Category Archives: Evangelization

Who Is At The Table?

The following is the text of an essay that I wrote in The Evangelist this week. In a rare moment of non-self promotion, I had not put it on the blog on Thursday when it was published. I decided to put it up today in light of today’s Gospel from Mark.

In the two days since this was published, I have gotten a fair amount of feedback about the essay. That feedback has been largely complimentary. Yet more than one person asked me if I thought it was OK for people to receive communion after a long absence from church and likely no visit to confession.

This is a fair enough question and I am very clear about what the rules are. I do have a Catechism and a Canon Law book steps away from my desk.

Truth be told, when I returned to church in 1990, I did go to confession before I went to communion. That is another story for another day. That said, I know many people who have not gone to confession first – that is their conscience, their matter with God and their confessor, should they ultimately go – who have ended up returning to the Church.

As a child, I recall going to Church, not every single Saturday, but on many Saturdays, and facing the crowd. It was 1966, but we were in a small mission parish with only one priest, so the lines were long! You just sat down next to Mom, got out that rosary and waited your turn. And when you pushed the velvet curtain aside, you headed straight up to the altar rail to say those 5 Our Fathers and 10 Hail Marys – no rushing that! You had plenty of company to your right and left.

Not so these days, so who goes to confession where and when is again, another matter.

I grow long winded and perhaps pedantic, so let me move on.

Today’s Gospel is a story about Jesus eating with all the wrong kinds of people and how he was judged for that action.

Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners
and tax collectors and said to his disciples,
“Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus heard this and said to them,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

How can Jesus eat with the sinners (all of us, by the way, but you knew that) if they don’t come to the table? I am not suggesting – even remotely – that we scoff at the rules and make our own. I am saying that when you cast out the net to fish for men and women, you don’t stand on the deck of the boat shooing the less desirable fish away. You pull the whole thing up and you see what happens.

Here is the essay. What do you think? (Not about the essay, about the matter?)

NOTE: Yes, anyone who reads The Evangelist probably goes to church. My point in having the essay published was so that maybe someone would pass it along to others or to just consider the point of view of a Christmas only mass visitor. Please feel free to re-post, share on Facebook, Twitter or wherever. You just never know!

Re-gifting A Return To Church

It happens every year: Christmas comes and you find yourself in church. Being Catholic, it all comes back to you, although you found some verbal surprises this year. However, the songs are the same and the church is packed and the feeling is actually pretty good, once you give yourself over to it.

It seems nice, but not something that you’d actually want to do every week. The reasons vary from person to person and range from the mundane – you “just don’t have time” – to the more high-minded, finding “the whole thing filled with hypocrisy.” (Of course, no other part of your life feels like that, right?)

If you are as old as me, you were taught that missing Mass was a mortal sin. I lived in fear of this as a kid – but then again, we never missed Mass, so it was not a problem. It’s hard to understand eternal damnation for missing Mass against the backdrop of things like the sexual abuse scandal and various Church positions on topics important to you.

I would say that if one attends Mass simply out of fear of hell, that is a pity. I would hope that people would actually want to be there – but, hey, that’s just me.

Anyway, you were at Mass and it was time for communion. You hesitated, but everyone else seemed to be in line. Perhaps you felt nervous or strangely hopeful, like something good was about to happen. Did your mind rush back to when you made your First Communion as you extended your hands?

What did it feel like when you placed the Body of Christ in your mouth? Did you just make sure, like in so many other intimate moments, that you did not let yourself think or feel anything?

No matter what, you received a gift. Christ the Lord, whose birth we were celebrating, came to be in that ordinary manger found in your heart. You may not have been expecting Him; that’s OK. He just wanted to let you know He is here for you.

This is a gift. You can’t return it.

I was away, too – for 20 years. When I came back, I did not want to. It was completely unintentional on my part and I was extremely conflicted about the whole thing.

The first time I went back to communion, I was overwhelmed. I knew Jesus; I even loved Jesus; but I was noncommittal.

Jesus knew better. With a nervous stomach and a guilty conscience, I stayed – and soon found out that I had so little to worry about.

No one yelled at me. I was not scolded. All of my concerns were met with compassion and understanding.

I did not accept everything at first; it took a long time. But I kept coming back. I still struggle with some things and likely always will.

I hope that you had a nice Christmas this year and that of all the gifts you got, you realize that this one cries out to be re-gifted. That’s what I’m doing and it is my hope and desire that you come back and one day re-gift this to others.

