April 17, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Holy Week Blessings from Our Priests

Thank you to all our helpers during this Holy Week. SO MUCH goes into making this holiday special for everyone – namely those entering the Church. We’d also like to thank Rob Erp, Stella McCaffery and the gardening committee for making our grounds look so beautiful and welcoming. What you do means so much to us!! ALSO, remember next Sunday, April 27th during and after the 11:15 am Mass, we’ll be holding our Canonization Celebration. Please come celebrate this momentous event.


A Journey of Faith, to Love Again

by Damian Hanley

“I came from a family that was very fractured. My parents divorced when I was young, and that experience was very traumatic.”

When you’re a child, you’re being taught lessons all the time – lessons on how to love; lessons on how to hate; and lessons on how to be in the world. Adults forget this fact, which is why so many children are abused – not physically, although this does scar young bodies – but emotionally, children remember every dig, and every cut. And they carry those wounds into adulthood. We all know what it is to suffer, and this is why when Easter comes around, we cannot help ourselves but to think about Christ only 3 days before, and how He was tortured. He must have felt double the pain at the injustice of the event. He came to teach us how to love, and we killed Him. I guess one of the reasons why we celebrate Easter is not simply the fact that He rose, but because out of His suffering we found meaning.

Easter is the perfect time for reflection. When we contemplate the suffering and injustice Christ endured, it puts our own in perspective. But, without trying to compare apples and oran…crucifixion, what it also does is prove to us that no matter how great the suffering, or how extreme the misery, we’re called to use these experiences to inspire other people. We’re called to forgive anyway, and use what we learn about the frailty of humans – and the perfect love of God – and use that to better the lives of others. And that’s what Barbara Pascale did.

“I felt abandoned, but as a survival mechanism, I still held within me that there was a God. I see it now, as just part of the fine honing of the person I was to become. If those things hadn’t happened on the journey, there’s no telling I’d have the appreciation for the role of my faith in how I live my life.”

We’ve all felt alone and abandoned at times, but young Barbara was placed in an orphanage by her father at an age so young that she felt absolutely vulnerable, but old enough to know the implication of his action. How could she have possibly felt loved? How could she have felt worthy of love if her own father – unprovoked by any outside force – gave her up? A novel could be written on each of her experiences in foster care, but suffice it to say, it was no picnic.

“As my family fractured, the foundation of my spiritual life became my grandmother. She was always there for me. When my brothers and I went our separate ways into foster care, I began Hebrew school,” she remembers. “I really think I found God in that school, and I clung to that facet of my faith. In fact, I still have my childhood Torah. I bounced around a little and for a short while lived with my father and stepmother. She was a Protestant and at one point I became a Presbyterian. So I went from being Jewish, then becoming a Presbyterian, and when I went back to live with my mother, I started going to a Catholic church with my stepfather’s relative… And that’s when the call became strongest.”

Despite the path of tumult that had become Barbara’s faith life, she arrived at Catholicism in 1962. So many people turn away from religion, faith and God – as reflected in their behavior – because of the pain they suffer as children. Garden variety godlessness is almost too common in our culture to be called a “disease” or “mental illness”. It’s become a new normal for a world in which people (marketers) are literally buying our attention a second or a mouse-click at a time. But by becoming a Catholic, she was answering a call, and finding her way out of pain by looking deeper into her faith life. Not running from it.

“As a survival mechanism, at times, I held in my heart the idea that there was a God that loved me.” Quite possibly it was the pain she felt in her childhood that became the motive force that would fuel her conversion.

She was going to learn to love again.

“I never lost my faith, but it didn’t come easily either,” remembers Barbara. “You know, back then, there was no formal process for becoming a Catholic – no RCIA. I would meet with my pastor, Father John once or twice a week. We’d read through a Catechism that was written for children because no formal program existed – and we did it together. He challenged me. I challenged him. And all the while, this deep sense of peace began to develop within me. It kept getting deeper, and deeper and deeper.”

Slowly the feelings of abandonment that were so pervasive in her childhood began to lift. She could have – and many do – become a hateful person. She could have held the resentment inside and let it chafe her soul. “It took a long time, but in a way I am grateful for the way my childhood unfolded. Had I not felt all that pain, chances are I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”

And who is that person today? “I’m a person who has a lot of empathy, compassion,”and she’s a person that gives a lot of herself to people with desperate situations. As part of the Emergency Assistance Team, she reminds people that the Church is there for them in the material world as well as the spiritual. She supports her husband’s work as a Knight, and in an effort to empower the truly disenfranchised around us, she’s president of the Friends of Literacy program in the Lee County Library system, because “when I learned to read, it became the thing I turned to most to expand the world around me. I could go anywhere through the written word.”

We see it in every major faith tradition of our time. Possibly the greatest movement in spirituality of the 20th century was Alcoholics Anonymous, and the variety of 12-step spin-offs it bore in its wake. They all work in essentially the same way. People come in broken. They share with others. They learn about their brokenness and seek God. They amend their lives. They become decent human beings – and here’s the kicker – they carry the message and help other people to find the same peace and serenity which they can only describe as a miracle. It works because, built into the program, is the stipulation that they give of themselves so that others can also find God. And yet, we, in our stubbornness and self-centeredness, blow this off as if it were God’s mere suggestion. When we love people unconditionally and do what we can to help them, God takes care of us. In fact, He grants such profound peace and serenity when we use our pain and experience to help others, it’s as if… Jesus was trying to tell us something when He died on the cross. Could it be that simple? Nah. There’s got to be more to it.

Barbara’s journey wasn’t a “competition” of faiths that Catholicism won out. Her journey started with overcoming emotional pain and feelings of abandonment, and has culminated in a place where the only thing that makes sense is to live a life of service. Punch Card Catholics come to Church because – even if they’re just going through the motions – they know the answers are here. They know that the solution to their suffering is in the Gospel, and make no mistake, we are all suffering in one way or another.

We suffer because of our inability to love – to love like God taught us. No matter how many times we fall – or feel abandoned – our faith that God will send us the person to teach us how to love cannot waiver. He will do it. “I have a prayerful way of being, and I don’t know where this journey will lead, but I believe with every fiber of my being, that it will lead me home.” If we don’t learn how to love… if we don’t learn how to fully live in God’s world, we will have missed the meaning of life. No Ferrari, no McMansion, no amount of pleasure will compensate for that. So when we contemplate the meaning of Easter, please think only of the love God has for us, and get busy emulating it. Our suffering is our greatest teacher, because without it, we cannot grow closer to Him. Be grateful for it.

April 15, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Father Bob Interviews Michael Polsinelli

Although frequently overshadowed by Good Friday and Easter, Palm Sunday is an important part of Jesus’ ministry on its own. Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphal entrance of Christ into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-9), when palm branches were placed in His path, and yet, despite the significance of Palm Sunday, we know what is to come in just a short time, that that same crowd would cry for Jesus’ crucifixion, and for a criminal to be released in His place.

This coming Easter Vigil, our RCIA candidates will receive their sacraments and enter the Church. One such candidate, Michael Polsinelli, has a slightly different perspective on the process. Read and see how he’s preparing himself for Easter, and then do the same for yourself.


Father Bob: Michael, tell us about yourself.
Michael Polsinelli: Well, I’m 10 years old and I go to Sunshine Elementary. I’m in 4th grade and I play baseball for The Buckeyes in a league at Buckingham Park. I play first base.

FB: That’s great! So tell me – most children are baptized right after birth, but you weren’t. And now, at 10 years old, you’ve chosen to enter the church and receive your sacraments through the RCIA program. This is a major thing. How did you come to that decision?
MP: We’d stopped going to church for a while, but when we found this Church, it felt right. I really like coming here. My family and I started talking more and more about joining and part of that conversation had to do with my sacraments – you know, how I didn’t have them.

FB: So what does this all mean to you? How are you processing this experience as a 10-year old?
MP: When I learned about the sacrament in the adapted RCIA program, Baptism being the washing away of original sin, I realized how important that is… And then Eucharist being an act of thanksgiving. That’s also a very important concept for me.

FB: So we know there’s always a story behind people’s Confirmation name. What name did you choose and tell me a little bit about how that choice came about?
MP: I chose St. Paul because my father chose St. Michael for my name, his name is Paul, and I like his writings.

FB: He was a great writer. He wrote more letters than probably anyone else in the Bible – the Phillipians; the Galatians; the Corinthians. I mean he wrote to a lot of people all over the world and many consider him to be the greatest missionary in the Church. But, you know, he died for his work, and his belief in Christ – which has me thinking. You probably see a lot of disturbing things on the news, or maybe even in school, that challenges your faith in a deep way. How do you give witness to the Gospel and your faith as a young 10-year old boy?
MP: I think the answer to everything is in the Gospel. It’s really “The Truth” and we should refer to it when we’re forced to make hard decisions.

FB: Are you ever challenged by other kids with regard to your faith? Do you find it hard to play a competitive sport, like baseball, and still stay true to your faith?
MP: It can be.

FB: So what does your life look like in 20 years? Is God leading you in any particular direction?
MP: Well I’d love to play a professional sport, but if that doesn’t work out… I think I could see myself as a teacher, or maybe become a mechanic like my father.

FB: That’s fantastic. And so the time is coming soon when you’ll be received into the Church. How do you feel about that? You excited?
MP: Oh yeah. I’ve being coming up for a blessing all this time, and now I’ll be able to receive the Eucharist – I will really feel a part of the Church.

FB: And you will be – that’s really wonderful. Tell me about that medal you’re wearing around your neck.
MP: Oh, my Aunt Nancy got this for me in Washington DC. It’s a St. Michael medal.

FB: Do you know that he’s the great protector saint? He will always protect you. So we’re sitting here at the baptismal font, and this is where we’re going to baptize you on Holy Saturday night. We’re going to dip you in here and put this Chrism oil on your head. It’s got a beautiful scent. It signifies that wherever you go in life, you bring the fragrance of Christ with you. So you are going to be an apostle of the Lord. It’s going to be a great evening… it’s a little long, about two and a half hours. But we’re going to have great music, and great company. I hear you like some liturgical music too, is that right?
MP: I really like that song Sing to the Mountains. It’s very uplifting. So much of Church music is slow, and I remember once I requested it to the music director after the final blessing one week, and they actually played it.

FB: Yes, that song is as old as I’ve been a priest. I remember singing it in seminary… It’s been around a while. And you know, on that note, if the pro sports, and the teaching or being a mechanic doesn’t work out, I’d love for you to think about becoming a priest. We could use more guys like you. You’d be great…. And priests are teachers too! We try to exemplify the life of St. Paul. So good luck in all you do, good luck in your baseball game tonight, and many blessings on your journey of faith.

April 8, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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A Personal Account of the Holy Land

Presented by our parishioners Mark Bir, Mike Navarro & Pat Nacol Tuesday, April 15th, in the Community Room at Blessed Pope John XXIII. Two sessions: 9AM and 6PM

This will be a 60-minute presentation with Q&A at the end.


Anointing of the Sick Explained

If I asked you to close your eyes and picture the Sacrament of Anointing, what image would come to your mind? I think many Catholics would picture a priest standing at a hospital bedside next to an unresponsive person, or someone whose mortality has become inevitable. Although the sacrament began as a ritual of healing, over time the emphasis shifted to the forgiveness of sins on the deathbed, when such forgiveness would be the final preparation for heaven. The Second Vatican Council, in 1959, returned the original meaning to the sacrament by emphasizing that it is not only for those who are at the point of death, but for anyone who is seriously ill, including mental or spiritual illness. It also helped move the Anointing away from a private service and back toward a community-based one.

Often, people call us at the very last minute. And they have the impression that we’re magicians, or that we can perform a sort of, last minute miracle,” shares Father Bob. “I really want people to understand the real meaning and purpose of the sacrament. Also, when people treat it like a ‘magic trick’, it erodes the dignity of the faith, and obscures the duty of the priest.”

Today we are all aware that tensions, fear and anxiety about the future affect not only our mind, but our body as well. These illnesses can be serious. They can move us to ask for the healing touch of Christ in the Sacrament of Anointing. Persons with the disease of alcoholism or persons suffering from other addictions can be anointed. So can those who suffer from various mental disorders. The anxiety before exploratory surgery is a situation in which Christ’s power can be invoked in the sacrament.

In these cases the person does not have to wait until the illness is so grave that he or she is in the hospital or institutionalized to celebrate the sacrament. Sacraments, after all, are community celebrations. It is preferable to celebrate them in the context of family and parish even before going to the hospital. The sick person has a better opportunity to appreciate the prayers and symbols of the rite when in her or his customary worshiping community.

For Our Healing by Woodene Koenig-Bricker

“It’s just for old people.”
“You can only receive it if you’re really sick with something like cancer.”
“You get it right before you die.”

If you, like these teens, think the Anointing of the Sick is just for the extremely old or the critically ill, or if you assume the only time you can receive it is at the moment of death, you aren’t alone. Most Catholics still think of the sacrament that way.

“I didn’t know anything about it before I received it,” says Bridget, a high school sophomore who was anointed while struggling with anorexia. “I thought it was for older people or people who were dying. I’d never seen a kid get it before.”

