August 10, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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On Prayer & Love

My prayer life became more active when I was introduced to contemplative or quiet prayer. I learned in new ways to pay attention to God’s Loving Presence and realize that God is always paying attention to me. Traditional prayers, such as, the Rosary, the Jesus Prayer, Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer became the basis for opening my heart even more to His wondrous abiding Love. And, as I age, I can feel this Presence is the deepening basis out of which I know, love and serve others.


For years, I didn’t think I had much of a prayer life – merely because I just couldn’t do it – until I was introduced to a concept called “centering prayer”. A nun instructed us to repeat and concentrate on a word or a phrase, repeatedly, and when she rang the bell at the end of the 20 minutes, I came to and thought, wow, that was 20 minutes? I felt like a fish thrown back in a creek. I found for myself, prayer wasn’t just one thing. There’s a broad spectrum of using words or images or thoughts… but there’s also an entire area of prayer where you don’t use those things. You may just be in the presence of someone you love a lot and sit in silence – experiencing the presence of God. You feel the connection with the other person. You don’t have to fill the air with words. The idea behind that is “I am thoroughly loved, and I am called to love.” Whatever wakes that up in you…

When I first moved to Florida, I’d get so angry when I missed the signal lights. They’re 2 minutes long! One day I realized that, hey, I could use this as prayer time. So now I turn off the radio, sit quietly and pray. Five minutes later I’m at another 2-minute light, and so I make a habit of it throughout the day.

But you know, this concept works even better in community. A lot of people have small groups within their Church (bereavement, moms group, recovery-type meetings), and those are great because you’re all there for a common reason (ultimately to get closer to God). Then, if we’re all leading active prayer lives individually, we can get together on Sunday and have a greater experience of the Mass. We’ll have greater awareness of God, and of love.

On Love

I sort of resist the idea of defining ‘love’. In the Tao te Ching, they say if you can name it, that’s not it. If you can define it, that’s not it either. When Jesus says to love God with your whole being, and to love your neighbor as yourself – it’s a real challenge to us to come to the realization, who am I, really?

I teach a class on civic engagement at Florida Gulf Coast University, and I always put the names and symbols of the world’s religions on the board – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. Buddhists treat it a bit differently, but they all essentially profess to love God, and your neighbor as yourself. I then ask the class, ‘what is the problem here?’ And they all shout ‘The self! The self!’ So they realize that most of us just don’t love ourselves.

So for myself, love has more to do with energy – I’m in touch with the energy of God, and God with me. You’re looking at me now and I look like a solid human being, but the truth is, I’m much more space than I am solidity. When you look down to the molecules, I’m much more energy, than I am matter. So for me, I’m much more of an energy, and love is a flowing energy. It’s positive. It’s caring. It’s compassionate. It’s wise. And for all of us, somewhere in our being, we know what it is.

Teachers of emotional anatomy teach us that our deepest fears sit on top of our deepest love in the body. The Sufis would tell us that the two basic emotions are love and fear – not love and hate. So the reason we abuse ourselves and abuse other people is because we’re driven by fear, not love. So if I’m feeling fear, then I know I’m not feeling love. So if we say that ‘God is love’, what we’re really saying is that we can really trust the universe. Even when things aren’t going our way, they are going God’s way.

Even if we get a really bad diagnosis of a disease, we can know that we’re are still thoroughly loved. In fact, many times when people get a diagnosis like that, the most spiritual thing for them to realize is ‘I am not this body’.

I like to think of my body like an automobile, and think of life like I’m driving to Church. When we get to Church, we don’t think, ‘You know, I really like this car, I think I’m going to stay here instead of going inside.” You don’t do that, but in life, there will come a time when we need to drop this body. We need to realize that there will come a time when we’ll need to be in the presence of God – and I believe that God is pure love – so I work on myself in this life to be ready and open enough to experience God’s love for eternity.

August 3, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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VATICAN CITY Slowing down, being generous and fighting for peace are part of Pope Francis’ secret recipe for happiness. In an interview published Sunday in part in the Argentine weekly Viva, the pope listed his Top 10 tips for bringing greater joy to one’s life:

1. “Live and let live.” Everyone should be guided by this principle, he said, which has a similar expression in Rome with the saying, “Move forward and let others do the same.”

2. “Be giving of yourself to others.” People need to be open and generous toward others, he said, because “if you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.”

3. “Proceed calmly” in life. The pope, who used to teach high school literature, used an image from an Argentine novel by Ricardo Guiraldes, in which the protagonist — gaucho Don Segundo Sombra — looks back on how he lived his life
He says that in his youth he was a stream full of rocks that he carried with him; as an adult, a rushing river; and in old age, he was still moving, but slowly, like a pool” of water, the pope said. He said he likes this latter image of a pool of water — to have “the ability to move with kindness and humility, a calmness in life.”

4. “A healthy sense of leisure.” The pleasures of art, literature and playing together with children have been lost, he said.
“Consumerism has brought us anxiety” and stress, causing people to lose a “healthy culture of leisure.” Their time is “swallowed up” so people can’t share it with anyone.
Even though many parents work long hours, they must set aside time to play with their children; work schedules make it “complicated, but you must do it,” he said.
Families must also turn off the TV when they sit down to eat because, even though television is useful for keeping up with the news, having it on during mealtime “doesn’t let you communicate” with each other, the pope said.

5. Sundays should be holidays. Workers should have Sundays off because “Sunday is for family,” he said.

6. Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people. “We need to be creative with young people. If they have no opportunities they will get into drugs” and be more vulnerable to suicide, he said.
“It’s not enough to give them food,” he said. “Dignity is given to you when you can bring food home” from one’s own labor.

7. Respect and take care of nature. Environmental degradation “is one of the biggest challenges we have,” he said. “I think a question that we’re not asking ourselves is: ‘Isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?’ “

8. Stop being negative. “Needing to talk badly about others indicates low self-esteem. That means, ‘I feel so low that instead of picking myself up I have to cut others down,’” the pope said. “Letting go of negative things quickly is healthy.”

9. Don’t proselytize; respect others’ beliefs. “We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes: ‘I am talking with you in order to persuade you,’ No. Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing,” the pope said.

10. Work for peace. “We are living in a time of many wars,” he said, and “the call for peace must be shouted. Peace sometimes gives the impression of being quiet, but it is never quiet, peace is always proactive” and dynamic.

Pope Francis also talked about the importance of helping immigrants, praising Sweden’s generosity in opening its doors to so many people, while noting anti-immigration policies show the rest of Europe “is afraid.”

He also fondly recalled the woman who helped his mother with the housework when he was growing up in Buenos Aires.

Concepcion Maria Minuto was a Sicilian immigrant, a widow and mother of two boys, who went three times a week to help the pope’s mother do laundry, since in those days it was all done by hand.

He said this hard-working, dignified woman made a big impression on the 10-year-old future pope, as she would talk to him about World War II in Italy and how they farmed in Sicily.

“She was as clever as a fox, she had every penny accounted for, she wouldn’t be cheated. She had many great qualities,” he said.
Even though his family lost touch with her when they moved, the then-Jesuit Fr. Jorge Bergoglio later sought her out and visited her for the last 10 years of her life.

“A few days before she died, she took this small medal out of her pocket, gave it to me and said: ‘I want you to have it!’ So every night, when I take it off and kiss it, and every morning when I put it back on, this woman comes to my mind.”

“She died happy, with a smile on her face and with the dignity of someone who worked. For that reason I am very sympathetic toward housecleaners and domestic workers, whose rights, all of them, should be recognized” and protected, he said. “They must never be exploited or mistreated.”

Pope Francis’ concern was underlined in his @Pontifex Twitter feed Tuesday, with the message: “May we be always more grateful for the help of domestic workers and caregivers; theirs is a precious service.

July 27, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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5 Ways to Spot a Jesus Follower

The word Christian may only be nine letters, but it’s a big ‘ole word. With the reformation underway in American Christianity, there’s been a lot of talk over what that word actually means and who gets to use it. Some people on both the left and right see themselves as gatekeepers and are busy declaring who is, and who is not, a Christian. This is in part because of our human nature to judge others (the desire to judge others being the original sin from the Garden of Eden) and in part because the term has become fluid. Let’s be honest– there’s a LOT of different people under the umbrella that is “Christianity”.


First, I’m not a fan of saying who is or who is not a Christian– it’s a big religion with lots of different expressions, and I’m the last person qualified to be a gatekeeper of who is allowed to use the term. Secondly, some have suggested we stop using the term altogether, which I’m not a fan of either. “Christian” is a beautiful term from our early days of a faith tradition, and you’re not going to see my name on the list of people who think we just dump it.

However, I do think the term “Jesus follower” is a more helpful term to interject into the conversation. While “Christian” can mean a million different things, “Jesus follower” is a little more definable because by definition, this would be an individual who is living a life that follows the example we find in Jesus.

I’m proud to be a Christian, but I long to be a Jesus follower. It’s what I strive for. It’s what I want to be when I grow up. It’s what this movement was all about.

While it’s not always easy to tell who is or is not a Christian, I think a Jesus follower is observable. One doesn’t need to tell you they’re a Jesus follower, because you’ll be able to see by how they live, whether or not it’s true.

As I look at the Jesus I find in the New Testament, I think there are a few hallmarks of what it looks like to follow him– traits that can be observed to “spot a Jesus follower”:

1. A Jesus follower likes to talk about Him, but they do it in such a way that it causes you to want to know more, not less.
Someone who is following Jesus will be passionate about Him– and as a result, they’ll talk about Him. However, they’ll do it in such a way that attracts people instead of repelling them. In the New Testament, we see the way Jesus communicated His message was appealing to the point that he couldn’t go anywhere without attracting a big crowd. Followers of Jesus talk about Him naturally and passionately but in a way that, like him, attract listeners. (The religious elite being the one exception to this rule both for Jesus and his followers).

2. A Jesus follower embraces enemy love.
One of the central teachings of Jesus is nonviolent love of enemies. It’s actually one area where He draws some pretty hard lines– lines that make both the left and right uncomfortable. It is important to understand however, that the life of Jesus is one giant testimony of enemy love– one that culminates with His death on the cross– the precise moment where He nonviolently died for His enemies. It only makes sense that someone who is actually following Jesus would follow His teachings and example. I can still hear Jesus saying, “if you only love those who love you, what reward is there in that?” His followers know this and hold what is still, a very unpopular belief.

3. A Jesus follower is the one who is full of compassion for outsiders and the weak.
Here’s a challenge: re-read the Gospels with a fresh eye, and count the number of times you hear the term “and Jesus was filled with compassion”. I promise, you’ll be shocked (head start: Mark 6:3, Matt 9:36, Mark 8:2). When I first noticed this in the Gospels, it was one of those moments when the words jumped off the page and became a “I can’t believe I didn’t see this before” experience. When Jesus saw people, His first response was that of compassion– His followers, by nature, are the same.

4. A Jesus follower is the one who is quickest to show others mercy.
Jesus once faced off with the religious elite of His time who were colluding with the power of Empire and oppressing the weak. When He did, he dismissed them and famously said: “go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice”.
One of the core aspects of the message of Jesus is one of mercy. He went to the cross on our behalf as an act of mercy. He stopped the execution of a condemned woman and told her “neither do I condemn you”, as an act of mercy. He was busy healing the sick, because He loved to show mercy. Jesus was a man who had mercy at the core of His being. If you want to distinguish a Christian from a Jesus follower, just look for the one who is advocating the position that shows the most mercy (including gratuitous forgiveness)– because that’s the heart of Jesus.

5. A Jesus follower is the one who, when they describe what God is like, describe Jesus.
Jesus followers get what Jesus meant when he said “if you have seen me, you’ve seen the Father”, and they believe the author of Hebrews who wrote that Jesus was the “exact representation” of God’s being. This means that if you want to be able to spot a Jesus follower, look for the person who is describing a God who looks EXACTLY like Jesus. If Jesus is the exact representation of God, we know that nothing else– including the violent portraits of God in the Old Testament– can be the “exact representation” of God.
Jesus followers are sold out on exclusively following Jesus because they realize that in all of human history, the only time God’s exact essence was revealed to us was done through the mirror image of Christ.

So what’s the point of being able to spot a Jesus follower– is it so we can judge who is not? May it never be. Instead, being able to spot a Jesus follower is crucial for our own spiritual vitality. If the Jesus path is the one you wish to travel, the best thing you can do is find others who are already on it, and walk together with them.

Yes, I am a Christian– but I long to be a Jesus follower. I want to walk this path, and I want to do the things that Jesus did. However, I don’t want to walk the path alone.Perhaps we can find a way together.

July 20, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Don’t Stop Believin’ (or Running the 5Ks)

I remember coming home after school as a child, and, once or twice per year, my mom would have 25+ remittance envelopes laid out on the floor. They were colorful, professionally designed works of art from her favorite charities. She would write them all checks for the amount of money that coincided with her allegiance to their cause. Habitat for Humanity would get $25. Feed the Children might get $30. World Wildlife, $50. Audubon Society would get even more, until the charity that was bottle-feeding baby whales by hand was handsomely taken care of (you see the trend). Then one day it all stopped!


Some nosey journalists in the late 90’s started trying to hold these mega-non-profits accountable, and people started finding out that some of their CEOs might take home a few million per year – totally unacceptable! As an 8-year old, I tried explaining to her the nuances of the CXO-level labor market, and how competition among elite visionary executives had driven the price to FMV (fair market value), but she would distract me with milk and cookies and I had no defense there.

But during that period of time and the advent of the internet, transparency and accountability within the “do-gooder” sector became a big deal. This heightened awareness gave birth to documentaries like Pink Ribbons, which “takes aim at the breast cancer movement and the corporations that benefit from its ubiquitous rosy symbol of awareness and action.” All of a sudden people started having legitimate concerns about the overlap of philanthropy and marketing – and especially in the pharmaceutical industry. We found out that it takes about a billion dollars to get a drug to market, and when it came to selling it, no expense was spared. Every conceivable opportunity to raise money for cancer research is taken: golf scrambles, cookbook sales, garage sales, turkey raffles, Little Black Dress Cocktail Parties, and the infamous 5K Race (at 5am).

We’re bombarded with marketing and the message that all we need to do is “race for a cure”, or wear a pink or blue ribbon to raise awareness, and if you’ll just forward this email to 10 friends, we can “win the war” on cancer. But are we winning? I think Americans have grown suspicious, if not totally cynical, at the never ending marketing machine that is cancer research.

You, I, Rufus and Chaka Khan need it now more than ever. Tell me somethin’ good.

Well, there are success stories. In fact, our own Noelle Childs is one. Last August she was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), a form of cancer that would have given her 3-5 years to live prior to 1998 – but there was treatment because human beings care enough to run those 5K’s, and wear those Little Black Dresses to mixers they’d rather not attend.

The American Cancer Society reports that in 2014, there will be over 5,900 new cases of CML diagnosed in the US alone. So a billion dollars – is it worth it? I don’t know many who would argue that. When you think about 5,900 Americans either getting their death sentence, or finding out there’s hope for them, you’ll lace up those old running shoes, slap on that knee brace, and gut it out for cancer. Because showing up for that race or cocktail party can be a very spiritual thing. Spending our time, money and attention to show those around us that we care is an act of love.

