Vattmann Thanksgiving

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Some stories, like seeds planted in fertile ground, become more real, more memorable, when nurtured.  Then, thanks to curiosity and subsequent experience, they flourish with each revisiting, becoming finely woven tapestries steeped in depth and complexity.

First visit

Such were my thoughts regarding Our Lady of Consolation in Vattmann, TX since January 11, 2011, when, thanks to the Texas Tropical Trail Region (TTTR) monthly outing, we were treated to the history of this quiet, little church community southeast of Kingsville.

Our hosts came across as a hardy lot: resilient, independent yet mutually supportive of each other, and wholeheartedly invested in their rural hamlet.  Their rich family histories were fascinating; but church was their life-giving core, honored above all.

Listening to the presentations, I gleaned that Vattmann’s mission in life (imbued innately, it seemed) was to know its history by heart and support its cherished sacred space— the latter through an annual fundraiser, the Thanksgiving picnic and country store— to keep the tiny unincorporated town alive and well for future generations.

Naturally, I wanted to experience this incredible, almost century-old tradition; but Steven wasn’t too keen on foregoing his very own turkey with all the trimmings at home.  So my wish quietly percolated as I patiently waited.

Second visit

Between 2011 and 2016, I thought about Our Lady of Consolation Church a lot.  Since we travel regularly to and from the Rio Grande Valley, I asked Steven if we could stop by King’s Inn for lunch “the next time.”

Thursday morning, March 31, 2016, we discovered that the road to the restaurant went past the church, too.  So, after lunch we stopped, took photos, and chatted a while with Maria, who takes Communion to the homebound in the parish.

“I hadn’t planned to come by church today, but I’m glad I did,” she said.

We talked about prayer and God’s wisdom.  “He placed us on each other’s paths for a reason.”  We agreed and exchanged email addresses to stay in touch.

On our drive back from the valley Saturday afternoon, we stopped for lunch in Kingsville.  “Do you think Mother Julia’s chapel is nearby?” I asked.  “I’m curious to see how the Sisters’ project turned out.”

Never mind that I took photos through the holes in the chain-link fence because the chapel and the gift shop were closed.  The place was totally different from six years earlier when Sister Maxie had shared her dream with the TTTR group, December 21, 2010.

We were so impressed!

Within three days’ time, Steven and I had visited two sacred spaces that I’d previously written about.  “I have so much to email Maria about when we get home.”

Only I was even more amazed by her response.

Maria volunteers at Mother Julia’s gift shop, so she works closely with Sister Maxie.  And now we have more in common than before, thanks to our impromptu meeting at Our Lady of Consolation.

Third visit

Bill and Robin invited us to their family’s Thanksgiving gathering, but Steven held out hope that our youngest son would join us for dinner.  Still, we knew that we’d do our usual— attend morning Mass; spend a leisurely day at home; watch football; and enjoy a quiet, intimate meal all by ourselves.  But that was before viewing Michael Gibson’s “Vattmann Thanksgiving picnic” on the evening news (KIII, November 21, 2016).

“I’ve wanted to attend for the past five years,” I reminded Steven.  “It’d be great to go, even if just once.”

Knowing Steven, he had his heart on fixing Thanksgiving dinner at home.  No rush, no fuss with traffic or lines, lots of football viewing, and eating to his heart’s content at will.  He’d started his pre-planning in October and had been adding to his grocery list day by day.  So he was ready to take on the bird and all the trimmings.  Never mind that these other delectable options had cropped up.

Still, I really, really wanted to experience Vattmann on Thanksgiving Day.  And Michael’s piece three days before had to have worked its magic because Wednesday afternoon Steven suggested that we “stop by St. Paul’s for ten o’clock Mass on our way south.”

Vattmann Thanksgiving

During Mass I thought about Father Stembler, pastor at St. Paul’s before his transfer to St. Gertrude’s in Kingsville.  I wondered how he was doing, especially since his dad had passed away late September.  We’d been out-of-state so hadn’t attended the memorial Mass in October.  But I had every intention of writing to him, so I mentally penned a letter to our beloved joyful priest on the drive to Vattmann.

And whom should I see as we approached the path to turn left onto the church parking area?  Father Stembler, all smiles, waving us along!  Unbelievable!  

If this was God’s way of letting me know that we’d chosen wisely in attending the picnic at Our Lady of Consolation, the rest was bound to be unforgettable.

I was able to spend a bit of time with Father Stembler as we all stood waiting in line.  He even hammed it up for my Coolpix!  And Bishop Carmody was there, too.  We love that he married us at the cathedral.  How special was that?  Two for one.

What an uplifting experience!  So many wonderful parishioners heeding the call of service!  So many happy faces engaged in outdoor activities, feasting on Thanksgiving dinner, buying all kinds of goodies at the country store, and just-plain conversing with each other in little clusters here and there.

For Steven and me, the ladies at the country store made our day.  Gwen told us the story of Jan’s husband, Stan, who made all the wooden crosses on display before he died November 8, 2016.  “He wanted to vote more than anything, and he did.”

Then she gave us a very special pass to the workroom where the ladies meet, February through November, to turn cast-offs into treasures.  And, while there, we met Jan and Betty, sweet ladies whose smiles and stories delighted us beyond imagining.  “Santa’s magical elves in Santa’s workshop,” Steven called them.

Of course, the ladies behind the pay-out counter were very nice, too.  One in particular smiled so blissfully— like a kid in a candy shop— that I wished I could’ve gotten to know her better.

Above all, however, I was grateful for my not-so-alone time spent in church.

As I took photos of the beautiful sacred space for the third time, I was taken by the perfectly lit stained-glass windows; the cheerful ambiance graced by impeccably painted walls and icons; and the thoughtful visitors who came and went, paying their respects lovingly as they sat, knelt, or walked about lightly in total reverence.

What a gift to be in the presence of God with these joyful hearts!

I melted within as I gave thanks and praise for my gifts and talents shared with others.

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Country store

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Thanksgiving picnic

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Afterthoughts

Seeing the posted photos from our Thanksgiving in Vattmann, Steven typed a comment for the blog.

“Ooh!  Nice!  May I include your thoughts in the post itself?”

“Sure!”

So, you may say, you had Thanksgiving dinner with a few thousand total strangers is a crowded parish hall and you call that a good time?

The answer is a resounding yes.

The long line moved fast; and everyone was friendly, chatting with each other, interested in how far each had come.  The priest who facilitated our marriage and the now-retired bishop who performed the ceremony at the Corpus Christi Cathedral were there, too.

The picnic was incredibly well-organized, and the family style serving worked better than anyone could expect as helpers in high-visibility orange vests waved new arrivals to empty seats.  And the food kept coming!  If you left hungry, it was your fault.

There was the rattle of constant gunfire at a skeet range set up behind the hall.  We saw several sharpshooters carrying away prize turkeys.  The Knights of Columbus were there with a raffle, and the kids had another one going as well.

Lots was going on; but the real deal for us was the country store, which displayed ornaments of all kinds, pot holders, statues, wall crosses, and other delightful items in an irresistible Christmas setting.

Since we were friendly and Deli was taking photos, we earned a very special pass to Santa’s workshop where the ladies shared some of their stories.  To prepare for the annual fundraiser, they work their Christmas elf magic ten months every year.

So, next Thanksgiving, why not do something different?  Head on into Texas brush country for a fun, friendly, bountiful dinner.  Help the fine folks in Vattmann, TX raise money for Our Lady of Consolation Church.

You’ll be glad you did!

Prayers

Almighty Father, you are lavish in bestowing all your gifts and we give you thanks for the favors you have given us.  In your goodness you have favored us and kept us safe….  We ask that you continue to protect us and shelter us in the shadow of your wings.  We ask this through Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Father all-powerful, your gifts of love are countless and your goodness infinite.  As we come before you on Thanksgiving Day with gratitude for your kindness, open our hearts to have concern for every man, woman, and child so that we may share your gifts in loving service.  Through Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

December 7, 2016

Whatever mission God gives us, no matter how common it may appear, carries within it our potential sainthood.  What God asks of us during our lifetime is the most appropriate and suitable means to our growth in holiness— whether our lives remain ordinary or take an extraordinary turn (Julie Onderko, Discover Your Next Mission From God).

