We Do Not have to Go It Alone

A New Year’s message from our provincial director, Fr. Jeffrey Kirch, C.PP.S.

I am not one of them, but I have heard about people making New Year’s resolutions.

Usually, these are cast in the first person: I will quit smoking. I will learn a new skill.

I am here with good news: if you hope to grow in wisdom, knowledge, or fortitude in the coming year, you do not have to go it alone.

These gifts come to us through and from the Holy Spirit. Life, we hope, is a long journey of enlightenment. We want to think that we are far wiser than we were 10 or 20 or more years ago.

Was that our own doing? Some of it was, perhaps. But the farthest leaps in understanding always come to us when we plug into the power of the One who created the universe.

So if we want to use this year as a time when we see more clearly and understand more deeply, all we have to do is ask for inspiration and guidance from the Holy Spirit. And then follow the light that the Spirit always provides.

Fr. Joe Nassal: Radiant Dawn, Epiphany

This week the “bomb cyclone” has covered the Bay Area with thick clouds, strong winds, and relentless rains. In the first reading for the feast of Epiphany, the prophet Isaiah describes a similar scene: “Darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples.” But then the prophet proclaims not just a break in those clouds but how the people will receive a great light that will bathe them in hope and peace and forgiveness. The Epiphany story proclaims that this radiant dawn of God’s love is not just for a chosen few but for all. The journey of the Magi is our journey. Epiphany encourages us to pause and consider what is the guiding light of our lives. God continues to shine, though the thick clouds may block the Divine Presence from our sight at times. The Magi show us how to trust not only in the light that guides our journey but also in the power of our dreams.

The Miracle Presented Anew

By Fr. Jeff Kirch, C.PP.S., Provincial Director

Francia, Francesco; The Nativity of Christ; Glasgow Museums; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-nativity-of-christ-83994

On behalf of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, serving the people of God around the world, I would like to wish you and your family a very merry and blessed Christmas.

“All around the world” has been on my mind. Earlier this month, I was in Rome to attend a meeting about religious life. I am still thinking about all those good men and women who minister to the people of God in so many ways.

Today they are celebrating Christmas in many ways, each according to their culture and customs. But each in awe of the newborn who changed the world for all of us. 

The central truth of Christ remains the same across time and cultures. But the way that we embrace the Truth is very personal. The universal and the intimate—it is a paradox that God cares about the whole world and each one of us. God is the creator of the universe and is embodied in a child too young to walk.

Let us all join in this worldwide celebration today with a continual sense of wonder that this miracle is presented to us anew. That we see it through our own eyes, yet share the Good News with all the Earth.

Fr. Joe Nassal: When Joseph Awoke-Advent 4a

Advent has always been one of my favorite seasons because it speaks of hope, expectation, and anticipation as we approach Christmas. But since 2010, when my sister Mary died on the First Sunday of Advent, I also associate this season of hope with grief. This is probably how Joseph, engaged to Mary, must have felt after finding out Mary was pregnant, and he knew he wasn’t the father. But when Joseph awoke from his dream, he did as the angel told him and took Mary into his home. An important question to ask ourselves this last week before Christmas is in the rush and crush of the season, are we awake or asleep? The great challenge as Advent people is how, even in our grief, we are called to stay awake and take “God with us” into our homes, our hearts, our communities, and our world.

New Symbol for the United States Province

by Jean Giesige, Dayton Office

When the Missionaries of the Precious Blood created their United States Province from the former Cincinnati and Kansas City Provinces earlier this year, they knew they would need a new symbol for this new entity.

The process of creating a new symbol began as it ends, with the Missionaries of the Precious Blood.

Four Missionaries were asked to participate in a discussion of their own call, their experience of the Congregation, its mission, and their understanding of Precious Blood spirituality.

They did a deep dive into the Congregation’s identity. One question they were asked: If the Congregation was a person, what would be its personality traits? Some of their answers were: “Empathy; a person who really listens; nonjudgmental; integrity; looking at current events and ready to respond in love; respect for others; compassionate; spiritual; humble.” 

