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!!

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Mission Team after 2 years

Br. Joe and Br. Craig at early  planning meeting
Vocation Prospects visiting (now Jeremy is a student!!)
Our first year as a mission team involved Br. Craig, Br Joe and myself.   Occasionally we had Glenmary vocation prospects and students.   Then last September we added Fr. Aaron Wessman,  a newly ordained priest.   Last year and this year we have also had novices who serve for about five months in the mission with us.   Then in May of 2013 we welcomed Joe Grosek and his family.  Joe is the director of volunteers and in launching the new site on "Toppa Joppa" as we like to call it.  This increase of Glenmary missioners has a large impact on the two communities we aim to serve.
Welcome Fr. Aaron and Godfrey

The first six months of Fr. Aaron's time here was for all of us to get to know each other and figure out each others gifts and talents.   Also, every student brings a set of gifts and limitations which require another dimension of learning and adapting.   Now we have hit our stride and a certain rhythm has developed.
Joe's Housing Ministry

Joe at work
Br. Joe Steen  after a year of waiting on the Spirit has found his home repair ministry to be in full swing.   His ministry, also, includes caring for the emergency calls for help.   This ministry is greatly aided by a generous donor who funds his ministry.   He has been able to help numerous individuals with medicine, rent, food and utilities.   Also, he has fixed floors, repaired bathrooms, built handicapped ramps, and improved general housing conditions for several families.   He has been working on a long term project for a individual where my car can not make it to the top of the mountain.   His truck struggles to make the climb.  Br. Joe also serves on the board for the Narrow Ridge Community in the Hogskin area of Grainger County.   This community is committed to trying to live with nature and respecting many aspects of "green" living.  They are also reaching out and helping their neighbors in any way that might be able.

Br. Craig visiting
Not standing on his head, just in a banana suit
Br. Craig Digmann has visited over 90 homes of Catholics, both inactive and active.  Furthermore, he has visited more than 30 other Christian churches in the last year. He is also very deeply rooted in the local events and pace of people in both counties. He is a greeter at the High School every Monday morning.   Br. Craig volunteers with most of the Senior Citizen Centers and Nursing homes in both counties.  Recently he began serving on Grainger County Senior Citizen Board.  Yet, he is best known for being a good friend, visiting with the local people and once in a while, standing on his head!!

Fr. Aaron Wessman has taken on three large responsibilities, he is conducting faith formation K- adult in both missions, directing the RCIA program and helping with music and musicians for four Mass hours. ( I will touch more on our faith formation programs in next week's blog.)   One of the opportunities Fr. Aaron created last year was eating lunch at Grainger County High School in Rutledge one day a week.   This ministry of presence allowed for some deep faith sharing with teachers, staff and students.   Unfortunately, with a change of Principles it was not possible this year.   However, this has not stopped him.   He now is making arrangements to volunteer at the Maynardville or Union County Middle School, most likely using his Math skills to tutor students.  His youthfulness, his reflective homilies and his deep spirituality are a great gift.
Fr. Aaron after a Baptism
Hanging out

Guitar lessons
Godfrey, last year's novice, and this William, this year's novice, provide other opportunities of mission presence.   Both of these students have been involved with Kingswood Home for Children--   A great ministry that allows children and teenagers a safe place to overcome various home challenges.   They too visit many of our homebound and volunteer with a number of civic and service oriented organizations and businesses.   Both of these men came from Africa --- Uganda and Kenya-- specifically.   Sharing their culture, demonstrating the mission spirit, and seeking understanding of our American ways brings another level of joy and depth to these two missions over the last year.

Novice William with friends
Finally, Joe Grosek, with wife Laura and his two children bring a new dimension to our area.   This summer Joe organized the volunteers to help with a day camp, a weekly lunch program, and several repair projects.   He personally has gotten involved with two local food distribution programs.   I am confident that as the winter and spring programs begin, he will continue to expand the mission effort of establishing the reign of God in Union and Grainger Counties guided and aided by the Holy Spirit.

