Category Archives: Fr. Cusick’s Corner

A MESSAGE FROM THE UNITED STATES BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE – August 20, 2017

On Saturday, August 12th, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued the following statement in response to the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left three dead and at least 19 injured:

“On behalf of the bishops of the United States, I join leaders from around the nation in condemning the violence and hatred … in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“The abhorrent acts of hatred on display in Charlottesville are an attack on the unity of our nation and therefore summon us all to fervent prayer and peaceful action. The bishops stand with all who are oppressed by evil ideology and entrust all who suffer to the prayers of St. Peter Claver as we approach his feast day. We also stand ready to work with all people of goodwill for an end to racial violence and for the building of peace in our communities.

“Last year a Task Force of our Bishops’ Conference under Archbishop Wilton Gregory proposed prayers and resources to work for unity and harmony in our country and in our Church. I am encouraging the bishops to continue that work especially as the Feast of St. Peter Claver approaches.”

On Sunday, Cardinal DiNardo joined Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in calling on all people of goodwill to join in prayer and unity in response to the events of last Saturday; part of their statement follows:

“We stand against the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-nazism. We stand with our sisters and brothers united in the sacrifice of Jesus, by which love’s victory over every form of evil is assured. At Mass, let us offer a special prayer of gratitude for the brave souls who sought to protect us from the violent ideology displayed yesterday. Let us especially remember those who lost their lives. Let us join their witness and stand against every form of oppression.”

Pastor’s note:  The task force mentioned above called for a National Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities on September 9th, 2016. September 9th is the Feast of St. Peter Claver, the 17th-century Jesuit missionary who ministered untiringly to African slaves in Cartagena, Colombia, for 40 years, assuring them of their equal dignity in God’s sight and calling for them to be treated with justice.

The following prayer was composed for the National Day of Prayer; perhaps we can make it our own:

O Lord our God,

in your mercy and kindness,

no thought of ours is left unnoticed,

no desire or concern ignored.

You have proven that blessings abound

when we fall on our knees in prayer,

and so we turn to you in our hour of need.

Surrounded by violence and cries for justice,

we hear your voice telling us what is required:

Only to do justice and to love goodness,

and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

Fill us with your mercy

so that we, in turn, may be merciful to others.

Strip away pride, suspicion, and racism

so that we may seek peace and justice

in our communities.

Strengthen our hearts so that they beat only

to the rhythm of your holy will.

Flood our path with your light as we walk humbly

toward a future filled with encounter and unity.

Be with us, O Lord, in our efforts,

for only by the prompting of your grace

can we progress toward virtue.

We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

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 Catechism Corner

 What is the relationship between Tradition and Sacred Scripture?

“Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.” (Paragraph 81; cf. Vatican II, Dei Verbum §9)

 

Fr. Cusick’s Homily – 19th Sunday (A)

Readings

1 Kings 19:9a.11-13a

Psalm 85

Romans 9:1-5

Matthew 14:22-33

Sometimes you just want to run away. Maybe it’s the constant frustrations of day-to-day living. Maybe it’s apparent failure in your career or relationships. Maybe it’s anxiety about everything going on in the world. Whatever it is, sometimes you just want to hop on a ship to a deserted island and leave everything behind.

The only problem is that you can’t run away from yourself. “Wherever you go, there you are,” as the saying goes. Whenever we try to run away from our problems, we eventually realize that part of the problem may be us.

That’s what happened to the prophet Elijah. He had challenged the king and queen of Israel, Ahab and Jezebel, about their idolatry and injustice. The funny thing is that, initially, he won. He convinced the people of Israel to abandon their false worship and return to the true God. But Jezebel vowed revenge – and Elijah lost heart. All he wanted to do was give up, to simply lie down and die. It seemed too much for him. Eventually he fled to Mount Sinai (also known as Horeb) – but there the Lord turned his flight into a retreat, a time when he could recover his sense of himself before God.

At Horeb, he was asked to look beneath all the violence and turmoil that he was experiencing. Notice that he discovers God’s presence not in the wind, or the fire, or the earthquake – but in a “tiny whispering sound,” a still, small voice assuring him that he has not been alone. And so Elijah is able to return to his mission – fulfilling it so successfully that he is remembered as one of the greatest prophets of Israel.

There’s a lesson for us here. Sometimes we need to make a retreat to renew ourselves to face the stresses and struggles of our lives. We can at times do this literally, even by something as simple as a visit to the Blessed Sacrament – finding a place of peace in which we can focus on the Lord’s presence. But we’re not always able to do this – but we can do this interiorly at any time.

