Thursday, November 30, 2017

Follow Up Thoughts on Ad Orientem, Part 2

Here are the next four weekly bulletin blurbs, continuing to give reflections and explanations on why we are celebrating Mass facing together to the Heavenly Father. (And the last set are found here.)

V. In the original ad orientem homily, I said that there were things that I would miss about Mass facing the people, and this last week pointedly reminded me of one. One of the things that I do miss is that there are times that the priest emphasizes a verbal point with a movement. In Eucharistic Prayer I, which was used on Sunday and All Saints, there are a couple of extra moves the priest makes. When the priest “raises his eyes to heaven” right before the consecration, the people don’t see his eyes going up (though he can tip his head up to make the point) and when he strikes his breast as he implores for mercy for “us, though sinners”, even if you are on the edges of the congregation, this can be hard to see clearly. There are also moments where the priest isn’t told to do something or look a certain way, but he could still convey certain emphases by looks or motions: “Listen graciously to the prayers of this family whom you have summoned before you,” “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end,” and of course “and gave it to his disciples saying.” All these moments are ones I loved, and I loved them especially because when I was a teenager coming back to the Church, they and the other “little extras” at Mass in my home parish helped me understand and enter in. So, I do miss them. But I also know that if I am sacrificing some pieces of unspoken communication, we as a parish are also gaining other subtle gifts in body language that speak to us subconsciously. It’s a hard trade, but ultimately worth it.

VI. Some years ago I did a funeral in a little country church. The man hadn’t been to Mass in years, and it became obvious in the first five minutes that none of his pallbearers were Catholic. The six stern men were all over 50, with long grey beards, and kind of a weathered look to them. I couldn’t tell if they were Mennonite farmers, or a motorcycle club, or members of ZZ Top. As I did the funerary rites I kept feeling like they were looking at me like: What kind of crazy Catholic stuff is this boy doing to our friend? I knew I couldn’t stop and explain it all, especially the Mass itself, which might have been their first. I had this huge urge after the sermon to flip the book and candles and say the Mass ad orientem. There was no time to defend our most Catholic of ritual Masses, so I just wanted to say: “This will still be weird, but at least you'll be able to tell by body language that I'm not talking to you, or anyone else here on earth, but I'm beseeching God to receive your friend's soul. We might disagree on prayers for the dead, but you'll have no doubt about what kind of ceremony this is." I didn't, but I still think anybody walking into a Mass ad orientem knows right off the bat what kind of prayer we're making and with whom we believe we're conversing. 

VII. An objection to Mass ad orientem, both now and in the 1960s, was that several important basilicas in Rome always had their chief altars facing the people, and that in the Eastern Christian liturgy the priest might face toward the people. St. Peter’s, for example, has its altar at the west end, so when the Pope said Mass ad orientem (toward the east) he was also versus populum (toward the people). The same sometimes happens for Eastern Christians. But the Eastern priest and the celebrant in a basilica actually have more in common with what we do now at St. Wenceslaus than what we did six months ago. Previous to 1965, nobody, not Catholic or Orthodox, was looking eye to eye with their priest at the Eucharistic Prayer, even if he was pointed east and they faced west. The Eastern priest is always behind the iconostasis, a wall of icons that makes “a chapel within the chapel”, and in basilicas, the altar is on a high platform, often with a baldacchino (canopy) over it. These structures give essentially the same mental effect as the priest facing the same direction as the people: he faces the people during the Word but then he takes our prayers and leads us “up on high somewhere” to come face to face with the Father—like Moses at Sinai, like the high priest going into the Holy of Holies, like Jesus in the Letter to the Hebrews. All three locales, using three different arrangements of architecture, all give the same impression—making it abundantly clear when we are talking to Our Father.

