February 9, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Marriage: A New Look at the Vocation

A Peek Into the Future

Good golly (Miss Molly), what will the future hold for the Church? With the installation of our new, beloved Pope, we can already see the trajectory of the Church changing (for the better). The pipeline of leadership must always be full. Since 1965, priestly vocations are down about 30% according to a Georgetown University study, and there are over 3,500 Parishes in the US without a resident Pastor! Across the world over the same period of time, the exact number of priests has dropped by 7,492 – but the population has more than doubled. However, after decades of glum trends — fewer priests, fewer parishes — the Catholic Church in the United States has a new statistic to cheer: More men are now enrolled in graduate level seminaries, the main pipeline to the priesthood, than in nearly two decades.

This year’s tally of 3,694 graduate theology students represents a 16 percent increase since 1995 and a 10 percent jump since 2005, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA).

Seminary directors cite more encouragement from bishops and parishes, the draw of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and the social-justice-minded Pope Francis, and a growing sense that the church is past the corrosive impact of the various scandals that exploded in 2002.
In this diocese, we have two seminarians attending St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. We like to introduce them to you and show that there are real people coming up through the ranks. One day they could be spreading the Good Word in our Parish, and if they inspire you to walk the path in their footsteps, don’t hesitate make the call (941-484-9543 is the number, by the way, for vocations).




Crawford Bennett

Crawford is 25 years old and was born in Dunedin, Florida. He considers St. Martha’s in Sarasota his home parish. God has always been a part of his life. Crawford has been a Catholic all his life and realized he had a strong calling to the Priesthood while in middle school. He enjoys altar serving because he loves the Liturgy of the Mass. He enjoys reading, language study, and creation. Crawford graduated from St. John Vianney College Seminary in May 2012. He is continuing his seminarian studies by attending St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary and is in his second year of Theology. For him, the most rewarding aspect of becoming a Priest will be helping the People of God and being a “Father” to all.



Lawton Lang

Lawton was born and raised in Sarasota, FL. He was active in the Boy Scouts and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. He first felt the call to the priesthood when he was around 12 years old. Lawton enjoys bike riding, fishing, and was an executive chef before entering the seminary. Lawton graduated from St. John Vianney College Seminary in May 2011. He is continuing his seminarian studies by attending St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary and is currently on a Pastoral Year at St. Leo Parish. Lawton received the Ministry of Lector in September 2011. He also received the Ministry of Acolyte this past October. Lawton feels his greatest challenge in becoming a priest will be to proclaim the Word of God to the parishioners. He senses that the most rewarding aspect of being a priest will be the saving of souls through the Eucharist.

February 2, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Journey of the Suttons

I think, as kids, we have ideas about the plotline our lives are supposed to follow. We go to school for a while. We find jobs or start companies. We fall in love if we’re lucky. We have families. Our families grow up and repeat these steps with mild variation. We may suspect our spiritual lives will take a similar path – smooth and upward. We’ll get a greater understanding of God as we age. Our deepest, most intimate questions about the nature of life and humanity will be answered. We’ll eventually see God as our greatest teacher, ally and friend… but alas, this is not how things work. In fact, for most everyone I know, spirituality is a constant process of course correction, learning, and still more questioning, whose end is nowhere in sight.

People reach spiritual maturity at widely varying ages. I, personally, see a lot of men in their early to mid-60’s, who retire, actually start paying attention to their inner life, commit to service, make new friends, and absolutely come alive in their faith. I know several young couples who were just kind of “doing their thing” before they were married. They get married and only upon having a child of their own, realize there’s another dimension to life, and they invite God into their lives with voracious energy, and start doing “His” thing instead. Life is beautiful in that way, and we always like to hear the stories of the people that come through RCIA – because there always is a story. Most people don’t just wake up one day and decide they want to be Catholic, so I sat down with Barbara & Bill Sutton (mother and son), and tried to figure out where they’re coming from on their journey and what they hope to gain through the process…


Damian: So, Bill, what motivated you to become Catholic at this point in your life?
Bill: You know, my kids were both raised Catholic, and my wife is Catholic, so when we moved to this area of town, it was right around the time the Parish was being established and that first Pastor we had… I can’t remember his name, but he was really a genuine individual.

DH: You mean Father Sullivan?
Bill: Yes, and really, every one we’ve had since him has just been great – and Father Bob is a perfect fit at Blessed Pope (John XXIII).

DH: You’re on a roll! Haha, tell me some other things you like about the Parish.
Bill: The environment in general is very warm and welcoming, the people are very social, and the amount of charity work being done is impressive.

DH: I would agree. Our people are very generous. At charity events throughout the country, our Parishioners are disproportionately represented.
Bill: And it keeps expanding! Just look at the ministry that’s been built up around the Villas. Kathy and I started volunteering over there as soon as it opened. Our Church hasn’t even been open that long.

DH: So Barbara, what’s drawn you to our Parish?
Barbara: Well, I was brought up in the Anglican Church, but my father was Roman Catholic. I was raised in Trinidad in the Caribbean and followed my mother’s religion for the longest time.

DH: Which was… Anglicanism?
Barbara: Yes, but then I got married and moved to America… this is sort of where my adherence to religion fell apart. My husband’s family were members of the Church of Christ – in fact his father was a pastor in the church.

DH: That sounds problematic… the way you’re describing it.
Barbara: He didn’t even recognize other religions. So there was some tension there. For a short while I had to attend that church, but luckily my husband was shipped overseas. At the time Bill was only 9 months old, and my husband was in the Air Force.
Bill: Yes, his thing was communications and electronics. He supported radar sites throughout the world, so he lived in a lot of different places.

DH: So how did you guys get to Fort Myers?
Barbara: My husband moved us here in 1968 and there wasn’t much here, but I started working for Publix, and actually, so did Bill.
Bill: Yeah, Publix was a great company to work for. They’re one of the largest privately owned businesses in the nation.

DH: I bet you could talk all day about the world of grocery retailing. So tell me more about your RCIA journey.
Bill: We had some neighbors that would have dinner with Father Bob pretty regularly, and then we started having him over, and I got to talking to him about the process of becoming Catholic… so it was really just “time”.

DH: What about you, Barbara, how did this all start for you ?
Barbara: You know, I always resented the fact that I was unable to follow my father’s religion growing up. After I retired I moved to Tennessee to be close to my daughter, but then my home burned down – along with 48 other people’s homes – and my son, Bill, said “Oh just move back to Florida already!” So I’ve been down here a while and after getting to know Father Bob, I thought to myself, you know, this is the faith I’ve had all along. This is the faith I had as a child. I needed to become a Catholic.

DH: And so if it’s the faith you had as a child, why wouldn’t you already be a Catholic?
Barbara: Back in those days, children always followed the faith of their mothers – which as I’d mentioned, was the Church of England.

DH: And tell me the difference between Anglicanism and Catholicism?
Barbara: Anglicans were the first faith to break away from the Catholic Church. I think it all comes down to the confessional. Anglicans believe you should just go directly to God.

DH: So have you been to confession yet?
Barbara: Well, I haven’t because I’m in the middle of my schooling.

DH: Could you sneak in? Like, can’t you have one of your friends let you in the back door?
Barbara: Ah-haha! No! That is one thing I’m really looking forward to though.
Bill: In all honesty though, we were all raised with faith. I got my first Bible when I was 5 years old and used to read it daily. Now, as an adult, I go to CatholicPrayer.com and go through their daily readings. So I’m getting myself in the mindset of being “ready” for this process. And praying in the morning really sets the tempo for the day.

DH: Right! Instead of asking forgiveness at the end of the day for all the havoc you’ve caused! Haha. Tell me something you’ve learned about the faith during your journey that you were sort of surprised by.
Bill: I think unless you are educated correctly on the topic, you don’t really know the significance of the presence of the Body & Blood of Christ. Also, I’ve learned through scripture that, what Jesus really did, was invest time in people. And that’s something we can carry into our daily lives. We can very easily help people get through difficulties just by investing time in them.

DH: So what do you think about this new Pope we have?
Barbara: I just love him. I feel like my time has come to join the Church, and he’s such a big part of that.
Bill: He’s a real man of compassion. I think he’s teaching people to return to their humanity.


January 26, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Season is Here – Just LOOK at that Calendar!

