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The Servant Leader

Feb. 1, 2013

Weekly Winner

Congratulations Kathleen Stoeser, our weekly winner for February 4

Kathleen will receive a copy of Breakthrough! The Bible for Young Catholics, a $20.95 value.

As the title suggests, Breakthrough! The Bible for Young Catholics highlights what happens throughout salvation history between God and humanity. God breaks through and connects with human history, thereby establishing a relationship with humanity. Using the Good News translation, Breakthrough! The Bible for Young Catholics was created for young people leaving childhood and entering adolescence. Its ten special features were created to help make the Bible easier for young people to read and understand.

They will learn about the great people of the Bible, and will see how God has been breaking through in human history and connecting with humanity for thousands of years. Most important, they will discover, in the Bible, how God's messages to key people of faith have meaning for life today.

Breakthrough! The Bible for Young Catholics
ISBN: 978-0-88489-862-7, paper, 1,968 pages

Focus on Faith

Conversation Hearts

We are all familiar with those candy hearts with sayings on them that appear everywhere around and on Saint Valentine’s Day. In days of yore, their messages pleaded CALL ME or BE MINE. Today, because the Necco Company keeps up with these things, we could probably find a heart that requests: TEXT ME.

It was only a few years ago that I learned that these candy hearts are called "conversation hearts." Upon reflection, this is a beautiful concept, evoking heartfelt communication on things that matter. This is what true conversation is about. And it is I believe what Valentine’s Day is, or should be, all about as well.

Because heartfelt communication is what the story of Saint Valentine teaches us. There is evidence that he was a real person (see Catholic Online at http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=159 for more information) who was known during his own time for his gifts of healing. He was also known for his encouraging notes and letters sent from prison. This may be the origin of our custom of sending Valentines on February 14, the date chosen by Pope Gelasius in 496 A.D. for the celebration of his martyrdom.

Gradually, over the years, I have come to see Valentine’s Day as a celebration of God’s love. This may have its roots in the generous heart of my high school French teacher (hello, Sisters of the Holy Cross!), who gave every member of her classes —about five a day, with at least 40 students each—a home-made Valentine with a Scripture quote on the back (in French, of course) expressing God’s love. I still remember mine: "See how much the Father has loved us! His love is so great that we are called God’s children—and so, in fact, we are" (1 John 3:1).

I also celebrate Valentine’s Day as a day of friendship. God’s love comes to me in many ways, and one of the primary ways he has chosen to love me personally is through my friends. I use Valentine’s Day as a day to acknowledge the importance of the life-giving friendships in my life. I try to make, give, and send Valentines—not via e-mail, but on real paper.

The recipe for a homemade Valentine is very easy. Take a small doily. (These can be found in grocery stores in the kitchen supplies department, or in party stores.) Cut out two red hearts from construction paper. Paste one on the front of the doily and one on the back. Let dry. Write a short note on the back heart. Put in envelope and mail.

You men may not want to get involved with doilies. In that case, cut out envelope-sized rectangles from white art paper. Paste a heart on the front, and write your note on the back.

You may want to use these to do what my French teacher did, and give a Scripture Valentine to each of your students. Or, involve your students in making and sending Valentines to shut-ins (including people they know) or those in retirement homes. (See "Make It Happen" in this newsletter for ideas along this line.) Or, suggest that they use Valentine’s Day class time to write a letter to a friend. Letters help us to know ourselves better as we express ourselves to others. (There are some things that cannot be said in 140 characters.) If some don’t feel that they can write to a friend, suggest that they write to you. Then write back! Celebrate friendship! Celebrate God’s love! It’s Valentine’s Day!

Blessings on your ministry!

Peace and joy,


A note on the Year of Faith: Having come through (or survived?) a season of campaign, debate, and election, I found it helpful to find, on the Saint Mary’s Press Resource Center site, a commentary by Father Robert Barron on "Why It Matters That Our Democracy Trusts in God." His commentary touches on the motto we find on our money (In God We Trust) and explains that this and similar acknowledgments in our public life are not superficial but emerge from and point to a deeper reality. This commentary can be found at http://www.smp.org/resourcecenter/resource/5653/.

