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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Better Way

I haven't written much about my grandmother's death. That pain is still too fresh. The sense of loss is still there, most every day. Little things constantly set me off.

Today for instance, I was listening to Patty Griffin's song, Goodbye. Even though its only been a few months, not a couple years, it applied:

Occurred to me the other day,
You've been gone now a couple years,
Well, I guess it takes a while,
For someone to really disappear.

I remember where we were,
when the word came about you,
It was a day much like today,
The sky was bright wide and blue.

And I wonder where you are, and if the pain ends when you die,
I wonder if there was,
Some better way to say goodbye.

Today my heart is big and sore,
Just trying to push out from my skin,
I won't see you anymore,
I guess that's finally sinking in.

You can't make somebody see,
With the simple words you say,
All their beauty from within,
Sometimes they just look away.

And I wonder where you are, and if the pain ends when you die,
I wonder if there was,
Some better way to say goodbye.
Some better way to say goodbye.

Some better way to say goodbye. I hugged her, told her I loved her, kissed her. I couldn't stop the tears. So many times over the last two years this scene had played out; always possibly for the last time, but never quite sure. A better way? I'm sure there was, though I haven't quite figured that one out yet.

I cried most of the way out of Hamilton that last time I said goodbye. Just as I cried most of my lunch hour away today. I wish I could lay my head in her lap as I would as a child. Hug her as I would when I came home to visit after moving off to Indiana.

There was a moment at the funeral, as we sang the hymn, where I'm sure I heard her voice, rising just a bit over the chorus of the gathered. I could always pick her voice out of a crowd. That day was no different.

What I wouldn't give for just that one moment back...

Monday, March 27, 2006

Pain and Suffering

The Problem of Pain and the Mystery of Suffering
Reflections of C.S. Lewis and Bishop Fulton Sheen
Shared with the staff in our regular weekly meeting.

In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis writes, “The first – and lowest – operation of pain is to shatter the illusion that all is well…pain is not only an immediately recognizable evil, but an evil impossible to ignore. We can rest contentedly in our sins and our stupidities; we can even ignore pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to…God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.”

Pain is a reminder or our own mortality. Being in a Christian Community forces us to encounter a wide range of individuals at various points in their journey, and in such encounters, protect ourselves from the urge to be judgmental, proud, and short-sighted. We are humbled by those who are further along than us, and empathetic regarding those who are struggling. The suffering, pain, and even death of others serves as an opportunity for us to be reminded of our own mortality and is an opportunity to engage in acts of mercy.

Lewis continues, “The second [operation of pain] is to shatter the illusion that what we have – whether good or bad – is our own and sufficient for us. As long as what we call “our own life” remains agreeable, we will not surrender it to Him…we are perplexed to see misfortune falling upon decent, inoffensive, worthy people…(but) try to believe – if only for a moment – that God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed: that all this must fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know Him they will be wretched. Therefore, He troubles them, warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover.”

When we speak of someone who “doesn’t deserve” pain or suffering, we forget both our own guilt (“For ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”) and the redemption of the Cross. This pain that reminds us of the temporary nature of this world is the pain and suffering of Christ. A Christ who came as a political savior would have reaffirmed the sufficiency of this world, but this world is not sufficient. A savior who came as a Suffering Servant shattered the illusion that this world is ours and is sufficient. Fulton Sheen, in The Life of Christ, writes this; “…both Peter and Satan tempted Christ from His cross and therefore from Redemption…Peter thought it was unworthy of Christ to suffer; but to Our Lord such thoughts were human, carnal, even Satanic.” Christ, more so than any other, “deserved” no hint of pain and suffering. Christ, more than any other demonstrates the redemptive power of suffering. Christ in the Resurrection illustrates the final victory over pain, suffering, and death.

The third operation of pain is the, “full acting out of the self’s surrender to God.” Lewis contends that only in doing something we do not like, look forward to, or enjoy are we sure of doing the Will of God. In other words, if – while in the service of God – we find ourselves only doing things we enjoy or like, we should approach our perceived obedience with suspicion. We may not be actually sacrificing our self. It may just be a happy coincidence that God’s Will and our interests coincide. We may be what God wants done, but it may be equally true that we have not fully surrendered our will to His. Lewis says, “We cannot know that we are acting at all for God’s sake unless the material of the action is contrary to our inclinations, or in other words, painful.” Suffering is not something any of us wish for, but suffering in a way that subordinates the self to the Will of God demonstrates a powerful self-denial.

