Category Archives: Fr. Cusick’s Corner

Self-Help?

This week’s “Ask a Priest” question concerns popular methods of self-improvement:

What does the Church teach regarding where a person takes advice from when it comes to everyday life? (For  example, self-help books and media that offer life solutions and advice that may not necessarily be faith-based.)

“God helps those who help themselves” is one of those proverbial expressions that can be found nowhere in the Bible. In fact, it is in many ways contrary to the Gospel. The ancient heresy of Pelagianism, for example, argued that human beings can achieve salvation through their own efforts, and both the Fall of Adam and the Redemption of Christ affected us by their good or bad example rather than by changing our inner orientation to God. Grace is not necessarily needed for salvation.

St. Paul probably puts the orthodox case most clearly in Romans 5:6-8:

“For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” [Emphasis added.]

Or in his letter to Titus (3:4-5): “When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the   Holy Spirit….” St. John likewise explains God’s initiative in our salvation: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

St. Augustine had his own way of expressing this same thought. He taught that it is not so much that God looked upon humanity and saw how these good people were struggling and so sought to give them a helping hand; rather, he saw how  miserable and lost humanity was and came to save them from themselves!

All this is to say that God is faithful and loving towards us even when we are unfaithful and unloving towards Him. We can’t do anything to earn His love – it is simply waiting there to be received. But if we reject it, we are unable to become the people He has made us to be.

Which brings me back to the question which sparked this reflection: For practical advice about day-to-day living, there are many resources (including family and friends), faith-based or not, which can be helpful. But it is must be admitted that the lives and writings of the saints (e.g., Francis de Sales, Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux) are rich in their reflections on how to deal with the more trying aspects of our relationships, and the Bible itself has much to say about family life and friendship (see Proverbs and Sirach, for  example, the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis   37-50, or the story of King David in 1 & 2 Samuel).

But regarding questions of our fundamental identity and ultimate purpose, a lot of what is out there is Pelagian, neo-pagan, or grounded in a baseless sense of personal   autonomy, in which “freedom” is simply a cover to do whatever we wish without consideration of its effects on others.

Sometimes, however, we cannot accept God’s love because  of emotional and spiritual wounds we have received in the past, perhaps through a broken relationship or childhood trauma. In those cases, a competent (preferably Christian) therapist, spiritual guide, or even books can help bring    healing to these wounds and allow our hearts to open themselves to the gift of God’s love. But it should be clear by now that this is not “self-help”; rather, it is allowing  oneself to be brought into deeper relationship with others, and ultimately with the One Who can give our lives true purpose and meaning.

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Bishop’s Annual Stewardship Appeal: Last week, we presented a video message from Bishop Estévez at all Masses. This week, we are participating in Follow-Up Weekend for any parishioners who may not have been here with us last week. We hope you will make a prayerful decision to pledge a gift to the 2018 Bishop’s Annual  Stewardship Appeal. If you have not made a pledge to the Appeal, we invite you to participate in this worthy mission by making a pledge in-pew, by mail, or online at www.dosafl.com/bishopsappeal today. For a limited time, donations can also be made to BASA via a secure connection by clicking the BASA icon in the MyParish App. Your participation truly makes a difference.

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Don’t forget to join our Men’s Club as they provide Holy Family with the Best Fish Fry in Town! This Friday, February 23rd, from 4:00-8:00 pm in the Parish Life Center.

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I have been overwhelmed by all the expressions of love and support I have received since I announced my impending departure from Holy Family.

My successor will likely be appointed in the next month or so, but at this point I am hoping to stay on until the end of July before heading to Catholic University. I will miss this parish tremendously. This community is truly a family, and it’s heart-wrenching to leave a treasure like this behind, even when the Lord is calling me to new challenges in service to His Church.

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Catechism Corner

What is the virtue of temperance?

Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. (Paragraph 1809)

 

 

 

 

 

A Message from Bishop Estévez

As Catholic Schools Week ends, Bishop Estévez offers the following reflection on Catholic Education:

 HAVE WE DONE ENOUGH?

 here’s a story about a religion teacher who asks his class to write a dialogue each year:  “We all know that every one of the Apostles died a violent death for their faith in Jesus, all except John, who died of natural causes. Now imagine that you are one of three apostles left alive and now you’ve just received word that the third Apostle has been executed. Now, there are only two of you left.  And you ask yourselves, Now what?”

The students’ responses were typically what you might imagine: The last two Apostles discussing how scared they were. They might be next. Should they go home? Back to their fishing nets? Back to their families? As the teacher read one student’s response, it hit him so hard, he actually had to pause in class and compose himself. The student simply said that if he were one of the last two Apostles, certainly facing imminent death, they would ask the other … ‘Have we done enough?’ That unselfish and total commitment of discipleship is probably exactly what the Apostles were on fire with after the Resurrection.

And that’s a question I often stop and ask myself. I follow the Commandments; I go to Mass; I love my family and love my neighbor, but … am I doing enough?  I take my kids to Mass and we say prayers at the table together and usually even before bed. Sometimes, we even say prayers in a restaurant and make the sign of the cross! Imagine that! I do all those things, but is it enough? I want to bring my children up in the faith. Why wouldn’t I give them EVERY opportunity to experience Christ EVERY DAY?

