Aug 20th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Encountering Christ Through the Sacraments

by: Rich Byrne, D.Min. – Parishioner

As Catholics, we have been raised with and attune to the Seven Sacraments. They have a special meaning among us. Yet, why? What makes them so special in our broken world?

These Sacraments, instituted by Christ, are meant to strengthen and to encourage us on our spiritual journeys. The Church, as the People of God, has a God-given role in helping us realize that we are chosen, we are called, we are discipled.

As we move daily among our many challenges, the Sacraments manifest visible signs of God’s Invisible Love for us, for all people and for all creation.

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In order to heighten that incarnational dimension, the Church highlights the physical or tangible dimension of every Sacrament. In earlier times, prayerful theologians realized that there is an undeniable moment in every Sacramental action (ex opere operato) in which one can attest that God, the Holy Spirit, the Risen Christ is truly present and acting. In Baptism, it is the pouring of the water. In Confirmation, Ordination, Anointing, and Reconciliation, it relates to the moments of the use of hands. In Eucharist, it is the Consecration. In Marriage, it is the communion of life and love between husband and wife. We can see that the tangible expresses the spiritually nurturing love that is present in such graced moments.

As we participate in these sacred moments, heaven and earth merge. They are real moments for multi-faceted healing, for forgiving mercy, for real spiritual nourishment. They are invaluable aids to support us as we strive to follow the challenging teachings of Jesus and of His supportive Church.

A clear challenge for each of us as members of this parochial and the ecclesial community is to grow in such awareness, that God is really alive, loving and present among us and within us. God is acting in every moment, especially (whether we are aware or not) in these great Sacramental moments. These are the signs of God’s longing to communicate His Infinite Love. Yes, we are abundantly loved. Can we wake up to that? Can we experience in prayer and in the Sacraments that we are absolutely lovable?

God created us to love ourselves, to love Him and to love all beings. Using the Sacraments more intentionally in our lives (such as, Sunday Eucharist) helps us realize ever more deeply that we are unconditionally and absolutely LOVED.

Encountering Christ Through the Sacraments Offered by the Faith Alive! Team

Whether you have been a life-long Catholic, have just recently become Catholic, or would like to hear more about the Sacraments, you are invited to join our parish community for this enlightening series. We will meet in the church community room from 6:30-8pm. Come to one session or the entire series. All are welcome! Registration is requested. Please call the parish office or email, jennifer@johnxxiii.net

August 22nd – Overview of the Sacraments:
The Seven Sacraments are central to our Catholic Faith and are the visible signs of God’s Love. During this introductory evening, we will discuss how Christ is the Great Sacrament of our encountering the Presence of God. By more deeply appreciating the Risen Christ, we, the People of God, may experience more fully the many Graces of the Sacraments.

August 29th – Baptism and Confirmation:
We will look at the meaning of our Baptism not only as the first step in our faith life, but also as a continuing journey where we not only face the challenges of life but also encounter the presence of Christ along the way. Confirmation is living life fully in the Holy Spirit. This sacrament is called Confirmation because the faith given in Baptism is now confirmed and made strong with new hope, grace and understanding.

September 5th – The Most Holy Eucharist:
“Do this in memory of me” is the command of the Lord to the Apostles at the Last Supper after Jesus instituted the greatest Sacrament of our salvation. The Holy Eucharist is the center and pinnacle of the Catholic life because it is the sacrament of the real Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ and is being celebrated every day.

September 12th – Sacraments of Healing:
By means of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick, Christ willed His Church to continue His work of healing and salvation. Christ, the physician of our soul and body, instituted these Sacraments because the new life that He gives us can be weakened and even lost through sin.

September 19th – Sacraments of Vocations:
Matrimony and Holy Orders both involve a lifelong commitment, and their purpose is to bring the light of Christ into the world. This presentation will explore the graces and responsibilities of these sacraments.

Aug 13th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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

Matt Piedimonte | Faith Called Into Focus

by Colleen Leavy, Bulletin Editor

In the upcoming weeks, high school students will be venturing towards a new and exciting chapter in their education as they head off to college. For many of them, it will be a truly incredible experience, shaping them into the confident and passionate individuals they will become for the rest of their lives. However, with this newly found independence, uncertainty and fear can emerge. While college can give students a new opportunity to renew and shape their identity, others can become lost, abandoning their faith and falling victim to peer pressure.

This rang true for Matt Piedimonte, a missionary for the group FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). Raised in Western NY as the second of four boys in a Catholic home, Matt attended Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, where he graduated with a Finance Degree in 2012. Throughout his collegiate career, Matt struggled with maintaining his faith and connection to God. Without a strong identity, he fell victim to the party culture, following advice from his friends on how to become happy. This lifestyle ended up leaving Matt with more questions than answers, and a sense of unfulfillment. “Despite graduating and having a good job lined up, I still had an ache.”

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Shortly after graduating, his expected lifetime career in finance took a drastic turn. Traditionally, older siblings are usually meant to be the mentors. Ironically, Matt’s younger brother was the one that gave him the direction he had been seeking. “When I witnessed him receive communion”, Matt says, “it looked like he knew God and he had something I didn’t have. He was instrumental in bringing me back to the faith.” This began a journey of rediscovering Matt’s identity in Christ, which culminated in a spiritual encounter at Mass, when he heard Jesus say to him “I love you.” After this, it became clear to him that God was asking him to share his experience and lead other young college students to true fulfillment, in the very same place he fell furthest away.

Slowly, Matt began to walk in God’s direction, but it wasn’t until 2015 while speaking to a priest in Rochester, NY, that he was told about FOCUS, founded by Curtis Martin in 1989, after he too had fallen away from his faith. In just 28 years, FOCUS has grown to represent 600 missionaries with 140 campuses participating, including three in Europe!

When Matt resigned from his job as a crop insurance agent, he began training to become a FOCUS Missionary by using their strategy to win, build and send others in faith. Trained in Church teachings, prayer, sacred Scripture, evangelization and discipleship, FOCUS missionaries encounter students in friendship where they currently are in life, inviting them into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and accompanying them as they pursue lives of virtue and excellence. After serving two years at the University of Maine, he will enter his third year with the organization, spreading his faith to Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, to lead a team of four missionaries and 35 student leaders.

No matter how far away you feel you have strayed from your calling, Matt offers these words of advice: “God will never stop pursuing us. He calls each and every one of us to be Saints in every walk of life.”

