Category Archives: Friar Reflections

A regular reflection from one of our Franciscan Friars on the day’s readings, the happenings around the parish, or discussing parochial outreach initiatives.

Shepherd Others with Love | Friar Reflections | The Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Parishioners,

This October marks the 60th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s landmark reforms in the Catholic Church’s relationship to the world around it and the church’s own liturgy and practices.

In 1962, the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, known as the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II was held. The council meeting took place in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and was split into four periods of 8-12 weeks occurring each autumn over the four year spell from 1962-1965. The preparations for the council took three years itself, from 1959 to the autumn of 1962.

Pope John XXIII called for the council because he felt the Church needed “updating.” To better connect with people in a modern, secularized world, he sought to improve some of the church’s practices, and present its teaching in a way that would be relevant and understandable for the generations to follow.

It’s fitting that our Church has gathered in its largest synodal process to date near this anniversary. In the synodal process, we’re given the opportunity of reassessing our relationship with our fellow Christian communities, other religions, laity, youth, the LGBTQ community and other movements led by the Spirit.

Just like Vatican II, there are some participants who were sympathetic to this reassessment, while others saw no need for change, resisting efforts in that direction. Pope Francis lamented of how “we prefer to choose sides in the church,” instead of being servants. We look at things as if in binary, right or wrong, one side or the other, rather than being Christ-like to each other.

Although Vatican II altered the Church’s relationship with the world and took on a more open posture, Pope Francis challenges us to be on guard against “worldliness,” saying “We are called to respond to this worldly astuteness with Christian astuteness, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit.” Pope Francis continues to call us to evangelization and prioritizing the needs of the poor and care of creation, saying “You are not here to shepherd yourselves, but all others, with love.”

At the conclusion of a recent Mass, Pope Francis showed his support for Vatican II, and urged those in attendance to be united and not allow polarization to become a divisive tool. I agree. We must allow the Holy Spirit to set our hearts on fire for the love of Christ. We are each called to examine ourselves and reflect upon the mission and nature of the Church; “What I have done for you, you must do for others.”

Peace and all good,
Friar Henry

Do Not Grow Weary | Friar Reflections | The Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Parishioners,

Saints of God, the Lord be with you!

In today’s Gospel according to Luke (18:1-8), Jesus tells the story of a judge “who neither feared God nor respected any human being” confronted by a persistent widow. At the start of the Gospel, in a very unusual turn, Luke has Jesus telling us the point of the parable: “pray always without becoming weary.”

This theme goes well with the first reading from the Book of Exodus (17:8-13) in which Moses does become weary in his prayer so that Aaron and Hur “supported his (raised up) hands, so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” One of the great blessings in my life as a Franciscan is that our fraternity gathers twice-a-day, morning and evening, to pray the Liturgy of the Hours as a community. I start my day at 4 a.m., during which I drink two cups of coffee, and spend an hour reading Scripture, praying with some devotionals, and reading the Gospel of the day. All of this so that I can prepare a daily homily or work on my homily for Sunday. My alone time with God is important to me, but after all of this, to be honest, sometimes I don’t feel like praying together with my brothers.

But I do. I think the first reading shows us the need for, and the benefit of having, a support circle so that we don’t so easily walk away from our time with God. I need the witness of my brothers to help sustain me when the temptation is to not pray. And I would hope that they in some small way see my presence at our communal prayer as a help to them. All of this praying during the week helps me to better celebrate the Sunday Eucharist, the great communal prayer of the Church.

That’s the outline of how my prayer life is lived. But what of yours? So often in confession people say that they have neglected prayer. I gently ask them what their ideal prayer life would look like, and most of the time they give a description that closely resembles mine: a lot of time spent in relative quiet.

I say to them that may be an unrealistic expectation. Instead, I encourage them to salt their day with short prayers.

