Category Archives: Pastor message

Pastor’s Message April 22nd, 2018

(Letter from Deacon “Rusty” Keith Skinner)

To My Parish Family and Friends,

I cannot begin to tell you all how much your love, support and prayers have meant to me and my girls, both over this past year as well as the nineteen years we have been a part of this loving community. You have made the unbearable possible to live through. Over the past year I have learned so very much about the generosity and selfless love friends can show you. I have also learned a lot about myself. Having fallen in love at first sight (yes, it does happen) and been married to Wanda since she was twenty and I twenty-two, we shared a great love, life and everything together. We were rarely apart throughout our thirty-six years of marriage. It is that presence, someone to talk to and share the small moments of a day with, that I miss so terribly much. This brings me to the reason for this letter.

When I became a Permanent Deacon, there were conditions that I was fully aware of and agreed to before I was ordained. One of the conditions was that if my wife pre-deceased me I would not remarry and would live a celibate life. It was one of things that I agreed to which, at the time, was easy because either I was supposed to die before her (because that’s what men are supposed to do), or I would be ninety when she died. As we know, neither of these happened.

After much prayer and reflection, I have come to the realization that living alone is a life I cannot live. I am removing myself from public ministry and have begun the process to be released from my Diaconal promises, with the hope of not being alone any longer. With that, there are conditions [given by our Bishop], the hardest of which is that I must leave all of you and go to a parish other than St. Vincent’s. I will miss all of you terribly, but be assured that my faith, our faith and the Church that has sustained me, will continue to do so. God has set a new path before me and I do not know where it will lead, but He always has something for me to do, and time will tell. I ask that you continue to pray for Wendy, Amy, Cindy and myself as I move forward in this new life. You have been, are now, and will always be in my heart and in my prayers.

Love,

Deacon Rusty Skinner

(Commentary from Monsignor Tom)

It’s not easy to see and say “good-byes” to and from Deacon Rusty Skinner. In the Gospel story of the Good Shepherd, what is significant is the good shepherd’s attitude toward the sheep. What is showcased is the other-centeredness of the good shepherd, who seeks what is good for the sheep, in contrast to the self-centeredness of the intruder, who seeks to profit from the flock. It is important for us to take note of these opposed attitudes, because, just as each one of us is our “brother’s keeper,” so we, too, are our brothers’ and sisters’ shepherds, whether we seek or like to be that or not. In our daily interactions with others we “lead” them by what we say and do, and, most of all, by what we are. Because of this, it’s essential to foster in our hearts the other-centeredness characteristic of a good shepherd. We need to enter our interactions with others not with the question, “What’s in it for me?”, but rather with the question, “What’s in me for it?”. This is other-centeredness at work. This is the work that Deacon Rusty has been doing with and for us over these past years of his ministry.

I shall miss his presence assisting me in the life and ministry of our parish. He has reached out so well in so many ways to so many people, drawing them to Christ and teaching them what it is to be of service to God’s people. His role in the RCIA, his leadership in the Pastoral Council, his service to our Stewardship Council, his assistance on the altar, his thoughtful homilies and his generous contributions to the overall welfare and good of our parish have made a very marked difference at SVF. Not born into the Catholic faith, he made the journey toward it some years ago with the help and encouragement of his devoted wife, Wanda, who assisted him in his work and was always a mirror and reflection of God’s love for her. She passed her gifts on to her husband and family, and they’ve received it with love and much enthusiasm.

I pray that he will be happy in his new choices: of parish life and involvement, of upcoming new friendships and any future companionship. “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job1: 21b)

Pastor’s Message April 15th, 2018

The Gospel this weekend probably is in reverse order in time to that of the story of last week, where the other Apostles told Thomas that “they had, indeed, seen the Lord.” In this week’s story, the ten other Apostles, though they had heard stories of the appearance of the risen Jesus, were just as incredulous when Jesus walked among them as Thomas would be in last week’s version. Jesus invited them to “touch Me and see,” and “He showed them his hands and his feet.” Still, they remained skeptical, thinking they were seeing a ghost, until Jesus took a piece of baked fish He asked for and ate it in front of them. Then they were overjoyed and became true believers. Later, Jesus would say to all of them (including Thomas), “Blessed are they who do not see, but believe!”

For us, who have not seen the Jesus of history but still have Him present in the Holy Eucharist, that question of belief again comes into play. What about those who have received Him early in life but have drifted away from Him now, not receiving Him each week, or seriously offending Him by not even coming to Mass? Do you think that they ever really believed in the first place? Do you think that they believe He could change simple bread into His Body, and wine into His blood? I don’t think so, for if they had, they would be making every effort to be with Him in that special way each week, worshipping Him with all the other sinners, rather than making feeble excuses for skipping Mass and failing to receive the Holy Eucharist. “Blessed are they who do not see, but believe!”

