April 30th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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The Gift of Life

TESTIMONY FROM A ORGAN DONOR RECIPIENT

by: Clayton Atkins

If you ever have the pleasure of meeting Brian Bourgraf in person, my bet is that you wouldn’t immediately realize that he is a walking miracle. He is a cheerful man of fifty-three, with a delightful smile that emits a warm aura. Despite this general kindness that surrounds Brian, there isn’t anything else about him that strikes me as extraordinary—he seems like a normal guy. But that’s the miracle. Brian is here. He’s living his life, like any one of us.

However, Brian is not just a normal guy. He was born with Eagle-Barrett syndrome, a rare congenital disease that affects the abdominal muscles and urinary tract. In 1963, this uncommon birth defect could have been a death sentence. For the first 4 ½ years of his life, Brian lived in the hospital, tethered to a dialysis machine. He needed an organ transplant, a procedure which was still in its infancy. At that time, the surgery that Brian needed had only been performed on baboons. Four year-old Brian needed a double kidney transplant.

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Brian is a walking piece of history. His double kidney transplant was the first successful operation of its kind. But the doctors’ ingenious solution to his rare medical problem is not the most miraculous aspect of Brian’s story. The real miracle is the gift of life. The surgeons who performed the life-saving transplant were working with tools that only God could provide. Brian is here with us today because he received two kidneys from an organ donor, an infant who was taken off life support. I cannot begin to comprehend the pain of losing a newborn child, and neither can Brian. Yet, he owes his life to this couple, who chose to donate their child’s organs. From death, came life.

We all suffer—some more than others. But our suffering is never in vain. How could we experience joy without suffering? How could we appreciate life, without death? And here we approach one of life’s essential mysteries: why do we suffer and die? Such a stark and staggering question. Fortunately, when this brutal reality of everyday life rears its ugly head, we can choose to respond positively…we suffer and die for others. This is Christ’s essential message. We must sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others. This is what saved Brian’s life. A child died; but in death, that child preserved life.

Essentially, Brian’s story is an Easter story. What did we just witness in the Easter season? Jesus died, and in death, he gave us life. This is what Brian experienced when he received two healthy kidneys in 1968. Death, pain, and suffering…we can dwell on these things and let them dominate our perspective, or, we can view them from the Christian perspective, and choose to see life in death, growth in suffering. One grief-stricken family’s choice led to a full and productive life.

When I asked Brian to explain his outlook on life, as someone who almost lost it, his meager reply was: “Something was given to me, so now I have to give back.” What better words could we live by? You shouldn’t have to undergo such a harrowing experience to reach this message. You can find it throughout the Gospels: as Catholics, we believe that we are born in God’s grace, and that we must extend that Grace to everyone we meet. Brian has dedicated his life to this principle. He spent his career in a special part of the family business, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity and trying to make an impact on other people’s lives, just like one couple did for him, when he was only four years-old.

But Brian’s story doesn’t end with the successful operation from his childhood. Eventually, the kidneys he received from his infant benefactor wore out. It’s a miracle that this didn’t happen sooner. Most kidney transplant patients can expect to live for 10–20 years.

Brian was going on 50 when, suddenly, he felt something inside of him “turn off.” His second kidney failure did not cause him any direct pain; he simply noticed that something was wrong. The diagnosis was grim. He would need another transplant immediately. By this time, Brian had built himself such a reputation of selflessness and giving, that the mayor, a judge, and many other citizens of the small town that he called home offered to donate a kidney. However, it was ultimately his older brother, Joe, who wound up on the operating table beside him.

In 2011, Brian received another kidney, which saved his life once again.

Brian’s life is truly a miracle: if that caring couple hadn’t donated their dying child’s organs, Brian would be dead. If his brother hadn’t undergone the grueling process of testing and donating his own body, Brian would not be with us. He is here today because of the selfless choices that others have made. And he is grateful for everything. I have never seen anyone who has suffered so severely, strive to give back as much as Brian has. His fundraising efforts alone could account for millions of dollars’ worth of aid, but his true testament to humanity is his dedication to service. Brian considers his life a gift, because it truly was one. But we shouldn’t need such an extreme example to guide our own actions. All of our lives are a gift from God, and the only way that we can return the favor is by selflessly helping others.