Wow! What an unbelievable amount of activity taking place all around us – just in this Parish alone, there’s an event almost every weekend! Feeling overwhelmed? Feeling trapped under the weight of it all? If not, that’s great… just don’t try to drive down Daniels Parkway at 5:00 pm. When we try to grasp the full scope of activity taking place around us, we can start the wheel of ‘stinking thinking’ that turns in our head. “I’m expected to go to THIS conference, or THAT fundraiser.” “Oh no! I have to see THIS person, who’s always at THAT event, and we’re going to end up talking about SO & SO and that stresses me out…” There are 100 forms of fear and stress that can take us out of our spiritual selves, and dump us right back into the ways of the world. But I would argue that there’s an alternate way to look at this wave of activity. Why don’t we try to look at these events, and workshops, and conferences, and speakers, as our community’s voracious commitment to your spirituality. These are opportunities to connect with people, to grow in our faith, and to LOVE more fully. I would argue that Christ wants to teach us how to live the best life we’re able to – and in these seminars, these retreats, these picnics – are lessons on how to be more fully Christian. So don’t stress – stay off Daniels during rush hour – and entertain the thought that you may not have all the answers. That there’s still room to grow. And that every gathering of people is a chance to see the face of God in our fellows. -DH


Short List of Events

  • Scout Sunday is next Sunday, the 2nd, at the 9:15 Mass
  • the Diocesan Apologetics Conference on Tuesday, February 4th
  • the Catholic Medical Association’s speaker on Wednesday, February 5th
  • the Women’s Conference on Saturday, February 8th
  • the Valentine’s Day Tea Party on Friday, Febraury 14th
  • the Anniversary Mass at Epiphany Cathedral on February 15th
  • the Parish Picnic & Talent Show on Sunday, the 16th at 12:30 pm
  • Patrick Coffin of Catholic Answers speaks on Wednesday, February 18th
  • the Marriage Retreat on Saturday, February 22nd
  • the K of C’s River Boat Cruise on Sunday, the 23rd
  • the Men’s Conference on March 1st
  • Paul Todd on Sunday, March 16th
  • the Leaven Conference on Saturday March 29th

Registration Sunday is Here!

For those of you who are new to our Parish this year, and to those who’ve been coming for years without being registered, we need your help in staying organized and planning for our future needs. Having an accurate database of our Parishioners will help us know where and how we need to grow. Here is a short list of the main benefits to registering:

1. Not sure if dual registration is okay with your northern Parish?
It’s more common than you’d think. You can be registered at two Parishes. Registering here helps us plan for the future, plan for events and plan for our variable costs that fluctuate with membership levels. You are part of our Parish Family as a Winter Parishioner.

2. Want to be a Godparent or Confirmation Sponsor recognized by The Church?
In order to be eligible to become a Godparent recognized by the Church, you need to be registered at our Parish – that is – regular attendance and participation in the life of the community.

3. Need your Year-End Contribution Statement for tax purposes?
We can only send you tax statements if we know who you are, so please register.

4. Need a Letter of Registration?
Often people come to us as they are trying to get their child into Catholic school, or they are moving to another state and trying to prove participation in their former Parish – we can only help you if we know who you are.

And finally, register because it’s easy. Here’s how!

1. Go to our Parish website and click on “Join” in the main, parent menu. You can go directly to this link – http://johnxxiii.net/join/
2. There will be 4-6 parts to the form, please fill out as much information as possible.


1. Fill out a registration card. They can be found at the welcome center in the Narthex, or at the back door entrance.
2. Either drop it in the offertory basket, bring it to the office during business hours (Mon-Fri, 8:00-Noon & 1:00-4:00 pm), or mail it in to Blessed Pope John XXIII 13060 Palomino Lane,Fort Myers, FL 33912

And that’s it! Thank you for taking the time to do this. Help us plan for those needs so that we can become the community that God wants us to be. Blessings!

January 19, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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One Happy Camper

What does God want from us?

At a very basic level, He wants us to obey Him. He is the source of objective truth, and in proclaiming His word, necessarily wants us to save souls through evangelization. Sure, there are a lot of ways to do this. You can knock on doors. You can grab a megaphone and stand on a park bench at a festival. But more than likely, we’re disposed to trust those closest to us – friends, (rational) family members, and especially the clergy. But out of that group, which of these are we most likely to share our lives with on the deepest level? I would argue that our friends bear the brunt (delight?) of this responsibility – our really, really good friends (you know, the friends that wouldn’t go to the cops).


And yet the number of these types of friends drops off precipitously as we age. We’re not talking about your Facebook friends either. My favorite barometer of friendship is the airport test, that is – pick your most random Facebook “friend” and message them, asking if they’d drop you off/pick you up at the airport between the hours of 10:00 pm and 6:00 am. See how long it takes them to get back to you.

Life gets busy. People move, take new jobs and start families. Schedules are squeezed into margins of error so small that after long periods of time, we exhaustively look back and think “what happened today/this month/this year?” Time for friendship gets marginalized, and not just for adults. Children’s schedules are packed just as tight.

As children’s recreation is now done primarily indoors (thanks, Family Watchdog), and as communication grows ever more impersonal (thanks, Snapchat), I think the fear for a lot of parents has become their children’s inability to engage in friendships starting at a young age – friendships that would one day reach deeper levels of intimacy. When this type of passive isolation becomes a social norm, we have to re-double our efforts to counteract it. God wants connection. Satan prefers loneliness.

One of our Parishioners, Lindsey Gregory, found the antidote 10 years ago – summer camp. She doesn’t prescribe any such camp except Good Counsel Summer Camp in Floral City, FL. “It’s about 45 minutes south of Ocala in the middle of the state,” Lindsey shares. Oh, yes, the middle of nowhere.

According to their website, as a Catholic camp, Good Counsel provides “the unique opportunity to gather for the celebration of the Mass… Bible vigils, Benediction and other prayer experiences, in a natural outdoor setting, where one feels a special closeness to God as Creator.”

The Camp was founded in 1948 by Monsignor George W. Cummings, and over the past six decades has served tens of thousands of kids, many that are 2nd and 3rd generation campers. That says a lot. So in order to find out more, I sat down with Lindsey and grilled her on what it really meant to be a Good Counsel Camper, and how it’s changed her life.

Damian Hanley: Hi there! So tell me, at this “Good Counsel” Camp, do you get good counsel?
Lindsey Gregory: Haha! Yes, definitely.

DH: Alright, so tell me about how it’s run and the whole crux of its mission.
LG: They have 1 & 2-week sessions. There’s about 12 cabins and there are NO parents. It’s just the kids and the counselors. It’s great!

DH: So it was started by a priest. Is it a distinctively Catholic camp? I mean, do you pretty much just pray and meditate most of the day?
LG: Hah! No, we go to Mass first thing in the morning every day, and then during the day we do our activities. We have meals throughout the day and then at the end of the day we have what they call “Chapel Talk”. And Chapel Talk is when one of the counselors gives a speech about something that’s important to them.

DH: Oh neat! So tell me about a Chapel Talk that really touched you, or you thought was extraordinarily profound.
LG: Well most of the counselors just use one of the virtues and speak on that, but when I did mine, I talked about my trip to Panama. I spoke about the importance of helping others.

DH: Why is that important? Can’t they help themselves?
LG: Yes, (haha), but I mean, the idea is that you don’t have to go to another country to help other people. It could be someone in the bunk next to you in your cabin. It’s important just to reach out.

DH: So, you mentioned activities. What types of activities do you do, and which one is your fave?
LG: We do a ton of different things, but by far my favorite is archery.

DH: So you wander the woods and shoot deer?
LG: No! We just set up giant bales of hay and put targets on them. We have a ton of bows. The kids really love it.

DH: Alright, what else do you do?
LG: Well, there’s a swimming pool, so we’ll go swimming. Sometimes we go in the lake, but a lot of times the water’s too gross. We have boats, and canoes, so the kids learn how to do that.

DH: Okay, so if you were trying to convince a parent to send their kid to Good Counsel, what would you tell them? And why is it important for kids to get away and be social like this?
LG: I think for a lot of kids, it’s a new experience to be outside for a couple weeks with no air conditioning or cell phones. It’s a break from the electronic world.

DH: Yeah, you don’t see that a lot any more with kids – you know, them, outside. You mentioned “no air conditioning”. It’s a summer camp… I mean, what’s the body odor like on any given day?
LG: Haha! We shower at night – we don’t really have a choice. It’s the rule.

DH: I bet it is. Tell me about the nature of your friendships at the Camp.
LG: Well, I work there now, and I currently work with a girl I’ve been coming here with since I started (10 years ago). We work in the kitchen together. One of my best friends, who now goes to UF, we met my first year as an employee here, and we’ve been best friends ever since. Even with your counselors – you make such good friends here because the entire time is spent just hanging out and having fun.

DH: Well that sounds magical. We’ll try to promote this camp for you so you can keep your job. Thanks for sitting down with me and good luck in school this year!
LG: Hah! That would be great. Thank you.

Contact them at (352) 726-1910 or visit them

January 12, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Trafficking in Hope

Fast, I got to find out the secrets of controlling women. I really want to control the whole (woman). I want to be the boss of her life, even her thoughts. I got to con them that Lincoln never freed the slaves. –Iceberg Slim, 1952

Iceberg Slim (real name Robert Beck) was a real-life “hustler” in the 1940’s and 50’s. His career ended with a mere 10 months in prison, after which he became a writer at age 42 – after two decades of exploiting women in the sex trade. Let’s call a spade a spade. What we used to call a “pimp”, that’s a trafficker. And ironically, what we now call a “trafficker”, we used to call a slave owner. Has there ever been a more hated historical archetype than the Old South Slave Driver? Despite the outcomes of the Civil War and the many victories over oppression that appear throughout history, there are more slaves in our world today than at any other point in time, but in order for us to care – or take any action – we have to believe this fact. And to do so, we need to change our definition of slavery. I sat down with Alex Olivares, Catholic Charities’ Director for the Human Trafficking program and asked him a series of uncomfortable questions. His program is the “Catholic” response to the second biggest black market on our planet. It’s a market that degrades people in the worst ways, ruins lives, and yet, has a demand which seems to only grow over time. As much as I love small talk, this is not that. This information could help save someone from a fate that… I don’t know, because I can’t possibly imagine such a fate.


