God chose us in Christ before the world began to be holy and blameless in His sight.
(See Ephesians 1:4)
These roses were blooming last week right in front of my mom's apartment. As we move into the month of November I am grateful for the beautiful fall season that we have had through October. On this Feast of All Saints Day may the glory of God shine within each of our hearts. We are called to be saints.
God chose us in Christ before the world began to be holy and blameless in His sight.
(See Ephesians 1:4)
I had the opportunity to attend an all-day seminar on Wednesday at Laramie County Community College entitled "Bridges Out Of Poverty." This training was centered around the work and research of Ruby K. Payne, PhD. It has been more than 30 years since receiving my undergraduate degree in Sociology and Criminal Justice, but some of the same issues that I studied back then continue to perpetuate themselves year after year, decade, after decade, and from one generation to the next. Breaking the cycle of poverty is a complex and daunting task for all involved. This training reminded me of the many challenges that stand in the way of breaking free.
There are a variety of institutions which strive to make a difference. These include governmental agencies, non-profit organizations, private enterprises, and many church congregations as well. Coordinating these efforts to accomplish more than a band-aid approach is an arduous endeavor in and of itself. How do we utilize resources in the most productive manner possible? What role does the Church play?
The Cathedral of St. Mary provides sack lunches Monday through Saturday for anyone wanting one. There are no questions asked. Lunch is simply provided if a person wants one. The parish also provides assistance with rent and utility expenses. There are processes and interviews associated with seeking this type of financial aid. The parish works with other organizations and institutions in the community to address additional areas of concern for the poor and homeless as well. This includes, but is not limited to, education, employment, money management skills, health care, and transportation needs.
How does your local community address the needs of the poor and homeless? It is my hope that we (as Church) continue to do our part to be a bridge out of poverty.
I have always admired the Mississippi River. The writings of Mark Twain captured my attention at an early age, and field trips to Hannibal, Missouri during my elementary school years heightened my interest even more. I wanted to be part of the adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Becky Thatcher.
Standing near the Lock and Dam in Clarksville, Missouri last week, and watching a barge make its way through the narrow passageway, reminded me of those childhood fantasies of traversing the mighty Mississippi on my trusty home-made raft. How exciting would it be to find myself all the way down the river into New Orleans? The risks seemed minimal compared to the excitement of the adventure. Ah, youthful naivete!
Having time to think and ponder as I stood by the river was refreshing. I don't want to ever get to the point where I stop hoping and stop dreaming of what could be. I will probably never go down the river on a raft, but what are some of the dreams still percolating in my mind? What do I want to accomplish in my family life? What do I want to accomplish in my ministry? What risks would I like to take in my personal and professional life?
I don't want to limit my imagination with small thinking. I want to allow the power and grandeur of God to enhance and enlarge my thinking on a grander scale. I want to trust that the magnificence of the Holy Spirit which empowered the apostles is still the same Holy Spirit desiring to empower faithful followers today.
Are you excited about the possibilities in your life? Let us pray with fervent hearts and look expectantly for the glory of God to shine in our lives.
Let's "roll on" with faith, hope, and love.
I stopped at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee last week on my way to Birmingham, Alabama. Although I passed by Nashville on a number of occasions in the past on my way to Florida, I never left the interstate to actually go into the city. I decided it was time to venture off the interstate and see a little bit of the city. The first stop was at the Grand Ole Opry House.
It was early in the morning and I was grateful for the peace and quiet. Although it would be fun to attend a show and enjoy the ambiance created by a musical celebrity, I will admit that I found the tranquility of the morning to be a pleasant experience. There were no crowds of bustling people, no vendors, and no celebrities. It was only my mom and I, and a groundskeeper off in the distance. The cool, crisp morning made it perfect for some quiet reflection.
The large guitars at the entrance of the main sidewalk are eye-catching to say the least. As I admired these over-sized musical instruments I couldn't help but wonder about the number of people who have come to Nashville through the years in search of fame and fortune. As the song says, "It's a long, hard ride." How many dreams have been realized in the process? How many dreams have been crushed?
Although a career in music was never in the cards for me, I have long held on to a question posed by a teacher many years ago. She simply asked, "Do you have music in your life?" She was trying to impress upon a room full of teenagers the necessity of living life with joy and gusto. She said, "Even if you are singing the blues, it takes life and energy to feel the passion." Her words come back to me from time to time when I feel myself getting a little sluggish in my day-to-day routine.
How is the music in your life?
The Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Alabama is a very interesting display of handiwork. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. The grotto sits on a four acre landscaped park and contains more than 125 miniature replicas of biblical structures and world famous buildings. It is located at Alabama's only Benedictine Abbey with a church and monastery.
