Parish Blog

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month

Jennifer C. Reid is the Pastoral Associate at St. Columbanus Church. Her Twitter handle is    @  Corliss615   .

Jennifer C. Reid is the Pastoral Associate at St. Columbanus Church. Her Twitter handle is @Corliss615.

Since 1949, the month of May is recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month. But for millions, the status of their mental health is something that they are aware of daily; not just during one month of the year. 

According to statistics given by Newsweek Magazine in February 2014, approximately 42.5 million American adults suffer from some form of mental illness. With the observance of Mental Health Awareness Month, there is an increase in the number of local events and health screenings across the country.  But during other months throughout the year, that number of local events and health screenings is not as widespread as it should be.  This leaves those in need with limited access to the help and support they may need. 

As a Catholic, I believe that all people are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). As such, Catholic Social Teaching reminds us that we all have rights and responsibilities.  Human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are upheld and responsibilities are met.  These responsibilities are to one another, to our families and to the larger society. Knowing that there is a population of individuals who may need access to mental health services but are unsure of where to access the needed services, it is everyone’s responsibility to be there for each other. Our commitment to one another is not just during the month that illnesses or diseases are observed, but always.

In Matthew 11:28-30 it says, Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.  For the more than 42.5 million American adults that suffer from some form of mental illness, they are weary and heavy-laden and need rest. Without the proper support that our local and federal governments have the responsibility to provide to those in need, rest from the burdens that many carry will never be realized.  So, as we wear our green ribbons to advocate for better mental health awareness this May, let us continue to wear that same ribbon all year long to constantly be reminded of the weary and heavy-laden amongst us.

The Black Lives Matter Movement & the Church

Keith Reid-Cleveland is a freelance writer and an activist. His Twitter handle is @kreid_c

Keith Reid-Cleveland is a freelance writer and an activist. His Twitter handle is @kreid_c

Whether it’s affected you directly or just something you’ve witnessed from a distance, you’ve likely gathered that we’re in the middle of a massive social justice movement in out country. Every week, there are countless marches, demonstrations and prayer vigils held in Chicago and many other cities in honor of those who have fallen victim to gun violence, police brutality and a growing list of injustices committed against people of color. While many can’t help but point out comparisons to social justice movements of the past, this time around, the presence of the church isn’t quite as prominent as it once was.

Many of us are aware of the longstanding history the church has of working alongside those fighting for change in our world. Some may have even played a direct role in foster that relationship. A prime example would be the Civil Rights Movement, which saw church leaders not only participate in the fight for freedom, but often organize to lead it. But we’re living in a very different time now and the social justice movement isn’t the same one of old. It’s taken on a very new form.

For starters, the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t known for having what one would consider a leader. Sure, there’s a fair share of recognizable faces that update the public on the organization’s movements on occasion. But there’s no single individual who can be identified as a de facto leader. And that’s on purpose. If you can recall what happened to the Civil Rights Movement when its leaders were stricken down, this decision makes sense. However, this also makes it more difficult for the public to have a symbolic hero to turn to.

A second major reason that the church’s presence isn’t felt in the Black Lives Matter movement is because the church’s role in social justice has shrunken overall in recent years. Especially in comparison to the past.

Activists have spoken on this gap and suggest it’s a result of two major reasons. The first being that many of today’ activists identify as members of the same groups that have felt dismissed by the church, such as the LGBTQ community. Another key factor is that activists feel that the religious leaders they’ve talked to in the past were more interested in growing their own exposure than genuinely helping the cause.

So, how do we begin to fix this? Well, there needs to be work done on both sides. But, on the side of the church, there needs to be an acknowledgement that many members of the activist community aren’t going to be found sitting in services every week. So, we must continue to or efforts to reach out to them, even on their terms, and show that we’re willing to help reach a common goal.

Remembering the lessons of life’s journey

In elementary school, attending the Stations of the Cross became my favorite part of Lent because Mass at that time felt like a routine -- similar to brushing my teeth or shampooing my hair. I’ve got to do it, but it’s not exactly the most enjoyable part of the day.

But during Lent, things felt differently, more somber and less routine. And, even as a child I enjoyed a good story. Fast-forward to present day and I understand the Stations of the Cross a lot better than my elementary school self did. But I still sometimes struggle with how it relates to my own life -- how it’s more than a story.

One recent morning as I was lamenting to myself about all the troubles and trials I’ve been dealing with these last few years (Ignorantly thinking that no one else could possibly be going through what I’m going through), I forced myself to ask:

Who the heck do I think I am?

Why wouldn’t I have to deal with daily challenges?

If God’s own Son went through challenges, why shouldn’t I have to deal with a life filled with ups and downs? Now that didn’t necessarily make me feel better and in no way am I on par with Jesus, but it was a “slap me in the face” kind of thought.

