The Quest for Joyful Hope in the Arival of our Savior


I have been a Catholic all of my life, so I find it amazing, when every year at this time I am startled by the appearance of John the Baptist.  John is a pretty gnarly guy: I imagine him as a bit of a caveman.  I can’t help but wonder how he became this rough and ready fellow, ready to “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  And in this Gospel for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, he doesn’t say who he is, but rather who he isn’t, pointing to Jesus as the one who comes after him.  John “was not the light, but came to testify to the light.”

We traditionally call this third Sunday of Advent “Gaudete” or “Joyful” Sunday.  The readings and prayers of the Mass encourage us to rejoice and give thanks in the midst of our watching and waiting.  We light the pink candle, our music takes a lighter tone.  No, it’s not yet Christmas, but we know it’s very close!

As the month of December goes on the days continue to get shorter and shorter: our hope lies in our experience that in a very short time, the days will begin to grow longer.  We will have the sun, or at least daylight, a little bit longer every day!  It is not a coincidence that we celebrate the birth of Jesus so close to the winter solstice.  In Everything Belongs, Fr. Richard Rohr reminds us that darkness can be a very good teacher:  “Religious energy is in the dark questions, not in the answers.”  Once we have endured the darkness, and we can look with joyful hope to the arrival of our Savior in our hearts and in our world.

As we listen to Paul’s urgings to “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks”, I can’t help but think that many people in our world have a difficult time finding joy.  The joy these readings urge us to is not a grinning all the time, Pollyanna type outlook but a joy rooted in God that includes a deep understanding and real knowledge of God’s deep love for us.  A joy that finds its roots in faith.

The video below “May I Suggest” seems to call us to become the very best version of ourselves and find real joy.

Reflection for the 3rd Sunday in Advent by Ann Mertes, Adult Faith Formation Director, Saint Francis of Assisi parish in West Des Moines

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Posted by on December 15, 2014 in Evangelization


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The Wonder of Advent


Today, I was blessed to be on Iowa Catholic Radio TODAY on the Iowa Catholic Radio network.  They had asked if I would visit with the morning crew (Jeanne Wells, Mark Amadeo, and Jon Leonetti) about the separation between Advent and Christmas.

As I had a chance to ponder this topic it occurred to me that Advent is a time to wonder in our preparation for the Incarnation of Christ at Christmas.  While the secular world not only ends Christmas usually on December 26 or January 1 at the latest, it also makes it very much about individualism and consumerism.  Liturgically we encounter some very rough themes in Christmas such as the martyrdom of St. Stephan, the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents, being a refugee in a foreign land (Jesus, Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt), and the tyranny of Herod and Rome among the people of Israel.  We also have fabulous themes to consider during the liturgical season of Christmas whose primary focus is what it means for God to be incarnate in humanity, and other themes such as honoring Mary as Mother of God, the feast of the Holy Family, Epiphany, and the Baptism of the Lord.  Although there are multiple themes and liturgical celebrations in the Christmas season that pass by quickly during this brief period of about 18 days, at least we have time to breathe and to consider what the Church is proposing in her teaching and rituals.  Advent however gets lost in the clutter and busyness of the secular world leading up to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

How do you and I take time to enjoy and pray through the Advent Season?  Melinda Selmys, from Our Sunday Visitor, has a very insightful article titled Rediscovering the Wonder Around Us which I find helpful and practical in trying to balance all the activities and things to do lists that these weeks before Christmas bring.  Melinda also includes a list of 10 opportunities each of us can do to add more wonder into our Advent season.  I spoke about a few of these this morning but the entire list is below:

  1. Break your routine
  2. Follow your intuition
  3. Make unscheduled time
  4. Take risks
  5. Be less critical
  6. Break script
  7. Create
  8. Pursue your interests
  9. Expand your world
  10. Rest

Follow the above link to the article to learn more about these opportunities and read Melinda’s full story in Our Sunday Visitor.  

On behalf of the Diocesan Department of Evangelization & Catechesis, may you and your family continue to have a blessed Advent season.

Advent reflection by John Gaffney, Director of the Department of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Diocese of Des Moines.

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Posted by on December 11, 2014 in Advent


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Prepare the Way!