In honor of Black History Month, you might find a Barron commentary on Dr. Martin Luther King helpful. Father Barron particularly notes Dr. King’s ability to bring religious language and ideas into public discourse, and his elegant use of language in doing so. Father Barron also includes a comment on nonviolence as a Christian strategy for change. Find this commentary at http://www.smp.org/resourcecenter/resource/5652/.

Make It Happen

Valentine Visit: An Outreach Event for Valentine’s Day

This strategy brings a holiday slant to a standard outreach project—a visit to a nursing home for older people. Such a visit allows the young people to connect with elderly people and also gives them an opportunity to discuss how older people are cared for in the community. You will need one session to prepare for the visit, in addition to the actual visit.

Suggested Time
About 60 minutes for the planning meeting, depending on the number of young people and how elaborate and creative they are with the cards

Group Size
This strategy works best with up to twenty young teens, depending on the number of residents you are visiting.

Special Considerations
Most young people are uncomfortable around nursing home residents. During the planning session, be sure to discuss with the participants things they might encounter in their visit. For example, some of the elderly people will be senile and may not respond in ways the young people expect, some of the residents may be sick, many may look sad and depressed, and many will be unresponsive. Remind the young people that each of the residents is a human person, created by God, cared for by God, and loved by God. Emphasize that all the residents deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

Materials Needed

  • paper in a variety of colors and types
  • scissors
  • glue
  • markers
  • heart stickers
  • other items that can be used for creating valentine cards, such as doilies, ribbon, yarn, Mylar confetti, and hole punches
  • copies of the lyrics to sing-along songs for the young people and the residents

Make arrangements to visit a nursing home on or around Valentine’s Day. Check with the administration about the guidelines for such visits and the best way to connect with the residents. Get a list of the names of the residents if you can, or at least some idea of the number of residents you will be visiting.

Recruit other adults to transport the young people, and secure the necessary permission forms.

Find the lyrics to songs that the young people know, such as "This Little Light of Mine," "When the Saints Go Marching In," and "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Many sing-along books include lyrics that can be duplicated. Check a music store or your local library.

Planning Meeting
1. When the young people gather, tell them about the nursing home visit and the circumstances they might encounter. Allow them to discuss any anxieties or discomforts they have. Share the following instructions: Imagine that you are about to meet someone who has lived a long time and has done amazing things. This person may not be able to talk any longer, but she or he probably knows when someone is visiting. Your role is to smile and be friendly and share your presence.

2. Explain the details and logistics of the visit. Assign partners, and tell them that they will travel together and visit the same people and share the experience with each other.

3. Provide paper, scissors, glue, markers, heart stickers, and a wide variety of other art supplies for the young people to use in making valentine cards for the nursing home residents. The cards should be as colorful and festive as possible. Be sure that every resident will get at least one card.

4. Distribute lyrics for sing-along songs the group will lead, and practice the songs. Explain that the young people should invite the residents to join in the singing, but warn them not to be surprised if few do. Note that the older people’s lack of active participation should not dampen their own enthusiasm.

5. Help the participants create a group cheer or chant, such as the one that follows. Tell them that they will use this cheer when they arrive at the nursing home or to announce their arrival at each room there. Caution them not to get too boisterous. We are here to bring you cheer. Join our singing, our voices bringing joy-filled sounds that sing and say it is love we share this Valentine’s Day!

Valentine Visit
1. On the day of the visit, with the adults you have recruited, help the young people present their cheer or chant, distribute their cards, pass out sing-along lyrics, lead a sing-along, and visit with the residents for as long as time allows.

2. After the visit lead the young people in a discussion of the following questions:

  • What was the best thing about the visit?
  • What can you tell the group about someone you met? Share their name and anything you learned about them or from them.
  • Did anything bother you about the visit?
  • What could be done to improve the life of the residents?

