From Fr. JC’s Desk: “Fathers: Priests of the Domestic Church”

To all the fathers in the parish I want to wish a happy Fathers’ Day.  I pray that it is a special day for you to spend with your family.  For those of us whose fathers have passed away, today can be a time for remember our dads, especially in our prayers, but not merely for reminiscence sake.  Rather, today we should call to mind all that we learned from our fathers, so that we can put those lessons into better practice in our lives.

I have always had an interest in fatherhood.  My doctoral dissertation looked at society’s changing attitudes towards fatherhood.  Frankly, it seems that fatherhood is not often esteemed in society today.  Think about how fathers are portrayed on TV; they are often absent — whether physically or just emotionally/psychologically — and often they are made to seem to be dopes (think of Homer Simpson and Al Bundy).

Sadly, even in the Church, there has been a neglect on much writing on the spirituality of Christian Fatherhood.  This started to change in the 1990s, spurred on by the Protestant Promise Keepers movement.  There was a recognition that the crisis in the family, and in society, is often a crisis in fatherhood.  We need strong fathers.

To be a strong Catholic Father men must first be good sons of God the Father.  Children and wives need to see that dad/hubby has a deep, loving, personal relationship with God.  How else will he be able to be an icon, a witness of God the Father to the members of his family?

To be a good Catholic Father, a man must also be a good Catholic Husband.  As Christ loved His bride, the Church, so Christian husbands need to love their brides, and be willing to lay down their lives for their wives and children (see Ephesians 5).

Third, the father should love his children and see them as a precious treasure that God has given to him with the primary purpose of bringing these little ones to their ultimate destiny which is heaven.   A child is a gift given to father and mother but with the primary purpose of the parents being ladders by which the children can climb to heaven.  An authentic father first should provide for the spiritual need of the child. He should teach his child to pray as soon as possible.

This leads me to the title of this week’s column, “Father: Priests of the Domestic Church.”  An excellent book on Catholic Fatherhood is The Father of the Family: A Christian Perspective by Clayton Barbeau.  A book of classical spiritual wisdom, and practical insights, one chapter struck me as an important but not often recognized aspect of fatherhood, namely, that since the family is the domestic church, a father exercises the grace of the priesthood of all the baptized by being the priest in his particular domestic church.  The priest of the home must accept the responsibility of living the Gospel by his words and actions. In a world filled with temptation and sin, living Gospel values can be challenging. It takes discipline and self-control to hone virtue and holiness within the family. As such, fathers should be the locus of order and life-giving authority in the home.

As the priests of the home, men are to offer their lives as a sacrifice for their children, lead family prayers, establish faith-based household rituals and customs, give blessings, and help their kids to love the Mass. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass should lead fathers to personal relationship with God, uniting him so closely to Christ that the Eucharist becomes the very soul and center of his spiritual and family life. “The father who participates in the Mass regularly gives to his children a far more convincing statement as to the importance of the Mass than all his words do” (p. 63).

Once again, Happy Fathers’ Day to all the dads in the parish, and if you have not gotten dad his gift yet, consider getting him The Father of the Family: A Christian Perspective by Clayton Barbeau.

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From Fr. JC’s Desk: “Welcome to our New DEDF”

Come July 1, we will be welcoming Rich Scanlon as our new Director of Evangelization & Discipleship Formation.  This is a new position for our parish, replacing the position of Director of Faith Formation.  Rich’s responsibilities will include implementing our new Religious Education program, developing new Adult Faith Formation programs, supervising our RCIA and Baptismal preparation teams, and eventually developing a plan to reach out to fallen away Catholics and to non-Catholics in our community.

Rich has two master’s degrees; one in theology and the other in sports psychology.  He has worked in a variety of ministry settings, including Christendom College, where he was part of the team that revised the “Faith and Life” curriculum which we will be using in Religious Education, and for the past four years he has taught theology and been a dean at a Catholic high school in Ave Maria, FL.  He has also been a football coach, and both the high school and college level, for about 20 years.

He is originally from Philadelphia (yes, he is an Eagles, Phillies, and Flyers fan), so this will be something of a homecoming.  His wife, Laura, is from St. Cloud, MN.  They have four children; Dominic (13), Isaiah (10), Gabriel (7), and Maria (4).  I know that we will all offer them a warm welcome, and whatever assistance we can as they settle into our community.

This also means that we will be saying goodbye to Pat Brooks, who has been our Director of Faith Formation for the past 10 years.  Pat has put a lot of love, not only into our Religious Education program, but into all of your children.  I know that she will miss so many of you, and will be missed.  I wish her the best in her future, and thank her for her service to the parish.

