Letters From a Pastor to His People

  • 05 July 2020 | By

    Letters from a Pastor to His People- July 5, 2020

     

    Dear Parishioners,

    If you missed my bulletin letter from last week, I explained how I am away currently and will be for the entire month of July making a 30-Day Retreat.  Just a reminder, I will not respond to any messages, so if there is an emergency, please contact the parish office or Father Emanuel. I wrote this week’s letter, and the upcoming letters, ahead of time, just to offer a little spiritual reflection on the readings.  I would also, however, like to provide some wisdom from St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Perhaps you could do a little "30-Day Retreat" with me.

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With God, All Things Are Possible Even Time Travel

In discussing the Eucharist, Saint Thomas Aquinas writes, "This sacrament has a threefold significance: with regard to the past...with regard to the present...with regard to the future..." (ST III, 73.4). The movie Back to the Future comes to mind.

If you have never seen the 1980s cult classic movie trilogy, time travel is the subject.  A high school student travels to the 1950s and interferes with the events, thus altering the future.  When he returns back to the present, it is no longer the present as he left it.  Some terrible events have also happened in the future, and so the main character and his sidekick must travel back to the past and then back to the future to correct the situation.  It is easier to watch than describe.

"With God all things are possible" (Matt 19:26) and God makes 'time travel', in a sense, possible with the Eucharist (not the flux capacitor).  When we celebrate Mass on Sunday, three time periods are being invoked and affected.  With regard to the past, Mass is the re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary 2,000 years ago.  His sacrifice that led to our redemption is placed anew upon the altar at Catholic parishes around the world.  With regard to the present, Mass is communion.  We are united to Jesus right now and to the church, both members here on earth and those in Heaven. With regard to the future, the Mass is the participation in a banquet occurring in Heaven.  It will draw us to Heaven, which is why we sometimes refer to the Eucharist as viaticum

When we go to Mass we are, as theologian Peter Kreeft puts it, "bilocating, not just in space but in time."  I hope you enjoy the presentation.

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Pop Quiz - Who Was The First Saint?

Dear Parishioners,

Pop quiz! Who was the first saint?

  1. a) St. Joseph
  2. b) St. John the Baptist
  3. c) St. Michael the Archangel
  4. d) St. Stephen the Martyr
  5. e) The Holy Innocents

Okay, I know it's Christmas Break and you weren't prepared, so I'll be merciful. No need to call the Cardinal to complain and ask for a redo.  I'll accept any of your answers.  For one could make a theological and historical argument for each of the above. 

But, if we had to choose, (and the answer I usually tell the students in school), I would say: e) The Holy Innocents.

We celebrated the Feast of the Holy Innocents this past week on December 28.  If you are not familiar with the Holy Innocents, these are the children in Bethlehem who were murdered by King Herod as a result of Jesus' birth.  "When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi (Matt 2:16)."

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Theotokos of Vladimir

The Theotokos of Vladimir is an icon written (icons are technically 'written' not 'painted') in the year 1130 in Constantinople and is currently in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.  Theotokos means 'bearer of God,' and there are series of Theotokos icons, of which our present study is a part, called the Eleusa icons.  Eleusa means tenderness.  And so this image is sometimes referred to as 'The Virgin of Tenderness.'

Mary is holding Jesus delicately, while staring, if you notice, directly at us.  Mary wants a relationship with us.  We will be fulfilled if we do.  It is also as if Mary wants us to have the same desire for her as her Son does.  There is a lot of significance in those eyes.  Mary's tender and penetrating eyes are always upon us.  This is a beautiful thing.  We never want a mother and a lady's gaze to drift elsewhere.  We are possessive of the feminine attention.  Mary satisfies our need.      

The infant appears as if he is trying to climb Mary, to get as close to her as possible. A sandal of Jesus has even fallen off (see the right foot) in his haste to fly unto his Mother.  Mary is cooperative with this effort.  Her left hand seems to be pushing Jesus upwards. You will also notice Jesus' right hand on the face of Mary.  He has wrapped his arm around her neck--another sign of affection.  Our Lord embraces Mary.  The faces of mother and son are touching as well.  Great intimacy is present in that physical connection.  And Jesus, of course, is looking directly into the eyes of his mother. 

If there are times in our life we do not believe Jesus is looking at us, chances are he is looking at us through the eyes of his tender Mother. 

 

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A Christmas Tree Blessing

Dear Parishioners,

I have discussed the meaning of the Christmas Tree before.  Its origins go back to St. Boniface, who chopped down a giant oak tree that pagans in Germany were worshiping.  He proved to them that the Christian God was more powerful than the fake, pagan gods confined to a tree.  If the local people needed a tree to facilitate their worship of the one, true God, then they should look to an evergreen tree.  Triangular in shape, like an image of the Trinity, the tree points upward to heaven and its evergreen leaves, which are everlasting, represent the eternity of God. 

I'm sure most of your Christmas trees are up already in your homes.  Traditionally, however, the tree was put up right before Christmas and remained in place until the feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. 

Your tree may be up, but have you blessed it yet?  No, this isn't a ploy to invite myself over to your house for dinner.  You don't need a priest to bless it.  Anyone in the family can do the blessing.  Doing the blessing on Christmas Eve, perhaps before you have your dinner, could be the perfect family activity! 

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Behold! I Make All Things New

On October 21st, 1892, the United States celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the new world.  The year-long celebration, declared by President Benjamin Harrison, was highlighted by the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, which ran from May 1 until October 30, 1893.  The monumental fair, which drew more than 27 million visitors, was a symbol of America's industry, innovation, and exceptionalism.  And so it was fitting that Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, considered one of the world's greatest musicians, performed at the fair.  Conducting the Chicago Symphony in front of a crowd of 8,000, Dvorak received a two-minute ovation.