Damian Hanley: So how does someone diagnose a victim of trafficking? Most are afraid to come forward, right?
Alex Olivares: Yes, it’s sort of a broad answer, but generally they’re girls that are still of school age. You look for certain neck tattoos or “branding” as they call it – money symbols, “daddy” or another guy’s name on their back. Then if they’re talking about age-inappropriate sex talk. Like if they’re speaking about sex in a way that’s not typical of someone their age, or they talk about an “older boyfriend”. Then of course there are signs of domestic violence, signs of abuse, fear and control.

DH: How might you tell someone’s being controlled? That seems like a vague concept.
AO: It is, but we had a girl come into our Bonita office and apply for food stamps. She kept mentioning the word ‘forced’ and she didn’t have a cell phone. These days, everyone has a cell phone, so that’s a red flag. If they come in and someone else is speaking for them, another big flag. We have to delicately get information out of them and piece together a lot of little red flags to determine if trafficking is taking place. Then they call us.

DH: Okay, so once you have a case, you start kicking in doors? How do you address the victim?
AO: Haha! That’s what the cops do, our job is a little different. We immediately get them out of the situation they’re in. We get them screened for illnesses or STDs or any other problem they might have. We get them emergency housing immediately, whether it’s in a shelter or a hotel, or some kind of transitional housing. Then once they’re “certified” as a victim of human trafficking, the government provides money so we can take care of their needs.

DH: I imagine they’re pretty messed up, mentally and emotionally, once they get to you.
AO: Yes. We get them mental health counseling. We get them job training. If they’re foreign national, and they agree to help with law enforcement, they can apply for a temporary visa, which may allow them to bring family members over… and we do ALL of that stuff. Sometimes we partner with other agencies, but end-to-end, we take care of all of their needs.

DH: So are you dealing with mostly women? Or do you see men in sex trafficking too?
AO: Actually, in labor trafficking, it’s mostly men, but we do see them in sex slavery as well.

DH: And what is the difference between slavery and trafficking?
AO: They used to differentiate based on the movement of the victims, but those definitions have fallen by the wayside. These days human trafficking is slavery.

DH: So tell me what some of these girls are going through when you find them.
AO: Picture this: When someone is a victim of sexual assault or rape, it is psychologically traumatic for them. Typically there are symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression… Now try to imagine someone who’s been raped 40 times per day, for six months straight. The effect can be pretty severe. In some cases you have disassociation. I’m not talking about total schizophrenia, but loss of memory, fugue states, a lot of depression, and a lot of anxiety. Some have pretty severe PTSD symptoms, but it’s generally a lot of depression and anxiety.

DH: Do they ever fully recover?
AO: A lot of our clients do really well, but out of the 74 victims I’ve worked with over the past few years, I’ve had only one instance of Stockholm Syndrome (feelings of trust or affection felt in certain cases of kidnapping, or hostage-taking by a victim toward a captor), and that is increasingly being reported from other agencies around the state.

DH: Dare I ask, where does Florida rank among the states for trafficking?
AO: We’re not #1, but we’re either #2 or #3 depending on which reporting statistics you use.

DH: How would law enforcement describe the scope of the problem, statistically?
AO: Believe it or not, there have been no state prosecutions for human trafficking in Florida, although there have been several at the federal level. It’s an extremely hard crime to prosecute because often the victims aren’t good witnesses. They’ve been kept in train cars, or closets, or locked in basements, and so they don’t see much of their surroundings. But often they’ll be charged with prostitution, transportation with intent to prostitution, child pornography…

DH: And so the girls have charges to deal with too?
AO: NO! The authorities have done away with the whole “teen prostitute” concept. They are all victims, not criminals.

DH: In all cases? I mean, volitionally, a 16-year old girl does have the choice to prostitute herself, right?
AO (getting uncomfortable): I mean, anyone under the age of 18 does not have the choice to consent to public sex. And even if they say there’s no one forcing them – there’s no pimp, or “boyfriend” – very, very, very rarely is there not someone else behind it. They’re never out there on their own volition.

DH: I’m used to asking inappropriate questions, so I apologize.
AO: Ask anything you want.

DH: So is anything being done on a national level to curb this?
AO: It’s almost impossible because of the demand. People have been soliciting sex for thousands of years. The best way to prevent this is just to educate young people on how to avoid potentially dangerous situations like that. Do you remember that movie Taken? There are scenarios like that. They’re rare, but that kind of stuff is happening.

DH: The crux is, however, that this could potentially happen to anyone, right?
AO: My youngest client was 9. My oldest was 67. We’ve had clients from Russia, Slovakia, the DR, Nicaragua and of course, here in the US.

DH: And why does South Florida see a higher volume of these types of crimes?
AO: A few reasons. One, there are a lot of rural areas, which are good to hide people you don’t want being found. Two, there are a lot of runaways because of the weather. I mean, there are runaways in Massachusetts too, but here, they can do it all year round. We have a lot of tourism too, which makes it ideal for certain types of labor trafficking.
DH: As far as being a Catholic organization, is there any spiritual component to your process?
AO: We always recommend that type of thing, but we don’t make it a requirement. We’ll transport them to services and ensure, as part of their ‘community reintegration’ practice, that they can become a part of their congregation. In a lot of cases, it is the most important part of their support system.

DH: We’ll that’s about all I can handle of this topic (laughter), so in closing, what can someone do if they suspect trafficking is taking place?
AO: Two things. If you have an imminent suspicion of trafficking, always call 911 and tell the person you have suspicion someone is being trafficked for reasons A, B or C, and they’ll send someone immediately. If you have some idea, and are unsure, you can call Catholic Charities hotline at 239-738-8722, and we can come out and verify, get in touch with law enforcement, and we take it from there.


January 5, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Seeking Happiness This New Year?

Seek Jesus Christ: The Son of God Who Became Man For The Love of Humanity

If we notice anything in today’s world, it is that people are thirsting for the supreme goodness and love of the divine Other who is the source of life itself. In countless ways, people are seeking happiness, and striving to find peace, security, and fulfillment.

However, they are often pitifully unaware of how to attain the desire of their heart. This is especially evident during the season of Christmas when, influenced heavily by the frenetic quest of a consumerism gone awry, people are loading up on material gifts in an effort to experience a taste of the happiness they so crave. At the foundation of gift giving, the office parties and the celebrations, the bows and ribbons and toasts and rushing from place to place, is a deep, unquenchable thirst for happiness.

That we are driven by the search for goodness and the quest for happiness is true. But then, when the party is over and presents are unwrapped, the tree, with all its lights and glistening decorations, comes down:

“When you got what you wanted, were you happy?” asked Archbishop Fulton Sheen. “Do you remember when you were a child, how ardently you looked forward to Christmas? How happy you thought you would be, with your fill of cakes, your hands glutted with toys, and your eyes dancing with the lights on the tree! Christmas came, and after you had eaten your fill, blown out the last Christmas candle, and played till your toys no longer amused, you climbed into your bed and said, in your own little heart of hearts, that somehow or other it did not quite come up to your expectations. And have you not lived that experience over a thousand times since?”

It’s easy to get trapped in that experience, living it over a thousand times, like some kind of cruel nightmare in which fulfillment is an impossible dream and disappointment seems the only reality. And one cannot seem to wake up.

But one can wake up. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to awake from sleep. The choice is yours. In fact, there is a Person who came precisely to fulfill you, to offer you new life and a new way of living. Jesus Christ saves, redeems, fulfills and restores and completes–these are not abstract musings but definite realities revealed by God himself. In Christ you can become a son or daughter of the Father, who lovingly grants you the gift of sharing in his divine life and glory, and who offers you the opportunity of living a blessed life forever–all of which is made possible by the Son of God who became man.

So basic and fundamental is every person’s thirst for God, the Catechism of the Catholic Church opens with the following truth of the faith:

“God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek Him, to know Him, to love Him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of His family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son as Redeemer and Savior. In His Son and through Him, He invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, His adopted children and thus heirs of His blessed life” (CCC, 1).

Do you want to be happy? As St. Teresa of Avila wrote, “Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.”

God wants to give Himself to you. Think about what that means. Can you imagine the love you would feel? What does it feel like for God, who is Infinite Love, the almighty and all-powerful Creator who made the universe and all it contains by speaking it into existence, to fill you with His love? That it is not the same as human love is certain. Yes, it is a great deal beyond creaturely love.

The question is, how do you come to possess God? That is what the Catholic Church is all about, my dear friends. She is the instrument of salvation in the world who leads her children to become sons and daughters of the Father in the Son. Live the Catholic life. Fully, actively and consciously participate in the divine liturgy this new year. Live the gospel life. All of it, with its denial of self, its hate for sin, its determined holiness and thirst for the truth, its joy even in the face of life’s difficulties.

