Program #0013 for Friday, March 25, 2011: LeAnn Thiemann &

March 25, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell

Today’s guest(s): LeAnn Thieman, author of “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living Catholic Faith”, Fr. Bill Schmidt, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Stoneham, and Mike Alex, founder of, the Catholic online learning platform.

Today’s topics: Lenten mission at St. Patrick Parish in Stoneham;; A look at this Sunday’s readings for Mass

A summary of today’s show: LeAnn Thieman, author of “Chicken Soup for Soul: Living Catholic Faith”, and Fr. Bill Schmidt of St. Patrick Parish, Stoneham, discuss “the most unusual parish mission” you’ll attend coming up next week at Fr. Schmidt’s parish. Mike Alex tells Scot and Fr. Mark about, the most advanced online learning platform for Catholics. Finally, Scot, Fr. Mark, and Mike discuss this coming Sunday’s Gospel reading for Mass on the woman at the well and the Living Water that Christ promises her.

1st segment: Fr. Mark’s week included a talk in Stoneham at Fr. Schmidt’s parish on annulments. Also a cabinet meeting today at which Cardinal Sean announced that Chancellor Jim McDonough’s term was renewed for another five years. Fr. Mark said the chancellor is also the finance officer for the archdiocese. The term that was renewed was actually for finance officer. Only two diocesan roles have terms that cannot be abridged except for grave reasons. The other is Fr. Mark’s job as Judicial Vicar.

2nd segment: Scot and Fr. Mark welcome LeAnn Thieman by phone from Colorado and Fr. Bill Schmidt by phone from Stoneham. LeAnn gave an overview of the sessions she’ll be giving at the mission next week. She’ll start by sharing her story, starting in 1975 with Operation Babylift, to bring 300 Vietnamese orphans out of the midst of the war in Vietnam with the approval of President Ford. On Tuesday, she’ll speak on caring for ourselves as well as we care for others, caring for our bodies and our minds. She shares stories from her 12 Chicken Soup books she’s written. One of the tools is the tool of forgiveness. On Wednesday, she’ll talk about living the Catholic faith as the spiritual balance to the topic of the night before: What we can do to stand up for our faith and to take pride in it.

She promises that attendees will march out proud of being Catholic and excited about sharing it.

Fr. Schmidt said Lent is a privileged time during which busy people who don’t often have time for prayer want to do something special. It’s not easy to carve out three nights in a row, so it’s a special opportunity. This is the sixth year they’ve had a parish mission in his 10 years as pastor. 800 people come at least once over the 3 nights.

Fr. Mark asked what the Chicken Soup for the Soul books are. LeAnn explained that each has 101 true stories all on a particular topic, such as adoption, fathers and daughters, nurses.

Part of LeAnn’s own story during Operation Babylift is that she found a little boy who she then adopted as her own. It’s amazing, she said, how she still gets emotional as she tells the story, even though she has told it so many times.

Fr. Schmidt said after the last mission, where they heard Fr. Tom Nestor, Bishop Hennessey, and Fr. Jonathan Morris, someone on the parish council asked if a woman could give the mission. Father had a friend in Colorado who had heard of LeAnn and her captivating and motivating story and his experience of her talk at a diocesan dinner in Pueblo, Colorado.

Fr. Mark noted that St. Patrick’s has undergone renovations and expansions. Six years ago, Cardinal Sean dedicated the renovated and enlarged church, which includes many elements from parishes that have closed.

3rd segment: Continuing the discussion of the upcoming Lenten mission at St. Patrick’s. Scot asked LeAnn for highlights of her talk on Wednesday, which will talk about all the good the Church does. LeAnn said the Church is at the forefront of medical care, helping the poor, educating children and she is awe of all the church does.

At the end of her talk on Tuesday night addressing the need to care for ourselves, there is a call to the sacrament of reconciliation. Even when she talks to secular audiences, people thank her for giving them permission to forgive others and to forgive themselves.

Fr. Mark asked how parish missions today differ from the fire-and-brimstone missions of old. Fr. Schmidt recalled the missions of his youth which include a confession talk describing hell in stark terms. Now the talks speak of God’s love and mercy and forgiveness. He added that they are looking for more priest-confessors to accommodate everyone.

LeAnn said it should be the most unusual mission people will have attended, because she intends to have lots of fun and to share how much she loves Christ and His Church and her faith. She hopes that anyone who comes will invite someone else.

Fr. Mark said this sounds like it fits perfectly with the Catholics Come Home initiative.

Fr. Schmidt said anyone who is interested is very welcome even if they’re not members of the parish.

LeAnn’s books will be on sale at the mission and she will be autographing them. The parish is right at the intersection of Route 128 and 93 and is convenient to many people who will be commuting home from Boston.

4th segment: Mike Alex joins the show, visiting from the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas. He hopes to catch his Kansas University Jayhawks in the NCAA tournament if they win tonight in San Antonio and go on to the Elite 8.

It is an act of providence that came together. In 2002 he had been asked by his bishop to help build a new Catholic high school. As part of the mission he was given, then-Archbishop Keleher told Mike, “If we fail to pass on the faith from this generation to the next, we’re failing in one of our most important missions as Church.”

