Monday, February 28, 2011

Be not afraid

It is so easy to fret, to worry about our finances, our jobs, our health, but then I remember that so many have suffered so much more than I can imagine. Look at our Lord, sinless--a sacrifice for us all--never complained, never felt sorry for himself. When  I find myself feeling frustrated with the way the world is going, the way my life is going, it helps to focus on the words of one of my favorite saints--hope you like it too.

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow. The same loving Father who cares for you today will care for you tomorrow and everyday. Either he will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings.
St. Francis de Sales

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why won't my kids go to church?

stainedglass5Amy O’Neill (last name changed for privacy) grew up in the Catholic Church, slacked off during her stint in the U.S Air Force and then stopped going to church altogether.

She stayed away for 20 years.

Even during those years, she considered herself Catholic.

O’Neill, 43, is a typical example according to a 2010 CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) survey finding that while 88 percent of U.S adult Catholics don’t attend Mass on a regular basis, they still consider themselves Catholic.

“I just didn’t think I needed to go,” she said. “I grew up in a household where we were forced to go to Mass each week and went to CCD classes. I made my first Communion and was confirmed like the rest of my siblings, but our family life was far from spiritual. When I left home, I just didn’t see the point in going.”

Now that she is the mother of a young son, O’Neill is not only attending Sunday Mass, but also having her son baptized and volunteering as a catechist in her parish.

“I think I appreciate it more than before,” she said. “I want to be here and I want my son to grow up loving his faith. I don’t want him to make the same mistakes I did – I had such an emptiness with the bad choices in my life, and the only thing that filled it was getting back into the church and participating in the sacraments.”

Kids don’t attend for many reasons

O’Neill’s experience is not unusual, but not associated with a fast-growing movement either, according to Dan Scholz, associate professor and chair of the religious studies/philosophy department at Cardinal Stritch University, and executive director of the St. Clare Center for Catholic Life.

Scholz recently made several presentations around the archdiocese on “Why Won’t My Kids Go to Church?”

“I think kids don’t attend church for many reasons, some of which include a lack of role modeling by adult lay Catholics and parents, the post-modern U.S. world that de-values faith and religion and a 40-year history of insufficient catechesis,” he said.

Whether it is suffering through Mass with a rambunctious toddler climbing over the pews and scaling the statues, a disgruntled teen who would rather be sleeping, a newly indifferent college student, or grandchildren attending a non-denominational church down the street, parents from all walks of life are challenged with children unwilling to attend church and follow in their faith.

Until recently, Teresa Hill, a member of St. James Parish, Kenosha, had no trouble getting her three children to attend Mass. Unless they were ill, Alyssa, 17, Derek, 16 and Andrea, 15, attended each week and participated in religious education classes. Lately, the teens have begun to rebel because Duane, their father, does not attend on a regular basis.

“They don’t understand why they have to go if he doesn’t,” said Teresa. “I tell them it is a sin not to go and it breaks the Third Commandment, which is ‘Keep Holy the Sabbath Day.’ My girls say they probably will not go once they are out of the house, but I tell them as long as they are in the house, they will go. My son is an altar boy and told me the other day that we should only have to go once a month. I told him that I did not make the rules; God did when he gave Moses the tablet with the Commandments on it. I told him that with all that God gives us, we should be able to give back an hour a week in gratitude and he agreed. Whew!”

Mom leads by example

Teresa is concerned that once the teens leave home, that they will shelve their Mass attendance and their faith with their high school diplomas. Her concerns bring her frequently before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer.

“I left the church for six years when I thought I knew everything,” she admitted. “I pray they never go through this, but I have a strong feeling they will. My ultimate prayer is that they never die without repentance so that they will have a chance to go to heaven. God gives us a free will. He wants us in heaven with him – I tell them that, too.”

Through leading by example, Teresa hopes her children will remain grounded in the Catholic faith. She openly shares Jesus’ love, attends Benediction with her children and encourages them to attend holy hours.

