It happens only once every seven years but today the Church celebrates the Commemoration of All Souls Day; the opportunity to remember those who have experienced an earthly death and have either been granted God’s Kingdom or await it. I was looking at our parish sacramental record this past week and I was pleasantly surprised by the statistics. To date, we have celebrated 75 baptisms and 55 funerals…very good when your baptisms outnumber your funerals…and I began musing on what that really means. Of course, as we all know, a baptism is a spiritual death and is our reason to hope. Today, we read a section of Paul’s letter that he composed and sent to the community living in Rome. The beautiful reading certainly is our reason to hope; it is the concrete reminder from Paul that we oftentimes forget. “Brothers and sisters: Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” (Rom 6:3-4) The month of November has traditionally been a time when the Church, getting ready to celebrate the end of the liturgical year and welcome a new one, is a time to remember those who are no longer physically present in this world. We have a memorial book in the sanctuary where parishioners and visitors can write the names of loved one who have passed away as a way to be hope-filled. As I mentioned in my homily the weekend of 18/19 October, we here at Saint Mary’s are expanding that to remember those who no longer practice their Catholic faith. It is sad, but we must face the reality that for whatever reason(s), some in our families and among our friends no longer worship in the assembly of the Church because they have been alienated or no longer feel welcome in the Church. That sad reality pains me greatly. The Church is a place of warm welcome where the seemingly lost and forsaken find refuge and shelter; it is a field hospital, to quote Pope Francis, where the neglected and injured are healed by the warm embrace of a loving community who participates in the mission of Jesus Christ to welcome the stranger. If you are reading these words and have recently returned to the practice of your Catholic faith or are reading these words because a parishioner of Saint Mary’s invited you to “Come Home” I say to you, welcome! May the hope of eternal life be the reason why you have returned so that the Eucharist can strengthen you for the earthly journey that we walk here and now and prepare us for the life that we await in God’s Kingdome because we have been baptized into Jesus’s own death and Resurrection.
This past Sunday evening, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a little over an hour with our 9th grade Confirmation students at our annual “Pasta with the Pastor” evening. It is an opportunity for the confirmandi to get to know me and to discuss the priesthood. It is always an event that I look forward to since promoting vocations is an essential responsibility of the parish priest. This year, several of the questions that I received were unlike questions I had received in years past. The confirmandi inquired about what I would do if I weren’t a priest. I told them that if I had not become an ordained priest, I would be a lawyer. Of course, the next question was, why? I had anticipated that question and was ready with the answer. I have always had a profound appreciation for the law. Laws are in place to ensure justice is served in a particular community. As a Canon Lawyer for the Catholic Church, it is my responsibility to ensure that the laws which govern the Church and her Faithful are followed. Lawyers are supposed to be the mouthpieces of the marginalized and for those who have no voice of their own. Of course, there is a whole other side to lawyers that sometimes tends to forget about justice but I think that we’ll skip that part for the sake of keeping the peace. The First Reading that we hear proclaimed this 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time talks about the type of justice I am talking about. It is fairly brief so I will reprint it here. Thus says the LORD:
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans. “If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people,
you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from him.
If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. What else has he to sleep in? If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.” (Ex 22: 20-26) There are people in our community who need a voice so that they can be heard. Perhaps we can be attentive to the needs of those around us so that justice will the reality for those in need.
Certainly, each of us had known misfortune at some point in our lives and misfortune can be disruptive…to say the least. None of us enjoys being inconvenienced by the occurrence of the unexpected or unplanned. Alas, it is a part of life and what we do with it either makes or breaks us. I, for the purpose of this column, would like to focus on how it makes us. All politics aside but in February of 1996, former First Lady and former Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton released a book entitled, “It takes a Village.” That is the only thing that I want to focus on, namely, the title. It takes a Village. The phrase evokes in my mind the fact that everyone needs to be involved to make things works, both the good and the bad. It is completely amazing how smoothly things can happen when everyone gets involved and despite unforeseen hiccups, things can get done. I will give you an example, a few weeks ago, an Eagle Scout candidate accomplished the successful creation of a memorial garden in just two days. Now, I was able to stop by and check on the progress from time to time and even when there was a disruption, those who gathered together, i.e., “the Village,” made it happen! This 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time we continue reading from Paul’s letter to the Community at Philippi and Paul realizes that there are good times and bad times in life. He writes, “Brothers and sisters: I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.” (Phil. 4.12-14) Saint Paul is grateful to those in the community that they share in his life. Paul reminds the community that “It takes a Village.” We cannot expect to suffer alone; we should not rejoice alone. A balance needs to be set whereby we give and take so that the community is able to be the stabilizing force in society. Indeed, my friends, it takes a village. It takes each and every one of us to be there to support those who are downcast and experience misfortune so that when it happens to us, they can share our burden whereby our cross is lightened.
