Feb. 4th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Connect: Bringing People Closer to Christ

by: Clayton Atkins

If you ever stop by St. John XXIII on a Wednesday evening during the school year, be prepared, because you may not recognize the Church. The first thing you will notice is the noise: the peaceful quiet and joyous singing that we usually associate with the empty building or the celebration of Mass, is replaced with the bustling sounds of children chattering excitedly and trying to sit still as they listen to their teachers explain our faith. Although it may be difficult for you to find your way in between the tables, chairs, and dividers of the makeshift classrooms that litter the narthex and the Church itself, if you did so, you would witness a stunning display of God working through human beings. After long days at work and school, parents bring their children to our Church, where volunteers teach them the basics of our faith and prepare them to partake in the Sacramental Rites. So, although you may not recognize the arrangement of the building, or the sounds echoing throughout it, you will undoubtedly still feel at home in the atmosphere of love and fellowship that binds us together at Mass—it is present in the shared community of faith and learning that takes place on these Wednesday evenings.

It was in this atmosphere that Sally Pratt was called to undertake a new ministry. Having recently moved here in Oct. of 2014, Sally, a retired nurse, was looking for a way to get more involved in the Church and deepen her faith. Sally has been immersed in her spirituality for her entire life: she went to a Cursillo retreat weekend, the Spiritual Exercises, led retreats, and been involved in active parishes. But, newly retired, she was looking for a way to share her daily practices of faith and spirituality with others in a new and exciting way. After participating in the annual women’s retreat and experiencing a strong connection with our parish, she was praying about how she could continue to share her faith and to bring others to Christ. The very next day, she received an email from Holly Atkins, our Business Manager, and Chris Biel, our Director of Faith Formation, inquiring whether she would be interested in starting a new ministry at St. John XXIII.


Here at our Parish, no matter our age or level of spiritual development, we are privileged to have numerous opportunities to develop our faith: in addition to Faith Formation classes for children and young teens, there are also youth groups, young adult ministries, 65 & older singles brunches, men’s groups, women’s groups…the list goes on. However, Holly and Chris realized that there wasn’t a ministry specifically for parents, and in Sally, they saw an opportunity to remedy this. Sally jumped at the chance. Holly Atkins joked that she had never received an answer so quickly. Their idea was to offer busy parents a convenient time and place to grow in their faith, and when better to do so then when their children were already at Church, laying the foundation of their growing faith? And so, the “Growing in Faith” group was born. It is a small group of parents who meet with Sally while their children attend Faith Formation. When we share our faith with others in a safe, intimate, nurturing setting, we provide it with the space and love it needs to flourish.

It is easy for most of us to conceive of this concept of “growth” in regards to children. Of course children need to “grow” their faith; we are not born with faith—we need to cultivate it. Children need stories to listen to; teachers to educate them; role models to emulate. This seems obvious to us. But we often forget that adults have similar needs, and it is all too easy for us to neglect our own innate desire for spiritual growth as we get caught up in the daily struggles of modern life. Ironically, this call for spiritual development is of extreme importance to the very people who are often most likely to be too busy to answer it. It’s already a small miracle that, when you do walk into the Church on a Wednesday evening, you see so many children and parents, eager to learn more about our faith, which many of us sometimes take for granted.

Here, you will witness parents who have a million other things on their agenda, setting aside the time they know their children need to grow as Catholics.

The idea behind the “Growing in Faith” group is that parents, in particular, need to set aside time for their faith, too, because parents are their children’s first and greatest teachers. And this is where Sally comes in. She offers parents an opportunity to learn about their Catholic Faith in a small group setting. They can come as they are to share with the group or just soak up what others have to share. Parents are encouraged to take what they learn with the small groups and to share their faith with the children, such as setting aside five minutes to pray with their children, reading Sunday’s Gospel to them, or simply asking them how they experienced Christ’s presence throughout their day. Sally asserts that when parents take the time to do this with their children, Mass becomes so much more meaningful for everyone. When children see that their parents are actively engaged in their faith, they are encouraged to participate as well. Often Sally will try to structure the weekly parent meeting around a topic that their children will also be covering in their classes, but often they end up discussing topics that they, the parents, want to know more about such as the Mass, Adoration, Reconciliation, The Rosary, The chaplet of the Divine Mercy, Advent, Lent, Ignatius Prayers, Lectio Divina, and so much more. This way, families can share their faith with each other because everyone is on the same page.

Sally says that her goal is to “Bring people closer to Christ.” She maintains that Christ is always present in our lives, waiting for us to let him in. Meeting with others and sharing about our journeys in faith is one of many ways that we can do this. We would like to encourage anyone with a desire to deepen their faith to attend one of Sally’s “Growing in Faith” group gatherings. If you are already dropping your children off for Faith Formation, stay for the hour and grow closer to Christ. Who knows…in the time you would need to make it through Daniels traffic and back on an errand, you could have an experience that strengthens your connection with God, yourself, and your family. The Growing in Faith group meets in the Parish office kitchen on Wednesdays during Faith Formation. We hope to see you there.

