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Feast of St. Matthew

St. Matthew the Evangelist

Friends, this is a reprint from a blog post that I made on September 21, 2017. I only mention that because, a few paragraphs down, I wrote back then: ” Sometimes Jesus calls us to do things that are uncomfortable, something that might threaten our convenience.  Would we take up that command if it meant we had to walk away from everything we knew? “

Since that time, we walked away from everything we knew, leaving Wyoming, our children and their families, friends and neighbors because the Lord called us to do so.

Stewardship requires sacrifice, but mostly it requires faith. When we step into faith and do what the Lord asks, the rewards are great.

Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you. Luke 6:38

Happy Feast of St. Matthew!

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This is a photo of the statue of Matthew the Evangelist, which has its home in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.  There are enormous statues of all 12 Apostles inside the Archbasilica.  On September 21, the feast of St. Matthew, it is entirely appropriate that we show only this one.

We all know Matthew was a tax collector.  In ancient Capernaum, tax collecting was not an honorable trade.  The collectors were a cross between loan sharks, thieves, bill collectors, and generally despised citizens.  They were also some of the richest people in town, and Matthew was likely no exception.

One day, while he was sitting at the customs house, Jesus came up to him.  He said “Follow me.”

And he got up and followed him. (Mt. 9-9)

There was no argument from Matthew.  He never told Jesus that he had go clean up his house first, or that he could follow next Tuesday at 10.  He never talked about why he just couldn’t go right now because he had a vacation planned, or that he had to go get some groceries and feed his dog. He never said he had to take his kids to a soccer game on Sunday, and couldn’t possibly follow Jesus until later that week.

That’s it. No questions, no delays.  Jesus gave a command, and Matthew followed it.

And he got up and followed him.

I don’t know many – any – people who would do the same.  Sometimes Jesus calls us to do things that are uncomfortable, something that might threaten our convenience.  Would we take up that command if it meant we had to walk away from everything we knew?

Matthew understood what was going on.  Jesus said “Follow me” and Matthew did.  There were no subordinate clauses, or excuses, or conditions. Just “Follow me.”

And he got up and followed him.

Stewardship is like that.  Jesus calls, we answer with a yes.  We don’t ask how many meetings we have to attend, or how long is our term, or if we will be compensated for any costs we bear.  Jesus wants us all, and he wants all of us.  So when the Jesus says to get up and follow him, we need to be like Matthew.

And he got up and followed him.

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Our Lady of Knock

I can’t let August go into the history books without recognizing the memorial to Our Lady of Knock on August 21.  This is a great day of celebration to the people of the small town of Knock, Ireland, and to yours truly.

On August 21, 1879, an apparition of our Blessed Mother, along with St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, and a lamb standing on an altar before a cross appeared on the side of the Knock Parish Church in a rainstorm  to 15 locals for about two hours.  The apparition was examined by two commissions of enquiry that deemed it to be true. Today Knock is one of the most important Marian sites in the world.

Fast forward to 2013, Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Yours truly was a sick man, suffering from an unknown malady that was causing extraordinary fatigue due to low oxygen levels in my blood. 

For many years, I had been a long-distance cyclist, taking part in 100-mile rides with thousands of feet of climbing, at high altitudes, and reveling in it all.  The mysterious illness ended those, however, as now I had a hard time walking up a flight of stairs.  When I did go up the stairs, I had to catch my breath at the top.

For a year, we – my wife Sherry and me – traveled to doctors in the region and across the country, seeking answers.  I had over 100 medical tests and procedures done in multiple medical facilities, and there were no answers forthcoming.  We knew no more after the hundredth procedure than we knew before the first one.

For all the advancements in medicine, there is still so much that is unknown about the human body, and I was living proof.  The docs kept telling me there was nothing wrong, but they couldn’t tell me why I could not walk up a dozen steps without having to rest at the top.

Nothing made sense, and the mystery was the source of great stress.  Sherry and I both witnessed the manifestations of this mysterious illness and were unsure whether or not something was killing me.  The best minds in medicine had no answers, and were unable to point us in a direction to find answers.

We needed a break. 

Sherry asked if we should visit our dear friend Ginny in County Clare, Ireland.  We had been there years earlier and carried wonderful memories from that trip with us.  I thought that was a great idea, and she set about searching for travel arrangements.

The first place she looked was into United Airlines frequent flyer miles.  We had acquired lots of miles over the years, but finding them for travel to Ireland, and on short notice, was next to impossible.  We both knew that, but it was worth examining nonetheless. 

Yet there they were.  Two tickets to Shannon in about a month.  We bought the tickets and got ready for the trip.

