Sunday, December 03, 2006

ADVENT ADJUSTED by Kathi Scarpace

By Kathi Scarpace

One thing that always puzzles me at Advent is the dissonance I feel between the liturgical season of Advent and my ordinary life.

Advent is a quiet time, with its rich, dark colors of purple and blue. Advent means “coming” as I learned in school. My temperament is drawn to this season, but my life is not.

I always feel tension during Advent because I am decorating my home, buying presents, putting up outdoor lights and in general, enjoying the pre-Christmas blur. I understand that the commercialization of Christmas has made buying things before Christmas more important than preparing for Christ, and I always feel sad when the season seems to end for people so abruptly on December 26.

Still, I just can’t get myself into Advent in the quiet way.

So I stand in the middle. I want to enjoy both Advent and Christmas. I want to linger over the Christmas season as the church offers, but I also want the fun of preparing for Christmas with holly and hoopla.

I wonder if other people who come to Mass on Sunday find themselves disconnected, too. How do those of us who do not live in monasteries relate to the Advent season, or any liturgical season, for that matter? It doesn’t seem enough to put an Advent wreath in the middle of the table.

Perhaps some way of linking the everyday experience of Christmas preparations with Advent would help. The outreach to the poor that many parishes sponsor during Advent seems one way to link buying presents with faith.

The hymn, “Good King Wenceslas” is a link with caroling and faith. The loving search for the “perfect present” might recall the preparations the magi made before the journey to Bethlehem. They, too, brought the perfect gift for the Christ Child.

Jesus the Light of the World shines through all the glitter and glam. Even though many do not recognize him as the Light, the beauty of the twinkling lights preaches the good news that he is with us, even on our darkest days.

“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord” can be the anthem when we bake and share sweets with one another. Christmas cards, like the beautiful feet announcing good news, bring friendship and love in their envelopes.

Linger long after the last present is unwrapped and enjoy the Christmas season. But the wonderful days of Advent are still filled with joy. No need to feel sorrow and gloom.

The Lord has come, even into shopping malls and Christmas tree lots.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"HOSPITAL MINISTRY" by Kathi Scarpace

Our parish boundaries include a hospital. Both the priests and parishioners visit the hospital on a regular basis. The priests take turns going once a week and parishioners visit the other days.

The hospital and the parish have a good working relationship. Parishioners wear hospital badges that identify them as eucharistic ministers. Each parishioner has the same day every month, e.g., the third Thursday of the month.

About twice a year I ask for volunteers through a bulletin announcement to replace any volunteers who can no longer continue. Many hospital eucharistic ministers have served for years.

I go myself as a substitute. I am always amazed at the variety of people that I meet. Because the hospital serves a large geographic region, I very rarely meet the same person twice.

On one occasion, this was not the case.

One day in May, I visited a woman who was quite upset. I did not ask her what her illness was, but whatever it was, it upset her. She was very agitated and even a little angry. Whenever I visit I ask people what they would like to pray for and I sometimes ask them to pray for an intention of mine. I asked this woman to pray for my brother who was in the hospital. We prayed together, and I gave her communion.

As it turned out, I was back at the hospital to visit about two weeks later. I visited the same woman again. To my surprise, she was a different person. She was calm and peaceful.

Because I remembered her as so upset, I asked her what made the difference. She told me that one evening she had a long talk with God. She came to terms with her illness and the limitations that would be hers. From that point forward, she was at peace and looking forward to her life.

And, by the way, she asked, how was my brother?

I was amazed that she even remembered our conversation. Somehow she was able to hear my need in the midst of hers. I thanked her and let her know how much I appreciated her prayers and also how much I appreciated her telling me about her journey to peace and acceptance.

I have visited many sick and dying people. The ideal for life is to be both well and at peace. The second choice, from my perspective, is to be ill and at peace. Without peace, life is unbearable. It may take effort to get to a place of peace, but I know that it is worth it.

I am grateful to the woman who showed me the way.

I can see why parishioners value their hospital ministry; it is a two-way street.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

PROUD TO BE CATHOLIC by Kathi Scarpace

A few months ago we had a series of presentations and activities in my parish. One of the evenings was, “Proud To Be Catholic.” The speaker was a well-known priest who was knowledgeable in apologetics and the Scriptures.

The evening was prompted by the experience of some parishioners, including young people, who found themselves on the defensive end of conversations with fellow Christians. The priest was very engaging, and people responded well to his presentation.

The topic was interesting to me. It made me think about why I was proud to be Catholic. There are many things to be proud of: our apostolic succession, the gifts of the sacraments, Sacred Tradition, the great theologians and saints throughout history, our liturgies, the great churches we have built, the great art we have sponsored, the tradition of spirituality and so on.

