Category Archives: Pastor message

Pastor’s Message January 21st, 2018

One of the foremost opportunities that we have as a parish family is to welcome people to our church and, as a result, to The Church universal. Our participation in numerous programs throughout the year that reach out to the poor, the homeless and disadvantaged may be seen by some as simply a “handout” to those who are judged to be “unworthy” of our largess. But what we do (helping the Church in the Virgin Islands reach out to its troubled populace, building up the Father Tom Moran School in Guatemala, helping our Bishop to help the marginalized in our own diocese) goes far beyond the scope of our worldview and fulfills Jesus’ command with regard to the “least of our brothers.” When faced with the question “And who is my brother?” Jesus responded with a timely parable of the Good Samaritan. But who are the Samaritans of today?

For immigrants and refugees now in the United States, or who hope to come here in the near future, recent weeks have been a steady diet of anxiety and confusion. The legal struggle over travel bans on different immigrants from various nations has disrupted the plans of thousands who seek to come here for all sorts of reasons, including escape from persecution and reunion with family members already here.

Stepped up detention and deportation efforts against undocumented persons have the potential of tearing families apart and traumatizing children caught in the middle. Parents have resorted to diversionary measures, taking different routes to work or school each day, avoiding any stores where police are often present, even changing their appearance or swapping cars to avoid being easily noticed.

We’ve seen both mass demonstrations of support for those adversely affected, and strengthened resolve by those who want tighter immigration restrictions. Good people—a lot of them—exist on both sides, and we need to resist the temptation to demonize the motives of those with whom we disagree. The ensuing polarization among our populace has uncovered deep divisions among Catholics who find themselves at odds with family, friends and fellow parishioners.

Immigration policy is complex. It involves many competing values, among them the duty of government to ensure the security of U.S. citizens and legal residents. That responsibility must be balanced with our country’s long history of welcoming newcomers, especially those fleeing persecution. The U.S. bishops have repeatedly called for deep immigration reform aimed at meeting both goals. We need to pray that our leaders exercise the good judgment needed to come to a reasonable solution to the current impasse, and soon.

We do and always will welcome all Catholics to worship and fellowship with us, regardless of their legal status. They’re our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ – our family, first and foremost, and the fact of their being undocumented diminishes neither their dignity nor personhood.

As a Church that herself bore the scorn and the cross of hatred toward immigrants, our Catholic past is a compelling reason to welcome the immigrants and refugees among us today. These persons and families need our help. They are not strangers, but friends; and how we treat them will prove or disprove whether we take our Christian discipleship seriously.

As we embark on our annual DSA Appeal for the year 2018, let’s ask Jesus to help us have the vision that he had by placing our priorities in proper order and giving primacy to our relationship with God the Father and all His children.

 

Pastor’s Message January 14th, 2018

The January 22, 1973, Supreme Court Roe v Wade decision is important for two negative reasons: its flawed reasoning and its destructive effect. In practice, Roe legalized abortion on demand. It has poisoned our public life for 45 years.  It has enabled the killing of tens of millions of unborn children, an entire American generation. Abortion “procedures”  (a sanitized understatement worthy of George Orwell) have emotionally scarred millions of adult women – and men.

Abortion supporters may talk a good line about “reproductive health care,” but there’s very little ‘health care’ in homicide. There’s simply no way around the living, developing unborn daughter or son – visible on any ultrasound machine – who ends up dead at the end of the abortion industry’s doublespeak.

The reality of abortion is the callous and ruthless profiteering that was captured by anti-Planned Parenthood videos – not the fabric softener alibis of pro-choice public PR memos and news media cheerleaders. Abortion supporters press the importance of reproductive rights; but they systematically violate the most basic right of all: the right to life.

“Right to choose” advocates often claim that most Americans support abortion rights. But polling data are easily misused or misunderstood. Key information is often overlooked or omitted because it doesn’t fit the preferred storyline. A rather recent Marist Poll, commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, found that 44% of surveyed Americans describe themselves as prolife, while 51% describe themselves as pro-choice.  But the really telling data emerge from beneath those broad labels.

More than 80% of Americans, including two-thirds of pro-choice supporters, would restrict abortion to – at most – the first trimester of pregnancy. By a 25-point margin, Americans believe abortion does women more harm than good. 60% believe abortion is morally wrong, and 77% believe that our laws can protect both a mother and her unborn child. Nearly 70% oppose public funding for abortion. More than 60% support laws that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy – except to save the life of the mother.

