May 7th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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World Day of Prayer for Vocations

World Day of Prayer will be observed on Sunday, May 7th, also known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Please pray that young men and women hear and respond generously to the Lord’s call to the priesthood, diaconate, religious life, societies of apostolic life or secular institutes. You can find many resources to promote a culture of vocations on the USCCB Vocations webpage: (www.usccb.org/vocations).

The purpose of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is to publically fulfill the Lord’s instruction to, “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest” (Mt 9:38; Lk 10:2). As a climax to a prayer that is continually offered throughout the Church, it affirms the primacy of faith and grace in all that concerns vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life. While appreciating all vocations, the Church concentrates its attention this day on vocations to the ordained ministries (priesthood and diaconate), to the Religious life in all its forms (male and female, contemplative and apostolic), to societies of apostolic life, to secular institutes in their diversity of services and membership, and to the missionary life, in the particular sense of mission “ad gentes”.

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2017 marks the 54th Anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

Prayers of the Faithful:
For young men and women; That God may give them the gift of understanding to discern their service in the Church, the priesthood, diaconate, or consecrated life; And for the gift of courage to follow His call. We pray to the Lord. For young people; That they may know the personal love of the Lord for them, and respond with open and generous hearts. We pray to the Lord.

April 23rd, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Devotion of Divine Mercy

by: Mike Navarro

Divine Mercy Background in the Church

To open the millennium Pope John Paul II declared that the Second Sunday of Easter would become the Feast of Divine Mercy, and he exhorted the faithful to participate in the Devine Mercy Devotion.

On the first Feast of Divine Mercy, celebrated on April 30, 2000, he canonized St. Faustina. St. Faustina, a Sister from Poland, lived from 1905-1938 (33 years old). She entered the Apostolic Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy at the age of 20.

She mystically received over 17 extraordinary private revelations from Jesus, the Divine Mercy chaplet prayer, and the Divine Mercy Image.

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Since the year 2000, every pope (JPII, BXVI, and Francis) has celebrated the Vatican’s Devine Mercy Mass, and the Devine Mercy Service at 3:00 from the Chair of Peter.
In so doing, our Holy Fathers have put their imprimatur on this powerful devotion.

Another true sign was on April 2, 2005, after the Divine Mercy Vigil Mass celebrated in St.. Peter’s Cathedra, JPII passed away.

Last year Pope Francis culminated the Year of Mercy when he celebrated the Vatican’s Divine Mercy Service.

Divine Mercy Devotion (Pray the Chaplet, Participate in the Novena, and Attend Divine Mercy Celebration Service). Recitation of the Devine Mercy Chaplet, a five minute prayer.

The Divine Mercy Novena starts on Good Friday and ends the following Saturday. Each day the chaplet is prayed for certain souls:

  • Day 1: All sinners
  • Day 2: Priest and Religious
  • Day 3: Devout and Faithful Souls
  • Day 4: Those Who Do Not Believe in God
  • Day 5: Those Who Have Separated Themselves from the Church
  • Day 6: Meek and Humble Souls and the Souls of Little Children
  • Day 7: Souls Who Venerate and Glorify My Mercy
  • Day 8: Those Detained in Purgatory
  • Day 9: Those Who Have Become Lukewarm in Faith

Jesus’ special promise to those who complete the Divine Mercy Novena, go to confession, and receive communion on Divine Mercy Sunday: “…shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day are open all the divine floodgates through which graces flow.”

Attend the Divine Mercy Celebration Service. At the service the Image is Displayed, Blessed, and Venerated, and personal articles are also blessed.

The image has the five wounds of Jesus. Emanating from the heart of Jesus is a pale ray and a red ray. The pale ray symbolizes the water which cleanses and purifies and the red ray represents the blood which gives new life to souls.

Words inscribed on the image are “Jesus, I Trust in You.”

Jesus’ Promises to People who recite and spread the Devotion of Divine Mercy:

“Souls who spread the honor of my mercy I shield through their entire life and at the hour of death will receive great mercy.”

When you pray the chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the Just Judge, but as the Merciful Savior.”

Closing
Our Holy Fathers have told us that Divine Mercy is the greatest attribute of God, and it is especially needed in our modern, secular times.
All are invited to attend our Divine Mercy Service to receive these powerful graces and blessings of Mercy.

Easter Sunday 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Resurrection: He Is Risen, Indeed!

by Laura Bagby

Easter Sunday. To many it means the Easter bunny, a day of food and celebration. For some it is an obligatory church-attending holiday, after which life goes on as usual.

How sad that we have so quickly forgotten the true meaning of Easter. Our God reigns! Jesus Christ died, yes. But even more importantly, He rose again and is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, as we say in the Lord’s Prayer.

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Jesus Christ literally defied death. But He did more than just a Houdini move. We “ooo” and “ahhh” over the narrow escapes by magicians like David Copperfield and others, but eventually even those daredevils will face death. Their power is limited.

But Jesus Christ was greater — He defied death FOREVER. Jesus Christ lives and reigns for eternity, whether you or I believe that fact or not.

And He has reclaimed life for all those who believe in Him. This is the second miracle of Easter. Through God’s work on the cross, we have access to eternal life as well:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘ The righteous will live by faith’ (Romans 1:16-17).

If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).

Whosoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven (Matt. 10:32-33).

Please consider today the wonder of God’s power and His love for you. He knows you. He knows what you have done. He knows what you are going to do. But He is waiting for your response, my friend. God doesn’t need your praise or your service to Him; He desires it. It is not what we do for God that gets us into heaven and gives us a right relationship with God. It is only by faith in Jesus Christ. Look at these Scriptures:

Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified (Galatians 2:16).

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

April 9th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Palm Sunday Story – Bible Story Summary

by Jack Zavada

SCRIPTURE REFERENCES
Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19.

PALM SUNDAY STORY – THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY SUMMARY
Jesus Christ was on his way to Jerusalem, knowing full well that this trip would end in his sacrificial death for the sin of humanity. He sent two disciples ahead to the village of Bethphage, about a mile away from the city at the foot of the Mount of Olives. He told them to look for a donkey tied by a house, with its unbroken colt next to it.

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Jesus instructed the disciples to tell the owners of the animal that “The Lord has need of it.” (Luke 19:31, ESV)

The men found the donkey, brought it and its colt to Jesus, and placed their cloaks on the colt. Jesus sat on the young donkey and slowly, humbly, made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In his path, people threw their cloaks on the ground and put palm branches on the road before him. Others waved palm branches in the air.

Large Passover crowds surrounded Jesus, shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9, ESV)

By that time the commotion was spreading through the entire city. Many of the Galilean disciples had earlier seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. Undoubtedly they were spreading the news of that astonishing miracle.

The Pharisees, who were jealous of Jesus and afraid of the Romans, said: “‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.'” (Luke 19:39-40, ESV)

POINTS OF INTEREST FROM THE PALM SUNDAY STORY
When he told the disciples to get the donkey, Jesus referred to himself as ‘The Lord,’ a definite proclamation of his divinity.

By riding into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, Jesus fulfilled an ancient prophecy in Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (ESV) This was the only instance in the four Gospel books in which Jesus rode an animal.

Throwing cloaks in the path of someone was an act of homage and submission. The people were recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah.

The people’s cries of ‘Hosanna’ came from Psalm 118:25-26. Hosanna means “save now.” Despite what Jesus had foretold about his mission, the people were looking for a military Messiah who would overthrow the Romans and restore Israel’s independence.

QUESTION FOR REFLECTION
The crowds refused to see Jesus Christ as he truly was, placing their personal desires on him instead. Who is Jesus for you? Is he someone whom you want to satisfy your selfish wants and goals, or is he Lord and Master who gave up his life to save you from your sins?

