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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Comment Spamers?

Seriously. People are pathetic. More so, really, than I imagined.

Comments boxes are now getting spamed. So, to keep from getting advertisements disguised (thinly) as comments, I can either turn off my comments or turn on a feature that makes you have to read and re-type a squiggly code word in order to validate that you aren't a bot spamming my comments. And, while I get few comments or readers, other than my mom - hi mom - I hate to be rid of comments altogether...

So, there ya have it.

Also, construction update...walls in, ceiling textured, brick complete, shutters and other odds and ends (including all the doors) sitting in the garage...floors to be sanded in prep for carpet and vinyl soon. we (with the help of some very good friends and my father-in-law and mother-in-law) got the sight cleaned up (mostly) on Sunday. Lots of work, but it is done!! It makes it look a lot neater. Neighbors will be happy, I hope.

Staff Meeting Prayer

My turn rolled around again to provide the devotional/prayer for our staff meeting, so I prepared the following as an outline (in its written form below):

Just after Thanksgiving, in 1990, I was part of a work mission to Lima, Peru. I was a senior in High School, the Reds had just won the World Series – for you Cubs fans, I’ll explain what winning a World Series is later – and I was living a pretty comfortable life. It wasn’t much by a lot of standards: I grew up in a single parent household with a mom who had to work a lot of hours to make ends meet, and yet I was never really wanting for anything either. My “burden” – if you will – was that maybe I got less expensive clothes and shoes than my friends, didn’t have such elaborate birthdays or Christmas morning wasn’t going to see hundreds of dollars worth of toys under the tree. Growing up I still had a bike, plenty of baseball cards and comic books, and lots of the other material trappings of childhood. Maybe we weren’t as well off as my friend Richard Kornilack (after all, his father owned a Delorian, like the car in the movie Back to the Future), but things weren’t bad either.

In Lima, I saw just how “not bad” things were for me, and – in reality – for anyone living in the United States. There were whole hill sides covered in small Mat Huts, so named because they were literally homes made by propping four straw mats together, with a fifth mat to provide the roof. Rice – an American side dish or the base of my frequent Chinese carryout – served as three meals a day for some. The difference between lower-middle class in the US and the conditions in most of Peru were stark, and I realized even a relatively poor kid in Hamilton, Ohio lived like a king compared to many people in the world.

When we returned from the trip, it was just a few days before my 18th birthday. My grandfather had purchased and installed a new radio and tape deck in the car I had (what had just a few weeks earlier been “just a used car” when compared to some of the cars other people at school drove). They took me out to the car after we got home from the airport, and when I turned it on, a tape recording of my mom and grandfather singing happy birthday came on. I wept; the full weight of my blessings suddenly so obvious. It’s a lesson I do well to remember from time to time.

Everything we have is a blessing from God. The question for us in such a rich country is whether those blessings are a help or a hindrance in our relationship to Him. St. Rose of Lima has an “optional” memorial today, August 23rd. But as I contemplated her story, and the story of our selves, our families, our parish, I couldn’t help but see her example as one that ties so strongly into the concept of stewardship.

Stewardship is seen, I think, as a gimmick or a code word for raising money and getting more “stuff” for the Church: money, items donated, people’s time, volunteers, whatever. The reality is this: stewardship is a conversion of our hearts, to the point where we can look at our homes, our cars, our other material blessings as wonderful things that we can utilize toward a higher goal. Stewardship is breaking the hold of the things that easily distract us and can even become idols in our lives.

Our modern example of this was Mother Teresa, but 400 years or so before her, came St. Rose. We may not each be called to give up everything we have (though some of us certainly are), but we are – at the very least – called to keep our material blessings in context. Our freedom of time, our ability to accomplish certain things, and the monetary resources we are given, can all be wonderful tools, as long as we keep them in their proper place.