Their thoughts were distilled and sent to a design firm that came up with the first round of symbol design drafts. The committee of four Missionaries took a long look, rejected a few designs outright, made recommendations on the rest, and set the designers back to work. 

The drafts that made it through that initial process went on to the Provincial Council. Council members studied the design drafts, rejected some, and asked the artists to refine others. The drafts went through several more rounds. The council studied not only the symbol design but the words that went with it. 

Council members were unanimous on the design that they ultimately chose. Elements of the design include the cup, cross, and covenant. The wine that is filling the cup is both flowing in, representing God’s Spirit infused into the Community, and flowing out to the world. It shows movement, because “Missionaries are not statues,” as St. Gaspar said.

“This process has allowed us once again to talk about who we are and how to present that to the world,” said Fr. Jeffrey Kirch, C.PP.S., provincial director. “I appreciate the input of the council and of those four Missionaries who talked so vividly about their vocation and the identity of the Congregation that we all love. The new symbol was born out of all of that. I hope we can embrace it.”

Fr. Joe Nassal: Waiting in Joyful Hope-Advent 3a

On this Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, we are invited to Rejoice! And yet when we look at the landscape of our world, there is not much to be joyful about these days. But our readings today show us how to live in joyful hope even when our world seems to be falling apart. The prophet Isaiah envisions a parched land bursting with new life as the blind see, the deaf hear, the mute sing, and the lame dance. Paul gives us an image of joyful hope in the farmer patiently awaiting the harvest. And even John the Baptist, sitting in a prison cell, sends his disciples to hear the new prophet, Jesus, and ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus invites the disciples to look around and see for themselves how the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled. Our challenge today is to practice living with joyful hope. We do this by embracing all that we are, the good and the bad, in us and in our world, and knowing that God still beats and breathes within us. God still dreams in us, still believes in us, and still loves us.

Fr. Joe Nassal: Snake Charmers and Street Preachers-Advent 2a

Reconciling with God’s Creation

Sunflowers in bloom at Precious Blood Renewal Center

by Tim Deveney, Precious Blood Volunteers Director

Following an unusually hot spell in September, we were blessed with more normal temperatures in Kansas City. It’s been a lot nicer to take my post-lunch walk around the grounds of the Precious Blood Renewal Center. I love walking over on the southeast side of the lake. The gravel path follows the grassland that was planted a few years ago, ringed by an ample number of trees.

The seasons reveal different new glories as the growing season moves forward. The spring reveals the greenish blue of the native grasses. These are followed by coneflowers of different hues. In August and September, the sunflowers extol the glory of God with their yellows ringing rich black. Then the goldenrod takes its turn to show off. The natural beauty of this prairie and forest is in stark contrast with the noise of the interstate and the looming gray ugliness of the newly built warehouse just across the parkway.

One day when I was walking along this path, it struck me that by devoting this section of land to native plants, we are engaging in an act of recon- ciliation with God’s creation. A good chunk of the land we are entrusted with at the Renewal Center is devoted to trees and grasslands. These native prairie grasses and flowers are beautiful and surprisingly resilient. Most important, they do great work in offsetting some of the worst actions we have taken to hurt the Earth and God’s creation that inhabits it. These grasslands do not require the hours of mowing by machines that consume fossil fuels and produce localized pollutants and noise.

Coyote at Precious Blood Renewal Center

This rewilded area supports a biodiverse area for plants and animals. The grasses, flowers, and trees provide expanded habitat for bugs and a surprising number of animals. Since that part of the Renewal Center grounds was converted from lawn to prairie, there has been a notable increase in the fauna there. It is not unusual to see deer, turtles, snakes, coyotes, and birds of all kinds.

These native grasses, flowers, and trees reduce the impact of localized and regional flooding and erosion. They do this by absorbing rainwater into the ground through their own water needs and channeling water deeper into the ground through their extensive root systems. They also do a more effective job of holding topsoil in the ground than lawn grasses do. These plants can help filter out some manufactured contaminants before they reach surface water.

In addition, these plants effectively absorb greenhouse gasses, which Project Drawdown, an organization working to stop human-caused climate change, describes as a “carbon sink.” They do this much better than a manicured lawn.