It’s a matter of understanding, at a deep level, who we really are:

  • Are you your thoughts? Of course not – they’re changing all the time. Between now and the time you return home, hundreds, if not thousands, of thoughts will arise in your minds, most of them quite inconsequential. How can I define “myself” based on something that shifts so rapidly?
  • Are you your feelings? No; they’re also constantly changing. I might be despondent right now, and full of vim and vigor tomorrow. Emotions are like clouds passing through the sky; sometimes when they’re dark and stormy it seems like they’re all that exists, but we know that there is light and peace behind them.
  • Are you your desires? No! These don’t stay constant either – my desires change at different times of the day, and at different times of life. What I wanted as a child is different from what I wanted as a college student, which is different from what I want today. If there is any continuity in who “I” am, then mere desires cannot define me.

So who is having all these thoughts, feelings, desires, sensations? Perhaps there’s my true self – a still, small point which experiences all these things but is not identified with them. This peaceful center is where Christ dwells within us! Beneath all the noise and turmoil and fear is this oasis of tranquility which nothing, and no one, can take away.

Isn’t this where Peter lost his way? As long as he kept his eyes fixed on Jesus, he was able to walk on water! But when his attention shifted to the strength of the wind, he faltered. It was only when he turned again to Jesus that he was rescued – and when he took Him by the hand, the storm ceased.

So when we’re tempted to run away because of the problems life brings us, let’s make a retreat instead – to that still, small point in the center of our being where we can discover Christ in the midst of it all. And when we see Him there, we’ll be ready to step out of the boat.

Christ and the People of Israel – August 13, 2017

This week’s “Ask a Priest” question is about the relationship of Judaism to Christianity:

Since Jewish people only believe in the Old Testament, I’ve been told they can’t go to heaven. If so, where do   they go?

I offer a response to this question through a connection it makes with this weekend’s readings. Recently (last weekend excluded), the 2nd reading at Sunday Mass has been taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. The first 8 chapters of this epistle summarize Paul’s teaching on sin and grace, the love of God revealed in Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Who makes us adopted children of God.

Chapters 9-11, from which we will read brief selections today and the next two weeks, together form an attempt to understand why Paul’s Jewish brothers and sisters did not  accept Christ. This situation causes Paul “constant anguish”; he even wishes that he himself were “cut off from Christ” if  it led the Israelites to accept Jesus as the Messiah  (Romans 9:2-3).

We should recall that many of the children of Israel did accept Christ, nor should we forget that Christianity is in   fundamental continuity with Judaism. The Jewish people are our “elder brothers”, in the words of St. John Paul II. We   accept the Hebrew Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) as the inspired Word of God. Jesus, who was of course Himself Jewish, said that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). The Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the Apostles, and all the first Christians were Jewish. St. Paul himself had been a Pharisee, a movement within Judaism that was zealous in its defense of the Law of Moses.

It took a personal encounter with Christ to change Paul from a persecutor of Christianity into its most committed missionary. When he arrived in a new city, he would typically go first to the local synagogue and preach the Gospel there, hoping to lead his fellow Jews to a similar encounter; it was only when, as was often the case, that the synagogue leaders rejected him that he would turn his efforts to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 18:6).

His conversion experience and his proclamation of the Gospel perhaps suggested the solution that Paul proposes in the Letter to the Romans. He argues that the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish leaders opened the door for the Gospel to be proclaimed to the Gentiles – and once they see how much joy and freedom the new Christians enjoy, they will wish to share in it. This may be a long time off, but God’s universal salvific will (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4) for Jew and Gentile alike, will be realized – for the gifts and call of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29, emphasis added). God will be true to His promises to the descendants of Abraham, and will show His mercy to all people (11:32), indeed all of creation (8:21).

In the meantime, it would be well to recall the prayer for  the Jewish people in the Good Friday liturgy: “that the people you first made your own may attain the fullness of redemption.” Trusting in God’s love for all, we can cry out with the Apostle: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! … To Him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33a.36b).

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With school underway, our Religious Education Program can’t be far behind! Religious Education classes begin on Wednesday, September 6th, for 1st-8th grades, and Sunday, September 10th, for Kindergarten and Pre-K. Registration begins next weekend, or sign up online anytime.

In addition, for those adults interested in becoming Catholic or learning more about the Church, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program begins in September. To find out more, come to our next RCIA Inquiry session  on Tuesday, August 29th, at 7:00 pm in the Parish Life    Center. For further information for both Religious Education and RCIA, please contact our Director of Faith Formation, Maria Petrotta, at mpetrotta@holyfamilyjax.com

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Catechism Corner

What does it mean to be excommunicated from the Church?

