Neglected Ways of Being God’s Story-tellers

Neglected Ways of Being God’s Story-tellers

By: John Freund on Jan 28, 2020   /   Around the Province

In his recently released message for the 54th World Day of Communication Pope Francis writes movingly that we are not only God’s story but that we must also be God’s storytellers of that story as lived in us and in our brothers and sisters.

“The Gospel of John tells us that the quintessential storyteller – the Word – himself becomes the story: “God’s only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (Jn 1: 18). …The history of Christ is not a legacy from the past; it is our story, and always timely. … “You” – Saint Paul wrote – “are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor 3:3).

With the gaze of the great storyteller – the only one who has the ultimate point of view – we can then approach the other characters, our brothers and sisters, who are with us as actors in today’s story. For no one is an extra on the world stage, and everyone’s story is open to possible change. Even when we tell of evil, we can learn to leave room for redemption; in the midst of evil, we can also recognize the working of goodness and give it space.

Certainly, there are many ways we can manifest our vocation to be God’s storytellers. Another Francis said centuries earlier his humble followers “Preach the Gospel always… and if you must use words.”

We are both God’s story and God’s storytellers. But not only storytellers our own stories but especially for our forgotten and marginalized sisters and brothers. We do so out of the awareness of our own marginalization and grace-filled story.

Vincent as a Voice of the poor

We have a tradition going back to Vincent who was a Voice of the poor.

St. Vincent de Paul was himself shaped by the story of the Good News as told by the inspired writers, especially Luke and Matthew. The story in Luke 4 reveals of Jesus’ mission statement – Bring Good News to the Poor.  It also gave Vincent and his family the formulation of their mission statement. Another inspired writer, Matthew tells the story of the roots of this mission  – God’s identification with the poor. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sister you do for me.” (MT 25). These storytellers led Vincent to see poverty in a new light.

Vincent in his own way used media to change the perception of those in poverty and inspired many to collaborate with him in serving the least among his generation. Vincent was originally reluctant to use the media of his day, letters, to tell the story of the sufferings of the poor and how his collaborators worked tirelessly to bring spiritual and physical good news. He first thought telling these stories was incompatible with humble service.

Then one day he realized that in telling the story of the poor he gave the voice to their sufferings. Telling the stories of what his collaborators were doing inspired others to join in these efforts. He then began to reproduce and circulate the letters his missioners wrote from the field. This, in turn, led the upper classes to offer much-needed material support. As understanding of the need spread through these letters, it inspired others to join cause with him.

Two often neglected ways we tell God’s story

In a recent post on  FamVin, David Barringer, CEO of the Society of St. Vincent DePaul USA wrote of Vincentians as God’s storytellers.  More specifically he sees that Vincentians can be the storytellers to policy-makers and others who may never “see” poverty in all of its forms.

Why? Vincentians, not just members of the Society but also from all branches are in daily contact with disadvantaged and marginalized persons of all kinds.

Dave Barringer also asked, “How do we as Vincentians use this information, and help our neighbors participate in it, one family at a time?”

The answer is that we can and ought to be the Voice of the Poor. Two concrete examples…

The annual Catholic Social Ministry conference in Washington.

Each year members of the Society of St. Vincent DePaul attend the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering of around 400 Catholic social service leaders and advocates for visits to Capitol Hill and discussion of causes related to Catholic Social Teaching. (The event is timed to coincide with this year’s March for Life.)

This includes learning more Life, Climate, Reformative Justice, the federal budget’s social entitlements and other subjects that all have some bearing on people in poverty if we simply choose to see it through this lens.

Vincentians from all branches are in daily contact with the disadvantaged and marginalized of all kinds. They educate themselves. But they also do more. On this day they educate our policy-makers by fanning out and visiting them in their offices as the voice of the poor they know and have no access.

March for Life

The March for Life marks the 47th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Many members of the Society of St. Vincent DePaul and other members of the Vincentian Family marched. For more information on the event, view this one-minute time-lapse photographic recap of the long march of hundreds of thousands.

Food for thought

  • How conscious am I of being part of God’s story?
  • How conscious am I of being God’s storyteller to all the nations?
  • How consci0us am I of the many ways I can tell God’s story?

Doing some housecleaning

I am doing some house cleaning … but first it involves creating and taking inventory.

This project has been necessitated by the fact that it was not the best practice to link to what I have published on other sites. Recently cmeast has been revised and migrated to another platform. All the links went to a hidden sector of the great cloud in sky.

However, with the help of Beth Nicol who has been the tech support person for literally 20 years, I was able to get a copy of everything I posted on that site. Since I was virtually the lone poster that meant literally thousands of post.

