Feb. 18th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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The Season of Lent

by: Dennis Bratcher | Christian Research Institute

The season of Lent has not been well observed in much of evangelical Christianity, largely because it was associated with “high church” liturgical worship that some churches were eager to reject. However, much of the background of evangelical Christianity, for example the heritage of John Wesley, was very “high church.” Many of the churches that had originally rejected more formal and deliberate liturgy are now recovering aspects of a larger Christian tradition as a means to refocus on spirituality in a culture that is increasingly secular.

Originating in the fourth century of the church, the season of Lent spans 40 weekdays beginning on Ash Wednesday and climaxing during Holy Week with Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday), Good Friday, and concluding Saturday before Easter. Originally, Lent was the time of preparation for those who were to be baptized, a time of concentrated study and prayer before their baptism at the Easter Vigil, the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord early on Easter Sunday. But since these new members were to be received into a living community of Faith, the entire community was called to preparation. Also, this was the time when those who had been separated from the Church would prepare to rejoin the community.

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Today, Lent is marked by a time of prayer and preparation to celebrate Easter. Since Sundays celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the six Sundays that occur during Lent are not counted as part of the 40 days of Lent, and are referred to as the Sundays in Lent. The number 40 is connected with many biblical events, but especially with the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for His ministry by facing the temptations that could lead him to abandon his mission and calling. Christians today use this period of time for introspection, self examination, and repentance. This season of the year is equal only to the Season of Advent in importance in the Christian year, and is part of the second major grouping of Christian festivals and sacred time that includes Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost.

Lent has traditionally been marked by penitential prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Some churches today still observe a rigid schedule of fasting on certain days during Lent, especially the giving up of meat, alcohol, sweets, and other types of food. Other traditions do not place as great an emphasis on fasting, but focus on charitable deeds, especially helping those in physical need with food and clothing, or simply the giving of money to charities. Most Christian churches that observe Lent at all focus on it as a time of prayer, especially penance, repenting for failures and sin as a way to focus on the need for God’s grace. It is really a preparation to celebrate God’s marvelous redemption at Easter, and the resurrected life that we live, and hope for, as Christians.

Feb. 11th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Catholic Faith Appeal – How is it done?

In giving witness to the Gospel, the Diocese of Venice strives to address the spiritual and material needs of the faithful in ten counties of Southwest Florida. The following pages provide samples of some of the good works of Diocesan Offices, Departments, and Programs which build up the Church. These works of love are made possible by the generous involvement of faithful Catholics like you in our Catholic Faith Appeal!

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Ministries Your CFA Dollars Support:

  • Building Department
  • Catholic Charities
  • Catholic Schools Department
  • Child and Youth Protection
  • College Campus Outreach
  • Continuing Education
  • Diocesan Marriage Tribunal
  • Diocesan Retreat Center
  • Family Life Outreach
  • Haitian Apostolate
  • Hispanic Apostolate
  • Marriage Preparation
  • Mass on TV for the Homebound
  • Office of Evangelization
  • Office of Religious Life
  • Peace and Social Justice Office
  • Permanent Diaconate
  • Poor Parishes and Missions
  • Prison Outreach
  • Religious Education Office
  • Respect Life Department
  • Safe Environment Program
  • Seminarian Education
  • Stewardship/Development
  • Support for Convents
  • The Catholic Center
  • Vocations Office
  • Worship Office
  • Young Adult Outreach
  • Youth Outreach

Feb. 4th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Connect: Bringing People Closer to Christ

by: Clayton Atkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan. 21st, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Beyond RCIA: Tips for Growing Your Catholic Faith

by Ginny Whelan, RCIA Coordinator

I recently visited with several past members of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) at St. John XXIII who had been accepted into the Church the past three years. I asked them what they learned since they came into the Church and what had helped them grow in their Catholic faith. This is by no means their exact words. Just ideas that were prayer fully shared.

Before we begin, let’s examine what we know for certain. We have a goal (Heaven), a road map (Scripture and Tradition), examples to follow (the Saints), leadership (the Pope, Bishops, Priests and Deacons), clear teaching authority (the Magisterium of the Church), help along the way (the Sacraments) and we have Divine guidance (the Holy Spirit). It is obvious that we have the tools and resources we need.

PRAY: Work on developing a daily prayer routine with the goal of at least an hour a day devoted to prayer. Sound difficult? Think about how much TV we watch a day. Consider how much time we spend in our cars each day and how much time we devote to exercise. We have more than enough time for prayer if we plan for it, schedule it and commit to it. Pray the Morning Offering or other prayer before you leave home-10 minutes, Rosary in your car or while exercising-20 minutes, Daily Jesuit Examen-15 minutes, Prayer with all meals-5 minutes, Prayer with our children and spouse-10 minutes. Add it up-we just did an hour of prayer.

DAILY SURRENDER AND CONVERSION IS NECCESSARY: I learned early on in my journey into the Church that my surrender to God’s will and my conversion was not a one-time event. We must always put His will before our own and experience a “dying of self” in order for Christ to be in charge of our lives.

ACCEPT AND STUDY OUR FAITH: Accepting the teaching of our Church is necessary, but so is the knowledge that our full understanding may take time. Trust that two millennia of Church teaching is probably much more reliable than what you or I might conjure up on our own. Go to a parish bible study, take adult faith classes, read the bible and catechism, and read great Catholic authors like Kreeft, Hahn, Matthew Kelly, Archbishop Dolan, St. John XXIII, St Theresa of Calcutta, Pope Francis. Understand our faith and be able to defend it to others.

DEVOTE MORE TIME TO THE EUCHARIST: Want to fully experience Christ and be closer to Him during the work day? Know what parishes are on your way to work or near your office. Seek out the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in daily Mass when possible and spend quiet time before the Blessed Sacrament in Eucharistic Adoration every week. We Catholics have a wonderful gift in the Eucharist and we should seek Him out at every opportunity.