“I read miracle stories and talk to them about the miracles that have happened in my life,” she said. “I tell them that the Mass is heaven on earth and I tell them we are privileged to receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Mass. No other religion receives his true Body and Blood. I tell them about all the people that walked away from Jesus and I ask them not to walk away.”

Laziness is primary reason

Despite working as director of administration at St. Robert Parish, Union Grove, and serving as a liturgical musician at her parish, St. Francis de Sales, Lake Geneva, Sarah and Scott Gray’s two sons are no longer regular Mass attendees.

“They grew up attending Catholic school and both went to Mass regularly until they turned 18,” Sarah said. “They never fought it because they knew it was expected, but once they became legal adults, they stopped going every week.”

At first, Sarah was disappointed, but then remembered that she, too, was not a regular, practicing Catholic when she was a young adult either.

“I know that they are believers, and at this point, that is all I can hope for and pray that they will find their way to whatever they are supposed to be when ready or when God calls them,” she said.

“At first it bothered me that they stopped going, but right now I think the primary reason is that they are lazy and want to sleep. We don’t fight about it; they know that church and my faith are important to me. But I can tell by the way they live their lives that what they learned throughout their childhood and youth has stuck with them in regards to their faith, because even though they aren’t going they are still living their lives as if they do. The faith has permeated their lives and that, to me, is more important than anything.”

Situation is common

The Gray’s and Hill’s situation is a common one, and according to Scholz, four generations comprise the world and help to explain the overall feelings of religious apathy.

The Greatest Generation, born in 1945 and before, the Baby Boomers, 1946-1964, Generation X, 1965-1979, and the Millennials, 1980-2000 and within the wide variation of ages, are moments in history that have significantly altered the framework of family and faith.

Scholz considers the 1960s, “The race to the moon” era, marred by the Vietnam War and public assassinations of U.S. leaders.

“The 1970s are remembered for Watergate, the energy crisis, the beginning of the Middle East dance, and latch-key kids,” he said. “The 1980s are remembered for John Paul II, the collapse of Russia, and the birth of technology.”

The 1990s bring memories of the Challenger space flight, Columbine, and helicopter parents. The 2000s are remembered for 9/11, the war on terror and lawnmower parents – those who attempt to mow down and smooth out all obstacles in their child’s path.

Somewhere along the way, following in the family faith no longer was a natural occurrence.

“The problem, though, isn’t just with today’s kids,” said Scholz. “The problem spans three generations: Baby-boomers, Gen-Xers and the Millenials.”

Death of faith and reason

Rather than serving Jesus and the church, the “religion” of the United States has become the death of faith and reason, explained Scholz, who cites as examples: bumper stickers articulating popular social, political and cultural conversations, and the age of technology.  Finally, the reversal of respect for adults with TV programs such as ‘Are you smarter than a 5th grader?’ in which children are treated as if they are superior to adults.
Wearing down the faith structure with books and movies such as “The Da Vinci Code,” the sex abuse crisis, lack of understanding of basic catechism such as the Ten Commandments and the meaning of the Eucharist have eroded the fabric of Catholicism among families.

“We need to be better role models for our children, and we need to tell our kids the truth about what they are missing when they opt not to attend church,” said Scholz. “I tell adult children who don’t want to attend that their attitude is, in part, an indictment against us who are charged with passing on the faith. And, in part, a reflection of success of the unofficial state religion of the U.S. – moral relativism and secular humanism.”

Demographics show that the largest religious denomination in the U.S. still belongs to Roman Catholics with 70 million members. The second largest religious denomination comprises 26 million “fallen-away” Catholics. The greatest challenge is in retaining the practicing Catholics and bringing back those who have put their faith on a shelf. Doing that requires a commitment to learning how to become defenders of the faith.

‘Meet them where they’re at’

“I have noticed that many of us, kids and adults, are far too religious illiterate and ill-prepared to defend the faith to the larger secular culture,” said Scholz.

As a core team member for Crossroad Lifeteen, Eric Antrim, a member of St. Therese the Little Flower Parish, Kenosha, regularly encourages teens who aren’t enthusiastic about attending church or growing as Catholics.