I am proud of all these things and happy I am a Catholic.

These things actually did not come to mind when I started to think about why I am proud to be a Catholic. What I thought of was a little church in a small town in South Carolina.

This town was the county seat of what was the third-poorest county in the United States. I was a parishioner in the mid-seventies, relatively soon after school integration. (In fact the local hardware store still had signs “White” and “Colored” in their inventory.)

I am proud to be Catholic because that little church was integrated. Both white families and African-American families worshiped together easily each Sunday. No other church in the community did so (although the “black churches” always welcomed whites).

Sunday after Sunday, we would stand visiting after Mass in front of church, a visible sign of the reign of God.

The next thing that came to mind about being proud to be Catholic happened this summer. Our parish serves a meal to hungry people in one of the local parks about once a month.

I was sitting at the table eating when I overheard one homeless person say to another, “Sacred Heart Church always helps you if you need it.” The woman was not speaking to me nor do I believe she knew that the meal was being served by that parish. She was just commenting on the state of help in the community.

I felt proud again to be Catholic.

There are a lot of great things about being a Catholic.

What makes you proud?

(Click here to view the rest of the many wonderful articles that await you in, America's Catholic Lifestyle Magazine)

Saturday, September 09, 2006


By Kathi Scarpace

Pastoral ministry is often challenging. There is the actual work of ministering to people in need, coordinating and supporting the various parish groups, envisioning the direction of the parish, and keeping up with the day-to-day tasks of administration.

In addition, lay pastoral ministers do this work while balancing the needs of their families and themselves.

To me, ministry sometimes feels like walking on a tightrope. One step forward; balance again. Wait. Feel the rope. Don’t look down, keep my eyes on the goal.

In order to keep things in balance and in proportion, my spiritual director is a valuable asset. When a breeze blows or when the next step is a little difficult to take, my spiritual director can help steady and assure me just as a balance pole helps a tightrope walker.

I have had different spiritual directors over the course of my ministerial life. The kind of director I like is someone who I can trust, who is insightful, and who challenges me to look at myself.

I visit my current director once a month. I bring my prayer life, the state of my health (mental and physical), and any decisions I am considering to the meetings I have. By visiting my director monthly, I find myself accountable for my spiritual life.

I try to be as honest as possible with my director. For example, if I am not praying regularly, I say that. If I am angry about something important, I address my anger. My director helps me to listen to what God is saying to me.

If you don’t have a spiritual mentor or don’t know where to find one, perhaps your diocese has a listing of recommended people. Often local monasteries and retreat houses offer spiritual direction.

Because of the level of the communication, it is important to find someone trustworthy, who listens well, and whose experience of God and church is compatible with your own. In choosing someone, I have found that being simple about it helps.

God has led me to the right person each time.

Ministry is not easy. The church offers help through spiritual direction. Consider taking advantage of this help.

I think it is a blessing.

(Click here to view the rest of the many wonderful articles that await you in, America's Catholic Lifestyle Magazine)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Kathi Scarpace

By Kathi Scarpace

My new parish is composed of two parishes that served the same city. One parish was on one side of the highway, the other on the opposite. One parish typically had more Spanish-speaking parishioners, the other more English-speaking.

Originally, there was only one parish. In the 1930s the English-speaking church, which had a school, forced out the Spanish-speaking children. As a result of this hateful action, the second parish was formed and thrived for the past 69 years.

Now because of the priest shortage, the influx of families seeking affordable housing and other issues, the two parishes will once again be one. You can imagine all the issues and feelings as the two communities with this history now find themselves face to face, working together. (The new church has yet to be built.)

The two parish councils came together this past week. Some councilors were able to say how angry they felt when learning of the unification. Others expressed enthusiasm and hope for the future. All agreed that good leadership and healing would be needed for the strong and good life of this new parish to take hold and flourish.

Prejudice in its many forms is difficult to face in civil life. Within the church community, it is even more difficult. Admitting the wrongs of the past, apologizing for them and asking forgiveness is one task. Welcoming and forgiving those who have harmed us is another. The new parish will be founded, not on glory and success, but on pain, mercy, and forgiveness.

The early church felt the pain of division, too. How was the church community to accept Gentiles who believed in Christ? Did these Gentiles need to follow Jewish law? It was not all that clear, even with the leaders.
Paul writes an impassioned account in Galatians: “But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party” (2:11-12).”

Because of Paul’s willingness to face the division he saw in the church, he was able to give us the wonderful gift of these words: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for your are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:27-28).

