Saturday, January 31, 2015

(151) You're IN the Super Bowl.......the Real One: A Football Analogy of Life.........Vocation, Mission, & Confirmation

AMDG

            I’ve shared much of the following with two Confirmation classes and hope that the current class, sponsors, parents, and everyone else young and old will read this too.  So often sports simulate life and are great analogies for reality.  Danny Abramowicz, former All-Pro wide receiver and later coach (Offensive Coordinator) for the New Orleans Saints, does it all the time on his TV program on Men's Spirituality, "Crossing the Goal on EWTN and ewtn.com Thursdays 10:30 pm Eastern, Sundays 6:30 pm, and Mondays 6:30 am.  He speaks at Men’s Conferences all over the United States.  

The Communion of Saints (Longmans 1893): The Church Triumphant, Church Militant, & Church Expectant
             This Sunday, the eve of Candlemas Day when Simeon prophesized that the Christ child will be “a revelation of light to the gentiles” (Luke 2:32), most of us will be watching the Super Bowl at least for the ads.  You know what? YOU’RE IN THE SUPER BOWL…….not that Super Bowl, but the much bigger Super Bowl of life…..every one of us.  How much time is left on the clock?  You may still be toward the end of the 1st Quarter.  Or you may be in the 4th Quarter and not much time left.  What’s the score in your case?  Do you have a good lead?  Or are you behind, playing catch up in your preparation for eternity?

            In our Super Bowl, the real one, it’s Team Light against Team Darkness.  Which team are you on?  In this very serious game of life, the stakes are high…….Eternity…….eternal happiness with God in Heaven or……Hell.  The forces of evil, the demons of addiction, and the idols of power, prestige, money, and illicit pleasure play for Team Darkness.  We play by the rules…….the Ten Commandments and the teachings of the Church.  Team Darkness only plays by the rules when convenient and beneficial to them.  They play to win by any means……every dirty trick imaginable that they can get away with.  They’re clever and they’re mean.  They win when they get you to be on their side for eternity.  Since the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden, life has been a battle between the forces of good and evil........a struggle “with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits.......” (Ephesians 6:12). 
            We, the Church Militant are the players.  Our coach is the Church that Jesus Christ founded…….the word that He inspired (the Bible) and Church teaching on its application, its guidance.  Our fans are the saints in heaven (Church Triumphant) and the poor souls in Purgatory (Church Expectant or Church Suffering).  They pray for us and cheer us on.  When we join the team, we’re baptized with water and the Holy Spirit during pre-game warm-ups, usually as a baby, to get us ready with sanctifying grace, the divine life in our souls, as members of the Church.

          Before every play we say a quick prayer for God’s help.  The player, who fumbles the ball by committing a mortal sin, is relegated to the bench because he’s useless in that state.  But there’s Confession to clean our souls, to get up and keep going, and get back into the game for Team Light.  It’s for venial sins as well to examine how we’re doing, learn from our mistakes, and gain graces to become a better player.  During time-outs (at Mass), we receive the nutrition of the Eucharist, Christ Himself…….our sacramental Power Ade so to speak.  After a serious injury, especially during old age, we receive the Anointing of the Sick that gives us graces and often helps us recover and play a bigger role for the team. 

At half time we receive the sacrament of Confirmation, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, to come out stronger and tougher for the second half.  We may also receive the sacrament of Matrimony or Holy Orders to obtain special particular graces for the state of life or position we choose on the team.

Throughout this very real game of life, where the stakes are eternity, we take some hard hits and sometimes are thrown for a big loss.  Each time we offer it up to the Lord, keep trusting in His help and will, pick ourselves off the ground, and keep going, never giving up.  We block for each other through the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  We help each other in a spirit of love and charity.  In striving for the trophy, eternal life, remember the words of the great coach, Vince Lombardi, a daily communicant:  “Winning isn’t everything; IT’S THE ONLY THING” since by winning this game of life, we gain everything and by losing we lose everything. LET’S  GO TEAM LIGHT!

            Sports in Developing Virtue. St. Paul used sports in one of his Epistles:  “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).  In other words Life is like a race…..a struggle toward the finish line.

           Pope Francis and St. Pope John Paul II love sports.  The saint gave a homily on sports and saw its value for developing virtue, saying:  “St. Paul the Apostle proposed the image of the athlete to the Christians of Corinth in order to illustrate Christian life and as an example of effort and constancy.”  See


St. Pope John Paul II enters Rome's Olympic stadium October 29, 2000 to say a mass for the athletes' Jubilee for the Holy Year and later watched a friendly soccer match between the Italian national team and a selection of foreign players in Italy.

