Category Archives: Parish News

The Experience of Lent | Friar Reflections | First Sunday of Lent

Dear Parishioners,

Saints of God, the Lord be with you!

I always have said that if I couldn’t live near the beach, I’d like to live in the desert. I’ve been to the Franciscan Retreat Center in Scottsdale, Arizona and there is something about the topography, the cacti, the dryness and heat of the air that somehow feeds my soul. Of course, it helps that the retreat center offers rooms that are air conditioned, a beautiful church, a pool, and three plentiful meals a day. (Did I mention the pool?) In today’s Gospel according to Mark (1:12-15), Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, without the amenities mentioned above, where He is tempted by Satan. While this all seems a bit overwhelming and the outcome doubtful, the final scene in today’s Gospel is one of victory, “Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming…”.

The season of Lent is given to us as an invitation to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us out of our physical and spiritual comfort zones that may hinder our ability to truly encounter and be changed by our loving God.  Lent, in a sense, can become a desert if we allow for silence and spaciousness. When praying, let us turn away from always speaking, whether vocally or mentally, and let us sit in stillness, giving God the time to have the first and last word. Let us fast from feeding our wants and concentrate more on only buying what we truly need. Let us give to others our presence and when we can, give alms to help those who are truly poor.

In the Collect (the opening prayer), the presider praying for all of us says, “Grant, almighty God, through the yearly observances of holy Lent, that we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.” What the Church is inviting us to in Lent is more than an intellectual understanding of Christ. Through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (and the most perfect alms is not money, but the gifting of ourselves) we EXPERIENCE who Christ is for us. Through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we become Christ for each other. We truly live out our identity given to us through the Holy Spirit at baptism; “Rejoice O Christian! For by your baptism, you are more than a Christian, you are Christ Himself!” (St. Augustine)

The wonderful news, Saints of God, is that through the many parish ministries which you participate in and support, your live your Christ identity in so many ways. Singing in the choir, lecturing, ushering, altar serving, giving to the Society of St. Vincent DePaul, being part of the Hands of Hope, being a catechist, or being kind and respectful to our homeless brothers and sisters are all ways you are experiencing the presence of Christ for yourselves, and being the presence of Christ to others. Let us continue to live as who our faith says we are during this time of Lent, and may our Lenten observances prepare us to more fully celebrate the joy of Easter.

– Fr. Steve Kluge, OFM

Setting the Example | From the Desk of the Pastor | February 2024

Dear Parishioners,

In the Mirror Of Perfection, Brother Leo of Assisi, recounts what St. Francis of Assisi considered to be the best example of a friar:

“A good Friar Minor should imitate the lives and possess the merits of these holy friars: the perfect faith and love of poverty of Brother Bernard; the simplicity and purity of Brother Leo, who was a man of most holy purity; the courtesy of Brother Angelo, who was the first nobleman to enter the Order, and was endowed with all courtesy and kindness; the gracious look and natural good sense of Brother Masseo, together with his noble and devout eloquence; the mind upraised to God, possessed in its highest perfection by Brother Giles; the virtuous and constant prayer of Brother Rufino, who prayed without ceasing, and whose mind was ever fixed on God, whether sleeping or working; the patience of Brother Juniper, who attained the state of perfect patience because he kept the truth of his low estate constantly in mind whose supreme desire was to follow Christ on the way of the Cross; the bodily and spiritual courage of Brother John of Lauds, who in his time had been physically stronger than all men; the charity of Brother Roger, whose whole life and conversation was inspired by fervent charity; the caution of Brother Lucidus, who was unwilling to remain in any place longer than a month, for when he began to like a place, he would at once leave it, saying, Our home is not here, but in heaven.”