In an immediate sense, these facts change nothing. Forty-five years after Roe v. Wade, the abortion industry has grown fat on public money and falsely pious in its own deceits. Its leaders really don’t care what Americans think because they’ve been “culture warriors” from the start, playing the long game of changing people’s attitudes through aggressive court action and sympathetic media. It’s an intelligent strategy that should have worked. So it’s understandable that industry leaders are annoyed and baffled – and increasingly paranoid that pro-lifers have not gone away. They haven’t!! Quite the opposite is occurring. We see the proof every January. Impending snow and transportation woes may impact the turnout for the annual March for Life in Washington D.C., but that’s not a worry. It’s happened many times before; and yet, year after year, despite disapproving media and uncertain weather, the March for Life’s pro-life numbers keep coming and keep growing. They also keep getting younger.

Here’s why. Abortion is not like other social issues. It instinctively repugnant – an obscenity in the present, and a refusal of the future. It can’t be reduced to a theoretical dispute or a smokescreen of laundered language about “reproductive health” that only means homicide. No matter how good the verbal gymnastics, no “pro-choice” PR firm can escape the flesh and blood violence to mother and child, and the lying to women that occur in every abortion. The unborn child is alive, innocent and now observable, thanks to the same medical technology that the abortion industry perverts in every killing. Today’s young people may differ from previous generations in many ways, but killing innocent life isn’t one of them. That simple fact on this upcoming 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, with a lot of hard work, can be the beginning of a new and better culture that will respect the sanctity of human life at every stage. With God’s help, we can make it so!

If you can’t go to Washington to partake of the East Coast observance (there is a parallel one for the West Coast in San Francisco), consider joining Bishop Barbarito next week in a very prayerful and faith-filled Rally for Life on Monday, January 22nd, from 11:00 a.m. ‘til Noon, across the street from the main Court House in West Palm Beach. I’ll be there.

Pastor’s Message January 7th, 2018

We are honored to have His Excellency, the Most Reverend Bishop Herbert Bevard of the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands to be with us this weekend as he makes his appeal for his twice hurricane-devastated diocese. He will celebrate one Mass marking the Feast of the Epiphany, and preach at the other weekend Masses. Next weekend, we will answer the needs of his appeal with a generous response.

Christmas-Epiphany ranks 2nd among the three greatest festivals of the Christian year, the 1st being Easter-Divine Mercy, and the 3rd being Pentecost –Trinity. No one knows the time of year when Jesus was actually born. But, since the early 4th Century, the Western Church has commemorated the date of the Nativity in late December, possibly replacing pagan festivals of the time. But over the millennia, the beauty of the Gospel account of Christ’s birth has left a lasting mark on the human soul. For families especially, Christmas can be magic and an intimate joy.  It resonates with the renewal of hope that comes with each new infant family member.

Christians, i.e., followers of Jesus Christ – celebrate Christmas not as just another secular holiday, but as the birthday of the Messiah; the birthday – in the words of St. Leo the Great – of life itself.

We live in a special time of joy every Christmas-Epiphany, and it has very little to do with holiday sales. Jesus is Emmanuel – “God with us.” Sharing presents with friends and family is a wonderful tradition that springs eagerly from our Christmas celebrations. Originally, gift-giving was on the day of the Epiphany, not December 25th. We shouldn’t let our concern for Christmas gifts – the noise and distraction of mere things – drown out the quiet voice of God’s love-made-flesh in the birth of Jesus. Bethlehem, for each of us individually and the world as a whole, is the beginning of something entirely new and utterly beautiful, if we ask God for the purity of heart to possess it.

The world we know today is not so different from the world of the first Christmas. Violence, greed, indifference, hatred, refugees, the struggle for power and the oppression of the poor – despite our best efforts – are the chronic evils for a fallen humanity. Yet, the reality is this:  God loved us enough to send us, through the faith of Mary and Joseph, his only Son. He loved us enough to take on our poverty, our indignities and fears, our hopes, joys, sufferings and failures – and to speak to us as one of us. He became man to show men and women how much God loves them. He was born for that purpose. He lived for that purpose.  He died and rose again for that purpose.

Jesus means “God saves” (from the Hebrew, Yeshua). When Jesus later preaches in his public ministry, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” He is only restating the miracle that begins in Bethlehem. Our redeemer is born in a stable. He is born to deliver us from sin and restore us to eternal life. This was the meaning of the birth on that first Christmas. The Epiphany segment celebrates how He was made known to the rest of the world – actually through foreigners (the Magi) that sought Him.

Though we are now closing the Christmas season, it’s never too late to invite the Christ Child into our hearts. Surely this tired, divided and suffering world never needed Him more. So throughout this year, may God grant all of us the gift of welcoming Jesus into our hearts and searching for Him in the hearts of others.

