Friday, June 29, 2012

Henryville Tornado Recovery Update - Almost four months ago ...

The following was posted in an email by Fr. Steve Schaftlein, pastor of St. Francis Xavier in Henryville 

Thursday – June 28 – An Update – Identity & Mission – A Partnership of Hares and Tortises

The weeks following the March 2 tornado were marked by two counter balancing experiences.  First there was the overwhelming sense of loss.  Two thousand families suffered total loss or severe damage to their homes.  We dwelt in the midst of a shattered community without heat, light, or electricity.  All around us were the physical signs of desolation.  Yet in the midst of this were spiritual signs of hope.  Thousands of volunteers from the outside began to arrive within hours of the tragedy.  They brought helping hands and a spirit of hope.  They brought financial and material resources to address the immediate needs.  Our sense of loss was balanced by an overwhelming experience of the God-given goodness of humanity.

During this first stage of the disaster response we had a very clear mission.  We literally followed the Gospel mandate.  Matthew 25:35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, 25:36 naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'  I don’t think I’ve ever experienced so profoundly both the depth and the clarity of the Gospel mission.  In a sense it was an addictive experience as everyone pitched in to help.  There was a sense of community and togetherness that we long for from the depths of our souls.  A group of volunteers who had spent the first 9 days with the effort returned for a visit.  They had been touched and changed by the experience.  They couldn’t let go of it.  They had to stop by one more time before making closure.
As we moved into April and May , the more subtle and less clear long term reality set in.  Carpet baggers made visits to the area trying to take advantage of the people.  The professional “knights of the road” became a larger part of the people asking for help.  These professionals went from church to church trying to milk the system of everything they could.  Some tried to come back on daily basis to fill up their cars with material goods that they would later sell in yard sales.  They were a distraction from addressing the real needs of those who had truly suffered from the tornado.
Bureaucratic red tape became an obstacle to repairing and building homes.  The insurance companies quickly approved a few percentage points of the damaged homes for repairs.  Then the approvals ground to a halt.  It became almost impossible to find a house to work on.  Legal hassles presented themselves – flood plains, septic and sewage issues made it difficult to get rebuilding permits.  Our mission morphed from feeding the hungry  and clothing the naked to helping people fill out forms.  Having helped people rediscovery hope after the initial tragedy, we now needed to help people maintain hope for the long haul.
During the first month after the tornado, all of the churches and organizations came together and worked seamlessly to answer the immediate needs.  Goods and volunteers were freely shared back and forth for we shared a common vision and mission.  This became more difficult as we moved into the second phase.  Some groups were better at rolling up their sleeves and using a hammer.  Some churches had facilities that could more readily handle the long term needs.  Some stepped back a bit to reflect on their role.  During this period of re-evaluation there was some loss of connectedness as each group sought to clarify its sense of mission and identity.
During this period of searching, I found it difficult to pray about and report on where we were going.  In many ways I wasn’t sure.  We didn’t have any quick fixes or solutions.  I only knew that our role was definitely not that of the hare.  In the race to recovery, we were better equipped to be the turtle.  And, hopefully this would be a race where both the turtle and the hare will arrive at the finish line together.  The real struggle was with our own sense of identity and mission.
The last 3 weeks have been a time of rediscovering and clarifying our mission and sense of identity as a turtle.  Slowly but surely we are laying a firm foundation to address the fundamental long term needs of both our parish and community.  Landlocked with only one acre of land, we didn’t have facilities or space to take on a larger share of the recovery effort.  Towards the end of May, our neighbors gave us the first opportunity to buy the two pieces of property immediate adjacent to St. Francis.  The family had survived a great loss.  Their home which had been in the family for decades was shattered and broken.  Their once meticulous park like yard was a bramble of broken branches and stumps.  Only their garage had survived the tornado.  Their rental property on the other side of St. Francis was shattered but structurally sound.  Together these two properties would give us the ability make a significant contribution to the recovery effort.  At the same time we could for the first time have a separate room for each of our faith formation classes.
A few years back we had started a future growth and expansion fund.  Over the years we had accumulated enough funds to meet the purchase price of these properties.  With the permission of the archdiocese, we closed on these properties on May 11.  Since then we’ve demolished the shattered home, landscaped the yard, and created two graveled parking lots.  Both the garage and the rental were gutted and now have new roofs.  The rental will be ready for occupancy by the 4th of July.  In addition to religious ed classes, it will house offices for the March 2 Recovery efforts.  The Administrative Office will be located here. Also, the Case Management Offices run by Catholic Charities will be housed here.  The garage with about 1,600 sq feet will be a “Work & Repair Center”, it will house building materials and tools for the cooperative efforts of Catholic Charities, St. Francis and St. Michael to repair and build houses.  We will work together with the other churches and groups in the area.
It is important to note that except for the landscaping all of the work has been done by volunteers.  Since the end of school we have hosted or worked with about a dozen volunteer groups including Fr. Rick Ginther and his parishioners from Terre Haute, New Albany Deanery Youth Ministry, Archdiocesan Youth Ministry, Catholic Work Camp, and a Presbyterian adult group from Baltimore.  They have worked through the hot days without complaints – including today’s 100+ temperatures.
On Saturday we will have the pleasure of the Archdiocesan seminarians and friends helping out.  They will join our parishioners who come every Saturday.  We have established Saturday as “volunteer day” for both St. Michael and St. Francis.  Participating in this day are the Latino parishioners of St. Michael.
On May 19 a contract was signed with AACI of Indianapolis to repair the damage to St. Francis.  This week they’ve begun to bring in materials to start the process.  After mass on Sunday we will remove the Eucharist from the tabernacle and relocate our “church” to the basement.
Some Stats
Approximately 2,000 structures were severely damaged or destroyed in Indiana.  If two of these structures are repaired or rebuilt every day, it will take approximately 3 years to complete the repairs.  Three months into this effort perhaps a little more than 12% of the homes have been repaired or rebuilt.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Homily from the opening Mass of the Catholic Media Conference