For Additional Information

If you are a college student in search of spiritual guidance, visit: https://focusoncampus.org/find-my-campus

Additionally, you will be able to see which missionaries serve at your campus and how to contact them.
Missionaries do not receive a salary. Matt’s basic living and mission needs come from individuals, families, businesses and Parishes who wish to partner with him. Help support Matt and his vision through his online fund-page at: https://www.focus.org/missionaries/matthew-piedimonte

June 25th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Living Your Strengths

AT ST. JOHN XXIII CHURCH

by: Steve Engelman

At some time during the past seven years you may have seen and wondered about those five words near the bottom of parish name tags; noticed upcoming sessions advertised in the bulletin; or were one of the hundreds of parishioners who participated in a Living Your Strengths workshop.

Living Your Strengths, based on a book of the same title and the associated Clifton StrengthsFinder® assessment, has been a key component for enhancing parishioner engagement by raising awareness and understanding of the unique talents God bestowed upon each of us. These talents are natural ways of thinking, feeling and behaving that can be productively applied for enriching personal, communal, and spiritual lives.

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For the natural talents we are blessed with at birth to develop into true strengths, it requires awareness, understanding, education and practice to transform them from a raw condition to a more fully developed mature state.

The problem is most people do not know what their greatest talents are, or how to go about discovering them, and this untapped potential leads to a lack of engagement and spiritual fulfillment. Gallup’s research shows engagement drives a parish’s spiritual health and, contrary to popular belief, it is actually a greater sense of belonging felt by a parishioner that leads to enriched believing in the mission of Christ and the Church, not the opposite.

The model for achieving greater parishioner engagement, as defined by Gallup, is hierarchical with four stages building upon each other. Imagine a pyramid with the first level, or base, being “What do I get?” and the second level as “What do I give?”. The third and fourth levels are “Do I belong?” and “How can we grow?, respectively. At St. John XXIII, the first two levels are addressed in our Living Christ’s Covenant document originally introduced to parishioners in 2013 and renewed in February of this year. Additionally, the often displayed WORSHIP, GROW, SERVE, CONNECT, and GIVE banners are reminders of the “What do I give?” level and are intended to provide guidance to parishioners seeking to become further engaged and even more spiritual.

The level of parishioner engagement, and thus overall spiritual commitment, is measurable and can be categorized as shown below:

Engaged: These parishioners are intensely loyal with a strong psychological connection to our parish. They are more spiritually committed and more likely to extend invitations to others. They also tend to give more generously of their time, talents, and treasure.

Not Engaged: These parishioners may attend Mass regularly but are not psychologically connected and their connection is probably more social than spiritual. They donate moderately but not sacrificially and if they volunteer they only donate minimal amounts of time.

Actively Disengaged: These members usually attend Mass only once or twice a year, if at all. Some in this group may attend regularly, but if that’s the case, they are physically present but psychologically absent. Some are unhappy and may insist on sharing that unhappiness with just about anyone.

In 2011 our parish, with support from Gallup, conducted a survey to develop a baseline engagement measure and the results at that time were 32% engaged, 47% not engaged, and 21% actively disengaged. While these results were better than the average Catholic Church it was also apparent great opportunities exist.

Living your Strengths workshops address numerous elements of engagement and are designed to assist parishioners, through enhanced awareness and application of their unique talents, toward higher levels of engagement and the resulting spiritual enrichment.

You are invited to participate in the next workshop series where the ongoing journey toward greater satisfaction, throughout all aspects of your life, continues. During three interactive and enlightening sessions, you will transition from learning your unique God-given talents to truly living your strengths with greater understanding, confidence, and personal fulfillment. We will also explore the unique talents of others and the contributions each can make toward greater stewardship and discipleship.

This series of workshops is scheduled for July 11, 18, and 25 from 6pm-8pm

To register or for additional information please contact:

Jennifer Engelman in the parish office at jennifer@johnxxiii.net
or phone (239) 561-2245

June 11th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Our Parish Library

LORI IZRAL SERVING ST. JOHN XXIII CHURCH

Did You Know? Lori Izral has spent most of her adult life in service of the Church. As a teacher since 1957, she taught at Catholic elementary, high school, college and university levels.

In addition, she served in various positions in the Communications field with Jesuits in Communication/North America, UNDA-USA (the official Catholic organization for broadcasters) and the American Catholic Bishops’ Communications Commission.

Lori carried her service to other organizations in administrative roles, such as The Chicago Association for Retarded Citizens (Vice-President), The National Telemedia Council (President) and The North American Broadcast Section of the World Association for Christian Communication (President).

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Sixteen years ago, after retiring from Loyola University as Professor Emerita, she and her husband John moved from LaGrange, IL, to Fort Myers, FL. They have been members of St. John XXIII since its inception at Noonan Academy. Lori serves as lector, Eucharistic Minister and Homebound Minister.

In November, 2009, she found an ad in the Church bulletin: “Wanted – a Literature Minister.” This minister would “oversee a small collection of books and have a willingness to manage new donations.” Lori met with Damian Hanley, Communications Director for our Parish at the time, and told him “I could do this.” He said “Go for it!” So, she did!

Whether a professor, communicator or librarian, Lori believes that her service in the Church is truly one of her greatest blessings.

History of Our Parish Library

Our Parish Library was established in 2010 for the following reasons:

  • To expand our growing knowledge of our faith
  • To instruct us in spiritual development
  • To inspire us in the practice of our moral choices
  • To entertain with faith and Christian values in mind
  • To enable all ministries to consolidate resources and share them with the parish community

The Library began with 15 books donated by the priests and staff of the parish. Today we have processed more than 2,000 books. These books came to us from our generous priests and parishioners, the Friends of the Lakes Public Library, the St. John XXIII Thrift Store, the St. Cecilia Parish Library and the Legends Golfand Country Club Library. We continually welcome contributions to expand our library holdings. This year we hope to be processing CDs and DVDs to our collections.

Processing books includes the following: cleaning and repairing books (where needed), stamping, categorizing, making labels for pockets and cards, making labels for the spines of the books and listings in our inventory (author, title, publisher, year of publication and call letters). The books are sorted into 34 categories, such as, reference, biography, art, history, family issues, spirituality, death and dying, fiction, ecclesiology, prayer and meditation, senior issues, liturgy, health and healing…just to name a few.

Space limitations and lack of funding curtail our physical abilities to house these treasures. To that issue we have been using two carts in the narthex to circulate our books. The carts have 12 shelves holding a few hundred books in several categories. The rest of our books are held in the meeting room of the administration building. About 15 newly processed books are rotated into the carts each week.

