September 29, 2013 | The 23rd Times

By | Bulletin, Interviews, The 23rd Times | No Comments

A First Hard Look at the Big Easy

Damian: So Matthew, you went to New Orleans, on the assumption you’d never been there, what were your ideas about New Orleans going into the trip?
Matthew Pagan: We sort of knew it was going to be in rough shape – ever since the levy broke – so we knew what we were getting into.

DH: Yeah, the city is just old; old construction, old homes, so it was in rough shape before the storm. What were you there to do?
MP: We did three projects while we were there. We painted a cafeteria for a school, we planted some sea grass on a beach that was eroding, and the third thing was – haha – it’s totally slipping my mind right now.


DH: No worries, we’ll get back to that. So what was your impression of the city? You drove in, so as you approach, you see the Vieux Carre road sign, then you see the French Quarter off to the left, then sort of below the highway you see those rough, rough projects…
MP: Well, I mean, I’ve been around projects before in other mission trips, so I think it comes down to your outlook on the experience more than just the depressing reality.

DH: But as a general sense… Here, the city is landscaped, there…
MP: Right, yes, I mean, they don’t have the same aesthetic as we do. A lot of the houses there are in bad shape – paint peeling, the usual kind of stuff.

DH: So you get there, and you jump right into work?
MP: We got there late, like 9PM, and we stayed at this community center where homeless people get their food in the morning. Some of them stay there too. We were fortunate enough to have beds, as many of the homeless people there don’t.

DH: And what was the size of your group?
MP: Maybe like 20 kids.

DH: Okay, that’s a lot. So what did this trip teach you about charitable acts, and what it means to be generous with your time?
MP: I think it just makes you stronger. You realize there are a lot of people less fortunate than you. There’s sort of a snowball effect, in that the more you do for others, the more you want to do. You can’t help but feel good about the whole experience.

DH: Okay, so you said you painted a school and planted sea grass. Did you actually interact with the people who you were – I guess you could say – the ‘beneficiaries’ of the service?
MP: While we were painting the school, a lot of the kids were hanging around and you could tell they were very grateful. It was an old school. It really needed the paint.

DH: Okay, so you’re in 10th grade at Bishop Verot… what do you want to do with your life?
MP: I’m stuck between three things right now – computer animation, marine biology or engineering. I’m leaning more towards computer animation or marine biology.

DH: Okay, so this whole experience of planting sea grass, that sort of heightened your awareness of the need for diligent marine biologists?
MP: Oh yes, and we were told we might be able to get in the water if we dug enough holes for the sea grass. So the guys were digging away while the girls planted the sea grass…. And then we got done and found out there was red tide at the moment, so that was pretty disappointing.

DH: Well tell me something good, then. Did you eat any of that fabulous Cajun cookin’?
MP: The second day we were there we explored the city a little bit, and this one restaurant we went to served some pretty good food. We primarily ate at the community center, but the gentleman that cooked there, he was amazing. We had gumbo. We had rice and beans… It was just an all-around good experience.

DH: So back to the future. Why computer animation?
MP: I think it’s because you start with nothing, and… Well, I made this 3D map of the world, where when the countries pass the Prime Meridian, where day turns to dark, the light cities turn on. It’s pretty cool.

DH: Yes, and there’s a huge market for that type of animation. Okay, so what is high school like these days? It’s been about 13 years since I’ve been there…
MP: Last year I went to Gateway Charter, and it’s a good school, but I don’t feel like the people there were totally engaged. At Bishop, you can tell the people there really want you to succeed. They care about you.

DH: And is that the general sense you get from the students at Verot, as well?
MP: The students are ten times as welcoming at Verot. You don’t have the whole bullying situation at Verot either.

DH: And are you into sports or anything?
MP: Yes! I’m on the swim team. In fact we had a meet last Friday. Both the boys’ and girls’ teams are phenomenal. Congrats to anyone who may be on the team and reading this. This is my first year swimming, and I think I’ve significantly improved. I swim the 500 yard freestyle – which is like 20 laps non-stop – and I cut 50 seconds off my time last meet. So you can easily measure your progress in swimming.

DH: So what do you think the main problem is facing kids your age?
MP: I think a lot of the kids I meet don’t care about their future. They don’t really think about their education or the financial issues facing our country. I’m worried about the level of debt we have in this country, and I try to convince them to get educated on the issues…

DH: Okay, well I hate to cut you off, but we need to get to Mass. It’s like 11:05 am, and I don’t want you to be late. But let’s talk some more one day. You seem like an interesting kid with a lot of potential. Thanks for coming by.
MP: Any time. Thanks for having me.



September 22, 2013 | The 23rd Times

By | Bulletin, The 23rd Times | No Comments


The Pope has many good things to say.

Catholics also should pray for political leaders, the Holy Father instructs, petitioning that they govern with humility and love.

VATICAN CITY — Catholics should not be indifferent to politics, Pope Francis said, but they should offer their suggestions, as well as prayers, that their leaders may serve the common good in humility and love.