Thank you Brother Joseph Zoettl for creating this beautiful work of art. Pictures really don't capture the scene, but here is a sample of what I had the opportunity to see.
This picture was taken along the banks of the Mississippi River in Clarksville, Missouri on Thursday, October 23. Although the trees outside my office here in Cheyenne have lost all of their leaves already, going southward brought a second chance to see some more fall colors. It has been a wonderful fall season. Although we received a dusting of snow here in Cheyenne on September 11, the weather since then has just been fabulous.
While watching the news on TV can be depressing with reports of attacks in Canada, a hatchet attack here in the U.S., and another shooting in a school, I appreciated the opportunity to disconnect for a while and enjoy the beauty of God's creation. In the midst of the trials and tribulations of life there is also much good. What would happen in our world if we each made a commitment to live our lives in a state of perpetual gratitude? I think it would make a phenomenal difference. Are you grateful for all of God's gifts? Take time today to thank God for some of those gifts. Be specific. Name the gift and give God thanks specifically for that gift. I invite you to share your list in the comment section.
I drove by this church last week in Clarksville, Missouri and was saddened by the deteriorating condition of the structure. I can only imagine the number of lives that were touched through the years inside this building, but it would appear that the days of vibrancy for this congregation have passed. I don't know the history of the church since its founding in 1886, but I was simply struck by image it placed in my mind in regard to my personal faith journey. Am I living my faith with joy, or am I tired, worn out, and broken down in need of significant repair and healing?
Today's Gospel (Matthew 22: 34--40) encourages us to live out our faith journey with zeal. "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." That was only the first half. The second part says, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Living out these two great commandments requires a fervent prayer life, diligent study, and active discipleship and service to others. Simply going to church on Sunday is not enough. A sincere faith in God compels us to live out these commandments each and every day of the week. If we think we are finished for the week after attending church on Sunday, we are sadly mistaken. That is just the beginning.
If we become complacent and content with simply going through the motions of church attendance and nothing more, we are living a falsehood. It is a window dressing so to speak. It takes more than attendance at church to be a Christian--it takes commitment. If you are feeling tired and worn out from the journey, ask God to give you strength. Our future looks bright when we walk in faith, hope, and love.
I apologize for the absence of posts in the last week. This time I really was on vacation, and it truly was nice to get away for a few days. In addition to getting some "down time," I also have new pictures for quite a few upcoming blog posts. As you can see by the picture on the left I made it to Irondale, Alabama. This trip was on my mom's bucket list and it finally came true.
My mom has watched EWTN programming for years and especially appreciates watching the Mass on TV when she is unable to get out and go during inclement weather. She has frequently mentioned that she would like to see where the taping and production all takes place. I tried to take her last year for her 90th birthday, but an ice storm struck the southern states and impeded our travel. This time we had beautiful weather. We made it into the chapel on Sunday evening just in time to pray the Liturgy of the Hours with a few other folks. It was an intimate gathering that closed with benediction.
We had the opportunity to enjoy many sites along the way and I will be sharing these experiences with you in the days ahead. My favorite stop was the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville, Alabama. There are signs asking that no pictures be taken in the interior of the church and I obeyed those signs, but I would certainly recommend making a visit to the shrine if you are ever in the neighborhood.
Are you a liberal or a conservative? The Synod taking place in Rome certainly has the blogosphere lit up with opinions and commentary regarding the mid-term report. Although it is considered a “working document” conservatives are extremely concerned about the ramifications of the contents. Liberals are filled with expectation that Church doctrine will be changing to accommodate those in “irregular” lifestyles. Archbishop Kurtz simply invited all of us to calm down and take a breath.
I realize that the vast majority of Catholics are probably only getting a snippet of information regarding these deliberations on the evening news or from a brief article on the internet. The interpretations of the events seem to be quite diverse depending upon which news source you consult for your information. One thing is for sure. The Synod has created an opportunity for agenda-driven individuals and groups to get their message out to the public. Furthermore, Cardinal Kasper and Cardinal Burke demonstrate the great divide that exists even among the highest echelons of leadership within the Church.
I have frequently heard it said that politics is simply a reflection of the contemporary culture. In the United States we see that accurately played out in a variety of venues. There is no doubt that our politics are deeply divided and extremely partisan with very little concern for the common good. Our culture seems to exhibit great divides as well. A few examples would be the racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri which is twofold—the divide between black and white as well as between the citizen and the police (authority figure), the tension between the LGBT community in Houston (in union with the mayor) against the local pastors, and from an economic perspective the distance and divide between the salary of a CEO and the hourly worker.
