Thursday, January 31, 2008

Visiting the Sick

Today, I drove my dad out to Allentown, PA to visit two of his sisters. One, my aunt Kitty, is my dad's "kid sister" 75. My Dad is now 81. But after docking at Aunt Kitty's home, we drove over to see "Aunt Peg....age 93" and in a very nice Nursing Home. Peg was thrilled to see her "favorite nephew and brother". I think she says that because I'm the only priest-nephew she has!

Anyway, Peg was awake, aware, and pretty sharp. She was pretty happy to have a room with a TV....she was very interested in the Presidential primaries and she was ready for Super Tuesday, and told us: I like"the young guy....Barack Obama. I think he's cute."

Truth be told, I laughed out loud and said to my Republican Dad and Aunt Kitty...."Well there you have it! The Wisdom of the Ages has Spoken!" Let's see if Aunt Peg has 'pegged' the new winner of the White House!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Lent at St. Anselm

Next Wednesday, February 6, is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

What will your Lent look like this year?

At St. Anselm, Lent will be celebrated with the following:

+Thursday evenings in Lent, Rev. Bill Bausch will lead Evenings of Recollection 7:00 p.m.

+Throughout Lent: We PRAY, FAST, and GIVE ALMS. A little bit more than usual!!!!!

+Friday evenings in Lent: Simple Suppers and Stations of the Cross

+Sundays in Lent: At each Mass, the Gospel will be solemnly proclaimed by several readers.

+Throughout Lent: Small Faith-sharing groups will be meeting, praying, and sharing.

+Throughout Lent: We'll host an online faith-sharing session. We're maybe the only parish
in our Diocese to offer this! Come be part of the discussion! Check the bulletin for info!

+In Lent: We'll host families from the Interfaith Hospitality Network (Family Promise).
Consider helping to cook, or host, or spend time with the families for a night.

+Consider a new volunteer activity just for the six weeks of Lent!
-Volunteer a few hours to help clean up the church building.
-Help us decorate the Church building for the season of Lent.
-Provide refreshments for our new Elect-catechumens for their Sunday meetings.
-Volunteer to help us clean up the grounds of the parish.
-Join one of the music groups for the season of Lent.
-Join a music group for the Liturgies of the Triduum! (Minimal practice time)
-Volunteer to help visit one of our homebound parishioners.
-Volunteer to accompany Fr. Gene on his Monday visits to Monmouth Med. Center.
-Volunteer to help "Stuff Bulletins" on a Saturday morning.
-Volunteer to help maintain the Lenten vestments for the Servers and the Priest
-Volunteer to prepare the sacristy supplies for Palm Sunday
-Volunteer to prepare the sacristy supplies for Holy Thursday
-Volunteer to bring Holy Communion to the sick on Good Friday.
-Volunteer to help decorate the church on Holy Saturday.....we need lots of help!
-Join as your means of contributing to our Parish Stewardship.
-Come to Mass on Wednesdays, and then join Fr. Gene for a One-Hour study of the
Scriptures for the upcoming Sunday.....Coffee and goodies included!

The Gospel Choir's Coming!

This Saturday, Feb. 2 at the 5:30 p.m. Liturgy, the Gospel Choir from Blessed Sacrament Parish in Newark will sing the liturgy at the Church of St. Anselm.

If you have never experienced Catholic Liturgy in Gospel-style, you're in for a real treat! Everybody will be singing, clapping, moving and the SPIRIT!

Just so you know, we will take up a collection at this mass, which we'll offer to the Blessed Sacrament Choir to help their parish to stay open and vital in the city of Newark.

Following Mass, we'll host the Choir to a Pot-Luck Supper in our Learning Center. I want to invite families to bring a large dish of food (enough to feed others) to the Kitchen before the Mass. Our Parish Life Committee members will help to set up, serve, and host the pot-luck dinner. I personally promise to provide my famous "Barbecue Meatballs", so let's see who can come up with the most delicious dish of the evening.

As you know, we love to party at St. Anselm. So, tell everybody about the Mass and Pot-luck dinner, and invite some friends to join us for this annual event!

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Dead Horse?

St. Wenceslause riding a dead horse!