This is the pain of Christ’s agony in the garden: wanting something different, easier, less violent, but being willing to embrace that pain as the Will of God. “If this cup should pass from me…Not my will, but thy Will be done.” Much of what Christ was to do within the Will of God was agreeable and enjoyable to him. In a similar manner, much of what we do in ministry to others will utilize our talents, our interests, and our joys. Yet, it is only when we do something outside our “comfort zone” that we are sure of pure motives. What is MORE outside our comfort zone than physical pain and suffering?

Fulton Sheen, again: “God gives his answer to the world’s question about the meaning of suffering through a demonstration. The dramatic climax of the demonstration of God’s love for the world, and the capacity of that love to give meaning to the most intense suffering, is the cross of Christ. When the Son takes all the world’s evil and sin and suffering upon himself and offers it to the Father in a perfect act of obedience, and when God vindicates that act of radical obedience and love in the Resurrection, suffering itself is transformed. When Christ redeems us by his suffering, suffering itself is redeemed. The Christ who died for all offers a share in his redemption to all – and offers us the possibility that, by identifying our suffering with his, we too can participate in his redemptive suffering for the world.”

Bishop Sheen's conclusion: “Suffering isn’t a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be engaged in love.”

Heavenly Father,
Because of Your love for me, You endured the Cross
And I am willing to suffer because you suffered, and I love You more than I love even myself
O, my Jesus
I unite my pain with the pain You suffered
Give me the virtues of meekness and patience
So I may willingly carry my cross for You.

Financial Peace

Have You Found Financial Peace?

Can the words “finances” and “peace” really coexist? If you have ever heard Dave Ramsey's nationally-syndicated talk show on the radio, you would know that not only can the two concepts coexist, it can be a fun and exciting thing to bring peace into an area of life that often leaves us confused and worried. Ramsey combines an energetic mix of humor, common sense, and biblical values into a program packed with information about budgeting, investing, saving, and a whole host of financial questions.

St. Joan of Arc parishioners Phil and Wende Westhoff first heard Ramsey on the radio several years ago. Soon, Phil bought a copy of one of Ramsey's books as a Christmas gift for Wende, and the couple made a New Year's resolution to begin applying the information they were learning to their financial lives.

“We felt pretty good about our finances, in general,” the Westhoffs explain. “We were always a little ahead - on one hand - but at the end of the year we were looking at our bottom line asking, 'Where did it all go?' We didn't feel we were doing poorly, just not as well as we could.”

Then a statistic jumped out at them. “Dave Ramsey points out that 70% of all Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck: they are one paycheck away from financial disaster. Seventy percent! We realized we weren't quite at that point, but we weren't doing a whole lot better. We started to think about college for our kids, and retirement, and it really began to hit home.”

The Westhoffs enrolled in a course called Financial Peace University; a 13-week study designed and led by Dave Ramsey. The course was so dynamic, and the results so impressive, they knew they wanted to bring the program back to St. Joan of Arc so that others in the church could realize the same benefits.

The first offering of Financial Peace University at St. Joan is winding up in December, and the response has been very positive. Graduating members are calling the course a “blessing”and pointing to the positive benefits already manifesting in their lives. Married couples have found it has helped them communicate, and all of the participants have learned to focus their financial activities in a more productive way. Many in the class have found that actually managing their finances has been a way to have more money, without really changing their lifestyle drastically.

One participant recently wrote: “I am amazed at how far my paycheck goes now that I am in charge of it, instead of it being in charge of me.” Another participant found that giving had increased: “Tithing is easy now. It is first on my list, instead of waiting to see what I have left at the end of the month – and all my other bills are being paid too!”

Phil says, FPU isn't just for those down on their luck, financially. “We have bankers, CPAs, teachers, nurses, members of the St. Joan staff, single and married, young and old, and they all have felt the program is beneficial – even those who thought they were already in control of their finances. Dave Ramsey makes it both entertaining and educational, and it is structured so that people from all levels of economic understanding can benefit.”