BE A LIGHT FOR CHRIST:

What does being a light for Christ mean? How can it be manifested in us? Author Francis Fernandez shares this observation from In Conversation with God, “Jesus said to his disciples in the book of Matthew: ‘You are the light of the world’. The light of the disciple is the light of the Master himself. In the absence of this light of Christ, society becomes engulfed in the most impenetrable darkness. Christians are to illuminate the environment in which they live and work. A follower of Christ necessarily gives light. The very witness of a Christian life, and good works done in a supernatural spirit, are effective in drawing men to the faith and to God. Let us ask ourselves today about our effect on those who live side by side with us, those who have dealings with us for professional or social reasons. Do they see this light which illuminates the way that leads to God? Do these same people feel themselves moved, by their contact with us, to lead better lives?”

PURSUE JOY, NOT HAPPINESS: Father Bob gave a wonderful homily in which he described the pursuit of happiness as the pursuit of the things of this world. We think we are seeking happiness in the bigger house, nicer car, better job, bigger paycheck, but do these things really bring happiness? His point was that all happiness must be preceded by joy and that all joy is Christ-inspired! Seek out and surrender your heart to Christ to find joy…and you will also find happiness.

START WITH THE END IN MIND: I can’t think of a better motivation for practicing our Catholic faith than this mental image: Picture Jesus greeting you in Heaven with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We have a lifetime to love and serve the Lord. Will we use it wisely? What will Jesus say to us at the end of our lives?

PRIVILEGED, NOT ENTITLED: We are all privileged to be part of the Body of Christ in the Catholic Church, but privileges are earned not granted. Our life of faith requires dedication, obedience and practice. We must work to earn this privilege and to fully understand the gift we have been given.

A few thoughts in closing…. Matthew 5:13-14 and 16 – “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Heavenly Father.”

My favorite quote: “Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly.” St. Ignatius of Loyola Francis Fernandez from, In Conversation with God: “We make our Lord known through the example of our life, looking for occasions to speak out, not missing a single opportunity. Our task consists to a large extent in making the way to Christ cheerful and attractive. If we behave like that, many will be encouraged to follow it and to bring the joy and peace of the Lord to other men and women.”

We who are blessed to walk on the faith journey with adults who are called by the Lord and say yes, experience joy, peace and grow in faith in their shadow.

“If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, NOTHING will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20

Jan. 14th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Worship Your Lord, Your God

By Fr. Saji Ellickal M.C.B.S.

Worship Your Lord your God (Deuteronomy 6:13), is part of the First Commandment and Jesus stresses the importance of this command in the context of His temptation from Devil in the wilderness, after Jesus fasted for forty days and nights. When Jesus was in a precarious situation after the long fasting, the Tempter finds the opportune time to tempt the Lord. But Jesus had the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to guide him and thus Jesus overcame the temptations of the Devil. All the three temptations of Jesus deal with the different human cravings for power and wealth comprising three domains of human life, that is, physical, material and spiritual. Jesus, in fact, makes it clear for every reader to make the right decision at the right time taking in to consideration what is important for one’s spiritual life. That is where one must know the real meaning of one’s life, that is, God comes first, and He takes precedence over all these human cravings. Worship God alone means God should be the center of our life, our whole being and everything else, especially that the material and mundane realities cannot take the place of God. Therefore, true worship is the priority we place on who God is in our lives and where God is on our list of priorities. True worship is a matter of the heart expressed through a lifestyle of holiness. Thus, if your lifestyle does not express the beauty of holiness through an extravagant or exaggerated love for God, and you do not live in extreme or excessive submission to God, then I invite you to make worship a non-negotiable priority in your life.

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We worship God because he is God. Period. Our extravagant love and extreme submission to the Holy One flows out of the reality that God loved us first. It is highly appropriate to thank God for all the things he has done for us. However, true worship is shallow if it is solely an acknowledgement of God’s wealth. Psalm 96:5-6 says, “For all the gods of the nations all do nothing, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and power go before him; power and grandeur are in his holy place.” In other words, our worship must be toward the one who is worthy simply because of his identity as the Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent One, and not just because God is wealthy and able to meet our needs and answer our prayers. We must focus our practice of worship on the worthiness of God and not his wealthiness.

How do we as Catholics express this Worship God? This would be the next question that one may ask. As God becomes the center of our life and being and every material thing, becomes secondary, we truly realize the real purpose of our life. This fact is really and truly exemplified in the life of Jesus, who emptied himself and took the human form. The whole life of Jesus, His preaching and teaching, His miracles and actions reveal that human life is complete and fulfilled through the most important choice we make for God. Love of God is expressed through the love of our neighbor and that is where Compassion becomes the basic feeling of the worshipper. That is why Jesus gave His own life for the salvation of the world. The ultimate sacrifice Jesus makes on the cross, the outstretched hands proclaim to the world that everything that is worldly must be left behind and look upward as the pointed part of the cross. On the cross we see the total emptiness and the apparent failure. That is the fulfillment of what Jesus said the night before at the Last Supper to his 12 Apostles, “this is my body broken for you, and blood shed for you”. The ultimate sacrifice and death of Our Lord on the cross reversed the ancient curse of damnation. This points right to the Holy Eucharist or the Holy Mass that we celebrate on the Holy Altar every day. Worshipping God, therefore, is to live and become the Holy Eucharist. Active and full participation in the Holy Mass and a life rooted in this great sacrament makes our Worship real and meaningful. As Jesus breaks Himself and sheds His blood for the atonement of our sins, we too are called to sacramentally break and shed ourselves for others and for ourselves, that is, to lead our lives unselfishly and serve others. This is what every Catholic should try to do and most specifically, the ordained ministers, the priests.

“The Lord, Your God shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” Mt. 4:10b

Jan. 7th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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What is the Epiphany?

by: Amani Hughes – The Sunday Express

EPIPHANY is known as the 12th day of Christmas and marks the official end to the festive season for many Christians. But why is the Epiphany in 2018? Epiphany falls 12 days after Christmas Day on January 6 and is a very important date in the Christian calendar.