A very good, old friend of mine, Fr. Austin Fleming of the Archdiocese of Boston has been an inspiration to me for many years. We first met 28 years ago, when he was a young priest, and I was a very, very, young seminarian. Austin and I both share a love for, and a strong intellectual passion for the Church’s liturgy and music. Despite many trials, especially in the vineyard of Boston, Austin has been a beacon of hope and light for many, many people. He has been keeping a blog, and many of his thoughts have triggered some of my own thoughts for our vineyard in New Jersey. Recently, he wrote of an encounter with some friends reflecting upon the state of affairs in the Church in Boston in the past few years. Austin, in typical fashion, took that experience, translated it into wisdom for contemporary Catholics in Boston, and put it into wonderful word-wisdom for all of us. With all respects to Austin and his sources, I’d like to translate his wisdom to our own Diocesan Study of Parishes, especially for the Diocese of Trenton!

Lakota tribal wisdom says that whenever you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. However, in the church we often try other strategies with dead horses, including the following:

- Buy a stronger whip.

- Change riders

- Say, "This is the way we've always ridden a dead horse."

- Declare, "No horse is too dead to beat."

- Study alternative uses for dead horses.

- Require all parishes to have a dead horse.

- Visit other parishes to see how they ride a dead horse.

- Run a workshop to increase sensitivity to dead horses.

- Provide funding to increase the performance of dead horses.

- Harness several dead horses together for increased speed.

- Appoint a diocesan committee to study dead horses.

- Cluster parishes to share the benefits of dead horses.

- Promote a dead horse to a position of authority.

An Unexpected Turn

This past Tuesday, yours truly wasn't feeling well all day, and surprisingly, was unable to eat anything all day. Those of you who know me, know how TRULY AMAZING THAT IS! After a full day of feeling "strange," I drove over to the local ER, and asked them to check me out, thinking that I might have a "stomach flu" or something.

WELL, the dedicated docs soon came back and informed me that I had appendicitis, and that they were scheduling me for an immediate appendectomy. Early on Wednesday morning, I was in surgery, and they ousted the ailing appendix.

Thanks to some wonderful "aftercare" I am now back home and taking it very easy, and shuffling around drinking lots of water, and eating very healthy, and catching up on long-overdue theological reading.

This whole experience has given me some very real, and very new insights into the plight of the sick and hospitalized, and our pastoral care of them!

I'll save the specifics for a later post. Just look for some upcoming thoughts on "Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist in Hospitals: How NOT to come into a patient's room!" I'll bet this article is never going to be posted in any of the offically approved magazines or publications, but that they'll all be pointing towards it in the coming years.

Thanks for all of the well-wishes.....I'll be back in the saddle ASAP.

Fr. Gene

Monday, January 14, 2008

Can you imagine being baptized in these waters? Talk about your "Polar Bear Club!"
This photo shows the Orthodox and Eastern-Rite practice of blessing the waters on the Feast of Theophany (our January 6 or Epiphany). While I'm told that actual baptisms are rarely celebrated on this date, it is not unheard of. They do, however, bless water on this date, and I know from experience that it takes at least one-half hour to bless the water. These Eastern-rite priests, bishops, and deacons pictured here are blessing the waters to be used in baptisms, blessings, and in other ways. This photo, more than others I've found, images the forbidding depths to which the Cross leads and yet it is on the occasion of remembering the Lord's baptism, the beginning of his public ministry, that this custom is observed.

I think of the the words of Romans 6:3-5:

Are you unaware
that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?
We were indeed buried with him
through baptism into death, so that,
just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might live in newness of life.
For if we have grown into union with him
through a death like his,
we shall also be united with him
in the resurrection.
The scene above of death dealing waters, seen through the sign of the Cross, images how we share in the death of Christ, marked and claimed by the sign of his Cross and how, through the power of the Spirit, we are lifted to new life with him through baptism.

What we call the beginning is often the end.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Baptism of the Lord

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Thanks to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, CA for the wonderful image of Jesus being baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist.

Tix to see the Pope

The Pope is coming to the U.S. in April....Tax day through the 20th of April. The last big public event is to be a Mass in Yankee Stadium on Sunday April 20th. Just a few days ago, our parish was notified that we would have access to 50 tickets for our parishioners. Tonight, we received an emergency fax from the Diocese of Trenton stating that the Archdiocese of New York has reconsidered its ticket allotment to other dioceses, and now each parish can only expect 5 tickets.