For Francis, ‘the perfect friar’ is when all the friars come together and live the Gospel as one. Each friar brings their gifts and talents together to work as one. I would contend that same attitude can be applied when we look at our individual parishioners, and the congregation as a whole. Instead of listing the various gifts of certain friars, we could easily substitute the characteristics, gifts, and talents from one of our parishioners. Ultimately, ‘the perfect parishioner’ is when we all come together as one as we live out our faith through the ministries we do as a parish. In addition to the opportunities our parish currently has to combine efforts and talents, such as our support for the Catholic Ministry Appeal, and our next Giving from the Heart donation drive, I would like to invite you to an upcoming half-day retreat focused on this collective principle.

On Saturday, March 2, the Outreach Committee will be sponsoring a Lenten retreat with the theme, “We are the Body of Christ; Many Parts, One Body.”  This retreat will be open to all ministers of our parish, as well as any parishioner who might be interested in attending. Leaders and volunteers associated with Faith Formation, Outreach, Parish Leadership, Parish Life & Worship are all encouraged to attend. Brian Lemoi, the executive director of the Franciscan Center, will facilitate the retreat.

The retreat’s theme will tie directly into our parish mission vision, and value statements. Our goals for the day are as follows:

  • Meeting other parishioners who are involved in ministry.
  • Best practices for successful ministry
  • Collaboration of ministries
  • Ways to invite and recruit volunteers

That collective theme is at the heart of this year’s Catholic Ministry Appeal. The diocese is at its best when all the parishes come together to courageously live the Gospel. The Catholic Ministry Appeal is a way in which all parishes come together as one to help support the various programs of the diocese. I would ask that this weekend you prayerfully think about making a gift. No gift is to small.  Last year we made more than 90% of our goal, doubling what we had done the previous year. We also increased our participation rate to 23%. As always, I thank you for the support you give to our parish and to the diocese.

Our parish mission statement is “to cultivate a vibrant community of faith by creating meaningful connections with both God and each other.”  We accomplish this by coming together and sharing our faith with one another.

Peace and All Good,
Fr. Mike

Transforming Our Lives In Christ | Catholic Ministry Appeal

The Eucharistic Revival and Encounter, and Mission Advancement Initiatives is one of 7 diocesan ministries that is instrumental in the formation of the faithful as “Missionary Disciples,” serving as living witnesses to Christ’s message and love and serving those most in need. Through the Catholic Ministry Appeal, this group of ministries will receive $2.3 million, or 26%, of the total $9 million appeal goal to carry out their good works.

“At first, when I came, I didn’t know if I wanted to come,” said Paul Nguyen, Holy Martyrs of Vietnam Parishioner. “But when I stepped in this environment, the Holy Spirit got me. It got me excited. After listening to the first song, I felt or encountered the Spirit coming to me. And then the first speaker was talking to us about Jesus wanting to be closer.”

Paul was one of nearly 700 people representing 65 churches from all five counties of our Diocese attended the Eucharistic Encounter on September 16, 2023, at the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Tampa. And another 700 joined throughout the day via livestream to renew their devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist. Speakers at the event included Curtis Martin of FOCUS, Father Tim Anastos of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Sister Ana Chiara of the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, John Bergsma of the St. Paul Center, and Mother Olga Yaqob of the Sacred Heart, founder of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth.

“We have talked so much today about the Lord’s presence,” said Bishop Parkes in his Homily. “He will be truly present on this altar before us here this evening. How will this encounter today be transformational in your life?”

Upon leaving, our Deacon Ray Ferreris shared, “Today was so much more than I could have ever imagined.”

“I have a great love for the Eucharist, but today this is such a beautiful shot in the arm… thank you for bringing us here today and allowing us to participate in this. And I thank our diocese for hosting this – I hope to see more!”

Click here to learn more about the ministries supported through the Catholic Ministry appeal.

Our February Giving From the Heart Drive

In our continued effort to meet the growing needs of our community, Sacred Heart is holding its latest Giving from the Heart drive-through donation event on Saturday, February 10, at the North Campus from 10 a.m. to noon. Volunteers from our Loving Hearts ministry and Council of Catholic Women will be on hand for this special event aiding the Grow Into You Foundation and St. Joseph Catholic School.

Can’t make it to the North Campus on the day of the drive? Access our Amazon Wishlists, and have your donation shipped directly to the parish office or the beneficiaries!