If you felt anything when you were in church this Christmas, I hope you will see that as a gift and consider coming back. The gifts here are always in stock – and the only return we look forward to is you.



Filed under Christmas, Community, Evangelization, Fran Rossi Szpylczyn, St. Edward the Confessor Clifton Park

Advent Reflections – Come Join Us! Saturday December 3, 2011 Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

These photos were taken last week at the Saturday 4pm liturgy here at St. Edward the Confessor. It was the First Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of the new liturgical year and the first Sunday of using the New Roman Missal.

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This post serves as an invitation to come join us at St. Edward the Confessor. We have a vibrant parish, alive with faith. In these photos you will see how we process in with our Advent candle (singular for week one, but two for week 2 and so forth) and you will see our Advent banner.

The Advent banner really speaks to me. Look at how Mary has her hands open in a gesture of both giving and receiving. This posture and this dynamic are at the heart of our faith. We are all invited to live this way, alive in generosity and reception, alive in Christ the Lord, the One for whom we wait, yet the One we know in our hearts.

At St. Edward the Confessor, all are welcome! We have a diverse and warm community, we have wonderful music ministry, we have great liturgy, we have a great faith formation program and adult faith enrichment, we have so many ways in which you can… Well, you can give and receive – and to live in that same spirit of generosity and reception.

Come join us this Advent and come join us always.

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Filed under Advent, Advent 2011, Advent Reflections, Evangelization, Father Butler, Fran Rossi Szpylczyn, St. Edward the Confessor, St. Edward the Confessor Clifton Park

The Gift of Evangelism – Wait, We’re Catholic, What Evangelism?

Last night I was in attendance at a diocesan event called “The Evolving Local Church: Skills for Evangelizing Leaders.” I will return for the second and full day part of our workshop.

Does the very word evangelism not confuse and sometimes frighten those of us who are Catholic? And it may also do the same to any of you who are not Catholic and who might think you about to be sold some bill of goods that you do not want.

It is a word that can be challenging and we talked about that last night.

So today, I opened my dog-eared copy of Radical Grace, by Richard Rohr, OFM and found today’s reflection: Five Great Gifts: Evangelism

“I suppose that many of us still of evangelism as a Protestant term. But it’s a biblical term. The evangelist is the one who gives Good News. The evangelist has the specific charism of being able to welcome, to invite, to announce Jesus and the Kingdom with excitement. The evangelist is the door opener. Catholics have been, historically, very weak on this charism, since most Catholics were baptized as infants.”

He goes on to say a few other things and ends up with this:

“Yet the Church desperately needs a new evangelism. And many of us need to be re-evangelized – or perhaps hear the Good News for the first time.”

Roman Catholicism comes with such a long history and cultural context that I think that last sentence says it all.  While I have fond memories of the faith of my childhood, it took me an 18 year absence and a long, slow return of the past 20 years or so, to get where I am today. And in this second part of the journey, I feel I am only now truly hearing the Good News for the first time.

I don’t know about you, but the word “evangelist” often brings to mind TV preachers and the like, with messages of either gloom and doom or guaranteed riches. I really don’t like that. It makes me feel like I am forcing – or misrepresenting Good News, not sharing – or living –  Good News.  Or that it is being foisted upon me!

In addition, I am reminded – as we discussed last night – discomfort may be the most required step of real transformation. That is why I purposefully say it has been a long, slow return. It is long, slow and frequently uncomfortable, challenging. I mean- why else would we change? There has to be a reason and discomfort is a big motivator.

Transformation requires change. That pesky piece of information often makes what Fr. Pat says so true… It is so attractive to want to follow Jesus.

And so very hard to do so.

Looking forward to this day.


Filed under Evangelization, Fran Rossi Szpylczyn, Richard Rohr

The Gospel of Blogging or How Online Community Has Changed Many Lives

Most of us have never met and never will. The majority are not Catholic; in fact, I am in a distinct minority. As a matter of fact, many people are not of faith at all.

What am I talking about? I am talking about the community that I have found in the blogword and on Facebook.

Why on earth is a 51 year old suburban woman so involved in this? My question is this – why not?

As I examine my faith and make the journey, I must revisit this matter of online community, evangelizing, faith formation and faith sharing.

If you know me you do know that there is no shortage of community in my life. I am busy with my family, our parish community here at St. Edward’s, with the parish community where I work – at Immaculate Conception, Glenville. In addition I attend St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry.