Some have asked why are we making these changes in our Religious Education program.  The simple truth is that what we have been doing has not been achieving the results we desire.  It my desire, and that of the our wonderfully dedicated catechists, to pass on the Catholic Faith to the next generation.  The current method has been failing to do that.

Since I have arrived at Resurrection, I asked that we administer the Assessment of Catholic Religious Education (ACRE) test to our 5th and 8th graders.  It is a nationally standardized assessment of both knowledge of the Faith (following the guidelines set up by the USCCB) and religious practices.  The ACRE ranks students as “Advanced,” “Proficient,” or “Needs Improvement.”  None of our Religious Education students achieved the “Advanced” rank and less than 10% achieved the “Proficient” rank.  Over 90% of our students were at the “Needs Improvement.”  

As a former college professor, who taught educational assessment, I know that we cannot use just one measure, but there are other indications that we have not been doing a good enough job at teaching the faith to our children.  The Bishop told me that the last time he was here to do Confirmations, he was very disappointed in our confirmandi’s knowledge of the Faith.  

It would be unfair to lay all the responsibility for this on our catechists.  After all, they only work with the students about 4 hours per month.  As I said before, our catechists are amazingly dedicated and have the best intentions for passing on the Faith to our children.  We now have to give them the tools to do what their hearts desire.  The Diocese of Trenton uses the same online service, “My Catholic Faith Delivered,” to provide all the content for Level I Catechist Certification.  It costs $90, and it takes about a year, working at one’s own pace, to complete the coursework.  After a person successfully completes the work in a year, the Diocese reimburses the person $45, so half the cost.  I have decided that the parish will pay the other half of the cost, so we will be encouraging all of our catechists to sign up to take the coursework for the Level I Catechist Certification.  We will also host a workshop, run by the Diocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, that teaches more of the practical skills of teaching Religious Education (e.g., classroom management, how to lead discussions and activities, etc.).  As we implement this new curriculum and methodology, Mr. Scanlon and I will plan to meet through the year with our catechists to facilitate mutual coaching and the sharing of best practices.  So we will be doing what we can to beef up things on this end.

However, parents also have to accept responsibility as well.  The Church teachings that parents have the primary responsibility for teaching the Faith to their children.  At their child’s baptism, parents promise before God to raise their children in the Faith, and the primary way to do that is by witnessing the Faith by their acts, especially weekly Mass attendance.  Attending Mass on Sunday is a serious obligation, and missing Mass on Sunday — without a serious reason — is a mortal sin.  I will say it plain; if you die with a mortal sin on your soul, you go to hell.

We average over 30% absenteeism at Religious Education, and even higher than that at Sunday Mass.  Our ushers take a count at each Mass, and weekends when there is no Religious Education, the Mass attendance is very low.  We will be having a strict attendance policy for Religious Education next year, and we will being using the “Disciple’s Journal” as a way to check on Mass attendance.  There will be pre- and post-tests for each chapter, and unit tests, all to measure accountability as well as progress in the material.  Just like “reading, writing, and arithmetic” failure in religious education will mean that the material will need to be retaken, and children will have to be properly prepared before they can receive the sacraments of Reconciliation, Communion, and Confirmation.

Very few parents responded to the survey concerning the Religious Education program, and many who did basically said they just want to keep things the same.  We cannot keep things the same, not if we take seriously the responsibility to pass on the faith to our children.  The most common reason given for keeping it as it is was “it gives us a reason to go to Mass on Sunday.”  This is unacceptable.  You should be going to Mass every Sunday, no matter when we have Religious Education.

Looking at the other parishes in the area, especially those in our cohort, here is our plan for Religious Education for next year.  Students in kindergarten through 4th grade will have Religious Education on Sundays after the 10 AM Mass; from 11:15 AM until 12:30 PM.  Students in grades 5-8 will meet on Wednesdays, from 6:45 PM until 8 PM.  Please note; this will be EVERY WEEK.  

The parishes in Cohort 1(Corpus Christi, Jesus the Good Shepherd, and Resurrection) have agreed to accept students from any of the Cohort parishes.  Corpus Christi has their Religious Education on Tuesdays from 6 PM to 7:15 PM.  Jesus the Good Shepherd has their older children (I think it is also 5th – 8th grade) on Mondays from 7:15 PM to 8:45 PM, and their younger children on Tuesdays from 4:15 PM to 5:45 PM.

I anticipate complaints.  That’s all right.  I appreciate the fact that families are busy; I am one of four children, all within 6 years of each other, so my family was also very busy growing up (both of my parents also worked outside the home).  However, Religious Education was a priority in my family, and it must be a priority in all our families.  Sports, scouting, theater, cheerleading, dance and all the other activities that children are involved in are great and help build strong characters and values.  However, none of those things lead to Eternal Life.  Only Jesus Christ leads to Eternal Life.  To share in that Eternal Life we must know, love and serve Christ Jesus in this life, and in that order.  Everything else is passing away.