Nearly two thousand years ago, Jesus gathered the disciples whom He loved to share one last meal. It was not just any meal but a meal that celebrated the Passover of the Lord and the freedom of the Israelite people from their slavery in Egypt. Rather than just commemorating this freedom from physical slavery, Our Lord, knowing that the following day He would be the spotless Passover Lamb when He offered His life on the altar of the Cross, changed the script from something that would be familiar to any observant Jew into something altogether different. For He had not come to free us from a physical slavery, but rather to free us from our slavery to sin and death. Therefore, to fortify us with His grace, during the course of that meal Jesus gave those gathered with Him one of His greatest gifts: the gift of His Most Holy Body and Most Precious Blood in the Eucharist.

The late Saint John Paul truly understood this importance of the Eucharist as our point of connection to God. God comes to meet and strengthen us for our lives of faith. Not only was the Eucharist the foundation for Saint John Paul’s life and service to the Church, but he spent a substantive portion of his ministry teaching us about the importance of the Eucharist in our lives. Time and time again, in his writings and teachings, he conveyed that “Only through the Eucharist is it possible to live the heroic virtues of Christianity” and that we “must always be Eucharistic souls in order to be Christians.” May we strive to follow Saint John Paul’s example.

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I thank the many volunteers of ministry and service to our parish who joined me in a delicious meal last Tuesday evening honoring their service. During the dinner, we also honored Al and Mignon Attard as this year’s awardees of the “Patron of the Parish,” an award that’s well-deserved for their many ways of serving. I also thank those volunteers who could not be present. May God’s bounteous rewards fall abundantly on them, too.

Thank you, Knights of Columbus, along with the support of our Columbiettes, that put on a successful Pancake Breakfast last week for the benefit of Maryann Passanisi. She is one of the little members of our SVF School family and is courageously battling cancer. The fund-raiser and gifts netted over $4,500 dollars to help her family meet unforeseen and non-covered expenses. Thank you! Please continue to pray for little Maryann. Thanks.

Congratulations to our dear parishioner, Catherine “Sis” Murphy, who celebrated her 100th birthday this past week. May God continue to pour out His blessings on this lovely lady, whose kindness and generosity to our parish knows no bounds!

Pastor’s Message April 8th, 2018

This Sunday, the Universal Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday. For the past 17 years, the Catholic Church has celebrated this feast on the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Pope St. John Paul II extended this devotion to Catholics throughout the world on the occasion of canonizing St. Faustina Kowalska, who had received a series of private revelations from Jesus on the subject of His Divine Mercy, one of which was His desire for the establishment of a Feast of Mercy to be celebrated on this particular day. Speaking of this feast day, Our Lord told St. Faustina: “On that day, the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.”

These words of invitation by Our Lord to experience the profound depths of love and mercy are extremely appealing and have been embraced with enthusiasm by the faithful throughout the Church. Much attention is given to the remarkable benefits received by those who devoutly participate in the devotional practices connected with Divine Mercy Sunday, benefits which draw us into a deeper union with Our Risen Lord at the conclusion of this Octave of Easter. While we do indeed rejoice in the powerful gift that is made available to us on this day, the Church has never ceased to insist on making sure we know that we must live the graces received by practicing mercy. In his homily for the canonization of St. Faustina, the first saint canonized in the Great Jubilee Year beginning this 3rd Millennium of Christianity, Pope St. John Paul said: “It is important then that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’.”

In the various readings, the liturgy seems to indicate the path of mercy which, while re-establishing the relationship of each person with God, also creates new relations of fraternal solidarity among human beings. Christ has taught us that “man not only receives and experiences the mercy of God, but also is called ‘to practice mercy’ towards others: ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Mt 5: 7).” (Dives in Misericordia, # 14). He showed us the many paths of mercy, which not only forgives sins but reaches out to all human needs. Jesus bent over every kind of human poverty, material and spiritual.

This rest of the story of Divine Mercy, that of practicing mercy, is explicitly mentioned by Our Lord in His revelations to St. Faustina, as He told her: “…The first Sunday after Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to our neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to absolve yourself from this.”

Our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, continues to drive this message home, particularly during a recent Jubilee Year of Mercy. He ardently insists on the importance of not just seeking mercy, but also sharing it, encouraging the Church to reflect on and practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Speaking about these works of mercy, particularly as they are presented in the Gospel of St. Matthew (chapter 25), the Pope reminds us that “we cannot escape the Lord’s words to us, and they will serve as the criteria upon which we will be judged.”

