Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. Proverbs 19: 20-21
September 27, 2020
Ann Landers shared the following insight: “Tell a man that there are 300 billion stars in the universe and he will believe you. Hang a sign on a bench that says ‘Wet Paint’ and he will have to touch it to be sure. There’s no accounting for human nature.”
I think Jesus had a similar incredulous feeling about the chief priests and elders of the people in his day. These men were religious leaders, in the business of believing, but they did not believe the prophetic message of John the Baptist. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus tells them that even when the tax collectors and prostitutes became believers they still did not change their minds.
Every time we stand and profess the Creed at Mass we pledge ourselves to what we believe as Catholic Christians. The Church teaches that communion in faith needs a common language of faith, normative for all and uniting all in the same confession of faith. To profess the Creed with faith is to enter into communion with the Triune God and also with the whole Church which transmits the faith to us and in whose midst we believe. “This Creed,” said St. Ambrose, “is the spiritual seal, our heart’s meditation and an ever-present guardian; it is, unquestionably, the treasure of our soul.”
September 20, 2020
Last week it rained every evening so that I could not take my walk. I was getting a bit antsy. Then one evening I finally was able to get out. It was windy that night from the tropical depression passing south of us into the Gulf. But you know what? The temperature was actually cool. I might even dare say that it was a little on the chilly side. A windbreaker jacket would have been comfortable, but I was too far on my walk to turn around to get it. That was the first awareness in the air for me that autumn is coming.
In fact, this week on Tuesday, September 22nd, will officially be the first day of Fall, also known as the “Autumn Equinox.” I’m no scientist, but as I understand it, that day marks when the setting and rising sun is precisely halfway on its journey between its northernmost and southernmost points. In other words, on Tuesday the daytime and nighttime will be of equal length. Then after that, of course, the nights will start to grow longer than the days until the 21st of December.
Our ancient ancestors first measured time by the change in the weather and the length in the day. The earliest clock came into existence about 5,000 years ago by some Egyptian, with nothing better to do and too much time on his hands, who stuck a stick in the sand and noticed that the shadow moved as the sun progressed across the sky. Voila! The first sundial was invented. A timepiece was created and its design has improved since then, but perhaps its effect on us has not always been so beneficial. I don’t know about you but it seems like I have less time, or I’m far busier, when my day is ruled by the clock. It tends to create deadlines, time limits, cut offs, and end points that can often cause stress.
The beauty about the parable of the workers in the vineyard in this Sunday’s Gospel is that our time is not God’s time. St. Gregory the Great, a sixth century saint, taught rather that the parable is an illustration about “Times” of conversion; that is, Jesus gives us countless opportunities to convert at different stages of life. No clocks. No closing times. It is a message of hope and encouragement that, while we are still alive, it is never too late for young and old alike. That is the message of salvation. That is the timeless story of God’s mercy.
September 6, 2020
This message is written in anticipation of the Labor Day weekend. Officially, it is a federal holiday that recognizes and honors American labor and the contributions of American workers to our country. Unofficially, it marks the end of the summer season (September 22nd is the actual date in case you’re wondering). But the obvious question is why do we get the day off on a day that celebrates work? I’m not able to answer that question. It’s one of those great mysteries of life. I put it up there with other great unsolvable questions, like: Why do we park on a driveway? Or why do we drive on a parkway? Some things we just have to let be.
When I was in the seminary, every seminarian was given a “house job” or responsibility that was part of our weekly task or chore. One year in college seminary I was given the unenviable job of being in charge of the dreaded work list. That meant every Friday afternoon after lunch it was my responsibility to organize all the seminarians to clean and maintain the seminary property. Important work was left to maintenance staff or outside vendors, but our sheer numbers could get a lot of things done quickly—and for free! Jobs were basically divided into two groups: inside and outside. The challenge for me was always having too many guys who wanted to work in the “great indoors.” For some, their mentality was that “these hands are made for chalices not calluses.” Thus, part of my unenviable job was sometimes assigning guys to jobs they did not want and making sure they did the work. I think the rector thought that my Navy background would somehow command respect from them. Ha! That’s funny.