There is neither north nor south, legal nor illegal, Spanish-speaking nor English-speaking, affluent or poor.

We are all one in Christ.

(Click here to view the rest of the many wonderful articles that await you in, America's Catholic Lifestyle Magazine)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

RISKY BUSINESS by Kathi Scarpace

The other day a parishioner gave me a bit of good news. My parish has recently grown from over two thousand families to just over four thousand families and, from my point of view, feels a little overwhelming.

Commenting on our large parish, she said, “I like having a big parish. That way you don’t have to do everything.”

She offered me a change of perspective and the good news. There is more than enough work for four thousand families , and she had the wisdom to recognize that we can share the load among each other.

Good news can also come from new parishioners. New parishioners come with great ideas from other parishes. For example, a parishioner may know how to run a food pantry because he or she has helped run a pantry in another parish. Or a parishioner might know about bereavement ministry or how to organize a fiesta.

Often forms for new parishioners invite them to participate in ongoing parish ministries. I have never seen a form for a parishioner to share his or her ministry experience.

Sometimes being on the receiving end of ministry can move people to become more involved.

A woman who received communion in the hospital and recovered her health, wants to volunteer for this ministry. A parishioner who came to a funeral reception as a guest wants to help provide future meals for grieving parishioners. A new parishioner wants to be a greeter so that he can meet the parish community.

Parish life is dynamic because it is the life of the Spirit. Openness to the Spirit’s movement, a willingness to try new things and to look at things in a new way make for a lively, attractive, and loving community.

“See, I am doing something new” (Is 43:19), says the Lord.

God’s creative energies surround us, bring us hope, and lead us to joy.

(Click here to view the rest of the many wonderful articles that await you in, America's Catholic Lifestyle Magazine)

Monday, August 07, 2006

PARISH HERMITS by Kathi Scarpace

A parishioner I visit is dying. He is battling leukemia and undergoing chemotherapy every couple of weeks. His hair has fallen out, he is weak, and life is hard.

He decided to plan his funeral. He wants certain readings, a few favorite songs, and some say in how he and is family remember his life and commemorate his departure.

It is not easy to visit. I bring him communion each week. We pray the readings and share our comments. This man was a friend long before he was sick. As the days and weeks go by, the inevitability of death becomes more transparent. We share a few laughs, some long silences, and talk about whatever seems important on that particular day.

I want to grasp these days, but they seem to be slipping away like the days of a special vacation. Each conversation is measured and held, examined like a shell found on the shore. Fortunately, my friend has been given the grace to live at home through his illness.

In my mind, the homebound members of our parish are like the hermits of monastic communities. The hermits live alone and yet remain connected to the monastery; the homebound are connected to the parish through their prayers, their financial contributions, and through the sacraments.

They live their lives “hidden in Christ” and their work is to pray. They do pray for the priests, the sick of the parish, for family and friends. When they die, they become part of the communion of saints and continue their work as advocates for the parish.

The inability to leave home and sit through a Sunday Mass is only a physical limitation. Creaky legs, congestive heart failure and cancer does not limit the life of the Spirit. Homebound parishioners serve the community.

I count on the prayers of my friend to see me through. He can count on me to see him through as well.

(Click here to view the rest of the many wonderful articles that await you in, America's Catholic Lifestyle Magazine)

Sunday, July 30, 2006


By Kathi Scarpace
A couple of summers ago, I was wandering around the internet looking for good ideas from other parishes that I could adapt to my parish. One parish had a book club. I thought, what a great idea.
So in my simple self, I typed Catholic Book Club in the window on Google, and up popped This site was a goldmine. It has numerous ideas for creating a book club in a parish. They made it sound so easy that I decided to try it.

We are into our second full year. The first year we read books from those listed on the above website. There are several years of book selections from which to choose. It was fun to pick among the many titles. We tried to find books that were both topical and interesting to everyone in the group. For example, we read Conclave by John Allen just a few months before the conclave that elected Benedict XVI.

Now that we are in our second year we have moved a little away from the list used at the America site. We determined that we want to alternate fiction with non-fiction.

We do not always choose Catholic writers. Instead we choose books that will help us grow in faith and provide a good discussion. We read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini in January this year, as well as Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints by Elizabeth Johnson in March and April.

In terms of organizing, it is very simple. We meet once a month, for hour and a half to two hours. The first year we selected the books at the book club meeting. At the end of the first year, we decided to select books for a year. This worked well. Everyone brought reviews and books to a potluck meeting in July and then lobbied for their inclusion on the list. As we worked through the list during the year, we made changes as we went along.