(Sources: The New Compact Bible Dictionary, edited by T. Alton Bryant; New Bible Commentary, edited by G.J. Wenham, J.A. Motyer, D.A. Carson, and R.T. France; and the ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles.)

April 2nd, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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U.S. Catholics asked to accompany migrants, refugees seeking better life

By Julie Asher | Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. bishops in a pastoral reflection released March 22 called all Catholics to do what each of them can “to accompany migrants and refugees who seek a better life in the United States.”

Titled “Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times,” the reflection was issued “in solidarity with those who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict or fear in their native lands,” said a news release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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“To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the Resurrection,” said the reflection, which was approved by the USCCB Administrative Committee on the first day of a two-day meeting in Washington.

The 50 37-member committee is made up of the executive officers of the USCCB, elected committee chairmen and elected regional representatives. It acts on behalf of the nation’s bishops between their spring and fall general meetings.

“To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear,” it continued. “Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes.”

The bishops urged Catholics to pray for an end to the root causes of violence and other circumstances forcing families to flee their homeland to find a better life; to meet with newcomers in their parishes and “listen to their story, and share your own”; and to call, write or visit their elected representatives to ask them to fix our broken immigration system” in a way that would safeguard the country’s security and “our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration.”

The statement opened with a passage from Chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus: “The word of God is truly alive today. When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt.”

The bishops urged Catholics to “not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future.”

“As shepherds of a pilgrim church,” they wrote, “we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: “We are with you.”

Those families could include “a family seeking security from an increased threat of extremist violence,” they said, adding that “it is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity.”

The bishops said that “intense debate is essential to healthy democracy, but the rhetoric of fear does not serve us well.”

“When we look at one another do we see with the heart of Jesus?” they asked.

Their pastoral reflection comes at a time when the Trump administration’s rhetoric and its policies on national security, refugees and immigration are in the headlines almost daily. Those policies have sparked almost nonstop protests in various parts of the country since President Donald Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration. In some cases, the anti-Trump demonstrations have turned violent.

The latest action on the refugee issue came March 16 when two federal judges blocked Trump’s new executive order banning for 90 days the entry into the U.S. of citizens from six Muslim-majority nations and suspending for 120 days the resettlement of refugees. Two federal judges, one in Hawaii and one in Maryland, blocked the order before it was too take affect March 16 at midnight.

The Department of Justice announced March 17 it will appeal the Maryland ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which is based in Richmond, Virginia.

In their reflection, the bishops said that all in this country find “common dreams for our children” in their “diverse backgrounds.”

“Hope in the next generation is how the nation will realize its founding motto, ‘out of many, one,’” they said. “In doing so, we will also realize God’s hope for all his children: that we would see each other as valued sisters and brothers regardless of race, religion or national origin.”

Christ, as the word made flesh, “strengthens us to bring our words to life,” they said and suggested three ways Catholics, “in our own small way,” can “bring our words of solidarity for migrants and refugees to life”: by praying, welcoming newcomers and writing to their elected representatives urging them to support humane immigration policies.

“Pray for an end to the root causes of violent hatred that force mothers and fathers to flee the only home they may have known in search of economic and physical security for their children,” the bishops said.

They asked Catholics to meet with newcomers in their parishes, and to “listen to their story and share your own.” The bishops noted parishes across the country have programs for immigrants and refugees “both to comfort them and to help them know their rights.”

They also urged Catholics to “to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other’s concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ.”

Finally, Catholics should call, write or visit their elected officials urging they “fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration.”

The reflection ended with a quote from Pope Francis: “To migrate is the expression of that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued. For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey toward our heavenly homeland.”

Mar. 12th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Fasting: Lent’s spiritual practice creates space for prayer

By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — There is no getting around fasting during Lent.

Not only is it one of the three pillars of spiritual practice along with prayer and almsgiving, but it also bookends the period of preparation for Easter.

Fasting and abstinence is required of adult Catholics, ages 18-59, at the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday and at its end on Good Friday. This means eating only one full meal and two small meals that equal one meal as well as no snacks in between meals and no meat consumption.

Creighton University’s Online Ministries program, “Praying Lent 2017,” says the purpose of fasting is to “experience the effects of not eating. It also serves to be a penance or a sacrifice for the purpose of strengthening us.”

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“When we get hungry, we have a heightened sense of awareness,” it adds, noting that the practice helps people to clarify their thoughts. “It is purifying and prepares us to pray more deeply,” the resource from Jesuit-run Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, points out.

In addition to the two days of fasting, Catholics 14 and older are obligated to abstain from eating meat during Fridays in Lent.

The Friday practice is a sacrifice meant “to help Catholics make much bigger sacrifices,” the Creighton resource says, pointing out that not eating meat doesn’t give someone permission to eat a fancy fish meal. And for vegetarians, it could mean abstaining from a favorite meal.

Fasting, which has deep roots in many religious traditions, is meant to draw participants into deeper prayer and also link them with those in need.

For Christians, the tradition has roots in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples how they should look when they are fasting — not gloomy, not neglecting their appearance and with their faces washed so they do not appear to be fasting.

“Jesus says when we fast, not if,” said Father John Riccardo, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, Michigan.

He said the key to fasting is to attach an intention to the practice “rather than seeing it as a flexing of our self-discipline muscles.” It makes the practice “not about me but someone else,” he told Catholic News Service March 1.

“Fasting is heavy artillery,” he added because the person doing it is denying themselves something and trusting that God will use it.

Although fasting is technically not eating food, giving something up can also be a form of fasting.

Msgr. Charles Murphy, author of the 2010 book: “The Spirituality of Fasting: Rediscovering a Christian Practice” said there are two forms of fasting — total and partial. A total fast is eating nothing and drinking nothing for a designated period of time where a partial fast involves giving up certain things for a specific period of time.

Partial fasting is a popular part of Lent where people choose to give up something such as soda, candy, beer, television or more increasingly, social media.

The top things people said they were going to give up this Lent, according to OpenBible.info, a Web search engine that examined Twitter posts during the week of Feb. 26, included a mix of social media and food and one wishful thinking: school. The only other top 10 mention that wasn’t a food or drink was to give up swearing.

Partial fasting, just like a full fast, shouldn’t be done to benefit the person doing it. “It’s not to make us more narcissistic, which it can do,” said Paulist Father Jack Collins, who helped Busted Halo, the Paulist website, with videos like “You don’t know Jack about Lent” a few years ago.

“We don’t fast to feel good, but to remind ourselves that half the world goes to bed hungry,” he said, adding that it’s a way of reminding us “we are our brother’s keeper.”

Paulist Father Larry Rice, director of the University Catholic Center at the University of Texas at Austin, is not keen on people looking for a loophole in their fasting practices, for example saying that Sundays don’t count and they can have whatever they gave up that day.

“I get that people want a pressure relief valve, ” he said, “but when I open my missal it says the First Sunday of Lent” meaning Sunday counts.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gives a little leeway here. In its fasting guidelines it notes that if someone is giving something up for Lent it is more effective if it is continuous — “kept on Sundays as well. That being said, such practices are not regulated by the church, but by individual conscience.”

Father Rice, who is giving up riding elevators for Lent, said the Catholic college students he works with typically give up a food or social media. “They won’t give up texting. That would be like giving up breathing,” he added.

This age group, and Catholics at large, could take a small step toward a phone fast by following the initiative of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, which urged Catholics to not use their phones on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday this year “as a way to reflect on God and the meaning of the Easter season.”