VIII. One of the points made to me when we started having Mass all facing the same way was that at the Last Supper Jesus didn't face away from the apostles. This is a good point. But the Mass isn't merely Holy Thursday reenacted. It's the whole Paschal Mystery. It's the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and even the Ascension—which the Letter to the Hebrews at length describes as the entry of Jesus the High Priest into the heavenly sanctuary to offer the blood of his sacrifice. St. Paul, in Christianity's oldest Eucharist passage (1 Cor 10-11), intertwines worship and meal, sacrifice and community. Martin Luther famously wanted to to unhitch the Eucharist from these sacrificial, worshipful moorings and to emphasize the meal aspect more, so he "turned the minister around" and traded the altar for a table. Perhaps unwittingly Catholics absorbed some of that split too when we flipped things around in the late 60s.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Christ the King: the Glory and the Challenge

Christ the King is either an amazing feast day or a total dud depending on how the priest, the parish, and those involved in the liturgy decide to "sell it". But lest we fear that celebrating the day with song and story, ritual and romance will somehow make us starry-eyed dreamers, the Gospel and its challenge will always bring us back down to earth. 

Christ the King 2017

In August, I gave back-to-back homilies on how as modern people we tend to value things to the extent that they are practical and explainable. And we can even start to reduce the Christian faith to something that is merely practical and explainable. 

When given the choice between poetry and prose, modern people think they always have to choose the prose. 

Two things argue that—while modern man focuses on the practical and the explainable—it's not our natural setting as human beings. 

1) Our love of beauty: the world of symbols and extravagance 

2) Our love of story: the world of imagination and narrative 

I focused on the world of beauty in the homily on "If I could have explained it, I wouldn't have needed to dance it."

And I focused in the second homily on how we live in a world of story—stories of sports seasons and of celebrities, of politicians, and the Bachelorette, and Netflix series. 

These are what excite us, but we buy into our own self-created lie that we have to make everything rational and practical. 

And I asked: "Have we Christians limited ourselves to prose, and then been annoyed that there isn't enough poetry in the world?"

I bring this all up again because whether the Christian life is poetry and beauty and narrative vs. prose and work and explanation means everything to this feast day. 

If we allow ourselves the realms of song and story, of ritual and romance, then it's awesome how the Catholic Church closes out her liturgical year with a feast called Christ the King. 

The imagery of starting anew each December, telling the story of anticipation leading up to birth, 
of preaching leading to the cross, 
of rising, ascending, and sending the spirit,
and then months of us laboring to build up his kingdom on earth, culminating in a feast of Jesus as King—king of every person, nation, and thing...

It's perfect. It's beautiful. It's a moment glory and triumph. 

And if not...

If it's just into a world of prose and practicality that we speak this feast, then there's nowhere to go with it. 

It's the Sunday before or after Thanksgiving. 

It's the Mass we attend when the weather's cold but the wreaths and candles aren't up yet. 

Sometimes we've got a few extra kids home or we're at grandma's parish, but it's nothing on its own to make us think or wonder. 

And why should Christ the King matter? We're modern. We don't have kings anymore. We have departments, agencies, and boards 

We don't have parades and acclamations anymore. We have the internet. We don't have pageantry anymore. We have HGTV.

But like I said: really our hearts want more; we've just been convinced that wanting that is "not acting reasonable, or mature, or realistic."

And yet Pixar and Dreamworks make billions of dollars.

I bring them up, not because they tell stories (though they do)

Nor because their stories often have kings (though they do)

But because people—even, and maybe especially adults—watch them and love them for their depth and the lessons they teach. 

Cynical people will sneer that animated movies take what should be obvious lessons about life, about friendship, and virtue, and authenticity, and put the lessons in the mouths of singing animals and dancing elves and people act like it's something amazing. 

And it is! Because when for 50 or a 100 years other cynics have complained that our books and movies and heroes need to be more "realistic", more gritty, more morally gray, then showing loyalty and sacrifice and courage straight up, can leave parents blubbering at “Up” or “Wreck It Ralph” or “Toy Story 3”. 

We might be confined to live the work-a-day world in 2017, but our hearts and souls long for a better place, with deeper stories and more excellent virtues. 

