Category Archives: Diocese

A Child’s Condolence Message

At Dad’s funeral (see also post of funeral homily from Jan. 30, 2015) we displayed condolence cards made by the children from my parish’s Parish School of Religion formation classes. There was one card that everyone seemed to comment on, including my Bishop, The Most Rev. Edward K. Braxton, who graciously came to visit that evening. Children have another way of looking at things and expressing the hope of eternal life. In the midst of sadness, this card brought the “Joy of the Gospel” to my family and friends.

Sympathy Card big screen tv frontSympathy Card big screen tv text For those who might not be able to read the handwriting;

Dear Mr. Father
Joe, I hope your Father makes it to heavin [sic] safely.
He will probably be able to watch the [St. Louis Baseball] Cardinal games
in heavin [sic], I’m sure God has a flat screen t.v. I
think he will be happy in heavin, he can fly! God will
take care of him. At dinner I bet he has an all you can eat buffet! Any
-way he will be fine,
Take care!
Sincerely, Megan
of the 4th grade P.S.R.

Note: Dad was a St. Louis Cardinals Baseball team super fan, which I guess I told the children about at some time. And whether my friend Megan knows it or not she has made some scriptural references: Flying in heaven might be related to Isaiah 40:25-31 where it is said “They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagles’ wings.” and eating at a buffet can refer to the parables of Jesus where he compares the Kingdom of God to a banquet (e.g.  Luke 14:15-24).
Megan is able to express our hope in the reality of the resurrected body in her own beautiful child’s way. Bless her!

Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
Gospel of Mark 10:15

Sympathy Card big screen tv inside art

R&R&R part 1

Steven Covey in the Woods

Summer is coming to a close in my neck of the woods. Of course if you’re reading this in the southern hemisphere (as I’ve discovered sometimes happens when I look at the statistics page for my blog) you’re looking forward to spring. Anyway, I really haven’t taken a summer vacation. In fact summer seems to have gone by quicker than ever. Call it poor planning on my part. I let the days slip by, and didn’t make plans. Perhaps I should take that 7 Habits for Highly Effective People course or read the book by Stephen Covey. Oh, wait a minute. I took the 7 Habits course adapted for Catholic priests, several years ago when it was offered by the  National Federation of Priests’ Councils in our Diocese. I remember thinking at the time that it was an awful lot of work to be that organized, bought the Franklin Covey planner, and proceeded to not put into practice most of what I learned. I was and am just not that disciplined. So, my professional life is still disorganized and I could be more effective than I am.

So why do I bring up the 7 Habits? I did take a couple of “mini-vacations” where I wasn’t absent from the parish over a weekend, for 3 or 4 days mid-week. In August I took a short trip to New Harmony, Indiana and St. Meinrad Archabbey and St. Meinrad Seminary, in Southern Indiana. I am an alumnus of the seminary.

My goal on this trip was for a little R & R & R. That’s Rest and Relaxation and Renewal. Rest and relaxation are important. The first two R’s can lead to renewal of spirit, renewal of energy, renewal of purpose and mission. I can use a bit of the third R. Besides a quick trip to southern Indiana, I do need to schedule a retreat. Again, the lack of organization of my life and procrastination.

New Harmony, Indiana was founded in the 19th century, with two groups trying to establish at different times a utopian community. They were the Rappits and the Harmonists. (You can read more at the town’s website linked to in the previous paragraph.) Those early residents didn’t achieve their goal, but the current residents have used this history to cultivate a town where there is an openness to “spirituality” and a peacefulness. At the heart of this spirit of the town is the New Harmony Inn. It’s a wonderfully relaxing, peaceful place that draws its inspiration from the early settlers and provides visitors a sort of spiritual retreat atmosphere without being a religious institution. I spent two days and nights there, using a gift card that I’d been presented three years ago by my parish of St. Stephen, Caseyville, IL during the “Year of the Priest.” The priests of the Diocese of Belleville used to hold their convocation there for a few years. I had mentioned how much I liked town and New Harmony Inn, so I was presented the gift card. I finally used the gift this past week because other plans for a longer vacation didn’t materialize and I had at least reserved the week on the calendar for vacation.