This year we kept the same format and met again this July to lobby for the upcoming year’s list. This year highlight may be the reading of Walk in a Relaxed Manner: Life Lessons from the Camino by Joyce Rupp. One of our book club members is planning to walk the pilgrimage route in Spain next year.

The books provide a context to share our faith and our lives. We laugh sometimes until we cry, share our doubts and questions, and in general have a good time.

A book club might be something that your parish would like.

(Click here to view the rest of the many wonderful articles that await you in, America's Catholic Lifestyle Magazine)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

GUARDING UNITY by Kathi Scarpace

Sometimes pastoral minister involves working with people who are overzealous. People with the best of intentions can limit or scare away volunteers. A ministry schedule, the way a ministry is done, or who is providing the ministry, can become the source of conflict and even hostility.

This is real life in the parish. At times good-intentioned people can actually harm or disrupt the community.

The unity of the parish is so important. My experience has taught me to listen and to try to honor everyone involved in ministry. I try to recognize the good heart of the people who are being controlling. I also try to be welcoming to everyone who wants to be involved in ministry. It is a delicate balance.

It means taking the sacraments, the liturgy, and the service to the poor seriously and ensuring that it is done as well as possible. It also means not taking it so seriously that only a few people are “ good enough.”

I keep in mind that we are all unworthy servants. Keeping the unity of the parish as the goal helps to guide me through the minefield of feelings, expectations and misunderstandings that can arise between people.

Unity of mind and heart is part of Paul’s message to his beloved Philippians: “ …complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking of one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or vainglory; rather humbly regard others as more important that yourselves….” (Phil 2:2–3).

Paul’s words present the ideal. Unity and love are signs that the community is living in the Spirit.

As parish leaders, safeguarding unity is a challenging task. It means loving difficult people in trying situations. It means stepping aside at times. It means delicately suggesting alternative ways of viewing a situation. It means constantly checking my attitude and motives in my work.

Am I building or disrupting community life? When is the right time to say something to someone? Who needs to be encouraged? Who needs a word of caution?

Lord, I am not worthy is my constant prayer.

(Click here to view the rest of the many wonderful articles that await you in, America's Catholic Lifestyle Magazine)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

PINGING PRAYER by Kathi Scarpace

I learned a new word today. Someone emailed me and wrote that she had pinged her sister for some information.

Pinging means to communicate with another person by phone, email, text messaging, etc. Rather than name the actual medium, pinging includes the many different choices we have in communicating.

I have been pinging prayer since Lent. And I've found two wonderful prayer sites available online.

The first site, is a slow-paced series of pages that uses Ignatian spirituality to engage the reader in a reflection process. This visual prayer site created and maintained by the Irish Jesuits. The prayer offers commentary and reflection questions to move you ever-deeper into your experience of God.

The site is self-paced; you can linger as long as you like on any one page. After initial commentary, the prayer begins with an invitation to come into God’s presence. Next you are given the opportunity to move deeper into your heart. As the prayer site continues, you are to imagine yourself with God and to share your feelings with God at that moment. You continue and read the scripture reading for the day. After you reflect, you move to a page that asks you consider how the biblical passage has touched you or perhaps left you cold.

The next page directs you to speak to Jesus about your feelings. The prayer concludes with the Glory Be. You can go backward or forward as you like, and if you find yourself unable to connect with a particular page or biblical passage, there is a prayer guide.

The comments and the various pages differ each time you log on, but the intro, scripture and closing remain the same. You can print a version of this prayer, as well as download it to a PDA. The site is available in 21 languages, including Chinese, Latvian, and Spanish.I used this site frequently for Lent.

While exploring, I found a link to another site that has become my favorite: This site is maintained by the Jesuits of Great Britain.

“Lasting between ten and twelve minutes, it combines music, scripture and some questions for reflection. The aim is to help you to become more aware of God's presence in your life, listen to and reflect on God's word, grow in your relationship with God. Pray-as-you-go can be downloaded free from this website in either MP3 or WMA (Windows Media Audio) format. You can download one day at a time, or one week at a time. You need to have a broadband connection as the files are quite large (the MP3s are about 8MB and the WMAs about 5MB).”

The prayer begins with a bell, followed by a beautiful hymn or chant. The music comes from all over the world. I particularly enjoy the selections from the monks of Senegal. Reflection questions introduce and follow the reading the scripture passage.

The prayer is based on the work week, Monday through Friday. Within the ten to twelve minutes of viewing listening, I find myself calmed, refreshed, and renewed.

It is a treasure I have shared with many in my parish. One family downloads the prayer on a CD and prays with it at bedtime. It would be a lovely way to prepare for sleep.

The site also includes other resources and links, including a daily examination of conscience.

Consider pinging prayer.