These two sides of the story of Divine Mercy are complementary to one another, for the graces that we receive free us from the attachments to our own selfish ways of living, so that we can better serve the needs of our brothers and sisters. Let us be mindful of this as we continue our celebration on this day dedicated to the message of Divine Mercy. May our hearts be open to receive the graces that Christ and His Church offer to us today, and may we then live those graces with greater intensity as we spread the light of this message to the world around us through works of mercy rooted in our love of God and our neighbor.                                                    ******************************************************************
I am especially grateful to all those participants in the Easter Sunday Masses last weekend who took time to use the special “combined 2nd Collection” envelope, and checked off the particular areas of charities to which they wanted to contribute. I sometimes feel, as many of you do, that we get bombarded with so many requests for various causes to help people in need that we cannot fulfill them all. The Pastoral Council gave me some sage advice last year to combine several of those diocesan-mandated 2nd collections, thereby reducing the number of frequent requests that we have to answer.

Also, several of you complained about the 2-page “rant” that was clandestinely placed on some of your cars that were parked in our lot last week during Mass. The poorly-reasoned manifesto was done without my knowledge or permission. It happens once in a while, especially, it seems, when there is a full moon out. Let’s pray for those, misguided souls.

Let’s also not be fooled by the phony appeals for money that a sad-looking “family” begs for on our premises (complete with pre-printed signs – again without my knowledge or permission). I’m grateful to the concerned parishioners who inform me of this so that the ushers and I can chase them off the property and watch them drive off in their shiny new sedan. We have been informed they are sent here by a non-denominational “church.”

 

Pastor’s Message April 1, 2018

Our Easter celebration is the culmination of a forty-day journey through Lent, the celebration of which was intensified in the final week we just concluded, in the powerful ceremonies of Holy Week. The readings in the Easter Vigil mapped out the course of history throughout the Old Testament, starting at the very beginning of the Bible, and, quite literally, the beginning of creation. They set the whole pattern for our redemption. They describe God’s creative activity. The first verses of the Bible paint a scene of chaos; and what does God do? He starts by separating out the elements of creation (light and darkness, the sky and the earth, water and land), and then gradually builds up the entire work of creation, culminating in the creation of man and woman. In order words, God’s creative activity consists in creating order out of chaos. Order is a sure sign of God’s grace at work; where there is order, God’s grace in some way or another is operative. This, then, gives us insight into what it means that God created the man and the woman in His image: we reflect God’s likeness insofar as we can do the same.    The problem, though, is that too often we do the opposite! That is, we alter the good order that God put into the universe, and always to our demise. This is what happens in the story about the fall of Adam and Eve. The moral to the story, though, is that this is something that we all do. So instead of mirroring God and creating order out of chaos, we create chaos out of order! This is true in every age.

Though this chaos which we have created for ourselves does not nullify God’s image in us, it does weaken it; it tarnishes it. We might say that God’s image is defaced in us, but it is still there. Yes, we can put order into place where there is chaos – and notice how when you do so, everything is so much more pleasing and harmonious. This, again, is a sign of God’s grace at work. But this creative power of ours is confined to this world of time. When it comes to restoring order at the cosmic, eternal level, we aren’t able to do that – it’s beyond us. Ultimately, we can’t get ourselves out of this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. That’s the bad news. But there’s Good News: God has done this for us! This is what Christ’s Resurrection means: God took on a human body so that He could do this at one and the same time for us and by us. The Resurrection is a complete new beginning for all of humanity, as the accounts of Our Lord make clear. God did this within our world, in our own time and history.

Jewish belief is that the resurrection of the dead will happen at the end of all history, when all will be assembled in Jerusalem to arise. But with his Son, Jesus Christ, God made this happen within the midst of our own history. This means that our salvation is already accomplished. The glory of Christ rising from the dead is the culmination of all of salvation history. This, though, applies in a general way, for the human race as a whole, but the personal salvation history of each one of us is still being worked out.

Easter is a significant moment in this personal salvation history for our brothers and sisters who just received the sacraments of initiation into the Church at the Easter Vigil Mass. This is the very meaning of the Christian life: the sacrament of Baptism is not just a wonderful moment in our faith life confined to history, but rather a mystery to be lived out with our entire life, so that we may attain the salvation which Christ has already won for us.

As we glory in the joy of this Easter season, let’s take it as a motivation to keep our minds and hearts open to the working of God’s grace in our lives, that He may restore for each of us the order proper to His plan, so that through us the light of Christ’s Resurrection might illuminate the whole world, making it a more perfect image of His Kingdom of light and love, of justice, truth, and peace. May the joy of this feast continue for a long time in you. Have a blessed Easter!