On the morning of my first day, I decided to use one of the bicycles the Inn loans out for guests. I found myself riding a gravel trail in the woods between the Inn and the Wabash River that the town is next to. I had walked one of the trails, earlier and found myself praying and reflecting in God’s cathedral, never meeting another person. This time on the bicycle, I noticed some men were sitting on benches or fallen trees. In their hands were the unmistakable Franklin Covey & 7 Habits of Highly Effective Planner books!

Putting two and two together, I figured the group I had seen the night before at the Inn’s Red Geranium Restaurant was some sort of corporate retreat taking the 7 Habits course. So, I asked one of the men and had my conclusion confirmed.

What struck me as ironic is that here these men were, out in nature’s beauty where productivity and efficiency are not exactly the goal. Noses buried in their planners, planning what ever they’d need to do to get organized and highly effective at work they were missing the point of enjoying God’s handiwork. Perhaps I’m being a bit too harsh, I’m sure they were noticing the beauty around them, but still, it just seemed incongruous. I did remind the man I spoke with to remember to check out the scenery and not miss what was right in front of him.

Sometimes, that’s a problem for me and other professional church ministers. We professional ecclesial ministers are called to have vision, to lead and program our congregations so that people grow in living the mission. But I wonder if sometimes we get too focused on where we want to be and don’t notice the person in need right in front of us, or take the time to rejoice with our people over what God is doing in that moment in our parish.

The encounter with Stephen Covey in the woods on a river bank left me with a desire to spend my three days away in more of a prayerful attitude of being attentive to what God was inviting me to hear in order that I might be not just rested and relaxed but also renewed. The parish will still be there when I get back, I reminded myself. Perhaps it was part of God’s plan that the wi-fi signal in my part of the Inn complex wasn’t working. I wasn’t going to be tempted to deal with e-mails and parish planning on my computer I brought along.

Later that evening, while I was finishing my dinner at the Red Geranium restaurant, a group of five men and a woman were seated on the patio where I was dinning. We struck up a conversation (I do have a habit of doing that with strangers when I’m traveling alone) and they invited me to join them for a drink. They did get me to reveal I was a priest taking a little R & R which always opens up a host of topics and questions, which I’m glad to answer. There’s No Vacation from Telling Good News as I’ve written before. During our conversation I discovered they were part of the same workshop learning the 7 Habits. Apparently, it was proving to be a valuable experience for them.

That’s good, I thought. Yet, I couldn’t resist adding my two-cents of “pastoral advice.” I told the group about my experience with the 7 Habits course. Then I reminded the group that while I’m sure it’s valuable in both the business and ecclesiastical world, my experience has taught me that when servicing our “clients” (when viewed through the lens of the business realm, members of parishes are “consumers” of a service that we provide) relationship always trumps efficiency. These young business people will do better in their business if they concentrate on building a relationship with their clients. Ultimately, the business of church ministers is always building up the relationship of the people they serve with Jesus Christ. The way to experiencing a relationship with Christ, in the Catholic realm, is to build up relationships among parishioners, to form community. In encountering the poor, we encounter Christ who invites us into relationship through serving the least of my brothers and sisters.

Convocation Take-Away

A couple of weeks ago, I spent 4 days with my brother priests from the Diocese of Belleville at our annual Convocation. It is to be a time of spiritual renewal, continuing formation in priesthood and fraternity. To varying degrees these goals were met.

There was one particular “take-away” phrase that has stuck with me since those days of convocation. While it was given in the context of a talk about the ongoing spiritual formation of priests, I think it applies to any Christian seeking to grow in holiness and their baptismal calling. Fr. Louis Cameli, one of the presenters during the convocation, is a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, currently the Archbishop’s Delegate for Formation and Mission and a former professor at St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary. He stated that part of a priest’s spiritual life is to live in poverty. He was not talking about monetary or fiscal poverty. He was reflecting on the need for “kenosis,” a Greek word that means roughly “emptying of self” and “detachment” where a person grows in reliance of the grace of God. The phrase that sticks with me is this:

“Nature abhors a vacuum. The Holy Spirit abhors a full soul and self.” 