Our traditional blessing of the chalk and incense takes place at the first Mass of the Epiphany. You may find these take-home packets at the manger and, if you so wish, leave a donation there. The incense may be burned in a safe dish in your home today or on another feast day, and the chalk can be used to invoke the intercession of the Magi. The inscription over your doorway(s) is: 20+C+M+B+18, and you may invoke a blessing with the words: May the intercession of the Holy Magi protect our home from all harm during this coming year.

Pastor’s Message December 31st, 2017

The Christian New Year is celebrated on January 1, one week after the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Over the centuries, the January 1st observance has been known by several different names that reveal something of the nature of the feast. We could say that this feast is rich in names, meaning, and mission. First of all, the Christian New Year is within the Octave of Christmas (i.e. eight days after the birth of Jesus). Before the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the Christian New Year was called the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus or the Naming of Jesus (the Holy Name of Jesus). After the Council, January 1st was established as the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, and is also designated as the World Day of Prayer for Peace.

At first glance, we may ask ourselves if the New Year’s Feast has accumulated so many different meanings that people no longer pay attention to it. Furthermore, isn’t it also true that the atmosphere of revelry attached to New Year’s Eve hardly leaves anyone with the energy, desire, or willingness to consider New Year’s Day as a religious feast? Let’s consider some of the biblical foundations for the various meanings attached to the Christian New Year.

In antiquity and in the Scriptures, it is a common belief that the name given to a person is not just a label but part of the personality of the one who bears it. The name carries will and power. Jesus was born in Bethlehem to Jewish parents. At his conception, an angel proclaimed that his name would be “Jesus.” Eight days after his birth, Jesus underwent circumcision, the enduring sign of the covenant between God and the Jewish people. The Greek christos translates the Hebrew mashiah, “anointed one.” By this name Christians confessed their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. In the New Testament, the name, person, and work of God are inseparably linked to those of Jesus Christ. True disciples of Jesus are to pray in his name. Believing in the name of Jesus is believing in Him as the Christ, the Son of God. The name of Jesus has power only where there is faith and obedience. Believing in His holy name leads to confession of the name. Calling on this name is salvation.

“Mary” comes from the Hebrew “Miriam,” which is probably from the Egyptian word meaning “beloved.” She is the disciple par excellence who introduces us to the goodness and humanity of God. Mary received and welcomed God’s word in the fullest sense, not knowing how the story would finally end. She did not always understand that word throughout Jesus’ life but she trusted and constantly recaptured the initial response she had given the angel and literally “kept it alive,” in her heart. It was only on a Friday afternoon at Calvary, some 33 years later, that she would experience the full responsibility of her “yes.”

Vatican II gave Mary a new title. For the first time, the Church officially referred to her as the “Mother of God,” a title with a rich Scriptural foundation. Mary is mother both of the Messiah and of the new people of God — the individual person and the whole people being very closely united. Mary’s womanhood is not in itself a sign of salvation but it is significant for the manner and way in which salvation happens. There is salvation in no other name but that of the man, Jesus; but through this woman, Mary, we have humanity’s assent to salvation. The Holy Names of Jesus and Mary are joined together in a very special way.

The most recent “theme” attached to the Christian New Year has been the “World Day of Prayer for Peace.” Christians are invited to begin a New Year by praying for peace. But this action is not limited only to those who celebrate New Year’s on January 1! It is not enough for us simply to pray for peace. We must work for peace, together. That is the work of those who long for the Messiah’s kingdom to fully take hold of our lives and our world.

New Year’s is a time to reminisce about the past and to share hopes for the future. Authentic religion teaches us a reverence for life and gives us a sense of the holiness of God’s name. The Jewish-Christian God speaks this word to all peoples: ‘Seek me and live,’ and ‘Choose life.’ In a world filled with so many voices and things demanding first place, Judaism and Christianity recognize God as sovereign over all creation.

At the beginning of this New Year of grace, may the Lord give us an ever-deeper sense of the holiness of the names of Jesus and Mary. May God send us out on his mission, to be instruments and agents of life and peace.

Pastor’s Message December 24th, 2017

This Fourth Week of Advent will be the shortest of them all – lasting only one day! I often used that last week to make some “last-minute” Christmas purchases. Yet, that won’t be the case this year. However, since Christmas is really a 12-day celebration (Hanukah lasts 8), I’ll be able to justify my late purchases as prolonging the feast!

Recently, I spotted an advertisement for a virtual reality headset which shows what may be a teenage boy (or girl – I can’t tell because the person’s face is covered by the VR headset) staring up at the ceiling, or rather into the virtual world they are in, relaxing in plaid pajamas. The caption reads: “Get more. Get merrier.” What a shame! I didn’t buy anyone a virtual reality headset – be forewarned family and friends! Yet, according to the advertisement, Christmas will not be merry unless I provide a machine that can block out the real world, or go into debt so someone can have the best product for a year – before a newer model comes out next November.