“I think the best way for me is to just meet them where they are at – really listen to them and just be real with them,” he said. “They don’t want fake; they really do want the truth, so just being yourself and being honest with them gets them to follow and trust you. As St. John Bosco said, ‘Get them to love you and they will follow you anywhere.’”

As a father of three children, ages 17, 11, and 10, Scholz and his wife, Bonnie, a choral music director and performing arts chair at Pius XI High School, have also struggled with encouraging their children to attend Mass and grow in their faith.

“I know of no one who doesn’t face this challenge,” he said. “Our surrounding culture and recent U.S history has a profound impact on our kids and us, which, in turn, has significant impact on this issue.”

To combat the trend of indifferent Catholics, Scholz states five ways to not only get the kids to attend church, but to keep them there into adulthood.

“The kids know today that the world is dangerous and unsafe,” he said, “But they need to know that the world was created by God and it is ‘good.’”

Popular culture dictates that adults are not as smart as children, but they need to know that adults are in control and know what they are doing.

“They are told that adults cannot be trusted, but they need to know and believe that adults will keep them safe,” Scholz said. “They are told that religion is a private, individual, relative choice, but in essence, religion is communal and sacramental.”

Finally, kids believe that computers, the Internet, Facebook and Twitter control all things, but they need to know that God is the Lord of history and the universe and nothing is more powerful.

Most importantly, Scholz encourages parents to tell their children the truth about the Catholic faith.

“Mass is our human encounter with the divine, the resurrected Christ,” he said. “Be a role model for your kids by going to church yourself! See you at Mass.”

Scholz said sharing one’s faith and experiences will bring a human side to the Catholic faith and give children and teens a way to relate to parents through evangelizing moments.

“Show your kids how to exercise an adult faith life in your parish. Assume responsibility for the success of your parish,” he said. “Be counter-cultural and defend your faith to your kids. Educate and form yourself in our Catholic faith.”

Monday, February 21, 2011

Musings of Fondness and gratitude

While no life is perfect by any means, I find that the older I get, just how much I appreciate situations that formed my life as it is today. Without the sufferings, the trials, the joys, sorrows and reconciliations--I would not understand and grasp any of the lessons that Christ has been trying to teach me.

Of course, it was at times, quite challenging to raise and homeschool five children so close in age, but I am happy that I did it. How many parents are privy to so many adorable phrases, actions, and loving antics of their offspring on a day to day basis?

Finances were always tight, but we grew close between washing the cloth diapers, to baking homemade bread together, cooking dinners, and making creative crafts and gifts. Lessons in compassion and caring about others happened nearly every day as we visited their great grandparents in the nursing home and we wept together as God brought them home to Heaven.We examined pond water under a microscope, dissected small creatures and even a random cow eyeball to see how everything worked--all amazing revelations on how Our Father brought all the lessons together under his umbrella of Creation.

From Kelly my eldest to Sean, Ryan, Molly and Erin, my youngest, each child has his or her unique qualities--all a gift from Our Lord above. Each has chosen their own special path and it is exciting to see the many ways God is leading them and continues to guide their ways. And now we reach our second generation with beautiful cherubic faced grandchildren.--what a blessing life is, another lesson on how we cannot, for a minute, take it for granted.

I treasure each of my three brothers John, Mike, Andy and my sister Amy, for in their faces, shine the spirits and eyes of our late parents. My wish for them as for my children and grandchildren is everlasting happiness, and joy in our Lord Jesus Christ. May God bring us all together, ease any hurts with the Balm of Gilead and restore all the innocent love of childhood.

