Monday, September 19, 2011

A Few Simple Words...

When I was in college, I began visiting a blog that that the director of Campus Ministry and University Chaplain updated regularly.  It was entitled, "A Few Simple Words..."  It contained a mixture of homilies, thoughts, prayers, anecdotes and stories from his daily routines on and off campus.  Personally knowing the author made reading it very interesting, but in reality, I just enjoyed knowing that someone I looked up to and respected a great deal, was human.  We experienced the same feelings, shared similar worries and believed in common dreams.

When I graduated, he also left the University and was assigned as pastor to a parish in Connecticut.  Even though I don't see or speak to him as often as I once did, I still regularly read his blog.  Nowadays, it mostly contains homilies from the weekend Mass he presides at, with the occasional anecdote.  As of late, I was looking through some older posts and I came across a message he shared during the Easter season.  I think it is still worth the read, especially for college students.  My hope is you will find as much encouragement and truth in it, as I did!  Enjoy!

The 7th Sunday of Easter Year A - 2011
Originally Given: June 4, 2011 @ St. Paul Church in Kensington, CT
By: Fr. Bob Schlageter, OFM Conv.

May the Peace of Christ Reign in our Hearts.
You know I used to live in Rome and Assisi. In fact I lived there for 6 years.

I’ll never forget being so moved the first time I saw St. Peter’s at the end of the “Via della Consolatione.”
Sad to say the utter fascination and awe I experienced when I saw St. Peter for the first time slowly but surely wore off.  So much so that after a while I would glance over toward St. Peter’s as I was running for the bus on “Lungo Tevere” as if to say, "oh yeah there’s St. Peter... I hope I didn’t miss the 97 bus to Trastevere."
I visited Florence so much that it became like going to Rocky Hill for me.

You know it’s part of our human nature that wonder and awe don’t always last as long as we would like.
Each and everyone of us have been given a wonderful gift, an incredible gift.  It is the gift of our faith.

Our faith roots us in God’s love.
Our faith gives us hope when everything and everyone else tells us to give up and throw in the towel.
Our faith helps us understand what is right and what is wrong, how to live and how to love.
Because of our faith we stand on the shoulders and benefit from the life experiences of the countless men and women who have come before us marked with the sign of faith.
Because of our faith every generation does not start from scratch trying to find their way.
There are very few challenges and experiences that humanity hasn’t dealt with before and our faith helps us understand how to deal with them. 

Our faith, our faith in Jesus Christ, handed down to us from the time of the Apostles, through the faithful ministry of the Church, a church both broken and holy at the very same time, is indeed a most precious gift.

Sadly, like I grew to take the warmth of Assisi, the beauty of Florence, and the majesty of St. Peter’s for granted when I lived in Italy, we quite frequently forget, the incredible gift of our faith.

Its beauty, its warmth, its majesty fade and we take our faith for granted.
Frequently we simply get stuck in the everyday worries of life.
Think about it, are we grateful, are we in awe, of the incredible fact that right in that tabernacle, day in and day out is the real presence of Jesus Christ - God almighty, all loving, all merciful, the creator of heaven and earth?  Right there… right there.

Sometimes, actually most of the time, I feel that my heart and mind and my soul aren’t able to take all of that in and appreciate it.

How many times has our faith been a consolation in times of sadness or sorrow?
How many times has our faith been a light in what seemed to be a sea of darkness and confusion?
How many times has our faith pushed us to look beyond our own needs and wants?
How many times has our faith pushed us drawn us to something more something greater?
Someone holy?

Yes our faith is a gift, a privilege, a consolation and a hope which so very many of us take for granted.
Our faith has been entrusted to us by God.

Which brings me to the second point.
Our faith is not ours to create. We cannot rewrite the Gospel in every generation. We don’t adapt the Gospel to fit our culture.
It is our task to bring our culture in communion with the Gospel.
When the Gospel points one way and the world and our culture goes another we have to change the world not the Gospel.
Someone one said to me recently in a very angry and bitter tone:

Fr. Robert -
Our faith is old fashioned, get with it.  Times have changed; the Church has got to change; our faith is got to change.

There was so much emotion when she spoke that something very personal had to be going on in her life.
I pray that God gives me the chance to talk more to that person.
It was as if she felt that somehow we know better than God.  As if somehow we have the wisdom
or maybe the arrogance to think that we can change the very Word of God.

In school we used to play a game when I was a little boy which we called telegraph.
A long line kids would form a circle and the first one would whisper a phrase to the second person and by the time it got to the last person in the line it was all changed.
If every generation felt it could change to Word of God, what would we have left of God’s self revelation?

Would our faith resemble in any way the gift that Jesus died on the cross to share with us?
No. Our faith is not ours to change. Our faith is not ours to adapt. Our faith is ours to preserve.
Our faith is ours to hand on to the next generation.
Just like someone gave it to us.