  • THANKS: Meister Eckhart, a 14th century German theologian wrote, “If the only prayer a person prays is ‘thank you,’ that is enough”
  • WOW or HELP: At the end of the day, before going to sleep, review the day and discover the blessings for which they are thankful, and for the things they regret, ask forgiveness.

No matter how we pray, the important thing is that we keep praying. Especially during the week as this will help prepare you for Sunday liturgy. Never give up on prayer. But be warned! Over time, prayer will change us more and more into the image of Christ.

Peace and all good,
Fr. Steve

Such is My Gospel | Friar Reflections | The Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Parishioners,

In this Sunday’s second reading from St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy, St Paul states that his gospel for which he is suffering is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that got me thinking, which “gospels” do we choose to follow. Hopefully we, too, follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But there are many other gospels in existence as well, known as the apocryphal gospels. Apocryphal gospels are those Christian works that recount the life or sayings of Jesus but are not included in the New Testament. In following the Gospels, we learn about the life of Jesus of Nazareth and how he instructs by word and example as to how we are to live our lives. The Gospels are both at the same time, challenging and uplifting. Today, many people may feel lost and confused in our fast-paced, ever-changing world, but probably at the time that Francis of Assisi walked our earth, things were not much different.

In the beginning of the Franciscan Rule, Francis wrote, “The Rule and the life of the Friars Minor is to simply live the Gospel.” Easier said than done, but maybe that was the key to the conversion and legacy of St. Francis. In his early life he was not one to always follow the rules, but our Lord was able to break through his reckless youth and set him on a path that countless others were soon to follow. Francis trusted a deep voice inside of him, he sought out Jesus and through that encounter was motivated to imitate His life. Francis, through the Grace of the Holy Spirit, began his own understanding of how to follow Jesus, through prayer, awareness of creation that we have all been gifted, and the reality of suffering of the world around him, allowing all this this to transform him.

It is truly the Gospels of Jesus Christ that can transform us as well if we allow it to. I don’t know if Francis’ plan was to just change himself or to change to world around him, but whatever his intention was, it was extremely contagious to those with whom he came in contact. His new vision of what it was to be a part of God’s creation ignited a hunger for those who chose to follow him.

Francis didn’t want to be a “cookie-cutter” for those who sought him out, instead, he wished that they find their own way through the Gospels of our Lord. Francis’ living of the Gospel was a simple lifestyle. At its best, Franciscan life is not words but rather in doing, not making things more complicated than what they need be. Francis seemingly did live the change he wished others to see. He asks us to model and mirror the life of Jesus in the world in his time and in ours, to “preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words” describes Francis’ authenticity allowing and creating real change.

Francis’ “leaving the world” did not mean leaving creation, but leaving what we might call the “system.” Francis wasn’t satisfied with business as usual and lived in a radically different way. Francis was at last being true to himself and true to Gospel living. May we be granted the grace to do the same.

Peace and All Good,
Fr. Zack

Calm In the Face of the Storm | Staff Reflections | Hurricane Ian and TS Nicole

Dear Parishioners,

As you will have become aware our Parish has, this year, accepted the challenge of Pope Francis to celebrate the Season of Creation. The central focus this year is the call to ‘Listen to the voice of creation’. As Hurricane Ian looks set to approach our city it is difficult to be clear about what the impact on created things and creatures will be.

Ironically, we may have no choice than to listen to the voice of creation, to hear creation groan! But let’s also watch creation. Already birds whose natural habitat is the ocean have begun their unseasonal migration towards the land. Dog owners will know that dogs and other pets will sense that change is in the air long before there are any visible signs. This is instinct. First nation peoples had a natural awareness of the movement in the skies and the waters and reacted accordingly. This is why many Seminole Indians chose Tampa as a relatively safe haven!

All creation is inter-connected although it would seem that humanity may have lost some of this awareness and natural instinct. Nevertheless, those who suffer from arthritis may discover mysteriously that they experience more pain in their joints in times of such meteorological change. The vast majority of us will have to depend on warnings from the media and meteorologists, inevitably causing supermarket shelves to empty of batteries, bread, and water, with long lines to form at gas stations.