We sat down with Noelle and she told her story. This is how cancer, and the actions of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society changed her life (and saved it). So before we huff and puff about some executive director making too much money, please consider that these organizations save thousands of human lives – like Noelle’s – every day (and possibly some baby whales benefit too).

Damian: So something happened in your life that changed its path. What was that?
Noelle Childs: Last August I’d not been feeling well – basically for an entire year. I had colds all the time. I’d get winded walking up the stairs. I just knew something wasn’t right. So my family doctor ran some blood tests and on that same day, she called me and said it looked like I had leukemia.

DH: Wow. That’s shocking. What then?
NC: I went to the hospital immediately. They ran a bunch of tests, and I ended up staying there for a few days. I was on the verge of needing a blood transfusion, but they were unsure of what to do because of the problems with diagnosis. Apparently there are a couple different types of leukemia, so they wanted to make sure they were diagnosing me with the right one. They started asking me if I had any siblings for a bone marrow transplant. That’s when I knew this was pretty serious.

DH: How did you react to that?
NC: I remember sitting in the hospital looking at my husband, saying ‘we’re going to need a miracle here.’ I had three little kids under the age of 4. I hadn’t even celebrated my 10 year anniversary with my husband yet… and you hear ‘leukemia’ and it’s such a crushing thing to hear. So after a few days they found out I had chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).

DH: Is there treatment?
NC: There was a drug developed 15 years ago that controls the illness, and it allows me to live a normal life. Thank God too, because had this drug not been developed, I would have had about 3-4 years to live. But now I’ll have a normal life expectancy.

DH: So what was going through your head, as it related to your mortality? Like, expectations versus your new reality…
NC: I remember being in shock for the first couple days. It was very, very scary. I don’t think I’d prayed more during the first 24 hours than I had my entire life. I was begging God for a miracle.

DH: So leukemia is a weird type of cancer – how did you explain it to your children?
NC: Well, they know I’m ‘sick’, because I’m gone a lot. I’m on a clinical trial that’s taking place in Tampa. They’re young so they don’t know the details yet, but if I am on this medication for the rest of my life, eventually they’ll find out.

DH: So there’s no cure for this?
NC: Not as of yet, but I’m on this clinical trial with Moffitt Cancer Center. The drug has been shown to work in the lab. I’m also on an additional chemo drug, and the hope is that it will eradicate all cancer cells. I had a bone biopsy in May and my numbers have greatly improved since the one I had in February, but it’s not in full remission yet. They’re hoping that it will have been in full remission by August, but as of now, this is the deal.

DH: That would be great. And back to the question from before – and I don’t mean to be morbid, but were you thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to die. What will happen to my family?’
NC: That was my first thought when I got the diagnosis. All these thoughts were running through my head. I’m not going to see my kids go to kindergarten. I’m never going to see them get married or have kids of their own. I kept saying ‘This can’t happen. I have 3 kids. I have 3 kids…’

DH: What were some of your atypical thoughts about potentially missing out on your future? Like, for instance, I want to see how good knee replacements will be in 30 years. Did you have any of those thoughts?
NC: I mean, not really. Again, the shock was so intense that all I could think about was my family and what the diagnosis might be. I couldn’t even sleep in the hospital. They kept taking blood every couple hours so it was exhausting.

DH: Okay, so tell me about your kids.
NC: Well, we have 4-year old twins, a little boy and a girl. And then we have a little guy who’s two and a half. So it’s always crazy around our house, but they are the love of my life – besides my husband, of course. They sort of know what’s going on, and in a way, other than giving birth to them, this experience has been the most spiritual thing. It’s taught me so much about love and support and life.

DH: So what has it taught you about those things?
NC: Well, ya know, just like my little bracelet here says. “God’s got this.” Everyone in my family wears one of these, and it’s what I tell myself in moments of doubt. A few weeks ago I got a false negative. That is, I thought my cancer was in full remission, but it wasn’t, and although that’s a huge bummer, I have to remember that God’s got a plan for my life.

DH: Okay, so if cancer was God’s plan for your life, what do you think He’s trying to teach you through it all?
NC: I think he’s teaching me to have ‘intense’ faith, and also to take action. I don’t know if this is important or not, but I’ve become involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society because I felt like I owed it. There are a lot of patients out there who aren’t as lucky as me. So getting involved and being part of the cause has become very important to me.

DH: Yeah! I think that’s hugely important. You see so much marketing out there for cancer research and it’s finally nice to meet someone who’s benefiting from the solutions they’re developing. You sign up for all these 5k races and never know whether or not they’re coming up with anything viable.
NC: The drug that I’m on right now was funded by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, so of course I’m excited to help. And the clinical trial I’m on was also funded by them. So I had to get involved.

DH: Well that’s fantastic. I’m glad I got a chance to talk to you, and it sounds like you’re on your way to recovery. We’ll be praying for you.
NC: Yes, and the support from the Parish has been amazing. Father Bob called during one of my naps – the chemo drugs can really wear you out (haha) – but I am truly grateful for all my family and friends.

July 13, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Touching the Wounds | Fernando Castillo

Remember when we were kids and the Catholic Church taught us that ‘in giving we receive’? Who bought that nonsense? Just look around. Didn’t you see all those happy people on TV indulging their every last whim? And what were mom and dad fighting about in the next room? Money (and not where to put it all). The emphasis on earning good grades in school as a child, was so that you could earn your way into a good college or trade school, so you could earn a good job, so you can earn a lot of money, and then one day, earn the right to complain about paying taxes (okay maybe that last part was just implied). We were taught to be good Catholics, and then the world showed us how wrong we were in our childish beliefs. And then we discovered medication for our chemical imbalances because that’s just science so why try fighting it. Except…


Except when we stumble across someone who’s made a life of reckless giving. When we meet someone who has shamelessly neglected their own well-being, financial future, their family’s immediate needs, we can’t help but feel sorry for them. How foolish! This is America! If you’re poor, it’s your fault, right? That’s what God made bootstraps for. We help other people when we invite them to our botox party. We help them when we sell them a car. We really help them when we send in our check for our 3rd favorite charity’s golf tournament foursome. We help when it doesn’t mean having to encounter another human being face to face. Or we help with string attached.

When we meet people who challenge our truth, we can’t run from them. They don’t necessarily challenge our “beliefs”, because a lot of times we believe something (like, say for instance, in God) but act as if we don’t. They challenge our truth. Our actions are our truth. And when we see someone living their truth (and it’s working), we’re forced to acknowledge their absurd behavior, and examine why they have peace, joy and happiness in their lives, and we do not. We cannot figure out why our incessant pursuit of comfort, power, pleasure, prestige, etcetera, has returned short-lived positive results (followed by more misery).

So let’s talk about Juan Fernando Castillo, or “Fernando”. Fernando founded St. Martin de Porres Outreach Community Ministries, now located on Palm Beach Blvd, eight years ago, because “more than 60% of the people living in this area work in the field. Those are the ones that pick the tomatoes, the lettuce, all the vegetables, and the oranges. They are very low income, and because of the immigration issues we’ve been having, most of the farmers are afraid to hire them. Well, they have kids. We’re especially concerned with the old people and the children.”

We’re introduced to this man and his mission through our Social Justice Ministry. When I met with Sandy Szymanski, Barb Durkin and Vickie Gelardi, they explained that all one would have to do is meet Fernando, and they would understand what he was all about. Putting ‘it’ into words isn’t easy, but there’s a total lack of fear in this man. He knows that when a person gives their life to God, there’s nothing God won’t provide.

“I believe God gave us a lot, and I believe we need to pay back what we’ve received. We see so many people in need – and these are not just regular people. We see a lot of drug addicts. We see many people with mental illness. We have girls that work the streets, in fact, our next door neighbor is a hotel… well, a lot of the girls swear they are over 18, but when you talk to them, you hear about their lives. They’ve had a terrible life. They are young, young girls. We try to convince them to leave the streets and live a different life.”

How quick are we to judge the prostitute or street junkie? Really though, these are life choices that these people have made! Would it be any surprise for them to die of AIDS? Would an EMT bat an eye to find one of these creatures overdosed in some dark alley? It’s easy to close one’s heart and believe people “get what they deserve” when confronted with the ugliness of the world, but there are two problems with that (and probably more).

One, the social outcasts of our society have no experience with God’s love, and therefore don’t love themselves, have no self-worth, and more than likely have never had a loving relationship with another human being – ever. And two, we can’t isolate ourselves from the world because people are everywhere, and it’s almost impossible to get to know someone – at a deep, personal level – and not grow to love them. God put this in us, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

So Fernando’s problem is big. “I don’t know where most of them would go if we weren’t here. We don’t discriminate and we don’t turn people away. A lot of the food kitchens ask for papers, or ask for an ID. Or they supply food for one day, one meal, and you are told not to come back again. Here, you can come… you don’t need an ID.”

His problem will only grow because he refuses to turn people away. In his stubbornness, he will meet the most broken people in our city, and he will get to know them. He will grow to love them, and in many instances, he will be their only model of God’s love. Because of this, he might run low on time and food, and resources for his mission, but he’ll be stuck with an abundant and constant source of joy and peace in his life. He won’t know what to do with it all.

Well, I mean, he could always start another mission. “We have a program called Jobs for Life. We try to prepare people for more technical work. We help them with their finances. We help them get ready for interviews, and if they want to start a small business, we help them get the tools to do so.”

“We are not just giving out food. I have enough kids of my own,” he jokes. “We are here to help people out of poverty by simply giving them the tools to do so on their own. The people in our ministry that work in the kitchen here, they teach those that come in how to be better helpers – not chefs – but they teach them the skills that will help them get better work, more money, better living conditions, and better working conditions in the future. Right now, a lot of our people work in the fields for 10 hours to make $40, that’s if they get paid – often they do not. That is not okay. Last year we had 17 kids come through here that were working in the fields, and now they are working as helpers for carpenters, electricians, and plumbers. I am a general contractor, so I teach them. I worked building medical centers in New Jersey for many years, so I have the skills to teach.”

“The reality is, all we need is the patience to listen to a needy person. We never ask them ‘How can we help you?’ We ask them, ‘How can you help yourself?’ When they are sick, you will find a medical person to help them. The people are out there. It’s true. All you need is the patience to listen, and you will care about the community.”

Catholic Social Doctrine tells us that we need to meet people where they are, and Fernando’s people are hurting, but they’re open to change. When you listen to someone in conversation, you get to know them. And when you get to know them, you care about their cares. And when we care about their cares, we do what we can to alleviate their pain, and in doing so, we find joy. We can experience the presence of the Holy Spirit – and that is a feeling that no check, no drug or car or shiny piece of jewelry can touch.

If it worked the way humans have tried to make it work, there would be a rational measurement to our happiness. Wealthy people would be the happiest, and the poorest the most miserable. But it’s not that way. We can only have the peace, joy and happiness that God wants for us to the extent that we are willing to let go of our selfishness (read: greed).
“There are a lot of young people that are on drugs, or drink too much alcohol, and when they come, we just ask them if they want to pray with us. When we first opened, I only found one person that was willing to pray,” Fernando laughs. “They basically said, ‘haha, no we don’t do that.’ And now, when we serve meals – all these years later – people come to me and ask if I’ll pray with them. They recognize that praying, and getting close to God is a good instrument. They recognize that God is the solution. So that’s progress.” He gets close enough to touch the wounds of the poor, and in turn, some of his own are healed.

We asked Fernando what we could do to help his mission and he humbly asked for a few things. If you’d like to volunteer or give, call 239-603-3873 or 239-333–9826. Or email Watch his interview on the 23rd Times. Thank you!

What to do next?

  • Pray for us
  • Volunteer to help prepare/serve meals or teach skills classes
  • Support us financially with either a one-time or recurring donation


July 6, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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People of faith have never accepted a dichotomy between their faith and their work. They believe that their relationship with God and commitment to obeying His commands should impact every area of their lives: their family, their finances, and their vocation.

The Hobby Lobby Decision

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that certain “closely held” for-profit businesses can cite religious objections in order to opt out of a requirement in ObamaCare to provide free contraceptive coverage for their employees.


It’s Back – Living Your Strengths

Extremely popular group sessions begin soon. It is no secret God created each of us as unique individuals to grow and serve in fulfilling the body of Christ. But just how unique are we and for what purposes can we best utilize our strengths and natural talents?

Through four interactive and enlightening sessions you will journey from learning the natural talents and strengths God bestowed upon you to truly living your strengths with greater understanding, confidence, and personal fulfillment. We will also explore the unique talents of others and the contributions each can make toward greater stewardship and discipleship. But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. (1 Corinthians 12:18)

Back to School Drive Starts July 19th

The Drive will take place from July 19th to August 3rd and donations will be accepted in the Narthex before and after Mass, or please bring to the Parish Office during the week. Thank you!

VBS Gratitude

We had an amazing time at Vacation Bible Camp this year. 135 campers, over 60 middle and high school students and 30 adult volunteers enjoyed learning all about God’s unconditional love for us. Our thanks to all the volunteers who made the week extra special. They spent countless hours setting up for the event. A special thanks to all our wonderful St. John XXIII parishioners who were so generous with their donations for the camp. You are what makes St. John XXIII the special parish that it is!

Check out the photos here.


June 29, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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The Thursday Morning Friends Group

Father had given a homily and when we spoke about the number of single people in our Parish alone – 577 – we asked what we were doing for them. We realized that probably not all of them were widows or widowers. So here is a group of people that need something, we’re not exactly sure what, but we’re hoping to fill that need. –Mary Bissaillon

Vacation Bible School Photos are already here!



A priest from the United States was visiting a small village in Haiti just months after the earthquake in 2010. The young priest, upon speaking with one of the village elders, noticed a reserved reticence in the man as he was asked his approach to healing the spirits of the villagers. Aware of the urgency of the situation, Father pulled no punches and told the Haitian gentleman, “Don’t worry, my friend, I’m here to help. Why do I sense you lack faith in me?” The Haitian relayed his concern. “Padre, we’ve had trouble with the Americans – the psychologists. They take our young people into dark rooms to talk about their problems. Instead of spending more time in the sun with nature – something that typically cheers people up – they take them by themselves behind closed doors. Instead of surrounding them with friends and family, they do these one on one sessions, where they focus on all the devastation and loss they’ve experienced. Instead of giving them work to do and home-cooked meals, they gave them time to languish, and some even got pills to take! Padre, after a while, we realized none of our people were getting better, and so we sent them away. We are grateful for the Americans’ help, but… our people need something different.”

The young priest thought about for a minute. “You’re right. You did the right thing. What people need most… is other people.”

When we share, we care, and we can only share with other people (cats don’t count). There’s over 500 single people in this Parish, and these are the ones particularly susceptible to the spiritual side effects of loneliness. We are truly social animals. In adults, loneliness is a major precipitant of depression and alcoholism. And it increasingly appears to be the cause of a range of medical problems, some of which take decades to show up.