The Grow Into You Foundation exists to provide coaching, mentoring, support, and resources to teens and young adults aging out of the foster care system, where little support is readily afforded or available. The foundation contends that there are not enough foster homes to care for all the children displaced from their families, with teens in this situation often falling victim to homelessness, human trafficking, hunger, drugs, or incarceration. GIYF’s mentoring aims to give these teens a fighting chance to pursue education, employment, and shelter. The foundation is currently renovating its “Magnolia House,” a home for aged-out girls, which is slated to open this year.

Click to View the G.I.Y.F. Needs List:
  • groceries and non-perishables, snacks
  • hygiene items including toothbrushes, tooth paste, feminine care products, bar soap
  • body wash, shampoos, conditioner
  • hair accessories for teenage girls (brushes and combs, blowers, curling irons)
  • electric or manual razors for teenage boys
  • household cleaning supplies
  • Gift cards ($10 and $25 increments preferred; Walmart, Target, Uber, Publix, fast food restaurants, gas stations, home improvement stores, etc.)

St. Joseph Catholic School works with every family to help make a Catholic education possible for all students, even those who need scholarships or other forms of assistance. Many families of the student body have needs beyond the education of their children, and St. Joseph’s attempts to meet those needs, which are varied. For example, because of the generous outpouring of support from last year’s Giving from the Heart drive benefitting the school, St. Joseph’s had enough gift cards to help a student receive a much needed pair of eye-glasses. 

Click to View the St. Joseph School Needs List
  • household cleaning items and paper products
  • personal hygiene items
  • non-perishable food for their food pantry
  • Gift cards ($10 and $25 increments preferred; Walmart, Target, Publix, Amazon)

Additional information and needs list updates will be available on this page as they are received. As always, the church appreciates your attentiveness and generosity for these drives.

Time of Fulfillment | Friar Reflections | Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Parishioners,

Saints of God, the Lord be with you!

With this Sunday we begin reading from the Gospel according to Mark (1:14-20). The shortest of the Gospels, it is also, according to most Biblical scholars, the first one written, probably in Rome to a predominantly Gentile audience and preserving the remembrances of Peter.

Two things strike me about this Gospel. The first is the proclamation of Jesus, “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” The phrase “the Kingdom of God is at hand” is said by John the Baptist in Matthew (3:2) and for him it means “near,” “right now,” “available.” However, when said by Jesus it also means “able to be grasped.” I feel this added meaning is important, since the Kingdom of God really isn’t a place, but a person. The Kingdom of God is Jesus Himself: both divine and human and thus “able to be grasped.”

I often wonder if Jesus were standing in front of us, how we would alter our speech and actions. Would we use the same language that is often peppered with profanity? Would we tell off-color or disparaging jokes? Would we ignore, or belittle, or act violently toward others? I don’t think we would do any of these things if Jesus were standing in front of us. We need to remember that Baptism gives all of us the identity of Christ. In the words of St. Augustine, “Rejoice O Christian! For by your baptism, you are more than a Christian YOU are Christ Himself!” We are Christ to other Christ’s! If only we would remember that more often, I can only imagine how our world would be changed.

The second thing that strikes me about today’s Gospel is that Simon, Andrew, James and John, are changed only AFTER they encounter Jesus: “They abandon their nets…they left their father” and FOLLOWED HIM.”  This gives me great hope since Jesus never asks anyone to change before they come to Him. He never asks anyone to change before he works a miracle. People are changed because they encounter Him. At every Mass, Christ meets us where we are through the readings of the Scriptures and through our reception of the Eucharist. We changed by these encounters. If not, it’s not because Christ’s power is ineffective, but rather because we don’t allow this power (the Holy Spirit) to effect change within us.

As we begin Ordinary Time (the time when we simply count the Sundays), let us allow the Risen and Glorified Christ to change us so that we may truly be Christ for one another.

Peace and All Good,
Fr. Steve

Come and See | Friar Reflections | Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Parishioners,

Our Gospel today has this very simple dialogue:

The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.

Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them,

         “What are you looking for?”

They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher),

     “where are you staying?”

He said to them, “Come and you will see.”

So they went and saw where he was staying, and they staying with him that day.

When people begin the study of biblical Greek, the first text from the Bible they read is usually the Gospel of John. The sample printed above from today’s reading from John tells you why: the Fourth Gospel is written in very simple Greek. And the sentences are simple and straightforward in structure.

“What are you looking for?”
“Where are you staying?”
“Come and see.”

The exchange is so simple and apparently ordinary, you may wonder why John included it—especially when these words are the first we hear Jesus speak in this Gospel.

Well, I’d ask that you read the exchange once again, slowly.

What sounds at first like a person annoyed by apparent stalkers, followed with a request for a street address, and then a surprising, but matter-of-fact invitation is really a quite the profound exchange. This usually escapes us the first time we read it, but once you’ve read the full Gospel, you come to realize John’s simple language is much deeper than it appears at first glance.

“What are you looking for?” is actually one of the deepest questions one person can ask another. To paraphrase, “What—really, down deep—are you seeking as your life your life?” Power? Pleasure? Wealth? Relief from loneliness? Relief from pain or hunger? Knowledge? Truth? Love? How do you answer this question right now?

“Where are you staying?”—when asked by persons who are curious about or seeking Jesus, this is a question that is really asking “Where do you come from, Master?” What is the source of your life? Who—really, down deep—are you?” For the word translated “stay,” μένειν or menein, means something deeper than what is your address. In the Gospel of John, this word refers to a person’s source of being and ultimate purpose.

And Jesus’ response–“Come and see” –really, when you know the whole story, means, “Follow me as a committed disciple and you will come to really see (understand and believe) in a whole new way.”

Jesus asks Andrew and the other disciple, “What are you looking for?” This is a telling question, and one that we might often ask of ourselves. John the Baptist testified to Jesus’ identity, the Lamb of God, using the framework of the Old Testament. Andrew, Simon, and the other first disciples were looking for the Messiah, whom they also came to know as the Son of God.

Reflecting on today’s readings, we receive a message that discipleship is far more than an acceptance or adherence to Jesus. It means becoming part of God’s family and requires an abandonment of the past along with a willingness to “see” and “stay.”  Jesus dwells with God, and we are invited to make our home there as well. Like Samuel, we are constantly being called into a deeper more meaningful relationship with God. What do we look for and what do we find in Jesus?

Peace and All Good,
Fr. Zack

The Start of a New Year | From the Desk of the Pastor | The Epiphany of the Lord

Dear Parishioners,

Jesus said “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). Many of you over this Christmas season followed suit. Our parish is very fortunate to have dedicated people willing to give of themselves for the sake of others. I want to thank all those who helped make this Christmas season a wonderful celebration of who we are at Sacred Heart Parish.

This Christmas, we commemorated the 800-year anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi’s rule and first crèche by handing out 800 nativity ornaments at various outreach events and through telling the story of Francis’ Christmastime tradition as part of the Children’s Program on Christmas Eve. The program is something parishioners and visitors alike enjoy watching, and all of the children did such a great job. Laureen Young directed the program, and the friars and I thank her for helping make this possible again this year.

With Christmas falling on a Monday, it meant celebrating 13 Masses in less than 48 hours. This feat was only possible through the many willing to help when and where it was needed. Each Mass and event turned out wonderfully and I would like to thank our Environmental Committee, altar servers, Eucharistic Ministers, readers, and ushers, many of whom assisted across multiple Masses. Also assisting were our Gift Store volunteers, collection counters, the docents of our Historical Society, the volunteers who clean the altar linens, and our staff, who were always willing to jump in and help.