While it’s true the Anointing of the Sick is one of the ways the Church helps prepare us for death, it’s much more than that. It’s a celebration of Jesus’ promise that we will have life and have it abundantly. It’s the sign of Christ’s healing presence in the world. And it’s not just for the elderly.

In the letter of James in the Bible, he writes, “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters [those who have authority] of the Church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven”.
The words St. James wrote are still true today. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is our way of continuing the healing work Jesus began 2,000 years ago.

You might be asking yourself, “Does that mean people who receive the Sacrament of the Sick are really going to get well, even if they have something serious like cancer?” Yes—and no.

While we can say with confidence that healing always occurs during the Anointing of the Sick, it isn’t always the kind of healing we might expect. “At first I thought it would cure me and I was disappointed when I wasn’t cured right away,” says Bridget. “Then it became clearer the healing had to come from within me. The healing wasn’t an immediate recovery. I had to be open; to let things happen. I couldn’t expect something overnight.” Even after we’ve been anointed, God may allow us to continue to be physically ill, but he also gives us his word that healing will take place on one level or another. We may be healed emotionally or spiritually rather than physically. While we often assume getting physically well is the best thing for us, God may know we need to come to a greater awareness of the divine and may choose to heal some area of our spirit or emotions instead of our body.

“I learned if you don’t go looking for healing, it will be revealed in some other way,” Bridget adds.We should also remember the sacrament complements medical treatment; it doesn’t replace it. Just because someone gets better with the help of surgery or modern drugs doesn’t mean the sacrament didn’t play a part in the healing. God uses the skill of doctors and nurses as well as modern medical techniques to restore health.

If all that sounds like so much double-talk, it might help to remember the sacrament isn’t magic. It doesn’t promise that those who receive it will be cured of all physical sickness. It doesn’t promise that someone who is 99 will live another 30 years. What it does promise is that God will heal the broken areas of our life if we approach with faith and humility.
While it isn’t common, immediate physical healing can happen. I know of at least one instance in my own family when medical tests administered after the person was anointed showed no trace of the previous illness. The very real possibility of a physical cure is one reason the Church doesn’t want us to wait until we are at death’s door before asking for the sacrament.

In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Church says, “As soon as one of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the appropriate time to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived.” In other words, along with appropriate medical treatment, we should give God the opportunity to help cure our serious sickness.

“What happened was that I began to want to change,” says Bridget. “It was something I wasn’t expecting. Before the sacrament, I wasn’t open to letting God in my life. I needed something to put him back in my life. When I received the Sacrament of Anointing, I realized how important he is,” she says.

The Rite of Anointing

Despite its potential for drama, the Anointing of the Sick may be the most low-key of all the sacraments. “After it was all over, I thought, ‘This is it? Now I’m supposed to be healed?”’ says Bridget. “I felt kind of empty after the process, like I was waiting for a flashing light or something.”

Her reaction is common. The first time I saw an anointing, I was surprised at how short and unexciting the ceremony was. All the priest did was say a few prayers and read a Scripture passage. Then he placed his hands on the person’s head and prayed silently. Finally, he took out some holy oil and rubbed a little on the person’s forehead and palms. The whole event took less than 10 minutes.

Those two elements—prayer and anointing with oil—are the essence of the sacrament, the parts that must be performed for it to be valid. What else happens depends on how much time is available, the condition of the patient and individual desire. The priest may distribute Communion to the person being anointed and anyone else who wants to receive. Finally, he may merely end the service with a simple prayer and blessing.

Normally the priest brings everything he needs, but 20 or 30 years ago, most families owned a “sick call set”—a crucifix with a sliding lid which contained a bottle of holy water and candles—so the priest wouldn’t have to gather all the supplies if he were called in the middle of the night.

Since the sacrament requires little in the way of space or materials, it can be administered almost anywhere people need the healing touch of Christ from bedrooms to battlefields, from living rooms to ambulances. Some parishes now offer a communal Anointing once or twice a year, inviting all parishioners who are ill to participate.
“I’m glad I received it,” Bridget says. “Kids worry about their image and don’t like to be known as being religious, but I don’t feel embarrassed to have had the sacrament. I feel really thankful. If priests had the anointing for youth at a youth Mass, maybe more would come. You feel really out of place when everyone who goes up to the altar is 60 years old.”
Jesus, the Healer
The Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament which certainly mirrors the actions of Jesus when he walked the earth, spending much of his time healing the sick. In fact, most of his miracles involved curing some kind of illness. From the beginning of his ministry, his reputation as a healer spread rapidly. At times so many people wanted him to perform miracles of healing, he could hardly get out of the house. Staying inside didn’t help. In his Gospel, Luke tells us about some people who were so anxious to have Jesus cure their paralyzed friend that they cut a hole in the roof of the house and lowered the sick man down to him (see Luke 5:18-19)! Although people made what seem like unreasonable demands on him and his time, we don’t have any record of Jesus turning down someone who came to him for help. When John the Baptist sent his followers to ask Jesus if he were the Messiah, he answered, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Luke 7:22). Jesus showed himself to be the long-awaited Savior by becoming a healer.

After his death and resurrection, Jesus’ disciples continued to heal the sick. In Chapter Three of the Book of Acts, a man who had been crippled from birth asked Peter for some money. Peter said he didn’t have any gold or silver, but he said he would give the crippled man something better—the ability to walk. Then, we are told, Peter helped him up and the newly-cured man began to jump around, praising God (see Acts 3:1-9). While we are sometimes a little skeptical, the early Church took it for granted God would answer prayers for healing.

Church Continues Jesus’ Work

If the whole purpose of the sacrament is to help heal people and continue the work Jesus did when he was on earth, how did it become so linked with death, dying and old age? Why did a sacrament of healing become known as “Extreme Unction” or “Last Rites”?

One reason for the change may be that when medical science was first developing, it was as likely to kill as to cure, so people put off calling a doctor until they were nearly dead and thus had little to lose. The same may have held true for doctors of the soul, with people waiting until the last minutes of life to call for a priest. Today, even though medical practices have improved and people are willing to call a medical doctor, the superstition that Anointing should be the last action before death seems to have stuck.

Another reason Anointing was seen as the last step in life’s journey may be because people began to think of the sacrament as the final chance to reconcile with God before death. Because Anointing of the Sick has the power to forgive sin as well as heal, people waited until they were sure they were dying to ask for it. If possible, a dying person would go to Confession, receive Communion and then receive the Last Rites. If he or she were already so near death that Confession and Communion weren’t possible, then they had the heavenly insurance, so to speak, of receiving forgiveness through the Last Rites.

If physical healing did take place—as it sometimes did—it came as quite a surprise to everyone, including the anointed person who equated the rites with certain death. In some places, in fact, the erroneous teaching arose that if you were physically cured, you would have to remain celibate the rest of your life! With that in mind, it’s not surprising people were reluctant to call the priest too early in an illness.

The difficulty with all this is that while Anointing is a way to have your sins forgiven, it isn’t supposed to take the place of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). Because Anointing was in danger of becoming just another form of confession at the time of death, Vatican II changed the prayers accompanying the anointing to reemphasize its healing character. The emphasis returned to prayers for recovery of physical, mental or spiritual health.

But lots of Catholics don’t understand the changes.

“In religion class we mostly talked about how it used to be associated with death,” says Bridget. “Now that I’ve received it, I think it ought to be emphasized it’s not just for the dying. It’s for any form of illness—emotional or physical.” If that illness places a person in danger of death, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is most appropriate.

Sacrament of Health

Anointing of the Sick is the way we as Catholics call on the healing, restoring power of Jesus when we are at our lowest and most vulnerable. It’s a way we can gain the strength to bear suffering with patience and dignity. And it’s a way of reminding ourselves that no matter what happens in life or death, Jesus will be there beside us and the people we love.
While it isn’t intended to be used for our everyday aches and pains, sniffles and sneezes, it should be requested in those times of serious illness when we need a special sign of God’s love and care.

March 30, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Cardinal: maintain, yet reinterpret doctrine

VATICAN CITY – In its approach to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, the Catholic Church needs to find a middle ground that does not destroy or abandon doctrine, but offers a “renewed” interpretation of church teaching in order to help those whose marriages have failed, Cardinal Walter Kasper said. “I propose a path that goes beyond strictness and leniency,” the German cardinal and theologian told Vatican Radio March 10.

Father Bob’s Gospel Reflection, among other things


An approach that avoids the two extremes “isn’t against morality, it isn’t against doctrine, but rather, (is meant) to support a realistic application of doctrine to the current situation of the great majority of people and to contribute to people’s happiness,” he said, speaking in Italian.

The cardinal was referring to a lengthy talk he had given to introduce a Feb. 20-21 discussion by the College of Cardinals on family life. The talk, titled “Gospel of the Family,” was to be published in March in German and Italian by private publishing houses.

In the book’s preface, published March 12 in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Kasper said the synod in union with Pope Francis would have to decide what steps to take to help families, but Catholic laity must be consulted. “We are all celibate while most of the faithful live the faith in the gospel of the family, in concrete and often difficult situations,” he said.

With such public discussion about the church’s response to Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried, the bishops and pope must say something, he said. “We obviously cannot respond to all the expectations, but if we repeat only the responses that have always been given, it would lead to great disappointment.”

“As witnesses of hope, we cannot allow ourselves to be guided by a hermeneutic of fear,” the cardinal wrote.

In an essay, also published in L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Kasper said church leaders must adopt “a renewed pastoral spirituality that leaves behind narrow-minded legalistic considerations and a non-Christian strictness which burdens people with unbearable weight, burdens we clerics don’t want to carry and wouldn’t know how to carry.”

As proponents and defenders of the family, founded on the self-giving of one man and one woman who bring forth new life, the church cannot stand by in “resigned silence,” he said. Marriage and the family are the last defense against a culture that banalizes and commercializes sexuality and reduces the human person and human relationships to what is economically useful.

Cardinal Kasper told Vatican Radio that the responses to a widely distributed Vatican questionnaire about Catholics’ family life — drawn up in preparation for October’s Synod of Bishops on the family — showed “there is a difficulty, an abyss” between church teaching and the actual situation of many people.
“The church has to bridge this abyss,” he said, speaking in English; but that “does not mean pure appeasement policies, but the church must explain in a new way what family and matrimony are in order to help people and at the same time remain faithful to the Gospel.”

The cardinal said a similar process might be seen in how the church developed its current approach to ecumenism.
“There were doctrines of the Holy Office (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) before the (Second Vatican) Council against ecumenism, yet the council found a way not to destroy or negate the doctrine but found ways to interpret it in an adequate way,” he said.

“I ask myself why it could not be possible also with other doctrines,” he said.

He said he wouldn’t call such changes “a revolution, as much as a deepening and a development because the doctrine of the church is a river that develops and also the doctrine of matrimony has developed like this.”

“It’s not about something new as much as a renewal of church practice, which is always necessary and possible,” he said.

The primary purpose of his speech to the cardinals, he said, “was not to speak about divorced and remarried people, but to speak about the Gospel of the family” and to foster “a new, better, more deep understanding of family life” as God intended — built on a faithful, exclusive and lifelong union between one man and one woman.

“I think the majority of young people want stable relationships, want to live in a family… and therefore, the church has to help them,” he said.
“We have to once again strengthen” the sacramental and indissoluble bond of marriage, especially as families today are facing a number of crises, including severe economic difficulties.

The church must also take into account the many situations of Catholics who have failed marriages, he said, adding that “the church has to be close to them, to help, support and encourage them.”

“I maintain the full teaching of the church, but the teaching has to be applied to concrete situations, as Jesus did it and as Pope Francis does very often,” he said.

“The doctrine of the church is not an ideology in the clouds, but God wants to be present, close to his people,” he said.

March 23, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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What Matters on the Mountain is all that Matters

At the request of Father Bob, I’m going to recount the events of a mission trip I went on. I don’t like to share too many personal anecdotes with the couple thousand people that may read this – but in these circumstances – I really think this story needs to be shared. I accompanied 50 volunteers to the Dominican Republic with an organization named Somos Amigos (translation: We are all friends), with the purpose of producing a documentary on the spirit and operations of the organization. This was the second time I’d been into the mountains with Somos, and so I knew what I was walking into. What I wasn’t ready for, was the contrast. I think maybe the first time I went, it was all so new and just the sights and smells were enough to distract me from what was really going in those mountains. What really happens up there, is the superficiality of life as we know it falls away, and we’re left with the only thing that matters: people.


The group flies into Santiago on a half dozen or so different flights and people are greeted at the airport by a man named Frank Brightwell. Frank is the director and sole employee of Somos Amigos. He’s in his early 50’s, sports a shaven head, and is typically donning his boyish smile, a reflection of the outlook he holds on the world. Frank is easily one of the most humble, and genuinely caring people I’ve ever met. He speaks – from what I’m told – a broken, Dominican style of Spanish that he picked up during his 17 years of trips back and forth from the Campo.