“You think that you are such a know-it-all!” These kind (not) words were recently uttered by my nephew to my niece during one of their common spats. What was the subject matter making my niece such a know-it-all? I have absolutely no idea nor do I care! Suffice it to say, their constant bickering is a source of contention but fortunately it is usually remedied by a reminder that they both need to knock it off!
I thought of that when I read the Second Reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans. The reading is so brief I will reprint it here:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given the Lord anything that he may be repaid? For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom 11:33-36)
The only one who knows everything is God. None of us is a know-it-all but we rely upon God’s wisdom to inform and guide us in the ways that make us good disciples. Of course, that is not always easy, we all know that. Sometimes it is easier to simply go along with the crowd and when that happens, we sometimes end up making poor decisions. Perhaps we can each take some time this coming week to reflect upon these brief words of Saint Paul. They are wise and can guide us in the ways which lead us closer to union with Christ.
A bit of theology for us all to ponder…
St Paul was a scholar and great protector of the Jewish faith as we know perfectly well. His ardent belief that salvation from comes from the Jews was something that he would not ever put aside so much so that he persecuted the growing Church of Christ to the point of even being present at the stoning of the proto-martyr, Saint Stephen. The end of the story is well known: Saul, (his birth name) experiences a conversion experience during which time Jesus asks him why he is persecuting Him. Saul doesn’t know how to respond but slowly, his birth and appreciation of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus is something that he embraces and boldly proclaims to all the world.
In the second reading we hear proclaimed this 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a declaration of sorts, on St Paul’s behalf, that he has realized his purpose in life, namely, to not preach Jesus Christ the crucified to the Jewish People…that is St Peter’s job…but to preach to the Gentiles, those who are not a part of the Jewish People. Ironic that the itinerant Jewish scholar would so boldly preach and teach a message to a people he once could have cared about. He preaches Jesus to those who are outside his comfort zone, he preaches to those who worship false gods, whatever they may be.
What about us? Have we embraced and accepted our baptismal call to preach and teach to all the nations? Each of us has a sacred duty, that is right, both lay and ordained, to share the message of Christ. To proudly and boldly proclaim Him as Lord of our lives. To live our Christian faith in such a way that each and every person with whom we come into contact will have no doubt where our allegiance lies.
We are very fortunate, dear friends, to be able to practice our faith without any sort of fear. We have no worries about being arrested for going to Church on a Sunday morning or visiting the Church during the week. We have a Constitution which protects our rights to worship freely and to share that message with those in need. Perhaps embracing the faith and sharing it like Saint Paul is something we can strive to do…Jesus always reminds His Disciples, “do not be afraid!” What gets in the way of us being as steadfast as St Paul? Whatever it is, may the Eucharist help us to shed that fear so that we too can be like St Paul and proclaim Jesus Christ is Lord!!!
Hard to believe that August is here! Actually, the mother of a friend of mine used to say that with the arrival of July 4th, summer is basically over and done. I am not willing to go that far but suffice to it to say that we realize that August indicates that things are about to change. Parents will soon be purchasing new backpacks and school supplies; perhaps new outfits will be purchased. Summer camps will be coming to the end and our roadways will return to a more normal type of traffic pattern. There is also another type of change that I would like to meditate upon this 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time and it is the lovely invitation that we heard proclaimed in the First Reading from the Prophet Isaiah. It is fairly brief so I will paste it here:
“Thus says the LORD: All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare.
Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life. I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David.”(Is 55:1-3)
It is easy and frankly all too easy to forget that our God wants nothing more than to comfort us when we need to be comforted. There is nothing more that He desires than to allow us to experience the care that He has for each of us. Of course, He also issues a challenge to each of us to take care of those in need. Throughout the course of the year, members of the Social Concerns Ministry and the Saint Vincent de Paul Society taking care of those who need to be comforted. These last two years that I have been the pastor here, it never ceases to amaze me at the generosity of our community of faith during Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Tags are taken and food and gifts are returned with such love that it edifies me. But here is a thought: at each of the entrances to our church, there are baskets that are used to collect food and that food is brought to food pantries each week. People need to be comforted at all times of the year. Perhaps next weekend, before you come to church, you can take a bag and fill it with some can goods or dry goods so that we bring comfort to those in need!
In accordance with the Code of Canon Law, on the day he turned 75 years of age, the Most Reverend George W. Coleman, DD, tenured his resignation to His Holiness Pope Frances and then the waiting game began. How long, we began wondering, would it take his resignation to be accepted. Our friends in the Diocese waited almost two years for Bishop McDonnel’s resignation to be accepted. And so, this Thursday morning, at 6:00AM, 12:00PM Rome time, the announcement came as a bit of a surprise that the Holy Father named Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha as the eighth Bishop of Fall River. As many are aware by reading newspapers and watching television, Bishop-designate da Cunha was born in Brazil but has spent a good portion of his life in the Archdiocese of Newark where he has served as a priest until he was ordained a Bishop in 2003. Bishop da Cunha is fluent in English, Portuguese and Spanish which will hopefully make his transition from Newark to Fall River an easy one. What does this all mean for us? Well, one difference is that you will no longer hear me say “George our Bishop” during the Eucharist prayer. He will be known as the “Diocesan Administrator” and no longer as the “Diocesan Ordinary.” Basically, he can do all of the things that he has been doing but he cannot name pastors. He can name Parochial Administrators and move Parochial Vicars but that is because those are not known as “Stable Offices.” The only details that have been released regarding Bishop da Cunha’s move to the Fall River Diocese is that his installation will take place on Wednesday, September 24th. Why such a long wait? Well, one theory is that since Archbishop Vigano, the Papal Nuncio to the United States is an Italian, he, like all Italians, takes the month of August off. Don’t you wish we could do that??
In any event, as more details are revealed, I promise to keep you in the proverbial loop of things. This is certainly an exciting time in the life of our local church. One of Bishop da Cunha’s responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Newark was to work on Evangelization. We have certainly done that here with our “Welcome Home Weekend” that we will again do in the Autumn. Please keep Bishop-designate Da Cunha in your prayers as he readies himself to become our new Shepherd.
Well, it is official: Summer is here! The hazy, hot and humid days are upon us and we can feel the strain of feeling our life is in brown-out mode. Of course, we have waited for these days after the harsh winter and long, cold Spring and so now, in typical New England fashion, we do what we do best: we complain about the weather! Actually, I enjoy this weather. I wish I didn’t have to don a black suit but suffice it to say that when I can, shorts and flip-flops are par for the course.
These days which can seem to tax our energy levels should also give us the chance to embrace the words that we hear this 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time and they should be heard in light of the Independence that we celebrated two days ago. We live in the Spirit. Saint Paul, writing a letter to the early Christian Community living in Rome exhorts his fellow disciples that they are called to embrace their way of life differently. Paul writes: Brothers and sisters: You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead
will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you. (Rom. 8:9,11) We must remember that even when we feel so overwhelmed and physically exhausted, God’s Spirit resides in us and gives us the strength to embrace and live as those renewed by the Grace that God continues to pour out upon us. Next time you take a drink of ice cold water on an extremely hot day, as that water quenches your parched throat, think of the image as how God quenches us when we are spiritually or emotionally tired. He satisfies all of our needs!
The Church takes time out this Sunday to honor the lives of two great saints: Peter and Paul. Their lives and legacies are certainly complex and each of them deserves a closer look as to how and what they can teach us ordinary disciples living in the 21st century.
