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Layers of the Passion

My dear spiritual family,

Today is a unique day. We begin with Palms and we end with the Passion. A whole week compacted into one liturgy. We will spend more time with the Passion on Good Friday, but for those unable to attend the Good Friday liturgy (at 3pm), today is the only Sunday to spend with the Passion of Our Lord. Next Sunday, Easter, already finds us keeping vigil at the empty tomb. Today we keep vigil at the foot of the Cross. But today also finds us welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem as the Son of David.  “Hosanna! .... Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mk 11:10). From palms to passion in one day.

This complex liturgical reality helps us to notice that in reality, many layers of the Passion exist in our Faith. Every Friday is a day of penance. Before 1966 it was universal practice for Catholics to abstain from meat on Fridays throughout the year, a type of little Good Friday. In 1966, Saint Pope Paul VI permitted other forms of penance on Fridays. It seems most people heard: “Oh, now we can eat meat on Fridays!” Well… yes. Lobster, crabs, scallops, mussels, and fish on Fridays is hardly a penance, at least for me! But Fridays are still a day of penance, a day to be united to the sufferings of the Lord in order to be united with him in the Resurrection, celebrated each Sunday! That is one layer.

Written on Our Hearts

My Dear Family,

We are on the upswing! We have turned the corner. The sun shines a little brighter today. Spring has sprung! This new springtime is evident in the crocuses, daffodils and tulips that are making their way forth from winter slumber. New buds form on branches. It is also evident with the pandemic as more people are vaccinated and numbers continue to moderate. We must remain vigilant but brighter and warmer days are ahead.

Likewise it is evident in attendance at our Masses. Please consider returning to in-person worship, especially so many of our families that have shied away from in-person attendance. Truly, church is safer than a trip to the store. Over the past month our numbers during the weekend approached 350 people. At the 5pm and 10am Masses, we average 85 people. At the 8am Mass, we average 65 and at the noon Mass, about 55. There is ample room﹘with social distancing﹘for 120–140 people, without the added work of making reservations.

Actions Have Consequences

My Dear Family in Christ,

This week is Laetare Sunday, Rejoice Sunday! The Church encourages us to be light-hearted as we arrive at the midpoint of Lent. Yes, We have made it to the half-way point in our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is time to take a breath, a spiritual pause, before we head into the high holy days. Last year during Laetare Sunday, no public Masses were held. The flowers were in bloom and I shot a short video in the gardens, so it is a blessing that we arrive at this moment, with public Masses, increased capacity for public worship, and the ability to simulcast to any overflow crowds downstairs in Nolan Hall.

We are focusing our attention on the first readings this Lent, for our Message Series, Promises Fulfilled. Last week we heard The Lord God promise merciful kindness (hesed) to the 1,000th generation to those who love him and keep his commandments, while punishment down to the third or fourth generation for those who hate him and refuse to walk in his ways (Ex 20:5 and Dt 7:9-10) We hear the same wording in the Psalms. “The Lord remembers forever his covenant, the word he commanded for a thousand generations…” (Ps 105:8) In fact, one of the best synopses of our theme can be found in Psalms 105 and 106. Take out your Bibles and spend some time with God’s holy Word. 

Dear friends in Christ,

Weddings are a wonderful time to see covenantal love given and received. Man and woman come together before God, family and friends, to profess a life-long commitment to each other. Marriage is a sacrament, meaning Christ bestows special graces on the married couple in order that they may keep the covenant they profess. For Catholics the ritual form matters. The way couples profess that forever-love is important. Rituals are important. It worries me that more and more couples are choosing to be married outside our Church’s norms, depriving themselves of the graces needed to be faithful to their commitment. Marriages will struggle more when couples choose not to avail themselves of the grace of the Sacrament, and of living a Sacramental life.

We meditate on marriage and its ritual form because it is the enduring institution that speaks most clearly to covenant for modern humanity. During the ritual couples profess a solemn vow: “I, Joseph, take you, Mary, to be my wife. I promise to be true to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” These words show us that the covenant of marriage is not temporary and that it involves an exchange of persons. “I am yours and you are mine.” The grace of the sacrament assists the couple to remain true in hard times and to flourish in good times. But as every couple knows, marriage must be kept and nourished daily, lest it stagnate or ossify.

Dear Parish Family,

Our journey this Lent traverses the great covenants of the Lord with his people. We are exploring the faithfulness of God: “The Lord remembers his covenants forever!” At the same time, we acknowledge that humanity has not always been faithful to guarding the covenants they have cut with the Lord. Remember, we cut covenants, and then we guard/keep or break covenants. Those are the verbs used in Hebrew. Covenants make a kinship bond between two people (or groups) who then become as family. “You are our God and we are your people,” is one formulation of this exchange.

Today on our journey we meet up with Abraham and Isaac  as the Lord asks a father to sacrifice his son, perhaps the ultimate test of fidelity. Abraham has travelled a great distance with the Lord. The account begins in Genesis 12  when God took Abram and Sarai from the land of Ur (modern-day Iraq) all the way down to Egypt and then back to Mamre (modern-day Palestine), and many other places along the way. Childlessness is the great anguish of Abram and Sarai. Despite their wealth in livestock and possessions, they have not been blessed with children. And yet, the Lord God has promised Abraham, on more than one occasion that he will be the father of nations.