In his Sept. 16 daily homily at St. Martha House, the Pope rejected the idea that “a good Catholic doesn’t meddle in politics.”


“That’s not true. That is not a good path,” he said, according to Vatican Radio. “A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern.”
“None of us can say, ‘I have nothing to do with this; they govern,’” Pope Francis told those present for the Mass. Rather, citizens are responsible for participating in politics according to their ability, and in this way, they are responsible for their leadership. “Politics, according to the social doctrine of the Church, is one of the highest forms of charity, because it serves the common good,” he explained. “I cannot wash my hands, eh? We all have to give something!”

He noted that it is sometimes common for people to speak only critically of their leaders, to complain about “things that don’t go well.” Instead of simply complaining, we should offer ourselves — our ideas, our suggestions and, most of all, our prayers, the Holy Father said.

Observing that prayer is “the best that we can offer to those who govern,” he pointed to St. Paul’s Letter to Timothy inviting prayer for the conversion and strong leadership of those in authority.

Even if they believe certain politicians to be “wicked,” Christians should pray “that they can govern well, that they can love their people, that they can serve their people, that they can be humble,” he said.

At the same time, the Pope reflected on the role of those who hold political power, stressing the need for humility and love.
Reflecting on the Gospel of the centurion who humbly and confidently asked for the healing of his servant, the Holy Father explained that “a leader who doesn’t love cannot govern — at best, they can discipline; they can give a little bit of order, but they can’t govern.”

In addition, he emphasized, “You can’t govern without loving the people and without humility.” “And every man, every woman who has to take up the service of government must ask themselves two questions: ‘Do I love my people in order to serve them better? Am I humble, and do I listen to everybody, to diverse opinions in order to choose the best path?’”

“If you don’t ask those questions, your governance will not be good,” Pope Francis continued. “The man or woman who governs — who loves his people — is a humble man or woman.”


Congrats to Our Brother Knights

Newly installed Assembly 158 Officers Michael Sullivan and Charles Gebig flanked by Sir Knight John Hauf and Sir Knight John Carlo.

Fourth Degree Sir Knight Michael Sullivan was installed as the Faithful Navigator and Sir Knight Charles Gebig as Inside Sentinel of the Knights of Columbus Father James J. O’Riordan Assembly 158, on September 12th at St. Francis Xavier Church Hall. The 4th degree is that part of the Knights of Columbus which fosters the spirit of patriotism in members and the community at large and encourages active Catholic citizenship.

Mike and Charley are also officers of the Knights of Columbus BPJXXIII Council No. 13624 where they proudly serve as Inside Guard and Warden respectively.


September 8, 2013 | The 23rd Times

By | Bulletin, Interviews, The 23rd Times | No Comments

Brad Brown: The New Kid on the Block

Maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe it’s a genetic correlation, maybe’s it’s the nature of the profession, but musicians seem to lead more adventurous lives than the rest of us. Brad Brown, our new Music Director, has his own little tale of adventure, some of which he was nice enough to share with us. A musician his entire life, Brad’s been around the world and has acquired experiences that we now derive the benefit from. It could have all been different had a part of his body been more motivated… what do we mean by that?


Damian: So you are now working here. And your position is Chief Rock Star, correct?
Brad Brown: Haha, no, I’m the new music director.

DH: That’s awesome. So what has been your background in music and what qualifies you for this job?
BB: That’s a great question. I’ve been a musician all my life since I was a little, little kid. I don’t even remember when I started playing the organ. I started on the organ, and played nothing but church music up until the age of about 15. Then when I was 16, I had some friends that introduced me to Parliament.. the Funkadelic.

DH: Really? I thought you were going to say… the Scorpions.
BB: Hahah! No, I’m older than that. I graduated high school in 1976 in Hinkley, Ohio. And so all through school I played all sorts of instruments. I started on the clarinet – which we referred to as the Black Stick of Death. Then made the switch to low brass. I played the tuba, euphonium…

DH: Are you one of these people that can kind of just pick up an instrument and feel it out?
BB: More or less, but I don’t really do much of that anymore. My main instruments now are piano and organ. I played the drums for a while too, and at some point I’ve done vocals.

DH: Are you going to be doing vocals for us?
BB: I think at some point I will be called upon for that…

DH: You are gifted and you will be called. So you’re from Ohio? And did you travel around in a band or something? You know our last Music Director was a traveling musician. That seems to be the trend.
BB: Why yes. I did a lot of that. I was on the road for about 20 years. After high school I bounced around a little, moved out to the west coast to Tacoma, WA. I actually joined the Army, and I ended up in the Army band… which is not what I joined for, but that’s what I ended up doing.

DH: So what were you looking to do, combat infantry?
BB: I actually wanted to be a Green Beret and be around aircraft. So they ran all the tests and the last test they do is on your eyes…

DH: So are you colorblind or “blind” blind?
BB: No, actually I have amblyopia – or what they call “lazy eye”.

DH: That eye just can’t get off the couch.
BB: I’m tellin’ ya. That eye just can’t get it together. Haha! It doesn’t like mornings.