“Sally is amazing and brings an excitement to learning more about our Faith with her passion and ideas. I love being able to spend the time with other parents who have the same faith, wants, and needs for their families. The group is wonderful and has helped me grow so much for myself, my husband, and my children.” – Angela

Dec. 17th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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The Joy of Advent | Prepare Your Heart

by: Hannah Brockhaus – Catholic News Agency

During Advent, we should prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus like we joyfully prepare our homes for a visit from a family member or friend, Pope Francis said Sunday, especially removing anything keeping us from Christ. “When we await at home a visit from a loved one, we prepare everything with care and happiness. In the same way we want to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord: to wait for him every day with solicitude, to be filled with his grace when he comes,” the pope said this December.


In his weekly Angelus address, Francis reflected on the day’s first reading from Isaiah, which says to “make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low.”

The pope pointed out that the valleys in this passage can represent our sins of omission, such as failing to pray, or praying very little. The valleys could also be the ways we have failed to have charity toward others, especially those most in need of material or spiritual help.

In Advent, “we are called to be more attentive to the needs of others, those closest (to us). Like John the Baptist, in this way we can open roads of hope in the desert of the dry hearts of many people,” he said.

Therefore, Advent is a good time to fill these valleys in our life, he said; to pray more intensely, to prioritize your spiritual life.
On the other hand, when the verse says, “every mountain and every hill be lowered,” we are reminded of our faults of pride, arrogance and superiority, which must become attitudes of meekness and humility, just like our Savior is “meek and humble of heart.”

Then, when we’ve examined our conscience, “we are asked to eliminate all the obstacles we put into our union with the Lord” with joy, he said, because we are preparing for the coming of our Savior.
“The Savior we are waiting for is able to transform our life with the power of the Holy Spirit, with the power of love. Indeed, the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts the love of God, an inexhaustible source of purification, of new life and freedom,” Francis said.

May the Virgin Mary, he concluded, who prepared for the coming of Christ with her whole being and existence, “help us to follow her example and guide our steps to meet the Lord who is coming.”

“Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again : rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.”

Oct. 15th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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The Now Moment for America: A Conversation about Racism

By Joanne Halt, M.A.

Racism is one of those topics that can immediately put us on edge. We fear examining our beliefs because to do so could open a Pandora’s Box and we might be judged. The violent outcome of the march in Charlottesville V.A. illustrates that we are at a decision point in America about racial beliefs. People of conscience could not allow the coalition of white supremacists to march there without a counter march of protest since such hate groups such as the KKK and Neo-Nazis pose a direct challenge to the dignity of human life. To be supportive in any way to such activity is to foster racism. What many folks might feel is a “Where did all of this come from?” moment in society has been developing as the demographics of our country are changing and fear predominates. White supremacy group membership is at an all time high and increasingly vocal. White privilege, which fueled the march in Charlottesville, is a concept waiting to be unpacked for many of us. Concurrently, the issue of color determining one person’s response to another has been festering individually and collectively for the lifetime of pretty much every black or brown person living in America today. Ask any man of color what it feels like to see the kneejerk reaction of a white woman clutching her purse in fear as he walks toward her. For African Americans skin color is the barrier they face to assimilation, unlike other minority groups who have assimilated much more easily in our culture.


To deny the racial divide in our country is not possible. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recently announced the establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism which is addressing the sin of racism in our society and Church, and the urgent need to come together to find solutions. Almost 40 years ago, the USCCB wrote a Pastoral Letter on Racism which stated that “Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.”

Prejudice can lurk unnoticed in our unconscious beliefs. Without prayerful reflection, it can feed on the fear of what is different and grow into overt racism. Self-reflection is a beginning that must then lead to action. Our bishops are calling us to this moment of self-inquiry and conversion.

To help us with this beginning step of self-inquiry, The Respect for Life Committee is hosting a presentation by Dr. Martha R. Bireda, PhD. on October 17th. She is Director of the Blanchard House Museum of African History and Culture, located in Punta Gorda, Florida. For over 30 years, Dr. Bireda has consulted, lectured, and written about social issues related to race, gender, class, power, and culture. She has contributed many magazine articles that explore critical issues past and present impacting our global society. She believes that awareness and recognition of the universality of social issues can contribute to the resolution of problems that affect all societies, and confirm our human connectivity. She is the author of twelve books.

When asked to describe her presentation, Dr. Bireda responded that we need the opportunity to explore our beliefs in a safe place. Our beliefs often operate on an unconscious level. Examining the beliefs on race that have been operative historically in America is a first step. Identifying those authority figures, educational systems and important others who contributed to our individual belief system is also important. Dr. Bireda’s presentation invites us to ask ourselves these questions: why do I believe what I do about my group and about other groups? Where did this come from and why do I believe it now? If I don’t believe what I was taught as a youth now, how do I express my present beliefs? Finally, she says, “The ultimate question is- how can I demonstrate with my actions what are my ‘now’ beliefs?” Ultimately we take responsibility for solving and not perpetuating the problem,
Dr. Bireda’s interest in raising consciousness began when she was 10 years old in 1955 and heard about Emmet Till being killed. Emmet was a 14 year old tortured and murdered in Mississippi by two Caucasian men. “Emmet was a child and I thought, so am I, …am I going to be killed too?” This question and feeling of vulnerability by virtue of skin color became the foundation for her life’s work.