Joe Grosek with the other Joe
Setting up for Summer Camp
I guess, I do a few things around here too.   Yet, I am amazed and blessed with such a faith-filled missionary team.   These men are only part of the story.   There is another great group of parishioners involved in the mission effort as well.   Wait until you hear their stories.
Yo, enjoying food (the work of the pastor is never done!)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Happy 2nd Anniversary

2nd Anniversary Brunch BTC
This weekend both Blessed John Paul II and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta celebrated our second anniversary.   For Blessed John Paul II the weekend following all Saints day November 2011 was our first Sunday Mass in our current location and for Blessed Teresa of Calcutta it was November 1, 2011.

2nd Anniversary Brunch BTC
A lot has happened in this short time.   Over the next few weeks, I hope to reflect on these changes in greater detail.   Here, however, are a few facts.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta began with 26 people for Mass under my carport.   Now we have two Masses every Sunday; one in English and one in Spanish with 95 registered households.   Blessed Teresa of Calcutta has expanded twice our current location.   We now have an office for Fr. Aaron which also serves as an extra classroom and counseling space.   In the eyes of our landlord we are renting seven storage units (three which we have personal converted into a sanctuary, kitchen, and classroom.   We are also in the process of purchasing land for our future buildings.

Heritage Festival Fund Raiser

We have had many social activities, fund raisers, and a strong faith formation program.  Besides the four Glenmarains serving here, we usually have a student and four wonderful office volunteers during the week.   We have been organizing our internal structures and now have a Mission Advisorary Team, Mission Resource Team,  a social committee, a  prayer committee and  Evangelization Committee.

Fried Food for Building Fund
Br. Joe is busy with home repair ministry and serving with the Narrow Ridge Community.  Br. Craig is involved with many Senior Citizens organizations, a Greeter at School and more.   Fr. Aaron works with your faith formation, RCIA, and youth. Our church help support two food pantries in Union County.  We are also involved with I-Care, a drug prevention program.

We will be sponsoring our third Thanksgiving service and hosting it here at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta this November.  These are but a few signs of the Holy Spirit working here.

JP II 2nd Anniversary Dinner
Blessed John Paul II moves at a different pace than Blessed Teresa.   Yet, many good things are happening there as well.   We have grown from 11 English speakers at our first English Mass to over 30 and sometimes over 40 with a registration of  92 households. Our Spanish speaking community continues to celebrate new life with a baptism almost every weekend since September with a slow down finally in December.  Also we have celebrated two Quinceaneas (15th year old birthday parties for girls) and have wedding happening at the end of the month.

The Glenmary Volunteer Program has moved into the property on Joppa Mountain and this year sponsored a successful summer program.   Rutledge Methodist and Rutledge Baptist and their pastors continue to be great friends of ours.   The joint food pantry, sponsored by the three churches is now fully stocked and we will be giving out turkeys for some families for Thanksgiving.  We are planning a joint revival in the Spring and continue to search for ways for our communities to be supportive of each other.
Just before Baptism - JP II
First Communion-- JP II
Quinceanera JP II

Blessed John Paul II is also planning to purchase land with a closing before the end of the year.

Hopefully these few tidbits let you know that the Holy Spirt is moving here.  Come on back to this blog for more reflections on our second anniversary next year. 
Vocation Prospect with Br. Craig

Monday, September 30, 2013

Time zooms

Over the last three weeks I planned three different blogs, none of them completed because time zooms in the mission.   I wake up and it is the 1st of September and go to bed and it is the first of October.  It amazes me ... thus, I think a life of infinity in heaven with God will be anything but boring.   Time passes this fast now, how joyfully will it be to sit in heaven drinking ice tea with our Lord, His mother Mary and the saints.
Heaven or North Carolina Beach?