To ensure the quality of instruction at the school, Mike created a relationship with a program called School of Faith to help train and form the faculty of the new high school. Many other schools in the region were interested in taking part but there wasn’t enough space for them in the training classes. Meanwhile, he had a friend who was converting to Catholicism, and it turned out that this friend had an online platform and company that teaches 275,000 nurses across the country to pass their boards. He’d just sold the company and was looking for a new challenge. Mike proposed to take some of the Catholic content and create a new platform with a new way to catechize folks.

At first, it was supposed to be local, but it was so robust that people sought out Mike’s company to provide their content. National publishers started to see the innovation and interactivity of the program and now they have Ascension Press, Midwest Theological, Ignatius Press as partners, and many more who would like to get their content on the system.

Catholic learning is moving online because of the convenience today. Scot notes that our own CatholicTV has the best online on-demand Catholic TV programming in the world. MyCatholicFaithDelivered is so far ahead of everyone else with online learning, it’s as if there isn’t a second place.

An advisory board of bishops oversee the content to ensure its fidelity to Church teaching. Every class has an imprimatur. All the publishers are considered orthodox. The Faith Foundations program received the first online imprimatur.

An imprimatur is a statement, authorized by the bishop of a diocese, that a work is free of doctrinal error.

Fr. Mark asked who the target audience is. Mike said the initial thrust is adult formation, catechist certification, and teacher certification. There are many adults, catechists, and teachers who may not be well-grounded in the faith and are in need of assistance.

They also have a first through eighth grade series and a high school series for children, but the main thrust is in teaching adults.

Scot said we’ve heard several times over the past week on The Good Catholic Life about the new Theological Institute for the New Evangelization at St. John’s seminary and their very flexible classes and programs. But there are those who might not have the time even for the certificate program that is one Saturday per month for six months. Mike said his website offers learning that is available at any time and locations and includes a lot of interactivity. It offers the flexibility they might need.

Mike said there are different costs for each course. Mike’s friend paid the millions of dollars to create the system, so the current prices are just to keep the website self-sustaining. There are also free lessons available to try out the platform. The mission is to spread the teaching of the Church worldwide—they are in the middle of Spanish translations for their biggest programs.

Mike met today with people from around the Archdiocese of Boston who have teaching that would make good content, as well as meeting with our own Catholic Media group who can help create the materials in partnership with

Mike said Boston has technical capabilities that other dioceses don’t have, and he’s excited to bring Boston’s content to more people across the country.

Scot points out that this is a well-crafted, high-quality video with quizzes and links that bring students to even more resources on the Internet. The programs are interactive and not static. People have responded that they find it meaningful and worthwhile.

They’ve have 3 to 4,000 who have registered to date and another 3 to 4,000 from various dioceses that they are planning to bring online through next September.

5th segment: As we do each Friday, we look at this coming Sunday’s readings to help us prepare for Mass.

Gospel (John 4:5-42)

Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon.

A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” —For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.— Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one speaking with you.”

At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” They went out of the town and came to him. Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The reaper is already receiving payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”

Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I have done.” When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

Scot said it’s a long reading but so worthwhile to read the long one. Living water is a theme and Christ calling people is another theme. Fr. Mark said at this time when we’re asking people to look at the faith again in Catholics Come Home, it resonates with us.

Fr. Mark sees a whole journey in there that goes hand in hand with Catholics Come Home. Scot noted that the woman went to the well at noon because she was ashamed to be around the others who went in the morning. Jesus knew why she was at the well at that time and chose her purposefully. People often doubt that Christ would choose them because they were so unworthy, but he chooses those the world would not choose.

Mike noted how the woman’s perception of Jesus as she interacted with him became clearer. At first, He was just another Jewish man, then she saw him as a prophet, and finally she asked him if He is the Messiah. We can go through this same progression in our Lenten journey to continue to deepen out perception. Also, where the water in Jacob’s well is so difficult to find and the Living Water of Jesus is easy at hand because He gives it to us freely. But, Scot said, we should thirst for the water. During Lent we ask ourselves if we thirst for everything God is waiting to give us? Do we ask for more than God has already given me?

Fr. Mark said we need to remember who Christ is asking to bring his message, the most unlikely messenger: A woman, a Samaritan, an adulteress. But she was called to be an evangelist to the city. Scot said it was her notoriety that might have made her the best messenger to a particular people, that God would work through her.

Fr. Mark noted that we should follow the bucket. She comes with the bucket, notes that Jesus doesn’t have a bucket and leaves without it. She comes as a laborer and leaves as an evangelist.

Mike noted that conversion comes through a process of interacting with Jesus, but it involves a longing and a desire to have a relationship with him. Often in Lent we think of Lent as a Good Friday experience, but the readings of the past two Sundays have been so hopeful and uplifting as a precursor sign of the hope of Easter.

Scot noted that because today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation, people are not bound to Friday meatless abstinence although Scot and Fr. Mark recommend the abstinence as a way to remain penitential.

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