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

Friday, August 7, 2015

Mission, Music and Dance

"What have you done to make the Lord dance today?"
Fr. Steve dancing in Kenya

This was the invitation from Carol McBrady, a lay missioner in Zambia, Africa during her presentation at St. John Paul II Catholic Mission a couple of weeks ago.   Carol is a life long friend.  We have known each other since first grade, went to High School and even two years of college together. 14 years ago she started to help during the summer the street children in Lusaka, Zambia.  Then about ten years ago she sold her house, quite her "big" job and moved to Zambia to work full time with the street children.  Now Action for Children -- Zambia is going very strong. 
Fr. Steve, Carol and Carol's traveling companion

I was happy she agreed to come to our small U.S. mission and share her story and her mission.  Her principles are very much in keeping with the Glenmary Mission principles.  Connect people to faith, give them a home, and let them do for themselves with a gentle guiding hand.  She is the only Non-Zambian employed by her organization which has God dancing over 250 times.  (One dance for each child reached last year.)
Esteban Salazar Duque

Fr. Antonio with the ladies at St. John Paul II
Fr. Steve and Antonio stepping to New York, New York
Carol's invitation to dance was followed the next weekend with a classical tenor from Colombia, Esteban Salazar Duque.  Esteban sings to support missionary activity in a small town in Colombia.  His invitation to our mission was by Fr. Antonio Girarldo, our new associate pastor.  Fr. Antonio has been organizing trips to help the poor children of Colombia for ten years.  Esteban made this trip to the U.S. to raise money for this mission.  It was such an honor to bring a classical tenor who sang, Ave Maria in Latin, I did it my way in Spanish and New York, New York in English.  For our people to have the opportunity to be inspired by his concert in Maynardville and Rutledge, TN was just wonderful.  To be exposed to the needs of Colombia again advanced our understanding of mission.

Finally, last weekend, The Valley Boys, a local gospel group sang at St. John Paul II Catholic Mission.  This group consists of three young men who just graduated from High School.  A few weeks earlier they traveled with Br. Craig to the Glenmary Headquarters in Cincinnati, OH as well as four churches in Iowa.  There presence at our small Catholic Mission brought visitors from several Baptist churches, the Methodist Church and others to join us for the Mass.  For many visitors it was their first time to worship at the Catholic Church.  The reason they came was to be inspired by this Gospel Choir from a local Baptist church in Union County.  Through their music, Christians from different denominations came together to pray.  God danced!!
The Valley Boys

All three occasions advanced the mission of God.  Through music we learned about God's children in Africa, South America and North America. All of this was an occasion for God to dance.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The hope in our youth

Confirmation group May 2015

The month of May was filled with dynamic steps in the life of our youth.  We celebrated Confirmation and First Communion as well as college and high school graduations.  Yet, what will there future be?
Two of our three graduates in Maynardville. We also had one college graduate.
The only one of six Catholic graduates in Rutledge who attends Mass

In Sherry Weddell's book, "Forming Intentional Disciples" she opens with some startling statistics. Here are a few: 

24% of 18 - 29 years old do not belong to any religion.

From 2000 - 2009 nearly four times as many adults have left as have entered the Catholic Church in the United States.

Of those who left the Catholic Church, 71% "just drifted away" and of 79% left by age 23.

Furthermore, 42% of those who left do not even believe in God.
The first communion group at BTC, May 2015
The first communion group of JP II, May 2015

Given these realities what will become of the smiling and happy youth who just made their sacraments of communion and confirmation?  What will become of our graduates?

I deeply hope that their experiences through the Catholic Church and these sacraments help them know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, as their friend and brother.  These sacraments of Holy Communion, the reception of Jesus in his body and blood (see John 6),  and Confirmation, "being sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit" will be the beginning of a dynamic life lived in Christ. 
The reception of the Body of Christ
The reception of the Blood of Christ

Our world is full of violence, greed, indifference, and self-centeredness.  Poverty and disease still affect vast populations in the world.  Christ came to announce the Reign of God ... of new way ... a way of justice, peace, mercy and hope.  We need every committed Christian to stand up and deliver.