           Often sports develops virtue, especially under a good coach who teaches values (virtue).  Catholic athletes give their testimonies on www.blessed2play.org.  My daughter Naomi is on the Swim team of Franciscan University of Steubenville.  When the swimmers complain during a hard workout, the coach will say “Offer it up; let’s go.”  Training requires a lot of self-discipline.  Urban Meyer, coach of national champion Ohio State and Joe Lombardi, Offensive Coordinator for the Detroit Lions endorse SportsLeader.org  as  a virtue-based mentoring and motivation program for coaches. The  blog sportsleaderusa.blogspot.org shares stories from coaches all over the country on transforming lives.  For more information contact Lou Judd - ljudd@sportsleader.org

That’s what interscholastic and intercollegiate sports are all about…..to develop self-discipline in training; constancy; perseverance in not giving up; teamwork; charity in encouraging and helping others on the team; sacrifice in unselfishly playing for the team over self; humility in taking correction and guidance; servant leadership; courage to take hard hits and face difficult obstacles; mental toughness or focus; honesty in playing fair and doing what’s right, responsibility in accepting assignments and doing one’s part on the team with one’s best effort, sportsmanship with the opposing team, school spirit.  The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (naia.org) for smaller colleges has a program for its athletes called the “Champions of Character”.  See www.championsofcharacter.org and its core values of integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship, and servant leadership.  The student athlete can learn even more virtue under adversity.     

Sports is often a practice for life.  Our game plan is the Bible and Church teaching handed down from the apostles.  What is the big prize for winning the very serious real game of life?  What are the six words that will tell you that you won the Super Bowl trophy after the clock ticks down to zero…..of course with God’s help and mercy.  It all boils down to SIX words.  “WELL DONE GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT.…….enter into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew:25:21).
   

            Vocation. These six words imply a VOCATION.  What’s that?  It comes from the Latin word, vocar, which means to call.  A vocation is then a CALLING from God, a mission from God.  You, each one of you have a special mission from God, a special mission which He gave to no other, unique to you.  And that is what Confirmation is all about…..to give you the strength and the grace to carry out that vocation or mission as soldiers of Christ.  Confirmation will help you tap the gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord) and grow in virtue as we reap the fruits of the Holy Spirit (charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity).  We must take advantage of the graces of Confirmation.  Dear Holy Spirit, set us on fire. 
           
            The gifts include GUTS, the courage (fortitude) to do what is right, to stand up for what is right despite the consequences.  You may be criticized.  They may call you names.  They may tear you apart.  You may lose fair weather friends.  You may lose your job.  But remember, no matter what happens, the Lord is at your side and trust that He will help you through it.  In the long run, you will win.  Things always work out for the best in the long run for those who do the Lord’s will.  Trust Him.  People will recognize you in the long run.  Are you going to let your peers or friends lead you as you follow the crowd like Mary’s little lamb in order to be popular or are you going to lead your peers?

            To Serve. “Well done good and faithful servant” implies two very important principles.  What are they?  #1) We are servants.  We are to SERVE.  Serve whom?  We are to serve God and His people.  “Whatever you do to the least of mine, you do it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).  So serving people means serving God.  You are not only to be servants, but also SERVANT LEADERS.  We are to be faithful to God, to His commandments, to the Church and its teachings, to our vocation and mission, to our families.

            Thy Will Be Done. If we are servants of God, that means we are called to do the master’s will.  Each one of us must always search for, i.e., discern #2) GOD’S WILL.  Each one of us must frequently pray that God will clearly show His will for our lives.  “Lord, what do you want me to do with my life?  Guide me to the area where I can serve you best.”  We must strive to be the Lord’s instruments.  As servants we do all for God.  St. Ignatius Loyola had a beautiful motto:  “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam” (AMDG) …..which means “For the greater glory of God”.

            Actually, we should strive to do God’s will every day, every moment of our lives.  A good rule is to say a MORNING OFFERING every day:  “Lord, please give me a good day.  I offer this day to you.  Please help me to make this day pleasing to you.  Dear Holy Spirit, tell me what to do and what to say this day.  Don’t let me do or say anything dumb.”  Then during the day, consult the Lord with every decision, big or small.  Ask for His help.  Converse with Him briefly during the day as when walking, driving, or waiting.  In these ways, we are following St. Paul’s admonition; “PRAY ALWAYS”.

            In our careers, we’ll win some and we’ll lose some.   When you win, give the credit to God and those who helped you; when you lose, pick yourself off the ground, learn from your mistakes, renew your faith, and bounce back.  In any event, success belongs to God.  As Mother Theresa said, “God does not ask us to be successful, but to be faithful”.  Do your very best and let the Lord take care of the rest.  Success is His problem.  Learn from your mistakes.  Accept your limitations, handicaps, obstacles, and adverse circumstances.  Every saint has had to suffer.  Every saint sought His will and trusted.  Be grateful for adversity because that makes you more dependent upon God.  Recognize that your abilities and talents are gifts from God.  Then success, when it does come, won’t go to your head and lead to your downfall.  Trust Him.  The Lord will help you in an endeavor as far as He wants it to go.  The results are His.  God has used humble people with limited abilities to do great things under the most difficult circumstances.  TRUST!    