We all carry crosses in our lives -- whether it be losing a loved one to violence, battling a chronic illness, losing a job, finding out a friend isn’t a friend, not being able to find love, the list goes on and on. Life is tough every single day, but we must recognize that God gives us the strength to keep going.

And, there are also glimmers of hope as when Veronica wiped Jesus’ face or when Jesus found the strength to get up each time he fell. Kindness exists in our lives. It could be someone who gives up their seat for us on the bus because our arms are full or that friend who randomly checks in with a quick text or call. Those acts of kindness from our neighbors give us the strength to stand up, dust ourselves off, wipe away our tears and start again down life’s path.

For me, Lent is about:

●      Refocusing my mindset so that I remember that I’m not alone -- we all have crosses we must carry. It’s about how we handle each of those crosses that defines us and makes us stronger; and

●      Remembering that I must be the woman who wipes Jesus’ brow. I must be the person who sends the kind text or gives up my seat. I must help my neighbors with empathy and kindness.

Lent reminds me to embrace the journey and be there for others when their crosses get too heavy. The Stations of the Cross are more than a story told at Lent, but instead a road map for how to deal with life’s challenges.


Olivia Silver is a former journalist and current communication specialist who handles media relations for a law firm. She volunteers at St. Columbanus by assisting with communications projects. Her Twitter handles: @OliviaSilver and @OliviaClarke312.

Learning to Forgive Ourselves

I recently reconnected with someone who I have been out of touch with for many years.  He needed someone to talk to, and despite how long it had been since we last spoke, he felt confident that I would be able to talk him through some troubles he was currently facing.  He feels as if the sins of his past are the reasons why someone he loves is currently mistreating him.  But I disagree.  Oftentimes, when faced with some sort of suffering, we ask ourselves if these injustices are happening to us because of a wrong we may have committed in our past.  We hope that maybe this will justify our current struggles.  Instead of focusing on what happened in the past and whatever mistakes we may have made, we should seek forgiveness and find a way to forgive ourselves.

As it is written in Psalms 103:10: He has not dealt with us as our sins merit, nor requited us as our wrongs deserve. And God won’t.  God is love and God is always bountiful in His mercy to us. How much time do we spend beating up on ourselves after we made a mistake?  We tend to beat up on ourselves so much that there is no room for God to deal with us as our sins merit.  God forgave us, but how come we cannot forgive ourselves? 

As I reflect on learning to forgive myself, I offer some tips on how we can do this:

  •  Forgiveness means letting go of the past.  In other words, we should not allow our past to be a constant part of our identity. We are not the same as we were yesterday; yet, God’s love for us never changes.
  • God forgives your sins, but our bodies won't. As we grow in our relationship with God, and we learn from past transgressions, we work towards forgiving ourselves by releasing the emotion attached to that wrong. Forgiveness requires our whole self: mind, body, and spirit.
  • We never really forgive and forget. We may never forget our past, but our memories can be healed. This is a process that takes time. We begin by acknowledging that we have made mistakes or have experienced hurt in our past. Healing is a gift that is offered to us from God.

This Lent, instead of giving something up, we should take on the task of forgiving ourselves.  We must be willing to go so far as to forgive someone whose hurtful actions still reside somewhere in our hearts.

Jennifer C. Reid is the Pastoral Associate at St. Columbanus Church. Her Twitter handle is @Corliss615.

Making the Lenten Experience Unique

As we commence the season of Lent once again it can be both easy and difficult to enter the holy season. It’s easy because we’ve done it before; it’s hard because we wonder how it is any different from last year. The traditional tenants of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving seem easy on paper, but difficult to live out in our everyday life. How can you make this Lent special besides just giving up chocolate? Here’s some ideas using the three tenants of Lent as a basis:

Prayer: We have a lot of things in our life that need prayer. Family, friends, the world, and our city (say some extra prayers!). This Lent, make a prayer list. Every Sunday take 10 minutes and write down the things you want to lift in prayer that week. It will help your prayer be focused and come Holy Week you’ll be surprised at how many people and how many situations you’ve lifted in prayer to God.

Fasting: The perennial question: What should I give up for Lent? Lots of people give up chocolate, sweets, alcohol or something else for Lent and that’s great! But if you’ve done that for the past five years and you’re feeling bored with it you can always change it up. Don’t be afraid to give up new things; don’t be afraid to challenge yourself.

Almsgiving: This is can relate to your fasting. Let’s say you go our every Friday night with your friends and you spend on average of $60 each time you go out. A Lenten practice could be to abstain from spending the money that you would normally spend on drinks and donate the money to Catholic Relief Services or Catholic Charities. You’ll be surprised at how much money you end up giving to help those most in need.

This Lent, allow yourself to dive more deeply into the mysteries of the season and don’t be afraid to challenge yourself.

Fr. Michael Trail is the associate pastor of St. Damian Catholic Church in Oak Forest.

