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Parish Vitality
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Vitality comes less from doing more things, and more from doing the right things
Vitality comes less from doing more things, and more from doing the right things

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Pope Francis confronts us at the threshold of the New Year with another searing question: Are our souls as open to Jesus as the vulnerable virgin who welcomed Jesus that first Christmas?  Or have we no room at the inn? 

In formulating an honest answer, perhaps I would benefit by considering how I would react if my parish decided that Christmas Mass would no longer be held at church but would instead be moved off-campus!  One parish did just that.  The community spent weeks in preparation so that the Christmas services could be held off-campus at a nearby arena to accommodate the possibility of hundreds or even thousands of newcomers and visitors for the holidays.

These newcomers might be inactive Catholics, curious spiritual seekers, reluctant sinners, family members, friends or those who just want a more convenient worship service.  To this parish, it did not matter.  How ridiculous does that sound?  One's answer to this question may also answer the question posed by Pope Francis.  In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis calls upon Catholics to be people of hope and mercy.  This is the heart and energizing core of what he calls the missionary option.. But do not be confused.  For those who know Jesus and follow the Christ, this is the fundamental option.  It is not optional. 

A spirit-filled faith is an evangelizing faith.  No matter what else has happened since the last Christmas, we are one year closer to the day when we will present our souls to the Lord.  Those who seek a comfortable service for themselves may have missed the heart of the fundamental option presented by Christmas.  May our hospitality grow in this Christmas season to be as enthusiastic as Mary.  Let my soul magnify the Lord - Come Lord Jesus!
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In the afterglow of Trinity Sunday, it is important to recall how God’s nature is different from ours.  Social psychologists assure us that it is quite natural and human, that once our relational connectors are filled up, we turn inward to maintain the relationships we have, and settle into a circle of comfort. We spend time with those familiar and similar.  The Triune God, on the other hand is a community of love, that is always facing outward and reaching outward.  Jesus demonstrated this by spending so much of his time reaching out to the least, last and lost among us.

If we are not intentional about being a community for others, we will resemble Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day.  Bill was a haplessly self-centered character who pretended to desire companionship but repeated the mistakes that put companionship out his reach.  Bill relived his mistakes, over and over, until he realized that the source of his problem was inside, not outside.  That is the story of outreach for many churches.  We say we want others to join us, but fail to do the concrete things that will transform this sentiment into reality.  In failing at this a church will soon become a museum to what God once did, rather than a vibrant place of encounter with what God is still doing.

A friend sent me a quote, which while uncertain in its origins, is certainly something which could be said by almost all of us, on behalf of almost all of us.  'My church is composed of people like me.  We make it what it is.  It will be friendly, if I am. Its pews will be filled, if I help fill them.  It will do great work, if I work.  It will make generous gifts to essential causes, if I am a generous giver.  It will bring other people into its worship and fellowship, if I bring them.  It will be a church of love, faith and spirit, if I, who make it what it is, am filled with such traits.  Therefore, with the help of God, I shall dedicate myself to the task of being all these things I want my church to be.'

There are profound changes occurring in American culture which create new challenges and new opportunities for the Church.  We live in a missionary moment where belonging leads to believing more than believing leads to belonging.  The family is still the most important institution for passing on faith but many parents lack confidence in their ability to do so.  The dominance of consumerism, relativism and secularism combine with advances in technology to isolate generations and inhibit community..

The good news is that people are just as receptive to their Creator and open to the urging of the Spirit as ever.  In his apostolic letter, Porta Fidei, the Holy Father states, "The people of today can still experience the need to go to the well, like the Samaritan woman, in order to hear Jesus...  Indeed, the teaching of Jesus still resounds in our day with the same power.”  The bad news is that due to significant changes in culture and technology, we can no longer presume that people will walk up to the parish on a given Sunday to know the abundance of life that is offered by Jesus Christ.  We must also reach out to them. 
This new moment has created an incentive for us to reach out to a growing number of inactive Catholics.  Some were once baptized but never really evangelized.  Many are 'Occasional Catholics' who are insufficiently catechized.  Some are open to the invitation of faith but lack the opportunity to reconnect with a parish community.  To thrive and not merely survive in the years ahead, parishes will be strategic in purpose, entrepreneurial in methods, Eucharistic in spirit, missionary in outlook and active online.  These parishes will find ways to be true to their Catholic identity and responsive to emerging pastoral needs. 

In short, we are called upon to be new in ardor, new in commitment and new in our approaches while remaining faithful to the uncompromising truth of the Gospel.Living in the image of God is less about doing more things and more about doing the right things.  We start each day anew with new opportunities to choose the right things to focus outward, to live for Christ and others, to open doors, minds and hearts.
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 Do you know what you will preach or teach about Pentecost this week?  Try the “New Pentecost”!   Everyone is talking about it, from Popes on down to some brand new grassroots movements in this Year of Faith. 