I don’t give my kids half their vegetables for dinner and say that’s good enough; I don’t only give them one hug and say that’s good enough. In this unpredictable and sometimes hostile world we live in, wouldn’t we want them to be as entrenched in their faith as possible? Wouldn’t we want them to be in an environment where some of the most important moral and ethical decisions they make are surrounded by symbols of their faith and informed by prayer? That’s exactly what Catholic schools provide: an environment of faith, prayer, and commitment to Gospel values.

If you were to ask people about the advantages of Catholic schools, they will tell you that they take religion classes every day. And that’s true, but there’s so much more to Catholic schools. I remember a time when a substitute teacher in one of our schools who was revered by all of the students died after a long battle with cancer. The students were devastated. A group of them came to the office and asked the principal if they couldhave a prayer service in the chapel. They didn’t have a plan or an outlined prayer service prepared. They only knew that they had experienced a devastating loss and their response was to be together and to pray. That’s what they were taught at home and that’s what was reinforced in their  Catholic school. We don’t just pray in religion class; we pray at the beginning and at the end of the day. We pray before all six classes in the day; we pray before athletic contests and, most importantly, when we need to feel the presence of God more than ever – in times of struggle.

Prayer is at the heart of the Christian life but the values  emphasized in a Catholic school even go beyond prayer. Throughout the day, students are reminded that the most important thing is putting Gospel values into action by looking out for your neighbor, like the student who is new and having a difficult time adjusting, or the student who is sitting by himself at lunch or has no one to play with on the playground. The values of compassion and hope and a   joyful outlook are the guiding forces that permeate a Catholic school.

I don’t mean to give the false impression that everything is perfect in Catholic schools. There are problems from time to time and kids are kids. We’re all human. The difference is how we deal with the problems we encounter in a Catholic school. I like to say that we make a big deal about the small things so they don’t get out of hand. Issues of  respect and personal responsibility are what we pay attention to. By the time a student leaves our school, they at least KNOW what’s important. They have a sense of priorities and what it takes to be successful in the things that count.

Relationships are the basis of our faith. First and foremost, our relationship with God, and then our relationship with each other. In a Catholic school, relationships are strengthened and fostered – relationships based on mutual trust, respect, communication, and understanding. When these values are violated, measures are taken so that all  involved understand that these are not values we will    compromise. The Church teaches that parents are the first educators of their children. If we take that charge seriously, and if we want to give our children the best opportunity of growing and maturing in the rich Catholic faith we have been given, we will give serious consideration to giving them a Catholic education. Let’s visit our Catholic schools and become familiar with the quality and welcoming environment that is in all of our schools.

Let’s make the most of the opportunity to Open Wide the Doors to Christ to those most important to us – our children!

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Pastor’s Notes:

Do you feel called to ministry in the Church? Do you wish to deepen your understanding of the Catholic faith? Then the Ministry Formation Program (MFP) may be for you! Aninformation session will be held on Thursday, February 8th,  from 7:00 to 8:30 pm at the Catholic Center, 11625 Old St. Augustine Road. For more information, call Missy Parkison at (904) 262-3200, ext. 103, or email layministry@dosafl.com.

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Ash Wednesday is February 14th.  You are reminded of the Catholic Church’s laws for fast and abstinence during Lent:  Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting. Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are permitted one full meal and two lesser meals per day (which together should not equal one full meal), with no eating between meals. Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence. Catholics who are 14 years or older should abstain from meat entirely. Soups and gravies made from meat are permitted.

Ash Wednesday (February 14) Mass times:  7:00 am, 9:00 am, and 7:00 pm.  There will also be a 12:10 pm service with the Liturgy of the Word and the distribution of ashes.

 

 

 

Coming Events

We have a couple of special celebrations coming up this week: Friday, February 2nd, is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, recalling Jesus being brought to the Temple in Jerusalem 40 days after His birth, where He was recognized as a “light to the nations” by Simeon (cf. Luke 2:22-40). The reference to light on this feast led it to being known as “Candlemas,” and candles are traditionally blessed on this day. If you have candles that you would like to have blessed, just bring them to the Narthex before the 9:00 am Mass on Friday. As part of Catholic Schools Week, this will also be a special School Mass, with grandparents and special friends of our young people joining us as we thank God for the gift of Catholic education, and for traditions lovingly handed down from those who have come before us.

The candles blessed on February 2nd are often used the next day, the Feast of St. Blaise, for the blessing of throats. Blaise was a bishop and martyr in 4th-century Armenia; he is said to have saved a child from choking and is therefore patron of those suffering from diseases of the throat. We will bless throats at the 9:00 am Mass on First Saturday, February 3rd.

February 3rd is also our school’s Casino Night Fundraiser. Please support the efforts of our Parent-Teacher Organization to continue to improve the resources and environment of our wonderful Catholic School. A special matching challenge has been offered this year to allow us to provide a new playground for our younger students. Visit our School’s website (www.hfcatholicschool.com) or contact the School Office  (645-9875) for more information and to contribute!