Dear Parish Family,

And so it begins! The great season of Lent is upon us, a time to live our Christianity with greater intensity, to be especially zealous in our love for God and neighbor. The words of Elijah the great prophet (who we meet next week) ring out in my heart: “With zeal I am zealous for the Lord God of Hosts” (1 K 19:10)! My prayer is that our time deepening our prayer lives, our interior life, with the book I Heard God Laugh , will assist us to be especially fervent and zealous in our journey through Lent.

This Lent “Promises Fulfilled” is the title of our message series. We will focus on the first readings more than the Gospels and attend to how God communicates love for his people through the cutting and renewing of covenants. Covenants are solemn oaths exchanged between two parties. Marriage is the most accessible covenant to our modern minds. Marriage is meant to be permanent, faithful, and God-willing fruitful. God instituted marriage to be a sign for us of his forever love. Often in the Scriptures, God uses language related to marriage to speak of his faithfulness.

My Dear Parish Family,

It is hard to believe that seven weeks have passed since Epiphany and the beginning of our Message Series centered on, I Heard God Laugh , by Matthew Kelly. As a spiritual family, we have traversed a great distance in the interior life. Many are the gems that sparkle through the book. The book assists both the beginner and the more experienced to take the next step. I pray this book has enriched our life of prayer and reaffirmed that our good and loving God seeks a deep personal friendship with each of us.

In the final part of the book, Kelly discusses the power of laughter, writes of God working on him in silence, shares a mystical experience of hearing God laugh, reminds us of how God delights in his children, and warns us that busyness is not conducive to true human flourishing. I would like to reflect on two of these aspects.

Dear Family in Christ,

It is Superbowl Sunday! Whoot… Whoot!! Doesn’t feel the same when our team has had such a tough year. Not much has felt “the same” this year, and I have been hearing people say variations of “I am not in the mood” for months now. Often when walking Gracie, we will greet someone. It goes like this: “Hey, how ya doin’?” “Oh, hanging in there...that’s all we can do.” Not a lot of roses and sunbeams lately but more grit and determination. Generally, folks are trying to “hang in there,” whether or NOT they are “in the mood.”

Our reality of the unfolding pandemic, the grind of it, is a great analogy for the Sixth Seismic Shift: Just Keep Showing Up (I Heard God Laugh, 83). Much of life can fall into a dull routine. Our work, our relationships, our workouts… all aspects of our life can use some freshening up from time-to-time. In our life of prayer, some days and months will be drab or uneventful, even draining. This phase usually occurs after several of the first stages and would be akin to those years of marriage that can seem to drag on. While in marriage, husband and wife have committed to each other and share a common house and life, with God we can choose at any moment to stop praying, to stop showing up, to no longer give ourselves over in prayer, although it feels dry and quiet. In the spiritual life, these are times of desolation. Saint Ignatius of Loyola teaches us that during these times we are to keep to our prayer routines, even to spend just 2 or 3 extra minutes in prayer each day, and be patient, consistent and dedicated. In other words, “Don’t give up!”

Dear Family in Christ,

On Monday, we commemorated the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, an event that reshaped his life and also the trajectory of Christianity, even the world. That one event caused a seismic shift of epic proportions (!) to borrow some language from Matthew Kelly, and our message series book: I Heard God Laugh . Indeed, over the course of these past two weekends, we haven encountered the Lord recruiting disciples, inviting those who would follow him to leave one life behind and take up another. Last week, we prayed with Mark’s account of Jesus calling Simon, Andrew, James and John. Two weeks ago, we prayed with John’s account of John the Baptist’s involvement in the encouragement of Simon and Andrew. Each of these moments, retold in a few words, reshaped the lives of these men and affected the whole world.

Would you say that you have a calling from the Lord? Do we experience ourselves as being called and invited to follow Jesus?

Conceptions are rich realities that defy easy description. If I asked you to imagine a sunset and then said “describe it,” the mental picture would be far richer than the words. During Inauguration Week, we might reexamine how we conceive of our nation. I fear it seems some recent conceptions may be mutually exclusive of others… not a recipe for common ground. Yet to be a nation “united under God with liberty and justice for all, born and unborn” we need to build a common vision. Many of us have hopes and dreams for ourselves, for our families, for our community, for our nation and for our whole world! How can we build those dreams together? In Matthew Kelly lingo there is a “best version” of each of these realities; we move forward seeking to grow in God’s grace.

There is a lot to pray for these days. Our hearts are heavy with concern. Amidst the global pandemic, economic uncertainty, and transition in the White House, many concerns weigh on us. In the news churn we can become awash is the latest data on the Corona-virus but lose sight of an even more virulent epidemic: abortion. I hope the many matters that weigh on us do not overshadow this perennial assault on a wholesome society.