The ancient Christian feast day is significant as it is a celebration of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and is also regarded as a more general celebration of his birth. The 12th night (Epiphany) also marks a visit to the baby Jesus from the three kings (three Wise Men).

Epiphany has been celebrated in Europe since the 4th century and is associated with the visit of the Wise Men to Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew says the three kings – named Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar – followed a star across the desert to Bethlehem, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold represented Jesus’s royal standing, frankincense his divine birth and myrrh his mortality. The word ‘Epiphany’ comes from Greek and means “manifestation.”

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When is the Epiphany Celebrated?

The Catholic Church observes Epiphany as a single day on January 7, however Protestant churches say the season of Epiphany extends from January 6 until Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.

During the medieval period, Christmas was celebrated for the 12 days from Christmas Eve on December 24, until the Epiphany. Some Catholic churches in the US mark the Epiphany feast on the Sunday after January 6 and Orthodox Christians celebrate the day on January 19. The six Sundays which follow the Epiphany are known by Christians as the time of manifestation.

How is the Epiphany Celebrated?

Celebrations of Epiphany vary around the world and in many countries it is a public holiday. In Bulgaria people jump into the icy water of the Black Sea to celebrate the annual feast day. Other countries exchange presents and have fireworks and parades. In the spanish speaking world, Epiphany is known as Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day) and in Mexico crowds gather to taste the Rosca de Reyes – Kings’ bread.

Oh God, who by the leading of a star manifested your only Son to the people of the earth: lead us, who know you by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who live and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Dec. 31st, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Feast of the Holy Family, For Unto Us a Child is Born

About The Holy Family

From the: The Congregation for the Clergy – Catholic Culture

The devotion to the Holy Family was born in Bethlehem, together with the Baby Jesus. The shepherds went to adore the Child and, at the same time, they gave honor to His family. Later, in a similar way, the three wise men came from the East to adore and give honor to the newborn King with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh that would be safeguarded by His family.

We can go further to affirm that in a certain sense Christ, Himself, was the first devotee of His family. He showed His devotion to His mother and foster father by submitting Himself, with infinite humility, to the duty of filial obedience towards them. This is what St Bernard of Clairvaux said in this regard, ‘God, to whom angels submit themselves and who principalities and powers obey, was subject to Mary; and not only to Mary but Joseph also for Mary’s sake. God obeyed a human creature; this is humility without precedent. A human creature commands God; it is sublime beyond measure.’ (First Homily on the ‘Missus Est’).

Today’s celebration demonstrates Christ’s humility and obedience with respect to the fourth commandment, whilst also highlighting the loving care that His parents exercised in His keeping. The servant of God, Pope John Paul II, in 1989, entitled his Apostolic Exhortation, ‘Redemptoris Custos’ (Guardian of the Redeemer) which was dedicated to the person and the mission of Saint Joseph in the life of Christ and of the Church. After exactly a century, he resumed the teaching of Pope Leo XIII, for who Saint Joseph ‘.. shines among all mankind by the most august dignity, since by divine will, he was the guardian of the Son of God and reputed as His father among men’ (Encyclical Quamquam Pluries [1889] n. 3). Pope Leo XIII continued, ‘.. Joseph became the guardian, the administrator, and the legal defender of the divine house whose chief he was.[…] It is, then, natural and worthy that as the Blessed Joseph ministered to all the needs of the family at Nazareth and girt it about with his protection, he should now cover with the cloak of his heavenly patronage and defend the Church of Jesus Christ.’ Not many years before, blessed Pope Pius IX had proclaimed Saint Joseph, ‘Patron of the Catholic Church’ (1870)

Almost intuitively, one can recognize that the mysterious, exemplary, guardianship enacted by Joseph was conducted firstly, in a yet more intimate way, by Mary. Consequently, the liturgical feast of the Holy Family speaks to us of the fond and loving care that we must render to the Body of Christ. We can understand this in a mystical sense, as guardians of the Church, and also in the Eucharistic sense. Mary and Joseph took great care of Jesus’ physical body. Following their example, we can and must take great care of His Mystical Body, the Church, and the Eucharist which He has entrusted to us. If Mary was, in some way, ‘the first tabernacle in history’ (John Paul II Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 55) then we the Tabernacle in which Our Lord chose to reside in person, in His Real Presence, was also entrusted to us. We can learn from Mary and Joseph! What would they ever have overlooked in the care of Jesus’ physical body? Is there something, therefore, that we can withhold for the right and adoring care of His Eucharistic Body? No amount of attention, no sane act of love and adoring respect will ever be too much! On the contrary, our adoration and respect will always be inferior to the great gift that comes to us in the Holy Eucharist.

Looking at the Holy Family, we see the love, the protection, and the diligent care that they gave to the Redeemer. We can not fail to feel uneasiness, perhaps a shameful thought, for the times in which we have not rendered the appropriate care and attention to the Blessed Eucharist. We can only ask for forgiveness and do penance for all the sacrilegious acts and the lack of respect that are committed in front of the Blessed Eucharist. We can only ask the Lord, through the intersession of the Holy Family of Nazareth, for a greater love for their Son Incarnate, who has decided to remain here on earth with us every day until the end of time.

“Pray for us, Oh Holy Family. May we be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

Dec. 24th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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The Lessons of Advent: What the Church Teaches Us

by: Stephen Beale – Catholic Exchange

Be Watchful:

Our associated attitude should be a mixture of hope, expectation, and holy fear. In placing ourselves in the position of the Israelites in the time of Christ we learn how to prepare for His Second Coming. This is the core Church teaching.

Make Wise Use of Your Time:

But there is an added benefit to constantly maintaining an attitude of watchfulness. People who are watchful generally make better use of the time they have then people who aren’t. (Credit for this insight goes to a friend at a Bible study who pointed this out.) As Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.” This advice comes in the context of a discussion about the end times. Note the preceding verse: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” Likewise, there is John 9:4, “We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.”

