To All the Graduates

The following is a letter written in 1962 by Flannery O’Connor to a college student who thought he was losing his faith.

I think that this experience you are having of losing your faith, or as you think, of having lost it, is an experience that in the long run belongs to faith …

I don’t know how the kind of faith required of a Christian living in the 20th century can be at all if it is not grounded on this experience that you are having right now of unbelief …Peter [sic] said, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” It is the most natural and most human and most agonizing prayer in the gospels, and I think it is the foundation prayer of faith.

As a freshman in college you are bombarded with new ideas, or rather pieces of ideas, new frames of reference, an activation of the intellectual life which is only beginning but which is already running ahead of your lived experience. After a year of this, you think you cannot believe. You are just beginning to realize how difficult it is to have faith and the measure of a commitment to it, but you are too young to decide you don’t have faith just because you feel you can’t believe …

Even in the life of a Christian, faith rises and falls like the tides of an invisible sea. It’s there, even when he can’t see it or feel it, if he wants it to be there.

One result of the stimulation of your intellectual life that takes place in college is usually a shrinking of the imaginative life. This sounds like a paradox, but I have often found it to be true. Students get so bound up with difficulties such as reconciling the clashing of so many different faiths such as Buddhism, Mohammedanism, etc., that they cease to look for God in other ways. [Robert] Bridges once wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins and asked him to tell him how he, Bridges, could believe. He must have expected from Hopkins a long philosophical answer. Hopkins wrote back, “Give alms.” He was trying to say to Bridges that God is to be experienced in charity (in the sense of love
for the divine image in human beings). Don’t get so entangled with intellectual difficulties that you fail to look for God in this way.

The intellectual difficulties have to be met, however, and you will be meeting them for the rest of your life. …Where you have absolute solutions, however, you have no need of faith. Faith is what you have in the absence of knowledge. …You can’t fit the Almighty into your intellectual categories …

What kept me a skeptic in college was precisely my Christian faith. It always said wait, don’t bite on this, get a wider picture, continue to read. If you want your faith, you have to work for it. It is a gift, but for very few is it a gift given without any demand for equal time devoted to its cultivation. For every book you read that is anti-Christian, make it your business to read one that presents the other side of the picture; if one isn’t satisfactory read others. Don’t think that you have to abandon reason to be a Christian. …To find out about faith, you have to go to the people who
have it and you have to go to the most intelligent ones if you are going to stand up intellectually to agnostics and the general run of pagans that you are going to find in the majority of people around you…

“You realize, I think, that [faith] is more valuable, more mysterious, altogether more immense than anything you can learn or decide upon in college. Learn what you can but cultivate Christian skepticism. It will keep you free — not free to do anything you please, but free to be formed by something larger than your own intellect or the intellects of those around you…”

Looking Forward to Pentecost

I’m looking forward to Pentecost.  

One morning after Mass this week I was looking at the Mass attendance sheet. While our attendance numbers have been steady since Easter, they are still far from the numbers we had prior to the pandemic. But that’s not really the point of my writing this week. The thought that occurred to me is that it was last Pentecost 2021, when the archbishop resumed the obligation to attend Mass. While a little longer than a calendar year, it’s been a liturgical year since things started to get back to “normal”. The new “normal” is that a lot of folks haven’t come back to Mass with any consistency. So why am I looking forward to Pentecost? When I was looking at the attendance sheet that morning, I thought, “What if we celebrated Pentecost like we celebrated Easter and Christmas? What if we really made a big deal about it like we do those other holy days?” Pentecost, in my estimation, seems to be just as big of a deal as Christmas and Easter. The early Church was floundering until they received the Holy Spirit and since then, the world has never been the same.  

I know I’m jumping ahead a bit, but the weekend of the 7th Sunday of Easter, the week before Pentecost, we hear in the 2nd reading from the last chapter of the Book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible, it says…. 

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ Let the hearer say, ‘Come.’ Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water.” 