Both on Christmas Eve and Christmas, I was approached by several of our local homeless who wanted to donate to the church. An older gentleman came to me saying he had received a generous gift, and wanted to give a portion to the church. I insisted that he needed to keep it, but he was adamant he wanted to give to Sacred Heart because of the good we do. A young woman on Christmas Day insisted on a donation to our church because she heard the church is in need of some expensive repairs and wanted to help. Throughout the weekend you could witness many of the homeless sharing among themselves. It is a reminder that they are also our parishioners and part of our community.

Over these next two months our parochial campaign as part of the 2024 Catholic Ministry Appeal (CMA) will be rolled out. The response in 2023 was incredible, as parishioner participation grew by more than 10% year over year, increasing from 13% in 2022, to more than 23%. This increase in participation lead us to collecting more than double the amount we had collected from the previous year, amounting to 88% of our goal. Our targets for 2024 remain focused on increasing our participation rate while reaching our goal. My mother always said many hands make light work. The friars have already been discussing our gift to the CMA and we plan on giving at the start of the appeal.

This weekend we celebrate the Epiphany. As the Magi journeyed to find the Christ Child, it reminds us of our own journey of faith. Our journey never ends, but leads us closer to God. The journey is never the same and we travel on different paths to find God. Some paths are easy to travel while others are fraught with hardship, however the end is the same: God’s love. Pope Francis is asking that 2024 be a year of prayer before the Jubilee year in 2025. May our prayers this year help us to find the right path that will lead us closer to God.

Peace and All Good,
Fr. Mike

Start With “Yes.” | Deacon Reflections | Fourth Sunday of Advent & Christmas

Dear Friends,

On this busy Fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear the story of the Annunciation. I’ll sum it up briefly — The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her she’s going to be the Mother of God. She is deeply troubled and wonders how this can even be, as she’s never been with a man. Gabriel reassures her that she has found favor with God, and the Holy Spirit will come upon her and she will conceive and bear a son and name him Jesus. Gabriel then tells Mary of her elderly barren cousin Elizabeth who has also conceived and assures her that nothing is impossible for God.

And Mary’s response?

“Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) This was Mary’s yes to God.

What does our yes to God look like?

Mary made her choice freely, but not without some trepidation. She was troubled and questioned how this could possibly come to be. Gabriel responds, “Do not be afraid be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God.” As disciples of Christ and spiritual children of Mary, we are called to take these words to heart in our own lives. Like Mary, being faithful to God’s call could very likely lead us to places of discomfort, hardship, and even fear.

Perhaps you’ve heard me share this before, but I feel it’s worth repeating, especially in light of today’s Gospel. When I received my calling from God to become a deacon, I was warned during formation about several things that may happen to me throughout formation, ordination, and living my life as a deacon.  I was told some so-called friends might change their involvement in my life, and to recognize that if it happened, they really were not my friends. While that may make sense, it still hurts. I was told Satan would begin to challenge me in my faith, my family life, my job, so on and so forth. At that point in my life, I knew what God wanted me to do, and I wasn’t turning back. By echoing Mary’s words of courage and trust, “Be it done to me according to your word,” I had to place myself right alongside her and not be afraid.

Her words are a reminder that during even the darkest of times, we are not alone. That same Holy Spirit that came upon Mary has been promised to each of us; that we are always overshadowed by the Most High. God is with us as we wait for his return in glory.  We are seen, we are known, we are loved. Emmanuel, God is with us!

Mary’s testimony and her response hopefully inspires us to also see ourselves in favor with God. Mary empathizes with our pain and suffering; she knows what it’s like to suffer. She asks similar questions like we do. Ultimately, the young woman from Nazareth trusted in God’s almighty power. She believed that indeed nothing is impossible for God. She believed God would lift up the lowly and bring the holiest of holies to life within her womb. In Mary’s reliance and trust in God’s word, the Kingdom takes root, just as it wishes to take root in each of us. 

On this last day of Advent, let us spend some time in prayer with Mary, our Mother, asking her to increase our faith and trust in her Son, and to continue saying “yes,” especially as we celebrate His birth, and during this Holy Season of Christmas.

Peace of Christ and Merry Christmas,
Deacon Ray

Rejoicing in Humility | Friar Reflections | Third Sunday of Advent

Dear Parishioners,

Saints of God, the Lord be with you!