According to psychologist John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, loneliness sets in motion a variety of “slowly unfolding pathophysiological processes.” The net result is that the lonely experience higher levels of cumulative wear and tear. In other words, we are built for social contact. There are serious, life-threatening consequences when we don’t get enough. We can’t stay on track mentally. And we are compromised physically. Social skills are crucial for your health.

We function best with a diverse group of people around us, and so a few of our plucky parishioners started the Thursday Morning Friends Group (it is exactly as it sounds). Taking place the first Thursday of every month after the 8:00 am Mass, and lasting until 11:00, the group focuses on the quality of relationships. Numbers aren’t important. Just as you don’t measure the quality of your social life against your tally of Facebook friends, the TMFG isn’t out to set records. To find out what they were all about, we asked them. This is what they said.

Damian: So you started in the Bereavement Ministry, and you recognized the need for connection and how we’re all in some kind of pain…
Mary Bissaillon: And not only that, we’re all different. We all grieve in our own way and the Bereavement Ministry may not be what someone needs – specifically.

DH: And so you started the Thursday Morning Friends Group. This is a good sized parish and the best part of being in a big parish, is the opportunity to join some diverse, small groups. So tell me what you do in this ministry.
Marilyn Marr: Well, I’m not a widow. We just moved here a year ago and just love, love , love this parish. My idea was to get into as many groups here as I could to meet people. It helps me when I go to Church and can look around and say “Oh, I know her or I know him”. It makes it a real community for me. So when I heard about this group I told Mary that I would commit to one Thursday a month and help her get it off the ground. You know, make a friend, be a friend.

DH: So tell me about some of the activities that you do.
MB: The first meeting was a brainstorming meeting with 50 people and we had all kinds of ideas. Unfortunately the second one didn’t attract as many people. So we went into the narthex and had our own brainstorming meeting and we came up with the idea of a Potluck Breakfast. Well that was fabulous, and the turnout was great.

DH: It was fabulous – not huge – but the spirit of the room was alive.
MB: We had 17 people and that was marvelous. It’s nice to build mountains but you can’t always do that if you start with molehills. And I am so fortunate to have met Marilyn, because we bounce well off each other – very compatible.

DH: You mentioned mountains and molehills and sometimes we focus on getting our “numbers” up but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about the quality of the relationships within the ministry itself, so sometimes it’s good to keep it small. These ideas that you are referring to – what are those ideas?
MM: Well, we’re going slowly. First of all, a lot of the snowbirds are leaving so I’m not sure what we will accomplish over the summer months but next month we are going to take a trip and visit the Retreat House for the Diocese. I’ve never been there or even heard of it, so we set up a meeting and we will go up for a tour. Father will say Mass. We’ll have lunch together, and it will just be sort a day of fun and activity – and that’s really what we’re all about, right?

DH: That’s very important. So when do you meet and do you have a format of the meeting or how does that work?
MB: It’s kind of informal. Our goal is to just bring people together. We are learning more and more that there are so many people… alone. They want someone to reach out to them but they don’t know where to go, so hopefully we can fill that need.

DH: I think loneliness is like the number one scourge. That’s what our culture does. All the technology, the way our cities are designed to isolate and we go to our homes – our fortresses – and spend time in solitude. But the sharing and the caring is the most important thing. This is all about people.
MB: Yes. Absolutely. I love this parish. As you drive in it says, “All are welcome”.

DH: Is there any sort of spiritual component to this, or is it all just play?
MB: We start with a prayer and end with a prayer, so we keep it pretty light.
MM: My motive is certainly spiritual – the idea of connecting. To me, our Eucharistic celebrations are communal experiences. Being in a community that you can feel part of is what is important. Finding ways to connect as a body to the body of Christ.
MB: But Marilyn, I have to tell you, when I looked around Church this morning, I recognized so many people. So many visitors walk in and say how beautiful the church is, and I say ‘yes, and the people are great too!’

DH: Ha! Well thanks for hanging around and talking. And thank you for bringing more community to our community.

June 22, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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10 Questions with Deacon Rich Klish

Both clergy and married, a servant of the Church with a career in IT, the Deaconate is a mixed bag of roles and responsibilities. And yet every deacon’s path is a little different than another’s. He came to Florida for the weather, and stayed for the Parish and people he found at St. John XXIII. Deacon Rich Klish is an asset to our Pastoral Team, and we’re forever grateful for the work he does. We sat down with him to learn a little more about where’s he from, what he does, and how he got here. This is what he said.


Damian: So tell me where you’re from and what you were doing there?
Deacon Rich: Well I’m originally from the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis. We’re originally from Cleveland, OH and I was ordained in the 70’s, but I wasn’t a deacon for the Archdiocese until the year 2000. I served in a Parish there for 12 years, and for the last 10 of those years, I served in a marriage tribunal as a judge. A tribunal handles annulments. My wife and I moved down here in September of 2012, and it was basically the weather that got us here.

DH: It does that to a lot of people. So how did you make your living up there?
DRK: I worked in information technology – with computers. I started out as a computer programmer, and then I became a project manager. I was a project manager for about 20 some odd years. In 2002 I got laid off, and being ordained a couple years before that, I thought about maybe working for the Church full-time. I was looking around for other jobs in IT, but felt called and then made that transition to the Church.

DH: What drew you to the marriage tribunal position and what did that vocation entail?
DRK: The job involved working with individuals on their cases and serving as a judge. My wife and I were involved in various marriage ministries for a number of years. We led some Marriage Encounters and were involved in some other marriage enrichment programs, so my work was more of the flipside of that. These were marriages that had ended in divorce, but I had a lot of background in marriage, so the skillset was there. I did not have a canon law degree, but I got what was called an “indult” – or a special exception – so I was able to serve.

DH: So was that a typical thing for a deacon, or was that a specialized role for the vocation?
DRK: I would call that a specialty. Most deacons don’t work for the Church full-time. Most are actually volunteers and work out in the field doing other things. There were 12 people in my class, and of those, 4 went to work for the Church and the other 8 stayed in civil employment. We are actually clergy. The sacrament of Holy Orders has 3 different types. There’s the Order of the Bishop, of the Priest, and the Order of the Deacon. The orientation of the deacon is towards service. The three roles of the deacon are Service, Word, and Sacrament. So part of role can be sacraments – baptisms and weddings. Deacons can preach on Sundays – in most dioceses. They can serve as teachers, and the other role of the deacon is service. In the Acts of the Apostles they describe ordaining 7 men to “serve at the table”, to relieve the Apostles of some of their tasks. So the role of the deacon can involve things like working in a soup kitchen, social justice, visiting the sick in the hospital, prison ministry, and those types of things.

DH: So back on the topic of annulment, what does it take to resolve a marriage that should have never happened?
DRK: The annulment process is a legal process. It’s not purely pastoral. So Catholics that have a marriage end in divorce have a right to have their marriage reviewed. And we listen to their story. We start out with the assumption that the marriage was valid. We don’t automatically grant their annulments. My job was to listen to their stories, and serve as a judge on their case. I found it rewarding, but I found that a marriage that ends in divorce is generally the most painful and difficult parts of a person’s life. And even though it’s not meant to be a healing process, it can serve as that. It’s not meant to be an adversarial process either, it’s meant to be a process of finding out the truth about the marriage. But in working with people, I’ve found that they come to a better understanding of what happened in their marriage, and they find ways to grow through it and learn how to be stronger, and more faith-filled people. So that’s the good part.

DH: And what typically goes wrong in a marriage that would have it end in divorce?
DRK: I think that – and this is very simplistic – there are two types of cases, broadly speaking. The first is the marriage that breaks down over a number of years, simply because the husband and wife don’t do enough to feed the marriage. They become concerned with children, careers, hobbies, other relatives, what have you, and over the years – what started out so strong at the altar – it breaks down and deteriorates. The other type of marriage is the one that shouldn’t have happened in the first place. There can be issues of mental health, chemical dependency… There can be a marriage because of a pregnancy; grossly immature people marrying each other. Those you can tell from the jump aren’t going to work, generally break down pretty quickly because one or both of the parties are either not ready for marriage, or they’re just not compatible.

DH: Give me the definition of “grossly immature”.
DRK: A couple examples would be; a chemically dependent person; a person who can’t hold a job; a person who can’t manage money. And it’s always a judgment call. A lot of times there’s an attachment to it, like narcissism, or depression, or dependency. Those are some examples.

DH: So you almost have to do a psychiatric assessment on the person during this process, right?
DRK: Yes, when there’s psychological evidence during the study, we’ll submit that to a professional. Either a counselor, a chemical dependency doctor or some kind of professional will give their assessment to the court.

DH: Okay, so what are your plans for the future? Do you want to stick with annulments or take another direction?
DRK: Well, here in the Diocese of Venice, I’m not working in the tribunal. I’m assisting some people with their cases, but I’ve also been working on the emergency assistance team, the tuition assistance team, visiting Manor Care, and on Mondays, my wife and I visit Gulf Coast to take the Eucharist to people in the hospital. And also on Mondays, I’ve been serving during the Mass and doing a homily. I also work in marriage enrichment and on the Faith Alive team.

DH: So only those seven ministries? Okay, so at its core, what is the most fulfilling part of being a deacon?
DRK: It has to be the service aspect of it – either working in a group or with individuals. Working on the Family Movie Night team is a lot of fun, and that falls under marriage enrichment too.

DH: So tell me more about your life.
DRK: Well I’m married with three adult daughters. My wife and I have been married for about 45 years. My wife loves this Parish and is involved in a group called Craftie Ladies. We live about 10 minutes away in Botanica Lakes, and we enjoy… Florida!

DH: Don’t we all! Alright well thanks for sitting down with me and we’ll see you around.
DRK: Thank you.

June 15, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Every Child’s Wish | Father’s Day

Prayer isn’t a verse of words you repeat. It is how you live your life… Neither is communication a conversation between two people. You communicate by the actions you take, and in the way you live. –Father Paul Charbonneau

Every man wants to be the ideal father, and every child wants to have the perfect dad – but perfect is impossible. So what would a great father look like? My dad worked hard, but made time for us. He was a great provider, but neither spoiled us, nor used material things as bargaining chips for getting his way. In fact, looking back, there’s no telling what his way might have been – it was all about making his family happy. My father never forgot that his children were going to mimic him in adulthood, and be attracted to people like him as spouses and friends… And that’s what I’m most grateful for – his love and sense of responsibility. Without those two things, there’s no telling what path life may have taken – but with those things – we can have peace, happiness and joy in our lives.

And that’s sort of the gist of the interview with father and son – Jack and Rich Byrnes. At one point, Rich explains that he’s not too concerned with his (adult) children’s careers, but he’s proud of the people they’ve become. Unlike many in our world today, he cares less for the exterior of their lives and more about their internal character. In any walk of life, God can use us to help people, and touch people’s lives in a way that brings them closer to God. And in that way, Rich and Jack have been successful – not perfect – but they laid the path for their children, who will one day teach their children, who will then, one day teach their children…

Interview with Jack & Rich Byrnes


DH: We’re here to talk about what it is to be a father. Tell me, each one of you, what you remember most about your father growing up.
Jack Byrnes: Well, my father was a good role model. He worked many, many years with the railroads and I just took after him as I grew up. I think I’ve passed that on to Rich and my other two sons.

DH: What does it mean when you say he was a good role model?
JB: Well, he was honest and loyal and had all of the Boy Scout-type of attributes. He was loyal to the Church and spent a lot of time in the Church. That’s what we try to do in our family.
RB: I would say the same thing. I think of the amount of time that dad would spend with us. He worked very hard, but also he would take time to spend with us on weekends taking us on lacrosse trips or to hockey games.

DH: So you guys grew up up north? They didn’t have lacrosse here back then. Where did you grow up and what was that like?
Rich Byrnes: My job took me around the country and Rich was born in Sacramento. We moved to Maryland, then to Canada and back to Columbus, Ohio. So we’ve been around. I don’t think they liked it, my family, when we pulled up stakes, but looking back I think it was a good experience – growing up to see different parts of the country and Canada.
RB: And we learned how to adapt to new environments.
JB: And now he’s about to embark on another adventure.

DH: So you’re moving to Tennessee. I grew up in Tennessee. Tell me what you think, either one of you. What’s the most important part of being a father?
RB: I think the main thing is passing on the values that I learned growing up. My kids are grown now. They’re 24 and 26. As a younger parent you’re thinking, I want them to be good kids. But now I’m happy that they’ve grown into great adults and I’m very proud of both of them and what they’ve become. Not as much with their careers – but with who they are as people. And I think that’s the main focus. It’s understanding that it’s who they have become as people that is important. They both have a great faith life and they’re both very helping individuals. My daughter is a kindergarten teacher and my son spends a lot of time with his church in the music ministry. He does a lot of volunteer work in the community. Being a parent and seeing your kids be able to do that in life – that’s what makes it all worth it.

DH: What can kids get only from a father? Like, what kind of masculine characteristics do you bring to the vocation of fatherhood that a woman just cannot?
RB: Dad was the disciplinarian in the family where my mother was more of a comfort blanket to our whole family. My dad was the one from whom you really knew right from wrong. It’s kind of like the priests we have here. They guide you right from wrong. Dad used to crack a belt. He never used it but…

DH: Just that sound, the leather belt, is scary!
RB: Yes, we would get real quiet when we heard the belt crack.

DH: So Jack, did your kids get into mischief? How many kids did you have?
JB: Four.

DH: Were they just garden variety mischievous or did some of them demonstrate serious character defects?
JB: Hah! Well, we tried to keep them busy. That’s the main thing. They played football and lacrosse. Rich was third baseman on the little league team. You keep them busy and out of trouble that way. I’ll give most of the credit to my wife for how they turned out.

DH: You probably didn’t have all boys.
JB: No. I have one daughter.

DH: And Rich, you have a son and a daughter, right?
RB: Right.

DH: What are the differences between raising a boy and a girl?
RB: You have to listen a lot more with a girl. (Laughter)
JB: Well, the girl tends to be impatient as we chase the guys doing their athletics. If they’re on a traveling team the girls have to go along, and not necessarily enjoy it… but she was outnumbered in our case. Three to one.
RB: I don’t know since we had a boy and a girl if it was gender based, as much as it was their individual interests and needs. I think throughout their time growing up, just spending time with whatever their interests were was important. At one time my daughter was a dancer and so we supported that, but then in high school she decided she wanted to play lacrosse, just out of the blue. And so I went from one day never having played sports with my daughter, to spending the entire summer practicing, practicing, practicing. So that was one of my memories, spending that time with her. With my son, he was into sports and music and I was as well. The memory that I have recently is just recording music with him. Those are the memories that will never fade.