 

Pastor’s Message March 25th, 2018

Today is Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord. It begins with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and ends with his triumph over sin and death. God’s love didn’t design the human heart to hold hatred and harmony together. One or the other has to go, and worldly wisdom makes room for hatred at the expense of peace. So, in one of the most startling messages for all times, Jesus turns the world upside down. The disciples, knowing as they did the command of Moses to “hate your enemy,” must have been jolted to hear their own Teacher cry out, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Instead of urging His followers to take “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” He gave a startling “offer no resistance” to one who is evil. On the way to Calvary and even on the Cross, Jesus continually offered this message to those who would listen to His loving words of mercy and forgiveness, and to see His first-hand example of love towards all.

In stark contrast to worldly wisdom, the wisdom of God on the lips of Jesus is foolishness to the world. What possible sense can it make to turn the other cheek, to hand over your cloak along with your tunic, to go the extra mile? Worldly wisdom has long derided such a Christian meekness as nothing but weakness – pure and simple – the morality of slaves afraid to insist on their dignity and stand up for their rights, who surrender to the stronger in order to get by.

We have a test case for these clashing perspectives in the “Folly of the Cross,” where Jesus practiced what He preached. Unjustly condemned, He offered no resistance. Slapped in the face by the High Priest’s servant, He did not strike back. Pressed into service by the Romans, He walked uncomplainingly as far as they demanded. Nailed to His Cross, He prayed for His persecutors. Looking back on the Crucified One, we see not fear-filled cowardice, but overflowing courage. His death in apparent disgrace actually discloses an invincible dignity. His ignominious defeat on the Cross really leads to lasting, irreversible victory in the Resurrection.

But the Passion has a significant cautionary lesson for us as well. Not for a moment did Jesus regard His unjust condemnation by Pilate as a just judgment, as a consequence merited by His behavior. The Lamb of Sacrifice knew full well that He didn’t deserve a Roman-style death sentence; yet He willingly endured its shame. To the evil that devoured Him, He offered no resistance, for His silence in the face of His accusers powerfully asserted His disagreement with their judgment.

If you and I are to imitate Jesus by turning the other cheek or walking the extra mile, we must never accept as right the unjust condemnation of one who “presses us into service,” slaps us in the face, or strips us of dignity. No! We must remember that a cruel, sadistic, contemptuous judgment does not truly define who we are, even though, like Jesus before Pilate, we may be powerless to refute it. “Stronger than the person who conquers the strongest fortresses,” says St. Ambrose, “is the person who conquers himself.” As the wisdom of the world whispers, “Whatever wrong someone does to you, do it back to him!”, heavenly wisdom advises us differently: “Whatever God has done for you, do the same for your neighbor. What you give away to him will come back to you as peace.”

Today we come to the most solemn week of the entire year for the Christian community: HOLY WEEK. Some people mistakenly refer to it as Easter Week, which is the following week (beginning with Easter Sunday). During Holy Week, we will conclude our Lenten season on Thursday afternoon, and enter into the Sacred Triduum, the three most holy days of the year: HOLY THURSDAY (when Our Lord instituted the Sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders), GOOD FRIDAY (when Our Lord offered Himself in sacrifice for our sins), and HOLY SATURDAY (when we begin our celebration of the holiest day of the year at the Vigil Mass, culminating with the feast of Easter). On Good Friday evening, our Stations of the Cross at 7:00 p.m. will be the Living Stations, portrayed by our youth from the Life Teen program. On Holy Saturday, the Vigil Mass at 7:00 p.m. will last about two hours, during which we will receive several members into the fullness of the Catholic Faith. This Mass fulfills our Easter obligation (On a practical note, may I suggest that you leave little toddlers at home if you are coming that evening). On Holy Saturday at 1:00 p.m., there will be the traditional blessing of the Easter foods and baskets in church.

*** Please note that there is NO 4:00 PM MASS ON HOLY SATURDAY! The ONLY Mass Liturgy is at 7:00 P.M. Also, please note that on Easter Sunday, there will be additional Masses in the parish hall of our Family Life Center at 10:10 a.m. and at 11:40 a.m. to accommodate the overflow crowds attending the 10:00 and 11:30 a.m. Masses in church. Those Masses in the hall always wind up ending before the Masses in church; so, plan ahead and choose wisely when you come for Mass. Have a blessed Holy Week!