Fasting: Lent’s spiritual practice creates space for prayer

Mar. 5th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Here I am Lord, Reformed by Lent

ST. JOHN XXIII LENTEN PROGRAM

by: Jennifer Engelman

It is getting busy in southwest Florida! We are into the month of March with Spring Training at two local parks, many out-of-town guests coming to visit, and with so many wonderful events in our communities. Where do you find the time to attend a Lenten program at our parish? Simply schedule it into your calendar. We invite you to come as you are as we offer you time for a little peace, rest and spiritual health.

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As our parish continues to grow, so does our need for growing in our faith and connecting with others in our parish. Join us to take another look at Lent and to strengthen your relationship with Jesus Christ. Our Lenten Program titled, Here I am Lord, Reformed by Lent, helps us observe the 40-day period that replicates Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert. We in turn join Him through fasting, repentance, self-denial and spiritual growth. Most importantly we want to set aside time for reflecting on Jesus, who suffered and sacrificed His life for us all.

This inspirational Lenten Program is offered by our Faith Alive! Team, who are a group of dedicated, faith-filled parishioners that give of their time and talent. The Faith Alive! Team formed about 5 years ago when we met with a small group of interested parishioners. I am blessed to be a part of this team that meets and offers their experience as teachers, presenters and facilitators. We come from varied backgrounds but our love of Jesus brings us forward to present and share. Since the team’s inception we continue to offer well-thought out programs that help our parish come together in small groups to discuss and share their faith with each other. We are all excited about the Catholic Faith and we want you to be too.

Remember that despite our weaknesses, Jesus takes us as we are. Come join us for all five sessions or even one or two evenings. Come grow in your faith and become energized by Lent – and say, “Here I am Lord!”

Feb. 26th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Building a Civilization of Love

PARISH MISSION WITH FR. BERETTA

The news in our world is dominated by turmoil. Violence and political tensions are on the rise at home and abroad.

Last summer, in the midst of many other incidents, an 84-year old French priest, Fr. Jacques Hamel, was murdered as he celebrated Mass. Archbishop Dominique Lebrun, in Poland for the World Youth Day when Fr. Hamel was killed, issued a statement to young pilgrims before rushing home: “The only weapons which the Catholic Church can take up are prayer and brotherhood among peoples. I return home leaving hundreds of young people who are truly the future of humanity. I ask them not to give up in the face of violence, but to become apostles of the civilization of love.”

The Mass that Fr. Hamel died celebrating reminds us that adversity, tragedy, and loss do not relieve us of our call to love one another. As disciples, Jesus calls us to love our enemies, pray for our persecutors, and turn the other cheek.

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We are called to build the Kingdom of God, a civilization of love, and to do so requires both trust in God and the radical optimism that affirms the goodness of every human being. This trust and optimism is at the heart of the Catholic faith.

As our world is gripped by fear and anxiety, our mission as a Church is that much more vital and necessary. The mission will explore how authentic faith and vibrant spirituality can help to ground us in our challenging and difficult times.

ABOUT FR. BERETTA:

Fr. Chris Beretta, an Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, is the principal at Salesianum School in Wilmington, DE. A native of California, he graduated from Paul VI High School in Fairfax, VA, in 1986, and Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales (now DeSales University) in Center Valley, PA, in 1991, where he received a Bachelor’s degree in Theology.

As a young Oblate, he taught Social Justice to juniors and helped coach basketball and baseball at Salesianum from 1991-1993. He returned to graduate school and earned a Master of Divinity from the DeSales School of Theology in Washington, DC, and a Master of Arts in Sport Psychology from the University of Maryland, in 1997. He was ordained a priest on May 31, 1997, at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wilmington, and was assigned again to Salesianum from 1997-1999. In July, 1999, he transferred to Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers, FL, where he would spend eleven years, first as campus minister from 1999-2003, and then as principal from 2003-2010, maintaining involvement in the classroom, coaching, and retreat and service programs as he transitioned into school leadership.

In Holy Week of 2008, he made his first trip to Haiti, where the life and work of Fr. Tom Hagan, OSFS, has had a transformative influence on his faith and ministry. In July 2009, he received a Master of Arts in Educational Administration from the University of Notre Dame, and one year later, in July 2010, returned to Salesianum as the school’s 17th principal.

Now in his seventh year at Salesianum, he remains energized by the challenge of building a community of faith and learning, integrating 21st century learning with Salesian spirituality, and working with dedicated colleagues to maintain a student-centered environment that is both reflective of the world’s diversity and authentically Catholic. He has served in Catholic schools for twenty-two years as a teacher, coach, campus minister, and principal.

Feb. 19th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Living Christ’s Covenant at St. John XXIII

by: Mike Mullin

Bulletin articles over the past 6 weeks have restated our major parish goal of enhancing the spiritual fulfillment of our parishioners. Our parish mission statement commits our clergy, the administrative staff, and our ministry members, to provide the liturgies and support programs which contribute to the success of this faith journey for all our members. A key structure chosen to illustrate that effort over the last 4 years has been the New Covenant of our Lord, instituted at the Last Supper, and foretold in scriptural passages such as “They shall be my people and I will be their God. I will make an everlasting covenant with them and not cease to do them good”.

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Five areas of increased spiritual activity have been suggested to direct our thoughts and help us to identify the actions which could lead anyone of us to a deeper participation in Christ’s Covenant, therefore attaining the graces and spiritual fulfillment it promises.

The 5 areas are:

  • Worship: Frequently, Zealously, Adoringly
  • Grow: Knowledge, Faith, Virtue
  • Serve: Assist, Provide, Establish
  • Connect: Relate, Develop, Conclude
  • Give: Gratitude, Sharing, Sacrifice

We refer to them as the “Pillars of the Covenant” and examples of each of them have been featured in previous bulletins, highlighting many members of the parish who have grown spiritually from their participation in the various ministries and programs offering such opportunities.

Today, just 10 days before Ash Wednesday and the start of our Lenten season, it seems very fitting that we provide the Covenant document once again for your review and prayerful consideration. It appears on page 3 of this bulletin. We hope you will study it at home, go on-line to reread the earlier stories, and pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to aid you in forming your response to the offer of mercy and love that God has so freely given. You may choose to make the symbolic gesture of signing the Covenant in ink, but it’s even more meaningful that you live it out after accepting it in your heart and soul. May God bless us all.

Jan. 15th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Worship as Identity and Purpose

by: Father Russell Ruggiero

When I was a young man, a family member said to one of my co-workers, “That Russell! Man, is he desultory (aimless).” One of the prominent drives in the human person is self-discovery and one’s purpose in life. There are those of us who go through life like a nomadic tribe, searching for identity and purpose in order to give meaning to our lives.

When Yahweh created the first covenant with Abraham and in Yahweh’s covenant with the Israelites with Moses, “I will be your God, and you will be My people” became significant for them. They now possessed an identity and purpose for an authentic and meaningful life. Worship played a salient role in the covenant because it recalled and reminded the Israelites who they were and how they were to be and live in the world. There could exist no covenant without worship and no worship without the covenant.

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Worship and the Sacramental life are two principal components of Roman Catholic Christians for the same reason. The Liturgy/Mass and the seven Sacraments recall, renew, restore, and celebrate our identity and purpose/meaning in life. As Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution of the Church), chapter 2, article 11 reminds us: “Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, the source and summit of the Christian life, they offer the divine victim to God and themselves along with it. And so it is that, both in the offering and in Holy Communion, each in [one’s] own way, though not of course indiscriminately, has [one’s] own part to play in the liturgical action. Then, strengthened by the body of Christ in the Eucharistic communion, they manifest in a concrete way that unity of the People of God which this holy sacrament aptly signifies and admirable realizes.”