Because Brian has lived his entire life on borrowed time, he is hyper-aware of how he owes his life to others: the infant who lost his life; the parents who made a selfless decision; Brian’s own parents, El and Elaine, who spent countless hours in doctor’s offices and hospitals, agonizing over their son; Brian’s younger brother, El-B, who has supported him since they were children, his older brother, Joe, who extended Brian’s lease on life; and, especially, his wife, Cathy, who has undergone health troubles of her own. One of the positives sides to suffering is that it prepares you to face whatever challenges life can throw at you. Brian admits that without the love and support from these people and countless others, he wouldn’t be here with us today. Thankfully, he is, and through his suffering, he has emerged as a strong, resilient person who has devoted his life to serving others.

Organ donation is perhaps one of the easiest ways that we can help others. Although, of course, the tragedy of a death is difficult to overcome, we can humbly mimic Christ’s sacrifice on the cross; by offering parts of ourselves or our loved ones to others, we reenact Christ’s death and resurrection—we give life.

April is National Donate Life Month. Brian’s story should serve as a reminder that each of us, no matter how broken, are gifts from God, and we should not waste the gift of life. Currently, there are 5,300 people awaiting lifesaving organ transplants in Florida, and 118,000 people across the country. One organ and tissue donor can potentially save the lives of eight people and enhance 75 other lives. Please consider making the selfless choice of becoming an organ donor. This is a decision that should be undertaken in conversation with your loved ones. We are here now, but one day, we won’t be. However, we all have the opportunity, even in death, to extend the gift of life that we were given by God.

To learn more about organ donation, visit Organ Transplant Recipients of South West Florida’s webpage at www.organsupport.org or call (239) 247-3073

April 23rd, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Devotion of Divine Mercy

by: Mike Navarro

Divine Mercy Background in the Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter Sunday 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Resurrection: He Is Risen, Indeed!

by Laura Bagby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 9th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Palm Sunday Story – Bible Story Summary

by Jack Zavada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 2nd, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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

By Julie Asher | Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar. 26th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Pope: Conversion doesn’t happen through magic, but concrete actions

By Junno Arocho Esteves | Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Conversion doesn’t come from the wave of a magic wand, but from learning to do good through concrete actions every day, Pope Francis said.

While even “the saintliest person sins seven times a day,” conversion happens through humility and trying to become “better than the day before,” the pope said March 14 during the Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

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“Converting doesn’t mean going to a fairy with a magic wand,” he said. “No, it is a path, a path of turning away (from evil) and of learning.”

Reflecting on the day’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah (1:10, 16-20), the pope said, “You learn to do good through concrete things. Not with words, but with actions.”

The reading from Isaiah gives three examples: “Help the oppressed, hear the orphan’s plea and defend the widow.”

In the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew (23:1-12), the pope continued, Jesus also reproaches the scribes and Pharisees because they do not practice what they preach.

“They do not know concreteness. If there is no concreteness, there can be no conversion,” he said.

Pope Francis said Christians are called to embark on “the path of Lenten conversion,” knowing that God “is a father who speaks, he is a father who loves us.”

“He accompanies us on this path of conversion. He only asks of us to be humble,” he said. “Then our sins all will be forgiven.”

Mar. 19th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Faith can’t grow without temptation, pope tells Rome priests

By Junno Arocho Esteves | Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) — Faith is a continuing path of growth and maturity that cannot progress without the presence of temptations, Pope Francis told priests of the Diocese of Rome.

How faith develops in “a man, in a priest” despite his flaws can be seen in St. Peter, the pope said March 2 as he led a meditation with diocesan and religious clergy.

“One thing is clear: Temptation is always present in the life of Simon Peter and temptation is always present in our lives. Moreover, without temptation, you cannot progress in faith. In the ‘Our Father,’ we ask for the grace to not fall but not to not be tempted,” he said.

The meeting, held at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, was delayed for roughly 45 minutes as Pope Francis heard the confessions of a dozen priests, according to the Vatican press office.