Reconciling with the Earth is a small act of reconciliation. It should be a part of broader efforts by all of us as individuals, as a Precious Blood community committed to renewal and reconciliation, to care for our common home and a reframing of how we view and treat it.

Pope Francis writes in “Laudato Sí” that “[Mother Earth] cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.” He continues: “We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.”

He challenges all of us even more firmly with quotes from Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew “for human beings … to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life—these are sins” since “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and sin against God.”

Embracing this challenge requires us to have a change of heart. Pope Francis cites his predecessor Pope Benedict in a call to find the way of love, which is moving from our own individual wants and desires to what God’s world needs. This means liberating ourselves from fear, greed, and compulsion.

Changing our hearts should lead us to deeper reconciliation with our common home and each other. Action should follow our turning away from the sin against nature. Our actions need to include reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants by using less and becoming more energy efficient. Better efficiency can be achieved through technological tools that include renewable sources of energy and technologies such as higher efficiency light bulbs and means of transportation.

Monarch butterflies on wildflowers at Precious Blood Renewal Center

However, we are not going to be able to use technology to get us out of this crisis. A major part of this is reordering our lives to use less. It means shaping our communities in ways that reduce dependence on automobiles and prioritize walking, bicycling, and public transportation. It will require us to think about how much waste we produce through non-reusable items and other consumer goods that have short useful lives that end up in landfills or as litter. We will need to think about our food systems that produce a great deal of waste and greenhouse-emitting byproducts. The waste from spoilage of food is especially troubling since a good deal of that could go to feeding people.

Our overuse of land for agriculture and other commercial purposes also takes away from wild areas. These wild environments, on a larger scale than what is happening at the Renewal Center, need to be protected and expanded. Wild areas are wonderful carbon sinks. They are our best way to reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses currently in our atmosphere. They have the added benefit of protecting and promoting biodiversity, while ensuring the longevity of our sources of freshwater.

Tim Deveney is director of Precious Blood Volunteers and a member of the US Province’s Justice and Peace Committee

Volunteer Commitment Is Transformative Experience

Kara McNamara

By Kara McNamara, Precious Blood Volunteer Alumna

I have always been an avid reader. One of my favorite books is “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë. When I first read it in high school, I was focused on the dramatic romance between Jane and Mr. Rochester at the center of the Gothic story. Over the years, as I’ve revisited the book, other important themes emerged: autonomy, social class, the hospitality of strangers, mental health, and morality. I have been delighted by the ways in which a story can continue to have new meaning, even when the words remain the same. Every time I read the story, I am different and the lens through which I view it changes.

Kara and fellow PBV, Leah on the Navajo Nation

The same is true for the meaning and impact of my time as a Precious Blood Volunteer! I have enjoyed the presence of Precious Blood people and Precious Blood spirituality in my life for nearly 10 years. It amazes me that what started as a six-month commitment as a volunteer on the Navajo reservation has become a formative, transformative experience and way of looking at the world. In that time as a volunteer, I learned so much about myself, spirituality, ministry of presence, and the inherent dignity of the human person. Ten years later, I continue to pursue growth in those areas and to find connections in my everyday life now, long after I left Crownpoint, New Mexico.

This formational time as a volunteer and the resulting connections with Precious Blood members and Companions taught me to recognize and follow “the cry of the blood.” That cry felt (and still feels) like a personal and irresistible invitation from God to be present to the needs of others.

I followed that call into working with youth in the nonprofit sector for several years before returning to graduate school for a master’s degree in counseling. It was obvious to me that in order to further pursue the call to support and serve others, I had some things to learn! I worked as a high school counselor for a few years, and with my professional focus on mental health and trauma-informed care for my students, I truly felt that the tenets of the Precious Blood Volunteer program to walk with those who suffer and to build community lived on in my work. The high school where I worked also implemented restorative practices, and I was extremely interested in the pursuit of reconciliation in that context.

“It amazes me that what started as a six-month commitment as a volunteer on the Navajo reservation has become a formative, transformative experience and way of looking at the world.”

Kara with her husband, Jack, and their daughter, Clare

This interest led me to my current work for the Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition, which provides training and support to those who minister to people affected by incarceration or detention. I am the communications manager for the organization, which means it is my work to invite people to discover their own call to seek reconciliation, be present to the needs of others, and work for justice.