Let us start with Saint Peter. He has a somewhat lackluster approach to living the life of an Apostle. His relationship with Jesus is sometimes tried. Jesus challenges Peter and in Jesus’s characteristically loving and patient way, Peter occasionally misses the mark. “Peter, do you love me?” Jesus asks Peter this question thrice and in the end, after responding in the affirmative, Peter is sad that Jesus needs to ask him this question three times and is exacerbated and seemingly throws up his hands not knowing what else to say to the Lord. Jesus knew, as Peter pointed out, everything, including that Peter would deny him three times at His greatest hour of need. It is almost as if the two occasions negate one another. Peter struggles with his faith…just as we sometimes struggles with his own faith yet, despite the doubt, darkness and despair, this very first Vicar of Christ, becomes a voice of compassion and love as shortly after the Resurrection of Jesus Peter becomes a voice that spreads the Good News.
And then, of course, there is good ol’ Saint Paul! I was recently with a group of priest friends and for some reason our conversation turned to Pauline sayings. One of my brother priests quipped that he is fond of saying when Paul writes something that seems obsolete or antiquated “that is just Paul being Paul!” Saint Paul is certainly an interesting subject to study. This staunch defender of the ways of the Children of Israel will go to any length to stop the “New Way” from spreading like wild fire. Paul, for his part, was present at the stoning of the proto-martyr Stephen. He persecuted the early Christians and would do anything to stop them from making Jesus’s Name known. It takes a manifestation of God’s power to shake Paul up so that he will stop persecuting the early followers of Jesus. On the road, Paul is thrown off of the animal that he is riding and he hears the voice of Jesus call out to him and inquires why he is persecuting Him. Paul (at this point Saul) questions but is quick to believe. We know the end of the story. The greatest persecutor soon becomes the staunchest defender and goes to great lengths to promote the name of Jesus even to the point of giving up his own life.
We take time to honor these two men today because they teach us that conversion is always a possibility. It is never too late to turn back to God. When we are at the lowest point during our spiritual journey and we think that there is no possibility of turning back, the Lord gently extends His Merciful Hand out to us and asks us to embrace so that He can shower us with His forgiveness. As we remember the lives of Saints Peter and Paul, let us take some time and reflect on how we ourselves are like these two sinners turned saints and ask for their powerful intercession so that we can better imitate their fidelity to Christ.
When Saint Pope Pius X lowered the age of those able to receive Holy Communion, he remarked that as long as they can distinguish the Eucharist from ordinary bread, they should be allowed to receive. One of the great joys a pastor is given is to give the young children in the parish their first Communion. I usually get different types of bread and ask the children what the items can be used for. I take hamburger rolls, hot dog rolls, bagels and sliced bread and ask the children how each can be used. Without fail, the children come up with the usual litany of how the items can be properly used. We put a hamburger in between the hamburger bun; we put a hot dog (or chourico dog in our case) in the hot dog roll; we put peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese in between the two slices of sliced bread and of course, we lather copious amounts of cream cheese on the bagel. After the children have identified how each can be used, I take a few unconsecrated hosts and hold them up. The children, on queue, always get excited and raise their hands because they want to shout out that the unconsecrated hosts are “JESUS.” Of course, I need to correct them and tell them no that are just ordinary hosts and have not yet been consecrated. After this discourse, I then turn my attention to the parents and thank them for making such a big deal of First Communion. I then issue a challenge: it is wonderful that they are making such a big deal about the very first time that their children are receiving Our Eucharistic Lord and remind them that they are challenged to approach Second Holy Communion and Third Holy Communion and Fourth Holy Communion (ok, you get the picture) with the same zeal and excitement.
As we celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, we celebrate the fact that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ actually comes to dwell inside of us. This immense Gift is a powerful remedy to change us; to heal us; to refashion us so that we can better reflect the image of Jesus who dwelt among us and whose Spirit remains in the Church. As we come forward toward and exclaim “AMEN” might we radiate the image of the Divinity that resides in us. May this great gift so satisfy our hungry hearts for the love that the Lord has to give so that, having been so satisfied, we can in turn, feed those in need by our words and deeds.