DH: What was it like seeing your daughter transition from dancing, which is about grace and beauty, to a blood sport like lacrosse? Sometimes when you watch girls lacrosse, you’re like SCARED for them, right?
RB: Oh yeah. In one of these practices she didn’t have her mask on and the ball missed her stick and bloodied her lip, and I just couldn’t believe it had happened. There she was with a big fat lip and blood gushing out. I’m thinking, what did I get her into this for? I think it’s all in how you adapt to their changes. They’re going to change through life. My daughter early on was more introverted. When she was going into middle school, there was a life teen program at our church in Pittsburgh. I had never thought about being part of the music ministry before, but it was in 2001 that I joined the music ministry and have done it ever since. But my thinking was that I want the kids to get closer to Christ and they both have benefited from that. All of the volunteer work in the youth group programs that they got involved in was a result of that. I didn’t do a lot of that myself growing up, but setting that example, now I see my son is playing music at his church. He’s 24 and it’s kind of neat to see them follow your footsteps.

DH: Jack, you had three boys. Did they just beat each other up mercilessly or did they get along?
RB: (Laughter) It was good to be the biggest of the three – and the youngest!
JB: No. They were all individuals and they complemented one another. They all played sometimes on the same team, like lacrosse, in Ohio. There was competition but I think they all had their own paths. Some were better than others in certain sports but they weren’t too competitive among themselves.

DH: So that was probably a break for you. So you guys are still pretty close and that’s a good thing. Sort of at a deeper level, you see a lot of times families grow apart and whatever mistakes a parent makes with a kid, that kid makes them with their kid. But it sounds like you guys really did it right and you knew how to love your kids. For parents who are at a loss, how would you advise anyone on the best way to show your children you love them, and ensure they have that instilled in them for when they go forward to have their own kids?
JB: One thing that comes to mind is when Rich was out of work in January. I invited him to join me each morning and walk through the prayer or memorial garden and say the Rosary. So we’ve had about four months of being together each morning before Mass. It’s something I’ll miss – not having him with me. But I hope he continues to do it in his new occupation: to do it on his own… I’ll be thinking of him.

DH: And you’re going to Tennessee to do what?
RB: Director of Transportation for Nike.

DH: So how about you Rich, how do you show your kids you love them or how would you tell other parents or new parents with young children the best way to be patient, loving, kind?
RB: I think a lot of it is faith-based. And I think it’s having a strong faith. And my faith in the last three to four months has been built stronger than ever. You think at certain times in your life, well, this is “it” and what I have learned is that there isn’t any finish line in life or after life. You just have to keep on working at things. I try to instill that in the kids. My daughter is going to be moving and she doesn’t even have a job, but she’s moving to Ohio and looking for a teaching job. She doesn’t know what lies ahead but she has good faith and good values, and so she isn’t concerned about what lies ahead because of that. She knows that my son is up there and, like you said, we have a good, tight family and they’re going to help each other out when she gets there. Like I said, in the last three months, through the Church and through saying the Rosary every morning and daily Mass, these are the things that I never would have thought of doing because I was so busy with work. Another great opportunity is the Men’s Gospel Forum on Monday mornings. People had invited me to that many times and I was thinking – oh, that’s not what I’m all about, and now that we’ve both been doing that together for the last six weeks, I’m thinking – the whole Church should be here! All of the men should be here. You can see so many people at different points in their faith. Some people are very knowledgeable about the Bible and other people are very knowledgeable about how to raise a family. It’s just a great way to share. That’s helped me to share with my wife and my kids thoughts that I wouldn’t have normally talked about with them. I think it is important to be a good communicator. Let them know how you feel. Let them know that you love them – and I think they will pass that on to their families.

DH: So, last question for both of you or each of you, what’s been the biggest challenge of fatherhood?
JB: Well, I guess I was adventurous and when there were changes in my career and opportunities in different states, it was difficult to know if I would be successful, but I was a risk taker and it seems like it has turned out pretty well. But like Rich, he’s going to a new job and I’m sure he’s somewhat apprehensive as to whether he’ll succeed. But I think most people are like that when they go to a new situation, and that’s what I was concerned with, that my family would prosper from the change.
RB: I think mine would be, in our family we made the decision early on that my wife would stay home with the kids so I have always had that pressure – having a job and continuing to move on and to move ahead with my work to support the family. So I think that was a big challenge but I think one of the things I wasn’t ready for was having newborn kids and dealing with all of that. That’s a big life changer. When that happened, my dad told me “now you understand what responsibility is all about”. And you take a different attitude towards work. When you’re a young parent, because you say OK, you thought you knew what responsibility was before, now you have a whole family to feed and you really learn that.
JB: I’d like to say one thing that has impressed me about this guy (Rich). He’s a musician and he’d rather be doing that than working, but… he wrote a song. He writes a lot of songs, but he wrote a song about me.
RB: It’s called, What would my dad do? I actually wrote it before the whole “What Would Jesus Do” thing. (Laughter)

DH: So they got that idea from you?
JB: It’s a great song.
RB: I wrote it for a birthday party that he had 27 years ago.
JB: Who’s counting?
RB: I’ll send you the lyrics for that because it really sums up what a father is and when you lie awake at night, trying to decide which direction to proceed I fall down on my knees and figure out “what would my dad do?” I think that’s what it’s all about – being the foundation for the family, being the cornerstone for the family and that’s what this guy was to me and to our whole family growing up. That’s why I wrote the song.

DH: I can identify with that because it’s hard when you’re young and single and selfish but just growing up, my dad is still one of my heros – the selflessness. You can’t even wrap your head around it but he always did the right, loyal thing. Put everybody else first, and so I get that. So thanks for talking to me and Happy Father’s Day. Good luck in Tennessee.

June 8, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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

The Gifts We’ve Been Given Through Pentecost

After Easter Sunday, Christmas is the second-greatest feast in the Christian liturgical calendar, but Pentecost Sunday is not far behind. Coming 50 days after Easter and ten days after the Ascension of Our Lord, Pentecost marks the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles. For that reason, it is often called the “the birthday of the Church.”


1st Gift: Wisdom

Wisdom is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit enumerated in Isaiah 11:2-3. They are present in their fullness in Jesus Christ, Whom Isaiah foretold (Isaiah 11:1), but they are available to all Christians who are in a state of grace. We receive the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit when we are infused with sanctifying grace, the life of God within us—as, for example, when we receive a sacrament worthily. As the current Catechism of the Catholic Church (para. 1831) notes, “They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them.”
The First and Highest Gift of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom is the perfection of faith. As Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., notes in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, “Where faith is a simple knowledge of the articles of Christian belief, wisdom goes on to a certain divine penetration of the truths themselves.” The better we understand those truths, the more we value them properly. Thus wisdom, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, “by detaching us from the world, makes us relish and love only the things of heaven.” Through wisdom, we judge the things of the world in light of the highest end of man—the contemplation of God.

The Application of Wisdom: Such detachment, however, is not the same as renunciation of the world—far from it. Rather, wisdom helps us to love the world properly, as the creation of God, rather than for its own sake. The material world, though fallen as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve, is still worthy of our love; we simply need to see it in the proper light, and wisdom allows us to do so. Knowing the proper ordering of the material and spiritual worlds through wisdom, we can more easily bear the burdens of this life and respond to our fellow man with charity and patience.

2nd Gift: Understanding

Understanding is the second of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit enumerated in Isaiah 11:2-3, behind only wisdom. It differs from wisdom in that wisdom is the desire to contemplate the things of God, while understanding allows us, as Fr. John A. Hardon writes in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, to “penetrate to the very core of revealed truths.” This doesn’t mean that we can come to understand, say, the Trinity the way that we might a mathematical equation, but that we become certain of the truth of the doctrine of the Trinity. Such certitude moves beyond faith, which “merely assents to what God has revealed.”

Understanding in Practice: Once we become convinced through understanding of the truths of the Faith, we can also draw conclusions from those truths and arrive at a further understanding of man’s relation to God and his role in the world. Understanding rises above natural reason, which is concerned only with the things we can sense in the world around us. Thus, understanding is both speculative—concerned with intellectual knowledge—and practical, because it can help us to order the actions of our lives toward our final end, which is God. Through understanding, we see the world and our life within it in the larger context of the eternal law and the relation of our souls to God.

3rd Gift: Counsel

Counsel, the third of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit enumerated in Isaiah 11:2-3, is the perfection of the cardinal virtue of prudence. While prudence, like all the cardinal virtues, can be practiced by anyone, whether in a state of grace or not, it can take on a supernatural dimension through sanctifying grace. Counsel is the fruit of this supernatural prudence. Like prudence, counsel allows us to judge rightly what we should do in a particular circumstance. It goes beyond prudence, though, in allowing such judgments to be made promptly, “as by a sort of supernatural intuition,” as Fr. John A. Hardon writes in his Modern Catholic Dictionary. When we are infused with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as if by instinct.

Counsel in Practice: Counsel builds on both wisdom, which allows us to judge the things of the world in light of our final end, and understanding, which helps us to penetrate to the very core of the mysteries of our faith. “With the gift of counsel, the Holy Spirit speaks, as it were, to the heart and in an instant enlightens a person what to do,” writes Father Hardon. It is the gift that allows us as Christians to be assured that we will act correctly in times of trouble and trial. Through counsel, we can speak without fear in defense of the Christian Faith. Thus, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, counsel “enables us to see and choose correctly what will help most to the glory of God and our own salvation.”

4th Gift: Fortitude

Fortitude is one of the four cardinal virtues. As such, it can be practiced by anyone, since, unlike the theological virtues, the cardinal virtues are not, in themselves, the gifts of God through grace but the outgrowth of habit. Fortitude is commonly called courage, but it is different from what much of what we think of as courage today. Fortitude is always reasoned and reasonable; the person exercising fortitude is willing to put himself in danger if necessary, but he does not seek danger for danger’s sake.

The Third of the Cardinal Virtues: St. Thomas Aquinas ranked fortitude as the third of the cardinal virtues, because it serves prudence and justice, the higher virtues. Fortitude is the virtue that allows us to overcome fear and to remain steady in our will in the face of obstacles. Prudence and justice are the virtues through which we decide what needs to be done; fortitude gives us the strength to do it.

What Fortitude Is Not: Fortitude is not foolhardiness or rashness, “rushing in where angels fear to tread.” Indeed, part of the virtue of fortitude, as Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., notes in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, is the “curbing of recklessness.” Putting our bodies or lives in danger when it is not necessary is not fortitude but foolishness.

5th Gift: Knowledge

Knowledge is the fifth of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit enumerated in Isaiah 11:2-3. Like wisdom, knowledge perfects the theological virtue of faith. The aims of knowledge and wisdom are different, however. Whereas wisdom helps us to penetrate divine truth and prepares us to judge all things according to that truth, knowledge gives us that ability to judge. As Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., writes in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, “The object of this gift is the whole spectrum of created things insofar as they lead one to God.”

The Application of Knowledge: Knowledge allows us to see the circumstances of our life as God sees them, albeit in a more limited way, since we are limited by our human nature. Through the exercise of knowledge, we can ascertain God’s purpose in our lives and His reason for placing us in our particular circumstances. As Father Hardon notes, knowledge is sometimes called “the science of the saints,” because “it enables those who have the gift to discern easily and effectively between the impulses of temptation and the inspirations of grace.” Judging all things in the light of divine truth, we can more easily distinguish between the promptings of God and the subtle wiles of the devil.

6th Gift: Piety

When we are infused with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, enumerated in Isaiah 11:2-3, we respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as if by instinct, the way that Christ Himself would. Perhaps in none of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is this instinctual response more obvious than in piety. While wisdom and knowledge perfect the theological virtue of faith, piety perfects religion, which, as Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., notes in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, is “The moral virtue by which a person is disposed to render to God the worship and service he deserves.” Far from being a drudgery, worship should be an act of love, and piety is the instinctive affection for God that makes us desire to render worship to Him, just as we voluntarily honor our parents.

Piety in Practice: Piety, Father Hardon notes, arises “not so much from a studied effort or acquired habit as from a supernatural communication conferred by the Holy Spirit.” People sometimes say that “piety demands it,” which usually means that they feel compelled to do something that they don’t want to do. True piety, however, makes no such demands but instills in us a desire always to do that which is pleasing to God (and, by extension, that which is pleasing to those who serve God in their own lives).

7th Gift: Fear of the Lord

Fear of the Lord is the last of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit enumerated in Isaiah 11:2-3. The gift of the fear of the Lord, Fr. John A. Hardon notes in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, confirms the theological virtue of hope. We often think of hope and fear as mutually exclusive, but the fear of the Lord is the desire not to offend Him, and the certainty that He will give us the grace necessary to keep from doing so. It is that certainty that gives us hope.

The fear of the Lord is like the respect we have for our parents. We do not wish to offend them, but we also do not live in fear of them, in the sense of being frightened. What the Fear of the Lord Is Not: In the same way, Father Hardon notes, “The fear of the Lord is not servile but filial.” In other words, it is not a fear of punishment, but a desire not to offend God that parallels our desire not to offend our parents.

Even so, many people misunderstand the fear of the Lord. Recalling the verse that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” they think that the fear of the Lord is something that is good to have when you first start out as a Christian, but that you should grow beyond it. That is not the case; rather, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom because it is one of the foundations of our religious life, just as the desire to do what our parents wish us to do should remain with us our entire lives.

Watch Father Bob’s reflections on Pentecost in this week’s edition of The 23rd Times. Aren’t getting the news? Make sure you do by signing up on our website Go to the bottom of any page and fill in your email. You’ll receive all the great stories and news from your favorite Parish!

June 1, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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The Piano Story Every Parishioner Should Hear

The piano was made and sold to a dealer in Cincinnati, OH in 1936. That dealer sold the piano to a woman named Gladys Gollahon in 1938. Gladys was a pianist who could neither read nor write music. She played by sound. This piano was sold to her, a baby grand piano, and was placed in her home in a suburb of Cincinnati.

Fast forward to 1949, and Gladys is a lounge pianist playing at the Sinton Hotel. Her husband, a bus driver for the Cincinnati City Transit Authority, was transferred to Chicago – we speculate to take part in the ‘Bus Driver Rodeo’ – but that’s just a guess. In any event, they were in a hotel in Chicago, and Mrs. Gollahon could not sleep. Words were dancing in her head, and they would not subside. She finally just got up, sat down at a desk and wrote out the lyrics to a song we would know today as Dear Lady of Fatima. She put the paper in her purse and went back to bed, and slept soundly.

Listen to the MP3 of the interview here.


A month or so later, back home in Cincinnati, the same thing happened – but this time, it was a tune, not lyrics, and so she awoke, sat at her piano and played it. As she played it, she realized that the lyrics she’d written in the hotel in Chicago went with this tune. She got them from her purse, she played them, and sings. They did go together! As she looked up from her keys, before her laid blank, lined music paper – and for the first time in her life, she sat there and wrote the lyrics and music to the song that would later become a radio sensation (unheard of at the time for religious music). She went back to bed.

The next morning there was a knock at her door. She answered it, and there stood a man dressed in all white, with 2 dozen roses. He hands her the roses – no card, no anything – and simply says ‘thank you’. She took the roses, put them in a vase, and placed them on her piano. As she did so, she looked down and saw the music she’d written in the middle of the night. Startled, she called her best friend, Helen Hackett Rothley. Helen was my wife’s mother, and she was an accomplished pianist. She’d studied music at Wittenberg University in Sprinfield, OH. She came over to check out the sheet music. She could read and play the music that Gladys had somehow written. These two Irish ladies, sitting there, listening to this music, were convinced the Blessed Mother had written this song through Gladys.

