Feb. 5th, 2017 | The 23rd Times

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Connecting to God With Spiritual Fulfillment

by: Mike Navarro

Throughout the month of January, we have discussed some of the suggested actions our Parishioners could take to develop a stronger discipleship with our Lord Jesus Christ. This week we discuss the fourth category, “connect”. It urges us, as brothers and sisters in faith, to a deeper participation in activities which broaden our ability to bring peace and love to others.

Some common uses of the word “connect” are: to unite or fasten together, to relate or be in harmony with, to associate mentally or emotionally with a fact or a meaning. It comes from the Latin word ‘connectere’, meaning “to tie” and a synonym is “to join”, while an antonym is “to dissociate”. So it is very clear that if we wish to be a greater disciple, fully enlightened and capable, then we must extend our involvement in order to increase our understanding … Lets look at some examples of how we can do that.


“Men’s Gospel Forum”: this group is now in it’s 7th year, meeting at 7am each Monday. During the winter season as many as 45 men spend the hour before 8am Mass, studying the gospel message for the next weeks liturgy. Their first objective is to gain a greater understanding of the biblical passages. An equally important objective is an enhanced awareness of the applicability of the message to the pursuit of life today. From the questions and shared testimonies of other attendees, they gain a personal understanding and empathy that points them to the need for changes and growth in their personal life and within the society around them.

Following on the success of the Men’s Gospel Forum, the parish formed a ministry titled “Faith Alive”. Its goal is to develop adult faith formation programs which address the desires and needs of our members. A recent example of their efforts is the “Opening the Word” program. It is held each Tuesday from 9-10:30am and is open to all men and women that wish to attend. It also focuses on the upcoming Sunday readings, uses a short video, and prompts discussion on the implications presented in the Word. Of course, all are welcome to connect!

The spiritual camaraderie and greater sense of hope and purpose are the blessings given through forums such as these and the zeal of the participants is broadened even further when many also attend the “Faith and Ale” events held in other parish halls throughout Lee County during the winter months. The stated mission of “Faith and Ale” is to provide the opportunity for growth in wisdom and understanding, and to strengthen our roles as spiritual leaders. Socializing with beer and pizza, attendees participate in a multi-parish program with up to 250 men living out their faith as they hear of the challenges, and learn how to support the solutions brought to them by popular and respected national speakers and leaders of Christian life .

The same opportunities are available for women through attendance at the meetings held by “Faith and Wine”. This organization shares the same objectives and methods, (though the women prefer wine and snacks) and provides 5 or 6 events attended by several hundred women from parishes throughout the county.

The programs discussed above are excellent examples of “connecting” to further one’s spiritual fulfillment. Similar opportunities for growth and contribution are to be found in any of the other parish ministries, and all are eager for more participants. For example, if you haven’t been a part of a prayer walk opposing abortion, then you have never felt the positive impact of a “thumbs up” sign from the car of a passing supporter. If you want that sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, just get involved in the “Respect Life” ministry.

Or, if you want to do something extra to connect with the educational needs of our local youth, then please volunteer for one of the many jobs at the Parish Thrift Store where the annual revenues are donated to the Catholic Education Fund. You will also be creating solutions for many of the needy and disadvantaged as you help to provide the clothing they so desperately need.

In conclusion, let us focus on the theological virtue of faith… It enables us to express our belief in God and His words, as we search to know and do His will. We can best learn to profess that faith, bear witness to it, and pass it on, by “connecting” to the opportunities around us. At St. John XXIII, we pray for the spiritual fulfillment of all parishioners.

Nov. 13th, 2016 | The 23rd Times

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Faith & Wine/Ale & Why Small Groups are Vital to Your Faith

By Damian Hanley

Small groups are the backbone of a healthy and thriving Church. At St. John XXIII, we like to think of ourselves that way. On more than one occasion from the pulpit, Father Bob describes the Church as the “triage hospital on the battlefield of life.” The small group is not just a pleasant addition to our Church, but a necessity for the spiritual health of its members. Without small groups, any ministry will be limited to what just a handful of leaders can accomplish by themselves.

In Exodus 18:21 (NASB), we read “Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.”