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Greeted with a warm applause by the priests, the pope said that he would not read his entire meditation and instead focus on key aspects of his talk, titled, “The progress of faith in priestly life.”

Without a continual growth in faith, the pope said, priests run the risk of remaining immature and living priestly life “halfway.”

“And we priests, if we do not have a mature faith capable of generating faith in others — that is, fatherhood — we can do harm and so much evil. But if faith grows, it does so much good,” the pope said, departing from his prepared remarks.

Faith, he continued, must be nourished by three important components: memory, rooted in the faith of the church and “the faith of our fathers”; hope, which sustains faith; and “discernment of the present moment.”

These three components, however, hinge on a “fixed point.” The pope gave the example of a basketball player who, with his foot firmly “pinned to the ground,” moves to either protect the ball, find a way to pass it or look for a path toward the basket.

“For us, that foot pinned to the ground, around which we pivot, is the cross of Christ,” the pope said. “Faith — the progress and growth of faith — is always based on the cross, on the scandal of the cross.”

Memory, he explained, feeds and nourishes faith, particularly the memory of the “covenant the Lord has made with us” through parents and grandparents.

Speaking off-the-cuff, the pope recalled a retreat when he found it difficult to be touched by the preacher’s meditation on death and the final judgment.

At that moment, he said, “I remembered a writing my grandmother had on her nightstand: ‘Be careful, God is watching you. Think that you will die and you do not know when.’ And in that moment, I could pray and go forward. It was (my) roots that opened the way. A Christian always progresses from the root. Do not forget your roots.”

Pope Francis said that faith is also strengthened through hope, which helps priests to “find new things” from their past to encounter God in those they are called to help.

“Faith is knowing how to see in the face of the poor you meet today, the same Lord who will come to judge us according to the protocol of Matthew 25, ‘Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

To understand the past and sustain hope for the future, he added, discernment in the present is important and it often involves taking a step back to see the bigger picture.

Priests, however, often have the “insidious temptation” of “sterile pessimism,” which seeks to resolve matters quickly and often gives in to the “evil spirit of defeat.”

An example of a progression in faith through memory, hope and discernment, he said, is the apostle Peter, a man who is a “paradox” in that Jesus would often extol the virtues of others while Peter was often reproached for his lack of faith.

Peter’s faith, however, is “faith that is tested,” and through that he has the mission of confirming the faith of the disciples and the church today.

At key moments in his life, the pope continued, Peter is strengthened in his faith. Jesus “prays for him so that his weakness, and even his sin, is transformed into a grace” for him and for all.

Not following the example of Peter, the pope said, “a priest or a bishop who does not feel he is a sinner, who does not confess, who is closed in himself, does not progress in faith.”

Pope Francis explained that the devil’s greatest temptation was to instill in Peter the idea that he was “not worthy to be Jesus’ friend because he betrayed him.”

Although “the weight of our sins makes us move away from the Lord,” the pope said the Lord is always faithful and “confirms us in our shepherding, in leading the flock.”

“The Lord keeps moving forward and Peter’s faith is full. And that sinner, who denied him, the Lord made him pope,” Pope Francis said. “That is the Lord’s logic.”

Mar. 12th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Fasting: Lent’s spiritual practice creates space for prayer

By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fasting: Lent’s spiritual practice creates space for prayer

Mar. 5th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Here I am Lord, Reformed by Lent

ST. JOHN XXIII LENTEN PROGRAM

by: Jennifer Engelman

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

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

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

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

Feb. 26th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Building a Civilization of Love

PARISH MISSION WITH FR. BERETTA

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT FR. BERETTA:

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

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

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

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

Feb. 19th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Living Christ’s Covenant at St. John XXIII

by: Mike Mullin

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

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

The 5 areas are:

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

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

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

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

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. 15th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Worship as Identity and Purpose

by: Father Russell Ruggiero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan. 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.

Jan. 1st, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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The Solemnity of Mary Mother of God

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

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

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

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

Dec. 18th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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ADVENT: Celebrating the 4th Week

In this Fourth Week of Advent, our final days of preparation before Christmas, we ask Christ to forgive us for our sins and, through His grace, to create us anew when He comes. This week is also a time to recollect, to reflect on our Advent journey. If we have let the hustle and bustle of the season get in the way of our spiritual preparations for Christmas, we have one last chance to refocus and the light of the candles on the Advent wreath can be a symbol of our focus, as well as a symbol of the light of Christ.