            Thy Kingdom Come. What is the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary?  THE PROCLAMATION OF THE KINGDOM.  You can also find it in the Our Father:  We already alluded to: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.  Each person has a position on the team.  That is a special role in the Communion of Saints and the Mystical Body of Christ (all of us with Christ as the head) in establishing the Lord’s Kingdom.  The Communion of Saints consists of the saints in heaven who serve as models, whom we ask to pray for us; the poor souls in Purgatory who ask for our prayers; and all of us on earth with Christ as the head. 

            What is that Kingdom we are aspiring to establish?  With the Lord’s help, we aspire to make the world a place that acknowledges Christ as King without forcing it on people…..to make the world a place of peace where people care about each other….to serve each other instead of taking each other…..instead of stomping upon each other to achieve our selfish ends.  That’s what love is…..people serving each other, people caring about each other.  We must do our parts in establishing a Civilization of Love, which Pope Paul VI promulgated and St. Pope John Paul II reiterated. 

            You can do your part in establishing the Kingdom.  Any job in the world can be an apostolate.  Money may be important, but more important is service……serving people with a good or service.  Establishing the Kingdom is to put Christ into the market place, to put Christ into Business, to put Christ into your profession by putting love into it, and serving people through your career.  God so often manifests His love to people through us…..the way we love, the way we treat people, the way we serve people in our jobs. 

            When Christ ascended into heaven, He commanded the apostles: “Teach ye all nations…..”.  Did He say that only to the apostles?  That command is for all of us.  We all have the duty to evangelize.  That is to establish the Kingdom.  We can establish the Kingdom in big ways or little ways…..by PRAYER, by our EXAMPLE, by WORD in speaking out, and by DEED or action.  Don’t just keep the faith; spread it!   Do your part with His help to establish the kingdom.    

            Can you change the world?  Everybody doing their part on the team or Communion of Saints, WE can change the world.  You alone can do little to change the world, but you can do something……a little today, a little tomorrow, a little the next day, and the accumulation of many little things done every day over a period of 20 or 30 years can add up to greatness…..as great as those so called great people who have one or two major accomplishments and what about all those little heroes out there who have done that little bit each day? 

            Soldiers of Christ.  Establishing the Kingdom involves a great cultural-spiritual war that is going on today in the world, in our country, and in our town…..an ongoing battle between good and evil.  It involves many great moral issues and evils that our Church has taken stands on…..the sacredness of life from conception to natural death, the tremendous dignity of the person, social justice…..the fight against the evils of abortion, contraception, euthanasia, premarital and extramarital sex, gay marriage, pornography, the breakdown of the family, secularism, racism, corruption in business, corruption in government, and many other ethical issues.  This is where you will all have a special role as soldiers of Christ……i.e., a special mission or vocation.  You’ll need all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the fruits that flow from them to discern and accomplish your mission.  Pray every day for the discernment of God’s will for your life and trust.
 
            Life is all about becoming holy while discerning and carrying out your vocation to serve God and His people to the best of your ability each day with the Lord’s help and work with others in the Communion of Saints.  Each one of us has special gifts, talents, and skills to share. Working together as a team becomes a great force for good; we can’t do it alone.  Confirmation will give you the graces, the strength, and the courage to carry out that vocation/mission.  At the same time, don’t forget your quest for holiness.  No one can stand before the throne of God in Heaven unless s/he is holy.  We have a choice:  become holy here on earth or become holy in Purgatory which is much more difficult.

            Think about what God is calling you to do and at least consider the religious life as a priest, brother, or nun.  As a religious, one can devote him/herself more completely to God and serving His people without the distractions of a family.  Being a spouse and parent is a vocation in itself.  Make sure that whatever career path you choose, serves God according to His will.  Be alert to every little opportunity to serve, whether alone or working with others.  Through all of this the priorities of life must be #1- God; #2- Family; then #3 job and career. So often the parent is torn between family and job.

Discernment of Vocation

            How do you know what your vocation is?  God has given each of you a special mission that may evolve over time, but how does He tell us what it is?  

        1) You will feel an attraction to a certain field, occupation, endeavor, or way of life.  You are drawn toward it.  YOU LIKE IT.  You think you will enjoy the challenge of it.

        2) Abilities or Talents.  I would love to be a major league baseball player.  But I can’t hit a fast ball; nor do I field or throw well.  That attraction to a field must be backed up by ABILITY.  God gave each one of us special gifts. My gifts complement your gifts; your gifts complement mine; and in this way each of us makes a contribution in the Community and the Communion of Saints.  So go into a profession that will utilize your special gifts. 