So, if parishioners of St. Anselm want to attend this event, please don't kill the messenger when we run out of tix. Sorry the Archdiocese of New York is so messed-up!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

OK.....Spread 'em!

Interesting news from the Italian Catholic Bishop's Conference regarding cremation practices. It seems the Italian "hats" are giving the OK to spreading cremains on beaches, mountains, your favorite golf course, or wherever the deceased wants...

The previous official practice was that cremation was permitted as long as the cremains were interred in the ground or in a columbarium, or fixed places that provide a degree of respect and honor. As far as practices in America go, we'll have to wait to see what the American Bishops come up with. The Italians have come up with a whole new ritual for blessing cremains to be spread. We Americans don't have a ritual for that sort of thing yet. So, until we get a new prayer-book for this, we still abide by the old rules.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A Conversation with a Bishop...

I don't know if you've ever actually had a conversation with a Bishop. Here are excerpts from an article in the December 17, 2007 issue of America: The National Catholic Weekly. The article is written from the perspective of an imagined American bishop, seeking counsel from the people of his diocese on a concern that is common to virtually all bishops, priests and people in the United States.

How would you respond to this bishop?

I Need Your Help
- An imagined bishop asks for advice...
…Our diocese has 83 parishes to staff. Until three years ago we were able to supply a priest-pastor for each one. Since then, as a result of deaths, resignations and retirements, the number of our priests capable of active ministry has declined to 76. I need your help in figuring out how to proceed.
Prayer for Vocations
I am sure many of you will suggest that we begin by storming heaven with prayers for new vocations. And I assure you we have been doing that and we continue to do so… In the past year, however, we lost 11 men through death and retirement. The bottom line is that right now our new vocations are not achieving replacement levels… I also believe in a God who is present and acting in the realities we confront, using them to transform us and help us to grow. Is it possible that we are getting an answer by the very shortage, that God is challenging us to become a different kind of church? A person of faith once said that God is magnanimous and always gives us the resources we need—whatever those are.
And may I ask you, please, not to use our precious time together to tell me all the ways we’ve gone wrong, what brought us to this pass… We haven’t the luxury of paralysis by analysis.