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A Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

We see signs with it at so many events. We see it at sporting events: John 3:16. We see it at concerts: John 3:16. I even have it as a patch on my jacket: John 3:16. So what does one of the most commonly seen Scripture citation say? “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).

The passage seems so simple, so kind, almost like a greeting card, yet it reveals a profound truth. Jesus, in taking on our human nature, did so to reveal to us something that we could not know on our own. Jesus came to reveal the very nature of God’s essence and His being, namely that God is a Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three Divine Persons, yet only One Divine Substance.

Pretty deep, and very difficult to understand. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of the truths of faith” (CCC #234). Saints and theologians have tried to give us images to help us understand the Trinity; the three sides of a triangle, three overlapping circles, and St. Patrick’s famous metaphor of the shamrock. All these images help, and all of them fall short in understanding the great mystery of our faith.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI offers us another image of the Trinity, “The human family is, in a certain sense, the icon of the Trinity because of the love between its members and the fruitfulness of that love.” If we reflect on the Holy Trinity, one of the first things we notice is the inseparable relationship between the three distinct Persons who are the one God. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son. Similarly, the husband loves his wife, the wife loves her husband, and children are the fruit of the husband’s and wife’s love for each other. We might say that the life of the Triune God is the highest and supreme principle of familial relationship. This profound bond of unity among the three divine Persons makes them “inseparable in what they are,” and “inseparable in what they do” (CCC #267). This inseparable unity also occurs in matrimony: that Christian marital bond between man and wife which is established and sealed by God himself (see CCC #1639-1640).

Bob and Lisa Popcak, of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, offers some important suggestions of how we can make more perfect icons of the Trinity.

  • Pray together: Families need to pray and worship together to learn how to love one another with the love that comes from God’s own heart. Families that pray and participate in the sacraments together are actively learning to love at the feet of the Master. Praying individually makes us God’s children. Praying together makes us God’s family, a domestic church.
  • Love deeply: The love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit knows no bounds. Our families are also called to love one another deeply. How do we make this happen? We take time for each other. Parents who do not have time for one-on-one time with each of their children cannot communicate the intimate love God has in his heart for each of us. A family that doesn’t have time to be together cannot learn to be the team that represents the togetherness of the Trinity. Families cannot be an image of the Trinity by being collections of individuals sharing a roof and a data plan. Family time and parent-child time must come first.
  • Love generously: The purer a love is, the more it longs to be shared. God creates because he loves. Work to make your family a deeply loving place, and consider the many ways you might be able to share that love. There are many ways to share the love you experience in your family. Welcome that next child through birth or adoption. Support other families in loving each other better through small acts of kindness. Host a family for dinner. Be the peaceful, joyful, welcoming home where your kids’ friends love to hang out. Work together as a family in your parish or community to serve those in need. Find ways to let others participate in the love your family shares just as God offers us ways to enter into the loving family that is the Trinity.
  • Love joyfully: God asks those he loves to rejoice in that love (Phil 4:4). He wants us to live life more abundantly (Jn 10:10). Celebrate your life as a family. Create rituals for working, talking and praying together — and most of all, playing together! Remember Pope Francis’ encouragement, telling parents to “waste time with your children.” We were created to be happy forever with God in heaven. The family that rejoices together, plays together and laughs together creates a taste of heaven on earth.
    God wants your family to become an amazing work of art that shows his face of love to the world. God wants your family to paint a picture with your lives that will change the world and call all of his children home to him. Let him make something beautiful in you!
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A Homily for Pentecost (A-2017)

For the past seven weeks we have kept the Easter Candle here in the sanctuary, lighting it every time we have celebrated Mass. The living flame of the Easter Candle reminds us that Christ is alive, that he rose from the dead just as the sun rises each morning to put an end to the darkness of the night. The tall, white candle with a burning flame on top reminds us of God’s faithfulness throughout all of history. It symbolizes the two miraculous pillars – smoke by day and fire by night – that had guided the ancient Israelites out of Egypt, through the desert, and to the Promised Land. Now it is Christ, the Risen Lord, who is our pillar of smoke and pillar of fire, our sure guide out of slavery to sin, through this world of trials and temptations, and into the Promised Land of Heaven.

Today, however, we remove the Easter Candle from our sanctuary. Until next Easter, we will only use it during baptism ceremonies, when Christ’s risen life is given for the first time to new members of the Church, and at funerals, where it stands by the earthly remains of the deceased, reminding us of Jesus’ promise, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live” (John 11:25) .

Does the removal of the Easter Candle mean that Christ is no longer among us? No. The sanctuary lamp beside the Tabernacle reminds us that Christ has not gone on vacation.