DH: Hahaha! So you’ve traveled around a lot, but you’ve been a musician your whole life…
BB: My whole life, that’s been the one constant. After the Army I went to Michigan State University and I was in a band there. All my bandmates were college professors and we ended up in Japan, playing over there for about 10 years off and on.

DH: Do you speak Japanese?
BB: Hai so, doe sho, dak a rah.

DH: Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.
BB: Haha! I don’t speak too much anymore. But I really loved Japan.

DH: And then after that you came back to the states?
BB: Yep and within a week of being back I started doing the cruise ships. I played on cruise ships for a while… and that was a little more than 20 years ago. Ever since then I’ve been settled in Florida.

DH: Locally, right? Because you were formerly at St. Francis Xavier.
BB: Yes, and before that I was at Sacred Heart in Punta Gorda. In fact, I got involved in the Catholic Church through Father Jerry Kaywell. Do you know about him?

DH: Sounds familiar. Refresh my memory.
BB: Well, before he was a priest, he was a writer for hire out in LA. He’s done a lot of commercial work. Like, he did all the American Airlines commercials for a while. He’s a really gifted writer.

DH: Oh wow, that’s impressive. So then you were at my alma mater, St. Francis Xavier, and how long were you there? And what made you decide to come here (besides all the obvious reasons)?
BB: Well I was at St. Francis for about 5 years, and technically, Blessed Pope John XXIII is my Parish. I live less than 10 minutes away, and I’ve known Barbara Mendillo forever. We used to joke that we were passing each other on I-75. So when I heard that she was retiring, I “made my move”.

DH: Haha! Very strategic of you. So what do you bring to this Parish that may be new or fun, or different than what Barbara may have brought?
BB: Well, we’ll see how it goes. I may do a couple things differently just based on the ways in which I was trained. I’ve also been approached by a couple different Parishioners on starting a band, so as long as its liturgically correct, that could be a possibility.

DH: So I’m going to ask you like I asked Todd Peterson, what type of music do you listen to when you’ve got the old record player fired up?
BB: Haha! I don’t own any vinyl anymore… I’ve played on some, but I don’t listen to it any more. I’ve transitioned through all the media – records, 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, now MP3s… for a while I was doing a lot of work on MiniDisc.

DH: Yes, I remember those. But what type of music do you listen to?
BB: I like good music. I don’t really care what the genre is. So I listen to speedmetal, hard rock, funk, jazz, R&B… and I’m in a band right now, so we play mostly Top 40… like brand new Top 40.

DH: Interesting… What sort of new music are you into?
BB: Well there’s a song called “Treasure” by Bruno Mars, and a lot of the new stuff sounds like 70’s music to me.

DH: Yes, that sound does seem to be making a comeback. What new music do you find revolting?
BB: Hahaha! I don’t know if ‘revolting’ is the right word, but I don’t think that rap is technically music. Because if you look up music in the dictionary, you’ll find that music is comprised of 3 elements: harmony, melody and rhythm. Show me all three of those in a rap song and I’ll give it credit as music. Until then, you can call it… ‘street poetry’.

DH: Ha! Very generous of you. So what’s your favorite Gospel Hymn?
BB: See, that’s a really good question because to me, there are several different types of Gospel. My favorite would be like Fred Hammond, or I guess you could call the genre “Contemporary Black Gospel”. That’s the stuff that really moves me. There’s a gal named Kim Burrell who is absolutely amazing too. She’s always on the Gospel Music Awards. “Taste and See” – also another great song.

DH: Okay, well that’s great! I just want to thank you for speaking with me and we look forward to having you around for many years to come. Your talents are more than welcome here.
BB: I look forward to it too.

September 1, 2013 | The 23rd Times

By | Bulletin, Interviews, The 23rd Times | No Comments

How we water down the Gospel

The accusation that some other group or person is “watering down the gospel” is an easy one to make. It’s an accusation I’ve heard many, many times over the years – and have even been on the receiving end of it a time or two. Often, when someone else is saying something that sounds a little too loving, a little too inclusive, or a little too _______, we quickly dismiss them by saying they’re “watering down the gospel”. I’ve heard the phrase slung a million times in self serving situations.


But, then I got to thinking… do we (Christians in general) “water down” the gospel? Yes, I think we do. All of us. It’s human nature to find loopholes in something that seems difficult, and to conveniently discard something that we really don’t want applied to our personal experience. But, the truth is, we all water down the gospel. The problem comes, when we chronically see “the others” as the ones doing the watering down, instead of first looking at ourselves. I think Jesus told a story about that once… something about a beam vs. a splinter… yet, I digress.