         3) DESIRE.  Do you like that profession enough to do whatever it takes to do well in that profession…..perhaps years of study, blood, sacrifice, and tears.

Of course, the opportunity must be there as well.  The Lord will open doors to where He wants you to go.        

         4) Choose a profession where you feel that you can MAKE A DIFFERENCE, to make your profession, your town, or the world for that matter, just a little bit better because of you. 

            Pray every day for the discernment of God’s will for your lives.  At the same time, you must discern a vocation to the Married Life, the Single Life, or to the Religious Life. 

            Married Life.  How is the Married Life a vocation?  Dr. James Dobson wrote a book:  “Parenting Isn’t for Cowards”.  Married life involves the privilege of creating with God a family of beautiful human beings, preparing them to do their part in establishing the Kingdom and to prepare them for eternity.  Yes, each child has a free will, but parents have a grave responsibility for the salvation of their kids.  Married life presents joy and tears, highs and lows, conflict, frustration, you name it.  No marriage is perfect.  No family is perfect. It is the family that nurtures religious vocations.  The greatest gift and privilege that a family can have is to produce a holy priest.

            Is the single or celibate life a vocation?  In what way?  One can devote himself or herself more completely to God and serving His people without the distractions of a family.  Don’t forget the priorities in life:  #1 GOD; #2) FAMILY; and #3) JOB or profession. 

            The single lay person can serve as a single individual on his or her own.  Many, however, prefer the backing and mutual support of a community of like minded people, united to deepen their spirituality and to serve God and His people.  They may join a loose community as Opus Dei or a lay community which makes promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Others may join a religious community that is more permanent and profound.  They may wear a habit and make vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  These religious communities serve the missions here and almost anywhere in the world.  Fr. Regis, the pastor of Sacred Heart Church, is a Capuchin/Franciscan priest.  Fr. Tom is a secular priest, supported by the parish and the diocese.  He took vows of chastity and obedience.  

            Each one of you has a vocation, a mission in life.  What do you think your vocation or mission in life is?  How do you think you can effectively accomplish that mission?  How do you think that you can effectively serve God and His people in your profession?

            Priestly Vocations.  I met a young priest at the Charleston Skating Rink, where he was on an outing with his altar servers.  This shepherd of God said that he just knew that he had a vocation to the priesthood.  His greatest joy is celebrating the Eucharist.  His greatest satisfaction is the people, especially the kids.  His greatest frustration is also the people.  There are all kinds, he says.   I guess the good, the bad, and the ugly.  

            He agrees that God calls as many people as ever to the priesthood, but today many of these priestly vocations are suffocated by the secular culture we are in and by dysfunctional families.  The shortage of vocations today is a real crisis in the Church.  Some parishes can no longer have a full time pastor, let alone two or three priests as in the past. 

            You may have a religious vocation.  Please think about it and pray about it.  It is sad that in the 150 year plus history of this parish, we have had only four religious vocations.  Pray for religious vocations and encourage your friends and siblings who may have a vocation.

            Ask priests, nuns, or lay professionals: “How did you know you had a vocation to the priesthood?  What are your greatest joys and satisfactions?  What are your greatest frustrations?” 

            What should you do if you think that you might have a religious vocation?  Go to your pastor, the vocations director of your diocese or religious order that interests you.  A visit or stay at a convent or seminary could be easily arranged.

            Think about what God is calling you to do.  Make sure that whatever career path you choose serves God according to His will.  Don’t just keep the faith; spread it every day in big ways or little ways by prayer, example, word, and deed as we do our part with His help to establish the kingdom.  Be alert to every little opportunity whether alone or working with others. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

(150) Our 2014 Family Christmas Newsletter......... A Family Aspiring to Build the Domestic Church

AMDG

The Sebastian Family: Joseph, Naomi Marie, Jaga, Paul, Stephanie Mary, and John-Paul

            As I begin this missive, it is the second day of Christmas and we are thinking of you 
now as we did on the first day.  After reliving the four thousand years (each week of Advent
being a millennium) waiting for the Messiah, let us celebrate all twelve days of Christmas
as we relive the dramatic events of the Nativity itself when God became one of us to teach
us how to live and save us from our sins, making it possible to enter the kingdom of
Heaven if we accept and follow Him.  Then we relive the aftermath……..the
shepherds (Christ manifested to the Jews and the poor), the Presentation of the Christ
Child in the Temple, the Epiphany (Christ manifested to the Magi, gentiles, the affluent,
and the educated), the Holy Innocents & the Flight into Egypt, the Feast of the Holy
Family, the Finding of the Christ Child (now 12 years old) in the Temple.  The song,
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” actually has its roots in a code in 16th Century England
when the Church was brutally persecuted. 