In the meantime, no improvement on my health.  Oxygen levels were still low, and I still had to rest when I went up the stairs.

Finally the day came for us to head across the ocean.  On the way to Denver International Airport from Cheyenne, I received a phone call from my good friend Tom asking if we were going to see the Marian shrine in Ireland.  Asking where it was, he offered that he didn’t know.  I told him we would look into it.

Our trip was unremarkable, and we arrived at Ginny’s doorstep in no worse shape than when we left.  She had errands to run in Limerick, so a little later that day we piled into her car for the short trip to town.

We went into a religious goods store looking for some St. Patrick medals to take home with us.  When we went to pay for the medals, there was a book at the checkout stand about Our Lady of Knock.  I mentioned to Sherry that this must be what Tom was talking about. 

We went to another religious goods store where the same process was repeated, this time with a different book about Our Lady of Knock.

The next day I was listening to Wyoming Public Radio via the internet when I heard a story about Knock, Ireland.  That was too much.  I went to Sherry and Ginny and said we need to go to Knock.

It turned out that Knock was just a couple hours away from us, so we made plans to drive there the next day.

The campus at Knock is huge.  We went to Mass in a chapel adjoining the church where the apparition was seen.  We went to confession in one of the 20+ confessionals in a building designed specifically for that purpose.  We prayed the Stations of the Cross outdoors with large crowds moving from station to station.  Then we prayed a rosary with another large crowd.

The rosary was led by a priest inside the church, broadcast over loudspeakers for those outside.  While he prayed, we did too, marching around the church counter-clockwise (a tradition in Knock) offering our prayers to God through Mary. 

Then it happened.

On one lap around the church, I felt something leave my chest.  Not an emotion, but a physical action.  Not painful or frightening, but more of an expansion followed by what I would describe as “space” in my chest cavity.  Something that used to be there was no longer.

I held onto this occurrence until we were back in the car on the way home.  I asked Ginny and Sherry about their experience at Knock. “Peaceful.” “Holy.”  “Very nice.” 

Then I told them what happened to me.  They both looked at me in disbelief.

My symptoms disappeared that day and have never returned.  That was six years ago.

A miracle?  Judge for yourself.  I believe it was. 

I also believe that these things happen every day, coming to light in a thousand different ways.  I’m not special, but I was primed to see this take place.  Most of us chalk it up to coincidence.

Our Lady of Knock, pray for us. 

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Hello, it’s me.

My name is Matt Potter, and I am the stewardship director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Evansville. 

This blog is about stewardship.  It is my intention to offer thoughts and ideas on stewardship, including:

  • It’s meaning in our world today;
  • Why we should embrace it in our lives;
  • How we can become better stewards of the many gifts given to us by God.

When we acknowledge that all our gifts come from God, that God demands it all back with increase, and that God can never be outdone in generosity, we move from a culture of scarcity to one of abundance.

This is not a blog about money.  Money is an essential part of stewardship, as we will discuss on these pages, but it is only a part.

This blog is about much, much more.

I invite you to follow along.  I welcome your comments, too.  Just be polite.

The End of Stewardship

Yes, the end.  It’s over, and I am out of a job.

Well, not today ….

I’m a fan of Crisis Magazine.  There are so many thought provoking, tell-it-like-it-is articles that it keeps me thinking, questioning, wondering.  The quality of the writing is outstanding, and it never feels like I am wasting time when I read it.

I recently read an article by John Schroeter where he asks the question “What if just ten percent of Christians actually lived the way Jesus calls us to live? What would that world look like? Can we even imagine it?” 

He ruminates about this question while invoking some high-powered theologians and authors.  It’s not some navel-gazing exercise, but a real brain buster.  Just ten percent. 

First things first, my intent here is not to get all sanctimonious and start in with “Well, I live the way Jesus calls.  All of you should get on board here.”  Rather, I try to live as Jesus calls us, but my humanity continues to get in the way.  Thank God for the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Reading this commentary made me think about something I have been sharing the last couple of years. 

Stewardship is so often described as us sharing our time, our talent, and our treasure.  Ask someone what stewardship means, and it is likely that is the phrase they will use. That term is used so much that it can easily become meaningless.    Ask that same person to define the three Ts and I would bet dollars-to- doughnuts that he will scratch his head when it comes to differentiating the “time” and “talent” components.

You too?

Try substituting “time” with “prayer.”  It doesn’t make for nice alliteration, but it more accurately describes what we are talking about. 

Now let’s try our own “what if” question.  What if, in our quest to become Christian stewards, that we spent an extra 15 minutes a day in prayer?