Books may be signed out from either place for as long as needed. The larger collection is available for research, supplemental reading, and circulation. Access to the room is limited because of meetings, conferences and religious lessons. However, should you wish to use the library, just call the office at (239) 561-2245 to ask if the room is free or to make an appointment.

Some ways you can help us:

  • Please continue to use our library
  • Be sure to sign out the books: date, name and phone number
  • Handle the books gently: no markings, dog-eared pages or marginal notes
  • Return books to the designated shelf of the carts

Generosity and Gratitude are two sides of the same coin that builds our parish community. Blessings to you for your generosity in helping our ministry. Thank you, Lori, for your time, talent and treasure to St. John XXIII!

May 21st, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Bishops among first signatories to pledge to end death penalty

By Mark Pattison | Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Bishops attending a meeting were among the first to sign the National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty at the U.S. bishops’ headquarters building May 9.

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Each person taking the pledge promises to educate, advocate and pray for an end to capital punishment.

“All Christians and people of goodwill are thus called today to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its forms, but also in order to improve prison conditions, with respect for the human dignity of the people deprived of their freedom,” Pope Francis has said. This quotation kicks off the pledge.

The pledge drive is organized by the Catholic Mobilizing Network.

“The death penalty represents a failure of our society to fulfill the demands of human dignity, as evidenced by the 159 people and counting who have been exonerated due to their innocence since 1973,” the organization says on the pledge sheet following space for someone’s signature.

Quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the network added, “The death penalty is not needed to maintain public safety, punishment must ‘correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and (be) more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.’”

After capital punishment was halted nationwide briefly in the 1970s, more than 1,400 people have been executed since it resumed 40 years ago, according to the Catholic Mobilizing Network. “The prolonged nature of the death penalty process can perpetuate the trauma for victims’ families and prevents the opportunity for healing and reconciliation called for in the message of Jesus Christ.”

The idea for the pledge campaign took root in January, said Catholic Mobilizing Network executive director Karen Clifton in an interview with Catholic News Service. It is supported in part by a $50,000 grant from the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Communication Campaign.

Clifton said Arkansas’ bid to execute eight death-row prisoners in a 10-day span in April — four were ultimately put to death — “exacerbated the situation and showed it as a very live example of who we are executing and the reasons why the system is so broken,” she said.

Penalties for crime are “supposed to be retributive, but also restorative. The death penalty is definitely not restorative,” Clifton said. Those on death row are not the worst of the worst, they’re the least — the marginalized, the poor, those with improper (legal) counsel,” she added.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said he and his fellow bishops have voiced their views strongly with Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, where capital punishment is legal and where prisoners have been executed.

Bishop Dewane, in recalling Pope John Paul II’s successful personal appeal to the governor of Missouri to spare a death-row inmate’s life during the pope’s visit to St. Louis in 1999, said the episode offers hope. “It’s a great example,” he added. “You never know how your words will be taken, or accepted.”

Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, who was one of a number of bishops who signed the pledge following a daylong meeting May 9 at the U.S. bishops’ headquarters building in Washington, said the church’s ministry to prisoners is another source of hope. “It’s the ministry of companionship that’s so important,” he noted.

Bishop Soto said the ministry of accompaniment is also necessary to the victims of crime. He recalled an instance when a priest of his diocese, who was expected to attend a meeting of priests, had to bow out “because he had to bury someone who had been killed by violence in his neighborhood. … We are not recognizing that the futility of the death penalty system.”

Capuchin Father John Pavlik, president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, told CNS that networking is a key tool in the toolbox in spreading information opposing the death penalty. CMSM, he said, has a person on staff to monitor issues surrounding justice and peace, and has consistently communicated capital punishment information to CMSM members.

Father Pavlik said he takes inspiration from an Ohio woman whose child was murdered decades ago. The killer was arrested, tried and convicted on a charge of capital murder, “and she has spent the last 25 years advocating against the execution of this man.” The priest also voiced his distaste at the “disregard for life” shown in Arkansas, which he said had tried to execute eight death-row prisoners in such a short time because “the drug (used in the fatal injection) was going to expire.”

May 14th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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

It’s official: Pope Francis to canonize Fatima visionaries during May visit

By Elise Harris

Vatican City, Apr 20, 2017 / 03:06 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During his trip to Portugal for the centenary of the Fatima Marian apparitions next month, Pope Francis will canonize visionaries Francisco and Jacinta Marto, making them the youngest non-martyrs to ever be declared saints.

The children will be canonized during Pope Francis’ May 13 Mass in Fatima. The decision for the date was made during a April 20 consistory of cardinals, which also voted on the dates of four other canonizations, in addition to that of Francisco and Jacinta, that will take place this year.

Some martyrs who will soon be saints are diocesan priests Andrea de Soveral and Ambrogio Francesco Ferro, and layman Matteo Moreira, killed in hatred of the faith in Brazil in 1645; and three teenagers – Cristóbal, Antonio, and Juan – killed in hatred of the faith in Mexico in 1529, who will be canonized October 15.

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Bl. Angelo da Acri, a Capuchin priest who died in October 1739, and Faustino Míguez, a Piarist priest who founded the Calasanziano Institute of the Daughters of the Divine Shepherd, will also be canonized October 15.

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, the Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, is the man who was largely responsible for advancing the visionaries’ cause, paving the way for them to become the first canonized children who were not martyred.

Previously, the Portuguese cardinal told CNA, children were not beatified, due to the belief “that children didn’t yet have the ability to practice Christian heroic virtue like adults.”

But that all changed when the cause for Francisco and Jacinta Marto arrived on his desk.

Francisco, 11, and Jacinta, 10, became the youngest non-martyr children in the history of the Church to be beatified when on May 13, 2000, the 83rd anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, Pope John Paul II proclaimed them “Blessed,” officially showing that young children can become Saints.

The brother and sister, who tended to their family’s sheep with their cousin Lucia Santo in the fields of Fatima, Portugal, witnessed the apparitions of Mary now commonly known as Our Lady of Fatima.

During the first apparition, which took place May 13, 1917, Our Lady asked the three children to pray the Rosary and make sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. The children did this and were known to pray often, giving their lunch to beggars and going without food themselves. They offered up their sacrifices and even refrained from drinking water on hot days.

When Francisco and Jacinta became seriously ill with the Spanish flu in October 1918, Mary appeared to them and said she would to take them to heaven soon.

Bed-ridden, Francisco requested and received his first Communion. The following day, Francisco died, April 4, 1919. Jacinta suffered a long illness and was eventually transferred to a Lisbon hospital, where she underwent an operation for an abscess in her chest. However, her health did not improve and she died Feb. 20, 1920.

