Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lent Continues

Lent is a time to grow, to change and to discover.  In these five weeks many silent blessings have been poured upon our small communities of faith.  Here are four events which due to planning them has delayed my "blogging".
Listening to the word of God

We continue to make plans for a future church building for both missions.   Saturday March 29 we blessed the property at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission in Maynardville, followed by our third meeting.  Also, in the afternoon we planned to do a Rosary March around the property of Blessed John Paul II Catholic Mission in Rutledge, but the weather said otherwise.   Therefore, we prayed under a tent and in the car; yet, the land was blessed.

Blessing of Land for Blessed Teresa of Caclutta
Rosary and Blessing of Land for JP II

On Thursday, April 3, the ninth anniversary of the death of our Beloved Blessed John Paul II, we held a day of adoration.   All the Catholic Churches of the Five River's Deanery have been host a day of Adoration in honor of the 25th Anniversary of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  This was a beautiful day with parishioners spending time with the Lord in front of the Blessed Sacrament.


Adoration at JP II
On Saturday, April 5, the Bishop came to Blessed John Paul II and confirmed two youth and offered communion to one Adult.   There was to be another adult present for confirmation, but he was celebrating of birth of Child # five.   I think that was an very acceptable excuse!!  Bishop Stika is very supportive of our mission efforts here.   He has provided financial help, approved the purchase of our new properties from the foundation, and was extremely supportive of the folks at Blessed John Paul II.
Greeting Guadalupe before making his First Communion
Amy from BTC and Shannon from JPII for confirmation
Bishop Stika with ministers and those who received sacraments

Finally,  we just completed a three day ecumenical revival entitled "That They All May Be One."   It was a beautiful experience.   We  began at Rutledge Baptist Church with the Methodist preacher providing the message and the Catholic Choir providing the music.   The second night folks came to Blessed John Paul II Catholic Mission with our Spanish Choir providing special music and the Baptist preacher providing the message.   The third night was hosted by Rutledge Methodist Church with the Baptist's providing the music and I presented the message.   The unity that the Spirit revived in each of our churches was beautiful.   It was a wonderful way to prepare for Holy Week.
Pastor Ryan praying at the Catholic Mission
Socializing after the Mission
Pastor Chan of the Baptist Church praying
Fr. Steve reading Scripture
Baptist Choir singing at Methodist Church

Next week at both churches several people will be baptized, receive their first Holy Communion and be Confirmed.   Look for more sharing on this great event later.   For now, as we conclude, please offer a prayer for all those coming into the Church this Easter Vigil.   May you, my faithful reader, have a very blessed Easter!!
Some of those preparing to enter the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lent: A time to grow

Lent may be a time for penance but it is also an opportunity for growth.  These six weeks to prepare ourselves for Easter can be some of the most spiritually powerful moments of a believer's life. 

To face our limitations, our weaknesses and even our sinfulness is part of facing the truth of our humanity.   Once we can recognize this, we are able to present it to Christ for his forgiveness, healing and restoration.   This is conversation:   to face our sin and turn away from it as we turn towards Christ.   The more we surrender our pride, our control, and our self-centeredness to the Lord, the more of His love, mercy and joy enters our heart.   Lent is a dying to sin and a rising to life.   Lent is remembering that despair is stupid in the reality of hope in Christ.   It is remembering that not even death has a sting when it has been conquered in the resurrection of Christ. 

"The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers (and sisters) be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."
 ( 1 Cor. 15: 56 - 58).
Signing the Book of the Elect at JP II

Among one of the most exciting things in Lent is walking with those who will join the church this Easter.   The RCIA/RCIC (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and Rite of Christian Initiation for Children) members took another step last week when they signed the book of Initiation and this Saturday and Sunday they will be enrolled as one of the Elect by Bishop Stika.  Now this language may be confusing to some.   Basically following an early church tradition anyone over the age of eight who has not yet been baptized receives the sacraments initiation--baptism, confirmation and communion-- at the Easter Vigil (Saturday night before Easter).  Once a person receives these sacraments they are proclaiming themselves a disciple of Jesus and will honor and worship Him according to the Catholic Way of the Spiritual Life.  A baptized person is not just a friend of Jesus but an actually sister or brother of Christ.   How cool is that!!!
Our Spanish Speaking Family in the RCIC at JP II

