public.  But righteousness by subtraction is one-sided righteousness. It’s half truth.  The whole truth is your heart should grieve as much when you fail to live out the “dos” as it does when you fail to refrain from the “don’ts.” But comfortable Christians don’t like the “dos.” It involves them getting out of their comfort zone. It involves them taking the message of the gospel to their neighbor. It involves them feeding the poor and correcting injustices.
Are you minimizing righteousness to a list of “don’ts”? Does your heart break for those who don’t know Jesus? Do you grieve when you pass over an opportunity to plead the cause of the poor and oppressed? Is your heart desensitized to the orphans and widows?   If not, maybe it’s time to ask whether you follow comfort or Jesus.

7.) Every person in your circle looks and acts like you.
A few weeks ago, God introduced me to a young man. It was obvious this guy had a tough life. But I was drawn to him immediately. I invited him to our college ministry events and introduced him to a few of our leaders. Then, we had a phone conversation. And in this conversation he informed me he was a homosexual who recently spent time in prison for arson and attempted murder. What I thought next is the same thing some of you are probably thinking. What if he hurts someone? What if he steals something? What was I doing?  See the problem?

The old demon comfort reared its ugly head. When he explained all the “bad” sins he committed, I immediately felt my comfort violated. I threw up walls. I labeled him.  And this is what comfort says. The gospel is not good news for everyone. It’s good news for those in your circle. Instead of a message for the world, the gospel is a message for “your people.”  When comfort is more important than Jesus, small groups become country clubs and churches become barricaded forts. The very ones we should be reaching for Jesus are the ones not allowed to enter.
I am excited about the future. God is working. I believe in the church because I believe in the king who reigns over her. This is not a call to self-pity. This is a call to revival. A call to action. We must tear down the wall of comfort so God can flood our heart and allow his transforming power to spill onto the darkness in this world.

Thank you, Mr. Powell. Well said!

Seven Signs You Love Comfort More Than Jesus

Every morning on my way to work, I listen to the Patrick Madrid Show on Immaculate Heart Radio (AM 1000). This morning, he was sharing an article written by Frank Powell in Christian Living. He begins…

This past weekend, while traveling home with my family, I narrowly avoided tragedy. I was changing lanes on a busy interstate. Nothing new there. I frequent busy interstates. But this time was different. As I eased over, I failed to see the car in my blind spot. Then came a loud horn followed by screeching brakes. Looking through the rear view mirror, I saw the inches that separated a safe return home from being a statistic. Talk about sobering.
And this terrifying moment reminded me of an important reality…failure to check a blind spot can be catastrophic.
Blind spots aren’t relegated to cars. Relationships. Jobs. Organizations. Blind spots are everywhere. Think about slavery. An enormous blind spot in American history. How could so many great leaders support such a despicable act? But it happened. And the fallout from the era of slavery is still felt today.

The church is not immune to blind spots either. And the greatest hole, the greatest blind spot, in American Christianity today is the widespread pursuit of comfort.  And if American Christians do not identify the blind spot, the results could be catastrophic. Comfort pulls us away from God. It clouds the truth of the gospel. It creates tension between the life God calls us to and the life we desire for ourselves. And ultimately, comfort prevents us from seeing the fullness of God in this life…and maybe the next.
Much of what follows is a personal confession from a comfortable Christian. I fight a battle everyday with comfort. So, I ask you to pray for me before you read any further…And as you move forward, I ask you to consider how my personal confession parallels your journey. Maybe there is an area you haven’t given to God. Maybe comfort is driving the train of your life.  How would you know? Here are 7 signs of a Christian that loves comfort more than Jesus.
1.) You are a referee not a player.    When comfort trumps Jesus, cynicism and judgmentalism are soon to follow. Comfortable Christians move from a player on the field to a referee on the sidelines. Think about it. Players are too busy to investigate holding or lining up illegally. But referees? This is their only purpose. Referees watch every player on every play. And when someone commits a penalty, a flag is thrown. “Foul! She did something in children’s ministry I don’t agree with.” “Foul! I didn’t like what the preacher said today.”  Active Christians don’t have time for this nonsense. They are serving and building the kingdom. The church should ignore referees. They don’t understand the game…they aren’t on the team.

2.) Your desire and passion for God are stagnant.  Christians should live with a healthy discomfort. Always. You should welcome preachers who push you and challenge you to explore deeper levels of God’s nature and character, grace, and immeasurable power.
You should constantly push to know and understand more of God. Every part of your life should awaken you to God’s unfailing love, infinite grace, and immeasurable power.
The process of God molding you into his image is a lifelong pursuit. You don’t “arrive.” God is infinite. And stretching towards an infinite God requires growing pains. Comfortable Christians don’t like pain.
But if the goal is to know God more intimately, you must live with a healthy discomfort.

3.) You talk like an atheist.  When God is over-shadowed by comfort, he rarely comes out of your mouth during conversation. How often does God cross your mind in a 24-hour period? At work, do you look for opportunities to inject God’s name into conversations? At school, does God shape your encounters with friends and teachers?

Whatever you are passionate about you will talk about. Write that down. When I met my wife, I called all my friends. I even called people I didn’t know. I wanted the world to know this beautiful, amazing woman actually liked me.  What about God? Are you passionate about him? Would any of your co-workers or classmates know you are a Christian? When comfort drives the train, God takes a back seat.

Next week, I will conclude with reasons 4-7 of Seven Signs You Love Comfort More than Jesus.