January 26, 2020
This Saturday 49 parish second graders trusted Jesus and his Church in the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first of hopefully many times again in their unfolding lives. I can pretty safely say that none of them had any mortal sins (sins that break one’s relationship with God and the community of believers we name Church) that needed to be healed in this sacred sacrament. Most of them confessed what are still referred to as venial sins (sins that challenge but do not sever one’s relationship with God and the Church), which are forgiven every time a person receives the Eucharist or goes to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Like many of us, they were pretty nervous when they first sat in the chair and began “Bless me Father for I have sinned…”. However, as the child tells their sins and hears the priest speaking on behalf of Jesus saying they are loved and we can all do better, I wish you could see both the sorrow and contrition changed into joy and happiness as the Prayer of Absolution happens and the priest says “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.”
I wish and pray many more parishioners would take advantage of this healing Sacrament. When we likewise have the opportunity for the tenth graders to receive the sacrament leading up to Confirmation, the majority of them are more nervous than when they were eight. It is usually their second confession, now eight years later, and they haven’t given themselves the opportunity to become comfortable with how to go more less why it’s important. I can only surmise that parents and Godparents have not been the best teachers and examples themselves even though they promised to be at baptism. The catechists and priests can only do so much with the limited amount of time we have with our young people in Faith Formation. However, if I asked most students how to play football, soccer, basketball or volleyball, what their lines were in the last school play, or how to play their instrument, most would be very articulate and convincing. This is not meant to be an indictment. It is simply me sharing our reality here at Holy Cross Parish in the 21st century. We are not an anomaly in the wider Church.
There are many reasons and theories for why Mass attendance and regularly taking advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation has changed so much in the last few decades. The simplest reason is that family life has changed so much in the last few decades. Why should it be important to meet at the Lord’s Table and formally say one is sorry, if families rarely meet at their own table and even more rarely offer an apology and make amends? Each of us needs to focus on building up our self-worth, esteem and talents, but hopefully not at the cost of forming a lifelong and eternal relationship with the Lord and fellow believers. I do have hope. When I lived and worked among college students it was good to see friend groups walking to meals together and sharing about their lives with each other. It was also good to hear roommates work things out and many times become best friends in the difficult but rewarding process of ongoing communication and learning to give and depend on each other as friends. I would often silently admire and pray that these lessons would trickle into their married and family life, and relationships with colleagues and neighbors. This was at two universities the Congregation of Holy Cross founded and is still heavily invested in along side dedicated lay ministers and faithful leaders. There is a lot of life to prepare for beyond First Reconciliation, Communion and Confirmation. The solid foundation for the rest of life begins here in the parish supporting and encouraging families.
I ask all parishioners to pray for these young people evidenced by their handprints before the Lord. Also pray for their parents and Godparents as they continue their central role in teaching and passing on the importance and meaning of the Christian faith to the future generations of the Church. Finally, pray for the parish catechists and clergy as we remain committed to doing what we can week in and week out to teach and pass on the faith to all who choose to actively participate. I love Holy Cross Parish and trust that it will continue being the vibrant and lively community it has been for the past 54 years.
January 19, 2020
Back to the wearing of the green for the next six Sundays before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 26th. Except for February 2nd which falls on a Sunday this year. The Presentation of the Lord is celebrated 40 days after Christmas and is traditionally referred to as Candlemas (Mass of the Blessing of the Candles). We will bless some of the candles we will use in church this year, especially those used for the Blessing of the Throats in honor of St. Blaise whose feast is February 3rd. Old man Simeon was promised by God that he would not die before seeing the Messiah. When Joseph and Mary present their baby boy and say his name is Jesus, Simeon recognizes the significance of the name’s meaning: “he will save his people from their sins,” we heard the angel tell Joseph in the Gospel back on the 4th Sunday of Advent. Simeon proclaims: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-31). The Church prays Simeon’s words each night during the last prayer of the day called Compline. The antiphon prayed before and after Simeon’s words is: “Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace.” Very comforting words to fall asleep to at the end of the day.
Even though we call the weeks outside of liturgical seasons Ordinary, we know no day is ordinary with God. Some days are days we welcome new life into our midst through birth. Other days are first steps, first day at school, first kiss, first time driving, first job, first paycheck, first down payment, first vacation. Other days are saying goodbyes and letting go. The last days of summer, last single digit years, last day of school, last day to pay taxes, last day in the family home, last time seeing loved ones, last breath and day on this earth. And of course all the days in between. Many people seek God in the more momentous days of sacraments and weekly Mass. However, we are all called to communicate with God each day in personal prayer (as short as it may be sometimes) and service to our sisters and brothers. Every day is extraordinary when God is involved.
The Responsorial Psalm’s refrain at Mass this weekend is: “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will” (Psalm 40). When you sing or recite those words are you imagining them about yourself? Do you take time each day as the day begins to present yourself to the Lord upon waking and getting ready or do you worship the coffee mug and hastily begin the day focused on social media and calendar appointments? Do you have the eyes to see and hears to hear God coming to you in the sights and sounds of your day? Do you take the time to thank God in gratitude simply for living another day as evening fades? This is a good time of the year to make a change if you need to, or recommit to maintaining a healthy prayer life. I need to do both. I’m pretty good upon waking most days, grabbing my coffee mug and reading a few paragraphs in meditation books, the daily Mass readings, and then setting my phone for 20 minutes of meditation. Other people might use part of their lunch hour for prayer. Still others choose to walk the dog and pray at the same time. Wherever and however you can offer yourself to God each day so that God finds an open and willing heart is all God asks. The fruits of prayer will differ in immediacy and noticing God’s handiwork, usually only in hindsight, but God hears and answers all prayers in God’s way and God’s time. We simply have to be willing to do our part in offering our lives and time to God. May this week afford you the time and energy to draw closer to Christ in prayer. Prayer is the best and cheapest way to stay sane in this hectic world of ours.