At Blessed John Paul II we have one adult seeking communion and confirmation and three children seeking all three sacraments with their younger brother being baptized.  The sponsor of the adult was our first convert three years ago.  At Blessed Teresa of Calcutta we have 4 adults and 6 children seeking all three sacraments and 1 adult seeking communion and confirmation plus three children for baptism and another adult for confirmation only.   This will be the largest group in our three years here. What a blessing these folks are to our faith community!!

BTC catechumens, candidates and sponsors
Almost every Sunday there will be prayers just for them.   The rest of the community has the responsibility to demonstrate the life of a believer in Christ.   Thus in Lent each of us are invited by Christ to become more merciful and loving disciples.  With the help of the Holy Spirit, we  may find the spiritual opportunities to rise above our sinfulness and shine in our salvation.  We might just be the gateway of grace for another to discover salvation through Jesus Christ.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


El Nino at BTC
El Nino at JP II
Last week was the  Presentation of the Lord.   For some countries, this really is the end of the Christmas season.  It is only after Feb. 2 that the nativity scene is put away until next year. At both missions we celebrated the custom with activities following Mass.   Through in one sense both Spanish Speaking communities did a similar presentation, there were significant differences.  Both groups prayed the rosary and had a meal, but the presentation of the child Jesus was different.
BTC reverence of the child Jesus

At Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission,  Maynardville the folks placed a very large image of the child Jesus, known as "El Nino" on the lap of one of our young mothers.  Individuals then approached the child on their knees and kissed the infant Jesus and then they were given a bag of candy.  Where as at Blessed John Paul II, Rutledge they dressed the child with handmade clothes, then took him around for everyone to honor and finally placed him on a throne like an infant king.  The reverance and care they put into this this prayer ritual demonstrates a deep appreciation for Jesus.  It may too, represent a strong sense of family life and the importance of children.  Either way, it is beautiful to be a part of it.
JP II the dressing of the infant

John and Lourdes presenting at JP II
The weekend before two representatives of the Bishop conducted a presentation on the possibility of a capital campaign that would include a new Cathedral for the diocese of Knoxville.  It was an education for all of us as the presentation on the dream for a Cathedral meet with the financial reality of our people.   At this moment, many of our parishioners are working only 6 - ten hours a week.   One week when the snow shut everything down, they worked no hours and had their children at home because school was closed. 

In light of this being such a tough winter with electric bills high because of the cold, children at home instead of in school which means more meals, and little outdoor work for those in construction and agriculture, we presented a few families with some food.   It was not much, but hopefully it made a difference.
Joe and Sarah preparing the food for delivery

 We were happy to present Donna to the local community during these basket delivery.   She is our first long term volunteer for the "Toppa Joppa" Glenmary volunteer program. She is a mother and grandmother, speaks Spanish and served in Liberia, Africa before joining us for one year in mission here.  Just one more dimension of our on-going missionary ministry.

Donna, our first long term volunteer

With all these presentations, please dear reader, present your prayers to our Lord for his continued blessings on these missions.

Chuck, our faithful driver

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Property Owners

This month both Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Blessed John Paul II Catholic Missions reached important mile stones in their development.   They both now own land for their future permanent home.  This accomplishment in just over two years is a miracle.
After signing the deed for BTC

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta purchased 24 acres across from the High School, so it will remain a downtown church in the center of the county seat of Union County.   The price was high, but the Diocese of Knoxville made this purchase possible without cost to the local community.  East Tennessee Catholic Foundation, Inc. is a charitable organization of the diocese to help support our seminarians and to purchase property for new missions.  Without these donors, this purchase would not have been possible.
Discussing matters at the church planning meeting

