Dear Good People of Saint Bernadette,
Once Thanksgiving comes we always say fasten your seatbelts, soon it will be Easter! These days come faster and faster, don’t they? and it doesn’t help this year that the Advent and Christmas Seasons are literally as short as they can be. Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, we might also note that you will have to eat your chocolate valentines a day early this year, because Ash Wednesday is sitting on St. Valentine’s day. Very early.
I always take note about the passing of time, because it seems to be speeding up.
These past weeks have been a real blessing for our parish. I sense a growing warmth, a generosity in our community. Many people comment on what a welcoming and friendly bunch you are. I am very grateful for you, for all the work you do for one another, for the many unsung ways that you care for God’s creation and one another. I hope that you can feel it, too. When we grow in our awareness of God-with-us, we grow together. Maybe you’ve heard this one a hundred times, but it is like the spokes on a wheel: whenever we move toward the center, Christ,, we grow closer together to each other as well. Relationships are discovered, the Holy Spirit’s bond of love is palpable.
One of the goals I would like to shoot for in the coming year is to somehow get all of you to feel more comfortable around the altar. You see, if you sit closer to the altar, you can all sit closer to each other, too. We might hear each other pray and sing and experience prayer as a community, not just a big room full of individuals. I think I wrote about this once before, after the electricity went out one day when I invited everyone to come out of the dark corners of the way back of the church into the light that came from the skylight above the altar. At first, nobody moved. But as more and more people came forward I realized something that I have missed since I have come to Saint Bernadette: I have missed hearing the congregation pray at daily Mass. Our church is so large and people speak so quietly that it often seems like no one is there. If you sit in the back sections I can make out your shapes, not your features and it just seems strange, so impersonal during something that is so intimate as a Mass. I speak about this because it may indicate a general lack of understanding of the Mass, and why we pray together and not just on our own. The Mass is the thing that makes us one: it connects each one of us into one Body. It isn’t a taking, it is a receiving, and a receiving of each other, too.
As I write this article we have just finished Advent Lessons and Carols. I hope everyone who wanted to come was able to be here. There is something so unique about Advent that is generally forgotten, something that is vital to our spirituality. We must have the opportunity to know what the world is like without Jesus, so that when he comes we can fully appreciate the gift of his presence. So we wait, but the time is not passively spent. We anticipate, we long for, we live in a kind of animated hope with out ears and eyes open, watching. That is what Jesus said in last week’s Gospel: don’t fall asleep - watch! Thanks, Choirs, for a beautiful evening.
The music tonight reflects this waiting so beautifully in a repertoire of music that only exists for these few weeks of waiting. Most non-Catholic churches are already deep into Christmas carols! I was reminded tonight that once you discover the longing in your heart for God, you find him everywhere. Of course, he comes at Christmas. It is the same coming at the end of time, though it will look quite differently, I think. The manger in Bethlehem and the lightning flashing across the sky will be quite a contrast. Don’t forget, he comes to us everyday in the silent humility of bread and wine. What do all three of these have in common? The preparation that you and I must do to be ready for his coming. Though the comings are different, the preparation is the same for all. It requires time, and this is why we have the season of Advent, to consider our state, make amends where necessary, turn to God in wonder and know his mercy and love.
God bless you.
Dear Good People of Saint Bernadette,
This weekend we will begin praying a parish prayer after Communion at all the Masses, a prayer that asks God to help us focus and truly be one in him. These things aren’t going to happen magically, we must ask, and ask again! The text is here on the left. I encourage everyone to use this prayer at the beginning of parish meetings, classes and gatherings as well as, if you would be willing, one of your family prayers at home.
This new Year of Grace 2018 (Happy New Year!) which begins today is filled with opportunity. We ended the last year with a strong message to take inventory and decide what we intend to change this year, and ACT on it! David Mathers, at our staff meeting this week, read a quote for our reflection and I want to put it here for you. It is a quote from Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Workers’ Movement and truly remarkable woman: “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” We were suddenly silent.
There is so much to be done with this gift of new time. The season of Advent is a lesson in patience; not all is done quickly and completely. We are works in progress—as long as we progress by work. Commit with me to cooperate with the creative grace of God in your life this year and not ignore it. Our dignity is in our capacity to conversion.
