Journeying Thoughts

Navigating the "Year of Faith" at St. Peter Claver Catholic Community, Tampa, Florida

NEW YEAR BLESSINGS

Last evening I listened to a young man tell his story. His point was that we have to be thankful and receptive for God’s blessings, even in tough times. He was working towards a goal, studying and preparing for his Masters Dethanksgree. His parents had been very supportive of not only him, but of his two siblings, also in college. He had thanked God for such supportive parents and prayed that they would live to see him reach his goal, especially his father, the breadwinner of the family, who would call and offer support and encouragement. He was at the point of preparing to defend his thesis when he received a call from his sister informing him that their father had died. He was devastated and became angry with God in that moment for taking his father. What would the family do? What about his continued studies, and being so close to reaching his goal? What about his siblings in college? How would their educations be provided for? Why would God let this happen now? He went on to say that he began to let go of some of the anger towards God and thanked God for the blessings he had received, for the love and support he had received from his family. Even though he wasn’t sure of his or his siblings’ futures, he heard the Lord telling him not to fear, not to worry; he had everything in his control.

I heard this story at the Mass on New Year’s Eve in the homily given by Fr. Anthony Okwum, a Josephite priest who was substituting for the vacationing pastor during the holidays. Fjosephite_ordain2r. Tony’s wish had been that his parents would live to see his priestly ordination, and that he would be able to give them his priestly blessing. This young man from Nigeria was a few months from ordination when his father died. His homily was a reflection on the first reading and responsorial psalm of the Mass.

After ordination, Fr. Tony traveled home to Nigeria to celebrate Mass. He said that some men approached him and told him they were aware of his story and family situation. They told him not to worry about his siblings’ educations. That it was taken care of. They gave him the money to cover it, on the spot, in cash.

This young priest of seven months reminded us to look at the blessings bestowed on us and our families, even in the midst of trials and struggles. When things look their worst we are in God’s arms and in this loving care. But we have to be thankful. We have to thank God for all we do and all we have if we want to be truly blessed. In order to recognize the blessings and receive more blessings, we have to thank God everyday and for everything. And so for 2014 this young priest did as Moses instructed Aaron in the first reading (numbers 6:22-27) and bestowed on us the blessing of the Lord.

“The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!

They say the Lord works in mysterious ways. I had been contemplating and preparing to reactivate our parish vocations enrichment team. What a confirmation, to be blessed by this young priest at the start of this process and a new year! Thank you Fr. Tony for your inspiration! I spoke to him after Mass. A very delightful young man he is. He is currently teaching at St. Augustine High school in New Orleans, a historically Black, Catholic boys school. I pray that he will be a great blessing and inspiration to our young men.

“May God bless us in his mercy.”

Dale, January 1, 2014

I JUST WANT TO THANK YOU LORD

With November being the month known for thankfulness, we have asked parishioners to give reflections each week at the end of Mass on what they are thankful for. So each Sunday of the month a person or family will come forward and give a very brief “thankfulness reflection”. This past Sunday was the first and one of the expressions was in the form of a poem. I asked the author (Bernadette Guillory) for her permission to post it on this blog. Thank you Bernadette for agreeing.

Every day I wake and before my feet even hit the floor

I begin thanking God long before I rush out the front door

I’m thankful for being awakened to see another day

And for all the prayers that keep me out of harms way

So thankful I am to be in my parents midst and not miles away

To enjoy them to the fullest & not cram it all in a short stay

I thank God every day for my folks’ health and vitality

Their unconditional love has motivated my spirituality

I thank you God for gifting me with 3 amazing sons

The love I have for them is truly second to none!

I am blessed in every direction I look & yearn to be

What I’m most thankful for is that my God loves me

He’s kept me fresh & given me a new lease on life

And I know he’ll soon make me a blissful wife

So I’m thanking him abundantly & far in advance

For being a merciful God that gave me a second chance.