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Christ is the Lord of History:

Advents remind us that history is in God’s hands. In Christ, God intervenes in history, resetting the story of humanity, guiding its development, and determining its conclusion. History is not a runaway train racing into an unknown future. It is not a product of chance or the impersonal laws of evolution, physics, or social science.

History Has an End:

In 1992, a political scientist named Francis Fukuyama wrote a sensational book titled The End of History and the Last Man. Fukuyama argued that history, defined narrowly as a debate of ideas, was over. Democracy had won, communism had lost, and global capitalism and technological progress were the future.

A quarter of a century later, amid Islamic terrorism and the resurgence of nationalism in the West, Fukuyama’s thesis seems foolish. But he was fundamentally right about one thing. History does have an end. The whole of history — whether you conceive of it as the development of ideas, institutions, nations, or technology — ends in Christ, who is the true last man.

The point is to not just reiterate that Christ is sovereign over history (see lesson 3), but also to make us realize the futility of temporal attachments, whether a particular ideology, system of government, nation, or civilization. These things do have value but we must remember that one day they—like history itself—will pass away.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the Virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

Christ is Our Orgin and Destiny:

Finally, in Advent, we learn again that Christ is our origin and our end. All things that matter have their source in Him and move towards Him as their destination. As Christ said in Revelation 22:13, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Dec. 17th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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The Joy of Advent | Prepare Your Heart

by: Hannah Brockhaus – Catholic News Agency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec. 10th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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The True Meaning of Advent | God Comes for Us

by: Stephen Beale – Catholic Exchange

“Seek and you will find”, Jesus told his disciples. This command is possible only through God, who moves us to seek and enables us to find Him. “For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work,” as Paul states in Philippians 2:13.

In the Old Testament, Abraham is called out of his home city of Ur to become a desert nomad, where he encounters God. The Israelites wander in the desert before arriving in the Promised Land where they experience the presence of God. Elijah strikes out into the desert and finds God in a mountain cave. Later, an exiled remnant of Israel will return home.

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But this is only half the story. In Advent, the hinges of history turn the other way. God seeks us out. This is what happens in the Incarnation. Heaven comes to earth. The invisible meets the visible. The infinite is inscribed in the finite.

Man could always imagine the ascent to God. He could conceive becoming more than what he was. The limits of his own existence taught him to long for more, as St. Augustine realized.
But it never occurred to man that God might first come looking for him. He never dreamt that God might descend to him. That God would not only do this but also become one of us—in the fullness of our humanity all the while losing none of His divinity—was beyond the imagination of ancient man.

Heaven arrived on earth, but there no armies of angels that stormed the land, no horsemen of the apocalypse deliver God’s wrath to sinners, no fire and brimstone, no earthquakes or eclipses. Instead, angels sing songs to sleepy shepherds. A couple takes shelter in a cave. A woman gives birth to a son.

What makes the Incarnation so great is that it was so small. God did not need conquering armies or avenging angels to announce His arrival on earth. No clouds of fire or quaking mountains accompanied His descent. The kingdom of heaven broke into earth not with a cry of battle but instead the cry of a newborn—because nothing could be more powerful than the fullness of God’s presence in single human being and no voice could echo through eternity like the divine Word Incarnate.

In becoming fully man, God came to us in a way that stirs us to seek Him all the more. He came as a child, born at night, hidden in a cave. This is the lesson of the shepherds watching by night and the three wise men who journey from the East. We do not need to tunnel through the bowels of the earth or walk on the bottom of the sea to find God. He has already crossed the chasm of the infinite to find us. Seek and find Him because He is present to us even now.

“Advent is a journey towards Bethlehem. May we let ourselves be drawn by the light of God.” – Pope Francis

Dec. 3rd, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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First Sunday of Advent

During the Advent season, families should spend time together preparing for the approaching celebration of the birth of Christ. An Advent wreath can be a great focal point for family prayers and holiday celebrations.

An Advent wreath is a wreath of laurel, spruce or similar foliage with four candles that are lighted successively in weeks of Advent to symbolize the light that the birth of Christ brought to the world. Traditionally three of the candles are purple, the color of kings and of penance. A rose-colored candle is used to mark the Third Sunday of Advent as a time to rejoice over the closeness of Christmas and the coming of Christ.

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Children love the beauty of the simple traditional ceremony. Lighting candles in an Advent wreath is a simple way to start a tradition of family worship in the home. Those who participate will cherish the experience all their lives.

Prayer:
Each day your family should gather around the Advent wreath, generally before the evening meal. The proper number of candles are then lighted and a prayer is said.

Blessing of the Advent Wreath:
It starts at the evening meal on the Saturday before the first Sunday in Advent with the blessing of the wreath. (The head of the household is the one designated to say the prayer, following which various members of his family light the candles. If the group is not a family, then a leader may be selected to say the prayers and other appointed to light the candles.)

The following prayer can be used:

Leader: Our help is in the name of the Lord.

All: Who made heaven and earth.

Leader: O God, by whose Word all things are sanctified, pour forth Your blessing upon this wreath and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming Christ and may receive from You abundant graces. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

The wreath would then be sprinkled with water.

The following prayer which is said before the evening meal each night of the first week of Advent:
Leader: O Lord, stir up Thy might, we beg Thee, and come, That by Thy protection we may deserve to be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and saved by Thy deliverance. Through Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.

The candle is allowed to burn during evening meals for the first week.