January 12, 2020
This weekend’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord officially ends the Christmas Season. It has been an abiding joy celebrating these holy days with all of you. Even though the decorations will come down this week, I hope and pray God’s graces to each of us during these Christmas days remain and strengthen us throughout the unfolding New Year.
Thank you to the first graders who enacted the entire Christmas story from Luke and Matthew’s gospels during last weekend’s 8:30 a.m. Epiphany Sunday Mass. Mary and Joseph made their way with the nostalgic donkey that has made its way up the main aisle for at least the past 45 of the church’s 52 year history. They were shortly joined by a shepherd and angels, helping all of us reflect on the importance of Jesus’ birth, not only for his own Jewish people, but also for all of us Gentiles represented by the three kings following the star from foreign lands. God united all peoples into his plan of salvation by manifesting Jesus as king of all nations. I appreciate parents and families making the added effort to practice, costume, and pray with their children at this special Mass.
Baptism is the first of the Sacraments of Initiation, followed by Confirmation and Communion (Reconciliation). I purposefully ordered Confirmation before Communion here because that was the order of receiving these sacraments in the early church that remains the order today for those receiving these sacraments during the Easter Vigil and regularly for the faithful following the Eastern Rites and our Orthodox sisters and brothers. There is not enough space in this column to explain the reason for the switch up in the Western (Roman) Church. Basically, the Eucharistic aspect of Jesus’ divinity slightly displaces his oneness in Spirit with the Father as Eucharistic devotions flourish while the Spirit seems simply to be a given along the way.
Baptism links the old with the new, and forever heals the age old division of original sin as Jesus is baptized by John with water and anointed by the Father in Spirit. Jesus opens the way for others to become adopted sons and daughters of God by being baptized. I am always honored to baptize people, initially as a transitional deacon and for the last seventeen years as priest. It seems so simple: saying some prayers, pouring water, spreading oil, pointing out a white garment, and sharing light from the Easter candle. Yet, it literally changes someone’s life forever, we say “ontologically,” literally making a person a new creation through God’s grace promised by Christ. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Those are the last two lines of Matthew’s gospel. Living out one’s baptism, like Jesus lived out his, is the work of our lifetimes. This is starkly pointed out at the beginning of a funeral when the priest sprinkles a person’s body with water and places the white garment (pall) on the person a final time as that person now spiritually brings their Christian dignity into the everlasting life of heaven. The end goal is to join the communion of saints. St. Paul often refers to the baptized as “saints.”
Just a “little something” to ponder as we all strive day by day to live into our life of faith. We remind ourselves of this when we come to church and sign ourselves with holy water. Some people do this daily at home or even every time they come and go using a holy water font near a door, filled and refilled by taking home holy water from the reservoir in church located just inside the arch before the doors into the parish center. We regularly refill it with water blest during baptisms or blest water added since the Easter Vigil, when it is first filled. It is only empty during Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday- the Triduum. I pray these life giving waters spiritually renew each one of us throughout our earthly lives as we do the best we can living up to being called children of God!
January 5, 2020
I am deeply grateful to Fr. Eric for stepping in unexpectedly as Parish Administrator for me from early March until late November of this year. You know why this needed to happen from previous bulletin columns, and I am very grateful to be healthily in recovery and back pastoring the “flock.” Fr. Eric is an ordination classmate of mine and have known each other since our days as undergraduates at the University of Notre Dame in Flanner Hall before either of us joined the Congregation of Holy Cross. He is a faithful friend and brother in Holy Cross. Little did either of us know that year’s later we would be living and this time ministering instead of studying together again a few states east of the Golden Dome. Fr. Eric’s dedication to his priesthood and purposefulness of making God known, loved, and served as our founder Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C. instructed his religious priests and brothers from the start of our Community is inspiring. I am grateful he was available and willing to spend time here sharing his gifts and talents along with Fr. Jim and the Parish Staff keeping all of you well cared for and focused on hearing and living the Gospel. Please join me in thanking Fr. Eric for his attentiveness and generous spirit these last month’s here at Holy Cross.
As we all continue celebrating our Savior’s new birth into our lives, may we be attentive to Jesus’ Light illuminating all of our hearts to know, love and serve him through our words and actions. Hopefully this New Year 2020 will be a time for all of us to recommit to the good in our lives and be converted from the bad that holds us back from fully being who God creates and calls us to be. I look forward to taking time during these winter weeks to read more about the saints in the Rediscovering the Saints book handed out at the beginning of this Christmas Season. I also look forward to learning more about Flocknote and renewing the parish website with the help of knowledgeable parishioners who have generously offered their time and talent to keep us all connected in the parish. It was so beautiful and inspiring to have so many parishioners here for the Christmas Masses, so hopefully we can stay connected and see more of each other throughout this new year.
Thank you to our First Grade families who brought the love and joy of this Christmas Season fully alive for us during the 8:30 a.m. Epiphany Mass. The twelve days of Christmas between December 25th and January 6th, the traditional day of Epiphany, helps us all focus on the complete story of the Lord’s Nativity recorded for us in both Luke and Matthew’s gospels. I have always enjoyed our annual prayerful way of bringing the early story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph to life through the movement and singing of our talented first graders. Once again they have helped us all keep focused on the reason for this holy season.