These are the last words uttered by humanity in the entire Bible. It’s not a person per se, but the Church, the bride who speaks. The Church, we the people of God, are the bride of the bridegroom, Jesus Christ. Filled with and animated by the Holy Spirit, we long for the coming of Christ, like a bride pines for her bridegroom on their wedding night. 

Many of us might find it strange that God uses nuptial language to describe not only His relationship with us, but to describe the communion we will experience on the Last Day. We shouldn’t find it that strange though, since every human being ever born has thought and, in some way, desired marriage. Marriage, the longing for communion with another, is as natural to us as breathing. While not all are called to the vocation marriage, all sense a longing for communion. 

Go to the first book in the Bible, Genesis. What does God say about marriage? “It is not good to be alone.” So, God creates a suitable partner for man. “This one at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” 

These are the first words uttered by man in the Bible. They are also nuptial words expressing the longing Adam has for his bride, Eve, on their wedding day. 

As we prepare for Pentecost, let’s not make it just another Sunday. Let’s notice the longing in our own hearts for communion. It is the Spirit who animates this longing. May we who thirst come forward and receive the gift of life-giving water. Come, Lord Jesus! 

Peace, 

Fr. Jeff Lorig, Pastor 

Forgiving Those Closest To Us

Blessings to all mothers, stepmothers, grandmothers, foster mothers, expectant mothers, mothers in this world and those who have passed from this world. May your giving of yourself for children be blessed by God who created mothers in order to continue creating within His creation.

It is wonderful to be able to celebrate this gift of motherhood while celebrating the month of Mary, the Mother of God, and resurrection. It all fits together as a part of God’s plan. There is a line in our funeral services that says, “We believe that all the ties of friendship and affection that knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death.” This is all possible because of the resurrection. It is not just that we will live on, but that we will know each other and we will also know how we are connected with each other. That is good news and bad news. The good news is that we will be able to continue those bonds of love. The bad news is that Jesus had good reason for us to need to forgive. Sometimes the ones who are closest to us are the ones who have hurt us the most.

Sometimes forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply seems impossible. That is because it can only be one way when the other person does not want reconciliation. That does not change what we must do, which is just what Jesus did on the cross when he said, “Father forgive them.” I’m sure that He knew that some of them did not want that forgiveness. He gives it because that is who He is. It is also that He knows what we must do to be one with Him in heaven.

Sometimes forgiveness is not that hard and reconciliation happens. That is what happened with my parents. My mother’s mother and grandmother both were widows for several decades. My Mom told me that she told Dad that if he left her to live the same way, she would haunt him. When Dad died, she was angry at him. It took a while but she forgave him; and when she died, I prayed they could be together again because they both were ready to live in Christ.

The other blessing that I pray for is that they now have a connection with their spiritual mother, Mary. Dad did forty years of Mother of Perpetual Help devotions. Mom did those and also prayed tons of rosaries. Knowing that they had that mother in heaven was a comfort throughout their lives and now is an even greater comfort for them. Having the Queen of Heaven to turn to in our prayers is an advantage that we all have as Catholics. As we celebrate the bonds of motherhood and the month of Mary, I just hope that more people will take advantage of this opportunity to have bonds of love so they are ready for their resurrection.

God bless you all,
Fr. Frank Baumert

The Underrated Gift of Hope

One morning recently during my morning meditation and while I was praying my way through the Mass, I noticed some grief and sadness in my heart. Sadness is an experience of loss. We are sad when we have had something, like a fulfilling relationship, and now it is missing for some reason. Or we are sad because we have lost hope that the thing that is missing will ever be reclaimed. Most of us never experience complete and total fulfilment in life, but it is Hope that sustains us when those fulfilling things of life go missing.

Hope is the gift that always pulls us forward and most of us take it for granted until it goes missing. Hope keeps our efforts going. Nothing can be done without hope. Without hope everything stops. We can see this in our everyday lives. When a person reaches the point of having no hope in anything, it is as if he or she were dead. Often people even kill themselves or allow themselves to die slowly.