Thank you. 4ever Sincere Bernadette Nellum-Guillory

thankful

11/3/13

WE ARE MEN

IMG_0847St. Peter Claver’s first All Men’s Day…October 6, 2013…It would be remiss of me, indeed, if I didn’t share my thoughts in tribute to this historical day at our church. I’m sure anyone who was there can add to this sentiment I feel, am still feeling! WOW! From the moment I stepped into the church I could feel the difference in the air. It was electric. But first let me backtrack, briefly. There was a need to be met for all to see our Black MEN stand united at church. The call was sent out by my very own Dad and the call was answered by many men who before sat in the pews and maybe did not see the need for their involvement. I couldn’t be prouder that my Dad took the initiative and led an event that was surely needed. In my opinion there is no time to wait to be called upon to do things. A leader just jumps IN and does. In these times when Black men are being persecuted (starting with our Potus) I feel it is highly important to support and encourage them. It is also just as important to SEE that they’re doing positive and progressive things.

Speaking from my own personal testimony…I know without a shred of doubt were it not for the part my Dad has had in my life..I’d not currently be as deeply embedded in the Catholic Faith as I am. Real talk for real…Therefore I can also say with no hesitation I’m more than sure that this past Sunday’s all men’s day  will make a difference to the youth. They ARE watching us all at all times, even more so when we don’t realize they’re watching and learning from us. So much in this life is learned from mere actions and not words! 

The sound of the men’s voices singing in the choir together touched my very soul to the point that I didn’t know whether to cry or dance with joy! I felt a need to write something, anything, to let each and every man present know how much they’re appreciated and NEEDED. I’m hopeful y’all saw the many who stood UP to praise and sing, read, serve, greet and usher! I’m hopeful also that All Men’s Day becomes a long standing SPC tradition. I’ve felt proud to be a St. Peter Claver Church member since day 1. Yesterday I was even more proud. I thank you all. Yes, you are men and you are necessary for our progression!

Sincerely Your Sista in Christ, Bernadette Nellum-Guillory

October 9, 2013

Thank you Bernadette for your thoughts and contribution. DB

IN THE WORD OF GOD

catstudybibleThis week we began a bible study series in the parish. It is one of the series from Ascension Press. It is an 8-session series and an opportunity for folks to come together and get some information about how to read the bible. So, first session = serious rain storm, as we have almost everyday here in the current weather pattern. So there was about half of the number of people who signed up for the class. Not a problem. Hopefully they will be there for the other sessions because each session is built off the previous one.

What is the hope of this venture? Well, having done a number of activities, classes, gatherings over the years, I always hear, “We need more!”, or “We need to know more about our faith!”; or, “We don’t know scripture!” It is my hope that this begins to build a tradition of scripture sharing and small Christian community gatherings for our parishioners. Each time we do some form of gathering or class, there is always someone new; someone who hasn’t participated before, for whatever reason. We always get the usual “die-hards”, as someone described them recently. The die-hards are great, but having the new faces within and among the group is refreshing and encouraging. It is an opportunity to make that ever-widening circle a reality. It is what we are supposed to be about. We should never be comfortable or satisfied when the faces around the “community” table of faith are only the same ones we see all the time.

So in this mini-series of blogs on faith formation, I previously spoke about the need for the domestic Church, the family, to make the effort to pass on the faith in the home, not just be at Mass on Sundays. In our first session of this bible series, the leader used our Creed as the basis. We don’t have to know everything that is in the bible and where it is, or why it is. At least not at first. But we need to have a framework for the story to begin to unravel and put into context what is in the bible. So for us as Catholics, the best place to start is the Creed. It is the story of our salvation, and we say it every Sunday at Mass, but do we hear what we are saying. Spend some time with the Creed, as it catechismis. Then, if you don’t already have one (and every Catholic household should have one) go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and read about the Creed. Once you start to get a feel for the framework, the basic story, you can begin to put the rest into context.

Now about the Catechism, it is a thick green book (see photo). I am not, NOT, talking abut the Baltimore Catechism that many of us older (cough, cough) folks were taught with. If you do not have a Catechism in the home, until you get one… hint, hint…. you can access the content online through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website. Make the effort, start somewhere. Do it for yourself and for your family. Do it for you faith and your faith community.

Next time I will talk about electronic access and resources. You know you can use your iPad, tablet and smartphone for more than just Candy Crush Saga!

