everyday heroes

Clare Blankemeyer:

I serve on the board of St. Francis Seraph Ministries because I strongly support the continuum of services that we offer in the OTR community. I believe in empowerment of the whole self, and believe strongly that SFSM is providing these human necessities in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi – from family dinners, to the soup kitchen, Sarah Center, our outreach nurse, and bagged lunch ministries!

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Br. John Bok, OFM

In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati where I live, an exciting thing happened this Lent on Tuesday, March 18, between 7 and 9 p.m. The doors of all 214 parish churches in the Archdiocese were open so people could go to Confession.  The purpose of the program, called “The Light is On for You”, was to give every Catholic the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or Confession.  The hope is that Catholics feel welcome to come to church, find the lights, find the priests ready, and receive this sacrament of God’s forgiveness. 

When we are children we sometimes disobey our parents and do other things that are wrong.  Because our parents love us, they forgive us countless times.  But usually we want to hear our parents tell us we are forgiven. We want to bring closure to things and put it all behind us.

Our sins against God are similar.  God loves us even more than our parents do and is always ready to forgive us if we are sincerely sorry.  In fact, at the very moment we are sorry God forgives us.  But like little children with their parents, there is something very comforting in hearing from God that we are forgiven.  That is why Jesus in His wisdom told the Church, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven them, whose sins you shall retain, are retained” (Jn 20:22-23).  Jesus gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or Confession, so we can actually hear Him, through the priest, assure us that our sins are forgiven.  Through one of our five senses we hear the priest say, “I forgive you of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  Closure is brought to what we have done wrong.  We leave the sacrament feeling the peace that comes from God’s forgiveness.

I encourage you to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation during this season of Lent.  Parishes provide Penance Services during Lent at which you have the opportunity to confess your sins and receive God’s forgiveness.  Most parishes also schedule private Confessions during the week, often on Saturday afternoons.  You can also call your parish and make an appointment to receive the sacrament.  May our loving Father help each of us during this season of Lent to turn away from our sins and to become more faithful to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Friars' Work
A renaissance friar

A Franciscan for over 60 years, Fr. James (Jim) Van Vurst, OFM, is truly a renaissance man, sharing a wide variety of talents throughout his priestly ministry. 

Some assignments bore heavy responsibilities, such as his 19-year ministry at Duns Scotus College in Southfield, Mich., which included teaching psychology and spirituality and working with friar and lay students at the college, teaching psychology and medical ethics at the nearby Province Hospital School of Nursing and doing counseling in the hospital’s mental health clinic.  During his last four years at Duns Scotus, he was also President of the college and Guardian of the large friary.

From 1981-1990, he was Vicar Provincial for St. John the Baptist Province. For 11 years he served as Director of Pastoral Care at St. Leonard Retirement Center in Centerville, Ohio. While there he became a certified nursing assistant.

For the past eight years he has worked for Franciscan Media (formerly St. Anthony Messenger Press) and the www.americancatholic.org  website, doing a monthly column as well as answering questions that come to the website’s popular “Ask a Franciscan” column. It receives over a thousand questions each year plus many letters. “I see each question, whether with a personal problem or something about scripture or theology as very important and when I am at my computer I often imagine the person to whom I am writing as if I were talking to them in person,” Jim explains.

He finds great satisfaction using his first love, theology and spirituality, in his work. “The beautiful thing about theology and spirituality is that at its core, it remains the same revealed truths but it must always be adapted and explained to the condition of our own present time and circumstance.” That, and utilizing his psychologist skills, has been the thread binding most of his Franciscan assignments.

Jim is also busy as Associate Pastor at St. Clement Church in St. Bernard, Ohio, working with people as a spiritual director and hearing confessions and counseling those who need assistance.  He also teaches art to the seventh- and eighth-graders at St. Clement School who come up with interesting questions like, “Is it a sin to get a tattoo?” and “How big is God?”

In his limited time off, Jim does watercolor painting. His gallery of quality abstracts, nature and architectural paintings decorate the office halls at St. Clement. He also enjoys spending time with his only sibling, Sr. Mary Ann Van Vurst, a Sister of Charity. 

Jim turned 80 in February and says he is aware he is slowing down. “But please don't bring up the word ‘retirement’,” he asked.  “I can go a long time doing what I am doing.”