This is a challenge I have been throwing out to individuals and groups whenever I get the chance.  It’s interesting to see the reactions – head’s nodding in agreement, faces scrunching up in a visible sign of thought, people sliding forward in their chairs as if saying “tell me more.”  

Imagine, then, the Church in the US answering this challenge.  What would become of us all?

That would be the end of stewardship as we know it.  I believe that 70 million Catholics praying 15 minutes more each day would eliminate the need for diocesan and parish stewardship directors, because we would be consecrating everything – our time, our talent, and our treasure – to the Lord. It would no longer be anything different than what we do every moment of every day, like breathing.

We wouldn’t call it stewardship anymore.  We would call it living. 

Ten percent of us living as Jesus called.  Fifteen more minutes of prayer each day. 

Stewardship directors, like the guy in this video, would be done.   Time to rest. Can we imagine that?

What a Celebration

Wednesday, November 6 was the celebration of the Mass of Dedication of St. Benedict’s Cathedral in Evansville. 

Pews filled with the faithful, 10 bishops and archabbots, a choir that made the angels jealous, and church that was / is beautiful beyond description:  all these made for a spectacular, holy event. 

Today I am delighting in a joy-hangover. 

Today, for the first time in a decade, there was this huge diocesan event and I  – purposefully – left my camera in the car.  I wanted to enjoy it, and I did.

These photos were taken before Mass.  I wish they could do justice to the to this glorious place.

Happy 75th Anniversary to the Diocese of Evansville – 75 Years of Stewardship

The ceiling of the newly renovated Cathedral of St. Benedict in Evansville

I’m new in town. 

If you’ve been following along, you know that I only arrived in the Diocese of Evansville this past April. In order to better know our diocese, I regularly travel to visit pastors in our diocese.  It brings me great joy to meet with these men and be welcomed into their parishes.  At our first meeting, I often ask for, and receive, a tour of the church. 

I love churches.  Big ones, small ones, old ones, new ones – doesn’t matter.  I have yet to visit a church in the Diocese of Evansville that failed to fill me with joy just walking through the door.   

There are some churches so grand and beautiful that they simply take ones breath away.  I am personally partial to older churches, those with great stained glass, art work, and statuary.  

There are other churches that don’t have that old world style, but are nonetheless beautiful on their own.  I can think of some of the churches built in the 70s and 80s that are vastly different than those built a century or more ago. Their seating is different, the windows are different, and the sanctuaries are different. 

I have a particular affinity for small churches.  Oftentimes these places are without a resident priest, so it is incumbent upon the parishioners to provide maintenance and care of the building.  It is rare to see peeling paint or an unkempt lawn at these small churches, and it is obvious that the people who attend Mass there love their church like nobody else can. 

These churches are wonderful examples of faith-filled communities putting all their resources into building an appropriate place to worship God.

The Diocese of Evansville recently held its first-ever capital campaign, Stewards of God’s Grace, and the results were a smashing success.  Each parish shared in the gifts made to the campaign, and there have been many outstanding parish projects funded with those gifts.

In each church that I visit, each project that I see, I am both struck with awe and filled with joy at the generosity of the people of God in the Diocese of Evansville.

I have pictured in my mind the German immigrants in Jasper laying the cornerstone of St. Joseph’s.  In the same way, Catholics building their homes on the east side of Evansville committing to building new churches to take care of the sacramental needs of their burgeoning communities.  Or the small group of farm families who knew how important it was to have a place to worship God with each other, then decided to pool their resources and get the job done.

This is stewardship epitomized, as the People of God committed their:

  • Time in Prayer– We can be certain there was much prayer in each of those groups as they discerned the massive undertaking of building a new church or adding to an existing one.  They needed God’s guidance, asked for it, and received it.
  • Talent – We can also be certain that there was much parishioner labor involved in the construction of these holy places.  From planning committees, to architects, engineers, skilled craftsmen, lawyers, accountants, building commissions, and fund raisers, each project required a team of those willing to share their talents.
  • Treasure – Here too, we can be certain that there was a great expenditure of funds to build these churches and to complete these projects, and they were all freely given to glorify God.  All the money came from the pockets of parishioners.

Even before our diocese was formed, these faith-filled people came together, giving their time, talent and treasure to solidify their communities, pass along the Faith to their children, and by their actions tell the world how much they love God.  

That’s stewardship. 

Happy anniversary to the Diocese of Evansville.  75 years of loving God.  75 years of stewardship.