            May you all have a beautiful twelve days full of blessings and spiritual growth

with your loved ones.  May the spirit of Christmas remain with us throughout the new year.            Thank you for your Christmas cards and if you didn’t send a card, I deserve being
overlooked because we have been terrible at writing you.  I especially appreciate your
newsletters –the bragging too and why not?-- because they help us to keep up to date on
you.  I hope that this is a little bit of a substitute.  I wish that I could send a separate card
to each one of you.  Thank you for all that you’ve done for us and with us be it in the
parish, community or as a personal favor……plus your patience with me.  


             I know that I sometimes talk too much and write too much.  Since this annual newsletter will probably be too long, I’ve used subtitles so that you can easily skim or pick and choose what interests
you. The Knights of Columbus had its annual campaign, “Put Christ into Christmas”.  May
we and our children put Christ into Government, in business, and all sectors of society
as a counterweight to the secularization of America.  Western Europe is already gone.
Don’t be afraid to say “Merry Christmas”; saying “Happy Holidays” is a surrender to
secularism which threatens to eventually destroy our country.  I wrote an article for our
parish bulletin, local newspaper, and blog on the Grinch, i.e., secularism that stole Christmas.
See my blog #149 at http://paulrsebastianphd.blogspot.com. 

            We all were home for Christmas except for Stephanie.  We picked her up on December 30 while taking Naomi back to Franciscan University of Steubenville for mid-season two a day swimming practices during the break.  Between weddings Stephanie spent five days of discernment including Christmas in a convent of the Norbertine Sisters, a contemplative order of rather young women nearby (http://norbertinesisters.org/).  Those nuns, a happy bunch, feel a sense of urgency to pray for repentance to “keep sinners out of hell”.  On January 2 we dropped Stephanie off in Detroit for her sixth wedding since graduation last May before flying back to Phoenix. I kid Stefcia about attending every wedding except her own.  It’s amazing how close the Thomas Aquinas College graduates are.  Members of the graduating class come from all over the country for these weddings. Their alumni loyalty is among the tops in the Country, something that any college would envy.  Some families have generations of TAC alumni.  Our airport shuttle to the Columbus (Ohio) airport ended on the feast of the Epiphany for John-Paul's return to Montrose, Colorado.
    
            Our extended family lost Nick Loya (whom we affectionately called “Big Nick”) to Leukemia after a long valiant battle.  There’s a lot of truth to a statement by Fr. William Morris (R.I.P.), my former boss in Peru: “Those who die of cancer die as saints” because they have time to prepare.  Actually he had conquered the Cancer, but died from an infection that resulted from his lowered immune system.  Nick and his wife Christine refurbished many Byzantine Catholic churches with exquisite icons.  His tragic exit was replaced by the grand entrance of a baby boy whom Tim and Barbara Loya adopted.  They run a farm near Cleveland that produces organic products.  We sacrifice over a million babies every year to the pagan gods of abortion, convenience, and illicit pleasure while so many couples must go through hoops all over the world to adopt babies of mothers who heroically chose life. 
      
            The Eagle Eye Ministry Retreat last summer was a great experience for John-Paul, Stephanie Mary, and Naomi Marie.  The minimum age of 18 eliminated Joseph.  They spent one week at Shawnee State Park near Portsmouth, Ohio and then another week at a seminary in Cincinnati.  It included great comradery, fun, classes on Philosophy, and spiritual formation.  They got to be so close that they had an Eagle Eye reunion that Emily organized at the end of last summer.  She had them in tents in her back yard.  Now they’re talking about an in-depth month long retreat in Bismarck, North Dakota.  See (http://eagleeyeministries.org/) for more details.
   
After taking Stephanie to Detroit for a wedding and crashing their Rehearsal Dinner at the Santine home (they were so hospitable), John-Paul and I stayed with Emily Christopherson’s family (the father is a retired Marine Lt. Colonel) near Toledo and visited the Lumbrezer family for a mini Eagle Eye reunion.  What great examples of domestic churches!  You see it as you enter the house and experience the warm hospitality.  The atmosphere comes out in almost every room.  Linn Lumbrezer, for example, has 11 kids, three of whom are adopted special needs kids whom she home schools.  She and her adult son both raved about the simplicity and the beauty of those special needs kids.  Many if not most of these great domestic churches have a full time mother who home schools.  Ave Maria University, Thomas Aquinas College, and Franciscan University (among the few truly Christ centered Catholic colleges faithful to their original missions) are full of homeschooled kids.  There is indeed hope for the Church in America!