This week, we who live on the west coast of Florida will be concerned for ourselves and our neighbors as we potentially face damage or loss of all that keeps us safe. Friends and family living elsewhere will be similarly anxious for us.

And what does God say? Throughout scripture God and his angels always say “Do not be afraid, I will be with you in your distress.” When the disciples were in a storm-tossed boat they were justifiably afraid. So afraid, in fact, that when Jesus appeared walking towards them on the waters, they thought they were seeing a ghost. This was not the only time that the disciples did not recognize Christ in a time of turmoil. The post-resurrection journey to Emmaus was another significant moment of unseeing. On another occasion, when a storm arose and, amazingly, Jesus had managed to fall asleep in the boat, the disciples turned to him in fear. He calmed the waters and he calmed their fears.

We know from the Gospels that God will care for us so much more than he cares for the lilies. God cares whether we reach out to God in prayer or not. But let’s make out of this time of anxiety an opportunity to learn the power of constant prayer, to intentionally place ourselves in God’s care and to hear God say to each of us what God and his angels have always said: ‘Do not be afraid’ and ‘Know that I am with you always’.

Peace and all good,
Phil Jakob
Director of Music

You may find the following songs comforting during your prayer:

Be Not Afraid | Bob Dufford and the St Louis Jesuits

How Can I Keep from Singing? | Sung and arranged by members of the Iona Community

Don’t Be Afraid | John Bell of the Iona Community

Let Nothing Trouble You by Bernadette Farrell

Shelter Me | Michael Joncas

A New Way to Communicate the Good News | Staff Reflections | The Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Parishioners, 

Back in August, the Bishop’s office announced a resolution to a key item presented through the recent synodal process. They found from their synthesis of the sessions a desire from our region’s parishioners for greater synergy, community, and communications. That resolution takes place today, as we celebrate the first-ever Diocesan Media Day, instituted to raise awareness of our diocesan media ministries, including Spirit FM and the Gulf Coast Catholic.

Many will be familiar with these outlets and the great efforts they make to share the Good News, but in the off chance you were not aware, please take the time to find Spirit at 90.5 on your FM dial and subscribe to the weekly newsletter at 1 Thessalonians 5:21 states “Test everything; retain what is good.” I can assure you will retain these as part of your daily and weekly routines.

As a child of the information age, spending the entirety of my 13- year career in media, communications, and the like, I take heart seeing our pastoral office provide a day of emphasis for these outlets. We need to remember anything that communicates a message is considered media, and sometimes (yes, sometimes), it can even be uplifting! We regularly produce media for you here at Sacred Heart, with the intent to inform and enrich your connections to both the Gospels and our parish. From this web article that you are reading my thoughts from this week to our live-stream Mass, or our social media posts, Flocknotes, and emails letting you know about upcoming liturgical events, our media production is already robust, and we intend to do much, much more.

We recently completed our own version of synod-like “Listening Sessions,” tailored to focus on our parish and its needs, as opposed to the greater Church. Similarly, we heard a desire for more media, specifically with a Franciscan focus, for parishioners to gain a greater understanding of the order from a theological perspective, as well as to develop a greater Franciscan identity within our parish. The Friars and staff are ready to answer that call.

You’ll have heard us mention before the need to prioritize new media (video/social/ podcasts) in previous columns, especially when addressing the topic of evangelization. We must be readily available through multiple digital outlets to meet the demographic changes and population growth within our parish boundaries, in addition to the parishioner requests previously mentioned. I am happy to say we are finally approaching that next step. Recently, the parish hired a new parish communications assistant, backfilling a vacant position. With this additional help in place, we can begin building out a studio space within the parish office. We will start with producing some short-form informational content, as well as weekly podcasts, featuring the friars discussing their reflections on the week’s Gospel or lay leaders telling the parish about their ministries, and grow from there.