From the Church’s inception, She has reflected upon Her identity and purpose as being defined and lived “through Him, with Him, and in Him.” As the quote above suggests, it is by our participation in the Sacraments, especially in the Eucharistic celebration and sacrifice, that we encounter Jesus’ redemptive and salvific action- His Paschal Mystery (Incarnation, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension). All else (sacramental, liturgical, and devotional acts) flow from His self-donation, self-gift, self-sacrificial love. This is the power of worship.

Without worship to ground and direct us, our Liturgy would be a stage production that would stir emotion but no encounter with the Triune God. Without worship, our ministry would no longer be Jesus’, our mission would no longer be the Father’s, and our acts would be absent of God the Holy Spirit. They would be good and beneficial works of philanthropic and physical importance and change, but the risk would be a loss of our identity and purpose.

St. John XXIII’s commitment to our conviction of Jesus as the new and eternal covenant and worship’s highly unique role for our faith community’s identity and purpose is illustrated in the diversity of our various Worship ministries. Our Worship Committee Team endeavors with our ushers and hospitality team; lectors and Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist; altar servers; Art and Environment committee members; the volunteers for laundering the sacred vestments and cloths; Catechists for our Children’s Liturgy of the Word; our cantors, singers, and musicians in our various choirs (Adult, Children, and Contemporary); and the entire congregation to ensure an awareness and openness to the awe and glory that Father, Son, and Spirit come to dwell and celebrate with God’s people.

And our vision of constructing the Parish Life Center and our Adoration/Veneration chapel continue this conviction and commitment of worship’s role at St. John XXIII Catholic Church. All members are contributing not primarily to buildings. Rather, our dedication is continually to build a stronger parish that focuses on availing and increasing opportunities for all worshipers to place and regard worship as foundational to all that we are and do.

Negligence of worship is negligence of who and why we are and to whom we belong. We celebrate and worship because our Triune God has so loved the world that God cannot bear to be apart from any of us. And as the love of God which cannot be bound or constrained by space or time overflows and becomes present in our worship, so the Mass is never over and done, but only ended so that we continue the Mass’ power to be and act as Christ in the world.

Jan. 1st, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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The Solemnity of Mary Mother of God

We celebrate the liturgical feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary on January 1st, which is the Octave of Christmas. Only Christmas and Easter enjoy the privilege of an octave, which is an eight day extension of the feast.

The honoring of Mary as the Mother of God can be traced back to the Council of Ephesus in 431. By the 7th century, January 1st was observed as a celebration of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the 13th century, the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ had come to replace the feast honoring Mary; however in 1751, after a push in Portugal for an official feast day celebrating Mary’s divine maternity, Pope Benedict XIV allowed Portugal’s churches to devote a feast to Mary on the first Sunday in May. Eventually, the feast extended to other countries, and in 1914 began to be observed on October 11. In 1931, Pope Pius XI extended the feast to the entire church, and in 1974, Pope Paul VI removed the feast of the Circumcision of Christ from the liturgical calendar and replaced it with the feast of the “Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God”, bringing Mary’s feast day back to the first day of the year.

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The feast is a celebration of Mary’s motherhood of Jesus. The title “Mother of God” is a western derivation from the Greek Theotokos, which means “God-bearer”. On this day, we are reminded of the role that the Blessed Virgin played in the plan of our salvation. Through the Holy Spirit, God the Father prepared Mary to be the dwelling place where His Son and His Spirit could dwell among men. Christ’s birth was made possible by Mary’s fiat, or sanctioning of God’s plan with her words, “Be it done to me according to thy word”. Calling Mary “Mother of God” is the highest honor we can give to her. Just as Christmas honors Jesus as the “Prince of Peace”, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God honors Mary as the “Queen of Peace”. New Year’s Day is also designated as the “World Day of Peace”, further acknowledging the role of Mary in our hearts and in our world.

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Prayer:
Pray for us, Oh Holy Mother of God. May we be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Dec. 25th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Christmas Joy: Comes from knowing God loves and saves us, Pope says

As Christmas approached, St. Peter’s Square was filled with balloons, singing and an incredible variety of Baby Jesus figurines – everything from plastic figures that would fit in a walnut shell to those that were larger-than-life sized.

For Pope Francis, the most important ingredient in the mix was joy.

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Reciting the Angelus Dec. 11 and blessing the Baby Jesus statues children brought for their home or school Nativity scenes, the pope insisted that the true meaning of Christmas should bring Christians a deep and abiding sense of joy.

Unlike “superficial happiness” or even the giddiness shopping can bring, he said, “it is a joy that touches the depths of our being while we await Jesus, who already has come to bring salvation to the world, the promised Messiah, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary.”

“God entered history to free us from slavery to sin; he pitched his tent among us to share our existence, heal our wounds, bandage our injuries and give us new life,” the pope said. “Joy is the fruit of this intervention of salvation and God’s love.”

The Christmas decorations and lights and the Nativity scenes being set up in homes all over the world are signs of that joy, Pope Francis said. They are a call “to welcome the Lord who always knocks at our door, the doors of our hearts, to draw near to us” and “to recognize his footsteps in those of our brothers and sisters passing by, especially the weakest and neediest.”

Pope Francis asked the children to pray in front of their Nativity scenes with their parents. “Ask Baby Jesus to help us all love God and our neighbors.”

Dec. 11th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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The Season of GIVING continues!

St. John XXIII would like to extend a HUGE thank you to Stella McCaffrey and her group of angels for all their hard work organizing and distributing gifts for the Angel Tree Program.

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You truly will make a difference in children’s lives this Christmas. Thank you for your continued kindness and generous spirit for those among us who are struggling and in need.

Over 800 gifts were donated! We are blessed to have such generous and giving parishioners who continue to support our growing community.

Nov. 27th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Blessing & Prayer for the Advent Wreath

During the Advent season, families should spend time together preparing for the approaching celebration of the birth of Christ. An Advent wreath can be a great focal point for family prayers and holiday celebrations.

An Advent wreath is a wreath of laurel, spruce or similar foliage with four candles that are lighted successively in weeks of Advent to symbolize the light that the birth of Christ brought to the world.

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Traditionally three of the candles are purple, the color of kings and of penance. A rose-colored candle is used to mark the Third Sunday of Advent as a time to rejoice over the closeness of Christmas and the coming of Christ.

Children love the beauty of the simple traditional ceremony. Lighting candles in an Advent wreath is a simple way to start a tradition of family worship in the home. Those who participate will cherish the experience all their lives.

Prayer:

Each day your family should gather around the Advent wreath, generally before the evening meal. The proper number of candles are then lighted and a prayer is said.

Blessing of the Advent Wreath:

It starts at the evening meal on the Saturday before the first Sunday in Advent with the blessing of the wreath. (The head of the household is the one designated to say the prayer, following which various members of his family light the candles. If the group is not a family, then a leader may be selected to say the prayers and other appointed to light the candles.) The following prayer can be used:

Leader: Our help is in the name of the Lord.

All: Who made heaven and earth.
Leader: O God, by whose Word all things are sanctified, pour forth Your blessing upon this wreath and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming Christ and may receive from You abundant graces. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

The wreath would then be sprinkled with water.

The following prayer which is said before the evening meal each night of the first week of Advent:

Leader: O Lord, stir up Thy might, we beg Thee, and come, That by Thy protection we may deserve to be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and saved by Thy deliverance. Through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

The candle is allowed to burn during evening meals for the first week.