3. Close with the following prayer or one that you create spontaneously: God of all that is good, stay by the side of the special people we met today. Help them to feel your strength as they face each day. Keep them safe. And may we always remember them in our prayers. We ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Alternative Approaches

  • Instead of planning a sing-along, help the young people prepare an appropriate skit to present to the residents.
  • Encourage the young teens to dress in costumes or as valentine clowns.
  • In place of gathering sing-along songs, encourage the young people to create "valentine carols" by changing the words of popular Christmas carols to reflect the valentine themes of love, friendship, and care.
  • Provide the young teens with Bibles and help them look up scriptural verses on the theme of love. Encourage them to add their favorite verse to the cards they make.
  • Instead of helping the young people create a cheer or chant to use at the nursing home, invite them to write a short prayer asking God’s blessings on the residents and on the visit.

Break Open the Word

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, First Sunday of Lent

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 10, 2013

Luke 5:1-11

Opening Prayer
Jesus, in the reading from Luke today, you call Peter, James, and John to be your first disciples, and they embrace your invitation. Give us the grace to embrace your invitation to be your disciples in our world today. Amen.

Context Connection
Before Luke tells us the story of the disciples' calling, he gives us a great deal of information about Jesus. Let's review what we have heard in the first four chapters: the Annunciation of Jesus's birth, his birth, his presentation in the Temple, Jesus as a boy, the introduction of the preaching of John the Baptist, Jesus's baptism, Jesus's family tree, his temptation in the desert, the beginning of Jesus's Galilean ministry, his rejection at Nazareth, and Jesus working miracles. One of Jesus's miracles was his healing of Peter's mother-in-law. Then, in chapter five, Jesus's first disciples are called. The Gospels of Mark and John, on the other hand, introduce the calling of the disciples in chapter 1. Luke provides some background about Jesus and his interactions with people in the Galilee area. For example, we discover that Simon Peter has already met Jesus; in fact, Simon Peter has been touched personally by Jesus's healing power through the healing of his mother-in-law.

So in verse 3, when Jesus asks whether he can teach from Simon Peter's boat, Simon Peter responds with a "sure, no problem" because he already knew Jesus. The name "Gennesaret" for the lake is unique to the Gospel of Luke. The other Gospel writers use the name of the Sea of Galilee. When Luke uses the word sea, he is usually referring to the Mediterranean Sea. The name "Gennesaret" comes from the fertile plain that creates the northwest shore of the lake of the same name, or the Sea of Galilee.

In verse 3, although Luke tells us that Jesus taught the crowd, he does not tell us what Jesus taught. The more interesting fact is the identity of these people who gathered at the seashore. Let's look more closely at the setting. In verse 2, the fishermen are at the shore washing their nets. This activity of washing nets happens in the morning when the men return from a night of fishing. Night is the best time to fish. Therefore, we know that it is early morning. Who are the people that make up the crowd gathered at the shore? Because the fishermen were out all night, they would have been met upon their return in the morning by their families and friends, who would visit with the men as they processed the fish, washed the nets, and then hung the nets up to dry.

In verse 4, after Jesus is finished teaching, he instructs Simon Peter to "put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch" (5:4). Simon Peter's response is very interesting. Basically he says, "Take it from an expert who has been fishing all night, we probably aren't going to catch anything, and oh, by the way, nighttime--not daytime--is best for fishing. Besides, we know you are a carpenter from the hilly countryside of Nazareth, and not a fisherman." However, he also says, "If you say so, I will let down the nets" (5:5). And then, unexpectedly, they catch such a large number of fish that Simon Peter has to call for his partners James and John to bring a second boat and help with the catch. Both boats are filled to capacity.

Listen to what Simon Peter says to Jesus: "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man" (5:8). When Simon Peter recognizes that Jesus is responsible for such a sizable catch in the middle of the day, he realizes that Jesus must also be able to see into people's hearts. Jesus reassures Simon Peter when he says, "Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people" (5:10). Because of Jesus's words of assurance and his invitation to Simon Peter and his fishing partners, James and John, to do greater things than to catch fish, they leave their flourishing fishing business and their fathers at the shore and follow Jesus. Simon Peter, who at first asks Jesus to go away, now follows him without question.