Br. Craig sharing his image of what it means to be "Church"
Our first church planning meeting was very successful.  As we listened to Br. Craig's image of church we were all challenged to answer the question if "I love God then I will ...."  He also demonstrated how Glenmary's five missionary activities are present in our mission.   These categories are Catholic Nurture, Ecumenism, Evangelization among the Unchurched, Social Outreach and Justice, and connection to the Universal Church.   Then, I shared on Chapter 21 of book of Revelation. The community was also invited to reflect more deeply on our patroness, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and what she might want to see from us.   In the various reflections that followed, one parishioner summed up the meeting by saying, "Jesus built hearts, not temples.   That is what we are doing tonight ... we are building our hearts in Christ.   The building will follow."
BTC gathering for church planning

One fact that stands out is that in the year of 2013 we averaged 75 people at the English Mass and 74 at the Spanish Mass for a total of 149 people a weekend.   The high in the English Mass was 123 and the high for the Spanish was 145.   That shows tremendous growth from 26 people at the Mass under the carport in September of 2011.  We also have over $13,000 dollars in a building fund, some of which is from memorials made in the name of Robert Freeh and Kitty Scott.

It may take us some time to raise the funds necessary for building, but what a wonderful start.

Blessed John Paul II also owns 9.4 acres of land on Hwy 11, the main road through Rutledge just as you enter the town coming from Knoxville.  The first fund raiser netted $1,111.00.  (I should have tossed in 11 cents just to make it fun.)  There are plans for a spring concert to raise additional funds towards our building.   This Saturday will be their first church planning meeting.
After signing the deed for JP II
At Blessed John Paul II Catholic Mission is very different community than Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.  More folks are either on fixed income or have seasonal jobs like agriculture and construction.   This effects both attendance and income.   Yet, there is a beauty of faith and family that is so very present within this community.   They really do love one another.
Celebrating life at JP II

Even through we only average 30 people for the English Mass and 66 folks for the Spanish Mass, they have over $10,000 dollars in their building fund.  They support commodities four times a year and feed the volunteers, members are on the board of directors for the food pantry, and they send cards and offer phone calls to our ill and homebound.  
Preparing for one of our many socials

Both communities will someday have permanent worship spaces on these properties.   When will depend on God's timing.   The only condition that is a given, is that half the projected cost must be in the bank before we can start.  God will send it to us at His time.   We will be waiting.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Wonderful Ending to a Great Year

The year of 2013 closed with a series of beautiful events.   Most notable, is that Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission, Maynardville, TN as of December 30, 2013, with the help of East Tennessee Catholic Trust Fund, now owns 24.9 acres on Hwy 33 across from the High School.   This will be site of the future home for our faith community.   We are deeply grateful to God, all the supporters of the trust fund, for the sellers to help find a price we could afford, and all those who have prayed for this day.  We have asked each parishioner to do an act of charity this week as a means to demonstrate our gratitude for making this possible.   Maybe you too wish to join us by doing a special act of charity, especially for the poor, after reading this blog.
At the transfer of title and deed for BTC future property

Also, we had nine wonderful days of the "Las Posadas" with Blessed John Paul II in Rutledge beginning on December 15.   Many of these were held in people's home and were followed with tamales, "pan" (Mexican bread) and hot chocolate.   We concluded on the 23rd of December with our Nativity play and piñata.
Fr. Aaron trying to find the piñata.
JP II Nativity Play

There were soup and penance services in both missions helping us prepare ourselves in a more intense spiritual way.  We also celebrated 60 years of marriage for a couple at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission.
60 years of Marriage

Of course, our Christmas Eve and Christmas day was also a delight.  So rather than fill you will more words, here are a few extra photos to highlight the end of the year.    Hope you had a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.   May 2014 be a terrific year for you!!!
Mannanitas at JP II
BTC preschool
BTC Middle School at Christmas Party
Santa comes to visit at BTC
Family of  the Happy Couples

Christmas Decorations at BTC

JP II Christmas Decorations
My house --- May 2014 be a wonderful year in full bloom.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A different type of Advent

Altarista in Honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe
If you walked into Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission, Maynardville, TN today you might be confused is this the Advent Season or some Marian feast day.   If you are a Baptist or Methodist or other Christian friend, it might even be more confusing.