According to the FPU literature, each of the thirteen sessions is designed to be a $2,000 to $3,000 value in the material it teaches. Ramsey's presentation (he leads each session via a DVD video) is exciting, and discussion by the group afterwards expands and deepens the learning. Wende comments, “The group discussion has really drawn people together. They learn from each other, and help each other clarify concepts. It has been so unifying that the current group is already talking about wanting to have a reunion in a few months to see how everyone is doing.”

One added benefit of FPU is increased awareness of how subtly each of us can be drawn into financially-questionable circumstances. Throughout the course, participants have been tracking the number of unsolicited credit offers they have received – and rejected. The total, over an 11-week period? “Over $3.8 million, and that doesn't even include four participants who do not get any offers for additional credit,” says Phil. “It isn't hard to see how people quickly find themselves in hot water if we aren't equipped to recognize financial dangers.”

FPU covers multiple topics including: budgeting, saving for college, retirement, investing, insurance, dumping debt, buyer strategies, buying a home, and others. The average FPU graduate realizes a reduction in debt of $5,300 and and increase in savings of $2,700 in the first 90 days.

The next 13-week session is being offered at St. Joan of Arc beginning on January 24th. An informational orientation session (including a brief video presentation) for anyone interested in learning more about FPU will be held after every Mass the weekend of January 7th and 8th. Those interested in participating will have an opportunity to sign up for the class.

If you cannot attend one of the orientation meetings but would like to be a member of the second class of FPU, contact Phil or Wende Westhoff.

“The Dave Ramsey Show” can be heard locally on Logansport radio AM 1230, from 9:00 to noon.

(You can have your name removed from unsolicited credit offers and other junk mail by visiting: www.dmaconsumers.org/consumerassistance.html or call 1-888-567-8688.)

Stewardship as Grace

Grace is the constant outpouring of God's unconditional love. Stewardship is to be a source of grace in our lives because it constantly reminds us and challenges us. It reminds us that God never stops giving: everything we have, all that we are, even our very justification comes not from our own works, our own goodness, or our own merits, but rather everything we have comes from God as a free gift.

The Catechism says this: “Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life.” It is in this context that we should look upon the concept of Christian Stewardship, not as a “gimmick” to get people to do more and give more, but as a means of more fully participating in the life of God.

But just as in other forms that God's Grace takes on, the grace offered to us through Christian Stewardship requires our free response to the free gift offered. God has placed in each of us a longing for truth and goodness that only He can satisfy, and that longing is filled through the free grace given us in various areas of our lives. This longing is sometimes referred to as the “God-shaped hole” in our lives.

The grace of Christian Stewardship is aimed square and true at the heart of the “God-shaped hole” in many of our lives. How often do we – such modern, sophisticated, and self-sufficient people – find ourselves worried, distressed, or overcome by problems of finances, priorities, time, and ability? The grace of stewardship is offered to counteract these “modern” concerns, and yet it isn't forced upon us in some legalistic manner. It is offered to us freely, requiring only our free consent to flow in our lives.

Stewardship as a grace challenges us to let go of our false notions that we are somehow in control of our own lives, our skills, our talents, our material possessions, even our health. Stewardship is an attitude of recognition of our total dependence on God, and an acknowledgment that we are only caretakers of what belongs to God. All of God's gifts are good, and as caretakers of His gifts, we are called to use them responsibly, use them for His greater glory, and share them generously with others. And since God never stops giving, our opportunity – our responsibility – to reciprocate by giving back to God and by sharing with others never ends. This is why we are to offer back to God our time, our talents, and our treasure.

How does stewardship become a grace? It helps us develop a lifestyle that acknowledges God's Divinity and Sovereignty. It helps us reduce undue anxiety over our finances, our material possessions, and our circumstances. It helps us develop a lifestyle of sharing which allows us to participate in the extension of God's Grace to others. It allows us to face the truth that what we are – and what we have – is not ours, but belongs completely to God. It attacks our sinful pride at its source, and replaces that pride with gratitude and thankfulness toward God.