December 9, 2016

“The work of life is to tend the divine fire of holiness that has been kindled within against every breath that may endanger it; and every holy deed and thought helps to feed and fan the flame” (Basil W. Maturin, Christian Self-Mastery).

December 14, 2016

“In the evening of life we will be judged on love alone” (St. John of the Cross).

December 21, 2016

“We plant seeds that will flower as results in our lives; so best to remove the weeds of anger, avarice, envy and doubt, that peace and abundance may manifest for all” (Dorothy Day).

December 22, 2016

“If you wish to take up your abode in the tabernacle of the heavenly kingdom, you must reach there through your good works without which you cannot hope to enter”
(St. Benedict).

December 27, 2016

Know that God speaks to you and that, when God does, your assigned task, whatever it is, regardless of how modest it appears in the eyes of the world, takes on eternal importance (Franciscan MediaPerfect Joy).

January 6, 2017

“Be a soul of love in order to become an apostle and you will discover a very beautiful thing: that at the bank of love, the more you give, the richer you become” (Fr. Jean C. J. d’Elbée, I Believe in Love).

January 28, 2017

“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship” (St. Thomas Aquinas).

February 23, 2017

“Let us, therefore, forsake the vanity of the crowd and their false teachings and turn back to the word delivered to us from the beginning” (St. Polycarp).

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Links of interest…  Annual Thanksgiving fundraiser: 100th dinner / 2014 / giving thanks / holiday tradition / King countrypicnic (about) / special report (KIII; more)…  Call to communion & service…  Father Edward J. Vattmann: about / chaplain (more) / more / photos: 1 / 2…  Gift of work…  How to exercise “the discipline of gratitude”…  King’s Inn Restaurant: food / fried & true / website (contactevents)…  Manual for spiritual warfare…  Kleberg County (roots web)…  Our Lady: feasticon (more) / litanynovena / prayers / shrine (about)…  Our Lady of Consolation Church: diocesan map / facebook / one-room school house / photo / website (contact – events – history)…  TX Tropical Trail Region…  US Genealogy Web Project…  Vattmann: about / cemetery (find a gravelocation – photos) / history / photos: wedding (c. 1910) & “where I grew up”…  The visitation & Mary, the walking tabernacle…  What does God want? A practical guide to making decisions

WP posts…  Beloved joyful priest…  Noon visit…  Repeated prayers…  Thanksgiving prayers…  Then and now…  Unexpected detours…  Vattmann church…  Venerable Julia Navarrete

Sunday morning visit

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I’m grateful for having found St. Mary of Victories (SMV) online because God planted the seed thentwo or three years ago, that he harvested today.  His playfulness is uplifting.  I’ve learned that listening to the voice leads me to discover the Holy Infant waiting for me.  His peek-a-boo antics are delightful.  Most of all, I love that God places wonderful folks on my faith journey (My email to Cathy and Bill Saccente, parishioners, who welcomed us sweetly before nine o’clock Mass; 10.9.16, edited).

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Call of service

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Outdoor scenes

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Parish hall

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About the church

After Mass, Max Kaiser, acolyte and lector who serves at St. Mary of Victories “most of the time,” spoke to us about the church and, afterwards, shared a bit of family history and service to the community (October 9, 2016; transcribed audio recording, edited).

smv10916-24This church was dedicated to our Blessed Mother.  It was the first ethnic parish of the archdiocese established by the Old Cathedral in 1843 by the Germans who immigrated to the United States in large numbers.  It was the home for the Maronite community when they came over in 1890s and established
St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral here.  And it was yet a third spiritual home to the Hungarian expatriates who fled the Communist revolution of Hungary in 1955 and 1956.  Today it is an indulgence church.  You’ll note that the altar was dedicated with the consecration by Pope Leo XIII [1878-1903], granting a plenary indulgence.  That means [that,] at the time of death, if an individual is in a state of grace and makes a worthy Holy Communion, they get four hundred days’ remission off their stay in purgatory.  And that is a specific request by Leo XIII to this specific church.

One of the other things I might note is [that the church] was consecrated at the behest of Pope Pius IX… in 1866.  That’s why we have the brass candelabra on the wall.  Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick [1843-1895] anointed each pillar with chrism oil— the oil of kings and bishops— to consecrate and dedicate this church formally to Roman Catholic worship and to no other purpose.

Consecrations are specifically governed by canon law.  They are not easily bestowed; they are not easily revoked.  We’ve had twenty-six consecrated churches in the archdiocese.  In the three-hundred-year history of the diocese, only one has been closed; and it took twenty-six years for the Vatican to lift the consecration of St. Liborius Church on Hogan and Market [North 18th Street], which some of you may remember.

You may also be interested to know about these triangular reliquaries and the large red ones and other relics we have embedded in the altars.  We are the third largest repository of relics in the archdiocese after both cathedrals and the CSJ motherhouse.  That’s the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet down on [Holly Hills] and Minnesota Avenue and, itself, worth a visit to see the remarkable chapel where they have the body of a child saved from Roman times entombed.

You’ll also notice the wonderful organ we have in the back choir loft built in 1856 by [?] Jacob Pfeiffer.  And, immediately above it, we have the crest of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger, the first German pope in seven-hundred years.  As the first German church of the diocese, we’re honoring him [by using], at his request, the emblem of his office using a mitre rather than the tiara which is on Pope St. John Paul II’s coat of arms here.

As an overture ecumenically to our East Orthodox brethren, he switched to the mitre for his coat of arms and incorporated elements of his see in Munich-Freising, Germany that he was promoted by them to become pope.  And, having ancestors from Bavaria, that means a little something to me.

The stained-glass windows were made between 1846 and 1896 by two firms: the Hoffman Company and the Emil Frei Art Glass Company.  The Hoffman Company went out of business in 1890; the Emil Frei Art Glass Company is still in business.  And you might have seen the article in the Post-Dispatch last week on Erin and Nicholas Frei who have been down to this church as visitors along with their dad and granddad, Robert Frei, who was the gentleman who inherited the studio from Emil Frei, Sr., himself a Bavarian immigrant who came first from San Francisco in the 1890s, then to St. Louis and really developed the art of stained glass for Roman Catholic, Lutheran, evangelical, and many other denominational churches.

And the thing that means something here also is [that] these pews, this remarkable communion rail, that baptismal font were all fabricated along with most of the altars by Professor Maximilian Schneiderhahn.  And, even though Maximilian is my first name, we are not related.

He was the first liturgical artist brought from Germany by Archbishop Kenrick to make church interiors for Catholic churches that were being built.  This was his first church interior; St. Pius V on South Grand Avenue was his last.  And he worked in stone, wood, marble, plaster, all sorts of media.  He made these pews in 1846.  He made that baptismal font in 1834.  More than fifteen-thousand people have been baptized.  And, our most recent addition, in terms of liturgical history, is the statue made of Father [now] Blessed Francis Seelos, a nineteenth-century Bavarian priest, in the Vatican statuary foundry in Italy.  I was privileged to uncrate it twelve years ago.

We also have a copy of Blessed Francis Seelos’s death mask on the side altar.  You’re welcome to take a look at it.  We have a portion of his sternum bone, which is locked in our safe in one of the reliquaries that honors him.  And we’re hoping the second miracle gets validated so he can be canonized— the second saint in the metro St. Louis area after Mother Philippine Rose Duchesne.

The church is remarkably churched.  As I said, it’s a granddaddy of all the ethnic parishes of the archdiocese, of all nationalities.  It is especially loved by many of the Marian Catholics in the St. Louis area.  And the Germans, the Hungarians, and the Lebanese all revere this church.  St. Raymond’s, even though it’s Maronite Rite, is very supportive of our continuance.

Something the guys and gals in this day and age might want to know, is [that] the archdiocese allows churches like ours that are historic to be open for Catholic weddings from Catholics outside parish boundaries.  Many of you grew up in the suburbs and, if you choose to hold your wedding here, you can.  And you can even bring your own priest, if you so choose.