PS – November 6, 2019 is the official beginning of the celebration of our 75th Anniversary as a diocese. It will be marked by celebration of the Eucharist at the Cathedral of St. Benedict in Evansville. This magnificent cathedral has recently been renovated and the Mass will be the re-dedication of the church. This photo was taken in May, 2019.

Stewardship in the Fall

Daily scripture readings in the fall are filled with lessons on stewardship. If a priest or deacon wants to preach about stewardship without turning it into an ask for money, this is the time of year to do that.

The essence of all those passages is this: Everything comes from God, everything belongs to God, and God wants us to give it all back to him with increase.

Fall is also the time when God shows us his artist’s palette.

I recently traveled to Wisconsin to visit family. While there we went to my hometown of South Milwaukee, home to Grant Park. Grant Park is a true jewel in the Milwaukee County Parks system. It is also a place where I spent much of my free time growing up.

Each fall, Grant Park erupts in color. I was able to capture some of that color on this trip, and I would like to share it with you today.

How is this stewardship? I received a gift from God – the sights of this beautiful spot – and am sharing it with you. That’s the increase. Now both of us see the beauty of God’s creation. If you would like to, feel free to share this post and you will have increased your gift as well.

All glory goes to God.

Snake Run

I’ve been at the work of development and stewardship in the Catholic Church a long time.  It’s a vocation I never expected, never planned on, and never had an inkling towards undertaking.  Yet here I am, just about ten years into it. 

Over that time, I have visited hundreds of churches across the US and around the world.  I’ve been in such disparate places as St. Peter’s in Rome and a church with a dirt floor and rough-hewn benches in Honduras.  I’ve photographed many of these places, too.  Maybe one day I will offer a little tour of some of these holy places right here in this space.

It’s funny how, even after seeing some of the most beautiful, breathtaking, architectural wonders in the world, it’s the smallest structures that seem to mean the most.

Yesterday, October 16, I visited two pastors and their parishes in our diocese.  As a result of consolidation a few years ago, each of these two pastors has responsibility for two churches.  Fr. Frank Renner has Sts. Peter and Paul parish in Petersburg, and Blessed Sacrament in Oakland City.  Fr. Brian Emmick has St. Joseph’s in Princeton and St. Bernard in Snake Run.

I was intrigued by the name of the community where St. Bernard’s is located:  Snake Run.  In my mind, that’s more of a Wyoming name than one from Indiana.  I was in the neighborhood, so to speak, and decided to stop by.

What I found was a beautiful little church out in the country that was incredibly well-cared for.   Let me tell you about it.

The church is a traditional structure with a very tall steeple.  It stands on a hill above the highway and can be seen from a long way off.  The entrance is framed by two large trees that having been standing as sentinels for many, many years.

Around the side are statues of Mary, our Blessed Mother; St. Francis; Mary and the infant Jesus; and several angels.Around the side are statues of Mary, our Blessed Mother; St. Francis; Mary and the infant Jesus; and several angels. (See the slideshow below)

The statues are all part of a Rosary garden, which also contains a Rosary walk.  The walk features a large crucifix with five decades of “beads” which one can walk on as the Rosary is prayed.

There is a marker in the pavement that lists all the priests from the beginning of the parish through 2015.  Fr. Brian is the current pastor, and his name is on the marker as an associate from his time there from 2012-2014.  One day it will be there as the pastor.

Farther back is a cemetery.  There is a marker that shows the final resting place of Johann Adam Zerker, from Heligenstein. Heiligenstein was ceded to France after World War I, but lies in the Alsace region, which has considerably deep German roots.  He died (gestorben) in 1855 in America.

Fr. Brian told me about the German heritage in this little community, and it shows in every corner.  The landscaping is immaculate and the church looks like it was built and painted yesterday. 

I have a real soft spot in my heart for small parishes and churches. To me they are the epitome of stewardship, as the people who have been given the gift of their faith take that gift and offer it back to God, with increase, in the form of a place to give praise to the LORD.

It’s not St. Peter’s.  There aren’t any popes buried at Snake Run.  But St. Bernard’s is a testament of faith for a people who know what faith is.

Wisdom Day

I was recently introduced to an event that has been a staple of the Diocese of Evansville for many years.  It’s called “Wisdom Day” and it is held in cities across the diocese.  This year, the first Wisdom Day was held in Huntingburg, followed with one in Vincennes on October 28, then in Evansville on November 4. 

Participants heard from Bishop Siegel; our COO, Tim McGuire; Sr. Anita Louise Lowe, the Prioress at the Benedictine Abbey at St. Ferdinand; and yours truly.  We were entertained by a group of five girls, sisters, who sang traditional Gospel music, some Irish songs, and some contemporary pieces.  Their harmonies were outstanding and it was a delight to listen to them.