It’s easy to have this mentality around Christmas: “Get more. Get merrier.” Stores  and the Internet are filled with the products that are filling people’s homes, all for the sake of supposedly getting happier; all for letting someone know you love them because the price tag says so. So, if you paid less for someone else, that shows where your heart is – in the credit card compartment of your wallet!

But I wonder, how would they react if they were told that there is one thing that will make them merriest – and it’s free? Would parents flock to our church if they learned that the priest is giving away the greatest gift of all starting this Sunday afternoon, and doing it again at certain times listed in the bulletin? Would children leave their gifts under the tree for an hour longer if they could sit in the place of their spiritual rebirth and gaze upon a miniature scene of that first Christmas? Perhaps the person in the advertisement could take off the virtual reality set and actually look at the world and see the love that is offered on that day.

The radio channels have been reminding us that this is “The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.” But one of my favorites is hearing George Michael sing, “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart;” and thinking that maybe this year, on Christmas Eve, entering the Church and going up to the altar to receive Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, “this year…I’ll give it to someone special.”

We, too, can give a gift that expresses a fulfilling of our personal needs by offering gifts to those in real need. This weekend, there will be one more opportunity this year to help those in our diocese who are deprived of so many of the things in life that we take for granted. The special 2nd collection this weekend, especially the BIG one on Christmas, will be for those who will benefit from our Christmas spirit by our goodness and generosity to them. The DSA Special Collection will not only help our Bishop to reach out to them, but will also help our seminarians to attain their goal of Priesthood. It will mean that the message of God sending His Divine Son to give real dignity to (our) humanity will take on a particular form in our own diocese – indeed, even in our neighborhood. Don’t just tell Jesus you love Him; show it now!!

The readings of this 4th Sunday of Advent and the closeness of Christmas pull us into reflections on the Incarnation. Christmas is not only the Feast of Christ’s birth, but the celebration of the entire mystery of God taking on a human nature – beginning with the event narrated in today’s Gospel, whereby Christ was conceived within Mary’s body. God redeems us by joining every aspect of our lives to His. God even becomes an unborn child. Human life was already sacred because it always was and is God’s creation, made freely from his love. But in the Incarnation it takes on an even deeper meaning and sanctity, because human nature is forever united with Divine Life. This affects all who share human nature, even the children still in the womb. That is why St. John Paul’s encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, can make the following two assertions: “Life, especially human life, belongs only to God: for this reason whoever attacks human life, in some way attacks God himself” (n. 9).

“By his Incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every person. It is precisely in the “flesh” of every person that Christ continues to reveal Himself and to enter into fellowship with us, so that rejection of human life, in whatever form that rejection takes, is really a rejection of Christ” (n. 104).

   On behalf of all the Priests and Deacons and Staff of our parish, I wish all of you the choicest of God’s blessings for this Christmas Season, and a happy, healthy and Holy New Year!

Pastor’s Message December 17th, 2017

Do I have to go to Mass twice on Christmas Eve this year? Christmas Eve falls on the 4th Sunday of Advent this year. What does that mean for Mass attendance? Christmas Eve this year falls on a Sunday. We already know that Catholics are obliged under penalty of serious sin to attend Mass on a Sunday. But, the next day (Christmas) is also a Holyday of Obligation, and the obligation is the same, isn’t it? Well, there are several ways you can fulfill the obligations that weekend. This may seem to be a “no-brainer,” to most. However, there’s a complication: Vigil Masses.

These let you fulfill your obligation the evening before the feast day. They’re especially popular at Christmas. Many families with young children, for example, treat the Christmas Eve 5:30 p.m. Mass as an annual tradition, thereby keeping the following day free for all the other activities associated with Christmas. However, if you go to a Christmas Eve Vigil Mass this year, have you also fulfilled your Sunday obligation? The answer is: No. The Liturgy Office of the U.S. Bishops Conference says that you cannot fulfill both the Sunday and Christmas obligations in just one Mass.

The primary purpose of a Holyday of Obligation is to call the faithful to celebrate particular dimensions of the mysteries of Christ and His Church. Since an obligation is attached to the specific mysteries being celebrated, it is not possible to fulfill two obligations in one celebration. So, those who usually go to Mass on Sunday evening take note: If the Sunday evening Mass is for Christmas rather than the 4th Sunday of Advent, you have to go to a different Mass earlier in the day, or on Saturday evening. This brings us to a related problem that plagues our priests in the confessional.

When little children come to confess that they did not attend Sunday Mass, whose sin is it really? Is it theirs, or that of the parent who neglects to bring them? Who are the first teachers of them in the Faith? It is supposed to be the parents. But what kind of teaching are they giving their children by their poor example about Mass?