Francisco and Jacinta “practiced Christian virtue in a heroic way,” Cardinal Martins said, explaining that among other things, one of the most obvious moments in which this virtue was apparent for him was when the three shepherd children were arrested and intimidated by their mayor on August 13, 1917.

Government stability in Portugal was rocky following the revolution and coup d’état that led to the overthrow of the monarchy and subsequent establishment of the First Portuguese Republic in 1910.

A new liberal constitution separating Church and state was drafted under the influence of Freemasonry, which sought to omit the faith – which for many was the backbone of Portuguese culture and society – from public life.

It was in this context that, after catching wind of the Virgin Mary’s appearance to Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia, district Mayor Artur de Oliveira Santos had the children arrested on the day Mary was to appear to them, and threatened to boil them in hot oil unless they would confess to inventing the apparitions.

At one point in the conversation at the jailhouse, Jacinta was taken out of the room, leaving Francisco and Lucia alone. The two were told that Jacinta had been burned with hot oil, and that if they didn’t lie, the same would happen to them.

However, instead of caving to the pressure, the children said: “you can do whatever you want, but we cannot tell a lie. Do whatever you want to us, burn us with oil, but we cannot tell a lie.”

“This was the virtue of these children,” Cardinal Martins said, noting that to accept death rather than tell a lie is “more heroic than many adults.”

“There’s a lot to say on the heroicness of children,” he said, adding that “because of this I brought their cause forward.”

Cardinal Martins was also the one to bring Lucia’s cause to the Vatican following her death in 2005. The visionary had spent the remainder of her life after the apparitions as a Carmelite nun.

Typically the must be a five-year waiting period after a person dies before their cause can be brought forward. However, after only three years Martins ask that the remaining two be dismissed, and his request was granted.

Although the diocesan phase of the cause has already been finished, Cardinal Martins – who knew the visionary personally – said Lucia’s process will take much longer than that of Francisco and Jacinta not only due to her long life, but also because of the vast number of letters and other material from her writings and correspondence that needs to be examined.

The cardinal, who will be present in Fatima with the Pope during his May 12-13 visit for the centenary of the apparitions, said he views the occasion as the conclusion of a process that began with him changing a norm regarding the view of children “and their heroic virtue.”

This process is important, he said, because it means there could be other children who practiced heroic virtue that can now be canonized, so “it’s certainly something important.”

“It needs to be seen that (children) are truly capable of practicing heroic virtue,” not only in Fatima, but “in the Christian life,” he said.

Although canonizations, apart from a few exceptions, are typically held in Rome, it was only recently that beatifications began to be held outside of Rome, in the local Church which promoted the new Blessed’s cause.

This change was made by Cardinal Martins in September 2005, after receiving the approval of Benedict XVI.

In the past, a beatification Mass in Rome would be presided over by the Cardinal-Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints during the morning, with the Pope coming down to the basilica to pray to the new Blessed in the afternoon. Cardinal Martins said he decided to change this because the beatification and the canonization “are two different realities.”

“While the canonizations had a more universal dimension of the Church, the beatifications have a more local dimension, where they (the Blessed) came from,” he said, noting that this is reflected even in the words spoken during the rites for each Mass.

“Because of this, I made a distinction: the beatification in their (the Blessed’s) own church, in their diocese, and the canonizations in Rome.”

The result was “a fantastic revolution,” he said, explaining that while maybe 2-3,000 people would participate in the beatification ceremonies in Rome, hundreds of thousands started to come for the local beatification Masses of new Blessed in their home dioceses.

The cardinal said that “it’s beautiful” to see people – many times including friends and family members of new Blessed – join in honoring their countryman, asking for their intercession, and seeking to follow their example.

He believes the custom will remain like this, adding that it is beautiful particularly from the standpoint of evangelization.

“The new Blessed says to their brothers, many of whom they knew, ‘I am one of you, one like you, so you must follow my path and live the Gospel in depth’,” the cardinal said, explaining that this is “a formidable act of evangelization, and with everyone happy about the new Blessed, they’ll immediately do what they say!”

Cardinal Martins said the decision was also prompted by the emphasis placed on local Churches during the Second Vatican Council.

“I thought, one of the most effective ways to highlight the importance of local Churches is to conduct in the local diocese the beatification of one of their sons,” he said.

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.

April 2nd, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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

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. 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. 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.

Feb. 12th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Ministries Your CFA Dollars Support

The Diocese of Venice serves as the hands of Christ throughout its ten counties of Southwest Florida, with the mission of providing for the spiritual and material needs of the faithful. The following pages highlight the hard work and collaborative efforts of the many dedicated people of the Programs, Departments, and Diocesan Offices who carry out this mission. It is through the generosity of Catholics like you that sharing God’s love is made possible.

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  • Building Department
  • Catholic Charities
  • Catholic Schools Department
  • Child and Youth Protection
  • College Campus Outreach
  • Continuing Education
  • Diocesan Marriage Tribunal
  • Diocesan Retreat Center
  • Family Life Outreach
  • Haitian Apostolate
  • Hispanic Apostolate
  • Marriage Preparation
  • Mass on TV for the Homebound
  • Office of Evangelization
  • Office of Religious Life
  • Peace and Social Justice Office
  • Permanent Diaconate
  • Poor Parishes and Missions
  • Prison Outreach
  • Religious Education Office
  • Respect Life Department
  • Safe Environment Program
  • Seminarian Education
  • Stewardship/Development
  • Support for Convents
  • The Catholic Center
  • Vocations Office
  • Worship Office
  • Young Adult Outreach

Feb. 5th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Connecting to God With Spiritual Fulfillment

by: Mike Navarro

Throughout the month of January, we have discussed some of the suggested actions our Parishioners could take to develop a stronger discipleship with our Lord Jesus Christ. This week we discuss the fourth category, “connect”. It urges us, as brothers and sisters in faith, to a deeper participation in activities which broaden our ability to bring peace and love to others.

Some common uses of the word “connect” are: to unite or fasten together, to relate or be in harmony with, to associate mentally or emotionally with a fact or a meaning. It comes from the Latin word ‘connectere’, meaning “to tie” and a synonym is “to join”, while an antonym is “to dissociate”. So it is very clear that if we wish to be a greater disciple, fully enlightened and capable, then we must extend our involvement in order to increase our understanding … Lets look at some examples of how we can do that.

