The Blessed Blog

News, photos and stories from St. John XXIII Catholic Church.

December 21, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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

Dear Parishioners & Visitors of St. John XXIII ,

All the world looked with awe upon the Christ-Child.
May the celebration of the Birth of Christ fill you and your family’s lives with a spirit of wonder and love this Christmas and throughout the year.

Merry Christmas!

Blessings,
Father Bob Tabbert
& Pastoral Team of St. John XXIII

A Christmas Prayer

Eternal God,
This joyful day is radiant
with the brilliance of your one true light.
May that light illuminate our hearts
and shine in our words and deeds.
May the hope, the peace, the joy,
and the love represented by the birth in Bethlehem fill our lives
and become part of all that we say and do.
May we share the divine life
of your son Jesus Christ,
even as he humbled himself to share our humanity.
let us be thankful for the true gift of Christmas, your Son.

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December 14, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Angel Tree 2014 Santa’s Little Elves

‘Tis the season for picking out the plumpest tree, decking the halls and celebrating the coming of Christ with your friends and family. The ‘Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ is also a time to reflect on how much we have and give back to those who are in need.

For more than a decade, the Angel Tree has been the outlet to do just that. Each tag placed delicately on the tree, represents a name of someone in need. Some are veterans living in assistant living facilities and others are children who live in poverty. If you attended Mass last week, you may have noticed the trees that were once filled with tags are now bare, and the corners of the Narthex were filled with gifts galore. Parishioners purchased thousands of gifts for 1,068 children and adults in need this year- that’s a record for our parish. Although the need may just scratch the surface of all those struggling in our community, at this time, there is no doubt that our parish has spread a little cheer this year.

May your hearts be warmed when a child receives their first bicycle or an elderly veteran snuggles into a warm robe. You sure have set the bar quite high for Santa this year.

Stella McCaffrey heads up the Angel Tree every year at St. John XXIII. She and her army of volunteers work with nine ministries in Southwest Florida in fulfilling the need for children and adults and families who are financially struggling. She and the team have the process of inquiring, storing and distributing down to a science. There is no doubt that the Angel Tree would be the success it is without their hard work.

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Danielle Koleniak: How did you get involved with the Angel Tree?
Stella Mccaffrey: I started as just a volunteer. I got involved through the Women’s Guild. It started out small- just 100-200 gifts. I was able to do it out of my home. Then it really grew and I realized I needed help and space to store the gifts. So, I went to the ladies in the Women’s Guild. A group of women collect about 100 gifts, log them in and store them until the various ministries can take them. It’s a process!

DK: This year, the parishioners purchased gifts for 1,068 children and adults. That’s quite the number!
SM: It’s the highest number we’ve ever done. Last year we had 790. Every year it increases because there’s a greater need. Our biggest client is St. Matin de Porres. The greatest need is there.

DK: The Angel Tree isn’t just for Children. This is for a dynamic group?
SM: We serve Catholic Charities’ elderly. The elderly are sadly a forgotten group. We also work with the Knights of Columbus in taking care of the veterans who are living in assisted living facilities. They come from all the branches of service. Most of them are WW2 vets. We also have two women veterans this year. We serve St. Martin de Porres, Manatee Elementary School, DeLasalle Academy, Veterans, our parish families who are home-bound, Jesus the Worker, The Villas, Catholic Charities Elderly and Lifeline Family Center.

DK: The Angel Tree also includes new/expecting mothers and babies. Right?
SM: We work closely with Lifeline Family Center. We have 24 gifts for that facility. New mothers, expecting mothers, and babies who will be born around the holidays will receive a gift.

DK: When you look at the tags, you see toys and then you see something as simple as a shirt or pair of pants. Talk about how the “wish list” is formed for each child or adult.
SM: The wish list is furnished by the leaders of each ministry who know the person best. I know the children need clothes and shoes but we want to include a toy for each child, too, because it’s Christmas. For the elderly, its just basic things like toiletries and robes.
This is the first year I’ve worked with Jesus the Worker. I could see the influence the nuns are having on the children because of what they were asking for. One child wanted a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, another asked for a blue Rosary. One little boy wanted a bag of Skittles. Simple things. It’s amazing.
We have single mothers, even some in our own parish, who aren’t looking for anything for themselves; they want a gift card to purchase food.

DK: In the 9 years of you being actively involved in the Angel Trees, what’s the one thing that surprises you year after year?
SM: The shear volume of people in need. I’m not wealthy by any means, but I can’t imagine what some of these people are going through.

DK: When you see parishioners picking up the tags and bringing back the gifts, I’m sure you see some incredible things.
SM: It’s amazing. On Saturday this couple came in with a carload of gifts. They were thrilled to do it.
Our parishioners are so generous. On Friday, I learned someone dropped off six tricycles and beautiful little scooters. It’s wonderful to see people who have the means to give back.

DK: I’m sure the distribution process is tear jerking.
SM: When you see these kids it’s incredible. When they call out the child’s name and they bring out the bike, the look on their face is amazing. Thank you to our wonderful parishioners who purchased gifts for those in need this year.