 

Pastor’s Message March 18th, 2018

In the teaching of the Catholic Church, a mortal (or “deadly”) sin is a gravely sinful act, which can lead to damnation if a person does not repent of the sin before death. The term “mortal sin” is thought to be derived from the New Testament. Specifically, it has been suggested that the term comes from the fifth chapter of the Letter of St. John:16–17. In this verse, the author of that Epistle seriously states, “there is such a thing as deadly sin.” A sin is considered to be “mortal” when its quality is such that it leads to a separation of that person from God’s saving grace. An example of such a sin is the failure to attend Sunday Mass. The teaching about this seriousness can be found in the following quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason…. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” CCC #2181. Yes, this is serious business. But despite its gravity, a person truly can repent of having committed a mortal sin and be forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance. Such repentance is the primary requisite for forgiveness and absolution. “Perfect” contrition is the means by which we seek to restore our relationship with God and are sorry for our sins not because of the punishment due to them (imperfect contrition), but because they truly offend a loving God. Additionally, there must also be a resolution to confess all mortal sins that have not been confessed and absolved previously in the Sacrament of Penance. A resolution to confess these sins should be made with an act of perfect contrition.

Next week, specifically on Thursday evening, March 22nd, we will have the opportunity to confess our sins and be reconciled with our Lord and His people through the communal celebration of the Sacrament of Penance (sometimes unofficially but more popularly known as the Sacrament of Reconciliation). It is the ultimate earthly experience of the gift of God’s boundless mercy. Not only does it free us from our various sins, but it also challenges us to have the same kind of compassion and forgiveness for those who sin against us. In fact, through it we actually are liberated to be forgivers. Perhaps we can best comprehend this in the words of the Prayer of St. Francis: “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.”

Jesus entrusted the ministry of reconciliation to His Church, and it is through the wondrous Sacrament of Penance, God’s unique gift to us, that any sin committed after Baptism can be forgiven. In the very act of confession, we have the opportunity to repent and recover the grace of friendship with God. It is a holy moment in which we place ourselves in His presence and honestly acknowledge our sins, especially mortal sins. With the absolution given us by the priest, we are reconciled to God and His Church. This Sacrament helps us stay close to the truth that we cannot live without God. “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). While all the Sacraments in some way bring us an experience of the mercy that comes from Christ’s dying and rising, it is the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation that is the particular bestowal of God’s loving mercy.

There will be a number of priests who will join us at the 7 PM service to take away our sins and lift us up from the weight of our misdeeds. I invite you to come, especially as a family, to this Penance Service, and to partake of the timely Lenten opportunity to unburden your hearts and make yourselves ready to be immersed in the joys of the true meaning of Easter.

This Sunday afternoon, come and enjoy a delightful musical performance at 3 p.m., put on for the benefit of our parishioners and friends by Eric Keiper, our gifted and well-respected Music teacher in our school and our parish Director of Liturgical Music. Eric was the person responsible for putting together last Advent’s inspiring musical presentation, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” in our church – a performance that was well-acclaimed by those who attended it. I’m sure this Sunday’s program will be a “top-notch” one, too, and I hope that you take time to get away from the “tube” to enjoy it.

This weekend, we are happy to have Steve Dudenhoefer from our parish mission in Guatemala speak to us at each of the Masses about the situation there at the Father Tom Moran School. He will give us a progress report on the growth and development of the students’ programs and will tell us of their needs in the jungle. Then, next weekend, (Palm Sunday), we will take up our annual collection to help the children who board at the school there to have food in their stomachs each day. As we help the children get an education in the jungle, the more likelihood that they will not need to scamper to our southern border in order to provide a living for their families and community.

Congratulations to the recently confirmed-in-the-Faith students from our parish who were called this past Friday to give further witness to the Faith in which they were baptized! May they not see their Confirmation ceremony as a conclusion to their learning and practicing of the Catholic Faith, but rather as an opportunity to deepen their baptismal commitment and living their gifts more fully in service to Christ and His people.

 

Pastor’s Message March 11th, 2018

On Holy Saturday, the Catholic Church throughout the United States will receive tens of thousands of men and women into the Church. We will be among those parishes who will welcome new members at a ceremony bringing men and women into full communion with the Catholic Church. The RCIA (which stands for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) is a process through which non-baptized men and women become members of the Catholic Church. The RCIA inquiry process in our parish usually begins in September and runs through the following Easter season. It includes several stages marked by study, prayer and rites at Mass. Our current director of the program is Deacon Rusty Skinner, who, some years ago, also was received into the Faith by this process. His phenomenal work here has helped so many to come to learn about Jesus Christ and deepen the faith of others, too.

Participants in the RCIA are known as catechumens. They undergo a process of conversion as they study the Gospel, profess faith in Jesus and the Catholic Church, and receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. The RCIA process follows the ancient practice of the Church and was restored by the Second Vatican Council as the normal way adults prepare for baptism. In 1974, the Rite for Christian Initiation for Adults was formally approved for use in the United States.