Recently, Pope Francis said that a Christian can’t just be a good person and skip Mass on Sundays, because it is the Eucharist that provides the nourishment needed to truly live the Gospel well in our daily lives. He stated, “How can we respond to those who say that there is no need to go to Mass, not even on Sundays, because what is important is to live well, to love our neighbors?” “It is true that the quality of the Christian life is measured by the capacity to love, but how can we practice the Gospel without drawing the necessary strength to do it, one Sunday after another, from the inexhaustible spring of the Eucharist?”

The Pope continued his weekly catechesis on the Mass and Eucharist, focusing on the reasons why we must go to Mass every Sunday, besides the fact that it is a law of the Church (which he said is important, but not enough alone). “Instead we must go deeper. We Christians need to participate in Sunday Mass because only with the grace of Jesus, with his living presence in us and among us, can we put into practice his commandment, and thus be his credible witnesses,” he said.

“The Eucharist and Mass are where we find our strength for daily life. Without it, Christians ‘are condemned to be dominated by the fatigue of everyday life.’ Often consumed by worries and fears, this weekly meeting is where Christ gives us the strength to live each day with courage and with hope.”

He explained how participating in the Eucharistic communion with Jesus here on earth helps us to anticipate heaven, where it will be “Sunday without sunset: no more tears, grief, or pain, but only the joy of living fully and forever with the Lord.”

“At Sunday Mass we rest from the busyness and work of the week, which teaches us to place our trust in the Father, not in earthly things. In the same way, abstaining from unnecessary labor on Sundays helps us to live out our identity as sons and daughters of God, and not slaves.”

The Pope also noted an important distinction about Mass. “Christians do not go in order to give something to God, but to receive from Him what we really need. This teaching is evoked in a prayer from the Roman Missal, which addresses God, saying: ‘You do not need our praise, but for a gift of your love You call us to give You thanks; our hymns of blessing do not increase your greatness, but they obtain for us the grace that saves us’,” Francis said. He then noted that there are many secularized societies, which have entirely lost the Christian sense of an “illuminated Sunday.” “In this case we must help revive and recover the meaning of the day, which should be celebrated with joy, with community, and with solidarity; as a day of rest that restores the soul and the body,” he said.

Pastor’s Message December 10th, 2017

We had a beautiful Advent beginning last Sunday afternoon with the presentation of “AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS.” So many people came back from the event touched by the beauty of the presentation and the messages contained therein, more ready to embrace the holy season of Advent. I thank our Director of Liturgical Music (and Music teacher in our school), Eric Keiper, for working so many hours with his talented choirs to help set the tone for us in preparing for Christmas. I also thank Mary Somerville and her team of volunteers for helping to welcome the over 200 attendees. I give special thanks to our Director of Maintenance, Jay Flood, and his crew for making the beautiful settings and Martha Ladner, for her fabulous job in creating the costumes –- all of which help us to enjoy the season of Advent, which really helps prepare us for the coming of Christ.

On Monday evening, our Columbiettes assisted several other leading ladies of our parish in hosting what has become an annual event for the women of our parish: “Advent by Candlelight.” With spiritual reflections and lovely table settings for a dessert presentation, they helped set an additional Advent opportunity to reflect upon the meaning of the season of Advent, without the crass commercialization that usually surrounds us at this time.

Unfortunately, for many people, “preparing for Christmas” starts on “Black Friday” with feverish shopping for sales amidst the tumultuous crowds of the shopping malls. May I suggest that our Christian faith offers a saner and more wholesome path: our Advent preparation for Christmas should not be so focused on shopping and buying gifts, but on building relationships. If giving someone a gift helps to build a relationship with someone, fine; but giving a gift in and of itself does not build a relationship: something more is needed, something more personal, something more relational, something more emotional and, I might venture to say, something more spiritual and even sacrificial. The original “Santa Claus,” after all, was St. Nicholas, who was not a harried shopper for presents to deliver on his sleigh, but a bishop whose generous and anonymous gifts to the poor became the model for Christmas gift-giving. So, besides shopping for Christmas presents, following the example of St. Nicholas suggests that we also make gifts to charities that help the poor.

In terms of building relationships, Advent is a journey that should bring us closer to God and to each other. One of the best ways to do that is through the Sacrament of Penance. By confessing our sins and receiving absolution from a priest, we are reconciled to God and to the community of faith. Just before Christmas in 1980, Pope Saint John Paul was with over two thousand children in a Roman parish. He began his catechesis with this dialogue: How are you preparing for Christmas? The children shouted back: By praying! The Pope responded, Very good, by praying, but also by going to Confession. You must go to Confession so that you can go to Communion later. Will you do that? In an even louder voice, those many hundreds of children shouted their reply, We will! St. John Paul II responded, Yes, you ought to go. Then, lowering his voice, he whispered, The Pope will also go to Confession so as to receive the Child Jesus worthily.