How true! If we are full of ourselves, there’s no room for God to enter into and dwell. If we’re always focused on “me”, how will we hear the Word of God calling us to conversion of heart and life? If we don’t attempt to silence our own words and thoughts in our mind in prayer, contemplation and liturgy there is no space for the Word to be heard. There must be some emptiness in our life to relieve the gift of grace, the experience of God’s love for us. That emptiness can be silence in prayer, the inability to heal some pain on our own, fasting’s hunger or a lack of financial resources. Emptying the self comes in many forms. Only when the vessel is empty can something be poured into it. Kenosis requires a life time of rehearsing and practice. Ultimately, that “rehearsal” will make the final “emptying of self, our death, less fearful and prepare us to receive the fullness of life.

In humbleness, this poverty business, the work of “kenosis” is certainly a part of my own continuing formation that is still in progress if I am to be the icon of Christ ordination made me. 

We’re Number 1 (in some places)

While looking at some news articles on I came across a link for an article at the Huffington Post that was highlighted Most and Least Catholic States in AmericaIt’s a quick read, but full of information that my readers might find interesting. Can you guess which state has the most Catholics? It’s not Maryland, like I  would have thought, since the state was founded by Catholics looking to escape persecution back home across “the pond.” You’ll have to read the article to find the answer.

And if you’re really into statistics or curious to know more about the study that is being reported on, go to the web-site that the Huff Post Article is referring to, The 2010 U.S. Religion Census: Religious Congregations & Membership Study (RCMS)

If you look closely at the map to the right (you can click on it and enlarge it) you can see that the Diocese of Belleville, of which I am a priest of, has about half of its counties where Roman Catholics are in the majority. The other half is pretty much Southern Baptists. That’s been my experience as a priest over 30 years. Southern Illinois is on the edge of the so-called “Bible-Belt.” The further south and west you get into the territory our diocese encompasses (the 24 counties of the southern tip of Illinois), the everyday experience of Catholics in relationship to other Christian believers becomes more of a challenge. It’s common for Catholics in the deep south of our diocese to be told they are not Christian or not true believers or to be held in suspicion because they adhere to a “superstitious” religion (often a reference to our use of sacraments, sacramentals). Where I live now, we’re the big church in town, in the county, in our corner of the Diocese. Sometimes I wonder if that doesn’t make parishioners a little too comfortable and unchallenged. I am not saying they are poor examples of Catholic witness, but being the majority group can lull one into a bit of complacency. While not promoting proselytizing other faiths, let’s recommit ourselves to inviting others to share our Catholic faith in Jesus and the work of ecumenism.

El Señor esté con ustedes

Yesterday was a sort of first for me. I presided at my “first” Mass entirely in Spanish. I’ve done parts of the Eucharist and Rite of Baptism in Spanish, before, at my former parish of St. Stephen Catholic Church in Caseyville, IL. But, I had never spoken ALL the prayers, start to finish, in another language than English.

In our area of Clinton County, IL there is a sizable population of immigrants from Mexico. They have been settling here for many years finding work in various agricultural and service industries. Many speak English or are attempting to learn it, but there are always new folks arriving without English skills. Let’s be honest, it’s difficult to pick up a second language as an adult. I would struggle trying to learn something other than English at this point in my life. Their children, of course, learn English much faster. Many are born here. What I think is neat is that these youth are bi-lingual. How lucky they are to be able to communicate in both languages. I studied Spanish in High School, but never really became able to converse in it. Many folks in my parish in Trenton and around the county aren’t aware of how large the population of Spanish speaking neighbors has become in recent years.

We anglos better get used to the idea that Spanish has become a part of life in the United States and in the Catholic Church in our nation. According to an article in U.S. Catholic,

“Between 2000 and 2008 the number of U.S. Hispanics increased from 35 million to 46.9 million, a 34 percent jump. Their numbers will continue to increase at least until 2050, when the Census Bureau projects a count of 102.6 million. At that time, the bishops’ Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs has estimated, 85 percent of U.S. Catholics will be Hispanic.” (c.f. “Journey to the Center of the Church” Wednesday, June 2, 2010, cited on the web-site of U.S. Catholic, a publication of The Claretians,,1, accessed April 23, 2011. The article originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 75, No. 3, pages 27 – 31).