Often, contact with people of faith and a personal faith experience lead people to inquire about membership in the Catholic Church. Prior to beginning the RCIA process, an individual comes to some knowledge of Jesus Christ, considers his or her relationship with Jesus Christ and is usually attracted in some way to the Catholic Church. This period is known as the Period of Evangelization and Pre-catechumenate. For some, this process will involve a lengthy period of searching; for others, a shorter time. After conversation with an advisor or spiritual guide, the person, known as an “inquirer” may decide then to seek acceptance into the “Order of Catechumens.” The inquirer stands in the midst of the parish community and states that he or she wants to become a baptized member of the Catholic Church. The parish assembly affirms this desire and the inquirer officially becomes a “catechumen.”

The period of the catechumenate can last for as long as several years, or for a shorter time; it depends on how the person is growing in faith, what questions they encounter along the way, and how God leads them on this journey. During this time, the catechumens consider what God is saying to them in the scriptures, what changes in their life they want to make to respond to God’s inspiration, and what membership in the Catholic Church involves.
When a catechumen and the parish team working with him or her believes the person is ready to make a faith commitment to Jesus in the Catholic Church, the next step is the request for Baptism and the celebration of the Rite of Election. This rite includes the enrollment of names of all those seeking baptism at the coming Easter Vigil.

On the first Sunday of Lent, the catechumens and their sponsors gather at the cathedral and the catechumens publicly request baptism. Their names are recorded in the Book of the Elect, and they are called “the elect. ” The days of Lent are the final period of purification and enlightenment leading up to the celebration of initiation at the Easter Vigil. Lent is a period of preparation marked by prayer, study, and spiritual direction for the elect, and prayers for them by the parish communities.

The third step is the Celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation, which takes place during the Easter Vigil Liturgy when the catechumen receives the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. Then the person is a fully initiated member of the Catholic Church. Those already baptized receive the other two mentioned sacraments.

After the person is initiated, formation and education continue in the period of the post-baptismal catechesis, which is called “mystagogia.” This period continues at least until Pentecost. During this period, the newly baptized members reflect on their experiences at the Easter Vigil and continue to learn more about the scriptures, the sacraments, and the teachings of the Catholic Church. In addition, they reflect on how they will serve Christ and help in the Church’s mission and outreach activities. Our role is to welcome them and help them to become more familiar with those teachings of the Church, so that one day we may all worship together and lead more to Christ by our good deeds.

Thank you to all the wonderful people who attended the recent Parish Lenten Retreat. Msgr. George Majoros, our spiritual director and homilist for those six talks, presented some very beautiful and inspiring presentations and helped uplift many hearts and souls to God, bringing many of them back to the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. May he continue to do so after being reconstituted as a Missionary of Mercy by Pope Francis in Rome this April. Thank you, Msgr. George!

 

 

Pastor’s Message March 4th, 2018

We hear many people today describing themselves as “spiritual, but not religious”: They welcome experiences of the ethereal but reject the demands of religion. In my opinion, this reduces God to a source of our pleasure, not a personal being. Real relationships make demands: When we read the pages of the Gospels, we find Christ insisting that a disciple’s relationship with Him must hold first place, and every other tie of family, custom or country must be understood in the light of that primary understanding of discipleship. If we do not give first place to God, religion becomes a hobby and the church becomes a club. Our relationship with Christ, lived out in the community of his Body, the Church, must hold our first allegiance. This means that we must nourish our faith. If we don’t intentionally and regularly pray, worship, study the faith and learn to serve others as Catholics should, the secular environment which surrounds us will have a corrosive effect.

There are many inactive Catholics today, some in our families and among our friends. Most of them have not intentionally left the church, they have just drifted away. Other concerns and interests engaged their attention, and gradually the whole Catholic vision of life became something foreign to them. But if we try to participate as much as possible in the liturgical life of the Church, maintain a regimen of daily prayer, and involve ourselves in the charitable works of the Church, and read/study the Scriptures and be inspired by the lives of the saints, we can open our hearts to the rich patrimony of Catholic writers, past and present, who have wrestled with many of the questions that the modern repeatedly raises.