I’ve recently been thinking about American Christianity as a whole, and the ways that our entire cultural expression of the message of Jesus gets watered down into a slow, manageable drip, instead of the knock-you-off-balance, raging fire hose that the gospel really is. In light of the time I’ve spent considering this question, here are 10 ways that I believe American Christianity waters down the Gospel of Jesus:

10. We water down the Gospel when we attempt to live it out in isolation, instead of in the context of community.

When we look at the story of Jesus, he very rarely did anything alone– except to go off and spend time with God, quietly in solitude. Everything else he did, was in the context of community. In fact, he dedicated his entire ministry to essentially being a small group leader– of just twelve friends. Everything else the movement accomplished, was because Jesus conducted his ministry in the context of small community.
In the life of the early Church, we see community as being key to their expression of the message of Jesus. The early Christians actually took the concept of community to a whole new level, essentially creating a type of Christian community that looked enough like socialism to make an American Evangelical cringe. Not only did they pray and share the Eucharist together, they actually shared all of their money, possessions, food… and rejected the concept of individual ownership (Acts 4:32).

When we live out the gospel in light of America’s concept of “rugged individualism” we miss the point that the gospel is designed to bring us into authentic community where we all depend on each other in healthy ways.

Trying to do this on my own? That’s watered down- the real gospel is lived out in community and healthy dependency with those committed to doing life together.

9. We water down the gospel when we make it about changing someone else, instead of first changing ourselves.

Ever met that person who looks at you during a sermon as if they’re thinking: “This part is something you should listen to”? It’s obnoxious.

When we see every passage, every lesson, every application as something that would be good for someone else, that’s a pretty good sign that we’re watering the gospel down to something that’s designed to challenge other people.

Yet, the gospel is beautifully balanced between individualism and collectivism, because it’s not just a challenge for them, or a challenge for the group, but is also designed to change me, and apply to myself, personally.
My preaching professor in seminary, Haddon Robinson, used to say: “Before a sermon speaks to the congregation, it must first speak to the pastor”, and I think this is a great way for everyone to look at the gospel– apply it to yourself, let it challenge yourself, and then- and only then- should you worry about applying it to someone else.

8. We water down the gospel when we make it sound like following Jesus is easy (Spoiler Alert.. it’s not!).
I think part of the reason why so many people walk away from following Jesus is because they’ve been tricked into thinking that this is actually something that’s easy.
It’s not.

Once, a man talked to Jesus about becoming a follower, and Jesus’ response to him was: “Sounds great- but just know, I’m homeless, and that might make you homeless too.” (Mt 8:20)
Following Jesus isn’t easy… this is hard stuff. It will require massive sacrifice (something I wrote about here), requires the adaptation of a radical worldview, and will usually lead you not to riches and fame, but to unending, unrecognized, unpopular, hard work.

And, if that’s not real enough for you, know this: if you decide to follow Jesus, you’re actually going to fail at it– every day, for the rest of your life. It is that hard.

When we water the Gospel of Jesus down, people mistakenly think this is an easy thing to do, an easy life choice… but, it’s not. Yes, following Jesus was the best decision I’ve ever made– but it was also the decision which has come at the highest price to me.

7. We water down the gospel when we exclude people.

When I look at the life of Jesus, one of the things that I find most attractive is that everyone wanted to hang out with him. It didn’t matter what social background they came from, what gender they were, what sins they struggled with… everyone just craved time with him.

One of my hopes for the afterlife is that God will sit us all down, give us a giant tub of popcorn, and let us watch a movie that’s 33 years long– because I just want to sit and watch the life of Jesus. The fact that people of all walks of life felt loved and accepted by him tells me that there is so much more to the story than what got recorded in scripture (a fact that John ends his gospel with in Jn 21:25). I want to see it… all of it. I just want to know more about the loving, inclusive personality of Jesus.

However, we often exclude others which is contrary to the life of Jesus… a behavior which waters down the Gospel to something that’s for us, and not them (at least not until they change and become more like us). Yet, I don’t find any of that in scripture… instead, I find a Jesus that invites everyone into relationship FIRST, and invites everyone to experience his love, FIRST.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were consistently offended with how inclusive Jesus was, because they believed a watered down version where God’s guest list was extremely exclusive and limited.

Any version of Jesus that doesn’t start with authentic, loving inclusiveness, is a watered down version.

6. We water down the gospel when we tell people it’s clear and simple.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing clear and simple about this… it’s actually quite complex.

Jesus used to teach in complex and obscure parables, something that frustrated even his inner circle. Often, they can be found frustrated that it’s not more simplified. In fact, in his final teaching the disciples let out a collective sigh, and said: “finally you’re talking plainly with us!”

I remember in 2008 when I left for Seminary at Gordon-Conwell, I thought that going to seminary would make the Bible more black-and-white. Yet, after two Master’s and part way into my doctorate, things become a lot more gray the deeper I go. And, that’s okay. I actually think Jesus wanted his message to be complex enough that we spent our lives wrestling with it.
It’s not clear and simple, but complex. The message of Jesus is something that you could spend a lifetime wrestling with, yet never fully wrap your head around it. It is really THAT radical (and I’ve learned to love it, exactly for this reason).

We water it down when we try to remove the complexity, and mystery (see Mark 4) of some aspects of it. Just let it be what it is– minus the extra water designed to remove tension that God actually wants us to experience.