            At first glance, the Old Testament reading from Second Kings seems to be one of those readings from the sequence of the weekday lectionary that really doesn’t offer us much food for thought as we gather for this Opening Mass for the Catholic Media Conference.  The reading appears to simply offer the fantastic story of the ascension of the prophet Elijah on a fiery chariot leaving Elisha his successor and his companions to carry on.  So, at first glance, there really doesn’t appear to be much to say other than to let the story speak for itself and to move onto the Gospel.  But being the clever homilist that I am, I am quite happy to report that a deeper second effort at the text does allow us to glean some wisdom and direction from this story and apply it to our work as men and women committed to the spreading of the “good news” through the various avenues of communication.
            We are told at the very beginning what is about to happen: the Lord is going to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind.  Elijah has already tapped Elisha as his successor.  He has already allotted to Elisha a full portion as his heir.  Now the time has come to make that succession real and complete.  Along with Elijah and Elisha come fifty guild prophets, Elijah’s ‘entourage’ so to speak.  They are to be witnesses to the succession.  At the Jordan River, Elijah and Elisha miraculously crossover and there Elijah offers Elisha one last request, “ask of me what you will.”  Elisha asks for a “double portion of your spirit.” Elisha does not simply want to be Elijah’s successor in name.  He wishes to be his successor in the power of the spirit.  Elijah grants his request and is then caught up in the whirlwind of the flaming chariot and horses.  Elisha, now the full prophet of the Israelites, crosses back over the river and takes his place among the guild prophets, who in a verse we have not heard, acclaim him saying, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.”
            What we see in this reading is an Old Testament account of prophetic succession: the naming of a successor by a prophet, the handing on of the prophetic power, and the acclamation by witnesses.  The newly named prophet is appointed so as to continue the mission of witness and leadership within the community.   Recall if you will what that prophetic role was within ancient Israel: the prophet was the one who spoke to the truth of things.  Whether it was to the king - as the prophet Nathan did to David or as Elijah himself did to Ahab – or to the people of Israel as a community, it was the prophet who testified to what was really going on and what was expected as to the covenant between God and man.  The prophet told the story as he saw – as it was – “just the facts, M’am” and in telling the facts allowed those involved to come to judgments onto themselves. 
            From all this I would ask us to consider our roles as communicators imbued with the Catholic faith as one that is prophetic in the ancient sense of the word.  We have all been, in fact, called by name, from within the community, and imbued with the Spirit to speak to the Truth of the Jesus Christ.   In the rite of infant baptism as the child is anointed with Chrism, in itself an act with deep prophetic meaning, we hear, “As Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so may you live always as a member of his body sharing everlasting life.”  Following this, there is a wonderful little rite called the “Ephphatha” when the priest or deacon touches the child’s mouth and ears saying, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to hear his words and your mouth to proclaim his glory.”  The call to be heralds and prophets of the kingdom of God is one that is shared by virtue of our common baptism.  While this varies according as to degree and office, as laity and ordained, each of us is still missioned to a prophetic role to speak the Truth of the Catholic Church.
            Today, as in the past, our community needs to hear that message of truth loud and clear.  That is the work that you all do so well.  Through the various means of communications, we join in the prophetic act of speaking to the Truth of Christ’s salvific mission to all men and women.  We have received the two-fold inheritance that was sought by Elisha from Elijah – we have been named by the community and empowered by the Spirit.
As one who is missioned with you, I would like to offer a four simple points  of advice that arise from my time as spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Boston and my present role as a bishop that I have found helpful in directing the way in which I use public communications.  These are not exhaustive or hard or fast rules.  They are more musing than anything else.  But I find them helpful in fulfilling the prophetic role of being a good Catholic communicator. 
First, always take the high road.  By this I mean, always be polite, never respond in kind, do not making anymore enemies than one already has in these matters, and most importantly don’t send an angry email written completely in capital letters until you’ve slept on it overnight.  Always taking the high road places us in a higher place.  I really think this is the way of Christ.  I’m reminded of yesterday’s gospel in which Jesus said, “when someone strikes you, give them your other cheek.”  There is already too much invective and anger out there.  Let’s not add to it.  In addition, by taking the high road one avoids allowing those opposed to one’s position from going on the “ad hominum.”  For example, when an American bishop responded with a somewhat sarcastic column of his own to an editorial in America magazine that criticized the USCCB for its position on the HHS mandate, the response was immediate but not in the way he hoped.  Instead of responding to the very valid points he raised, critics almost unanimously chastised him for the tone of his response with comments like, “Isn’t it terrible that a bishop would respond with sarcasm.” 
            Second point: Stay on topic. Stay on topic. Stay on topic.  This absolutely applies to answering media questions but it also applies in the greater scheme of life.  And what might that topic be for us applied to our lives? “That God the Father so loved the world that he gave us his only begotten Son that whoever should believe in Him might have eternal life.” Now I know that in the particular sense concerning much of what we do the specific topic varies from one story or moment to the next.  But in the grand scheme of things as Catholic communicators isn’t the overall topic the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and what that means for the world?  Staying on this topic really does allow us to keep our actions and words directed towards Him.
            Point three, and this probably goes with “take the high road” but I think it is enough of a variation to say it.  When you are in the midst of any task, ask yourself, “Is what I am doing building up or tearing down?”  In asking this question I think of St. Paul’s admonition in Ephesians to “say only the good things men need to hear, things that will really help them.” Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t speak the truth to evil or sin.  Jesus himself was quite outspoken in his attacks on hypocrisy and sin.  In that sense we are building up by tearing down, when we tear down evil and replace it with the good.  But my admonition is more to avoid at all times the “attack ad” mentality that sadly permeates much of our public discourse today.  One way in which this plays out positively is trying to communicate as much as we can what it is we are “for” rather than what we are “against.”
            Finally, my last point: I offer a special saint in the teachings and person of one of the great doctors of the Church, St. Terese of Liseaux and her “little way” for us communicators who serve the prophetic mission of the Church.  I would like to see her become the patron saint of the new social communications because she offers in her “little way” a way for us to keep our work in focus.  In her "Little Way"she tells us to first live out our days with confidence in God's love and to recognize that each day is a gift in which one’s life can make a difference by the way you choose to live it. Out of this comes the admonition to see every little task or moment in life as an opportunity to make concrete the love of God.  Think about that in terms of what we do.  Every news story, every video, every blog post, every tweet or email or response to comment boxes can become an opportunity to manifest God’ love if we commit ourselves to loving.  I will love God and others in the little moments of my work.  I will spread the good news through one kind act, one loving response, one at a time, in the name of Christ.  I choose to communicate that love right now in this moment and in the concrete and isn’t that truly speaking the truth of God’s love as prophets named by God, missioned to the kingdom, and empowered by the Spirit of love.