If you are interested in supporting these new ventures, please reach out to me directly via email.

Peace and all good,

Rob Boelke
Manager, Communications

Do Cheaters Prosper? | Friar Reflections | The Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Parishioners,

Saints of God, the Lord be with you!

I’ve always found the parable in today’s Gospel, according to Luke (16: 1-13), problematic to say the least. What we have here is another person, like the prodigal son in last week’s Gospel, who squandered another’s property. What is so galling is that, in the end, he seems to get away with it “and the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently” when the steward “doctors the books.”

It seems that the old adage “cheaters never prosper” isn’t true in this case! Yet in today’s first reading from Amos (8:4-7), the prophet warns that “the Lord will never forget” those who cheat the poor and needy. What’s going on?

Years ago, when studying theology, specifically the Hebrew prophets, I told my professor it seems as if the prophets were warning that if there was not justice in the land, there would be no true and acceptable worship. She smiled. Late in the year, I used this in a presentation and one of the women who heard me had bumper stickers made: “NO JUSTICE NO WORSHIP.” I gave them to members in the class (other religious) to do with them what they wanted. One person said that he put it on the outside of his bedroom door. The next morning, he saw that someone had torn it off. Oh well…no one likes a prophet’s message.

Perhaps the readings seem to contradict each other so that we might ask ourselves, “Whom do we serve, God or mammon?”

Mammon is not just keeping tabs on our bank accounts and investments, but includes power and privilege. Perhaps the Gospel is inviting us to take a look at who we really are (“I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg”), not who we pretend to be. Maybe while looking at ourselves we might also discover that our actions, whether public or private, reveal something of our character. Not to mention that in the time spent reflecting on ourselves, we have less time to criticize others. Self reflection leading to self-awareness might be the path to self-conversion and a greater imitation of Christ, which is the goal of Franciscan prayer.

Cheaters might prosper in this world, but not in the next. Yet all cheaters, and all sinners, have the opportunity to change their attitudes and behaviors with the grace of God. Let us pray for the grace to be open to change more and more into the image of Christ and thus live out our baptismal identity and mission.

May the Lord give you peace,

Fr. Steve

Lost and Later Found | Friar Reflections | The Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Parishioners,

God loves the just but does not ignore the sinner, for whom there is always a place in his kingdom. The church is not an exclusive club. As a matter of fact, there was a friar who referred to the church as a refuge for sinners.

The Pharisees seemed to resent God’s mercy, so Jesus answered their jeers in this week’s Gospel with a series of parables. The parable of the lost sheep does not deny the goodness of the virtuous majority but makes the point that there is a special place for the repentant sinner. The lost coin is important to the careful widow, and her joy at its recovery is shared because it is deeply felt. The sum may be modest, but its sentimental value matters to her a lot. We’re all V.I.P.s in God’s eyes, especially those who are lost and later found.

But there is another side to this story: the Prodigal Son “came to his senses.” He opened his eyes to see, his ears to hear; he reached out for help and got in touch with reality. The father’s welcome was extraordinary, but it could only happen because the son came back home. We, too, need to be willing to let God embrace us as we come to our senses. God’s mercy is there for any of us who turn to him with all our hearts.

The parable of the prodigal son is a classic of narrative skill that is timelessly relevant. We need to know that a loving God awaits our return home (if you haven’t already done so, do yourself a favor and get a hold of a copy of Henri Nouwen’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son”). We also need the reminder that the same loving God expects us to forgive one another and to welcome them back again. The joy of a son’s homecoming was spoiled for the father by the sulking of the elder brother but the father was undeterred.

It’s sad that the elder brother held resentment towards both his brother and his father. God wants us all to be merciful and understanding. Leaving people helpless is no part of his plan. Though living under the same roof, the elder son was isolated from his father. Focused on his own rights and needs, he could not handle his brother’s safe return. Calling him “this son of yours” must have grieved his father. As we strive to be faithful and dutiful disciples, we need to be open to welcome home the lost ones, for we, too, have been lost at different times in our lives.