“The Campo” is a word they use for the remote region in which Somos Amigo operates, formally called El Naranjito, or The Little Orange. I think it means “The Camp”, and those who reside there are referred to as Campesinos. Most are subsistence farmers, but there are definitely tradesmen in the community… more on that later.

Roughly 17 years ago, Frank was working at an all-boys academy in Washington DC as a college admissions counselor, and part time teacher. Suffice it to say that this academy’s tuition priced it out of the market for all but the top 4% of income earners, and many of the school’s students hadn’t ever experienced, or would ever experience, real poverty. Frank wanted to show these young men how most of the world lived, so he organized a trip to the DR.

They traveled past the paved roads. They traveled past the good dirt roads. They even traveled past the not-so-good dirt roads into the hills of El Naranjito.

“What’s different about Somos Amigos,” Frank shares, “is that from the very beginning, we never came to this community and told them what we were going to do to help them. So many organizations come to teach English, or come to build Churches. We came and asked ‘what do you need?’ We would try to meet that need, and then we would ask again.”

Their first task in the mountains was to bring running water to the homes. So they located a natural aquifer and dug ditches for pipes. They installed a plumbing system and brought fresh water from the ground to the Campesinos’ homes. Then they needed dental care. So they brought dentists. Then they needed general medical care. So they brought doctors. Eventually, they asked for a Church, and so they built a Church.

Over the years, the needs grew and word spread. As word spread, the needs grew even more. As the operation expanded, it became clear that this “thing” was taking on a life of its own. Fundraising took place. Construction took place. And before anyone knew it, they had over 15,000 square feet among three clinics – a dental clinic, a general health clinic, and a women’s health clinic. And their numbers are impressive. In a typical week, they’ll see between 500-600 patients. The volunteers work long days – as in 12 hours with no breaks – and by the end of the week, everyone is exhausted.. and yet somehow, we are all filled with something like energy, but better.

The logistics of running three clinics 70 kilometers outside of a city, in a 3rd world country is impressive, but that’s only half of it. What happens in the mountains is magic. Don’t be mistaken. The Campesinos live very hard lives of manual labor, exposure to the elements, untreated medical conditions, and the like. They don’t have iPods. They don’t have Netflix. They don’t have Cadillacs. They have people… and relationships. And after you live with them for a week, and you watch them live, you realize that we are not living The Good Life. They are. In fact, the race isn’t even close.

Here’s an example. I met a man named Percio (he was one of few that spoke English so I really clung to him). Percio moved to New York City when he was 20 years old. He came from El Naranjito, but he spent most of his time in the city – Santiago – before he made his way to the states. At 41, he’s back – to stay.

“When I lived in New York, I lived in a big apartment building… I didn’t know the people living next door to me. Even if we saw each other in the halls, nothing,” he recalls, dismayed. “I worked for a big company that got bought out. The new owners ended up laying a ton of a people off and started selling off the assets of the company just to turn a profit on the sale. I couldn’t understand that.” Percio is visibly upset when he tells me this story.

“Back home, here, in the Campo, I go 5 miles over those mountains and I know every single person that lives there. When someone is sick, we go visit them and spend the day with them. We bring them food. If someone’s family is struggling, we give them work or whatever they need. If someone has a child, we visit them and meet the baby. We all know each other up here. We don’t have a lot, but we enjoy life,” Percio explains.

It’s a cliché we hear repeated in a hundred different ways by a thousand different mediums. We go to a job we hate, work with people we can’t stand, to pay for a house and a lifestyle we can’t afford, so we can drive our brand new car to the job we hate. And repeat. Okay, not all of us feel this way, but you get the idea.

If all our “things” were taken from us – if we were to suddenly find ourselves without – what would really matter? And of course, the answer is people. What matters are the relationships we have with other people.

What happens when the Somos Amigos volunteers venture into the mountains is something like magic. You’re not only stripped of your iPhone and air conditioning when you get on the rickety old bus to the top of the hill. You leave your ego. You leave your self-centered fears. You leave the traffic jams and the PTA meetings and all the little things that grind on your nerves. And when you’re totally focused on helping other people for a week – you know, the thing that God wants most from us – you end up leaving a lot of your character flaws at the bottom of the mountain too.

As a volunteer named Patrick articulated, “Up here, I’m the version of myself that I think most closely resembles what God wants me to be.” And that really is the magic of the mountains. The crazy part is – we all know this stuff!

We know what happens when we get outside of ourselves and do something for another person. We know that feeling when we’re being altruistic. When we put a smile on someone’s face – when we take away another’s pain – and when we’re there to listen to a friend in a time of grave need – we reap the spiritual benefits of these action, and yet… And yet the world gets in our way.
We have to get the kids to soccer practice on time, so, of course we cut that guy off. And that guy looked like my sister’s ex-boyfriend and he was a dirtbag, and so that guy’s probably one too. And there’s no time to eat so we’re going through the drive-thr… and now who’s calling me? What does she want??!!! Oh, it’s my neighbor telling me that the guy from down the street got picked up by the cops yesterday and we were right to suspect him of whatever absurd personality disorder that Oprah was hocking this week…

If your inner monologue sounds anything like this, you know that getting caught up in the thick of thin things is the most passive and justified way we cut ourselves off from God’s love. If spending time in the mountains taught me anything, it was that relationships are all that matter in the physical world. Because it’s not a matter of ‘if’…. One day, everything worldly will be taken from us, and we go to meet our Judge, we better all be friends.

Find out more about Somos Amigos at www.somosamigos.org

March 16, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Always dynamic, eccentric, Our New Music Man

Some of the 20th century’s greatest eccentrics were musicians. That is no surprise, given the link which psychologists long ago suggested exists between creative thinking and “abnormal” behavior, and which has been confirmed by recent neurological research locating both activities within the same area of the brain. We’re not saying our new Music Director – Bob Kirchner’s behavior is abnormal, but he does have a dynamic past that has taken him through an array of experiences only a musician could have. We heard about it during past interviews with our resident “keymaster”, and Bob now continues the tradition.

Other musicians’ eccentricities have been well documented, like that of saxophonist John Coltrane. Coltrane had an obsession with lederhosen. Coltrane bought his first pair on tour in Germany in 1963 and is believed to have acquired over 300 pairs by the time of his death four years later. He regularly threw barbecues at his upstate New York home where he and pianist Alice Coltrane would model their latest purchases to music provided by a local oompah band. Pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones both quit Coltrane’s “classic quartet” when Coltrane insisted they wear lederhosen on stage. So see, the phenomenon is real! I digress. Let’s just get to the interview.


DH: So did you just move down here to come work for us?
BK: I’ve actually been in Florida for almost 9 years. I was working within the Diocese of St. Petersburg, but when I saw this (position) become available, I had to jump at it and I applied.

DH: So you’ll be leaving your Parish, which was….
BK: I was with St. Vincent de Paul in Holiday, FL. It’s between Newport Richey and Tarpon Springs.

DH: So Tampa area – cool! What’s your life like outside of being a musician?
BK: I enjoy reading… I enjoy travel and my family. I have a tight circle of friends that I keep in touch with. I enjoy watching movies and going to museums – you know, that kind of stuff.

DH: It’s always telling to find out what people read or watch. Tell me about some of your favorite movies or actors, or writers and books.
BK: I don’t have any favorite writers, specifically, but I really like mysteries and drama, things of that nature. I’m not much into sci-fi, although some of it is interesting. You know, I like good acting in movies.

DH: Seen anything good lately?
BK: Not really, but I do know that Son of God is out right now, and I would like to see that. I think it’s out or coming out within the next week or so.

DH: What about kids – you have any?
BK: I do. I have three children and five grandchildren.

DH: Oh good for you! What do they do with their lives?
BK: Well, two of them live in Oregon, and the other lives on Long Island. I also have two brothers and a sister and a host of nieces and nephews, and great nephews and great nieces. I don’t see them that often, but I do travel to New York on occasion. The kids in Oregon are a little harder to see.

DH: Yes, but the Pacific Northwest is such a beautiful area. So you said you like to travel – tell me about some of the more interesting places you’ve been.
BK: Not too long ago I went to Europe and took a cruise to Italy, Greece, Turkey and Malta, and that was wonderful. That was probably the only time I had been to Europe, but I have traveled extensively throughout the United States.

DH: Alright, so I know a lot of musicians live like nomads while they travel around and play – did you ever do that or have your own band?
BK: I had my own band for almost 20 years, and I’ve been out of that life for almost 20 years. We used to play nightclubs and wedding receptions. I used to play cocktail piano, and I’ve even played the organ at basketball games. I’m also a lifelong barbershopper – I’ve sung in barbershop quartets and different choruses – so anything to do with music I really enjoy.

DH: What were you trained on?
BK: Well I played a bunch of different instruments in high school, but I’ve been predominantly trained on piano and organ. I have to say, I’ve had some great mentors in my career.

DH: Just real quick – what other instruments did you play?
BK: Well I played tuba and timpani, and that was part of playing for a marching band when I was a teenager.

DH: Of course. Ok, let’s rewind. How did the quartet make its way into the barbershop? How did that whole thing start?
BK: The origins go back to the barbershops on Main Street, America from years ago. A lot of times men would be hanging out in barbershops years ago with nothing to do, and they found out they could sing, and they’d put harmony to that. I mean, that was really the birth of “barbershop harmony”, and it’s really grown to be a terrific venue. I mean, for men and women, they have competitions all over the country – it’s really great.

DH: What an obscure venue for that to happen! Why not a cobbler or an auto mechanic?
BK: I think it’s because the barbershop was a place where men had to go. You know, men need shaves and haircuts, and other than a bartender, the barber is someone people get comfortable talking to.

DH: I’ve been really comfortable with mine over the past 13 years. So what else do you do with your life? What type of bands do you like? Do you listen to anything we wouldn’t guess – like Taylor Swift or…?
BK: Noooo! Hahah. I’m sort of a traditionalist when it comes to music. I like the big band leaders of yesteryear – you know, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, people like that. I like heavy string orchestras, very romantic stuff like that. I actually like dancing too, and I’m a big fan of Dancing with the Stars – not so much of American Idol. That gets a little old for me. Most people either like it or not. I don’t.

DH: Ha! Me neither. Did you ever get into the 80’s hair bands?
BK: Well back in the 70’s, my band was playing Top 40 rock ‘n roll, along with the high society stuff.

DH: Well give me an example of some groups that you’d cover.
BK: For example, we played the BeeGee’s, Huey Lewis & the News, the Doobie Brothers, and then we also covered 50’s music – the “DooWaps”, and that stuff is really fun.

DH: But you’re no longer in a band, per se?
BK: No, but I do still play cocktail piano. That’s a really good time.

DH: Yeah, a former music director here, Barb Mendillo, used to do that. She was very nomadic in her youth. We find a lot of musicians are very eccentric in that way.
BK: Yes, I’ve been very involved in music from a young age. My mother taught me to sing, and I grew up learning the songs of the liturgy, so it’s been very close to me my whole life.

DH: Well it’s great having you here and we look forward to having you around!
BK: And I look forward to bring the liturgy alive with music!

March 9, 2014 | The 23rd Times

By | A Father Bob-Cast, Bulletin, Ministries, The 23rd Times | No Comments

A Heart for Humanity

As a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian ministry that builds with people in need regardless of race or religion, Habitat for Humanity invites you to get involved in their organization help change a life. They have more than 1,500 local affiliates in the United States and more than 70 national organizations around the world. They’ve helped to build or repair more than 800,000 houses and serve more than 4 million people worldwide. Habitat helps by building or renovating simple, decent houses in partnership with those in need.  Last year, a small group of Blessed Pope Parishioners got involved with Habitat on their mission to Biloxi. Things went so well, that they’ve continued the mission on local soil. We made it out to a house in Lehigh Acres and interviewed three of our volunteers and the H4H site supervisor. Bottom line: They want you to get involved. You can find their information in the Narthex this weekend, or in the general announcements every week in the bulletin.


Damian: Tell me about how you started with Habitat?
Gloria Larson: We started on our last trip to Biloxi – on our mission trip – and we were very inspired because they’re such an organized company. When we were up there, we were doing a lot of refurbishing, and we were also working on new homes, but when we came back to Florida, we thought, we really need to continue this good work in our local communities.

DH: And how long does it take you to do a house?
GL: We actually got our group together at the end of the summer (2013), and we’ve been in this house out in Lehigh for about 2 months. This is a remodel, and we’ve been doing a lot of tearing down walls and putting up drywall. Right now, as we speak, we’re doing punchout.

DH: What does that mean? And how did you learn how to do all this stuff? This sounds like “real” construction work.
GL: Well punchout is going around and fixing all the little imperfections throughout the house. It could be caulking or touching up paint… fixing little digs in the wall, that kind of thing.

DH: How’s it been going getting your group mobilized and working?
GL: It’s been really slow, but we don’t have all our northern Parishioners down yet, but we’re optimistic that we’ll have a lot more people to come out and help us.

DH: So why “construction work”? You could be doing anything else, but in the south Florida sun and heat… you choose to do this?
GL: Well, it can be difficult, but we feel like we’re called to serve and when you’re in that position, not everything is going to be pleasant. We also look at the end result. Someone is getting a home… and it’s just a small portion out of our lives to help someone else.

