Extending the Communion of Persons

Posted on June 7, 2017 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

Midweek Reflection: Extending the Communion of PersonsFor Sunday, June 11, 2017
The Most Holy Trinity

Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
John 3:16-18

This Sunday we celebrate the feast of our origin and destiny as human beings, our beginning and end, the One who made us and the One to whom we return. It’s Trinity Sunday.

Thinking too hard about the Trinity can cause some intellectual hurdles. At the idea of three Persons in one God, our mind stops up short. The medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri said, in his words on the Trinity in Paradisio, “My wings were not meant for such a flight… Here powers failed my high imagination.” It’s an awe easily evoked on the edge of the sea or below the night sky. When we earnestly aspire to grasp the infinite, we find we can’t hold it in our hands. (more…)

Pentecost and Chuck E. Cheese

Posted on June 6, 2017 by - Everyday Stewardship

Chuck. E Cheese BirthdayThere are some things I miss now that my children are older. Less snuggles, fewer moments of awe and wonder, and fewer crazy questions that make me laugh. However, if I’m honest, there some things I do not miss, especially the birthday parties.

I loved the aspect of celebrating my child’s birth, but most years the party cost too much, involved too much stress, and resulted in a lot of presents that ended up in my garage. Today, nice dinners with family and friends sharing time together have taken the place of the “birthday party” and that is fine with me.

Centuries ago, God moved in such a profound way and sent His Holy Spirit upon us, imparting to the Church gifts that remain with us today. That first Pentecost was a first birthday party of sorts with people gathered to celebrate their common faith in Jesus Christ.

Of course, that party had none of the trappings of a child’s event at Chuck E. Cheese, but instead, presented us all with generous gifts that could be used for the glory of God instead of the stuff children discard after a few weeks.

Every year I think it is important to really celebrate what God has given to us, the Church, on the Feast of Pentecost. The generosity of God knows no limits and the Holy Spirit is alive. It’s just that the gifts from this celebration need to be used or the celebration will be hollow.

The gifts are free to us even though they are priceless. It would be poor stewardship to toss them in the garage with all those toys that time forgot.

Risky Faith

Posted on June 2, 2017 by - Everyday Stewardship

A Post By Chuck Frost

Take RisksI love to go see live music, there is nothing like the energy of hearing music being played in real time.  It isn’t studio polished or in perfect time.  Mistakes are made, but they add authenticity and color to the performance even if you don’t notice them – especially if you don’t notice them.

My preference is improvisational live music. I love not knowing what is coming next and whether or not exciting new sounds will be created on the spot.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. What I love most is the energy behind the risk-taking that is inherent to improvisational music.  Playing before a paying audience, those musicians take a huge risk and there is no guarantee the audience will appreciate or get what they are doing.  But the reward is high if they nail it.

Life is pretty colorless when you don’t take risks.

In one of Pope Francis’ recent morning homilies, he urged us to be risk-takers. Commenting on the stories of those who took a risk to get to Jesus, he noted that the men who made a hole in the roof to lower their paralytic friend to Jesus took a risk, the Canaanite woman whose daughter was possessed took a risk, the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment took a risk…the disciples who dropped everything for Jesus took a risk.

Improvisational musicians don’t just get on stage and play random notes without some foundation and preparation, however, and these Biblical examples didn’t put faith in Jesus and what he could do for them without some idea of who Jesus was and what he was about.

Pope Francis has consistently called us to the risk of going out into the peripheries, but it would be foolish to do that without preparing our souls.  But soul-nourishing only to stay in the well-rehearsed, choreographed safe zone will produce a colorless and lifeless Christianity. The Holy Father called it a view from the balcony.  And if that’s the only view we have, then we are missing out on the abundant life Jesus promised us.

Can They Find Your Church Website Online?

Posted on May 31, 2017 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

Some tips to make it easier to search for your church online

Find Your Church OnlinePeople rely on the Internet to search for and find information about their community. For your church, this can be the perfect opportunity to connect with and make a good impression on new members.

Typically, an Internet user searches for something online and looks at the first ten websites suggested. This is only one page of website suggestions offered. If your church website is not showing up in the first page or not at all, your potential parishioners or visitors may never even know you exist online. So how do you make sure they find you?

There are two practices you can try, SEO and SERP, to get started. Let’s break down each of these terms and review some tips and tricks you can try on your website to make it easier to find your church website online.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. A search engine is the place where you type in what you want to find online. The most common search engines include Google, Yahoo, Bing, and AOL. Optimization is the act of making something as effective as possible.

Simply put, SEO is the process of making your website as effective as possible so search engines find your website and list it in the results, making it more likely new members in your community will find your church website.

What is SERP?

SERP stands for Search Engine Result Page. It is a list of suggested websites. The websites are collected based on your keyword. Your keyword is the word or words you typed in to your search engine.

How do search engines get their results?

Google Yahoo Bing logosSearch engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, and AOL have all written a mathematical equation that looks at the following things in your website:

  • What words are in your website?
  • How often is your website updated?
  • What kind of images are on your website?
  • How fast does your website load?
  • How easy to read is your website?
  • How often is your website visited?
  • Are there other websites that link to your website?