Heaven on earth is a real possibility. It’s not a fairytale fantasy, but a reality made possible by the Son of God who became man in order that you might come to share in God’s supernatural, divine life. Open your heart to Jesus Christ, the Divine and Human Healer of humankind. Give yourself to the Child who comes in humility to make you like himself, like God, that you might participate in his own everlasting life.

Does this mean you will never suffer? No. Recall how Christ suffered. The way to life everlasting is the cross. There is no other way. But even in the face of suffering there is joy because Christ gives you the gift of His Spirit who overcomes and conquers your fear and suffering.

When God gifts you with His love, when He possesses you and you possess Him, nothing can take that from you. Nothing but, of course, your own free choice.

Who will you choose in 2014?

December 29, 2013 | The 23rd Times

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The Gifts we Give the World

Very few people ever get to experience adoption, either on the giving or receiving end, and even fewer can anticipate the emotional landscape in which they are about to traverse. Rather than feeling the familiar states of happiness, elation, joy or confusion, the Marr’s have gone through stages of utter disbelief, and describe the emotions like waves crashing ashore – consistent, yet never quite the same each time. “Is this my life?” Some couples fear that they might not have the same innate ability to fully love a child that shares none of their DNA. But at this point, almost 2 years after meeting James and Katherine, all doubt has departed.


Two months after the actual date of the adoption, Dave reassures (jokingly), “We’re going to keep them.” As the holidays pass, Katie and James celebrated their second Christmas with Dave and Celena by decking the halls and searching for an alleged Elf on a Shelf. “It’s this crazy game where an elf – ours is named Jack – shows up in different places throughout the house each day during the weeks leading up to Christmas,” Dave tries to explain. He laughs, “they call me on the way to school every morning to tell me where the Elf showed up. I’ve been working mornings, so mom drives them to school.”

Dave, at 53, admits he doesn’t have the same amount of energy he did at 28, but is focusing on taking better care of himself for obvious reasons. “This was most definitely God’s plan – down to every last detail, but I can do the math. When they’re in their 20’s, I’ll be in my 70’s. When they’re having kids and doing their thing in their 40’s, I’ll be in my 90s’!”

It may have been God’s plan, but if so, “they didn’t see it coming,” says Kathy Miller, director of Lifeline Family Center. (Lifeline is a home dedicated to saving the unborn, and providing young women in unplanned pregnancies with a comprehensive educational program in a safe secure Christian home – among many other things.) “Dave and Celena came in here and just did everything. They volunteered after they heard me speak at a Mass… and just had a lot of love to give,” Kathy shares. “Dave deserves some kind of medal of honor – he was in charge of teaching the girls how to drive! But honestly, they did everything else, too. They tutored the girls in math. They were House Parents. They served in just about every capacity, and did so without any expectation of adopting.”

It’s true. The suggestion came right from their biological mother, and despite the choices she’s made in the past, and the associated dissonance it must have created, she had the presence of mind to admit that she was unable to parent. As we heard last week, the answer to adopt came surprisingly easy to the Marr’s – which is to say – God touched them in a way that was atypical. To leave oneself that emotionally vulnerable is not natural. “In fact, the biggest fear that adoptive parents have during the process – and really, any time after, is that the biological mother is going to change her mind,” Kathy shares. “ It’s a legitimate concern, because it happens all the time.” As a result, Lifeline will only administer open adoptions.

An “open adoption” is where the biological and adoptive families have access to varying degrees of each other’s personal information and have an option of contact. In Open Adoption, the adoptive parents hold all the rights as the legal parents, yet the individuals of the biological and adoptive families may exercise the option to open the contact in varying forms: from just sending mail and/or photos, to face-to-face visits between birth and adoptive families.

Contact still exists between Katie and James’ biological mother. It’s not frequent, but the door is still open. I think being a person of God means doing the noble thing despite what may be going on in our minds. Our minds – in combination with the world around us – have a tendency to play tricks on us. The mind can take a thought and twist it until no matter what we’re considering, justification is easy.

As someone who experienced a traditional childhood, I can only hypothetically identify with this situation. Growing up, my parents were my parents and they were the answer to all things. As they say, “the buck stopped… there.” I knew there would be food on the table, and I knew there would be a good school for me to attend. I knew I had a ride home from soccer practice, and I knew that no matter what, my problems could be solved (or minimized) and I would learn the lessons of life in the process. But what if that hadn’t been the case? What if I hadn’t had that assurance? What type of environment would that have created? This is the thought experiment you’d have to engage in if you were to imagine the alternative trajectory Katie and James’ lives were to take, had Dave and Celena not answered The Call.

In the early 90’s a sociologist named Annette Lareau studied the parenting styles of 88 different families with children. What she found had little to do with race or ethnicity, but much to do with two distinct styles of parenting – the Natural Growth model, and Concerted Cultivation. Typically the domain of working class families, the Natural Growth model is characterized by children playing outside mostly with their siblings or other neighborhood children, authoritarian parents, and a distinct separation between the world of the adults and the lives of the children. Typically both (or “the only”) parents are working, so measurably less time is spent focused on the development of the children – and education is seen as the function of schools. This is almost always the domain of single mothers.

In the Concerted Cultivation camp of parenting, learning is a function of life, as children are taught to take lessons away from every experience. According to Lareau,

Children from concerted cultivation households spend much time in after school classes or programs such as taking piano lessons or being on a football team. Parents in these families are very involved in their children’s free time, shuttling them from activity to activity. Concerted cultivation parents also emphasize negotiation, encouraging their children to question authority figures, including themselves. As a result, children from concerted cultivation homes are accustomed early to structured environments, tend to be less intimidated by authority and acquire a sense of “entitlement”, believing they are “worthy of adult interest” and can “customize” their environment.

Neither approach is considered “morally better” than another, but children from the Concerted Cultivation camp do experience significant advantages in the workplace as adults. In fact, the Natural Growth model lends itself to fewer behavioral problems and more creativity – obviously a benefit – but this study was done back in the early 90’s, before higher education was considered an absolute imperative for a shot at a normal life.

Project this trend for another 20 years as James and Katherine begin their careers. Which path do you think they would have preferred? How different would their lives have been if they’d had a mother – one who self-admittedly was unable to give them what they needed – an ambiguous relationship with a father, and a lifetime of opportunity costs in education and experiences?

I think that’s what this story teaches us – that our actions matter. When we proactively seek the most urgent and appropriate places to give love, we end up setting the world on a different path. We create ripple effects in the cosmos, of which we’ll likely never see the end result. If James and Katherine each have two children, and those two children have two children, it would only be a couple hundred years before the actions of Dave and Celena would materially affect thousands of people. It’s not to say that a nightmare would have ensued had any other path been taken, but ignoring the inner call within us – to readily and freely give our love to others – we pay a price that will one day cost the Kingdom dearly. Every time we answer the call – every time we take the opportunity to give and receive love – we’re giving a gift to the world, and the amount and frequency with which we give those gifts, is a measure of how close we want to get to God.

December 22, 2013 | The 23rd Times

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What we’re doing today is putting the seal on a 15-month process. The paperwork is all set. The judge just has to put the same on it and make it legal, and we’re just about to do that in a few minutes.

Dave Marr sits in the waiting room of his attorney’s office on October 23rd, almost exactly two months ago, as the two children him and his wife hope to adopt, climb all over him like little monkeys. James, 3, and Katherine Marie, 1, aren’t easy to contain, and in fact, the struggle their lives have induced over the past year has been nothing short of Biblical in scope. What an onlooker may have seen was a collision between two opposing worlds – one of brokenness and vice, of fleeting relationships and cracked commitments – with a world of love and longing, a world of stability and virtue. We’re about to see which side triumphs as we make our way over to Judge Carlin’s 20th Judicial Circuit Court in downtown Fort Myers.




“We weren’t out to adopt children. We were just doing our volunteer work at Lifeline, and a girl there decided she wasn’t set to do this,” Dave motions holding a child on each knee. “She asked us if we’d consider adoption, and surprisingly, the answer came easily to Celena and I.” There have been a number of metal-testing obstacles in their way on the path to adoption, but all of that is about to be history within the hour.

The Bible is chocked full of stories of couples who’d been previously unable to concieve being blessed by the gift of children – one in particular which directly helped save civilization – Mary. What scripture teaches us in general, is that salvation comes not in the packaging of this world, but in taking the focus off of ourselves and placing it on others (AKA “serving”). Many couples describe this as the most unpredictable benefit of marriage. When God created Adam, He quickly realized that it was not good for him to be alone. After the heavens and the Earth were created, and all the creatures of the sea – then Man – God immediately put Man in a relationship (and we never read about Adam’s commitment issues… because He didn’t create those).

So God wants us in relationships, just as the Marr’s longed for an expansion of their family, so does God want us to serve and nurture the relationships we maintain now.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine wanted to take Thanksgiving Day and spend it working in a soup kitchen or a shelter. He called around to a few places and strangely enough, found he was beaten to the punch. They told him specifically NOT to come because they were already overwhelmed with volunteers. How is that possible? Could it be that our culture has gotten to a place where people are actively trying to counteract the self-centeredness which has backfired on so many? Why is it the “market” for charity is so flooded during the holidays but during the rest of year, we’re all perfectly happy to stay as comfortable as possible. Why is being spiritual so hard? And why does it grate against our most basic human nature toward selfishness? And why does it make so much sense when we finally take our blinders off!!!