Easter is a season of hope. I like to think that God gave us 40 days to prepare our hearts during Lent for the Resurrection and an extra 10 days, 50 days in total, to prepare our hearts for the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is truly the Holy Spirit dwelling in us that brings our faith to life and brings hope to life as well. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

Fr. Cantalamessa commented once that, “The Gospels report many of Christ’s sayings on faith and charity but nothing on hope. On the contrary, after Easter, we witness a literal explosion of the idea and feeling of hope in the teachings of the apostles. Hope comes alongside faith and charity to make up the new Christian life. God himself is called the ‘God of Hope’” (Rom 15:13).

I pray that wherever you are experiencing hopelessness in your life for whatever reason, you may begin to experience a rebirth of hope, “Because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:1-5).

From sadness that morning, I began to pray for hope and the Lord answered my prayer. My prayer sounded something like this, “Lord, give me hope that you will fulfill all that I long for someday.” Feel free to try it for yourself.

Peace,
Fr. Jeff Lorig, Pastor

The Meaning of the Palm

I asked my dad several years ago if we should work on some of his funeral planning. He hemmed and hawed and was reluctant to give a straight answer. I said, “You know, no one is getting out of here alive.” His response, “Well, I’m going to try.”

Death is this thing most of us are not too excited about, yet it is something we know we will all have to face someday. As Woody Allen once quipped, “I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Despite my dad’s hopes, we are all powerless against death.

The fact that Jesus rose from the dead, that death had no power over him, does that make a difference for us today?

In the first Easter homily I ever gave as a priest, I asked a simple question about Jesus’ resurrection, “What difference does it make? In the pews that Easter Sunday morning was a woman who died on Easter Monday, and I did her funeral a few days later. I will never forget her, and I will always hope that that Easter Sunday morning gave her hope of an eternal victory over death. I hope Jesus’ resurrection made a difference for her. I hope it makes a difference for all of us.

This is going to seem off-topic, but lately, old Nebraska football games from the ’94 season have been showing up in my YouTube recommendations, and I’ve been watching them. Even though I remember the season’s outcome fondly, a National Championship against Miami, it has been eye-opening to see the tough games they played against worthy opponents. It was a difficult season. They did not score at will. Tommie Frazier, you might remember, sat out of most of the season because of blood clots. When he did play, he was not a very accurate passer and our receivers were better blockers than catchers. They dropped a lot of catchable passes. Oh, but the glory of that final game against Miami. I remember the whole state celebrated. The team’s victory was our victory, even though most of us never once played a down of college football in our lives. Yet despite that, WE won!

For those not fans of Husker football, it made no difference. It was a victory they could not celebrate. The same is true in Jesus’ victory over death. His victory is our victory if we become more than casual fans. To become more than casual fans means entering into our own struggles over imminent death and persistent sin and realizing our powerlessness. It also means letting Jesus into the daily realities of that powerlessness.

The palm is a symbol of victory. It was used in the ancient world, given to the successful competitors in athletic events, including the first Olympics games. To this day, the Olympic medals bear the palm symbol.

Imagine from here on out that whenever we hold a palm on Passion Sunday, it is about celebrating Jesus’ victory. As fans of Jesus, it is our victory as well. WE won because HE won, and that makes all the difference!

In Christ,
Fr. Jeff Lorig

Many Hands

Dear Parishioners,

Some of you have already heard the news. The Archbishop has named the priest who will become the pastor of Midtown Catholic on July 1st. His name is Fr. Frank Jindra. Yes, in just a few months, you will have to deal with two Fr. Franks. He is from South Omaha and did have a short stay at St. Thomas More as an assistant pastor years ago. I’m sure he will give you more information as he moves in. He is currently the senior associate for parishes in South Omaha, including Ss. Peter & Paul and St. Mary.

On another topic, I am contemplating putting a few trees at STM. The grass has been growing great in front of that rectory after I had that last giant evergreen tree taken out. But since I love trees and want the protection they provide, I’m thinking about putting some columnar trees on the west side of that front lawn. They would eventually give some windbreak now that the other tree is gone and would hopefully be grown enough to be of help as the next door neighbor’s tree gets past its prime. The question is whether to go with white pine or columnar juniper trees. We have some of these white pines on the northeast corner of the church. What does your experience tell you? Let me know.

