Saturday, December 31, 2016

December at John Paul II Catholic Mission, Rutledge, TN

As we approach the New Year of 2017, I am sharing the joys of Advent at the mission of St. John Paul II.  In my many years serving as a Glenmary priest, the way the Catholics of St. John Paul II honor December is unique and inspiring.

Rosary to conclude the feast of Guadalupe
They begin with the novena in honor of the Immaculate Conception which is also associated with Our Lady of Joaquin ( the virgin of the state of Oxacca, MX).  This continues through the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The novena means they sing, pray the rosary, and then eat afterwards.  Each night a different family is the host.  These are held at times at someone's home or at the church.

Then the celebration in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe follows.  This took place on the December 11 in the afternoon.  Procession, Mass, Food, three dance performers and the drama of Our Lady of Guadalupe mark this festival.  It is a huge amount of labor and expense, but done with great joy and love.  Then at 6:00 a.m. on December 12th they gathered for the Mananitas (morning praises), which is singing and the rosary.   Some came to St Teresa of Kolkata for the evening Mass; others had on last rosary at a families home.
Actors for the drama of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Presentation of the Gifts
Ladies traditional dance
Dancers from St. Teresa of Kolkata

Dance of the Viejos (Old ones)

After a few days of rest, they began the rosaries for the Posadas.  This again is nine days of rosary, singing and food with the added twist of candy and fruit each night for the children.  This then concludes with the joyous final night on the 23rd with rosary, the pastorales, food, gifts and the piƱata.
Posada singing outside the door

Receiving the crib

The final rosary

This year's Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus

The cast of the pastorales
Gifts from Novice Ken and elves

Pinata breaking

The highlight of course is Christmas Mass. 

The photos and description can not capture the level of faith that is evident in the faithful where any given night as few as thirty and as many as 100 were gathered for prayer.  Imagine 2 to 3 hours every night for 21 days during December.  Where many were shopping and preparing for Christmas in other ways, these Christians were praying to prepare their heart for the Lord. 

After all, the time of advent is to prepare us to receive the gift of faith in a renewed way.  As we end 2016 and begin 2017 may it be a time of great faith in Jesus for everyone.

 Peace, Love and Hope is my wish for everyone.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

It is a new day

After a very long absence, the missionary heartbeat blog is back.  Sorry for the wait.
This is why it is called the "Smokey Mountains".

One discovery is once a routine falls apart, regardless how good it is, it takes twice as much effort to restart.  This is true about this blog, but it is also true about diet, exercise,  prayer, and going to Mass.  Acknowledging this reality, this entry is dedicated to what has been happening in Union County.  I will aim to catch you up on St. John Paul II Catholic church in Rutledge soon. ( I hope soon, is like in two weeks).

Three major changes have occurred recently.  First, with the canonization of Mother Teresa on September 4 we now have a new name.  We are now St. Teresa of Kolkata Catholic Church.  The spelling change is out of respect of the people of India.  The change from "Calcutta" to "Kolkata" is  returning to the indigenous spelling. 

A free gift and our welcome banner
We were blessed with Bishop Stika coming to celebrate this change a week later.  The joy he brings, his sense of humor and his holiness all add to the festive mood of this event.  He likes to say he is a third class relic since he knew and was hugged by Mother Teresa.  Now we have the challenge live in a way that give honor to our patroness.  We need to be a church of mercy even after this jubilee year ends.
The image is a gift from Bishop Stika in honor of her canonization

The second exciting news is that in October Larry Rossini was ordained a deacon and assigned to service here at STK (our new initials: St. Teresa of Kolkata). Deacon Larry, a native of Arkansas but a long time resident in Halls, TN, has been a great addition.  Currently he is helping us reorganize our internal church structure. 
Deacon Larry shortly before his ordination

One of the challenges as a community of faith grows is adjusting the committees and lines of communication.  As a start up church, just five years old, it has been very dependent on the Glenmary Missioners with a few parishioners to carry the load of work.  This is no longer sustainable.  With Br. Craig now serving in Sneedville, TN, which is the neighboring county, his ministry needs to be handled by the  parishioners.  Further more, we a no longer just a small community.  We have grown from 26 people to 120 families.  Deacon Larry's background in business systems being applied to church life is a real plus. 

Yet, what Deacon Larry is getting ready to do is even more essential.  He will be forming an Evangelization committee and in true missionary spirit, go out to the world to announce the good news.  Of course, he and his team will just hit the little part of the world known as Union County.  Yet it is  big enough for us.
St. Francis garden: blooms of faith will be as vibrant

Finally, the most exciting and nerve creating news is that we have an architect under contract.  This week our architect will meet with the liturgy committee on Friday and all our construction workers on Saturday.  Then the detail design will begin.  It has been a very long wait to get here, but we made it.  All the fund raising efforts, the carnivals, all the outside donations has allowed to receive a grant from Extension Society.  Therefore, we have a financial plan that should allow us to begin construction in the spring of 2017.
The Master Plan

Stay tuned for future updates.  Thanks again for your patience.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

New Post coming soon!!