But people make the effort because the journey is worth it – and they intuitively know this. “After reviewing the situation, my professional advice was to run”, says David Sims, the Marr’s attorney. “The lawyer in me wanted to advise them to go another direction. There were so many fathers, alleged fathers, fathers with parental rights… And having the biological mother tell us she was going to mitigate this whole issus – she never did – it seemed like such an impossible case.” David smiles this morning, knowing that we’re just minutes away from signed papers. “The Christian in me, seeing their… their… absolute belief that it was God’s will that these children become their children, that said to me ‘okay, God is good. God is great. And we need His help to make this happen.”

But it was one step at a time. “At every turn – every obstacle – we thought to ourselves, ‘This is NOT going to work.’ And God, like bowling pins, He would knock them down and we’d go the next one,” David remembers. Much like the Holy Family, things just have to happen the way they’re going to happen. If they had had the money they “needed”, there would have been no manger. They would have found a hotel they could afford. If there hadn’t been a census in Bethlehem, Jesus would have been born somewhere else. If Joseph had not been visited in a dream, he may have abandoned Mary. How often does God speak to us when we’re not ready to listen?

Stay tuned next week for the continuation of the Marry’s story, and watch for the short film of their experience on Christmas Day.

December 15, 2013 | The 23rd Times

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by Edward Pentin of NCR

Pope Francis has called an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”, the Vatican has announced.


The synod, which will take place at the Vatican 5-19 October, 2014, is a means through which the Holy Father “wishes to continue the reflection and journey of the whole Church, with the participation of leaders of the Episcopate from every corner of the world,” said Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi.

“It is important that the Church move forward together as a community, in reflection and prayer, and decide on common pastoral orientations dealing with the most important aspects of our life together – particularly on the family – under the guidance of the Pope and the bishops,” he continued. “The convening of this Extraordinary Synod is a clear indication of this direction.”

He added: “In this context, for individual persons or local offices or institutions to propose particular pastoral solutions runs the risk of generating confusion. As we address various pastoral issues, it is important that we move forward in full communion with the ecclesial community.”

The upcoming synod will be the first under the authority of the new General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri. The archbishop, who was previously number two at the Congregation of Bishops, is being tasked with reforming the body by reviewing the rules governing its work and making them more effective. Reform of the Synod of Bishops was also a topic for discussion during the “G8” Council of Cardinals which met at the Vatican last week.

According to the Vatican, the Holy Father said at last week’s meeting that prominent themes such as family and matrimonial pastoral duties “will be the order of the day in the activity of the Church in the near future.” This is likely to include an examination of the Church’s pastoral approach to divorced and remarried Catholics in the Church — a subject often raised by Francis and Benedict XVI in the recent past.
Today’s announcement came after a two-day meeting of the synod council which ended today. Pope Francis surprised participants by taking part in some of the meeting.
Paul VI set up the Synod of Bishops in 1965 as the Second Vatican Council was drawing to a close. He felt there was a need for such a forum “to make ever greater use of the bishops’ assistance in providing for the good of the universal Church” and to enjoy “the consolation of their presence, the help of their wisdom and experience, the support of their counsel, and the voice of their authority.”

Next year’s synod will be an “extraordinary general assembly” as opposed to an “ordinary general assembly”, and only the third of its kind to be held since 1965.
Synods of this nature are held when there is greater urgency for their convocation, or because preparation time is shorter. The number of participants is also smaller.

Christmas Schedule

Tuesday, December 17
6:00 PM Advent Reconciliation Service

Wednesday, December 18
8:30 AM – 9:30 AM Reconciliation

Tuesday, December 24- no 8AM Mass
Christmas Eve
4:00 PM Mass (Children’s Pageant)
6:30 PM and 9:00 PM Mass
11:00 PM Vietnamese Mass

Wednesday, December 25
Christmas Day
7:15 AM, 9:15 AM and 11:15 AM

Tuesday, December 31
8AM Mass
6:00 PM Vigil

Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Feast of Mary Mother of God
8:00 Mass
10 AM Mass
8:00 PM Vietnamese Mass

Bless Your Advent Wreath

This celebration is for a simple Advent wreath blessing. Gather around the Advent wreath before the evening meal on Saturday and make the sign of the cross.

Parent: The Lord of Light has come to save us.
All: Let us live in God’s light.

Parent: Let us pray. God, our Father in heaven, by your word all things are made holy. Send forth your blessing upon this Advent wreath, and grant that we who use it prepare our hearts and minds well for the coming of your Son Jesus. May we receive from you many blessings and graces for our family. We ask these things in the name of the same Christ, your Son, our Lord and Brother.
All: Amen

Say the prayer of the week. Then light the candle.

Parent: Hear our prayers, Lord, and enlighten the darkness of our minds by your coming on earth. You live and reign forever and ever.
All: Amen

Three candles are lighted by the mother or another child and left burning during the meal.

December 8, 2013 | The 23rd Times

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Advent & the Deeper Truths

by Father George Rutler

Recently I read something I had written about Advent in an essay rather a while ago, and in it I pointed out that this holy season every year is a healthy kind of crisis.

The Chinese character for “crisis” consists of two strokes: one stands for “danger” and the other “opportunity.”  Advent is an opportunity to think deeply about Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.  If The Four Last Things are dangerous subjects, they also are an opportunity to be rescued from living life superficially. The tradition of preaching on these mysteries is especially important when silly worldliness distorts the world.


He also said a couple of years earlier: “There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of celebrating Christmas before it comes.”

Our Lord spoke of people who “loved the dark rather than the light” (John 3:19), and we see that today in those who would ban any mention of Christmas. The tendency to set up Christmas decorations before Christmas is at least a clumsy way of expressing a desire for light rather than dark, but it is futile without a moral awareness of what light and dark are.

Advent is awkward because its mysteries are not the sort of things entertainers dressed as elves sing about. While the Church calls attention to reality, avuncular clergymen often succumb to fantasy themselves, with Christmas parties in Advent and wreaths without reason. Of course, this is illogical, because it contradicts the way the Logos arranged the world. The Logos, or the Word, is Jesus himself, who uttered all things into being by saying, “Fiat” — “Let there be.” And the first thing he let there be was light: “Light from Light” as the Creed chants it. But the only way to recognize the illogic of Christmas without Advent is to “walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).

The choice of darkness rather than light is a preference for the Prince of Darkness rather than Christ the Light. The best way to walk in the Light is to get rid of the darkness in the soul, and so Advent is a prime time for confessing sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Then the penitent is re-united with the Light of the World. Christ sheds light on Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell, giving moral cogency to the mystery of life itself. “He is before all things, and by him all things are held together” (Colossians 1:17). As the highest truths are very simple, the simplest logic is this: Without the Christ of Christmas, all things fall apart.




November 24, 2013 | The 23rd Times

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117 Reasons to celebrate our our faith

Right at 340 custom pieces of marble (1,360 individual cuts) and one giant imported copper statue, the Vietnamese Martyr Memorial is finally complete. We’d like to give you a little background on the memorial and the history of the martyrs, so we asked our resident expert – Father Bernie Dang – to explain the significance of the memorial, and what role Catholicism has taken on in Vietnam today.  As background, the Vietnamese Martyrs also known as the Martyrs of Tonkin, Martyrs of Annam or the Martyrs of Indochina, were collectively canonized by Pope John Paul II. Their feast day is today,  November 24th, although several of these saints have other feast days.




It is not known precisely how many Catholics died for their faith between 1516 when the first Portuguese missionaries arrived in what is now Vietnam, and the twentieth century, but it’s estimated that about 130,000 to 300,000 Vietnamese were killed. However, Pope John Paul II decided to canonize those whose names are both known and unknown, giving them a single feast day.

Damian: So, Father, how did this happen? What was the real reason behind all this senseless killing?
Father Bernie Dang: Most of the 117 were slain under rule of the Mandarins, who saw the Christian Gospel as undermining their authority.
The tortures these individuals underwent were among the worst in the history of Christian martyrdom. The means included cutting off limbs joint by joint, ripping living bodies with red hot tongs, and use of drugs to enslave the minds of the victims. Christians at the time were branded on the face with the words “ta dao”(false religion) and families and villages which subscribed to Christianity were obliterated.

The first Catholic missionaries visited Vietnam from Portugal at the beginning of the 16th century. The earliest missions did not bring very impressive results. Only after the arrival of Jesuits in the first decades of the 17th century did Christianity begin to establish its positions within the local population.

DH: What is the general ethos among Vietnamese with regard to the persecution of the Christians in Vietnam? Is there generational resentment? Forgiveness?
FBD: The Catholics in Vietnam were very upset with the emperors at the time with the persecution, particularly the way they tortured a human being. They have no human rights whatsoever. All they can do is just flee or find a place to hide. Now, especially after the beatification and canonization of these martyrs, they’ve begun to learn to appreciate all the things that happened. God is so great. And we, the Vietnamese Catholics, are so blessed to be sons and daughters of our ancestors who courageously died with Christ and for Christ. According to the study, by 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population.

