"All Creatures of our God and King"

As many of you know, this past summer I moved across the river to Saint Norbert Abbey after nineteen wonderful years at Saint Joseph Priory on the Saint Norbert College campus.  Many people have asked me how the move has been; I'm happy to say all is well.  Don't get me wrong, there's much that I miss about life at Saint Joe's -- especially the great community life there.  I miss the guys tremendously!  But as I was making the move, I realized that -- honestly -- I've totally enjoyed living at Holy Spirit in Chicago and at the abbey during my earliest days as a Norbertine.  Each house has been radically different, but all enjoyable, each in their own unique way.
An aspect of the abbey life that I seemed to have forgotten is how beautiful the abbey and its grounds really are.  Not to sound snooty, I hope, but I feel as though I am living on a beautiful golf course!  The abbey maintenance personnel work diligently to keep the place up -- inside and out.  I am pleased that so many of our lay friends agree.  Our spirit of radical hospitality welcomes people here wholeheartedly.  The abbey is filled with people who attend and enhance our prayer life and spirituality center programming.  Others simply enjoy the property as they walk or jog through.
I'm understanding that the community here is in the midst of purchasing a treadmill, which I am anticipating with great longing especiall as the daylight diminishes and cold weather heightens!  Back at Saint Joe's I went for a run each and every day -- sometimes two-a-days (!) while getting my fix of Fox and Friends early in the morning.  These half hour workouts were pretty timely given I could crank up the speed and the incline for more productive -- sometimes foolish -- workouts.  Since July 1st, though, without a treadmill I've been taking my triathalon to the surrounding neighborhoods of DePere and Allouez: as I've said before, my triathalon starts out with a brisk jog, eventually morphs into a quick walk -- and then I find myself crawling back to the abbey doors.  Fortunately no one has yet felt compelled to call 911.  Each day the route changes -- each is pretty decent.  But what they all have in common it the starting point and the finish life: SAINT NORBERT ABBEY.  This has become the most fun part of the trek as I count all of the creatures I encounter along the way. 
On one jog last week I confronted a family of eight deer on the north lawn.  This week I was frightened to come upon a buck (no exaggerated deer camp stories here, I promise!) in the abbey cemetery.  I often find myself walking around scores of ducks to not scare them away. And you can imagine how the rabbits have multiplied!!  Abbot Gary claims to have confronted fox and wild turkeys.  I've yet to encounter any of these folks, but I am amazed by how often we eat poultry here at the abbey..... just sayin'!  There are all sorts of humans here on the property as well:  walkers and joggers and I've even spotted an auxiliary bishop from afar.
The workout has taken me north and south of the abbey for the past two months.  Tonight I ventured east, up and down the hill in the Resurrection Parish territory.  Along the way, I am amazed by how many people either yell, "hello Father Jim" from their jog across the street or from the car or bike.  I'm a bit embarrassed given I don't always know who these folks are and that I am moving at a snail's pace.  I thought I was working out in disguise.  But upon further review, I suspect black running shorts or wind pants coupled with Packer Coaches sideline jackets with a little Catholic bling dangling from my neck is a sure give away:  Packer Chaplain -- or Packer Assistant Coach of "Really Special Teams!"  Yesterday, one of my former college students parked his car on Sunset Circle and walked with me.  As always, I was working on a homily at the time, so perhaps Drew will come up in tomorrow's delivery.
And the smells are just as great as the sights!  I know that while I am out early tomorrow morning working on homilies for Sunday morning at Lambeau and Monday morning in Seattle, I will smell bacon frying from any number of homes.  That's an even better smell than the steaks I smell being grilled in the early evening hours.  But an hour ago, I detected two new smells -- the smell of leaves beginning to turn to gold and two different homes being heating with real wood fires.  Nothing smells better on the first day of fall.
Tomorrow at 5:30AM the run continues,  who knows what will bless my journey as I venture a new route... ... ... on a "Sunday Morning Sidewalk...."
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Back 2 School