Are politics an accurate reflection of contemporary church culture? It would certainly appear to be so, at least as it is being lived out in the United States of America. Obviously, the happenings in Rome impact the Catholic Church around the world. However, the same divide that exists in American politics seems to be reflected in the divide in the Church. Look at the liturgy. Do you prefer Mass in Latin or in the vernacular? What happens if the congregation is made up of a couple of prominent cultures? Do you prefer a bi-lingual Mass? How do you like your music at the Eucharistic celebration—organ or guitar with drums? Are you pro-life or are you a social justice person? Do you want the Church to get with it and start accepting things that the culture is accepting or do you want the Church to be counter-cultural?
These are questions relevant to the wider discussion. As church attendance continues to decline and participation in religious education programs dwindles at alarming rates, the question must be asked, “WHY?” Is it simply that the cultural values have usurped the values and morals taught by the Church subsequently making religious convictions obsolete or irrelevant? If so, why has the culture been more effective at transmitting a message of self-gratification as opposed to the Church which has the message of everlasting life?
It seems to me that there is a grave necessity in our churches at the local level to do some soul-searching. That means there is a need to do some real self-evaluation of the church community. I don’t mean a simple evaluation of programs at the church. I mean an evaluation of the programs and processes in light of the impact that the church community is having on its own members as well as the wider community. Do we witness a sincere growth in holiness that is overflowing into the community beyond the church walls?
There are many tools available to evaluate “success” at the local level. I’ll let you describe and define success for your local parish. Here are some questions to get you started thinking.
1. Are the Eucharistic liturgies spiritually moving and prayerful?
2. Are the homilies well prepared, well delivered, substantive and inspiring?
3. Does your parish call people to a deeper faith in God?
4. Does your parish offer multiple opportunities for spiritual growth?
5. Does your parish do a good job of welcoming guests and new parishioners?
6. Does your parish invite and encourage non-practicing parishioners to return?
7. Are parishioners kept informed of parish activities?
8. Do you get a sense of warmth and hospitality in your parish?
9. Do you have an effective religious education program for all age levels?
10. Is youth ministry a priority in your parish?
11. Are there meaningful social activities for adults and senior citizens?
12. Are your facilities easily accessible to all?
13. Does your parish provide outreach to the poor in the local community?
14. Do your parishioners actively cooperate and work with neighboring parishes?
15. Does your parish provide adequate training for parish ministers and parish staff?
16. Is your pastor readily available to the people?
17. Overall, how does your parish impact the world?
We all have a role to play in being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. How brightly is your light shining right now? Do people encounter Jesus Christ through you and in you? The world needs faithful witnesses in a desperate way. Will you make a commitment to be a person of prayer, study, and action? I hope you will. Tough times are ahead for Christians; we are only experiencing the tip of the iceberg right now. The events in Houston will be lived out with greater frequency and growing intensity in the weeks, months, and years ahead. Let us put on the armor of Christ!
“The city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. And those ministers who fail to comply could be held in contempt of court.” That is the opening paragraph from an article written by Todd Starnes on October 14, 2014 and published on Fox News.
I have been discussing this article with a few folks today and the responses have been interesting. However, one response made me stop in my tracks. The individual with whom I was corresponding said it fairly succinctly. “On the other hand, even at my age and having gone to Mass my whole life, I cannot remember when I heard a homily in a Catholic Church telling people that the ‘sexual’ sins were sinful. I guess it is usually taken for granted that having sex outside of marriage and certainly homosexual sex was serious sin. But it is also much less awkward for the priest and the congregation. Once in a while the abortion word is mentioned but not often, only when those hateful anniversaries roll around. So, sadly, I don't think there is much chance that any Catholic priest will be found ‘guilty’ of this hate-speech crime. It would mean that they actually were fulfilling their vocation as shepherds of their flock. Very few are guilty of that.”
Although I am a deacon and not a priest, this comment made me reflect upon my own role in teaching and preaching the faith in its fullness. Have the “culture wars” scared me off from being faithful? Do I have the ability to address the difficult and sensitive issues in a way that does not water down the truth but also extends the grace and mercy of our God? I will admit that this is getting to be a difficult balance to achieve as society continues to grow in its acceptance of aberrant behaviors.
Those in Church leadership have moral obligations and responsibilities to teach the faith in its fullness. Yes, this means talking about sin and even the consequences of sin. Dare we mention the word “hell” in our homily? Explaining these realities will not win an individual pastor or clergy person any popularity contest in today’s society, but I think each one of us would benefit from truly asking ourselves a simple question. Do I seek popularity or do I seek holiness for myself and my parishioners?
This is my personal blog. The opinions expressed are those of Deacon Vernon and the blog's readers. This site operates independently and is not affiliated with the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming. The information I provide is on an as-is-basis. I make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, or suitability of any information on this blog. I will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information. Furthermore, I will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its use.