Dear Reader,

My apologizes for not posting a new blog in sometime.  The joys of ministry and a few matters of technology have hindered me lately.

I promise you a new post will be happening very soon!!

Thanks for your patience.

Fr. Steve

Friday, March 4, 2016

Missing Pieces

This Christmas I was given a challenging zigzaw puzzle.  I enjoyed and was frustrated working on this puzzle during my evenings.  The ultimate frustration was when I finished to discover a piece was missing.  This was a new puzzle so when I began I am confident that all the pieces were present.  So the missing piece was a result my own carelessness.

This is much like the reason for our Lenten season.  When we begin life, all the pieces for happiness are present, especially once we are  baptized and original sin is washed away.  As life continues because of our carelessness and the carelessness of others, pieces begin to go missing.  Gaps of sadness, sinfulness and suffering sneak in.  These gaps can only be healed with the grace of Jesus Christ.
The Sacrifice of Mercy for us all

In particular this Lent, Pope Francis has called us to experience a Jubilee Year of Mercy.  This is a great opportunity for us to improve ourselves, our faith and civil communities,  and even to improve the world.  During Lent every parishioner has been challenged to complete all of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  This idea is actually based on a movie called "Little Boy" where a priest gives this assignment to a little boy needing hope.  One act of mercy can change the world.

At Blessed Teresa of Calcutta the congregation has engaged in "visiting the sick".  We have a young parishioner with serious cancer.  When she had her surgery she had no insurance.  Now she does, but it is not the best.  The church sponsored a fundraiser where I offered folks an opportunity to shave my head. This event was mentioned in the local newspaper. People really worked hard and had a lot of fun.  I was deeply moved by people not members of our church who came to support her.  Some folks traveled from a neighboring town just because they wanted to help someone who was suffering. They did not know her or anyone else in the parish.  They saw it in the paper and wanted to make a difference.  That is mercy in action.
A new look for the mercy of Christ

This is one example of filling in the missing pieces of our life.  Each act of mercy is a form of conversion.  This is how we turn our stony hearts and the stony hearts of others into hearts of flesh.

Winter Knitting Give a Away

Wrapped in the warmth of Christ
Both of our missions are recipient of many acts of mercy.  Two groups help us in "clothing the naked".   SAM's club of my hometown parish of St. Timothy Catholic Church, Maple Lake, MN and St. Bede and St. Olaf Knitting Ministry out of Williamsburg, VA regularly send us handmade quilts, knitted hats, gloves, blankets and shawls.  These acts of love brings joy to those who make, appreciation to our local communities and much need warmth to those who receive them. Now during winter, it is fun to spot children with these knitted items.  Baby quilts and knitted baby blankets are birth gifts and baptismal gifts. The layers of the effects of these handmade items may not always be obvious.  Yet, missing pieces are filled in.

The message is someone cares  At one of our get ready for winter give away,  a woman was tears for getting a free handmade quilt.  She could not believe that we would give her a quilt when she was not a member of our church.  She said no church just gives things away. My response was, " Christ gave us his life, I think we can give you a quilt." 

All of this helps fill in the missing pieces of our lives with  kindness, thoughtfulness and mercy.  Thank you, Jesus, for filling in the gaps and missing pieces of our lives.  Thank you for those who are sacrificing time and finances in sharing their missionary hearts here in Union and Grainger County.  Thank you Jesus for you mercy and the mercy of our disciples.  Thank you for everything.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Jubilee Year of Mercy

The joy of a Merciful Life
(Dancers during the JPII Guadalupe festival)
The Jubilee Year of Mercy has begun.  This has me very excited.  We began the year last month.  Our two parishes and other friends joined me in 30 days of  radical love.  I now see that Creative Communications has put out a calendar entitled 30 Days of Mercy Love in Action.  This means I was not has creative as I thought or that the Holy Spirit is working strongly inspiring many with similar ideas.  Take it as you will.
Knock out evil and be rewarded with sweets

The reason I invited others to join me in this was as a response to the negativity and fear that seems to be growing in our country.  It greatly hurt me to hear the fear that leads to denying refugees safety, judging Muslims by some terrorist groups and actions, and increasing suspicion of our neighbors.  It also bothers me that people seem to put more trust in guns than God.  There is another way!!
The Mercy Medical Sisters
The Mobil Clinic brings mercy to folks in Washburn and Rutledge

Therefore I wrote to the Knoxville News Sentinel about my challenge to do thirty days of radical acts of love to demonstrate that Love is more powerful than fear and good will (God's will) more helpful than suspicion and isolation.  This message was picked up by the local papers and others who read my facebook page.

The greatest act of mercy
The result was greater than imagined.  Members of our parish engaged in helping additional families for Christmas, bring small items to the Children's Hospital, buying small gifts like flowers and candies for cashier's.  Many notes of appreciation were sent as well as phone calls.  Stories of their generosity were many, but the greater surprise was those who received acts of radical love in return. On single mother who had been engaging in these acts shared this story:  She drove her mother to the airport early in the morning.  Her young son and her stopped at McDonalds for breakfast.  After she made her order she discovered she had grabbed the wrong purse and had no cash, no credit cards and no driver license with her.  She apologized and cancelled the order.  The manager came up and said no worry, it is on us.  These little acts do change the world.