DH: Barb, always a pleasure to speak with you in your many roles within our Parish. How did you get started in this whole thing?
Barb Durkin: You know, we thought, Mississippi doesn’t have the market cornered on need. Let’s do this at home! They have so much work for us to do, and you don’t have to spend a full week, you can spend just a day and still feel really good about what you’re doing.

DH: So what do you like so much about their operation and philosophy?
BD: So with Habitat, the recipients of the homes have to be able to pay it back. They actually do pay a mortgage on these houses. They help people get a leg up, and into a house that they would not normally be able to afford. I believe this is a good way to get people growing in self-sufficiency – and we like that idea.

DH: So do you actually get a chance to meet the people that will one day live in these homes?
BD: Yes, as a matter of fact the last time we were here, during the deconstruction phase of it, the young man who’s to receive this home came by, put his little mask on and started working right alongside us. Everyone that gets a Habitat home has to put in 250 hours of sweat equity, and they also take classes on how to manage funds and how to manage a house. I wish I’d had that before I bought a house myself.

DH: So how much construction experience do you have and what does it take for someone to become a fully qualified volunteer?
BD: Um… I can sweep a floor? I don’t really have construction experience, and that’s the nice thing about Habitat. They’ll find something for you that meets your skills. We put together cabinets and tear down walls. We paint, and if you have experience with power tools, they’ve got that too. There’s something for everybody… and a really good feeling for everybody.
Pat Kowalski, a site supervisor for Habitat for Humanity Lee County, gave me a perspective that someone in the construction business rarely gets to articulate. He offers another point of view on the mission and strengths of the organization.

DH: So what do you get out of this? And tell me how you see the greater mission of Habitat.
PK: Well I’ve been with them for about 2 years now, and this is probably the best environment I’ve ever worked in. I’ve worked for high-end builders, all the way down to production line work, but around here, at the end of the day, you’re a part of someone’s life being changed. I mean, I don’t change lives, God changes them, but I do get to be a part of it. As far as their mission goes, I think Christians are really, really good at mercy, but I don’t think we spend enough time on justice. And I see Habitat as a justice ministry. Instead of feeding the hungry, we’re teaching them how to grow food.

DH: How have you seen it change lives?
PK: Habitat removes people from poverty. It gives them hope. And among the volunteers and the people that benefit, it builds a community. People from all walks of life come together, and had this organization not been here, they would have never met.

DH: How difficult is the process to qualify and be chosen for one of these homes?
PK: It’s a very lengthy and involved process. They need to go to an orientation first, then attend financial classes on budgeting, homeowners’ classes on what to expect about being a homeowner. They learn how to make repairs and maintenance on their own home. They do 250 hours of work on their home to build that pride of ownership….

DH: Okay, so what you’re saying is it ain’t easy. So to sum up, tell me why Habitat “works”?
PK: Habitat works only through volunteers. The mission can only continue to exist through the work of our volunteers. The only way we can have affordable homes, 0% interest on our loans, assume the risk of these loans, is through the work of the volunteers.

As I was leaving the property, I found Gloria’s huband Carl around back cleaning paintbrushes in the car port. I stopped and asked him a few questions:

DH: Have you always done mission work? How did you get involved in this?
Carl Larson: Yes, my wife had been going to Biloxi on various mission trips when we lived in Maryland, so when I retired and we moved down here, I went with her for the past two years. After our last trip in the spring, we decided we need to do something locally. One week every year just isn’t enough. We’ve got so much in life… we’d like to give back some.

DH: Do you have any construction experience? And what would you tell someone who think they wouldn’t be relevant to an organization like this?
CL: In the houses we’ve owned, I’ve always had trouble getting contractors, so I’ve always done painting and drywall, a little bit of plumbing – basic stuff. But they’ll always have something for you to do. There’s no task too small. You know, right now we’re doing punchout at this house and it just has to be done. Anybody can come do this?

DH: Do you get any kind of spiritual benefit from all this?
CL: Haha! Yes, we’re helping people… and I think that’s God’s work.

March 2, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Three Wise Men

Who you are is God’s gift and who you become is your gift to God. Those who become their best, as God intended, rely on the power of the Holy Spirit working in them, “His power at work in us can do far more than we dare ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:21). They will also have developed the habit of persevering. God wants to sculpt you into something great and your cooperation is required. The journey never ends, as is seen by the commitment to service demonstrated by Ben Zannini, Bill Clark, and Dan Murphy. With 250 years of life between them, their experience can be an example to anyone who thinks they’re too old, too sick or too busy to serve. Father Bob sat down with these gentlemen and found out what it is you get, when you give so much. To see the rest of the interview, scroll down.


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Father Bob: So Dan, tell me a little about yourself and about some of the work you do in the Parish.

Dan Murphy: I’m from Syracuse New York, 87 years old, involved in the Homebound Eucharistic Ministry. “We basically deliver the Eucharist to people that are confined to their homes. This started some years ago, and when I was asked to take part in this ministry, my impression was that no one handled the hosts except for the priest! But in the meantime, the Church had changed. People are on the altar handing out Communion. When they asked me to visit the homebound, I thought “O heavens, I can’t be running around with Jesus in my pocket!”

FB: Well, thank God things have changed because there aren’t enough of us to do all this work.

DM: Going back to the 40’s, I was in the hospital for 2 years from an injury in World War II, and never in that 2 years did anyone ever approach me from the Catholic Church. We did go to Mass on Sundays. They’d wheel us down in our beds… I remember the chap beside me in the room had both his legs taken off. And I just think back on that and know that it would have been nice to have someone from the Church visit me.

FB: And the best part about that is, you don’t let resentment or anger get the best of you. You saw an opportunity to make it better and you did. So what are you feeling when you bring Communion? How do the people react to you?

DM: You know, it’s wonderful. I know it pleases God when I spend a little extra time with the people there. I was visiting with a chap at Manor Care, delivering Communion, and I found out he never left his bed, and never left his room. I asked Phil, ‘would you like to say the Rosary?” And when he agreed, I asked if he’d like to say it on the deck, outside. He agreed, and as we were sitting out there, his wife showed up to the home. She was stunned to find out he was outside. She told me he hadn’t been outside since he’d been there. Long story short, he died soon afterward, but before he did, he asked his wife to request that I’d be one of his pallbearers. That really touched me. To know that I had that kind of effect on this gentleman… Just being in ministry has had such an impact on my life…

FB: I think a lot of people need to hear that message. So Ben, tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?

Ben Zannini: Well I’m originally from Rhode Island, I’m 88 years old and I’ve lived in Florida for the past 12 years.

FB: So you’ve been a member of this Parish ever since its creation, I hear. Tell me a little bit about the ministries you’re involved in.

BZ: I’m involved in the homebound ministry and I’m also a Eucharistic Minister for the 11:15 am Mass, and I have been for some time… Actually, I’ve been a Eucharistic Minister since I was 40 years old, so I’ve been doing this for 48 years!

FB: And you’re doing a great job of it here.

BZ: I can’t really think of a more self-satisfying job. I, as an individual, get no greater pleasure from the privilege of delivering the Lord to His people. It’s beyond my comprehension!

FB: You could be on the golf course right now too, so what drives you to do this ministry?

BZ: Well, I was an ardent golfer for years, but the Good Lord has given me a bad back, so He’s made the decision for me not to golf anymore. But other than that, my health is great. I have nothing to complain about.

FB: So your experience has been overwhelmingly positive?

BZ: I mean, generally yes. But, not long ago when I was doing homebound ministry at Resurrection, I met and became close with a wonderful, wonderful man, and… he was terminal. That was a very upsetting time of my life. He was deeply religious. We would talk together and say the Rosary together, and I’d give him Communion… I would go there every single week. You end up getting very close to these people, and he did eventually pass, but when you dedicate your time and energy to getting to know people in that process of their life, there is something deeply satisfying about it. I’ll never forget him. The satisfaction we both got out of each other’s company was beautiful.

FB: Your stories are inspiring to me, and I want to thank you for doing the work that you do. So last but not least, Bill, tell us a little about yourself.

Bill Clark: Well I’m from New Jersey and I get a lot of kidding about that from the men at the Gospel Forum. But I’ve been here, in Fort Myers, for about 13 years. I’ve been at the Church since it originated. Father Sullivan was looking for Eucharistic Ministers, and my wife and I thought it would be nice, so we got into it. She has since had some health problems and has stopped, but my experience with the homebound ministry has been with her. I take her Communion every Sunday and there’s something different about taking a loved one the Eucharist every Sunday. It has a special spiritual feeling to it.

FB: You know, to me, that’s really touching because it’s the culmination of the sacrament of marriage.

BC: Yes it is… Right now she’s waiting on a lung transplant, and everyone’s praying for it. But I’m the young guy here, I’m only 75. These other guys have a lot more experience on this topic than I do. Ha!

FB: You’re funny. Okay, so gentlemen, tell the parishioners. You’ve all seen so much in the world – so many changes – what would you tell other people in their 70’s or 80’s about getting involved in the Church?

DM: The first thing I’d say is to keep moving! It keeps you alive. And when you offer your time and service to the homebound, you learn so much from them. Their life stories are so diverse. Many of them left the Church and have come back and it’s made all the difference.

FB: And what about the young couples, what advice do you have for them?

BZ: I’d give them the same advice I gave my daughter. When she was just a child her mother died, and when she was 13, I remarried to a wonderful, wonderful woman. At that time though, she’d stopped going to Church, so I had my work cut out for me. The thing is, you can’t force someone to go to Church. So what I did was just to share my experiences, and to share the joy I have felt in coming and being a part of the Church. I think that’s what brought her back to the Church, and now she’s an ardent Churchgoer. Now we have to work on her husband!

FB: Haha! You’ll do it – I’m sure you will.

BC: The simple advice I would give anyone is to just get involved. I was part of the Knights back in New Jersey, and down here I attend the Men’s Gospel Forum. I’ve learned so much about the Gospel I never knew before, and I’m meeting good men that I would have never known… As far as distributing Communion, there’s just a feeling I get inside that’s hard to describe.

FB: Well, you guys, you’re all great witnesses to the faith, and I see you as the Grandfathers of the Church. Thank you for your service, time and dedication to setting an example for generations to come.

February 23, 2014 | The 23rd Times

By | A Father Bob-Cast, Bulletin, Interviews, The 23rd Times | No Comments

A Path Much Less Traveled

Our plans or God’s plans? How much do we all want to control life? We all have the need to feel in control to some degree, and the tendency is believe that our plans – because we know what’s best for us – are in close, if not perfect alignment with God’s. People who humble themselves before God and do the selfless thing always make for great stories. That’s what Jackie Gelardi did. This week I interviewed a woman who answered a call that few people get – adoption as a single mother. Rather than wax poetic on the greater meaning of her choice, we’ll let her tell it.


Come Out to Jason Evert!

The Rest of the Interview

Damian: So tell me what you do with your life.
Jackie: I work as a full time school counselor at St. Francis school, which is three years old to eighth grade. I also have a private practice where I do psychotherapy with people from the community.

DH: Ok, so tell me about this decision. You basically walked into adoption as a single mother. What motivated that decision?
JG: Well when I was married, I was pregnant and we lost the baby. We had tried for a couple years to get pregnant so when we finally did, it was it was just the happiest time – those few months I was pregnant. But we lost the baby and we got divorced shortly after that. I knew I wanted to be a mom. So I thought maybe I will meet somebody with children, and that’s the way I will get to be a mom or, adopt with them or…

DH: Or a hundred different scenarios other than this one.
JG: Right! But a couple years ago I thought, you know what? That special guy can come along and five years from now, ten years from now, I’m not getting any younger if I am going to do something about having a child of my own, I need to do it now. So with the help of Mary Nicks who, sadly, died of cancer last year, I was able to emotionally get the process started. She just kept telling me “Don’t give up! Don’t give up!”

DH: And how does someone even get this process started?
JG: Well, Russia had just closed their doors to adoption, and I’m a single person. I kept asking myself, why would somebody choose me rather than a couple? So I started to look into surrogacy. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure I could afford it. I looked into attorneys and just picked one out of the phone book. She was very up front and asked me why I wouldn’t just consider adoption.

DH: And so what were the reasons?
JG: Well, I’ll get to that. But this attorney, she’d just gotten a call from a young girl who was 6 months pregnant and looking for someone to adopt. She gave me the girl’s number and said, basically, I’m out of it until you’re ready to do something about it. Twenty minutes later the girl called and we spoke for two and a half hours. The three things she wanted for her child were the exact three things I wanted to give a child.
DH: Which were?
JG: She wanted him raised with God in his life. I still get emotional when I think about this conversation. She wanted him to have a big family, and luckily I already have one of those. My parents and my sister, who just had a baby, all live within 15 minutes of each other. And the third thing was for him to have a good education, and to be able to take his education as far as possible.