Jesuit missionary Alexandre De Rhodes, in the 17-th century perfected a written system of the Vietnamese language largely using the Roman alphabet with added diacritic markings, based on the work of earlier Portuguese missionaries. This sytem continues to be used today, and is called Quốc Ngữ (literally “national language”).

Later centuries (mainly, 19-th) had long periods of turbulence for the Catholic Church in Vietnam, including persecution of clergy and ordinary believers by Vietnamese authorities. Such events were described in The Catholic Encyclopedia as the “Great Massacres”, demonstrated the fierce determination of the Annamite rulers to destroy every vestige of the Christian faith. In Eastern Cochin China the martyrs included 15 priests (7 native), 60 catechists, 270 nuns, 24,000 Christians (out of 41, 234); all the charitable institutions and ecclesiastical buildings of the mission—including the episcopal curia, churches, presbyteries, 2 seminaries, a printing establishment, 17 orphanages, 10 convents, and 225 chapels — were destroyed. In Southern Cochin China 10 native priests and 8585 Christians were massacred in the Quang Tri Province alone—the two remaining provinces supplied hundreds of martyrs; two-thirds of the churches, presbyteries, etc. of the mission were pillaged and burned. In the Mission of Southern Tong-king, 163 churches were burned; 4799 Catholics were executed, while 1181 died of hunger and misery. These figures apply only to the year 1885. In 1883-1884 eight French missionaries, one native priest, 63 catechists and 400 Christians were massacred in Western Tong-king, while 10,000 Catholics only saved themselves by flight. The carnage extended even to the remote forests of Laos, where seven missionaries, several native priests, and thousands of Catholics were killed.

DH: Tell me about some of the struggles you’ve witnessed today in Vietnam, related to the practice of Christianity.
FBD: The Vietnamese Catholics, even nowadays still struggle with the Communist government in living out their faith. Yes, persecutions are still happening. Catholic activities are being watched. Seminarians and religious are limited. Religious orders are being shut-down. All are controlled by the government.

All Vietnamese Catholics who had died for their faith from 1533 to the present day were canonized in 1988 by Pope John Paul II as Vietnamese Martyrs. Those who were known, were named and there are 117 of them who died under persecutions of Christians that, in fact, lasted from 1625 to 1886 and cost about 130,000 lives. The group consists of martyrs in the three Vietnamese kingdoms of Tonkin, Annam and Cochin China. Among the 117 were 96 Vietnamese and 21 foreign missionaries. Of the Vietnamese group were 37 priests and 59 lay people, among whom were catechists and tertiaries. One of them was a woman, mother of six. Of the missionaries there were 11 Spaniards; 6 bishops and 5 priests, all Dominicans, and 10 were French; 2 bishops and 8 priests from Société des Missions Etrangères in Paris. 76 were beheaded, 21 suffocated, 6 burnt alive, 5 mutilated and 9 died in prison as a result of torture. A detailed description of their sufferings is found in a letter written by Paul Le Bao Tinh to the seminary of Ke Vinh in 1843. Further beatifications are expected.

DH: When you see what your country’s faithful have gone through in the name of Christ, what bothers you about the things we take for granted in this country – where all our rights and liberties come so easily?
FBD: Damian, you’re right. My wish is that after the Dedication of the Memorial in honor of these 117 martyrs, many people will begin to learn more about them and appreciate such a great freedom that we have in this country in living out our faith. Yes, we are so blessed.

Your are all invited to the dedication ceremony at 5:00 pm THIS Sunday. Food, fellowship and fun to follow!

November 17, 2013 | The 23rd Times

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Linda Sayres | Faith’s GROWing Pains

God builds our faith by testing it. No one gets excited about this when we come to realize its truth. In Matthew 9:29, the Bible states, “According to your faith it will done unto you.” Jesus says this to the blind men (the Bible’s garden variety sinner) immediately before He touches their eyes and cures them. They have faith, and so are healed. Jesus, in typical Jesus-fashion, instructs them to keep this little miracle a secret, and in typical cured-sinner fashion, they immediately disobey. How could they not? How could anyone hide that type of light under a bushel and go about their life as if nothing happened? They couldn’t. Neither can we – which is why we’re about to tell a truncated version of the story of Linda Sayres. Linda keeps growing in her faith because she keeps trusting in God. She’s plowed a rough road, but every time she moves through an obstacle, she becomes the lighthouse for others. Then they grow. Then we become a stronger Church.


“I grew up in the projects in Newark, NJ in the 50’s. That city doesn’t have an ideal suburban… “atmosphere” I guess you could say. I come from a family of seven kids, six girls and a brother, and I was number three in the lineup,” Linda shares.

As a child, she went to Church on Sundays, did four years in Catholic school, and had a fairly solid faith foundation entering adulthood. In her early 30’s, Sayres hit a rough patch. A divorce left her with 3 children to raise on her own, and as anyone in that position would, she did some questioning. “There were times when, because of the kids, I had a hard time holding down a job. There were always issues with daycares, issues with babysitters… I would just say to God, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ I just couldn’t handle it.” But rather than collapse in on herself, she did the one thing we’re all supposed to do (and only do it about half the time). She fell back on her faith.

“I just started to connect more with my Parish, St. Francis of Assisi (in New Jersey). They actually took the actions that were real to me. They helped with my kids when I needed it most, and just like that, I decided to pay it forward. The more involved I got, the more I grew in my faith. There’s a quote that relates to this phenomenon, like, ‘When you serve others, you do more for yourself.’ That is something I really believe.”

We rely on God more completely when we are weak. This is the same lesson Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” taught him (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Paul wrote, “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong”. Yes, this paradox seems to make little sense, but adversity shows us where we are spiritually.

When we are living in faith, the most catastrophic event will not disturb us. When we’re living in fear, we can have no peace. Linda’s life was not without difficulty, but her connection with the Franciscans that ran her Parish in New Jersey changed the way she looked at her faith journey. The Franciscan order has generally been characterized by rigid poverty and the collective ownership of few material possessions. But they also dedicate themselves to work with, and service to the poor. Luckily, Linda lives in faith.

“Twenty-three years ago I was diagnosed diabetic, and as a result of that I developed kidney disease – renal failure – which has gotten progressively worse over the past 4 years. Over the past year, I’ve had to start dialysis.” For the past three years, Linda’s been on a kidney transplant list, but as part of the stipulation of the transplant, she had to have a heart catheterization to ensure her heart was strong enough to withstand the trauma of the surgery. Additionally, the anti-rejection drugs can make a person very weak, and a strong heart is necessary to bear the burden.

None of these procedures are a walk in the park. During a heart catheterization, a long, thin, flexible tube called a catheter is put into a blood vessel in the arm, groin (upper thigh), or neck and threaded to the heart. Through the catheter, doctors can diagnose certain conditions. In Linda’s case, they used a special dye that flows through the bloodstream to the heart. An x-ray is taken in what is called coronary angiography. The dye can show whether a waxy substance called plaque has built up inside the arteries. Plaque can narrow or block arteries, and restrict blood flow to the heart. In fact, Linda did have a major blockage, which was found a year ago during a catheterization. As a precautionary measure to the potential transplant, she underwent a quadruple bypass surgery to remove the blockages.

Linda had always been an avid biker, walker and swimmer, so in preparation for her surgery, she stepped up her exercise regimen and took her game off road. Unfortunately there are things like roots of mahogany trees off road, and Linda’s ankle found one it couldn’t quite avoid. “I tripped over this tree root and blew out all the ligaments in my ankle – the day before the surgery! Surgery postponed. The week before the second date, I developed bronchitis. Again, surgery postponed,” Linda recalls with obvious disbelief. “Finally on May 17th, they did the surgery. I had a wonderful surgeon, and a wonderful cardiologist – Dr. Fedec (a BPJXXIII Parishioner).”

“Even as a kid I was accident prone. I’ve had my share of broken bones. When I was in my early 20’s I was in the hospital for 33 days with gallbladder complications. I had to have the old fashioned surgery where they slice you from the middle of your stomach to half way around your back. I was thrown from a horse when I first moved to Florida, and had severe back issues… fractured ribs, herniated discs that ended in a spinal fusion. There’ve been shoulder surgeries along the way. It’s just been constant.”

This sounds like the story of someone who’s bedridden, in a body cast, and… all out of energy for other people. But Linda is far from that. She grew up in a home that taught her nothing is owed to her. We all have responsibilities in life, and those don’t end at having your bills paid. Over the years, she lived that philosophy, and that philosophy became an axiom that she now lives by. Maybe there needs to be clarification on the aforementioned truth about suffering and pain. It’s not enough just for bad things to happen, we have to respond in positive ways in order to grow as people – in faith. And we grow when we take our experiences, good and bad, and become better people in spite of them.