We are still in need of a few good catechists, particularly for the classes to help the children who are behind in receiving sacraments. I know you are probably tired of hearing the appeal, I am tired of giving it, too, but this is another example of how we can unlock the potential of faith in others. Please contact Martha, our hardworking Director of Faith Formation. By the way, because of her good work, we have several hundred more students in our religious education program and more than three times the number of catechists we had when she arrived. She is a blessing, and good to work with. Please consider this invitation.
Next weekend, finally, is our annual Catholic Charities Christmas collection, the second collection at all Masses. I will be speaking at all Masses except for Saturday (I will be at our annual State LARCUM Conference in Richmond).
Basically, here is the reason everyone needs to contribute to this collection: whether or not we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the marginalized, visit the lonely—has everything to do with whether or not we have fulfilled God’s plan for us and will be able to spend eternity with him in heaven. It is so simple if you think about it, you have to care for someone else more than yourself.
But we have busy, busy lives. We can’t personally do all these things and keep up with our obligations with family and job. Catholic Charities is the most effective way to accomplish these things, but can only do so with your help. Please, help. We serve together.
God bless you.
Dear Good People of Saint Bernadette,
Next week is the First Sunday of Advent, the new liturgical year of grace. The cycle starts all over again as we live the experience of the Mysteries of Christ as they unfold in the time of our lives. At this time of the year I challenge you again to consider your life as an ascent up a mountain as you drive the upward road spiraling up to the summit. Each year as you come back around to north, to west, to south, to east (I hope) you find yourself at a higher altitude, climbing upward. I first had this reflection as I rode in a little bus up to the top of Mount Tabor in Israel. So clear it was to me that each time we came back around the side of the mountain the view was so much more dramatic I was sure it couldn’t get more beautiful - as I had thought the last time I was on that side one level below. Sure enough, we came back around again and the view was even more beautiful than before.
From a greater vantage point of life experience you can see the same view again with a farther, wider horizon, it is familiar, but it is also new. The events of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection are familiar but somehow compelling in a new way. You can see them so much more in the context of the broad landscape of your life and community. Each year the familiar progression of Jesus’ feasts - waiting and birth, Baptism and public life, impending violence, arrest, passion, way of the Cross, crucifixion and resurrection, post-resurrection life and ascension, Pentecost. Each year if the meaning of the feast hasn’t deepened and you can’t recognize some spiritual growth, it means that nothing is happening. We must do more if this is the case.
Perhaps God’s greatest gift to us, second to his life, of course, is time. Time allows us to reflect, to reform, to change our hearts and turn more toward him and away from ourselves.
So many things are going through my head right now as I type this - I will be returning from Taipei tomorrow (another 25 hour long trip) and we have just completed our Colloquium of Buddhists and Catholics. I’ve made some good friends this week, we have shared commitments to start doing things at our own parishes together. As the weeks follow, no doubt I’ll speak more about this gathering of religious leaders from 18 countries and the ways we hope to end misunderstandings and the xenophobia that is so common today. Our theme was “Buddhists and Catholics Walking Together on the Path of Nonviolence”and we talked about ways we can work together to end so much violence in the world. I presented papers on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and peaceful protests and the Civil Rights Movement, and a report on what has been accomplished in the work of nonviolence in the United States. Bishops from Europe and Asia were present to give keynotes and moderate panels. Cardinal Tauran, Director of the Pontifical Council on Interreligious Dialogue, came today from Rome to Taipei City for the closing ceremony.
The closing statement of the Dialogue affirmed that violence is manifested not only at the individual and social levels, but also structurally through socio-economic, cultural and media forces. It calls all of us to work together to dismantle the evil that operates in us as well as in our social structures by speaking truth to power, speaking truth in charity, overcoming a culture of “indifference” and building a “culture of encounter,” moving from a “culture of reaction” to a “culture of prevention,” ending the culture of impunity and promoting a “culture of respect,” and social peace starting with inner peace.