Certain particularly grave sins incur excommunication, the most severe ecclesiastical penalty, which impedes the reception of the sacraments and the exercise of certain    ecclesiastical acts, and for which absolution consequently cannot be granted, according to canon law, except by the Pope, the bishop, or priests authorized by them. In danger  of death any priest, even if deprived of faculties for hearing confessions, can absolve from every sin and excommunication. (Paragraph 1463)

 

 

 

The Past and Future of the Transfiguration – August 6, 2017

This Sunday is the Feast of the Transfiguration, which is celebrated on August 6th each year; when it falls on a Sunday, it takes precedence over the Sunday of Ordinary Time. Most feast days and saints’ days are not commemorated if they happen to fall on a Sunday; in addition to the Transfiguration, exceptions include the Presentation of the Lord (February 2nd), the Nativity of John the Baptist (June 24th), the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul (June 29th), the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15th), the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14th), All Saints (November 1st) and All Souls (November 2nd).

There is a Latin maxim stating lex orandi, lex credendi – “the law of prayer is the law of belief.” In other words, if you wish to understand what the Church believes, study how she prays. For the meaning of a particular feast day, it is necessary to look at the “Propers” of the Mass. The “Ordinary” of the Mass includes the parts of the liturgy that always remain the same: the Lord’s  Prayer, for example, or the “Lamb of God”. The Propers are the parts that change from Mass to Mass, depending on the day, feast, or season; this includes the particular readings for the day, as well as such prayers as the “Collect” (or Opening Prayer) and the Preface, which is the part of the Eucharistic Prayer which precedes the Sanctus (the “Holy, Holy”).

Here is the Collect for this Sunday:

O God, who in the glorious Transfiguration

of your Only Begotten Son

confirmed the mysteries of faith by the witness of the Fathers

and wonderfully prefigured our full adoption to sonship,

grant, we pray, to your servants,

that listening to the voice of your beloved Son,

we may merit to become coheirs with him.

On Mount Tabor, Jesus is revealed as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, represented by Moses and Elijah (“the Fathers”). These two great figures are both associated with Mt. Sinai (also known as Horeb), where Moses received the Law from the Lord amid fire, earthquake and trumpet blast (Exodus 19:16-19), and where Elijah encountered the Lord in a still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12). The Lord may speak to us in the great and tumultuous events of life, or in quiet and stillness – the question is whether we are listening. But if we do, we will become like Christ Himself!

This is made even clearer in the Preface:

For he revealed His glory in the presence of chosen witnesses

and filled with the greatest splendor that bodily form

which he shares with all humanity

that the scandal of the Cross

might be removed from the hearts of his disciples

and that he might show

how in the Body of the whole Church is to be fulfilled

what so wonderfully shone forth first in its Head.

Before they went up the mountain, Peter, James, and John had just heard Jesus predicting His Passion, but they had not wanted to hear this! The Transfiguration was meant to strengthen them to endure the trials to come with the promise of future glory – and to accept all that Jesus had told them. This is the context as they hear the heavenly voice declare, “This is my beloved Son … listen to Him!”

Finally, the Prayer after Communion reminds us that the  Transfiguration is not just about Jesus, or even His Apostles, but about our own destiny:

May the heavenly nourishment we have received,

O Lord, we pray,

transform us into the likeness of your Son

whose radiant splendor you willed to make manifest

in his glorious Transfiguration.

The vision on Mount Tabor was a promise that all of us are meant to share in the glory of the Resurrection, indeed in the   fullness of the divine life (cf. 2 Peter 1:4). As St. Paul says, though “we hold this treasure in earthen vessels … all of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed from glory to glory… For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 3:18, 4:7.17). Whatever burdens we bear in the course of our daily lives, we can look ahead to the very great promises of God, first revealed at the Transfiguration.

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Earlier this year, we offered a special marriage-enrichment program called “The Choice Wine.” It was a tremendous success, with over 50 couples attending. Many of the participants have been asking for additional programs. Our Family Life Ministry, headed by Vanessa Guerrero-Pinate, is pleased to announce that SIX DATES for Catholic Couples will begin on Friday, September 8th, continuing every other Friday through November 17th. Childcare will be provided.  In the Spring of 2018, we hope to offer “Beloved: Finding Happiness in Marriage.” Stay tuned!

