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

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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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

#ThankfulThursday – 1/14/2016

A whole new idea – a public dose of what I’m thankful for each Thursday.

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This week:

(1) Mom

Today’s her birthday, after all. She carried me, gave me life, and was a blessing as a mom (along with my dad) raising me.

(2) Matthew & (3) Reconciliation

Our little #2 son, Matthew James – his big smile and even bigger heart. He’s the “heart” of our 4 boys, for sure.

And the Sacrament of Reconciliation – tonight, in fact, is his first Reconciliation. Thankful for the opportunity to make ourselves right with God through this great Sacrament. Looking forward to the special evening as a family!