We must pass it on so that they many may also share it’s wonderful consolation and benefit from its challenge  and understand the warmth, beauty and majesty of God’s love.
We must pass on our faith in season and out of season.
When its popular and when it’s not.
Let us always be faithful to the wonderful gift that God has given us in our faith.

Please repeat after me:
Lord help me believe
Lord Help me seek You
Help me see to love you Lord
Help me be faithful
And help me pass on to the next generation
the Wonderful gift you have shared with me
my Catholic Faith.

For more homilies and thoughts by Fr. Bob, consider checking out his blog:  Prayers are promised for all of our faithful readers as we continue through this month of September!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Need Relief from the Heat?

Some might say it is a little too early to begin promoting a program for the Fall.  With the record heat this week, the delivery of our newly designed cups and the release of the Pitt-Johnstown "New Student Orientation" schedule, we figured it made total sense to get the word out!

Join Campus Ministry at the New Student Orientation Ice Cream Social on Saturday, August 27, 2011.   Stop by the Student Union (outside of the Tuck Shop) at 9:00p.m. for some free Ice Cream in a free Catholic Campus Ministry novelty cup!  Not convinced?  Here is a sneak peek at the cup:

We know.  We're excited too!  Can't wait to see you there!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Community is Communion

I had the privilege of attending a wedding a couple of weeks ago in Summit, NJ.  Two of my old community members (from different years) got married in an unbelievably beautiful and heartfelt ceremony.  Needless to say, it was a weekend for the books!

What stands out to me the most, however, was the community present.  When I was in school, I lived in three separate communities over the course of three years.  We would pray, laugh, cry, fight and even prank one another on a daily basis.  It was a ministry to our peers, but it was also an opportunity to build authentic communion with one another and bring the love of Christ we experienced, to those we encountered.  Seeing and spending time with so many members of my previous communities was nothing short of amazing.

I share this with you because as I sit in my office on a rather warm Johnstown day, I am excited for the time when some of you - the student leaders, students and friends of our program - reunite with old friends after being away from one other; a time when you look back at your involvement in our Campus Ministry community with fondness and gratitude.

I have no doubt that every student, when reconnecting with former classmates, shares great memories and wonderful experiences of their college days.  I would say, however, that the connection and authentic communion that is established in Campus Ministry is unique.  When you gather regularly to celebrate the Eucharist, you not only celebrate what you believe, but you become a part of that mystery.  Naturally, community develops from communion and even more beautifully, you take an active part in God's authentic love.  How else do you expect to bring people closer to God?

To really drive home this point, I'll share one last story.  During my first year of ministry, during community prayer, one of my community members related each of us to a piece of glass.  He said that we were all cut in different ways and our color was unique to who we are.  Some of us had weak spots in our piece of glass, others were stubborn and refused to break.  He would say that living in our community was what bound all of us together, like the metal ribbing found in a stained glass window.  Together, our weaknesses and our imperfections seemed less noticeable and definitely less critically important when they were linked together.  What really brought about our full potential, however, was the light that showed through and illuminated each piece of glass.  When connected, that warmth and light created a complete and unified reflection.

That light is the presence of God, shining through each of us.  Together, unified and complete, our community was better able to give witness to God's authentic love.  The same is true for all communities, whether they are a parish, a Campus Ministry program, a family or a group of friends.  Together, unified and brought to life by the light of Christ, you become more fully alive.

So, who is your community and how are you letting God shine through it?  Better yet, what are you doing now to harvest community for the future?  Think about it.

Keep relaxing and take some time to enjoy the summer heat!  You and your community are in my prayers.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Communication and Technology

I was at a conference a couple of weeks ago, where the concept of "googling God" and the benefits of social media were discussed.  It was very well done and I appreciated the information and ideas that were shared.  This conversation, plus the recent revival of our Campus Ministry Twitter account and the establishment of a live Mass feed for St. Patrick Church in Moxham, has gotten me to think about how reliant we are on technology today.  Less than 5 years ago, most people scoffed at the idea of a Facebook account and yet, over 500 million active users exist today.  The same can be said for Twitter, blogs and every other type of social media that continues to surface.

The role and importance of technology has changed the way that most people in our, or younger, generations communicate today.  I remember when AIM was big and I would message my brother sitting in the same room, on a different computer.  We laugh or get disgusted at the impersonal nature of such "discussions," but the reality is, a lot of people rely on their text messages or Facebook walls to communicate any more.

I share all of this because as a campus minister, there is a fine line and a necessary balance that should be established between meeting students where they're at through social media and meeting them where they're at in person.  I cannot dream (nor would I ever wish) of the day that we can "fully and actively" participate in the sacrifice of the Mass by individual webcams.  A ministry of presence should exist where the people are at, but I don't think we can discount the reality that people, our community, exists in places other than the internet too.  While social media has grown rapidly, it has not, nor should it ever, replace the living person.

