Monday, December 17, 2018

Fairhope

What a beautiful name for a town! And what a beautiful town: Fairhope, Alabama. I have returned from Fairhope, where I was for a wedding over the weekend. I probably won't be going to many more weddings that involve travel for me, since I am back in a parish. When I was working in the university and then in the seminary, I could schedule weddings like this one when I would be out of school. This one, for example, came up when I was expecting to be at the Josephinum. Requests for weddings like this came up because the university students were from all over the place. Most of my travel the past few years has been for weddings (or in the couple of years at the seminary, for ordinations). It was a side blessing of that assignment that I did not foresee.

In any case, this was a beautiful and interesting wedding even apart from the beauty of Fairhope and of Sacred Heart Chapel, literally on Mobile Bay. Both the bride and groom are converts to Catholicism so that most of the people at the wedding were not Catholic, in particular their families. Both bride and groom were deeply involved in the Christian sub-culture of the university so that their friends were committed Christians but mostly not Catholic, with some notable exceptions. The couple wanted their nuptial Mass to manifest their faith in Jesus Christ to their families and friends. I know that they succeeded. I was honored to be a part of such a faithful wedding.

The wedding was indeed an experience of fair hope! Hope in the fair fidelity of God manifested in the pledges of fidelity of these fair young Christians. Fairhope is just about where the Jubilee on Mobile Bay occurs. (I think that I have written about it here before.) The harvest is rich on Mobile Bay -- and in the world!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Richly rewarding days

Wednesday, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, was a rich day and a very full one. We literally had things going at St. Rose from 5 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. when we settled into overnight Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I had not experienced before the festivities of this feast in a parish setting. It was very rewarding to me and to the parish.

Once again, the parish is being enriched by the combination of new and old expressions of Catholic faith. It is one of the benefits of a parish like ours which is constantly fed by newcomers to our community who bring diverse talents and experiences to share.

It is a welcome challenge to me at my age and in my 25th year of priesthood to be doing so many new and old things. On the same day, for example, I had my Spanish exam at MTSU. That is been a marvelous experience. I think that I have learned a lot and even done well in the class!

Let's see what God has in store for us next!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

More than transcedence

I have been thinking about transcendence a good bit lately to explain some of the changes in the liturgy here in the parish. It is actually more than transcendence. Theologically, it also has to do with the ideas of incarnation (that God became a man) and sacrament (that material things can give the divine life of grace). All sorts of practical and experiential things flow from these realities. It is why, for example, certain ordinary places and experiences -- the stuff of this blog -- are so much more than they seem. They provide meaning to life and, more than that, reveal the one who loves us behind all of the stuff of life. Everything matters, even matter. With those assurances, I can make it through the day and through life. Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This apparition embodies all of these realities. Behold the mystery.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Woodbury

If Murfreesboro and the southern part of Rutherford County were not enough for one parish, St. Rose is also responsible for Cannon County and its county seat of Woodbury. I am ashamed to say that I have not yet been to Cannon County as its pastor, but that is going to change today. I have a call to make this afternoon at the hospital in Woodbury. I am looking forward to the visit. Cannon County is one of the counties in Middle Tennessee without a Catholic church. A few others that I can think of are Smith, Grundy, Trousdale, and Perry. Bishop Niedergeses had the goal of establishing a Catholic presence in every county of the diocese, but he didn't quite make it. A number of the rural parishes do date from that effort, including one that I served: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Tennessee Ridge, the only Catholic church in Houston County. There once was a Catholic church in Linden in Perry County, St. Helen's; but it did not survive. I know about it because the double-wide trailer that was the church building was moved to St. Patrick's in McEwen to serve as the kindergarten and the offices for the school until we built the new school building there. As you can see, I am developing a bit of institutional memory for the diocese!