Catholic Familyland (www.familyland.org) at Bloomingdale, OH near Steubenville does so much for promoting and nurturing the Domestic Church.  Our kids practically grew up there since our family attended a number of week-long Family Fests and weekend Totus Tuus Conferences.  The Family Fest is a seven day pray and play family retreat.  With kids sleeping in the loft, a cabin can accommodate a family of 11.  Each day begins with Mass and an enthusiastic congregation.  The Vacation Bible School setup divides the kids into the “Saints Under Construction” (elementary school), the “Totus Tuus” (Middle School), and the “Destiny Generation for teens.  The teen program is intense and continues after the younger children are asleep.  Adults have their own programs while the toddlers are in a nursery.  The afternoons are occupied with swimming, horseback riding, a 200 foot water slide, sports and tournaments, etc.  The evenings consist of a bonfire with rosary and marsh mellows, square dancing, skits, etc. 

          Naomi and John-Paul had a great experience in being on the staff for a week, helping families to have an unforgettable time to grow stronger in the faith while having a lot of fun.  The comradery among the adults from many parts of the Country is great.  All members of the family learn that many people their age are part of a Catholic culture which they have the mission of fomenting in their parishes and extended families.  Even though it may be expensive for some, I strongly recommend that every Catholic family experience Catholic Familyland at least once while the kids are still in the nest.
         
            John-Paul had enough of congested Phoenix and the oven like desert, although he misses the mild winters, the hikes with Ryczard Koczwara, and the students of Ville de Marie Academy (http://www.villedemarieacademy.org/).  He found that first teaching position though www.catholicjobs.com.  In June we helped him move to Montrose, Colorado where he’s teaching Math to 4th to 8th grade children.   The trip there was unforgettable.  After visiting Stephanie’s new school, we stopped at the awesome Grand Canyon (http://grand-canyon-park.org/).  We passed Four Corners (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah meet at a common point), went through Cortez and Durango onto Route 550 North.  We really took the scenic route…….breath taking spectacular scenery going above 10,000 feet.  We stopped for a break and threw snowballs on a sunny June day.  The road through the snowcapped mountains took our breath away……two lanes, no edge lines, no guard rail even though big trucks travel in both directions.  John Paul’s 2010 Honda was sluggish going up mountains because of lack of oxygen.  We learned later that it’s a good idea to use premium high octane gasoline at high altitudes.

At least this road has an edge line!  More than one vehicle has gone over cliffs like this.

We finally made it to Montrose, elevation 5,000 feet about 50 miles south of Grand Junction. Montrose is a city of about 10,000 people, nestled in the Rockies (click on http://www.cityofmontrose.org/ for info, photos, and videos.

John-Paul teaches at Pope John Paul II Academy (click on http://popejohnpaul2academy.com/).  The principal, Patrick Gordon recruited his college roommate at Ave Maria University.  John Paul is happy in what he’s doing and the children love him.  He gives a lot of individual attention and does some tutoring for extra pay.  The teachers are young and they do a lot of things together……from parties to camping.  He and his dedicated colleagues don’t make much, but when you die, God won’t ask how much money you made, but how you used your talents to serve others.  Being a Math and Economics double major, John-Paul could be making a lot more working for business or government.  They have dreams of eventually expanding into a high school even though the city has only one Catholic church, but it is a large parish.
         
  Stephanie Mary graduated in May from top rated Thomas Aquinas College (TAC), outside of Santa Paula near Los Angeles with a major in Liberal Arts.  TAC is a very accepting Christ centered, great books school, where they read the original authors, not something regurgitated in a textbook…….Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, for Philosophy; Aquinas for Theology, some parts in the original Latin; Euclid for Math, Dalton, Einstein for Science; gems of Literature, etc.  The focus is on discussion, writing, and rhetoric.  Stefcia received a fabulous liberal arts education which will serve as a good foundation for a variety of fields.  Among their alumni are religious, lay parish ministers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc. 

The school has the ideal of searching for the true, the good, and the beautiful.  Now our new graduate has the mission to spread it.  TAC is the most beautiful college campus I’ve ever seen……lying in a bowl surrounded by mountains.  See www.thomasaquinas.edu for more info and photos.  I wrote in detail about her graduation and the uniqueness of the college on my blog #139 at http://paulrsebastianphd.blogspot.com and #140 on the unique Summer Program (a great books camp) for High School seniors.

          After playing for South Gallia High School, Stephanie is still in good basketball shape.  She organized and coached an intramural team that won the school championship.  Look at her intensity in the photo below as she prepares to drive in.



            After John-Paul left Phoenix in June, Stephanie arrived in Phoenix in August to teach fourth grade at, “Archway Classical Academy”, a Great Hearts Charter School in North Phoenix.  Being a great books school, Stephanie was a natural for it.  For details of her school, click on http://archwaynorthphoenix.org/ and http://greatheartsaz.org/ for information on the network of schools  The kids have an unusual focus and enthusiasm for learning with hardly any of the discipline problems so common in other schools.  The kids actively learn how to think and express themselves. Being a state supported charter school, Stephanie cannot proselytize, but she can still promote the true, the good, and the beautiful through the great books at the 4th grade level.  