Twitter: @FrMichaelTrail

Celebrating Ash Wednesday

Fr. Matt O'Donnell is the Pastor of St. Columbanus Church. His Twitter handle is @FrMattODonnell

Fr. Matt O'Donnell is the Pastor of St. Columbanus Church. His Twitter handle is @FrMattODonnell

Today Christians around the world celebrate Ash Wednesday. It is a holy and sacred day that begins the season of Lent. Too often we think of Lent as a time to give things up, but this way of thinking doesn’t capture the true purpose of Lent. Lent is a time of preparation; it is a season of getting ready for the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

On this Ash Wednesday we hear the words “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Ashes are placed on our foreheads in the sign of the Cross. What we remember today is that we are created by God. It is God who formed us and fashioned us, it is God who breathed life into the first human person. It is God who breathes life into you and me. We reflect on the fact that there will come a day when our earthly bodies will return to the dust from which we were once formed. This day recalls what we hear in the first chapters of Genesis.

It might seem that all of this is just a reflection on our mortality. This talk of returning to dust might seem like a strange way to begin this season. How often do we stop to reflect on the fact that we are created? Have you taken the time to think deeply about what it means to be created in God’s own image and likeness? God is the creator of all that exists and we are so intimately connected to the created world around us. Ash Wednesday helps us focus on our origins.

So, why celebrate Lent? During these sacred days you can be reminded of God’s unconditional love! By entering completely and totally into these 40 days you can grow in your relationship with God. These days afford you an opportunity to reflect more deeply on what makes you human.

The practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving help us journey more deeply in our relationship with God. I encourage you to use this season of Lent to grow in your relationship with God! Let this Lent be different! Let this Lent change you! Let this Lent be a time of increased faith!

Introducing the Augustus Tolton Catholic Academy

In Ecclesiastes 3:1 it is written: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

For the past 105 years, St. Columbanus School has excelled in providing Catholic education to the children of the Park Manor neighborhood. Thousands of people have walked the halls of St. C and have been spiritually and academically formed in our classrooms. Our students have been prepared to be successful in high school, college, the working world, and most importantly, in life. I am very proud of all that our parish school has done to form young men and women as true disciples of Jesus Christ.

Soon, the Archdiocese of Chicago will be making strategic decisions about Catholic schools. We are announcing the formation of a brand new Catholic school on Chicago’s southside, to open in the fall of 2015. It will be entitled the Augustus Tolton Catholic Academy, and it will be a merger of St. Columbanus and St. Dorothy Schools. The Tolton Academy will be a STREAM school: a combination of the best of both historic Catholic schools in the areas of Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math.

The exciting news for us is the Tolton Academy will be located at St. Columbanus Parish.

While this will be a change for us, and for the people of St. Dorothy, it should be viewed as an exciting time. The Tolton Academy will usher in a new season for Catholic education on the southside of Chicago. Streaming the traditions of both St. Columbanus and St. Dorothy we will forge a new future for our students. The Tolton Academy will represent the very best of St. Columbanus and St. Dorothy! We will continue to provide exceptional Catholic education for our children, while we respond to the Archdiocese of Chicago’s requirement to be more fiscally responsible. We are creating an innovative, academically strong school that will truly prepare our students to be leaders in our changing world.

I am aware that this news comes as a surprise, and it is a decision that I do not take lightly. After prayerful consideration, and in consultation with our principal, Sandra Wilson, and with parish and school leaders, I am confident that this is the right decision for the future success of our school. There will be much more information coming about the details of this new school and the various transitions occurring in the months ahead. I will be sharing more information in the coming weeks and months.

Please pray for the success of the Augustus Tolton Catholic Academy, and all of the children who will call the Tolton Academy their school home.

-Fr. Matt, Pastor

Who Are You Talking About?

I spend a lot of time talking, and you probably do as well! We talk at work, in the classroom, as we drive, while we wait, and when we sit in the pews. Sometimes our talking is positive, and sometimes our talking is gossip. As Christian disciples, we are called to talk about Jesus Christ- all the time! We must proclaim Jesus to every person we encounter. This proclamation happens through the words we speak, and the actions we perform.
Every person needs to be evangelized or re-evangelized. Some have never heard of Jesus and some have ignored his voice in their life. All Christians are called to be evangelizers; everyone washed in the waters of Baptism are made new, and put on the mind of Christ. Therefore, all have a role to play in building up the Kingdom of God and participating in the mission of Jesus Christ. There must be a renewal of efforts for evangelization in individuals and churches across this country. Evangelizing may not be easy, but the Holy Spirit is the one really operating in all of our efforts—that is, if we are open to the influence of the Spirit and cooperate in God's divine plan. The work of evangelization is the work of the Trinity—it is about bringing souls to the Father, continuing the mission of the Son, and cooperating with the Holy Spirit. The ministry of evangelization is about building communio (community), and there is no better example of this than the Trinity.
So, who are you talking about? If you're not talking about Jesus, you're not doing your work as a disciple! Spend some time this week telling others about Jesus!

-Fr. Matt, Pastor