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“Men’s Gospel Forum”: this group is now in it’s 7th year, meeting at 7am each Monday. During the winter season as many as 45 men spend the hour before 8am Mass, studying the gospel message for the next weeks liturgy. Their first objective is to gain a greater understanding of the biblical passages. An equally important objective is an enhanced awareness of the applicability of the message to the pursuit of life today. From the questions and shared testimonies of other attendees, they gain a personal understanding and empathy that points them to the need for changes and growth in their personal life and within the society around them.

Following on the success of the Men’s Gospel Forum, the parish formed a ministry titled “Faith Alive”. Its goal is to develop adult faith formation programs which address the desires and needs of our members. A recent example of their efforts is the “Opening the Word” program. It is held each Tuesday from 9-10:30am and is open to all men and women that wish to attend. It also focuses on the upcoming Sunday readings, uses a short video, and prompts discussion on the implications presented in the Word. Of course, all are welcome to connect!

The spiritual camaraderie and greater sense of hope and purpose are the blessings given through forums such as these and the zeal of the participants is broadened even further when many also attend the “Faith and Ale” events held in other parish halls throughout Lee County during the winter months. The stated mission of “Faith and Ale” is to provide the opportunity for growth in wisdom and understanding, and to strengthen our roles as spiritual leaders. Socializing with beer and pizza, attendees participate in a multi-parish program with up to 250 men living out their faith as they hear of the challenges, and learn how to support the solutions brought to them by popular and respected national speakers and leaders of Christian life .

The same opportunities are available for women through attendance at the meetings held by “Faith and Wine”. This organization shares the same objectives and methods, (though the women prefer wine and snacks) and provides 5 or 6 events attended by several hundred women from parishes throughout the county.

The programs discussed above are excellent examples of “connecting” to further one’s spiritual fulfillment. Similar opportunities for growth and contribution are to be found in any of the other parish ministries, and all are eager for more participants. For example, if you haven’t been a part of a prayer walk opposing abortion, then you have never felt the positive impact of a “thumbs up” sign from the car of a passing supporter. If you want that sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, just get involved in the “Respect Life” ministry.

Or, if you want to do something extra to connect with the educational needs of our local youth, then please volunteer for one of the many jobs at the Parish Thrift Store where the annual revenues are donated to the Catholic Education Fund. You will also be creating solutions for many of the needy and disadvantaged as you help to provide the clothing they so desperately need.

In conclusion, let us focus on the theological virtue of faith… It enables us to express our belief in God and His words, as we search to know and do His will. We can best learn to profess that faith, bear witness to it, and pass it on, by “connecting” to the opportunities around us. At St. John XXIII, we pray for the spiritual fulfillment of all parishioners.

Jan. 29th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Catholic School’s Week

Receiving the Call to Serve

by: Clayton Atkins

People often speak of receiving a call to serve. The language has become something of a cliché: we hear how “we are all called to serve God in different ways”; how “we are called to serve each other”; or, especially this time of year, how we are called to serve the Church by supporting this or that drive, appeal, or fundraiser. In my case, I received a literal call to service—a phone call that is.

I had just moved back to Fort Myers with my soon-to-be wife, who had accepted a teaching position at a local elementary school. I had spent the last seven years in Gainesville, Florida, where we met, where I studied Literature, where I soon realized that there weren’t many jobs for bookish types who liked to read and talk about literary things, and where I subsequently jumped around from one job to another. I wouldn’t say that I was floundering, but my life certainly lacked direction. My professors at the university had talked me out of pursuing a graduate degree in English, citing poor career prospects for teaching positions in the humanities. I remember one of them telling me that if I wanted to teach English, high school would be my best bet. So I toyed with the idea; I suppose it was in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t fully committed. I didn’t have a plan.

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Then I received my call. I had only been back in town for a few months when my phone rang with an unknown number on the screen. Upon answering, I recognized the familiar, yet somewhat forgotten voice of my former English teacher from Bishop Verot. She mentioned an unforeseen vacancy in the English department, said that she had heard that I was back in town, and immediately thought of me.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “Great. You got a job. Good for you, but what does any of this have to do with service?” Well, I would encourage you to speak with teachers about their work; I can assure you that even a short conversation about their day-to-day lives would reveal that teaching is nothing if it is not service to others. This is especially true of teaching at a Catholic school.

I suppose that I shouldn’t have been surprised when I received my call to serve as a teacher at a Catholic school, even if it did seem to come out of nowhere. Although I hadn’t spoken with my former teacher in years, I thought about her often. It was in her classroom where my heart and mind were first captivated by the power of the written word. I remember many late nights in college when something I read would trigger a memory from her class: an oft-repeated phrase, a silly pun, a deep insight. Her passion, understanding, and devotion changed my life, and I hadn’t even recognized it.

I had never given it much thought, but I am most certainly a product of Catholic education: I attended Catholic schools for the entirety of my childhood and adolescence, so I was used to having passionate teachers who cared about their subjects and, more importantly, their students. In my years as a student at Bishop Verot, it wasn’t uncommon to see a dozen or so lonely cars scattered throughout the parking lot as the sun set in the evenings. Today, this is still a common sight. The teachers at Bishop Verot sacrifice their time and energy to serve their students—staying late to help a struggling student, plan a memorable lesson, or read a never-ending stack of college essays.

There is a reason why I chose to use the word sacrifice. The notion of Christian service is intricately intertwined with sacrifice. Perhaps a Bible verse will best illustrate my point. In John’s telling of Christ’s final days, immediately before Jesus serves his disciples his Last Supper, he humbles himself and performs a service for them.

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments again he went back to the table. ‘Do you understand’, he said, ‘what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you. ‘In all truth I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, no messenger is greater than the one who sent him. (13 John)

What Christ was calling his disciples to do, and what he is calling on us to do by his example, is to serve. It is telling that Jesus chose that particular moment to perform this simple service. He was about to make the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. To serve another is to sacrifice a part of yourself. Service is an act of giving, and in order to give, we must give something up. However, it is important for us not to think of sacrifice only in the negative way that the word is often intoned. There is a beauty to Christ’s sacrifice, made in service to all of humanity.

In this passage, Christ twice refers to himself as “Teacher.” Teachers sacrifice their time and energy every day for their students. But an important aspect of this passage is Christ’s inversion of the roles of Masters and Servants. Christ, the Master, Teacher, and Lord, humbly serves His servants. An integral aspect of Catholic education is attempting to reverse the role of Teacher and Student. Teachers are called to serve their students, but students are likewise called to serve each other.