There is great wisdom in the people of our small groups. We can’t (and shouldn’t) depend solely on our priests for the love and direction we need. Small groups can help prevent what has been called the “Sunday-Only” culture of our faith. We can’t simply sit and listen only on Sunday – faith is an active, all-week way of life. The opportunities to grow closer to God happen daily, and we need other people to help us see them. Faith & Ale and Faith & Wine Lee County are two such small groups that are growing rapidly in our diocese.

“We kicked off our third season on October 27th, and we’re really excited for this year’s events,” shares Sue Ammon, president of Faith & Wine. “In the beginning, three years ago, we got together month after month and planned it, hoping all along that people would actually want to come! On opening night we had almost 300 women. We were floored! We were so excited.”

“Faith and Ale originated from the Men’s Gospel Forum back in 2008 when we were still Blessed John the 23rd. We actually still meet every Monday morning at 7:00am to discuss this week’s upcoming Gospel,” Mike Lancellot shares.

Even if you don’t know a single person going into a monthly meeting, you’ll at least be inspired and entertained by their slated cast of speakers. Just this past November 10th, Faith and Ale hosted Major Ed Pulido, the Sr. VP of the Folds of Honor Foundation a Veteran’s charity which provides the spouses and children of the fallen and wounded educational scholarships. He’s also a Founding member of Warriors for Freedom Foundation – a leadership institute focused on the mental, physical and wellness support of our wounded Veterans and their families.

In August of 2004, Major Pulido hit an I.E.D, or roadside bomb, while serving with the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team under the command of General David Petraeus. Due to the extensive injuries to his left knee, doctors had to amputate his left leg. During his recovery, he experienced depression, PTSD and suicidal ideation, as part of what he describes as a “deep wounding of a soldier’s spirit.”

He then realized that recovery would become a lifelong process, a process dependent upon God, his country, and his close family and friends. He could not do it alone. This further reinforces the importance of small groups within a larger church. Small groups can provide a sense of family for many whose biological family lives far away. Unlike generations past, it is increasingly more common for adults to find themselves living far away from their biological family. Add the growing number of broken homes and dysfunctional families and you have a snapshot of the 21st century. The right kind of small group can play a vital role in providing a sense of family.

“After every single event, people come up to us as they’re leaving and tell us how much the speaker touched them. They were either struggling with an issue, or – and this is very common – people explain that they were thinking of leaving the Church, but something about the speaker convinced them to stay,” Sue shares. “These are the real reasons we started this ministry and we just get so excited when we hear them.”

Something unique happens in a small group setting, and it’s important we recognize it and explain why it matters. It’s cliché to say that we’re less connected in a world that is more connected than ever, but even if things hadn’t changed, it’s still hard to make friends as an adult! We’re set in our ways. We have a backlog of unconscious prejudice we’ve developed as a natural byproduct of living in our culture. We’re lazy and being social takes emotional energy, which we don’t have.

But small groups are the best place to meet new people, care for others and be cared for yourself. The idea that we can grow spiritually while isolating ourselves is insanity. Getting and giving direction based on spiritual principles must be done in dialogue with our fellows. In our childish minds, the myth of the ascetic visiting a mountaintop to absorb divine wisdom must be dispelled. That’s not you. We belong in community with others.

Dialogue is one of the key ingredients of spiritual growth. If every spiritual experience we have is about listening, if it’s all about one-way communication, then we’re going to miss one of the most important developmental aspects of a growing faith.

“We’ve been really excited about what happens at our events,” says Sue. “The women come in and they’re very enthusiastic. They like their glass of wine and connecting with each other, while eating together. And then after the speaker, we again connect in what we call Table Talk, where we usually share how the speaker has touched us.”

“We have a similar format,” Mike explains. “The men have their name tags with their Parish on them, and we definitely do form friendships with men of other Parishes. From 6:00 to 6:45 we have social time and after the speaker, there’s open Q&A. And the guys love it. We’ve really grown through word of mouth. This past season we averaged 216 men per event. Prior to that it was 174 per event and three seasons ago we were at 145 men on average. That kind of growth year after year means we’re doing something right.”