Nov. 13th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Faith & Wine/Ale & Why Small Groups are Vital to Your Faith

By Damian Hanley

Small groups are the backbone of a healthy and thriving Church. At St. John XXIII, we like to think of ourselves that way. On more than one occasion from the pulpit, Father Bob describes the Church as the “triage hospital on the battlefield of life.” The small group is not just a pleasant addition to our Church, but a necessity for the spiritual health of its members. Without small groups, any ministry will be limited to what just a handful of leaders can accomplish by themselves.

In Exodus 18:21 (NASB), we read “Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.”

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There is great wisdom in the people of our small groups. We can’t (and shouldn’t) depend solely on our priests for the love and direction we need. Small groups can help prevent what has been called the “Sunday-Only” culture of our faith. We can’t simply sit and listen only on Sunday – faith is an active, all-week way of life. The opportunities to grow closer to God happen daily, and we need other people to help us see them. Faith & Ale and Faith & Wine Lee County are two such small groups that are growing rapidly in our diocese.

“We kicked off our third season on October 27th, and we’re really excited for this year’s events,” shares Sue Ammon, president of Faith & Wine. “In the beginning, three years ago, we got together month after month and planned it, hoping all along that people would actually want to come! On opening night we had almost 300 women. We were floored! We were so excited.”

“Faith and Ale originated from the Men’s Gospel Forum back in 2008 when we were still Blessed John the 23rd. We actually still meet every Monday morning at 7:00am to discuss this week’s upcoming Gospel,” Mike Lancellot shares.

Even if you don’t know a single person going into a monthly meeting, you’ll at least be inspired and entertained by their slated cast of speakers. Just this past November 10th, Faith and Ale hosted Major Ed Pulido, the Sr. VP of the Folds of Honor Foundation a Veteran’s charity which provides the spouses and children of the fallen and wounded educational scholarships. He’s also a Founding member of Warriors for Freedom Foundation – a leadership institute focused on the mental, physical and wellness support of our wounded Veterans and their families.

In August of 2004, Major Pulido hit an I.E.D, or roadside bomb, while serving with the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team under the command of General David Petraeus. Due to the extensive injuries to his left knee, doctors had to amputate his left leg. During his recovery, he experienced depression, PTSD and suicidal ideation, as part of what he describes as a “deep wounding of a soldier’s spirit.”

He then realized that recovery would become a lifelong process, a process dependent upon God, his country, and his close family and friends. He could not do it alone. This further reinforces the importance of small groups within a larger church. Small groups can provide a sense of family for many whose biological family lives far away. Unlike generations past, it is increasingly more common for adults to find themselves living far away from their biological family. Add the growing number of broken homes and dysfunctional families and you have a snapshot of the 21st century. The right kind of small group can play a vital role in providing a sense of family.

“After every single event, people come up to us as they’re leaving and tell us how much the speaker touched them. They were either struggling with an issue, or – and this is very common – people explain that they were thinking of leaving the Church, but something about the speaker convinced them to stay,” Sue shares. “These are the real reasons we started this ministry and we just get so excited when we hear them.”

Something unique happens in a small group setting, and it’s important we recognize it and explain why it matters. It’s cliché to say that we’re less connected in a world that is more connected than ever, but even if things hadn’t changed, it’s still hard to make friends as an adult! We’re set in our ways. We have a backlog of unconscious prejudice we’ve developed as a natural byproduct of living in our culture. We’re lazy and being social takes emotional energy, which we don’t have.

But small groups are the best place to meet new people, care for others and be cared for yourself. The idea that we can grow spiritually while isolating ourselves is insanity. Getting and giving direction based on spiritual principles must be done in dialogue with our fellows. In our childish minds, the myth of the ascetic visiting a mountaintop to absorb divine wisdom must be dispelled. That’s not you. We belong in community with others.

Dialogue is one of the key ingredients of spiritual growth. If every spiritual experience we have is about listening, if it’s all about one-way communication, then we’re going to miss one of the most important developmental aspects of a growing faith.

“We’ve been really excited about what happens at our events,” says Sue. “The women come in and they’re very enthusiastic. They like their glass of wine and connecting with each other, while eating together. And then after the speaker, we again connect in what we call Table Talk, where we usually share how the speaker has touched us.”

“We have a similar format,” Mike explains. “The men have their name tags with their Parish on them, and we definitely do form friendships with men of other Parishes. From 6:00 to 6:45 we have social time and after the speaker, there’s open Q&A. And the guys love it. We’ve really grown through word of mouth. This past season we averaged 216 men per event. Prior to that it was 174 per event and three seasons ago we were at 145 men on average. That kind of growth year after year means we’re doing something right.”

Despite the large number of people at each event, the social time is constrained to smaller round tables of 5-7 people, so that real conversation can take place. So, if you’re not already a part of a small group at St. John XXIII, Faith & Wine/Ale is a great place to start.

Small groups aren’t just a gimmicky church growth strategy. They’re not just the latest innovation. They’re not just something fun to do, nor are they just something to fill up people’s time.

Small groups are the heart of the Church, because without relational connections, the church isn’t The Church. At best, without relationships with Christ and our fellow Parishioners, we are putting on a show. At worst, we’re wasting people’s time, energy, and resources. Relationships with people who want what’s best for us and who are headed in the direction we want to head, and who aspire to a closer connection with Christ – these are what fuel our faith.

For more information on event dates, speakers and the mission of each organization, visit faithandale.com and faithandwineleecounty.com.

Oct. 23rd, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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A Spiritual Solution Until a Medical One Arrives

By Damian Hanley

…In sickness and in health, till death do us part. When we hear those words, we immediately picture a young couple facing each other at an altar, about to take the most meaningful vows of their lives. And they mean it. It’s a black and white agreement. You are my responsibility until you or I perish. Healthy, happy marriages are one of the few institutions that, when we see that two people have it, it renews our faith. But what happens when the death of the mind precedes the death of the body?

Is this still the same person to whom you made vows? It is… and it isn’t. It is in the sense that their physical body has held continuity through time and space, but it isn’t if you’ve ever watched a loved one go through it. I have. I venture to guess many who read this have. Much unlike your vows, it is not a black and white process. It begins subtly, and ends… as American novelist Philip M. Roth attests, “old age isn’t a battle: old age is a massacre.” No matter how it’s caused, how it begins or ends, Alzheimer’s and dementia, and their many variants, are tragic.

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If you’ve been with your spouse long enough to witness them diagnosed with memory loss disease, then your love is sturdy. This is not someone you’d abandon because of some garden variety tough times. This is someone who you would die for, but alas, they need more than that now.

When your spouse is diagnosed with memory loss disease, and you are called to become their caregiver, more will be asked of you than you’d ever thought possible. They will become the most vulnerable version of themselves right before your eyes, until the day they no longer remember your name, let alone recognize your face.

And you are a good person. You fear God and take vows seriously. You weren’t prepared for this but knew it was in the realm of possibility. Becoming a caregiver to someone with memory loss disease has unique spiritual and ethical components. How good of a person are you? How patient are you? How deep is your faith? Do you really trust God?

Thousands of people in Southwest Florida find themselves asking these questions. Mary Freyre of the Alvin A. Dubin Alzheimer’s Resource Center wants to help answer them. “We typically get calls when people are in crisis. They say ‘I need help. I need help, now. What can I do?’ And then we start connecting them with resources and people in the community – neuropsychologists, neurologists, other family doctors. If they need a home health agency or respite care, we can help them find that.”

Mary is the Health Education Specialist for the Dubin Center – a community resource that is free to caregivers which was founded in 1995. “When someone finds out that their spouse has been diagnosed, they go through a tremendous amount of grief and loss. We call this anticipatory grief. We try to explain the process they’ll go through, but more than that, we try to get them into support groups.”