Imagine it for yourself… in the early Church gathered at Pentecost - Close your eyes and picture it?  Can you see them united and in a circle with tongues of flame over each of them?  Now look closer.  In which direction do you see them facing – inward or outward?  It matters you know.   Check out some options at link below or visit www.evangelizebuffalo.org.
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Catholic on Purpose: Becoming a Church that Matters to All
April 19-20, 2013 at Christ the King Seminary

Join Bishop Ricard J. Malone, Dr. Robert McCarty, Sr. Donna Ciangio, OP, Ken Canedo, the Voices of Mercy along with over a dozen more presenters
for the parish ministry conference and a time to:
Refocus and be renewed
Gain new self awareness and consider a new moment
Download inspiration and upload new ideas
Receive new perspectives for a New Evangelization
Name your next ministry threshold and step over it.
 
This event is three conferences in one with inspiring presentations, dynamic discussions, powerful witnesses, practical ideas, transformative moments of prayer and enriching time for reflection.

Rediscover your confidence as a Catholic.  Consider the opportunities for New Evangelization in a dynamic cultural landscape.  Breath new life into fading parish ministries and programs.  Mark your calendars and help us spread the word.  You won't want to miss it!
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I do not have to be open-minded about EVERYTHING!  C.K. Chesterton noted that the mind and the mouth have something in common.  They are designed to close down on something solid.  Likewise, only a fool drives down the highway with their face out the window and their mouth wide open.  The temptation of secularity is the proposal that truth as situational. 

While the scriptures urge us to choose between life and death, relativists ask, isn't there something else?  Like a rebellious child, our false self demands that we create something other than eternity and God.   With the exception of video games, we are the creatures, not the Creator.  We cannot trade in God for something more to our liking.  We have to settle for God's will for creation, and the brothers and sisters given to us rather than some of our own making. 

In the Gospel for today the disciples tell Jesus, "Everyone is looking for you?"  Jesus' response was to go elsewhere.  He was not swayed by public opinion and replied, "...for this purpose I have come."  Despite our flirtation with distractions, Vatican II reminds us of a universal call to holiness.  Regardless of my druthers, I am called to a life of abundance in God.  I am made for that purpose.  I do not have to be open minded about everything.
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 God Awaits Us in Our Stories - On the way to work I was musing with my wife at how things (even painful things) seem to work out.  Reflecting briefly on life, I realized that this is because it is not really MY story.  We are part of God’s Story.  God is the main character.  We have supporting roles and need not feel the pressure to be the lead.  Still our decisions each day do matter.  We only need to listen to how others describe our involvement in their lives to see our importance in God’s saving plan. 
In response to a recent interview question, Lou Saban, coach of the new national champion, Alabama Crimson Tide, replied that he will savor the victory for 24 hours and then get to work on the next season.  Others spend significant amounts of time, each and every day, recording the events of their lives through Facebook, diaries and journals.  This kind of self-absorption can easily obscure the true magnitude of our stories.  One has only to look out over the universe at night to realize that while our story is important, it is not important because of us.  We are infinitesimal beings.  Our story has importance because of how important we are to God.  To discover the meaning of our story, we have to understand our part in God’s story.  God Awaits Us in Our Stories.
Your life is a story that only you can write and only you can tell.  What better time to give a true accounting for one’s life and fill it with purpose than in a New Year of Faith.
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Happy New Year of Faith!

Thresholds in time also create special moments in time. The New Year is just such a threshold for assessment and decision – our resolutions. But real, “do-able” resolutions mean personal change. We change because we see something, that makes us feel something, and propels us to change something. What really motivates us is emotion, not information.

Stop and take a look inside. Pull out your calendar and your favorite posts, pics or blogs on facebook, youtube or pinterest. Look over your timeline, activities and the events of 2012.

Ask yourself: What was most significant in my life over the 365 days that just past?
What do I need to put aside for God to be at the center of my life?
What change do I want to see in my relationships?
What must change in me to have a hope capable of sustaining me, no matter what lies ahead?
What will I continue to consume and what will I allow to consume me?
Am I a Catholic on purpose or am I a Catholic by default?
What support do I need from God in the coming New Year of Faith?

Now pray for it. Congratulations! You just kicked off your New Year of Faith.
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 Still looking for a resolution that will change the world (and you)?  Start the New Year of Faith with an act of forgiveness!

By forgiving the Vatican butler, Paolo Gabriele who violated his trust, Pope Benedict gave witness to a uniquely human attribute.  Seeking and extending forgiveness is one of the most identifying qualities of our species and perhaps the most liberating one as well.  Forgiving another puts us in touch with the heart of God.   