On her evangelization philosophy: “I try to bring people from outside to our events at Blessed Pope (John XXIII). I try to carry messages from the Mass. I try to open my home to people in need, and I just try to listen to people and stay open to what people are going through.” And she doesn’t stop at talking a good game. Linda actually has one of the longest ministry rap sheets at this Parish. It’s hard to find a ministry she’s not involved in – probably just Men’s Gospel Forum and the Knights.

“When I arrived, I joined the Women’s Guild and jumped into preparing for one of their annual fashion shows. Once I came down here permanently, I started helping out with Social Justice, Angel Tree, Soles for Souls, the food pantry at the Villas… I’ve come to love those people over there as much as they love me. I help out with the High School Youth Group on Sunday nights. I usher at the Saturday Masses. And I just really have enjoyed getting to know the Parish Priests on a personal level. That’s something we never had growing up.”

Linda was afraid of losing her ability to become fully immersed in Church when she moved to Florida, but she’s found her place at this Parish and is a constant inspiration to people in the way that she continues to serve during her medical misfortunes. It’s a way of getting out of herself, and focusing on others – which is where I suspect God wants us anyway.

“I am grateful that with the obstacles He has tested me with, I am still able to enjoy a full life with friends, family and my Church… and my faith! It’s my faith that gets me through. It’s my faith that helps me remain positive and hopeful. We ALL have difficulties at some point in our lives. I think it’s just a matter of choosing to make something positive out of our adversities that makes the difference in the quality of our lives.”

November 10, 2013 | The 23rd Times

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SERVE, In all ways great & small

It’s a common belief that the most religious people among us “care” the most about everyone and everything in their lives. We assume they scrutinize the nooks, crannies and darkest corners of daily life, marking our infractions on the chalkboard of their minds. Some of us can reference our memories of Sister Mary Holywater from grade school, on our backs about the gum-chewing, the hall-running, the shirt-tucking, and the mindless litany of other details that were sure to land us in purgatory for 25 to life (eternity). But in my time as a Church Employee, surrounded by the truly religious and holy, I find that the most deeply religious people care the least about the majority of life’s minutia, but instead focus all their attention on the few things that matter most. Without fail, the happy and holy people carve out a chunk of their lives, and dedicate it to service – selfless, carefree, anti-ROI-style service. When I use the prefix “religious”, I’m not referring to clergy only, but some of them do a better job at it than the rest of us, which is why I picked Father Bernie Dang’s brain about his recent trip to Vietnam. What he explains through story, is that when we don’t use our gifts/talents to serve, the people who would have benefited from our service get cheated, and we cheat ourselves out of living a full and meaningful life – the one God intends for us to live.


To each is given the manifestation of the spirit for the common good. – 1 Corinthians 12:7. What we do with these “manifestations of the spirit” is called service. For most of the month of October, Father Bernie took to the mountains of Vietnam and, autorefractor in hand, revisited a community he’s been in contact with for over 13 years.
“I think in times past, we didn’t have the level of comfort that we do now (in the United States). We have everything here – everything we’ll ever need,” Father Bernie says. “I think when we do this type of thing (mission trips), we’re showing God how grateful we are, and we are sharing the love that God has given us…. When you bring a smile to a child’s face, it’s something you can’t explain.”

It had been six years since Father Bernie had last been to the village in Vietnam, so many of the children were now teenagers or young adults. Thanks in part to past missions, these young people had something their parents never did – education. “In the past, we’d just bring money to build schools. Education is so important because there’s nothing else in place for the children (in the remote mountain village). It’s up to us. If we don’t build a school, they don’t learn,” Father Bernie admits. When asked what happens when a child grows up without an education, Father enigmatically responds, “They just sort of… get to enjoy nature.” Hmm, enjoy nature? I guess that’s one way to re-frame homelessness. But service is so much more than preventing homelessness, or feeding people’s bellies. There is something hidden in the experience that God – in his unfathomable wisdom – reveals only in the experience, in the action.

Traveling to and within Vietnam carries with it a host of complications. Because the country remains communist, travelers are expected to “register” with the authorities and report the purpose of their travel, along with the destination(s) they’ll visit. “Once you register, they can pretty much follow you anywhere, and then they just make things difficult for you. Everyone wants a bribe. Corruption is a huge problem in Vietnam.”

Vietnam ranks 112 of 182 countries in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, well behind countries like Thailand and China. According to the organization, in 2013, 53% of urban Vietnamese disagreed that ordinary citizens can make a difference against corruption, compared to only 33% in 2010. Seventy-nine per cent of people said they would not report corruption because “it wouldn’t make a difference” or because “they are afraid of the consequences.” Vietnamese citizens are the least willing out of all countries surveyed in Southeast Asia to report a case of corruption and the least likely to refuse to pay a bribe.

Father Bernie goes on to explain that the process of entering and moving through customs is not as rigid a process as it is in the US, and so people can slip through without registering. “I was so focused on getting the auto-refractor (eyesight measurement tool) through customs – I forgot about some of my other luggage and personal belongings. They were questioning me so much I began to stutter, but finally I got through.” And get through he did… without his luggage. So before he even left the airport, he was missing almost everything he’d brought!
His group travels small, and light. They deal with the local leaders in the places they visit. They don’t “do” bribery, so the resources they bring get to their intended destination. Father Bernie and the people that accompany him don’t embark on these missions out of a sense of obligation, but because they know that when they serve the poor, they’re going to fulfill something deeply human about themselves. They’re going to counteract the aspect of our flawed, lower nature that is the origin of so much sin – self-centeredness.

Over the course of Father Dang’s 3 weeks, his group did just about 500 eye exams, half of which resulted in prescription eyeglasses (produced by our friends at Jamaica Outreach). They committed to feed 60 children and 20 families for 5 years. They built 3 houses, fixed 10 roofs, 10 floors and helped another 40 children pay for school and health care – and will continue to do so over the next half decade. His mission also brought meals and medicine to a community of 50 lepers (yes, they still have those in some countries). Needless to say, when you commit to serve, you can touch a lot of lives in a short period of time. A normal reaction to these numbers might be ‘This is too much. I can barely take care of myself. Do I even owe the poor anything?’

God teaches us that we do in fact owe the poor, although not in the way we might think. In God’s economy, serving those in need is serving Him, and failing to serve those in need is failing to serve Him (Matthew 25:31-46). We don’t need to look for poverty in other parts of the world, as there are a thousand variations of poverty all around us… and more than likely within us. Pope Francis speaks about the epidemic of spiritual poverty, and Mother Teresa claims a number of famous quotes on the topic. But Bishop Fulton Sheen probably says it best:
“It is a well attested fact that those people who are most impoverished in their souls try to cover this inner destitution by extreme luxury on the outside. The more naked the soul, that is, the more devoid of virtue, the greater the need of the body to give the appearance of possession through fantastic dress, display and ostentation. The more the soul is clothed with virtue, the less the need for outer compensation.”

So when we look for opportunities to serve, look in unconventional ways. Yes, Father Bernie’s mission is a great example of the lengths people go to make the world a better place, but there are countless small ways we can touch people’s lives right next to us. There are even more ways we can make small incremental changes to our own. So during those moments when we get ready to prescribe instant gratification for what ails us, remember that every tiny act of self-indulgence pushes us further away from God, but every tiny act of service draws us nearer.

November 3, 2013 | The 23rd Times

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GIVE a Little, Get the Kingdom

The term – “The Pursuit of Happiness” – is such a part of our lexicon that we never think twice about its meaning or implication in our lives. It’s even written into our Declaration of Independence. As citizens, we are guaranteed the opportunity to pursue happiness. When we read about this seemingly God-given right in history books and literature, it incites a sense of entitlement and a belief that if we are to lead full, righteous, American lives, we are to aggressively pursue our desires that we believe will lead to our lasting happiness. Many attempt to string together an endless series of pleasurable activities in pursuit of this goal. Others set professional goals for themselves and work diligently to achieve them, often finding the ladder leaning on the wrong wall. But then one day, something happens. We learn the error of our ways. We learn that happiness is the side effect of a life well lived. Okay, that sounds corny. But when it’s learned experientially – like Nicole Pagan recently did through giving her time to causes that matter – the lesson sticks. God didn’t make the lesson easy, but He made it worthwhile.

Read the rest of the story at the bottom of the page or download the bulletin below.


In the middle of June, Nicole, our two youth ministers, and 7 other youngsters made their way to Jacksonville for Just 5 Days – a service-based mission trip in which the youths are challenged to step outside their comfort zone, and evangelize through action. “The kids are all on summer vacation from school, but these trips are by no means vacation,” shares Chris Biel. “They really do a lot of work, and most of them are way outside their element, so they get exposure to communities that are much unlike their own.”
“The entire week we simply helped out the church. We gardened. We made sandwiches for the summer camp, and we would worship with the kids that came during the week,” Nicole shares.

We collectively recognize that kids of this age aren’t going to take the initiative, wake up on Saturday mornings early, and perform the corporeal works of mercy – unprovoked. So when we take a group of kids on a mission trip, we’re more or less teaching them to give. We live in a culture that breeds selfishness. Social psychologists believe that much of the anger and defiant behavior in children is a byproduct not of traumatic events in the family, or undeserved hurts or abuse within the home, but of the sense of entitlement we associate with profound selfishness. Children believe they should get to do what they want, and when they can’t, they react with anger (often exaggerated amounts of it, too). It starts in childhood, but it often carries over into adulthood.