Stewardship is not a gimmick or program. It is a way of life. It is our free consent to the ordering of our lives which God has instituted for our conversion.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Facility Stewardship

One of the aspects of stewardship which is often discussed is our responsibility to maintain and protect the resources we have been given, by God, for the work of the Church.

As a paid staff member, I have a duty to my job, as well as the normal responsibilities of a parishioner, when it comes to managing and utilizing the resources or our spiritual home. Members of the ministerial staff – both ordained and lay, paid and volunteer – work to be accountable and responsible to the best interests of our parish. In every action, we are called to balance the immediate needs of individuals with the long-term needs of the parish at large. That is true of how we manage the finances of the parish, as well as the physical resources we are blessed with.

It is obvious to every visitor to St. Joan of Arc that we have a beautiful facility which allows us to do things many churches can only dream of doing, right here on our campus. With that blessing, though, comes responsibility: maintenance, cleaning, and scheduling. And with the execution of those responsibilities comes the opportunity for others to either participate in the stewardship of the parish, or to actively oppose it.

How do the individual members of the parish participate in the stewardship of our facility? We are called to a share of stewardship by utilizing the facility in a responsible manner. This includes the following:
using rooms or areas for activities consistent with the mission of the church;
using rooms/areas for activities that fit well in the area being used;
taking care to not damage the building, including furniture, walls, etc.;
leaving the area clean and cared for;
reporting problems to the parish staff so repairs can be made or problems addressed;
respecting those using other parts of the facility by keeping noise level down, not interrupting other meetings, and using only the space needed;
recognizing the need to schedule rooms, and to only use rooms for activities that are on the parish schedule;
use the facility in a way to minimize costs.

The first few of these require a little thought, but aren't that difficult to accomplish. Obviously, the parish facility should only be used for things that are consistent with Catholic teaching. We have an active parish with many ministries utilizing the space available and it is only practical that ministries of the church have first priority to the spaces and it is a practical thing for the leadership of various ministries to only utilize the space that is actually needed for that ministry, based on the number of people involved and the type of activity. As we all use the facility, we should take great care to maintain it to the best of our ability, making sure we don't cause any damage, cleaning up messes when they occur, and reporting maintenance problems promptly.

The final three of these take a bit more resolve. All three of these can be addressed through the application of a generous dose of Christian Charity.

We are a big parish with many activities planned. When we are using the building, it is easy to forget that other ministries and groups may be using it at the same time. Often, in our exuberance, we forget ourselves and accidentally interrupt another meeting or make it more difficult for someone else to accomplish their ministry. There are two ways to address this. First, by being aware of the other activities going on around us in the parish. Second, by actively reminding ourselves that while our event or ministry is important to the health of the parish and the spread of the Gospel, all around us other equally important activities are taking place.

Because we are so active, it is important that we utilize our space in the most efficient way possible. Even though we have more space to use than ever before, it is still limited space. The need to utilize the Parish Schedule is paramount to a smooth operation of ministries. Stacey Jones is the staff member responsible for scheduling the facility, and all activities should be funneled through her office. She will work with ministries or individuals to make sure the room being used is the best fit for the event, that no one else is already scheduled to use the room, and that all legal issues are covered in preparation for the event. Failure to properly schedule an event can lead to conflicts between ministries, using parish space in an inefficient manner, increased inefficiency in housekeeping duties, and – in some cases – even putting the parish in legal jeopardy. Again, none of these are intended consequences, but are the reality of our need to properly schedule the facility. Please remember this when planning an event: an event, ministry, fund raiser, or meeting cannot be held here in our building if it is not on the official parish schedule at least one week prior to the event.

Finally, we should all use the building in a way to minimize our financial costs. This includes little things like only using the automatic doors if you have a legitimate need to and big things like taking care to not damage church property. Everyone should be aware of things like not leaving outside doors propped open, turning off lights not in use, not using the elevators unless needed for a physical reason or to move large quantities of materials between rooms, walking on the paved areas whenever possible outside, and supervising children at all times. When we fail to do these things, we increase our use of energy resources, increase our housekeeping and maintenance costs, and shorten the longevity of our material possessions.

If each of us will take the time to consider these points as we go about our normal routine at the church, we will be able to further the cause of stewardship while protecting and maintaining our beautiful facility.