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Stepping out of our comfort zone. Isn’t that what Lent is about? Shaking up those daily rituals so that we see the world from a different angle – hopefully one that is more God-focused, and less focused on ourselves. This Lent, I decided to “take up” going to Mass twice during the week during my lunch hour. Talk about shaking up your work week! While in years past, I had always focused on the “giving up” tradition, the taking up of this new spiritual discipline has had a profound effect: twice a week, I hit the “pause” button on the concerns and stresses of my job and spend some time with the Lord. It gives me time to pray for my family and my friends and to think about the things that really matter. Those two extra hours each week force me out of my Sunday morning complacency and have me looking at things in a new way.
As you know, this year’s Annual Catholic Appeal theme – Serve with Love – is based on Pope Francis’ unceasing call over the past year for us to step out of our comfort zones and be with the poor: attending to their needs, listening to them, ministering to them, learning from them, and working to end poverty altogether. I recently read an article by Cardinal Sean O’Malley (who was the keynote speaker at this year’s Diocesan Catholic Men’s Conference), which discusses the influence of Ignatian spirituality on Pope Francis, and how this has led the Holy Father to challenge our “core assumptions about power, authority and leadership.”

It’s in that spirit that we wanted to shake things up and look at the Annual Catholic Appeal differently. For so many years, we’ve politely asked for your donations, you have generously donated, we have allocated those funds, and the agencies and schools have done amazing work. It was time to hit the “pause” button and figure out how we could connect neighbor to neighbor, to help donors get something back spiritually by interacting with those who need their help. That’s why this year, we’ve incorporated a volunteerism campaign into the Appeal, as Bishop McDonnell explained during our kick-off. I’m happy to report that so far, over 40 people have pledged to volunteer over 1,000 hours in local agencies and parishes! Of course, the 40+ agencies, schools, parishes and ministries still need financial support. We are also closing in on the $1 million milestone: as of March 17th, we have raised $947,064 from 6,545 generous donors.
If you are interested in volunteering and want to learn more, there are several options:
• Fill out our online volunteer form
• Like our Facebook page so you can hear when different agencies supported by the ACA need your help
• Follow us on Twitter: @ACASpfldMA2014
• Call me at 413.452.0670

ACA Poster 2014

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@ACASpfldMA2014

Over the past few weeks, I’ve shared with you what we mean when we say “Serve with Love,” why we do it, and whom we help through our Annual Appeal. But there’s still an important part of this story to tell, and it’s a bigger story than I can tell myself. So I need your help. I want to hear how YOU are making a difference every day. How are you living out the gospel message in your own way? How are you empowering people? Helping them live with dignity and joy? How are you, as Pope Francis is urging us to do, “protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about?”

Over the remainder of Lent, please share your stories on twitter with #wmaservewithlove. And be sure to follow us @ACASpfldMA2014. We’ll share our favorites in this blog and on our Facebook page.

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Beth & Ray Ginepro
Worldwide Marriage Encounter
  
Turning Points
    
    We spring ahead an hour this month and from that time on the days get longer, the weather gets warmer and activities shift more to the outdoors.  We can think about the milestones in our lives also marked by the phrase “from that time on”: We met ‘the one’ and from that time on our life was never the same. We got married and from that time on it was no longer just about me but about us.  Children came along and from that time on we were a family.  Demands of daily living pulled us in separate directions and from that time on disillusionment began to set in.  We forgave each other and from that time on our relationship began to heal.  We lived our marriage encounter weekend and from that time on we grew in intimacy and joy again.
 
            In scripture too, as Bishop Ken Untener so keenly points out, turning points in Jesus’ public life are marked by the phrase “from that time on.” (See Matthew 4:17 “From that time on Jesus began to preach”, Mt 16:21 “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly”, Mt 26:16 “From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.”)
 
            Turning points are an opportunity to grow…together or apart…for better or for worse…closer to each other and God …or not.  How we approach the turning points in our own lives affects the direction in which we will go. Are you happy with where you are headed? 
 
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Discussion questions to explore some more:
  • What have been the turning points in my life? What have I learned from them?
  • When did I first realize that you were the one for me?
  • What is one thing we can do to recapture some carefree timelessness together?
  • Recall a time when have I stepped out of my comfort zone as an act of love for you?
  • What do I need to turn away from to turn closer in relationship to God/to my spouse?
  • If I had one do over what would it be?
  • I feel loved and cherished when you________.
  • How has the love of neighbor/of God touched me in my life?
  • What dreams do I have for our future?
  • How open are we to invite God to be our “able bodied navigator”?
May your discussion blossom with blessings in your journey toward Easter and Spring!
 
(To find out more about a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend go to www.wwmeMA.org)
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Three million dollars. That’s a lot of money! That is also how much we hope to raise through this year’s Annual Catholic Appeal. If you’ve had a chance to read through our 2013 Accountability Report, then you know that last year’s Appeal, which raised $2,727,110, was able to help our neighbors and churches by:

·         Providing over $700,000 in educational support to Catholic elementary and secondary students in the Diocese

·         Providing  $288,005 for direct social services to people in need

·         Allocating $372,750 for Catholic Latino Ministries, which ensures all services afforded to diocesan Catholics be made available to the Catholic Latino community

·         Promoting the Catholic faith through print and media by supporting Catholic Communications Corporation

Campaign costs were kept to less than 7%, and only 11% went towards supporting three offices within the Diocese. The Appeal has always been about neighbor helping neighbor, and we work hard to keep it that way.

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So how can we reach our goal of $3,000,000 this year? If every registered Catholic in the Diocese – there are approximately 219,000 – were to donate just $14, we’d make our goal. But I understand that not every person is able to give financially. That’s why we’re encouraging area Catholics to visit and like our new Facebook page, which showcases the many area agencies and causes that the Appeal supports. If you are not able to make a financial donation, consider volunteering your time and talents to one or more of these worthy organizations.

In the past few days, we’ve highlighted Rick’s Place, Northern Berkshire Pregnancy Support Center, Homework House, Montague Catholic Social Ministries, Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen, and The Gray House. By liking our Facebook page, you’ll receive an update each day about volunteer opportunities, events, and meaningful ways to serve others over the coming months.

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In the end, when we serve our neighbors with love – whether through our donations of time, talent, or treasure – we all reach our goals.

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