As an Education Specialist, Mary finds that a lot of the caregivers think they have to carry this burden on their shoulders by themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth (unless you watch the news). “There is a ton of support out there. In these groups, the caregivers form some really tight-knit friendships. It’s a safe place where they can talk about what they’re going through.”

This is not an uncommon example, but imagine if you’ve just retired and you expect to spend the remainder of your life traveling and enjoying life. Or imagine if you’re a husband and wife taking care of a parent with dementia, and you also have three kids in your home. Memory loss disease can affect the entire family, and it affects each person differently. This is how anticipatory grief can become overwhelming. (Anticipatory grief refers to a grief reaction that occurs before an impending loss. Typically, the impending loss is a death of someone close due to illness but it can also be experienced by dying individuals themselves.)

In reference to the title of this article, the Dubin Center is offering a new program whose origin came in the form of a promise to Mary’s uncle. Before his diagnosis, Mary’s uncle was a pastor of a large Protestant church in New Jersey. Seven years before his passing, during the early stages of his dementia, “he said to me, Mary, you’re a nurse, please be a voice for us. He had to give up ministering, he had to give up home visits, he had to eventually give up going to church. People stopped visiting. Even the other pastors stopped visiting. It was a very lonely and painful time for them.”

Two years ago, Mary got to work on the Dementia Friendly Houses of Worship Initiative. She mobilized a handful of organizations, among them the Lee County Sheriff Department, Dr. Mable Lopez of Mind & Brain Care of Fort Myers, Comfort Keepers Home Health, Right at Home, Shell Point Retirement Community, and Choices in Living Adult Day Care of Cape Coral.

These organizations came together and reached out to local churches with the understanding that most churches do not offer an AD friendly service, or resources for caregivers who generally cannot leave the house to attend a service.

“Many churches have a separate portion of the service geared towards the needs of children. We would help train churches and assist in designing a program or service geared towards the needs of AD patients. This would get them out of the house and give the caregivers a respite. We leave it up to the churches to customize each initiative around their particular denomination.”

But how big of an issue is this really? It’s huge. According to the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, there are close to 21,000 people diagnosed with AD in Lee County. The Alzheimer’s Association reports there are about 450,000 people currently in Florida with AD, and that number will increase to roughly 750,000 by 2050 if no cure is discovered. Those do not include the seasonal residents or the undiagnosed. Every 67 seconds someone in the US is diagnosed with memory loss disease, and by 2050 that rate will increase to every 33 seconds unless there is a cure. There are about 5.4 million Americans with memory loss disease, and by 2050 that number could be between 13-16 million, barring no cure. Millions of caregivers will need help.

Mary says, “Now do you see why I started this initiative? We offer one-on-one counseling with licensed clinical social workers, education, a safety program, a wanderer’s ID program, home visits, office visits, networking with other community agencies to help the families in coping with the disease. We also offer open support groups for caregivers caring for someone with dementia. The Center also offers a free evidence-based course to help teach the caregivers on how to improve the quality of life for their loved one with dementia and for themselves. All of the Dubin Center’s services are free.”

Individuals and families living with Alzheimer’s and Dementia will face many decisions throughout the course of the disease including decisions about care, treatment, participation in research, end-of-life issues, autonomy and safety.

Oct. 16th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Marietta Jaeger to speak October 18th

From Fury to Forgiveness

By Damian Hanley

We like to simplify complex things. Over-simplification keeps our thinking tidy, and preserves our mental energy in a world of infinite information and decision making. It is the basis of all the Dr. Oz pseudoscience that we relish in. Coffee is bad. Wine is good! Chocolate is really good. We like it because morality is complicated and we are lazy. That guy who cheated on his wife is evil. That woman who is smacking her kid in the checkout line at Publix is a lunatic. This driver in front of me should be taken out of his car and beaten with a rubber hose. The Death Penalty is merely an eye-for-an-eye consequence of a criminal act that cannot be forgiven.

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All of us at one point have justified it in our heads – at least for a minute. An attorney once described to me the point system used to determine a person’s eligibility for capital punishment, which is tallied based on the nature of the crime. Did it include kidnapping, torture, a minor..? By the end of the explanation, I admit, I was a bit swayed. My mind hadn’t gone there, but if someone had tortured and brutally killed an immediate family member, I started thinking I’d like to be the one to throw the switch.

marietta2

Casting judgment is a tool that has been sharpened in an attempt to preserve our lives by our homo sapient brain for the past 200,000 years. We used to really need that tool when we were fending for ourselves in the wild, running down our prey with spear in hand, engaging in fist fights with saber tooth cats and such. But alas, a Man showed up 2000 years ago and taught us a better way to live – which is why you picked up this bulletin.

A millennium and a half prior to Christ, God gave us the 10 Commandments. You’d think #5 on the list would have closed the book on the debate over the death penalty, but it hasn’t – not even among Catholics. In this state, we put people to death for crimes other than murder, but considering the Colony of New York’s “Duke’s Laws of 1665” dictated that offenses such as striking one’s mother or father, or denying the “true God” were punishable by death – we’ve made a little progress.

The death penalty has been around for all of recorded history, but in the United States, about 13,000 people have been legally executed since colonial times. Texas leads the way. In 1972 the Supreme Court actually abolished capital punishment. It held the death penalty as “cruel and unusual” and violated the Eighth Amendment. It was reinstated four years later.

Our culture’s relationship with the death penalty has been mixed. Our faith’s has not. Setting aside our commandment not to kill (over-simplified for a reason), there are a few very good reasons we, as Catholics, are obligated to oppose the death penalty.

Proponents of capital punishment cite it as a deterrent to crime. That is trite, but more than that, it cheapens life. Everyone can agree that human life is valuable, but the Catholic’s pro-life stance asserts that life is so valuable that no one, under any circumstance should be denied it.

“Even when people deny the dignity of others, we must still recognize that their dignity is a gift from God and is not something that is earned or lost through their behavior. Respect for life applies to all, even the perpetrators of terrible acts. Punishment should be consistent with the demands of justice and with respect for human life and dignity,” as stated in the USCCB’s A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death.

Amnesty International’s appeal to our philosophical side is not purely theoretical either. “The death penalty legitimizes an irreversible act of violence by the state and will inevitably claim innocent victims. As long as human justice remains fallible, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.”

From the Death Penalty Information Center’s website: On September 2, 2014, Leon Brown and Henry McCollum were exonerated and released from prison in North Carolina. The two African American men, who are half-brothers, had been convicted of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl and sentenced to death in 1984. Brown was 15 at the time of the crime and McCollum was 19. Both men have intellectual disabilities and were interrogated under duress until they confessed to the crime. In 2010, Brown turned to the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission for help. The Commission tested DNA evidence from the crime scene, which implicated a man who was convicted of a similar crime. Robeson County Judge Douglas Sasser vacated the men’s convictions and said the evidence indicated their innocence. District Attorney Johnson Britt supported their release and said no further charges will be brought against them.

How does one recover from that type of injustice? Were the authorities and families of the victim blind with rage when they ran their investigation? You bet they were. That girl’s parents didn’t want justice, they wanted revenge. And who could deny them that?

How would those two men forgive the courts? How would the authorities forgive themselves after stealing three decades’ worth of freedom from Brown and McCollum? Is it even possible to emotionally and spiritually overcome tragedy like this?

It is, and we’re going to show you how. On Tuesday, October 18th from 9am-10:30 and 6pm-7:30pm, – two days from now – St. John XXIII will host a speaker named Marietta Jaeger. “I have my degree from the school of hard knocks,” and her PhD in forgiveness.