5. We water down the Gospel when we eliminate the centrality of social justice.
The act of “doing justice”, as the prophet Micah references, is hard and sacrificial work. Yet, the cause of justice was extremely important to Jesus, and became a hallmark of the early church.
In Mathew 23:23 Jesus goes off on the conservative religious leaders, and tells them that while they seem to value keeping small rules, they are missing the “more important” part of the law, which is justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

However, the idea of “social justice” is offensive in much of Western Christianity, which tends to value wealth and individualism. Glen Beck famously told his listeners to run from any church that had the term “social justice” on their website.

Similarly, the concept of “mercy” offends ones senses, and doesn’t fit within a Western, guilt vs. innocents oriented culture. Giving a murderer mercy instead of death? It offends the senses. But, Jesus is crazy like that.

I love it.

I’m pretty sure that if Jesus came to America, he’d go off on us for the same thing– because when we focus on small rules, and resist or ignore the larger need for forms of justice in society (restorative justice, economic justice, etc.)… we have watered down the gospel and missed the most important part (Jesus’ phrase, not mine), just like the leaders in Matthew 23.

4. We water down the gospel when we explain away the whole nonviolent love of enemies part.

What if Jesus actually meant it when he said: “you have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye’ but I tell you to love your enemies”?

What if he meant it when he said: “put away your sword”, “don’t respond in-kind to an evildoer”, and “he who is without sin is free to cast the first stone”?

If there’s anything we know for sure about Jesus, it’s that he taught/practiced a radical, non-violent love of enemies, and that he invites us to do the same. Instead of picking up a weapon, Jesus actually says that in order to follow him, we will have to pick up a “cross”– a symbol of radical, nonviolent love of enemies if there ever was one.

Yet, we have a way of watering those teachings down so that they don’t apply to us, or our country. We start with small loopholes, which in time grow bigger and bigger. We’re able to water it down to the point that ever expanding military budgets are embraced and supported by Christians, the pro-gun movement becomes a championed movement of Christians, and that preemptive war is taught and encouraged by evangelical leaders (as it was after 9/11).

Once we start finding small loopholes in the command to nonviolently love our enemies, those loopholes get bigger and bigger… until we are able to safely drive tanks and fly drones through them, with little affect on our conscience.

At that point, we need to continue watering it down, because there’s a lot of blood we need to wash away.

3. We water down the gospel when we over emphasis sins rarely mentioned in scripture, while conveniently neglecting the ones that are talked about constantly.
In my lifetime, I think I’ve heard hundreds of sermons that focused on preaching against issues that oftentimes are rarely and obscurely mentioned in scripture. Sometimes, the issue isn’t even mentioned in scripture at all, yet it gets so much airplay you’d think there were a whole book on it. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t talk about those, but should they over shadow the sins that seem to be mentioned over and over and over again?

The top two sins spoken against in scripture are idolatry and greed- sins that don’t often make the playlist in many churches today. Honestly, I rarely hear sermons on either of those topics. Maybe idolatry, but definitely NOT greed.

hen’s the last time you heard a sermon condemning the wealthy who neglect the poor? That’s talked about all the time in the Bible, yet I don’t hear that message in many American churches. When’s the last time you heard a preacher condemn anti-immigrant attitudes? The Bible I read sure does talk a lot about the way we should love immigrants.

I just can’t figure out why we’d preach so often, and build entire ministries against, sins that might be referenced six or seven times– yet we never preach about the sins that are condemned hundreds of times.

I think we’re watering down the gospel so that other people’s sins appear to be worse than our own sins. Your sins? Well, you get a concentrated version. My sins? Watered down, please.

2. We water down the gospel when we exclusively use the concept of “penal substitution” to explain the Gospel.

Many of us grow up believing that the penal substitution metaphor for explaining the gospel is the gospel. It goes something like this:

You broke the law, which made God angry. Jesus paid your fine by taking God’s wrath in your place. Since Jesus paid your fine, you can be set free.

However, the penal substitution view of the atonement, is just a small glimpse of the cross– and in isolation, is a watered down version that reduces the cross to an individual transaction.
The “classic” view of the atonement is called “Christus Victor” and is a bigger way of understanding the cross. With the classic view, it is understood that Jesus was reconciling all of creation and freeing it from the works of the Devil. Within the classic view, yes– Jesus was reconciling me, but he was also reconciling everything else he made too.

This has big implications: in the watered down version of the gospel, it’s all about reconciling individual people. However, when we look at the classic view, we find out that God not only wants to reconcile people, but that he also wants to reconcile creation (environment), broken social systems, whole communities… and that means, my job as a “minister of reconciliation” is to get busy– not just reconciling people, but reconciling everything else too.

If you’ve only understood the gospel in light of the concept of “penal substitution”, let me just tell you that the Gospel is way, way bigger than you’ve ever realized.
And, so is your part in that.

When we reduce the magnitude and beauty of what Christ did on the cross to an individualistic, legal transaction– and little more– we’ve watered it down to the point where we can’t taste the depths of its magnificent flavor.