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Parish Mission: Although it feels like Christmas was just yesterday, Lent will soon be upon us! To help us prepare for this holy season, we will have a Parish Mission with Paulist Father John Collins from February 5th-7th. Fr. Collins will preach at all Masses next weekend. The mission presentations will take place following the 9:00 am Mass and at 7:00 pm Monday through Wednesday. More information can be found in the brochures on the tables by the doors. I hope you can join us for this time of spiritual renewal!

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Bishop’s Annual Stewardship Appeal: The following  weekend, February 10th-11th, is Commitment Sunday for the Bishop’s Annual Stewardship Appeal throughout the diocese. We will be showing a video during all Masses and asking for your support. Your gifts will provide critical funding to pay for the education of our seminarians, to help those most in need through four regional Catholic Charities offices, to provide support for several designated Catholic schools, and to develope newer means of evangelizing all the people of our diocese.

You will soon be receiving information on the Stewardship Appeal in the mail. As you review the vocations and ministries the Appeal supports, please reflect on your gifts, whose ultimate source is God. Your gifts to our parish, to the Diocese, and to the work of the Church throughout the world are a sign of your appreciation of God’s goodness to you. Please know of Bishop Estévez’ deep gratitude, expressed to me personally, for the generosity shown by the members of Holy Family in the Stewardship Appeal and in so many other ways. God bless you!

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I am delighted to announce that we have hired a new Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, Mr. Staël Dantes. Born in Haiti and raised in Naples, Florida, Staël (pronounced like “style”) was very active in the life of his childhood parish, the largest in the Diocese of Venice, especially in Youth Ministry. While he later entered the seminary, he remained active in Youth and Young Adult Ministry, leading him to discern a more focused calling to ministry with the Young Church. His passion for this work will be evident to all who meet him; please pray for God’s blessing on him as he begins his service at Holy Family.

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My thanks to the members of the Respect Life Committee, Mary Galvano-Bajohr, and all who made the Rose Procession last Sunday such a moving experience. Please continue to pray for an end to an abortion, and for healing for all those affected by it.

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Catechism Corner

How can one lose eternal salvation?

“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be    forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Matthew 12:31). There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss. (Paragraph 1864)

 

 

 

Hand-holding

Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to start catching up on our “Ask a Priest” questions. This week’s submission is about a common, but sometimes confusing, practice at Mass:

Why do some people hold hands at the “Our Father” at Mass and some don’t?

The primary reference for how Mass is celebrated is the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). It offers many details to supplement the “rubrics,” the words printed in red in the Missal telling the priest what to do at various points in the liturgy. (Priests are encouraged to “Say the black and do the red”!)

Interestingly, there are few instructions about what the congregation is supposed to do during Mass. The most extensive reflection on the actions of the people in the GIRM is in the section “Gestures and Bodily Postures” (paragraphs 42-44). The introduction to this section offers some fundamental principles:

The gestures and bodily posture of both the Priest, the Deacon, and the ministers, and also of the people, must be conducive to making the entire celebration resplendent with beauty and noble simplicity,  to making clear the true and full meaning of its different parts, and fostering the participation of all.  Attention must therefore be paid … to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice.

A common bodily posture, to be observed by all those taking part, is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered together for the Sacred Liturgy, for it expresses the intentions and spiritual attitude of the participants and also fosters them.

It then goes on to state when the congregation should sit, stand, or kneel. There is no discussion about the placement of one’s hands. The rubrics, however, do frequently instruct the priest to have his hands either joined or extended. Typically, when the priest has his hands extended, it is when he is leading prayer, using the ancient orans position, with one’s hands lifted up towards heaven. There has been a bit of a change in practice here from the Traditional Latin Mass, where the instruction was typically for the priest to have his hands extended in the shape of the Cross, as he acted in persona Christi, re-presenting the Passion and Death of the Savior.

The restored use of the orans position is perhaps the origin of hand-holding at the Our Father. In the 1960s, when the priest  began celebrating Mass facing the people (versus populum), rather than in the same direction as the congregation (ad orientem, “towards the East,” where Christ, the Sun of  Justice, would return), the people began to imitate some of his gestures. The Lord’s Prayer is, in fact, the first prayer that everyone says together at Mass (the Gloria, of course, being a hymn, and the Creed a statement of belief): having joined ourselves to Christ in His offering of Himself in the Eucharistic Prayer, we are now ready to address our  heavenly Father as His beloved sons and daughters in Christ. This uniting of our voices in prayer is a prelude to the unity with Christ and one another that we experience in Holy Communion.

It is therefore understandable that the people, by imitating the priest’s use of the orans position, saw an additional opportunity to express their unity through their posture. And once hands were lifted, it was perhaps inevitable that they would be joined. But this has never been mandated, and no one should ever feel obliged to do so.

In fact, it is helpful to consider what the other ministers do during this time. The orans position was traditionally used solely by the priest-celebrant. When a deacon serves at Mass, at no point does he use the orans position, since he is not the leader of prayer; this includes the Lord’s Prayer, which he says with hands folded. Concelebrating priests, however, hold their hands extended during the Our Father, and then fold them after the words “deliver us from evil.” They do not extend their hands while the celebrant says the embolism, “Deliver us, Lord, we pray…,” nor while the people recite the concluding doxology, “For the kingdom, the power and the glory…” Perhaps behind this we can  discern the Church’s intention.