This Sunday’s readings remind us of the need to ready ourselves for the coming of the Christ Child in our midst. Isaiah the prophet offers us many metaphors, all of which offer us advice for ways in which we might prepare….”Comfort, give comfort my people…”;”A voice cries out in the wilderness…” ; “Go up to the high mountain…”

The theme of preparation continues in the Gospel from Mark….”prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths…” Having lived in West Virginia for several years, I appreciate the value of making straight curvy pathways. One of my favorite lines when asking for driving directions was, “you can’t get there from here,” which was true if you looked at the path the way the bird flew. Straight lines and highways did not exist.

Still, there is something to be said about the curves in the road. It is in the curves that we discover where we really want to go in life. It is in the disorientation that comes as we struggle to be who and what we believe God has called us to be that allows us to claim again the pathway that leads to God. It is in the desert that we come to set our hearts on what refreshes and gives life, and we know ourselves as the beloved of God.

But we cannot come to that understanding without preparation, without comfort, without cries in the wilderness, without straightening pathways…

  • What are the cries you send out to the world?
  • How do you offer comfort to others?
  • What is your wilderness?
  • What pathways do you need to make straight?​

Many years ago the St. Louis Jesuits recorded a song entitled, “Exult You Just Ones.” The just ones are those who walk in right-relationship with God….they are the ones who have come to know the love of God and the action of God in and around them. I provide the link to the song below. Perhaps as you consider your journey, you may find the lyric of this song speaking to you.

Advent 2nd Week Reflection by Dr. Cheryl Fournier, Diocesan Director of Adult Faith Formtion and Lay Ecclesial Ministry Formation in the Department of Evangelization and Catechesis.

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Posted by on December 8, 2014 in Advent, Evangelization, Uncategorized


Is your GPS programmed toward God’s Kingdom?


This weekend’s readings for the 1st Sunday in Advent made me ponder the question, “What kind of GPS do I have? Is it a Global Positioning System or is it a God Positioning System?” Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Mark, “Be watchful! Be Alert! (Mark 13:33a)” Doesn’t that sound like a GPS system to you?

If a destination is really important, or one is traveling in an area that is not familiar, most people will program the GPS system in the car. Perhaps it is the trip of a lifetime, like a diehard Green Bay Packer fan heading to Lambeau for the first time? Perhaps it is an important meeting and you need to be at the destination early to set-up for the presentation? Each of these examples requires planning, preparation and hope-filled expectation.

Do you and I take the same amount of time and effort as we journey towards God’s everlasting kingdom? The prophet Isaiah certainly has figured me out when he writes, “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? (Isaiah 63:17a)” Wouldn’t it be great if our God Positioning System was as obnoxious as the shrill voice in a normal Global Positioning System? When I start to head a direction away from God it would shout “recalculating path” and point me in the direction that leads to a closer relationship with God.

Advent is the season that helps you and I recalculate our planning and preparation so that we are hopeful for building a deeper relationship with Christ. The question for us is how to program our God Positioning System. There are many Advent season opportunities to redirect us towards God’s love for us.

One of my favorites is below from Busted Halo: InstaAdvent. It’s an easy and fun way to travel towards Christ’s Incarnation and away from the extremely distracting hustle that usually comes with the lead-up to Christmas. Busted Halo is proposing that we post a photo each day during Advent to stay connected to the joy and hope of the season. You and I can also win prizes from Busted Halo by accepting the challenge. For more information go to Busted Halo InstaAdvent Photo Challenge. You can see the challenge photo list in the graphic below.  This is also a challenge you can do in your parish and have parishioners post photos to your Facebook Page or Twitter feed.

There are many other ways this Advent to “recalculate” our GPS towards God including parish missions, daily reflections, Adoration, and of course the blessings that come by participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Let us take time this Advent to plan and prepare for “fellowship with God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9)”


Advent 1st Week Reflection by John Gaffney, Diocesan Director of Evangelization & Catechesis Department

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Posted by on December 1, 2014 in Advent


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Christian Service shows Authentic Leadership

Pope Francis washing the feet of a dozen inmates at a juvenile detention center on Holy Thursday in 2013.

Pope Francis washing the feet of a dozen inmates at a juvenile detention center on Holy Thursday in 2013.