A scripture scholar once summarized the Bible as “a book by workers, about workers, for workers.” Lest we forget, the Bible begins in Genesis with God as the ceaseless worker whose first great work is creation itself. Jesus is also a worker; namely, a carpenter until the age of thirty. And during His public ministry, Jesus stated that “My Father is still working, and I also am working” (Jn 5:17). People who work in the Bible are seen mainly as stewards of God’s possessions. The paradox of work, though, is that it can be enjoyable, creative, purposeful, or it can be burdensome, unproductive, and a curse. Like one of my friends aptly stated, “Work is a four-letter word.” But in either case, it is the arena within which the worker serves God.
Chapter 48 of The Rule of St. Benedict begins with the reminder that “idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, [we] should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading.” On this Labor Day weekend, may we reflect on those words and value the importance of work and prayer in our lives every day. But you don’t have to work this Monday.
August 30, 2020
This past week Catholic schools in our diocese started a new school year. I’m assuming that the public schools have done the same or will soon open. The Sunday newspaper showed a COVID-19 risk factor scale of 1 to 10 (10 being highest risk) measuring numerous activities by the Texas Medical Association. They put “sending kids to school, camp or day care” at a 6, which is in the category of “moderate risk.” I can only imagine the difficult decisions that parents are having to make about something so basic as their children’s education. And the scale also rated “attending a religious service with 500+ worshipers” at a 9, which is a “high risk.” You will not need to worry about that here at St. Brendan’s. I don’t think I have had a Mass yet that reached 100 attendees.
In my previous assignment, this time of year was always a happy and exciting time because we had a school on the property. All the children were returning to school and they looked forward to being there. That was true for the younger kids too, though a few needed a little more TLC than others. The realization that their parent was leaving for the first time might trigger one or two to start crying, but they got over it quickly. Honestly, we had to offer more support to the mothers of EC-4 and Kindergarten students with a “boo-hoo breakfast” every year.
Kindergarten was originally designed to help adjust and orient children from a home to a school environment. The word Kindergarten comes from the German and means “children’s garden.” Such a garden is an enchanting place for a child to learn new and important skills of social awareness and how to interact with others. Did you ever read the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum? It is a simple but profound collection of insights from life, many on the idea of kindness. Perhaps from that same garden we adults can reorient ourselves to learn how to be “kinder,” in the English sense of the word, which is linked to “kin” and “kindred.” Meaning, if you are kind to people, you are treating them like your own kin or family.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel notably once said, “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.” The world needs more “kinder-gardens,” places where kindness is taught, instilled, and admired. Let St. Brendan parish be such a place, as well as our own homes. For in the end, as this week’s Gospel solemnly reminds us, the Lord “will repay all according to his/her conduct.”
August 23, 2020
Have you ever heard anyone say “running the bait” in casual conversation? Fishing lingo is not one of my specialties, but I do have some knowledge of the subject. I know what “bait” is, of course, but I never heard of “running the bait” until the other day. I try to get to the beach a couple of times a week to take an evening walk. One evening I walked by a lady who had two large fishing poles anchored in the sand with both lines far out into the Gulf. The reel on one the poles was spinning wildly and making a high pitched sound, suggesting a very large fish was on the other end. But she just stood there looking out at the Gulf, with no hands on the pole, and did not seem excited at all. Then my mouth started talking before I had a chance to think. “Isn’t that a fish on your line?” I asked in bewilderment. She looked at me like I was a stereotypical tourist and said, “No, we’re running the bait.” When I asked her what she meant, she pointed out in the Gulf and replied, “You see the guy way out there in that kayak? He’s pulling the line out to deeper water. If this was real action on the line, I wouldn’t be just standing here.”
Leave it to me to ask a stupid question that any experienced angler would have known. At least now I know what “running the bait” means. And I won’t soon forget it either. It reminds me of the ancient Socratic method we learned in philosophy back in my old seminary days. Socrates taught not to think you know what you don’t know, and not to think yourself wise when you are not, but rather to question everything as a way to learn. A familiar quote from him stated, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Dusting off old quotes from ancient Greek philosophers is one of the few benefits of having a philosophy degree.