Despite the large number of people at each event, the social time is constrained to smaller round tables of 5-7 people, so that real conversation can take place. So, if you’re not already a part of a small group at St. John XXIII, Faith & Wine/Ale is a great place to start.

Small groups aren’t just a gimmicky church growth strategy. They’re not just the latest innovation. They’re not just something fun to do, nor are they just something to fill up people’s time.

Small groups are the heart of the Church, because without relational connections, the church isn’t The Church. At best, without relationships with Christ and our fellow Parishioners, we are putting on a show. At worst, we’re wasting people’s time, energy, and resources. Relationships with people who want what’s best for us and who are headed in the direction we want to head, and who aspire to a closer connection with Christ – these are what fuel our faith.

For more information on event dates, speakers and the mission of each organization, visit faithandale.com and faithandwineleecounty.com.

May 25, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Isabella’s Food Packing Mission… worked!

What an unbelievable turnout! We had more volunteers than needed… We helped feed over 10,000 in Africa… We laughed and had a great time doing it. THANK YOU to all who came out – especially to our event organizer, Isabella Rodriguez – what an amazing girl!


See the full photo album of the event here!


Firmness of Heart

A Christian should have their heart fixed on the Holy Spirit, not a fickle heart that dances from one place to another. This was Pope Francis’ message Monday morning at Mass in Casa Santa Marta. The Pope focused his homily on St. Paul, who was able to continuously evangelize because his heart was made firm by the Holy Spirit.

Pope-Francis-lookinup2What kind of heart do we have? That was the question at the certain of Pope Francis homily based on the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which speaks of St Paul’s commitment to evangelization “his firm heart in continuous motion”. The Apostle to the Gentiles is in Iconium, where they tried to kill him, but still he does not complain. He pushes ahead on to evangelize in the area of Lycaonia, and in the name of the Lord, heals a paralytic. On seeing this miracle, the pagans, think that Paul and Barnabas, who accompanies him are gods Zeus and Hermes descended upon the earth. The Pope noted, Paul “struggled to convince them that they were men”. These , he said, “ are the human trials that Paul experienced”:

“We all have many of these, all of us; we are surrounded by many events that move us from one place to another. But we asked for the graceto have a fixed heart, like Paul: so as not to complain about the persecution he went in search to another city; he began to preach there; to heal the sick; realizing that that man had enough faith to be healed; then, calm this excited people who wanted to make a sacrifice to him; then, to proclaim that there is only one God, with their own cultural language. One thing after another … And this can only come from a steady heart”.

The Pope asked: “Where was Paul ‘s heart that he was able to make so many changes in such a short time and meet these situations in an appropriate way?”. In the Gospel , the Pope said , Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father , “will teach us all things” and “remind us everything “ that He had said. St. Paul’s heart “is fixed in the Holy Spirit” , this “gift that Jesus has sent us”. The Pope warned that “if we find stability in our lives” we must “go to Him. He is in our hearts, we received Him in Baptism”. The Holy Spirit, “gives us strength, gives us this steadiness to be able to move forward in life in the midst of many events”. Jesus says, “two things” of the Holy Spirit : “He will teach you all things and will remind you of everything”. That is exactly what happens with St. Paul: “he teaches and reminds him” of the “message of salvation”. It is the Holy Spirit who gives him firmness of heart:

“With this example, we can ask ourselves today: What kind of heart do we have? Is it a fickle heart which like a dancer, like a butterfly flits from one to another…always in motion; Is it a heart that is scared by the vicissitudes of life, and is hiding and afraid to give witness to Jesus Christ; is it a brave heart or a heart that has so much fear and is always trying to hide? What does our heart care for? What treasure does our heart custody? Is my heart fixed upon creatures, the problems that we all have ? Is my heart fixed upon everyday gods or is it a heart fixed on the Holy Spirit ? “.