I know from personal experience at Bishop Verot, that students learn to serve each other in many ways. This service can manifest itself in small acts of kindness such as tutoring a struggling student, standing up for a fellow classmate, or volunteering for local charities. But oftentimes, this service can also take the form of heartwarming displays of communal sacrifice. Two years ago, when a Bishop Verot student was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo costly treatment, our basketball coach, Coach Herting, organized “Southwest Florida’s largest garage sale” in our gymnasium. Students were encouraged to donate anything of value. The result was an entire basketball court littered with stuff, and hundreds of faculty members, staff, students, and parents sacrificing their time to clean, organize, and sell it. Yes, we all gave something up, but in giving, we received what we always receive when we sacrifice ourselves for others—community, warmth, friendship, and that feeling of satisfaction that you can only get from serving others.

This is just the first thing that came to my mind when I thought about how the Bishop Verot family serves the community and one another; there are countless others.

In light of this year’s Catholic Schools Week, I would like to encourage each of you to speak with current and former students from St. Francis Xavier and Bishop Verot, to get an idea about how they are learning to be of service to our community.

For more information visit their websites:
http://stfrancisfortmyers.org/
http://bvhs.org/

Jan. 22nd, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Growing in Your Faith Sounds Wonderful… Until the Work Begins

By Damian Hanley

If growing in our faith was easy, everyone would do it. Some days, I feel like stagnation is an accomplishment. But it’s not. Stagnation is a lie. Without concerted effort to become better Catholics, entropy leads us down a path that is so, so easy to walk down. Everywhere we look we see the cheapening of life and the degradation of humanity. And so we go to Church every Sunday and pay our bills. We’re kind to others and we’re patient in our workplace. We forgive telemarketers for interrupting us. Sometimes we even look our waiter in the eye and over-tip because we know his life is hard and we’ve been blessed. But this isn’t growth. This is just common decency.

This week, or month, or year or whatever your stamina can tolerate, we want to challenge you to grow in your faith. What does that even mean? Being a better Catholic means going out of your way to be messengers of Christ. He taught love, tolerance, forgiveness, patience and in general, alleviating the suffering that is everywhere you look… if you look.

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We interviewed Kathy Ogan because she’s an example of someone that didn’t have to change. There are plenty of women in her demographic that play golf and swill martinis and live out their lives in relative comfort because…why not? Let’s face it, most of us need an absolute crisis to get shaken out of our comfort zones. And outside our comfort zones is where real growth takes place. Disagree? Go spend an afternoon on Palm Beach Blvd at our St. Martin de Porres ministry and try to spread the Gospel there. Report back to us.

But by all measures, Kathy had an idyllic upbringing.

“I was the youngest of 6 children and my parents were very involved with the faith. We grew up saying the Rosary during the month of the Rosary and there was a lot of prayer in the home. There were a lot of religious artifacts around the house, and my family was heavily involved with the Church. I went to Catholic grade school and high school, but after high school, there might have been a few years where I didn’t really attend regularly – for no particular reason. But I eventually made it back.”

Dysfunctional parents? Nope. “My mother was my role model. Kind, giving, gentle and faith-filled, she always brought the lessons of life back to her faith.”

For a lot of us, we move through life and take our faith for granted. That is, we make mistakes, we stumble, but we’re surrounded by a social safety net that will catch us before we fall too low. Our appetites are tame because we want for nothing. We have a general sense that the world is a decent place because, well, this is the United States and we believe in fairness and some semblance of a meritocracy.

But somewhere along the way, an inexplicable void antagonizes our peace. Some turn to the drink, others affairs or money. We seek and do not find until we realize that the cure to what ails us is spiritual.

And this is where, whether overtly or in the depths of our soul, we ask our God to touch us and push us in the direction of growth.
Sometimes our need to grow comes later in life, as it did for Kathy. “I was at women’s Catholic retreat in my mid-40’s at my Parish in Indiana. And during that weekend, I heard women share their stories. I heard them talk about serious conflicts in their lives and how they’d depended on their faith to carry them through. It was the first time in my life that I really started considering a personal relationship with Christ. There was also this priest that went through each part of the Mass and explained the evolution of how the modern Mass came to be. It was an incredibly intimate experience.”

Kathy emerged more dedicated and genuinely wanting a closer connection to her faith. She became a Eucharistic Minister and a Sacristan. “It wasn’t even something I was looking for at that time, but I said yes.”

Having that intimate encounter with the women on the retreat – women on the same mission as herself taught her a valuable lesson.
“You see and feel on a deeper level that everyone carries something with them. And you find out how they survive – how they make it. You find out from where they draw their strength. It’s Christ.”

Really, it is though.

“One woman forgave another couple for their son shooting and killing her son. It was accidental, but she knew she had to confront these people and tell them that she forgave them, and that she didn’t hold any ill feelings.”

That experience taught her the vital importance of sharing those parts of ourselves with each other, because we’ve all got something to work on. That’s how we grow. We confront the darkest parts of ourselves. Our culture would have gladly justified her resentment if she were to carry it to her grave, but our faith demands we forgive.

God has a way of covertly touching our hearts when we aren’t expecting it. Kathy is a very poised, elegant woman who you may not expect would jump head first into the gritty side of hospital ministry, but she did.

“I’ve worked on fundraisers and concert committees, and been a Eucharistic minister, but the hospital ministry has definitely provided the most growth in my faith. You walk into a room and you never know what you’re going to find. These are people who are in serious need of communion.”

“I’ve been to many of the women’s retreats and in them you meet so many of the women of the Parish. It makes you feel so connected. You realize we’re all part of this great community… and that’s what I was really looking for. I don’t want to be just a church attendee. I want to be a church member.

Kathy is the community outreach chair of her neighborhood. She volunteers at Lifeline Family Center – a home for at-risk pregnant and new mothers. She’s begun volunteering at Verity, a pro-life crisis pregnancy center. This is the track record of a person who is in “growth mode”.

There have been periods of my life characterized by this path as well. Kathy is purposefully putting herself in situations where the most marginalized and vulnerable people in our society reside – the ill and infirmed, the isolated and ashamed. These are the people that Christ would have spent his time with if he were walking the earth today.

Our Parish – St. John XXIII is a faith-filled place, full of believers and those that understand the Path. We know how to walk the path, and we know better when we’re not walking it. But there is still a huge population of people out there – the young, the neglected, and the exploited, who really don’t know what it means to be loved. Christ to them is an esoteric idea that their lack of self-worth won’t allow them to truly accept.