The ‘Big’ Options

Some of you might propose that we begin right now to expand the pool of those eligible for ordination.
The options under that heading are easily named. Each one would involve challenging beliefs that have shaped our church’s way of ministering for centuries. Ordain married men? That would call us to rethink a longstanding commitment to a celibate priesthood. Although the practice is not a matter of faith but of church discipline and remains within the province of the pope to change, many even of our Protestant brothers and sisters caution us against assuming that you just say, “Let’s ordain married men,” rub a magic lamp three times, and—voilĂ !—the Parousia arrives. Ordain women? That would call us to challenge a belief that Pope John Paul II considered a matter of faith: that Jesus’ calling only male apostles constitutes a norm that binds the church forever, regardless of cultural changes across the centuries. Bring resigned priests back to active ministry? That would challenge our understanding of choices once made and raise issues of fairness, as if the priesthood were a matter of an individual’s personal sense of calling rather than a call by the church community...
I do see some kind of potential in each of these options, but I call them “the big options” for two reasons: one, they fall within the compass of the church’s universal authority, way beyond my pay grade and, two, because even if they were to be adopted it would take years to think through all their consequences and develop reasonable plans for implementing them before they would be ready to “meet the road…”
Possible Strategies
So let’s just keep those conversations going in the background, shall we? What are my options in the immediate future? And what beliefs might each of those options challenge?
Close parishes. In one sense this is the easiest option to carry out, administratively. But what does it do to our belief that once formed, a faith community is not just a branch office of the diocese, just as a diocese is not a branch office of the universal church. (How would my brother bishops react to the notion of closing a diocese?) A parish is rather a unique incarnation of the body of Christ in a particular piece of geography. How is the “easy” choice for closure to be reconciled with the dignity of such a gathering of the faithful? The parishes being considered for closure will probably be those with fewer parishioners than the rest of the parishes in the diocese, but is the mere fact of smaller or larger numbers a criterion Jesus would find apt? Closing a parish may gain me a priest who can provide sacramental services for a parish with more parishioners, but what does that say about our concept of priesthood…?
Appoint a layperson as pastoral agent of the parish. I’ve seen wonderful men and women give excellent leadership to parish communities, as effective as any ordained priest, frankly—theologically, spiritually and pastorally. But that reality doesn’t really help us with the directly sacramental needs. Liturgical presiding, absolution and sacramental anointing require an ordained priest. The number of regular weekend liturgies does not necessarily decrease, and the pastoral agent still has to call for help from a sacramental minister who comes in to the parish from elsewhere…
Import priests from other priest-rich parts of the world. Several of my brother bishops are pursuing this strategy. It does meet the goal of a quick replenishment of priest-presiders to lead the liturgies needed, but so far the results appear to be mixed at best…
Loosen the connection between a particular day of the week, Sunday, and the community’s weekly public gathering around the table of the Lord. I have recently heard of dioceses in Europe where a priest is assigned as sacramental minister to as many as six parishes. On Sunday he presides at liturgy in one of them; on Monday evening in another, on Tuesday in another and so on. The people in each of those communities view that midweek liturgy as their central act of worship for the week—fulfilling the Sunday obligation, if you will. An arrangement like that challenges our identification of Sunday with the Lord’s day. On the other hand, I have to ask myself: did our church already fracture that identification when it introduced Saturday night Mass?
Cut back the number of Masses. In some communities pastors have tried so hard to accommodate the desires of their people that too many Masses of convenience have come to be expected. Add multiple Saturday wedding Masses and, at times, many priests find themselves violating canonical prescriptions concerning the number of Masses a priest may celebrate on a weekend. I can mandate reducing the numbers, but of itself that won’t be sufficient to deal with the communities where I will need to find presiders in the coming years.
Introduce regular use of the ritual officially called Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest. Midweek. Communion services are common in many parts of the country now. The church permits and has created officially sanctioned rituals for this kind of a service. I can inform my priests that when they have a sound reason—vacation, retreat, study program or the like—to be absent from their parish over a weekend, they are not to scramble around trying to find replacements but have a trained layperson conduct such a service. Does this practice risk treating the reception of Communion as something separable from the sacrifice of the Mass? Do we want to take that risk…?
You see, whichever option I actually choose—and I must make a choice—challenges some conviction that has shaped our identity as Catholic Christians for a long time. If we aren’t willing to challenge any of them, we will just continue trying to do what we have always done, and our situation will become more and more stressful. My question to you is painful but simple: which traditional conviction do you want me to challenge this year?
-George B. Wilson, S.J., is a church organizational consultant who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The "Word" project for 2008

I'm setting a goal for the liturgical year 2008 for the parish of St. Anselm: I'm inviting all parishioners to grow in their appreciation of the Word of God in their lives, and especially in their appreciation of the Word in the celebration of Sunday Liturgy.

With that in mind, I'd like to invite all parishioners to read, study, and meditate upon the Sunday Word each week. Look up the readings for next Sunday's Mass. Savor the readings we'll all hear next weekend. Pray with those readings.

My biggest challenge to the parish is this: Picture the parish of St. Anselm without a resident priest-pastor. Imagine that you've been asked to offer some words of inspiration/reflection at the Sunday Communion service that will replace the Sunday Mass. Reflecting on the Lectionary readings for next Sunday, what would you say to/with/for the people of St. Anselm?

Write down your thoughts and reflections, and keep a journal this year. When we gather for our parish retreat next October, I'd like to host a session of sharing of these journals.

The Church asks us to reverence the Word of God, the first part of every Mass, as being just as important as the second part of Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Church does a great job of teaching us that the "Real Presence" of Christ is in the Eucharist, but it is also present in the Liturgy of the Word. Christ is just as present in the proclamation of the Word of God as in the Eucharist! Check out the official teaching of the Catholic Church in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, especially, the document, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

This graphic, a page from the newly published St. John's Bible, from Collegeville, MN, is one of the illuminations from this hand-calligraphed and illustrated Bible. We display the Gospel/Acts version of the St. John's Bible in our daily Mass chapel at St. Anselm.