 I thank you Dear Jesus and I thank Our Blessed Mother Mary for your love, mercy and grace to endure all of life's trials.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Praying for those who Persecute you

Just imagine, getting into heaven, and the first person you meet is the one you liked least on earth? Yes, it’s possible. After all, God loves that person just as much as he loves you. Or what about all the evil characters you’ve read about in the Bible— people like Pharaoh, or Jezebel, or King Herod? They don’t fall outside the scope of God’s loving intentions either. What God wants for you is what he also wants for your irritating family member, your nosy neighbor, as well as history’s worst villians—that they be “perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Here’s another shocker! Your enemy can help you move toward that seemingly insurmountable goal of perfection. Jesus’ command to be perfect appears right after he explains how to treat those who hate us: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:44-45). In other words, if you want to be perfect, begin by loving your enemies.
That is one tough task, often I will say to Our Lord, “This is too much-I just can't do it."
But, of course it's impossible, it’s beyond human ability—or at least it would be, if it weren't for the blood of Jesus, that He shed for us on Calvary. 
For all of us who hold unresolved issues, or resentments, try to listen with the Lord's heart today. Instead of harboring spiteful thoughts, writing hateful emails or comments, or gossiping about others, say a short prayer for that person or persons who comes to mind. Think about whether there are other people you should be loving more than you do, people who may love you and you can't even see it—not “enemies” exactly but people you may take for granted, look down on, or consider unworthy.
Start with those nearest to you, and related to you. Pay attention to the thoughts that traverse your mind as you watch the news or see a person in need. Ask God’s forgiveness when you discover your own shortcomings. Take advantage of God's grace, His very invitation to love, and His perfection and Holiness will begin to shine out in you.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Kenosha eyeing regional Catholic education model

KENOSHA — Despite a 40 percent increase in enrollment over the past three years, and plans for becoming a leader in the comprehensive K-8 plan for Catholic education, staff, teachers and students were stunned to learn in mid-January that St. Peter School, which has 104 students in Pre-K–8, will close at the end of the 2010-11 school year.

The closure is in addition to the decision at the end of last year to merge Mt. Carmel/St. Therese School, which has 67 students in Pre-K–6.

St. Peter principal Jaki Grajera anticipated the school would remain open as administrators were in the process of developing a plan with Holy Rosary, St. Mary and Mt. Carmel/St. Therese to design a collaborative plan with shared resources.

“St. Peter comes to the table with a wealth of marketing and development ideas, a strong curriculum, and educationally forward thinking, while the other schools are sharing their ideas of expertise,” Grajera wrote in the Oct. 3, 2010, parish bulletin. “St Peter School’s reputation in the community is one of growth. I am certain that our growth is largely due to positive word of mouth, our enthusiastic and dedicated staff and the strength of our ever-evolving educational program.”

Faced with the news of closure earlier in the year, Fr. Michael Nowak, pastor of St. Therese Parish, said it has become nearly impossible for parishes to finance schools on their own.

“Parishes are running on a deficit,” he said. “It can’t continue and we need to make some hard decisions and develop a model that will benefit all of the schools in the area. The decisions are hard, there’s no doubt about that and there are a lot of emotions, no one wants to see their school closed.”

School staff, faculty and parishioners received a letter announcing the closing from Brenda White, associate superintendent for archdiocesan Catholic schools. In it, White explained that the Kenosha Collaborative for Catholic Education has been working since July 2010 to develop a model to support and sustain Catholic education for the City of Kenosha and the surrounding area.

“The goal of this collaboration is to provide a regional model for Catholic education which is accessible, affordable, and available to all families in the Kenosha area,” she wrote. “Furthermore, the collaboration must present for approval to the Archbishop of Milwaukee, a model for Catholic Education that is truly collaborative among the parishes of the region, as well as the existing Catholic school system in the city.”

While the Kenosha Collaboration is developing a proposal for the archbishop outlining the facilities, funding and governance involved with maintaining K-8 schools in conjunction with the existing K-12 St. Joseph Academy, the committee agreed Tuesday Jan. 18, that K-8 programming will be conducted at two sites in the city.

“These campuses are the present St. Mary and Holy Rosary school sites,” said White. “Other parish schools may be utilized for other educational opportunities to be further discussed, including an Early Childhood Development Center, lifelong faith formation, retreat facilities, and/or partnering with area Catholic universities for continuing education.”