Wisdom Day is specifically aimed at retired folks, as it is held from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. A very nice lunch is part of the package. 

Bishop Siegel noted, and I concur, that most of the wisdom in that room came from those who were at the tables.  I wish it were possible to add up the number of years of experience in Church matters represented by attendees.  With 200+ participants, that number would easily reach into the tens of thousands.  That’s an awful lot of Church knowledge and Wisdom for the ages.

Many thanks to all those who participated.  Special thanks to Eric Girten, our Director of Family Life for coordinating the event.

Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace – Memorial of St. Francis, October 4, 2017

The title of this post is deliberately misleading. We all know the Prayer of St. Francis, don’t we? We have read it in greeting cards, seen it on inspirational plaques, even sung it at Mass. It’s a lovely prayer, lovely poem, lovely song.

But St. Francis didn’t write it. Some research shows shows that the prayer actually originated with a French Protestant movement known as The Knights of the Prince of Peace.

So let’s ignore that nice prayer, and lots of other stories attributed to St. Francis. Let’s talk about who the man was.

This is a portrait of St. Francis. In fact, it is the only known portrait of St. Francis. It is a fresco done sometime before 1224, as we can see that he has not been given the gift of the stigmata at this point. This amazing painting can be viewed in Subiaco, Italy, in the church at the Monastery of St. Benedict. The monastery is built around the Sacro Speco, Sacred Space, a cave where St. Benedict lived as a hermit for three years in the beginning of the 6th century.

700 years later, Brother Francis traveled to Subiaco and stayed at the monastery, where his likeness was committed to paint and plaster.

This is the San Damiano cross, which spoke to Francis and told him to rebuild the Church. It hangs over the altar of the Chapel of the Crucifix in the Basilica of St. Clare in Assissi.

Francis took the command literally. He was to rebuild a Church that had lost its way, and he was to rebuild a church for him and his friars. He was given a small chapel built by the Benedictines in the 9th century, and he refurbished it with his own hands.

The story of the Porziuncola, the little church, is that Francis was awakened with a strong impulse to pray at its altar. While praying, Jesus and Mary appeared to Francis and asked him what he wanted. He asked for a full pardon of all sins to all who have repented and confessed their sins and visited the church. Jesus granted the request, and Pope Honorius III ratified it. The chapel is inside the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, St. Mary of the Angels.

Francis was a man entirely devoted to God. He never stopped praying, and he considered everything he had as a gift from God. He considered his poverty to be a gift from God, too.

That is the true message of stewardship. That’s the message we should carry with us every minute of every day. All that we have comes from God, and everything belongs to him. We are the caretakers of those gifts – their stewards.

Happy memorial of St. Francis. Go ahead and sing that song. Even though St. Francis never wrote it, it’s still a very nice message attached to soothing music. Just know that Francis was truly devoted, and that his prayer would be for us to be devoted to God as well.

The Strength of the Church

The joining of the rafters at St. John the Baptist Church in Newburgh, Indiana.

This past Monday, September 23, I attended Mass where the new altar of St. John the Baptist parish in Newburgh, Indiana was consecrated.

I’ve been to a few of these very special, very rare celebrations.  The parish has just finished a major renovation to their church, and it was an honor to be a part of this event.

During the consecration, the bishop removes his chasuble, dons an apron, then pours oil of chrism over the altar and rubs it in, then wipes off the excess.   There’s more to it than that, but you get the idea. A couple photos from the consecration are included with this post, and others can be seen here.

Something that caught my attention at the church was not at the altar, but rather in the ceiling. 

This big, round steel structure has a technical name, but I have no idea what that would be.  But as I looked at it, it occurred to me that the entire building depends on its strength and integrity.  There are no interior walls in the church, and the entire roof is supported by large beams, which all come together at this point.

If the steel structure fails, catastrophe would ensue.  The entire roof would come down, likely taking the walls with it.  The whole church would fall in on itself.

How appropriate, I thought, that a church is held together by one thing in the center.  Much like the Church is held together by one thing in the center – Jesus.

When Jesus is at the center of everything, we can withstand the rigors of the elements.  Nothing can come between us and his love for us.  When we put Jesus off to the side, or remove him altogether, we are weak, and catastrophic failure lies in wait.

I encourage you to visit St. John’s in Newburgh.  It’s a beautiful place built as a testament to the stewardship of the parishioners. 

Bishop Siegel pours Oil of Chrism on the new altar.
Spreading the oil to all sides of the altar.
Jesus is at the center of all.

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