“Advent increases our hope, a hope which does not disappoint. The Lord never lets us down.” – Pope Francis

Nov. 26th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Christ the King Sunday

Christ the King Sunday is celebrated on the last Sunday of Ordinary time (last Sunday after Pentecost), before the beginning of Advent that starts the new Church Year. As the last Sunday of the Christian Church Year, Christ the King Sunday is the climax and conclusion of the Church’s liturgical journey through the life of Christ and the Gospel message. Its purpose is to celebrate the coming reign of Christ as King of the Earth and his completion of the renewed creation that marks the fullness of the Kingdom of God. That hope is born from the entire life of Christ and his teachings that have been celebrated in the seasons of the Church Year during the past twelve months. In celebrating the Reign of Christ the King, this Sunday also provides an appropriate bridge to the new Church Year that begins the following Sunday on the first Sunday of Advent with an emphasis on hope and expectation, the longing for the coming of the Kingdom of God amid the darkness of a sinful world (see Advent).

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As such a bridge between the completed year and the beginning of a new year, Christ the King services often use Scripture and song to provide both a retrospective and introductory overview of the journey through the life of Christ and the Gospel message that the Seasons of the Church Year provides. This offers not only an opportunity for a worshipful reflection on the significance of the life of Christ, it also presents opportunity to remind people of the meaning of the various seasons of the Church Year. It is the newest day in the liturgical year across the Western Church and first added in 1925 by the Roman Catholic Church in response to increasing secularization movements worldwide, but in particular to the plight of Mexican Christians who were being told by their government that only their government was due ultimate allegiance. The Church in Mexico remained faithful, holding public parades throughout the land (with significant governmental pushback!) proclaiming “Cristo Rey!,” “Christ is King!” Pope Pius XI made that declaration the basis of a Holy Day to be observed throughout the entire Roman Catholic Church, “Christ, The King of the Universe.” After Vatican II, Rome moved the observance of this day from October to the final Sunday of the Christian Year, and many Protestants, including United Methodists, who adopted the Revised Common Lectionary and its calendar have followed suit.

So today our voices come alongside those persecuted for their faith in all times and places, including in Mexico in the early twentieth century and the thousands facing persecution all over the world this very day, and with them we all proclaim in many languages, “Christ is King!”

“When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels are with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.” Matthew 25:31

Nov. 12th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Honor and Remember Veteran’s Day

It was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month in 1918 when the world celebrated as a treaty was signed ending what was to be “the war to end all wars” – World War I.

One year later, on what came to be known as Armistice Day, Americans came together to remember and honor the sacrifices of the men and women who served during the war. Soldiers who survived the war marched in parades and were honored by speeches and ceremonies recognizing their contribution to peace throughout the world.

Congress declared Armistice Day a national holiday in 1938. By this time, with unrest in much of the world, Americans realized World War I would not be the last war. After the Second World War, which was even bloodier than the first, Armistice Day continued to be observed. In 1954, Congress changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day to include veterans of all United States wars.

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Today, Americans honor the service and sacrifice of our armed forces in the past as well as the present on Veterans Day. The official, national ceremony takes place at Arlington National Cemetery at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. A color guard representing all the branches of the military executes “Present Arms” at the tomb, a Presidential wreath is placed on the graves, and a bugler plays “taps.”

In communities across the county, there are parades, ceremonies and speeches. At 11:00 in the morning, Americans observe a moment of silence to remember those who fought for freedom. Let us remember every day the bravery of everyone who has served our country.

Sunday in the Narthex

This is a notice to all Vets that official representatives from The Bureau of Field Services for Florida Department of Veterans Affairs will be available to answer questions about benefits veterans are entitled to that they may not be aware of from 8:30am until 12:45pm in the Narthex this Sunday, November 12th.

Those vets that go to Saturday Mass can come between Sunday Masses to speak to them. They are expert at helping fill out forms, applications and will assist with follow up.

Some may be entitled to approximately $2000.00 per month Aid and attendance Income. Are you entitled to burial benefits? Health services or medications through the VA program? This is the time to ask!

Nov. 5th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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In the end, everyone faces God with ’empty hands,’ pope says

By Carol Glatz | Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — God waits for everyone, even the worst sinner who repents only with his dying breath, Pope Francis said.

“Before God, we present ourselves with empty hands,” he said, meaning that all the good works people have or haven’t done throughout their lives aren’t measured to determine entry into heaven.

“A word of humble repentance was enough to touch Jesus’ heart” and to make him promise eternal life in heaven even to a poor criminal, he said Oct. 25 during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

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The pope announced the day’s catechesis would be the last in his series of audience talks on Christian hope, adding that the last talk, therefore, would look at hope’s final fulfillment in heaven.

A curious fact, he said, is that the word “paradise” appears just once in the Gospels; it is used when Jesus from the cross promises the thief executed with him that “today you will be with me in paradise.” The “good thief,” the pope said, had the courage to recognize his sins and humbly ask Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

“It is there, on Calvary, that Jesus has his last encounter with a sinner, to open to him, too, the gates to his kingdom,” the pope said.

The good thief had done no good works in his life and had nothing to show Jesus that he had earned or was worthy of heaven, he said. “He had nothing, but he trusted in Jesus, whom he recognized as someone innocent, good, so different from himself.”

The “good thief reminds us of our true condition before God: that we are his children, that he feels compassion for us,” that he can’t resist “every time we show him we are homesick for his love.”

The miracle of forgiveness is repeated continually, especially in hospital rooms and prison cells, the pope said, because “there is no person, no matter how badly he has lived, who is left with only desperation and is denied grace.”

“God is father and he awaits our return up to the last moment,” he said, just like the father of the prodigal son did.

“Paradise is not a fairy tale or an enchanted garden,” the pope said “Paradise is the embrace of God, infinite love, and we enter thanks to Jesus who died on the cross for us.”

“Wherever Jesus is, there is mercy and happiness; without him, it is cold and dark,” he said.

Jesus “wants to lead us to the most beautiful place in existence, and he wants to bring us there with the little or immense good that has been in our life, because nothing is lost in that which he has already redeemed,” the pope said.

Death does not frighten those who have put their trust in God, he said, because they trust in his promise and infinite mercy. They know Jesus died on the cross to redeem everyone’s sins, mistakes and failings and to bring all of his children with him to the house of the father.