We come to church as both a refuge and home for a brief bit of respite from our hectic week. And as God welcomes us, we welcome those around us knowing that we all long for acceptance. God meets us where we are, knowing us and loving us, welcoming our return home with open arms. We are called to do likewise.

Peace and all good,
Fr. Zack

Labors of Love | Friar Reflections | The Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Parishioners,

It is hard to believe that summer is coming to an end, and Labor Day is upon us. Faith Formation, along with many other parish ministries and groups are starting up again following their summer breaks. A couple weeks ago, we held our informational ministry fair as a kickoff to the seasonal change. I do want to thank everyone who took the time to visit the fair, and especially the volunteers who were at each of the stations. You did an outstanding job advertising our the many aspects that make up our parish life here at Sacred Heart. If you did not have the opportunity to sign up for a ministry, or if you were unable to attend, please contact the parish office and we’ll be happy to connect you to our ministry leaders.

You will notice this week that the southern-most doorway at our front entrance is covered with plywood. I mentioned a few months ago that we would be resorting and repairing our doorways, and I am pleased that this process has begun. This is not a matter of just putting some varnish or sealant on these doors and calling it a day. For the restoration, our contractor must remove the doors entirely and work on them at their shop.

Many of the doors have sun damage and small cracks in need of repair. These doors are 117 years old, and our goal is to have them for 100 more. The frames of the doors have also settled over that time, and issues with the frames will also be addressed. Each set of doors will take between four and six weeks for repair, with one set of doors being repaired at a time. When restoration begins on the handicap accessible doors at the side entrance along Twiggs St., a temporary door will be put in its place. The estimated cost for the complete restoration of our entry doors will be about $36,000.

The main entry doors will take between 4-6 weeks for each set to be restored.

You’ll likely also notice the lack of holy water in the fonts by the church doors. We have seen a recent uptick in our neighbors without homes using the fonts as wash basins for their clothes or face. For both the safety of our parishioners and our homeless, we will test a dispenser for holy water that we have borrowed from our friends at the St. Jude Cathedral in St. Petersburg. It is stationed near the main entryway, and when tested during last weekend’s Masses, it seemed to work out nicely, however some did confuse the dispenser with a hand sanitizing station. Wood stands are made for these stations that help differentiate them from other dispensers. If we chose to move forward with their use, each stand or station is a $300-$500 expense.

On the left, the holy water dispenser we are testing. On the right, wood dispensers that we will consider.

Finally, I’d like to provide an update for our new reconciliation alcove. To remind you, we are enclosing the area near the stairwell with glass to ensure privacy for those seeking confession. We are anticipating the installation of the glass in a few weeks. While many parishes hold reconciliation once or twice a week, we provide the sacrament Monday through Saturday, so having a more private space is needed. The space would also be available for use during weekend Masses. The estimated cost for this project is $9,000.

Confessions will be more private once the alcove is enclosed with glass.

Our clergy, staff, and volunteers are always looking for ways to preserve our church, enhance your ability to take part in the Mass and sacraments fully, and engage with parishioners and the community through outreach and ministries. We hope you see the fruits of these labors very soon.

Peace and all good,
Fr. Mike

Answering the Call to Serve | Friar Reflections | The Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Parishioners,

The period from the 11th to 13th centuries witnessed the rise of a money economy in Europe. Cities grew and multiplied; more and more land was cultivated, increasing the wealth of landowners; and a new-sprung merchant class made it possible for those who were not part of the aristocracy to accumulate wealth. Partly in reaction to these changes in the larger society, a new form of religious life emerged in the early 13th century — the so-called mendicant orders.

These religious communities were different from the great monastic orders such as the Benedictines or Cistercians, which were founded hundreds of years earlier. Members of the monastic orders devoted themselves to prayer, learning and manual labor while living and working together within the walls of the monastery. Although individual monks took the vow of poverty, monastic communities owned land and goods. Over the centuries, the monasteries became powerful centers of education, the healing arts, and the preservation of culture, often accumulating great wealth.