Rather, today is Pentecost, the day when Christ’s risen life was entrusted to the Church by the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, who descended like tongues of fire on the Apostles nine days after Christ has ascended into heaven.  That new season in the life of the Church is paralleled by our new liturgical season, Ordinary Time, when we take the Easter Candle out of the sanctuary, because we ourselves become living Easter Candles, burning flames of wisdom, pillars of Christian faith and love spreading Christ’s hope in the world.

Irish legend tells of a dream St. Patrick had when he was an old man, after more than twenty years of working to convert the barbarian Irish.  He was standing in a field and could see lights burning in the darkness. In front of him was Jesus, silently motioning to follow him. The Lord led St. Patrick up a high mountain overlooking the valley and there Christ pointed down into the darkness below. “Look,” he said. Patrick looked down and saw, amidst the shadow of the night, a great many flames burning, lighting up the countryside, warming Patrick’s heart. He knew they symbolized the Christian faith he had planted, the faith that had grown and now spread all across Ireland. He looked at Jesus and smiled.

But Jesus wasn’t smiling. He pointed back down the valley and said again, “Look.” Patrick looked. To his horror, he watched as one by one, the flames died out. Puff, puff, puff – and they were gone.

In the darkness, the old and weary bishop looked back at Jesus with tears in his eyes. “Oh tell me,” he said, “Lord, tell me, that Ireland will never lose the faith!” And as he broke down and cried, he felt a strong arm lifting him up and a gentle hand pointing his face down again to the valley below.

There upon the meadow in the darkness was a single lamp burning, a tiny flame that had been there all along, though Patrick had not noticed it before. Suddenly, as before, another flame appeared that seemed to draw itself out of the other, and another from that one; and another and another, until the lights spread once again all across the countryside, and it more ablaze than ever.

Wherever there is a single Christian, there is undying hope, because God himself, the unconquerable light, is present in every Christian heart – that’s what Pentecost is all about.

How can we follow this call to be Easter Candles for the world? Most importantly, we have to make sure we keep the flame burning in our hearts, especially through daily prayer and heartfelt use of the sacraments.

But we are also called to spread the fire. That’s what the sacrament of confirmation was all about. How can we live out this part of our Christian identity?

One spiritual writer has recommended that every Christian learn to follow their “holy discontent.” We all know that there’s a lot wrong with the world. However, not all the wrongs in the world touch our hearts with the same intensity. For each of us, one particular thing resonates more than the others. That could be our “holy discontent.” It may be the homeless, or the injustice of abortion, or the lack of solid religious education, or the weak Christian presence in Hollywood. Maybe God has given us a special sensitivity in that area because he is calling us to shine his light there.

If each of us made the commitment to brighten up just one dark corner of the world with Christ’s light this year, think how much brighter the world would be twelve months from now! Christians are not called to be complainers. Christians are called to be conquerors, like Christ.  We are called to conquer evil and darkness with the power of Christ’s risen life, the life that burns in our hearts through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Today, let’s pray for a new Pentecost in our lives, our parish, and our world, and let’s promise to do our part to make that prayer come true.

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From Fr. JC’s Desk: “Making a Pilgrimage without Leaving Home”

As some of you know, I had planned to lead a pilgrimage next October to both Lourdes and Fatima, in part, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s appearances at Fatima. Unfortunately, not enough people signed up, so I had to cancel the trip (and arranged for those that did sign up, to go with another group).

It might turn out to be for the best because my doctor told me this week that my knees are in bad shape. Imagine this, a doctor told me to stop doing so much walking. I had been trying to walk for 60-90 minutes each day. For me, walking was not just for exercise (which I clearly need) but it was also a spiritual practice. I would pray my Rosary as I walked, and I had just gotten to praying all 20 decades of the Rosary (Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries) during my walks. It was as if I was walking with Jesus, through His life.

The Church is often described as being a pilgrim Church. It is a reminder that we are suppose to be following Jesus, walking where He walks, and that we are just passing through this world for our true home is in Heaven. This is one of the reasons why a pilgrimage has been an ancient spiritual practice for Christians. In Europe there are several famous pilgrimage routes that have been traveled by the Faithful for centuries. The most famous Christian pilgrimage destinations include Rome, the Holy Land, and St. James Compostella (a.k.a. Camino de Santiago).

The practice of a pilgrimage is common in other religions as well. The Jewish People were expected to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem several times each year. One of the tenets of Islam is for the believer to make a pilgrimage to Mecca sometime in their life.
There is a spirituality in the practice of making a pilgrimage. First, it is a journey to a holy place, but it is not merely for vacation. The purpose of the trip is to encounter God, and through the encounter to learn more about oneself. Secondly, the pilgrimage should lead to the transformation of the pilgrim. In other words, the person making the pilgrimage should come back a different person than they were before they went. A pilgrimage is suppose to be difficult. Sometimes it is physically, psychologically, financially, or spiritually challenging. To go on pilgrimage is to welcome these difficulties as an opportunity to look more like Jesus. Finally, a pilgrimage requires disconnecting from the routine. Pilgrims leave work, friends, responsibilities, and media behind for a time.