The song would not stop there. Gladys decided to record the song herself. She gathered some neighbor girls to her home, played the song while they sang, and recorded it on a tape. She took it to a disc jockey downtown Cincinnati named Bill Dawes. He had a show from noon to 6PM every day, but he refused to play her song – even though they were friends – he refused to play it. He said the low quality tape and the genre (religious) was not in line with his standards. He said no at 1:00. He said no at 2:00. He said no at 3:00. He said no at 4:00. Finally, at 5:00, she had convinced him to play it. He played it with a disclaimer, apologizing to his audience for the quality of the recording, etc.

The story goes, after he played it, the switchboard at WSAI lit up like a Christmas Tree. Overburdened with calls, no one was against hearing it. People demanded it over and over again.

On one of these days, the president of the Robbins Music Company happened to be in town. In those days, Cincinnati was like Nashville. There was a just a lot of music happening and stars originating from the city – Patty Page, Doris Day.. it was like the music capital of the world. He’d heard about this song and heard about the commotion.

He talked to Bill Dawes, found out who Gladys was, went out to her house and signed her to a contract. He agreed to publish the song, promote and get different people to record it. And he did. He got: Tony Bennett, Andy Williams, Kitty Callan, The Four Lads, and many others. I actually have a disc of Gladys commenting on their recording of her songs!

The song, in 1950, rose to #6 on the Hit Parade. A song – about Our Lady of Fatima, at #6 on the Hit Parade! This caused some degree of interest around the country. Mrs. Gollahon was written up in Time Magazine – the same story I’m telling you now – was written in Time. She was invited to New York to appear on “Toast of the Town’ with a guy named Ed Sullivan.

She became a little bit famous in Cincinnati and so she, her husband and son, moved out of their house to the outskirts of town. (Sidenote: Gladys’ son was the first person to be shot down in the Vietnam War.) When they moved, they did so without a lot of thought, and discovered their piano – The Blessed Mother’s Piano – wouldn’t fit up the elevator to their new quarters! So she gave the piano to my wife’s mother. This would have been in the 50’s. Once per week, Mrs. Rothley would have people over to pray the Rosary, and never did they leave without singing the song to the tune of that piano.

In 1963, Margie and I got married, and in 1964 we moved back to Ohio from St. Louis. One day we were visiting Mrs. Rothley and the subject of the piano came up. She’d mentioned that it was grossly out of tune, and how she’d been unable to find anyone who could tune it. Being the new son-in-law and wanting to know everything, I said I knew a guy who could do it. His name was Frank Hennessy, and he lived in Springfield where he worked for the Morelli Music Company. I grew up with him and knew there wasn’t a piano he couldn’t tune.
So he went to the house in Cincinnati and tuned it up. Frank relayed to us how valuable this Vose piano was, and how if it ever needed tuning in the future, he wanted to be the one to do it. This was 1964, and it was the first time I’d ever heard this story. Mrs. Rothley told it to Frank, and that was part of the reason he insisted on being the one to tune it. Well, my kids came into the world and they would go bang on it like kids do, and it came into a state of disrepair.

Time passed, and Mrs. Rothley eventually had to be admitted to an Alzheimer’s unit when her health began to fail. And so her house and most everything in it became my wife and her sister’s property through a trust we’d established. So the piano became part of our existence. This was right around the time that this parish was being established.

One night I had a dream, and in it I received the message that this piano was supposed to be at our Church. I told Father Sullivan about this, and after relaying the story to him – he thought about it for about 5 seconds – he said ‘bring it down’. My brother-in-law, an accomplished pianist, gave me the name of a shipping company that eventually got it here. The parish administrator at the time, through no fault of her own, had a bunch of people look at it over the course of a month with the purpose of getting it restored and tuned. Every one of them said it was as piece of junk and needed to be thrown out. None of them knew how to tune it anyhow, as it was a Vose piano. I told her I might know someone.

I don’t know why, but I couldn’t think of how to find Frank Hennessy. There was probably an easy way – call his old high school or something – but it didn’t come to me. Again, one night in a dream, I got a message that I should call Jim Paxson – another guy I grew up with – and he would know. The next day I called him and asked him if he knew where Hennessy was, and he replied “Oh, well, he’s probably in Terre Haute, IN by now.” I asked why that would be, and he told me that Hennessy was on his way over to play golf with Jim.

I asked where he lived and what he did. He said, “He lived in Columbia, MO and owns the Hennessy Music Company, which restores old pianos.” I laughed and told Jim to have Frank call me.
When Frank called, I told him about the mass consensus calling our piano a piece of junk and he immediately replied “Not that piano. They just don’t know how to tune it. Ship it to me.” I explained to him how I’d just spent $5,000 shipping to Florida and wasn’t about to spend that much to ship it up there only to hear how he couldn’t make it happen. He said he would send his truck to get it – and he did!

He looked at it and said it could be tuned, but that the wood was in really bad shape. At the time, there were only two places in the world where the wood could be restored. One was a city in – at the time – Czechoslovakia, and the other was in Juarez, Mexico. He told me he’d ship it to Juarez, have it back in 3-4 weeks, tune it up and ship it back to Florida. He told me he’d do it at cost for the Blessed Mother. So I said okay.

Four weeks went by, no news about the piano. Eight weeks went by, still no news. Finally I called him and asked what was going on. He said, “Tom, they won’t answer my calls. They won’t respond to my letters. I just can’t get a hold of them!” I asked him if he knew anything about what was going on. He knew nothing. They responded to nothing.

Long story short, 18 months later Hennessy gets a call telling him the piano would be returned to him the next day. When the truck driver got to Frank’s place, he asked him what the deal was – why so long? The driver explained that Hurricane Katrina had sent an undetermined number of pianos to this company, and his had been set aside while they all dried out and waited to be restored.

So Frank put the harp back in it, tuned it and shipped it back. Some more time passed and after short deliberation, Father Sullivan picked August 6, 2006. At the time, I had no idea that that date was Father Sullivan’s birthday, but he told me he wanted more of the history of the piano, and that’s when the parish administrator at the time called Frank Hennessy to get the full story.

This is when we found out the harp (inside the piano) was poured and cast in December of 1935 in Springfield, OH – the same month, year and city of my birth! It was poured at the Wickam Piano Company. In that year, 1935, Wickam was located one and a half blocks from where I was born and raised. The piano also had a serial number attached to it from Worchester, MA, dated August 6, 1936 – the same EXACT date, year and city in which Father Sullivan was born!

There is just too much coincidence here. I believe that this piano was picked by the Blessed Mother to be at this Church…. And that’s the story.





May 18, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Be One of Our Helping Hands

Helping Hands, a program developed by Catholic Relief Services and Stop Hunger Now, is a high-energy, hands-on way for Catholics in the U.S. to tackle hunger around the world. During an event, volunteers package nutritious meals for people in Burkina Faso suffering from food shortages and famine. CRS educates volunteers about the people and country they are helping, ships the meals and provides skills training and other long-term programs that help break the cycle of hunger.

We are organizing a local food-packaging event, and we need your help. In order to host this event, we need 80 people to help work on the assembly line to package the food. The parish is helping along, with my school to help raise the money.


This is a fun, educational, and simple project that has a major impact. We will be packaging 10,000 meals, and each meal serves 6 people. That is 60,000 people being fed in developing countries. We need volunteers on the day of the event to come and help package the food. The 7th and 8th grade class will be going to Blessed Pope John XXIII parish to help package the food. But in order to accomplish this goal, I need your help. The event will take place at St. John XXIII on May 20. We plan on starting at 9:00 am.

If you have any questions concerning the event you can contact me at:

The Interview with Isabella

DH: Tell me about this effort you’re making.
IR: It’s a new packaging program where you package rice, soy, vegetable and nutrition packets. You package them, and then send them to developing countries.

DH: And how did this get started… why do you feel the need to help other people?
IR: Each year my school has a speech contest and this year the topic was “How my passions can change the world” and I chose my passion to be perseverance. Earlier in the year, my family went to a meal packaging service in a local high school and that experience stuck with me. So I’m trying to use my perseverance in this case to persevere as an act of love, to help people who are not as fortunate.

DH: Tell me about some of the other things in your life in which you persevere… school, sports, what else?
IR: In school, I like academics although it gets harder every year. In sports, I play soccer and that takes a lot of perseverance to practice, play games and just get out there every day.

DH: Awesome. So tell me about what kind of a student you are. What do you excel in? What do you like about school? And tell me where you go to school.
IR: I go to Royal Palm Academy in Naples. I like math. Math is my favorite subject. I’m not a good speller so you don’t really have to spell a lot in math.

DH: You obviously have a heart for service, tell me about your vision for the future.
IR: I’d like to grow up and be a doctor, a radiologist preferably, and go out there and do the Doctors Without Borders program. I think that would have a huge impact not only on me but the people around me.

DH: That’s pretty specific. Don’t they need big equipment to do radiology?
IR: Or just generally going out there and helping with simple things like medications, vaccinations and simple regular check-ups.

DH: Sounds like you want to travel.
IR: Yes.

DH: What is it about travel, and where do you want to go? You said they are sending the food packets to Africa or maybe some parts of India?
IR: Or places where it is determined that it is most needed at this time.

DH: Do you have any experience with third world countries?
IR: My family is from Brazil and I figure that’s considered a third world country. You do see some poverty there but nothing like Africa or the Middle East.

DH: So a lot of people will tell you, Isabella, there are people in America who are suffering and they need your help here. They’ll say Why don’t you fix the problems at home first? And then you are going to have the opposing argument saying, “American’s can fend for themselves.”. “We have all the resources we need.” Which side of the argument are you on? IR: I agree that America does need help. There are other programs available like Food For the Poor. But Catholic Relief Services mainly focuses on international aid.

DH: Pretty good answer. That was a trick question. You didn’t fall for the trick. OK. So what else do you do with your life? What position do you play in soccer?
IR: I play center forward.

DH: Do you score a lot of goals?
IR: I think I do. Yes. I don’t know how I compare to other people but I think I’m a good player. We play other Catholic schools like St. Ann’s and St. Elizabeth Seton. Naples Christian Academy is probably our biggest rivel. There are only about 200-250 kids at my school, so we’re a small team.

DH: Where will you go to high school?
IR: Bishop Verot here in Fort Myers.

DH: Are you looking forward to high school?
IR: I’m excited. It will be a big change. I’m looking forward to it. Going from 200 to 800 kids is quite a difference but I think it will be fun.

DH: You’re almost done with school. You’ve got two months and you’ll be ready for high school. We look forward to having you around, and good luck with your food drive. SEE BELOW.
IR: Thank you.


May 11, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Dedicated to Mary, Because it’s Hard to Argue with Miracles

The Rosary was developed in the Middle Ages to fight a heresy about Jesus, Some were teaching that Jesus was not God from the moment of conception. To counter this, Mary appeared to St. Dominic and gave him the Rosary; it has fifteen mysteries which revolve around the Incarnation.

See the rest of the story below.



And in case you missed them, here are the Easter Vigil photos.

Starting from the Annunciation – that she would conceive Jesus by the power of The Holy Spirit – these mysteries take us through Jesus’ life as Man and God, to His Suffering, Death, Burial and Resurrection. The last two mysteries, Mary’s Assumption and Coronation, appear to be about Mary, but deeper meditation show that they are about the Body of Christ, the Church, who will someday be assumed into Heaven and be crowned, the Bride of Christ. These events did happen to Our Lady, and she has always been seen since the earliest Christian writings, as the Icon of the Church.

Sadly, many do not realize that they should be meditating on these mysteries as they pray, but when the Rosary was developed, it was the way people learned. In the thirteenth century, you could not go up the street to your local store and buy a Bible. Most people couldn’t read, so the Church used our prayer life as a way of drilling home Truths about the Catholic faith.

If you go through the words of the Hail Mary carefully, you’ll see this prayer was given to fight a heresy about Jesus not being God from the moment of conception. Every time a Christian leads someone to Christ, or assists a fellow Christian in the process of sanctification by word, deed, action, or prayer they are playing the role of co-redeemer. That is what it means to be a co-redeemer and indeed a Christian.

Mary played a particular role in the redemption of mankind by bringing Christ into the world. She continues that role by her intercession. St. James wrote that “the prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16) Mary, being righteous, and in the presence of God, and therefore knowing His will, has an intrinsically powerful ministry of intercession.
And this is why it is so important we acknowledge the power and presence of Mary in our lives. She intercedes. She hears our deepest fears like only a mother can. She puts her arms around us and reminds us that love – in this life, or in the hereafter – is the only thing that matters.

Tom and Marge Harrington have dedicated themselves to the person and spirit that exemplify what it means to be a mother – Mary. The couple leads the Rosary in our Parish Monday through Saturday after daily Mass, and their devotion to Mary is the cornerstone of their faith. And as we’re each called to be co-redeemers, this is their way of leading people to Christ. We asked them to share with us the reasons behind this devotion. Here are some of their answers.

Tom: My earliest recollection of the Blessed Mother, as part of my life, occurred on December 7, 1941. I had before that observed my grandmother with beads but I didn’t pay any particular attention to what the beads were. I had been at a movie and in the middle of things they turned the lights on and told us we had to go home because the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I didn’t know who the Japanese were. I certainly didn’t know where Pearl Harbor was. I was all of five – going on six years old. So I took the bus to my grandmother’s house and when I got there my whole family was there. I thought I was telling them something, but they seemed to know all about it. My grandmother said, “ We have to say the Rosary “ and we started saying the Rosary on that day. From that day in l941 until I left for the seminary, it became a thing that we did every Sunday as a family. This was the Harrington side of the family and I later learned my grandmother, who came from Germany, had been doing the same. And they were always praying to Our Lady of Fatima. They told me about the promises of Fatima. They told me what the Blessed Mother had said at Fatima and that, too, became part of my life until I left for the seminary. In seminary, the Rosary is done in a different setting completely. When I went off to college it stopped for a while. I left college and went to law school in St Louis where I moved in with an elderly woman who had just as much devotion to the Blessed Mother as anyone I had experienced in my life. She got me back to saying the Rosary every day.

DH: Marge, can you tell me about your involvement with the Blessed Mother in your life?

Marge: Yes. I became acquainted with the Blessed Mother very quickly in my young life. My mother loved the piano. We’d have everyone over our house and we would sing Our Lady of Fatima and we would pray the Rosary. And then on Saturdays all the children in the neighborhood would come to our house. She would have the Rosary around noon, and then give us fresh lemonade and fresh baked cookies. Of course they were coming for the cookies and lemonade, but they learned how to say the Rosary. So this happened from the time we were little. We went to a Catholic high school and college where we were saying the Rosary all the time. Everybody had a Rosary on them, and this was just something you did.

DH: So what does it do for you? What do you get out of it?