DH: So I guess working for a Catholic school you’ve killed two birds with one stone already. You had your bases covered it sounds like. So what was the next step?
JG: So we met in a park and just got to know each other. We wanted to see if the connection was there in person like it was over the phone. A few days passed and I called her and asked if she needed anything more from me, or if she had any other questions. She was like “I don’t know if you still feel this way, but I think you’re amazing and I want you to raise my baby.” I was so… I couldn’t believe she’d picked me! I hung up the phone and went running around the school yelling “She picked me! She picked me!”

DH: Ha! That sounds glorious.
JG: Everybody was so excited!

DH: Ok, so tell me about some of your fears, and some of your expectations, about adopting, and having a child that were either met, or unexpectedly unmet?
JG: I didn’t know my body was going to hurt every day. That’s probably the biggest negative. And you don’t get to sleep… now I know what everyone was talking about. If I were to give advice to young people without children, I would say, sleep now while you can. But these are small things compared to the gift I’ve been given.

DH: Did you ever question whether or not you’d be able to “do it”? Or did you just feel like this was God’s plan and it was just going to happen?
JG: I honestly felt like maybe it wasn’t in God’s plan for me to have a baby because nothing was opening up. For years I was just praying for clarity, for the direction that I’d be going. I thought maybe God wanted me to help everyone else’s children (as a counselor) and not have my own. I just wanted my path to be clear.

DH: Yes, uncertainty can be the worst kind of state in which to live.
JG: But from the moment I met his birth mom, it was so clear. I feel like he was created for me from the very start. People always ask if the whole process was stressful, and I know for the birth moms, having children is painful and tough, but from the start, this felt so right!

DH: Yes, and isn’t there a window where the birth mom can change her mind?
JG: In Florida, they have 48 hours after the birth of the baby to change their mind – and in some states it’s as much as 6 months – so that thought was there, but I just had to trust God and let what was going to happen, happen. And if she had changed her mind, I would have given him up without hesitation, because who could blame her? But she made it clear that she wasn’t in the position to raise him… She already had two children, she wasn’t married, and she’d just lost her job when she got pregnant. She waited the six months for the situation to change, but…

DH: So when you came along, you were like an answer to her prayer?
JG: She believes that he was created for me, and that she was the person chosen to carry him for me. I always refer to her as the angel that carried my baby when we’re praying together at night.

DH: That’s an interesting take on the pro-life mission. Right? Just because something (like a baby) isn’t in your plan, that life could be in someone else’s plan. So how has your outlook on life changed as you went from being… not a mother, to being a mother?
JG: It really has changed. I look at the world through his eyes now. Even though I’ve been helping children and working with children for over 20 years, it’s different when you have your own. No matter what comes up, I think about how it’s going to affect him. It’s all about him. now.

February 16, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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A Heart that’s Found a Home | Valentine’s Edition

This would not be the first time Father Bob and I had the privilege of interviewing someone whose grains of sand could potentially be counted. It’s a lesson in psychology. It’s a lesson in spirituality. It’s the closest thing to proof of an afterlife I can reasonably fathom. When someone is given a diagnosis whose likely outcome raises questions of mortality, a sort of math equation begins to take effect in the mind. A person might start thinking to themselves ‘well, self, if this were the last time I might speak to this person, what would I say to them,’ or ‘how much love can I show this person?’ ‘In the amount of time I have left, how much love can I give to the world?’ And then the person might realize – what a silly question – one whose answer could never be known. And so then, the next natural step to take, is to show the absolute most love to each person you encounter, governing nothing, holding nothing back – until the day God calls you home. I’ve seen this phenomenon take place on several occasions and it always makes me question the way in which I treat people with my seemingly unlimited amount of time I have left.  And this phenomenon is the exact thing you encounter when you meet Bobbi Gillespie – one of our Villas residents – who only 4 months ago, knew nothing of the cancer in her lungs, nor the tumor accumulating in her brain. But now she knows all about these things, and she knows how to love more fully and live in this world. This is a little part of her story.


“I was never one to step outside the box, or break the rules, but I did,” Bobbi shares with Father Bob. “And at 15, I got pregnant and married, so I was out of my mom’s house at a young age.” The oldest of eight, her daughter was only a year and a half younger than her youngest brother. “So the two of them were very close.”
Bobbi didn’t experience a lot of hardship growing up as a child, but she remembers not having much. “I mean, I was raised in the ghetto, but at the time, we didn’t know it was the ghetto! I didn’t find out until high school,” Bobbi remembers, laughing. “You know, growing up with 8 kids in the house, we just knew we were fed and clothed and that was that.”

“But at 15 when I was pregnant, I became Catholic. I really wanted my daughter to be baptized and raised in the faith.” And so she was.

Life was life for a while and then at 29, her husband unexpectedly died due to childhood diabetes-related complications. “Back then, the doctors gave you 20 years to live from the date of your diagnosis. And that’s exactly what he did.”

“You know, I didn’t even notice it, but at the time my daughter did… For about 5 or 6 years I went into such a deep depression,” she recalls from over three decades past. “I have to admit, for a while, I went a little overboard with the drinking. It was constant. I really fell apart. You starting thinking that crying all the time is normal. Looking back, I wondered why I didn’t see it while it was taking place? I feel like I’d lost the fight in me. I’d just let go…”

How many of us are willing to admit, on camera, in front of an audience of potentially thousands, such frailty? Granted we’re living in a time of greater openness, and yes, in some ways we live in a therapy culture. But what sharing the deepest, darkest parts of ourselves does, is it brings people closer together. It strengthens relationships, and although I know only what I read in scripture (which I barely read), I think this is what God wants from us – better relationships. Bobbi was living in Cape Coral at the time, and working in Fort Myers for a company that built golf course and job site mobile offices. Some of the symptoms of her depression were absolutely debilitating.

“I used to get these panic attacks. I had this fear of driving over bridges – which makes it hard when you’re living in the Cape. I had to have someone drive me to work every single day,” Bobbi recalls. “Luckily the economy tanked in 2007 and they laid a bunch of people off. Ever since then I’ve worked jobs here and there. I started a cleaning company in Indiana when I moved back.”

Most of the time when people are in long term depressive states, there aren’t a lot of outward signs of the depression. It’s sort of a mode of being, not an emotion that can be detected through facial recognition. But when Bobbi shares this part of her life, she does so without shame, and not because she never felt shame over them, but – I think – because she wants people to know that it’s normal and okay to be in the throes of depression. It is nothing to be ashamed of. And that even in the condition that she’s in – the lung cancer, the brain cancer, etc. – we can live lives of joy, vitality and peace. We all think that an aggressive cancer diagnosis is a death sentence, but what we’ve seen from our friends here and in the past, is that a diagnosis becomes permission for a person to finally start living beyond the trappings of ego, beyond the anger that depletes our energy, the manic anxiety and the seemingly endless difficulties that plague our lives.

And what was it that pulled her out of it? “My daughter found me and brought along a big, horse trailer. She knew what was going on. She knew I was hurting,” Bobbi recalls. “She said, Get in mama, we’re goin’ home.’ And I did. We packed up and moved to Bloomfield, IN.”

Bloomfield was supposed to be a short adventure for her, but as it goes, she got settled in, started taking care of their horses and helping them out in the home, and she stayed. Without enough time and space to go into detail here, Bobbi lived life in sort of a nomadic style, jumping around and never really feeling settled. “When you move around a lot, nothing feels like yours. I made my way back to Florida through Brooksville, and then to Punta Gorda where I lived with my sister.”

Bobbi soon discovered that she and her sister were two different people. “There was surely going to be a crime of passion if the two of us didn’t go our separate ways,” Bobbi laughs. Soon after she started looking for yet another place to live, she found the Villas… And she finally has a place to call her own.

“You know this place is great. There’s always something going on. You’re never lonesome… but the Church… Those people are angels – every single one of them,” says Bobbi, in absolute sincerity. “They don’t do something to get paid, or to get a return. I just think of something and they bring it over. They’re so ‘tuned in’.”
You have to imagine Father Bob’s beaming at these comments. Having an actively engaged congregation – one that truly knows how to be Christ to the other – is the crowning achievement of any pastor (and so silently congratulate yourself as you sit here reading this).

So much of our daily lives and choices on how to spend our resources are spent in a sort of “deal-making” mode, where decisions on where to allocate our resources are based on an unseen horizon. These resources – to which I’m referring: resources of time, energy, not so much money, but every shade and nuance of emotion – are in limited supply as they relate to the perceived distance of our life’s horizon. But when the edge of the Earth is within view, people like Bobbi start spending those resources like no tomorrow, because of course, one day soon, the last grain of sand will fall. This all sounds morbid and depressing until you’ve met Bobbi, or our friend Charmaine, or Jason, or Josephina – and you realize that the thing we’re all looking for – knowledge of the meaning of life, answers to the most fundamental questions on how to live in the world – these people have in spades.

Bobbi’s heart has found a home on the south side of our property here, and in every interaction, she’s teaching us how to live with love, compassion and honesty. So on this Valentine’s Day, put aside the superficiality of Hallmark cards, and expensive dinners, and the dozen roses, and share the innermost side of yourself with someone. It’s the easiest and most sincere way to show you love them. Done on a consistent basis, it will build stronger friendship filled with joy and respect, and as we look back at the giant pile of sand in our rear view, we’ll know that we’ve done our best, life was good, and the world is a better place for our having been here.

February 9, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Marriage: A New Look at the Vocation

A Peek Into the Future

Good golly (Miss Molly), what will the future hold for the Church? With the installation of our new, beloved Pope, we can already see the trajectory of the Church changing (for the better). The pipeline of leadership must always be full. Since 1965, priestly vocations are down about 30% according to a Georgetown University study, and there are over 3,500 Parishes in the US without a resident Pastor! Across the world over the same period of time, the exact number of priests has dropped by 7,492 – but the population has more than doubled. However, after decades of glum trends — fewer priests, fewer parishes — the Catholic Church in the United States has a new statistic to cheer: More men are now enrolled in graduate level seminaries, the main pipeline to the priesthood, than in nearly two decades.

This year’s tally of 3,694 graduate theology students represents a 16 percent increase since 1995 and a 10 percent jump since 2005, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA).

Seminary directors cite more encouragement from bishops and parishes, the draw of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and the social-justice-minded Pope Francis, and a growing sense that the church is past the corrosive impact of the various scandals that exploded in 2002.
In this diocese, we have two seminarians attending St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. We like to introduce them to you and show that there are real people coming up through the ranks. One day they could be spreading the Good Word in our Parish, and if they inspire you to walk the path in their footsteps, don’t hesitate make the call (941-484-9543 is the number, by the way, for vocations).




Crawford Bennett

Crawford is 25 years old and was born in Dunedin, Florida. He considers St. Martha’s in Sarasota his home parish. God has always been a part of his life. Crawford has been a Catholic all his life and realized he had a strong calling to the Priesthood while in middle school. He enjoys altar serving because he loves the Liturgy of the Mass. He enjoys reading, language study, and creation. Crawford graduated from St. John Vianney College Seminary in May 2012. He is continuing his seminarian studies by attending St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary and is in his second year of Theology. For him, the most rewarding aspect of becoming a Priest will be helping the People of God and being a “Father” to all.



Lawton Lang

Lawton was born and raised in Sarasota, FL. He was active in the Boy Scouts and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. He first felt the call to the priesthood when he was around 12 years old. Lawton enjoys bike riding, fishing, and was an executive chef before entering the seminary. Lawton graduated from St. John Vianney College Seminary in May 2011. He is continuing his seminarian studies by attending St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary and is currently on a Pastoral Year at St. Leo Parish. Lawton received the Ministry of Lector in September 2011. He also received the Ministry of Acolyte this past October. Lawton feels his greatest challenge in becoming a priest will be to proclaim the Word of God to the parishioners. He senses that the most rewarding aspect of being a priest will be the saving of souls through the Eucharist.

February 2, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Journey of the Suttons

I think, as kids, we have ideas about the plotline our lives are supposed to follow. We go to school for a while. We find jobs or start companies. We fall in love if we’re lucky. We have families. Our families grow up and repeat these steps with mild variation. We may suspect our spiritual lives will take a similar path – smooth and upward. We’ll get a greater understanding of God as we age. Our deepest, most intimate questions about the nature of life and humanity will be answered. We’ll eventually see God as our greatest teacher, ally and friend… but alas, this is not how things work. In fact, for most everyone I know, spirituality is a constant process of course correction, learning, and still more questioning, whose end is nowhere in sight.

People reach spiritual maturity at widely varying ages. I, personally, see a lot of men in their early to mid-60’s, who retire, actually start paying attention to their inner life, commit to service, make new friends, and absolutely come alive in their faith. I know several young couples who were just kind of “doing their thing” before they were married. They get married and only upon having a child of their own, realize there’s another dimension to life, and they invite God into their lives with voracious energy, and start doing “His” thing instead. Life is beautiful in that way, and we always like to hear the stories of the people that come through RCIA – because there always is a story. Most people don’t just wake up one day and decide they want to be Catholic, so I sat down with Barbara & Bill Sutton (mother and son), and tried to figure out where they’re coming from on their journey and what they hope to gain through the process…


Damian: So, Bill, what motivated you to become Catholic at this point in your life?
Bill: You know, my kids were both raised Catholic, and my wife is Catholic, so when we moved to this area of town, it was right around the time the Parish was being established and that first Pastor we had… I can’t remember his name, but he was really a genuine individual.