That's why in a sense we have to decide what Christ the King is going to be. 

We have to decide if we can be moved by it. 

We have to decide if it a story we want to be apart of. 

Or just punch the timecard and be in and out in 50 or 60 minutes. 

Now, don't worry.

Celebrating Christ the King "like it means something" isn't just a practice in imagining gold crowns and white castles. 

I'm not suggesting we just move into an imaginary kingdom of symbol and story on Sundays. 

The gospel today robs is of that delusion. 

Jesus tells us he will come as king and judge. 

And he's telling us what the questions will be on the final exam. 

And they're simple questions, but the teacher is a stickler and "you've got to show your work". 

He is king, and we are his soldiers. He has a kingdom and we're invited to share in his glory. 

But it's going to mean doing hard things. 

And it's not just a matter of giving to the poor or donating money to the needy, though the parable certainly includes that. 

It's also about our attitude. 

Partly why we have 7 corporal works of mercy (shown in Gospel) and then also 7 spiritual works of mercy.

And other things like the Sermon on the Mount and the other parables...

Because, how we think and speak also matters. 

St. James in his letter warns us "despise not the poor"

Poor can be meant in many ways: wealth, talents, or intelligence, or beauty

Or we just don't think they are cool enough or fun enough to be around. 

I’m going to tell a story on myself to illustrate this:

Once I got a call from a neighbor church. It was a different denomination and they had a woman with them who was looking for a hotel to stay in for a a day or two and wondered if I could help her out.

I said yes and we agreed to set up at a local hotel and I would take care of the bill.

Then about a week later I got a call on my cell phone. It was the lady that we had put up. This was a little frustrating already because it meant the other church had given her my cell phone number. After the hotel she had been at a homeless shelter for that week but was wondering if she could return to the hotel for one night so she could get things worked out with her daughter who was driving in to pick her up and take her home with her. 

I agreed and called the hotel and said that the lady would be returning and that we would cover it, and to just put it on the the bill from the previous stay. So just bill us for the three days together then. 

Then, about three or four days later, I got a call again on my cell phone from the lady I had helped, and she was wondering if she could get another day's stay at the hotel. And I was like, "Uh. You're supposed to be in Montana. Where are you now?"

"At the hotel." 

"How? I signed up for one more day."

"Well, I've been here for the last 3 days. When I got here they told me to take this room."

"Well, who's been paying for this??"

"I was told you were."

I was so upset.

I was yelling. I was screaming in the phone, asking questions and accusing. I was so upset.

I felt taken advantage of. 

I felt I had been hoodwinked.

I felt that the woman was not honest—to me or to the hotel people. 

And I was just exploding in wrath at that moment. 

I was even yelling as I was getting into my car to drive to the hotel and work this out. The woman had said again and again that the hotel said I was covering three days. This of course was crazy. I had already covered two days earlier and agreed to do one day after.

So I went into the hotel, still very angry, but of course I wasn't going to be angry with the people there. I was very calm and professional. One, because I assumed the woman had been dishonest with us both, and two, because these are people in the community that I have a relationship with and need to stay on professional terms with.

But... it turns out that she was right. There had been a real miscommunication and the hotel had thought I was saying that she was good for three days starting then, and that I must've given the confused impression that that was what I wanted.

So, I admitted my mistake, swallowed my pride and anger, and agreed to take the whole bill. I had messed up. 

As I walked out of the hotel the thought that really ate at me wasn't the money or the miscommunication. 

Those things happen. That's a part of life. 

It wasn't even the yelling. 

Not the best, but if you'd really been swindled, that might be kinda reasonable

It was the difference between my yelling at the woman on the phone and my kindness to the people at the hotel. 

It wasn't remotely bad to be patient and professional with the hotel. To wait for explanations and sort things out. 

That was the right thing to do. 

What ate at me was that I didn't think to give that patience and kindness to the woman on the phone. 

My presumptions with her were immediate. 