The main topic I would like you to think about is what I call “growing up.” We all have had different experiences of church and family as we were growing up. One aspect of our faith is keeping holy the Lord’s Day. As a child, I remember working on doing as little work as possible on Sundays. For us, that meant milking cows and feeding animals twice, going to Mass (usually twice), and that was about it. What never dawned on me was how much work my parents had to do to make that impression for us. Mom was cooking like crazy. Dad was chauffeuring us all over. He was also watching out for the emergencies that happened on the farm on a daily basis. In church, Mom was organist/choir director and singer. Dad was singing while keeping track of us, so we weren’t getting into trouble during Mass.

The reason I bring this up has to do with that volunteer “serve here” webpage that you heard about in Fr. Lorig’s March 13th column. Growing up, you might have thought that the parish/church just ran itself. It never has. There have always been a lot of people who worked in the background to make things happen. Many of you are the ones who have been doing that for ages. Thank you for that. But our world is different now. Many other things fill up our time and make volunteering for church seem impossible. You may have noticed that one of them that drives me crazy is the time put into sports. I’m sure you know what I am talking about. But it is not the only thing. Each of us has different situations. Some of you work long hours.

Over these next few months, I ask you to look at how the parish works or doesn’t work and think about what is behind that situation. Most of it might be that we are too busy with everything but God. Lent is a great time to pray about what changes might need to happen in our own lives. Or maybe we need to help in another way. My dad made it possible for Mom to volunteer with the music for church which then helped us do a lot of volunteering. In that way, he helped the church indirectly. I’m sure there is grace involved either way.

God Bless,
Fr. Frank Baumert (not Jindra)

Journey of Faith: Daily Masses

You have by now heard from Archbishop Lucas about a new pastoral planning process called Journey of Faith. While some proposals have been made, but not yet shared with the public, it is still very much a work in progress. The archbishop really wants this to be a consultative and collaborative process. Sweeping changings throughout the archdiocese will be made and it is very important that there is a wide range of voices being heard.

I feel confident that St. Joan of Arc and St. Thomas More are on the right path, and we can continue to work on what we have been working on since I arrived in July of 2020. We will keep moving forward with our pastoral plan to grow as one family of two parishes, working together as one church in the heart of Omaha.

Some of the ideas proposed with the Journey of Faith concern priests’ schedules. A stated guiding principle for the planning is not only flourishing mission-oriented faith communities, but flourishing priests in support of the mission.

As I write this, Fr. Baumert has been on vacation, and I have been taking all the Masses, weddings, funerals, and sick calls. It really is not that bad, but it helps to know that it is temporary until he returns. Some days get a little hairy though. On Saturday, February 19, I was scheduled for an 8:00 am daily Mass, a 10:30 am Funeral Mass, a 2:00 pm Wedding Mass, 4:30 pm Confessions, 5:30 pm Mass, and a Baptism at 6:30 pm. Thankfully, Fr. Baumert just happened to be back in town on Saturday morning and took the 8:00 am daily Mass. Even with him taking a Mass, it was a bit of a long day. Again, it was not the worst day of my life. Everything went pretty well, and it is not like that every day.

All that said, I will be taking some time off in March and would like to experiment with some of the Journey of Faith parameters proposed for daily Masses. We can test the waters of what it will feel like for our two parishes and learn from it and, more importantly, give Fr. Baumert a bit of a break while I’m away. Here are the proposed parameters:

  • Except on rare occasions, there should be only one regularly scheduled daily Mass per priest, excluding his day off.
  • Daily Mass schedules should preference Catholic schools such that schools have at least one school Mass per week.

Here is what the two-week schedule will look like while I am away.