Marge: For one thing, it gets you out of yourself. You concentrate on the words of the Rosary. And I always have someone that I am asking for, thanking for, or praying for. And I pray for guidance and thanksgiving for those who cannot pray for themselves, or those who don’t know about Mary. She’s the Mother of everything.

DH: How has Mary guided you through being the mother of five children?

Marge: Well, when I learned I would never bear children I wept terribly. Then we prayed and prayed and prayed. We got married and very quickly thereafter learned that I was pregnant. And I prayed to the Blessed Mother, “Oh please let this birth happen.” And we went on to have five living children with a total of eight pregnancies. Mary has guided all of us. Even when they were growing up we would always have the Rosary at our house. And when they were little children, we would hear the night prayers with them kneeling in front of the couch. As they got older it was part of a ritual – get ready for bed and come downstairs for prayers. As they got older, we would bless each child with holy water and spend time with each one in their own room. They all have a devotion to the Blessed Mother today as well. On Friday nights, several families in our neighborhood would get together for a meal and then say the Rosary. Then the kids would all play in the street and the adults would socialize.

DH: And where was this? It sounds like a big Catholic Community.

Marge: Dayton, OH. Yes it was. They had a church but they didn’t have a school when we got there. We moved there because he got a job to practice law.

Tom: The neighborhood we lived in was called “little Vatican City”. What happened was, the archdiocese decided to build high schools in the early ‘60’s and one was built four miles from our house. And around this high school a large percentage of the population was Catholic. We were in a new parish called St Charles, and we both became very active.

DH: Tell me, Marge, how has the vocation of motherhood changed in the eyes of our culture from back then, as you talk about this neighborhood, to now, where a lot of people don’t know their neighbors.

Marge: Who do you count on unless you have good neighbors? Today, a lot of people don’t have the cushion of family and friends. I think it’s a very difficult world today and God bless the people who can still do it and are going to work, mothering and being good wives. It’s very, very difficult. So I give them a lot of credit and I know that the Blessed Mother is right with them, every step of the way. And She will be.

DH: And what advice might you give them?

Marge: You do what you can do, because peace comes from your inner strength – and that is given by the directions of the Holy Spirit. Everything that you want to know, He’s got. Every morning I wake up and pray. An active prayer life is so important. An active prayer life leads to the knowledge of the Holy Spirit. A lot of people have lost that. We don’t have the time! Let’s be honest, our country is driven by money, and the only “news” we see is bad news. Turn off the bad news!

DH: I don’t have children, but it’s really scary if you’re paying attention to the media at all. How are parents supposed to counteract the over-sexualized, hyper-violent messaging that constantly bombards their little young minds?

Marge: That’s a good question, because – I know this sounds old-fashioned – but you really have to watch them. Be with them. Children sort of need to be tethered, and pruned like trees so they grow up tall and strong. When they’re young, the don’t have the deepest roots. Parents, the Church and school are their roots. So if these things are in place, and committed their development, they’ll grow up and eventually have deep roots. When the storms come – and they will come – they will survive them.

DH: I have some friends with kids that are approaching teenage years. It’s always a little scary, no matter how much groundwork has been done, to watch a child go through those changes. What advice would you give the parents… actually, what would you tell the kids, especially girls, about how to live life?
Marge: Be yourself. Don’t try to imitate some movie star. We had this program back in high school called, literally, “Be Yourself”. The nuns came up with this, and it was an all-encompassing program on just… the way to live. Be positive. Be joyful. Listen to God. Don’t talk negatively about others. Mind your own business (unless you see someone getting hurt). These are rules that have been all but forgotten these days.

DH: Really good advice. I’m reading this book right now called Overwhelmed: work, love and play, when no one has the time, and it’s all about how no one has enough time, everyone’s schedule is so packed tight. It’s a book actually written to women, but my sister gave it to me when she was done with it…. Anyway, as I’m reading this book, I’m thinking, is it because people are more self-centered today, which is why we don’t think we have enough time for ourselves? OR, have things really gotten busier in our world and are people spread so thin they can’t focus on things that really matter – like family and time with loved ones? How do you see that phenomenon playing out in our world?

Marge: It’s here. You’d think it would be easier with all of the mechanical things we have. But everybody seems to think that they need a whole lot of stuff – and it’s just stuff. You don’t have to have a television. You don’t have to have a computer (or 3). You don’t have to have an iPad. You know, the hippies almost had it right. If you could get rid of all the things out there and then just center on good food, good weather, good health, and then each other… you can see the sun rise in the morning and go down at night. And you can enjoy life instead of all this running here and there, and having this and having that. It’s all nonsense. It wears people out. You don’t need all that stuff.

DH: You have daughters I assume – and if you had 5 sons… God bless you. What have you taught them about motherhood?

Marge: Yes, I have daughters, and they know exactly what it means to be a mother. They are right on track. They have their priorities, they have their families.

DH: So tell me what you think people would gain from dedicating more of their prayer life and attention to the Blessed Mother.

Marge: Everything – if they could concentrate on the holiness and femininity of the Blessed Mother. She just has such a sweet joy pouring out of her. And you just know that she radiates holiness. Like a mother, She is kind. When I think of her, I think of flowers and gentleness, and kindness.

Tom: I don’t want to convey the impression that we, or our family, are perfect . We’re just ordinary people. But when I have gotten off track, I’m 100% certain that the reason I have gotten back on track is because I have a mother guiding me from heaven. I feel mothers have a gentle way with guiding, persuading and improving. Marge has kept us together because we have certainly had rough times. She kept us focused on family, Church and our God. When I was in seminary there was a phrase “Go to Mary”. If you have a problem, go to Mary. Jesus was God in man, and as a man He had an Achilles heel as does every other man – and that was His mother. He can never say no to her. If you go to Mary, your prayers will be answered. It may not be the answer you want, but it will be answered.

May 4, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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The Math of Service

You’ve seen Karen before, even if you couldn’t put the name with the face. If you do know her, then you sort of know ‘the deal’ with Karen. She’s into everything. Not a control freak. Not a micro-manager. She’s more of a delegator. She wasn’t always this way, but when you take a look at all she’s involved in, it doesn’t add up. It adds up to much more than the sum of her efforts. And this is what her actions have taught us over the past seven years. When we live to serve – when we don’t ask too many questions (of God), when we don’t mindlessly self-seek – the sum of our efforts are always greater than the energy it took to create them (okay maybe there was a touch of physics in there).

The Father Bob & Karen Sanders Interview Part 1

The Father Bob & Karen Sanders Interview Part 2


This is how it all started. “You know, you can only play so much tennis, go to so many luncheons, and play so many rounds of golf. When my kids went off to college, I admit, I got bored,” Karen remembers. “I’d always gone to Church regularly and one Sunday, the pastor stood up and started talking about a St. Vincent de Paul Society they were starting. This was also the first time women were invited to join. That perked my ears up right away. I said, ‘I’m in.’”

She and some friends from St Catharine’s in Holmdel, NJ began doing home visits, and out of that sprang the Ministry to the Sick. It was at Bayshore Community Hospital that she began visiting Catholic patients. She started realizing there was a need outside of her skill set. “We didn’t have a pastoral care department, but there was this wonderful old Dominican priest named Father Karol. I used to make him a list of the people that needed communion and he would always say, ‘Now, Karen, you really need to just become a Eucharistic Minister.’ And, you know, I felt so unworthy.” Who wouldn’t? What’s more sacred than handling the Body of Christ, and then delivering it to people in dire straits – people who might very well take It as their last sacrament on Earth?

“I used to hide. He’d come to the hospital, and I’d find another place to be. And then one day, I rounded the corner and there he was, holding his pix. He said, ‘You’re coming with me.’ And after I’d become a Eucharistic Minister, I was all about ministering to the sick – especially with the Eucharist,” Karen recalls.

Before long, people caught on to their good deeds and their little team grew. Karen, the de facto leader, realized that she was stepping into a role that she may not have been perfectly prepared for. She’d heard about a CPE program in a nearby hospital for people looking to become hospital chaplains, and so in the only possible way she could share commonality with Rodney Dangerfield, she went back to school.

“So I studied CPE at a local college and had to appear before a board of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains and be certified. That was definitely a high moment in my life,” Karen remembers. “So I continued at that Parish and started a bereavement program. Time went by and there came to be a position open for Pastoral care at this hospital. There were some other clergy members from other faiths that applied, but I was about to embark on a trip to the Holy Land, so I put my application in and got on the plane. I said ‘God, I’m going to the Holy Land. Let them decide while I’m on this trip,’” Karen laughs.

If she was trying to curry favor with the Almighty during the deliberation process, she might not have picked a better place to vacation… and so it worked. “When I got back, they offered me the position. From day one, I knew the one thing that hospital needed was a chapel. I waited until the time was right, and then I pushed my plea. There was a young mother with six kids – not a lot of money – and she approached me one day. She said ‘We tried to get into your meditation room and none of us would fit.’ I said, okay, now it’s time.”

The president of the hospital told her she could have a chapel if she picked the spot and raised the money. The organizational and logistical efforts to raise the necessary $156,000 could fill its own manual, but needless to say, they got it done. Interesting to note here, if you rewind the tape, Karen responded to a seemingly random set of circumstances that began with an announcement at Mass. She was called and led down a path that guided her to change. She did not fully understand what that change would entail, but she trusted that if her actions were unselfish, loving and honest, God would take care of her and let the fruits of her labor multiply beyond her awareness (or comprehension, for that matter).

Karen was the hospital chaplain at Bayshore Community Hospital on September 11, 2001, and because of that, she was able to respond to, and take part in, the most urgent medical crisis of all time. She sat with the FBI while they interviewed people who entered her hospital after the 9/11 attack. “We lost over 128 people within our community. Everyone had a loved one who had been tragically affected by the attack, including one of our doctors,” Karen remembers. We did memorial service after memorial service, and… just think about our staff who still had to work while their loved ones were out there… just not knowing what was happening. People would go down to the train station and check to see if their loved one’s cars were there. That was the only way to know if they’d been involved.”

After that, her husband had had enough. He came home and said, ‘We’ve lost too many friends. I’m retiring. I choose not to work anymore.’ A year later they came down to Florida. The rest is history.

At this Parish, she’s started the Hospital Ministry to Gulf Coast Hospital, which involved organizing teams of Eucharistic Ministers to visit every Catholic patient, each day – 365 days per year. She founded the Compassionate Services Ministry, which visits the homebound. She helped start the Arimathean, the Funeral Ministry, Bereavement Ministry, the Rosary Making Group, the Prayer Shawl Ministry, and is active in most of the ministries at the Villas Senior Home.

“Sometimes you just need to raise the flag and say ‘This is who we need, are you willing to step forward? Would you like to help out?’” Karen explains. Simple in its brevity. Profound in the fact that when people are ready to be called, a simple call is all it takes.

Karen’s story isn’t ending at St. John XXIII. She is like a rock skipping along a big, flat pond, and every time she touches down, she leaves a ripple of goodness, spreading endlessly in every direction. There’s no telling how lives will be affected when she lands again in the coming months, but we do know a little bit more about the math of service from her being at this Parish. It is not a matter of addition, nor multiplication, nor a problem of exponential growth. When we’re doing the math of service, we’re simply unable to solve for the unknown. Our questions about life may never be answered, but when we’re at the service of others, God plants the seeds of joy within us that make life worth living. The proof lies in the bonds that form between two people, when one is helping another. Karen just taught us a class that lasted 7 years, and now that it’s adjourned, we need to go, and teach the lesson to others.

See her full interview in this week’s edition of the 23rd Times.

April 27, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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It’s really happening!

This Sunday, April 27th during and after the 11:15 am Mass, we’ll be holding our Canonization Celebration commemorating John XXIII and John Paul II. Come join in the festivities and listen to Father Bob’s reflection on his encouter with our Holy Father.



To all who served during our Easter Services, thank you.  A LOT goes into making the Triduum & Easter so special – namely for those entering the Church. We’d like to acknowledge Catherine Vaughn and her Art & Environment Team. Bob Kirchner and his Choir. Mike Navarro, Marc Bingcang, Vince Knipfing and all other Sacristans involved in the Triduum.

Thank you to Lectors, Eucharistic Ministers, Servers, Ushers, Greeters, Parking Attendants, and everyone who made this Easter Weekend special. Alleluia.  Special thanks to Peter Smith, Mike Angellotti, Rob Erp, Stella McCaffery and the gardening committee for making our grounds look so beautiful and welcoming. Thank you to the anonymous donor of the two golf carts – what an amazing gift!

& Welcome!

We warmly welcome the following new members who were initiated into our Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. May Christ always be your focus and may you know the comfort of his love forever. Our new Catholics are: Natalia Amado, Michael Polsinelli, Cuong thi Son, John Willis, Debra Bartha, Jacob Boudreau, Rhonda Crutcher, Donald Lewis, Barbara Martin, Suzie Norfleet, Barbara Sutton, Bill Sutton, and Brad Ward.

Christina Condon was baptized Catholic, and completed the Sacraments of Initiation. Thank you to all the members of our community who helped them on their faith journey; our Catechists: Ginny Whelan, Dan Pieper, Leslie Robertson, Mark Bir, Paul Kielmeyer, Sandy Szymanski, Joanne Macpeek, Margaret McGreevey, Rich Bryne, Deacon Rich Klish, and Pat Nacol. Thank you Jennifer Engelman for all your help keeping us organized and being present whenever needed.

We appreciate and thank Barbara Catineau for her year-long commitment to the RCIA Ministry from Inquiry through to the Easter Vigil.

Thank you to all the members of the Ladies Guild who supplied delicious refreshments on Sunday Morning and Lois Becker and those who helped with the lovely reception after the Easter Vigil. Our DRE Chris Biel, our priests, Frs. Bob, Bernie & Marcin, and to you our parishioners for your prayers and support.

April 17, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Holy Week Blessings from Our Priests

Thank you to all our helpers during this Holy Week. SO MUCH goes into making this holiday special for everyone – namely those entering the Church. We’d also like to thank Rob Erp, Stella McCaffery and the gardening committee for making our grounds look so beautiful and welcoming. What you do means so much to us!! ALSO, remember next Sunday, April 27th during and after the 11:15 am Mass, we’ll be holding our Canonization Celebration. Please come celebrate this momentous event.


A Journey of Faith, to Love Again

by Damian Hanley

“I came from a family that was very fractured. My parents divorced when I was young, and that experience was very traumatic.”

When you’re a child, you’re being taught lessons all the time – lessons on how to love; lessons on how to hate; and lessons on how to be in the world. Adults forget this fact, which is why so many children are abused – not physically, although this does scar young bodies – but emotionally, children remember every dig, and every cut. And they carry those wounds into adulthood. We all know what it is to suffer, and this is why when Easter comes around, we cannot help ourselves but to think about Christ only 3 days before, and how He was tortured. He must have felt double the pain at the injustice of the event. He came to teach us how to love, and we killed Him. I guess one of the reasons why we celebrate Easter is not simply the fact that He rose, but because out of His suffering we found meaning.

