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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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.

The Problem of Evil, Augustine to Today

Essay: Introduction to Philosophy

For centuries, “the problem of evil” has vexed those who believe in God and given those who do not believe a strong argument against God’s existence. Put simply, the problem of evil begs an explanation for the existence of pain and evil within the creation of a God who is supposedly all powerful, all knowing, and all good. As Brian Davies explains, it “is commonly seen as the problem of how the existence of God can be reconciled with the pain, suffering, and moral evil which we know to be facts of life.”1 It is reasonable that if there is evil, God knows about it, could stop it, and would want to stop it. However, evil exists in our world. This problem was one of many Saint Augustine needed to reason his way through on his own path to Christianity, eventually settling upon an explanation that still serves us well today.

See You in the Eucharist #ThankfulThursday

A farewell open letter to Holy Family

Appropriate for a #ThankfulThursday, because of how thankful I am for this chapter of my life…

Dear Holy Family parish – Father Jeff, Father Stone, musicians, singers, staff, parishioners, friends…

Music ministry at Holy Family has been at the heart of my life, my faith life, and my family for as long as I can remember. I remember taking my first 16-key Casio keyboard to St. Margaret Mary School in 2nd grade to try to pluck out John Foley’s One Bread, One Body by ear for show and tell. In middle school, Mr. Vizer successfully talked me into playing a duet with him at the school Christmas program.

In 7th grade, I remember John Huff asking me, after seeing me at a piano recital, if I’d come play with the guitar group at the church. Shortly thereafter, he asked if he could put a microphone in front of me. I said, “I only sing in the shower,” and he replied, “I could rig a shower up over you too.”

For six years I played with the guitar groups, and then in my college years I fell away from the faith a bit. Years later, after I had returned to the Church, I heard that a priest that I had connected with was heading to my home parish of Holy Family. I remember calling Jeanne Schnefke and asking if the guitar group was still around and could use a keyboardist again. I remember her immediate and enthusiastic “Yes!”

Within the next year, we had formed an offshoot “ensemble” which started taking on more responsibilities around the parish. I remember when we were starting and Carol Reagan called and said, “We’ll all be there to sing with you. You just tell us when and where.” I remember Frances & Mario Rossi & Rich Koerper’s, “You want to try a youth-oriented group? Let’s try it!” The next 15 years or so, until today, have been a whirlwind of joy, happiness, friendship, and accomplishment in ministry. I remember magnificent Advent concerts joining our adult choir & ensemble. I remember re-meeting Suzanne here after a Wednesday night practice and Mass, leading to our marriage and family. I remember Christmas Eves and Triduums.

You don’t really keep count when starting on a journey like this, but some rough math tells me that in the last 15 years, I’ve had the honor of helping lead our community in song at some 1,500 liturgies – Sunday Masses, weddings, funerals, graduations, Confirmations, Anointing Masses, and more.

Now, I must say “farewell” to this chapter of my life in order to move on to the next to which I believe I am called. As I progress into years two through four of the diaconate formation program, I am excited to go where our diocese chooses to send me to help me grow in my parish experiences and pastoral ministry. This change carries the bitterness of a “goodbye” to my music ministry at Holy Family, but the happiness and excitement of the future that could come.

I will miss climbing the stairs to the choir loft a few times each week. I will miss the friends in the choir loft – and now my own sons playing instruments and singing with the ensemble and choir. I will miss our parish community, and our liturgies, and hearing the sound of you singing along loudly from the pews. (Yes, we can often hear it in the loft!)

THANK YOU to all of those who came and went through the years: Carol, John, Judy, Mario & Frances, Carolyn, Art, Kristin, Katie, Tracy, Jacqui, Suzanne, Leta, Kathy, Steve, Charlie, Jeff & Gay, Jeff, Doug, Maggi, Mary Jo, Richard, Misty, Justin, Joe, Chris, Thomas & Matthew. THANK YOU to Pat, my partner in music and ministry, and the adult choir. THANK YOU to the pastors I’ve had the pleasure of serving. THANK YOU to everyone who has supported us, especially Suzanne and our boys and our whole family.

Holy Family is my home – it will remain our family’s home. I’ll just be away learning more about how to help serve our Church in new ways. I won’t be gone entirely, though, and still look forward to being around from time to time at Masses, events, dinners, school events, and the like.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the opportunity to be a servant – a servant in music ministry – to you for so many wonderful years. Know that you remain in my daily prayers, and I beg you to please keep me in yours.