In more recent times, we also see our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, going to Confession. I will also go to Confession and many Catholics will also do the same in the weeks between now and Christmas, with an ever greater love and deeper contrition. We will have that special opportunity to confess our sins on Thursday evening, December 21st, at 7:00 p.m., during our usual Advent Penance Service. There will be several priests available to forgive us our sins and thereby help us to prepare for the coming of Christ. Bring the whole family to be reconciled with Our Lord and lift up our hearts to prepare for the coming of Jesus. As an Advent people, we are people of hope and expectation. We live in hope and expectation of our Lord’s second coming. We also live in the hope of improved relationships with other people and the expectation that our relationships can indeed be improved to become more caring and more loving. We should never give up on anyone, but always have hope that God’s grace can touch the hearts of those who hunger for his nourishment, which He gives us now in the gift of the Eucharist.

 

Pastor’s Message December 3rd, 2017

As we wind down our journey into the last days of Fall, the days grow shorter and the weather becomes cooler. Most of us adapt to the increased darkness as well as the changing weather. Mother Nature brings us a season that is suited to quiet and contemplation and encourages us to slow down a bit. So, too, does the Church invite us to adopt a more contemplative spirit as we approach the beginning of a new liturgical year and enter the Advent season, looking forward to the celebration of Our Lord’s coming at Christmas, as well as at the end of our earthly life. Before we get to this joyous celebration, it’s good for us to consider whether we are prepared to meet Our Lord.

In the past couple of weeks, our readings at Mass invited us to reflect on this very topic. We were reminded in the parable of the ten virgins that we should stay awake, for we know not the day or the hour at which our Lord will come. We heard in one reading that the Lord comes like a thief in the night. Both of these clearly point to the necessity of living as Christ’s disciples each and every day so that we might be prepared for whenever we are called to meet our Lord.

In the parable of the talents, Jesus tells of a king who was embarking on a journey; but before leaving, summoned his servants and gave to each of them a certain amount of money to care for in his absence. Two of the servants went out and used what their master had given them wisely and, in turn, doubled what they were given. However, the third servant, fearful of the master, kept to himself what he had been given and returned only that to the master. The two that used their gifts wisely were invited to share their master’s joy; whereas the one, who kept what he had been given, was cast out.

In trying to understand this parable, there is room for confusion when one word has multiple meanings. Today we think of “talent” as a special attribute that a person possesses – in sports, in art, in music or whatever. Talents are the gifts that enable people to excel in a particular area or field in their lives. These talents are not earned, but they can be developed. Does it annoy you as much as it does me to see gifted people who do not use their talents properly? By the same token, aren’t we particularly impressed with people who use their talents for the good of others?

But, the talents in that Gospel are different – more like sums of money that can be invested – which is what two of the men in the parable do with them. A single talent of silver was worth more than fifteen times the basic daily wage of the time, so gifts of one, two or five talents were very extravagant. One man, however, does what people today are often inclined to do with their money: he buried it for “safety.” It seems the sensible thing then was to dig a hole and bury your savings because it was too easy for burglars literally to break a hole in the wall of a house and steal valuables. But, parables are notorious for turning upside down the expected order of things, and this one is no exception. The high-risk takers are rewarded for their audacity; the prudent one is punished. It is clear that playing safe with God’s gifts is not an option in the kingdom of heaven. Those who took risks are not given extra talents; they are praised identically for being good and faithful servants, and they are invited to come and share their master’s happiness. The one who played safe, who risked nothing for his master, is deprived of his talent and cast out.

However, the emphasis is on the positive. The parable reminds us that we have been given much by God. We don’t have the option of not using our gifts to build God’s kingdom. We are His servants; the talents are the gifts that God has bestowed on us – our intelligence, our ability to love, our skills, and even temporal goods; the journey that the master takes signifies the duration of our life; his unexpected return represents our death; the settling of accounts our judgment; and the banquet is Heaven. Whatever we invest, the promised reward is to share in the happiness of the master’s kingdom.

As we enter into the season of Advent, may we use this time to reflect on our own lives and seek to understand whether we utilize the gifts that Our Lord has given us to build up the kingdom of God on earth: living the stewardship and discipleship way of life, or keeping them selfishly for our own gain. I hope that each of us can say that we live as good stewards of our talents by our striving to live each day as Christ’s disciples. May we be ever prepared for when the Lord arrives, so that we, too, might hear Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your Father’s joy.”