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Catechism Corner

What is the Catechism of the Catholic Church?

The Catechism is a popular summary or compendium of Catholic doctrine about faith and morals and designed for use in catechesis. Its principal sources are the Sacred Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, the Liturgy, and the Church’s Magisterium. (Glossary and Paragraph 11)

 

 

Epiphany Traditions – January 7, 2018

Epiphany means “manifestation” or “revelation”. When applied to Jesus, it refers to the revelation of His identity to the world – most notably in the visit of the Magi, who recognize the universal kingship of Christ. But other revelations of Jesus’ identity are linked to this feast, including His Baptism (where He is revealed as the beloved Son of the Father), and the wedding at Cana, where with the changing of the water in to wine, Jesus “revealed His glory, and His disciples began to believe in Him” (John 2:11).

Epiphany is also known as “Little Christmas”, since it was the conclusion of the “12 Days of Christmas”, which linked the Feast of the Nativity on December 25 in the Roman Catholic Church with the traditional date of January 6 in the Eastern Orthodox churches. So it is perfectly appropriate to continue the celebration of Christmas at least until Epiphany!

The Proclamation of the Date of Easter:

The fullest manifestation of the identity and mission of Christ, of course, comes through His Resurrection. Easter typically falls on the Sunday following the first full moon of Spring, when eternity (represented by the Sun) is perfectly reflected in time (represented by the Moon). Since it is based on a lunar calendar, its date changes from year to year – it is a “moveable” feast. In the days before people had widespread access to calendars, the dates for Easter and other major celebrations were announced during the Mass of the Epiphany. In keeping with this tradition, here is this year’s proclamation:

Dear brothers and sisters, the glory of the Lord has shone upon us,

     and shall ever be manifest among us, until the day of His return.

Through the rhythms of times and seasons let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation.

Let us recall the year’s culmination, the Easter Triduum of the Lord:

     His Last Supper, His crucifixion, His burial, and His rising

     celebrated between the evening of the Twenty-ninth day of March

     and the evening of the Thirty-first day of March

     Easter Sunday being on the First day of April.

Each Easter – as on each Sunday – the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed

     by which Christ has for ever conquered sin and death.

     From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy.

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, will occur on the Fourteenth day of February.*

The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on the Thirteenth day of May.

Pentecost, joyful conclusion of the season of Easter,

     will be celebrated on the Twentieth day of May.

And, this year the First Sunday of Advent will be on the Second day of December.

Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the Passover of Christ

     in the feasts of the holy Mother of God,

     in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints,

     and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.

To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history,

     be endless praise, for ever and ever. Amen.

* Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day this year, so you may want to make your romantic dinner plans for the weekend before – or even on Fat Tuesday!

The Blessing of Homes:

The Christmas and Easter seasons are traditional times for house blessings. While Fr. Matthew, Deacon Doug, Deacon Mike, and I are always delighted to visit and bless families in their homes, there is a special form of the blessing linked to the Feast of the Epiphany which you may wish to do yourself.

With chalk, which may be blessed for the occasion, write the following legend at the top of the door of the house: 20 + C + M + B + 18. The three letters stand for the Three Kings, who were traditionally known as Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar; they are also an abbreviation of Christus Mansionem Benedicat, meaning “May Christ bless this house.” The numbers, of course, indicate the year in which the blessing was given, and the crosses mark a Christian home.

Then the following prayer may be said:

Lord God of heaven and earth,

you revealed your only-begotten Son to every nation by the guidance of a star.

Bless this house and all who inhabit it.

Fill us with the light of Christ, that our concern for others may reflect your love.

Grant this through Christ our Lord.

Solemn Vespers

This Sunday at 7:00 pm, we will be continuing our new tradition of Solemn Vespers for the Solemnity of the Epiphany. This is a sung form of Evening Prayer, part of the Liturgy of the Hours (or “Divine Office”), the Church’s official prayer outside of the celebration of Mass. With psalms, canticles, hymns, Scripture readings, and prayers, it is meant to lift our hearts in praise, thanksgiving, and petition to almighty God. The Liturgy of the Hours is unique in the liturgical life of the Church because “it consecrates to God the whole cycle of day and night, as it has done from early Christian times” (General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, 10). It is designed for celebration in common but is also regularly prayed by individuals, particularly by priests and religious, who are required to say the Office daily for the good of the Church and the salvation of the world. The book used for its celebration is called the “Breviary”. In the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church fulfills Jesus’ command to “pray always” (Luke 18:1; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Through this prayer, the people of God sanctify the day by continual praise of God and prayers of intercession for the needs of the world. Please join us in blessing God for the revelation of His Son at the Epiphany.

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A big thank-you to our Men’s Club for preparing and serving the “Feast of the Holy Family” Breakfast last weekend. A wonderful celebration for our patronal feast day!

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I am away on my annual retreat/vacation with a group of my brother priests through January 12th. Please pray for us, that this may be a time of refreshment and renewal; be assured, as always, of my prayers for you.