Father Harrison, who is our chaplain— we are a chapel of ease of the archdiocese— will do the final paperwork; but the priest who will marry you will have responsibility for the preparation and the actual ceremony.  And we’ve done that many times.

I invite you to walk around and see all the remarkable artworks in the church.  And, when you realize that this church is 174 years old, in this type of condition, it’s pretty obvious Our Lord wants St. Mary of Victories Church to continue.

So, welcome, and thank you all for coming today.

Max is a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, an honor bestowed on him by Cardinal Ratzinger for his part in preserving historic churches.

smv10916-23My dad, my uncle, and, to a lesser extent, myself were German liturgical craftsmen who fabricated and plated the bronze, gold, and silver textures in the churches for the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Episcopal, Lutheran, and some of the Reform churches.  Many of the Reform churches use rather notable metal ware, believe it or not.  We’ve had our business for more than 118 years.

[My dad and my uncle] volunteered down here in the 1930’s, [and] I’m glad to keep the tradition going.  I really like the German, the Hungarian, [and] the Lebanese who settled this church because… they [were] more flexible.  You could join the parish even if you weren’t that ancestry, [and] now we have all nationalities represented.

Come back anytime and have a great visit.

Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, CSsR

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Prayer from SMV church bulletin

Our heavenly Father, long ago you inspired our… forefathers in the faith to raise this beautiful house of prayer and sacrifice in honor of your Son’s most holy mother, Our Lady of Victories.  Your providence then brought many… here under the co-patronage of this holy king, St. Stephen.  We humbly place before you today the spiritual and temporal needs of our historic church and its present-day community.  Grant us the grace to discern your holy will and to fulfill it zealously as faithful witnesses to the gospel here in the old heart of our city for as long as it may please your divine majesty.

St. Mary of Victories, pray for us.  St. Stephen of Hungary, pray for us.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

November 9, 2016

“The world tells us to seek success, power, and money; God tells us to seek humility, service, and love” (Pope Francis).

December 15, 2016

The Christian heart has always known Mary as the essence of compassion and love, to whom man can turn with particular and unreserved confidence.  This is expressed so well by the intimate name that was given her from the beginning, the name of mother (Fr. Romano Guardini in The Rosary of Our Lady).

March 5, 2017

Mother Mary is right there with us, granting her graces and lovingly pushing us forth— always towards her son, Jesus, so that we will be able to continue each day to put one foot in front of the other to walk in faith (Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle in Our Lady of Fatima).

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Links of interest…  Adoremus…  Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos: about / biography
(more) / healernational shrine (more) / prayersprofileten tips / wonderworker…  Catholic community doesn’t look the same for everyone…  Criticism of Pope Francis rooted in misunderstanding of Vatican II: parts one, two, & three…  Hidden heart of Catholic St. Louis…  Palm Sunday (2016)…  Spirit of 79: The number of Americans proposed for sainthood…  St. Louis Mass mob: aboutfacebook…  St. Mary of Victories: about / archdiocese page / early historyfacebook (landmark) / help save the churchmediaphotos / relicswebsite…  St. Stephen: about / Aug 16 / devotion to Mary / Hungarian apostlememorial / prayerprofile / quote

WP posts…  Comforting thought…  Faces of Mary…  Familiar yet new…  Mary’s miraculous medal…  Mary’s seven joys…  Marytown shrine…  Old cathedral…  St. Mary Cathedral…  St. Mary revisited…  St. Mary’s

Then and now

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Of all the Texas Tropical Trail Region outings, Kingsville certainly made a long-lasting impression, mind, heart, and soul when we visited the Missionary Daughters’ Solemn Place of Prayer and learned about Venerable Julia Navarrete, known also as Julia of the Thorns of the Sacred Heart, though more lovingly regarded as “Mother Julia.”

Then: December 21, 2010

Sister Maxie, spokesperson for the Missionary Daughters of the Most Pure Virgin Mary (MDPVM) congregation, was all smiles with stories to tell and a dream to share.

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With the assistance of community activists like Maggie Salinas, Sister Maxie and the Missionary Daughters hoped to restore the original school house where their foundress, Mother Julia, generously invested her gifts and talents, time and love to spiritually nurture South Texas residents in our Catholic faith.

We were inspired!

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Growing curiosity

As years passed, my need to know grew stronger and stronger.  How is the school house restoration progressing?  Did they get the funding they so desperately sought?  Who’s helping them?  So many questions and no one to ask.

Again and again, I kept telling Steven, “I want to go back.  I have to see how they’re doing.”  But, mostly, I wanted to hear more stories from Sister Maxie.

Then, late October 2015, an article in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times really piqued my curiosity.  Mother Julia’s museum was to open to the public in November!

Now: April 2, 2016

Of course, life is funny.  Time passes.  We forget.  We don’t have time.  Then, just like that, everything falls into place just because.

Driving north from Brownsville on Highway 77, we took an unexpected detour, drove up and down streets in search of the restaurant where we’d eaten more than five years ago, and settled on a new place instead for an early afternoon lunch.

“Do you think we can we look for the Missionary Daughters’ Solemn Place of Prayer afterwards?” I asked even before we got off the vehicle.

“Yes.”

And, wouldn’t you know it?  By the time we got back in the vehicle, I’d forgotten.

But Steven hadn’t! 

So off we went with great anticipation.  And, oh, my! 

The Sisters’ dream had indeed come true!

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Prayer from the Friars of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph (2016: 1061)

Grant us, Lord God, a vision of your world as your love would have it: A world where the weak are protected and none go hungry or poor, a world where the riches of creation are shared and everyone can enjoy them, a world where different races and cultures live in harmony and mutual respect, a world where peace is built with justice and justice is guided by love.  Give us the inspiration and courage to build it through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

April 3, 2016

Act in such a way that all those who come in contact with you will go away joyful.  Sow happiness about you because you have received much from God; give, then, generously to others.  They should take leave of you with their hearts filled with joy, even if they have no more than touched the hem of your garment (St. Maria Faustina Kowalska).

April 4, 2016

Then, overcome by joy, I cried, “Jesus, my love.  At last I have found my vocation.  My vocation is love.  In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love; and then I will be all things” (St. Thérèse de Lisieux).

April 5, 2016

If you truly want to help the soul of your neighbor, you should approach God first with all your heart.  Ask him simply to fill you with charity, the greatest of all virtues; with it you can accomplish what you desire (St. Vincent Ferrer).

April 9, 2016

“If we wish to make any progress in the service of God, we must begin every day of our life with new ardor” (St. Charles Borromeo).

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Mother Julia’s chapel & museum – 408 East Richard Avenue – Kingsville, TX

Links of interest…  Capia de la Madre Julia nuevo lugar para oración (p. 6)…  Community celebrates Mother Julia jubilee…  In memoriam: Sister María Del Carmen Villalpando (obituary)…  Maggie Salinas: For Kingsville woman, helping others “is a gift we should all share” / TX story project…  Missionary Daughters (MDPVM)…  Mother Julia’s Good Samaritan Shop (open monthly: 1st & 2nd Saturday; facebook)…  Museum to honor Kingsville’s Mother Julia (10.26.15)…  Praying to the saints:   Christian practice / gracious advocates / heavenly intercessors / intercessory prayer / litanies / novenas (221) / why pray to the saints…  Sainthood: 87 new causes for sainthood / becoming a saint (five stepshow – models – process – rules – what is – what makes) / John Paul’s beatification…  Sister Maria Elena Casillas (more)…  Sister Maxima Cruz: A life of devotion (Sister Maxi; pp. 22-24)…  South Texas Catholic…  St. Martin of Tours Parish: 100 years as a faith community / diocese parish finder / facebook…  TX Tropical Trail Region (more; Tropical Traveler, p. 1)…  Venerable Julia Navarrete: about (facebook – YouTube) / celebrating 100th anniversary /  “Christmas miracle” planned / decrees of the congregation for sainthood causes / gardener’s miracle / Julia of the Thorns of the Sacred Heart / quote

WP posts…  Holy relics…  Honoring Joselito…  Multicultural Mass…  Sacred Heart Church…  Saturday evening Mass…  Solano, Solanus, Solani…  Today’s Beatitudes…  Unexpected detours…  Vattmann church…  Vattmann Thanksgiving…  Venerable Julia Navarrete…  Venerable Margaret

Father’s roses

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Last year Steven and I drove to Goose Island for Palm Sunday Mass at Stella Maris, and Father Ralph was overjoyed to see us.