Already, if I remember correctly a statistic I read in the same publication quoted above (but can’t find to site), 50% of the Catholics in this country under 30 years of age speak Spanish at home, already! Some call this the “browning” of the church. I call it a wonderful experience of the diversity of The Body of Christ, “El Cuerpo de Christo.”

I know there is resistance among some in our parishes of southern Illinois to making the liturgy available in Spanish. I ran into that in Caseyville. And I sense that is the case in my present parish. “They’re in this country, they should speak English! Let them come to Mass in English.” But I can’t help wondering if I found myself in anther country for an extended stay or to live where English was not spoken, wouldn’t I long for an opportunity to pray in my “native” tongue where I was comfortable and didn’t have to constantly translate in my mind what was being said. To me, that translating gymnastics would be an obstacle to communicating with the God who brought be to birth and first spoke to me in a particular language through the love of my parents who taught me to speak and in a liturgy of the language of where I was born and raised. Ritual is more than words, yes. The Mass is the Mass in any language and a person can get “something” out of a Mass because the non-verbal symbols still speak the reality of Christ present and worshiped. But, would it be as full of an experience of “the mysteries.” This is one of the reasons the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy of Vatican Council II encouraged the use of the vernacular in the Roman Catholic Church (see article number 36 in the Constitution), to make the liturgy accessible to people.

Sure, eventually, I’d learn the local language and become comfortable in expressing myself in it. I had an aunt, Sister Folgence Rascher, CPpS, who spent over 25 years in Peru. When she would come back to the States for home visits, often she’d have to ask how to say something in English, since Spanish had become so much a part of her everyday and prayer language. In one sense, she became Peruvian, she identified with her adopted people. She was proud of her birth country, occasionally critical of it for the strong influence it had on Peruvian culture, but a woman of faith who knew in her heart that Jesus the Christ was savior of all people and in order for people to know Him, she had to first meet people where they were in their language and culture, not impose a way of communicating learned in a small farming community of north central Missouri where she was born. Sister Folgence was a kind of hero and inspiration to me. I figure a similar journey of enculturation and encounter with Christ is going on for those who come to our country looking for work, the human rights of freedom and dignity.

Those who have settled in this area of Clinton County, traveling from their place of birth in Mexico and points even further south, are my brothers and sisters in faith. If I happened to study Spanish in High School out of admiration for my Aunt Sister Folgence and am able to at least speak it from printed liturgical texts in a way that is comprehensible, then I have a responsibility to offer the sacraments in Spanish to them. I truly believe that God was at work back in those formative high school experiences at Mater Dei High School in Breese (just a few miles from where I live, today) preparing me to be a priest who could offer the sacraments to people in a language that would be a comfortable place to pray while they “sojourned in a foreign land” like the Israelites of old. I suspect Sister Fulgence is smiling down from Heaven at what her nephew is up to.

The actual experience of praying the Mass in Spanish was a bit of a challenge. I was pretty nervous. What if I can’t be understood? What if I make a mistake? I’ve been practicing for several months, off and on, once I learned that the priest who usually celebrates the Mass at St. Damian in Damiansville, IL was having serious health problems. He was becoming unavailable to preside. The coordinator of the Office of Hispanic Ministry in the Diocese of Belleville, Sister Cecilia Hellmann, ASC and the local coordinator our deanery hired to minister to the Hispanics in our area, Robert Rapp, were both encouraging me to get busy and practice. Bob reminded me before I processed to the altar, “Just remember. It’s God who’s doing this, not you! Don’t be afraid!” Good advice. He also helped me out by reading the Gospel and giving a “reflection” afterwards about the importance of not being afraid to witness to the faith. I didn’t understand everything in the comments to the folks, but I did catch that and that he used me as an example of trying new experiences to proclaim our belief in Jesus the Risen One. (The Gospel was the story of the appearance of Jesus to disciples after he had appeared to two others on the Road to Emmaus, Third Sunday of Easter, Cycle B. Jesus sends those disciples, who were originally fearful they were seeing a ghost, out to proclaim repentance to the whole world at the end of the pericope.)