(Click here to view the rest of the many wonderful articles that await you in, America's Catholic Lifestyle Magazine)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

MANY MOUTHS TO FEED by Kathi Scarpace

This month my parish went from about two thousand families to just over four thousand families. If each family has only two people, my parish is now eight thousand people. The parish is undoubtedly larger than that, but just considering eight thousand people is staggering. The town I lived in four years ago is less than half the size of my parish.

The parish landscape is changing.

My parish grew because of many things: a shortage of priests, a decision to celebrate Sunday Mass rather than offer communion services, as well as an influx of new housing and new families. The parish will soon build a large worship space with a seating capacity of over two thousand persons.

The shift to this larger parish community has me thinking about ministry. I minister to the sick and elderly as a lay pastoral minister. One of the most satisfying moments of my pastoral ministry in the past four years grew out of contact I had with a parishioner.

Once a week for a couple of years, I brought Joan communion. She and I laughed, told stories to each other, and shared our faith. She had a twinkle in her 94-year-old eyes, and she gave me either a recipe or a card or cookies nearly every week.

When she died, her family contacted me to lead the rosary the night before her funeral. The rosary I prayed was a reflection of her life’s story woven into the glorious mysteries. (A friend had given me an outline to use.) Because I knew Joan and some of her family stories, I could connect Joan’s life with Christ’s in a simple way. This rosary service was very rich and satisfying, both to me and to Joan’s family. The connection between faith and life was almost effortless, in part, because I had become Joan’s friend.

In large parishes, priests today celebrate funerals, weddings, and baptisms without really knowing the families at the liturgy. With the trend moving to larger and larger parishes, priests will know proportionally fewer and fewer people that they pastor.

One danger of a very large parish is that priests will become functionaries, not by choice, but by circumstance. How can the human dimension of the sacramental life be honored in mega-parishes?

I do not have the answer. I know that the challenge is great for both priests and parishioners.

Will a small faith community become the “parish within the parish” and provide a human face to parish life? Will sacramental preparation become a community-building opportunity? What events will bring people together? How will the priest experience for himself the human side of parish life?

Everyone needs community, from the child being baptized to the pastor presiding at a Mass of two thousand people. What will help nourish the many people who come to the table of the Lord?

(Click here to view the rest of the many wonderful articles that await you in, America's Catholic Lifestyle Magazine)


Parishes offer everyone a place at the table of the Lord. People come to this table with different needs And hopes. Some people have shared at the table for years, and others are newcomers.

No matter who comes, it is our task as ministers to offer hospitality. In this and subsequent blogs, I will offer ideas and reflections based on my experience of everyday ministry in a parish.

The recent scrapbook craze has many people creating memory books of family vacations and school years. Baby pictures, those once-in-a-lifetime soccer goals, and the goofy costumes from Halloween can now be preserved and celebrated ¾ all with acid-free paper. Digital cameras, computer files, websites, and scanning equipment preserve what is most important to us electronically.

What happens to the special moments of parish history? Certainly the parish preserves the sacramental records, but what of everything else? I had occasion to find out this past week when I created a display of historic memorabilia.

The first thing that struck me as I looked through the newspaper articles, group photos of parishioners on various building committees, and old parish handbooks is that as a parish, we stand on the holy shoulders of the people of faith who preceded us. The parishioners of 2006 form just one link in a long chain of faithfulness.

For our parish, the chain extends back through time for over one hundred years.

I was overcome by gratitude for the faithfulness of this faith family.The second thing that struck me in looking through the historical records is how fragile and how disorganized these important documents are.

Tucked into a corner of a basement closet, our photos and newspaper articles and memories could be lost or destroyed so easily. The dapper photo of the founding pastor, records of building projects, the lists of former pastors, and a host of other irreplaceable fragments of another time are, for the most part, stacked in boxes. (One person did make a very good filing box for some of the documents, but there are several boxes untouched.)

It is a little formidable to think about how to organize and preserve the best of the items. A centennial, or in our case, the closing of our parish, make these items important, but day-to-day, the history remains boxed in its cardboard tomb.

What needs to be preserved? What can be scanned onto the computer for a visual record? Whose job is it to care for these things?

Big institutions like libraries, universities, and dioceses have archivists, people whose job it is to categorize and care for the past. Parishioners generally do not have such an official person, but many parishes have people interested in history and its preservation.

Perhaps the history ministry could become a part of parish life. Perhaps the diocesan archivist can offer some help, or your local library or historical society.

The links here to parish historical archives online may give you some ideas:,,

(Click here to view the rest of the many wonderful articles that await you in, America's Catholic Lifestyle Magazine)