Violence cannot be answered with more violence, clearly the message of both Jesus Christ and the Buddha, and reconciliation and unconditional love are the only solutions to the cycle of so many forms of violence today. It begins with parents and their children, it rejects the disrespect that is so characteristic on all levels of our society, from our leaders all the way down. We have to begin to look, to honor, to find a sense of loving kindness and find goodness in every person. It requires self awareness and humility, and a generosity of spirit that considers the other person first and as most important. Otherwise our selfishness will not be overcome by love and violence will continue.
Starting next week at Masses we will also begin to pray the parish prayer which was in your parish Ministry Catalogue and Renewal Handbook. We will reprint it and insert it in the front of our Breaking Bread Hymnals in the pews. We must begin to pray fervently that God’s Spirit will truly shape us into the Body of his Son, worthy to be called his children, and equipped to give witness to his love.
God bless you.
Mark your calendars!
Dear Good People of Saint Bernadette,
One of my favorite themes in the Lenten Season is that we can’t afford to be spectators in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. As members of his Body we are in the thick of it: carrying the cross, abandoned, tortured, dying. All of this is so, that we will also know the real resurrection, brightness, unthinkable joy. The sacraments are acts by which we literally enter the mystery of God becoming Man—incarnation and transformation.
But the world doesn’t seem to get the realism of it all. I think in some respects that we have all settled for a discounted Christianity. Young people leave the church because we don’t have lively music and they aren’t entertained. “It is all so solemn...” someone told me, as if that were the problem. Well, it is solemn because something too important is happening for us to be distracted by a good feeling. A good feeling is somehow a cheap substitute and makes it all about me.
In some respects, even this concept of “what a friend we have in Jesus” falls short of the mark. The relationship is so very important, but it doesn’t exist for its own sake: it exists for a purpose—not so that we can stay in a holding pattern of bffs that never come in for a landing, or a kind of perpetual dating. Spiritual adolescence has to come to an end at some point, though many still may think of God in this way. When is the marriage going to happen? If we think of God only as a friend, then we must consider ourselves gods on an even plane, which we know isn’t the case. He is God. The relationship is not so that we can feel good, or loved, or connected. The relationship exists that we might come closer together. Bishop Robert Barron in our Sunday class says that God is beyond anything that may be thought, but also closer to us than we are even to ourselves. To know my true self, I must know myself as God knows me. Everything is contained, discovered, fulfilled in the act of entering into the Mystery of God.
The goal is not the relationship with God, though relationship is the instrument by which we realize our identity: union in God. All of this must be actively received, and requires a great deal of humility.
In my homilies last week I discussed humility. Humility is always our interaction with others. I must approach another as if every person is more important than me. Jesus, the Son of God, became one of us and gave his life in our place, showing that he considered us more important than himself. This is when Jesus is able to break through our weakness and sin: when we finally realize that love is true when the beloved doesn’t deserve it. He loves us anyway.
Faith formation is life-long. As we enter the Mystery of God at varying capacities and different seasons of life our ability to receive God himself deepens and matures. When faith formation is interrupted or is no longer valued the legacy of our faith inheritance is also broken. The old adage “You can’t give what you don’t have” awakens many new parents who realize they have to renew their own life of faith in order to pass something to their children about who they are as immortal beings loved by God. At a meeting this week with pastors and school principals and Bishop Burbidge, we spoke about the real need of parents today to recommit to their own faith formation. The lack of formation has produced now several generations of adults who approach faith and the Church (and Catholic Schools) not as partners, but as consumers.
What are you looking for? Are you looking for anything? God is ready to give it all away to whoever is paying attention and seeking union with him.
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We are going to do something a little different this year, and I would like everyone to participate. On Thanksgiving Day we will have only one Mass at 10am. At that Mass I ask everyone to bring a bag of nonperishable food, an offering of thankfulness. Bring the bag of food into the church, in your pew—don’t leave it in the vestibule. At the time of the offertory (there is no collection), we will ask everyone to bring their bag of food forward and place their offering for the poor and less fortunate on the floor in front of the altar as we sing a song of thanksgiving. After Mass is over, we can take our offerings and load them in a St. Lucy Project van so that Catholic Charities can distribute this food where it is most needed.
Also, I wanted to remind everyone that since Father William left I now have the south confessional in the church. Most people still think that it is a Spanish only—which makes my Saturday afternoon far too easy!
God bless you.