St. Gregory the Great

There is a lot we know about St. Gregory the Great, a broad overview of which is seen in the passage below from a wonderful website called Evangelizo.org.

One thing it does not tell us is that virtually all we know about the life and history of St. Benedict, Father of Western Monasticism and Patron Saint of Europe, was told to us by St. Gregory the Great in a work called “The Second Dialogue (Life of St. Benedict).”

Born just a few years before the death of St. Benedict, St. Gregory the Great, while a monk, was no hermit. There is a fascinating story about him in Crisis magazine the I would encourage you to read.

Monk, nuncio, politician, teacher, peace-maker, biographer, pope, saint, doctor of the Church. St. Gregory the Great, pray for us.

 SAINT GREGORY THE GREAT
Pope and Doctor of the Church
(540-604)

        Gregory was a Roman of noble birth, and while still young was governor of Rome. On his father’s death he gave his great wealth to the poor, turned his house on the Cœlian Hill into a monastery, which now bears his name, and for some years lived as a perfect monk.

        The Pope drew him from his seclusion to make him one of the seven deacons of Rome; and he did great service to the Church for many years as what we now call Nuncio to the Imperial court at Constantinople. While still a monk the saint was struck with some boys who were exposed for sale in Rome, and heard with sorrow that they were pagans. “And of what race are they?” he asked. “They are Angles.” “Worthy indeed to be Angels of God,” said he. “And of what province?” “Of Deira,” was the reply. “Truly must we rescue them from the wrath of God. And what is the name of their king?” “He is called Ella.” “It is well,” said Gregory; “Alleluia must be sung in their land to God.” He at once got leave from the Pope, and had set out to convert the English when the murmurs of the people led the Pope to recall him. Still the Angles were not forgotten, and one of the Saint’s first cares as Pope was to send from his own monastery St. Augustine and other monks to England.

        On the death of Pope Pelagius II., Gregory was compelled to take the government of the Church, and for fourteen years his pontificate was a perfect model of ecclesiastical rule. He healed schisms; revived discipline; saved Italy by converting the wild Arian Lombards who were laying it waste; aided in the conversion of the Spanish and French Goths, who were also Arians; and kindled anew in Britain the light of the Faith, which the English had put out in blood.

        He set in order the Church’s prayers and chant, guided and consoled her pastors with innumerable letters, and preached incessantly, most effectually by his own example.

        He died A. D. 604, worn out by austerities and toils; and the Church reckons him one of her four great doctors, and reveres him as St. Gregory the Great.

St. Gregory the Great

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth

(John the Baptist’s) persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. (From a homily by St. Bede the Venerable)

It’s kind of funny how when I see something really, really striking for the first time, I think that it is a rare gem just discovered by me that nobody else knows about, only to learn that I was the ignorant one, not the rest of the world.

So it was with the sentence above, written by St. Bede the Venerable, an English Benedictine monk from the 8th century.  I was praying the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours on the memorial of the Passion of John the Baptist, deep into a commentary by our friend St. Bede when these words stopped me cold.

If you’ll recall, John the Baptist spoke out about Herod marrying the wife of Herod’s brother Phillip, telling him that it was “not lawful.”  For Herod and his illicit wife Herodias, that was terribly inconvenient and a real problem. To solve it, Herod had John beheaded, thus quieting the critic.

This is a hard truth for us as steward Disciples of Christ.  We are given the earthly task of caring for the gifts given to us by God, which is stewardship in a nutshell.  A great gift given us is the Truth – the Truth of God’s love and mercy for us, exemplified by the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross.  In our times of weakness, we can actively deny the Truth through our words, or, perhaps even worse, by our silence.

If we are witness to an affront of the Truth, unless we speak up, we are complicit with the crime – qui tacet consentire videtur, “he who is silent is taken to agree.” 

Solomon Burke, singer extraordinaire, recorded a song called “None of Us are Free” in which he soulfully sings “If you don’t say it’s wrong then that says it’s right.” 

Between St. Bede and Solomon Burke, there are thousands of examples of this theme throughout history.  In addition to John the Baptist refusing to be silent, another saint comes to mind as well. 

St. Thomas More refused to be silent about Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn and, like John the Baptist, had his head removed by an angry king.

As steward Disciples, we are tasked with defending the great gift of the Truth.  I often think about the martyrs and ask myself if I would have the faith and courage to defend the Truth with my life.  I pray that that would be so.

St. Bede was onto something big.  I Googled his sentence and discovered it was not some obscure uttering from an ancient monk, as I had originally thought.  Instead, it was a statement of truth about the Truth.   A statement that would be good for us to think about each and every day.

John the Baptist, pray for us.  St. Bede the Venerable, pray for us.

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. 

Our Hearts are Restless Until they Rest in You

August 28 is the memorial to St. Augustine of Hippo, a Doctor of the Catholic Church.

St. Augustine is famous for his tremendous intellect and his gift as a great rhetorician.  His books such as Confessions and The City of God are wonderful testaments to the faith, and even though they were written many centuries in the past, are as relevant today as the day they were published.

St. Augustine is also famous for the fact that he was a bit of a rapscallion as a young man, chasing earthly pleasures and forgoing the Lord.  Living a life of excess, he was the object the fervent prayer of his mother, St. Monica.   Her hopes were in the conversion of her wayward son, that he would soon discover the love and joy of Jesus Christ.

Her prayers were like many of ours in that we ask for something to happen.  In her case it was for Augustine’s salvation.  Our prayer might be for the health of family and friends, a new job, or to sell a house. 

St. Augustine wrote about this kind of prayer in his letter to Proba, “a widow, rich and noble, and the mother of an illustrious family …” who had asked him for a discourse on prayer.  His response to her request is quite thorough, as one might expect. 