This concept has become so glaringly epidemic throughout our world that Pope Francis gave this statement in none other than one of the poorest, most violent favelas in Rio de Janeiro. “Everybody, according to his or her particular opportunities and responsibilities, should be able to make a personal contribution to putting an end to so many social injustices. The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world.” He didn’t address a gathering of Hollywood socialites. He said this in a slum where people live hand to mouth.

So what did our kids do in Jacksonville? In short, they volunteered at a Church summer camp in a marginalized neighborhood. When you interview someone young, like Nicole, you try to keep the questions light. ‘What did you learn?’ ‘Did you meet any new people?’ ‘What were some of the fun activities you engaged in?’ But the interview became dark at a fast clip when Nicole began sharing some of her observations about the parents who dropped off their kids.

“It was sort of sad watching some of the parents come back to pick their kids up. They would be screaming at them, and just totally impatient. They would party all day and show up late to pick them up. Their eyes would be all messed up and they’d be slurring their words. It was obvious that they were high or had been drinking,” Nicole remembers. “You could tell they just didn’t really care about much about their children.”

Wow. It was more than a little uncomfortable listening to Nicole share these observations (and I’m well-versed in discomfort), and not because I’m unwilling to look at reality. I think it was uncomfortable because I’m not (and most people aren’t) used to hearing unfiltered observation that cuts right to the core of a matter. We’re taught not to judge, or jump to conclusions, but for Nicole, this may have been her first encounter with the realities of substance abuse and its negative impact on parenting.

Let’s just say her 11-year old observations were right. Let’s say that those parents dropped their kids off, partied all day, and genuinely didn’t give their children a second thought. We could call this extraordinarily selfish behavior, and they are modeling this behavior to their children. “In a way it made us stronger in our faith because it made us look at what we have and be more grateful for it. I also pray for those kids in Jacksonville that they’ll have a better life one day,” Nicole answers.

This is how children learn much of their own behavior… and this can be a terrifying element of the direction we’re moving as a culture. And yet there is an antidote to it all. One of my (over-worked & underappreciated) spiritual advisors told me the cure to pretty much any selfishness-driven malady, is service to others.

The process of addressing selfishness in children can be challenging. According to a 2011 Duke University study, the major reasons parents are unable to correct selfishness in their children is that they; are self-indulgent themselves and are unwilling to address this weakness in their own personalities; want their children to be their friend; lack of a role model for correction; lack of confidence; fear conflicts as a result of childhood stresses caused by an angry parent; have an obsession with sports; lack of courage; fear of the anger in a child; have difficulties with trusting; are proud; or have a weak interior/spiritual life.

Ouch! I’m glad I’m not a parent and can’t be blamed for any of this (wink, wink). But seriously, these mission trips serve more than the people on the receiving end. What we’re doing when we send our youth group on a mission trip, is giving them an opportunity to give. So much of their lives, their media, and their observations of adult behavior focus on getting – not just in the material sense. We’re getting better in math, getting better at throwing a football, and generally, getting better at getting better. We’re being trained to focus inward, and the more this attitude permeates our culture, the higher the rates of depression, substance abuse, and narcissism climb. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but when Nicole was given the opportunity to share her time and talent with those in need, she learned about both the drawbacks of selfishness, and the benefits of giving. We’re all sort of afraid to “over-give” because we live in a world of scarcity, but like the perplexities that lie within each of the Beatitudes, Spirituality often runs counter to our (lower) human nature.

A life built upon qualities like compassion, kindness and peace is far superior than one based on fear, anxiety, stress, feeling unworthy, and so forth. And yet, faced with the obvious benefits of spirituality, we seem to be passionately driven to shoot ourselves in the foot. The drive for these negative behaviors seems to come from so deep inside that you hardly understand why you are feeling/acting in such a way. I think the lesson Nicole’s experience teaches us, is that when we give of our time and talents, God is going to reveal more to us than what we expect to get back – even the spiritual dividends we expect will fall short of the totality of God’s gift. We must force ourselves to give – until it comes naturally… and begins to make sense.

October 13, 2013 | The 23rd Times

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My Dear Parishioners,

Welcome home to our many Northern members as you return to your “Parish in Florida”. It’s been a very busy and rewarding summer that showed no let-up in our activities. In late September we published our annual financial statement and highlighted many of the growth factors driving our parish activities under the title “Building God’s Kingdom”. This week we want to remind you of the power of Worship. The greatest expression of our compliance with God’s will is contained in our acts of adoration. We hope you will take advantage of the many opportunities to increase your spiritual growth and personal holiness.

-Father Bob

Year ‘round, we hold 1st Friday Adoration, Daily Rosary, Daily Divine Mercy Chaplet, Weekly Rosary in Spanish, Weekly Mass in Vietnamese and  Monthly Mass in Spanish. We’ve introduced the 5 Pillars of Our Covenant, we’ve held our Parish Mission with Father Gary Weismann and our Advent Reconciliation Service. During this month in which we draw our attention to Respect for Life issues, we hold Rosary Prayer Walks and demonstrations in front of planned parenthood facilities. During the season of Lent, we hold Adoration, Stations of the Cross and Reconciliation, as well as our endearing Children’s Christmas Pageant. We’ve seen Father Casey Jones celebrate his First Mass and we do our best to provide ever increasing opportunities for Worship…


Interview with Maureen Nash @ 40 Days For Life Prayer Walk


Recognizing that “with God, all things are possible,” our community is joining with hundreds of other cities for this fall’s global 40 Days for Life – which will take place at the Planned Parenthood facility off College Pkwy & Winkler Road. Blessed Pope John XXIII’s Parishioners are responsible for the following dates. Please be generous with your time and join us!

  • Wednesday,Oct.16 1:00PM-5:00PM
  • Monday, October 21 1:00PM-5:00PM
  • Monday, October 28 1:00PM-5:00PM
  • Thursday, October 31 9:00AM-1:00PM

Trunk or Treat is Back!

Join us for Blessed Pope John’s XXIII Annual Trunk or Treat Saturday, October 26 from 6:00-8:00 PM.  Invite your family and friends to a night of Food, Fun, Music and Games for all ages!

  • 5:30-7:30 PM: Knights of Columbus will be selling Hot dogs, hamburgers, chips and drinks
  • 6:30 PM Trunk or Treating in the Church begins parking lot. Youngsters, please come in costume. (Please, no dark or evil costumes.) Please make sure to park in designated parking areas. Parking attendants will be there to assist you.
  • What to Bring:  A lawn chair Trunk full of treats & If you are not decorating the trunk of your car, please bring a bag of candy to share so we have plenty of treats for the children.

October 6, 2013 | The 23rd Times

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October is typically a busy month, but more so this year. This year we’re swinging for the fences. As it was just announced, our Patron, Pope John XXIII is set to be canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27, 2014 – see page 9 for more details. And this coming week we celebrate his feast day on the 11th – join us for hospitality this coming Friday! As part of Respect Life Month, our Parish will be present on six different dates for the 40-days for life campaign at Planned Parenthood – see page 10 for more details. In addition, we’ve partnered with the greater Knights of Columbus organization to purchase a portable ultrasound machine for Lifeline Family Center – a pro-life house for teenage mothers in Cape Coral. So once again we find ourselves at the beginning of Season, with our hands full of the work God has given us to do!


Father Dang Begins Adventure/Mission to Vietnam

John Paul II & John XXIII to be canonized Divine Mercy Sunday

Rome, Italy, Sep 30, 2013 / 03:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican has announced that former Popes John Paul II and John XXIII are slated to be canonized this coming spring.

The announcement was made following the Sept. 30 consistory, in which the Holy Father proclaimed that the pontiffs would be canonized together April 27, 2014 on the second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday. A consistory is a meeting where the Pope and the College of Cardinals come together to discuss and determine dates for current causes of beatification or canonization.

In recent months, the final steps paving the way towards Bl. John Paul II’s canonization, including the approval of the second needed miracle, have been completed. However, in the case of John XXIII, only one miracle has been formally approved by the Vatican, instead of the usual two. Although the decision to waive the second miracle is unusual, it is within the authority of the Pope to do so.

When the decision was announced earlier this summer, Vatican press office director Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J. explained that since there was already one approved miracle allowing Pope John XXIII to be beatified, the canonization will still be valid, even without a second miracle. Bl. John XXII is most known for his encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” and for his calling of the Second Vatican Council, the 50th anniversary of which is currently being celebrated during the Year of Faith.

Bl. John Paul II is perhaps one of the most well-known pontiffs in recent history, and is most remembered for his charismatic nature, his love of youth and his world travels, along with his role in the fall of communism in Europe during his 27-year papacy. The cherished Polish Pope died in 2005, marking his 2011 beatification as one of the quickest in recent Church history, and is the first Pope to be beatified by his immediate successor.

September 29, 2013 | The 23rd Times

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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

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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

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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.