Pope Francis said that it would do us good to ask , “Where is the firmness of our hearts?” And also “remember the many every day events that we have: at home, at work, with our children, with people who live with us, with work colleagues, with everyone”:

“Do I let myself get carried away by these things or face these events with a fixed heart, that knows where it is? The only one that gives firmness to our hearts is the Holy Spirit. It would do us good to think that we have this great gift that Jesus left us, the Spirit of fortitude, of counsel, who helps us to move forward in the midst, surrounded by every day trials. We should do this exercise today, ask how our heart is: Firm or not? And if it is firm, where does it dwell? In things or in the Holy Spirit ? It would do us good! “


February 16, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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A Heart that’s Found a Home | Valentine’s Edition

This would not be the first time Father Bob and I had the privilege of interviewing someone whose grains of sand could potentially be counted. It’s a lesson in psychology. It’s a lesson in spirituality. It’s the closest thing to proof of an afterlife I can reasonably fathom. When someone is given a diagnosis whose likely outcome raises questions of mortality, a sort of math equation begins to take effect in the mind. A person might start thinking to themselves ‘well, self, if this were the last time I might speak to this person, what would I say to them,’ or ‘how much love can I show this person?’ ‘In the amount of time I have left, how much love can I give to the world?’ And then the person might realize – what a silly question – one whose answer could never be known. And so then, the next natural step to take, is to show the absolute most love to each person you encounter, governing nothing, holding nothing back – until the day God calls you home. I’ve seen this phenomenon take place on several occasions and it always makes me question the way in which I treat people with my seemingly unlimited amount of time I have left.  And this phenomenon is the exact thing you encounter when you meet Bobbi Gillespie – one of our Villas residents – who only 4 months ago, knew nothing of the cancer in her lungs, nor the tumor accumulating in her brain. But now she knows all about these things, and she knows how to love more fully and live in this world. This is a little part of her story.


“I was never one to step outside the box, or break the rules, but I did,” Bobbi shares with Father Bob. “And at 15, I got pregnant and married, so I was out of my mom’s house at a young age.” The oldest of eight, her daughter was only a year and a half younger than her youngest brother. “So the two of them were very close.”
Bobbi didn’t experience a lot of hardship growing up as a child, but she remembers not having much. “I mean, I was raised in the ghetto, but at the time, we didn’t know it was the ghetto! I didn’t find out until high school,” Bobbi remembers, laughing. “You know, growing up with 8 kids in the house, we just knew we were fed and clothed and that was that.”

“But at 15 when I was pregnant, I became Catholic. I really wanted my daughter to be baptized and raised in the faith.” And so she was.

Life was life for a while and then at 29, her husband unexpectedly died due to childhood diabetes-related complications. “Back then, the doctors gave you 20 years to live from the date of your diagnosis. And that’s exactly what he did.”

“You know, I didn’t even notice it, but at the time my daughter did… For about 5 or 6 years I went into such a deep depression,” she recalls from over three decades past. “I have to admit, for a while, I went a little overboard with the drinking. It was constant. I really fell apart. You starting thinking that crying all the time is normal. Looking back, I wondered why I didn’t see it while it was taking place? I feel like I’d lost the fight in me. I’d just let go…”

How many of us are willing to admit, on camera, in front of an audience of potentially thousands, such frailty? Granted we’re living in a time of greater openness, and yes, in some ways we live in a therapy culture. But what sharing the deepest, darkest parts of ourselves does, is it brings people closer together. It strengthens relationships, and although I know only what I read in scripture (which I barely read), I think this is what God wants from us – better relationships. Bobbi was living in Cape Coral at the time, and working in Fort Myers for a company that built golf course and job site mobile offices. Some of the symptoms of her depression were absolutely debilitating.

“I used to get these panic attacks. I had this fear of driving over bridges – which makes it hard when you’re living in the Cape. I had to have someone drive me to work every single day,” Bobbi recalls. “Luckily the economy tanked in 2007 and they laid a bunch of people off. Ever since then I’ve worked jobs here and there. I started a cleaning company in Indiana when I moved back.”

