Monday, December 11, 2017

Living Stones - Parishes Unite


     When I was asked by Fr. Murray if I’d be willing to serve on this committee, I was excited about the opportunity to represent the parishioners of Holy Family, honored to be asked to serve, and curious as to what role I might play in the overarching process. As far as the curiosity, I was unsure of the impact that I might have as some told me that they believed that the outcome was predetermined.  Nothing could have been further from the truth, so I soon learned.
     Our “mission” is given the challenges facing the Diocese at large, in terms of decreased active participation in their faith of Catholics, a decrease in vocations, and other factors, plan how to best serve the Catholic Community of Watertown based on the assignment of one pastor and one parochial vicar at some point in the future. Note that I said our mission “is” as this is an ongoing process and I believe it will be continuous as we adapt to ever-changing conditions. Though the Living Stones Committee may evolve over time and at some point disband, I do believe that we, as a faith community, will continue this mission.
     As far as expectations, I began the process with a belief that I was to be an advocate for my parish and try to preserve the status quo. That belief quickly changed as I gained a better understanding that our mission was to plan to serve the entire Catholic community and not just our parish.
    There are several things that I learned during the meetings, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on two:
     First, I learned that the challenges facing our parishes extend well beyond local, diocesan or even national levels. The crisis facing the church is very broad. The Catholic population in the United States has undergone some striking demographic shifts for several decades. For example, the Catholic population has lost more members than it has gained from religious switching. In fact, one in ten adults in the United States is a former Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2009 report “Faith in Flux.” We are now dealing with the impacts of these shifts both locally and nationally. The Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut is in the process of reducing their number of parishes from 212 to 147. The Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey is in the process of merging 10% of its parishes. The Archdiocese of New York has consolidated over 140 parishes since 2015. So, know that Watertown, New York is not alone in its challenges.
     Second, though many people are very passionate about their faith community, there appears to also be a great amount of either apathy or futility as evidenced by the lack of participation in these town halls. The perceived apathy may be reflective of some of the challenges that we face; namely, decreased active participation among the Catholic community. We all need to reflect and talk to others who may not be present here to attempt to identify why parishioners are seemingly apathetic about potential changes among the parishes. This will help better inform our planning process. I do realize that some of the perceived apathy may come from a feeling of futility based on a belief that the decisions have already been made. Know that this is not an accurate belief.  We had many spirited discussions within the Living Stones Committee and evaluated feedback from the broader Catholic community as brought forward by committee members. Thus, this plan has been informed by your feedback as given and there was no predetermined outcome.
     As for passion, though passion for faith community can be a good thing, passion focused in the wrong manner can be dangerous and lead to divisions within the Catholic community. This potential is addressed in the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians where he speaks to Divisions in the Church as follows:
     “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I am thankful that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius; lest anyone should say that you were baptized in my name. For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
     Throughout this process, I learned that this plan is about our Catholic Community meaning the Church as the Body of Christ. Though we may have been baptized in Holy Family Parish, Saint Patrick Parish, Saint Anthony Parish or any other, we were all baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. We need to remember that going forward, and as we approach a day when we may have to implement this plan, to avoid divisiveness among our Catholic family. In the face of this crisis, we are all being called to serve and furthermore to lead. The problems that face us are not solely the responsibility of the Pope, the Cardinals, the Bishops, the Pastors or any one group or individual. Rather, they are the responsibility of all of us. If we hope to leave a vibrant church for our children and generations to come, then the solutions must come from all of us and be supported by all of us. We all need to be pulling in the same direction. So, I’ll leave you with two passages, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.

From The Book of Isaiah: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

And, again, from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians: “Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”

Thank you.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

God Is Not Nice - An Invitation to Study More

I know that this does not sound like a good title, but it is an excellent title.  Richard Niebuhr stated eighty years ago about a religion which Americans have seemed to embrace: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross."  Speaking about the author, Ulrich Lehner, Scott Hahn states: "Ulrich Lehner is not the first to observe that the preaching of this nice gospel corresponds rather exactly to the collapse of Christianity in the global North and West.  We may instinctively like a nice God -- and even go so far as to "like" him on social media.  But will we make sacrifices for him and to him?  Will we be willing to die for him?  Will we make the effort to get out of bed early to praise his name?"
    Both Lehner and Hahn are accurate and describe well what has happened to the practice of our faith both in the church building as well as on Main Street.
    I would like to invite parishioners to read this book and give it some serious thought.  The book is worthy of discussion among the interested.  So, I will offer discussion sessions on the book on the following dates:
     February 5, 12, 19, 26
     March 12, 26
     April 2
All sessions will begin at 6:30 pm.  All sessions will be in Msgr. Sechi Hall.  Participants will have to purchase their own copy of the book.  Currently the price is $12.34 on Amazon.  Even though I have read it on my Kindle, you may want to consider a printed version because it is the type of book that you will want to underline and write comments in the columns.  Don't forget to go through the parish website to purchase the book.  We will divine up the book into sections for our weekly discussions
     If you were annoyed by the opening comments in this notice, then you are a good candidate to participate in this group.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Living Stones - Holy Family, St. Patrick, St. Anthony