Marietta’s experience is every parent’s worst nightmare. I promised not to divulge the details of her story, but imagine the worst possible act being committed against your 7-year-old daughter, and then imagining the other worst things also happening.

Marietta’s story will stretch your imagination to its boundaries of pain and suffering. She’s traveled the world for the past 40 years, speaking to audiences about the importance of developing our ability to forgive.

She spent ten years speaking at a rehabilitation facility for clergy. She’s been interviewed in Rome by the Vatican Radio three times, and testified to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland. Marietta has worked with teen gangs in Peru and given many retreats across the country, including one in India for recovering alcoholic Catholic clergy.

On her own accord, she lived in Nicaragua during the Contra War researching forgiveness, only to discover that her own country had been spreading misinformation in the domestic media on the motives and nature of the conflict. That’s worth repeating. She moved to a country during a violent civil war to learn how the most marginalized and defenseless citizens were coping. Who among us today would move to Afghanistan, learn the language, and then live among the mountain-dwelling civilians to research their ability to forgive their enemies for the constant occupation, drone strikes and bombing?

“I went to Nicaragua to find out what was really going on with the campesinos,” Marietta shares. “How were they able to maintain a spirit of forgiveness during a period of daily occupation? This was an occupation of violence. Life was being taken every day.”

After the crime that took her daughter and changed her life, she spent two weeks wrestling with God, blinded by fury. She’d come from a background of strong faith, instilled in her by her parents and an influential nun, Sister Mary Columkille of Galway County, Ireland.

“She taught me not to be daunted by the division between the clergy and the people of the Church. She taught me this pre-Vatican II, so she was ahead of her time. She was quite progressive.”

She’s taken the pain from her experience and spun it into a ministry that serves the most forgotten and disenfranchised in our world. Who really has compassion for those serving a life sentence for murder? Everyone remembers the feelings and emotions that surround a trauma. We remember when life as we knew it was over. Things were not the same.

Marietta has taken this experience, and in it, she’s found her place in the world. This is the alchemy to which we’re called by Christ. Love is an action, and when we’re told to love our enemies, this is what that looks like.

“Jesus taught in parables, so I try to share my story with as many people as possible to give them hope. Forgiveness is a process. It doesn’t just happen and then it’s over. We have to live with a heart of forgivness. We have to maintain it.”

“If God can help me get through such a horrible situation, He can help anyone.” Our faith gives us the freedom to love those that our secularized world would have us hate. Come listen to her story. Be moved by it, and learn why capital punishment can never be an acceptable solution to our broken heart.

Oct. 9th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Celebrating October 11th | Feast Day of St. John XXIII

October 11th is the feast of St. John XXIII. He was pope from 1958-1963, and best known for convening the Second Vatican Council. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 3rd, 2000. His feast is assigned to the day on which the first session of Vatican II opened in 1962. His feast is not on the General Roman Calendar, but can be celebrated locally.

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According to the 1962 Missal of St. John XXIII the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, today is the feast of the Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The theological controversies regarding the divinity of Christ which disturbed the Church during the fourth and fifth centuries led to a denial of the divine maternity of Mary. The heretics refused to honor Mary as Mother of God. The Council of Ephesus in 431 declared that the Blessed Virgin “brought forth according to the flesh the Word of God made flesh” and that in consequence she is the Mother of God. Thus she is rightly given the title of divine maternity. In 1931, on the fifteenth centenary of this great Council, Pius XI instituted today’s feast. By this act the pope wished to emphasize not only Mary’s divine maternity, but also her motherhood of all the members of Christ’s Mystical Body.

St. John XXIII was born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli at Sotto il Monte, Italy, in the Diocese of Bergamo on November 25th, 1881. He was the fourth in a family of 14. The family worked as sharecroppers. It was a patriarchal family in the sense that the families of two brothers lived together, headed by his great-uncle Zaverio, who had never married and whose wisdom guided the work and other business of the family. Zaverio was Angelo’s godfather, and to him he always attributed his first and most fundamental religious education. The religious atmosphere of his family and the fervent life of the parish, under the guidance of Fr. Francesco Rebuzzini, provided him with training in the Christian life.

He entered the Bergamo seminary in 1892. Here he began the practice of making spiritual notes, which he continued in one form or another until his death, and which have been gathered together in the Journal of a Soul. Here he also began the deeply cherished practice of regular spiritual direction. In 1896 he was admitted to the Secular Franciscan Order by the spiritual director of the Bergamo seminary, Fr. Luigi Isacchi; he made a profession of its Rule of life on May 23rd, 1897.

From 1901 to 1905 he was a student at the Pontifical Roman Seminary. On August 10th, 1904 he was ordained a priest in the church of Santa Maria in Monte Santo in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo. In 1905 he was appointed secretary to the new Bishop of Bergamo, Giacomo Maria Radini Tedeschi.

When Italy went to war in 1915 he was drafted as a sergeant in the medical corps and became a chaplain to wounded soldiers. When the war ended, he opened a “Student House” for the spiritual needs of young people.

In 1919 he was made spiritual director of the seminary, but in 1921 he was called to the service of the Holy See. Benedict XV brought him to Rome to be the Italian president of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. In 1925 Pius XI named him Apostolic Visitator in Bulgaria, raising him to the episcopate with the titular Diocese of Areopolis. For his episcopal motto he chose Oboedientia et Pax, which became his guiding motto for the rest of his life.

On March 19th, 1925 he was ordained Bishop and left for Bulgaria. He was granted the title Apostolic Delegate and remained in Bulgaria until 1935, visiting Catholic communities and establishing relationships of respect and esteem with the other Christian communities.

In 1935 he was named Apostolic Delegate in Turkey and Greece. His ministry among the Catholics was intense, and his respectful approach and dialogue with the worlds of Orthodoxy and Islam became a feature of his tenure. In December 1944 Pius XII appointed him Nuncio in France.

At the death of Pius XII he was elected Pope on October 28th, 1958, taking the name John XXIII. His pontificate, which lasted less than five years, presented him to the entire world as an authentic image of the Good Shepherd. Meek and gentle, enterprising and courageous, simple and active, he carried out the Christian duties of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy: visiting the imprisoned and the sick, welcoming those of every nation and faith, bestowing on all his exquisite fatherly care. His social magisterium in the Encyclicals Pacem in terris and Mater et Magistra was deeply appreciated.

He convoked the Roman Synod, established the Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law and summoned the Second Vatican Council. The faithful saw in him a reflection of the goodness of God and called him “the good Pope.” He was sustained by a profound spirit of prayer. He launched an extensive renewal of the Church, while radiating the peace of one who always trusted in the Lord. Pope John XXIII died on the evening of June 3rd, 1963, in a spirit of profound trust in Jesus and of longing for his embrace.
St. John XXIII was canonized a saint on April 27th, 2014.

Sept. 25th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Fight Complacency with Cursillo! Christ is calling you

By Damian Hanley

It is very, very difficult to achieve a state of perfect stagnation. And, so it is with our faith. The maxim goes something like: We can only live in faith or fear. When we’re living in one, the other is necessarily absent. By living in faith, we trust God. Gratitude is in our hearts. We are effective in our jobs, in our homes, and in the lives of friends. We are present.

When we live in a state of fear, our hearts are closed, we are selfish, mean-spirited and we isolate. We are moving away from God when we live in fear. On an esoteric level, fear is the liar that tells us we are doomed to a life of misery and meaninglessness. And on a pragmatic level, fear makes us hard to be around.

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And, so we must look for opportunities to grow in our faith so that we can grow closer to Christ, and then ideally, become better at giving and receiving love. Cursillo is one such opportunity.