These young people are part of that plan, both now and in the future.  Already, they can do things in their schools, in the work force and in their homes to bring the light of Christ more clearly in the world.  Whatever they choice to do in adulthood, if it is guiding by the Holy Spirit and gives honor to God, it will help change the world.  
"Be Sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit"
"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life ..."

Yet, so they do not become a "drop out of faith" statistic, the current church, especially, their parents and our local members, need to love them, challenge them and encourage them to be faithful to Christ.  We can do that best by our example and by spending time with them.
Three generations of faith

These pictures show youth with  great joy and hearts on fire with faith.  May we help that faith staying burning.
JP II first communicants preparing to sing "Let their be Peace on Earth"

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Heart of Christ: A Holy Week Experience

Easter Vigil, JP II
                  Hosanna! This is my Body.  This is my Blood.  Crucify Him!  Alleluia!

 These are but a few of the words and phrases that capture Holy Week.  If you a Catholic you can name the days:  Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil and Easter.  Yet, I wonder more and more, how many  people in the United States and in the two counties I serve understand and recognize the significance of these days and what they tell us about the Heart of Jesus.  Has the routine of life and the commercialization of holidays pushed aside time for reflection and prayer?  I hope my worries are baseless.
Fr. Steve before the opening of the Way of the Cross at Central Point

At both St. John Paul II Catholic Mission in Rutledge and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Church we did our best to enter into the Passion of our Lord and celebrate our salvation.  The two days that require the most preparation are Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.

St. John Paul II has been doing the living way of the Cross since our arrival in 2011.  Each year this involves many individuals.  The person playing Christ is giving scripture to study.  Practices are held and children are incorporating as soldiers and the women and children of Jerusalem.  This is done where the folks live ending in the hillside pasture surrounded by goats and sheep.  To witness 167 people kneel in the open field in prayer has a power that can not be captured by media.
Jesus Falls the first time
Jesus meets the weeping women and children
He gave up his spirit

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta this year aimed at incorporating both English and Spanish Speakers in their bilingual living way of the cross.  The preparation behind the scene is itself forming a community of believers willing to sacrifice in the name of Jesus.
Women of Jerusalem at BTC
Jesus Falls the second time

The Crucifixion

The Easter Vigils are a once in year liturgy that takes time and preparation.  Above all the symbolism of dark and light, fire and water, is the reality that Jesus conquered death and set us free to have new life.  To witness new believers and old believers recommitment themselves to the resurrected Christ brings huge joy.
New Fire     and
New Water

Blessed Teresa witnessed two young men, ages 14 and 12 be baptized and initiated into the Catholic Church along with one adult be confirmed into the Catholic Faith after years of attending with her husband.  St. John Paul II witnessed one adult be baptized and initiated into the church, another confirmed joining his wife in the faith, and a mother and child receive sacraments together as well as one other infant baptism.  Each individual and family has a story of discovering and rediscovering Jesus more deeply in their life.  All of them have chosen to express this faith in the Catholic way of life.
Baptism of Jose
Baptism of Luis
Profession of Faith of Susan

Yet, the experience I have shared the most, is the Chrism Mass with Bishop Stika.  The week before Holy Week he was hospitalized and came near to death.  Yet, there we was speaking from his heart of the miracles of God.  The theme is that God interrupts us on the journey of life.  He pokes,pleads and prods us into new directions.  Yet, when we let him lead, even onto death, new life will come.  The Sacraments of the anointing, baptism, confirmation, communion, and reconciliation all guide us on the way.  His joy and authentic homily touched my heart and soul.
The group getting ready for baptism
Fr. Neil prepares Shirley
Baptism of Shirley
Baptism of Jadin
Baptism of Joeclyn
Confirmation of Dean

May God interrupt your life and help you discover his personal love for you.  Let his heart become your heart!!
First Communion of Jose
Luis drinks of the Blood of Christ
Sharon joins her family at the table of the Lord