Special thanks to volunteers Carol Warrell, Linda Sayres, Marilyn Brummer, Mary Bissaillon, Vicki Gelardi, Nick Piccoli, Stella McCaffrey, Mary Schmidt, Andrea Harley, and Sandy Szymanski for making the project a success! If you would like to give to the Angel Tree, the ministry is accepting monetary donations to purchase gifts for unreturned tags for those in need.

December 7, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Preparing For Eternity

by Danielle Koleniak

With Thanksgiving behind us, we’ve officially entered a time of planning mayhem. For much of society, it’s a race against the clock to find the best deal on a 50 inch 4K Ultra HD Flat Screen TV or snatch the latest Shark SE400 Pro Lite Steam Mop for 50% off the original price (guilty…).
We’ve managed to plan our bank accounts, credit card points and appetites, but yet, we (including myself), have forgotten what we really should be preparing for- Christ.

As we enter into the Second Sunday of Advent, be humbly reminded that this is a time we empty ourselves of all that impedes the comings of the Lord and the fulfillment and true joy salvation brings.

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Parishioner, Suzan Norfleet was a planner. It’s what she was passionate about and very successful in doing it. She owned an interior decorating business and helped others plan out or redesign their homes. She ran her business until the very end of her life.

Suzan died last month after a fearless fight against breast cancer. To her, it wasn’t a battle lost—it was one she won—confident that she was going to spend eternal life in heaven.

After 8 months of RCIA she fulfilled one of her biggest plans this past April- she became Catholic. Her relationship with Christ grew even more and a peace came over her about her fate—looking at her diagnosis as an inspiration rather than a defeat.

Suzan leaves behind her husband, daughter, son in-law and her beloved dog. Before she died, she wanted to leave behind some words that she asked her daughter to share with others- so, that they too, will be encouraged to have a deeper relationship with God and their church as they prepare for whatever may be in their own lives. Because after all, there is so much more to our time on this planet than buying a really big TV or steam mop.

Danielle Koleniak: For those who never met your mother, what was she like?
Jodie Savage: Suzan was a real people person. She loved her life. She really enjoyed every minute of it. As a child, she worked in her family’s dry cleaning shop and then became an interior decorator and owned her own business. She loved it.

DK: When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she didn’t slow down, did she?
JS: When she learned she had the worst form of breast cancer, which is tri-negative, she wanted to pursue everything she wanted to do with her life. Instead of the diagnosis scaring her, she let it inspire her. The first thing she wanted to do was become a Catholic. She went through the whole RCIA process and completed it this past Easter.

DK: What were some of the changes you saw when she went through the converting process?
JS: I saw a peace come over her. When she began regularly praying the rosary, she told me it changed her prayer life because for the first time she stopped telling God what to do, and instead just worshipped Christ. She explained that’s when she heard the voice of God. When she would go for her medical testing she would pray the Rosary and she said a peace would come over her and she felt God with her.

DK: Before she passed away, she wanted you to share some things on behalf of her and her life to others.
JS: Yes, she wanted to encourage those who are debating returning to their faith and to Christ. She urged them to let go of the things that are keeping them away. Those things are probably so small to God and in the light of eternity. Let yourself be made free. Give in and let God work the rest of it out.

Also, the idea that ‘if you’re a Christian bad things aren’t going to happen to you and if things happen to you then it’s a sign that you don’t have enough faith or you’re not good enough.’ My mother didn’t look at her terminal cancer this way. She didn’t look at it as a judgment, but rather a challenge.

Instead of saying ‘why me?’ she said ‘why not me?’ It’s not about this life, it’s about eternal life. She would not let cancer define and control her life.

I think the message is: The ultimate healing is eternal life for all of us. There’s a sadness that she has left us, but there is no darkness. There is certainly a hope for eternal life. She had no doubt that it was where she was going.

She also said she had learned that as she matured in her relationship with Christ, she stopped praying for her circumstances and instead prayed for the strength to deal with them. She said, “you’ll find you open the floodgates of peace when you stop resisting.”
Rest in peace, Suzan Norfleet.

Advent Edition | The 23rd Times

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Hopeless, to Homeless, and Coming Back Home

by Damian Hanley
In conversation with a homeless man in San Francisco three weeks ago, Father Bob’s heart broke when the man confessed his deepest desire. It wasn’t money, or better food. It wasn’t even a home. He wanted to be seen. “People walk by us all the time and put their heads down. They cross the street to avoid us. All we want is to be looked in the eye. We want to be acknowledged as human beings.” We often don’t think of homelessness as a Respect For Life issue, but when framed in this light – when all they want is the dignity of being recognized to exist – how could it not be?

Watch the interviews here, and look below to read the rest of the article.

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Tom B. suffered. There were periods of his life when the pain was covered up and wrapped neatly in the box of a good job, money, houses, cars and a family that loved him. He wore the mask that so many of us love to wear. In fact, the size of the mask is often a good measure of the pain we are in, and that was the case for Tom. There was a point in Tom’s journey that he lost it all and became homeless, but the real story has more to do with his emotional state than it does the places he slept. The events that led him to the streets are more important than the streets themselves.