Recall the old quip, “What is Irish Alzheimers?...  When you forget everything but the grudges.”  We laugh partly because, deep down we all know that grudges are as debilitating as any other disease.  Too many Christmas dinners have been spoiled by the presence of unresolved conflict. A grudge is a story of hurt, resentment that we repeat to ourselves so often that it takes on a life of its own.  It stresses our hearts and contorts our spirit.  Unresolved resentment triggers hormones related to fight or flight degrade our immune response, drain our energy, and rob us of our creative instincts.  Studies confirm that forgiveness has a cathartic benefit. 

Forgiveness has little to do with the offender and everything to do with me.  It requires no change of heart from anyone else.  I am in complete control.  People who forgive often report of immediate and long term health benefits.  They feel better, become more active and become physically healthier.  Because forgiveness allows us to let go of fears and negative attitudes toward others, it multiplies our capacity to receive love from people. Grudges leave us bound by the offense and the offender.

It can be quite difficult to forgive without fully embracing the full consequence of an injury.  This sounds disheartening and can make it difficult to accomplish alone.  If it feels unnatural to forgive that is because it is.  It is a divine act, not a natural one.  For this reason, the deepest wounds may require the Sacrament of penance – not for the offender but for me. Whenever I plumb the depths of my own resentment and failure to accept the cruelty of another person, I often find the cause to be something in myself.  What I hate in others is often what it reveals about me. 

This is why forgiveness never condones an injury, nor does it require an apology.  It taps the gift of gratitude for God’s grace toward oneself.  It grows from acceptance of what is most ugly in me.  My deepest fear is not of re-injury, it is that I might have deserved the injury.   When I start with reconciliation with God, I tap a power far greater than my own.  Forgiveness breaks the dance of resentment and dependence when God joins us in the dance.  When we forgive without condition we experience resurrection.  God abides in us.

In one sense, forgiveness is the most selfish of acts, because I am the only direct beneficiary.  What a gift to give myself in a Year of Faith – the freedom that comes from forgiveness.  Ask yourself: 
What injuries do I still hold onto?
What is the cause of my hurt?
What will happen if I keep holding onto it?
What do I fear in letting go?
What do I have to lose?
Why does this story of hurt continue to play in my head?
Who needs forgiveness?
Is there someone from whom I need to seek forgiveness?
Is there something for which I have not even forgiven myself?
If not now when?

The Year of Faith is a year of opportunities, especially when we start by lightening the load through forgiveness.
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Loyola Press offers a raft of ideas for a fun and faithful summer together:

Family Activities
A Monthly Craft Idea to Help Children Grow in Faith
A Monthly Saints Calendar to Encourage Conversation!
Looking for family fun activities?
Movies That Are Fun to Watch as a Family
Paper Cranes of Peace
String Your Own Rosary

Family Mealtime
10 Tips for Better Mealtimes
Bumping into God in the Kitchen: Pizza Day
Family Fun
Quick and Easy Ways to Make Mealtime Prayer More Meaningful

Inspiration in Daily Family Life
5 Ways to Help Families Make Prayer a Priority
6 Ways to Be a Better Listener at Home
8 Simple Ways to Celebrate Sacred Time as a Family
Children need quiet time, too!
Finding God in Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
Finding God in the Laundry Room
Five Reasons to Simplify Life in Your Family
Helping Children Develop Their Gifts
Keep Family Life a Priority
Share with Your Child the Joy of Giving
The Power of Family Rituals

Talking to Kids About Faith
5 Ways to Nurture Your Child's Faith
Describing Family and Faith Identity
Exploring the Good Word This Week as a Family
How to Raise Kids Who Care

Each item has provides a link with more details.  What a fabulous resource for the summer - Loyola also offers: helping people pray, monthly saint calendar, top ten family movies, a daily 3 minute retreat and much more (see
http://www.loyolapress.com/living-as-a-catholic-family.htm) below:
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 Networked Individuals Unite!

According to Lee Raines and Barry Wellman, authors of The New Social Network Operating System, a defining characteristic of people today is that we are networked individuals who long to share our stories.  Why?  Because we inhabit a hyper-individualist society.  We are hard-wired to connect, share our stories and find meaning through those stories.  To be human is to share one's stories.

Relationships are not a nuisance. Relationships are a need.  Relationships are where we encounter God.  Consider God Awaits Us in Our Stories for your parish group.  See more at http://www.parishvitality.net/god-awaits-us-in-our-stories.html or at www.evangelizebuffalo.org.  Contact Dennis Mahaney - dmahaney@buffalodiocese.org or call 716-847-8393 for more information.
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