Tradition Connection
Early in his public life Jesus invited twelve persons to be his Apostles. The Apostles played an important role in Jesus's fulfillment of the mission given to him by God the Father. Jesus tells the Apostles in John 20:21, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that "Jesus unites them [the Apostles] to the mission he received from the Father. As 'the Son can do nothing of his own accord,' but receives everything from the Father who sent him, so those whom Jesus sends can do nothing apart from him1 from whom they received both the mandate for their mission and the power to carry it out" (paragraph 859).

Jesus continues to invite people to help him carry out his mission. Our Baptism, which calls us forth as disciples of Jesus, also makes us heirs to the lineage of the original disciples. As members of the Body of Christ, the Church, we have many ways to advance Jesus's mission through the ministries of the Church. Through our participation in Church ministries, such as lectoring, teaching, pastoral care, and evangelizing, we respond to Jesus's invitation. Just as Jesus expected his original group of twelve to step up to the plate and give witness to their commitment to Jesus, he expects no less of you and me. We are empowered by Jesus to carry out his mission. The Eucharist is a source of continuous strength for all baptized people to persevere in building the Kingdom of God in the world today. The original twelve encountered many challenges as well as many jubilations. We too will experience times of discouragement and times of elation in being faithful to the mission of Jesus.

Remember the first Apostles, whom we call by name, Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew (Levi), James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas and Jude (Thaddeus), in your prayers and ask them for guidance in being a faithful disciple of Jesus. Look to these individuals called by Jesus as models of being witnesses in the world.

Wisdom Connection
Luke's message is contained in the person of Simon Peter, who was called to listen and then respond to Jesus's request to row out to deeper water and throw the nets into the water. Simon Peter's response was based on faith and on his previous experience of Jesus healing his mother-in-law. His response surely was not based on his knowledge as a skilled fisherman that the worst time to fish was exactly the time that Jesus asked him to cast the nets. The result was a marvelous catch of fish.

Can the Lukan story of Simon Peter serve as an analogy for the Christian believer? Must Christians be willing to listen to Jesus in their lives and be open to a life of deeper relationships with others and with God, when it seems that everything is dried up? When Jesus is present, surprises happen at the most inopportune moments and when we least expect them. That which is barren suddenly overflows with life, so much so that we have to call others to join in our abundance.

When Simon Peter, conscious of his own sin, asks Jesus to go away, Jesus does not dismiss such true humility but instead helps Simon Peter understand that he need not fear what was in his heart. The message we can learn from Luke is that our ability to recognize our own inadequacies helps us become a more compassionate presence to others. And when we can be that kind of compassionate presence, we help others find reconciliation and find Christ in their life. This invitation from Jesus--to be fishers of people--unlocked for Simon Peter the understanding that God had chosen him--a man of weaknesses and sin--to be a means by which others find God. Jesus extends that same invitation to you and me, to be fishers of people. God's grace operates in our lives, in spite of our inadequacies, when we are willing to listen in faith to Jesus for guidance and direction in our life.

The scriptural quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition. Copyright © 1993 and 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. All rights reserved.

The Lord's Prayer and the quotation from the Catechism are from the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for use in the United States of America. Copyright © 1994 by the United States Catholic Conference, Inc.--Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Used with permission.

Endnotes cited in quotations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church
1. John 59,30; cf. John 15:5.


First Sunday of Lent
February 17, 2013

Luke 4:1-13

Opening Prayer
Jesus, during your forty days in the desert, you were tested by the same temptations that sometimes lure us away from God. Give us your conviction that all we really need is to rely on the word of God. Let this Lenten season be a time to reflect on how we can be more open to allowing your word to be the compass for our life. Amen.

Context Connection
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is led into the desert directly after his baptism and before the beginning of his public life. In his telling of the story, Luke uses a profound image: "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness" (4:1). The Holy Spirit initiated Jesus's time apart for reflection. This same Spirit is present in our lives, leading us if we are willing to follow. Jesus embraced the desert experience because he trusted the Holy Spirit's guidance. The Church created Lent as a time for us, in a sense, to join Jesus in the desert. Lent offers us a positive way to break from our busy lives to be attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Luke also draws parallels between Jesus and other people and events of the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament). One such event is the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years after being freed from slavery in Egypt. During that time, they learned how to be faithful and true to God. Luke also parallels Jesus's experience with the lives of Moses and Elijah. Moses spent forty days fasting while writing down God's commandments (see Exodus 34:28). Elijah spent forty days fasting while traveling to Horeb, the mount of God, where he gained insight for his life's mission (1 Kings 19:8). Jesus--like Moses, Elijah, and the Israelites--spends time in the desert preparing to do God's will.

