Sparrows

I’m learning how (emotionally) overwhelming ministry can be at times. When you put yourself entirely into God’s hands at the service others, you run into situations and moments that give you new perspectives on life, gratitude, need, hope, despair, and more.

Last week after a evening of outreach to a family in need in our community, I was driving home when these words came to me, which I later posted on Facebook:

I’m coming to believe that when Christ weeps, or even when he goes up the mountain or across the water to pray, that it’s for anyone who has a deep longing or unanswered need.

Then when I was coming home from helping them a bit more again this week, I was overcome by the emotion of the moment and the pain of their situation. Jason Gray’s song “Sparrows” came on the radio just then, and I was reminded that each life, each moment, good or bad, is in God’s hands.

“If he can hold the world, he can hold this moment.”

This week as we wrap up the liturgical year and turn the page to a “new year” in the Church, we’re left with the lingering memory of the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. On the last Sunday of the Church year, we reflected upon Christ as the King of all time and space. This has long been one of my very favorite days in the Church year.

All of us – rich or poor, blessed and needy, whole or broken, are like sparrows in the hands of a good, gracious, and merciful King.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?

Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.

But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.

If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’

All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”

-Matthew 6:25-33

As we turn toward our secular holiday of Thanksgiving, I give thanks for all the blessings I have, and that all of us have, from the King of creation. And I ask for the blessing of His grace to continue to sustain me, and to help me grow, in His service.

Look at the Sparrow

A Man Named James

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James at Starbucks

Back in April, I was out at a Starbucks near our house for an evening of reading for my diaconate program’s Philosophy course. I had about a week to read roughly 200 pages of St. Thomas Aquinas (and that’s not an easy read!)

As the Starbucks was getting closer to closing, I was reading a section on Aquinas’s explanation of the problem of evil when I noticed a younger man, probably mid-20’s, anxiously interacting with the staff. He kept asking to use the phone, was calling various people, trying to figure out where he was, how to get somewhere. He eventually asked one of the women working a the Starbucks if she would give him a ride to the Greyhound station in St. Louis when she got off of work.

It got to a point where my gut, and/or the Holy Spirit, kept tugging at me, telling me that I should introduce myself to him and ask if he needed help.

So I packed up my books and notes, walked over, offered my hand, introduced myself, and asked if he needed anything.

That’s when I meet James.

Theology on the Lawn

On Thursday, August 4, I will give a presentation in Holy Family Church’s free “Theology on the Lawn” series, titled “Stories of Saints & Martyrs“. I will focus on stories of interesting lives of saints and martyrs with whom you might be less familiar. Some of these stories will hopefully inspire new thoughts on our own striving for faithfulness to our baptismal calling in our own lives.


Theology on the Lawn: A free series of talks on faith topics, Thursday evenings this summer at Holy Family Church in Granite City.

Talks begin at 7 P.M. in Mary’s Garden at 2300 Sheridan. In case of rain, we’ll meet in the adjacent Conference Center. Talks last 20-30 minutes, followed by fellowship & free snacks. Bring the family, bring friends and neighbors… just bring your own lawn chair!

  • Thursday, July 14: The Holy Mass (Father Jason Stone)
  • Thursday, July 21: God’s Voice in the Daily Life (Michael Halbrook)
  • Thursday, July 28: Merciful Like the Father (Deacon Neil Suermann)
  • Thursday, August 4: Stories of Saints & Martyrs (Michael Halbrook)
  • Thursday, August 11: Our Mother Mary (Father Jason Stone)

 

Date: August 4, 2016
Time: 07:00 p.m.
Event: Theology on the Lawn: Stories of Saints & Martyrs
Topic: Stories of Saints & Sinners
Sponsor: Holy Family Catholic Church
Public: Public

Theology on the Lawn

On Thursday, July 21, I will give a presentation in Holy Family Church’s free “Theology on the Lawn” series, titled “God’s Voice in the Daily Life“. I will focus on discerning God’s voice in the big and little moments and events in our daily lives. I will share personal examples and inspire reflection on such moments in your own life. This talk is intended for all ages, at all stages of openness to God in one’s life.


Theology on the Lawn: A free series of talks on faith topics, Thursday evenings this summer at Holy Family Church in Granite City.

Talks begin at 7 P.M. in Mary’s Garden at 2300 Sheridan. In case of rain, we’ll meet in the adjacent Conference Center. Talks last 20-30 minutes, followed by fellowship & free snacks. Bring the family, bring friends and neighbors… just bring your own lawn chair!

  • Thursday, July 14: The Holy Mass (Father Jason Stone)
  • Thursday, July 21: God’s Voice in the Daily Life (Michael Halbrook)
  • Thursday, July 28: Merciful Like the Father (Deacon Neil Suermann)
  • Thursday, August 4: Stories of Saints & Martyrs (Michael Halbrook)
  • Thursday, August 11: Our Mother Mary (Father Jason Stone)

 

Date: July 21, 2016
Time: 07:00 p.m.
Event: Theology on the Lawn: God's Voice in the Daily Life
Topic: God's Voice in the Daily Life
Sponsor: Holy Family Catholic Church
Public: Public

Class of Twenty-Twenty-Something

Now that the “cat’s out of the bag” and has been officially communicated to the clergy of our diocese, I can say a few words about how our diaconate “class of 2020” is now the “class of 2021” or (as we started to say) “2020-something”.