In doing this work, I truly have felt the ordinary transform into the sacred. I may be working away on a laptop at home, but I am listening to the needs of people, I am helping to train the next generation of prison ministers, and I am working toward the creation of a justice system that upholds the dignity of every human person. It has been simultaneously grounding and energizing.

As an added bonus, after years of following the impact of the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, I enjoyed the experience of learning from Fr. David Kelly and Sr. Donna Liette through two (excellent) CPMC webinars earlier this year. I am grateful to have a job that aligns my personal values and sense of vocation with my professional tasks.

The story continues. I am grateful for the day I thumbed through the Catholic Volunteer Network catalog and found an opportunity that has brought so much good to my life. I never could have guessed all the joy and community that has flowed from that experience, including the sense of joy and community that is present in my personal life. I married my husband Jack four years ago with Fr. Al Ebach, C.PP.S., presiding. When we welcomed our sweet daughter Clare into the world this summer, we did so knowing that so many others were celebrating with us.

I am so grateful that God connected my story with this community and charism.

“We know that God is everywhere; but certainly we feel His presence most when His works are on the grandest scale spread before us; and it is in the unclouded night-sky, where His worlds wheel their silent course, that we read clearest His infinitude, His omnipotence, His omnipresence.”

-Charlotte Brontë, “Jane Eyre

Kara served in 2013 as a Precious Blood Volunteer at St. Paul Catholic Church in Crownpoint, New Mexico, Navajo Nation. She now works for Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition. Go to preciousbloodvolunteers.org to learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers. 

St. Gaspar, a Child of the Magi

By Fr. Ben Berinti, C.PP.S.

As we celebrate the feast day of our founder, St. Gaspar del Bufalo, the Missionaries in this country do so, for the first time, as the United States Province. That should give us a jolt of energy, since this is our invitation to rebirth, our time of renewal. And our founder was all about renewal, revival and reveling in the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ.

Ever since our founding Assembly in June 2022, I keep returning to the image of St. Gaspar as a “child of the Epiphany,” born on that feast day, and continue to contemplate what implications this could possibly have for us as we live out our commitments and covenants to the Congregation and the mission of St. Gaspar for our times.

What a glorious feast of the Church on which to be born, even if it did mean he had to bear the heavy burden of the strange names his parents bestowed upon him, Gaspar Melchior Balthazar del Bufalo Gaspar carried not only the traditional names of the Magi, but he inherited their questing spirit, their vivid imagination, their fearlessness in the face of a grueling journey, and the wonder that they displayed upon finding the incarnate Son of God.

But as much as St. Gaspar embodied the qualities of the Magi, he was not only a “child of the Magi,” but also a “child of the Shepherds.” While the Magi brought their exotic element to the wonder of the Incarnation, they were not the first witnesses to the Word Made Flesh. It was to the working, poor, unwelcome mundane shepherds that the invitation to come and worship was first proclaimed—not by a star, but rather by an angelic chorus.

And yet, these two sets of people, and what they represent in the Gospels, hold one thing in common—something important to our founder. Both the Magi and shepherds lived on the fringes of the society and culture into which the divine was incarnated. And this reality also finds its way into the heart, soul and zeal of St. Gaspar.

St. Gaspar leaves us the task of also embodying a life on the fringes, a life reaching out beyond the rigid boundaries so many want to create in our day—a mission that not only looks to the stars for big and bold dreams, but also a mission that has its feet firmly planted on the ground where the less than exotic needs of our brothers and sisters still cry out for the Word Made Flesh.

As a child of the Magi, St. Gaspar truly lived the meaning of the great feast of the Epiphany—recognizing the divine presence, especially in the Blood of Christ, dwelling within our world and us. And he not merely recognized it but responded to that revelation by offering his unique gifts for the renewal of God’s people.

May we honor our founder today and each day going forward by doing the same!

Fr. Ben Berinti, C.PP.S., is a provincial councilor with the United States Province. An author, preacher and pastor, he is in ministry in Melbourne Beach, Fla.