Most of the time when people are in long term depressive states, there aren’t a lot of outward signs of the depression. It’s sort of a mode of being, not an emotion that can be detected through facial recognition. But when Bobbi shares this part of her life, she does so without shame, and not because she never felt shame over them, but – I think – because she wants people to know that it’s normal and okay to be in the throes of depression. It is nothing to be ashamed of. And that even in the condition that she’s in – the lung cancer, the brain cancer, etc. – we can live lives of joy, vitality and peace. We all think that an aggressive cancer diagnosis is a death sentence, but what we’ve seen from our friends here and in the past, is that a diagnosis becomes permission for a person to finally start living beyond the trappings of ego, beyond the anger that depletes our energy, the manic anxiety and the seemingly endless difficulties that plague our lives.

And what was it that pulled her out of it? “My daughter found me and brought along a big, horse trailer. She knew what was going on. She knew I was hurting,” Bobbi recalls. “She said, Get in mama, we’re goin’ home.’ And I did. We packed up and moved to Bloomfield, IN.”

Bloomfield was supposed to be a short adventure for her, but as it goes, she got settled in, started taking care of their horses and helping them out in the home, and she stayed. Without enough time and space to go into detail here, Bobbi lived life in sort of a nomadic style, jumping around and never really feeling settled. “When you move around a lot, nothing feels like yours. I made my way back to Florida through Brooksville, and then to Punta Gorda where I lived with my sister.”

Bobbi soon discovered that she and her sister were two different people. “There was surely going to be a crime of passion if the two of us didn’t go our separate ways,” Bobbi laughs. Soon after she started looking for yet another place to live, she found the Villas… And she finally has a place to call her own.

“You know this place is great. There’s always something going on. You’re never lonesome… but the Church… Those people are angels – every single one of them,” says Bobbi, in absolute sincerity. “They don’t do something to get paid, or to get a return. I just think of something and they bring it over. They’re so ‘tuned in’.”
You have to imagine Father Bob’s beaming at these comments. Having an actively engaged congregation – one that truly knows how to be Christ to the other – is the crowning achievement of any pastor (and so silently congratulate yourself as you sit here reading this).

So much of our daily lives and choices on how to spend our resources are spent in a sort of “deal-making” mode, where decisions on where to allocate our resources are based on an unseen horizon. These resources – to which I’m referring: resources of time, energy, not so much money, but every shade and nuance of emotion – are in limited supply as they relate to the perceived distance of our life’s horizon. But when the edge of the Earth is within view, people like Bobbi start spending those resources like no tomorrow, because of course, one day soon, the last grain of sand will fall. This all sounds morbid and depressing until you’ve met Bobbi, or our friend Charmaine, or Jason, or Josephina – and you realize that the thing we’re all looking for – knowledge of the meaning of life, answers to the most fundamental questions on how to live in the world – these people have in spades.

Bobbi’s heart has found a home on the south side of our property here, and in every interaction, she’s teaching us how to live with love, compassion and honesty. So on this Valentine’s Day, put aside the superficiality of Hallmark cards, and expensive dinners, and the dozen roses, and share the innermost side of yourself with someone. It’s the easiest and most sincere way to show you love them. Done on a consistent basis, it will build stronger friendship filled with joy and respect, and as we look back at the giant pile of sand in our rear view, we’ll know that we’ve done our best, life was good, and the world is a better place for our having been here.

With Restless Hearts: How to Live the Gospel of Life in a Secular World

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Learn to Live the Gospel of Life in a Secular Society at this year’s Blessed Pope John XXIII Catholic Church Mission “With Restless Hearts”. Featuring Father Denis Wilde, OSA, Ph.D.  Sunday, January 12  thru Tuesday, January 14 from 7 to 8 p.m. each evening.  Augustinian Friar and Associate Director of Priests for Life, Father Denis Wilde, OSA, Ph.D. will be leading the mission entitled With Restless Hearts:  How to Live the Gospel of Life in a Secular World.

Join us where, as people of faith, we unpack and explore the heartbeat of our Catholic Faith; Who we are and where we’re going (Sunday at 7:00 pm); The means the Church offers us to get there (Monday at 7:00 pm); Our lived responsibility to one another on the way (Tuesday, at 7:00 pm). Find us at 13060 Palomino Lane, Fort Myers, FL 33912 www.johnxxiii.net

June 30, 2013 | The 23rd Times

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

Download this week's bulletin here.