The challenge for this year is to grow in knowledge and appreciation of God's Word in our lives. Our Protestant brothers and sisters are great at memorizing scripture. I think it's time for Catholics to appreciate the gift of God's Word in our lives.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Epiphany Plus...

Yesterday's Feast of the Epiphany was memorable in several ways. Most of all, it was memorable for the First Epiphany Choral Festival by the Trenton Chapter of NPM (National Association of Pastoral Musicians.) Hosted here at St. Anselm, the Choral Festival spotlighted several choirs from parishes throughout the Diocese of Trenton.

The Festival was such a wonderful experience that we're thinking about making this an annual event. It's a wonderful way to keep the music of Christmas alive throughout the entire Christmas Season.

Diocese of Trenton Parish Study

As you know, St. Anselm parish is part of a study of the Central Monmouth parishes by the Diocese of Trenton. We took part in the extensive survey in September, and we have been sending parish representatives to diocesan meetings since October. Here's a link to the Parish Study page from our Diocesan Website to give us more information about the study, who's involved, and the process the study will take.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wishing you and yours all of the blessings of Christmas and a Happy New Year for the Year of the Lord 2008!

This picture of a sleigh full of winter symbols is similar to the sleigh that bears the seasonal greens, flowers and candles that currently adorn our Christmastime environment at St. Anselm.

I'm personally grateful to our Art and Environment Committee of the Liturgy Committee for their wonderful dedication to the good principles for decorating contemporary liturgical spaces.

Ten Key Principles for Arranging the Worship Environment
December 29, 2007

Before those who are engaged in the ministry of arranging an environment for worship go about their tasks, it is important to reflect on essential principles of liturgy and of the liturgical environment. I have identified ten such principles:

1. All liturgy is rooted in the Paschal Mystery, the event of Jesus Christ's life, death, resurrection and ascension, as it unfolds in every liturgical event in a particular time and place.

2. Liturgy is also rooted in the events of our human journey; it arises out of the intersection of those events with faith -- and all are placed in dialogue with the Paschal Mystery. Liturgy is always a celebration of praise offered to God by the Body of Christ.

3. Liturgy is the proclamation of the community about its belief in God, its conviction of who God is, and its acceptance of who God says we are. This proclamation is expressed in a variety of symbols, including words, actions, objects, music, ritual gestures and architectural forms.

4. The presence and promise of God, and the many ways that God is announced to us in liturgy, cannot be contained in one form or place. God's presence is known first in the assembly, the people gathered, the ecclesia, the Church. All other forms, made by human hands, are incomplete but necessary.

5. Since God is present in the assembly, the Church, then liturgy is properly the prayer of the community. It is public ritual: all are celebrants, engaged in full, active and conscious participation.

6. Patterns of worship will gradually and subtly shape our understanding of God. The vision of Vatican II was not simply a change in our forms of worship but in our perception of God, as well. All forms of worship are rooted in faith, and all ritual expresses faith, or at least the struggle of faith. Liturgy proclaims faith and challenges faith.

7. Liturgical symbols have the power of language that can be significant or meaningless. They affect our ritual engagement, so our attention to symbols in public prayer is important. They nurture our faith, evoke feelings and insights, and place a particular interpretation on the moments of our human journey.

8. Where two or three are gathered together, things are simple to arrange. When the number increases, things can get complicated. A group of people have different needs than one person engaged in private prayer. Those needs change because we are involved with living praying as a community. Therefore, space needs to change, to "breathe," to stay alive in order to inspire and nourish our faith and our spiritual imagination.

9. The environment in all its elements must ultimately serve the ritual action, not inhibit it. Furniture is not in charge of ritual or of the people who assemble for worship.

10. The liturgical environment makes a theological statement. It can be a metaphorical text about God, Christ, Church. Sacred architecture is not an innocent religious statement. It can "give a clue" as to what kind of community gathers within, what they care about, whom they care about, what their Christology is, what their sense of their place in the world is -- basically, what their self-identity is as a community of prayer and witness.

Rev. Phil Horrigan is the Director of the Art and Architecture Department in the Office of Divine Worship, Archdiocese of Chicago.