 

The Holy Family – December 31, 2017

The Feast of the Holy Family has a 3-year cycle of Gospel readings. The first concerns the flight into Egypt and the eventual settlement of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Nazareth (Matthew 2:13-23); the second – which is used this year – tells of Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:22-40); and the third relates the story of the finding of the      12-year-old Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52). What can we learn from these Scriptures?

For one thing, we learn the importance of discerning and  obeying God’s will. Joseph is able to protect Jesus from King Herod because he responds faithfully to the Lord’s commands; Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple in accordance with God’s Law; and Jesus Himself, we are told, was obedient to Mary and Joseph as He grew up – as He would be obedient to the will of His heavenly Father throughout His life. Family life is most firmly established when it is rooted in God’s holy will, which above all desires our eternal salvation, not merely worldly success.

We also find Mary and Joseph working as a team. Together they take Jesus to Egypt, present Him in the Temple, and seek Him when He is lost. In order to be effective parents, husbands and wives need to have a solid marriage relationship, one that models affection and love, dialogue and true partnership in service of a common vision. It is best when differences of opinion are resolved behind closed doors, allowing parents’ decisions to be more effective as well as prudent. The spouses’ relationship should not be neglected in the midst of the demands of childcare – the most important gift that parents can impart to their children is a strong, loving, and lasting bond in their marriage.

Finally, we see the tension between our natural desire to protect our children and the need to grant them independence when the time comes. As an infant, Jesus was helpless and in need of His parents’ protection – although He was fully divine, He was also truly human, developing as we all do. Already at Jesus’ Presentation, however, Mary is warned by Simeon that the day will come when she will have to let her Son go:

“Behold, this child is destined

for the fall and rise of many in Israel,

and to be a sign that will be contradicted—

and you yourself a sword will pierce—

so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)

And when He was 12, the year in which a Jewish boy comes of age, Jesus left His family, staying behind in Jerusalem while Mary and Joseph returned home. But His time had not yet come – He still needed to prepare for His public ministry through His “hidden life” in Nazareth, working in the carpenter’s shop, immersing Himself in the Scriptures (which spoke of Him and His mission!), spending time   with Mary. These quiet, domestic moments were just as necessary for His work as the later miracles and teachings, for Jesus experienced everything about human life, except for sin.

Because of this we can look upon the Holy Family as a model and guide of virtue for all family life, in the midst   of the tensions and concerns of each day. May the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph watch over, guide, and protect each of our families, and our parish family.

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There are so many people to thank for making our Christmas celebrations so beautiful and joyful. I would  especially like to acknowledge our Facilities team, under the direction of Tim Kennedy, for their hard work in decorating the church; Alice Kapperman and her team of sacristans for their care of the altar and the many items needed to celebrate Mass reverently; our Music Ministry; Tom Atkins and his team of ushers (who can always use more volunteers!); all of our liturgical ministers who serve the Lord and His people; and all of you for your faithfulness and for welcoming our visitors so graciously.

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The parishioners of Holy Family have again demonstrated enormous generosity, in your Christmas offering for the support of our parish, in our special collection for our St. Vincent de Paul Society and other outreach ministries, and for your continued contributions to our Mortgage Reduction Campaign. My gratitude is beyond measure!

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Nearly every Thursday evening, Mass is celebrated at the Regents Park nursing facility, and Communion is brought to the residents on Sundays. For many years, Bob Hawes has led the ministry at Regents Park, getting to know the residents and staff, whether Catholic or not, and providing a warm and supportive presence to all those he encounters. Bob has recently decided to step down from this role, and he and his wife Carol were recently honored for their service. I wish to offer my deep gratitude to Bob and Carol for carrying out the works of mercy for the sick and the suffering with such devotion and charity –   you will be missed!

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I wish all of you a New Year filled with every blessing of health, happiness, and success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wish all of you a New Year filled with every blessing of health, happiness, and success.

 

 

Merry Christmas/Happy New Year – December 24, 2017

The church is brightly decorated, as we celebrate the One who was born in an unadorned stable.

We open our homes to family and friends, as we honor the One for whom no lodging could be found.

We look forward to a festive Christmas dinner, as we recall the One born to be for us the Bread of Life.

We exchange gifts, as we recognize the One who is the gift of God to humanity – the One who gave everything, even His life, for our sake.

The eternal God has entered history, limited to a particular place and time. The Word of God, through Whom all things were made, has silently become part of His creation. The Son of the Almighty Father has become a defenseless child. The Source of life has made Himself subject to death. The King of Kings has humbled Himself, taking the form of a servant (cf. Philippians 2:6-8).

“Though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). By taking on our human nature, He has offered us a share in the divine nature.

What an incomparable gift! So we join the angels in their great song of praise: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.” Having heard the Good News  of Emmanuel, God-with-us, we hasten with the shepherds to Bethlehem. In thanksgiving for what God has done for us in Jesus, we bring our gifts with the Magi. We rejoice with all creatures as we recognize that “God so loved the world that  He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

O come, let us adore Him!