Today is called “Gaudete (Let us rejoice!) Sunday” perhaps because of the opening phrase in the second reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians (5:16-24) “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.” Beautiful words, but then we tend to misread the next sentence that says, “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you.” Notice, we don’t need to give thanks for ALL circumstances, but rather whatever the circumstance we are called to give thanks. Gratitude seems to be God’s will for us and, no matter the circumstances, there is still a lot to give thanks for.

While reflecting on this, it took me a while to get the deeper message in all the readings when using this idea of rejoicing as a lens. It seems to me that most important aspect of our call to rejoice is the fact that God knows each of us as we are in our entirety. “God looks upon his lowly servant” as we sing in today’s responsorial, which is Mary’s Magnificat, found in the Gospel according to Luke (1:46-54). God knows we are lowly and yet, does great things for us, has mercy upon us, fills us with good things, and comes to our help. Perhaps God does all these things for us so that we might accept our lowliness and thus respond with rejoicing and gratitude. Everything that God does for us is grace, a gift, an unmerited favor which should lead each of us to an honest humility.

The Baptist in today’s Gospel according to John (1:6-8, 19-28) is faced with the temptation to make himself something that he is not. When asked if he is the Christ, he answers no. When asked if he is Elijah, or the Prophet, he answers no. He is not the Light, but the one who testifies to the Light. He is simply a voice crying out “Prepare!” I admire John, for it seems to me it is easy to fall into the trap of making yourself greater than you actually are.

True discipleship begins with humility that allows the Holy Spirit to enter one’s life. It is humility that continues to sustain the Spirit working within us, and it is humility that will in the end allow us to accept the promised mercy of God.

We rejoice in that we are all anointed with the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation. As we near the end of our Advent, let us take the time for gratitude for all God has done for us. Let us take the time to rejoice that we don’t need to be perfect, but rather that as imperfect we are loved by God and are anointed with the Holy Spirit. So let us “rejoice heartily in the Lord (for) in my God is the joy of my soul” (Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11).

Peace and All Good,
Fr. Steve

The Comfort of God | Friar Reflections | Second Sunday of Advent

Dear Parishioners,

This Sunday’s passage from Isaiah speaks of comfort, preparation, and the arrival of the Lord. It reflects the compassionate nature of God, comforting His people. This second week of Advent continues as a time of anticipation and reflection, focusing on the theme of peace. As we light the second candle, we are reminded of the peace that comes from the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

During this week, we can find ourselves contemplating the concept of peace in a world often filled with chaos and uncertainty. The lit candle serves as a beacon of hope, signaling that amidst the challenges, there is a tranquility available to us.

In the midst of our holiday preparations, the Advent season calls us to pause. It urges us to reflect on the true meaning of peace, not merely the absence of conflict, but a profound sense of wholeness and harmony. A peace independent of external circumstances and rooted in a spiritual connection that transcends the temporal. As we consider the idea of peace, we are drawn again to the words of Isaiah:

“ For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him…Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful…”| Isaiah 9:5-6

The Advent season is an invitation to step away from the noise of the world and find solace in prayer and meditation. It prompts us to examine our own heart, seeking reconciliation where needed and embracing a spirit of forgiveness. True peace begins with an inner transformation and Advent provides us with this sacred space.

Peace is not a passive state but an active pursuit. It requires a conscious effort to seek reconciliation, promote justice, and extend compassion. The candles of the Advent wreath serve as a reminder that each of us can be a light of peace, dispelling the darkness that may surround us.

Let our prayer be that we allow this season of hope to transform us into the people God is calling us to be through His Son. Let this season challenge us to embody that peace in our daily lives.

As we light the second candle of the Advent wreath this weekend, may we pray that we become the symbol of peace that surpasses all understanding.

Let the candle light illuminate your heart and guide you through your Advent journey, as we embrace the hope and assurance Isaiah relays to us of a loving and compassionate God.

Peace and All Good,
Fr. Zack