“I was hoping you two would show up!  I’ve got great news!  Follow me so we can talk,” Father said, leading us to the slightly bigger than standing room only space behind the altar.

Miracle shared

Without being asked Joe, attentive sacristan and devoted friend, opened a folding chair for Father to sit as he shared his latest stories with us.

“I’m healed!” Father gushed and then proceeded to fill in all the glorious details as Steven bent down to listen and I looked up intently, almost breathlessly, from where I sat on the old wood floor.

We couldn’t get enough!  After all the trips to M.D. Anderson and more, Father Ralph’s news was the answer to our collective prayers.  We were so grateful for Father’s reprieve from his medical roller coaster ride that we couldn’t stop smiling.  Again and again we thanked and praised God for his merciful kindness.

Faith revisited

Father Ralph was on fire.  He was  a walking-talking miracle whose homily, in part, focused on a familiar story from the Bible.

Or take the woman who had obviously heard Jesus preach.  She might even have seen some of the miracles.  She’d gone to doctors for twelve years.  She had a hemorrhage.  Only women can appreciate the misery of all that, day in and day out.  No cure.  And she’d spent all her money.

’If I could just touch the hem of his garment,’ she thought, ‘I would be healed.’

That’s a position of faith, isn’t it?  She wanted a point of contact, so she could release her faith.  And the power of God would come flowing through her body.

Did she find it easy to get to Jesus?  Oh, it was easy to see him.  ‘Yes, there he is over there.  Uh-huh.  I see the prayer shawl.  Oh, my goodness.  There are so many people around him!’

She didn’t let the press interfere with the possibility of cure.  She didn’t let the devil talk her out of it.  She pushed and shoved— did whatever she had to do— until, finally, she got behind him.  She touched his garment, the hem of his prayer shawl.

Jewish men wear the tallit in Israel to this day when they pray at the Wailing Wall.  I’ve been there.  I’ve seen it.  I have one that I use.  At the base of it are all these tassels that represent the Commandments of God, the promises of God.

What the woman was thinking was, ‘If I touch the one that keeps all the Commandments and if I touch the one for healing, I will be made whole.’

The woman released her faith when she touched it, and Jesus said, ‘Virtue has come out.  Who has touched me?’

’I did,’ the woman replied.

’Your faith has made you whole,’ Jesus told her.

So it’s always an impediment to get to Jesus, isn’t it?  Sometimes it’s our own doubt.  Most of the time, it’s the devil.

‘Oh, but you don’t deserve to have a miracle.  Remember what you did when you were a young man?  Or a young woman?  Just forget that, and just keep going.  You can’t change, and God can’t forgive you.  You’ll never have a miracle.’

Oh, my goodness.  The devil is the father of lies, isn’t he?

Although Father’s homily wasn’t perfectly geared for Palm Sunday, it certainly touched on the faith— the “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1)— that Jesus embodies for us to witness during Holy Week.

Lesson gleaned

Through Father Ralph God refreshed us with yet another of his extraordinary lessons.  Believing requires stoutheartedness, courage, and patience.  Believing is trusting that God knows best.  “Your will be done,” not mine (Matthew 26:42).

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Father’s roses

After Mass Father Ralph insisted that Steven and I accompany him to the back yard.  With scissors in hand he snipped at his prized rosebush; created a lovely, fragrant, lavender-pink cluster; and jubilantly presented me with the unexpected bouquet.

Thoughtful?  Yes.  Then again, healthy or unwell, that’s Father Ralph.

On the drive home, in the days that followed, and especially now that Father Ralph’s health has waned again, his roses are more than just a sweet remembrance of our time at Stella Maris; they’re an enduring recollection of God’s loving mercy celebrated on Palm Sunday a year ago.

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March 18, 2016

I struggled with [the devil] in my imprisonment.  At one moment I thought I was victorious; the next day I was defeated.  This cruel and stubborn fight lasted five years.  Then God gave me the grace to triumph over my enemy (St. Augustine).

March 20, 2016

“The Mass is long,” you say; [to which] I add, “because your love is short”  (St. Josemaría Escrivá).

March 24, 2017

We are not to be without pain.  Pain is Jesus suffering in us, but we are to look to him for strength and courage.  We are to learn this ability to shoulder our cross by gazing at him and being gentle and humble in heart (Mother Angelica on Suffering and Burnout).

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Father Ralph’s homilies: 10 Oct 2010 / 22 Jan 2012 / 16 Sept 2012

Links of interest…  Christ’s way of the cross…  Do you want to be well…  Fr. Ralph: service to God & country / story of healing (3.13.15)…  How to overcome worry by trusting in God’s providence…  Open-&-shut case for Jesus…  Pope laments “defeated Christians” who do not fully trust in God…  Saints: novenas (188) / prayer
St. Peregrine: about / articles (prayer cards) / biography / “cancer saint” / chaplet / feast / friends of / healing intercessor & friend / healing power / May 1st / novena / prayer / prayer requests / prayers / shrine / story…  Stella Maris: anniversary / facebook / history (more) / Lamar, TX (more) / marker…  Trusting in God completely / in uncertain times…  Would you have touched Jesus’ cloak

WP posts…  Delightful visit…  Healing service…  Holy relics…  Memorable as ever…  Powerful intercessor…  Prayers and blessings…  Saintly connections…  St. Peregrine relic…  Stella Maris…  Stella Maris moments

Celebrations

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When Steven and I attended Saturday evening Mass at St. Pius X in Corpus Christi, TX, we got way more than we’d anticipated.

Real meal deal

Before Mass— actually, between the service at five-thirty and ours at seven— I’d wandered around doing my usual thing: taking photos here and there, mostly captivated by the four angels in the portico leading to the church entrance.  So I’d overheard a constant stream of lively conversations among parishioners exiting the earlier Mass and the tall, friendly priest, well-spoken and sincere.  Lots of heartfelt wishes were exchanged along with a rather large gift bag that I later saw the priest carry into church.  But what captivated my listening ear were the “God bless you” sentiments that the shepherd dispensed in the same upbeat tone to each of his sheep.

Walking around with my third eye (Coolpix) certainly has its perks! I kept thinking.  At a time when religious and priests have shortened the message to “God bless”— a pet peeve for sure, since I’ve heard it used as an expletive over the course of my lifetime— I was truly moved not just by the flock, but by the shepherd, too.

I smiled within.  He’s the “real meal deal,” as Fr. Ralph Jones at Stella Maris might say.

Angels and sheep

SPX11616-25Then a voice called me back to earth.  “Those angels are something special, aren’t they?” the priest quipped as he soundlessly passed me by on his way into church.

“Ye—es,” I stuttered, momentarily losing my quiet comfort zone.  I’d been caught red-handed in the proverbial cookie jar!  “Yes they are,” I immediately rebounded, still gazing at the angel with the torch.

The priest had been focused on his flock, reminiscent of “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:14).  Yet he’d acknowledged the strange sheep lurking about, feigning invisibility behind the camera lens.  Nice touch.

Celebrations

After Mass concluded but before the procession, a vivacious young woman stepped up to the ambo to deliver the speech she’d prepared.  She giggled; we laughed.  She’d been volunteered to do the honors; but, really, she’d come to the realization that she wanted to do it.  Her exuberance was contagious!

As I listened to the young woman’s anecdotes, I felt as if I’d known Fr. Paul all along.  From my brief time eavesdropping out in the portico, he’d come alive as a down-to-earth shepherd who smells like his sheep.