For many Catholics the four weeks prior to Christmas are Advent with purple cloths and four advent candles burning.  This is the season for preparing for Christ's second coming.   Yet, for any Catholic priest or community associated with Mexicans or Mexican Americans it is the time of Guadalupe and Posadas. 

The Guadalupe Tradition is a very powerful religious experience for the Mexican people.   In some ways it overshadows in terms of popular devotion almost any other event, including Christmas and Easter.   Good Friday would most likely be just as important, but certainly not at joyous.

our young people as Our Lady and Juan Diego
This tradition begins in when a Aztec Indian named Juan Diego, a faithful Catholic, had an aspiration of Our Lady, Mary, the mother of Jesus on his way to church on December 9, 1531. Mary asked him to build a church in honor of her Son, Jesus.  On December 12 when his uncle was sick  and wished to see a priest.  He took a different route in hopes of not having an aspiration, but Our Lady appeared again.  She told him to pick the roses to take to the Bishop to proof she was who she said she was.   Roses do not grow in the rocky ground outside of Mexico city in December.  This, then was the first of several miracles associated with Our Lady of Guadalupe.   When he presented the roses to the Bishop the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared on his tilma.  This tilma is on display at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico today.   The third miracle is that Juan's uncle was healed by the power of Christ through the intercession of Mary.   As a result of these miracles thousands became Christians in Mexico.

The miracle of the tilma
The other part of the story, however, has to do with the power of Christ to help people know the truth of his salvation.   Christianity came to Mexico under the power of the sword.  It came as a foreign religion preached by an invading force from Spain.   However, some local people discovered the truth of Jesus and the Christian faith.   Mary calls herself "quatlasupe" which in the Nahuatl language means "one who steps on serpents".  However, it sounded like "Guadalupe" a place in Spain, and thus the name.   She has a black belt that means she is pregnant with Jesus.   Her message is that her son, is the SON of God, the most powerful light of the world.   Aztecs' worshipped the sun, the stars and the moon.   Our Lady, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is wrapped in the stars, stands on the moon and in front of the sun.   Without any other words, this image tells the Aztec people that her Son, the Son of God is the only true God.   He is more powerful than any of these false icons and gods.  She confirms that believe in Jesus is not a foreign religion of oppression, but the true religion and that Jesus is the only way to Salvation..  Thus, this is a story of evangelization and as a result, Mexico became a Christian nation.
A traditional Dance

Today, in our missions we keep this tradition.   At John Paul II, they have been praying the rosary, singing songs and sharing fellowships for nine days prior to the feas,t which is tomorrow, Thursday, December 12.   We had a large celebration on Sunday which included Mass, dances, music and lots of food.  Thursday morning at 5:30 a.m. we will gather for the morning praises which we where we will sing and pray.   Then in the evening we will have the celebration at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in Maynardville beginning at 6 p.m..

Waiting to begin prayer at a home gathering

To an outsider, the rosary, the image of Guadalupe, and the songs and food may seem strange and could be misunderstood.  Yet, this is all about Jesus and the conversation of Mexico to Christianity.  It is very inspiring in Grainger County to see 30 - 70 people gathering each night to pray and eat together.  Most of these are in people's homes.  In Union county we are only doing three nights of rosaries, but we have between 40 - 60 have been attending.   This is a huge commitment of time and sacrifice.   It is one of faith where we are giving praise to Mary for her role in bringing us our Savior Jesus Christ.  Really, it always about Jesus -- for Mary has no meaning or significance without Him. Jesus is our brother, and thus, Mary is our Mother.   Yet in Jesus, and only in Jesus, is our Light and Salvation!!!

Good Food and good friends
What an honor for me to be a part of this wonderful way of keeping Advent.
Come on the journey of faith with us!!