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The weekend of August 19th-20th, I will be making a presentation at all Masses on the usage and financing of the new Parish Life Center and Parish Office. At the recommendation of our Finance Council and Capital Campaign Committee, we will begin a Mortgage Reduction Campaign to pay off the debt on the new buildings as quickly as possible; this will help us to eliminate interest expenses so we can have more funds available for the service of the people of our parish. Since the beginning of our Capital Campaign over 3 years ago, your generosity has helped us complete the building project and begin paying down the debt, which is currently under $1.5  million. In that time, more than 400 families have joined Holy Family Parish – while I will be inviting those who have previously contributed to the Capital Campaign to fulfill their pledges and even extend them if possible (as I myself am doing), we hope that all who have been able to enjoy the new buildings will be able to contribute. Thank you in advance for your continued generosity and good stewardship!

 

The Wisdom and Folly of Solomon – July 30, 3017

Our first reading today describes the prayer of King Solomon, King David’s son and heir, for the gift of wisdom and understanding to guide the people of Israel. The request itself shows wisdom (an example of prevenient grace, perhaps!), for Solomon did not simply request things for himself – riches, conquest, long life – but rather the ability to be of service to God’s people. Because of this, the Lord granted him these other gifts as well – Solomon’s reign brought Israel to the height of its power, prestige, and wealth. So Solomon’s prayer for wisdom and God’s response seem to foreshadow what Jesus would say nearly 1,000 years later: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you besides” (Matthew 6:33).

The wisdom of Solomon was, quite literally, proverbial – much of the Book of Proverbs is attributed to him. Two other biblical books were said to have come from his hand: The Book of Ecclesiastes, which encourages us to put our trust in God and not in the “vanity” of earthly pursuits and pleasures, along with The Song of Songs (aka “The Song of Solomon”), which compares the love of bride and groom to the love God has for us. The Queen of Sheba is said to have come from the ends of the earth to test his wisdom, and was satisfied; centuries later, the author of the Book of Wisdom attributed it to Solomon, flowing from the sage tradition of the great king.

Yet there are signs in the Scriptural account that not all was well with Solomon. The 1st Book of Kings (chapters 6-7) describes the building of the glorious Temple to house the  Ark of the Covenant – but it hints that Solomon was more concerned with the construction of his own palace. He required forced labor and heavy taxation for his massive building projects. And in order to secure political alliances,  he entered many marriages with foreign women. These eventually led him to turn away from the God of Israel and to the worship of pagan gods, as well as inciting a desire for pleasure that dulled his mind as he aged.

The result of all this was the breaking apart of his kingdom  almost immediately after his death. 10 of the 12 tribes defected from the House of David, forming a reduced Kingdom of Israel in the northern part of the Promised Land, while Solomon’s successors reigned in Jerusalem over the southern Kingdom of Judah. The glory of Solomon’s empire quickly faded and eventually disappeared altogether; the northern kingdom was overrun by the Assyrians around the year 722 BC, the 10 tribes becoming lost to history, while the Babylonians conquered Judah in 587 BC, destroyed the Temple, and led the people into exile.

For all his youthful wisdom, Solomon ultimately allowed his practical interests and personal desires to overwhelm him, to the detriment of an entire people. Let us pray that we may have instead the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), who is Himself the power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24), so that we may offer ourselves wholeheartedly to the service of God and His people throughout our lives.

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Last week, we celebrated a special Mass at Camp I am Special for the campers and their “buddies”. My thanks go to the Men’s and Women’s Clubs for providing meals at the Camp during the summer, as well as to all the volunteers—including a number of Holy Family youth who acted as buddies, offering amazing care to the special-needs participants.

Many thanks as well to Don Moynahan, our Cooking Ministry, and our Men’s Club for preparing the farewell receptions for Jack Merrill and Eric Stelzer in recent weeks. Well done!

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I am grateful to all of you for the warm welcome you gave to Drew Hoffman last weekend, and for your generous response to his appeal for support for the Diocese of Norwich’s Outreach to Haiti. So far, we have raised over $8,700! Drew wrote me to express his gratitude and to tell of your interest in finding additional ways to assist the people of Haiti.  Mesi Anpil! (Thank you!)