Dvorak had recently composed his Symphony No.9 in E Minor. 'The New World Symphony' is a uniquely American symphony.  Dvorak made it for the United States and based it off of American melodies, also having been inspired by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The United States at the time was still considered 'the new world.' It no longer is.  We might be the 'first world,' but we are not new.  Catholicism, which has been around far longer than the United States, is, paradoxically, the 'new world.'  "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation 21:1).

We are the new world, and we always will be.  "Behold, I make all things new," says our Lord (Rev 21:5).  This is because our 'old worlds' constantly end.  When an individual Catholic turns away from a particular sin, deepens his prayer life, learns about a mystery of the faith, or matures morally, his apocalypse has come and he enters a new world.  Something similar happens for the Church at large each era. 

We likely will not hear the famous final movement of the New World Symphony this Christmas.  But this feast can, indeed, be the ushering in of a new world.

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The Three Comings of Christ

Dear Parishioners,

Advent, as I'm sure you are well aware, means 'coming.'  There are three 'comings' of Christ that we recognize during this Liturgical season.  Cistercian monk and (recently deceased) spiritual writer Thomas Keating writes, "The first is his historical coming in human weakness and the manifestation of his divinity to the world; the second is his spiritual coming in our inmost being through the liturgical celebration of the Christmas-Epiphany Mystery; the third is his final coming at the end of time in his glorified humanity."

In other words, there is a past, present, and future coming.  The past is the memorial-aspect of Christ's coming 2,000 years ago.  The future is the apocalyptic-aspect when he will come again at the end of time to bring the earth to final glory.  The present is the grace-aspect of our Lord into our hearts right now.

A good image for Advent, particularly the "present" coming, is light.  By the way, the major liturgical seasons of the year each have an attribution.  Advent/Christmas/Epiphany is light; Lent/Easter/Ascension is life; Pentecost/Ordinary Time is love.

Light is pretty obvious for this present season.  We have Christmas lights and, of course, the candles on the Advent wreath.  The rose-colored candle we light this Sunday, being Gaudete Sunday when we rejoice looking ahead to Christmas. 

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Virgin with Porridge

I could not help but chuckle when I came across Gerard David's 1520 painting, bizarrely titled, "Virgin with Porridge." I wonder if Mary and Joseph taught our Lord the fable of the three bears.  I am sure they told him about the story of Esau in the Book of Genesis (cf. Gen 25: 27-34). Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for a plate of porridge (or lentils, as some translators have it). 

Whether or not Jesus actually ate porridge is beside the point. The lesson from the painting is about Mary.  Just as Mary nourished her Son, so too are individuals to be fed and comforted by the Blessed Mother.  The Church likewise needs the presence of the Blessed Mother, lest we become too bureaucratic or preoccupied with our own self-preservation.  We cannot feed ourselves.  Only Mary can help us grow the right way. 

Jesus sits on Mary's knee while holding a wooden spoon (carved, perhaps, by Joseph?).  Both Mary and Jesus have spoons.  Mary is the instrument of the grace that comes from our Lord.

There are some other noteworthy aspects of the painting.  The bread near the bowl and the pitcher on the cupboard are Eucharistic.  There is an apple next to the bread, a reference to the sin of Adam and the undoing of that sin.  We also have a glimpse into the world outside through the window in the background.  There is a melding of both the spiritual and world realms, the internal and external.  We are to be both Martha and Mary—active and contemplative.  

There is nothing overtly religious about the piece. This could be any mother and child.  And therein lays the final message.  Holiness is to be found in each one of us in the mundane on goings of life. 

 

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I Do!

Dear Parishioners,

When a man is ordained a priest, he kneels before the bishop and promises obedience.  The bishop encloses his hands around the candidate's folded hands and asks him, "Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?"  The candidate responds, "I do."  The bishop then says, "May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment." 

The bishop's line is taken from Paul's letter to the Philippians, the segment of which we have in our second reading this weekend.  "I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil 1:6).

It's a great line.  We could meditate and reflect on just this one line for an hour.  God began some project in each one of us, and the project is fundamentally good.  Each one of us is here for a purpose.  Remember that when you're feeling down, depressed, alone, and without meaning.  As bad as things might seem or be, it does not erase the fact that God began a good work in you. 

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Blessed Santia Szymkowiak

Many know of St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), but there are many other female saints who were martyrs during WWII.

Blessed Santia Szymkowiak was a member of the Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of Sorrows, also known as the Seraphic Sisters.  The Nazis overran her convent in Poznan in Poland in 1939 and Santia was conscripted as translator for the Germans.  She had a chance to escape, but chose instead to stay with her community, where she made her solemn vows on July 6, 1942. She would die the following month, having contracted tuberculosis in the prison camp.  She wrote in her diary, "Jesus wants me to be a holy religious and He will not be happy with me until I use all my strength for Him and become a saint...I have to become a saint at all costs. This is my constant preoccupation." Santia was beatified in 2002.

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'Tis the Advent Season

Dear Parishioners,

Happy first Sunday of Advent.  Life is busy.  Do you notice whenever you ask someone how he or she is doing, the response is often, "I'm doing well…just busy." Advent, though it should be a peaceful and focused time, is a particularly busy time of year.  Added to the busyness is a sense of anxiousness and impatience. 

With that in mind, I'd like to share with you a prayer/poem by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

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