Dale 8/24/13

Building Your Domestic Church

This was posted today on a blog I follow from the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Its a timely follow-up to my blog from yesterday.

AS FOR ME AND MY HOUSE

 prayer3 This will start a series on faith formation. Last evening I had an interesting conversation with someone. Actually it was more of a debate I think. Well, maybe I should just say a difference of opinions. This was concerning the teaching of the Catholic faith to children. More specifically, the teaching of traditional  Catholic prayers to Catholic children so that they are able to recite them at will and on demand (I am paraphrasing somewhat, but this is the gist) and thereby be more prepared and “worthy” of receiving the sacraments and being a good Catholic. This person (the parent) stressed and insisted that this is the role of the catechists and parish formation program. In short, my response was that I thought it was great that the parents wanted to teach traditional Catholic prayers to their children and that they should absolutely do so if that is important to them and what they wanted their children to know. Wouldn’t it be great if more of our parents did that?But I somewhat disagreed on the role of the catechists and parish formation program. Hence the debate. Everytime I said that was the role of the parents, it was tossed back, “No, No, No, that is your role”

prayer6

My point to the parent was to understand that our role as parish and catechist is to assist the parents in forming their children in the faith. Now I realize that this is not necessarily something that parents have heard, hear often, or embrace. None the less, it is the intent of the Church. You see, when parents present their children for baptism, the very first sacrament they receive, they are not then “off the hook” afterward for fostering faith development. During the baptismal rite, the celebrant asks the parents, “What do you ask of God’s Church for your children?” The parents respond, “Baptism”. The celebrant goes on to say to the parents, “You have asked to have your children baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training them in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring them up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?” The expected and only response I have ever heard from parents is “Yes”. Have they listened to the question? Do they understand it? Was this covered in the baptism preparation sessions? I am sure  it was, but was it really explained well? I can’t say, since I am not a part of these sessions. But I would like to believe and feel certain that it was. I explained to the parent that it was not our role to pour information into their childrens’ heads to have it regurgitated out. I admitted that I, in fact, had to memorize various prayers as a youth in order to receive sacraments. Honestly, I cannot begin to recite some of them today. So what is our role as Church and catechist?

Again, our role is to assist parents in the formation of their children in the Catholic faith. This is done by having classes and teachers who are able to teach the prayers, doctrines, practices and expectations of our faith in a way that young people are able to make the connection to their salvation, God’s grace, the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, and the role of the Church, family and the faith community and their place in it. That is a lot to do in one hour, once a week, for roughly 34 weeks. In real time, thats a day and a half. (And it is often for only one year; that being the one in which they “have to” receive first communion or comfirmation.) In my experience with adults who have a long history in the Church, I cannot tell you how many still have not made that connection, and simply being able to recite prayers on call has not really been of much help when life becomes challenging or difficult. So what we do is teach the basic, most used, most familiar or common prayers of the Church, and reference many others. I prefer to teach them how to pray.  

Please understand, I am not knocking the place of prayers. I am a cradle catholic. I am a catechist. My prayers are with me everyday in my head, in my purse, on my cell phone, on my ipad. It is a great comfort in knowing prayers, but it is just as great a comfort, to me anyway, to know where to find just the right prayer when I need it. Sometimes that is written only on one’s heart.

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.

Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth. Amen.”

prayer2

Dale 8/15/2013

HE LOOKED BEYOND MY FAULT

A little late to the show…but here I am. It has been a busy few months, and as you can see not a lot of writing has taken place. But I have been trying to push myself back to it before I get busier with even more things.

I felt compelled to write because yesterday was Fathers’ Day. I did my best to brush past the feeling of melancholy at no longer having my father to celebrate with or just talk to. I forced myself to sing a song during Mass that was to the tune of one of his favorites, and I survived the effort.  And I couldn’t hold back the tears as we extended our hands and prayed over the fathers present, again missing mine. But I was disappointed that once again the homily seemed to center on the bad rather than the good.  Don’t get me wrong, I thought the homily was good.  I would just like to see it for a change stay focused on those who are doing the good, even with all their faults… as we all have. I even debated about writing this.