However, there is an imperative for me to connect through faith and so those boundaries expand into the virtual world… a world that is very real to me.

Not to mention that the stereotype of some lonely, isolated person hiding behind a computer screen is so often wrong. Or that such a person can be touched and changed. Transformed. That is why we follow Christ… To be transformed and to transform.

In my online faith communities we exchange thoughts and ideas, we agree and we disagree. We ask a lot of questions and we make each other think, ponder and pray. We laugh and we cry. We challenge, we listen. Sometimes we even fight. Then we forgive. We start out online on a blog or Facebook or some other forum. Then we email and after that we may talk on the phone. Some of us do meet – this is especially gratifying.

And we pray. How we pray. We ask for prayer, we offer prayer. We support one another through community and prayer in ways that are most powerful indeed. For example, the recent death of Catherine Peters in New Zealand has brought many of us, from all around the world, together in prayer.

I would venture to say that most of the people I interact with online are as busy or much busier than I am. They are mothers, fathers, students, teachers, clergy, business people. As I said earlier – so much for the loner and the computer; that is not usually the case in my experience.

It is not an exaggeration to say that some of the most powerful evangelizing happens in my most secular blogworlds. There are the atheists… One recently asked me for prayers. I am honored and humbled at those moments and I pray. It has happened before and I can imagine that it will happen again. Conversion does not happen in a moment, it is a long and slow process that we all go through. If this is how it may start for another, then thanks be to God for that.

Then there are those who have been hurt by the institutional church, Catholic and other denominations too. They often start out defensive, angry and wounded. Frequently they feel abandoned and disillusioned. I get that – that was me once too.

Lecturing is not helpful – this I know! Being open and willing to talk is helpful. That is a time when reading things online is a big plus. I have found that when I write from deep within my faith, it can often privately touch the hearts of those who have closed the door completely. They may write to me or call me… we talk. Things happen. It is God’s work, not my own.

Faith isn’t one definitive turn. It is a daily journey and one that we will be on until our last breath. To that end, we are all being converted, always.

There are blogposts and comments, Facebook updates, emails and phone calls… Some may never come back to the table, some will. If they can let go of the hurt, even just a little, then something good has happened.

It is all very powerful and I am humbled and grateful to be a part of this. It made me think of this favorite hymn of mine and I dedicate this song to all those who are wanting to open their hearts… whether they know it or not.


Filed under Community, Evangelization, Faith, Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

Crucifixion. Resurrection. The Space In Between.

For the past week, I was on vacation. Any of the posts from last week, published under my name, were written in advance and published on a sort of “blogger auto pilot.”

A trip away brings opportunities for prayer and reflection. I did not follow my daily patterns of prayer and daily mass, but I did other things. It is good to stir up the habits that can become dry and meaningless if we let them.

One of the things I was contemplating when I was away was the power of paradox. We live in a very dualistic society, which is not necessarily good or bad, it is what we do with it that matters.

The downside of dualism is the either/or proposition that it introduces and the way that this becomes ingrained in us.

Then I saw this piece from Richard Rohr, OFM in my email and it spoke to the notion of paradox as opposed to certainty and I thought I would publish it here today.

I also like that this related to Paulist themes and this year we are celebrating the Anno Paulino or Pauline Year, which you can read about in that link. This reminds me of how St. Paul using the Cross and the Resurrection as he evangelized his way from Jerusalem to Rome.

Question of the day:
How are paradox and truth related?

In paradoxical language if you try to rest on one side and forget the other, you lose the truth.

We’ve seen some Christian cultures that are entirely centered on the Cross and they lose the resurrection. In wealthy countries like our own we have a desire for victory theology as it is called—all resurrection and almost no reference to the pain and suffering of the world.

You’ve lost the mystery as long as you do that. -Richard Rohr, OFM

There are so many things that I could write about to expand on this theme, but for today I will simply leave you with Rohr’s words and some words once said to me by a priest that I knew years ago.

That priest would often remind us that you cannot have a resurrection without a crucifixion. Also he would say that a crucifixion without a resurrection was pointless violence. Think of an image of scales of justice, weighing and balancing… Crucifixion. Resurrection.

We are called to explore that space in between and not just be focused on one or the other. The foundation of our faith relies on both sides.


Filed under Evangelization, Fran Rossi Szpylczyn, Richard Rohr

Expanding The Table of the Lord – Or Maybe It Is A New Pew!