Talks (below) by the young woman, Fr. Paul, and Bishop Mulvey, respectively, were transcribed from my audio recording of the Mass.

Good evening.  I was given a task to give a simple and short tribute to a very important person in our community.  I was confused on where to start.  How do I even do this?

SPX11616-128This person is loved by so many people in this community that I felt pressured, so my solution was to have some help from some of you.

I interviewed a couple of people in this room and asked them, “Who is Fr. Paul?”

Some of the answers were “a spiritual leader,” “a mentor,” “a friend,” “a role model.”  One even said “a Filipino convert.”  And the list goes on and on.  But I promised to be quick, so I’ll stop there.

[“You didn’t ask me!” Bishop Mulvey interjected humorously.]

Fr. Paul means a lot to all of us.  He is a very important pillar to our community.  He plants and waters the seeds.  That’s why we’re here celebrating our tenth annual Sinulog celebration with his constant support and guidance.

Who is Fr. Paul to you?

The little kids told me, “Jesus Christ.”

I can understand the response because Fr. Paul always takes time to laugh with the kids with their silly jokes and always smiles even though he’s tired [from] his other responsibilities.  He even high-fives the kids after Mass.

SPX11616-129In one of Fr. Paul’s homilies in these nine-day novena Masses, he stated that he wishes for people to see Christ in him. And I guess that’s the answer.

Yes, we see Christ in you.

As you will be celebrating your twentieth anniversary of priesthood this Monday, January eighteenth, we pray for you to have good health so that you continue doing what you do best, which is being the fisher of men.

We would like to present to you a small token of our appreciation.  This reads “May you continue to be sustained by His grace and may your life in God’s service be always filled with joy.”

Let me end this by asking for Santo Nino’s protection [for] you at all times.

Pit senyor con Fr. Paul caron!

Fr. Paul was presented with a large framed Divine Mercy picture that he very graciously accepted.  And, without hurrying, he spoke to us briefly so the procession could begin.

Thank you very much.  I will cherish this.  Actually, you caught me by surprise.

I really appreciate your thoughtfulness tonight in recognizing me, but I’ve always felt that this celebration and the devotion that we’ve had for the past ten years every first Friday has been about you.

SPX11616-72It’s been about your traditions and about your faith and your devotion to the Santo Niño, so it’s been wonderful to see how the devotion has grown starting with maybe a handful of people in a home.  Maybe about fifty.  Maybe it was seventy-five people in the home that first year.  And now there’s almost five-hundred people here tonight, I can see.

So, what a wonderful gift.  I think that’s the power of the Santo Niño, the Child Jesus, who brings us all together and who draws us into communion with one another.

And so, what a special blessing it has been to be with you these past ten years.  Thank you for who you are and for embracing me into your life of faith and into your community, so God bless you all.

And, before we go in procession and we then move over to the festivities, I want to say a special word of thanks to Bishop Mulvey for being with us tonight.  He’s a very busy man.  But he takes time out of his schedule and he wants to be a part of this celebration, I know.  He has a very special place in his heart for all of you; so thank you, Bishop Mulvey, for being here with us.

Of course, we also need to thank Fr. Kisito for coming to celebrate with us.  I think that he’s been with us most of the years that we’ve been celebrating, and he comes to assist with the novenas.  So thank you very much,
Fr. Kisito.

Does everybody know what they’re doing?

But wait!  Hold on!  Not so fast!

Bishop Mulvey managed to pull another of the last-minute antics we’ve come to relish: On his way to the ambo he somewhat excused the interruption by saying, “You know, the bishop always gets the last word!”  Hilarious— as in, whom has he not mentored?!!

SPX11616-136I’ve known Fr. Paul longer than any of you.  I was the director of spiritual formation at St. Mary’s Seminary when Fr. Paul was head full of hair and playing the guitar.  But what I want to say— are you sure it’s not twenty-five years?  It’s twenty-five.  It better be twenty-five ‘cause I’m forty.  And I thought it has to be more than twenty.  But twenty-five years?  That’s wonderful!

I wasn’t prepared for this.  This is kind of off the cuff, but Fr. Paul is what-you-see-is-what-you-get.  And I say that most sincerely because, what we saw twenty-five years ago— or twenty-six, twenty-seven years ago at the seminary— is what we see today: A man who is just very sincere, very generous, very joyful, very transparent.  And it’s an honor.

I never knew twenty-five years ago that I would be his bishop.  But it is an honor to be your bishop.  I’m very grateful for all that he does here in the parish and in the diocese.  So, Fr. Paul, many congratulations to you and many, many— many, many, many, many— more years.  You’d better outlast me, anyway.  So, God bless you on this celebration.  And God bless each one of you for all the good that you do for your families, for the diocese, and for your church.  God bless you!

Pope Francis would be so proud, I thought.  This priest has heeded the call of service for twenty-five years and he looks, acts, and sounds like a spring chicken.  I’d say that’s a match made in heaven!

So, long story short, we celebrated not just the feast of Santo Niño de Cebú, but also the ordination anniversary of Fr. Paul Hesse, beloved shepherd.  And, just like that, I quickly understood why Uncle Johnny’s family, along with Allie and Stephen Carter, have been part of the St. Pius X church community from the very start.

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Prayer

Eternal God, please bless our priests who represent you on this earth.  Make them more greatly aware of the grace that you pour out through them when they minister the sacraments, and help them to fall more deeply in love with you after each and every Mass that they celebrate.

Please strengthen our priests, who shepherd your flock, when they are in doubt of their faith that they may be examples of your truth and guide us always on the path to you.

We ask these things of you, our eternal priest.  Amen.

January 25, 2016

A man of prayer is capable of everything.  He can say with St. Paul, “I can do all things in him who strengthened me” (St. Vincent de Paul).

January 27, 2016

“You will accomplish more by kind words and a courteous manner than by anger or sharp rebuke, which should never be used except in necessity” (St. Angela Merici).

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Pdf file…  Child Jesus chaplet prayers

Links of interest…  Altar server surrogate…  “Amazing:” What happened when one parish invited anyone to stop by & meet a priest…  Do beautiful churches produce beautiful priests…  Dom Hubert Van Zeller, OSB (1905-1984): about / books (more – titles) / correspondence with MertonGospel priesthood / How to find God / spiritual master – writer’s cramp…  Everything can turn into prayer…  Forgotten benefits of Christ within…  Open yourself to goodness…  Mysticism: It’s not just for saints…  Pope Francis’ Fatal 15…  Prayers: cardholy hour / missionaries / novena / one hundred / priests / priests & religious…  Priest: dignity & vocation / quadriplegic / soldier & simple poet…  Santo Niño website …  St. John Vianney: about / catechism on the priesthood / ten maxims & quotes…  Three hints on getting more from the homily…  Unlikely calling…  Veteran’s Day & the Body of Christ…  What’s your mission…  When God says no to your yes…  You can bring Christ to the world

WP posts…  Beloved joyful priest…  Call of service…  Capuchin Christmas…    Father’s guided tour…  Father now retired…  God’s loving mercy…  God’s master plan…  Home again…  Memory lane…  Mercy and justice…  Prayer power…  Prayerful ways…  Promise of hope…  Quiet prayer time…  Santo Niño…  Solano, Solanus, Solani…  St. Michael chaplet…  Sweet Jesus…  Today’s Beatitudes

God’s loving mercy

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Saturday evening we attended the Santo Niño celebration at St. Pius X in Corpus Christi, TX.  Well, the Mass, actually.

Since our Bible study group had engaged in a thoroughly invigorating discussion on the Sunday readings— the “Wedding at Cana” in particular— Steven and I had anticipated that Bishop Mulvey’s homily was sure to be the icing on the proverbial cake.  For this reason, I recorded his homily (below) to share with the group.

Setting the tone

SPX11616-StoNA marvelous story of Santo Niño and so many other stories of protective help from the saints, from Mary, from God.  We’ve moved them back into history.  When you think about the feast, the miracle of Santo Niño back in the 1600s, you look at the life of the people, probably very simple.  Very simple, simple life.  They had the elements of the earth.  They depended on the rain to water their crops.  They depended on the water to produce fish.  They needed the elements of the earth.  They needed the help of God.  They relied upon the help of God.  And we see that notion throughout the scriptures.