If they were present, their parents were a disaster. Their educational system failed them, and they’re caught in a spiral of chasing hedonistic pleasure until the consequences become too much for them to handle.

The law catches up to them. An addiction overtakes them. They sell the only asset they have, and we, in our gated communities think only about trafficking and slavery when it hits the news or when October rolls around. But sex slavery and prostitution take no days off.

These are the girls that end up in the NICU, or at Verity, or at Lifeline because the $400 they were given to terminate, ended up at the methadone clinic. And it is the Catholic’s job to love these people.

That’s how we really grow. We love the unlovable – the lepers.
“The important truth that I’ve been searching for, for several years is…my purpose… What is my purpose for Christ on earth? And how can I use my experiences for good? Everything I’ve been through in my past – I’ve found – is to be used for his purpose,” Kathy shares. “Something will come through me and touch someone for His purpose.”

“The early stages of my faith journey didn’t really begin until my 40s, but the lesson I’ve learned is that growth only happens with participation… even the slightest bit of participation will take you somewhere. The one thing I’ve done right is I’ve just reached out. I have a list of past and present ministries that I’ve been a part of – like the soup kitchen or the food pantry. I’ll try something for a year and see if it feels right. Our Parish doesn’t care if something isn’t a fit.”

I think the first step to growth is awareness. If you have a roof over your head, a basic grasp of Christ’s message to the poor (of spirit) and are relatively happy, you have MUCH to give. This is your exercise for this week. Jump on your computer. Go to Google, and type in “lee county sheriff arrest yesterday” and click on the top result. Click on their names and look at their faces. Look at the years they were born – 1995, 1998, 1989. Look at their charges – larceny, petty theft, battery, DUI, trespassing, resisting an officer, possession of a controlled substance. Depending on what time of day, there might be 20 or 30 people. Look at their eyes. If you don’t think there are thousands of people in our city that need a Christian, you are telling yourself a lie. These people will end up at the Salvation Army. They’ll end up in prison. They’ll end up in a women’s shelter. They’ll end up in diversion programs, and they will continue this cycle until someone shows up and loves them the way Christ demands we love them. If you want to grow in your faith, this is the fast track. Volunteer at these places and see what happens to your spiritual life.

Be like Kathy. Put yourself in front of the suffering and you will grow. Common decency is nice, but holiness is much, much nicer.

Jan. 8th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Living Christ’s Covenant at St. John XXIII

By: Michael Mullin – Parish Advisory Council President

Throughout biblical history God has been actively and deliberately directing people to Him by establishing “covenants” with them. The first covenant was with Adam and Eve whose sinful action resulted in their banishment from Eden. Today, all who sin still share in this woundedness (Original Sin) and can be saved only by a new birth and life in Christ.

The second Covenant was made to Noah, a righteous man, at a time of great wickedness on earth. The wicked were destroyed by flood, but Noah and his people were permitted to be fruitful and increase in numbers.

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A third covenant was formed with Abraham and highlighted grace through faith, and this covenant was passed on to Isaac and Jacob and their heirs. It provided the early foreshadowing and testimony to the eventual New and Eternal Covenant of Jesus.

God continued to give His love and direction to His people as seen in the covenant made with Moses including the gift of the Ten Commandments, providing the Israelites with a way of living the covenant and receiving God’s salvation. The inevitable failure of some to meet those responsibilities pointed to the future need for a Messiah, an “anointed one” who would offer Himself for the salvation of all.

The final covenant of the Old Testament established the physical nation of Israel with David and his descendants, but also foretold that a spiritual kingdom would later come with the Messiah as king.

God’s great love for all people is clearly seen in these historical covenants, and His desire to form a personal covenant with each of us is found in many passages: “They shall be my people and I will be their God. I will make an everlasting covenant with them and will not cease to do them good”. He then became man, and in his final days, at the Last Supper, Jesus offered us this opportunity: “All of you drink of this: for this is the blood of the NEW COVENANT which is being shed for many unto the forgiveness of sins”.

Isn’t it comforting to know that all of us are covered by an agreement creating and establishing a relationship with God that guarantees our heavenly salvation?! Does it move you to consider what you could be doing right now to enhance your relationship with God, offering you spiritual fulfillment and inner peace?

At St. John XXIII we are committed to a mission statement that says we will actively engage all those who desire to live more fully the message of Christ. As a result, over the last 4 years, we have suggested 5 fundamental areas where parishioners could focus their mental, physical and spiritual efforts to nurture personal holiness by living more responsibly as stewards of God’s gifts. You will see them featured on the banners behind the altar during the following 5 weeks, with one being emphasized every weekend.

The 5 pillars are:

Worship: As we seek forgiveness, acceptance and love, can we increase the fervor and zeal with which we admit our dependence on God and offer a greater expression of our gratitude?

Connect: Are we a supportive and positive influence in the lives of those around us in both the parish and in our community, offering friendship and concern as Jesus demonstrated?

Grow: As we consider our current position, can we expand our knowledge, faith, and virtue, to become a better expression of the person God wishes us to be?

Give: Do we adequately respond out of gratitude for the blessings received and enjoyed by sharing these gifts of God?

Serve: In the midst of a world beset with economic, sociological and spiritual dichotomy, what more should we be doing, and how much more should we be loving those needing mercy and help?

We have recently celebrated the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the Christmas liturgies which tell of Christ’s birth as the reason for our salvation. Keeping the Christmas message in mind and with the approach of the Lenten season, let us focus on how to receive and live that message as we pray for the Holy Spirit’s direction and guidance to recognize Christ’s New Covenant and our role to live out His Covenant.

We pray that the 5 pillars may nourish your thoughts and actions and bring you to an even greater sense of spiritual fulfillment.

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.

Nov. 6th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Vickie Gelardi Reflects on Her Role Within The Women’s Guild

By Colleen Leavy

Guided by faith, prayer, knowledge and concern, The Women’s Guild helps build St. John XXIII’s community through friendship, spiritual reflection, and the support of those in need.

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The Women’s Guild success is due to the hard work of the many women who give so much of themselves. The following questions and answers reflect Vickie’s faith, commitment and dedication to her role within The Women’s Guild.

CL: What made you decide to serve/volunteer?
VG: I have been involved in volunteer work almost all my life. It comes from the home. My grandmother and mother always opened their home to the poor even though there were times we were the poor ones! I became more involved in St. John because of the people and how the parish is run by Fr. Bob, who makes it very easy for volunteers. I feel I want to contribute in this life to make life better for others. I volunteer my services to other organizations as well, such as St. Martin de Porres which I helped create from the beginning. My daughter and her sons are volunteers as well in church and in St. Martin’s. Like I said, it comes from the home.