March
SundayMondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturday
6  

8am at SJA
10:30a @ STM
7  

7am at STM
8  

7am at STM
9  

8:30am at SJA
10  

8:30am at SJA
11  

7am at STM
12  

5pm at STM
5:30 at SJA
13  

8am at SJA
10:30a @ STM
14  

7am at STM  
15  

7am at STM
16  

8:30am at SJA
17  

8:30am at SJA
18  

8:15am at STM
19  

5pm at STM
5:30 at SJA
Mass Schedule: March 6-19

Although you might not see your favorite Mass time available every day, I feel confident that our collective flexibility will help us adapt to the new reality of our Archdiocese. The hardest part will be reminding Fr. Baumert where he needs to be on which day.

Let us continue to pray for one another.
Fr. Jeff Lorig, Pastor

Sewing Bonds and Serving Others

When I was a young girl, I went to many high school football games. At halftime, the cheerleaders, who were feverishly rooting for their team to outdo the opposition, would run across the field, join hands with the visiting team’s cheerleaders and introduce themselves to one another. They would chat for a while and then perform a welcoming cheer to those visiting fans. Together, usually hand in hand, they would then run back to the stadium’s home side, and another joint cheer would fill the air. A small gesture of hospitality, you might say, in an otherwise competitive arena.

Two schools come together to share an event! Two groups or organizations who otherwise might be ignoring one another come together to share an evening, a charity event, a belief, a Mass –not really a new or unique idea! Teenagers know how to do this. Students from Prep and Gross, Lincoln Pius and Mercy, Omaha and Gretna come together to debate, wrestle, or build robots. They make friends from other schools while keeping their home schools’ interests and needs first in their hearts.

Interacting and sharing with others enhances our lives. When I was younger, there was not enough time in the day to do all that I wanted to do and meet all those I wanted to meet. But as I have grown older, I have slowed down considerably. I have become satisfied with the ways I have always done things and am reluctant to welcome something or someone new into my life. Just going to church where I do not know anyone (except God, of course) causes me to become resistant and, perhaps, even turn to a TV to watch Mass via live stream. I have forgotten the excitement of meeting new people, hearing new ideas, working with others, and getting so much done.

Last fall, Eileen Egan and some ladies from both SJA and STM came together and provided me with an excellent reminder of what can happen when we reach out to and accept the help of others, hold hands, and work together for a common cause. Eileen’s thank you note to the women of both parishes who worked together in accomplishing the Sew Comfort Group’s Christmastime goal says it all:

“…in the beginning, I wasn’t sure if we could make and fill enough [Christmas] stockings for our [St. Joan of Arc’s] homebound parishioners; yet, it looks as if we will have enough for the homebound [parishioners] of both parishes, three or four assisted living facilities and the Hospice House!”

(Midtown Catholic Bulletin, December 5, 2021, p.6)

Kudos to Sew Comfort and the other groups within Midtown Catholic’s parameters for reaching out and serving the needs of others, praying for others, completing and complementing one another to get the job done. What does this have to do with me? Where do I fit in? Should I just sit and watch or should I contribute to the success of Midtown Catholic? If I listen carefully, I can hear the answer. It is really not that difficult. I have to do what I did long ago – cross the field, make eye contact, smile, extend a friendly hand, and join the camaraderie.

Linda Boyer
Bulletin Editor

My Friends from Kazakhstan

Has anyone ever told you that you are friendly? Called you a gracious host? A warm welcomer? If not, then please read the rest of the article. If you are, I still invite you to attend our hospitality training Sunday, February 13th, at 9 am, in the St. Joan of Arc Teachers’ Lounge. We are forming Hospitality Teams that will welcome new-comers and guests to our two churches. The team will greet and engage guests as if Christ himself has walked through the doors. This effort will need to be more than one team. It will take a parish.