As we rise every morning in the Office that we pray as priests, religious, and lay people in the church, the opening psalm is the psalm of praise to God that he has created us, at heart that we should not harden our hearts against him but [be] open to God’s help.

I say that because we might, each one of us, think of this morning and yesterday morning and the morning before.  [What was] the first thing you did when you got up?  What did you think of?  If you try to examine yourself, say, “As I get up each morning, who do I rely upon?”

I think, if we’re honest, we’re going to rely upon the TV— turn it on first, get the news.  Gotta get the news.  Gotta go to that computer.  Gotta go to that iPhone.  Gotta go to that text message.

We have become dependent on all of these things.  And the question for us is [this]: In the midst of all this relying on news and media and connection with my friends on facebook around the world and all these things that I need to exist, where is [my] God?

Have these things become our gods because God is what is beyond us?  God is the one who is superior to us. But God is also the one who loves us, tenderly, gently.  And so, if we examine ourselves, sisters and brothers, and we think about just the very simple act of getting up in the morning, do we get up with a grateful heart and say, “Good morning, Lord Jesus?”  “Good morning, Father of mercies?”  “Good morning, another morning, so that I can rely on you?”

How we get up in the morning sets the tone for the day.  Sets the tone for the day.

If I get up immediately relying upon technology, then my day will be technological.  And, when I get exhausted by the end of the day, I’ll say— gasp— “Oh, I forgot!  Hail Mary, full of grace.  The Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou amongst women—  In the name of the Father and the Son—  Goodnight, Lord.”  But that’s not who we are as a people.  The beautiful faith of the Filipino people and so many other rich, rich cultures of faith rely from the very beginning on the love, the mercy, of God.

Goodness and hope

SPX11616-83I had a pastor that I worked for as a deacon in England.  He was part of the Apostleship of the Sea, which is very close to our seamen here in the Port of Corpus Christi and probably many of your own family members.

He told me one thing as a young deacon.  He said, “Michael, the people who are closest to God are the ones who are closest to the elements of the earth.  They, too, are those who work with the land and those who work at sea because they rely and depend upon God’s goodness.”

In the Philippines, especially in the past years, you know that the weather and the elements of the water have brought great destruction.  But the faith of the people grows even more.

So many farmers in this area with the drought have really felt devastation, and yet there’s that hope that continues to live in them.  No machine can do that for us.

Finding meaning

And so as you celebrate— as we celebrate— this evening, I think it’s important to go back to those rudimentary principles of who we are as human beings, created not manufactured, created not in a laboratory but in the image and likeness of God in our mothers’ wombs.  Simple.  Thank you very much.  And it’s because of that human nature that we rely upon the divine.

Look at Jesus. In the gospel of John, several times, he said, “I have not come to do my own will, but the will of my Father.”  [He tells] us, “I’ve not come to do my own thing.  I rely upon, I depend upon, I find my meaning and my fulfillment in God’s will for me.”

What did that mean?  He had to stay in close contact with him.  And he didn’t have an iPhone.  He didn’t have facebook.  He didn’t have all these mechanisms we have to stay in touch with his Father.  What he had was prayer.  What he had was a secluded place in the mountains or in the back yard to be silent and listen to the Father.

That’s how Jesus got up every morning, giving praise to the Father.  That’s how he lived the day.  And that’s how he returned to a night’s sleep, depending on the will of the Father in all that he did.

Seeking God’s will

And so we find ourselves saying sometimes, “You know, WWJD.  What would Jesus do in this moment?

Well, there’s a bigger question.  There’s a bigger context.  What does Jesus want?  What does God want of you, especially the young people?  Have you ever thought—  What does God want from you, not what you want to do [or] what your parents and your grandparents want you to do?  What does God want of your life?

We see St. Paul in the reading today lining out [the] different ministries.  There are different ways to serve God.  That’s what the body of Christ is all about.  Different ways.  Nothing’s I invent, but how God calls each one of us forth to do his will.  And to do his will, I can’t put a magic formula in somewhere.  I’ve got to listen.  I’ve got to be able to pray and listen with silence.

I would’ve never thought, ever, of being a bishop.  Many of you probably would not have ever thought of doing some things that you’ve done or be someone that you are.  But it’s by God’s grace, and so we have to listen.

Making connections

SPX11616-98We have today in the gospel a marvelous story of listening to one another, a story that you all know.  If I were to ask you— as adults or people who go to religion class, CCD— [to] tell me the story of the wedding feast of Cana, you could tell it, probably.  No problem.  Still ain’t right?  You know it.  The familiar story, we know it.  But what really was happening there?

What was really happening there?

Jesus was invited to a wedding feast.  He was not a religious stuck-in-the-mud, you know, kind of guy that had a long face and didn’t enjoy being in people’s homes or enjoy being at a wedding.  He went!

Some scholars say it may have been one of Mary’s in-laws that was getting married, so she was there as kind of a hostess.  And she saw that the wine was missing.  So she went over to Jesus, who, by the way, brought some uninvited guests.

You ever been to one of those parties where somebody brings five extra people with them that you weren’t planning?  We’re not saying that they drank the wine and made it go bad or made it go away, but they were out of wine.  Probably other people brought extra guests.

They were in need.  And there was Mary.  She saw that because, perhaps, she was kind of the hostess of the day.  So she went over to Jesus.

“Son, they have no wine.”

Language of the day

Now the response many of us will say is, “Wow.  I wouldn’t treat my mother like that.”

“Woman, what does your concern have to do with me?”

We always have to go back to the language of the day.  Many scholars say that language— “woman, what does your concern have to do with me”— basically says “Mom, I’ll take care of it.”

I’ll take care of it.

Not the way she thought or not the way other people were taught.  “Well, you have to go down to the grocery store or to the wine store and get some more.”  You know, all those kinds of things.  How did that ever happen?  But, remember, Jesus came to do the will of the Father.  And that’s why he said, “My hour has not come yet, but don’t worry.”

Fulfilling God’s will

And so he just took the simple jars of water— six jars, thirty gallons each— and changed water into wine.  A simple gesture to take care of people’s needs so that the party could continue.  But look at the relationship of Mary and Jesus.

Mary depended on Jesus.  Jesus depended on his Father so that this miracle could happen.  But, in other parties, he said, “My hour has not yet come.”  In other words: “It’s not time for me to do that first miracle.”

The hour that Jesus is speaking of is the hour on the cross.  That was the miracle of miracles.  That’s why he came.  That’s why the Father sent him.  That’s what he was anticipating.  That’s why, whenever he did a miracle, he said “don’t tell people” because that’s what [they were] waiting for— redemption.  But Jesus was so in tune with his Father and so in tune with his mother that he did what was needed at the time.

This happened, friends, at a wedding.

So many times today I think people— we’ve— lost a sense of the dignity and the sacredness of a wedding feast in the Church.  Jesus went to a great wedding feast where everyone participated, where it was part of his faith.  He went there.  But the other beautiful thing was that it was at somebody’s home.

You know, when people think of miracles, they’re always looking for some big bash, some big splash somewhere.  This was at somebody’s home!  Something that was needed right there in front of them, something simple.  And it was Jesus responding in that simple way in simple people’s lives to bring about a simple solution to a need.

Living the gospel

SPX11616-103And so what does all that say to us today?  How do we bring that gospel of two-thousand years ago into our own lives?

We all have needs.  We all get disappointed.  Things happen to us in a given day.  Things happened today.

Who do we rely upon?  To whom shall we go?

Remember when the people left Jesus after he transformed the bread.  He multiplied the loaves so that everyone could eat?  He said, “I am the bread of life.”

And people left!

So, to his disciples standing there, he said, “Will you leave me, too?”

And they said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

When things don’t go our way in life— we have a bad day— [or] when something tragic happens in our lives, to whom do we go?