“What I want to emphasize is that we need constantly to stir up God’s grace and perceive in every request, even those requests that are inconvenient and at times purely material or downright banal – but only apparently so – the desire of our people to be anointed with fragrant oil, since they know that we have it…We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters.”  Pope Francis’ homily at the Chrism Mass in 2013.

I remember when I was first asked to be the coordinator of parish youth ministry at the Basilica of St. John in the 1990s.  I was excited because the pastor had recognized that I had gifts he felt would be of use to the parish, and especially teens, to grow in closer relationship with God.  Immediately after I said yes, without much discernment, I immediately became very afraid…”What am I doing?”  “Am I nuts?”  “Surely this is the worst mistake anyone could make?”

Well after some research and time on the job I realized the answer was yes to all of the questions except the mistake.  I grew to love youth ministry and it was because in servicing others in Jesus’ name, I saw his face more clearly.  The teens reflections, vibrancy and problems helped me understand Jesus’ washing of the feet more clearly.  Shortly after I began in youth ministry a parishioner provided me with a picture of very dirty feet.  Below is a copy of the exact picture I have next to my Breviary (thank you internet.)  I look at that picture every morning as I contemplate “Who do you say that I am?”  (Matthew 16:15b)images

I think about the times Jesus lived and what roads would have been filled with: not very good thoughts I must say.  And yet he humbled himself to wash the feet and he told his disciples that they too must do the same.  Pope Francis above proposes that we find God’s anointing for us when we self-sacrifice for the good of others…even when they are wrong, rude, boring, left-wing or right-wing, from the wrong family, etc.

I propose that the Pope is telling each of us that one of the most powerful symbols of authenticity is service to our sisters and brothers.  Each day I need to ask myself, is my leadership style there primarily for serving other’s needs or my own?  Perhaps this is rude to have you ask this of yourself but it is worth thinking about when registrations are late, a parent yells at you for something that isn’t your fault, or your parish leadership doesn’t always take time to give you thanks for your hard work.  The blessings of working in diocesan ministry is that I have the chance to see inspiration daily and it helps me dig deeper to understand that leadership in line with Jesus’ teaching is leadership at a personal cost.  As we enter this new catechetical season in the next month, let us focus on the many feet we will encounter…some of which may be our own.

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Posted by on July 21, 2014 in Pope Francis, Service


Inspirational Leadership Requires Self-Leadership

Mary Green, receiving an award for 25 years of service in catechetical leadership on May 13, 2014 in Atlantic.  Photo by Dr. Cheryl Fournier.

Mary Green, receiving an award from Father Michael Amadeo, for 25 years of service in catechetical leadership on May 13, 2014 in Atlantic. Photo by Dr. Cheryl Fournier.

Pope Francis, in his Pentecost Vigil address on May 18, 2013, stated, “The worst enemy of a fragile faith — curious, isn’t it? — is fear.  Do not be afraid!  We are frail and we know it, but he is stronger!”  He goes on to say, “Think about it: when we are too self-confident, we are more fragile — much more fragile.  Always with the Lord, with the Lord!  And when we say “with the Lord”, we mean with the Eucharist, with the Bible, with prayer… but also with the family, with our mother, also with her, because she is the one who brings us to the Lord; she is the mother, she is the one who knows everything.  So pray to Our Lady too and ask her, as a mother, to ‘make me strong’.”

Chris Lowney, author of Pope Francis: Why he Leads the Way he Leads,” proposes that “Pope Francis’ leadership inspires others because of his self-leadership, and the respective path to self-leadership involved deep introspective journeys (p. 25.) ”  He continues to reflect on Pope Francis’ first 48 hours as the Roman Pontiff by recognizing that the pope has learned to “Be Who You Are (p. 25.)”  He continues with a short reflection on the qualities found in Pope Francis and others who share this gift of personal understanding, “Be comfortable in your own skin.  Know who you are, the good and the bad.  And find the courage not just to be yourself, but the best version of yourself.  These are the foundations of self-leadership, and all leadership starts with self-leadership because you can’t lead the rest of us if you can’t lead yourself.  And you can’t lead yourself if you haven’t done the work to know who you are (p. 28.)”

We have an excellent example of what Pope Francis and Chris Lowney illustrate in Mary Green.  Mary is a disciple of God, daughter, wife, mother, sister, friend, colleague and wise sage.  On Friday July 4, 2014 Mary lost her physical battle with cancer but it did nothing but fuel her soul to seek God’s face and share his good news of grace and mercy with those she encountered.  Her faithfulness inspired me, and many others, to grow deeper in Christian faith and love for the Church.