In addition to wanting to go to Lourdes and Fatima this year as a pilgrimage, a friend of mine asked me if I would join her and her husband in 3 years when they plan to walk the Camino de Santiago; something I have always wanted to do. It looks like my knees might make me back out of that pilgrimage as well.

So, what is an eager pilgrim with bad knees to do? One option, from the Middle Ages and which I did during my retreat this year is to walk a labyrinth. Think of the maze in that one Harry Potter movie (Goblet of Fire, I think). It was very meditative, but I would need to build one here to do it regularly. We have the land at the Holy Name site, so that is a possibility. However, I was thinking of another possibility — a book club.

Specifically, I am inviting you to join me in reading, Hinds Feet in High Places, by Hannah Hurnard. It is a spiritual allegory about a young woman’s pilgrimage to the “High Places” where the “Chief Shepherd” lives. We can join “Much-Afraid” (the young woman) as she journeys with her two companions, “Sorrow” and “Suffering”, as they travel to see Jesus. I know that we have at least one copy of the book in the parish library, and it can be ordered from Amazon for about $7.50 (they even have a Kindle version for $7). I am proposing that we meet on Mondays at 12:30 PM, starting on June 19. We will bring our own lunches, and we will meet for about an hour. I don’t know how many weeks we will meet; until we finish the book. I suggest that anyone who is interested call or stop by the office to sign up, just to give me an idea of how many people to expect so I know where we should have it. Plan to have the first chapter read for the first meeting. I hope that you join me for this “stay-at-home” pilgrimage.

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From Fr. JC’s Desk: “Memorial Day”

In case you are wondering why I am not at the Masses this weekend, I am down in Burlington, NC officiating at the wedding of my oldest niece, Sydney. All of my immediate family will be there. After us not being able to all get together in years, we have now done so two years in a row; last June for my installation as Pastor, and now for Sydney and Chris’ wedding.

Since I cannot do so in person, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the brave women and men that we recall this weekend. While Memorial Day may be the beginning of summer barbeque season, and a sign that school is almost out for the year, the real reason for Memorial Day is to remember our fallen soldiers, sailors, and marines who made the ultimate sacrifice defending our way of life.

The United States is a rather unique county. We are not composed of peoples from the same ethnic groups. We did not develop around a king or a group of nobles. Rather the United States developed around a group of ideals, namely, that all people are endowed by God with certain inalienable rights, among them the rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. While there are many countries in the world today that also embrace those democratic, republican ideals, they all evolved to embrace them, often from some form of monarchy.

The ideals of the United States revolve around two principles. First, there are certain rights that belong to all people just because they exist. We do not believe that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are only rights of Americans. Rather, we believe that everyone, no matter which country they come from have those rights. They exist because God created each of us in His Image and Likeness, so everyone has a basic dignity. The second key principle of the United States is self-governance. While everyone have the same basic rights, we believe that peoples have the right to decide for themselves which form of government, and which policies those governments adopt, will best secure those inalienable rights.

When we are at our best as a nation, we put those two principles at the center of our domestic and foreign policies. Sadly, there have been times when those values, those principles have been threatened, and we have had to resort to war. War is never a good thing. At times it might be just and even necessary, but it is never a good thing. Too many of our men and women in our Armed Forces have had to fight to defend the principles of American life; the inalienable rights of all people, and the right to self-governance. They were brave and honorable, and we owe them a debt of gratitude which really can never be repaid.

We should enjoy our barbecues and time with family and friends this weekend, but let’s take the time to say a prayer for the women and men that we honor this weekend. And let us appreciate that for which they gave up their lives. God Bless America!

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From Fr. JC’s Desk: “Initiation”

During the Easter Season, there are a lot of things in the Church’s liturgy which reminds us of the Sacraments of Initiation:  Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.  Of course, the Easter Vigil, the most solemn Mass of the year, is the traditional time for initiating persons into the Church.  This year we welcomed Janice, a widow who encountered Christ in the midst of her grief over her husband’s death as she spent time in our Adoration Chapel.  It was there that Christ called her, and she responded.  She is still smiling.