I recall the words of a long-time friend of mine, Father Steve Arisman, who said something like, “I don’t believe in saying ‘goodbye’ – I say, ‘I will see you in the Eucharist.” Because when we are gathered at Mass, no matter where we are or when it is, we are all joined together in the mystical Body of Christ formed through the ages. I will see you in the Eucharist!

With love and prayers,
Michael

Open My Eyes

Discernment & a song as a sign

Signpost in the Mountain - iStock.com/Mimadeo

Signpost in the Mountain – iStock.com/Mimadeo

Fifteen or so years ago, when I had returned to church and was starting to seriously discern God’s will for my life and vocation, a certain song hit a chord with me and became deeply intertwined with my prayer life and discernment. The song was Jesse Manibusan’s Open My Eyes:

There were nights that I drove around, praying the words. One night in particular, after leaving an evening of coffee and Scrabble with Suzanne, “praying” that song opened my heart to God and helped me clearly “hear” and understand that marriage with Suzanne was my first vocation.

Signs in my Life

I’ve always been fortunate enough to stay keenly tuned into the little “signs” that pop up around me in everyday life, and I act a lot by gut (within reason) based upon those signs. I could list countless examples of signs that came at just the right time to help me understand that something was right, or that I was heading in the right direction, or that I should explore a new opportunity.

The Prodigal Son & the Father’s Mercy

Last weekend, the Gospel at Mass (assuming you weren’t hearing the readings for Year A for the RCIA Scrutinies in your parish) was the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Yesterday morning before work, I was enjoying a cup of coffee at the neighborhood coffee shop and knocking out a ton of email while overhearing the conversation of some other men about James’s words on faith and works. The conversation took its usual turns towards justification and then reconciliation.

I smiled and remembered the Gospel reading when one of the men started talking about how his children are of his blood – regardless how far they run, or what they do in life, it doesn’t change the fact that they are his children, and he sees being God’s child, born into the family of God through Baptism, as the same, eternal, blood relationship.

Imagine my surprise also, then, when the reading last night at evening prayer was James 2:14, 17, 18: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone may say,’You have faith and I have works.’ Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.”

Now it’s dangerous territory to mix these two stories – the Prodigal Son and the Faith/Works discussion, but something about them came together in my mind the last few days, as they came together in the discussion the men were having at the coffee shop yesterday.

The Son Who Runs…

I’ve been considering whether to share the images I’m about to share, but they’ve been stuck in my mind as I have been thinking about the Prodigal Son and the conversation I heard yesterday. Our oldest son Thomas was mad at me on the morning of Valentine’s Day for disciplining him when he was retaliating against one of his brothers for something that they had been doing. As a result, he drew us this “Valentine” and gave it to us at breakfast…

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First, I have to acknowledge some readers’ shock and horror at this. But I also have to remind you that the Halbrook house is a perfectly normal house of human beings with ups and downs, goods and bads, just like every other home and family. We have our moments, just like every family.

Thankfully, the storm of emotion passed quickly through our house that morning, and by afternoon all were reconciled, Thomas wasn’t packing for a foster home, and we were having a wonderful time as a family again.

The Merciful Father

But I remember the point that the other man made over coffee yesterday morning… regardless how far his children might run, they are still his children.

We still want the best for our children, we’ll still pray for them and their return to right relationships. We still want them “under our roof” (or at least in a place of safety).

We’ll still welcome them home and back into our loving arms.

The Need for Return

Looking at this from the point of view of the son, though (and this is where the Prodigal and Faith & Works start to mingle in my mind), the father can’t welcome him home unless he returns home.

I left the coffee shop yesterday morning pondering whether God would trump our free will and pull us back into His saving grace even if we wanted to stay separated. God is the all-merciful Father of all. But would that be true mercy? Or would that be something else? There’s something in the fact that God’s grace, mixed with our free will and conscious choice to exercise that grace, impels right action.

The prodigal returns home.
The good son shows his faith through works.
All is right and well.

But mixed in that swirling set of readings and conversations the last few days, I’m still pondering… isn’t James onto something?

God moves first.
God loves, and God shares his grace.
The Father is merciful and waits at the edge of the homestead with open arms.

But don’t we have to act too?
The grace inspires works.
The son runs home before it’s too late.