1. We water down the Gospel when we invite people to trust Jesus for the afterlife… but not this life. Flowing from number 2, when we exclusively use the Penal Substitution metaphor for explaining the cross, we end up focusing on getting people to trust in Jesus for their “eternal life” later, but fail to invite them into the eternal life that they can experience right now.
Maybe I’m just thinking big here, but I’d like to see people trust Jesus for the here-and-now. Maybe I’m just weak, but I need a Jesus who can help me in the here-and-now.
I want to see people trusting Jesus with their finances, their jobs, their families, their personal safety, and everything else.

And, Jesus is good for all those things too. A Jesus that can save me later, but not now?

That’s just a watered down version.

Benjamin L. Corey is a theologian, writer, and commentator. He writes a blog named Formerly Fundie, and has written for Sojourners and has served as a Religious Commentator for Huffington Post Live.


August 25, 2013 | The 23rd Times

By | Bulletin, Interviews, The 23rd Times | No Comments

It’s so easy to watch TV and shake our heads. It’s easy to silently judge the provocatively dressed teenager in the mall. And it’s just as easy – almost enjoyable – to feel the spiritual pride that accompanies that fact that it is not your problem. But, for Olivia Macke, it became her problem. She became a little too tired of seeing the overt objectification of young girls (and the broken-heartedness in its wake) and thought she’d do something about it. She joined Generation Life – a movement of young people committed to building a Culture of Life by educating their peers on pro-life and chastity messages, and developing new leaders for the pro-life movement. She embarks on a year-long mission this month, so before she left, we wanted to get her take on the issues, the task at hand, and the ideas that will help to save the future of our culture.


Damian: We’re here to talk about the mission on which you’re about to embark. Tell me about that. What is it called and what do you do?
Olivia Macke: In October I’m starting with a ministry called Generation Life. It’s basically a large group of young people committed to building a culture of life. The way we do that is by reaching out to our peers (and those younger than us) and delivering heartfelt presentations that explain why chastity is the best option for them. Our hope is that if we can appeal to students, we can eventually end abortion.

DH: So, it sounds like you’re going to be doing a lot of public speaking in front of… are these Catholic kids? Christian schools or public school?
OM: So the age range we’re going to be addressing is from middle school all the way through college. The organization itself isn’t specifically Catholic, and we don’t brand ourselves that way so that we don’t limit our reach. But the leaders have a Catholic spirituality.

DH: So what is your message? How are you going to counteract the flood of teenage hormones these young people are experiencing?
OM: We propose that chastity isn’t a set of rules, but instead is a sure way to find love. And as part of the human experience, we all share the desire to love and be loved. A lot of people these days are getting a counterfeit version of love – pleasure seeking – and what our concept of chastity suggests, is to put the demands of love above your own sexual gratification.

DH: I mean… that’s actually a really good pitch. So how are you going to get up in front of a bunch of teenagers and make this relevant to them? They have the media, social media, a lot of pressure from the ‘hook-up’ culture… They’re not all of like mind at that age. You have the predatory males, the competitiveness of females, and that’s just natural for a lot of kids at that age. How are you going to give them the defense mechanisms to stand up for what they believe in?
OM: We try to explain to them that we’re not much older than them and we’ve been in their shoes. A lot of us have made choices that we regret. So we share our experience to acknowledge that we’re not coming from a place of judgment, and that chastity is a freeing way of life.

DH: So you spent a year in Ameri-Corp teaching reading to inner city, at-risk kids in Miami. And now you’ve decided to join Generation Life. What motivated you to take another year of your life for service?
OM: While I was living in Miami, I got involved in a youth group where we would take one night a week and talk about a topic that is relevant to kids our age. One of those nights, the missionaries from Generation Life presented to us… and it just really had an impact on me. I remember in high school, as a freshman, hearing a chastity talk and having the same reaction, so I feel this responsibility to carry this message that I now fully understand the importance of. I want to help young kids protect themselves from being used and experiencing unnecessary heartbreak.

DH: So when you were in high school and you heard that chastity presentation, what was it about that message that had such an impact? Was there pressure on you to be un-chaste? Or was it just the innate truth of the message that struck a chord in you? Did you just feel that this was the path that Christ wanted you to walk?
OM: When I first started high school I was warned that seniors would sort of prey on the freshman girls, so I was aware that I might be sought after for just a “purpose”, and that some of these guys would have no real interest in getting to know me, nor would there be any “love” involved in the relationship.

DH: What do you think some of the biggest obstacles you’ll face in getting your message across to these kids? For example, media, films, television or exposure to social media… what are the influencing forces in their lives?
OM: I think television and music are big, but these days, in relationships no matter the age, sex is expected. And if you tell someone you’re a virgin, they think there is something seriously wrong with you. The “normalization” of sex pervades our culture. There are so many shows on TV I will flip through and hear sexual references on every channel. Even if you’re not looking for it, it’s just there. A lot of these people in the media who have perpetuated the normalization of sex look “happy”, and so the kids that look up to them think why wouldn’t I be happy too if I’m living this out?

