Calhoun County is an amazing area which is filled with many strong stewards in our Catholic diocese. I was presider at five liturgies there while preaching the Good News and offering the invitation to grow deeper in the Lord’s call for us to become true “intentional disciples.”
My first Mass was kind of unique. The Saturday 4 p.m. Mass at Kampsville was filled with many good folks, and so many came from many other parishes as this was the “earliest Mass option” in the area. A very nice man came to me and said, “Father, you probably won’t have servers. Do you want me to go up and light the candles?” I said that would be great. As he did this act of kindness, I asked the almost full church if there was a server in the crowd to help me with Mass. The nice man was right. No one responded. I tied into my homily (which I built in the call to “discipleship as a way of life”) the fact that I was surprised there were no servers. During the Creed after the homily, a man in his middle 50s got out of his pew and came up and stood with me in the sanctuary and simply said, “You are going to have to coach me.” I was impressed. The Holy Spirit at work — and the gift of courage this man showed — was an inspiration.
Next, I went to the other end of the county to the beautifully refurbished St. Mary Church. (You may remember they had a fire at the Christmas evening liturgy a few years back.) Today it truly was a privilege to see this beautiful church. This week, the community of Brussels was having a major fundraiser for a woman with cancer and her family. Yet there was a wonderful crowd at Mass to celebrate and worship. The music is led by their organist Sarah Kinder (the former mayor of Brussels) who is one of our finest organists and music directors in our diocese. She really knows how to empower the congregation to sing and “celebrate” the Mass. She told it is her 50th year as the parish organist. Who says you can’t mix politics and religion? She truly is a public servant, and an “intentional disciple.” She plays all over the deanery at the Catholic parishes, and also is office manager of the parish office.
Batchtown was my early Mass and faith community to be with on Sunday. The church was full to the brim. There is a down-to-earth, strong Catholic identity. Many families of grandparents, parents, and children sat together, probably in their same pews, and they really had a vibrant Mass filled with spirit-filled worship. Here the star quarterback of Calhoun County, Ty Bick, was the “lead server.” He was so good to help, to mentor, and to support Kade Sievers, a young, nervous lad who was serving for his first time. When I first entered the sacristy I met Ty, who was welcoming, respectful and very willing to share about his love for serving. He kept saying, “Yes sir.” He truly is a class act young man, and already understands what it means to be an “intentional disciple.” You could tell he wanted that for young Kade as well. All three servers were excellent, and I could tell they come from great strong, active Catholic families.
Then it was on to the fourth Mass at Hardin, St. Norbert. Deacon Mike Hagen so beautifully assisted at the liturgies there. The Mass was packed again, and the worship was awesome. I was so welcomed by this parish, especially the Adult Faith Formation Director Maria Carmody and her husband Tim and family, and by Brad Vacca, one of the members and leaders with their Parish Stewardship Committee. These folks are truly listening to the prodding of the Holy Spirit in their desire to develop “discipleship as a way of life.” The congregation was so engaged during the entire Mass, but I felt so connected with them especially during the homily. You could see a genuine hunger to hear this “good news,” an invitation to become stronger Catholics and true “intentional disciples.” I was able to spend time with Racheal Friedel, the new principal of their small but growing Catholic school who is so excited for their future, and their vocation to promote discipleship as the core purpose of Catholic formation. I also spoke and shared with a wonderful teacher, Angie Goode, and her husband Caleb and family and got a tour of her classroom. Angie not only teaches at the Catholic school, but is also the director of the parish PSR program. What a commitment to “handing on the faith” — first with Caleb at their home with their children, but then with all of the parish children. What a parish blessing!
Last weekend it was time to journey to Petersburg and Athens. I truly was blessed to have the opportunity to preside at the three Masses with these communities. These two small parishes are already on fire with great leaders who are promoting this “discipleship as a way of life.” Carol Muller, Nick Brady, Ken and Kay Tasset, and Greg Fleck have been leading the way with other great members of their stewardship teams. They have begun an 11-week “Parish Discipleship Initiative” as a wonderful means to evangelize this call and offer formation on becoming “intentional disciples.” Like Jesus who shared meals with folks to spend time with them doing formation, we shared a potluck dinner Saturday after Mass with the folks at St. Peter Parish in Petersburg. I have no doubt good things are down the road regarding “true intentional discipleship.” I was really touched by so many beautiful young families with babies who were at this Mass and very engaged and excited about “handing on the faith.” I could see it in their eyes, their smiles, and their joy as I got to converse with them after Mass. One family had a great story of handing on the faith. A wonderful lady with a strong Catholic faith met and married a wonderful man and began a wonderful family, now of four children. Jennifer Schirrding gave witness to her love for her faith which led her husband Chris to choose after 12 years married to convert and to be able to fully share this beautiful faith together. It did not stop there, for then Chris and Jennifer and family were so overjoyed to welcome and support Chris’ parents, Hal and Jane who also then chose to become Catholic. Wow!
At Athens the Mass was wonderful: great worship, filled with great stewards. Young adults, Justin and Emily Fleck, led the music with everyone singing and every ministry was covered well. We met after Mass for coffee and donuts and had a lively, spirit- and joy-filled conversation about promoting discipleship. They are well on their way. While at the church I saw Tom and Jodie Oller and their family who were members at Little Flower when I was pastor. Jodie joined the Catholic Church during that time. Her husband and his family were her inspiration and support. I spoke to another family member, Amanda Oller, who remembers attending that night of the Easter Vigil. She is not Catholic, but told me how she cried throughout the entire Vigil. It moved her deeply. Now, this year she has enrolled in RCIA. Two brothers, Mark and Tom, have inspired their spouses, and have definitely “handed on the Catholic faith” to the women they are in a union with in the holy sacrament of matrimony. Faith is alive and well.
Lastly I met a beautiful couple married now for 70 years come December. After WWII, Ben returned to France soon to “come and get his bride” Monique, and bring her to the United States. In their 90s now, the Gastons have handed on the faith to their 10 children. They came to the coffee and donuts because they still can’t get enough of their Catholic faith. They are active in a Bible study group. I was so inspired by their hunger to grow more, and hear more, and fall in love more with Jesus. I couldn’t get enough of them and their witness. I even watched him so lovingly help her on the long journey to their car, as he opened her door, helped her in, folded up her walker and put it in the back seat, then got in the car, smiled at me and pulled away from the place they love, to go home to continue to live in love. It was priceless, a true God moment and powerful discipleship for sure.
I too left for home, now probably three or four pounds heavier after the potluck and donut smorgasbords — but left feeling so blessed. It is happening all over the diocese. Believe me when I say this is not about money. “Come and see. Be my disciple,” says the Lord.