Letters from a Pastor to His People

Silenzio!

Dear Parishioners,

I spent a decent amount of time in the Sistine Chapel during my six years in Rome studying to be a priest at the Pontifical North American College. The Sistine Chapel, of course, contains perhaps the most famous works of art in human history: Michelangelo's painting of the Last Judgement. It is also where the papal conclave is held. I must confess, though, that I usually smirked at least once on each visit to this sacred place. As noticeable as the works of art were the Vatican Security Guards yelling, “Shush! Silenzio! No foto!” Upon this command, the throng of people would stop, silence their conversation, and put away their cameras...for about a minute. Then, after a minute, would come the, “Shush! Silenzio! No foto!” This tennis match between the tourists and security guards went on all day.

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Chicken McNuggets and Chuck. E Cheese

Dear Parishioners,

We all know how Chuck-E-Cheese works: you play games, earn tickets, and then, at the end of your time, use those tickets to redeem a prize. It's a fun place, but hopefully the concept is not something we maintain in our spiritual lives. That is, hopefully we don't see our spiritual endeavors as simply means to an end.

During this season of Lent, the Church proposes to us three special devotions: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These are like the games at Chuck-E-Cheese. The temptation is to "do" these "things"—or anything in our faith lives, i.e., going to Mass, Confession, etc.—so we can get enough tickets to get to heaven. What a strenuous proposition! Does that mean if we eat a chicken McNugget on Friday we go to Hell?

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Reconciliation

Dear Parishioners,

In Ancient Israel, an individual with leprosy or any other skin malady was seen to be spiritually unclean. It was thus required for the infirm to go before a priest, be quarantined by the priest, and then ultimately be declared by the priest fit for worship. This is what we hear in our first reading from Leviticus, chapter 13.

Jesus continues this injunction when orders the healed leper to report to the priest (cf. Mk 1:40-45).

These readings can be seen as foundational for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Today's responsorial psalm also sets up the Catholic sacrament: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt I covered not. I said, ‘I confess my faults to the LORD’, and you took away the guilt of my sin” (Ps 32).

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A Problem We Want

Dear Parishioners,

How I wish we had the problem today that is present in our Gospel this Sunday! “The whole town was gathered at the door” (Mk 1:33). Jesus is so successful preaching and healing that he can barely move. He has no time for himself. He runs off early in the morning to a quiet place to pray. But even this doesn't work. “Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’” (Mk 1:36-37).

These people wanted Jesus so badly. They pursued him relentlessly. Why? Because Jesus is good for them. He is good for us. Jesus makes us whole. He heals us. He inspires us to be better people. He unites us to the Father, which is our ultimate purpose and fulfillment. “Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted (Ps 147).”

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Divided We Fall

Dear Parishioners,

Notice the demon in today's Gospel refers to himself in the plural. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” (Mk 1:24).

When we are not in union with Jesus Christ—when we are separated from him—we are divided internally. We eventually disintegrate.

Practicing our Catholic faith unites us. Our faith makes us whole, or holy. Saint Paul writes in our second reading, “I should like you to be free of anxieties” (1 Cor 7:32). What's one way to be combat anxiety? Pray and have a relationship with God!

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Fishers of Men

Dear Parishioners,

If you remember the Gospel from last week, we had the calling of the brothers Andrew and Peter. It was from the Gospel of John, and a slightly different version than what we have this Sunday from the Gospel of Mark. In John, Jesus simply walks by and Andrew follows him. Andrew then finds his brother Peter and brings him to Jesus. In Mark, Jesus approaches Andrew and Peter, who are fishing, and says, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They drop their nets and follow. Jesus is more proactive in today's version. So, which version is accurate?

It could be both. Historically speaking, John's version might have occurred first and then Mark's been a further occurrence. That is, after being introduced to Jesus (John), Peter and Andrew might have gone back to fishing and then Jesus called them again (Mark).

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Is he calling you?