We started as the smallest diaconate class in the history of our diocese – 7 men – and through the spring, two men discerned their way out of the calling and the program, leaving our class with just 5 men.

Our formation team discussed with us on our retreat last weekend the current situation and their desire to re-open our class for new applicants to become new aspirants. The new aspirants would apply and go through interviews and vetting this fall, start an abbreviated aspirancy in January, and then join with our class entering candidacy next summer.

In the meantime, our class’s academic formation will pause through the fall. We’ll still receive and begin pastoral assignments later this summer, and still meet monthly for spiritual and pastoral formation, and theological reflection.

It means that it extends our formation by about a year, and pushes out ordination a bit for those who end up called to ordination. But it’s a journey, and it’s a good one, and I think my classmates and I have come to peace with this, and are ready to move forward and meet the rest of our class!

So… do you know a possible candidate who might be interested in applying for aspirancy? Do you think you or someone you know has perceived a call to the diaconate? Please grab the announcement letter and the brochure that our director has released… and if you’d like, I’d be more than happy to talk with you personally about it too. I’d even give you a ride to the informational meeting on July 31 if you were interested.

Please join me in praying for my classmates, and praying for some more great candidates for ministry in our diocese.

Seven-Deacons

I Can’t Imagine

Prayers for Matt & Melissa Graves & family

As I read the devastatingly sad news from Orlando of Lane Graves, the 2-year-old boy who was pulled into the lagoon by an alligator and drowned, I’m overcome by intense fatherly sadness, but struck by a single line of the story:

“Demings said he and a Catholic priest relayed the news of the discovery to the boy’s parents, Matt and Melissa Graves, who were on vacation with their son and 4-year-old daughter from Elkhorn, Nebraska.”

This is the second time since entering diaconate formation that my heart was drawn to the fact that a member of the clergy was there to deliver the news and be with the family in that moment. The last time this came up in a story, Suzanne and I talked about it at great length. She was drawn to the sadness of the story itself, and I was drawn to the presence of the sacred minister.

I can’t imagine the pain and sadness that Matt and Melissa Graves are feeling right now, but I join with countless others in prayer for them and for their family. I also can’t yet imagine what it might be like to be there with them and for them, but I’m curious what I will learn as my formation journey continues to prepare me to be of service to God’s people in different ways, that may include moments like this in my lifetime.

Without a doubt, in times like this, I can see the wisdom of the Church in balancing formation between its four core elements: spiritual, human, pastoral, and academic. Surely, all four dimensions are called upon deeply and put to their test in a moment like this.

Prayers for the Graves family.

Diaconate Retreat 2016 (Photos)

Chiara Center, Riverton, IL

From June 9-13, 2016, our class of diaconate aspirants had our annual retreat. These photos are from our time at the Chiara Center (Franciscan Life Center) in Riverton, Illinois, just outside of Springfield.

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Retreat! #ThankfulThursday

Starting this afternoon, I’ll be offline and away through Sunday for our annual diaconate formation retreat. I’m looking forward to this time away with my brother classmates as we prepare to seek candidacy this fall, and as we join with the class ahead of us who are on their final retreat before ordination in two weeks.

After the roller coaster ride that was last weekend… playing music at a funeral, Sacred Heart devotions, and my final two Masses as music director, including a baptism and a first communion… leaving for retreat this weekend surely constitutes a valid #ThankfulThursday!

I’m grateful for the opportunity for this retreat, and for the accommodations that the diocese is providing for us at the Chiara Center (Franciscan Life Center) in Springfield.

I will be keeping you – my family and friends – and your intentions in my prayers during this time. Please keep me in yours.

I have my copy of Coming Down the Mountain (affiliate link, if you’re interested in purchasing a copy) ready for when I return home. I think I’ll get a good run out of it this time.

Our formation team and the class ahead of us kept telling us that the church at the Chiara Center is amazing… one of the most beautiful in our diocese. I can’t wait to see it in person! Here are a few pictures of St. Francis Church at the Chiara Center that members of the class ahead of us posted last night (their retreat started a day earlier):

Taken by Mike Melton two years ago (that’s Neil Suermann sitting in the church):

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Taken by Rick Schnetzler last night:

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Bittersweet

I made it through a really rough last weekend as music director & organist at my home parish. My eyes didn’t water too much (but I’ll admit they did a little) and my handkerchief didn’t get too wet.

There’s a weird feeling of emptiness that I kept feeling. So many thoughts that kept running through my heart and mind… stuff like:

Don’t cry… You’ll be okay… You’re really going to miss this… I’m feeling so empty… Jesus, fill me up… Jesus, please fill me… I need your grace… Help me… Don’t look at them… Now they’re crying… Fill me up… 

It kept coming down to me praying, “Fill me up”, as my chest felt empty, and then a feeling of peace that would wash over me. A few times, I knew I heard a voice speaking to me, “Something greater is in store.”

Then I’d have thoughts like:

Why are you having such a hard time with this? This was never YOURS anyway. This isn’t for you. This is for Him. Thank you. Fill me up… Something greater is in store.

It was a blessing to be joined by so many friends and singers who had been with me through the years… (Art would have been there too, but they had already booked a family vacation through the weekend). This is my music family:

And Suzanne brought the boys up to the loft for both Masses… we got one last picture of me with the boys at the organ:

As it was written, though – as it relates to my music ministry, “It is finished.”

I look forward to my first diaconate retreat this coming weekend.

I trust that something greater is in store.