We have been blessed in our time with two popes who have brought keen philosophical and theological minds to their service to the Church. The writings of St. John Paul II and Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI provide a rich source of information and understanding of our Catholic belief and draw upon the treasures of two millennia of Catholic wisdom, articulating it in a way that responds to contemporary issues and modes of thought.  A very helpful resource to foster this integration is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The catechism brings together the essential doctrines of our Faith; but more than that, by its organization it invites us to not only know what we believe, but to live what we believe. The Catechism follows a traditional four-part structure: 1) what we believe; 2) how we worship; 3) how we live; 4) how we pray. These four parts of the Catechism are mutually related: what we believe shapes our worship, and the grace of the sacraments strengthens us to live the mystery we celebrate, nurturing our spiritual life. The more we deepen our relationship with Christ and live that relationship in his body, the Church, the more effectively we can share the riches of our faith with those around us. Contemporary society seems to be polarized between the exaltation of the individual at the expense of the common good, and the demand that the individual be sacrificed for the benefit of the collective. The individual has value only insofar as he or she can consume and, especially, produce. Our Catholic faith offers a vision of human society founded on the mystery of the Holy Trinity, wherein each individual finds his or her identity precisely in relationship to God. Along with the polarization between the individual and the community, the contemporary world often creates false dichotomies: religion vs. science and objective truth vs. human experience. The Catholic Faith proclaims the greatand,” viz., revelation & reason, objective truth & personal experience.

If we allow our most basic self-understanding to be our relationship to Christ, we can welcome what nourishes that relationship in the modern worldview and reject what weakens it. We can find common ground with the modern world by recognizing the importance of reason, and by showing how faith does not contradict reason, but imparts truth beyond what human reason can attain. Acknowledging that every statement of truth has something of a provisional element to it, so long as we are on earth, we always have something new to learn. But we can also assert that, while legitimate statements of truth can be complementary, they cannot be contradictory: Truth is one. The exercise of reason and the assent to revealed truth don’t negate personal experience; they purify it.

While it’s good to share our Faith by discussion, and even engage in a healthy dialogue and debate, argumentation to gain points or crush an opponent doesn’t further the Gospel. As the great speaker and evangelist, Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, used to say, “Win an argument, lose a soul.” Our best argument, by far, is our example. The great Church Father, St. Ignatius of Antioch, wrote while traveling to Rome for execution: “Our task is not one of producing persuasive propaganda: Christianity shows its greatness when it is hated by the world.” So, maybe we can be like Ignatius, witnesses to the truth that what was Good News in the ancient world, and in the middle ages, is, in our modern world, still good news.

Pastor’s Message February 25, 2018

The recent tragedy of Parkland will be indelibly etched in our minds for the rest of our lives. It happened too close to home, and the predictable reactions of many affected people have been displayed – sometimes unashamedly – in the press and on social media. Our hearts go out to the families that suffered these irreparable hurts, and we will continue to pray for them and the victims of this tragic massacre. They more than deserve this gesture of solidarity.  But, I also wonder just who will pray for Nikolas Cruz and his “family”?

Knee-jerk reactions brought on by deep anger in these situations can be understood – somewhat, – but are they always beneficial? These can lead to incendiary moments of outburst, and fuel the fires of deep-seated hatred, causing a domino effect that leads to further violence and more tragedy. This can produce more victims than originally scored. So, in situations such as these, we must ask the WWJD question: “What would Jesus Do?”

Knowing as they did the command of Moses to “hate your enemy,” Jesus’ disciples must have been jolted to hear their Good Teacher say to them, “love your enemies.” He turns the world upside down. Instead of urging them to take “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” He commanded that they “offer no resistance to one who is evil.” Like us, the disciples were heavily influenced by what St. Paul would soon call “the wisdom of this world.” God did not design the human heart to hold hatred and harmony together. One or the other has to go, and worldly wisdom makes room for hatred at the expense of peace.   In stark contrast, the wisdom of God on the lips of Jesus is foolishness to the world. What possible sense can it make to turn the other cheek, to hand over your cloak along with your tunic, to go the extra mile? Worldly wisdom has long derided such Christian meekness as nothing but pure and simple weakness – the morality of slaves afraid to insist on their dignity and stand up for their rights, who surrender to the stronger in order to get by.

Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, of recent memory, quoting from a scriptural base known to Catholic and non-Catholics alike, said that we have a test case for these clashing perspectives in the Folly of the Cross, where Jesus practiced what He preached. Unjustly condemned, He offered no resistance. Slapped in the face by the High Priest’s servant, He did not strike back. Pressed into service by the Romans, He walked without complaint as far as they demanded. Nailed to His Cross, He prayed for His persecutors. Looking back on the Crucified One, we don’t see fear-filled cowardice, but overflowing courage. The so-called “defeat” on the Cross actually leads to lasting, irreversible victory in the Resurrection.