St. Rose of Lima
Memorial, August 23rd

Rose de Flores was born in Lima, Peru in 1586. Her given name was Isabel, but she was known as Rose because of her great beauty. She objected when people paid attention to her beauty because she found their praise and attention to be obstacles to humility. She is even said to have rubbed her face with pepper to produce blotches, scars, and discoloration of her skin to lessen her beauty, and she cut her hair short in an attempt to be less noticed.

Rose wanted to enter a convent, but her family refused to allow it. Instead, she lived in a small enclosure in her family’s garden, doing needlework to earn money for her family. Eventually, she was permitted to become a part of the Third Order of Saint Dominic. During the final three years of her short life, Rose lived in the house of a government official where she set up a room to care for homeless children, the elderly, and the sick. At the age of 31, Rose died. The city of Lima marked her passing with a heroine’s funeral in which prominent men of the city took turns carrying her coffin.

Rose wrote: “The Lord our savior lifted up His voice and said with unparalleled majesty: ‘All must understand that grace comes only after tribulation. They must realize that without the weight of afflictions they cannot reach the heights of grace…without the cross they cannot find the path to attain heaven.”

Her spiritual focus was to attain inner purity, and to banish self-love so that she might be filled with the love of Christ. She attempted to live out St. Paul’s words in 1 Cor 1:28-30: “God chose the world’s lowborn and despised - those who count for nothing - to reduce to nothing those who were something; so that mankind can do no boasting before God. God it is who has given you life in Jesus Christ.”

In the Gospel of St. John (Chapter 1, verse 35), Jesus asks the two disciples, “What are you looking for?” If Jesus were to ask us that, what would we answer? Would we be embarrassed by our answer? Are we looking for – or seeking – material goods or are we more concerned with seeking God?

Too often, we look for material prosperity, even though true happiness comes not from material goods but from spiritual riches. We look for security, even though the best things God gives us are often the surprises in life. We look for understanding, acceptance, and closeness from others, even though our impatient hearts remain restless until they rest in God. We look for physical health and fitness, even though eternity hangs on the wellness of our souls, not our bodies. We look for and long for good things of this life, even though the things that will not fade or be corrupted are the eternal things of God.

St. Rose of Lima dedicated her life to minimizing the effects of material goods, the security of family, and the short-term happiness that comes from the compliments of others. She focused instead on the things that would see her through eternity: generosity, empathy, spiritual wellness, and a devotion to God that was self-sacrificing. And so we pray that we too may seek things of an eternal nature:

“O God, you filled St. Rose with love for You, and enabled her to leave the world and be free for You, through the austerity of penance. Through her intercession, help us to follow in her footsteps on earth, and enjoy the torrent of Your delights in heaven.”

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Stewardship, Part 3

Part three of the five part series on Stewardship for the Voices newsletter.

The focus on Stewardship comes as a response to several comments heard in and around St. Joan of Arc Parish. “It’s a gimmick to get more money” and “They just want us to do more volunteering” were a couple of the comments.

But, stewardship isn’t a gimmick. Stewardship is a means of grace which enables us to be in tune with the Divine Will in areas that easily become barriers to a deeper communion with God: our pride, our possessions, and our personal freedom. Stewardship is about converting our hearts to both recognize our dependence on our Creator and to honor those gifts He has given us.

As Catholics, we recognize our need to be forgiven, our need for redemption, and our need to be reconciled to the Father. But do we recognize our need to be thankful? It isn’t just a by product of “being brought up right”. Being thankful is an actual need. In our thankfulness we are to offer praise and glory to God, but we are also to give back a portion of what we have been given.

The Biblical standards for offering back to God a portion of what we have been given are high, and they cannot be reached or maintained without vigilant prayer. Without grace, the price seems too high and we give reluctantly or in anger. Sometimes we choose to give nothing at all. Through prayer and petition to the Father, we can learn to be good stewards, and in doing so, learn to keep our time, talents, and treasures in their proper perspective.

When it comes to time, we are called to give one-seventh of our time to prayer, personal devotion, celebrations of the Christian community (weekly Mass, for example), and family. In our culture – a culture with more free time than any other – we are also called to invest our time in the building of the kingdom, through volunteering in our local faith community.