Novice William and Senior Member Fr. Pete
Priest Assembly
In this zooming time meetings swarmed my reality for awhile.  In one week I had a meeting every day and only one was in the parish boundaries.  In a missioners life, meetings are a huge part of one's obligations.   As a member of Glenmary and a priest serving in the diocese of Knoxville, I have monthly meetings with my brother Glenmarians, and almost monthly meetings with the fraternity of fellow priests.  Besides these meetings, there are council meetings, financial meetings, food pantry meetings, ICare meetings and so forth and so forth.   Yet, these too, are a part of doing God's will.

We had a huge event in September with over 80 people from both of these missions attending the Eucharistic Congress.  This event was in celebration of the Diocese of Knoxville's 25th anniversary and we were among 5,000 people.   Our people were renewed in their faith and were able to meet many national speakers including Cardinal Dolan of New York.
Early Morning Bus Ride to the Eucharistic Congress

Yet, what gives me the greatest joy is the interaction with the members of Blessed John Paul II and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta whether we are praying for immigration reform, celebrating first communion or welcoming friends from Iowa.   These regular interactions filled with the Holy Spirit is why time zooms.  The Spirit of the Lord flows in these faithful followers of Jesus.  Spending time with them fills my time with joy and a day is gone before I know it.  Praise the Lord for His love and mercy!!
Mis Amigas of BTC
First Communion at JP II
After Mass Wisdom -- Nortre Dame lost and Alabama won
Iowa Visitors, thanks for your support!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Not every thing is a success

So often I write about all the success of starting these two Catholic Missions.   Yet, not everything is a success.   There are many challenges.  Yet the joy of this ministry and the many surprise blessings often overshadow those challenges.

For instance, at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission we have been blessed with very high attendance over the summer.   We have been numbering over 90 people for English Mass and over 75 for the Spanish Mass.  This is a huge blessing.

Likewise, we have a large number of people in our RCIA classes.   This includes two families, one teenager, and two other adults.   This growth is all blessing and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Part of RCIA Class

At Blessed John Paul II Catholic Mission we had another confirmation and our English speaking community continues to grow.   We also have one person in the RCIA.
Confirmation at JP II

May 2012 JPII First, First communion Class

Yet, where as these three worshipping communities are growing, this is not true of the Spanish Speaking Community at Blessed John Paul II.   When we arrived here two years ago, this community was gathering occasionally for Saturday evening Mass about once a month.   An average of 45 people would attend.   In the first year, we had a sudden growth.   This included a large Guadalupe festival, many first communions and many confirmations.   Last year the religious formation was not well attended, but the Mass attendance stayed steady.   Yet over the summer it began to drop.

First Guadalupe Celebration at JP II, 2011
We had more people attend Mass during August 2012 than August 2013.   There are many reasons for this.  First among this is that in the summer many people are involved with the tomato farms.   They work six and sometimes seven days a week.   Since this work is seasonal, there is a strong sense that they need to work hard, long hours and save their money for the winter months when work is few.
Sr. Marianna visiting the tomato farms

 Besides this practical challenge, the other is most more challenging.   In Mexico many places only have Mass once a month, thus a every Sunday worship practice is not always possible.  Then prior to our coming here, many had to drive 40 minutes to church in one direction.  Thus a many had the routine of going to church only occasionally.  Again regular church attendance was difficult.   This however does not mean that these hard workers are without faith.   Their home devotions and prayer are very strong.  During Guadalupe or Christmas, many will participate in nightly rosaries sponsored at one another's home.   They are very faithful people and believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Guadalupe  Posadas, JP II, 2012

So the challenge is how do I and my mission team help lead them deeper into a Eucharistic Spirituality so coming to church on Sunday is something that fulfills their life and  the Real Presence of Jesus Christ becomes the center of their life?  There are no easy answers.

Yet, one Thursday we held a Mass to pray for all those Catholics and other folks not attending Mass.  Then we divided out into three teams and visited many homes inviting them to begin this fall with our new faith formation.   Who will respond to this invitation is not yet known.  Yet, the invitation from one member of the church to another is very powerful.  Many expressed their joy in receiving members of the visiting teams.
Home visits with Fr. Aaron
Welcome at the door
So not everything is successful, but we keep moving forward in hope.