But the Passion and death of Jesus has a significant cautionary lesson for us as well. Not for a moment did Jesus regard His unjust condemnation by Pilate as a just judgment, as a consequence merited by His behavior. The Lamb of Sacrifice knew full well that He did not deserve a Roman death sentence, yet He willingly endured its shame. To the evil that devoured Him He offered no resistance. But His silence in the face of His accusers powerfully asserted His disagreement with their judgment. But, if we are to imitate Jesus by turning the other cheek or walking the extra mile, we must never accept as right the unjust condemnation of one who “presses us into service,” slaps us in the face, or strips us of our dignity. No! Rather we must remember that a harsh, cruel, contemptuous judgment does not truly define who we are, even though, like Jesus before Pilate, are powerless to refute it. The path through the Passion is the path of self-mastery that leads to freedom. “You will know the truth,” Jesus promises, “and the truth will set you free”—free to turn the other cheek, free to walk the extra mile. Whatever wrong someone does to you, the wisdom of the world whispers, “do it back to him!” Heavenly wisdom advises us differently: “Whatever God has done for you, do the same for your neighbor. What you give away to him will come back to you as peace.”

Pastor’s Message February 18th, 2018

The annual Lenten season that began last Wednesday is a fitting time to climb the “holy mountain” to Easter. This season has a double character, namely, to prepare both the catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the Paschal mystery. The catechumens, both by catechesis and the Scrutinies with the Rite of Election, are prepared for the celebration of the sacraments of Christian initiation. The faithful, ever more attentive to the Word of God by prayer and penance, prepare themselves for renewal of their baptismal promises.

So, how can these forty days of prayer, fasting, and works of mercy help us live our faith at a deeper level? The Church prays in a different way liturgically during Lent, and, in a personal way, so should we. For example, Pope Francis has urged us to include the Profession of Faith from Sunday Mass (the Creed) in our daily prayer throughout the season of Lent. The same goes for the Holy Father’s encouragement of praying the Rosary. Families might take a few minutes each day to pray together as one family, putting aside the distractions of the TV, the I-phone or the computer.

In the Gospel, a man says to Jesus, “I believe, Lord; help my unbelief.” If we want to live out a deeper faith, we must pray for it. Consider adding a daily reading of the Bible to your Lenten schedule. Each Sunday, we profess our faith in “the forgiveness of sins,” and we enact that belief in the confessional. Penance is a sacrament of faith from start to finish. Going to confession is saying we believe that God is merciful, that He wants to forgive us our sins. It’s saying we believe that Jesus is God, because “who can forgive sins but God alone?” It’s saying we believe in the Church as the vehicle of God’s mercy, and in the priest as Christ’s chosen vessel to bring His mercy home to us. Finally, we must believe (how else could we know?) that we really are forgiven, that this brief conversation has changed our life. It is no surprise, then, that the pope calls us to approach this great sacrament frequently – and especially in this season of penance.

On Ash Wednesday 2016, Pope Francis commissioned more than 1,000 priests who were sent out around the world as ambassadors of mercy, and now has renewed their commission. Their role involves two primary aspects: preaching about mercy, and making it concrete through the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. He called them Missionaries of Mercy. They’re to be “signs of this mercy of the Lord, and the first aspect of this call “is to make themselves very available in bringing about that reconciliation of God through the sacred ministry of Confession.” He asked them to preach about mercy (much like we heard St. Paul say to all Catholics in the world on Ash Wednesday), and to continue Christ’s mission of reconciling the entire world to God the Father in Him. The second main thrust for the Missionaries of Mercy was to preach about mercy” as Jesus did in parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son.

In addition to the emphasis on their role as preachers and confessors, these priests have also been given two special faculties that are usually unavailable to the average priest. First, they will not be limited by geographic location in terms of hearing confessions. Usually a priest has to ask permission from the local bishop before hearing confessions in a diocese other than their own. However, for the Missionaries of Mercy, that is not the case. Also, they are able to absolve sins in cases otherwise reserved to the Holy See, namely: Profaning the Eucharistic species by taking them away or keeping them for a sacrilegious purpose; the use of physical force against the Pope; the absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the Sixth Commandment (“thou shalt not commit adultery”), and a direct violation against the sacramental seal by a confessor. Pope Francis is clearly trying to send a message: don’t let any sin keep you away, no matter what you’ve done. We are privileged to have one of these Missionaries of Mercy, Msgr. George Majoros, come to our parish and give us a Lenten retreat from the 5th thru the 7th of March. He will be available for Confessions after his morning and evening conferences.

So, make a good Lenten confession. Your faith will be the better for it, as it will if you consciously set out to perform one act of mercy each week of Lent. Follow the advice of the founder of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Blessed Frederick Ozanam, and “put your faith under the protection of charity.” For faith tells us that Jesus hides Himself in the “distressing disguise of the poor,” as St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta put it. Our Lord assures us, “The poor you have always with you.” We have only to open our eyes and look around. Lent is a hallowed time to find our way to the poor and put ourselves at their service as best we can. There is no better or quicker way to grow in faith!