DH: And how did that happen, because at one point in history – in our country at least – there was a puritanical attitude towards sex, and now we’ve swung so far in the opposite direction…
OM: The world hasn’t had a very healthy view of sex – at least our culture hasn’t. At first it was very negative. And now, after the sexual revolution, it’s everywhere. And so a lot of the inherent value of sex has been lost in the process.

DH: Explain to me what is the inherent value of sex? Let me rephrase. So a lot of kids get into relationships based on sex. You take the sex away, and there’s not much left. So really it’s a matter of lust, not love, but how are you going to explain to them that lust is bad? That it’s a base human desire rooted in sin?
OM: Lust is essentially selfishness at its finest, if you could even say lust had that capacity. It’s really just thinking about yourself. Love is the exact opposite. It’s very other-centric. So if you’re in a relationship, why would you want to be with someone that’s only thinking about themselves. If you’re looking for true love that way, you’re not going to find it. Some rationalize it by thinking it’s only for the time being, but we challenge them to ask why they’d waste their time, while training themselves to be accustomed to that way of living. If a young person becomes accustomed to that, then you’ll begin to think that that’s what love is… and that’s not what love is. And this is our way of showing them how to protect their heart.

DH: So you told me that you were currently fundraising to support this mission. What does it cost someone to engage in this mission for a full year?
OM: We’re really blessed that Generation Life pays for our housing and insurance – they do their own fundraising – but the rest of it is on us. That means food, gas, car insurance, travel, internet, just your basic living expenses.

DH: Well those definitely add up. So you’re not going to be in Florida…?
OM: No, I’m actually stationed in Westchester, PA. It’s about 30 minutes outside of Philly.

DH: So how often are you going to be giving these talks?
OM: We give at least one per day, sometimes as many as three. It sounds like a lot, but there’s a demand for these messages. Parents, especially, know that their kids are facing these issues and they’re susceptible.

DH: Well thanks for clearing that up. You’ve given us a lot to think about. Some people would call you crazy for trying to fight such an all-pervasive force in the idealogy that is our culture, but I have to say, I’m glad you’re doing it. And I think a lot of other people are too.

Olivia is the daughter of Catherine and Angelo Vaughn. Both are active Parishioners in our Church Community ministries. If you have any questions or are compelled to support her in any way, please email



August 11, 2013 | The 23rd Times

By | Bulletin, Interviews, The 23rd Times | No Comments

On November 1, 1950, Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be a dogma of faith: “We pronounce, declare and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma that the immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.” The Assumption signifies the Virgin Mary’s heavenly birthday – the day that Mary was received into Heaven. Her acceptance into the glory of Heaven is the symbol of the promise made by Jesus to all enduring Christians that they too will be received into paradise. Colorful processions through the streets, and firework displays mark the celebration of the Feast of the Assumption in Italy, as they do in Italian-American communities throughout the United States. But the Vietnamese do something a bit more extravagant – The Marian Days. The Marian Days, or Đại Hội Thánh Mẫu, is the main festival and pilgrimage for Vietnamese American Roman Catholics. The annual event in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary has taken place the first weekend in August since 1978 on the 28-acre campus of the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix in Carthage, Missouri. Tens of thousands of attendees come from throughout the United States, while non-Vietnamese locals and some visitors from Canada and Vietnam also attend. I sat down with Father Dang to discover more about this festival, and this is what he said.

Damian: We’re about to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, and you do something special each year as part of your priestly vocation – something called Marian Days. What is that?
Father Dang: It’s a conference held every year in dedication to Mary. It’s held in Carthage, Missouri and believe it or not, between 60 and 70,000 people show up, many of them are there to renew their faith and come back to the Church. They come from all over the world, literally. Vietnamese people come from Canada, Australia, the Philippines and of course, Vietnam.

DH: So this is something specific to Vietnamese people. Vietnamese clergy dedicate their ministry to the Virgin Mary, correct?
FD: Yes, the Vietnamese culture has a special dedication to the Blessed Virgin Mary, so our priests and brothers of the Congregation of the Mother Coredemptrix dedicate our lives to the promotion of the Blessed Virgin Mary. So Marian Days is just one of our missions in which we encourage people to be faithful to the Lord through the intercession of Mary.

DH: So beyond what we already know about Mary, what makes her unique among the Saints.
FD: Well, I mean, She’s just special. She received the greatest gift a human being could have – called to be the Mother of God. The Immaculate Conception preserved her from original sin, and Her assumption – Her being lifted up to Heaven – is unique to Mary.

DH: Okay, so what is your role in this conference?
FD: Well we have a lot of things going on at the conference, mainly spiritual. We have Masses, confession, workshops on particular topics like family life enrichment, faith, law and society here in the United States. We have workshops on Canon Law, Mary, and workshops for teens and youth. And we hold confession through which people come back to the faith. A lot of Vietnamese people live in parts of the country without Vietnamese priests, so this will give them the opportunity to speak with someone that can really help them out.

DH: So tell me about some of the special events that take place at Marian Days.
FD: It begins on the 8th with a Pontifical Mass in honor of the Blessed Sacrament, and we concelebrate with hundreds of priests. And then Friday, we dedicate the Mass to the Vietnamese Martyrs who died for the faith… so we could continue to practice our faith.