I had, according to St. James, despised the poor. 

Maybe you've been there too. 

It'd be nice if we all could say, "Well, Father, we learn and we grow and hopefully you've gotten more patient with age..."

That would be nice. 

But that was 10 days ago. 

I thought immediately of today's Gospel coming up: "I did everything the Gospel tells me not to do."

I sought of Confession, because I had entered into so pretty grave sin. 

And for those wondering how things turned out: I did speak to the woman later and apologized to her. 

Why bring up?

One, because I'm guessing people can relate to it. 

Two, because it's so easy to speak about living the gospel, and so hard to actually do it. 

No fairytale castles here, folks. 

Yes, we have a king, but I don't think we need to worry that we are accidentally going to slip off into an imaginary land where we're all "Yay rah, King Jesus", and there's some perfect little kingdom, and that by making Christ the King a time of pageantry and song were going to somehow miss out on the real world. 


The Gospel forces us back. 

The Gospel will tell us: If you want to be soldiers in this army you're going to have to do hard things. If you really want to love the king, you're going to have to do with the King does. And when you go out to fight his battles and you realize you've failed, you have to drag your broken armor and your hobbled horse back and say "I need to start over again."

Don't worry, realists. There's never going to come a moment when we get too "heads in the clouds" about Christ the King.  

So let's do both.

Let's dive fully into this feast, and celebrate and love him, and embrace it. 

It is awesome that we wrap up the year with glory. 

But then realize that that glory comes with hard work. It comes with demands. 

There are things that we have to do to live up to that glory. 

And we may fail in it from time to time. 

But we will keep striving, because we want to be worthy soldiers of that king and his kingdom. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Share With You Our Very Selves

Homily this weekend covered: 
1) St. Paul's beautiful words about his missionary motive
2) how our parish has tried to emulate Paul this year
3) update on reallocating money from the campaign
4) concrete answers for getting out of our budget deficit 
5) concrete tool to help us achieve our financial needs

Stewardship 2017

Paul to Thessalonians 

“We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children. 
With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you
not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well,
so dearly beloved had you become to us. 
You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery. 
Working night and day”

Paul is in Corinth and he’s writing to his very first letter.

This is very likely the first written piece of the New Testament.

Two things I want to touch on.

First: the beautiful line:

“With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you
not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well,
so dearly beloved had you become to us.”

This is what Christian missionary spirit should be, hat Christian life should look like; it is the first written statement of what pattern a local church should be built on.

“we were determined to share with you
not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well”

our very selves

As Jesus was a gift to us, Paul determined to be self gift to his fellow Christians.

“Total gift of self” is a phrase we hear often.

It's at the core of the Christian story, starting with Jesus.

A year ago, as we were again preparing for our stewardship renewal weekend (which is next weekend) I preached on the idea that “Every thing I have I was given”.

All of our talents, abilities, even our breath, is not of our making.

I connected that to the Spiderman principle of “With great power comes great responsibility,” that, my gifts are given to me to be used wisely, 

I have the power; I must use that responsibly.

Jesus and Paul take that a step further with the idea of total gift of self 

“My gifts are given to me, and given to me to shared lovingly, generously, and sacrificially.”

And that ties in then with the second point of the Thessalonians quote:  

“You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery. 
Working night and day”

Paul was determined to give his very self and give it fully, holding nothing back.

Paul had become aware on the road to Damascus, not merely of what he was doing wrong, but also of the generous love of God, who would call him and save him rather than condemn him.

So he ran around the known world like he had his pants on fire, giving of himself, because he had been given so much.

That really is the starting point of stewardship.

Not that “We all have been given so much time, talent, and treasure, that we better share it.”

But that we have been given so much more than even that.

We have been given life and breath by our Father.

We have been given the saving death and resurrection of his Son.

We have been given new life and new direction by their Spirit.