Then it looks at the history of the person searching: where that person has been online, and where he or she is located in the world.

From there, the search engine compares your website to every other website that might relate the keyword that someone searched for. Then, it ranks those sites in order of relevance. Remember, it is very unlikely that someone will click past the first page, so it is important that your church is ranked within the top ten.

How do you make your website easier to find?

Make sure your church name, address, city, and state are all on the home page. Put your church name at the top of the website. This will make it the most important bit of text, and also be part of the title in the list of results. Then put your address with city and state in text on your website. Search engines look for this specifically, so where you put it is up to you. A good practice is to place it at the bottom of the page, in the footer. That way it shows up on every page of your website. Keep in mind, having your church name and address as an image does not help—search engines do not analyze PDFs or images for content.

Use keywords that people search for online in your text.

Don’t forget, a keyword is the word or words someone typed into a search engine to find something on the Internet. In order to pick out keywords that you think will help your site be found by search engines, first look at your church. What is your church about? What message do you want someone visiting your church website to take away? What words might you use to look for a church website if you were new to a community?

Now make a list of those words and type them into your search engine. See what the results are. Does your church fit into that list? Narrow your list down to two or three keywords. When you have decided what keywords you think are good for your church, use them in page titles or throughout the text on your website.

Find Your Church Online 2You can also check to make sure your chosen keywords are ones people actually use when they search online. There are websites that will let you test a keyword. For example, SERPs Keyword rank checker. On this website, you can type in any keyword and it will show the top ranked websites and an average number of times that keyword is used by searchers in search engines every month.

Use images to engage readers.

Search engines look for images. Images are more appealing and engaging to the reader on your website. This means people will spend a longer time on that page, which translates into the search engine ranking your website better than other websites that don’t have images. Note that if your website visitors land on your website and then click off right away, the search engine views the website as less trustworthy, which will cause your website to slowly move down the list.

Plus, visitors want images. When someone visits a webpage, they are more likely to continue reading and scroll to the bottom of the page if there is an image visible at all times. A good idea is to place your images every two to three paragraphs to keep a reader’s interest. The image needs to relate to the content on your page. When you load it into to your website, make sure to add a title and description. The title needs to have a keyword, and it needs to be honest. If your image title does not match the image and content, you will hurt your SEO.

Claim your online listings.

Search engines also look to see if your website links to other websites and if other websites link to your website. One easy and trusted source of links to your website are through things like Google My Places, Yahoo Local Listings, Bing Places, and YELP. You’ve seen these listings if you have searched for a business. They usually appear with an image, map, and often a description of that business with links to its website.

Your church may never have claimed these, but they probably already exist. Test it out in different search engines and see what shows up. If there isn’t a listing you can create one, and if there is, you need to make sure your church controls what is on there. If you don’t claim it, someone else can.

The Law within Us

Posted on May 31, 2017 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

Midweek Reflection: The Law within UsFor Sunday, June 04, 2017
Pentecost Sunday

(Vigil Readings)

Genesis 11:1-9 or Exodus 19:3-8a, 16-20b or Ezekiel 37:1-14 or Joel 3:1-5
Romans 8:22-27
John 7:37-39

When we are children, we need our parents to watch over us. We haven’t learned yet that we’ll get burned if we touch the stove or that it’s dangerous to run into the street. As we grow older, though, we start learning how to protect ourselves and how to stay out of trouble. The discipline that our parents imposed on us, often against our will, eventually comes to be an almost automatic way of thinking and living for us. We absorb from our parents values and attitudes that will be with us for the rest of our lives. We know how true this is because so often we catch ourselves saying something to our children or grandchildren that our parents used to say to us. We internalize the messages we received from our parents and act on them as we mature.

When Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as a river of living water that flows from within a person in the Gospel reading for the vigil Mass, he is describing much the same reality. When the Holy Spirit dwells in us, then we have Jesus’ values and attitudes operating within us. We see things as he sees them. We begin to recognize him in the people we meet. We begin to understand that it is Jesus speaking to us when we read the Bible. Just as we absorb our parents’ attitudes and values by the discipline they imposed on us, so Jesus’ word begins to penetrate our hearts and minds through the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we begin to change from within. (more…)

You Have Been Commissioned

Posted on May 26, 2017 by - Everyday Stewardship

An Everyday Stewardship Reflection for the Feast of the Ascension

Go Therefore and Make Disciples of All Nations

I remember watching part of a college graduation address where the speaker said, “With this degree you are commissioned to go into the world and make a difference.” The imagery conjured up in my mind by the use of the word “commissioned” was pretty powerful.

I thought about the commissioning of military officers and the responsibility they took on for the lives of their subordinates but also the lives of those they protected. To me the word meant something very serious and solemn. It meant huge responsibility and expectation.

In the Bible, Jesus gives what we call the Great Commission:

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,” (Matt 28:19-20a).

The word commission makes this more than a suggestion or a hope. There is an expectation, a responsibility, and a mandate. Of course, did you wake up this morning thinking about how you would fulfill the Great Commission today?