I will miss the many conversations that Mary and I had over the years about faith, the Church, catechetical ministry, parish life, children…vocation.  Mary was passionate about her faith and her love for the Church, even when she felt the Church was moving in the wrong direction.  She was one of the few people you could have a vigorous discussion about pastoral issues facing the Catholic Church and even if you found yourself on different ends of the argument in the end, you couldn’t help but admire her faithfulness and her charity in the midst of the conversation.  She also is one of the few people who took responsibility when she felt she let people down.  She and I were both passionate about inclusion of all people in our parish communities.  When it came to disabled people, Mary felt we were not doing nearly enough including the efforts at her own parish.  She rolled up her sleeves, spoke to the pastor, worked on a good first step and went for it.  Today this parish is leading the way in what can be done for all families, including those who have people with disabilities, to be included in every aspect of parish life.

My final memory of Mary is at the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership (NCCL) Annual Meeting held in St. Louis this past May.  Mary was in her element: learning about new ways to evangelize and catechize, encountering colleagues from around the country, speaking to national leaders to know more about methodologies to help her parish community and sharing her joy and new-found knowledge with all of us who were blessed to be there too.  On Wednesday evening we all went out to dinner and Mary was full of energy and life as she was whisked away in a bicycle cart carriage to the restaurant.  We spoke about our diocese, catechetical ministry, our colleagues as we enjoyed wine, delicious Italian food and wonderful desserts.  It was a night I will always cherish and her final challenge to me to strive to be the best version of myself.

Mary Green, pray for us.

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Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


Pope Francis’ Leadership Model – Lessons for those who serve in Evangelization & Catechesis



Author Chris Lowney, Loyola Press, begins his new book Pope Francis: Why he Leads the Way he Leads – Lessons from the First Jesuit Pope with the following quote from Pope Francis, “Today’s world stands in great need of witnesses, not so much of teachers but rather witnesses.  It’s not so much about speaking, but rather speaking with our whole lives.”  Ouch!  For someone like me who has spent most of his adult life in a teaching/coaching position, I am not sure how to take the Pope?

I decided to look further at what Pope Francis said on his May 18, 2013 Pentecost Vigil Address in St. Peter’s Square to gather some context to this brief statement which launches this book.  The Pope said, “Because God sets beside us people who help us on our journey of faith.  We do not find our faith in the abstract, no!  It is always a person preaching who tells us who Jesus is, who communicates faith to us and gives us the first proclamation.  And this is how I received my first experience of faith.”  Pope Francis provide a simple three step process for experiencing God:

  1. Jesus
  2. Prayer
  3. Witness

Finally he lands his point that helps me make sense of the initial comment regarding witnessing over teaching, “Faith can only be communicated through witness, and that means love.  Not with our own ideas but with the Gospel, lived out in our own lives and brought to life within us by the Holy Spirit…It’s not so much about speaking, but rather speaking with our whole lives: living consistently, the very consistency of our lives!  This consistency means living Christianity as an encounter with Jesus that brings me to others.”

Most teachers I know that are effective have this quality of witness in their character.  Think about the catechists and youth ministry associates who work with children and teens every week?  Yes, they work on lesson plans and additional study to become well versed for the session, but what the children and teens experience is the Holy Spirit animating this person to be with them to share their faith in God and our Catholic Church.  Witnessing to one’s faith may sound like a “Protestant” method but when you think of it the way Pope Francis does, it is each of us sharing with others why Jesus is vital to the way in which we live our lives.

With that said, will you consider volunteering your time to work with children or teens once a year to share your faith?  If you are a catechist or youth minister, who in your parish would be open to sharing their faith with your children and teens?  Are there parishioners who would be open to sharing a bit of their faith journey in the parish bulletin, on the website or parish Facebook page?  If you are a parent or grand parent, have you shared with your children/grandchildren how important Jesus is in your life?  Evangelization is the responsibility of everyone, not just the pastor and staff.  As I learned today from Pope Francis, evangelization happens when we give witness to our words and deeds.

Join me each Monday for a different reflection on Pope Francis and leadership.


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