Dear Parishioners,

Being called and then responding appropriately is a theme this Sunday, as we return to the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. In the first reading, the youth Samuel is sleeping in the temple when he hears a voice call to him. After the third attempt, Samuel at last responds appropriately. “When Samuel went to sleep in his place, the LORD came and revealed his presence, calling out as before, ‘Samuel, Samuel!’ Samuel answered, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening’” (1 Sam 3:9-10).

In the responsorial psalm, the psalmist is waiting for the Lord to call him. When the Lord finally does, his response is: “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will” (Ps 40:8-9).

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Day of Threes

Dear Parishioners,

The Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, which we celebrate today, recalls three events in the life of Christ: the visit to the child Jesus by the three Magi, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, and the first miracle of Jesus at the wedding feast of Cana. The divinity of Jesus was revealed in these three moments. Not that his divinity wasn't revealed at other moments, but we choose to focus on these three particular scenes for this feast day. “The mystery was made known to me by revelation” (Eph 3:3).

Focusing on the first image of this tryptic, as that is our chosen Gospel for this Sunday, we hear the coming of the Magi prophesied in Isaiah: “Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD” (Is 60:6).

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The Perfect Woman

Dear Parishioners,

As last weekend we had a 4th Sunday of Advent-Christmas Eve combo, so too this weekend we have a sort of Holy Family (Sunday)—Mary, Mother of God (Monday) combo. And a great combo it is. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and particularly Mary, are models for us.

If you read consistently my Tassel of the Cloak column, you probably know by now that I have a fervent love for the Blessed Mother. Instead of describing why, let me simply include a poem by William Wordsworth, "The Perfect Woman." Wordsworth had other poems explicitly about the Blessed Virgin Mary. This one, though not explicitly about Mary—it was about his wife and all of her good qualities—still speaks of the Mother of God.

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Cave-Man Christmas

Dear Parishioners,

“Father James,” asked the St. Juliana students upon my abrupt entry into the classroom, “are you a caveman?”

Stroking my chin to see if I had shaved that day, I responded, “Um, no, I think not.”

“Ah-ha,” some of the class responded with glee, “we were right!”

I scratched my head and looked at the half of the class that was mournful. “What, you thought I was a beast?”

Everyone laughed and proceeded to tell me what they meant by their inquiry. Was I of the camp that believed Jesus was born in a stable or that which believed he was born in a cave? Was I a "cave-man" or a "stable-man"? Jesus was most likely born in a cave. You can see the actual cave today in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. So, I am indeed a cave-man on that historical point.

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Borderline of Salvation

Dear Parishioners,

John the Baptist, the cousin of our Lord, baptized on the Jordan River, as we all know. What's the significance of, as St. Hippolytus called it, “the Grand Jordan”?

Hebrew for "the descender," the Jordan River flows south from the Sea of Galilee into the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee, the largest freshwater lake in the region, teems with life. It is, of course, where Jesus spent most his time during his public ministry. The river Jordan connects this vivacious sea with its antithesis, the Dead Sea. The lowest point on earth, this body of water is one of the saltiest on earth, allowing nothing to grow, hence its name. The Jordan River is the connection between life and death.

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Get Shocked!

Dear Parishioners,

I taught recently the 4th graders in school during their religion class about the liturgical season. We spent, of course, a decent amount of time on Advent. Why purple for Advent (and Lent as well)? (My brother-in-law, who is from Minnesota and is a Vikings fan will love this post.)

Purple, a fusion of red and blue, is an interesting color. Blue symbolizes calm, steadfastness, and stability. Think of a deep blue sky or sea. Red, on the other hand, symbolizes passion, energy, and movement. Think of fire. Purple combines the steadiness of blue and the fervor of red. In Advent we are called to be focused, recollected, and somewhat solemn as we prepare for our Lord's coming into our lives at Christmas. But we are also called to be alert and excited—and for the same reasons.

The segment from Isaiah (Is 40:1-5, 9-11) in our first reading has this mix of emotions. “Comfort, give comfort to my people,” we hear in the opening line. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,” continues the prophet. This is quite blue.

But it turns red quickly. “A voice cries out...cry out at the top of your voice.”

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