The Blessed Blog

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

August 24, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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How am I supposed to reflect on 5 years worth of people’s stories? It’s just too much. It’s been a remarkable experience, and I’ve acquired a skill set that no school could teach. If you’ve not been around a grapevine recently, I wrote this little reflection because I’m leaving my role as Communications Director within the next few weeks. My replacement, Danielle Koleniak, begins tomorrow, and I’m to train her on…? I haven’t quite figured that out yet. I’m guessing the core function of my job here is: getting people to trust me.


Aside from laying out the bulletin every week, graphic design, curating content from the media, fielding complaints from the uber-Holy and managing the website, the Main Thing I do is tell stories. I try to tell them in the most spiritually focused way possible, but sometimes, that’s difficult. The one thing I’ve learned about people – Christians of all types, Muslims, Hindus, even the Irish – is that every individual has their own brand of spirituality.

What a vague term, right? “Spirituality”? What does that mean? I looked it up in the dictionary and it tells us that it’s the quality or state of being concerned with religion or religious matters. Hm. Religious matters? Do they mean “God” or prayer? Or something more objective like memorizing your favorite Gospel verse?

Another definition is Sensitivity or attachment to religious values. What are religious values? Values are essentially standards of behavior, so are they referring to helping the poor? Going to Mass? Participating in a bake sale? Paying your bills on time?

I guess you could argue that values are all of these things, and that spirituality is an intangible concept that can be neither measured or judged from the outside. I’ve seen some decidedly non-spiritual people participate in the rituals of religion, and I’ve seen some people who’ve lived brash, licentious lives become humble, selfless servants of the suffering.

What I’ve learned through the people I’ve met and interviewed, is that God is acting through all of us, and the stories of our lives are our journeys away from, and back to Him. Each person has their spectrum of fatal flaws and deadly sins that they struggle with, but their willingness to admit those flaws, and seek God’s will, can be the closest thing to a measure of spirituality we can get.

I have met people with an unbelievable capacity for forgiveness. Remember the guy who was shot 6 times by a gangster in DC? That was a spiritual event in his life, one that taught him acceptance and forgiveness.

Remember the young Vietnamese man whose refugee boat was attacked by pirates twice, lived on a half cup of rice per day for a month and fled his country with not even a shirt on his back to find religious freedom in the States? He had to be open to God’s plan for his life (he didn’t really have much of a choice).

And the spouses… The spouses that deal with dementia, cancer, 1000 forms of addiction, dying children – these become the events that form the spiritual life. What can teach a person acceptance better than a loved one who commits suicide? It’s that type of powerlessness that brings people closer to the reality that we live in God’s world, and the time we spend ignoring that fact, is time spent in pain.

People are only willing to tell these stories because they trusted us. Either Father Bob or I got through to them enough that they became willing to share. They came to the idea that their humanness, or their pain, or their frailty could potentially help another person. They realized that they were already naked before God. The veil of denial had already been lifted. They could choose to withdraw into themselves and feed the monsters of self-pity and resentment, or they could acknowledge that the majority of people around them – to varying degrees – are off their rocker, and let them know they are not alone.

Our college student friend Vinny, the one who suffered with an eating disorder, didn’t tell his story because he wanted to broadcast his shame to 2000 people. He told it because it had the potential to give someone hope.

If nothing else, I’ve found that we should tell our stories because they diminish the shame and guilt we’ve spent our lives accumulating. We share and we realize that our sins are the same as other people’s. Our emotions are all the same. But more than that, our need to be loved is something that is planted in us by God, and it’s something that cannot be experienced in isolation.

When we share ourselves with other people, and when people share themselves with us, that is an act of love. Telling our stories is how we show that love, and it’s the medium through which others grow to love us. When we can tell the truth about ourselves, we can allow people into our lives – the ones God intentionally places there – and they can help us through our difficulties.

Our spiritual journey is finding out who we are – what God’s truest expression of our ideal can be – and then letting the world know who that person is. When people get to know us, they will love us, and we will love them… and that’s the stuff that matters… and that’s what the past 5 years have taught me. Thank you for telling me your stories.

I also want to extend my gratitude to the Pastoral Team and Tony Majeri. Tony basically created my job out of thin air in 2009. The “bulletin as publication” was his idea. The multimedia approach to our communication strategy was his idea. As the retired senior editor for the Chicago Tribune, I could not have gotten luckier than to have him land in our Parish. He’s proof that we never retire, God just uses us in new ways. Thank you. -DH

August 17, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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On Control | With Suzie Norfleet

Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “Well, I’ve got options today. I think I’ll get terminal cancer.” That’s not something we want. We never want people we love to die or get sick. We want the best for people, but I have no control over what happens to my body. I have my mind and my attitude to work with.  I can accept what’s to happen and do the best I can, or I can be miserable and make everyone around me miserable too. -Susan Norfleet


We all want control. And at times, we all think we have it. It’s natural for us to take actions that will ensure our survival, give us a certain amount of security and provide us with a reasonable amount of comfort and pleasure, but making those things the sole focus of our lives will backfire. The more control we think we have, the more disturbed we’ll be when the realities of life come knocking.