And so our first thoughts on stewardship should really be thanks and praise to God and a burning desire to make his salvation and goodness to us known to others

So let’s start with that:

We have been blessed with 723 families

Between July of 2016 and June of 2017 (our fiscal year) we have had 30 baptisms

2 adults enter full communion with the Church

117 confirmations

44 first communions

5 weddings

20 funerals 

I calculate from the number of Hosts we buy, about 60,000 Communions

and hundreds if not thousands of confessions heard in this church 

But let’s not stop there

Dozens of parishioners go on retreats

Dozens of students go on mission trips 

About 160 on Totus Tuus 

Lenten Bible studies and a book study with our seminarian, Tony

Hundreds of hours from Altar society, PCCW, and St. Ludmillas, KofC, Saunders County Mens Group

Weekly Rosary on Tuesdays evenings, and before weekday and Sunday Masses

and probably 4000 or 5000 private holy hours in the church

We have untold hours of service and labor

maintenance and repairs; cleaning and cooking 

Teaching CCD, lectoring, singing, ushering

Committees served on,

Diaper drives, paper drives, and Lord only knows how many pounds of food and toilet paper for food pantry

For all that, I say “Thank you.”

We have a parish that longs to give of its very self and longs to work and live generously.

Just like Paul described. 

Soon you'll be getting your annual stewardship card in mail: sent out Friday morning 

What are those things that we can do?

Don’t look just for service opportunity.

Can you do something to make you grow?

Take a class, bible study, or make a retreat?

Plug: Light of the world, November 18-19th

Sign up by next weekend, 12th 

Contact Sally Gerdes

Can do other things not just on stewardship card 

Ministerial Association: could use fresh beef or pork at pantry

People ask about other benevolence or even a benevolent society: talk to me

Gas requests and lodging calls this week

Put your ideas on card and put them in the collection next week or mail send to office. 

I want to go back to updating you on stuff, let me update you about campaign reallocation

Don’t have an exact number of replies handy, but percent-wise, about 50% of all dollars given, we have heard back about

About $600,000

School: $250,000

Roof: $160,000

Sanctuary: $105,000

Front doors: $40,000

Speakers: $70,000

Budget shortfall: $45,000

Leave in: $50,000

Committee Decides: 155,000

Other: $65,000

Added a new category after town hall meetings: “Access, Safety, Security”

Several “Other” items had been for those type of things

Had been a big component of the original campaign plan

Might be the kind of thing then I would encourage “Committee Decides” to pursue

Might not be a brand new elevator 

But two south doors need help

Council decided on roof bids and I put in order Thursday

Speaker estimate, ready to go

Doors, still working

School: getting a team together to start looking at what we can do for $250-300K

Sanctuary, always going to be the one we could do in stages 

And again, all this is with just have the responses in already. 

Another half million, unalloted

Other updates:

No more Campaign auto-withdrawls after Dec 31


Confusion between 2nd collection, green envelope, yellow envelope, Capital Campaign

One green envelope “Building Maintenance Fund”

Second Collection still sometimes might go elsewhere (disaster relief), but Building Maintenance would remain in 2nd Collection

Note: recorded for taxes too

Heard at the town hall meetings on the breaking up the building campaign a lot about informing people more

Hard: some people want to know everything, some don’t at all.

“Don’t clog up Mass with it”

We have had Finance town halls but always had poor turnouts 

What we learned: when things are good, no one shows up; when struggling, people wish they have been told sooner

Bulletin will now include:
Sunday collection
Collection YTD 
Collection vs. Budget YTD

Track our health 

$1,268,176 = 2018 budget 

Divided by 52

$24,388 = need weekly 

So, in the 10th week, Mid March, total collection vs. $243,880 

You know we are hurting

Told you for two years now, serious deficits

and next year projected $196,000 shortfall, and that for a third year in a row 

What do we do?

Don’t just yell we need more money

Finger pointing:
Givers say ask the non-givers
Non-/small-givers point to those who have the most to give
Both point to the middle group, thinking they could increase more than either end

How do we all help? 