The Easter liturgy itself reminds us of the Sacraments of Initiation, even if we had no one entering the Church at the vigil.  The Vigil begins in darkness, representing the darkness of sin, but then as the Paschal Candle enters the church, the Light of Christ begins to cast out the darkness as from the Christ Candle the other candles are lit.  The tabernacle is still empty, until after we celebrate the Eucharist — Jesus’ gift of His very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.  The water in the baptismal font is blessed, and we all renew our baptismal promises.  We are sprinkled with Holy Water.  We celebrate the Great Commission, to go out and spread the Good News, when we are dismissed from Mass, with the emphasis of the Alleluias at the end.

It is usually during the Easter Season that parishes celebrate First Holy Communions, as we did just a couple of weeks ago.  This year the preciousness of the Eucharist was especially poignant not only in the excitement of the children as they received Jesus for the first time in the Eucharist, but also in one elderly gentleman — I presume it was the grandfather of one of the children.  He was in a wheelchair, and apparently could not get out of the house very often, but for this special event the family made to extra effort to get him there.  When I went to give him Communion, he wept for joy, saying how much he longed to come to Mass each week.

This past week we had 43 of our young people receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Of course, they first received the gift of the Holy Spirit at their Baptism, as the Spirit incorporated them into the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.  Now, through the further outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation, they are empowered by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit — Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and the Fear of the Lord — to participate in the mission of the Church to make disciples of all the nations.

You may have noticed the order in which I listed the Sacraments of Initiation:  Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.  You might think I have it wrong, since in the US most of us receive Eucharist before Confirmation.  No, I have it correct; theologically the Eucharist is the fullness of initiation into the Church.  It was an accident that the order has been disrupted for about the past 100 years.  Based on modern, psychological evidence on when children reached the age of reason, Pope Pius X lowered the age for receiving Holy Communion from 12 to 7.  He did not mention Confirmation, presuming that the proper theological order of the sacraments would be maintained, but they weren’t.  Recent popes have encouraged restoring the proper order of the sacraments.  I asked a friend of mine, who is the Bishop of Gaylord, MI, about this as he mentioned that his predecessor had restored the order in that diocese.  He said that the children are confirmed at the same Mass they will also receive their First Holy Communion.

It is not a decision that I could, not necessarily would, make.  It is something only the diocesan bishop can decide, and I think there are serious issues on both sides of the proposal that need to be considered, and I am glad that I don’t have to decide it.  I just have to celebrate the sacraments as the Bishop directs us to, and to encourage all of us to take time during the Easter Season to reflect more deeply on the Mysteries, the Sacraments, that God has blessed us with.

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A Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter (A-2017)

From ancient times, philosophers have summed up the human condition as a quest to answer three fundamental questions: What should I do? What can I know? What can I hope for?

In response to the common-sense comment of doubting Thomas, Jesus Christ gives us the definitive answer to each one of these questions when he tells us that he is the way, the truth, and the life.  Actually, Jesus doesn’t just give the answers; he is the answers.  

“I am the way” can translate into: “What should you do? Follow me! Do what I have done.” 

“I am the truth” means:  “What can you know? You can know everything, if only you know me.  Knowing me, more and more every day, you know the secret behind the workings of the whole universe and the deepest yearnings of the human heart, because I made them both.  I am the eternal Word, the very Wisdom of God.”  

“I am the life” means:  “What can you hope for? In me, through me, you can hope for the fullness of life that you long for in the very depths of your soul.  You can hope for your very own room in my Father’s house, in heaven – I have gone to prepare it for you.  In my Father’s house all sorrows turn to joy, all weakness turns to strength, and life grows more alive as eternity unfolds.”

Christ is truly the living water that quenches every thirst.  He is truly the light that scatters every type of darkness.  The quest of every man and woman to satisfy the heart’s deepest needs is the quest to seek his face.  As St. Augustine famously wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.”  And Jesus Christ is God.

St. Francis Borgia discovered this true, unique greatness of Christ at the same time that he discovered how fragile human greatness really is.  St. Francis lived in the 1500s and eventually became the second General of the Jesuit Order.  His spectacular leadership laid the groundwork for that Order’s truly remarkable achievements.

But until he was 40-years-old, he wasn’t overly concerned about Christ and the Church. Instead, he lived the brilliant and dashing life of a Spanish nobleman.  He was cousin to the Emperor and grew up enjoying the privileges of royalty in Spain’s golden age.  He was extremely gifted with intelligence, courage, and all the natural virtues, and was one of the most trusted Imperial courtiers.  He was also a close friend and counselor to the beautiful, wise, and well-beloved Empress Isabel, Europe’s greatest lady, in every sense.  By nature, education, and circumstances, therefore, Francis Borgia had a fantastic future in store.

Then the Empress died, and Francis was asked to escort the body to the city of Grenada, where she was to be buried.  After the long journey, the magistrates of the city opened the coffin to confirm the cadaver’s identity.  But her face appeared so hideous and disfigured that nobody could recognize it.  And the stench of the decaying body was so foul that everyone fled from the chamber.  Francis was in shock: What had become of those sparkling eyes, of her elegance and charm, her wit, the sweetness of her laughter?