You may have heard of Cursillo before, but if you haven’t, it is a three-day retreat experience, which takes a New Testament look at Christianity as a lifestyle. It is a highly structured weekend designed to strengthen and renew your faith, and in turn, help strengthen and renew the faith of your family, Church and environment.

From the Cursillo website: Cursillo (pronounced “kur-see-yoh”) is a Spanish term which means “short course in Christianity”. It is a combined effort of laity and clergy toward the renewal of the Church. Cursillo is an encounter with Christ that encourages growth in grace and intensifies the Catholic Christian’s ability to be His witness in the world. This encounter strengthens faith, promotes personal holiness and assists Christians in discovering their personal vocation.

Cursillo originated in Majorca, Spain in the 1940’s. Eduardo Bonnin and his companions developed the Cursillo Method while attempting to train others for a pilgrimage to the Shrine of St James at Compostela. This first effort produced such a profound effect that the group began holding three-day “short courses” and soon the method was accepted officially by the Church. The first Cursillo in North America was in Waco, Texas in 1959.

Cursillo is supported by the Roman Catholic Church. It is joined to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops through an official liaison in the person of Bishop Emeritus Carlos A. Sevilla S.J. from the Diocese of Yakima, and through the Bishops’ Secretariat for the Laity in Washington, D.C. The spiritual advisor for the movement in the United States is Rev. Alex Waraksa from the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.

“It’s really a great chance to get away from the ‘rat race’ and spend some time learning about the Catholic faith and God’s incredible love for you,” shares Kelly Mamott. She and her husband, Tom, are parishioners at St Katharine Drexel Parish, in Cape Coral. “It is wisely recommended that spouses experience the Cursillo weekend in the same year. It was wonderful to share this experience as a married couple. Not only did Cursillo help my faith, but our marriage has been enriched too.”

Marriage is work, and the Mamott’s have four children. It would be easy for them to fabricate an excuse for avoiding a 72-hour weekend. But they recognize that life and spirituality is a constant process of course correction. The quality of our relationships is a function of our ability to emulate Christ in our interaction with other people. In the minutia of daily life, it’s easy to lose track of the bigger picture – which is to become more loving people.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking our job is to make money, provide for our family and stay out of trouble. The rest of our time should be spent watching pro athletes do things we would do if God really answered prayers. We want to live this one-dimensional life because the older we get, the better we get at it. By default, life keeps getting easier if these are our goals. But alas, these should not be our goals. We get complacent. We stagnate, and inevitably, fear creeps into our lives. If our focus is only on the material side of life, we will always be disappointed. We need regular reminders that serving God first is not an arbitrary suggestion.

“I was looking for a group of men that was more than just a social gathering. I was looking for a group of men interested in growing in their faith and sharing,” Tom shares. “My Pastor suggested making a Cursillo weekend since they have small group meetings after the weekend.”

See? We crave connection with other people on a spiritual level. If Tom had made a lifelong habit of ensuring his spiritual needs were met, he would have never gone looking for Cursillo. That doesn’t make him a bad person. It makes him human. We all slip. We all need to refocus our priorities. What Tom was feeling wasn’t irregular. We’ve all felt it.

How many times in our adult lives have we found ourselves participating with minimal effort and motivation, experiencing a general, vague malaise that you can’t really put into words? There is something missing.

Well, practicing Catholicism demands that you are shaken from your lethargy, and Cursillo can do this for you. There is an excitement that can be found in shifting one’s primary mindset from a fear-based existence to a faith-based life. Once your frame of reference shifts, the spirit in which you engage in life is altered dramatically.

Was it worth it? “The Cursillo weekend really got me excited about my Catholic faith and opened my understanding of Christian community,” Tom continues. “Cursillo helps me strive to be closer to Christ. I can witness to my faith through normal everyday encounters with people.”

And isn’t that what living your faith is all about? Show me someone that hides their Catholicism and I’ll show you a person that merely lacks the right education. Being prepared to deploy and defend the principles of our faith is synonymous with upholding the dignity of life.

The more time that passes in our lives, the more God expects from us. The more people He puts in our lives (children especially), the more responsible we are to being there for these people. So if we are not actively looking for ways to expand our spiritual capacity, we are losing ground. We are living in fear if we are resting on our laurels.

This is the role that Cursillo will play in your life. You don’t need to be married to participate, but you do need to be sponsored. Find out more at www.JesusInFlorida.com (I bet you’re a little surprised at that domain name).

If you’ve been lax in your spiritual development, it’s okay. You’re human. If you’ve been lax, and you’ve ignored this fact for the last decade, that’s not okay, and you need Cursillo more than you think. But seriously, complacency is a spirit killer. Take the action today and find a sponsor.

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For more information regarding weekends available and Cursillo representatives.

July 3rd, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Francis: British vote to leave the E.U. entails ‘great responsibility’ for Europe

by Joshua J. McElwee of NCR

Aboard the Papal Flight to Armenia – Pope Francis has said the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the 28-member European Union entails a “great responsibility” to respect the will of the British people while maintaining “the peaceful coexistence of the entire European continent.”

In brief remarks aboard the papal flight to Armenia Friday morning — just hours after final reporting indicated Britain had voted by 51.9 percent to leave the EU — the pontiff said the vote was “the will expressed by the people.”

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“This requires a great responsibility on the part of all of us to guarantee the good of the people of the United Kingdom as well as the peaceful coexistence of the entire European continent,” the pope continued. “This is what I expect.”

Francis was speaking Friday as global markets plummeted throughout the morning on the news of the British vote, and as it raised wide fears of a larger fracturing of the half-century of European integration following the Second World War.

Within an hour of the official tally of the British vote, Dutch conservatives called for their own referendum on EU membership and nationalist parties in France and Italy praised the British move.

The vote could also cause a fracturing of the structure of the United Kingdom itself, with both Scotland and Northern Ireland widely wishing to stay in the EU.
North Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, a member of the Sinn Fein political party, said that his party would seek a vote to leave the UK and unify with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member.

Scottish National Party Leader Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland should consider a new referendum on its own independence.

The UK held a referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014. While 55.3 percent voted then to remain in the UK, Sturgeon and other political leaders have said that vote presupposed UK membership in the EU.

With all precincts reporting Friday morning, more than 17 million Britons voted to leave the EU. About 15.9 million voted to stay. Following the news, the value of the British pound hit its lowest level in 40 years.

While Francis has criticized the European Union in the past, he has also called it a model for how nations can create solutions together to avoid repeating past violence.
In accepting the prestigious German Charlemagne award in May, he said the EU had “dared to change radically the models that had led only to violence and destruction.”

On Friday the pontiff also expressed happiness at news that the country of Colombia had signed a tentative peace agreement with FARC militants, who have been fighting a guerilla war against the government since the 1960s.

“I am happy of this news that arrived yesterday,” said the pope. “More than 50 years of war and guerilla warfare — so much blood spilled. Beautiful news.”
Francis has said before that should the peace deal prove successful he plans to visit Colombia some time in 2017.

The pontiff is visiting Armenia Friday-Sunday on his 14th visit outside Italy since his election in March 2013.

Upon landing in the country Friday afternoon, the pope is to meet with the leader of the Armenian Apostolic church, an Oriental Orthodox community that includes some 93 percent of Armenia’s population of three million. Francis will also meet Friday with President Serzh Sargsyan and the country’s political leaders. On Saturday, the pope will visit the country’s memorial to the World War I-era killings of some 1.5 million Armenians.

The pope caused a diplomatic kerfuffle with Turkish leaders last year when he described the killings as the first genocide of the 20th century, a description Turkey has long resisted.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]