It is so easy to talk about the absent, abusive, uncaring, bad fathers. I want to ask the fathers present how it feels to always have to endure the examples of the bad in order to point to the good. On the day to honor fathers, why can’t we just honor the upright, the survivors, the workers, providers, companions, teachers, without first lowering the bar to the recognize the least capable or effective. I mean isn’t that a little like putting me on a track next to a paraplegic and saying I’m the fastest runner?

In the Gospel story (Luke7:36-8:3) and parable, the sinners were forgiven by Jesus. His compassionate treatment of the woman gave her a new hope and she showed her gratitude for his forgiveness. The example in the parable is that great love springs from a heart forgiven and cleansed. The message was tied into the reading in that we should forgive as Jesus did. That there are irresponsible fathers, but there is an opportunity and possibility for change. We should love them, pray for them and be patient with them. As they see our love for them continue, they pass judgement on themselves and are compelled and encouraged to change.

I believe there are times when this prescription is the cure. At other times it is not. But rather than again dwell on the bad, I will offer that the same should be reinforced and offered to the ones that are trying (and succeeding) in doing the right thing. Offer that love, encouragement, honor, respect and support to them to keep them on the right track and proud of their efforts. They may not be “perfect” or even ideal. But as the saying goes, “A father is someone you can look up to no matter how tall you grow.”

Dale 6/17/13

THEY’LL KNOW WE ARE CHRISTIANS BY OUR LOVE

 

 

christian love

When my father was retiring from his job of over 40 years, I recall him coming home several days with gifts. He had at that time more tenure in the company than anyone, and was well respected for his skill and knowledge for the job. As he was growing closer to the day there were retirement parties at work and lunches, and fellow workers and others coming by to wish him well and give him a gift. When we commented one day about the gifts he brought home, he simply responded something to the effect of , “It’s all about how you treat people.” He also then reminded us that we should always be kind to people because you never know who you will need.

 

I have been reminded of this conversation over the past ten days as I recovered from knee surgery. I convalesced in the home of the Nellum family, who attended to my every possible need or want. It is a humbling experience to have to rely on others when you are so accustomed to moving around at will on one’s own power. May father’s words spoke to me  over and over again as I tough what I could have possibly done to warrant such care and attention from someone other than my own mother. And yet by following his advice I have gained such favor. But this is not totally by my own doing.

These people have extended to me an essential Christian courtesy – love. It is so easy as people will talk about what Christianity means or what it is. But putting that concept into action, well let’s just say, many fall short. How do I know that? Because I fall short. we all do at times. Hopefully we have experiences, such as I had last week , to remind us of what Jesus said in John’s gospel,“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

love one another

And so in thanks to all those who have extended courtesies to me during my recovery by a telephone call, email, Facebook message, card, plant, prayers, or offering your assistance, I am edified by your care and concern for my well-being. And should there be any doubt or anyone want to or need to know, please know that you can use me a reference and I can gladly affirm your Christian  credentials.

Dale 4/14/13

ALLELUIA, THE STRIFE IS O’ER!

resurrection

The strife is o’er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun: Alleluia!

As a kid growing up, this hymn meant Easter to me. I mean it just wasn’t right if this hymn was not sung on Easter Sunday or during the Easter season. And yet, it is a song I never hear anymore. However, it has been ringing in my ears for the past week.

As Catholics we are in the Easter season for the next several weeks. Yet, how many of us have forgotten already? I’m not blaming anybody or trying to come down hard on anybody, but for many Easter is over as soon and the clearance signs on candy and hideous baskets go up. We should still be basking in the glow of the Resurrection of our Lord. We should be rejoicing in the victory of our risen Lord! Yet, how soon did we revert back to the things we gave up for Lent? What did we do to reflect on the events of Holy Week? And even still, how did we welcome the so-called “C&E” (that’s Christmas and Easter) Catholics in our midst on Easter Sunday in our parish? Did we do anything that would make them want to come back on any other Sunday?

Lord, by the stripes which wounded Thee,
From death’s dread sting Thy servants free,
That we may live, and sing to Thee: Alleluia!