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Back to School

It is hard to believe that summer vacation is almost over.   The teachers at our wonderful parish school return this Wednesday; they will join us for the 9:00 am Mass that day.  We still have some spots open for the upcoming school year, including in our free VPK program. As a Catholic school, our mission is to support parents, who are the primary educators of their children, and to demonstrate the unity of faith and reason. With Christ at the center, we lead our children to a deeper understanding of the nature of God’s creation and our role within it. In addition to our emphasis on our children’s spiritual and moral development, we offer as well an excellent academic environment which has resulted in our National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Award in 2012, and our participation in the  Notre Dame STEM Trustey Fellowship.  My commitment is to ensure that our Catholic school is accessible to all the families of our parish.  Please contact me directly to see how we can help you become part of our school community.

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Catechism Corner

What is moral conscience? “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment…. For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God…. His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” (Paragraph 1776).

 

 

Stewardship – July 16, 2017

A few weeks ago, I preached on the spirituality of Stewardship, based on Bishop Estévez’ recent pastoral letter, One Faith, One Family. I noted that Stewardship was going  to be central to the life of our parish going forward. As part   of our continuing development as good stewards (which ultimately means being faithful disciples), I would like to share with you the following reflection produced by our  Stewardship Committee:

Stewardship: A Way of Life

 “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (1 Peter 4:10)

Responding to our Baptismal call to discipleship, a Christian steward is someone who:
  • recognizes that everything is a gift from God, and receives all in gratitude;
  • nurtures their gifts with prayer and action;
  • shares their gifts as a way to serve God and build community.

In the US Bishops’ Conference document, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, we read:

Stewardship provides us with an invitation to recognize the  presence of God in our lives. It is a way of life that embracesall of life and calls us to be faithful to our personal vocations. God asks of us to be concerned about our life and health, our intellectual and spiritual well-being and that of others, our material goods and resources, the natural environment, as well as the cultural milieu of humankind.

Q&A:

1. How is stewardship different from other programs in the parish?
Stewardship is not a program but a process, a new way of being, in which we recognize that each if us has mission in the Church, and with God’s grace we can find  the way to use our giftedness to serve Him and one another in the Church and world.
2. This is different from anything I have heard before. What do I have to do?
Consider spending a few minutes in prayer each day giving thanks for what you are grateful for in your life:  your family, job, friends, talents and skills, hobbies, and material resources. Think about how you use your time and resources. Give some thought to the gifts or talents that  you have that might be of service to your parish or your community. Reach out to people in the parish you do not know, so everyone feels welcome and a part of our community. Take time each day to read and let the Word of God speak to you. Commit to these practices.
 3. What  happens next?
The Stewardship Committee will sponsor a monthly Spotlight on Stewardship. Messages about Stewardship will be in the bulletin, in our intercessions, on the APP, and in the homily. Our Stewardship Prayer will be said and resources will be available after Mass. There will be opportunities to reflect on what talents you may have and how they can help  support parish ministries. In the future, parishioners will give personal witness as to how their  participation in ministry has affected them personally and spiritually.
4. Whats in it for me?
Stewardship as a way of life impacts our relationships and daily lives. We can experience renewal of mind and heart as we commit ourselves more deeply to the Lord. We are grateful for the gifts we have received and are eager to use them to show our love for God and one another.

“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.”  (John 15:16-17)

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Saying Farewell: Next weekend is our seminarian Eric Stelzer’s final weekend with us. He will be returning to St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach next month for his 3rd year (of 4) of theological studies. God willing, he will be ordained a transitional deacon in the Spring. Eric has been a tremendous blessing to Holy Family with his work in Adult Faith Formation, Religious Education, sacramental preparation, Youth and Young Adult Ministry, and much more. We will have light receptions after all weekend  Masses July 23rd and 24th, to give you the opportunity to offer Eric your prayers and good wishes as he moves on to the next stage of his formation for the priesthood. Godspeed, Eric!

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Catechism Corner

Why make the Sign of the Cross?

The Christian begins his day, his prayers and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: “In the name of the Father and  of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” The baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on  the Savior’s grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father. The Sign of the Cross strengthens us in temptations and difficulties. (Paragraph 2157)

 

 

 

 

 

Requiescat in Pace – July 9, 2017

This week’s “Ask a Priest” question is about what happens after death:

What happens to your soul when you die? I think we will sleep in Christ until the resurrection but others (including some Catholics) often say that recent dead people are in Heaven looking over the living on Earth. Can you explain? Thanks.

Beginning with the Scriptures, it has been common for Christians to use the word “sleep” and its variants when referring to death. When St. Stephen, the first martyr, was stoned to death, we are told that “he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’; and when he said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:60). St. Paul tells us that after Christ’s Resurrection, “He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep…. Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:6.20).