In this year of mercy, Pope Francis is inviting all of us to engage in radical acts of love and forgiveness. Doing one small thing a day opens one's eyes to the many possibilities to make a difference.  We may discover greater joys and surprises along the way.

Bring your gifts like the Kings to Christ
 (Picture is from the Epiphany Pastorales Play)
God can never be outdone in generosity.  The more love you share, the more love you will receive.  It is God math:  to more you give the more you gain.  It will happen every time!!
You are lights in the world.  Shine On.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Seasons of the moment

Everything has a season.  Advent and Christmas is on the mind for many.  Yet, October and November has been the marrying and burying season here in the missions of Union and Grainger Counties.
In the center is Jeanette with your daughter waving.  She was our oldest member at age 95.

The burying part really is in every season.  Our oldest parishioner at St. John Paul II died and was buried last week.  This week we buried one of the founding members at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Church.  Both of these ladies lived holy lives dedicated to Jesus.  Yet, another funeral was for a 28 year old man who died in a car accident in Alabama.  He was from Mexico.  His only relative in the United States lived in Rutledge.  All the arrangements fell on her.  Thank God for a Christian community to reach out and support her.

The marrying season in October and November might be more  unusual.  Yet, the real season for St. John Paul II is tomato season.  There are not many parties in the summer because people are working long days.  In December many are not working at all or for only 10 hours a week.  Therefore, if you are doing a wedding or baptism it will be in these fall months while you still have money and folks are not working in the harvest.

In my missionary work, I have discovered that the universal Catholic church has seasons; we call it the Liturgical Year.  It is beautiful, but it sometimes conflicts with the secular calendar and even more so with the cultural seasons of the local churches.  In Grainger County the tomato season not only impacts the Catholic members, but really the entire county.  In Union county the local events and our members lives are more disconnected.  Many of our people in the English Speaking community are early retirees so they travel in the winter to warmer climates or travel to spend holidays with their children.  So where other Catholic communities will talk about Christmas and Easter Catholics, here Christmas is often smaller than other occasions because people are traveling.

'til death due thee part
The reminder for me, is that one size does not fit all.  Any generalizations need to be humbly articulated because the expections are almost the rule.  Yet, whatever season it is it is always the season of LOVE.  God's grace through Jesus Christ is the primary season.  It is a season of love, mercy, justice and peace.  It shines during moments of sadness as when we say goodby to loved ones in death or moments of happiness when we witness two people pledge their love before God.
new life begins

May whatever season it is in your life, may God be in the midst of it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Four years and more to go

Today I begin updating my blog only discover I have not shared what is pounding in this missionary heart since August.  Time sure moves fast when the Holy Spirit is filling it.  There have been many joyous moments these last two months. 
Blessed Teresa Dancers

The biggest news is that both missions have been open now for four years.  This Sunday, Oct. 18,
 I have been asked to make a presentation to the Catholic Foundation of East Tennessee on our  progress, specifically, of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Church in Maynardville, TN.  There is certainly progress to celebrate, but there is also much to do. Among the celebrations are that we have grown from 26 people at the first Mass to 130 families.  We have more people taking more responsibilities and sharing the faith.
One of three Gospel Choirs who performed for our annual fund raiser

Our biggest news is that we are hoping to break ground on a church building the Spring of 2016.  The Master Plan was approved on August 18, 2015. The architect has been hired and the building committee is actively meeting.  This truly is an exciting time.
The Master Plan for our 24 acres and future home of BTC

To accomplish the building, monies are needed.  To this extent the Capital Campaign  brought in over  206,000.00 dollars in pledges.  That is incredible and represents a huge sacrifice on the part of the  people.  Yet, this still leaves much to be raised.  Our second annual carnival raised over 15,000.  So  progress is being made.  Yet, we will still need to borrow money to complete the project.
Raising Money at the Heritage Festival

The challenge, however, is how to still be church in during this intense time of raising funds and planning to build.  Church is not a building, it is the people of God in service to others and Christ.  Our communities still need to strengthen and deepen our Catholic Faith.  We only have one person in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). Thus, we need to reach out to the over 60% unchurched.  Many of our Spanish families come occasionally, but not every Sunday.  Our Adult English Bible Study Class is not very large.  Our outreach to the poor is limited and largely dependent on outside donors. Four years has seen a lot, but we are still just beginning.
Quinceanera is one of the many happy events of the summer

Steps to meet this challenges are being taken.  Our faith formation teachers are attending classes to be better teachers.  We are helping five to six families a month with basic financial needs.  We are active in the food pantries.  Home Repair continues, mostly, through the Volunteer Program on Joppa Mountain.  Progress is being made, but we are not there yet.
Back to School give a way
Food Pantry outreach at Tomato Festival

The Church building is an important step, but if the community inside is not strong, the structure will not matter.  This is the current challenge, how to build both a building and a community of faith.  With God's help all is possible.

Sharing Faith
Sharing Food