I invite you, this Sunday afternoon, to share in a very spiritual moment. At 3:00 p.m., we will present a spiritual musical based on the Three Kings journey. Bring your family, and enjoy this presentation of “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” Try to see where you might fit in on your own life’s journey to see Jesus. It’s a delightful Advent experience you won’t want to miss!

Pastor’s Message November 26th, 2017

If evidence is needed how wrong some media commentators can get a story, look no further than the coverage of Pope Francis’ recent action of witnessing the marriages of 20 couples, some of whom had lived together or had children together prior to Christian marriage. For instance, one Australian paper said it was the Pope making good “on his insistence that the Catholic Church welcome all faithful — not just those who obey Church teaching perfectly.” Others, such as the New York Times had the same sort of observation.

The positive energy surrounding what Pope Francis did is edifying. So, one must ask, however, what he actually did that was so far from what the Church always does. Clearly, no one obeys Church teaching “perfectly” and so the implication that other Church officials only welcome the “perfect” is simply false. We are all sinners. The Church makes the sacraments, especially Penance (Confession and Reconciliation), available to us precisely because we’re sinners. Sacraments are outward signs of the inner graces they give to help become less like sinners and more like Christ. So what Pope Francis has done is nothing new, much less extraordinary; and that is the real story here.

The Church gave 40 men and women an opportunity to take a step in drawing closer to God, and for some of them a turning away from a previous choice, which they most likely recognized as inconsistent with God’s will for them.

So, the perception that the Holy Father somehow “set aside” Church practice in his generous gesture of presiding at these 20 marriages is therefore terribly misleading and actually defamatory of our Holy Father. It seems most likely to me that the Pope, observed all of the standard formalities the Church has observed for centuries.

I trust those couples, like all couples of every diocese of the United States were:

  • required to produce baptismal certificates (standard practice);
  • required to go through the marriage preparation required by the Diocese of Rome (standard practice);
  • required to prove freedom to marry (standard practice);
  • required, if necessary to go through the annulment process (standard practice);
  • invited and given the opportunity (I hope) to make a good confession prior to this sacramental moment (standard practice);
  • required to present a civil marriage license (standard practice);
  • required to complete the prenuptial questionnaire (standard practice);
  • required to recite their vows in accord with an accepted form (standard practice).

Since it’s not typical for an officiating priest at a wedding to publicly announce that the couple was living together before the nuptials or that one or both of them had previous marriages and annulments, doing so in this case has publicly manifested the Church’s openness to ‘sinners’ and it is this ‘proof’ of the Church’s welcome to those seeking ongoing conversion which is cause for joy. This, however, isn’t new, though it may be news to some.

The mercy manifested by Pope Francis is both attractive and attracting. However, I wouldn’t venture so far as to imply (as the secular press has) that this manifestation of mercy somehow excluded a call to conversion for every one of these couples. I’d tend to believe that every one of them recognized they wanted more from life than cohabitation or more than a simply civil form of marriage. So, let’s rejoice for all of them, that they responded to God’s graced call to conversion – His call to turn away from a previous way of life to a new life in Christ. I think this moment of conversion, which has not (unfortunately) been publicized or even mentioned, is the real story, a story of God’s merciful, redeeming and challenging grace.

Pope Francis clearly has a charism of love and mercy, and what he loves is the sinner. But, there is nothing to imply that he in any way loves or condones the sin. He loves the sinner and because of this love is not shy about calling them to reject sin and come more fully into the light of God’s love and grace.

Pastor’s Message November 19th, 2017

October 31st this year marked 500 years since an Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, nailed 95 theses to the chapel door of Wittenberg Castle (the town bulletin board). This action wasn’t (as it is frequently presented) so much a ‘protest’ of any kind, but rather a challenge to other theologians to debate him on the ideas he was asserting which criticized faulty concepts of ‘Purgatory’ and the practice of ‘Indulgences.’
Our Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us an indulgence is “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which a faithful Christian, who is duly disposed, gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.

Some of the criticisms Luther made on indulgences were quite right at that time. Some clerics wrongly and blasphemously sold them to raise funds for Church projects, an abuse that constituted the very grave sin of ‘Simony’ (the buying/selling of sacred things). Thank God, this was corrected later in the 16th century.

Protestants reject the idea that the Church has authority to make such remissions, or that temporal punishment can accrue to the faithful Christian believer. In fact, it remains one of the Catholic practices that non-Catholics find most objectionable, due to their misunderstanding of the teachings. Likewise, many Catholics, after years of minimal and misleading catechesis, are also unable to provide the proper explanation that would allow every Christian to see the beauty and importance of this teaching. They’re either profoundly ignorant of this reality, or else they labor under the same confusion or distortions as a number of non-Catholics.
We should not only know and defend indulgences, but also incorporate them into our spiritual lives. We can do so if we understand two things: the consequences of sin, and role of the Church as Minister of Christ’s redemption. Let me try to explain this to you.