Oct. 22nd, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Fighting Against Hunger & Forced Migration: End War/Arms Trade

by: Carol Glatz – Catholic News Service

It makes no sense to lament the problems of hunger and forced migration if one is unwilling to address their root causes, which are conflict and climate change, Pope Francis said.

“War and climate change lead to hunger; therefore, let’s avoid presenting it as if it were an incurable disease, and instead implement laws, economic policies, lifestyle changes and attitudes that prevent the problems in the first place,” he told world leaders at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

Pope Francis received a standing ovation after he addressed the assembly at FAO’s Rome headquarters to mark World Food Day on October 16th, the date the organization was founded in 1945 to address the causes of poverty and hunger. The FAO was holding a conference on the theme “Changing the future of migration.”

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Food insecurity is linked to forced migration, the pope said, and the two can be addressed only “if we go to the root of the problem” — conflict and climate change.

International law already has all the instruments and means in place to prevent and quickly end the conflicts that tear communities and countries apart, and trigger hunger, malnutrition and migration, he said.

“Good will and dialogue are needed to stop conflicts,” he said, “and it is necessary to fully commit to gradual and systematic disarmament” as well as stop the “terrible plague of arms trafficking.”

“What good is denouncing that millions of people are victims of hunger and malnutrition because of conflicts if one then does not effectively work for peace and disarmament?” he asked.

As for climate change, he said, scientists know what needs to be done and the international instruments — like the Paris Agreement — are already available.
Without specifying which nations, the pope said, unfortunately “some are backing away” from the agreement.

“We cannot resign ourselves to saying, ‘Someone else will do it,’” he said. Everyone is called to adopt and promote changes in lifestyle, in the way resources are used and in production and consumption — particularly when it comes to food, which is increasingly wasted.

Some people believe reducing the number of mouths to feed would solve the problem of food insecurity, but, the pope said, this is “a false solution” given the enormous waste and overconsumption in the world.

“Cutting back is easy,” he said, but “sharing requires conversion and this is demanding.”

“We cannot act only if others are doing it or limit ourselves to having pity because pity doesn’t go beyond emergency aid,” the pope said.

International organizations, leaders and individuals need to act out of real love and mercy toward others — particularly the most vulnerable — in order to create a world based on true justice and solidarity.

Arriving at the FAO headquarters, Pope Francis presented a gift of a statue depicting the tragic death of Alan Kurdi (also known as Aylan), the 3-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed up on the shore of Turkey when a small inflatable boat holding a dozen refugees capsized in 2015. The statue, made of pure white Carrara marble, depicts a child-like angel weeping over the boy’s lifeless body.

Oct. 15th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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The Now Moment for America: A Conversation about Racism

By Joanne Halt, M.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct. 8th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Understanding Addiction | A Respect Life Issue

By Joanne Halt, M.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct. 1st, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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RESPECT LIFE SUNDAY | Be Not Afraid

Why do we celebrate RESPECT LIFE Sunday in October?

Back in 1972, the year before the United States Supreme Court ruled on Roe V. Wade to legalize abortion in the U.S., Pope John Paul II set aside the first Sunday of October as “Respect Life Sunday”, also called “Sanctity of Life Sunday.”

The Catholic Church has dedicated the month of October, starting with the first Sunday, to extra time and resources in advancing the culture of life. Such can be implemented through prayer, activism, and education against the falsehoods promoted by the pro-abortion advocates.

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On the matter of abortion, the Catholic Church teaches the following through its Catechism.

“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life. ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.’ [Jer. 1:5] ‘My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.” [Psalm 139:15]

Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law: “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish. God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.”[Gaudium et spes]

Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. ‘A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,’ ‘by the very commission of the offense,’ and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.” [Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2270-2272]

Sept. 10th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Remember September: A Teacher’s Reflection of 9/11

By Clayton Atkins – Bishop Verot Teacher

I wrote this piece last year, the day before the 15th anniversary of 9/11. I wrote it because I was curious about how people conceive of historically important events that they do not remember personally.

I teach high school English. When my students come into my room, they are expected to spend the first 5 minutes of class writing in their journals. Usually, I allow them to write about whatever they want, as long as words come out on paper. Sometimes, when I want to get a good read on how my classes think about a topic, I ask them to respond to a prompt that I have written.

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I decided that I wanted to know how a bunch of kids (who were only 1-3 years old in 2001) fit this momentous historical event into their conception of the world. When I started thinking about that day, I realized that I currently teach my classes in the very same room of Bishop Verot Catholic High School that I was in on 09/11/2001, when I found out about the World Trade Center attack. For some reason, this fact was lost on me, even though I’ve taught classes in this room for the last two years of my life. I was attempting to get my students thinking beyond their narrow world of experience. I wanted them to see that their teachers are people too, who were once in high school, dealing with whatever adolescent things we had to deal with. I wanted them to see this event, which to them is nothing more than a section in their history books, or a documentary that airs once every year around this time, as a real thing that happened to people. I wanted to see how people who have no memory of a historic tragedy, conceive of such a thing.

Here’s what I wrote:

Yesterday was the fifteenth anniversary of the September Eleventh terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and United Airlines Flight 93. Most of you were very young when this occurred.

Me? I just so happened to be seated in this very room. I was a freshman in a World History Honors class.

Looking back on that day now, my memory fails me: I can only summon short flashes of scenes; brief moments in time are all that come to mind. I remember sitting in a desk just like the one you’re sitting in now, in a row just like the one you’re in, staring at the back of some kid’s head, mindlessly doodling in my notebook. Having already completed my response to our current event of the day, I was just about to close my notebook, reach into my backpack, and heave out my World History textbook (we had thick, massive textbooks, which we couldn’t possibly carry around all day, so in that impossibly short four minutes in between classes, we had to use the bathroom, decode a lock, switch out our gigantic tomes, lock everything back up, and scurry through the door of our next class before the bell…so I guess I was exhausted from all of that) when the loudspeaker dinged. This was a normal occurrence. We were at Verot: the loudspeaker dinged just about every day with some special announcement, or some special update about some special schedule or event.