While the final model for education is not completed, several key elements are needed for feasibility of the project. Financial support from all 10 of the parishes in the Kenosha region will fund the comprehensive educational plan.

“The specific formula for financial support for all of Catholic education in the Kenosha region is being developed collaboratively by members of the Kenosha Collaboration, St. Joseph’s Academy and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in order to assure an equitable assessment of the parishes based on their financial strengths and existing obligations,” explained White. She added, “A three-year commitment is requested from each of the parishes in the Kenosha region to support Catholic education in order to assure fiscal stability in the near future.”

In upcoming weeks, the Collaboration will develop a formal presentation of the plan to Archbishop Listecki. In it will be a letter of commitment from each of the pastors from the Kenosha region, a facilities plan, a funding model, a system of governance, an education plan, and a plan to hire faculty and staff.

“There is a lot to do and there is a lot of expertise and knowledgeable people to speak with,” said White. “We have some really fine parish leaders, principals and pastors involved in this. I wish we had the plan all laid out, but we have done a lot of work on this and have a lot left to do. We are creating something new to bring vibrancy and a sustainable model to secure Catholic education for future generations. We want our kids and today’s kids’ grandkids to be able to have a Catholic education in the City of Kenosha and elsewhere in the diocese.”

Julie Wolf, communications director for the archdiocese, agreed and added that while the change is very difficult and emotional for everyone involved, it is important to retain and expand affordable Catholic education in Kenosha.

“Everyone on the Collaboration Committee is committed to Catholic education and committed to making it accessible and affordable in the Kenosha region,” she said. “We are committed to keeping the people informed as the process unfolds.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

Speaking to my heart

Today was the first time since my surgery that I took Argyle out for his morning walk
The past ten days have been difficult for me spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I find myself worrying about our future, family, finances, where I fit in the grand scheme of things and often, the tears flow.

But leave it to our Lord to allow only a smattering of self-loathing before He intervenes--sometimes it is the small things that wake us up, a smile from a stranger, a kind word from a friend, a surprise in the mail, and other times, like this morning--it only required me going outside and paying attention.

I could not help but remember St. Faustina when I saw the rainbow coming straight down from a cloud onto the snow below. It was in the field across the street, I stood and stared and knew, it was Him. Deep within my spirit, I heard His voice saying, "I have great plans for you. All is well."

After I hobbled in to get the camera, I heard the voice again and remembered the passage from Jeremiah 29:11. Immediately, I was filled with hope, anticipation and comfort. Thanks be to God

"For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Home-like facility helps capture memories

OLAfirstAn architectural rendering shows what the completed Our Lady of the Angels facility will look like on the grounds of the Clement Manor Campus, Greenfield. The facility, set to open this month, will house 48 School Sisters of St. Francis and School Sisters of Notre Dame, who struggle with memory issues. The $5 million project is a collaborative venture between the congregations. (Submitted sketch)

For decades they wiped noses, took temperatures, taught children to read, served as administrators, musicians, nurses and support staff. They unselfishly performed community service and served as pastoral care ministers. They were hardworking, diligent and entrusted every aspect of their lives to God.

Now, as the members of the School Sisters of St. Francis and School Sisters of Notre Dame age and struggle with memory issues, a personalized care residence home is opening in early February to provide for them as they did for others.

Located on the southwest corner of Clement Manor Campus, Our Lady of the Angels, Greenfield, is a collaborative venture that will provide memory care and related services for members of those religious communities.

The residence will serve 48 sisters from around the state that will live in four communities of 12. Each will have a private room with a bathroom and accessible shower and each will be treated in a compassionate, enriching environment to give them the best quality of life as they live with memory loss, explained School Sister of St. Francis Regina Pacis Meservey, coordinator of sponsorship services for the United States province.

“The whole facility is designed to be home-like,” said Sr. Regina. “This will also be achieved by quality state-of-the-art specialized programming that the sisters will be able to exercise choice related to their interests and previous backgrounds, from what time they want to get up, eat or in finding their untapped talents.”

