Online at Yield and Overcome Since 2007 — Fighting the Good Fight In These Parts Since 2011

Monday, September 15, 2014

Why Are We Here?

Blogger's Note: For those few of you who still follow this blog and don't attend St. Michael Catholic Church, the article below was published in the Sunday, Sept. 14, church bulletin as part of a regular monthly faith formation column.

This weekend’s Fall Festival is a great opportunity to support our parish and grow in community. Surely it is a sign of life in our local Body of Christ that so many people spend this weekend here, year after year, in fellowship and service. The chairpeople and volunteers, the sponsors and donors, and everyone who works to make this weekend a success deserve our gratitude – so please remember them in your prayers!

It also important, however, that we remember why we do these things. This summer, a friend shared an article with me entitled “Vibrant Isn’t About Busy: Organizing Parish Life for Discipleship.” The article made the case that while an abundance of activities and programs might seem important for attracting people to the faith, quite often these programs are actually distracting from activities like prayer and the sacraments that promote spiritual growth. Parishioners can find themselves so caught up in the busy-ness of it all that they forget that these offerings are not an end in themselves. They only matter if they lead us closer to God and heaven.

With that in mind, you should notice a distinct shift in the emphasis and tone of our faith formation activities this year, beginning with LIFT-Off, our program kickoff event on Wednesday, Sept. 24, at 6:30 p.m. In years past, LIFT-Off has been a combination of entertainment and logistics—something fun for the kids, along with information and scheduling details for the parents. This year, instead, we are opening LIFT-Off with Mass, followed by a brief personal witness or two about the power of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to transform families. This is a great opportunity to spend a little extra time with Our Lord at the beginning of the academic year, and we’d like to invite everyone in the parish to join us and pray for the success of our faith formation and sacramental programs.

If you haven’t been to a weekday Mass recently, know that both the Mass and the witness should last only about an hour combined. Confirmation families will need to stay a bit longer to meet with Father and me about sacramental preparation; everyone else should be free by about 7:30 p.m. to pick up their LIFT materials and head home. Our goal is to give you an opportunity to spend some time with God giving thanks for His blessings and specifically praying about the needs of your family.

It’s not always easy to commit to family faith formation, weekly or daily Mass, or regular Confession—but we know that parents who make prayer and the sacraments a priority in their lives have children who do the same.  We also know that, with a heart open to God’s graces, what starts as an obligation can become a habit and then a joy. Please consider this year’s LIFT-Off to be a step toward a sacramental life and a renewed relationship with Jesus, and take great hope in His reassuring words to us from the Gospel of Matthew: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Monday, August 25, 2014

‘Make Straight the Way of the Lord’

Blogger's Note: For those few of you who still follow this blog and don't attend St. Michael Catholic Church, the article below was published in the Sunday, Aug. 24, church bulletin at our pastor's request as a the first of a regular monthly faith formation column.

It’s been an eventful last few weeks. Early in the month, I survived my first-ever Vacation Bible School, a sort of faith formation director boot camp, helping to wrangle 175 children, age four through sixth grade. I want to thank Kathy Pope for all her work to plan and staff the week’s activities, and the countless adult and teen teachers who worked so hard to make VBS a success. God bless you!

Almost immediately, my family and I headed north to Camp Lebanon, where I was greeted by a throng of green-shirted, high-fiving VBSers who knew me by name (Mr. Thorp, in most cases) and expected me to know them, as well. The weekend was a whirlwind of typical camp activities – water sports and zip line; family meals and fellowship; evening rosaries, confession, and mass—mixed with conversations with a number of parishioners about what to expect from LIFT and other faith formation offerings in the coming years. I am grateful for the opportunity to hear how the parish can better help you and your families grow in faith, and these conversations reinforced a growing feeling I’ve had since beginning in this position: people in this community are hungry for a deeper relationship with Christ.

I left Camp Lebanon for two nights of solitude at the Franciscan retreat center Pacem In Terris, in the hermitage of St. Dominic—a simple, comfortable cabin looking out on a green patch of woods vibrant with the beauty of God’s creation. After more than a week of steady noise and activity, this silent retreat was a welcome opportunity to spend time alone with God and ask Him, With all of the good ideas and works we could undertake here at St. Michael, what would you have me do?

The answer came in the words of Isaiah and John the Baptist: “Make straight the way of the Lord.” Over and over again, the message rang in my heart: Let them come. Help them come.

To that end, although family catechesis will continue to be our model going forward and LIFT this year will be a culmination of what we started last year, we hope to emphasize the importance of relationship: between parents and children, between parishioners and their neighbors, and most importantly, between each of us and Jesus. We hope to be more flexible and do a better job of meeting you where you are and encouraging you and your families toward a deeper relationship with Christ—in prayer, in the sacraments, and in His body, the Church. We hope to find the right balance between the individual path each of us walks with the Lord and the fact that we are called to journey together in truth and charity. We can’t reach God alone—not only because we are fallen and in need of God’s grace, but also because God calls us to communion with him and with each other. 

People are hungry for God. Whether we realize it or not, the longing we feel for something more in this life is our desire for a personal relationship with our Lord and Creator—and it’s meant to be satisfied. I look forward to undertaking this journey with you, hungry but hopeful, toward heaven. See you this fall!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Break: God's Doorkeepers

Ordinarily when I do one of these mini-reviews, I try to summarize the book as I offer my reflections on it. In the case of Joel Schorn's wonderful little book God's Doorkeepers, which presents the parallel biographies of three 20th century saints (though only one has been canonized to date), I'll let the summary on the back of the book explain the work for me:
I look on my whole life as giving, and I want to give and give until there is nothing left to give. -- Solanus Casey
Padre Pio and Andre Bessette would have readily agreed with Solanus Casey even though, on the surface, none of the three had much to give. All grew up in humble circumstances, each suffered poor health, and none achieved academic distinction or prominent positions in their religious orders. They were, to all appearances, the sort of people others overlook. 
Yet in their lifetimes, untold numbers found physical and interior healing through their ministries, and since their deaths their fame has grown enormously. Their secret was the secret of every successful Christian life: In complete humility, they abandoned themselves to the will of God.  
Bessette and Casey literally answered the door at their monasteries, and Pio was something of a spiritual doorkeeper in the confessional. God's Doorkeepers reveals how these miracle-workers, in spite of their lowly circumstances, inspired and continue to inspire those who seek a healing encounter with God.
 By way of commentary, I'll offer this observation: I am sometimes guilty of reading Scripture or accounts of the incredible accomplishments of the ancient saints and silently wondering, "Where is God today? Why does He not show his power and love today as he's done in the past?" I admit that I sometimes long for a sign (a parted sea, the lame walking, the dead raised) and when I don't witness these things...I don't lose faith, per say, but I wonder...

For awhile I thought this lack of the miraculous may be a backhanded blessing, since Jesus said to Thomas, "Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe." And while that may be the case, I see now that it is also a general lack of awareness, a spiritual (and historical) blindness on my part. I read this book quickly, captivated by the stories of three humble, broken, and at various points, outcast men -- all three of whom lived in the 20th century; two during my parent's lifetime and one in our neck of the woods -- who healed thousands spiritually and, yes, physically; who were conduits of God's love, grace, and mercy, and who (we might say, though they never would) worked miracles. There are people still alive today who encountered these men and can attest to what they did while on this earth. Too few of us know about them -- and even fewer give credence to their stories, although we will live by countless less-well-attested "truths."

God is active among us, even now. And if we know this -- really know it -- and act accordingly, what expectations are too great?