Fortnight for Freedom

Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty 

O God our Creator, Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit, you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world, bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel to every corner of society. We ask you to bless us in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty. Give us the strength of mind and heart to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened; give us courage in making our voices heard on behalf of the rights of your Church and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith. Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father, a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters gathered in your Church in this decisive hour in the history of our nation, so that, with every trial withstood and every danger overcome— for the sake of our children, our grandchildren, and all who come after us— this great land will always be "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, June 18, 2012

From Blessed Mother Teresa ...

“The trouble is that rich people, well-to-do people, very often don't really know who the poor are; and that is why we can forgive them, for knowledge can only lead to love, and love to service. And so, if they are not touched by them, it's because they do not know them."

Sunday, June 10, 2012

"Lumen Gentium" on the eucharistic sacrifice

"As often as the sacrifice of the cross by which "Christ our Pasch is sacrificed" (1 Cor. 5:7) is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out ...."

Though they differ essentially and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are none the less ordered one to another; each in its own proper way shares in the one priesthood of Christ.  The ministerial priest, by the sacred power that he has, forms and rules the priestly people; in the person of Christ he effects the Eucharistic sacrifice and offers it to God in the name of all the people. The faithful indeed, by virtue of their royal priesthood, participate in the offering of the Eucharist.... Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, the source and summit of the Christian life, they offer the divine victim to God and themselves along with it.  And so it is that, both in the offering and in Holy Communion, each in his own way, though not of course indiscriminately, has his own part to play in the liturgical action. Then, strengthened by the body of Christ in the Eucharistic communion, they manifest in a concrete way that unity of the People of God which this holy sacrament aptly signifies and admirably realizes.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

"Lorica" - St. Patrick's Prayer of Protection

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgement of doom.

..... I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Memorial of St. Justin, martyr

"And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh." ["First Apology" of St. Justin, Chapter 66]
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