Easter is the perfect time for reflection. When we contemplate the suffering and injustice Christ endured, it puts our own in perspective. But, without trying to compare apples and oran…crucifixion, what it also does is prove to us that no matter how great the suffering, or how extreme the misery, we’re called to use these experiences to inspire other people. We’re called to forgive anyway, and use what we learn about the frailty of humans – and the perfect love of God – and use that to better the lives of others. And that’s what Barbara Pascale did.

“I felt abandoned, but as a survival mechanism, I still held within me that there was a God. I see it now, as just part of the fine honing of the person I was to become. If those things hadn’t happened on the journey, there’s no telling I’d have the appreciation for the role of my faith in how I live my life.”

We’ve all felt alone and abandoned at times, but young Barbara was placed in an orphanage by her father at an age so young that she felt absolutely vulnerable, but old enough to know the implication of his action. How could she have possibly felt loved? How could she have felt worthy of love if her own father – unprovoked by any outside force – gave her up? A novel could be written on each of her experiences in foster care, but suffice it to say, it was no picnic.

“As my family fractured, the foundation of my spiritual life became my grandmother. She was always there for me. When my brothers and I went our separate ways into foster care, I began Hebrew school,” she remembers. “I really think I found God in that school, and I clung to that facet of my faith. In fact, I still have my childhood Torah. I bounced around a little and for a short while lived with my father and stepmother. She was a Protestant and at one point I became a Presbyterian. So I went from being Jewish, then becoming a Presbyterian, and when I went back to live with my mother, I started going to a Catholic church with my stepfather’s relative… And that’s when the call became strongest.”

Despite the path of tumult that had become Barbara’s faith life, she arrived at Catholicism in 1962. So many people turn away from religion, faith and God – as reflected in their behavior – because of the pain they suffer as children. Garden variety godlessness is almost too common in our culture to be called a “disease” or “mental illness”. It’s become a new normal for a world in which people (marketers) are literally buying our attention a second or a mouse-click at a time. But by becoming a Catholic, she was answering a call, and finding her way out of pain by looking deeper into her faith life. Not running from it.

“As a survival mechanism, at times, I held in my heart the idea that there was a God that loved me.” Quite possibly it was the pain she felt in her childhood that became the motive force that would fuel her conversion.

She was going to learn to love again.

“I never lost my faith, but it didn’t come easily either,” remembers Barbara. “You know, back then, there was no formal process for becoming a Catholic – no RCIA. I would meet with my pastor, Father John once or twice a week. We’d read through a Catechism that was written for children because no formal program existed – and we did it together. He challenged me. I challenged him. And all the while, this deep sense of peace began to develop within me. It kept getting deeper, and deeper and deeper.”

Slowly the feelings of abandonment that were so pervasive in her childhood began to lift. She could have – and many do – become a hateful person. She could have held the resentment inside and let it chafe her soul. “It took a long time, but in a way I am grateful for the way my childhood unfolded. Had I not felt all that pain, chances are I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”

And who is that person today? “I’m a person who has a lot of empathy, compassion,”and she’s a person that gives a lot of herself to people with desperate situations. As part of the Emergency Assistance Team, she reminds people that the Church is there for them in the material world as well as the spiritual. She supports her husband’s work as a Knight, and in an effort to empower the truly disenfranchised around us, she’s president of the Friends of Literacy program in the Lee County Library system, because “when I learned to read, it became the thing I turned to most to expand the world around me. I could go anywhere through the written word.”

We see it in every major faith tradition of our time. Possibly the greatest movement in spirituality of the 20th century was Alcoholics Anonymous, and the variety of 12-step spin-offs it bore in its wake. They all work in essentially the same way. People come in broken. They share with others. They learn about their brokenness and seek God. They amend their lives. They become decent human beings – and here’s the kicker – they carry the message and help other people to find the same peace and serenity which they can only describe as a miracle. It works because, built into the program, is the stipulation that they give of themselves so that others can also find God. And yet, we, in our stubbornness and self-centeredness, blow this off as if it were God’s mere suggestion. When we love people unconditionally and do what we can to help them, God takes care of us. In fact, He grants such profound peace and serenity when we use our pain and experience to help others, it’s as if… Jesus was trying to tell us something when He died on the cross. Could it be that simple? Nah. There’s got to be more to it.

Barbara’s journey wasn’t a “competition” of faiths that Catholicism won out. Her journey started with overcoming emotional pain and feelings of abandonment, and has culminated in a place where the only thing that makes sense is to live a life of service. Punch Card Catholics come to Church because – even if they’re just going through the motions – they know the answers are here. They know that the solution to their suffering is in the Gospel, and make no mistake, we are all suffering in one way or another.

We suffer because of our inability to love – to love like God taught us. No matter how many times we fall – or feel abandoned – our faith that God will send us the person to teach us how to love cannot waiver. He will do it. “I have a prayerful way of being, and I don’t know where this journey will lead, but I believe with every fiber of my being, that it will lead me home.” If we don’t learn how to love… if we don’t learn how to fully live in God’s world, we will have missed the meaning of life. No Ferrari, no McMansion, no amount of pleasure will compensate for that. So when we contemplate the meaning of Easter, please think only of the love God has for us, and get busy emulating it. Our suffering is our greatest teacher, because without it, we cannot grow closer to Him. Be grateful for it.

April 15, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Father Bob Interviews Michael Polsinelli

Although frequently overshadowed by Good Friday and Easter, Palm Sunday is an important part of Jesus’ ministry on its own. Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphal entrance of Christ into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-9), when palm branches were placed in His path, and yet, despite the significance of Palm Sunday, we know what is to come in just a short time, that that same crowd would cry for Jesus’ crucifixion, and for a criminal to be released in His place.

This coming Easter Vigil, our RCIA candidates will receive their sacraments and enter the Church. One such candidate, Michael Polsinelli, has a slightly different perspective on the process. Read and see how he’s preparing himself for Easter, and then do the same for yourself.


Father Bob: Michael, tell us about yourself.
Michael Polsinelli: Well, I’m 10 years old and I go to Sunshine Elementary. I’m in 4th grade and I play baseball for The Buckeyes in a league at Buckingham Park. I play first base.

FB: That’s great! So tell me – most children are baptized right after birth, but you weren’t. And now, at 10 years old, you’ve chosen to enter the church and receive your sacraments through the RCIA program. This is a major thing. How did you come to that decision?
MP: We’d stopped going to church for a while, but when we found this Church, it felt right. I really like coming here. My family and I started talking more and more about joining and part of that conversation had to do with my sacraments – you know, how I didn’t have them.

FB: So what does this all mean to you? How are you processing this experience as a 10-year old?
MP: When I learned about the sacrament in the adapted RCIA program, Baptism being the washing away of original sin, I realized how important that is… And then Eucharist being an act of thanksgiving. That’s also a very important concept for me.

FB: So we know there’s always a story behind people’s Confirmation name. What name did you choose and tell me a little bit about how that choice came about?
MP: I chose St. Paul because my father chose St. Michael for my name, his name is Paul, and I like his writings.

FB: He was a great writer. He wrote more letters than probably anyone else in the Bible – the Phillipians; the Galatians; the Corinthians. I mean he wrote to a lot of people all over the world and many consider him to be the greatest missionary in the Church. But, you know, he died for his work, and his belief in Christ – which has me thinking. You probably see a lot of disturbing things on the news, or maybe even in school, that challenges your faith in a deep way. How do you give witness to the Gospel and your faith as a young 10-year old boy?
MP: I think the answer to everything is in the Gospel. It’s really “The Truth” and we should refer to it when we’re forced to make hard decisions.

FB: Are you ever challenged by other kids with regard to your faith? Do you find it hard to play a competitive sport, like baseball, and still stay true to your faith?
MP: It can be.

FB: So what does your life look like in 20 years? Is God leading you in any particular direction?
MP: Well I’d love to play a professional sport, but if that doesn’t work out… I think I could see myself as a teacher, or maybe become a mechanic like my father.

FB: That’s fantastic. And so the time is coming soon when you’ll be received into the Church. How do you feel about that? You excited?
MP: Oh yeah. I’ve being coming up for a blessing all this time, and now I’ll be able to receive the Eucharist – I will really feel a part of the Church.

FB: And you will be – that’s really wonderful. Tell me about that medal you’re wearing around your neck.
MP: Oh, my Aunt Nancy got this for me in Washington DC. It’s a St. Michael medal.

FB: Do you know that he’s the great protector saint? He will always protect you. So we’re sitting here at the baptismal font, and this is where we’re going to baptize you on Holy Saturday night. We’re going to dip you in here and put this Chrism oil on your head. It’s got a beautiful scent. It signifies that wherever you go in life, you bring the fragrance of Christ with you. So you are going to be an apostle of the Lord. It’s going to be a great evening… it’s a little long, about two and a half hours. But we’re going to have great music, and great company. I hear you like some liturgical music too, is that right?
MP: I really like that song Sing to the Mountains. It’s very uplifting. So much of Church music is slow, and I remember once I requested it to the music director after the final blessing one week, and they actually played it.

FB: Yes, that song is as old as I’ve been a priest. I remember singing it in seminary… It’s been around a while. And you know, on that note, if the pro sports, and the teaching or being a mechanic doesn’t work out, I’d love for you to think about becoming a priest. We could use more guys like you. You’d be great…. And priests are teachers too! We try to exemplify the life of St. Paul. So good luck in all you do, good luck in your baseball game tonight, and many blessings on your journey of faith.

April 8, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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A Personal Account of the Holy Land

Presented by our parishioners Mark Bir, Mike Navarro & Pat Nacol Tuesday, April 15th, in the Community Room at Blessed Pope John XXIII. Two sessions: 9AM and 6PM

This will be a 60-minute presentation with Q&A at the end.


Anointing of the Sick Explained

If I asked you to close your eyes and picture the Sacrament of Anointing, what image would come to your mind? I think many Catholics would picture a priest standing at a hospital bedside next to an unresponsive person, or someone whose mortality has become inevitable. Although the sacrament began as a ritual of healing, over time the emphasis shifted to the forgiveness of sins on the deathbed, when such forgiveness would be the final preparation for heaven. The Second Vatican Council, in 1959, returned the original meaning to the sacrament by emphasizing that it is not only for those who are at the point of death, but for anyone who is seriously ill, including mental or spiritual illness. It also helped move the Anointing away from a private service and back toward a community-based one.

Often, people call us at the very last minute. And they have the impression that we’re magicians, or that we can perform a sort of, last minute miracle,” shares Father Bob. “I really want people to understand the real meaning and purpose of the sacrament. Also, when people treat it like a ‘magic trick’, it erodes the dignity of the faith, and obscures the duty of the priest.”

Today we are all aware that tensions, fear and anxiety about the future affect not only our mind, but our body as well. These illnesses can be serious. They can move us to ask for the healing touch of Christ in the Sacrament of Anointing. Persons with the disease of alcoholism or persons suffering from other addictions can be anointed. So can those who suffer from various mental disorders. The anxiety before exploratory surgery is a situation in which Christ’s power can be invoked in the sacrament.

In these cases the person does not have to wait until the illness is so grave that he or she is in the hospital or institutionalized to celebrate the sacrament. Sacraments, after all, are community celebrations. It is preferable to celebrate them in the context of family and parish even before going to the hospital. The sick person has a better opportunity to appreciate the prayers and symbols of the rite when in her or his customary worshiping community.

For Our Healing by Woodene Koenig-Bricker

“It’s just for old people.”
“You can only receive it if you’re really sick with something like cancer.”
“You get it right before you die.”

If you, like these teens, think the Anointing of the Sick is just for the extremely old or the critically ill, or if you assume the only time you can receive it is at the moment of death, you aren’t alone. Most Catholics still think of the sacrament that way.

“I didn’t know anything about it before I received it,” says Bridget, a high school sophomore who was anointed while struggling with anorexia. “I thought it was for older people or people who were dying. I’d never seen a kid get it before.”

While it’s true the Anointing of the Sick is one of the ways the Church helps prepare us for death, it’s much more than that. It’s a celebration of Jesus’ promise that we will have life and have it abundantly. It’s the sign of Christ’s healing presence in the world. And it’s not just for the elderly.

In the letter of James in the Bible, he writes, “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters [those who have authority] of the Church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven”.
The words St. James wrote are still true today. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is our way of continuing the healing work Jesus began 2,000 years ago.

You might be asking yourself, “Does that mean people who receive the Sacrament of the Sick are really going to get well, even if they have something serious like cancer?” Yes—and no.

While we can say with confidence that healing always occurs during the Anointing of the Sick, it isn’t always the kind of healing we might expect. “At first I thought it would cure me and I was disappointed when I wasn’t cured right away,” says Bridget. “Then it became clearer the healing had to come from within me. The healing wasn’t an immediate recovery. I had to be open; to let things happen. I couldn’t expect something overnight.” Even after we’ve been anointed, God may allow us to continue to be physically ill, but he also gives us his word that healing will take place on one level or another. We may be healed emotionally or spiritually rather than physically. While we often assume getting physically well is the best thing for us, God may know we need to come to a greater awareness of the divine and may choose to heal some area of our spirit or emotions instead of our body.

“I learned if you don’t go looking for healing, it will be revealed in some other way,” Bridget adds.We should also remember the sacrament complements medical treatment; it doesn’t replace it. Just because someone gets better with the help of surgery or modern drugs doesn’t mean the sacrament didn’t play a part in the healing. God uses the skill of doctors and nurses as well as modern medical techniques to restore health.

If all that sounds like so much double-talk, it might help to remember the sacrament isn’t magic. It doesn’t promise that those who receive it will be cured of all physical sickness. It doesn’t promise that someone who is 99 will live another 30 years. What it does promise is that God will heal the broken areas of our life if we approach with faith and humility.
While it isn’t common, immediate physical healing can happen. I know of at least one instance in my own family when medical tests administered after the person was anointed showed no trace of the previous illness. The very real possibility of a physical cure is one reason the Church doesn’t want us to wait until we are at death’s door before asking for the sacrament.

In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Church says, “As soon as one of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the appropriate time to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived.” In other words, along with appropriate medical treatment, we should give God the opportunity to help cure our serious sickness.

“What happened was that I began to want to change,” says Bridget. “It was something I wasn’t expecting. Before the sacrament, I wasn’t open to letting God in my life. I needed something to put him back in my life. When I received the Sacrament of Anointing, I realized how important he is,” she says.

The Rite of Anointing

Despite its potential for drama, the Anointing of the Sick may be the most low-key of all the sacraments. “After it was all over, I thought, ‘This is it? Now I’m supposed to be healed?”’ says Bridget. “I felt kind of empty after the process, like I was waiting for a flashing light or something.”

Her reaction is common. The first time I saw an anointing, I was surprised at how short and unexciting the ceremony was. All the priest did was say a few prayers and read a Scripture passage. Then he placed his hands on the person’s head and prayed silently. Finally, he took out some holy oil and rubbed a little on the person’s forehead and palms. The whole event took less than 10 minutes.