“I retired at 52 and had probably too much money and too much time for my own good.” Tom had worked in government, in fact, in welfare administration overseeing more than 10,000 people’s affairs, “so I knew all about dysfunction, but that wasn’t me.” From an outward point of view, he had it all, even the important stuff – friends, family and respect. “And I was careful,” he remembers. “I had 5 brothers – all alcoholics – and most of the men in my family had it too. I never wanted to be that way. I would see them drink and lose control, so any time I went out or to a party, I’d have a couple drinks and that was it.”

Right around the time of his retirement, Tom’s marriage began to crumble – death by a thousand cuts. He and his wife separated and Tom began to find himself in bars. “At this point in my life, I can admit I was spiritually and emotionally dead. It didn’t matter that I’d traveled the world – been all over Europe and through Italy – at the end, the only trips I was making were to jail.”

In one of these bars, Tom met a woman. They hit it off. He liked her, and she liked crack cocaine. “My problem is drug addiction. If someone would have told me I’d give away a fortune for that drug before I ever tried it, I wouldn’t have believed them. But that’s what happened. God was no longer important to me.”

It was a long, painful journey. When a drug addict has money, he finds himself surrounded by the wrong kind of people. Tom knew he had no business in the relationship with that woman. He knew his “friends” weren’t friends at all. The fact was, he didn’t care. He’d fallen so far and the pain had become so great, that all that mattered was escaping it. And escape he did.

“I lost my homes. I lost my cars. Even with my pension, I would rent a place and a month or two later get evicted because I just couldn’t keep money.” Tom eventually found himself living under an abandoned tractor trailer halfway to Immokalee. “The rain would come in sideways and hit me. I was wet and filthy a lot of the time – covered in insects. I had open sores on my feet and I would walk for miles to get what I needed.”

But that didn’t matter either. “My soul hurt so bad, Damian.” Tom tears up. “At the end, I found myself here, in Fort Myers, in the middle of US41 trying to walk into cars.. and that didn’t happen. My last attempt was 2:30 in the morning… and I couldn’t stay long enough for impact. I didn’t realize it until a month later, but that was God answering my prayers. That was God telling me to come back, and that’s what every story of recovery is about – how we come back to Christ.

“I found myself in AA, and one of the men that would go out of his way to help men was a member of this Parish. He showed me a lot of love and compassion – and I needed that. He would drive miles to get me to bring me to an AA meeting, and he didn’t have much either! He was new in AA too. So he was really making a sacrifice. My choices in life had gotten so bad that my family withdrew from me. They no longer took my calls. I was no longer welcome in their home. All that has changed now though. I actually come to Mass with them, here. This is a story about the gift of love – and grace, grace that I certainly did nothing to deserve.”

He never understood redemption, or grace, or mercy like he does today. He remains grateful by acting gratefully. He volunteers at the same food pantry that gave him food when he had nothing, and more importantly, he shares his story. “Pride and arrogance – that would not be the way for me to show thanks to God for what He’s done for me – especially through other people,” Tom admits. “When other people reached out their hand to me, that was an act of love. At the end of an addiction, we fully believe the lie – that we are not worthy – and that is what Satan wants.”

The end of the pain came 4 years ago, and so began Tom’s journey back to God. Advent is a time when we wait for Christ – but this is just symbolic. He came 2000 years ago. He is here now. Our job is to genuinely acknowledge that fact and to act with love and compassion to other people (like, year-round, ideally). Think about what might have happened had the Anonymous Parishioner not picked Tom up for those meetings? Could he have called a cab? Who else would have done it?

And that’s really the question we should ask ourselves when we see someone in need. If not me, then who? Who will help this person? That Parishioner had probably enough money to fill his car with gas and throw a dollar in the basket at a meeting, and yet he still reached out. He still did the next loving thing and, essentially, saved Tom’s life.

The “idea” of a spiritual journey sounds fantastic. Who wouldn’t want to learn more about their true nature, the purpose God has for their lives… heck, the meaning of life? It’s your own personal Book of Revelation. Arguably, we’re all on a spiritual journey, but how much attention are we giving it? Of course, during the holidays we claim to pay special attention to this corner of our lives as we shatter last year’s spending records on Black Friday, but sometimes, the “-ISMs” are the starting point of true introspection. It doesn’t have to be consumerism or alcoholism (addiction). It can just be the soul-sickness of being alone. A lot of spiritual journeys begin at the bottom of a barrel (or bottle), where all a person can do is look up. If they look up and see you, will you reach out your hand?

In this season of Advent, what are we doing to prepare ourselves for the day that God gives us His greatest Gift? How are we hastening our spiritual journey? Are we even on one?

November 23, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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

We Give Thanks to God for Bringing You to Us

With Thanksgiving upon us, our hearts overflow with thankfulness.
Thank you, parishioners for your gracious love and support
that allows us to serve so many.
As we give thanks and praises to God in heaven above,
may your heart be filled with joy and your life be filled with love.
God’s peace,

St. John XXIII Pastoral Staff

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