DH: Yes, tell me about them. I think few people know about the Vietnamese Martyrs. Who were they, and what was the situation under which they were martyred?
FD: Since the 18th century, the Spanish and French came to Vietnam as missionaries to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the Vietnamese people. Needless to say, they faced a lot of challenges from the king.

DH: Is Vietnam still a traditional communist state?
FD: Currently, yes, but back then, in the 18th & 19th centuries, the country was a monarchy, and they worshiped their ancestors. Buddhism came later, and now Buddhism is the primary faith of Vietnam.

DH: But Catholicism is still very popular there, correct?
FD: Well, it’s only about 7-8% right now.

DH: So what do you hope to gain for yourself in attending this conference, spiritually?
FD: There’s going to be a lot of work for us – hosting about 70,000 people, but for us, we take great comfort in seeing people come back to the Church. We know that they’re going to spread the light of Christ in their lives, and possibly inspire others to come back as well.


August 4, 2013 | The 23rd Times

By | Bulletin, Interviews, The 23rd Times | No Comments

When Barbara Mendillo was 5 years old, the nuns of St. Francis would strike a key on a piano, and with her back turned, would pick that note out of thin air and reproduce it with an innate sense few possess: perfect pitch. As a youngster, she was something of an anomaly. The nuns taught her free of charge, because… wouldn’t you? Others who’ve possessed this trait include Mozart, Beethoven, Nat King Cole and Stevie Wonder. And so teaching Barb, as a young girl, must have been a privilege for the sisters of the Holy Conservatory, and likewise it has been a privilege for the Parishioners at Blessed Pope John XXIII to have had the benefit of her talents for the past 11 years. And soon she will be retired.



July 28, 2013 | The 23rd Times

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

Coming Soon – Even more Adult Faith Education Opportunities!

Beginning on September 3rd, Blessed Pope John XXIII will offer the next course as part of the Faith Alive – Adult Education Ministry.

Jeff Cavins’ “A Quick Journey through the Bible”

“A Quick Journey through the Bible” is a Parish-based study that provides an excellent introduction and overview of the Bible – from a Catholic perspective – in a series of 8 half-hour talks on DVD from the author Jeff Cavins. Perhaps for the first time in your life, you’ll understand the overview of the Bible story making your Bible reading and… even Sunday Mass readings come alive like never before!  Each session will be complimented by group discussion and led by parishioners, Sue Ammon and Mark Bir. Check out their bios when you download the bulletin.


July 21, 2013 | The 23rd Times

By | Bulletin, Interviews, The 23rd Times | No Comments

It seems like every couple years we, at Blessed Pope John XXIII, change the look and function of our website. That’s because we do! Technology changes, the nature of the internet changes, and we change with it. It’s estimated that between 25-50% of all search is done on mobile phones! And to think, in the year 2000, only about 1 in 3 people had a cell phone! Times have changed, and with it, technology continues to do so.

Our new website is fully responsive to the device on which you view it. So that means, when you get our e-newsletter, you can immediately enjoy our NEW Father Bob podcasts (“Bob-casts”? What do you think?), or our video interviews directly on your phone or tablet. We will continue to store an archive of this year’s bulletins, so if you need one from past years, just email us and we’ll get it to you. And now, one click sharing is also a piece of cake for our stories, blog posts, and e-newletters, so spreadiing the Word has never been easier on your chosen social media sites.

We’re committed to delivering media in the most current and convenient ways possible, so check out the new face of today!


June 30, 2013 | The 23rd Times

By | Interviews, The 23rd Times, Uncategorized | No Comments

For the 100 times in any given week that I am completely overwhelmed, and learning new ways to carry crosses and provide for my family – not only in a material way, but in an emotional and spiritual way – there are 100 ways that I am completely overcome with how kind the Lord has been. Who better to interview about the magic of fatherhood than a man, who at age 34, is in charge of the health and well-being of 5 children? I sat down to with Josh McGrail – business owner, Parishioner of Blessed Pope John XXIII, leader of the Lectors, purveyor of fine cheeses and husband to the most tolerant woman I know – and asked him how he does what he does, and remain a calm, collected guy with a full head of hair. This is what he shared.

Download this week's bulletin here.

June 16, 2013 | The 23rd Times

By | Interviews, The 23rd Times | No Comments

For the 100 times in any given week that I am completely overwhelmed, and learning new ways to carry crosses and provide for my family – not only in a material way, but in an emotional and spiritual way – there are 100 ways that I am completely overcome with how kind the Lord has been. Who better to interview about the magic of fatherhood than a man, who at age 34, is in charge of the health and well-being of 5 children? I sat down to with Josh McGrail – business owner, Parishioner of Blessed Pope John XXIII, leader of the Lectors, purveyor of fine cheeses and husband to the most tolerant woman I know – and asked him how he does what he does, and remain a calm, collected guy with a full head of hair. This is what he shared.

Download this week's bulletin here.