One of our close friends here at the blog is Missy, from the blog St. Anne Pray for Us. St. Anne is Missy’s parish in Ortonville, MI.

Missy and I met through another blog forum and what a gift it has been to know her and share our faith through this newer medium.

When I bring up the blog, a lot of people start out saying things to me like “I don’t understand what a blog is!” – it kind of scares them and I can understand that. For good or ill, I was a person made for this kind of linking and dynamic community, having written, worked and prayed in many online forums over the years.

In any event, I hope more people log on, comment and will submit their own writing on our parish blog!

A blog is nothing to be afraid of and is an invitation. It is an opportunity for us to share our faith, to read about others, to learn and to grow. The real essence of blogging is in the comments and I hope to see use of our comments as a faith sharing tool grow in the future.

Anyway, back to Missy and blogging… The other day she put up this post, which I thought was great. As a result, I am going to share it here as well. You can view it directly by clicking that link or just read on here.

She very kindly quoted me at the end of her post as I do think that blogging is a form of not only Catholic community building, but also the important task of evangelizing and also for ecumenical purposes. The way I see it, to paraphrase the quote that Missy used is this – this cyberspace allows us to ever expand the table of the Lord.

Here is the video that Missy used, it is about 4 1/2 minutes long and worth watching. The text of her post is below the video. (If you use a dial up connection, I am not sure that the video will work!)

Recently I was asked, “Why do you blog?”

I’ve been struggling with the answer. Why does it mean something to me? And why blog in the context of faith or faith sharing?

I began reading blogs back in 2004 when I accidentally found Sheila. Slowly I began reading more and more, starting with Sheila’s blog roll. I discovered and began reading comments and watching conversations unfold. I found myself drawn into conversations and began leaving anonymous comments–I was afraid to sign my own name! Then I saw another commenter named “Missy” and I was struck by my own paranoia.

My story is not so different from that told by other bloggers.

As this blogger said, “One by one, I found other bloggers that made me laugh, cry, think, ache… and I became drawn in to this whole, weird… whatever it is… and I developed new relationships.”

Yes, it’s YouTube week here at SAPFU, and I first saw this video about www 2.0 on Jessica’s blog over a year ago. This is the final version and it still fascinates me. It captures some of what I want to articulate when I talk about blogging. Yes, we are pioneers in uncharted territory. Yes, it is kind of freaky and new and 21st century.

At the very end, the video suggests that the change happening on the Internet will create the need for us to rethink copyright, authorship, identity, ethics, aesthetics, rhetoric, governance, privacy, commerce, love, family, and ourselves.

Maybe we even need to rethink community and faith.

Because I have felt the spirit move among us; I’ve seen inspiration catch like a leaping flame from person to person; I’ve seen the term “faith community” redefined.

As my lovely friend Fran said (probably more than once!), “This is the essence of community – how grateful I am to God that we have this space to expand our table to.” Missy of St. Anne Pray for Us


Filed under Community, Evangelization, Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

An Slight Departure From Our Usual Programming

Recently and through another online forum, I have become acquainted with Father Bosco Peters. Father Bosco is an Anglican priest in New Zealand and he writes extensively on his website and on his blog.

With goals of faith sharing, common union, ecumenism and evangelizing, I am glad to be in community with bloggers that are not only Catholic, but of other faiths. Father Bosco is an Anglican who is extremely literate in matters Catholic, which you will see if you read any of his work.

I happened to visit his blog today and saw a video. This is not the kind of thing that I would typically post here, but I was so moved by what he said, I felt really compelled to share the message on this blog.

Currently, the Worldwide Anglican Communion Bishops are meeting at Lambeth Palace in England, for their conference which occurs every 10 years. If you have seen any of the press at all, you will know that our Anglican/Episcopal brothers and sisters are having some rather significant disagreements, to put it mildly. Please pray that the Holy Spirit may heal and unite them, not tear them apart.

Pope Benedict XVI has actually spoken on this matter, calling for Anglican unity.

In any event, this long winded preface is to say that the blog post that I will link to refers to Lambeth and I wanted you to know what it was.

You will find the direct link to Father Bosco’s blog here. And I present to you a video that he has accompanying this post.

This video is an interpretation of the Gospel of John, chapter 4, the Samaritan woman at the well. I will write more about this at another time, but leave you with the video and a request for prayers of unity and healing for us all.


Filed under Common Union, Evangelization, Father Bosco Peters, Fran Rossi Szpylczyn