If we think about the sacraments, they are all communal and sensory by nature.  We feel and smell and hear and see how all created reality is capable of manifesting God.  How are we living as Christ and embracing the transcendent if we are limiting ourselves to technological communication?  Don't get me wrong, it is necessary and a beautiful witness to the progress of humanity and society, but it should not be our only great testament.

I would encourage you to e-mail a friend today and then visit a neighbor in person.  By building authentic discussion in chat rooms and in person, I have no doubt we will continue to discover God among us, both at home and on campus.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

New Evangelization

There has been a lot of talk as of late (within Catholic circles) about the necessity and importance of "New Evangelization."  In fact, Pope Benedict XVI created a new pontifical council that focuses on proclaiming a new evangelization to countries that have become overly secularized since they first heard and accepted the Gospel message.  In essence, the question has become, why are so many Catholics unaware of what the Church actually teaches?

This question has been around for a while (both Blessed John Paul II and the current Pope have written and spoken about this for at least the past 10 years).  With the development of the new council, there seems to be a renewed movement, though, focused on bringing the lost sheep back into the fold.

Naturally this poses an interesting question for college students and the Campus Ministry programs that they are a part of.  How do we join in this effort to reach friends, students and other young adults who are in need of a new evangelization?  I think the best answer comes from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, currently Pope Benedict XVI, and his address to Catholic catechists and religion teachers (2000).  He says,

"We ourselves cannot gather men. We must acquire them by God for God. All methods are empty without the foundation of prayer. The word of the announcement must always be drenched in an intense life of prayer."

He very clearly expresses the need, not for new or exciting methods, but for "an intense life of prayer."  My college Campus Minister and Chaplain used to always say, "we must pray for a conversion of heart!"  It's the idea that we must reach people through the constant invitation of prayer; one that invites them to go deeper into a relationship with God and His Church.

All too often, we get caught up in the numbers game.  In our secular world, strength and success are derived from the popularity and growth of a program or event.  The more people you have involved, the more successful and strong your organization or program is.  I am guilty of thinking this all too often and charging my student leaders to reach more people and grow our numbers.  The test, however, is one of patience.  Ratzinger reminds us that:

"Yet another temptation lies hidden beneath this—the temptation of impatience, the temptation of immediately finding the great success, in finding large numbers. But this is not God's way. For the Kingdom of God as well as for evangelization, the instrument and vehicle of the Kingdom of God, the parable of the grain of mustard seed is always valid (see Mark 4:31-32).

The Kingdom of God always starts anew under this sign. New evangelization cannot mean: immediately attracting the large masses that have distanced themselves from the Church by using new and more refined methods. No—this is not what new evangelization promises.

New evangelization means: never being satisfied with the fact that from the grain of mustard seed, the great tree of the Universal Church grew; never thinking that the fact that different birds may find place among its branches can suffice—rather, it means to dare, once again and with the humility of the small grain, to leave up to God the when and how it will grow (Mark 4:26-29)." 

It is important to remember and remind ourselves, that although there is a lot we hope to achieve and build, it is for God alone and His glory that we began the work in the first place.  Rooting our lives in intense prayer will give us the ability to convert hearts, find the patience we need, but most importantly, work for God's glory, not our own.  If this isn't "New Evangelization," I don't know what is!

So, as we continue to build God's kingdom here at Pitt-Johnstown, my prayer is for all of our students, but also for God's will - that I may be patient enough to seek it and ready enough to do it!  Amen?  Amen! 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Solid Rock

There is so much that has happened in these past few months.  We hosted our first off-campus retreat.  We celebrated Lent, the Paschal Triduum and the beginning of Easter.  We fully initiated 2 members of our Pitt-Johnstown community into the Catholic Church.  We celebrated commencement on campus and sent the Class of 2011 on their way.  We welcomed our new bishop to this diocese.  So many wonderful, memorable events took place for our Catholic and University community in these past few weeks.  There is much to be grateful for... something that a lot of people aren't feeling these days.  It is important that we pray in thanksgiving for these gifts, but also for those people who are struggling on a daily basis to understand how God is working in their lives.  Amen?

Not only have these past few months been eventful, but this entire academic year has been one of great memories and wonderful progress.  I am confident that the relationships we are building, not only on campus, but with God, will continue to bear much fruit in the coming days, weeks and years ahead.  Matthew's Gospel reminds us that the house set solidly on rock will be able to buffet the winds, storms and rains.  After this first year, I truly believe that we are building our programs and relationships on solid rock: Jesus Christ.

My hope is, that as we progress through the summer, I will be able to more regularly update this blog for those of you who continue to read it.  Until my next post, I leave you with the video that was made for our New Catholic Student Orientation Day and Family Day this past semester.  It was well attended by our student leader's families and there was a sprinkling of incoming freshmen... so much to be thankful for!

Promised prayers as we continue this wonderful season of Easter!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Beginning of Lent

I am a little biased, but I think that this message by Bishop David O'Connell of the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey is wonderful!  Give it a listen and be assured of my prayers for all of you as we near the end of the semester.