For the first time, Francis really understood how fragile and passing this life is.  One day she was Queen of Spain and Holy Roman Empress, revered and envied throughout the world, with unlimited wealth and power at her beck and call; the next day, she was a repulsive, putrefying corpse.  That’s when St. Francis Borgia began to think seriously about what Christ had really meant when he claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life, the conqueror of death and the source of eternal life.

We all believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.  If we didn’t believe it, we wouldn’t be here right now.  Yet, today the Church is asking us to look into our hearts and ask the question: how firmly do we believe it?  Is our faith vibrant, strong, and bright, like a sunrise, or is it weak, malnourished, and hanging on in survival mode, like Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree?  The stronger our faith in Christ, the more our lives will be marked by wisdom, courage, purity, peace of heart, and magnanimity – like all the saints.  The weaker our faith, the more we experience discouragement, frustration, boredom, slavery to vice, and anxiety.

We can use three thermometers to take the temperature of our faith.  First, do we spend quality time each day in personal prayer?  Our friendship with Christ cannot be vibrant if we never spend time with him.  Second, do we make frequent use of the sacrament of confession?  All the saints have a keen sense of how their selfish tendencies and sinfulness wounds the heart of Christ, even in little infidelities.  They use this sacrament regularly to heal those wounds.  Third, how deeply do we long to receive Jesus in Holy Communion?  If Communion has become just a routine or an empty ritual, it could be a sign that our faith is withering.

Today, Jesus is inviting us to check up on our faith.  He wants to help us make whatever adjustments are necessary in order to be better Christians – the kind who experience the joy of the risen Christ and aren’t afraid to spread that joy to others.  As we continue with this Mass, let’s accept that invitation.

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A Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter (A-2017)

How many of you go to bed without making sure the doors of your house are locked?  Why do we bother about locking our doors and cars?  Because we want to be safe, right?  We know that the world can be a dangerous place, and we want to protect ourselves and our families from those would might try to steal what we have, or worse, threaten our lives and well-being.  This is only appropriate, because the world can be a dangerous place.  St. Peter seems to say just as much in today’s first reading when he tells the gathered crowds, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40).

Of course, St. Peter was not talking about protecting our homes and loved ones from criminals of this world.  He was talking about saving ourselves from the corrupt generation that threatens our souls and our eternal life.  So, what do you do to protect your soul from what threatens it?  After all, this world is passing away — we will all die someday and we cannot take our stuff with us.  Heaven and Hell are both real and they are forever.  We need to give even more thought to protecting our souls from what threatens them, than to what only threatens the things of this world.

There are three books that have been published recently —  Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World by Archbishop Charles Chaput, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher, and Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture by Anthony Esolen  —  which seems to have taken up St. Peter’s call for us to save ourselves from a corrupt generation.  I have not had a chance to read any of these books, only reviews, so I cannot give a complete summary, but basically they feel that the world has become very un-Christian and they fear that we are on the brink of a new Dark Age.  They think that the best thing for devout Catholics to do is to form intentional communities where they can support each other in holding fast to the Faith.  There is some disagreement as to whether these intentional Catholic communities should develop a “bunker” mentality and withdraw from the world, or whether they should continue to “live in the world” while supporting each other in “not being of the world.”  After all, our true home is heaven.

Personally, I think a “bunker” mentality is contrary to the spirit of evangelization which Jesus commanded us to take up, to make disciples of all the nations.  There is no denying, however, that we cannot do it on our own.  That we need to support each other as we journey as disciples following Jesus, and witnessing to the world His Good News.

This mission begins in our own families.  St. Peter recalls that the promise of Jesus is made to “you and your children….” (Acts 2:39).  Clearly, it is the job of the family, especially the responsibility of parents to pass on the faith to their children.

While parents need to teach their children their prayers, the primary way that parents hand on the faith is through their example.  Children should see their parents praying everyday, they should see that mom and dad place a priority on their relationship with Jesus.  In having conversations around the dinner table — and yes, you should be having dinner together — as you discuss your day, family members should help each other see the extraordinary presence of Jesus in the ordinary events of their lives.

We do need to avoid over-simplifying the Faith.  There was an aunt who gave her nephew a St. Benedict medal to wear.  She correctly told him that it was a “living prayer” for his protection.  However, she was incorrect is saying that if he was wearing it when he died, he would go to heaven.  The boy’s mother and father, politely corrected what the boy’s aunt told him.  They told him that there are no guarantees, no free tickets to heaven.  They told him that it is in following Jesus and being committed to His Church that we find our way.  That discipleship is a lifelong process, and at times it is a struggle, but that we are aided by the sacramental life of the Church to live a life worthy of God’s will for us.  Just as Jesus was perfectly obedient to His Heavenly Father, the parents told their son that obedience is the most important virtue for a disciple of Jesus.