Not since the Fall of 1992 have I prepared for an academic year as a STUDENT! I've been involved in the beginning of academic years throughout my entire priesthood, either at Saint Norbert College or at Marquette / Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary Schools.  Seeing Shopko and Wallmart stock the shelves with notebooks, backpacks, pencils, crayons ... and then all the dorm supplies for the older students ... it brings back such memories of great days in my formative youth.  Well, I'm not out shopping for school supplies or new clothes for the classroom, but I am beginning to study Spanish on the Tuesday after Labor Day.  What a shift in direction for me!
Since leaving Old Saint Joe's and Saint Norbert College on July 1st, Abbot Gary Neville and the Norbertine Community have been kind enough to give me two months off to help me shift gears just a bit.  This is not to suggest that I've been sitting around watching Dr. Phil re-runs; no, there's been plenty of work engaging myself in special projects in law enforcement and at the Packers. I've also been engaged in daily and Sunday Masses at GBCI, Lambeau Field, Our Lady of Lourdes and even at the Brown County Fair!  I've also had more time to spend with my family up north, and I've even taken the time to paint the house, but the work load has certainly been a welcome respite from the grind that has occupied so much of my life for so many years.  These summer days have certainly been blessed ones, indeed.

And through it all, I have been receiving quick notes, emails and text messages from so many of you -- often times in Spanish.  From what I can detect, folks are asking me how the studies have been going -- I think that's what's being conveyed.  Obviously, I do not know how to respond quite yet, at least not in Spanish. But I hope to be able to do so soon.
Towards that end, could you offer a few prayers for me?  Perhaps Our Lady of Guadalupe, Juan Diego or Rose of Lima might be great patrons for starters.   And should you see me on the street, or at one of my favorite hangouts, El Sarape East, let's keep it in English for now!
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A SINISTER PLOT: But With Very Positve Results

We are all creatures of habit, are we not?  I often find myself doing the same old thing over and over again without much thought.  Habits are hard to break, and often I repeat behaviors, both good and bad, just out of routine more than anything else.  Such was the case when boarding the Packer charter two weeks ago for San Diego. I mentioned in the earliest of posts what great service Delta Airlines has offered the team over the years; the food is quite good, actually. But even before we can begin to smell the main course, we've had all sorts of snacks to enjoy while the team is boarding the plane and while the football equipment is safely stored below the cabin.  

For the past fifteen years, I have automatically grabbed, without much thought, a bag of Lay's Sour Cream and Onion potato chips -- and not the baked ones, either -- and a king size Snickers bar to munch on while others are boarding the plane.  On this particular flight, however, I noticed that the chips were replaced with large cups of extraordinarily fresh fruit; and the candy bars have been replaced with zip-lock baggies of vegetables!  What's the world coming to, I thought?  What sinister plot has taken over Delta Airlines?

"After further review," I've come to suspect that such changes were not implemented by Delta, but rather by Mark Lovat and Zac Woodfin, the Packers Strength and Conditioning Coach and assistant. Mark and Zac appear to be in the prime of life, physically.  I've often wondered if they were influenced in their earlier lives by Euell Gibbons (I suspect they're so young that they don't even know who that [Grape] Nut was!). Mark and Zac are great friends of mine who take their work very seriously; I respect these two guys for all the healthy choices they make -- and their nutritional choices are just the tip of the iceberg!  Two flights later, I was holding the door at Lambeau this morning for a your girl who was working in Packer food services.  Actually, it was the smell that first caught my attention.  This worker was navigating a cart to the team dining room that was chocked full with fruits and vegetables.  Honestly, it looked like harvest time on Walton Mountain.  As I held the door open for her, I did all I could do to refrain myself from raiding the cart:  it smelled so great!

What a transformation!  It seems as though Mark and Zac want the members of the organization to be around for a while.  I certainly cannot complain!  Their influence on me in just three weeks time has had positive effects.  Now, I tend to think twice before giving in to the smells of Burger Kind and McDonald's drive thrus. I'm also trying to break the habit of raiding the vast abbey kitchen each and every time I pass through.  I'm hoping to see some positive results when weighing in!  But, I'm hoping also that such physical choice changes can also be a metaphor for other changes I can make, spiritual ones as well.

This morning at the Packer Mass, we -- and the Universal Catholic Church -- concluded Saint John's Bread of Life discourse.  For the past four weeks we've encountered the disciples fixated on eating and drinking -- just to satisfy their stomachs' growls.  Jesus reminded them that He is their Food, He is their Drink.  At the end of these four weeks, this morning, Christ sets the tables not only with bread and wine, but an ultimatum:  "What will you do with all the gifts I've given to you?  Will you remain and give thanks and praise to God, or will you bolt, returning to former practices and look for other "false gods" that are unable to satisfy?"