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Next weekend, we celebrate our parish’s patronal feast day of the Holy Family. Bishop Estévez will celebrate the 5:30 pm Vigil Mass on Saturday, December 30th. And on Sunday, our Men’s Club will offer the parish their annual Feast of the Holy Family Breakfast after all morning Masses.

Please remember that there will be no 5:00 pm Mass on Sunday, December 31st. On New Year’s Day (not a Holy Day of Obligation this year), we will have Masses at 8:00 am and 10:00 am.

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Many thanks to our Music Ministry for the beautiful Lessons and Carols service last Thursday evening. This has become a wonderful tradition at Holy Family. On Sunday, January 7th, at 7:00 pm, we will be continuing a new tradition: Solemn Vespers for the Solemnity of the Epiphany. This is a sung form of Evening Prayer, part of the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church’s official prayer outside of the celebration of Mass. With psalms, canticles, hymns, Scripture readings, and prayers, it is meant to lift our hearts in praise, thanksgiving, and petition to almighty God. In so doing, we follow the admonition of St. Paul: “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father” (Ephesians 5:20).   We hope you can join us!

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I wish all our parishioners, their families, and our visitors – friends new and old – a peaceful, joyful, and blessed  Christmas. May the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph watch over us and keep us safe in God’s care now and throughout the coming New Year.

 

The Meaning of Christmas

For most Americans, the “Christmas season” begins in earnest at Thanksgiving (though decorations now often go up before Halloween!), reaches its climax on December 24th, and comes to a shattering halt sometime after the presents are opened on Christmas morning. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is often simply a time of rest and recovery before returning to the routine on January 2nd.

For Christians, however, the Christmas season begins in the afternoon or evening of December 24th, with the Vigil Mass of Christmas. (In days gone by, when Mass could not be celebrated after 12:00 noon, the first Mass of Christmas was, of course, at midnight.) It continues through the Epiphany (which concludes the “12 Days of Christmas” – or at least it did until it was moved from January 6th to the Sunday closest to that date) and ends with the Feast of Baptism of the Lord.

Now, Jesus was baptized around the age of 30. Why does the Church’s commemoration of this event belong to the “Christmas” season? Isn’t Christmas just about the baby Jesus? True, our focus on December 25th is on the Nativity of the Lord (the official title of Christmas), and many of the special days of the Christmas season are related to the infancy  narratives of Matthew and Luke (the Magi at the Epiphany,  the Feast of the Holy Family, even the Feast of the Holy Innocents), but even here there is more going on than we might think.

There’s a principle of Catholic theology known as lex orandi, lex credendi: “the law of prayer is the law of belief.” In other words, if you want to know what the Church believes, pay  attention to how she prays! Consider, first of all, the readings and prayers for the Masses of Christmas Day. (These are known as the “Propers” of the day—as opposed to the “Ordinary” of the Mass, which includes the parts that do not change, such as the “Holy, Holy, Holy,” the Lord’s Prayer, and the “Lamb of God.”) Midnight Mass is a good example: in the middle of the night, during one of the longest nights of the year, we hear the words of the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone” (Isaiah 9:1-6). This echoes the opening prayer of the Mass, “O God, who have made this most sacred night radiant with the splendor of true light, grant, we pray, that we, who have known the mysteries of His light on earth, may also delight in His gladness in heaven.”

Just when all seems darkest, a light begins to shine, and a new day dawns. Christmas is not just about the birth of a child – it’s about the birth of hope in the midst of despair, a turning point in history, when a seemingly insignificant event, happening in a town of no importance to an obscure family, changes the world.

The Gospel reading for this Mass (Luke 2:1-14), so familiar to us, has some unexpected messages. For example, the child is born during the reign of Caesar Augustus, who is “Lord” of the known world, but the angels announce to the shepherds that it is Jesus who is truly Lord! In addition, He is wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger – that is, clothed in a shroud and placed in a feeding bin as a sign that He will give His life for us and become our sustenance in the Eucharist. (Compare this to the symbolism of the gifts of the Magi that are recalled at Epiphany: gold for a king, incense for a priest, myrrh for one destined to die.)

The Prayer over the Offerings at Midnight Mass adds an additional message: “May the oblation of this day’s feast be pleasing to you, O Lord, we pray, that through this most holy exchange we may be found in the likeness of Christ,  in whom our nature is united to you.” This is similar to the prayer the priest or deacon says quietly when mixing the wine and the water in the chalice: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.” Through the Blessed Virgin Mary, we have given Jesus our humanity; in return, He has offered us His divinity! This is the ultimate meaning of Christmas – not just the birth of a child, however holy, but the Incarnation. In Christ, the divine has become human so that human beings might be divinized, that is, sharers in the very nature of God!

There are actually 4 sets of “Propers” for Christmas Day,   4 different sets of readings and prayers, but they all echo these same themes. In the Vigil Mass, the first reading     likens God’s relationship to us as a marriage – an irrevocable bond (Isaiah 62:1-5). Just as in a human marriage a man and woman “become one flesh” yet retain their distinct identities, so in Christ the human and divine are joined completely yet each remains distinct. In the Mass during the Day, we hear, not the story of Jesus’ birth, but of its deeper meaning in the beautiful prologue to the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth…. No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him” (1:1-18). Or in one of the prefaces (the part of the Eucharistic Prayer before the “Holy, Holy, Holy”) for the Christmas season we hear: “For through him the holy exchange that restores our life has shown forth today in splendor: when our frailty is assumed by your Word not only does this human mortality receive unending honor but by this wondrous union we, too, are made eternal.”