“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”

Revelation 3:20

Think back to the first time you remember going to church. For many of us cradle Catholics, we are familiar without memory. Raised and molded by it, liturgy is part of who we are. We had our parents to familiarize us with it. We did not need to be welcomed or guided in our own childhood home; our parents nurtured us. For many newcomers, the experience of the liturgy is as foreign as Kazakhstan. At Mass, we speak, move, and act in unison. The Mass is not a good welcome mat for modern man but the summit of a life infused with grace. People are coming to our doors seeking God. We have guests who are left perplexed and confused. While education helps some, there is a deeper need that we can meet.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Matthew 7:7-8

Our visitors come seeking Jesus. They see our devotion and love for our Sunday liturgies and want to know what it is all about. If a guest is not ready to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, we need to be even more prepared to receive them. Here are just a few things you can do to welcome them:

  • Pray. Join Midtown Catholic’s Hospitality Team as they pray for our guests and for Becoming Catholic candidates during and before Mass.
  • Be friendly. If you notice someone you don’t recognize, introduce yourself. Even if the newcomer is a Catholic visiting from another parish, you will do no harm in being friendly.
  • Smile. Smile at the parishioners you know. Smile at the people you don’t. Smile at your loved ones and your enemies. Smile because God loves you so much that he died for you. Smile because he rose from the dead and cleanses us of our sins. Smile, and see how quickly everyone else will.
  • Stick around if you don’t have a pressing engagement (First Watch, Le Peep, and Billy J’s don’t count). Consider talking to someone new in the atrium.

If you have any other ideas on welcoming guests, I invite you to join us on February 13th. Forming a culture of hospitality is a difficult task to start but will be a joy to maintain. We have likely done similar things in the past. We need to bring those ideas back along with fresh ones. Let’s make room in our pews and our hearts for Christ the guest.

TJ Simpson, Director of Evangelization
tjsimpson@midtowncatholic.church

The Best Thing I’ve Heard Recently

The best thing I heard recently was something from one of our RCIA candidates. Let me give you some context first. At one of the St. Joan of Arc Masses, I mentioned the not-so-pleasant fact that six people would leave the Church for every one person who becomes Catholic this year in the United States. I knew that one of the people who would become Catholic this year at St. Joan of Arc was Samantha and that she was in the pews that morning.

Samantha and her husband Jake are new to the parish and the Westgate neighborhood. They were married at St. Joan of Arc in May last year. While they attend Mass regularly, they’re definitely outsiders. While I was giving the sermon, they knew I was talking about her, so Jake started ribbing her teasingly. A long-time St. Joan of Arc parishioner noticed this interaction between the couple. After Mass, they introduced themselves to Samantha and Jake and chatted for a bit. Samantha and Jake said it felt great to be welcomed in this way and that they started to feel more at home at St. Joan of Arc.

This is the essence of hospitality. In the New Testament, the Greek word “philoxenia,” translated “hospitality,” literally means “love of strangers.” A simple gesture of welcome from one of us can also be a powerful experience of love for those who feel like strangers. It is not only a Gospel mandate, but it is also the most effective way to help outsiders feel like they belong.

I’ve heard many stories from long-time parishioners at St. Joan of Arc that they first felt this was their parish when Fr. Emmett Meyer or Fr. Dan Soltys went out of his way to greet, welcome, and invite them to make St. Joan of Arc their home. While Fr. Frank and I are start-ing to notice who the regulars are and who the strangers are, and we do our best to greet folks after Mass, we are probably still too new and spread too thin between the two parishes to be nearly as effective as you in the pews. Plus, we are not nearly as charming as Fr. Dan and Fr. Emmett.

I believe the most effective way to help outsiders feel welcome is through a culture of hospitality not from the priests but the pews. If there’s a stranger near you in the pews, do more than just greet them at the beginning of Mass. Introduce yourselves at the end of Mass. Learn a bit of their story. If they’re new to the parish, make them feel welcome and let them know you’re glad they are here. Pray for them throughout the week.

We hope to launch our first hospitality ministry at a 5:30 pm Mass at St. Joan of Arc in the coming weeks. TJ Simpson, our Director of Evangelization, will take the lead on this. The first training date for this endeavor will be Sunday, February 13th, at 9:00 am at SJA in the school’s teachers’ lounge. If you are interested, plan to attend even if you are a St. Thomas More parishioner. If you have questions, contact TJ at tjsimpson@midtowncatholic.church or call 402-556-1456, ext. 203

Fr. Jeff Lorig, Pastor