We don’t talk much about what we will do or should be like after the Resurrection. During Lent we talk and hear about preparing for it, but what comes next? In this Year of Faith we are to be disciples, evangelizers, spreading the word and love of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Are you prepared to do that? Do you have a plan? Here’s a start. Remember that thing you gave up during Lent or pledged to do? Well, you don’t have to limit it to Lent. Let prayer, fasting and alms-giving continue during this Easter season.

Dale 4/09/13

‘TIS GOOD, LORD, TO BE HERE

The early Fathers of ‘the Church’ used the word “Catholic” to describe the church, because ‘Catholic’ means universal.  This, in short, means that ‘Catholic religion’ and ‘Christian religion’ mean the same thing. Later, when folks began to break away from the Catholic religion to form other religions the Catholic religion still remained what it has always been. The Catholic Religion is the religion which I’ve been a part of since I received the Sacrament of Baptism as an infant. Moving right along to where I am today in my faith and the Catholic faith/religion.

I’ve not always been as steady on my feet in my faith or my walk as a Catholic as I am NOW. And while I think it is the NOW that matters the most, I also can greatly appreciate the laborious journey it took to get HERE. Scraped knees from praying and scraped knees from falling, from one extreme to the other I’ve lived it. And I’m very pleased to be able to say, with utmost sincerity, not only am I still standing, but I’m standing taller than I’ve ever stood, all 5’4 inches…well, without heels.

I’ve gone through periods of life when I wasn’t attending Mass on a regular basis. I’ve gone through periods of life when I sent my sons to Mass, yet I didn’t attend. I’ve gone through periods of life that I questioned the existence of a true higher being. To say I’ve struggled with being a full Believer is an understatement. Always wanted to be one, yet I was what I can best describe as a wanna-B-believer. I prayed to a GOD that I wasn’t quite sure truly was listening at times. There were times I felt that if he did exist how in the heck could he allow some of the things I lived through to have happened in the first place?!? My questions had questions and yet I never totally didn’t believe. But I had serious doubts…and I for sure had doubts in a religion I felt (and experienced) as NOT being totally inclusive of folks of color. Folks that looked like ‘me’. I just wasn’t feeling comfy, and I hadn’t found a church home, though not for lack of trying and holding an elected seat on a predominantly ‘Conservative’ Catholic school board. And then my 1st spiritual awakening happened in the most unlikely of places and at the most unlikely of times in my life. Unexpected, unprovoked and with no warning…just happened. Bam! What came over me was a feeling of such utter and complete immediate total JOY that it scared me. I didn’t see any bright light at the end of a tunnel. Very much awake and I was sitting reading a Bible…something, at the time, I wasn’t accustomed to doing. Very early one morning in total quietness.. suddenly.. I could feel GOD’s presence. Warmth like a comforting liquid flowed down over my entire being – I can’t express it any other way. Just felt good all over, quite suddenly, long enough for me to be aware of it and then it was gone. But from that point on I could no longer be totally in doubt of his existence. For once in my life I didn’t have to see something to believe in it. Didn’t have to touch or feel it or taste it. Suddenly I was no longer a believer that “seeing was believing”.

It was at that time in my life I began to feel a need for re-newness. An inner need to start brand new. A re-start towards a re-birth. I don’t recall sitting and figuring out a plan of how I was going to get that accomplished… and I’m a planner. No longer did I feel in control of my own destiny. It was at this time of my life I felt the most lost. Wasn’t sure which direction I should head at all. Yet I was driven. That might not make any sense to anyone else, but it makes perfect sense to me. In essence I was no longer holding the reins to my life, no longer leading my own footsteps. Yet, I was on a mission that led me over 3,500 miles home to my parents. A place with two people who loved me more than any other people on this planet. Yet, it was a place I said I’d never live again, only visit. But I was on my way to becoming complete, finally. I’d come completely full circle.