This term is used metaphorically to help us understand that death is a temporary condition, not meant to last forever. But if it meant that we were literally asleep until the Last Judgment, it would seem not to make sense for us to invoke the saints who have gone before us. There are some scriptural warrants as well: Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), as well as His Words from the Cross to the Good Thief (“today you will be with me in Paradise”, Luke 23:43) suggest some kind of afterlife before the resurrection. This is reinforced when He says that God “is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive” (Luke 20:38). St. Paul presumes that when he dies he will depart from his body to be with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8, Philippians 1:23). And the Letter to the Hebrews states that “it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment” (9:27).

Catholic teaching is that at death, the soul and the body, which are meant to be united, are separated. The body, the means through which the person manifested his/her personality to the world, is treated with reverence even as it returns to the elements from which it was formed. The soul, meanwhile, at the moment of death goes to the “particular judgment.” Those who die in the state of grace go to heaven, either immediately or after a period of purification which is commonly known as Purgatory. Those who die unrepentant  in a state of mortal sin have excluded themselves from the love of God and have separated themselves from Him, a state which is called Hell.

At the Second Coming, all the dead, the good and the bad, will be raised bodily and reunited with their souls. (St. Paul compares our current body to a seed, with the resurrection body the full-grown plant, implying continuity as well as change; see 1 Corinthians 15:35-38.) Then the Last Judgment “will reveal to the furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life….  We shall know the  ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which His Providence led everything towards its final end” (Catechism §1039-40).

Given all this, we should be mindful of our need to seek God’s grace and mercy at all times, for ourselves and for others. Make a good confession. Ensure that the dying receive the Sacraments, and pray for the deceased. Ask for the prayers of the saints, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph (patron of a happy death), that we may all be gathered into their communion in Heaven one day.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. May their souls, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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 Upcoming Events: During the 2nd half of July, we will have the opportunity for everyone to hear about a particular topic at all weekend Masses:

  • July 15th-16th, Deacon Doug will be preaching on the theology of St. Paul, based on the weeklong course he recently attended at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary (and which he wrote about briefly in this space 2 weeks ago). Since we are currently reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, this seemed an especially appropriate time for reflection on Paul’s message.
  • The weekend of July 22nd-23rd, we will have our annual Missionary Cooperative Appeal. Mr. Andrew Hoffman (who is currently a parishioner at Santa Maria del Mar in Flagler Beach) will speak on behalf of the  Outreach to Haiti ministry of the Diocese of Norwich, Connecticut. Funds collected from this Appeal will support the thousands of families in the poverty-stricken area of Christ the King in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Your gifts will help provide education scholarships, medical care, nutrition and feeding programs, support for orphanages, and more.
  • July 29th-30th, Deacon Mike will preach about his recent experiences with various healing ministries. He will reflect on “The Healing Power of Prayer,” which can lead people, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to a deeper encounter with the love of God and His Son, Jesus Christ, so they can receive the healing power of His grace.

I look forward to hearing these special presentations – I hope you do, too!

 

 

Baptism – July 2, 2017

Baptism

Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3)

In the early Church, most Christians were baptized as adults. Most often, the Sacrament was celebrated on Holy Saturday night at the Easter Vigil, typically in a separate building known as a baptistery. As the “gateway sacrament,” Baptism was entrance into the Church, so the ceremony took place  outside the church building. Afterwards, the newly-baptized would enter the church to be formally received by the Bishop for Confirmation (signifying the gift of the Holy Spirit through Baptism) and 1st Holy Communion (receiving the Body of Christ in the Eucharist since they now were full members of the Body of Christ, the Church).

In the baptistery, the candidates first faced west, the direction of the sunset and accompanying darkness, and renounced Satan. Then they turned east, the direction of the rising sun, symbolizing Christ, the “Sun of Justice” (cf. Malachi 4:2),  and professed their faith in the Trinity. They then removed the clothes of their old life and stepped down into the baptismal font, which frequently had 3 steps, symbolizing Jesus’ 3 days in the tomb, and was in the shape of an octagon, representative of the “8th day” of the New Creation. They were immersed in the font 3 times, as each Person of the  Trinity was invoked. As they stepped out of the opposite side of the font, they were given a white robe (known as an “alb” from the Latin word for white), signifying that they had been washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb (cf. Revelation 7:14) and clothed in Christ (cf. Galatians 3:27). Finally, the newly-baptized were given a lighted candle, lit from the Paschal (Easter) Candle – the sign of the presence of the    Risen Christ, the “Light of the World,” in the midst of the community, and within the new Christian.