In contrast, members of mendicant orders were itinerant preachers, moving from town to town to preach the Gospel. Consciously modeling themselves on the disciples of Jesus, they went about two by two and were to “take nothing for the journey, neither knapsack, nor purse, nor bread, nor money nor walking stick.” This form of poverty embraced by these religious communities involved the renunciation of all ownership of goods, communal as well as individual. To survive, the mendicant friars asked for alms as they preached, traveled, and worked along the way.

The dedication of the mendicant orders to “begging without shame” produced a different dynamic from that of monastic orders. Voluntary absolute poverty created an institutional dependency. The mendicant communities relied on contributions from donors to survive. Thus, early forms of philanthropy are what made it possible for mendicant communities’ work to go forward. A mutual relationship evolved between the mendicant orders and those who supported them.

Click the Photo to Make Your Gift to the 2022 Catholic Ministry Appeal.

I have chosen this history about the friars and their way of life to speak about the Catholic Ministry Appeal, which starts this weekend at all Masses. Each diocese around the country has its way of raising funds to assist with direct services to the poor and other ministries concerning matters of human dignity and the common good in society. We as Catholic Christians will be asked to take part in helping our brothers and sisters on the periphery by our generosity. Your gifts will go towards Catholic schools, marriage and family life, Catholic Charities, priest retirement and clergy care, faith formation and so many more useful causes. In many ways our acts of charity to the diocese or Franciscans go a long way in providing assistance and keeping Christ’s call to serve the least among us.

Portions of this letter features writing from Fr. Thomas Nairn, OFM, PhD, a prominent Franciscan theologian. It is my hope that his and my words on our history opens our eyes and ears to the greater call of our Christian identity of giving and stewardship.

Peace and all good,
Friar Henry

The Narrow Door | Friar Reflections | The Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Parishioners,

Saints of God, the Lord be with you!

What caught my attention in today’s Gospel according to Luke (13:2230) are the lines Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”

Years ago, as I was walking across the parking lot of St. Francis Church on Long Beach Island, NJ, for daily mass, I suddenly stopped and said to myself, “O my God, I believe it all!” I realized that while I didn’t understand it all, I believed everything in the Creed and the Gospel portraits of Jesus. You might find this a bit shocking that a priest would come to this realization, but I see it as a moment of clarity that had been growing into a conscious affirmation. Yet this is not the end of my story, since belief in Christ is the starting point from which trust in Christ must grow. My ability to trust in God is growing day by day, and when I find myself fearful, I say to myself, “God is trustworthy, all circumstances are temporary.”

St. Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne | 1650

However, even trusting in God is not the end of my faith journey. What I still struggle with is turning my trust into works of charity and kindness, particularly to those people who are not my “cup of tea.” It’s at this point that I must make the choice to be loving, especially when I don’t feel loving. Choosing to act kindly toward others is, I think, part of the easy yoke and light burden that Jesus speaks about in Matthew 11:30. It’s easy because we are all made in the image and likeness of God who through the indwelling Holy Spirit given to us in the sacraments, shares our burdens, and calls us into community to help each other.

The sacraments, especially the Eucharist, nourish our identity as the Body of Christ in the world, and enable us to choose to live out our identity as the Body of Christ. In the words of St. Augustine when looking at the Eucharistic Bread and Wine, “See Who you are! Become Who you receive!” and I add, “Live Who you become!”

One of the small acts of kindness I love here at Sacred Heart is the opportunity to hold open the door to the Church as the People of God gather for Mass on Sunday. I love saying, “Good morning, good people” or “Good morning, holy family” for that is who you are. If each of us held the door open for one another in the world, I believe that in time the world would be a better place. And an open door is a beautiful image of the person of Jesus Christ.

Peace and all good,
Fr. Steve