The Biblical mandate regarding treasure is “one-tenth of the annual harvest”. One-tenth of the income given to the work of the Church is a daunting task, and one that can only be obtained through sincere prayer and effort.

We are instructed that 100% of our talent should be utilized for the Glory of God. Even if it is something we think someone else could do better or we are afraid of the criticism of others. Anything that we do well should be nurtured and expanded, and that includes offering that talent as service to the Church.

As a local parish, we do a good job in a lot of ways: we have nearly 1000 adult volunteers, we have many generous givers, and we have people of vast and varied talents who utilize that for the betterment of the community. We are an active and vibrant church. But when we do these things, we demonstrate how much more we could do if everyone participated.

Every Christian is called to give of all three: Time, Talent, and Treasure. Everyone. (It is “and” not “or”.) But to thrive in our giving of any of these “Three T’s”, we must be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, helping us to set priorities and manage our resources in a way that will free us to increase our offerings to the point that the Biblical guidelines are a minimum of what we do on a regular basis.

Please consider the prayer below. On a regular basis, ask yourself these three questions and then pray about your answers:
1. Do I regularly thank God for all He has done for me, honoring Him as the Creator and Source of all blessings?
2. Do I return gifts to God in a manner consistent with Biblical precedents, giving from my “first fruits”, not just what is left over?
3. Do I honor God by giving my gifts in a sacrificial manner, not just when I have excess time or money to give?

Then, pray, asking God to open your heart to His Will:

Loving Father,
Who has blessed me with an abundant life,
I thank you for my life, family, friends, talents, and material possessions.
Remind me constantly that everything I possess is a Gift from You.

Lord, I desire to honor You,
Help me be a faithful steward of Your gifts,
To seek Your Will in every facet of my life,
To seek Your forgiveness when I sin,
And to offer you sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise.

Help me to continue my spiritual journey,
And renew my relationship with You daily,
Help me recognize when I am taking my gifts for granted,
And when I am relying more on self than I am on You.

This I ask, through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, forever and ever,

Friday, September 09, 2005

Irish Perspective?

Great Article HERE.

Some excerpts:

By Newton Emerson
Irish Times

As the full horror of this sinks in, thousands of desperate columnists are asking if the entire political agenda of George Bush's second term will not still be damaged in some terribly satisfying way.

The answer is almost certainly yes, provided that the entire political agenda of George Bush's second term consists of repealing the 22nd Amendment. Otherwise, with a clear Republican majority in both Houses of Congress, he can carry on doing pretty much whatever he likes.

As the full horror of this sinks in, thousands of desperate columnists are asking if the Republican Party itself will now suffer a setback at the congressional mid-term elections next November.

The answer is almost certainly yes, provided that people outside the disaster zone punish their local representatives for events elsewhere a year previously, both beyond their control and outside their remit, while people inside the disaster zone reward their local representatives for an ongoing calamity they were supposed to prevent. Otherwise, the Democratic Party will suffer a setback at the next congressional election.

As the full horror of this sinks in, thousands of desperate columnists are asking if an official inquiry will shift the blame for poor planning and inadequate flood defences on to the White House. The answer is almost certainly yes, provided nobody admits that emergency planning is largely the responsibility of city and state agencies, and nobody notices that the main levee which broke was the only levee recently modernised with federal funds. Otherwise, an official inquiry will pin most of the blame on the notoriously corrupt and incompetent local governments of New Orleans and Louisiana.

As the full horror of this sinks in, thousands of desperate columnists are asking if George Bush contributed to the death toll by sending so many national guard units to Iraq.

The answer is almost certainly yes, provided nobody recalls that those same columnists have spent the past two years blaming George Bush for another death toll by not sending enough national guard units to Iraq. Otherwise, people might wonder why they have never previously read a single article advocating large-scale military redeployment during the Caribbean hurricane season.

There's more. Read it there...or here.