What he wrote in chapter nine of his letter, however, changed my view of prayer in a way I never thought possible.

“Therefore, when the Apostle says: Let your petitions become known before God, this should not be taken in the sense that they are in fact becoming known to God who certainly knew them before they were made, but that they are becoming known to us before God through submission and not before men through boasting.’”

God already knows our prayers before we pray them.  He knows both the background and the answer to our request.  Our prayers won’t change his mind, pleading as we might our case in the courts of heaven.  Rather, our prayers make us able to receive their answers.

In his book Confessions, St. Augustine tells us “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” In a great act of stewardship, we give the whole of our lives to God.  When we do that, then rest ourselves in the Lord, we find contentment. 

Finding peace and contentment in the Lord is available to us today, just as it was St. Augustine was preaching about it 1,600 years ago.

Kentucky

I know this is a blog about the Diocese of Evansville, yet here I am calling this entry “Kentucky.” Let me tell you why.

When I was attending St. Johns Catholic School in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we were given an assignment to find out about state other than Wisconsin. I chose Kentucky, as I was fascinated with Daniel Boone and wilderness of all sorts. For me, in my sheltered world, Kentucky was wilderness.

Those were the days before Google was a word. Our search engine was a book that had “Encylopedia Britannica” written on the cover. I discovered Frankfort was the capitol of Kentucky and sent a self addressed stamped envelope to some bureaucrat there and asked for help in preparing my paper.

They sent back some tourist information, a map, and other interesting things. I read every word of the printed material and vowed to visit Kentucky some day.

Here we are in 2019, some 50+ years later, and I have been to Kentucky three times in the last three months!

Two of those times were to attend retreats at the Mt. St. Joseph retreat center near Owensboro, run by a group of Ursuline sisters. This is a lovely place with a long and fascinating history. On the grounds is a cemetery, the final resting spot for sisters and priests from many years past who called the place their home.

The Ursuline sisters are models of stewardship. They care for the grounds and buildings of the center as though they were gifts from God Himself, which of course they are. More so, the sisters have given their very lives in service to the Lord and the People of God. They are true disciples of Jesus Christ.

That’s what stewardship is.

If you get a chance to visit Mt. St. Joseph, you should do so. You can see for yourself the benefits of living a stewardship life.

Cemetery at Mt. St. Joseph

Hi there.

Good to be in Indiana

Greetings to you, the People of God in the Diocese of Evansville!

My name is Matt Potter, and I am the new Director of Stewardship for the Diocese of Evansville.  I am quite pleased to be here and grateful to Bishop Siegel for his confidence in me.

I come to you from the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming, where I spent the last nine years as the Director of Development and Stewardship, as well as the Executive Director of the Wyoming Catholic Ministries Foundation.  Prior to that, I spent 23 years as an investment consultant in Cheyenne.  Overall, my wife and I have lived in Cheyenne since 1984, raising a family and building a business before going to work for the Church.

Speaking of the Church, the bishop in Cheyenne who hired me was (now Arch)bishop Paul Etienne.  We had a great run in Cheyenne before he was called to be the Archbishop of Anchorage, and recently the coadjutor Archbishop of Seattle. 

Sherry and I have two daughters, Brianna Wheeler and Chandra Kleinhans.  Both of them are married to good men, and both have beautiful children of their own.  Brianna and her husband Corey have Roman, 7, and Claire, 5.  Chandra and her husband Caleb have Oskar, 5, Cassius, 4, and Tallulah, 3.  They all live in Cheyenne, and we expect to return regularly to visit them.

Some of these posts can be found in issues of the Diocese of Evansville’s newspaper, The Message. Posts here can be a little more timely, focusing on current events. My objective is to create a dialog regarding that often-misunderstood term, stewardship.  So many people regard “stewardship” as another way of saying “paying my fair share,” which, I guarantee, is not the meaning of it at all.

Let’s start then, with a definition.  That’s easier said than done, however, as it takes some background to begin understanding what stewardship really means.

In 1992, The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a pastoral letter: Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response.  The simple fact that the Bishops spent the time and energy to write the letter tells us how important they believed understanding stewardship was, and still is. 

The title of the letter, equating stewardship with discipleship, is even more telling.  If a disciple is a follower of Jesus, then stewardship is what a disciple does when she follows the Lord.  That concept is a bit mind-boggling, and I will be expanding on this as we go along.

Father Andrew Kemberling, pastor of St. Vincent DePaul parish in Denver, is one of the most well-versed priests in the United States when it comes to stewardship.  He wrote a book with Mila Glodava, his longtime Communications Director and friend, called Making Stewardship a Way of Life (Our Sunday Visitor publishing, copyright 2009).  This extraordinary work is chock-full of very practical information regarding stewardship in a parish.  I highly recommend this book for everyone involved in parish life.

In his book, Father Andrew tells us that “Stewardship is a way of life…” and that he presents a “stewardship spirituality” rather than a theology.  He goes on to say that “theology is like an order of ideas that you can keep in your head but in spirituality there is a group of actions that are generated from your heart.” (p. 12)

What a beautiful way to describe the difference between theology and spirituality! 

Where, then, is the definition of stewardship that I promised?  It’s there, or at least part of it is there. 

First, stewardship is discipleship.  As stewards of the gifts given us by God, we are followers of Jesus Christ. If you practice stewardship, you follow the Lord.

Second, stewardship is a way of life, not a program. It is something we practice day in and day out. 

That should clear up things, don’t you think?  I’ll be working making it clearer as we travel down this road together.   

Now that I’m in Evansville, I’d love to chat with you.  Send me a message at mpotter@evdio.org.  Thanks for reading.

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.

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