Dear Jesus, may the light of your love always shine in our hearts. As Christmas draws closer, we marvel at your great love for us. Let your love transform every aspect of our lives and touch everyone we encounter. Our hearts are open to you, Jesus. Amen.

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General Announcements

Have you listened to our podcasts? Listen to weekly inspirational messages from Father Bob and homilies from Mass. Visit our site weekly at johnxxiii.podbean.com

‘Like’ our Facebook page! For all the latest happenings and inspirational messages ‘Like’ us on Facebook. Search ‘St. John XXIII Catholic Church’.

Our weekly newsletter! Visit our website, Johnxxiii.net, scroll down to “Stay Connected” and enter your email address.

Interested in serving our Parish family during Mass? Men, women and teens may serve as a Greeter, Usher, Lector, or Eucharistic Minister. Please contact the parish office at (239) 561-2245, if you feel called to serve in any of these areas, we can use your time and talent!

Catholic Physicians Registry: Due to frequent requests for Catholic physicians in the Diocese of Venice, the SW Florida Guild of the Catholic Medical Association is putting together a list of Catholic physicians whose practice adheres to the teachings of the Church. If you would like to be listed in this Directory for Catholic Physicians, please contact Dr. Steve Hannan for more information at www.floridacma.org or (239)849-6908 or shannan0@comcast.net

Lee GROWS Classes & Tours: Looking for something fun to do? Lee GROWS has openings for the 2017 classes and tours! The program consists of five one-day sessions running consecutively on Thursday’s. We start at 7:30am and return about 3pm.Each class is comprised of about 20-40 participants. Parking and lunches are included at no charge. It’s our hope that you take this opportunity to get an understanding of what happens “behind the scenes” of Lee County government. Registration is now open and always fills up quickly! For more information visit: https://www.leegov.com/leegrows

Liturgy of Remembrance Feast of The Holy Innocents: St. John XXIII will hold a special Liturgy on December 28th at 6:30pm to honor and celebrate the children of all ages that we have lost. Please bring an unframed picture of your child that can be pinned on a display. If no picture is available, we will have available mementos that can be used. If you are unable to attend but would like your child’s name included, please call Kate Lewis at (239) 561-8123 or e mail: cklew00@gmail.com
Women’s Guild Fashion Show: Will take place Saturday, March 18th, 2017 at Lexington Country Club.

If you are hospitalized at Gulf Coast Hospital and would like to be visited by one of our Eucharistic Ministers, please let the Hospital Admissions Office know you are from our parish and contact our parish office, as well. Once you go home, if you are unable to attend Mass and would like to have the Eucharist brought to you, please call the parish office. (239) 561-2245

People Asking For Money Outside of Church: We remind you that if there is anyone asking for money around the Church outside of Mass at our exits, ignore them. We have been contacted by the police regarding a group of professionals who travel to various churches. Be generous in giving to our Poor Boxes. That is where and how we can assist those who are truly in need. Be sure to take your purses with you to communion.

We need your help with keeping our database current: Have you moved, changed email addresses, dropped a landline or changed your cell number? Please email Maryann@johnxxiii.net with any changes or additions to your contact information.

Dec. 11th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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The Season of GIVING continues!

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

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

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

Dec. 4th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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The Season of GIVING

A total of 356 families received Thanksgiving food baskets through the outreach at St. Martin de Porres, and an additional 115 received a hot Thanksgiving dinner at the cafe on Thursday, November 23rd.

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St. John XXIII parishioners provided the vast majority of the food. Working with the Harry Chapin Food Bank and Publix, we were able to maximize the number of people served.

Part of that outreach included 25 complete meals distributed to parishioners at Jesus the Worker Parish on Thanksgiving morning.

We would like to personally thank all of our parishioners for their generosity and support of the Giving in Thanksgiving Program.

May all who are thankful for your salvation always say “How great is the Lord” Psalm 40:16