            Stephanie shares an apartment with three other graduates of Thomas Aquinas College, Betsy, Liz, and Lora.  Their apartment is some combination of sorority house and convent.  They do a lot of things together and with others as visiting the Grand Canyon.  Not only that; Stephanie hiked down, down, down to the bottom of the canyon and then hiked back up, up, and up.  For details and photos, click on https://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images;_ylt=A0LEV0II4p1UA5UAljVXNyoA?p=Grand+Canyon&fr=mcsaoffblock&fr2=piv-web

            In addition Stephanie attends daily Mass and teaches a weekly CCD first Holy Communion class which she enjoys very much.  Very impressive is the number of churches in the Phoenix archdiocese that have perpetual adoration.  Of course, that is difficult for a small parish since at least 100 committed people (3 or 4 hours per week per person) are needed to cover 24/7.  The Blessed Sacrament cannot be without at least one person present.
 
          Naomi Marie is a sophomore majoring in Nursing at the Franciscan University of Steubenville (www.franciscan.edu).  She was happy to get through the hardest course of them all, Microbiology with a good grade.  She’ll have her first clinical course in a hospital this Spring Semester.
 
        Naomi continues on the varsity swim team.  She looks very athletic with a solid slim figure.  May Naomi maintain it after her swimming days are over.  So many athletes let themselves go once they graduate.  I admire the discipline of these girls.  They get up at 5:30 am for 6 am practice every morning plus dryland exercises on weekends.  Furthermore, her Christmas break is cut short by swimming.  She had to be back on December 30 for two a day swim practices until classes resume on January 12.  For details of the team and meet results click on http://www.franciscanathletics.com/sports/wswimdive/index.  This week-end the swim team is on retreat at a cabin of one of the professors. 



            Naomi’s Mission Trip to Haiti……you can be part of it.  For her Spring Break Naomi is not planning to spend a week at the beach in Florida.  Franciscan University must select the students for the mission since there are applicants than openings.  On the contrary she is planning to make a mission trip to Haiti in March, one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world and is trying to raise money to finance it as are the other students in the group.  That includes $800 to help finance the building of a medical facility of the “Movin’ With the Spirit” (http://mwts.org/missionhaiti/), a Catholic mission there.  She is studying to serve people and thereby God since “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40).  

What can Naomi do in one week?  She won’t change the world, but this possibly life changing experience will give her a start in someday making a significant impact.  Her job will be to care for little orphan kids, the aged, and the sick…….giving them lots of the Lord’s love which will have an impact on their lives since life is not valued in Haiti as it should be.  If any of you would like to read Naomi’s proposal and her description of the mission and help her help the Haiti mission, Click here to support Haiti Mission Trip by Naomi Sebastian. 
     
            Joseph Christopher is an only child while his three siblings are away.  He has his driver’s license now for varsity basketball and tennis practices.  I enjoy watching his games and matches.   He’s following in the footsteps of his three siblings as a full time PSO student at the University of Rio Grande.  The State of Ohio gives students the opportunity to simultaneously receive high school and college credits.   He’ll receive the college associate degree before his high school diploma.

Being officially a student of Gallia Academy High School, he’s on the varsity basketball and tennis teams.  He came within one stroke of winning the sectional tournament and making it into the district level.  Furthermore, he’s on the interscholastic Quiz Bowl team.  He trains on Jeopardy, news magazines on the internet, and quiz type board games.  He’s also a member of the parish youth group and attends our Newman Club meetings.  He hit the 99%tile in the ACT test.  I’m only mentioning that (Anyhow he got it from his mother) to show that reading books raises standardized test scores.  Thus I strongly encourage teens to read books and teachers to assign more book reports, especially over the summer.




            He’s now applying to colleges as Franciscan University, Creighton (Jesuit), and Notre Dame.  I’m leery of the latter since I’m not sure how Catholic it is.  What do you think?  It seems from our visit to Notre Dame that it still has the Catholic culture, but one has to look for it although the administration is trying to restore its Catholic identity.  At Franciscan, the Catholic culture is “in your face”, permeating all activities and courses.  Along with Ave Maria University (John-Paul) and Thomas Aquinas College (Stephanie), Franciscan U (Naomi) is approved by the Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes and defends faithful Catholic education (http://www.cardinalnewmansociety.org/). 