The bad news is that it means everything. That includes lots of material that I now would describe as news that is no longer news. In the coming week and months, I hope to weed out such material and possibly reinsert graphics that would mee with today’s standards.

Since I continue to write for a variety of sites this will not be a priority.

But as the About page indicated this site will try to accommodate those who repeatedly asked for some kind of an ardchive.

UPDATE + Mr. Robert Damiano, brother-in-law of Frs. John and James Maher, C.M. 

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Mr. Robert Damiano, brother-in-law of Frs. John and James Maher, C.M.

Robert died suddenly last evening, Feb. 12, after shoveling snow. He is survived by his wife, Anne Maher Damiano and his daughter Caroline Damiano Flamos. Funeral plans are pending.

Por favor oren por el alma del
Sr. Robert Damiano
cuñado de los Padres John y James Maher, CM.

Robert murió repentinamente anoche después de palear la nieve. Le sobreviven su esposa, Anne Maher Damiano y su hija Caroline Damiano Flamos. Los planes funerarios están pendientes.

Update

Funeral Arrangements
Wake: Friday February 15
5:00-8:00pm
Interment: Private, Saturday February 16
Ippolito Funeral Home
646 Springfield Ave
Berkeley Heights, NJ 07923
(908) 277-7446
Condolences:
Anne M. Damiano
282 Garfield Street
Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922

Our Alabama Mission – Through the Eyes of a Native Son

Novena-attendees at the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal got a glimpse of the Eastern Province’s  Alabama Mission through the eyes of a native son of Alabama, Fr. Bruce Krause, CM. He shared the history of our ministry there as well as his personal ministry of more than 30 years.

Fr. Thomas Judge, C.M. observed in 1915 how necessary it was to enlist the help of lay persons to carry the message of the gospel to the poor.  There is a similar situation, today, as we see a dwindling number of priests…

The missionary thrust of the parish follows the example of Mary’s impulse to bring the Good News to Elizabeth and by extension to the poor.  I must admit, though, that always finding people’s homes can be quite difficult at night and in the country side.  I have been lost many a time, and did not possess the guidance of a star.  Not even my GPS helped me at times to find folks.  I wonder at times how Mary was able to find Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea.

You can view the full service at https://cammonline.org/news-events/videos/

The text of his reflection…

I come to you from Alabama not with a banjo on my knee, but as a minister of the gospel wishing to bring to you the Good News much as Mary did to her kinswoman Elizabeth in the hill country of Judah.  Or should I say her kinfolk?  I am a native son of Alabama, and one of only two Vincentians originally from Alabama.  The other confrere was Fr. Warner Kennon Walker, C.M., who came from nearby Salem.  I never knew him, but his confreres would refer to him as “Dixie” Walker.  I pray that we will see more vocations coming from Alabama!

At the time when the Vincentians established the Alabama Missions in East Central Alabama in 1910, there were two parishioners in Opelika and very few Catholics in the region.  The area was every bit as rural as the country Mary had to traverse to see Elizabeth, and was comparable in size to the state of Connecticut.  Opelika was chosen because of the trains, and while there are no longer passenger trains passing through town now, I can hear many a train whistle at all hours of the day and night.  Like the transportation hub for trains, Opelika became the hub for the missionary work that took confreres to nearby towns of Auburn, Tallassee, Alexander City, Phenix City, Ashland, and Lanett.  It was in Lanett and Auburn where I became acquainted with the Vincentians.

Last Friday, we as Vincentians celebrated the foundation of the Community in Folleville, France in 1617.  I find some interesting and striking parallels between the foundations in Folleville and Alabama.  Both were rural.  There were few clergy.  Those who were Catholic were quite ignorant of their faith, or had abandoned it for Protestant mainline denominations or Evangelical traditions.  If you look in the phone book, today, you would think there would be many more Catholics judging from the last names that appear in the directory.  Like Elizabeth from Luke’s Gospel, many persons were and still are eager to experience the Word of God and the hope it conveys to them.  Yet who would bring this message to them?  Fr. Thomas Judge, C.M. observed in 1915 how necessary it was to enlist the help of lay persons to carry the message of the gospel to the poor.  There is a similar situation, today, as we see a dwindling number of priests.  With the exception of Auburn and Phenix City most recently, the priests who now serve in the towns I mentioned earlier come from India and Poland.  Unfortunately, many of the same priests in these respective towns and elsewhere have difficulty reaching out to an ever-growing Hispanic presence.  In my parish alone over two-thirds of the parishioners are Latinos.  There are 434 families registered and many more who are not.