The font could be seen as both a womb and a tomb – just as water is necessary for life but can also be deadly, so baptism is representative of both life and death. One dies to oneself and so is reborn in Christ through Mother Church, leaving   the darkness and being brought into the full light of day: “For with you us the fountain of life, and in your light we see light” (Psalm 36:9).

The baptism of adults was often preceded by months, or even years, of preparation (including prayer, fasting, and study) known as the “catechumenate.” Catechumens were not permitted to attend the full Mass; they were dismissed after the homily, before the baptized members of the congregation said the Creed – the Profession of Faith that they had first  formally made at their own baptisms!

As the Church expanded through the Roman Empire and beyond, it became customary for infants to be baptized. This practice can be traced back to the New Testament period, when we hear of entire “households” being baptized (e.g., Acts 16:15.33, 1 Corinthians 1:16); by the 2nd century there is clear documentation of infant baptism. The catechumenate all but disappeared in the Middle Ages, while many of its elements were condensed into the Rite of Infant Baptism.

The Second Vatican Council, observing the changing religious culture of the 20th century, urged that the catechumenate be restored, to allow those adults with little or no previous exposure to the Catholic faith to learn and pray with members of the Church as they prepared for entrance into the community. This process is now known as the “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults,” or “RCIA.”

At Holy Family, RCIA normally takes a year or so, depending on individual cases, culminating at the Easter Vigil. We welcome the unbaptized (both those coming from other faith traditions and those with no faith background at all) and baptized Christians from other denominations (who are known as “candidates” rather than “catechumens” since the Catholic Church recognizes most Protestant baptisms). For those interested in learning more about the RCIA and the Catholic faith, we will have 2 “Inquiry” sessions this summer, the first on Tuesday, July 11th, the second on   Tuesday, August 22nd, both at 7:00 pm. For more information, please contact our RCIA Coordinator, Maria Petrotta, at mpetrotta@holyfamilyjax.com. Encourage your non-Catholic friends and family members to learn more about the faith of the Church and discern whether Christ might be calling them into our community!

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Training for Liturgical Ministers: On Saturday, July 15th, there will be a training session for all Lectors, Extraordinary Ministers, and Ushers, from 10:00 am until 12:00 noon. This training session is for all new and veteran ministers – please make every effort to attend. If you would like to join one of our liturgical ministries, please contact Deacon Doug – we’d be delighted to have you serve with us!

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Catechism Corner

Why is Infant Baptism Important?

Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth. Christian parents will recognize that this practice also accords with their role as nurturers of the life that God has entrusted to them. (Paragraphs 1250-51)

 

 

Corpus Christi – June 18, 2017

On the Feast of Corpus Christi, we give thanks and praise to God for Christ’s continued presence among us through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. We should recall, however, that we receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion to become more and more what we already are: the Body of Christ, which is the Church!

As we do each year on this feast, we offer a few reminders concerning the proper reception of Holy Communion:

1)     The Eucharistic fast is one hour before receiving Holy Communion; water and medicine may be taken. For the elderly and the sick, the fast can be dispensed.

2)     As you approach the minister, bow your head reverently as a sign of devotion to the Lord’s  Presence in the Eucharist.

3)     You may receive the Host on either the hand or the tongue. Please make it clear to the minister which way you are receiving (e.g., if receiving on the tongue, keep your hands folded).

4)     If you receive on the hand, hold both hands up, one on top of the other, making a throne to receive your Lord and King. After the minister says, “The Body of Christ,” please respond clearly, “Amen.” Allow the minister to place the Host in your hand. (Please don’t grab it from the minister; nor should you receive the Host only using one hand.) Then use your other hand to place the Host in your mouth; please do not use the same hand – this awkward motion may cause the Host to drop.

5)      If you are carrying anything in your hands, please receive on the tongue for the sake of reverence – this includes rosaries, canes, pocketbooks, worship aids, etc.

6)      If you are holding a small child, please receive on the tongue – it is much safer.

7)      If you receive on the tongue, say “Amen” first, then extend your tongue out of your mouth. Please do not move until the minister has placed the Host securely on your tongue.

8)     Please allow the Altar Server to place the paten under your hands or your chin as you receive to ensure that no fragments fall to the ground.

9)     If you receive from the chalice, again bow your head as you approach the minister, say “Amen” clearly, and take the chalice with both hands, being careful not to spill any of the Precious Blood.

10)   Christ is fully present – Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity – under both species, in the smallest fragment of a Host, and in the smallest drop of the Precious Blood. That is why we take such great care of it, but it is also why it’s acceptable to receive under only one species.