The Church has historically recognized that, for a Christian, there are two different forms of sin: mortal and venial. ‘Mortal’ sin is a deliberately intended act that is so serious in its nature, that it constitutes a radical rejection of Christ and His sacrifice for us, and ruptures our relationship with God. ‘Venial’ sin, on the other hand, is an act that, while sinful, isn’t so serious that it formally destroys our union with God. St John tells us “All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.” (1 Jn 5:17)

Sin entails a two-fold punishment. On one hand, there is the eternal punishment of Hell, which is suffered by anyone who does not repent of Mortal sin (through an immediate act of contrition to God, and then the Sacrament of Penance thereafter). On the other, there is temporal punishment. This is the one that we go through in life due to our evil actions. It might be correction by our elders when we are children, or the consequences of our own foolishness or immorality throughout life, which will vary in gravity according to the nature of our sin.

If we commit fraud or rob a bank and go to prison, or commit adultery and go thru divorce, or get into drugs or pornography and suffer the debilitating effects of either, these are examples of temporal punishment. All form part of the justice that God, by His providence, has incorporated into human existence.
The Biblical example of King David illustrates that these punishments are separate from eternal punishment, and our repentance. Even after repenting of his sins (in light God’s reproof through the Prophet Nathan), he is punished with the death of the child he conceived in adultery (2 Sam 12:13-18).
So, temporal punishment accrues to every sin. So while venial sin (of which any faithful Christian should repent) does not lead to Hell, it does have consequences. A fact of life, however, is that we often don’t experience the temporal punishment of our sins on Earth; and our penances ‘after the fact’ do not correspond to the punishment we are owed.
This is why the Church has historically confessed that at our death, (if we are in a ‘state of grace’ when we die – i.e., a state of saving friendship with God), any outstanding temporal punishment we didn’t endure on Earth we will endure before we enter Heaven, in ‘Purgatory.’ This state involves the cleansing of our souls of any venial sins we had committed before we die.

We see this in the references that St Paul makes in 1 Cor. 3:10-15. Using the imagery of a purifying fire, Paul relates that after we have died, our earthly works are ‘tested.’ Our good works will survive the fire, purified as precious metals and stones, whereas any bad works will be consumed like flammable straw, and though we will ‘suffer loss,’ we will be saved – “but only as through fire.” Since this state involves punishment it also involves suffering, as we are purified of the last vestiges of sin and its malign effects. For that reason, we pray for the dead that they be released from the consequence of their sins, a practice that was began by the Jewish people before the coming of Christ (read of Judas Maccabeus in 2 Maccabees 12:43–45), and which continues in all Apostolic Churches today in the East and the West, whether Catholic or non-Catholic.
God has not left us, however, without a way of dealing with the temporal punishments due to our sin, and avoiding purgative suffering after death. When Our Lord established the Church, He gave St. Peter the power of the Keys of His Kingdom (Matthew 16:18-19, cf. Isaiah 22:20-22). This authority, possessed by the Church today through Peter’s successors, the popes, extends to the temporal punishment due to sin. Just as the Church may absolve sin itself through the power given to her by Christ (John 20:21-23), so she may remit the temporal punishment due to sin. When the Church remits temporal punishment, this is called an ‘indulgence,’ which in its Latin root was used in the sense of being a ‘remission.’ In her wisdom, the Church makes this remission conditional on the performance of pious actions, through what are known as ‘concessions.’ These exist to help the Body of Christ grow in holiness and virtue. Some of these are ‘plenary’ (they remit all temporal punishment); most are ‘partial’ (remit some punishment) according to the devotion of the individual believer. These may be heroically offered up in loving solidarity for others, such as those holy souls in Purgatory who have no ability to gain any indulgence themselves. During November, we pray for such souls.

None of this contradicts the Christian truths regarding Grace, or the impossibility of earning salvation through works. Enjoying the benefits of the ultimate sacrifice Our Lord made for us on the Cross does not exclude our suffering temporal punishment, and so gaining indulgences does not ‘compete’ with His perfect saving act. Purgatory isn’t about salvation: we already must be saved in order to go through it. The divine life God shares with us is what makes us holy. Only thru faith, including prayer and the Sacraments, are we enabled to live a Christian life, including those actions to which the Church has attached the remission of the temporal punishment for sin.     It was because Luther wanted to challenge the doctrine and practice of indulgences that he posted his challenge to debate. May we rise to the challenge of defending this glorious Christian teaching, and help our brothers and sisters in the Church Suffering by being sure to gain indulgences on their behalf.