It would have been inconceivable that St. Mary’s would ever outgrow the church’s seating capacity of 108 persons in 1910.  Times have changed!  Mary spoke prophetically of the needs of God’s people in her Magnificat.  She possessed a keen awareness of the signs of the times in her response to the joy Elizabeth felt in Mary’s visit.  The first confreres who served in Alabama must have done the same here at this Shrine and elsewhere.  For example, the faithful who came to Mary’s Shrine here in Germantown heard of the needs in Alabama, and provided supported the construction of the existing church.  Now, with attendance sometimes reaching as many as 180 persons for just one Sunday Mass, I can only imagine someone deciding to come through the roof much as we read in chapter 2 of Mark’s gospel.  People then and now want to experience Jesus’ gift of life, especially through the Eucharist.  I am doing what I can to make St. Mary’s the spiritual home for so many who come to her doors.

St. Mary’s is the only parish in the area that offers what I call full service ministry to and with Hispanics.  Religious instruction is offered in English and Spanish.  The bulletin is available in both languages.  The secretary is bilingual.  There is a diverse membership on the parish council.  The parish is not without its challenges, though, as we strive to build bridges between those who speak English and those whose first language is Spanish.  Sadly, like the prejudice of old toward Catholics and African Americans, this animosity has expanded to include Hispanics, and it exists both within and without the parish.  Overcoming this bigotry requires considerable patience, a willingness to learn from each other, and a mutual respect for the distinct contributions the different cultures can bring to parish life.  As I look about this country, St. Mary’s is not unique in this respect.  The mandate of the gospel urges us to address all that separates us.  In truth, it is sin, and we need to repent for the racism that exists in this country and around the world.

As I mentioned the parishioners are making efforts to bring peoples together.  We worked side by side in the renovation of the church several years ago.  This would not have been possible without the cooperation of so many.  But ministry is not solely concerned with the structural needs of the parish.  There is an outreach into people’s homes, including trailer parks some 25 or more miles away from the parish.  Rosaries are said in people’s homes, and I am struck by the devotional life of the people who have erected simple shrines in their trailers.  A statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe is often quite prominent.  There are the Posadas which reenact the search of Mary and Joseph for a place to stay during the month of December.  The missionary thrust of the parish follows the example of Mary’s impulse to bring the Good News to Elizabeth and by extension to the poor.  I must admit, though, that always finding people’s homes can be quite difficult at night and in the country side.  I have been lost many a time, and did not possess the guidance of a star.  Not even my GPS helped me at times to find folks.  I wonder at times how Mary was able to find Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea.

One of the joys of being a missionary is the experience of what theologians describe as “reverse” mission.  That is, the missionary learns and receives so much from the people he or she is called to serve.  I would have to say that this has been my experience as a missionary working among the Latinos in Alabama.  Mary experienced much the same when she visited her kinswoman Elizabeth, and her Magnificat gives ample testimony to her immeasurable joy in what God has done in her life and in the lives of her people.  Pope Francis captures well her sentiment when he writes in his exhortation, “Joy of the Gospel” these words:

“Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort.  Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.”

My prayer is that we can learn from the example of Mary and continue her missionary spirit to God’s people in Philadelphia, Alabama and beyond.  May God bless you always, and ya’ll come and see us in Alabama!  Ya hear!

Proven Success in Creating a Culture of Mission

Creating a culture of mission has to be more than an ideal. It actually has to change people’s lives. Here is a proven success story!

In a post on FamVIn, Fr. Aidan Rooney shares proof that it is possible to create a culture of mission.

A Lilly study of 5000 alumni of WorX, a program whose early supporter was the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission, confirmed its effectiveness. Sean Sanford, program creator, said the Vincentians are “the ones that gave them access to a spirituality” that shaped their calling: the charism of St. Vincent de Paul and the witness of his sons.”

Here just some of the results…

  • 93%  of their respondents still identify as Catholic;
  • 84% still belong to a parish or faith-based community;
  • 8 out of 10 respondents said that their participation influenced this.

This graphic presents perspectives of both alumni and parents.

No wonder they write…

Today we’re proud to announce the release of our new study on youth engagement in faith, service, and social justice, “What WorX: Measuring the Impact of Faith-Based Service and Social Justice Programs on Catholic Youth,” which you can find👉 http://www.faithjustice.org/resources/

The study found “youth engagement in faith continues long after WorX programs end.” In fact, 84% still belong to a parish or faith-based community – 8 out of 10 respondents said that their participation influenced this in some way; 94% of respondents indicated that participation in a WorX program influenced them to continue volunteering. You can check out the full report to learn more!

This study was researched and written in collaboration with the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI.