      Faced with a declining number of available clergy and a shifting and dwindling population, the Diocese of Ogdensburg has engaged in finding updated ways to provided pastoral care for the people throughout the Diocese.  Several years ago, the Diocese engaged in an activity known as an Envisioning Process.  This process led to the formulation of six goals, one of which is entitled “Living Stones”, a reviewing and analyzing of parishes throughout the diocese to ensure appropriate pastoral coverage for all.
In Watertown, the parishes of Holy Family, St. Patrick, and St. Anthony were directed to formulate a plan so that the three parishes could be linked in some way under the direction of one pastor, one parochial vicar (assistant pastor) and adequate pastoral staff including deacons and lay pastoral associates.
Under the chairmanship of Msgr. Robert H. Aucoin, pastor of St. Patrick’s and St. Anthony’s, two parishes that were previously linked, a steering committee was formed consisting of Fr. Steven Murray and three representatives from each of the parishes.  This committee was tasked to design a pastoral plan specific for the three areas now served by these three parishes with an eye toward the current situation and the potential for future growth of the Catholic community.
Topics to be discussed and submitted to the Diocese of Ogdensburg for approval include: the Sunday Mass schedules and locations, weekday Mass schedules, ministry to the sick and homebound, sacramental preparation, faith formation for school-aged children and adults, the number and type of advisory councils, the location of parish offices, the residence for the clergy, finances, human resources, youth ministry, young adult ministry, and, ultimately, what arrangement of the three existing parishes and worship sites will best serve the Catholics of Watertown with vibrant faith-filled communities, while keeping the particular customs and practices now found in the individual parishes.
To date, the local committee has met on three occasions and will continue to meet monthly.  The pastors are reporting back to their parishes and their pastoral councils on a regular basis.  At some time in the future, there will be  a form of town meetings for parishioners.  During that forum, the work of the Living Stones Committee will be presented and input from attendees will be gathered.
Besides Father Murray and Msgr. Aucoin, the committee members are from Holy Family:  John Eisenhauer, Dan Charlebois, and Maureen Van Wormer; from St. Anthony: Garry Puccia, Peter Souch, and Patti Widrick; from St. Patrick: Nate Holloway,  Pam Kennedy, and Thomas Deusser.    

The committee would like your input concerning Mass times.  Please complete this survey by clicking here.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

City-Wide Parish Mission - April 2, 3, 4, 5 - Donna Cori Gibson

You're invited... a free concert series, with internationally known Catholic recording artist, Donna Cori Gibson. Come for 4 uplifting evenings of spiritual music, scripture, stories, and prayer, one at each of the 4 parishes of Waterton, NY. There will be a different theme each evening at 7:00 pm: Eucharist, Mary, Stations of the Cross with video in the background and Prayer.
Sunday, Apr. 2 @ St. Patrick Church, 123 S. Massey St.
Monday, Apr. 3 @ Holy Family, 129 Winthrop St.
Tuesday, Apr. 4 @ St. Anthony, 850 Arsenal St.
Wednesday. Apr. 5 @ Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, 320 W. Lynde St.
info: 315-782-1190
Preview all songs and videos AND get FREE music downloads at:
This is a free admission event so bring your family and tell your friends!
Please help us out and forward this email to as many people as you can.
Thank you and God Bless You!
Click on the video below to experience some of Donna's faith and music.

Lenten Concert Series

About Donna and the Concerts
Once a professional singer/songwriter in NY's secular market, now a Lay Carmelite, Donna can be seen on Catholic TV programs and heard on stations around the world singing music that includes word for word prayers from the Bible (singing helps memorization), the Saints, and well-known prayers of the Church all done in radio friendly style. Heard on EWTN and Catholic radio/TV, Donna travels throughout the continent and internationally sharing the Catholic Faith with music, scripture, teaching, stories, video and prayer. Her amazing, beautiful and powerful voice is sure to captivate you and draw you in to prayer and praise.

Friday, February 17, 2017

New Resident - 850 Arsenal St.