Do we go and kneel down and offer our life to the Father, depending on him?  Or do we try to resolve every situation that we have the way we think it should be resolved?

If we do that, sisters and brothers, we close the door to Santo Niño.  We close the door [and] say, “We don’t need you.  I’ll take care of it.  I’ve got a computer.  I’ve got a TV.  I’ve got all these things.  I’ve got a car.  I’ll take care of it.”

But that’s not who we are.  That’s not who you are as men and women of faith.  Stand there and say, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words. You have the resolve for everything.”

God’s loving mercy

SPX11616-104Those stone jars, sisters and brothers, I think for this Year of Mercy represent the abundance of God’s mercy.

You know, [like] St. John, you can’t just [think], Okay, there’s six jars, thirty gallons each, one-hundred eighty gallons.  You can’t look at it that way because St. John always had a symbol [for] what [he] saw.

In this Year of Mercy, we can definitely see those six jars, water becoming now wine, richness.  Those represent God’s mercy coming to a difficult situation.

During this Year of Mercy, let us look at those jars and say, “That’s God’s merciful grace overflowing in my needs.”

Whatever happens to you today, tomorrow, the next day— let’s not limit it to this year but the rest of our lives— but [for] the rest of this year, make a resolve tonight.  Whatever happens today, whatever happens this year, depend on the grace of God.

Don’t try to solve it yourself.  Go to your knees.  Stand in front of the Lord and say, “Your will be done.”  Not just as a saying that your grandmother or mother taught you.  Say it from the depth of your heart.

“Your will be done.  I don’t understand.  I don’t know why this happened.  I don’t want this to happen.”

And, just as Jesus stood in front of that couple that needed something— it would’ve been a shame in the culture of the time to run out of wine— his abundant grace [will flow] over and [come] to [your] aid, [too].

And so, sisters and brothers, as we rededicate ourselves to Jesus Christ in the figure of Santo Niño, praying for all the needs of families in the Philippines and people throughout the world, let us do our part to be men and women of faith who love God so much that we depend not only on the technology of today but, first and foremost at the beginning of every morning, on God’s grace and loving mercy (Bishop Michael Mulvey; January 16, 2016; transcribed audio recording, edited).

Evening prayer to God by St. Macarius

O eternal God and Ruler of all creation, you have allowed me to reach this hour.  Forgive the sins I have committed this day by word, deed or thought. Purify me, O Lord, from every spiritual and physical stain.  Grant that I may rise from this sleep to glorify you by my deeds throughout my entire lifetime and that I be victorious over every spiritual and physical enemy.  Deliver me, O Lord, from all vain thoughts and from evil desires; for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever.  Amen.

January 23, 2016

“The world tells us to seek success, power, and money; God tells us to seek humility, service, and love” (Pope Francis).

January 24, 2016

By turning your eyes on God in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with God.  Begin all your prayers in the presence of God (St. Francis de Sales).

January 27, 2016

Turn your eye to God’s will and see how he wills all the works of his mercy and justice in heaven and on earth and under the earth.  Then, with profound humility, accept, praise, and then bless this sovereign will, which is entirely holy, just, and beautiful (St. Francis de Sales, Roses Among Thorns).

January 30, 2016

“God gives each one of us sufficient grace ever to know his holy will and to do it fully” (St. Ignatius of Loyola).

June 1, 2016

We set forth our petitions before God not in order to make known to him our needs and desires, but rather so that we ourselves may realize that in these things it is necessary to turn to God for help (St. Thomas Aquinas).

June 11, 2016

“Trust the past to the mercy of God, the present to his love, and the future to his providence” (St. Augustine).

November 18, 2016

Let us never lose courage or despair of God’s mercy.  We have only to humble ourselves before God in order to obtain grace to become all that we ought to be (St. Rose Philippine Duchesne).

November 21, 2016

Humility is the virtue of our Lord Jesus Christ, of his blessed Mother, and of the greatest saints.  It embraces all virtues and, where it is sincere, introduces them into the soul (St. Vincent de Paul).

November 28, 2016

We shall never learn to know ourselves except by endeavoring to know God; for, beholding his greatness, we realize our own littleness.  His purity shows us our foulness; and, by meditating upon his humility, we find how very far we are from being humble (St. Teresa of Ávila).

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Pdf file…  Child Jesus chaplet prayers

Links of interest…  Apostleship of the Sea…  Are your decisions born of fear or love…  Bringing back what is true & good…  Child Jesus: devotion / infancy & childhood / meditations / miracles (books) / photos / questions & answers / reverence / solemnity…  Diocese of Corpus Christi (office of the bishop – videos)…  Divine Child: about / devotion…  Forgiveness & contemplation in prayer…  Holy Infant of Prague: about / artifacts / chaplet / feast / history / league / novena / of good health (more) / petitions / prayers…  Humility…  Office: about / breviary / liturgy of the hours / universalis…  Saintly former slave a model of mercy…  Practice of the presence of God…  Santo Niño de Atocha: about / chapel / history / miracles / origin / prayers / story (more)…  Santo Niño de Cebú: basilica / feast (more) / history / homily / novena / origin / perpetual novena / song (YouTube)…  Signs & symbols (Mary McGlone, CSJprayer request app)…  South Texas Catholic…  St. Pius X: facebook / Santo Niño devotion / schedule of services / website…  Word to life: Sunday scripture readings (Official Catholic Directory – Catholic News Service)…  Year of Mercy makes sense only if you haven’t lost the sense of sin

WP posts…  Beloved joyful priest…  Call of service…  Celebrations…  Christmas year ’round…  Connected tangents…  Dear God…  Faces of Mary…  Faith and prayer…  Gifts…  Heart’s desire…  In good time…  Little gifts…  Living one’s gifts…  Making meaning…  Mercy and justice…  Multicultural Mass…  Noon visit…  On being Christian…  One prayer…  Pink divinity…  Santo Niño…  Soulful…  Sweet Jesus…  Venerable Margaret

Beloved joyful priest

When Steven and I first joined St. Paul the Apostle Church in Flour Bluff in 2006,  Father James Stembler was our beloved joyful priest.

What a glorious time for us!  Everyone was so thoughtful and caring that, for the first time in our lives, Steven and I felt that we truly belonged!  We were more than just parishioners; we were part of a church family, a God-given gift so immensely gratifying that we couldn’t imagine life without this intricately woven church community.

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Change

Father John Xaviour arrived at St. Paul’s in January 2007, and everyone loved him.  But, as Father Stembler likes to recall, “he was in Flour Bluff only three months before Bishop Carmody reassigned him.”  So, at Father Stembler’s gentle but insistent nudging that Steven and I return to our home parish “to assist Father Xaviour” however we could, we relented after the third attempt.

On April 27, 2008, our very strong desire to remain with our church family finally gave way to our rejoining St. Joseph Church with Father Stembler’s enthusiastic blessing.

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Our heart-wrenching departure became a heartfelt mission that called us— me in particular— to build community within God’s kingdom in ways we’d never imagined… until Father Xaviour was reassigned again, July 2013, and the door to St. Paul’s opened for us once more all on its own.

Only, by then Father Stembler had also been reassigned— twice during our absence— first as full-time vocation director for the diocese and then as pastor of St. Gertrude Parish in Kingsville where he’s happily fulfilling his call of service at the present time (South Texas Catholic, September 2011).

Church family

Yet the spirit of the St. Paul family knows no bounds!

Regardless of time apart, lack of communication, distance, and/or proactive engagement at our respective parishes, we’re forever linked within this uniquely festive body of Christ: A veritable fan base, delightful, nurturing, always present.

No matter where we’ve ended up or how we happen to come together— for a brief encounter at the HEB on Waldron Road or for a very special event within the diocese— every shared instance is a memorable occasion.

Beloved joyful priest

So, without missing a beat, the moment the collective we heard about Father Stembler’s upcoming celebration to commemorate the anniversary of his ordination (January 21, 1989), we made plans to attend.  Eagerly carpooling to St. Gertrude’s in Kingsville, the St. Paul family paid tribute to our beloved joyful priest for his twenty-five years of faithful service to God and his people!