There is much more that could be said by examining the entirety of the Christmas season. But we’ll conclude by considering the day after Christmas: December 26th is the Feast of St. Stephen, Deacon and First Martyr of the Church. What in the world does this have to do with the  little baby Jesus?!? Well, if we understand Christmas properly, quite a lot: Christ was born to bring human beings into communion with the very life of God. If that is so, then Christ’s followers should become like Him. And that’s exactly what St. Stephen does: the account of his death in Acts 7 parallels the Passion and Death of Jesus in striking ways, down to his forgiveness of his executioners and his final words, commending his spirit into the Lord’s hands.

This Christmas, may we come to a deeper understanding of the gift God has offered us in Jesus Christ: the gift of His very self, so that we can imitate His love and make the whole world holy.

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My thanks to Maria Petrotta, the Faith Formation Committee, and all who helped make our Parish Mission with Fr. Ken Geraci such a success last week. Fr. Geraci informed me that he has never experienced such a tremendous response in several years of doing missions.  (He will be sending additional copies of his CDs to us soon; they will be available in the Gift Shop.) I pray that this was a grace-filled time of healing and renewal for all of you.

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My thanks to the Holy Family Men’s Club for our wonderful “Breakfast with Santa” event last Sunday.  Well done, one and all!

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This Thursday, December 21st, the Holy Family Music  Ministry presents our annual Service of Lessons and Carols at 7:00 pm in the church. Come and pray, reflect on the Scriptures that tell of the coming of Christ, join in singing familiar carols, and listen as our wonderful adult and children’s choirs lift their voices in praise of the arrival of our Savior. What better way to get into the true Christmas spirit!

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There will be Mass and confessions next Saturday, December 23rd, beginning at 9:00 am – a final opportunity for your spiritual  preparations for Christmas!

A reminder: Since Christmas falls on a Monday this year, the 4th Sunday of Advent falls on Christmas Eve, which may cause some confusion. You are asked to attend Mass for both the Advent Sunday and Christmas. The schedule is as follows:

4th Sunday of Advent Masses

Saturday, December 23rd: 5:30 pm Vigil Mass

Sunday, December 24th: 8:00 am, 9:30 am, and 11:30 am

Christmas Masses

Sunday, December 24th: 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm

Monday, December 25th: Midnight, 9:30 am, and 11:30 am

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A Cause for Rejoicing

Please keep in your prayers Bishop-elect Thanh Nguyen, former Pastor of St. Joseph and Christ the King parishes, as he prepares for his Episcopal Ordination on Tuesday, December 19th.  Bishop-elect Thanh was recently appointed Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Orange in California, where his  ministry will focus on the diocese’s large population of Vietnamese Catholics.  I will be leaving on Sunday morning to attend his ordination and will assure him of your prayerful support as he begins this new stage of his life and ministry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beginning – December 10, 2017

Last weekend was the beginning, in the Church’s calendar, of the Year of Grace 2018. It is also marked the beginning of Lectionary Cycle B. The Lectionary for Sunday Mass has a 3-year cycle of Gospel readings. Year “A” focuses on the Gospel of Matthew, Year “B” on Mark, and Year “C” on Luke, especially during Ordinary Time.

Mark is thought to be the 1st Gospel written, probably in the 60s. St. Mark was a companion of St. Paul on one of his missionary journeys (cf. Acts 15:36-41), and after they had parted company Mark joined St. Peter, with whom he eventually made his way to Rome (1 Peter 5:13). Because of this, Mark’s Gospel is believed to be in a sense the “memoir” of St. Peter, addressed to Roman Christians during the persecution of the Emperor Nero, under whom Peter had suffered martyrdom.

This helps to explain a number of unique aspects to the Gospel of Mark, especially the depiction of the disciples. They often seem to be fearful and uncomprehending (e.g., 4:37-41; 8:21). The original ending of the book (additions were made later) has the women at the empty tomb running away: “And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16:8). Why would this be? Perhaps Mark was trying to encourage the young Church in Rome to overcome their fear of persecution and boldly proclaim the Risen Lord, as the women at the tomb obviously had!

Above all, the disciples in the Gospel do not understand who Jesus really is. But Mark gives the game away in the very first sentence (which we hear today): “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” But no one recognizes this fact – no one human, that is. From the outset of Jesus’ public ministry, the evil spirits know who He is (1:24; 3:11; 5:7).  The first and only human being to acclaim Jesus as “Son of God,” however, is a Roman centurion at the Crucifixion! (15:39) Whereas the disciples saw Jesus as the Jewish Messiah who would drive the Romans out of the Holy Land, it was a Roman who saw that it was Jesus’ willingness to sacrifice His life for others that revealed His true, divine identity.