Those two elements—prayer and anointing with oil—are the essence of the sacrament, the parts that must be performed for it to be valid. What else happens depends on how much time is available, the condition of the patient and individual desire. The priest may distribute Communion to the person being anointed and anyone else who wants to receive. Finally, he may merely end the service with a simple prayer and blessing.

Normally the priest brings everything he needs, but 20 or 30 years ago, most families owned a “sick call set”—a crucifix with a sliding lid which contained a bottle of holy water and candles—so the priest wouldn’t have to gather all the supplies if he were called in the middle of the night.

Since the sacrament requires little in the way of space or materials, it can be administered almost anywhere people need the healing touch of Christ from bedrooms to battlefields, from living rooms to ambulances. Some parishes now offer a communal Anointing once or twice a year, inviting all parishioners who are ill to participate.
“I’m glad I received it,” Bridget says. “Kids worry about their image and don’t like to be known as being religious, but I don’t feel embarrassed to have had the sacrament. I feel really thankful. If priests had the anointing for youth at a youth Mass, maybe more would come. You feel really out of place when everyone who goes up to the altar is 60 years old.”
Jesus, the Healer
The Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament which certainly mirrors the actions of Jesus when he walked the earth, spending much of his time healing the sick. In fact, most of his miracles involved curing some kind of illness. From the beginning of his ministry, his reputation as a healer spread rapidly. At times so many people wanted him to perform miracles of healing, he could hardly get out of the house. Staying inside didn’t help. In his Gospel, Luke tells us about some people who were so anxious to have Jesus cure their paralyzed friend that they cut a hole in the roof of the house and lowered the sick man down to him (see Luke 5:18-19)! Although people made what seem like unreasonable demands on him and his time, we don’t have any record of Jesus turning down someone who came to him for help. When John the Baptist sent his followers to ask Jesus if he were the Messiah, he answered, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Luke 7:22). Jesus showed himself to be the long-awaited Savior by becoming a healer.

After his death and resurrection, Jesus’ disciples continued to heal the sick. In Chapter Three of the Book of Acts, a man who had been crippled from birth asked Peter for some money. Peter said he didn’t have any gold or silver, but he said he would give the crippled man something better—the ability to walk. Then, we are told, Peter helped him up and the newly-cured man began to jump around, praising God (see Acts 3:1-9). While we are sometimes a little skeptical, the early Church took it for granted God would answer prayers for healing.

Church Continues Jesus’ Work

If the whole purpose of the sacrament is to help heal people and continue the work Jesus did when he was on earth, how did it become so linked with death, dying and old age? Why did a sacrament of healing become known as “Extreme Unction” or “Last Rites”?

One reason for the change may be that when medical science was first developing, it was as likely to kill as to cure, so people put off calling a doctor until they were nearly dead and thus had little to lose. The same may have held true for doctors of the soul, with people waiting until the last minutes of life to call for a priest. Today, even though medical practices have improved and people are willing to call a medical doctor, the superstition that Anointing should be the last action before death seems to have stuck.

Another reason Anointing was seen as the last step in life’s journey may be because people began to think of the sacrament as the final chance to reconcile with God before death. Because Anointing of the Sick has the power to forgive sin as well as heal, people waited until they were sure they were dying to ask for it. If possible, a dying person would go to Confession, receive Communion and then receive the Last Rites. If he or she were already so near death that Confession and Communion weren’t possible, then they had the heavenly insurance, so to speak, of receiving forgiveness through the Last Rites.

If physical healing did take place—as it sometimes did—it came as quite a surprise to everyone, including the anointed person who equated the rites with certain death. In some places, in fact, the erroneous teaching arose that if you were physically cured, you would have to remain celibate the rest of your life! With that in mind, it’s not surprising people were reluctant to call the priest too early in an illness.

The difficulty with all this is that while Anointing is a way to have your sins forgiven, it isn’t supposed to take the place of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). Because Anointing was in danger of becoming just another form of confession at the time of death, Vatican II changed the prayers accompanying the anointing to reemphasize its healing character. The emphasis returned to prayers for recovery of physical, mental or spiritual health.

But lots of Catholics don’t understand the changes.

“In religion class we mostly talked about how it used to be associated with death,” says Bridget. “Now that I’ve received it, I think it ought to be emphasized it’s not just for the dying. It’s for any form of illness—emotional or physical.” If that illness places a person in danger of death, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is most appropriate.

Sacrament of Health

Anointing of the Sick is the way we as Catholics call on the healing, restoring power of Jesus when we are at our lowest and most vulnerable. It’s a way we can gain the strength to bear suffering with patience and dignity. And it’s a way of reminding ourselves that no matter what happens in life or death, Jesus will be there beside us and the people we love.
While it isn’t intended to be used for our everyday aches and pains, sniffles and sneezes, it should be requested in those times of serious illness when we need a special sign of God’s love and care.

March 30, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Cardinal: maintain, yet reinterpret doctrine

VATICAN CITY – In its approach to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, the Catholic Church needs to find a middle ground that does not destroy or abandon doctrine, but offers a “renewed” interpretation of church teaching in order to help those whose marriages have failed, Cardinal Walter Kasper said. “I propose a path that goes beyond strictness and leniency,” the German cardinal and theologian told Vatican Radio March 10.

Father Bob’s Gospel Reflection, among other things


An approach that avoids the two extremes “isn’t against morality, it isn’t against doctrine, but rather, (is meant) to support a realistic application of doctrine to the current situation of the great majority of people and to contribute to people’s happiness,” he said, speaking in Italian.

The cardinal was referring to a lengthy talk he had given to introduce a Feb. 20-21 discussion by the College of Cardinals on family life. The talk, titled “Gospel of the Family,” was to be published in March in German and Italian by private publishing houses.

In the book’s preface, published March 12 in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Kasper said the synod in union with Pope Francis would have to decide what steps to take to help families, but Catholic laity must be consulted. “We are all celibate while most of the faithful live the faith in the gospel of the family, in concrete and often difficult situations,” he said.

With such public discussion about the church’s response to Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried, the bishops and pope must say something, he said. “We obviously cannot respond to all the expectations, but if we repeat only the responses that have always been given, it would lead to great disappointment.”

“As witnesses of hope, we cannot allow ourselves to be guided by a hermeneutic of fear,” the cardinal wrote.

In an essay, also published in L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Kasper said church leaders must adopt “a renewed pastoral spirituality that leaves behind narrow-minded legalistic considerations and a non-Christian strictness which burdens people with unbearable weight, burdens we clerics don’t want to carry and wouldn’t know how to carry.”

As proponents and defenders of the family, founded on the self-giving of one man and one woman who bring forth new life, the church cannot stand by in “resigned silence,” he said. Marriage and the family are the last defense against a culture that banalizes and commercializes sexuality and reduces the human person and human relationships to what is economically useful.

Cardinal Kasper told Vatican Radio that the responses to a widely distributed Vatican questionnaire about Catholics’ family life — drawn up in preparation for October’s Synod of Bishops on the family — showed “there is a difficulty, an abyss” between church teaching and the actual situation of many people.
“The church has to bridge this abyss,” he said, speaking in English; but that “does not mean pure appeasement policies, but the church must explain in a new way what family and matrimony are in order to help people and at the same time remain faithful to the Gospel.”

The cardinal said a similar process might be seen in how the church developed its current approach to ecumenism.
“There were doctrines of the Holy Office (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) before the (Second Vatican) Council against ecumenism, yet the council found a way not to destroy or negate the doctrine but found ways to interpret it in an adequate way,” he said.

“I ask myself why it could not be possible also with other doctrines,” he said.

He said he wouldn’t call such changes “a revolution, as much as a deepening and a development because the doctrine of the church is a river that develops and also the doctrine of matrimony has developed like this.”

“It’s not about something new as much as a renewal of church practice, which is always necessary and possible,” he said.

The primary purpose of his speech to the cardinals, he said, “was not to speak about divorced and remarried people, but to speak about the Gospel of the family” and to foster “a new, better, more deep understanding of family life” as God intended — built on a faithful, exclusive and lifelong union between one man and one woman.

“I think the majority of young people want stable relationships, want to live in a family… and therefore, the church has to help them,” he said.
“We have to once again strengthen” the sacramental and indissoluble bond of marriage, especially as families today are facing a number of crises, including severe economic difficulties.

The church must also take into account the many situations of Catholics who have failed marriages, he said, adding that “the church has to be close to them, to help, support and encourage them.”

“I maintain the full teaching of the church, but the teaching has to be applied to concrete situations, as Jesus did it and as Pope Francis does very often,” he said.

“The doctrine of the church is not an ideology in the clouds, but God wants to be present, close to his people,” he said.

March 23, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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What Matters on the Mountain is all that Matters

At the request of Father Bob, I’m going to recount the events of a mission trip I went on. I don’t like to share too many personal anecdotes with the couple thousand people that may read this – but in these circumstances – I really think this story needs to be shared. I accompanied 50 volunteers to the Dominican Republic with an organization named Somos Amigos (translation: We are all friends), with the purpose of producing a documentary on the spirit and operations of the organization. This was the second time I’d been into the mountains with Somos, and so I knew what I was walking into. What I wasn’t ready for, was the contrast. I think maybe the first time I went, it was all so new and just the sights and smells were enough to distract me from what was really going in those mountains. What really happens up there, is the superficiality of life as we know it falls away, and we’re left with the only thing that matters: people.


The group flies into Santiago on a half dozen or so different flights and people are greeted at the airport by a man named Frank Brightwell. Frank is the director and sole employee of Somos Amigos. He’s in his early 50’s, sports a shaven head, and is typically donning his boyish smile, a reflection of the outlook he holds on the world. Frank is easily one of the most humble, and genuinely caring people I’ve ever met. He speaks – from what I’m told – a broken, Dominican style of Spanish that he picked up during his 17 years of trips back and forth from the Campo.

“The Campo” is a word they use for the remote region in which Somos Amigo operates, formally called El Naranjito, or The Little Orange. I think it means “The Camp”, and those who reside there are referred to as Campesinos. Most are subsistence farmers, but there are definitely tradesmen in the community… more on that later.

Roughly 17 years ago, Frank was working at an all-boys academy in Washington DC as a college admissions counselor, and part time teacher. Suffice it to say that this academy’s tuition priced it out of the market for all but the top 4% of income earners, and many of the school’s students hadn’t ever experienced, or would ever experience, real poverty. Frank wanted to show these young men how most of the world lived, so he organized a trip to the DR.

They traveled past the paved roads. They traveled past the good dirt roads. They even traveled past the not-so-good dirt roads into the hills of El Naranjito.

“What’s different about Somos Amigos,” Frank shares, “is that from the very beginning, we never came to this community and told them what we were going to do to help them. So many organizations come to teach English, or come to build Churches. We came and asked ‘what do you need?’ We would try to meet that need, and then we would ask again.”

Their first task in the mountains was to bring running water to the homes. So they located a natural aquifer and dug ditches for pipes. They installed a plumbing system and brought fresh water from the ground to the Campesinos’ homes. Then they needed dental care. So they brought dentists. Then they needed general medical care. So they brought doctors. Eventually, they asked for a Church, and so they built a Church.

Over the years, the needs grew and word spread. As word spread, the needs grew even more. As the operation expanded, it became clear that this “thing” was taking on a life of its own. Fundraising took place. Construction took place. And before anyone knew it, they had over 15,000 square feet among three clinics – a dental clinic, a general health clinic, and a women’s health clinic. And their numbers are impressive. In a typical week, they’ll see between 500-600 patients. The volunteers work long days – as in 12 hours with no breaks – and by the end of the week, everyone is exhausted.. and yet somehow, we are all filled with something like energy, but better.

The logistics of running three clinics 70 kilometers outside of a city, in a 3rd world country is impressive, but that’s only half of it. What happens in the mountains is magic. Don’t be mistaken. The Campesinos live very hard lives of manual labor, exposure to the elements, untreated medical conditions, and the like. They don’t have iPods. They don’t have Netflix. They don’t have Cadillacs. They have people… and relationships. And after you live with them for a week, and you watch them live, you realize that we are not living The Good Life. They are. In fact, the race isn’t even close.

Here’s an example. I met a man named Percio (he was one of few that spoke English so I really clung to him). Percio moved to New York City when he was 20 years old. He came from El Naranjito, but he spent most of his time in the city – Santiago – before he made his way to the states. At 41, he’s back – to stay.

“When I lived in New York, I lived in a big apartment building… I didn’t know the people living next door to me. Even if we saw each other in the halls, nothing,” he recalls, dismayed. “I worked for a big company that got bought out. The new owners ended up laying a ton of a people off and started selling off the assets of the company just to turn a profit on the sale. I couldn’t understand that.” Percio is visibly upset when he tells me this story.

“Back home, here, in the Campo, I go 5 miles over those mountains and I know every single person that lives there. When someone is sick, we go visit them and spend the day with them. We bring them food. If someone’s family is struggling, we give them work or whatever they need. If someone has a child, we visit them and meet the baby. We all know each other up here. We don’t have a lot, but we enjoy life,” Percio explains.

It’s a cliché we hear repeated in a hundred different ways by a thousand different mediums. We go to a job we hate, work with people we can’t stand, to pay for a house and a lifestyle we can’t afford, so we can drive our brand new car to the job we hate. And repeat. Okay, not all of us feel this way, but you get the idea.

If all our “things” were taken from us – if we were to suddenly find ourselves without – what would really matter? And of course, the answer is people. What matters are the relationships we have with other people.

What happens when the Somos Amigos volunteers venture into the mountains is something like magic. You’re not only stripped of your iPhone and air conditioning when you get on the rickety old bus to the top of the hill. You leave your ego. You leave your self-centered fears. You leave the traffic jams and the PTA meetings and all the little things that grind on your nerves. And when you’re totally focused on helping other people for a week – you know, the thing that God wants most from us – you end up leaving a lot of your character flaws at the bottom of the mountain too.

As a volunteer named Patrick articulated, “Up here, I’m the version of myself that I think most closely resembles what God wants me to be.” And that really is the magic of the mountains. The crazy part is – we all know this stuff!

We know what happens when we get outside of ourselves and do something for another person. We know that feeling when we’re being altruistic. When we put a smile on someone’s face – when we take away another’s pain – and when we’re there to listen to a friend in a time of grave need – we reap the spiritual benefits of these action, and yet… And yet the world gets in our way.
We have to get the kids to soccer practice on time, so, of course we cut that guy off. And that guy looked like my sister’s ex-boyfriend and he was a dirtbag, and so that guy’s probably one too. And there’s no time to eat so we’re going through the drive-thr… and now who’s calling me? What does she want??!!! Oh, it’s my neighbor telling me that the guy from down the street got picked up by the cops yesterday and we were right to suspect him of whatever absurd personality disorder that Oprah was hocking this week…

If your inner monologue sounds anything like this, you know that getting caught up in the thick of thin things is the most passive and justified way we cut ourselves off from God’s love. If spending time in the mountains taught me anything, it was that relationships are all that matter in the physical world. Because it’s not a matter of ‘if’…. One day, everything worldly will be taken from us, and we go to meet our Judge, we better all be friends.

Find out more about Somos Amigos at