But this ding was different. Normally, the loudspeaker ding was followed by a reasonable second of silence before whatever was to be spoken was actually spoken; but this ding—this ding went off like a gunshot, not because it was particularly loud, but because of the deafening silence that followed it. High above all the normal noise of the classroom—AC churning, fluorescent tubes humming, pens tapping—I could hear the death of authority: whoever decided to ding that loudspeaker, hadn’t decided what he was going to say once he did. I could tell that it was a man. The breathing was that of a man, but it was the breathing of a man at a loss for words. Usually, that ding signified an authoritative decree: “Students, Faculty, and Staff, tomorrow’s lunch period will be shortened by ten minutes to allow for adoration in the chapel”; “Student’s, tomorrow’s dress code will be strictly enforced”; “Good morning Verot, let us join in saying the Direction of Intention.” This ding, however, lingered in the air, attempting to drown out the tortured breathing of whoever was at the microphone.

I don’t know. Maybe the silence only lasted for a second longer than it usually did. What’s important is that, to me, right now, I remember it lasting an eternity. When the silence finally gave way to speech, everyone in the room must have been struck by the gravity in the speaker’s tone: no one spoke; again, there was a silence so severe, that it seeped into my skin and crept into my bones—I knew that this was no normal “special announcement.” I don’t remember how it was phrased, but I do remember snatches of speech, like “…planes have crashed into the World Trade Center…,” “…unsure of casualties…”, and “…pray for the people of New York…”. I don’t remember the loudspeaker voice instructing anyone to do so, but our teacher turned the classroom TV to the news. I remember watching the news coverage and not really grasping what was going on. I remember not grasping what was going on for the rest of the day. I remember everyone on campus filing into the newly constructed Anderson Theater and holding a prayer service. I remember meandering past the library on my way to my locker after lunch, seeing more news coverage on the TVs inside, and my best friend declaring: “Look at that! It’s so fake! Who could believe this?” And, for an instant, it did seem fake. I was born into an America that hadn’t been seriously attacked by a foreign power since Pearl Harbor. How could this happen?

But even in the throes of one of the most significant events in world history; even while I witnessed adults whom I respected—teachers, administrators, parents—break down and cry, unable to come up with any answers, anything that would comfort a young freshman—in the end, I didn’t care. I was so absorbed in my own life, that this momentous event, which would fundamentally alter the course of history, had almost no immediate impact on my daily life.

I remember my mother picking me up from school like any normal day. She must have been upset, but I simply requested that she take me to the comic book store on the way home; there was a new edition of Spiderman that I was anxious to read. Looking back, I suppose that she just appeased my desires, thinking that I’d already been through enough that day and deserved some distraction. But nothing could be further from the truth: I was young, naïve, and hell-bent on living my privileged American life.

It wasn’t until later that evening that things fell into focus. I remember waiting for dinner to be ready, sprawled out on the couch, finishing my Spiderman comic. It wasn’t until I had read the last frame of the issue that I fully realized that the news was on the television. I closed the comic, placed it on the end table, and turned my attention to the screen: footage of the towers being hit, burning, and imploding into a pillar of fire, dust, and ash replayed over and over again. It began to hypnotize me. My thoughts began to shift outside of my narrow realm of existence. I started to think about my relatives in New Jersey, some of whom commuted to New York daily; some of whom probably knew people who worked in the towers. I started to think of the actual people in those towers, and I started to feel guilty for my selfishness.

Then my attention shifted to my immediate surroundings: my mother at the stove, putting the finishing touches on our daily family meal; my father pacing between his office and his bedroom, doing whatever fathers do to earn a living, even in the midst of a national tragedy; but most of all, my eyes were drawn to my brother, nine years younger than I: he was building something. Although his eyes rarely left the television screen, he was meticulously placing one block atop another, constructing two twin towers out of toys. When his towers began to rise above his own meager height, he found a toy airplane, which was given to me by my grandfather when I was young. He held it delicately between his tiny fingers, made a noise like a little boys do when they try to sound like an engine—VROOM VROOM!—and careened that little piece of metal into his tower of wooden blocks, which shattered with an intensity and meaning far surpassing the real thing: the actual destruction of the actual towers did not affect me, but this child’s-play rendition of reality instantly shook me from my reverie: I knew then, as plaything smashed into plaything, that the world would never be the same. For some reason, this innocent child had to register this momentous event before I could.

When historic anniversaries inevitably come along, it’s important that we take a moment to reflect, not only on the moments themselves, but also on how we experienced them, how they felt to us at the time. This exercise has a revelatory potential. It can tell us about ourselves: who we were, who we are, and who we want to become. It also reinforces a point that is often lost on many of us: that some of the most important or memorable moments of our lives are nothing more than stories to successive generations. It is our job to relate these moments to them, emphasizing their historic magnitude, their humanity, and most importantly, how they made a deep impression on our lives.

Aug 27th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

By | Bulletin, Events, The 23rd Times, The Catholic Faith | No Comments

Bishops ask for peace after white nationalist rally turns deadly

By Rhina Guidos | Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In the aftermath of a chaos- and hate-filled weekend in Virginia, Catholic bishops and groups throughout the nation called for peace after three people died and several others were injured following clashes between pacifists, protesters and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 11 and 12.

A 32-year-old paralegal, Heather D. Heyer, was killed when a car plowed into a group in Charlottesville Aug. 12. The driver was identified as James Alex Fields, who allegedly told his mother he was attending a rally for President Donald Trump. Reports say the car allegedly driven by Fields plowed into a crowd during a white nationalist rally and a counter-rally the afternoon of Aug. 12.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said early Aug. 14 the “evil attack” meets the legal definition of domestic terrorism and suggested pending federal charges for Fields, who was arrested and was being held without bail. Fields was formally charged Aug. 14 by a Charlottesville judge with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death.