Mark is the shortest Gospel, with only 16 chapters. Unlike Matthew and Luke, it has no “infancy narrative,” describing the earliest days of Jesus’s life on earth. Rather, it starts with Jesus’ baptism, where the voice of the Father reveals Jesus as His “beloved Son.” Most of the material in Mark has parallels in Matthew and Luke, but the latter have many elements not found in the older Gospel (e.g., the Sermon on the Mount, the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son). Scholars believe that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a foundation to which they added their own recollections and materials (Matthew having been an Apostle, Luke having been a companion of St. Paul and an acquaintance of the Blessed Virgin Mary).

In addition, because Mark is so short, there is not enough material to fill out the Lectionary for the entire year. Next week, for example, we will hear the account of John the Baptist from St. John’s Gospel. The following week, we will hear Luke’s story of the Annunciation (Mark, of course, not having recounted it). During the summer, we will stop reading Mark altogether in order to reflect for several weeks on the mystery of the Eucharist in the  “Bread of Life discourse” in the 6th chapter of John.

Despite all this, Mark is indispensable. Without him, the other Gospels might not exist as they do today, nor would we have the perspective of St. Peter himself – and of the city that would one day become the center of Christianity. Mark offers a breadth of detail often lacking in the other Gospels, and a view of Jesus not willing to waste a minute to bring His message of God’s healing and saving power to as many people, Jew and Gentile, as possible. Mark’s opening line, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” points to this being the first account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, yes, but also to a new beginning for us who receive this “Good News” (which is what the word Gospel means) and accept Jesus as Son of God and Savior.

 

Preparing the Way – December 3, 2017

The Season of Advent has 3 aspects: past, present, and future. The future actually comes at the beginning of Advent: we look ahead to the Second Coming of Christ in glory, the culmination of history. As the season proceeds, we move backwards in time towards the first Christmas, meditating on the events that led to the Incarnation, God becoming one of us and transforming human history. But we do this in order to recognize His continued presence among us, and within us, each day, and to recognize His Lordship over all history. To help us recognize His presence and action in our lives now,  we have scheduled a number of events in the weeks ahead:

  • Our Advent Parish Mission with Fr. Ken Geraci will take place this week, from Monday, December 4th, through Thursday, December 7th, at 7:00 pm each evening. In addition, Fr. Geraci will offer a version of his mission presentations each morning following the 9:00 am Mass. He will be available for confessions at 6:00 pm each  evening, and we will have additional confessors on Wednesday, both in the morning and evening. On Thursday evening, the Mission will conclude at the Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (a Holy Day of Obligation). The Mission is for all ages and for people at any stage in their faith journey. If you miss a session, don’t worry – just come to the next one! I hope you can join us as we answer the question, Why Be Catholic?
  • On Friday, December 8th, Masses will be celebrated for the Holy Day at 7:00 am, 9:00 am, and 7:00 pm. The Friday evening Mass will conclude with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament as part of the National Night of Prayer for Life. Please join us in praying to our Lord for a renewal of a Culture of Life in our nation under the patronage of Our Lady. Adoration will continue until  1:00 am.
  • Priests will be available to hear confessions each Saturday morning during Advent, following Mass at 9:00 am.
  • Our Music Ministry presents Lessons and Carols on Thursday, December 21st, at 7:00 pm in the church.

I wish all of you an Advent filled with hope and peaceful expectation.

Christmas Schedules

Since Christmas falls on a Monday this year, the 4th Sunday  of Advent falls on Christmas Eve, which may cause some  confusion. You are asked to attend Mass for both the Advent Sunday and Christmas. The schedule is as follows:

4th Sunday of Advent Masses

Saturday, December 23rd: 5:30 pm Vigil Mass

Sunday, December 24th: 8:00 am, 9:30 am, and 11:30 am

Christmas Masses

Sunday, December 24th: 4:00 pm and 7:00 pm

Monday, December 25th: Midnight, 9:30 am, and 11:30 am

The following weekend is our parish’s patronal feast day: the Feast of the Holy Family. Bishop Estévez will celebrate the 5:30 pm Vigil Mass on Saturday, December 30th.  Sunday Masses are at 8:00 am, 9:30 am, and 11:30 am. There is no 5:00 pm Mass on Sunday, December 31st.

This year, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (New Year’s Day) is not a Holy Day of Obligation. Masses on Monday, January 1st, will be celebrated at 8:00 am and 10:00 am (note the special times).

In addition, our Men’s Club will help us get into the spirit of the season with 2 events: Breakfast with Santa after all morning Masses on Sunday, December 10th; and Feast of the Holy Family Breakfast after all morning Masses on Sunday, December 31st. My thanks to the Men’s Club for this service to our parish!

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Catechism Corner

What is the Immaculate Conception?

Through the centuries, the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:

“The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” (Paragraph 491)

Pastor’s note:

Since the Redemption wrought by Christ affects all of time, His salvific actions were applied to Mary even though they had not yet taken place in human history. Since God dwells in eternity, all times are present to Him.

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception takes place on December 8th; the Birth of Mary is celebrated on September 8th, 9 months later – a helpful reminder that the Immaculate Conception refers to the origin of Mary, not Jesus. (Jesus’ conception is celebrated on the Solemnity of the Annunciation on March 25th.)