Do you know of other such studies of the long-term results of your youth and young adult program?

Fr. Rooney explains further.

In the mid-2000s, the Eastern Province if the Congregation of the Mission created space for some insightful young people to take a parish-based Catholic service learning program based in Catholic Social teaching and turn it into a program that reaches youth, adolescents and young adults, and now counts over 5000 alumni. I was happy to work along side and sometimes mentor these young people in leadership.

Their “worX” suite of programs along with other formation and prayer offerings are now called the Center for FaithJustice. They wanted to find out, in the shadow of the synod on youth, if they have had an impact in the last ten years. Here’s what they say.

Their connection with the Congregation officially ended in 2008, but at their recent 10th anniversary celebration of the incorpration of the Center as an independent non-profit organization, they named the Vincentians as the ones that gave them access to a spirituality that shaped their calling: the charism of St. Vincent de Paul and the witness of his sons. CFJ is doing something right! You can find out more by browsing their entire site.

Read the impressive full report through the link on their website. In a related news item see how another ministry of the Easter Province, Niagara University, is moving toward a “culture of mission.

Vincentian Film Festival – Video Highlights First Day

It’s here! The first day of the Vincentian Film Festival in Rome. You can view highlights as well as a gallery of photos. An introductory 6-minute video presents who we are as a Vincentian Family and what we do. (The video begins at the 5 minute mark.)

Some 300 people, from all over the world, have gathered at the Mariapolis Center in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, to attend the “Finding Vince 400” film festival and contest. The meeting began on Thursday, October 18, whose morning was devoted to registration and to know each other.

About 50 artists are the finalists of the contest, which received more than 4 thousand applications. At 3:00 pm local time, the event was officially inaugurated, with the participation of the Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission and international coordinator of the Vincentian Family, Father Thomaz Mavric CM, the technical organizer of the festival, Alma Perez, and the director of the Vincentian Family International Office, Father Joseph Agostino CM. They spoke about the importance of promoting Vincentian values in today’s world, full of challenges for people who are in need. Art and cinema are ways of touching the conscience of people. The audience present at the opening also had the opportunity to ask questions to the three participants. After the debate, the exhibitions of the selected films began.

Finding Vince on Facebook

Mission Sunday – Pope Francis and Thomas Judge, CM

Mission Sunday – Pope Francis and Thomas Judge, CM. They never met but they are kindred spirits.

In his message for Mission Sunday 2018, Pope Francis reminded everyone of their call to mission. “Every man and woman is a mission; that is the reason for our life on this earth.” (See My Mission in Life Through the Eyes of Pope Francis)

Ninty five years earlier, in 1923 Thomas Judge, CM, a member of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission asked: “What can be done to inspire, to provoke, to lead the every-day Catholic into missionary work in the providence of his everyday life?”

Already in 1909, he gathered a small group in Perboyre Chapel of what would become the home of St. John’s University. This group  became the nucleus of a lay organization that would call itself the “Missionary Cenacle.” He encouraged them to: “Be good, do good, and be a power for good.”

Ten years later in 1919, he said: “This is the layman’s hour”. By 1923 he was even more convinced. He clarified his thought and prodded the nascent organization we know as Catholic Charities with the following thoughts which were well in advance of this times.(1)

Think about how relevant these quotes from that brief landmark address are to today.

  • “There is no school, no class so powerful to work good for the neighbor as the general body of the faithful or as we state it, the laity.”
  • “The Bishops are on the eve of their annual meeting. Much of their conferring and resolving can be reduced to one word, the “laity.”
  • “The hope of our generation lies with the faithful. All great movements come out of the laity, to them we look for our priests, for our consecrated and holy ones in every department of Catholic charity.”
  • “The supreme question then is how to get from every workaday Catholic a sense of responsibility for his neighbor. It is necessary to make each of them realize that indeed he is his brother’s keeper.”
  • “I then would like to leave this question before the assembly. “What can be done to inspire, to provoke, to lead the every-day Catholic into missionary work in the providence of his everyday life?”

Thomas Judge CM was a forerunner of the Lay Apostolate.  His recent authoritative biography sums up his life with the title “Every Catholic an Apostle”

Is there any doubt the Pope Francis and Thomas Augustine Judge would be kindred spirits if they met?

Although he was somewhat controversial in his day, today the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission is proud of its son and seeks to continue his call to empower men and women to recognize their mission. (For a recent example of this see Niagara University Empowering Men and Women for Mission.) We invite you to join with the many women and men who collaborate with Eastern Province today by sharing their time, talent or treasure.

(1) The original document resides in the Archives of the Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity, Philadelpia, PA.