DH: You mean Father Sullivan?
Bill: Yes, and really, every one we’ve had since him has just been great – and Father Bob is a perfect fit at Blessed Pope (John XXIII).

DH: You’re on a roll! Haha, tell me some other things you like about the Parish.
Bill: The environment in general is very warm and welcoming, the people are very social, and the amount of charity work being done is impressive.

DH: I would agree. Our people are very generous. At charity events throughout the country, our Parishioners are disproportionately represented.
Bill: And it keeps expanding! Just look at the ministry that’s been built up around the Villas. Kathy and I started volunteering over there as soon as it opened. Our Church hasn’t even been open that long.

DH: So Barbara, what’s drawn you to our Parish?
Barbara: Well, I was brought up in the Anglican Church, but my father was Roman Catholic. I was raised in Trinidad in the Caribbean and followed my mother’s religion for the longest time.

DH: Which was… Anglicanism?
Barbara: Yes, but then I got married and moved to America… this is sort of where my adherence to religion fell apart. My husband’s family were members of the Church of Christ – in fact his father was a pastor in the church.

DH: That sounds problematic… the way you’re describing it.
Barbara: He didn’t even recognize other religions. So there was some tension there. For a short while I had to attend that church, but luckily my husband was shipped overseas. At the time Bill was only 9 months old, and my husband was in the Air Force.
Bill: Yes, his thing was communications and electronics. He supported radar sites throughout the world, so he lived in a lot of different places.

DH: So how did you guys get to Fort Myers?
Barbara: My husband moved us here in 1968 and there wasn’t much here, but I started working for Publix, and actually, so did Bill.
Bill: Yeah, Publix was a great company to work for. They’re one of the largest privately owned businesses in the nation.

DH: I bet you could talk all day about the world of grocery retailing. So tell me more about your RCIA journey.
Bill: We had some neighbors that would have dinner with Father Bob pretty regularly, and then we started having him over, and I got to talking to him about the process of becoming Catholic… so it was really just “time”.

DH: What about you, Barbara, how did this all start for you ?
Barbara: You know, I always resented the fact that I was unable to follow my father’s religion growing up. After I retired I moved to Tennessee to be close to my daughter, but then my home burned down – along with 48 other people’s homes – and my son, Bill, said “Oh just move back to Florida already!” So I’ve been down here a while and after getting to know Father Bob, I thought to myself, you know, this is the faith I’ve had all along. This is the faith I had as a child. I needed to become a Catholic.

DH: And so if it’s the faith you had as a child, why wouldn’t you already be a Catholic?
Barbara: Back in those days, children always followed the faith of their mothers – which as I’d mentioned, was the Church of England.

DH: And tell me the difference between Anglicanism and Catholicism?
Barbara: Anglicans were the first faith to break away from the Catholic Church. I think it all comes down to the confessional. Anglicans believe you should just go directly to God.

DH: So have you been to confession yet?
Barbara: Well, I haven’t because I’m in the middle of my schooling.

DH: Could you sneak in? Like, can’t you have one of your friends let you in the back door?
Barbara: Ah-haha! No! That is one thing I’m really looking forward to though.
Bill: In all honesty though, we were all raised with faith. I got my first Bible when I was 5 years old and used to read it daily. Now, as an adult, I go to CatholicPrayer.com and go through their daily readings. So I’m getting myself in the mindset of being “ready” for this process. And praying in the morning really sets the tempo for the day.

DH: Right! Instead of asking forgiveness at the end of the day for all the havoc you’ve caused! Haha. Tell me something you’ve learned about the faith during your journey that you were sort of surprised by.
Bill: I think unless you are educated correctly on the topic, you don’t really know the significance of the presence of the Body & Blood of Christ. Also, I’ve learned through scripture that, what Jesus really did, was invest time in people. And that’s something we can carry into our daily lives. We can very easily help people get through difficulties just by investing time in them.

DH: So what do you think about this new Pope we have?
Barbara: I just love him. I feel like my time has come to join the Church, and he’s such a big part of that.
Bill: He’s a real man of compassion. I think he’s teaching people to return to their humanity.


January 26, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Season is Here – Just LOOK at that Calendar!

Wow! What an unbelievable amount of activity taking place all around us – just in this Parish alone, there’s an event almost every weekend! Feeling overwhelmed? Feeling trapped under the weight of it all? If not, that’s great… just don’t try to drive down Daniels Parkway at 5:00 pm. When we try to grasp the full scope of activity taking place around us, we can start the wheel of ‘stinking thinking’ that turns in our head. “I’m expected to go to THIS conference, or THAT fundraiser.” “Oh no! I have to see THIS person, who’s always at THAT event, and we’re going to end up talking about SO & SO and that stresses me out…” There are 100 forms of fear and stress that can take us out of our spiritual selves, and dump us right back into the ways of the world. But I would argue that there’s an alternate way to look at this wave of activity. Why don’t we try to look at these events, and workshops, and conferences, and speakers, as our community’s voracious commitment to your spirituality. These are opportunities to connect with people, to grow in our faith, and to LOVE more fully. I would argue that Christ wants to teach us how to live the best life we’re able to – and in these seminars, these retreats, these picnics – are lessons on how to be more fully Christian. So don’t stress – stay off Daniels during rush hour – and entertain the thought that you may not have all the answers. That there’s still room to grow. And that every gathering of people is a chance to see the face of God in our fellows. -DH


Short List of Events

  • Scout Sunday is next Sunday, the 2nd, at the 9:15 Mass
  • the Diocesan Apologetics Conference on Tuesday, February 4th
  • the Catholic Medical Association’s speaker on Wednesday, February 5th
  • the Women’s Conference on Saturday, February 8th
  • the Valentine’s Day Tea Party on Friday, Febraury 14th
  • the Anniversary Mass at Epiphany Cathedral on February 15th
  • the Parish Picnic & Talent Show on Sunday, the 16th at 12:30 pm
  • Patrick Coffin of Catholic Answers speaks on Wednesday, February 18th
  • the Marriage Retreat on Saturday, February 22nd
  • the K of C’s River Boat Cruise on Sunday, the 23rd
  • the Men’s Conference on March 1st
  • Paul Todd on Sunday, March 16th
  • the Leaven Conference on Saturday March 29th

Registration Sunday is Here!

For those of you who are new to our Parish this year, and to those who’ve been coming for years without being registered, we need your help in staying organized and planning for our future needs. Having an accurate database of our Parishioners will help us know where and how we need to grow. Here is a short list of the main benefits to registering:

1. Not sure if dual registration is okay with your northern Parish?
It’s more common than you’d think. You can be registered at two Parishes. Registering here helps us plan for the future, plan for events and plan for our variable costs that fluctuate with membership levels. You are part of our Parish Family as a Winter Parishioner.

2. Want to be a Godparent or Confirmation Sponsor recognized by The Church?
In order to be eligible to become a Godparent recognized by the Church, you need to be registered at our Parish – that is – regular attendance and participation in the life of the community.

3. Need your Year-End Contribution Statement for tax purposes?
We can only send you tax statements if we know who you are, so please register.

4. Need a Letter of Registration?
Often people come to us as they are trying to get their child into Catholic school, or they are moving to another state and trying to prove participation in their former Parish – we can only help you if we know who you are.

And finally, register because it’s easy. Here’s how!

1. Go to our Parish website and click on “Join” in the main, parent menu. You can go directly to this link – http://johnxxiii.net/join/
2. There will be 4-6 parts to the form, please fill out as much information as possible.


1. Fill out a registration card. They can be found at the welcome center in the Narthex, or at the back door entrance.
2. Either drop it in the offertory basket, bring it to the office during business hours (Mon-Fri, 8:00-Noon & 1:00-4:00 pm), or mail it in to Blessed Pope John XXIII 13060 Palomino Lane,Fort Myers, FL 33912

And that’s it! Thank you for taking the time to do this. Help us plan for those needs so that we can become the community that God wants us to be. Blessings!

January 19, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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One Happy Camper

What does God want from us?

At a very basic level, He wants us to obey Him. He is the source of objective truth, and in proclaiming His word, necessarily wants us to save souls through evangelization. Sure, there are a lot of ways to do this. You can knock on doors. You can grab a megaphone and stand on a park bench at a festival. But more than likely, we’re disposed to trust those closest to us – friends, (rational) family members, and especially the clergy. But out of that group, which of these are we most likely to share our lives with on the deepest level? I would argue that our friends bear the brunt (delight?) of this responsibility – our really, really good friends (you know, the friends that wouldn’t go to the cops).


And yet the number of these types of friends drops off precipitously as we age. We’re not talking about your Facebook friends either. My favorite barometer of friendship is the airport test, that is – pick your most random Facebook “friend” and message them, asking if they’d drop you off/pick you up at the airport between the hours of 10:00 pm and 6:00 am. See how long it takes them to get back to you.

Life gets busy. People move, take new jobs and start families. Schedules are squeezed into margins of error so small that after long periods of time, we exhaustively look back and think “what happened today/this month/this year?” Time for friendship gets marginalized, and not just for adults. Children’s schedules are packed just as tight.

As children’s recreation is now done primarily indoors (thanks, Family Watchdog), and as communication grows ever more impersonal (thanks, Snapchat), I think the fear for a lot of parents has become their children’s inability to engage in friendships starting at a young age – friendships that would one day reach deeper levels of intimacy. When this type of passive isolation becomes a social norm, we have to re-double our efforts to counteract it. God wants connection. Satan prefers loneliness.

One of our Parishioners, Lindsey Gregory, found the antidote 10 years ago – summer camp. She doesn’t prescribe any such camp except Good Counsel Summer Camp in Floral City, FL. “It’s about 45 minutes south of Ocala in the middle of the state,” Lindsey shares. Oh, yes, the middle of nowhere.

According to their website, as a Catholic camp, Good Counsel provides “the unique opportunity to gather for the celebration of the Mass… Bible vigils, Benediction and other prayer experiences, in a natural outdoor setting, where one feels a special closeness to God as Creator.”

The Camp was founded in 1948 by Monsignor George W. Cummings, and over the past six decades has served tens of thousands of kids, many that are 2nd and 3rd generation campers. That says a lot. So in order to find out more, I sat down with Lindsey and grilled her on what it really meant to be a Good Counsel Camper, and how it’s changed her life.

Damian Hanley: Hi there! So tell me, at this “Good Counsel” Camp, do you get good counsel?
Lindsey Gregory: Haha! Yes, definitely.

DH: Alright, so tell me about how it’s run and the whole crux of its mission.
LG: They have 1 & 2-week sessions. There’s about 12 cabins and there are NO parents. It’s just the kids and the counselors. It’s great!

DH: So it was started by a priest. Is it a distinctively Catholic camp? I mean, do you pretty much just pray and meditate most of the day?
LG: Hah! No, we go to Mass first thing in the morning every day, and then during the day we do our activities. We have meals throughout the day and then at the end of the day we have what they call “Chapel Talk”. And Chapel Talk is when one of the counselors gives a speech about something that’s important to them.

DH: Oh neat! So tell me about a Chapel Talk that really touched you, or you thought was extraordinarily profound.
LG: Well most of the counselors just use one of the virtues and speak on that, but when I did mine, I talked about my trip to Panama. I spoke about the importance of helping others.

DH: Why is that important? Can’t they help themselves?
LG: Yes, (haha), but I mean, the idea is that you don’t have to go to another country to help other people. It could be someone in the bunk next to you in your cabin. It’s important just to reach out.

DH: So, you mentioned activities. What types of activities do you do, and which one is your fave?
LG: We do a ton of different things, but by far my favorite is archery.

DH: So you wander the woods and shoot deer?
LG: No! We just set up giant bales of hay and put targets on them. We have a ton of bows. The kids really love it.

DH: Alright, what else do you do?
LG: Well, there’s a swimming pool, so we’ll go swimming. Sometimes we go in the lake, but a lot of times the water’s too gross. We have boats, and canoes, so the kids learn how to do that.

DH: Okay, so if you were trying to convince a parent to send their kid to Good Counsel, what would you tell them? And why is it important for kids to get away and be social like this?
LG: I think for a lot of kids, it’s a new experience to be outside for a couple weeks with no air conditioning or cell phones. It’s a break from the electronic world.

DH: Yeah, you don’t see that a lot any more with kids – you know, them, outside. You mentioned “no air conditioning”. It’s a summer camp… I mean, what’s the body odor like on any given day?
LG: Haha! We shower at night – we don’t really have a choice. It’s the rule.

DH: I bet it is. Tell me about the nature of your friendships at the Camp.
LG: Well, I work there now, and I currently work with a girl I’ve been coming here with since I started (10 years ago). We work in the kitchen together. One of my best friends, who now goes to UF, we met my first year as an employee here, and we’ve been best friends ever since. Even with your counselors – you make such good friends here because the entire time is spent just hanging out and having fun.