Rather than targeting one, how do we make a plan to move everybody up?

Finance committee been working on this for over a year now

Old saying: “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer: “One bite at a time.”

Well, when elephant is $200K deficit, gotta figure out how big a bites to take and how fast to chew.

Committee worked hard on the numbers to create a plan to help 

(Found in the bulletin, in the back of the Church, and on stewardship card.)

Pyramids/“Candy corn” 

5 ranges (from $1-499 up to Over $5,000)

And 178 families with nothing recorded 

10 And 10 Plan


10% of each level to move up one level

$2300 right now, can you bump up to above $2500?

Other part of the 10, give 10% more of current amount

So. If $1500, then another 150 for the year?

and then $50 per month challenge

178 no recorded giving

Another 148 under $500

Put together, of these 326 families giving less that $500 a year, 

can we get 100 families to give $50 a month, $12 a week?

Committee ran the numbers, and 

If we got that next year, we could half our shortfall 

Yes, only half.

It's an elephant.

One bite at a time.

How do we encourage new givers and make current givers more regular?

One more thing to share with you


We know that many people rely on electronic banking, 
rely on phones, 
don't carry cash

Text 77977

Message: SWCCNE 

(St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church Nebraska)

In about 3 seconds you’ll get the link

Take it to the PushPay portal

Doesn’t cost you anything 

Just to take a look

Electronic tithing is great for greater regularity...

But e-tithe is a a pain for many

Hard to set up, 
hard to change, 
can't monitor, 
can't do special collections, 
can't print contributions at year-end

All that is different now

In the site:

Top: Shows you the charity name 
(Our school eventually, other charities)

Two big buttons, one-time gift and recurring gift

Try both, see difference 

Amount, just make it a $1 to see it

Fund, click this to see option

St Wenceslaus CC (main Sunday collection)
Second Collection Bldg Maintenance 
All Saints Day
Bishops Appeal for Vocations

We often add special collections, hurricane and wildfires 

But also, like today, KofC Tootsie Rolls Drive

Perfect example: Walking out, your kids want tootsie rolls but you have either no cash on you or you have just $50 bill…

Well, refresh that screen and click Funds again. You’ll see that I just now, in 10 seconds, added another fund there “Tootsie Rolls” 

What PushPay gives us new:
Special collections 
Second collections when no cash

Go ahead “Next” and click see what the Payment screen looks like

Important: We’re not trying to switch everyone

Some people are Check People and are always going to be that

And if you currently do e-tithe, keep doing e-tithe

Our e-tithe through First Bank is free

PushPay is a service, so they get 
1% for checking account transfers, 
2% for debit card
3% for credit card

These numbers are pretty standard. It’s like what the Joy of Gospel used

But it's worth it for flexibility


Links to secure portal

It will offer you to download the PushPay app, which is password secure because it keeps info

Mine= thumbprint instead; remembers my sensitive data 

Process is constantly pushing you to make this easier on yourself. App, password, save data, refuse.

Personalized St. W parish app coming with same mechanics but connected to our website, content, bulletins, calendars

Not just smartphone, desktop too available here

Or just go to our parish website and click “Giving” in top right.

This is ideal:

continue what we have done,
no one has to switch 
add for special collections, 
and pick up new regulars

Once you have an account you can:

Go on and see all transactions 

Change as need be

Do second collections without envelopes

Print out contributions, but also know that we can and will combine all your numbers: PushPay, e-tithe, checks, cash in envelopes

You don't have to do this

But it’s easier for many people 

It helps people move up the pyramids 

More regular (and regular pays the bills) 

Catch those who can't help on special collections because "I never carry cash"

So today I just wanted to: Inform you about all this, thank you for what already do, and  encourage you with Stewardship card

We have already been blessed with loving, generous, involved parishioners...

And between stewardship cards 
and PushPay 
and the "10 and 10" plan 
and the $50 challenge 

We're just trying to make it easier for people to organize their already generous, loving work.