Faithful shepherd

Father James came to me for the blessing before the homily.  I think I should’ve asked his blessing before I say what I’m going to say.

FrS12514sa-7a[Playfully slicking his hair back with his left hand, Bishop Mulvey’s antics evoked a hearty eruption of laughter.]

I think those are the last two things I told you when you left the seminary: “Don’t be snooty, and don’t think you know it all ’cause, even if you do, they’ll teach you different.”

No.  I want to thank you, Father James, for your friendship first of all, for being a priest of our diocese, and for being such a good and faithful pastor.  Wherever you’ve been and, again, the church reflects all those places and people that you have served.  And I want to thank you for that.

He was so right in saying what he said in those few little gestures, that it is true that the young priest leaves the seminary and he does think he knows it all.  And he might think that he’s a bit cut above the others.  But as Pope John XXIII used to say— soon to be saint— Pope John XXIII used to say that the people were not given to the priests.  Priests are given to the people: To walk with the people; to shepherd the people; and, as our present Holy Father puts it, “to smell like the people.”

But it takes a true act of an open heart, an expanded heart, of a sincere and noble heart to be able to accomplish that: To know that we don’t know it all, that we don’t have it all, that we’re not better than anyone else.  We’ve been called.  And you were called to be a priest of the Church, to be a good shepherd to your people.  And when we come to these moments in our life when we celebrate anniversaries, it is so wonderful and moving, I would say, to be able to look out over the flock that you have walked with and shepherded and have become one.  And that is also a tremendously humbling experience, but it is also an experience that I’m sure tonight you have joy in your heart to experience it.

And so, as Father James says, we want to thank you, people of God, who form us and form him.

We also want to thank him for his fidelity and his deep concern for the Church and his faithfulness.

FrS12514sa-8aAnd I want to say something to Wally and Virginia because we don’t just learn to be faithful.  We don’t just learn to be dedicated priests.  We learn that from where we come, from our homes, from our families.  And I’ve witnessed over the last few years your fidelity to your parents who now are not able to travel to be with us.  But you and your siblings have been so faithful to your mother and father, and that was obviously instilled in you so that you could be faithful to them and that you could also be faithful as a disciple of Jesus Christ and a disciple of the priesthood and of this particular church in the diocese.

So I am also very grateful and very joyful tonight to be with you and to share this moment with you.  And, as you continue this journey of faith, this journey of being a good shepherd, we learn more and more of the heart of this shepherd, Jesus Christ.  God bless you (Bishop Michael Mulvey; January 25, 2014; transcribed audio recording).

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Acknowledgments

Well, um.  You won’t believe this, but I don’t know what to say.  [Everyone burst into laughter.]

One thing I do want to acknowledge.  One of my assignments was to be the secretary to Bishop Gracida for five years, and I learned in those five years that being a secretary is a very important role, a very important function.  So I want to acknowledge the secretaries that I’ve worked with over the years.

Jeanette Vela at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.  She was a parishioner at
St. Paul’s, too.  There was Anna de Leon Ramos.  She was not able to be here this evening.  For three years we worked with Bishop Gracida in the various responsibilities.  I want to acknowledge— she’s not able to be here; she lives close to her daughter now— Bertha Bedellin who worked at St. Elizabeth’s, a wonderful person.  Carol Wondolowski right here, the secretary at St. Paul’s.  And Kathy— you’re back there, aren’t you?  Yes. Kathy Taylor, who’s the secretary here at St. Gertrude’s.

I thank you all very much for helping me along and all of that.  I do believe the statement that says, “Do you want to talk to the boss? Or do you want to talk to the one who knows what’s going on?”  They know what’s going on.

Well, there are a lot of people waiting to be thanked tonight.  I want to thank the choir. Rachael [Bustamante] for the music and the musicians up there [in the choir loft].

I want to thank the Knights of Columbus for falling out this evening.  This is a wonderful attendance of the fourth-degree Knights.  I worked with the Knights of Columbus in parishes over the years.  It’s always been a very good association.  It’s very good here at St. Gertrude’s, so you Knights keep up the good work.

I want to thank the ladies from the National Council of Catholic Women.  I know they’re back there.  It was one of you, Delma Guerrera, who urged me to continue with the NCCW.  And I have.  It’s been a wonderful association.  It took me all the way up to now a national office.  It’s been wonderful working with all for twenty-three years, so thank you for your friendship.  You all are wonderful people, and it’s good to get together.  It’s good to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land.  Something we need to do through prayer and through financial support, too, huh?

It’s wonderful work that you all are engaged in.  Certainly, it’s been a pleasure to be with the Knights and the ladies….

Then there’s my older brother.  I’m the youngest in the family— can’t you tell?  Paul and his wife, Mary are here.  This is warm weather to them, so that’s why they’re in short sleeves.  It’s great to have you with us this evening.

I mentioned all the priests and all the deacons earlier.

Thanks to the servers for serving.  To Benencio— where are you?  Back there somewhere.  Benencio is the housekeeper.  He does a good job.  Thank you for your presence here this evening.  It’s so great to see all of you from these past twenty-five years.  It’s truly a great joy, as the bishop said.

We’ll see what God has in store for the next twenty-five years.  But, if it’s been like the first twenty-five years, it’s going to be wonderful as well.

Thanks for everything (Father James Stembler; transcribed audio recording).

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Thanks to our dear friend, Sam Apiado, for his photos in the “faithful shepherd” and “acknowledgments” sections.  The pictorial, “Relic of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” in the introduction is a much appreciated gift from the Legion of Mary (through Luz P. Garcia; October 23, 2007).  And the photo of Bishop Mulvey and Steven?  Our whimsical Alice Olaes (¡Olé!) asked that I keep her three photos to myself, but how could I resist using just one?  (Alice in blue is pictured next to Father Stembler, above center, by the way.)  Thanks to our beloved church family for making the evening extra memorable for us!!! 

More memories

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November 16, 2014

Eternal Father, I offer you the most precious blood of your divine son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church [including] those in my own home and within my family.  Amen
(St. Gertrude).

May 18, 2015

“A pure, simple, and stable heart is not bogged down by a multitude of tasks because it does all for the honor of God; and, since it is not self-seeking, it is not eager to follow its own will” (Thomas à Kempis).

June 19, 2015

“Love consists not in feeling great things, but in having great detachment and in suffering for the beloved” (St. John of the Cross).

November 16, 2015

O sacred heart of Jesus, fountain of eternal life, your heart is a glowing furnace of love.  You are my refuge and my sanctuary (St. Gertrude the Great).

January 7, 2017

If we wish to follow Christ closely, we cannot choose an easy, quiet life.  It will be a demanding life, but full of joy (Pope Francis).

January 28, 2017

“No one truly has joy unless he lives in love” (St. Thomas Aquinas).

March 9, 2017

“The triangle is upside-down and it is the faithful who are on top; and the leaders, whether it is the bishops or the bishop of Rome, are at the bottom” (Sr. Carmen Sammut in the National Catholic Reporter).

March 26, 2017

Since love grows within you, so beauty grows.  For love is the beauty of the soul (St. Augustine).

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Links of interest…  Bishop installs seven new pastors…  Catholic, Baptist churches unite for Christmas pageant…  Chaplet of St. Gertrude…  Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (prayer / vision & faith)…  Monks’ flashmob shows faith, joy, & unity (video)…  National Council of Catholic Women: article / spiritual chair (Father James Stembler: search results)…  Parish shopping: Should I stay or should I go…  Six ways to live a joyful life…  South Texas Catholic…  St. Gertrude Parish: Catholic directory / website…  St. Paul the Apostle Church: facebook / parishes online / website…  Thomas à Kempis: about (more) / biographyhumility firstImitation of Christ (book – chapter links – free ebook – more) / monkprayer / quotes

WP posts…  Call of service…  Christ’s sacred heart…  Connected tangents…  Familiar yet new…  Holy relics…  Lenten reflections…  Marian devotions…  My Franciscan Crown…  Vattmann Thanksgiving…  Venerable Julia Navarrete