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Outside the Charlottesville courthouse where Judge Robert Downer handed down the charges and Fields appeared via video link from jail, white supremacists and counter-protesters clashed, but there were no arrests.The same day, anti-racism rallies were held in several cities.

The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, was one of the first to call for peace following the violence in Charlottesville late Aug. 11, which only became worse the following day.

On the evening of Aug. 11, The Associated Press and other news outlets reported a rally of hundreds of men and women, identified as white nationalists, carrying lit torches on the campus of the University of Virginia. Counter-protesters also were present during the rally and clashes were reported.

The following day, at least 20 were injured and the mayor of Charlottesville confirmed Heyer’s death later that afternoon via Twitter after the car allegedly driven by Fields rammed into the crowd of marchers. Two Virginia State Police troopers also died when a helicopter they were in crashed while trying to help with the violent events on the ground. CNN reported that 19 others were injured and remained hospitalized Aug. 14 but were listed in good condition.

“In the last 24 hours, hatred and violence have been on display in the city of Charlottesville,” said Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo in a statement on the afternoon of Aug. 12. “I earnestly pray for peace.”

Charlottesville is in Bishop DiLorenzo’s diocese.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the events “abhorrent acts of hatred” in an Aug. 12 statement. He said they were an “attack on the unity of our nation.”

Virginia’s governor declared a state of emergency Aug. 12 when violence erupted during the “Unite the Right” white nationalist protest against the removal of a statue of a Confederate general, Gen. Robert E. Lee. But the trouble already had started the night before with the lit torches and chants of anti-Semitic slogans on the grounds of the University of Virginia.

“Racism is evil,” President Trump said in an Aug. 14 statement. “And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. … As I said on Saturday (Aug. 12), we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. It has no place in America.”

Trump was excoriated by many across the country for his Aug. 12 statement, because he condemned hatred, bigotry and violence “on many sides” in Charlottesville and did not specifically target white supremacists then, his critics said.

Other groups, including many faith groups, seeking to counter the white nationalist events showed up during both events. Authorities reported clashes at both instances.

“Only the light of Christ can quench the torches of hatred and violence. Let us pray for peace,” said Bishop DiLorenzo in his statement. “I pray that those men and women on both sides can talk and seek solutions to their differences respectfully.”

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, which covers Northern Virginia, tweeted on what was happening in Charlottesville and followed up with a lengthy statement, calling the events “saddening and disheartening.”

“The more we read about the demonstration of racism, bigotry and self-proclaimed superiority made it seem as though we were living in a different time,” said Bishop Burbidge, noting “much progress made” since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. “And yet, there are some who cling to misguided and evil beliefs about what makes American unique and remarkable.”

He condemned “all forms of bigotry and hatred,” denouncing “any form of hatred as a sin.”

“We must find unity as a country. Unity does not mean we all believe the same things,” Bishop Burbidge said. “We must be united by a shared interest in freedom, liberty and love for our neighbor. … Without respect for each other, even when we adamantly disagree, we will see more violence and discord in this great nation.”

On Twitter, Jesuit Father James Martin also denounced racism as a sin and said: “All Christians, all people of faith, should not only reject it, not only oppose it, but fight against it.”

Other bishops quickly followed in denouncing the violence.

“May this shocking incident and display of evil ignite a commitment among all people to end the racism, violence, bigotry and hatred that we have seen too often in our nation and throughout the world,” said Bishop Martin D. Holley of Memphis, Tennessee, in an Aug. 13 statement. “Let us pray for the repose of the souls of those who died tragically, including the officers, and for physical and emotional healing for all who were injured. May ours become a nation of peace, harmony and justice for one and all.”

Chicago’s Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said Aug. 12 via Twitter: “When it comes to racism, there is only one side: to stand against it.”

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia called racism the “poison of the soul,” and said in a statement that it was the United States’ “original sin” and one that “never fully healed.”

He added that, “blending it with the Nazi salute, the relic of a regime that murdered millions, compounds the obscenity.”

On Aug. 13, Cardinal DiNardo, along with Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, issued a statement saying: “We stand against the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism. We stand with our sisters and brothers united in the sacrifice of Jesus, by which love’s victory over every form of evil is assured.”

Several other U.S. bishops issued statements or tweeted messages condemning racism, white supremacy and the deadly violence in Charlottesville.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori expressed sorrow about the events in a tweet, saying, “Our deepest prayers go out to those killed and wounded in Charlottesville. We must all work together to end the scourge of racism, and unite for the common good of all. Racism must be countered with love & respect.”

“We all watched the violence in Virginia this weekend with sadness and disgust,” Bishop Donald J. Hying of Gary, Indiana, tweeted. “The destructive evil of racism, Nazism and supremist ideologies that have no place in any human society.”

He added, “We join both our prayers and our condemnation to that of millions of people in our country and world who want to build an authentic civilization of life and love.”

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, said the Catholic men, women and children of the archdiocese of Newark, “people who trace their roots to every continent of the world and represent every race and ethnicity” viewed with horror the events in Charlottesville and condemned “the racism and vicious rhetoric that contributed to this tragic moment in our nation’s history.”

“We stand in prayer and solidarity with all people of goodwill and we witness to our Christian calling to ‘love your enemies … that you may be children of your heavenly Father.”

“Hatred & vile racist actions defile the USA. Such activity is NEVER justified. Those who planned these acts must be denounced & defied,” said Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory in a tweet.

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, tweeted: “Pray for an end to the evil of racism. And pray, especially today for its victims. Pray for justice and mercy in our nation.”

New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond said what took place in Charlottesville “demonstrates again the racism, hatred, and violence that exists in our world today. This can never be justified and is contrary to Gospel values.”

He urged Catholics “to stand united against the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism. We must be prophetic in speaking about and living the values of Jesus.”