Susan Norfleet learned a long time ago that delusions of control come in many forms, and the lessons we learn regarding the nature of control can be painful. If God only gives us what we can handle, then he must have pretty high expectations of us. Her experience in Al-Anon (the 12-step program for families living with alcoholics) and her more recent cancer diagnosis have been lessons in how little control we have over the big-picture events in our lives… you know, the ones that make us who we are.

Damian: What was it like to hear your diagnosis?
Susan Norfleet: I’m very lucky to have the doctors I have, but I chose them because they are very honest and very direct. They never sugar coated anything from the get-go. I knew what I was going through and what I was facing.

DH: So what role does your faith play in your health?
SN: During this time, I was unlearning all I’d been taught about the Catholic Church by watching a lot of EWTN. So when I got to RCIA, a lot of the program already made sense. I think that I was also attracted to the thousands of years of tradition of the Catholic Church, because so much of the Old Testament is mirrored in the New. God’s plan isn’t just 2000 years old! It goes back much further. It’s reassuring and comforting to know that God’s prophecy is coming true. So of course I want to question my diagnosis and fight with it, but God has a plan for all of us… and it’s a much better plan that what we could have come up with on our own.

DH: How old were you when you realized the spiritual life is all that really matters?
SN: I think because of the way I was raised, I always knew the spiritual component of life was very important. When people are young, they put a lot of emphasis on things, and feelings and they get distracted by other people, and their emotions. I get really distraught about young people that have no one to mentor them, and no one to listen to them. When I grew up, I had a lot of support from my parents. We ate dinner together every night. We used to do laundry for the military ships on Saturday nights together. We’d laugh and carry on. So I think staying close to family is the key to a happy life. The closer you are to the ones you love, the better off you’ll be.

DH: Tell me a little about your family, and how important they were to you.
SN: My dad was the choir director at Church. Our Church would have these big parties – well, there were only about 250 members of our Church – but everyone would come. So growing up, life was really fun. I knew that you always had to be inclusive with people. I realized early on that things were not important – people were. So I’ve had faith throughout my life, but coming to RCIA laid out the tapestry of my beliefs in a way that made sense like it never had before.”
DH: What are you grateful for now that you’re a full-fledged Catholic?
SN: I can’t say enough about the beauty of the Church. I pray that people protect that beauty with vigilance because it’s the only thing that will last in this world. People’s politics come and go, but the Church gives us the greatest miracle of all – eternal life. We’re all eventually going to die in our physical form, but that only reminds me to live every minute to the fullest and love people the way God loves us.

DH: You’d mentioned you had some experience with Al-Anon?
SN: Throughout my childhood my father only drank socially. It was never a problem. He was in the laundry and dry cleaning business – and he started that business at the height of the depression in 1936. He did well after the War as most small businesses did. I had an ideal childhood. We went to Church. I was taught to be kind and loving, and to love God. I started out a Lutheran and went to a Lutheran college in upstate New York, so I had a sound liturgical background. But around the time I was 18, alcohol became a problem for my father – one that had to be dealt with. My mother had started to go to Al-Anon, and eventually got me to do the same. It was there that I realized I had all the tools I needed to solve the problems in my life – the tools that I’d gotten in my faith while growing up. I just didn’t know how to use them. And they sort of laid that out in Al-Anon. I can’t change another person. I can only change me.

DH: How did they teach you how to “deal” with your dad?
SN: I learned that I can have peace in my soul, even if all around me, life is going to hell in a handbasket. I could have a positive impact on others if I simply lived my life in a real and honest way. That was a wakeup call. I was able to take those principles into life, and later into business.

DH: How did that program help you to grow spiritually?
SN: Al-Anon and AA are based on a belief in a “higher power” (God). As long as the relationship with your higher power stays intact, you can make it through anything. The program works really well because of the mentoring. I used to go to a morning meeting where there were a lot of women. They’d complain about their husbands’ drinking. ‘You’re not going to believe what he does… etc etc. And the mentoring women would respond ‘You’ve pretty much tried everything, huh? Well maybe the person you should be focusing on is you, and how you’re going to live in this situation.’ I learned in Al-Anon that you can’t change another person – you certainly can’t control them. One of the things they always taught us was to treat the alcoholic like a boarder. If they were paying for room and board, and were content to go to their room every night to get drunk, let them do that. You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to. I learned that my spiritual life was my business and my peace was no one else’s responsibility.

DH: All good advice. Thanks for telling your story. We’ll be praying for you.
SN: Sincerely grateful.

August 10, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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On Prayer & Love

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


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

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

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

On Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 3, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 27, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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5 Ways to Spot a Jesus Follower

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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