While he is in the desert, Jesus is tempted by the devil. Unlike the Israelites who failed time and again to be faithful to God during their forty years in the desert, Jesus remains faithful. Jesus resists three temptations. The devil first challenges Jesus to turn stones into bread. To this temptation, Jesus responds, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone'" (4:4). Jesus is referring to Deuteronomy 8:3, "[God] humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord."

Satan next offers Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would only worship the devil. Jesus responds, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him'" (4:8). Here Jesus refers to Deuteronomy 6:13, "The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve." In a third attempt to tempt Jesus, the devil, anticipating a dramatic rescue, tells Jesus to throw himself from the highest point of the temple. Jesus responds, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test'" (4:12). The quote comes directly from Deuteronomy 6:16, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." Jesus defends himself against the devil's temptations by being faithful to the word of God.

Sunday's Gospel ends with these words, "When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time" (4:13). Luke lets his readers know that the devil will use other occasions to test Jesus's faithfulness to God.

Tradition Connection
"By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 540). By his willingness to be led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus remained faithful to his relationship with God the Father, in spite of the devil's cunning. The Church in her wisdom has created Lent as a time for us to focus on our relationship with God and on our need to remain faithful to God in our present circumstances. The Church has developed many Lenten practices to help us enhance our relationship with God. For example, some people might wish to incorporate spiritual exercises, such as spiritual reading or Saint Ignatius's exercises, into their daily prayer routine. Others may wish to focus on voluntary self-denial, such as fasting and almsgiving.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. Lent lasts forty days, paralleling Jesus's time in the desert. We use this time to prepare for the significant events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. On Good Friday, Jesus was crucified. Three days later, on Easter Sunday, he was resurrected. These events are central to understanding the redemptive meaning of Jesus's life, death, and Resurrection. Through Jesus's death on the cross, all humanity receives salvation. And Jesus's Resurrection demonstrates that he truly is the Son of God, who has conquered death once and for all.

To prepare ourselves for this karios moment (meaning "the right time"), we spend forty days properly preparing ourselves to enter more fully into the Paschal mystery that we celebrate and share during the liturgies of Holy Week and the Easter season.

Wisdom Connection
Luke wanted his community to understand that just as Jesus was tempted, they also would have temptations in their life. They would encounter people who would try to lure them into believing that the only important things in life are pleasure, possessions, and glory and power. Jesus overcame these allurements because he kept the word of God as his compass. Jesus was familiar with the central focus of Deuteronomy: "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (8:3). We recognize Jesus as a righteous person, a person of virtue, because he remained obedient to God by using God's word as his guide.

Luke wanted his community to know that they could navigate the maze of life with its many alluring deceptions if they would use God's word as their guide for finding fulfillment in life. Even in the wilderness--when no one could observe his actions--Jesus remained faithful to his relationship with God by choosing service to God over self. Christians of any age can look to the example of Jesus. Righteousness is about being faithful to God whether someone is watching or not.

The scriptural quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition. Copyright © 1993 and 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. All rights reserved.

The Lord's Prayer and the quotation labeled Catechism are from the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for use in the United States of America. Copyright © 1994 by the United States Catholic Conference, Inc.--Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Used with permission.

Saint Spotlight

Saint Valentine

We have touched on Saint Valentine above, but more information can be found at http://www.americancatholic.org/ At this Web site, you can also send an e-greeting for Valentine’s Day (if cutting and pasting is not your thing this year).

One of the choices given is a striking mosaic of Saint Valentine, with the message: "The purpose of Valentine’s Day is to let those we care about know that we love them." Explore this site for the other articles listed: on the origins of Saint Valentine’s day, on Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, "God Is Love," and on the Sacrament of Marriage.