I guess things went pretty well. Bob tells me that some of the folks didn’t believe it was my first time celebrating the Eucharist in Spanish! The practicing paid off, it seems. Bob did say I’ve got to work on my “H’s” and “J’s.” H is not pronounced in Spanish, and I have a habit of still pronouncing it. J’s are sounded out like an English H and the old English thinking brain keeps trying to say the english sound. Back to the practice! But the thing he said that I appreciated the most was that he had the sense I was “praying” the prayers instead of just pronouncing what was on the page as some priests have to do who don’t speak the language when leading Mass. He had the sense I knew what I was saying, putting emphasis and interpretation into the prayer. That, I hope, helped the congregation to pray. I know I was focusing more on correct pronunciation than praying, but I guess in time I’ll be praying more than concentrating on correct pronunciation. Heck, I’m still working on “Praying” the new English translation of the Roman Missal with all of its unfamiliar vocabulary and sentence construction! By the way, I can see where the Mexican Sacramentary (which we use for Spanish liturgy in the U.S.) does have places where it is much closer to the Latin original Missal than the previous English Sacramentary, thus exemplifying for me a few of the changes that were made in English. Yet, there’s a lot more “options” and “adaption” of the prayers, too, than we had in English. That’s another whole blog article.

Overall, it was a good experience. I did feel welcomed as the stranger, and thus like the Christ was when he walked that road to Emmaus with two disciples, able to provide for them an experience of his risen presence in the “Breaking of the Bread.” Yet, because the people I prayed with were not familiar to me, maybe I felt a bit like they do when they come to this country, disconnected from the culture and language, hoping to find their place in the community. That’s like anytime I’ve moved into a new parish, though. Faces will become familiar. I might even learn how to converse with the folks a bit. Hopefully, the Kingdom of God was made evident in this world. And, one day we’ll all experience the Lord Jesus gathering “people of every race, language and way of life in the one eternal banquet” of life (from the former translation in English of the Eucharistic Prayer II for Reconciliation).

Sounds like I’m going to do this on a regular basis, doesn’t it? The invitation to preside, again, has been offered. I’ve accepted. A new experience of ministry is taking shape.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros.
Sister Folgence, pray for me, assist me to carry on a bit of your ministry.

Early Lent Links

Allow me to humbly suggest the two links below for quick reflections on the events of the first few days of Lent, Ash Wednesday and First Sunday of Lent, the assigned day for the Rite of Election in the Church’s liturgical life.

Newly elevated Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York City (whose home town is St. Louis, MO, just a short drive from my home) did a quick video for AOL’s “You’ve Got…” series about the meaning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, last week. Here’s the link to click: You’ve Got Ash Wednesday. Sorry, you’ll probably have to view a commercial, first, since I’m not a “pro” member of this blog hosting service and can’t embed the video in my blog.

One of my favorite rites of the Church is the Rite of Election that takes place in most dioceses on the First Sunday of Lent. I was among the small group of laity and clergy who got this rite organized for its first celebration in the Diocese of Belleville back in the 1980’s (1983?) This is a wonderful sign of hope and celebration of the local church. Roco Palmo, the twenty something author of the blog Whispers in the Logia, writes a nice article about the Rite while reminding us in the church that we have a serious problem with retention of the “life long” Catholics among us. Here’s the link: Forget the Primaries and Oscars — In the Church, It’s “Election Day.”

How’s your Lent going? I’m still trying to get up to speed, to tell the truth.
May you have a blessed one!

Suggested Reading on the Internet

There are two columnists in our Belleville Diocesan Newspaper, The Messenger, that I highly recommend.

This past edition there was an insightful column on the relationship of orthodoxy and heresy, “The Other Side of Orthodoxy” that got me thinking I’d recommend his columns to my readers. He has written some excellent columns about dealing with suicide, by the way.

The other columnist I recommend is REV. ROBERT BARRON.
He is a professor at University of St. Mary of the Lake and Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois. Our presbyterate (the priests of a diocese) were privileged to hear him speak at our last convocation last fall. He’s an excellent preacher and teacher. Our Bishop, the Most Rev. Edward K. Braxton thinks highly of him. The web-site, called Word on Fire, is more than his syndicated columns. It is one of his ministries, using the internet as part of the “new evangelization.” It’s well worth your time, read and listen (there are pod-casts of his homilies for instance).

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