11)   We do have low-gluten hosts available; just request one in the Sacristy before Mass begins.

12)   If you are not Catholic, or if you are Catholic but not properly disposed to receive Holy Communion, you are still welcome to come forward in the procession. If you do so, simply cross your arms over your chest as you approach the minister, who will make the Sign of the Cross on your forehead.

13)   The Communion hymn allows us to join our voices as a sign of our unity in Christ that we experience through Holy Communion. (All the hymns for Mass can be found in the worship aids in your pew.) There will be time for silent prayer after the hymn concludes.

14)   Please remain kneeling until the Blessed Sacrament has been returned to the tabernacle.

May our devotion to the Eucharist bear much fruit as this great Sacrament strengthens us to bring Christ’s Presence to a world in desperate need of Him.

 

Tithes – June 11, 2017

This week’s “Ask a Priest” question is about supporting the Church and its ministries:

I would like to give joyfully and generously to the Church. What is a measurable tithe to the Church? Would that include tithing to my parish only or would it include other charities such as the Bishop’s Stewardship Appeal, missions, pro-life contributions, etc.? Would it also include the money spent to send my children to  Catholic school? Thank you.

The notion of “tithing” – giving one-tenth of one’s possessions or income in thanksgiving to God – has an ancient history. The Bible tells us that Abraham, our father  in faith, after defeating four kings in battle in order to rescue his nephew Lot, met Melchizedek, king of Salem (i.e., Jerusalem). Melchizedek “brought out bread and wine, and being priest of God Most High, he blessed Abraham … Then Abraham gave him a tenth of everything” (Genesis 14:18-20). His grandson Jacob imitated this gesture when he promised to “return a tenth part” of everything God gave him during his journeys (Genesis 28:22).

These were free-will offerings; but tithing became codified  in the Law of Moses hundreds of years later. A tenth of the produce of the fields and of the fruits of the trees, along with every tenth animal from the herds and flocks, was to be given to God (Numbers 27:30-32) for the service of the Temple and the support of the priests and Levites.

In early Christianity, free-will offerings provided the primary support for the Church and her ministers. Appeals were made to what the Lord Jesus Himself said, “The laborer deserves his keep” (Matthew 10:10); this was echoed by St. Paul, who wrote, “the Lord ordered that those who preach the Gospel should live by the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). Paul even recommends a weekly offering: “On the first day of the week, each of you should set aside and save whatever one can afford” (1 Corinthians 16:2).

As the Church grew and became the official religion of the Roman Empire, tithes were eventually made obligatory in a complicated system which grew out of the Old Testament regulations. Remnants of these practices can be seen in such places as Germany, which still has an official “Church tax” apportioned based on the numbers of Catholics and Lutherans.

In current Catholic practice, however, there is not a fixed  percentage required for the financial support of the Church, and the emphasis is on free-will offerings. But one of the  precepts of the Church is “that the faithful are obliged to   assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to their ability” (Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2043.2). Canon 222 of the Code of Canon Law, similarly, prescribes the following:

  • 1 The Christian faithful are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship, for the works of the apostolate and of charity, and for the decent support of ministers.
  • 2 They are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor from their own resources.

So support of the Church and of the poor is part of what it means to be a Catholic Christian. But how much? I know some people who set aside 10% of their income for all their charitable giving, including gifts to the Church. For some people that’s not possible due to circumstances. Those who have difficulty making financial contributions often do well by volunteering at the church, offering the gifts of their time and talent to help make the parish thrive. Catholic schools often offer discounted tuition for those who contribute regularly – though this is to ensure above all that the parents are active participants in the life of the parish. Some parishes have gone so far as to eliminate tuition payments for those who tithe.

Ultimately, it is a matter of conscience, prayerfully considering how best we can advance the mission of the Church and spread the message of the Gospel given the   concrete situations of our lives. Again, Jesus gives us an  illustration of what our response should be like: The story of the “widow’s mite” (Mark 12:41-44) shows us that our    giving should be modeled on that of Christ Himself, Who gave all that He had for our salvation. As St. Paul put it, “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for our sake He became poor although He was rich, so that by His poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

So let us follow St. Paul’s advice as we consider how best to support our Church: “Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

If you have a question, fill out a card in the Narthex, or click on the “Come, Ask a Priest” icon on our website.

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I will be speaking about the spirituality of marriage in Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia at “Theology on Tap” this Monday, June 12th, at 7:00 pm at Wicked Barley, 4100 Baymeadows Road.