For the first couple of trips with the team, my stomach has been growling a little more than I've experienced in the past.  But I consider such a growl to be reminiscent of church bells ringing, a reminder that something important is happening here.  Mark and Zac's concern for the physical well-being of the team is proving to have spiritual results as well: the sacrifice resulting in a stomach's growl is a reminder to me of all those whose stomachs are growling on a daily basis.  It's also a reminder of the ultimate Sacrifice Christ offered to the world:  mine pales in comparison.  Making such connections, "I have come to believe and are convinced that Jesus is the Holy One of God."  

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Coming, Going or Staying Put: GOD'S FLOCK IS IN YOUR MIDST!

I am stunned to think that I have not offered a post since September of 2011; that's incredible, and also pretty sad!  That gives evidence that "time flies when you're having fun," but it is also indicative of a very busy lifestyle that I lead -- and so many of you do as well.  Nevertheless, my life is shifting in some major ways very soon.  These changes will be somewhat bittersweet; there will be affirmations and challenges along the way, I am confident.  I suspect these changes will offer me greater opportunities to be more faithful to my blog, however; at least that it my hope!  Perhaps the best way to announce these changes is to offer here what was sent to my parishioners' homes and what is being sent out to the college community as well.  Here it goes:

I am aware that the summer months find many of us away from the campus, so I’d like to use this forum to notify you of the announcement I made at the 10:00 AM Mass this past Sunday at Old Saint Joseph Church: My ministry as Pastor of Saint Norbert College Parish will come to an end on the Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, 1 July 2012, after serving as Pastor since July of 2004 and having held office on the college campus since 2001. Abbot Gary Neville, O. Praem. and the Norbertine Community of Saint Norbert Abbey have granted me a sabbatical to study Spanish both locally and in Cuernavaca, Mexico with the hope of returning to the area to minister in poverty apostolates of the Norbertine Order. I must admit that I am a bit frightened by studying a foreign language relatively late in life, but I am also excited about the prospect of ministering to the Faithful in a culture other than my own. Humbly, I ask you to keep me in your thoughts and prayers.

I have felt blessed serving as your pastor over these past eight years; in fact, at the conclusion of my time with you, I will join Father Gery Meehan, O. Praem. as having been the longest serving pastor of the college parish. There have been challenges along the way, especially burying 15 college students during my first four years as pastor. Implementing the recent liturgical changes asked by the local bishop and the American Catholic Church has also been challenging, but I believe that we have weathered that storm with dignity, style and grace. Those challenges are so diminished when I consider the complete fulfillment I have felt over the years especially when Baptizing 186 children into Jesus Christ; presiding over 248 peoples’ Marriages, the majority having been college students; offering Holy Communion for the first time to 93 of our children; and burying 64 students, parishioners and friends of the college over the years.

Perhaps my greatest fulfillment, though, has been found in my college office both in the John Minihan Science Hall and more recently in Todd Wehr Hall, joining in one-on-one pastoral conversations with people of all ages, especially our college students, amidst the biggest joys and worst fears in their lives. I will never forget such encounters and such beautiful people, and I will continue to keep these folks in my daily thoughts, prayers and Mass Intentions. Assisting SNC Admissions and SNC Alumni and Parent Relations in welcoming folks to our college for the first time or after many years away has also been a blessing. Further, I am most grateful that our coaches have invited me to be a part of their athletic programs in offering our college athletes a holistic approach to winning and losing before, during and after athletic competitions.

Pending Bishop David Ricken's approval, I am excited for the parish and college as you prepare to welcome on 10 September 2012 your thirteenth pastor, my Norbertine Confrere and dear friend, Father John Tourangeau, O. Praem. Father John will bring much energy, excitement and pastoral zeal to his ministry: “Welcome him as you would welcome Christ,” I hope: I know he will show you the same consideration. Until that time, Father Salvatore Cuccia, O. Praem., a man who needs no introduction, will serve as Pastor Pro Tem (Temporary Administrator).

We have seen over and over again that pastors come and go, but the Real Presence of Jesus Christ remains steadfast! May we all continue to celebrate that sacred presence, regardless of where we find ourselves, as we strive to be “One in mind and heart on our way home to God.”

Yours in Ss. Norbert & Joseph,

Father James Baraniak, O. Praem.

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Hey Gang,

Sorry I have been away for a while, but pretty busy days have been keeping me a bit distant from free time -- and from doing fun stuff like posting here. Right now I'm just getting ready to head to Austin Straubel to board the plane for 8-0! But I just wanted to treat you to what I'll be watching on the plane - and dancing to within my three-seat place over the right wing! Hope you enjoy! Let's chat on the other end!

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