Among the missions of St. Rose Parish, therefore, there is a place for rural ministry as well. I am afraid that this aspect of the parish continues to receive very little attention. When you are in one of the fastest growing places around, the demands are many; and the needs of a slower-paced community don't command the attention that they really deserve. I will be interested to visit Woodbury today. I suppose that the hospital, which is a part of the St. Thomas group, is the only Catholic thing in the county. Maybe that is a start? The way that official parish boundaries work today is not so much to tell the people where to go as to tell the church were to be, and so the parish priest of St. Rose needs to be in Cannon County to some extent. So be it!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Advent longing

God seems to be leading me to new places in my spiritual life that correspond to the sensibility of Advent. One gift that I have from God for all my life has been faith in Him. I really can understand how people have difficulty believing in God. The way the world is is hard to reconcile with what we believe about God. And yet, I have always believed. I have also come to appreciate the times when I have an emotional or sensible experience of God's presence. I realize that these times are passing. I try to enjoy them while they last and not to worry when they pass and to continue to enjoy them in memory. What I have been lacking is the confidence that should come from faith: the confidence that should come from being a son of God. That is not exactly an intellectual conviction nor an emotional state. I think that it has more to do with firmness of will. What will I choose? This confidence is manifest in qualities like kindness, patience, joy, goodness as well as in steadfastness, humility, and even in hard work joyfully borne. I often experience this confidence and its fruits, but I do waver. When I do, there is a an ugliness rooted in fear that comes out. 

What do I want, and what do I will? These are the choices that need to be straightened out for me: the crooked ways that Isaiah and St. John the Baptist talk about making straight. I think that we all want to feel better, especially when we are hurting. The pain can get so bad or be so prolonged that we look to anything that seems to give relief. This is the explanation of so many bad choices that we make. And yet, the desire to feel better is not wrong. It needs to be directed to the one who saves. That desire can propel us to God better than anything. It can lead us not only to accept our pain but to embrace it as the most direct way to God, the desire of our souls. When we reach the point of accepting that nothing can separate us from the love of God, our joy will be full. But all of this takes time and the willingness to confront fear rather than to medicate it or to mask it.

Advent is about that time: the fulness of time. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Study day

Although I had been working in a college setting for 12 years -- 10 as a chaplain and two in the college seminary, I have always been sympathetic at exam time, but I have not had exams myself. I have, for example, joined in cooking study break-fasts for harried students, as I will today at MTSU, but I have not taken an exam since I left seminary almost 25 years ago. Until this year!

It seems like a long shot at my age, but I decided to take Spanish in order to better serve the large Hispanic community at St. Rose. This is late in life to take up a new language, but I am trying. I was admitted to MTSU and enrolled in an introductory Spanish class. I was very nervous on the first day, but all has gone well. The professor is a great teacher, and she has been very encouraging. The regular college students in the class have accepted me almost without notice. And I am learning. I have to say that it seems that the methodology of language instruction has changed a good bit since I last studied a language.

Yesterday was the last day of classes, and we had our conversation exam. I think that it went well. Today is study day in the university. My exam is next Wednesday -- the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe so I feel pretty good. This whole experience has exceeded my expectations. It has been fun -- except for some of the frustrations of on-line homework! (That's new to me too.) It has been such a different experience from my college days or even of my days as a university chaplain. My classmates are fascinating, and I admire and enjoy them.

And I am registered for next semester...

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Advent mission

The immediate context for this post is the parish Advent Mission that begins tonight. Fr. Chris Alar of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, who promote the Divine Mercy devotion, is here at St. Rose to give the mission talks Sunday - Tuesday nights at 6:45 p.m. If you are in the area, you are most welcome to come. Who couldn't use some mercy?

In more ways than this, I sense that St. Rose parish is on mission this Advent. This past week I have been having a lot of meetings about plans for the Hispanic community and for the MTSU chaplaincy. Both of these are essential missions for the future of the Church in Murfreesboro. We are just beginning in many ways, but we are on the way. These areas of expansion coexist with so many others well-established areas of mission at St. Rose: the school, for example, and, at this time of year particularly, our Bridges ministry and other forms of outreach to those in need in the parish and the community.

As we reach out in mission, we also need to go deep into the interior life. Our model for this is the Blessed Virgin, especially during Advent. Please be with her in silence this Advent. There is a contemporary song by Amy Grant that I always turn to at this time of year called Breath of Heaven.

There are two parts of the lyrics that strike me. The first is this: Breath of Heaven/Hold me together

Here is the second: Help me be strong/Help me be/Help me.

Doesn't this bring us back to mercy?

Fairhope

What a beautiful name for a town! And what a beautiful town: Fairhope, Alabama. I have returned from Fairhope, where I was for a wedding ove...

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