Faith StorySharing the Faith is not just something we should do; it is something we must do. The key is that you don’t need to speak all the time to share. It will be through your life of stewardship that others will be able to see Jesus.

By giving of yourself, by always responding to the call, and by surrendering all to God, you will lead others to become disciples, to seek out the sacraments, and to observe His teachings. Yes, responding in full to the Great Commission, great things can happen.

Learning to Fly

Posted on May 24, 2017 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

Midweek Reflection: Learning to FlyFor Sunday, May 28, 2017
The Ascension of the Lord

Acts 1:1-11
Ephesians 1:17-23
Matthew 28:16-20

In the world of nature, the eagle evokes powerful images of freedom, dignity, and courage along with a Native American connection to the divine. Eagles nest in mountain cliffs or large, tall trees, sometimes as high as 150 feet. Conservationists indicate that eagles build their nests with sticks and line them with pine branches, grass, moss, and feathers to make it soft. The nest provides the place for the eagle to lay and incubate her eggs. When her eaglets hatch and are strong enough to begin to fly, the eagle starts to take the nest apart with her fledglings in it. One branch goes, then some grass, then the pine needles while the chicks begin to scurry around the large nest wondering, “What is happening here?” Their security being whittled away, the eaglets’ mother takes each one up on her back to the sky and allows them to feel the wind. As the eaglet finds its balance in the wind, she drops down to allow the bird to find its way. When the bird drops she flies beneath him to hold him secure once again. This goes on until the bird flies on its own. It will never again return to its nest!

The entire image becomes for me a model of transition, moving from one state of life, one season of life, to another. For most of us, when change rings our doorbells we are not eager to answer. Change requires we move from our comfort zone. It means letting go! (more…)

Half Empty or Half Full?

Posted on May 18, 2017 by - Everyday Stewardship

By Steve Botsford

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5).

Running on EmptyThe idea of a glass being half empty or half full is a common proverbial phrase that is used to illustrate that a situation can be viewed as generally positive or negative. It can also be interpreted as a state of mind, or perception of one’s worldview. Either way, it’s an assessment of a moment in time.

In the Jackson Browne song “Running on Empty,” Browne describes a (hopefully) transitional season of life. He uses the metaphor of a gas tank to describe his place in life. In our own lives, we are constantly refilling and recharging. Be it gasoline, cell phone or laptop batteries, or grabbing a snack or meal, we need to replenish our source of energy.

The thing is, all these sources are temporary and must be constantly replenished. Life’s journey and meaning is found in the source of all things–Jesus Christ.

Jesus reminds us that we are connected, and when we are connected not only are we nourished but we “bear much fruit.” Connected and nourished, two essentials for the long run and for everyday stewards.

No longer are we half empty OR half full!

Steve Botsford is the Director of Religious Education at St. Ann Catholic Church in Marietta, GA. He holds an MBA from the University of Phoenix and a Master of Religious Education from Loyola University, New Orleans.

Someone to Stand by Us

Posted on May 17, 2017 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

Midweek Reflection: Someone to Stand by UsFor Sunday, May 21, 2017,
6th Sunday of Easter

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
1 Peter 3:15-18
John 14:15-21

In difficult times, we all need someone to stand up for us and to be at our side. We all know how disappointed we feel when we are abandoned by our friends because of something someone may have said about us or something we may have done. We also know how encouraged we feel when someone has the courage to stand by us.

Jesus promises the apostles in today’s Gospel that he will never abandon them. He promises that, even though they will not see him, he will still be active among them. How does he plan to do that? Jesus tells the disciples that he will send them “another Advocate.” An advocate is someone who stands up for you, who pleads your case, who defends you against a prosecutor who has brought up charges against you. Jesus is the first advocate. He is our first defender. By offering his body on the cross, he took away the charge against us, serving the sentence in our place. Jesus is continuing to advocate for us in heaven. He is continuing to pray for us before the Father until the day we are finally with him in glory. (more…)

The Value of Your Stewardship

Posted on May 12, 2017 by - Everyday Stewardship

An Everyday Stewardship Reflection for the 5th Sunday of Easter

Body of ChristWhat do you think is the value of your stewardship?

Do you believe that through your actions both great and small that God can touch people, heal them, and change their lives? Too often we can mistakenly assume that what we do, say, or offer can have little effect in the grand scheme of life.

We are simply poor sinners in need of salvation so what could we do anyway?

Jesus speaks very powerfully to what can be done by those who believe in Him and follow Him. He says in John’s gospel, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Greater ones than these? Think about all the miracles of Jesus recorded in sacred scripture. You and I can do works greater than those?

Theresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” We are Christ to a world that needs Him. It is the Christ in you that responds to the Christ in me. If it were only you alone going about doing good works and deeds, than your stewardship would amount to little. But if you bear the name Christian, and you approach your discipleship seriously, you can truly do greater things.

If you understand your stewardship as a way that Jesus works in our world, then this way of life, cultivating and sharing your gifts at every turn, becomes more valuable than all the gold in the world.