All schools on their approved list require their Theology faculty to take oaths of fidelity to Catholic teaching in their courses and adhere closely to the principles outlined  in “Ex Corde Ecclesiae: the Apostolic Constitution  of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II on Catholic Universities”.  You can read it at
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_jp-ii_apc_15081990_ex-corde-ecclesiae_en.html).  Theology faculty at most Catholic colleges refuse to take the oath for the sake of “academic freedom”.
   
            Jaga and Paul work together in a number of community and church ministries.  We helped to form and run a free clinic (see my Blogs #90 & 91 of http://paulrsebastianphd.blogspot.com) under the lead of our president, Dr. Mel Simon, an amazing man who has organized 31 medical missions of 35 doctors and nurses for his native Philippines (Blog #16).  Jaga serves as an R.N. and went on one of his medical missions.  At the University of Rio Grande we are advisers for the Catholic Newman Club (Blog #93).  It is so important to have a Catholic presence on the secular campus.  So many students go to college and lose their faith because their growth in the faith does not keep pace with their secular knowledge and thus appears to be “kids stuff”.  In our parish (Blog #121) we are Eucharistic ministers and bring Holy Communion to the sick.
 
Jaga, our Polish immigrant, is emerging as a leader in the parish, having been recently elected to the Parish Council.  She continues to teach the First Confession and Holy Communion class.  Jaga is very well read and really knows her faith.  She teaches with such conviction and the kids love her.  I serve as her aid, adding my sound bites, a story at snack time, and anything else my boss wants me to do.  In October we are captains in organizing the local annual Public Square Rosary Rally (see http://www.americaneedsfatima.org/Rosary-Rally/Public-Square-Rosary-Rally-Scheduling-Office.html).

Jaga is also active in the Catholic Women’s Club.  In addition she prepares and enlists the women of the parish to prepare and serve food for the “Loaves & Fishes” monthly ecumenical soup kitchen.  It’s crucial at the end of the month when the welfare money runs out (see blog #112).  Finally, Jaga brings four shut-in women to Mass on weekends.  At the beginning of every month she assigns a decade and mystery of the rosary to each woman.  They promise to pray that decade every day of the month.  Maybe that’s the real power of the woman; they pray for their men.  One woman remarked: “Many a wife has prayed her husband to heaven”. 
    
            Paul also helps out with the Confirmation class with Pam Dovyak, the very dedicated lead teacher.  He  writes articles for our Church Bulletin and local newspaper, is a lector, and is active in the Knights of Columbus (see www.kofc.org).  I continue to serve on the Chaplaincy Board of the University of Rio Grande (www.rio.edu) and on the Steering Committee of the Diocesan Men’s Day of Renewal (http://diosteubmen.blogspot.com).  Our speaker on March 7 is Allen Hunt, a former pastor of a mega-church who discovered Catholicism.  For the new evangelization to be successful the laity must get involved; the pastor can’t do it all himself.  Needless to say, I’m behind on everything else as I struggle to find that balance between volunteer work and family.  Retirement is liberating because it presents the opportunity to serve God and His people in a more profound way.  Furthermore, it gives time for daily Mass to feed the soul.

            Our Catholic Newman Club is struggling on a campus (we need prayers) where most students are indifferent to faith, but we got a great boost in the Spring.  In answer to a prayer, Andy Marin appeared out of nowhere.  He’s a young marine veteran with two purple heart medals for combat wounds suffered in Afghanistan.  The Lord must have a special mission for him since he survived being hit through his helmet which is much better than the steel pots we wore in the old army.  We owe a deep debt of gratitude to our active duty military and veterans for their service to our Country.  Catholic chaplains are in critically short supply because so few bishops are willing to release a priest or two to serve in the military.  See my blogs at http://paulrsebastianphd.blogspot.com on veterans: #29 “Veterans, Salute the Flag Out of Uniform”, #30 “Veterans Still Suffering for God and Country”; #31 on “Fr. Vincent Capodanno: A Medal of Honor Marine Chaplain & a Maryknoll Father”, and #127 “Heroic Catholic Chaplains Who Have Been Awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor”. Veterans are a great resource to businesses for their training in technical specialties, discipline, management experience, and leadership, especially in the case of NCOs and officers.

           Catholics who like “Facebook” might enjoy a new networking site, www.awestruck.tv.  They divide into groups according to their interests in different issues and aspects of Catholic thought and devotions.  I use it as an outlet for my blogs and to share different ideas. 

           May you have many wonderful and fulfilling experiences and adventures in 2015……full of the Lord’s blessings.  May all of us grow in every way, the most important being spiritually, in the quest for holiness which is what life is all about.  May the lights of our lives illuminate everything around us in our homes, in our parishes, communities, and our professions as we rebuild our Church and our Country, recalling the mission of St. Francis.  (Previous Christmas newsletters of ours are Blogs #58, #108, and #130; this one is Blog #150; I’ll be adding other past ones in the future.)