It’s all about the question in this Sunday’s Gospel too: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” People often think they know someone by stereotyping a person. The scribes and Pharisees thought they knew our Lord as simply “Jesus of Nazareth.” Other critics thought they knew Jesus as merely the “carpenter’s son.” Even those who thought they knew Jesus as John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets were making no less a stereotypical judgement. But in true Socratic form, Jesus begins the learning process for His disciples with a fundamental question. A question that forced a debate among them and ultimately lead to Peter’s confession of faith. Knowing Jesus spiritually is a lifetime process. There is no room in us for stereotyping, or assumption, or complacency. Even Peter was reprimanded by Jesus for making an assumption about the Lord soon after his confession of faith. So Jesus asks us the question: “Who do you say that I am?” If we truly knew, St. Gemma Galgani said, “we would all die from love.”
August 16, 2020
I shared at daily Mass last week that I went to the Walgreens pharmacy one day on Clearwater Beach. Cars were bumper to bumper going to the beach. Young people wearing scantily clad garments, blasting music from their car stereos, and joyfully anticipating a day of fun and sun. But alongside the road, as they moved at a snail’s pace, was an older man on the sidewalk holding a huge sign that read, “The End is Near. Jesus is Coming.” You might think that would have put a damper on the enthusiasm and excitement in those young people driving past him. Nope. They either ignored him or they didn’t seem to even notice him.
However, one person that did notice him was me. He was close to Walgreens. And part of me wanted to walk up and tell him that no one knows when the end is coming. In fact, Jesus Himself said, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mt 24:36). But then the opportunistic side of me instead thought to ask, “Mister, since you’re already out here reminding folks that the end is coming, would you mind also advertising St. Brendan Catholic Church?” All these people, I thought, there’s got to be some Catholics among them. Throw in a little Catholic guilt on their way to the beach and maybe we’ll have a full church on Sunday. Who knows? It might work. As it turned out, I ended up ignoring the man too and telling myself “I don’t have time,” which is sort of ironic if the end truly is near.
I know, a full church is not a good idea right now with the coronavirus, and my ploy to get people to come to church is less than ideal, but the low numbers at church can get discouraging. A friend visited me last week and I took him for a ride around my new parish boundaries of Island Estates, Clearwater Beach, and Sand Key. It was a beautiful day and we were both struck by the spectacular scenery of the area, a kind of vacation water wonderland. At the same time, I was thinking of the unusual challenge of how to reach these people, especially Catholics, in so many condominiums and hotels. Maybe I should put a loudspeaker on top of my car and drive around like an ice cream truck, except it would announce our Mass schedule with some Gregorian chant in the background. Or I could stand beside that man on the sidewalk and hold my own larger sign that would say, “St. Brendan Catholic Church. Join us and worry not about the End.” But that would likely start a turf war with him. And I’m guessing that the bishop would not be pleased with either of these options.
Our Gospel this week is about the Canaanite woman who kept calling out for Jesus. This woman had a determined persistence and refused to be ignored. Her earnestness and great faith are what ultimately got the attention of Jesus and persuaded Him to grant her request. A little bit of this in our prayer life will go a long way. It can also help to increase our numbers at church as we—you and I—invite others to our parish with that same persistence and passion. So, spread the word about the parish. Be like the woman in the Gospel. Be of great faith, and don’t take no for an answer.
July 10, 2020
Dear brothers and sisters,
Well, so far so good. The church is still standing. Nobody, that I’m aware of, has left the parish in protest. And as of yet, I have not received any angry letters about something I did or said. That makes for a successful first week for me at St. Brendan’s. Some pastors might think differently. They might say that those instances are signs of change and necessary to get things done. On such matters, I follow my first pastor’s advice when I was a newly ordained priest. He was a wise and gentle soul, but with a wry sense humor would say to me: “Tim, when you become a pastor, remember the only thing you change in your first year is your underwear.” I have tried to follow that sage advice for the most part in my previous pastorates and will continue to follow it as much as possible. The underwear part is particularly helpful. I don’t want you to leave because your pastor smells!