According to Fr. George Murry, S.J., the Head of the USCCB Committee on Racism: “Through listening, prayer and meaningful collaboration, I’m hopeful we can find lasting solutions and common ground where racism will no longer find a place in our hearts or in our society.”

TUESDAY, October 17th
The Now Moment for America:
A Conversation about Racism
6:30pm-8:00pm – In the Community Room
Guest Speaker: Dr. Martha Bireda

Oct. 8th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Understanding Addiction | A Respect Life Issue

By Joanne Halt, M.A.

On October 10th at 6:30pm, we will have a golden opportunity to increase our knowledge of addictions when Dr. Marguerite Poreda, MD, staff psychiatrist at Park Royal Hospital comes to speak on “Understanding Addiction: My Brain; My Genetics; My Environment”. Dr. Poreda completed her residency in 1982 in Anesthesiology at Tufts New England Medical Center in Boston. In 1994, she began her retraining in Psychiatry, after learning about addictions in the hospital setting. She is board certified in Psychiatry with three sub-specialty board certifications and over 25 years in the field.


Addiction is all about the loss of control over one’s life. We all know someone who causes us to feel uneasy or who has hurt us by their addictions. We can suspect addiction when we see: pre-occupation with using (craving); compulsive use in spite of negative consequences (legal, interpersonal; occupational, physical); using just to feel normal (tolerance); and efforts to control use fail (relapse). Dr. Poreda has a powerful presentation that gives the basics on understanding the interplay of genetics (Native Americans are genetically predisposed for alcoholism and Asians are not), brain issues (addiction is a complex disease process of the brain) and the effect of the environment (culture, family & friends) on developing an addiction and on treating addictions. Other factors leading to addiction include: trauma or stressors that overwhelm a person’s ability to cope, the presence of psychiatric disorder with an attempt to self medicate, and distorted beliefs in connection with self, others and God. It seems a slippery slope from use to abuse to addiction/dependency, but there is a way to assess what stage a person may be in.

Dr. Poreda shared some alarming facts with me. She stated that emergency room admissions for opiod addiction are up two and a half times what it was last year. The home medicine cabinet is the most likely place to begin a spiral into drug abuse. Narcan, the remedy for opioid overdoses is now being prescribed for family and friends of addicts. Nearly 1 in 8 adults in U.S. have been diagnosed with alcohol use disorder in 2013, a 50% increase from a decade earlier. Marijuana today is 10-15 times more potent than what it was in the ‘70s. Designer (lab/home manufactured) drugs usually are sold mixed in with other drugs. When asked about the consequences of legalizing marijuana, Dr. Poreda focused on our youth. “If there is any susceptibility mental health wise, pot can produce psychosis. Plus pot usually gets handed out with designer drugs. When teens get addicted, they stay stuck at the age they began using and a lot of their treatment is about helping them grow up emotionally.”

How can we improve our approach to addictions and utilize the tools available in the medical community for properly designed treatment? The steps include: prevention, early identification, treatment, relapse prevention and the policy and environmental changes needed to alter our addiction supporting culture. As Dr. Poreda explains it, we can force people into treatment by the Marchman Act, which nationwide, allows the court to order detox and evaluation, but only for a limited time. “Drug addicts are not going to get well with 3 days in the hospital. It’s what’s going to be happening after that, that makes the difference-the aftercare and recovery programs. We are faced with an overwhelming number of people needing treatment and have nowhere to send them and also, who wants to pay for it? As a Christian person, I don’t see a lot of social justice for this issue” according to Dr. Poreda.

Addiction takes an alarming toll on individuals, families and on our country as a whole. It costs taxpayers an estimated 235 billion dollars per year in lost productivity, medical services, and crime. According to Dr. Poreda, part of the problem is resistance at high government levels to fund recovery programs when the top priority is cutting programs to rein in the budget. Funding services for mental illness and addictions is not a high priority at the local level either. Public education is needed to understand addiction, its treatment and recovery, so that we can change attitudes at both a local and national level. Dr. Poreda estimates that addiction related (both substance and alcohol) deaths cost 6,000 Floridians their lives in the past 12 months. Helping those who suffer to acknowledge their addiction is just a first step. Giving them the tools and the time necessary to achieve recovery and return as healthy, productive citizens is something that requires awareness, commitment and action on all our parts. How many lives are we willing to lose? Make plans to hear an informative Respect for Life awareness session on Tuesday night with a dynamic speaker.

TUESDAY, October 10th
Understanding Addiction, My Brain;
My Genetics; My Environment
6:30pm-8:00pm – In the Community Room
Guest Speaker: Dr. Marguerite R. Poreda

April 9th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Palm Sunday Story – Bible Story Summary

by Jack Zavada

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

When he told the disciples to get the donkey, Jesus referred to himself as ‘The Lord,’ a definite proclamation of his divinity.

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

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

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

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

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

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.


“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.