For those adept at solving puzzles, playing cards, painting, drawing or music, Our Lady of the Angels staff will provide resources and encouragement to tap into the sisters’ gifts.

“We wanted a state-of-the-art facility to encourage our sisters to explore and revisit their specialties. We will have multiple programming going on at one time,” explained Sr. Regina, adding, “For example, on one end of the room, one of the sisters might be playing the piano or organ and others might be working on a puzzle, reading or playing a game of cards. This need to exercise choice is in very great need in a number of women’s religious communities as well as for priests of the archdiocese and other religious communities.”

Natural lighting, screened porches, garden areas and courtyards visible from each of the bedrooms, and all without disruptive alarms alerting staff to someone going outside, are ways to ensure the residence is homelike.

“We want this place to be as nice as the freedom you have in your own home,” said Sr. Regina, “But we have so much more, too, such as a reflection room for quiet prayer, rosary or Benediction, a eucharistic chapel, rehabilitation areas, exercise room and spa, beauty salon and many activities.”
The project, which the congregations hope will be a model for other memory care facilities, began in 2006 with nine groups discussing the best means to meet the needs of the aging members coping with memory loss. Plans to build the memory care facility on the Clement Manor Campus, a non-profit retirement community sponsored by the School Sisters of St. Francis, evolved.

“After two years of discussions, it was decided that our two orders would sponsor the non-profit residence and we utilized an excess piece of land on the Manor Campus,” said Sr. Regina. “We also knew that we would not have a successful project if we didn’t collaborate by using the strengths of our religious orders, and our partners in the Community Care Pace Program in the city and, of course, Clement Manor.”

The Pace program will provide nursing services for the sisters, and Clement Manor will provide support services such as dining, housekeeping, laundry and maintenance.

Additional assistance by the Alzheimer Association will equip staff members in providing person-centered care. The research by the Alzheimer Association is so effective, that work in memory care is different from just five years ago.

“We are learning that even a piece of chocolate can do a better job of calming patients than giving them certain medications,” said Sr. Regina. “We want them living in the moment and we want them to have company. They are happy and contented when someone visits with them. They may not remember yesterday, but every day should be peaceful.”

Every detail for the $5 million project was planned with the comfort of the sisters in mind, she said. Funding came with help from the National Religious Retirement Office, the religious communities and private donors. While it was paramount the home be under Mary’s protection and patronage, the name Our Lady of the Angels compliments both orders.

“We studied the beginnings of our order and found that St. Francis of Assisi had a favorite chapel called the Portiuncula. He frequently went there to get reconnected with God and that little chapel today sits in a large basilica in Assisi, called Our Lady of the Angels. We also had a western province that was named Our Lady of the Angels,” explained Sr. Regina. “We also found that the Sisters of Notre Dame had a connection that goes back to the foundress of the order, named Mother Caroline. She had a main chapel in the old motherhouse dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels. This was a moment of ‘aha’ that this has meaning for both orders from the beginning.”

Recovering from knee surgery is not fun

I am not a patient person
I don't like sitting around
and really, being a patient is extremely arduous on one who is not patient--yes, I sense the redundancy in my phraseology. 

Not sure what I was expecting, but 8 days after surgery I was hoping for a bit more than a leg that swells up like a watermelon, that keeps me awake at night, has me wincing when I climb my stairs and at times, makes me cry like a baby. 

The physical torturist, yes, I said torturist, assures me that my progress is going quite well and I am just where I am supposed to be and I should allow myself to rest. 

Ah, that's the rub--inherently, it was ingrained in us that we were NOT to rest, but remain busy at all times doing something useful. Perhaps, in my aging state of nearly 51, I need to listen to the voices of my husband and doctor rather than the ghosts of my parents telling me to keep busy. 

So, I think I'll cut myself a little slack and curl up with the book my friend Sheila sent to me--a gift meant for me to savor. 

Maybe tomorrow I'll feel more like scaling the Himalayas!