The Sunday Masses last week were a nice introduction for me of both the welcoming parishioners and the visitors that attend St. Brendan Church. I was told before I came that the parish area is comprised of “retirees, snowbirds, tourists, and spring breakers.” The parish does have a reputation for having many vacationers from around the country, and even from around the world, because of Clearwater Beach. I had a little taste of that fact with the 4th of July holiday weekend. After the Masses, I made myself available to greet the people outside under the portico in front of the church (following social distancing and wearing a mask, of course). We had people from a number of different states and who were visiting the parish for the first time. I was struck by two things: 1) that they took the time to find a Catholic church and came to Mass during their vacation and in the midst of a pandemic; and 2) that we are truly a “catholic” or universal Church that encompasses the entire world; that means all people and all places. All that from just meeting a few people after a couple of Masses.
We are in Cycle A of the liturgical year for the Sunday readings, which focus on the Gospel of Matthew. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus commissions His disciples and says to them in part: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19,20). The disciples then went out to all the world to preach the Gospel. We are called to do the same as well. But in an interesting twist, it seems that “the world” is coming to us to hear the Gospel and receive our Lord.
What a mind boggling responsibility, but also an incredible opportunity for us at St. Brendan’s. We are truly evangelizers and missionaries to all the world at the front doors of our humble, little church. That changes the perspective of who this parish is comprised of considerably. My prayer is that when people visit us they will recognize the presence of Jesus in all of us.
July 3, 2020
Dear sisters and brothers,
I’m here! Roll out the red carpet! Start the marching band! Make an official proclamation! I have finally arrived. Your long wait has ended. Gather around in great anticipation . . . Hello? Anybody? (a long pause ensues and the sound of crickets is heard in the background) Hmm. It looks like the coronavirus and social distancing precautions have left their mark here too. By the way, did you hear the joke about the coronavirus? Never mind, I don’t want to spread it around. (ha ha)
Greetings and salutations! My name is Father Tim Sherwood. I have been given the honor and privilege of being your brand-new pastor. Well, I’m not quite “brand-new,” maybe slightly worn. Okay, truth be told, I’m a used commodity, been around the block a few times, with more dents on the ole chassis than I care to mention, but I’m still in fairly good working condition. That said, I look forward to working with and serving you here at St. Brendan parish for many years to come, God willing.
Allow me to first sincerely thank Msgr. Michael Muhr for assisting me in the transition to adjust to my new assignment. He has gone out of his way to help me by preparing my living arrangements and highlighting some observational points about the parish that I requested. Msgr. Muhr is one of the best priests in our diocese and is highly regarded by all his brother priests. He would have been a wonderful pastor here, and I even hoped for it early on, but his gifts and talents are required full-time to serve the various needs of all the priests throughout our diocese. It is interesting that once again I am taking on a ministry that he is handing over to me. Many years ago he handed over the reins of CHOICE, a diocesan single young adult ministry, to me and I was its chaplain for about the next six years. The difference back then was that he just gave it to me. It didn’t matter that I didn’t want it. He insisted and said to me, “You will do well. God is calling you.” Catholic guilt works every time, but he wasright. It turned out to be a great ministry experience. I learned to trust his spiritual insights as I found they are usually right. He also affirms my new ministry here, but now I take it on willing with God’s help. And I want to be clear that it is “Monsignor” Michael Muhr. He doesn’t like that title, so here’s a little payback for years ago. Seriously though, I am especially grateful for his exceptional pastoral leadership during this past year at St. Brendan parish. Yet again, I have some big shoes to fill.
I begin my first weekend here on a great national holiday known as “Independence Day.” It refers, of course, to the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776, commemorating when the Continental Congress declared that 13 American colonies were no longer subject to the British monarch, King George III, but rather independent and free from his rule. The rest, as they say, is history. Perhaps on July 5th we can reflect a little bit on the spiritual importance not of independence but rather on dependence; that is, the awareness and need to be dependent upon God and to always submit ourselves to God’s rule over our own. Such an act must be an everyday commitment during an entire lifespan and not merely a onetime declaration. But in the end, by God’s grace, we become truly independent and free from the ultimate subjugation of sin and death. Now that’s something to celebrate!
I am happy to be here and looking forward to meeting everyone. Hopefully the virus won’t hinder us from fully doing that for too much longer. In the meantime, please keep me in your prayers as I will certainly do so for you.
Peace. Father Tim, Pastor
St. Brendan's Catholic Church of Clearwater, FL, located on Island Estates, is a loving, vibrant Catholic Church seeking for each and every member a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church.