DH: Well that sounds magical. We’ll try to promote this camp for you so you can keep your job. Thanks for sitting down with me and good luck in school this year!
LG: Hah! That would be great. Thank you.

Contact them at (352) 726-1910 or visit them

January 12, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Trafficking in Hope

Fast, I got to find out the secrets of controlling women. I really want to control the whole (woman). I want to be the boss of her life, even her thoughts. I got to con them that Lincoln never freed the slaves. –Iceberg Slim, 1952

Iceberg Slim (real name Robert Beck) was a real-life “hustler” in the 1940’s and 50’s. His career ended with a mere 10 months in prison, after which he became a writer at age 42 – after two decades of exploiting women in the sex trade. Let’s call a spade a spade. What we used to call a “pimp”, that’s a trafficker. And ironically, what we now call a “trafficker”, we used to call a slave owner. Has there ever been a more hated historical archetype than the Old South Slave Driver? Despite the outcomes of the Civil War and the many victories over oppression that appear throughout history, there are more slaves in our world today than at any other point in time, but in order for us to care – or take any action – we have to believe this fact. And to do so, we need to change our definition of slavery. I sat down with Alex Olivares, Catholic Charities’ Director for the Human Trafficking program and asked him a series of uncomfortable questions. His program is the “Catholic” response to the second biggest black market on our planet. It’s a market that degrades people in the worst ways, ruins lives, and yet, has a demand which seems to only grow over time. As much as I love small talk, this is not that. This information could help save someone from a fate that… I don’t know, because I can’t possibly imagine such a fate.


Damian Hanley: So how does someone diagnose a victim of trafficking? Most are afraid to come forward, right?
Alex Olivares: Yes, it’s sort of a broad answer, but generally they’re girls that are still of school age. You look for certain neck tattoos or “branding” as they call it – money symbols, “daddy” or another guy’s name on their back. Then if they’re talking about age-inappropriate sex talk. Like if they’re speaking about sex in a way that’s not typical of someone their age, or they talk about an “older boyfriend”. Then of course there are signs of domestic violence, signs of abuse, fear and control.

DH: How might you tell someone’s being controlled? That seems like a vague concept.
AO: It is, but we had a girl come into our Bonita office and apply for food stamps. She kept mentioning the word ‘forced’ and she didn’t have a cell phone. These days, everyone has a cell phone, so that’s a red flag. If they come in and someone else is speaking for them, another big flag. We have to delicately get information out of them and piece together a lot of little red flags to determine if trafficking is taking place. Then they call us.

DH: Okay, so once you have a case, you start kicking in doors? How do you address the victim?
AO: Haha! That’s what the cops do, our job is a little different. We immediately get them out of the situation they’re in. We get them screened for illnesses or STDs or any other problem they might have. We get them emergency housing immediately, whether it’s in a shelter or a hotel, or some kind of transitional housing. Then once they’re “certified” as a victim of human trafficking, the government provides money so we can take care of their needs.

DH: I imagine they’re pretty messed up, mentally and emotionally, once they get to you.
AO: Yes. We get them mental health counseling. We get them job training. If they’re foreign national, and they agree to help with law enforcement, they can apply for a temporary visa, which may allow them to bring family members over… and we do ALL of that stuff. Sometimes we partner with other agencies, but end-to-end, we take care of all of their needs.

DH: So are you dealing with mostly women? Or do you see men in sex trafficking too?
AO: Actually, in labor trafficking, it’s mostly men, but we do see them in sex slavery as well.

DH: And what is the difference between slavery and trafficking?
AO: They used to differentiate based on the movement of the victims, but those definitions have fallen by the wayside. These days human trafficking is slavery.

DH: So tell me what some of these girls are going through when you find them.
AO: Picture this: When someone is a victim of sexual assault or rape, it is psychologically traumatic for them. Typically there are symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression… Now try to imagine someone who’s been raped 40 times per day, for six months straight. The effect can be pretty severe. In some cases you have disassociation. I’m not talking about total schizophrenia, but loss of memory, fugue states, a lot of depression, and a lot of anxiety. Some have pretty severe PTSD symptoms, but it’s generally a lot of depression and anxiety.

DH: Do they ever fully recover?
AO: A lot of our clients do really well, but out of the 74 victims I’ve worked with over the past few years, I’ve had only one instance of Stockholm Syndrome (feelings of trust or affection felt in certain cases of kidnapping, or hostage-taking by a victim toward a captor), and that is increasingly being reported from other agencies around the state.

DH: Dare I ask, where does Florida rank among the states for trafficking?
AO: We’re not #1, but we’re either #2 or #3 depending on which reporting statistics you use.

DH: How would law enforcement describe the scope of the problem, statistically?
AO: Believe it or not, there have been no state prosecutions for human trafficking in Florida, although there have been several at the federal level. It’s an extremely hard crime to prosecute because often the victims aren’t good witnesses. They’ve been kept in train cars, or closets, or locked in basements, and so they don’t see much of their surroundings. But often they’ll be charged with prostitution, transportation with intent to prostitution, child pornography…

DH: And so the girls have charges to deal with too?
AO: NO! The authorities have done away with the whole “teen prostitute” concept. They are all victims, not criminals.

DH: In all cases? I mean, volitionally, a 16-year old girl does have the choice to prostitute herself, right?
AO (getting uncomfortable): I mean, anyone under the age of 18 does not have the choice to consent to public sex. And even if they say there’s no one forcing them – there’s no pimp, or “boyfriend” – very, very, very rarely is there not someone else behind it. They’re never out there on their own volition.

DH: I’m used to asking inappropriate questions, so I apologize.
AO: Ask anything you want.

DH: So is anything being done on a national level to curb this?
AO: It’s almost impossible because of the demand. People have been soliciting sex for thousands of years. The best way to prevent this is just to educate young people on how to avoid potentially dangerous situations like that. Do you remember that movie Taken? There are scenarios like that. They’re rare, but that kind of stuff is happening.

DH: The crux is, however, that this could potentially happen to anyone, right?
AO: My youngest client was 9. My oldest was 67. We’ve had clients from Russia, Slovakia, the DR, Nicaragua and of course, here in the US.

DH: And why does South Florida see a higher volume of these types of crimes?
AO: A few reasons. One, there are a lot of rural areas, which are good to hide people you don’t want being found. Two, there are a lot of runaways because of the weather. I mean, there are runaways in Massachusetts too, but here, they can do it all year round. We have a lot of tourism too, which makes it ideal for certain types of labor trafficking.
DH: As far as being a Catholic organization, is there any spiritual component to your process?
AO: We always recommend that type of thing, but we don’t make it a requirement. We’ll transport them to services and ensure, as part of their ‘community reintegration’ practice, that they can become a part of their congregation. In a lot of cases, it is the most important part of their support system.

DH: We’ll that’s about all I can handle of this topic (laughter), so in closing, what can someone do if they suspect trafficking is taking place?
AO: Two things. If you have an imminent suspicion of trafficking, always call 911 and tell the person you have suspicion someone is being trafficked for reasons A, B or C, and they’ll send someone immediately. If you have some idea, and are unsure, you can call Catholic Charities hotline at 239-738-8722, and we can come out and verify, get in touch with law enforcement, and we take it from there.


January 5, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Seeking Happiness This New Year?

Seek Jesus Christ: The Son of God Who Became Man For The Love of Humanity

If we notice anything in today’s world, it is that people are thirsting for the supreme goodness and love of the divine Other who is the source of life itself. In countless ways, people are seeking happiness, and striving to find peace, security, and fulfillment.

However, they are often pitifully unaware of how to attain the desire of their heart. This is especially evident during the season of Christmas when, influenced heavily by the frenetic quest of a consumerism gone awry, people are loading up on material gifts in an effort to experience a taste of the happiness they so crave. At the foundation of gift giving, the office parties and the celebrations, the bows and ribbons and toasts and rushing from place to place, is a deep, unquenchable thirst for happiness.

That we are driven by the search for goodness and the quest for happiness is true. But then, when the party is over and presents are unwrapped, the tree, with all its lights and glistening decorations, comes down:

“When you got what you wanted, were you happy?” asked Archbishop Fulton Sheen. “Do you remember when you were a child, how ardently you looked forward to Christmas? How happy you thought you would be, with your fill of cakes, your hands glutted with toys, and your eyes dancing with the lights on the tree! Christmas came, and after you had eaten your fill, blown out the last Christmas candle, and played till your toys no longer amused, you climbed into your bed and said, in your own little heart of hearts, that somehow or other it did not quite come up to your expectations. And have you not lived that experience over a thousand times since?”

It’s easy to get trapped in that experience, living it over a thousand times, like some kind of cruel nightmare in which fulfillment is an impossible dream and disappointment seems the only reality. And one cannot seem to wake up.

But one can wake up. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to awake from sleep. The choice is yours. In fact, there is a Person who came precisely to fulfill you, to offer you new life and a new way of living. Jesus Christ saves, redeems, fulfills and restores and completes–these are not abstract musings but definite realities revealed by God himself. In Christ you can become a son or daughter of the Father, who lovingly grants you the gift of sharing in his divine life and glory, and who offers you the opportunity of living a blessed life forever–all of which is made possible by the Son of God who became man.

So basic and fundamental is every person’s thirst for God, the Catechism of the Catholic Church opens with the following truth of the faith:

“God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek Him, to know Him, to love Him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of His family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son as Redeemer and Savior. In His Son and through Him, He invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, His adopted children and thus heirs of His blessed life” (CCC, 1).

Do you want to be happy? As St. Teresa of Avila wrote, “Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.”

God wants to give Himself to you. Think about what that means. Can you imagine the love you would feel? What does it feel like for God, who is Infinite Love, the almighty and all-powerful Creator who made the universe and all it contains by speaking it into existence, to fill you with His love? That it is not the same as human love is certain. Yes, it is a great deal beyond creaturely love.

The question is, how do you come to possess God? That is what the Catholic Church is all about, my dear friends. She is the instrument of salvation in the world who leads her children to become sons and daughters of the Father in the Son. Live the Catholic life. Fully, actively and consciously participate in the divine liturgy this new year. Live the gospel life. All of it, with its denial of self, its hate for sin, its determined holiness and thirst for the truth, its joy even in the face of life’s difficulties.

Heaven on earth is a real possibility. It’s not a fairytale fantasy, but a reality made possible by the Son of God who became man in order that you might come to share in God’s supernatural, divine life. Open your heart to Jesus Christ, the Divine and Human Healer of humankind. Give yourself to the Child who comes in humility to make you like himself, like God, that you might participate in his own everlasting life.

Does this mean you will never suffer? No. Recall how Christ suffered. The way to life everlasting is the cross. There is no other way. But even in the face of suffering there is joy because Christ gives you the gift of His Spirit who overcomes and conquers your fear and suffering.

When God gifts you with His love, when He possesses you and you possess Him, nothing can take that from you. Nothing but, of course, your own free choice.

Who will you choose in 2014?

December 29, 2013 | The 23rd Times

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The Gifts we Give the World

Very few people ever get to experience adoption, either on the giving or receiving end, and even fewer can anticipate the emotional landscape in which they are about to traverse. Rather than feeling the familiar states of happiness, elation, joy or confusion, the Marr’s have gone through stages of utter disbelief, and describe the emotions like waves crashing ashore – consistent, yet never quite the same each time. “Is this my life?” Some couples fear that they might not have the same innate ability to fully love a child that shares none of their DNA. But at this point, almost 2 years after meeting James and Katherine, all doubt has departed.


Two months after the actual date of the adoption, Dave reassures (jokingly), “We’re going to keep them.” As the holidays pass, Katie and James celebrated their second Christmas with Dave and Celena by decking the halls and searching for an alleged Elf on a Shelf. “It’s this crazy game where an elf – ours is named Jack – shows up in different places throughout the house each day during the weeks leading up to Christmas,” Dave tries to explain. He laughs, “they call me on the way to school every morning to tell me where the Elf showed up. I’ve been working mornings, so mom drives them to school.”

Dave, at 53, admits he doesn’t have the same amount of energy he did at 28, but is focusing on taking better care of himself for obvious reasons. “This was most definitely God’s plan – down to every last detail, but I can do the math. When they’re in their 20’s, I’ll be in my 70’s. When they’re having kids and doing their thing in their 40’s, I’ll be in my 90s’!”

It may have been God’s plan, but if so, “they didn’t see it coming,” says Kathy Miller, director of Lifeline Family Center. (Lifeline is a home dedicated to saving the unborn, and providing young women in unplanned pregnancies with a comprehensive educational program in a safe secure Christian home – among many other things.) “Dave and Celena came in here and just did everything. They volunteered after they heard me speak at a Mass… and just had a lot of love to give,” Kathy shares. “Dave deserves some kind of medal of honor – he was in charge of teaching the girls how to drive! But honestly, they did everything else, too. They tutored the girls in math. They were House Parents. They served in just about every capacity, and did so without any expectation of adopting.”