My 2nd spiritual awakening came in the midst of many who looked just like me, at the National Black Catholic Conference. Over those several days I knew I was right where I was supposed to be. A week earlier I hadn’t even planned on being there. It was there I realized there wasn’t just a place for me in the Catholic religion, but there was NO other place I belonged to get closer to GOD. I was home and had always been a part of it. Finally I was filled with a passion to learn more about my faith, the Faith that had been chosen for me since Birth. It was then that my re-Birth unofficially officially began. I began to fall IN love with being Catholic. I wanted to learn more and more about it. From that conference I took with me, within my spirit, the same feeling shared there amongst hundreds of others like me. I began to make a place for me in what quickly became my church HOME in the new city I now resided in. Same city my parents had lived for over 30 years. Their church home became mine, totally effortlessly. I don’t know if it is because my frame of mind changed and was open to it, or a combination of that and the feeling of warmth and welcome in which I was received into the church. All I know is that all of a sudden I felt like I was HOME. My new church, almost overnight, became my church HOME. I’d never felt that way about a church before. Everything was simply falling into place. I joined the choir alongside my parents the week after my arrival. Slowly but surely after that I began to get more and more involved in my new church home. I’m amazed myself at how involved I’m feeling driven to be. It wasn’t planned that way. Just keep holding my hand UP to serve more & more!  And with each day I can feel a warmth from within, like my inner GLOW, pouring out of me. There is no other way I can express it. The feeling of contentment I feel the majority of the time is something I wish I could bottle up and share with the WORLD, which is what I am attempting to do, right here and now; with my words. Painting a picture, as only I can do, with my finger strokes. This is where I’ve come from 2 Where I am right now. And it just feels GOOD all the time!

For the past 5 months I’ve been involved in the RCIA process. After a lifetime of being part of the Catholic Church I’ve chosen to take the Sacrament of Confirmation. As an adult this is a conscious effort and desire. It has consisted of attending 90 minute sessions every Monday. The sessions cover basic information about the Catholic Faith and fundamentally communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults will climax with receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation in front of my church congregation on Easter eve at the Easter Vigil Mass. With the exception of childbirth and marriage ceremony, there is NOTHING I’ve been more in anticipation of in my life. It isn’t simply a step for me. It is part of my re-Birth which couldn’t be more symbolic than for it to take place on the eve of Easter. This past 5 months has been a period of deep reflection, prayer, instruction, discernment and formation. One of my spiritual advisors leads the sessions and is also someone I call friend. There was the perfect time, a pre-selected time, for me to be confirmed into Catholicism. Everything is falling into place all by itself. When things are right, they just feel right, and they just happen. And, it just feels GOOD all the time.

Because I will always keep it real, when I first learned I was expected to attend Mass four times during this Holy Week it blew my hair back. WOW that’s a lot of church for ME in one week. That isn’t including attending my regular session at church one night, a council meeting another night. Basically that means I’ll be at the church every evening except for one. WOW again. Having said that and all of what I’ve shared here, that was only my first response and thoughts. After it sunk in, my thoughts now – What BETTER place for me to be during the Holy Week preceding my receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation? It is where I am supposed to be in preparation. Quite honestly I’ve got butterflies in anticipation and excitement. I thought as the time neared I’d be nervous. I am not. I am just eager and ready. I probably won’t share with ya’ll the events of this week’s church activities. Even having shared this is extremely personal for me. But I wanted to share with every one of you something that I feel is very beautiful, my testimony. If you read between the lines, that is what I’ve just shared, my life journey to here. My walk now as I try, with all my might, to walk the walk that I feel most close to Jesus’ walk. It isn’t nor hasn’t been a straight road. It hasn’t been without bumps along the way, and even now. But when I look back, briefly every single thing I’ve experienced was leading me to HERE. And knowing that/feeling that/realizing that all my life there has been a Master Plan, finally becoming aware that I’ve never, ever walked alone. Reflecting back on ALL of the people who entered into my life, that were unannounced Angels leading me, guiding me, counseling me, and accompanying me on my journey… WOW, just WOW. It feels so GOOD all of the time.

I hope something I’ve shared here with ya’ll has possibly made you reflect on your own spiritual lives. We all have one. It just takes some of us longer to tap into it. We are all loved children of GOD created by a mighty Father who is so patient, merciful and loving that he waits for us to discover that he simply IS. Until I write/read ya’ll again stay uplifted, Blessed, and have a beautiful Easter experience.

4ever sincere, Berna (the 1 & only)

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