Most of you know that I have a cat - Reggie for Regina.  She is a very friendly cat and loves attention and people.  However, I recently added a new member to the family - Snickers, a golden doodle, born Nov 22, 2016.  Snickers is also a female.  The encounter between Snickers and Reggie has not exactly been a match made in heaven.  However, after two weeks, they seem to endure one another.  There have been no bruises, scrapes, bumps, or bites...just an occasional bark from Snickers or an occasional hiss from Reggie.
   Probably, Reggie feels that her turf has been invaded.  Snickers just wants to engage in puppy play with Reggie.  However, Reggie is far beyond puppy play.  She's a tad more sophisticated, as any cat lover would tell you.
    Both Snickers and Reggie love does their owner.  So, do not hesitate to stop in and visit our newest parishioner.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Catholic Schools - A Blessing But Not In Disguise

     On Sunday, January 29, we began our annual celebration of Catholic Schools Week, an opportunity to reflect on the value of our Catholic schools.  We are happy that our community has strong Pre-K to 12 Catholic School to serve the people of Jefferson County.  
     Catholic schools are faith environments.  The primary reason for the existence of Catholic schools is our Catholic Faith.  The Catholic schools were founded for faith reasons.  Yes, they were in competition with public schools, but for one reason only - to assist parents to raise their children in the Catholic faith.  In their beginning, the founders recognized that public schools were opposed to the Catholic Church.  Thus, they established their own schools to assure that the schools continued to  teach and to live their Catholic heritage so that the children could embrace the faith as had their parents.
     I admit and recognize that today not all parents choose Catholic schools for that same reason.  Discipline, structure, sports, academic achievement, small classes, after school programs may be today's reasons for choosing Immaculate Heart.  Likewise, I admit that some come to the school who are not Catholic and who may not be Christian.  Sadly, I also admit that faith does not play an active role in the lives of some Catholic school parents who do not take an active role in their parishes or who do not worship with the Catholic community on weekends.
     All of these negatives do not negate the founding reason for our Catholic schools nor will they cause a change in why we continue to have Catholic Schools, especially Immaculate Heart Central.  
     An article recently appeared in The Priest magazine.  The article, written by a Father Scott Jablonski in Madison, Wisconsin, succinctly outlines the basic reasons for the continued value of Catholic schools.  I resume his thought here.

1.  Catholic Schools Form Saints
Now, I realize that statement may sound rather bold!  However, isn't the goal of Christianity to make us saints?  Didn't St. Paul refer to the early Christians as saints?  Sainthood was not a fait accompli.  Rather, sainthood was a goal being worked on by living the Christian life in its fullness.  All schools teach skills: reading, writing, arithmetic, etc, etc, etc.  However, the goal in public education is that these skills will help students get a good education, and good college education leading to making lots of money.  Catholic schools at all levels may teach these skills, and, yes, they may lead to the job of a lifetime, but that is not their goal in a Catholic school.  Rather, these skills are aimed at forming saints, to give them the skills to be of service to one another and to the community, and to fulfill their God-given potential.

2.  Catholic Schools Instill in Students the Conviction that Truth Exists and that Truth Can Be Known.
The current scourge in society is relativism, a false belief promoting the idea that what the person believes to be true is true, what the person believes is valuable is valuable.  Jesus was very clear in the gospel of John in declaring that he is the way, the truth, and the life.  Rampant in our society is the false belief that whatever the majority believes to be true and good is true and good.  Pope Benedict XVI spent much of his writing disproving such a view.  

3.  Catholic Schools Teach Children Their God-given Dignity
The fundamental dignity of each person is rooted in the fact that we are made in God's image.  This image of God must be respected by ourselves and others.  Likewise we must respect every other person from conception to natural death as the person returns to God.  Yes, competition can exist, but competition is meant to bring out our best, not to belittle the other, but rather to help the other also achieve maximum potential.

4.  Catholic Schools Form Students in Moral Virtue
All behavior has moral consequences.  Society today does not like to admit that reality especially when it believes that there is no objective truth and thus no objective morality.  Lying, hatred, violence, cheating, every man for himself represent the behaviors of so many.  Just watch the physical and psychological violence prevalent in many reality TV shows and so many current movies.  So much of what we experience in contemporary music, media, and even the news is the exact opposite of the Beatitudes, the Ten Commandments, the cardinal and the theological virtues.  Thankfully, there are Catholic schools where all can live and teach the Gospel message.

5.  Catholic Schools Offer Hope
"A future full of hope" are words used by Jeremiah in proclaiming the coming of the Messiah.  Yes, we live in the world of "right now."  No one can deny that.  However, the Christian perspective tells us that the world of right now is incomplete without the message of Jesus Christ such that what we have now can become better and ultimately lead to eternal life.  The Catholic schools insist that there is more to life than a good job, material success, the so-called good life.  Catholic schools believe that we are called to more and that every person should become the person that God wants him or her to become.  In life we should never believe that we have made it.  Rather, we should always believe that in following Jesus Christ we are becoming more of what God wants us to become.

The text of the original article can be found here.