It’s true. The suggestion came right from their biological mother, and despite the choices she’s made in the past, and the associated dissonance it must have created, she had the presence of mind to admit that she was unable to parent. As we heard last week, the answer to adopt came surprisingly easy to the Marr’s – which is to say – God touched them in a way that was atypical. To leave oneself that emotionally vulnerable is not natural. “In fact, the biggest fear that adoptive parents have during the process – and really, any time after, is that the biological mother is going to change her mind,” Kathy shares. “ It’s a legitimate concern, because it happens all the time.” As a result, Lifeline will only administer open adoptions.

An “open adoption” is where the biological and adoptive families have access to varying degrees of each other’s personal information and have an option of contact. In Open Adoption, the adoptive parents hold all the rights as the legal parents, yet the individuals of the biological and adoptive families may exercise the option to open the contact in varying forms: from just sending mail and/or photos, to face-to-face visits between birth and adoptive families.

Contact still exists between Katie and James’ biological mother. It’s not frequent, but the door is still open. I think being a person of God means doing the noble thing despite what may be going on in our minds. Our minds – in combination with the world around us – have a tendency to play tricks on us. The mind can take a thought and twist it until no matter what we’re considering, justification is easy.

As someone who experienced a traditional childhood, I can only hypothetically identify with this situation. Growing up, my parents were my parents and they were the answer to all things. As they say, “the buck stopped… there.” I knew there would be food on the table, and I knew there would be a good school for me to attend. I knew I had a ride home from soccer practice, and I knew that no matter what, my problems could be solved (or minimized) and I would learn the lessons of life in the process. But what if that hadn’t been the case? What if I hadn’t had that assurance? What type of environment would that have created? This is the thought experiment you’d have to engage in if you were to imagine the alternative trajectory Katie and James’ lives were to take, had Dave and Celena not answered The Call.

In the early 90’s a sociologist named Annette Lareau studied the parenting styles of 88 different families with children. What she found had little to do with race or ethnicity, but much to do with two distinct styles of parenting – the Natural Growth model, and Concerted Cultivation. Typically the domain of working class families, the Natural Growth model is characterized by children playing outside mostly with their siblings or other neighborhood children, authoritarian parents, and a distinct separation between the world of the adults and the lives of the children. Typically both (or “the only”) parents are working, so measurably less time is spent focused on the development of the children – and education is seen as the function of schools. This is almost always the domain of single mothers.

In the Concerted Cultivation camp of parenting, learning is a function of life, as children are taught to take lessons away from every experience. According to Lareau,

Children from concerted cultivation households spend much time in after school classes or programs such as taking piano lessons or being on a football team. Parents in these families are very involved in their children’s free time, shuttling them from activity to activity. Concerted cultivation parents also emphasize negotiation, encouraging their children to question authority figures, including themselves. As a result, children from concerted cultivation homes are accustomed early to structured environments, tend to be less intimidated by authority and acquire a sense of “entitlement”, believing they are “worthy of adult interest” and can “customize” their environment.

Neither approach is considered “morally better” than another, but children from the Concerted Cultivation camp do experience significant advantages in the workplace as adults. In fact, the Natural Growth model lends itself to fewer behavioral problems and more creativity – obviously a benefit – but this study was done back in the early 90’s, before higher education was considered an absolute imperative for a shot at a normal life.

Project this trend for another 20 years as James and Katherine begin their careers. Which path do you think they would have preferred? How different would their lives have been if they’d had a mother – one who self-admittedly was unable to give them what they needed – an ambiguous relationship with a father, and a lifetime of opportunity costs in education and experiences?

I think that’s what this story teaches us – that our actions matter. When we proactively seek the most urgent and appropriate places to give love, we end up setting the world on a different path. We create ripple effects in the cosmos, of which we’ll likely never see the end result. If James and Katherine each have two children, and those two children have two children, it would only be a couple hundred years before the actions of Dave and Celena would materially affect thousands of people. It’s not to say that a nightmare would have ensued had any other path been taken, but ignoring the inner call within us – to readily and freely give our love to others – we pay a price that will one day cost the Kingdom dearly. Every time we answer the call – every time we take the opportunity to give and receive love – we’re giving a gift to the world, and the amount and frequency with which we give those gifts, is a measure of how close we want to get to God.

December 22, 2013 | The 23rd Times

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What we’re doing today is putting the seal on a 15-month process. The paperwork is all set. The judge just has to put the same on it and make it legal, and we’re just about to do that in a few minutes.

Dave Marr sits in the waiting room of his attorney’s office on October 23rd, almost exactly two months ago, as the two children him and his wife hope to adopt, climb all over him like little monkeys. James, 3, and Katherine Marie, 1, aren’t easy to contain, and in fact, the struggle their lives have induced over the past year has been nothing short of Biblical in scope. What an onlooker may have seen was a collision between two opposing worlds – one of brokenness and vice, of fleeting relationships and cracked commitments – with a world of love and longing, a world of stability and virtue. We’re about to see which side triumphs as we make our way over to Judge Carlin’s 20th Judicial Circuit Court in downtown Fort Myers.




“We weren’t out to adopt children. We were just doing our volunteer work at Lifeline, and a girl there decided she wasn’t set to do this,” Dave motions holding a child on each knee. “She asked us if we’d consider adoption, and surprisingly, the answer came easily to Celena and I.” There have been a number of metal-testing obstacles in their way on the path to adoption, but all of that is about to be history within the hour.

The Bible is chocked full of stories of couples who’d been previously unable to concieve being blessed by the gift of children – one in particular which directly helped save civilization – Mary. What scripture teaches us in general, is that salvation comes not in the packaging of this world, but in taking the focus off of ourselves and placing it on others (AKA “serving”). Many couples describe this as the most unpredictable benefit of marriage. When God created Adam, He quickly realized that it was not good for him to be alone. After the heavens and the Earth were created, and all the creatures of the sea – then Man – God immediately put Man in a relationship (and we never read about Adam’s commitment issues… because He didn’t create those).

So God wants us in relationships, just as the Marr’s longed for an expansion of their family, so does God want us to serve and nurture the relationships we maintain now.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine wanted to take Thanksgiving Day and spend it working in a soup kitchen or a shelter. He called around to a few places and strangely enough, found he was beaten to the punch. They told him specifically NOT to come because they were already overwhelmed with volunteers. How is that possible? Could it be that our culture has gotten to a place where people are actively trying to counteract the self-centeredness which has backfired on so many? Why is it the “market” for charity is so flooded during the holidays but during the rest of year, we’re all perfectly happy to stay as comfortable as possible. Why is being spiritual so hard? And why does it grate against our most basic human nature toward selfishness? And why does it make so much sense when we finally take our blinders off!!!

But people make the effort because the journey is worth it – and they intuitively know this. “After reviewing the situation, my professional advice was to run”, says David Sims, the Marr’s attorney. “The lawyer in me wanted to advise them to go another direction. There were so many fathers, alleged fathers, fathers with parental rights… And having the biological mother tell us she was going to mitigate this whole issus – she never did – it seemed like such an impossible case.” David smiles this morning, knowing that we’re just minutes away from signed papers. “The Christian in me, seeing their… their… absolute belief that it was God’s will that these children become their children, that said to me ‘okay, God is good. God is great. And we need His help to make this happen.”

But it was one step at a time. “At every turn – every obstacle – we thought to ourselves, ‘This is NOT going to work.’ And God, like bowling pins, He would knock them down and we’d go the next one,” David remembers. Much like the Holy Family, things just have to happen the way they’re going to happen. If they had had the money they “needed”, there would have been no manger. They would have found a hotel they could afford. If there hadn’t been a census in Bethlehem, Jesus would have been born somewhere else. If Joseph had not been visited in a dream, he may have abandoned Mary. How often does God speak to us when we’re not ready to listen?

Stay tuned next week for the continuation of the Marry’s story, and watch for the short film of their experience on Christmas Day.

December 15, 2013 | The 23rd Times

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by Edward Pentin of NCR

Pope Francis has called an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”, the Vatican has announced.


The synod, which will take place at the Vatican 5-19 October, 2014, is a means through which the Holy Father “wishes to continue the reflection and journey of the whole Church, with the participation of leaders of the Episcopate from every corner of the world,” said Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi.

“It is important that the Church move forward together as a community, in reflection and prayer, and decide on common pastoral orientations dealing with the most important aspects of our life together – particularly on the family – under the guidance of the Pope and the bishops,” he continued. “The convening of this Extraordinary Synod is a clear indication of this direction.”

He added: “In this context, for individual persons or local offices or institutions to propose particular pastoral solutions runs the risk of generating confusion. As we address various pastoral issues, it is important that we move forward in full communion with the ecclesial community.”

The upcoming synod will be the first under the authority of the new General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri. The archbishop, who was previously number two at the Congregation of Bishops, is being tasked with reforming the body by reviewing the rules governing its work and making them more effective. Reform of the Synod of Bishops was also a topic for discussion during the “G8” Council of Cardinals which met at the Vatican last week.

According to the Vatican, the Holy Father said at last week’s meeting that prominent themes such as family and matrimonial pastoral duties “will be the order of the day in the activity of the Church in the near future.” This is likely to include an examination of the Church’s pastoral approach to divorced and remarried Catholics in the Church — a subject often raised by Francis and Benedict XVI in the recent past.
Today’s announcement came after a two-day meeting of the synod council which ended today. Pope Francis surprised participants by taking part in some of the meeting.
Paul VI set up the Synod of Bishops in 1965 as the Second Vatican Council was drawing to a close. He felt there was a need for such a forum “to make ever greater use of the bishops’ assistance in providing for the good of the universal Church” and to enjoy “the consolation of their presence, the help of their wisdom and experience, the support of their counsel, and the voice of their authority.”

Next year’s synod will be an “extraordinary general assembly” as opposed to an “ordinary general assembly”, and only the third of its kind to be held since 1965.
Synods of this nature are held when there is greater urgency for their convocation, or because preparation time is shorter. The number of participants is also smaller.

Christmas Schedule

Tuesday, December 17
6:00 PM Advent Reconciliation Service

Wednesday, December 18
8:30 AM – 9:30 AM Reconciliation

Tuesday, December 24- no 8AM Mass
Christmas Eve
4:00 PM Mass (Children’s Pageant)
6:30 PM and 9:00 PM Mass
11:00 PM Vietnamese Mass

Wednesday, December 25
Christmas Day
7:15 AM, 9:15 AM and 11:15 AM

Tuesday, December 31
8AM Mass
6:00 PM Vigil

Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Feast of Mary Mother of God
8:00 Mass
10 AM Mass
8:00 PM Vietnamese Mass

Bless Your Advent Wreath

This celebration is for a simple Advent wreath blessing. Gather around the Advent wreath before the evening meal on Saturday and make the sign of the cross.

Parent: The Lord of Light has come to save us.
All: Let us live in God’s light.

Parent: Let us pray. God, our Father in heaven, by your word all things are made holy. Send forth your blessing upon this Advent wreath, and grant that we who use it prepare our hearts and minds well for the coming of your Son Jesus. May we receive from you many blessings and graces for our family. We ask these things in the name of the same Christ, your Son, our Lord and Brother.
All: Amen

Say the prayer of the week. Then light the candle.

Parent: Hear our prayers, Lord, and enlighten the darkness of our minds by your coming on earth. You live and reign forever and ever.
All: Amen

Three candles are lighted by the mother or another child and left burning during the meal.

December 8, 2013 | The 23rd Times

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Advent & the Deeper Truths

by Father George Rutler

Recently I read something I had written about Advent in an essay rather a while ago, and in it I pointed out that this holy season every year is a healthy kind of crisis.

The Chinese character for “crisis” consists of two strokes: one stands for “danger” and the other “opportunity.”  Advent is an opportunity to think deeply about Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.  If The Four Last Things are dangerous subjects, they also are an opportunity to be rescued from living life superficially. The tradition of preaching on these mysteries is especially important when silly worldliness distorts the world.


He also said a couple of years earlier: “There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of celebrating Christmas before it comes.”

Our Lord spoke of people who “loved the dark rather than the light” (John 3:19), and we see that today in those who would ban any mention of Christmas. The tendency to set up Christmas decorations before Christmas is at least a clumsy way of expressing a desire for light rather than dark, but it is futile without a moral awareness of what light and dark are.

Advent is awkward because its mysteries are not the sort of things entertainers dressed as elves sing about. While the Church calls attention to reality, avuncular clergymen often succumb to fantasy themselves, with Christmas parties in Advent and wreaths without reason. Of course, this is illogical, because it contradicts the way the Logos arranged the world. The Logos, or the Word, is Jesus himself, who uttered all things into being by saying, “Fiat” — “Let there be.” And the first thing he let there be was light: “Light from Light” as the Creed chants it. But the only way to recognize the illogic of Christmas without Advent is to “walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).

The choice of darkness rather than light is a preference for the Prince of Darkness rather than Christ the Light. The best way to walk in the Light is to get rid of the darkness in the soul, and so Advent is a prime time for confessing sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Then the penitent is re-united with the Light of the World. Christ sheds light on Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell, giving moral cogency to the mystery of life itself. “He is before all things, and by him all things are held together” (Colossians 1:17). As the highest truths are very simple, the simplest logic is this: Without the Christ of Christmas, all things fall apart.