Jesus created us, so He knows how we ought to live in order to have “life more abundantly.”  This is why, for Christians, obedience has always been understood as a virtue, not a bad word.

In today’s democratic and individualistic society, obedience is viewed with suspicion as if anyone who obeys an authority is acting like a robot.  But the Christian virtue of obedience isn’t mindless and irrational.  It’s the obedience of an elite athlete to an expert coach.  It’s the obedience of a docile student to a wise teacher.  It’s the obedience of a sick patient to an experienced and good doctor.  It’s the obedience of a healthy child to his loving parents.
The Christian obeys Christ by obeying the commandments of the Bible, the teachings of His Church, and the voice of conscience whenever it is clear and well-informed.  The Christian also obeys just laws and legitimate authority in society.  This makes Christians excellent citizens, and valuable members of any community.

Since Christ doesn’t want us to be blind robots, we should make an effort to understand the teachings of His Church, so that we can follow them with our whole heart and mind.  There are times when we will not understand completely, times when a particular valley looks to us as if it has some luscious grass.  But if our Good Shepherd, through the teachings of His Church, has warned us that enemies lurk there, we will obey, trusting in His goodness, wisdom, and love.

Today, as we receive Jesus again in Holy Communion, let’s renew our commitment to follow and obey the Lord, our Shepherd.  If we do, as today’s Psalm reminded us, “there is nothing we shall want.”

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From Fr. JC’s Desk: “The Disciple’s Journal”

Last week I wrote about how we are restructuring the Religious Education program.  The goal to emphasize that we are forming disciples — which is what Jesus commands us to do.

The Disciple’s Journal (which I am creating) is meant to be a tool in following Jesus.  The New Testament is basically journals of some of the first and closest disciples of Jesus (OK, they were written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so they have a Divine authorship too).  They are the writings of what those first disciples learned from Jesus and from following Him.  The New Testament is what Jesus taught, how the Disciples reacted to His teaching, and then how they tried to put His teaching into practice in their lives so that they could have life more abundantly.

The Church tells us that parents are the first teachers of the Faith to their children.  Not only should parents be teaching their children their first prayers (how to make the Sign of the Cross, the Our Father, and Hail Mary), but parents should also be witnessing to their children the importance of their own relationship with Jesus.  Children should see their parents praying, talking with Jesus and listening to Him.  Through such a witness, children come have their own encounter with Jesus; learning that He loves them, and that He wants them to be happy — truly and eternally happy.

The most profound way that we encounter Christ Jesus is at the Sunday Mass.  The Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Catholic Faith.  So all Religious Education, which is really the formation of disciples, needs to center itself on the Eucharistic Celebration.

For each week of the year, there are four pages in the journal.  The first page focuses on the Sunday Mass.  There are three prompts for the “disciple on the Way” to write.  

  • “Know” — Basically this is where you write a summary of the main teaching from the readings.  What was the main point in what Jesus said or did?
  • “Wonder” — What was your reaction to what Jesus said and did?  Did it raise some questions for you that maybe you would like to learn more about?  These would be good things to share with your family and/or in class.
  • “Act” — How can you apply what Jesus did or said to your own life this week.  Did Jesus heal someone after they showed faith in Him?  Is there a sick person you can call or visit?  How can you show greater faith in Jesus’ promise to give us a more abundant life now, and eternal life later?

The next page is the “Living As Disciples Through the Week” page.  First there is a section for the student to write how has God blessed them that week with the intention of becoming more aware of Jesus’ presence in their lives and how He is always offering us grace/gifts.  The second part of the “Living As Disciples Through the Week” page is “What am I going to pray for at Mass next Sunday?”  We are all called to bring the needs of our lives and the world to God.  

The last two pages for the week, is basically the notebook for Religious Education.  We will be using the Faith and Life series, being made available online through My Catholic Faith Delivered.  These pages are organized around the same Know – Wonder – Act format as used for the Sunday Mass readings.  As the student watches each lesson online, they write their notes in the Know section, any questions and reactions they have to what was in the lesson in the Wonder section, and finally how they think they can apply the lesson to their lives that week in the Act section.

Finally, we have published on the parish website, on the Religious Education page (http://www.resurrection2.org/religious-education) a brief survey that asks about the best days and times for religious education, and whether we should group the children in a primary and middle school format, or keep the “Angels” and “Saints” format of two sessions, each with classes for K-8.  A few of you have already completed the survey; thank you.  I ask the other parents to also go online and complete the survey.

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