CL: How long have you been president?
VG: I have served on the WG Board for almost four years. At first Linda Sayres was president, but a few months after we took office, I took over when she had a kidney replacement. She then resigned from the Board for personal reasons. My term ends next May 2017 after serving 4 years. Being President is a full time job and I give it 100%. I am fortunate to have a good Board to work with: Barbara Artale, VP, Carolyn Hartman, Secretary and Arlene Carlo, Treasurer.

CL: How do you support Fr. Bob with your mission?
VG: We are always supportive of Fr. Bob in whatever he needs us to do. We look to him as our leader in this Parish and try to follow his leadership in serving the poor, and others in need. He has a servant’s heart and so do we. Together we reach out to our community and help where needed. We are fortunate to have a Pastor who allows us the freedom to do our work in serving this community. Right now we are focused on raising funds for the Capital Campaign and we just donated approximately $17,627.58 to that cause.

CL: What would you tell someone who is interesting in volunteering?
VG: Volunteering is a rewarding experience. What is better in life than to help someone else. We do so much in the Guild to help others as you can see from our Snapshot. Money for sneakers, food, funds for Lifeline & Verity, Funeral Receptions, food for St.. Martin’s, etc. I call the Women’s Guild women “angels of the Guild”.

CL: What upcoming events do you have planned?
VG: Upcoming events are the Holiday Rectory Party December 9th, the Fashion Show March 18th, and a cruise in September 2017. Then there’s everything else that pops up in between: we are a busy bunch! Below is a snapshot of our activities. I would like our Parishioners to know what our activities are, how much we raised, and where it went. I would also like to welcome them to join us, we are always looking for new volunteers who want to help others, and have fun doing it!

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. 2nd, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Moved by Mercy: Respect Life Sunday

What is Respect Life? The Respect Life Program, sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, started in 1972 and begins anew each October-the month set aside by the U.S. bishops as “Respect Life Month”.

We observe Sunday, October 2nd as Respect Life Sunday.

The program promotes respect for human life in the light of our intrinsic dignity as having been created in God’s image and likeness and called to an eternal destiny with him.

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Who is involved with Respect Life? The Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, under the guidance and direction of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, works to teach respect for all human life from conception to natural death, and organize for its protection.

What is the goal of the program? Below are examples of how the committee serves with the following goals”

  • Develop educational material on pro-life issues.
  • Conduct educational campaigns in the Church such as: Respect Life Program and People of Life Action Campaign.
  • Circulate fact sheets and other information on critical issues.
  • Encourage and enable programs to meet the needs of pregnant women, children, persons with disabilities, those who are sick or dying, and all who have been involved in abortion.
  • Assist dioceses to implement major pro-life programs.

The current Committee serves from November 2015 to November 2018 and is chaired by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York.

“We proclaim that human life is a precious gift from God; that each person who receives this gift has responsibilities toward God, self and others; and that society, through its laws and social institutions, must protect and nurture human life at every stage of its existence.” – U.S. Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities

Ways To Support Her When She’s Unexpectedly Expecting:

An unexpected pregnancy might be confusing along the way, but life at times is difficult but ultimately beautiful. Perhaps you know someone who has become pregnant unexpectedly. You want support anyone on the journey of being a mother. Not sure how to do? Here are some tips:

Be Available: An unexpected pregnancy can send a woman into crisis mode. If you just found out she is pregnant, she may not be thinking clearly, and she may feel she has no control over anything at the moment. Listen to her and let her know you love her and are there for her any time she needs you. Don’t pass judgment on her either interiorly or through words or body language.

Respond Positively: When a woman experiences challenging circumstances and confides she is pregnant, the reaction of the first person she tells tends to set the tone for her decision-making. Avoid responding with shock or alarm, and be calm and understanding.

Be Honest: The journey through an unexpected pregnancy is not easy, and it’s okay if you don’t know the perfect words to say. Just be honest. Let her know you are there for her, and ask her how she is feeling and how you can support her. It’s a good way to open the door to communicate, and she may be grateful for the opportunity to talk freely with someone.

Offer Specific Help: Don’t be afraid to ask her if she needs help with anything or to make specific offers to help. For example, you might offer to help with cleaning, finding a good doctor, or running to the store to pick up the one food that won’t make her feel sick. But remember to read her cues, and make sure you’re not being overbearing.

Set up a Support System: In addition to the standard baby registry, you can help her get other kinds of support by lining up much-needed, practical help. Take advantage of websites that allow friends and family to sign up to make meals, send food deliveries, or simply donate money. You can also look into what programs and assistance may be sponsored by your local diocesan pastoral care or Respect Life offices.

Tell Her She is Beautiful: She may be feeling physically, spiritually, and emotionally drained with this pregnancy. Take the time to reassure her of her beauty, both inside and out, especially when morning sickness might make her feel otherwise.

Help Her Recharge & Relax: First-time mothers may have difficulty crossing that threshold into their new life as a mother. She may be fearful that her life is “over,” so help her see it’s okay and to still focus on herself sometimes. Even though she is a mother, she will still continue to be a woman, so affirm that it’s healthy and important to take care of herself.

Reassure Her it’s Okay & Good to Be Happy: It can be hard to be happy about a pregnancy that many people see as unfortunate timing at best and totally irresponsible at worst. Even if your friend wants to be happy about her bundle of joy, she may not feel she “deserves” to show that happiness. Get excited about her pregnancy in front of her, and she may just feel comfortable enough to share her own excitement with you.

Encourage Her: Society tends to focus on ways that an unexpected pregnancy can be challenging. Help her think of the benefits. Remind her of the fluttering kicks, somersaults, and maybe even dance moves her son or daughter will be rocking once they grow a little more. With moms’ groups and opportunities for play dates, there’s a whole new social world to explore.

Point out Real-Life Role Models: Many amazing young mothers and birthmothers have experienced unexpected pregnancies and still followed their dreams. Other women have discovered that, even when unable to follow their lives as planned, something beautiful and good came out of the twists in the road, bringing opportunities, growth, and joy they hadn’t imagined. And let’s not forget Mary, whose “yes” to bearing Jesus affected the course of history. The Blessed Mother is a great person to pour her heart out to, and she’s a powerhouse of intercessory prayer.

For More Information Visit The United States of Catholic Bishops at: www.usccb.org

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.

PLEASE SEE PAGE 10 of the Bulletin:

For more information regarding weekends available and Cursillo representatives.